By Christy <Attalanta@aol.com>
Submitted July 1998
Summary: What if Zara and Ching hadn't found Kal-el until after Lois and Clark were married? A prequel to the author's fanfic "AKA Daddy."
Like many of my other stories, this had to be rewritten because of a computer problem; happily, I like this version better than the first. I want to thank Zoomway for her post to the list about the song "The Man on the Flying Trapeze." Also, while writing the scene with Lois and the woman with the baby on the plane, I thought of the TV show Murphy Brown. In it hard-bitten reporter Murphy Brown becomes a single mother. She's fairly devoid of motherly instincts and watches (and takes notes-"sway, sway, pat, pat, pat") while a male friend quiets her newborn son. Finally, the song "Even Now," sung by Barry Manilow, can be found on the CD entitled Even Now. As usual, the characters aren't mine, but the story is. All feedback is welcome.
"There is an ancient Kryptonian saying: 'on a long road, take small steps.'" — Jor-El to his son in The Foundling
"He is The One and he is ready," the woman said in a strong, assured voice.
"I am sorry, Your Highness, but I cannot agree," the man seated next to her answered. "I know that he is the one we are looking for, but I am in doubt as to whether he is ready."
"Well, *I* am not doubtful. And we have no more time to waste watching him," the woman responded, slightly annoyed.
"But, Your Highness, he still has the same silly, sentimental attachments to Earth and its inhabitants that we first observed," the man protested again.
"Ching!" the woman barked harshly at him. "He is ready and now is the time. We cannot afford to wait any longer."
Arching her back and stretching her arms out in front of her, Lois Lane woke up. Inhaling deeply, she realized why her steady, dependable husband wasn't lying in bed next to her as he had been every morning for a year now. Strawberry pancakes, she guessed as she climbed out of bed and headed downstairs. Lois smiled as she reached the kitchen and was greeted with a pleasant sight — her husband, his back to her, totally engrossed in preparing breakfast.
"Happy anniversary," she said as she came up behind him at the stove and circled her arms around his waist, laying her head against his back.
"Lois!" Clark complained. "You're supposed to be sleeping. I was going to surprise you with breakfast in bed," he said, gesturing to two trays on the table. Each tray held two plates, one with pancakes and fresh fruit already arranged on it; glasses of orange juice; steaming cups of coffee; and a thin vase that held a delicate, still-closed rose.
"That's all right," she told him. "I can just move everything onto the table." As she spoke, Lois was already relocating the plates. "Unless you want me back upstairs," she told him in an innocent voice, her eyes wide with innuendo.
Clark caught her double meaning and smiled. "Don't tempt me, Lois. I've worked too long on breakfast."
She smiled wickedly back at him and walked toward him. "So you cooked this the slow, old-fashioned way?"
"Yup. And I'm just about done," he added as he placed the last two pancakes onto the empty plate, handed it to his wife, and the two of them sat down at the table.
Hours later breakfast had been eaten, and Lois and Clark were settled down in their family room with an unusually thick Tuesday edition of the Daily Planet when they were surprised with a knock at the door.
"If that's Perry…" Clark muttered in mock threat under his breath as he rose from the couch to answer the door.
"Why would it be Perry? He *did* give us the day off." After two months of working six- and seven-day weeks to break the story that now graced the front page of the Planet, Perry had given the stunned pair a Tuesday, which also happened to be their one-year anniversary, off. "If it is Perry," Lois added as an afterthought, "why would he come here? Wouldn't he just call and tell us to come in?"
"I don't know," Clark said as he opened the door. "Can I help you?" he asked their visitor.
Although Lois couldn't see who it was from her position on the couch, she could tell from her husband's tone of voice that it was someone he didn't know. Straining her neck, Lois tried to see who was there.
"It would be much more convenient," an imposing voice said, "if we could come in and explain the situation to you."
"I'm sorry, but I don't…" Clark began.
"Don't know us?" a more feminine, but still commanding, voice answered. "But we do know you, Kal-El, and soon you will know us as well."
Even from her perch in the family room Lois could hear Clark gasp as the stranger spoke his Kryptonian name. Rising quickly from the couch, Lois hurried to her husband's side. Standing on the other side of the door were two dark-haired strangers, a man and a woman, dressed in tight-fitting clothes.
"Who are you?" she asked in a low voice as Clark ushered the strangers into their house and closed the door hastily behind them. "Why did you let them in?" she asked him quietly.
He swiftly pulled her aside. "What was I supposed to do?" he asked. "They know who I am. Who knows what else they know?" he explained as they stepped back in front of their strange visitors. Clark offered them a seat on the couch, and as they sat down, the woman again addressed Clark.
"Kal-El, my name is Zara and this is Lieutenant Ching. I know this will come as a surprise, but, like you, we are survivors of the planet Krypton," she said seriously.
With eyes and mouth wide open, Lois turned to Clark, who was sitting next to her on the couch, across from Zara and Ching.
"How… ? How did you survive?" Clark asked.
"You see, Kal-El," the woman began, "Ching and I, along with several other Kryptonians, were on a space-exploration mission when our planet exploded. We were only babies, like you, but we were on the mission with our families. When we returned to our home we found nothing, not even the remnants of a planet."
"You mean there are more Kryptonians like me?" Clark asked, astonished.
"Many," Zara continued. "So we searched the galaxy for another hospitable planet that we could call home. Finally we found one, but it was a far cry from Krypton. New Krypton is a desolate, barren space rock compared to our beautiful, fertile former home, but it *is* our home. Several months ago, though, an evil man named Lord Nor attempted to take over our small planet. And, unfortunately, he does have a legitimate claim on the throne of New Krypton."
"But why are you here?" Clark interrupted again. "Why are you telling me all this?"
"You see, Kal-El," Zara began before being interrupted yet again.
"I'm sorry, but my name is Clark, Clark Kent," he told her. "Not Kal-El."
"Of course," Zara said hurriedly. "As I was saying, Lord Nor has a claim on the throne. You see, I am not simply Zara — I am also the ruler of New Krypton. I was born of the house of Ra, which was believed to be the only remaining Kryptonian nobility. And since nearly all Kryptonians were killed by the planet's explosion, my father chose me, his only surviving heir, to continue his reign after his death. Unfortunately, when my father decided I should rule, he had to amend the Kryptonian Code of Law, which states that all rulers of Krypton must be married to a member of another noble house. You see, since there were no nobles left besides my family, there was no one for me to marry. So my father changed the Code and he and I signed it into law. But Lord Nor discovered that we did not follow proper procedure, which states that a change in the Kryptonian Code of Law must be approved by *both* current ruling houses. There was a long, tedious legal battle as to whether I could rule New Krypton alone, and I am afraid the outcome was not favorable. The courts decided that, if I was to rule, I must be married to another noble, as the old law states, or change the law following the proper procedure. This means that we had to get either the signature or hand in marriage of another member of Kryptonian nobility. And, unfortunately, it seems that Lord Nor is the only nobility left, making him second in line for my hand in marriage. Do you understand, Kal… er Clark? I must either marry Nor or have his permission to change the law, which, of course, he will never grant."
"I don't understand," Clark told Zara. "You said that Lord Nor is second in line to the throne. So what about whoever's first in line? Is that Lieutenant Ching here?"
Ching, who had been listening obediently, snorted loudly at Clark's question. After a harsh glance from Zara, he looked away apologetically.
"That is why we are here," she said to Clark in a kinder voice. "You, Kal-El, are first in line."
The flight to Smallville was a silent one; Lois's arms were wrapped around Clark's neck, but he already felt a million miles away. Even though he assured her that he wasn't going to New Krypton, that he wouldn't leave her, she knew better. Just the fact that he hadn't brought up the subject on their flight from Metropolis to Kansas was proof enough for her, but adding to her certainty was that he'd told Zara and Ching he would be back in Metropolis in the morning. He hadn't said he would leave then, but Lois knew he would, and she guessed that Zara knew this as well. Lois had even brought along her purse and a suitcase packed with some of her clothes, *just in case* she had reason to stay with the Kents. Since Clark hadn't commented on her luggage, she'd guessed that he, too, knew he would be going, but neither wanted to admit it aloud.
Just before she and Clark reached Smallville, Clark tilted his head in a familiar pose.
"What is it?" Lois asked, breaking the moratorium on conversation during their flight.
"Plane crash." Speeding up, he reached his parents' farm and gently deposited Lois on the ground before taking off in a blur. Lois raised a hand to shield her eyes as she watched his retreating figure in the sky, then walked toward the farmhouse, where she knocked on the door and was greeted by a very surprised Jonathan Kent.
"Lois!" he exclaimed. "Is everything okay? We weren't supposed to have lunch with you and Clark today, were we? Where *is* Clark?" Jonathan peered through the screen door.
"Where is Clark?" she repeated. "That's always the question, isn't it? 'Where is Clark?' Right now he's probably halfway around the globe rescuing a cat from a tree or some other 'important' superhero-ish activity. The big question, Jonathan," Lois ranted as she walked into the house, "isn't 'where is Clark?' but where will Clark be tomorrow, next week, next month? *That* only Clark can tell you."
Hearing Lois's unexpected voice, Martha walked to the door to find her husband, a confused look on his face, and her daughter- in-law. The two embraced in greeting, Martha looking worriedly over Lois's shoulder at Jonathan. "What is it? Is there something wrong?" Martha asked Lois.
But she refused to elaborate, instead disappearing into the house.
"They must've had a fight," Jonathan said quietly to Martha before they followed Lois inside, Martha raising her eyebrows knowingly at her husband.
"So you're going?" Martha asked her son as she cleared away the lunch plates.
"I didn't say that, Mom," Clark reminded her.
Looking at Martha, Lois rolled her eyes. "But you didn't say you *weren't* going," she pointed out. "You can't fool me, Clark, and you can't fool your parents either. Even though you aren't saying you're going, we can tell that you want to."
"I can't help it," he admitted to them. "For some reason, I just feel this incredible pull to go help these people. Even though they're strangers, I feel this connection to them that I just can't describe. I've gone my whole life without ever embracing another Kryptonian," he explained. "Not only have I never met anyone I'm biologically related to, like other adopted kids, I've never even met anyone from the same planet as me. I mean, I love you guys — all of you," he added quickly, not wanting to hurt either his parents or Lois. Martha and Jonathan smiled their understanding, but Lois merely looked away. Clark continued, "Added to that curiosity is the plain fact that they need help and I'm the only one who can help them," he despaired, setting his head in his hands. After a long pause he looked up again and scooted his chair closer to Lois's. "Zara said that they only need me to sign this new law — I won't be gone for long and they really do need my help, but if you don't want me to go," he told her honestly, "I won't."
"In other words, this is *my* decision," she answered back bitterly, looking anywhere but at her husband and clouding the hurt in her heart with the anger in her voice. Martha laid a hand on Lois's shoulder.
"No, Lois, it's my decision," Clark corrected gently, "and I'm not trying to pass it off on you, but I need you to know that I'll stay if you say the word."
Lois shook her head. "I don't understand, but I do think you should go," she told him after a tearful pause. "God, Clark, I know they said that you'd be able to come back after everything is over, after you sign their treaty or whatever, but what if something happens? You could die there, you know," her voice cracked.
"I know," he said weakly, "and I've never really been afraid of being physically hurt before, but I just can't say no, not to them."
Lois rose from her chair and stood behind Clark, placing her arms around him. He stood to meet her embrace and she could feel his tears run down the back of her neck as she held him.
"I don't know, Clark," his mother said as she passed around cups of coffee after dinner. "I mean, a reason for Superman to leave the planet, that's easy — you can just tell the truth," she reminded him, "but what about you?"
"I don't understand why you even have to give an explanation," Jonathan said, taking a sip from his coffee cup. "People disappear all the time for no particular reason."
"I don't think that'll work, Dad," Clark disagreed. "If I just disappear, without an alibi so to speak, people will think something happened to me, that I'm dead or was kidnapped or something, and then they'll want an explanation when I come home. I mean, if the police get involved with a search and everything, I'll have to lie — big time — when I get back. Or people might think that I'd left Lois, and no one would ever believe that I'd leave her, or that she'd take me back without a viable explanation of where I'd been," he lamented, his thoughts jumbled.
"That's for sure," Lois agreed, biting her lip in thought.
After several minutes of silent contemplation, Jonathan piped up, "Anyone mind if I turn on 'The World News'?"
"You can't miss that program for anything, can you?" Martha admonished, but she found the remote control and flipped the news on anyway. The four Kents watched a stoic anchorman report about that night's world problems: a virus ravaging Ethiopia, the ruler of some Asian country even Clark had never heard of stepping down from his throne amid controversy, the final report of the circumstances surrounding a plane crash that had happened several months ago in Japan…
"That's it!" Lois exclaimed in the middle of the plane crash story.
"What's it?" Clark asked, confused.
"The plane crash you helped out with when we were on our way here," she reminded him. "Where was that plane going?"
"I'm not sure, some airport around here, I think," he told her, still unsure what she was getting at.
"Well, we'll have to find out if that's true, of course — it'll probably be on the local news, or we can call the airlines," she said, deep in thought for a minute before continuing. "Okay, here's what we say — there was a family emergency here in Kansas so you flew out — maybe a sick aunt or uncle," she suggested, "and so the plane crashes, right?" she reminded the three Kents, who nodded their heads uncertainly. "So Clark, who was on the plane, was seriously hurt, and now he's in a coma," she concluded with a proud smile.
"Lois, that's a great idea!" Clark exclaimed, jumping up to embrace his wife happily. "And then when I come back, no matter how long it takes, we can say that I woke up from the coma. It's brilliant!" Lois smiled with pride, and she and Clark went upstairs to concoct a statement that Superman would issue to the press about his sudden departure from Earth.
Early the next morning, Lois watched as Clark said good-bye to his parents, their eyes tearing when they embraced. Finally, he finished with them and turned to his wife. Although they'd said private good-byes the night before, Lois clung to her husband, nearly ripping his cape from his suit. "Lois, I'll be back," he assured her in a wavering voice. "I'm not leaving you."
"I know," she said quietly, but held him harder anyway. "Just come back," she reminded him as they parted. "Come back to me."
He nodded, kissed her one last time before turning away, then disappeared into the hazy dawn. Watching the quickly disappearing figure as intently as she'd watched him sleep the previous night, Lois felt her knees weaken, threatening to give way beneath her. Jonathan and Martha hurried over to support her between them, and they waited there until Clark disappeared over the horizon. They then headed slowly inside, and Lois went back upstairs to bed.
Some time later, Lois awoke from oft-interrupted sleep and went downstairs. Martha was in the family room sewing a button on a work shirt of Jonathan's, and Lois sat down beside her on the couch.
"Are you okay?" Martha asked her, stopping her sewing to place an arm around her daughter-in-law's shoulders.
Lois nodded but said nothing, and Martha resumed her sewing. Lois watched Martha until she finished mending the shirt and was about to stand up. "I should probably call Perry," she said in a quiet voice.
"You probably should," Martha agreed and got up from the couch. She returned with the cordless phone, which she wordlessly placed on the coffee table in front of Lois before heading back into the kitchen.
Lois toyed with the phone for a little while before sucking up her courage and dialing the number for Perry's office at the Daily Planet. The phone rang twice before Perry snatched it up with a gruff greeting of "Daily Planet, Perry White here."
"Perry?" Lois said tentatively.
"Lois!" he barked. "Where in the Sam Hill are you?! I only gave you and Kent one day off, you know. This isn't gosh-darn summer vacation!"
"Perry?" Lois began again.
"Lois, is something wrong?" Perry asked, surprised that Lois hadn't yet argued back at him or offered an excuse as to why she and Clark were late.
"Perry, Clark was in an accident," she began her fib, and heard Perry inhale sharply as she continued. "We got a call yesterday that there was a family emergency here in Kansas — that's where I'm calling from — so he took the first flight here. I was planning on staying in Metropolis, but then I got a call… Perry, the plane he was on crashed. Superman got there, but only in time to pull some of the survivors from the wreckage," she told him quickly. "Clark… Clark was hurt badly, Chief. He's here in a hospital near Smallville, and he's in a coma. I'm here now, with him, and I don't know when we'll be back…"
"Oh gosh, don't even think about comin' back here yet, Lois," Perry assured her. "You should be with Clark, ya hear me? Just stay there in Smallville and help him get well."
"Thanks, Chief," Lois told him tearfully before pressing the disconnect button on the phone and dissolving into a full-blown sob.
Lois awoke early and, after changing quietly, went downstairs. She tiptoed to the kitchen and fixed herself breakfast, pouring orange juice into a thermos and spreading a generous coating of strawberry jam onto a toasted bagel before quietly heading outside. Hoping a long walk in the woods behind the Kents' farmhouse would clear her head and calm her, Lois waved as she passed the open door of the barn and spied Jonathan milking a cow. Noticing an old, beat-up tree house, Lois veered off toward it, forgetting her planned walk for the moment. She remembered Clark mentioning the tree house on a few occasions, but she'd thought little of it except to remind herself of what an idyllic childhood he must have had, complete with a tree house, like something out of 'Leave It to Beaver.' Lois reached the base of the tree that supported Clark's childhood escape and looked up, grinning at the weathered wooden sign nailed on the door to the small room: The Fortress of Solitude.
