So Strong a Foundation

By Wendy Richards <>

Rated PG

Submitted March 2000

Summary: In this sequel to the author's "A Love so Long in the Making," it's Lois and Clark's son Jon's turn to fall in love. But when did the path of true love ever run smoothly for a Kent?

It would take much more than this To break a love so long in the making It would take much more than talk or dreams To shake so strong a foundation More than this

— Chris de Burgh

This story is a sequel to my fanfic 'A Love so Long in the Making,' published on the Archive late in 1998. The events in this story take place five or so years on from the end of 'Love so Long.' It might also help to have read the Big Boys Do Fly series. Oh, incidentally, although I don't normally give away spoilers, I want to reassure anyone who might wonder part-way through this story that it is *not* a deathfic ;)

Thanks go to Yvonne Connell and Jenni Debbage for encouragement, cheerleading, editing and generally forming part of the fellow-writer support network. Thanks also to KathyB for a clear and intelligible explanation of US university titles! (Acknowledgements also to Kathy and Nancy Merckle, since I've adapted one of my favourite lines of dialogue from their excellent 'Movers and Shakers'). And also very grateful thanks again to the regulars on Zoom's message boards who acted as a test-audience and gave me some good ideas for the development of this story; Tank, sorry I didn't use your idea!

Finally, very many thanks to LabRat for actually volunteering to GE this monster despite its length — you're a glutton for punishment!

Rights to all recognisable characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros, and no infringement is intended by their use in this story. Other characters, including Lois and Clark's children, Sarah Fuller and Conor, are my own invention.

Comments, if any, to, or


It was almost dusk, and the tall young man striding across the tree-lined quadrangle seemed anxious to get to his destination. In the wintry half-light his features were difficult to distinguish, although his hair was clearly short and very black, and his jaw firm.

He carried himself very slightly stooped, but still managed to give the impression of height. His steps then took him through one of the few remaining sunlit patches in the square, and as he walked the light reflected off the gold-framed spectacles which he wore. His profile was now also illuminated, and his faintly olive-skinned face wore an intent expression as if its owner was deep in thought, although the brown eyes were lively and intelligent.

Suddenly, he paused; his head cocked, as if he was listening; then he glanced around quickly and darted into a side passage. A bare moment later, a sonic boom was audible as a red and blue-clad figure shot upwards and off to the east.


The Super-hero had almost finished his task of extinguishing the flames which had threatened to engulf a hotel on the edge of the city when again he seemed to pause, listening. A moment later, he drifted upwards to confront a similarly-clad man, who at first sight could almost have been taken for the Super-hero's twin. A closer study, however, would have shown that the second man was actually some years older than his companion.

"It's okay, Dad, I have it all under control," Son-of-Superman remarked in an amused tone, grinning at his father and Metropolis's original Superman. "You can get back home to Mom."

"Good of you, Jon," Clark Kent replied, a humorous smile hovering around the corners of his mouth. "But I'm not ready to hang up my cape yet, you know."

"Sure, I know that. But just this once, you can leave it to me."

Clark inclined his head. "Thanks. I admit, I would like to get on home — you know we have Katy, Jimmy and the kids visiting tonight? They just got back from Africa yesterday."

"Yeah, Mom called me at work earlier. I said I'd get over later if I can. See you, Dad." With that, Superman's son ducked swiftly downwards and dealt with what remained of the blaze, remaining afterwards to help the fire officers with their investigation of the cause.


Much later that evening, Dr Jonathan Kent returned to his apartment in the bohemian suburb of Metropolis close to the university; although he had very much enjoyed spending time with his sister and her family, and catching up on their news, he was anxious to continue work on his latest book. He had intended to do at least an hour's work on the current chapter before heading over to his parents' home; the hotel fire had put paid to that, and he was anxious to make up for lost time.

"Sleep — who needs it?" he murmured to himself in amusement as he booted up his computer. It was at times like these that Jon was especially grateful for his Kryptonian heritage; as his father had frequently told his mother, he needed very little sleep, and Jon had certainly taken after Clark in that way. He was perfectly able to cope without sleep for several days at a stretch, which — as Katy often reminded him, not without a faint hint of envy — was how he had managed to complete his PhD in just over two years, instead of the more usual three or four. Katy — Katherine Lane Kent Olsen (she only used the Olsen when dealing with her children's nursery) — had not inherited this aspect of their father's physiology. Of course, super-speed typing certainly helped as well, even more so after Dr Bernard Klein, a family friend, had got one of his proteges to come up with a keyboard and enhanced microprocessor which could cope with three hundred words a minute.

Jon's movements on the keyboard stilled as he thought of his sister. Katy, now twenty-eight and two years his junior, had shocked most of their family and friends five years before when she had announced her engagement to a man twenty-six years her senior. Jimmy Olsen was another old family friend, an honorary uncle to the two Kent children as they'd grown up, and someone whom their parents regarded very highly. Jimmy had gone through tragedy in his past, but with Katy in his life was now looking young and carefree again; Jon had heard Lois comment on several occasions that since Jimmy had married Katy he was almost back to his old self in their early days at the Daily Planet. Jon had been neither shocked nor disapproving of the marriage; he had always realised that Katy was very mature for her years, and he had recognised her feelings for Jimmy many years before their parents had been told of the relationship.

And, against the predictions of certain gloom-mongers, the marriage had worked extremely well. The two were now internationally known as a photojournalism team, reporting on the aftermath of war and natural disaster; they tended to spend half the year away on assignment and the other half back in Metropolis, writing articles for newspapers such as the Planet and in a series of best-selling, hard-hitting books. The children had travelled with them so far, although that wouldn't be possible for much longer. Katy and Jimmy's first child, a girl, had been born six months after the two were married, and little Karen Laura Lois Olsen had just turned five. Her younger brother, Michael Perry Olsen, had arrived almost three years afterwards, and parents and grandparents alike were anxiously waiting to determine whether the second generation of Kryptonian-Earth children would also inherit super-powers. Just in case, Bernard Klein had inoculated both Olsen children against Kryptonite, although Clark had not encountered any of that once-lethal substance for more than ten years. Still, as Lois tended to point out whenever this was mentioned, no-one knew what the corrupt time-traveller Tempus might be up to. The Tempus who had posed as the Presidential candidate John Doe was still in a high-security mental hospital, but it was perfectly possible that a younger version might take it into his head at any time to try to attack Superman's descendants, since he hadn't managed to destroy Clark Kent.

Jon smiled as he remembered the day his parents had received the shock of their lives: being told that their daughter wanted to marry their best friend. Much as Clark and Lois loved Jimmy, he was their contemporary, not Katy's, and the break-up of his marriage after the death in infancy of his daughter Laura had seemingly scarred Jimmy for life. But somehow Katy, who combined her mother's tenacity with her father's gentleness and sensitivity, had managed to break down the barriers Jimmy had surrounded himself with, and had encouraged the world-famous photographer to love again. Jimmy was besotted with Katy; he also had a great respect for her, and Jon was confident that the marriage was secure. His only regret was that Katy would probably be left alone by the time she was middle-aged. But that couldn't be helped; and anyway, both Jon and Katy had been aware for some years that they were both likely to outlive their future partners in any case — Clark had explained to them both that their inherited Kryptonian physiology meant that once they had reached adulthood they would probably age more slowly than human adults.

That hadn't been completely true of Clark Kent himself, of course; not long after Lois and Clark had been married, and a few years before Jon had been born, Clark, as Superman, had given up some of his life force to allow Jimmy and a criminal, Conor Shenck, to be rejuvenated by a deranged scientist called Veda Doodsen. As a result, although Clark still didn't really look like a man in his sixties, he had more or less kept pace with Lois in the ageing process.

The intriguing thing about Jimmy, though, Jon reflected, was that despite being in his mid-fifties he looked almost a decade younger as well now. Jon had his own theories about that; either Jimmy had been affected in some way by Katy's Kryptonian aura, or else the fact that he'd received some of Clark's Kryptonian life-force had slowed down the ageing process in his case. Or perhaps both; whatever the reason, Jon felt that perhaps Katy wouldn't be widowed as young as some people had predicted she could be. He was pleased about that.

Thinking of Jimmy then, Jon's thoughts shot off on a tangent as he remembered the day that Jimmy Olsen had discovered that his best buddy CK and Superman were one and the same. A couple of years after Katy had graduated from college, she and Jimmy had eventually agreed, after much debate and argument, that she should accompany him on a long visit to the Sudan, a follow-up to some of Jimmy's earlier award-winning reporting of the war and subsequent devastation in that country. Katy had informed her parents of their intention, and the family had agreed that Jimmy needed to be told the truth. So he had been invited around and, as Katy had told Jon later that same evening, had been expecting a fatherly lecture from Clark — or even worse, the protective mother lecture from Lois — about ensuring Katy's safety.

Jimmy had tried to anticipate the lecture by taking the initiative, speaking to reassure Katy's parents that he wouldn't let her get into anything too dangerous, that they would have local escorts and bodyguards. Clark had interrupted him, remarking wryly that he and Lois weren't actually worried about Katy's physical safety. "That won't be a problem, Jimmy," Clark had stated. Jimmy had been puzzled, and had glanced at Katy for enlightenment, only to see a mischievous smile curved about her mouth. Clark had got to his feet and walked to within a few feet of where Jimmy sat; his old friend had also stood, wondering what was going on.

"Jimmy, I have something to tell you — we need to let you in on a secret. You'll probably think it's something we should have told you years ago, and I want you to know that it's not that we didn't trust you. This is a secret I've kept all my life, except for Lois, and more recently, Bernard Klein of Star Labs and Lois's sister."

"Sounds pretty mysterious, CK," Jimmy had replied, glancing from Clark to Lois to Katy in confusion. Jon, whohad been sitting quietly in the corner watching events unfold, had caught Jimmy's eye then and shot him a swift, reassuring smile.

"Well, sort of…" Clark had offered, before pausing. "Look, it's probably a lot easier if I show you." He had been wearing a black shirt, buttoned up to the collar; swiftly, he had undone the buttons and pulled the fabric aside to reveal the famous suit and 'S' emblem. Jimmy had stared in confusion.

"CK… why are you wearing Superman's suit under your clothes?"

Katy's shout of laughter had given it away; Jimmy had again stared at each of the faces in the room, all friends he had known for years. Then he had looked back at Clark, and said hesitantly, "*You're* Superman?" Clark had nodded, then, seemingly feeling that some proof was necessary, had levitated several inches off the floor. Jimmy had staggered backwards, collapsing back into the chair, before speaking in a shaky voice, "All these years… and I never guessed! And yet the number of times I… you…" He had become incoherent for a few moments. Then he had stared his old friend straight in the eye and stated, "It was you who flew me home from Africa."

Clark had nodded. "We always understood why you went there in the first place — but it was time for you to come home. You understood that. And we didn't want you changing your mind before you'd booked a flight. And I thought you might be nervous about arriving back in Metropolis alone — so I went to get you."

Still allowing his momentous discovery to sink in, Jimmy had stared disbelievingly around at the other members of the Lane-Kent family again; then a new thought had occurred to him. "Katy, Jon… they're invulnerable too! *That's* why you said Katy wouldn't be in any danger…"

Katy had laughed again, and had pointedly levitated herself until she was lying face-down, chin propped on her hands, in mid-air.

Jimmy, shaking his head, had suddenly looked enlightened. "Katy — is SuperWoman?" Clark had grinned proudly and nodded. "And Jon… yeah. Now I understand." Still marvelling at the news, Jimmy had added slowly, "God knows how many photos I've taken of you guys. And yet I *never* noticed the resemblance."

"You weren't intended to," Clark had replied dryly. "But you needed to know now, so we decided to tell you. Katy shouldn't come to any harm in Africa with you — in fact, she'll be more likely to protect *you* than the other way around. But we figured that since you're going to be travelling with her for the next year, you had to know the truth."

Jimmy, still assimilating the information, had given his solemn word never to reveal the information to anyone. And he had kept it; much as the Kent family's other old friend, Perry White, had carried Clark's secret to his grave.

Jon now focused his attention on the present, or rather, something more pressing for the near future. During his visit to his parents' house, Katy had taken Jon upstairs to the children's bedroom; while there she had spoken swiftly to him in the 'code' they had invented as children when they had wanted to circumvent their father's super-hearing. She had reminded him that their father's sixty-fifth birthday was coming up in a few weeks, and to coincide with that occasion he was also retiring from the Planet. There would of course be a family party to celebrate Clark's birthday, but Jimmy was secretly organising a Planet party for the retirement. Even Lois wasn't aware of these plans, and Jon had been instructed to keep the secret.

Jimmy, with the help of Katy and Jon, intended to invite as many past employees of the Planet and other colleagues and friends of Clark's as possible. The party wasn't going to be held in the Planet building itself; they would never be able to organise that without making Lois suspicious, and Clark knew Lois so well that, no matter how she tried, it was practically impossible for her to keep a secret from her husband of thirty-four years. For an instant, Jon wondered: what would the Daily Planet be like without Clark Kent? His father had been employed at the Planet for thirty-seven years, as a reporter, then senior reporter, then head of the city news section under Lois's new regime of individual departmental editors. He had also increasingly written bylined op-ed pieces over the past ten years; Clark Kent was in great demand these days on TV and the Internet for his strongly-argued analyses of politics, urban life and social attitudes. He was passionate about poverty and deprivation, and had a few years earlier been asked to serve on a committee established by the President to look into the causes of poverty and to examine proposed measures for the alleviation of hardship. This had occupied much of Clark's time over a six-month period, and in order to allow his parents to spend time together when Clark was either in Washington or carrying out his Planet duties, Jon had covered full-time as Son-of-Superman.

These days, Jon and Clark had an understanding that they would cover alternate nights and weekends, thus giving both of them some assurance of time off; Clark also tried to cover as far as possible for Jon's teaching timetable. Of course, there were still occasions when both were needed to assist with some particularly serious emergency; at those times, either both would turn up because each had seen how bad the situation was, or one would signal the other through the supersonic watches both wore. In extremis, Katy would also come to help, although for various reasons SuperWoman was more or less in retirement; Katy did use her powers when she could, to help people in need, but she had never been comfortable with her super-hero persona, and Clark in particular had never wanted to make either of his children adopt a role which was uncomfortable for them, or which they didn't want. This evening had actually been Clark's night on duty, and so Jon could have ignored the emergency broadcast he had heard; however, knowing that his sister and brother-in-law had only just arrived back in Metropolis after one of their overseas trips, and were visiting his parents, he had decided to relieve his father.

So, what would Clark Kent do in retirement? Katy hadn't quite been able to envisage her father, still extremely fit and active and with his brain as sharp as ever, settling into retirement. Jon wasn't concerned, however; he knew exactly what their father would do. Some years earlier, Clark had completed and edited Perry White's memoirs after the Planet's former editor had died. That task had given him a desire to try serious writing for himself; and his subsequent book on the ethical choices for journalists between searching for the truth and safeguarding individuals' rights to privacy had by now become required reading for all aspiring reporters. Jon was aware that his father had ideas for further books; his knowledge and understanding of organised crime in Metropolis over the past thirty or more years certainly presented Clark with one book ready to be written, although when it came to Intergang and Lex Luthor Jon felt sure Lois would also want to be involved. Clark would also, Jon was confident, write further on the subject of underprivilege; unconstrained by the requirements of deadlines and limited column inches, or the need to avoid offending certain politicians (which had been a major source of frustration during his time in Washington), Clark could write a hard-hitting polemic which, Jon believed, would disturb a lot of people from their complacency.

No, Clark would find plenty to do in retirement from the Planet; it was Lois, Jon thought, who might find the greater time on her hands to be frustrating. His mother would be retiring later that year; she had toyed with the idea of quitting at the same time as Clark, since there was only about eight months' difference in their ages, but Clark had convinced her not to leave before she had to. He had certainly been aware that she would prefer not to! Jon wondered whether Lois had the patience to channel her writing skills into books; possibly not. However, there was certainly no reason why she shouldn't write freelance for the Planet or one or two of the heavyweight political weeklies — or perhaps she could go into politics herself. She had been approached several times over the years to stand as Mayor; while running the city had never appealed to Lois, the thought of standing for Congress or even the Senate had crossed her mind occasionally. Not the State legislature; Lois was never one to aim low. And if she did go to Washington, Clark would follow her; he could write anywhere, and Jon would still be in Metropolis as its guardian. Perhaps it would then be time for Clark to give up being Superman, except in emergencies; there wouldn't really be any way of explaining Superman's move to Washington, and Jon could then drop the Son-of, and simply take over as Superman.

It might work… except there is no way on earth Dad can see someone in trouble and just ignore it, Jon thought with a wry smile. So we might have to do some thinking, if Mom does stand for election and if she wins… What am I talking about — Lois Lane? Of course she'll win — she wouldn't consider standing if she didn't think she had all the angles covered.

Jon himself had never really had any doubt that, as soon as he was old enough, he would don a Super-suit and join his father in saving lives and fighting for truth and justice. As he had been growing up, Clark, and also occasionally Lois, had instigated a number of conversations about the privileges and responsibilities of having Super-powers, but it had always been stressed that neither Jon nor Katy should feel obliged to follow in their father's footsteps. Clark had pointed out how difficult the life could be, how the interruptions played havoc with work and family life — not that he had needed to tell them, Katy had pointed out with a grin: it had been all too obvious to the Kent children how much Superman interfered with their daily activities. But Jon had known from a young age that he wanted to 'follow in the family business,' as Lois had once described it. Katy had been slightly more ambivalent, though her reluctance had been more to do with being uncomfortable about wearing a disguise and being sought after by the media. Her semi-nomadic life with Jimmy made it easy for her to 'help' unobtrusively without need for a flashy costume, and she much preferred that.

But all this reverie wasn't getting his chapter written, Jon told himself silently as he directed his thoughts to the principal argument of his chapter on the role played by the Civil War in entrenching the racial divide in the Dixie states. Jon was a social historian; although his training was in history, much of his work was inter-disciplinary, drawing on sociology and anthropology in his work chronicling and analysing the history of racism. He frowned for a few moments, then began to type at super-speed.


"Good morning, Professor Kent!"

Jon glanced around; although the campus was fairly crowded at 9.30 am, he hadn't especially been concentrating on his surroundings as he made his way to his office. He recognised the student who had addressed him, however — the young man was in one of Jon's classes — and he called a greeting in return.

Jon enjoyed his job at Metropolis University; he considered himself very lucky to have been appointed to a tenured position the previous year. While he had been writing up his PhD, one of the professors in his department had quit unexpectedly, and Jon had been offered some teaching hours. The experience of working as a lecturer had stood him in good stead: he had expected to have to move to another university in order to obtain a tenure-track position, but his department had decided to replace the professor with an assistant professorship; Jon had applied and had been appointed. He had applied himself diligently to the requirements of the job — which hadn't been hard, as he enjoyed research and had a talent for academic writing, and he was a popular teacher — and after four years in post had built up an impressive publications list as well as excellent reports from several cohorts of students. He was now an associate professor, and was being strongly encouraged by his head of department to apply for some research grants; if he built up a track record on research funds as well as continuing to publish, he could be ready for promotion to full professor within about ten years.

His family had been encouraging about his career plans, and were very proud of his success. Clark, Jon thought, had the kind of mind which would have been very well suited to university life, had he not been more interested in journalism; it occurred to Jon now that another possible option in retirement for his father would be to take up a part-time professorship in a journalism school. Clark would make a good teacher: he had the patience which Lois often lacked. Strolling down the corridor to his office, Jon reflected on the ways in which his parents' traits had been passed down to his sister and himself. It was conventional wisdom in the Lane-Kent household that Jon took after Clark and Katy after Lois, but in fact Jon had inherited some degree of his mother's cunning. Her intelligence was in some ways of a different type to Clark's: no-one could accuse the Man of Steel of being stupid, but there had been times when he was over-cautious and failed to see what, to Lois, was the obvious solution to a problem. Lois in some ways was the strategist of the partnership, and it was in this respect that Jon seemed to resemble his mother. This difference had occasionally manifested itself when the two Supermen were dealing with a difficult situation: Jon was often quicker than his father in coming up with a solution.

He dropped the books he was carrying onto his desk and booted up his computer; time to deal with his email correspondence and download any new student assignments which had been sent overnight. Then at eleven he had to give a two-hour lecture to some Masters' students, followed by faculty meetings that afternoon; the one part of his job he could really do without, he reflected wryly as he noticed yet more documentation in his electronic inbox, was the seemingly endless meetings.


As Jon Kent sat in his office commencing his day's work, another solitary figure made her hurried way across the university campus, taking even less interest in her surroundings than he had done. Sarah Fuller, a tall, slim woman dressed in a very unflattering sweater and skirt, was very definitely wishing that she was somewhere else. It had been a mistake taking up the Fulbright exchange, she thought miserably. Running away never solves anything… and if you're going to be unhappy, she reminded herself, it's probably better to be unhappy in familiar surroundings, with friends around for moral support.

It wasn't as if she had anything against Metropolis as such, she conceded wryly. The city seemed okay, and the university was aesthetically pleasing and the facilities good — certainly a lot better than the inner-city university where she worked in England. As for Metropolitans, she wasn't entirely sure what she thought of them yet; in common with the inhabitants of most large cities, they seemed to prefer to keep themselves to themselves.

So she had been in Metropolis for almost a month of her six-month exchange, and had barely spoken to anyone apart from her faculty colleagues, and some students in passing. Perhaps that was her own fault: a couple of her colleagues had made overtures of welcome, had invited her to their homes for dinner, but — not feeling particularly sociable — she had declined the invitations. After a couple of rejections, they had stopped asking.

When was the last time I spoke to someone, she wondered to herself as she entered the building which housed the Sociology department. She had given a lecture the previous evening — she still preferred to call it that, rather than the more usual American description of having taken a class — but so she had spoken *at* people then, rather than holding a conversation with anyone. She had bought a carton of milk on her way home; but the cashier had been engaged in discussion with another customer about some TV show which Sarah didn't watch, and she had simply handed over the exact change and left.

"Oh, Professor Fuller!" a voice called suddenly, startling Sarah from her abstraction.

Even hearing her own name spoken was becoming a novelty, although it still felt strange to be called 'Professor' rather than the 'Dr' which would be normal at home. She glanced around; the faculty administrator was gesticulating at her. Sighing inaudibly, Sarah retraced her steps and entered the faculty office.

"A student who missed your class last night wants the notes on the assignment you set," Crystal Ogbonna began, "and Professor Bush would like to see that draft paper you said you were writing on contrasting…" she checked her notes, "the work of older feminists such as Greer with the new generation, such as Roiphe."

Sarah recognised the brief outline she had given at a faculty meeting a couple of weeks ago when she had been asked about her current research. She knew she was expected to produce two or three research papers while she was at MetU, and she would also have to give at least one seminar presentation to faculty colleagues. Oh well, the Greer paper was almost finished. She threw the administrator a brief smile — it wasn't the older woman's fault — and spoke quickly. "I'll let Professor Bush have a copy when it's ready — that should be by next week. As for the student, if you can tell whoever it is to email me then I'll deal with it." Ducking her head, she slipped silently out of the office and swiftly continued on down the corridor to her own tiny office. She hadn't wanted to speak to the administrator; Crystal was a kind, almost motherly woman who, Sarah knew, was curious about her. On several occasions the older woman had tried to engage Sarah in conversation about gossip, the news, personal matters, and each time Sarah had given no encouragement. The less people here knew about her, the better, she felt.

Thank goodness for technology, Sarah reflected as she tucked her unconfined and untidy hair behind her ears and booted her computer, watching it go through the motions of connecting to the university network. Electronic means of communication were a great way of escaping personal interaction. Sarah had even disabled the voice-enabled software on her computer, preferring to send and receive text emails rather than voicemails. The university system also subscribed to video-phoning via the computer, but Sarah refused to use that either. People didn't need to see her, or hear her voice, to understand her work or get what they needed from her. The only personal interaction she could cope with was giving lectures and leading seminars; there she was putting on an act, and she could do that.



"Mom?" Jon had just answered the phone in his office, hoping that the call was one he would be able to dispose of quickly; he had a lot of marking to do. Although he was able to do a lot of it at Super-speed, he had to be careful that no-one saw him, therefore he tended to keep most of the speed-work for when he was in his own apartment.

He gave his full attention to the telephone. His mother sounded concerned, and that wasn't like her. "Mom? Is something up? Is it Dad?"

"Yes," Lois answered quickly, grateful for her son's quick understanding. "He went out earlier, and he hasn't come back yet — oh, I know there are dozens of places he could be, but I've checked the news feed and Superman's not up to anything, and there's nothing in his electronic diary."

Jon frowned. "So where do you think he is, Mom?"

Lois sighed, brushing her hair back from her face as she thought of her husband, felt his pain. "It's your Grandma's birthday today, sweetie. I think…"

"You think he's in Smallville," Jon concluded.

"And I don't want him there alone," Lois replied. "You know your father, Jon, and of course I'd want to give him privacy to grieve if he needs it. I just think… he might need company."

"And I can see if he does, and butt out if he doesn't," Jon agreed. "Mom, if you'd prefer to be with him, I could take you there…?"

Lois was tempted, but she knew that Clark would prefer not to let her see him if he was upset. In some ways, he was still quite proud; but she was confident that he would talk to his son. "No, you go. If you have time, that is."

"Mom — when do I ever *not* have time for you and Dad? But it's okay, I've just finished a lecture and I don't have any more for the next couple of hours."

Soon afterwards, Jon hovered in the air above Smallville cemetery, scanning the ground for the familiar figure of his father. As he caught sight of a grey-suited man bent low near one grave, he again wondered at how well his parents knew each other; idly, he wondered whether he would ever have that kind of relationship with a woman. He had had girlfriends, but no-one special, and no-one he had even come close to confessing his true heritage to.

Checking to ensure that no-one else was around, he drifted gently to the ground. His father's head jerked up and Jon threw him a wry smile.

Clark straightened and regarded his son thoughtfully. "Let me guess. Your mom was worried about me?"

"She does, Dad. Constantly."

"Yeah, I know. Still. After all these years — I mean, doesn't she realise I'm Superman?" The wry smile on his father's face took the sting out of the words; Jon was well aware that his father understood and appreciated his mother's concern.

Jon came to stand by Martha's grave, glancing down at the neatly-trimmed plot and the fresh flowers. "There's more than one way of not being all right."

Clark smiled. "Yeah, I know. And I'm fine — I just needed to come down here for a while." He paused, then raised an eyebrow at Jon. "Did Lois guess I was here, or was that you?"

"Need you ask?" Jon laughed. "She knew what day it is." He allowed his fingers to trace the names on the gravestone: first Jonathan Kent, then Martha Clark Kent. "I miss her too, Dad. We all do. She was such a wonderful lady… a real inspiration."

"She was that all right," Clark agreed. "Both of them… can you imagine what it must take to take in a baby they just found in a field and bring him up as their own son? Most people would just hand the child over to the authorities — and in the circumstances I was found, who knows what would have happened to me? And then when I started to develop powers… They didn't have a clue what was going on, but they were infinitely patient and understanding. They were the wisest people I've ever known, apart from your mother."

"Do you want me to leave you here?" Jon asked, but Clark shook his head.

"It's okay — it's time I went back anyway. Fly with me?" As Jon nodded agreement, Clark glanced around cautiously before executing his practised spin-change. Split seconds later, the two Super-powered beings were no more than a dot on the horizon.


Lois jumped as warm lips teased the nape of her neck. "So you were worried about me, love, were you?" her husband's velvety tones rumbled in her ear.

She tilted her head backwards to smile at him. "You know me, Clark. And I know you… I just didn't want to think of you on your own."

"I know." He bent and caressed her lips with his own; after all these years, more than thirty, that they had been married, he was still deeply in love with his wife, still desired her as much as he had on the day they had been married. "And I was glad to see Jon. It's good to be able to talk about Mom and Dad with the kids sometimes, you know."

"Yeah," Lois agreed. "They miss them too — Martha and Jonathan were pretty special people."

"They were that," Clark agreed slowly. "I guess I'm just lucky to have had them so long." He paused then, and crossed to sit opposite Lois. "But how about you — I mean, do you miss your parents?"

Lois stared into the middle distance for a moment before replying. "Yes — yes, of course I do. Well, you know how things were years ago, but we talked all that out and then they got back together, and our kids were a great help in healing the relationship… yeah, I miss them." She sighed. "But like Martha and Jonathan, they had long lives."

"Do you ever regret not telling them — about me, I mean?" Clark asked suddenly.

Lois regarded him thoughtfully. It had always been understood, taken as read, that her parents couldn't know the truth, that their son-in-law was really Superman. "Sometimes, yes. There were times when it was difficult — I mean, like explaining to the kids years ago that while they could talk to Grandma and Grandpa Kent about their daddy being Superman, they were never to mention it to Grandma and Grandpa Lane."

Clark inhaled sharply. "I wish you'd told me you felt like that, honey."

She gave him a rueful smile. "What good would it have done? I still believe it was the right decision. I have no idea how Daddy would have reacted — you know his strange medical interests. I'm not at all convinced he wouldn't have wanted to try some horrible genetic experiment on you or one of the kids. And Mom… I loved her, Clark, and I really came to understand her after we had Katy and Jon, but I don't think we could have trusted her not to let it slip."

"Mmmm," Clark murmured thoughtfully. "But we trusted Lucy."

"Lucy?" Lois fell silent for a moment or two as she thought of her sister, now for many years happily married and living in California. "Well, that was different — you didn't have much choice at the time."

"True," Clark mused, remembering the occasion many years ago, when he and Lois had been in their first year of marriage and Lucy had come to visit. He had forgotten to use pot-holders on a dish which — as Lucy had discovered immediately afterwards — had been far too hot for human hands. "And she kept her word — she hasn't even told Michael. But I'm glad she knows. It gives the kids someone apart from the two of us to talk to if they need to."

<Now they no longer have Jonathan and Martha> Lois followed Clark's train of thought with ease. Okay, the kids were adult now, and leading their own lives: Katy married with children of her own, and Jon living in his own apartment and with a successful career. But being the children of Superman, having their own Super-powers, was not easy. There had been a number of times when they were growing up when both Kent children had turned to their Kent grandparents for advice, feeling embarrassed at the thought of talking to their parents or — as on one occasion when Katy had accidentally Super-heard some of her schoolfriends saying some unpleasant things about her — when they hadn't wanted their father to believe they resented him because of what they had inherited from him. On that occasion, Martha's calm and sympathetic understanding over the telephone had reassured Katy enough for her to tell her mother what had happened, and to return to school the following day with her head held high.

Lois went to sit beside Clark, wrapping her arms around his waist. "It's hard, isn't it? We've kept this secret for so long, and the kids have too, and it must have been hard for them to have relationships knowing how careful they need to be."

Clark sighed. "You think that's why Jon's still single?"

Lois gave her husband a wry smile. "Maybe — I don't know. It's more likely that, like his father, he just hasn't met the right woman yet. I just hope that when he does he won't prevaricate so much about telling her who he is."

Recognising Lois's remark as a good-natured dig at himself, Clark retaliated by tickling his wife with his Super-breath.


Later that afternoon, Clark was busy putting the finishing touches to a long op-ed piece which Lois wanted for the weekend edition when his Super-hearing kicked in. Glancing quickly around to ensure that his exit was clear, he hurried out of the newsroom and up to the roof, where he flew in the direction from where he had heard the cries. Someone was being attacked, judging by what he'd heard.

He approached the alley his Super-hearing had identified as the source of the shouts, and immediately saw the victim. There was no sign of an attacker. He landed and hurried to the crumpled figure lying in a heap on the ground. The man seemed to be in his mid-seventies or thereabouts, from what Clark was able to see, and was bleeding profusely from a knife-wound to the chest. He crouched down in order to assess the victim's injuries more closely, and suddenly stilled as he realised that he recognised the man.

William Henderson. Formerly Chief Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department, Homicide Division. A very old sparring-partner, and friend, of his and Lois's. They had had many disagreements and run-ins with Henderson over the years, but underneath it all they had always had a great respect for each other, and out of that respect had grown a deep and lasting friendship which had continued after Henderson's retirement a little over ten years earlier.

"Bill?" Clark choked out in a shocked, pained voice, as he raised his friend's upper body into his arms. Henderson wasn't dead, but he was close to it; Clark X-rayed the chest-wound and confirmed what he had already guessed. The knife had penetrated the heart, and Henderson had already lost so much blood, never mind the damage to his vital organs, that his life was literally draining away in front of Clark.

He briefly contemplated flying Henderson at Super-speed to the nearest hospital, but discounted it. The motion of flight would only hasten death; and anyway, from what Clark was able to see, there was nothing even the best surgeon could do. He sighed despairingly. Over the last ten years or so, it seemed that so many of the people closest to him and Lois were dying. First Jonathan Kent, his beloved father. Then Perry White, their former boss, mentor and great friend, a man who had known Clark's secret for almost thirty years before he had died, and yet he had kept it to himself for most of that time, a circumstance which still saddened both himself and Lois. Lois's parents, Sam and Ellen Lane, within two months of each other: despite their turbulent marriage, it had seemed as if Sam Lane was simply incapable of continuing after Ellen had died following a stroke. Then his dearest mother, Martha Kent, only a couple of years earlier, a loss from which Clark still had not recovered. Now, this man…

Henderson's eyes flickered open. "Superman…" he rasped with difficulty.

Clark's arms tightened around his old friend. "Don't try to talk — you've been stabbed."

The retired detective stared up at Superman through blue eyes which were still as sharp, penetrating, as they had been almost forty years earlier. "How… bad…?"

Clark shook his head. "I'm sorry," he murmured softly, very gently. "It's gone right into your heart — there's nothing anyone can do."

"I… guess… never thought I'd… even see retirement," Henderson gasped, clearly in considerable pain. Clark could hear sirens in the distance: police, and an ambulance, he realised. Not that the paramedics would be of much use now…

"Take it easy, pal," he murmured, turning his attention back to the man lying in his arms.

"Superman… why…? You should be… nothing you can do… here." Clark needed his Super-hearing to catch the words which were so quietly whispered. He understood: Henderson was wondering why Superman was staying with him. Superman and Henderson had had many dealings over the years, but those had mostly been quite formal encounters, Clark's manner distant in an attempt to prevent the very astute detective noticing any similarities with Clark Kent. He stared bleakly at Henderson. If his guess was right — and he was pretty sure of it — the man would be dead within minutes.

The sirens were still a minute or two away. In that moment, Clark made his decision.

"Bill, it's Clark. Clark Kent," he murmured in a low voice.

"Wha…?" The eyes were beginning to glaze over; the voice was slurred, indistinct.

"I'm Clark. I… want you to know," Clark repeated.

The eyes focused on him again. "Clarrr… yeah, Claa…" A pause, then, "Should ha'… guessed… always too close to Loisss…" Henderson's hand clutched weakly at Clark's. Clark covered it with his own, and waited.

It wasn't long; just as the first police vehicle screeched to a halt by the entrance to the alley, Henderson drew a shuddering sigh and his head slipped to one side. Clark inhaled deeply and reached out with one shaking hand to close his friend's eyes.

The two young police officers running into the alley were amazed at the sight of Superman, crouched on the ground with his cape pooled about him, holding the dead and bloody body of an old man in his arms, and the glimmer of tears showing in his eyes.


Dark shadows were falling across the paths as Sarah reversed her journey across campus on her way back to her apartment in the late afternoon. Another busy day in which, apart from the classes she had taken, she had almost entirely managed to avoid face-to-face contact with other humans. Still, she mused, her research papers were going well. She had completed the article on Roiphe and sent a copy off to a journal, and had started to make some notes for a research grant application. At the rate her CV was improving, she ought to be able to put in for promotion before too long…

She screamed suddenly as a figure leapt out of the bushes and grabbed her. Flailing wildly, she tried to lash out with arms and legs as an arm tightened roughly around her waist, trying to drag her away from the path. Her assailant, whoever he was, was bigger and stronger than she, and within minutes he had managed to overbalance her, knocking her onto her back and dropping to his knees in front of her and then falling on top of her, tearing at her clothes. Reality battled with memories as she desperately fought for her freedom, the coarse mutterings of her assailant competing with the obscene words in her head. <Slut! Bitch! You love it rough, don't you…?>


In his office on the other side of campus, Jon was conducting a tutorial with three of his postgraduate students when his Super-hearing kicked in, alerting him to a woman's screams of terror. He groaned silently: how was he going to be able to get away and go to the aid of whoever it was? The screams came again, and he glanced anxiously at his students, then out of the window. He couldn't see anything, but then he was wearing his glasses and he knew, anyway, that the screams were coming from some way away.

Abruptly he made a decision. Quickly assigning the students some preparation, he excused himself, telling them that if he wasn't back by the time class should have ended, they should leave and hand in their essays by the end of the week. <Not the way a tenured professor is expected to behave, but what can I do?> he thought as he darted through a window at the end of the deserted corridor.

In less than a second he was airborne and scanning for the source of the screams.


Sarah was desperately trying to fight off her attacker, but his sheer bulk made it very difficult. He had now clapped one large hand over her mouth, making it impossible for her to scream, and his other hand was tearing at her skirt. His elbow dug painfully into her chest, aiding him in keeping her prisoner.

Suddenly his unwelcome weight was lifted from her; as her dazed eyes watched, he was slung to one side like an unwanted piece of flotsam. There was a moment when all Sarah could see was a blur, then the blur coalesced into her attacker, lying on the ground trussed up like a chicken. There was a flash of blue to her side, and she turned her head in surprise. A tall, dark-haired man stood there, wearing a bright blue, skin-tight suit in what looked like Lycra or Spandex. He wore his briefs *outside* his tights — and they were yellow — and he had red boots which reached to mid-calf. As if all this wasn't enough, attached to the back of his blue suit was a bright red *cape*!

She blinked a couple of times, trying to assimilate what was happening, that she was free and the rape had not happened. For once she had escaped the violence she had expected. Then she realised that the man was speaking to her. "Are you all right, ma'am?"

She registered the fact that his voice was deep and very smooth; like velvet, she thought abstractedly before she dashed the thought from her mind. Meeting his gaze, she replied, "Yes, I'm fine, thank you."

<She's English!> Jon thought in surprise, as he also noted the fact that her long hair, which looked as if it could do with the attentions of a stylist, was the colour of pale wheat. Her dishevelled clothes were very strange, he thought: very unfashionable and not at all suitable for a young woman in her late twenties, as this woman clearly was.

Recalling himself to the situation at hand, he spoke again. "I need to hand this man over to the police, but I'll be back to see that you're all right."

"That's very kind of you, but it's not necessary," Sarah replied firmly, trying to get to her feet: she felt at a distinct disadvantage lying crumpled on the ground while he towered over her. But the next instant a large hand was extended to her.

"Allow me, please," he murmured.

She accepted his hand — it would be a lot less undignified than trying to scramble to her feet unaided — and allowed him to pull her up. He was *incredibly* strong; with no effort on her part whatsoever, she was on her feet.

"I'll be back in less than a minute," he promised her. She frowned at him, then gasped as he seized her attacker and the two of them *flew* upwards and out of sight.

She glanced around; she was feeling unsteady and much as she wanted to be gone from there by the time her rescuer came back, she realised that she wasn't capable of walking anywhere. <My God> she thought. <I've been rescued by *Superman*!>

Sarah had heard of Superman — well, who hadn't, and when she had been awarded the scholarship to Metropolis some of her colleagues at Midchester University had attempted to tease her about the possibility of running into the Super-hero. She had discounted the idea herself, and although she had seen occasional newspaper coverage of the Man of Steel's activities since arriving in the States, she had still never expected to see him in the flesh.

Strange, though… he seemed much younger than she had expected. After all, Superman had first appeared in Metropolis in the early 1990s. That was about thirty-five years ago. Didn't Kryptonians age?

A rustling noise from nearby distracted her from her musing, and her head shot up; the Super-hero was striding towards her again out of the darkness. His expression was concerned, and as he approached he again asked her if she was all right.

She nodded. "Thank you for your concern. I just wanted to sit for a minute."

"Please let me see you safely home," he offered.

That was thoughtful of him, Sarah considered, and she smiled shyly at him. "That's kind of you, Superman, but I'll be fine."

He blinked, which surprised her. "I… uh, I got the impression earlier you didn't know who I was."

"Oh." She hesitated. "Well, it's just that I never expected to encounter Metropolis's legendary hero."

Her rescuer smiled, a little self-consciously it seemed to Sarah. "Oh, that's not me," he replied bafflingly, then explained. "Superman — the original Superman, that is — is my father. I joined the 'family business,' as you might put it, about twelve or so years ago."

There were *two* of them?

"What do they call you then?" Sarah asked, bemused.

A little awkwardly, he answered, "When I first started, the press called me Son-of-Superman, but now they just call me Superman too. In fact, some of the time I'm not sure the media knows or cares whether it's me or my father they see."

"You look like him, then?"

Superman grinned; it lit up his face and made him appear much younger, she thought. "Yes, I look exactly like he did at my age, or so my mom always tells me." She thought he seemed to stop abruptly at that, as if realising that he had said too much. His expression grew businesslike again. "Anyway, ma'am, may I see you safely home?"

Sarah hesitated, again wanting to tell him that she was fine and wanted to be left alone. But something about him suggested to her that he wouldn't accept that response; and anyway, the prospect of perhaps being *flown* back to her apartment by Superman was very tempting. The temptation won through. "That would be very kind of you, if you're sure you have the time."

"I have the time," he assured her, and took a couple of steps to bring himself closer to her. She tensed, an automatic reaction. He saw it and hesitated, a flash of doubt crossing his face.

"Ma'am — are you sure you're all right? Maybe I should take you to see a doctor?"

"No — oh, no, there's no need for that," she protested.

"Then let me carry you," he replied, keeping his tone deliberately matter-of-fact. "I won't hurt you or drop you, I promise."

She forced herself to remain still as he came closer and in one swift movement, scooped her up into his arms. The sensation of being held against his chest was at once comforting and terrifying. She clenched her fists at her side, but as soon as she felt him lifting off the ground she instinctively wrapped her arms around his neck instead.

Once they were airborne, Superman asked her, "You're obviously English — what are you doing in Metropolis?"

<More questions… Americans are so bloody curious about everyone> Sarah thought, then wondered tangentially whether Superman — or his son — counted as an American. He hadn't mentioned anything about who his mother was; it was possible that she was American, of course. Or… wait a minute, was she Kryptonian too? Had there been something in one of the newspaper articles about Superman being married to another Super-hero? She couldn't remember.

Sarah sighed; she couldn't be impolite to this man — this Kryptonian or half-Kryptonian or whatever — who had saved her from a violent attack. "I'm a university lecturer — a professor, you'd call it here. I'm visiting Metropolis University on a Fulbright exchange for a semester."

She had been glancing up at him as she spoke, and to her surprise he seemed to react a little to her explanation. Had that been a flash of interest in his face? But why would Superman be interested?

He didn't comment, however, instead asking her where she lived. She told him, and within seconds he was setting her down outside the door of her apartment.

She stole another glance at his face; his expression was now courteous but impersonal. He was clearly anxious to get away. "Superman — thank you for your help. I really do appreciate it.

"You're very welcome, ma'am. Any time you need me, just call and I'll come," he assured her before taking off again and swiftly disappearing from sight.

Sarah walked slowly up the stairs to her studio apartment, for the first evening since her arrival in Metropolis not thinking about what she had left behind in England.


Jon let himself back into his office; as he'd suspected, his students were long gone. He felt momentarily guilty about that: he could have been back sooner. He hadn't needed to fly the woman home; once he'd assured himself that she was all right, he could have flown away. But something had compelled him…

He turned his attention to his computer, quickly bringing up the database of university staff. There were only five Fulbright scholars at MetU this semester. In less than a second he had discovered her name.


Lois entered the house to find her husband sitting in front of the TV, though clearly not watching the game which was in progress. His expression was morose, and she instantly reached the conclusion that he had been called to help at some tragic incident. She went to sit next to him, sliding her arm about his waist and laying her face against his shoulder.

"What was it, honey?" she asked him softly.

He turned to kiss her, wrapping his own arm tightly around her. How well this woman understood him! Sighing, he met her gaze and explained.

"Just a stabbing… but this was different, Lois. It was Bill Henderson."

She stared at him. "Bill…? Is he okay?" His silence, together with the pain in his dark eyes, told her all she needed to know. She gripped his hand tightly. "There was nothing… was he already dead when you…?"

"He was alive, barely, when I got there," Clark explained, and related the remainder of the incident. She listened in silence, simply holding him and sharing his grief for their old friend.

"I've been thinking…" Clark continued softly. "So many old friends, people close to us…"

"Clark, I know, but humans only have a limited life-span, and at our age we're going to have to get used to losing people we care about," Lois replied gently. Her invulnerable husband's only weakness was the fact that he cared too much — though she would never want to change that about him. She just wished that he didn't suffer so much pain as a result.

"It's not that, Lois," he tried to explain. "I know that, and I can cope. It's the fact that we've lived all our lives having to keep secrets from people we care about. First Perry, and then discovering that he knew all along and we missed so many years when we could have shared things with him. And I know we told Jimmy, and he understands, but I see an expression on his face sometimes when he looks at me, and I can tell that he's wondering why I couldn't have trusted him years ago. And you mentioned your parents earlier…"

Lois frowned. "Are you suggesting that we should tell all our friends and any family who don't know?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know. I sometimes wonder whether it mightn't be time to give up the disguise and just go public about who Superman is. I mean, it's getting harder to keep anyway now that there's Jon and Katy too."

Lois's voice was sharp as she vehemently dismissed the idea. "Clark, I can't believe you'd suggest that! I know you're invulnerable to Kryptonite now, but I live in fear that some day someone's going to come up with an antidote to Dr Klein's vaccine. And even if people have stopped using me as a means of getting to Superman, what about if Jon starts dating? If everyone knew who he was, he'd never have any privacy and his girlfriend would be a target for every crook and madman in town."

"You're right, sweetheart. Bad idea," Clark murmured quietly.

Lois studied her husband thoughtfully, realising that he hadn't really been serious about going public as Superman. She guessed that he'd just wanted to hear again the reasons why they still needed to keep the secret. One of the things her soft-hearted, loving husband really hated was not being able to be honest with people he cared about.

So Bill Henderson was dead… another good friend gone, she mused.

She thought that Clark was shaking off his mood, but then he suddenly turned to her. "Why can't I ever be on time when it matters?" he demanded.


"Today. If I'd been a couple of minutes sooner… and there was Mayson. Five seconds sooner and I'd have had her out of that car in time to save her life. And Pete — remember the NIA agent?"

"Oh Clark!" Lois exclaimed, hugging him again, saddened but hardly surprised that he still felt guilt over Mayson's death, so many years ago now. "Think of all the times you *were* on time — you saved Perry, Jimmy, you saved me with seconds to spare hundreds of times. And there are tens of thousands of people alive today because you *were* quick enough. You can't blame yourself for a few occasions when you just can't make it, honey!"

He smiled wryly. "I know. Lois, we lost a good friend today. I'll miss him."

"Me too."


Dr Sarah Fuller, from Midchester University, England.

Jon sat at his desk and surfed the Internet, clicking links until he found the home page for Sarah's university department. He wanted to find out everything he could about the woman he had just rescued.

So, she was a sociologist; well, although his own subject was history, there were commonalities. For one, his own interest was in social history, in the effects of particular events on people's lives. He had of necessity to consult sociology literature from time to time in the course of his research. Yes, he thought that he could certainly carry on a convincing academic conversation with her; all the better if he could download some of her publications and read them.

While his printer was busy churning out copies of some of Sarah's recent journal articles, he studied the photograph of her on her department's web site. It looked as if it had been taken about three or four years ago; she was certainly younger in it. But she also looked different in other ways: she wore make-up, a lively smile, and her long blonde hair was attractively styled. Her clothes, from what he could see, were also bright and fashionable.

What had happened to this beautiful young woman which had seemingly made her want to make herself look as dowdy as possible? When she had smiled at him, something had lit up her expression from within. Yet he got the impression that smiling wasn't something she did very much of at the moment.

Jon didn't know what it was which drew him to Sarah Fuller. All he was aware of was the fact that, the instant he had seen her properly, something inside him had made him want to fly away with her. He desperately wanted to get to know her better; when he had returned from depositing her attacker at the nearest police station, he had wanted to sit beside her and talk for hours. He had had to force himself to end the conversation, reminding himself that he was there as Superman, not Jon Kent, and that as Superman he couldn't afford to allow anyone a glimpse of his natural personality.

But Jon Kent could get to know her… and Jon Kent intended to do just that.


Clark drifted in the sky above the house; he just felt that he needed to be alone for a short time. Of course Lois thought she understood how he felt, but he hadn't yet put into words his true fears… the one thing he really dreaded.

As he tried to drive that particular image from his mind, he heard a voice calling him. <<Clark! Clark…>>

Who… He stared into the dark night. Jon — no, Jon never called him Clark. Dad usually, Superman sometimes for the sake of appearances. But in any case, Jon never used…

Telepathy! The voice hadn't been 'real', it had been in his mind.

Clark had never actually tried to see whether he could communicate telepathically with either Katy or Jon; he had never really been comfortable with it when the New Kryptonians had used it, and he also hadn't wanted his children to fear that he might invade their privacy with any telepathic abilities he might have. So he had suppressed his telepathic skills, and since he hadn't used them for more years than he cared to remember he had almost forgotten that he was once able to…

*When* had he last used telepathy?

The voice came again. <<Clark? Can you hear me?>>

Did he remember how to…? <<Yes>> he answered back. <<I hear you>>

Who was this? The last person he had talked to in this way had been… <<Conor? Is that you, Conor?>> he asked incredulously.

<<Yep, sure is>> the slightly cocky voice of his younger counterpart came back.

Conor… he and Lois had not seen or heard from the younger man for nearly thirty years; not since about the time Katy was conceived. After they had finally managed to put right Tempus's interdimensional meddling which had resulted in Clark's being stranded in Conor's universe with Conor's then fiancee Laura, and Lois being sent to their own world with Conor, Clark and Lois had been told by HG Wells that they would not meet the younger couple again. Conor and Laura were an alternate universe version of Clark and Lois, and were, or at any rate had been at that time, actors. At the time Clark had first heard of them, they had actually been playing Lois and Clark on television, although that had stopped shortly after Conor had discovered that he was in reality the Superman of his world.

<<Conor — what's going on? How come you can contact me?>>

<<Seems the time is right, big brother. Something… someone…? told me you might be needing me>>

Clark frowned. Why would he need Conor? But then he admitted that Conor was perhaps the only other person, with the exception of the Clark from the *other* alternate universe, who would understand how he felt. <<Yeah, I guess I do>> he replied. Struck by a thought, he added, <<Why can't you come here, then, if you're able to talk to me?>>

He felt Conor's amusement as if it was his own emotional reaction. <<I can. I just need your permission to do it. Don't ask me why, I just *know* that's the way it works>>

Permission? What did that mean… oh, never mind. <<You got it. Come on over>>

Two seconds later Clark was joined by another man in a blue and red suit, who 'stood' in the air in front of him, one eyebrow raised in a challenging expression.

"Well, Clark? Seems to me like you're obsessing about something — and we both know that obsessing is something we're good at. Want to talk about it?"

"Conor — it's so good to see you!" Clark exclaimed, levitating to his feet and stretching out his hand towards the other man. "You're looking great!" This was true; despite the fact that Conor was only in fact four years younger than Clark, he actually gave the appearance of a man barely in his late forties.

"Yeah, I know." Conor grinned ruefully, pulling Clark into a warm embrace. "Laura hates it — she keeps threatening to have plastic surgery so that she doesn't look like she's my mother, but I've told her I'll divorce her if she goes anywhere near that scalpel." Clark could tell from Conor's expression that he would do no such thing; it was equally obvious that he was still crazily in love with his wife, and — like Clark — would love her whatever she looked like.

Of course, Clark realised; Conor had not lost years of his potential life as Clark had, when he had given up much of his life-source in order to restore Jimmy to his rightful age and give the criminal Shenck back his youth. These days, Clark was extremely glad that he had done that — not that he had ever regretted it, Jimmy was too close a friend, and now much-loved son-in-law, for that — but it meant that he and Lois had not become separated by time in the way that Lois had feared.

"So what's bugging you, Clark?" Conor enquired.

"Not here," Clark protested, gesturing at the house below. "I think Jon's dropping by soon and I don't really want him hearing this." He began to fly upwards and west, towards the edge of the city; Conor followed.

"How is Jon? Is he… a Superman as well?" the younger man asked, clearly very interested in the answer.

"Yeah," Clark replied. "It was something he wanted to do — I never wanted him to feel he had to, I wanted him — and Katy as well — to do what was right for *them*. But Jon wanted to help, and my Mom made him a Suit, so he became Son of Superman a little over ten years ago. These days, though, he just calls himself Superman." Clark smiled a little. "He thinks I don't realise, but he's waiting for me to retire so he can take over from me."

"Is he a journalist too?" Conor enquired.

"No — an academic. A professor, would you believe?"

"You and Lois must be very proud of him," Conor said softly. Clark shot him a swift glance, but the younger man's expression was inscrutable. There was clearly something going on here, but Clark wasn't convinced that Conor had any intention of telling him what it was.


On a hilltop above the city, the same hilltop where he and Katy had talked after she'd dropped her bombshell about being in love with Jimmy, Clark landed and invited Conor to sit with him. The younger man complied, raising a single eyebrow at Clark. "So what's going on? Is everything… I mean, is Lois okay?"

Quickly Clark reassured him. "She's fine. She's… oh, she's still the same as ever, Conor, sharp, intelligent, stubborn, beautiful… She's the editor of the Planet now, you know. And she still loves me as much as ever."

"And you're still amazed that she does, aren't you?" Conor replied. Seeing Clark's surprised expression, he added, "I'm the same with Laura — come on, I didn't need to tell you that? That's the way we are — because we're different, we're from another planet, it's hard to see sometimes why any Earth woman would want us."

Clark nodded; Conor had pin-pointed it exactly. "No, there's nothing wrong with Lois. She may be sixty-four but in many ways she's just the same as she was when she was twenty-six and we first met." He paused, and fell silent for several minutes. Conor sat by his side, not talking, not attempting to read Clark's thoughts either. Clark would speak when he was ready.

"I guess it's my… our ages, Conor," Clark began at last. "We start to lose all sorts of people who are important to us. Perry White died nearly six years ago — oh, it was expected, he'd been ill a long time. And after that, it seemed every year or so there was someone else… My dad had died before that, of course, but then there was Lois's parents, the year after Perry went; then two years ago Mom died." He paused, his eyes staring unseeingly at the landscape below. He felt Conor's sympathy and understanding reaching out to him, and sent a silent message of thanks to his friend.

"Then earlier today I heard someone in danger, and when I went to help I found an old friend had been attacked…" He told Conor about Henderson, and then paused again.

"That's not what's really bothering you, is it, Clark?" Conor asked as if he was already confident of the answer.

Clark shook his head. "It's just… wondering who's next…"

"Lois." It was a statement, not a question.

"You must have thought about this," Clark stated. "You know you're going to outlive Laura — probably by a long way judging by how young you look still. You must have wondered… worried about what it'll be like to be alone."

"Yeah, I've thought about it," Conor agreed. "And I've talked to Laura — "

"You have?"

"Sure! You mean you haven't talked to Lois?" Clark shook his head. "My God, man, no wonder this is eating away at you! How can you still be shutting her out, after — what is it, thirty-three years of marriage?"


"Whatever. You need to *talk* to her, Kent! You don't have to feel you're protecting her from anything — and anyway, you know very well she'd hate that. It's not going to be hard for her — she knows you'll outlive her. My guess is she'd welcome a chance to tell you how she feels, and what she wants for you."

"What did Laura say?" Clark was intrigued, despite himself.

Conor shrugged. "She said we'd been lucky to have a long life together — hell, we were lucky to find each other in the first place, given our convoluted beginnings. Remember, I should have landed on Earth thirty years before I did. So we should be grateful for what we'd had, and I should remember her by being happy, and carrying on doing the things I loved, after she'd gone." It was now his turn to stare into the distance. "Clark, I don't want to be without Laura any more than you do without Lois. But you have to stop obsessing about this — and shutting Lois out."

"You're right," Clark agreed. "I need to talk to her about this, and I will." He paused again, then changed the subject. "Conor — how have things been for you? I know you and Laura married, but what about kids? And I assume you're still Superman…?"

"Yeah, I'm still Superman. And there's also a SuperWoman in my world." At Clark's enquiring glance, he grinned proudly. "Our daughter, Joey. Named for Jor-El, sort of. I'd have loved to call her Lois, after… but anyway, we thought it would attract too much press interest."

"So — a daughter…?"

"Yeah, Joey's twenty-five," Conor explained. "She finished college five years ago and announced she wanted to go to medical school. So she qualifies this summer. Dr Kane — we can hardly believe it. Mind you, it'll be kind of handy having a doctor in the family — I've told her she'll need to become an expert on Kryptonian physiology!"

"And she's a part-time Super-hero too?"


"And… is she an only child?" Clark wondered why he felt as if he was prying. With a shock, he realised that Conor had closed his mind against probes. The realisation hurt; surely Conor understood that Clark would not take advantage of their Kryptonian connection to invade his privacy?

With the same shuttered expression on his face which he'd worn earlier, Conor shook his head. Abruptly, he got to his feet and said, "Shouldn't you be heading home before Lois wonders where you are?"

Feeling rebuffed, Clark turned away from Conor and said coolly, "Lois knows I'll be back soon."

<<I'm sorry>>

Clark swung around slowly and studied his 'brother' with a frown. <<Looks like I'm not the only one with a problem>>

<<Maybe>> Conor wasn't volunteering any further information.

Clark changed the subject. "How long have you got? Would you like to come and say hi to Lois? I know she'd love to see you. Jon's due to call in soon as well…"

"Yeah, I'd like that," Conor replied quietly. "I don't know how long I have here — all this kind of took me by surprise. One minute I was minding my own business, editing a script in my study, and the next something or someone was telling me to contact you." He paused and studied Clark with a wry smile. "All these years… and I did try the telepathic link from time to time, but it never worked. Until now…"

"I wonder why?" Clark mused, but gestured to Conor to follow him.


Lois glanced at her watch again, wondering where Clark was. She knew he'd been upset at Bill Henderson's death, and she'd suspected he wanted a little time on his own. But he'd been gone quite a while, unless he'd been caught up in another emergency. Anything was possible, of course, with Superman. It was an occupational hazard of her married life to which she was well used.

As she mused on whether to order takeout or take a chance that Clark would be home in time to cook dinner, she heard a familiar sound from the back garden. Automatically going towards the back door to greet her husband, she paused. That had been a double whoosh; but surely Jon wasn't with him? She knew her son had a late class at the university that evening.

The door opened and Clark entered, changing into his casual clothes as he did so. Behind him came another man in an identical Superman suit, a man who looked exactly like Clark had about fifteen or twenty years ago. This man was too old to be Jon, but… could just about be Clark's son. For an instant, Lois felt a twinge of panic. This couldn't be an old indiscretion coming home to roost, could it? Immediately, she dismissed the thought. Clark would never have done anything like that — *hadn't* done anything like that. But who…

The man spoke to her. "Hello, Lois, it's great to see you again."

He even *sounded* like Clark! But…

An alternate version — but younger?

Clark was watching with enjoyment the expressions flitting across his wife's face. "Lois, sweetheart, surely you remember…?"

Her eyes widened as the penny dropped. This wasn't the Alternate Clark from the universe she had visited on her own; Clark had never been on such familiar terms with him. This was Conor Kane, the man Clark had regarded as his little brother, and with whom he had formed a close bond even though they had only spent a few days together.

"Conor!" she exclaimed, hurrying to him. He enfolded her in his arms, hugging her tightly.

Conor caught Clark's eye over Lois's head. <<Do you mind if I…?>>

<<Not my place to give permission, my friend. That's up to Lois>>

Dipping his head, Conor kissed Lois's cheek. She smiled up at him in genuine pleasure, and his mouth shifted to caress her upper lip. "For old time's sake," he said as he released her, laughing. "For when we had to stage PDAs to stop gossip at the Planet."

"PDAs?" Clark was confused. Why would Conor have been kissing Lois at the Planet?

His younger counterpart spun into jeans and a sweatshirt before turning to grin at him. "Public Displays of Affection. Your colleagues were starting to think you and Lois'd had a fight because we weren't behaving the way you two normally did, so I had to use my acting talents… It was kind of fun."

Clark raised his eyebrows in an exaggerated pretence of jealousy. He was actually surprised that neither this revelation, nor the fact that his wife had never told him about it, bothered him in the slightest. But then, although he was aware that he did have a jealous streak, he had never been jealous of Conor. Probably because he had always known how Conor felt about Laura; even if he hadn't seen the love the two shared, he would have realised after he had allowed Conor into his body to 'talk' to Laura while they'd been in each other's universe.

"No need to worry, Clark — I never actually kissed her for real. I just used a technique for faking it that actors used to use when I was still in the business. It worked well enough."

Lois moved to her husband's side, wrapping her arms around his waist, but still watching Conor. "So how come you're here? I thought HG Wells didn't want us visiting each other's worlds."

<<Don't tell her>> Clark asked quickly. <<I need to do this myself…>>

<<Don't worry>>

"I'm really not sure, Lois," Conor answered her. "I was in my study, then a voice seemed to tell me to contact Clark, and once I did I seemed to know that if he said it was okay I could come here."

"And Laura's not with you?" Lois asked, a little disappointed.

"No — she'll be really fed up that she missed the trip," he replied. "I know she'd love to see you both again."

After inviting Conor to stay for dinner, Lois sent Clark to get takeout. While he was gone, she poured Conor some wine and asked him how he and Laura had been over the years. It seemed that Conor Kane was now a highly successful novelist who had seen many of his books adapted for television and film; Laura had even starred in some of them. She had continued to be a successful actress in her own right, and the high point of her career had been a Best Actress Oscar about twenty years earlier. Since then she had received a number of other nominations, though due to the dearth of major roles for older women, the nominations these days tended to be for Best Supporting Actress.

"Did you bring any of your books with you? Or Laura's videos?" Lois asked hopefully.

Conor shook his head. "Never thought — it all happened so fast."

"That's a real shame. Clark and I would love to see them."

He smiled at her. "Next time, I promise."

Lois laughed. "You know, Conor, I haven't been able to watch 'Ghost' with a straight face since you were here!"

Laughing aloud, Conor leaned back on the sofa. "I know what you mean. I ran into Patrick Swayze a couple of months after that, and it was so hard not to crack up. It's weird — I found it so difficult to do that, at the time, but now I feel like it was something out of a crazy sci-fi movie."

Clark returned, and they conversed amiably over dinner, bringing each other up to date about events over the past thirty or so years. As they finished their meal, Conor's super-hearing alerted him to a sound outside the front door; someone was coming in with a key. He used his X-ray vision to see who it was, and was very surprised to recognise Jimmy Olsen. Quickly he spun into the Superman suit, thinking that at least Jimmy shouldn't be too surprised to see the Super-hero visiting the Kent household.

Jimmy strolled into the living-room, apologising as he did so. "Sorry, guys — Katy sent me over. She thought she left something… Hey!" he exclaimed, an arrested expression on his face as he stared at Superman. "CK, who's that…?"

