The dark alleyway was the sort of place that reputable citizens of Metropolis avoided like the plague. Even criminals tended to avoid places like this; the chances of being ambushed were too great for anyone but the most dangerous or the most desperate.
Lois walked casually into the darkness. Before the Congo, she still would have entered the alleyway, if a story demanded it, but she would have felt that familiar fear of fear in the pit of her stomach.
Now, all she felt was anticipation. Her source had insisted on meeting her here alone, which raised suspicions in her mind.
Contrary to what most people thought, Lois wasn’t so single minded that she couldn’t see a tree in the forest. She knew a trap when she saw one, especially now.
A year as a Slayer had been quite educational.
The three men stepping out of the shadows was almost a disappointment. Lois had been hoping for a demon, or vampires, something.
For some reason, supernatural creatures had been leaving Metropolis like rats from a sinking ship. Lois wondered sometimes if it was the sheer glee she’d taken in her duties as Slayer.
“Let me guess,” Lois said. “You want me to come with you.”
These men must be newcomers to town. It was generally acknowledged by the underworld that it was far better to be caught by Superman than it was to face Lois Lane.
Superman tended not to leave people in the hospital with humiliating injuries. He also didn’t seem to hold grudges, which Lois was known to do.
“You’ve done this before,” One of the men said, seemingly surprised.
“About fifty times.” Lois said, sighing wearily.
Fifty one to be exact. Lois had begun to hope that her reputation was going to stop any more inane kidnapping attempts. When Superman had first appeared, it hadn’t taken the underworld long to make the connection between him and his favorite reporter. They’d declared open season on her, and she’d had to make it quite clear that she was not going to be easy prey.
Fifty one kidnapping attempts and only three had been successful. Without her Slayer abilities, Lois would have been constantly in danger, and Clark would have teased her about it unmercifully.
That assumed that he ever bothered to tell her about his abilities.
It was a humiliation she was happy to be spared. She liked being a more or less equal partner to both Clark Kent and Superman. Anything less she would have resented.
Lois cautiously approached one of the men, who had holstered his weapon and had a pair of handcuffs waiting for her.
They weren’t even police grade. They had a fur lining, like something from one of the sex shops in the Suicide Slum.
These guys were amateurs.
As the man reached for her arm, Lois twisted hers and yanked him toward her. With his larger body between hers and the shooters, she punched him once in the stomach, dropping to one knee.
The other two opened fire, and Lois grabbed the man in front of her, who shrieked as a bullet gouged one of his buttocks. She shoved him hard, sending him flying into the other two.
It was the work of an instant to get their guns away from them.
A quick check showed what Lois had expected. The ugly green glowing rock in the left coat pocket of the leader was an ugly little reminder of how vulnerable Clark really was.
Kryptonite had been a nasty little surprise when they’d first encountered it. Now, it seemed almost common. Lois suspected that someone was behind these attempts on Clark’s life. Someone had access to a larger supply and was chipping off a piece at a time, hoping one of their minions would get lucky.
It was only a matter of time until Lois found them and made them pay. Until then, she was going to remain vigilant and spend a fair amount of money on lead boxes.
Lois reached into her purse and pulled out a small lead box. It was the work of a moment to shove the rock into the box, and then Lois called out tiredly, “Help, Superman.”
The tone of her voice would be enough to tell him it wasn’t an emergency.
Lois pulled out her cell phone and dialed for 911. To her trained eye, the wound appeared only to be a graze and it was bleeding only sluggishly. However, at the trial she was going to be asked about her actions, and she didn’t want to give defense lawyers any leeway.
Next she dialed the police. Inspector Henderson was on the other end of the line in moments.
“I’ve got a little problem,” she said.
He sighed and said, “How bad are they hurt?”
“One guy is shot in the butt.” Lois said. “I didn’t do it, I swear. The others just have the usual.”
“If you didn’t have the best lawyers in the business…” Henderson’s voice was weary. Lois generated more paperwork for him than any other civilian.
At least criminals went away.
“Hey, nobody’s tried this in almost a month.”
Lois had hoped that people were finally getting the message, but apparently the number of fools in Metropolis was effectively unlimited.
One of the few things Buffy’s crew had managed to do for her was to establish a legal defense fund. It was available to all Slayers, but Lois tended to use it more than most.
After all, vampires didn’t sue people, but crazy whack job kidnappers did.
The feeling of wind at her back was her only warning.
“Superman,” Lois said, turning to him.
The costume should have looked silly. Lois hadn’t been happy with some aspects of his mother’s design, but by the time she’d first seen it, it had been too late. He’d already gone public.
