This is the third and last story in the trilogy that began with "A Night
at the Office", and follows "Strange Relationships". It completes the
"what if..." scenario of what might have happened if Lois had discovered
Clark's identity that night at the Daily Planet.

The familiar characters and settings in this story are the property of
DC Comics, Warner Bros., December Third Productions, etc., and no
infringement on their copyright is intended. Some of the scenes and
dialogue are taken from the episodes "House of Luthor" and "Madame Ex"
and are credited to the writers of the show. The rest is my idea.

Nan Smith

******************


Best Laid Plans
By Nan Smith deimos1@earthlink.net
Rated PG


"More investigations into LexCorp's dirty dealings," Lois said as she
flipped over the latest revelations of Lex Luthor's illegal operations
on the inside page of the Daily Planet. "After Mrs. Cox made that deal
for a reduced sentence, the whole empire seems to be coming down like a
house of cards."

Clark nodded solemnly and swallowed his last bite of crepe. "What I
don't get is this other thing," he said, tapping the column on the next
page. "A good twenty percent of people in this survey are upset about
it. I mean, it's now come out that Luthor was 'The Boss', who ran most
of the organized crime in Metropolis, and who knows how much everywhere
else. Crime affects everyone; honest people don't like it. So why are
they sorry for him?"

Lois shrugged. "Because they're idiots? When they were asked why they
felt that way, they couldn't give a reason. And look at this, page two;
the Superman survey. Twenty percent are opposed to Superman, too, and
they don't know why, either. If you ask me, it's probably the same
twenty percent as in the Luthor survey," she added, caustically. "Talk
about the dumbing down of America! People with opinions who don't even
know why they have them!" She gave a snort of disgust.

Clark grinned slightly. "And, of course, you're completely unbiased,"
he said.

"No, but I know how good Superman has been for Metropolis, and I'm
learning daily about how bad Lex was for it, even though he did do some
incidental good. At least I know why I have my opinions! The bad he
did outweighed the good by about five hundred to one, if people would
just see it!"

"Most do," Clark said, mildly. "But you can't expect everyone to think
so. Superman certainly appreciates your loyalty, though." He met her
faint scowl with one of his most charming smiles.

The oblique reference to their new relationship made Lois's frown turn
into a slight smile. "I'm glad he does."

Clark glanced at his watch. "We better get going," he said. "We need
to be at work in half an hour."

Lois was silent as he dealt with the waiter in his expert French and
paid the bill, then accompanied him out into the early afternoon
sunshine. Breakfast in a little Paris caf

é hadn't been quite what she'd
expected when he'd picked her up this morning, but she had to admit it
was different, and it had helped her to relax. She had managed for the
first time in a week to escape the sensation of observation that had
been dogging her every action; the feeling that somewhere a pair of
unfriendly eyes was watching every move she made.

****************

At first, she'd put it down to nerves.

Lex had escaped from jail two weeks after his arrest, and his being on
the loose had done nothing for her peace of mind. Clark's powers had
returned the morning after Lex Luthor's arrest and Superman let it be
known via a statement to the press that "security concerns" were the
cause of his absence from Metropolis for the previous two days. He'd
retrieved the third tape, and together they'd listened to Lex discuss
with Mrs. Cox his plans to buy the Daily Planet, destroy it and blame
the crime on Jack Brown. Other parts involved appointments with members
of the Daily Planet's Board of Directors to discuss "incentives"
regarding the proposed sale, and then proceeded on to the projections
for the redevelopment of Metropolis' Old Town after they had acquired
one last block of property. And finally Luthor's plans had come
tumbling down the moment that Inspector Henderson had lowered the boom.
That part was satisfying, but certain other parts on the recording left
her feeling uneasy. His remark to Mrs. Cox a few minutes into the tape,
regarding the "correct job" for Lois when she finally accepted his
proposal, with "personal assistants" who would report directly to him on
her activities, and undermine any serious investigative efforts, told
her clearly how he'd planned to bring her independence--and her
life--under his control. The thought of what she'd escaped left her
appalled. Lex was the ultimate control freak. It wasn't a pleasant
thought that gaining control of her had been his ultimate goal--one for
which he'd been willing to destroy the lives of innocent people.

She'd interviewed him once since his arrest, when he'd confidently told
her that all this was merely a temporary inconvenience, and that they
would soon be together. She hadn't replied to that, but it left her
more apprehensive than it might have two weeks before. Lex didn't make
idle statements of that sort. He meant everything he said.

Then he'd escaped, and apparently vanished--only neither she nor Clark
really believed he was gone. About a week after that, Lois had slowly
begun to become aware of the sense of observation.

At first it had been intermittent, but gradually that changed until for
the last week the only time she'd been free of it had been inside her
apartment, or Clark's, in the Daily Planet, or flying with Superman. It
was never definite enough to identify clearly--more that primitive
instinct that tells the prey more clearly than all his other senses
combined that the predator is nearby and watching, ready to pounce when
the time is right.

****************

"Ready to go back?" Clark asked her.

She nodded. "I guess so. Thanks for the break, Clark."

"Don't mention it." He took her arm and together they strolled toward
the deserted alley between buildings. "We'll find out whoever's
watching you, Lois, I promise. I haven't spotted him yet, but I will."

"I know Lex is behind it, Clark."

"Yeah, probably."

"What do you think he's up to?"

Clark glanced around and spun quickly into Superman. "I'd say he wants
you."

"I know that, but why? Why go after me when he should be trying to put
as much distance between himself and Metropolis as he can? It doesn't
make sense."

"Not to us," Clark agreed. He held out his arms and scooped her up.
"But Luthor's used to getting what he wants."

"But why me?" Lois asked quietly. Paris fell away below them and they
headed west. A thought occurred to her. "You don't suppose it could be
because of that pheromone spray, do you? Miranda sprayed him--and he
*was* affected. I saw it."

Clark considered that briefly and shook his head. "I doubt it. I
suppose it might have intensified what was already there, but you said
it yourself. There had to be some attraction to begin with, or it
didn't work. I think he wants you because he hasn't been able to
control you up until now. You're independent, and he was never able to
tolerate that. The man's obsessed with control, and that makes you a
challenge. You're a beautiful, intelligent woman, who thinks for
herself--a prize as far as he's concerned."

She smiled a little. "It's nice to know you think so, too."

His arms tightened very slightly for just an instant. "I didn't say
Luthor doesn't have good taste, at least some of the time."

"I think there was another factor," she said, trying to consider the
issue objectively. "He thought you were a rival. It would be quite
a...a win for him to take the woman Superman wanted away from him."

"Probably," Clark said. He looked as if he'd bitten into something
sour. "I doubt there's any one reason--but together they make you a
very desirable..." He hesitated.

"Trophy," Lois filled in ironically.

"For want of a better word, yes," Clark agreed. "I think it's necessary
for his ego. I know that's not very flattering, but--"

"Don't worry, Clark, I'm not offended--as long as I'm not a trophy to
you."

"Not a chance," Clark said. "I can think of a lot of things to call
you, but 'trophy' isn't one of them."

"Oh? And those are...?"

He smiled. "Best friend. Partner..."

"Oh," she said, a little crestfallen.

His smile widened. "Or maybe the one perfect woman in the world for
me?"

She looked down at the S decorating his chest. "Really?"

"Superman doesn't lie."

*******************

"I can't believe Christmas is almost here," Clark said as he and Lois
crossed the street a block from the Daily Planet. "I still have to
finish my Christmas shopping for two of my cousins, my Great-aunt Dora,
and Perry and Jimmy."

Lois glanced upward at the grey sky. The weather wasn't particularly
promising back in Metropolis, although it had been bright and sunny
in Paris. One of the big, aluminum decorations arching completely
across the street caught her eye. A pigeon was perched on one of the
silver wires that supported a frill of silver fringe. "You're still
ahead of me. I haven't even started. Christmas in my family is always
an ordeal."

"Why?" Clark asked.

She shrugged. "Dad and Mother always ended up fighting before the day
was over. He'd leave for who-knew-where, and Mother would get drunk on
egg nog."

"Ouch," Clark said.

"Yeah," Lois said. "It got so Lucy and I would open our presents and
take them to our rooms, then spend the rest of the day avoiding our
parents. Not exactly the merriest of Christmases."

"I can see that." Clark put an arm around her. "Mom told me to ask you
if you'd like to spend Christmas with us in Smallville, if it turned out
you didn't have plans to spend it with your family. Would you?"

"Are you sure, Clark?" Lois glanced uncertainly at him. "I mean,
Thanksgiving was wonderful. Your parents are such great
people...they're just so...so not insane. But won't it be an
imposition?"

He shook his head. "Absolutely not. They both like you, and they know
how I feel about you, so shall I tell them it's a yes?"

"Well...okay." Lois glanced over her shoulder. "I guess that gives me
a little over a week to do my Christmas shopping."

Clark's arm tightened slightly. "You've already given me the best
present I could ever get, so that's one less you have to..." He frowned
suddenly. "It's happening again, isn't it?"

She nodded, feeling a little chill slide up her spine and that now
familiar prickling on the back of her neck. The watcher had returned.

"It just started a few minutes ago."

"He probably stationed himself near the main entrance," Clark said.
"Maybe we should have just flown in. And I think we should start
varying our route a little to make it harder for whoever he is to keep
track of you."

"That's probably a good idea," Lois said, trying to keep her tone even.
"I'm glad you don't think I'm nuts or something, Clark."

"No way. I've felt the same thing myself...just probably not as
strongly. There isn't a lot that can hurt me." He glanced casually
around. "Let's get inside the Planet. Come on."

The approach to the Daily Planet was uncharacteristically crowded this
morning. A small, but very vocal group of people with signs protesting
Superman crowded the entrance and several members of the crowd attempted
to obstruct their progress. Clark wrapped an arm around Lois and gently
but inexorably pushed the shouting, sign-waving demonstrators out of
their path, creating a passage for them to the doors. Two Security men
prevented the entrance of two of the protestors in their wake, and Lois
heaved a sigh of relief.

"I can't believe these people! Just what the heck is their problem?"
she said.

Clark didn't answer, but she could see a faint frown of irritation on
his forehead. She glanced back at the noisy mob in exasperation. "I
think too many people don't have enough to keep them busy," she added to
her previous remark.

