Best of Both Worlds

By Doris Schmill <doris.schmill@berlin.de>

Rated PG

Submitted August 2000

Summary: What begins as a routine day for Lois and for Superman becomes extraordinary as Lois and Clark celebrate a special anniversary. A Charity Fanzine story.

A Charity Fanzine story, first released summer 1999

***

Lois stood at the window of the townhouse and looked up at the velvety black night sky. She could just barely make out the star that Clark had shown her on that fateful night one year ago. The night was similar, but the atmosphere this time was certainly a happier one. A year ago to the day, the New Kryptonians had left and Clark had returned to her.

She was waiting for her husband to return from another rescue mission. She wanted this night to be special for them and hoped he wouldn't come back too early in case the surprise wasn't ready.

From somebody else, the surprise wouldn't have been so special. Coming from her, however, it was. She had spent long hours on the phone with Martha, getting supplementary detailed instructions to go along with the information on the index cards Martha had mailed her the other week. Those cards had already turned somewhat yellow with age and had a few greasy fingerprints on them. Martha said it was her collection of the family's favorite recipes. With Martha's help, she had eventually picked a combination of dishes that were some of Clark's favorites, but within her very limited culinary skills. Or so she hoped, at least.

Cooking was something that Clark was a lot better at than she was. Both she and Clark had gotten used to that fact and didn't mind. Sometimes, however, she wished she was better at it. Like tonight. The noodle ring she had in the oven was nothing fancy. It was something Martha had said Clark liked a lot. Lois was glad that her spaceman was a down-to-earth meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. Noodle ring was easy to prepare. She just needed to watch till the cheese was bubbling and started to brown nicely.

Suddenly, a trace of a smell reached her even here at the window. The noodle ring must be done. With one last glance at the night sky, she turned and went toward the kitchen. The smell of food intensified. It seemed it had gotten done faster than she expected… or she had lost track of time. It smelled done, well done in fact. She opened the kitchen door and a billow of smoke welcomed her. Holding her breath, she rushed to the window and opened it wide. For a moment, she wished Clark were there to take care of the smoke, but then decided otherwise. He wouldn't be mad, but he sometimes teased her. And this was supposed to be a surprise for him.

When the air had cleared sufficiently so that she could breathe again, she returned to the stove and shut off the oven. Taking her favorite puppet potholder from its regular hanger above the stove, she opened the oven and peered inside. Smoke made her eyes tear, but she didn't need to cry any more than she already had when she'd looked at the noodle ring, or what remained of it. It was a pitiful sight indeed. Martha had said that Clark and his dad liked the cheese well browned; but, although it wouldn't give Clark an upset stomach, even he wouldn't like it this well browned or blackened.

With a sigh, Lois reached for a second potholder, took the mold with its charred contents from the stove, and put it in the sink. She opened the tab to extinguish the one or two tiny flames that were visible in cracks in the dark surface of what should have been the cheese crust. It hissed and sizzled as the cold water made contact with the surface of the hot mold and its contents. Steam rose. Lois decided it didn't smell appetizing at all, and, once the mold had cooled off sufficiently, placed it on the windowsill of the wide-open window.

If Clark was back early, he couldn't miss this mishap, but that could not be helped. Once the acrid smell had cleared, she could dispose of it. There was no time now to take it out to the garbage in the yard.

She had better hurry, though, if there was to be even a small chance of having dinner ready before Clark returned. She turned and went over to the kitchen counter where she had left a few of the brown paper bags unattended earlier. Looking through them, she eventually produced a package. With a small sigh, she took a knife and, cutting open the wrapper, proceeded towards the microwave.

***

Half a continent away, Superman was sitting on a ledge high above the lake and the dam, the breach in which he had just repaired. The sun was low over the mountains. There was only another hour or two of daylight left. Back home, it would be dark already. Normally, Clark would have hurried home, especially considering the occasion. But although Lois hadn't said anything, the load of brown paper bags and her elaborate display of not being up to anything at all made it pretty obvious that she WAS up to something unusual. In addition, Clark had picked up an eagerness in her, but also that she was nervous about what she was setting out to do. Thus when the news about the crack in the dam came in, she had been hard-put to conceal that she was for once almost pleased that he was leaving on another mission. Clark knew her well enough to know that this had nothing to do with him, but that she needed time for whatever she was planning. And considering the day, he was sure it was some sort of a surprise for him. When taking off, he found his suspicion confirmed as he heard her rush to the kitchen and begin to rustle with those paper sacks.

So he could take his time for a break tonight. And there was also something that he wanted to do himself still.

When he had called home earlier this week he had asked his mom for an idea how to celebrate this special occasion. Martha had said she wasn't sure, but she was thinking about it and he should come by sometime so that they could have a family council session if necessary. Although both he and his mom had known that he was primarily referring to himself and Lois, he also wanted to see them since he knew the day had been an important one for all of them. Life in the city and at work had kept him so busy, however, that he had never made it to the farm. The few spare hours he and Lois had left, he had chosen to spend at home. Thus tonight he would use the opportunity for a quick visit to the farm.

Clark overlooked the gorge once more. It was beautiful, the red rocks reflecting the light of the setting sun. The mountainside rose steep on either side of the lake. The lush dark green of the pines at the bottom of it stood in sharp contrast to the bright red of the rocks that, in this light, looked almost as if they were on fire. It reminded Clark a little of the glaciers reflecting the sunset in other parts of the world. His adopted planet held such beauty, and he never ceased to be impressed, especially where it was allowed to run wild still.

Taking a last look at the scenery, Clark got ready to head up in the sky. Then, however, a voice from the bottom of the gorge caught his attention. He had noticed the group of campers earlier, some distance from the lake.

They had not brought a portable radio, and from the looks of it, they liked as few technical gadgets as possible. There was an old and somewhat dented iron kettle hanging from a makeshift contraption over the fire, and a pan sitting next to it. No camping stove for these guys. Clark smiled. The scene below reminded him so much of his days as a boy in Kansas when Martha and Jonathan had taken him camping and fishing, just like the couple below were doing with their son.

It was the boy's voice that had caught Clark's attention. Father and son were some distance from the shore in a boat, fishing. The mother was sitting against a tree, her hand flying over the pages of a notepad on a clipboard that she was balancing on her knees.

Clark effortlessly rose up into the air and floated to another ledge a little closer to the scene to get a better look. The evening breeze blew gently over the lake, rocking the boat ever so slightly. Both father and son were sitting in the small rowboat and holding their fishing rods, watching the end of the line eagerly for the slightest movement. The water's reflection of the sun, which was already intense at this altitude, had given all three of them a healthy suntan. The father was a picture of calm and patience, his mouth half hidden under his full beard, and never once moving, even when a fly landed for a brief inspection on his lower lip. The boy, however, was not that passive. The same fly that had made the trip between father and son a zillion times that afternoon, always landing on the most ticklish and inconvenient of places, circled and took up residence on the boys knee again. One of the boy's hands left the end of his fishing rod and slapped down twice in rapid succession. A cry of triumph escaped him when he held up his trophy.

