By Pam Jernigan <ChiefPam@nc.rr.com>
Original Air Date: May 17, 1998
Summary: Superman's recent absences on Monday nights have intrigued a pair of criminals. Too bad they don't know better than to get in Lois's way! Episode 22 of S5 (season finale).
*August 17, 1998 — Monday, 2pm*
"Lois, you're still pregnant?"
Lois Lane, entering the Daily Planet newsroom for the first time since beginning her maternity leave, glared at Ralph, the source of that particularly witless question. Before she could reply, however, her husband came up to meet her at the elevator, selflessly throwing himself in front of her intended victim.
"Yeah, Ralph, we're still pregnant." Clark leaned in for a quick kiss, stifling Lois' mutter of "what was your first clue?" He turned around and smiled. "You just never know when the kid will decide to appear."
Lois, standing with Clark's arm around her, managed to smile. Here, with Clark, in the newsroom, she felt comfortable, capable, in charge. Sitting at home, waiting, was about to drive her bananas — especially after that bout of false labor last week had raised and then dashed her hopes. "I just came in to visit."
"Oh, well, good to see you. And since I'm not on vacation, like some people," Ralph grinned broadly to show that he was joking, "I've got to get going. Good luck!" The elevator pinged again, and Ralph dove inside the car.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Vacation, he calls it. It's driving me nuts!"
"Well, that's not surprising, honey," Clark teased. "Our last vacation drove you nuts, too."
"No, darlin'," she corrected, smiling, "you're thinking of that island with Spencer Spencer. Our last vacation was our honeymoon, and *that* I enjoyed very much!"
"You're so right," he conceded gracefully, and motioned for her to precede him over towards the small visitor's couches. Lois always looked so adorably smug when she won a point. "How are you feeling today?"
With his assistance, she sank down into the couch and immediately propped her feet up on the table. "I'm as good as can be expected. I think the baby's dropped a little because I can almost take full breaths now, but I'm still tired, and my back aches, and my feet look like water balloons, and I have to go to the bathroom roughly every half-hour. Other than that, though … "
Clark smiled sympathetically. Despite her complaints, she bore her pregnancy well; he admired her equanimity, and thought she'd never looked more beautiful. "Other than that," he finished for her, "you're excited about the baby and you're worried about labor. And sitting at home with nothing to do is making you wish you hadn't started your leave so early."
She considered that, then shook her head. "No, I had to leave, I wasn't able to get anything done, between naps and bathroom breaks — not to mention the occasional murderous ex-obstetrician," she smiled wryly. "And I'm feeling less tired this week, so it was a good decision. It's the waiting that's hard. I just wish things would start *happening*! Well, not just anything. I want the world to be perfectly peaceful so you and I can bring this baby into the world together."
"I don't care if the world falls apart, Lois." Clark's face was as solemn as she'd ever seen it. "I will be there."
"I hope so." She smiled up at him, accepting his determination, but knowing that anything could, and usually did, happen. "Anyway, I'm actually on my way to the airport to pick up your mother; she called this morning and said she'd decided to come, and I didn't think you'd mind … "
"No, not at all, if you don't. How long is she planning to stay?"
"Well, it depends—"
"Hey, Lois, how ya doing?" Jimmy bounced up the stairs, grinning broadly at the sight of his favorite couple.
Lois smiled; she found she missed Jimmy's enthusiasm, even as misplaced as it often was. "Fine, Jimmy, thanks. How are you?"
"I am doing *great*. The Chief has me helping Clark and Dianne, so I'm learning a lot, and I got this cool new statistics program. It's kind of like the one Penny's got, actually, but, um, never mind about that. Anyway, I was feeding it information about Superman, and cross-indexing it to crime figures, just trying to see if there was a pattern of which types of things were more likely to attract Superman, you know."
Lois exchanged a worried look with Clark. "And did you come up with anything?"
"Not really, but there was this one interesting thing — for, like, a month, Superman hasn't done *anything* on Monday nights. No arrests, no rescues — not so much as getting kittens out of trees."
Clark turned his head away to hide a wince, and Lois sighed inaudibly. Childbirth classes. Well, those were over with now, so that pattern would come to nothing.
"I don't know if you can call that a pattern," Clark argued, fiddling with his glasses.
"Sure you can," Jimmy countered easily. "Once is an anomaly, twice is a coincidence, three times is—"
"Three times is enemy action," Lois completed the homily for him. "Except I doubt that. Anyway, he's probably just been … watching Monday Night Football or something."
Clark and Jimmy both turned to frown at her for that, but only Clark was brave enough to correct her. "It's the wrong season for that, honey."
"Don't argue with a pregnant woman," Lois scowled back at them, sticking her tongue out for good measure.
"Hey, I'm out of here, guys," Jimmy declared with a smile. "You two can fight this one out yourselves. Take care, Lois, and make sure we know when the baby's born!"
"You'll be the first to know — or should that be Clark?" Lois joked. She shared a smile with her husband, then began the complicated process of getting to her feet.
"I'm off to the airport, now Clark … " He frowned slightly, and she paused. "What?"
"Nothing, really," he assured her with an apologetic smile. "But is it really wise to drive that far? You could go into labor … "
She rolled her eyes. "I only wish. Anyway, if I do, I'll call you, either on the phone or out the window," She patted his chest and smiled up at him. He was so cute when he was overprotective — as long as he didn't carry it too far. "You just try to be home by six, okay?"
"I will," he promised, kissing her good-bye. "And if you need anything — anything at all — you just yell."
"All I need is for someone to induce labor," she grumbled good-naturedly.
He grinned. "I can think of a few things to try, later tonight … "
"And if I don't fall asleep first," she countered, "I'll hold you to that." She pushed the elevator call button, and then gazed at the doors speculatively. "Hey, you know, on TV, pregnant women *always* go into labor in elevators … "
His grin widened. "Well, if it works, you let me know, okay?"
"You bet." The elevator arrived, and they kissed good-bye before she stepped inside the car, smiling broadly.
Clark watched the doors slide closed and waited, listening to it hum its way smoothly downward and release his disappointed wife into the lobby. He smiled, and headed back to his desk.
" … so then *I* says, hand me the money, see?" Peabody recited, feeling very smug about his prowess. He strutted a few steps around the dingy apartment for good measure.
"Can it, Peabody," Stubbs replied, quellingly. He was larger than his companion, both in height and weight, with a sterner look in his eye. "You ain't never bullied anybody without you had help."
"Did so!" replied the smaller man, indignantly. "I dunno why you has to disbelieve everyt'ing I say — it ain't polite."
The two men were in a small, cluttered, dirty apartment, belonging to Mr. Jeremiah Stubbs. To say the place needed a woman's touch would be misleading; it would have benefited more from the careful placement of a small explosive. However, its owner barely noticed, as he didn't like to bother himself with irrelevancies.
"Yeah, well, forget it — we got something more important to talk about." Stubbs pointed to the table before him, which bore a handful of newspaper clippings. "See those?
"Yeah, I see 'em, what's not to see? And it ain't true I never bullied nobody, I bullied lottsa peoples … "
"Them there clippings," Stubbs continued, ignoring his companion's attempt at an argument, "show things going wrong, this past month. They ain't big things, I ain't saying they are, but," he held up one thick finger for emphasis, and waited to see if Peabody would notice.
" … I bullied Archer, the other month, and, oh, he was scared o'me … "
"Archer was scared of Intergang, you knucklehead, and all you was doin' was carryin' messages for 'em. But you listen t'me for a minnit, here."
Peabody, silenced for a moment, finally paid attention. "Where'd you get da clippings, Stubbsie?"
"Don't call me that — and never you mind where I got 'em. What I found out is that these here things, they all happened on Mondays, and Superman wasn't anywhere near 'em. As far as I can tell, he wasn't doing nothing those nights. Now, I dunno what he mighta been doing—"
"Monday night poker, you think?" interjected the irrepressible Peabody.
"What?" Stubbs was momentarily distracted by this. "Nah, couldn't be. Everybody knows he's got that, whatchamacallit, x-ray eyes. He'd see through your cards; nobody'd play with him."
After looking mulish for a moment, Peabody reluctantly agreed; he could see the sense in that. "So then, what?"
"It don't matter what, see? Whatever it is he *is* doing, what he *ain't* doing on Monday nights is stopping crimes."
Peabody's face slowly lit up, as he worked through this. "So you mean that if we was to pull something onna Monday … "
"He wouldn't be around to stop us," Stubbs finished, pleased to have finally communicated. "So I figure, we can knock us over a jewelry store or something tonight. I mean, what could go wrong?"
Lois unlocked the door to her townhouse and ushered her mother-in-law inside. "And then Jimmy noticed that Superman's been otherwise occupied during our childbirth class," she continued, "although, of course, Jimmy doesn't know it was because of childbirth classes, but he does know *something*'s been happening … " She flicked on the lights and headed for the sofa. She tired more easily than ever these days, and standing around the airport waiting for Martha's flight had not helped her swollen feet. "And I don't know why we even bothered with childbirth classes," she concluded bitterly, sinking down onto the sofa as Martha sat next to her, "because obviously I'm never going to actually give birth!"
Martha laughed softly. "I know you're a little overdue, dear, but that's normal, you know — due dates are only an educated guess, after all."
"Yeah, for human pregnancies," Lois reminded her crossly. "Except this baby is half-Kryptonian. Who knows? They might stay pregnant for *years* … "
"No, I doubt that," Martha replied, taking on a coolly reassuring tone. "Clark developed normally as a baby. We didn't even suspect anything was different about him until he was, oh, five or six … and didn't Dr. Klein say things were progressing normally?"
"Yeah … " Lois admitted, her dark mood lifting as she sat and regained her breath. In only the past few weeks, the baby had grown so large that it pressed up against her diaphragm, leaving her diminished lung capacity. "But I'm still overdue by a week."
"Well, how long will your doctors wait before they induce labor?"
Lois brightened further at the reminder. "Only another week. I've got another appointment on Wednesday morning, and Dr. McGrath said after that, they'll talk about getting things started. She did say, last week, that everything looked normal."
"I thought they wouldn't wait too long," Martha replied, satisfied. "The instructor at my childbirth class said they usually don't let women go more than two weeks overdue."
Lois nodded her head in absent-minded agreement, then looked at her mother-in-law. "Wait a minute, when did you take a childbirth class?"
Martha's eyes twinkled. "This past summer. I was interested, and the local clinic offers courses, so … "
"They just … let you in? I mean, you're not pregnant … "
"Lois, my dear," Martha laughed, patting her daughter-in-law on the knee. "One of the benefits of growing older is that you cease to care so much what others might be thinking. I asked to observe, and paid my fee. Actually," she confided, "it turned out well, because there was a girl in the class who didn't have a partner, so I volunteered to help her out. Her name is Annira, just the sweetest thing. She gave birth a month ago. It was such a privilege to be able to help her, and be there when her baby was born … " She gazed off into her memories, shaking her head in wonder.
Lois just looked at Martha, once more amazed at the things the older woman was capable of. "And how are they doing now?"
Martha's smile was tinged with sadness. "She gave the baby up for adoption. He's been placed with a good family. She misses him, of course, but she knows it was the best thing she could do for him, the best life she could give him. I was so proud of her. Other than that, though, she's doing fine — she gets more rest than most new mothers, for one thing."
"There is that," Lois concurred, not quite sure how to respond.
"Next time you're out at the farm, you can meet her, if you like," Martha offered, then stood, ready to get back to business. "Now … can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm fine thanks." Lois heaved herself back to her feet, smiling ruefully at the reality of pregnancy. "I just need to visit the bathroom — again."
Clark was able to finish his article before six, but before he could start home, he heard a radio report of an oil tanker foundering offshore, threatening Metropolis Harbor with pollution on a massive scale. He sighed and called Lois.
