By Christy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rated PG Submitted August 1999
Summary: An accident in a school yard forces both Clark and Perry to consider the way they've balanced their families and careers.
FEEDBACK: All comments welcome, public or private. Please send editing or typos privately.
The characters in this story (with the exceptions of Lara, Josh, and Catie) aren't mine. As for continuity, "my" Lois and Clark world departs from the TV one during "I Now Pronounce You." There was no cloning arc and the New Kryptonians didn't arrive until one year after Lois and Clark were married.
The last scene contains a sentiment shamelessly ripped off from Jason Hurst, who said, "Lots of people are willing to die for the person they love, which is a pity, for it is a much grander thing to live for that person."
Much thanks to Wendy Richards whose helpful discussion and beta reading pushed me to finish this story. It had been sitting, very unfinished, on my hard drive for a year and a half and I was beginning to think it was never going to see the glow of a monitor again.
8 January, 1998 - 27 July 1999
"You know, you could be doing something better than watching me get dressed," Lois suggested as she dug through the bottom of hers and Clark's closet for a shoe that would match the one in her hand. Finding it at last, she turned and glared at her husband, who was lounging on their bed. "Well…?" she asked.
Clark stared back at her, and an amused smile spread over his lips as his gaze ran from Lois's still-wet hair to her bare feet.
"What?" she demanded, placing her hands on her hips indignantly.
He just grinned back at her. "Actually, I don't think I *could* be doing anything better than watching you get dressed," he commented, grinning at his wit. "Unless it were *helping* you get *undressed*…"
"Cute, Kent." Lois shed her bathrobe and slid into a black pin-striped skirt. "But I wasn't kidding. We have to be at work in," she checked their bedside clock, "half an hour, no one's made breakfast, and you still have to change."
Clark glanced down at the gray tee-shirt and boxer shorts he had worn to bed the night before and was still wearing. "You don't think Perry'll go for this?" he kidded before remembering something more important. "No one's gotten Catie up either," he reminded Lois.
"Damn, that's right," she said, pulling on the vest of her suit but leaving it unbuttoned.
"I'll go wake her," he said, ready to rise from the bed. But just then three-year Catie Kent bounded into her parents' bedroom.
"Well, look who's up," Lois commented as Clark helped their daughter climb into bed next to him. "Catie, did your sister dress you again?"
The little girl just giggled merrily, not caring that she was wearing green and white striped tights and a blue plaid dress, topped off with a lopsided braid in her dark hair. Catie settled herself into her father's lap, joining him in watching Lois get ready for work.
"I think we need to budget our time a little better in the mornings," he commented casually to his wife, who headed into the bathroom as he undid the braid in Catie's hair and combed it out with his fingers.
"Clark," Lois called out from the bathroom. But Clark was busy redoing — and improving — his daughter's braid.
"Clark," Lois called out from the bathroom this time in a muffled tone. Not receiving an answer, she emerged with a toothbrush sticking out of her foaming mouth. "Bweckfesh, Kay-ee, en getten dwesht," she reminded him.
"What?" Clark asked his wife, who promptly removed the toothbrush from her mouth, returned to the bathroom to spit, and returned.
"I was trying to remind you that we're still not ready to go," she said, buttoning her vest. "Breakfast hasn't been made and you and Catie still aren't dressed."
"Fine, I'll make breakfast and you get Catie changed," he suggested, swinging Catie into his arms, dangling her upside down for a minute. Before he left the room, though, Catie clung to his legs, making a fish face and accompanying sounds with her lips. Clark smiled, leaned over to allow his daughter to give him a spitty kiss, her newest game. He then peeled her off before heading out of the bedroom.
Lois nodded and started back into the bathroom, but Clark suddenly turned around and re-addressed her in a low voice. "And don't worry about me," he reminded her with a grin. "I can be ready before you even step foot into Catie's room."
"Lara, do you have your homework?" Lois asked as she veered the Jeep off Hyperion and onto Bostridge Street. She glanced into the rear view mirror at her oldest daughter, who was sitting directly behind her. Lara, who was in fourth grade, had just started to get homework.
"Yup," she said, patting the small backpack at her feet.
"Josh? You got — Oh, Josh! I forgot about your show-and-tell." Lois sighed and veered into the left lane prepared to make a U-turn and head back to their townhouse.
Clark placed a hand on his wife's. "Wait — you don't have to go back. Josh and I found something this morning."
"What are you bringing, sweetie?" Lois asked, turning around in her seat to face her son once the Jeep rolled to a stop behind several cars at a red light.
Josh pulled his own backpack from beneath Lois's seat and fished through it. Smiling proudly, he removed a plush twelve-inch Superman doll, his red cape faded by years of travel in a dirty little boy fist. Josh had carried his Superman doll everywhere until recently, when he started school. He had been very proud of the "big-boy" decision to leave Superman at home when he started kindergarten earlier that fall.
Lois sighed and turned her attention back to the road. Then, under her breath, "Why?" she asked Clark, hoping Josh wouldn't hear her.
He smiled. "Well, he wanted to take one of your Kerths," he told her quietly.
"Hmmph," she said, accelerating the car after traffic started moving again.
They rode for a few minutes accompanied only by a soft sound coming from the car seat strapped in the middle of the back seat. Catie was staring out Lara's window and humming an unrecognizable theme to herself. Clark looked over at Lois as she again stopped at the end of a long line of traffic. Lois smiled back at him, then felt a light tapping on the back of her seat.
She reached back between hers and Clark's seats, grabbing hold of Catie's tennis-shoed foot, tickling the bare skin between her socks and the bottom hem of her blue jeans. Catie giggled and squirmed, pulling her foot back.
The line of cars in front of the Jeep began to move, so Lois put both hands back on the wheel and accelerated the car. From behind her, Catie's pleasant humming was replaced by high-pitched whining and the familiar sounds of fighting.
Clark turned around to see Josh reaching over Catie's car seat to hit Lara's bare leg.
"Josh!" Clark admonished. "Don't hit your sister."
Josh opened his mouth to protest but Clark stopped him. "And I don't care if she hit you first. I saw you hit her and there is to be no hitting, no matter who started it. You understand, Josh?"
"But I didn't do it."
"Josh, how many times do we have to tell you not to lie?" Lois asked as she turned the corner and caught sight of Summerville Elementary School, an old multi-storied brick building surrounded by a circular driveway containing freshly-cut green grass and a smattering of autumn-tinted trees.
"Josh," Clark said, sighing. "We've talked to you about the difference between the truth and make-believe and if you keep lying, no one will ever believe you. You know that lying is wrong. How would you feel if *you* were lied to?"
"Bad," Josh said in a small voice.
"That's right," Lois chimed in as she turned the Jeep into the school's front parking lot and stopped at the student drop-off area. Josh and Lara gathered their backpacks and zipped up their jackets.
"Got everything?" Clark asked as each child leaned forward for a kiss from their parents.
"Yea, Dad," Lara said, and Josh nodded as Lara opened her car door.
Before they could climb out, though, Catie pursed her lips and made a wet sound which her siblings knew too well. Both paused at her car seat before exiting the car, accepting a wet toddler kiss.
They got out of the car and Lois watched as they followed the pack of children and teachers heading into the school's large double doors and, once they were safely inside, put the Jeep in drive and pulled away.
After dropping Catie off at the Planet's day care, Lois and Clark headed downstairs to the newsroom. It was a quiet morning and most of the staff were gathered around the water cooler and coffee pot, getting their morning fixes of caffeine and gossip. Lois and Clark detoured to the kitchen area for coffee, hold the gossip, before heading to their desks. After a quick check of their e-mail and the morning's breaking news, they gathered with the rest of the reporters in the conference room for the weekly budget meeting.
Perry had just begun the meeting when, next to her, Lois felt Clark tense and raise his head in a familiar pose. She looked away from Perry and met Clark's eyes, which were trying to communicate a more-urgent-than-usual message. She looked back questioningly and Clark grabbed a pad of paper and pen from the table and, after scribbling a super-quick message, got up and left the meeting.
Perry stopped talking as Clark ran, almost too quickly, out of the conference room. "Where's he going?" he demanded, glancing around the table.
Lois ignored Perry's question, which was directed primarily at her, and focused instead on the note Clark had dropped in her lap before leaving the room.
"Oh, God," she whispered, rising from her seat with the paper, and followed her husband out of the meeting, which pleased Perry even less. The staff watched out the windows of the conference room as Lois grabbed her purse from her desk drawer, then caught the elevator just before its doors slid closed.
"Lois!" Perry barked after her with no avail. "What in Graceland just happened?" The rest of the meeting just shrugged their shoulders, leaving Perry with nothing to do but continue the meeting.
A few miles away from the Daily Planet Superman swooped down at an accident scene. A school bus had somehow failed to stop, ripping through the fence containing the playground of a local elementary school, and colliding with several pieces of playground equipment before coming to a stop in the middle of the map of the United States that was painted on the asphalt of the playground. Children's bodies lined the bus's path, limbs bent at odd angles and blood staining hopscotch squares. But Superman zeroed in on one child, one of the first in the bus's path, and quickly scooped him up and carried him away.
"Superman!" a teacher yelled at the retreating red and blue figure, but the Man of Steel was long gone. The teacher stopped and tended to a crying child, assuring her that everything would be okay before the girl slipped into unconsciousness.
"Was that Superman?" another teacher asked after returning inside from calling 911.
The first woman nodded, looking puzzled. "I don't understand what he was doing! He didn't even land, didn't check anyone over, just swooped down and picked up one of the children. It was a boy, I think."
"Was the boy hurt?"
"Probably one of the most seriously injured," the first teacher said softly, nodding. "He was one of the first struck by the bus."
Still puzzled, the teachers hurried off to tend to other children. After several minutes, two police cars and several ambulances arrived, and the teachers, still shaken, attempted to comfort the less seriously injured children. Teams of paramedics tended to the most seriously hurt children, strapping several on boards before moving them into the ambulances and heading towards local hospitals. Police officers helped an EMT use a heavy pole produced from the back of an ambulance to pry open the crushed-in door of the bus. The driver, it seemed, had had a heart attack; he was lifted onto a wheeled gurney and an EMT knelt over him, performing CPR as he was rushed towards an ambulance.
Sirens blaring and lights flashing, three more ambulances arrived. EMTs jumped out as soon as the vehicles jolted to a stop, and sprinted towards the bus. They quickly re-emerged, however, when they discovered that the most seriously-hurt children were scattered around the blacktop of the playground. A few children, after receiving plastic splints for their seemingly broken bones, were herded into one ambulance.
Minutes later, two life-flight helicopters touched down, propellers whisking loudly. Four children, two receiving CPR plus two strapped carefully to boards, and one recess aide, also strapped to a board, were loaded onto the helicopters before they again took to the air.
Meanwhile, Kay David, the teacher who saw Superman whisk away one of the boys several minutes ago, was trying to calm down several uninjured, but still frantic, children. One little girl, sporting a shallow cut on her cheek, began to sob at the sight of the blood on her hand after touching her face.
"Come here, Molly," Kay called to the girl, who walked slowly towards her, sniffling and grounding her fists into her eyes. Kay collected the rest of the very scared but barely-hurt children and sat with them near a swing set at the far end of the playground. Someone would have to count heads, she thought, though she surely didn't want the job; it would be quite a task to account for all the children who had been taken away in ambulances or life flight helicopters.
Kay tried to think of something to do to distract the children from the commotion around them. The sounds of their crying mixed with the barking voices of EMTs calling out orders, with the whining sound of crushing metal as police officers and EMTs pried open the front and back doors of the bus to free the trapped, uninjured children inside, and with screaming sirens as ambulances departed. Kay looked away from the scene and focused on the children, pulling them in a closer circle. Finding her voice tentative and cracking, Kay began Eventually, the paramedics made their way to Kay's small clump of children, choosing a few to take to hospitals for precautionary check-ups.
"Who was the child Superman took?" the second teacher asked.
Kay just shook her head. "It all happened so fast. I don't know."
Superman flew through the air carrying the hurt little boy, alternately checking on the child's condition and x-raying his destination. The Science and Technology Advanced Research Laboratory (a.k.a. STAR Labs) was, in actuality, not just one lab but a complex of buildings constructed of large, sanded stone and shiny modern glass. Between buildings were parking lots for STAR Labs employees and visitors, as well as picnic areas where blue- and white-coated individuals gathered for lunch or hapless games of Ultimate Frisbee. Eight buildings in total, each was designated for a different type of research.
As usual, Superman was headed to the Applied Physics building, location of the office of Dr. Bernard Klein, who held a degree not only in physics, but in cell biology, computer sciences, and medicine. By now, Clark thought, the man had a good deal of experience with Kryptonian physiology as well.
He mapped out a path to Dr. Klein's office to minimize both visibility and time. Superman zipped through the reception area of Applied Physics, stopping only at the identification computer to allow him access to areas not available to the public. A whooshing sound accompanied him to Klein's office, and the doctor smiled knowingly, used to Superman's emergency entrances and exits.
"Superman!" he called out cheerfully before turning to face him.
As he turned, Dr. Klein noticed Superman was holding a small, brown-haired boy in his arms. Dark, moist blood colored the boy's face and the torn clothing covering his chest.