The fly was caught, but the boy also knew that in all probability, his second interruption of the calm of the evening in as many minutes had put an end to whatever small chance they still had to catch some fish to supplement dinner. Not that he minded that much. They had sat out here in the boat all afternoon without catching one single fish. A few times one had come teasingly near the boat and the bait, but then turned and waved its rear fin at them as if mocking them. The boy was also growing hungrier by the minute. Though he did not fancy a dinner of canned beans that much, it was a lot better than nothing since the fish was swimming happily in the lake in pursuit of dinner of its own.

"Mom, I'm hungry!" the boy called out towards the shore.

Clark's ears picked up a sigh and a sentence that was inaudible to the two in the boat. In fact, Clark was sure that it wasn't meant for anyone else's ears in the first place: "Just half an hour more, and this chapter might have been finished."

With another sigh, the woman looked up from her clipboard and waved at the two in the boat. "I'll put it on," she called, pointing at a can. "It'll be ready in a couple of minutes."

'Time for another rescue mission,' Clark decided. He rose into the air and, in a bay hidden from sight from the threesome just a hundred yards or less from him, dove into the water of the lake. He went down deep enough to be sure he could not be seen in the water from above. Then, quickly taking in his surroundings, he spotted a school of fish. He began driving them towards the boat, and beyond to a little bay that was all but cut off from the rest of the lake. He swam closer to the boat and, taking up a position right underneath it, started kicking so that the boat began to move towards the bay where the fish were waiting for the two. His hand released one of the fish he was still holding, and it shot away from him towards the surface and the light. Clark then caught one of the limp fishing lines that was hanging down into the water and, although he regretted having to cause the fish pain, hooked the second fish he'd caught onto it. Immediately the fish started to struggle and tried to break free, pulling the line tight.

Up in the boat, father and son almost simultaneously saw the one fish move quickly underneath the lake's surface and felt the fishing line tighten and pull with the attempt of the captured fish to break free. Both had also noticed that the boat had started to move slowly, although there was no apparent breeze. Clark kicked a little harder from his position underneath the boat. The boat moved closer still to the shallow bay where Clark had herded the school of fish. He was beginning to wonder how to direct the attention of the two in the boat toward the bay without attracting attention himself, but the excited voice of the boy told him that was no longer necessary.

The boy's eyes had caught sight of the school of fish, in the shallows at the shore, which was trying to find a way out of the bay and back into the lake. Clark had barred the only exit with a few twigs and branches, making it look like some driftwood had gotten caught and was now blocking the natural entrance to the bay by accident. Some of the fish were even jumping out of the water in their search to get away.

The boy was excited. He had jumped up in the boat, making it rock dangerously from side to side for a moment. He waved to his mother. "We'll have fish tonight after all!"

Up above him, Clark saw the oars being put into the water and then the boat began to move towards the bay on its own, his services no longer required. Clark quickly made his way back to the shore. Once again at his secluded spot at the shore, he climbed out of the water. He started to spin rapidly, the quick motion spreading out the cape behind him and spin drying it as Clark rose into the air. Back at his earlier lookout ledge, Clark paused for a moment. He noticed with satisfaction that the mother was putting away the can opener and picking up her clipboard and pen. Clark smiled and made a mental note to pass by on the way back if time permitted.

***

Darkness had fallen over the farm. Martha dusted off her hands on her coveralls and picked up the items she had collected. She tenderly traced the intricate carving on the lid of the music box she had unearthed in the old cabinet over at the far side of the attic. She slipped the small wooden box into the pocket of her coveralls.

An eerie shadow made its way across the plank floor. Martha shuddered for a moment, then glanced up at the one bare light bulb suspended from the ceiling. In a moment, she had spotted the culprit and carefully reached out a hand, but the spider that had for a moment blocked a fraction of the light scurried up its silky thread and out of reach. If she wanted to relocate it, she would need her husband's help. She smiled and looked over and out the attic window.

Light came from the open barn door. Jonathan had spent many an evening in that barn once the chores were done. Though they had hardly spoken about it, she knew what he had been up to in recent weeks there. They had gone through the attic and also the barn. AND they had reached an agreement. Martha smirked at the thought. She was sometimes just as hard put as he was, but they didn't want to put more pressure on the kids.

It was time to go and collect her husband, though. They'd already had dinner, but there was some cherry pie left, and Martha had the uncanny feeling that they might have company soon. After all, Clark hadn't made it here all week. It would be a short visit, and it should be at that. But she was looking forward to seeing their son and didn't want Jonathan to be surprised in the barn. For a moment she patted the protruding pocket of her coveralls, then turned and descended the attic stairs.

On the way outside, she stopped in the living room to pick up another small box to put in her other pocket. Jonathan hadn't seen them yet, and maybe there would still be time.

She quickly crossed the yard and quietly entered the barn. Jonathan looked up and halfway turned towards her the moment she stepped in. His burly shape was blocking what he had been working on. Martha noticed a rag and a bottle of polish in his hands, though. She inhaled the faint scent and smiled at her husband. "Getting Betsy all fixed up for the occasion?"

Jonathan looked at her in momentary bewilderment. "Betsy?"

She grinned, indicating the polish in his hands. "I thought you were making sure her horns were extra shiny when Clark comes home."

"He's coming? Did he call? It's kind of late already, and I'm sure that he and Lois…"

"No, he hasn't called. But he said he would be over this week, and I'm sure he wants to see us, too, if only briefly."

Jonathan had crossed the remaining few yards between them and was placing his arms around her. They held each other quietly for a moment. The thought of having nearly lost their son a year ago was still a painful one. But they had also gotten him back, which was almost as big a miracle to them as having found him as a baby in the first place.

Martha returned the embrace, leaning her head against her husband's chest. Then, without ever leaving his embrace, she shifted position enough so that she could see what he'd been working on. The lamplight above Jonathan's workbench was reflected inthe smooth and shiny surface of the wooden high chair Jonathan had been working on.

Together they walked over to it. Martha smiled tenderly as she touched the smooth wood. For a moment, she was lost in her memories. She looked at her husband. "I see you've replaced the broken leg. You really can't tell the difference," she said admiringly.

"It took a while to get the shade of the varnish just right," Jonathan said, his voice even, but his eyes alight with the joy and pride of accomplishment. It was good to hear his wife's approving compliment.

Now, however, she was hooking a finger in his belt and pulling slightly before releasing him and poking his stomach instead. "But didn't we agree on something…?"

"I know, I know: No more reminders or hints about having babies. But I wasn't intending to give it to them now," Jonathan said a little defensively. "Just in case. It never hurts to be prepared. And, you know, I don't think they'll be too long … " He had taken his arm from around her shoulder and placed it around her waist. Encountering the hard bulge in her pocket, he raised an inquiring eyebrow at her. "What's in there?"

