By Peabody (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: They both want to wait up for Clark, but it's late, and Lois Lane Kent finds she must use all her skills in negotiation and misdirection to get her young daughter, Marta (who is just as talented in these areas), ready for bed. A charming "FoLC lullaby."
"Characters in this story, with the exception of the character Marta Kent, are copyrighted by December 3rd Productions, Warner Brothers, DC and ABC. No infringement is intended in any part by the author; however, Marta Kent and the ideas expressed within this story are copyrighted to the author. The song, 'Can't Help Lovin' That Man' is from 'Showboat,' by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, as presented in the 1966 (July 24, 1966) Lincoln Center revival produced by RCA Victor. 'Goodnight Moon' copyright 1947, Harper & Row, copyright 1982, Edith and Clement Hurd Trust"
I wrote this "FoLCs Lullaby" during the Arc from Hell II, the day after BGDF. It's mostly a lightweight, feel-good piece of fluff with next to no "A" plot.
This story is set about 4 years into the future of L&C's current story line, with the exception that TAG,D and BGDF never occurred, and Clark is still the "last son of Krypton."
There are no makeout scenes or hot love scenes; I like them but I don't write them very well. So, if you want to know how Lois looks when her wet, nearly transparent shirt clings provocatively to her slender yet feminine body and full breasts, the gauzy dampness her only covering, or a description of how Clark's firm pectorals flex as he removes his T-shirt and turns, revealing his lean, tautly muscled shoulders and back, the exposed region tapering to his slim waist and narrow hips, you'll have to use your imagination. If imagination alone doesn't help you through LCWS, try reading some Ann Rice.
A very big "Thank you" to my proofreaders/editors/critics: Mike, Kate and Bernie. Constructive criticism welcome at email@example.com.
Lois Lane Kent poured the last of the soggy cocoa puffs, along with the dregs of the milk, down the garbage disposal, washed the Daffy Duck cereal bowl, and left it to air-dry in the dish drainer.
"Bedtime, Marta," she called into the living room a second time.
"No." Came the response.
"If this is the rehearsal for age two, I can't *wait* to see the real thing," Lois sighed to herself as she trudged into the living room. Clark's T-shirt flapped around her, trailing midway to her knees. An hour earlier, just after Marta's bath, Lois had exchanged her own sopping clothes for the only Lois-sized dry clothing in the bathroom: the clean T-shirt Clark had left hanging behind the door, ready for his return. If Marta's enjoyment of her bath was proportional to the amount of water relocated *outside* the tub, tonight had been an extremely gratifying experience for the 22 month old.
Lois sat down on the floor next to her fair-skinned, dark-haired daughter. In her pink and white sleeper, Marta looked like a delicate porcelain doll, the perfect little girl, incapable of a disobedient thought or a contrary word. She had Lois' deep brown, doe shaped eyes, and Clark's dimples. Her rosebud mouth, pursed now in deep concentration, was entirely her own. Unable to resist the temptation, Lois leaned closer and blew softly into Marta's silky curls, sending wispy tendrils of hair in all directions. This was their longtime game, dating from the old days, when Marta had been an amiable and cooperative baby.
Marta looked up warily from the newspaper she was coloring: was bedtime about to be brought up again? Certain now of her daughter's full attention, Lois avoided directly mentioning bedtime and asked instead, "So what'll it be tonight, sweetie, a song or a story?" She had learned months ago that arguing with her daughter was frustrating and ultimately useless; distracting her or changing topics was generally a slightly more successful tactic.
"No. Wait for Daddy?" Marta pleaded.
"Let's brush your teeth and wash your face before Daddy gets home."
Marta didn't look happy with the suggestion, but in the absence of an openly negative reply, Lois headed off to the bathroom, towing the less than enthusiastic Marta along.
Cleanup accomplished, if not to Lois' satisfaction, at least to Marta's, Lois coaxed and, finally, carried the reluctant, wide- awake toddler to the latter's bedroom. Lois chattered encouragingly about lullabies, bedtime stories, and sweet dreams, one arm gently encircling her daughter as they rocked side by side in the white wicker chair near Marta's crib. Next they would choose a book for Lois to read to Marta or a song for Lois to sing to her.
