Strained Relations (part 1 of 2) (Season 6, Episode 1)

By Barbara <> and Pam Jernigan <>

Rated PG

Original Air Date: November 22, 1998

Summary: A new baby, demanding jobs, and a part-time role as super-hero are keeping the Lane and Kent household busy. Could this be Jimmy's time to shine? Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is plotting. Part 1 of 2. Episode 1 of S6.


Previously on Lois and Clark, Season 5:

Episode 22, "It's Time" (by Pam Jernigan)

"One more big push, Lois," the nurse reminded her, and she complied. As the doctor and nurse steadied the baby's head, it turned, and the shoulders slipped free. Once that wide point was clear, the rest of the infant slid out easily, and Lois relaxed, sobbing with happiness. A higher note joined in, as the baby found its lungs.

"Listen to that," Dr. McGrath exclaimed in satisfaction. "And let's see … Lois, Clark … Congratulations, you have a daughter."


"Time of birth," Judy called out, looking at the large wall clock, "1:53am, Tuesday, August 18th. She's got a healthy cry, and her skin is a nice pink."

"Six pounds, 12 ounces!" an anonymous blue-gowned figure announced. "And 18 inches long." Another nurse wrapped the squalling baby in a diaper, some plain cotton clothes, and a receiving blanket, putting a cap on her tiny head as well, for good measure.

Preliminary observations done, Judy picked up the newest Kent and carried her over to her parents. "She had an Apgar score of nine out of ten, Lois, that means she's very healthy. Smaller than I'd have thought, especially for an overdue baby, but there's nothing wrong with that."

Lois held out her arms to receive the noisy bundle, paying little attention to the nurse. "Hello, little treasure," she cooed softly, and was rewarded by an abatement of the baby's cries. Tiny eyes fluttered open, seeking the source of the familiar sound. "Do you know my voice, precious? You've been hearing it for months, haven't you?" Lois crooned, in a tone of voice she barely recognized, herself. It seemed to reassure the baby, however.

Clark leaned over and tentatively stroked one of the baby's cheeks with his forefinger. "Hi there … I'm your daddy, and this is your mommy."

The baby's head moved jerkily towards the contact, and her mouth opened in an "o". "Ah, I've heard about that rooting reflex," Lois chuckled gently. "Let's see if we can put that to work." Awkwardly, she shrugged one shoulder out of her gown and put the baby to her breast. The infant needed help maneuvering into position, but then latched on with an eagerness that surprised Lois. "Oh!"

"Does that hurt, honey?" Clark asked anxiously. They had agreed that breastfeeding would be the best start they could give to their child, but neither of them was entirely convinced that it would work.

"Nooo … not really," Lois responded cautiously. "It's just strange, that's all. Look at her go!" For a moment, the newborn suckled with enthusiasm, but then she seemed to lose interest, and relinquished her grip in favor of looking around. "Clark, would you like to hold her?"

Gingerly, Clark picked up the tiny bundle; even supporting her neck, he scarcely needed more than two hands to hold her. "She hardly weighs anything," he whispered, awed.

Lois covered herself up again. Modesty had momentarily lost all meaning, but she was beginning to feel chilled. One of the nurses, anticipating this common reaction, wordlessly placed a heated blanket over the new mother's lap. Looking down, Lois noticed with vague surprise that the doctor seemed to be done. She looked around the room, trying to assess what was happening, but she was interrupted by Clark's excited whisper. "Lois, she's looking at me!"

She looked over at her husband, and realized that the baby did, indeed, seem to be staring straight into her father's face, a serious expression on her tiny features. "She's checking you out," Lois replied, laughing softly. At the sound, the baby closed her eyes briefly, and reopened them to stare directly at her mother. Lois, in turn, submitted to the infant's examination. "Yes, honey, we're your parents. This is what we look like. This is what you're stuck with."

The baby, of course, offered no comment, but after a long moment, she closed her eyes and appeared to drift off to sleep.

Clark looked at his wife, his eyes glowing with love. "I think we passed."

"I love you, Clark."

"I love you, too."


"What did you name her?"

"That's what I was just asking," Ellen replied, not quite able to conceal her impatience. "Maybe now they'll tell us."

"Okay, okay," Lois laughed. "Now that everyone's here, we can announce it."

"It was a tough choice," Clark interpolated. "We discussed a lot of names over the past few months."

"And then I remembered a story you'd told me, Martha." Lois smiled at her mother-in-law.

Martha frowned inquisitively, and Lois turned to explain things to her parents. "See, when Martha and Jonathan took Clark in, as a baby, Martha's family jumped to the conclusion that he was the, um," she glanced sideways, unsure if she were about to reopen old wounds. "Unfortunate side-effect of a youthful indiscretion."

"You mean a bastard," Sam spoke up helpfully. "Most likely a teenage pregnancy; those weren't too acceptable in the early 60s." He looked around at the array of disgusted looks. "What? What'd I say?"

"Anyway," Lois persevered, "Martha's family thought that she was doing something bad instead of something good, and they cut her off — refused to have anything to do with her. Except for her favorite aunt."

Jonathan put an arm around his wife as Martha started smiling, seeing where this was going.

"This aunt, see, she stayed in contact, and visited whenever she could. She was pretty much Clark's only extended family on that side, and he loved her a lot." Lois' voice softened. "She died 20 years ago, but she's still remembered very fondly. And when I heard about her, I knew that's the sort of woman I wanted my daughter to be. Someone loving, but strong, too. Someone who will do the right thing, no matter what."

Clark smiled tenderly at his wife. "With you as a mother, Lois, how could she be anything but?"

"Well, anyway," she blushed, "We agreed that this would be a great name for our daughter." Lois declared, then gestured for her husband to do the big announcement.

Clark smiled broadly. "Everyone, say hello to … Laura Lane Kent."



Season 6, Episode 1 By Barbara <> and Pam Jernigan <>

Tuesday, October 20, 3:05am

Clark landed softly in the living room of their brownstone, carefully closing the window behind him, not wanting to wake Lois or Laura. Floating up the stairs to bed, he was drawn, as always, by the light spilling from his daughter's room. 'His daughter,' he thought with a grin.

Walking into the nursery, he was immediately captivated by the sight before him. Sitting in the rocking chair was his beautiful wife, the mother of his child, softly lit by a solitary nightlight. She had obviously been awakened to feed Laura. Both Lois and Laura had since drifted off to sleep, still gently moving to a rhythm heard only by mother and child.

He knew he should wake Lois and return Laura to her crib, but he couldn't draw his eyes from this miracle before him. Most men seemed to take it for granted that they would someday marry and have children. Most normal men, that is. It was this one simple thing that a *super* man most dearly desired, something he had never quite allowed himself to believe would ever happen. Marrying Lois had been the greatest gift he could have ever imagined. And now to be married to Lois and to be a father? It had kept him on a perpetual high from which he hoped never to fall.

During his musings, Laura had stirred and awakened Lois from her dozing. She looked up and saw Clark smiling at them. Taking in his outfit, she grinned.

"I didn't know Superman considered 3:00am feedings an emergency," she whispered, smiling up at him.

Looking down at the suit he still wore, he smiled back at her. "I forgot I still had this thing on. I was just on my way to change and I saw the two of you … "

Clark lost his train of thought, captivated by Lois' movements. Lois had made the decision to breastfeed Laura as long as she could. It wasn't something Clark had felt comfortable giving an opinion on one way or the other when they had discussed it. He had read as many books on child development as he could find while Lois was pregnant and they all recommended breastfeeding for its multitude of benefits for both mother and child. But he was asking so much of Lois just to be willing to have his child. They really couldn't be certain if they would have a *super* baby and what effect that might have on Lois. After watching all she had gone through for almost ten months having their child, this seemed like too much to ask. He had decided it would have to be her decision. One which she had made so quickly it shocked even Lois.

But then why should he be surprised? This was typical Lois-think. If you are going to do something, then you do it 1000 percent. And if the baby manuals recommended breastfeeding, even if it meant she would be *on call* every 2 hours for months, then that's what she would do. And to his surprise, Lois had seemed to take this imposition in her life, in her career, as a gift. Lois shared a bond with their child that he would never know. He had watched this bond develop, watched the look of peace, understanding, and unconditional love pass between mother and child and he could only be envious of this special connection.

A combination of wifely love and reporter's intuition allowed Lois to sense what Clark was thinking. Smiling softly, she slowly rose and made her way to him.

Reaching up, she placed a soft kiss on his lips and whispered, "You may not share this with Laura, but there will be a million things the two of you will share that I won't be able to."

Clark pulled the two of them into his arms, careful not to wake Laura. "And here I thought only Kryptonians could read minds … "

Lois giggled. "Well, I don't know about the rest of the Kryptonians, but I've never had any trouble with a *certain* Kryptonian."

"That's an understatement. You won't be passing this ability on to Laura, now will you?"

Pulling from his embrace, Lois bent over the crib and put Laura down, settling her in the blankets. Once certain that she was safely asleep, Lois walked back to Clark and led him to their room. "No, I think there are a few tricks I'll save just for you … "

Grinning, Clark caught the tone in her voice. Picking her up and carrying her down the hall, he smiled down at her. "I should hope so. Isn't that what got us into this in the first place … "


Early morning, Amalgamated Transport Co. main warehouse.

"Um, excuse me?" Jimmy tried in vain to attract someone's attention amidst the hustle on the warehouse floor as the morning shift took over from those who'd been working all night. He'd never visited ATC's facilities before, so he wasn't quite sure where he was going. "I'm looking for a friend … ?" Several workers hurried past him, engaged in a spirited discussion. They didn't seem to notice him. "His name's Nick Fleming, just coming off the night shift, if you know him … "

Now that he'd gotten a little further into the area, he noticed that the people there weren't just ignoring him. They also seemed to be ignoring their jobs, standing clustered around the floor, talking and gesturing. He drifted closer to one group, curious in spite of himself. He couldn't quite make out the gist of the discussion, but it quickly became clear that they were angry. And from the suspicious looks that some of them were directing his way, it seemed very possible that they could, with very little excuse, turn that anger in his direction. He was suddenly glad that he'd worn his old flannel shirt instead of the newer, more professional wardrobe he'd assumed lately.

"Are you with us?"

Jimmy turned, startled, as a heavy hand came down on his shoulder. A wiry older man faced him, a mean look in his eye, standing closer than Jimmy liked.

"Are you with us?" the man repeated, squeezing Jimmy's shoulder. "Or are you against us?"

"With, definitely," Jimmy replied hastily, shifting uneasily beneath the old guy's hand. It seemed wise to humor the guy, and besides, his budding reporter's nose was smelling a story. "Do I look like the type of guy who'd be against you?"

The older man squinted at him for a long moment more, then twitched up a corner of his lip, in what was probably meant as a smile. "Nah, nah, I reckon not. Good then, you can come along to the meeting." He shifted his grip on Jimmy's shoulder and steered him further into the interior of the warehouse, following other employees through a door near the back.

"I was actually looking for my friend," Jimmy offered. "Do you know Nick Fleming?"

The old guy cocked his head in thought for a moment, then shook it. "Nope, don't reckon I do. He'll likely be at the meeting, though. Everyone will."

This was getting weird, thought Jimmy. Every time the guy mentioned this meeting, he got a funny far-off expression. Almost worshipful. "I didn't know there was going to be a meeting today," he ventured cautiously.

"It's special. Mr. Hughes is gonna speak."

"Mr. Hughes?"

"Don't you know Mr. Hughes, boy?" The old man appeared shocked. "Everybody oughtta know Mr. Hughes; he's important. He's the leader. How come you don't know him? Maybe you are against us, after all … "

"No, no, not at all," Jimmy reassured his companion, trying to stave off renewed paranoia. "It's just … uh, I've been sick … "

"Ah, well, that 'splains it then. You'll know Mr. Hughes soon. You'll like him." The old man's eyes glowed with conviction. "He's gonna save us all."


Lois had never been a morning person and mornings seemed to get worse after being up late caring for an infant. As much as she loved her daughter, she would willingly trade 100 Double Fudge Crunch bars right now for just a little more sleep. Hearing the insistent cries of her daughter in the baby monitor, she groggily pulled herself up to make her way to the nursery. Looking over, she saw that Clark was already gone. Just as she was about to get out of bed, Clark entered, cooing at Laura in the crook of his arm.

Seeing that Lois was awake, he sat down beside her on their bed. Reaching over in a familiar gesture, he gently caressed her cheek with his thumb. "Good morning, beautiful," he whispered.

Reaching for the squalling baby, she looked away, mumbling, "Yeah, I'm sure I look wonderful."

Clark gently tipped her head upwards, looking her straight in the eye to emphasize his words. "You always look beautiful."

Lois smiled, still amazed by his unconditional acceptance. "Leave it to you to overlook these dark circles under my eyes. Hold still, baby," she shushed Laura, "Mama's gonna feed you in just one second … "

Clark watched as Lois finally got everything where it should be so that the hungry baby could begin nursing. "Honey, I know how much sleep you've had in the last few months. And I know how hard it's been for you to stay home with Laura, watching me leave for work each morning. I feel bad leaving you here … "

"Clark, it's okay." Looking up at him, she continued. "I wouldn't trade the time I've shared with Laura for anything in the world. Even when I was pregnant, I never knew I could feel so … so attached to someone." Looking down at the baby, she ran her hand across her daughter's soft cheek. "I never thought I could do this. Even with you and Martha telling me I would be a good mother, I never thought it was really true. I mean, look how long it took for me to realize how much I loved you. I was so afraid I would screw this up. That I will screw this up."

Clark was shocked. How could she still have doubts? Pulling Lois back to his gaze, he tried to quell her fears. "Lois, relax. I mean, I have super hearing and you hear her before I do. How can you doubt that you're a wonderful mother?"

"Of course I'm able to take care of her now. Fortunately for her, I came with the right equipment and nursing's been easy for us. I mean, she's just lucky I don't have to cook for her. But what about when she gets older? She'll expect me to know how to do things … to … to know things. What do I do then?"

"Lois, please don't ever forget that we're in this together. You might've had to bear the brunt of caring for her up until now. I mean, I'm Superman, but even I can't fight biology," he grinned, trying to lighten the mood. "But we are always going to be there for her. The fact that we are having this conversation … "

Lois joined in him completing his thought. " … shows how much you care. Yeah, yeah, I remember. Just keep telling me that, okay."