Conor shot Clark an anxious glance. <<What's up? I thought he'd just assume I was…>>

Clark laughed aloud as he realised what had happened. "Conor, this is one thing we hadn't got around to telling you yet. Jimmy knows I'm Superman — we told him about six years ago." Turning to his son-in-law, he said, "Jimmy, come and meet an old friend of ours, Conor Kane."

Conor shook Jimmy's hand briefly before spinning back into his normal clothes; he felt a little self-conscious at being dressed as Superman when it wasn't necessary.

Jimmy stared again. "Wow! You've got super-powers too? Are you related to CK or something?"

Clark and Conor exchanged glances before Clark explained. "It's kind of complicated, Jimmy. Remember we told you about the alternate universes? Conor is another Kal-El, only he didn't get found by the Kents. His wife is Laura Lindsay, but she's his world's version of Lois."

Studying Conor again, Jimmy frowned. "You're a lot younger than CK. Did you arrive on Earth more recently?"

Conor grimaced. "Actually, my spaceship landed much earlier, but HG Wells took me to 1970 instead. I'm only about four years younger than Clark."

"Four years…" Jimmy found this hard to believe.

"Yeah, I was wondering about that too, Clark," Conor commented. "I know our molecular structure slows down the pattern of ageing, so why do you look so much closer to your actual age?"

Clark hesitated, exchanging glances with Lois. He had no wish to make Jimmy feel guilty, as he knew the younger man would. But Jimmy realised the answer before Clark could find an escape route.

"I get it — you gave up years of your life for me when Veda Doodsen used that machine of hers on me," he said slowly. "I never thought about it before — about what kind of effect doing that might have had on Superman. Not even after I realised he was you… God, *how* can I have been so thoughtless not to have realised what you did for me!"

Clark hurried to place his hand on Jimmy's shoulder in a reassuring gesture. "Look, I did it for a friend, okay? You think Lois and I wanted you to die? And anyway, you did me a favour. I'm almost sixty-five, and to be perfectly honest, I have no wish to look like I'm only forty-five. And I'm not particularly keen on the idea of living until I'm a hundred and fifty, or something ridiculous like that. So forget it, okay?"

Conor, listening to the exchange, couldn't quite work out what had happened, but he guessed that Clark would be happy to change the subject. He grinned at Jimmy and said, "Actually, we've met before. Thirty years ago, at the Planet. You thought I was Clark and asked me about some football game you were sure Clark would have watched."

Puzzled, Jimmy frowned at Conor.

"Hey, I looked a lot more like Clark then," Conor added, seeing Jimmy's scepticism. "And I was pretending to be him — he was trapped in my world, and I was here. You asked what I'd thought of the game, and I bluffed, saying it had been good, then you disconcerted me completely by saying Clark's team had lost. I was sure I'd given myself away."

Jimmy's eyes widened. "Hey, I do vaguely remember… I just thought CK was in one of his weird moods. He often had them then — or at least, that's what I thought at the time. Course, looking back, I know it was probably all to do with concentrating on what was going on in the next city rather than what was going on right beside him."


Sarah had intended to spend the evening doing some preparation for a seminar the following day, but she found herself unable to concentrate. It wasn't just the shock of the attack — near-rape, she reminded herself. Her thoughts kept drifting to her rescuer.

The younger Superman was really incredibly good-looking, she thought. Of course, he most probably knew it, and even more probably he had a wife and children of his own somewhere. His smile, his concern… no doubt these were all part of his routine. Rescue the damsel in distress, deal with the bad guys, make sure said damsel is unhurt and safe. See her home, and there's another good deed for the day.

I could probably write a feminist etymological critique of the patriarchal behaviour of the indigenous Metropolitan Super-hero, she thought in self-parody. How such beings are a physical anthropomorphism of every woman's fantasy male, but unattainable, which was probably just as well since underneath the flashy outfits their characters no doubt were flawed in some way.

But… Superman had been kind. Very kind. And that smile of his…

He had looked at her, for a brief instant, as if she was an attractive woman, not the dowdy frump she chose to be these days. And for the first time in a long while, a man's recognition of her attractiveness as a woman hadn't frightened her.

Strangely enough, the attempted rape didn't bother her either. Superman's timely intervention almost seemed to have driven the fear from her mind.

If only she could drive these thoughts of the unattainable Super-hero from her mind as well.


"You're telling me Jimmy's your *son-in-law*?" Conor stared at Lois and Clark incredulously.

Lois grinned at him. "I know — we were just as shocked when Katy came and told us she wanted to marry him. Sure, the age-gap sounds terrible, but Jimmy seems to be the right man for her. And I have to admit she's the right woman for him."

Conor examined Katy's wedding photographs with interest, commenting that she looked very much like his daughter Joey.

"And here's Jon at last!" Clark exclaimed, his Super-hearing having caught the sound of his son's footsteps on the path outside. "We thought he might be here for dinner, but he must have been called out to something." He grinned at his guest. "You'll find Jon a little different from when you last saw him, Conor."

Conor merely nodded; Lois noticed and wondered at it. He seemed to have become tense all of a sudden.

Jon joined the group, surprised to see a slightly younger version of his father in the family living-room. He blinked, then said easily, "Let me guess — a long-lost Kent cousin — unlikely since you were adopted, Dad, a clone, or a version of you from another universe?"

"Conor Kane," the visitor volunteered, extending his hand to Jon. "And you're right — I'm from another universe."

"Ah — I've heard about you!" Jon told him. "You and your wife used to play Dad and Mom on TV in your world."

Conor nodded, but as Clark watched him he became increasingly convinced that something was upsetting his visitor. Subtle attempts to probe Conor's thoughts proved futile; their guest had closed his mind to communication and was behaving increasingly stiffly.

In an instant, Clark had made his decision. <<Jon, I know I've never done this before, but I really am talking to you telepathically. I need you to make an excuse and leave. I'll explain later.>>

Jon shot his father a shocked glance. Telepathy? Since when…? He concentrated. Would he be able to do it too? <<Okay. No problem>>

"Sorry, guys," he said briefly. "I think Superman's needed somewhere, and it's my night on duty." He turned and strode towards the kitchen, taking off from the back garden seconds later.

Conor glanced at his hosts. "I guess it's time I was going too."

"No, you don't," Lois instantly replied, taking Conor's arm. "I don't know what's going on here, but I can see enough to know there's something wrong. Clark, why did Jon leave?"

<<You didn't need to do that, Clark>> Conor told his friend.

<<Yes, I did>> "Lois, I asked him to come back later. Conor," he added, addressing his alternate self directly, "I noticed a couple of hours ago that you were uncomfortable when I asked you about your family — then you suddenly freeze when Jon comes in. What happened — did you and Laura have a baby who died?" The final question was voiced softly, sympathetically.

Conor sighed, then threw his hosts a resigned glance. "Okay. I've never told anyone else about this, but I guess you two are different…"


- An Alternate Universe, twenty-seven years earlier -

Tucking a cushion behind Laura's back, Conor smiled down lovingly at his very pregnant wife. In less than a week, if their doctor's estimate was correct, she would be giving birth to their second child. Their daughter Joey was eighteen months old, and they were looking forward to having a little brother or sister for her. Preferably both — they wanted three or four children in total.

As Conor prepared to sit next to Laura and massage her calves, his Super-hearing kicked in. "Sorry, sweetheart, but there's something going on outside. I need to check it out."

Laura just smiled; she was by now well used to her husband's comings and goings. After all, what else had she expected when she'd married Superman?

But Conor wasn't gone long; within a couple of minutes he was striding back into their sunny day-room, a strange expression on his face. "Laura, we have a visitor."

She glanced around, and inhaled sharply as she realised just *who* their visitor was. "H.G. Wells!" Her gaze flicked to Conor, then back to the time-traveller. "It's great to see you… but is something wrong? Are Lois and Clark all right?"

"Do they need my help?" Conor interjected quickly, hoping that this wasn't the case. At any other time he would be delighted to go and help his friends, but not with Laura's due date so close.

"Ahem… no, the Clark Kent and Lois Lane whom you met are both in excellent health, and not in need of any help at present," the writer replied, a little awkwardly. "But another Superman and his wife are very much in need of assistance."

"*Another* Superman?" Conor exclaimed, wondering whether Wells was inferring that it was a counterpart of his in another universe. Then he remembered that Lois had told him of another Clark whom she had met, and who had come to help her when her husband had been sent into eternity by Tempus. This had been a Clark whose other identity was no secret: the whole world had known that he was Superman. Was it this Clark? If so, then he must have found, and married, his Lois.

He turned again to Wells. "At any other time I'd be glad to, but you must be able to see that I can't leave Laura right now." He thought that Wells seemed to flinch at that remark.

Looking distinctly uncomfortable, the time-traveller explained his mission. "You see, Mr Kane, Miss Lindsay, the couple of whom I speak are desperate to have a child of their own. Unfortunately, Superman's wife is unable to conceive. And if their world is not at some future date to degenerate into a violent dystopia, the Kryptonian line must be carried on."

Laura frowned, puzzled. "So you want me to donate some eggs for fertilisation and implantation, or something like that? Of course, once the baby's born and I'm… um, back to normal."

"I'm afraid that won't do, Ms Lindsay," Wells replied, by now extremely uncomfortable. "The young lady's problem would prevent her from carrying a pregnancy in any circumstances. No, I am very much afraid that this couple's only chance of becoming parents rests in the baby you now carry."

Conor froze. What the *he…*? Did Wells mean what it seemed that he meant? "I'm sorry?" he enquired icily.

"I regret very much that I am here to ask you to allow your child — your son — to be adopted by Mr Kent and his wife," Wells explained.

<Our son…> Laura thought. <A boy, just like Conor — just like Jon Kent, Lois's son>

"No. Absolutely not. Under no circumstances." Conor rejected the idea out of hand, refusing to allow it even one second's contemplation. It was *outrageous* — just what made this time-traveller and self-appointed guardian of the Kryptonian inhabitants of a number of universes think he had the right to demand something as… as unacceptable as that? To ask them to give up their own child — it was barbaric!

His gaze swung to Laura; she was staring up at him with eyes which radiated fear. Her hands were clasped protectively over her swollen stomach, and her expression spoke louder than any words could ever have done. 'Don't let him take our baby…'

'Never,' he silently promised her.

Turning back to glare at Wells, Conor strode towards the door. "You'll understand if I ask you to leave now. Not only is what you ask completely out of the question, but I will not have you upsetting my wife." His stance projected the unspoken threat that if Wells did not leave instantly, Superman would make sure that he was removed.

The time-traveller sighed unhappily. "Yes, yes, quite. I'll go now. But I will come back in a day or two to see if you've changed your minds."

"There is *absolutely* no chance of that!" Conor informed him as he showed Wells out.


Laura was distinctly unsettled for the rest of the evening, despite Conor's assurances that he would never allow Wells to take their son. Conor could have killed the time-traveller for upsetting Laura so near her time. He resolved to ensure that when Wells did return, it would be he and not Laura who dealt with him. He would make sure that Wells understood once and for all that his request was unacceptable.

But by the following day Laura was actually beginning to consider Wells' request, much to Conor's disbelief. He stared at her, appalled, as she suggested that they should at least discuss it.

"Laura — you can't be serious!"

"I've been awake most of the night thinking about it, Conor. I think we need to talk about it."

"There's nothing to talk about," he stated with finality.

"Isn't there?" she asked. "Conor, what if it was us?"

He stared back at her, stunned. "Laura, honey, I can't believe we'd ever want to take someone else's child away from them!"

"But it wouldn't be like that," she suggested softly. "These people… they're us. Just in another dimension. Just like Lois and Clark are us."

"They're *versions* of us, sure," Conor accepted. "But it's not the same — I mean, when Clark was here with you, you weren't tempted to want to be with him, were you?"

"Of course not," Laura agreed. "But if I'd never met you, I would have been attracted to him — precisely because he is you."

"Okay, so our son would be brought up by parents who would love him as if he was genetically their own, and to all intents and purposes he would probably be genetically theirs," Conor agreed. "And because they're us, you think they would love him like we would — and they would be able to teach him about his Kryptonian side?"

"Yes — so it's not like a normal adoption," Laura agreed.

"Fine, but I still don't understand why we're even discussing this!" Conor exclaimed. "How could we even contemplate giving up…?"

"Because you're Superman, and you have obligations?" Laura suggested. "Because neither of us could bear the thought of how we'd feel in the same position?"

<Because we already have Joey and we can have other kids> Conor thought. <But am I — are we — really saying that our son is disposable?>

The discussion continued well into the following day as well, but by the time Wells returned it was two very subdued people who escorted him into their sitting-room.

Laura faced the time-traveller, her face pale. "We've come to a decision, but we need to know a few things first."

"Of course."

"He will be loved? He will be happy? We know you know everything that happens…?"

Wells gave her a sympathetic glance. "Yes, Miss Lindsay, I know what will happen if you and Mr Kane agree. And young Master Kent does indeed grow up to be a fine young man."

Conor interrupted as a thought struck him. "You mean you knew all along that we'd agree?"

"Not necessarily, Mr Kane. The course of time is in continual flux, especially in your world." Wells paused, then said, "I had no intention of telling you this, but since you've made your decision now, I will inform you that a couple of days ago, when you were both adamant that you were not willing to give me your son, the future of your world was undergoing some grave uncertainty."

Conor stared at him. "You mean that if we'd said no… it would have caused things to change in our future?"

"Perhaps indeed, Mr Kane. But I'm happy to say… Well, anyway, we need to make arrangements."

Wells had thought of everything, it seemed, even how they were going to explain the lack of a baby to family, friends and the press. Once Laura had gone into labour, she had been taken to a very private nursing home. She and Conor had spent a precious half-hour with the son they had wanted to name Jon, before handing him over to the time-traveller to take to the other universe. The official story put out was that the baby had died very shortly after birth, from a congenital defect, and a medical certificate had been produced for that purpose. The story had also allowed Conor and Laura to grieve openly for the loss of their child.


- Metropolis, the present -

Lois shook her head slowly, staring at Conor as he finished his explanation. "How dreadful — I just can't imagine how we would feel if we had to go through that — to give up Jon or Katy… How did you and Laura cope?"

"It was tough," he told her quietly. "Like anyone else who loses a child, I guess, we grieved and just tried to get on with our lives. I was never sure whether it was better or worse knowing that Jon was actually alive but in some other universe — at least if he was dead we'd know we could never see him again. But all these years we've known he was alive, only we weren't able to see him."

"And… did you have any other kids?" Clark asked.

Conor smiled wryly. "At first, no, and after a while we were glad about that because we figured we wouldn't want a child who was a substitute for someone else. But six years later, just as we'd resigned ourselves to Joey being an only child, Laura suddenly got pregnant again."

"And…?" Lois prompted.

"We had twins that time, a girl and a boy. We called them… um…" Conor hesitated suddenly, throwing his hosts a slightly awkward glance. "Louis and Clare. The nearest we could get to Lois and Clark without attracting attention."

Clark exchanged glances with his wife, both touched beyond words at the notion. Conor saw the exchange and gave a half-smile. "You two were really great to us — I know I could never have had the confidence to carry on as Superman without you, Clark. And Laura really appreciated the things you both told her about what it's like to be married to a Super-hero. We've never forgotten you."

Lois wrapped her arms around her old friend in a hug of friendship and comfort. "We've never forgotten you two, either. Or what you did, catching Tempus like that."

Conor caught her hand as she released him, and squeezed it. "Thanks."

After a few moments, he added, "We don't talk about our son much now, and actually I hadn't really thought about it for a while. It was only seeing you earlier, Clark, and having you ask about our family — that brought it all back, and then when I saw your Jon, it struck me that he probably looks exactly like our son would now. It wasn't really upsetting, just sort of sad. It brought back the memories, that's all."

<<I'm so sorry>> Clark tried to express his sympathy to his counterpart, but he was aware that anything he could say was vastly inadequate. Aware that Conor was still hurting inside, whatever he was saying openly, he tried to transmit some of his own inner strength. After a few moments, he felt Conor communicating with him in return.

<<Thanks — I do feel easier, though I don't know why. It's almost as if I've let go of a lot of old, buried pain>>

Conor smiled at Lois then and added, "Actually, Wells has come to see us a few times over the years and filled us in on how he's doing. Seems he's quite a hero now in his own world, so we did the right thing. And I want you to know, Laura and I both know that if we could go back and make that decision all over again, we'd do exactly the same thing. We don't regret it."

Lois glanced at Clark. "I wonder if it's the Clark we met?"

Conor shrugged. "Wells would never tell us." He seemed about to say more, but then a distracted expression appeared on his face. "Sorry, but I think I'm being told I need to get going."

"I'll see you out," Clark offered as Conor went to embrace Lois.

"Wait!" Lois exclaimed as Clark was about to lead Conor back into the kitchen. "Before you go — you have to take a copy of Clark's book with you." She ran to the bookshelves and seized a copy.

"Clark's *book*? Hey, I'd love to!" Conor took the book from Lois, scanning it excitedly. "I'd no idea you'd gone into the publishing business too. Hey, this looks like serious stuff!"

A little embarrassed, Clark shrugged. "Don't know if you'll be interested, Conor. But you're welcome to it."

"You got to sign it," his counterpart demanded.

Clark did so, but had a note of warning. "You better make sure no-one but you and Laura ever sees this, since I'm officially only a fictional character in your world."

<<Thanks for coming — talking to you earlier really made me see sense>> Clark told his friend as they walked out into the rear garden. <<I will talk to Lois, soon>>

<<You do that, big brother>> Conor insisted. <<But you know, I was sent here because I was told you needed me. This last half-hour has had me wondering just who needed who>>

<<I'm glad if talking to us helped, Conor. I wish… I wish we could be around for each other more>>

<<Me too. But it's not meant to be, is it?>>

"How do you know?" Clark demanded aloud. "I mean, you were able to come here tonight — what's to say the next time you need to talk to me I won't 'know' and be able to visit you?"

Conor shrugged. "Clark, I have no idea. I can't even explain what happened tonight. All I know is that I just suddenly 'knew' that you needed me. And as soon as you asked if I could come here, I knew that I could if you gave your permission."

"So… what if I give you permanent permission to come here whenever you want?" Clark suggested slowly. But his friend shook his head.

"I can't explain it, Clark, but I know it doesn't work that way."

He turned then, continuing to walk towards the end of the garden; suddenly his image became fainter and gradually more transparent. As he faded completely out of sight, Clark heard Conor's voice in his head again. <<You take care. I love you both>>


Clark returned to the house to find Lois making coffee in the kitchen. She studied her husband's expression in loving concern, suspecting that he might be depressed about saying goodbye to Conor again. "He's gone, then?"

"Yeah — just now."

She advanced on him, sliding her arms about his waist and offering him the comfort of her embrace. "Are you okay?"

Clark smiled, enjoying the sensation of holding his beloved wife, inhaling her scent and feeling the softness of her small frame. "Yeah, I'm fine. You know, hearing what he and Laura had to go through really made me realise how lucky we are."

"To have our two wonderful kids, and to have had Jonathan and Martha for so long?" Lois supplied.

"Yeah. Sure, I miss Mom and Dad, but *he* never had them at all. I could see that mattered to him when we met first — and you said he found it hard to spend time with them, because it made him see what he'd missed out on."

Lois fell silent, thinking about their old friends. It had been wonderful, and so completely unexpected, to see Conor that evening, and she could see that it had also meant a lot to Clark to talk to his 'little brother' again. But she could hardly bear to think about the sacrifice their friends had made for another Kent family. She wasn't sure whether she and Clark could have made that choice. On the other hand, could they have lived with themselves afterwards had they refused?

Thinking back, she remembered the first year of their marriage; the time when they had first thought about having children. Clark had consulted Dr Klein about the potential compatibility of Kryptonians and humans, and Klein's initial tests had suggested that Clark would be unable to impregnate an Earth woman. That had been a very difficult time for the two of them; they had even considered adoption, though that had really been a non-starter.

What if they hadn't been able to have children of their own? What if HG Wells had offered them the child of another Lois and Clark?

She could see how Conor and Laura had arrived at their decision, though the idea of making such a sacrifice made her blood run cold. She raised her gaze to Clark's.

"I wish we could have been there for them, you know, all those years ago."

"I know," he murmured. "But, you know, we had Jon and Katy by then — they might not have wanted us around." He hugged her again, then stepped back. "Come and sit down — there's something I promised I'd talk to you about."

"You promised, hmmm?" Lois enquired, following Clark through to the living-room. "Was this what was going on with you and Conor?"

"Yeah," he confirmed, sitting on the sofa and pulling Lois down so that she was relaxing against him, his arms about her. "I'm afraid I was obsessing again, earlier… finding Bill like that set me off. I was just thinking about losing people I care about."

"I know, Clark, but it happens," Lois said softly.

"Yeah, but I was thinking about someone in particular," he replied gently, nuzzling her earlobe.

She glanced around at him. "Me." It wasn't a question. Lois might not have the Kryptonian telepathic abilities which, it seemed, their children shared with their father, but she knew Clark so well by now that telepathy was unnecessary to understand his thoughts.

"Yeah." He fell silent for a moment. "Oh, not the same way I used to obsess all those years ago, thinking that one day I'd just be too late to save you. But now, I keep thinking… you're sixty-four, honey, and…"

"Clark, sweetheart, I'm not planning on leaving you just yet!" she informed him mock-tartly. "But sure, one of these days I'm going to die. So are you, probably — I know what Dr Klein said all those years ago, but you did give up a lot of your life force and you've aged pretty much in line with your years — well, almost. I suppose you could pass for fifty-eight at a pinch," she added teasingly. "But the way I look at it is we've had more than thirty wonderful years together. Whatever we have left to us is a bonus — and considering when you went to New Krypton we thought you might never come back, the time we've had has been extra-special."

Clark leaned forward, slanting his lips over Lois's and kissing her deeply. Drawing back then, he murmured, "So we should be thankful for what we've had, and be happy for the wonderful times?"

She stroked his face. "Absolutely. No regrets at all — I want you to promise me that, Clark. No regrets, ever."

He smiled at her, all the love he had ever felt for this wonderful woman reflected in his expression. "No regrets. Ever."


Jon was at his desk early the following morning; he had been up since 3:30 am assisting at a rescue operation following the sinking of a cruise liner, and he hadn't felt it worth his while to go back to bed. Anyway, he had some thinking and planning to do.

He had eventually returned to his parents' house the previous evening, making sure first that their guest had departed and that his parents were not otherwise occupied. He smiled at that thought: even after nearly thirty-five years of marriage, his parents were still the most romantic couple he knew. They not only still loved each other, they were still *in* love with each other, in every possible way. They still had a very active sex life… but then, why should he be surprised at that, he mused dryly. His father was the original Superman, after all. Though his mother must have a high endurance level, he thought with a grin.

He had been very curious to find out more about these telepathic abilities he and his father seemed to share. Clark had never mentioned telepathy to either Jon or Katy before, though once he began to think about it Jon remembered that there had been some mention of the New Kryptonians, who had visited Earth two or three years before he was born, having used telepathic communication. He had also wondered why Conor Kane had been uncomfortable meeting him; he had sensed the older man's discomfort as soon as they'd shaken hands. Given that Conor was considered by his parents to be a very close friend — and also considering that Conor had met Jon as a toddler — the reaction seemed odd. But, once he'd been told the reason, he could understand the other Superman's behaviour.

The story had given Jon something of a restless night. He'd been aware, from something Dr Klein had said many years before, that when his parents were first married there had been considerable doubt about whether they were biologically compatible, and they had been told they wouldn't be able to have children of their own. <What if they didn't? What if I was Conor and Laura's child?> he had begun to think.

But common sense had asserted itself with the coming of dawn. If Clark and Lois had genuinely not been genetically capable of having children together, then surely Conor and Laura would have been equally incapable. And Jon had seen photographs of Lois during both of her pregnancies, including ones where she was holding him. So he had to be his parents' child, as did Katy. The other Jon had clearly been taken to yet another universe.

How would it feel to be that Jon? To know that your parents were from another universe, counterparts of the people who had brought you up? It wasn't comparable to his father's experience of adoption, Jon felt; Jor-El and Lara were from another planet and had little in common with Jonathan and Martha Kent. He couldn't help wondering whether the Jon Kent who was clearly his own alternate-universe counterpart knew anything about his real origins, and whether the young man felt a yearning to visit his real universe.

Sighing as he tried to put the topic of Conor and Laura's son out of his mind, Jon focused on the other matters which had caused him a sleepless night. Telepathy… it had been one heck of a shock when his father had spoken to him through a telepathic link the previous evening. It had never occurred to him that, as half-Kryptonians, he and Katy might share his father's ability in that regard. Clark had explained why he had never used telepathy with his son and daughter before, and Jon could understand the reasoning. Clark had pointed out that Jon and Katy would have felt that they had no privacy at all if they had realised that their father could 'eavesdrop' on their thoughts and trace their whereabouts telepathically. So not only had Clark never done it, but he had never told his children about the ability either.

Jon grinned ruefully as he considered the implications. He could envisage the scene… returning from a very late night, his father asking where he had been until after midnight, and why exactly he had closed off his mind to telepathic communication. Yes… embarrassing, he admitted. But he could see that the ability could have its uses, in particular if any of them needed Super help quickly. Who needs a signal watch, he mused with a grin.

And then there was his encounter earlier the previous evening with the young woman who had been attacked. He had resolved then to get to know her, and he needed to plan out his strategy for achieving that.

Jon had never been in love. His mother sometimes joked that he rarely took his head out of his books long enough to notice what was going on around him, although that wasn't exactly true. He had been aware of Katy's feelings for Jimmy for a very long time, and had realised that a relationship had developed between them before his parents had become aware of it.

Smiling then as he considered his parents' assessment of his personality, Jon admitted to himself that he had sometimes cultivated that air of detachment or unworldliness. It had proven to be a useful tactic at school, for instance; his classmates and teachers had simply written him off as some sort of 'head-in-the-clouds' academic genius, and as a result they had frequently not questioned him when he hadn't been able to disguise his Super-abilities sufficiently. The 'disguise' had, over time, become habitual, and as such he hadn't been sought after by female classmates at school or college. He had dated, but had never yet met a woman who seriously attracted him.

Until now…

But Sarah Fuller clearly had something troubling her, and as a result he would need to tread carefully.


A couple of days later, Sarah was in her office making notes for her lecture course when there was a tap on her door. She glanced up in irritation: no-one had an appointment with her, and she had tried to impress upon the department secretarial staff since her arrival that she preferred not to see anyone without a prior appointment. Grimacing, she called out to her visitor to come in.

The door opened, and as she turned to see her visitor, her gaze fell on a tall, slim man with short jet-black hair. He looked about thirty, she noted, and as he advanced into the room she realised that she had seen him before — only that morning, in fact. He had been sitting at the back during her ten o'clock lecture. She'd noticed him because, unlike the rest of the students, he hadn't been scribbling copious notes as she spoke. Instead, he had watched her throughout, but since his expression had appeared to indicate that he was following the content, she had tried to ignore the steady regard from behind his gold-rimmed glasses.

"Professor Fuller?" She realised that he was speaking to her, and rearranged her expression into one of polite enquiry.

"My name's Jon Kent — I wonder if I could talk to you for a minute?"

Sarah glanced pointedly at her watch. "I am rather busy, Mr Kent — it might be better if you made an appointment. Though if it's to do with one of my courses, you could probably get the information you need from the Department office."

He smiled, a slow, amused grin which made Sarah wonder briefly whether he was laughing at her. "I'm not one of your students, Professor Fuller," he drawled lightly, before explaining himself. "I'm an associate professor in History, and one of the areas I'm interested in is feminist interpretations of social history."

Feeling highly embarrassed at her mistaken assumption, Sarah flushed and gestured towards a chair. "I do apologise, Professor Kent."

He grinned again. "No problem — actually, it's pretty flattering to be taken for a student. I only finished my graduate studies about five years ago, but some of my students insist on treating me as if I've been teaching for twenty years or more."

What did he want? Sarah wondered, but tried not to appear impatient. He seemed to sense that she wasn't interested in small talk, however, for he began to explain the reason for his visit.

"I've been reading some of your papers — I like your analyses, by the way — and the reason I wanted to talk to you is that I thought you might be able to help with a project I have in mind," he told her, in much more businesslike tones. As she listened, he outlined an idea for a paper which, it seemed, required the input of someone specialised in feminist sociology. The project sounded intriguing, and she found herself listening with interest.

"So — you want me to collaborate with you?" she enquired when he'd finished. As he nodded, she added thoughtfully, "You realise I know very little about American history?"

"Not a problem," he assured her. "I know enough about that for both of us. But I don't know enough about your subject to do this on my own. So — how about it?"

Sarah's automatic instinct urged her to reject the idea; after all, she had resolved to avoid as far as possible any close interaction with other people. It only led to trouble… on the other hand, this sounded like a fascinating project, and if it worked out it could be very useful for her in career terms. Another publication would always look good on her CV and would please her head of department back home, but additionally the international collaboration, and particularly the interdisciplinary nature of the joint venture, would be very useful when it was time to put in a promotion application.

Telling herself that she needed to be practical about this, she raised her gaze to Jon Kent and regarded him steadily. "Yes, I'm interested."

His warm, pleased smile caused her heart to skip a beat, before she ruthlessly suppressed any such reaction. She wasn't interested in any sort of relationship with this man — or any man — beyond the business of writing this paper.

"I'm very glad," he assured her. "I'll get a detailed proposal to you in the next couple of days, then we can meet again to discuss it, okay?"

"That'll be fine, Professor Kent," Sarah assured him, deliberately keeping her tone distant and businesslike. But he gave her another of his disconcerting smiles.

"Jon, please. Only my students call me Professor." He strolled, in a casual, loose-limbed manner, towards the door, then turned back just before exiting. "That's J-O-N, by the way, short for Jonathan. Just in case you needed to know."

Sarah didn't respond, unsure why she would have needed to know the precise spelling of his name; as he closed the door behind him she realised that, of course, an email addressed to John Kent would probably not reach him.

Shaking her head slightly to banish all thoughts of the good-looking historian, she returned her attention to her lecture notes.


Jon smiled in satisfaction as he headed back to his own building. He had summed up Sarah well, it seemed; he'd decided the other day that she probably was not likely to respond to an approach from a man who made it clear that he found her attractive. No, he had considered: the way to get to know her was through some common ground, and that would most likely be through her work.

And she had taken the bait perfectly. Now, of course, he had to come up with a proposal, but that shouldn't be too difficult. He was genuinely interested in the subject-matter he had outlined to her, and finding an angle which would allow for a sociologist's input would be easy enough.

He reflected on the brief interview; during those few moments when he had been outlining his proposal, her guard had dropped. The aura she seemed to project, that of warning the rest of the world to keep out, had dropped and he had caught a glimpse of what he hoped was the real Sarah Fuller. Her expression had become animated, and there had been a light in her grey eyes which…

He smiled wryly. First base, he thought, but there was a long way to go if he was going to get her to accept him as more than a colleague. And he didn't have very much time either, he reminded himself: she was only at MetU for a six-month sabbatical. He was aware that in a way his strategy for getting close to her was similar to that which his father had followed in order to get close to his mother, but unlike his father he didn't have the luxury of a year or two to persuade her that he was the one for her.

He frowned slightly as he became aware of the direction his thoughts had taken. He was the one for her? What exactly did he want from Sarah? He barely knew her.

But as he pondered this, something his father had said to him some years ago came back to him. <It was love at first sight with me, Jon — I took one look at Lois and I knew she was the one. It didn't matter that I knew nothing about her. It was instantaneous> Clark had paused, clearly remembering that first meeting. <I don't know whether it's a Kryptonian thing, but I'd never felt that way about any woman either before or since>

Was it a Kryptonian thing? Jon wasn't sure. He just knew that something momentous had happened the moment he'd stood and offered Sarah his hand to help her to her feet. He didn't know if it was the kind of love of which his father had spoken. But he did know that he needed to get to know her a lot better.


Over the next few weeks Sarah found herself spending a lot of time with the young associate professor from the history department. To her surprise, he was not only knowledgeable about his subject and hers, but he was very good company. She had begun the exercise intending to keep their meetings as businesslike as possible, meeting only in his office or hers, and confining conversation to the subject-matter of their collaboration. She had also decided to do as much of the work as possible over the university email network, seeing no reason to meet when they could exchange ideas and drafts easily that way.

But Jon had swiftly overruled that idea, informing her that he found collaborations worked better when he could talk face-to-face with his partner. And his expression had been so matter-of-fact when he'd said that, she had been unable to find a reason to disagree. That had been the first instance of chipping away at the walls she had built up around her. The second had been when he'd said he found working in one or other's office claustrophobic, to say nothing of the possibility of being interrupted by students or other colleagues. So he had persuaded her to work over a coffee in the canteen, and on one occasion during a walk in the campus grounds.

To her surprise, Sarah found that she actually *liked* Jon Kent. The man was simply impossible to dislike; although he took his work perfectly seriously, he also had a very charming and humorous side, a side which spilled over into his lectures, as she'd realised on the occasion when her curiosity had got the better of her and she'd sneaked in to sit at the back of one of his classes, much to his amusement. It was impossible not to like him when, on one occasion when they were together in her office, he read aloud a particular piece of polemic with which neither of them agreed, adopting a very serious, hectoring tone of voice. She had looked across at him when he'd done that and had caught the merry twinkle in his eyes, which had simply caused her to erupt into fits of laughter.

He had laid down the book from which he'd been reading and fixed her with a strange regard. She had stopped laughing and gazed at him quizzically. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he had replied quickly. "It's just — did you know that's the first time I've heard you laugh?"

Sarah froze. He was right; she had almost forgotten how to laugh, and now that she'd remembered she wasn't sure she was happy about it. But to her relief he didn't force the issue. He simply smiled gently and picked up the book again. "Okay, so where do we go with this…?"

Now she was trying to decide what to do about his invitation. It was a holiday weekend, celebrating Presidents' Day, and Jon had invited her to spend the Sunday with his family. She had instantly refused, politely of course, but he had refused to accept her answer. He had insisted that he couldn't possibly let her be on her own over a holiday, and that his parents wouldn't in the least object. He had even told her that it was an affront to his American sense of hospitality to think of her on her own while he was having fun with his folks.

What did she want to do? she wondered. She was lonely, and the thought of spending the day on her own in her small apartment while everywhere around her people were with their family and friends was profoundly depressing.

<But that's what you wanted, Sarah> she reminded herself. <To be alone, to avoid contact with other people as far as you possibly could! Why should it be any different now?>

Because being alone wasn't any better than being surrounded by people who knew her and knew what had happened, she admitted to herself. The unwanted sympathy and curious, sometimes condemnatory glances of people in her home town were actually not much worse than the uninterested glances of people in this city to whom she was simply a face in the crowd. That surprised her; she had thought that the anonymity of a strange city, where she could be unnoticed, would suit her perfectly. But she was lonely; she missed having people she could spend time with.

And Jon Kent was *nice.* It was also clear that he had no romantic or other interest in her; in all their meetings he hadn't once tried to make a pass, or even move the conversation from work to more personal matters. He hadn't even asked whether there was a man in her life; and she realised suddenly that she had no idea whether he was married, or living with someone, or anything like that.

The invitation was also tempting for other reasons. Jon had told her about his family, and she had been amazed to discover that he was the son of Lois Lane, late twentieth century icon in Sarah's opinion. Lane was a trailblazer; despite all the advances made by women towards the end of the last century, it was still rare for a woman to be taken seriously in the male-dominated world of investigative journalism. Then, in 2015, Lois Lane had become one of the first female Editors-in-Chief of a serious newspaper, and her fifteen-year tenure had seen the paper go from strength to strength. Sarah read the Daily Planet as her newspaper of preference while in the US, and much admired its quality of journalism and the paper's editorial line. The Daily Planet was not like those of the British tabloids she had come to detest; its journalists, she felt sure, were nothing like those sleazy reporters who doorstepped those people unlucky enough to be considered 'newsworthy,' invaded their privacy, speculated about their lives…

Sarah shook herself; she was trying to put all of that out of her mind. That was why she was in the US, after all. Concentrate on this dinner invitation, she instructed herself.

Lois Lane was not the only attraction, she reminded herself thoughtfully; Jon Kent was also the brother of Katherine Lane Kent, and Sarah had read the books Katy had co-written with her internationally-famous photojournalist husband James Olsen. They had been hard-hitting and poignant, and had helped to change attitudes towards war and its after-effects. Katy and James, who would both be there, would be interesting people to meet, Sarah felt.

And then there was Jon's father. Clark Kent, award-winning journalist and author, and probably the person who knew Superman better than anyone, if his reputation was to be believed. Sarah had still not been able to put out of her mind her meeting with the younger Super-hero, and on a couple of evenings, when working late in her office, she had yielded to temptation and done Internet searches on the two Super-heroes. There was a lot of information out there, some of which was rather less credible, she had quickly realised. But the more reliable-sounding pieces had mostly come from Daily Planet archives, and a lot of that had been written by Clark Kent, and in the early days by Lois Lane as well. If she wanted to know more about the incredible being who had saved her from being attacked, Clark Kent was clearly the person to ask.

Yes, dinner at Jon's parents' house was looking very tempting, Sarah thought wryly. So much for her self-imposed vow of isolation, her desire to avoid other people; but she wasn't avoiding Dr Jon Kent. And he was safe; he didn't try to flirt with her, or even show much interest in her other than her academic abilities. In fact, she had occasionally even felt chagrined that he didn't seem interested in her as a person — which was ridiculous since she wasn't remotely interested in him. And besides, she didn't *want* anyone showing any sort of interest in her — did she?


"So, Jon, who's this lady friend you're bringing today?" Clark enquired, giving his son, who had called to the townhouse to borrow Lois's car, an amused grin.

"Hey, cut it out, Dad!" Jon threw back. "Sarah's a colleague at the university — she's from England, here on an exchange. We're doing some work together. And since she doesn't really know anyone else in Metropolis, I hated to think of her spending the holiday alone."

"Very commendable, Jon," Lois congratulated him, shooting her husband a warning glance. "You did the right thing. And I'm sure we'll all do our best to make her feel welcome — won't we, Clark?"

Her husband assumed an offended demeanour. "Lois — as if I'd do anything else!" Turning back to Jon then, he added, "Of course, this does mean we all have to be careful. I know we're used to it, but this is a family occasion when everyone else here knows the… uh, family secret."

"Sure, Dad, though we'll all be watching what we say in front of Karen and Michael anyway," Jon pointed out, heading to the door. "I have to get going — Sarah's expecting me."

After he'd left, Lois moved to her husband's side, slipping her arm about his waist and snuggling into him as he wrapped his arm around her in return. "Don't be so hard on him, honey," she murmured. "I know you're only teasing, but you have to remember he's very like you."

"Well, I know that, but in what precise way?" Clark enquired, a little puzzled.

Lois smiled fondly, brushing her lips against Clark's jaw. "Sweetheart, he's very Kryptonian. You don't need to tell me what that means, especially since you told *me* that was why Katy felt so strongly about Jimmy and was never interested in anyone else the entire time she was growing up."

Clark shifted so that he was able to trail kisses along Lois's jaw and then nibble at the corner of her mouth. "So you think Jon's finally found his 'Lois'?"

She raised an eyebrow, pulling back slightly. "Don't you? Haven't you noticed how often he's mentioned her — and considering we see him once a week for dinner, that's been quite a lot!"

"But she's only here for a semester," Clark pointed out dryly. "That's not promising."

"Clark — if I'd been planning on leaving the Planet while we were just friends, wouldn't you have followed me? You were always sure about your feelings for me," Lois reminded him.

"Yeah — but I was never sure about yours for me," her husband reminded her softly. "And you know I nearly did give up on us a couple of times — like when I thought you'd made your choice and gone with Dan Scardino."

"You would have come back," Lois told him firmly, a confident grin on her face.

He considered for a moment, not that it was really necessary; he enjoyed teasing her. "Yep. I'd have come back."


Sarah had changed her clothes three times by the time Jon was due to pick her up. Not that she could understand why she was so nervous about this; it was merely an informal occasion, he had assured her, dinner at his folks' house. Nothing special, just a family get-together.

Of course, 'family' was to a degree the operative word here: she kept feeling as if she would be an intruder into what was clearly, from what Jon had said, a very close-knit family. However, he had assured her that wouldn't be the case; he'd said that friends were always welcome in the Kent household. Katy's husband Jimmy had been a frequent visitor over the years, and particularly at special occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving.

But since it was an informal occasion, why did she feel so on edge? Perhaps because it was going to be the first time she had really interacted with people since arriving in Metropolis. Okay, she conceded, perhaps she had relaxed a little, not quite maintained the distance she had been keeping when she'd first arrived; and she had to admit that the change was in the main down to Jon Kent. Somehow he had managed to break through her reserve and, under cover of working with her, he had managed to get her to talk and even laugh with him.

She *liked* Jon. That was part of the problem; he was simply a darned nice guy. *Too* nice. But she couldn't afford to let herself dwell on that. He could become a casual friend for the duration of her stay here, no more; perhaps it would be a good idea to start dropping into conversation some comments about her return to England. Although it wouldn't be for some time yet, there was no harm in reminding Jon that her stay here was only temporary.

Her buzzer sounded, and she grabbed her coat and bag and ran downstairs. Jon stood on the step, wearing a dark overcoat over casual trousers with turn-ups and a red shirt with button-down collar. Somehow, although his apparel wasn't all that out of the ordinary — he tended to dress similarly at the university — something seemed different about his presence today. She knew what it was. This was not a meeting to discuss their article. This was purely social; not even the pretence of work to allow her to ignore the reality. And she was accompanying a man who — she was no longer able to deny it — was actually drop-dead gorgeous. Not that he was remotely interested in her, as far as she knew. Which suited her just fine, she reminded herself again.

Jon simply greeted her with one of his now-familiar charming smiles and led her to a car parked nearby, a smart four-wheel drive. As he opened the passenger door for her, she glanced at him in surprise. "I didn't know you drove something like this!"

He grinned, showing her a flash of white teeth. "I don't — in fact, I don't have a car. Never needed one, since I live so close to the university. I get around under my own steam. This is Mom's — I borrowed it rather than take you in a cab."

"Jon — are you sure your parents don't mind me coming?" she asked him for about the tenth time.

He raised an eyebrow in a long-suffering expression, his brown-eyed gaze fixed steadily on her face. "Sarah, Sarah… I've told you, they're very happy that you're coming. They're looking forward to meeting you — did I tell you that Dad spent six months in London when he was in his travelling the world phase? That was a long time ago, of course, but he still keeps up with British news and events."

Sarah flinched inwardly at that, although she knew that her story was highly unlikely to be among the items of British news someone like Clark Kent would take an interest in. This whole situation was strange, she realised suddenly: she had spent most of the last year trying to evade journalists, and yet now she was willingly going to spend the day with two of them. She would have to watch what she said, if Lois Lane and Clark Kent in person were anything like as shrewd as their print image suggested.

The journey to the Kent family home was nerve-wracking for Sarah; other than in a teaching environment, this would be the largest number of people she'd interacted with in quite a while. She sensed after a while that Jon seemed aware of her nervousness; he flashed her an encouraging smile at one point when he'd stopped at a junction and began to tell her some amusing anecdotes about his sister and her offspring. But when he finally parked the car outside a tall brick-built house which looked as if it dated from the turn of the nineteenth century, she almost froze in her seat.

Quietly, Jon exited the car and came around to the passenger door; suddenly, Sarah found herself confronted by his earnest expression gazing up at her from about shoulder-level. "Hey, my folks aren't that terrifying!" he teased her softly. "Come on — let's go in, okay?" His hands were held out towards her, and suddenly it was easy to place hers in his and allow him to help her down.

The noise from inside the house was audible the instant Jon opened the door; Sarah could hear children shrieking and laughing, with a man's voice joining in the fun. A woman called from somewhere towards the back of the house, urging someone called 'Jimmy' to hush the children a little. Jimmy — that was Jon's brother-in-law, Sarah realised; his parents' friend and colleague who had surprised them all by falling in love with Katy Kent.

The house had a very lived-in look; it was instantly welcoming, with comfortable furniture, attractive pictures, and signs of occupancy everywhere. Newspapers, open books, children's toys and other signs of a busy but happy life were apparent. This was a house where people were happy, and visitors welcomed, Sarah instantly knew.

She had no time to take in any more, for her attention was diverted by a tall man who emerged from one of the other rooms to join them in the living-room. She gasped as she saw him; this man could have been Jon's twin, except that he was clearly older.

He smiled as he saw her reaction, walking towards her with his hand outstretched. "Hi there — I'm Clark Kent. You noticed the resemblance, huh?"

Sarah accepted his hand, noticing the warmth of his clasp which was matched by the friendliness of his smile and the welcome in his eyes. "Ummm… yes, you do look very… I'm sorry, Mr Kent, that was very rude of me. I'm Sarah Fuller, and thank you very much for inviting me."

"Call me Clark, please," Jon's father replied instantly. "And you're very welcome — any friend of Jon's is always welcome here. And yeah, Jon does take after me, but you have to admit he's not quite as good-looking!"

"Clark, are you embarrassing our visitor?" another voice demanded, and Sarah looked beyond Clark Kent to see a slim, attractive woman in her sixties emerge. Her hair was peppered with grey, but her eyes held an expression of wicked amusement and, as her husband swung around to smile at her, Sarah felt almost an intruder as she saw Jon's mother's expression change to one of deep love.

"I'm Lois Lane, and you're very welcome to our home, Sarah," Jon's mother added quickly as she joined the little group. "Come into the kitchen and I'll get you a drink," she continued, taking it for granted that Sarah would follow her. Feeling a little overwhelmed, Sarah went with her. Jon's parents had, as he had promised her, made her feel very welcome — as if there was nothing unusual in Jon bringing a friend with him for what was a family occasion. A — friend…? Or a girlfriend? Did his parents have the wrong idea about their relationship? But no, from Lois Lane's friendly commentary as she poured coffee, it seemed that Jon had made it clear that he and Sarah were simply colleagues.

So why did that instil a tiny feeling of disappointment within her?

Jon had been about to follow his mother as well, but he felt his father's gaze on him and instead turned back to throw Clark a quizzical glance. But his father raised an eyebrow with an amused grin.

"Not bad, son — you've got good taste," Clark said softly, knowing Jon would hear.

Jon shrugged a little, now feeling awkward about letting his parents know how he felt. "It's all very early yet, Dad — we're just friends. And I get the impression she'd run a mile if I pushed it, so…" His expression spoke eloquently of the conflict he felt between his desire to move the relationship along and his fear that Sarah would back away sharply if he did.

"You'll just have to take it slowly then," Clark murmured in response. "Like I did with your mom… we Kents do know how to pick 'em, don't we?"

But he didn't have a lot of time, Jon wanted to reply, but this wasn't the time to get into a lengthy discussion of his relationship with Sarah. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to discuss it with his father at all; not that he didn't value Clark's opinions, but he felt that his friendship with Sarah was so fragile that, irrationally, he almost felt that talking about it, admitting to his feelings, even to his parents, might somehow destroy his chances. Yes, it was irrational — superstitious, even. But he wanted to keep his hopes to himself for the time being.


Sarah was fitting in really well with his family, Jon realised a couple of hours later. He had gone in search of her some time after his mother had swept her off, and had found her in one of the upstairs rooms playing a boisterous game of Snakes and Ladders with his niece and brother-in-law, while Katy entertained two-year-old Michael. Her face was flushed, and she was laughing aloud in a completely uninhibited way. For a moment or two, he had simply stood by the door, undetected, and watched her in complete amazement and admiration.

She was beautiful. He'd recognised that at their first meeting, despite the efforts she had made to disguise her attractiveness. But here, today, in his parents' house and playing with Jimmy and Karen, that beauty was subtly different. The laughing light in her eyes and the relaxed, natural way in which she cuddled five-year-old Karen and spoke to her all confirmed what he already knew: that the stiff, inhibited woman she was at the university was not the real Sarah Fuller.

But could he get her to let him see past those barriers to her real self? As he mused on the possibility, she glanced up and her gaze fell on him. In that instant, he saw a strange expression flash across her face; half-alarmed, but also… pleased to see him? He decided to focus on the latter, and grinned at her. "Should have known you'd get roped into entertaining the kids," he teased.

Whatever she might have said in reply was lost as Karen spied her uncle and jumped to her feet, knocking over the game board in her rush to get to his side. He laughed and swung her up into his arms, tickling her in spite of her giggling protests. As he played with his niece, out of the corner of his eye Jon noticed Sarah watching him, with a look in her eyes which he could only interpret as longing. He wasn't given time to dwell on it, however, for Katy attracted Sarah's attention then and began an animated conversation.

Over dinner a little later, Jon was pleased to see that his family seemed to have succeeded in putting Sarah at her ease; she was certainly more talkative than he had seen her on any other occasion when she'd been with other people. She had begun to open up to him a little, true, but he still had no idea what had caused those shadows at the back of her eyes, or the way she shied nervously away from much interaction with people.

The conversation over dinner came around to the subject of Clark's impending retirement, now only a couple of weeks away, and the family began reminiscing about some of the big stories which Clark — and Lois — had covered over the years. After a while, Sarah brought up the subject of Superman; a little hesitantly, she turned to Clark.

"I couldn't help noticing that you and Lois seemed to get an awful lot of the early exclusive reports about Superman — how did that happen? Is he a friend of yours or something?"

Jon tried to suppress a smile; it had been quite some time, he knew, since his parents had been asked about their relationship with Superman. They had made a determined effort, when he and Katy were kids, to ensure that Superman was less associated with Lane and Kent, and even with the Planet, than he had been, which had helped to dispel some of the old rumours. He wondered how his father would handle this one.

Clark, however, simply smiled at Sarah. "It was just luck at first — Lois always had a reputation for going where no other investigative reporter dared, and she was on hand for Superman's first rescue — which not only got her the exclusive announcing his existence, but also associated her with him in the public mind. And I think it probably led him to see her as — well, if not a friend, certainly as the reporter he would go to first when he wanted to talk to the press. And if you've seen some of the early coverage," Clark continued smoothly, deliberately not questioning why Sarah might have been looking up reports dating back well over thirty years, "you'll have seen that I was known to be a friend of Superman's back then. If you think about it, the guy was on his own then — and everyone needs someone they can talk to. It's different now, though we still see him from time to time."

Nice answer, Dad, Jon thought in amusement, taking a sip of wine to hide his involuntary smile.

"Yes, he married or something, didn't he?" Sarah asked. "I know he has a son — I've met him."

<<You didn't tell me about *this*>> Jon suddenly heard his father's highly amused voice exclaim inside his head. He had completely forgotten that he'd wanted to talk more to his father about the telepathy issue, he realised in surprise, and resolved to discuss it with Clark at the earliest opportunity.

<<It was just a straightforward rescue, Dad!>> he protested.

"You have?" Lois enquired, smiling at Sarah.

"Oh — yes, he came to my rescue a few weeks ago. I was… mugged when I was walking off campus one evening," Sarah explained. "I screamed, and then just couldn't believe it when this… *being* in a blue suit and red cape appeared. He was very kind — he insisted on coming back to make sure I was all right once he'd taken my attacker to the police station, and he told me then that he was Superman's son."

Mugged, Jon thought in surprise as he listened to Sarah's explanation. She hadn't been mugged; it had been attempted rape, as he well knew. He could understand her not wanting to broadcast that information, but why hadn't she simply described it as an attack? He couldn't figure that one out, but given that as Jon Kent he wasn't supposed to know about the attack, he couldn't ask her.

But he could show some concern… "You never told me about that, Sarah!" he exclaimed quickly. "What happened? Did you report it to the campus security people?"

She shook her head. "Superman handed over the man to the police, so I let them deal with it," she explained with a dismissive shrug. "And it happened before I met you, so…" She trailed off lightly, making it clear that she considered it to be a trivial matter. Jon knew differently, of course, and his heightened senses detected that her heart-rate was considerably faster than normal. What was going on here?

<<Do I guess there's more to this than she's saying?>> his father's voice sounded in his head again.

<<Maybe>> Jon replied. <<But leave me to handle it, okay?>>

<<Sure — you know I wouldn't want to interfere>> Clark assured him. <<But… since she's met your alter ego, don't make the mistake I did with your mother!>>

Jon smiled wryly at that; he had heard the story of his parents' early acquaintance from the perspectives of both parties, and he was aware that his father acknowledged that he'd been wrong to keep his mother in ignorance of Superman's true identity for so long. Which meant that if he was to learn from his father's mistakes, he would need to be ready to tell Sarah about himself, assuming that he managed to achieve a closer relationship.

He had no idea how she would feel about that. He couldn't even go by his brother-in-law's reaction to finding out about Katy, since Jimmy had been told before he and Katy were properly an item, and anyway, Jimmy's greatest shock had been the realisation that his old friend Clark Kent had been hiding this secret from him for thirty years. His mother's example wasn't much help either. By the time she'd found out Superman's secret, Clark Kent had been a partner and best friend of two years' standing, and also boyfriend of a few months' standing. His father had even proposed to her before he'd been ready to tell her he was Superman. And, to make matters worse, early on in their acquaintance Superman had even appeared to show an interest in Lois Lane, had even seemed to encourage her interest in him.

Well, that was one mistake he would not make with Sarah, Jon knew. He had no intention of using his Superman — or Son-of-Superman — persona to get close to her. Not that he had any idea whether that would be a successful stratagem in any case; while she had been grateful to be rescued, and once he'd managed to put her at her ease she had talked to him a little, she hadn't shown any indication of interest in his Super-hero self other than that.

He groaned inwardly as he suddenly became conscious of Katy joining in the discussion. Grinning conspiratorially at Sarah, she asked, "Did you think he was good-looking?"

<Help!> Jon thought frantically, torn between wanting to hear Sarah's response and dreading it. He ducked his head, unwilling for any of his family to see his embarrassment.

"Katy, you're embarrassing our guest," he heard his brother-in-law chide his sister. Jon glanced towards Jimmy and met a sympathetic, humorous glint in his eyes.

"It's all right," Sarah protested. "Yes, I suppose he was — but what I really noticed was how kind he was. I was… well, I suppose I was quite shaken up, and he insisted on staying with me until I was feeling better, and then he insisted on flying me home to make sure I got there safely."

<<You *flew* with her, too?>> Clark's voice in Jon's head was now highly amused. <<This gets more intriguing by the minute!>>

<<Shut up, Dad!>> Jon protested, wishing that someone would change the subject. Glancing at Sarah, he realised that despite her matter-of-fact response to Katy's question, she was exhibiting some signs of embarrassment… perhaps she hadn't been as immune to his Super-hero guise as she was pretending. Was that a good thing or not? He wasn't sure.

His mother came to the rescue, however, announcing dessert; this got Karen's attention, since dessert was chocolate cake with hot chocolate sauce, and laughter descended on the scene as Katy and Jimmy's daughter demanded the first helping. "We know who she takes after!" Jimmy exclaimed, trying to restrain Katy from rushing into the kitchen to grab the chocolate sauce.

While coffee was being served, Jon's Super-hearing kicked in; a truck had skidded on black ice and had crashed into an apartment building. It seemed there could be serious injuries and people trapped. This, of course, was where having invited Sarah made things difficult; under other circumstances he would just have made his excuses and left. But as he was trying to think of a plausible explanation, he heard his father's voice in his head again.

<<It's okay, Jon, I'll handle this>>

"I'm sorry to be rude, everyone, but I have something I need to finish up at the Planet — editors and deadlines, you know!" Clark apologised quickly, a rueful smile on his face. "I'll be as quick as I can." Kissing Lois swiftly, he hurried out the front door.

Jon glanced quickly at his mother to see how she was taking this undeserved slur on her character, but he needn't have worried. More than three decades of being married to Superman had helped Lois to school her reactions carefully; she merely smiled and shrugged lightly. "Well, holiday or not, there's still a paper to get out tomorrow morning!"


It had been a good day, Sarah thought later as she prepared for bed. She hadn't expected to enjoy herself as much as she had; the Kents and Olsens had gone out of their way to make her feel a part of their family. The Olsen children were adorable; for a few hours she had allowed herself to push aside the reasons why it hurt her to be close to children, and had simply played with them, talked to them, and cuddled them.

Katy had in some ways been a surprise: for the wife of a world-renowned photojournalist who was becoming famous in her own right, she had been surprisingly down-to-earth. In some ways, chatting to Katy had felt to Sarah like being with one of her oldest friends back home in Midchester; the conversation had been very relaxed, and they'd quickly discovered a number of things they had in common. Sarah had, without any hesitation, accepted Katy's invitation to meet for lunch and an afternoon's shopping sometime in the next few weeks.

And that was unusual; Sarah reminded herself that she had refused all other such invitations since arriving in Metropolis. Was she finally beginning to get over what had happened — was the old Sarah re-emerging? But then she thought of what she had left behind in Midchester and instantly she wanted to retreat back inside her protective shell. No, the hurt and the fear were still there.

But here in Metropolis, where she was safe and where no-one knew about her — perhaps it was safe to come out of her shell here? Jon Kent kept encouraging her to relax more, to go out more instead of hiding away in her office and her apartment, but so far she had resisted him at every turn, only giving in when his good-natured teasing had become too much to resist. She wouldn't have ventured out today if it hadn't been for Jon; and she had enjoyed it.

Though there had been a vaguely uncomfortable few moments with Jon's mother… She had *liked* Lois Lane; as Sarah had expected, Jon's mother had proven to be a highly intelligent and incisive woman, but she suspected that Lois was also very shrewd. She had asked very few questions, but it had somehow seemed, in those few moments, as if Lois was discovering far more about Sarah than Sarah had ever intended to reveal. Just how the older woman had managed that Sarah had no idea, but there had been that assessing look, the almost-knowing expression, which had disappeared almost as soon as it had crossed Lois's face. But Sarah knew, somehow, that the older woman had drawn her own conclusions about her.

Did that mean she would be warning Jon to keep away from her?

Shaking her head, Sarah tried to force such thoughts from her mind. Lois Lane had been nothing but friendly and welcoming, as had the entire family.

Then there had been those few moments when Jon had taken her home… he had borrowed his mother's car again and they had chatted amiably on the way about the kids, and Jon had also told her about the surprise party being planned for Clark Kent's retirement. Once at her apartment building he had insisted on seeing her upstairs, though he hadn't seemed to expect an invitation to come in. She had simply expected him to say goodnight and leave once she'd unlocked her door, but instead he had hesitated. He had looked at her, an unfamiliar intent expression on his face, and for a split second she had thought he was about to kiss her. He had then moved his head in her direction, and for an instant she had been unable to prevent herself simply freezing. It had been an instinctive reaction, but he had quickly, very gently, taken her by her shoulders.

"Sarah? Are you okay? What's wrong?" he had asked, concerned.

"Nothing," she had insisted.

"What did you think I was going to do?" he'd persisted, frowning. When she hadn't answered him, he had raised one hand to take her jaw gently. "All I wanted was to kiss you goodnight — like this," he'd added, brushing his lips against her cheek. "I didn't think you'd mind — you didn't seem to mind when Dad hugged you before you left."

And she hadn't, that was true. There was just something about Clark Kent, Sarah realised; he was a man who seemed to exude an air of total trustworthiness and honesty. Somehow, she knew she would feel completely safe and protected in his company.

But did that mean that she didn't feel safe with Jon? But that was a crazy question — why wouldn't she be safe with Jon? He'd never shown the slightest interest in her beyond their work and a light, teasing relationship which, she supposed, was coming close to a friendship. He wasn't romantically or sexually attracted to her — so why had she reacted like that when he'd signalled his intention of kissing her goodnight? And even if he had wanted to kiss her on the lips, she knew he wouldn't hurt her, she reminded herself. This was *Jon,* not… not someone else. And Jon had never been anything but kind and considerate towards her.

He had left then, after his brief salute, but something in the fixed set of his jaw as he'd walked away had told her more clearly than words could that he intended to find out why she'd reacted as she had.

And that was something she had no intention of allowing Jon Kent or anyone in Metropolis to find out.


Jon re-entered his parents' brownstone, expecting to find both father and mother waiting to quiz him about the woman he'd brought home with him that day. Instead, his mother sat alone on one of the large couches. Lois looked up and smiled warmly at her older child.

"Clark had to go out again, honey — come and keep me company." She patted the seat next to her.

Jon willingly joined his mother, allowing her to stroke his hair back from his face lightly. As an adult, and one who had been living away from home for nearly ten years now, he had a very close relationship with his parents, one which these days was more that of very close friends than son and parents, although there were of course still times when he sought their advice as parents.

"So did he say how he got on earlier — the truck crash?" he asked, concerned.

Lois smiled. "Yeah — that wasn't too bad apparently. He managed to free everyone, and it seems no-one was even seriously injured. So he was happy about that."

"I'm glad," Jon murmured; he and his father shared similar reactions to occasions when they either arrived too late or found that people were too badly hurt for their powers to be of much assistance.

"I like your Sarah," Lois commented then _apropos_ of nothing in particular. "But you're going to have to tread very carefully."

Jon remained still for a moment, marvelling as he had done many times before at the astuteness of this woman. He made no attempt to deny his intentions where Sarah was concerned, however. "What makes you say that, Mom? I mean, I'd guessed that myself, but I'd like your opinion too."

"I don't know what's happened to her, Jon, but that's a woman who's been either hurt very badly, or very frightened by something," Lois replied carefully. "She made a great effort today to fit in, but there were times when she didn't know I was watching her and there was a look in her eyes… wary, and very sad. And when she was helping me clear away the food we talked a little, and I could see there was something… I don't know what it is, Jon, but my guess is it's more than the problems I had when I met your father first. And you know I was pretty screwed up then thanks to my father and one or two other men."

"And knowing Dad was hiding something from you as well didn't help, huh?" Jon prompted.

"No, it didn't," his mother agreed. "But then, I spent a lot more time with Clark than I guess Sarah does with you — have you had to run off on her much?"

"Hardly at all," Jon acknowledged. "I thought I'd have to today, but Dad took it instead. So, yeah, she's not having to deal with me leaving her all the time."

"And she's only met Superman junior once, so she's not dealing with confusion over which of you she likes better," Lois added wryly. "Take my advice, sweetie, just don't let that happen. It causes too much trouble."

"Oh, I know!" Jon agreed. "Dad already warned me about that earlier."

Lois frowned. "Earlier? When?"

Realising his mother didn't know, he explained. "Telepathically — over dinner, after Sarah mentioned meeting me as Superman."

He saw a strange expression cross his mother's face, and wondered briefly whether she felt excluded from this new ability he shared with his father. The thought surprised him, since it had never occurred to him to question whether she felt excluded from the other Super-powers he and his sister had inherited from their Kryptonian father. From the time he'd discovered that their family was different, that his father was Superman, it had always seemed to him that his mother was mostly amused and almost never over-awed by their abilities. After all, she'd had a lot of years to get used to them.

But she smiled suddenly, ruefully. "Yes, I forgot Clark threw that one at you a few nights ago. That must have come as one heck of a shock!"

"Sure did!" Jon agreed. "Though I don't know why it never occurred to me before, given I knew the New Kryptonians used telepathy. Dad told me he never used it when we were growing up because he didn't want to invade our privacy, but it could've come in handy a few times more recently since I started helping him."

