By Sheila Harper <email@example.com>
Original Air Date: October 19, 1997
Summary: Space Station Prometheus is in danger. Saving it, however, may cost Clark something more precious than his own life. Episode 4 of S5.
<denotes directed thoughts>
By seven in the evening, the news room at the Daily Planet was usually quiet, winding down for the night, but tonight music poured from a boombox, pale blue and yellow balloons floated from railings around the room, and dozens of voices competed in simultaneous conversations. A banner above the elevators proclaimed, "Congratulations, Jessie and Tom!" and one corner of the room had nearly disappeared under a hail of giftwrap and baby gifts.
Lois Lane, nodding and smiling as Margie from advertising told some story about her children's antics, discreetly scanned the room to see if her husband and partner, Clark Kent, had finally arrived. Surely he wasn't — Ah … Her smile brightened. Lois waited until Margie finished her story, then excused herself and started across the large room toward Clark's desk.
In their corner of the news room, the lighting was a little dimmer, the noise of the party a little muted, and Clark Kent, the other half of the Planet's top reporting team, was tickling the smiling infant who lay in the cradle of his crossed legs. "Hi, honey," he said softly, without turning his head.
Lois slipped her arms around his shoulders and kissed the side of his neck above his collar. "Good guess."
Clark tilted his head to give her a sidelong look. "No guess."
"Don't tell me — you heard and smelled me coming."
He grinned his agreement. "And every nerve ending in my body went on alert."
"On alert, huh?" Her hand slid down his chest, following the delicious curve of his pectoral muscles, diving inexorably for his lap. "Every nerve ending?"
"Be good," he growled, capturing her inquisitive hand and holding it over his heart. "We're in public."
She caught his earlobe between her lips and slowly released it. "I'm trying, but … you've been at that peace summit for a week, and I've been so lonely."
He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. "God, Lois." He let go of her hand to grasp the back of her head while he kissed her. As she relaxed into his embrace, their kiss deepened until they forgot the Planet, the party, the baby in Clark's lap.
Eyes wandering, the infant chewed on his small fist. But after several minutes without being bounced or tickled, without smiling dark eyes to look at, he screwed up his mouth and whimpered in soft protest.
Clark pulled back, his breathing uneven. "The baby … I forgot …" He released Lois reluctantly and turned to look at the infant on his lap, jiggling his leg under the baby's head. "Hey, sorry about that, Tanner."
Lois straightened up, smoothing a hand over her hair and trying to shift gears as easily as Clark had. She walked around the chair to watch him with the baby. "You're so good with kids."
He raised his hot, dark gaze to hers, and she realized she was wrong about his shaking off their embrace easily. He cleared his throat and looked down at the baby who clutched his large finger. "You did a great job with CJ," he said, looking back up at her. Her wistful expression made him ache for her. "What is it, honey?"
Lois shook her head, still gazing at the baby. "I was thinking about CJ. It's strange, but … even with the problems with Tempus and the kryptonite … and that woman from Social Services …" She smiled when he rolled his eyes at the mention of Nancy LeClaire, who had asked Superman for a date. " … and all the other troubles from having CJ with us," she continued, her gaze dropping to the baby on his lap, "I wouldn't have missed it."
Lois looked at Clark again. "I mean, at least we know we can have babies together … if we can figure out how." She smiled at the joy that blazed to life in his dark eyes; then her mouth twisted ruefully. "But the crazy thing is … I kinda miss him."
Clark saw the sheen of tears in her eyes, and he gathered Tanner in the crook of one strong arm and stood up. "Here, sit down a minute."
"No, Clark, I don't — Really — " she protested, but she was already sitting down and reaching for the baby. Tanner frowned up at this new face, then unexpectedly smiled, and his arms waved in the air. Lois touched his fist with her finger, and he grabbed it, his smile widening toothlessly. Helpless to resist, she smiled back. "You're a sweetie, Tanner," she told him, "but our baby will be … super." She looked up to see Clark watching her, his expression tender — and sorrowful. "What?" she asked.
He shook his head as if he couldn't find the words, then bent down and gently kissed her.
Glittering in the uninterrupted sunlight of space like a great beaded necklace, space station Prometheus spun gently, creating a semblance of gravity for its occupants. Within its fragile skin, in one of the modules set aside for hazardous research, a thin man in his 20s sat in front of a computer terminal, reading lines of incomprehensible computer code. His companion, a decade older, forehead extending to the top of his head, sweated nervously. "Are you done yet?"
The younger man turned in his chair. "No — and I'm not going to *get* done if you don't stop interrupting me." He corrected a line of code and resumed his reading.
"Once you start it, Haskins won't be able to break in and stop it, right?" The nervous man raked his hands through the hair on the sides of his head.
"Once I start it, *I* won't be able to stop it," the young programmer said. "Look, Cliff, if you're chickening out — "
"I'm not. It's just … they'll try to stop us when the power buildup shows on their monitors, so we'll only get this one chance, Dylan."
"Until it works. Then they'll have to let us go ahead." Dylan grinned wolfishly. "I can't wait to cram that 'too dangerous' down Haskins's throat."
Lois locked the door behind them as she and Clark entered their townhouse. While she hung up her coat and headed for the kitchen, he sat down on the couch. "You were right," she called as she dug in the refrigerator. "Jessie seemed to like the little suit and the overalls."
"Mmm-hmmm," Clark murmured affirmatively.
"But it looks to me like it'll be a while before Tanner can wear either of them."
This time, Clark's response was a husbandly, I'm-not-really- listening, "Hmmm."
She brought a cluster of grapes into the living room and popped one in Clark's mouth, then sat down next to him and ate another. "Okay, Clark. Give."
"You've been sad and quiet ever since you handed me Jessie's baby."
He studied his hands. "It's nothing."
Lois put the grapes on the coffee table then cupped her hands around his face. "Clark, don't shut me out."
"Sorry." He turned his head to kiss the palm of one hand. "When you were holding Tanner, I was … imagining you holding *our* baby."
She frowned, searching his dark eyes intently. "And that makes you unhappy?"
He shook his head, and her hands dropped away to clasp his. "No, it isn't that, honey, it's — " Clark stopped and took a deep breath. "Do you remember when we were first talking about whether we could have kids, and I joked about having super-babies? I was wondering … what would happen if our baby … you know … took after me."
"Super," she whispered, repeating her earlier description.
He nodded. "Yeah. I mean — Mom said I was pretty normal until after I went to school, so it's not like we'd have to deal with floating babies, but still…"
His statement caught Lois by surprise. She hadn't told him that part of her old nightmare, but somehow he had guessed that she worried about it. It was such a silly fear — and she *knew* differently. Clark had told her he'd only been flying since high school, but maybe she'd just needed to hear the actual words: no floating babies. She breathed out a soft laugh. "That's a relief. I'd been imagining hysterical calls from daycare providers."
Clark didn't seem to hear her lighter tone because he answered her seriously. "I don't think we could risk using daycare. Things are bound to happen — sooner or later — and we could never explain super-speed or — or floating. Not after that tabloid story about your "affair" with Superman."
On the other hand, Lois thought, maybe babies weren't the only problem. Dimly, she remembered that *other* Clark telling her about his parents' dying when he was ten: 'Even then, I was pretty fast.' Her lingering smile vanished. "You're right. Since our descendants were — will be — susceptible to Kryptonite, our baby probably *won't* be normal — Earth normal — and that's something we'll have to deal with."
"Maybe …" Clark hesitated, considering.
"Maybe we can do without daycare — if we telecommute and write from home."
"Hmmm." It wasn't something she'd thought about before; getting dressed and going to work was just part of having a job. But they were writers, and stories seldom came looking for them at the Planet. What difference did it make where they kept their keyboards and phones? "Go to story meetings in my bathrobe? Where do I sign up?"
That made him smile, and Lois brushed a kiss across his lips. Then she settled against him, her hand buried under his suit coat, and his arm tightened around her shoulders. "But, Clark, there'll be times when we *have* to use some kind of child care. We'll still be chasing down leads and meeting with sources."
He took a deep breath and shook his head. "We're partners. We could take turns."
"That means taking turns watching the baby, too, partner." Lois wasn't sure he understood the ramifications of doing without child care. "You couldn't zoom off to answer calls for help if it was your turn."
"I know," Clark answered softly. He was silent for a long moment, then continued, "Superman will do what he can… And that'll have to be enough."
"But will it be?"
"What d'you mean?"
"If we're both at home, and you hear a call for help, you'll go. You'll have to … because neither of us could let people die just because helping them's inconvenient."
"And … ?"
"And that means I'm going to end up doing most of the child care — and I won't even be able to yell at you about it because you'll always have a great excuse for flying off and leaving me with the baby."
"Lois — "
She pressed her fingers to his mouth to stop him. "Clark, I'm afraid I'll end up resenting you being Superman. Or, if you really do cut back, you'll start resenting the baby — or me, for working."
To his credit, Clark didn't voice the immediate protest she saw in his expression. "What else can we do?" he finally asked.
Raising a super-baby in the city was more than two working professionals could do alone. "Give our family — and friends — a chance to help."
"Let them in on Superman's secret? No."
Lois wasn't accustomed to hearing that tone of voice from him. "No?" she repeated in disbelief.
He scrambled to explain, to soften what had been an unmistakable order. "Knowing about me is too dangerous. Think of what happened to our parents after we told Sam. Someone found out he knew, and it nearly got them killed. I won't do that to our friends just because things get a little rough at home. We'll manage somehow."
Without intending to, she had touched a nerve. He had loved her passionately, and it had still taken him two years to decide that he could risk her knowing his secret. "Clark, I didn't mean that we should run out and tell them. I just meant that if there was a slip-up, it'd be better if it happened in front of people who care about us instead of a babysitter or something."
He shook his head. "The more people who know, the easier it is for my secret to get out." For a moment, she saw the raw fear in his eyes. "Honey, I couldn't live with myself if anything happened to our kids because I'd been careless."
He didn't get it, and arguing would just make him more stubborn. All she could do was plant the seed and let him work through another pig-headed idea on his own. "Oh, Clark …" she sighed.
Her lack of argument seemed to reassure him, and she felt him relax against her — the way he usually did after sharing one of his concerns with her. He bent down to kiss her, his mouth lingering on hers, then trailing down her throat. "Weren't you saying something about missing me?"
This conversation certainly hadn't made him forget her greeting at the baby shower. She traced a finger down the front of his shirt. "No, I was showing you." Her smile sultry, she tilted her head back and locked her arms around his neck.
He grinned. "I always liked 'show-and-tell.'" He cupped the back of her head and sought her soft lips in a soul-shaking kiss.
In the hazardous research lab on the Prometheus, Dylan keyed in the debugging sequence to check for any typing errors in the program. "Okay … it's clean, so we're ready to go."
Cliff smoothed his hair back again and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He was not a decision-maker; he didn't want the responsibility if anything went wrong. "Shall we — ?"
Dylan scowled at his partner's attempt to pass all responsibility for the project to him. "Cold feet, Cliff? Don't feel like going down in history as one of the men who made cold fusion practical? Or don't you like the thought of the money from the patents any more?"
Cliff glared at the young programmer. "I've never been in this for the money."
"Oh, I forgot. You're bringing cheap, unlimited power to the downtrodden masses despite the blindness of your superiors. Yeah, right. You may not care about the recognition or money, but I do."
Anger broke past the fear that paralyzed Cliff. "Just do it."
"Okey-dokey," Dylan said and entered a quick sequence. Through the window, they saw lights come on in the neighboring room. Figures began scrolling up the monitor, and the sound of building power hummed through the small room.