"Hey, honey, how are you? … Oh good, Mom's there … " He glanced around the newsroom. No one appeared to be paying him any attention, but it never hurt to be careful; Lois would pick up on a veiled meaning. "Look, something's come up. I've got to go check it out. Yeah, that's right, have to see if Superman will show up on a Monday." He smiled, once again appreciating his wife's quick mind and generous soul. "I'll be home as soon as I can, but if you need anything, just call me. Love to you and junior … and my mom, too. See you soon."
He hung up the phone with a smile and headed for the stairwell, pulling at the knot in his tie.
The Cozy Corner Shopping Plaza wasn't unusual in any way. Its developer had built any number of small neighborhood plazas, with a bland similarity in design and layout. The L-shaped strip mall boasted a bank on one end, and an upscale grocery store on the other, with a variety of small shops in between. Many of the stores were already closed for the evening, but a few remained open. There was a light on at the hairdresser's as a late customer got her roots touched up, and a yawning clerk held the dry-cleaners open for evening drop-offs and pickups. What interested Stubbs and Peabody, however, was the jewelry store.
The two crooks sat in Stubbs' old Buick, hoping to be inconspicuous. There was only a thin sprinkling of cars in the lot at this hour. It had taken three tries to find a parking spot that satisfied them both; the first spot had seemed much too close to the store for Peabody's comfort, and the second, too far away for any practical observations.
"So they're closed, right?" Peabody asked, nervously.
"Yeah," Stubbs assented, his eyes trained on the store windows. "If we was closer," he elaborated, with exaggerated politeness, "you could see that they closed half an hour ago. But since that's too much excitement for ya, you'll hafta trust me."
"Yeah, we could see them, they could see us. No thanks. If they could see us, they'd figure we was up to somethin'."
"They're gonna know eventually, Peabody."
The smaller man frowned, fidgeting in his seat. "I dunno why we has to go in when they're still there. It's a whole lot easier to go in after they leaves. I mean, it's still bloody daylight out!"
"It's August, y'little moron, what'd'ya think, we're gonna wait until midnight? I need my beauty rest. Besides, I told ya — the stuff I want goes in the safe at night, and we need one o'them to open it for us!"
"No you don't, I could open it … " Peabody's boast faded away under his companion's withering stare.
"Aw, shaddup … c'mon, it's time to go."
Stubbs emerged from the car, whistling and looking around as nonchalantly as he could manage, given that he looked exactly like a thug who was about to commit a major felony. He set off purposefully towards the storefronts, with Peabody trailing behind him, muttering indignantly to himself.
" … thinks I don't know how to cracks safes. Why I was cracking safes back from when I was a kid, it was my whatchamacallit, my speciality, I couldda got a patch for it, if they'd had safecrackin' patches in the junior scouts … not that I was ever in the scouts, but I *couldda* done, is my point … "
"And then you pull your other arm down and thrust forward like *this*," Lois demonstrated. She and Martha stood in the front room of the townhouse, relaxing after dinner.
Martha complied, paying careful attention as her daughter-in-law led her through the rest of the martial-arts form. She smiled. "I think it's marvelous how they've taken a fighting form and transformed it into exercises."
Lois smiled back, pleased that her idea had been a success. "It's called Tai Chi, and I ran into it a few years ago. Clark's friend from Chinatown taught it to me. It's a great way to warm up." The moves could also be very effective, speeded up, if one needed them, but their chief attraction to her these days was that they could be performed around her swollen belly, and they weren't too taxing on her already-stressed system. "Let's do that one again, from the beginning."
With Martha copying her moves, Lois began the form once more. Taking a deep breath, she raised her arms over her head, and set her legs slightly apart. Gracefully, she moved her right hand downwards in a stylized arm chop. Then, she followed that up by stepping forward, with a forward thrust of her left hand, palm-outwards. A complex series of moves later, and her arms ended up back over her head. As a final move, she swept them both downwards, exhaling as she moved.
Martha smiled in delight. "I was able to follow it much better that time, dear — although I'm sure I didn't look nearly as graceful as you."
"I've been practicing a lot," Lois admitted with a rueful laugh. "It's had a very soothing effect, and lately—"
She was interrupted by the doorbell.
Mr. Stanley Tucci closed the vault with a muted, yet definitive thud. He was the senior manager and part owner of Mazik's Jewelers, and he took great satisfaction in both roles. He'd worked for Mazik's for the past 30 years, and had opened up this new location last year, shortly after buying into the business. Young Michael Mazik, his partner, didn't have the same passion for the business that his father had had, but it could have been worse — the business could have gone to his worthless brother Jason. Anyway, old Mazik would never have taken on a partner. Now Mr. Tucci was an owner, and felt he finally had something concrete to show for a lifetime's worth of hard work.
"Are we done?"
That was young Peter Collins, the newest store employee. Mr. Tucci liked to reserve judgment on his employees for at least the first six months, but so far, at least, Collins was working out fairly well. He was a good salesman, well dressed, and deferential to the customer — all necessary attributes when your merchandise tended to be priced from the multiple hundreds and up.
"Yes, I've put the last tray away," Mr. Tucci replied, patiently refreshing the younger man's memory of closing procedures. He absentmindedly fingered his watch chain. "The vault is closed, so now we need only make sure the floors are clean, and—"
He was interrupted by a banging at the front of the store.
The doorbell rang again before Lois could reach the door. Frowning slightly, she opened the door to see her mother.
"Lois? You're still pregnant?" Ellen asked with raised eyebrows, bustling inside.
"No, Mother, I'm not pregnant," Lois answered, with more than a suggestion of gritted teeth. "You're looking at a hologram, a clone, an eviltwin, take your pick. The real me is slim and trim on a beach in Tahiti."
"Whatever you say, dear. Hello, Martha, I didn't expect to see you here."
"Hello, Ellen," Martha laughed in greeting. "We were just doing some martial arts exercises … Come to check on your grandchild?"
"Yes, indeed," Ellen nodded. "And I've been *shopping*!" She held up two store bags in proof, smiling with the thrill of conquest. "I was beginning to think I'd never have grandchildren, you know — Lois didn't seem to want to admit she was female, let alone get married, and God knows Lucy never meets anyone decent."
"Oh, I know," Martha sympathized. "Why, I thought for sure that Clark would never settle down enough to stay in one city, let alone get married … Come on over, sit down, you look a little tired."
"Well, I am a little tired," Ellen confessed, following Martha to the couch.
Lois, ignored in the background, rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen. She could use another glass of water.
"Iced tea for me, Lois," her mother called after her, scarcely breaking stride in her conversation with Martha.
"Yes, mother." Lois took a deep breath and tried to regain the calm she'd achieved earlier from the Tai Chi exercises. It wasn't that she didn't love her mother; she did. But no one, not even Ralph, could drive her crazy faster than Ellen Lane.
When she reentered the living room, drinks in hand, she found the two grandmothers-to-be head to head over Ellen's purchases.
"Oh, isn't this just darling!" Martha cried, using the universal baby-shower tone to which every woman, no matter how sensible, occasionally succumbs.
"And with a hat to match," Ellen added proudly, displaying said hat on her fingertips. "I just love hats, don't you?"
"Oh, Lois," Martha turned to include her daughter-in-law. "Don't you just love this?"
Lois gazed down at the small white and green outfit, at a loss for words. At moments, her impending motherhood still seemed distinctly unreal. "It sure is … tiny."
"Well, dear," Ellen explained, with a touch of impatience, "babies are tiny at first. I do wish, though, that we knew whether it was a boy or a girl — it makes shopping rather difficult."
"I'm sorry, Mother, but like I told you, the technician couldn't tell. We'll find out soon anyway." Her previous calm had completely evaporated, leaving her tense and restless. She needed more exercise, but she couldn't imagine her mother doing Tai Chi forms. "Would you like to take a walk? Walking is supposed to stimulate labor, I've heard, and I need to pick up some of Clark's shirts from the dry-cleaners anyway."
"Well, I suppose," Ellen began doubtfully, but Lois overrode any objection she might have voiced.
"Great, we'll go! After I take a precautionary bathroom break, anyway. It's not far."
Collins hurried to the front of the store. He knew he was still on probation in his manager's eyes, and Mr. Tucci had lately been impressing on him the need to improve his skills with customers. As he neared the glass storefront, he saw two men standing outside; for a moment he thought he recognized one of his customers of a week ago. The resemblance faded as he got a better view, squinting into the dying outdoor light, but the impression remained.
"I'm sorry, but we're closed for the evening," he said loudly, pointing at the sign which listed the store's hours. "We'll be open again tomorrow."
The larger of the two visitors frowned, and cupped his hand to his ear, indicating that he hadn't heard through the glass.
"We're *closed*," Pete tried again, louder. Still the man seemed not to have understood.
Pete sighed, suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, and unlocked the door. Opening it slightly, he spoke through the crack. "Sorry, gentlemen, but we're closed."
Stubbs grinned evilly. "We know," he replied briefly, pushing the door open, knocking Collins off balance. "But we just can't wait."
Peabody followed a second later, closing the door behind him. "Surprise," he announced with a grin. "We're your friendly neighborhood jewel thieves."
After righting the tanker, Superman had decided to make one quick sweep of the city before heading home. He had just finished coaxing a kitten out of a tree when his attention was caught by a police report. It seemed that a pediatrics hospital upstate was being threatened by a fire. He briefly debated the wisdom of going so far away from Metropolis, but decided that it was worth the risk. Besides, it should only take him half an hour or so, and how much trouble could Lois get into in half an hour?
Absentmindedly bidding the kitten's owner good-bye, he took off; gaining some altitude before turning to the north. The 12-year old girl on the ground clutched her newly restored kitten and watched his flight, her mouth agape with delighted astonishment. That was *so* cool!
"Back against the wall," Stubbs ordered. Pete moved back obediently, concentrating on surviving this encounter. Store policy didn't call for employee self-sacrifice.
Mr. Tucci entered the main showroom from the back. "Peter? What's going—" He stopped, his eyes widening, as he took in the sight of his employee being faced with a gun. "What do you want?"
"Gee, a sandwich would be nice," Peabody quipped nervously.
Stubbs briefly glared at his partner in crime, then turned his attention back to his victims. "Never mind him — we want diamonds, rubies … you know, the usual jewelry store robbery. So open the safe and give us some goodies."
Mr. Tucci swallowed, his hands automatically reaching for his watch chain, a nervous habit.
"Don't move," Stubbs warned, moving towards the older man.
"What?" Mr. Tucci asked, not comprehending that his actions could be interpreted as a threat.
"I said, don't move," Stubbs repeated, backhanding the manager for emphasis. The older man collapsed in a heap. Collins started forward with a cry, but stopped when Stubbs brought his gun around to cover him. "That was a warning," Stubbs said, although he hadn't really meant to hit the geezer that hard. "So open the safe."
"I can't!" Pete replied, angry and worried for his boss. "He's the manager; he knows the combination; not me! I don't know how to open it!"
The Cozy Corner Drycleaners was open until 7pm on Mondays, later than usual, but even so, Lois barely made it there in time. The clerk looked disappointed to have his quiet evening disturbed, but she ignored that. "I need to pick up some shirts for my husband," she announced briskly, handing over the ticket stub. "The name is Kent."
The clerk took the stub with an unintelligible mumble of acknowledgment, and headed for the rear of the store to fetch the shirts. Halfway there, he suddenly turned, with a look of comprehension that quickly faded to a leer. "So you're Mrs. Kent, huh? I wondered what you looked like … " His eyes wandered down her figure, settling on her prominently bulging midriff. "Figures." With a snort of private satisfaction, he turned again and disappeared into the back of the shop.
Martha and Ellen turned twin mystified gazes to Lois, who shrugged in bewilderment. "I've no idea. Clark usually picks this stuff up on his way home from work."
In another minute, the clerk returned, once more with an air of bored disinterest. "There you are, all fixed up and ready to go."