Lois walked around the tree, looking for a ladder, but found none. All she could see was a weathered rope looped gently over one of the tree's thick branches. She tugged at the rope and it unwound, revealing both its whole length and the fact that it could not be used to reach the tree house. At one end, the rope was attached to an old tire, and at the other, the middle of the tree house. The tree that supported the tree house wasn't very good for climbing, Lois noted with disappointment — she could have used the gymnastic skills she'd developed after years of lessons to reach the tree house. After walking around the tree once again, she headed toward the barn to ask Jonathan about a ladder. But when she got there she was unable to find him and resorted to looking for a ladder herself. Eventually Lois found one among several farm implements leaning against the back wall of the barn. She was just beginning to wonder how she would be able to carry the awkward ladder to the tree house by herself when Jonathan came back into the barn.
"Need some help?" he asked her, placing the bucket he was carrying on the dirty floor of the barn.
Lois nodded and explained why she needed the ladder.
Jonathan laughed. "There used to be another rope, one you could use to climb up into the tree house, but when Clark started developing his powers, he didn't need it anymore and untied it so he could be up there alone." He helped her carry the ladder out of the barn and lean it up against the tree. Lois climbed up while Jonathan held the ladder firmly in place from below and, after telling her to call him when she was ready to move the ladder, went back into the barn to finish the morning chores.
Lois ducked slightly as she entered the tree house through its door and turned around, surveying its contents. Several old posters advertising carnivals and school plays papered the boards of its walls. Lois smiled when she noticed one particularly large poster that took up nearly half of one wall. It advertised a circus that had come to Smallville one summer sometime in the seventies (the last number of the year had faded into illegibility) and depicted the athletic figure of a man with a faded red cap unfurled behind him. His hands grasped a trapeze and he looked as if he were flying, his back arched and his chin up. The poster's caption included a few lines Lois recognized to be from an old song, "He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring young man on the flying trapeze. His movements are graceful, all the girls he doth please, and my true love he's taken away."
Besides the posters, several dusty glass jars sat on a makeshift table. Lois picked one up and wiped it off on her jeans, revealing dried, crackly leaves that looked to be about as old as she was. She set the jar back down and picked up a wooden box with an old lock. She tried to lift the lid of the box, but, noticing it was locked, she retrieved the dusted-off jar and slammed its lid into the lock, breaking it. "Must have rusted through," she murmured with a sad grin, remembering when Clark had once used that same excuse to explain to her how he'd gotten a lock open.
The first thing in the box that caught her eye was a spider, which scurried into the harsh daylight as soon as she lifted the lid of the box. Lois dumped out the contents of the box, hoping that no similar surprises lay lurking for her. She sifted through a little boy's treasures: several notebooks filled with elementary-school printing, a few old keys, baseball cards, marbles, a yo-yo, a half-taken-apart watch, and a few comic books. Disappointed, Lois replaced the items in the box and refastened the lock as best she could. She sighed loudly and was about to head toward the door when she happened to look up. Just beneath the faded American flag that covered much of the ceiling, she saw a glowing globe floating near the ceiling. She held her arm up toward it in a vain attempt to reach it and, to Lois's surprise, the globe floated slowly toward her and came to a rest in the palm of her hand. She brought her hand down, but the globe floated down in front of her on its own accord. She reached her hand out and touched the glowing sphere, its green maps of earth transforming into unfamiliar red land masses.
At her touch, the figure of a middle-aged man appeared from the globe and spoke to her. "My name is Jor-El, and you are Kal-El, my son," he began, and instantly Lois remembered Clark telling her about the globe over a year ago, before they were married. When they bought their house he'd promised to bring it back from Smallville since they had more room and a more spacious secret compartment than his former apartment, in which they'd lived for the first eight months of their marriage. But Clark had forgotten to bring the globe back each time they'd visited his parents in Smallville, and Lois hadn't remembered to remind him about it. She watched the globe as it went through the messages Clark had told her about. She was relieved when Jor-El said that Earth was "a planet physically and biologically compatible with Krypton." She and Clark had had several discussions about children — mostly about whether it would be possible for them to have a baby together, not about when that possibility would become a reality. Lois had enough confidence in Jor-El's scientific know-how to believe that she and Clark were "compatible." After all, he *had* built the spaceship and advanced navigational system that had sent Clark to Jor-El's planned destination. Lois smiled gently as the message from Jor-El ended. But the globe was not finished.
To Lois's surprise, the globe floated down and came to rest in her hand once again, and, as Jor-El had, another figure, this time of a woman, appeared in front of Lois. She immediately recognized the woman as Lara, whom she had seen helping Jor-El in what seemed to be a scientific laboratory during the earlier message.
"My name is Lara, and I am Kal-El's mother. Just as Jor-El feels a need to tell our son of his Kryptonian heritage, it is my mission to teach him, and his life's mate, about the Kryptonian soul. Because Jor-El is more scientifically and historically minded than I, he was responsible for what he deemed the 'necessary' messages about the Kryptonian race. But I believe that one's true essence is found in the heart, not the mind, and I have decided that these messages are *my* duty. Although Jor-El and I did send an unmanned probe to Earth to judge its suitability for Kal-El, we did not learn nearly enough about your planet's culture as I would have liked. We know that you are a peaceful people, for the most part, and will be biologically compatible with our son, which is a great comfort to me, for every living being should have the joy of holding his own child in his arms. But that is all we know about Earth. I wish I could know more about the world in which my son will spend his life, and about you, the woman with whom he will spend it. How did you meet my son? What do you look like? What is my son called on Earth? What are you called? What has my son become? Is he a good man? Are you a good woman? These are questions for which I will never have answers, so I beg of you to cherish my son, and for him to cherish you, for you two are lucky to have found each other despite beginning your lives worlds apart. Jor-El has estimated that the life span of Earth's inhabitants is near that of Kryptonians, so I wish you a lifetime of happiness, my daughter, and hope that you will appreciate how lucky you two are to have found each other. Watch for the light, my dear, and I will come to you when you next need me."
Open-mouthed, Lois watched the globe hover around her for a few minutes. While watching the still-glowing object, she wondered how it was that it contained more than five messages. Then she remembered the wording of Jor-El's first message —"Now it is time for you to learn your heritage. To that end, I will appear to you five times." Of course — the five messages concerned only Clark's heritage. Lois began to speculate at just how many messages (and their subjects) the strange globe contained when it slowed its orbit of her and came to rest, lightly bumping into her abdomen, glowing more brightly than before. It then floated up to her eye level, and again Lara's image was projected into the tree house.
"I promised you that I would return when you needed me, my daughter, and I am nothing if not sincere. I have come to congratulate you and my son on your impending child." Lara paused and smiled knowingly at Lois, whose mind was reeling. What was she talking about? Impending child? There must be some sort of mistake; maybe the globe's sensitive technology had been damaged during its voyage to earth. Lois blinked her eyes, then refocused them on Lara, who had begun to talk again. "I'm sure that by now you are wondering if we Kryptonians are able to foretell the future. I assure you that we cannot, but I recorded this message, and the previous one, in case Kal-El was able to find someone with whom he could be happy, someone with whom he could raise children. I have told you about Jor-El's and my limited knowledge about Earth and its inhabitants, and I can only guess at what your children will be like. For all Jor-El could determine, Kryptonians and Earthlings are biologically compatible; I want to congratulate you and my son for proving him correct. Jor-El and I also believe that human and Kryptonian pregnancies are extremely similar, and I can tell you that a Kryptonian woman's gestation lasts nearly ten of your planet's months. I am sorry, my daughter, that I cannot be of more help to you in this joyous time, but my knowledge of Earth and its inhabitants is unfortunately limited. I wish you the best of luck and hope that your child will bring you and Kal-El as much joy as our son brought to Jor-El and me. Love this child, my daughter, as I know Kal-El will. That is the key, for this child will surely embody the best of both our worlds and will fill your heart more fully than you can imagine. Until next time."
Lois watched the globe drop lightly to the floor, its maps morphing slowly back into the seven familiar continents of Earth. Weak-kneed, she sat down on the dusty floor of the tree house and took a deep breath. Could the message be correct? Could she be pregnant? The globe had touched her stomach before displaying this last message, and it had been correct, to Lois's knowledge, with the timing of each of its other messages. Lois laid a hand on her stomach and moved it around gently. Her mind was muddy. Snatching the globe from its resting spot on the floor, she quickly but carefully made her way down the ladder and ran toward the house.
"Martha! Martha!" Lois yelled as she entered the farmhouse, slamming the old screen door behind her and racing through the kitchen. She couldn't find her mother-in-law anywhere downstairs, so she headed to Martha and Jonathan's upstairs bedroom. "Martha!"
After a quick but loud knock, Lois opened the door to the bedroom to find Martha still in bed. The older woman sat up and wearily rubbed the remaining sleep from her eyes. "Lois, what's wrong? Are you okay? Where's Jonathan?" Anticipating an emergency, Martha rose from the bed and quickly layered a warm flannel robe over her cotton nightgown. "Lois, talk to me!" she urged her, laying a hand on her shoulder.
Breathing heavily, Lois sat down on the bed, the globe still in her hand. "Outside… tree house… globe… Jor-El… Lara… baby…" Lois said incoherently, tears in her eyes. Martha placed both her hands on Lois's shoulders in an attempt to calm her daughter-in-law.
"Lois, slow down. What happened? Were you outside? In Clark's tree house?" Martha repeated the only two words she had understood of Lois's muttering. Martha gently rubbed Lois's back as the younger woman took several deep breaths to calm herself. Finally she regained enough composure to tell Martha what had happened.
"… And then Lara, Clark's mother, came out of the globe. First she told me about the Kryptonians and about how lucky I was to have found Clark. And then," Lois began, pausing dramatically. Then a thought occurred to her. "Why don't I just show you?" she told Martha, remembering that she'd brought the globe with her from the tree house. Lois placed her hands carefully on the globe, but nothing happened. "I don't understand!" she exclaimed. "Before it seemed like it was alive — the land on the map moved and it talked to me! I don't understand why it won't do it now!"
Martha looked at Lois, concerned. "Do you have to rub it or something? Try to remember — exactly what were you doing when it spoke to you?"
She took another deep breath and tried to recall what had happened so she could re-create it. "I saw the globe — it was floating near the ceiling, I reached up to touch it, and it came to my hand. Then Jor-El came out and I heard the same five messages that Clark heard a few years ago. I thought it was done, but then it floated into my hand and Lara came out, and talked to me for a while, and then the message ended. I thought it was done again, but it floated around me a few times and then sort of bumped into my stomach. Then it floated back up and Lara came out again. Martha, she said that I'm pregnant!" Lois exclaimed to her mother-in-law.
Martha's eyes grew wide. "Lois, are you sure? How would a globe know that?"
"I don't know," Lois admitted. "But it seems to know everything else. It knows that Clark and I are married, even though it didn't use the word 'married' exactly. It seems to know a bunch of stuff and I don't understand how," she said in a choked voice, tears seeping out of her eyes and onto her cheeks.
Martha moved nearer to Lois and pulled her close, rubbing her back until her tears stopped. "Could… when… could the globe be right?" she asked Lois, still running her hand up and down her daughter-in-law's back in a comforting motion.
Lois straightened and met Martha's eyes. "It could be. I mean, I don't know, but, yeah, it's possible." Lois leaned back against Martha and began crying again.
"Okay, dear, here's what we'll do — you go eat breakfast," she began, but Lois interrupted her, her head still buried in Martha's chest.
"I already ate — a bagel and some juice. No, wait, I didn't eat them — I think I left them in the tree house."
"Okay, well, we can go get them. You can eat and then take a nice long bath or maybe a nap — you must have been up early this morning," Martha realized after a glance at the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock beside her and Jonathan's bed, "and I'll go to the store in town and pick up a few things — a couple of those home pregnancy tests, and maybe something with a little more substance that I can make for lunch." Martha thought she would take advantage of what appetite Lois had while she had it; she hadn't been eating well since Clark left.
"What about the globe?" Lois sniffed. "Should I try to make it talk to me again?"
"Just leave it for now," Martha suggested. "It seems to be an awfully mercurial thing — only communicating when *it* feels the need. We can put it in your bedroom, though. Maybe it'll feel like talking again later on." Lois nodded and the two women rose from the couch and walked, arms draped over each other's shoulders, toward the bathroom nearest Lois's bedroom to draw her a warm bath.
"Lois? You okay?" Martha tapped tentatively on the bathroom door.
"It's open," Lois responded, and Martha went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Lois was sitting on the cold white lid of the toilet, her head resting on her hands, elbows on her knees. After a long pause she looked up at Martha, her eyes red. "Positive. All four of them," she said, gesturing to a collection of opened boxes and wands that lay on the countertop.
"Oh, honey," Martha said as she stepped toward Lois, who rose from her seat to meet her. She held her daughter-in-law, whose shoulders shook as she sobbed. Again Martha found herself rubbing Lois's back and assuring her that everything would be okay.
"Clark's on some space rock, quashing a rebellion, and I'm pregnant," Lois said blankly. "What am I going to do?"
Martha didn't answer her; instead the two women sat on the edge of the bathtub while Martha attempted to comfort and reassure Lois.
"Well?" Jonathan asked Lois and Martha as they walked slowly through the screen door into the kitchen the next afternoon. Jonathan set his glass of buttermilk onto the table and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "What did the doctor say?"
Lois nodded her head. "I'm pregnant," she confirmed.
Jonathan rose from his seat and hugged both his wife and daughter-in-law. Lois and Jonathan sat down at the kitchen table while Martha fetched a glass from a cupboard and placed it in front of Lois. Jonathan poured her a half-glass of buttermilk and she played with the glass, making interlocking ring designs on the table. Martha placed her hand on top of Lois's and Lois looked up.
"Maybe you should call your mother," Martha suggested. Lois's eyes glanced skyward, and she shook her head.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Martha. I mean, what if she wants to come here to see me? Then she'll want to see Clark 'in the hospital,' and what'll I say about why she can't? I don't think it's such a good idea, not yet. Maybe I should wait till I get back to Metropolis," she urged. The look on Martha's face caused Lois to feel guilty momentarily.
"You can tell her that you'll be back in Metropolis soon…"
"But I don't know when I'll be back," Lois protested.
"Telling her you'll be back soon should keep her from coming, though, if you don't want to explain things to her," Martha said.
"And if she still insists on coming you can tell her that the hospital will only let immediate family visit," Jonathan suggested.
Lois still looked uncertain, so Martha placed her other hand in Jonathan's and the two of them rose from the table. Martha gave Lois's shoulder a gentle squeeze, and she took the cordless phone from its stand and placed it onto the table next to Lois before leading Jonathan out of the kitchen. After they'd gone, Lois toyed with the phone for a few minutes before pressing the button to get the dial tone. She dallied for a few more minutes, listening to the dial tone ring obnoxiously in her ears before retrieving her purse from the counter where she'd placed it when she and Martha had come in, and removed her address book. After confirming that she had remembered her mother's number correctly, she punched the digits into the phone and waited while it rang. And rang. And rang. Lois was about to punch the disconnect button when the answering machine came on. She listened to the recording of her mother's voice and left a brief message telling her mother to call her back. After pressing "disconnect," Lois replaced the phone on the table and took a sip of buttermilk from her glass. She had begun to play with the glass again when the phone rang, causing her to jump before answering it.
"Lois, it's your mother. I walked in the door and just missed getting the phone. Is everything okay, dear? How's Clark?"
"Clark… well, Clark's fine, I guess. There hasn't been any change." At least that wasn't a lie. "I'm not really calling about Clark."
"What's wrong?" Ellen asked immediately.
"Nothing's wrong," Lois insisted, wishing she hadn't made the call.
"Oh no, something's wrong. I can tell. I know you, Lois. If it's not Clark, then what is it? I know — you're going back to Metropolis and are worried about bringing Clark with you. Oh, honey, he'll be fine. You just wait and see."
"No, that's not it." Lois paused and took a deep breath. Just tell her and get it over with, she scolded herself. "Mother, I'm pregnant." Lois was unprepared for the silence on the phone line. "Mother?"
"Oh, Lois, honey, that's wonderful!" Ellen exclaimed. "I'm just a little, well, shocked, is all. This is awfully unexpected."
"You're telling me," Lois murmured under her breath. But she hadn't said it quietly enough.
"This… this baby… it wasn't planned?" her mother guessed.
"Not exactly. I mean we've discussed it, but… well…" Lois's voice trailed off.
"That's perfectly okay," Ellen told her daughter. "So when do you want me to arrive in Smallville. Where's the nearest airport to that farm you're on anyway?"
