Neverending Battle

Written by Dan Levine

INTERPRETED BY SARAH WOOD, submitted to the L&C board by carolm.

I would like to thank the FOLCs who contributed to this transcript, especially Pam Jernigan, Georgia Walden, Donna Hafner, John Dobson, Chris Mulder, Kathy Brown, and Donna Brown.

A note about this transcript: Although Neverending Battle was shown third, it is chronologically the second episode.

The Daily Planet newsroom bustled with activity. Staff members moved around with various tasks, busy, but also anxious to avoid being noticed by Perry White, editor-in-chief, whose fuse seemed to be getting ever shorter as the day progressed.

Jimmy Olsen, intent on his own errands, squeezed past a ladder blocking an aisle, and made his way to the fax machine, where he was unfortunately caught by Perry.

"Olsen, where are those blow-ups of Superman?" Perry demanded.

"Lab's backed up, Chief -- turnaround might be a couple of hours."

"Turnaround! Great shades of Elvis! What are we, the Daily Planet? Or second-stringers from the Weehawken Gazette?" Perry turned to face the newsroom in general. "All right, staff meeting, tomorrow morning, six a.m." He pointed at Jimmy. "With blowups." He left, sure that his voice had given the youngster a bit of incentive.

In the midst of the hubbub, Lois Lane and Clark Kent were an island of still concentration as they stood watching over the shoulder of the Daily Planet's sketch artist.

Cat Grant eyed the couple curiously and decided that she had to know what had them so riveted. She went to stand by Clark, taking the opportunity to stand a little too close, flaunting her skin-tight dress and looking at him as though she wanted to eat him up. Clark shifted away uncomfortably. Lois ignored Cat and looked critically at the sketch artist's work.

"No, the color's wrong."

Cat chimed in with, "More almond-shaped."

The artist had drawn Superman from Lois's description, but with his own bias. The face was fierce, with chiseled features, and while it vaguely resembled Clark, it was unrecognizable as him.

"You said brown," the artist said, thinking that Lois was a very difficult person to work with.

"Well, not brown brown -- not dull, insipid mud brown, like Clark's." She turned and absently patted Clark on the chest, not really seeing him at all. "No offense, Clark."

"Mud?" Clark repeated. True, he had never seen anything special in his eye color, but who compared someone's eyes to mud? He was, however, happy to see that his 'disguise' was a success. Not even Lois, whom he had held in his arms while he flew, had seen beyond the dramatic red cape and body-hugging blue costume. People see what they want to see, he thought, looking at the artist's rendition.

Lois, however, had turned her attention back to the artist, trying to find the words to convey the richness and warmth in Superman's eyes, the sparkle in them when he had smiled at her. "More vibrant, more radiant..."

Cat bent down and purred into the artist's ear, "Bedroom eyes."

Jimmy stopped by to comment, "Hey, if he is an alien, maybe he doesn't get the old, you know... itch."

Clark smiled slightly at that, self-consciously adjusting his tie, but no one noticed.

"Mmm, one way to find out," Cat said lasciviously.

Lois looked at her, appalled. "A possible visitor from another planet arrives on Earth, and all you can think of is hauling him back to your lair to try him out!"

"Test drive, Lois. Couple of hours behind the wheel and I'd know for sure if we're talking import... or domestic." Cat tapped Clark lightly on the shoulder and walked away.

Clark grimaced. Cat's constant caresses and suggestive remarks made him uncomfortable, but he wasn't sure how to deal with them.

Lois studied the sketch. "No, the features are too coarse --" Clark's attention had wandered, and he noticed two incipient mini-disasters in the newsroom. A coffee pot in the snack area was about to topple off its shelf onto an unsuspecting secretary, and on the other side of the newsroom the aisle-blocking ladder and the workman using it to change a light bulb were starting to tilt alarmingly. Clark knew he had to think fast, and move even faster!

He zipped first to the coffee stand and caught the teetering pot. Only a few drops spilled on the secretary, who wiped them off with a puzzled frown. Then he zipped to the ladder, catching it just before it fell and setting it upright. The workman looked startled but relieved.

"Think noble, think... Greek God," Lois was telling the artist.

"A Greek God?" the man repeated.

"For example, the chin -- it's square, but not plain. The chin of a man who stands for something --"

"Like Clark's," the artist said perceptively.

Lois protested violently. "This is Superman we're talking about, not some Tom, Dick --"

Clark made a quick detour to the coffee stand to grab a donut before returning to his original spot beside Lois just as she turned to swat him on the chest.

"-- or Clark!" she concluded.

It occurred to Clark that he enjoyed Lois's frequent patting, which was never done in the same manner as Cat's. However, he was growing tired of listening to Lois insult him while romanticizing Superman. Through a mouthful of donut he said, "Y'know, he didn't seem all that special to me. I mean, except for the flying and the uniform, he could be any ordinary guy." He suddenly realized that his tie was flipped back over his shoulder and his coat was slightly askew after that little rescue mission. He hastily pulled his tie down and straightened his jacket.

"Ordinary?" Lois repeated scornfully. "Give me a break! What we've got here is an example of human evolution. Before and after. Clark's the before, and Superman's the after." She turned to give Clark a dismissive look, taking in his mouthful of donut and his slightly disheveled appearance. He was a farmer's son from Kansas, munching like an eight-year-old on junk food, getting underfoot. A world removed from Superman! "Make that the way, way after," she assured the artist. She walked away, leaving Clark to self-consciously adjust his glasses and smooth his tie.

* * *

Lex Luthor stood out on the wide sunny balcony of his luxurious penthouse, looking through his binoculars. A group of pigeons were sitting on a building ledge a few blocks away, and as he watched, his trained Peregrine falcon, Faust, set upon them. Feathers went flying, and Lex lowered the binoculars with a satisfied smile. He sat down at the elegantly dressed breakfast table just as two beautiful Japanese girls came out with a pogo stick.

"Ah, perfect," Lex said, as they gave it to him. He presented each of them with a white rose just beginning to open.

"Domo arigato," the Japanese girls murmured together.

Lex answered them in elegant, polite Japanese. Giggling, they returned indoors. The billionaire philanthropist turned his attention to the newspapers on the table, looking at the blaring headlines of each one. The Daily Planet was the first one he lifted, and Lois Lane's byline stared up at him under the headline, "Superman To The Rescue".

"Superman... Superman..." he murmured as he looked at several different editions, each carrying essentially the same story. "Superman, Superman. Calendar," he commanded, and Asabi placed it instantly into his hand, having anticipated that need. "Lois Lane canceled lunch?" he read in surprise. He snapped the appointment book shut decisively, and immediately dialed her desk at the Daily Planet.

"Hi, you've reached the desk of Lois Lane, leave a message at the tone. But don't expect a call back unless it's about Superman. Have a great day."

He stared balefully at the phone; even that beautiful woman was besotted with this stranger. He didn't leave a message.

* * *

The Daily Planet staff gathered in the largest conference room for the special 6:00am staff meeting the following morning. Perry was using a magnifying glass to closely examine the blowups of Jimmy's photos of Superman flying into the newsroom with Lois Lane in his arms.

"Jimmy, these are no good," he declared with a frown.

"Oh, they're okay," the would-be photojournalist grumbled.