Lois paid him and they left, still unable to fathom the clerk's attitude. Suddenly, however, Lois broke out into laughter. "I get it now." She turned to catch her mother-in-law's eye. "Clark is always needing buttons sewn back onto his shirts."
Martha nodded confused agreement, then her eyes began to twinkle as enlightenment dawned. "So he thinks that you and Clark—?" Lois nodded, and the two women collapsed into a fit of giggles, leaving Ellen to draw the inevitable conclusion.
"Lois!" she exclaimed, scandalized, "Don't tell me you tear his *shirts* off?"
"Damn, damn, damn," Stubbs swore with quiet passion. He paced from one side of the store to the other and back, but when he returned, the situation had not improved. The old guy was still on the floor. The younger guy said he was breathing, and that he'd live, which Stubbs was secretly relieved to hear. He hadn't meant to knock him out; who knew the old goat was so frail? So now they couldn't get the safe open, and the guy was not coming around, but the other one, he'd seen their faces real good. Stubbs was beginning to perceive a few flaws in his plan, but if there were any way to carry out the job, he was game. The money was too good to pass up.
"Hey, Stubbsie?" Peabody asked tentatively.
"Aw shaddup," Stubbs replied irritably. "And I told ya not to call me that."
"No, you gotta listen t'me," Peabody persisted, more forcefully. "I can crack that safe, I tell ya. I looked at it, real good, and I can do it!"
Stubbs squinted sullenly at his accomplice and weighed his options. He hated to do it, but … "Oh, alright. Give it a try, I guess it can't hurt nothing. And maybe this guy'll come around."
Peabody's face lit up. "Thanks, Stubbsie! I'll get it, don't you worry none!"
"Yeah, sure," Stubbs replied sourly. "But don't call me that!"
"You don't tear his shirts off?" Ellen demanded, as the three women walked along the sidewalk. "Well, then, what *is* it? What's so funny about buttons?"
Lois tried to stop giggling and come up with an explanation. "It's not funny, really, Mother, it's just my hormones, and Martha and I were talking earlier about, ah, clothes, and … " She ran down, her babble withering under her mother's penetrating glare.
"And what do your hormones have to do with Martha?" Ellen riposted with some spirit. "I'm sorry, Martha, I don't mean to be annoying, but I do feel as if I'm being left out of some private joke, evidently a very funny one, and I don't appreciate the feeling."
Lois and Martha both sobered at that, exchanging guilty glances. Lois reached out to touch her mother's arm. "I'm sorry, Mother. I didn't mean to exclude you." It was at times like these when Lois most regretted the barrier that Clark's secret had erected between herself and her mother. "But it's too complicated to explain, and it's not that important, anyway." She searched for a way to distract her mother. "What's far more interesting to me right now, though," she continued briskly, "is finding a bathroom — are any of these stores still open?"
"We can certainly find out," Martha replied quickly, just as eager as her daughter-in-law to change the subject. They walked on in silence, scanning the complex for open doors or other welcoming signs.
"Mazik's Jewelers has lights on," Ellen offered, but Martha shook her head emphatically.
"I won't go in there, Ellen."
Lois tuned out the conversation, gazing idly in the store windows as they passed the jewelry store. They were nearly past the store when Lois caught sight of something odd. She turned her head slightly and frowned; was that a body lying on the floor? Her instincts were screaming that something was wrong, and her brain kicked into high gear. She turned away from the store window, trying to act as if she hadn't seen anything. If ever there were a time for her to *not* get involved, this would be it. She consoled herself with the reflection that when she was safely away from the scene, she could call the police.
Ellen was continuing, oblivious to anything amiss. "For God's sake, how can you have had a bad enough experience that you won't even to go to the bathroom in there?"
"It's a long story," Martha replied stubbornly, "but trust me, we haven't had any luck with Mazik's."
Just as the three women passed the last window of the jewelry store, they heard a door open behind them. Lois squeezed her eyes shut in resignation. "Damn," she muttered, coming to a halt.
Ellen and Martha turned to see what was the matter, then kept turning, their eyes widening. "Lois," Ellen whispered hoarsely, "There's a man back there—"
"With a gun," Lois finished for her, squaring her shoulders and then turning to face him.
"Hello, ladies," Stubbs grinned evilly.
A few short minutes later, Lois, Martha, and Ellen had all been herded inside the store. They ended up standing in one of the front corners.
"I ain't gonna hurt ya, less'n I have to," Stubbs assured them, "but I can't let you go, neither, not til we're done and gone."
"You could have just let us walk past," Martha protested. "We hadn't even seen anything!"
"She had," Stubbs contradicted her, nodding his head towards Lois.
Lois winced, not quite daring to look either her mother or mother-in-law in the eye, and muttered, "Clark is going to kill me." She straightened her shoulders, and placed a protective hand on her belly. "Mom, Martha … let's just relax, and keep out of his way. He'll be done soon, and then we can go. And speaking of going," she added, with a determined look on her face. "I'm going to use the bathroom."
Stubbs saw the look in her eye and took the prudent course. "It's in da back. You come right back, though, and don't you even think of going nowhere," he added, "because these other two ladies is stayin' right here."
"Fine," Lois agreed, moving off in search of relief for her overstressed bladder.
"What's wrong with this poor man?" Ellen asked, suddenly, pointing to Mr. Tucci.
Pete Collins turned from where he'd been observing his boss's breathing. "They hit him — knocked him out! I can't get him to wake up." There was a note of panic in his voice.
Ellen got up, daring Stubbs to stop her from crossing the floor to Mr. Tucci's side. "I'm a nurse, let me have a look at him."
Stubbs observed them for a minute, then decided they weren't much of a threat. He turned his attention to more important matters. "How are you doing, Peabody?" Stubbs called out towards the back, keeping an eye on his hostages.
"I'll get it, pretty soon now, prob'ly … " came the muffled reply from the back of the store.
"Aw nuts. This ain't working." Stubbs looked speculatively at Collins, who was now standing against the wall while Ellen examined the unconscious manager. "Maybe you really can open the safe, after all, and you're just not telling me."
Pete Collins swallowed hard but stood his ground. "I'm just a trainee, I'm telling you. I *can't* open it. Look," he indicated the nearest display case. "There are ten Rolexes in there, they were supposed to go in the safe but I forgot. You can take them!"
Stubbs didn't so much as glance at them. "I don't want no cheap wristwatches, I got me one already."
Collins gaped at him. "But, but, they're—"
"Yeah, no wristwatches for us," Peabody chimed in loyally from the back of the room, although his voice held a distinctly wistful tone.
"Are you complete morons?" Ellen burst out, distracted from her examination and unable to contain herself. Didn't these cretins know how much a gold Rolex was worth? She started forward, indignantly.
"We're not too eddy-cated," Stubbs replied laconically, "but we do know a few things. Like how to use a gun." He turned the muzzle in her direction and she stopped short, her eyes widening in fear. Very slowly, she backed up until she was sitting next to Mr. Tucci once more.
"Thank you, ma'am," Stubbs smiled toothily, tipping an imaginary hat in sardonic courtesy.
Ellen finished her examination of the fallen manager and crawled over to where her daughter was sitting cross-legged on the floor. "He's not looking very good," she confided. "He really needs to be looked at in an emergency room, but I don't *think* he's in immediate danger." She looked around the store angrily. "Where in heaven's name is Superman when you need him?"
At the New Troy Pediatrics Hospital, forty miles north of Metropolis, Superman worked quickly to contain a roaring fire. He'd already evacuated patients and hospital employees from the two floors closest to the blaze; rescue workers were now clearing out the remaining floors of the affected wing. For an emergency situation, things were going relatively well, but Clark was driven by an internal urgency, a nagging worry that Lois was in trouble. He told himself that he was being paranoid, but directed all his efforts towards getting things under control as quickly as superhumanly possible. Soon the fire department would be able to take over, and three seconds after that happened, Superman would be back in Metropolis.
Lois closed her eyes and tried to meditate. It was difficult, mainly because Ellen was still muttering complaints and imprecations, twenty minutes into the situation, but Martha was trying to calm her, leaving Lois free to concentrate on her own well-being. Sitting cross-legged was not uncomfortable, especially with one of Clark's clean shirts rolled up to use as a pillow for the small of her back. Standing up again would be a challenge, but that was for the future. She opened one eye and peeked at her watch, then closed her eyes once more, going into the breathing exercises taught in the class. Very slow breath in, very slow breath out. In, out. In, out. This situation would not be helped by panicking.
"Lois, what is it?" Ellen's question, sharp with worry, intruded on the calm Lois had managed to achieve.
Lois opened her eyes and faced her mother. Their situation would not be helped by denial, either. "You know how I said we could just ride this out?" she asked softly.
Ellen nodded slightly, and Martha leaned in closer, drawn by the intuition that something had changed.
"We've just run out of time. I think my labor has started. And I refuse to have my baby in a hostage crisis — it's too damn cliched."
Ellen paled, looking around frantically in the hopes that the robbery would suddenly cease to exist. Martha reached out to touch Lois' arm. "Are you sure, honey?"
"I think so. I've had Braxton-Hicks contractions on and off for a while now; these are different. They're not too close together yet, or too hard to handle, though, so we've got a little time." She considered her options for a moment. "Martha, Mother, help me up." She held out her arms, and the two older women helped her struggle to her feet.
"Thanks," she said breathlessly, smoothing down her clothes and patting her belly in a reassuring manner. "Don't worry, baby. Mommy will get you out of this," she promised in a near whisper. Looking around, she saw that Stubbs was at the back of the store, checking on Peabody's progress. Before she could change her mind, she called out, "Hey, you!"
Stubbs looked around, surprised and displeased by the interruption. "What d'ya want?"
Lois stepped forward, her mothers trailing uncertainly behind her.
"I want to get out of here," she stated bluntly.
Stubbs laughed sourly. "Don't we all, but see, there's this little problem."
"Yeah, I know, you're having trouble getting into the safe. So I'm offering to help you."
"What?" Ellen protested, flabbergasted. Stubbs was scarcely less surprised.
Martha watched in fascination as Lois ignored her mother and pressed on. "Believe it or not, I know a few things about safe-cracking. I meet a lot of crooks in my job, and I was curious." Lois took a deep breath and bluffed. "Big Louie taught me everything he knows."
Stubbs looked distinctly skeptical. "You know Big Louie?"
She smiled, coolly. "I know guys who know guys," she quoted, remembering the man who'd helped her recover Clark's stolen possessions, four years previously. Seeing that Stubbs still wasn't quite convinced, she added, "Plus I played tennis with his daughter in college."
Ellen, ignored in the background, rolled her eyes and sagged against a counter. "For this," she moaned, "I paid four years of tuition … "
Stubbs mulled over the information, then looked back towards the safe. Peabody was mumbling to himself, and the safe was still closed. She could hardly do worse. "Okay, you give it a shot. But I ain't cutting you in on the loot."
"Oh, I understand," Lois agreed evenly. "All I want is to get this whole thing over with. Plus, this makes you more secure — you know we won't go to the police, because we'd be accomplices."
Stubbs grinned. "Yeah, that's right. Sounds like one o'them win-win situations t'me."
Lois began walking towards the back of the store, slowly, so as not to spook the man with the gun. "It's quite a coincidence, really," she stated conversationally. "Because I was just practicing my safe-cracking skills today." She passed Stubbs now, and looked back past him at Martha. "I was even teaching my mother-in-law a few moves."
Martha frowned for a moment, then her eyes widened. "Yes, that's right." Ellen looked at her as though she were crazy. "You interrupted us when you came over, Ellen."
Satisfied that Martha knew what she was getting at, Lois proceeded to the safe, and concentrated on remembering everything she'd ever heard about safe-cracking. She had investigated the subject once, two years ago, in a series on robberies. The trouble was, the main thing she'd discovered was that it was nearly impossible to crack modern safes, unless one used large quantities of explosives. But that really didn't matter too much — all she had to do was fake it until she got into a good position, and until her next contraction passed. They had been coming about every 10 minutes, and it had only been 7 minutes since the last one.