His mother shrugged. "You know, I think he might even have forgotten about it. It was all a long time ago — we don't exactly like to remember the New Kryptonians."

"Those emotionless, humourless… Why are you talking about them, anyway?" Clark's voice drifted in from the kitchen, followed a couple of seconds later by the physical form of Jon's father.

"Jon was telling me you'd been using telepathy with him again, honey," his mother explained as her husband came over to sweep her into his arms and kiss her warmly.

"Oh — sorry about that, Jon." His father threw him an amused smile along with the apology. "Now you know about it, the temptation's too great sometimes. Especially when I suddenly discovered that your very intriguing friend has met Superman junior, and that he apparently made such an impression on her that she looked up over thirty years' worth of coverage of Metropolis's Super-heroes!"

"Yes, I wondered about that too, honey," Lois added, throwing Jon a teasing glance. "That's more than just a passing interest."

"Okay, okay, I'll keep well away from her as Superman," Jon said on a long-suffering sigh. "And if she gets into trouble again, you can save her, Dad."

<<You *sure* you want me doing that?>> Clark threw at his son teasingly.

<<As if Mom would ever let you get away with anything like that — and she'd know!>> Jon threw back, his expression outwardly angelic as he smiled at his father.

Lois's gaze switched from one near-identical male to the other, from her husband to her son, and she raised her eyebrow quizzically. "I'm not sure I want to know what you two are up to — but just let me assure you that I always have my ways of finding out, so watch it!"

"So you do, honey," Clark murmured, his eyes softening as he gazed at his wife. "It's one of the things I've always admired most about you."

"Yeah, your Super-powers versus my intuition," Lois grinned at him. "No contest, is it?"


"Come on, Sarah, you have to come." Jon was looking at her with that now-familiar endearing expression on his face, his head slightly tilted to one side, and her heart felt like it was starting to do somersaults. This was not good; this was definitely not good. She was beginning to like Dr Jon Kent far too much for her own peace of mind.

"Jon, this is your father's party. Apart from your family, it'll be all newspaper industry people — I won't know them and they won't know me, and everyone would wonder why I was there!"

He shook his head, his expression determined. "No, they won't, because you'll be with me. Sarah, don't look at me like that!" he added quickly as she frowned at him. To her dismay, he took a step closer towards her; her office, which was reasonably large, suddenly felt almost claustrophobic as the tall, very handsome man advanced on her. Instinctively, she backed away.

The look on her colleague's face altered instantly, and Jon came to a complete halt. He held up one hand, almost as if calming a frightened animal, then he spoke softly. "Sarah, you know I wouldn't hurt you, surely? You can't be frightened of me?"

She inhaled deeply, then forced herself to regulate her breathing, turning a deliberately calm face to him. She couldn't let him guess… "No, of course not, Jon. You just… just took me by surprise, that's all."

<Drop it, please drop it> she was pleading silently, willing him not to pursue the subject. So far, Jon had kept their budding friendship light, asking her very little about her life in England and why she had decided to spend a semester in the US, confining his enquiries to her academic career. His apparent lack of interest had been the main reason why she'd concluded that his interest in her was purely professional — but this invitation to his father's retirement party seemed to be hinting at something else.

Jon walked over to one of the visitors' chairs in the office and sat down, his body language now very unthreatening; Sarah relaxed and went behind her desk. "Let's get back to this paper," she suggested, trying to return the discussion to work.

But he wasn't to be distracted. "Sarah, would you say you think of me as a friend?" he asked quietly.

Taken aback, she became flustered. "Umm… I haven't really thought about it…"

"Yes, you have," he disagreed.

She couldn't avoid that dark brown stare. "Yes, well… I suppose… yes, I probably do. At least, I suppose, the sort of transient friendship it's possible to have — "

"What are you talking about?" he interrupted her quickly. "Sarah, I know you're only over here for a few months. That doesn't stop us being friends while you're here, and even continuing to be friends after you go home. Okay, England's a long way away, but video-mail is pretty useful for keeping in touch."

She shrugged; it would be easier to agree than tell him why she had no intention of keeping in contact with him once she was back home.

But he wasn't finished. "Sarah, if you agree that I'm a friend, then why can't you tell me what the problem is here? I've been patient, I deliberately didn't ask you anything before now, and I wouldn't be asking today except that… well, your reaction when I came up close to you just now was pretty alarming. That, and the way you reacted when I saw you home after dinner on Presidents' Day, makes me wonder just what happened to you." His gaze was focused on her face, and something about his expression almost compelled her to look at him. For some reason, Jon Kent seemed to be an extremely difficult man to lie to, and she knew that he wouldn't be satisfied with evasive responses.

This was *precisely* why she had determined, before coming to America, not to make any friendships or to get involved with people on a social level, Sarah reminded herself. People have a habit of asking questions, of wanting to know *why,* and she wouldn't, couldn't, give them the answers.

It had been a mistake to allow her guard to drop around Jon, she told herself. She'd been fooled by his apparent acceptance of the way she was into thinking that he was unthreatening, that he wouldn't ask questions. But that had been a stupid assumption, especially considering who his parents were. Reporters, both of them; and his brother-in-law was another. The man would have been brought up to question everything, to look for the story in practically every person, every incident, he came across.

Well, since he'd brought the matter out into the open, the gloves were off. She raised her gaze to Jon's, meeting his concerned brown eyes with her cool grey ones. "Jon, I'd rather not be quite this blunt, but since you wouldn't take the hint… The only matter I'm interested in discussing with you is our article. My personal life is none of your business, and I'm afraid that if you persist with this line of questioning I'll have to pull out of our joint project."

She'd expected a hostile response, to have him walk out of her office, perhaps, but the dark gaze grew more compassionate instead. "Sarah, I don't know what you're scared of, or what kind of threat you think I might be to you, but I can only promise you that I care about you and I want to help. But if you're telling me to butt out, I will — for now." He paused, giving her a quick, reassuring smile. "Some day you'll be ready to talk, and I want you to know that when you are, I'll be here, okay?"

<I can't…> For some reason, Sarah found herself unable to rebuff him again; there was just something about this gentle, humorous man which appealed to her, in spite of all her resolution never to trust any man ever again. A sudden flash of memory showed her Jon's father, hugging and murmuring endearments to his wife on that day Sarah had visited the Kent home. There had been something about Clark Kent too; a solid dependability, a reassuring gentleness combined with an air of trustworthiness which even Sarah had not been able to doubt. And even after well over thirty years of marriage, he was clearly still very much in love with his wife. Something told her that Jon took after Clark Kent in more respects than just physical appearance.

Did that mean that she *should* trust Jon? But what was the point, when apart from anything else she would be returning to England in four months?

Some part of her just wouldn't allow her to push him away a second time. "Jon… I appreciate you mean well, and I do want us to be friends. There just are — things — I can't talk about, okay?"

He nodded, and she thought he was going to drop the subject altogether and return to their work. But he fixed her with his gaze again and repeated his earlier invitation. "So come on, why won't you come to Dad's retirement party? I'd like you to come, and I know my parents and Katy would like to see you again. Come on, it'll be fun."

Fun… spending an evening with journalists? Her experiences with the breed over the past year had not inspired her to treat them with any kind of respect, although she had already conceded that Jon's parents were not associated with the gutter press which had helped to make her life a misery over the past year. Lois Lane and Clark Kent might have reported on a story such as hers, but the reporting would have been sympathetic and not sensational, and she suspected they might well have left her personal details out of it. After all, she was the victim, not the perpetrator!

She banished that thought as soon as it arose. She had to *stop* thinking of herself as a victim — it was far too defeatist. She was a *survivor*… well, in the process of surviving, perhaps, she conceded. She certainly wasn't over it yet. The difficulty she was having in trusting Jon, when everything about him screamed 'honest' and 'reliable,' showed her that.

But then, someone else had also seemed to be very attractive, pleasant, trustworthy… and had proven not to be, she reminded herself callously. <You have no sense of judgement where men are concerned> she told herself roughly. <No matter how decent Jon may seem, who knows what he's really like? Just because his father's a good guy doesn't mean the son is!>

But on the other hand, there was just something about Jon which seemed to touch her heart, the heart she thought she'd managed to lock away. Something seemed to be telling her that she *could* trust him, could allow herself to get closer to him. She felt torn…

But when it came down to it, all he'd done was ask her to go to a party with him. Where was the harm in that?

Giving him a wry smile, she gave in. "Okay, Jon, I'll go."

His face broke out into a broad grin. "Great!"


As he strolled across the campus pathway back to his own office, Jon reflected on Sarah's behaviour during their conversation. He knew that she had some reason to be wary of getting too close to people: he had worked that one out very early in their acquaintance. Her reaction when he'd tried to kiss her cheek after taking her home had suggested to him that either she avoided all physical contact, or that perhaps she'd had a bad experience with a man recently; the way she'd backed away from him in her office made him think that was the most likely reason.

She never talked about her personal life. Once or twice he'd tried to get her to tell him about her life in England, her friends and family, but she always seemed to find a way to change the subject. He'd found a clever way of sneaking in a question about the existence of a boyfriend or significant other back home, but she had again ducked answering; he suspected the answer was no, though.

So who had hurt her? And what had they done? That had been real fear he'd seen in her eyes, albeit briefly. For a second, she had seemed to panic, and her eyes had held a haunted, frantic expression.

He'd known he couldn't push it then, but, as the memory of her expression flashed into his brain, he clenched his fists. If he ever found out just who had made Sarah experience that fear…

"Jon! I was wondering where you were!"

Jolted out of his thoughts by the voice calling to him, Jon looked up to see his sister lounging against the door to his office. He reached for her, hugging her. "Katy — what are you doing here? And why didn't you call first?"

She grinned at him, shaking her head, and her glossy dark hair shimmered about her shoulders as she did so. "What, and give you a chance to make some excuse and tell me you're busy?"

"Would I do that?" he teased, knowing, though, that he hadn't talked to Katy lately as much as he used to. Afraid of what she might want to talk about, he told himself ruefully. He pushed that thought away and suggested a trip to the cafeteria for coffee.

Once they were seated at a table in the corner, two double mochas between them, Jon smiled at Katy. "So, I guess this isn't just a social call, huh?"

She smiled back, a little wryly. "You know me so well, big brother… No, something's happened and I wanted to talk to someone — I haven't even told Mom and Dad yet, just Jimmy."

"Go on," Jon encouraged, sensing the confused state of his sister's emotions.

"It's about Karen and Michael," she began. "I took them to see Uncle Bernie yesterday for a check-up, and he told me he thinks it's unlikely that they've inherited any of Dad's — my — powers."

Jon frowned in surprise. "No super-powers? But how can he tell yet? I mean, neither of us started to experience anything until we were about eight or nine."

Katy shrugged. "I'm not sure; he just said that they weren't responding to stimuli the same way you and I were at the same age. And they're not showing any sign of invulnerability, and we started to be invulnerable quite young, remember?"

That had been one of the first indications, to him, that he was somehow different from other kids his age, Jon remembered. Falling over in the school playground and *not* getting a bloody, scraped knee had been almost a disappointment when the other kids tended to view such injuries almost as battle scars. Frowning again, Jon asked, "But couldn't it just be that they're third-generation Kryptonian — that the powers will take a bit longer to show themselves?"

She shook her head. "I don't think so. He seems convinced that they won't have our powers. He'll keep testing them, but he's not optimistic."

Watching his sister thoughtfully, a concerned expression on his face, Jon stretched out a hand to cover hers. "How do you feel about that? Especially given you'd almost prefer not to have inherited Dad's powers yourself?"

She winced. "You always were a little too astute, Jon… though it's not really the powers. I love flying, especially when I take Jimmy with me. And some of the other things we can do come in handy sometimes… What I really don't like is the way people behave when I'm in the Suit," she continued, speaking softly. "And… and I could never get used to when something went wrong and I couldn't save someone."

Jon grimaced. "I know, Katy, I know — that never really gets any easier."

"So that's why I never really liked being — " she gestured with her hand, in the manner familiar to members of the Kent family to indicate a member of the Super-hero clan. "I was never sure that Dad understood completely, though you always seemed to." She hesitated, gazing into her brother's eyes for a moment or two. "You know, although Mom and Dad thought you were always wrapped up in your work, you noticed far more than they thought. You knew how I felt about Jimmy long before they did."

Jon smiled faintly, remembering the way he'd worried about his sister over the years once he'd realised the strength of her feelings for their parents' friend. "Katy, you know that probably had more to do with Kryptonian communication," he murmured, then, seeing her confusion, realised that she obviously didn't know what he was talking about. "Oh, I guess Dad hasn't told you about it? We can communicate telepathically," he told her, and went on to explain about the ability and his own discovery of it. "That probably has a lot to do with how I seemed to understand you — I was picking up on your emotions at times."

She was gazing at him in amazement. "I guess we really are far more Kryptonian than human," she said at last.

"Does that bother you?"

There was a pause, and Jon wondered, not for the first time, whether his sister really would have been happier as a pure human rather than a half-Kryptonian. But she smiled then, reassuringly. "No. Honestly, I wouldn't change Dad for anything. But it was tough sometimes, being different."

"And you're glad Karen and Michael won't have to go through that?" Jon guessed.

"Yeah, I am," she agreed firmly. "I don't know how Dad will feel, or what it means for his Kryptonian line — does it mean that his powers don't carry on beyond the second generation, or what? But yes, I'm glad they won't have to go through some of what we experienced."

Jon shrugged. "Okay, it was hard sometimes. But I wouldn't change who I am, not for anything."

Katy smiled. "You really are very comfortable being half-Kryptonian, aren't you?"

"Completely," he assured her. "Oh, I can't even explain it, but I've never had any of the doubts and insecurities I know Dad always had in spades — Mom's told me about it, and Dad's mentioned a few things himself once or twice. How he often just wanted to be 'normal,' how he wondered whether anyone could accept him as he was, powers and alien nature and all… but none of that bothers me. I am what I am, and if someone falls in love with me, she'll have to take me as I am, not what they want me to be."

"Like Sarah?" Katy prompted.

Jon blushed involuntarily and quickly ducked his head, but not before Katy had seen his reaction. "I don't know," he muttered.

"Hey, you can't fool me, big brother!" Katy told him.

He sighed. "Yeah, I find her attractive. And I'd ask her out like a shot only… it's not as simple as that," he explained. "She's… well, what did you think of her?"

Katy paused briefly to consider. "I like her," she offered after a few moments. "For one, she was great with the kids — just jumped in and played with them, no fussing about her clothes or anything like that. And…" She paused, glancing at Jon from under her eyelashes. "And she likes you. A lot. I could see the way she looked at you when she didn't think anyone was watching."

"She… looked at me?" Jon stared at Katy, barely able to believe what she'd told him. He knew he was managing to get under Sarah's defences, but he'd imagined he had a long way to go, and in his darkest moments he silently despaired of making sufficient progress before she was due to return to the UK.

"Yeah, she looked at you," Katy confirmed with a broad grin. "Like you were pure, clear water and she'd been in a desert for a week…" Another quick smile, then Katy turned serious. "Jon, what's up with her, though? She's not happy, that was clear enough. What's happened to her?"

He grimaced again. "Wish I knew, sis. I intend to find out, though." Sighing slowly, he added, "I think someone hurt her — some man, I guess. Whether he was a boyfriend, husband, father… or maybe someone she didn't even know, I have no idea. But it means I'm going to have to work hard to earn her trust. And that means taking it slowly, carefully, not pushing… I haven't even asked her out on a date yet."

"What can I do to help?" Katy quickly offered. "Want me to invite her out to lunch and spend the entire time telling her what a great guy my big brother is?"

Jon laughed aloud, then quickly sobered. "Cute, Katy. That'd about wreck my chances! Naah, invite her out if you want, but don't say anything about me unless she asks. *Don't* give her the impression I find her attractive or anything — I don't want to scare her off!"

Katy smiled in amusement. "You don't trust me to be subtle, do you, Jon? You should know by now never to under-estimate the Lane-Kent women!"

Getting up from the table then, Jon offered to escort Katy back to her car. On the way, he brought the subject back to Michael and Karen. "You sure you're okay about Bernie's opinion?"

She shrugged again. "I think so. I know Jimmy is — it's not that he has anything against the powers or what you and Dad do. I just think he thinks it'd be easier on the kids if they could have a normal life."

<<Don't tell Dad that, whatever you do!>> Jon couldn't help telling Katy, almost without realising he was doing it.

Her eyes widened and she stared at him. "So that's what it feels like! Wow!" A moment later, he 'heard' her voice in his head. <<Don't worry, I wouldn't dream of it>>

"When the kids are old enough to understand, I'll tell them all about the downside of being Super-powered if you think it'll help," Jon offered.

She smiled. "Thanks. They'll probably take it from you."

"Want me to come with you when you tell Mom and Dad?" he offered.

But she shook her head. "It's okay — I'm not worried about telling them. I just wanted to see how you reacted first."

Opening her car door for her, Jon mentioned something else which had been on his mind since Katy had explained the purpose of her visit. "I don't know what we'd do without Bernie Klein, you know. We've really been lucky that he was willing to carry on being our family physician after he retired from STAR Labs."

"Yeah," Katy agreed. "But he won't be around for ever…"

"Just what I was thinking."

"Though he has an assistant he trusts," Katy added. "I think this person's run some of Bernie's tests for him — my guess is he's training her up to take over from him as Superman's doctor one of these days."

"Someone else to know the secret," Jon mused aloud. "Still, we need a doctor, and if Bernie trusts this woman, who are we to argue?"

Katy reached up to kiss him on the cheek then, and as she drew back she gave him a quick smile. "Good luck with Sarah, Jon. If anyone can get through to her, show her that all men aren't like her ex or whoever messed her around, you can."

Smiling wryly, he replied, "I hope so. I really hope so."


Back in her apartment that evening, Sarah found herself unable to settle to anything. She had brought some assignments back with her, intending to spend a couple of hours on marking, but after she'd had to re-read the first page of the first essay for the third time without taking in a single word, she gave up. Flicking through the channels on the TV provided no relief either: who was it, she mused ironically, who had said that the more TV channels there were, the less there was worth watching? Finally, in desperation, she turned her attention to domestic tasks, doing her laundry and cleaning with a ferocity which would have amazed any of her friends in England who were familiar with her detestation of housework.

But even that couldn't take her mind off the disturbing interlude in her office with Jon Kent. That man was occupying far too much of her thoughts, she reflected uncomfortably. She would have been better advised to stick to her initial plan and refuse his invitation outright — in fact, it would have been better to have pulled out entirely of writing the paper with him, or at best shifted the discussion to email, avoiding any further face-to-face meetings.

What was it about Jon Kent? Why did this man seem to have the power to affect her when she'd sworn never again to get close to any man? She couldn't trust herself where men were concerned: she had lousy judgement and that was that. She attracted the wrong sort of men, invited those men to treat her badly. And any decent man would be disgusted by her as a result. That was why she couldn't allow herself to become involved with anyone.

<But it's not *your* fault> a tiny voice within her protested. <How can you blame yourself for what… *he*… did?>

Sarah sighed, knowing that both friends and academic colleagues back home would be furious with her if they knew that she was holding herself responsible for what had happened. She'd read the research herself, knew the literature; victims frequently tended to blame themselves for what had happened to them, despite all evidence to the contrary. She was falling into the classic trap, and she had to force herself to stop it.

But on the other hand… why *her*? Her female friends all had successful relationships with men who treated them with respect. Lois Lane had Clark Kent, who clearly loved her to distraction. Jon's sister Katy had also chosen well: James Olsen practically worshipped the ground his wife walked on. So why was it only *her* who seemed to incite different behaviour in men? After all, it hadn't only been… *him.* There had been that incident when she'd only been at MetU just under a month: that man who had grabbed her and almost raped her. It wasn't even as if she *looked* attractive, she thought angrily. The way she was dressing, the way she'd allowed her hair to become untidy… and yet he'd chosen to try to rape her.

It had to be something intrinsic to her, Sarah thought miserably. So being around Jon Kent was not a good idea.

<But do you really think Jon's likely to turn violent?> the little voice protested incredulously.

Sarah allowed herself to slump into a chair. Jon — violent? Probably not. Every instinct she had screamed at her that the answer was definitely not — as if she was able to judge, she reminded herself cynically. But what if there really was something within *her* which invited men to treat her badly? And of course, who said Jon was interested in her anyway? He was being friendly, yes, but there was no more to it than that. He was being kind to a visitor to his country.

And she would be leaving soon anyway, and there were all sorts of other reasons why she shouldn't allow him to get too close to her.

She made her decision. She would email him the following morning to tell him that she couldn't attend his father's retirement party with him.


"So your parents still don't know that this is a party, and that all their friends and colleagues will be there?" Sarah asked Jon as he escorted her down to the car on the evening of Clark Kent's retirement party.

He grinned. "Far as I know they haven't figured it out. Mom seemed a little suspicious when Katy and I told them we wanted to take them out to dinner to celebrate Dad's birthday and his retirement, but she hasn't said anything since."

"When did your father actually finish at the Planet?" Sarah enquired as Jon held the car door open for her. She got in, greeting Jimmy and Katy who were already in the front seats.

"Yesterday — Saturday," Jimmy replied, turning to smile a greeting at Sarah. "It was kind of weird seeing CK tidy his desk and pack up all his personal items. He's been at the Planet so long he's sort of like an institution. It's going to feel real strange without him."

"Well, you were gone yourself for a few years, and recently you've only been there about six months of the year," Jon pointed out.

"Yeah, but that's going to change," Jimmy observed as he started the engine and guided the car into the traffic.

"How? You didn't say anything, Katy!" Jon threw at his sister; Sarah noticed that he was smiling despite his evident puzzlement.

"Well, we've only really decided this in the last couple of days," Katy explained. "You know we love going off to remote parts of the world and writing about them and taking pictures, but with Karen and Michael getting older it's not fair to them if we keep travelling like that. So we'd pretty much decided to stay put in Metropolis for the next ten years at least. And then Mom talked to Jimmy about taking over as Editor-in-Chief when she retires in October. I can come on staff at the Planet too instead of continuing as a freelance if I want."

"How do you feel about that, Jimmy?" Jon asked. "I thought all that management stuff didn't appeal to you?"

In the dim light, Sarah saw James Olsen shrug. "It didn't — but I'm getting older now and things change. And as Katy says, the kids need some stability. And you know my biggest role-model in journalism has always been Perry White. No disrespect to Lois, but he's the best editor the Planet ever had. And I guess there's part of me which loves the idea of following in his footsteps."

"Perry died six years ago," Jon explained quietly to Sarah. "He was editor when Mom and Dad both started their careers at the Planet, and he was sort of like a substitute father to Mom."

"To me, too," Jimmy put in. "I barely saw my dad as I was growing up, and although we made our peace later, when Perry gave me my chance at the Planet I was still kind of rebelling against the world in some sort of bizarre attempt at revenge. Perry believed in me, though, and I'll always be grateful to him for that."

Something was niggling in Sarah's brain. "Isn't there a Perry White Memorial Scholarship at MetU?" she asked Jon, vaguely recalling something of the kind listed on the university's website.

"Yeah, that's right," Jon answered her. "It's a journalism scholarship — it was endowed jointly by the Planet and Alice White, Perry's widow. The holder gets summer internships at the Planet too, and a couple of past holders got offered jobs when they graduated."

Katy changed the subject then. "So how do you think Dad will react when he realises this isn't a quiet dinner for six?"

Jon grinned, revealing a flash of white teeth in the darkness. "Oh, you know Dad — he'll be a little embarrassed but he'll take it in his stride. And Mom will be kicking herself for not figuring it out."

"Well, you can hardly blame them — they had enough to think about with the surprise you sprung on them," Jimmy threw from the driver's seat.

"What surprise was that?" Sarah asked curiously.

"Oh, when Jon told them he was bringing you," Jimmy informed her. "I heard them talking about it in the newsroom last week."

Sarah frowned. "Why would that be such a… I mean, they have met friends of Jon's before?"

"Not many *female* friends," Jimmy replied with a grin. "And not invited to a family dinner either — ouch!" he exclaimed, with a sharp glance at Katy, and immediately fell silent.

Sarah glanced warily at Jon; he was sitting in the corner of the back seat, looking distinctly uncomfortable. He caught her glance, and quickly reached for her hand; as she was about to pull it away, he spoke softly.

"Listen, please, Jimmy's just trying to wind me up. Honest. I invited you because you're a friend and I like you and I wanted you to come with me. But it doesn't have to be any more than that if you don't want it to be." His expression was earnest, his brown eyes seeming to plead with her to trust him.

His words took Sarah by surprise: what was he saying? That *he* would be happy for their relationship to progress beyond friends? But surely he couldn't be interested in her… surely not? He was still holding her hand; a strange impulse led her, in a very tentative gesture, to wrap her fingers around his. To her amazement, he returned the pressure.

"Sarah?" he murmured softly, enquiringly.

"It's okay," she whispered back, hoping he'd be able to hear her, not really wanting the couple in the front seats to overhear their conversation. "I understand, I think."

She saw his gaze flick briefly to his sister and brother-in-law. "Maybe we can talk later," he said hopefully. "But, Sarah…?"


"I'm really glad you agreed to come tonight," he told her.

Suddenly it seemed easy to give him the reply he wanted. "So am I," she whispered, her tone surprised as she realised it was actually true.

She hadn't at all been expecting to be in James Olsen's car tonight, on her way to Clark Kent's party. She had been determined to tell Jon she couldn't go with him, but then the following day she had actually run into him on her way across campus. She'd tried to seize the opportunity to tell him then, but he'd cut across her with the comment that he was so glad she was coming and that he'd already called his parents to tell them that she'd be there. And he'd said that his parents and Katy were looking forward to seeing her again and… and it had just seemed impossible to back out then.

So she'd resigned herself to going, but she'd determined to come up with some excuse to leave early — a headache, an important transatlantic phone call she was expecting and hadn't been able to reschedule, anything plausible. Despite that, she had gone out and bought a new dress for the event, telling herself that she had nothing remotely suitable in the limited wardrobe she'd brought with her from England. And then she'd allowed herself to be persuaded by the sales assistant into buying a dress she could never even have pictured herself wearing even in the good days, the days before… And she'd actually made an appointment to have her hair done. She'd told herself that it was all because the party was in the poshest hotel in Metropolis, the Metropolis Filton (which, she'd heard, had originally been the Lexor). It had nothing whatsoever to do with Jon.

But then Jon had arrived to pick her up, looking outrageously handsome in a tuxedo with his dark hair arranged almost raffishly in place, his brown eyes gazing at her in an almost puppyish manner, his grin so engaging her heart almost did a somersault in her chest.

<This is crazy!> she'd told herself as she'd followed him out of the apartment. <What's the point of falling for him? You have to forget men and relationships!> But it seemed that her heart didn't want to be sensible… and it seemed, now, as if Jon might want a little more from her than the casual, undemanding friendship which they'd had up to that point.

What if he did? What would she do? *Could* she trust him… could she trust herself?


Jon smiled inwardly as he sat beside Sarah in the back of the car. He was still amazed that she'd actually come; he knew that he'd come very close to frightening her off altogether that day in her office when she'd told him straight out to back off. He was aware that she'd tried to tell him she had changed her mind about coming, but he hadn't given her the opportunity.

So now she was here with him, on the way to a party where she had to know that at least some of the other guests would assume that she was his girlfriend, although he had assured her a day or two earlier that he'd tell anyone who asked that they were just friends. But she had really made an effort tonight. She had been to have her hair cut, and it was beautifully styled so that it framed her face softly before falling in waves down her back. She wore make-up, the first time he had seen her wear it apart from that photograph on the Midchester web-site. And her dress… that had to be new. He couldn't imagine that she would have brought a long evening gown over from England: why would she have thought she'd need it? But she looked stunning in the emerald green dress. It was in a close-fitting style, the bodice moulded to her slim figure, flaring out a little over her hips and then falling in a straight line to her feet, the seams slit at the sides to a little over her knees. The Sarah he had first met would never have worn a dress like that: she had done everything possible to disguise her figure, make herself look as unattractive as possible.

He'd always known she was beautiful, but tonight… tonight she looked fantastic. And she was with *him.* He still held her hand; his fingers were loosely wrapped around hers, and he had no intention of releasing his grip. If he did, he knew she would remove her hand.

They would talk later… what about? Was she finally ready to accept that he wanted to be more than a friend? Or — perhaps more important — was she ready to trust him enough to tell her what had happened to her before he'd known her? He hoped so.

"Hey, you guys in the back, we're here!" Jimmy's voice broke into Jon's thoughts then as the car drew to a halt outside the hotel. They climbed out, Jimmy handing over the keys to the valet parking attendant, and Jon offered Sarah his arm to escort her into the foyer; to his delight, she slipped her arm through his, giving him a shy smile.

His parents were waiting, so he had to switch his attention away from Sarah and concentrate on the next few minutes. Kissing his mom, he announced that they weren't, in fact, dining in the hotel's main restaurant; they'd booked a private function room, he explained, and began to lead the way.

<<What's going on?>> His father's voice echoed in his head, and Jon carefully made himself block out any thoughts of what he, Katy and Jimmy had planned for the evening.

<<Oh, nothing — why d'you ask?>> he transmitted, as innocently as he could.

He felt rather than heard his father laugh, and as he glanced at his parents he saw that Clark's arm was around Lois in the warm, loving stance which was so familiar to Jon; he'd seen it so many times over the years. He silently wondered whether he would ever manage to get close enough to Sarah to hold her like that, to be as close, both physically and emotionally, as his parents were to each other. Still, she was with him tonight; that had to be a start.

As they approached the function room, Jon released Sarah and stepped a little way ahead so that he could be the one to open the door. The interior was silent; he knew that the duty manager had tipped off the guests that their guests of honour were on their way. Throwing the door wide open, Jon turned to his parents to usher them in.

Suddenly a shout went up, and Jon saw his father glance quickly at his mother, then at the occupants of the room. Clark laughed aloud then, raising his eyebrow at the three conspirators.

"Well, you finally got me to a surprise party — that's one heck of an achievement!"


"It was really thoughtful of the kids to surprise us like that, wasn't it?" Clark said as he reclined on the bed watching Lois clean off her make-up.

She turned to smile at him. "Well, *you* were surprised, honey! Or at least, I'm guessing you hadn't a clue until we got close to the function room."

Grinning, Clark raised an admiring eyebrow at his wife. "Is there nothing I can do to surprise *you* any more? Yeah, I heard some voices as we got closer, and I figured it out, but that didn't make any difference. It was a great night. It was good to see so many old friends, and I was really delighted that Alice came."

Lois grinned at him. "I guessed weeks ago that they were up to something — why a hotel instead of a restaurant, for one thing, and for another there were lots of times lately I caught Jimmy in a huddle with someone and the conversation would dry up as I got closer. And I always figured the newsroom staff wouldn't let you leave the Planet without some sort of party."

"Yeah, they finally managed to throw a surprise party *and* get me there," Clark commented as he had earlier to Jon.

"And it was a great party too," Lois murmured softly. "It was so good to see everyone — how the kids managed to get hold of people like Jack and Cat and Mike Farrar when we haven't heard from them for years…"

"Yeah," Clark agreed, his warm brown eyes drinking in the sight of his wife, a sight which even after so many years never ceased to fill him with warmth and love. "And it was so good to talk to the guys who were at the Planet when Perry was still editor. I know you do a great job, honey, but — "

"But I'm not Perry," Lois cut in with an understanding smile. "I know. I still miss him too."

Clark was silent for a moment, then he grinned with a sudden memory. "Wasn't Jimmy's impersonation great? He sounded just like Perry in the old days, growling at us all that this here is a *news*paper, not the Weehawkin' Gazette, and we'd better all put some copy together *today* if we wanted to keep our jobs?"

"Absolutely dead on," Lois agreed. "You know, it's so good to see Jimmy laughing and fooling around the way he used to years ago, before Penny and the baby."

"Yeah," Clark agreed softly. "I'm just sorry Perry isn't around to see it. He was so worried about Jimmy all those years…" He fell silent, reflecting on their former boss and mentor, still very much missed.

"What did you think about Jon bringing Sarah?" Lois asked him after a moment or two, a thoughtful expression on her face.

Clark leaned up on one elbow. "You seemed a little taken aback when he told you he'd invited her, honey. But you know how he feels about her — why do you think it's a problem?" A thought struck him, and he sat up. "If she is the one for him, and I think she might be — she's pretty interested in him, though she pretends not to be — he'll have to tell her about us all. Do you think she wouldn't keep the secret, for some reason?"

But she shook her head. "It's not that — as it happens, my guess is Sarah Fuller is very experienced in keeping secrets." Lois paused, meeting her husband's curious gaze. "That young woman has a lot of problems. I think something happened to her that she's afraid to tell anyone about. And I think she also has a grudge against reporters, or at least the media."

Clark frowned, not doubting Lois's intuition, but wondering what could be done about the situation if she was right. "What makes you think that?"

Lois shrugged. "We were talking, and she said something about you and me not being sleazy tabloid reporters, so I asked, perfectly innocently, what she had against tabloid reporters. She said something like 'other than the obvious?' and then changed the subject very abruptly. That seemed kind of personal to me, Clark, like it had hit a nerve."

Clark nodded slowly, recognising that, as usual, Lois had compensated for the Super-powers possessed by the rest of her family by simply using her incredible intuition and intelligence. "So what do we do about it? If anything — I mean, she's Jon's friend and we don't want to interfere…?"

"I'm not going to interfere," Lois pointed out. "I simply want information. I might not do anything at all with it once I have it, but I want to know what the problem is. So I'll do a search of the British papers tomorrow at work."

"Uh-huh," Clark murmured. "So can I come by and take the Editor-in-Chief for lunch and you can tell me all about it?"

Lois rose from her dressing-table and came to join Clark on the bed, sliding her arms about his strong body. "It's going to seem really strange not having you around the newsroom any more, honey. You know, I'm really going to miss you."

Yes, and he would miss being at the Planet full-time as well, Clark thought as he returned his wife's caresses, luxuriating in the sensation of her hands on his skin. But he had already told himself to think of this as a new phase in his life, an opportunity to develop new interests, or spend more time on existing ones. "Honey, you won't be able to keep me away from the place entirely, you know that. And since the Editor-in-Chief has already asked me to write a weekly opinion column for the Saturday supplement…" He grinned at her before seizing her lips in a deep, long kiss.

But Lois wasn't ready to end their conversation just yet. "Yeah, you have your retirement all figured out, don't you?" she said abruptly, once the kiss had ended.

Clark studied Lois's expression, understanding at last the faint twitchiness he had detected in his wife since they'd left the party. "You're wondering what you're going to do with your time once you retire as Editor, right, honey?"

She grimaced. "You really do know me better than anyone, Clark! Yeah, the Planet's been part of my life for so long… and I'm just not *ready* to retire, anyway! I have years of good work left in me yet, and I'm not ready to be put out to pasture!" She moved a little away from Clark, wrapping her arms around herself, her expression despondent.

"Hey, honey!" He tugged her back towards him. "No-one's talking about putting you out to pasture — no-one would dare! *Lois Lane,* ready for retirement? Never!" His hand began to stroke gently up and down her back as he leaned her body into his. "You know, I've been waiting patiently all this time while you've been editor, and I'm finally six months away from getting my partner back. You think I'm going to let you slip out of my hands now?"

"Clark?" Lois stared at him, not understanding. "Getting your partner back?"

"Yeah. What do you think we're going to do once you retire? I'll tell you, honey — Lane and Kent are making a comeback!" Clark grinned at her, enjoying the mixed expressions of astonishment, bemusement and delight which flitted across her face.

"Lane and… But what are we going to do? Go freelance as investigative reporters?"

Clark shook his head. "Nope — I could never write for any paper but the Planet, and I guess you couldn't either. Besides, journalism's changed since the days when I fought the bad guys and you wrote the stories. People's attention spans are shorter; we couldn't write the sort of long, analytical pieces we used to any more. You only find that sort of serious analysis on the op-ed pages now, and even then only sometimes. You rarely get it in the Internet editions either, and that's the way the newspaper industry is going. I guess in ten, maybe even five years' time there won't even be paper versions any more." He paused, trailing his lips along Lois's jawline. "No, we're going to write books. Serious writing, about the things we know best."

"Clark…?" Lois sounded unsure. "I don't know… I mean, you're the successful author, not me."

"That's only because you haven't tried it yet, honey. Once you do, I know you'll be as good at it as you are at everything else you've tried," Clark argued. "And maybe you'll even go back and finish your novel, or start a new one."

"So… what would we write about?"

"Well, we could start by writing about a lot of things we covered over the years — like Intergang, for example. No-one's ever told the full story on Intergang — okay, we'll have to deal with the lawyers, but I think we could get around that and still name Mindy Church even though she's the only one of that family who got away scot-free at the time." He grinned at the dawning realisation on Lois's face, the expression of excitement as she realised that his idea was a darned good one. She couldn't wait to get started on it with him, he knew.

So she would enjoy his second suggestion even more. He played with her hair, winding several strands around his finger as he spoke again. "And we can also write that definitive Superman story we both always wanted to tell. You know, the one you wanted to win you the Pulitzer?"

Lois stared at him in shock. "But once I found out Superman was you… I mean, we can't!"

He smiled in return. "There's a lot we can say without compromising any secrets. And sure, there've been a lot of books about Superman, but none written with his co-operation, and none written by the reporters who knew him better than anyone in the early years. We can 'interview' him about where he comes from and things like that, but you can also write about that issue that always really annoys you — you know, what would the world do without Superman?"

He heard Lois take a sharp intake of breath. "Yeah, I know, it always bugs me that the first thing the emergency services seem to do these days is wait for you or Jon to get there — but, Clark, why are you saying that? Are you thinking that… that Jon and Katy may be the last Super-powered people?"

"Because Bernie says Karen and Michael probably won't have powers? No, that wasn't what I meant, but you could be right," Clark replied thoughtfully. "Okay, we don't know how any children Jon might have would turn out, but there's no guarantee they'd have super abilities. No, I just thought you'd like the opportunity to write about what you call the world's over-dependence on Superman."

"Yes, I would," Lois agreed firmly. "You know, you have some really terrific ideas sometimes, Clark."

"I do try," he murmured with a grin, leaning in for another lingering kiss.

Some considerable time later, Lois lay in Clark's arms tracing circles on his chest with her fingertips, a thoughtful expression on her face. He regarded her in amusement, a smile hovering about his lips.

"Come on, honey, out with it," he teased.

"I was just thinking about Karen and Michael, and what Bernie said," she mused. "I can't believe that your powers can't be passed on to the third generation. I mean, HG Wells told us several times that Utopia was founded by your descendants," she pointed out.

"Yes, that's true, but he never said that our descendants still had Super-powers by that stage, whenever it happens," Clark objected. "And anyway, who says you need Super-powers to found a civilisation based on honesty, respect and ethical values?"

"True…" Lois agreed softly. "I guess I've just always assumed that our descendants, on into the future, will still have your powers. But when you put it like that, I suppose there's no reason at all why they should." She paused, reaching up to kiss her husband's jaw. "So you think Jon and Katy may be the last Super-heroes?"

"Possibly," Clark agreed with a shrug. "Jon anyway — Katy's hung up her cape for good, I think."

"Well, Jon'll be around for a while yet," Lois murmured. "And since Bernie always seemed to think that both he and Katy were genetically far more Kryptonian than human, he may have inherited your long life-span, so who knows how long he'll live."

"Yeah, poor guy," Clark murmured under his breath. He had always been grateful for the circumstances which had led to him giving up part of his life-force; the thought that he might live at least twice as long as Lois's natural life-span had appalled him. He would probably still live longer than most humans, but he was ageing, and he looked like a man in his fifties, only ten years or so off his actual age. Unlike Conor, he recalled; his counterpart had looked little over forty and the younger man would probably outlive Laura by many years.

Lois caught his attention then by stroking his face gently. "Honey? You mean because he'll likely live longer than everyone he cares about?" She barely waited for Clark's nod before continuing. "You know, I realised that I was really being selfish about that. You remember, when we found out that your life-span was likely to be twice as long as mine? All I could think about was growing old while you were still in your prime, and then dying before you. I never thought about how terrible that would be for you — but it would, wouldn't it?"

He grimaced. "Lois, I can't imagine it. I just can't see myself living without you — that's why I got so depressed after Bill died. I just saw so many of our family and friends dying, and all I could think about was that you would be next and I'd be alone. You… you mean more to me than anyone or anything, honey. And if I thought that I'd have another seventy, eighty years of life after you… well, I just couldn't do it, Lois."

"But Jon may have to," Lois reflected softly. "And Katy… well, Katy already knew she'd have to face that with Jimmy."

"Yes," Clark agreed softly. "I told her that… but it didn't make any difference. And it wouldn't have made any difference for me either, if Bernie had told me about my life-span before we got married. I love you and want to be with you — that's all that matters. And if I do end up living a long time after you're gone… well, I'll have my memories. We'll have had our time together, and I wouldn't change that for anything."

Lois didn't say anything for a time, simply laying her head on Clark's shoulder. Eventually, tears in her eyes, she murmured, "You are just so romantic… I don't know where you get it from, but never lose it, okay?"

"I promise," he murmured huskily, and leaned over to kiss her again.


With his hand lightly at Sarah's back, Jon escorted her up the stairs to her apartment. Jimmy and Katy had dropped the two of them off a minute ago, and Jon had told his sister and brother-in-law not to wait, that he'd walk home. He had been half-afraid, once he'd said that, that Sarah would think he was expecting more than she was prepared to give. Well, he could do something about that…

He turned to smile at her. "Sarah, I — "

"Jon, I… I really enjoyed tonight," she said simultaneously.

He stilled. She didn't seem to have been alarmed by his dispatching of his transport home — and even more amazingly, she was indicating that she'd had a great time with him! His hand curved a little more firmly about her waist, and he smiled warmly at her. "I had a great time too. Thank you for coming with me," he added huskily.

She smiled a little shakily back at him. "Thank you for asking me, Jon. And for not taking no for an answer."

"You look gorgeous," he couldn't stop himself telling her.

She blushed. "You… you're pretty stunning yourself, Jon Kent. So handsome I kept wondering what you were doing with… with me."

The second part of her statement was spoken so quietly that Jon genuinely wondered whether he'd have heard it without his Super-hearing. He halted, turning Sarah to face him. "What the heck do you mean, Sarah? Don't you *know* how beautiful you are — and how many guys there tonight would have given almost anything to change places with me when we were dancing?"

Dancing… Sarah felt warm all over as she remembered. Once the meal was over, the musicians who had been playing a soft accompaniment had struck up some dance music, and Clark Kent had been quick to lead his wife on to the floor. Katy and Jimmy had joined them soon after, and Jon had then asked Sarah to dance. Dancing with Jon had been wonderful: she had almost felt as if she'd been floating on air, and after a while her inhibitions and self-imposed barriers had simply melted away as she had allowed herself to lean closely into him, her arms around him. He danced beautifully, and as they'd drifted around the dancefloor together it had been easy to imagine that they were somewhere else entirely, somewhere magical, on their own instead of being surrounded by his father's friends and colleagues. It had been very easy to drift into a fantasy world in which this handsome, talented man wanted to be with her, and only her; in which he was falling in love with her and she with him, and there was nothing stopping the two of them being together.

When the musicians had taken a break, it had almost been a shock to realise she had to separate from him and go and sit down; she had also been taken aback to realise that a number of people had been watching them and murmuring. <They'll never believe Jon and I are just friends now> she'd thought; then, with a growing sense of amazement, she'd realised that she didn't actually care. She wanted to indulge in the fantasy for just a little longer; time enough to return to the real, hard, cold world when he'd said goodnight and left her alone again.

Now, they were back at her apartment, and Jon seemed to be suggesting by his behaviour in having sent his brother-in-law away, that he was in no hurry to leave. If this had been any other man, Sarah knew, she would already have given him his marching orders, afraid of what he might expect, afraid of her own weakness. But Jon… somehow she *knew* he wasn't intending anything she might have doubts about. And if she wanted him to leave, he would leave without complaint. She remembered, then, their brief conversation in the car on the way and their promise to talk, later.

Okay, she would invite him in for coffee — after all, if she was totally honest with herself, she didn't want this evening, this fantasy, to end yet. As for talking… well, maybe she should wait to see what *he* wanted to talk about. After all, what had he done except dance with her? He'd been the perfect escort, the perfect gentleman — that didn't mean that he wanted anything more than just to be friends. He didn't have a girlfriend at the moment, and Katy had told her earlier that evening that he frequently got teased by friends and family about when he would settle down or who he was currently seeing and so on, and that this occasionally irritated him. Well, tonight he would have had the opportunity to be seen with someone, which should silence some of his questioners for a while at least.

At her door, she turned and glanced up at her tall companion. "Would you… would you like to come in for coffee?"

She was rewarded by a brilliant smile. "I'd love to, if you're not too tired, Sarah."

Inside her apartment, she quickly went to prepare the coffee, but was very soon conscious of Jon's tall form lounging in the doorway of the small, cramped kitchen. His presence somehow seemed to make her 'bijou' apartment feel tiny, and she almost wanted to shrink away from him. But she forced herself to stay put, reminding herself that this was *Jon* and he didn't mean her any harm.

He took the tray from her when she was ready, and her heart-rate returned to normal as they adjourned to the living-room; at least there he didn't quite dominate the small space quite as much as in the kitchen. The room was still small, with just enough room for three armchairs, a little dining table and a TV in the corner, but with him in one armchair and herself in another she felt more comfortable. But as she handed him his coffee she suddenly became conscious of his dark eyes watching her intently, and her heart suddenly skipped a beat.

"Sarah." His voice was husky, and her throat felt dry. She turned uncertain eyes to meet his gaze.

"Sarah — I want to kiss you," he said, his husky voice sending shivers down her spine. She started to tremble, and she couldn't have said whether it was from apprehension or desire.

Blinking in an attempt to clear her head, she reminded herself of all the reasons why a relationship with anyone was a bad idea. Jon was a nice guy, she had no doubt about that now. But allowing him to get closer to her was crazy. It would end in disaster, and she would lose his friendship as well. Once he found out what sort of person she was… he would no longer want her.

She backed away, shrinking into her armchair in an attempt to place more distance between them. "Jon… no, I don't want…"

"You don't?" he challenged softly. "I could've sworn, earlier, when we were dancing…" His dark gaze seemed to taunt her, silently calling her a liar.

"That… that was… different…" she whispered. "It… we were pretending…"

"Pretending what?" he threw back at her. "Sarah, I wasn't pretending. Everything we did tonight, everything I said to you — it was all real. It *is* real."

"No — no, it can't be," she protested weakly. It couldn't. She'd been here before, and it had all gone horribly wrong. She wanted to keep her dreams, her illusions about this man and what they could have together, rather than take a chance and see her dreams shatter once again.

"Sarah." His voice had dropped a tone until it again held that husky resonance. "You know it as well as I do — you could feel it too. There's something between us, and I want to find out what it is. I think you do too."

She shook her head, desperately trying to quell the longing which was rising within her; the desire to feel Jon's lips on hers just once, to have his hands slide over her shoulders, her back, her hips, to pull her close to him so that she could feel that strong, lean masculine body against hers… just once…

He was still watching her, not moving, not making any effort to persuade her further beyond the power of that seductive voice and that compelling dark gaze. "Sarah — what happened? Tell me," he murmured softly, persuasively.

"I… don't know what you mean," she protested.

"Sarah, I know something happened to you — someone hurt you badly, made you unable to trust another man." Alarmed, her head shot up and her gaze met his; again, his eyes seemed to bore into hers with that strange intensity which suggested that he could almost read her mind. He waited, and as she watched him, unable to tear her gaze away, the breath caught in her throat. Then he spoke again, his voice very gentle, as if he was reluctant to voice the words but feeling he had to say them, "Sarah, were you raped?"

<No… yes… no…> With a tiny gasp, she flung herself out of the chair and made a dash for her bedroom, wanting to escape his questioning. If he found out the truth, he would surely despise her, some part of her brain insisted, even though the rational part of her tried to remind herself that what had happened was *not* her fault. But before she had taken two steps he was in front of her, his hands gripping her upper arms, not painfully, but with enough force to stop her pulling away. She began to panic, struggling against his grip, her feet lashing out at his ankles. But still he didn't release her, even though she had to be hurting him.

Memories of another time, another man holding her, refusing to release her, inflicting pain… She tried to force them away, telling herself that this wasn't *him,* that Jon wouldn't treat her like that, but the force of those memories was too intense. She flinched, almost expecting to be struck at any moment, but then she became conscious of an insistent voice repeating her name over and over, a voice which wasn't threatening, wasn't trying to intimidate, but instead was soothing, its owner seeming to promise a safe haven, if only she would let herself accept it. She hesitated, raising her gaze to look at her captor.

"Sarah, trust me. I won't hurt you," he told her firmly, his concerned eyes staring down at her. "Just don't run from me, please."

Something in his expression made sense to her, and she stilled. She *could* trust this gentle, strong man, she knew that beyond doubt. He didn't have it in him to be violent. Standing limply in his grasp, she nodded her head. "Okay."

He released her, taking a step backwards so that she was free to move if she wanted to; instead, she remained still, watching to see what his next move would be. His stance completely unthreatening, he spoke softly. "Sarah, I meant what I said. I find you very attractive and I want to kiss you. But I won't even try as long as you're afraid of me. I just want you to tell me why you're afraid — what happened to you to make you that way."

She closed her eyes briefly: put like that, she was being a complete coward, and her innate honesty made her admit that she'd been behaving like a coward almost from the moment she'd met this man. She'd been keeping him at a distance when that part of her which was still capable of feeling attraction to a man had been telling her the whole time that *this* man was special, that she wanted him, needed him… lo -

No — not that. Never again. But maybe… maybe she could at least let him get a little closer to her. After all, she would only be in the US for a further three or four months: what would be the harm in a fling which would end once her time at MetU ended? No strings, no commitment, just a bit of light fun? And if appearing to give him what he wanted would stop him asking questions she didn't want to answer, then perhaps she could allow herself to get involved with him — nothing serious, just a bit of light-hearted stuff…?

Deliberately pushing any residual doubts and fears to the back of her mind, she smiled lightly at Jon, hoping that her change of attitude was convincing. "I'm just being silly — of course I'm not afraid of you." She stepped forward and reached up to place a hand on his shoulder. "You're a very attractive man, Jon Kent," she murmured, her lips parting as she gazed up at him, the invitation clear.

A startled expression flitted across his face before he dipped his head to take her up on her invitation; cool lips brushed against her mouth and lingered briefly before withdrawing. Despite the brevity, the almost platonic nature of the caress, Sarah felt as if she'd been burned: a spark of electricity shot through her. Her eyes widened and she stared up at Jon in shock.

But he was watching her thoughtfully. "Don't lie to me, Sarah. I know fear when I see it, and you were terrified a couple of minutes ago. I know you know you can trust me, or you'd never have come with me tonight. So what happened to you?"

She shook her head vigorously. "Jon, I don't want to talk about the past. It's not important. It doesn't matter to us… come and sit down…" She caught at his arm, trying to propel him back to the chairs. "Kiss me again — properly this time."

But he refused to move. "Sarah, I think if I kissed you the way I want to you'd run away from me again. I remember how you reacted that night I saw you home… that day in your office. You had to steel yourself to kiss me just now, and I don't want a woman who has to swallow down revulsion before she can be with me." His voice was almost forbidding, his dark eyes no longer regarding her with desire.

"Jon… I *do* find you attractive," she protested.

"Yeah, whenever you can forget whatever it is that happened to you," he threw back at her, the gentle undertone in his voice softening the impact of the words. "Look, I don't want to force you to talk about something you'd rather forget, but on the other hand I think you *need* to talk about this. You're a beautiful, vibrant, vivacious woman — or at least, you are whenever you can push this stuff out of your mind. Which isn't near often enough, if you ask me."

Flinching, she threw back at him, "If you don't like the way I am, you can walk out that door right now and don't come back!"

"No, I can't," he told her, his voice husky again, sending tremors through her. "Because you mean too much to me for me to walk away. I care about you, and I want to help you as well as being… whatever you let me be to you."

Jon's words shook Sarah more than she could have imagined. As she stared at him, her grey eyes wide, a couple of tears began to trickle down her cheeks. She brushed them away; she hated to show her emotions now. <I thought I'd finished crying over what happened> she thought furiously, then stilled, a lump coming to her throat as Jon reached out with one hand and gently smoothed her tears away.

"I think it's about time you talked about this, isn't it?" he asked softly. "Come on — come and sit down."

He led her back across to the armchair he had been occupying earlier, sitting down and tugging her to sit on his lap. She sat stiffly for a few moments, feeling awkward in that position and yet somehow reluctant to move, to put distance between them.

"Sarah?" he prompted.

She sighed again, hugely tempted to tell this gentle man everything, to share the burden of memories she'd been carrying around with her for the past year or more. But there were still reasons to resist… how would he react? Would he think she should have taken some action sooner? Would he think she was to blame because she hadn't? Would he see her as soiled goods, and not want anything more to do with her?

But then she turned her head and her gaze met his; one look at the expression in his brown eyes, the affection and encouragement she saw there, and she knew that she had found someone who would understand and not judge. This time her long, drawn-out sigh was an acknowledgement that he was right.

She nodded. "Okay. But… I'm not sure where to start."

His large hand closed around her smaller one, his touch comforting; his other arm drew her back against his shoulder. "Why don't you tell me the whole story? We have all the time you need."


"Everything. Including why you're so scared."

She took a shuddering sigh, both scared at the prospect of actually talking to someone about what had happened to her but also desperately needing to unburden herself of the fears and memories she had been carrying around inside her for so long. Jon's expression, sympathetic but oddly detached in the circumstances, given that he'd told her he found her attractive, persuaded her that he meant it.

"Okay," she sighed at last. "It's a long story, though," she felt obliged to warn him.

"I have time," he reminded her. "I can stay all night if you need me."

She inhaled deeply again and sat staring straight ahead, feeling more comfortable if she wasn't actually looking at Jon. After a moment or two, she began speaking. "I don't know if you ever wondered what I'm doing here — why I came over here, I mean. I suppose… well, what I was really doing was running away." Her voice was hesitant, quiet; it was still very difficult to put all of this into words.

Jon's hand squeezed hers gently. "Take your time, and start from the beginning, okay? What were you running from?"

She closed her eyes briefly; it hurt to remind herself that she had been so stupid, so *weak.* "My ex-boyfriend. He was a colleague at the university where I work — he seemed really nice, good fun to be with… I thought I loved him. I thought he loved me. But then I moved in with him, and he seemed to change completely." She broke off, taking a shuddering breath. "The first time he hit me I didn't know what was happening. I'll never know why I didn't leave him then. But he said he was sorry and that it would never happen again, and he seemed so sincere… so I gave him another chance. Two months later it happened again. He pushed me, and I fell against a door and broke my wrist. He told the doctor it was an accident… and I went along with it."

She turned to look at Jon and saw that he was watching her, his expression compassionate, though she thought she saw a flash of something like anger in his eyes. "I suppose you think I'm stupid for staying, for not realising that men like him never change. I mean, it's not as if I didn't know any better — I'd read all the research…"

He shook his head. "It's rarely that simple. There were probably reasons why you couldn't leave. You say you've read all the research — my parents have done research for articles on domestic violence, and I've read what they wrote. It's always more complicated than people on the outside could imagine."

"It seemed like I had reasons at the time," Sarah agreed, as her thoughts drifted back to those awful ten months. "I can't think why, though — I mean, I wasn't financially dependent on him, we didn't have children… He seemed to have some sort of hold over me, and I can't for the life of me work out what it was. It was almost as if he convinced me that I couldn't cope on my own, that I needed him." She paused again, taking a shuddering breath; Jon remained silent, his hand stroking her shoulder comfortingly.

She closed her eyes briefly as the memories flooded over her; then she pushed them away and focused on telling Jon the unvarnished truth in as few words as she could manage. "So I stayed, and every few weeks he'd lose his temper and use me as a punch-bag. I got used to covering up the bruises, and at work… well, it was almost as if there was a conspiracy of silence. I only realised afterwards how many of my colleagues knew what was going on because they'd seen the bruises, but because I never said anything, they never did. They all told me afterwards that if I'd only said one word, they would have offered to help." She grimaced, shrugging. "I should have said something… I don't know why I didn't. I suppose I was embarrassed, and they certainly were. I mean, Rob worked in the same faculty — we weren't in the same division, but we still had a lot of colleagues in common. He played football with half the men in my department at weekends."

"I understand how people might feel about not wanting to interfere, but true friends shouldn't wait to be asked," Jon commented softly. "Didn't you have anyone closer — family, best friends?"

Sarah shrugged, remembering how alone she had felt while living with Rob and subsequently, once the police had become involved. "My parents died a few years ago, and I have no close relatives. As for friends… well, Rob didn't get on with my closest female friends, and I let him persuade me to distance myself from them — that was a mistake. I've made up for that now, but at the time… well, I just didn't see them, and they didn't really know what was going on."

"So what happened?" he prompted.

She breathed deeply; this was the bit she hated most. "I was terrified of him by this stage, Jon. He had me convinced that if I ever told anyone he hit me he'd kill me. So I just kept quiet — it seemed safer. But one night… My friend Jane phoned. She hadn't seen me for a while, and just wanted to see if I'd meet her for lunch. I wasn't in from work, and Rob took the call. For some reason, he thought I'd told her about what he did to me, and he accused me of it when I came in." She stopped again; here the memories got much more painful.

Turning again to look at Jon, but this time not really seeing him, Sarah forced herself to continue. "It's all hazy now, but I remember he started to punch me… and then I went down on the floor, and he was kicking me, in the chest and stomach and head… I think at some point he got a knife, he must have done because when I was at the hospital I had a gash in my leg…"

Shuddering, she swallowed, choking back tears. "All I remember is being in agony, and really scared that he was actually going to kill me this time. I don't know how I got out of the house, I could barely walk. But I got out, and I flagged down a passing car. The driver… she was great. She dragged me into the car and drove off before Rob could get to me. And she called the police from her car-phone."

Blinking, she stole another quick glance at Jon, almost afraid to see how he was taking this. What she saw caused her breath to catch in her throat; compassion and a burning anger mingled in his dark eyes, and a tiny muscle twitched in his jaw. She could sense the suppressed rage within him, but she knew without any need for reassurance that the rage was directed at Rob, not at herself for not escaping the situation sooner. And Jon's implicit understanding of her inability to do so suddenly made her realise that she had been blaming herself unfairly for most of the last year. She *hadn't* been the one at fault. Other friends had tried to tell her that since; the police's domestic violence specialist had said it over and over, but it had been so hard to convince herself.

That helped her to continue with her tale, and she quickly brushed away the tears which were now rolling freely down her cheeks. With a quick, rueful smile she began to speak again. "Anyway, I ended up in hospital, and once I was able to talk the staff there were great, really sympathetic, and they helped me decide to talk to the police. And… I pressed charges. I was in hospital for a couple of weeks, and even by the time he came to trial months later I still had the scar on my leg. He… he was convicted of assault, and sentenced to eight years. That was about six months ago."

"It can't have been easy for you to testify," Jon commented quietly. "So what happened after that?"

Sarah grimaced. "That's why I'm here. The case got so much media attention, because it was during the summer — you know, the 'silly season' when there's not much real news, and everyone where I live and work knew about it. The tabloids even sent reporters to where I live and to the university — they were offering people money for information about me, and about Rob… they even tried to dig up former boyfriends. I mean, Jon, I was the victim here, and the tabloids were treating me as if I was fair game!" She swallowed, blinking away tears again, and sneaked a glance at him, seeing the compassion and suppressed fury in his expression. Strangely enough, although she usually avoided sympathy, Jon's obvious caring made her feel… protected.

He continued to stroke her hair gently. "But surely your identity was protected?"

She shrugged. "It should have been, though of course everyone in Midchester knew… No, someone — I never found out who — sold a story to one of the tabloids, and shortly afterwards… well, it was decided that since my identity was already in the public domain, the media could name me in their reports.

"No wonder you wanted to get away," he murmured gently.

She nodded, taken aback again at his understanding. "Yeah — I got sick of being stared at everywhere I went, of feeling that everyone I met knew who I was and what happened to me. Even at work I felt I was becoming a freak-show, especially as some of the people I work with are actually friends of Rob's. I started imagining that everyone, even the students, was judging me, asking why I didn't just leave him and deciding that because I didn't I had to enjoy it somehow…"

"That's just crazy," Jon interrupted. "No-one enjoys being treated like that."

"Anyway, I got tired of it," she continued, not commenting on his contribution. "So when this opportunity for the exchange came up, I took it. I thought that six months in a different place would give me time to get over what happened and help me start to behave like a normal person again, and I hoped that by the time I got back people would have forgotten."

"So you came here," he added softly. "And you tried to make yourself unattractive, thinking that would make sure you didn't end up in the same trap again." Suddenly his arms shifted, wrapping themselves around her warmly in a firm, comforting embrace; he cradled her against his taut body, stroking her long hair as his lips pressed against her forehead.

"I can't tell you what I'd like to do to that *bastard*…" he gritted in a low voice as he rocked her gently in his arms. "Not just for the physical harm he did you, but for what he did to your self-esteem. Did *he* tell you that you're unattractive?"

Sarah's eyes, which had closed as he'd cradled her against his shoulder, sprang open as his words sank in. "Yes… yes, he did. Lots of times — he said I was a hag, like the back end of a bus, that if he didn't have me no-one else would want me…"

She felt his hands still, his fists clench, before he spoke again. "Didn't you look at yourself in a mirror tonight, Sarah? You looked beautiful — the most gorgeous woman in the room! But, you know, I thought you looked beautiful the first time I saw you, even with your hair covering your face and in those shapeless clothes…"

She thought he seemed to trail off a little abruptly, almost as if he thought he'd said too much. But then his hands started to caress her shoulders, almost idly, as he continued, "You know it's not true about no-one else wanting you. *I* want you — very badly as it happens, and you can probably tell by where you're sitting…" His voice grew rueful as he finished, and she suddenly realised that he was telling the truth. He *was* aroused. Embarrassed, she shifted on his lap, wondering whether she should get up and move to one of the other chairs.

But his arms tightened around her. "Stay where you are — just try not to move around too much, okay?" he asked, his tone wry.

Somehow Jon's comment seemed to lighten the atmosphere; Sarah found herself unable to stop a burst of laughter emerging. After a brief instant he joined her, and they giggled uncontrollably until she almost fell off his lap.

"Oops! Hang on — I don't mind you falling at my feet, but not like this!" he teased, gripping her about her waist to steady her. At the same time, she reached out and grabbed him around the neck; the movements brought them much closer together, and Sarah took a sharp intake of breath as she realised just how close her face was to his. She could feel his breath warming her cheek, could smell the musky, masculine scent of his cologne. Time seemed to stand still suddenly as she stared at him, seeing the way his own teasing expression altered, his gaze transfixed as he stared back at her, his brown eyes visibly darkening as their expression turned passionate.

"Sarah…" he whispered huskily, raising one hand slowly to thread his fingers through her hair.