"Dr. Klein, I need your help," Superman began, laying the boy on the doctor's desk. "He isn't breathing," he said, "and his heartbeat is irregular."
Dr. Klein was puzzled. "Superman," he protested even as he snapped on a pair of latex gloves, "I'd like to help you, I really would, but don't you think this boy would be better served at a hospital emergency room? I mean, technically, I *am* a doctor, but I haven't practiced medicine in so long…"
"Dr. Klein, this boy is hurt very badly and needs your help. He was hit by a bus while playing on his school playground." Superman looked up and Dr. Klein thought he saw the glint of a tear in the eyes of the Man of Steel.
"Superman…" the doctor began again. "I'm not…"
"I know," Superman said quickly. "He's my son," he told Klein, stepping away from the boy to give the doctor room to work. Dr. Klein's face betrayed his emotions — worry and confusion, but mostly surprise — but he began examining Josh anyway.
Several minutes later the staff meeting was over, and Perry watched his battery of reporters, with two significant exceptions, leave the conference room. He gathered his notes from the meeting, then sat back in his chair, wondering. Kent leaving abruptly, now *that* Perry was used to; after all, the boy had a job to do and who was a washed-up old editor to stop Superman?
Perry had known for a good many years that Clark was Superman, perhaps before Lois, he guessed, though it was difficult to tell when she had figured it out. At least Perry hoped his star reporter had figured it out. Plus, when Lois told him Clark had proposed to her, just before he sent them off to Spencer Spencer's island, Lois had asked him what he would do if he loved someone, then found out something about her that he didn't like. "Found out," she had said, not "was told." A minor distinction, Perry knew, but it fueled his hope.
It had probably been easier for Perry to figure it out than it had been for Lois. He had more perspective. He had watched Kent's abrupt leave-taking, heard his flimsy excuses, and sensed his guard come up whenever Superman was mentioned for well over a year before piecing everything together. But he didn't dare tell the boy; it would only worry him, that Perry was sure of. And Clark had enough on his mind without adding the welfare of an old, worn-out newsman to the mix. Anyway, Perry was sure Clark didn't know that he knew, though at times he felt he had cause to fire the boy for *not* realizing it; what other boss would put up with the lame excuses first Kent, now Lois, threw around to explain Clark's perpetual absences?
Perry was grinning conspiratorially when Jimmy walked into the conference room. He wiped the smile from his face and tried to look gruff before turning towards Jimmy. We all have to keep up our appearances, he thought.
"Hey, Chief, where'd Lois and CK go?"
"I dunno, Olsen, but they better get their tails back in this newsroom soon. This isn't a free-for-all, you know. We're running a business here," he barked.
"I know, Chief."
"Let me know if Lois or Clark check back, will ya?"
"Sure thing," Jimmy said, and snatched a lone notebook off the table before leaving the room. Perry smiled again, then began humming 'Don't Be Cruel' as he headed out of the conference room and back towards his office.
Superman stood by helplessly, watching as Dr. Klein assessed his son, giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when he determined that the child wasn't breathing. When Klein had finished his swift examination of Josh, the doctor turned to Superman.
"He's breathing now, but he needs oxygen, and a respirator," Dr. Klein began.
"Do you have one here in your lab?" Superman interrupted the doctor, hoping he wouldn't have to take Josh to a real hospital, even the one affiliated with STAR Labs.
"Not in this building, but I can easily get one. If you can fly him there, I can meet you and hook him up." Superman picked up his son and listened to directions to an examination room in another building, which had a respirator Klein could use, 'no questions asked,' he told Superman. After flying Josh there, he returned for the doctor and whisked him off to the other building as well.
When Dr. Klein and Superman arrived in the small private room that contained the respirator, Klein approached the machine almost gingerly. He squatted down next to it and slowly studied the labeled buttons.
"Dr. Klein?" Superman mentally kicked himself. This was a bad idea; he knew it. As much as he didn't want to, he should've just taken Josh to a real hospital, to a real medical doctor who knew how to treat normal human patients. But Josh isn't a normal human patient, he reminded himself.
"Oh, sorry, Superman. It's just that I haven't used one of these in a while and…"
"Is there an instruction book?"
Klein produced a thin booklet from a clear plastic envelope attached to the back of the monitor, handing it to Superman, who quickly scanned it, cover to cover, and handed it back to the doctor. Superman pressed a few buttons and a small electronic display lit up, as well as several warning lights.
Together, Klein and Superman hooked Josh up to that machine, as well as a heart monitor. Dr. Klein then left the room, letting Superman know that he'd be right back. After closing the door behind the doctor as he left, Superman wheeled a lab stool over to Josh's bed, sitting on it and taking one of his son's hands in both of his.
Klein returned a few minutes later, and was surprised at the scene before his eyes: the Man of Steel, wiping tears from his eyes as he rubbed the child's small hand between his own large hands. After quickly recovering and closing the door behind him, he laid the supplies he'd brought onto a metal table beside Josh's bed.
Working fairly proficiently this time, he cleaned the blood from Josh's face and body, removed the boy's tattered clothes, and redressed him in a hospital gown. He then attached several other machines, all unfamiliar to Superman, to Josh. Then Klein handed Superman a small silver key.
"The door to this room locks from the outside and inside," he told him. "You'll need a key to get in and out," he assured him, "and, besides your key, I have the others." Superman nodded at the doctor, grateful for the privacy.
Just as Klein pulled up another stool and sat down beside his patient, Superman rose from his own seat. "Dr. Klein, is there a phone around here that I can use?" he asked the surprised doctor, who nodded.
"There should be a room down the hall and to your left, a lounge-slash-waiting room," he told Superman, "depending on what this wing is used for. That door locks, too, in case you want privacy." Superman nodded his thanks and disappeared.
Once in the room, he dialed a familiar number. Lois answered after only one ring. "Lois," he began.
"Clark! God, where are you?" she demanded. "That note of yours wasn't very helpful: 'There was an accident. Go to Josh's school.' Is he okay? I've been to the school, and they told me he must have been taken to a hospital by one of the ambulances. There were so many kids injured, the ambulances took them to nearly every hospital in Metropolis," she said, then lowered her voice. "Do you know what a hospital could discover about Josh? We have to do something. I've been checking hospitals. We have to find him —"
"Lois," he interrupted, trying to calm her. "Lois, Josh is here with me. We're at STAR Labs and Dr. Klein is helping him." Clark heard his wife gasp at the other end of the line. "Where are you?" he asked. "I can be there in no time and bring you here." She told him the name of the hospital where she was, and they quickly hung up the phone, Clark on his way to her.
During the short flight to back to STAR Labs, Clark filled Lois in on what had happened; at the staff meeting he'd heard screams for help, including a single scream from Josh. Lois shuddered, tightening her arms around Clark's shoulders. Clark had left immediately, heading to their son's school, where he discovered that a school bus had somehow broken through a fence, severely injuring several children. By the looks of the bus's path, Josh had been one of the first hit. Lois wiped away the tears at her eyes and willed herself to concentrate on what her husband was saying. He had swooped down on the playground, stopping only long enough to pick Josh up carefully and continue on to STAR Labs, Clark said as they flew through the identification area of this new building.
As Superman, Clark carefully navigated his way to the small interior room of STAR Labs' medical research building and found Josh's room.
"Ms. Lane! What are you doing here?" Dr. Klein exclaimed after looking up to make sure it was Superman entering the room.
But Lois ignored the doctor and headed to her son's bed, where she took his hand worriedly. "Is he going to be okay?" she asked Dr. Klein tearfully.
"I hope so," Dr. Klein said tentatively, "but I, uh, don't quite understand what's going on…" Still dressed as Superman, Clark joined his wife at their son's side, and stood looking at his small body lying on the bed for a minute before answering.
"Dr. Klein, first of all, thank you," Superman began. "And I think we owe you an explanation…"
Confusion played out on Dr. Klein's face as he considered the possibilities, remembering, many years ago, when the tabloids had reported on a scandalous affair between Superman and Lois Lane. "Your son," he said slowly, his gave shifting from Superman to Lois and back to Superman again. "I didn't believe those rumors back then, but this…"
Lois managed a small smile. "No, Dr. Klein," she corrected. "Josh is Superman's son because Clark *is* Superman."
Dr. Klein's jaw dropped and he stared wide-eyed at Josh, then glanced at both Lois and Superman, who promptly spun into Clark. "No…"
Clark nodded his head and guided Dr. Klein over to a stool, sitting the stunned doctor at Josh's bedside.
"It's… It's just amazing that you two could even have children together," the scientist managed to utter, remembering years ago when Superman had asked him about having children with an Earth woman. "This boy… he's a medical miracle."
Lois and Clark exchanged a look. "I was pretty shocked, too, Dr. Klein," Lois told him, explaining that she'd found out she was pregnant and given birth to their oldest child while Clark was on New Krypton.
"And everything went normally with the pregnancy?" Dr. Klein asked Lois as he tried to remember back to when Superman left for New Krypton. Lois shrugged her shoulders slightly.
"With Clark being gone, it never even occurred to me that anything could be wrong with the baby," Lois confessed. "The pregnancy was normal, but the actual birth was anything but. I was more than a week overdue when I collapsed," she remembered. "Clark's parents were staying with me, and they called the paramedics to take me to the hospital. They couldn't figure out what had gone wrong, but they did agree to deliver Lara by c-section. After that, everything seemed normal, so no other questions were asked. God, we were so relieved." Clark took Lois's hand and gave it a soft squeeze.
"And since your daughter was born?" Dr. Klein asked. "You do have other children besides Josh, don't you? How old are they?"
"Lara, who was born while I was gone, is almost nine; Catie is three; and she and Josh were both normal births," Clark told Klein. "Lois was overdue for them, too, but they were born naturally. And we haven't had any medical problems since then," Clark said thankfully.
"I've been worrying about what would happen if we did," he admitted. "I mean, if we had to take them to a hospital for some reason, we'd have to tell the doctors so they could be treated properly, if they could be treated at all. And my life, all of our lives," he corrected, squeezing Lois's hand again, "would be destroyed. That's not what I want, but I could hardly deny my family medical care to preserve this secret."
"So you have no medical information on your children?" Dr. Klein asked. "Nothing I can compare your son's current condition to to help me determine whether he's improving?"
"They've never been to a doctor," Lois admitted. "Only when they were born. There's never been any reason for them to see a doctor. Until now," she added tearfully.
"Didn't they need vaccinations to register for school?"
"We lied on the medical forms," Clark said plainly. "We forged a doctor's signature and listed Lois's cell phone number as the doctor's office in case of an emergency at school."
Dr. Klein thought for a minute, watching his patient's chest rise and fall as he took breaths from the respirator. It would really help him if he could compare this child's current vital signs now to those before he was injured.
"What about your other children, the two daughters? Would you be able to bring them here so I could examine them? Their vital signs should be closer to your son's than anyone else's," he reasoned. "After all, I can't really compare them to yours, Clark, since we know you wouldn't have been hurt after being hit by a bus. And Lois wouldn't have survived."
Clark nodded. "I can go and get them right now," he told Dr. Klein, who nodded. Without a beat, Clark spun into The Suit and whooshed out of the room, careful to close and lock the door behind him.
"Is there anything else you can think of to tell me about your children's health?" Klein asked Lois after Clark was gone. "Especially Josh's."
Lois sat quietly for a moment. "All I can tell you, really, is what hasn't happened to them: no colds, no flu, no chicken pox, no normal childhood diseases," she said sadly, gently stroking the baby-soft skin above the row of stitches on Josh's head. "Lara and Josh have lost baby teeth, but they've never seen a dentist," she added. "Does that help any?"
Dr. Klein thought for a minute. "And when they were born? You said there weren't any problems, but what about the tests they do on newborns?" he asked. "It's not my field of expertise, but I know doctors do tests on newborns to judge their general health. They're required to perform an Apgar test, which assesses things like breathing, heart rate, and color — the results of that test should be on medical records. I know they used to, and most probably still do, perform the Guthrie Test, where a needle is stuck into the baby's heel to draw blood to test. The parents usually aren't present when they do it, though I don't really understand why. I mean if *I* had the opportunity to watch doctors do that test, I'd surely —"
"Oh, sorry, where was I? Yes, the Guthrie Test screens for phenylketonuria, which has to do with a defect in protein metabolism. Was that done?"
Lois shrugged her shoulders. "If that's what doctors did at that time, then I'd assume Lara, Josh, and Catie were given the tests just like any normal child," she guessed, then paused. "But we do have a copy of the medical records from when I was pregnant with them, and when they were born," she remembered suddenly.
"Where are they now?" Klein asked, obviously excited.
"At home with Clark's Suits."
Klein paused for a moment, lost in thought at the secrets necessarily woven into Lois and Clark's life. He imagined Lois, or, on second thought, probably Clark, tossing a load of laundry into the washing machine: blue jeans, child-sized tee-shirts, a world-famous blue spandex suit… Were there red capes hanging in the closet next to business suits and flannel nightgowns? And did Clark use his superpowers around the house, cooking dinner with heat vision, cooling dessert with freezing breath, washing dishes at superspeed…
"Dr. Klein?" Lois again brought the doctor out of his trance.
"Oh, er, sorry. I may want you to bring them to me later, if that's okay. I don't need them yet, but they'd help me out if anything happens in the future."