Marta was still a little unclear about what came after that, but it was usually followed by waking up in her crib the next morning. Lois bent forward to pick up a few books from a close by table, preparing to offer Marta her choices for tonight. The overhead light had already been dimmed, leaving the table's reading lamp as the primary illumination for the room's pink, lavender, teal and soft yellow tones.
"Daddy come soon?" Marta asked, stalling for time. What she wanted right now was to continue coloring today's edition of the Daily Planet until daddy came home to admire her work. Marta had quickly discovered that arguing with mama wasn't very effective in getting what she wanted; switching the subject, especially to daddy, frequently produced better results.
"Daddy's working tonight, Marta, he'll be home later." Lois said carefully, trying not to let her words or expression communicate her worry to Marta. It wasn't unusual for Clark to be gone for hours, or occasionally days when he was out in the suit. What was different and mildly unnerving tonight was the lack of a crisis. No screaming police or fire sirens, no news reports of prison breaks, fires, earthquakes or floods, no dramatic videotapes of Superman saving a falling plane, and still, no Clark.
Silently, she sent her love out to Clark, confident it would find him wherever he was, and offered a prayer to The Almighty for his safe return. But right now, she was going to concentrate on Marta, and on making certain that tonight was no deviation from the safe, loving, and secure environment she and Clark had always provided, and hopefully, would always provide, every day and night of Marta's life. Lois loved her daughter as fiercely and completely as she loved Clark. Like Clark, she wouldn't hesitate to move heaven and earth to protect her loved ones from apprehension, disappointment or hurt. That protective instinct came into play now, as she attempted to focus solely on Marta, consciously blocking out the anxiety Clark's unexplained absence had triggered.
"Which one?" Lois asked cheerfully as she handed four of the brightly covered books to Marta, having found that less was definitely more when asking her little girl to make a decision.
Marta looked at each of the four thoughtfully, then returned them to her mother and answered simply, "No story; song."
"Okay," Lois said, smiling down at her daughter, then noticing there was still a faint trace of cocoa puffs on Marta's upper lip. Momentarily she thought about making another attempt at cereal removal, but quickly convinced herself that the minuscule flecks of chocolate were Marta's badge of honor, given the pride her daughter had taken in persuading Clark to purchase the sugary treat for her.
Lois remembered her initial annoyance at Clark over the incident. He and Marta had returned from the supermarket, with Clark balancing three bags of groceries, and Marta triumphantly preceding him into the apartment, displaying her prize: a box of the forbidden "junk cereal" that Lois had adamantly refused to buy. Afterwards, while Marta was taking her nap, Lois cornered Clark in the kitchen, where he was putting away the last of the groceries. Clark had laughed when Lois accused him of undermining her authority, telling her that she was making far too much of his and Marta's minor insurrection. He had assured Lois that Marta would find "...much worse ways to rebel," by the time she reached her teens.
"That's not the point, Clark," she'd responded heatedly, "I can deal with Marta eating sweet, artificially colored cereal that will rot her teeth. What I can't understand is your inability to say 'no' to her. She's not even two years old and you're an adult! Just tell her 'no,' and don't encourage her wheedling." Even as she was saying it, Lois realized she was asking the unlikely. Her resolve was much firmer than Clark's and still she often had difficulty ignoring Marta's entreaties or disfavor.
Clark shifted uncomfortably, looked everywhere in the kitchen *except* at Lois, and finally replied, "You're right; I can't say no to her. She looks at me with an expression that says I'm capable of giving her anything in the world or fixing anything that's wrong or broken. No one else looks at me that way, unless I'm wearing the suit. What's *worse,* she looks up at me with *your* eyes. It's impossible even for me to fight that combination."
Lois had melted when he said that. Not quite believing that she had spent the last ten minutes arguing with the best husband and father in the world over a box of cereal, she was in his arms like a shot. Her affectionate concern and ensuing actions made clear that she'd more than forgiven him. "I hope you've noticed how I look at you, Kent, when you're *without* the suit," she purred, looking up into his face ingenuously.
"Yeah, I've noticed," he grinned, pulling her even closer, "*especially* when I'm without the suit."
It made her smile now, just thinking about it, but somehow, it also hurt the tiniest little bit, and made her feel more uncomfortable with Clark's absence.
"Song?" Marta repeated more insistently, bringing Lois back to the present.