"I'll tell you as often as you need. Just like you did to convince me that I would be a good father."

"Well, you're a natural, Clark. Maybe some of it'll rub off on me."

"Lois, you are a natural, too." Reaching over, he placed his hand over Lois' where it rested against their daughter's cheek. "Laura doesn't have any complaints. And now that she is a little older, I want to be there for her more, too. I know you are dying to get back to work."

"Not as much as I thought I would be, actually," she interjected, in a faintly surprised tone. "I was afraid I'd go crazy, staying home by myself with a baby, but it's been really nice … Well, apart from never getting more than four hours of sleep at a time, being spit up on daily, and changing diapers. That stuff isn't really emotionally rewarding, if you know what I mean." She tipped her head to the side and grinned. "I guess I am dying to get back to work, after all — if only to get some rest!"

Clark laughed softly. "Well, I've been thinking a lot about day care, since your leave is up pretty soon — you're supposed to go back November 3rd, right?" At her morose nod, he continued, "Mom has agreed to keep helping out until she and Dad leave for their trip cross country, but I get the feeling they'd like to get going pretty soon."

"Yeah, me too. They keep looking at their maps and re-reading those brochures they've gotten from all kinds of historic places across the country — did you know that Jonathan borrowed my laptop the other day, to surf the Internet? One of the information packets they got had a website address, and he wanted to check it out. I had to help him a little, to get used to my browser, but he picked it right up and was on there for hours … "

Clark shook his head. "That's my dad. He's really looking forward to this trip."

"They both are," she confirmed. "We really shouldn't keep them from it any longer. So what are we going to do with the Laura-monster?"

He gave her a stern glance but refrained from correcting the nickname. "I've been thinking about that work-sharing plan thing we'd heard about. What do you think about the two of us sharing this responsibility? Both you and I can work a four-day week. We can each stay with her one day during the week — we'll get someone else to watch her the other three days; probably my Mom. That will give us a little more time before we have to get her into day care."

"Your parents have been wonderful, leasing the farm to the Halls and moving here. But Clark … " Lois frowned, concerned. "How are you going to stay home with her? What happens when someone needs you?"

He shrugged, flashing a pained smile. "We might be able to work out some emergency back-ups, eventually, but … I have to have priorities, Lois. You and Laura-babe are my priorities. I can't be everywhere at once, and this is where I want to be."

Lois knew how much he wanted this to work out. It was always such a paradox to her that all this incredible man wanted was just to be normal. She, on the other hand, had always aspired to greatness, but when you got right down to it, 'normal' did have its appeal. She couldn't deny him or herself the opportunity to see if it was possible.

"Okay, Clark." She smiled, starting to feel more hopeful about the situation. "I mean, I know babies her age are put in daycare all the time, but I was just dreading it … the less time she spends with strangers, the happier I'll be." Her voice became more upbeat as she shifted into practical mode. "I'll check with Martha this morning and see when they plan to leave on their trip. Why don't you talk to Perry about our work schedule and we can compare notes over lunch. You are bringing us lunch, aren't you?"

"Would I miss an opportunity to spend time with the two most beautiful ladies in the world?"

Lois laughed and leaned back against his shoulder. "You are such a suck-up, Kent, but it works for you."

"Well, Kent," he teased back, "I haven't had any complaints so far."

"Yeah, well, before this all goes to your head, don't forget you are still supplying my breakfast."

Clark leaned down and placed a soft kiss first on his daughter's cheek and then lingered against his wife's lips. "That was the deal. You supply Laura's breakfast and I supply yours." Getting up, he smiled as he headed out the door. "Two Omelets-a-la-Kent coming right up."

Looking down into the fluttering eyes of her daughter, she leaned back and sighed, smiling to herself. 'Well, Laura,' she thought. 'You may not have perfect parents, but your father is about as close as it gets.'


So this Mr. Hughes will "save us all", huh? Jimmy thought skeptically as he was steered into a large interior room. The space was filling up rapidly, but the real attraction was a raised platform against the far wall. Instinctively, he moved towards it, trying to get a better view, wishing he'd brought his camera. There were two rows of folding chairs and a makeshift podium with some wires dangling that probably indicated a microphone. A small group of people began ascending the platform, led by a heavy-set man in workman's clothing.

"Hey, Jimbo, you made it!"

Jimmy turned to see his friend Nick approaching. "Nick! Man, what's going on here?"

Nick was a wiry young man, his Greek heritage clearly visible in his dark coloring and features. He glanced around uneasily, and leaned close to confide in a low voice. "There's talk about a strike, and people are getting *really* worked up."

"So, what are the grievances? I mean, I don't know much about strikes, but I guess people would get worked up—"

"That's just it, Jim; the grievances are, like, nothing! We had the same kind of issues with last year's contract, and it was no problem — but they're talking them up like they're the end of the world. Something screwy's going on here, and it's got me worried."

Jimmy considered that briefly. Nick had worked at Amalgamated for four years, like his dad had before him, and he was not the excitable type; Jimmy had known him since high school. Neither Nick nor Jimmy had attended college, choosing instead to get "real" jobs; the handicaps of that choice had forged a close bond between them. "I don't know what I can do about anything, but … Okay, Nick, I'll stick around for a while. We'll see what we see."

"You're a pal." Nick flashed a nervous grin, then turned his attention towards a movement on the stage. "I think they're about to get started."


Clark sat at his desk, dutifully typing up his notes from the morning's press conference. Lois had been on leave for over two months now, but he still missed her presence in the newsroom; turning unconsciously towards her desk to share some new speculation or just to get her view on some troublesome point. Right now, he'd appreciate her opinion on when would be the best time to approach Perry about the work-sharing plan. The editor had been holed up in his office all morning, handling phone calls and doing paperwork; reviewing the monthly expense reports always put him in a foul mood. Then again, the news that Lois was ready to come back *should* improve his mood somewhat … Clark stood, prepared to beard the lion in his den, when Perry surprised him by emerging from his office and bellowing across the newsroom.

"Alright, people, I want to know why no one has gotten me a story on the Amalgamated Transport work slowdown? Shipments coming in and out of Metropolis are already falling behind, and I'm hearing rumors of a full-blown strike, possibly as soon as today. There's a big story here, boys and girls, and if we don't get it, I will know the reason why!" He glowered around the newsroom, until his glance fell upon a suitable target. "Jamison," he continued, in a deceptively quiet voice, "I thought that was your specialty; I get enough expense vouchers for your lunches with labor leaders!"

Jamison swallowed, then stood to reply. "Sir, they're not talking. I've tried everything, but—"

"Try harder!" Perry snapped back. "And the rest of you … I want you to pull every string you've got, every trick in the book, and get me that story!"


"They want us to cut back on our sick days. They want us to give up our vacation. They want us to pay more for inferior health care!" Hughes strode tirelessly across the stage, his intense gaze sweeping through the crowd. "They want *us* to sacrifice, so *they* can profit! Are you willing to hurt your children in order to pad their bottom line?" He paused, waiting for a response.

He was not disappointed. The crowd roared "NO", worked into a near frenzy by the past hour's impassioned speech.

Jimmy shook his head slightly, amazed at the performance he was watching. Hughes was a compelling speaker, and he had this audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Jimmy was almost ready to storm the managerial castle, himself, but he struggled to maintain his journalistic detachment. Years of research, and of working with Lois and Clark, had taught him to *never* take things on face value.

"Yet what power do we have, brothers?" Hughes continued persuasively. "We are the downtrodden, the overlooked. Metropolis society won't acknowledge us, in their fancy houses and stretch limousines. The politicians take us for granted, and accept money from the rich! Even the newspapers turn us a deaf ear; not one journalist has agreed to talk to us. Not one!"

Impulsively, Jimmy scrambled up on top of his chair, and yelled out, "Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet — I'll listen to you!" He fumbled around his belt and pulled out his press pass, displaying it to the crowd. They roared approval, but Jimmy noticed that Hughes was barely suppressing a frown.

"Come up here, young man," the labor leader called out. As the crowd parted to let Jimmy through, Hughes continued his speech. "My brothers and sisters, this is a brave man, and we salute him! Even though he works for the enemy, his courage may yet win the day; his editor may be forced to publish his words — if all of you do your parts!" He helped Jimmy climb up onto the front of the stage, posing with him as he continued. "We need for you to all contact the Daily Planet — let them know that you want this story covered fully. Our story needs to be told, and together we have the power to let the world know!" He paused once again as cheers erupted, and as he waited for the ruckus to die down, he bent over to get face-to-face with Jimmy. "If you'll sit down right back there, I'll give you a full interview as soon as the rally is over. You're a brave man."

Jimmy saw the look in his eyes and shivered. For whatever reason, this man was not happy about getting press coverage. He nodded shortly and retreated to a seat near the back of the stage, next to a few other labor leaders.

Hughes continued his speech, with the passion of an old-fashioned pastor at a revival. "Yes, friends, together we have power. If we stand together, the mighty Daily Planet will print the story they don't want to print. And if we stand fast, in unity, we can force those bloodsuckers in management to pay us decent wages and to give us proper benefits! But we must stand together! Are you with me?"


"Are you sure? The road may be difficult, but we must have resolve and courage! Are you resolved?"


"Then, my friends, we have no choice but to declare … a strike!"

"Strike, strike, strike!"


Lois put Laura down after feeding her, and headed for her laptop, cup of tea in hand. She and Clark had created a list of seemingly acceptable day care centers while she was pregnant but Lois hadn't felt comfortable choosing a center when she herself was still so unsure about how to care for her baby. If she intended to go back to work soon, however, her time was running out, so it was time to get down to business. They'd spent days researching centers and had come up with a short list of their top five choices. All were accredited and met Metropolis and federal standards. Two were recommended by several of her coworkers and the others had long reputations in the city. They had pre-registered Laura for admission. Now they just needed to decide which one would be best for her.

She planned to call all five and set up an appointment for her and Clark to interview them, now that she had a better idea of the important questions to ask. They would only accept the best for Laura. Much to her surprise, the first four were very willing to set up an appointment, but only one had an available space. And that space wouldn't be available for six months. She was dialing the last one on her list, the Winky Tink School, when she heard Martha knock on the door before entering. She waved for Martha to enter, then returned to her phone call. She got right to the point when they answered, and was somehow not surprised by the response.

"A waiting list, I see. So filling out the pre-admission forms was, what, a cruel joke on your part? Oh, it puts us at the *top* of the waiting list, that's so much better … " She rolled her eyes, then realized where her sarcasm was getting her. "Well, no, please do put us on the list, I was just blowing off steam, you know … Sorry, I know it's not your fault. Right, that's our number … Thanks." Hanging up the phone, she saw Martha returning down the stairs from visiting Laura. "Well, that was productive," she sighed, throwing her pencil on the desk.

"What's that, honey?" Martha asked, joining her in the living room.

"I thought I'd finally pick a daycare center for Laura — I've hated to think about it, so I put it off, and now I'm paying for it. All but one of the five I like are full. And that one has a six month waiting list."

"Lois, you know Jonathan and I will help out any way we can."

"I know, Martha, but we can't impose on you two forever. Clark and I have to get back to some semblance of a life. And so do you. I know you two really want to get started on your trip."

"Lois, Jonathan and I have talked about this trip for as long as I can remember. We can certainly wait a few more months to help you and Clark out. And it's certainly no imposition spending time with our granddaughter."

"Thanks, Martha, but Clark and I really need to work something out. He's talking to Perry about the two of us working a four day week. That way we can limit the time she's in day care, anyway."

"Lois, will that work? Does Clark really think he can stay with her for a whole day? What about Superman?"

"I know, Martha," Lois answered, getting up and beginning to pace around the room. "But you know Clark. He is determined to be normal. And I know he really wants to spend the time with her."

Martha walked over to Lois and put an arm around her, stopping her pacing. "Well, if there's one thing I've learned with you two, it's that if there's something you want, you'll find a way to make it work."

Lois looked over at Martha and grinned. " I guess it's just what we've learned from our parents."

"Touche," Martha laughed.

"So, when did you want to get started on your trip?" Lois moved back over to her chair and sat down, sipping her tea.

"Hmm … well, we'll be driving the RV so we can plan our own route and it doesn't really matter when we start — but Jonathan's found out about this absolutely fascinating Native American festival that's starting in November. It's in the Bad Lands, in South Dakota, so that would be quite a drive, but we thought maybe we could start out west, before the weather gets too bad, and make our way back at a more reasonable pace. Of course, we could always see it later—"

"But by the time the snow melts, you might just want to go home," Lois finished for her.

"Well, we might," Martha admitted with a twinkle in her eye. "Or we might never want to go home! There's just so much to see in this country. Until we began planning this, I had no idea what I was missing. It's a shame we missed some of the fall foliage, but we did manage that day trip two weeks ago, which was lovely."

Lois laughed. "It's obvious you're dying to get started! I'm surprised we've been able to keep you here for this long."

"You haven't, dear," Martha confided with a laugh. "We're only using you to be close to our granddaughter."

"Well, I can live with that." Smiling broadly, Lois checked her watch. "Want to stick around a while? I am dying for a shower, and then it'll be about time for Laura to wake up and eat again, and by the time I feed her, change her, dress her up, and get her bag packed, it'll be nearly eleven. We can go visit Clark at the Planet. We have a few things to discuss with Perry and then Clark can buy his three ladies lunch."

"Sounds good to me, Lois."


"Where in tarnation is that boy?" Perry growled, pacing across the newsroom. "He's late."

Clark winced on behalf of his friend. The Chief's bad mood had, if anything, gotten worse, and it looked like Jimmy was going to bear the brunt of it. "Um, Chief?" he spoke up hesitantly.


"Remember, he said he had an appointment this morning, and you said he could come in later?"

"I told him no later than nine, Kent," Perry shot back, unappeased. "It is now, oh, let me check … " he made a show of looking at his watch and comparing it to the big one on the wall. "Why, would you look at that, it's nearly eleven. Wouldn't you say that's later than nine?"

"Well, yeah, I would," Clark responded, willing to take some heat if it resulted in Perry working off some of his foul mood. They didn't call him Superman for nothing. "But I'm sure that—"

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Jimmy stepping off the elevator. Conversation in the pit, already subdued, died away completely at his appearance.