The two of them sat in silence for a few moments, Lois stroking Josh's hand. Suddenly Dr. Klein thought of something. "You know how the sun can rejuvenate Superman's powers?" he reminded Lois, who looked up at him. "Well, if the doctors who delivered your children did do any tests, especially any that would involve taking blood or the like, it's possible that, since you had been carrying them and they hadn't been exposed to sunlight yet…"
"…That any powers or immunities they have now might not have had a chance to develop," Lois finished. "That makes sense. From what his parents could remember, Clark has never been hurt or sick, but he's been in contact with the sun's rays ever since they took him from the space ship they found him in," she said, getting excited.
"So maybe sunlight would speed up Josh's recovery," Klein suggested with a raised eyebrow. Lois's solemn expression brightened at the suggestion, and Dr. Klein left the room to find a private room with windows where they could relocate Josh.
"Chief, Lois and Clark still aren't back," Jimmy said after sticking his head into the open door of Perry's office. "Have you heard from them?"
"Not yet, Olsen. Why?"
Jimmy stepped into the office and shut the door behind him. "Chief, look what just came in on the wires." He handed him a slip of paper and watched as Perry read it once, then again. 'Accident at Summerville Elementary School (Metropolis). School bus full of children crashed through fence, into playground during recess. Dozens taken to area hospitals, five life-flighted. No word on fatalities or cause.'
"Don't Josh and Lara go there?" Jimmy asked.
"Do you think Clark knew this and that was why he left the staff meeting?" Jimmy wondered aloud.
"Seems that way," Perry agreed. Thoughts spun through Perry's head: were Lara and Josh okay? if they were in an accident, would they get hurt? how were Clark and Lois gonna explain *this* one? But Perry said nothing.
"I hope Lara and Josh are okay, Chief. Hey, you know what? Last month I saw a TV show about ESP. One woman fell out a window and her sister, who lived in a whole 'nuther state, knew. She just *knew.* She called the police and convinced them to go check on her sister and saved her sister's life! I wonder if that's how Clark knew?" Jimmy speculated.
"Maybe, Jimmy, maybe…" Perry sighed, then jolted back to attention. "Olsen, get your camera, and you and Ralph head down to that school, see what you can get on the accident."
"Sure thing, Chief," Jimmy said before bounding out of Perry's office.
Meanwhile, Clark landed with a swish around the corner from the elementary school that both Josh and Lara attended. After changing out of The Suit, he walked quickly towards the school, avoiding the reporters, photographers, and left-over paramedics that littered the school yard. He saw the Daily Planet's representatives to the scene and waved to Jimmy, who was eagerly snapping pictures.
Clark slowly made his way to the principal's office, planning to tell the secretary that his son had been injured in the accident, and he'd like to take his daughter to the hospital to be with the rest of the family. After waiting in a long line to talk to the secretary, however, he realized that, since the accident had thrown the school into chaos the school had been calling parents to pick up their children. So Clark had only to give Lara's name to the secretary, and she told him in which room his daughter was waiting.
Pushing his way through the crowds of parents around the office, Clark found room 10. Inside the room were several children playing on mats on the floor and at desks while teachers and other adults sat comforting a large group of children. To Clark's surprise, Lara was sitting calmly at a desk, writing in a small spiral-bound notebook.
"Hey, sweetie," he greeted her.
"Dad!" she exclaimed, jumping from her seat and throwing her arms around her father's neck when he bent down next to her desk.
"You okay?" he asked her, brushing her hair from her face. She nodded, and he explained that Josh had been hurt, which surprised Lara, and that her brother and mother were with a doctor. He didn't say they had gone to a hospital, since he, Lois, and Dr. Klein hadn't had a chance to figure out what to tell people about where Josh had been taken.
Lara retrieved her coat from a row of lockers in the hall and father and daughter headed back to where Clark had originally landed. On their way there, however, they were stopped by Jimmy and Ralph, who, Clark guessed, was the reporter assigned to cover the accident.
"Hey CK," Jimmy greeted his friend. "Hi Lara."
"Hi Jimmy," Lara said with a smile.
But Clark fumbled over his words, not sure what to tell Jimmy about Josh's whereabouts. "Uh, Jimmy, could you give Perry a message for me?" he asked. "Josh is seeing a doctor now," he phrased his explanation carefully, "for injuries from the accident. Could you tell Perry that Lois and I won't be back today. We'll probably call in later today."
"Sure thing, CK. I hope Josh is okay," Jimmy worried. Clark nodded his thanks, explained that he had to go, and continued on to find somewhere safe where he could take off. After reaching a deserted alley, he moved away from Lara, spun into his Suit, and, cradling her in his arms, took off.
"Dad, how come Josh got hurt?" Lara asked. "I thought me and Josh and Catie couldn't get hurt — that's what Mom said before," she reminded him.
"Well, that's what we thought, but I guess we were wrong," he told her. "Lara, we're not exactly going to a hospital," he explained; at almost nine years old, Clark knew Lara would be able to understand the urgency of keeping what he was telling her a secret, as she'd kept his "second job" a secret.
"We're going to STAR Labs, where a friend of your mom's and mine works: Dr. Klein. He's taken care of me when I've been sick from kryptonite, and your mom and I are hoping he can take care of Josh. This has to be a secret, Lara, just like me being Superman is a secret," he explained to her. "If anyone finds out Josh didn't go to a normal hospital like the other hurt kids, they'll get suspicious," he told her. "Okay?"
She nodded, but was quiet for the rest of the flight to STAR Labs, which worried Clark; usually Lara was the most talkative of his three children. Instead, Clark concentrated on flying quickly into STAR Labs and headed for Josh's room. Once there, he placed Lara on her feet and fished the room key Dr. Klein had given him from inside the cuff of his spandex sleeve. He opened the door to reveal Lois, still holding Josh's hand, and Dr. Klein, who was checking the readout of one of the machines hooked up to Josh.
"Mom!" Lara cried, running to her mother as Clark closed the door behind him.
"Are you okay, Lara?" Lois asked, pulling her daughter onto her lap after greeting her with a hug. Lara nodded and rested her head against her mother's chest, carefully watching Josh's face, obscured by an oxygen mask.
"I'll go get Catie," Clark began, "but it'll take me longer since I can't fly back with her," he reminded Lois, approaching Josh's bed. He looked the same, still pale, but Dr. Klein had placed several neat stitches on the wounds on Josh's scalp since Clark had left. Lois stopped him before he left and explained Dr. Klein's idea to him; Clark agreed to stop off at home for the records before getting Catie.
Before leaving again, Clark gave his wife and daughter a kiss good-bye on the tops of their heads. He patted the key, safely tucked in his sleeve cuff, then went to retrieve Catie from the Daily Planet day care facility, with a quick detour to their brownstone first to pick up his children's medical records.
Back at the Daily Planet, Perry fingered the wire report Jimmy had given him, then read it again, sighing. Obviously that was why Lois and Clark had left the meeting in such a hurry; Clark had heard something — the accident or Lara or Josh calling for help, maybe? — and taken off. Perry hoped the kids would be okay; sure, their father was Superman, but who knew how much of that had been passed down to them?
On the other hand, it would be suspicious if Lara or Josh were involved in the accident and *didn't* get hurt. It was a fine line, he thought: either they were okay and there was a risk of unveiling the secret Clark had worked so hard to keep, or they were hurt. Perry had a good mind to call the school and ask after the Kent children, but, as a known newspaper editor of no blood relation to any students, he doubted he'd get any more than the old party line of 'no comment.'
He'd have to think of a way to let Lois and Clark off the hook once they got back to the Planet. There had to be some way to dismiss their leaving without letting on that he knew about Clark's other identity, and without the other staff members thinking either their editor was getting soft in his old age or he was playing favorites. And Perry White was not playing favorites. Well, not too much, anyway. Most of the staff knew he had a different kind of relationship with Lois and Clark, like a father as well as an editor, but he tried not to let his affection for the reporting team influence his job.
After all, it wasn't long ago that Perry White was *his* editor's favorite reporter. He well remembered the jealous ribbing that had come along with the position. And, Perry thought with a glance at the framed photos on his desktop, it wasn't *too* long ago that he had his own children to worry about. Well, he still worried about them, but not in the same way he used to. It hadn't been easy, trying to juggle his job and his family, and Alice had been a stay-at-home mother. He wondered how Lois and Clark managed to do it, and do it all better than Perry had: their marriage, their jobs at the Planet, Clark's 'hobby,' raising three children. And raising them well. Parenting was hard, Perry thought back…
There was a big story, he remembered that much, but Perry couldn't for the life of him remember what it was. I guess the old adage is true, he thought. On his deathbed, no man ever wishes he'd spent more time at work. But he hadn't been on his deathbed, and he'd been too busy clawing his way up the corporate ladder to ponder the veracity of old adages.
All he could remember now was that he should've been spending more time at home. Jerry, his oldest, was getting in trouble at school and the principal had scheduled a parent-teacher conference. With both parents. And he remembered the look on Alice's face when he walked through the door that night after forgetting the conference.
"Oh, darlin', I'm sorry," he said. "I meant to be there, really. But my source was almost two hours late and I figured by that time the conference was already over…"
"No, it wasn't," Alice said coolly. "We were waiting for you. Because you said you'd be there. 'He'll be here,' I kept telling them. 'He wouldn't miss this. It's important.' Yea, right!" she sneered.
"Alice, you know I wanted to be there."
Alice shook her head and slammed Perry's dinner plate down on the table in front of him. "*Wanted* to be there! I bet!"
"Now, honey, I did. I told you —"
"Your *source* was late. I heard, and, frankly, it's getting old. Your source was late, your boss needed you to stay, the mayor had a press conference… I don't care if the mayor had a *nervous breakdown,* I needed you here," her voice rose.
Feeling guilty, he resulted to his old stand-by, adding a variation. "Well, I can't be everywhere, you know. I have a job to do. Both of us can't stay *home* all day."
Alice spun around on her heel and flung a pot-holder at him, landing it squarely in his dinner. "That was a low one, Perry White, even for you," she said before untying her apron and dashing upstairs.
Perry picked the potholder out of his roast beef, then got up to pour himself a glass of milk. Closing the refrigerator, he was surprised to see his younger son, Scott, standing there. "Hi, Daddy."
"Hey, kiddo, how was school today?"
"Fine… Is Mommy mad at you?" The four year old looked up at his father with rounded, trusting brown eyes nearly concealed by long blond bangs.
"Why would you ask that, Scottie?" Perry asked as he sat back down at the table to finish his dinner.
"I heard her. She only talks like that when you did something *real* bad," the little boy whispered. "What did you do wrong, Daddy?"
"There's nothing for you to worry about, Scott. Mommy's just mad because I got home late from work tonight. That's all," Perry assured him, then stuffed a fork piled high with roast beef and mashed potatoes, smothered in gravy, into his mouth.
"Are you sure? Cuz she sounded *real* mad." The little boy's big brown eyes peered up at his father, worried.
Perry reached over and patted his son on the head. "Nothing to worry about. I'm sure."
"Okay, Daddy," Scott said in a low voice, placing his chin on the table and watching his father finish his dinner. After Perry was done, he scrubbed his dish clean — he wasn't foolish enough to leave dirty dishes for Alice after they'd argued. He hunted through the fridge for his portion of whatever Alice had made for dessert that night. Finally he found it, hidden behind a pitcher of apple juice: a thick wedge of chocolate cake. Perry slid it out of the refrigerator.
"Hey, Scottie, wanna share my dessert?"
"Sure." Scott's eyes lit up, but then his face fell. "But I already had dessert. Mommy'll be mad if I have another piece of cake."
Perry gazed longingly at his son. Scott was worried that Alice was mad at Perry. Scott was worried that Alice wouldn't want him to have another dessert. Why couldn't Scott worry that his father was angry with his mother, why couldn't he share the cake with his father? Perry sighed.
"Here, kiddo, you can have the whole piece. It's okay. I've gotta go upstairs and talk to your mom," Perry said as he rose from his chair, took a fork out of a drawer in the kitchen, and handed it to Scott. "Bon appetit."
Opening the door to the preschool area of the Planet's day care, Clark searched the room for his younger daughter. He saw her sitting in the corner of the room with several other children, building a tower of blocks.
"Mr. Kent?" a voice called as Clark turned to look for a teacher.
"Ah, Jessie, hi," he greeted the day care worker who'd noticed him.
"Here for a visit with Catie?" Jessie and the other teachers at the Planet's day care facility were used to Clark and Lois, when they weren't busy with a story, coming in for short visits or lunch with their children.
"Actually, no," he said, then told her about Josh and the bus accident, finishing by saying that Josh had been "taken to see a doctor. My wife and Lara are there with him now and we wanted to have Catie with us."
Jessie nodded. "Of course," she told him. "I hope Josh is okay," she said before hurrying off to diffuse a fight between three young children, leaving Clark free to take Catie with him.
"Daddy!" Catie called, noticing her father before he could approach her. She ran up to him for a hug and he swung her into his arms, letting her kiss him with wet fish lips. "Are you gonna play?"
"Not today, Cate," he told her, gathering her coat from a rack on the wall and leaving the day care area after a wave to Jessie. "But we are going to leave day care for the day," he explained. "Josh got hurt at school, and we're gonna go meet Mommy and Lara at the doctor's office."