"Oh, Mother, you don't have to come," Lois began.
"Of course I have to! I'm your mother!" Ellen exclaimed. "My daughter is pregnant with my first grandchild, her husband is sick, and you don't think I should be there?! Don't be silly!"
"No, Mother, I'm serious," Lois insisted. "I'll be back in Metropolis soon anyway, and I'll be much closer. You shouldn't miss work to come here."
"Are you sure, Lois?" Ellen asked. "I mean, it *would* be a little inconvenient to leave now, but I could be there in a second if you need me…"
"I don't," Lois answered. "Need you, I mean. At least not now," she corrected herself again. "I'll give you a call when I have my flight to Metropolis figured out and we can meet then, okay?"
"Of course," Ellen answered. "Oh, and Lois, congratulations!" she said before hanging up the phone. Lois pressed the disconnect button and leaned back in the hard wooden chair, her hands covering her eyes. Oh, Clark, where are you when I need you? she said to herself.
A week later Martha and Jonathan were at the airport, seeing Lois off. "Now you know that I'll be in Metropolis soon," Martha reminded her daughter-in-law, who nodded. "And then the next time I come I'll bring Jonathan."
"I know," Lois said, biting her lip to keep from crying. But her efforts were in vain, and she felt a hot tear slip onto her cheek. "I feel so stupid, crying all the time," she said as she angrily wiped the tear from her face.
"It's just the hormones, honey," Martha assured her, pulling her in for one last hug.
"Does that mean I'll be like this for," she counted the time mentally, "seven more months?"
Martha laughed gently. "I don't think so — I think it'll get a little better as you go," she encouraged Lois. "And when Clark comes back…"
Lois smiled and nodded. "I'll be better when Clark gets back," she assured her in-laws before hugging Jonathan and picking up her purse and carry-on luggage. Martha cornered her for another hug before allowing Lois to board the plane.
"Call me when you get in," Martha reminded Lois. "I want to make sure you get in safely. Both of you," she added with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. Lois tried to smile and successfully held a tear back. She impulsively grabbed Martha's hand as the two broke off the hug and placed it on her still-flat abdomen for a minute before pulling away from the embrace. But Martha wasn't ready to let Lois go. She pulled her daughter-in-law back to her, whispering, "Look in your carry-on," before giving her one last squeeze good-bye.
Lois turned and headed down the long hallway to the plane. Through a wall of tears she was trying to blink back, she rechecked her seat number on her ticket, found her way to a window seat, and placed her carry-on bag under the seat in front of her and her purse next to her. Another passenger placed a large bag on the seat next to Lois and, after storing it in the overhead compartment, settled into the seat with a loud sigh. Lois tried inconspicuously to wipe away the tears that were collecting on her cheeks, but the elderly woman next to her noticed what she was doing.
"Are you okay, dear?" she asked in an aged but gentle voice. Lois turned to look at her neighbor, noticing that the woman was older than both her mother and Clark's, and wore her white hair in a bun. Half glasses were perched on her nose, and she had already dug a tangle of knitting out of her large straw purse.
"I'm fine. Thanks," Lois assured her before turning back toward her window, hoping the woman would take her hint and not want to talk during the entire flight. But Lois had no such luck, and the woman continued.
"Flying to Columbus?"
"Well, I'm getting off at Columbus. That's where my daughter and son-in-law live with their children. They've got two," she told Lois, digging through her purse to unearth a wallet thick with grade-school photographs. "These first two here are Maureen's," she said, pointing to the first page of shiny plastic that held two pictures, one of a girl and one of a boy. "Ronny's six and Lisa's nine. Aren't they just adorable?" Lois smiled and gave up on being left alone, at least until they landed in Columbus. The woman turned the page and pointed out more grandchildren. "Now these three belong to my son, Tim. This first one is Tim, Jr. — he's seven. This one," she said, pushing a picture of a pigtailed little girl at Lois, "is five-year-old Mary, and this here is Tracy. She's in the terrible twos, you know," the woman confided in Lois. "Tim and his wife are having a terrible time with her. Do you have children?" the woman pried. Lois hesitated for a minute. For the first time in her life, she didn't feel comfortable with her usual 'no.' "Uh," she began, and the woman looked at her curiously.
"Well you either have children or you don't," the woman reminded her, sneaking a peek at the ring finger on Lois's left hand to check whether she was married. "That's okay. I understand — you don't want to talk. You know, my daughter Lynn is always telling me not to talk to strangers, but I just can't help myself. I just have to talk — even if people don't feel comfortable talking back. It's funny, I used to tell Lynn the same thing when she was a little girl — to stay away from strangers," the woman chuckled.
"And, oh, I haven't shown you Lynn's children yet," the woman said with a start. She turned the page yet again in the photo section of her wallet and revealed three more children, older ones this time. She pointed at a boy. "This is Doug — he's sixteen and just got his driver's license. Now this is Bridget, who just turned fourteen. She's a handful, I tell you. But it's just the age, you know?" the woman asked Lois before poking a polished fingernail at the last picture on the page. "This last one is Lindsay. She's the youngest — only ten." To Lois's dismay, the woman turned the page of her picture book yet again to reveal a couple slightly younger than Lois posed in a pre- wedding style picture. "Now this is my youngest, Sarah, and her husband, Greg. They were just married a few months ago."
Lois's mind wandered and she tried to picture her and Clark's mothers showing off pictures of their grandchildren. It was easy to picture Martha proudly displaying photos (though not to a stranger, unsolicited, like this woman), but Lois, despite an overactive imagination, couldn't picture her own mother holding a grandchild, never mind carrying pictures of it in her wallet. Well, she's going to, Lois reminded herself. She's going to be holding a grandchild in her arms in a few short months. Lois was stirred back to the present when the woman next to her tapped her lightly on the shoulder and began talking again.
"Oh, you must think I'm so rude!" the woman exclaimed. "Here I am, telling you all about my family, and I didn't even introduce myself!" She offered Lois a wrinkled hand. "My name is Anna — Anna Winters."
Lois took her hand. "Lois Lane."
"It's nice to meet you, Lois," Anna said to her as each took her hand back. Throughout the flight to Columbus, Anna talked to Lois, telling her about her retired husband who wasn't feeling well and would be taking a later flight, her little dog, Pootchie, who was surely missing her at home "right this very moment," and more anecdotes about her grandchildren. When it came time for her to leave the plane, Anna took Lois's hand in two of hers and held on tightly.
"Have a safe flight to Metropolis, my dear," she said with a crooked grin before disembarking.
Happy to be alone, Lois pulled her carry-on bag from under the seat in front of her and onto her lap. During the whole flight she had been anxious to see what Martha had packed in her bag for her, but didn't want to pique Anna's curiosity.
Lois was glad she had waited. Opening the bag, she saw the globe, glowing through the faded fabric of the Smallville High School sweatshirt it was wrapped in, stowed in one corner of her bag. A note in Martha's neat script was attached: "Thought you might want this near you. Love, Martha." Lois, not wanting to attract any attention to the strange object, closed her bag and replaced it under the seat in front of her. She was just about to get up and stretch when another gaggle of passengers boarded the plane. Lois managed to stand and stretch for a minute in the aisle before a woman with a baby carrier excused herself into the seats next to Lois. She sat back down in her window seat and watched the woman, fascinated.
The woman looked to be in her mid-twenties and, besides the baby carrier, was carrying a diaper bag and purse. She buckled the baby into the middle seat, next to Lois, and sat herself down in the aisle seat. The woman half-smiled at Lois when she noticed that she was being watched, and Lois, embarrassed, immediately turned back toward the window. A few minutes later though, she snuck several peeks at the woman when she thought the woman was no longer paying attention to her. The baby, from Lois's amateur guessing, was about two months old. It (she thought it was a boy but wasn't sure) was sleeping now and looked extremely fragile in its terry cloth sleeper. Its red fists were clenched but its eyes were closed peacefully. Lois turned back toward the window until she heard the baby begin to squeal a few minutes later. Its mother cooed at it and offered her finger to squeeze. The baby complied and slept for a few more minutes before awaking again. This time the mother wasn't able to quiet her child, though, and she unbuckled the complicated straps of the car seat and removed it, cradling the baby gently in her arms. Lois turned back toward the window, hiding the tears in her eyes. Never mind whether her mother would make a good grandmother — would *she* make a good *mother*? What would a reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper do with a baby? Sure, she and Clark had discussed having children, but the idea always seemed so completely abstract, so far in the future, that it wasn't worth worrying about. And in her mind, she'd always pictured Clark there, helping her and, yes, she'd admit it, doing most of the work. She'd always believed that Clark would be a better parent than she would — he was patient, caring, tender; she was impulsive, abrasive, and inept about things like babies.
Lois snuck another peek at the woman next to her. She seemed to be swaying the baby back and forth, even as she sat in her seat, and patting its back. Lois made a mental note of that, sway and pat. The baby seemed to like that and was falling asleep again. But just then something startled it, and the woman began singing in a low voice that Lois was sure only she and the baby could hear. Sing — she added it to her mental list. The woman again offered the baby one of her fingers and it clenched it tightly. Give the baby your finger to hold, she repeated, committing this, too, to memory for future use. Maybe she could do this. And she would be okay by herself, at least until Clark got back. But the baby began to cry again, this time wailing loudly, and its mother was unable to quiet it this time, even after shoving a plastic pacifier into its mouth. Lois, more distressed than the baby's mother, turned back toward the window, blocked the baby's wails out of her mind, and felt a fresh flood of tears reach her eyes.
Lois unlocked the door of 348 Hyperion and kicked it open with a foot. "Here, let me get that, Lois," Perry called from behind her.
"I've got it," she said as she dragged her luggage through the doorway with her. Perry had unexpectedly met her at the airport that afternoon, and, despite Lois's protests that she could take a cab, insisted on driving her home himself. Lois pushed her bags to the side and held the door open for Perry, who was carrying the rest of her luggage. Perry placed the bags he held next to the others and leaned back against the wall, winded.
"Oh, Perry, I'm sorry, you can sit down, make yourself comfortable. Do you want something to drink?"
"Sure," he told her, rubbing his hands, cold from the frigid early March air, together. "If you have some instant coffee, that should be fine, and if it's not too much trouble."
After shucking her coat, Lois went into the kitchen to search for coffee. She knew they didn't have instant, but she set out to make a small pot of regular. As the coffee brewed, Lois removed two mugs from a cupboard and placed them on the countertop. She turned toward another cupboard to check if she had sugar. "I know you usually take milk in your coffee, but, well, I wouldn't try anything in this fridge. It's been sitting in there the whole time I was gone," she yelled into the family room where Perry was sitting on a couch.
"That's fine," he assured her. "I'll just take it black, then."
Lois replaced the sugar she'd found in the cupboard and again called out to Perry. "So what's been going on at work?"
"Nothing too important that you had to come home yet," he reminded her. "Ralph's been picking up some of the slack." Perry continued to talk, but, picking up one of the coffee mugs, Lois blocked him out. She cradled the mug in her hand, studying it. Wasn't it bad for pregnant women to drink coffee? She'd heard that somewhere, hadn't she? Well, she'd better not drink any until she asked someone — she would have to bring it up with her doctor, with whom she'd made an appointment for later that week. Pouring the single mug of coffee, she made her way to Perry. She handed him the mug and sat down across from him on the other couch.
"You're not having any?"
"Uh," Lois stalled. It was unusual for her not to drink coffee. Perry was surely wondering what was up since, in the newsroom, she was never far from her mug. "I'm trying to cut down. Martha got me to try some great herbal teas when I was in Smallville, and they're so much better — and healthier, too," she mumbled lamely. Perry raised an eyebrow and was about to comment when the doorbell rang. Eager for the distraction, Lois jumped up from the couch to answer it, leaving Perry to consider the situation.
"Delivery for Kent," the man at the door said. "Actually, I've got quite a few deliveries," he told her as she signed for the packages he started to place in the brownstone's entranceway. The man closed the door behind him after placing five large parcels at Lois's feet.
"Well, what's this?" Perry asked her, rising from his seat to join her near the doorway. "The return address is some Metropolis department store," he told her, spying a tag on one of the boxes.
"I have no idea," Lois said as she tore the packing tape off one of the boxes, revealing to her several soft items — teddy bears and other assorted stuffed animals, along with several boxes.
"There's a card here," Perry told her as he pulled an envelope from the flaps of one of the boxes and held it out in her direction, not noticing the contents of the box Lois had opened. "It's just addressed to 'Lois.'"
"You can open it," Lois said distractedly as she worked on opening one of the smaller boxes packed in with the stuffed animals.
"'Lois,'" Perry read aloud. "'Hope this didn't arrive too soon — I asked for the packages to be delivered after your plane landed. Baby stuff has changed so much since Lucy that I wasn't sure what you'd want. Call me. Love, Mother.'" Perry looked up at Lois with questioning eyebrows and a half smile just as Lois lifted a soft baby sleeper out of the box she had been struggling with.
Lois was at a loss for words. "I… I…" she started, shaking her head slightly. "Perry, I'm pregnant."
Lois hopped out of the stirrups and onto the floor as best she could, sitting down on the more-comfortable chair in the examining room. She pulled her clothes closer to her and looked up at her doctor, wondering why she hadn't left the room yet so that Lois could change. "Are we finished?" Lois asked.
"Your examination's over, yes," Dr. Bowlan told her, "but there are a few things I'd like to discuss."
Lois sighed and pushed her clothes away from her. She had a good guess as to what her doctor wanted to talk about, and she didn't particularly want to participate in the conversation.
"Lois, to be frank, I'm worried about you. I know that your situation has been tough, with your husband being sick and all, but, honey, you don't want all this craziness to affect your baby." Lois began to protest, but the doctor cut her off. "Don't argue with me, Lois. You have to start thinking about your baby now. I know you told me that you didn't want me to do an ultrasound yet — that you wanted to wait for your husband to get well so he could see it too — but I can't wait any longer. I'd have insisted on doing one for anyone else, but, because of your situation, I've tried to be patient; however, right now I think it's necessary. And, I'm sorry, but if you still won't consent to one, I'll have to ask you to find another doctor."
Lois was shocked; sure, she had been expecting a lecture from Dr. Bowlan, but she hadn't expected her doctor to issue her such an ultimatum. "Do you think there's something wrong, Dr. Bowlan?" she asked, worried.
"Oh, no, Lois, nothing like that. It's just that I'd like to check on the baby's progress. And I have to tell you that every other OBGYN I know would insist you have an ultrasound by this point in your pregnancy as well. I don't have to tell you whether it's a boy or girl," the doctor reminded her, dismissing the first objection that had come into Lois's mind. "I'd just like to see the baby, make sure it's okay. Now Lois," she asked, pulling a stethoscope from her pants pocket, "do you want to hear your baby's heartbeat?"
Lois hesitated. Ever since she had first come to Dr. Bowlan, she had been reluctant to hear the baby's heartbeat — she kept thinking that, if she would just wait until the next visit, Clark would be there to listen along with her. But she remembered Dr. Bowlan's words and didn't want her reluctance to hurt the baby. "Okay," Lois acquiesced quietly.
Dr. Bowlan grinned and retrieved a tube of gel and a small device somewhat akin to what Lois would expect a Geiger counter to look like from a cabinet near the door. She squirted a bit of the gel onto Lois's flat stomach, then she pressed the Geiger-counter- wand onto Lois's stomach. Waiting impatiently, Lois could feel the wand move around her stomach, searching for her baby's heartbeat. After what seemed like forever, the doctor stopped searching, and Lois could hear a quick beating noise. Dr. Bowlan smiled at her knowingly.
"That sounds awfully fast — is it supposed to be beating that fast?" she worried, wiping the tears from her eyes with her fist. The doctor nodded her head and Lois relaxed in the fact that, all other craziness aside, at least her baby was healthy.
"Damn," Lois muttered under her breath as she was unable to zip up yet another pair of pants. She was really going to have to find the time to go shopping for maternity clothes soon. Maybe if she got out of work early enough today, Lois thought. She wriggled out of the pants and went back to her closet, hunting for an old skirt or pants that she'd forgotten she had and would hopefully fit into. Unable to find anything, she turned to her dresser and searched several drawers, tossing unfit clothing behind her. The only thing she could find was a pair of elastic- waisted sweatpants, and she didn't think Perry would appreciate them as much as she did.
Lois turned around the room slowly, surveying the mess — she had several loose-fitting dresses, but they had all been worn recently and were due to be washed. Disgusting as it may be, for a moment she considered wearing them anyway. She turned slowly to Clark's dresser, deliberating for a second borrowing something of his before banishing the thought from her mind. Her waist wasn't that big yet, was it? Half afraid to find out, Lois slowly sorted through Clark's half of the closet, picking out an old pair of pants she remembered him mentioning were a little small. She slid them on and gave a sigh of relief when she saw that they were still too large in the waist, never mind too long. She plopped down on the bed; she could always wear the sweatpants and stop somewhere on the way to work for a quick shopping trip. That might be the best idea, she realized.