Halfway around the space station, in the Prometheus control room, red and green lights blinked lazily on several banks of consoles while numbers and other readouts flashed on monitors scattered around the room. The board operator, his ankles crossed, feet propped on the edge of the control board, thumbed through a hot rod magazine, periodically glancing over the colored display around him. On the console behind him, buried among other colored indicators, one light switched from green to amber and the numerical readout on one of the monitors began climbing.
The readout caught his attention, and he tilted back to look at the light and frowned when he saw its color. Dropping his feet to the floor, he sat up and threw a couple of switches and adjusted several dials, but the readout continued to climb, and the light changed from amber to red. He keyed an intercom switch and said, "Rick, you wanna get in here, please? Someone's put T3 on line, and I can't shut her down."
Rick Haskins, who had spent 20 years in the Marines before coming to Prometheus, strode into the control room and leaned across the board operator's shoulder to look at the readouts. "Who's using HR Lab 4? I don't remember seeing an authorization request."
The operator shrugged, and Haskins keyed the intercom into the lab. "This is Prometheus control room. Who's using HR Lab 4?"
In the hazardous research lab, Dylan and Cliff listened to Haskins's voice and exchanged smug grins. "HR Lab 4, this is Prometheus control room. Respond, please."
Since their earlier conversation, the living room had acquired a pronounced lived-in appearance. Clark's suit coat hung drunkenly over the back of the couch, anchored by one sleeve, while his tie had fallen to the floor and been kicked under the coffee table. Lois's jacket lay in a wad in the corner of the couch, and her shoes had found resting places by the fish tank and against the kitchen door.
The couple on the couch was too lost in each other to notice the disorder, their mouths clasping and unclasping moistly, their sighs and soft moans filling the room as they inched further down on the sofa. Clark's shirt was unbuttoned and hung loose from his pants; Lois's sleeveless top was unzipped halfway down the back; and their hands eagerly sought the smoothness of exposed skin.
As his hand slid under the edge of her top, Lois lifted her head from a deep kiss and breathlessly said, "You know what I love about being married? We aren't interrupted all the time."
Clark couldn't resist the urge to tease her, and he stiffened and raised his head in his "I hear a cry for help" pose.
"I had to mention it," Lois groaned. "What do you hear?"
He grinned and leaned forward, catching her earlobe in his mouth and sucking it gently. "Your breath catches when I do that." He nuzzled his way down the side of her neck. "And that. And your heart's doing one-thirty." His hand slid up her thigh till his fingertips were under the edge of her mini-skirt, and he smiled against her neck. "One-forty."
Lois pressed her hand to the center of his bare chest, her fingers curving over his strong pectoral muscle. "So's yours."
Clark slid one arm under her legs and the other behind her back as he stood up. "So, where are we going?" Lois asked saucily, looping her arms around his neck.
"To find some room to work." He started toward the stairs.
"I like to work at the kitchen table," she said conversationally, and he stopped in surprise. "I can really spread out there."
Halfway through that piece of silliness, Clark started grinning. "We'll try that later," he said and silenced her by kissing her as he continued toward their bedroom.
In HR Lab 4, on Prometheus, the hum of building power had increased to a roar. Dylan, frowning, arms folded across his chest, studied the numbers scrolling up the monitor. He leaned down and tapped in a command on the keyboard, but nothing happened. The roar of power continued, the numbers continued to scroll up the monitor, and the lights visible through the window between the rooms stayed red. He flung himself into the chair in front of the keyboard and typed in a series of commands, looking up every few seconds to see the result.
Cliff raked one hand through his hair. "What is it? What's happening?"
"Shut up!" Dylan snapped. He tried command after command, his fingers flying over the keys. His fist suddenly smashed down on the keyboard, startling Cliff. "Oh god, oh god!"
"What *is* it?" Cliff demanded.
"The program's caught in a feedback loop, and now T3's running wild. It's pulling power from all the solar arrays."
Aghast, Cliff stared at Dylan, running calculations through his mind and coming to the same inescapable conclusion. "We've got to get out of here!" he cried and ran for the door.
Dylan snagged his coat sleeve. "Where are you going to run? When T3 blows, the whole station'll go up with it."
Cliff slid down the wall, crumpling onto the floor, his back pressed to the locked door. The hellish pulsing of red warning lights reflected on his face like flickering flames. Dimly, over the roar of building power, he could hear fists thudding against the door. "Dear God, there's over 300 people living here."
"Okay," the security guard outside HR Lab 4 said into his shoulder mike, "I've got a Dr. Cliff Benton and a Dylan Tierney in custody. They came shooting out of the lab a minute ago."
Dylan jerked away and tried to grab the mike, but the second security guard caught him by the arms and yanked him back. "Haskins!" the programmer yelled. "It's Tierney. T3's in a feedback loop! We can't stop it!"
In the control room, Rick Haskins and the board operator listened to Dylan's frantic voice. "Do you hear me? It's going to blow!" 20
The board operator hit a series of buttons and checked one of his monitors. He nodded.
Tight-lipped, Haskins keyed the general intercom for module G. "This is Haskins. We are evacuating module G to run a test of the environmental seals. Evacuate module G immediately. Code 5. Testing will begin in 15 minutes."
Haskins' voice echoed through the labs and hallways of module G. "Repeat. This is a Code 5 evacuation of Module G. Evacuate module G immediately to begin a test of environmental seals. Testing will begin in 14 minutes and 45 seconds."
Lying next to his wife on their comfortable double bed, Clark watched his fingers drift across the smooth curve of her cheek and down the length of her throat. "You are so beautiful," he murmured. "My memory never matches up to reality." He bent down to touch his mouth to hers in a butterfly-light kiss.
Lois reached for him, wanting to deepen the kiss, but he resisted, brushing his parted lips, as light as a breath, across her cheeks and eyelids and temples. The airy touch sensitized her skin, and she shivered as he continued down the side of her face and neck. "Clark, please," she whispered, digging her nails into his strong, bare shoulders.
He lifted his head and smiled into her beautiful eyes. "Ticklish? Or impatient?"
She clasped the sides of his face. "You're not the only one who lost your patience when we got married." She raised her head to press her lips against his, sucking his lower lip into her mouth and exploring the smooth inner edge with her tongue. When she pulled away, Clark murmured in protest, and his head followed hers back down until his mouth captured hers.
"Rick, it's no good," the board operator said, an edge of hysteria sharpening his voice. "Even knowing what Tierney did, I can't stop it."
"Can you limit it to module G?" Haskins asked.
His subordinate shook his head, swallowing again and again. "When T3 blows, Prometheus is going up with her."
Haskins stared at the board operator blankly, as if he hadn't heard — or understood. Then he reached across the board and opened the phone link with EPRAD. "Ground control, this is Prometheus…"
He put his hand over the mike and said, "Up that evacuation order to code 1. I want everyone out of G so we can close the airlocks and undock the module."
"That isn't gonna do any good."
"Shut up and do it," Haskins answered fiercely. "I have an idea."
In module G, people poured out of labs and offices, running, trying to keep ahead of the airlocks that slammed shut behind them. The evacuation was made hideous by the whooping of an emergency siren and strobing red lights. An older man fell, and a young man and woman each grabbed an arm and helped him through the airlock before it closed.
In the control room, Haskins asked, "How long?"
The board operator, his panic under control for the moment, looked at his monitors. "About twenty-five minutes."
"This has got to work," Haskins muttered. "Just cross your fingers and pray he listens to TV."
Lois lay on top of Clark, her face pressed against the curve between his shoulder and neck. She traced the hard swell of one of his pecs, smiling to herself as she recalled their recent lovemaking.
His lips brushed the top of her head while one hand trailed down the gentle curve of her back and settled at her waist. She lifted her head and looked into his loving brown eyes, her own gaze distant and dreamy. "Oh, Clark, that was … incredible."
A tender smile pulled at the corners of his mouth, and he cupped his free hand over her cheek. "It keeps getting better."
She smiled and turned her head to kiss the palm of his hand. "I know. I missed you this last week."
"I hated being away from you, but security for the peace summit kept me busy, and you'd've been way too distracting."
Her hand slid upward from his waist, past the hard six-pack stomach, over the solid curve of a pectoral muscle, across the taut nipple, onto a shoulder strong enough to lift part of a space station into orbit. "I'm glad I can still distract you, even after a year of marriage."
Clark shivered and closed his eyes briefly, then opened them to meet her hot, dark gaze. "Are you kidding? Didn't I make that clear enough?"
"I'm a little slow tonight," she began, tracing the outline of his beautiful mouth and smiling again when he kissed her finger. "Maybe you should show me again…" Lois pulled his head to hers and kissed him.
Clark deepened the kiss hungrily, his mouth slanting across hers, his tongue slipping between her parted lips. She welcomed his loving invasion and slid her tongue over his — when she suddenly felt his body stiffen. He lifted his head, that all-too-familiar expression on his face, and she resisted the urge to pull him back down and kiss him until he forgot everything but her. "Is this for real?" she asked, hoping he was just teasing her again.
"A TV report next door." He frowned. "An emergency of some kind. They're asking for Superman. Lois — "
She released him, and he left their bed in a blur as she reached for her robe. Belting the robe around her as she went, she followed him into the living room. He had changed into the Suit and was standing in front of the TV, watching a news bulletin, his jaw hard and determined.
" — ten minutes left, and still no word from Superman. Back to you, Carmen."
The anchor on LNN faced the camera, her expression appropriately somber. "Thank you, Mike, for that report from EPRAD. If you've just joined us, we have a report of a runaway reactor on the Space Station Prometheus that is expected to go critical and explode in another ten minutes. The blast could destroy the space station, killing the 317 colonists on board. Authorities at EPRAD are trying to contact Superman — "
Lois clutched his arm. "Oh, God, Clark — Mrs. Platt and Amy are up there."
"I know." He took a deep breath and kissed her, cupping her face with his hand. "I have to go."
She covered his hand with hers and turned to kiss his palm. "Be careful. I need you to come back."
"I will," he promised, and opening the window, rocketed into the night sky. Behind him, Lois stared up at the star-strewn sky, trying not to think of how dangerous a space rescue was, even for Clark. She rubbed her right hand over her wedding band nervously. He would be okay, she told herself. He would rescue the colonists somehow and return safely. He had to.
After a flight to Prometheus that pushed the limits of his speed, he was met and swiftly escorted to the control room. There, Clark faced a grateful Rick Haskins who didn't waste any time in thanks. "We've undocked module G — the module containing the runaway reactor — "
"And you want me to tow it away from the space station," Clark finished.
"Yes," Haskins replied, relieved by the super hero's quick understanding. "We can't shut it down, but you might be able to get it out of range before it blows up."
Clark didn't hesitate. "Show me where module G is, so I can get started. We're almost out of time."
At orbital height, space was cold and silent, the dancing molecules of atmosphere too widely spread for even Clark to breathe, and he took a deep breath before he left the security of the station — and held it. Outside Prometheus, he spared a moment to study the undocked module. Module G was just like the module he had lifted into orbit, so he knew he could move it, and towing it by one of its launch legs would probably be the fastest way to get it clear of the area.
Clark quickly found a hand-hold and began pulling. Nothing happened, and he threw all his strength and will into overcoming the inertia of the huge module. If he didn't get it clear of Prometheus before it exploded …
He felt it shudder, and he dug deep for power he didn't think he had. His heart pounded; his muscles bulged with his effort; air that he couldn't spare hissed between his clenched teeth. Please … please, he prayed as precious seconds ticked off the clock in his head. The shuddering grew —
— and all at once the module lurched after him.
Once it was moving, it took much less effort to keep it going, and Clark put his energy into building up as much speed as possible. The space station seemed to fall away from him as he tore through the eternal night with the module in tow.