"I don't know." Joe, one of the reporters from Sports, was waiting for
the elevator. "If you ask me, Superman just isn't the hero he used to
be."

Lois bristled. "Oh? I think bringing in that passenger jet last week
was pretty heroic. What's your problem with him--or don't you know?"
Her inquiry dripped sarcasm.

Joe didn't answer, but his expression indicated he wasn't convinced.
The elevator doors slid open before she could say any more, and they
entered along with Joe and several other members of the newsroom staff.
Joe jostled Lois as they entered; she glared at him for an instant, then
saw Clark grin slightly and elbowed her partner in the ribs.

Not a good idea, she realized as she did it. Those were Kryptonian ribs
she was elbowing. She rubbed her offended elbow and switched her glare
to Clark. His grin only widened slightly and he put an arm around her
again. Joe glanced at them, eyebrows rising for an instant in surprise,
then the elevator lurched into motion and he had to grasp the safety
rail.

Perry was in full editor mode when the elevator doors opened on the
newsroom. "Ricardo, get down there and interview that batch! Everybody
else...Clark, you and Lois are late. I thought you were going out to
cover the murder of that plastic surgeon from LexLabs."

"Sorry, Chief," Clark responded. "We ran into a traffic problem."

Lois nodded silently, reflecting that it *was* the truth. The traffic
to which he was referring had been a pair of small planes over Metro
Airport that had gotten their signals crossed. Clark had spotted the
two upon their return from Paris and prevented an in-air collision
between them.

"Oh." Their editor nodded. "Well, since you're here, you can listen to
this, too." He raised his voice. "All right, everybody, let's all
gather 'round and listen up here. I've got an announcement to make."

Lois and Clark glanced at each other.

"The powers that be--" he waved generally in the direction of the upper
floors, "--have decided that since we're involved in a high stress
profession--" Lois thought that a flicker of annoyance crossed his
face. "--Some of you might be suffering from stress--you know, anxiety,
short fuses, et cetera, so as of today, the Daily Planet now has its
very own staff psychiatrist."

"What?" Lois looked incredulously at Perry. "They can't be serious!"

"That doesn't sound so bad," Clark said.

"Well," Lois said, "if you want to sit on a couch listening to
psychobabble, that's fine with me, but I've got stories to write..."

Clark had opened his mouth to reply when Perry broke in. "Excuse me.
Am I interrupting something?"

Lois and Clark fell silent. Satisfied that he'd made his point, Perry
continued, "Many of you already might be familiar with this woman
through her syndicated column that we've been running called,
uh--'Healing the Inner Self--uh--On the Couch...'"

"They yanked the jumble puzzle for that," Jimmy said. "I was just
getting good at that."

"Yeah," Perry said, "I was getting pretty good at it, myself. I mean,
I'm not so hot on this touchy-feely stuff, so that's why I never read
the column, but it's helping to sell newspapers, and the good doctor's
convinced our publisher that she can be of some help here."

Lois had glanced at the column once or twice, but it had never been
something that interested her. What was the woman's name, Arlene, or
Arianna, that was it. Arianna Carlin. "How do we know she's even a
real doctor?" she asked. "Half these media shrinks are frauds."

"Oh, I'm a real doctor, Ms. Lane." The voice, cultured and with a light
English accent, came from behind her. An attractive woman strode past
her, to take a position beside Perry.

"Oh, uh, Dr. Carlin," Perry said, "I was just explaining about you to
the staff."

Arianna Carlin smiled sweetly at the crowd. Her auburn hair gleamed
with red highlights under the bright illumination of the newsroom and
when she spoke, her voice was soft and friendly. "I'm looking forward
to meeting each of you over the next several days," she said. "Please
feel free to stop by my office any time."

"Okay, folks," Perry said, "let's get to it. We've got some blank pages
to fill in." He smiled briefly at Dr. Carlin. "They're all yours."

Lois turned to her partner. "I guess we better get going if we want to
make the deadline." She bent to pick up her shoulder bag.

"Ms. Lane..." Dr. Carlin's gentle voice spoke behind her. She turned
to find Arianna Carlin smiling sweetly at her.

"Yes?"

"I'm especially looking forward to meeting with you." The woman's soft
smile didn't change.

Lois glanced at Clark, eyebrows up. He met her look with a faint shrug,
and she looked back to the psychiatrist. "Dr. Carlin, a lot of people
have tried to get me on a couch and after all this time I don't think
I'm going to start with a psychiatrist."

The doctor looked sympathetic. "I know of your reputation, Ms. Lane,
your...shall we say, your tendency to endanger yourself on a regular
basis, so that you frequently need the help of Superman, himself, to
save your life. Such obsessive behavior can easily slide into the realm
of requiring professional intervention." Her smile changed to a look of
sincere concern. "I only want to help."

"Thank you for your concern." Lois could hear the edge to her own
voice. "I'm fine. Come on, Clark, we have work to do."

She was conscious of Arianna Carlin's soft, brown eyes on her as she and
Clark headed for the elevator, but she didn't look back.

**********************

"Did the police say if Dr. Heller was murdered here or just dumped
here?" Clark asked.

"They think he was dumped." Lois kicked sharply at a can that had the
misfortune of being in her path.

Clark glanced at her with a little smile. "I could be wrong, but
something tells me the good doctor upset you a little."

"The *nerve* of that Carlin woman! What business of hers is my
so-called obsessive behavior? It's why I'm a good reporter!"

Clark chuckled. "So you know a few things she doesn't," he said.
"Don't worry about it. Of course, she's going to see your actions from
her position as a psychiatrist. You see people from yours as a
reporter, don't you?"

"I guess." She glanced up at him. "Do you think I'm obsessive?"

"Well...only a little." He stopped smiling at her worried look. "Lois,
you're fine. I obsess over things, too. Lots of people do. That
doesn't make you crazy, no matter what Dr. Carlin might think."

"Thanks, Clark." She hesitated a moment. "When I was growing up my dad
never gave me credit for anything. I was a girl, and that made me
second rate. 'Daddy, look, I made a 98% on my math test! Oh good,
Lois. That leaves 2% room for improvement.' I guess that's why I go to
such lengths to prove I'm the best."

Clark smiled. "You've already proved it over and over, Lois. You know
you don't have to try to live up to your father's expectations. He was
the one with the problem, not you. And to tell you the truth, *I'd*
have a real problem if you'd been a boy."

She laughed, suddenly feeling much better. "Yeah, I guess so."

"So let's forget Dr. Carlin, okay? How's your radar? Did sneaking out
the rear door throw our watcher off?"

"I haven't noticed anything, at least so far. How about you?"

"I've been watching, but I haven't noticed anyone following us. Of
course, I didn't before--probably because it's you he's watching, not
me."

"Just keep your x-ray eyes peeled, partner. If Lex has someone keeping
an eye on me, I want to know who it is." She glanced past him at a
graffiti-smeared wall where someone had written in yellow spray-paint:

Superman
Tyranny
Over
People

"Look at that! Who *are* these idiots?"

Clark surveyed it with a clinical expression. "Well, whoever they are,
they're clever enough to create an acrostic."

"A what?"

"An acrostic. It's a word or a message subliminally hidden in a series
of lines. See?" He pointed. "In this case it spells the word 'stop'."

"Oh." Lois regarded it for a moment. "They're still idiots."

Clark grinned. "That's what I like about you. You don't let yourself
get distracted from the important stuff."

"Is that all you like about me?" she asked, only half-seriously.

"Not on your life," he said. "But we won't go into the rest of it
here."

"You better not, Kent." But his joking made her feel better. "You
know," she said a few moments later as they approached their goal, "it's
sure ironic. A doctor who makes people look beautiful ends up in a
dumpster."

A clatter interrupted her as a shabby figure burst from behind the big
dumpster, shoved her roughly aside and fled down the littered sidewalk
away from them.

"Hey!" Clark gave her a hand to her feet and sprinted after the running
figure.

Lois also started in pursuit, well behind the other two, then saw Clark
pause, seize the battered form of a discarded tire from the clogged
gutter, and throw. In the nine weeks since she had discovered his
secret she still hadn't gotten used to seeing Clark do things like that,
and she had to stop (again) and figuratively catch her breath before she
hurried to join her partner.

Clark was helping the other man to his feet and removing the tire that
pinned his arms to his sides when she arrived beside them. The homeless
man--at least she assumed he probably was, judging by the condition of
his clothing--stood staring at the two of them like a cornered animal,
but the look he turned on Lois seemed somehow more apprehensive.

"Look," Clark said, "we're reporters. We were wondering if you could
tell us anything about the body that was found in that alley."

The man's eyes rolled back to Lois again. Clark glanced at her. "I
think some money might be a good idea right now."

Lois raised her eyebrows. "Where's *your* wallet?"

"Your hands are free," Clark said.

She eyed him a moment. "Okay, but you owe me half back, later." She
took several bills from her wallet, glanced measuringly at their
reluctant informant, and cut the total to two bills. When he reached
for them, she pulled them back out of reach.

"Okay, what did you see?" she asked.

His eyes flicked from the bills, to her face and back to the bills.
"There was this big car came by. Some old guy, drivin'. It was pretty
dark, but these two guys, they dragged a body outta the back seat and
dumped it. I heard one of 'em call the other one Harry. Only, when
they got back in the car I saw they wasn't guys--they was chicks."

"Did you get a look at either of them?" Clark asked.

"Yeah." The man nodded, reached forward and snatched the bills. He
pointed at Lois. "It was her."

He ran.

****************

Clark stared after the man, puzzled, then turned back to Lois. She was
looking at him, an expression of dismay on her face. "Clark, what did
he mean? *I* didn't have anything to do with this."

"Of course you didn't," Clark said, as matter-of-factly as he could.
"There's something going on that I don't understand, but I don't for a
minute think you had anything to do with it." He made a decision.
"Look, let's go by the police station and take a look at the police
report, okay? Maybe forensics has found out more by now, like when he
was killed."

"Okay." She glanced back at the dumpster where the police had found the
body of Dr. Heller. She shivered slightly. "This is really weird,
Clark."

"I'd say that describes it," Clark said. He followed her gaze and had
to shake away the involuntary shiver that passed over his skin.
Something out of the ordinary had happened here last night, that was
certain, and he didn't like it at all.