Catie looked at him with wide eyes. "Is Josh okay?"
He nodded and tried to reassure her as they rode the elevator to the ground floor of the Daily Planet building. "The doctor is taking good care of him. I think the doctor even wants to check you and Lara out to make sure you're both healthy, too. Is that okay?"
"Doctor?" Catie asked uncertainly. Clark could understand her apprehension; besides her birth, she hadn't ever seen a doctor, or felt ill, in her short life.
He nodded as they went outside and hailed a taxi; Lois had left their Jeep at the hospital she'd been checking when he'd flown over to take her to STAR Labs and, since it wasn't on the way and he and Lois hadn't told Catie The Secret yet, they'd have to find alternate means of transportation.
On the ride to STAR Labs Clark tried to explain what the doctor would do, and that Josh would be wearing a scary-looking mask that was helping him breathe, so he would look different. Once the taxi reached STAR Labs, Catie and Clark slid out and, after Clark paid the driver, headed up to Josh's room. When they reached the door, Clark took the key from his pocket and let his daughter into the room.
Despite Clark's warnings, seeing her older brother lying on the bed with strange tubes and needles stuck on his body made Catie burst into tears. Lois rose, left Lara on her stool, and picked up her youngest daughter, slowly taking her over to Josh's bed.
"Oh, my baby," she cooed. "It's okay. Josh is gonna be just fine."
"He's still unconscious," Dr. Klein told Clark in a hushed voice as Clark handed the doctor his children's limited medical records. "Otherwise he seems fine. I don't have your daughters' vital signs to compare to his yet, but his heart rate and breathing at least are stabilizing, so at least that's a good sign," he said with a smile. Clark gave a sigh of relief and went over to Josh's bed.
"Hmm?" Clark turned to Lara.
"Mom said that Dr. Klein is gonna have to examine me, too. How come? *I'm* not sick." Lara rose from her stool, so Clark sat down and settled his daughter onto his lap.
"Since you and Catie and Josh are all special, Dr. Klein doesn't know how Josh's body is supposed to be working. We know it's not exactly like Mom's and not exactly like mine, so Dr. Klein is going to listen to your heart and your breathing and a few other things, and the same for Catie, and compare what he hears to what's happening with Josh."
Lara leaned back against her father. "When?"
Clark looked over at Dr. Klein. "When do you want to examine Lara and Catie?"
Klein shrugged. "Now, if they're ready," he said, looking with uncertainty at the little girl sitting on her father's lap. He pulled a curtain back, revealing another half of the room, identical to Josh's half. Lara and her father rose from their seat and Clark lifted his oldest daughter onto the other bed.
"Will you stay here, Dad?" Lara asked, after noticing that her mother was still busy with Catie; Lara seemed nearly as uncertain as Klein.
Clark nodded and placed his hand on his daughter's. "I have to warn you: it's been a *long* time since I've had real patients, and I've never really examined anyone myself," Dr. Klein said apprehensively as he paced in front of his patient.
"You examined Josh," Lara pointed out, and Klein smiled and nodded.
"I suppose I did," he agreed. "First I have to listen to your heart," he told Lara as he placed the stethoscope under her shirt and on her skin.
"It's cold," she complained.
"Oh, uh, sorry," Klein mumbled, listening to the steady beating.
He then placed the stethoscope on her back, listened to her breathing, and scribbled down a few illegible notes on a pad of paper. Fastening the cuff of a sphygmomanometer around her arm, Klein then took Lara's blood pressure, and checked her reflexes, eyes, nose, and ears. Lara sat patiently, squeezing her father's hand intermittently. A few minutes later Klein was finished. He moved near Clark as Lara hopped off the bed and onto the floor, and whispered, "Has she exhibited any superpowers at all?"
"Not yet," Lara answered for Clark, who grinned and shrugged at the doctor.
This time Klein addressed Lara. "And you've never been hurt?"
"Hm…" Klein stood, pensive, a hand perched on his chin.
"Catie?" Clark called out to his youngest daughter, who was still being held by her mother. Lois carried her daughter to Clark, Catie clinging tightly to her mother's back. When she reached the other bed she pulled Lara's dark hair behind her shoulders and kissed her gently on top of her head.
"Catie, it's okay," Lara reassured her sister. "It's not gonna hurt at all."
Lois wondered what Lara and Catie considered "hurt;" they had never felt pain, yet Lara still used the word the same as a normal child would. For that matter, Lois wondered what Clark used the word "hurt" to mean. She'd have to remember to ask him the next time they were alone.
Clark stepped towards Dr. Klein. "She doesn't know about me," he whispered as quietly as possible. "She's only three, so please don't mention Superman." Klein nodded.
Lois and Lara convinced Catie to sit on the bed, with Lara by her side. Clark watched Klein begin the exam, same as he had with Lara, who held tightly onto Catie's right hand, their mother grasping her left. Clark went over to Josh's bed, sat on one of the stools, and listened for his son's heartbeat; it was steady but slightly slower than either Catie's or Lara's. He stroked Josh's hair, careful to avoid the stitches on his hairline.
After Dr. Klein finished examining Catie, he turned to Clark, motioning that he wanted to show him some of the numbers he'd obtained from testing the Kent children.
"Lara, why don't you and Catie go down the hall and play?" Clark suggested, remembering the small chest of toys that had been in the room where he'd used the phone. They must be there to occupy children related to patients being treated in the wing.
"But, Dad," Lara whined, starting to object, but Clark quickly pulled her aside.
"Lara, you know Catie isn't old enough to know The Secret yet," he reminded her. "Well, Dr. Klein needs to talk to Mom and me about how Josh is doing, and we need for you to play with Catie in the other room, okay?"
"But I wanna hear, too," Lara whined.
"I know," Clark told her, "but this is very important. Mom and I will tell you what Dr. Klein says later. But right now we really need you to help us out so Catie doesn't hear."
Lara was disappointed, but agreed. She took Catie's hand and Clark led them to the room with the toys. He reminded Lara to stay in the room and showed her and Catie where the toys were kept.
"Mom and I will be right down the hall, but please don't leave this room," he reminded her. "And Josh's room is locked, so you'll need to knock if you have to get in, but that's only for an emergency. We'll be back to get you soon, okay?" Lara nodded, and Clark returned to Lois and Klein in Josh's room.
"First thing, Clark, is that Lois and I want to move Josh to a room that gets some sunlight. I can get him a private room with a lock, and we can move him there tonight when everyone's gone home. But he should be getting sunlight as soon as possible. I think we should move him to the roof. Do you think you could fly him up there without attracting too much attention?" Dr. Klein asked Clark.
Clark nodded, then slipped his glasses off his face and hooked them into the pocket of his shirt. A quick spin later, he was standing as Superman and Dr. Klein's eyes were wide with awe.
"I don't know how I'm gonna get used to that," he chuckled as Clark, careful of the beeping monitors and tubes attached, lifted Josh from the hospital bed and, after a quick x-ray of the hall, disappeared with the boy. A second later he was back and the three adults headed to the roof.
Clark had found a low part on STAR Labs' roof where the four of them were mostly obscured by surrounding buildings. There were two lawn chairs set out for sunbathing employees to use during lunch hour, and both Klein and Clark motioned for Lois to take one, with Josh lying on the other.
"Josh seems to be doing better," Dr. Klein repeated as Clark paced in front of Josh. "His heart rate is stable, but a bit slower than the girls'. I'm not concerned about that, though; it isn't very much lower, and that may be normal for him anyway," he said, walking over to Josh's bed. He removed a pad of paper from a pocket in his white lab coat, then compared it with one of the machine's printouts.
"His breathing seems normal, too — same as theirs." Dr. Klein removed the oxygen mask from Josh's face and watched the boy for any reaction, one eye on one of the machines. After a moment, Klein recommenced talking, confident Josh no longer needed help breathing.
"However, I'm a little concerned that he hasn't regained consciousness," he said, and Lois sighed. Clark placed his hand on her shoulder and she snaked her arm around his waist. "The most likely thing is that he has a concussion, but if he isn't awake by tomorrow morning," the doctor decided, "I'll see to getting a CAT scan for him."
"Would that —" Lois began to ask.
"I'd have to check into it, but I'm pretty sure I can get it done without many questions," he assured them. "The person who's in charge of the lab where they do a lot of the brain scans is a friend of mine — we've done research together — and I can get her to squeeze Josh in for the test. I'll just tell her that I need a favor for my research, and we won't have to tell her any more. But I wouldn't worry," he told them. "I'm hoping we won't need the test, but, even if we do, it won't be very suspicious. A CAT scan is a common test — patients are being wheeled in and out of there all day without anyone taking any notice of it." Lois and Clark sighed with relief.
"Did you bring Catie and Lara's medical files up here, Clark?" Klein asked.
Clark shook his head, then disappeared, returning with two flimsy paper files.
Dr. Klein flipped through them, then handed a folder each to Lois and Clark. The three of them, each taking one child's file, compared test results. From what Dr. Klein remembered about obstetrics and pediatrics, all of the postnatal tests performed on the Kent children had yielded normal results. Klein turned to a new page in each of the files and copied the notes he'd made in the pad of paper onto the charts.
"Compared to normal children, their heart rates are high; they haven't decreased nearly as much since birth as most kids' do," he noted as he copied Catie's data into her newly formed medical history. "But I guess that's understandable — probably the effect of the sun, like we discussed," he said, nodding in Lois's direction. "Their heart rates were in the normal range when you were carrying them, Lois, but now they're much faster than normal, but they're nowhere near Clark's." He finished recopying the data and closed each of the folders. "Would you like to take them back home with you, or can I keep them?"
Lois and Clark glanced at each other. After Lois gave Clark a slight shrug, he answered Klein, "As long as you keep them with my records and remove their names," he told the doctor, "I guess you can keep them." Dr. Klein nodded in agreement, having already planned on doing what Clark had suggested.
"Oh," Lois added, "could you change their birth dates too?" she asked. "Not remove them completely, but maybe change one number," she suggested, and Dr. Klein nodded again. "Just in case they get into the wrong hands or something — it would be easier to find out who they are with birth dates," she explained.
Again Dr. Klein was surprised, and a little saddened, at the unusual things Lois and Clark had to consider. Someone stealing their children's medical records wasn't on the top of most parents' worry list. The decision to marry Clark, Dr. Klein figured, had to be the biggest in Lois Lane's life. He wondered if she'd known then what she was getting into.
Perry remembered later that night. After occupying his young son with the very large piece of chocolate cake, he went upstairs to find Alice. She was in their bedroom, listening to the classical music station on the radio and sewing a patch over the worn-out knee of a pair of Jerry's jeans. She picked up their argument right where they'd left off.
"What do you think I do all day, Perry? Sit around and watch TV?"
"Alice, I don't think —"
"Is that what you think I do?" She slammed the small pair of pants onto the bed and got up to close the door. "Well, you're wrong. I make breakfast and I make the boys' lunches and I wake you up and I drive the boys to school and I make the beds and I —"
"Alice…" Perry walked over to the door, where Alice was still standing, and put his hand on his wife's arm. She snapped it away.
"I'm *not* finished. — I do your laundry and I make dinner and I vacuum and I dust and I make sure the boys do their homework and I make sure they aren't fighting. *That*'s what I do all day, okay?"
"Okay," Perry said carefully.
"And it's damn boring!" Alice went back to her place on the bed, picked up Jerry's jeans, and started stitching with a vengeance.
"Boring?" Perry was confused. He hadn't known what Alice did all day, but he had assumed she enjoyed it. If she didn't, why did she do it? If he hated his job as much as she seemed to hate hers, he'd have quit long ago. But he liked working at the Planet; that was what made everything so hard. "So why are you doing it?"
Alice let out a choked laugh and ran her freshly-manicured nails through her shoulder-length blond hair. "What choice do I have? It's not like I can quit."
Perry shrugged. "You could get a job. Maybe you could get your old job back."
"And who would do all the things I do now? The boys? You?"
"Sure, the boys and I could pitch in. They're old enough." Perry thought for a minute, remembering when Alice quit her job as a features reporter when they found out she was pregnant with Jerry. Alice had loved working at the Planet, but they had made the decision, together, Perry thought: she would stay home and take care of their son. The plan had been for her to go back to work after Jerry started school, but by that time she was expecting Scott.
"Yea, sure," Alice said with a snort.
"I know we decided you'd go back to work after the boys started school, but then you started talking about another baby. You wanted a daughter, you said."
"Yea, well… I don't know anymore, Perry."
"Don't know what?"
"I just don't know, okay?" And with that, Alice stormed out of the room.
An hour later, Clark was still pacing in front of Josh's lounge chair on the roof of STAR Labs. Lois, back from checking on Lara and Catie, who were still playing inside, stood at the foot of Josh's makeshift bed. Dr. Klein sat on the other chair, poring through the three file folders of medical records.
"Clark…" Lois began tentatively. "What if…?"
Clark closed his eyes. He had been thinking the same thing: what if Josh didn't get better? How were they going to explain Josh not being taken to the hospital by ambulance like the rest of the children? How would Superman explain what he'd done? How could he have let this happen?
"You know," Clark began, "if it had been any other child, any *normal* child, they'd probably be dead. Josh saved someone's life."
"Somehow, that isn't very comforting right now."