Inside the control room, the board operator monitored Superman's distance from the space station. He glanced at the screen counting down to the explosion.
"Well?" Haskins asked. He leaned over his subordinate's shoulder.
A muscle jumped in the operator's jaw, and he shrugged. "It'll be close."
Hurtling through the trackless dark, Clark strained for still more speed, but he was out of time. Behind him, the body of the module exploded soundlessly in a bloom of red and yellow flame. He felt the quaking through the metal skin of the launch leg and threw a glance over his shoulder to see the conflagration racing toward him. The shock wave of the blast smashed into him as he flung himself away from the module. <Lois!> he cried.
Tumbling like a rag doll in an avalanche, he streaked through space at a terrifying speed, enveloped in a peculiar red-to-blue aurora. Battered, aching, helpless to slow himself, trying to stave off the suffocating death that waited beyond his graying consciousness, Clark reached for Lois, clinging to the thought of her as the stars cartwheeled around him.
Somewhere, sometime later, the shock wave released him from its grip. Blackness, speckled with stars. A cold, hair-prickling shudder ran down his back as he felt the first pressure in his chest that reminded him he couldn't hold his breath indefinitely. He spun to face the way he had come and saw the hard glare of the sun, the disk only a little smaller than it appeared from earth. Muscles that had tensed with fear relaxed, and he scanned space for the blue marble of a planet he called home.
God, he must be on the night side. No blue beacon to guide him home. Using his enhanced vision, he tried again … and again … and found a hair-thin crescent of light almost beneath him. He rocketed toward it, toward earth … and safety … and Lois.
Clark hovered unsteadily outside the window of their townhouse. His head hurt and his vision still tried to red-out at the edges after his desperate flight back to the atmosphere, and he wanted more than anything to sink into Lois's arms and let her surround him with the comfort of her love. He reached out and pushed against the window, but it didn't give way under his touch.
He frowned. Closing the window after he left was one thing, but locking it? He tapped lightly on the glass, his eyelids drooping while he waited for her to answer. When he heard the window open, he opened his eyes —
— and his mouth fell open.
Lois's short crop was gone; instead, long hair was held in a clip at the nape of her neck. She stared at him in stunned disbelief. "Lois?"
She started crying, her breath catching a little as tears spilled down her cheeks. "God, Clark, I was so afraid you were dead."
Her crying hurt him worse than the nuclear blast or the oxygen deprivation had. Silently damning the newscasters for scaring her with premature reports of his death, he stepped into their living room and took her in his arms to comfort her. "Lois, honey — "
At the endearment, she began to cry harder. Clark frowned in bewilderment but continued, " — it's okay. The explosion knocked me halfway to the Moon, but it didn't do more than give me a headache." He didn't figure this was a good time to mention that he had nearly died from lack of oxygen before he reached Earth. "I came right back."
That brought her head up, and Lois searched his concerned brown eyes. Her tears stopped, and she wiped her cheeks with her hands. Backing out of his arms, she shook her head and studied his face as if he'd suddenly sprouted horns. "But, you didn't, Clark. You didn't come right back." She looked hurt and accusing — and puzzled. "You've been gone for three years."
END ACT 1
In the living room, Lois took the clip out of her hair and shook her dark mane loose around her shoulders. Clark came downstairs, a black T-shirt outlining his strong shoulders and pecs, and worn jeans fitting the muscular columns of his legs. "You kept all my things," he said.
"Uh-huh," she replied absently. She lifted her gaze to his face — and saw the exhaustion, the grayish tinge under his skin. "Clark, what happened?" she asked, placing a hand on his chest.
He hesitated. "I … ran out of air before I made it back. I came to in a crater in Antarctica."
She drew a shuddering breath. "Oh, God, that's what — When you didn't come back after the explosion, the newscasters dragged out that footage from when you went to stop the Nightfall asteroid. They kept playing the bit about you needing the oxygen tank, and they must've reminded us a hundred times that you couldn't survive without air." Her voice was high and strained. "The — the memorial service was two weeks later. I covered it for the Planet." Her voice broke, and she turned away, her shoulders shaking.
Clark's hands closed gently over her shoulders. "Lois … I'm sorry — so sorry you had to go through that."
She laughed softly through her tears. "Why are *you* apologizing? You nearly died …" Her voice broke on the word, and she turned and buried herself in his arms, muffling her sobs against his broad chest. "I was so scared for you. And so lonely."
He stroked her dark hair, his cheek resting against the silky strands as his other hand held her close. "I was scared, too," he admitted. "I was afraid of dying out there and not seeing you again."
Lois slid her arms around his waist, giving comfort as well as taking it. She rubbed her wet eyes against his shirt and lifted her head, smiling valiantly. "I don't think I'd've made it without your parents. They were — "
He stiffened. "My parents? Oh, God, they think I'm dead, too." He glanced over at their phone. "I need to call them."
She grabbed his arm when he moved. "No, Clark, wait. You need to meet someone first."
"Lois — " he began impatiently.
"Please, Clark," she said, "this is important."
Looking into her beautiful, pleading eyes, he acknowledged to himself that he was never going to be able to deny her anything, and once again, he set aside his own concerns to meet her need. "Okay."
Clark followed Lois upstairs to their spare room and waited in the doorway while she flipped on the light. He caught his breath. The room had changed beyond all recognition: painted Supermen soared on the walls; a pile of yellow blocks and a blue plastic dump truck lay on the floor by the closet door; and red pipe-frame bunk beds filled one wall. A dark-haired little boy — about two, Clark estimated — slept on the bottom bunk.
Lois went over to the bed and gently touched the child's 0cheek. He opened drowsy brown eyes and looked up and smiled, rubbing his eyes and holding his arms up to her. "C'mon, sweetie," she murmured, picking him up and carrying him on the side of her hip with practiced ease.
Clark went still, studying the dark-haired, brown-eyed toddler in Lois's arms. "Lois?" His voice cracked.
The little boy's eyes kept drifting shut, and his thumb was firmly buried in his mouth. Lois stroked the child's silky hair and smiled as he leaned his head against her shoulder. She took a deep breath. "Clark, I don't know how you're going to take this or what to say — because it's so big. Maybe that's how you felt about telling me that you were Superman, because that was big, too, but it was mostly just your secret. But this isn't, so I can't let it go on like you did, because you have to know — "
" — Sweetheart," he interrupted. He'd have laughed if he weren't so close to tears. Some things never changed. "Just tell me."
She bit her lip, reining in her runaway emotions. "Clark, this is our son. Clark Jerome Kent, Jr." An expectant little smile crept across her face as she added, "CJ, for short."
CJ. She had named their baby for him and for the young descendent they had cared for. Tears stung his eyes. "Our son … Oh god, Lois." He drew both of them into his arms, pressing his face against the side of hers.
Martha was crying, leaning against Jonathan's shoulder, her hand covering her mouth as she held the cordless phone to her ear. Jonathan had the other phone, and he was murmuring, "My boy, my boy."
Clark sat alone in the living room and swallowed, still shaky from the discovery that he was a father. "This is so hard, Mom. I just saw you last weekend, and now I find out you thought I was dead for three years."
Jonathan began, "Son, we knew nothing would stop you from coming back if you were still alive — "
" — but when you didn't come back, we finally gave up hope," his mother finished. "But Lois never did. She was certain you were alive … somewhere."
"Lois — Less than two hours ago, we were — " Clark bit off the rest of the sentence, even though his parents probably had a good idea what he and Lois had been doing. " — and suddenly I'm the father of a two-year-old, and she had to go through all of it alone."
"Not completely alone," Jonathan said.
"Honey, Lois came to us right away, when you first vanished and again when she found out she was pregnant. And after CJ was born, we moved to Metropolis to give her a hand."
"She's a special woman, son."
"I know, Dad." She *had* to be special to put up with him.
Martha chimed in, "And CJ's just the sweetest little thing. He's so much like you were at that age."
Lois came into the living room then, and Clark's face lit with the smile he reserved for her. "Mom, Dad, I have to go, but I'll come by and see you tomorrow… Okay, I will. Bye."
He hung up the phone. "Mom said to tell you 'hi.' Did he get back to sleep okay?"
She nodded. "Thank God he has your temperament." She met his warm brown gaze and added, as she had said on their first date so long before, "'The perfect son.'"
He stepped closer to her, grasping her hands, a smile flickering at the corner of his mouth to let her know he remembered. "Mom said you were the only one who never lost hope."
"I — I couldn't. I could feel you … reaching for me. It was like an open channel between us — " She sniffed and pulled her hands away to wipe her eyes again. "I just couldn't hear what you were trying to tell me."
"Lois, honey." His hand cupped the side of her neck, his thumb stroking her cheek. "The thought of you kept me conscious — kept me *alive* after the reactor blew."
She covered his hand with hers and closed her eyes. "The way you touch me — I've missed it so much."
Clark bent down to kiss her, his lips clinging to hers, his other hand coming up to frame her face. The kiss deepened as the passion between them flared to life, and he moved closer to her, pressing the length of his body against hers. "Lois," he murmured, groping for the top buttons on her blouse to unfasten them and push the fabric off her shoulder. He broke off their kiss to trace his mouth across her bare shoulder.
Lois shivered. She had dreamed of this, night after lonely night, putting herself to sleep in his arms, remembering his hands and mouth on her body —
— but after three years, the memories had almost become a dream, and she was unexpectedly afraid to face reality. Her withdrawal was subtle, more mental than physical, but Clark felt it and raised his head to ask, "Lois?"
She couldn't meet his heated gaze. "I — uh — Can we walk?"
His eyes narrowed as he studied her face, but he nodded. "Okay."
She pulled away, straightening her blouse and picking up the phone book to flip agitatedly through it. "Let me call the Papouloses. Patti can watch CJ until we get back."
"Oh, that's right; you don't — They live down the street. Kathleen works at the Planet, and her daughter Patti watches CJ when your parents can't."
"Does she know?"
Clark gave their hand signal for flying, and Lois suddenly understood. "Oh. No, you were right. CJ's just an ordinary little boy. So far."
The street outside their townhouse was dark and deserted, and Lois and Clark walked side-by-side, not quite touching. "If I've got this right, one minute you were saving the space station, and the next, you were knocking at my — our window and it was three years later."
At his nod, she continued, "It's pretty obvious that you leaped forward in time. But, how?"
Clark began slowly, "I was at top speed by the time the reactor blew, and it just flung me away. I think maybe that extra boost put me over the speed of light for a second — and I wound up here… Lois — "
She recognized that tone. He had been patient and let her find a more neutral place for this conversation, but now he wanted an answer. And she didn't have anything to give him, except — "I know, Clark. It's just … too soon. I look at you, and it's like double vision — the real you and the memories I've been hanging onto for three years. I can't … I just need a little time — before we …"
Lois saw the longing and the quickly buried hurt in his expression, and she suddenly realized what this meant to him. In an instant, he had gone from a much loved and desired husband to an outsider again, locked out of his own bedroom. She laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Clark — "
"It's okay, Lois," he said, a tiny, brief smile quirking one corner of his mouth. "I guess we both need some time to get used to this."
Their meandering path took them to the park where so many of the important events in their relationship had occurred, and they sat on the edge of the fountain. Lois trailed her fingers through the cool water as she thought about how her life had just turned upside-down again.
Apparently, Clark had been thinking about the upheaval in his life, too. "Investigating gun-running into Somalia from South Yemen? That's the best you and Perry could come up with?" he teased.