Unable to tear her gaze away, she watched in fascination as the tiny muscle in his jaw began twitching again. He brought his mouth closer to hers, and his hand tugged her head closer to his. In another second…

This kiss was explosive. If she'd felt a spark the first time they kissed, that was a mere whimper compared to this one; Sarah felt as if she was going up in flames. Her lips parted willingly beneath his searching mouth, allowing his tongue access; she stroked it with her own, enjoying the taste of him as he explored first her lips and then her mouth, sighing in rapture as she caressed him in return. She strained closer to him, and his free hand moulded her to his body while his other hand continued raking through her hair. Daring, she slid her own hand up to slide through his silky black hair, luxuriating in the feel of it beneath her fingers.

Breaking the kiss briefly to catch her breath, she sighed his name before seeking his mouth again; it briefly registered with her that he didn't seem as breathless as she was, but she certainly couldn't question the extent to which he was turned on by the kiss, especially when the evidence was so… obvious. She had *never* been kissed like this before, not with such passion, such intensity — and never before had a kiss seemed to touch her soul the way Jon Kent's kisses did.

Too soon, he broke away, breathing a little more heavily as he gazed at her through dazed eyes. "Sarah… wow, that was unbelievable!" he gasped, seemingly struggling for control of himself.

"Umm… yeah, I never imagined…" As she returned to reality, Sarah couldn't help remembering her determination never to become involved with any man ever again. But Jon wasn't going to take no for an answer… and she wouldn't have missed that kiss for anything in the world. Even still, where could they go from here? She was a lousy prospect when it came to relationships, and it wouldn't be fair to allow Jon to become involved with her. And anyway, she was going back to England in a few months. So, when his lips sought hers again she evaded his searching mouth and instead slid off his lap. Surprised, he frowned. "Sarah… what is it?"

Wrapping her arms about herself, she shook her head. "Jon… we can't do this."

He was standing in front of her in an instant. "Can't do what?" His voice was soft, persuasive, his eyes caressing her as he gazed at her.

"Jon — that kiss… it was great, but I can't have — have an affair with you," she jerked out, avoiding his gaze by staring down at the floor.

His hands cupped her shoulders lightly. "Sarah, I don't remember asking you to have an affair with me," he replied pointedly. "I don't want an *affair.* I want a relationship — the two are kind of different, wouldn't you say?"

A relationship… the idea was so tempting. Images flooded through her mind: she and Jon cuddling together on a sofa somewhere — his apartment, possibly, though she had never yet been there; the two of them walking hand-in-hand through the park or beside a river; kissing, always kissing, as passionately as they had just done a few minutes before… the two of them in bed, naked, in each other's arms, making love. Falling in love…

But it was impossible. She was incapable of having a successful relationship; there was something about her which caused men to treat her badly, and she wasn't about to risk that again. *Jon* was too special to risk their fragile friendship on a potentially disastrous relationship.

Slowly raising her gaze to his, she shook her head. "Jon… tonight was wonderful, and that kiss… I'll always remember it as the most special experience I've ever had. But you and I — we can't have a relationship. You know about… my past. You have to see why it's not possible."

His steady gaze held hers. "Yes, I know about what happened to you. Sarah, you got involved with the wrong man. He was a… well, I can tell you that if my mom knew about this, she'd have some choice adjectives for him. But that has no relevance for us. I'm *not* like him, I swear it…"

He trailed off suddenly, blinking and taking a backward step; did this mean he'd decided he didn't want her after all? Sarah wondered. It would be understandable — who would want to take on someone with her history, even if she'd indicated that she was willing?

But then he was speaking again. "Sarah, I understand that you can't trust me yet — you don't even know me that well. Sure, I can tell you I'm not like him, I'm not violent and I despise people who bully other people like that. But you have to learn to trust me yourself." He paused, his gaze never leaving her face. "So I'll promise you this. I care about you very much, Sarah — I won't tell you how much, but believe me when I say I'm not looking for a casual fling with you. I'm going to be around every day from now on — I'm going to take you to lunch, take you out for walks, spend as many evenings with you as you'll agree to. You are going to get to know me properly. And I won't even try to kiss you unless you make it clear that's what you want. And by the time your sabbatical ends, if not before, I'm going to teach you to trust me. Then we'll decide where our relationship's going."

Sarah's breath caught in her throat: what Jon was offering her seemed incredible. She wasn't used to men who were prepared to wait: Rob had urged her into bed on their third date, although she hadn't really felt ready for that degree of commitment then. But he'd convinced her, and it had been pretty okay, and then she'd moved in with him a week or so later.

She felt as if she had to make some gesture in return, and she took a step towards him, reaching out to touch his hand. His fingers curled around hers. "Jon… that's an awful lot of patience when you don't even know you'll get what you want in the end."

His smile was lop-sided, the look in his eyes rueful. "I just have to trust you — like you need to learn to trust me. And anyway, anything special is worth waiting for. My father waited two years for my mother to fall in love with him. There were lots of times when he was tempted to give up, but he refused to. And it paid off — they've been married more than thirty-four years."

Sarah swallowed, suddenly envious yet again of the love Lois Lane had found with Clark Kent. Their feelings for each other were obvious; it would be impossible to be in the same room with them and not realise the depth of their love, the intensity of their passion for each other even after so many years. She had realised, even at their first meeting, that there was something very special about Clark Kent, and she'd already known that Lois Lane was a woman she admired very much.

And Jon… Jon was their son. He was so like his father in so many ways; surely she could trust him not to hurt her, not to let her down, not to give up on her despite her fears and insecurities?

She didn't know, that was the truth. And tonight was probably not the time to decide, confused as her emotions were after her painful explanation of what had happened with Rob and the entirely unexpected passion of their kiss. She was also very tired, she realised suddenly, yawning involuntarily.

Jon saw, and he instantly gave her an amused grin. "I should go, is that what you're saying?"

"I… I need time to think, Jon," she told him with a grimace.

"Sure you do," he agreed easily. "Just remember that while you're thinking I'm going to be there, just so you can't forget how I feel about you and how you feel about me."

"How… I feel about you?" she threw back at him, puzzled.

"Yeah. Oh, I know you've got a lot to work through, but you do feel something for me. I know that — and it's not just attraction either. There's something deeper than that — we both feel it. And that's why I'm not going to give up."

A thought struck her. "But, Jon, even if I do decide I can take a chance on a relationship with you, I'm going back to England in a few months. I can't stay here — even if I decided I wanted to stay on to see where this took us, my visa expires at the beginning of August."

"Not a problem," he replied easily. "Sarah, I'll do what it takes for us to be together. And if that means I need to move to England, get a job over there, I'll do it."

That sent a shock through her too: Rob had wanted to move to another university, for promotion, and he'd insisted that she would have to follow him regardless of the fact that she was happy at Midchester. Luckily he hadn't got the job he'd applied for; and yet later, when she'd been invited to apply for a more senior post on the other side of the country he had insisted that she turn it down.

<Jon is *not* Rob!> she reminded herself, not for the first time.

He moved away then, towards the door, and automatically she followed him to see him out. He paused briefly in the doorway, running his index finger very lightly down her nose, then smiled at her, a lazy, beguiling smile which hinted at everything they could have together if she would allow it to happen. "Goodnight, Sarah. Sleep well," he murmured, before turning away to head for the stairs.

<Sleep well!> she thought incredulously as she closed the door behind him. After all that had happened, how could she sleep at all? She'd dredged up all those submerged memories again, to start with, and her body still throbbed from the memory of his kiss and how it had made her feel. If he hadn't broken the kiss when he had, would they have stopped at all? Would he have ended up staying the night?

Perhaps it would have been better if he had, she thought as she padded into the bedroom. Then she wouldn't have had to think about it, wouldn't have had to make a decision… they would just have followed the kiss through to its natural conclusion.

And she would have hated him, and herself, in the morning, she realised in sudden awareness. And Jon had probably understood that too. No, he was right: she had to decide what she wanted, with nothing to distract her — that would be why he'd said he wouldn't even kiss her. She had to come to him willingly, because she wanted him, not because he'd persuaded her. And in order to do that, she had to clear her head of the ghosts of the past.

*Could* she take the leap of faith that a relationship with Jon Kent would demand?


Jon emerged from Sarah's apartment building and immediately ducked into an alley close by, taking off vertically once he'd checked that no-one was anywhere in sight. He had far too much to think about to simply go home and sleep.

It was funny, he reflected in amazement now that he'd left her, that despite his relative lack of experience with relationships, his complete *absence* of experience with any woman who'd been through what Sarah had, that somehow he'd just seemed to know what to do. Come to that, he *always* seemed to know how to behave with her, and how *not* to make it look as if he was a complete novice at flirting with beautiful women. His dad would probably tell him it was something to do with soulmates, Jon mused, wondering if that was really the case. Of course, he had no idea whether what he'd said, what he'd done tonight had been the right thing in the circumstances — had it been far too blunt simply to come out and demand to know whether she'd been raped, for instance? Should he have grabbed her like that when she'd tried to escape to her bedroom after that question? And yet… it had seemed to work. She had trusted him enough to tell him, and although she hadn't said anything to him, he had a sense that telling him had helped her somehow. But having persuaded her to tell him, should he have then kissed her? It had seemed the right thing to do — the *only* thing — at the time. Not that he'd been thinking particularly clearly anyway… he'd simply got completely carried away.

That kiss… he had known that kissing Sarah would be something special, but even with such high expectations he had been completely unprepared for the strength of the passion which had flowed between them. And as for the way his body had reacted… it was just as well Sarah had seen the funny side. It would have been completely understandable if his reaction had scared her off altogether, especially given her past history which she'd just revealed to him.

At that thought, his fists clenched and an anger of such ferocity Jon had never experienced before rushed over him. Sarah — his Sarah — had been beaten up, put in a hospital, by some *bastard* who didn't appreciate her and who only wanted to dominate her. He simply couldn't imagine what would lead any man to treat a woman in that way, though he well knew that such things happened. It was just as well her ex was in prison, he reflected, since if the man hadn't been he would have been very tempted to fly over to England and deal with him personally.

<But that's not how we work!> Jon heard the words almost as if his father was actually standing in front of him, though he knew that Clark wasn't actually communicating with him. He had been told that from time to time through the years, on occasions when either he or Katy had asked their father why he'd never tried direct action against Lex Luthor or any of the many master criminals who had crossed Lane and Kent's paths over the years. Superman doesn't instigate violence against anyone; Superman does not kill; Superman does not attack. And Jon had, up until now, always agreed with this dictum. Now, however, with the memory of Sarah's story fresh in his mind, the image clear before him of how she'd looked as she'd stammered out the words, and also the recollection of her saying that she wasn't attractive — that he'd taught her to believe that she wasn't — he found himself wondering just how his father had managed to prevent himself killing Lex Luthor or Tempus on particular occasions in the past.

Conor Kane had been very tempted to kill Tempus, Jon remembered suddenly; his parents had told him about the time when Tempus had swapped Clark with Conor and had then 'tested' Clark's ethics by placing him in a situation where he could save his own life but apparently only at the cost of Laura's. His father had managed to get both of them out of the situation, thankfully. But the less experienced Superman — even without knowing what Tempus had done to Laura — had wanted to kill the time-traveller when he and Lois had caught him. His mother, Jon knew, was still uncertain whether or not Conor would have gone through with it if she hadn't talked him out of it. So clearly Kryptonians had the capacity to experience that kind of rage.

But Jon understood why his father always tried very hard to keep his anger buried deep inside; if he ever really lost his temper with someone, lost control of his reactions, then he would be a lethal force. One tap of his finger could kill a man. One laser-blast from his eyes could take a life or at least cause someone permanent damage. And if once Superman forgot his 'ethics,' Jon knew, his father wouldn't be able to live with himself.

Anyway, Jon reflected, the way to help Sarah was not to extract some sort of 'eye for an eye' revenge on her ex. She needed his help to rebuild her confidence in herself and her ability to trust. She was beginning to trust him, he knew. If he was going to persuade her to give them a chance, he would have to be patient and give her as much time as she needed.

And in the meantime… well, he would just have to take a lot of dips in the Arctic Ocean, he mused wryly, changing direction and flying due north.


Lois glanced around at the sound of a tap at her office door. A very familiar voice enquired, "Any chance I could take my favourite editor to lunch?"

She grinned as she swung around in her seat to face her visitor. "I just knew we couldn't keep you away from this place!"

"Not while the most important person in my life still works here," her husband murmured huskily, coming over to plant a kiss on her waiting lips.

"God, I missed having you around here today, honey!" Lois told him once he released her. "You know, we should have talked more about me retiring the same time you did. Why didn't you tell me it would be a good idea?"

"What, me, tell Lois Lane to retire?" Clark exclaimed, faking an expression of horror. "Honey, I value my eardrums too much to risk what would have happened!"

She laughed with him, but then grimaced. "I'm serious, honey, especially after what you said last night. You're right, there's a lot we can do together, and I'm really looking forward to getting started. So I think I'll bring my retirement forward. I don't need to wait until October, and I can start training in my replacement immediately."

"Jimmy's accepted, then?" Clark enquired, lowering himself smoothly into the visitor's chair opposite Lois's desk.

"Yeah — he came to see me this morning, said he and Katy had discussed it and they want to go for it. She'll join the staff next month — it's about time, since we've been paying her as a freelance for the past few years anyway. She was a little worried that some of the staffers would think it was nepotism, but Jimmy's been on staff here for so long he's practically part of the furniture, and given the awards she's won with Jimmy we'd be crazy to risk another paper snapping her up now they're planning to stay put in Metropolis."

Clark smiled. "It's great to know Lane and Kent are still going to be represented at the Planet. Wonder if either Karen or Michael will take up journalism?"

"Who knows?" Lois murmured, then her expression grew serious. "Shut the door, honey, I want to show you something."

Clark didn't leave his seat, but the office door shut with a firm click, almost as if a gust of wind had caught it. Even years of familiarity with her husband's abilities couldn't stop Lois from grinning as she watched him regarding her with a blithe, 'who, me?' expression on his face.

But she sobered again as she turned her monitor towards him. "I've saved the relevant pages — click on the folder marked SF," she told him.

Clark complied, very quickly seeing that the folder contained downloaded newspaper pages. He read the stories contained in the pages at Super-speed, unable to restrain a gasp of shock when he took in the information in them; the photographs were even more appalling, and he actually closed down one web page, unable to read any more.

Glancing up at Lois, he grimaced. "I've been in the news business for more than forty years, Lois, and my stomach can't take some of this."

She nodded sympathetically. "I know, honey. That kind of thing never gets any easier — and it's tougher still when it's someone we know."

"The woman Jon's in love with," Clark clarified.

"Yeah. Poor Sarah," Lois murmured, her expression distant. "I can certainly understand her attitude towards reporters now — some of those tabloid hacks weren't exactly interested in respecting her privacy."

Clark shut down the folder entirely and got to his feet. "There are times I'm ashamed to be in this profession, you know."

Lois crossed the floor of her office and leaned against her husband. "So what do we do — now that we know?"

Clark wrapped his arms around hers. "I'm not sure, honey. I don't think it's our place to tell Jon, you know."

"No," Lois agreed, laying her head on his shoulder. "I think she needs to tell him herself, if their relationship's going to have any chance of success. She's hiding it all right now, probably trying to pretend it didn't happen, but unless she gets it all out in the open she's likely to run scared any time he makes a move on her."

"Yeah," Clark sighed. "I remember someone else who'd run like a scared rabbit in the opposite direction if I so much as hinted I was interested…" He grinned at her. "But this is very different," he added, more seriously. "And if I was in Jon's position and I heard about this…"

"You'd be tempted to forget your ethics?" Lois questioned, leaning away from Clark and throwing him a sympathetic glance. "I don't think Jon will do that, though, sweetheart. After all, he's had years of your example to learn from. And he is more confident than you were… okay, we've never had the opportunity to see him wanting to be protective of someone, but I think he'll be okay. Her well-being will be far more important to him than sorting out her ex."

"And at least the guy's safely locked up in prison," Clark added, sounding more positive about the situation.

"Mmm," Lois agreed. "You know, though, I'm wondering if I should talk to Sarah…?"

"Lo-is…!" Clark frowned down at her. "We agreed we wouldn't interfere. Okay, I know that's probably what Mom would have done, but Mom knew you — you'd met my parents lots of times before Mom started talking to you whenever we had problems. And this is very different. I think she'd resent having someone she barely knows getting involved, don't you?"

"I guess…" Lois agreed. "It's just hard when we can both see how Jon feels about her — I hope she's not going to hurt him…"

"She probably will, you know," Clark told her wryly. "And he'll hurt her… relationships are like that. We've hurt each other a time or two, sometimes without even realising it, let alone intending to. And we've made up each time…" He trailed off deliberately, his mouth curving into a smile which hinted at delicious memories.

Lois smiled in return, a far-off expression in her eyes. "Yes, we have, haven't we…? You know, Clark, I think it's time you took me for lunch, isn't it?"

"You hungry?" he asked, a teasing light in his dark eyes.

"Mmm, yes," she laughed, her lips caressing his jaw.

"So where d'you want to eat?"

"Who said I wanted to *eat*?"


It was a beautiful morning. The spring flowers were in bud around the campus, the sound of birdsong was all around and the leaves had grown back on the trees. Sarah inhaled deeply as she strolled along the main path which dissected the campus and led to her building, looking around her with enjoyment of her surroundings as she did so. Metropolis, and MetU, was a beautiful place, and she was lucky to be there.

<That's not what you thought a couple of weeks ago!> a little voice irritatingly pointed out. Sarah mentally shrugged: she was entitled to change her mind, wasn't she?

<You mean Jon Kent changed your mind for you!> the little voice insisted sardonically. And so what if he did? Sarah retorted silently. Whether or not Jon Kent had anything to do with her altered attitude, she mused, he had become a friend.

<And do you kiss all your *friends* that passionately?>

Refusing to allow herself to dwell on that train of thought, Sarah instead reflected on the fact that last night she had enjoyed her first night of undisturbed, restful sleep in well over a year. For the last several months, since Rob had gone to prison, her dreams had been filled with memories of what he'd done to her and his final threat, in court, of getting back at her for what she'd done to him once he got out. There had been many nights when she'd woken up in a cold sweat because she'd dreamed that he had come after her with a knife.

But last night there had been no dreams, no waking up in the middle of the night. Instead, she had woken up with a sense of inner peace. She wasn't foolish enough to think somehow that she was completely recovered from the experience: it would still take a momentous act of courage to allow herself to trust another man enough to have a relationship with him; but she was on the way to recovery.

And it had to be to do with Jon, the fact that she'd told him what had happened to her. It was strange, because he hadn't really said very much other than making it clear that he was furiously angry with Rob. But somehow his supportive sympathy had got through to her in a way even that of her close friends at home had not. When Jon had assured her that no-one could believe she had done anything to invite violent behaviour, she had believed him. And when he had countered Rob's assertion about her physical attractiveness… she had once again felt beautiful and desired.

And Jon *did* desire her: he'd made that perfectly clear.

And that kiss, those kisses… she felt warm all over again at the memory. Of course, someone as good-looking as Jon must have had lots of relationships; he was no doubt very experienced and so his kisses would of course be expert. He had certainly invoked sensations in her the like of which she had never experienced before.

He had told her he wanted a relationship with her, though — not just a casual fling, which suggested that he probably wasn't the playboy she might have assumed. Come to think of it, in fact, she reflected suddenly, she hadn't heard anything on the university gossip grapevine about any previous relationships Jon might have had. All she'd heard was how good-looking he was and how women — staff and students — had chased after him to no avail.

So if he was genuine, and he wanted to be with her, and he had in fact made an incredibly generous commitment to wait until she was ready for a relationship, why couldn't she take the necessary leap of faith to be with him?

<Because… because I'm a disaster when it comes to relationships> she mused bleakly, realising that it wasn't actually Jon she didn't trust. It was herself.

As Sarah reached the entrance to her building, the sun went behind a cloud. It wasn't such a beautiful day after all.


"Can I interest you in dinner?"

Sarah's head shot up; in the open doorway of her office lounged the lean figure of Jon Kent, that familiar teasing grin which made her stomach curl hovering about his lips. He had clearly finished work for the day: he was wearing casual slacks and a dark blue shirt with a button-down collar, and he carried a casual jacket slung over one shoulder and a briefcase in his other hand.

"Um… I'm not sure if I'm ready to go yet," she stalled, unable to prevent herself giving him an answering smile. She was tempted, very tempted; the prospect of spending a couple of hours with Jon rather than going back to her lonely apartment was very appealing. And as she looked at him, memories of how she'd felt when they had kissed flooded over her; she suddenly felt a deep yearning to have him kiss her like that again. Some instinct deep inside her screamed at her to walk right over to him and kiss him senseless…

Though that wouldn't solve anything, since only that morning she had enumerated to herself the reasons why getting involved with Jon was the wrong thing to do. It wouldn't be fair to him, apart from anything else. She couldn't let him think he might have a future with her.

He strolled over to her desk, his nearness making her heart beat faster. "Let's see what's so urgent it can't wait until tomorrow," he declared, dropping his briefcase and reaching out a hand to see what was on her desk. "Mmm… journal proofs — they'll keep; minutes of a faculty meeting — who reads them anyway? And a few student assignments — heck, why don't you just give them all a B+?"

"Because they'll sue if they don't get As?" she quipped back, knowing that he was joking as far as the assignments were concerned. One thing she'd learned about Jon was that he took his responsibilities towards his students very seriously.

She leaned back in her chair and studied him, knowing that she really wanted to spend the evening with him. They were friends; where was the harm? Just having dinner together didn't imply anything else — so why not? "So what were you thinking, then? Dinner," she reminded him, seeing his faintly puzzled expression.

"Oh!" He grinned back. "I knew you'd see sense. Well, I could either take you to a little Italian place I know in my neighbourhood, or we could get takeout and go to my apartment — you haven't been there yet, have you?"

She shook her head, giving him a faintly quizzical glance.

"No strings, I promise. I meant what I said last night," he added, bringing a flush to Sarah's face as she remembered those intense kisses all over again.

He held out her coat for her; after an infinitesimal pause in which competing instincts screamed instructions to her, she slipped her arms into it and followed him out of her office.


He had been determined not to allow Sarah to retreat back into her shell. That had been Jon's first thought upon awakening that morning. On the other hand, he hadn't wanted to crowd her, to scare her off. So he had deliberately not allowed himself to phone her up and invite her out for a coffee or for lunch; instead, he'd waited until now. And he'd been right to do so, he acknowledged as he walked with her out of the building. She'd been pleased to see him, but along with that pleasure had been a little of the old awkwardness and reluctance which had characterised her early dealings with him. But she certainly wasn't immune to him: he had been able to tell the instant her pulse rate increased. And he'd seen the tell-tale blush when he'd referred to last night.

Now all he had to do was convince her that she could trust him. Simple… maybe.

"So which do you want to do? Takeout or a restaurant?" he said lightly as they emerged into the starry night.

She turned her head, and he noticed again how different she was looking today. The new hairstyle helped, and he was sure she'd got a lot of second glances today, probably comments too if she'd stayed around long enough to talk to any of her colleagues. But she'd also ditched the shapeless sweaters and today was wearing a smart blouse with a contrasting long jacket which flattered her slim hips. She was even wearing perfume, a light floral fragrance which still lingered, suggesting that she must have re-applied it during the day. Walking beside her like this, Jon was very tempted to drape his arm casually around her shoulders, but wryly conceded that it probably wasn't a great idea.

"Well, I *would* like to see your apartment…" she suggested, smiling up at him.

He shrugged. "No problem. The Italian place is only a few blocks from my apartment, so if you'd like to go there anyway we can always go back to my place for coffee afterwards. Whatever you prefer."

She smiled again. "Takeout and your place. You can put on one of those soppy old films your mother mentioned last night — she told me you're a sucker for turn-of-the-century romantic movies!"

"Ahh! My secret's out! Remind me never to let you talk to my mom again!" he groaned in mock-horror, before breaking into laughter. "Okay — have you ever seen Notting Hill? Or While You Were Sleeping?"

"Notting Hill's been on British TV a few times," she replied. "Don't forget it was made in London. I'm not so familiar with the American films from that sort of time…"

Jon proceeded to list his favourites, together with his mother's comments on some of them; since many of the movies had been released when his mother had been around his own age, and her tastes tended towards thrillers and action dramas, she'd made some pithy comments on some of the films and their stars. "Still," Jon added to Sarah, "she's a sucker for Gone With the Wind, so she's not above watching soppy movies when it suits her. And I tell her that too. But she and Dad laugh themselves silly every time Ghost is re-run on TV — Katy and I always wondered why, but they would never tell us."

That conversation took them almost all the way to Jon's place; a friendly argument about what sort of takeout to order brought them to his door. He was quietly wondering whether to risk flying off for their meal himself, or playing safe and simply emailing a local outlet and getting them to deliver. Part of him, he knew, wanted to show off by procuring authentic, delicious Thai or Nepalese food. But on the other hand, this raised the whole question of Superman, something he'd almost forgotten in his dealings with Sarah, since Superman hadn't been an issue between them almost since the day he'd rescued her from her attacker.

Sarah didn't know he was Superman; that his father was the original Superman. If it was up to him, Jon mused as he led the way into his apartment, he would tell Sarah about himself there and then. He felt sure, instinctively somehow, that he could trust her. And by telling her, he felt, he would be demonstrating his trust in her, which he thought could go some way towards building a relationship of trust between them. But it was also his family's secret, and although both of his parents had advised him not to make the same mistakes his father had made, he didn't feel that he could tell Sarah about Superman without at least discussing it with his parents first.

So the simplest way around that, of course, was to keep Superman — at least, his version of Superman — away from Sarah. That way, if they did get together and he did get to tell her who he really was, she wouldn't be able to accuse him of deceiving her and pretending to be two different people. That should be all right, he thought with a hint of guilt, feeling a little uncomfortable at the thought that she'd told him something which obviously she'd wanted to keep secret, and yet he still had a secret from her.

Pushing those thoughts aside, he turned to smile at her and suggested a guided tour of his apartment. It was larger than hers, and he could see that she liked it, particularly the views across Centennial Park on one side and the trees of the MetU campus which were just about visible in the opposite direction. She also leapt on his bookcases, dropping to her knees so that she could study their contents.

"I'll just leave you here and come back in an hour, will I?" he teased dryly after a few minutes during which she had ignored him completely.

Sarah rocked back on her heels and stared guiltily at him. "Sorry — I didn't mean to ignore you, Jon! I just love books, and I'm always interested in seeing what books people own. It just gives so much insight into their personalities…" She trailed off, looking as if she was afraid he'd think she was talking nonsense.

He grinned, delighted at her enthusiasm. This was the Sarah he'd glimpsed on a number of occasions over the past few weeks before she'd quickly suppressed the exuberant side of herself. "So what do my books tell you about me, then?"

"Umm… that you're a well-read polyglot with a weird taste in literature?" she suggested, laughing at the taken-aback expression on Jon's face.

"And do you have anything against well-read polyglots with a weird taste in literature?" he enquired.

"Not as long as they keep their promise to feed me," she teased in return. "And I don't care what language you order the food in as long as it comes soon!"

Jon laughed and strolled over to the telephone, ordering a Thai selection as they'd agreed upon on the way over.

As if by some implicit understanding, neither of them mentioned Sarah's confession of the previous evening as they ate and watched DVDs together. Jon was just enjoying this more relaxed Sarah, and so was reluctant to remind her of anything which might depress or upset her. He was also careful to steer conversation away from anything to do with the future, her return to the UK or their kiss; he'd meant what he said about giving her time.

As he walked her back to her own apartment later, he hoped that his wait-and-see strategy would work.


Over the next couple of weeks, Sarah spent more and more of her free time with Jon. He was so good to be with, such an amusing and entertaining companion, and it was so tempting to go back to his place after work sometimes to talk or watch movies, or as the weather gradually became warmer, to go for long walks with him, instead of ending up back in her own apartment on her own. A tiny voice somewhere deep inside her insisted that she wasn't really being fair to him, since he'd told her he wanted to be more than her friend; since she had no intention of starting a relationship with him, she really should leave him alone instead of taking advantage of his interest in her. Not that he issued his invitations every day, though; he had half-hinted that there were things which kept him busy a couple of nights a week.

But another part of her *wanted* to be with him, and not just because he was a good friend. Jon was a very attractive man, and he'd made it clear he found her attractive. She wasn't allowed to forget that, either, since he made a habit of commenting on her appearance: not a string of obvious compliments, either, but teasing remarks and passing comments which made it clear that he approved of how she looked. And once she'd put away those unflattering, shapeless garments it felt so good to dress in styles which complimented her figure and made her look good. She no longer felt threatened by admiring glances from men; somehow it was finally beginning to strike home that *she* was not responsible for Rob's behaviour towards her.

As she strolled with Jon through Centennial Park late one night, Sarah found herself stealing quick glances up at his profile, remembering their kiss and wanting to kiss him again. He'd told her he wouldn't make any moves in that direction, that it was up to her. But yet, much as she recognised that she wanted to, she knew it wouldn't be fair to lead him to expect more than she could deliver.

Too busy looking at Jon, she completely missed seeing a discarded soda can that someone had left on the path, and she stumbled. He caught her arm immediately, steadying her.

"Hey there! You all right?" His voice was concerned, his expression even more so as he turned to look at her.

She smiled ruefully. "I'm fine — just not looking where I was going."

"Well, you didn't expect that some idiot would ignore the trash cans," he grunted, a hint of annoyance in his voice as he released her to bend and pick up the discarded can, throwing it straight at the nearest rubbish bin. To Sarah's amazement, his aim was perfect and it landed inside.

"Wow! Did you play baseball at college?" she asked him.

He grinned. "No. I did play Little League, though. Guess it was just a lucky shot." He took her arm then as they moved on, slipping it through his. "Hold on to me — it's a bit dark here anyway."

Now she was walking even closer to him, her arm in his, their bodies brushing against each other's in the darkness. Sarah couldn't ignore the attraction she felt towards Jon, and not doing anything about it was driving her crazy. Would it really be so bad to enjoy a light flirtation with him in the few months she still had in Metropolis? she asked herself again. Nothing serious, no sleeping together or anything, just some kissing and cuddling?

But would Jon agree to a relationship on those terms? Would any man?

<You can't judge Jon by Rob's standards> she reminded herself quickly. Jon had never mentioned sex to her; although he'd made it perfectly clear that evening in her apartment that he was attracted to her — and the reactions of his body had made it even more clear — he'd told her he didn't want a casual fling with her. He wanted a serious, committed relationship; which was the one thing she couldn't give him. So it wouldn't be fair to offer him anything less.

But she couldn't think straight walking so close to him, her arm brushing his side, his arm brushing the curve of her breast, his breath warm on the side of her face. His closeness was too distracting, making her forget all the reasons why it wasn't sensible to fall in love with him. That thought almost made her stumble again, and she told herself firmly to concentrate on where she was going. She *wasn't* in love with Jon. She liked him… okay, liked him a lot, and she found him attractive, but that was all.

"Hey, I can walk, you know — you don't have to hang on to me as if I'm going to fall!" she said on a laugh, hoping that he'd let her go without figuring out why being held by him was bothering her so much. It was so ironic: barely a month ago she would have gone to any lengths to avoid being this close to anyone, but for an entirely different reason. The thought of being in such close physical proximity to a man would have scared her silly, brought back so many memories and nightmares; but not with Jon. All she felt when he held her close to him — *all*? — was yearning…

He paused, turning to look at her; she could almost have believed that despite the darkness he could see every inch of her features. "But I *like* hanging on to you!" he teased in return, then added more seriously, "Sarah, you don't have to be afraid of me — I'll keep my promise to you."

Oh, that promise… she so badly wanted him to kiss her. She could barely make out his face in the darkness, but her body was very conscious of his nearness, of how easy it would be to take just one step forward and press herself against him, to wrap her arms around his waist and reach her face up for… "Jon — what you promised… can we talk?" she asked, semi-coherently, not even sure what she was going to say to him.

His voice was light, reassuring. "Sure. What do you want to do — walk some more, or go back to my place?"

Walking was tempting, Sarah thought; it was dark and he wouldn't see her face while she told him what was on her mind, asked whether he would be agreeable to a casual relationship while she was still in the US. On the other hand, she wasn't sure if that was something she wanted to discuss in the middle of Centennial Park, and perhaps Jon deserved the courtesy of a conversation in private.

Back at his apartment, she declined the offer of coffee while wondering how to lead the conversation around to what she wanted to ask, and at the same time fighting with the instinct which said she was crazy even to consider it. Could she even cope with a relationship on those terms? And what if she couldn't forget him when it was time to go home?

But he beat her to it, turning to face her in the middle of his living-room and gazing at her with an earnest expression on his face. "Sarah, I really did mean what I said, you know. I'm trying, doing my best to find ways to prove to you that you can trust me — "

But she interrupted him there; she couldn't have him thinking that. "Jon — it's not you I don't trust, it's me! I know… everything about you tells me you're a really great guy, kind, decent, caring — not a bit like Rob. Even… you know I had lunch with Katy last week?" she threw at him in an apparent non-sequitur.

He nodded, his expression suggesting that he was listening and merely biding his time before he challenged some of what she was saying.

"Well, she spent most of the time telling me without actually coming out and saying it what a really terrific guy you are and how the woman who gets you will be incredibly lucky — the thing is, Jon, I know all that!"

"So why not…? You say you trust me. I won't believe you don't feel anything for me!" he threw at her.

"Oh, Jon, if it was only as simple as that!" she sighed. "Yes, I do feel something for you. But the last time I thought I was in love with someone it all ended in disaster — I just don't trust my own judgement any more. And anyway, you don't want someone like me with all my hang-ups and insecurities and fears… you need someone who doesn't come with all that baggage, Jon!"

He had been shaking his head since about half-way through her explanation. When he spoke, he was smiling, however. "Sarah — let me be the judge of that, huh? I want *you*. I don't care what hang-ups you've got. We'll deal with those together. And if you don't trust your own judgement, I'll trust it for you. And I'll teach you to trust yourself again. As for love… we can learn about that together, if you're willing to take the chance." The smile had disappeared, and he was now gazing at her intently, the expression in his dark brown eyes deeply caring. Or was it more than that? Sarah barely dared to ask herself the question, was half-afraid to discover whether Jon was in love with her. Because, whatever they felt for each other, they couldn't be together.

But he was talking again. "Give me a chance, Sarah. Trust me, I'm not talking about the next few weeks here. I told you, I'll move to England with you if that's what it takes for us to be together."

Could he possibly mean that? Was there any possibility that with Jon she could be happy? Didn't she owe it to herself and to him to find out?

Sarah raised her gaze to him again. "Jon… I'm still so confused about… about everything that's happened in the past. You were right, Rob wrecked my self-confidence and my sense of who I am — I want to get that back, but it's so hard. And I… I do feel something for you…"

"Then think about this," he said softly, taking the couple of steps needed to close the gap between them; he placed his hands lightly on her shoulders and bent his head, his lips meeting hers with gentle pressure. Even that was enough to send a spark of lightning through her, and she strained towards him, yearning for more.

He didn't oblige, however, instead moving away slowly, tracing his index finger down her cheek as he did. He appeared about to say something, but then a distant expression crept over his features and when he spoke, his voice was different.

"Sarah — I really want to continue this now, but I just remembered that I promised to do something for my dad and I need to get going. I can't even take you home first," he added with a grimace. Ushering her towards the door, he added, "We'll continue this conversation tomorrow, yeah? Just remember, it's *you* I care about, hang-ups and all, and don't talk yourself into any more ridiculous notions, okay?"

"Ridiculous notions? Thanks!" she threw back at him, a little hurt at the speed at which she was being evicted. Still, if he really did have something he needed to do for his father… and anyway, she wanted time to think. Her attempt to talk to Jon about a light fling hadn't gone at all the way she'd expected — she hadn't even managed to raise the subject — and instead he'd given her a lot of food for thought.

Could she really take a chance with Jon?


He knew he shouldn't have seen her this evening, since it was his regular night on duty as Superman, Jon thought ruefully as he hurtled through the sky towards the sound of sirens. He usually made a point of *not* arranging anything when he was on call, but Sarah had been attending a function in her department the previous evening, and he'd promised to see an old college friend the next night, and he just hadn't wanted to wait until the weekend to see her. And so the inevitable had happened, and he'd had to run off.

His running off when with Sarah was unusual, and if he was lucky she wouldn't have been in any way suspicious. However, regardless of whether or not she'd thought there was anything strange about his departure, he wasn't prepared to deceive her about his identity any longer. He couldn't on the one hand assure her that she could trust him, while at the same time withholding something of this magnitude from her. And anyway, she had shown enormous trust in him by telling him what had happened to her. Telling her about Superman would certainly help to show that he trusted her in return.

His thoughts returned to the question of telling Sarah his identity once he'd dealt with the three-vehicle pile-up on the interstate. He knew that Sarah wouldn't betray him or his family. In fact, he'd been sure of that for some time, but it was only now, when Superman had interrupted their evening together, that the question of telling her had really become an issue. He had only seen her as Superman once, and he'd very rarely had to leave her for Superman duties, so in some ways, he felt, he'd almost forgotten about his alter ego at times when he was with her.

But he was aware that it wasn't entirely his decision, and before he said anything to Sarah he would need to talk to his parents. By telling Sarah he was Superman junior, he would also be telling her that his father was the original Superman and that Katy also had Super-powers, and that Lois Lane was married to Superman. The importance of protecting the family secret had, of course, been drilled into Jon from the day he'd found out who his father was; it had been made clear that he was allowed to tell *no-one* about this. In all the years since his father had become Superman, fewer people than could be counted on the fingers of one hand had been told the secret; a couple more had found out themselves, but other than Lois they were all dead.

But Jon knew his parents would agree to his telling Sarah once he told them how he felt about her, which he had every intention of doing as soon as possible. He would make a point of going to see them before he went out the following evening; then at the weekend he could invite Sarah to his place for a romantic meal.

He smiled as he flew. He was making progress, he felt. She was letting her guard down more and more where he was concerned, and he was very aware that she was attracted to him. Even without his Super abilities, he couldn't have missed her erratic heartbeat when she'd been standing so close to him, or her flushed features as he'd stroked her face after his brief kiss. *And* she'd clearly wanted more than the light caress he'd deposited on her lips.

If she wasn't already in love with him, she was well on the way to it, he felt. And if he hadn't known it would scare her off, he would have told her that he loved her; but he'd save that until the weekend, he decided.

A very happy Jon Kent flew a final patrol over the rooftops of Metropolis before returning home to spend a couple of hours working on his book before bed.


Jon Kent was just far too distracting for his own good, Sarah had decided by early afternoon the following day. She had given one lecture and two seminars before lunch, and had lost her place in the lecture twice and brought the wrong notes to the seminars. All because her normally very organised brain was a pile of shrivelled mush due to a pair of brown eyes, a devastating smile and kisses which turned her to quivering jelly.

No, she could no longer deny that she felt something for Jon… no, that she was falling in love with him, if she could trust her own instincts on the subject of love, that was. And he was right: she should take a chance, give their feelings a chance to develop. She had never met anyone remotely like him before; his kindness and understanding nature seemed very different from most men of her acquaintance. Rob would call him a wimp; but Jon was far from being that. He also had a wicked sense of humour, was highly intelligent, well read and articulate. In fact… perfect. Well, if there was such a thing as perfection where men — people — were concerned, Jon would come pretty darn close.

She knew he was busy that evening, but he'd already emailed her to invite her to dinner at his apartment the next day — Saturday. So she would tell him then…

Her reflections on what might happen after dinner were rudely interrupted by the bleeping of her email software; glancing over, she saw a message had arrived from Jane, her friend back in England. Smiling, she clicked on the message with her mouse; it was good to hear from Jane, and wouldn't her friend be surprised to hear that Sarah was seeing another man!

She scanned the email quickly, her pleasure quickly turning to frozen horror as she read its contents. Then she started to shake; fierce, uncontrollable tremors rushed through her, and her teeth began to chatter. "No… no, no…" she muttered in utter disbelief as she sat staring at the screen.

Taking several deep breaths, Sarah forced herself to think. What should she do… what *could* she do?

A germ of an idea came to her suddenly. Trying to suppress the shaking, Sarah forced herself into action, grabbing her coat and rushing out of her office. He had told her that if ever she needed help, all she had to do was call — surely he wouldn't mind? Would he? Within seconds, she was climbing out onto the fire escape and hurrying up onto the roof of the building. She stood in the centre and called, trying not to make her voice too loud so as not to attract anyone else's attention, "Help! Superman?" Wrapping her arms about herself, she prepared to wait.


In a lecture theatre in a nearby building, Jon stopped in mid-sentence as Sarah's cry penetrated his Super-hearing. He froze, barely conscious of the two hundred students who had been hanging on his every word as he talked about the circumstances leading up to the abolition of slavery. This wasn't just an ordinary cry for help…

<<Jon — I'll take this one>> his father's voice spoke to him.

<<Dad — it's *Sarah*!>>

<<I know. And you're giving a lecture. And you said you didn't want her seeing you as Superman. Let me handle it>>

Jon glanced around the lecture theatre again, realising that by now every student in the room was staring at him in curiosity. He faked a coughing fit, reaching for a glass of water in order to play for time. He could tell, from what he was reading of his father's mind, that Clark was already on his way to MetU.

<<I'm going straight home after this — you come back and *tell me,* okay>>

<<Of course>> Clark assured him.

Reluctantly, Jon forced himself to put aside his fears about Sarah's safety. He knew his father would do everything possible to help her, whatever trouble she was in. All he could do was finish his lecture and then go to see Sarah later, once he knew what had happened… though of course he'd have to pretend not to know, unless he brought forward his planned confession of his true identity.

Yes, he could do that…


Within seconds the sound of rushing wind was audible, and she turned to see a blue-suited figure flying towards her, red cape flowing out behind him. It occurred to her then that she'd forgotten there were two Supermen, and he was too far away for her to work out whether this was the father or the son. She wasn't sure whether she hoped that this was the original Superman or the younger man, however. It had, of course, been the son who had assured her of his help should she need it. But on the other hand, the older Superman was known to be kind and sympathetic: surely he wouldn't refuse her request? Though the thought of explaining to the older Super-hero what had happened to her — since she would have to tell him something about Rob — was a little alarming.

"What's the problem?" Superman was now standing in front of her, his expression puzzled. It was definitely the older one, Sarah realised, noting that his hair bore traces of grey and there were a few laughter lines on his face. But he seemed a little surprised to have been summoned when there was no sign of any trouble.

She gave him a wobbly, apologetic smile. "Superman… thank you so much for coming. I know it's probably an awful cheek to call you like this when I'm not in any immediate danger, but… well, I need your help."

"If you need my help, you have it," he assured her gravely. "Do you want to tell me what this is about?"

She nodded, swallowing nervously; he noticed the gesture and spoke again. "I don't think these are the best surroundings if you want to talk to me. Let me take you somewhere we can talk in private." He stepped towards her, his hands reaching out for her, and she just couldn't help herself. She flinched away involuntarily. She couldn't understand it, given that she hadn't reacted in the same way to the younger Superman, and also since she was now much less nervous than she had been when she'd first come to Metropolis. It had to be the effect of Jane's news…

Superman looked briefly taken aback, but then smiled reassuringly at her. "I won't hurt you, I promise. But if I'm going to take you somewhere else, I need to carry you so that we can fly. Is that okay?"

Hugely embarrassed at her instinctive reaction, Sarah flushed. "I'm sorry, Superman — it's not you, I just… I couldn't help it."

He nodded, not showing any curiosity. "That's okay. Look, let me put my arm around your shoulders — like that, okay?" He moved to stand next to her and matched his actions to his words. "Now you put your arm around my waist, under my cape, and we can fly like that. Don't worry," he added reassuringly as she complied. "I've never dropped anyone yet!"

Flying with Superman would be a fantastic experience if she wasn't too wound up to appreciate it, Sarah thought as the Super-hero took her with him into the clouds and flew them over the city. Of course, she had flown before with his son, but that had been a short flight and she had still been shaken up from the near-rape and overwhelmed by the fact that she'd just met Superman. But seeing the city spread out below her like this, and feeling the wind rushing past her, and the sheer magic of flying with a man who was propelling himself, rather than relying on any mechanical aids, was an experience she would remember for the rest of her life.

All too soon, he was setting them down on a hillside above Metropolis. Glancing around her, Sarah noticed that they were indeed alone; there were no buildings within sight and the place appeared to be deserted. If any other man had brought her there, she would be very scared. Well… except for Jon. She trusted him implicitly.

That realisation came as quite a shock, since for weeks Jon had been trying to convince her that she could trust him, and she just hadn't been able to put aside her fears and let her barriers down. Though she remembered that it hadn't altogether been Jon she didn't trust, but her own instincts. After all, her instincts had been completely wrong about Rob.

"This is… quite a deserted place," she ventured as the Super-hero set her on her feet.

"It is," he agreed. "I come here sometimes if I need to be on my own — I even brought my daughter here once when we needed to talk privately without distractions."

"Daughter?" Sarah queried. "I know you have a son…"

He nodded. "Have you heard of SuperWoman? She doesn't do much rescue work now — she's turned her energy to other things which attract less publicity — but she was quite active a few years ago." He walked over to a crop of rocks and gestured to Sarah to sit down.

Realising that this man's time was precious, she inhaled deeply and prepared herself to explain. "I… I need you to protect someone for me, Superman."

He turned to stare at her in surprise. "Protect? Who?"

"A… a friend of mine. I have reason to believe that someone I know is… is going to hurt him."

Instead of simply asking who it was that she wanted protected, and against what, the Super-hero surprised Sarah by studying her for a few moments, and then saying gently, "I won't let anyone hurt your friend if I can help it. Why don't you tell me about it?"

She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself again. "It's sort of a long story. I'm only in Metropolis temporarily. I came here to escape, really… but it's all caught up with me again," she muttered semi-coherently.

"What has?" he prompted.

With a grimace, Sarah recognised that she would have to tell him, so she embarked on a heavily edited summary of her relationship with Rob and his eventual arrest, culminating in her decision to come to Metropolis for six months to get away from the aftermath.

"That sounds sensible," Superman agreed. "So what's gone wrong?"

"I got an email this afternoon from my friend Jane. Rob appealed… I knew he was going to, but I never thought he'd have a chance… Anyway, he claimed the outcome of the trial had been prejudiced by the hostile media coverage, and he won. He was released today."

To her surprise, Sarah thought she saw the Super-hero flinch at the mention of media coverage, but when he didn't say anything she thought she must have imagined it. She inhaled deeply again, then continued. "Jane told me that he's told friends that he's coming after me, to punish me for putting him away. And he knows where I am, and he knows — "

Superman interrupted her before she could finish. "I have lots of contacts in the Metropolis police, you know. They'll make sure he won't get near you."

"Superman, it's not me I'm worried about!" she exclaimed anxiously. "I have a friend here… Jon Kent, I think you know his father, Clark Kent?"

"I know Clark and Jon, yes," Superman agreed. "What about Jon?"

"Jane told me Rob heard I've been seeing someone over here — I think someone at MetU told someone back at Midchester, and he's threatened to get Jon too," Sarah whispered. "I can't let Jon get hurt — Superman, I need you to protect him for me, please!"

The expression on Superman's face seemed strange, but Sarah didn't have time to worry about it as she pleaded with him. "I have to know Jon will be safe!"

The Man of Steel was crouching in front of her suddenly, holding her hands in his. "I promise you that no-one will hurt Jon. Trust me on that. But what about you? What can I do to help you? Do you want me to take you to the police?"

She shook her head. "I don't want… Superman, I'm going to get away from Metropolis. If I'm not here, then he might not bother with Jon. I'm leaving as soon as I can, but I had to be sure that you'd protect Jon first."

Superman was silent for a few moments, then he gazed at her steadily. "You'd be safe here in Metropolis, and so would Jon. Why not stay, if I give you my word on that?"

But she shook her head. "I need to get away — I won't take the chance that he'll follow me here and come after Jon. I've made up my mind."

Superman nodded. "If that's what you want." He straightened up, then smiled down at her. "If I offered to take you anywhere you wanted to go, where would you go?"

She hesitated; with Superman's help she could go anywhere in the world! But… on the other hand, she'd been doing too much running. And maybe if she went home, she could deal with Rob once and for all — her local police would be sympathetic, and if he came after her in Midchester, then they could get the evidence and put him away again, this time for good.

Sarah raised her gaze to Superman. "I'd go home, to England."

He smiled, nodding. "If you're thinking what I imagine you are, I think you might be right. Will you accept the offer of a Super-flight?"

"If you're sure it's no trouble," she answered hesitantly.

"None at all," he told her. "Let me take you back to your apartment — I'll leave you there for about half an hour so you can pack a few things. Just take enough for a few days — that might be enough to sort out your ex once and for all, and then you can decide what you want to do next, if you want to come back here and finish your sabbatical."

She studied him, still amazed that he would make such a generous, thoughtful offer. "Superman… I don't know how to thank you," she murmured, then wondered why he smiled enigmatically before holding his arm out to her again.


Clark flew swiftly back to Hyperion Avenue, knowing that Jon would be waiting for him there. And since Clark had deliberately made himself inaccessible to telepathic communication while he'd been with Sarah, he knew Jon would be anxious. He wasn't wrong; when he entered the house via the back door, he found Jon almost wearing a hole in the carpet as he paced back and forth. Clark had barely shut the door before Jon was grabbing at his arm. "What's wrong with Sarah? What happened?" the younger man demanded.

"Calm down," Clark urged quickly. "She's fine — well, there is something I need to tell you about, but Sarah's not hurt and she's not in any immediate danger."

Jon didn't seem all that reassured, and Clark wasn't surprised. He suspected that his son was picking up on his own anger, which he had barely managed to suppress while Sarah had been telling him about her ex-boyfriend's treatment of her; he had never had any time for abusive bullies, and having seen the photographs of Sarah's injuries, he was well aware that in telling him what had happened she had barely scratched the surface of what the guy had done to her. He sighed, and turned to face his son.

"Let's sit down and I'll fill you in," he offered, quickly changing back to his casual clothes. Jon agreed, and seconds later was sitting opposite his father, his expression expectant.

"Jon, did Sarah tell you about her ex-boyfriend?"

Clark was surprised and relieved when Jon nodded. "Yeah, she told me a few weeks ago. I didn't say anything to you guys — well, she doesn't like discussing it, and I wanted to respect her feelings."

Clark nodded agreement, "Well, actually Lois and I have known about it for a couple of weeks," he explained, his voice heavy as he went on to explain how Lois had discovered what had happened. "We thought it was up to her to tell you, not us."

Jon grimaced, his eyes flashing with suppressed anger. "You wouldn't believe how angry I felt when she told me."

"Oh, trust me, I would," Clark drawled, then added, "There's something else. Your mom and I saw some British newspaper coverage of the trial — that's how we found out what happened to her. Anyway, some of the papers printed the photographs which were used in evidence. They weren't a pretty sight." Clark's fists clenched as he remembered one photograph in particular, which had shown massive bruising over Sarah's abdomen and chest.

Jon's face grew dark as he 'felt' his father's anger through the telepathic link which he was by now getting very accustomed to using. "If I got my hands on…" He broke off abruptly, guessing, Clark realised, that his father might not approve.

But Clark shrugged. "You might get your chance." He then filled Jon in on Sarah's request that Superman should protect him, and on his own offer to fly Sarah wherever she wanted to go.

"She'd go back to Midchester rather than somewhere safe — out of his reach?" Jon was incredulous.

"I think she's right, Jon," Clark assured his son. "She can't run for ever, and if she goes back and lets it be known she's back, there's a good chance that he'll make a mistake and get caught again."

"She's not going alone!" the younger man gritted, his jaw clenched.

Clark smiled, amused despite his own anger. "That's what I thought you'd say. That's why I thought you might like to do the honours."

"Fly her back…? And stick around to look after her. Sure," Jon mused aloud. He got to his feet, pacing about the room for a moment or two before turning back to his father. "Dad… you know what I'll need to do, in that case?"

Watching his son, seeing the expression of determination on Jon's face, Clark smiled. "I know, son. And I'd be disappointed in you if you did anything different — after all, if you can't learn from my mistakes…"

Jon smiled, then quickly spun into his own Super suit. "Thanks, Dad. I'll see you… maybe in a few days."

As the sound of the sonic boom died away, Clark silently wished his son success in what he needed to do. Getting Sarah's ex back in prison was just one part of what lay ahead; somehow, Clark suspected, it might take more than that for Jon and Sarah to get together. She had been through a horrible experience, and it would take time for her to forget. Still, she had been more worried about Jon's safety than her own, which had to suggest that she had strong feelings for him. Whether she would be prepared to admit it was a different matter entirely.


A large, overstuffed backpack lay in the centre of Sarah's living-room while she paced up and down the floor waiting for Superman to return. She had experienced agonies of doubt over her decision since he'd left her, unable to decide whether she was doing the right thing. Could she face potentially meeting Rob again? What if he *did* manage to hurt her again — what if he really killed her this time? The police couldn't be everywhere at once…

A tapping sound at her window distracted her from her thoughts, and she hurried over to let the Super-hero in. His expression was grim, she saw as he asked abruptly whether she was ready to leave. She was about to reply in the affirmative, but then she realised something about the man standing in front of her, arms folded across his chest.

He was…

"You're the younger one — the one who rescued me!" she exclaimed, a little rudely but then it had been a surprise to realise who she was looking at.

"Yes, I am — my father couldn't make it so he asked me to take you instead," he told her smoothly. "Is that okay with you?"

How could she tell Superman that it wasn't? In any case, it was incredibly good of him to fly her to England when this wasn't the kind of emergency he dealt with every day. She grabbed her backpack and stepped closer to him; he quickly scooped her up in his arms and flew them out of the window, pulling it shut behind him.

Superman was silent almost all the way across the Atlantic, only speaking to ask her directions to Midchester and later to her home. Yet it was a very unsettling feeling to be held so close to him; very different to flying with his father. *This* man… well, her first instincts about him had been correct. She was… she was *attracted* to this Superman.

But that was crazy, she told herself angrily. She loved *Jon* — not some demi-god in a pair of tights! And yet, cradled against his chest the way she was, it was extremely difficult to resist the temptation to reach up and trace his jaw with her fingers, to plant kisses on the corner of his mouth, to wish he would bring his head down to hers and plunder her mouth with his kisses…

This made *no* sense whatsoever! She just couldn't understand the frisson of desire which thudded through her as he shifted his grip on her and his arm brushed the curve of her breast slightly. She had to pretend this wasn't happening. She had to hope he hadn't noticed, too!

At last, and much to Sarah's relief, they were landing in the tiny back garden of her terraced cottage in a small village on the edge of Midchester. It was evening in England, and fortunately it was dark so none of her neighbours would be able to see them arrive. She stared over at the house, suddenly afraid that Rob might be lurking there, looking for her; it was an irrational fear, she knew, since he was aware that she was in Metropolis, but all the same…

Superman stirred beside her, his deep voice taking her by surprise. "The house is empty. I've just X-rayed it."

"Thank you," she jerked out nervously, then began to cross the garden. The house had been rented out to a postgraduate student when she went to Metropolis, but the student had just moved in with her boyfriend a couple of weeks ago, and Sarah hadn't yet got around to trying to find another tenant. It was just as well, since she'd need to stay here for as long as it took to get Rob put back in prison.

Fumbling for her back-door key, she turned to Superman. "It was very kind of you to fly me all the way over here, and I really appreciate it. Will you thank your father for me when you get back?"

Suddenly, in the gloom, she saw a flash of white teeth and realised that the Super-hero was smiling. "You trying to get rid of me?"

"Well, no…" She opened the back door and led the way inside, since it was clear he had no intention of leaving just yet. Perhaps she ought to offer him some coffee, if there was any powdered milk in the kitchen. Or maybe he took it black… "I just — I suppose I thought you'd have to get back."

"Oh, no," he replied firmly, just as she snapped on the kitchen light. As his face became illuminated, she saw the look of determination, the clenched jaw and the traces of anger in his eyes; alarmed, she took a step backwards. "I know what kind of trouble you're in, and there is no way I'm leaving you alone to face some guy who might try to kill you."

He *wasn't*? Sarah stared at him — if Superman was really willing to help her, then there was a very good chance of getting Rob off her back for good. But… well, he was just a little…

"Superman — I mean, that's incredibly kind of you, and I'd really love it if you could help. But you can't be away from Metropolis for that long — "

"My father can cover for me," he interjected smoothly.

"And anyway, you can't be seen here!" she added immediately. "I mean… well, don't take this the wrong way, Superman, but you're sort of… well, *conspicuous* in that outfit. I understand you want to protect me, but…"

She didn't understand the amused smile which crept across his handsome features, although there was something vaguely familiar about it. "Oh, I don't have to wear this outfit," he drawled.

"Oh — you mean you could adopt a disguise? Wear mufti?" she hazarded.

But he was shaking his head. "Sarah, this outfit *is* a disguise," he told her. "I'll show you."

How did he know her name? But as she watched him, his tall form began to shimmer and blur until her eyes could barely make out a distinct shape any more. Then he began to solidify once more, but in Superman's place stood…

Stood Jon Kent.

And she stopped breathing, clutching at the kitchen counter for support.


<Stupid, stupid, stupid!> he told himself as he reached for her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and steadying her. "Hey, come on, Sarah — I know it's a shock, but talk to me!"

He heard her take several sharp intakes of breath, and told himself that at least she was exhibiting signs of a return to normality. But… how was she going to react? His dad had told him that his mother had stayed mad for at least a day, though to be fair his mother had told him that his dad had flown off in a sulk when all she'd told him was that she couldn't accept his proposal *yet* — after all, it was one heck of a development to take in all at once. Not only had her boyfriend asked her to marry him, but he'd also turned out not to be the man she'd thought he was.

But he hadn't asked Sarah to marry him… oh, this was silly, he told himself. He felt her struggle a little in his grasp, so he released her and moved to stand a couple of feet away, regarding her cautiously.

She raised her head so that her grey eyes were staring directly at him, her expression still stunned. "Jon… don't you think it might have been a good idea to tell me *before* you flew over to England with me?"

Taken aback, he frowned in surprise. "Why? I was going to tell you anyway — tomorrow night, as it happens. But then this happened, and when Dad told me we both agreed I should come with you." He hesitated, glancing at her again uncertainly. "You suggesting you might not have come if you'd known who I was?"

But she sighed, pushing herself away from the worktop and reaching for the kettle. "I suppose I don't mean that, Jon. I just feel… I don't know, misled? Fooled? As if I've been so amazingly stupid…"

"You want to talk to my mom," he interjected ruefully. "She'll tell you all about how *that* feels — Dad fooled her for two years!"

"Oh God!" she exclaimed suddenly, her face turning white. "Your father — Clark Kent — *he's* Superman!"

Jon nodded.

"And… and I asked him how come he'd got so many Superman exclusives!" she added, a blush now stealing up her face.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry," he assured her easily. "Mom and Dad are well used to that question — though they did say they hadn't been asked it much in the last ten years or more," he teased.

He watched her take a couple of cups from a cupboard and begin to fill them with grains of instant coffee; with a mutter of protest he took the spoon from her. "Okay, I know this is your home territory, Sarah, but I'd prefer no coffee at all to that horrible instant muck!"

"What are you going to do — fly to Brazil for the beans and grind them in your hand?" she threw at him, a faint smile on her face.

He smiled back, pleased that she was recovering from her initial shock and was also beginning to see him as both Jon and Superman. "Okay, I could, but I'm not going to." Removing his glasses, he scanned her cupboards and found some leaf tea and a teapot; filling the pot with boiling water, he glanced at her again. "Look, I know you've a lot of questions you want to ask me, but I think we should figure out what we're going to do here first. I mean, your ex won't know you're here instead of Metropolis."

"I thought of that," she replied, pouring the tea. "Sorry, there's no milk, unless…?"

"Don't need it," he told her. "Unless you want some — I guess I could find a local store?"

"Later. I'll have to do some shopping." She seemed to have recovered her composure, Jon thought with relief. He followed her out of the kitchen and into a small but very attractive sitting-room, with old-fashioned armchairs and a matching two-seater sofa, Regency stripe wallpaper and a fireplace.

"I thought I'd ring Jane and tell her I'm back," Sarah continued. "She works at the university too, so word will get around that way."

"Yeah, but tomorrow's Saturday. Unless she calls everyone she knows, she won't tell your colleagues until Monday. Maybe we need to be seen around the town? Don't worry, you'll be safe with me," he added. "You better show me some pictures of this guy so I'll recognise him."

He saw her flinch, and immediately regretted his question. "Sorry — I guess it's painful to remember."

But she shook her head. "It's okay. I was just wondering whether I have any still — I threw out such a lot of stuff once I moved back in here. I got Jane to collect my things from his house once he was arrested, and I burned all sorts of things which reminded me… except things I needed for the court case."

Jon was very relieved to discover that she hadn't lived with Rob in this house; he had wondered, and it had occurred to him that not only could it be painful for her to come back to a place carrying such appalling memories, but also that *he* had no particular desire to sleep under the same roof which her ex-boyfriend had occupied.

"Don't worry about it," he replied after a moment. "I'm sure I can find one on the university's website — do you have a computer here? If not, I can fly back home and collect my lap-top."

"You might need to fly back home anyway," she told him a little shakily. "I mean, if you're planning to stay here for a few days… you didn't bring any luggage or anything."

He shrugged. "Not a problem. If I need anything I can get back to Metropolis in a couple of minutes if I'm not carrying anyone. I can do that later — what's more important is to work out what we're going to do."

He watched her with concern as she thought about his question. He'd suspected that in deciding to return to Midchester Sarah had decided to put herself at risk as a means of luring Rob into making another attempt to hurt her. In a way, it made sense; it was probably the only way of getting him back into prison. But on the other hand, there was no way Jon had any intention of allowing Sarah to put herself at risk.

She raised her gaze to his again, and he saw the determination in her grey eyes. This was another side of Sarah he hadn't seen yet, and he suspected that he was finally getting to know the real Sarah, the woman she'd been before her ex had got to her. Not that it made any difference: he loved her anyway, and he'd always known that the withdrawn, brusque woman he'd initially met was not who she really was. And it was hardly likely that *he* would have a problem with accustoming himself to a different side of Sarah's personality: as someone who in effect split himself into two personas, he could hardly complain that the woman he loved had pretended to be something different when he'd first met her.

"I think the best thing to do is let Rob come after me, so maybe you need to keep a low profile," she informed him firmly. "Maybe it would help if you tell me exactly what you can do — I mean, I know you're Superman but I don't know what that means. If I know what you can do, then I know how close I can let Rob get before I call for help."

<Now I know how Dad felt all those years ago!> Jon thought with an inward groan. No way was he having that, he determined: Dr Sarah Fuller would learn very quickly that he would not allow her to put herself at such unnecessary risk. Not when he was perfectly capable of handling the situation.

He gave her a hard stare. "No way. I won't allow you to put yourself at risk like that, Sarah."

He was about to continue, to explain how he thought they should handle it, but she pre-empted him. Jumping to her feet, she advanced towards him and, glaring at him, she stabbed him in the chest with her index finger. "*You* won't allow *me*? Just who do you think you are, Jon Kent? Okay, you may have weird powers and fly around the place in something that looks like it escaped from the wardrobe of some sci-fi programme, but that gives you *no* right whatsoever to tell me what to do!"