"Oh, that. I almost forgot. I was wondering what you thought…" With that, she removed the delicate wooden box from her pocket. Opening the music box as she placed it on the workbench, she carefully watched Jonathan's face for a response. As the first notes rose into the air, his eyes took on a tender look. "It still works. I thought it was broken."

"No, I got it fixed," she smiled as he placed his arms around her and slowly began to move in time to the music on the barn floor.

They held each other close for another moment after the music stopped when Martha said, "It looks almost exactly like the other one…"

Jonathan looked at her questioningly.

"No, I meant the little thing we found with Clark in the ship, along with that rattle and pacifier next to his blanket. I sent it to Lois the other week."

"Oh, the little thing that wouldn't open, you mean? With the cryptic lettering on it?"

"That was Kryptonian lettering, probably," Martha grinned. "But no, we never could open it. Remember, you just put it away with the blanket and the other toys."

"We thought it was a…" Suddenly his eyes took on an amused twinkle. "Here you are chiding me for fixing up Clark's high chair, and you yourself are digging out his Kryptonian toys!"

"Well, we were never sure it was a toy. I just thought they might like both the music boxes, provided, of course, the other one IS one. Maybe Clark can open it. You know, I just thought it would be nice if they had something from both worlds. And this," she pointed at the open music box. "It's all right with you that we give it to them, isn't it?"

"Of course. They'll love it. Our first date…" He paused for a moment. "It will always be in our hearts."

"And I will always hear the tune." She had closed her eyes and had resumed swaying softly again in time with the tune that was now playing only in her mind. After a moment, Jonathan placed his arms around her again and joined her.

A soft bellow from the back of the barn brought them back to the present. Betsy, the semi-retired milk cow mooed softly as her ears picked up a sound that she still remembered from her younger days when her young master had returned home from his nightly excursions when he'd first discovered flight.

Martha's ears also picked up the soft swooshing sound. Smiling at Jonathan, she quickly turned to kiss his cheek before replacing the little box in her pocket and smiling up at him. "There he is."

***

Potholder in hand, Lois was on the phone in an attempt to consult with "the cavalry". She was already about to hang up again when there was a click at the other end and then Martha's warm voice greeted her.

"Lois?" Martha sounded a little out of breath. "I thought it would be you."

"Really?" Lois made a face. "Well, you've seen me cook."

Gentle laughter rang out at the other end. "Oh, no! It's not that. I was just wondering once again if you kids can read each other's minds. We just came in the door, and Clark was about to call you."

Lois smiled. "Oh, he's there then. I thought he might be."

"He wanted to let you know he'd be about half an hour longer, or, or…" Martha added as an afterthought, taking a guess why Lois was calling, "even a little more. Do you want to talk to him?"

"Yeah, for just a minute. But I have a question for you first: the cheese sauce boiled over and burnt and stuck the glass tray to the bottom of the microwave…"

"Try soaking it with a solution of baking soda. I'll get Clark…"

At that moment, the doorbell rang. Lois sighed. She had almost forgotten. "No, hold it Martha. Somebody's at the door. I almost forgot. Please tell Clark I'm meeting with one of our sources still. She called only a couple of minutes ago and said she'd drop by with some important news. I'll make it quick, though. And tell him I miss him. But dinner…"

"Honey," she could hear Martha chuckle affectionately over the phone, "he knows … both. Don't worry about dinner. I know it's important to you, but he isn't picky, certainly not when you serve it."

Lois could see Martha smile in her mind and relaxed. Martha was right, of course. But still … The doorbell rang again. "I've got to go, Martha. Don't stuff Clark too much. I WILL feed him." She grinned as she heard Martha chuckle over the phone before they hung up.

Lois turned and went to the door just as the doorbell rang a third time. She opened the door to admit her visitor. She looked into the kind face half hidden behind a large bag of groceries that her visitor was hugging against herself. When Lois extended her hand in greeting, Frances smiled and brought up hers, though she was carrying a basket. Lois retreated an involuntary step when the basket hissed at her after coming in contact with her hip.

"Bandit?" Lois eyed the basket nervously.

"Yes. We're on the way home from the vet. You're not allergic to cats, are you?"

Lois shook her head although she was debating whether she had not developed an instantaneous allergy to this particular sample of the feline species. The large tom had not appreciated sharing the sofa with her when she had initially gone to interview his owner. But then, it was probably a mutual misunderstanding, she thought. He had probably assumed she wanted to spend the night on his accustomed favorite space, and his owner's kindness and the story she had gotten in return more than made up for the nylons she had lost that afternoon.

Starr had originally mentioned that an attorney friend of hers was on a case where families with several children had been refused housing with fishy excuses. Her lawyer friend had been on the case for a while, but felt it was not getting the attention it deserved. Lois, who was just starting out having a family of her own and hoping to have a flock of happy children together with the husband she loved, had taken on the case enthusiastically.

Her investigation had turned up that bribery was involved. There were also some people in that neighborhood who preferred having people with poodles move in rather than a family with kids as neighbors, and they were not above using whatever means they could to get the landlords on their side. Lois' exposť had raised some public interest in the situation, but eventually things had quieted down as the mills of bureaucracy kept on grinding and the miles of red tape were unwound to settle matters officially. Lois was glad that she didn't need to deal with that part of the cases she covered, or rarely, at least. She knew that patience was not always one of her virtues. Clark had more of that, but she realized that it took the patient diligence of people like her attorney friend here to see that justice was served, and especially to keep this whole system of checks and balances working the way it was meant to.

A hiss emitting from the basket her friend was carrying brought her back to the present.

"Is he all right?" Lois eyed the basket warily.

"Oh, yes, he is. He just needed to get his teeth cleaned and since he doesn't like to submit to that voluntarily… and don't worry, the vet said he would still be out cold for another hour."

"I can imagine," Lois grinned, a picture of the large tom sitting in a dentist's chair appearing in front of her mind's eye for one silly moment. She smiled at Frances. "Why don't you come on in for a moment if you don't mind… I'm cooking."

"Sure, I won't be long. I just thought you might want to know." Frances dug into her coat's pocket. "The case was officially closed today. The first families have already moved in. They wanted me to give you this."

Lois looked at the polaroid picture held out to her. Several families had gathered in front of a house and were smiling into the camera in happy unison. Lois smiled too, as she eyed the picture of about ten adults and at least twice as many children of various sizes. They seemed a happy bunch. She hoped that through the shared struggle to get what was their right, they had learned to stick together. It was what made for a good neighborhood. Maybe the results of this case were quieter than some of her more spectacular ones. But she had learned to appreciate these as well. She took the picture and smiled. "I really appreciate this."

Her attorney friend smiled back. "They do, too. They've invited us, me and you and your husband, to attend a party down there once the rest of the neighbors have moved in."