Oh god. How many times had he tried to cheer her up as he looked into the ruins of his life or dreams? She swallowed tears and tried to match his gallantry. "Coming up with a story isn't as easy as you think." She flicked water drops at him, and he ducked, grinning. "I don't know if you remember, but that's how Lois in the alternate Metropolis disappeared. Except it was the Congo … I think."
His smile faded, and he looked up at the night sky, then turned back to say, "This is all so strange. Perry knowing. My folks living in Metropolis. You — *us* — being parents. CJ … Lois, I don't know how to deal with this."
Lois stared at her clasped hands for a moment. "When you first disappeared, I didn't know how to go on. How to face each day without you. And then I found out I was pregnant …" She swept a fall of hair behind one ear. "After all our hoping and worrying … and then you weren't there to share it."
Raising her gaze to Clark's tense face, she gently laid her hand against his cheek. "Being pregnant with your baby gave me a reason to keep going. Especially when it had been so long and you still hadn't come back and it seemed like CJ was the only part of you I would ever have…"
She lowered her hand, her gaze focused on the past. After a long moment, she said, "I don't know how to deal with it either, Clark, except just to … go on."
He closed his eyes against the pain in her expression. In his whole life, he had wanted nothing more than to make her happy, and it seemed like all he did was make her cry. "I love you, Lois. And I'll give you whatever time you need."
She smoothed an unruly lock of hair off his forehead. "I know."
Clark drifted silently down the dark hallway, pausing at Lois's bedroom door. The door was ajar — so she could hear CJ at night, she had said — and he closed his eyes, listening for her soft breathing. She was asleep, her breathing deep and regular, the sound as familiar as his reflection in the mirror. An ache gripped his heart with what was almost a physical pain, and he slipped into the room, a quiet ghost from the past. As he had done before, he sat in the chair by the window and watched over her as she slept, finding peace in the nearness of his beloved.
"Mommy s'eepin'?" a little voice asked while small hands patted her cheek.
"CJ, go 'way," Lois groaned and pulled the covers over her head. "It isn't time to get up yet."
"I'm afraid it is, honey. I turned off the alarm so you could sleep while I got CJ ready."
Her eyes flew open, and she yanked the sheet off her head. "Clark?"
He was wearing dark slacks and a maroon dress shirt with the sleeves rolled back to the elbow, and he looked so like the Kansas farmboy who had befriended her all those years ago that a lump of tears gathered in her throat. He bent down and gently kissed her mouth. "Good morning."
"It wasn't a dream," she whispered, touching his face.
"Not unless we're having the same one." He smiled, and her heart swelled until she thought it would burst. She traced his lips with her thumb.
"Daddy, Daddy! I wanna eat!" CJ demanded, interrupting their tender moment.
Lois and Clark exchanged a rueful smile. "Daddy?" she asked as their son tugged impatiently at his father's arm.
Clark stood up, adding hesitantly, "It's okay that I told him that, isn't it?"
She tossed the covers back and sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, the thin night shirt tightening across her slender shape. "Of course it's okay — Daddy."
He smiled stiffly as his dark-eyed gaze slid over her sleek curves and long bare legs. He swallowed — and looked down at his son, who was pulling on his hand and chanting, "B'eakfas' time, Daddy! Let's go eat!"
"I think CJ's hungry," he said, and his small mimic echoed, "I'm hung'y."
Clark laughed and let CJ lead him from the room. Over his shoulder, he told Lois, "Breakfast is ready when you are."
After dropping CJ off with Jonathan and Martha, Lois and Clark stepped off the elevator into the city room of the Daily Planet, and he paused for a moment, looking at the little changes that had been made in the past three years. In the pit, Jimmy Olsen glanced up from his computer, and his mouth fell open. He sprang out of his chair, whipping around his desk and up the ramp. "CK! CK! My God, you're here!" He hurled himself at his friend and hugged him with so much enthusiasm that he rocked Clark back on his heels.
"Jimmy, it's good to see you," Clark said, hugging the younger man in return, clapping him on the back. He held him at arms length. "Hey, look at you."
Jimmy's hair was shorter around the ears and neck than it had been three years earlier, and he wore a sports coat over an open-throated shirt and Docker-type slacks. He grinned. "You know how it is. The flannel shirts weren't professional enough. But, CK, you haven't changed a bit."
Their noisy greeting had attracted attention from the other staff members who flooded up the ramp to greet Clark. For a few minutes, he was busy shaking hands and accepting kisses on the cheek from the people who had known him three years before. Jimmy stayed close by his side, pelting him with questions. "CK, what happened? Where've you been?"
Clark emerged from yet another perfume-scented embrace, blushing as he met Lois's gaze. "It's a long story, Jimmy. Let me go say hi to Perry and I'll give you the whole scoop."
Clark drew Lois within the shelter of his arm as the three pushed through a crowd swollen with curious newer employees, and this time, Lois was the one fielding questions. "Yes, this is my — my partner. He's been sloughing off for the past few years."
Clark stiffened, and she gave him a questioning look and nudged him in the ribs. "But he better be rested up now. Kerth nominations are just a couple of months away."
When they left the crowd behind, Jimmy asked, "So, CK, have you seen the little surprise package you left with Lois?"
"Jimmy!" she scolded.
Pulling out of his abstraction, Clark said, "What? Oh — " He shot a glance at Lois, a blush darkening his cheeks. "Yeah, CJ and I have been getting to know each other."
Jimmy laughed and slapped him on the back. "CK, my man!" he said with approval.
Perry White, editor of the Planet, was waiting for them at the door of his office, his smile as bright as if he'd just found Elvis alive and been given the exclusive interview. "Clark — Clark," he said, shaking the younger man's hand and clapping him on the shoulder with his other hand. "Lois kept tellin' me you were alive somewhere, but I never thought …" He cleared his throat noisily. "I'm just glad you're back, son. We — Metropolis — "
He broke off suddenly, catching himself and nailing Jimmy with his best editor-in-chief glare. "Olsen, your column's due on my desk in an hour if you're makin' today's edition."
"Column?" Clark asked.
"Computer information column — three times a week," Jimmy answered proudly, and Clark raised his eyebrows in an "I'm impressed" look. Jimmy continued, "But, Chief, I want to hear what happened to CK."
"*After* your column's in," Perry told him.
Seeing Jimmy's dejection, Clark intervened. "I'll come by your desk and give you the whole story," he promised.
Jimmy flashed him a quick grin. "Thanks, CK." Walking backwards, he started toward his desk as the other three entered Perry's office.
The kid who had taken his place as "go-fer" stopped him. "Jimmy, who's that with Lois?"
"Her other half," he replied and shook his head ruefully, realizing what Clark's reappearance meant to his daydreams about Lois. "Looks like Lane and Kent are back in business."
"Lemme get this straight," Perry said. "The gun-runners found you hidin' on their boat, and they were gonna shoot you, so you dove overboard — in the middle of the ocean — "
"The Gulf of Arden, actually," Clark added. He hated these excuses; he was a poor liar and it showed.
"The Gulf of Arden," Perry repeated slowly. "And a storm drove you to a deserted island where you were stranded till a freighter picked you up a couple of days ago. Is that right?"
Lois flung Clark an "I-told-you-so" look. They had heard that tone from Perry too many times — usually when he was shooting down a story they wanted to write or deriding their research or otherwise questioning the intelligence of his top two reporters. Clark shrugged and nodded at the editor.
Perry stared at them for another moment, shaking his head. "That's the sorriest excuse for a story I've ever heard," he finally said, "but I wouldn't'a believed half the crazy things that happened to you two if I hadn't seen 'em, so I guess this isn't any worse."
"You and Lois didn't leave me with a lot of room with that 'gun-running into Somalia' story," Clark complained, a faint grin belying his grumbling tone.
Lois poked him in the side. "Just be glad we bothered to cover for you," she said, and Perry heard the undercurrent of teasing in her voice. His eyes stung briefly, and he turned away, hiding his emotion by moving around his desk to sit in his chair. It had been so long, and he had almost given up on ever seeing the Lois that Clark had painstakingly dug out of her armor-plated shell. But he wasn't about to tell either of them that. "Well, Clark, if you want your old job back, it's yours."
"Thanks, Perry," Clark said gratefully. "I appreciate that."
The graying editor nodded. "Just start bringin' in some front page stories. That'll be thanks enough. That and seein' you — the *other* you — cleanin' the criminals off the streets," he said with satisfaction. "It'll be good to run Superman exclusives again. In fact, why don't you write that one up, Clark? 'Superman Returns.'"
"Uhh, I don't — " Clark began, frowning.
Lois cut across him. "Superman isn't back yet, and he isn't *going* to be. Not for a while."
"What? I thought you told me — " His head pointed to Clark, and he wiggled his eyebrows up and down. " — You know."
"No, that's true," Lois said. "But …" She looked at Clark for help.
"Clark Kent and Superman can't disappear and reappear together, or people'll guess. And then Lois and CJ and my folks and everyone I care about will be in danger."
Perry White frowned. "All right," he said reluctantly. Then he pointed at Clark. "But you make sure no one scoops us on the 'return' story."
Clark grinned. "I think you can pretty much count on that one, Chief. Did you have something you wanted me to start working on?"
"Not yet. Help Lois with her story — she's been draggin' her feet on it, and I want it ready for tomorrow's paper."
"Thanks, Perry," Lois said sarcastically, starting for the door.
"Oh, and, Clark — "
He turned back. "Yes, Chief?"
"When you're done spreadin' that cock-and-bull desert island story, I wanna hear the *real* story."
He nodded. "Okay."
At Lois's desk, Clark stood behind her, one hand on the back of her chair, and leaned forward to look at the story she called up on her monitor. "May I?" he asked, and she scooted the keyboard toward him. He rapidly paged through the screens, reading the story at superspeed while she watched his look of concentration. It had been so long since he had read over her shoulder like this, and it felt so right — except his hand should have been on her shoulder.
"So, what's the problem?" he asked.
<You aren't touching me.> Then Lois realized what he was referring to, and she blushed. "I — um — Perry wants 2500 words, and I can't stretch it past 2000. And I'm padding to get that."
She raised her eyebrows at his quick agreement, and he reflected the look back at her. "You don't want a partner who can't pull his weight, do you?" he challenged.
There was something odd about the way he said "partner," but Clark continued before she could question him. "How 'bout a sidebar on — on the incidence of family hostage situations?"
Lois wrinkled her nose. "Too narrow. What about the problems leading to custody battles? We could do a few interviews to go along with it."
"Like Dr. Friskin and some combatants?"
"Or survivors," she said dryly.
He squeezed her shoulder in sympathy; then his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Survivors … that could work." He focused on her face. "Okay, how's this? Survivors of custody battles — how it affects them in later life."
Lois nodded. God, she'd missed this — the way they bounced ideas off each other, each suggestion triggering a thought from the other. "I like that. I'll call Dr. Friskin while you track down some 'children of divorce' recovery groups."
"Okay," Clark said and straightened up to look around the room. "That is, if I can find a phone."
"Conference room?" she suggested, reaching for her receiver.
He started across the large city room, but after a couple of steps, he turned back to the supply room for a notebook and pen. As he went, he nodded to familiar faces. Jimmy was typing frantically, so Clark didn't disturb him.
Notebook in hand, he stepped back into the empty hallway and closed the supply room door just as Cat Grant, wearing a skin-tight mini-dress, sashayed past him. "Hi, Clark," she said in a husky, come-hither voice and blew him a kiss.
"Hi," he said automatically, then realized whom he'd seen. "Cat?" He followed her around the corner into the city room, but she was nowhere in sight.
Puzzled, he stopped. She had looked exactly as she had six years earlier, and even for someone who cultivated an air of blase sophistication, her total lack of response to his reappearance after three years was astonishing. He shook his head and crossed the room to Lois, who was just hanging up the phone. "When did Cat come back to the Planet?" he asked.