Now it had grown on her. He looked good in the suit, powerful
If the number of websites with Clark’s head pasted onto the bodies of nude male models was any indication, the female population of the planet thought so too.
“Are you all right?” he asked. He glanced over at the men lying on the alley floor and added, “Ms. Lane?”
“I’m fine, just like the other fifty times.” Lois said. “These guys had a package though.”
She handed him the metal box and he grimaced. He’s been traveling into space and throwing these things at the sun for almost a year, and he hated it.
He’d admitted to hating the feeling of vulnerability, the feeling that he was the one needing to be protected.
Lois reached out and touched his hand, careful to keep his body between the kidnappers and the one sign of affection she was going to allow herself.
“I’m sorry I was late. I had to help deliver a baby on the bridge.” Clark stiffened, and he stared off into the distance with a familiar expression.
Someone else needed his help already.
Lois tightened her grip on his hand reassuringly. “Just do what you have to do. I’m going to be stuck here for a while with the police and the paramedics.”
“Are you hurt?” Clark asked automatically, and then he sighed and glanced over at the men lying on the alley floor.
Lois smiled slightly and shrugged. The sort of men who would try to kidnap women at gunpoint and then kill their boyfriend didn’t deserve any special treatment.
Sometimes she really enjoyed being a Slayer.
He shook his head. “They’ll be fine. The ambulance will be here in less than five minutes and the police aren’t far behind.”
“Good luck,” Lois said.
Despite all his power, Clark wasn’t always successful in saving people. It was the sort of thing that tore him up inside.
All Lois had been able to do was be there for him, and give him the number to her counselor.
Somehow Buffy and her friends had gotten her the number of a counselor who knew about the supernatural side of life, but who wasn’t a cultist or some other sort of villainous crazy.
It helped to talk to someone who didn’t judge. Between her counselor, and Clark, and occasional phone calls to Faith in Cleveland, Lois had come a long way toward finding peace with both what she was, and what she’d done.
Of course, there were all sorts of things they couldn’t say over the telephone. The government wiretapping that had been taking place since the twin towers made it unwise to do much more than talk about normal day to day living.
As the ambulance rounded the corner, Lois sighed. She had hours of explaining to look forward to, and worse, her source had turned out to be a bust, which meant that her story was stalled.
She’d have to find another angle, she always did.
Wearily, Lois opened her door and slipped inside her darkened apartment. She’d been with the police for over three hours. She thought sometimes that they enjoyed these little interrogation sessions, perhaps as payback for the hell she gave them the rest of the time in search for stories.
She’d have to testify at the trial. She was doing that more and more lately and it was getting old. Facing the same defense attorneys over and over, getting the same grilling in front of juries…it was annoying and kept her away from work.
Lois froze as she heard something move in the darkness. It wasn’t a vampire; they couldn’t enter a dwelling without an invitation. It could however be some sort of demon, a burglar, or even as assassin of some sort.
That business with the Order of Taraka last year had been nasty and unpleasant.
She dropped her keys into her pocket and she quickly grabbed a stake from the dresser beside the door.
A head popped up from her couch.
Lois froze, and then said, “Faith?”
Lois glanced back at her door, which still had six locks and a chain on it. “How did you get in?”
“You always leave your window open,” Faith said.
Normal people wouldn’t have had an easy time getting into a fifth story apartment, fire escapes notwithstanding.
Lois dropped the stake back onto the small table by the door. “What are you doing here?”
Faith sat up. “You and Big Blue have a hot date tonight?”
Lois shook her head. “There’s this thing in China. It’s on the news.”
“You wouldn’t mind if I crash for a little while?” Faith asked.
Although Lois had bonded with Faith over the past few months, she remembered the last time her sister Lucy had crashed at her place.
It had lasted three weeks and had felt like it was forever.
“What’s going on?” Lois asked, purposefully avoiding the question.
“Me and Robin are sort of splitsville.” Faith sighed. “It got kind of ugly.”
“I’ll get the ice cream,” Lois said.
“So what’s up with the underwear on the outside thing?” Faith asked.
“That wasn’t my fault,” Lois said. “His mother made the costume for him, and he got embarrassed because in originally you could sort of…um…make things out.”
Faith grinned. “It’s a wicked tight suit.”
“So he had her add the underwear for the sake of modesty.”
“He should have left it off. Then nobody would be looking at his face.” Faith smirked.
“That’s what his mother said, but Clark’s a little bit of a prude.”
“So you and he haven’t…” Faith made an obscene hand gesture.
Lois sighed and shook her head.
For all that she pressed the issue, she was glad that Clark had consistently slowed things down. Lois’s first urge had always been to rush into things, but in this, Clark had been the wiser one.