"Okay? Okay doesn't cut it at this newspaper," Perry growled. "All right, sit down, just sit down. How's everybody this morning, sleep well?" he asked to the assembled staff. There was a chorus of assents, for the most part. "I didn't," he told them. "Last night our publisher called me into his office and asked me one question. The question was, how come the Daily Planet hadn't nailed down the Superman story since it literally dropped in our laps." He looked around, his sharp eyes glittering. "Now I took this as a personal criticism, and I assured him that each and Every one of my staff would chip in, would not rest until Superman was ours. Now... is that clear?"

"No!" Lois objected instantly. "Perry, you can't be serious. I was the one Superman flew with, I wrote the original piece, I found him!"

"Actually, he found you," Clark corrected with a grin.

"Thank you, Kent," she said sarcastically, glaring at him. "Perry this isn't fair. I should have the exclusive on the follow-up. Those are the rules."

"The rules are off, this is too big."

"But he's mine!" she protested, jumping up from her seat. The staff members were all amused. "He's --" She broke off, looked around at the laughing faces, and changed tack abruptly. "-- mine, as in my story... story mine."

"From now on, Superman is fair game. Every reporter for himself... or herself," Perry added, looking pointedly at Lois.

"All right!" Jimmy exclaimed.

"Enthusiasm, see, I love it," Perry said approvingly.

"I'm with you, Chief."

"We're a team?"

"Yes, sir!" Jimmy said reverently, seeing his big chance here.

"Fine, Jimmy, now here's what I want from you," Perry said to him. "Two... no, no, no, make that three..."

"Okay," Jimmy said, earnestly writing it down with a bright smile.

"Donuts, jelly. Go to Lucille's, tell her they're for me. You got it?"

Jimmy stopped writing, deeply disappointed. "Got it," he mumbled, leaving dejectedly.

The phone rang, and Perry answered it. "White," he said shortly into the mouthpiece. "No, no, no, wait just a minute, don't... Hey, I don't agree with that."

Lois, still pouting that her exclusive had just been made a free-for-all, turned to stare at the big blow-up of Jimmy's blurry picture on the wall. "I'll find him," she said softly, looking at the strong line of his jaw, the dark sweep of his eyebrows, the depth and intensity of his eyes.

"How?" Clark asked. "He could be anywhere. Mars, the North Pole..."

"I'll find him," she insisted.

"What if he doesn't want to be found?"

"What're you talking about? Why wouldn't he want to be found?"

"Maybe all this frenzy isn't what this guy expected. Maybe he's gun-shy."

"That's ridiculous," she dismissed immediately. "He has no reason to hide. Especially from me!"

Cat Grant overheard that. "Mmm mmm, wait a minute. I get it. You and Superman joined the old zero-gravity club up on the space station, didn't you," she said, on the verge of laughter. Clark grinned.

"Excuse me?" Lois asked coldly.

"Oh, oh, it's okay, don't worry," Cat assured her in a loud whisper. "Your secret's safe. No one'd believe it anyway," she added. Clark chuckled at the furious look on Lois's face.

"All right, everybody, let's think," Perry called out after finishing his phone conversation. "What would draw Superman out? Use your instincts. Beat the bushes, turn the stones... Get me Superman!"

The staff dispersed, energized by their boss's fervor. Clark stood, and asked Lois, "So where do we start?"

She looked at him coldly. "We? There is no we."

"How do you know that I don't have the inside track on finding Superman?"

Lois was amused. Did this wet-behind-the-ears hack from Smallville really think that he could turn up information that she, star reporter for the greatest newspaper in the world, didn't have access to? Why, she had contacts and sources in government agencies and on the streets, a vast network of people who knew people who knew people! Kent had only just gotten off the hay wagon, he knew nobody! She treated him to one of her superior smirks. "Sure, Clark, and when you run across Jimmy Hoffa and the Easter Bunny, why don't you reel them in too." She walked off. Claude had stolen a story of hers, and she'd learned her lesson! Never let anyone else get the opportunity to use her. Lois Lane worked alone!

"'We' sounds good to me," Cat purred to Clark, stepping in front of him and stopping him from following Lois. She held Perry's magnifying glass over her cleavage in a casual manner. "Oui... That's French for... yes, isn't it?"

"Not in Smallville," Clark said, trying to extricate himself from her clutches with an almost-apologetic smile.

Left alone, Cat moved closer to the picture on the wall, and held the magnifying glass up to Superman's slightly blurry face, making appreciative little murmurs. He certainly was handsome!

* * *

Lois was on the phone. "Well I don't care what the radar is normally used for, all I'm asking for is a simple --" There was a click. "Hello? Hello?" With a sigh of irritation she hung up. She glanced over as Clark's phone rang.

"Clark Kent," he said into it. "Really? He's there now? Great!"

Lois sat up straight. Was the farm boy onto something? He certainly sounded excited by the news he was getting. Wanting to overhear, Lois emptied her coffee into the dead plant on her desk and went to the coffee pot near Clark's desk, pretending to prepare another cup.

"Give me the address again?" Clark requested. "344 Clinton, okay. Tell him I'll be right over, don't let him leave." He hung up, tore off the page he had written the address on, and left the newsroom.

Lois watched him thoughtfully. The idea that the rookie had an inside track on Superman was absurd -- what could he know that she, Lois Lane, didn't? Still, he was definitely on to something! She made up her mind, put her empty mug on her desk, grabbed her satchel, and followed him.

* * *

Clark followed Floyd, the landlord of the building, into the ground floor apartment he had wanted to take a look at. Living at the Apollo Hotel was depressing. Now that he had a job he needed a place to live; some place he could make his home. He looked around with a doubtful expression. The place looked as though it had been abandoned for quite some time. Books and old pieces of furniture abandoned by previous tenants littered the rooms; newspapers and refuse lay scattered on the floor. It didn't look very homey. He felt a pang as he thought of the farmhouse in which he had grown up, always sparkling clean, filled with warmth and love.

"The quietest building in Metropolis," Floyd said enthusiastically, ignoring the screaming car alarm nearby. "You married?"




"Boyfriend?" he pressed. Clark gave him a stare. "Me, I mind my own business. Where you from?"

"Kansas." Clark looked around the grungy apartment. He tentatively opened one of the kitchen cupboards, half expecting a rat to leap out. Instead the cupboard door came off its hinges in his hand.

"A few screws is all," Floyd said sheepishly.

Clark tried the faucet, and looked in distaste at the gooey black liquid that came out instead of water.

"Minerals. It's good for the liver." Floyd quickly diverted Clark's attention to the enormous windows lining the apartment. "Nice view. You can see out, no one can see in. Walk around in the buff. I do."

Clark looked at the man's bulging belly and repressed the mental image that had begun to form. "How much?"

"Nine fifty," the landlord said cheerfully.

"Nine hundred and fifty?" Clark asked incredulously.

"You want cheap, go back to Iowa."


"This is Metropolis." Floyd scrutinized the clean-cut young man's face and made a snap decision. "Nine even, take it or leave it."

Clark rested a hand on the decorative end of the stairs that led down from the apartment's front door, and the knob came off. "You mind if I make a few repairs?" he asked dryly.

"I guess not," Floyd said, having the good grace to look embarrassed.

Clark surveyed the apartment one more time. It was a wreck, there was no nice way of saying it. Layers of filth and grime had built up over time, the plaster was crumbling in places, the bricks needed mortar here and there, the paint was peeling and faded... The windows gave a spectacular view and a sense of openness and light, but they were gray. Undoubtedly the plumbing and electrical wiring needed work, too. And yet it had a private entrance from a side alley off the street and a spacious balcony out the back, where he could take off and land in his costume without being seen. A little work, and the place just might be a real gem.