"Was mama ignoring you? I'm sorry, sweetie," Lois gave Marta a little hug and her most engaging smile. Marta wasn't immune to her mother's charms; she smiled back as Lois asked, "Which song should we sing? The one about the spider or the one about the farmer?"
"Manamine," Marta replied, still smiling broadly.
The previous week, Lois had been singing "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" to herself, or so she thought, while folding laundry. She had turned around at the sound of small hands clapping; Marta was standing in the kitchen doorway, a pleased grin on her face. "Pretty," she'd said delightedly before she went back to her toys in the living room. Since then, she'd requested "Manamine" at least four times. Lois suspected that Marta connected the song with her adored daddy, and hoped she hadn't heard, or at least hadn't understood, the verse that described one's man as "...lazy..." and "...slow." After all, it was fine to occasionally address your husband as "Farmboy," or "Lunkhead," but it wasn't a habit you wanted your children to acquire.
"Wouldn't you rather hear a new song about a choo-choo?" Lois asked encouragingly.
"Manamine," Marta repeated.
"I know," Lois said quickly, but with little hope, "how about the song with the bunny?"
"Manamine," Marta insisted.
Lois couldn't think of a song she felt less like singing tonight. She looked down at Marta's resolute face. It was clear where the child got her stubbornness; once again, Lois felt that her father, Sam Lane, had a lot to answer for. She knew that further debate was futile. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Lois began to sing softly:
"Fish got to swim, birds got to fly, I've got to love one man 'til I die, Can't help lovin' that man of mine..."
Marta grinned appreciatively and snuggled closer. Obviously, Lois thought as she continued, this song had become Marta's new favorite.
"When he goes away, that's a rainy day, And when he comes back that day is fine..."
This wasn't the first time Clark had been gone longer than she'd expected. There was an unwritten, unspoken communication between them, she reminded herself; she'd know already if something were wrong. Of course he was all right. He'd be home soon, and tease her about waiting up for him. "If he comes home," the contrary voice in the back of her mind murmured. She ignored it and went on...
"Tell me I'm crazy, Baby,..."
Lois paused at the word "baby" to give Marta a little tickle, then laughed at her daughter's surprised reaction: first a delighted squeal, then an indignant denial, "Me notta baby!" and finally, Marta repositioning herself, chest and stomach thrust forward, to facilitate more tickling.
"Would you like to sit in mama's lap?" Lois offered. Marta accepted the invitation. After relocating, she curled up comfortably, put her thumb into her mouth, and waited for the song to continue.
"He can come home as late as can be; Home without him ain't no home to me..."
Had she ever really known a place that was home before Clark became part of her life? Her childhood home had been an unsatisfying and sometimes unhappy experience. Afterwards, she'd denied wanting the permanence and commitment a home represented, and wouldn't admit, even to herself, that something was missing from her life.
She could remember the exact moment that she had understood and appreciated what "home" could really mean. It was about 6 months after their wedding; she was on assignment in Paris, alone, and for the first time in her life, she felt homesick. It wasn't merely a question of missing Clark; he could be at her side at a moment's notice. She both missed Clark *and* wished she were in Metropolis with him, rather than wishing that he was in Paris with her. To Lois, Paris in the springtime, formerly one of the most beautiful, romantic places on earth, suddenly paled compared to Metropolis at any season. Metropolis was the place where she felt safe, secure and loved. Metropolis, with Clark, had become her home.
Continuing to sing softly, Lois let her mind drift. She looked at the kaleidoscope of softly glowing impressionist hues that colored the room, remembering the delight she'd taken in planning its design. Lois' apartments had always looked attractive, but with the cold, impersonal attitude of a furniture showroom; decorating this room had been a singularly dissimilar experience.
Early in her pregnancy, both she and Clark had elected not to be told their baby's sex, declaring that, "..it doesn't matter, so long as the baby's healthy," and "We want to be surprised." When Lois was in her sixth month, she recalled just how much she hated surprises, and had taken advantage of her obstetrician's momentary absence from the examining room to study her file.
By the end of that week, the baby's sex was no longer a secret to anyone. Lois hadn't told a soul, but, as she'd overheard Clark telling his parents on the phone one evening, "There can't be a pink blanket, pink crib sheet, pink carpet, roll of pink flowered wallpaper or piece of pink baby furniture left in Metropolis, because Lois has found them all and brought them here."
