By Notrepooh <Notrepooh@aol.com>
Submitted August 1999
Summary: When Superman trades himself for three children held as hostages, he doesn't count on the terrorists figuring out that one of them is Clark Kent's young daughter. Now both Clark and Beth are in danger and things are looking grim. Fortunately, there is another Kent child ready to face his heritage … and his destiny.
Writing my first fanfic, "A Question of Ethics" was too much fun, so I had to try again! I appreciate all of the feedback I received and would appreciate knowing what you think of this effort. Of course, the characters are not mine, but the story is.
You're the end of the rainbow,
My pot of gold.
You're daddy's little girl
To have and to hold.
You're everything nice,
And you're daddy's little girl. *
Lois Lane Kent lingered in the upstairs hallway, listening as the last strains of the familiar melody melted away. Although Clark's singing skills left something to be desired, she mused, his fathering skills were honed to a fine edge. She peeked around the door to the nursery just in time to see her husband gently lowering tiny Beth into her "big girl bed" and delivering a last goodnight kiss. Lois stood transfixed as his large hand reached out and cupped his daughter's tiny face in a gesture so familiar that Lois could almost feel his gentle touch herself. She was reminded of her words spoken on a hillside in the sunset so long ago…"You have such gentle grace…such quiet strength…"
"Lois?" Clark whispered, drawing his wife back to the moment. "She's exhausted! Keeping up with the boys at the zoo today really wore her out."
"But she wouldn't give up." Lois smiled, remembering the tiny legs flying as Beth ran from exhibit to exhibit on her brothers' heels.
"Give up? Never! She's so much like you… I don't think 'give up' is in her vocabulary."
"She may take after me, Clark, but her daddy has her heart. And it's no wonder, when you put her to sleep every night floating in your arms!"
"It's the only way to dance, Lois. You know that!" His eyes held hers as he drew her close and stole her breath with a gentle kiss. "I can't resist a dance with either of the women in my life." Reaching out, he carefully lifted Lois into another sweet kiss, holding her aloft as effortlessly as he had held little Beth. Returning his wife to solid ground, Clark whispered in a voice filled with unspoken need, "Let's tell the boys goodnight and have some time to ourselves. I want to make love to my wife." His simple statement sent chills down Lois's spine and she smiled, secure in the knowledge of his love for her.
She had just reached out for his hand and opened her mouth to respond when the sound of muffled giggling, followed by a resounding thud, interrupted her. With a resigned sigh, Lois dropped Clark's hand and started down the hall. "Clark, if he's dropped his little brother again I'll… well, I don't know what I'll do, but this has to stop!"
"Lois, let me handle this one." Clark stopped his wife with a touch on her shoulder. "Maybe it's time that Jon and I had a serious talk about these 'practice' sessions and some of the new things he's becoming capable of. Why don't you take a warm bubble bath and get ready for bed? It's been a long day for you, too." After planting a quick kiss on her forehead, Clark headed toward his sons' room. With his hand on the door knob he paused and turned toward Lois's retreating form. "And Lois…wait for me," he whispered.
Lois sank gratefully into the tub of steaming water and bubbles. She and Clark had developed a comfortable, natural rhythm in dealing with their children, sharing the counseling and disciplinary duties equally. Through the bathroom door, she could hear the voices of her husband and oldest son in quiet conversation. Clark must have brought Jon into their bedroom for privacy. Although she couldn't make out their words, Lois had no doubt that Clark was handling the situation with the same firmness and compassion that he always used in dealing with their children. Just as she had predicted before their marriage, he was a wonderful father.
Surrounded by fragrant bubbles, Lois closed her eyes and let her mind wander back to their first day of parenthood. She remembered a tiny infant with a shock of dark hair, the baby they once thought they would never have. She remembered the reverence with which Clark had reached out to hold his son for the first time and how tiny Jon had looked in his father's big hands. She remembered the look of adoration and awe on her husband's handsome face as she nursed their son. Jonathan Lane Kent…their first son. As he grew, the child became more and more like his father, both physically and in temperament. It was hard to believe that Jon was thirteen already and beginning to explore his "super" heritage. Although he had known about his dad's alter ego for many years, Jon had never seemed anxious to share Clark's special talents. Now that his Kryptonian skills were developing, he was adapting to them with calm ease. Yes, Lois mused, he was his father's son. Now, if he would only stop practicing his flight capabilities with his little brother as ballast…
Lois and Clark's second child, Martha Ellen (known to all as M.E., or Emmy), had been born when Jon was nearly three. Lois remembered commenting, as she held her daughter for the first time, that Emmy would surely lead a charmed life, so easy had the pregnancy and birth been for her mother. Ironically, just the opposite had been true. Lois remembered that long-ago day when she had caught sight of a notation on the pediatrician's chart. "Failure to thrive", it had read. In the span of just a few days, Lois and Clark's world was shattered by the diagnosis of a rare childhood cancer. The two years that followed were a haze in Lois's memory, punctuated by moments of elation when the disease seemed to be in remission and moments of anguish when it reared its head again. A week after her second birthday, the bright flame that was Emmy flickered out as she lay in her parents' embrace.
As Lois reached back for her memories of her daughter, she felt a familiar surge of gratitude that she had been allowed to share Emmy's brief visit on Earth. It is often said that such an experience never leaves you as it found you. Her daughter's life had caused Lois to redefine what was really important in life. Her daughter's death had caused Lois to redefine her faith. The passion and fire which had always been her hallmark had not diminished, but now they burned deep within a soul that had been tempered by life's most demanding challenge; the death of a child. When their third child was born two years after their daughter's death, Lois was ready to greet him with a depth of love made possible by the gift that had been Emmy.
The thought of Sammy brought a smile to his mother's face as she slid down further into her cocoon of bubbles. Samuel Clark Kent was the image of his father and brother on the outside, but the inside was pure Lois. His parents had just begun to consider telling him the family secret when Sammy proudly announced that he knew his daddy was Superman. As his parents sat in stunned silence, the six-year-old explained the basis for his discovery.
It had begun with a close look at Jon emerging from the neighbor's pool, his wet hair slicked back. Surprised by his brother's resemblance to Metropolis's hero, Sammy's "investigative reporter" gene was activated. Hiding around corners and under beds, he shamelessly eavesdropped on conversations. When his dad wasn't looking, he stole a peek inside the spandex-filled washing machine. His suspicions were confirmed when he noticed Jonathan experimenting with his "vision gizmo" instead of using the toaster. It didn't take long for Sammy to put all the pieces together: Jon was Daddy's son and Jon was Superman's son, so Daddy *was* Superman.
In the aftermath of Sammy's revelation, Lois and Clark hastened to impress on him the need for his dad's duel identity to remain a secret from the outside world. The little boy had listened earnestly and vowed to safeguard his knowledge. Sammy's friends in first grade had no idea that their classmate routinely patrolled the skies of Metropolis at night in the arms of Superman. Unlike Jon, Sammy could hardly wait for his turn to become "super". Impatient, loyal, tenacious, brilliant, Sammy had been dubbed "littlest tornado" by his adoring father.
Just as they had begun to believe that life couldn't get any better, Lara Elizabeth Kent made her entrance. She terrified her parents by arriving three months before her due date. Clark had delivered her himself in the cab en route from the Planet to Metropolis General, cradling her tiny form in the palm of his hand. The emergency room staff had whisked her away before Lois could even get a good look at her and the neo-natologist was carefully noncommittal when the anxious parents asked for assurances of her survival. The agony of the loss of Emmy, always present just beneath the surface of their hearts, rose up as they waited to know their second daughter's fate.
Clark loved to tell the story of his daughter's first night. As Lois slept and recovered in the maternity wing, Clark made his way down the hall to the preemie nursery where Beth lay in an incubator. Settling into a rocker by her side, he took his first good look at her. She had her mom's little, turned-up nose and delicate features. He marveled at her long lashes and slender fingers. Yes, little Beth was a miniature version of her mother and Clark was just as hopelessly in love as he had been when he first laid eyes on Lois.
The baby's eyes fluttered open and focused on Clark with a familiar intensity and a moment of understanding passed between them. This little girl was a fighter. She would survive. (As Clark told this story in years to come, he was frequently reminded by his listeners that a newborn's eyes are incapable of focusing on anything. He didn't believe it. He knew what he had seen!) And survive she had! At three years old, she was still small for her age but possessed the indomitable spirit of her mother. And her father was wrapped blissfully around her tiny finger.
Lois sighed with contentment as she thought of her children, each uniquely lovable and completely loved. Life *didn't* get any better than this.
When Lois opened the bathroom door, Clark and Jon were nowhere to be seen. Opening the bed, she slipped in between the cool sheets and snuggled into her pillow. She didn't have to wait long for the door to open and her husband to return.
"How did your talk go? Does Jon understand that he could really hurt Sammy?"
"We had a good talk and, yes, I think he's convinced that his little brother is not a guinea pig." Clark removed his robe and draped it over the rocker near the window. "I promised to spend some time in the woods with him this weekend, just the two of us, to help him investigate these new-found skills. I remember how it feels to be where he is right now - scared and excited all at once."
Reaching out to draw Clark into bed beside her, Lois smiled and reassured him, "But Jon has you to help him. It will be much easier for him than it was for you. You and your parents had no blueprint to follow. You didn't know what to expect. Jon will have the benefit of your experience."
Clark frowned, his concern for his son apparent in his expression. "I hope you're right, Lois. It's an awesome burden for such a young person."
"You're a wonderful father, Clark. No child could hope for better help or guidance. But when this little lady appears," Lois patted her softly rounded belly, "our little Beth will have to share her daddy's attention. Now *that's* a situation that could present a problem!" Lois laughed softly as she felt the gentle flutter of their baby's movement. This little one had been a complete surprise, causing Lois to comment wryly that their original question of how to conceive had now been replaced by the question of how *not* to! But the fears that accompanied an unexpected pregnancy at age forty-four had given way to the joy of new life as the pregnancy progressed smoothly. And now as she looked up into her husband's eyes, she felt herself respond, in body and spirit, to this man who was her soulmate.
In a voice deepened by desire, he broke the silence. "Right now, Mrs. Kent, you're the one with my full and undivided attention. Do you have any idea how irresistible you are at this moment?" With gentle precision, Clark began to unbutton Lois's gown. "Lying there with those beautiful eyes and delicious lips and…" He paused to drop a gentle kiss on the delicate flesh he had exposed.
"And my big round belly," she finished for him.
He paused in his ministrations long enough to raise his head and look her in the eye. "Lois, from the first time I saw you, I've wanted nothing more than to spend my life loving and being loved by you. And from the first time we made love on our wedding night, each time is more precious than the one before. Allowing me to love you, to be with you like this, is a gift that takes my breath away. And this," he paused to gently stroke her abdomen," 'big round belly', as you call it…our child…has only one effect on me. It makes me love you, and want you, even more…" His voice trailed off as he gazed at Lois with eyes full of passion.
"Hush…and just make love with me…"
Monday morning brought the usual organized chaos to the Kent household. Clark made breakfast and walked the boys to school before taking to the skies for a morning patrol of the city. Lois left in a rush to deposit Beth with Jonathan and Martha Kent on her way to the "Planet". As she waved to Martha and Beth standing on the porch, she found herself once again thanking heaven that her in-laws had chosen to make their home in Metropolis to be near their son and his family. When the time had arrived for Lois to go back to work after Jon's birth, his grandparents had volunteered to watch him. When he became old enough for pre-school, they had watched him in the morning, taken him to Winky Tink in the afternoon and retrieved him when his school day was through. They had done the same for Sammy and were currently caring for Beth. Lois was delighted that Jon and Martha were so much a part of her children's lives and the older Kents swore that their grandchildren were keeping them young!