Clark took Lois's hand and squeezed it. "I know. I guess I'm just trying to find a bright side to look on." Together they walked over to Josh's bed and Lois sat next to him on the sun-warmed tar of the rooftop.
"What good my powers if I can't even save my own son? What good is Superman? I feel so helpless, just standing here watching him. There has to be something we can do."
"Clark, come here," Lois said, and Clark took a seat next to her on the tarred rooftop. "I know you're not used to being this helpless, but I am."
Clark turned to look at her, opening his mouth to correct her — what was she talking about? Lois, helpless? She was the strongest woman he knew.
"No, listen," Lois said. "I grew up watching my father work miracles on his patients, and watching my mother *try* to work miracles to keep our family together. Now I watch you dash off and save the day, and I know our kids might be able to do the same thing one day. The closest thing I can do is my job: write the story. Maybe help catch the bad guys. I know this isn't easy for you," Lois gestured at Josh lying on the lawn chair, "but, Clark, you can't do everything. You can't be everywhere."
"But I should've —"
"Should've what? Known the bus was gonna crash? How? The only thing we can do is be here with Josh, maybe help Dr. Klein. That's all."
"I know," Clark admitted, "I just…"
"I know." Lois took Josh's hand, then Clark's, and brought them together. After a minute of silence, Josh's hand twitched slightly.
"Dr. Klein!" Clark called. Klein rushed over to Josh's bed and the three of them hovered over the little boy, watching his eyes for signs of opening.
"Josh, it's Mommy. I'm right here, baby. You're gonna be okay."
Josh struggled to open his eyes and a collective sigh of relief was heard from Lois, Clark, and Dr. Klein. Josh coughed dryly in an attempt to speak.
"It's okay. You don't have to talk, Josh. You're gonna be okay," Clark reassured.
Josh managed to nod, then his eyelids blinked heavily a couple of times before finally closing.
Lois sighed. "Oh, thank God," she said, leaning back onto the warm rooftop. "He's going to be okay."
"Look!" Lois and Clark looked over to where Dr. Klein's finger was pointing: their son's arm. The needle from Josh's IV had popped out of his arm and was now stuck in the air, still anchored to his skin with medical tape. Dr. Klein removed the needle and tape. Lois brushed her hand up to Josh's forehead, where several bits of thread were lying on his now-healed skin.
"Quick healer," Klein marveled. "Do you still want me to get the lamp?" Dr. Klein had, a few moments previous, remembered a colleague with seasonal affective disorder whose office was equipped with a sun lamp. It was artificial, but the three of them hoped that, once the real sun set, the lamp would be better than nothing.
Clark nodded and Dr. Klein headed off to find the lamp while Lois and Clark clutched the hand of their again-sleeping son.
And so, with Josh better, Lois, Clark, and Dr. Klein relaxed, confident that the worst was over. Josh was fine; he had no memory of the accident and, after checking the boy's heart rate and breathing, Dr. Klein announced, with a wink, that Josh was perfectly normal. Well, at least as normal as he had ever been. So Josh was smuggled back out of STAR Labs and the weary Kent family headed for the safety of their home.
But when Clark pulled the Jeep onto Hyperion Avenue, they were greeted by a mob of reporters waiting outside their house. The reporters didn't seem to be expecting Lois and Clark's arrival; rather, they were trying to get a glimpse into the unknowingly-empty Kent home. Clark could hear the constant tinny ringing of their doorbell.
"Oh, God, Clark," Lois gasped.
Just then the reporters noticed the Jeep making its way towards them, and turned their cameras and notepads to welcome home the Kents. Lois glanced at the back seat of the Jeep, where Catie, Lara, and Josh were leaning heavily against each other, sleeping.
"What are we going to do?" she asked Clark.
"Well, we can't turn around." Clark gestured over to several reporters who were running over to where their news vans were parked (illegally, he noted). The quicker ones gunned their engines, primed for a chase. "And we can't stay in the car all night."
Lois sighed and surveyed the throng of reporters holding vigil outside their house, many of whom she recognized as colleagues and competitors. They were camped out on the Kents' steps and in the bushes and plants that constituted a front garden. Each TV reporting crew had a spotlight aimed at the house, trying to get a glimpse inside.
"I'll take Catie and go first, and open the door," she suggested. "Can you get Lara and Josh and still fend off the reporters?"
Clark nodded and guided the Jeep into a parking space down the street, blocked from their usual spot by news vans and overzealous video camera-yielding reporters. He and Lois jumped from the Jeep and snatched their children from the back seat, sprinting towards their house through the swarm of reporters.
Clark had covered Lara's and Josh's faces with his jacket before starting towards the townhouse, and Lois shielded Catie's face with her hand. "No comment!" they yelled as they pushed their way to the front door, but that didn't stop the reporters from shouting out questions as Lois and Clark tried to hurry by.
"Was Superman the cause of your son's injuries?"
"Have you spoken to Superman since the incident?"
"No comment!" Lois repeated, blinking to clear the flash-bulb-induced bright spots from her eyes. Catie clung tightly to her mother's torso, the little girl's legs wrapped around Lois's waist. Lois juggled her key chain in her free hand and tried to force the key into the lock. Finally, she pushed the door open and dashed inside, Clark hot on her heels.
Clark slammed the inside door shut behind him, then looked down at Lara and Josh. At five and almost nine years old, Josh and Lara were big enough to make it awkward for Clark to carry them at the same time. But they held tightly to their father's leather jacket until he knelt and set them on the floor. Josh looked at him sleepily, but Clark could see the fear in his daughter's eyes. Lois reached for the light switch, but Clark's hand shot out to cover hers.
"They'll be able to see in," he told her.
Lois sighed and started upstairs, anxious to get her children in bed before they awoke completely and the questions started. After picking up Josh, who looked like he was about to fall over, Clark followed her, Lara trailing behind, tethered to her father by her tiny right hand clasped in his large left one.
But, from outside the townhouse, the questions kept coming.
"Are you going to sue Superman?"
"Has Superman apologized to you?"
"Was Superman showing favoritism by overlooking more seriously-injured children to save the son of his closest friends?"
"Superman hasn't been seen since the incident. Does this mean he's throwing in his cape?"
Perry and Alice's argument continued later that night, when, after watching the news, Perry came upstairs to get ready for bed. He changed into his pajamas (in the dark, since Alice was already in bed and, being on thin ice already, he didn't want to risk turning on the light and disturbing her). Perry slid into bed next to his apparently-sleeping wife.
"Oh, no, you don't," Alice said, flipping on the bedside light.
"What? I don't what?"
"You don't get into bed with me like nothing happened. You're sleeping on the couch tonight, buster," she retorted, turning to her side and scooting to the far edge of the bed.
"Oh, for Elvis's sake, Alice! All I wanna do is get some sleep. In my own bed."
Alice sat up and looked at her husband, eyes narrowed and ready for attack. "I am *not* sleeping in the same bed as you."
It was a stare-down, and Perry lost on a technicality: he rolled his eyes. "Then sleep on the couch."
"Ha! *Me* sleep on the couch? *I* didn't do anything wrong, and *I'm* not sleeping on the couch." With that, Alice flopped back over onto her side.
"Alice…" Perry sighed.
"Don't 'Alice' me. This is *your* fault, Perry White. You're the one who missed the meeting this afternoon."
After a beat, "What did they say?"
"What do you *think* they said?" She sighed. "Jerry's always in trouble, he never does his homework, he gets in fights, he stole some money from the cash box in the cafeteria…" Alice sat up to face her husband and her voice took on a slightly less caustic quality, but her eyes were still
narrow and angry, just in case Perry got the notion that just because she was speaking civilly to him, she had forgiven him. "I don't know what to do with that boy."
"Oh, he's always been that way: quick on the defensive, starting fights. It's because he's so small for his age; you know what his doctor said." Jerry had been born early, and born small. Because of that, worrywart Alice had babied him for the first five years of his life, until Jerry went to school and Scott came along. "He feels inferior to the other kids, so he tries to make up for it in other ways. And he wants to feel big, so he picks fights with Scottie."
"Stop making excuses for him. That's the last thing he needs. Anyway, that doesn't explain why he steals and doesn't do his homework," Alice insisted.
Perry sighed. "He'll be fine, Alice. So he's a little immature for his age? So was I, believe it or not." Here Alice raised her eyebrows and snorted, apparently letting him know that scenario didn't necessitate a big stretch for her imagination. "He'll grow out of it. Boys are like that."
"More excuses! Other boys don't act like this. *Scott* doesn't act like —"
"Alice, you know we can't compare our boys like that."
"You know what I mean. The other kids in Jerry's class don't act like him. He's always causing a ruckus, making trouble. His principal thinks he isn't getting enough attention at home," Alice said not-so-subtlety.
"And that's *my* fault!? Alice, you're the one who's home all the time! Maybe *you* should give him some attention!" As soon as the words were out of his mouth, still hovering between them like a word bubble in a comic strip, Perry knew he had gone too far.
"Alice, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I —"
With that, Alice snapped a sheet from their bed and left the room, slamming the door behind her. Perry debated going after her, but he wasn't *completely* clueless when it came to his wife. She needed to be alone and, truth be told, he would probably make things worse before he made them better. So Perry turned off the lamp and settled into bed, only to find he couldn't sleep. Jerry needed him. Alice needed him. His boss needed him. And, Perry wanted to think, Metropolis needed him.
"Things sure feel different on the other side of the headlines, huh?" Clark asked Lois as they headed downstairs after putting their children to bed.
"I'm not *that* bad. *We're* not that bad."
"We had this problem before, Lois, remember? Randy Goode and Chateau Roberge? I guess there are just some feelings I can't hide when I'm in the suit," Clark said, then sighed as he headed into the kitchen to make tea. He emerged thirty seconds later with two steaming mugs. "Oolong."
"Thank you," Lois said, cupping the mug near her face and inhaling the steam. She waited for the flavor of leaves to seep into the boiling water, then took a sip.
Clark said thoughtfully, "You know, those reporters had a point… I mean, about Superman 'throwing in his cape.' Maybe I should…"
"Clark, don't do this again! You're always so quick to give up, to sacrifice part of yourself. The world needs you."
"So do the four of you. Maybe I'm short-changing you just so I can play Superman. Maybe I *can't* do it all…" Clark worried as he and Lois sat on opposite ends of the couch, Lois's feet curled beneath her and Clark's legs outstretched, their legs just touching.
"Clark, do you hear any of us complaining? I admit that at first I was worried, when we got married and then when you got back from New Krypton."
She nodded. "Part of me, the part that wants to bundle the kids up and fly them off to somewhere safe; the ugly, insecure, part that worries that one day when you fly off, you won't come back; that part wondered if it came down to our family or the rest of the world, you'd pick the rest of the world. And then I felt bad for being so selfish."
"But… it just all… worked out. Somehow."
After a beat, "I cut back," he said quietly.
"I know you did." Lois reached over and squeezed her husband's hand gently. "And I appreciate it. *We* appreciate it. But it wasn't too much, was it? You don't feel like you aren't doing enough…?"
"Of course I'm not doing enough. What was I doing when the accident happened? I was sitting in that meeting, doing nothing. Our son was in trouble and I didn't do anything about it. What kind of person am I? I try to be normal, to have a job and a family, but…"
"But what?" Lois challenged.
"But — I don't know! Maybe it's useless."
"It isn't useless, Clark. You're a good father, a good husband, and a good Superman. *And* a good reporter. You can be all those things, you just can't be them all at once."
"And so can you?" Clark asked.
"Well, not the superhero."
"Or the father, or —" he joked.
"You know what I mean. I don't feel like you shortchange me or the kids to be Superman. If I did, I'd tell you. Clark, there was nothing you could've done to stop Josh from being hurt today. *Nothing.*"
After a pause Clark continued. "Maybe there was one good part of that whole New Krypton fiasco."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, when I got back, the big story was Superman's sudden cutting back on rescues and appearances. Some guy who obviously had too much time on his hands even charted Superman's appearances before and after the year on New Krypton. His theory was that the reason my appearances dropped off was that I'd found a wife on New Krypton and brought her back here, and we were too busy being honey-mooners —"
"No!" Lois laughed. "How'd I miss that one?"
"Well, we were both a little preoccupied — being back together after a year apart, taking care of a newborn…"
"Still…" Lois huffed.
"If it makes you feel any better, I didn't know either until a bridge collapsed in India. I talked to some reporters afterwards and that's all they wanted to talk about, nothing about the bridge or the village I'd saved, just my 'bride.'"
"Watch out or I'll get jealous," Lois joked before returning to the subject. "But the ways you've cut back, they've been okay, right? I mean, no one got hurt or anything just because you were at one of the kids' birthday parties, or because we wanted to spend some time alone together, did they?"
"Not 'just,' Lois," he corrected. "The four of you, and my parents, mean the world to me. Literally. Maybe that was another good thing about my year on New Krypton; I realized just how important you were. And then, coming back, seeing Lara…"
"I know." She squeezed his hand again.
"I didn't want my being Kryptonian or being Superman to rob me of any other important times in my life." Clark paused. "And, anyway, the things I cut back on, they were the less important things: the charity appearances, the golf outings. It was the personal appearances I made as Superman that suffered, not the rescues."
"And that's okay? You aren't resenting us for this, are you?"
"Lois! Of course not. I thought you knew better than that."