****************

Police Inspector William Henderson was a lean, dark-haired man with a
cynical manner that had never fooled Clark for a second. He listened to
the story of their encounter with the homeless man with an air of
disinterest, but when they finished, he turned to Lois.

"So where were you between eight and ten last night, Lois?"

"She was in my apartment," Clark said. "We were watching Lethal Weapon
IV."

"Did you leave at any time during that two hours?"

No," Lois said.

"Then you're in the clear. Forensics established the time of death as
about nine, give or take an hour. But this story about someone who
looks like you is interesting, considering that the victim was a plastic
surgeon."

"I'd say so," Clark said. "Inspector, has there been any more on the
search for Luthor?"

"I suppose it's reasonable that you'd bring that up," Henderson said.
"We're still pretty certain he's in the Metropolis area. Lex Tower's
main vault was robbed last night."

"Who do they think it was?" Lois asked.

Henderson shrugged. "The security cameras recorded nothing; the theft
was reported this morning by a security guard. Only one thing appears
to have been taken. Nothing else was disturbed."

"And that was?" Lois persisted.

"A large crate, about five feet by five feet by seven," Henderson said.
"It was apparently part of one of LexCorp's top secret projects under
the title 'Series K'. No one admits to knowing anything about it, or
why it might have been taken, which doesn't make me very happy."

"I remember Mrs. Cox mentioning it once to Lex when I was there," Lois
said. "She might be able to tell you something."

Henderson didn't break a smile, although Clark was sure the information
pleased him. "I'll ask her. Thanks for the information, Lois."

"Inspector," Clark said, "this business of someone who looks like Lois
being involved in last night's murder bothers me."

"It bothers me, too," Henderson said, rather surprisingly. "I'm aware
that Luthor had an...interest in you, Lois. There isn't much I can do
at the moment, though, except to advise you to be careful."

****************

They left the station a few minutes later, avoiding several protesters
bearing "Free Luthor" signs. Lois glared at the man who tried to thrust
a handbill into her fingers, with an expression that made the fellow
take an involuntary step backwards.

"Morons!" she muttered. "In the first place, he's not even *in* jail!
He broke out!"

Clark said nothing, but he frowned perplexedly at the marching
demonstrators.

"Don't these people read the papers?" Lois asked the world at large.
"He's a crime boss! It's like demanding the authorities free Al Capone
or something!"

Clark shook his head. "I guess if we'd lived back then we'd have seen
people demanding that, too," he said. "Nothing surprises me anymore."

They walked in silence for several minutes, Lois still reflecting on the
idiocy that seemed to be permeating Metropolis this Christmas season.
It was going to be a relief to head for Kansas in a week and leave all
this behind, at least for a few days. There were times when the quiet
of Martha and Jonathan Kent's farm seemed far preferable to all the
craziness of the big city, but she knew that it didn't last. A short
period of peace and relaxation would recharge her run-down batteries and
she'd be ready to tackle it all again with renewed vigor. Still, it
would be good to take a break. She and Clark had been working
practically non-stop for weeks. She was ready for a rest, although she
would rather have died than admit it to anyone. The last week had been
the worst, what with the feeling of being watched. Speaking of which...

"It's nearly noon," Clark said. He waved at a sign halfway down the
block. "Do you feel like stopping for a bite to eat at Ricky's?"

"Don't tell me you're hungry," Lois said. In the nine weeks since the
night she had discovered that her best friend occasionally moonlighted
in blue tights, she'd had to make a number of adjustments in her
thinking about him. For one thing, she no longer wondered how he could
eat like an eight-year-old and still look the way he did. All those
calories had to go somewhere, she knew, but she figured propping up
bridges and fighting typhoons probably burned them up without any
problem at all.

He grinned sideways at her. "I could eat something, too, but I was
actually thinking it's been awhile since you had breakfast."

"I think I'd like to get something to go. We can eat in the newsroom."
The feeling was back; it had been back, she realized, since they had
left the police station.

Clark opened his mouth to reply, glanced at her, closed it again and
nodded. "Whatever you say." He glanced casually around. "How long has
he been watching?"

"I think since we came out of the police station. Clark, this is really
annoying! Creepy, too," she added.

"No kidding. Order me a steak sandwich with fries, would you? I'm
going to wait by the front window and see if I can spot him."

"Okay."

When they emerged from Ricky's, ten minutes later, the grey sky had
turned greyer and tiny, glistening flakes had begun to float lazily
downward. They headed for the Daily Planet at a brisk walk, dodging
through stoplights in such a fashion that the "Don't Walk" sign would
flick into existence instants after they entered the crosswalk. It was
at the third such crossing that Clark said, with a faint note of triumph
in his voice, "Got her."

"'Her'?"

"Yeah. It's a woman with short, blond hair. She's wearing a grey coat,
and walking parallel to us, about ten feet back on the other side of the
street. Don't look. When we get across, lean on me and pretend to take
something out of your shoe. You can look then."

"Right."

They carried out the plan when they reached the sidewalk, and Lois
squinted at their tail. The woman didn't seem all that remarkable, and
she was sure she had never seen her before in her life.

"Recognize her?" Clark asked.

"No."

"Well, come on. The Planet is just ahead. When we go in, I'm going to
do a quick exit and see where she goes. Okay?"

Lois nodded, then her eye lit on the six bundled-up forms bearing signs,
marching slowly back and forth in front of the Daily Planet. "Oh,
brother! More of them!"

When they dodged past the Superman protesters and into the lobby of the
Planet, Clark gave her a significant look and headed for the side
entrance. Lois continued on to the elevator. When she stepped out on
the newsroom floor, Clark was waiting for her.

"See anything?" she asked.

"Yeah. She got into a station wagon parked in that lot beside Brown and
Williams Dry Goods. I copied the license number. Let's have Jimmy run
it for us. And I have another idea to suggest, too."

"What?"

"How do you feel about watching your watcher?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Look," Clark said as they walked down the ramp, "these people have been
keeping an eye on you for weeks. I think it might be a good idea to try
to find out who they are and what they're up to. Why don't we have Jack
follow you the next time you go out? Then he can follow the tail when
and if she goes somewhere else--maybe spot if someone else takes her
place, too. What do you think?"

"I think I'm getting tired of being followed, but you're right. We
better talk to Perry about it, though. We don't want to get Jack in
trouble."

"One thing," Lois said as they walked toward Perry's office. "We do
*not* tell Dr. Carlin about this. I don't want her psychoanalyzing my
feelings of persecution or something."

"No problem," Clark assured her. "The fewer people who know about it,
the better." He lowered his glasses. "Let's see if we can talk to
Perry." After a short pause, he continued, "He's doing the crossword
puzzle."

"Then let's go." Lois stepped forward and knocked briskly on the office
door. "Chief? May we talk to you?"

"Come on in," Perry's voice said. Their editor looked up from the
crossword puzzle as they entered. "What's a seven letter word for 'an
extensive, violent wind'?"

"Tempest," Clark said. "Chief, we have a problem."

"Oh?" Perry raised his brows. "Maybe you should talk to Dr. Carlin,
then."

"It's not that kind of problem," Lois said. "Tell him, Clark."

"Somebody's following Lois," Clark said, bluntly. "We've suspected it
for awhile, but we only spotted the tail this afternoon."

"Why would anyone be following you?" Perry asked. "You haven't been
investigating anyone in particular for at least a week."

"We're not sure, but we think Lex Luthor might be behind it," Clark
said. "I know it sounds a little unlikely, but..." He glanced at Lois.

"Tell him," she said, again.

"Remember when Jimmy and Jack taped John Black for us? Well, we did a
little taping of our own. Lois bugged Luthor's office and we recorded
three days of conversations there. It was a real eye-opener. He'd
hired Black to kill me, if you remember, but what you didn't know was
that he also planned to buy and then destroy the Daily Planet and pin
the crime on Jack--all to maneuver Lois into accepting his proposal.
There's a lot more, but the upshot is, for some reason he's obsessed
with her, and we think he's still after her."

"Clark, that's nuts! The guy's a fugitive."

"Just because he was arrested doesn't mean he's given up," Clark said.

"Lex doesn't like to be beaten at anything, Perry," Lois said, quietly.
"He'll go to some pretty extreme lengths to get what he wants, and
anyway, don't you think he'd have had some kind of backup plan in case
his dirty dealings caught up with him?" She heard her voice falter
slightly, and Clark's arm was suddenly around her.

"Chief," he said, "you didn't hear those tapes. We did. The guy's a
sociopath in spades, with an ego the size of Metropolis. I wouldn't put
anything past him. We're talking about Lois's safety, here."

Perry studied them for a moment. "You really believe this, don't you?"

"Yes, we do." Clark met his eyes. "Someone's following her, Chief.
There've been a couple of other odd things that have happened recently,
too, that make us think something's up. We want to turn the tables on
this tail and find out who's really behind it, and what he wants. If I
were a betting man, I'd guess it's Luthor, but we're not ruling out
somebody else."

"What do you want to do?"

Clark explained. Perry listened thoughtfully until he had finished,
then nodded slowly. "Not a bad idea. I think we should put Jimmy with
Jack, though. They can spell each other, and make it a little less
likely one of 'em will be noticed." He rubbed his chin with one thumb.
"I think it's time the Planet issued those two cell phones..." He
picked up the phone. "Call 'em in here."

When the situation had been explained, Jimmy and Jack looked at each
other. Jack grinned. "Sounds like fun." He sobered. "Don't worry,
Lois. Leave it to us. Jim, you rode your motorcycle today, didn't
you?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I was thinking about following this guy..."

When the two had gone out, Perry shook his head. "You really think they
can manage this?"

"Trust me, Chief," Clark said, "they'll do fine. One other thing, Lois,
I don't like the idea of you being in your apartment alone, after
today."

"Clark, I've been fine, so far."

Clark nodded. "I know. But that was before this look-alike turned up."

"Look-alike?" Perry said.

"I'll explain in a minute, Chief. I just have a bad feeling about the
whole thing. What if up until now Luthor's been setting up some plan,
and he's getting ready to move? It just seems to me that a lot of
things have started happening at once. It makes me nervous. I'd like
you to stay over at my place until this is resolved, Lois. Will you?"

"We...ll--"

"If you'd rather stay with Alice and me, we can make up the guest
bedroom," Perry said. "But Clark's right. You being alone in your
apartment is asking for trouble if Luthor or somebody else is after
you."