Jonathan had counseled him that it was, "...probably a good idea to humor a woman in Lois' condition." Martha made the expected, sympathetic responses to Clark's complaints. Then, asking to speak with Lois privately, Martha advised her not to spare the lace, ruffles or bows.
Afterwards, Clark had strolled into the former guest room and found his wife surrounded by pink and lavender wallpaper, pink paint chips, pink carpet samples and lavender fabric swatches. With a mock seriousness that Lois felt concealed a genuine concern, Clark had asked her if she was planning to name their daughter "Barbie." He'd told her later that seeing "Mad Dog Lane" raptly engrossed in creating a rose-colored, fantasy land of a bedroom for their baby had been one of the bigger shocks of his life, roughly comparable to discovering his ability to fly. Lois had replied serenely that this was her first home and her first baby and she was reveling in both. Home, she thought, returning to the present; home and Clark: everything led back to that.
Without Clark, could any place ever be home again? What would her life be like, without Clark's gentle, steadfast presence and unconditional love? Some night he might not return: what if tonight was that night? "Stop this nonsense right now," she warned herself. Another stanza and she'd be in tears. Honestly, what had gotten into her tonight?
Lois finished the song, probably a little more hastily than she normally would have, and did her best to discourage the still- sleepless Marta from requesting an encore. Instead, she suggested a story, and to her surprise, Marta acquiesced. Silently vowing to never again give her child a bedtime snack of *anything* containing sugar or chocolate, she searched through Marta's books for the most repetitious, least plot intensive--all right, she admitted, the most *boring* story available.
"Ooh, I've found one of my favorites, Marta," Lois fibbed unashamedly, "can we read this one?"
Marta studied the proffered title solemnly, appearing to weigh its merits, then handed it back to Lois. "Okay," Marta conceded, returning her thumb to her mouth immediately afterwards.
Lois opened the book to the title page and read: "Goodnight moon."
"In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of--," she continued.
By the time Lois had gotten to "Goodnight room," Marta's eyelids were starting to droop. Unfortunately, Lois' eyelids had started to droop two pages earlier. Lois treasured the time she spent with her baby, but tonight she was exhausted. Even Perry had noticed. That afternoon he had suggested she and Clark take the next day off, citing the long hours they had put in over the last few weeks investigating an auto insurance fraud scheme. It had been time well invested. The conspiracy's extent had turned out to be national, not local as the original tip had suggested, and the Planet would be the first paper in the country to break the story, with a page one article in tomorrow's edition.
More than seeing their article in print, more even than potential Kerth or Pulitzer nominations, at this precise moment Lois looked forward to spending the next day with Clark and Marta. She tried to silence the nagging voice reminding her that Clark still hadn't returned; instead she concentrated planning on tomorrow's picnic at the beach or trip to the amusement park. The destination was unimportant; it would be a day in the company of the two people she most enjoyed sharing her days with.
Lois read the last line, "Goodnight noises everywhere," and closed the book. Looking down, she discovered that Marta was almost, but not quite asleep. "What now, Lane?" She asked herself. She decided to ad lib. Opening the book to the first page she pretended to read, "In Marta's room, there was a rocking chair, and a teddy bear, and a picture of...uh..." She looked around the room hurriedly, then smiled as she spotted the perfect item, "...Grandma and grandpa on their farm."
"Goodnight Martha and Jonathan."
"Gramma, grampa," a small sleepy voice mumbled. This time the thumb didn't quite leave the mouth, a sign that Marta was very nearly asleep.
Confident she was on the right track, Lois continued to "read," substituting places and things familiar to Marta for the book's original text, and listening for the soft, even breathing that would attest it was time to tuck Marta into her crib.
"A sky full of stars, Looking down on the...uh...cars"
"Goodnight stars, goodnight cars"...'
Marta took a deep, sighing breath and uncurled into a more relaxed position.
"And a guppy and a neon in a fish tank that 's deep, And Marta's tired mommy who's wishing she'd sleep...”
Clark flew toward Metropolis, thankful to be on his way home at last. Four hours ago, nearing the end of an uneventful nightly patrol, he'd been startled by the sound of a far-off explosion, followed almost immediately by subsequent, equally intense detonations. As he'd hurtled himself in the direction of the roaring eruption of sound, he could hear the simultaneous shouts for help and screams of terror that accompanied the outbursts.