By 8:00 AM, Lois was already deeply engrossed in the article she was writing when a familiar hand caressed the back of her neck and her husband deposited a quick kiss on the top of her head. "So what's on the docket for this morning, darling?" he asked as he leaned over her shoulder to read her screen.
Lois returned the favor with a soft kiss on his cheek as she replied, "Not much. Perry wants us to cover President Winchell's visit to Metropolis."
"Why's he here? Just another fund-raising stop?"
"Yep. He'll be lunching with the movers and shakers at the Metropolitan Club. I figured I would cover that. Mrs. Winchell will be attending the monthly meeting of the Metropolis Garden Club. I thought you might handle that. And Jimmy is off to the Metropolis Museum of Natural History to do a sidebar on Amanda Winchell's visit to the new dinosaur exhibit."
"Whoa there, Lois! Back this train up just a minute! You're going to the Metropolitan Club for lunch and I'm stuck with a bunch of ladies discussing the correct soil mixture for the cultivation of petunias? Not to mention the fact that I have to go fifty miles out of town? Whose great idea was that?"
"You know what they say, Farmboy! 'The early bird gets the worm!' You should try getting here first if you want all of the plum assignments." Her eyes twinkled merrily as she teased him. "And it's a lot quicker for you to go out there than for me. Anyway, who better to charm the ladies of the Metropolis Garden Club than my irresistible husband?" Rising from her chair, she wrapped her arms loosely around Clark's neck and met his frown with her impish grin. "I know I'd follow him anywhere!" She finished with a quick nibble on his ear.
"Loisss…" he struggled to keep his mind on the topic at hand. "Stop trying to distract me. You know how out of place I'll be…" His train of thought was lost when she planted a soft kiss on his neck.
Their reverie was interrupted by a deep "harrumph" from the direction of Perry's office and they reluctantly stepped apart. With a glint in his eye that belied his words, their editor-in-chief advanced on them and chastised, "You'd think after 15 years of marriage that you two could quit behaving like a couple of high school kids in the back seat of a car! Now get out of here, both of you, and do the work you are paid so handsomely to do!"
As she gathered her coat and walked up the ramp arm-in-arm with Clark, Lois reflected with affection on their editor. The years had been kind to him, especially since his reunion with Alice, and although he had reached retirement age, Perry showed no sign of leaving the Planet. It was a good thing, too. The paper, and their lives, would never be the same if he did.
Jimmy Olson nudged his way to the front of the swarm of reporters waiting at the VIP door to the Metropolis Museum of Natural History. Reaching down to the knapsack he had slung over his shoulder, he switched his tape recorder to "record" mode and then rechecked the film in his camera. Over the years, Jimmy had developed steadily as a photographer and, with the help of Lois and Clark, had become a thorough and tenacious reporter. Perry had been heard to comment (although not to Jimmy, of course) that he would trust Olson with the big stories ahead of anyone on his staff, with the notable exception of Lois and Clark, who were still the "hottest news team in town". Two Kerth awards gave glowing testimony to Jimmy's skills.
Deep in concentration as he prepared to interview the President's daughter, Jimmy almost didn't hear Beth's tiny voice as she called to him. "Uncle Jimmy!" she shouted. "It's me, Beff. Over here!" Although she obediently remained standing in the line of children from Winky Tink Preschool, Jimmy's god-daughter waved her arms furiously and jumped up and down in an attempt to catch his eye. With a smile and a sigh, he abandoned his place in the front of the pack and jogged toward the line of people waiting at the main entrance to the museum. After a word of introduction to Beth's teacher, he approached the child and dropped down on one knee beside her.
"Hey, munchkin! What are you guys doing here?" He tugged playfully at the cascade of ebony curls that framed her pixy face.
"Uncle Jimmy, I am not a munchkin! I'm a big girl!" With a giggle, she crossed her arms and turned slightly away from him, pretending to be offended by his remark and waiting for the tickling that was sure to follow, as it always did. As her laughter subsided, she reached out for a hug and Jimmy was reminded of how thoroughly this little imp had captured his heart. It was no wonder that CK was putty in her hands! She was the vision of her mother, the other woman that Clark could not resist.
"We're gonna get to see the new dinomasauruses!" she proclaimed, her brown eyes wide with anticipation.
"The 'dinomasauruses', hmm? You don't say!" With a chuckle and a parting kiss on the cheek, Jimmy stood and stepped back as the doors to the museum opened and the line began to move. "Have a great time, honey!"
Just as he began to turn back to his reporting task, he was stopped by a gentle touch on his arm. Martha Kent smiled up at him. "Hello, Jimmy. Don't you want to come in and see the 'dinomasauruses' with all of us?"
"No thanks, Mrs. Kent. I'm here on assignment, but I just couldn't resist a chance to tease my best girl."
"Well, I'm here as an official Winky Tink chaperone and I'd better hustle before I lose sight of them. I'm supposed to be bringing up the rear. See you soon!" Jimmy watched as Martha scurried to catch up.
By the time he turned back to his own task, he was dismayed to see the last of the flock of reporters drifting away from the area surrounding the VIP entrance. He had missed Amanda's arrival completely. The Chief was going to have his hide - again! Hoping to salvage something for the evening edition, Jimmy jogged towards the door and snagged it just before it slammed shut. As he pulled the door open, he found himself face-to-face with Angelica Barnard, a reporter for the Metropolis Star - the competition.
"Don't waste your time, Olson. You're too late - again!" She knew her self-satisfied smirk would really push Jimmy's buttons and that knowledge delighted her. "The First Brat has been here and is gone!"
Jimmy protested, "She was supposed to be here for an hour on a private tour of the exhibit!"
"Seems the plans were changed at the last minute. They've already opened the exhibit to the public." She couldn't resist twisting the knife a little. "If you hurry, you might catch her at the mini-mall. Oh, but then you don't know *which* mini-mall, do you? What a pity!" And with a wicked giggle and a flounce of too-red hair, she was gone.
As Jimmy stepped back out into the sunshine and turned to close the door, he was roughly brushed aside by a group of six men in dark suits. "Out of the way!" one of them snarled as the group rushed past and the door was closed soundly in his face.
'Secret service,' he thought with disdain. 'Always have to throw their weight around.' As he turned to head back to the Planet, he began to shape the article he would present to Perry as a peace offering: "The Secret Service - Public Servants or Government Sponsored Thugs?" Jimmy certainly realized and respected the awesome responsibility that lay on the shoulders of the agents who protected the first family, but was it really necessary to be rude or to flaunt their assault weapons in a public place like the museum? Wait a minute…assault weapons? Since when did the Secret Service carry assault weapons? Jimmy Olson felt panic rising as he reached for his cellular phone.
"Mr. White," the high-pitched voice of the copy boy rang out across the newsroom. "There's a call for you on line 2. It's Mr. Olson and he says it's urgent."
Perry White picked up the phone at Clark Kent's desk. "Jimmy, how's it going down there? Did you get me a picture for the front page?"
"Perry, I think we've got…some real bad trouble…down here at the museum…Men with assault rifles." Olson's voice came in breathless bursts and Perry could hear the sound of running feet. "Get ahold of Lois…or Clark…tell them to get… Superman… hurry!" The line went dead before the shocked editor could respond.
Back at the museum, Jimmy had alerted the security staff which was responding with amazing skill. Moving efficiently and quietly, the employees in the ticket booth closed their windows and then stepped outside to move the snaking line of patrons away from the building. Inside, the curator and her staff were calmly directing those guests who had already been admitted to the exits.
Jimmy approached the curator in the cavernous rotunda of the museum. "Ms. Faulkner, I'm James Olson from the Daily Planet and I'm here to help. Where is Amanda Winchell? I've got a sinking suspicion that this is all about her."
"She's already gone, Mr. Olson. She arrived late, gave the interview outside, breezed through the dinosaur exhibit, paused for a couple of pictures with the T-Rex and breezed right out the other side of the building. She's half-way to some ribbon cutting ceremony by now."
"Has the building been cleared? Has anyone else seen the men I described?" As if in answer to his question, the sound of muffled gunfire echoed through the hall. Some of the patrons remaining in the building screamed and rushed to the exits with Jimmy and the rest of the museum staff in hot pursuit.
Lois considered ignoring the insistent ringing of her cellular phone. The President had consented to allow the journalists in attendance to pose questions and they were just beginning to scratch the surface of a couple of very touchy campaign issues when the call came in. Ever mindful that her children might need her, however, she stepped into the hall outside the banquet room to answer.
"Lois?" came the urgent voice of her editor-in-chief.
"Yes, Chief, it's me. You sound upset. What's wrong?"
"Honey, can you reach Superman?"
"Probably, Perry. What's the matter? What's happened?" Perry's obviously agitated state had taken her by surprise and she was beginning to become alarmed herself.
"I don't have many details, but I need you to get in touch with Superman and send him to the Metropolis Museum of Natural History, pronto. And then get down there yourself as quick as you can. There's been some sort of terrorist incident and hostages may have been taken. Amanda Winchell was scheduled to be there this morning and may be involved."
"Chief! Jimmy's down there! What if he's…" Fear for her colleague and friend brought a wave of panic.
"It was Jimmy who saw them enter the building and called 911. I think he's fine, Lois, but I want you down there, too. Now move!"
Running down the hallway, Lois dialed Clark's pager. Ever the good reporter, she began to sort the information Perry had just given her…Metropolitan Museum of Natural History…the President's 18-year-old daughter, Amanda…terrorists…hostages.
'Oh my god!' Lois pulled up short just as she reached the marble staircase outside the Metropolitan Club. 'The Winky Tinks were going to the museum…Beth!' Panic rose in Lois's chest. The message she entered for Clark was a simple one. '911 - Natural History Museum'. He would know…he would hurry. '911' was their code for a family emergency of the most serious nature, a code she had never used before. Finding some comfort in the knowledge that Clark would be at the museum in minutes, Lois bolted for her car.
As Lois had predicted, the ladies of the Garden Club were charmed by the "Daily Planet's" Mr. Kent. While other papers and magazines had sent rookie reporters who were obviously bored with the proceedings, the "Planet" had sent this well-known veteran who listened in rapt attention. With the passing of years, Clark's boyish good looks had matured into that kind of casually handsome demeanor that engendered trust - not to mention causing female hearts to skip beats! In fact, he had scored a one-on-one interview with Natalie Winchell and was in the midst of a front-page sort of discussion when his pager vibrated in his pocket. Like his wife, he was too conscious of his family's needs to ignore a page, so he apologized to the First Lady as he looked down to read his message.
Lois's '911' leapt out at him and he was instantly on his feet. With a quick apology to Mrs. Winchell, he ran out the back door into the gardens, his hand reaching for the knot of his tie. In seconds, he was airborne and headed toward the museum in the heart of Metropolis, fifty miles away.
Clark's mind raced. The '911' signal meant that someone in the family was in urgent need of him. The mention of the Natural History Museum brought a lump to his throat. The kids from Winky Tink were to visit the museum today, which meant that either his mom or Beth was in some kind of trouble. Desperately, he combed the airwaves with his super-hearing as he approached the city. What he heard was an overlapping gibberish of police and ambulance calls then, as he neared the museum, the unmistakable sound of gunfire…
The dinosaur exhibit was housed in the grandest room the museum had to offer. Rich wood paneling soared three stories high and then arched into a sweeping vaulted ceiling. Light flickered into the room through towering stained glass windows, lending a surreal quality to the interior. Velociraptors and stegosaurus peered out from among lush vegetation. From speakers cleverly hidden among the flora came a continuous stream of chirps, squeals, grunts and roars deemed appropriate for the prehistoric jungle. Overhead flew the pterodactyl, barely soaring above the head of the imposing Tyrannosaurus Rex. And hunkered down among them, frightened and confused, were three pre-schoolers and their young teacher.