Lois looked back and forth at the faces of the two worried males--one,
in his way a substitute father who loved her, and the other the man who
was her partner, and who also loved her. Their expressions were
remarkably similar. Oh well, where was the harm in it?

"I guess I'll stay with Clark, then," she said. "I don't want to
inconvenience Alice. Besides, Clark would probably drive you crazy with
phone calls to be sure we were all okay."

"Good," Clark said. "I promise, no funny stuff. It'll be strictly
business."

Perry gave a bark of laughter. "Whatever. You can work out the details
later."

"Oh," Clark said, "one thing. I think this whole thing should be kept
between the five of us. There's no point in risking a leak."

Perry grinned. "Don't try to teach Gramps how to chew tobaccy, son.
Now, what about this 'look-alike', and when do I get that story on the
plastic surgeon?"

"Interesting that you should ask that, Chief," Clark said. "It's
something we heard this morning..."

*******************

That evening when they left the Planet, they exited the building by the
main entrance, making no effort to conceal their departure. After
several blocks, Lois saw Clark lift his head.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. I was just listening." Clark briefly put an arm around her
shoulders. "Our tail is about half a block back, and I can hear Jimmy's
motorcycle a block behind her. Jack's on the job."

"That's good. I just hope she doesn't spot him."

Clark grinned. "I doubt it. Jack's amazing, sometimes. The first time
we ever met him I'd never have caught up with him when he took off if it
hadn't been for, you know."

"Yeah. Lucky for him you did."

They walked the distance to Lois's apartment through a curtain of
drifting flakes that sifted down endlessly. The quantity had thickened
since this afternoon. Christmas music floated on the air, muted by the
falling snow and the sidewalk under their feet was a muddy mess of
trampled, half-melted sludge. The storm showed no sign of letting up in
the immediate future.

"I'll be glad to get the Jeep back tomorrow," Lois said. "You'd think
people would learn to drive a little more carefully in the winter."

Clark grimaced. "There's always some hotshot who thinks the laws of
physics don't apply to him. Just be thankful you weren't in the Jeep
when it happened, or you might have been more than just inconvenienced.
The driver wound up in the emergency room, getting his face sewn up, and
he's going to be writing left-handed for a while. His father wasn't too
happy with him, either."

"Serves him right," Lois said, aware of how uncharitable she sounded.
She'd been coming out of the apartment house when the teenage boy who,
it turned out later, had been driving his father's car, rounded the
corner too fast and ploughed into the side of her beloved Jeep.
Superman arrived seconds later, too late to prevent the accident, but in
time to prevent Lois from further traumatizing the youthful driver.

The traffic light, blurred by the clouds of snow, turned from red to
green, and they stepped down from the curb. Somewhere an engine revved,
and suddenly a car was roaring toward them from out of the snow. Clark
seized Lois bodily, threw her to safety, and jumped out of the way. The
car vanished around the corner, the taillights fading quickly into the
gloom.

"Are you all right?" Clark was holding her in his arms, looking
scared. "Lois?"

Lois sucked in the air that had been knocked from her lungs in a long,
whistling indrawn breath, and nodded. Clark relaxed a little, and
lifted her to her feet. Several persons brushed past them, glancing
curiously at them, but no one stopped. When she had recovered her
breath, Clark asked, "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yeah. I just got the air knocked out of me." Lois rubbed her hip,
which had come into bruising contact with the sidewalk. "Where did he
go?"

"Around the corner. I didn't see where he went after that. Come on,
the apartment's just a block away."

She never would have admitted it, but Lois was glad to have his
supporting arm around her as they crossed the street and traversed the
distance to her apartment building. They rode the elevator to the fifth
floor, and Clark unlocked the door to her place.

"Come on," he said. "Let's get your things. I'm going to fly you to my
apartment after that. That way the tail can sit and watch this place,
and might not figure out where you are before morning."

"Okay." She rubbed her hip again. "My overnight bag is in the closet."

Ten minutes later they took off from the roof. Lois was certain that no
one saw them; the storm had brought an early darkness to the city, and
Clark avoided the lights. She snuggled into his arms, feeling the tiny,
cold flakes brushing against her face as they drifted softly on the
evening breeze. The flight to his apartment took less than five minutes
and she sighed with relief as he set her down in the middle of his
living room. She moved to the couch and sank onto it.

Clark looked at her narrowly. "Are you *sure* you're all right, Lois?"
he asked. "You're limping."

Trust Clark to notice that! "I just bruised my hip a little. I'm
okay."

"Lois, I'm really sorry. I didn't have time to be more careful."

"Clark, you don't have to be sorry! You saved my life--again." She
smiled at him. "A little bruise is a small price to pay for that."

He sat down beside her. "Maybe, but I still feel bad about it. Look,
why don't you take a hot shower? It will help keep it from stiffening
up. I'll put on some tea, and get dinner started, okay?"

Lois glanced at the little mantle clock. It was past six. "I think
I'll do that." She started to rise to her feet and winced. The bruise
was definitely painful.

Clark gave her a hand to her feet, and put a palm on one side of her
face, caressing it lightly. "I'm sorry, Lois. I wouldn't have hurt you
if I could have avoided it."

"I know." For a moment she looked into his dark eyes, seeing there all
the love she had once dreamed of seeing in Superman's eyes. But
instead, now she saw her partner, who might indeed be Superman, but was
also so much more.

On impulse, she leaned forward and kissed him full on the mouth. He
reciprocated at once and with enthusiasm. When she broke the kiss
several seconds later, she was gasping slightly for breath. There was
certainly an advantage for a man who could hold his breath for twenty
minutes at a time, she reflected.

He smiled at her. "Hey, I thought I said no funny stuff," he said.
"You keep that up and we won't make it to dinner."

She was still smiling as she limped into the bathroom a few minutes
later. A hot shower was definitely going to feel good, but it couldn't
possibly be hotter than that kiss. Wow!

The last eight weeks since she had told him she knew his secret had been
a revelation in more ways than one, she thought as she pulled off her
muddied clothes and adjusted the water temperature. After a year of
dreaming about Superman, everything had been turned upside down and
she'd been pitchforked into a situation she had never remotely
imagined. Superman, a.k.a. Clark Kent, had been her partner all along
and, as he confessed to her once they'd had time to actually relax and
talk, he had been in love with her from their first meeting. But he'd
wanted her to care for him for who he was, not for the flashy super-hero
who boosted rockets into orbit and saved the world from stray
asteroids. He'd nearly despaired of that ever happening. But since
then, she'd seen and done things with him that told her a lot more about
Clark Kent/Superman than any outsider would ever learn.

Together, they had saved the city from a man who used sound as a weapon,
Clark won his first Kerth (and for all his super powers, had surprised
her with his pride in the achievement) and Kyle Griffen had foolishly
tried to exact revenge on her and the Planet for putting him in prison,
to name a few of the things that had happened. And while they dealt
with the various crises she came to realize that super powers or not,
Clark really did depend on her as much as she did on him. She had never
been so surprised in her life as when she absorbed that fact, but it
reassured her that despite his powers, their partnership wasn't heavily
one-sided.

She stepped into the shower and relaxed under the hot water, still
thinking about the amazing man who was her partner.

Clark was different from every man with whom she had ever had a
relationship; he demanded nothing from her that she wasn't willing to
give. Although he had no objections to intimacy before marriage, he
hadn't pushed it when she told him she preferred to wait. Her
relationship with Claude had gone disastrously wrong and left her with
an almost superstitious feeling about the whole subject. She didn't
want this one to go wrong as well, although Clark had assured her over
and over that he had no intention of walking away, for any reason. The
fact that he hadn't pressured her had, by itself, almost floored her,
and convinced her, as perhaps nothing else could, that this time she had
found the right man in spite of every obstacle she could throw in his
way and that--for once--her feelings for him could be trusted.

When she emerged from the bathroom some fifteen minutes later, her bag
was sitting on the bed and a delectable smell was drifting in from the
dining area. She could hear Clark whistling softly as he moved around
his little kitchen. That was another plus, she thought humorously. He
could cook, a skill in which she was sadly deficient.

"What's on the menu?" she asked a few minutes later as she entered the
kitchen.

"Stir fry. Do you like it spicy or mild?"

"Spicy," she said.

"Spicy it is. The teapot and cups are on the table."

"Thanks." She took a seat at his kitchen table, which was set and
waiting for her.

"Feel better?" he asked.

"Some." She added artificial sweetener to her tea. "Clark, that car--"

"Yeah, I've been thinking about it. I should have gone after it, but--"

He'd been alarmed for her, she knew. "Do you think it was deliberate?"

"I don't know." He removed the skillet from the stove, barehanded, and
began to spoon the contents onto two plates. "I phoned Jack while you
were in the shower to let him know where we were. He asked if we were
okay and reported on the tail."

"And?"

"She followed us to your apartment and a little while ago was replaced
by someone in a blue, '92 Ford. He described an older man with white
hair. He didn't want to get too close, and besides, he was following
the woman."

"I can understand that."

"He followed her, and guess where she went."

Lois took a cautious sip of tea. "I'm not into guessing games. Where?"

"Lex Tower."

She swallowed. "I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose."

"No. But Jack did have something else to say about her, when I asked
how she reacted when we were almost run down. He said she seemed
startled."

"So her bosses didn't plan on killing us, then. Or if they did, she
didn't know about it."

"Probably not, although we don't know that for sure. It may have just
been a reckless driver--or maybe one who was celebrating Christmas Eve a
week early."

"I guess that's possible."

He set the plate in front of her. "Here you go. It's a recipe I
learned when I was in Japan."

"It smells delicious." She picked up her fork and tasted the mixture.
"Clark, this is great!"

"Thank you. I'll never be the cook my mom is, but she taught me the
basics." He gave her a smile. "I still remember when I was small,
helping her around the kitchen--at least, that's the impression I had.
Mom might tell you a different story."

"Probably," Lois said. "At least your mom and dad had time for you. My
mom's in rehab again this Christmas. Maybe this time she'll stay sober
when she gets out. Daddy is too busy to return my calls, and Lucy's
'finding herself'. The last I heard of her, she was somewhere in
California."

Clark looked sympathetic. "Well, you'll be spending Christmas with Mom,
Dad and me, and I can't imagine a better Christmas."