As if reading her mind, the contraction started then. The muscle of her uterus tightened. It wasn't painful, exactly, but it seemed stronger than the last one had been, and under her hand she felt her belly turn rock hard. Her instinct was to tense up, but she started breathing deeply and consciously relaxed her shoulders, arms and legs. When the contraction diminished, a minute later, she opened her eyes to find Peabody staring at her fearfully.
"Lady, what's the matter w'you?"
"Nothing," she reassured him, then smiled wryly. "It's just labor."
The fire finally under control, Superman sped down to the ground for one last word with the fire chief. Superman described what he'd done, and what work still needed done, then explained that if they could handle things from now on, he was needed elsewhere. The fire chief thanked him, but reassured him that her men were up to the task. Superman nodded, accepted thanks for his help, and then took off southwards in a blur of red and blue. He couldn't shake the feeling that Lois needed him.
"Stubbsie, the woman's in *labor*!" Peabody wailed, torn between worry for her and a revulsion at the thought of the biology involved.
Lois quickly took advantage of his queasiness. "Oh, this is nothing, just wait until my water breaks … amniotic fluid, all over the place … and you know, it's not just the initial gush, because my body keeps on producing it … "
Peabody swallowed hard, and backed away from her, almost involuntarily. "Stubbsie!"
Stubbs peered around the corner, trying to keep an eye on his hostages as well. "Will you relax?" he demanded, impatiently. "And don't call me that!"
A frantic look was his only reply, and Stubbs heaved a sigh. At the rate things were going wrong, he could obviously expect Superman at any moment, and that would almost be a relief. "Alright, Peabody, alright, you go out front and watch the rest of 'em, I'll keep an eye on her."
Peabody made a break for the door, pausing only momentarily to take possession of the gun. Lois busied herself with the safe door, and smiled. Now the odds were more even. She had worried about Martha going up against the larger man. Even with a gun, Peabody wasn't much of a threat. She glanced at her watch. Another 8-10 minutes to go before her next contraction, so she had to look busy during that time. She couldn't risk starting a fight when her own body had another agenda; the safest time to try something would be right after a contraction had passed. There was no way to coordinate with the women in the front room, but that couldn't be helped.
Martha began to pace slightly, suddenly keyed up. She mentally reviewed the Tai Chi moves she'd been taught, and tried to guess when Lois would make her move. Most likely, she'd want to wait until after the next contraction, but there was no way to predict when that would be. Peabody didn't object to her moving around, his attention torn between the front and back rooms, so she increased her pacing radius, examining her surroundings for anything helpful.
"Martha," Ellen hissed, "What is going on here?" She was sitting on the floor again, with her back to the front wall, keeping an eye on her patient.
Martha glanced at their captor, who hadn't seemed to notice the question. She moved a bit closer to Ellen and spoke, low voiced. "Lois taught me some self-defense moves. We've got to try to get the gun away."
"Are you crazy?" Ellen demanded in a frantic whisper. "Martha, after the baby shower incident, I don't know if I can take this kind of excitement!"
Pete Collins, overhearing, widened his eyes in horror. "You can't, ma'am; they'll hurt you!"
"Not if I do it right," Martha replied quietly, moving away from them again, so as not to attract too much attention.
Clark arrived home with a whoosh, adjusting his tie as he entered the townhouse. "Lois? Mom?" He walked over towards the kitchen, looking and listening for signs of life, anything to ease his nebulous fears. "Everything okay?"
One whiff of the aroma emanating from the kitchen caused him to smile; his mother had cooked dinner. But his smile faded quickly as he realized that Lois wasn't home. He moved towards the stairs, but paused when he found a note on the desk. "Gone for a walk with your mother and mine, be back soon, love, Me." Clark rolled his eyes, his worry unabated. "Lo-is!"
He spun back into the suit and flew a quick patrol above the immediate neighborhood, hoping to spot them from the air. When that didn't work, he hovered in place, instead, considering his alternatives. He listened intently, trying to hear his wife either talking, or laughing … or calling for help. Nothing. He had sometimes been able to track her by listening to her heartbeat, but that only worked when he knew where she was to start with. Tonight, unfortunately, he hadn't a clue.
Lois was running out of ways to fiddle with the safe controls when the next contraction hit. This one seemed stronger yet, and she bit back a moan. A second later, however, inspiration struck, and she groaned loudly. Loud enough, she hoped, to be heard in the front. She pressed her palms to the safe door and leaned into it, planting her feet widely apart, practicing one of the labor positions she'd been taught.
Stubbs saw her move, heard her groan, and frowned. This labor stuff made him uneasy, and he was starting to consider cutting his losses and just running for it.
Peabody winced when he heard Lois moan, moving a bit away from the back. Martha smiled grimly. Showtime. Her pacing led her to the display case with the Rolexes, and she stopped. "Oh, my, look at these," she commented brightly.
"Look at what?" Peabody asked warily, eager for a distraction.
"Those are the Rolexes I was talking about," Pete volunteered, standing up and moving closer so he could see them better. "That one there," he pointed, "is worth $15,000."
"Really?" Peabody asked, startled. "What kinda looney would spend that kinda dough on a watch?"
"I would," Ellen spoke up, not moving from her position on the floor. "If I had that kind of money, that is."
"Well, just look at how it's made," Martha invited Peabody to take a closer look. She turned to the young employee. "Could you take it out of the case for us?"
"Why not?" He asked, rhetorically, and reached for his keys.
Peabody drifted closer, torn between greed and disbelief. "There ain't no watch worth fifteen grand." His gun drooped, nearly forgotten in his hand.
"That's what the price tag says," Pete replied, matter-of-factly.
Lois felt the contraction subside, and heard a burst of voices in the front room. This was it. She turned the main wheel one more time, then cried out, "Got it!"
"Yeah?" Stubbs replied, startled. He moved closer to see for himself, and she backed away slightly, stretching her arms upwards. When they were even to one another, she struck, bringing her right arm down in a fast chop to the base of the man's skull. He bent slightly, and her kick caught him in the stomach, taking him the rest of the way to the ground.
Martha moved back, ostensibly to allow Peabody a better view of the watch Pete was holding. Then she swung at his gun-arm, startling him and making him drop the weapon. Peabody looked at her in astonishment, an expression that that only intensified when she followed up her arm chop with a strong kick to his solar plexus, just like in the exercise they'd practiced. He doubled over, letting her follow up with a knee to his face, which knocked him sideways.
Peabody stumbled to his feet and faced Martha once more. She held her hands up in what she hoped was a threatening posture, and his determination wavered. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Pete was there, throwing a punch that laid out the small thief.
Ellen scooped up the gun from the ground, holding it carefully, and they all looked at each other, exhilarated and delighted at their success.
Stubbs lumbered back to his feet, and Lois faced him from the other side of the room. She was more winded than she'd expected, and was hampered by her bulging midriff. He glowered at her, but seemed unwilling to attack a pregnant woman. "You don't wanna do this, lady," he growled.
"No, *you* don't want to do this," Ellen contradicted him.
Lois turned, surprised, to see her mother standing in the doorway, covering Stubbs with his own gun. Ellen entered the room slowly, moving towards her daughter, and keeping the gun carefully aimed. "Get on out to the front, Mr. Stubbs," she ordered. "This robbery is over."
Stubbs shook his head and gave in to the inevitable. He trudged back out front, and found Peabody standing in the front corner, guarded by Pete. Peabody looked at his partner sheepishly. "They hit me, Stubbsie … I'm sorry."
"Yeah, you're sorry alright," Stubbs growled, joining him in the corner. "And for the last damned time, don't *call* me that!"
As Ellen took up guard duty, Pete turned away slightly, calling out to Martha. "Have you found it yet? It's just a little button under the counter there … "
She peered closely at the indicated area, then smiled. "Yes, here it is." She reached under the counter, and suddenly an alarm siren blared out. Everyone in the store winced.
"Not that one!" Pete yelled, running over to where she stood. He fumbled under the counter, and just as suddenly, the siren stopped. "Sorry, I forgot about that one. I've hit the silent alarm now, the police should be here soon."
Lois looked around the store and had to laugh. What an unexpected bunch of crime-stoppers — even if the crooks in question were pretty dumb. She was the one with the most experience, and yet they'd rescued her. "Thanks, Mom!" She smiled broadly. Perhaps she'd been reacting unfairly to her mother.
Ellen smiled too, not looking away from her prisoners. "No problem, dear. That's what mothers do for their daughters. And at least you appreciated my help this time, unlike the way you complained and moaned about the baby shower, or the way you avoided discussing plans for your wedding … "
Then again, perhaps not.
Mere seconds later, Superman arrived in a whoosh and flash of cape. He surveyed the scene, ready to do battle with the forces of evil, and was somewhat nonplused to find that the bad guys were already under control.
"Oh, Superman," Ellen called out with false cheer, "So glad you could join us!"
Superman raised his eyebrows at the sight of his mother-in-law with a gun, then turned unerringly to Lois. She smiled wearily. "We're fine, Superman. Just a little adventure. The police and ambulance are on their way. And don't worry, the ambulance is for Mr. Tucci, not me," she reassured him, gesturing to the still form of the manager.
Superman crossed his arms over his chest, trying to mask the strong emotions he was experiencing. "You just had to go for a walk, huh?" he asked her quietly.
"Well, it wasn't supposed to get this exciting," she replied, with a rueful smile. "I just thought I'd get your, um … my husband's dry-cleaning —which is ruined, I'm afraid, so it'll need to be pressed at the very least, but I think we need to find a new dry-cleaners anyway — and then we were walking, and there was a *body* on the floor! I tried to ignore it, but I wasn't quick enough, and they noticed me, and, well … " she stopped, suddenly, as another contraction hit.
"What is it?" He asked sharply, noticing her change of breathing and posture. "Oh, God, you're in labor." He reached for her, panicked, but as soon as she felt him touch her, her eyes snapped open.
She grabbed his arm and held it, speaking with some difficulty. "I'm — fine. Just need — Clark," she stressed, glancing significantly up and down his red and blue outfit. "Can you — find him for me?"
"Yes, by all means," Ellen chimed in sternly. "A woman needs her husband at a time like this."
"I'd do like they say, Sooperman," Peabody concurred. "These dames is scary."
Superman grinned suddenly at his commentators. "Tell me about it. Okay, I'll find Clark, and set him down outside. He'll be here in no time. You sure you'll be fine for another few minutes?"
Lois breathed deeply, another contraction over. "I'll be fine for hours, honestly. All I want is for my husband to drive me to the hospital."
"Okay … " He left reluctantly, noting that the police were arriving on the scene. He'd have to remember to be careful when he drove up — the last thing he needed right now was a traffic ticket.
When Clark arrived at the store, a few minutes later, things were a flurry of activity. Mr. Tucci was being loaded into an ambulance, with Pete accompanying his boss. That left Martha, Ellen, and Lois to explain events to the police, who'd already arrested the two would-be jewel thieves. When Lois saw Clark arrive, her face lit up, and she hurried to meet him. Finally, they could embrace, reassuring each other that things were really okay.
Clark hugged his wife and child to him, holding as strongly as he dared, still shaken by her brush with danger. He never got used to that, and it was only made worse by the fact that he hadn't been there to protect her. After a moment, he pulled back, anxious to find out more about what had happened.
He was forestalled by a police officer. "Ma'am, we need your statement, then we need you to come downtown with us, for procedures."
Lois looked at him dismissively. "No, I'm sorry, I've got to—"
"Well, well, well," the policeman spoke suddenly, a look of enlightenment spreading across his plain features. "If it isn't Lois Lane! I knew you ladies looked familiar." He swung around to face the other women. "Mrs. Kent, Mrs. Lane, how nice to see you again," he grinned impudently. "You remember me, right? Officer Doyle — but you can call me Frankie."