Ms. Marla Mayfield had hurried to the dinosaur exhibit as soon as her little group had been admitted to the museum, reasoning that this popular area would attract a lot of attention and quickly become crowded. Much to her delight, she and the children had been among the first to enter the exhibit and were enjoying an unimpeded view of the dinosaurs.
They had been exploring deep within the artificial forest when the chaos began. The six men had entered quickly, shouting and firing their weapons at the ceiling. Those patrons near the door had managed to escape, screaming, into the rotunda before the intruders barred the door. Judging that her chances of escaping with the children from their position at the back of the exhibit were slim, Ms. Mayfield had chosen instead to burrow deeper into the greenery and pray that they were not discovered. Under the cover of the noise from the speakers, she whispered soothing words to the children and explained to them the need to remain silent. This done, she gathered them into her arms and turned her attention to the intruders, straining to overhear their words.
"Where is she?!" thundered the man who had been first into the room. Although he was not physically imposing, in fact he was the slightest in stature of the six, his demeanor identified him as the leader. "No Secret Service! No president's daughter! Ramone, explain this to me!" he bellowed.
A second man, evidently the hapless Ramone, advanced to stand before his agitated commander. "I have no answer, Luis. My source at the White House has never failed before. There must have been some change in plans!" As he spoke, he seemed to shrink under his leader's withering gaze.
"A change in plans?!" Luis's voice rose in a menacing crescendo. "Did you say a 'change in plans'?! Aaahhhhhhhhhhh!" His voice trembled and roared with anger and in a blur of motion the muzzle of his rifle was pressed against Ramone's temple. "I should kill you where you stand, you worthless fool! Get out of my sight." With obvious relief, Ramone retreated to the far side of the room to stand guard at the VIP entrance.
Undaunted by Ramone's misfortune, a third man approached. "Luis, the damage is done. Your anger serves no purpose." Luis wheeled to glare at him but the man continued. "Our energy would be better spent deciding how to proceed. Do we try to salvage our mission or escape to plan a second attempt?"
Luis relaxed his trigger finger and lowered his gun. "Salvage the mission? No, Rico. The mission is over. Even if we are successful in an escape today, the security surrounding Winchell and his family will become impenetrable now." His voice rose in anger as he continued, "We'll never get this close again." Once again he rounded on Ramone. "Your blunder will cost Enrique his life!" he bellowed.
Again, Rico intervened, stepping between his leader and the cowering Ramone. "The museum is surely surrounded by now, Luis. We need to plan a means of escape. Perhaps a diversion of some sort. Perhaps we could convince the police that we have hostages. American hearts bleed at the thought of innocent lives in danger. We will use their own weakness to escape."
Luis shook his head in frustration. "We should have a hostage! If not for Ramone's incompetence, the President's daughter would be our hostage!" Rage filled his eyes as his angry glare swept around the room. "Someone find some way to turn off that noise! I can't think with it blaring!" His eyes caught sight of a speaker mounted high in the ceiling and he raised his rifle. The rifle's thunderous report filled the chamber. As the echo died away, the remains of the speaker broke loose from the ceiling, dangled precariously from a single electrical wire for a moment, and then plummeted into the artificial jungle below.
Until that moment, Ms. Marla's little charges had remained seated in terrified silence. When the speaker fell through the trees and landed an arms length away, however, the three of them cried out in surprise and fear. As the echo of their terrified chorus died away, Ms. Marla resolutely squared her shoulders and took a deep breath, preparing to call on courage she wasn't sure she possessed.
"My name is Marla Mayfield," she called, her voice clear and strong despite the trembling of her knees. "I'm a teacher and I'm here with three of my students. We're coming out now. Please don't harm them." She rose resolutely and helped the children to stand. Leaning down close to them, she whispered, "It's time to be brave, kids. Don't try to run away and let Ms. Marla do the talking, okay?" The three little heads nodded in unison and she felt a surge of pride at their courage. Shielding the children as much as possible, she walked with what she hoped was a confident stride to the edge of the forest and faced their captors.
The police cars had formed a semi-circle in front of the museum by the time Superman landed. With a look of relief, the senior officer on the scene approached the Man of Steel.
"Superman! Thank you for coming so quickly!"
"Captain Zimack, fill me in." Clark wasted no time. While Zimack talked, Superman's eyes scanned the crowd of onlookers.
"We've got a group of men in the museum, about five or six of them according to our only eye witness. They're armed with assault weapons. I can only guess, but I think Amanda Winchell was their target, most likely a kidnapping attempt."
"Do they have Ms. Winchell?"
"No. Our original information was that she would tour the museum for an hour but we've since been informed that a ribbon cutting ceremony was added to her itinerary at the last minute. She breezed into and out of the museum in a matter of minutes. We have confirmation from the Secret Service that she's safely in their care."
"It's possible that the kidnappers had the same inaccurate itinerary that the police had and they mis-timed their attack. What about other hostages?" Before Zimack could answer, a second officer approached with Jimmy Olson in tow.
"Superman, I'm glad you're here." Jimmy looked grim. "There are six of them, all armed with assault weapons. We tried hard to get everyone out. If there's anyone left inside, they would have to be in the area of the new dinosaur exhibit."
Zimack laid a map of the museum out on the nearest police cruiser. "That's right here." He pointed to a large area in the back of the building. "It's accessible through the rotunda and also through the VIP entrance."
Jimmy took a deep breath and looked Superman in the eye. "Superman, there was a group of pre-schoolers on a field trip in the museum when this all started." Clark felt panic rising and fought to push it down. "The last time I talked to the head-mistress, three of the children and one teacher were not accounted for." Jimmy looked down and struggled for control of his voice before he continued, "Lois and Clark's daughter is among the missing children." Jimmy was not surprised to see the barely controlled fury and panic in Superman's reaction to the news. After all, like Jimmy, Superman was a long-time friend to Lois and Clark and very close to the children.
"Jimmy," Clark managed to maintain his stoic veneer as he drew his friend aside. "It's probably a good idea not to make it common knowledge that Beth is unaccounted for. I'd guess these guys are pretty desperate right now. If kidnapping Amanda Winchell was the plan, they might be looking for some other leverage now that their plan has failed. Letting them know that they have the daughter of a pair of well-known reporters as a hostage might put Beth in additional danger." Jimmy nodded his understanding. "Let's go talk to the head-mistress. Maybe those children have been found. I can't go in until I know if these guys have hostages."
Lois's Cherokee screeched to a halt at the edge of the crowd that surrounded the museum. Standing on the running board, she could just make out the red of Superman's cape near the police barricade. Scanning the throng of onlookers, she located the group from Winky Tink and pushed her way through the crowd in their direction. She felt a rush of relief when she caught sight of Martha Kent's silver hair.
"Martha!" she called, making a final push toward them. She reached out to touch her mother-in-law on the shoulder but froze when Martha turned and recognized her. Martha's anguish and fear showed plainly on her gentle face.
Gathering her daughter-in-law into her arms, Martha whispered the words Lois had been dreading. "We can't find her, Lois. Three of the children and a teacher… we've searched the crowd twice and we can't find them." Tears spilled down her cheeks as she looked Lois in the eye. "She was assigned to a different chaperone, but I'm her grandmother. I shouldn't have left her in there. I should have made sure she was out. If something happens to our baby…" Her voice trailed off as her fear overtook her.
Despite the dread that welled up in her own chest, Lois sought to reassure Clark's mother. Grasping the older woman firmly by the shoulders, she spoke with compassion and confidence. "Martha, you did what you had to do. You were responsible for the safety of these children. Going to hunt for Beth would have put them at risk. You had no choice. And don't worry. No one is going to harm Beth. Clark won't allow it. We just have to be patient and have faith."
Lois finished speaking just as the crowd around them parted and Superman approached. Resisting the urge to address his mother and Lois directly, he turned to Bernice Yardley, the head-mistress at Winky Tink Preschool, who was attempting to comfort the frightened children. "Ms. Yardley, Jimmy told me that some of your students are unaccounted for. If you can tell me who's missing, the police and I will have a better idea of the situation we're facing."
Superman marveled at the calm, take-charge demeanor of the woman who stood before him. With her ample figure, sensible dress and hair pulled into a tight gray bun, she was the image of the classic "school marm". In a steady voice, she answered him. "We have been unable to locate one of our teachers, Marla Mayfield, and the three children in her group. Two of the children are boys, Matt Feldman and Jason Burly, both three years old. The third child is a little girl, Beth Kent, also three." At the mention of Beth's name, Bernice Yardley reached out to draw Lois close, her firm grasp offering support. "This is Beth's mother, Lois Lane, and her grandmother, Martha Kent."
Clark turned then to face his mother and his wife, reaching out to lightly touch both of them. "Mrs. Kent, Ms. Lane, if these children are still in the museum we are going to bring them out unharmed. You have my word on it." He risked a moment of eye contact with Lois, although he knew the chance he was taking. He was not at all certain that he could control his urge to take her in his arms to comfort her and seek comfort for himself.
Clark needn't have worried. As had happened so many times before, he found the comfort he needed in his wife's eyes, eyes that brimmed with tears and yet were filled with love and faith. With a look that he hoped conveyed the same comfort to Lois, he turned to the task before him. As he walked away, he heard a whisper meant for his ears only. "Bring her home, Clark."
Inside the museum, the terrorists were huddled in an animated discussion of the best way to make use of their new-found hostages.
"The decision is mine and I say they die!" Luis's voice could be heard in the far corner of the room where Ms. Mayfield huddled with the children and they looked at her with terror in their eyes. She hastened to reassure them and subconsciously moved her own body to better shield them.
Rico's voice was calm, in startling counterpoint to his commander's. "I know your anger is deep, Luis, but killing these children will only insure our own deaths. We must use them somehow to escape." He grasped Luis firmly by the shoulders. "If dying in this place would save Enrique and set him free, I would offer my life willingly, but you know that is not so. We need to be calm and smart here. How can we use them to escape?"
Luis glared at his second-in-command and started to speak, then stopped and shook his head. His shoulders drooped as he resigned himself to the truth of the other man's words. "Rico, as always, your advice is sound. What do you have in mind?"
As the men lapsed into quiet conversation, Marla Mayfield examined the situation in which she found herself. The three children sat around her on the floor and had begun to doze, their heads resting against her. She was thankful for the moment of respite. While they were awake, she had been busy keeping them quiet and attempting to allay their fears. Now she needed to plan her best course of action to improve their chances of emerging from this situation alive. Making any kind of run for the door was out of the question and would surely get them all killed. She reasoned that their best chance for survival was to be used as barter in exchange for the terrorists' escape. To that end, she found herself rooting for the one named "Rico" as the huddled conversation continued.
As she waited to learn their fate, Ms. Mayfield found herself wondering what the next few minutes would bring. She knew that all teachers wondered how they would respond in that moment when the safety of the students was threatened. She had considered scenarios like this one many times. Would she find the courage to stand up in protection of these three little souls, or would instinct overcome her and cause her to protect herself first? As the meeting broke up and Luis approached, Marla Mayfield was about to get some answers.
"You - teacher - come here." Marla rose on shaking knees, gently settling the children down to continue their napping on the floor, and stepped towards Luis with a confident stride. "You will go out to the police in front of the building. You will tell them for us that…"
"No, I won't." Her refusal was spoken quietly as she firmly shook her head. "I will not, under any circumstances, leave these children. You will have to send one of them out with your message." Any question that lingered in Marla Mayfield's mind from her thoughts a moment ago suddenly fled. She knew the truth. She would give her life, if necessary, to safeguard these children. They would not be harmed if it were in her power to stop it. A sense of relief washed over her and she unconsciously raised her chin in a gesture of proud defiance.