"When can I move in?" he asked with a smile.

"As soon as the check clears," the landlord assured him. "I'll get some extra keys made."

Clark blew some dust off his hand too hard, just as someone tried to open the doors. The doors were slammed shut by his powerful breath, and then opened again, and a woman stumbled in.

"Lois!" Clark exclaimed in astonishment.

"Where is he?" she demanded breathlessly.

"Who?" the landlord asked.

"Who?" Clark echoed.

"Where am I?" Lois asked, taking in her location for the first time.

"My new apartment," Clark told her, confused.

She should've known! Of course Kent didn't have any information about Superman! She looked around. Not much of a home! "Hmm!" she sniffed, unimpressed, and then she turned on her heel and stormed off, angry that she had for one moment thought that Kent had any information about Superman. A cat howled in alarm as she stomped by.

The landlord turned to Clark, obviously curious about this rude young woman barging in, but Clark gave him a look that denied any responsibility for her actions.

* * *

Lex Luthor sat behind his bank of computers. Above and behind him was a neon readout saying, "Know Thy Enemy", words he had lived by from a very young age. "What do we know about Superman?" he asked of the three employees sitting in a row facing him. They were a varied trio, each with their own particular talents. Jules Johnson, a slender black man with an affinity for fine clothing, was fearlessly bold and as sharp-witted as he was outspoken. Monique Kahn, a dark-haired woman who oozed sex appeal, was a cold and calculating assassin. Nigel St. John, a bearded Englishman, was cunning and dangerously silver-tongued.

They looked at each other, not quite sure how to answer that question. "Man can really jump." Jules Johnson offered. "For a white guy."

"Yes, but how far?" Lex asked smoothly. "How high? Is he, for example, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?"

None of them knew the answer to that. "Of course, he is immensely powerful," Nigel St. John ventured in his cultured accent.

"Yes, but how powerful? I mean, more powerful than an avalanche? More powerful than a locomotive?"

"He's still a man," Monique Kahn said contemptuously, uncrossing her long legs to bare a little more thigh and re-crossing them with a superior smirk. "All men are weak."

"Obviously we know very little," Lex continued, ignoring that. He himself had never let a woman turn his mind from what truly mattered. "So I've designed a series of tests for Superman, and I need your help." He stared at the woman, whose face clearly displayed her lack of faith in his plan. "Yes, Monique?"

"Let me hire a couple of shooters and I'll turn Superman into a large wet spot," she promised. "Testing won't be necessary."

"Have you ever read Sun Tzu's The Art Of War?" he asked her.

She shrugged easily, thinking that Luthor's problem was that he read entirely too much. "I'm waiting for the Reader's Digest version."

"Sun Tzu was a general, of Ancient Imperial China, and he teaches us -- I'm paraphrasing, of course -- knowledge precedes victory, ignorance precedes defeat."

"Really? Well an Uzi precedes a bloody mess," she returned in a polite but dangerous voice. "Even in China."

"Let's do it my way," Lex said firmly. Monique had her talents, but subtlety was obviously not one of them.

* * *

The CB on Lois's desk, tuned as always to the police emergency frequency, crackled with an announcement. "Attention all units, code four, a possible jumper, Lexor Hotel. Crowd control and a negotiation team to the site. Emergency response requested."

Lois stopped her work, repeating Perry's question to herself. "What would draw Superman out?" She quickly rose from her seat. This could be it!

Clark, too, had heard the bulletin, but instead of heading for the elevators with Lois he headed for the men's room with his gym bag. Trying to change from his suit into his costume in the cramped stall wasn't easy, and as he twisted and struggled he grew frustrated.

One of the researchers entered the bathroom, and found the only working stall occupied. "Will you be long?" he asked.

"Not long," Clark replied, hoping it were true. At this rate he might be too late!

The man listened to the grunts and scuffling sounds issuing from the stall with some trepidation and curiosity, and moved closer to peek underneath. Perhaps the occupant was in need of some sort of medical help. Suddenly a shiny blue-clad elbow broke through the stall door, almost knocking into his head. He leaped back in alarm. "Take your time," he told the occupant, and hurried off to find a different bathroom.

* * *

Lois leaped out of her cab when it arrived at the Lexor Hotel and joined the crowd gathered at the police barricades, looking up. Sure enough, there was a figure of a man high up on the rooftop, teetering precariously on the edge.

Jules Johnson, the would-be jumper, waved his arms over his head at the crowd below with a grin. "What's up? How're y'all doing?" From below he must look like he was swaying precariously at the edge, and he got a kick out of the joke he was playing on all of them.

"It's always darkest before the dawn, son," a cop intoned from behind him.

Jules rolled his eyes. The officer, probably close to retirement, had been spouting placating cliches in an attempt to persuade him not to jump. "Is that so?"

"Come down, we'll talk it through."

"I kinda like it up here," Jules returned cheerfully. "Fresh air, great view!"

"Well, can I get you something?"

"Cappuccino," Jules decided.

"Whatever you want," the cop agreed.

"Make it decaf. Caffeine make me jumpy," he explained jauntily.

"Whatever you want, sir," the cop repeated reassuringly, then did a double-take. "Jumpy?"

Just then Superman flew onto the scene, his cape flowing out behind him beautifully. He landed on the ledge and grabbed the man's arm firmly. Jules grinned at him, impressed. "The S-man!"

"You don't really want to do this," Clark told him, wondering if he was going about this the right way. True, he could easily catch the man before he killed himself, but that wasn't enough. He wanted to persuade the man that life was worth living. He determined that this evening he would do some reading about suicide attempts and police procedures. There was a lot he needed to learn, it seemed. It wasn't enough to be super strong or super fast. Perhaps he should learn how to disarm bombs, in case the next one he encountered was too large to put in his mouth.

"You're right, I've seen the error of my ways," the jumper said in mock contrition.

Was it that easy? "Come on," Clark said, making sure he got back down onto the roof without mishap.

Lex watched the costumed man on his monitor. "Ready," he said slowly into the radio. Asabi stood beside him, finger poised over the timer button.

"Confirmed," Nigel St. John replied into his transmitter.

"Please be careful," Monique said nervously.

"Don't worry, darling, I've got you," Nigel assured her, his clipped British accent making him sound trustworthy. Monique stood on the edge of the roof of a building, and the only thing steadying her was Nigel's hand grasped around her ankle. Lex wasn't paying her enough for this, she decided.

"Execute," Lex commanded.

"Roger that," Nigel said calmly. He let go of Monique. "Sorry, luvey," he told her as he gave her a shove behind the knees with the handle of his elegant cane. With a scream she toppled off the roof and began to fall.

Asabi started the timer.

Clark heard the urgent scream and was gone in a flash of red and blue.

Down on the ground, Lois saw Superman fly off. She quickly grabbed a cab, telling the driver, "Let's go!"

Superman caught Monique in his arms, and she clung to him desperately.

"Mark" Lex said, watching the action on his monitor, and Asabi stopped the timer. It had only taken the hero two point four seconds to travel the distance between Jules and Monique. "Hmm. Faster than a speeding bullet," Lex mused. Lois got out of the taxi and squirmed through the crowd. "Excuse me! Daily Planet, Daily Planet, pardon me, Daily Planet." She knew, however, that she was too late. "What happened?" she demanded of an old lady in the crowd.

To her surprise, Clark appeared at her side. "Lois, it was incredible. Superman caught that woman in mid-air. She's okay, she left in the ambulance a minute ago. You should've been here," he added, unable to resist the opportunity to get a dig in.