But then Lois remembered the many boxes of baby things her mother had sent her since she'd arrived back in Metropolis. Maybe, just maybe, there would be some maternity clothes in there, she hoped, slipping out of Clark's pants and heading downstairs wearing only a long silky blouse. She pawed through the boxes in the family room until she found one that contained several smaller packages that she hadn't had time to open yet. She'd assumed they were baby clothes, but maybe they weren't. Ripping them open, Lois finally found what she was looking for — several pairs of early-maternity size pants, one pair of which even matched the shirt she had on. She thanked her mother and lugged the clothes upstairs, tossing them on the bed. Lois extracted the matching pants and, noticing they still had a tag attached, hunted the room for a pair of scissors. Halfway through her search, Lois caught sight of herself in the mirror. She pulled her long shirt flat against her stomach and inspected the image — nope, she couldn't tell from the front, though she did look like a sloppy dresser. She turned to the side and carefully surveyed her profile, noticing for the first time a small but definitely-there bulge at her waist. She pressed both hands on her stomach and closed her eyes. She opened her eyes and, removing her hands, again pulled her shirt taut against the bulge; though she couldn't feel anything different, she certainly could see a difference.
After her clothing problems, Lois hurried into the newsroom a few minutes later than usual that morning. Jimmy greeted her with a stack of papers before she reached her desk. "The research you wanted on that scandal at the free health clinic on 42nd Street," he reminded her as they made their way to the coat rack.
"Thanks, Jimmy," Lois said, taking off her coat and draping it over one of the rack's few empty hooks. She noticed Jimmy looking at her suspiciously when she pulled her arms behind her while removing her coat. She raised her eyebrows at him curiously, and his face reddened in discomfort.
"I, uh, I think, uh, it kinda looks like you're starting to show," he said, embarrassed but obviously amused. Lois shot a look of daggers at him and opened her mouth for a rebuttal, but just then a low rumble came from the direction of Perry's office.
"OLSEN!" he yelled. "Get over here! Now!" Lois turned and started to her desk, leaving Jimmy to trot obediently over to Perry. He reached the editor's office and entered, closing the door behind him.
"Jimmy, I think a little tact is in order, don't you?" Perry reprimanded him.
"But Chief, I…" Jimmy began, but his protests were cut off.
"Now I don't know, or care, what you said to her, but I'm guessing it wasn't well-received," he counseled the young photographer. "In the future, I'd suggest you take a second to think before opening your mouth around Lois. After all, imagine what she's going through — Clark in a coma in some hospital in Kansas, and finding out she's pregnant. Why, a lesser women couldn't handle it, but not our Lois. She's a fighter, Jimmy, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't have a soft side."
"I understand, Chief," Jimmy told him. He was quiet for a minute, and Perry was about to get back to the work on his desk when Jimmy blurted out, "uh, Chief, I was wondering something, and I didn't want to ask Lois…" Jimmy paused again.
"Why is Clark in a hospital in Smallville? Why didn't Lois bring him back to Metropolis with her? I mean, there are great clinics and hospitals here — people come from all over the world for some of them."
"Well, Olsen, I know that Clark's not in Smallville — I think the hospital he's in is in Kansas City. But from what Lois says, they're one of the best in treating whatever Clark's problem is," Perry explained and, satisfied, Jimmy left the editor's office. When he had gone, Perry leaned back in his chair. Despite what he had just said to Jimmy, he doubted that some small-town Kansas hospital he hadn't heard of was better for Kent than the Metropolis Neurological Clinic, but, as he'd advised Jimmy, sometimes the best thing to do was keep your mouth shut. Besides, all Lois needed to add to her problems was a bunch of nosy friends getting too close to her and Clark's Secret.
Lois paced back and forth in the waiting area of the airport, anxiously awaiting the arrival of flight 220, which was bringing Martha to Metropolis. She checked her watch again; the plane wasn't late yet, but Lois supposed that she'd gotten spoiled from flying with Clark for the past few years — she didn't have enough patience for a late or delayed flight. She spotted a just- vacated seat and sank into it gratefully, smiling at the man who would have to stand since he'd reached the seat just after her. She placed her hand over her obviously pregnant stomach, feeling the baby through the thin fabric of her spring dress. Lois had left work early that afternoon and enjoyed the early-summer afternoon warmth as she drove to the airport with the windows of her Jeep open. She glanced out the window and saw a plane land and taxi over to the entranceway of the airport; it was flight 220. Lois stood up slowly and shuffled nearer to the opening of the hallway that was connected to the plane. Passengers were pouring out of the door, and Lois was having a hard time seeing.
"Lois!" she heard a familiar voice call out. "Lois?"
"Martha!" Lois answered, raising her hands above her head so that Martha could find her. She waved her arms and pushed her way through the crowd. She saw Martha, still scanning the crowd for her. "Martha — over here!" Lois shouted.
Martha turned and, seeing her, started toward her. Lois moved to the side, escaping from the throng of people, and Martha followed her lead. The two met near the windows from which Lois had been searching for flight 220 a few minutes ago. Noticing Lois's stomach, Martha held her daughter-in-law at arms' length for a minute before pulling her close for a hug. "Oh, honey," she comforted after feeling Lois's tears wet her shirt. "How are you doing, Lois?"
Lois tried to control her tears. "I'm fine," Lois assured Martha. She pulled back to wipe the tears from her face and noticed the mess she'd made of Martha's blouse. "Oh, Martha, I'm sorry." Martha dismissed it with a slight wave of her hand and the two women headed toward the baggage claim area, arms around each other.
"You're really fine? The baby too?" Martha asked again, wanting reassurance.
Lois nodded, sniffed a bit, and stopped abruptly. She took one of Martha's hands in hers and pressed it to her stomach.
"Can you feel it?" she asked her mother-in-law, and Martha nodded, wide-eyed. "Sometimes I can feel it move, but it's been pretty calm today." The two of them stood there for another minute until Martha felt her grandchild move. She looked up at Lois with a smile. They continued to the luggage area.
"Does it hurt?" Martha asked her.
"Not really. It's uncomfortable sometimes, but my doctor said that it'll get stronger and might hurt later on," Lois told her, and the two women found Martha's wheeled luggage and pulled it behind them as they headed toward Lois's Jeep.
"Wow, Lois, you've been busy," Martha exclaimed as Lois opened the door of the brownstone and the two women entered. She was marveling over the numerous boxes that still crowded the family room.
"Actually, I haven't," Lois confessed. "I haven't really felt like shopping. My mother had these things shipped. I haven't had the time yet, but I guess I'll have to re-do one of the rooms upstairs and start sorting through what I have and what I need. I was kind of hoping you'd help me with organizing all of this," she looked at her mother-in-law hopefully.
"Oh, of course, honey," Martha assured Lois. "And I brought you a few things, as well. I hope you don't mind." Lois shook her head, and the two settled on a couch, one of Martha's bags between them. She dug through the bag and finally removed a few items, placing them on her other side, out of Lois's line of sight. She handed one of the objects to Lois — it was a large box wrapped in baby-print paper; Lois smiled at the sight.
"You know, even though my mother's sent me all of this," she gestured with one arm to the boxes near the door, "nothing was wrapped, so it didn't really feel like a present. This is the baby's first present," she said, teary-eyed. Martha squeezed her hand, and Lois ripped open the paper, unveiling a large, heavy, light brown box. She used a fingernail to slit the tape that held the lid to the bottom and uncovered a soft homemade quilt. "Martha! Did you make this?"
"With some help," she admitted. "The patches are from Clark's old clothes and blankets and such. Some of them," she searched the quilt and found a brown patch near the middle, "are even yours."
Martha nodded. "I'd been saving scraps of Clark's stuff since he was a little boy; I was originally planning the quilt as a wedding present for the two of you, but I didn't have enough material. Right after you called your mother and told her about the baby, I called back and asked her to send me any old clothes of yours she might still have — baby clothes, the kind of stuff that mothers keep," she told Lois with a grin. "I had some friends who belonged to a quilting circle, and they taught me the basics." Martha smiled, and she and Lois fingered the quilt. "I'll have to tell you where everything came from a little later on." Martha passed Lois another object in a box, this one unwrapped. "It seemed kind of funny to wrap this," she explained as Lois lifted the lid. Inside the box, nestled in white tissue paper, was a stuffed bunny.
"Martha, he's adorable," Lois told her, but didn't understand why her mother-in-law wouldn't want to wrap the toy.
"Peter Rabbit — it was Clark's," Martha explained. She continued when she saw the surprised look on Lois's face. "I know, it doesn't look nearly old enough, does it? But Clark slept with it every night until he went away to college — it was so beat-up and most of the fur had fallen off. I had it cleaned up — new fur and everything — but it looks exactly like it did when Clark was little. I even brought pictures to show you," she told Lois, pulling a thick photo album from her other side and patting it. Lois reached for the album and Martha passed it to her, turning to several pages and pointing out Peter Rabbit to Lois.
"Boy, will Clark get a kick out of this," Lois said under her breath without thinking. When she realized what she'd said, she looked up, tears in her eyes. "Oh, Martha, I don't know if I can do this alone," she confided. "I mean, I keep thinking that he'll come back, but what if he doesn't? It'd be hard enough with Clark, but I don't know if I can take care of a baby by myself. There are so many mistakes to make," she worried. "I keep forgetting that Clark isn't here, like just a minute ago. I walk into the house after work, thinking he'll be there to greet me. Or I look over to his desk at the Planet to ask him about something and it feels like he just went off to rescue someone. I can still smell him in our bedroom," she admitted, "and he's been gone for over three months." Lois's sobs continued and Martha again pulled her close.
"Lois, you'll be fine," she assured her. "And I'm sure Clark will be back. After all, he has a wife and a baby to see," she reminded Lois. But Lois wasn't so sure — Clark didn't know she was pregnant — he thought he'd just left his wife behind (which was bad enough but more livable). Would he have stayed, Lois wondered, if they had known she was pregnant? Lois didn't know, but she was glad that Clark didn't have to make that decision.
After a fresh home-cooked dinner, Lois helped Martha clear off their dinner dishes. "That was one of the best meals I've had since," she thought for a minute, "since I was in Smallville," she said with a grin, sealing the leftovers in a plastic container and storing them in the refrigerator.
Martha looked up from loading the dishwasher, and her face showed her concern. "What have you been eating for dinner, dear? I mean, I know you usually don't have the time to cook…"
"Or the talent," Lois put in.
"Whatever the reason," Martha said, dismissing Lois's comment with a wave of her hand. "I'm sure your doctor's told you how important it is for the baby that you eat well."
"I know, Martha," Lois agreed. "Perry asked me about that a little while ago — he's tasted my cooking, too. When I told him I was getting good at microwave dinners, he got concerned and had Alice cook a bunch of meals to freeze. Each weekend Alice makes enough for me for the week and I just defrost it when I need it," she assured Martha. "In the beginning she tried to teach me how, probably thinking she'd show me and be done with it, but she learned fast that I'm all thumbs in the kitchen, so she's been doing most of the cooking by herself lately." Lois thought for a moment. "But her cooking's nowhere near as good as yours," she told Martha with a warm smile.
Martha returned the smile, happy that her daughter-in-law was eating well even though it wasn't Lois who was doing the cooking. Martha considered reminding her that once the baby got here, it'd have to be fed as well — sure, in the beginning that wasn't very tough, but after a while she may have to start making real food. But Lois was stressed out enough, so Martha decided that a discussion about learning to cook could wait a bit.
The two women finished cleaning up and headed into the family room. Lois sat beside the quilt and picture album, passing the album to Martha and fingering the soft quilt, which was larger than the small baby blanket Lois had expected. The baby won't always sleep in a crib, Martha had reminded Lois — someday it would graduate into a bed and the larger quilt would come in handy. Martha flipped open the cover of the album, revealing a page of Clark's baby pictures. As she told Lois the stories behind the photos, she pointed out several corresponding patches on the quilt — there was a piece of Clark's christening gown; a patch of the jumper he'd worn for his first Christmas; and a square from his own baby blanket. Lois smiled at pictures of her husband as an infant, then later laughed when she saw him as a messy toddler, posing with farm animals and playing in the dirt. Martha pointed out a scrap of his first Halloween costume (a pumpkin); a square from a high school football jersey; a shiny black piece from his high school commencement gown and a corresponding navy one from his college graduation; a sweatshirt- gray piece bearing the faded logo of Midwestern State, where Clark had gone to college; and a few squares that Lois recognized as shirts he'd worn in the years she'd known him.
Lois then took her turn telling Martha the stories of her squares on the quilt, which Ellen had given to her in-law without explaining their significance. Many of Lois's pieces of the quilt corresponded to Clark's — there was a worn piece of her pink and yellow baby blanket; a like-new red velvet fragment of the dress she had worn for her first Christmas; a flowered patch from the gypsy dress that had been her favorite Halloween costume in elementary school; a piece of an old gymnastics leotard; a patch from her deep purple prom dress (where *had* her mother found that old thing?), a square each of her high school graduation gown (burgundy) and college robe (black); and an athletic-gray colored patch with the words "Metro U" printed in royal blue. Unlike Clark, however, she had few recent clothing scraps, although there was a fragment that Lois recognized as belonging to her wedding dress. "Where did you get this?"
"Your mother," Martha told Lois, whose surprise was apparent on her face. "Apparently when the tailor made the alterations, your mother kept a few scraps." Lois smiled, surprised by her mother's sentimentality.
Lois fingered the quilt, relishing the fact that she now knew what each piece of material meant, until her fingers came to rest on the middle patch — it was blue with a red square inside it. She ran her hand over the square again; the red material was soft and familiar feeling, and the blue was stretchy and shiny, almost like spandex. She looked up at Martha questioningly.
Martha nodded her head. "From The Suit," she confirmed. "I thought there should be something symbolizing Clark's heritage, but I couldn't bring myself to cut up the baby blanket we found him in. These pieces were leftovers when I made his Suits."
Lois smiled and ran her thumb gently over the center square."Thank you. Thank you for everything you've done for, well, for everyone — Clark, me, the baby," she said, and her voice was rough as she tried to hold back tears yet again. "I hope I can be as good a mom as you've been," she said with a shy smile before pulling Martha close for an embrace.
Early the next morning, Lois, Martha, and Jimmy were at work turning one of the spare upstairs rooms into a nursery for the baby. Lois had picked out a wallpaper pattern after work earlier that week, and Jimmy was busy pasting the paper to the walls. Lois and Martha were camped out on the floor in the corner, trying to assemble the crib that Lois's mother had sent. Just then the doorbell rang, and Lois got to her feet and went downstairs to answer it. She returned a few minutes later with Perry and Alice White, both of whom were carrying full shopping bags and dressed in what Lois could only term as "work clothes" - - Perry's tee-shirt depicted the "young" Elvis Presley postal stamp and Alice's read "Newspaper Widow."
"You two didn't have to bring me anything," Martha and Jimmy could hear Lois protest as Lois and her two newest guests made their way toward the nursery. "My mother's sent enough stuff for ten babies!" Perry laughed, but he and Alice still offered Lois their bags. She resumed her position next to Martha on the floor and opened them. The first and heavier of the two contained a high chair, something that, strangely enough, Ellen Lane hadn't sent yet.
"This is great, Perry, Alice," Lois thanked them. "Something my mother *hasn't* sent me. I've told her no more, so hopefully the packages'll stop coming, but you never know with Mother," Lois said, pulling the other bag toward her.
"Hey, Lois, has your mom been to Metropolis yet?" Jimmy stopped his wallpapering to ask. He'd been wondering why Ellen Lane had been sending so many gifts but hadn't yet visited her daughter.
Lois shook her head. "She's planning to come — 'sometime soon' she says — I've actually talked to her nearly every week lately — and without arguing. It must be a record for us," she mused. "She said it's tough to get away from work, and, since I'm in a forgiving mood," Lois grinned, "I'll accept her reason." Lois unwrapped the baby-print paper from the second gift the Whites brought; it was another baby quilt, cute but store-bought and definitely without the history of Martha's quilt.
"Oh," Lois said, trying to be diplomatic. "It's beautiful, but Martha just brought a quilt," she explained.
The two older women laughed at Lois's comment. "Oh, Lois," Alice began, "babies spit up quite often — you'll definitely need more than one blanket." Jimmy made a face and returned to his wallpapering, and Lois looked worried until Martha laid a reassuring hand on her arm.
"It's nothing to worry about, dear — soon you'll be used to it."
Lois nodded uncertainly and gave a tentative half-smile, and both older women again laughed gently. After assigning Perry and Alice to their own job, Lois rejoined Martha and the two finished assembling the crib. Jimmy, Perry, and Alice gave them a quick round of applause, then returned to their tasks. Martha went downstairs to check on the lunch she was making, and Lois gathered the empty boxes and unneeded papers that littered the room, placing them in a garbage bag near the door. Soon Martha was back upstairs and, with Lois, sorted the baby clothes into various drawers that would fit in the not-yet-assembled dresser.