"We'll be glad to come."

Lois was interrupted by hissing and steam coming from the kitchen.

"Cooking, eh?" Lois' friend commented with a smirk.

"Oh, my God, I forgot the water for the Jell-O!" Lois dashed for the kitchen.

Her friend put her bags and the cat basket down and followed her more slowly. Leaning against the doorframe, she observed. "You don't need boiling water for Jell-O. Just cold water is fine. No danger of burning it."

Lois could hear the grin in her voice, but knew it was only a gentle teasing. "Ah, well, I should have read the directions. But I need to get dinner ready, and the microwave is a mess…"

"Can I help?" Frances eyed the battlefield and the casualties.

"Well, it will be sandwiches, I guess."

"Oh, that's good. I'm fine at fixing them," Frances smiled, and Lois gratefully accepted the offered help. She showed her friend where she had stored the ingredients for the sandwiches she now had to prepare. Since Lois had already started on the salad earlier, she let her friend do what she was so good at doing and finished chopping lettuce and tomatoes.

While she was finishing the salad, her friend was putting away the tuna sandwiches she had made, ready to start on the cheese and ham ones. "Oh, could you do me a favor?" Lois asked sheepishly. Frances looked at her questioningly. "Well, you know, salad dressing isn't exactly my forte, and sandwiches are so much easier to fix. I mean, what could go wrong with sandwiches…" She trailed off and shot her friend a thankful look when she only smiled and fixed the dressing.

Lois turned to prepare the cheese and ham sandwiches, and in less than twenty minutes, the sandwiches and a fresh salad were stored in the fridge alongside the Jell-O. Lois had managed to fix a pot of tea without burning the water, and they were enjoying it on the sofa.

Suddenly there was scratching and loud hissing from the half-forgotten wicker basket on the floor next to the sofa. The next moment the lid flew open and out came the head of a somewhat bedraggled, but not very sleepy-looking tomcat who eyed his surroundings suspiciously. Putting her cup back down on the coffee table, his owner quickly bent down and, picking him up by the scruff of his neck, lifted him onto her lap. She stroked him in an attempt to prevent him from launching himself at the coffee table where he had made out the cream and had obviously decided that it would make a nice starter for his evening meal. He half-hissed in protest at being held back, but also half-purred at the attention he was getting. Frances looked at Lois apologetically. "Seems it's time we go home." She nodded towards the cat on her lap. "He's not in the best of moods."

Lois smiled, relieved that Frances had captured the renegade before he claimed what was on the coffee table and in the rest of the townhouse. "I'm usually in a bad mood after the dentist, too."

They both grinned. Lois held the basket, staying carefully out of reach of her furry guest's claws while he was deposited back in the basket and the lid was closed and fastened securely.

Walking her to the door, Lois smiled at her friend. "I'm glad things worked out and that you brought the news personally. It was nice to see you again."

"My pleasure. Please give my best to that hunk of a husband of yours," Frances said in the direction of Clark's picture on the mantelpiece.

Lois laughed. "I will. We'll see you at the 'Happy Home Festival' at the latest."

Her guest returned the smile and then quickly picked up the basket that had started to rock evilly next to her feet.

Lois smiled after her and closed the door. Then she went to clear the coffee table and finish removing the last traces of her earlier battle in the kitchen.

***

Clark had met his parents on the porch of the farmhouse. Although they knew he wouldn't be able to stay long, they were glad to see him. Martha had immediately put a plate with cherry pie and vanilla ice cream in front of him, and that was when Lois' call had caught them.

Martha hung up the receiver and turned around to Clark and Jonathan sitting at the table. "Lois has company and has been having some problems…"

"Cooking." Clark grinned.

Martha gave him a look that was half-amused and half-chiding for eavesdropping.

"He wouldn't," Jonathan said, and Clark shook his head.

"No, I haven't." He touched his ear in the gesture that had become Lois' and his sign for his super hearing. "But she was rushing to the kitchen as I left and rustling with several brown paper sacks…" He smirked. "She was clearly up to something, and it took no super powers to figure out what."

Martha grinned in response. "So maybe we SHOULD give her a little time. How did things go at that dam?"

"Not too bad, and I caught it in time." Clark paused for a moment. "It's beautiful up there. You could forget that lake is manmade. The water is so clear, and the air…"

"You've grown accustomed to life in the city, son." Jonathan patted his back.

"No, Dad, it's more than that. This world is so beautiful, even if man so often hampers it…" Clark's voice trailed off into silence.

Martha came over to the table and seated herself on Clark's other side. Placing an arm around him, she said quietly, "Thinking?"

"Yeah." Clark broke into a smile, though his eyes still had a faraway look. "How lucky I am. I came to this beautiful world, got the best parents anybody could wish for…" He placed an arm around both Martha and Jonathan. "A job and a purpose in life, the most beautiful, loving wife…and where I come from…"

"You never said much about it," Martha prompted. "Did Zara and Ching tell you about it?"

"Not much, actually. There wasn't much time. But New Krypton is hardly more than a rock in space. All their strength and technology is put into making it livable. Old Krypton used to be more hospitable, but its inhabitants were responsible for its demise, at least in part. With Earth, we have been given a chance to prevent that, and I can be a part of that. But that's not really it. It's simply… A year ago, I was given all of this…" He gestured around the room, but it was obvious that he meant much more, "a second time. You, Lois, this planet… and I feel awed. And Lois especially. She was willing to give up all we had for my sake, or rather for that of my world that she didn't even know. I want… This day is important to us, really important." Again he grew silent, remembering the scene on the fire escape a year ago. "I wish I could express what I feel…"

Both Martha and Jonathan tightened the hug around his shoulders. "She knows, son," Jonathan said quietly.

"I know." Clark smiled. "Anyway, today is special and I want to share that with her."

Clark had finished the last of his cherry pie. Martha patted his back affectionately. "Now that you've eaten up, your dad and I want to give you something for the two of you."

Martha reached into her pocket and took out the little wooden box.

"The music box!" Clark exclaimed. "Mom, you can't…"

"We want you to have it, son," Jonathan chimed in. "Lois will love it."

Clark touched the smooth wood almost reverently. "I'm sure she will. Thanks." He smiled at his parents appreciatively. "I'd better get going, though. I passed a coal mine tonight, and I had an idea for a gift…"

Picking up the idea, Jonathan grinned at him. "You could be rich, son, had you chosen to employ your talents elsewhere."

Clark grinned back. "No fun. I just want a homemade gift for Lois, and what is more perfect? I'll still need to buy a setting for it to go in anyway. No, I'm not about to go into gold mining."

"Maybe this would help," Martha said, reaching into her other pocket. "They're not gold, but perhaps you'll like them anyway."

She unwrapped the small package she'd slipped into her pocket earlier. In it were two brass rings with a welded pattern on the surface. They were different in size but otherwise identical. Clark noticed that appropriately enough, the place to hold a stone was still empty.