Perry turned slowly, until he was facing his victim and sure of Jimmy's full attention. "Well, thank you so much for joining us, Olsen. To what do we owe this honor?"

Jimmy flushed. "Well, I met my friend on time, over at Amalgamated, but there was this labor rally that he wanted me to see, and I guess it went longer than I thought, and then afterwards I was talking to some of the speakers, um, kind of an interview, and … " he ran out of steam, unsure how Perry was taking this, suddenly convinced that he'd just made the worst mistake of his short reporting career. "I hope that's not a bad thing?" he asked in an uncertain voice.

"Let me get this straight," Perry said carefully, looking rather stunned. "You say you were at a labor rally for ATC, *and* you interviewed the leaders?"

Jimmy looked around nervously, and Clark flashed him a big smile and thumbs-up. "Well, uh, yeah. I took notes … "

Perry slowly began smiling, first at Jimmy and then at the newsroom in general. "Ladies and gentlemen, why can't you all have excuses as good as this?"

"It's not an excuse, Chief!"

"Jimmy, I'm not mad, so relax." Perry walked over to put his arm around the young man. "I've just spent the morning browbeating these sorry excuses for newspapermen — this interview is *exactly* what we needed. Write it up pronto; I want it on my desk by noon." He clapped Jimmy on the shoulder and strode back across the pit to his office.

"Me, Chief?" Jimmy squawked, startled at the sudden increase in responsibility.

Perry waved a hand in the air, neither turning nor pausing. "You got the story, you write it. I'll get someone to help you polish it … " A finger stabbed the air. "Kent! This afternoon, you help him with it."

"Yes, sir!" Jimmy and Clark answered in chorus, one terrified and the other amused.

Perry reached his office and stepped inside, closing the door firmly behind him. "Good work, m'boy," he muttered. "I knew you had it in you." He remembered some of the looks on the others' faces, and chuckled. "I just love the smell of fear in the newsroom."


Lois smiled as she stepped off of the elevator; there was nothing in the world like the chaos of the Daily Planet newsroom. Looking around the room, she noted that all seemed right in the world. Carl in Travel was racing down the hall toward the photo lab. Ralph was on the phone, his feet propped up on his desk. And Clark was at his desk, typing on his computer.

As soon as Lois and Martha started walking toward Clark's desk, they were spotted by several of the women in the newsroom. While Martha entertained them by showing off her granddaughter, Lois made her way to Clark. Clark had, of course, heard the commotion and was already approaching her desk.

"Hi, honey," Clark greeted her, pulling her into his arms. "Just can't stay away from the office, can you?"

She grinned. "Hey, I haven't been here in three weeks. I see nothing's changed."

"Not much," he affirmed cheerfully, then pointed to her desk. "With one noticeable exception. I couldn't bear to look at that poor dead plant anymore. I took the opportunity to give it a proper burial."

"You got rid of my plant? It wasn't dead. It was just dormant."

"Trust me, Lois. I'm the one who grew up on the farm, remember? It was dead."

"Okay, I guess I can get another one."

"Lois, let's not sacrifice any more plants, okay? I'm sure we can find something to fill that space on your desk." Sorry he brought up the topic, Clark decided to steer the conversation in another direction. "So what brings you and Mom into the newsroom? I thought I was bringing lunch home."

"Oh, you are still buying lunch, only you're taking Martha, Laura and me out. We decided we needed to get out of the house for a while. And I wanted to see how your conversation went with Perry."

"Well, actually, I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him yet." Making an expressive face, he continued, "Trust me, he has *not* been in a receptive mood. Where's Dad?"

"He's meeting Al for a heated checkers battle — that's the guy he met on the subway, a few years back, remember? Martha's so glad he has a friend here in Metropolis. She was worried about finding things for him to do here to keep his mind off the farm." Pulling from Clark's embrace, Lois took his hand to lead him towards the elevators. "Well, let's go get some lunch and then we can talk to Perry together. We need to talk about what I found out about the day care situation."

"Let me finish up this story and then we can take off. It will take you at least that long to get Laura away from all of her admirers."

"Okay," she smiling, reaching up to give him a kiss. "I'll go tell Perry we want to talk to him when we get back."


Enrico O'Reilly entered the office silently, coming to a halt two feet behind the high-backed chair.

"Ah, Enrico," Lex greeted him, turning to face his most trusted employee. "And how was your morning?"

"Not too bad," Enrico smiled toothily. "The rally went just like we planned, and they've officially declared a strike."

"What a shame," Lex puffed on his cigar. "The stock prices haven't dropped yet, but with any luck they'll be sinking like a stone by tomorrow. And when the company is unable to resolve the differences … "

"You'll be able to take it over," Enrico guessed.

"Not 'over', Enrico, I'll be able to take it *back*." He leaned forward for emphasis. "What was mine, I keep." He paused, consciously relaxing back into the chair. "Besides, transportation companies are useful for so many things."

"Whatever you say, boss."

Lex smiled thinly. "That, my dear Enrico, is one of the qualities about you I most admire. At any rate, I've another delivery for you." He pulled a printout from a nearby tray and handed it over. "A new list of demands for our Mr. Hughes to present to management." He smirked. "On the surface, so very reasonable … but so unfortunately expensive to achieve. No company could afford them; I'm quite pleased with myself, actually."

Enrico took the paper with a mild nod of his head, and exited, as silent as when he'd arrived.


Lois had chosen her favorite Italian restaurant (outside of Italy) for lunch. Clark spent most of the meal holding Laura, cooing at her and watch ing her sleep. She still didn't tire of watching the two of them together, knowing how much it meant to him to have a child of his own. But she also couldn't resist an opportunity to tease him.

"You know, Martha, I guess it is a good thing Clark does go to work during the day. It's the only time Laura gets any time to rest."

"I know, Lois," Martha smiled. "I've seen him wake her up just to hold her."

Raising his free hand in concession, he tried to stop the two before they got going. "Okay ladies. I know when I'm outnumbered. I'm not going to apologize for loving my daughter and I deny waking her up to hold her. She sleeps better when she's being held. It's good for her to know she's loved."

Lois and Martha just looked at one another and laughed. Clark was such an easy target. They decided to go easy on him today. "Okay, Clark," Lois laughed, winking at Martha. "It is good for her to know she's loved. That's one thing she'll never have to worry about. We all know how much this little girl is loved. But she's waking up now, so hand her over. It's time for her to eat, too, and I'd better get her started before she starts screaming."

Clark, reluctant to let her go just yet, leaned down and kissed her forehead, awed as always by her soft scent of baby lotion and powder. With one last peck on the cheek, he passed Laura to Lois. He watched Lois settle her in the crook of one arm while she opened her nursing blouse with the other. While this had become routine at home, it wasn't something he was used to observing anywhere else.

"Lois, honey, we're in public." He shifted uneasily in his seat, glancing around the dining room to make sure no one was ogling his wife. "Shouldn't you do that in the ladies room?"

"Clark, this is a totally natural thing. People do it every day and have for thousands of years. Besides, with this blouse, no one will be able to see anything."

"But … "

Lois turned to Martha for assistance. "Martha, tell him."

"Clark, she's right. There's nothing wrong with a woman feeding her baby."

"And I agree, but is it really appropriate at the table in a restaurant?"

"Well, Clark," Martha began slowly, "This was obviously not something I ever had to contend with. And I can assure you your father would have had the same reaction as you. In our day, breastfeeding in public just wasn't an accepted practice. But this is the 90s, Clark. Women are allowed to be women and not hide anymore."

"Okay, okay," Clark conceded. "If you two are okay with it, I guess it's okay. It's just that it's my wife, not just Laura's mother, people are looking at. I guess that makes me uncomfortable."

Lois leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Thank you for remembering I'm still a woman. But I'm not going to go around exposing myself, Clark."

"I know, honey. I guess it's just something I'll have to get used to."

"Well, we don't eat out that much anymore, so you'll be okay, Clark." She grinned impishly. "And the pizza delivery boy is used to this by now."

"Gee, that makes me feel a lot better."

"I'm sorry, Clark," Lois offered, although the effect was spoiled by the laugh in her voice. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable, but honestly, I have trouble thinking of this as anything but feeding the baby. Breast, bottle, as long as she gets fed, who cares? And I'm quite sure that this chair is a lot more comfortable and germ-free than the ladies room."

"I guess you've got a point there," Clark conceded, then decided to once again move on to a new topic. "On another subject, Lois, you mentioned you had some news about day care?"

She pulled a sour face. "I have some bad news about day care. Remember our short list of the five best centers? I called them all this morning, and only one had an opening. And that's not for six months."

"Wow. I guess we should have sent that money to the Winky Tink School when they sent us the form, huh?"

"I guess so. I called them, too, and they don't have an opening either. I don't know what we're going to do, Clark." Lois looked down at Laura who was nursing contentedly, oblivious to the discussion about her future. "We can't leave her with just anyone."

Clark gave her hand an encouraging squeeze. "Lois, we're not going to leave her with just anyone. We'll talk to Perry about our work schedule and we'll work something out. Maybe we can have someone come in three days a week, the days we can't be there ourselves."

"You know Jonathan and I will help out as long as you need us. That's why we moved here in the first place, to be near you and our granddaughter," Martha added.

"Thanks, Mom. But I know you and Dad are ready to go off on your trip. We don't want you to postpone that because of us."

"He's right, Martha, we've imposed on you two enough. Don't postpone your trip. We'll figure something out."

"Oh, it hasn't been an imposition, Lois," Martha reassured her. "We've enjoyed our two months here, and remember, we've taken a few short trips out of the city already. Just being away from the farm is a vacation for us; it's no hardship to help you two out. "

Clark smiled at his mother. "Thanks, Mom. For everything. I don't know what we would do without you. You two have done so much for us — we can never thank you enough."

"Honey, that's what family's for," Martha replied, smiling back. "So what are you going to do?"

"We discussed extending my leave," Lois commented, carefully reaching for another bite of her lunch over the top of her baby's head. "But I don't have very much time saved up—"

Clark leaned towards his mother, explaining, "It's not that she takes vacations, you understand, but if you don't take the time during that year, they don't roll it over; they just pay you a lump sum."

Lois nodded. "And I'd rather save what time I've got for emergencies, in case Laura gets sick and needs me."

Clark took a deep breath. "Well, Lois, what about your Mom? She's been after us to spend more time with Laura. Maybe she can help us until we can work out something else."

"Oh, I don't know, Clark," Lois frowned in instinctive distaste, her mind flashing back to a myriad of disappointments she'd suffered at the hands of her mother in the past.

"Lois, I know you've had your differences, but she really has tried to patch things up. She raised the women I love, so I guess I can trust her to care for my daughter. And she is a nurse, in case Laura gets sick."

"Yeah, but Clark, the whole drinking thing, it worries me … "

"She's been clean and sober for nearly five years now," Clark reminded her gently. He'd given this a lot of thought, and he was convinced it could work out. If only he could persuade Lois. "And you know I can check in on them during the day; she'd never even know I was there."

"I know she'd love it, Lois," Martha added tactfully. "I think she's been a little jealous of the time Jonathan and I spend with Laura. I know it would mean a lot to her. And to you, too, dear."

Lois looked back and forth between her husband and his mother and sighed. She knew her misgivings weren't logical, so she gave in. "I guess we could *try* it … "

"That's the spirit, Lois," Clark smiled encouragingly at her. "I know you're overprotective of Laura; I am too. But I think this is a safe bet."

"Well, I'll call her this afternoon and see how she feels about it. I don't even know if she'll have time with her responsibilities at the Superman Foundation. And a lot depends on how our talk goes with Perry."

"And there's only one way to find that out," Clark said, reaching for the check. "Let's go see what the Chief has to say."

"Not me, thanks," Martha commented, standing. "I want to catch up with your father, Clark. If you could drop me off?"

"We can do that," Clark agreed. "And on the way, Lois, lemme tell you about the latest big story that Jimmy pulled in … "


Lois and Clark made their way into Perry's office with Laura, knowing they would not be allowed out of the newsroom again without Perry having some time to spend with the baby. It always amazed Lois to watch otherwise intelligent adults reduced to cooing idiots with a baby around. And Perry was no exception. Just as he had always viewed Lois and Clark as his children, Laura was now his adopted granddaughter. Hesitantly at first, but then with more assurance, he had begun dropping by their house in the evenings to hold the baby, frequently bringing along a new toy that he'd picked up for her. So it was no surprise that Perry commandeered Laura out of Clark's arms the second they walked through the door.

"Isn't she just the most adorable little thing," Perry cooed, moving Laura's hand back and forth as she held onto his finger. "I think she's grown another inch since I last saw her."

"Well, you haven't visited in almost a week, Chief," Clark grinned. "And she's been playing with that rattle you got her."

"Is that so?" Perry asked Laura, smiling besottedly. "Did baby Laura like her pretty new rattle?"

Lois couldn't help but smile at the two of them. Here was the love of her life and her surrogate father making faces at *her* daughter. If someone had told her six years ago when she broke into Clark's interview with Perry that she would be standing here today a wife and mother, she would have sent them straight to the nut house.

"Uh, Clark, we came to talk to Perry about something, remember?" Lois prompted.

"Right." Turning back to Perry, he got back to the task at hand. "Perry, Lois and I are trying to work out child care for Laura. We've been discussing what would be best for her. We want to try to limit the amount of time she's in day care. So, what we were wondering was if Lois and I could work a four-day week."

"We'd overlap for three days," Lois interjected, "and each do a day solo. We'd have to adjust those days to accommodate the stories we were working on, of course, but you know we never worked very rigid schedules to start with."

Clark nodded agreement, and concluded, "That way each of us would be with Laura for a full day and she would only be in day care three days a week."

"We'd probably be able to get *some* work done from home, too," Lois added, trying to sweeten the pot. "You know we've always worked hard, in the office or out of it. It would technically be part-time for both of us, I guess, but … " she glanced at her husband. "We both feel it's important to be there for Laura as much as possible."

Perry had been looking down and smiling at Laura while they had been talking. At Lois' last words, he looked up at Clark and then Lois. "Well, I, ah … I'm not sure what to say. I want what's best for this little girl, myself. I know how many things I missed over the years with my kids, so I understand why you want to do this. I also don't want to lose the best writing team I've ever had."