Backing away from him as he stood up then, she massaged her finger before continuing. "I'm going down to the supermarket now to get a few essentials. You can come with me if you want, or you can wait here. Either way, you don't talk to me until you have something worth hearing — and that *doesn't* include trying to take over my life!"

As he watched her stalk out of the room and then heard her footsteps on the stairs, Jon realised that he'd again experienced a strange sense of something almost like deja-vu. Yes, she'd reacted exactly like his mother had in the past when she'd felt that her husband or her children were trying to circumscribe her activities just because, unlike them, she wasn't invulnerable. And while Jon had often sympathised with Lois's sense of frustration, he realised that he now completely understood his father's perspective on such situations. This was the woman he *loved*, for heaven's sake, and she was proposing putting herself in a situation where she could be killed! And he, being invulnerable, would find it much easier to deal with her ex. If only she'd listen to him, he muttered silently to himself, almost hurrying out of the room in order to follow her upstairs and *make* her listen to him.

But, almost as if he could hear his mother's lightly amused voice speaking inside his head, he knew that *that* would be a very bad idea. Not only would she see it as further evidence of his desire to control her, but it would also be an invasion of her privacy.

Something else occurred to him suddenly, and he sank down into the chair again. It suddenly made sense to him that Sarah wanted to face Rob herself. He knew — she'd as good as told him — that she was ashamed of herself for not having stood up to his violence, not having walked out on him the first time it had happened. So of course she wanted to confront him now: it would be a chance to prove to herself that she *could* stand up to him, that she wasn't the weak victim he'd made her feel.

And if he insisted on rushing in as the big strong macho man — or Super-hero — he would deny her the opportunity to do that. So, however scared it made him, he had to find a way to let her do what she needed to do, while at the same time somehow ensuring her safety.


Up in her bedroom, Sarah pulled outfit after outfit from her wardrobe and discarded them one by one, throwing them onto the bed, the floor, anywhere she could reach. She didn't really need to get changed just to go to the shops, but she'd had to get away from that man downstairs before she threw something at him — not that it would have done any good, she reflected angrily as she sucked her sore finger again. Ramming it into his chest had not been a good idea. How had she never noticed before that his body seemed to be made of something approaching concrete?

<It's just as well I didn't try to kick his shins> she reflected, glancing dismissively at a scarlet top which was definitely pre-Rob and allowing it to drop to the floor to join the growing pile of clothes. He'd deserved it, though, she mused grimly. Giving up the search for a moment, she went over to her bedroom window and stared out unseeingly, trying to come to terms with the events of the last hour. Was it really less than an hour since she'd found out the truth about Jon? Only barely more than an hour since he — in his Super-hero guise — had turned up at her apartment to fly her to England?

She couldn't decide which made her more angry: the fact that Jon had allowed her to make a fool of herself before telling her he was Superman, or the way he'd assumed he could just tell her what to do. "Typical bloody macho male," she muttered aloud. "They all assume because of what's in their underwear they have some sort of genetic right to order women around… Haven't any of them *heard* of feminism? Don't they know 'obey' got dropped from marriage ceremonies more than thirty years ago? That we've had dozens of women prime ministers and presidents — they've even had one in America, so Jon I-am-Superman Kent has no excuse!"

Suddenly remembering that Super-hearing was reportedly one of Superman's powers, Sarah stopped abruptly. Angry with him as she was, she had no wish for him to overhear her rant, which she acknowledged to herself was mostly letting off steam.

Moving away from the window, she sat cross-legged on the bed and made herself focus on the issues at hand. So: Jon was Superman. What difference did it make to their friendship? *Did* it make a difference?

That one was too difficult to answer; she had no idea what effect the discovery had on her feelings for him, other than to make her feel inadequate next to this half-Kryptonian (he had to be half-Kryptonian, she accepted with sudden realisation, since Lois Lane was his mother). So perhaps, for now, it was easier to concentrate on the other question: how did she feel about his being Superman, anyway?

It had probably been unfair of her to accuse him, even in her thoughts, of letting her make a fool of herself. If she'd done that, she'd done it without any help from him, and she'd probably embarrassed him just as much in the process. And she could hardly have expected him to tell her about his other identity any sooner — just when could he have done it? Perhaps in her apartment that evening when she'd finally told him about Rob; but on the other hand, she reflected, that wouldn't have been a good time. It had been very difficult for her to confide in him, and she'd ultimately done so because she liked him — liked him a lot — and she felt she could trust him. If she'd suddenly found out then that he wasn't after all the simple academic she'd believed him to be, she might have felt… betrayed. And anyway, it had been too emotional a time for her — she'd been in no state to hear a confession like that.

So when else could he have told her? Any time over the past few weeks, when they'd been growing increasingly closer? Perhaps; but another thought occurred to her at the same time. This wasn't just *Jon's* secret; it was also his family's secret. By telling her he was Superman junior, he had also given her access to a secret which his family had protected for a generation.

How he must trust her, if he'd been willing to do that!

And yet he'd tried to tell her what she could and couldn't do in relation to getting Rob back in prison, she reminded herself. That suggested he felt he had a right to tell her what to do, that he didn't trust her to be careful…

Or that he was worried about her safety, her conscience pointed out. Rob had put her in hospital once — had almost killed her once. Jon wasn't aware of just how bad it had been, and something inside her wanted to protect him from that knowledge. But he was Superman, and therefore invulnerable; naturally he would want to ensure she wasn't hurt. And, of course, her conscience further pointed out, Jon cared about her. A lot; he hadn't actually said it, but he'd hinted that he loved her. In that case…

It occurred to her suddenly to wonder just how Clark Kent must have felt over the years when Lois had insisted on taking risks for her stories, and how scared he must have been every time he'd had to rescue her, particularly the few times she'd read about when it had been a very close call indeed. So… well, of course Jon didn't love her the way his father loved his mother, but if he did have feelings for her, of course he would worry.

Okay; she could accept that he wanted to ensure her safety. So they would just have to come up with a compromise which would allow him to protect her, while also not making her feel completely helpless, she mused. As for his being Superman… well, she would just have to get used to that, since it was an unalterable fact. And anyway… it wasn't exactly a bad thing, was it? Unless she really had been hoping for a serious relationship with Jon; since she hadn't, it didn't make much difference.

With that decision made, she got up and went back to stare at the pile of clothes which still littered the floor and the bed. She selected the scarlet top and a pair of jeans and quickly got changed, resolving to talk things through with Jon at the first opportunity and at least resolve the question of his desire to protect her.


Jon knocked hesitantly on her bedroom door, having grown more worried the longer she remained upstairs. He knew he needed to apologise and, more important, to explain the reason for his over-protectiveness, but he wasn't even sure she'd agree to talk to him; the more he'd thought about it, the more he'd realised that her anger had to have been at least partly a reaction to finding out his dual identity. He'd felt out of his depth; he'd never experienced this degree of caring for another person so much, never understood how the loved one's hurt could pierce his own heart so painfully. He'd been tempted, momentarily, to see whether the telepathic link he had with Clark and Katy would work over such a large distance, to tell either his father or sister what had gone wrong and ask their advice. But he'd dismissed the thought: he needed to handle this on his own — if Sarah would speak to him.

But she called out to him to come in, so he ventured carefully into the bedroom. The first thing he saw was a mass of colours and fabrics, and his heart sank. If Katy was anything to go by, when a woman started emptying her wardrobe all over the floor it wasn't good news. Warily, he turned his attention to Sarah: she was standing near the bed watching him.

She'd changed her clothes, he realised; the more formal attire she wore for work had gone, to be replaced by a casual — and very close-fitting — red top which… he blinked and swallowed… complemented her blonde hair and slim figure extremely well. Almost as noticeable were the blue jeans which hugged her long legs.

But he couldn't afford to let his hormones get in the way here. He took a deep breath to calm himself before speaking. "Sarah, we need to talk — and I guess I need to apologise first — "

"Yes, we need to talk," she agreed calmly, to his surprise. "And I'm sorry I over-reacted downstairs."

"Oh! Well, in that case…" He began to flounder, then decided to try an alternative approach to getting the conversation started. He gestured towards the floor. "You were having a clear-up, maybe?"

She blushed prettily and glanced downwards. "Not exactly. I… was trying to find something to wear."

"Ah." He smiled at her. "Need any help putting it all back?"

"Well… you wouldn't want to bother with that," she prevaricated, but he grinned at her.

"It's no trouble. Watch." He switched into Super-speed mode, taking less than a minute to pick up all the garments, put them on hangers and return them to the wardrobe. As he returned to normal speed, he caught sight of Sarah's face; her jaw was slack and she was gripping the dressing-table for support.

"Wow… um… how do you *do* that?" she gulped out, stunned. Something else caught her attention, and she added incredulously, "You even co-ordinated everything!"

"What's so surprising about that?" he asked, amused.

"It's not something men are normally good at," she threw back in a dry tone.

"Ah, but I'm not exactly your typical male," he reminded her.

"No, I'm just getting used to that," she pointed out ruefully. "And you still have to tell me everything you can do."

"Sure, I promise. But later, huh?" He gestured towards the door. "You were going to take me grocery-shopping?"

In the car, as she drove down the quiet street, he returned to the subject which had been on his mind. "Sarah, I'm sorry I tried to tell you what you could and couldn't do. My blood just ran cold at the thought of you putting yourself in danger from this guy…" He grimaced, then continued. "You think I could've learned from all those years of my father's experience, you know."

"Oh — he tries to tell your mother what to do, does he?"

"Not now — not for a long time," Jon told her. "But Mom really used to have a tendency to… well, 'dangle over the jaws of death,' it was once described. And Dad hated that, because half the time she didn't tell him where she was going — well, admittedly that was mostly before they were married — and there were several times when he almost didn't get there in time."

"I was thinking about that upstairs," she said softly. "I realised that was probably why you reacted the way you did — I didn't give you credit for caring about what happens to me, did I?"

"I do care — I love you," he said softly. "But then you knew that already, didn't you?"

She was silent for a moment or two, then she cast him a swift glance as she slowed the car at a junction. "I… guessed, I suppose. You… hinted."

"Yeah. And because I love you, I reacted without thinking."

He saw her jaw tense, and wondered what unseen barriers he'd breached this time. But when she spoke, it seemed he'd been wrong in his assumption. "Jon… I care about you, you know that, don't you?" She hurried onwards before he could answer. "But… I just don't know whether… well, I'm not sure what 'love' means any more. And anyway," she quickly changed the subject a little, "that was all before I knew you were Superman too."

He frowned. "Hey, my being Superman has nothing to do with this! You knew how I feel about you before you knew I was Superman anyway. And Superman's… only a part-time activity, sort of if you secretly wrote novels without telling me. You already know *me,* who I really am."

"Yeah?" her voice was shaky. "I didn't know you could fly — or tidy my bedroom in under a minute. They're a little more significant aspects of your character, don't you think?"

He shrugged. "Not to me — but then, I've had the powers for so long they're just part of me. But," he added quickly as another earlier thought returned to him, based on something she'd said just after he'd revealed himself to her. "Do you think I should have told you earlier?"

But her reply this time was very quick. "No. I understand why you couldn't — it's not just your secret, is it? It's your father's, and you also have to protect your mother and Katy and her family. I can see why you can't tell just anyone, and you'd have to be very sure you could trust someone before telling them."

"Sarah." His voice was low, husky. "I have never before told *anyone* about this. Other than my family and our physician, you're the only one who knows. And my aunt hasn't even told her husband." He studied her as the impact of that slid home.

She didn't speak again until she'd manoeuvred the car into a parking space. As she switched off the engine, she then asked very quietly, "Why me, Jon?"

"Why not?" he exclaimed in surprise. "Look, I told you I was going to tell you this anyway. It was time you knew — and I hated making an excuse to send you home the other night when I had to go and rescue someone." He paused, watching her face; her expression combined astonishment with delight, he noted happily. "I love you, Sarah Fuller, in case it hasn't sunk in yet. And that's why I needed you to know who I am."

To his amazement, she reached out one hand and traced his face with her fingertips. "Thank you for trusting me. And thank you for caring enough to want to help me with this."

He reached up and covered her hand with his. "That's what love is about, Sarah. It's wanting your happiness, your well-being, more than I want my own."


The trip to the supermarket had turned out to be fortuitous. As they'd strolled along the aisles together, arguing good-naturedly about brands of fresh-ground coffee and whether they really needed a litre tub of double-chocolate hazelnut mocha ice-cream, they'd run into an acquaintance of Sarah's. He had been very surprised to see her, and had made a point of coming up to talk to her; she had equally deliberately introduced Jon to him as her friend from Metropolis. She'd explained their presence in Midchester as the result of an impulse trip: Jon, she said, had wanted to see her home town and they'd both been able to get a couple of days away from MetU.

"So who was that?" Jon enquired as they re-entered the car, his expression suggesting that he'd guessed the meeting was significant.

Sarah grinned. "A lucky encounter. That's Peter Leece, one of Rob's best friends. He was one of Rob's character witnesses at the trial, and until just then he barely spoke to me after I pressed charges. If Rob's in touch with anyone in Midchester, it'll be Peter."

"So after this, he'll know you're back and with a boyfriend?" Jon asked.

"I'd bet anything you like Peter's already on the phone to him," she confirmed. "I know he noticed we were holding hands — I saw him staring."

Jon laughed. "So that's why you grabbed my hand! I didn't think it was because you were overcome with a sudden desire to touch me."

She flushed. <You want to bet?> But even though Jon had made no secret of his attraction to her, she was somehow reluctant to acknowledge openly her own growing attraction to him… and what she was increasingly allowing herself to believe was her love for him. Instead, she changed the subject. "So — how long have you been able to fly?"

He accepted the diversionary tactics without comment. "Since I was about sixteen, though I was floating from a few years younger than that. Katy was a little bit older than that before she could fly solo."

"And… what else can you do?" Although she'd read a number of newspaper articles on Superman, she only had a fairly sketchy idea of the Super-heroes' abilities. Jon's reply, listing enhanced hearing, enhanced sight, X-ray and laser-vision, the ability to freeze things with his breath, enhanced strength and the ability to speed up all of his faculties, took her breath away even before he got to the part where he could swallow bombs without harm to himself.

"And you're invulnerable," she added shakily as he finished his list.

"Yeah — and that's why I'd really prefer to confront Rob myself, honey," he answered seriously. "If he pulls a knife on me, for instance, it's not going to harm me. But you could get hurt."

<Honey?> She barely heard the rest of Jon's comment. The endearment was so unexpected, and yet so natural given that he'd told her how he felt about her. On impulse, she took one hand from the steering wheel and squeezed Jon's hand where it rested on his knee.

He smiled, then continued his argument, speaking in soft, persuasive tones. "See, I think he will come after me, if what your friend said is true. It sounds like he's jealous, and he doesn't want you to be with anyoneelse. So he'll try to get me — and that's just what I want him to do."

"And I do what exactly, Jon? Hide away in the house like a scared little kid?" she threw back at him. This was what had made her angry earlier: his assumption that she, as the helpless little woman, should stay out of the way and let the great hero get on with it.

But his answer surprised her this time. "No, not if you don't want to. We stick together — so why don't you show me around the town and the university tomorrow?"

Out in the open, easily seen, easily approached… Sarah saw the logic of his suggestion. Of course, if they were in a public place it wouldn't be so easy for Rob to do anything which would justify getting the police involved; but she felt sure Jon had a plan for that contingency too. She glanced at him, and caught him looking at her at the same instant; he smiled reassuringly, and she knew that he trusted her enough not to push her away from this.

Back at the house, Jon insisted on cooking since, as he told her, he'd been intending to cook for her the next time they spent the evening together in any case. She phoned Jane, explaining that she and Jon were over on a flying visit, and invited her friend to call around early the following morning.

"You know Rob's out, don't you?" Jane asked anxiously. "I emailed you, but that was before I knew you were back…"

"Yes, I heard," Sarah replied dryly. "And the sooner he tries anything the better — I'm phoning my case officer at the local police station next to warn them."

That done, they were able to eat, and after dinner Jon settled back on the sofa and held out his arm to Sarah. "Come and sit with me, hmm?"

Unable to resist, she joined him and allowed him to tug her towards him until she was reclining against him, his arms around her and his head resting on top of hers. It felt so good to be held by him, to allow herself to relax in a man's embrace again without worrying about where it was going to lead, or whether his next action would be to yell at her or knock her about. "So — I promised I'd tell you anything you want to know," he reminded her.

She remained silent for a few moments, simply enjoying being held by Jon. His body felt warm and reassuringly solid under hers; no different, she realised, from any human body despite his invulnerability. And yet when she'd poked him earlier she'd almost broken her finger! She twisted in his arms so that she could look at him; the dim light from the twin table-lamps reflected off his glasses and prevented her seeing his eyes properly. But the curves and planes of his face were thrown into relief by the shadows, making him look almost rakish. Turning her head as much as she was able, she kissed him softly: the first time she had kissed a man voluntarily in over a year, not counting her crazy attempt at vamping Jon a few weeks earlier.

His hand immediately curved around the back of her head, kissing her back. She felt his tongue very lightly at the edge of her lips before he withdrew it, sliding his mouth away from hers to trail tiny kisses along her jaw. "Talk first, kissing after," he suggested.

"Okay," she muttered, chagrined; he'd made her wait all this time to kiss him again, and then he refused to do it properly? Still, she had a question for him, all right. "So how'd you find out your father is Superman? You can't always have known?"

She saw him smile. "No, we didn't; when we were kids Mom and Dad went to great trouble to make sure we didn't find out. We hardly ever saw Superman, and when I think about it now I just can't imagine how Dad used to explain his disappearances — but I guess Katy and I were just used to him not being around at times." He paused, stroking her hair with one hand. "Then, when I was about nine, something happened. I was playing with some of my friends from school in one kid's back yard, and a fence collapsed — it fell on top of a couple of us, and we all started screaming. Then there was a sound like rushing wind, and Superman was in the yard."

Sarah watched him as he spoke, imagining the spark of fear which must have gone through the Super-hero's heart when he'd seen his own son trapped — or had Jon always been invulnerable?

"Anyway, Superman lifted the fence up and X-rayed us for injuries. Brad — the kid who was trapped with me — had a few cracked ribs and a broken arm, but I was fine. Just a few scratches. But when Superman picked me up I recognised him. I'm not even sure what it was — I just knew this was my dad. He saw I'd realised, and he whispered to me not to tell anyone. I didn't, and at home later Mom and Dad told me everything."

"But they would have had to some time anyway, surely?" Sarah pointed out.

"Oh, sure. But I think they were trying to wait until they felt Katy and I were old enough to understand the importance of keeping all this secret." He shrugged lightly. "I told them I knew all about secrets — one of my favourite TV shows at the time had this gang of heroes who lived by a secret code… so anyway, that was that for me. A year or so after that, they told Katy."

"So how did it feel knowing Superman was your father? I mean, it must have been a shock?"

"Oh, at first I thought it was the coolest thing I ever knew." Jon grinned ruefully. "But then, the only thing I cared about was being taken flying and knowing that when I grew up I'd be able to do all the things Dad did. But as I got older, and I saw just what Dad did sometimes, and how hard it was for him and Mom, I realised that it's pretty tough sometimes. Especially when you're just too late to save someone, or you get heckled or sent hate-mail by some nut who thinks aliens are naturally evil or out to take over the world."

"You get hate-mail?" Sarah exclaimed, barely able to believe it.

He grimaced. "I've had a few, but Dad used to get lots of it, plus letters to the Planet from organised campaigns sometimes. There was once even a deranged government agent who was convinced Dad was the advance guard for an invasion, and tried to kill him."

"But… you can't be killed, right?" Sarah asked anxiously. She thought she'd picked that up from her research, and hoped it was true.

"So far the only thing is a green meteorite called Kryptonite, but our friend and physician managed to create a vaccine which made us invulnerable to it. So unless someone finds an antidote to that…" He trailed off and smiled at her. "So there isn't really anything that can hurt me."

He's incredible, she thought in dazed bemusement. <And he wants *me*?>


Later, as Jon lay trying to get comfortable in the narrow single bed in Sarah's spare room, he closed his eyes and allowed his senses to remember the hours spent holding Sarah next to him downstairs. She had relaxed into his arms in a way completely unlike her previous reticence with him, and when he had begun to kiss her, her response had been passionate and enthusiastic. She had clung to him, murmuring his name as her mouth had opened under his and her tongue had traced the outline of his lips. She tasted even better than he remembered from that first night they'd kissed at his apartment, and he'd quickly become very aroused. It had been clear that she'd realised it, too, and she'd teased him a little until he'd actually blushed.

When they had finally drawn apart, breathless and thoroughly kissed, and agreed that it was probably time to go to bed, she had actually offered to let him use her bedroom since it had a bigger bed. But the thought of sleeping in a bed which she'd occupied had been too much for him, and he'd opted for the smaller, though less comfortable, single bed. He'd caught sight of her expression as he took his new toothbrush off to the bathroom with him: she'd looked almost disappointed, and he realised at that point that she'd probably expected him to suggest that they share her bed.

Did that mean she wanted to make love with him? The thought excited him once again, and he forced himself to regain control over his errant body. Whether or not Sarah wanted to make love with him right now was not the point, he reminded himself. Okay, he would *love* to be with her like that; but he knew what he wanted where she was concerned, and he had sworn to himself that he wouldn't take her to bed until he'd asked her to marry him. Which he would do, he promised himself, once her ex-boyfriend was safely back in jail.

In the meantime… he would just have a number of sleepless nights, he acknowledged wryly, followed by the same number of cold showers. Especially if she continued to drive him mad with kisses the way she'd done tonight. And if she carried on dressing in such close-fitting outfits — he'd thought she looked gorgeous in what she was wearing that evening, but it didn't do a lot for his self-control. Still… he grinned suddenly as he gave up on the bed and allowed himself to float three feet above it. To have a girlfriend he fancied like crazy was no bad thing, after fifteen years of wondering whether he would ever meet someone he could love the way his father loved his mother.

But even apart from his love for Sarah and his desire for her, he also loved the fact that she knew his secret. She knew that he was half-Kryptonian, that he could fly and do all sorts of other strange things, and that he moonlighted as a Super-hero. And once she had recovered from her initial shock, she had just accepted it. It was so *good* not to have to lie to her, or to be evasive, or make excuses should he slip up and reveal something he couldn't have known without his extra abilities. Okay, his family had always known, and so he'd never suffered from a lack of anyone to discuss his abilities or his background with. But this was different: this was Sarah. He had never before had someone special to *him,* in the way his dad had his mom, and Katy had Jimmy.

Sarah knew he was Superman, and was learning to expect and anticipate his powers: after they'd eaten, she had actually grinned at him and asked whether he could wash dishes as quickly as he'd tidied her clothes. He'd been happy to oblige, enjoying the expression of admiration and delight on her face as he'd disposed of all the crockery and cooking implements in under two minutes: as he'd told her, he could have done it faster, except that he would have splashed water everywhere. She'd also laughed in amusement when he'd used his X-ray vision to find a used cup which had been left in another room.

It was going to be wonderful when they got back to Metropolis, he knew. Sarah knowing his secret, and the two of them in love, together as a couple. She was in love with him, he was pretty sure about that; he understood her reluctance to voice the sentiment, but he would teach her to trust her feelings where he was concerned. And once her ex-boyfriend was safely out of the way, there would be nothing to stop them being together permanently.


"Jon — this is Jane," Sarah introduced her friend to him the following morning.

Jon cast his gaze over the young woman who stood in the hallway; a short, plump woman with curly dark hair, she couldn't have looked more unlike Sarah. But he liked her, he thought instantly: there was something in her face, her eyes, which suggested that she cared a lot about her friend.

"Take Jane into the sitting-room while I make breakfast, please, Jon?" Sarah added quickly, and he nodded compliance. Jane followed him into the small room and, as Jon glanced around, he almost expected there to be signs of last night's passionate encounter on the sofa still visible. Just what, he couldn't have said, but he pushed away those memories yet again as he folded himself into an armchair opposite the visitor.

"I'm glad you did that — it was straining my neck to look up at you!" Jane quipped, making Jon like her all the more. Then she eyed him inquisitively. "So you're the mysterious man Sarah's been seeing in Metropolis?"

Jon shrugged, unsure how much Sarah had told this woman who, apparently, was her best friend. "We're good friends. Maybe more, but we're not sure yet."

"Well, whatever you are, you've done her the world of good," Jane assured him. "She's a completely different person today to the scared shadow of a woman I saw off at the airport three months ago."

"Yeah, I guess she's getting back to the Sarah you knew, before?" Jon asked her, curious to see how someone who'd known Sarah a lot longer than he had would see her.

"A lot more like her, yes," Jane agreed. "She's laughing more now, and her eyes… there was a time I thought that haunted look would never go. But then I suppose when you've been in a relationship with someone who terrorised you and almost killed you…"

"Hold on a minute," Jon interrupted. "Almost *killed* her…?"

"I thought she told you what had happened to her? She said she had…" Jane was looking anxious, as if afraid she'd said the wrong thing.

"Oh, she told me about Rob all right. But she never said he'd hurt her *that* badly," he answered grimly. "So why don't you tell me about it?"

Jane swallowed, and for a moment Jon was concerned that his brusque manner had frightened her, or worse, convinced her that her friend had hooked up with another violent man. But she looked him in the eye and nodded. "I have no idea why she didn't tell you the whole story, but if you're here to help her make sure Rob goes back to jail then you need to know. The night she finally got away from him, he beat her almost to within an inch of her life. God alone knows how she managed to get out of the house, but by the time she got to hospital she was unconscious. Her internal injuries were pretty horrific. They found my phone number on a scrap of paper in her pocket and phoned me — I told the police I reckoned Rob had done it. But she was in intensive care and didn't regain consciousness for two days, so it wasn't until then that the police were able to arrest him." She paused for breath, then continued. "I was amazed he didn't do a runner — but I think he never believed she'd tell anyone what he'd done."

Jon was silent; this was far worse than he'd suspected, though he realised that the possibility should have occurred to him that Sarah hadn't told him the whole story when his father had mentioned the newspaper photographs. His rage against the man she'd lived with was reaching boiling point; his fists clenched and he gritted his teeth.

"Jon?" He realised Jane was speaking to him, and threw her an apologetic glance. "Look, we all hate Rob Drummond for what he did to her — you can't possibly want to see him get what he deserves any more than I do."

He was about to throw her an 'Oh yeah?' sceptical look, but she continued. "Listen, I've been Sarah's best friend for about six years now. And where was I when that bastard was using her as a punchbag? Nowhere in sight. Why? Because I didn't like him and he didn't like me, and I saw no point in upsetting Sarah by coming around here and making things awkward for her. And anyway, I can be pretty blunt a lot of the time, and I couldn't help telling her I didn't like the guy, so I thought it was better not to say anything than risk wrecking our friendship over some guy. I suppose I was hoping that she'd come to her senses some day soon and dump him. And yet all the time she was being knocked about, and I could have helped."

Jon wanted to say something to comfort the young woman, but he wasn't sure what; and anyway, as he reflected on it he realised that part of him actually did blame her. After all, she was supposed to be Sarah's friend; yet she had turned her back on her and ignored what was going on, his instincts screamed at her.

But then he heard Sarah's soft voice from behind him. "Jane, you can't say that! When I started seeing Rob I wouldn't have listened to anyone, and by the time he started hitting me I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Even if you'd asked me straight out if he was hitting me, I'd have lied. What mattered is that you were there for me when I finally came to my senses."

Jon got to his feet and went to stand behind Sarah, pulling her gently back to lean against him, wrapping his arms warmly around her. "It's all over now, and with any luck we'll get the brute back where he belongs very soon." He lowered his head and nuzzled her neck, delighted when she pressed back against him and murmured softly in enjoyment of his caresses.

He grinned again when he heard Jane laugh and call to Sarah, "Hey, there any more like that where he came from?"


It would have been really enjoyable showing Jon around Midchester had both of them not known that they were actually setting themselves up to be found by Rob, Sarah thought the following evening as they cooked dinner together. They had spent most of the day wandering around, strolling hand in hand, visiting the town's main tourist attractions — a fountain dedicated to a river-god, which the locals had nicknamed 'the floozie in the Jacuzzi' a couple of decades earlier, a museum devoted to the mining industry in which a large part of Midchester's male workforce had been employed until the 1980s, among other things. But despite the real reason for their visit, Jon seemed to enjoy the sightseeing; he told her he'd never been to England before, and he was fascinated by the distinctly un-grid-like streets and the mix of periods among the buildings in the town centre.

Later, they had also visited the university and had run into a couple of Sarah's colleagues despite it being a Saturday. No-one mentioned Rob.

Still, Jon assured her that he was happy to stay as long as was necessary, and joked that he could get used to living with her. She smiled at that, but inwardly reflected that such an outcome was unlikely. Although she now accepted that she loved him — in as much as she trusted her own feelings — she was only too aware that there were reasons why any relationship they had could only be temporary.

They washed the dishes together after dinner, teasing each other and showering each other with water as they did so; then suddenly Sarah's doorbell rang. Leaving Jon in the kitchen, she went to answer it, assuming that it would probably be her neighbour calling to welcome her home.

But a very unwelcome visitor stood on the doorstep.

Rob pushed his way past her, shoving her roughly to one side so that she lost her balance, hitting her shoulder against the door-jamb. He slammed the door shut, and swung round to face her, his face red with fury. "So you're back are you? And that guy you're screwing's tagged along?" he yelled, spittle appearing at the edge of his lips as he allowed his agitation to show.

Regaining her balance, Sarah stood her ground, gazing at him as she found herself wondering what she had ever seen in this man. Even the superficial good looks which had once attracted her had absolutely no effect on her now, and she found herself noticing that his hair was thinning and that he'd developed a double chin since she'd last seen him.

He was furious, on the verge of losing control, that much was obvious. His features were contorted with rage, and for a brief instant as she saw the flash of anger in his pale blue eyes she felt a return of the old fear; she wanted to cower away, to plead with him not to hit her. Images flashed into her mind of times when he *had* hit her, of his large hand crashing down on her, bruising her, hurting her… lashing out with his feet, kicking her as she lay writhing on the floor in pain. Times when she had actually been in fear for her life…

But to her surprise that lasted a bare second; and then it was replaced with a cold fury. He was out of her life! She had escaped from him, she had put him in prison. He had *no* power over her any more. She would not let herself show any fear in front of him any more. Yes, he could still hurt her, and by the look of it he intended to try — but he would not see her cower away from him. Not now. And how *dare* he come to her house and insult her like this; how dare he assume that he had any rights where she was concerned?

"I didn't invite you in," she told him coldly. "The door's that way. Don't forget to close it behind you on your way out." And what was Jon doing, she thought frantically. He must have heard what was going on — even without Super-hearing he couldn't have missed Rob's yelling. She wasn't foolish enough to think that she could get rid of Rob single-handed… should she call for Jon? <Come on, Mr Super-Hero!!> She opened her mouth to scream his name, but then Rob lunged at her again and she had to take evasive action.

"Don't you dare tell me what to do, you slag!" he shouted at her. "I'll teach you… just wait, I'll make sure you don't do that again in a hurry! And I'll teach you to go to the police… you'll be sorry!" He grabbed for her arm, but she darted out of his way yet again; he stumbled after her, and his unsteady gait told her that he'd been drinking. He almost lost his footing before changing direction to come after her again, but as he grabbed for her again, his other hand poised to strike her across the face, his arm was suddenly seized. Sarah whirled around to see that Jon had emerged from the kitchen at last and was gripping Rob in what looked like a very tight hold, a furious and very threatening expression on his face.

"Let's see if you're such a bully now you're up against someone your own size!" Jon gritted coldly. As Sarah watched him, she could see that he was barely keeping his anger under control; his jaw was taut and his breathing was ragged, not from any lack of energy, she knew, but from pure rage. Rob could also see just how angry Jon was, Sarah noticed: he shrank back and cowered as if afraid that Jon was about to hit him. But instead Jon held Rob at arm's length and shook him several times, as easily as if he was a limp rag, before turning to glance at her. "Why don't you call the cops, Sarah?" he suggested coolly to her before adjusting his position to twist Rob's arm behind his back, immobilising him.

She nodded, ducking under Jon's arm to reach the phone, muttering under her breath as she did so, "What kept you so long, super-hero?"

She saw his mouth twitch very faintly, and he mouthed, "Later."

"They'll take ages to come and you can't hold me that long!" Rob spat as Sarah dialled. He struggled fiercely in Jon's grip, trying to kick his captor's shins. At least Jon's invulnerable, Sarah thought; that won't hurt him.

"No? Don't under-estimate my strength, Drummond," Jon drawled in answer, the underlying chill in his voice making the threat very credible. "And where the guy who almost killed my girlfriend is concerned, I have a *lot* of endurance. Just don't tempt me beyond that endurance, okay?"

There was a hard note in Jon's voice which made Sarah turn back to stare at him: she had never heard quite that tone from Jon before. It sounded as if he was barely managing to keep a grip on his temper, and she frowned as she wondered whether he was going to inflict a serious injury on Rob. She knew that he *could,* very easily, of course, but if he did, then he would be the one in trouble with the police… and she didn't want that. She knew how angry Jon had been when she'd told him about what had happened, and she suddenly remembered his grim expression when he'd arrived at her apartment, as Superman, to take her back to Midchester. She'd half-wondered at the time whether he hadn't wanted to be bothered with the task, but now realised that his attitude had been because of the man he now had at his mercy.

Sarah knew the reputation of the Super men. They fought crime, saved lives, defended the weak and vulnerable against those who tried to hurt them… but they never became the aggressors. They had a very strong moral code, which meant that they would never use their superior strength to hurt another human being, whatever the provocation. Sarah had read one news report of an occasion when the younger Superman — Jon, of course — had caught a vicious serial killer. The man had taunted Superman, challenged the Super-hero to fight him, kill him even; and despite Superman's obvious loathing of the man's actions, he had simply immobilised the killer and then walked away, ignoring the cries of passers-by who had stopped to stare urging him to seek revenge for the man's murders.

No, that was not how Superman worked. But this wasn't Superman; it was Jon. Somehow, as she watched, that distinction seemed clear to Sarah suddenly. This was Jon holding Rob: Jon, the man who loved her and who took it very personally indeed that someone had brutalised her for about a year and almost killed her. What would he do if he let that barely-controlled fury get the better of him…?

On the verge of pleading with him not to do anything which could get himself into trouble, she caught the expression in his eyes. It was angry, very angry… but as she watched, his expression changed from menacing to controlled. Instinctively, she knew then that he would do nothing except keep Rob immobilised until the police arrived.

That took about twenty minutes, and in that time Rob must have exhausted every swear word in the English language, plus a few from a number of other languages, Sarah mused as she watched, standing well out of reach on Jon's instructions. He got increasingly livid, and violent, as he realised that no amount of struggling or kicking would induce Jon to release his vice-like grip on him. He had also incriminated himself over and over, telling them what he intended to do to both of them once he got the chance. At one point Jon had turned to Sarah, grinned and asked softly whether she had an audio recorder. That was a good idea, she realised, and she quickly ran to her upstairs study and found the one she used for research interviews, laying it quietly on a small table behind where Jon was holding Rob.

Even the presence of the recorder didn't seem to deter Rob at all; when he wasn't screaming insults at Sarah, alternately calling her frigid and a whore, he was baiting Jon. As Jon sidestepped yet another attempt by the increasingly enraged Rob to trip him up, Sarah winced to hear her ex-boyfriend yell at Jon that she was an easy lay but no good in bed. Briefly, she wondered why it bothered her at all; she quickly decided that from *him* she wouldn't let it affect her at all.

But Jon wasn't impressed, and she saw Rob wince in pain as the pressure on his arm increased a little more. Sarah's gaze switched to Jon, and she saw the controlled anger in his expression again as his cold voice cut across Rob's manic ranting.

"That's right, blame the woman for your inadequacies — men like you usually do," Jon drawled. As Rob again tried to pull away from the vice-like grip which held him, Jon added, "So you don't like it when you're on the receiving end, hmm? How does it feel to be at the mercy of someone stronger than you? How does it feel to cringe away from me, to be afraid you might get your arm broken? That I could break both your legs in a second if I chose to? And I'm sure you can tell just how easy it would be for me to do that."

"*Bastard!*" Rob ground out, jerking in Jon's grasp again. His expression then altered suddenly and he gave Jon a sneering look. "What's your problem, anyway, Yank? If you were a real man, you'd fight me instead of waiting for the police to come running and help you out! Come on — let's see whether you've got the bottle to fight properly! You say you could break my arm — let's see you do it!"

Would he? But Sarah remembered the look she'd seen in Jon's eyes once he'd finished fighting with himself, and she knew he wouldn't let go of his own personal moral code. It was no surprise to her when he responded with a sardonic smile.

"You think that's the way I should react? That's the way a 'real man' behaves? I *could,*" Jon told Rob. "It would be very easy — you have no idea how easy it would be. But just because you were enough of a bully to put Sarah in hospital doesn't mean I'll sink to your level." He shook Rob roughly, then gave the man's arm another little twist, receiving a yelp of pain in response. "That's not how I work, and it's never been how I work," Jon added in a voice cold enough to make Sarah shiver: this was a side of her friend she had not seen before tonight. "But I will give you this one warning — if I hear that you've ever, *ever* knocked another woman about again, you wouldn't want to count on me remembering that."

Rob's flushed face turned white at Jon's words; it was clear that he took the threat very seriously.

Just then, the doorbell rang, and Sarah hurried to let the police in. It was a relief that they were there at last; not because she was afraid any longer of what Jon might do, but because she wanted that excuse for a human being out of her house.

Dealing with the police took some time; although she had already alerted them to her presence and her concern that Rob might come after her, the officers dispatched to her house had to be convinced that an offence had actually been committed. However, a drunken Rob helped there too by verbally abusing the officer who was attempting to put handcuffs on him and by kicking out with his feet at every opportunity. Finally, they succeeded in getting him into the squad car, and Sarah and Jon agreed to follow the police to the station in order to make a statement.


As they emerged from the police station an hour later, Jon turned to Sarah and studied her carefully. "Are you okay, honey? He didn't hurt you… frighten you?"

She smiled, though he thought it didn't entirely reach her eyes; she was trying to reassure him, he felt angrily. She shouldn't have to do that; she should *tell* him how she felt! If she'd been scared, he wanted to know… he wanted to scoop her up in his arms and tell her she need never be afraid again, that he would never let anyone harm her again, he would protect her and keep her safe.

But then she'd feel helpless, useless, the kind of hood ornament his mother had complained she occasionally felt like when her Super-hero family got too over-protective. And he had to admit that among the things he admired about Sarah were her courage and determination, and her refusal to allow what had happened to her make her into a victim. Sure, she had taken herself off to Metropolis, and she had withdrawn into herself; but both of these were survival strategies. He could see that she'd needed the space and the change of scenery, which explained leaving Midchester, and the withdrawal into herself had also been necessary in order to give herself time to readjust, to learn that she no longer had to watch every word she said or put up with people pointing at her and talking about her behind her back.

He moved closer to her, wrapping his arm warmly about her shoulders; she leaned into his embrace, sliding her own arm around his waist. "I'm okay, Jon. Let's go home, yeah?"

Home as in the cottage, or home as in Metropolis, he wondered. Another instinct suggested that he should fly her back to *his* home — their home — as soon as possible. But it was probably more sensible to wait. They needed to talk, to discuss what had happened; and they had also told the police that they would be contactable by telephone if there were any further questions.

"You drive, okay?" she asked as they reached her car. He nodded and took the keys from her, seeing her request as more evidence that she was more shaken up than she was letting him know.

Before he started the engine, he reached across and caressed her face with an almost shaking hand. "Sarah… I need you to tell me the truth. Not that you're okay because that's what you want me to hear. If he hurt you, or frightened you…?"

She covered his hand with hers. "Jon, the only thing that frightened me was worrying a bit at first about what you were going to do back there! But can we talk about this at home?"

He nodded, squeezing her fingers briefly before turning his attention to the car, and they drove back to Sarah's cottage in silence. Jon was quite glad Sarah didn't want to talk at the moment, because her comment had disturbed feelings he was trying to suppress. She was quite right: she should have worried about what he might have done once he'd caught Rob. He had never felt so angry in his life before, never ever been tempted to harm another human being deliberately. And that scared him.

He had pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind once the police had arrived, and since then he'd been pretending to himself that it just hadn't happened. But he knew otherwise, and so, it seemed, did Sarah. In that brief instant when he'd first grabbed hold of Rob and twisted the man's arm up behind his back, he — Superman — had been capable of murder. Despite everything he'd been taught, all the long conversations he'd had with his father over the years, everything he'd ever believed about using his powers for good and not evil, about revenge not being a worthy motive, he had been tempted to kill; or at the very least, to inflict serious injury. And he had wondered how Conor Kane had allowed himself to be tempted to kill Tempus; he had been far too complacent ever to consider that *he* himself could find himself contemplating killing someone one day.

<But I could have hurt him badly without using my powers… that would have been okay> he objected silently, mentally arguing with his conscience. But he knew the answer to that, could almost hear Clark Kent's voice saying the words. It's still using violence, and that's never an answer. You don't defeat a bully by bullying yourself. And if you weren't invulnerable, Super-powered, you wouldn't have the strength to withstand his struggles in response in any case.

He was still deep in thought as they entered the house, and Sarah had to touch his arm before he realised she was trying to get his attention. Meeting her gaze, he saw the concern in her expression, and he quickly pushed aside his own reflections. "Sarah… sorry, I was just thinking. You *sure* you're okay?"

She grimaced and shook her head at him. "How many more times are you going to ask me that? I'm *fine* — in more ways than one, I promise you! But I'm worried about you right now."

With a heavy sigh, he wrapped his arms about her and rested his head against hers. "Oh, honey… I'm okay. I just needed to think through…"

"You were pretty angry back there, weren't you?" she asked him, hugging him back and nestling into his arms as if she belonged there. Briefly an image flashed into his mind of Sarah little more than a month ago, flinching away from him when he'd only wanted to kiss her on the cheek to say goodnight: how far she'd come since then! She trusted him now, that was apparent. And she cared enough about him to be able to sense his state of mind. She really was the right woman for him, he mused; but then he'd never doubted that, not for one instant since he'd met her.

"Yeah, I was," he murmured. "More angry than I've ever been in my life before, sweetheart… and I just realised that that scared me. I have *never* before been tempted to kill someone, never."

Her arms tightened around him, comforting him, and he hugged her back for a few moments before releasing her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders to lead her back into the living-room. Sitting on the couch, he drew her down to sit next to him, in his embrace.

"I've talked about this a lot with Dad," he explained soberly. "You know, the responsibility of being Superman, the powers, the fact that I could crush someone with my little finger if I was careless or lost my temper. And I never thought that would be a problem. Even when Dad told me about guys like Lex Luthor who went after Mom… I could see how he'd be angry, but I never realised how it would feel. Back there, I did… and I could see how easy it would be to use my powers to hurt someone."

"But you couldn't do that, Jon," Sarah murmured softly to him, her hand holding his, her fingers entwined with his. "You're so gentle… even-tempered, calm. That was one of the things I first noticed about you — that's why I trust you."

He hugged her again. "I know it is, sweetheart, and that's why this scares me. I never knew I could *want* to hurt someone. But when I saw him try to hit you, heard the things he was saying to you… I saw red. I grabbed him, twisted his arm behind his back, and a voice inside me kept saying 'twist it a little more, only a tiny bit more and his arm will break.' The temptation was so strong… or I could have used my Super-breath on him and frozen him, or blasted him with my laser-vision. There were any number of ways I could have killed him, or seriously maimed him." He sighed heavily, drawing comfort and strength from Sarah's closeness and her support and trust in him.

"I saw you," he added. "You looked at me as if you were scared of what I might do. And then in the car just now you reminded me that you were afraid I might have…" He trailed off, unable this time to put the possibility into words.

But she shook her head. "Jon, I looked at you… and you looked back at me, and I saw what was in your eyes. In that second, I *knew* you wouldn't injure him." She gripped his hand again. "And Jon, you have to know that the only reason I was worried that you might was because if you did then he'd press charges against you for assault, and you'd be thrown in jail instead. I don't care what happens to him," she assured him firmly. "If you had hurt him — he deserved it, and more. But I don't want you to compromise your ethics or your freedom for me."

She really *did* trust him… he bent and touched his forehead briefly to hers. "Sarah… I love you," he murmured huskily, wanting to kiss her but knowing that there were more things they needed to discuss first. He gazed directly at her, his brown eyes telling her how deeply he cared for her. "Sarah… okay, I almost lost control of my temper back there, but I need you to know that I would never* hurt you."

Again, she smiled back, taking him by surprise. "Jon, I *know.* I've known that almost since we met; it just took me a while to get over some of my instinctive reactions, you know? Even when I flinched away from you, I knew I was safe with you."

Her words made him smile in return; but then she spoke again and the smile was abruptly wiped off his face. "What I really want to know, Mr Super-hero, is why you took so long to come and help me! You must have known it was *him*?"

Ouch. He blinked and shifted a little away from her; he was feeling guilty about that one too. "Sarah… yeah, I knew it was him. Even before either of you spoke — I heard you fall against something, and I…" He touched the edge of his glasses, indicating that he'd used his X-ray vision. "I saw him shove you, and I saw you looked… scared. So it was pretty obvious."

She was listening to him in silence; when he paused, she didn't interrupt, so he decided she simply wanted him to explain rather than to cross-question him. He breathed deeply as the memory of those brief moments came back to him. It had actually been less than a minute before he'd come out to join her in the hall, but at the time it had seemed far longer.

"I was about to rush out then — I'd have had him shoved up against the wall and away from you in under a second. But then I saw your face — the fear disappeared and you were suddenly *angry.* And I remembered how you reacted when I wanted to deal with him myself and keep you away from any contact with him — you felt that I was treating you like a kid who couldn't look after herself, didn't you?"

Sarah nodded slowly, still listening. He swallowed, then continued. "So I decided to give you a chance to stand up to him -oh, don't worry, I was watching everything that happened. The second he tried to lay a finger on you, I knew I could be there to stop him. So I listened while you told him to get lost — I was proud of you, sweetheart. I know you were frightened, but you didn't let *him* see it."

She nodded again. "Yeah, I was terrified," she said at last. "Not because I was afraid he'd get me like last time — I mean, I knew you were there. And I knew I wasn't scared of him in the old way any more. But… well, he's big and menacing, and I knew he really wanted to hurt me."

"Well, as soon as I saw him try to hit you, I was out there," Jon finished. "I'd never have let him touch you, sweetheart, you know that? It was just…" He trailed off, hoping that she would understand. He barely knew what was happening to him; he was normally very articulate, but he was finding it so hard to put his feelings into words at the moment. Whatever about Sarah's reaction, the whole experience had certainly shaken him up. He would never again be so complacent about the need to control his powers, not to use them to hurt another person.

"You were trying to make me feel good about myself because I was standing up to him," she stated, smiling encouragingly, gratefully, at him.

Jon hugged her again. "Yeah, something like that," he mumbled. "Though, you know, you didn't need me to make you feel strong again, able to stand up for yourself," he added, quirking one eyebrow at her.

"What do you mean?" she asked, clearly puzzled.

He gave her a quick grin. "Hey, I'm Superman, the strongest man alive apart from my father, and that didn't stop you telling me to butt out and leave you alone, the day we got here!"

She smiled in response. "I hadn't thought of it that way… but then, I'm not afraid of you, Jon. You may be strong and all that, but… you're the gentlest man I know."

He brushed his lips against her forehead. "Not always — as you saw tonight!" he quipped, before growing serious again. "But yeah, I thought you might want me to let you handle him on your own first. And, you know… I had this notion in the back of my mind that I had to let him make some sort of threat against you before I threw him out or grabbed him — otherwise he wouldn't have done anything illegal and you'd have no reason to report him to the police. I mean, there's no law against him visiting you, is there?"

"No, I suppose not," Sarah agreed. "Anyway, the main thing is he's back under arrest and they're going to charge him again. He probably won't get sent away for very long since all he did was threaten me — "

"He deserves to spend years in jail!" Jon muttered grimly, then threw Sarah an apologetic smile. "Hey, we got him and that's all that matters. And you're coming back to the States with me as soon as the police are finished with us, so you won't have to worry about him again."

No, Jon mused, because he intended to marry Sarah as soon as she'd agree to it, and he hoped that she liked Metropolis enough to make it their home.

She grinned in return. "Do I get to fly back with Superman?"

"If you really want to," he teased her, at last giving in to the temptation to kiss her. She kissed him back, sliding her hands up and over his broad chest as he deepened the kiss, loving the way her soft mouth parted under his and she made soft moans in her throat.

After a while she broke the kiss and smiled softly at him. "I just wanted to tell you, you were right to leave me alone with Rob at first. I *did* stand up to him, and I *did* realise I wasn't scared of him any more. I needed that, Jon. If you'd taken over right from the start, I wouldn't have had that knowledge. So thank you for being so considerate. I don't feel as… helpless any more."

Jon smiled back at her, musing that he would never let her know just how scared he had felt for her during those seconds he'd been watching from the kitchen. He had known he'd needed to let her handle it at first, but knowing what her ex had done to her before, both physically and psychologically, he'd so badly wanted to be there beside her, confronting Rob, throwing the guy out before he could spew any of his poison at her. He'd felt powerless, even though with his abilities he could have been beside her in under a second. The only time he could remember when he'd felt more impotent had been that day when he'd heard her scream for Superman during his lecture. It had been agonising, trying to continue with the lecture while at the same time worrying about what had happened to her and whether his father had managed to get to her in time.

He knew, now, only too well all the agonies his father had gone through over the years with Lois whenever she'd insisted on doing something dangerous. And yet, Clark had told Jon on occasion, there were times when he'd *had* to let Lois simply get on with whatever it was she was doing, either because it was her job and he couldn't just take over and do it for her, or because Superman might have been in even worse danger, for example from Kryptonite.

Pulling Sarah gently back to him, he lowered his mouth over hers again, parting her lips with his and probing her mouth with his tongue. She murmured encouragingly, kissing him back and stroking his tongue with her own, her arms sliding up his chest, one hand curving around the back of his neck and into his hair. As had happened every time he had kissed Sarah, passion threatened to overcome him; he wanted to sweep her off her feet and carry her straight upstairs to his bedroom… her bedroom, he swiftly amended, since it had the double bed and he was *not* going to try to make love to her on that narrow single bed.

But he instantly reminded himself that he'd determined they would not make love until she had agreed to marry him. And he wasn't quite ready to propose; not just yet. He still felt that it was a little too soon — for Sarah, not for him. Okay, she'd told him that she trusted him, and she'd even said tonight that facing down Rob and having him re-arrested had given her back a lot of her confidence. But he wanted her to have time to get used to their being a couple, to get used to being in a normal relationship again, before he asked her to marry him.

So he deliberately drew back a little, making his kisses less intense. She murmured a protest as his hold on her loosened, her fingers sliding between his shirt-buttons. He covered her hand with his, stilling her movements, which led her to stop kissing him.

"Jon… is something wrong?" Her expression was hurt, and he grimaced.

"No, nothing," he groaned huskily. "It's just… well, if we carried on much longer the way we were doing, we'd be making love on the floor!"

She grinned slowly, her hand again moving to his buttons. "Well, I suppose my bed would be more comfortable…" Her gaze swept over his face, the invitation clear in her eyes.

Jon blinked, trying to clear his head. "Honey… oh, Sarah, there is nothing I would like more than to make love to you. But not now, not tonight — you've just been through a pretty traumatic experience, and I don't think it's the right time," he protested.

She glared at him. "Jon, after all I've said to you in the last few days… You should *know* how I feel about you. I want to make love to you, and it has nothing to do with… with *him.* I wanted to be with you that last evening we were together in Metropolis, and if you hadn't rushed off I'd have told you."

"You would?" He remembered that evening; she'd said she wanted to talk to him about his promise not to touch her or kiss her unless she made it clear that she wanted it.

She nodded. "I finally admitted to myself that I wanted you, Jon. And I know I had sort of second thoughts once I found out you were Superman, but I'm over that now."

He squeezed her hand. "I'm glad. Oh, Sarah, I want to make love to you too, but this just doesn't feel like the right time. Can we talk about this when we're back home? In Metropolis?"

She nodded agreement. "If you want to. But, Jon… I love you."

He stilled. She'd finally said the words. He'd guessed she loved him, but she had said a few times that she no longer trusted her own judgement, and he felt that it would take her a long time to be able to admit that she loved him. She'd said it. That, he hoped, would make it much easier for her to accept his proposal: if she trusted him and was willing to admit that she loved him, then she couldn't possibly be wary of entering into a committed relationship with him.

They would go back to Metropolis as soon as possible, preferably the next day if the police didn't need them any longer.


It was Sarah's turn to lie awake in bed that night; too many thoughts were flitting through her mind to allow her to drift into sleep. She finally felt free of Rob, and that knowledge lifted an enormous weight from her mind. She had never been able to accept that she was free of him before: although he had been in prison, in her mind she was still under his influence. She hadn't been able to relate to other people without remembering the way Rob had behaved whenever he'd thought others — male or female — were having any influence on her. If anyone had paid her a compliment in his hearing, he had made her pay for it later, and that was why she'd continued to dress frumpishly even after he was out of her life: the habit of not inviting comment on her appearance had been too deeply ingrained.

Jon had changed all that; somehow he had managed to sneak under her defences and get her to see him as a friend. Even more important, he had taught her to see herself once more as an attractive, independent woman, and she would always be grateful to him for that.

But even then she hadn't been completely recovered: as soon as she'd heard that Rob had been released, she'd almost gone to pieces and it had taken Jon and his father to calm her down and help her regain the confidence she'd built up over the few months she'd spent in Metropolis.

Jon's father… her thoughts flew off on a tangent. She hoped that when they did get back to Metropolis she would have a chance to talk to Clark Kent, to thank him for his understanding and thoughtfulness the other day. Although she was still stunned to realise that Jon's soft-spoken, humorous and kind father was really the original Superman, somehow it did make sense. The older Superman had been kinder, more perceptive and sympathetic than she had even dreamed he could be when she'd explained her problem to him; and remembering that, she could picture the two men as the same.

Jon had been great too, though his concern for her had warred with his own anger on her behalf. When he'd had Rob at his mercy in the hall earlier, it had not been at all difficult to see the younger Superman's dealing-with-villains demeanour in Jon's expression. She'd seen it when he'd dealt with the would-be rapist on MetU campus, after all.

But the greatest service he had done for her was to let her — make her — face up to her fears. He'd done the right thing: if he had come straight out to join her and taken immediate control of the situation, she would never have felt completely over her experience. As it was, *she* had faced up to Rob and told him she wanted him to leave. She had stood her ground even though he'd tried to hit her again; she had shown no weakness. That had surprised him, as well as making him angrier.

So, although it was clear that Rob would be going back to prison, what was far more important for Sarah was that *she* had finally rid her life of his legacy. She would go back to Metropolis and finish her semester's exchange — and enjoy every minute of her time with Jon — and then she could return to Midchester with her head held high.

That there was one large flaw in that logic Sarah chose to ignore completely.

Jon… She wanted him, now, very much. If she'd met him before the Rob business, there would be no question about it: she would already be looking for jobs in New Troy, some means of staying in Metropolis with him, assuming her wanted her. Of course, he had already offered to follow her to England, though he wouldn't, she knew. He was *Superman* — he couldn't leave Metropolis.

But none of that meant that they couldn't have a relationship for the rest of her time in the US; something casual, as she'd been about to suggest to him before. She knew he wanted her, it had been obvious again that evening, and she had very much wanted to persuade him to forget his noble intentions. She could follow his logic: he felt that she'd had a bad experience and was probably still feeling a little shaken up, and that he'd be taking advantage of her to pursue the issue. But she was *fine* and she wanted to make love with him.

Perhaps he was still awake too… maybe she should just go into his room and tell him what she wanted, ask him to make love to her. She sat up, throwing back the covers before she could lose her nerve. But then she heard a sound from the room next door, a scraping noise which she recognised.

This was an old house, and the catches on some of the windows had a tendency to stick. The noise she could hear was Jon pushing his window open; he'd have no trouble, of course, although she hadn't been able to get that particular window open for a couple of years.

What was he up to? He couldn't just want some fresh air — although it was now early April, the air was still chilly. But a moment or two later her question was answered as a soft boom was audible. She'd heard that sound before, and each time it had been when a caped Super-hero had left her. Jon was going flying.

Was he on his way to help someone? But no-one was supposed to know that Superman was in England; but then Sarah remembered that the two of them did occasionally help at emergencies elsewhere in the world, if they were serious enough. Or… the other possibility could be that he was suffering the same frustration as she was, and that he was going out to try to take his mind off it.

Sighing, she lay back down again. <Just wait until I get you back to Metropolis, Jon Kent!>


"You'd think Jon might have at least called!" Handing her husband a cup of coffee, Lois returned to a theme she had been visiting on and off all afternoon.

Clark shrugged, reaching out to curve his hand around Lois's wrist so he could tug her down next to him on the couch. "He's probably busy, honey."

"Yeah, but busy doing what exactly?" she threw back at him, relaxing back against his familiar, solid chest.

"Hey, come on, sweetheart!" Clark protested. "This is Jon we're talking about. You know he's not likely to do anything stupid, anything which might compromise his secret identity. And he knows he can't afford to let his personal feelings about what that guy did to Sarah get in the way."

"Yeah, but knowing what's right and doing it are two different things," Lois objected.

Clark stroked her hair rhythmically. "Sure, but you know Jon's very like me. And I may have come close to losing my temper once or twice, but I never forgot the rules."

"He's a lot like you, yeah," Lois agreed, but then continued on to contradict her husband. "He's also got a bit of my temper — or hadn't you noticed?"

Her husband didn't answer immediately, which led Lois to jump in again. "See — you're worried too, aren't you?"

He sighed. "No — not really. Yes, I know Jon's got a little of the famous Lane temper, but his outward nature is so placid and good-humoured that it's easy to forget. And I really think he's learned to control himself as well, if not better, than I had at his age." Clark brushed several strands of Lois's hair behind her ear. "What do you want me to do, anyway — go over to England looking for him?"

"No — then he'd think we don't trust him," Lois answered. "Okay, okay, you think I'm worrying too much, don't you? But you haven't heard *anything* from him at all, have you?"

Clark shook his head. "That doesn't mean anything — I have no idea whether our telepathic connection can work at such a distance." He thought for a moment, then added. "Tell you what, if I haven't heard from him by tomorrow I'll try to find out what's going on. All right?"

"Yeah." She snuggled closer to Clark, wrapping her arm around his waist. "I know, I'm turning into an interfering mom, and I said I'd never do that. I'm just worried, that's all."

"What's worrying you more? That Jon might not be able to hang on to his temper, or that Sarah won't be able to handle knowing his secret?" Clark asked wryly.

How well he knew her! "Clark… okay, you know I've always been wary of letting people know about you, about our family," she agreed. "I *know* how Jon feels about Sarah, and it's been obvious for a while that he'd have to tell her. And sure, if they get married she has to know. But… what if they don't? I mean, with her history she might not exactly be keen on getting involved with anyone else. So…"

"So what are you saying, honey?" Clark asked dryly. "That the only time anyone should be allowed to find out about us is if they're going to marry one of us or they're about to die?"

"Oh, of course not!" Lois protested.

Clark quickly apologised. "Sorry, honey, I didn't mean it like that, really. But the thing is, Jon needed to be able to tell her. And I understand exactly how he feels. It wasn't just what happened with her ex getting out of prison — I'm pretty sure he wanted to tell her anyway. He loves her, and he didn't want to have any secrets from her."

"And I guess with her past it wouldn't be a good idea to find out that the man who claims to be in love with her is hiding stuff from her too," Lois agreed. "I know you're right, honey, but I just can't help being cautious."

"And I love it that you're cautious," Clark murmured. "But we need to trust Jon's judgement."

"Okay… I just want to know what's going on," Lois agreed. "Otherwise I'll be reduced to looking up the British papers again tomorrow — I'm already dreading reading that an American citizen has been arrested for serious assault."

"Jon won't do that," Clark stated assuredly. "Speaking of newspapers, honey, any news yet on when Jimmy will be able to take over from you?"

That successfully distracted her. "He thinks mid-May at the latest. So we can start planning for my retirement now. Hey, maybe we should get a proposal together for the Intergang book now — get it off to publishers so that we can hit the ground running once I'm free?"

"Suits me," Clark agreed, pleased to have switched Lois's attention away from Jon. Their son's continued absence, together with his silence, was bothering him a little too.


The flight had been truly exhilarating, made even better this time by the fact that Sarah knew it was Jon she was flying with. She had wrapped her arms tightly around him, relaxing into his body in a way she hadn't felt free to do on the journey over. But even though she'd had three days to get used to the fact that Jon was Superman, actually being with him in the costume and flying with him like this was still something of a shock to the system; a *nice* shock all the same, but she was still trying to assimilate this very vivid evidence of her boyfriend's real identity.

All too soon, Jon was bringing them down through the clouds in order to land. It was late afternoon in Metropolis; they hadn't left England until well after dark, partly so that Superman wouldn't be seen anywhere in Midchester or in the English skies. And anyway, the police had needed them to supply additional statements and contact information before they would agree to allow their key witnesses to leave the country. Rob had already been charged again, this time with intimidation and attempted assault, and although the previous charges could not be resurrected, the judge could certainly take them into account when sentencing. And since the university had commenced disciplinary proceedings against him with a view to dismissal when he'd gone to prison the first time, he would be very foolish ever to venture anywhere near Midchester again once he'd served whatever sentence he received this time.

And, of course, Jon's threat had seemed to scare him; he was unlikely to want to come near her ever again.

So they had delayed only long enough to visit Jane and tell her the news, that Rob was on his way back to prison and to fill her in on the details of his arrest. Jane had of course been delighted, not just that Rob was back behind bars but also that Sarah had stood up to him and felt vastly better for having done so.

Jane had managed to get Sarah alone for a couple of minutes before they'd left, and had embarrassed Sarah completely by asking about her relationship with Jon and advising her strongly not to let him slip through her fingers. Apart from the reasons why Sarah knew their relationship could never last, she'd been nervous in case Jon's Super-hearing had allowed him to overhear the conversation; still, he hadn't mentioned it, so she hoped he hadn't.

As she realised that she could now see the ground beneath them and that she didn't recognise their surroundings, Sarah leaned up to ask Jon where they were.

"Coming down over my folks' back garden," he told her.

Clark Kent's and Lois Lane's house, Sarah realised with a sudden start. She could understand Jon wanting to let his parents know that he was back safely and that they'd succeeded in their mission — but she really wasn't sure that she was ready to face the original Superman right now.

Jon seemed to guess at her nervousness and her reason for it. "Hey, come on, my parents will be glad to see you. And my dad's a pretty good guy despite the Suit."

"I know that!" she told him. "I've met him, remember? I liked your father a lot. But… can't you take me back to my apartment first? Or at least put me in a cab?"