"She didn't." Lois punched in another number and put the receiver to her ear.
"But I just saw …" Clark lowered his glasses to scan the rooms leading off the city room. Nothing. He pushed his glasses back up, frowning.
At a table at the sidewalk cafe near the Planet, Lois spread out her notes, pushing several plates to one side as she did so. Clark smothered a grin, but she looked up and caught it. "What?" she asked.
"I was remembering what you said about working at the kitchen table … where you could really spread out."
She thought back. Then, "Oh!" and she laughed. "We never did get to try that."
Clark's dark gaze snapped up to meet hers, and she shivered at the hot urgency in his expression. He touched her hand, and the heat and the shivering burrowed deep inside her. "Lois …"
She could hardly breathe past the furious pulse in her throat. She'd forgotten how his desire awakened an immediate answer in her, and the uncontrolled response of her body — and her emotions — frightened her. Three years of burying those intense feelings took over, and she looked away. "I — uh — I forgot how much we used to laugh together," Lois managed breathlessly.
Clark took a deep breath and pulled his hand back, his mouth tightening. He looked closed and withdrawn, just as he had the first time she turned down his proposal. She hated that expression on his open, loving face — and hated herself for putting it there.
But — wasn't this the second time she'd seen it today? The first time … "What did I say earlier? When I was introducing you to the newer staff members."
She saw him remember. "Nothing."
"No, Clark, what was it?" she persisted. Lois Lane wasn't one of the top reporters in the country for nothing, and she wasn't going to let this fish wiggle off the hook.
He saw her determination and shrugged. "You told them I was your partner."
"And … ?"
His gaze flicked up to hers, then dropped again to the table. "Lois, I'm not just your partner. I'm your husband… Aren't I?"
Was that it? That she had called him her partner rather than her husband? Relief brought her left hand from her lap so quickly that she knocked her purse to the ground, where it lay unnoticed. Lois placed her hand over his, her wedding band and engagement ring sparkling in the sunlight.
Clark turned his hand to clasp hers, rubbing his thumb over the rings. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, the withdrawn look had been replaced by hope. His voice soft and husky, he asked, "Do you still love me?"
She met his gaze squarely. "I never stopped."
He lifted her hand to his lips. Lost in each other's gaze, they didn't notice the busboy clearing the table. "Honey …" Clark began, interlacing his fingers with hers.
Smiling, Lois waited for him to continue —
— and her expression abruptly changed to wide-eyed surprise.
"What?" Clark asked.
"Is a historical re-enactment society meeting in Metropolis?"
"You're asking me?" He turned around to look behind him and saw red-coated English soldiers marching past in formal battle lines, their rifles lowered to fire. A movement caught Clark's attention, and he saw several men in rough homespun dodge behind parked cars and level their muzzle-loaders at the English columns. An officer on horseback yelled, "Fire!" and the English guns spurted flame and lead balls — real lead balls, Clark saw in horror. A man in homespun crumpled in a heap, and car windows shattered along the street.
But even as Clark yanked at his tie and started for cover, the soldiers vanished, and the only sounds in the street were the distant traffic and a crying child. Clark lowered his glasses and scanned the glass-littered street, but all the combatants were gone, even the man who had been shot.
END ACT 2
"Where are those two?" Perry muttered impatiently as he stood in front of the television with Jimmy at his side. "What's the use of havin' world-class reporters on staff when they're never a — " He heard the elevator open, and he turned around. "Lois! Clark! Get over here!"
Clark grinned and ducked his head to hide it. With his life in a total upheaval, it was a pleasure to find that some things hadn't changed. He followed Lois, who said, "Perry, you'll never believe what we saw — "
The editor held up his hand for silence. "Not now, Lois. Listen."
" — peculiar appearances and disappearances today. Do we have — ?" The LNN anchor paused, listening to her audio feed. "Yes, it — We have video footage from a witness to the events at the EPRAD Space Center this morning."
The screen switched to a grainy picture of a woman and two children posed in front of the space center door, waving madly to the camera, which then slued around to focus on the empty launch pad.
Lois crossed her arms and rolled her eyes back at Clark. He was focused on the TV screen, but he glanced down and gently squeezed her shoulder, nodding back toward the picture. She looked back, and her shoulder stiffened under his hand as, in an instant, the amateurish picture of an empty launch pad filled with metal and burning gas and the roar of massive engines. "What the — ?"
The image on the screen staggered drunkenly, then pulled back from a zoom to a wide angle shot, the picture a blur of yellow and white until the autofocus caught up with the new viewpoint. There was a soft gasp from the Planet staff at the suddenly sharp image — of a launch vehicle on the launch pad, engines firing for lift-off.
Clark recognized the space station module immediately, and his hand tightened on Lois's shoulder. After all, he had handled it — been nearly killed by it — only the day before. "Prometheus," he breathed in her ear.
Her eyes widened, and she said what he couldn't, raising her voice to be heard over the thundering engines. "Perry, isn't that — isn't that the Prometheus?"
Perry shot a look at the pair, his eyes narrowing on Clark's impassive face. He turned back to the television. "That was over seven years ago, Lois. You'll have to check it out."
His last word boomed into the sudden silence as the launch vehicle vanished as abruptly as it had appeared. On the screen, a tour guide and her little flock of tourists cautiously raised their heads from the pavement. Then the scene cut to the LNN anchor. "That was uncut footage taken at the EPRAD Space Center earlier today. We have a report from Mike — "
Perry drew his finger across his throat in a "cut-it" gesture, and the TV fell silent. "Well?" he asked Lois and Clark.
"We saw something similar at lunch," she said. "A Revolutionary War battle in the middle of the street. I blinked and there they were, and then bang, they were gone."
Clark nodded. "I saw it, too. I also saw — " He hesitated, recognizing the significance of the earlier encounter. " — Cat Grant in the hall this morning. She passed me and vanished in the news room."
"Is Cat in town?" Lois directed the question to Perry.
Clark shook his head. "You don't understand. Her hair, her clothes, the way she said 'hi' — It was just like when I first joined the Planet."
Perry frowned, thinking hard. "All right, you two. Get after this. I don't know what's goin' on, but there's a story in it, and I want the Planet to have it." He turned and headed to his office, signaling Jimmy's replacement to follow him.
At Lois's desk, she and Clark discussed where to start. "Okay, what have we got?" She ticked off the incidents on her fingers. "Your Cat sighting — from six, seven years ago?"
He nodded. "The Prometheus module at EPRAD — maybe seven years ago."
"And the street battle with redcoats — over 200 years ago. Are these real? Are they hallucinations? Re-enactments?"
"The bullets broke windshields in the cars on the street," Clark reminded her.
"And I saw scorch marks on the launch pad after the module disappeared," she added, "And unless someone's figured out how to tape a hallucination …"
He grinned. "I think we can eliminate that one. So, where to next?"
They looked at each other. "S.T.A.R. Labs," they said in unison.
They exited the elevator into the parking garage, still discussing their story. "Three strange incidents with what in common?" Lois continued.
"Apparent movement in time," Clark said.
"They all occurred in Metropolis."
"And all of them happened … since my return."
Lois stopped digging through her purse for her keys and looked at him sharply. "Do you think — ?" She stopped, feeling suddenly light-headed, and she grabbed for Clark, reassured by the solid feel of his biceps under her hands. He slid his arms around her, holding her protectively close. The cool, shadowy parking garage wavered — "What's — "
— and dissolved into sparkling sunlight.
" — happening?" Lois finished.
Clark looked around. Grass, flowers, trees. Patches of shade surrounding a sunlit meadow. The sun was warm on his head and shoulders, and he heard the soft hum of bees investigating the flowers, the distant whistles of courting birds, the murmurous song of tumbling water. The breeze smelled of flowers and green growing things. "I think *we* shifted."
She raised her head, quickly taking in the sylvan setting. "If we're still in Metropolis, this must be the past."
He shook his head. "No. This isn't wilderness. It's been planted, cared for."
She started to protest, then stopped. "I guess you would know — farmboy." She slanted a look at him to see how he took the bantering reminder of her old snobbishness. "But it still looks wild to me."
"Lois, Centennial Park looks wild to you," he teased, smiling over his shoulder as he stepped away, lowering his glasses to see what lay beyond their idyllic surroundings. Beyond the trees were … more trees and artfully designed meadows like the one they were in. No towns, no farms, no industry. Just an enormous park, a playground for —
"There are some people about half a mile from here."
"Clark, look at this!"
The leashed excitement in her voice yanked him away from his explorations to her side. Lois had found a bench under a tree and was studying a control panel built into one of the arms. She skimmed a finger over the panel, and a woman suddenly appeared before them.
"Welcome to Renaissance Park," the female figure said, her clothing vaguely reminiscent of what Tempus had worn when they first met him. Several signposts sprang up around her. "Please touch the appropriate marker to hear more about the park's services."
Clark already had his glasses down and was scanning the strange woman. "Hologram," he said.
"Hmmm. History, Presentations, Activities, Rest Stations, Exits," Lois read. She turned to Clark. "What do you think?"
"I think this technology is way beyond anything we have today."
"I know *that.* I meant, what do you think I should try?"
"Ha, ha." Her look would have withered a lesser man where he stood, but Clark saw the appreciative glint in her eye, and he grinned.
She touched the 'History' signpost, then jerked her hand back, rubbing her fingers and thumb together. "It tingles," she explained at Clark's concerned look, "but it's solid."
The holographic female returned. "Renaissance Park was established in 2215 to celebrate the reclamation of the previously despoiled coastal lands. With the harnessing of fusion technology and the subsequent elimination of fossil fuel pollution … "
Above the hologram's voice, Clark heard a mechanical pumping sound, and he lowered his glasses to look at the ground beneath their feet. Deep under the surface, he saw a city, buildings reaching up to a bright but indeterminate sky, people walking or traveling on moving sidewalks.
He pushed his glasses back up on his nose when Lois said, "Clark, you won't believe this. We're in — "
" — Metropolis," they said together.
The park wavered, and Lois tripped into Clark's arms as the grass and trees dissolved into the street in front of the Planet's parking garage.
"That's worse than a ride on the Centrifuge," Lois said, swaying.
Clark frowned in concern and kept one hand around her waist. "Are you okay?"
She pressed the heels of her hands against her temples. "I think so. Or I will be, as soon as everything quits spinning." She lowered her hands and pressed them to his chest. "Clark, did I hear her say, '2215'?"
He nodded, and she went on, "We traveled into the future! God, what a story. Do you think that's what those other apparitions are? People — objects — out of time?"
"I think so, but, Lois — "
"This is just incredible. We've got to get over to S.T.A.R. Labs and talk to Dr. Klein." She looked around. "Where's my Jeep?"
"Inside the garage — where we were until we walked across that meadow."
His agitation beat at her, but she didn't understand why he was so troubled. "What're you saying?"
"Ten feet that way," he pointed back toward the garage, "and we'd have been inside that wall when we came back."
Her eyes widened. "Like — like the tour that was nearly fried by Prometheus when it suddenly appeared on the launch pad."
"Just like that." His voice was grim, and even through the glasses, she recognized Superman's stern visage.
"We've got to get to S.T.A.R. Labs," she whispered, but this time, she wasn't thinking about the story.
Lois drove her jeep with her usual competence, while Clark wrote questions in his notebook to ask Dr. Klein. "Should we tell Dr. Klein we think Superman was in a time-travel accident?" he asked.
She frowned at his uncertainty. "Sure. Why not?"