She grinned at him. "And you know better than to think I'd feel neglected without giving you an earful about it."
He smiled sheepishly. "Anyway, I realized that if I couldn't do some charity function, the organizers would get another celebrity and make just as much money. They just needed my name, not me."
"And we need you — "
Lois and Clark looked towards the base of the steps, where Josh was standing. He was trailing his stuffed Superman by the cape, its love-worn face dragging down the steps behind him.
"Sweetie, what are you doing up? You need your rest," Lois said.
"It's too bright in my room. I can't sleep," Josh said as he went over to sit on the couch with his mother. Lois stretched her legs out to make room for Josh, and he climbed onto the couch, settled in, and set his head on Lois's lap.
"Too bright?" Lois asked as Clark got up and glanced out the window.
"They're still out there. Most of them, at least," Clark told her.
"Can we call the police?" Lois asked.
Clark shook his head. "They're standing on the sidewalk, so they aren't trespassing or blocking traffic. Anymore. I don't think there's anything we can do about it. Just wait for them to leave, I guess." He closed the drapes carefully, then returned to the couch.
Lois sighed. "Josh, do you want to sleep in mine and Daddy's room tonight?"
Josh nodded his head. Sleepily, "Will you tell me a story, Daddy?" he yawned, and Lois smiled at Clark.
"Sure, Josh. Which story?"
"The one about," he yawned again, "about how Superman saved you and Mommy from the bad guys…"
"Which one?" Clark asked, and Lois smiled.
"The one about…" he murmured, his eyes fluttering shut. Josh's words dissolved into incomprehensibility and he pressed himself closer to Lois, who began to stroke his hair gently.
"Once upon a time," Clark began softly, "there was a little girl named Lois. Lois liked to get in trouble." Here Clark paused and checked his wife's reaction. She promptly stuck her tongue out at him. "But despite everything, Lois was really a good girl. One day she grew up and became a famous reporter in the big city of Metropolis."
Lois took over. "And then one day she met a wonderful man. Then she met *another* wonderful man. After a while, she found out that the two wonderful men were really the same man. She married the men, er, man, and they had three beautiful children…"
Clark supplied the ending. "And then they left work in the middle of a meeting and she and the wonderful man were both fired."
"Perry won't fire us," Lois assured him. "I don't know how to explain how you knew there had been an accident, though. But anyway, Perry's probably worried since he hasn't heard from us. We should call him." But neither of them moved from the couch, afraid to disturb Josh sleeping between them, his head on Lois's lap, his little boy's feet entwined with Clark's larger ones.
The next morning Perry apologized to Alice (this time without putting his foot in his mouth) and eventually she forgave him. Or so he thought. But every time he came home late, every time he had to go out of town on assignment (which was often since he was a field reporter), Alice brought it back up. How he was never around. How Jerry needed him. How Scott needed him, lest he get into the same trouble as his brother, or worse.
And he knew. Perry knew all of it; he just didn't know what Alice expected him to do about it. He tried to get home for dinner every night, but it was hard. And it wasn't like Alice ever took notice of the nights he was home on time. But of course she made a big deal of pointing out if he was late. So Perry figured there was no benefit to being there on time, if he was going to get grief anyway.
Seemingly resigned to being an at-home mom, Alice soon began pressing him about another baby. And it sounded like a good idea to him. Even with the boys, maybe Alice was lonely. They were in school all day and during the summer they played outside — baseball or with small green army figures or rode their bikes to the park. Maybe another baby, a girl, would make her happy.
So they tried to get pregnant again. And tried and tried. And Perry discovered the truth behind yet another cliche: it was hard to conceive if you put a lot of pressure on yourself to do so. Perry's life was beginning to feel like one big cliche: he was the gruff, workaholic father, emotionally absent even when physically present; and Alice, the embittered, neglected wife and doting mother, trying single-handedly to fix everything. Their marriage was being held together by a thread. No, not even a thread — a single ply which Alice was certain would be strengthened by another child.
In retrospect, maybe their sudden infertility was for the best: they were trying to have a baby for all the wrong reasons — to save their marriage — but neither of them would admit it yet.
So there was tension at home. Perry and Alice walked on eggshells around the boys, neither wanting to provoke a fight. At night they tried to put their problems behind them to do what they had convinced themselves would solve everything. Sleeping with his wife was beginning to feel like a chore to Perry, something else on his ever-growing to-do list. At least it helped him get to sleep.
There was tension at work, too. Joe Krebbs, the editor-in-chief, was retiring and the assistant managing editor, Perry's direct superior, was taking over. So the assistant managing editor's job was up for grabs and Perry, though on the young side for the position, wanted it. He started spending more time at the Planet, then spent after-hours time with the new editor-in-chief, learning everything he could and hoping to make a good impression. Perry convinced Alice that a promotion from field reporter to assistant managing editor meant he'd have regular hours and wouldn't have to travel as often.
And Perry did get the job. But instead of spending less time at the Planet, he was forced to spend more. If a reporter didn't get his article done it was Perry who did it. If the editor-in-chief had other obligations, it was Perry who put the paper to bed. At first Alice was livid; he had promised her and he was letting her down. Eventually, though, Alice stopped complaining. Or maybe Perry stopped noticing. Either way, he still missed parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and Little League games, but since Alice and the boys no longer expected him to be there, it wasn't as big a let-down.
Alice decided not to pursue her old job in the features department of the Planet. Whether it was too close to home — too close to him — or whether she just wasn't interested anymore, Perry didn't know. What he did know was that Alice found ways to keep herself busy: PTA, charity functions, she had even entertained the thought of running for a seat on the City Council when, after Scott left for college, the empty nest syndrome set in.
Looking back, it shouldn't have been a surprise when their marriage fell apart. But it was. Alice had stopped complaining long ago, so Perry assumed she was happy. Their reconciliation, now that was a surprise. They had been separated for a year and a half, the divorce finalized for a year at least, when Alice answered his personal ad…
Clark awoke the next morning when a bright stream of sunlight hit him square in the eyes. Feeling an unusually small foot on his leg, he rubbed his eyes and squinted before the previous day's events came back to him. Josh was snuggled between Lois and the couch, sleeping with his mouth open and eyes closed. Remembering what Dr. Klein had said about the sun speeding up Josh's recovery, Clark went over to the window and pulled back the drapes, allowing the single stream of sunlight that had awoken him to spread through the room.
The previous night's reporters gone, Clark sat down on the window seat and looked at Lois and Josh. Just looked.
Clark had always known that having children was a big responsibility. And, for a long time, he thought he could handle it. But he had no way of knowing how hard it would really be. Being Superman was difficult enough when he just had to come up with excuses to leave the Planet. But when he married Lois things got a little harder. Lois was surprisingly understanding about his Superman duties; he didn't know how he would react if there was something in Lois's life that took up as much time as Superman did in his. And she even helped him think up excuses from time to time, though hers weren't much better than his. (Choco-chocolate monster chip ice cream came to mind.)
But this, now, was the hardest thing. Hearing cries for help when he was alone with their children was always a test. But he couldn't, and didn't want to, avoid being alone with them. That was stupid, he knew. What he didn't know, though, was what the solution should be. So he did the best he could, plugging along as reporter, father, husband, superhero. A precarious balance, he knew. But, one look at Josh, Lara, or Catie, and Clark was reassured that his balancing act was worth it.
So, since Clark was in need of some assurance, he sat and just looked at Josh. Lois was right, he thought, remembering the previous night's conversation; it was stupid of him to even mention giving up being Superman. Clark had considered it before; it was his old stand-by — if things got too tough and he couldn't find a way out, he always thought he could start over fresh. He hadn't really considered it lately, of course, because of Lois and their children. But, when threatened, he still wanted to take the easy way out.
Easier said than done, though — he still was Superman, after all. He had never been able to give it up; it was as much a part of him — well, nearly as much — as "Clark Kent" was.
Clark focused again on Josh, sleeping next to Lois on the couch. Josh looked like Clark when he was a little boy: dark, messy curls, warm, bronzed skin. The girls, especially Lara, looked like Lois, but Josh, Martha had pointed out at first sight, Josh looked just like Clark. For them, Clark thought, he'd give it all up — Superman or Clark Kent. But he knew that wasn't the solution.
But what to do… what to do… And Clark knew he had to do something. Something like this couldn't happen again.
Clark turned towards the sound and focused on his wife's face. "'Morning."
She smiled sleepily. "What time is it?"
Clark checked the time display on the VCR. "Seven-oh-three."
"We'll be late for work," Lois teased as she tried to slip out from beneath Josh's arm, which was draped across her stomach. She succeeded and slid to the floor, leaving Josh sound asleep on the couch, then stood up to join Clark at the window.
"Maybe I should call Perry," Clark suggested, heading over to the phone. "Home or work?"
"Hmm, I'd try home. Since he's back together with Alice he actually goes *home* at night." She smiled.
Clark nodded, then punched Perry's number into the phone keypad. Clark listened to the phone ring on the other end of the line, watching Lois head back over to the couch, place an unpracticed hand on Josh's head to take his temperature (which Clark was sure she'd never had occasion to do before), then lean over to kiss his forehead.
"Perry? It's Clark. Sorry to wake you."
"No, no, Clark, it's fine. I heard about the accident and I've been worried. Are Lara and Josh okay?"
"They're fine. Lara was inside, in her classroom, so she's all right. Josh was outside, but he's okay. Superman flew him to the hospital but he's home now."
Clark heard Perry sigh on the other end of the phone line. "Well, thank Elvis for that, at least."
"I don't think we'll be in today, Perry —"
"Oh, Clark, of course not. You and Lois stay home with Josh. Take some time off — the Planet'll still be there when you get back," he assured Clark, hoping the boy would catch his intended double meaning.
"Sure, Chief. Talk to you later."
"Bye, Clark." Perry replaced the phone on its receiver and laid back in bed. Josh was okay, thank goodness. Over the years Perry had come to love Lois and Clark's children like grandchildren. After all, he and Alice didn't have any grandchildren of their own (at least not yet), and Clark's parents, though they visited often, lived far enough away to prevent them from participating in their grandchildren's everyday lives. So it was a somewhat symbiotic relationship.
Perry didn't know how Lois and Clark had managed to keep the boy's parentage from being found out. *Superman* flew him to a hospital, huh? Lois's father was a doctor; maybe he had treated Josh. Perry knew little about Lois's parents except that she didn't get along with them, especially her father. She and her mother had had an opportunity to clear the air when Lois was pregnant with Lara, but, to Perry's knowledge, Lois's relationship with her father was still rocky. Several times she had taken the scary first step and given Sam Lane a chance to mend their relationship but, judging by Lois's demeanor after their meetings, things hadn't worked out.
Perry shivered and pulled the sheet and comforter tight around his body. He knew it was only luck that had kept him from the same fate as Sam Lane. He, too, had a career that made him a stranger to his family. Maybe that was why he had been a sort of surrogate father to Lois: he needed to atone for his own domestic mistakes. But Perry was lucky; he and Alice were back together and, though they had had their share of rough times, his sons were both doing well now.
Perry rolled over and gazed at Alice, basking in the luck of having found her not once, but twice. Despite the earlier ring of the phone, she was still asleep, her mouth slightly open and her platinum blond hair spiky against the pillow. Perry reached his foot over to her side of the bed, searching for his wife's legs. She slept curled in a fetal position, and Perry could feel the bottoms of her feet pressed next to each other unevenly, her right foot an inch shorter than her left. He smiled, remembering their first wedding night so long ago.
Perry moved closer to Alice and she stirred, then unconsciously pressed closer to him. Perry sighed, focusing on a pleasant memory this time. He and Alice had rediscovered each other in the most unexpected way. Jimmy had helped him write and submit to the newspaper a personal ad. The first response he received sounded perfect: she loved Elvis, good books, moonlit walks, and pina coladas. She was just perfect. But she was also Alice.
They almost gone to the small cafe that had been their favorite when they were dating. It was convenient, close to the Planet, and considering that their first visit there had resulted in a marriage, Perry wondered if the coffee shop's bitter brew was really a love potion. On the other hand, they weren't giddy teenagers anymore, and their marriage had ended in a bitter divorce, so why make the same mistake twice?
Instead, Perry and Alice went to a newly-opened cafe, trying to escape the pressure of their memories. They sat in the restaurant that night, talking, until the owner came by to close up. As they walked back to the Planet parking garage where they'd left their cars, Perry couldn't help thinking that a long, honest talk several years ago might have saved them both a lot of grief.
"So… how are you?" Perry had asked Alice as they sat down in the faux leather booth of the restaurant.
"Fine, fine. And you?"
"Great, just great." Perry passed his ex-wife a menu and the two lapsed into silence studying the shiny oversized sheets. Finally Alice closed her menu with a plastic smack and sat back in the booth.
"I knew it. This was a mistake," she said, but she made no moves either towards her purse or jacket, or towards the door. Instead she studied her manicured nails, the menu, her silverware, anything to avoid looking at Perry.