Lois walked across the room to stand next to Clark, putting her arm around him to emphasize their partnership. "And we don't want to go, believe me. Working at the Planet has been the best thing in my life—"

"—the benefits have been exceptional," Clark interjected with a grin, gazing lovingly at his wife and partner.

She ignored him. "—and I wouldn't want to lose that. But we have to find a good way to care for our daughter, too."

"Well, it seems like you two have done a lot of thinking about this. And I can't disagree with anything you've said. I have to admit, in the back of my mind, I was kind of worried about losing one of you altogether. So I can't be too upset to still have you both." He held up a cautionary finger. "I have to clear it with the board, though, and I'm going to put it to them as a trial arrangement. We'll see how it works for the next few months. Don't think I'm going to accept anything less from either of you. I'm going to expect more, and if I don't get it, we'll have to change gameplans."

"You got it," Lois agreed.

"So, what do you have planned for child care?"

"Well, Chief," Clark answered, "We still have a few things to work out. It appears there are waiting lists at all of the good centers. We have some searching to do to find someone or some place to take care of Laura."

"You know, Perry," Lois added, "I'm surprised that a business the size and stature of The Daily Planet doesn't have a day care facility. I mean, we have people working here around the clock. Why don't we have a facility to provide child care for the employees?"

"Well, there was talk back when Franklin owned The Planet about starting one down in the old microfiche rooms. But when he sold, those plans kind of fizzled out. I guess no one pushed it after that, so it never got implemented."

"Well, someone's about to push it again," Lois responded, setting her jaw in determination. A crafty look entered her eyes as she said, "You know, I checked this morning, and the Metropolis Star has onsite daycare. I'd hate to leave the Planet, but … "

"Lois, bite your tongue!" Perry scolded. "Alright, I'll talk to the board about part-time schedules for you both, and about setting up a center here. In the meantime … " Laura was starting to fuss again, so Perry handed her back to her mother. "Lois, if you've got time to talk to people at that rag, you've got time to do some work — prove to me you can work while you're home with the baby. I want you to do some background digging into the people over at Amalgamated. I assume Clark told you about it?"

"He hit the highlights," Lois confirmed, suddenly assailed with the fear that she had somehow lost her edge. Maybe pulling Perry's chain *hadn't* been so smart. She tucked Laura back into her carrier and quashed her doubts; she could do this.

"Well, get a copy of what Jimmy's written — Clark, it's ready for you to polish up, so it's waiting in your in-box — and get me anything you can find. I've got one of the researchers here on it already, but you two have the sources and experience to analyze what you find; that's what I want."

"You got it, Chief."

"No problem, Perry." Lois handed the diaper bag to Clark and picked up Laura's carrier. "We'll get right on it. You know, Clark," she commented, on their way out the door, "has anyone talked to the management side of this mess?"


Clark escorted his wife and daughter to the car, then headed back to his desk. He needed to look over Jimmy's story, and he'd have to make a few phone calls to get an interview with the management negotiators at Amalgamated. Thanks to extended time on hold in each phone call, he managed to finish both tasks at about the same time.

He looked up to find Jimmy hovering anxiously. "Um, hi. Just wondered if you had time to look over my article?"

Clark laughed and handed over the printout he'd marked up. "For this interview, Jimmy, sooner is definitely better. The Chief was ready to spit nails this morning when it looked like we were going to miss the story; nobody could get in to talk to these guys."

"They said the opposite, that no reporters would talk to them." Jimmy hesitated, then continued, "Kinda makes me wonder about the other stuff they said."

"Always wonder, Jimmy," Clark commented. "Very few people will tell you the other guy's side of the story."

"True." Jimmy lapsed into silence as he looked over the printout to see what Clark had done to it.

"It's good writing," Clark reassured him. "Just tighten it up in those couple of places and it's good to go back to Perry. And if you hurry, you can get it done in time to come with me; I just got an interview with some of the management types at Amalgamated."

Jimmy's face lit up. "Me? Really?"

"Sure. You talked to labor, you should talk to management. We're going to get the other side of the story."


Lois left the Planet a woman on a mission. Laura was awake now, and would probably be awake for another hour, but if Lois put the bouncy seat where the baby could see out the window, that might occupy her for some time. Time Lois could use to make some calls and cruise the Internet. She checked her watch. In only a few hours, it would be time for Laura's next well-baby doctor's appointment. Martha was planning to go along for that visit. Briefly, Lois toyed with the notion of sending Martha and Laura to the doctor by themselves, but then discarded the idea. Laura came first. She'd just have to get as much done as she could in the meantime.


Clark and Jimmy signed in at the impressive front desk, and received directions to the office of Walter Barnes, the main negotiator on behalf of the management of Amalgamated Transport.

Jimmy bounced on his toes as the elevator carried them smoothly upwards. "Man, I have a ton of questions for this character. I mean, if only one half of the stuff I heard this morning is true … did you see that the union was asked to give up most of their sick days? It's just not right. Um," a thought struck him, "you don't mind if I ask questions, do you CK?"

Clark laughed softly. "Just try to be polite, okay? I do want to hear his reaction to the stuff you were told. Why don't you let me start, though."

Jimmy spread out his hands in front of him. "No problem, CK, you're the man."

Clark wondered briefly if this had been how Lois had felt, when training her junior partner. He grinned. No, she had been much more adversarial, and he, therefore, had reacted more aggressively. It was funny how life turned out.

The elevator pinged their arrival, and the doors glided open, revealing a plushly carpeted suite, humming with quiet activity. As instructed, the two reporters proceeded straight and then to the right. Clark could tell they were nearing their destination as his superhearing picked up a female voice saying "Mr. Barnes' office, could you please hold, thank you … " He frowned, distracted. The voice seemed familiar, somehow. They rounded the last corner while he was still puzzling it out.

"Penny!?" Jimmy stopped dead in his tracks.

She looked up, startled by their arrival, then smiled. She held up one finger, asking them to wait while she took two more phone messages, and Clark used the time to look around. They were in a cul-de-sac of sorts, with the secretarial desk in the wide hall; there were three doors leading out of the hall into, Clark assumed, private executive offices.

Penny hung up the phone. "Hi, Clark, right on time. Hey, Jimmy." She smiled warmly at her boyfriend. "I wasn't expecting you."

"I wasn't expecting you, either! What are you doing here? What about journalism school?"

She shrugged. "I'm just helping out here temporarily, around my class schedule. Dad's old secretary quit, and he hasn't been able to—"

"I'm sorry, wait a minute," Clark interrupted, trying to understand. "Your dad?"

"Well, yeah. Walter Barnes, Penny Barnes … " she prompted. "It's just until they get this labor thing straightened out and he can get a replacement from personnel. And he's eager to see you, so I shouldn't keep you waiting."

Clark looked at Jimmy, who seemed rooted to the floor. This was an interesting development, but it really didn't make any difference to Clark. Jimmy, however, seemed to be a different story. He leaned towards Clark and confided in a strangled whisper, "I haven't met her father yet!"

"Well, it's about time, then." He patted Jimmy on the back, steering him towards the indicated door. "Just be polite and businesslike. You can do it."

Walter Barnes stood as they entered, extending a hand. He was a distinguished man in his late fifties, Clark judged, with a kindly expression. "Welcome, gentlemen, I'm Walter Barnes. And this is my associate, Dennis Shenckman." He indicated a smaller, younger man at his side, who smiled tightly.

"Clark Kent, Daily Planet," he introduced himself. "And this is James Olsen, my partner." They traded handshakes all around, then settled into their respective chairs.

"Olsen, eh?" Barnes mused, giving Jimmy a sharp glance, but didn't pursue the connection. "Well, Mr. Kent, I'm glad to talk to you. I've followed your work over the years, and you've a reputation for honesty and fairness."

"Thank you." Clark nodded acknowledgment. "I do my best. As you know, I'm here to find out all I can about this strike. Our sources tell us that the management here at Amalgamated has been making some outrageous demands, and I'd like to know—"

"Sources?" Shenckman snorted. "Sources in the labor union, you mean. They should know about outrageous."

"Dennis, please," Barnes shushed his assistant. "I don't believe that we've been excessive in our demands, but I won't deny that the union has been extraordinarily difficult to deal with this year."

Jimmy shifted in his seat, and Clark glanced his way, expecting an outburst at any moment. Nothing. Apparently Jimmy was totally quelled by the mere presence of his girlfriend's father. He suppressed a grin. Well, then, Clark would have to ask all the questions.

"Can we go over these points one by one?"

Barnes nodded. "I'll hear what you have to say, then I expect you to hear what I've got to say."

"Agreed." Clark glanced at his notes. "First, I'm told that the union is being asked to give up sick days?"

"Yes and no," Barnes replied. "The industry average is four sick days a year; we currently offer six. We want to cut that back, yes, but we're offering a more liberal short-term disability policy in return. I believe that would be a net gain to the workers. The union, on the other hand, is demanding both the expanded disability policy *and* four more sick days a year. We cannot afford both."

The interview proceeded along those lines, with Barnes and Shenckman refuting or explaining away each claim. Clark was very thoughtful by the time he gathered his notes and stood. "Thank you, gentlemen, for a most enlightening interview."

"It was our pleasure," Barnes replied. "Feel free to call if you need additional details."


Clark waited until they'd reached the relative privacy of the elevator before speaking. "That was interesting, wasn't it?"

Jimmy nodded. "It sure was a different story than what I heard this morning." He paused, then continued slowly, "But I'm not sure I believe everything they said, either." He glanced at Clark to see how that was received.

"Well, I like to believe that there are some honest people in the world," Clark answered, "but unfortunately you can't count on it."

Reassured that he wasn't off on the wrong track, Jimmy squared his shoulders. "I think I want to talk to the labor leaders again."

The elevator doors opened, revealing the lobby, and the two reporters made their way to the parking lot. "Good idea, Jimmy. Talk to Jamison; he should have all their numbers and how to reach them."

As they drove away from the building, they noticed a picket line forming. "That was fast," Jimmy commented idly. "They only declared the strike this morning."

"Yeah. And notice the signs? Those were done by a professional printer; funny how they could get them produced so quickly, isn't it?"


Once back at the Planet, Jimmy wasted no time pursuing his story. This may have started by accident, but he wasn't going to let the opportunity pass him by. "Hey, Jamison, my man! I need some help … "

The older reporter looked up and smiled. "Hi there, Olsen, I see you're moving up in the world. And I'll be glad if I can be of *some* use on this story."

Jimmy flushed. "Um, yeah, I guess this was kind of your beat, huh? I hope you don't mind … "

Jamison shrugged. "At least the Planet got the story, that's the important part. I couldn't get close to it at all; none of my contacts would talk to me." He frowned. "It was weird, like they were scared of something. There's something screwy going on with this. Anyway, what do you need?"

"Phone numbers — I need to talk to Hughes again if I can get him, or one of the other people I met this morning — there was a woman named Susan something."

Jamison reached for his Rolodex. "Phone numbers, I can give you. I just hope they're more willing to talk to you than they were to talk to me."

Jimmy shrugged. "We'll find out. Thanks, man."

A few phone calls later, Jimmy found that Mr. Hughes was not available, but that Susan Mallory, one of the other union leaders he'd seen on the platform that morning, was willing to answer his questions.

"Oh, yes," she responded to his first question, "I know about the expanded disability program. Did they tell you that it wasn't part of their original package? They only threw that in there when we protested losing a full third of our paid sick days. And there is a lot of red tape involved that would make it much more difficult for our members."

Jimmy felt his eyebrows rise as he noted that down. This was indeed a different picture than he'd gotten from the management side of the dispute. He wondered briefly which of them were telling the truth, or if he'd gotten lies from both sides, but a good reporter only had to relay what he was told. It took a great reporter to find "the truth".

"You have to understand," she continued, "I'm not trying to do anything here but help our members; that's what they elected me for. Amalgamated has always been a good company to work for, but this year … this year we have to fight just to keep the package we've had for years, let alone get enough of a pay raise to cover the cost of living. This has come as a very unpleasant surprise to all of us."

"I understand," he replied, hearing the ring of sincerity in her voice. "And I have some more questions for you, if you don't mind … " Jimmy went down the list of issues with her, hearing a new spin on most of them; his head felt like it was spinning by the time he ended the call. Man, this was a lot more complicated that it looked. Good thing he had until tomorrow morning to assemble it into a readable article; he'd need the time to make sense of it himself.


Following the doctor's appointment, Lois and Martha returned to the brownstone to find Clark and Jonathan in the kitchen preparing what Lois had begun to call 'Kansas food'. Jonathan was basting a roast while Clark was busy making biscuits. She knew from personal experience that Clark had definitely inherited Martha's ability to make biscuits, and while she was breastfeeding, she rationalized, she needed the extra calories.

Lois opened the kitchen door for Martha to bring in Laura, and grinned when she saw what Clark was wearing — the Superman apron she'd bought him last year as a gag gift. "I love it when they cook, don't you, Martha?"

Jonathan winked at them. "Someone has to, with you ladies running around all over town."

"We'll have you know that we were at the pediatrician's, thank you," Martha retorted, setting Laura's carrier down on the kitchen counter. "Besides, it's the first productive thing you've done all day."

"Careful," he shot back, grinning. "Or I won't let you have any."

"Now, now," Lois intervened, "this is my kitchen, and I'd just like to say … it smells fabulous. And if you don't let me eat anything, I won't let you hold the baby."

"That's my tough negotiator," Clark grinned. Taking off his apron, he reached over to hug his wife and then extract Laura from her carrier. Hold ing her up and kissing her, he settled her in his arms and gushed over her. "And how is my little Laur-Angel? Did you get a good report card from the doctor?"

Lois smiled; she loved watching Clark get all gooey over their daughter. "She got a clean bill of health. She was at or above average in the percentile rankings for her age group. Dr. Langdon is really pleased with her development so far."

Clark continued to nuzzle Laura, talking baby-talk to her. "Of course you are above average. You're our daughter … how could you be anything but perfect?" Laura appeared to agree with Clark, looking up at him, reaching for his face. "You know I'm talking about you, don't you?"

Lois suppressed a smile at Clark's gushing and continued with her report. "I called Mom on our way home. She was so excited about the possibly of taking care of Laura and insisted she could help out two or three days a week. She's even coming by tomorrow to get used to her routine." Walking over to Clark and laying her head against his shoulder, she let out a deep breath. "Can I go with you to the office tomorrow? I don't know if I'm ready for a whole day with Mother."