They ate in silence for a few minutes, enjoying each other's company.
The food was excellent; Lois had tasted worse in some of her favorite
restaurants. Clark was silent, too, simply eating and relaxing across
the table from her. She swallowed a last bite of the food and almost
jumped when he spoke.

"More stir fry?"

"A little." She watched while he divided the last of the food. "You
know, sometimes I think you're too good to be true."

He laughed softly. "I hardly think so, but if you like I can try
dragging my knuckles on the carpet so you'll believe I'm real."

She giggled. "No, thanks. I'll take your word for it."

*****************

"Hi," Lois said to the snack vendor in the lobby of the Daily Planet.
"Do you have my order?"

"Right here." The man produced a box of Double Fudge Crunch bars from
beneath the counter. "Here you go."

Lois reached for her wallet. "Am I still getting the bulk discount?"
she asked. Clark, beside her, raised his eyebrows.

"Sure are." The man took the bills she handed him and gave her the
change. "By the way," he added, "I'm with you one hundred percent. Go
get 'em."

"Uh...sure." Lois glanced uncertainly at Clark, who shrugged
infinitesimally.

"What do you suppose that was all about?" Clark asked, as they headed
toward the elevator.

"I have no idea." Lois waved to George, the lobby's security guard, but
the man, normally a friendly soul, folded his arms, gave her a hard
stare, then focussed his gaze on the wall behind her.

"Clark, do I look okay to you?" she asked.

Clark glanced at George, then back to her. "Always. Why?"

"People are looking at me funny."

"Yeah, I noticed. You look fine, though."

"Then what's going on?"

He shrugged. "Not a clue."

When they entered the newsroom a few minutes later, heads turned toward
them and frosty stares were directed at her.

"What's going on?" Lois asked. "Did I grow a second head or something?"

Jimmy passed her, giving her a cold look. "I just wanted you to know, I
think what you did took a lot of guts," he said.

"Huh?"

Perry, looking grim, met them on the way to their desks, Dr. Carlin
behind him.

"Lois, what in the Sam Hill was that stunt you pulled last night? Our
publisher's been all over me like a bad rash."

Lois stared blankly at him. "What are you talking about, Chief?"

"Your virtuoso performance on the late news. If you have an opinion to
express you might consider using the Planet's editorial page."

Lois and Clark looked at each other. "I wasn't on the news," Lois said.

"You weren't at the anti-Superman rally last night?" Dr. Carlin asked,
gently.

"No!"

"Lois, you come with me, dear," Perry said. He led the way into the
conference room and to the VCR. "Then I'd like you to explain this," he
said. He punched the "Play" button.

The scene was that of a crowd of demonstrating men and women, placards
decrying Superman's presence in Metropolis displayed prominently, and in
the foreground, her own face looked out at her.

"Lex Luthor may not have been a model citizen," her doppelganger
announced, staring earnestly into the camera, "but he did a lot of good
for the citizens of Metropolis!" She pushed back a lock of dark hair
that had fallen forward across her eyes. "What I want to know is why
Superman framed him so unfairly! He was a good man, and now he's being
hounded as a wanted fugitive! What kind of person is this alien?
What's he got against Lex Luthor?"

"Now, I could be wrong," Perry said, "I've only worked with you for
about five years, but that sure looks like you."

"That's not me!" Lois said. She looked at Clark. "Clark, you know--"

"You say that isn't you?" Arianna Carlin said gently. "Lois, take a
close look. You have no memory of this?"

"Of course that isn't me! I would never--

"Lois, memory lapses can be a sign of overwhelming stress," Dr. Carlin
was beginning, when Clark broke in.

"Dr. Carlin, let me speak to her for a minute. Come on, Lois." His
hand closed tightly on her wrist and, before she could protest, he had
dragged her bodily from the room.

"Clark!" She yanked her wrist free as the door closed behind them.
"You know it can't be me! It's that--"

"Sh!" Clark lowered his voice. "Don't you see, Lois, it's a set-up!"

"Of course it's--"

"Keep your voice down! That 'Lois' is left-handed!"

"What?"

Clark's voice was barely audible. He couldn't have been heard five feet
away. "I knew it couldn't be you, so I watched her. She pushed her
hair off her face with her left hand."

"Then--"

"Look, play along. I've got an idea."

She hesitated. "What do you want me to do?"

"Don't mention the double. We'll go back in there, and you argue with
Dr. Carlin. Insist it's someone else. I'll deal with Perry, but if
everyone thinks we don't know anything, whoever set this up will think
he's fooled us. Let's see where it goes. Can you do it?"

She nodded. "You bet I can!"

"Okay. Remember, you're innocent and outraged, and you don't understand
how this could be." He glanced quickly around the newsroom. "There
could even be someone here who's keeping track of you, now that things
suddenly seem to be happening. Call me paranoid, but it would make
sense."

"Yeah, it would." Lois took a deep breath to quiet the butterflies that
seemed to have taken up residence in her stomach. "Okay, let's do it."

Clark opened the door to the conference room. Perry and Dr. Carlin, in
deep conversation, looked around at their entrance.

"Clark!" Lois said, furiously, "I'm telling you that isn't me!"

"Then, who else could it be?"

"I don't know! Maybe it's some kind of sick joke!"

"It's no joke, Lois," Arianna said, gently. "It's a cry for help."

"It's nothing of the kind! I never left my apartment last night!"

"Lois," Perry began.

"Chief," Clark said, "maybe we should leave them alone."

Perry hesitated, then nodded and followed Clark out.

*********************

Clark led the way from the conference room. A glance over his shoulder
assured him that Lois was in full rant mode, hands waving, eyes
flashing. As the door closed behind them, he turned to his editor.
"Perry, I need to talk to you--in private."

"I was going to suggest the same thing," Perry said. He, too, glanced
back. "She's good," he said.

Clark gave him a quick look. Maybe Perry hadn't been as deceived as he
thought. He opened the door to his boss's office and let the editor
precede him.

As soon as the door was closed, Perry said, "I know you said there was a
look-alike, Clark, but I had no idea it was that close. If I hadn't
known Lois was with you last night, I might have been fooled." He moved
around and dropped into his desk chair. "I knew she couldn't have gone
any place without you tagging along--and then I noticed her push her
hair back left-handed. Lois always uses her right."

Clark exhaled softly. "It's a set-up, Chief."

"I could see that, and I'd sure like to know what's going on. The only
thing I could think of was to pretend I was fooled and leave the rest to
you two."

"Thanks."

"Well, with that tail, yesterday, and now this..." Perry scowled.
"Whatever these people are up to, it's pretty serious. If I was the guy
who's behind it--especially if it's Luthor--I'd plant a spy in the
office to keep an eye on things, wouldn't you?"

Clark nodded. "Dr. Carlin's new."

"She's a reputable psychiatrist. I had Jimmy run a check on her
background, just to be sure, but it could be any one of a number of
other people--messengers, secretaries...anybody. I'd hate to think one
of the regular staff could be a spy, but you never know. Anyway, I'm
going to assume there is one until I know better."

"Yeah." Clark glanced at Lois again. Dr. Carlin was gazing at her
sympathetically, and from his partner's heart rate, he could tell she
was genuinely angry. "Chief, I have an idea."

"Let's hear it.

Clark spoke quickly, outlining what he had in mind. Perry listened,
frowning, then nodded. "Not bad." He glanced at the window to the
conference room. "I think I better bail Lois out before she murders
Arianna." He rose to his feet. "You get Jimmy and Jack and fill them
in. I can handle this."

*****************

Lois resisted the urge to throttle the psychiatrist. The doctor's
gentle refusal to accept her denial, and the sweet and compassionate
smile on her face were particularly maddening, even though Lois was
playing a part.

"Lois," Arianna Carlin said, gently, "you have to accept that you've
been under tremendous stress lately. No one is made of steel, not even
Superman. I can help you. Why not let me schedule a little time for us
just to talk? I promise we won't even make it official if you don't
wish it. We'll just talk."

"How many times do I have to tell you I don't *want* to--" Lois broke
off as the door opened.

Perry entered. "Excuse me," he said, gruffly. "I can see there's some
disagreement here."

"Perry, I don't *need* to see a psychiatrist! That woman on the
television *wasn't* me!"

"Okay." Perry looked at her sternly. "We'll table it for now. I want
you and Clark to continue that investigation you started yesterday.
Clark tells me there's been a new development. But if *anything* else
happens, you're going to schedule an appointment with Dr. Carlin. Is
that clear?"

"But--"

"Is that clear, Lois?"

Her shoulders slumped. "It's clear."

"Good, now go on. And try to relax."

Lois went past him out of the newsroom, resisting the urge to slam the
door. Clark was speaking to Jack and Jimmy by the darkroom, and he
looked up as he heard her come out. He beckoned.

Lois stormed over to him. "The nerve of that woman!"

Clark grinned. "You did a good job. Even Perry thought so."

"You mean--"

"He caught on before we even got here."

"What? Why that old...I never would have guessed!"

"Sh!" He grinned. "Keep your voice down!"

Jimmy looked contrite. "I'm sorry, Lois--I should have known you'd
never have attacked Superman that way...but I didn't know about the
double."

"Well," Clark said, "we'd only heard a little. We didn't realize she
was so..." He hesitated. "...So exact. I might have been fooled too,
if I hadn't known where Lois was last night--except, of course, for the
most important thing: that she'd have never done that in the first
place."

"It did seem kind of strange," Jimmy said. "I'm really sorry, Lois."

"It's okay, Jimmy, really." Lois looked at her partner. "You said you
had an idea?"

"Yeah, I do. As you pointed out yesterday, Dr. Heller was a plastic
surgeon who worked for LexLabs, and he's dead--and his body was
apparently dumped by two women, one of whom was probably that woman we
saw on television, who's nearly an exact double of you. Lex Luthor is
on the loose, and now there's all this public sympathy for him and all
the Superman bashing going on. These things may be connected."

"Right. I think we need to find out more about Dr. Heller."

"My thought, exactly."

"So, we need to go over to Dr. Heller's office before all his records
get moved to storage, or sent to other doctors."

"Great minds think alike," Clark said. "I told you, guys. She's
brilliant."

"And," Lois said, "we need to do it before this double does something
else to set me up."

"There's one last thing," Clark said. "Until we *do* solve this, we
need to be sure you have an alibi every minute of the day. If this
woman kills somebody else, we don't want you arrested for it."