Some time later the quintet broke for lunch. After they finished off Martha's hearty chicken soup and biscuits, Jimmy brought up a subject that Lois had been dreading — baby names. Her four guests looked away awkwardly after Jimmy blurted out his question, and Lois sat uncomfortably for a minute.
"I, uh, haven't really been thinking about names much, Jimmy," she admitted. "I was kinda hoping to leave that till later." Till Clark comes back, she continued to herself. Her answer, though noncommittal, pacified Jimmy, who regretted having brought up the subject in the first place.
"I was just thinking that I had a good suggestion if it's a boy, that's all," he said with a teasing grin. Lois raised her eyebrows and he continued —"Jimmy, of course." The group laughed and Jimmy shrugged his shoulders, qualifying his remark as "just kidding" before everyone headed back upstairs to finish the room.
Much later that night Lois, unable to sleep, which was not uncommon for her since Clark left for New Krypton, got out of bed and made her way to the now-nursery. She stood in the doorway for a few minutes before turning on the soft light of the lamp and closing the door so she wouldn't wake Martha. Lois paced a slow circle around the room, gently touching everything and finally bringing her hand to rest on her stomach. There was a changing table where she'd have to learn to change a diaper; a crib, already padded with blankets, Martha's quilt, and Peter Rabbit, where she'd have to learn to put her child to sleep; a now- assembled dresser that already held several months' supply of baby clothes; a toy chest filled with stuffed animals and other brightly colored baby playthings. She leaned against the wall next to the window, peering through newly hung curtains at the black sky peppered with stars. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, Clark was looking out at these same stars in this same sky at the same time. Unless he was actually *on* one of those stars…
After several minutes she padded over to the crib, picking up Peter Rabbit and wrapping him in Alice and Perry's quilt. She held the stuffed bunny to her as if it were a baby, gently stroking the rabbit's face. Could she do this? More important, could she do it alone? Lois had always prided herself in being fearless and capable — two words she didn't feel described her any longer. She'd always been a strong person, strong enough to take care of herself — but could she take care of someone else, too? Being a mother was something very different from living on her own, working for Metropolis's most famous paper, investigating and writing sometimes dangerous but always exciting stories. Being a mother was the hardest job she could think of, especially since it involved two things Lois wasn't sure she had — caring and patience. Sure, when Martha and Jimmy and Perry and Alice were all around, she was okay; she felt more confident about her impending motherhood and they helped take her mind off Clark's absence. But then everyone went home, leaving her alone with only her doubts and the baby growing inside her to keep her company.
"Okay, now this is going to be a little cold," Dr. Bowlan warned as she squirted a clear gel onto Lois's bare stomach.
"Aah, yeah," Lois agreed as the doctor spread the cold gel around, then pointed to a picture on the ultrasound monitor near Lois's head. Martha, who was standing next to her, gave Lois's hand a quick squeeze of support and Lois stared at the monitor.
"There's your baby, Lois," Dr. Bowlan told her proudly as she moved the wand attached to the computer slowly over Lois's stomach, pushing down with a little more pressure than Lois would have liked. "See, it's moving its right arm."
But Lois couldn't find any meaning in the cryptic image on the computer monitor. "Where? I don't see anything except a bunch of blobs," Lois complained. "Where's the baby in all that static?"
Martha laughed, and Dr. Bowlan finally stopped pushing on Lois and pressed a button on the computer to freeze the picture on the screen. She started pointing body parts out to the two other women —"There's its head, torso, one arm," she said with confidence. In the beginning it all looked like a mess to Lois, but as the doctor continued to point things out —"the other arm, and here are the two legs," — Lois could see what Dr. Bowlan meant.
"So is it healthy?" Lois asked.
"From what I can tell from the ultrasound, your baby looks to be the picture of health," the doctor assured Lois, who smiled with relief. "And you don't want to know the baby's sex, correct?" Dr. Bowlan made sure.
Lois shook her head vehemently. "I don't want to know," she affirmed.
The doctor then offered to print out the video capture on the computer screen for Lois. "Your first baby picture," she joked — and Lois eagerly agreed to take the printout home. As the printer spit out the image on the screen, Lois looked over to Martha, whose eyes were still transfixed on the computer monitor. "My baby," she said with tears in her eyes. "I only wish Clark were here to see it."
"Lane! Olsen!" Perry yelled through the open door of his office while Lois and Jimmy started down the ramp into the newsroom from the elevator. "Do you have any idea what time it is?! Where've you been?"
Lois just smiled smugly and took her time in setting down her bag on her desk chair before continuing on to Perry's office, still grinning. Jimmy followed her example and placed his camera carefully on her desktop before following Lois into the lion's den. The two strode confidently into Perry's office, Jimmy closing the door behind them, and settled into the chairs facing his desk. "Well, Chief," Lois began slowly, savoring each word. "I was up early this morning driving Martha to the airport — her flight left a few hours ago." A sympathetic expression crossed Perry's face for just a moment before Lois continued. "And then, on my way here — half an hour early, I might add — I got a call from Henderson at Metro PD headquarters, so I swung by and picked up Jimmy before he left for work. Seems Henderson and some of his officers just nabbed the serial killer who's been preying on those teen nightclubs on the eastside. I guess he figured he owed us a little something — you know, in exchange for the help of the Daily Planet, not to mention yours truly, in the past few weeks waiting to print certain details we knew about the murders *and* giving him a hand in the investigation. So guess who got the exclusive, not to mention a great picture of Patrick McClure as he was being dragged off toward the station?"
Perry jumped from his seat and slapped his hands on his desk. "That's my girl!" he congratulated Lois. "And a good job to you, too, Olsen," he added after a soft cough from Jimmy. "This is great news, and in time for the afternoon edition. Better hurry and get those pictures developed, Jimmy," Perry suggested, motioning toward the door. Grinning, Jimmy nodded and left Perry's office, heading to the dark room by way of Lois's desk to pick up his camera equipment. Lois rose from her seat, ready to follow Jimmy and start writing up her story, but Perry stopped her. "Just a minute, Lois."
"What is it, Chief?" She sat back down.
"You took Martha to the airport?" he confirmed.
She nodded. "She and Jonathan'll be back in September."
"I'm fine," she assured Perry.
"We're just worried about you, darlin'," he reminded her.
"I know, Chief, but you don't have to be. I'm fine. Really."
"Well, you may not be once I tell you who was here looking for you earlier this morning," he began. Lois gave him a puzzled look, and Perry continued. "Your mother."
"My mother!? What's *she* doing in Metropolis? She told me she couldn't get away from work — it was too hard to switch shifts. She didn't mention anything about visiting the last time she phoned!"
"Well, she's here and she's looking for you," he warned her. "I told her you'd be in later today, that you were on a story. At least it wasn't a lie," he said with a smile.
Lois nodded, stood up, and headed toward the door. "Thanks, Perry. I'd better get started on the story." She opened the door and turned back to Perry suddenly. "Oh — did my mother say where she was going or when she'd be back?"
Perry shook his head. "But I wouldn't be surprised if she stopped off at your place to make sure you weren't there. And if I were to hazard another guess, I'd say that she'll be back before lunch," he added with a wink.
Lois checked her watch, sighed, and headed to her desk, where she settled into her chair and pulled her bag onto the desktop. She pulled out the notes she'd taken during her interview with Henderson and turned on her computer. After organizing her notes, Lois picked up the receiver of her phone to check her voice mail: five messages — three junk, one possible story, and, strangely enough, a message from Lucy.
Her sister had called earlier that morning, and Lois laughed to herself as she listened to the message she'd left —"Hey, Sis, it's me, Lucy. I would've guessed from the hours you keep that you'd be at work by now, but maybe you've wised up and slowed down with the baby coming." Lois smiled — not a chance of that. "Well, my boyfriend, Dave, and I are going to be driving cross country. Actually, we're moving, to New York City — even Venice gets boring once you've been there as long as I have." Trust Lucy to get bored of even the wild California town she'd been living in, Lois thought. "Anyway, the reason I'm really calling is because we'll be stopping in Metropolis on our way, and I was hoping we could stay with you for a little while. Not too long 'cause, believe it or not, Dave's talked me into going to college. So I'll call you again before we leave. See you then and hope Clark's feeling better." Lois smiled with pride as she replaced the receiver on the phone — her sister had drifted from boyfriend to boyfriend and city to city (not to mention job to job) for too long. Maybe Lucy'd finally found someone that was good for her, someone who cared enough to convince her to go back to college. She'd started at Metropolis University, Lois's alma mater, but had left after only a week because she was "bored and out of place." For years Lois had been hoping that she'd go back so she could find a job in which she'd be happier (and more fulfilled) than the odd, assorted jobs she'd been experimenting with for years.
Lois grinned and pressed the necessary keys on her computer to LAN the serial killer story off to Perry for approval. She hadn't seen Jimmy in a while, so she hoped his pictures were turning out okay. After feeling a hard kick to her abdomen and hearing her stomach growl, Lois checked her watch — nearly one o'clock. No wonder she was hungry. She grabbed her bag and was about to head for the new Chinese restaurant down the street that she'd wanted to try when she heard a familiar, shrill voice call out across the newsroom.
"Mother." Lois replaced her bag in her desk drawer and stood up to greet her mother.
"Look at my baby!" Ellen Lane shrieked as she wrapped her arms around her oldest daughter. "You're so big, Lois."
"Thanks, Mother," Lois said, biting her tongue. She didn't want to start a fight with her mother in the newsroom, but didn't enjoy her mother commenting on her ballooning size. Especially when Dr. Bowlan had told her that her weight gain was average for someone as far as she was into her pregnancy. "You know just what to say to make someone feel good."
"Oh, Lois, don't be so sensitive," Ellen warned, wagging her finger at her daughter before enfolding her into another hug. "Now, don't tell me that you've already eaten lunch…"
"Actually, you have great timing — I was just leaving to get Chinese. Do you want to join me?" she offered generously. Ellen smiled, Lois gathered her purse, and the two women headed up the ramp and toward the elevator.
Ellen chatted happily as they made their way to the new restaurant, making sure Lois had received all of the packages she'd sent, wondering if she'd been eating well since she knew that Lois wasn't "all that handy in the kitchen. I suppose I have only myself to blame for that one," she lamented. "I'm practically inept in the kitchen as well." Lois smiled as she parked her Jeep in front of the restaurant — she remembered her mother's cooking, and was glad that she no longer had to suffer through it every night. Gosh, Lois thought, I hope my child never says that about me — maybe I *had* better learn to cook.
"Mother, I almost forgot — Lucy called and left a message on my voice mail this morning," Lois remembered as she and her mother opened their fortune cookies after finishing their lunch. Like I wish you had done instead of just showing up, she said to herself.
"Oh, and what did your flighty sister have to say?" Ellen asked her daughter. "Has she been fired from another job, found another crazy boyfriend, or did she just get evicted from her apartment this time?"
"Actually," Lois began with a smile, "she and Dave, her newest boyfriend…"
"I knew it," Ellen interrupted with a sigh, "that girl is just plain trouble. So what has her newest boyfriend done — stolen her furniture again, or just leave her for a man like that guy a few years ago?"
"Just let me finish. She and Dave are moving out here — to New York, to be exact. She's even going back to college!" Lois exclaimed triumphantly. She hated when her mother trashed Lucy to her — it reminded Lois of how she used to berate her father in front of Lucy and her — and enjoyed dispelling her mother's myths about her younger sister. For a second Lois wondered what her mother said to Lucy about *her.* Probably something about "poor Lois, whose husband is in a coma in some hospital in the middle of nowhere, leaving her pregnant and alone." She wouldn't be surprised, that was for sure — it was what everyone else thought, except for Clark's parents, and she didn't expect her mother to be any different.
"Now that's all fine and dandy," Lois's mother dismissed Lucy's good news with a wave of her hand, "but I don't understand why she didn't call me! After all, I do live in New York. I hope she isn't planning on bringing her Romeo of the week to stay with me," Ellen worried.
"I don't think so, Mom," Lois corrected again. "In fact, she mentioned stopping for a while in Metropolis and staying with me for a few weeks."
The older Lane shook her head. "Typical. I knew this all sounded too good to be true. At least she won't be wanting to stay with me," she huffed.
Lois closed her eyes and shook her head. "Mother, why can't you give Lucy the benefit of the doubt for just once? It sounds like she's making a new start — it was Dave who convinced her to go back to school. Maybe she made a good choice this time." Ellen shook her head again, but Lois continued. "And anyway, it'll be nice having Lucy stay with me for a while — I don't get to see her very often."
Ellen took that as her cue and sat up straighter in her chair. "So does that mean that you wouldn't mind having a house guest for a little while?" she asked, grinning.
"Sure, Mother," she sighed as Ellen paid the check for their lunch. "How long are you going to be in Metropolis?" she asked in what she hoped sounded like a sweet tone of voice.
"Not long — maybe a week or two," Ellen said cheerfully as the two women stood and headed out of the restaurant.
"What are you doing here, Lois?" Perry asked as his star reporter hurried into the newsroom early one Saturday morning. "I thought you were spending the day with your mother."
Lois rolled her eyes, dropped her bag at her desk, and headed over to Perry, who was taking notes from a computer screen on a desk near Lois's. "I can't stand being near her for one more minute!" she announced, plopping herself on a chair near Perry. "My mother is driving me crazy! All she does is nag. Either I'm not eating enough or I've gained too much weight. Sometimes I work too much and sometimes I spend all of my time 'moping around the house and feeling sorry for myself.' She gets jealous when I talk to Martha on the phone but then encourages me to call her 'whenever I need to.' Sometimes it's a good thing that Alice cooks me dinner but sometimes she thinks I 'really should learn to cook. After all, children do get hungry, Lois.' You know, with all that people talk about pregnancy being a roller coaster of hormones, if I didn't know better I'd think my mother was the one that's pregnant, not me!" she said, flapping her arms around her in frustration as she talked. "So I left her a note that I have an important story to work on here," Lois finished, finally stopping for a breath.
"No!" Lois cried. "But I just had to get out of there! She told me that she'd only stay for a week or two. Well, it's been much longer than two weeks, and she hasn't mentioned leaving even once. Every once in a while I ask how she managed to get off work for so long, but she just says that she had a lot of vacation time saved up. You know, I sure hope she isn't planning on doing this once this baby's born, because she's really driving me crazy. They'll have to send me to a mental institution and my child will become a ward of the state! Or worse yet," Lois lamented frantically, "some inept judge'll give *her* custody and it'll grow up to be crazy just like me."
Perry chuckled, sending Lois off into further frenzy. "I am *not* kidding, Perry. She's making me insane. The only thing I have to look forward to is that Lucy'll be here soon and my mother's planning to leave before Lucy arrives. For some reason she's got it into her head that Lucy and her boyfriend are planning on staying with her when they get to New York because, 'being such free spirits, kids these days don't plan anything.' So she's going home to clear out her spare room so they have somewhere to sleep." Perry smiled at Ellen's kindness in planning for her youngest daughter and her boyfriend to stay with her, but Lois soon corrected him. "You know, she's only letting them stay with her because it'd be an embarrassment if any of Mother's friends found out that her daughter and her boyfriend were staying in 'some seedy motel.' With my luck," Lois continued, "this plan of my mother's will go out the window just like her plan to only stay for 'a week or two' and I'll have both her and Lucy living with me at the same time. Talk about World War Three — those two fight like cats and dogs!"
Perry again smiled. "I'm sure everything'll be fine, Lois," he reassured her.
"You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think that everyone was making sure that I didn't have to be alone since Clark isn't here." She looked at Perry accusatorily and he had the grace to duck his head. "You know, Perry, I've gotta get used to being by myself. I mean, I don't know how long it'll be before Clark's better," she said in a quieter tone. "I don't like to say it any more than you do, but Clark may never be back to normal. I might have to raise this baby by myself," she said, fighting back the familiar tears that were threatening to spill onto her cheeks. "I mean I love everyone visiting me — most of the time — but it'll be a shock if no one leaves me alone till after the baby's born and then I have to figure out what to do with it."
Perry nodded. "I'm sorry, honey. I suppose everyone has been making sure you wouldn't be by yourself for too long. But we're just worried about you — we're afraid that being alone will only make you lonely and depressed over Clark being sick. We all miss him, Lois," Perry reminded her.
Lois nodded. "I know — so do I — and I appreciate everyone's intentions, really I do, but, tough as it is, sometime I'm gonna have to face reality," Lois admitted.
"Which is that Clark might never be able to come home," she admitted to him. "I've always made a point of showing everyone how tough I am, Perry, but it all feels like an act right now. I'm not really as strong as people think — I've just developed these… these thorns, I guess. And I doubt thorns come in handy for a mother," she worried.
"Oh, Lois," Perry rolled his chair over to where Lois was sitting. "I'm sure you'll be fine — Clark'll get better and come home and you'll make a great mother," he reassured her.