His answer was simply to land in the wooded garden and lower her gently to her feet, bending his head to capture her lips in a dizzying kiss. By the time he released her again, she was clinging to him in order to maintain her balance, and if at that moment he'd asked her to do just about anything, she couldn't have refused him.

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders in an encouraging hug. "Come on, sweetheart."

She grimaced and took a deep breath. "Okay, if you insist." He swiftly spun into his normal clothes, then led the way up to the back door, encouraging her inside; by the time they were standing in the kitchen the door leading to the living-room was wrenched open. Clark Kent stood there, his hand touching the rim of his glasses and his expression somewhat relieved.

"I wondered who was trying to break in the back way!" he observed dryly, raising an eyebrow at his son. "Hi, Sarah — good to see you!"

Sarah shot Jon a swift glance: was she supposed to let his father know that she was aware of the family's close connection with the Supermen, and that therefore she knew that Clark Kent was well aware that they'd both spent the last few days in England? But Jon rescued her.

"Hi, Dad — sorry about that, but we just got back this minute and I guessed you and Mom would want to know what happened."

His father nodded, then turned to Sarah and gave her a warm smile. "I guess Jon's told you about us by now?" She quickly nodded, and he continued speaking. "I'm sorry if it looked like I wasn't taking your concerns seriously enough on Friday, but… well, as you know by now, Jon's well capable of looking after himself!"

Clark Kent's matter-of-fact acceptance of Sarah's new knowledge helped her to relax in what she now knew was the company of the first Superman. She returned his smile, shaking her head at the same time. "Actually, I thought you were incredibly kind and supportive, and I was really grateful. And I want to thank you for sending Jon to me, too."

"That reminds me," Jon put in, a chagrined note in his voice as he turned to her. "Why didn't you just tell me about it in the first place and let me help you?"

Because she'd been scared stiff that Jon would end up badly beaten, or even killed, she reflected. He surely realised that? But, she recognised then, he meant that she should have trusted him, seen this as a problem they needed to resolve together. She shrugged a little helplessly. "Jon — I know what Rob's capable of, and I needed to protect you from him."

"Yeah, and she didn't know you can flatten someone with one breath!" Clark Kent teased, instantly dissolving any hint of tension between Jon and Sarah as he beckoned them towards the door leading to the next room. "Lois, honey, Jon and Sarah are back," he called as he led them through.

Sarah could see Lois, the older woman already on her feet as she headed to meet them. This was the real test, Sarah thought: how would Jon's mother feel about someone else being in on the family secret? Perhaps she should take the initiative and assure Jon's parents that she wouldn't tell anyone…?

She watched Jon and his mother hug each other warmly, then Lois turned to her. Instead of the wary or even possibly hostile reception Sarah had feared, though, Lois was giving her a concerned look.

"Are you okay, Sarah? Did you sort out that excuse for a human being?" Without giving Sarah a chance to answer, Lois was already addressing Jon. "You both have to tell us everything that happened — Jon, you could have called us, let us know what was going on!"

"Hey, Mom, give us a chance!" Jon protested. "Remember, Sarah's not used to your interviewing style," he teased.

"You can't blame me for being worried," she told him. "I know you've never hurt anyone in your life, but this was different."

"It sure was," Jon replied harshly; as she threw him a swift glance, Sarah thought she'd never seen him look more like Superman. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Clark also giving his son a swift, assessing glance. She remembered then that Jon had told her earlier that day about the telepathic abilities he shared with his father and Katy, and she wondered whether the two men were communicating with each other.

If they were, then Lois was automatically excluded from the family conference by the fact that she didn't share their ability. Sarah reluctantly dragged her gaze away from Jon and turned to Lois.

"Yes, we did it, Lois. Rob's back in prison, awaiting trial for attempted assault." It felt so good to say those words again; even though she'd thought it would be too embarrassing to talk about what had happened with Jon's parents — it had been embarrassing enough to discover that they already knew what had happened to her — now, when the conversation was actually happening, it felt strangely liberating.

A few minutes later, all four were seated on the two sofas and Clark Kent had swiftly produced a tray of coffee; Lois had joked that she still didn't know how he managed to do that so quickly, given that coffee couldn't exactly brew at Super-speed. Before they launched into an explanation of events in England, Sarah decided to set Jon's parents' minds at rest.

"Clark, Lois… I know you know Jon's told me about — well, about Superman. And I could understand if you were worried about me knowing, but I want to assure you that whatever happens the secret is safe with me." Her gaze flicked from one to the other, hoping they would believe her.

But Clark gave her a friendly grin. "I don't think we have any concerns about that, Sarah. I knew Jon was going to tell you, and when I think of the way I handled telling Lois, I'm darned glad he didn't follow my example!"

Lois nudged her husband pointedly. "The way you handled telling me, honey? As I recall it, you never actually told me at all!"

Clark blushed endearingly, and Sarah could see from where Jon got some of his more endearing facial expressions. "I *intended* to tell you, honey. We just got… sidetracked a little. I mean," he added as she seemed about to interrupt him, "you'd expect that I might get a little thrown off course by someone calling me up to tell me he was going to tell the whole world who I was!"

"I'll tell you about that later," Jon interjected to Sarah, who was considerably intrigued by Clark's reference.

"You make sure he does," Lois cut in with a smile. "And if Jon doesn't, I will! And by the way, Sarah, I'm glad you know. Jon's needed someone he can share who he really is with. Sure, he has us, and Katy and Jimmy, but it's not the same as having someone special who knows the truth."

<Someone special who knows the truth…> At first, Sarah was just surprised that Jon's parents knew how he felt about her, but gradually, as she let Jon relate the story of what had transpired in England, a different interpretation of Lois's remark dawned on her. Clark had only been ready to tell Lois when he knew he loved her and wanted to marry her, from what Jon had said. Okay, Jimmy had been told because he and Katy wereabout to go away to Africa together, but Lois had talked about Katy having Jimmy in the sense that they too were married.

So if Jon had been ready to tell her the truth about himself anyway, did that mean…? She swallowed. She'd been so stupid! Of *course* it did! He'd done everything except propose; he'd told her that if she didn't want to move to Metropolis, he'd move to England, and he'd told her he loved her in a way which left no doubt that this wasn't just a casual relationship.

Jon *loved* her. And in his mind that was a happy-ever-after kind of love; he would want to marry her.

And… it was all becoming clear now; the only reason he hadn't yet told her that he wanted to marry her was because, she assumed, he thought she needed a little more time to get over the Rob affair and regain her confidence in herself and in the idea of being in a relationship.

There was no way that Jon would agree to a casual affair for the remainder of her sabbatical in Metropolis. She had been kidding herself to think that he might, that he would be satisfied with that. Whatever she might have imagined about Jon previously, it was obvious, from everything about him and from the example of his parents and sister, that he wasn't the kind of man who would flit from one relationship to another in a form of serial monogamy. He wanted it all. And he wanted it with her.

And she couldn't possibly deceive him by pretending to be as serious about him as he was about her for the remainder of her stay in Metropolis, and then simply walking out on him; he was far too nice a person to be treated like that. And anyway… she loved him too much to use him like that.

So where did that leave them?


Jon noticed Sarah's withdrawal into herself the instant it happened; he simply became aware that she was no longer following the conversation, participating with him in the activity of telling his parents what had happened. He stole a swift glance at her, noticing her abstracted expression and the pain in her grey eyes, something which hadn't been present for several weeks apart from when she'd received the news about Rob's release. That the pain was back bothered him enormously.

Perhaps it hurt her to remember the confrontation with Rob, Jon wondered, though that possibility surprised him. Sarah had been so proud of herself for standing up to her ex-boyfriend, and she had positively taken pleasure in telling her friend Jane all about it. It seemed strange that she would now find it painful to remember it.

<<Is there a problem?>> His father's question intruded on his thoughts and he quickly forced his attention back to the present.

<<Not sure. Maybe. But I'll handle it — mind if I take her home once we're through here?>>

<<Good idea>> his father answered immediately. <<She looks tired anyway>>

Quickly, dispassionately, Jon finished his recitation of events; he didn't miss the relief on his mother's face when he assured them he had managed to keep his reactions under control and that he had at most given the guy a few bruises and — he hoped — a healthy fear of him.

"Good for you!" Lois commented approvingly. "I don't have any problem with Superman making someone like him scared of what would happen if he did anything like that again!"

"Except it wasn't *Superman* threatening the guy," Clark pointed out. "But on the other hand, I'd have done exactly the same in your place, Jon. Good work!"

Sarah seemed to shake herself out of her abstraction then; she patted Jon's arm approvingly and smiled at him. "I thought he was pretty good, too. I think I'd prefer to have him on my side than against me any day!"

"I don't think the latter's very likely, do you?" Clark drawled lightly, making Sarah blush. Jon thought that was probably a good point at which to make their excuses, and he promptly stood up.

"Well, we just wanted to stop by and let you guys know we're back. Since we're still working on Greenwich Mean Time, I think I'm going to take Sarah home now."

He thought she seemed relieved, and he quickly wrapped his arm around her shoulder, drawing her close to him. For an instant she seemed to resist, then she relaxed and leaned against him, smiling up at him as he glanced down at her in enquiry.

"You want to fly or take a cab?" he asked her with a teasing lift of his eyebrow.

"Is it safe to fly?" Lois interjected. "You don't want Superman seen in the area of Sarah's apartment, do you?"

"Not a problem," Jon assured her. "There's a dark alley just around the corner — I've used that a couple of times for taking off and landing. It's perfectly safe." He turned back to Sarah. "Cab or flying, then?"

He heard his father stifle a laugh as Sarah replied, "Fly, please."


She would really miss flying with Jon, Sarah thought as he set her down in the alley a few minutes later. Oh, she would miss a lot of things about Jon, but being held in his arms like that as they cruised over the city, the wind rushing past — she could feel it, but only a little, and Jon had told her that his 'aura,' whatever that was, protected her — and the feeling of freedom as they flew, was just amazing.

But they could have no future…

He walked with her to her apartment, his arm wrapped around her shoulders; she wrapped hers around his waist, enjoying the sensation of being close to him. She felt so comfortable with him, as if they were meant to be together; it was a cruel twist of fate that their relationship would have to end. But, knowing what he wanted from life, she had no choice.

His voice distracted her from her thoughts. "Can I come in for a while, or are you too tired?"

This was probably a good opportunity, she thought. "Sure, come in." Leading the way, she continued speaking as she went into the kitchen. "I never really thanked you for what you did, Jon. It is *so* good to know that he's back in prison, and even better that I know I'm not scared of him any more."

He came up behind her, wrapping his arms about her waist and drawing her back against his hard, lean body. "Hey, what are boyfriends for? I love you — you should know I'll always be there if you need me. And now you know the truth about me, you know you only have to call and I'll come. Any time."

Yes, he would, she knew. Even after she'd told him they couldn't be together — that was the kind of man he was. She took a shuddering sigh, trying to find the words to tell him that it was over between them, but before she could speak he had turned her gently in his arms so that they were facing each other, his arms linked loosely around her waist.

"You look tired, sweetheart," he told her softly. "I won't stay… I just wanted to make sure you were okay and to say goodnight, anyway."

Before she could reply, his head dipped and his mouth closed over hers. He began with little, fleeting kisses which almost drove her insane as she longed for him to deepen the kiss; as she clung to him, straining up towards him, he responded to her silent pleas and his lips parted, his tongue sliding forward to tease the corners of her mouth. The kiss grew increasingly passionate as Sarah returned his caresses, carried away by emotion and desire. One hand slid up to rake through his hair, while the other pulled his shirt free of his jeans to caress the warm, naked skin of his back; she felt him shiver as bare flesh met bare flesh.

He responded by emitting a guttural moan deep in his throat; one hand moved from her waist to slide up her back and comb through her hair, at the same time pressing her more tightly against him. Everything she'd intended to say to Jon was forgotten; all she was aware of was how he made her feel, the drugging effect of his kisses, how badly she wanted him…

She loved Jon Kent, more than she had ever loved anyone in her life before. And loving him so much, *wanting* him so much, was driving her crazy. She was barely able to hold herself upright; if his arm hadn't been wrapped tightly around her waist, she would have collapsed in a helpless heap at his feet.

Pushing away the nagging voice which suddenly surfaced to remind her that she *had* intended to tell him she couldn't have anything more than a short-term relationship with him, if he was willing to have any relationship at all on those terms, Sarah tore her mouth away from Jon's for just long enough to mutter a barely coherent request. "Not here… my bedroom…"

Suddenly he loosened his grip and stared down at her, his breathing heavy and his face flushed; the expression in his eyes showed clearly his desire for her, but there was also something else — reticence, withdrawal. With a shock, Sarah realised that he'd never intended their kiss to become so passionate.

His breathing steadied, and he reached up with one hand to stroke her cheek gently, almost apologetically. "Sarah… I didn't mean to get carried away like that," he explained. "I guess you know I want to make love to you — but not yet. There are things we need to talk about first," he added, somewhat enigmatically.

Such as? she wondered. But the answer came to her immediately. He wanted to talk about their relationship and where it was going. That was that, then, she realised; there was absolutely no way that Jon would agree to a casual relationship, a short-term affair. But she'd known that already, so it was no surprise, she reminded herself.

Should she say something now? Her conscience was telling her that she had to; but she stifled it by telling it that Jon hadn't even raised the subject yet, and so it would be a bit presumptive of her to tell him she couldn't marry him or have any kind of permanent relationship with him before she was asked! And so the best time to tell him would be when *he* brought up the subject.

So she smiled back at him, hugging him while she still had the freedom to do it. "Okay — we'll talk whenever you want," she suggested.

He smiled back, his eyes alight with love for her. "No hurry. Now that you know everything about me, I just want to enjoy being with you."

Sarah grimaced inwardly at that; clearly he wasn't planning to discuss their future any time soon. She couldn't string him along, in that case — it wouldn't be fair to him. With a sinking heart, she opened her mouth to tell him.

But he had an arrested expression on his face, and she quickly realised what had happened. Someone was calling for Superman.

He returned his attention to her. "I have to go, honey. Superman's needed, and Dad's already busy with something." Kissing her again swiftly, he stepped backwards. "I won't leave through your window — Mom's right, it would attract too much attention. I'll email you tomorrow, okay?"

Before she could say another word, the front door of her apartment had closed behind him. She didn't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed.


Life had been very good indeed over the couple of weeks following their brief visit to England, Sarah felt as she walked through the MetU campus one glorious spring morning. On the Monday after they'd got back, she'd woken up feeling more positive than she had in a very long time; not only did it feel as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her, but she was also actually looking forward to going out, going into work and interacting with her colleagues and students.

People had noticed a change in her, she knew, and some of her departmental colleagues had even commented on it; she had excused her previously withdrawn manner by telling them that she'd initially been a little homesick but was now really enjoying being in Metropolis. The fact that a couple of people responded to this comment with a knowing grin and a reference to *someone* helping her get over her homesickness told her that her friendship — her relationship — with Jon really was common knowledge. That would be another problem, her nagging conscience pointed out: once she ended the relationship there would be questions and sympathetic glances to deal with. Still, she would probably deserve it…

But she had now developed a much better working relationship with the staff, both academic and administrative, in her host department. They were a nice group of people, she conceded: the usual mixture of intense workaholics, enthusiastic teachers and dedicated researchers. There was the usual departmental politics to contend with, which she was noticing far more now that she paid more attention to internal memoranda and actually stopped to participate in some of the corridor conversations which went on. Colleagues now came to seek her opinion on things they were working on, and only yesterday her temporary head of department had subtly sounded her out on whether she would be interested in staying on once her exchange period came to an end.

That was very tempting; she liked Metropolis very much, and although she would miss England and her friends there, there were so many ways of keeping in touch. If it wasn't for Jon…

She still had to talk to Jon, but she'd been putting it off. It was so hard to bring up the subject when being with him was so good, so wonderful. They exchanged jokey emails several times during the day, they spent almost every evening together, they went for long walks and even longer flights, and they talked for hours about every subject under the sun… apart from their relationship. And he kissed her every night when it was time to go home, just enough to drive her crazy with frustration but not enough for either of them to get completely carried away. And he told her he loved her several times a day, and she couldn't help but tell him the same… she did love him, after all, more than she'd ever thought possible.

The only snag was her conscience, which kept pointing out that she wasn't being fair to him by saying nothing and leading him to believe that she wanted the same things out of their relationship as he clearly did.

She was pretty sure that he was deliberately waiting before initiating that conversation he'd mentioned to her, to give her time to forget what had happened in England and also to get used to the *real* Jon. Jon with Super-powers, she was swiftly discovering, was so different in many ways to Jon without. It wasn't even the fact that he took her flying on a regular basis; it was all the little things, such as his habit of getting unpleasant tasks out of the way at Super-speed, his ability to heat up takeout food which had gone cold simply by staring at it, his Super-speed typing when they were together in his apartment and working on the final draft of their joint article. The enhanced hearing and X-ray vision also took some getting used to: the first time he'd told her who was outside her office door before she'd opened it had caused her to stare at him in amazement.

He'd also told her a lot about his life as Superman; once she'd got used to the idea that he was one of Metropolis's 'guardian angels,' she had realised that he saw a lot of very unpleasant and heart-wrenching sights on almost a daily basis. She watched the TV news in a very different light these days: every time Superman was shown assisting at an emergency she would stare at the screen to see whether it was Jon or his father, and her heart went out to whichever of them it was whenever the situation involved serious injury or loss of life. Jon, she knew, was a very caring person, and it hurt him deeply when he couldn't manage to save someone.

Katy had been right — it would be a very lucky woman indeed who got Jon Kent as a husband, Sarah reflected as she let herself into her office. Even without his extraordinary abilities he was a very special man, and letting him go would hurt her almost more than she could bear.

But she had to… she had no choice.


"Hey, Jon, you'll never guess what I heard today!"

Jon grinned broadly at Sarah, noticing her excited, animated expression. She had certainly changed a lot in the past six weeks or so; she was almost unrecognisable now as the withdrawn, plain woman he'd first met all those weeks ago. He looped his arm around her shoulders as they fell into step together; they were going back to his apartment for dinner and, he hoped, a romantic evening. A very special romantic evening…

"No, I'll never guess — what did you hear?" he answered with a teasing grin.

She turned to glance up at him, looking like the cat who'd got the cream, he thought. "Jane emailed me — Rob was up before the magistrates yesterday, and this time he pleaded guilty, so there's no need for either of us to give evidence at his trial!"

Jon's eyebrows shot up. "Now that *is* good news," he agreed.

"And there's more," Sarah continued. "Seems someone else has come forward — an old girlfriend from when Rob worked in London. He knocked her about too, but she never said anything, not even when he was being tried for what he did to me. But the papers picked up the fact that he'd come straight after me when he was let out of prison, so she decided she had to come forward after all — Jane says she thought that if she pressed charges, it might show that he was a serial abuser."

Jon let out a low whistle. "How did Jane hear about this? Was it reported as well?"

He felt Sarah shrug. "Not sure. I think Jane heard through the Midchester grapevine, actually — you'd be amazed how accurate that is."

"So if the police prosecute in her case, he could get put away for several years again?" Jon queried.

"I hope so," Sarah replied. "Oh — and the other bit of news? You know he was refused bail so he's on remand awaiting trail? Apparently he's asked to be segregated because some of the other remand prisoners were beating him up. You know, because of what he's accused of?"

"You mean he's at the receiving end of a bit of violence for a change?" Jon couldn't help experiencing a frisson of pleasure at the news; he knew he shouldn't be pleased at the thought of someone else's pain, but if anyone deserved it, that man did.

"Seems so," she answered. "Anyway, personally I don't care what happens to him any more, as long as he doesn't get the chance to do to anyone else what he did to me."

"Remember the way he looked just before the police came?" Jon reminded her. "You know, when I told him I might just forget my ethics if he ever touched another woman like that again? I think he might just have learned his lesson."

"I hope so," she agreed, then changed the subject to ask about Lois's retirement plans; his mother had surprised them a couple of days ago by announcing her intention to retire at the beginning of May, since Jimmy was now in post as Assistant Editor in order to gain experience.

Several hours later, reclining on his couch with Sarah wrapped in his arms, Jon decided it was time to bring up the subject he'd wanted to talk about ever since they'd got back from England. He had deliberately waited in order to give her time, but her attitude suggested that she felt about him in exactly the same way as he did about her. She told him she loved him about as often as he told her the same thing, so he couldn't imagine that she wouldn't want the same thing as he did.

Straightening up suddenly, he took her face gently between his hands and turned her so that he could meet her surprised gaze. "I want to talk to you, honey," he told her, his voice soft but with a serious undertone.

He was taken aback to see an instant flash of alarm in her eyes; he couldn't imagine what could possibly have caused that. On instinct, he bent to kiss her lightly. "You know I love you, Sarah. I guess I've never told you that you're the first woman I've ever said that to."

This time her expression was definitely one of surprise. Her eyes closed briefly before she replied quietly, "I love you, too, Jon." He couldn't understand the distinctly sad note in her voice as she spoke.

Forcing himself to ignore the growing sense of unease he was feeling, he went on with his prepared speech, his own voice becoming hesitant as he spoke the unfamiliar words. "Sarah… I want us to be together, you know that, don't you? Not just for now — I want us to be like my parents, like Katy and Jimmy… Sarah, will you marry me?" he finally managed to ask her.

Not even the peculiar sense that all was not well prepared him for her response to his proposal. The words had barely left his lips when she froze briefly, then pulled herself from his grasp, sliding to the far end of the couch.

"Jon… oh, no, don't, please — I can't!" she muttered incoherently, seeming to struggle to utter the words — almost as if she didn't want to say them, but knew she had to, it seemed to him.

"Sarah — hey, what's wrong?" he jerked out, trying to ignore the coldness which was spreading inside him as if icicles were developing in his stomach. As he watched her in disbelief, he saw tears shimmer in her eyes; he reached for her, sure that there had to be some simple misunderstanding.

But she flinched and moved even further away from him. Completely at a loss to understand what was going on, Jon got to his feet and put some distance between them before speaking again.

"Sarah, what's going on?" he asked her, desperately struggling to keep his voice level. "Hey, just a few minutes ago you were perfectly happy lying in my arms — half an hour ago you were kissing me like you never wanted to stop! And now you act like you can't stand to have me within six feet of you?"

Tears were now streaming down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Jon!" she choked out. "I never meant to hurt you… I just wanted… I was hoping you wouldn't ask me, but I suppose it was stupid of me to imagine we could carry on as we were," she finished semi-coherently.

Jon simply stared at her. "Sarah, I haven't a clue what you're talking about! I asked you to *marry* me — where's the problem with that? You told me you loved me too — or was that just not true?"

She flinched visibly, which made him wonder if his accusation could possibly be true. But then she raised her gaze to meet his, and she took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself down. "Jon — I do love you. But I can't marry you. I'm sorry — I know I shouldn't have let this… thing get so serious, but I… I just wanted to be with you for a little longer. It was wrong, I know."

There was something missing here, Jon thought: he felt as if he was groping around in the dark, not knowing what he was looking for. "I haven't a clue what you're talking about!" he told her, helpless. "If you love me, like you say, *why* can't you marry me?"

Suddenly she got to her feet as well. "I just can't, Jon. And… and I can't tell you why either." She swung away, groping for her coat where she'd earlier draped it over the back of a chair. "I'm sorry, please believe me."

Before he could react, she had grabbed hold of the door and run out of his apartment.

He stood, frozen, battling between his desire to run after her or just let her go; despair won out over the desire to fight for the woman he loved, and he slumped back onto the couch, his head in his hands and his body shaking as Superman cried for the first time in his adult life.


She hadn't handled that very well, Sarah told herself as she hurried down the stairs and out of Jon's building. In fact… she'd made a complete and utter mess of it, and if she was devastated by what had just happened between them, it was entirely her own fault.

And she had hurt Jon immeasurably into the bargain. That was unforgivable, and had been completely avoidable… well, perhaps not *completely* avoidable, but if she hadn't been such a coward, burying her head in the sand, she could have cooled their relationship down more gently, without letting things come to such a devastating crisis. She had *known* how serious Jon was about her. It had been up to her, therefore, since she knew she couldn't respond in the way he wanted, to let him know somehow that it just couldn't happen.

Instead, she had completely ignored the issue for two weeks, allowing Jon to proceed in blissful ignorance of any problem. She had been selfish, wanting to seize as much time with him as she could get before she'd had to tell him their relationship had no future. She should never have allowed him to get to the point of asking her to marry him; that had been completely irresponsible and very unfair of her.

Not to mention driving a dagger into her own heart when she had had to face him — the man she loved — and tell him she couldn't marry him!

But whatever pain she had felt herself was nothing compared to the memory of the devastated, disbelieving expression on Jon's face when she had told him no. And as for his reaction when she'd flinched away from him… now, as she fought back tears, it was obvious that he'd thought she couldn't bear him to touch her. Which was true in a way, but not in the way he'd clearly thought.

She hadn't wanted him to touch her because it would have been so hard to stick to her resolve if she'd allowed herself to be distracted by the feel of him, his caresses, his kisses, simply being in his arms.

And what was he supposed to think judging by her behaviour? Only a few minutes before, she'd been in his arms and kissing him with every appearance of enjoyment. Yet suddenly she was flinching away from him… what message was that sending to him?

She didn't know, and what was worse, as a result of the way she'd handled things she would have no opportunity to correct his impression.

If she had only talked to him sooner, then at least they could still have been friends, even if he hadn't been willing to continue their romantic relationship. But because things had come to a head like this, she'd lost his friendship as well. He wouldn't want to see her again, not after tonight.

She had very probably managed to turn his love for her into hate — and all because she'd been too cowardly to face the issue she'd known had to be faced.

The sooner she went back to England, the better, she thought bleakly as she let herself into her apartment.


"Clark? Honey? Does someone need Superman?"

Clark, who had sat up abruptly in bed a few moments earlier, turned to Lois and saw that she was watching him with an expression of concern.

"No, not that. It's… just a feeling that something's wrong."

"What sort of feeling? Are you hearing something?"

"No, not that kind of hearing," he answered with a shake of his head. "I can't really put it into words — I just woke up a few minutes ago with a nagging sense that something's not right…" He trailed off, staring into the distance, concentrating.

Lois laid her hand on his arm in a supportive gesture. "Want me to switch on the TV, see if there's anything on the news?"

But he shook his head again. "I don't think it's that either. Wait a minute…" He paused, frowning. Then he threw himself out of the bed in a single movement. "It's Jon, honey. Something's wrong… I don't know what, I'm just picking up on his emotions. He's pretty upset about something."

"Can't you find out what?" Lois asked, instantly concerned.

Again he shook his head decisively. "Nope — he's not actively communicating with me. I think I'm only sensing this because whatever it is seems to be hurting a lot." He fell silent, concentrating on contacting his son, sending out mental probes in Jon's direction.

After a minute or two, he turned to face Lois again. "Nothing — he won't let me in. I'm going to go and find him, honey, okay?"

She came to stand beside him, wrapping her arms about his waist. "Do that. Jon's so even-tempered normally — if he's this upset about something, then I'm worried."

Clark nodded, quickly moving away from Lois so that he could spin into the Suit; he leaned over to kiss her briefly, hard, before making his exit through the bedroom window. His first task was to find his son…

Jon wasn't in his apartment, which didn't surprise Clark, but that meant he had to do a speed-search of the Metropolis area because wherever Jon was, he wasn't letting his mind open to telepathic communication. It took a while, but he finally located his son sitting on top of the social science building at MetU.

Jon didn't acknowledge him as Clark glided down slowly beside him, but after a few moments the younger Superman turned slowly to look at his father. The bleak, ravaged expression on his son's face shocked Clark.

"I knew you were looking for me," Jon said, his voice steady but quiet.

"You could have made it a little easier for me to find you, then!" Clark quipped in return, hoping to make Jon smile.

The smile came, but it didn't reach Jon's eyes. "Sorry. I guess I wasn't sure I wanted to be found."

"Want me to leave you alone?"

"No… no, stay." Jon lapsed into silence then, and Clark sat next to him, also not speaking in the hope that the silence would prompt Jon into telling him what was going on.

"She said no." The words were said so quietly that Clark wasn't sure whether he'd heard Jon speak them or merely think them.

"She…? Sarah?" There was an imperceptible nod. "Said no to what?"

Another few moments' silence. Then: "I asked her to marry me. She said no."

"Did she say why?" Clark asked.

Jon shook his head. "Just that she couldn't — oh, and that she wished I hadn't asked her. She says she loves me — she's been saying that since we were in England together. But if she really loved me, then surely…?"

It was Clark's turn to fall silent as memories of past mistakes assailed him. "It might not be as simple as that. Remember I told you I tried to rush Lois into an engagement? That wasn't being fair to her, not when she'd only just realised Superman and I were the same person."

"Yeah, I know all that," Jon objected, his tone a little more animated then. "Dad, I *gave* her time! That's what I've been doing ever since I told her… time to accept me for who I really am, and time to get over seeing her ex again. She's been *fine,* Dad! She didn't seem to have any problem with me being Superman, and she…" He paused for a moment, then glanced down at his hands. "We haven't… I mean, I guess I wanted to wait until… anyway, she's been as keen to… to — as I am! So it's not sex that's the issue either, I'm pretty sure of it."

Smiling wryly at his son's momentary discomfiture on the issue of lovemaking, Clark again mused how history was repeating itself: he and Lois had also waited, though in their case it had been Lois who'd been particularly keen to wait until they were married. He gathered, from Jon's slightly garbled explanation, that Sarah hadn't wanted to delay, but that for some reason Jon had.

Unlike Katy, of course, who'd been pregnant with Karen when she'd married Jimmy… he grinned inwardly. That was Katy, all right: impetuous. But always in the right causes.

"So you've no idea why she rejected you?" Clark asked again, his voice sympathetic.

Jon shook his head. "None. And she… she backed away from me as if she was scared I was going to hit her! I have *never* given her any reason to be afraid of me — I never would!"

"That doesn't sound like Sarah — at least, not the way she's been lately," Clark agreed. "The one thing that always seemed clear where she's concerned was that she trusts you." He paused again, considering his words carefully. "It seems to me that there's a lot more going on here than either of us could guess at. I mean, she wouldn't run away from you like that without a reason, would she?"

"I guess not," Jon replied slowly. "But there *is* no reason — at least not as far as I can see."

"There has to be something she's not telling you," Clark pointed out. "And my guess would be that it has something to do with her past, the abusive relationship — maybe she's just not ready to accept being in a serious relationship, or living with someone, yet?"

Jon was silent for a while; then he turned to face his father. "You could be right. You think I should try to talk to her again, reassure her that I'll wait until she's ready?"

Clark shrugged. "I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask — look at the mess I made of things with your mom when I first asked her to marry me. Talk to Lois, maybe, see what she thinks. But don't despair — I've seen the way Sarah looks at you, and she's as crazy about you as…" he paused, his voice softening as it always did when he thought of her, "as your mom is about me."

"I don't know if I can believe that any more," Jon replied bleakly.

"You have to," Clark told him.


His father was right, Jon thought the following morning as he flew back from helping to put out a fire at a chemicals plant. There was definitely something strange about Sarah's reaction to his proposal: it wasn't at all in character for her, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

Arriving at MetU, he landed discreetly behind some storage sheds and quickly spun into his normal clothes; a quick visual scan of the surrounding area showed that there was no-one about, so he made his way quickly to the main path leading to the social science building. There was no time like the present, he thought…

Sarah was in her office, his X-ray vision told him as he walked past. A few moments later, he was tapping on her door, trying to quell the butterflies in his stomach as he did so. It was an unusual sensation for someone with his genetic makeup and constitution, he reflected wryly; never really having experienced illness, he was unsure whether this strange feeling was anything similar to the way ordinary humans felt when they were sick. He certainly *felt* sick!

Wiping his palms on his trousers, he opened the door and went in. As her head turned towards the open door and her gaze met his, he saw the shock in her eyes, the instant jerky reaction, and he felt her pulse rate increase.

<There is no *way* she's indifferent to me!> he told himself instantly. Taking a deep breath, he closed the door and leaned against it.

"Sarah, we need to talk."

"Jon… I'm not sure there's any point," she told him in a low voice. "Last night.. we said everything that needed to be said."

"I don't think so!" he protested. "All you said was that you couldn't — you didn't tell me *why*! And there was something just not right about it all."

She was shaking her head insistently. "Jon, I can't, that's all. I should have said something before, I know, and I'm sorry it looked like I was leading you on — I never meant to! But… I can't — we can't be together. Not the way you want."

This was telling him nothing! Advancing towards her, his expression tense, he struggled to keep his voice level. "I *know* you feel something for me. You can't deny that! And you know I love you. So why not?"

But she looked away. "Jon, please just accept that I can't!"

"No! No, I won't accept that!" He stopped in front of her desk, resting his palms flat on its surface, and stared straight at her, compelling her by the sheer force of his presence to look at him. "Sarah, *tell* me what's wrong! If nothing else, I thought we were friends… I thought you trusted me!"

She was silent for several moments, and he was beginning to wonder whether she was trying to ignore his question when she finally answered him, her voice barely audible. "I do consider you a friend — probably the most special friend I've ever had. And I trust you. But… Jon, you have to accept that we can't get married."

He inhaled sharply. "How can you say you trust me when you won't tell me *why*?"

That question struck a nerve: he heard her stifle a choke before turning away from him again. "I *can't*. You have to accept that, Jon. Please, just go."

"And what if I don't want to accept it?" he persisted.

"Don't do that to me," she whispered, and suddenly he was reminded of another man who had refused to take no for an answer where Sarah was concerned. He had no wish to be compared with her ex-boyfriend.

Turning on his heel, he strode towards the door. Before opening it, however, he paused and looked back at her, taking in her pale face and rigid posture. There was something really not right here. But was it to do with her, or… could it be to do with him?

His own voice ragged, he told her, "I don't know what the problem is here, Sarah. I *know* you love me — and you want me, you can't deny that. But for some reason you won't talk to me. Okay. I won't bother you again. But if you change your mind, you know where to find me."


Sarah slumped back in her chair as the door closed behind Jon. Seeing him again so unexpectedly like that had been so hard to bear, loving him as she did; everything inside her had been screaming at her to run to him, wrap her arms around him and beg him to forgive her for hurting him.

Now he had gone again; she had sent him away by making it clear to him that his persistence was unwelcome. *That* had struck home; he'd caught the implication of her response very clearly, she'd noticed. And that had been so unfair of her, too: Jon could never be like Rob, and she'd made him think that his behaviour was putting him in that category. But it had been the only way to make him stop, to ensure that he didn't keep trying to persuade her… she couldn't have held out against him much longer.

Even now, she wanted to run after him and tell him she loved him and wanted to be with him. She *loved* him — wasn't that what was important?

But there were other things which were more important, such as what was right for Jon. She remembered his words to her all too clearly: 'That's what love is about, Sarah. It's wanting your happiness, your well-being, more than I want my own.'

And that was why she had to harden her heart against him, make him leave her alone, and get out of his way as soon as possible.


The evenings dragged for Sarah, now that she wasn't spending her free time with Jon. She missed him terribly, but had no interest in finding alternative activities, so she ended up staying later and later in her office, then returning to her apartment to stare at the television or spend a couple of hours at her keyboard. Despite the pain it caused her, she scoured the Internet for reports of Superman's activities, needing to know what Jon was doing and whether he was okay; he seemed to be extremely busy these days, because on most of the occasions when she saw Superman now, it was Jon and not Clark.

<He'll be exhausted if he keeps this up> she thought one night, watching a live feed from southern India as Jon battled to prevent flood waters from reaching a small farming community. She knew — he had told her — that he didn't *need* sleep, but he'd also admitted that he did tend to get tired if he missed a number of nights' sleep and if he somehow didn't get enough sunlight. He'd been in India for the past ten hours, according to the news report; that meant he'd missed daylight hours in Metropolis, and it was only barely getting light now where he was. She strained to see the tiny image on-screen: did he look weary or was it merely her imagination?

Just then someone knocked at her door; she frowned, having no idea who could be calling at this late hour. She was barely on nodding terms with her neighbours, and anyway she couldn't imagine any of them calling so late. Initially tempted to ignore the knock, she eventually sighed and went over to open the door.

A slim, attractive woman stood outside.

"Lois!" Sarah stared at Jon's mother in shock.

"Can I come in?"

"Umm… yes, of course." Sarah stood back to allow the older woman to pass. She shouldn't have been too surprised at this visit, she supposed: although Jon was an adult and very much treated as such by his parents, she also knew that Lois loved her son dearly and would fight vigorously in his defence if she thought it necessary.

Sarah turned quickly to face Lois. "I imagine this is about Jon?"

She thought she saw a flash of admiration on Lois's face, possibly because she hadn't attempted to avoid the issue.

"Yes — I wanted to know why you said you love him and then told him you couldn't marry him."

Sarah glanced away; the older woman's gaze was too knowing. "I think that's between Jon and me, Lois."

"I'd go along with that, except that Jon hasn't a clue either, Sarah," Lois objected. "He doesn't know what to think — he wonders if maybe you didn't mean it when you said you loved him, or whether you just can't accept who or what he is…"

Jon thought that? Sarah groaned inwardly; she knew she'd hurt him, but this was far worse. "Lois, it has nothing to do with that — "

"Sarah, you don't need to be defensive with me," Lois interrupted.

Calming down suddenly, Sarah sank into an armchair. "Lois, I know you love Jon and it's natural that you probably think I'm a right bitch for what I did to him — "

But Lois interrupted her again. "Sarah, I'm not taking sides here. I know how Jon feels about you, and I'm pretty sure I know how you feel about him too. I think you're the right woman for him, and I want to help." Giving Sarah an assessing stare, she continued, "From what I can see, he's not the only one hurting here."

She didn't answer, not trusting herself to deny it convincingly.

Lois paused again, giving Sarah a reassuring smile as she also took a seat. "Sarah, I do know what it's like. I married a Super-powered alien too, remember."

Before Sarah could answer and deny that Jon's antecedents had anything to do with it, Lois was speaking again.

"See, when I was dating Clark I thought what I saw was what I was getting: a gentle, mild-mannered, funny, naive but intelligent country boy. He got all the way to asking me to marry him before he got around to telling me that he was also Superman, though admittedly I'd figured it out by then. And I had to reassess everything I knew about him. Suddenly this sweet guy I'd been dating had become someone I barely knew! And I had to get used to the fact that he could fly, and he was far more powerful and faster and stronger than I was or could ever be. And for a while, I can tell you, I felt pretty inadequate next to him. I didn't know how I could ever match up to Clark as he really was. Then I finally understood that he didn't want me to do that. All he wanted from me was that I should love him and help him to *belong.* And since I already loved him more than I'd ever believed I could love anyone, that was simple."

But Sarah shook her head, shocked that Lois could think her refusal sprang from any dislike of Jon's Kryptonian heritage. "No! It's got nothing to do with Jon being half-Kryptonian, or Superman, or his abilities or anything like that… Is that what he thinks?" she added anxiously.

"He doesn't know what to think," Lois chided her. "All he knows is that he asked you to marry him and you said 'I can't.' And he has no idea why, and I'm sure you can imagine what that's doing to him."

"Don't try the guilt-trip, Lois, it's not fair!" Sarah threw at her, standing up and turning her back on the older woman, her shoulders heaving as she fought for control.

"No? Nor is just telling Jon no and not telling him why," Lois said calmly, the quiet words somehow flaying Sarah more than they would have if the woman had shouted them in anger.

"I can't," she muttered.

Lois moved to stand beside her, placing her hand on Sarah's arm. "Try telling me."

"Look, Lois, if I was going to tell anyone, it should be Jon — he's the only one who has the right to know."

"So why haven't you told him?" Lois smoothly slid the metaphorical knife between Sarah's ribs.

She couldn't help herself; a choking sob escaped her before she could regain her composure. Quietly, jerkily, she addressed Lois again. "I can see how you got all your awards for investigative reporting. You're good. You're… but I'm not going to tell you. You're right, I should tell Jon, and I will. But it's not going to make any difference. I can't marry him, and as soon as I can get out of my exchange contract here, I'm leaving — going back to England. I have to get away… if I'm gone, he won't have to see me, risk running into me any more…"

Suddenly Lois's arms were about Sarah, holding her, soothing her. After a few minutes, the older woman murmured, "If you really think that'll make any difference, you're only fooling yourself. Will you forget him if you run away? Do you think being in England instead of Metropolis would make any difference to Jon if he decided your reason wasn't good enough? Flying solo he can be on the other side of the Atlantic in not much more than a couple of minutes."

She'd almost forgotten that; either that, or she'd somehow imagined that he wouldn't follow her. And yet did she really believe that Jon had given up on her, or decided not to make any more attempts to change her mind? She knew, somehow, that he wasn't behind this visit from Lois: in fact, she would guess that he had no idea she was here. But Jon had told her that he'd be waiting when she was ready to talk to him — that sounded like someone who hadn't given up on her yet. Just because she hadn't heard from him, or seen him, in almost a week didn't mean he'd gone away.

Okay, she would tell him; she owed it to him, she conceded finally. She should have been honest with him right from the start.

Taking several deep breaths, she freed herself from Lois's embrace. "You're right. Maybe he will follow me — but maybe, once I've explained it all to him, he'll leave me alone. He has to — it's better for both of us if he does. And I *will* forget him… I have to…"

But would having to forget him make actually doing it any easier?

"Sarah, I have no idea what the problem is here," Lois said gently. "But I do know my son, and I know that he loves you. You probably don't see it, but Jon's very Kryptonian in many ways — and one way is that, like his father and like his sister, when he falls in love he does it completely and absolutely. Like Clark did with me — there was nothing Clark wouldn't have done so that we could be together. Well, short of killing anyone," she added with a quick smile. "You already know my family's views on that. But what I'm saying is that Jon doesn't fall in and out of love. He loves you, and he will go on loving you. Like Clark once said to me, his love is forever because… it just is."

Sarah found herself blinking back tears as she listened to Lois; every word made sense as she reflected on all the ways Jon had told her of his love for her, the way he'd looked at her, held her, kissed her…

"And, Sarah, whatever it is that's troubling you, you need to remember something else Clark once told me. The two of you together are stronger than one of you alone — even when it's someone as strong as Jon, or as strong-willed as you!" Lois softened her words with a swift grin.

"I'll get out of your way now — but think about what I said, okay?"

Nodding, Sarah accompanied Lois to the door. "Yes, I will — and thank you, Lois."

Closing the door behind her unexpected guest, she inhaled deeply to regain her composure. She would have to go and see Jon tomorrow — but despite Lois's words, she knew that there wouldn't be any grand reconciliation. That just couldn't happen. All she could do for him was to tell him the truth: she owed him that much.


Late morning the following day, Sarah hesitated outside the door of Jon's apartment. He should be in, she knew; she'd checked the news sites again earlier that morning and learned that Superman had left India at some time in the small hours; she guessed that he'd have come straight home, unless he'd stopped to soak up some sun first, and would then have headed to bed.

Being a Sunday, he was probably in no hurry to go anywhere, so she'd left it until after 11 am in an attempt to let him get some much-needed rest. But she couldn't put this off any longer; she raised her hand and knocked.

A few moments later she heard Jon's voice yell, "Just a minute!" There was the sound of rustling, followed by footsteps before the door was opened. Jon stood on the other side, unshaven, hair rumpled, barefoot and dressed in jeans and a shirt which hung unbuttoned, but with his glasses in place.

The sight of his bare chest momentarily took Sarah's breath away; he was just so *beautiful*! But she had to compose herself; his eyes had widened at the sight of her — which told her he'd obviously been too tired or disorientated to use his X-ray vision — and his expression told her that she was the last person he'd expected to see.

"Can I come in?" she asked hesitantly.

He moved then, stepping back from the door so that she could come past. "Um… yeah, sure."

As he closed the door behind her, he ran his free hand over his roughened jawline. "I guess I must look a mess — I've only just got up."

She grimaced awkwardly. "It's my fault — I should have phoned first. I didn't mean to wake you up."

He shrugged. "I needed to get up anyway. I… uh, I was in India until about five this morning."

"I saw — the Internet news."

"Oh." He seemed awkward, as if not sure what to say; that was hardly surprising, she thought. They hadn't spoken to each other for almost a week, and the last time he'd seen her she'd asked him to leave her alone. And now she'd turned up unannounced at his apartment — no wonder the guy was confused.

"I… um, I wondered if we could talk, Jon," she explained hesitantly. "Unless you'd rather not… I mean, I'll just go if you prefer…?" She made as if to open the door.

In a flash, he was there before her, preventing her reaching the handle. "Please — don't go." His voice was almost curt, but she heard the pleading note in it.

"I don't want to — there are some things I need to explain to you," she told him.

His stance relaxed as she moved away from the door again. "Okay, but let me get cleaned up first, okay? I need a shower and a shave."

That got her attention. "I never thought about that before, Jon — how do you shave? I remember you didn't buy razorblades in Midchester, but anyway they'd break on you, wouldn't they?"

That made him smile. "Yeah, they would. Look, if you want, I'll show you, okay? Give me five minutes or so, then knock on the bathroom door."

He was about to pad off towards his bedroom when she stopped him. "You look like you could do with some coffee too. And some breakfast."

He half-turned towards her again, and there was a flash of the beguiling smile she knew and loved. "I guess you know me too well." He had disappeared into his bedroom before she could reply, which, she thought, was just as well.

Seeing him again was affecting her even more than she could have imagined. She wanted to throw herself into his arms and kiss him passionately; she wanted to feel his arms around her, hear his voice telling her that everything would be okay and that together they could do anything they wanted. And the sight of him, with his hair untidy and the stubble on his jaw giving him a piratical look, to say nothing of that expanse of broad, smooth brown chest, had made her feel weak at the knees.

She loved him. But, she reminded herself firmly, that was precisely why she had to stay well away from him. And thinking about him in the shower, listening to the water running in the bathroom, was not helping her maintain that resolve.

She forced herself to go into the kitchen, filling the coffee-machine and rummaging around in his cupboards to find something she could cook quickly for breakfast. Bread. Eggs? Okay, there was cereal too, but what would Jon prefer? And it was late morning, so he'd be having lunch soon — maybe with his parents. So he wouldn't want a large breakfast…

<Stop fussing!> she told herself, taking down a packet of ready-made pancakes and a carton of maple syrup. She knew why she was obsessing over this simple task of making breakfast: it was in order to take her mind off the image of Jon in the bathroom… and worse, off the difficult conversation which still lay ahead of her.

His voice burst into her thoughts then as he called her; she hurried along to the bathroom, wondering if there was something wrong. But he stood in the doorway dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a crisp black T-shirt, his damp hair plastered to his skull.

"You said you wanted to see me…" He gestured towards his face, and she nodded.

"Come in — stand over there, and don't move," he instructed her. "And don't even think of trying to make eye contact with me — you'll get hurt if you do, and I don't want that."

She took up her position at right angles to the washbasin and waited: Jon came to stand in front of the basin, his gaze directed at the mirror. She watched, half-expecting him to produce some super-strength reinforced razor from the bathroom cabinet, though at the same time she wasn't sure how that could possibly work given that he hadn't had anything like that with him in Midchester. Suddenly she heard a very faint rasping sound, and her gaze flicked to the edge of his jawline. The stubble was simply disappearing in front of her eyes!

"What… how are you doing that?"

She saw him blink, then he grinned. "Heat vision. I'm reflecting it in the mirror, and it just burns off the stubble."

She shook her head slowly. "That's incredible! But I can see why you warned me…" With a wary glance in his direction, she shifted slightly so that she wasn't anywhere near his line of vision.

A moment later, she felt his hand lightly touch her shoulder. "It's okay — I was just warning you in case you got in the way while I was doing it, but I've been using heat vision for years, and I've never had an accident with it yet."

His gentle touch almost made her resolve crumble yet again, but once more she reminded herself that breaking up with him had been the right thing to do. It would just be selfish of her to try to keep him…

"Sarah?" He was frowning now as he continued to stare at her.

"What…? Oh, sorry, just thinking," she said with a light shrug. "Look, why don't I sort out some breakfast for you while you finish getting ready, then I can tell you why I'm here?"

His expression altered, became more intent as he seemed to be seeking clues from her voice or her facial expression. After a moment he nodded. "Okay. I'll be five minutes."

She made her escape, her heart thumping. Seeing Jon again, and being in such close quarters with him, was just so difficult given her feelings for him. Perhaps she should have spoken to him on the phone, emailed him… but that would have been the coward's way out.

He joined her in the kitchen even sooner than he'd said, his jawline smooth and his hair combed in its usual style. Surprisingly, he wasn't wearing his glasses, though she noticed them tucked in the top pocket of his T-shirt.

"I… um, I was just wondering how to heat these," she said awkwardly, gesturing towards the pancakes. She hadn't found a frying pan anywhere, and they didn't look like the kind of thing which went in an oven.

But he gestured for her to move out of the way; suddenly he was staring at the plate, and within seconds steam was rising from the pancakes. "That's the only way to cook them," he informed her with a quirk of one eyebrow. "Dad swears by it."

All too soon, they were back in the sitting-room and Jon had eaten breakfast without initiating any conversation. He poured himself a refill of coffee and turned his gaze to meet hers as she sat opposite him.

"So… you wanted to talk about something?"

"Yeah. I… Jon, I'm sorry, I…"

"Hey," he interrupted. "Don't apologise! It's okay, sweetheart. I guess I rushed you, huh? I just… well, I knew how I felt about you, and like an idiot I went full steam ahead and asked you to marry me. If it's too soon for you, that's okay. We'll just take things slower."

He thought she'd come to make up with him! She closed her eyes briefly, searching for the words to explain, then realised that she would have to be blunt. "Jon… no. It's nothing to do with timing. I… I just can't marry you, but I came here this morning because I realised it was wrong of me not to tell you *why.*"

His face fell, his eyes turning hard. "You really meant it, then. Well, maybe you shouldn't bother telling me why, because as I see it there can only be two possible reasons. One, you never really loved me, or two, it's because I'm half alien." He stood up and strode in the direction of the door. "I think you should go."

"No!" Her exclamation was instinctive, horrified as she was by the conclusion he had jumped to. Lois had been right, she realised. "Jon, no! You're wrong!"

"I am?" His voice was cool, disbelieving.

"Yes. I do love you," she told him emphatically. "And the hardest thing I ever did was turn down your proposal."

He came back to stand in front of her. "Sarah, this is making no sense at all."

Sarah sighed; she was making a real mess of this. "I know, and I'm sorry. Jon, I do love you, but I can't be with you because I know what you want. You want it all — marriage, a family, happy ever after. And I can't give you that."

He exhaled slowly, gazing at her in surprise. "Sarah… I just said that if I was rushing you, I'm sorry! We can take things at whatever pace you want, and if it's marriage itself that's the problem, if making a commitment to me would make you feel trapped because of what happened with Rob, that's not a problem! We can live together instead — "

"No," she interrupted him again. "Jon… I can't give you kids. *That's* the problem. And I know how much you love children, how much you want a family of your own…"

"Wait a minute," he broke in, confused but with a hint of anger creeping into his voice. "You said you couldn't marry me because you don't want children?"

"Not don't 'want'," she corrected immediately, painfully. "I can't have children, Jon, not now." It was the first time she had put that fact into words; even Jane didn't know about this, and it hurt.

But she couldn't have predicted Jon's reaction. He was still standing in front of her; suddenly his stance became very threatening. He loomed over her, glaring furiously at her. "Let me get this straight, Sarah. You have put me through sheer *hell* for the past week, thinking that you didn't love me or that you were revolted by my being half alien… and instead it's only because you can't have kids?" His voice cracked on the final phrase, and he wrenched himself away from her, flinging himself in the seat opposite her; from his manner and the tautness of his jawline, she guessed he needed to get away from her before he did something he would regret.

That hurt. She'd told him something she'd never before told another person — and she'd also made a huge sacrifice for his sake, as a result of that loss which pained her so much — and he'd reacted angrily, as if her infertility was of no importance. Hot tears pricked at her eyes, and she blinked them away furiously.

There was a tense silence; she avoided Jon's gaze, not wanting to see the anger and rejection there, and not wanting him to see her tears either. But suddenly there was a gentle hand on her arm, and she turned her head unwillingly to face him.

He was crouched on the floor in front of her, his expression full of loving concern. "Sarah — love — I'm sorry, I didn't mean to belittle your situation. It's obviously something that bothers you a lot, and I never meant to imply that it wasn't important to you."

She swallowed the large lump which was gathering in her throat. "Jon… I never wanted you to think you being half Kryptonian was a problem… I never knew you'd think that!"

He shook his head gently. "What was I expected to think, honey? You didn't tell me the real reason!" In a sudden, decisive movement he got to his feet and swept her off the chair, carrying her over to the large armchair he'd sat in the night she'd told him about Rob and sitting down with her on his lap.

"You have to explain this to me, very carefully," he told her soberly. "You see, I really don't see how this has anything to do with us getting married. I love *you* — okay, I'm sorry you can't have children, but I've never seen you as an incubator!"

His gentle joke made her smile, but then the tears started to flow quickly as she finally faced up to the hurt she had kept locked inside for a year now. She would never be a mother, never hold her own child in her arms… never have this man's children. And he would be such a wonderful father…

"Tell me about it," his soft, persuasive voice murmured in her ear. "Just take it easy — I've got as long as you want. What happened to you? Or is this something congenital?"

She shook her head. "It was Rob — that last time."

"What?!" All gentleness was gone from his voice; he was furiously angry again, though she knew the anger wasn't with her.

"When he beat me up — he got me on the ground and he was kicking me… When I finally regained consciousness in hospital, they told me I'd had massive internal bleeding. They couldn't repair the damage, so they had to… Jon, by the time I woke up, I'd had a hysterectomy. I'm not even thirty and I've lost my womb!"


Jon sat as if turned to stone as he took in her explanation. It wasn't enough that the guy had treated her as a punch-bag and almost killed her, but he'd also been responsible for robbing her of something so utterly precious, something irreplaceable. Somewhere inside him, cold fury was building up and he needed an outlet for it.

But he couldn't, not now; not while Sarah needed him. And she did; tears were pouring down her cheeks now. He raised a hand to brush them away, though his hand was shaking from reaction. No, he couldn't let his anger out now. It wouldn't help Sarah, and he needed to find out just what was going through her mind. What had happened to her was appalling, but why had she somehow believed that it meant she couldn't marry him? Had she honestly thought he wouldn't want her if she couldn't give him children? How could she possibly have thought that…? How could she have believed that he was so shallow, that his love was conditional in any way? Didn't she trust him? And if she didn't, what did that say about her love for him?

Why hadn't she *told* him?

But this wasn't about his reactions; he'd have to deal with that later, explain to her how he felt about her automatic assumption that he wouldn't want her if she couldn't give him children. Right now, Sarah needed comforting, and he had to get to the bottom of why she felt as she did. Maybe it wasn't a matter of lack of trust; maybe this was something so fundamental to her that it never had occurred to her that he wouldn't share her perspective, wouldn't agree that it made it impossible for them to be together.

She was crying now, and he cradled her in his arms, his hand stroking her hair as he murmured to her, telling her that he loved her and that Rob would never be able to hurt her again. It was some minutes before her tears subsided, and she pulled back from him then, fumbling in her pockets for a tissue. He reached across to a nearby low table and snagged one from a box, dabbing at her eyes with it before pushing it into her hand.

"Thanks. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fall apart like this…" she apologised awkwardly.

"Hey, come on, you don't have to apologise!" he told her, appalled that she felt the need. "Not to me, and not for getting upset. Let me guess," he added gently. "This is the first time you've told anyone about this, yeah?"

"How did you know?" She seemed genuinely surprised.

He shrugged. "Jane didn't mention it, and unless you'd sworn her to secrecy… I think even then she'd have hinted that there was more to your injuries than she'd told me. And you just sound as if you've been bottling all this up for a long time, sweetheart."

"Yes… it was just too personal," she said quietly. "Of course the police knew — it was all part of the medical evidence the hospital gave them. But I asked the Crown Prosecution Service — that's the equivalent of your District Attorney's office — not to mention it as part of the prosecution. As far as I could see they had plenty of evidence as it was, without having to use that."

"And you love kids, don't you?" Jon asked gently. "I saw you with Karen and Michael that day, remember? I remember thinking you'd be terrific with kids of your own… our own."

"And that's exactly why I can't marry you!" she exclaimed, shocking him by again reiterating the argument. He gripped her chin in his palm, compelling her to meet his gaze.

"Sarah, listen to me while I explain this again. I *love* you. You. Sarah Fuller. Not because of any children we might or might not have had together, but because of the person you are. Yeah, I love kids too, and I guess I always assumed I'd have them, but… if we can't have children as a couple, then that's the way it is!" He sighed, running his free hand down her arm and seizing her hand in his, linking their fingers together. "I'm not trying to say it's not important, sweetheart. I can see how much it hurts you, and if there was anything, *anything* I could do to make things right for you, I would. But having children of our own is not why I want to marry you. It never was!"

She was silent again, tears still shimmering in her grey eyes. Then she grimaced and answered him. "Jon… I know how much you love kids, you've talked about Karen and Michael so much, and Katy told me how much you want children of your own. And there's nothing I'd like more than to give you that… but I can't."

"Yeah, and *I've* told you that it's not important!" he interjected, frustrated that she seemed not to understand that he really didn't see it as an insuperable obstacle to their being together. Although he remembered suddenly… when he'd proposed, he'd said he wanted them to be like his parents and his sister — perhaps that had reinforced her conviction that children had to be a part of their lives? "Look, sweetheart, I know we'd both love to be parents, but lots of people never have children and although I guess it's tough for them, they do have happy and fulfilling lives. And if we want to share our home with children — well, there are other ways. We can adopt — a baby, an older child who's in care. And you know my dad's adopted — my grandparents couldn't have kids. I wouldn't love a child any less just because it wasn't biologically our own."

But she shook her head. "Jon, that's the point! I have nothing against adoption, but you need to have your own descendants, don't you? You're Superman's son… don't you need to carry on the line or something?"

He was barely able to believe he'd heard that. "Sarah, you have got to be kidding if you think I'd take that attitude! And even if Dad was worried about carrying on the 'Krypto-human line,' Katy's already done it!"

"Yes, but you told me her two don't seem to have inherited your father's powers."

"And that's a problem because…?" he asked her, still amazed at her reasoning.

She moved then, sliding off his lap and onto the floor, and began to pace. "Jon, you told me about your parents' descendants, how they're supposed to found Utopia. Now, I'm really not sure I believe in all this 'perfect world in the future' stuff, but your family seems pretty convinced by what this Wells guy has told them, and I suppose I can't really argue with that since I don't expect many people manage to fool your parents. But if it's all true, then *you* need to have children of your own so you can pass on your powers to the next generation!"

Jumping to his feet as well, he crossed the room to grasp her shoulders in his hands. "Sarah, we know so little about Utopia, but I do know two things. One is that I don't think Super-powers are an essential element in helping to found a society based on love and truth and decency, and two, I'm not going to let anyone tell me that you and I are not meant to be together. We're perfect for each other, Sarah. And you can't tell me you haven't felt the connection between us — can you?"

He held her gaze, waiting for an answer; she nodded slowly, reluctantly.

"I… I was drawn to you the first time we met," she admitted. "I couldn't work out why I wanted to know everything about this flying man in a cape — it almost felt like an obsession. I *had* to know everything there was to know about you. And… and then I met Jon Kent and for some reason I felt drawn to him too… even though I'd sworn never to let any man get close to me again."

"I know, honey," he told her, his voice serious. "That's the bond between us, and I've known it was there from the start. You know, Mom and Dad talk about being soul-mates — well, that's exactly how I feel about you. So I guess that means *my* line stops with me, and that's fine by me as long as it means I can have you."

"Your line doesn't have to stop with you," she whispered, seemingly on the verge of tears again. "You can have kids with someone else…"

"What, a surrogacy?" he asked her, incredulous. "And you'd let me do that, and bring up the child as if you were its mother?" He shook his head. "Sorry, honey, but — well, okay, I know lots of couples do that all the time, but it doesn't appeal to me. I told you, I have no burning need to reproduce myself if the process doesn't involve you."

He drew her close to him again, his hands gently caressing her. "And anyway, I have no idea whether, if I did have children of my own, they'd inherit my powers. It might be that one-quarter Kryptonian is simply not enough to carry the powers. But…" He shrugged. "You should hear Mom on that subject sometimes. She thinks — and a lot of the time I agree with her — that the world's got too dependent on Superman. She reckons the emergency services and the UN are getting complacent because they think we'll always be there to sort out their problems. She'd probably think it's a good thing."

"What — that in a generation's time there'll be no Superman?" Sarah queried, her expression revealing her surprise.

"That the qualities Dad has which do get passed on beyond Katy and me will be his most important ones — his ethics and his enormous gift for compassion," Jon said softly.

He held Sarah's gaze for a few moments until he could see that his words had sunk in, then he smiled ruefully at her. "Honey, I can see where you were coming from on this, but why the heck didn't you tell me about this sooner? I could have told you then that it wasn't a problem as far as I'm concerned. Look, I don't want us to fight about this, because I can see it hurt you too, but have you any idea what I've been going through this past week because you rejected me? I don't think I could cope with that again," he finished on a whisper. "And… I feel like you didn't trust me because you couldn't tell me the truth."

Her gaze dropped, as if she couldn't look him in the eye. "I thought… I just didn't know what you'd think, Jon. And ever since this happened, I've felt… well, like I'm just not a whole woman any more. Not a *real* woman — and…"

"And it hurts to admit that?" he asked her. She nodded.

"Sarah, there's nothing 'incomplete' about you! You are all the woman I want, and more! The fact that you can no longer have children doesn't diminish you in any way, as far as I'm concerned — and if it wasn't for the fact that finding out that this was the reason is a hell of a relief considering what I've been thinking, I'd be furious with you for imagining I'd think that!" He dipped his head so that his forehead touched hers briefly. "So please, let's put this behind us and get on with planning our future, okay?"

She was silent for so long he was afraid that she was going to reject him again. Then she reached up to brush her lips softly against his. "I don't think I could go through another week like this either, Jon. And I'm so sorry I hurt you — I never imagined you'd think it was because of your ancestry…" She paused again, then added, "At first, I never imagined you were serious about me. Not like this — the marrying kind of serious. I just thought… well, that you'd want us to go out together for a while… I know you said you'd move to England to be with me if that was what it took, but I never really believed it. It's not that I didn't trust *you*," she added quickly, clearly seeing the expression in his eyes. "I… just didn't understand how you felt. And after Rob, no matter how I told myself I was over it, it wasn't easy to accept that someone really loved me the way you did. It wasn't until we got back from England that I understood how you felt, what you wanted — and I just panicked."

He nodded; he wasn't entirely happy that she hadn't trusted him enough to tell him sooner, but that wasn't important right now since it was obvious from her behaviour, her words, that she would never lack trust in him again. "So, now we've talked properly about this, you will marry me?" he pursued.

"Are you… *sure* you don't mind that I can't give you children?" she asked, still sounding uncertain. He saw the traces of doubt still in her eyes, and resolved to make sure she never doubted his love again.

Holding her firmly in his embrace, Jon answered her in a tone of voice which sounded like an avowal. "The only thing I mind about is that you've been hurt. You and I are going to get married, and whether or not we decide to adopt, we'll be happy because we're meant to be together. And I swear no-one will ever hurt you again if I can prevent it."