All four of them were silent following that. Finally, Lois nodded.
"You're right," she said, quietly. "I hadn't thought about it that way
before, but one man is already dead. That means they're willing to
kill."

"I'm inclined to think," Clark said, "that the killing was meant simply
to cover the creation of the double. If Luthor's behind this, it
wouldn't surprise me a bit. He's awfully good at covering his tracks,
and a little thing like murder has never stopped him before." He looked
seriously at Jimmy and Jack. "You two keep that in mind--got it?"

Jack nodded without his usual cockiness.

"We will, CK," Jimmy assured him. He turned as the phone on his desk
shrilled. "Be right back."

"So you're going over to this doctor's," Jack said. "How are you gonna
dodge your admirer out there? If there's somebody in the office keeping
an eye on you, won't whoever it is alert the tail?"

"Probably," Clark said. "But she won't be following us if she's
following you."

Lois looked at him. "You don't mean that, do you?" Clark didn't
answer. "You do," she said in resignation.

"Well," Clark said, "if she's following your Jeep she won't be after
us. Jimmy's a good driver."

Lois sighed. "Fine, but if anything happens to it, *you* get to pay for
the repairs."

"Cheap at the price," Clark said. He looked past her, and she turned
her head to see Jimmy approaching.

"That was my contact at the DMV," Jimmy said. "He got me the info on
your tail's license number. The car's registered to a Gretchen W.
Kelly, address of record: Metropolis. I'm running her name through the
Planet's identification programs now."

"How about the car the old guy was driving?" Jack asked.

"They're still working on that one," Jimmy said. "I'll let you know as
soon as I find out."

"Okay," Clark said. "This is what I had in mind. Lois, have you got
your keys?"

"I'll get 'em," Lois said. "Just remember, Jimmy, I just got it back
this morning."

*******************

"Why couldn't Superman have just flown us out?" Lois grumbled a few
minutes later as they waited by the fire exit.

Clark checked his watch. "One more minute. You know why, Lois. If
there's a spy in the office, the tail will be waiting for us to leave.
We'd be unaccounted for, and since it's broad daylight, and I'd be
carrying you, I couldn't fly fast enough not to be seen. I can't risk
it."

"Oh, I know. I just--" She sighed. "You're right. I just hope
Jimmy's careful."

"He will be. He knows what'll happen if he gets a scratch on the
paint."

"I'm more worried about *them*," Lois said. "I don't want them to get
hurt."

"Time," Clark said. "Go."

They slipped out the door and walked briskly toward the back of the
Daily Planet.

Twenty minutes later they entered the office of Dr. Heller, and one look
around told them that they hadn't arrived a day too soon. Boxes sat
everywhere, file cabinets gaped open, and on every surface stacks of
folders lay, waiting for the attention of the lone young woman moving
briskly among the chaos.

She looked around as they came in, her arms full of folders. "I'm
sorry, the office is closed."

"I just want my file," Lois said.

"Oh." She looked uncertain. "I don't know if you knew about it, but
Dr. Heller died. All of his stuff's being moved to storage."

"Well," Lois explained, "that's why we're here. I need my records.
This--" she gestured to Clark, "is my *new* doctor, and he needs to look
them over for medical reasons."

Clark stepped forward, endeavoring to look professional. "Yes, I need
her records. My patient is suffering some side effects from the
operation Dr. Heller performed on her, some physical--" He glanced
wickedly at Lois. "--Some mental."

Behind the counter, Lois kicked him lightly in the shin. "So...?" She
glanced at the woman's name tag, "Uh...Linda?"

"Oh, well..." Linda hesitated uncertainly. "I guess it would be okay.
Name?"

"Name?" Lois said.

"Yeah, your name."

"Well...don't you recognize me?" Lois asked. "I come here a lot."

Linda shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I'm just a temp."

"Oh." Lois glanced at Clark, who had lowered his glasses slightly and
was looking around. "She's a temp!" She started around the counter.
"Well," she said brightly, "you're obviously really busy, so why don't I
just go through some of these boxes, myself?"

Linda moved in front of her. "No, if you want it, I need to know the
name on the file."

"Well," Lois said, "I wouldn't presume to know the name on the file.
How would *I* know how Dr. Heller's filing system works? Maybe it's in
here." She dodged around the temp and headed for a door that opened
behind the front office.

"Hey!" Linda hurried after her, protesting. "Hey! You can't go in
there!"

As she entered the room after Lois, Lois shoved her past, ducked outside
and pulled the door closed. With a triumphant gesture, she locked it
and turned to see her partner grinning slightly at her.

"Very subtle, Lois. Was that really necessary?"

"You're the one who pointed out that someone's trying to set me up,"
Lois said. "I don't have time to be clever."

He glanced at the closed door, which resounded with blows from the
prisoner's fists. "Come on! Let me out!" Linda's voice wailed.

Clark shook his head. "That folder," he said, pointing. "It's marked
'year to date'."

Lois lifted it from the top of a stack and opened it. On the very top
of the papers thus revealed lay the one they sought. "Aha! Look at
this! Dr. Heller's last patient." Quickly, she scanned the document.
"Clark, you're wonderful! Female, my height, my weight--"

"Full facial reconstruction," Clark said, "but no patient name."

"The last entry here is dated the day he died," Lois said. "The
operation was performed six weeks ago...that makes sense. Plastic
surgery takes a while to heal. It looks like it was done right after
Lex escaped. He didn't waste any time, did he?"

"Paid for by ACL Corporation," Clark said. He was checking the
insurance records. "I've never heard of them."

"Me, either," Lois said. "There's the Xerox machine. I'm going to
duplicate this. Maybe Jimmy can locate them for us."

Some minutes after leaving the office, Superman made a fast return to
release the imprisoned Linda. Leaving her to draw her own conclusions
about the door that mysteriously unlocked itself, he returned to the
street and they hailed a taxi. It was some ten minutes after their
return to the Daily Planet that Jack and Jimmy entered the newsroom.
The two young men had a satisfied air about them that was hard to miss.

"How'd it go?" Clark asked.

"Perfect," Jack said. "She never got close enough to get a good look at
us. She did get a nice tour of Suicide Slum, though."

"And," Jimmy said, quietly handing Lois her keys, "your Jeep doesn't
have a scratch."

"Jimmy, I wasn't really worried about that," she said.

Jimmy grinned. "I know," he said.

"Good work, both of you," Clark said. "I don't have to tell you not to
talk about it to anybody but Perry, do I?"

"Nope," Jack said. "My lip's zipped."

"Good," Clark said. He clapped the young man on the shoulder. "You
were a great help. We found what we were looking for. Jim, we need you
to track down an ACL Corporation. They paid for the double's surgery.
I've never heard of them, but that doesn't mean anything."

"On it, CK." Jimmy headed for his desk.

As the others walked away, Lois sank into her desk chair and put her
face into her hands. This whole situation was spooking her much more
than she would ever admit to anyone, except maybe Clark. It seemed that
the more they investigated, the more intricate the thing got.

"Lois?" Clark's voice said, softly, and she felt his hand touch her
shoulder. "Are you all right?"

She raised her head. "Yeah. Just...confused, I guess. And tired."

"I don't blame you." He moved behind her and began to rub her
shoulders. "How about tonight we pay a visit to Smallville?"

"That sounds nice."

"Uh...guys?" Jimmy approached the desk. "I just found out the stuff on
Gretchen Kelly. She's...or was, I guess...Luthor's personal physician."

"*What*?"

"And the other car...the one that Jack saw? It's registered to a Nigel
St. John."

"Lex's butler," Lois said. "I guess that clinches it."

"Yeah," Clark said. "I guess it does."

*******************

The Kansas farmhouse, surrounded by spreading fields glittering with ice
and snow and snow covered trees, all tinted a faint pinkish color by
the setting sun, looked like something out of a Christmas card, Lois
thought as she and Clark approached it from the air some two hours
later. Not far away, to the east, she could see the little town of
Smallville, and in the silence, she heard the faint, but distinct music
of carols being played over a loudspeaker.

Clark landed them in the side yard of his old home and spun back into
his civvies. Lois looked around at the tranquil scene, feeling her taut
nerves relax for the first time in hours. Here she wasn't under
observation, here she and Clark could be themselves without the fear
that Lex Luthor and his tools were waiting to maneuver her into whatever
trap they had set.

The side door of the farmhouse opened and Martha Kent emerged, drying
her hands on a dishtowel.

"Lois! Clark!" Lois couldn't mistake the real delight in her voice.
"Why didn't you tell us you were coming? Clark, bring her into the
house before she freezes."

"Hi, Mom." Clark hurried forward to envelop his mother in a hug. "I
hope you don't mind us dropping in unannounced."

"Of course not," Martha said, looking her tall son over as sternly as
she could, allowing for the smile on her face. "You know you two are
always welcome, no matter what. As a matter of fact, I was going to
call this evening and ask about Lois, but I guess I can ask in person."
She turned to Lois. "Are you going to be able to come for Christmas?"

"If it's not too much trouble," Lois began.

"Oh, honey, of course it's no trouble. We were hoping you'd come."
Martha smiled widely. "Come on in and have some tea. I've just put it
on to boil. I'm about to start dinner as soon as I finish cleaning up
my art project."

In the kitchen, Lois blinked at the sight of an oddly shaped metal
structure sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Lying beside it
on a heavy piece of cloth, was a welder's mask and on the floor an
oxyacetylene torch leaned against the table leg. Little shreds of metal
were scattered here and there on the floor.

"How do you like it?" Martha asked. "It's not finished yet, but I think
it's coming along really well."

Clark eyed it narrowly. "What is it?"

Martha threw him a Look. "It's going to be an abstract sculpture--when
it's finished. I haven't named it yet. Why don't you make yourself
useful and move it over to that side table for me?"

Clark obliged, raising his eyebrows at the weight. Martha threw a cloth
over it and set her equipment in a corner.

"Now," she said, "why don't you have a seat, Lois? The tea will be
ready in a few minutes."

"Where's Dad?" Clark asked.

"In the barn, repairing the tractor. He's been renovating all the farm
equipment for the spring planting while he has the time."

"I'll just see if he needs any help." Clark bent to kiss Lois on the
cheek and hurried out the door.