He tapped the end of his pen against his notebook. "It's kinda risky, don't you think? He might …"
"What? *Oh.*" Lois finally saw what he was worried about. "No, Clark, it's okay. He already knows." She smiled to herself, remembering. "He sure was surprised when he realized that I was the girlfriend Superman had been talking about."
"He was my doctor while I was pregnant with CJ." At his look, she added defensively, "Well, after all the tests he ran on you, he knew more about Superman's physiology than anyone else."
Clark still looked appalled, and Lois asked, "What?"
He shook his head. "Nothing. It's just — I was worried about people finding out about our baby — about CJ — and now it seems like everyone knows."
The cell phone rang, and Clark answered it while Lois eased the jeep through the heavy traffic. "Oh, hi, Mom," he said, then listened for a moment. "Dinner? Let me check with Lois." He covered the receiver and raised his eyebrows in question.
She nodded. "Sure, but let her know we're working on a story, so we might be late."
Nodding, he said into the handset, "Sounds great, Mom. But I'm not sure when we'll be done with this story… Okay. Whatever you want to do will be fine… See you then." He closed the cell phone. "Chicken and dumplings," he told Lois.
She groaned, braking for a red light. "Your mom's dinners always cost me an extra hour on the treadmill."
Clark's appreciative gaze slipped down her body. "It doesn't seem to have hurt you any."
His voice was like a warm caress on her skin. Breathless, she turned to look at him — and promptly lost herself in his eyes. "Clark."
The blare of several horns jerked her attention back to the road, and she guided the jeep down the street.
"Dr. Klein, we have a few questions for you," Lois said as she and Clark entered the scientist's lab at S.T.A.R. Labs.
He looked up from the experiment he was monitoring and shoved his goggles on top of his head. "Lois — and *Clark*!" He stepped forward and shook Clark's hand vigorously. "It's good to see you're alive. What happened when — " he lowered his voice — "Superman … vanished three years ago?"
Clark frowned and glanced at Lois. At her encouraging nod, he took a deep breath, assuming a more Superman-like posture. "I didn't disappear anywhere. The explosion knocked me halfway to the moon, and I came back as quickly as I could. But when I arrived, three years had passed."
"Hmm," Klein murmured to himself. "Could be relativistic time dilation."
"What's time dilation?" Lois asked.
The scientist focused on her. "When a body approaches the speed of light, time slows down for it relative to the rest of the universe."
Clark considered his words. "So, if I was going fast enough, a few minutes might have passed for me while three years passed here on earth."
Klein nodded. "That would follow the laws of physics as we know them."
Lois broke in, impatient with their technical conversation. "Dr. Klein, about these mysteriously appearing and disappearing objects and people?"
"Oh, yes. I have a theory about that."
"Time displacements?" Clark asked.
"That's what's happening, yes." Klein studied him for a moment. "When did you return — relative to these time displacements?"
Clark glanced at Lois, and she shrugged and said, "About ten hours before the first recorded sighting."
Klein let out his breath in a long sigh. "That's it. It's got to be time travel. It's the only thing that explains the ensuing pattern of chaos."
"'Ensuing pattern of — ' What're you talking about?" Lois asked.
Her question aroused him from some theoretical daydream. "Didn't I say?"
"No," Lois said. "Dr. Klein, what's your theory about the time displacements?"
The scientist went into lecture mode. "Assuming that these people and objects are displaced in time rather than spontaneously generated, such historical cross-overs are probably the result of a tear in the space-time continuum."
Lois blinked and automatically put on her reporter's "I-can-follow-anything" face, missing the dawning horror in Clark's eyes. "Which means?" she prompted.
"Which means that the historical cross-overs will get worse until the orderly flow of time collapses." Then, at the look on his visitors' faces, he added in dismay, "Have I been too blunt again?"
"Do you have any idea how long it might take?" Clark asked.
Dr. Klein typed a few commands into his computer and turned back to the two reporters while the program loaded. "I've run some calculations and tried to model the effect, but … Well, let's just see what we've come up with," he added as the monitor flickered and displayed something that resembled a rug thrown over scattered toys, except the rug was like a fine mesh. Near one corner, the mesh was broken. As he typed in a few more commands, the tear began to spread like an unraveling sweater until the image no longer resembled a rug but a wad of loose, broken threads. "Hmmm," he murmured, frowning as he studied the numbers along the edge of the picture. He straightened up, glanced back at the monitor, then looked at Lois and Clark. "This is just a rough estimate, you understand, and I haven't even tested my hypothesis to be sure it's accurate — "
Lois interrupted, "Dr. Klein, *please.*"
"Well, at the current acceleration of occurrences, if you don't fix the situation within the next 36 hours, you won't be able to fix it at all."
Clark broke the appalled silence that followed. "Fix it? What can I do?"
Dr. Klein turned off the monitor and began closing down his other experiment, suddenly too busy to meet Clark's eyes. "Since your time-travel caused the tear — "
Lois fired up in her husband's defense. "That's ridiculous! Time travel doesn't do that! I've — I've — " She hesitated then decided to share her experience with the scientist. "I've traveled in a time machine, and it didn't have an effect like this."
"Really?" Dr. Klein was quickly distracted. "Who — "
"We met a time traveler who — never mind that," she said, feeling Clark vibrating with impatience next to her. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that we traveled through time and *nothing happened.*"
Frowning, Dr. Klein considered his hypothesis. After a moment, he shook his head. "No, I know I'm right. It's the only thing that — Maybe a machine designed to cross time can — "
He broke off, staggering. At the familiar sensation, Clark pulled Lois against him and reached for Dr. Klein's arm as the walls wavered —
— and dissolved into a grimy street in front of a rundown building, the paint hanging in shreds from the wooden siding and eaves. Clark looked down the street and saw several old-fashioned cars parked along the curb; men in double-breasted suits and wide-legged pants and fedoras; women in calf-length low-waisted dresses, bobbed hair, and cloche hats; boys in knickerbockers and newsboy caps. Perhaps the people had been walking along the street before, but now they gathered in whispering, finger-pointing groups.
"When?" Lois asked, lifting her head from Clark's chest and pushing herself a few inches away.
"Nineteen-twenties, I think," he answered.
Beside them, Dr. Klein shook his head and looked around. "That was — " He noticed their surroundings and shook his head again, as if to remove wisps of a lingering dream. "This is incredible! Where — ? When — ?" He muttered to himself, "Twenties, I'd guess. Those look like flappers. But where? Metropolis?"
Fascinated and eager to explore their surroundings, the scientist stepped away, and Clark tightened an unyielding hand on his arm. "Dr. Klein, don't move. We're exactly where we were before — "
" — And if you move, you could end up inside a wall when we go back," Lois finished.
Dr. Klein's eyes widened, and what he saw in their faces seemed to convince him because he inched closer to them. Taking advantage of his uncharacteristic silence, Lois continued, "You were saying something before this time shift about what a time machine could or couldn't do?"
"What? Oh, yes." He dragged his attention away from their curious audience. "I suppose that a machine designed for it might slip between the threads in the fabric of time, so to speak, but that isn't what happened here. You — Superman — you — " He looked confused: knowing that Clark Kent was Superman and looking Clark in the face and calling him Superman were two different things. "It was a brute force accident that brought you here — or *there,*" he added, flustered by the contradictions of their current location.
Lois opened her mouth to question him further, when the shriek of skidding tires drowned out her words. A car careened around the corner, and a dark-suited man leaned out the window, firing bursts of bullets from an automatic rifle. Up and down the street, people flung themselves to the pavement, their terrified screaming competing with the sound of the groaning engine, the rapid-fire bark of the rifle, and the squealing tires.
"Get *down*!" Clark ordered over his shoulder when the spray of bullets turned on them, his hands a blur as he caught the lead pellets.
Dr. Klein dropped awkwardly to the ground, with Lois following more slowly. She lifted her head, watching as Clark pulled down his glasses and focused his heat vision on the gangster's rifle. The gun began to smoke and then glow, and the thug swore violently and dropped it in the street. He yelled something at the driver, and the car shot off as the street and buildings again wavered —
— and dissolved into the familiar walls of Dr. Klein's lab at S.T.A.R. Labs.
Clark squatted down and helped Lois sit up. She clung to him for a moment, finally managing a shaky laugh. "This keeps up, and I'll have to get something for motion sickness. Dr. Klein — "
She turned to look at the scientist, who still lay on the floor in a curiously forlorn heap. Clark frowned, releasing her to reach for the other man, and froze for an instant as he touched the doctor. Slowly, reluctantly, Clark turned him over, dreading confirmation of what he had felt.
Dr. Klein's eyes were half-open, and only a tiny spot of red showed on his white shirt when his tweed jacket fell open. Lois gasped, her hand to her mouth, while Clark's hand slipped over the scientist's eyes, easing them closed. "Oh, God, Clark. He's — "
" — dead." His head bowed over the still body. "I should have been paying more attention. I could have stopped those gangsters before they fired a shot."
His pain and guilt puzzled her, drawing her away from the horror of Dr. Klein's death. Hadn't Clark come to terms with his limitations long ago? But his need pulled at her, and she set a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Clark …"
He stubbornly kept his head down, and she continued, "You can't do everything. It wasn't your fault."
"No. He died because I was careless … distracted." He raised his head, and she saw the tears reddening his eyes. "Lois, it could have been you as easily as him."
"But it wasn't. I'm okay." She cupped his face between her hands. "I'm *o-kay*."
"I know." Pulling her into his arms, Clark leaned his forehead against hers. "But what about next time, and the next?"
"Clark, you can't torture yourself with that. We've always — "
He shook his head. "I don't mean all the other things we've gone through. I mean, this time thing. This tear in space-time. It's just going to get worse, and now we've lost the only person who had any idea how to fix it."
END ACT 3
Lois stared at Clark in horror, realizing the burden of guilt he was carrying. Dr. Klein's death was more than just the loss of one life; it could mean the end of all life. "Oh, God," she whispered. But Lois Lane had never quietly accepted the inevitable before, and she wasn't starting now. "Then it's up to us, Clark. We have to figure out how to fix this tear."
Despite her brave words, the blind, inward-turning look on his face frightened her; he was still buried under the weight of his responsibility for this entire situation. But without him, they couldn't fix what had gone so horribly wrong. Scared and more in need of his quiet strength than she was willing to admit, Lois grabbed Clark's shoulders and shook him — or tried to. "Clark, snap out of it!" she cried. "Dr. Klein said we're running out of time!"
The raw edge of panic in her voice reached him, and his eyes focused on her face. He looked puzzled for an instant; then his expression sharpened as he thought about what she had said. "Lois, how can *we* fix something like this?"
She shook her head, adding stubbornly, "Dr. Klein thought you could, so there's got to be a way."
"Yeah. Well, he said I was the one who tore it in the first place." Clark considered what had gone on since he rescued the Prometheus. "It was bad enough when I just thought the lives of 300 colonists were at stake, but this — This is the end of everything." He shook his head, a sad smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. "This whole situation is so unreal that I keep thinking it must be a dream. And that I'll wake up with you in my arms and find out that none of this happened."
Lois smiled sadly and placed her hand on his chest. "I know. I — " She stopped, a blaze of insight dawning on her face. "'None of this happened …' Clark, that's it! If you go back through the tear — "
" — I can stop this whole thing before it happens," he finished, immediately grasping what she was trying to say. "But how do I get back to my own time?"
"How does he get back to his own time?" Lois said, scooping chicken and dumplings into a plastic bowl. Martha and Jonathan Kent's apartment had a large family kitchen, and the couple was at the double sink washing the dinner dishes. "I mean, even if we could figure out a way to boost his speed like the explosion did, how can we be sure he'll go *back* rather than further forward?"