The trail of sound had led him to a well-concealed, obviously top-secret military base in a remote, nearly inaccessible desert area of New Mexico. The base had been commissioned as a repository for test weapons. Its arsenal had been filled with an explosive partially composed of a new element isolated, so he was told, from a meteor.
When Clark arrived at the base, chaos had reigned. Scientists fought with public relations officers, each trying to give him their version of what had happened. He leaned slightly more toward believing the scientists: the new element in the explosives was highly unstable; their recommendations for extra precautions such as a deeper, more heavily reinforced magazine had been ignored. Consequently the element, which had proven capable of generating its own heat, had spontaneously combusted, starting off the chain reaction of explosions. The explosions, in turn, had set large areas of the base aflame. When questioned about the element's origins, the public relations officer cited a meteor; the scientists, ignoring the public relations officer's scowl, hinted at a darker birthplace.
Lack of information about the other-worldly source of the unnamed substance gave Clark momentary pause. What if this element proved to be kryptonite or to have a kryptonite-like effect on him? He chose to ignore those misgivings when an agonized cry of "Help, Superman!" reminded him that lives were at stake. Right now, he alone had the ability to save the lives of people, who, very much like himself, probably had families of their own waiting for them to return home.
Three and a half hours later injured personnel had been removed to the base hospital, missing personnel had been located, fires had been put out, the last of the explosives had been neutralized and the smoke had dissipated to the point where it was now possible to see the brightest stars through the haze. Clark applauded this last as a sure sign the crisis was almost over.
Reports coming from the base hospital indicated that most of the soldiers had received only minor injuries and would be rejoining their units within the next day or two. Clark's sole remaining task then, was to find the officer or officers in charge of this circus, and try, as diplomatically as possible, to give them some idea of this incident's cataclysmic possibilities had he not happened along.
If this had transpired at any place other than a top secret military base, he reflected, the media would have been flooded with reports from all the major news sources. Some rumors might still leak out in the coming weeks, but the desert site had been chosen for its remote location. Journalists and would-be investigators couldn't get here for at least 24 hours, and then only with the government's permission. By that time all traces of the explosion and its resultant damage would have been eradicated. Official sources would simply deny everything.
It occurred to him then, that Lois probably had no idea of where he had been, or what had detained him for the past four hours. He'd be home soon, but relating the details of tonight's adventure would have to wait until tomorrow morning. It had to be after 2:00 am. now, and Lois would fully appreciate the situation only when she was alert enough to understand his story.
He shook his head regretfully; Lois would long since have put Marta to bed. Between his full-time job as a reporter and his other role as Superman, he worried about the effect his frequent absences might have on his daughter. He didn't want her to grow up feeling abandoned by a work-obsessed father, having difficulty loving or trusting, as Lois had. Sensing his distress, Lois pointed out that it was her father's disapproving and argumentative presence, not his absences, that had scarred her.
Nevertheless, he wished he could spend more time with Marta. He didn't want to miss any small part of his daughter's childhood. He'd been overjoyed when they'd learned that Lois was pregnant. After almost a year and a half of marriage, they'd begun to wonder if a child was a possibility for them. Marta's pending arrival had seemed no less than a miracle.
They'd celebrated their successful attempt at conception, basking in what Lois, smiling wickedly, termed, "Satisfaction with a job well done." His initial exhilaration at the news had tempered slightly as reality set in. He wondered, a little apprehensively, just how typical this pregnancy would be, and, more importantly, how it would affect Lois. Aware of his discomfort, Lois had bluntly reminded him that taking chances was what their relationship, and actually, any relationship, was all about.
Still, Clark didn't really start to relax until the beginning of the third month, when, bolstered by positive reports from the obstetrician, he was able to reassure himself that everything was progressing normally. Lois had been an astonishingly good sport, enduring morning sickness, mood swings, and later on, weight gain and vigorous kicking from The Baby, with her usual high energy and an uncharacteristically pleasant disposition. There had been the occasional, predictable, displays of the Lane temper if someone was foolish enough to refer to her condition condescendingly (Perry had once made the mistake of asking how "the little mother" was feeling), but, all things considered, the first nine months had gone pretty smoothly.