Martha looked after him for a minute, then turned to Lois. "Men! Give
them a chance to tinker with an engine--" She shook her head.

"Well," Lois said, "he did fix my Jeep a couple of months ago."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. That guy, John Black--you remember we told you about him?"

At Martha's nod, she continued, "Well, he disconnected something so we'd
have to walk and give him the chance to kill Clark. Clark fixed it for
me."

Martha smiled. "The life around here is exciting enough what with the
occasional loose cow from Jim Barnett's pasture, or something. I don't
know what I'd do if I had your job. So, what brings the two of you here
in the middle of the week? Is everything all right between you and
Clark?"

"Clark and I are doing fine," Lois said. "I think Clark suggested we
come out here because he thought I needed a break."

"Oh?" Martha turned her head as the kettle whistled, and rose to turn
off the flame. "What happened? It isn't Lex Luthor again, is it?"

"We think so." Lois gave Clark's mother an abbreviated version of
recent events and Martha shook her head in disgust.

"What a horrible man! Does he have some perverted idea that he can
force you to love him, or something?"

"I don't think he cares if I love him or not, to tell you the truth,"
Lois said. "I think he just wants to control me."

Martha set teacups on the table. "I know the sort," she said.
"Manipulative, controlling--they don't let you call your life your own,
and see nothing wrong with it."

Lois nodded. "That's it, all right, but Lex takes it to a new level."

"So I've been led to understand," Martha said. "But why create a double
of you?"

"I don't know. So far, she's gotten the Planet's new staff psychiatrist
thinking I'm insane. She's trying to get me on her couch for some
psychoanalysis."

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Martha said. "You don't need psychoanalysis."

"Tell that to *her*! She's convinced I'm on the edge of a breakdown."

"Who *is* this woman? She sounds awfully pushy."

"Her name's Arianna Carlin. She writes a syndicated column that appears
in the Planet, and a number of other papers."

"Oh, *her*." Martha's expression changed to one of distaste. "Her
column's in the Kansas City Sentinel. I've seen it a couple of times
recently. I didn't like it...or her."

"Really?" Lois brightened. "Why?"

Martha shrugged. "I don't know, really. Just an impression, I guess.
Something about it struck me as unpleasant."

"I guess that's better than the Superman haters in Metropolis," Lois
said. "They don't even know why they don't like him."

"We've had some of that, too. They don't seem to know why they feel the
way they do, they just don't like him." The older woman shook her head
in disgust. "It makes you wonder what the world is coming to, doesn't
it?"

"It sure does."

"So," Martha said, changing the subject abruptly, "speaking of Superman,
how are things now that you know all about him?"

Lois giggled. "I'd hardly say I know *all* about him, but it's
wonderful knowing and being able to help him out--and *not* having him
hiding things from me. Except--"

"Except what?"

"Oh, except when he's trying to protect me from things for my own good."

Martha rolled her eyes. "Don't I know it! He's done that to Jonathan
and me since I don't know when."

"*Really*?"

Martha nodded. "It just means you're very important to him, honey.
He's always had this need to protect those who are smaller and weaker
than him. I'll never forget the day I got a call from the principal
when he was in first grade. He'd tackled two, big fourth grade boys who
were picking on a little kindergartner named Sara Braxton. She's a
teacher over at Smallville Elementary now. Of course he lost, but he
stopped the teasing." She chuckled. "He got suspended for the day. He
wasn't a bit sorry though, and neither was I. I was proud of him."

"I can see why," Lois said. "Still, I wish he wouldn't do it to me."

"I know. You'll just have to be patient and convince him he has to
trust your judgement. He can be a lunkhead, sometimes, but he can be
taught."

Lois laughed. Somehow, Superman's mother calling her son a lunkhead
wasn't exactly what she expected, but then very little about Martha was
what Lois had expected in the beginning.

Some time later, the two Kent men entered the kitchen to find Martha
putting together a meatloaf, and supervising Lois's preparation of a
salad.

"Hi, Lois," Jonathan said. "Clark tells me Metropolis is getting a
little more exciting than usual."

"I guess that's one way to describe it," Lois said. "Is this right,
Martha?"

Clark's mother checked the bowl. "Perfect. Just tear the leaves into
bite-size pieces. The cherry tomatoes and other veggies are in the
crisper."

"Okay." Lois smiled a little uncertainly at Clark and his father. "I
hope I don't poison everybody. Martha's showing me a few of the
basics. Who knows, I might need to know how to do this, someday." She
couldn't help meeting Clark's eyes as she said that, and was rewarded
with a wide smile.

Jonathan chuckled. "Well, Martha's the one to teach you, I can tell you
that." He glanced down at his clothing. "Give me a few minutes to get
cleaned up, Martha. Clark speeded up the tractor repair. Better than a
fully equipped garage."

He turned and left the kitchen. Clark excused himself and followed;
there was a whoosh in the other room, and a few moments later he
reappeared in clean clothing with his hair damp and slicked back.

"Can I help?" he asked.

His mother waved at a large bin. "Could you wash the potatoes and get
them ready for the oven?"

"Sure."

Lois finished with the lettuce and hunted around in the refrigerator for
the remaining ingredients. She was doing her best to follow Martha's
directions closely; it would be humiliating, to say the least, to manage
to ruin a garden salad.

Martha, apparently experienced in the ways of fledgling cooks, was,
fortunately for them all, watching her closely and intervened in time to
prevent the addition of the okra and the horseradish root to the salad.
All in all, Lois thought later, it wasn't bad for her first successful
try at food preparation--other, of course, than the macaroni salad and
the two chocolate dishes she had learned how to make years ago from a
college roommate.

After dinner, while Jonathan and Clark did the dishes, Martha and Lois
retreated to the living room. Martha sank into her favorite chair and
picked up the TV remote. "Do you feel like watching something?"

"Not particularly." Lois sat down on the sofa across from her.
"Martha, are you sure I won't be a bother at Christmas? I mean, it's a
family occasion, and I don't want to intrude."

"Oh, Lois." Martha set down the remote control. "As far as we're
concerned, you *are* family. Do you have any idea how happy Clark has
been since you told him you'd figured out his secret? My boy is
literally walking on air! I've never seen him quite like this."

"Like what?" Lois asked.

"It's hard to describe. I mean, I knew from the minute I saw him after
he met you that he'd tumbled head over heels in love, but I've never
seen him so completely happy before. There's no other word for it."

"I'm glad," Lois said. "I do love him, Martha, and not because he's
Superman. You know that, don't you?"

"Of course I do." Martha spoke seriously. "So, like I said before,
you're family. Unless you have somewhere else you want to be, we expect
to see you and Clark here at Christmas."

"I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be on Christmas than here," Lois
said. "Thank you, Martha."

*******************

"Before we go to your place, I'd like to stop at my apartment to pick up
a few things," Lois said.

"Your wish is my command." Clark suited the action to the word and
changed course slightly. "Did you leave the window unlocked?"

"Always." She put her head on his shoulder. "Nice," she murmured.

"It definitely is." Clark wasn't exactly protesting, she noted. "What
time is it?"

"I can't see my watch in the dark." As if in answer, the clock at City
Hall chimed eleven.

"It's late," Clark said. "I don't see anybody watching, but we better
make this quick." He brought them to a stop, hovering just outside her
fifth story window, and pushed it open. They drifted gently inside. A
nightlight that she had placed in one of the wall sockets gave enough
light for her to find a table lamp without knocking anything over, and
she blinked in the sudden illumination.

"I'll just be a few minutes," she told Clark. "Make yourself at home.
I need to find something to wear at work tomorrow."

"Sure."

In the bedroom, Lois started toward her dresser, only to pause
uncertainly, looking around. Something wasn't right. What was it?

Turning her head back and forth, she surveyed the room, trying to pin
down that vague feeling.

Someone had been here.

How she knew she couldn't have said. Perhaps it was a subconscious
sense that detected what her conscious mind did not, but she knew
someone else had been in this room since this afternoon when she had
come here to change for the trip to Kansas.

Slowly she turned in a full circle, searching for some more concrete
clue. Nothing she could see had really changed in any obvious fashion.
The scent of some perfume seemed to linger on the air--was that it? It
wasn't a scent she recognized, and it was barely detectable but it might
have been what alerted her to the intrusion. Slowly, Lois moved to her
dresser, still searching for something more tangible to prove or
disprove her conviction.

Her jewelry box had been moved. Normally, she kept the little antique
box on the far right corner of the dresser. Its position had shifted by
perhaps no more than an inch--but that much was significant to Lois.
She was rarely meticulous in her habits but the little mahogany jewel
box had been a gift from her great-aunt Lois, and she had always
treasured it. With that clue to guide her, she opened the lid.

The order of her earrings had changed, and the jade ring she sometimes
wore was gone.

"Lois, is everything okay?" Clark stood in the doorway, concern on his
face.

"Clark, someone's been here."

"Are you sure?"

"You have a super sense of smell, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Do you smell perfume?"

Clark inhaled slowly. "Yes. It's some flower scent." He sniffed
again. "Gardenia, I think."

"Clark, I don't *have* any gardenia perfume. I wear Chanel. And
someone's been into my jewelry box. My jade ring is gone and so is a
pair of my earrings. I always keep them in the same order on their
hooks. Someone put another pair in its place so there wouldn't be a
gap."

"Do you know which ones?" Clark, she could see, was taking it
seriously.

"Yeah, my mother-of-pearl shells. Someone put a pair of white button
ones in their place. My jade ring is definitely gone, too."

"Is anything else missing?" She could see him squinting around the room
and guessed he was using his special vision to search for anything
unusual.

"I don't know."

"Okay, look around, but try not to disturb anything, okay?"

"Okay."

Some minutes later she said, "Someone's been in my closet, too. I think
a pair of my shoes is gone, and so is that beige pantsuit you like. I
might not have noticed if I hadn't been looking."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. I just got it back from the cleaner on Friday. It was still
in its wrapping."

"I don't like this," Clark said.

"Neither do I! What should we do about it, though?"

"I don't know." Clark scowled at the jewel box, obviously worried.
"Yes, I do. I'm going to talk to Inspector Henderson first thing in the
morning. It's late, or I'd do it now, but I'm not sure anyone else who
didn't have some idea about what's going on would give it serious
attention. Ten to one this is connected to all the rest of this
wierdness."

"Do you suppose it was my double?" Lois asked.