Martha paused, thinking as she held a plate with soap suds dripping into the dish water. She glanced at Jonathan, then let the plate slide into the rinse water. "It's been a while since I read Hawking," she began, "but if matter is still becoming more organized at this point in time, I think we can assume that the universe has a stronger pull toward order than chaos."
Jonathan exchanged a smile with Lois behind Martha's head. He often teased his wife about her love of esoteric knowledge, but it was as much a part of her as her loving support and wry sense of humor.
She saw their look but ignored it, continuing, "So if you manage to recreate the accident that brought Clark here, the universe will try to mend itself by sending him back to where he started." She paused again. "I think."
Lois laughed and hugged the older woman. "No wonder Clark turned out the way he did, Martha."
A child's giggle and a man's deeper growl interrupted them, and Lois turned back to see CJ, clean and clad only in a pair of briefs, shoot into the kitchen. Clark followed more slowly, growling ferociously and threatening his small runaway with horrible punishments. The front of his T-shirt and shorts were soaked, and he had soap suds in his hair. He clutched his son's fuzzy blue sleeper in one large hand. Lois thought he had never looked more gorgeous.
CJ scampered across the tile floor toward her, pausing to look over his shoulder at his pursuer and giggling louder when Clark said, "And when I catch you, I'm gonna hold you down and tickle you." Clark lunged forward and grabbed CJ just before he reached Lois, and swung his laughing, shrieking son into the air.
Tucked under his father's arm like a football, CJ tilted his head up and demanded, "Fly, Daddy!"
Clark gave him a startled look — then relaxed when he saw the little boy holding his arms out like an airplane. "Up you go, CJ," he said, lifting his son above his head. Grinning at the lip-buzzing noise CJ considered appropriate for an airplane engine, Clark looked back at Lois and his parents. "Recreating the accident makes sense, but I don't know how I can set off an explosion of that size to bump up my speed."
He waited a moment for a response, but his family just stared at him, and he smiled crookedly. "C'mon, ace, the airport's thisaway."
Lois watched them leave, her expression sad and thoughtful. Jonathan put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"What?" Lois jerked, then tried to summon a reassuring smile. "I'm all right, Jonathan. I'm … fine."
Lois unlocked and opened the door of their townhouse, switching on the lights as she entered. Clark followed her, CJ asleep in his arms, and waited while she hung up her coat. She turned back from the coat rack and saw him brushing a kiss across his son's forehead, and her mouth twisted as she held back tears.
He glanced up. "Lois?"
She shook her head and wiped the corners of her eyes. "I wanted to see that for so long — the two of you together." A smile was beyond her, but she found a more cheerful expression and added, "We should get him to bed."
Nodding, Clark trailed her across the living room and up the stairs to CJ's bedroom.
Lois left the bedroom light off, the room lit only by the swath of light from the hallway. In the quiet dark, she turned back the covers on CJ's bed, and Clark laid him down on the brightly colored sheets.
Stepping out of the way while she eased CJ out of his coat, Clark noticed the sheet pattern. "Superman?" he asked softly.
"It's his heritage. Besides — " She gave him a sheepish smile over her shoulder — "I still have my Superman pajamas."
He gently squeezed her shoulder, imagining what she had gone through during the years without him. His hand fell away as she tucked the covers around CJ's shoulders and bent down to kiss his cheek, pausing to breathe in his sweet, clean scent. "Night-night, sweetie," she whispered and kissed him again.
Clark drew a ragged breath. All his life, he had dreamed of having this: the woman who loved him, the child of his own blood … and now … He stroked his son's silky cheek with the backs of his fingers. "Goodnight, CJ," he murmured. "Goodnight, son." He followed Lois into the hallway and closed the door behind them.
In the kitchen, he watched while Lois wandered about aimlessly. "Do you want some coffee?" she asked, opening a cabinet and staring into it.
"No, thanks," he said. "Lois — "
She turned around. "What?"
Clark saw the uneasiness behind her restless searching, and he walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "You've done a great job with CJ. He's happy and loving and secure…"
Lois listened quietly, her eyes filling with tears, and when he stopped, she cast herself into his arms with a sob. Clark tightened his arms around her, holding her close as she began to cry. "Honey, what's wrong?" he asked against her hair. "I didn't mean to make you cry."
"Oh, Clark, it isn't that. It's — if you — if you manage to fix this tear — or whatever it is — CJ will be gone," she cried. She felt his sudden stillness and tried to explain. "Whatever made the reactor on the space station blow up happened while we were … making love." She looked into his solemn dark eyes. "So you'll have to get to Prometheus before that — to stop it, I mean — and that means CJ won't be conceived." Her gaze grew unfocused as she examined her feelings. "He'll never exist…"
Clark held her as if her touch were all that kept him upright and rested his cheek against her hair. "I know," he said softly.
Lois pulled back to look at his face and saw grief and determination mingled in his expression. "You — ? You've already thought of this," she realized. "When we were tucking him in, you were saying 'good-bye.'"
She nodded, unable to trust her voice, and he continued, "Lois, if I don't do this — "
" — I know," she interrupted. "All of time and space will unravel."
"And then everyone will die — including you and CJ. No second chance. No nothing." Desperate for her to understand, he added, "I can't let that happen. Not if there's *any*thing I can do to stop it." 20
Pulling away with a brief laugh, Lois said, "I don't know why we're making ourselves crazy with this. We don't know how to send you back, anyway."
"I *do* know," he said softly.
"I've figured out how to boost my speed enough to send me back."
She stared at him. "How?"
"Use the sun's gravity to slingshot me through the tear."
"Like on Star Trek?" she asked incredulously.
Clark seemed a little embarrassed. "Well, yeah, but the EPRAD probe also circled Jupiter that way to pick up speed for the trip to Neptune."
Her eyes widened. "Clark, no! It's too dangerous." Three lonely years without him answered for her. A mission in space had taken him from her once; she couldn't face it again. "You nearly died the last time you were in space."
"I'll take oxygen with me this time." He cupped his hand over the side of her neck, brushing her cheek with his thumb. "Honey, no matter how risky it is, I have to try. All of space and time is unraveling because of something I did, and I'm the only one who can fix it. I can't just walk away from that."
Her big dark eyes blurred with tears as Lois raised her head to meet his earnest gaze. "I know," she said simply. A sob shook her, and she cast herself into his arms, burying her face against his shoulder. "Oh, Clark! I love you."
He caught her up against his chest, dropping kisses on every part of her he could reach. "I love you, Lois," he whispered, his lips against her temple.
She lifted her face to his, seeking his mouth, her kisses wet and salty with tears. Her arms were locked around his neck, her body pressed against the hard strength of his. "Clark?" she asked against his mouth.
"Hmmm?" Clark was too involved in kissing her to make the effort to talk. Holding the back of her head with one hand, he kissed her hungrily, his tongue stroking the slick inner surface of her lips. She was warm and yielding in his arms, and his body was becoming hard and insistent in response.
Lois spoke hurriedly between kisses. "Is there enough time for us to make love?"
*That* reached him. "Yes," he said into her mouth, moving in for another deep, breathless kiss. He walked her back two steps and lifted her onto the edge of the table, his hands sliding from her waist and up her sides.
She sighed, murmuring with pleasure and tightening her thighs around his hips. Her hands splayed across his back, and she slowly rubbed her palms over his hard muscles. She had almost forgotten how much she loved touching and kissing him, how much she enjoyed his strong, beautiful body. In the shadow of personal loss and universal destruction, she needed to affirm life in his arms, and she snuggled closer to him. "Good."
Later, shaky but satisfied, Lois lifted her head from the hollow of Clark's shoulder. The sounds of their loving still seemed to echo through the kitchen. "Oh, God," she sighed, "I have missed that so much."
He braced himself against the table, moving his lips across her cheek as he murmured heartfelt agreement.
She pushed at his bare shoulder teasingly. "What do you mean, 'uh-huh'? It's only been a day for you."
Clark cupped her cheek with his hand, his fingers threading through her silky hair. "Honey, last night — not knowing if you still loved me or not — was long enough. I don't think I could face it for three years."
Lois pressed a kiss on his lower lip and touched her fingertip to the shimmer of moisture she left, smiling when his lips closed around her finger in a gentle kiss. "You could … if you had CJ to keep you going."
"Oh god, Lois." His voice broke, and he closed his eyes for a moment, his arms tightening around her. "We really did it, didn't we?"
"We really did," she agreed, glad that he was trying to focus on the joy rather than the grief. "I guess even alien biologies couldn't overcome that much love."
"Sweetheart." He cupped his hands around her face and pressed butterfly kisses on her eyelids and cheeks and lips.
Tears pricked her eyelids. Clark had a way of making her feel utterly loved and cherished. But if she thought about that now — when he was facing such a risky mission — she'd start crying again. "Of course — " she shifted, trying to unstick the back of her thighs from the table — "I'd think you were even more special — " she slipped her arms around his neck — "if you'd get me off this hard table."
"Honey, I'm sorry," he apologized and easily picked her up and carried her from the kitchen.
Lois studied his face from a distance of about four inches as he started up the stairs. "Where are you going?"
"To the bedroom."
She stroked one hand down his smoothly sculpted chest and leaned in to catch his earlobe between her teeth. Clark paused between one step and the next, his heart rate leaping. "Yes?" he asked, tilting his head to look at her.
"The bathroom," she murmured in his ear. "I want to soak in the tub."
"The tub?" he repeated, clamping down on the desire that surged through his body. He didn't want to pressure her if she were tired, but some of his favorite fantasies began with Lois relaxing in the tub under a discreet covering of bubbles.
A little smile touched the corners of her mouth. "It'll still fit two," she said, her palm rubbing over one of his nipples. "And I might get lonely."
He grinned. "Then we'll have to make sure you have some company." And he carried her into the bathroom and shut the door with his foot.
Hours later, Lois lay on their bed, staring into the dark, cradling Clark's head against her breasts. She pressed trembling lips to his dark head and traced a finger around and around his muscular shoulder, listening to the sound of his even breathing. Looking back, she realized he had made love with her as if it were the last time he would ever see her, ever touch her, and the intensity of his passion hinted at a desperation that frightened her now. She wondered if there were something about this gravitational slingshot maneuver that he wasn't telling her. Or maybe he was just trying to forget what he had to do — and what it would do to his son.
She drew a long, shuddering breath. Thinking about CJ was a mistake. Hot tears slid from the corners of her eyes into her hair, and she gulped repeatedly, but her breaths became fast and ragged, and a sob broke from her throat.
Before the second sob escaped, two strong arms had gathered her close, pressing her face against Clark's throat and chest. The love that heard and responded to her need, even from the depths of sleep, overwhelmed her, and she began to cry in earnest.
Clark didn't try to hush her; he just held her and stroked her long, dark hair and murmured assurances of his love. And when her sobs became sighing, shuddering breaths, he handed her some tissue — then brushed his lips over her forehead while he waited for the fresh tears to quiet.
When Lois was calm once more, she asked, "Will you be able to get up to the speed you need?"
Clark swallowed hard. He had guessed that she was crying about CJ — and he didn't dare let himself think about it. He had found forgetfulness and a shaky peace in her arms, and he needed the certainty that arose from that. "I should. I *have* to." His voice cracked, and he rushed into an explanation to block the thoughts he couldn't face. "If I accelerate around the sun — "
"That isn't what I mean," Lois interrupted. "I mean — can you — ? You're not too tired, are you?" she blurted out.
Surprised, Clark paused, mentally shifting gears as he assessed the easy power waiting in his body. Then he bent down and, finding her mouth unerringly in the darkness, kissed her. "Don't worry," he whispered against her lips. "It doesn't affect me that way."