"Clark that's great, that's really great," she congratulated, after only the slightest hesitation. "Just great," she repeated, hiding her feelings behind a smile.

"I'm going to go phone it in."

"Oh, don't!" she suddenly told him, an idea coming to her. "They'll just rewrite you up," she explained. "My advice is to get back to the office and start typing. Look, take my cab," she offered generously. "Go on!"

"Lois," he said in surprise. "I appreciate it." He didn't think she would have the good grace to be helpful and friendly after he beat her to the story. "I owe you one."

She laughed lightly, smiling at him until he turned away. "No, I owe you one," she muttered, dashing for the phones. She grabbed the receiver from a man about to make a call. "This is an emergency," she explained. In a moment she had dialed the office. "City desk, Lois Lane. Get me Doris in Copy. Doris? Lois! Take this down. Superman..."

* * *

"I brought you lunch, chicken salad," Lucy said as she followed her sister from the elevator to her desk, handing her a brown paper bag. "That reminds me, can I borrow your gray suit?"

"Lucy, you're already wearing my gray suit," Lois said peevishly, obviously in a foul mood. "You know, you stayed out half the night, you were totally irresponsible --"

"So I'm grounded?" the younger girl asked with a smile.

"I am not trying to play big sister here," Lois said irritably.

"No, but you're unhappy with yourself so you're ragging on me."

"You are so wrong!"

"Really? Who was it who called me last night, practically in tears because she stole a story from Clark Kent?" Lucy asked pointedly.

"I did not steal Kent's story," Lois denied instantly.

"You stole it."

"I competed for it," she corrected. "And I won!" Her little sister watched her, waiting expectantly, until Lois melted into a puddle of guilt and remorse. "I stole it! I have never stolen a story before in my life! How could I do that? It's him," she suddenly said fervently. "It's Superman. I mean, ever since he held me in his arms... There's something between us, Lucy, I know it! There's this connection!"

"You should be ashamed of yourself!" Lucy chided.

"I am ashamed of myself, I'm ashamed of myself," Lois admitted miserably.

"And you'll never do it again?"

"I won't, never again," Lois promised.

"And you'll apologize to Clark Kent?"

"Not in this millennia," Lois vowed.

"Good-bye," Lucy said, giving up and leaving.

"Lucy, you're limping."

"Your shoes are too tight," Lucy told her with a glance over her shoulder.

Lois sighed. "My shoes are too tight," she muttered, scowling, as she turned toward her computer. Before she could start work, an irate Clark Kent came over to her desk, holding out the front page.

"Superman Averts Double Suicide," he read from the headline. "By Lois --" He angrily dumped the paper on her desk. "-- Lane. First of all --"

"Clark, don't even start," she told him briskly. "You got what you deserved."

"What?" he choked out incredulously.

"I know it's tough, but one day you'll thank me."

"Thank you?" he repeated, hardly able to believe his ears.

"You're welcome. Never, never let go of a story. Trust no one, period."

"I see!"

"Consider this a life lesson," she advised, "no charge." She patted his cheek twice smartly. She wouldn't in a million years let him see how she really felt.

Clark stared at her, stunned by the audacity she had shown. She stole his story, insulted him, and had the nerve to say she was helping him? He opened his mouth to say something cutting and put in her place, but words failed him. He closed his mouth and walked away.

Lois was relieved that he had gone before her facade could crumble, before the betrayal in his brown eyes could compel a confession or an apology from her.

A thin-faced man stopped at Lois's desk. "Excuse me, my name is Cleveland, I'm looking for Eduardo Friez."

She glanced over at Eduardo's empty desk. "Uh, he went to lunch."

"But we had an appointment."

"I'll tell him you came by," she offered.

"Don't bother, I'll tell my story elsewhere. Perhaps the Metropolis Star would like to receive some information concerning Superman," he added in a low voice before walking off.

"Superman?" She perked up immediately and hurried to catch up with him. "I... uh... Cleveland!" she exclaimed, as though his name was only just now registering in her memory. "I've been expecting you. I'm so sorry, I'm Lois Lane." She shook his hand vigorously. "Eduardo told me that you would be coming by, I just... uh... please, forgive me. Let's go to the conference room and talk, shall we?" she suggested quickly to cover up her babbling. She linked her arm through his to guide him to a quieter place.

He hesitated, looking at her a bit suspiciously. "I'm suddenly rather hungry, perhaps after lunch."

"Take mine, chicken salad," she said quickly, grabbing the paper bag Lucy had brought for her and thrusting it into his hands.

He sniffed. "Home made?" Lois made a self-deprecatory gesture with a disarming smile as she escorted him into the closest empty conference room.

Clark's eyes hardened after witnessing that little encounter. She tricked him out of his story, and now she was absconding with Eduardo's source. Was nothing too low for her? "Jimmy," he called as the young man walked past.

"Yo, CK," he returned, lacking a bit of his usual cheer.

"Tell me something. Is Lois always so aggressive going after stories?"

"Does the phrase 'Mad Dog Lane' sound about right?" Jimmy asked wryly.

"Seriously," Clark urged him.

"Seriously? Yeah! But, I have never seen her this worked up. This Superman guy has really pushed her buttons. Hey, I heard she aced you out of your story yesterday. Tough break," he commiserated.

"Someone ought to teach her a lesson," Clark muttered darkly.

"Yeah, but who? Godzilla?" Jimmy laughed, then turned his attention back to the tray he was holding.

Clark looked at it curiously. "What is that?"

"Big assignment from the Chief," he replied dourly. "Mister Foot, vibrating water massage. Stress relief. He needs it back by five."

"You should talk to him, tell him how you feel."

"Perry White doesn't care how I feel," Jimmy said with a laugh. "To him I'm Mr. Fix-it, and Mr. Go-get-it. Man, I'm a journalist," he said wistfully.

"Then stand up to him, make him see that," Clark urged.

"I've tried! Sort of," he qualified. "Look, thanks anyway."

Clark gave him a sympathetic smile and left him to his task.

* * *

Lex Luthor made sure that the cameras were in place and working properly, one giving him a clear view of the front of a building, others showing the interior. Everything was ready. "All right, make the call, use one of the scrambled lines," he ordered. Asabi picked up the phone and carried out his orders.

* * *

"Where's Lois?" Perry demanded.

"She must have stepped out, Chief," Clark said quickly. Two could play at this game!

"All right Kent, Schwartz, Hallson, come here! We got a bomb in the lobby of the Carlin Building. Third and Ordway. Get down there, take a photographer with you."

"Chief, I'll go!" Jimmy volunteered quickly.

"Did you fix the thermostat on Mister Foot yet?" Perry asked him.

"It can wait!" Jimmy defended vehemently.

"The hell it can!" Perry exploded. Jimmy turned away slowly, deeply disappointed. "What are you gawking at? Let's go, let's go!" Perry hollered at the reporters. They fled, and Perry smiled in satisfaction. "I love the smell of fear in the newsroom."

* * *

Cleveland peered inside the sandwich suspiciously. "Is this regular mayonnaise or reduced calorie?"

"Reduced," Lois said, guessing wildly. "Could we just --"

"And just a touch of dill, right?"

"Mr. Cleveland, you claim to have information about Superman. Let's hear it!"

He took a long slurp from the tiny straw sticking out of the juice box. "Superman is definitely an alien entity," he said importantly.