Clearly, The Baby didn't know how to read a calendar. Two weeks after the predicted due date she showed no signs of making her appearance. Good humor, on Lois' part, had reached its limit, and her mood had rapidly darkened. Clark now did his best to reassure *her* that everything was normal. He repeated her doctor's pronouncement that "first babies often arrive a little late," and that their daughter would "certainly be here within the next 2 or 3 weeks." He passed on Ellen Lane's recollection that Lois' younger sister, Lucy, had been nearly ten months in the making. He did his best to convince Lois that she was wrong (even though he had no direct knowledge on this point) when she tearfully insisted that Kryptonians, like elephants, had pregnancies that lasted almost 2 years and caused weight gains of hundreds of pounds.
Raising Lois' spirits became his major preoccupation during those last few weeks. He cooked her favorite dinners, brought her small, silly gifts that he hoped would make he smile, massaged her aching back with a little help from his heat vision, teased her and then reminded her that she was the smartest person he knew and the most beautiful woman in the world, and that he was hopelessly and totally enthralled with her. Even so, he realized that nothing less than their baby's arrival would cure Lois' misery, and at times he could only watch helplessly as his uncomfortable, bulky, and nearly immobile wife glared out at the world from her prone position on their couch.
Lois went into labor almost three weeks after her due date. Ecstatic the waiting was finally over, she'd laughed and joked with Clark for the first 8 or 9 hours, stopping only to dutifully practice her Lamaze breathing during the intermittent contractions. He had fed her ice chips, encouraged her, rubbed her back, talked to her, listened to her, played cards with her between contractions, read to her, and held her hand.
Lois' labor progressed slowly; 24 hours had passed since they'd arrived at the hospital. She said very little now, conserving her energy and concentrating on her breathing. After 29 hours the obstetrician looked at Clark, and noting his anxious expression, motioned to the room's door, indicating that she'd meet him in the hallway. Mumbling an excuse about the call of nature, Clark did his best not to show his panic or to exit the room at super-speed.
The doctor was waiting for him immediately outside. She was probably about Martha's age, (which somehow made him feel more comfortable) tall and slender, with fair hair and high cheekbones. Her face carefully devoid of expression, she brusquely stated the reason she'd needed to speak with him: "Mr. Kent, your wife is doing just fine. Stop worrying."
He couldn't believe that he had heard correctly. He'd gazed at the doctor in disbelief, unconsciously taking in every detail around him, from the hospital's over cheerful hallway, to the doctor's stork-with-a-bundle patterned scrubs "You didn't call me out here to tell me that you need to do an emergency C- section?"
She'd almost smiled at him. "Labor often takes longer with first babies. Your wife is healthy, in excellent physical condition and dealing with the situation very well. The fetal monitor indicates the baby is not in any distress. She'll probably be here in a few more hours. You, on the other hand don't look as if you'll make it through the afternoon." This time she did smile at him. "Relax, Mr. Kent. It's easy for everyone here to see how you feel about your wife. I'm sure that if you could, you'd have this baby for her. You can't. Being an attentive, supportive coach is the most help you can give her. You're doing that very well."
Clark breathed more easily for the next few hours. But then, as the minutes ticked by with no sign of the baby, his discomfort returned. If the doctor had been wrong in estimating the labor and delivery time, maybe she had also been wrong in her assessment that Lois was doing fine. Lois had deliberately chosen an obstetrician who firmly believed in natural childbirth and was resistant to using drugs or inducing labor. Clark now doubted the wisdom of that decision. Second guessing himself as well as the doctor, he regretted not insisting on a more active role in Lois' choice.
Thirty-five hours had passed since they'd arrived at the hospital. Lois had stopped interacting with him almost completely, mutely shaking her head when he offered ice, massage or conversation. Earlier, she had gasped or screamed at some of the stronger contractions. Now she was nearly silent, save for the sound of her fatigued breathing. He continued to hold her hand, frustrated at his inability to do anything to lessen her ordeal. What good were super powers, he'd thought bitterly, when they couldn't ease the suffering of the person he loved most?
He guiltily feared that by wanting both a wife *and* a child, he had been too greedy. Now having tempted Fate by asking for more than he was allowed, he would lose them both. He'd felt this terrified only once before: the day he'd agreed to freeze Lois and later had been very nearly unable to bring her back. He looked down at Lois. Taking advantage of a brief respite between the contractions, she had collapsed back into the pillows, eyes closed. She lay nearly motionless, her pale skin was filmed with sweat, dark circles ringed her eyes and her small, fragile body appeared spent and drained of all energy. He was certain now that the pain and exhaustion had pushed Lois beyond the limits of even her considerable stamina.