It didn't take long for Luis's temper to boil over again. He did not intend to argue with this woman. If she would not carry their message willingly, then he would deliver it taped to her dead body! He growled in fury as he raised his weapon.
The crowd outside erupted in screams of terror as the sound of a gunshot reached their ears. Lois found herself running toward the front of the crowd, toward Clark and the barricade of police cars, her heart in her throat.
"Superman, did you hear the shot!" As the words escaped her lips, Lois realized their foolishness. Of course he had heard.
Clark turned to respond just as a terrified gasp arose from the throng of onlookers. Turning back toward the museum, he saw the cause. The front door of the museum had opened briefly and the body of Marla Mayfield, limp as a ragdoll, was sent tumbling down the steps. It took only seconds for Superman to reach her and gather her gently into his arms. As he flew back across the police barricade, he became thankfully aware that she was breathing. He placed her carefully on a stretcher and quickly scanned for injuries. As Captain Zimack approached, Clark looked up.
"She hasn't been shot, but there's a nasty bruise forming on her temple."
"Blunt force trauma," confirmed the paramedic who was bent over her still form.
Zimack reached out and pulled a folded paper from the unconscious woman's pocket. He quickly scanned the message scrawled there and handed the paper to Superman. "Send one negotiator to the side door. No weapons. No tricks, or the children die." Attached to the paper were three stickers bearing the emblem of the Winky Tink Preschool, stickers all the preschoolers had been wearing.
Lois stepped forward with a look of determination on her face. "I'll go."
Zimack shook his head. "No, Lois, we'll send a policeman. Someone trained in terrorist scenarios."
"No, Captain, you'll send me," Superman ended the conversation.
The police captain considered Superman's offer for a brief moment before he nodded his agreement. "If you're willing to go in, you're the perfect choice. You have an unblemished record of honesty, so they'll know you can be trusted. And hiding a weapon is sort of out of the question! Just don't make promises we can't keep."
As Superman approached the VIP entrance on the side of the museum, the door slowly swung open and he entered. Quickly scanning the situation inside, he felt his heart sink. The three children were all there and appeared unharmed, but they had been moved to separate corners of the room and each was accompanied by one of the terrorists, his gun trained at the child's head. Had the children been grouped in one place, Clark might have tried to gather them up at super speed, protect them with his body and his cape, and remove them from danger. As it was, he was not completely certain that he could reach them all before the guns fired. It was a chance he could not consider taking. Superman knew he faced a formidable opponent.
Near the doors to the rotunda, Clark spotted the still form of a man sprawled on the floor, a dark puddle forming around his head. A quick scan confirmed Clark's suspicions - no pulse. From the shadow that draped the great wooden doors stepped a tall, slender man who advanced with confidence toward Superman, his gun held casually at his side. Clark drew himself up to his full height and crossed his arms across his chest.
"Superman. I should have known that you would be the one sent." Rico stopped only a foot away from the Man of Steel and met his steady gaze. They stood in silence, each man assessing the other. Clark broke the silence.
Nodding toward the figure on the floor he asked, "A friend of yours?"
Rico followed Superman's gaze to the spot where Luis lay dead. "His methods proved too violent for his own good. You see, Superman, he would have killed the teacher and the children too, so great was his anger. I, however, have no such plans."
"How noble of you," Clark responded, his voice dipped in sarcasm. "So then you are willing to release these children?"
"In time…if all goes well…they will be released. I do, however, have some needs that must be met before this is possible."
"I assume your 'needs' include free passage out of here. What do you have in mind?"
"I want a helicopter to take us to the harbor where a boat waits."
"And the children?"
"They will be released at the harbor when my men and I are safely aboard."
Clark firmly shook his head. "Unacceptable. The children must be released first or no helicopter."
Rico's voice remained low, but its intensity rose. "Superman, you misunderstand the situation here. I hold the ace card in our little negotiation. I hold the children with guns pressed to their tender heads. Make no mistake, I will kill them if that's what it takes to achieve my goal." Nodding toward the body of his former commander he added menacingly, "No one stands in my way."
"And you apparently have no idea the situation you're in. This place is surrounded by enough sharp shooters to take down a small army, let alone the five of you. I am willing to negotiate for the safety of the children but the terms are not yours to name."
Rico stared intently into the eyes of the Man of Steel and demanded, "And what assurances do I have that we will not be killed when we exit the museum, or blown out of the sky in the helicopter, or ambushed at the harbor. Surely you do not expect me to accept your offer on the strength of your word alone…"
Superman's eyebrows rose in unison at the implication and he responded, "Surely you're not calling me a liar. I give you my word that you will reach your boat unharmed."
Realizing that he was treading on thin ice, Rico responded, "I cannot ask my men to take such a risk based on any man's word. We will not give up our hostages before safely reaching the harbor." His eyes narrowed to slits as he considered the caped figure before him. Turning to face Ramone, whose gun was trained on Beth's temple, he raised his arm abruptly. Ramone responded by shifting his rifle slightly and firing off a flurry of shots that barely missed the child.
Shocked by the thunder of the rifle's report, Clark and Beth cried out simultaneously. The instant the cry escaped his lips, Clark's heart sank. He had given something away that might put his daughter in greater danger. His mind raced as he explored his options.
"Ahhh. So this little one is known to you?" Rico was smug and Clark felt fury rise in his chest. He did not speak until he had full control of his anger. He would not give this man any further advantage.
"Her parents are acquaintances of mine, " he answered tightly.
"And unless you accommodate my demands, I will see to it that you have nothing left to bring them but her body." Rico's voice was venomous.
Clark cast a glance in his daughter's direction. A surge of pride coursed through him at the sight of her. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but she stood bravely in Ramone's grasp, her chin jutting forward in defiance. At that moment, a course of action occurred to him and he turned his attention back to Rico.
"It takes no courage to terrorize children. You're a grown man. A soldier. There is no honor in winning at these children's expense. I suggest freeing the children now and taking another hostage in their place."
"Do you offer yourself?" Rico's expression betrayed the fact that he had not anticipated this turn of events.
"Yes. The children go free and I will accompany you to the harbor as your hostage."
Rico sneered and replied in a mocking tone, "With all due respect, Superman, how can we mere mortals hope to hold hostage the Man of Steel. If we did not hold these children hostage, you would have overpowered us in an instant. And your eyes betray you, my friend. You would like nothing better than to rip me limb from limb this very instant."
Clark made no effort to hide the antipathy that filled him as he glared at Rico. "There is a substance called kryptonite…"
Rico picked up the thread of Superman's conversation, "… and you would turn this substance over to me to insure your cooperation in return for the lives of these children?" His voice was incredulous.
The terrorist considered the offer for only a moment. "Agreed." He stepped forward until he was almost chest to chest with Clark and continued, "But the children stay here until you return with the kryptonite and do not make the mistake of testing my resolve. I will kill them all at the least indication of duplicity on your part."
Superman returned the glare and answered with barely controlled rage, "And don't you be mistaken in this: if you allow harm to come to any of these children, there will be no place on earth for you to hide." He turned and was gone before Rico could respond.
Superman's reappearance outside the museum without the children brought a collective sigh of disappointment from the crowd.
Captain Zimack and Lois spoke at once. "What do they want?" "Are the children all right?"
Addressing Lois first, Clark replied. "Yes, the children are all right. They are frightened, but unharmed." He reached out unconsciously and took her hand. Turning to Zimack, he continued. "They want a helicopter and safe passage to the harbor. Please arrange for the helicopter while I take care of the other details." In a blur, he was gone, leaving the two behind him with a myriad of unanswered questions.
Clark had wanted nothing more than to stay and offer words of comfort to Lois, but he knew that he couldn't do so. In the first place, it would have been far too easy to give too much away. In the best of circumstances, he often had to concentrate carefully to hide his feelings for her, and these were far from the best of circumstances.
Additionally, her reporter's instinct would surely have kicked in and she would have asked questions he was unwilling to answer at the moment. He did not have to imagine her reaction to his plan. He knew. She would have been distressed for about fifteen seconds and then she would have been angry. Furious, in fact. And he could not allow himself to be swayed from the course he had chosen. Determination creased his brow as he headed for STAR Labs.
Only moments later, the crowd gasped and pointed to the sky as Superman reappeared and landed at the museum. Stopping to talk to no one, he headed toward the VIP entrance, a small metal box tucked under his arm.
With a jolt, Lois recognized the box. Before she thought to stop it, an agonized whisper escaped her lips. "Oh no… Clark!" He paused briefly and flashed her a reassuring nod as he entered the building.
Her mind was racing with the implications of what she had seen when Lois's reverie was interrupted by a light touch on her arm. Turning quickly, she was startled to see her sons standing beside her.
"Jon, what in the world are you doing…"
Her older son interrupted her. "It's all over the TV and radio, Mom. Sammy was terrified. I thought it would be easier - for him, I mean - if he was here with you." Jon looked his mother in the eye, fully aware that he was not fooling her. She knew that he had not come just for Sammy's sake. Although he had been only five years old when Emmy died, Jon remembered his sister and his anguish at her loss. He, too, needed to be with his mother.
Lois reached out her arms and drew her boys in for a kiss on each forehead. "Don't worry," she murmured with a confidence she didn't really feel. "Your Dad's got it under control." She flashed them a half-smile.
Inside, Superman walked without hesitation to Rico and handed him the box. "The kryptonite in this box will incapacitate me. The closer it is to my body, the less able I will be to function." He paused and glanced around the room. The children remained as they had been when he left. "Now, if you are a man of your word, you will release the children."
Rico did not try to hide his admiration. 'This is a man of honor', he thought. 'A worthy opponent.' "I am a man of my word, just as you are, my friend." Raising his voice so that he would be clearly heard by his cohorts, he commanded, "Escort the children to the doors and release them." As he spoke, he slowly opened the lead box. A groan escaped Clark's lips and he sank slowly to the floor, gritting his teeth against the searing pain.
On her way to the door in the grasp of her captor, Beth Kent heard Superman's agony. As the two boys were released and ran through the doors into the rotunda, Beth wrenched free of her captor and raced back into the exhibit. Standing in front of the stricken form of her father, she rounded on Rico. "You're a very, very bad man! Why are you hurting Superman?!"
She turned to take Clark's face in her hands and he raised tortured eyes to meet hers. "Go, Sweetheart. Get out of here. Your mommy's waiting outside." His voice was barely a whisper.
Beth's deep brown eyes opened wide in surprise. Stepping closer to Clark, she focused her intense gaze on the face she held in her hands. Her father saw the recognition dawning in her eyes but was powerless to stop her question. "Daddy?" she asked.
Rico realized the significance of Beth's question with a jolt. "Daddy?" he repeated incredulously. "Did she just call you 'Daddy'?" Cruelly, he wrenched Beth by the arm and turned her to face him.
"What's your name?" he demanded.
Beth trembled in his grasp. She whimpered in pain, her eyes as big as saucers, and Rico forced himself to calm down. He would get no answers from a child too petrified to speak. He released his grip on her arm and asked again in a soothing tone, "What is your name?"
Clark struggled to rise from the floor, desperate to stop the scene that was playing out before him. If Beth answered Rico's questions, all would be lost. But even his powerful resolve was no match for the effects of the kryptonite and he sank back to the floor in despair.
Meanwhile, Beth planted her feet firmly, looked Rico in the eye and responded proudly, "My name is Lara Elizabeff Kent!"
A look of shocked understanding passed over Rico's face as the pieces fell quickly into place. He approached Clark where he lay on the floor and sneered, "A man to be trusted? A bastion of truth?" He landed a brutal kick in Clark's ribcage. "More a man of half-truths, I think! Your daughter will pay the price for your duplicity!"