"Oh. I was afraid that — " She curled against him, her cheek pressed against his chest, and was silent for a long moment. When she finally spoke, her question struck him like a blow and left him breathless. "What do you think it'll be like? When this time line ends, I mean."
'Oh, God.' He had been so wrapped up in their grief over CJ that he hadn't thought about her personal fear — and she would be facing it alone. He tightened his arms around her and tried to swallow the steel ball in his throat, but it wouldn't go away. "Oh, Lois." Hot tears pressed against his eyelids, and Clark blinked them back, searching for some assurance to give her. "I — I think it'll be like waking up from a dream. One minute, you're in the dream, thinking dream thoughts. Then you're awake, and the dream's gone."
Her tears were hot against his chest, and she burrowed closer to him. "Hold me, Clark," she whispered, and they clung together in the darkness while his tears met and mingled with hers.
Inside Mercury's orbit, the sun was an enormous ball of fire, a nuclear furnace pouring energy into space at a profligate rate, its radiance almost too bright even for Kryptonian eyes. But with each mile he drew closer, Clark felt the power surging ever more fiercely through his body, magnifying his powers as he absorbed more and more of the solar radiation. He had taken off the oxygen tanks in Mercury's shadow, and now, a tiny star glowing with borrowed energy, he hurtled through the silence of space like a photon returning to its source.
The sun pulled at him, called to him seductively, filling him with power and promising even more. Inside the shield of its photosphere, he would be like a god, invincible, indestructible, channeling nearly unlimited power at his will.
The image hung in his mind for an instant; then the man who had grown up on a Kansas farm laughed, and the dream dissolved like a summer haze. What would he do with that kind of power? Whom could he help? Chained to the star that gave him the power, a 100 million miles from everyone he cared about, he would die of loneliness.
'Lois.' For him, there was only one answer for loneliness, and he reached for yet more speed.
Lois rocked back and forth in the darkness, holding CJ close, her tears seeping into his soft, dark hair. Somehow she had said good-bye to Clark without crying, but now she couldn't stop.
She wasn't afraid. Not really. Even though she didn't really believe that it would be like waking from a dream. But she didn't want to be alone at the end. And she didn't want to let her baby go. 20
It wasn't fair. Two years wasn't enough. Lois held her son's small, sleep-warmed body close to her. "I love you, CJ," she whispered and kissed his soft cheek.
It was worth it, she told herself, her throat aching with tears. Whatever the price, loving was worth it.
Clark had taught her that. She just wished the bill hadn't come due so soon.
The tugging of gravity increased as he drew nearer, its pull both a threat and a promise of success. The sun was no longer a ball of fire, but a vast searing light that filled his eyes. Its flames reached out to him like a lover's caress, stroking his super-charged body with heat, drawing him into its gravity well. Protected by the very energy that could kill him, Clark recognized the point of balance when he reached it. It was here and no other place, and he flattened his dive into the photosphere, skimming the surface of the sun, picking up energy as he curved around the immense sphere. Drawn in by gravity and pushed away equally by inertia, his speed multiplied through his revolution, the erupting face of the sun a gold-white blur as he passed.
On the opposite side from his approach, Clark's velocity increased the outward-thrusting force until he shot away from the sun, tearing through the eternal day in a blue-to-red curtain of light. For an endless moment, the stars wavered, appearing as streaks of light behind the aurora. Clark lowered his head and kept flying — toward Lois. Still glowing with stored energy, he streaked homeward, praying that he had gone fast enough, that he had traveled backward rather than forward, that he was in time to change what had happened before. 20
Lois locked the door behind them after she and Clark entered their townhouse. She hung up her coat, wondering how to bring up the subject of his uncharacteristic moodiness at the baby shower, when the lights flickered, and she stumbled, suddenly dizzy. She turned. "Clark — ?"
He was standing by the couch in an aurora of blue and red, clasping his head between his hands as if he were covering his ears. For an instant, his face changed, growing dazzlingly bright, and she almost thought she saw the slicked-back hair and stern expression of Superman. He fell to his knees, and she started toward him, staggering.
The shimmering curtain of color disappeared between one heartbeat and the next, and Lois flung herself to her knees beside Clark, one arm sliding around his shoulders as she assured herself of his presence. "Clark?"
He raised his head — and it was her Clark, that frightening glow gone from his features, his short hair ruffled by whatever had just happened, his dark eyes searching hers with love and wonder. "Lois — " He broke off, his head lifting as if he heard a distant cry for help. His eyes widened, and he exclaimed, "Prometheus!"
"It's — never mind." He set Lois away from him and, rising to his feet, spun into the red-and-blue suit. He reached down to help her to her feet. "I have to go," he said softly and kissed her. "The space station's in trouble."
She clung to his hands. "Be careful," she pleaded. Superman or not, his space rescues terrified her.
A tiny smile pulled at one corner of his mouth. "I will," he promised and turned away, opening the window and soaring into the night.
Lois sighed and kicked off her shoes, then headed into the kitchen to make some herbal tea.
In the hazardous research lab on the Prometheus, Dylan keyed in the debugging sequence to check for any typing errors in the program. "Okay … it's clean, so we're ready to go."
Cliff smoothed his hair back again and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He was not a decision-maker; he didn't want the responsibility if anything went wrong. "Shall we — ?"
Dylan scowled at his partner's attempt to pass all responsibility for the project to him. "Cold feet, Cliff? Don't feel like going down in history as one of the men who made cold fusion practical? Or don't you like the thought of the money from the patents any more?" 20
Cliff glared at the young programmer. "I've never been in this for the money."
"Oh, I forgot. You're bringing cheap, unlimited power to the downtrodden masses despite the blindness of your superiors. Yeah, right. You may not care about the recognition or money, but I do."
The door slammed open, cutting off their argument, and the two men swung around to look at the intruder. Superman.
He took in the situation at a glance — the code on the monitor, Dylan's hands poised at the keyboard — and realized he had barely arrived in time. No time for questions, for determining responsibility or degrees of guilt. If ever there was a time to act decisively, this was it. At superspeed, he shot across the room and plucked Dylan from his seat in front of the computer, then grabbed Cliff and held both of them by the wrist as he keyed the intercom. "Control room?" he called. "Send security to — " He read the location off the sign on the wall — "HR Lab 4."
Clark stepped into the townhouse through the open window. Lois was curled up in the corner of the couch, her head drooping awkwardly to one side, the cold glare of her laptop lighting her face. She snored softly, and Clark felt his heart wrench at having left her yet again to spend the evening by herself. He spun into a T-shirt and sleep shorts, then reached across her shoulder, closed her laptop, and set it on the coffee table.
Lois stirred, and as he walked around the end of the couch, she frowned in her sleep, and her voice caught on a sob. "Clar'?"
He bent down, sliding one arm under her legs and the other behind her shoulders. "It's okay, honey. I'm here." Clark lifted her easily and started upstairs.
She breathed in another sob, and her hands gripped his shirt. "'s gone," she murmured against his neck.
"Who is?" he asked.
She didn't answer but settled against his shoulder and sighed as he carried her into their room. Clark laid her down on their bed and stroked an unruly lock of hair off her face. She opened drowsy eyes that brightened as they focused on his face. "Clark? Everything okay?"
"I got there in time." He dropped a kiss on her lips.
"Mmmm. In time for what?" She struggled to sit up and began to unfasten her blouse, looking at him expectantly.
"To stop a couple of researchers from bringing a reactor on-line that would have destroyed Prometheus — according to the station superintendent." The last was muffled as he pulled his T-shirt off.
Lois frowned. "You heard a call for help from *there*?"
"No. They didn't — " Clark shook his head. "Actually," he continued, "I just suddenly … knew."
She stared at him. "This isn't some weird power that you never knew you had, is it?"
"No," he said slowly. "I don't think so. It was the strangest feeling of deja vu. Like I already knew what was gonna happen…"
"Do you still feel that way?"
"No, it went away after I turned those researchers over to security. It was … weird." He shook his head, disturbed by the almost-memory. "I'm sorry. I didn't expect to be so late."
Lois dropped the rest of her clothes and pulled on her nightgown. "It's okay. I don't usually try to wait up like that … but with you out in space and all…" She shrugged.
He drew her into his arms. "You worry about me."
"Sometimes," she admitted, curling up against him.
Clark touched a gentle finger to the faint tear-track at the corner of her eye. "You were crying in your sleep."
Frowning, Lois thought back. "I don't remember what it was about. Just that I lost something … someone … and it hurt unbearably." She looked up at him, her eyes shimmering with tears. Then she blinked and tried to laugh despite the unreasonable grief clenched around her heart. "Silly dream," she said and quickly changed the subject. "Why did you get so sad and quiet at the baby shower?"
"What? Oh …" He tried to follow her conversational lead, but it seemed like a lifetime had passed since the party. "I was imagining us playing with *our* baby — and wondering whether he — or she — would be normal … or super."
"We aren't going to have to deal with floating babies, are we?" she blurted, then bit her lip, embarrassed at revealing such a silly fear.
He blinked, surprised. "Floating babies? I hope not. That could make changing diapers … interesting."
"Sounds like a job for Superman."
Clark pulled her close to him. "Hey, none of that. We're a team, remember? Anyway, Mom said I seemed normal at first, so I don't think we need to worry about floating babies."
Her relief showed in her face. "Then what are you worried about? Something happening at daycare and people finding out?"
A faint smile flickered at the corner of his mouth, but it was an effort. "Yeah. Little kids aren't very good at keeping secrets — especially something that big."
"Maybe we can telecommute and write from home," she suggested.
He considered that, his expression brightening. "And if we take turns at interviews, maybe we can avoid the whole child care problem."
"Except when you're off saving the world."
"Superman may have to scale back some. But … I've been thinking. We have some good friends. Maybe we just need to trust them and give them a chance to help."
Surprised, Lois studied his face. "I didn't think you wanted to let anyone else in on your secret."
"I don't," Clark admitted, "but someday we may have to. If a slip-up happened, at least it'd be in front of people who 20 care about us and would keep it a secret."
"Well, we have a lot of time before we have to decide anything like that. Especially since I'm not pregnant."
She kissed him lightly, but he deepened the kiss. When he drew back, they were both breathless. "Yet."
Her eyebrows arched upward. "Have you heard back from Dr. Klein?"
"I called him while I was in Helsinki." Clark traced her collarbone with one fingertip, then followed her breastbone down to the neckline of her nightgown. At her soft gasp, he smiled lazily. "He just said there was a glitch when he ran the last sample and that his assistant was setting up the reagents for another test."
"So … nothing for sure yet."
"Not yet — but it sounded like maybe there'd been a glitch with the first sample, too."
Lois caught her breath sharply. "Clark …"
"I know. Anyway, that shouldn't stop us from trying if we 20 want to." He bent down, his lips following the path blazed by his finger.
Lois closed her eyes, quivering at the touch of his mouth on her skin. Sleepiness and sorrow alike were forgotten as her hands drifted over his strong shoulders. "Oh, you think Krypton and Earth could achieve an entente tonight?"
Clark slid one hand up her thigh, his fingers seeking out the sensitive skin under her nightgown. "Maybe. After some … in-depth negotiations."
"We'd have to be sure the negotiators covered every angle — completely." Her voice dropped on the last word, evoking an image that took his breath away.
"That could be very time-consuming," he warned her.
One hand trailed down his muscular chest. "Do you have something else to do?"
Clark let his kiss answer her, but Lois wasn't done yet, and her hand edged between their bodies. When she reached her goal, he caught his breath in a sharp gasp, and she giggled. "I didn't think so," she said smugly.
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 5 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1997 to the author.