Lois gaped at him and began taking notes.

"He comes from a planet Trofax, and he's not alone. I've been on the ship, there are thousands like him."

She stared at him, wide-eyed.

"Freeze-dried, awaiting the call to arms," Cleveland added sagely.

"Freeze-dried?" Lois asked uncertainly.

"Now my involvement in this won't be publicized, will it? I'm planning another run at the Presidency."

"The Presidency?" she repeated doubtfully.

"Yeah, to follow up my two previous terms in eighty-four and ninety-two."

"Mr. Cleveland, I --"

"Oh please, call me Grover," he told her affably.

Lois snatched her sandwich from his mouth furiously and marched out of the conference room. Strung along by a nut! The things she suffered through to get her stories!

* * *

Linda Montoya was standing before the Carlin Building, facing the camera crew, ready to make her report from the scene. "If you've just joined us, the original report of a bomb planted in the lobby of the Carlin Building has now been confirmed. The bomb squad is on the scene, awaiting the arrival of what is termed a containment blister as well as a team of deactivation specialists. Once the blister is in place they can work to neutralize the threat. Meanwhile the entire building has been evacuated, and we are being told to get out of the way, just back up, so for now, I'm Linda Montoya, and -- what?" She placed a hand against the earpiece delivering an update to her. "Superman is here!" she said to the camera, excitement in her voice. This story had just become even bigger! "Superman is about to enter the building!" Spotting the costumed man, she hurried towards him. "Superman, could we have a statement?"

"Not at this time," Clark said, annoyed that reporters were interrupting him at such a crucial time. Realizing that he had been curt, he paused to politely add, "Sorry." He ran into the building to find the bomb.

"Ready," Lex Luthor warned, watching and waiting for Superman to get inside. Asabi was poised, alert for the command.

The police were trying to keep the media and the onlookers back a safe distance. Lois Lane pulled up in a cab, leapt out, and pushed her way through the crowd. Without hesitation she wormed past the police barricades to see Superman going inside. She held her breath.

Lex waited until Superman was right in front of the bomb, and then snapped his fingers. Asabi pressed the detonator.

The bomb exploded, debris flying out, and Lois, too close for safety, threw herself to the ground, covering her head with her arms.

The gathered crowd stared in horror at the Carlin Building, at the smoke billowing out of the doorway that Superman had just entered.

Lex puffed on his cigar with a gloating smile.

Then suddenly the superhero walked out into the sunlight, his cape a little tattered but otherwise unharmed, and murmurs of astonishment rippled through the onlookers.

The smile disappeared from Luthor's face.

"Invulnerable!" Asabi said, awed.

"A man of steel," Lex mused.

As the emergency crews worked in the aftermath of the explosion, Lois looked around the debris, disappointed that Superman had left the scene before she had a chance to speak with him. She saw Clark talking to a black man from the bomb squad. Determined not to let him get the scoop ahead of her, she hurried to join him.

"Well, where would they have to be?" she heard Clark ask.

"Somewhere within a two mile radius, but that's about all we've got," the man replied.

"What've we got so far?" she asked Clark.

"Lois, you're hurt!" he exclaimed, reaching a hand towards a bleeding gash on her forehead.

"Oh it's nothing," she brushed him off, intent on getting the story.

"Let me see," he insisted, worried.

"It's nothing!"

"You guys want to hear this or not?" the bomb expert asked them impatiently.

Lois shot a glare at Clark, warning him away, and turned back to the man. "Yes!"

"The explosion was radio controlled, activated from an unknown point of origin within a two mile radius of this site. Also, there were video cameras installed in the lobby which were not a part of the building's security system or any other system that the management company knew about. We think the two are connected."

"So you're saying that someone waited for Superman to appear, watched him enter the building, and then detonated the explosives?" Lois asked, wide-eyed.

"That's our theory," he nodded. "Excuse me." He moved on to his work.

"I can't believe that! A bomb."

"That's horrible!" Clark exclaimed, deeply troubled. Innocent people -- Lois! -- had been hurt, because someone wanted to get at him. If he hadn't created Superman this wouldn't have happened.

"That poor man," Lois murmured tenderly.

"What man?" Clark asked distractedly.

"Superman. He comes here to help us. Can you imagine how he must feel?" she asked softly.

"I think so."

Lois looked at the Carlin Building, troubled. "It doesn't make any sense. Who would want to kill Superman?"

* * *

Back at his new apartment, Clark scrubbed away at the black stains on his costume while holding the phone receiver between his shoulder and his ear. "Yeah, I like the new cape, Mom, we're getting there. But what do I do about this? It's not coming out."

"Clark, is it a dirt stain or an oil-based stain?"

"I don't know, Mom, it's a... bomb stain!" he said helplessly. It was humbling to be the most powerful man on the planet and be utterly defeated by his laundry.

His father, using the other phone, interrupted the discussion of laundering strategies. "Clark, are you sure you're all right? We saw that explosion on television, that was no nickel-popper."

"I'm fine. Now if I can only get this out!"

"The important thing is blot, don't rub," Martha put in, her advice coming a little bit too late, as Clark had been vigorously rubbing at it for some time already.

"Will you two forget about the laundry for a minute? We've got a serious problem here!"

"Jonathan, it's not certain the explosion was aimed at him," his wife said.

"Ah, bull, somebody's got it for our boy," Jonathan said darkly.

"Our boy can take care of himself," she pointed out.

"It's not me I'm worried about, Mom, it's everyone else in Metropolis," Clark said, interrupting the disagreement swelling between his parents and turning the conversation back to his chief concern. The bomb in the Carlin Building hadn't hurt him at all; what worried him was the lunatic who had planted the bomb, who didn't seem to care if innocent bystanders were injured.

"Who do you think it is, son?" his father asked.

"I don't know. I've got a couple of leads, though. There's something about those suicide attempts. Two people jumping from buildings on a direct line of sight across the city at exactly the same time." Clark shook his head in frustration -- it wasn't much, but he didn't think it was mere coincidence.

"Uh-huh," his dad said, not sure that was proof of anything. He wouldn't have been surprised to learn that a dozen people in the city were trying to commit suicide at exactly the same time! City folks just weren't like the people in Smallville. "All right then, Clark, you call us."

"I will, I promise." He put the phone down and stared glumly at the stain, which defied all efforts to clean it. Hoping it wouldn't take too long for his mom to make him some spare outfits, he dropped the grubby material into the kitchen sink. Right now he had something more important to do than laundry. He had purchased cleaning supplies and all the equipment he thought he would need to repaint the entire apartment from top to bottom. He hoped that once all the filth was gone it would start to look more like a home. Before he could get started, however, there was a knock at the door.

It was his landlord, Floyd, holding a key ring from which dangled a large assortment of keys. "Extra key, Kent, I'll just... uh..." He tried the key he had singled out in the door, taking a look around the apartment while he was at it to see what the lad was up to, but the key wouldn't fit. "Wrong apartment," he realized, walking back down to the street and going through the keys again, sure that it was here somewhere.

Clark closed the door and surveyed his new home from his vantage point there, wondering where to start. He put the radio on and set to work, whizzing around at super speed cleaning, painting and polishing as fast as he could. After a very short time he was satisfied with what he had accomplished. As he was going out, Floyd returned.

"Excuse me," Clark said politely, as he passed the man on the stairs leading into the side alley.