As wave after wave of pain wracked his body, Superman forced himself to meet his tormentor's eyes without flinching. "Let her go," he growled. "You said you would let the children go."
"No, Mr. Kent. I promised to release a little girl named Beth. I made no promise to release the daughter of Lois Lane and Clark Kent." Rico bent over the fallen man and grasped the front of Clark's suit. Pulling his victim up to face him, Rico hissed, "You see, Mr. Kent, you and your wife are the reason for this whole unfortunate affair. My mission in your country was to retrieve Enrique Calderon from prison - a prison that your meddling placed him in. No, Mr. Kent. Your daughter comes with us!" He pushed Clark back to the floor in disgust. "Now, get up!"
Clark drew a ragged breath and answered, "If you want me to stand under my own power, you'll have to back off with that stuff." He nodded in the direction of the kryptonite. As he struggled to rise, Beth rushed forward and offered her hand. He brought her tiny hand briefly to his lips and then rose unsteadily to his feet.
It seemed like forever to Lois but in reality only thirty minutes had elapsed when the sound of the helicopter's rotors could be heard by those gathered in the plaza. The massive aircraft descended and landed with a roar and a cloud of dust. The Air Force pilots exited the craft and walked toward the police barricade, leaving the helicopter unmanned, as promised.
The VIP door of the museum opened and Superman walked out slowly. Those who did not know him well were unaware of the signs that were so clearly visible to his wife. The pained frown that furrowed his brow. The slight hesitation in his usually confident stride. And in his eyes, behind the patented "Superman" calm, a look of tortured panic. He was in agony. Beside him strode one of the terrorists, a tall, striking man with a calm demeanor. The book bag he clutched seemed oddly out of place - until Lois noticed its green glow, and then the whole scenario fell ominously into place.
Next out of the door came a second terrorist, one arm clutching Beth Kent, the other holding the gun to her head. At the sight of her daughter, Lois's knees threatened to buckle and she leaned heavily on Jimmy's arm. Superman escorted the man and his terrified cargo from the door of the museum to the helicopter, protecting them as carefully as he could with his body and his cape. The man with the book bag never left his side. In like fashion, Clark escorted the other kidnappers from the museum to the helicopter. One, two, three… just three others? Lois turned to Jimmy.
"I thought there were six of them?"
"Lois, I'm sure that I saw six. But then, I only saw them for a moment and I was distracted because I had just missed the story I was sent to cover. I could be wrong."
Jonathan Kent, Sr. emerged from the crowd and stepped up beside Lois to put his arm around her shoulders. "Honey, at least we know that Beth is unharmed." His voice dropped to a whisper, "But something is wrong with him, Lois."
"I know, Jonathan. Look at the book bag the guy beside him is carrying," she whispered.
A look of understanding crossed her father-in-law's face, followed by a look of dread. "What is he doing?!"
"My guess is that he has offered himself as hostage in place of the children and he's given them the kryptonite from STAR Labs as his gesture of good faith. But why did they let the two boys go and keep Beth?"
"I think I have the answer to that question, Lois." She turned as Perry White approached from the direction of the police barricade. "The teacher who was with the kids has regained consciousness. The kidnappers intended to hold Amanda Winchell until the President ordered the release of someone they referred to as 'Enrique'."
Lois's frown deepened as she tried to place the name. "Enrique? Enrique Calderon… the Colombian drug lord?! Of course! His sentencing is in two days!" Her shoulders dropped and she turned to look in anguish at the helicopter that carried her husband and daughter. "Perry, what if they've figured out that Beth is the daughter of Lane and Kent?"
It had been five years since Clark and Lois's undercover investigation, with some timely help from Superman, had ended the career of Enrique Calderon. The head of one of Columbia's most influential drug cartels, Calderon had wisely remained outside of the United States. But the havoc created by Lois and Clark's infiltration of the New Troy operation caused him to reconsider. He had risked a brief personal visit to assess and correct the problem and had been in the United States only one short day when Superman intervened and Calderon found himself behind bars. With the help of evidence gathered by Lois and Clark, the United States authorities had built an iron-clad case.
Perry stepped up to put his hand on her shoulder. "Lois, Superman won't let anything happen to Beth. He's just waiting until the time is right to make his move."
"I hope so, Perry." The sound of the helicopter's rotors beginning to slice through the air drew Lois's attention back to the museum plaza. As the helicopter rose and turned toward the harbor, Lois heard the determined voice of her oldest child.
"Mom, you know what I have to do."
She whirled to face him. "No."
In that moment, the crowd that surrounded them seemed to fade until the two of them stood alone in the street, locked in a heart-rending battle of wills.
"She's my sister and I have the power to save her."
"I'll lose all three of you."
"He's my father and he's dying."
"He would want me to protect you - to stop you."
"He would understand what I have to do."
"Your father will find a way to save them both."
"You saw the kryptonite as clearly as I did."
Turning from him, Lois sank to her knees, her face buried in her hands.
"Mom, you had to know that this time would come - that I'd be called on to step up and *be* his son. Please don't ask me to be less than the person you've raised me to be."
At his gentle touch, she looked up into brown eyes suddenly mature beyond their years - his father's eyes. His hand gently touched her cheek and his expression seemed to beg for her understanding.
"Forgive me, Mom." And he was gone.
Lois did not know whether seconds or hours passed before she felt the gentle arms around her neck, so lost was she in her grief and fear. But Sammy's touch brought her back to reality and his words caused her heart to swell. "It'll be okay, Mommy. Don't cry, please!" His plea ended in a soft cry of his own as tears spilled onto his cheeks.
Jonathan had witnessed the whispered conversation between Jon and Lois. As his grandson rushed away through the crowd, Jonathan had deduced the content of that conversation with a new jolt of fear. He reached down to support Lois's elbow and help her stand. "Come home now, Lois. Sammy needs you. We'll wait there for news." He purposely invoked her son's name, knowing that she would rally herself to respond to Sammy's needs.
Lois pulled herself upright and straightened her skirt with a tug. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and brushed away her own tears with a determined swipe of her hand. "No, Jonathan. Sammy and I will wait for them on the dock." She reached her arms out to embrace her mother-in-law who had emerged from the crowd to stand by her husband. "I'd appreciate it if the two of you would come with us, too. We're a family, and family sticks together at times like this! Right, Sammy?" She reached down to ruffle the child's hair.
"Right!" he shouted, smiling through his tears.
Jon flew low, skimming the waves in an attempt to remain unnoticed as he trailed the boat. Despite his courageous words to his mother, he was terrified. He had never attempted flight outside the confines of their home and then only the most basic levitation and slow forward movement. Just last night, he had dropped his brother in an awkward attempt to imitate his father. Now he sped along the waves at break-neck speed, straining to maintain his equilibrium, formulate a plan, and keep the boat in sight, all with the lives of his father and sister hanging in the balance.
Deep in thought, he inadvertently lost altitude and was catapulted backwards, head over heels, by the crest of a wave in the boat's wake. Although he rose immediately and continued his pursuit, he had lost precious time. Desperate to increase his speed, he found himself reaching forward with both hands as if he could bring himself closer to the boat by sheer force of will. To his amazement, his new posture seemed to lend stability and speed to his flight. By shifting his arms and shoulders up or down, he found he could make subtle changes in his trajectory. He realized then that intense concentration was not the remedy for his inexperience. Instead, he needed to relax and allow his Kryptonian instincts to control his movements. 'Don't think, Kent. Just fly.' He turned his thoughts back to formulating a plan of action.
As the ship crashed against the waves on its mad dash out to sea, the captives huddled together on the polished deck. The kryptonite glowed a dull green against the blue of Superman's shirt. Their captors had secured it to his torso with duct tape as soon as the boat cleared the harbor. Clark had struggled against the searing pain for only moments before succumbing to merciful unconsciousness.
Beth sat on the deck, Clark's head cradled gently in her lap as she stroked his hair. She was terribly confused by her father's sudden illness. Daddy was never ill. He didn't even get sniffles like Mommy sometimes did. Her innocent mind made no connection between the glowing rock and her father's state or, for that matter, the queasiness in her own tummy. All she knew was that Daddy was awfully sick and so she cuddled him and slowly began to rock back and forth, seeking to comfort him as *she* had so often found comfort in *his* arms. A tear found its way slowly down her cheek as she began to hum softly in his ear.
>From the depths of his kryptonite-induced stupor, Clark became dimly aware >of the sound of his child's voice and fought his way back toward >consciousness. Battling past waves of nausea and pain, he struggled to >hear the conversation of the terrorists who stood a few yards away. Rico >stood silently as the other four debated the fate of the hostages.
Ramone was adamant, "I will have no part of killing the child. Do what you will with Superman, but the child lives. We are not terrorists, we are soldiers on a mission. We do not kill children!" He turned toward his new leader as he continued, "Rico, you gave your word that the child would not be harmed." The four men turned and waited expectantly for a response. That response took a form that none of them could have predicted. Rico walked quickly across the deck and picked Beth up into his arms. He solemnly kissed the child on the forehead and then, seemingly oblivious to her cries of terror, threw her tiny form overboard.
"Enough debate. The American Coast Guard will either save her or they will not." With looks of surprise, the other men began to scan the horizon and could just make out the distant forms of the Coast Guard cutters that followed them. Turning to Ramone, Rico continued, "And Ramone, if you wish, you may follow the child into the sea but we have no time for debate!" As Ramone lowered his eyes in submission Rico continued, "Mr. Kent is of no further use to us. Dispose of him."
The Coast Guard Cutter "Intrepid", flanked by four of her sister vessels, shadowed the fleeing boat, taking care not to approach too closely lest the terrorists react by harming the hostages. On the deck of the "Intrepid" stood Captain Zimack and Commander Landell, the officer in charge of the Coast Guard contingent. Both of the men watched through binoculars as the drama unfolded on the distant deck of the terrorists boat.
"The child is in the water!" barked Zimack.
Commander Landell was quick to react, speaking calmly and firmly into his radio. "We have a victim in the water about a quarter mile this side of the ten mile buoy. Move in at full throttle." The five vessels surged forward as one.
"Superman, too. They just pushed him over the side. Will we be in time?" Zimack asked quietly.
"Only if we're lucky," Landell responded grimly. "The water's choppy and it'll take several minutes to reach them…" His voice trailed off as he scanned the horizon with his binoculars. Nudging Zimack, he pointed to the south. There, on the horizon, a large yacht idled in the water. "It seems we have company."
By the time the Kent family arrived at the dock, a crowd had already formed and the place was a media circus. The Air Force helicopter sat deserted in the harbor picnic area and there was no sign of the terrorists or the hostages. A group of five Coast Guard cutters were leaving the harbor in haste. As Lois approached, Sammy's hand held tightly in hers, the crowd grew silent and gave way, clearing their path to the Coast Guard official who appeared to be taking charge of the land portion of the operation. The elder Kents followed close behind with Perry and Jimmy in their wake. From the unnaturally quiet crowd around her, Lois caught bits and pieces of chatter that she recognized immediately. The town's reporters were busy covering every angle.
"…as this tragedy unfolds, stay tuned to WLWC, Channel 6, for the latest!" Lois winced at the word "tragedy" and a corner of her mind noted the shoddy sensationalism that such a word represented. This was not a tragedy. No one had died. No one was *going* to die!
"And now, the arrival of the anguished mother of little Beth Kent …" A local anchorman spoke in dramatic, hushed tones as the camera panned in Lois's direction. Lois found herself wondering whether he cared that his intrusion into the situation was increasing her anguish. But, of course, she already knew the answer to the question she posed. On a purely personal level, the man probably did care. After all, he had been a professional colleague of Lois and Clark in the Metropolis media for years. But getting the story often left no room for personal feelings, a fact of which Lois was keenly aware. She made a silent vow to re-examine her reporter's ethics when this crisis was past.