"Yes, this is touching," Lois snapped back, recognizing him now as one of the officers who'd arrested her, two months previously. "But I've got to go to the hospital now, to have a baby, *if* you don't mind?"
"No, no, not at all," Frankie replied affably. "I'll just stay here and get reacquainted with your mothers."
Lois and Clark took their leave before he could change his mind. On their way out the door, they heard Peabody muttering to his cohort, "See, Stubbsie, I told ya these dames was scary!"
Check-in at the hospital was an uncomplicated affair, since they'd pre-registered as part of the childbirth class. The only delay, in fact, was in the form of contractions. By this time, they were strong enough that Lois could not keep walking through them.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Clark asked, helplessly, as she stood leaning against the corridor wall, finishing yet another contraction.
Lois took a deep cleansing breath and then smiled shakily at her husband. "I'm fine, this is normal; you know that. We should think of it as a good sign, really, that it's going this fast. I don't want to have to use Pitocin to stimulate labor if I can help it."
They continued walking, finding the labor room to which they'd been assigned, where a nurse would determine for surethat this was true labor, and not a false alarm. It was a private room, with a bed, a chair, and ample floor space for various pieces of equipment. They'd learned in childbirth class that they would remain in the same room all through labor and delivery.
"I just don't like seeing you in pain," Clark murmured. He'd helped to deliver babies a few times before, as Superman, but the fact that this was his wife, the woman he loved more than life itself, was scattering his wits and testing his mettle.
She smiled at him. "I know, but I'm tough, and remember, when we're together, we can handle anything. Being with you," she quoted him, "is stronger—" She paused, looking downwards incredulously. "Wow, that felt weird … "
"What, another contraction, so soon?"
"Nope. I think … " she looked down at the floor below her. "I think my water just broke."
"Oh. Did it hurt?" Clark asked half-fearfully.
Lois rolled her eyes indulgently. Men. How could a man, especially a superman, be able to take charge in almost any situation, and then be left fumbling by simple biology? Especially after all the books he'd read? It would be annoying if it weren't so cute. "No, it didn't hurt. Think you could find me a towel, honey? I'm dripping here," she prompted.
That galvanized him into action. The nurse entered the labor room just as he reached a cart piled high with various linens.
"Your water just broke, right?"
Lois looked up at the unexpected and friendly voice. "Oh! Yes, I think so." Clark retrieved a few towels, handing them to Lois.
"Well, that's a good sign," the nurse replied cheerfully. "My name is Judy, I'll be your labor nurse for the evening." She grinned at her own joke. "And you must be Mr. and Mrs. Kent, right?"
Lois hesitated fractionally, momentarily taken aback by the unfamiliar title. She had put a great deal of thought into choosing which name to use while registering for the hospital. Lois Lane, was, after all, her professional name. But this was definitely a family occasion, and she had finally decided that using her husband's name for this made her feel much more like they were a family. Besides, the baby would be identified by the name the mother registered under, and this baby would definitely be a little Kent.
"Yes, we are," Clark replied for her, finally finding his voice once more. "My name is Clark, and this is my wife, Lois."
"Pleased to meet you both," Judy smiled at them. "Now, Lois, let's get you out of those wet clothes. You'll need to wear this gown — nothing underneath it, please." She handed over a shapeless garment, nodding towards the far end of the room. "There's a bathroom through that door."
Lois took the gown with a dubious expression. "Clark, I may need your help with this … "
Downtown, Ellen and Martha faced the police station. Martha was briefly amused to note that it was the same one they'd "visited" last June, following the baby shower fiasco. "Well, here we are again, right, Ellen?" she joked, trying to cover her sudden case of nerves. Taking that childbirth class had been wonderful, but it had also pointed out the multitude of things that could go wrong — even when the mother and child were both entirely human.
"Please, don't remind me, Martha," Ellen replied testily, heading up the stairs and into the building with the resolute determination to run this gamut as quickly as possible. Martha followed more slowly. It had gotten dark, and while the entrance was well-lit, she preferred not to take chances on the stone staircase. Martha caught up with her and Officer Frankie just inside the front doors.
The 37th Precinct had not changed since their last visit; even the people sitting on the benches seemed familiar. "C'mon back here," Officer Frankie beckoned, "and I'll get your statements."
"Fine," Martha replied with a touch of nervousness. "Can we get this done quickly, please? My daughter-in-law is at the hospital, in labor, and I would like to be there … "
Frankie lifted his hands in a gesture half calming, half self-defense. Ellen smiled sympathetically. "Don't worry, Martha, we've got plenty of time. Fi rst labors take a long time, believe me," she emphasized, rolling her eyes at the memory. "Lois took forever. And that's assuming this is real labor, and not just a false alarm."
"Oh, this is the real thing alright," Judy announced from the bottom of the table. Lois and Clark looked at each other with a mix of triumph and terror. "Lois, you're about fifty percent effaced, I think, and four centimeters dilated. You're doing great."
Judy backed away from her examination, and Lois repositioned herself on the bed. "Stay put there for a little bit, Lois. I want to hook you up to an external monitor for a few minutes." The nurse wheeled a cart next to the bed and fished out a bundle of wires. "This'll give us a gauge of how strong your contractions are, and we can keep an eye on the baby's heartbeat, too, to make sure baby's fine. Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?"
"No, we couldn't tell," Lois replied, watching as Judy expertly fixed two convex plastic monitors to her belly with two strips of elasticized material, like colored Ace bandages. Wires from the monitors led to the machine on the cart, and as the devices were plugged in, lights sprang into view.
"Okay, we're in business. See this number here?" Judy pointed to an LED readout. It was blinking on and off every few seconds, with the number constantly going up or down by a few digits. "This is the baby's heartrate. It's hovering around 138-140, I see, and that's normal. When you have a contraction, that heartrate will drop a bit, and that's normal too, as long as it comes back up afterwards. This monitor over here," she pointed to the readout beside the first, "measures mama's muscle stress. It's low right now, because there's no contraction, but when the next one comes along, you'll see this number rise. The actual values aren't too important, but it'll be a way to compare. And that, in turn, is charted on this." she held up a skinny printout that resembled a seismograph chart, or a chart from a polygraph.
"Hey, Clark," Lois joked, holding his hand tightly, "doesn't that remind you of when Trask made us all take polygraphs, a couple of years ago?"
He laughed, more as a release of tension than any inherent humor. "Yeah, I remember. He was looking for Superman, and I was *so* nervous." They shared a glance of private amusement at that. "You weren't, though, you were so cool … " He glanced over at the readout. "Hey, look, the line jiggled when you laughed."
She laughed again at that observation, watching the needle jiggle over the graph paper. "Well, if this is really the real thing, you've got some phone calls to make — we need Dr. Klein!"
"How long is this going to take?" Martha paced the confines of the interview room. The officer had begun to take their statements, but had been interrupted by other business.
Ellen checked her watch. "He said he'd be back within five minutes, and it's only been two minutes. And when he's back, we'll finish up our statements, sign them, and leave. It won't be too much longer."
Martha looked at her in surprise. "How can you be so calm? Our *grandchild* is being born, without us!"
"Hah, trust me," Ellen stated, "they're barely getting started. And they won't want us in there with them anyway."
Martha was distracted by this. "You don't think they'll let us in?"
"Well, they might," Ellen allowed, "but I doubt they'll pay much attention to us." A moment later, she spoke again, low voiced. "I was just remembering when I had Lois. They wouldn't let Sam in with me, they didn't tell me anything, and with the pain medication, I was barely conscious for most of it. Still, when they put her in my arms for that first time … That is not something I will ever forget. She was so tiny, so perfect." She paused for a moment, lost in thought. "Sam wanted a boy, of course," she continued, tossing a glance to Martha.
"He didn't say that, did he?" Martha asked, taken aback.
"Oh, yes, he said it." Ellen's smile was brittle. "Sam never was tactful. Not that Lois minded at the time, of course, but I wish I could have kept her from hearing it later. Still, she's done very well with her life. It's just amazing how much they change — and how much attitudes about childbirth have changed. What was your labor like?"
"I, ah … " Martha cleared her throat, unprepared for the question. "Clark was adopted."
"Oh, God, I knew that. I'm so sorry." Ellen winced at having broached a painful topic.
"No, it's alright, Ellen," Martha assured her. "I got over being upset by my infertility a long time ago. I regret that I missed out on some things, but … we were very blessed to have Clark." She smiled, and turned the subject to a more pleasant topic. "I remember the first time I held him; he was so cute! Bigger than a newborn, of course, and he already had a full head of dark hair … "
"You're doing great, Lois," Clark reassured her in a low voice, as she finished another contraction. He helped her walk back to the bed in the center of the room. They'd been changing positions frequently, which helped things to progress and kept Lois relaxed.
She smiled shakily. "Easy for you to say. Can you get me something to drink? I'm parched. It must be all that mouth-breathing."
Clark looked over at Judy, who nodded. "The best way to quench that thirst is to suck on ice chips — there's an ice machine out in the hallway, just for that purpose."
"Sounds terrific," Lois mumbled, and leaned against the bed. She'd heard that they wouldn't let her eat or drink much during labor, and she understood why, but at that point she would have killed for a cream soda.
On Clark's way out the door, he nearly collided with Dr. Alyssa McGrath, Lois' primary obstetrician.
"Finally, you're here!" Lois exclaimed. "I thought I'd have to have this baby without you!"
The doctor laughed. "Oh, you don't need me for much. Judy can handle most of it. But since I'm here, let me have a look."
Lois submitted to yet another examination of what had previously been a very private region, and was rewarded by good news. "You're doing terrific. Six centimeters dilated, and ninety percent effaced!"
"I should hope so. This is hard work!" Lois managed to joke.
Clark returned, and offered Lois a mouthful of ice.
"Well, it's going to get worse before it gets better," the doctor reminded them. "You're nearly into transition, and that's the toughest part of labor. The contractions get longer, and harder. And your body might want to push, but you can't, because your cervix isn't yet fully open. If you push, you might bruise it, and it will swell, and things will take much longer."
"We know," Clark nodded. "Lois, I think this is your last chance for pain medication?" He looked inquiringly over at the doctor, who agreed.
"If you want an epidural, Lois, this is the point of no return. Any later than this, and it won't have time to take effect."
"Yeah, well … " Lois considered the question, as she'd been considering it for months. She'd never been able to make up her mind, though; between villains and deadlines, who had the time? "Oh, here comes another one."
She sat up on the bed, crossing her legs for balance and grabbed Clark's hand. He began counting out the seconds of the contraction. The recent ones had been running about 45-55 seconds. She began doing her breathing as Clark murmured encouragement in her ear.
When the pain subsided, she looked up into Clark's concerned gaze. "What do you think?"
He hesitated. "It's your call, honey. You know I'll support you, whatever you do. And I think you've been handling this amazingly well, but I'm not the one in pain."
She took a deep breath. "Well, so far, yeah, I can handle this. As long as you're here … "
"I'm here, Lois," he vowed. "No matter what."
"Then I don't want to cloud this experience with drugs." She squared her shoulders and repeated, "I can handle this. I'm tough."
"So then I grabbed the gun," Ellen explained, with exaggerated patience, "and I went to see how Lois was doing. She was in a standoff with the larger man — Stubbs, you said? — and I held the gun on him. Then Martha hit the alarm, and … there we were until you people arrived."
Officer Frankie made sure that Rosa had that all down, and then turned back to the women with a bemused look. "So how is it, Mrs. Lane," he looked over her upscale outfit, "that you know so much about handguns?"
"A long time ago, I was the wife of a fashionable doctor. And it was briefly fashionable to know how to shoot." She glanced at Martha as she spoke, unsure of the other woman's reaction.