"Mom, they're beautiful."

Jonathan rose and moved to stand behind Clark. He also admired the rings. "When did you make those, honey?" he asked.

"Art class." Martha winked at Clark. "You know, your father sometimes says he wishes I would produce something more practical in art class."

Clark got up and placed an arm around both of his parents, hugging them close. "Thanks, Mom and Dad. I know Lois will love all of these. She said she wished you could have joined us this weekend."

"Well, the farmer's board meeting couldn't be moved. Besides…"

"We would want to be by ourselves at a time like this," Martha finished her husband's sentence for him. "And you're coming out here at the end of the month anyway, aren't you?"

"Yes, we are." Clark smiled. "Vacation is filed and Lois said she would personally treat the TV in Elvis style if I turned it on the night we are to leave. So barring an earthquake in Metropolis…"

"You found yourself the right wife, son," Jonathan said appreciatively. "She knows that even Superman needs a vacation sometimes. Better not leave her waiting, now."

With that, he gently nudged Clark in the direction of the door. Clark smiled, then turned and gave each of his parents a tight hug in turn. "Thanks again for everything. You are the best."

Once more Martha and Jonathan laid their arms around their son, and together they walked to the door. They stood on the porch and waved as Clark walked over to the barn, making sure that no passerby on the road would notice the transformation of the Kent's boy into Superman. He waved again before stepping into the shadow of the barn.

A moment later, the Kents could just barely make out something dashing across the full moon's surface and heading higher into the sky. Arm in arm they remained standing on the porch for a little while longer even though they knew their son was already long gone from sight.

***

Clark flew back the way he had come, taking a little detour to pass by the lake and the dam. On the way, he stopped by a deserted coal mine and slipped a piece of fossil coal into his hyperspace pocket.

A quick inspection while flying by the dam showed that his repairs from earlier were holding. Satisfied, he turned and looked in the general direction of the campers he had helped. The campsite was not hard to make out at all. A fire was burning brightly, and, as he breathed in, the delicious smell of fried fish reached his nose.

Clark smiled as he flew closer, hovering in the shadow of the treetops, and watching the happy scene below. Dinner was just about finished, and the three campers were settled around the fire comfortably. The fire crackled softly and the two men were talking about their catch. The boy's higher voice still rang with excitement. "I caught as many fish as Dad did. I bet we have almost a hundred!"

"At least 98, I bet," his mother said, reaching out and ruffling his hair.

"Well, it was a good catch. And since we put them in that little bay we separated from the lake, they will keep fresh, and we might even be able to sell the rest that we don't eat in town here on Monday."

"Too bad Superman can't have any of them," the boy said.

"Superman?!" his father and mother asked in unison.

"Well, he did help us catch them," the boy said.

"What are you talking about, son?" the father asked, sounding mildly annoyed. "Too many comic books again?"

Clark, who had momentarily stiffened at the mention of his alias, relaxed again. Some of his super feats he preferred to go unnoticed.

"He passed under our boat coming back from the bay," the boy replied.

"Brent." The father's voice had risen a notch in volume. "I told you that you shouldn't read too many of those comic books. Superman lives in Metropolis as we all know. How would…"

"Well, he can go swimming sometimes, can't he? And being Superman…" The boy looked at his father defiantly.

"Imagination is a good thing to have," the mother interjected before the dispute escalated any further. She hugged the boy close. "Do you want to hear what I wrote this afternoon? I did finish the chapter, as I wanted to. You know, I might indeed finish my book before you return to school this fall."

Clark smiled as he watched the scene below. Hugging the boy close, the mother reached for the discarded notepad and, opening it, began to read. Her husband yawned, and stretched out next to the fire, listening to his wife's voice. The Superman sighting was forgotten as the story of the heroine of the prospective book unfolded and captured its audience of two.

Clark turned and floated higher into the air. When he was sure that he would not be made out against the silvery moonlight, he took a last look at the scene below. The mother's voice reached his ears still as she was reading. In the background, the wind was whispering in the leaves softly, blending in with the myriad of soft voices of the creatures of the night. No predators were near, though, to disturb the peace of the three campers below, and Clark had seen that the bow and arrows were leaning within easy reach of the father to ward off any unwanted visitors should the need arise.

The lake was silver with the moonlight and seemed studded with diamonds from the reflections of the stars above. It was time to return home to the diamond in his life.

Superman rose high into the air and was gone.

***

Warm light shone from the windows of the townhouse below. Clark hovered high up above the scene for a moment. It was so good to have a place to come home to and to have somebody waiting for him.

On a whim, he decided to make his return a really quiet one. He landed soundlessly on the sill of the bedroom window, spun back into casuals, then decided to put on the black shirt that he knew Lois liked on him.

Slipping the piece of coal and the items Martha had given him into his jeans pockets, he left the bedroom and then rose a few inches above the ground to float to the top of the stairs. He slowly floated down till he could overlook the room below. Levitating above the steps, he halted and watched Lois.

The TV was turned on, but there was no sound. She sat on the sofa, hugging her knees up to her chin. Undoubtedly, she was thinking. She had only lit the lamp by the window. The only other sources of light in the room came from the open fireplace where she had lit the fire, and the TV screen. For a moment, he wondered if she could be cold. The townhouse could sometimes be a bit chilly on a summer night when the temperatures outside dropped, but she didn't seem cold, and the blanket on the sofa lay neatly folded up on one end. She would have used it if she was.

The flickering light of the flames in the fireplace reflected on her smooth hair. Clark longed to touch it and instinctively stretched out a hand in her direction although she was way out of reach.

As if on cue, she laid back her head for a moment, her eyes closed. Clark felt as if they were almost touching. Then her eyes opened and she turned her head to look in his direction. For a moment, there was a look of mild surprise on her face. "I just thought of you and here you are," she smiled, shutting off the TV and rising to her feet quickly.

Clark's feet made contact with the ground again and he bounded down the rest of the stairs two at a time. They met halfway across the room, melting into each other's arms.

When they drew apart after a long kiss, Lois' face was flushed slightly. Clark looked over her shoulder and noticed the candles on the coffee table in front of the sofa. Lowering his glasses a little, he took aim and lit them.

Lois smiled at him appreciatively. "Thanks." Hugging him close again, she asked, "How bad was it with the dam?"

"Not too bad. I checked it on the way back, and the cracks I mended were holding fine."

"It's good to have you hold things together," she mumbled against his chest, clearly not only thinking of the dam. Clark had become the stable center of her, of their, world. She felt safe with him, whether he held her close like now or whether they were apart.

"Likewise." Clark had rested his chin on her head and was burying his nose in her hair, inhaling the vague fragrance of her shampoo. As strong as he was, he could not imagine his world without Lois at the center of it anymore. "Ma and Pa send their love. They're looking forward to seeing us at the end of the month."