"I'm not so sure about that one, Chief. You don't have to say that just to try to cheer me up. I mean, I don't possess one single trait that comes to mind when I think about a good mother — I'm not unselfish, not very kind or nurturing. I bet I have less motherly instinct than," she thought for a minute, "*Ralph* does in his pinkie finger."
Perry shook his head. "Lois, I wasn't just trying to make you feel better — I really believe what I said." But Lois still looked skeptical, so Perry continued. "First of all, you're fiercely loyal and protective; those are good traits for a mother to have. When you care about someone, you love them with your whole heart and you'd do anything for them. And you're not selfish, Lois — a selfish person couldn't work with a partner, couldn't be married, wouldn't put up with unwanted guests in their house. If you didn't care about your mother, you'd have told her to take a hike long ago. And you *are* kind and nurturing," he argued, then grinned. "I've seen how you treat Clark. Besides, when you hold your child in your arms, you'll care for it more than you could imagine even now."
Lois looked up from her fingers, which she'd been studying intently during Perry's speech, tears in her eyes. "Thanks, Perry. I guess I needed to hear that."
"That's perfectly understandable," he admitted, patting her shoulder, "every once in a while," he made sure to qualify his statement, and Lois managed a laugh.
"I guess I better get home, Chief," she said, pushing herself up from her chair and snatching her bag from her desk before heading toward the elevator. "Maybe I should, you know, talk to my mother before she leaves. Maybe straighten some things out," she suggested shyly. Perry smiled and waved as the elevator door closed in front of his star reporter.
Lois quietly slipped her key into the lock and let herself in through the front door. She gently placed her bag on a table, slipped off her shoes, and walked slowly into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of grape juice and put a bagel in the toaster. She relaxed in the dining room chair she'd relocated into the kitchen; lately she'd been afraid that she was too big to fit into the kitchen booth-like table where she and Clark used to eat breakfast. Lois was still waiting for the toaster to brown her bagel when she heard the kitchen door swing open and footsteps enter the kitchen. She turned around and her mother, dressed in her pajamas and a robe, was standing at the entranceway to the kitchen. "You're up early," her mother commented, pouring a glass of orange juice from a pitcher in the fridge. "Going somewhere?"
Lois got out of her chair and quickly (and hopefully unnoticeably) crumpled up the note she'd left for her mother on the kitchen counter. "Mother, I think we should talk," she said, changing the subject. Lois caught her bagel when it popped out of the toaster and took a bite after squirting a dollop of honey onto it.
"Talk? About what?" Ellen asked as she slipped her own breakfast, an English muffin, in the toaster.
"About…" Lois struggled for a word. "About our relationship." Her mother looked at her questioningly.
"What's there to talk about? We don't fight," Ellen reminded her.
"Mother, until I became pregnant and you started calling every week, we didn't even talk!" she exclaimed. "Of course we didn't fight. We don't even know each other." Lois looked down at her bagel as she attempted to explain herself to her mother. "Do you remember right before Clark and I got married when you said that I turn to Martha?" Ellen nodded. "And I said that I didn't, but then said that I'd rather turn to you. Well, I admit it — I do turn to Martha. I guess it's because I don't understand you, Mother, you're so difficult. And so am I," she admitted quickly. "So am I. But I want to stop this… this mess now, before it goes any further," she said, placing her hand on her stomach and gently rubbing in response to the kicking she felt. "I don't want to do the same thing with my child."
Ellen still looked perplexed. "I still don't understand what you're talking about, Lois. What 'mess'?"
"I know how other mothers and daughters are," Lois admitted. "They're close, mostly. I remember friends I had in high school - - they used to do things with their mothers — talk, go shopping, take classes together, go to movies, even argue. We didn't do any of that, except the arguing part — you were either fighting with Daddy or passed out drunk in the recliner." Her mother opened her mouth to protest, but Lois was more persistent. "But I've gotten over that, over yours and Daddy's problems. Now I just have to work on *our* problems, yours and mine." She took a deep breath and continued. "Mother, I don't know you, not really. I mean, you're my mother, and I know you that way, sort of, but I don't know you as a person, as a friend. What do you do when you're not at work? What was your childhood like? How did you and Daddy meet? Things like that."
Ellen thought for a minute as she took her English muffin from the toaster and scraped the burnt parts off before buttering it. "My childhood," she remembered. "My mother was very strict, very impersonal. I never knew her as a person, like you're saying you don't know me. To me she was just this wife and mother who was there when we got home from school, cooked dinner, tried to settle family squabbles, and once in a while threw birthday parties. I guess, in a lot of ways, I'm just like her. But Lois, that's all I know. It's the only way I saw to be. I made a lot of mistakes with you and Lucy, and probably I'm to blame for how the two of you turned out."
Lois finally found the courage to look up at her mother. She was surprised to see a tear in her eye; she couldn't remember ever seeing her mother cry, not even when she was drinking or when Lois's father had come home with "a patient's" lipstick stains on his collar. She pushed herself up from her seat and walked slowly over to her mother.
"Lois, I think starting again is a wonderful idea for our family. It sounds like Lucy's starting over, too," she admitted, and Lois admired her mother's civility regarding her sister. "A new baby, a new home. Sounds like a good time for new beginnings," she said, putting her arms around Lois and giving her, for the first time in a long time, an honest, heartfelt hug. "I don't want to pass this… 'mess,' I think you called it, on to my grandchild, either," she said tearfully and reached one arm down from Lois's shoulder and fit it between them, pressing it onto Lois's stomach. Lois pulled away slightly and placed her hand on her mother's as the baby kicked them.
Lois heard the doorbell ring and, saving the story she'd been writing on her laptop, struggled to her feet as quickly as she could. She opened the door to reveal a woman, a few inches shorter than herself, with wavy brown hair. "Lucy!"
Lucy dropped the suitcase she was carrying and, without leaving the entranceway of the brownstone, pulled Lois toward her in a fierce embrace. When they finally left each other's arms, Lucy stared at her older sister with her mouth agape. "Wow, Sis, look at you," she marveled.
Lois scowled at Lucy. "I don't understand why everyone is so shocked to see me. My doctor says that my weight is normal. I mean, I *am* seven months pregnant — what did you expect me to look like?" she asked her sister.
"I don't know," Lucy told her. "I guess no matter how I imagined you to look, you'd look different, so it's always a surprise. But you don't look too big or anything — I was just having a hard time picturing you pregnant." Lucy picked up her bag and the sisters went inside, where Lois peered out of the window.
"Oh, we were having a hard time finding a place to park, especially since we have a U-Haul attached to the back of the car. So he dropped me off — he's probably still looking for parking," she laughed. "Oh, and he's great, Lois — you'll absolutely love him."
Lois just smiled and nodded; she'd already met several of Lucy's boyfriends that she was assured she'd "absolutely love." But Lois, after a healing visit with her mother, was willing to at least give Dave a chance.
Lucy noticed the uncertainty on her big sister's face and smiled. "I know what you're thinking, Lois," she warned her. "And you're completely wrong. Dave is one hundred percent different from every other guy I've gone out with. He's kind, honest, caring — not even a criminal record for you to flash at me over breakfast," she joked.
Lois smiled hopefully. "Well, there must be something good about him if he convinced you to go back to school."
Lucy playfully stuck her tongue out at her sister. "He's great, but enough about him — you'll meet him soon anyway. Let's talk about you," she suggested, changing the subject, and Lois groaned. "What about me?"
"How are you doing, really? I mean, I've been pretty far away, but I know that everything that's been happening in the past few months has got to be tough. How's Clark? Do you get to visit him much? Does your doctor even let you fly?"
"He's fine — he's, uh, in good hands," she hoped. "I haven't seen him as much as I'd have liked to." At least that much was true, Lois thought. "And I was allowed to fly earlier, but my doctor says that the further along I get the worse it is for me. So I'm just going to stay here until the baby's born." Lois hated to lie to her sister and was glad that what she'd just said, though it *was* misleading, wasn't completely untrue.
"Speaking of the baby," Lucy began with a smile, "how is he or she? Do you know if it's a boy or girl?"
"No, I don't want to know. Not yet, at least. And it's fine — I'm due October twenty-seventh and can't wait," she admitted, rubbing her swollen belly.
"Oh, come on, Lois, this is your sister — you can't lie to me," she scolded. "How are you really doing? Does it hurt? Does it kick very much? Are you okay at work?"
Lois bit her lip and looked away. "Work's okay, I guess. I mean, I know I can't do as much as I used to — it's just not physically possible anymore. But Perry, my editor, and everyone else has been really great about it. At least I'm not totally washed up yet," she said with a slight smile and turned the conversation away from work, where she'd been feeling a little useless lately. "And, well, a while ago I would've said that it doesn't hurt, but it's starting to," she admitted. "My back hurts a lot, and my feet. It's not really the baby kicking, just having to carry it around all the time. But it does kick," she quickly reminded Lucy. "It kicks all the time. Here, give me your hand — it's been pretty active today." Lucy offered her hand to her sister, who placed it between her own and her stomach. They waited for a little while before Lucy felt a few kicks. "Feel it?"
Lucy smiled. "So it's okay, healthy and everything, right?"
Lois nodded. "It's fine," she assured her sister. "In fact, I was wondering if, while you're here, you'd want to come to a few Lamaze classes with me," she offered. "Since Martha and Jonathan will be here when the baby's born, I've asked Martha to be my coach. But they can't be here now so I've had to use stand-ins on a few occasions," she recalled, smiling at how her stand-ins had handled the class. "Mother went a few times, and that was an experience not to be believed. Or repeated," she laughed, "and Jimmy came with me once, but he seemed really uncomfortable so I haven't asked him back."
"Of course I will," Lucy exclaimed happily. "Although I'm kinda surprised Mom went with you." She shuddered, imagining the experience. "Oh, you said that you don't know the sex, but what about names?" her sister asked curiously. "Have one of those 'What to Name Your Baby' books yet?"
Lois's spirits dampened a bit at the mention of a name — this was one thing that she absolutely did not want to think about without Clark. After all, they'd be using this name for the rest of their lives, and, although they'd talked about having children, they'd never discussed what to name them. It had all seemed so far away at the time that the thought hadn't even crossed Lois's mind, but now she regretted not having brought it up. "I don't know, Luce. And, no, I don't even have a book," she admitted reluctantly. "It's just a really big decision, and I don't want to make it alone."
Lucy smiled and went over to the bag she'd placed in the hall earlier. "I'm glad to hear you say that. Well, about the book, anyway," she corrected, handing Lois a flat, wrapped package which turned out to be a book of baby names. Lois smiled in thanks and hugged her sister, but remained silent. "You know, you won't be alone deciding this name. I mean, I'm willing to accept a position of authority, complete with veto power, and I'm sure Clark's parents and your friends at the Planet, not to mention Mom, will offer their opinions," she reminded her sister with a smile.
Lois smiled again, more sincere this time. "Thanks, Luce, but this was something I really wanted to share with Clark."
Lucy shrugged her shoulders. "It'll give you something to look forward to with your next baby," she joked.
Lois smiled and shook her head. "One at a time," she said to Lucy.
Lucy just grinned and rose from her seat when the doorbell rang and returned with a man that Lois presumed was Dave, her newest boyfriend. He was tall, with sandy brown hair almost the same color as Lucy's, and dark eyes. Lois began to struggle to her feet, and Dave offered her his hand and helped her off the couch, shaking her hand in the process. "I'm Dave Chapman. You must be Lois, Lucy's sister," he told her with a smile. "Luce's told me so much about you."
Lois looked sideways at her sister. "I sure hope you didn't believe her," she joked.
Dave smiled. "Why not? She told me that you're a good sister, a talented reporter, happily married to a nice guy, and, in a few months, a wonderful mother. Which part shouldn't I believe?"
Smiling, Lois looked at her sister with raised eyebrows. Blushing a light red, Lucy pushed her hair behind her ears and looked at her feet uncomfortably. "What did you do with the luggage, Dave?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Still in the car. I had to park kinda far away, so I'll go back to get it in a few minutes," he promised, kissing her lightly on the lips. "And besides, I didn't want you to worry since I'd been gone pretty long already."
Lucy smiled sweetly and turned to Lois, who was trying to look elsewhere; watching Lucy and Dave together made her long for Clark. She missed the little things being married meant — an unexpected kiss, a squeeze of her hand for support, a shoulder rub when she was tired.
"Lois, do you think you could show us where we'll be staying?" Lucy asked her sister.
"Oh, and I'd like to take a shower after bringing the rest of our stuff in," he said to Lois. "If that's okay — we've been driving for so long that I can't remember the last time I used a bathroom in an actual house," he joked.
"That's fine. Oh, and I wanted to show you the baby's room — it's already fixed up," she remembered suddenly. "In fact, I should give you a complete tour of the house since you've never seen it," she said to Lucy, who nodded before the three of them headed upstairs.
The next morning, a Sunday, Lois plodded downstairs early. She'd had trouble sleeping again, and eventually she'd decided to give up trying to fall back to sleep and instead came downstairs. She was surprised to find Dave standing near the kitchen sink, squirting water into his mouth from a plastic bottle. "You a runner?" Lois asked, noting the way he was dressed.
He coughed for a minute, surprised by her sudden appearance in the kitchen, and wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand. "Sorry — I didn't realize anyone else was up yet," he explained. "And, yeah, I do run. Among other things."
"What other things?"
"Tennis, basketball sometimes, tae kwon do," he listed.
"Tae kwon do? Really?" Lois asked, removing a pair of kiwis from a drawer in the refrigerator and offering one to Dave, who took it. "I do tae kwon do. Well, not lately," she corrected herself, "but I've taken classes in the past, along with my self-defense class."
"That's great," he told her as she pointed out the silverware drawer and popped a bagel into the toaster. "You know, Lucy and I met in a self-defense class."
"She didn't tell me that!"
"Yeah, I was teaching self defense to make some extra money while I finished my Ph.D., and Lucy was in my class," he told her, pouring himself and Lois tall glasses of grape juice from a pitcher he'd found in the fridge.
Lucy hadn't mentioned what Dave did for a living, so Lois had just assumed that he had the same sort of job her past boyfriends had: waiter/wanna-be actor, 'vocationally challenged' couch potato, cyborg criminal… "What do you have a Ph.D. in?"
"Religion," he told her, and Lois's eyebrows shot up in surprise — Dave didn't look like someone she'd have guessed to be religious, never mind have a doctorate in the area. He laughed. "I always get that kind of reaction. I must not look like a religion kinda guy," he said good-naturedly. "Actually," he confided, "I started out as a journalism major, but my interests sort of drifted. But I'd be really interested in finding more out about what you and your husband do."
Lois smiled at Dave and grabbed her bagel as it popped out of the toaster. "I'd love to show you," she offered. "But I don't know how interested in reporting Lucy is — she's always complaining that I work too much."
"What am I always complaining about?" Lucy asked as she walked into the kitchen and greeted Dave with a good morning kiss.
"Lois working too much," he told her.
Lucy smiled. "That's because she does," she said simply. "And if Clark were here right now he'd agree with me."
"He probably would," Lois admitted, "but I am trying to cut back. And I've got another surprise for you — I gave up coffee," she said proudly.
"You had to," Lucy said, dismissing Lois's accomplishment as she walked toward her sister and placed her hand on her stomach. "You should really tell your mommy that she's not kidding anyone — as soon as you're born she'll go back to all her old bad habits," she told Lois's stomach, patting it gently as she spoke.
Lois looked down at her sister with an amused expression. "I will not," she insisted, but Lucy just nodded her head knowingly and went over to search the contents of the refrigerator for her breakfast. She pulled out a container of leftover fruit salad and dug in after Dave handed her a spoon.
"Well, I'm going upstairs to clean up," Dave announced, tossing his kiwi skins into the garbage and his knife into the dishwasher. He planted a light kiss on Lucy's cheek before heading out the door and upstairs.
"Well, Luce, how come you didn't tell me that Dave has a Ph.D. in religion? Or that you two met in a self-defense class?" Lois asked her sister with raised eyebrows.
Lucy smiled and swallowed a mouthful of pineapple. "I didn't get much of a chance," she reminded her sister. That was true, Lois admitted. Lucy and Dave, after unpacking and taking a tour of the house, including the nursery, had washed up and headed for bed since they were tired from all the driving they'd been doing. Lois had finished up the story she'd been working on and e-mailed it to Perry so that she could spend the rest of the weekend with Lucy and Dave.
"I think I like him," Lois told her sister.
"No, the man in the moon! Yes, Dave! He doesn't have a hidden dark side that I don't know about, does he?" Lois checked. "Hasn't been in jail, isn't married, isn't a con man who preys on women he meets in self-defense classes?"
"Who told you?" Lucy joked.
Lois slapped her sister playfully on the arm. "You know what I mean, Luce. I know your track record with guys, that's all. I don't want you to get hurt again."
Lucy smiled. "Nope — he's about as good as it gets," she told her sister honestly. "He has a position lined up at a university in New York, he's twenty-nine, never been married, has a twin sister, younger brother and a dog named Mac."