Martha smiled sympathetically. "Well, I was glad you knew how to use it. I've only ever used rifles and shotguns. Are we ready to go, now?"
Rosa pulled the sheet out of the typewriter and presented it for their approval. They skimmed it over, and then signed it at the bottom.
"We may still need you at the trial, you understand," Frankie amplified, "but it shouldn't be any big deal. They'll probably plea bargain."
"Whatever," Ellen sighed. "Now can we *please* leave?"
"Ladies, you are free to go. Thanks for your help."
" … and in other news, a local jewelry store had an attempted robbery this evening. The would-be thieves were apparently held at bay by three women — one of them in labor, aparently — who managed to get their gun away from them and who held them there until the police, and of course, Superman, arrived … "
Lex Luthor watched the footage taken at the scene and recognized Ellen and Martha. He raised an eyebrow. "Ah, Lois, that be you in labor, then?" he murmurred appreciatively. "You always did have that certain flair." He leaned back, thoughtfully. He had failed in cloning Superman, and he had let Lois slip away from him. It suddenly occurred to him, however, that their baby presented new opportunities. He would have to consider this carefully.
As Martha and Ellen finally arrived at the hospital, they were surprised to overhear a man asking the receptionist where he could find Lois Lane. They exchanged quizzical glances, establishing that neither of them recognized him. He was short and small of stature, dressed in a long, black coat of archaic style, and carried a bowler hat. Ellen frowned and stepped forward, but before she could accost him, he turned, and his face lit up.
"Ah, good, good!" he exclaimed happily. "Mrs. Kent, Mrs. Lane, what a pleasure to meet you both!"
"And you are?" Ellen inquired frostily. Her daughter might know any number of questionable people (Big Louie, indeed) but that did not mean that Ellen Lane was prepared to be on speaking terms with them all.
"Oh, yes, quite," the strange little man chuckled, his high spirits not in the least quelled. "Allow me to introduce myself. H.G. Wells, at your service." He bowed, sweeping his hat before him in a dramatic arc.
Ellen stared at him for a moment, then pronounced, flatly, "You're a lunatic."
Martha raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You don't look like H.G. Wells."
Ellen rolled her eyes. "Martha, don't encourage him!" Ignoring them both as hopeless, Ellen stalked off towards the hospital front desk.
"Have we met?" Mr. Wells asked, with an interested expression. "I don't believe I recall … "
Martha crossed her arms and assumed a challenging expression. "Yes, I've met Mr. Wells, but he was a good bit older, and—"
Mr. Wells laughed again, interrupting her. "Do you know how much you resemble your son when you do that? Quite comical, really. But I believe I see the root of our confusion. Yes, that was me, but, ah, an older me. Apparently I continue my journeys for quite a few years, according to dear Lois, and I can't tell you what a comfort that is to me. I've been having a simply smashing time, lately, visiting various incarnations of … well, that's of no importance." He lowered his voice and looked around significantly. "You see, it occurred to me that this is, as it were, the birth of Utopia, and I simply could not resist a quick visit."
Martha regarded him in bemusement. He seemed to act like H.G. Wells, from what she'd seen, and she did recall, now, hearing that Clark and Lois had encountered both a younger and an older version of the same man. At any rate, he scarcely seemed dangerous, so she gave up and decided she might as well believe him.
"Come on, Martha," Ellen called out from over at the desk. "Lois is in room 218. It's this way … " She was clearly impatient.
"You go ahead, Ellen, thank you," Martha replied, less nervous now that she was in the right building at least. "I'll be there in a moment."
Ellen shrugged and left, and Martha turned back to her companion. "So, you've been to the future, correct?"
"Oh, my, yes, many times. Beautiful there, really." He lifted his shoulders and shot a quick glance upwards in wordless appreciation. "May I accompany you?" Without waiting for a reply, he began slowly walking off in the direction Ellen had taken. "I don't want to interrupt Lois while things are, ahem, in progress, but I would so like to be somewhere near, and be apprised of their status."
"I think that can be arranged. So tell me … " Martha asked as they walked. "Is this baby a boy or a girl?"
Mr. Wells laughed. "Oh, no, Mrs. Kent, oh no. I couldn't tell you that. You'll just have to wait and see. I can tell you, though, that it won't be that much longer, so just have patience!"
"Clark, I don't think I can do this anymore." Lois' voice held a distinct note of panic. The transition stage of labor had started, and the contractions had gotten longer, closer together, and more painful.
"You can make it, Lois," he encouraged her, squeezing her hand gently. "Remember, you and I together can handle—"
"Easy for you to say," she snapped, snatching her hand away from his grip. "All you've ever had to deal with was—" she broke off, looking around for Judy. The nurse was at the other side of the room, so Lois continued in a quiet hiss. "The worst thing you've ever faced has been Kryptonite, and trust me, that was nothing compared to this!"
"I believe you, honey," he replied fervently. "But then you've always been tougher than me, anyway."
Lois laughed breathily at that. "You think so?"
He smiled. "I know so. So what can I do to help you? Do you need more ice, or a back rub?"
She squared her shoulders, regaining her determination. "A back rub would help, I guess."
Ellen poked her head into the labor room. "Clark?" she called softly. She could see that Lois was standing with her face to a wall, leaning into it for support, and Clark was right next to her, massaging her lower back. Not a false alarm, then, she concluded.
Clark looked around briefly, and waved her into the room. "Glad you made it."
"They are so slow at that police station," Ellen complained bitterly, not noticing the startled glance she earned from the labor nurse. "But never mind that. How are you doing, Lois?"
Lois didn't turn around. "Fine," came the muffled reply, with a note of what could have been sarcasm.
"Well … good. Can I get you anything?" Ellen offered, for once reluctant to intrude.
"Some more ice chips would be good," Clark suggested. "There's a machine down the hall, next to the waiting room."
"Okay, then … I'll be right back." She returned momentarily with a cup of ice, but when she heard Clark's steady voice counting, she realized that they were paying her no attention. Leaving the cup on a table, she retreated to the waiting room; she had a phone call to make, and she suspected that Martha would want to make one, as well.
"C'mon honey, you can do this. 45 … 46 … 47 … 48. Just a couple of more contractions, then you can begin to push … 60 … 61 … 62 … Okay, now the contraction's peaked, it's ebbing away now … that's it, it's going down … 76 … 77 … 78 … Whoops, it's coming back up! You can do this, Lois, you're tough, just do your breathing. No, honey, don't try to push, you're not ready to pushyet … 92 … 93 … 94 … okay, there it goes, now … it's on its way out … just relax, honey, it's over, you're doing great. Deep cleansing breath, there we go, you're fine."
Phone calls made, silence reigned in the waiting room. It was a slow night in the hospital, apparently; Martha, Ellen, and H.G. Wells had the place to themselves. Ellen had shared what she'd seen, Sam and Jonathan had been called, and now it seemed there was nothing they could do but wait.
Lois lay back, panting, trying to recover her breath. This transition stage of labor was just murder. The contractions were long, hard, and way too close together. She already regretted snapping at Clark, though; this wasn't his fault. Well, in a way it was, she supposed, but she was equally responsible for getting into this condition. She looked over at him guiltily.
He caught her glance and smiled. "It's okay, Lois, I can take it. You can swear at me if you need to."
She breathed a faint laugh. "Nah. I'll save that for — midnight feedings."
Judy watched them, and had to smile to herself. She loved her job most of the time; bringing new babies into the world was a never-ending thrill, but she especially loved it when the parents were as close, emotionally, as these two were. Some fathers couldn't take the delivery room, or weren't at all supportive; some mothers seemed angry at the world, or withdrawn. The trust and love between the Kents, however, was palpable. Somehow, that always gave her hope for the future.
It was time to check on their progress again. Judy approached them as unobtrusively as she could and examined Lois once more. She smiled. "Okay, Lois, congratulations, you've made it through transition. You are now ready to push."
"Oh, thank God," Lois groaned. She'd been feeling the need to push for the past few contractions. The books she'd read on childbirth had mentioned that she would feel an "urge to push" but they had failed to explain that it was more like an overpowering, involuntary movement. It had taken a great deal of willpower *not* to push, to suppress her body's instinctive reactions, and her muscles had still spasmed a few times. With Clark's assistance, she changed positions once more, pulling up into a modified squat on the bed, so that she'd be working with gravity, not against it.
Judy talked her through the first contraction of the new stage, counting to eight while Lois pushed, then insisting that she relax for a moment before beginning again. "That was great, Lois," she commented as the contraction ended. "You're nearly there — the pushing stage is sometimes as short as half an hour. Stacey?" She directed one of the other nurses, "Run tell Dr. McGrath that she's getting close. Lois, you just relax as much as you can."
Lois sagged back into Clark's strong arms. "This isn't fun anymore," she mumbled. "And where the heck is Dr. Klein, anyway?"
The quiet of the waiting room was disturbed by the hasty arrival of one very distracted scientist. "Is this where Lois is having her baby?" He was a balding, middle-aged man, mild in appearance with the startling exception of a well-worn black leather jacket.
"Who are *you*?" Ellen cried, startled by his dramatic entrance. All in all, she was *not* having a good evening.
He looked at her, affronted. "I'm Bernard Klein. Who are you?"
"Ellen Lane, and I just happen to be Lois' mother."
"Well, I just happen to be her doctor. Sort of."
Martha jumped up from her quiet conversation with H.G. Wells, and moved forward with a smile. "Dr. Klein, I'm pleased to meet you. Clark's told me so much about you."
"He has?" Dr. Klein looked vaguely panicked for a moment, then his face cleared. "Oh! You must be his mother … I've wanted to meet you, actually; you've done a terrific job with him. Is your husband here?"
She shook her head. "Not yet, he didn't want to leave the farm this close to harvest time, not when we didn't know when to expect the baby. But I called him, and we hope he'll be here by morning."
Dr. Klein smiled. "Maybe Superman could give him a lift."
Ellen regarded them impatiently. "Why do I get the feeling you two know something I don't?" For a moment she frowned, subject to a fleeting sensation of deja vu, then shook it off. Of course this hadn't happened before, she'd have remembered it.
Klein looked startled, but before he could speak, Wells interrupted. "I expect it's something private about Clark, Mrs. Lane; Dr. Klein is, I believe, in the way of a family physician to them both." He glanced over at Klein with a twinkle in his eye.
"Well, yeah," the researcher replied, thoroughly confused now. "Who are you?"
Ellen groaned and massaged her temples. "Don't ask."
"Okay, Lois, *push*, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Relax, now, take a breath and *push*." Clark talked her through another contraction, then wiped her face with a damp washcloth. "You're doing terrific, honey," he whispered in her ear. "Have I told you how much I love you?"
"Once or twice," she replied, trying to relax between contractions. "There's no way — I could do this — without you." She was sitting on the bed now, with Clark sitting behind her, supporting her. The bottom of the bed had been removed in a curved section that allowed the labor nurse to observe the baby's progress.
"You're doing really well, Lois; when you push, I can see the baby's head — looks like he or she will have a nice head of hair." She grinned up at the young couple. "I'll set up the mirror. That way you can see, too."
"A time traveler?" Klein repeated skeptically.
Wells nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, yes, yes. It's fascinating, if occasionally somewhat harrowing. Once, in the American West, I was accosted by a group of ruffians in a tavern; luckily for me, Luisa—"
"That's impossible," Klein interrupted, refusing to be sidetracked. "The laws of physics just don't allow it."
"Ah, that's where you're wrong, you see. There's a little known principle, a loophole, if you will, and that's what I take advantage of with my flux facilitator … "
Across the room, Ellen leaned back with a martyred sigh. "They're both lunatics."
Martha smiled. "No doubt," she replied soothingly, "but they're harmless, I'm sure. After everything else we've faced tonight, this can't be that bad!"