Clark rested his head against hers and laughed. "It's not that bad, honey. You've said yourself she's been a different woman with Laura around."

"True. But that's because Martha's come to my rescue when she'd start to tell me what I was doing wrong and how it should be done. I don't know if I'm ready to deal with her all by myself."

"It'll be okay. Remember, she loves you and Laura and just wants what's best for both of you."

Jonathan had been listening to their conversation, quietly going about his dinner preparations. As he placed the roast back in the oven, he decided to rejoin their conversation. "You know, I don't think we've ever talked about this before, Clark. When Martha and I were first married and were having trouble trying to have a child, everyone was quick to give us advice. Everyone, especially our parents, kept telling us about this or the other thing that would help. We took it in stride at first, but as time wore on and we found out we couldn't have kids, people quit discussing the subject all together. It wasn't until we found you, Clark, that I realized what was going on. That was just their way of being involved. People seem to help out by passing along their experiences. And, of course, when things changed to something they hadn't experienced, most would just avoid discussing it all together."

Jonathan put his oven mitts on the counter and walked over to pull Martha against him, "Things changed dramatically after we found you, son. Everyone was back to providing their ideas of when a child should crawl, take their first step or say their first word. And you know, no matter how many people gave us advice, it was always different from the person before. The truth be known, each child does things, learns things, at their own pace … when they are ready. If you have five children, each one will make their own way and learn things in their own way. I guess what I'm trying to say is that whatever advice you get from us or anyone else, just remember that Laura's is the only opinion that really counts. And Lois, Ellen may come across a bit … "

"Neurotic," Lois finished for him.

"Over helpful. Just remember that's just her way of showing she cares and sharing your childhood with you. I think if you ask her how you and Lucy developed, you'll come to understand her better. And you may even discover that she has some good advice to give."

Lois pulled away from Clark and crossed the room to Jonathan. Reaching up, she gave him a gentle hug. "Thank you, Jonathan. I never thought about it quite like that. I'll give it a try." Lois turned and winked at Martha. "I mean, what have I got to lose … other than my sanity."

They were nearly finished with dinner when Lois noticed the familiar abstracted expression on Clark's face. "What is it?"

"I heard a police radio from down the street," he replied absently, getting up from his seat. "They're concerned about the picketers at Amalgamated headquarters, and sending a squad car by to check. I think I'd better check it out, too; maybe I can nip something in the bud."

Lois sighed — another evening ruined. But it was for a good cause, as always. "Go see what you can do. We'll be here when you get back."

"Thanks, honey." He paused long enough for a quick kiss, then dashed out the back, spinning into the suit as soon as he cleared the townhouse.


As he approached the Amalgamated corporate headquarters, Clark surveyed the situation from the air. The picketers had earlier concentrated themselves in front of the main entrance, but now they were clustered down the street, at the entrance of the building's private parking garage. One of the protestors had jumped up onto a low concrete wall and appeared to be using it as a soapbox to speak to the crowd. A police car cruised by, but evidently saw nothing illegal.

Clark's intuition, however, warned him that this was an explosive situation, so he flew in closer, remaining out of sight until he could get the lay of the land.

The speaker was not encouraging moderation, but instead was feeding the crowd rhetoric about all the wrongs, real and imagined, that had been inflicted upon them by the management. The crowd roared agreement with the flimsiest of claims, and Clark shook his head sadly. Individually, these people would probably be quite reasonable, but get them into a group — and, he noted with disgust, give them lots of beer — and they would swallow anything that fit their prejudices, no matter how unlikely. Still, this sort of meeting was legal, and the police seemed to be keeping an eye on them, so maybe he should just—

The speaker stopped abruptly, catching Clark's attention. The man seemed to be listening to something, and Clark tuned in his hearing to catch it — there it was, the rumble of a car from inside the garage.

"And here," the speaker resumed, sneering, "we have one of the rich, the oppressors, the blood-suckers of management. My friends, are we going to let them go their way? Or should we teach them what they're dealing with? We will not be underestimated any longer!"

The crowd surged angrily, surrounding the exiting car, and Clark could stay hidden no longer. He flew down and landed in front of the car, yelling "Stop!"

The mob paid him no attention, instead starting to bang on the car's hood, roof, and windows. Clark caught a glimpse of two frightened faces in the front seat. "People, calm down," he tried again, but they couldn't seem to hear him above their own commotion. He was loath to start throwing them around or prying them off the car one by one. Inspiration struck, and he backed off just far enough to hit them all with a blast of super-cold superbreath.

The sudden arctic wind succeeded in distracting the mob, and as they turned, shivering, they saw Superman standing there, arms folded, with a strongly disapproving look on his face. Shamefaced, they retreated to the sidewalk, letting the car leave.

Clark waited until he was sure he had everyone's attention, then spoke sternly. "I know you have grievances, but violence is *not* the way to resolve them. Do you know who was in that car?"

No one quite had the nerve to answer, and Clark noted that the man who'd incited the riot had disappeared. "It was a secretary." Penny Barnes, to be precise, and she'd been with her father, but Clark saw no reason to reveal that. "A young woman who has never done you any harm, and you were willing to hurt her? I expect better of you." Without giving them a chance to rally themselves and argue with him, he leaped into the air, hovering a few feet above the ground. "I'll be watching." With that final word, he streaked away, leaving a much more sober group of picketers behind.


Lois was in the living room hunched over her laptop when Clark returned. "Hi, honey," he greeted her, "where's Laura?"

"Hi, Clark. Your mom and dad are taking her for a walk in her stroller."

He sat down heavily on the sofa next to her. "Just so they don't go anywhere near Amalgamated."

"Or any jewelry-store robberies," Lois added mischievously, hoping to lighten her husband's mood.

He groaned and covered his face at the reminder, but when his hands came away she could see that his expression was slightly more cheerful.

"So, what happened? You were gone a while."

"There was a problem at the corporate building," he admitted, filling her in on the details. "And then I thought I'd better visit the warehouse, too. I watched for a while but I don't think that group will be any trouble. I'll want to check in a few hours, too."

Lois smiled crookedly. "You can go out for patrol every time Laura wakes up, then. That schedule of hers ought to be useful for something … "

He laughed. "Yeah, but watch this be the night she decides to skip a feeding."

"One can only hope; I am so tired … Anyway, I've found out some interesting stuff, wanna hear?"

He sat up straighter. "Definitely."

"Alright, so I'm looking into ATC's public records. It's a publicly-held company but there are still large blocks of stock being held by a few people; they effectively own the company and tell the board of directors what to do."

"That's not too unusual, as far as I know."

"True, I don't think there's anything odd going on with them. But," she emphasized, "this current group of stock-holders picked up their shares about a year and a half ago, when the former majority stockholder died without an heir and his empire basically fell apart and the pieces sold at auction. Any guesses?" she looked at him, her eyes gleaming with challenge.

He pondered for a moment, then his eyes lit with interest. "Luckabee."

"Got it in one," she cocked a finger at him. "That razor-sharp brain is probably the reason I married you."

"Nah," he grinned, "You just wanted my body."

She laughed. "Well, that too. I like to consider all of a person's assets. And speaking of assets, you know Leslie/Lex Jr. were trying to recreate Lex's empire — utilities, phone company and broadcasting, and of course, transportation. They weren't all the same companies Lex had owned, just the same types."

"What about Amalgamated? Did Lex own that?"

"You betcha, and this is where it gets really interesting. After his apparent death, it was sold to a venture capitalist type, who still held it when Luckabee came around. The guy did not want to sell; he turned down a couple of offers. Then he started having problems with the business. Shipments went missing, orders were messed up, key people quit — or disappeared. And guess what else?"

Clark frowned. "Tell me there weren't labor problems."

"Sorry, can't do that. It wasn't as big a deal as what's going on now, but there were rumors of a strike. And once Luckabee took over, all the problems magically went away."

Clark shook his head in disgust. "All those people had their lives messed up just so Lex Jr. could fulfill a power fantasy. But you know that doesn't prove anything."

"Well, of course not, but I do think it shows a pattern." She hit a few keys and closed down the laptop. "Tomorrow I'm calling a stock broker friend of mine, just to see what she thinks."

"Good idea. And it might not hurt to see what's happened to other companies that Lex and/or Luckabee used to own."

She groaned theatrically and flopped back against the sofa cushions. "That would be a lot easier if they hadn't owned half of Metropolis."

Clark leaned back himself, and put an arm around her shoulder. "Yeah, I know, but you can do it. You can start with the Planet, that ought to be fairly easy to trace."

"Clark … do you really think Lex might be trying to rebuild his empire?" Lois spoke her fear for the first time.

He sighed. "I don't know, Lois. I mean, no one's been able to disprove his clone story."

She snorted. "Don't tell me you believe that good, upstanding citizen Lex Luthor was kidnapped by his own clone who then went on to a reign of terror, beginning with destroying the Daily Planet? Please. It's been the same Lex all along."

"Well, I suppose it's remotely possible, but no, I don't believe it. For one thing, Lex was a criminal long before this supposed clone of his took over, it's just that no one was ever able to prove it."

"All too sadly true. Anyway, since this is Lex and he's managed to lie his way back into respectability, I think he's going to want to get his power base back. The man was pathological about ownership. I can't believe it's taken me this long to think of it, actually."

"We have been a little busy, this last year," he reminded her with a smile in his voice.

"Well, it's time we got back to business," she stated sleepily. "Lex is a threat to everyone, and I'm going to see what I can do about that."

Clark nuzzled her hair. "Just remember to let me in on your plans so I can help out, okay?"

"Sure," she replied, turning slightly to cuddle better.

They were asleep on the couch when Martha and Jonathan returned.


Wednesday, October 21

Lois had intended to call her friend the stockbroker first thing in the morning, but somehow it had taken her nearly until nine before she'd managed to get dressed, eat, feed Laura, and dress her for the day. She was beginning to realize how early she'd have to get up in order to get to work in the coming weeks, although she was sure Clark could be counted on to help out. Finally, however, Laura was awake, contentedly looking around the room from her bouncy seat on the table, and Lois had time to get back to investigating. It didn't take long before she had enough to call Clark about.

"Hey, Clark, good morning … yeah, I miss you too … she's fine, she's fascinated by this bird outside of the window. Anyway, I talked to Sheila, you know, my stockbroker friend? And she said that Amalgamated stock is taking quite a dive over this labor problem; there's a rumor going around that they won't be able to resolve their differences. She couldn't tell if anyone is buying up blocks of stock, *but* if someone wanted to, they could probably take over without too much trouble, especially if this labor thing doesn't get fixed soon." Absently, she reached over to touch the end of the bouncy seat, and pushed it gently in a rocking motion that Laura seemed to like. "Print shops? Good idea … good luck with that, sweetie. If I find out anything else, I'll let you know. Okay, see you later, love you … bye."

She put the phone back on the cradle and turned slowly, wondering which source she could call upon next, when a movement out of the corner of her eye startled her. She reflexively assumed a defensive posture, then relaxed. "Mother! You scared me!"

"I knocked, Lois. You must not have heard me. You know, you really shouldn't leave your door unlocked. Anyone could just walk in … "

"Tell me about it … " Lois muttered, then continued more audibly, "I thought it was locked. Clark must have forgotten — oh, no, wait, I might have left it when I went out to grab the paper."

Ellen was no longer paying attention, instead making a beeline for her granddaughter, tossing her purse and several packages on the couch. "Hello, precious! How are you today? Oh, you're awake! And mommy's just letting you lie here all by yourself? How are you going to learn about the world if mommy doesn't show you around?"

Lois set her teeth, determined not to be annoyed by the implied criticism. "She gets plenty of stimulation, Mother. Sometimes she needs to just sit and think. Besides, she likes looking out the window."

"Well, Grandma's here now, and we can play. Come here, my little angel. Do you need a diaper change? We'll just check … " Ellen took Laura from her seat and cradled her in her arms, then spared a moment to talk to her daughter. "I brought a few things I noticed you didn't have. I'll put them away after I've changed Laura."

Watching her mother walk up the stairs to the nursery, Lois leaned back and ran her hand through her hair. "Heaven help me!"


Clark hung up the phone, feeling quite pleased with himself, and automatically looked around to share his triumph with Lois before remembering that she wasn't back yet. Well, for this, Jimmy would do just as well, and it was news on their joint story. He crossed the newsroom to find Jimmy at his desk, pouring over pages of notes and comparing them to the words typed on screen.

"Hey, Jimmy. Have you got that follow-up piece done?"

Jimmy looked up, rather bleary eyed. "Oh, hi, CK. Yeah, I'm just making sure I covered everything Ms. Mallory told me yesterday. You know, I got different stories from management and labor — they hardly agreed on anything. But for all of that, I don't think they're really that far apart on the key stuff."

Clark nodded thoughtfully. "From what I've heard, I think you're right. And they've always been able to work these things out in the past, it's just that things have gone wrong this year."

"Yeah," Jimmy agreed glumly. "And my pal Nick is caught in the middle. It's a shame we can't just get a couple of people together, without all the lawyers, and just let them work it out … "

Clark looked at him, pondering the notion. "That's not a bad idea, Jimmy. I mean, Barnes seemed like a reasonable guy —"

Jimmy looked up, enthusiasm beginning to light his face. "And Susan Mallory, I talked to her yesterday, she seemed sincere, you know, not fanatical or anything, like Hughes … "

"Oh, that reminds me — guess what I found out … "


"Remember the signs the picketers were carrying? I called print shops this morning, and found out where those signs were created. Your man Hughes ordered them last week."

"Last week? But they only went on strike yesterday morning … " Jimmy's eyebrows climbed. "I guess he's not an optimist."

"At the very least," Clark agreed. "And I don't think he's very committed to the idea of ending this dispute peacefully, so let's *not* invite him to the meeting."

"You really think it's a good idea, setting this up?"

"Well … I don't think it can hurt, anyway. That's if they even agree to it."

Jimmy shrugged. "I'll call Ms. Mallory, you call Mr. Barnes. Where do you want to set it up?"

Clark considered for a moment. He was tempted to use the Planet's conference room, but this wasn't really official business, and the negotiators would probably appreciate more privacy anyway, in case things went spectacularly wrong. "How about The Pond restaurant, downtown? We can all have lunch, even if nothing else works out."