He didn't pretend to misunderstand. "Your clothing and jewelry for
her? Maybe. She could have easily gotten in here by impersonating
you. Lois, this is really beginning to scare me."

"Me, too." She moved over to him and he put his arms around her.

"Let's go back to my apartment," Clark said, finally. "We'll talk to
Henderson in the morning."

"Before we do, I'm going to put up the chain and bolt the sliding lock,"
Lois said. "You'll have to bring me in by the window when I want to
come back. It's probably locking the barn door after the horse is long
gone, but I'll feel a little better knowing they can't get back in
without leaving traces."

"I'm at your service," Clark said, but there was no lightness in his
tone. He waited while she bolted every lock on her door and slid the
chain into place.

"All ready?" he asked, when she had finished. "Got everything you
need?"

"For now, yes."

He held out his arms. "Then let's go."

It was close to midnight when Lois and Clark, who was now in his
civvies, entered his apartment.

"I wonder if our tail is still watching this place," Lois said.

Clark closed the door and locked it behind them. "The station wagon is
parked up the street," he said. There was a grim note in his voice that
Lois recognized. Superman was getting angry.

He turned suddenly and put his arms tightly around her. "I'm going to
get Luthor, Lois," he said. "I promise you I'm going to get him, and
when I do I'm going to see to it that he's locked up for several
lifetimes. You'll never have to be afraid of him again."

She said nothing, merely stood leaning against him, feeling his arms
around her. Independent career woman that she was, it was immensely
comforting to have him hold her this way. Here, the games and plots of
her enemies couldn't harm her. Here it was safe.

Clark's head came up suddenly; abruptly he was a streak crossing the
room, a streak that changed from grey to blue in the space of an indrawn
breath. The doors banged open and a split instant later a concussion
rattled the windows. Two books and Clark's fertility statue fell from
the bookshelf to the rug. Lois ran to the door in time to meet a
white-faced Superman, returning.

"Are you all right?" he demanded, grasping her by the shoulders.

Numbly, she nodded. "What was it?"

"A bomb. It was planted behind the couch. I heard the timer start
up." He kicked the door shut with one foot and strode to the phone.
"I'm going to call the police."

******************

It was two AM before the police investigators finally left. Lois sat
huddled on the couch as Clark closed the door behind the last man and
turned to look at her.

"Are you okay, Lois?"

"I think so," she said.

"You look like you haven't slept in a week," he said. "Go to bed. I'll
see to it that nothing happens."

"Not yet." She picked up her cup of the long-cold coffee that Clark had
made while they waited for the police and swallowed the last of it,
grimacing at the taste. "Is the station wagon still there?"

Clark shook his head. "It left a while ago. I didn't really notice
when." He sat down beside her. "I'm going to talk to Henderson first
thing in the morning. I couldn't exactly explain what I really thought
was going on."

"No." She leaned against him and Clark slipped an arm around her. They
sat in silence for several minutes.

"Clark," Lois said, "if Lex's people are following me, why would they
try to bomb your apartment while I'm in it?"

"I don't know." Clark's arm tightened slightly. "Since you're staying
here, maybe he thinks we're--you know--and has decided you've betrayed
him or something."

Lois had already considered that alternative and rejected it. "No,
Clark, I don't think so--not Lex."

"Lois, you know what he's capable of."

"Yes, of course I do; I just don't think it would matter that way to
him, Clark. I think, if anything, it would add spice to the game--it
would be more amusing for him to take me away from you if we were--well,
you know. More of a triumph."

Clark appeared to consider that.

"You're probably right," he said. "I hadn't thought of it that way, but
it makes sense. But in that case..."

"Why the theft at my apartment, and the double's appearance at the
anti-Superman rally?" Lois asked. "If Lex wanted me dead, why all the
games? There's something else we're not seeing here, Clark. It just
doesn't add up."

"I know. I suppose the bomb could have just been a trap for me," Clark
said.

Again, Lois vetoed the suggestion. "Lex knows we're partners and that
I'm often with you. He wouldn't set an indiscriminate trap like
that--not if he wants me alive."

"Maybe it wasn't," Clark said, unexpectedly. "That bomb had a countdown
mechanism that started *after* we came in. It may have been remotely
triggered. The bomb squad couldn't find anything we might have
tripped. That was what they were looking for while you were changing in
the bathroom. I didn't find anything either, and you can bet I looked."

"You mean someone waited until we entered the apartment and started the
timer?"

"I think so. I agree, it *doesn't* add up. And what if that car that
nearly ran us down wasn't just a reckless driver? It's like somebody
else out there is trying to get rid of you--or me--or us."

He broke off and they stared at each other.

"That's it!" Lois half shrieked. "Clark, you're a genius!"

"How could we have missed it?" he asked.

"Lex is doing part of this, and someone else is doing the rest--probably
the attempts to kill us," Lois said. "But why?"

"Good question," Clark said. "But it sure makes more sense this way."

"Yeah, it does. Only who could it be? We haven't made anyone mad at us
for a couple of months," Lois said.

"Well, more like two weeks," Clark amended, "but they're in jail, so it
couldn't be them. Lois, I have a really out-there kind of idea. Suppose
someone is targeting you because Luthor wants you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Luthor's made a lot of enemies in the past," he said, "and not all of
them were upright guys. What if someone out of his past has decided the
best way to get revenge on Luthor is to keep him from getting the woman
he wants, by killing her?"

Lois mulled that one over for a few minutes. It *was* a bit
melodramatic, still, it *did* make sense. "How do we find out? I'm not
eager to be killed so someone can get even with my would-be boyfriend."

"The idea doesn't exactly thrill me, either." Clark frowned
thoughtfully at nothing. "I wonder..."

Lois was completely silent while he thought.

"Luthor had lots of female companionship," Clark said, "but no wife.
Was he ever married, do you know?"

"If he was, he didn't say so. He did say he had a son...illegitimate.
He and the child's mother were killed in a car crash."

"Hmmm..." Clark was still frowning. He glanced at his watch. "It's
past two--too late to call Jimmy, now. I'll have to do it in the
morning."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to have him check into Luthor's history--was he ever married
or even just engaged--and if so, what happened to the wife or
girlfriend? I'm just working a funny hunch here, but if it pans out it
might explain some of this."

"You're saying it might have happened before."

"Maybe. That's what we need to find out."

"Well," Lois said, "at least we're acting instead of reacting for
once." She smothered a yawn with the back of her hand. "All of a
sudden, I'm sleepy."

"It's been a long day," Clark said. "Go on to bed. Superman's taking
the night off, unless something happens that the emergency services
really can't handle."

"Clark, you need sleep, too. Even Superman can't stay awake forever."

He nodded. "I'll sleep in here. I don't really need the sofa, you
know, but I'll wake up if anyone tries to break in."

"You could sleep in there with me, Clark. I trust you."

He smiled wryly. "You may trust me, but *I* don't trust me. I think
it's probably best if I stay in here." He bent his head and kissed
her. "Go on, honey. Get some sleep."

"What did you say?" She looked up, startled.

"I said you should get some sleep."

"No, before that."

"I...you mean, 'Go on, honey'?"

"Yeah. Honey." She smiled slowly. "I never thought of myself as a
honey. I like it."

"You do?"

"Yeah." She giggled. "I didn't think I would, but I do. If you want
to call me 'honey' after this, you can."

"Okay, I will. Go on to bed, honey. I'll be right here."

******************

When Lois woke the next morning she blinked sleepily at the clock, then
sat up straight. The hands pointed unbelievably to nine-seventeen.

Clark knocked gently on the partition. "May I come in?"

"Clark, it's after nine!"

"I already took care of calling Perry. May I--"

"Come on in," she said.

Clark appeared around the partition, a coffee cup in his hand. "Non fat
creamer and two Sweet 'n Lo's, right?"

"Right." She accepted the cup and saucer, noting with amusement that
Clark's eyes flicked toward her cleavage before he brought his gaze back
to focus determinedly on her face. "Thanks, Clark. What did you tell
Perry?"

"The truth. I let him know we'd be in after we finished some other
business this morning. I've already talked to Jimmy but when I called
Henderson's office they said he wouldn't be back until ten. I thought
we could go over there after you were dressed."

"Oh. Okay, I better get ready."

"I'll be waiting for you out front. The blue car is parked down the
street, by the way."

"They're still watching."

"Yeah."

Half an hour later, they entered the police station on their way to see
Inspector Henderson. A milling crowd of protesters occupied the
sidewalk in front of the building, shouting and waving signs protesting
Superman and the arrest of Lex Luthor. Lois let Clark carve their way
through the demonstrators to the steps of the station.

"Honestly, this is really getting out of hand," she said. "Clark, how
do you suppose he's doing this?"

"I wish I knew." He held the door for her, and followed her in.

*****************

Henderson was his usual self; his deadpan expression didn't change as
they told him the events of the past couple of days, but when Clark
finished speaking, he shook his head slowly.

"You know," he said, "it seems to me that every power-crazed criminal,
psychotic, and mad scientist in the country has it in for you, Lois. Do
you go out of your way, for some reason, to tick them off?" He smiled a
trifle sourly. "Thanks for the information. I can't pick these people
up until I have some concrete proof, but it's a start. And Lois, for
the sake of my grey hairs, stick close to your partner, will you? I
don't really fancy the idea of fishing you out of the bay, believe me."

"Neither do I," Clark said, and there was a grim set to his jaw.

"As for the double," Henderson said, "I'm keeping that information
quiet, except for the Luthor task force. There's a possibility we can
use the knowledge to our advantage. On the off chance you're arrested
for something she's done, don't make a fuss. Kent, you or Perry White
can contact me and I'll handle it quietly. The less Luthor thinks we
know, the better chance we have to nail him. Got it?"

"All right." Lois swallowed the nervous lump in her throat.

"Do you expect her to do something?" Clark asked.

Henderson shrugged. "I don't know what I expect, but there's some
reason she was made to look like you, Lois. I don't want to throw away
a possible advantage."

"I guess I see your point." Clark clearly did not like the idea.

"I'll be sure my assistant knows what's going on, in case I can't be
reached for some reason." The Inspector shook his head. "You two have
more lives than a cat, but try not to take any unnecessary chances. And
keep that rabbit's foot of yours handy, just in case, Kent. You may
need it before this is over."

******************

(continued in Part 2)