"And where is Mac now?" Lois asked mock-suspiciously.
"At Dave's parents' house in Ohio until we find a permanent apartment in New York," Lucy told her. "I told you, Lois, he's as good as it gets."
"Lois?" Lucy called out from the kitchen when she heard the front door of 348 Hyperion close quietly. "Lois?" she asked again, wiping her hands on a towel and leaving the kitchen. She walked into the family room to find Lois, still wearing her coat, sitting on the couch with her head in her hands. "How was work?" Lucy asked tentatively.
Lois said nothing, but looked up at her sister after wiping tears from her eyes with a fist. Lucy sat next to Lois and put her arm around her sister, gently rubbing her back after removing her coat. Eventually Lois looked up again.
"Lucy, I don't think I can do this," she said, motioning to her nearly eight-month-pregnant stomach. Lucy remained quiet but looked at Lois, waiting for her to continue. "I've been investigating this series of murders," she began, taking several deep breaths.
"Yes?" Lucy nodded.
"They're pretty grisly," she continued, and Lucy nodded again. "In the past few weeks several fast food restaurants have been robbed at their drive-throughs by a single gunman, wearing a ski mask, and demanding they give him the money in their cash registers or he'll kill them. Each time he was given the money, but he shot the kids working there anyway." Lois paused again and Lucy grimaced slightly. "Have you heard about this guy? The holdups have been pretty well publicized in the past few weeks." Lucy shook her head no. "Well, the gunman tried it again today, only he picked the wrong fast food joint this time — there were three cops inside on their lunch break when he pulled up at the window and asked for the money. One of the other restaurant employees saw what was going on, told the cops, and they caught the guy before he could get away."
"That's good," Lucy commented, unsure why Lois was upset — to Lucy, catching the gunman who'd been on a robbing and killing spree for a few weeks sounded like the kind of front-page story her sister thrived on.
"I was down at police headquarters for another story when they brought the gunman in," Lois began again, "and, well, it wasn't really a gun*man*," Lois said, and Lucy once again felt confused. "He was a kid, Luce, just thirteen years old. He was even driving a car, a stolen car, illegally — he isn't even old enough to have a driver's license. I talked to one of the arresting officers for my story, and he kept going on about how inept parents are these days — apparently this kid was abused and neglected as a child and it hit a really sore spot for the officer. That's all he could talk about," Lois said, beginning to cry once again, "how irresponsible and selfish parents were, either dumping their kids in government foster homes or at day care or with a nanny, depending on how much money the 'unfit' parents have," Lois finished, gasping as she tried to catch her breath and regain her composure.
"And you're afraid something like that's going to happen with this baby?" Lucy asked, suddenly understanding Lois's anxiety.
Lois nodded. "It's so easy to mess up just a little bit," she lamented. "And that little bit can screw your kid up forever. What am I thinking, having a baby practically by myself and expecting everything to turn out okay? What do I know about raising kids? Nothing," she answered her own rhetorical question.
"Lois, that is not going to happen to your child," Lucy comforted her. "You're not planning on neglecting it, are you?"
"Well, maybe this *exact* thing won't happen," Lois agreed, "but something bad can happen so easily. I'm a reporter — I spend my time writing about the bad things that can happen to people — what am I thinking, bringing a child into this messed-up world? I don't know how to be a mother. Look who I, who *we*, learned from!" she exclaimed. "What kind of example was our mother?"
Lucy shook her head. "But Clark…"
"Exactly," Lois answered, anticipating Lucy's objection. "Clark would know what to do," she wailed. "You know, Luce, Clark would make a good father — his parents are just great, and his home was so calm, so loving. What was I thinking, doing this without him?" she repeated.
"You didn't let me finish," Lucy admonished her sister. "What I was going to say was that you have Clark's parents now, too. Sure, you didn't grow up with them, but at least they can help you now." Lois nodded almost imperceptibly and Lucy continued. "And besides, I'm sure Clark'll be better soon," she reassured Lois. "And even if he isn't," she said quickly, "you won't be alone. Besides Martha and Jonathan, you have Jimmy and Perry here in Metropolis." Lois made a face at Lucy. "I know they don't exactly have perfect family lives themselves, but you *can* turn to them if you need help — they're your friends," she reminded Lois. "As much as you may not want to admit it, you can always ask Mom for help. I know she didn't do such a hot job with us, but lots of people are better as grandparents than parents. And she doesn't drink anymore, either," Lucy reminded Lois. "And you can always call me. I know I don't have kids, but I'm always willing to come and help out," she finished.
Lois, who had, by now, caught her breath and stopped crying, put her arms around her sister. "Thanks, Lucy. I guess maybe you're right," she admitted out loud, but inside she was still worried. As long as Clark comes back, I'll be okay, she said to herself, as long as Clark comes back.
"And besides, I read somewhere that people are either just like their parents, or nothing at all like them," Lucy told Lois. "From what I can see, you're nothing like Mom and Dad — you're not an alcoholic, you have a happy marriage to someone who'll be there for you, and who'll be a good father, and, best of all, you're committed to not repeating our parents' mistakes," Lucy reminded her as the two sisters rose from the couch. "Now, I think it's time for dinner. I heated up something Alice made. And, what do you know," Lucy said with a smile as they headed toward the kitchen, "she's another person you can ask for help."
"Brian?" Lucy asked as she reached over to poke Lois with her toe. Lois shrugged and turned back to the story she was typing on her laptop. "Benjamin, Andrew, Alexander, Adam, Aaron," Lucy listed, looking over at Lois lying on the other half of the bed; her back had been hurting so she'd decided to spend the day in bed finishing up several stories for the next day's edition of the Planet. Lucy had decided it was about time for Lois to pick a name, or at least a few names, for the baby, and had joined her sister in bed, poking her with her foot whenever she thought Lois wasn't paying adequate attention to her.
Lois finally looked up from her story when her sister stopped listing names. "Why'd you stop?"
"I got to the end of the list," Lucy stated the obvious, "or, I should say, the beginning since I started with the Zs. Should I move on to girls' names?"
"Unless you know something I don't, that would probably be a good idea," Lois said distractedly, running a spell check on her story.
Lucy flipped to the last page of the book and again started reading names from the Z section: "Zorana, Zorah, Zoe, Zita, Zillah, Zenia… Boy, this is bad — sounds like something out of Greek mythology," she commented. Lois managed a smile, and Lucy flipped to another page: "Karen, Katherine, Kerry, Kristy." She turned the page. "Hey, Lois, get this — your name means 'beautiful and yielding.' Ha!"
Scowling at her sister, Lois set her computer aside and turned her full attention to Lucy and the book she was reading from. "And what does *your* name mean, dear sister?"
"Let's see, Lucy, 'see Lucille'… Lucille is French, means 'shining,'" she told Lois. "Better than 'beautiful and yielding,'" she snorted. "Heard anything you like?"
"Lucy," Lois began with a sigh, "I don't really feel like…"
"I know you don't, Lois, but someone's gotta find a name for this baby before it gets to school. You can't call it 'It' or 'Baby Kent' forever," she reminded her sister.
"Fine," Lois acquiesced, pulling her laptop nearer. "Keep reading."
"Oh, no, you don't," Lucy reprimanded. "Give me that," she commanded and, after saving each of Lois's open files, flipped the computer off. "Lois, you have four weeks…"
"Five," Lois corrected, "and don't think I'm not counting the days."
"Fine, you have *five* weeks until the baby is born and you hadn't even opened this book yet," she admonished, creasing the unspoiled spine of the book. "When do you expect to do this? I doubt you'll be thinking very clearly when you're in labor."
"I'll have to stop working a little while before the baby's born," she reasoned. "I'll pick a name then."
"And what if you can't find one you like? At least if you start now, you'll have more time to think about it and look through another book if you don't find anything good in this one," she suggested. "But with names like," she glanced back at the book, giggling, "Octavia, Ora, and Ozelle, I don't see what's not to like."
Lois smiled and scooted closer to Lucy on the bed. "Fine," she gave in. "What else you got?"
"Lucy, if you don't hurry up, we're going to be late!" Lois yelled upstairs to her sister, who was still getting ready. Lois tapped her car keys against her hand in anticipation; she and Lucy should have left for the airport ten minutes ago to pick up Martha and Jonathan, whose flight would be arriving in Metropolis shortly. "Lucy!"
"Calm down, Lois," Lucy told her sister as she jogged down the steps and grabbed her jacket. Her hair was still wet from her shower and she was munching on an apple. "It's not like they'll leave if we're a minute late," she reminded her.
Lois locked the door behind her sister and they headed toward Lois's car and were soon on their way to Metropolis International Airport. Lois checked and rechecked the digital clock on her dashboard as she drove, groaning when they had to stop at a red light and smiling when she sped through a yellow one.
"Gosh," Lucy commented, "you're in an awful hurry!"
Lois smiled. "I can't believe you've never met Clark's parents!" she exclaimed as she pulled onto the freeway. After checking for oncoming cars, she zipped into the middle lane and sped toward the airport exit. "But that's right, you couldn't be at our wedding because you punched a security guard," Lois remembered smugly. Lucy opened her mouth to explain, but Lois continued. "Clark grew up on a farm in Kansas," Lois reminded Lucy. "He's an only child, and his mother, Martha, is the best mom you could imagine: kind, caring, always supportive. She's an artist, too, and is always taking classes at a local college. Once she even took a course where she made a grandfather clock — it's in their family room. And Jonathan, he's great, too, not like typical fathers who are afraid to show affection, especially to their sons. At first when Clark said that he could tell his dad anything, I didn't believe him, but after I got to know Jonathan I understood what he meant — he's a great listener. So is Martha. You'll just love them," she told Lucy with a grin.
"Wow. They sound quite a bit different from Mom and Dad," Lucy guessed.
Lois laughed. "You have *no idea.*" The Jeep veered off the freeway and was soon at the airport. Tugging Lucy behind her, Lois hurried as best she could into the building and, checking for the Kents' flight number on a computer, headed toward the gate where their plane was to arrive.
"Do you have a picture?" Lucy asked her sister as they settled into a pair of uncomfortable plastic chairs adjacent to the window where they could watch for the Kents' plane.
Lois dug through her bag to find her wallet and flipped through it until she found a picture of Clark with his parents. She passed the wallet to Lucy, who surveyed the photo and, after flipping through the rest of her sister's pictures, passed it back. Before replacing the wallet in her bag, Lois gazed longingly at the image of Clark in the picture with the Kents, then next to it, at the photo of her and Clark together. She ran her finger over the photo, wishing that Clark were there with her to share what had been happening since he left and would happen in the months to come.
"Lois! Earth to Lois!" Lucy waved her hand between her sister's glazed-over face and the wallet in her hands. "Lois, pay attention! I think their plane just landed," she said, standing and pulling her sister to her feet once Lois shoved her unsnapped wallet back into her bag. She and Lucy hurried toward the entranceway to the tunnel that led to the Kents' plane. Lois noticed happily that there were a lot less people awaiting this flight than there had been for Martha's last flight to Metropolis — she wouldn't have to push her way through a crowd this time. Lois waited anxiously as passengers exited the plane and were greeted by their waiting families. Then she spotted her in-laws, who were clutching their carry-ons and looking for Lois.
"Jonathan! Martha!" Lois called as she walked toward them. When they saw her each of their faces broke into a grin and they hurried toward Lois and Lucy. Martha dropped her bag and hugged her daughter-in-law, and Jonathan joined in the embrace. Lucy stood by, feeling slightly out of place until her sister and the Kents parted.
"Oh, Martha and Jonathan, this is my sister, Lucy. Lucy, Clark's parents," Lois introduced with a smile. Lucy shook hands with her sister's in-laws and the four of them made their way toward the baggage claim area.
"How's the baby, Lois?" Martha asked as they hiked down the long, carpeted hallway. She slipped her arm around Lois's shoulder and Lois squeezed her hand.
"It's fine. Healthy and strong I'd guess since it kicks me all day."
Martha smiled. "And the Planet? How's work going?"
"Work's fine, too."
Martha looked skeptical and turned to Lucy. "I'm sure I can trust you to tell me how work is really going," she confided in Lois's sister. "Is she working too much?"
Lucy smiled, knowing full well what Martha meant. "Actually, she's not. I think she was overdoing it before I got here, but I've kept her under control since then," Lucy joked.
"Well, it's hard to have to sit by and watch someone else take a story I would've gotten had I not been pregnant," Lois explained with frustration. "Just last week Perry gave Ralph an assignment that I would've killed for. But it was undercover so, even if I had been feeling up to it, which I wasn't, I couldn't have taken it," she admitted.
"You still defrosting Alice's meals?" Jonathan checked.
"Actually," Lois began as they waited with the other passengers around the baggage carousel, "Lucy's been doing a lot of the cooking. She's a much better chef than I am. In fact, I don't know where she gets it. Neither of our parents can cook at all," Lois said as Martha and Jonathan grabbed their bags off the carousel. "But Alice is still cooking for me, so I have a freezer full for when the baby's born and I don't feel like cooking. As if I ever 'feel like cooking,'" Lois joked as she, Lucy, and the Kents headed away from the baggage claim area and toward Lois's car, toting along suitcases and an awkwardly shaped crate.
"So who's helping out with the farm while you two are here?" Lois asked. "Wayne Irig's family is going to take care of the place for a while," Jonathan told her.
"Are you sure it's okay for you to be here?" Lois worried. "I mean, all I know about farming I've learned from you two and Clark, but don't you need to do something with your crops?"
"The Irigs know what to do," he assured her. "And besides, Martha and I would much rather be here with you and our grandchild than with some old boring crops."
Lois smiled as they climbed into the Jeep and headed home.
"Are you staying until the baby's born?" Martha asked Lucy as Lois steered her way back onto the freeway.
"I wish I could," Lucy said regretfully. "I have to get to New York. My boyfriend and I drove here from California to see Lois on our way to New York City, where he has a new job and I have my first semester back in college," she explained.
"That's great," Martha told her. "Do you know what you'll be studying?"
"I'm not sure yet," Lucy admitted. "I started college right out of high school, but didn't finish the first year…"
"She left after a week," Lois interrupted.
Lucy made a face at her from the passenger's seat. "Anyway, I'm starting all over from the beginning, so I'm not sure what I'll be majoring in yet."
"That sounds wonderful," Martha told her, patting Lucy's shoulder supportively. "Some people aren't ready for college right after high school and that's perfectly all right," she assured the younger woman.
"I'm not so sure about that," Lois commented as she switched lanes without bothering to use her turning signal.
"Must be the mother in you," Lucy joked, and Lois narrowed her eyes but said nothing, changing the subject instead. "What was in the crate you two brought with you?" she asked Martha and Jonathan.
They glanced at each other and Jonathan smiled. "A little present for our grandchild," he told her.
"Please tell me you didn't bring any other gifts," Lois begged them. "I think this baby has enough stuff to last until *it* goes to college."
"I can assure you that the baby doesn't have this, Lois," Jonathan said as Lois maneuvered the Jeep off the freeway.
"So how much longer will you be staying, Lucy?" Martha repeated.
"Oh, probably another week. Dave — he's my boyfriend — is a professor at the college I'll be attending, so he's taking care of the paperwork I need for registering for classes."
The Kents and Lucy discussed Dave and the university where Lucy would be studying until they arrived back at Lois's brownstone. Martha, Jonathan, and Lucy carried the Kents' luggage into the house, and Lois complained about how helpless she felt since all she could manage to carry was her own bag and her mother-in-law's purse. But she looked on with curiosity as Jonathan and Lucy hauled the large cardboard box decorated with a green bow that Lois had asked about into the house.
"You can open it now," Jonathan told Lois once everyone and everything was inside. Lois smiled and slit the box open with a pair of scissors. Inside was a beautiful hand-carved rocking chair. Lois stripped off her coat and tried the chair out, resting her head against the soft pad tied to the back of the chair.
"Wow, this is so comfortable — did you make it?" she asked Jonathan.
He nodded his head. "When Martha came back from her last visit here, she told me that just about the only thing you didn't have was a rocking chair, so I got right to carving it and hoped you wouldn't get one in the meantime. You didn't, did you?"
"No," she told him, "and even if I did have a rocking chair, it wouldn't be anything like this," she marveled, running her hands over the armrests. "I think I could fall asleep right now."
"It's supposed to put the baby to sleep, not you, Lois," her sister reminded her as Martha pulled another box, this one smaller and wrapped, out of the cardboard box that had carried the rocking chair. She offered the gift to Lois with a smile.
Lois protested again, but opened the gift. It was a framed watercolor of the Kents' farm, and it reminded Lois of something. "It's beautiful, Martha," she told her mother-in-law, "and I can even tell what it is — remember the bowl of fruit you were working on when I first came to Smallville?"