"It's worth a shot, CK. And thanks for working with me on this."

"No problem, Jimbo." Clark clapped him on the shoulder as he left. "You're shaping up to be a great reporter."


"Well, I don't imagine it will achieve anything, but I'm willing to give it a try. Yes, 12 noon, I'll be there." Walter Barnes hung up the phone with a shake of his head, piquing Shenckman's curiosity.

"What was that all about, Walt?"

"Remember those reporters from yesterday? They think they can help us resolve the labor differences; they want me to meet with them and one of the union reps. I'm afraid they're dreaming, but I don't want to seem to be the one standing in the way."

Shenckman laughed uneasily. "You won't have to. The union reps have been the ones holding things up. So it's a lunch meeting?"

"Yes, they said they've reserved a table at The Pond, for noon."

"Well, at least you'll get a free meal out of it, right? Anyway, these are the figures you asked for," he changed the subject, handing over a stack of printouts, "And if you don't need me, I've got some paperwork I need to get back to."

"Fine, Dennis. Thanks for all your help on this labor thing."

"My pleasure." Smiling, he left the office.


Clark walked back over to Jimmy's desk, starting to feel hopeful about this whole project. When he'd called Lois to tell her his plan, she'd said he was being too idealistic, but he liked the idea that he could help these two sides make peace. "So, what's the news?" he asked when he was close enough.

Jimmy flashed him a big smile and two thumbs up. "She's gonna be there. I mean, she thinks we're lunatics, but she's humoring us."

Clark laughed. "We'll take it. Barnes didn't sound too enthused, either, but he said he'd make it."

"Great! Oh, I called the restaurant, and they said they'd reserve a good table for us, something semi-private, back in a corner."

"Now all we have to do is wait, I guess." Clark checked his watch and grimaced. "It's gonna be a very long hour."


Dennis Shenckman closed his office door behind him, and sat down at his desk, trembling. This was not good. He picked up the phone and dialed a little-used number and waited impatiently for someone to answer.

"O'Reilly," the voice on the other end said.

"I need to talk to Mr. Luthor," Dennis stated. "This is Dennis Shenckman, at Amalgamated, and we've got trouble."

"Mr. Luthor's busy," Enrico responded flatly. "Talk to me."

Dennis squirmed at the put-off, but couldn't resist the urge to speak. "Barnes is going for a meeting with one of the labor types; some reporters set it up. They're having lunch at noon at The Pond, downtown."

"Yeah, so?"

"Look, if they start comparing notes they're going to find out all the stuff I've done to keep these negotiations off-track! This could ruin everything we've worked for!" When Lex Luthor had approached him about running a little interference, it had sounded so easy. Send a few misleading memos, fudge the numbers here and there, and then Lex could take over the company, and he, Shenckman, would finally have that corner office. But if the plan was discovered too quickly, he'd be fired, at the very least. Frantically, he reviewed his actions, wondering if anything he'd done had actually been illegal.

At the other end of the line, Enrico considered this information. He knew it was nowhere in Lex's plan for the two sides to begin talking rationally, so something probably ought to be done. He mentally ran down a few options for disrupting the meeting, then thought of the perfect thing. A well-placed bomb should kill both sides (and the meddling reporters) which would certainly impede negotiations for some time. They even had an explosive ready to go; a device carefully engineered to look hand-made, from parts available at the ATC warehouse. If anyone were able to trace the bomb's origins, it would lead them right back to the union. It had been intended to intensify matters a little later in the game, but this might be the right time to use it after all.

"Are you there?" Dennis demanded, unnerved by the silence.

"Yeah. I've got an idea; lemme check with Mr. Luthor. We'll handle it." The line went dead, leaving Dennis not at all reassured.


Lois was in the middle of sending out e-mails when Ellen returned with Laura. In her researches of Amalgamated, she'd noticed that Hughes was a fairly new employee — employed by the union, not ATC — and that had seemed odd, especially considering his leadership position. Her instincts tingling, she was doing what she could to check his background. It was amazing what information was floating around on the Internet, but you had to be patient to sift out the gold from all the pebbles.

Lois jumped when Ellen breezed by her, picking up her conversation from before. "And Lois, I brought some fresh lemons. We can have some fresh lemonade later. I couldn't keep it in the house when you were little. Sam always loved fresh squeezed lemonade and the two of you made such a big event, and a huge mess I might add, squeezing the lemons. I had forgotten until Sam and I got back together how often I had to admonish the two of you for drinking it directly from the pitcher." Ellen walked over to the rocker in the corner and sat down. Nestling Laura under her chin, she began to rock back and forth, humming a soft melody.

Left in Ellen's wake, Lois watched in awe. This woman had always been such a contradiction to her. All her life, she had desperately longed for her mother's approval, her love. And here she was, gently rocking her granddaughter to sleep, comforting Laura the way Lois had always longed to be comforted. Lois couldn't decide whether she felt touched, or jealous.

Walking across the room, she eased down on the sofa across from Ellen. Subconsciously rocking along with them, she tried to place the melody. "What song is that, Mother?"

"It's a song my mother used to sing to me when I was a little girl. I've never even known the name and have long since forgotten the words." Looking over at Lois, she smiled, recalling a pleasant time in their past. "I used to spend hours humming it to you and Lucy when you were little."

"You did? I don't remember it."

"I would be surprised if you did. You were too small to remember. When you were older, you only wanted to be read to. The only way I could ever get you to sleep was by reading at least three books. And heaven help me if I tried to skip ahead. You had every word in them memorized." Looking back down at the infant sleeping in her arms, she continued in the rhythm. "Lucy was the one who liked to be sung to."

"Maybe that's why she always seems to go out with musicians?"

Ellen looked up and laughed, sharing a rare sentiment with her oldest daughter. "Could be … "

"So what were we like as babies?"

"Well, you were such a bright and curious child. You were always a step ahead of where Dr. Spock said you should be. And of course Sam and I thought you were perfect. Every parent does. I remember when you were trying to say your first word … I spent all day one day trying to get you to say 'Mama'. Later that evening, you finally got out 'Da'. Sam was so proud. He must have called everyone we had ever met. It was a few more days, but you finally got out 'Ma'." Ellen had been staring down at Laura, lost to her memories. Coming back to the present, she caught Lois' eyes. "Lois, no matter what else happens in your life, you'll never forget the moment your child comes into your life or when they look into your eyes and say, 'Mama'. Nothing else can compare to that."

Lois had never really spoken with her mother about her childhood. Even when she was pregnant, the focus had always been on how the baby was developing. She had spent so many years just wanting to get out of the house, that she never thought to find out if there really had been happy times in her troubled household. Listening to her mother had brought tears to her eyes. "Daddy really did that?"

"Oh, yes. Even though we were both had medical careers, it's totally differently when it's your own child. I mean, you know how a child is supposed to develop, but it's still incredible to watch it happen." Ellen interrupted herself, another memory recalled. "I remember when you took your first step. Sam was so worried he would miss it, he canceled a conference in Paris to stay home."


"He did. He stood watch with the movie camera for three days. Of course, the second he put it down, you finally took your first step. I was folding clothes while you were crawling across the floor. You pulled yourself up on the coffee table and walked over to me. I was so excited, I couldn't speak. Sam came in later and you did the same thing. I didn't have the heart to tell him he missed it the first time."

"Mother! You mean you've never told him?"

"Oh, no. I mean, why spoil his memory?"

"So, Daddy was around a lot then?"

"Yes. Even though he was really busy with his surgical career, he made the time to be home when you and Lucy were little. I think that's why you were such an avid reader, because you saw him doing it. You were such a Daddy's girl. He would bring home his research to read at night. You used to curl up in his lap for him to read to you. Once you fell asleep, he would just keep holding you while he read his journals."

"I never knew that."

"Yes, you and I would work on something during the day and you would perform for Sam when he came home. He was an easy audience for you. You had him wrapped around your little finger."

"I remember you stayed home with us until Lucy went to school. Was it hard for you to stay home while Daddy went to work?"

"It was at first. But I had a gift he never had. I got to share so many things with the two of you he never will. In the beginning, Sam made such an effort to be involved. But when his career took off and he had less and less time for you, it was hard always trying to come up with an excuse of why he couldn't be there for this recital or that birthday party. I missed him myself, but I felt sorry for him because I knew how much he was missing. He'll never get that back."

Lois just sat there staring at her mother. Was this the same woman who was always correcting everything she did?

As if reading her mind, Ellen continued. "I would try to make sure everything was perfect … to show him how much he was missing. And to show you … "

" … how much you cared," Lois finished for her. All this time, she had just been trying to show Lois how much she cared. Jonathan was right after all. In her own way, she was just trying to be involved. Lois moved over to where Ellen was sitting. Looking down at her mother and her daughter, her eyes slick with unshed tears, Lois could barely speak. Reaching down to pull them both in an embrace, she finally whispered, "I love you too, Mother."


Clark and Jimmy arrived at the restaurant early, partly to fulfill their duties as hosts, and partly due to nerves. A waiter led them to the table that had been reserved for them; as Jimmy had specified, it was away from the street, so it had some privacy. They didn't have long to wait before their guests arrived.

"Mr. Barnes, good to see you again," Clark said, taking the lead. "And you must be Susan Mallory — you two know each other?" At their nods, he continued. "Well, Ms. Mallory, I'm Clark Kent and this is my partner, James Olsen. Thank you both for coming."

Mallory nodded curtly, seating herself before Clark could offer to assist. "I don't know what you hope to accomplish. We're not going to settle this unless management agrees to all our terms." She turned to her opponent and asked sweetly, "Walter, are you ready to agree?"

He snorted. "If we give you everything you want, the company will be bankrupt in a week and we'll all be out of jobs."

She shook her head sadly. "Well, that's too bad. Because if you don't give us everything we want, you won't have any workers and you'll go bankrupt anyway — or at least you might have to cut back on the executive bonuses just a trifle."

Jimmy and Clark exchanged a pained glance. This was not starting well.


It took half an hour before Lois turned up the evidence she'd been looking for. She stared at the screen, a half-smile playing on her face. She just bet Hughes didn't want anyone to know *this* but the union deserved to know what kind of man was leading them. She reached for the phone to call Clark, then caught sight of the clock. Darn, they'd be at lunch by now. She'd have to page him, or … she looked across the room at Ellen, who was happily holding a very sleepy baby. Laura would probably be asleep soon, and sleep for at least an hour before she was due for another feeding. And what the heck, it would be a trial run.

"Mother," she said softly, catching Ellen's attention. "I've got to run out for a minute, can you hold down the fort with Laura? There's a bottle of expressed milk in the fridge if she needs it, but she probably won't … "

Ellen smiled. "Don't worry about a thing, Lois. I'll take good care of her."

"You know, I think you will." Before she could succumb to self-doubt and uin the moment, Lois grabbed her purse and headed out the door. She could meet Clark at the restaurant and tell everyone her news directly.


Her morning classes over, Penny hurried to her desk at Amalgamated to find a stack of work waiting for her, and a note letting her know that her father was at lunch with Clark Kent. She shrugged. More time for her to finish typing these memos … just then she heard a noise from inside her father's office and frowned. If it wasn't Dad in there, who was it?

She looked around and realized that the noise had been from Mr. Shenckman's office, instead. Well, that was alright then, she supposed, apparently he'd chosen to work through lunch. He was sitting at the desk, facing away from the door, and hadn't seen her; she wouldn't disturb him.

"Hello? Yeah, it's me. Look, you've got to tell me what's going on, I need to know—"

Penny paid little attention to his phone conversation, concentrating on the top memo of the pile.

"Oh, thank God. Wait, what do you mean? A … a bomb?"

Shenckman sounded like he was in shock, and Penny frowned. This didn't sound like a business call, and in spite of herself she strained to hear his next words.

"You can't! I mean, sure, screwing up the negotiations was one thing, but killing Barnes? I can't be a part of this!"

His voice had gotten higher in disbelief, but the person on the other end was apparently saying something persuasive — or threatening; Shenckman got very quiet, sounding beaten. "Okay, yeah, I understand. Yeah, I'll keep up my end, don't worry. No, no, I know better than that. You can count on me, you know; I mean, it was just a surprise … I'm fine."

Penny was frozen to her chair. A bomb? To kill her father?? As part of a plot by … Dennis Shenckman??? She'd always thought he was a bit of a weasel, came the inconsequential thought, but she'd never have thought him capable of this. She heard movement; he'd be exiting the office in a minute. She thought fast, and grabbed for the Dictaphone machine, plugging the headset into her ears moments before he emerged. She ignored him, typing industriously, pretending to transcribe dictation.

He stared at her suspiciously. "Penny?"

She fought the urge to look up at the sound of her name, and after a long moment, he moved on, apparently satisfied that she was in her own little world. She exhaled a long shaky breath after he rounded the corner. What was she going to do?


Lois entered the restaurant, and paused to collect her breath. It wouldn't look professional to pant out the information, and besides it wasn't *that* urgent. She spotted Clark and headed towards his table.

He was clearly surprised to see her, jumping up from his seat. "Lois! What's up? Is there something wrong with Laura?"

"No, no; she's home with Mother, taking a nap," she reassured him, smiling. "I just found out something about Michael Hughes that I thought you all should hear."

"Oh, okay." Relieved, Clark introduced her around the table and seated her in the chair he'd vacated, snagging another one from a nearby table for himself.

"Lane and Kent," Barnes commented, "Of course we've heard of you. Congratulations on your daughter. Daughters are a blessing." He threw a sharp glance in Jimmy's direction with that statement, but didn't elaborate.

Clark smiled. "We think so. So, Lois, what did you find out?"

She pulled a few notes out of her bag. "Well, Ms. Mallory, your Mr. Hughes has an interesting past. Did you know that he used to be an actor, upstate?"

She blinked. "I had no idea. He told us he'd worked for other unions, helping them get better pay and benefits packages."

"The only one he's been helping is himself," Lois stated. "He's been brought up on fraud charges twice now; once for a confidence scheme, and once as a local televangelist. He was never convicted, but only because key witnesses changed their stories. As far as I could tell, he's never worked for a labor union before, not even as a member."

Mallory bit her lip. "That can't be the right Michael Hughes," she protested weakly.