He felt her squeeze his hand; she had an unexpectedly firm grip for a dying woman. He squeezed back and, in trepidation, looked into her face. Her eyes were open now, beckoning him; her lips moved slightly. He was capable of hearing a bird in flight miles away, but now he leaned closer, his face only inches from hers, his ear turned toward her. Her eyes glinted; she whispered through clenched teeth, "I'll get you for this, Farmboy. Don' t think that I'll forget, either. You're changing *all* the diapers for at *least* the first year." He'd stared at her for a second, open-mouthed with shocked relief. Before he had a chance to step back, she'd closed the short distance between them by lifting her head ever-so-slightly, and, catching his ear lobe in her sharp, white teeth, gave his ear a soft little nip. Sinking back into the pillows, she winked at him just before the next contraction hit.
Marta was born about four hours later. Lois had looked proud, satisfied and utterly exhausted. The doctor carefully placed the newborn Marta in Clark's eager hands, saying, "Here she is, Clark," the 40 hours spent in labor and delivery having placed them on a first-name basis. Then she'd added, "Your little girl took a long time getting here, but she looks like she was worth the wait. What do you think?"
It was impossible for Clark to see his perfect daughter clearly, because his eyes had filled with tears the instant he'd touched her. He hadn't thought it possible for him to love anyone more deeply or powerfully than he did Lois, but even the months of waiting followed by the hours of anxiety had not prepared him for this. Suddenly, he realized that for the first time in over thirty years, and the first time in his memory, he had embraced another being of his own race and blood. He'd been only a month or two older than Marta when he'd last known that sensation, moments before his ship left Krypton, and he became the last of his race.
Blinking away his tears, he'd looked down at his beautiful daughter. She seemed to be looking back at him, telling him that she understood, and reminding him that he was no longer the last; now there were two Kryptonians in the universe. Barely able to speak, he'd murmured, simply, "I love you," to his radiant wife. Her teary-eyed smile had conveyed her empathy with his emotions.
The abrupt drop in air temperature as he flew over the Great Lakes brought him back to the present. He'd be back in Metropolis in a minute or two. Hopefully, Lois was right now sleeping as soundly as their daughter, not waiting up and worrying about him. Lois rarely admitted to any uneasiness about his activities; believing, as always, that denying her fears would make them evaporate like raindrops in bright sunlight. That didn't mean he was unaware of their existence.
More than once he had come home to find her still awake, trying to act as if her concern for him wasn't the cause. Her excuses on these occasions were as flimsy as those he had given her before she'd learned his secret, when he needed to disappear quickly. As implausible as his cheese-of-the-month shipments, Lois had told him that she had a great idea for her novel and wanted to get it on disc before it disappeared, that she'd been working on a surprise for him, so of course she couldn't tell him about it, or that she was waiting for a call from a source.
Sometimes he experienced her defensive mode: yes, she was still up, and she didn't need to give him any reason. Worse still were the very few occasions when he could tell that she had been crying. She would insist that she had been watching an old film; (An Affair to Remember and Now, Voyager were two of the usual culprits) then become furiously angry if she even *suspected* that he didn't believe her. Thankfully, this last occurred rarely, happening only when Lois was bone- achingly exhausted.
Separately and together, they had each struggled with their fears for the other's safety, ultimately coming to the conclusion that part of their loyalty to each other was trusting their partner to return alive and reasonably unscathed. Rather than suffering constant anxiety over kryptonite, amnesia, viruses, exploding asteroids, or escaped criminals with an avowed desire for vengeance, they'd agreed their efforts were better spent on enjoying their time together to the fullest. Some days, though, remembering and keeping that resolution was more difficult than others.
Clark felt a sense of foreboding when he saw the lights still burning in their flat. He scanned the apartment's interior, calming as soon as he'd located Lois and Marta asleep in the wicker rocking chair, Marta snoozing soundly in Lois' lap. The sight brought a grin to his face: Marta had outlasted Lois-- again. Possibly his Little Tornado had met her match. His grin broadened at the thought: his Little Tornado and his small, no, tiny--his Tiny Tornado?