Perry studied Alice, trying to think of something to say. Alice looked different, different even since their separation a year and a half ago. Her hair was cut shorter and styled differently, and she wore more make-up; Perry couldn't decide if she looked older or younger. She had lost a little weight, and Perry wondered if she was now exercising. Throughout their marriage, Alice had often committed herself (and sometimes him) to healthier living, buying a treadmill, a health club membership, even lessons at a newly-opened rock-climbing facility. She usually stayed with her healthy new lifestyle for a month before giving up. Had Alice now committed to getting in shape? Was it because, now that she was single again, she wanted to look better? She certainly did, Perry thought.
He started to think of his own appearance. Unlike Alice, Perry had gained a little weight since their separation — all those microwave dinners for one, consumed while putting the paper to bed, were hard on the body of an old man. His hair was a little grayer, and there was a lot less of it. Sure, he could work a little less and sleep a little more, but he didn't look too bad for a fifty-three year old, if he did say so himself.
Just then a skinny, spikey-haired girl came to a sudden stop at their booth.
"Hi, I'm Candi. I'll be your waitress." Candi was teen-aged, with dark eye make-up, a mouthful of chewing gum, and hair dyed too black for her pale skin. "Our special tonight is roast beef and mashed potatoes for $6.95. Our soup of the day is onion, and that comes with fresh-baked bread and a side salad. Are you ready or do you need a few minutes?" She cracked her gum twice and waited for their answer.
Perry gestured to Alice. "I'll have the soup, and Italian dressing on the salad."
The girl stood there, head cocked to one side, and again cracked her gum. She had no pad or pen, relying instead on what Perry hoped was an accurate memory. She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her pale green waitress uniform, reminding Perry of the vacant girls Jimmy used to date. "And you?" she asked Perry.
The roast beef sounded good, but it brought back memories of flying dishtowels and late-night fights; roast beef had been one of the only foods picky-eater Scott could stomach, so it had been the star of Alice's cooking repertoire when the boys were little.
"I'll have the same," he told her, and as the orange-sized bubble she had been blowing popped, Candi gathered their menus and left Perry and Alice alone again.
"I talked to Jerry last week," Perry began, hoping to start with a subject they both held dear.
"I talked to him yesterday," Alice said coolly.
"Oh." Alice was being purposefully difficult. When she arrived at the Planet she'd seemed tentative, hopeful. It had given Perry hope that now seemed falsely placed. "You been to see him lately?"
"Last month, for his birthday." Jerry was still in prison for the red kryptonite fiasco of a decade ago. It was only his second offense (several bounced checks being his first), but it was serious enough to warrant a fifteen year sentence. Because of good behavior, though, Jerry was looking to be paroled in upcoming months.
Perry nodded. "That's good. Visited Scottie lately?"
"Yea, when I went upstate to visit Jerry, I took a detour to Vermont to see Scott. He's doing great," she said. "He's dating someone new: Shannon. She goes to the University, too. She's really cute: short, curly hair, blue eyes, a business major. She's from California, I think."
"That's great," Perry said. "His classes finish soon and he's staying with me for a few weeks before his summer job starts."
Then a long pause. What to say, what to say, Perry wondered, then mentally kicked himself. This is Alice, you idiot; you were *married* to her. It shouldn't be this difficult to think of something to say to her. Aloud, he said, "Why is this so hard?"
Alice smiled, sighing. "It seems stupid, doesn't it? We were married for twenty-seven years and now we can't think of anything to say to each other?"
"I know," he said, then sat out another awkward pause. "There are couples who *both* work and have kids and have a good marriage. Why couldn't we, Alice?"
Not surprisingly, Alice knew what he was thinking. "We aren't Lois and Clark, Perry."
"That isn't it." He paused, played with the paper napkin wound around his silverware. "I wasn't a very good parent, I know. I'm sorry." As he spoke, he couldn't help thinking that he should be saying those words to Jerry and Scott, as well as Alice.
"Neither of us were, Perry. At least you were doing something else productive. You still are."
"No, Alice, I screwed up the more important job. And I made you quit *your* job…"
"You didn't *make* me, Perry. We made that decision together, remember?"
"But would you have made that same decision now?" he pressed.
"I don't know what decision *we* would have made now. There's no way of knowing that. We did the best we could. Anyway, it was a different time; we were different people. I'm not angry with you, Perry."
"You're not?" he asked incredulously. "Then why'd you leave? Not that I can blame you, but I thought you were angry."
"Not angry. Sad. And lonely, I guess," she said softly. "I married a wonderful man. I just wished I was as big a part of his life as he was mine."
"Alice, you were."
Alice shook her head. "No, I'm not — wasn't," she corrected. "I gave up everything for us. I moved to the other side of the country. I gave up my job — no, my *career* — to stay home with our boys. It was our choice, but I'm still the one who had to *do* it. I tried my hardest to fix things between us, to put up with being second place, but I'm sorry; I couldn't."
"Alice, I'm sorry," Perry said. "You shouldn't have had to."
"No, but it's not as easy as that. I was at home all day, doing things like cooking and cleaning and waiting for my family to come home so I wasn't lonely anymore; and I know some people enjoy that, but it's not for me. So I made the boys my life, and when they left home, I made you my life. And it wasn't fair to you because I should've made my own life. I know we were married and I might've been a good wife, but I wasn't a very good person."
"And I was a pretty lousy husband," he concluded. "But I'm willing to do better if you're willing to give me another chance."
Clark hung up the phone and headed into the kitchen. "I thought I'd make omelets."
"Josh's favorite," Lois said with a smile as she followed her husband out of the room. Not wanting to wake their children, especially Josh, Clark carefully removed a skillet from the rack in the center of the kitchen and set it on a burner. Lois took ingredients from the refrigerator and handed them to him: a carton of eggs, deli-sliced turkey and ham, fresh vegetables. In silence, Lois chopped onions while Clark broke several eggs into a large mixing bowl, then removed a whisk from a drawer next to the dishwasher.
Suddenly he stopped, mid-whisk, and Lois watched as Clark froze in a familiar pose. She groaned audibly, then stopped as Clark's face paled. "Neighbor's radio," he said before hurrying over to the radio that sat on the kitchen countertop.
"— first fatality as the fifty-six year old bus driver was removed from life support by family members. The driver was killed immediately when a piece of fence entered the front bus window. Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the crash, which has sent approximately three dozen elementary school children to local hospitals. The accident gained notoriety when Superman quickly appeared on the scene but did not return after flying one of the injured students, apparently the son of close friends, to the hospital. In other news, it seems that arson was indeed behind last week's dock fire in Hobbs Bay, which destroyed —"
Clark flipped the radio off. "Someone died," he said softly.
Lois switched from concerned-mother mode, which she had been in since the previous morning, to sympathizing-wife mode. "Clark it wasn't your fault. You know that."
"Someone died," he repeated, the whisk in his right hand dropping slowly to the counter.
"You heard the radio; that driver was killed on impact. There's nothing you could've done to help him," Lois reminded him, familiar with the list of 'what if's playing through her husband's mind. Clark always took it hard when he couldn't save someone's life; he often forgot that he was just a man. An extra-ordinary man, but still a man, with faults and limits and misjudgments. He wasn't God; he wasn't even a doctor. (Though, after Lara was born, he did speed-read several medical books, "just to be prepared.") Lois put an arm around Clark's waist.
"Someone died because of me," Clark said again, before wandering over to the booth in their kitchen and sitting down.
Lois followed dutifully, and sighed. She turned Clark's head to face hers, then spoke slowly and calmly. "It wasn't because of you. That man was already dead when you got there, and there was nothing anyone could've done about it." Lois took Clark's hand, raised it, then gently kissed his palm. "And you saved our son. Thank you."
Superman flew through the crisp October air, past the trees of Centennial Park, whose leaves blazed red and gold and brown. Heading north, he zeroed in on his destination, City Hall. The building was an amalgamation of architectural stylings, signifying numerous additions during different time periods, with white columns supporting the overhanging roof and large lead-trimmed windows peering out of the front of the building. White stone steps led up to heavy wooden doors whose glass centerpieces were clean with the previous night's rain.
It was there that the podium stood: dark, expensive-looking wood on the outside, painted black plastic on the inside. Clark recognized it as the mayor's, used when Metropolis's finicky weather cooperated to allow outdoor press conferences. Microphones were planted at the top of the podium, stems straining, awaiting Superman.
Clark saw Lois and Jimmy among the crowd gathered on the building's steps. For several years Jimmy had held the official title of Photojournalist, satisfying his appetite for danger by reporting on overseas stories, in text and pictures. But between foreign assignments he came home to Metropolis and picked up his job as city beat photographer.
Reporters spotted Superman's approach and began their barrage of questions. Wishing he could just turn around and go home, Clark tried to ignore them. Instead, he quickly ran through the speech he and Lois had worked out the night before. It was Lois's idea that he give a prepared speech without answering questions. At first, Clark had been reluctant; it reeked of dishonesty, he told his wife. But Lois was insistent.
"They're going to ask you questions that you can't answer honestly," she told him.
"Like what?" Clark prided himself in his honesty, in telling the *whole* truth, not just answering the questions. It still bothered him that, years ago, at the same podium in front of the same City Hall (and many of the same, clearly-aged, reporters) he'd been forced to bend the truth during the Randy Goode tabloid scandal.
"Like why you didn't come back to the school after taking Josh to the hospital," she suggested as they laid in bed the night before. "At least if you give a statement first; maybe that'll answer some of their questions. And if things get too tough," she reminded him, "you can always fly off, say that someone needs you."
Clark listened carefully for any hint of bitterness there. Did Lois think he did that too easily, flew off to help someone else? He was ready to go on the defensive, but then he realized that she didn't mean it maliciously. Okay, he told himself, calm down.
"I know you don't want to, but you might have to lie, Clark," Lois said, trailing her hand gently over Clark's chest.
"I can't. I can't lie —"
Lois sat up stiffly and opened her mouth to protest, and Clark held up his hands in surrender.
"Okay, I *can* lie but I hate it and I'm really bad at it, okay?" Lois smiled knowingly. "And anyway, it's different; there's a difference between lying as Clark and lying as Superman."
"Yea," Lois agreed caustically. "When you lie as Superman, you're lying to strangers; when you lie as Clark, you're lying to the people you love. Nice difference."
"I'm sorry," she said quickly, rolling over onto Clark and meeting his lips in an apologetic kiss. "That wasn't fair. And it's not like I don't do my fair share of lying, too."
Clark ran his fingers through Lois's hair, tucking it behind her ear. "Because of me," he said softly.
Lois sighed. "Clark —"
"Okay, now I'm the one not being fair. We both lie. Fair enough?"
Lois rolled back over to her side of the bed and she and Clark sat in silence for a minute, their fingers still laced together.
"But you can understand why Superman shouldn't lie, doesn't lie…"
"No, actually," she said. "Didn't we already go through this with that Randy Goode scandal a few years ago? Superman lied at the press conference, because he had to, for the greater good."
"No, I didn't!" Clark sat up in the bed and turned to face Lois. "I did *not* lie at that press conference. They asked if Superman was having an illicit affair with Lois Lane. I said no, because I wasn't."
"It wasn't illicit and it wasn't an affair," he said adamantly.
"That's semantics, Clark, and you know it; you lied. And it's not like Superman hasn't lied before. Remember Resplendant Man? — 'Superman' lied about knowing how the guy got his superpowers."
"I had to, Lois. I couldn't tell everyone Superman's powers can be transferred like that! I would've been mobbed everywhere I went; I wouldn't have been able to do my job."
"Exactly. There was a greater truth to protect," Lois said, mirroring what she'd told him years ago during the Chateau Roberge tabloid scandal. "You can't ignore this scandal — it doesn't seem to be going away. And you can't tell the truth. So what choice do you have but to lie?"
Clark sighed and Lois reached over to the table on her side of the bed and produced a pen and pad of paper. "Here. Write."
"Clark, we don't have any choice. They might even know that Josh didn't see a *real* doctor, just Dr. Klein. Then what?"
"I guess." He took the pad and uncapped the pen, but didn't write, instead he twirled it between his fingers like a baton. They sat there in silence for a minute. "I don't know what to write," he said finally.
"Give me that." Lois yanked the pad out of his hands, took another pen from the night stand, and began scribbling frantically on the paper. A few minutes later, she handed it to him. "Here, how's this?"
Clark read it: a good start. He nodded and added to it and the two of them took turns, lying together in bed, legs intertwined, composing what was about to become Superman's statement to the media.
Clark landed and tried to make his way to the podium through the throng of people: reporters; photographers; citizens with signs recycled from previous Superman scandals, pulled out of dusty attics and moldy basements: the red and gold Superman S covered by the universal 'no' symbol, a red circle and diagonal line. Reaching the podium, Superman adjusted the microphones (why was it that people always thought he was so much taller than he really was?) and took a deep breath. But the reporters refused to wait.
One question rose above the others: "Why didn't you return to the scene of the accident after delivering the Kent boy to the hospital?" The question Lois had anticipated. Okay, you were right, he thought, looking through the crowd at his wife's grinning face. Like it or not, I've gotta go with the prepared speech. There's no way to answer that question without either telling the truth (out of the question), sounding foolish (not preferable, not only for his own sake, but because it would cast suspicion on anything else he said), or making up an egregious lie (which he refused to do). But, maybe, if he gave his speech first, that would answer at least some of their questions. And he had to answer their questions, no matter what he and Lois had decided the day before. Not answering them was just too dishonest.