"Did you tell them we would make it for sure this time?"

"Yes." Clark grinned. "Including the measures you're prepared to take to make sure that we do."

Lois grinned back. "It would have been nice to have them here, though."

"They understand. Very well in fact."

"They are the greatest," Lois said. The Kents had become very much a part of her world and she felt about as close to them as to her own parents, even closer sometimes. She turned to Martha for advice quite naturally, just as she had with her cooking plans. Thinking of that, she grew a little nervous. "You must be starving." She turned in Clark's arms to face the kitchen door.

Clark picked up her nervousness and teased her softly. "You know I won't starve. I live on air, sunshine, and love alone." He bent down to kiss her neck. "And I'm getting plenty of those. However, I could eat something."

A little more at ease again, Lois smiled. "I've fixed us some sandwiches. I'll get them ready." With that, she broke from his embrace and hurried to the kitchen. Her friend had told her exactly what temperature to set the toaster oven to, and for how long. She took the ham and cheese sandwiches she wanted to toast from the fridge and put them in the toaster oven. She started it and set the timer clock to ten minutes exactly. That would brown the toast and get the cheese bubbly, but not burn anything.

A little more sure of herself, she took the salad from the fridge and carried it out. Clark had gotten a bottle of wine in the meantime and set the glasses on the table. He helped her put down the salad and then returned to the kitchen with her to get the plates. Soon the timer rang, announcing that the sandwiches were done. Clark took them from the toaster oven, and Lois eyed her handiwork in pleased surprise. The toast had turned golden brown, the cheese was bubbling and sizzling and browned too where it peeked out between the slices of bread. The smell of the cooked ham was delicious. This meal wasn't as fancy as Lois had pictured it, but it would be edible. Her stomach seemed to agree and made itself heard loudly. Clark helped her to put the sizzling toasts on the plates and carried them into the living room.

"This looks great." Seating himself next to Lois on the sofa, he poured the wine. Then he put an arm around her back and held her. They raised their glasses, clinking them together. Then they intertwined their arms and drank from each other's glass, laughing softly as they looked deeply into each other's eyes. They stayed like that for a long moment. At last putting down his glass, Clark picked up his fork and knife and cut into his grilled sandwich. Lois watched him expectantly.

Clark bit into the piece he had forked up. The bread was crisp, but not burned, just the way he liked it. He smiled at Lois and began to chew. After a moment, he noticed a somewhat unusual taste and consistency of his cheese. The melted cheese was not just soft. And there was a distinct flavor.

Clark let the bite remain on his tongue for a moment. Then he recognized the taste. Plastic. He had swallowed plastic explosives occasionally, so a piece of forgotten wrapper with his Velveeta wouldn't harm him. However, it could be potentially dangerous for a human when the digestive acids changed the texture of plastic.

He wondered what to do for a moment. He watched Lois. Her cheeks were slightly flushed with excitement. She had begun eating likewise and was digging in heartily. Clark was sure she would have noticed the plastic taste, too, but just to be sure, he lowered his glasses a little and quickly x-rayed her sandwich when she wasn't looking. Relieved, he noticed that there was no trace of anything unusual on her bread. Satisfied, he leaned back and began to work away at his own sandwich again.

Lois smiled when she saw that he ate with a healthy appetite. Noticing her eager look, he smiled. "It's good. You got the time to grill the toast exactly right." It wasn't a lie.

Suddenly, something else occurred to Clark. She might have fixed more of this specialty, and he wanted neither to spoil her excitement nor run the risk of her eating any of it should she have toasted another cheese wrapper. He quickly finished his sandwich before she did hers.

"Do you want another one?" she asked him eagerly.

"Oh, is there one? That would be great." He smiled.

"Yeah, I hoped we would like them. There are two more. I'll get them."

"Oh, I can do that." He quickly rose. "And would you mind if I had both?"

"No, not at all." She smiled in return, clearly glad he enjoyed her handiwork.

"Great. What do you want next, then?"

"Oh, there are some tuna sandwiches, too."

"I'll get you one, then."

In the kitchen, he quickly used his heat vision to brown the remaining two ham and cheese sandwiches, a scan of which revealed that another one of them was spiced with a plastic wrapper. He then got Lois' tuna sandwich from the fridge. Pausing for a moment before heading back to Lois, he took the little music box Martha had given him from his bulging pocket and put it in a secluded corner in the kitchen cabinet.

Returning to Lois, he sat down next to her. They finished eating in companionable silence. When they had finished, they remained seated on the sofa. Clark had placed an arm around her, and she was nestling closer to him.

The candles' lights flickered every so often, and the moonlight was shining softly through the windows. They held each other and enjoyed the moment.

Soon they also began to enjoy each other in a way only they could. Lois had slipped her hand under his shirt and was feeling his slightly warmer than human skin and his strong and steady heartbeat against her hand. Nuzzling against his chest, she noted that his shirt seemed to come unbuttoned one by one. He was holding her and kissing her hair and her neck softly. She felt secure in his arms and time seemed to cease around them as they reveled in each other's closeness.

A while later, it had gotten considerably warmer in the room, or at least its two occupants had ridded themselves of most of their layers of cumbersome clothing. They were lying back on the sofa. Lois was still slightly out of breath when she raised her head from her husband's chest and looked into his eyes. "A year ago we came very close to this."

"Yeah, I know. I may come from outer space, but I am no Vulcan."

"Well, from what I heard they are said to swim upstream every seven years with no way to resist." She grinned. "We did, though we had come so close to maybe not ever having this."

She had grown more serious again, her eyes taking on a faraway look for a moment. Clark tightened his arm around her. "Did you regret that we did?"

"Oh, no," she smiled. "It was well worth the wait for… the real thing."

He hugged her tight and pulled her closer under his chin. She relaxed onto his chest once more, idly trailing her hand down his side. He was still wearing his jeans, though their position was somewhat altered.

Just then there was some noise on the street. Clark raised his head in response automatically, but she pressed him back against the cushions. "You don't want to be caught with your pants down, do you?" she teased, slapping his behind playfully.

He blushed slightly as her hand made contact with his bare skin. "No. But we should do something about that danger." He reached down and, floating up slightly above the sofa, pulled his pants back up into position. Then, before any disappointment could begin to form in her mind, he added quickly. "No, don't worry, I am not about to rush off. Tonight, even if the earth would open…"

She smiled at the familiar line. "What are you up to, though?"

"I want you to have something and to know…" His voice trailed off. He still could not quite put in words what he felt. He touched her arm lightly, lost deeply in thought for a moment. Then a more earthly fact struck him. "You're getting cold."

She had picked up on his mood and hushed his mouth with a kiss, but then bent down to pick up her discarded blouse.

Clark helped her into it, put his arms around her, and held her close again. He kissed her, not as urgently as they had before, but slowly and gently. He, who had earlier that night fixed a broken dam and even hurled asteroids through space on occasion, felt helpless. He was helplessly in love.