Martha and Jonathan laughed. "That was when I was in my abstract phase. I wanted this to be recognizable so that you could tell the baby about its grandparents and show it where we are since we won't be able to see it as often as if we lived in Metropolis," Martha explained, thinking that if — no, *when* — Clark got back he could fly them to Metropolis for a visit anytime. Lois took the painting, Jonathan and Lucy carried the rocking chair upstairs, and the three women showed Jonathan how the nursery had been decorated.
"Lois? Lois dear, can you hear me? Jonathan, I think she's waking up — get the nurse! Lois?" Lois could hear the voice, and knew that she should recognize it, but she couldn't quite place it. She tried to lift her heavy eyelids, but, finding that she couldn't, settled for exploring with her hand. She could feel softness — was she in her bed? — and her fingers eventually hit something cool and metal — what was that? She felt someone's warm hand grasp hers and squeeze, stopping its exploration. She tried to move her other hand, but found its motion restricted, by what she didn't know. Lois went back to sleep.
"Lois?" It was the same voice, calling her name again. This time she opened her eyes and stared through the unfeeling fog at the person who was again holding her hand. She tried to talk, but the sound must not have gotten through since the person whose hand surrounded hers didn't react; she coughed instead. "Lois, honey, it's Martha."
That's right, Martha, she reminded herself. She stared harder against the fog and could finally make out the relieved face of her mother-in-law. "Oh, Lois, you gave us quite a scare," Martha told her, rising from the chair beside Lois's bed.
"Where am I?" she managed to choke out.
"You're in the hospital, dear," Martha reminded her gently, "You went into labor."
Suddenly a flood of memories hit Lois — she had been in the bathroom brushing her teeth, or was it washing her face, she wasn't sure, when she'd gotten dizzy. She had tried to sit down on the toilet seat lid but couldn't find it. She remembered that her hands were red and sticky, then she was welcomed into a comforting, much-needed sleep as darkness closed around her. The next thing she remembered was hearing voices; the phrase "baby's in distress" had been repeated and Lois remembered trying to explain that her baby wasn't in distress, it was just late — she had tried to count the days, seven, eight, nine…
"The baby!" she suddenly realized. "Is the baby okay?"
Martha smiled. "The baby's fine, Lois — you had a little girl, seven pounds exactly. Would you like to see her?"
She managed to nod and watched as Martha pressed the call button and, a few minutes later, a nurse came into the room. Lois tried to push herself up in her bed and felt her arm hit something soft. She pulled it into her field of view and saw a stuffed bunny — Clark's Peter Rabbit, she reminded herself, and tried to manage a grin.
"Well, well, Sleeping Beauty is finally awake," the gray-haired forty-ish woman said cheerfully when she saw Lois half-sitting up. "If you'll give me a minute, you'll be able to hold your new baby," she told Lois, and went back into the hallway.
"What happened?" Lois asked Martha after the nurse left.
A brief look of worry crossed her mother-in-law's face. "You really frightened us, Lois. You were in the bathroom, brushing your teeth, I think." So she *had* been brushing her teeth. "Jonathan heard a thud and we went upstairs to see if you were okay, but," Martha grimaced, "you had passed out and you were bleeding. Jonathan called 911…"
"Where *is* Jonathan?"
"Oh, he went downstairs to get us some coffee — he should be back in a minute or so. Anyway," Martha continued, "the ambulance came and I rode with them while Jonathan followed in your car. The whole way there the EMTs couldn't figure out what was wrong - - they had me worried sick. With Clark gone, I guess it just slipped everyone's mind that the baby could be different. All the way to the hospital, I was worried that something was going wrong because of Clark." Martha lowered her voice. "For a while I was worried that we'd have to tell someone so they'd know how to treat you two. Thank goodness you're okay," Martha sighed. "When we got to the hospital, the doctors weren't sure what was wrong, either, but they agreed that they should do a C-section since you were unconscious and overdue anyway, so they did," Martha finished as the nurse reentered, wheeling a glass box up to the bed. Lois peered inside it and saw a dark-eyed baby with a bit of brown hair. She looked down at her somewhat flatter stomach and then back at the baby. The nurse slid her arms under the little girl and placed her in Lois's inexperienced arms.
"Am I holding her okay?" Lois asked uncertainly. "I mean, I'm not hurting her or anything?"
The nurse shook her head. "You're doing fine," she assured Lois. "Just make sure you support her head," she reminded. Lois nodded and stroked the baby's wispy brown hair, trailing her finger down to her nose and finally her fingers.
"She's so tiny," Lois marveled.
"What are you going to name her?" the nurse asked.
Lois looked up at Martha and smiled. "I was thinking maybe Lara," she said quietly, smiling to communicate her message to her mother-in-law, whose eyes teared up in comprehension. The nurse simply nodded her head at the name and grinned at Lois and Martha before leaving the room.
"I'll leave you two alone," Martha said as she inched her way toward the door. Lois looked up, a brief moment of panic showing on her face before a more controlled look came upon her.
'Do you have to?' Lois was about to ask, but realized that if Martha were to stay she'd just be postponing the inevitable — sooner or later, she'd have to be alone with her daughter. My daughter. She sounded the words slowly and quietly into the now- empty room. Martha had slipped out and closed the door behind her, leaving Lois alone with Lara. Lois turned her gaze from the door and focused her still-groggy self on the baby lying in her arms. Her brown eyes were open but unfocused, and Lois ran her finger gently down the baby's forehead and over her nose, coming to rest on the crease of her pink lips. Lara then yawned and squirmed in Lois's arms, stretching her fists into the air and causing Lois to panic for a minute, wondering what she'd done wrong. But then Lara stilled again and Lois felt herself relax as well as she let her finger slowly trace a path to the baby's clenched fist. At her mother's soft touch, Lara's fist loosened and latched onto Lois's index finger.
Lois marveled at the tiny fingers clenched around hers and realized that this was what she had been carrying around for the past ten months. No longer part of her — now her own separate person. No, Lois corrected — Lara had always been separate — separate to move and kick and stretch on her own. And this person was a mix, an even blend, of her and Clark. Though, as Lois studied her daughter's face, she couldn't see where she ended and Clark began. But they were both there, thoroughly blended and indistinguishable from each other. She was amazed at the tiny baby lying helpless in her arms. *Her* tiny baby. The baby whose development she had been hoping would stop, just freeze in time, and resume once Clark returned. But whether or not Clark came back, she would never be alone again. It was amazing that she and Clark had, however unknowingly, created another whole person who would have her own separate feelings and thoughts and ideas.
I should say something to her, Lois realized, but what? Lois found herself speechless. For the past several months, like most of her life, she had had no trouble finding a voice — she'd complained, yelled, cried, and pitied herself regularly. But now that there was something to be said, Lois couldn't find the words. It would have to be something important, she decided; she, and she alone, would remember these words forever — so what would she say?
Looking down at this helpless baby, Lois suddenly felt a new surge of feelings replace most of the self-doubt and -pity that had been with her for months. Hope and fear, wonder and responsibility, all coursed through her body. And love. Most of all, love, a deeper and stronger love than she'd ever felt, even for Clark. Suddenly it dawned on her. Suddenly Lois knew how she'd gotten through the past few lonely months, and how she'd get through those in the future, with or without Clark.
"Lara," Lois whispered finally to her daughter, who tried to focus on Lois's face in response, "I bet you're wondering where your daddy is. Well, he isn't here but I'm sure he wishes he could be. He loves you, Lara, even though he doesn't know about you. And I love you, too. That's all you need, and all I need, isn't it? I won't always be there to keep others from hurting you or stop you from hurting yourself, but I do love you." And that's it, isn't it? That's what the globe meant when it said, "that is the key," Lois realized. She loves me, instinctively, doesn't she? Just like I love her. Lois looked at the infant and was amazed, wondering how two flawed people, one horribly so, could have created someone so full of possibilities. She stroked the baby's small fingers and reveled in the feeling of love that was, for once, uncritical, unselfish, pure.
Lois awoke with a jolt as a piercing cry traveled from the nursery to her bedroom by way of the baby monitor resting beside her bed. She pulled herself from sleep and made her way to her daughter's room. Lara's cries lessened to whimpers when Lois pushed Martha's quilt off the baby and lifted her from her crib. She settled them into the rocking chair near the window.
"I know, I know," she said sleepily as she fumbled with the buttons of her pajama top. She finally unfastened enough of them and held Lara to her breast. "You'll figure this out sooner or later, so I might as well tell you now," she said conspiratorially, stroking the baby's hair. "I'm usually a horrible cook, so you'd better enjoy this while it lasts." When Lara had had her fill, Lois re-buttoned her top and rocked the baby back and forth in the chair. After several minutes had gone by and Lara's eyes were still wide open, Lois switched on the radio next to the baby monitor, searching for a station that played soft and relaxing, and hopefully sleep-inducing, music. She eventually settled on soft rock and hummed along with several songs while Lara's eyelids began to flutter closed. Lois hadn't been paying particularly close attention to the words of the songs, but suddenly she found herself riveted to an old Barry Manilow song. Must be the sleep deprivation, she reasoned, and leaned her head back in the rocking chair, closing her eyes.
Even now, when there's someone else who cares When there's someone home who's waiting just for me Even now, I think about you as I'm climbing up the stairs And I wonder what to do so she won't see That even now, when I know it wasn't right And I found a better life than what we had Even now I wake up crying in the middle of the night And I can't believe that it still could hurt so bad. Even now when I have come so far I wonder where you are I wonder why it's still so hard without you Even now, when I come shining through I swear I think of you And how I wish you knew, even now. Even now, when I never hear your name And the world has changed so much since you've been gone Even now, I still remember and the feeling's still the same And this pain inside of me goes on and on Even now, when I have come so far I wonder where you are I wonder why it's still so hard without you Even now, when I come shining through I swear I think of you And God I wish you knew, somehow Even now
With a flourish, Clark signed his name, Kal-El's name, at the X. He handed the electronic pen device back to Zara, who added her signature beside his.
"Finally, it is official," Zara rejoiced, "the agreement, signed by both ruling houses, that states that an unmarried ruler can preside over New Krypton. And you," Zara addressed Clark, "can return to Earth."
Clark smiled, relieved as well, and turned to Lieutenant Ching. "When will we be able to leave?" he pressed. Although Clark was disappointed that Zara, with whom he had become friends during the past almost-year, could not accompany him — as sole ruler of New Krypton, she could not afford to leave the planet for a "pleasure trip" — he was anxious to begin his return trip with Ching.
"As soon as you are ready, my Lord," Ching explained. "The transport pod is awaiting us even as we speak."
Clark turned back to Zara, his arms open to hug her. Tentatively she returned the embrace, then quickly pulled away from him.
"As excited as I am to get home to Lois, I'm going to miss you, Zara. You've been a wonderful friend this past year, and I wish you luck with New Krypton."
"Thank you, Kal… er, Clark," she corrected. She still stumbled while saying his Earth name, Clark noticed, but he smiled at her. Zara turned and motioned to one of her attendants, who came forward with a heavy box, which he passed to her. She presented the box to a surprised Clark. "The people of New Krypton and I would like you to have this, Clark," she explained as Clark accepted the box and opened it, revealing a heavy figurine that fit in the palm of his hand. It was a finely etched reproduction of the New Krypton castle at which he'd spent the last year of his life. "It is a replica of this palace for you to take back to Earth with you, to remind you of the year you spent with other Kryptonians not terribly unlike yourself, and for us to communicate with you."
"Communicate with me? What do you mean?"
"This statue is not entirely different from the globe that your father placed in the ship that sent you to Earth," she explained. "Either Lieutenant Ching or I can record a message and send it to you, like your planet does with radio or television signals. You can receive the signal with this statue and see us, like you saw your father."
"Does it work the other way?" Clark asked. "Can I send you signals?"
Zara shook her head. "It has faults in that respect," she lamented. "Just as you can watch television but are unable to send signals back to the program you are watching, you are unable to send signals to Ching and me." Noticing Clark's slight disappointment, Zara continued. "As long as we register that you are receiving our signals, Ching and I can be assured that you are alive and well," she told him. "The purpose of this statue is so that you know how Kryptonians, your people, are doing." This time Zara tentatively initiated the hug between herself and Clark before Clark pulled away to follow Ching to the ship that was going to take him back to Earth. He turned, waved good-bye to Zara, and continued.
As Clark and Ching strapped into the space ship, Clark thought about his visit to New Krypton, to "his people," as Zara put it. He hadn't felt like they were his people in any manner of speaking; sure, they were biologically related to him, but he didn't feel at home on New Krypton. Guess that settles the whole nature versus nurture controversy, he joked to himself. At least it did for him — nature had given him amazing physical powers, while nurture had provided him with his soul. He had hoped to feel some sort of belonging on New Krypton, with people who had been orphaned by the same planet as he had. But, surprisingly enough, he hadn't — over the past year, Clark had realized that the place he felt the most profound sense of belonging, of fate, was when he was with Lois. Maybe, he mused, she, along with the Kents, was the reason he was sent to Earth, maybe there was some element of destiny in what had happened to him. He wondered what Jor-El and Lara would have to say about that.
As Clark watched the stars whiz by the tiny porthole-like window of the spaceship, he thought more about roots. Like most "adopted" children, Clark had wondered about his birth parents. And for him, unlike most adopted children, this wondering was wildly speculative. Although he had seriously believed for much of his life, because of the strange symbols his parents remembered seeing on the spaceship they'd found him in, that he was a Russian experiment, his favorite daydream had been that he was truly his parents' child, the biological son of Martha and Jonathan Kent, conceived in a laboratory with his father's sperm and his mother's egg (the ways these cells had been obtained without his parents' knowledge changed from daydream to daydream), but covertly experimented on to account for his powers.
At once, an old song popped into his mind. The tune (who was it sung by?) was one whose words he'd memorized several years ago while thinking realistically about both sets of his parents, those on Krypton and those on Earth. Now the song played clearly in his head, as loud as if Ching were blaring it over the speakers of the spaceship. When he'd first heard the song, he'd realized that he had "someone else who cares" in his parents, who'd raised him despite not knowing about his origins. But even with their unconditional love, he'd wondered, like all adopted children he knew wondered, about his natural parents, about how life with them would have been. The refrain to the song played over and over again in his mind.
Even now when I have come so far I wonder where you are I wonder why it's still so hard without you Even now, when I come shining through I swear I think of you And how I wish you knew, even now
Clark tried to remember the other lyrics to the song, those that he'd memorized so long ago, realizing that they now had a slightly different twist. I even have the "someone home who's waiting just for me," he realized, thinking of Lois and counting the hours until he and Ching would reach Earth and he could see her again and return to life as it had been.
"What a good baby you were today, Lara," Lois cooed quietly as she lifted her sleeping daughter, still in her baby carrier, from the back seat of her Jeep. "Now, if you'd only stay asleep until I can get you upstairs," Lois muttered to herself. Lois hadn't officially been back to work at the Daily Planet yet in the two months since Lara had been born. Perry had given her a couple of stories ("puff pieces," Lois termed them) and she and Lara had visited the Planet that day to turn them in. Although Lois had previously just e-mailed the stories to Perry, Jimmy had told her during his last visit to her house that some of the Planet employees were anxious to see Lara. So Lois had headed over to the Daily Planet for what she thought would be a quick stop. But her co-workers had kept her there for hours, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the delicate-featured baby.
Unlocking the door to their Metropolis brownstone, Lois flipped on the lights and headed upstairs to lay Lara in her crib before she awoke. But halfway to Lara's bedroom Lois heard the doorbell ring. Cursing to herself, she turned and headed back downstairs, Lara still asleep, she noted with relief. Lois stopped before reaching the door and laid her daughter, still in the baby carrier, down on the couch.
Pressing her face against the door and checking the peephole, Lois gasped in surprise. She fumbled with the doorknob in her rush to turn it; standing in front of her in the entryway of their home was Clark. He stepped toward her, arms open, and Lois rushed into them. "Is it really you? Are you real?" Lois asked in astonishment as she turned her head so that her lips could meet her husband's. He laughed at her questions between their kisses and, for a moment, Lois almost forgot all that had happened since Clark left for New Krypton nearly a year ago. Taking his face in her hands, Lois met Clark's lips with her own once again, harder, then ran her hands down his arms.
Clark opened his eyes in response, noticing for the first time the small baby that was lying on the couch, still asleep. "Lois?" he questioned breathlessly, breaking their embrace and walking slowly toward Lara. "That's… I mean, when…" he faltered incredulously. Lois, too, walked toward the couch and unbuckled and removed their daughter from the baby carrier. "Lois, I'm so sorry," Clark said as he stepped nearer to his wife and the infant in her arms.
"Her name is Lara," she offered quietly, noticing the sad tears and slow half-smile on her husband's face. She held Lara toward Clark and, feeling her own wet tears run down her cheeks, watched him take his still-sleeping daughter. Lara wriggled with uncertainty in her holly-printed flannel sleeper at the exchange. Tentatively, Clark ran his index finger lightly along his daughter's forehead, brushing back her dark, wispy hair. At his touch, Lara opened her eyes and looked at her father for the first time.