"I believe you," she whispered. "And… yes. I'll marry you."

Neither spoke again for a long time; both were too busy making up for lost time, buried in each other's embrace. Their mouths found each other, and after a few minutes Jon swept her up in his arms to carry her back to the armchair where he could hold her close to him. It felt so good, so *right* to hold her again, to kiss her and caress her; he wanted to do more than that, but it wasn't the right time. Right now she needed his love to help her deal with the loss of something precious to her, and she would get it. Later — how much later, he didn't know — they would make love, and he would show her then just how much she meant to him, just how much he loved her and would go on loving her for the rest of his life.

She was his soul-mate; just as his father and mother had found each other, and Katy had found Jimmy, he and Sarah were meant to be together.


Jon strode through the kitchen of his parents' home, through the living-room and into the dining-room, which had now been converted into a larger study where both Lois and Clark could work in comfort. His parents were both there, Lois seated in front of the computer with Clark standing behind her, one hand on her shoulder and the other gesturing at something on the screen.

Despite his need to talk to them, Jon paused and smiled. That scene was very familiar to anyone who had known Lane and Kent in the old days at the Planet, before Lois had taken over as Editor; Jimmy had often said that his most abiding image of the two of them was precisely the same sight as now met Jon's eyes.

Clark turned and smiled at his son. "Hey there — were we expecting you?"

"No — just wanted to talk. You two busy? Should I come back another time?"

Clark immediately left Lois's side and came to join Jon. "No, it's fine. We were just refining our proposal for the Intergang book — with your mom's retirement coming up in a few weeks we want to make sure we're ready to get writing."

"Is this a man-talk or can I join in?" Lois enquired, getting up from the desk; her movements were a little slower these days, Jon noticed. Nothing which really impaired her mobility, but this Lois Lane would have a few problems climbing drainpipes or holding on to flagpoles for dear life. There were times, he thought, when he'd have loved the opportunity to see his mother as she'd been in her late twenties. Maybe, if he ever got to meet HG Wells…

He brushed that thought aside and raised his eyebrow in his mother's direction. "Oh, no, I want to talk to you," he informed her dryly. "I understand you went and had a talk with Sarah?"

Clark instantly gave Lois a resigned glance, Jon saw. "Oh, honey, you didn't? What happened to 'we're not going to interfere'?"

"Well, someone had to find out what was going on!" Lois protested unapologetically, but then she turned her attention to Jon. "Is there a problem, sweetie? She told me she was going to talk to you…?"

"And she did, Mom, and I owe you — big-time," he assured her, dropping his indignant act. He'd only intended to tease, and he really was grateful for what she'd done. "I'll tell you all about it in a minute, but I wanted to give you the good news first."

"She's going to stay?" Lois asked quickly.

"Better than that. How soon can we organise a wedding?" He grinned at his parents, enjoying the stunned but delighted expressions on their faces.

Clark recovered first. "Hey, you sure you're asking the right people here? We had to arrange ours three times before we actually managed it!" Jon grinned; the trials his parents had gone through before they'd finally got married were so long in the past now that even his father could smile at them.

More practical as usual, Lois chipped in. "What kind of wedding do you want? Church? City Hall? Unusual location or out of doors?"

Jon shrugged. "You know, I don't think either of us really cares, just as long as we get married. Sarah doesn't have any family to invite anyway, so she's not really interested in much fuss."

"Oh, that's so sad!" Lois exclaimed instantly. "She must have friends — Jon, you have to insist that she gets her friends over for the wedding. Unless she'd prefer to be married in England?"

"No, here," Jon confirmed. "And yeah, she has some friends… and I think I can persuade her that Superman can help with transport."

"Well, since you both work there, how about the chapel at MetU?" Clark suggested. "That way it'll be somewhere which means something to you both."

"Sounds like a great idea," Jon exclaimed, pleased. "I'll suggest it to her when I see her later."

"Why isn't she with you now?" Lois asked.

"She's back at her place, doing some marking," Jon explained, not adding that Sarah had wanted some time alone to start making plans to stay in Metropolis; she needed to get a job at MetU if that was possible, resign from Midchester and rearrange her life in order to emigrate permanently to the US. She'd also wanted to talk to Jane, tell her friend the news. "This is why I'm here, really — she wants me to tell you what she told me this morning, but she didn't want to be here when I did it."

"This sounds serious," Clark commented, sounding concerned.

"It is," Jon agreed. He took a seat on the living-room couch and proceeded to fill his parents in on Sarah's revelation.

Lois was first to break the lengthy silence which followed. "The poor woman… it must have been truly horrible for her." She sighed heavily. "You know, maybe I should talk to her — we have some idea of what she's going through, after all, Clark. Remember when we thought we couldn't have children together?"

Jon saw his father reach for his mother's hand and squeeze it tightly. "I remember," Clark murmured quietly, and Jon could sense the emotion behind the words. "But we were lucky, honey. Bernie was wrong: we were able to have kids, and we got Jon and Katy. Sarah will never have that good fortune."

Suddenly Jon felt his father's gaze on him, and as he looked up to meet Clark's eye, the older man spoke to him. <<How do *you* feel about that, son? Knowing you two can't have children together?>>

Jon grimaced. <<That's why she said she wouldn't marry me. But that's crazy — as if I'd put having kids above us being together!>>

He saw that Lois was watching him and so he continued the conversation aloud, not bothering to reiterate what had already been said silently; he knew his mother had already sensed the implications for him. "Sure, I always wanted kids. But that just doesn't happen for everyone — and I told Sarah, we can always adopt."

"And is she happy with that option?" Lois asked.

"We agreed we'd discuss it again in a year or so," Jon explained. "The important thing for now is to be together. And I know she's going to need a lot of reassurance that not having kids of our own doesn't matter to me — right now she's pretty sensitive about it."

"Well, tell her from me that the thought of preserving the Kryptonian gene on into the third and fourth generations and beyond is really something which has never been particularly important to me," Clark announced with a sweeping gesture of his hand. "We've already agreed that the powers aren't that important. And, you know, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Kryptonians I've met that I actually liked."

Lois grinned. "And two of those were versions of you, honey!"

Jon joined in the laughter at this, but after a few moments he saw his mother looking pensive. He raised an eyebrow in her direction.

"Oh — sorry, sweetie. I was just wondering how you felt about Sarah not telling you this — she's put you through a horrible time this last week."

Jon nodded. "Yeah, she did, and okay, I was angry at first that she hadn't told me. But people get things wrong sometimes, and hurt other people without meaning to — I know you two know that. And the important thing is that we love each other and we're going to be together. So it doesn't matter — not now."

He saw his parents glance at each other, their expressions revealing their agreement with the way he'd expressed his views. Then he became conscious of his father's gaze on him again. "Dad?"

"I was just thinking about Sarah's ex… I'd guess you feel pretty murderous towards him, huh?"

Jon exhaled sharply. "You're telling me! It was all I could do to restrain myself when she told me. You know, if I'd known about this when I had hold of him in England, I'd — " He broke off abruptly. The thoughts which were going through his mind weren't anything he wanted to voice.

<<I know>> he heard his father say.

"Well, I'd have decked him myself," Lois announced. "He'd have been walking funny for the next week if I'd had a chance to get near him."

Clark smiled crookedly. "I wouldn't doubt it, honey. But… Jon could have killed the guy. That's what you were thinking, isn't it?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in Jon's direction.

"Yeah… I've already come up with about ten different ways I'd have liked to do it too," Jon said, sighing. "I know it's not the way we work, but… this is different, Dad. This is personal."

"I've been there, you know," Clark told him. "You know about Luthor, and Tempus, and even Luthor's son who wanted to make me his servant by holding Lois captive. It's not easy — and I meant every word of it when I told Tempus I'd forget my ethics if he hurt Lois. I'd have done the same if he'd harmed either you or Katy as kids."

"Yet you didn't kill him when you had the chance — when Conor Kane captured him," Jon countered.

Clark sighed. "No. And I still wouldn't. And you wouldn't kill this Rob, either," he added with certainty.

Jon exhaled again, long and hard. "No. I wouldn't. But… that doesn't stop me wanting to."

Suddenly Lois was sitting beside him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Of course it doesn't, sweetie. But wanting and doing are two different things, and we know you'll always do the right thing." She kissed his forehead. "So when do you want us to arrange this wedding for?"

He gave a lop-sided grin. "We thought about two weeks' time — Sarah'll get Katy to help her choose a dress, and — Dad, she wondered if you'd walk her down the aisle?"

"Tell her I'll be honoured to," Clark assured him.


She was supposed to be contacting Jane and writing to her head of department in Midchester to hand in her notice, but instead Sarah walked around her apartment in a daze. She still could barely take in the fact that Jon wanted her regardless of the fact that she would never be able to give him children, that she wasn't a whole woman any more.

At first she'd been reluctant to believe him, but as he'd reiterated his statement over and over again it had finally sunk in. He really did love her regardless of her ability to have children. She couldn't quite accept his willingness to forgo having children of his own: she couldn't help thinking that in a year, two years, he would change his mind about that. He had talked about adoption, that was true, and if Jon was happy to consider that then she would too. But she still felt that he would want a child of his own, who would carry on his own genetic heritage. She had meant what she'd said about surrogacy; if Jon did want a child of his own one day, she would be prepared to investigate that route if they could be sure the secret of his identity would be protected.

But the most important thing was that she didn't have to give him up after all. That was such a wonderful discovery; she was still having to pinch herself to persuade herself that she really was engaged to Jon Kent, that they really were planning on getting married in a couple of weeks' time. He'd been insistent on that; since she hadn't been particularly interested in having a large or fussy wedding, he'd said that he wasn't prepared to wait. He wanted her to move into his apartment as soon as possible, and the wedding would take place as soon as they could arrange it.

She sighed happily, the silly smile which hadn't left her face since Jon had kissed her goodbye after escorting her home still pinned in place. She loved him. And he loved her — if she'd ever doubted that, she certainly didn't now.

And she now accepted that she had been foolish not to tell him the full story right from the start, instead of hiding it and allowing him to draw his own conclusions. Not only had it been selfish of her, but it had been so mistrustful of him. Somehow, now, she could see all that clearly; before, it had been as if her whole thinking was so bound up in the notion that no man could want to marry a woman who couldn't bear his children that she was unable to see that Jon loved her for *herself*. And her persistence in seeing herself as 'incomplete' had led her to be ashamed of what had happened and to want to hide it — from everyone. And that had been a mistake. But Jon had forgiven her and they were going to be together.

How much her life had changed in the few short months she'd been in Metropolis! She could barely recognise herself as the withdrawn, frightened creature who had arrived here in January; and the change was all due to Jon Kent, who had refused to allow her to submerge her true self any longer. He hadn't taken no for an answer at any point in their relationship, and it was thanks to his refusal to give up on her that she was now once more the strong, independent and confident person she'd been before Rob.

Except for one thing… and since there was nothing even Jon could do about that, she would have to live with the pain of infertility. But now that he'd convinced her of the strength of his love for her, she was finally beginning to believe that it was even possible to survive that, the worst pain of all. With his love and support, she might be able to forget, to see herself as a whole woman in spite of never being able to hold her own child in her arms.


Sarah had said she wasn't going to come over to his place until early evening, so he had the afternoon free. He *should* have been in his apartment working on his book, but he hadn't been able to settle to it. The anger which had been burning inside him ever since Sarah told him about her hysterectomy refused to go away, and he knew he had to find an outlet for it. She needed his support, needed him to look to their future together. She didn't need to have him brooding on the past and wishing for revenge.

She had now managed to put her anger against Rob behind her, he knew that. Oh, she could never forgive him for what he'd done to her — especially since he was apparently showing no remorse whatsoever — but, by facing him down the other week, she had shown that she'd moved on.

But he'd only just learned about *this,* and he wasn't finding it so easy to let go of his seething fury that the man's actions had taken away something so important, so precious to Sarah. Her other wounds had healed, but this had caused a pain so deep that she would carry it with her for the rest of her life. The way she'd looked at him, the pain in her voice when she'd told him that she couldn't have children, that she wasn't a real woman any more, had made him want to cry for her.

He stared downwards, brooding as he surveyed the Victorian structure beneath him. English prisons were so different to most American ones; okay, the British had built a number of new prisons during the last decades of the twentieth century, but most of their prisons still dated from the late nineteenth century, albeit updated with modern security devices. There wasn't much which could keep out an invulnerable Super-hero. But on the other hand, he wasn't going to break the law. Nor, no matter how angry he was, did he intend to set anyone wondering why Superman should be interested in one remand prisoner. However, that didn't mean there was nothing he could do.

He hovered lower. It was after lights-out in the prison, and as far as he could see everyone except the guards were in bed. He scanned the cells and soon located Rob; the man had a small single cell to himself, Jon noted. Well, that was quite fortunate…

He drifted lower still, avoiding the prison's security cameras and infra-red detection devices. Yes, that was Drummond all right. The man appeared to be asleep, which suited Jon very nicely. He thought for a moment or two. It would be so easy to get a clear line of sight through the cell's barred window and give the guy a quick blast of heat vision, inflict an injury on him in response to the injuries he had caused Sarah. But… he sighed. Superman just did not do things like that.

On the other hand… was there anything wrong with Superman scaring the guy a little? He considered his options. He could set fire to the bed, then put it out with his Super-breath before any real damage was done: that would certainly give Drummond a fright. But he couldn't do that either, he recognised immediately. It was just not the kind of thing Superman would contemplate.

Suddenly struck by inspiration, he faced the cell window and focused his vision on the wall opposite Drummond's bed. A few moments later, satisfied with the results, Jon drifted back up to cloud level and headed back to Metropolis, smiling in grim amusement at the thought of Sarah's ex waking up in the morning to find the words AN EYE FOR AN EYE etched into his cell wall.


<<What have you been up to?>>

Jon stopped in mid-flight en route to his apartment, wondering ruefully how it was that parents never seemed to lose the knack of working out when their offspring had reason to feel guilty over something. Of course, his father had the added advantage of being able to sense Jon's emotions through their telepathic link.

<<Oh, just paying a flying visit to England>> he answered, knowing that his father would find out anyway and seeing no need to prevaricate.

<<England?>> Jon felt Clark's resigned sigh. <<Your apartment. Thirty seconds?>>

<<I can be there in two, Dad>> Jon pointed out, putting on a burst of speed.

Seconds later the two Supermen faced each other across the floor-space in Jon's living room. "So, what have you been up to?" Clark enquired, one eyebrow raised in an enquiring yet uncritical expression.

Jon sighed. "I flew over the remand prison Sarah's ex is in."

"Just checking he's safely locked away?" Clark asked; at Jon's surprised look, he added, "Hey, I used to fly over Luthor's tomb for years just to check that his body was still in there! Lois said I was obsessing, but he'd come back to haunt us too many times."

"Yeah, I needed to see that he was there," Jon admitted. "And…"

"And you thought about doing something to him," Clark finished for him. It wasn't a question.

"This Kryptonian mind-reading stuff has its drawbacks, you know," Jon muttered with a grimace, flinging himself into an armchair.

But Clark flashed him a grin. "You know if you ever feel I'm invading your privacy, you only have to say so. And I won't take offence. Remember, it cuts both ways."

"Suppose it does," Jon agreed. "Okay, yeah. I've thought about killing him, but I know I would never do that. I *did* want to cause him pain — serious pain. I nearly did that night at Sarah's place… and after I found out about her hysterectomy I wished I had." He avoided his father's gaze, sure that the older man would read him a lecture about Superman's ethics.

But Clark took his time, taking a seat opposite Jon before responding. "You think I've never felt like that? Never been tempted to use my powers to kill, to extract revenge for an injury caused to someone I care about? Jon, just because I never did it doesn't mean I was never seriously tempted to. Remember what I said to you earlier. I wasn't exaggerating."

Jon inhaled sharply. "You've talked about anger… at Tempus, at Luthor. You mentioned them earlier. You mean… you wanted to kill them?"

"Yes. A number of times," Clark admitted quietly. "Even Lois doesn't know how close I came. When I finally found your mom in that underground hideaway of Luthor's, when he had her brainwashed and was trying to persuade her to shoot me… I was tempted. One blast of my heat vision could have done it. And then there was the time I only just got there to save her when Tempus made her drive off a cliff…" He stopped and took a shuddering sigh. "I told him after that I'd forget my ethics if he tried anything like that again. Only the knowledge that if I'd followed through on that threat he'd have achieved everything he set out to do stopped me going back and dealing with him once and for all that day. It took a lot of will-power to convince myself I couldn't."

"And you told me that Conor almost killed Tempus himself?" Jon asked. He knew the story; Clark had told him a couple of times before. But he was now seeing the temptation Conor had experienced in an entirely different light.

"Yeah, Lois says for a moment or two she really thought he'd do it. I don't think she's sure to this day whether it was his own scruples or her intervention which stopped him. And I wonder whether, if he'd known about what Tempus did to Laura, he would have stopped."

"Makes sense," Jon murmured quietly.

"So what did you do?" Clark asked.

Jon laughed ruefully. "I can't hide anything from you, telepathy or not, can I? Okay, I decided to scare him out of his wits." Explaining quickly, he was relieved to see the amused grin on his father's face.

Clark got to his feet. "Jon — you will leave it there, won't you?" The concern in his voice was obvious to the younger man, who grimaced.

"I guess." He was surprised at his reluctance to agree, and only then acknowledged that he'd subconsciously been planning return visits to the prison, follow-up exercises in scaring Sarah's attacker. But that wasn't the way forward, for a variety of reasons. "No, you're right, Dad," he admitted. "It'd attract too much attention."

"That's not the only reason you shouldn't," Clark pointed out, holding Jon's gaze with his own; Jon couldn't miss the deliberate message in the older man's expression.

"Sarah…" Jon murmured softly. "She's put Drummond behind her and moved on… I've got to do the same, or I'll be no help to her."

"Exactly," Clark agreed. "If she's let go of her anger, then what entitles you to hold onto it?"

"Especially as she's the one who's suffered," Jon finished. "You're right. I'll let it drop — the penal system's dealing with him now anyway."

He was surprised when his father extended a hand towards him; he accepted it and was drawn into a one-armed embrace. <<Thanks for the talk, Dad — I needed it>> he admitted as he returned the embrace.

Clark released him and stepped back, making his way to the window preparatory to leaving. "Any time. And give Sarah our love when you see her later, okay?"


Jon was on tenterhooks by the time the knock came on his apartment door: what if she changed her mind again? What if she decided she still hadn't got over what had happened to her in England and wasn't ready to be with him yet? But he opened the door to find her standing outside, her face creasing into a joyful smile as she saw him.

He enfolded her into his embrace and carried her into the apartment, his lips claiming hers in a warm, loving kiss which she returned eagerly and in full. It was then he noticed the bulky bag slung over her shoulder, and he pulled back to give her a quizzical look.

"What's this?"

She smiled shyly. "I was going to ask whether you'd mind an overnight guest."

Jon stilled. "Does that mean what I think it does?"

Sarah nodded. "I want to be with you, Jon. We've waited long enough — I made you wait this last week — and we're going to get married, so…?"

Hugging her tightly, but carefully so as not to hurt her, he laughed softly. "Yeah. I want to make love with you too. But… we have the whole night ahead of us, so…" He tilted his head to one side. "Let's take our time and enjoy it, okay?"

"So how do you suggest we should do that?" she asked him with a playful grin.

"Well, I thought we could go out to dinner," he suggested, an impish grin hovering about his mouth. "Where would you like to go?" He paused deliberately before adding, "I thought perhaps New York, or San Francisco — or Niagara, if you prefer?" He was delighted with her dumbstruck expression.

"Really?" she asked once she'd caught her breath.

"Really. Mom and Dad do it all the time — in fact, he takes her all over the world. So — where would you like to go?"

Sarah paused, considering. "It'll still be light on the west coast — I love the sound of San Francisco! Can we fly over the Bay later?"

"Sure!" He laughed, then stepped back to spin into his flying suit. "And we really do have the night to ourselves — Dad's on duty, and the only way I'd have to do anything Super would be if there was some major emergency and he needed help."

San Francisco it was, then, and they had a wonderful evening strolling about close to the Bay before finding a quiet restaurant for the kind of romantic meal which Jon had originally envisaged when he'd planned his proposal. Later, over coffee, he reached into his pocket and folded his hand around the small object he found there before fixing his gaze on Sarah's face.

"I need to tell you how happy I am that you're going to marry me," he told her huskily. "I never imagined… I mean, all these years I've been on my own, there was never anyone I'd even consider telling my secret to, let alone want to share my life with. And then you just came along out of nowhere… I love you, Sarah," he finished in a low whisper.

She stretched out her hand towards him. "I love it when you talk in that tone of voice," she told him with a soft smile. "It just sends shivers down my spine…"

"And you don't know what you do to me when you smile at me like that!" he teased her in return before removing his hand from his pocket. "I wanted to give you this…"

She reached for the small box, opening it to see the diamond and sapphire ring inside; her eyes widened and she emitted a tiny gasp as the light caught the facets of the diamond and made it glitter all colours of the rainbow. "How… when…?"

Jon grinned. "I *was* at a loose end this afternoon, remember — you were busy? So I went off to Hong Kong — there are some wonderful jewellers there. I liked this one as soon as I saw it, so I hoped you would — if you don't, we can go back together and choose another…?"

"No… no, it's beautiful, I love it!" she assured him, and he reached out to remove the ring from its box and slide it onto her finger.

"It must have been meant for you — it fits perfectly," he told her with a slow smile. Holding out his hand to her then, he suggested, "Shall we go?"


After a short flight over the Bay Area, they headed home to Jon's apartment; barely waiting until he'd deposited her safely back on the floor, they were in each other's arms and kissing passionately, frantically. Jon wrapped his arms around her, holding her securely against him as he parted her lips with his and slid his tongue inside her mouth; her own tongue twined with his and made him welcome.

A grunt of frustration made him raise his head. "What is it?" he whispered, his eyes bright with passion.

She stared back at him. "I want to touch you, but this darned Suit… I don't know how to get it open!"

He caught his breath at her words, then stepped back and spun quickly; in an instant he was standing in front of her dressed only in his jeans. Then it was Sarah's turn to catch her breath as she stared at him, reaching out a hand to run her fingertips down his muscled, hairless chest. "I wanted so badly to do this earlier — when I came over this morning and you opened the door with your shirt open," she told him.

"You should have," he teased, though his body was screaming at him to copy her actions.

To his shock and delight, she dipped her head and raked her tongue over his nipple. "Maybe I should. Then I wouldn't have been standing in the kitchen going crazy listening to your shower running and imagining…"

Jon closed his eyes briefly as certain very vivid images ran through his mind. "My shower's pretty large, actually," he choked out. "Maybe later, we could…?"

"Later," she agreed. "Right now…"

"Yeah," he agreed with her, suddenly bending to scoop her up into his arms and turning to head for his bedroom. "Right now…"


Sarah watched in amusement as her husband lifted the bottle of champagne and blew on it to cool it before opening it. Even though they'd been married a year now she still loved seeing these little demonstrations of his abilities. Being the wife of Superman junior certainly meant that things were never dull.

They had been married just under two weeks after she'd accepted his proposal, in a quiet but beautiful ceremony in the MetU chapel; Clark had escorted her down the aisle, and Jane had come over from England to be her bridesmaid. Jon had offered to fly Jane via Superman Express, but Sarah felt that they should start as they meant to go on and have as little reason as possible to connecting Sarah and Jon with Superman. Thus Jane had flown over by conventional means.

And life had certainly been good since then; apart from being ecstatically happy with her new husband, Sarah had also been delighted at the welcome she'd had from her new extended family. Clark was now like another father to her, and Lois… well, she wouldn't describe Lois as a substitute mother, she thought. More like an older sister; and there was Katy too, who had very quickly become Sarah's best American friend.

Then there were Karen and Michael, her niece and nephew by marriage; although they were occasionally a reminder of something she knew she could never have, she loved the two of them very much; she and Jon frequently took the children for the day so Katy and Jimmy could have some time together. Jimmy, as the new Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet, took his work responsibilities very seriously, but he refused to make the mistakes his mentor, Perry White, had made in relation to balancing his work and home life, and he always made sure that Katy and the children got plenty of attention.

She was now a tenured associate professor at MetU: her host department had been delighted to hear that she wanted to stay and had swiftly arranged for her to be interviewed for the post, and her old department in Midchester had agreed to release her by the original termination date of her exchange semester.

Her ex-boyfriend had been found guilty at his second trial, and with the earlier assault also taken into account had been sentenced to another five years in prison. Intriguingly, when Jane had come over for the wedding she'd told Sarah that while still on remand Rob had been moved temporarily to the psychiatric wing for assessment, after he'd been found gibbering helplessly in his cell one morning, pointing at something written on — or etched into — his cell wall. The prison officers had suspected he'd done it himself to try to get himself transferred to a psychiatric hospital, since no-one had believed his story that someone must have sneaked into his cell overnight to do it. Behind her friend's back, Sarah had shot Jon a swift, questioning glance, which he'd met with a bland stare; but she wasn't fooled.

More recently, Lois and Clark had been delighted with the response to their book on Intergang, which had hit the bookshops a month ago; it had instantly shot to the top of the best-seller lists, which, Clark said, had pleased Lois almost as much as winning a Kerth award. She was now, of course, eagerly hoping for a Pulitzer for non-fiction book; Jon suspected that their definitive Superman book, due for publication later that year, might actually clinch it.

Sarah shook herself out of her abstraction as Jon handed her a glass of champagne. "Happy anniversary, honey!"

"Happy anniversary," she answered, leaning in to kiss him. His free arm tightened around her as he moved to deepen the kiss, and she smiled inwardly, wondering why they'd bothered with the champagne when it was obvious that they wouldn't get to drink it. Still, she wasn't complaining…

Jon's head jerked up then, and Sarah groaned silently. <Not Superman… not tonight!> "I thought Clark was covering for you?"

"This isn't a Superman thing," he told her, his expression puzzled. "Someone's outside — but who'd be calling at this time…?"

Leading Sarah by the hand, Jon went over to the door of the apartment; she saw him lower his glasses as they drew closer and she waited for him to enlighten her. But when he turned to her his face was pale and his expression shocked.

"Sarah… I can barely believe this myself, but I *think* this guy's HG Wells!"

She stared at him in amazement. At one time or another over the past year Lois and Clark had told her all about their previous meetings with the author and time-traveller, and while she had overcome her initial scepticism about those incidents, Sarah was still very agnostic about the idea of a Utopia founded by Clark and Lois's descendants. Perhaps this would be a chance to learn more…? But what was Wells doing here?

Jon opened the door, and Sarah saw a dapper little man waiting outside, a large carpet-bag on the floor at his feet. He held a strange-looking bundle in his arms, and she noticed Jon glance at it in a very odd way.

"Ah — Dr Kent, Dr Fuller!" the man exclaimed. "It's so good to meet you both — not that it's the first time I've met you, but it's the first time you've met me!"

<What?!> But she simply stood and watched as Jon urged the man in and quickly closed the door behind him.

"Mr Wells, I presume?" Jon enquired. "My parents have told me about you, as you can imagine."

"Yes, indeed, indeed," Wells replied. "And may I wish you both many congratulations on your wedding anniversary?"

Sarah caught Jon's eye then; she could see his resigned expression and knew that he was thinking the same thing she was: Wells' visit was actually stopping them celebrating in the way they wanted to.

But before Jon could get around to enquiring about the reason for the man's visit, the bundle he was holding emitted a faint cry. Sarah stared at Wells, then Jon, then back at the bundle before flicking her gaze back to Jon.

The expression on her husband's face was entirely unexpected. From initial surprise, it changed to a dawning realisation and then to fury.

"Mr Wells." It was a long time since Sarah had heard her husband speak in such chilly tones. "I would be grateful if you would leave here immediately and take that baby back to the time and universe from which he came."

The penny dropped; Jon had told Sarah about her father's counterpart. But why…?

Wells was speaking again. "Yes, Dr Kent, I was aware that you would know the identity of this young man's birth parents." The man moved to stand in front of Sarah then, and before she could say a word he had handed her the baby. She accepted him almost instinctively, and stared down at the tiny child she held within her arms. The shock of dark hair was so like her husband's, and the face… the eyes were blue, but she guessed that they would turn brown over time.

This was Conor Kane and Laura Lindsay's son, the child who in another universe would have been her husband's counterpart, Jon Kane.

But why had Wells brought him to them? Sarah couldn't take her eyes off the child, but she had absolutely no idea, unless… Unless for some reason Superman did need to have Super descendants after all…?


His anger barely diminished, Jon faced Wells. "Yes, I do know whose child this is. And I also know what it cost them to give him up. Now, you seem to know that Sarah and I can't have children of our own, but that does *not* mean that we will allow you to play God and steal a child from my father's friend!

He steadfastly refused to look in Sarah's direction, unwilling to see her holding the baby; he knew how much she wanted to have their child to hold, and while this was *not* their child, the baby probably looked very like a child of theirs might look. But this was Conor and Laura's son; a child who had the same relationship to himself as Conor did to his father — Conor, the man Clark called 'brother,' though in fact they were the same man.

In all the many times he had mused on the fate of his alternate-universe counterpart, he had never once imagined, in his wildest dreams, the scenario they now faced. Conor and Laura had been asked to give up their son for *him* — him and Sarah? There was absolutely no way at all that he would agree to that; he just hoped that Sarah would agree with him.

"Quite, Dr Kent." Wells' crisp English tones interrupted Jon's musings. "If you will both allow me to explain, then perhaps you might understand why…?"

Jon shrugged. "It won't make any difference. I want you to take the baby back — he should never have been taken from his parents!"

Sarah's voice cut in then. "I can't imagine how his mother must be feeling — have felt…" She trailed off, her tone indicating her confusion at the fact that, from their perspective in 2031, Conor and Laura had given up their child some twenty-eight years earlier.

The sound of the baby crying in earnest interrupted them then; Wells immediately fumbled in his capacious bag before producing a baby's bottle, filled with milk. He handed it to Jon. "If you would be so kind, Dr Kent?"

Jon closed his eyes briefly. Oh, he'd heated bottles with his heat vision on numerous occasions when looking after Karen or Michael, but something inside him rebelled at doing anything which acknowledged the presence in this universe and time-line of Conor's son. The baby did not belong here; he couldn't allow Wells to get away with this interference.

But the baby was hungry, and an innocent child couldn't be allowed to suffer for the older man's crass behaviour. With a swift but delicate blast from his eyes, Jon heated the bottle and handed it to Sarah, who seated herself on the couch and began to feed the child.

"Er — Ah, Dr Kent, Dr Fuller, might I tell you a story?" the time-traveller asked, in what Jon was coming to recognise as his customary reticent manner. Jon wasn't fooled, however: the man fully intended to say his piece, whether or not they wanted to listen to him.

He sighed. "Go ahead. But I'm warning you, the baby leaves here with you when you go."

Wells brushed that remark aside, instead coughing once or twice before beginning his explanation. "Dr Kent, as I'm sure you're aware, I travel backwards and forwards in time quite frequently. Just this week, I visited one of my favourite times in your universe, only to discover that something had gone very badly wrong. In the 2145 I am familiar with, a major catastrophe is averted by the Superman of that day. Two powerful nations on the point of launching into biological warfare are prevented by Superman first seizing their chemical weaponry and then spending a week conducting peace negotiations between the leaders of the countries."

Feeling that he could predict what was coming, Jon glanced across at Sarah; all her attention seemed to be directed at the baby, who was contently sucking at the bottle, but he could tell that she was listening as intently as he was. He raised an eyebrow at Wells. "And so…?"

"And so when I visited, this time the war had not been averted. Many, many lives had been lost, and countless others had been blighted as a result of the poison. And the damage to the Earth was incalculable."

This time Sarah glanced up. "And where was Superman?"

"Indeed, Dr Fuller, indeed — that was my question precisely. There *was* no Superman in that world. Which, I must say, was a very great surprise to me, since I believe that I can say that the Superman of that time is a friend of mine."

"And that Superman would be…?" Jon enquired, already guessing the answer.

"Your son. The child the two of you should have had."

"But I can't have children," Sarah whispered; Jon could hear the pain in her voice, and he longed to hold her and drive it away.

"Yes, this is what I discovered," Wells explained. "You see, I then went back in time and I discovered that a particular incident had caused one universe to diverge and become two. And in this second universe, Dr Fuller, you are unable to have children and thus there is no Superman to avert the war in 2145."

"I *knew* you shouldn't have married me!" she muttered, so quietly that Jon suspected Wells had probably not heard her anguished cry. He clenched his fists, furious that the time-traveller had been responsible for reminding Sarah of her loss.

"Sarah, you know that nothing would have stopped me from marrying you," he answered firmly, reassuringly, staring at her until she raised her head and returned his gaze. "And I'm sorry if, in the future of our world, there's going to be a war of the type you describe, Mr Wells, but these things happen. I and my family are not responsible for the world's problems — we help where we can, but you are not going to make us feel guilty for something we can't do anything about."

"I understand your sentiments, Dr Kent," Wells interjected quickly. "But, well, you see, your son is supposed to stop this war. And because he doesn't exist in order to do so… well, the entire future of this universe is now in jeopardy."

Jon stilled, realising that despite his words he did care about the future of their world. "Okay, Mr Wells, take me there. To 2145, I mean. I'll destroy their weapons and stop the war."

"I'm afraid, Dr Kent, that simply won't do," Wells objected. "You see, there hasn't been a Superman in their universe for many years, and if you appear out of nowhere you will not be able to gain the trust of the warring nations. Your son, on the other hand, was able to do it because he was known in that time."

"He has a point, Jon," Sarah pointed out softly. "I'm so sorry… Mr Wells," she changed the subject suddenly. "You said universes diverged, and in this other universe Jon had a son. What happened? Did he marry someone else?"

<No!> Jon objected, not wanting even to contemplate the prospect. But Wells was already shaking his head.

"No, no, Dr Fuller, you were always meant to marry each other."

"So I never… never had the hysterectomy?" she demanded, and Jon could hear the anguish in her voice. He could imagine what was going through her mind: a number of times over the past year she had criticised herself for not leaving Rob Drummond sooner.

"My dear Dr Fuller," Wells began, his voice gentle. "Do you remember that last awful night with your ex… um, boyfriend?" At Sarah's nod, he continued. "Was there a point during that final attack when you contemplated doing something terrible?"

Jon switched his attention abruptly from Wells to gaze anxiously at Sarah. She had stopped feeding the baby, instead rocking him gently in her arms. Finally she raised her head again. "Yes. Yes, I did — there was a… some stupid brass sculpture of Rob's standing on a low table — it had a sharp, jagged edge. I nearly reached for it to stab him with it — I was in so much pain, I just wanted him to stop and the pain to go away. But… in the end, I didn't. And that's when he got me on the ground and kicked me."

And that was when the real damage was done, Jon concluded. He'd never known she'd come close to…

"Yes, Dr Fuller," Wells confirmed gently. "In the other universe, when your counterpart came to Metropolis and met Dr Kent, she had just been acquitted of murder. The jury accepted her plea of self-defence and provocation."

Catching his breath, Jon quickly crossed to stand behind Sarah's chair, wrapping his arms tightly around her. He wasn't sure what would have been worse: to lose her womb, as she had done, or to have been arrested and tried for murder, and to have the guy's death on her conscience for the rest of her life. Her white face showed him that she was experiencing a similar reaction.

He glanced up after a few moments. "So — what caused the splitting of the two universes?"

Wells seemed to be pensive for a moment or two. "I think it was in that moment of contemplation, when your wife made the conscious decision *not* to defend herself with a weapon. In the other universe, as you now know, she did so."

"And I got tried for murder… but we had a son," Sarah whispered.

"Sarah — nothing's worth you going through that kind of experience!" Jon protested instantly. Of course he understood her feelings, but as damaged as Sarah had been when he'd first met her, he couldn't begin to imagine what she might have been like after spending months in a remand prison awaiting trial for murder, and living with the knowledge that she had actually killed a man.

"Yes, Dr Fuller, in that other universe you and Dr Kent had a son," Wells agreed. "And it was that Mr Kent who negotiated the peace treaty in 2145, which secures the future of your world."

"And this is why you've brought us Conor and Laura's son," Jon said flatly. He could see Wells' logic, but that still didn't mean he wanted any part of it. But, as he looked down at Sarah, now allowing the baby to grip her index finger in his tiny hand, he could see that she was already falling in love with the child… and he could too, easily, he thought as he allowed himself to study the baby's face for the first time. Not very much as he'd imagined a child of theirs would look: this baby had jet-black hair and faintly olive skin tones. The child's eyes opened wide suddenly, and Jon was instantly reminded of his father.

But this was someone else's child… he fought conflicting urges, wanting to tell Wells to take the child away but at the same time something within him wanted to hold the baby himself, accept him as their son. He was so tiny; but then, he'd been a newborn when Wells had taken him from his mother. And Jon couldn't imagine that the time-traveller would have waited before bringing him to this time and universe.

It was so cruel, to separate a child from its mother so soon after birth. And it had clearly been a very painful decision for the alternate universe couple: Conor's bleak recitation of the circumstances had apparently made that clear, Jon understood from his parents. No matter what Wells' reasoning was, they had to send this baby back where he belonged.

The baby's gaze seemed to look beyond Sarah and to stare at him; Jon stared back, transfixed.

"Jon… oh, he looks so like you!" Sarah exclaimed, turning to look up at him. Jon closed his eyes briefly; how could he do what he knew to be the right thing under these circumstances? Sarah was already besotted with the baby, and he knew he was fast falling under the tiny infant's spell. And from what Wells had told them, the future of their world seemed very bleak indeed if they did not have a Super-powered son. Suddenly, the question of what the right thing was no longer seemed entirely clear-cut.

He gritted his teeth, determined that he could not allow his father's friends to make that sacrifice. <But they've already made it!> the tiny voice of temptation pointed out. <This happened twenty-eight years ago — they're well over it now!> Rejecting that idea, he told himself that if Wells took the baby back, the past three decades for the Kanes could be very different. They could have their son after all.

Another thought occurred to him; perhaps there could be another solution? "Mr Wells… tell me about my sister's children. Our physician tells us they probably haven't inherited any of Dad's powers?"

Wells nodded. "Just one of those quirks of genetics, my boy. In fact, it's perfectly possible that the powers will re-emerge in a future generation, but… not in time to prevent this catastrophe in the next century."

Sarah glanced across at the time-traveller again. "So Karen and Michael's lack of powers has nothing to do with Katy being female."

"Oh, good grief, no!" Wells insisted emphatically. "In other universes, female descendants have passed on the Super-powers very successfully, I assure you. And, in fact…" he paused and coughed before continuing. "I very probably shouldn't say this, but I think you might find that your niece and nephew will have some of your family… traits in due course, Dr Kent."

Jon decided it was time to return to the main purpose of Wells' visit. "Mr Wells, I understand that you were trying to help. But Sarah and I still can't take this child. Please take him home to his parents." He caught Sarah's eye then, seeing with relief that she concurred with his stance.

"Dr Kent," Wells began, his tone soothing. "I was aware when I came here tonight that you would know whose child this is. I know of Mr Kane's visit to your father last year."

"You do?" Jon stopped abruptly as he realised something. "Dad said Conor couldn't figure out how he was able to travel between the universes…"

"Yes, quite, that was my doing," Wells confirmed. "Although Mr Kane was unaware of it, I was close to him, and I had a device which created an interdimensional port. With the aid of that, Mr Kane was able to sense your father's state of mind, and all I then had to do was suggest to Mr Kane that he visit this universe. I sent him here."

"And you knew he'd tell my parents about his son," Jon finished.

"Indeed. And that suited my purpose, because I know Mr Kane told your parents that, although the decision had been difficult, he and his wife did not regret it. This is why you must accept their gift, Dr Kent. This child is given to you with their love."

Jon met Sarah's gaze again; he could see that she was now wavering. He was torn, so torn… but how could he ever justify selfishly keeping a baby from its real parents, no matter how much he and Sarah would love the child?

"Mr Wells," Sarah interjected. "In that other universe — where I was able to have children, did Conor and Laura keep their baby?"

The time-traveller's expression grew regretful. "Ah, yes, Dr Fuller, they did indeed. But…" He sighed heavily. "It was extremely sad, and such a terrible waste. Young Master Kane was eighteen years old, and just becoming accustomed to his powers. He went flying one day in the mountains near the Encino Reservoir, when he found a cave which seemed to have been blocked off. Using his enhanced strength, he moved the rocks blocking the entrance and went inside. Unfortunately, this happened to be the cave in which Tempus had held his mother and your father, Dr Kent, prisoner many years ago. Young Mr Kane found a piece of green rock — "

"Kryptonite!" Jon exclaimed, then shook his head in puzzlement. "But we've had a vaccine against the effects of Kryptonite for almost twenty years!"

"Ah, but that is in your universe, Dr Kent," Wells explained. "In Mr Kane's world, his daughter Joey will in the near future receive assistance to develop such a vaccine, but when poor Master Kane encountered the Kryptonite… well, I am very sorry to say that the boy was not found until it was too late."

That revelation left Jon dumbstruck: in another universe, his counterpart had died at the age of eighteen due to Kryptonite exposure? He felt Sarah's hand cover his, and realised that he'd actually been shaking.

"So you're saying, Mr Wells, that if we sent this baby back to his parents he'd never live to adulthood?" Sarah asked bluntly.

"Dr Fuller, I could not possibly say what will happen if a major change is effected. This is a new universe, a diverged timeline."

"But you know that we're going to take the baby," Jon stated with sudden certainty. That realisation had dawned on him in the last couple of moments; the older man had seemed too sure of himself for there to have been any doubt as to the outcome. He fixed Wells with a hard stare. "Did we do this before or something? Did we refuse, and is that why you sent Conor to talk to my father?"

But Wells merely smiled.

"Jon, I think we need to talk alone," Sarah said softly. He came around to stand in front of her, and she held the baby out towards him. Reluctantly, he accepted the bundle, and as she got to her feet he gazed down at Conor and Laura's son. It was such a different feeling than anything he'd experienced whenever he'd held his niece or nephew, and he couldn't understand it.

"Please excuse us for a few minutes," Sarah said firmly to Wells, then led the way into their bedroom. Unsure whether to bring the baby with them or leave him with Wells, in the end Jon carried his precious bundle with him.


Sitting on their bed with the baby still in his arms, Jon faced Sarah, who had just closed the door behind him. She came to join him, instantly wrapping her arms around his shoulders; as he turned his head to look at her, he saw her smiling down at the now-sleeping child. Sarah, watching him holding their child in his arms… except it wasn't their child, he knew.

<But he could be!> the tiny voice of temptation pointed out.

"Jon?" He raised his gaze from the baby to look at Sarah; she was watching him with a concerned expression on her face.

He came to sit beside her. "What do you think we should do, sweetheart?"

She freed one hand and reached out to lace their fingers together. "I'm still trying to put some of this together… I remember you told me about Conor and Laura, but not about them giving up their baby. Oh, it's okay," she added quickly, "I worked out what that was all about, but what I'm trying to get sorted in my head is who this — " she gestured towards the child "- is."

"Me, I guess," Jon answered in an awed whisper. "Well, an alternate me, anyway. I guess so — though I'm not sure, since unlike Mom and Dad Conor and Laura had a daughter first."

"He looks like you," Sarah murmured softly.

"Yeah. Well, his parents are… well, mine, really. Conor looks exactly like Dad did about ten or fifteen years ago."

"So you knew about these two giving up their baby?" Sarah asked.

Jon nodded. "Yeah — last time my folks saw Conor, which was actually the same night I met you, he told them about it. We did wonder where Wells had taken the baby — I think we all assumed that he was to go to another version of my parents, and we know there's at least one other universe — my folks have met the Clark Kent from that universe, and we know he also married the Lois Lane of his world."

"But you never guessed that it'd be you — us," Sarah observed.

Shaking his head briefly, emphatically, Jon grimaced. "I just don't know what to do! All my senses rebel at the thought of accepting him — oh, I know we'd both love a child, and this baby would be pretty close to our own child, except he wouldn't be genetically yours at all — "

"That's not a problem to me," Sarah pointed out. "Oh, I'm not saying we should keep him, but I just need you to know that's not an issue as far as I'm concerned. I can't give birth myself — I've accepted that. So if we can adopt, or even if you could have a child that was genetically yours, I'd be happy to bring him or her up as our own."

Jon simply gazed at his wife for several long moments, taking in the fact that she was willing to accept another child as her own. He knew how much it still hurt occasionally that she couldn't conceive, couldn't do something which to most women was simple and natural. He'd wondered once or twice if adopting would hurt her more by reminding her of her inability to carry and give birth to her own children, but from what she'd just said, it appeared not.

She gave him an enquiring look then, but he decided not to tell her what had been on his mind. Instead he raised something else which had been at the back of his mind for a while. "I was just wondering what Mom and Dad would think of this."

Her understanding nod told him that Sarah had been thinking along the same lines. "How do you think they'd react?"

"I'm not sure," he said thoughtfully. "Dad's adopted, of course, so that part of it won't bother them. But…"

"But it's not the adoption part that's the problem," Sarah finished for him. "I'd guess Lois might say we should leave the future of this world to take care of itself, that we're not responsible for it."

"She might," Jon agreed. "But on the other hand, no matter what she says about over-reliance on Superman, she's never once tried to stop Dad or me going to help when we're needed. And I think she'd be as… as appalled as we were in there." He gestured towards the living-room.

"And Clark?"

Jon shrugged. "He'd have mixed feelings, the same as I have. I know how he feels about Conor — the guy's like a brother to him. But he also has a very strong sense of responsibility to this planet, I know — so he'd hate the thought that something's going to happen that one of us, or our descendant, could prevent and there's no-one around to do it."

Sarah gestured towards the telephone on the nightstand. "We could always give them a call, ask them to come over."

They could, Jon thought; but he wasn't sure whether his parents' presence would actually help. "You know, I really wish we could talk to Conor and Laura," he said instead.

"Now, or twenty-eight years ago?" Sarah asked with a touch of irony.

He hadn't thought that one through; it was a good question. If they could talk to the older couple now, find out whether, given the chance to go back and do it over again, they would keep their son, then that might help him come to a decision. But on the other hand, what kind of a decision would that be for Conor and Laura? Of course they'd want their son; but knowing the reason why Wells said he and Sarah needed to bring up the baby as their own child, would they feel that they could be selfish about it?

But if they asked Wells to take them back to the point when he'd come to take the child from his parents, would that be any better, any easier for the other universe's Superman and his wife?

Sarah touched his arm lightly. "What could we say to them, anyway? Could you bring yourself to tell them that if they keep him, he'll probably die when he's eighteen?"

No; never! Jon shook his head slowly. "Of course I couldn't — nor could you." He stared down at the sleeping child in his arms again; the baby looked so peaceful, so completely unaware of the momentous decision-making going on over his future. He sighed. "What I just can't get out of my mind, Sarah, is the way Conor looked at me that night at my folks' place. He couldn't even stand to be in the same room as me, and all because I reminded him of what they'd lost."

"And now we have a chance to put that right," Sarah put in softly. "To turn back time and give them back the son they gave up all those years ago."

"And at the expense of probably thousands of lives in the future of this world," Jon added heavily. "More, even — the effects of chemical weapons even now linger for decades, and God knows how much more dangerous they'll be in the future."

He fell silent then, simply gazing down at the baby; it was a couple of minutes before he noticed that Sarah was no longer sitting beside him. His head shot up; she was standing by the window, staring out into the darkness, her rigid stance, with arms wrapped around herself, suggesting to him that she was distressed.

Carefully, he laid the baby in the middle of the bed, placing pillows a few inches away on either side to ensure that he couldn't roll over and fall, then strode quickly to Sarah's side. As he suspected, silent tears were rolling down her cheeks.

"Honey? What is it?"

She turned and allowed him to draw her into his arms. "I was just thinking… if I hadn't been such a coward, if I'd walked out on Rob sooner, then none of this would be necessary. We'd be able to have kids of our own, the future of this world would be safe, and your father's friends would never have had to lose their baby."

Jon cuddled her, rocking her gently against him and nuzzling the side of her throat with his lips. After a few moments, he murmured, "And that child over there would die from Kryptonite poisoning when he was barely an adult."

She turned in his arms until she was facing him. "I don't know which is worse — to lose a baby you've wanted so much, or to lose a child you've had for eighteen years and loved with every breath in your body."

Jon shook his head, trying to suppress the lump which was forming in his own throat. "I have no idea. I hope to God we never have to find out." Remembering what else she'd said to him, he added then, "Sarah, what happened with you and Drummond is over and done with. You can't blame yourself for any of this — he's the only one responsible. And frankly, I hate the thought of what Wells said happened to you in that parallel universe."

He felt her shudder. "It's bad enough that I contemplated stabbing him," she whispered. "There was an instant when I really could have done it, then I just… lost my nerve. And that was when he got me on the floor…" She buried her head against his shoulder, and he simply held her.

After a few moments, she pulled back. "The baby — we shouldn't leave him…" They walked back to the bed, and she picked up the child again; as she cradled him against her chest, he began to make soft, snuffling sounds. Jon watched in fascination, for the moment simply unable to concentrate on their dilemma.

To keep the child, knowing that they would be taking away something very precious from another couple, but at the same time ensuring that their own world didn't practically destroy itself mid-way through the next century; or give the baby back, knowing he would probably die as a teenager and that the future leaders of their world would practically annihilate half the population. <Let them solve their own problems!> a tiny voice insinuated itself into his brain. He clenched his fists and walked away from the bed, unable to watch his wife holding the baby that could so easily be theirs.

It was selfish of him, but he couldn't help imagining what their lives would be like with a child of their own, a son who would inherit his Super-powers. Playing ball in the park, going on family camping trips, their son playing with his cousins… and eventually, teaching him to use his powers safely, and to fly, the way his own father had done with him. It sounded idyllic…

It also sounded very, very unfair. The sight of Conor's bleak, taut expression floated into his mind again, and he almost marched straight out into the living-room to tell Wells to take the baby back where he belonged.

He sighed heavily, then realised he'd caused Sarah to look up and catch his eye. Her sympathetic, understanding expression told him that in this matter at least she would support his decision, whatever it was. So why hadn't he already ordered Wells out of the apartment? Maybe… because he wasn't as sure of what their decision should be as he thought, he realised silently.

"Jon — how would you feel about being a father to a child who's genetically you, or at least your brother?" Sarah asked him suddenly, reflecting a thought which had gone through his own mind earlier.

He shrugged. "I'm not sure that would make much difference — he's just a baby, and… I don't know whether it is because he could be me, but the instant I looked at him, saw his face, his eyes… I felt drawn to him. Loving him wouldn't be a problem — reconciling my conscience with the fact that we've taken him away from Conor and Laura will be."

With a sudden shock, he realised the form of words he'd used; he hadn't spoken conditionally at all, he'd talked as if the decision was already made. Regardless of his thoughts a few moments ago, he knew they would keep the baby.

Sarah had come to the same conclusion, he could tell: she was regarding him compassionately. "You think we need to do this, don't you, darling?" she asked him softly. He loved it when she spoke to him like that, used that very English endearment in her accent which was still so different even after more than a year living in the US.

"What Wells said about that war… if he's telling the truth, and my parents have always said that he's trustworthy, I don't know how we can just let it happen. And if it's like he says it is and I can't just go forward in time to prevent it…"

"Then we need this baby, here, in this time-line," Sarah finished for him.

He nodded. "It sounds like it. And, God help me, I want to keep him. But how can we take someone else's son?"

Sarah's grey gaze met his again. "Your father's birth parents gave him up in order to keep him alive, and — though they might not have known it — ultimately to save this planet."

"But if they'd kept him, he'd have died with them!" Jon objected.

"Maybe — though your father found out later that there was another chance, that transport which ended up on New Krypton," she pointed out. "Perhaps they wanted to get him away anyway to give him the best chance of a decent life, rather than a risky alternative?"

"Could be," Jon agreed. "But I don't think Wells told Conor and Laura about their son dying from Kryptonite poisoning."

He saw Sarah reach out to stroke her finger lightly along the baby's cheek as he reminded them both of that particular revelation, and he grimaced. "Honey — yes or no?"

Her eyes met his again, and he saw the determination in their grey depths. "I can't let him die. And I can't imagine you putting that war Mr Wells mentioned out of your mind — you'll be fretting about it for the next sixty years."

"So we keep him." It was a statement, but Sarah's expression showed him that she agreed.

"Come on," he said, exhaling deeply. "We need to talk to Wells again."


After that, things seemed to happen very quickly. The time-traveller handed over to them a small number of baby items and a birth certificate. There was also a letter, which Wells said would ensure that Jon and Sarah would have no difficulty adopting the baby. Wells had thought of everything, it seemed, since although the birth certificate listed Conor Kane and Laura Lindsay as the parents, the letter — purportedly written by Conor — gave the baby into the care of Jon and Sarah in the event of his parents' deaths.

"But they don't even exist in this universe!" Jon pointed out. Wells, however, merely smiled.

"Trust me, Dr Kent, that has all been taken care of. You will find that if you take these papers to a lawyer you and your wife will have no difficulty in adopting this baby." He turned to smile at Sarah again. "And now, if you don't mind, I really must go — I have been here far too long already!"

"Wait!" Sarah called. "Is that it — you're leaving us with him? Will we see you again?"

Wells paused in the act of picking up his bag. "Yes, yes, certainly, Dr Fuller! After all, I did promise to give Mr Kane and Miss Lindsay regular reports on this young lad's progress. I will, ah, be popping up every so often over the next few years, I assure you."

With that, he was gone and Jon and Sarah were left together with the newest addition to their family. Jon inhaled sharply and stared at Sarah; his expression seemed to mirror the shock she was feeling.

"What now?" he asked her.

"I think… well, we need to do some shopping, don't we?" she suggested, her voice shaky. "Although heaven knows where we're going to get bottles, formula, nappies, a cot and anything else we need *tonight*!"

"Diapers and a crib," he corrected her automatically; his attempts to amend her vocabulary had become an amusing game between them over the past year. "There's a mall on the other side of the city which opens twenty-four hours," he added more soberly.

"Yeah, but how are we going to get over there?" she objected, thinking of the difficulties. They didn't own a car; there hadn't seemed to be any point since they lived so close to the MetU campus and whenever they wanted to go any further afield they had their own almost-unique form of transport. And not having any sort of baby-carrier, it didn't seem sensible to take the baby on the subway.

Jon shrugged. "Not a problem for me. We'll make a list of what we need, and I'll get on over there now."

They'd have to do it that way, Sarah realised, although she'd wanted to help pick out the baby-things herself. She led the way over to the large desk by the window and waited for Jon to start writing. He turned to smile gently at her first.

"Hey, I'm just going to get the essentials for now — tomorrow we'll borrow Mom's car and go shopping together to get everything else. I know you want to pick out clothes and toys and all sorts of things like that. Mom and Dad will babysit him for us while we go out."

That was a better idea, Sarah realised. But another thought struck her. "We can't keep calling him 'him' or 'the baby.' What do you think…?"

"Conor," Jon said instantly.

"Conor Clark?" Sarah suggested, thinking Jon might like to include his father's name.

"Sounds a little… alliterative," Jon replied thoughtfully.

She shrugged. "Conor Jonathan Clark Kent?"

He smiled at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners in the way she loved. "If you like."

"I like," she assured him, dipping her head to gaze at the child in her arms. Their son… the gift of two people she would never get to meet, but to whom she would be grateful for the rest of her life.


"Lois? Honey, where've you been?" Clark strode impatiently into the living-room of the house on Hyperion as he finally heard Lois's key in the lock.

His wife regarded him with puzzled amusement. "Out with Jon and Sarah — Conor's outgrown most of his baby clothes already and we went shopping for more."

Clark couldn't help but smile at that; in the four months since Jon and Sarah's adoption of their son, baby Conor had been spoilt rotten by the entire family and particularly by his grandparents. It didn't seem to matter that they already had grandchildren; this baby was equally special and it seemed that every other day one or other of his grandparents had to have an excuse to visit. "I hope you resisted the Superman T-shirt," he commented dryly. "I remember Jimmy insisting that Conor should have one, but personally…" He trailed off, his expression revealing his feelings.

Lois laughed. "You still hate the proliferation of your image, I know, honey." She crossed to him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Don't worry — Jon hates the idea too, and Sarah said the only way Conor would wear a Superman T-shirt would be over her dead body."

"Sensible woman," Clark murmured.

"Anyway, what's up with you?" Lois demanded. "You seemed pretty anxious just now."

Clark sighed, releasing their embrace and leading Lois to the couch instead. Sitting next to her, he turned to face her and took another deep breath. "Bernie called and asked me to come over. I've been with him for about an hour."

"Bernie? Is something wrong?" Lois's anxiety was evident in her face as well as her voice.

But Clark quickly shook his head. "Not exactly — not the way you mean, anyway. Bernie wanted to tell me about something he's been working on for a long time."

"Well, come on — what is it?"

Despite the misgivings which had Clark needing to discuss this with Lois, he couldn't prevent himself taking a dramatic pause; she glared at him and he grinned suddenly. "Okay, okay! He's invented an interdimensional transport device."

"He's *what*?" Lois stared at Clark incredulously.

"He's invented an — " Clark began to explain again, but Lois cut him off.

"Yes, yes, I heard that! But… but how…? When? And why didn't he tell us?"

"Come on, honey, he just did!" Clark protested. "That's why he sent for me today."

"And… and he's sure it works?" she demanded. "Hang on… you'd better not have tried it out without me, buster!"

He couldn't help laughing; that was so typically Lois. Even if he told her that they couldn't know whether it worked without testing, she'd still insist that he shouldn't have tried it out. And if he tried to tell her that he — as Superman — was the safest test subject, that wouldn't wash either.

But thankfully he didn't have to tell her any of these things. "Bernie tested it, sending objects back and forth — and after a while he went himself. I wish he hadn't," Clark added soberly. "If he'd got stuck somewhere, or hurt… Anyway, he insists that it works perfectly, and he's given me a copy of the device to keep."

"You do know what this means?" Lois was excited again.

Clark nodded.

"We can visit Laura and Conor!" she suggested. "And the other Clark — you do know how to distinguish between universes, don't you, Clark?"

"I'm pretty sure I know how to programme it, yes," he assured her. "But visiting Conor and Laura… honey, I'm just not sure it's the right thing to do."

"Why not?" Lois was not happy with this response.

Clark sighed again; this was the dilemma he'd been wrestling with ever since Bernie had given him the device. "Honey, you remember when Conor came to see us — what he told us about?"

"Their child," Lois answered heavily. "And now… he's our grandchild."

"Precisely." Clark got to his feet and started to pace the room. "Honey, I can't keep it from him! Even if we decided not to say anything — and I don't think it'd be fair to do that — Conor would know I'm hiding something. Don't forget our telepathic connection." More quietly, Clark added, "I can't understand it, but it seems to be closer, stronger between Conor and me than between me and our kids."

"Maybe because he is you," Lois suggested. "Clark, are you suggesting that we shouldn't tell them?"

"I don't know," Clark replied heavily. He just didn't; he'd been trying to work this out in his head for almost an hour now. Should they tell Laura and Conor that their son was now in this universe, the adopted son of *their* son? Would that be too much to expect the other couple to understand?

"Clark… for nearly thirty years all they've known about their son is what they learned from Wells. Don't you think they'd like to know more? Wouldn't we want to know more, in their position? And if they ever knew that we were in a position to tell them…" Lois slid off the couch and went to join him, sliding her hands up his back in a caressing motion.

"But what about Jon and Sarah? You know what a tough decision it was for them to keep Conor," Clark reminded her. "How would they feel about us telling Conor's birth parents where he is?"

Lois moved so that she was standing in front of her husband, gazing up at his uncertain face. "We'll talk to them, of course — but my guess is they'll want Conor and Laura to know about him."

"But there is something else," Clark pointed out, his expression concerned. "Bernie's made a couple of duplicates of the device. He knows about Conor and Laura, and he gave me one for them too, if I wanted to give it to them."

"So they can visit us too?" Lois seemed pleased at this at first, but then her expression altered as she too became aware of the implications. "And… they might want to see baby Conor."

"And we'd *certainly* have to see how Jon and Sarah feel about that," Clark finished for her. "Honey, I'm not at all sure we should go."

"Let's ask them," Lois said immediately, reaching for her husband and pulling his shirt open. "Come on, fly us over there!"

Clark rolled his eyes. "You never change, Lois — always impatient!" he teased, but stood and spun obediently, standing in front of her less than a second later dressed as Superman. He reached for her then, scooping her up, and flew them both up the stairs and out through the bedroom window.


"You *have* to go!" Sarah exclaimed once the situation had been explained to her and Jon. "It all makes sense now — of course you need to go!"

"Honey?" Jon frowned at her, puzzled. What his parents had just told them, that they could now travel between universes, had completely thrown him and he was still thinking through the implications, particularly for the two of them and their adopted son.

"Don't you see? The Kryptonite vaccine!" she explained. "Mr Wells said…"

"Said that Conor's daughter Joey would…" Jon paused, trying to remember the man's precise words. "Would shortly receive assistance to develop the Kryptonite vaccine!" His eyes widened. "Sarah, you're a genius! Of course Mom and Dad have to bring her Bernie's formula!"

"But if we go, Jon, we're going to have to tell them about baby Conor." Jon didn't need to see his father's face to feel Clark's anxiety.

"I want them to know," he replied firmly, only realising as he said the words just how sincerely he meant it. "Dad, those two lost their son years ago and all they've had since is Wells' occasional progress reports. You and Mom can tell them where he is, and that he's very much loved and wanted."

"Yeah, we can do that," Clark agreed. "But what if they want to come here to see him for themselves?"

"I'd be amazed if they didn't," Sarah replied instantly. "And they'd be more than welcome."

She glanced at Jon as if for confirmation; he nodded firmly, turning back to his parents. "Absolutely. You know how unsure we were about whether we were doing the right thing with this. I want Conor and Laura to know where their son is, and to have a place in his life if that's what they want." He paused suddenly, as if a thought had just occurred to him. "You could… take Conor back to when he was born, couldn't you?"

Suddenly, it seemed as if he was again confronted with the dilemma they'd faced four months ago. Although he and Sarah loved baby Conor very much and never wanted to part with him, he knew that both of them were still occasionally bothered by feelings of guilt about taking him from his natural parents. And now, they could have a chance to undo that… did they want to take it? *Should* they take it?

Sarah shot him a quick, nervous glance; it was obvious that she didn't want to give up their child. Nor did he; but the fact remained that Conor wasn't really theirs, and now that his parents were actually able to visit the baby's natural parents he couldn't help feeling that perhaps they needed to reconsider their position.

But Clark quickly reassured them. "This is an interdimensional transport, guys, not a time-travel device. We couldn't go back in time even if we wanted to. And anyway…" he paused, then smiled ruefully. "I think that decision is over and done with. You can't confuse or distress baby Conor by separating him from the only parents he's known — not now."

His father was right, Jon knew; he was amazed at how relieved he felt. Looking across at Sarah, he could see his own relief mirrored in her expression.

"Clark?" Lois was now looking at Jon's father. "We have to go, don't you see?"