"Oh, I don't know," Jimmy spoke up. "It would explain his speaking skills. I thought that speech at the rally sounded a lot like a sermon."

"It's him all right," Lois confirmed, a bit more gently now. "One of the old news articles had a picture. And," she continued, hoping to assist Clark's plan of peacemaking, "if he's not who he says he is, you can't trust any of the negotiating he's been doing, either."

Clark caught his cue. "Seems to me you two ought to go over all the issues *without* a con man involved. You might be closer to agreement than you think."


Penny dialed her father's cell phone number for a third and forlorn time. "Come on, come on … Damn!" No answer. He must have forgotten to turn it on again. She dangled the handset from one finger, trying to figure out what to do next. Of course, he was at lunch with Clark. She punched in the number for the Planet.

"Yes, I know he's at lunch. No, I don't want to leave a message, I just want to know where he is … damn. Thanks anyway."

She took another look at the wall clock and bit her lip. It might already be too late, and the thought was driving her crazy. Well, when you're desperate, who ya gonna call, she thought with a small, slightly-hysterical giggle. She stood up and practically ran all the way to the roof.


A well-trained waiter delivered their food, but only Jimmy seemed to notice.

"So, let's look at this short-term disability plan," Susan challenged. "The memo your office sent over made it look way too complicated."

Barnes frowned. "It's not that bad, really. All you need is … "

Clark lost track of their conversation, hearing a faint, desperate call for help. He twitched in his seat, looking sidelong at Lois.

She caught on instantly, glancing around the table. Barnes and Mallory were caught up in their own discussion, arguing fine points, and Jimmy seemed engrossed in his lunch, but it wouldn't hurt to come up with something good. "Oh, Clark, I just remembered … um … we're running very low on diapers. Nearly out, actually. I was going to pick up a package on my way home, but maybe you could run by the discount place and pick up a case or two?" She knew it was a weak excuse, but it was the best she could come up with; she'd need to get back in practice.

Clark raised his eyebrows slightly. "Ah, yeah, why don't I go do that right now, so I don't forget — they'll hardly miss me. Think you can keep them on track?"

"I'll do my best," she replied, raising her face to receive her farewell kiss as he ducked out of the restaurant.

It was a short flight across town to the top of … the Amalgamated Transport headquarters building. Clark geared up for more trouble, then groaned when he saw that the one calling him was Penny. He paused momentarily, remembering the last time she'd screamed for Superman — "playing kissing bandit with local superheroes" was how a very displeased Lois had described it. Still, that was a long time ago, and Penny seemed quite happy with Jimmy these days, so he'd see what she needed. And keep a safe distance, just in case.


Lois heard terms like "pension", "disability" and "vesting" fly around, but had a hard time concentrating on them. She picked at the food on Clark's plate, without tasting any of it; her mind kept returning to her baby. Laura should be asleep by now, but what if she'd been startled by something, and woke up to find that mommy wasn't there? Relax, Lois, she ordered herself, Mother will know how to calm her.

But what if she's hungry, and she doesn't want to take a bottle? Clark had fed her from a bottle a few times (the look of confusion on her face at the strange method of feeding had been delightful) but she didn't really like it, and she might not cooperate. What if she was screaming for her mother, right now, and Lois was sitting here, instead, babysitting grownups?

She gave up arguing with herself, and pulled out her cell phone. Mother would think she was neurotic, but hey, like mother like daughter. She hit the speed-dial for the townhouse and scooted her chair a little way away from the table to gain some modicum of privacy.


"Hello, Mother? It's Lois. I just had to check to make sure everything was going okay."

Ellen's voice was amused, but sympathetic. "Everything's fine, Lois. It's only been 20 minutes, you know."

"Yeah, well, call it new mom jitters." Lois tapped her foot restlessly. "Is she sleeping?"

Ellen sighed. "She fell asleep just a few minutes after you left, and I put her in her crib, and yes, I put her down on her back. I've got the monitor right here, and it's turned up loud enough that I can hear her breathing. She's wearing enough not to be cold, but she won't overheat either, and she just had a diaper change before she fell asleep. Anything else?"

More reassured than annoyed by the litany of details, Lois smiled. "Thank you, Mother, I really do appreciate you watching her. This meeting was very important to Clark, and maybe to a lot of other people, too."

"Well, that's what mothers are for, Lois. Just think," she added somewhat acerbically, "you could have asked me to help out a month or so ago."

Lois smiled tightly. Trust her mother to get that jab in sooner or later. "Yes, Mother. Well, it sounds like you have things under control, so … " She shifted in her chair, ready to get back to themeeting, when the phone suddenly slipped out of her hand and clattered to a stop under the edge of a nearby table — fortunately it was unoccupied. "Oops." She ducked down to retrieve it "Sorry, Mother, the phone slipped … " She brushed the hair out of her eyes.

The rest of her apology faded away as she saw an unwieldy device duct-taped to the underside of the table. She didn't recognize it, precisely, but her instincts warned her that it wasn't a good thing. "Sorry, Mother, I've got to go." Cutting Ellen off mid-sentence, she folded up the phone and jammed it in her pocket, trying to get a better look at the thing.


As soon as Penny gasped out her information, Clark grabbed her and took off again, back towards the restaurant. Apart from a strangled shriek of surprise, Penny was a good passenger, although now that he was landing he could see that she had her eyes tightly shut. He touched down right outside the restaurant, and set her on her feet. "Wait here," he cautioned, then hastened inside, sweeping the place with his x-ray vision in a somewhat haphazard manner as he went.

"Superman!" Jimmy was the first to notice his approach; Barnes and Mallory were deep into a point-by-point comparison of something, and … well, judging by the shoes sticking out, Lois was *under* a table.

"I don't want anyone to panic," he said quietly, "but I've heard there was a bomb threat against this meeting."

Jimmy's eyes got wide, as he looked around in alarm, but he stayed seated. Barnes and Mallory seemed too engrossed in their conversation to even realize anything was happening.

Lois chose that moment to pop out from under the tablecloth, folding it up onto the table. "Superman! I'm so glad you're here."

"Always nice to see you, too, Lois, but right now I'm looking for a bomb."

"How convenient. I've found one. It's taped to the underside of this table." She flashed a sardonic smile.

"Oh." He grinned sheepishly. "I should have known. Let me see it." He squatted down next to her and examined the device.

"It's pretty basic," Lois murmured, "and I *think* that cutting this wire would disable it … " She indicated the one she meant.

He nodded, x-raying it to make sure there were no motion detectors or other booby traps. As Lois had said, it was a very basic design, giving the appearance of amateur work, featuring an explosive diesel fuel mixture. He began peeling the duct tape loose. "I think you're right, but I won't risk it here. I'll take it up a few hundred feet and try it there."

"Good idea. But this time, honey," she teased, very softly, "try not to destroy the evidence, okay?"

He grinned. "Anything for you." In a flash, he was gone, and Lois scrambled up to her seat again.

Barnes and Mallory were just beginning to notice something amiss as Penny ran into view. "Daddy!" She gave him a hug, not pausing to let him reply. "I was so afraid when I heard about the bomb, I thought I'd never see you again … " She pulled out of the hug and looked around the table for the first time. "Jimmy, honey!" She released her father and bounded over to her boyfriend, "Oh, Jimmy, I didn't even know you were here, I could have lost both of you!"

Susan Mallory looked on sardonically, and cocked an eyebrow at Barnes. "Your daughter, I presume?"

"And her boyfriend, apparently," Barnes confirmed, frowning slightly. "But what's all this about a bomb?"

"You missed it," Lois smiled. "It was under a table, but I found it, and Superman's off disarming it now, where it won't risk anyone else … " She was keeping an ear out for a distant boom, but nothing so far.

"Penny, Penny, calm down," Jimmy laughed, extricating himself from her clutches. "We're okay, Superman was just here."

"I know he was; I called him," she retorted, for the first time relaxing enough to look a bit pleased with herself. "I'm the one who told him about it."

Jimmy frowned. "How did *you* know?"

"Yes, princess, that's a good question," Barnes chimed in. "How *did* you know?"

Penny took a deep breath and dropped her bombshell. "Dennis Shenckman called somebody, and I overheard. He's been undermining your negotiations the whole time, Daddy."

Barnes looked shocked at the news, but Lois noticed Susan Mallory looking confused at this, and tried to signal Jimmy.

He picked up on her gestures, and enlightened the labor leader. "Shenckman was Barnes' assistant. I bet he sent some of those memos you've been arguing about."

The light dawned, and she didn't look happy about it. "So, basically, we can't trust anything that's happened so far, because the whole process has been subverted on both sides?"

"I'm afraid so," Superman said, rejoining the group, holding various pieces of metal. He set them down on the tablecloth. "I just wanted to let you know I've disarmed the bomb; these are the remains. The police might be able to trace the components."

Susan Mallory stared down at the pieces in morbid fascination as Barnes and Jimmy continued to question Penny.

"I'm sorry, I don't know *who* he was calling. But he was definitely not in this by himself, and, for what it's worth, he seemed kinda shocked about the whole bomb thing. I don't think he expected that."

Superman tilted his head consideringly. "Well, that may work in his favor at the trial. It's too bad we don't know who he was calling."

"It must have been Hughes," Mallory stated suddenly, with conviction.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because I recognize these parts," she replied. "Most of them are in use around the warehouse, for repairing the trucks, and some of them are unique."

"And it's too much of a coincidence to think that Hughes and Shenckman were working apart," Jimmy piped up, excited to figure out part of the puzzle. "I bet they wanted to drive down stock prices, buy 'em cheap, and make a fortune!"

Barnes slanted him a speculative glance. "You could be right, I suppose. How do you know so much about stocks?"

Jimmy flushed, suddenly remembering who it was he was talking to. "It, um, used to be a hobby of mine — virtual stocks, though, and virtual money." He sighed in regret at the memory.

Barnes nodded. "I've heard of that. Well, back to the matter at hand. I intend to let the police sort out the details. Meanwhile, Ms. Mallory, I think it's clear that our negotiations have been tainted from the beginning. Are you ready to begin again?"

She sighed. "I suppose we'll have to." She paused, thinking things through. "I'll need more documentation than I brought with me — to be honest, I thought this meeting would be a waste of time."

Barnes laughed. "You and I both. Let's see — can we meet at three? My office or the union hall, your choice." He stood, gathering the papers that had been spread out over the table.

"Let's do it in your office," she sighed, likewise preparing to leave. "The membership is still pretty worked up. Actually, make it four o'clock. I'll have to let them know what kind of charlatan we've all been listening to."

They exited the restaurant, hammering out the details in a businesslike way.

"I suppose I'd better get this evidence to the police," Superman commented, and began carefully gathering the bomb components together again. "And I think I might want to detain both Hughes and Shenckman immediately, in case either of them decides to run for it."

Jimmy smiled broadly. "Man, this is so cool! Who knew we'd uncover not one bad guy, but *two* of them?"

Lois smiled tightly, still partially lost in thought. "Or maybe more than two … I wonder if there's any way to prove it, though … "

Jimmy shrugged off her doubts. "Hey, at least labor and management are talking again, so the strike thing should be on its way out. Just wait 'til Clark gets back so I can tell him all about it! He missed the whole thing!"

At the mention of Clark's name, Lois' eyes went wide. The cover story she'd concocted wouldn't hold water much longer, and Clark, as Superman, was going to be busy for a while. Her mind raced, then came up with a quick plan. She grabbed her cell phone and opened it up. "Hello? Oh, hi Clark."

She paused to allow time for "Clark" to speak, and to her horror she heard the line start to ring. When she'd opened the phone, she must have hit instant redial, and now instead of talking into a dead phone she was calling … oh God … her mother.

Well, there was nothing for it but to forge ahead and explain later. "What do you mean, they were out of diapers?" she asked "Clark", acting upset. "Well, we need diapers—"

"Hello?" Ellen answered, "Kent residence."

"—so you'll just have to go to the other store, they must have diapers there."

"Lois? What are you talking about? You have plenty of diapers … "

"You know, the one on the other side of town, they usually have a good supply. No, the meeting went fine, in fact it's over. I'll tell you about it later."

"Lois, you're not making any sense."

"Okay, then, honey, thanks. Yes, I'll tell Jimmy. See you later, love you … bye."

Ellen had clearly run out of patience. "Lois Lane, I demand to know what sort of game—"

Without a qualm, Lois hung up on her mother. Jimmy and Penny were politely pretending not to overhear her conversation, but Clark, still dressed as Superman, had obviously heard both sides, and was having a very hard time keeping up his customary poker face.

"Jimmy, that was Clark; he's going to be delayed … why don't you just get back to the Planet and start writing this up? He'll meet you there."

Penny spoke up, "That's a cool phone you've got, Lois. I didn't even hear it ring."

Lois felt her smile freeze on her face. "Yeah, well, um … that's because I have it set to vibrate, instead … you know, like a pager. So it doesn't wake the baby. When I'm home, I mean. And speaking of home, I've got to go. See you all later!" Smiling brightly, she hurried away.

As she left, Jimmy commented with a grin, "She's a pistol … and she sure keeps Clark busy."

Superman hid a grin. "Yeah, she does." He wrestled with his conscience a moment, but decided a tiny tease wouldn't hurt anyone. "You know, I was sure glad when she dumped me to go after him." He gathered up the last of the evidence and walked off, adding as he went, "She's much too high-maintenance for me."

Jimmy and Penny looked at each other and burst out laughing. Laughter that ended rather abruptly when Jimmy was presented with the lunch bill.


Wednesday night

Clark entered the bedroom on tiptoe, looking around cautiously. Lois grinned up at him from her place in bed. "Sneaking in, are we?"

He grinned, but made shushing motions with both hands. "Your daughter is finally asleep; don't jinx it."

"Don't worry, she'll do what you want." Lois batted her eyes at her husband. "Don't women always do what you want them to?"

Clark laughed, "All except for you; you never listen."

"I always listen to you."

"Right. Since when?"

"Always." She grinned impishly. "And I sometimes agree."

"Unless I ask you to stay put."

"Oh, well now, that's your fault. You know I don't like to be told what to do."

"Oh, so from now on, I should just tell you to run into harm's way and you'll stay put?"

Lois grinned, mockingly slapping Clark's chest. "Nice try."