They hadn’t really known each other all that well at first, and although Lois’s gut had told her that he was perfect for her, she hadn’t really known.
Now she knew that he wasn’t perfect, any more than any other person could be. He had his moments of stubborn pig headedness and he could be pushed into being a little sarcastic.
But in all the world, she knew now there could be nobody more perfect for her.
“Well,” Faith said, “Be glad you have him. I think it’s best that Slayer chicks have guys who can take a beating.”
Lois stared at Faith and was startled to see her blush.
“Eighteen hundred girls,” Lois said. It was mind boggling.
“That’s what Willow thinks. We’ve got almost five hundred working for us. Buffy runs things from Scotland, Robin takes care of things in Cleveland, Andrew has Italy and Giles has England.”
Lois hadn’t imagined that many girls being affected on the day Sunnydale collapsed.
“Any problems from the government?”
“They’ve been sniffing around. Caught a couple of girls and interrogated them. Our lawyers got them out quick enough.”
“Has anybody thought about going public?”
Faith shook her head. “They think you’re crazy for even suggesting it.”
“Have you checked the net?” Lois asked. “Belief in the supernatural is at an all time high.”
Clark was part of that. In a world where a man could fly and lift space shuttles into space, it was a little easier to believe that others might have strange abilities. It was only a small leap from that to being open to the possibility of the supernatural.
It was all part of Lois’s long term plan. The truth about the supernatural wasn’t going to remain a secret forever. When it came out, she was going to be on the front lines, earning that Pulitzer. In the meantime, anything she could do to make society more accepting would be important.
“Speaking of the supernatural, how is the new intern doing?” Faith’s voice was casual, but even here they couldn’t speak freely.
The newest intern at the Daily Planet was a witch. She’d been hired by Buffy’s group to maintain the protections Willow had placed on Clark and to keep tabs on him to make sure nothing had gotten through them.
Clark had no idea that she was anything other than a love struck teenager. If he ever was controlled again, she was everyone’s secret ace in the hole.
Lois scowled. “She has a crush on him. It would be cute if it wasn’t sickening.”
“Well, that’s the price you pay for dating someone who looks like that. I think most of the younger Slayers have a crush on him too.”
Faith’s cell phone rang, and she grabbed it.
Faith froze, and then turned away from Lois.
Lois could hear her crying quietly, but from the quietly murmured words she was speaking, Lois knew she wasn’t going to have to put Faith up for a long time.
It was a relief. Things with her and Clark were finally progressing, and she didn’t want any questions.
She wanted to simply enjoy it for what it was.
She floated through the night air with him, weightless and endlessly free. It was one of the things she enjoyed doing best with him. Flying by night she could imagine that they were the only two people left in the entire world, that there weren’t an endless flood of distractions in both their lives.
Life with Superman wasn’t easy. She had to share him with the world, even as a greedy part of her wanted to keep him all to herself.
Before him, her work had been her life. What little personal time she’d had had been drab and dull, while her work had been vibrant and exciting.
She’d had no idea that her work could be even more enjoyable, even brighter. Even without powers, Clark would have been the perfect partner for her. He was strong enough to stand up to her occasional outbursts of anger, and sensitive enough not to blame her for them.
He had a sharp sense of humor, which she hadn’t learned about until they’d been working together for a while.
He’d treated her with kid gloves for the first couple of months of their relationship.
But as they’d both begun to heal, their true selves had begun to emerge. Lois had finally allowed him to see more of the ugliness in her soul, and despite her fear, he’d loved her anyway.
Being loved unconditionally was a heady feeling. It wasn’t something Lois had ever felt before, and she’d kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. She’d kept waiting for the bad news that had never come.
Although he was an alien, her first impression had been correct. He really was the most human person she’d ever known.
For the first time, her life away from work had been as vibrant and interesting as her life at work. She and Clark were together sixteen hours a day and that should have been more than enough to make her want to do anything to get away from him.
Instead she found herself wanting only more.
When she’d first been asked if she was ready to be strong, she’d thought she’d made a terrible mistake. Accepting that strength had come at all sorts of hidden costs, including the knowledge that the world had never been the safe place everyone thought it was.
But if she’d never accepted, or never even been made the offer, then she never would have felt this way. She’d have never experienced what it was like to look at someone and feel as though the breath was knocked out of her chest.
Lois was happy, and she was strong. Together she and Clark were going to do far more good than either of them would have been able to do alone.
Being strong had led her to love, and love had led her to happiness.
She kissed Clark impulsively, and what she saw in his eyes made her heart swell.
Her joy was like flying.