The familiar sound of his landing on their balcony penetrated Lois' subconscious, sleep-besotted brain; Clark could see the tension leaving her body, as her muscles relaxed and a slight smile played across her lips. Love is a funny thing, Clark thought to himself. It was ironic that Lois, who never checked the water level before diving-in, should worry about the over- cautious man she'd accused of walking on eggshells.
Clark hurried to change out of the suit and wash away the fire and brimstone scent of tonight's inferno before tucking his daughter and wife into their respective beds. He and Lois made every effort to keep Marta ignorant of his Superman persona, planning to share that knowledge with her only when she was old enough to understand the gravity of the secret. The accouterments of Clark's other life were carefully stored away in the closet hidden behind the wine rack. That's where the stained suit would go after he showered and exchanged it for the more comfortable clothes he'd left in the bathroom.
He finished his shower, towelled dry, and put on the sleep shorts that were hanging on the bathroom door. Hadn't he hung a shirt along with them? He didn't see it in the bathroom, and an x-ray check of his dresser revealed only an empty space in the drawer where the T-shirts were stored. A second scan of the bathroom solved the mystery. Lois' still wet jeans and sweater, along with 5 or 6 very damp towels, were lying in the laundry hamper. Marta must have had a wonderful time in her bath tonight, Clark reflected. Evidently she'd soaked the bathroom and Lois in the process. "Yep," Clark thought, grinning, "Lois has definitely met her match." Maybe, he mused, Marta was more like a Tiny Typhoon than a Tiny Tornado.
Clark stood in the doorway of Marta's room. The glow of the reading lamp highlighted the two sleeping figures; Lois protectively cradling Marta in her arms. He wondered if he could move Marta to her crib without awakening Lois. He was spared making the attempt when Lois' dark, sleepy eyes opened wide and she gifted him with her 1000 watt smile. They'd been together for better than five years now, but sometimes (and tonight was one of those times) Clark still marvelled at his good fortune.
"You're home!" she whispered, obviously delighted to see him
Moving to stand next to her, he whispered, "You know that I always come back." He tenderly brushed a few stray strands of her dark, silky hair out of her eyes, then kissed her. Marta, drugged with sleep, didn't even twitch as Clark scooped her up from Lois' lap and settled her in her crib.
"I never doubted that you would, not even for a moment," Lois sighed happily, fighting sleep. She stirred in the rocking chair, and stretched, preparing to stand.
Clark smiled as he looked down at his half-awake wife; then he gently lifted her in his arms, carrying her as easily as he had the slumbering Marta. Still groggy with sleep, Lois contentedly closed her eyes as she rested her head against his broad chest. His bare chest. Drowsily, Lois remembered that she was wearing his only clean T-shirt.
"Lose your shirt tonight, Farmboy?" She winked, then involuntarily punctuated her question with a yawn. To Clark's tired mind the yawn heightened rather than reduced her air of reckless abandon.
He assumed his best Aw Shucks manner, "I sure did, ma'am; looks like some big-city girl stole it when I wasn't looking."
He eyed the shirt in question and asserted in what he hoped was a more serious manner, "But Superman promised he'd recover it tomorrow morning, when he and the robber are more uh...invigorated."
Here, his grave tone fell victim to her giggle, and he added, "He'll know how to deal with the thief effectively."
By the time they reached their bedroom, a minute or so later, Lois was once again nearly incognizant. Clark solicitously lowered her onto their bed, covered her with the comforter, and climbed in next to her. His nearness inspired her. In the day's last burst of energy, she confided: "I've been thinking about you and our bed, and waiting for this moment all day." Cuddling closer to Clark , she smiled contentedly and added, "Mmmm...you know, Clarkie, my expectations *still* didn't exceed this event!"
He chuckled appreciatively, and the smile her comment brought to *his* face could have illuminated not only their darkened bedroom, but the entire apartment building. He loved coming home to this sensitive, passionate, sleepy woman.
A softly whispered exchange of "I love you's" and drowsy kisses was followed by an even more softly whispered, "Goodnight, Lois."
"Goodnight, Clark," Lois breathed, still smiling, as she drifted off to sleep in her husband's arms.
Goodnight, Dean, Teri, K , Eddie, Lane and Justin.