He gave up. "So, I take it things went well with your mother today. I'm sorry I missed dinner, but I was at the police station — they found a fingerprint on part of the bomb, so they should find out soon enough who was behind it."

"Hmm, that'll be interesting. Keep me posted. And my mother … Clark, it was unbelievable. We talked about things we never had before. I never realized how much she did for Lucy and I when we were growing up. You and Jonathan were right. She made some mistakes, but her nagging is just her way of being involved in our lives. Which is not to say it won't still drive me crazy … but at least I understand it better now." She grimaced. "I had a hard time getting away with that crazy phone conversation, though."

"I knew you could do it." Clark pulled Lois into his arms. "I'm glad you two could finally talk."

Lois nestled against his chest. "I never knew what a good mother she was — before everything fell apart, anyway. She loved us and cared for us. The parts of my childhood I really remember are when she and Daddy were yelling at each other, or when she was drinking herself under the table." She grimaced in remembered pain. "It was good to find out that it wasn't always that bad, you know?"

"So you feel better about having her take care of Laura, now?"

"Yes. She was so good with her today. I kept having to remind myself this was my mother."

"It's amazing how someone so tiny can have such a huge effect on people, isn't it?"

Lois looked up at him and grinned. "Present company excluded, of course."

"Hey, I'm the first to admit she has me right where she wants me. She's my daughter, therefore she's perfect. I wish I could spend every minute of the day just watching her. I don't want to miss anything. In fact, I was thinking about when would be a good day for me to spend my first day with Laura … a kind of trial run. Perry was asking if you wanted to start easing back into work — two days next week, maybe — before going nearly full time in November."

She sat up straighter, slipping out of his arms as she considered this. "I've heard it's a good idea to start back to work gradually, so it's not as overwhelming — not that we have a normal work week, of course, but still … and I wouldn't mind doing some more digging into this Amalgamated setup. It's obvious that Hughes and Shenckman were in it together, but I'm not convinced they were in it all by themselves."

Clark hummed noncommittally. "Their records were subpoenaed, you know; they'd both bought a considerable amount of Amalgamated stock in the past 24 hours."

Lois waved that away. "Circumstantial. I don't know, Clark, but this whole thing just smells of Lex Luthor. Anyway, I want to check a few things. Okay, maybe we'll give it a try on Monday." She smiled. Being home with Laura was wonderful, of course, but it was also messy and demanding; spending a day in the newsroom sounded like such a nice change.

"Good," Clark smiled back, then made a show of x-raying through the wall in the direction of the nursery.

Lois watched, raising an amused eyebrow.

"She's asleep, alright," he confirmed. "I think the coast is clear … " he reached for her, a playful leer on his face.

Lois evaded his grip, laughing softly. "Good luck, optimist. She's got special radar, I swear. Anytime we try to start something, she's up for hours."

"Well, yeah, usually," Clark conceded, making a second, and more successful grab for her. "But maybe she won't mind if we just cuddle for a while."

Lois adjusted herself into his warm embrace, with a little sigh of contentment. "Oh, Clark, it's so nice to have someone hold me, instead of the other way around … So, just a cuddle?" she teased.

"Mmm … maybe we could try some kissing … " he suggested, suiting actions to words.

"I wouldn't mind," she agreed, somewhat breathlessly. "After all," she added with a wicked smile, "she might *not* interrupt us this time … "

Clark groaned low in his throat. "She'd better not … I'm getting tired of those trips to the Arctic Ocean to cool down … "

Lois had a sudden vision of Clark diving into the water, leaving a cloud of steam behind. She giggled, stretching her neck to allow him better access. "So that's what's causing global warming … "

"Mm-hmm," Clark agreed solemnly, "and I think it's your patriotic duty—" he paused to plant a kiss on her neck, "—as a concerned global citizen—" another kiss landed softly on her cheek, "—to try to prevent further incidents." Their lips met, temporarily preventing her from replying.

When he finally lifted his head, he saw with satisfaction that she was lying limp with her eyes closed, and a huge smile on her face. He had to strain to make out her slightly mumbled response.

"Always happy to do my bit for the environment … "


Thursday, October 22

Lex Luthor puffed on his cigar angrily, snapping the pages of the morning paper as he read about the imminent end of the Amalgamated Transport strike. Enrico entered the office cautiously. He'd heard the news, and while it wasn't all bad, with Lex Luthor it was wisest to prepare for the worst.

"Good morning, Mr. Luthor."

"Morning, Enrico," Luthor greeted him. "I assume you heard the news?"

"This morning," Enrico confirmed. "And I checked a few sources."

"And all the evidence we'd planted against both of them has been found?"

Enrico brightened; Lex seemed to be taking this well. "Yes, sir. They found the investment funds in Hughes' and Shenckman's names, and that fingerprint we planted on the bomb components."

Lex puffed a cloud of cigar smoke, baring his teeth. "That was a nice touch, Enrico, using a part that Hughes had handled."

"Well, it was your idea, boss."

"Of course. And our two friends do know better than to deny any of this oh-so-convincing evidence, do they not?"

Enrico nodded. "Shenckman's too scared, and Hughes doesn't know anything anyway. They'll do their time without a peep."

Lex nodded, drawing deeply on the cigar. "Good, good … "

Enrico hesitated, then plunged ahead. "Uh, Mr. Luthor … I thought you'd be more upset than this … especially with Kent involved … "

Lex exhaled a long stream of smoke, spreading his hands wide. "One must be philosophical, Mr. O'Reilly. Some battles you win … some you lose. That is what makes Mr. Kent a worthy opponent." His smile took on a decidedly nasty edge. "My next plan, however, will win me the war. I will get what I want, and a full measure of revenge besides." His face revealed deep satisfaction. "A full measure, pressed down and overflowing." He contemplated that future for a moment, and Enrico shivered.

Lex looked up, and ended on a somewhat lighter note. "That loss will hurt Kent far more deeply than this has hurt me. With that, I strive to be content."


Monday, Oct 26

On his first full day of caring for his daughter, Clark was in heaven. Or at least he would be, if only she were happier with the situation.

He'd cared for her before, of course, to give Lois a break to nap, shower, or run to the store, but those occasions had never lasted this long. Laura had seemed happy to be with Daddy for the first hour or so. Until, that is, it came around to feeding time. She was tired, she was hungry, and she wanted *Mommy*, not a bottle.

At last, however, she had calmed down enough to accept the bottle, and Clark was enjoying the peace and contentment of feeding his baby, watching her drift off to sleep. The relative quiet was broken when his superhearing picked up a news report of a hurricane pounding the Caribbean. The wind had blown the roof off of an evacuation shelter, threatening the lives of those inside.

Automatically, he shifted, mentally planning how to combat the emergency, but then he remembered the baby in his arms. Looking down at Laura, he shook his head, knowing that for the moment, at least, there was nothing he could do to help. It was not the first time he'd been unable to assist, for one reason or another, but it never got any easier for him. He reminded himself firmly that he had chosen parenthood, and the responsibilities that came with it. Surely that was more important.


Lois came home to discover her husband asleep on the couch, Laura sleeping soundly across his chest. Hearing a lullaby CD in the background, she realized it must have had the same effect on father as daughter. Putting down her briefcase, she walked over to them, placing a soft kiss on her daughter's cheek and her husband's lips.

Clark's eyes fluttered open, looking up into the soft brown eyes of his wife. "Hi, honey."

"Hi, yourself."

Realizing he was still holding Laura, he grinned, blushing slightly. "I guess she wore me out, today."

"I guess so. And you're the one with superpowers, right?"

"So I thought. I guess I know why they have the warning label on that lullaby CD about not playing it while driving. It wasn't working on Laura for a while there, but it sure made me sleepy."

Sitting down beside them, Lois couldn't help but tease him a little. "So, how did it go? Will this be your first and last day taking care of her?"

"Very funny. No, this will not be the last time. We had a great day. I'm just going to have to get rid of that CD."

Placing her hand on his cheek, Lois chose her words carefully. "I heard about the hurricane. You want to talk about it?"

He squeezed her hand for support. "I heard the report on TV. And I heard the update later that two people were killed."

"You know that they may have died before you could have gotten there, anyway."

"I know. I just don't have to like it. But the thing is … " he paused, searching for words. "I know there is no way I can be everywhere, that sometimes I'm going to … to fail, basically."

Lois shook her head vehemently. "You only think that because you try to take on too much."

He gave a tiny shrug of agreement, careful not to disturb the baby. "Yeah, maybe. But the point is, I don't want to fail you and Laura. You guys depend on me to be here, so this is where I'll be."

Bridging the distance between them, she placed her lips against his. Pulling away slightly, she spoke into his lips. "I love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart. Both of you."

"I know." She smiled tenderly, then sat back, merging into a more practical mode. "We'll just have to come up with some way for you to respond to some of the more major emergencies. Your mom and dad would be ideal, of course, but … "

"But they're getting ready to start on their trip — I think Dad said they wanted to leave tomorrow or Wednesday."

Lois laughed softly. "I hadn't realized how much they'd prepared, already. Anyway, they'll be unavailable for a while. And Perry said that he got the go-ahead on the day-care center at work, but it'll take them some time to set it up."

"That's great," Clark commented. "I love the idea of being able to visit her during the day." Laura started stirring around, perhaps aware that she was the topic of conversation.

"Me too," Lois concurred fervently, "and even more I love the idea of being able to nurse her during the day. Speaking of which, give her to me … " With practiced ease, she gathered up her daughter and moved clothing out of the way. "Ahhh … that's much better. I was getting so *full* it was uncomfortable."

Clark raised an eyebrow. "You know, I hadn't even thought of that. I guess if you're used to nursing her all day long … "

"Well, I thought of it," she retorted, "And I had my breast pump with me today, but I had the hardest time finding a private place to use it! That's the next thing I'm going to bug Perry about. Nursing has so many health benefits for babies that it only makes sense for the Planet to support it by setting aside a room somewhere for nursing mothers — I know I'm not the only one."

Clark squirmed, still a bit uncomfortable with all this biology. Then he grinned. "If you want it, Lois, I'm sure you'll get it."

She stuck her tongue out at him.


Friday, November 6, 4:30pm

"My goodness, Clark, I had no idea that going back to work would be this exhausting!" Lois collapsed into the passenger seat of the Jeep.

Clark smiled sympathetically from his side of the vehicle. "Well, it's been a busy week, what with the election and all." He started the engine and maneuvered them out of the Planet's parking garage and onto the city streets. "Next week should be better, especially if Laura skips a nighttime feeding again."

Lois groaned agreement. "Sleep is wonderful. I think I was more addicted to those little daytime naps than I thought."

"Well, she'll get better at night, and you'll get used to work again. I thought the flex-time schedule worked pretty well, don't you?"

"Yeah, actually, I do," Lois admitted, brightening slightly. "I got my four days in, anyway. Did you?"

"Well, I owe Perry a few more hours tomorrow, but that's because of Superman distractions. I can go in first thing in the morning, and then we'll have the rest of the weekend together."

Lois shrugged philosophically. "It'll give me a chance to reconnect with Laura, I suppose. I mean, it was great to be back at work, but I was amazed at how much I missed her this week. It'll be nice to just hang out with her for a morning."

Clark chuckled. "There you go, then."

They rode in companionable silence for another block before Lois voiced the question in the back of her mind. "How are you doing, with Superman distractions, I mean?"

He sighed. "Not too badly. It's hard to ignore a call for help, but they don't really always need me, anyway — not as much as my family does. If I wanted to be Superman full time, I should have given up on being Clark Kent a long time ago, and I can't do that, so … I just have to try to find a balance." The light changed from red to green, and Clark's mood with it. "And speaking of my family … how do you think Laura's doing with her grandmother?"

Lois laughed, allowing the subject to be changed. "She's a champ. Mother did a great job as far as I could tell, and she seemed to be enjoying it, too — she said she and Laura walked around the neighborhood a few times, and got to say hi to some of the neighbors, which is more than I managed in two months of being home." She grinned. "I guess I'm more of a homebody than I thought."

"It's called cocooning, Lois," Clark informed her in his mock-professor tone. "The trend of the nineties."

"Well, what a relief to know I'm trendy," Lois murmured, idly watching the flow of traffic in the darkening streets. "It feels like a cocoon when it gets dark this early."

"It's just the change of the seasons, Lois; perfectly normal."

"If you say so, Farmboy," she teased him, starting to recover from the stress of the workday.

"I do," he affirmed, with a grin in his voice as he turned the Jeep onto their street. "Before you know it —" He broke off suddenly, peering ahead intently.

Lois looked ahead and felt her stomach clench in fear. Red and blue lights were flashing, strident in the gathering dusk. "Clark, which house are they at?"

He shook his head. "I can't tell. I'm sure it's not ours."

Lois heard the doubt and fear in his tone and was not reassured.

As quickly as safety allowed, Clark parked the Jeep, and Lois was out of the door almost before the engine cut off. Clark caught up with her immediately, holding her hand for support as they hurried towards their townhouse.

"Oh, God, Clark," Lois breathed, "our door is open, what happened??"

He shook his head grimly. "I can't tell, but I can hear Laura whimpering, so it can't be too bad."

Lois vaulted up the front stairs, bursting into her living room, expecting the worst. What she saw seemed like a nightmare. The room seemed full of people, but the first sight she could make sense of was one that was all too familiar: her mother, passed out on the floor, an empty bottle beside her. Not again, Mother! Flashes of innumerable prior occasions flooded through Lois' mind, and she reeled from the shock and outrage.

Clark steadied her, and she tore her eyes away from the figure on the floor to search for her baby. There she was, across the room, being held by a woman Lois did not know. She started forward, but was stopped by a uniformed policeman.

"Hold it, ma'am."

"What happened here?" Clark demanded, finding his voice at last. "We're the homeowners, that's our baby … what's going on?"

The officer looked at them disapprovingly and shook his head. "A neighbor heard the baby crying and called us in. Clear-cut case of neglect."

Lois again moved to cross the room and reclaim her child, but the officer tightened his hold on her arm.

"I'm very sorry, ma'am," he intoned in a voice that sounded more bored than regretful, "but until this is settled, I'm afraid Social Services will have to take custody of the baby."


To Be Continued …

… in Episode 2, "For The Good Of The Child", by Chris Mulder

Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 6 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1998 to the author(s).