"Oh, Kent! I found it!" Floyd said cheerfully, but Clark was already gone. The landlord shrugged. Young people, always in such a hurry! He checked the key in the lock to make sure he had the right one this time, and sure enough it opened the door. His look of satisfaction changed to one of stupefaction, however, as he saw the interior of the apartment. He had only been gone a minute! He was certain that the place had looked like the dump that it was, but now... Now the dust and filth were only a memory. The ceilings and walls glistened with a fresh coat of paint; the floors, all the woodwork, and the kitchen cabinets gleamed with polish; and the spotless windows sparkled, letting in streams of warm sunlight.

It didn't make any sense! He started to pull the door closed, then took a second look. Nah! He must've been mistaken! The place must have been cleaned up earlier, and he just hadn't noticed. Floyd crossed himself, just to be on the safe side, and hurried away.

* * *

Eager for some information, some clue, that would help him find out who had been responsible for the Carlin Building bomb that had hurt Lois, Clark picked up the phone on his desk, dialing Research. "Jennifer, it's Clark from the newsroom again. Any progress on the background check on Monique Kahn and Jules Johnson?... How about employment records?" He listened for a moment.

Lois took a sip of coffee and grimaced; what remained in her mug was cold and bitter. She poured the remnants into the poor dying plant on her desk, the recipient of many such drinks.

"Okay, well, send them up as soon as you do... Great. Thank you!" Clark hung up just as Jimmy called over to him.

"CK, Metropolis Hospital on line three."

Lois looked up in interest at that. Clark had information from the hospital? Hoping to overhear something useful, she sidled over to the pencil sharpener, turning it slowly, listening in to Clark's call without being too obvious about it.

"Dr. Newman, thanks for returning my call... Yes... Uh-huh... Really?... Well that's unusual, isn't it?... I see. Okay, well thank you very much... Great."

"Is that the same Dr. Newman that did the psychiatric evaluations on the attempted suicides?" Lois asked when he hung up, trying to look and sound very casual.


She came over to his desk. "So, what've we got?" she asked with a friendly smile, determined to get the information out of him one way or another.

"We?" he asked. "'There is no we.' I'm quoting directly," he reminded her.

She looked at him sourly. "Spill it."

He grinned, knowing he had won that time whether she admitted it or not. "Okay. They've both been released, Jules Johnson immediately. They don't think he ever meant to jump. Now Monique Kahn, on the other hand, was hysterical. Turns out she's afraid of heights."

"She's afraid of heights and she jumps off a thirty story building?" Lois asked skeptically.

"Doesn't sound right, does it."

"Hmm. What else?"

"Well while she was sedated she kept mumbling something about a test."

"Test? Test of courage? I don't get it. What else?"

"That's all."

"It's not much," she said doubtfully.

"Lois?" Jimmy asked, approaching her. "Lois, I had an idea for a way to track down Superman."

"Great!" she enthused. "Let's hear it!"

"Olsen?" Perry White hollered from the door to his office. "When I say soda, I mean real soda, not this lily-livered diet stuff! Now if you're gonna do a job, do it right." He threw the can into the closest trash basket. "Get!" he added for extra incentive, before storming back into his office.

"I gotta go," Jimmy told the two. Clark cleared his throat and looked meaningfully towards the chief's office. Jimmy was undecided for a moment. Confronting the chief when he was on a rampage was a scary thought, but sooner or later, if he wanted to be given assignments, he was going to have to grab the bull by the horns.

He squared his shoulders and made his way towards Perry's office, determined.

Perry turned on a tape of one of his favorite songs, 'Heartbreak Hotel', and leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed and his bare feet in Mister Foot, letting the King soothe his soul. Suddenly the mood was shattered as Jimmy flung open the door and strode into the room.

"Chief, I have something I have to say," Jimmy burst out.

Perry turned off the tape. "So, say it."

"Okay. Okay, I... I am... I am..." He just couldn't do it! "I am... a huge Elvis fan," he said, gesturing toward the large portrait of Elvis that graced Perry's wall.

"This is the way I like to remember the King," Perry said with a smile, taking advantage of an opportunity to talk about his idol. "Not like the last time I saw him in Vegas. December '76. Jimbo, the man was thirty pounds overweight. He looked like a cross between an ice cream salesman and a neon sign. Did fifteen shows in eleven days, I'll never know how. His eyes were bloodshot, his hands trembled, and there was a crack in his voice I'd never heard before."

"That must have been awful for you," Jimmy said sympathetically.

"Awful? Why, it was the greatest experience of my life!" He looked closely at the young man. "Was that all you had to say to me?"

"Uh, yeah. I'm gonna get you that soda now."

Perry watched the boy leave, then put the tape back on, smiled, and reclined again, letting Elvis sing to him some more.

* * *

"Thank you," Clark said appreciatively as he accepted the papers the runner had brought to him from Research.

"From Millie?" Lois asked.

"The employment records on the two jumpers." He scanned through them. "They both worked at Lexcorp."

"Them and about a million other people in Metropolis. What's the connection?"

"Lex Luthor," Clark murmured to himself. He couldn't tell Lois that Lex Luthor had been behind the Messenger explosion, the death of Dr. Antoinette Baines, or the plot to sabotage the Congress Of Nations' plans for Space Station Prometheus; he had no proof. He knew, however, that the famous philanthropist, the darling of Metropolis, the Man of the Year every year, was a criminal. Monique had spoken of a test, and she worked for Lex Luthor. It was obvious to him that Lex had engineered those two fake suicide attempts in order to see how fast Superman could fly from one point to the other. He had undoubtedly planted the bomb in the Carlin Building, too, and monitored Superman's arrival on video cameras to see if the bomb could hurt him.

Innocent people had been injured just because Lex Luthor wanted to learn more about Superman. He couldn't let it continue. He had to do something, and the only thing he could think of was to confront Luthor.

* * *

Lex Luthor held a swatch of fabric against his shoulder, examining his reflection in the mirror. He frowned and held up another sample, and then tried a deep blue. He nodded in approval.

"Yes," he decided.

"Excellent choice, Mr. Luthor," the salesman said in an ingratiating manner.

"Yes, I'll take a dozen in each of the styles we discussed."


"Shall we say two days delivery?"

"Two days?" the man repeated in alarm. It was impossible! But for such a client, the impossible would have to be done. "Two days," he agreed as Asabi swept him out of Lex's private office. When Lex went over to his desk he heard a sound; a now familiar figure in red and blue had landed on his balcony.

"Superman!" he said, in a voice that carefully conveyed pleasure at the unexpected visit. "Come in."

"You want to know how strong I am, Luthor?" Clark demanded. Lex maintained a studiously blank expression. Clark looked around and took a sword from a display on the wall nearby. He looked his enemy dead in the eyes as he bent the two ends of the sword to meet, then he threw it to the floor. "You want to know how fast I am?" He opened a desk drawer and took out Luthor's revolver, checking to make sure there was a bullet in the chamber. He took aim.

Lex Luthor's eyes widened in alarm. He hadn't thought this possible! He stepped back involuntarily, but there was nowhere to run, no way to escape.

Clark pulled the trigger...

... And caught the bullet just before it could hit Lex. Lex looked down at it, astounded and breathless. Clark grasped Luthor's hand and pressed the bullet into it. Lex dropped it with a grimace, for it was still hot. He stared at the superhero and regained his composure. "Does that conclude your demonstration?" he asked lightly, not a trace of the fear he had felt showing now.

"The tests stop now," Clark told him firmly.

"Well, that'd be nice, but what if they don't?" Lex asked pleasantly.