A year ago, Lois and he had decided to separate for what they knew could be forever so that he could save the world he came from and didn't even know. Only the strength of their love had carried them through. Clark knew how hard it had been on Lois. He also knew had she not been so strong that night when he took his leave, he wouldn't have gone. He had the physical powers to save anything on this planet, but it had been Lois' strength and love that had given him the power to start out to save his own world.

It had been hard on both of them. Fate had carried them through and reunited them. A year ago to this day they had returned home and renewed their vows of love. His heart was as full now as it had been that night, or even more full, if possible, as now they had nearly a year of marriage to look back on and their relationship had grown and intensified.

He lifted Lois up into his arms and blew out the candles that had nearly burned down. He slowly floated them over to the window were they had first stood inside this house. The silver moonlight was shining into the window and was reflected on Lois' hair and in her eyes when he put her back on her feet. She looked at him, smiling for a moment, before pulling him close and kissing him fully on the lips. Their lips parted and they shared a long lingering kiss.

"I love you," Clark whispered.

"I know." She rested her head against his chest for a moment, listening to the sound of his heart beating.

"Lois… you mean so much to me." His fingers trailed the outline of her face, stroking it gently. "If only I could express…"

"The star reporter at a loss for words?" she teased gently without breaking the spell of the moment.

He smiled, then dug into his pocket. "I want you to have something. Our love is…"

She watched him carefully unwrap his handkerchief, then place its contents in her hands. She looked at the item in bewilderment for a moment. Holding it up against the moonlight for a better view, she suddenly giggled. "A piece of coal!"

"Yes. Always good to have around," he said deadpan. Then added, "May the flame of our love always burn brightly."

Picking up his sincerity despite the teasing she had seen in his eyes for a moment, she added quietly, "And the embers never die."

He took hold of her hand with the piece of coal in it and clasped his around hers for a moment, looking into her eyes. "And this is more too," he said. "Crumbly now, but…" He gently took the piece from her hand and in his own.

As his fingers closed around it, she could see his muscles tense momentarily as he pressed his fingers tightly together. Then he relaxed and smiled at her. Opening his fingers, he revealed the piece now diminished considerably in size. It was no longer black, but the clearish white of a rough-cut diamond. "Now one of the strongest substances of this world."

"Show-off!" She poked his chest teasingly. Growing more serious again, she added, "Our love is stronger still. And I bet on your world, as well." She smiled. "And maybe this will fit the occasion. You wait right here." She raised a threatening finger at him while she hurried away and took something from a drawer.

"Close your eyes," she commanded as she put it into Clark's hand.

"The music box. How did you know where I put…" His fingers came in contact with the carving on the box's lid. Surprised, he opened his eyes. "It's the Kryptonian one!"

"Your mother sent it to me. She thought we might want to have something from your home world on this occasion."

Their eyes met, and Clark nodded. "It's great to have. It's funny, though, how much the two music boxes are alike."

Now it was Lois' turn to be surprised. "What do you mean? Is there another one? And this one, what does it play?"

Clark smiled briefly at her bewilderment. "One thing at a time. Yes, there is another music box. In fact, Mom and Dad gave it to me tonight. They thought we would like it."

Putting down the Kryptonian box on the windowsill, Clark went to the kitchen to retrieve the music box. When he returned, he put it on the windowsill next to the Kryptonian one. Lois, too, was struck by the similarity of the two. They were almost exactly the same size and shape, and the wood, even though it stemmed from different trees having grown on different planets hundreds of light-years apart, was similar in structure and tone. Some of the ornaments and carving were different, though. Lois picked up the Terran box and looked at the handiwork admiringly. "It's beautiful."

"Dad gave it to Mom on their first date. They sometimes danced to it when I was a kid. Then it broke, though."

"And you're sure they…?"

"Oh, yes, they said the tune is always in their hearts." Clark smiled. "Maybe they think this will aid the bonding process."

"It's sweet of them. Just a bummer it's broken." Lois had lifted the lid. Both she and Clark were surprised when a melody began to fill the air.

Clark smiled. "They must have gotten it fixed." He bowed to Lois. "May I…?"

She replaced the now open music box on the windowsill, took his proffered arm, and they began to move in time to the music. After a few moments, Clark pulled her closer still, and floating off the ground slowly, whispered into her ear "This isn't dancing… this is."

She tightened her hold on him and, losing herself in his strong arms, leaned her head against his shoulder as they circled slowly and effortlessly around the room, always a few feet above the ground.

Eventually, the music ended. Clark floated them back down to the spot in front of the window. They held each other close for a moment. Then Lois picked up the other box. "What does this one play? A Kryptonian lullaby?" She looked at Clark teasingly. "Your mom wrote that it came with you in your spaceship."

"Actually, we don't really know if it's a music box at all," Clark replied. "We just assumed so from the way it looked, but we were never able to open it."

"You mean even you couldn't open it?"

"No," Clark shook his head. "I tried several times over the years. But I also didn't want to risk breaking it. The last time I saw it was when Mom and I were going through my things when I was packing for college."

"Well, it's pretty anyway, and it's part of your heritage."

"Yeah, it's nice to have it. I never thought of asking Mom and Dad for it before, but… I missed having the globe, but that would have been too dangerous to keep around."

Lois had noticed the hesitancy, maybe even a trace of embarrassment in his voice. "I like it, too," she said quietly. "Especially tonight."

Clark pulled her close again and covered her hand that was still holding the Kryptonian box with his own. As both their hands together came in contact with the wood of the box — or was it really wood? — an eerie reddish glow began to emit from it.

Lois and Clark watched the light in fascination. And then a voice began to boom in Clark's head. He could not make out words — or thoughts, rather — yet, but noted that it sounded vaguely familiar; yet at the same time unknown to him. It reminded him of Jor-El's voice, but was somehow more even and timeless.

Clark turned his eyes back to Lois to see if she was experiencing any of this, too. He watched the momentary look of confusion on her face, saw her blink and focus on the little box intently. Then she brought her eyes back up to meet Clark's.

He was relieved to see that she didn't seem frightened. He took hold of her other hand, and they placed it together around the box. As they did, the voice in his head became clearer and he was beginning to be able to make out words, as, from the look on her face, was Lois.

"You have joined with the wife who has been meant for you. Join the broken crystal and place it on the family scepter, and experience the union of your bond as shown by the glow when the crystal is reunited."

The light emitting from the box diminished to a soft reddish glow. The voice in their minds was gone. They were silent for a moment longer, holding each other's hands when Lois expressed what she was feeling. "Wow! Did you know what this was?"

Clark shook his head. "No. We never thought it was of any significance, just a Kryptonian music box or some toy my parents had sent with me." He took his hand from the lid of the box. "Some of these look like letters, but I can't read them." Suddenly his gaze grew intense. "Wait, this looks like the lettering on the ship!"