"Speculation continues to swirl around the absence of Clark Kent, well-known reporter and father of the kidnapped child. Is this further evidence of the breakdown of Metropolis media's first family?" That was too much. Lois whipped around to face the reporter, a less-than-reputable man who worked for a much-less-than-reputable supermarket rag. "How dare you malign my husband at a time like this! If you print that, Baker, I swear I'll …"
Her angry tirade was cut short by the timely intervention of a clearly agitated Perry White. To Lois, he whispered, "Let me handle this piece of worm bait, honey." Grateful for Perry's intervention, Lois recaptured Sammy's hand and moved on.
A moment later, a flushed but triumphant Perry rejoined the group. "Lois, he won't be printing anything. We had a little heart-to-heart and he has seen the light!"
"Thanks, Perry. I don't know what I was thinking to give that piece of slime a juicy sound bite like I did. He'll probably sell it to every sleazy radio talk show host he can find."
"Sound bite, did you say?" Perry displayed a ribbon of tape that he had shoved in his pocket. "What sound bite?"
"Perry, you're the best!" Lois managed a half-smile despite her fear.
"And Lois, I know that Clark will get here any minute. It's rotten luck that he had to be so far out of town, today of all days." Perry seemed concerned that Clark's absence might be causing Lois distress and hastened to reassure her.
"Perry, you don't need to convince me," Lois looked anxiously out to sea. "He would give his life to save Beth." Her heart ached with the knowledge that he might be doing just that.
Their conversation was interrupted when the Coast Guard officer's radio sprang to life. Lois strained to hear through the static.
"I say again, both hostages are in the water…approximately ten miles out …moving in to position … search and rescue now…will advise…" The voice of Captain Zimack faded to static as word spread through the crowd.
Jon's heart was in his throat when he heard his sister's screams. A brief moment later, he saw her tiny form thrown from the boat, her arms and legs thrashing. Without hesitation, he dove deep beneath the waves. Locating her in the swelling whitecaps could take time - too much time. He reasoned that he had a better chance of seeing her from beneath, where her form would be a silhouette against the backdrop of the blue sky.
As he looked frantically for Beth, Jon heard a second splash and knew instantly that his father's body was also in the water. Resisting the urge to turn and look for his dad, Jon continued to scan the surface for his sister, knowing that his father's chances of long-term survival were better. Unless, of course, the kryptonite had already… Jon banished all such thoughts as he caught sight of Beth above him, furiously employing the dog-paddle stroke he had taught her. In a moment, she was in his arms and he was once again skimming the waves.
The buoy marking ten miles from the coast bobbed wildly in the waves as Jon approached. He hated to leave Beth alone but he knew that time was running out for his father. He gently pried Beth's hands loose from his neck and replaced them around the metal bars of the buoy. Yelling to be heard above the sound of the sea, he admonished his sister, "Hold on, Beth. Don't let go, no matter what happens!" Beth did not respond and her eyes were wild with panic, but her fists were white where they gripped the metal. "That a girl!" Jon patted her back as he turned.
When he reached the spot where he had found Beth, Superman was nowhere to be seen. 'Of course!' Jon reasoned. 'His dense molecular structure would cause him to sink!' Drawing a deep breath, he plunged beneath the surface. His heart sank as he scanned the depths below him. The translucent upper layers of the water quickly gave way to deep blue only yards beneath him. How could he hope to find …'Quit thinking! Just dive!' he admonished himself.
Jon dove straight down into the depths, leaving the filtered sunlight of the surface behind him. As he traveled deeper into the midnight blue water, a wave of nausea passed through him. It was followed by a more intense wave a moment later. The third wave brought understanding with it. 'Kryptonite!' Although every survival instinct he owned screamed in protest, Jon purposely propelled himself deeper into the increasing waves of nausea.
In moments, the eerie silence of the deep was broken by a muffled rhythm. His father's heartbeat! One more moment and his arms closed around the unconscious form of Superman. Relief flooded Jon's heart as he ripped the tape and kryptonite loose and released it to sink into the murky depths below. With his arm around his father's chest, he stroked powerfully up toward the surface.
Freed of the kryptonite, Clark drifted back toward consciousness as Jon broke the surface of the waves. Unwilling to take the chance of being spotted by the approaching Coast Guard vessels, and not at all sure that he *could* fly with Clark's added weight, Jon chose to swim the distance back to the buoy with his father in tow. Before long, Clark stirred and began to cough violently. Jon paused and treaded water, supporting his father as Clark struggled to clear his lungs of the water he had inhaled. As the coughing calmed, Clark seemed to become aware of his surroundings and was able to stroke along weakly beside Jon as they made their way to the buoy.
When they reached their destination, Superman climbed slowly from the water and reached out in relief for Beth. Seeing her father, she loosened her death grip on the bars of the buoy and allowed herself to be cradled in his arms, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. Fatigue and relief showed on his face as he smiled on his son who still bobbed in the waves near the buoy.
"Thank you, Son." The words seemed terribly inadequate.
Jon wasn't quite sure how to respond. The panic that had filled his heart had begun to diminish, but the excess adrenaline in his system was giving him the shakes. And the sight of his always-in-charge father clinging weakly to the buoy had unsettled his nerves even further. Finally, he decided to fall back on an old family favorite and reached for a bit of humor. "No problem, Dad," he quipped, trying desperately not to allow his father to discern his thoughts. "It looked like a job for … I don't know … what do you think of 'Superstud'?!"
Clark shook his head as he grinned weakly. "What I think is that we'd better get you out of here unless we want 'Superstud' to make his debut today." He nodded in the direction of the Coast Guard flotilla which had arrived and were slowly combing the area where the hostages had been thrown overboard.
"Are you sure you two will be okay?"
"We'll be fine, thanks to you. Now go. We'll meet back up at home." Clark watched as Jon took a deep breath and dipped silently beneath the surface to begin the journey back to shore. When his son was safely away, Superman rose cautiously to his feet to stand on the buoy, hoping to draw the attention of the Coast Guard.
The men and women of the "Intrepid" lined the rails, each hoping against hope to catch a glimpse of the child or Superman. As the minutes passed, that hope began to dwindle. These were professionals, most of them seasoned veterans of sea rescue operations, and they knew that precious moments were ticking away. They knew that victims who were not found quickly were usually…
"There they are!" The excited shout of a young female cadet broke the stillness. Others followed the direction of her outstretched arm to see Superman standing on a buoy a quarter mile farther out to sea. Even the most hardened seamen among them were moved by the sight of the Man of Steel, his cape billowing out behind him, with the child he had protected and saved wrapped securely in his arms.
Several cameras clicked and whirred to catch the image and were still shooting when the sky behind Superman lit up with a sudden brilliance. The force of the explosion rocked the Coast Guard vessels as the terrorists' boat went up in a ball of flames.
Commander Landell recovered quickly from his surprise and raised his binoculars to scan the horizon. Far in the distance, the mysterious yacht had turned in the water and was racing out to sea.
Zimack lowered his binoculars and turned a grim expression towards his companion. "The first rule of terrorism: leave no loose ends and accept no failures."
Landell nodded as he replied, "One of the hazards of the profession, I guess. I wouldn't be surprised if Enrique Calderon ordered it himself."
The powerful explosion was visible even to those standing miles away on the dock, a bright flash followed moments later by what sounded like distant thunder.
"Oh, my God!" Lois reached out to grasp Jonathan's arm and he hastened to reassure her.
"Lois, don't jump to conclusions. After all, Captain Zimack said the hostages were in the water."
Perry quickly agreed. "I'm sure Superman has Beth and is on his way in, Honey. You just keep the faith." He managed a smile although his eyes were focused on the horizon where smoke was beginning to rise from the burning hulk.
Once again, the radio in the hands of the Coast Guard official sprang to life in a burst of static and broken words. "… have been found … moving in … pick them up …" Lois hung on every syllable, silently praying for a miracle. She didn't have to wait long. Suddenly, as if in answer to her prayer, the message came through loud and clear. "I repeat," came the voice of Captain Zimack, his elation evident in his tone, "the hostages have been found and the 'Intrepid' is moving in now to pick them up! They appear to be unharmed!"
The hushed silence of the crowd erupted into thunderous cheers and applause. Reporters pressed their earphones tight to their ears and shouted into their microphones to be heard above the din. Complete strangers found themselves hugging in relief and thumping each other on the back in a joyous victory celebration.
At the end of the dock, a different kind of celebration was in progress, less boisterous but infinitely more heart-felt. "Thank God!" Tears gathered in Lois's eyes as she stepped into Martha's embrace. Jonathan felt no shame as a tear trickled down his cheek, the terror of the last few hours finally beginning to drain from his heart. He reached out to accept Perry's offered handshake and instead felt himself pulled in for a hug and a thump on the back.
Jimmy dropped to his knees before a confused Sammy and whispered a few words to the six-year-old. The child responded with a grin and wrapped his arms around his beloved uncle's neck. Jimmy returned the hug, feeling a surge of joy at the knowledge that this family, *his* family, would soon be whole again. The assembled crowd watched with affection and thoughtfully kept their distance. Even the reporters allowed the family this moment, although cameras continued to roll.
Safe within Martha's embrace, Lois closed her eyes and willed her heart to slow its frantic pace. She had been running on pure adrenaline and now, with the sudden end to the day's terror, she felt her muscles begin to quake. Martha pulled her closer and whispered, "Relax, Lois, I've got you. They're coming home. They're all right …"
The crowd on the dock again erupted in wild cheering at the sight of Superman and the child standing on the deck of the "Intrepid" as she came back into the harbor. Cameras clicked incessantly and news crews shot video for the evening broadcast. Here and there, an anchorman could be seen delivering a polished narrative into his microphone, the Coast Guard Cutter entering the harbor serving as a dramatic backdrop.
For Lois, the moment was an intensely personal one. After the terror of the day, the sight of her husband and daughter caused her knees to weaken. She could hardly believe that her little family had come through this day unscathed. That thought was followed closely by a flash of fear. Where was Jon? She locked gazes with her husband standing on the deck, Beth clinging to his neck. In that moment, she knew that her fears were unnecessary for his eyes held only love and relief. Of course Jon didn't come back in on the boat, she reasoned. After all, he had an identity to safeguard. The thought produced a wry smile as she murmured, "Oh, boy! The 'secret identity' thing again!"
As Superman stepped off the boat, the crowd parted to clear his path to Lois. Clark whispered something to Beth and the child raised her head and turned. Seeing her mother, she reached out her arms and Clark gently passed her into Lois's waiting embrace. Once again, the cameras sprang into action, capturing the moment for evening editions. Lois caressed her daughter and whispered words of comfort before turning to Superman. Throwing caution to the wind, she gave in to her need to touch her husband and raised up on her toes to plant a sweet kiss on his cheek. The crowd cheered what they thought was a gesture of gratitude, not knowing it was that and so much more.
Raising her voice, Lois addressed the Man of Steel. "Superman, how can I thank you? What you've done today is…" The words caught in her throat as tears clouded her eyes. Clark came once again to her rescue.
"No words are necessary, Ms. Lane. Seeing little Beth back in your arms is all the thanks I need." Turning to address the crowd, he continued, "The men responsible for this crime have all perished in an explosion at sea. Evidently, their associates were less than pleased with their failure to accomplish their mission. I will be going to the police station now to give them a full report and will hold a press conference tomorrow morning to inform the public."
"Or, you can read all about it in the morning edition of the 'Daily Planet'," Lois chimed in, an impish grin on her face. A collective groan arose from the reporters gathered on the dock as they realized the truth of her words. Once again, Lane and Kent had the inside track.