"If I were you --"

"Me?" He gave a short laugh. "I admit nothing, no, but let's assume that these tests continue. You can't be everywhere at once, Superman. As long as you stay in Metropolis, innocent people will die. Now are you prepared to accept that responsibility? If I were you... I'd think about it." He left the office almost jauntily.

Clark felt utterly sickened, although he tried to maintain a calm face. He knew that Lex had set off that bomb in the Carlin Building, although he had no proof. He knew in his heart it was true. Lois had been hurt, and people could have died. If Lex Luthor had no compunction about endangering innocent people, what could Clark do?

He flew to Smallville, seeking comfort from his parents. "I don't know what to do," he told them.

"Clark, you haven't done anything wrong," his father said.

"Dad, Lois came within inches of possibly losing an eye, and others are hurt, because of me. Because I created Superman."

"What happened to those people wasn't Superman's fault!" Martha exclaimed. "It was Lex Luthor's."

"But I have no proof! I can't just throw him off a building," Clark said, almost wishing he could do just that. If he did, however, he would be guilty of the same crime. No, if he was going to help people, he was going to do it within the law. He was no vigilante, making and dispensing justice on his own. That road led to dark places he never wanted to know. "I'm trapped. As long as I keep Superman alive, Luthor can make good on his threat."

"Son, how can we help?" Jonathan asked quietly.

"You can't," he replied softly. In this, as in so many other things, he was alone. He kissed his mom's cheek.

"Bye, sweetheart," she murmured, wishing she could do or say something to help her son.

Clark shook his dad's hand. Then he flew off, back to Metropolis. Martha watched him through the window, hoping that he would work his way through this.

Back at his apartment, Clark opened his closet and took out the battered old suitcase that had been around the world with him. He set it on a chair and opened it carefully, then got down the costume hanging alongside his everyday suits.

For a moment he stared at the bright symbol on the front. Outside a police siren wailed, and he looked up for a moment. Chasing criminals was their job. He was no officer of the law.

He folded the costume his mother had made for him and laid it inside the suitcase. He couldn't let men like Lex Luthor endanger people just to get at him. He would have to find some other way of helping.

He closed the suitcase, and it felt as though he was shutting a piece of himself away in there.

* * *

Clark, Lois, and Jimmy sat idly around the remains of their sack lunches in the newsroom's snack area. Clark was gloomy, for the decision he had made to retire Superman wasn't bringing him any sense of relief. Every time he heard sirens he felt that he should try to help. Every article he wrote about a disaster or a death made him wonder if he could have prevented the tragedy.

Jimmy was quiet too, thinking about his job. He was afraid that if he confronted the chief editor he would be fired, but how much longer would he have to run errands? His dreams of being a photojournalist were a long way from the reality of being a copy boy.

Lois doodled on a piece of paper, lost in thought. Cat Grant sidled in, and saw that Lois had drawn the "S" symbol that Superman wore. "Penny for your thoughts," Cat offered with a laugh, startling her.

Lois scowled, then pushed the drawing away from her. "Where is he? It's been three days."

"Maybe whoever was after him scared him off," Jimmy suggested.

"I refuse to believe that," Lois said flatly. "Superman is not a coward. He would not turn tail at the first sign of trouble."

Cat moved to Clark's side. "What's with you, Clark? You look like you've lost your best friend."


She began to caress his arm lightly. "What you need..." she cooed, drawing the word out, "is a pick me up!" His face remained glum. "Or not," she amended, leaving him alone.

"Didn't you say you had some idea for finding Superman?" Lois suddenly asked Jimmy.

"Forget it, it's a zero, like my life," Jimmy said gloomily.

"Tell me anyway."

"I just thought if Superman is an alien and he came here from another planet, he'd have some kind of spaceship. Track down the spaceship somehow, find Superman." He looked around hopefully, but the only response came from Lois, who let out a little sigh. "A zero, I told you," he said despondently.

"Olsen!" Perry called from the doorway. He held up a plaque with a mounted bass, and when he let go with one hand the fish swung nose down. "Let's go."

"Duty calls," Jimmy said heavily, resigned to being Perry's boy Friday for the rest of his life.

Lois ran Jimmy's idea through her head again, and realized that it had merits. She was unlikely to be able to track the spaceship down, but she had nothing else to try, and nothing to lose. She got up from the table in a studiously casual manner and went to sit down at her desk, fiddling with things for a moment to look busy before picking up the phone. "Operator, get me the EPRAD satellite tracking station in Fairbanks, Alaska?"

Clark overheard her and was outraged. "Now Jimmy's idea!" he said to himself. "That's it, that's the last straw!" He was going to teach Lois Lane a lesson!

"Kent!" Perry hollered. "Drive-by shooting, Third and Walnut, get down there now!"

"Yes sir."

"Uh-huh? Okay, I'll hold," Lois said into the phone.

Clark hurriedly drew a rough pencil sketch on a piece of paper, a map with an "x" marked 'Superman's spaceship'. He folded it, stuffed it in an envelope, and wrote 'Lois Lane' on the outside, then picked up his phone. "Hi, this is Clark Kent in the newsroom. Can I get a messenger up here please?... Right, on my desk... Tonight, Lois Lane's apartment... Thanks." He hung up and glanced over at her.

"What kind of security clearance? Okay, I'll get one. How hard can it be?" Lois asked into the phone.

Clark felt deeply satisfied already.

* * *

"Ah, a magnificent day, no Superman in sight," Lex said appreciatively as he admired the splendid panorama of the city from his balcony. He accepted the decanter of brandy Asabi held out to him.

"Shall I tell your guest you'll join her soon, sir?" Asabi asked deferentially.

Luthor glanced over at the seat, where a cheerleader outfit was laid out. "Yes, do that. It'll be memorable. I'm feeling exceptionally cheerful." He smiled in satisfaction.

* * *

Lois was watching the news when Clark returned from his assignment. She glanced up at his somber face. "Bad?"

He sat down. "A fifteen year old boy is in critical condition. His mother's in shock, his little sister can't stop crying. There were witnesses, of course, but no one's talking. The officer I spoke to said they've had a half a dozen like this in the last week alone."

"Sounds like a job for Superman," Lois said wistfully.

"Yeah, that would've made a truly great story, wouldn't it," he said bitterly.

"Forget the story, Clark." She turned back to the scene of chaos on the news. "Metropolis needs Superman."

He was intrigued in spite of himself. "Why? I mean, do you think he could've stopped any of this?" He gestured to the television screen. "Or that?"

"No. Not even Superman can be everywhere at once." She swivelled to face him.

"Then what good is he?" Clark asked heavily.

Lois looked him right in the eye and spoke in a soft but passionate voice. "What he can't do, it doesn't matter! It's the idea of Superman. Someone to believe in, someone to build a few hopes around. Whatever he can do, that's enough." Her face fell. "I just wish that I could tell him that," she added as she walked away. "I hope it's not too late."

"Lois --" he called to her, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable about the envelope that he couldn't stop now.

"Not now, Clark," she interrupted without looking back.

"If you get a package..." He trailed off, realizing that she wasn't listening. He turned her words over in his mind.

Back at his apartment, Clark took out his old suitcase again and looked at it for a long time. "It's the idea of Superman," Lois had said. "Someone to believe in, someone to build a few hopes around. Whatever he can do, that's enough."

Was he that important to the city of Metropolis? Did they really need someone to look up to, a hero? And could he fulfill that role, be that hero? He didn't know, but he had to try. He couldn't just quit.