Superman coughed quietly and the crowd hushed. At that moment he may have been one of Metropolis's least favorite citizens, but he was still Superman. Sometimes the respect given him because of the costume was so… so *odd.*
"Ladies and gentlemen, on Tuesday our city suffered a tragic accident. Let me first urge you to direct your questions and scrutiny to me, not to the families of the accident victims. They did nothing to earn this media frenzy, and it is only standing in the way of the healing that needs to take place."
Out of the corner of his eye, Clark saw a puzzled look on Lois's face. They hadn't written that part of the speech but Clark thought it needed to be said; maybe it would give their family, and the rest of the families, a little privacy. Can't hurt, he thought before continuing.
"On Tuesday I responded to a call for help from Summerville Elementary School. When I arrived on the scene, I saw that a school bus had crashed through a fence and into a playground-full of children on recess. I found the child who looked to be the most seriously injured and delivered him to a hospital. I did not return to the school because I was needed elsewhere." That's true, he reminded himself; everything I've said so far is true. "By the time I was able to return to the school, my help was no longer needed." Also true. He wasn't able to return until the next day, but his help *wasn't* needed then, he consoled himself. "I can answer any questions you might have."
Everyone started shouting at once, but one question, offered by a tall, balding man standing near Lois and Jimmy, rose above the roar of the crowd. "Can you comment on the fact that you choose to help the son of two of your closest friends instead of dozens of other children?"
"My choice to help Joshua Kent was based on the fact that he was the most in need of help. My friendship with his parents did not factor into the decision to fly him to the hospital, and anyone who was at the scene of the accident can corroborate me."
Liar, liar, Clark taunted himself. You didn't even look at the other children; you just flew straight to Josh. Wrong, wrong, wrong, he thought guiltily.
Then he remembered what Lois had said both years ago, during the Chateau Roberge scandal, and again the previous night; Lois's voice, practical, sensible, one step away from this public grilling he was enduring. A greater truth. He repeated it. A greater truth. Okay.
"What about the bus driver? He died. Surely *he* was more severely injured," a tall red-headed woman shouted, thrusting a tape recorder towards Superman. Clark recognized her from the Metropolis Star and she, like most of the print and radio reporters, carried her own hand-held tape recorder.
Clark let his voice take on a most serious tone. "I believe, as do the doctors who treated him, that the bus driver was killed instantaneously. There was nothing I could have done to help him. I had to help someone who had a chance at surviving." He sighed, then forced himself to focus on the next question, which was already being shouted towards him. So much for politely taking turns, he thought.
He focused on the loudest question, but the crowd was so dense he couldn't even tell where it had come from. "Do you care to comment on the assertion that you were playing God in deciding who lives and who dies?"
Me, playing God? Clark thought. Now that was a question neither he nor Lois had anticipated. No, Clark thought: playing Superman was tough enough.
"I try my hardest," Clark began in what he hoped was a humble tone, "to help people. If you need help, all you have to do is ask; I don't discriminate." Maybe you *are* like God in that way, Clark thought facetiously, then forced himself to refocus on the question. "I just answer calls for help, like a firefighter, or a police officer, or a doctor. I do what I can."
"Why did you go out of the way to take Joshua Kent to the S.T.A.R. Labs Hospital? City General's closer," shouted a heavyset Asian woman in the front. Clark recognized her as a reporter from one of the all-news AM radio stations. Her hand-held recorder inched closer to the podium.
"I'm not a doctor," he began, "but I'm sometimes forced to evaluate the medical conditions of people I help. I do my best to deliver them to the hospital I think can best help them. I have to weigh the busyness, proximity, and specialties of Metropolis's hospitals. I think the important thing is that Joshua Kent, and every other person I've delivered to a hospital, has arrived safely and in time."
You didn't answer the question, the reporter inside him pointed out, but Clark ignored that voice and pointed to another reporter. He had already decided that this would be the last question, regardless of who asked it or what it was. The question came from a young man Clark didn't recognize; maybe he was new to Metropolis, or just new to the city beat.
"You said you were needed elsewhere, and that was why you didn't go back to the accident, but none of us has been able to determine your whereabouts. Where *were* you?"
Hm, Clark thought, how to answer this one? 'That's personal'? Nah, he
didn't want people getting the idea that Superman even *has* a personal life.
"For security reasons, I think it would be better if that question remained unanswered for the time being." There, that'd get 'em thinking, Clark thought with a grin. And it was the truth. Probably they'd think it had something to do with top-secret government projects, which, for some reason, reporters were always assuming he had some role in.
With a respectful nod to his audience and a swirl of his cape, Clark took off as a curious buzz circulated through the crowd.
"Hey Josh, Catie," Jimmy greeted the children as they and their parents hurried out of the elevator and into the Planet newsroom the next morning. Jimmy hurried up the ramp to the elevators and held his hand out to Josh. They shook and knocked their fists together in a choreographed greeting. Watching with fascination, Catie held out her own hand and Jimmy obliged, going through the same routine as Catie, giggling, tried to hit the young man's hand.
"You two come to apply for a job?" Jimmy joked.
"No," Josh said with a giggle.
"Josh is spending the day upstairs with Catie. We're headed there as soon as Lois grabs a few things," Clark said, gesturing at Lois, who had dashed down the ramp and to her desk while Clark waited with Josh and Catie near the elevators. While he and Lois had been able to take some time off to spend with their son, they had had to go back to work. Things had become complicated since Josh had announced the previous night that he wasn't ready to go back to school yet. So Lois and Clark decided to take him to the Daily Planet's day care facility, somewhere familiar where he could be with Catie, somewhere where Lois and Clark could stop by to check on him when things got slow.
"Well, look who's here!" Perry bellowed as he left his office and approached the small crowd that had gathered near the elevators.
"We're not here yet. We'll be back in a minute," Lois shouted distractedly.
"Oh, not you, Lois," Perry said as Lois removed a few items from the bottom drawer of her desk and stashing them in her leather bag. She shut her desk drawer and joined her family and colleagues near the elevators. "I meant Catie and Josh here."
"Nice to know you missed us, Chief," Lois said to Perry with a grin.
"Ahh, it's about time you two got back here," Perry teased. "You better have a follow-up on yesterday's Superman press conference or I might just take Olsen's advice and hire these two in your stead."
Lois hunted through her leather bag to unearth a black computer disk, which she tossed at her boss. "Right there, Perry."
Perry smiled and headed back towards his office, then stopped, suddenly remembering something. "By the way, you all are gonna be on your own tomorrow. It's Alice's birthday on Sunday and we're flyin' to Graceland for a long weekend. Come see me after you get back down here — you too, Olsen — and I'll let you know what your assignments for tomorrow."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n," Jimmy said, jokingly saluting Perry as Lois and Clark stepped into the just-arrived elevator. Perry chuckled and headed back into his office, where he set about straightening up his desk in preparation for his meeting with Lois, Clark, and Jimmy and, ultimately, his long weekend.
He reached into the top drawer of his desk and lovingly caressed the airline tickets tucked between a pocket-sized paperback of Elvis trivia and a travel-sized, cap-less can of shaving cream. The Elvis book was for fun, but the shaving cream… Well, the shaving cream just went to show how much things had changed in the past few years. (And how much he needed to clean his office.) The can was several years old, from the prime of Perry's workaholism, when he would camp out at the Planet, not going home, not even sleeping, so he could supervise putting the paper to bed.
Those days were long gone. Perry had since hired a new, trusted night-time managing editor, freeing him to leave at a decent hour. Every night he came home to Alice (or Alice came home to him, depending on who got home from work first).
Alice, who had tried to keep herself busy with committee memberships and part-time jobs during their first marriage, had become a successful businesswoman since their divorce. They had to work around her schedule as well as his; it was as much of a humbling experience as Perry needed to fully realize how selfish he had been the first time around. No more, he decided: their relationship would come first now. And he got a taste of his own medicine when Alice, on rare occasion and always with sincere regret, had to reschedule their plans.
But broken marriages don't easily repair themselves. It took weeks before their haphazardly-rebuilt relationship began to resemble friendship, weeks punctuated by a weekend in the Catskills in a cabin belonging to Julie Wallace, one of Alice's college friends, by visiting both Scott and Jerry, by meeting nightly for dinner. And it took months before the word "remarriage" was uttered.
They both knew it had been too simplistic to blame their divorce on Perry's job. The important thing wasn't that Perry, waiting late at night for Alice's meetings to end, knew how his ex-wife had once felt. And it wasn't that Alice, now working to nurse both professional and personal relationships, had sympathy for her ex-husband. Their first marriage was a complicated tangle of injuries, mistrusts, and unfulfilled promises that had resulted in divorce, and it was only after sincere apologies and a serious re-commitment to each other that they could move forward together instead of dawdling in the past.
It took two marriages to put a ring on Perry's finger. He and Alice had married young, his finger size had changed considerably over the years, and his first wedding ring had long since fit. Sure, he could get it resized, but he had never bothered. Perry considered that fact quite telling, in retrospect. But it wasn't because of the ring that his second marriage was successful, but, rather, because of his commitment to Alice, he wore the ring, a public symbol of a private vow.
Hours later, after meeting with Perry, Lois, and Jimmy; after writing up an 'interview' with Superman; after getting started on their next story (a banking scandal); Clark searched the newsroom for his wife. Lois had gone upstairs to check on Josh, this being the first time since the accident that he was separated from them for longer than an hour or two. But that was almost thirty minutes ago, Clark noted after checking his watch. Maybe something was wrong…
Clark left his desk and bypassed the elevator to dash upstairs, taking advantage of the empty stairwell to superspeed to the sixth floor. When he got there, he saw Lois standing next to the large picture window that opened into the Planet's day care facility, staring intently inside. He approached her slowly, wondering what she was looking at. There was obviously no emergency, or she'd be inside with Josh and Catie, or downstairs with him.
When he reached Lois he set a hand on her shoulder and she gasped and jumped visibly, then turned around to face him. When she did, Clark saw that she was crying. Tear tracks stained her face and her eyes were wet and bright.
"What is it?" he asked, concerned. "What's wrong?" Clark concentrated on the playroom, quickly picking Josh and Catie out of the crowd. It wasn't hard; they were playing alone, innocently enough, though, not fighting. There was a plastic miniature airport between them and Josh was holding the plane, landing it on Catie's head as she laughed joyfully.
"Lois? What is it?"
"Look at them, Clark," Lois said, watching her children as she spoke. "They're so innocent. Do you ever think what we're doing is wrong: lying to them, forcing them into a life where they have to lie?"
"They aren't going to be like this forever, laughing and playing. If they want to live a normal life, whatever that is, they're gonna have to be tough, to lie." Lois paused to wipe her eyes. "We try to teach them to be honest, but then we ask them to lie for us. We're preparing them to live a lie; even if they never decide to put on a costume, they'll be forced to hide their true selves. Clark, do you ever think what we're doing is wrong?"
Clark sighed, watching his youngest children play before offering an answer. He saw Josh jump up and zoom the plastic plane around the room, Catie running after him as fast as her shorter legs could carry her. She jumped in an attempt to reach the plane, but Josh was taller, faster, and he held it out of her reach. She stomped her foot angrily — Clark knew they had been well-behaved for too long — and frowned at her brother. Josh laughed and rose to his tiptoes and Catie responded by wrapping her arms around her brother and raising her feet from the ground, trying to pull herself up.
After a minute of being a human chin-up bar, Josh relented, handing the plane to his sister. She grinned, pleased at having won, and jutted out her neck, her lips pursed. Clark could almost hear Josh sigh before the boy leaned forward and allowed his sister to kiss him.
"I know," Clark said, turning to face his wife. "But we're doing the best we can for them. They probably won't be able to enjoy their childhood for long enough, but I don't think there's much we can do about it. Except do our best to protect them," he added, then stopped to think.
Protecting his children: was that what he was doing? Wasn't that why he had to lie outright as Superman? Clark hated what he had done the day before, what he had *had* to do. He had never liked dishonesty, from himself or anyone else, and it was even worse coming from Superman. Superman, who was supposed to be a symbol of goodness and trust and *honesty.*
But things weren't black and white. It wasn't just that he was being dishonest and a bad person, or that telling the truth would be the right choice, whatever that was. He *had* to lie to protect his children. If he hadn't, their lives would have been destroyed, to the benefit of no one. His lie hadn't hurt anyone, he assured himself, and it had helped the people that meant the most to him.
"What are you thinking?" Lois asked, now leaning back against the glass of the window, gazing at him.
"Just that what I did yesterday, at the press conference, was for the best," he said quietly.
Clark nodded. "It's easy to be Superman when I'm stopping a flood or lifting a rocket into orbit; it's easy to stand for truth and justice then. But it's been damn hard lately, having to choose between following the rules and doing the right thing. I always thought if you followed the rules you *were* doing the right thing. You know I would do anything for them, don't you? I would die for them."
Lois fell into Clark's arms and laid her head on his chest. "So would I. But living for them is a lot harder, isn't it?"
Clark nodded and gently wiped Lois's face dry of tears. They stood there, just holding each other, before Lois pulled away slightly. She offered him a slow, sad smile. "And here I thought I was gonna have to be the one comforting you," she said.
Lois turned back to face the day care room and she and Clark watched Josh and Catie, playing separately now, each alone. When Clark concentrated, he could hear Catie humming to herself above the din of the playroom.