A police cruiser had slowly made its way through the throng and now Captain Zimack stepped up to usher Superman inside. He, too, had seen the Kryptonite and knew that the Man of Steel was probably not going to be flying anywhere anytime soon. Before joining Superman in the car, he turned and whispered confidentially to Lois, "Don't worry, Ms. Lane. We won't keep him long and then I'll bring him home myself." His only response to Lois's look of shock was a wink and a warm smile as the car door closed. Lois once again found herself thanking heaven for the good people who filled her world.
As the car holding Zimack and Superman pulled slowly away, a second police cruiser took its place. An officer emerged and swung the passenger side doors open. "Ms. Lane, I've been instructed to take you and your family home." Grateful for the offer of a speedy escape from the crowds and anxious to get her little family home, Lois readily accepted his offer. After she bundled Beth and Sammy into the cruiser, she reached out her hand to Martha and Jonathan.
"Please, come home with us, you two. I think the Kents need to be together tonight." With a grateful nod, Martha joined her grandchildren in the back seat, but Jonathan held back.
"Lois, I think I'll try to hook up with Jon and we'll bring the Jeep home." He fixed Lois with a meaningful glance and she smiled broadly, her gratitude shining in her eyes as she handed him the keys.
She threw her arms around him and hugged him joyously. "I don't know what we'd do without you!" she whispered.
The brownstone was bathed in the warm glow of twilight when the unmarked police car rolled slowly to a stop on Hyperion Avenue. Through the windows, Zimack could see the dancing reflection of the fire in the fireplace and the warm glow of lighted candles on the mantel. His life was a solitary one, having never married, and he eyed his companion with more than a little envy.
"You are a very lucky man, my friend," he intoned softly. "What a wonderful place to come home to!"
"Captain, I couldn't agree with you more!" Superman responded as the door to the townhouse opened and Lois descended the steps, her face aglow with the expectation of reunion with her husband.
As Clark pushed the door open, he was thankful for the gentle strength that reached to help him. Supporting him as inconspicuously as she could, Lois raised her voice slightly for the benefit of any neighbors who might be witnessing the scene. "Thank you for coming by, Superman. The family is looking forward to a chance to thank you in person." She leaned down and whispered to Zimack, "Thanks for bringing him home to us, Captain, and for…everything else." She wasn't quite sure how to put her thoughts into words.
Zimack's response put her mind at ease. "Lois and Cl…er…Superman. Rest assured that your secret is safe with me."
Superman responded with a disarmingly Clark-like grin. "Never had a doubt, Captain. Good evening!"
Superman made it up the stairs under his own power and managed to walk into the entry hall before he gave in to the waves of weakness that continued to wash over him. He leaned heavily against the wall and reached out to pull his wife to him. In exhaustion and relief, he wrapped his arms around her, lay his head atop hers and breathed a deep sigh. Finally, it was over.
Delicious moments passed in silence as the couple savored the simple joy of being together with the crisis past. It was Lois who found her voice first. "Clark, thank God you're safe. There was a long time today when I thought I might never see you or Beth again. And then when Jon was gone, too…"
At his son's name, Clark's head came up and Lois felt him tense. She hastened to reassure him, "He's on his way home with your dad. They just called from the car phone." Lois smiled up at him and watched relief soften the features of his face. "Jonathan said he came walking up from the beach about fifteen minutes after the crowd was gone."
"And he's okay?"
"Just fine…oh…except, he lost his shoes and was soaking wet. I guess you'll have to teach him that 'spin-dry' thing you do!" Lois reached up to plant a kiss on her husband's cheek. "And how about you? The exposure to the kryptonite must have been pretty intense if you're still feeling weak."
Clark's eyes twinkled with mischief as he answered, "And have you considered that my kryptonite-induced weakness might just be a ruse I'm using to lure you into my clutches?" He captured her lips in a knee-weakening kiss to illustrate his point.
Lois pulled back just enough to murmur against his lips. "Mmmmmm… And when have you ever needed a ruse to accomplish that?" She illustrated *her* point by returning the favor, pressing him back against the wall. Lois was well aware that Clark was trying to distract her from the question she had asked about the kryptonite. (And she grudgingly admitted that he was doing a pretty thorough job, too, as his hands traced a path down the center of her back!) He probably knew that he had some explaining to do about his decision to hand the kryptonite over to terrorists. But Lois had already decided that such discussions would have to wait. Tonight, her family needed time to regroup and begin healing. She was just about to break away from Clark's embrace and usher him inside when the door to the brownstone burst open and Sammy presented himself in the doorway.
"I found them," he announced boisterously to whomever was listening. "And they're kissing again!" He bounded out the door and wrapped himself enthusiastically around his parents' legs. Clark bent to pick him up for a hug but thought better of it as the foyer began to spin. Instead, he squatted down and took his son in his arms.
"Hey, there's my Littlest Tornado! How ya doin', bud?" Clark's hold on his son changed without warning from a hug to a round of tickling that left Sammy wiggling and giggling. Lois felt the warmth in her heart grow. They'd have to wait for tomorrow's sunshine to begin to restore his strength, but Clark's spirit was already receiving the medicine it needed to heal - the love of his family.
As if on cue, Martha appeared in the doorway with Beth in her arms. Clark stroked his daughter's hair, still damp from the warm bubble bath from which she had just come. She wore her favorite Pooh feety-pajamas and the worn old bear himself was clutched in her pudgy hands. Looking up at her father, her eyes grew as big as saucers. "Daddy," she began, her expression earnest, her voice a whisper. "Jon can fly!"
Clark dipped his head for a moment lest Beth think he was laughing at her. When he was once again in control, he raised his eyes to hers and, reaching out gently, cradled her face in his hand. "Yes, darling, Jon can fly." He turned to glance at Lois. "We have a lot of explaining to do, don't we?" She nodded her agreement, not sure she could push words past the lump in her throat.
Clark looked past his daughter to Martha. "Mom," he began, "thank you so much for being there today…for Lois…for all of us. I don't know what this family would do without you." He leaned past Beth to plant a soft kiss on his mother's cheek and was startled to find tears there. He frowned and began to speak but was stopped by a quick shake of Martha's head.
"Just a sentimental softy, Honey, that's all, " she murmured. This was no time to upset Lois and Clark by confessing her feelings of guilt. She dropped her gaze to the floor, away from her son's too-perceptive scrutiny.
Lois broke the moment of silence in her usual manner: she took charge. "Okay, you, Farmboy, upstairs and into the bathtub. Martha, I made some hot cocoa while you were bathing Beth and I put a couple mugs of it on the table in the living room. I'll bet she'd love to have some and rock in the big chair by the fire." In answer to her mother's suggestion, Beth snuggled deeper into Martha's arms. The elder Mrs. Kent raised her head to smile at her daughter-in-law as she turned toward the living room.
Lois caught up to Clark on the third stair and he seemed relieved to accept her help, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "Wait a minute," Lois whispered, as it dawned on her who she had forgotten. In a louder voice, she called, "Sammy? Where are you?"
A small voice answered from the shadow by the front door. "I'm right here, Mommy. Do you need me?" Clark thought the last sounded more like a hope than a question. He smiled down into his wife's eyes. She was amazing. How did she always know what each of them needed? Breaking eye contact only grudgingly, he answered Sammy.
"Of course I need you, Son. Could you please come help me up the stairs? Mommy's tired and I really could use a hand." As Sammy bounded from the shadows and up the stairs, another voice was heard from the doorway.
"I'll lend him a hand too, Lois." Her father-in-law stepped inside and started up the stairs, pausing only to kiss Lois briefly on the cheek and whisper, "I think someone needs to speak to you." He nodded toward the doorway as together he and Sammy took charge of Clark.
The outside door opened again and there stood Jon, barefoot and soggy, but whole. Lois breathed a sigh of relief and began to move towards him but was stopped in her tracks by the look on her son's face. The exhaustion of the day showed in his eyes, along with the exhilaration of his success, but there was something else, something Lois could not immediately identify. She took a tentative step forward and reached out her arms to him. After a moment's hesitation, Jon flung himself into his mother's arms and clung to her as if for dear life. Lois returned his embrace, bringing her hand up to stroke his hair soothingly as his shoulders began to shake with his sobs.
They stood together in silence until his shaking subsided and then Lois led him gently into the kitchen. She deposited him in a chair at the table and moved to the stove to pour two more mugs of steaming cocoa. Stopping at the refrigerator, she added a small cloud of whipped cream to each and then paused, glancing toward her son.
"Ahhh, what the heck!" she proclaimed and added a mountain of whipped cream to Jon's mug. "This is not a day to be stingy!" Her action had the desired effect and a ghost of a smile crossed her son's face. As she settled into a chair beside him, she remained silent, allowing him to choose when and if they would talk.
After a deep swallow from his mug, Jon began. "Mom, I've never been so frightened in my life. When I saw them throw first Beth, then Dad over the side of that boat, I was so sure they would both die before I could save them…" Lois tried to swallow the lump in her throat. These were details she hadn't heard yet. A thousand questions flooded her mind and she fought hard to keep them contained. Jon continued, "Beth was so terrified when I reached her that she didn't even seem to know me. And then I had to leave her clinging to that buoy to go get Dad. Just finding him was hard. The water is really deep out there, you know, and I don't really have that x-ray vision thing worked out yet. And then, when I did find him, all of a sudden I felt sort of sick to my stomach. Do you think that could have been the kryptonite?" Lois opened her mouth to respond but she was too late. Jon's narrative continued at an ever-increasing rate. "So I ripped the tape lose and let the kryptonite sink to the bottom. I guess we'll have to go find it when Dad feels better. Anyway, then Dad seemed to rally a little and I was able to help him to the surface. But then we had to figure out how to get them out of there without everybody seeing me and…" Jon's voice trailed off as he noticed Lois's shoulders quaking slightly. He was amazed when he realized that she was fighting to contain her laughter. Surprised and a little hurt, he asked, "What?"
Lois gave in and giggled out loud before answering him. "Ohhh…Jon…ha…um…I'm so sorry. It's just that I didn't think you got it!"
"Got what, Mom?" His confusion threatened to give way to hurt and annoyance.
"The Lane Babble Gene! But you did!" Lois dissolved into laughter and, after a moment, Jon joined her.
Lois leaned contentedly against the door to the living room, silently taking in the scene before her. By the fireplace stood the old rocking chair, the same one that had stood for years in the farmhouse in Kansas. The one in which her husband had been rocked to sleep as a child. And the same hands that had held and comforted him now held and comforted Lois's precious little Beth. Martha must have heard Lois's sigh of contentment for she looked up and smiled. Lois moved silently into the room and sat cross-legged in front of the fire, her head resting gently on Martha's knee.
The older woman spoke in a whisper. "I heard you laughing with Jon. Is he all right?"
"Not yet, but he will be. He's got a lot to think about. He's gone through overwhelming changes today. In fact, 'overwhelming' is an understatement! I sent him up to take a hot shower." She noticed that the cocoa cups were empty and began to rise. "I've got plenty of cocoa in the kitchen. I'll just…" Lois paused as she saw tears running down Martha's cheeks.
Sorrow clutched at her heart as she stood witness to her mother-in-law's anguish. Lois sank back down on her knees and took Martha's hand in her own. Weighing each word carefully, she began. "I know what you're thinking and I want you to hear me now. *Really* hear me." She paused until Martha raised her head to look Lois in the eye. "A long time ago, I felt like I think you're feeling right now. I was a new bride and I had to watch the man I loved go off again and again into dangers I could only imagine. I sat at home and agonized, wanting to keep him safe and feeling guilty and helpless because I couldn't. I turned to the best woman I knew and she gave me advice I've never forgotten. 'Lois,' she said, 'you can't keep those you love safe from harm. No one can, not even Clark. But when he comes home to you, broken in body or spirit, you *can* help. Offer him your love to soothe his wounds and your strength to make his spirit whole again.' " Lois paused a moment to let her words sink in, then continued. "Martha, Clark and the children have been through a terrible ordeal today. An ordeal that neither of us could have foreseen or prevented. But they're home now. Home, but not whole. They'll need all of our love and strength to be whole again. They need you… I need you."