Lois watched him in fascination as his finger traced the delicate carving. "You hadn't been able to read the ones on the ship either, had you?"

Clark silently shook his head, then blinked in concentration and puzzlement. "This, however, I can read, or it reads to me, or…" He shrugged helplessly. "I never could before."

Lois had laid an arm around him. She, too, was moved by the impact of what this seemed to mean to Clark. He had just touched base with a part of his Kryptonian heritage that had been with him all his life, though he didn't know about it. Hugging him tight, she leaned close to him. "What does it say?"

"It contains the crystal from the family scepter that, once reunited in its place, will show the legitimacy of the bonding of the betrothed couple by changing in color and emitting a light that the separated crystal cannot produce. Husband and wife are to put the thing together by force of their union or something."

"That's a lovely story," Lois smiled, touching the shiny wood again. "I would have liked to see that crystal." She fingered the lid of the box idly. Suddenly she noticed that she could move it. Surprised, she let go of it, but Clark reached for it and opened it easily.

Both stood in surprise for a moment. When they had recovered sufficiently, they eyed the contents of the box. Embedded in a velvety cushion were two small crystals that clearly made up two halves of a whole. Eventually, Clark picked them up and held them close to each other. He tried pressing them together and soldering them together with his heat vision, but without effect whatsoever. They didn't even turn slightly warm under his vision. After a while, he shrugged. "But they are pretty."

They looked at the crystal as Clark was holding it up first against the pale moonlight and then near the fire in the fireplace. The flames' flickering light was reflected in the crystal, giving it a reddish glow. "It's part of your home world," Lois said softly. "And tonight… A year ago, you were given to me a second time, and now we find this." She indicated the box and the crystal. "It seems very befitting the occasion."

"Yeah," Clark smiled. "Almost like a late wedding gift from home."

"It's too bad we don't have the scepter thing to go with it. So there's no place to put them, really."

"Oh," Clark suddenly grinned. "Mom seems to have known we needed something like that." He took the two brass rings Martha had made for them from his pocket.

Lois eyed them admiringly. "They are beautiful."

"Art class." Clark grinned. Then growing more serious again, added, "Since we don't have any way to put these back together, we can just put them on the rings. In fact…" He picked up the diamond he had made earlier and, with his heat vision, cut it in two. "They can go on there together."

"I like that," Lois said. "One gem from your world and one from mine."

They moved closer to the fire in the fireplace to better see in its light, not wanting to destroy the atmosphere by turning on the artificial lights overhead. They knelt down together on the rug in front of the fireplace. Taking up one of the crystals each, they put the rings on each other's fingers. Then they placed the gems in the holders, which were just the right size.

Smiling, they looked at each other and brought their hands together. Clark focused on the rings, ready to aim his heat vision to solder the crystals into place, when an intense glow began to radiate from the crystals. It was bathing them into a radiant illumination. A beam of light shone forth from each of the Kryptonian crystals, creating a small gleaming arch between the two rings.

Lois felt like going into babbling mode in her mind for an instant. Hadn't Clark said those crystals would not shine if they were not united in the family scepter? But then the confusion ceased and she felt excitement and joy fill her. Looking at Clark, she saw that he was feeling the same. The glow of the crystals intensified and changed in color. The light danced and was reflected in their shining eyes. And then the voice they had heard earlier filled their minds again. "The union is complete."

Lois and Clark continued to hold each other's hands, bathed in the dancing lights. Later, Lois never knew how long it lasted, nor could she describe the intensity of the emotions flowing through them both. She was feeling Clark's feelings and thinking his thoughts, knowing herself inside him as he seemed to be inside her. They were one, truly one as they had never been before. Eventually, the light from the crystals died down. They continued to kneel in the same position for a long time, afraid to break the spell. Then, however, they moved at last, being magnetically pulled into each other's arms. They melted together, becoming one, rising up on the circles of light that were no longer visible to the eye, but continued to shine in their minds.

***

A long time later, they were lazily lying on the rug in front of the fireplace. The flames in it had burned down and only the embers were glowing still. Leaning up on one elbow, Clark bent forward and kissed Lois softly. "You all right?"

She smiled up at him. "As all right as I have ever been, and ever will be." She raised her hand and gazed at the ring. "The stones hold in place."

Clark nodded. "Seems so."

Lois yawned and cuddled closer to Clark. "I'd like to see them."

"Then we should adjourn to somewhere where the light is better. Besides," he touched her arm, "you're getting cold."

Scooping her up into his arms, he went to collect the music box from the windowsill and then carried Lois to the bedroom.

Tucking her in under the covers, he turned on the lamp on the nightstand. Lois held up her hand with the ring against the light, and both gasped in surprise. Instead of the expected two gems, there was only one there. The Kryptonian crystal and the Earth diamond had melted together to form a new gem of purest white. A look at the ring on Clark's hand showed that his was the same. When moved against the light, however, the white crystal seemed to reflect shades of yellow and red.

"Like the suns," Lois whispered.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Clark took her in his arms and finished the sentence for her. "Krypton's red one, and Earth's yellow one."

They joined the hands that were wearing the rings and smiled at each other. Clark studied the gems more intently, grinning. "They can use a little smoothing out." He aimed his heat vision at an uneven spot on the gem on Lois' ring, but, as with the Kryptonian gem earlier, wasn't able to affect it at all.

She smiled at him. "Just like us, a few rough edges, but perfect and strong together."

He hugged her tight again, whispering in her ear, "My most precious gem…"

Lois returned the hug, but could not quite stifle a yawn. "You Kryptonians go heavy on the symbolic side. Not that I mind." She grinned, remembering the incredible experience in front of the fireplace earlier. "Especially not all the… side effects." Her hand began to trace an imaginary pattern on his bare chest.

"Want to try and re-create it?" he asked teasingly, slipping in under the covers next to her.

She was getting drowsy, however. Snuggling close against her accustomed place on his chest, she tried to relive the evening's events. Clark was stroking her softly, and she felt safe and secure in his arms. Everything was so perfect and seemed preplanned despite the chaos and the rough edges that they were so often experiencing in their lives.

She listened to his heartbeat, and for a moment seemed to see herself against Clark's chest, the silver moonlight that came in from the open window reflecting on her silky hair. But how could she see that, she wondered idly. Her eyes were closed. And besides, it was Clark who would see her like that. Then she seemed to hear him chuckle softly in her mind. She felt him move slightly underneath her as he reached out for the music box on the nightstand and opened it.

All was as it should be, she thought, as seemed prepared by the fates that were. Resting secure in her husband's arms and in the strengthened reassurance of their bond of love, she fell asleep, remembering the words to the tune as the music drifted softly into the air.

"The more I read the paper, the less I comprehend. The world and all its capers, and how it all will end. Nothing seems to be lasting. But that isn't our affair. We've got something permanent, I mean in the way we care."

(George and Ira Gershwin)

THE END