Ellen smiled reluctantly. "No, I suppose not. I'm just … worried about my little girl." A movement at the door to the waiting room drew her eye. "Oh, God," she muttered, "who next? Sam!" She stood quickly, and crossed the floor to greet her ex-husband. "I cannot believe how glad I am to see you."
Sam laughed. "It must have been a bad day if seeing me is an improvement." Despite his brusque words, however, he offered her a comforting embrace.
H.G. Wells looked up, breaking off an explanation of his time traveling machinery. He checked his pocket watch, and creased his brow with concern. Turning to Dr. Klein, he murmured, "It's almost time. You'd better get in there."
Klein swallowed hard. The closer he got to the whole childbirth experience, the more sure he was that he didn't wish to share it. However, he'd promised to be there to examine the baby, just in case, and a promise was a promise.
"Are you ready, Lois?" Judy smiled at her encouragingly. "It looks to me like this baby's made up its mind to come out. Stacey, we need Dr. McGrath now."
Lois nodded once emphatically, too tired to explain that she was more than ready for labor to be over. Pushing was better than transition — at least now she had something proactive to do, rather than just endure, but pain was pain and enough was enough.
"You've been amazing," Clark whispered to his wife. "I just can't tell you how much I love you right now."
"You can show me later," she puffed softly, then grimaced. "Much later."
Clark wrapped his arms around her shoulders and hugged her gently. "Lois, you're incredible. Nothing I have ever done has been one tenth this … " he stumbled for words, then fell back on the obvious, "amazing."
"Hah," she laughed, her eyes gleaming with love and mischief. "Don't think — I won't remind you — of that."
Stacey hurried back into the room. "I've put out a call for Dr. McGrath. She was finishing up another delivery, but she should be here soon … or they might have to send someone else if she's busy."
Clark frowned at that suggestion. Before he could protest, though, another gowned figure entered the room, and amidst the hospital-blue cotton, Clark made out a familiar face. "Dr. Klein, you made it!"
"Dr. Klein?" Judy echoed. She didn't know this one, but maybe he was one of Dr. McGrath's partners. "The head's crowning, Doctor, and I've prepped her for delivery. Do you think she needs an episiotomy?"
Dr. Klein's eyes opened in horror at the question. "Ah, no!"
Judy cocked her head quizzically. "Don't you even want to have a look?"
"No, no, no, no, no … " he backed up, a note of panic in his voice. "I'm not an obstetrician!"
"Who are you then?" Judy demanded severely.
"He's a friend," Clark intervened hastily, reaching out to snag the researcher before he backed completely out of the room. "He is a doctor, but, ah, he's a pediatrician, so he's here to look at the baby."
Judy eased off, but lectured. "Pediatricians don't normally check on the babies right at birth, you know." She eyed him up and down for a minute, noting his stance right inside the door. "Oh, alright, it's okay if they want you here, but stay out of our way."
Dr. Klein nodded fervently and did his best to melt into the wall.
Now that Ellen had Sam to support her — or at least distract her — Martha thought it would be safe to visit Lois in the delivery room, so she slipped out of the waiting room and down the hall. She was so excited about this baby that it was hard to contain herself, and she wanted very badly to be part of its birth. Although Clark had been everything she could have wanted in a child, she still, deep down, held a wistful regret that she had missed out on one of the central experiences of womanhood.
She had barely entered the room before the doctor arrived, and with her, chaos. Organized chaos, Martha trusted, but seeming chaos nonetheless, in the form of several more nurses. The hospital personnel moved throughout the room, moving various pieces of equipment to presumably useful locations. Propped up on the bed, Lois pushed through a contraction.
"Six — seven — eight," the nurse chanted. "Now relax, that's good."
The doctor assumed position at the end of the bed, between parted and elevated legs. "Okay, now Lois, this next one is going to be it, I think. The head was nearly out on that last one. Can you see in the mirror?"
Twin nods were her only answer from the couple on the bed. Time seemed to slow as everyone in the room awaited the next contraction.
Lois squeezed her husband's hand, hard, communicating that the next wave was starting. "Here it comes," Clark informed the doctor, who flashed a reassuring smile.
"Almost there, kids!"
Martha found that she was holding her breath.
"Okay, Lois, this is it," the labor nurse repeated. "Now, push!"
Lois bore down with all her remaining strength, holding onto Clark's hands for dear life, her eyes glued to the mirror. As she pushed, she saw the baby's head come into view once more, further than before, further … just as she was certain she'd collapse from the strain, the head was free, cradled gently by gloved hands. Suction was quickly applied to free the infant's nose and mouth of amniotic fluid; this appeared to startle the baby, who began gasping for air.
"One more big push, Lois," the nurse reminded her, and she complied. As the doctor and nurse steadied the baby's head, it turned, and the shoulders slipped free. Once that wide point was clear, the rest of the infant slid out easily, and Lois relaxed, sobbing with happiness. A higher note joined in, as the baby found its lungs.
"Listen to that," Dr. McGrath exclaimed in satisfaction. "And let's see … Lois, Clark … Congratulations, you have a daughter."
Clark hugged his wife tenderly, as a rush of emotion left him speechless. She smiled up at him in wordless understanding; she was experiencing the same thing herself.
After that moment of clarity, the room reverted to an atmosphere of purposeful chaos, and seeing that she wouldn't be missed, Martha slipped out. She had to contain herself from running back to the waiting room, and her smile was big enough to make her cheeks ache.
One look, in fact, told Ellen and Sam a lot. "They've had the baby?" Ellen asked excitedly.
"Yes!" Martha confirmed joyfully. "And it's a girl!"
Ellen and Martha hugged briefly in celebration. "A little girl — that's wonderful," Ellen burbled.
Martha laughed, disentangling herself. "I'm so excited. I haven't been this excited since … they told me they were pregnant! Oh! and I have to go call Jonathan again! " She rushed over to make the call that her husband had been waiting for.
Forgotten in the corner, H.G. Wells smiled contentedly and fingered his hat. "And so, it begins … "
"Time of birth," Judy called out, looking at the large wall clock, "1:53am, Tuesday August 18th. She's got a healthy cry, and her skin is a nice pink."
"You're not done, Lois," Dr. McGrath reminded her, "you still need to push for me a little bit, to deliver the placenta. Clark, would you like to cut the umbilical cord?"
Clark shook his head. "You're the professional, doctor." Logically, he knew that the cord had no nerve endings, and that the cut would harm neither his wife nor his daughter, but a residual disinclination remained. Besides, Lois still had a firm grasp on his hands, and he didn't want to leave her before she was ready.
"Okay, that's fine," the doctor responded, still working on cleaning things up.
A nurse approached the new parents. "Here are your ID bracelets," she fastened one to Lois' wrist first, then to Clark's. "The baby will have one too, that's how the staff will know who she belongs to."
"I want her in the room with me," Lois spoke up with some effort.
"Yes, she'll be rooming in with you, that's all arranged," the nurse soothed, "but we'll need to observe her in the nursery for just a little bit tonight while you're being moved to your recovery room, and even after that, she may need to take little trips."
Clark inspected his new bracelet. It was a strip of clear plastic containing a handwritten slip bearing the words "Baby Girl Kent" and various other pertinent data; printed on the plastic was the word "Father". He checked his wife's, and found it to be identical except for bearing the word "Mother" instead. We're parents now … amazing …
Meanwhile, Dr. Klein was trying valiantly to gain a glimpse of the newborn, but he was fended off by the delivery room team, who were expertly cleaning, weighing and measuring the baby. "Six pounds, 12 ounces!" an anonymous blue-gowned figure announced. "And 18 inches long." Another nurse wrapped the squalling baby in a diaper, some plain cotton clothes, and a receiving blanket, putting a cap on her tiny head as well, for good measure.
Preliminary observations done, Judy picked up the newest Kent and carried her over to her parents. "She had an Apgar score of nine out of ten, Lois, that means she's very healthy. Smaller than I'd have thought, especially for an overdue baby, but there's nothing wrong with that."
Lois held out her arms to receive the noisy bundle, paying little attention to the nurse. "Hello, little treasure," she cooed softly, and was rewarded by an abatement of the baby's cries. Tiny eyes fluttered open, seeking the source of the familiar sound. "Do you know my voice, precious? You've been hearing it for months, haven't you?" Lois crooned, in a tone of voice she barely recognized, herself. It seemed to reassure the baby, however.
Clark leaned over and tentatively stroked one of the baby's cheeks with his forefinger. "Hi there … I'm your daddy, and this is your mommy."
The baby's head moved jerkily towards the contact, and her mouth opened in an "o". "Ah, I've heard about that rooting reflex," Lois chuckled gently. "Let's see if we can put that to work." Awkwardly, she shrugged one shoulder out of her gown and put the baby to her breast. The infant needed help maneuvering into position, but then latched on with an eagerness that surprised Lois. "Oh!"
"Does that hurt, honey?" Clark asked anxiously. They had agreed that breastfeeding would be the best start they could give to their child, but neither of them were entirely convinced that it would work.
"Nooo … not really," Lois responded cautiously. "It's just strange, that's all. Look at her go!" For a moment, the newborn suckled with enthusiasm, but then she seemed to lose interest, and relinquished her grip in favor of looking around. "Clark, would you like to hold her?"
Gingerly, Clark picked up the tiny bundle; even supporting her neck, he scarcely needed more than two hands to hold her. "She hardly weighs anything," he whispered, awed.
Lois covered herself up again. Modesty had momentarily lost all meaning, but she was beginning to feel chilled. One of the nurses, anticipating this common reaction, wordlessly placed a heated blanket over the new mother's lap. Looking down, Lois noticed with vague surprise that the doctor seemed to be done. She looked around the room, trying to assess what was happening, but she was interrupted by Clark's excited whisper. "Lois, she's looking at me!"
She looked over at her husband, and realized that the baby did, indeed, seem to be staring straight into her father's face, a serious expression on her tiny features. "She's checking you out," Lois replied, laughing softly. At the sound, the baby closed her eyes briefly, and reopened them to stare directly at her mother. Lois, in turn, submitted to the infant's examination. "Yes, honey, we're your parents. This is what we look like. This is what you're stuck with."
The baby, of course, offered no comment, but after a long moment, she closed her eyes and appeared to drift off to sleep.
Clark looked at his wife, his eyes glowing with love. "I think we passed."
"I love you, Clark."
"I love you, too."
"A girl," Lois repeated dreamily as she regarded the baby nursing herself to sleep in her arms. The morning sunlight shone into her private room, and Clark sat relaxing in the room's only chair. Even with the baby in the room with her, she had managed to get some sleep during the night. She hoped Clark had done the same, but her attention was firmly caught by her beautiful, miraculous daughter.
"It's hard to believe, isn't it," Clark commented softly, watching them with a smile that was so contented it was very nearly smug.
"She's so tiny, so … dependent!" Lois tore her eyes away from the baby to lock gazes with her husband. "We have so many responsibilities to her! It's kind of terrifying, you know?"
He nodded. "I know. But we'll take them one at a time, and we'll be fine. Dr. Klein finally got to look at her, by the way, right before they brought her in here," he added. "As far as he can tell, she's perfectly healthy."
"Oh, good," Lois replied, relieved. "She is kind of unprecedented," she commented unnecessarily.
"Yeah, but she's fine," Clark reiterated. "And speaking of responsibilities … we have to fill out the birth certificate. Do you still like the name we picked for her?"
"You know, I think it suits her perfectly." The baby finished nursing, her head tilting away in utter relaxation. Clark gently picked her up, letting Lois cover herself.
Clark smiled at his newborn daughter. "Yes, it's perfect. Just like her."
"Then it's settled," Lois nodded, watching as Clark laid the baby in the hospital bassinet, which was adorned by a pink sign identifying the occupant as Baby Girl Kent. "I can live with that; it sounds good. 'This is my daughter,'" she intoned, practicing for the future, getting used to the name, "Her name is—"
"Hello, in there, everyone decent?" Ellen's cheery voice preceded her into the room, although not by much, as she didn't wait for an answer.