On the stairwell landing, Jonathan and Clark shared a smile. "She's an amazing woman, this Lois Lane," remarked Jonathan.
Clark beamed with pride. "I've always thought so."
The family was finally all assembled in the living room and calm had begun to settle over the Kent household. Clark, bundled in his fleece robe, sat on the couch with Beth asleep on his chest. Jon stood behind them, leaning on the couch as if he just needed to be near them. Sammy and his grandpa had brought out the chess board and were engrossed in a game while Martha and Lois sat sipping cocoa near the fire.
Lois broke the comfortable silence as she sighed and pointed at Beth. "Clark, look." He looked down at the sleeping child and noticed her tiny thumb planted firmly in her mouth.
A wry smile crossed his face as he answered, "Well, after today, I guess she's entitled." Lois nodded in agreement. "You would have been so proud of her today, Lois," Clark continued. "She planted her little feet and faced down that terrorist with no hint of fear. But then, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at that. Her mother is the most fearless person I know." His eyes betrayed his feelings as he locked gazes with his wife.
Their reverie was disturbed by the ringing of the doorbell and, out of habit, Clark turned his eyes toward the door. He quickly realized the futility of his attempt and with a shake of his head he turned a wry grin back to Lois. "I'm afraid we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way, Honey!" Lois rose from her chair with a smile and started toward the door.
"Dr. Klein," Jon exclaimed. When both of his parents turned to look quizzically at him, he explained, "At the door. It's Dr. Klein. I can see him!"
Clark beamed at his son, "Way ta go, Jon!" He offered the boy a high five as he continued, "X-ray vision! I'm impressed!" Jon's smile was luminous as he basked in his father's praise.
"I'd forgotten that I even called him," Lois commented as she turned back toward the door. "I thought this family could use a house call." Clark nodded his agreement and once again marveled at Lois's unswerving ability to see to everyone's needs.
Dr. Bernard Klein and Lois spoke in hushed tones in the foyer before the good doctor entered the living room. "So, I hear that my favorite family of patients had quite the adventure today!" he quipped as he placed his medical bag on the coffee table.
"That's a world-class understatement, Dr. Klein," Jon responded as Bernard pulled out a stethoscope. One at a time, Beth, Jon, and finally Clark submitted to the doctor's gentle examination. When he had finished, he sank into a chair and accepted the cup of cocoa that Martha had brought from the kitchen. He had the family's undivided attention as he delivered his verdict.
"Well, Beth seems only slightly the worse for wear. She shows some symptoms of shock, but that is to be expected. Just pour on the TLC and she'll be fine." Her family nodded in unison. TLC was no problem.
"Clark, you're grounded. Based on what little data we have on the effects of kryptonite on your body, I'd guess that it'll be a week and a half or maybe two before you're back to your old self again. My prescription, lots of sunshine and little or no exertion. If the blood I drew shows any abnormalities, I'll be back in touch."
Lois moved in to sit on the arm of the sofa and drape her arm protectively around her husband's shoulder. "I'll see to it that he follows your prescription to the letter, Doctor Klein." She lowered her gaze to meet her husband's, her eyes twinkling in merriment. "Even if I have to hog-tie him to the recliner!"
Clark raised his hands in mock surrender, a wide grin spreading across his face. "Okay, okay! I know when I'm outgunned! I promise to behave!" His wife favored him with a look that let him know she'd believe it when she saw it.
"Now, Jon," Bernard continued, "I'd like to see you at STAR Labs tomorrow as soon as school lets out." Catching the look of concern that crossed Lois and Clark's faces, Klein hastened to add, "There's nothing wrong with him. That's why I need to see him. Of course it could be that the exposure was too brief, but I tend to think there's something more at work here. The differences are probably genetic. We'll try some brief exposures. Nothing that could harm him, of course…"
"Dr. Klein?" Clark frowned at his friend's characteristic tangent. "In English, please?"
It was only when he paused to catch his breath that Klein noticed the collective looks of confusion on the faces of the family before him. Taking a deep breath, he continued more succinctly. "The kryptonite, Clark. Don't you see? While the proximity of the sample sent you into a stupor, Jon reports only mild nausea." He waited as his words slowly sank in and looks of understanding replaced those of confusion. "It could very well be that the children are immune to the debilitating effects of kryptonite. Perhaps a gift from their mother's human gene pool."
"So you're saying that kryptonite won't hurt Sammy, Beth and I because we're not full-blooded Kryptonians like Dad," Jon summarized. When he continued, excitement tinged his voice. "Dr. Klein, is it possible that some kind of serum could be made using my blood that might help Dad?"
Bernard was nodding before the boy finished his sentence. "It's a very real possibility, Jon. So you see why I'm so anxious to start to work. Together, we might be able to free this family entirely from the dangers of kryptonite."
"Tomorrow after school. Right. I'll be there, Dr. Klein, as fast as I can get there." Jon's comment caused an amused look to cross his father's face. "On my bicycle, that is," he continued with a wink in his dad's direction. "I don't think I'm ready to take to the skies quite yet. I'll leave that for Superman."
Dr. Klein turned his attention next to Lois. "And last, but certainly not least, let's talk about you, Lois. I want you in my office first thing in the morning." As Lois drew a deep breath to voice the inevitable protest, Bernard hurried to continue. "I know all about how Kryptonian babies are routinely born to woman in their fifties and even sixties. I know the pregnancy has been normal so far. I know you feel fine right now. But I also know that, while the baby is part Kryptonian, you are not. We're in uncharted waters here, and I don't want to take any chances. You were under a lot of stress today, which means the baby was, too." He paused, having made his best case, and waited for Lois to respond.
To the amazement of all assembled, Lois's frown melted to reveal a ghost of a smile and she nodded her head in agreement. "You're right, Bernard. Tomorrow morning it is!" She looked pointedly at her husband and in her best stage-whisper informed him, "See, some of us know how to follow doctor's orders!"
Dr. Klein rose to leave, pausing to reach solemnly to shake Jon's hand. "What you've done today is remarkable, young man. You saved your family and in doing so, you saved Metropolis as well. This town needs Superman. Your parents have every reason to be proud." Lois began to rise to show him to the door but Bernard stopped her with a shake of his head. "No, Lois. Stay here with your family. I'll show myself out." And he was gone.
"Clark, Lois," Jonathan drew the couple's attention to the chess board set up on the floor. Sammy's head was nestled amid the scattered chess pieces. He was sound asleep. "I think this is our cue. Martha, let's take this little guy upstairs and tuck him in." He cradled the boy in his arms and rose from the floor. "Good night, all. God bless you."
"Thank you, Jonathan. I think He already has!" Lois responded in a whisper as she dropped a soft kiss on the forehead of her sleeping child. "Your overnight bag is in the guest room and I put out fresh towels. Sleep well."
Clark leaned forward to touch the cherubic face of his son, raising his eyes to meet his parents'. "Thank you both. Days like this one make me so thankful for our family, and the two of you are this family's heart. I love you. Sweet dreams."
As his parents climbed the stairs, Clark turned his attention to his elder son. "Jon, it's probably a good idea for you to hit the hay, too. You must be exhausted and tomorrow's work with Dr.Klein is likely to be strenuous. I think it's time to tuck this little angel in, as well." He glanced lovingly at the cascade of ebony curls that draped his chest. Before he could rise from the couch, Jon intervened, reaching to take his sister into his own arms.
"If you don't mind, Dad, I'd like to tuck her in tonight."
Clark nodded and surrender the child into her brother's caress. On the stair landing, Jon paused and turned. Barely whispering lest he wake his sister, he said, "Dad, I meant what I said about not being ready to be a full-time super hero, but it's good to know … I mean, I've been wondering…" His voice faded out as he sought the right words.
"Wondering if you would have the 'right stuff' when the time came?" Clark finished for him.
Jon smiled with relief, "Yes. Exactly. How did you know?"
"Because it wasn't so long ago that I wondered the same thing about myself."
"Really? Wow, Dad. I can't imagine that you ever had any doubts."
"For what it's worth, I never had any doubts about you."
"Thanks. That's worth a lot…So are we still on for the woods this weekend? I've got a lot to learn."
"Wouldn't miss it! And Jon…"
"I'm proud of you, Son."
Long moments passed in comfortable silence as Lois and Clark sat together on the couch, her head resting on his broad chest, his arms wrapped securely around her.
"So who's taking care of you, Mrs. Kent?" His voice was low and intimate, sending shivers down her spine.
"What do you mean?" She drew her head back to look up into his eyes. The love she saw there caused her breath to catch in her throat.
"I mean, you're so busy taking care of everyone else, the kids, me, Mom. Who's taking care of you? If the position is open, I'd like to apply." He smiled tenderly, raising his hand to cup her cheek. She turned her head and brushed her lips across the palm of his hand before answering.
"Oh, ya! You're a great one to talk, Mr. 'I'll Hand You This Kryptonite If You Promise Not To Hurt The Children!' " She dealt him a playful slap on the chest.
"Hey, that hurt!" he protested with a grin. "Anyhow, it seemed like a good idea at the time!"
"Well, we'll save that discussion until you're stronger!" She snuggled back against his chest and breathed a deep sigh.
"Seriously, Honey, are you okay? This has been one hell of a day."
Lois remained silent for a long moment and when she finally spoke all the merriment was gone from her voice. "I don't know when I've ever been so terrified, Clark. First, realizing that Beth was in that museum and hearing the gunfire. Then seeing you walk in with the box from STAR Labs under your arm. And then Jon … and the explosion …I thought I had lost you all!" Her anxiety finally found release as tears ran down her cheeks. Clark offered no comforting platitudes but merely drew her even closer to his heart, his own tears beginning to fall silently in the darkened room.
The agony of the loss of Emmy rose anew in his heart, a pain undiminished by the passage of time, and he realized how close he and his beloved Lois had come to that kind of pain again this day. He sent a fervent prayer of relief and thanks heavenward. When long moments had passed and the accumulated tension of the day had been eased, he gently raised her face to his and captured her lips in a soft, searching kiss. Resting his forehead gently against hers, he spoke in a whisper.
"I can't imagine what you must have been going through, Honey. I never really thought about it before, but I probably had it easier than you did. I knew that if I couldn't save our little girl, then at least I would die with her. You had to face the prospect of going on without her."
"And without you," Lois added in a whisper, recapturing his lips more passionately this time.
"But once again, we have emerged intact. Incredible!" He chuckled softly in the darkness, his hands gently running up and down her arms.
"Clark, you're going to think I'm crazy, but guess what I want to do right now."
His lips softly grazed her ear lobe as he whispered, "Honey, while I appreciate your faith in my abilities, I have to admit that I don't think I'm quite up to what you're suggesting." In the darkness, he flashed a grin she couldn't see as he teased her.
"Boy, do you have a one-track mind! That's not what I meant."
"It's not an easy track to ignore with you pressed up against me, Lois." His warm breath sent shivers down her spine.
"Well, what I really had in mind was to sneak upstairs to the kids' rooms …"
"… and watch them sleep?"
"My thoughts exactly!"
Arm-in-arm, Lois and Clark climbed the stairs.
* "Daddy's Little Girl", by Bobby Burke and Horace Gerlach, was recorded by the Mills Brothers on Decca Records in 1950.