He put the costume on and went out to patrol the city he called home.

In front of the Daily Planet building, a work crew was hoisting an enormous billboard. It was an old-fashioned one, that blared, "Wake up to Daily Planet!", and the crane was easing it into place.

On the pavement below, an elderly woman led her two young granddaughters out onto the sidewalk. There was a loud snapping sound, and everyone looked up. One of the ropes holding the billboard had broken, and the billboard was dangling precariously over their heads!

With squeals and cries of alarm, people hurried to clear the sidewalk. The woman took her granddaughters by the hand and pulled them to safety, the youngest one dropping her teddy bear. They reached the edge of the construction crew's area, and the woman released their hands. The little girl took advantage of the freedom to run and get her precious teddy bear. The crowd called out to her, but she was focused only on her stuffed animal, holding it in her arms.

The second rope, unable to bear the weight of the billboard alone, snapped. The billboard began to fall right above the little girl, and people screamed or held their breath in panic, or averted their eyes.

Superman flew down, landed beside the little girl, and stopped the massive billboard with one hand before it could harm her. She gazed up at him, wide-eyed, as the crowd cheered and cried in relief. A terrible tragedy had been averted.

Clark smiled at the girl, and knew that he had made the right decision.

* * *

Lex Luthor folded the newspaper and laid it on his balcony breakfast table, the headline facing up at him. "Superman's Back! Disaster Averted" it proclaimed. "I think we'll suspend testing for the time being, Asabi. The results are substantially complete. I'm very pleased."

"Mr. Luthor, I don't understand. Superman has proved himself unbeatable, and you have failed to frighten him off."

"Oh yes, he's tough," Lex agreed with a smile as he stood up. "In fact, he's the opponent I've been waiting for! But unbeatable? No. Superman has a defect, he has a chink in his armor."

"What is that?" Asabi asked.

"Superman has morals, he has ethics, he's unrelentingly good. Because of that, I will win." He donned a heavy leather glove and extended his protected hand to the falcon on its perch. "Good morning, Faust." The magnificent, ruthless creature stepped onto his hand. "Another beginning to another fine day in Metropolis. Let's kill... some pigeons!" He flung the bird into the air with a smile.

* * *

"Kent, that's good work," Perry said gruffly, handing Clark a copy of the paper with his Superman scoop on the front page.

"Thank you, sir. I was just in the right place at the right time, I guess."

"Well that's what being a good reporter's all about. You keep it up."

"Thank you," Clark said again, pleased.

"Where the hell's my fish?" Perry growled at Jimmy.

"I'm working on it, Chief," Jimmy called after him. He picked up the paper and read from Clark's article. "'Let there be no mistake, Metropolis is my home now, I am here to stay.' That should make life pretty interesting."

"Where's the story behind the story, you know?" Cat asked plaintively. "Where's the juicy stuff? Where's the... the dirt?"

Clark looked past her shoulder. "I think that's coming in right now."

They turned to look. It was Lois Lane, but Lois as they'd never seen her before. She was wearing the same beige suit she had worn the day before, but now it was grimy. The heel was missing from one shoe, making her limp awkwardly. Her hair was in wild disarray, and she reeked! She carried in one hand a large plastic trash bag, and she looked ready to bite the head off the first person who spoke to her. She walked towards her desk, leaving behind her a wake of startled faces, stifled laughter, and wrinkled noses.

"Lois, what happened?" Jimmy asked.

"Nothing. Nothing at all," she said blankly, continuing towards her desk. Then she turned back, her voice laden with her trademark sarcasm. "Oh! You're referring to my appearance! Well, I think that after hours of trudging through the mud and the filth and the frogs and the things, I have a perfect right to be a bit... disheveled." She turned to walk away, and then whirled back. "By the way, did you know that it is possible to get completely lost at the Metropolis Sewage Reclamation Facility?" she asked rhetorically, her voice rising to the edge of hysteria. "And, did you know that there are billions of mosquitoes there? I do, because I met them!" She bared a portion of her shoulder blade, where her bare skin had been bitten countless times by the little beasts.

"Of course my little trip to hell wasn't a total failure," she continued, opening the garbage bag. "I found this!" She held up a plastic toy Godzilla doll, with bright red underwear on it and an 'S' drawn on its chest in red. The three smiled, unable to help themselves. Trying to gather the shreds of her dignity, Lois hobbled to Clark's desk and faced him squarely. She took a crumpled piece of paper out and showed it to him. "You wouldn't happen to have any idea who sent me this, would you?" she asked pointedly.

Clark's only reply was a shrug.

She picked up the paper Jimmy had left on Clark's desk, and saw the name Superman in the headline, with Clark Kent's name on the byline. "You got the story? You?" she asked sharply.

He couldn't keep back a smug grin. "Yep. Consider this a life lesson, Lois. No charge." He tweaked her cheek in a gentle imitation of her gesture to him.

"Uh-huh," she said slowly. It had been a hoax, engineered by Clark Kent. She had spent the entire night wandering around the Sewage Reclamation Facility, gagging on the foul stench, in search of a non-existent spaceship, while he had gotten an interview with Superman. And to make things worse, she knew she deserved it. She had stolen his story, and had no right to berate him for using similar cheap tactics.

She limped over to her desk, defeated, trying to ignore Cat's giggle.

Jimmy looked at Lois, and then at Clark. If Clark could stand up to her bullying tactics and win, then he could do the same. He strode off to finally confront his boss.

Perry looked up as Jimmy entered his office with the fish from the plaque in his hands. "Olsen, that bass hasn't been redone."

"No, Chief, but I have," Jimmy said firmly, dropping the fish into the garbage can by the door and stalking out and closing the door loudly behind him.

Perry stared at the door, and a smile crept over his face. "Good for you, kid!" he said to the empty room, and laughed. At last the boy had learned some gumption! Now perhaps he was ready to take on some assignments.

* * *

Lois saw that Clark was alone at his desk, and so she went to speak to him. Clark watched her warily and rose at her approach. "You set me up?" she asked bluntly.

"Yes, I did," he confessed immediately, no trace of regret in his voice.

"Congratulations, Clark, you win." She extended her hand, and he shook it slowly, beginning to feel uncomfortable. If she had thrown a fit or gotten angry with him he could have withstood it, but this grace, however hard it was for her to manage, made him feel guilty for what he had done.

"I... I didn't win," he said uneasily. He didn't want them to be competing all the time, he just wanted to make sure she never jerked him around again.

"Oh yes you did. You got the story, and you took me down a peg in the process," she admitted. "I guess I deserved that. You worked hard, and you earned your success."

"Thank you, Lois," he said sincerely. "That means a lot to me."

"Well I hope so. Cherish this moment, because Clark, you'll never experience this again," she added as a parting shot, but there was no malice in her voice.

"Hey Lois," he called after her, wanting to somehow put their relationship on friendlier terms. "What've we got going on for tomorrow?"

Lois turned to look at him. She almost smiled, but managed to keep her mouth straight. He wasn't gloating about his triumph, he was trying to make things all right between them. She couldn't let him think, however, that she was happy. "Now there you're using that word again, Clark; there is 'you', there is 'I', there is no 'we'."

"Not yet," he responded, a twinkle in his eye.

"Not ever," she assured him saucily, turning to leave again, but he wasn't finished.

"We'll see."

She faced him with a smirk. "How long can you hold your breath?" She walked away, triumphant.

Clark watched her go. "A very long time," he said quietly with a smile.


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