"Yes, mother, thanks for asking," Lois replied, hastily pulling up the hospital gown.
Ellen bustled up to the bed, completely missing the nuance. "Good morning, sweetie. I didn't get much sleep, but who could sleep with such excitement. Oh, there's my little princess!" She had the grace to moderate her tone a fraction when she noticed that the baby was asleep.
Lois looked over at Clark, seeking emotional stability in the face of Hurricane Ellen. He quirked an eyebrow at her and smiled wryly. "I guess visiting hours have begun."
Sure enough, Sam soon followed, eager to bond with his granddaughter, who stubbornly refused to wake up, sinking instead into a deeper sleep.
"Looks like she's a sound sleeper," Sam observed.
"The nurse assures me that newborns often are," Lois replied, hiding her own irrational fear that this was a symptom of some awful condition. "She had a pretty rough day yesterday, after all."
"Yeah, guess so," Sam conceded hastily, not liking to dwell on that subject. "Lois, I just wanted to tell you, well … " he hesitated, fumbling for words. "I wanted to say how proud I am of you."
"Oh, Daddy," Lois whispered, suddenly close to tears.
"You've done so well in your life, with a great career, and a great husband, and now a beautiful little girl … " he seemed close to choking up, himself, as he stared at his granddaughter. "I know you outgrew the need for my approval years ago … I know I was never the sort of father you needed, but … well, I'm proud of you, that's all."
"Thank you," Lois managed. "That means a lot to me." She smiled up at Clark, who had joined her on the bed.
Ellen smiled as well, pleased at this detente between father and daughter, but quickly changed the subject. "So, have you decided what to name her?"
"Actually," Lois answered, smiling now with a touch of mischief, "we have."
"Well, tell us!" Ellen cried impatiently.
"Tell us what?" came a jovial voice from the doorway.
"Jonathan!" Lois smiled broadly. "You made it!"
Martha followed her husband into the room. "You didn't think he'd miss this, did you? He caught a late flight," she added, winking at her son.
"How lucky for him," Lois replied, beaming. "Jonathan, what do you think of your granddaughter?"
"She's beautiful," he answered proudly, standing by the side of the bassinet, watching her sleep. "What did you name her?"
"That's what I was just asking," Ellen replied, not quite able to conceal her impatience. "Maybe now they'll tell us."
"Okay, okay," Lois laughed. "Now that everyone's here, we can announce it."
"It was a tough choice," Clark interpolated. "We discussed a *lot* of names over the past few months."
"Jimmy even ran a poll on the Internet, on the Daily Planet webpage" Lois agreed with a giggle. "About 400 people voted, and we got some good suggestions that way."
"It was tough to narrow it down to some top contenders, even now that we know she's — well — a she." Clark smiled again, unable to contain his joy in his little girl. "We considered naming her after one of her grandmothers—"
Martha smiled at that idea, but Ellen looked uneasy, glancing sideways at her newfound rival.
"But then we thought that might not be very diplomatic," Lois continued for him. "And the thought of yelling "Ellen Kent!" or "Martha Kent, get in here, right *now*!" just seemed a little weird," she added with a grin.
"Not to mention disrespectful," Clark chimed in. "So we abandoned that, but then that still left a huge number of possibilities."
"So we tried to think of other traditions," Lois explained. "I kind of like it that all the women in my family have "L" names — Ellen, Lois, Lucy," she recited unnecessarily. "Heck, even Lucy's middle name — Olivia — is sort of an "L" name. And Clark's family," she added with a twinkle in her eye, "also has a tradition of "El" names … "
Clark smiled, but shook his head and murmured, "I was never too close to that branch of the family."
"Did you consider any other types of names?" Martha asked, patiently, willing to feed Lois the occasional straight line.
"We were thinking of a nice, strong, traditional name, like Elizabeth, or Katherine, or Jessica, or Mary," Clark replied, smiling at his mother.
"But Elizabeth reminded me of Beth Luthor," Lois reminded him, "and while she seems nice, it's just a weird situation. And I like Katherine, but I will *not* have a child nicknamed Kat."
Ellen and Sam looked somewhat nonplused by this refusal, but accepted it. Martha frowned meditatively. "There are lots of nicknames you could use with Katherine. I think Kay might be nice … "
"And then I remembered a story you'd told me, Martha." Lois smiled at her mother-in-law.
Martha frowned inquisitively, and Lois turned to explain things to her parents. "See, when Martha and Jonathan took Clark in, as a baby, Martha's family jumped to the conclusion that he was the, um," she glanced sideways, unsure if she were about to reopen old wounds. "Unfortunate side-effect of a youthful indiscretion."
"You mean a bastard," Sam spoke up helpfully. "Most likely a teenage pregnancy; those weren't too acceptable in the early 60s." He looked around at the array of disgusted looks. "What? What'd I say?"
"Anyway," Lois persevered, "Martha's family thought that she was doing something bad instead of something good, and they cut her off — refused to have anything to do with her. Except for her favorite aunt."
Jonathan put an arm around his wife as Martha started smiling, seeing where this was going.
"This aunt, see, she stayed in contact, and visited whenever she could. She was pretty much Clark's only extended family on that side, and he loved her a lot." Lois' voice softened. "She died 20 years ago, but she's still remembered very fondly. And when I heard about her, I knew that's the sort of woman I wanted my daughter to be. Someone loving, but strong, too. Someone who will do the right thing, no matter what."
Clark smiled tenderly at his wife. "With you as a mother, Lois, how could she be anything but?"
"Well, anyway," she blushed, "We agreed that this would be a great name for our daughter." Lois declared, then gestured for her husband to do the big announcement.
Clark smiled broadly. "Everyone, say hello to … Laura Lane Kent."
That evening, Lex Luthor sat brooding in his study next to the fire, frowning meditatively at the paper. A small noise caught his attention, and he turned his focus on his wife, who was sitting across the room, reading another of her novels. A house full of books, that was what she'd said she wanted, and she had gotten that. He wasn't entirely sure what else she might want, but she seemed content with what she had. And she seemed to love him. He pondered that for a moment, turning the concept around in his head, dispassionately examining it from all angles.
It had been a very long time since anyone had loved him. Many had wanted him, he knew that, and had called it love, but those he discounted. They had merely been willing to trade their bodies for his assistance in various endeavors. Even Lois had merely been dazzled, and that had been more than enough for his purposes. Possession was surer than passion. With Beth, however, it seemed he had both. A curious sensation, to be loved.
He hadn't believed it of her at first, of course. She had used him just as he'd used her — he could understand that, and as long as he'd gotten the better of the bargain, he was satisfied. He'd even had to respect her determination and bravery. He knew that on some level, she still feared for her life, and that was merely a testament to her intelligence. She understood him more than most. And yet, still, she loved him. He shook his head in bemusement, then returned to his paper.
A small article caught his eye. So, Lois had given birth to a daughter. Would the child inherit any superpowers? The possibilities enticed him, but there were difficulties. For the child to be useful to him, it would need to be separated fromits parents, and that would be quite a challenge.
Lex Luthor lived for challenges, especially when the potential for reward was this great. There might be a way …
He chuckled softly, and Beth looked up from her book. "What is it, Lex?" she asked quietly.
"Nothing," he murmured, then contradicted himself. "I was just thinking … Have you ever considered children?" He laid the newspaper down on the table, carefully placing the Lane-Kent birth announcement face down.
Beth's eyes were wide, wary. In a voice caught between hope and fear she repeated, "Children?"
"Well, yes," Lex replied briskly, getting up from his chair. "It is common for married couples to at least discuss the subject," he teased in an affectionate tone.
"I, ah … that is, I hadn't really … " Beth blushed, obviously unsure how to respond.
Lex crossed the room to her chair, and gently pulled her up into an ardent embrace. He enjoyed her ready response. No, this was not calculation on her part; Beth was following her heart. The realization was deeply satisfying. "You were saying?" he rasped out when he finally broke the kiss.
"I never even thought of being pregnant," Beth blurted out, still affected by her husband's ardor and her own response.
"Well, as to that, my sweet," Lex replied, giving one final glance to the discarded newspaper as he guided his wife towards their bedroom, "I had actually been thinking more along the lines of … adoption."
Clark closed the door on the last of the visitors and leaned against it in mock-exhaustion. He looked across the hospital room to see Lois grinning at him from her bed.
"Did the crowd tire you out, honey?" she inquired, her voice dripping with false concern.
"I never knew we knew so many people," he replied, moving further into the room. "Thank God the nurse came and told them morning visiting hours were over." He stopped at the bassinet, smiling down at Laura, who was looking around quietly.
"Well, I was just about to kick them out, anyway," Lois declared. "I am ready to ditch this joint, and for that, I have to change clothes, and quite enough people have seen me naked this week." She climbed out of bed carefully, and allowed her husband to help her across the room to sit in the room's extra chair. She began going through the bag she'd brought to the hospital.
"It was nice to see Perry, though," Clark commented idly.
"And Jimmy and Penny," Lois concurred. "It hasn't been that long since we were visiting *them* in here," she added with a laugh, still searching. It was a small bag, how could her green top have gotten this lost? "I about had heart failure when Mr. Wells showed up, though."
Clark laughed. "Me too. I was sure he'd come with bad news again."
"But it was nice of him to visit. And watching him argue with Dr. Klein was fun. Aha!" Lois crowed, pulling the top out of the bag triumphantly. "Now all I need are my jeans — oh, and here's the baby's going home outfit." She handed it to her husband. "Think you could get her into this?"
Clark accepted the tiny scraps of yellow and white cotton with a smile. "No problem." Gently and deftly he began maneuvering the baby's tiny arms and legs into the outfit. "Is there a hat to go with this?"
Lois watched her husband handle their daughter and had to wipe away a tear. He looked so *happy*, so natural. As if this were what he was born for.
"Lois?" He turned towards her, seeking an answer to his question. "A hat?"
"Oh! A hat, yeah … " She dove back into the bag. She hoped that she would soon feel as competent as he looked. "Although it is August … "
"Oh, yeah … well, as long as we keep her out of the sun."
Lois stood and pulled off her bathrobe. She was glad she'd brought it — the hospital gowns were so drab. Now, however, she felt confident enough to reassume real clothes. Unfortunately, they were still her maternity clothes; stretched out muscles and skin didn't snap back immediately, and she still looked about six months pregnant. She sighed.
Clark glanced her way and divined the reason for the doleful sound. He considered reassuring her, then decided that she probably wouldn't believe him, or would take it wrong. Distracting her might work better. "I was glad to see that jewelry store guy — what was his name?"
"Mr. Tucci," she replied, brightening up. "Yeah, I was worried about him, so it's good to know that he's doing better. And he said he's thinking about promoting Pete Collins," she grinned. "The very least the man ought to get is a bonus, from what your mother tells me."
"I think he'll be rewarded," Clark opined. "Do you have the baby blanket?"
"Right here," she replied, pulling out the dark blue blanket that had once cradled baby Clark. "This ought to protect her."
Clark accepted the blanket, picking up Laura and wrapping her in it. "What a journey this blanket's been on. From Krypton, to Kansas, to Metropolis — from one generation to the next … "
Lois, now fully dressed, stood and crossed the room, embracing Clark from behind, leaning her cheek against his broad back.
He smiled at her over his shoulder. "And this is really just the beginning. We'll have more kids —"
"You can have the next one, honey," Lois offered in a generous tone.
"Thanks," Clark grinned. "But think about it. Our kids will have kids, and they'll have kids … and they'll change the world for the better."
Lois smiled slightly, watching the baby sleeping in her husband's arms. "I guess that's every parent's hope for their children."
"Yeah. And we'll make it happen, too. Because between you and me … there's nothing we can't do."
Clark turned in her arms, transferring his smile from his daughter to his wife. Leaning down, he sealed their future with a kiss.
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) 1998 to the author.