Clark nodded. "I guess so. Oh, I want to, too!" he added quickly. "I just… well, I had to be sure we were doing the right thing. Remember all those years ago when Conor wanted to keep the interdimensional transport device, and Wells wouldn't let him?"

"I remember," Lois agreed. "But if Sarah's right, and I think she is, then it's okay for us to do this now. It's not as if we're cheating by using something from the future! Bernie's just invented the device he gave us. And Wells had to know that Bernie would invent it."

"Okay — so when do you want to go?"


They stood together on a mountain-top overlooking Santa Monica Bay as Clark studied the device Bernie had given him and entered what he hoped would be the correct settings for Conor's universe. After all, he realised, he had no idea exactly how many universes there were — and Wells' recent visit to Jon and Sarah had complicated matters still further, since there were now parallel dimensions of both his and Conor's universes, in which the fate of Conor Kent (or Conor Kane Junior) was very different.

Ready to go, he turned back to Lois. "Are you sure you want to do this? I really think I should go alone first in case there's a problem — "

"And then you'd be on your own wherever it is you end up, and I'd be stranded here wondering what had happened to you? No thanks!" Lois insisted.

Smiling in amused resignation, Clark wrapped his arm firmly around Lois's waist, holding her tightly against him, before activating the device. The world around them seemed to swirl and blur into a kaleidoscope of colours and lights and shade…

…until it all coalesced again and he could see the familiar scenery of the mountains above Los Angeles once more. It all looked the same as it had just a few moments earlier, but…

Lois raised her head warily from where she'd buried it in his shoulder. "Are we there?"

"I'm not sure. We need to do some scouting around, I think," he answered her.

"Well, that shouldn't be hard. We know where Conor and Laura live," she pointed out.

Clark shook his head. "We know where they lived thirty years ago, honey. They could have moved. And we also don't know whether this is the right dimension — the one where they gave up their son."

Lois frowned a little as she stepped back from him. "I know this is probably reaching, Clark, and all this separate universes and dimensions stuff is pretty confusing anyway, but I think we belong in the dimension where Conor and Laura gave up their son. I'm not sure we *can* go to the separate one Wells told Jon about, where they didn't."

Clark shrugged, unsure whether Lois's logic was likely to be true. "Okay, let's go fly over where they used to live, just in case."

"Clark… you could always use your telepathy thingy," Lois pointed out. "That's how Conor found you when he came to visit."

"Yeah… as long as it's the *right* Conor," Clark said slowly.

"I think we have to trust that it is," Lois told him firmly. "Go on."

He raised his eyebrows at her in an exaggerated gesture. "Yes, Ma'am!" Picking Lois up in his arms again, he drifted them both up into the low clouds above the mountains, out of sight, then concentrated.

<<Conor…? Conor? Can you hear me?>>

There was silence at first, then he became aware of… shock. He could definitely sense his counterpart reaching out, trying to make sense of what was happening.


<<Clark…? Is that you?>>

<<Yeah. Where are you?>>

<<Uh… at home! But… what's going on?>>

<<Tell you very soon. Just tell me how to find you>> Clark's tone was amused as he projected that remark.

Conor's reply this time was equally amused. <<I guess it's your turn to take me by surprise! We moved further away from LA a few years ago…>> He gave Clark directions to his and Laura's home, and Clark quickly flew in that direction. Shortly afterwards, he landed discreetly between a clump of trees in the extensive grounds of the Kane/Lindsay residence, setting Lois on the ground in front of him.

"Hmm… nice place!" Lois exclaimed, looking around with interest. "And we thought they had a huge place when we were last here!"

"Clark!" Conor came hurrying along the path towards them, dressed casually in a dark short-sleeved shirt and jeans. "And — Lois as well! How on earth…?"

"Long story," Clark answered with a grin. "Let's get inside and we'll tell you all about it."

"In a minute," Conor said impatiently, dragging Clark into a warm embrace. "It's so good to see you guys!" He released Clark then, turning to Lois. "I can't believe you're here — Laura will be delighted, she was so jealous that she missed out last time." Hugging Lois close, Conor kissed her enthusiastically, with no stage tricks this time, Clark noted with a raise of one eyebrow.

"Hey — that's my wife you're kissing!" he pointed out to his counterpart in a mock-stern tone.

Releasing Lois, Conor turned to grin at him. "Why — jealous because you didn't get the same welcome?"

"That'd be just a little incestuous, little brother," Clark drawled dryly.

"Yeah?" Conor challenged, his mouth twitching in amusement. "Doesn't bother me if it don't bother you, pal!"

"Hey, hey!" Lois intervened, stepping between the two men with a broad grin on her face. "That *might* be something I'd like to see — but not right now! Where's Laura, Conor? Does she know we're here?"

"She's upstairs. Didn't have time to tell her before I had to come out to find you guys," Conor answered laconically. He draped his arm loosely around Lois's shoulders, and Clark noted with amusement that his wife butted his counterpart lightly with her hips before wrapping her own arm around his waist. He filed that away for future reference as Conor spoke again. "Come on, it's this way."

This was a larger, even more spacious house than the one he had spent several days in all those years ago, Clark observed as they drew closer. Their hosts were clearly also very security-conscious, judging by the hidden cameras, infra-red detection devices and so on which he could see around the grounds and the building itself once he let his glasses slip down his nose a little. He supposed that with a best-selling novelist and writer of screenplays, and an actor who was now a legend in Hollywood, they needed the security.

Calling to Laura as they went, Conor led them through French doors into a large, airy conservatory, and through that in turn into a hallway with marble floors, walls painted in cool colours and with what looked like very expensive paintings and sculptures dotted around. He had barely been able to take it all in — and he could see from Lois's expression that she was equally impressed — when he heard the sound of footsteps. Glancing up, he saw a very beautiful brunette walking down the stairs: a woman who could have been Lois's younger sister, though she resembled Lois more than did Lucy. Laura Lindsay had certainly aged more than her husband, though Clark didn't think she looked anything like the sixty or so which she had to be by now. Perhaps Conor's aura had helped there, although he was also aware that being a film star had to have something to do with it: Laura would work on a regular basis with top beauticians and make-up artists.

He saw the precise instant when Laura realised the identity of her husband's guests: her eyes widened in amazement and she almost ran the final few steps.

"Clark!" she exclaimed, delighted, and propelled herself towards him.

Wrapping his arms around her, he swung her around before depositing her back on the floor and then — with a swift sidelong glance at Conor — bent to kiss her warmly. It was a strange experience, he felt. This woman was Lois and yet not Lois: all those years ago, when they had been alone together for several days, despite her resemblance to Lois as he had first known her he had never once been tempted to get the two women confused. Now, for the first time, he recognised that the strong spark of physical attraction which had always been there between Lois and himself, was still there even after almost forty years of knowing each other, was not there with her counterpart.

He felt towards Laura rather like his feelings for Lucy, he thought as he ended the kiss; since the occasion years before on which he and Lucy had spent several days together in Lois's absence and when they'd come to a new and very different understanding of each other, he had been extremely fond of the younger woman and they were physically very affectionate towards each other, frequently hugging and kissing when they met.

Lois's voice disturbed his thoughts, and he shook himself out of his abstraction to smile at her, his arm still around Laura.

"Is this revenge, honey?" she asked a little tartly, but he saw the light of amusement in her eyes and wasn't deceived.

"Revenge?" Laura was clearly baffled. Then, noticing Lois for the first time, she pulled away from Clark and went to hug Lois. "It's so good to see you both!" the younger woman exclaimed. "But… how?"

"That's what I'm waiting to hear too," Conor drawled. "As for revenge… if that kiss had lasted a second longer, I'd've been taking you outside, buddy!"

Laura's eyes widened, and she looked from Clark to Conor with growing interest. "Oh, I get it… did you kiss Lois, honey?"

"Well, I offered to kiss Clark too in case he was feeling left out," Conor quipped, leading the way into yet another room. Again large in dimensions, this seemed to be the sitting room, with comfortable sofas and chairs, occasional tables and a large TV in one corner.

"So, okay, you two, what's going on? Wells doesn't need us to do something again, does he?" Conor's voice was resigned.

But Clark smiled happily in his direction. "Not this time." He reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the devices. "Actually, we're here to give you a present, if you want it."

"What's that?" Laura asked suspiciously.

"A copy of the gizmo that got us here," Lois explained, grinning broadly. "Bernie Klein — he's a scientist and Clark's doctor — just invented it. It's an interdimensional transport device," she added as the other couple still seemed puzzled.

"So… you can travel here whenever you want… and we can come visit you?" Conor was speaking slowly, as if he was having trouble taking in this development. "That's… that's wonderful!" He grinned suddenly, his expression encompassing everyone in the room. "I hated having to leave so quickly last time, and not being able to take Laura."

"No problem with that this time," Clark pointed out. "No Wells telling us we have to go."

Laura was frowning, Clark noticed, and he raised an eyebrow towards her. She gave him a rueful smile.

"Clark… didn't Wells tell us, all those years ago, that we shouldn't be universe-hopping?"

Lois jumped in before Clark had a chance to comment. "We figured Wells expects us to come now — and anyway, with all the time-travelling he does he had to know this device would be invented sooner or later." She paused briefly to draw breath. "We *had* to come, you see — in our world, Bernie Klein invented a Kryptonite vaccine many years ago. Clark's immune to it now, and so are our kids and their kids. But… we understand you don't have it here?"

Conor was staring at her, incredulous. "A *Kryptonite* vaccine? But… that's amazing! And you've brought it…?"

"The formula, plus a couple of doses," Clark explained. "We figured your daughter, the one who's a doctor…?"

"Oh, yeah, Joey, she'd know what to do," Conor agreed. "Hey, that's really great of you guys!"

Conor's appreciation made Clark feel guilty because of his nagging guilt over baby Conor. He wasn't feeling guilty over the fact that Jon and Sarah had agreed to adopt the baby, he'd ultimately agreed with their reasoning over that, but he felt as if they were in Conor and Laura's house under false pretences. The other couple had made them so welcome, and yet Clark's family was ultimately responsible for the loss of their son.

He tried to push those feelings away and made himself join in the general conversation about the years which had gone by since the last meeting of all four of them; their lives, their families and the events of both worlds. And it was an interesting discussion since several events had been paralleled in both worlds. Conor, prompted by Lois, found copies of his novels and screenplays to give his visitors, and Lois gave him in return a copy of their Intergang book.

"In about a month we'll be able to give you a copy of our Superman book too," she announced, pleasure evident in her voice; unsurprisingly, both Laura and Conor were interested in this development, and conversation centred around the contents of that for some time.


Something was bothering Clark. Conor had known it since shortly after the other couple had arrived; it was there in his body language, in the way Lois kept shooting him anxious glances and most especially in the way the older man was keeping a tight grip on his emotions to guard against any intrusive mental probes — not that Conor had any intention of trespassing on Clark's privacy.

But he'd been wondering how to get Clark to talk; after a while it occurred to him that perhaps the other man didn't want to raise whatever it was openly — perhaps he was worried about how his hosts would react. After a while, he came up with a plan, and when Laura went to the kitchen to fetch more coffee, he followed her.

She turned to him as he closed the kitchen door behind him. "Something's bugging Clark, Conor."

He nodded; even without Super-powers and this strange telepathic connection he and Clark had between them, Laura was pretty smart. "Yeah, I know. I want to get him alone to talk about it."

"Thought you might," she countered. "That's okay. I can try to get Lois to talk at the same time. She knows what it is, that's obvious."

Conor raised an eyebrow. "I'll take your word for that, honey." He moved away from the worktop against which he'd been leaning, striding over to his wife. "And I'll tell you something else, sweetheart," he murmured huskily. "I liked kissing Lois. Liked it a lot — but that was mostly because Clark was watching and getting jealous. But kissing her was not a patch on kissing you." He nibbled at her lower lip, just as a reminder of how much he enjoyed it.

She grinned at him. "I liked kissing Clark too. He's pretty good at it, you know…" She winked at him as he threw her a mock-glare. "But it was like kissing my brother," she added. "Nice… but not earth-shattering."

"Unlike this…" He lowered his lips to hers in a deep, passionate and warm kiss before turning away to pick up the coffee-tray.

Back in the other room, Conor turned to Clark. "Laura told me how much you enjoyed driving my BMW last time you were here. Want to see what I have now?"

Laura caught Lois's gaze and rolled her eyes. "Boys and their toys… Let them go; we can have a proper talk while they're worshipping tin cans on wheels."


This was probably the best chance he'd get to test the ground for their confession about baby Conor, Clark thought as he followed his host through to the attached garage. He was unprepared for Conor's facing him immediately the connecting door had been closed.

"So, Clark, what's the problem?"


"Something's on your mind. You're not obsessing again?"

Clark smiled ruefully. "Not like last time, no. I think I'm okay with that now."

"So…?" Conor prompted.

"So…" Clark began, then trailed off. Conor waited in silence; then Clark began again. "Okay, yeah, there is something. When we decided to come here, we had one big concern — there's something we know about that you don't and we know we have to tell you. And I haven't the faintest idea where to start or how you'll react."

Conor regarded him with faint amusement. "Clark, you're beginning to sound like our wives when they babble." He paused, and Clark could see the younger man was thinking carefully. "So… you said 'tell you.' Does that mean just me, or both of us?"

"Both of you," Clark answered quickly. "The problem is… I need to know how Laura's likely to react. I didn't want to bring this up back there, with all four of us, in case she got upset and you might have preferred to tell her yourself."

"But you've just left Laura with Lois," Conor pointed out. "You think Lois will tell her whatever this is?"

Clark shrugged. "Not sure. If Lois thinks the time's right, then she might." It could be the best way, he thought: he could talk to Conor and Lois to Laura, and then later the four of them could discuss it — assuming Conor and Laura still wanted to talk to them by then.

"Okay," he began. "It's about your son…"

"Louis?" Conor interrupted, puzzled. "What's he got to do with anything?"

Clark shook his head quickly. "Not him — your older son. The baby you — "

"The baby we gave Wells to take to another universe," Conor finished slowly. "Do you two know where he is? Have you seen him? Oh, God, this device you've just given me… *we* could see him!" the younger Superman exclaimed, clearly very shocked. "If… if that'd be the right thing to do, of course," he finished uncertainly.

Just *how* could he tell Conor this, Clark wondered; he inhaled deeply and then just decided to come out with it. "Conor… yes, we know where your baby ended up. He's… he's in our universe. He's our grandson."

Conor's face paled, and Clark almost reached out in case his friend was about to faint. But the other man pulled himself together and leaned against a cupboard, still staring at Clark in disbelief. "Your… *grandson*? But… how?"

"He's been adopted by our son Jon and his wife, Sarah."

Clark saw Conor's jaw clench. "But… how can that be? Your Jon's only — what, three, four years older than our son? And…" He hesitated, then frowned angrily. "If that's so, why didn't you tell me eighteen months ago when I was with you?!"

"It's not like that," Clark insisted quickly. "What Wells didn't tell you was that he brought the baby forward into the future. He came to see Jon and Sarah four months ago."

Conor was clearly still struggling to grapple with what Clark had told him. Shaking his head slowly, the younger man said, "So… our son's only… four months old?"

"Yep," Clark told him.

Conor laughed humourlessly. "Well, I guess it's not much different to what Wells did to me — he brought me forward thirty years in time, remember." His mouth tightened. "Okay, maybe the guy means well, and I guess he saved my life, but who does he think he is? Some sort of _deus ex machina_?"

Watching Conor, Clark had absolutely no idea how the younger man had taken the information; he delicately tried to reach out to probe Conor's mind, not intrusively but to try to get some indication of the man's emotional state. But Conor wasn't letting him in.

The silence was rapidly growing uncomfortable; then suddenly it was broken by Conor slamming his hand down roughly on top of the cupboard. It shattered, pieces scattering all over the floor. Clark made a move to try to pick up the debris, but Conor angrily waved him away.

"Leave it *alone,* Clark! Dammit, why did you have to come here and tell me this?" Suddenly Conor was standing right in front of him, his stance belligerent. "You go and get Lois and just get out of here — I don't want Laura finding out about this, you hear me?"

Clark stood his ground, guessing that Conor's reaction stemmed from confusion and hurt more than real anger. "Don't you think Laura has just as much right to know? You don't have the right to decide whether she should or shouldn't find out." His voice was soft, but with an undertone of steel.

"Laura gave up the baby she'd carried for nine months…" Conor's voice cracked on the final syllable, and he turned away from Clark, his body shaking.

"And you gave up the son you'd both been longing for," Clark finished softly. "I know you told Lois, years ago, that you wanted at least three kids — and then you had to do this." He reached out tentatively and laid his hand on Conor's shoulder; the other man resisted for several seconds before turning back to Clark, his expression bleak and sad. The pain in his eyes made Clark wish none of them had ever encountered HG Wells.

"Yeah, it was hard. You have no idea," Conor agreed bleakly. "Look, will you please explain it all to me, starting with why your daughter-in-law can't have kids?"

Clark nodded. "Want to do it here, or someplace else?"

"Let's go flying," Conor suggested. "We can stay high enough that you won't be seen."

"You want to tell the women where we're going?" Clark asked.

Conor shook his head. "They'll be fine. And… forget what I said earlier. I guess I'd like Lois to tell Laura the truth — we can talk later and decide how we feel about it."


"So, Lois, it's really great to see you! But I can't get over how your Clark looks so different to Conor now," Laura said once the men had left. "I mean, all those years ago they almost looked like twins — remember when they tried to fool us by pretending to be each other?"

Lois grinned. "Yeah — Conor could never substitute for Clark in our world now," she agreed. Briefly, she explained about the slower Kryptonian ageing process and how Clark had given up some of his own life-force for Jimmy.

"Jimmy? Oh yeah, he married your daughter, didn't he?" Laura shook her head in amazement. "I remember Dustin Frayling — oh, it's so long ago now, but I just could never imagine him and Joey getting together!"

"Is Joey married?" Lois enquired, realising how little they knew about Conor and Laura's family.

"Not yet, but she's dating this guy… he's not handsome exactly, but I can see he's got lots of sex appeal. He's nice… good fun, intelligent, sensitive. And he seems to like her, so maybe… Of course," Laura added on a heavy sigh, "there's the S-word to deal with at some point too."


"Well, in Joey's case, SuperWoman. Actually, I'm surprised she has any free time to spend with Andrew, what with her medical practice and being SuperWoman."

"What about your other two?" Lois asked curiously. "Louis and Clare, yeah?"

Laura grinned wryly. "Kind of corny, huh? But we wanted to remember you two in some subtle way — after all, it was 'Lois and Clark', the TV show, which brought Conor and me together and helped us realise who he really was. And then you two helped us so much… But anyway, the twins — well, they've both just finished college and they're taking a year out to travel around the world." She paused again, gave a quick smile, then added, "Their way — free flights."

"That's a pretty good bonus of the whole Superman thing, yeah," Lois agreed, though her mind wasn't entirely on the conversation. She'd suspected that Conor had deliberately taken Clark off so that they could talk, and since she knew how nervous Clark had been about telling these two about baby Conor, she was concerned about him.

"Lois? What is it?" Laura now sounded concerned. "Look, I might as well tell you — Conor and I knew there was something up. He's taken Clark off to find out what it is, so you might as well tell me too."

Lois inhaled slowly, simultaneously glancing down at her hands folded in her lap, wondering about the best course of action. Clark, she'd guessed, probably wanted to talk to Conor about this alone anyway; Laura, after all, had given birth to baby Conor and she could barely imagine how she'd have felt in Laura's place. Not that she would want to minimise Conor's sense of loss, but Laura had carried the baby for nine months…

On the other hand, it wasn't fair to leave the entire responsibility to Clark. Grimacing, she raised her head to face Laura. "Yeah, there is something we wanted to tell you."


There was no easy way to do this. "Laura — Conor told us about your son — the one you gave away."

"Oh." This time the tone was very different; quiet, unemotional, but Lois could tell Laura wasn't happy about discussing the matter.

"Look, Laura, if you'd rather I said no more, that's fine. I guess Clark's telling Conor, and I'm sure he'll tell you later…?"

This time Laura turned to meet Lois's gaze, and the younger woman's expression was wary. But behind that, Lois could see yearning; and she made her decision.

"Laura, we wanted to tell you that we know where your son is."

Laura's exclamation of shock made Lois wonder, briefly, whether she'd done the right thing, but Laura then rushed into speech. "You do? Where is he? *How* is he? Is he happy? Is he…?"

"Laura. He's fine — and I'm not sure he could be better looked after except by you two." She hesitated, then explained. "Wells gave him to our son Jon — Jon's wife Sarah had to have a hysterectomy before the two of them met, and so they can't have their own children."

Laura was silent, simply staring at Lois as the news sank in. Then, quietly, she said, "Poor woman. It must have been terrible for her, knowing she could never have a child."

"It affected her very badly," Lois agreed. "She was beaten up, you see — she had massive internal injuries."

"And… and our son is now your grandson?"

"Yes," Lois confirmed. "Does that bother you? I mean," she added hurriedly, "I know it must be hugely upsetting to find this out after all these years, but does it bother you to know that all these years later he's still a baby and that Wells took him to help *us* — well, our family?"

The other woman was silent for so long that Lois became concerned; she crossed the space between them and sat next to Laura, taking her hands in hers. But Laura smiled briefly, reassuringly. "You know, Lois, all this time I've assumed he went to someone — a couple — we didn't even know, except that they were versions of Conor and me. Yeah, it's a shock to know that he went to the next generation — but I'm *glad* it's your son, Lois! You and Clark meant so much to us. Conor never forgets how much Clark helped him when he was figuring out how to be Superman, and I'll never forget that Clark saved my life. And Conor says that those few days he spent with you were…"

"Unforgettable?" Lois suggested dryly, remembering her unfriendly, unwelcoming manner towards the man who had looked so like Clark but was not her husband.

"No — he said he learnt a lot from you, and that a couple of the talks he had with you really helped him in coming to terms with the dual identity and the pressures it puts on a relationship. It helped him to understand how *I* felt about him running off to be Superman all the time."

Yes, that made sense, Lois thought. And if she really had helped Conor in some small way, then she didn't have to feel quite so guilty for what had been her almost hostile attitude to him for the first couple of days they'd been on their own together.

"So… you're not upset that he's now our grandson?"

Laura leaned towards Lois. "Apart from the fact that it's wonderful to get some real news of him after all these years of the limited information Wells gave us, if he's your grandson then I *know* he'll be looked after and loved. And maybe… you can tell us what he looks like, what his name is… have you got pictures?" she asked hopefully.

Lois nodded, getting up to grab her bag and reaching into it for the snapshots she'd stuffed in there before leaving home. "Yeah — and another time, if you want, we can bring some of the home movies Jimmy's taken. Umm… Jon and Sarah called him Conor Jonathan Clark, by the way."

"It's just so weird to think of him as still a baby," Laura murmured in amazement as she took the photos from Lois. "And they called him Conor — oh, that's… that's wonderful! We were going to call him Jon, but once we knew we weren't keeping him it seemed wrong to name him."

Laura broke off to gaze at the photos Lois had given her, simply staring, and Lois saw tears running down her face.


They had been flying for at least ten minutes, keeping a high altitude as they travelled up the Californian coastline. Conor hadn't spoken a word since leaving his house, and Clark had been reluctant to break the silence until he was sure that his friend was ready to talk. One tentative probe a few minutes earlier had shown him that Conor's mind was still unreceptive to communication. So instead he simply allowed Conor to lead the way, flying alongside the other man and allowing his thoughts to drift back four months.

That his own son had turned out to be the 'Superman' Wells had mentioned to Conor and Laura had shocked him deeply. His reaction, once he'd recovered from the shock, had been to demand of Jon why he and Sarah had not insisted that Wells take the baby back where he'd come from; it had taken a lot of explaining by his son and daughter-in-law, and a lot of discussion with Lois, before he'd agreed that perhaps they'd done the right thing. Even still, for the first month or so he'd felt uncomfortable every time he'd seen baby Conor, and he'd found it very difficult to hold and cuddle his newest grandson.

But now… now, he loved Conor every bit as much as his other two grandchildren, as did Lois. Yet he still felt this Conor's pain, could barely imagine what the other couple had gone through all those years ago; could only guess at what Conor was feeling now as all his buried pain was resurrected and he tried to assimilate the new knowledge.

Betrayal. That had to be it; Clark couldn't see how Conor would perceive it any other way. Clark, his friend — his brother, his counterpart — had betrayed Conor by allowing his son to adopt the baby Conor and Laura had given up so reluctantly. That, no doubt, was why Conor was so silent. Clark closed his eyes briefly; he was amazed that the younger man hadn't repeated his demand that Clark and Lois return to their own universe.

<<Stop obsessing, big brother>> The voice in his head came out of the blue.

<<Huh?>> Clark turned his head to see Conor, still keeping pace with him, watching him with a wry expression.

<<I know what you're thinking, and I guess some of it's right — but not all, okay?>>

Clark raised an eyebrow in silent enquiry, then added, <<So what's not right?>>

<<That bit about me thinking you'd betrayed me — us. I don't think that>>

Inhaling sharply, Clark wondered whether he could believe it; was Conor trying to spare his feelings? But then he reached out again to the younger man and, this time, was able to read his friend's emotions. He felt pain, as he'd expected, but also a measure of peace.

<<How…?>> he began, barely able to articulate his question but realising as he trailed off that Conor understood.

<<Clark… all these years, we've never known where he was. We never knew who was taking care of him, what kind of challenges and dangers he was facing. *Now,* at last, I *know.* And — assuming Jon and his wife allow us — we might even be able to see him. So you've answered a lot of questions I never thought I'd get an answer to — that's how I feel a sense of peace about some of this stuff>>

That made sense, Clark thought. <<Want to land somewhere and talk this through properly? There's a lot I have to tell you>>

<<Sure. Follow me>>

Within a few minutes the two Superman were standing on a deserted beach on a tiny Pacific island. Conor spun quickly, and came to a stop dressed in his jeans and shirt, and with his shoes in his hand; Clark decided to imitate him, and the two strolled along the sand by the water's edge.

"So… tell me what happened to your daughter-in-law, okay? Sarah, yeah?"

Quietly, unemotionally, Clark related the tale of Sarah's involvement with Rob Drummond and its tragic consequences; as he talked, although he wasn't watching Conor he could sense the younger man's reaction to his explanation.

Conor's emotions, as Clark became aware of them, alternated between sympathy and rage and, ultimately, understanding. When he finished his story, Conor sighed heavily and turned to face him.

"That's a hell of a thing to happen to anyone," he gritted out. "Especially someone who wanted children. And… Wells' action makes more sense to me now."

"There's more to it, though I think he's been meddling too much" Clark added quickly, and then gave Conor the explanation Wells had given when he'd turned up with the baby. "Jon and Sarah told him to take the baby straight back, you know? Even after they'd been told about this war in the future, they still weren't sure what to do. And…" He paused suddenly, taking a long, heavy breath. "They didn't call us — Lois and me. And I was angry with Jon for not doing that, because I would have told him to let the future sort itself out and that the baby belonged with you and Laura. If he'd called me over at the time, then we could have made Wells take him back."

Conor was silent for several moments, which made Clark wonder whether Conor somehow blamed Clark for not having found some way to send baby Conor back. He didn't this time attempt to read his friend's emotions, however, preferring to wait until the other man was ready to speak.

"Clark… I think Jon and Sarah did the right thing."

Conor's words came out of nowhere and hit Clark almost with the force of a bolt of lightning. He simply couldn't understand how his friend could say that; after all, Conor's pain at the loss of his son had been obvious earlier, as had his hurt and resentment at finding out the baby's fate. How could he now say that it was right that the child should be in Clark's universe, with Jon and Sarah?

"Clark, come on. We both know how we feel about doing the right thing. And Laura and I knew at the time, no matter how much it hurt, that we were doing the right thing — and if your Jon takes after you, I'm darned sure he knew he was doing the right thing too when he and Sarah decided to keep… the baby. He stopped abruptly, raising an eyebrow at Clark. "I can't keep calling him 'the baby.' What did they call him?"

"Conor. Conor Jonathan Clark Kent," Clark answered, not without a hint of pride, since the one thing he had been happy about at the time was Jon and Sarah's choice of names.

He heard Conor take a sharp intake of breath and then subside into silence for a period which seemed to stretch into minutes. Eventually the younger man spoke again. "After me…?"

Clark nodded. "Of course. It was the only way they could say thanks, acknowledge what you and Laura did. Well… the only way at the time, since we didn't know Bernie was going to invent this travel device."

"Sure," Conor replied, but his tone suggested his thoughts were elsewhere. After a few moments, he added, "You know, giving him up was the hardest thing I ever did. If I thought I'd suffered pain in my life before — like when I was growing up and my parents made me hide what I could do and made me feel like I was some sort of freak — or even like that time when I encountered Kryptonite the first time, then I was wrong. Giving our son away was like a waking nightmare." He paused, taking a shuddering breath. "Laura went through an agonising labour — it was actually worse than when we had Joey, and then when it was over we only got to spend half an hour with him. She fed him, cuddled him, I held him, then Wells came in and it was all over. He took our son away and we never knew where he was — until now."

He paused again and Clark stood watching him, feeling helpless as he watched the pain cross Conor's face, sensed the man's agony, both for himself and for Laura.

"Okay, Wells brought us reports from time to time, but it was never the same — nothing was specific enough. He never even told us his name — I guess we assumed he was probably called Jon since your son's called Jon and that was what we'd have called him ourselves, but that was just a guess. And now… now we know." Conor paused and threw a half-pleading glance towards Clark. "Can we… see him? Sometime?"

That was a request he could help with, Clark thought in relief. "Sure. Jon and Sarah want you to."

"Good. Though… I'll have to see how Laura feels. It hurt her too — I don't think she ever got over it either. Like I said when I saw you last, after a while we just stopped talking about it, and I guess we were lucky that our relationship was strong enough to survive the pain. But… she's — she *was* — his mother."

"I know," Clark murmured softly. "And I just can't imagine how you two managed to get through it. It would tear me apart, and I know Lois would be devastated. And it always tears me apart to see her hurting and not be able to take the pain away."

Conor began to walk on then, and Clark again fell into step beside him. After a few minutes' silence, the actor turned novelist spoke again. "You know the really ironic thing? Remember when I visited you and Jon came in?"

"Yeah, I remember," Clark answered with a grimace. "You froze, and I asked Jon to leave."

"Yeah." Conor paused again briefly. "You know why that was?"

Surprised, Clark glanced in Conor's direction. "Well, once you'd told us what happened I guessed it was because it hurt to see *our* son and be reminded of what you'd lost."

But Conor shook his head, to Clark's surprise. "No, not that. It's crazy, completely irrational, but when I saw your Jon the first thought that hit me was 'is that him?' I mean, I *knew* he wasn't — I remember Jon as a baby, for crying out loud! But I still wondered…"

That made sense, Clark realised. And it wasn't so far-fetched at all; after all, he and Lois had discussed that themselves, the possibility that, had they not been able to have children, it could have been them to whom Wells had brought the baby. And Jon had told him not that long ago of his own initial fear that he might have been Conor and Laura's son.

"It could have happened," Clark offered tentatively. "Okay, it didn't, but it wasn't such a crazy guess."

Conor shook his head, however. "No — you'd have told me if he was, I know that. And anyway, when I was staying at your place all those years ago I saw some pictures of Lois pregnant. I… well, I took a good look at them at the time because it made me think about what Laura would be like if she… when we started a family." The memory clearly made him smile.

Conor was much calmer now than he'd been at the house, that was clear, and he seemed to be adjusting to the news far better than Clark had anticipated. With a wry grimace, he turned back to the other man. "I'm sorry, Conor. If there was any way I could have changed any of this…"

But Conor made a sweeping downward arc with his arm, as if to brush Clark's words aside. "Look, I told you, I think the kids did the only thing they could do in the circumstances. And although I don't know how Laura feels about this, I'm pretty sure that she'll agree with me that we're glad that it's your Jon and his wife who have him. If he's like you, then I know young Conor will grow up happy and loved — especially with you and Lois as grandparents."

Conor's use of the baby's name took Clark by surprise, but it did demonstrate that the younger man seemed to have come to terms with his son's fate. And that acceptance was helping Clark to resolve his own mixed feelings about the entire situation: while he *had* come to agree that Jon and Sarah had taken the only option available to them at the time, he had never been happy about the situation, which had made this conversation even more difficult for him.

He smiled wryly at his friend. "I can tell you they love him very, very much. And he's well, and growing by the day, and I can already tell he's going to be a terrific kid."

"That's great," Conor murmured. He hesitated, then gave Clark a reluctant smile. "I'll tell you something else that's been on my mind all these years. What happened to me, you know? I know HG Wells brought me forward in time to save my life. But the cost of his doing that was that I was brought up by the Kanes instead of your parents. And… well, they just weren't Jonathan and Martha Kent. Okay, by being in that timeline I got to meet Laura, so it wasn't all bad…" He grinned briefly. "But I guess I've always had that question in my mind: is he happy? Is he loved? Or is he made to feel that he's some sort of freak?" Conor sighed then. "I guess it was probably crazy, since I always thought he'd gone to one of us — and I couldn't see you or me or any of us, however many of 'us' there are, treating our own kids like that. But now that I know where he is, it does feel a whole lot better. I *know* Conor's going to be loved and that he'll grow up happy."

That made sense, Clark realised, and for the first time he was glad that Lois and Jon and Sarah had talked him into coming here and made him accept that they needed to tell Conor and Laura the truth. He'd never quite thought of the situation in those terms until Conor had explained it, but of course Conor's upbringing — so different from his own — would have made him even more concerned about the fate of his son. "Conor, I know that both Jon and Sarah love him very much. And when you come to visit you'll see that for yourself."

"Thanks," Conor said briefly, then he tapped Clark's arm. "Come on. I need to get back to talk to Laura."


"Lois, he looks so beautiful. And so happy," Laura murmured at last, looking up from the final photograph of Jon and Sarah together, the baby in Jon's arms. Her eyes still glittered with tears, but she was smiling.

Lois smiled warmly in return. "He is — he's wonderful, and he's very much loved by all the family — Katy and Jimmy and their kids too." She was relieved that Laura seemed ready to talk at last; the younger woman had sat staring at the photographs, tears flowing freely, for what had seemed like a very long time even though it was probably only a few minutes.

"I'm glad he has cousins," Laura told her. "He wouldn't have if he'd grown up with us. And I don't know whether our kids felt they missed out on that — especially once they found out who Conor really is and they started getting their powers. If they'd had cousins, maybe…" She shrugged.

But Lois gave her a wry smile in return. "Our Jon and Katy have cousins, remember — my sister's kids. But they were never able to talk to them about Superman. Though I know what you mean. Things will be different for Conor, because Karen and Michael will know about their heritage — except that they don't seem to have inherited the powers, so I hope they won't resent the fact that Conor will."

"I'm glad he'll have Clark to help teach him how to use his powers," Laura commented. "I remember how patient he was with Conor — and Conor learned from that when he was helping Joey and Clare and Louis get used to their powers."

Unsure whether Laura really was taking this news as well as she seemed, Lois decided to probe a little. "We really were worried about how you'd take this. I mean, I can't imagine how I'd have felt in your position."

Laura was silent again for a long moment. Then she turned to Lois, brushing her hair back from her face at the same time, and Lois could see the reddened eyes and tear-streaked cheeks. "Yes, it was a shock, Lois, but all these years of *not* knowing where he was were… tough. Conor and I had just tried to put it out of our minds — Wells had said he wasn't going to tell us and we thought that was it, we'd never know. But… it's the not knowing that kills you, you know? Conor understood that even better than me, because of his… well, his unique circumstances. All his life he knew there was something different about him, and I know he did sometimes wonder whether the Kanes really were his parents, though by the time I met him he seemed to have convinced himself that he was a normal man. He'd been under pressure to conform for so long that he wasn't able to allow himself to be different any longer. But from what he's said about when he was a teenager, it was so hard for him not understanding who he was and why he was different. Once he knew — okay, he had to get used to being Superman and accepting that he was from another planet, but at least he *knew*."

She paused, getting up from her seat and beginning to pace. "I always wanted to *know*. I never would have wanted to interfere, or make contact, or even see him — just to know where he was and that he was okay. The stuff Wells brought was never enough to tell me that."

Lois watched the other woman, her own emotions in turmoil: she simply couldn't imagine not knowing where Jon or Katy were or how they were, and she had no idea how Laura and Conor had coped. Finally, she spoke, choosing her words carefully.

"Laura… what if you could see him?"

The other woman swung around to face Lois, an expression of shock on her face. "How…? Oh — the device you brought Conor! But…" Several expressions flitted across her face in quick succession: hope, excitement, fear, doubt. Hesitantly, she continued. "But… wouldn't Jon and Sarah mind? I mean, he's theirs now, they wouldn't want us dropping in and getting in the way…?"

"No, don't think that!" Lois interrupted her quickly. "Jon and Sarah want you to come — they asked us to tell you that you'd be very welcome. They want to thank you, and I think they want you to be sure that he's happy and safe."

"That's… kind of them…" Laura said doubtfully. She grimaced, then paced a little more before turning back to Lois. "Don't get me wrong — of *course* I'd love to see him! But I'm asking myself as well, could I deal with it? It's been twenty-eight years since I — we — saw him. He was a baby, a newborn. And if he'd stayed with us he'd be an adult now, with his own life, maybe married, maybe kids of his own. And because Mr Wells has been visiting us all this time, telling us how he's doing, it never occurred to us that he wasn't growing up on the same time-line as we're living in. So with the news we've been getting about him over the years, we had come to think of him as an adult now. Taking that mental leap to accept that he's still a baby, only four months old… I just don't know how I'd react faced with him as a baby." She gestured awkwardly with her hands. "I'm not making a lot of sense, I know. And it must sound like I really don't want to see him, which is pretty ungrateful in the circumstances — "

"Not at all!" Lois interrupted. She got to her feet and went to Laura, laying her hand on the other woman's arm. "Like I said, I haven't a clue how I'd react if it had happened to us. But… think of Conor," she added quickly. "I know Jon and Sarah intend to tell him all about where he came from, when he's old enough. Don't you think it would help him if his real parents were still part of his life? I don't mean that we should confuse him when he's still too young to understand, but — well, think of it this way. Both our husbands were given up by their birth parents, to save their lives. They never knew anything about *why,* until they were close to thirty, both of them — Clark because his globe spoke to him, and Conor because of your TV show and Clark's globe. So most of Clark's life up until then he was asking himself that same question you said Conor was always asking, and like you said it was the 'not knowing' which was the hardest to deal with."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Laura agreed slowly. "But I need to talk it over with Conor."

"Sure you do. And I… wonder where they've got to," Lois added pensively as she realised that the two men had actually left them alone for some considerable period of time. "I guess they're having pretty much the same conversation as we are," she added with a wry grin.

"Yeah, I guess," Laura agreed. "I hope Conor's okay, though — it really cut him up, you know? Though he always tried to hide it because he didn't want to hurt me."

"That's our husbands," Lois replied, nodding with an amused grin. "Clark still has a tendency to be overprotective sometimes, no matter how often I tell him off about it."

"Well, let's face it, Lois, they wouldn't be the men we fell in love with if they were any different," Laura pointed out.

A noise from the doorway drew the women's attention. "You talking about us?" Conor drawled.

Laura gave a little cry and ran into his arms. Lois saw Conor shoot Clark a swift glance; Clark responded by crossing the room to Lois and taking her arm. He drew her back to the doorway and out of the room, pausing to glance back at Conor as they left. As the door closed behind them, Lois saw Conor lead his wife to the couch and sit down with his arms still about her.


Even after almost forty years of knowing him, flying with Superman was still something special, Lois thought as they drifted in the clouds above the Santa Monica bay. Clark had been silent since he'd explained briefly that Conor had asked for some time alone to talk to Laura, and she could sense that the explanations had been even less easy for her sensitive husband than for her.

"Clark?" Concerned that he was obsessing too much, she tried to get his attention.

"Hmm?" He tilted his head downwards, and his brown-eyed gaze caressed her. "What is it, honey?"

"Oh, just that you've been very quiet."

He gave her a wry grimace. "And you have a pretty fair idea why that is, huh?"

"Obsessing again, honey? Afraid that no matter what they say to us, Conor and Laura are going to blame us for not making Wells bring their son back to them?"

Clark pulled a face again. "I can't hide anything from you, sweetheart. Yeah, that's what I did think — but Conor and I got everything sorted. He's okay with it, you know? And I'm… stunned. He says he thinks Wells was right and that Jon and Sarah had no choice but to adopt baby Conor. And…" Clark trailed off briefly, then resumed after a pause. "And I don't know that I could have been so magnanimous, so forgiving in his place."

Lois patted his arm lovingly. "Of course you could, honey. Not just because you and Conor are the same person, but because *you* are like that. You're decent and generous and fair-minded — all of the things I'm not."

He laughed. "Lois, I wouldn't say that — you've come a long way from the single-minded reporter who stole my story. And anyway, you felt guilty about that. If you were really selfish, you wouldn't have cared."

"I just couldn't believe I'd stooped so low as to think a rookie farmboy had a story worth stealing," she quipped back, then added more seriously, "So tell me how it went with Conor."

"Let me land, and we'll talk," he agreed.

They spent about an hour discussing their respective conversations; Lois wasn't surprised to discover that Clark was still suffering pangs of guilt over the situation, but she assured him that it seemed neither of their hosts felt the same way. "And they're both just glad that they know now where he is, honey. We did that for them, and that's good, isn't it?"

"I guess so," he agreed slowly. "I'll be happier once they can see him again."

"You're not afraid they'll want to take him away from Sarah and Jon?" Lois asked carefully.

Clark was silent for so long that Lois wondered what he was hiding from her. Had he perhaps already discussed that possibility with Conor? If so, then she would have to be angry with him: how could he do something like that to Jon and Sarah? But then she remembered what he'd said when the possibility of returning baby Conor to his natural parents had cropped up before they'd left Metropolis. It had been *Clark* who had said that it would be completely unfair on their adopted grandson to take him away from the only parents he'd known. No, Clark wouldn't have suggested that.

He shifted his gaze to look at her again, and she saw the reassurance she no longer needed in his eyes. "No. No, I don't think they'd do that," he told her. "I… guess I was just trying to figure out the likelihood of them *wanting* to, and how we'd deal with it if they did. I don't want to hurt them, and now we're in the position that we can visit them from time to time, I don't want to alienate them."

Thinking back to her conversation with Laura, Lois shook her head. "I don't think Laura would want to, anyway. She said that she's finding it hard to adjust to the fact that he's still a baby… I don't think she'd really want to turn the clock back like that. She was trying to decide whether she really wanted to see him at all — whether she could cope with it, I think — when you and Conor came back."

"Well, that's something they have to work out for themselves," Clark answered, then his expression grew distant, his head tilted in his listening position.

"What is it — someone needs Superman? Do you think you should fill in for Conor? But… they'll notice you look older — "

He was shaking his head. "No, it's not that. It's Conor — he's asking us to come back."


Clark set Lois on her feet again in the grounds of Conor's house and led the way back to the house, trying to put his distracted thoughts in some sort of order. Lois was quite right: he shouldn't be trying to blame himself for any of this. He'd had no influence over any of the situation, and anyway both Conor and Laura had said, independently of each other, that Jon and Sarah had done the right thing in accepting the baby from Wells. If *they* thought that — and he had to recognise that he'd also agreed with his son's decision — then did he have any right at all to beat himself up over causing his friends pain?

No, he didn't… and even less so when he reminded himself that, as Conor had said to him, this news had finally resolved a lot of unanswered questions. Yes, he could see how Conor had felt a sense of peace about the situation: it laid a lot of old uncertainties to rest.

Wrapping his arm about Lois's shoulder, he re-entered the house through the French doors; Conor and Laura were there to greet them, the younger couple holding hands.

"Sorry about that, but we needed to talk," Conor explained immediately.

"Of course you did," Lois assured him. "We were quite happy — I'll always take any excuse to go flying with my husband!"

Laura smiled in return, but then grew more serious. "We both want to thank you for coming here today. We've talked about it, and we both agree that it had to be hard for you both to tell us this — you couldn't have known how we'd react to finding out that our son's now your grandson, but you still came and told us."

Clark shrugged awkwardly. "Once we had the device, we couldn't not tell you guys. Okay, we've never been in your position, but… well, I'd want to know."

"Yeah, well, we're grateful, don't doubt it," Conor assured him. "And if you're sure Jon and Sarah won't mind, we'd love to come and see him sometime."

"Sure!" Lois told them emphatically.

"I told you, they said they wanted you to come," Clark added, catching Conor's gaze and holding it, conveying his sincerity through that silent communication. He felt Conor's acceptance of his assurance through their mental link.

<<Come on, big brother, stop over-analysing this!>> he felt Conor instruct him suddenly, and he smiled wryly. That was exactly what he'd been doing, in spite of all Conor had said earlier, what Lois had told him about Laura's reaction, and in spite of his own acceptance of the situation.

<<Okay, okay, I've stopped>> he replied, relaxing his stance and smiling warmly to support his assertion. "We'll get on home now," he added aloud, sensing that their hosts had probably had enough to deal with for one day.

Conor nodded. "Yeah, okay — but we'll see you soon, right?"

Lois grinned. "You've got the means now as well — you two have to come and visit us!"

"Yeah, well, I'm looking forward to getting a good look at Metropolis," Laura pointed out. "Last time I was there, all I saw was the inside of your house!"

"Just be sure to bring Conor's books and DVDs of your movies," Lois demanded. "We want to see what you two have been doing since that TV show!"


For about the tenth time in fifteen minutes, Sarah went over to peer into Conor's crib; the baby was sound asleep and perfectly happy, Jon knew, but he also knew that this impending visit was making Sarah just as nervous as it was him. From the moment his dad had called them, a couple of days ago, to ask whether it would be okay for Conor's natural parents to visit at the weekend, both of them had been in a state of nervous tension. Sarah had been fussing all day to ensure that the apartment was tidy and that it looked like an environment in which a baby could be happy and well looked after, while he… he couldn't stop thinking about what Conor and Laura might want. Clark had assured them that all his friends wanted was to see their child, to assure themselves that he was happy. And Jon — Sarah too — agreed entirely that this was a reasonable request; in fact, they *wanted* the couple from the other universe to have the reassurance they needed. But the fact remained that these two were their adopted son's real parents. When it came down to it, when the other couple saw their child again, what would they want?

Jon had even gone so far as to have a talk with Jimmy; since his brother-in-law had lost his first child, also called Laura, to cot death and it had hit him really hard at the time, Jon thought Jimmy might be able to give him some clue as to how Conor and Laura felt. While the older man had been sympathetic, he'd ended the discussion fairly quickly by urging Jon not to compete with his father in the obsession stakes. "My circumstances and theirs are very different anyway," Jimmy had pointed out. "My daughter died, and it was a sudden death — and you know the knock-on effect it had in breaking up my marriage to Penny. So I couldn't isolate how I felt about losing Laura from my marriage falling apart because I couldn't handle things."

That had made sense to Jon; Conor and Laura's circumstances were very different in that they had known they were going to lose their son and that they had stayed together.

"Anyway," Jimmy had finished, "everyone's different. I can't tell you what to expect from Conor's natural parents. Lois and Clark can give you an idea since they've talked with Conor and Laura, but you'll just have to wait and see. My guess is it won't be anything like you're afraid of."

<I hope he's right> Jon thought now as he checked his watch yet again. It was a Saturday evening, and his father had told him that Laura and Conor were coming to Hyperion Avenue for dinner and would come over to their apartment afterwards — probably around eight-thirty.

He became aware of Sarah's gaze on his, and turned to smile at her, hoping he didn't look as worried as he felt. She moved towards him and slipped her arm through his.

"It'll be all right, I'm sure it will," she murmured, resting her head against his shoulder.

"Sure it will, honey," he answered, with more conviction than he felt. He tipped her head up to his, brushing his lips over hers in a tender, loving kiss; she responded by moving more securely into his arms and opening her mouth under his, sliding her tongue forward to dart against the corners of his mouth. As always, his body responded instantly to her nearness and his instincts began to scream at him to finish this in the bedroom; but that part of him which was capable of conscious thought reminded him that they were expecting visitors at any moment. He deliberately softened the kiss, drawing back slowly from her a few moments later.

Just in time, too, he realised, as a loud knock sounded at the apartment door. Exchanging a quick glance with Sarah, Jon brushed his palms against his jeans and went to answer it. His parents stood outside, and with them was Conor, still looking exactly like a younger version of his father, and a very attractive woman who looked as if she could be his mother's younger sister. Quickly he invited them in, not wanting any of his neighbours to see them and be surprised by the resemblance; he didn't want to have to invent stories about out-of-town siblings or cousins of his parents.

He very swiftly realised that Conor and Laura were every bit as nervous as he and Sarah were; Laura's gaze flicked agitatedly around the room, while Conor bit his lip and clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides. As Jon wondered how to break the silence, he saw his mother step forward and place her hand gently on Conor's arm; Conor turned and smiled briefly at Lois before relaxing his stance and moving to put his arm around his wife's shoulders, drawing her against him.

"Well, is anyone going to say anything?" Lois, not at all to Jon's surprise, took the initiative by breaking the silence and looking challengingly from one group to another.

Conor immediately released Laura and took a step into the centre of the room, extending his hand towards Jon. "Hi there — we met about eighteen months ago, I guess you remember?"

"Sure," Jon replied, accepting Conor's hand and receiving a warm clasp in return.

"And hey, I'm sorry about my reaction," the other man added, smiling ruefully. "I guess you understand it now."

Jon shrugged easily. "It's fine. I… well, in the circumstances, I can understand it, and with what's happened since…"

"Never mind about that now," Conor insisted. His gaze flicked beyond Jon. "You must be Sarah," he added, moving to greet her. As Jon turned his head to watch, he saw Sarah accept Conor's hand with what seemed to him to be a little awkwardness.

But then his attention was attracted by his father, who was leading the other woman over to him. "Jon, this is Laura, Conor's wife," Clark explained.

He greeted the older woman, as he did so noticing what seemed almost to be panic in her eyes; it was becoming rapidly clear to him that the older couple was even more nervous about this meeting than he and Sarah were.

Jon then noticed Laura's gaze moving past him; she was clearly searching the room. He took a quick intake of breath, glancing at Sarah; she met his gaze as she made polite conversation with Conor, and he saw the barely imperceptible nod. <Time to get this over with> he agreed silently with her.

"Laura, come and see…" he began softly, touching her arm lightly to lead her in the direction of the corner of the large living-room. They had brought Conor's crib out of their bedroom earlier, and in order to ensure that he wasn't distracted when they put him down to sleep, Jon had placed the small screen which usually shielded the crib in their bedroom. This had also partially hidden the crib from view, but he now moved it aside so that Laura could see.

He heard her sharp intake of breath and turned to observe her. Her eyes had widened and her hand flew to her mouth as she gazed at baby Conor in… what? Amazement? Longing? Distress? He couldn't be sure, and he stood to one side, feeling helpless in the face of a situation he'd never expected to have to face on that night when Mr Wells had brought Conor to them.

There was a movement, and suddenly the elder Conor was standing beside his wife, his arm securely around her shoulders as he too gazed down on the sleeping form of their son. As Jon felt Sarah slip her hand through his arm, he thought he could see a tear glisten in the older man's eyes.

Had this all been a terrible mistake, he wondered. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to imagine that the Kanes could revisit the past in this way, that for them to visit and see their long-lost son would somehow give them a sense of closure about the entire experience. Perhaps seeing him again was simply re-opening old wounds, wounds which were still raw?

He turned his head, looking around the room for his parents, thinking perhaps that they might be thinking the same thing. After all, they knew Conor and Laura better; perhaps their intervention at this point would be helpful? But Lois and Clark were watching the scene in silence, holding hands tightly, and Clark, in response to Jon's eyebrow raised in enquiry, simply shook his head. The message was clear: let whatever happens, happen. We'll deal with it later.

It suddenly occurred to Jon that, despite the difficult situation with which they were dealing, for about the first time since he'd discovered his Kryptonian-inherited telepathic abilities his father had not taken advantage of the opportunity to communicate with him in that manner. And in that same instant he realised why. Conor was also Kryptonian. Conor also shared their telepathic abilities. If Clark and Jon talked together, Conor would hear… wouldn't he? Jon still wasn't entirely sure about how this strange ability worked; he had been tempted a couple of times to get Katy and his father in a room together and experiment a little, but although Katy had enjoyed playing with her new-found skill initially, once the novelty had worn off she had decided she didn't really want anyone — even her much-loved father and brother — 'getting inside her head,' as she'd put it.

But even if he and his father refrained from using mental communication, Jon also needed to remember that Conor could sense their emotions in the same way as he and Clark could with each other. Therefore, trying to clear the worry from his mind, he consciously made himself relax. He was shocked when, a bare moment later, he 'heard' his guest's voice telling him, wryly, that it wasn't necessary. Quickly he glanced over at Conor, but the older man was still holding his wife tightly and watching the baby.

The silence in the room was broken suddenly by a few snuffling noises, and then baby Conor opened his eyes. The baby blue had now turned brown, and together with the shock of dark, almost jet-black hair there was absolutely no doubt to anyone in his family that this was a descendant of a Superman. Still caught up with observing his guests' reactions to seeing their child again, Jon was taken by surprise when Sarah spoke.

"Would you like to hold him?" she offered lightly, smiling at both Conor and Laura.

"You're sure?" It was Conor who spoke, and who, at Sarah's immediate emphatic nod, reached into the crib and lifted the baby out. Jon felt as if his heart was in his mouth as he watched the child he called his son being cradled by the man who had the real right to call him son.

He almost missed Sarah inviting the older couple to come and sit down; feeling as if this was all some sort of bizarre dream, he followed them back to the seating area and watched as Conor and Laura sat on the couch together with baby Conor still lying in the arms of his birth-father. Sarah, outwardly, seemed less perturbed as she perched on the arm of the sofa and chatted to their visitors about Conor's daily routine.

Out of the corner of his eye Jon saw his parents moving in the direction of the kitchen; his mother muttered something about making coffee, and he simply nodded. It would never have occurred to him to think about something as mundane as coffee in the middle of this extraordinary situation, but he realised then that it probably gave them something to do. This encounter had probably been pretty nerve-racking for his parents as well; he hadn't forgotten that his father had been extremely uncomfortable about the entire situation in the beginning.

Baby Conor was the only one in the room who didn't seem to be at all affected by this very strange encounter, Jon thought wryly as he watched the interplay between Laura and the other Conor and the child. Young Conor had never been awkward with strangers; he seemed to sense in some way when his parents approved of visitors, and would happily go to anyone he felt was a friend. He was certainly enjoying being fussed over by these new friends, Jon could see: he was chuckling and grabbing at his namesake's glasses as Conor gently bounced him up and down on his lap.

Wondering, however, if he was the only person who felt the tension in the atmosphere, Jon got to his feet abruptly. He needed to find something to do, to take his mind off… whatever it was he was worrying about. Conor would need feeding, that was it. It was time for his bottle. That was something he could do. Silently, he made his way into the kitchen.

As soon as he opened the door he realised that had probably been a bad idea too; his father had his mother pinned against one of the counters and was kissing her thoroughly. Jon groaned silently; he'd thought his days of walking in on his parents in the middle of a passionate embrace had ended when he'd got his own apartment. He'd never expected to find them necking in his own kitchen!

But Clark had heard him, so it was too late to leave again. Quietly he closed the door, cutting them off from the scene in the living-room. His parents separated and favoured him with almost identical concerned expressions.

"Is everything okay out there?" Lois asked, keeping her voice low.

Jon shrugged; he barely had the words to describe what he felt — feared? — was going on. Conor and Laura had, he thought, bonded all over again with their son. There was no way they could leave without him. And there was no way he and Sarah could deny them their child.

Glancing back at his parents, he saw his father sliding his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. "Looks fine to me," Clark murmured. "They seem happy enough, and Sarah's doing great."

"They love him," Jon muttered. "I can see it — you can see it!"

"Sure they do," his mother agreed. "We didn't expect anything different, did we?"

"But…" Jon began, then trailed off, unsure that he wanted to burden his parents with his selfish fears. But it didn't seem as if his father needed to be told. A bare second later he was enfolded in Clark's warm embrace.

He clung to his father, the hug bringing back memories of childhood when Clark's embrace had always meant that everything would be okay, that his parents would do everything in their power to make things all right for him and for Katy. But this was different; how could he expect them to put this right?

He felt his mother's hand on his hair, and as Clark released him she reached up to kiss his cheek. "Sweetheart, of course this is difficult. But it's just as hard, if not more, for Conor and Laura. And I know they don't want to do anything to hurt you or Sarah, or to damage your relationship with Conor."

He nodded reluctantly; the sensible side of him had acknowledged that all along. It was seeing Conor and Laura with his son — *their* son — which had made him think differently.

"Your mother's right," Clark said softly. "We had a long talk with them before we all came over here. I guess… well, I'd wondered whether we might need to set some ground rules, though I was a little uncomfortable with that in the circumstances. You and Sarah are our kids, and we have to think of you — but Conor and Laura are baby Conor's natural parents." He grimaced, his expression revealing how difficult he himself had found preparing for this encounter. "But in the end they said it all themselves — everything Lois and I had worried about, and more."

Like what? Jon wondered, and raised an eyebrow inquisitorially at his father. But Clark shook his head. "Let them tell you themselves. They want to talk about a few things, but when they're ready, okay?"

With a nod and another grimace, Jon took Conor's bottle from the fridge and headed for the door.


Things seemed to have gone well enough so far, Sarah reflected cautiously as she sat perched on the arm of the sofa watching the older couple play with her son. Conor the elder, she'd been surprised to see, did look considerably younger than his age, and as she studied his profile she could see that her husband would probably look exactly like that in about fifteen or twenty years' time; still devastatingly handsome, she mused silently. Not, of course, that her father-in-law, older than Conor by about four years but who looked about fifteen years older, wasn't drop-dead gorgeous too, she thought dispassionately. The Kent — or Kane — males just seemed to have good looks and charm in far more than their fair share of quantity.

And Laura… yes, Conor Kane's wife was so like Lois in looks it was hard to remember that, in Conor's world, she was actually the great-niece or second cousin once removed — or whatever it was — of the original Lois Lane. She wouldn't be mistaken for Lois, though; there was something about her, whether it was as a result of having been an actor and movie star since her early twenties, which seemed to differentiate her. And yet she wasn't what Sarah had expected either. Sitting a few feet away from Laura Lindsay, she knew she'd never have imagined a world-famous, Oscar-winning actress would be as warm, natural and *real* as this woman.

But then, one Lois Lane had to be pretty much like another, and although the Lois Sarah knew did not suffer fools gladly, she was certainly not pretentious or publicity seeking (though being married to Superman probably had something to do with the latter). Under different circumstances, Sarah reflected, she could probably like these two very much.

But now… well, although everything had been fine so far and the older couple had only been interested in playing with Conor, what about when their first rush of interest wore off? She was steeling herself for comments about the room being too warm, or too cool, or the apartment being too small for a growing baby — okay, they both knew that was true, and they were already looking around for a house to buy. They just hadn't found the right place yet: it needed to have plenty of space, a back garden for Conor to play in with his friends, and somewhere Jon could take off and land as Superman easily without attracting attention.

But where was Jon? She'd seen him sneak into the kitchen a couple of minutes earlier; she'd almost been relieved at the time since she'd been able to sense his tension. It had been obvious on his face, in the way he'd been twisting his hands in his lap — when he wasn't fiddling with his glasses. Perhaps, she'd thought, a quiet word with his parents could help him. But she needed him here too, and she felt a little bit disappointed in him because he wasn't there to support her when she needed him.

That was unfair, though; she knew what was going through Jon's mind. She had tried to reassure him, telling him earlier that day that she just couldn't imagine that Conor and Laura would want to take their baby back with them. She'd pointed out their ages, and had argued that at their time of life they'd be looking forward to retirement and grandchildren, not wanting to give twenty-four hour a day care to a baby. Jon had seemed to accept that, but it was clear now that he wasn't really so sure.

He came back into the room then, and she caught his eye in an attempt to guess at his mood; he gave her a quick smile but no other indication of his state of mind. Then she noticed what he was carrying, and nodded approvingly.

"Thanks, darling — I suppose it is time for his feed! I'm surprised he hasn't complained yet," she said lightly.

"Well, we've been distracting him, I guess," Conor pointed out in his soft southern Californian accent, its tones subtly different from Clark's Metropolitan one softened by its Kansas undertones.

Having heated the bottle in his usual manner, Jon handed it to Sarah, but she hesitated. Turning her attention to Laura, she suggested carefully, "Perhaps his mother would like to feed him?"

Conor stilled, and Laura looked almost shocked; for a moment Sarah wondered whether she'd said completely the wrong thing. She realised then what she'd done: she'd been the first person to bring out into the open what they all knew: that Conor and Laura were baby Conor's real parents. None of them had so far referred to that fact, and yet, she knew, it was the one thing they needed to deal with.

Laura lifted baby Conor gently from her husband's lap and cuddled him for a moment or two, then she raised her gaze to Sarah's. "No, *you're* his mother, Sarah." Her voice was soft but emphatic.

"Laura's right, you two," Conor agreed more firmly. "Yeah, we gave birth to him, but we gave him to you a long time ago. He's your son now, and as far as we're concerned he couldn't have better parents."

Sarah felt Jon's arm come around her shoulders, and she leaned back into him. She could tell from his stance that he was as surprised and grateful for Conor's words as she was.

"That's… very generous of you both in the circumstances," Jon replied, his voice thick with emotion. "We… we both love baby Conor very much, and we've been so grateful to you both since Mr Wells brought him to us. We never thought we'd get the opportunity to thank you, though."

Laura had now begun to feed young Conor, but she turned her head to smile at Sarah and Jon. "We gave him up a long time ago, and we gave him to his new parents with our blessing. Our only sadness was that we never thought we'd be able to find out where he was, let alone to see him. It's very generous of you two to allow us to come here today, and believe me, we're grateful to you for that."

"You're welcome to come any time, as often as you want," Sarah began, but Laura interrupted her.

"That's kind of you, and we were very tempted to want to be a part of his life — like an extra set of grandparents, you know?"

"Well, you know he only has one, so…" Sarah suggested.

Laura was shaking her head slightly. "Yes, but… well, we were discussing this with Clark and Lois over dinner — " She jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen doorway, and Sarah looked over to see her parents-in-law emerging. "The last thing Conor or I would want is to be some sort of interfering force in your lives. Baby Conor is your son, and you don't need us looking over your shoulder all the time, making you worry about what we think of how you're bringing him up."

"Yeah," her husband agreed. "So we thought that, while we needed to see him to reassure ourselves that we'd be okay, after that we'd keep out of your way altogether."

"But… you can't do that!" Sarah was taken aback to hear her husband objecting so strongly, given Jon's earlier fears.

Neither guest said a word, but their surprise was apparent.

Jon explained. "You two *are* his birth parents, and one of these days he's going to find out the truth about himself. I think it might be easier for him if he's had you in his life all along, as caring grandparents, or godparents, or something like that."

"Yeah? And how could we explain giving him up?" Conor challenged softly; there was no criticism in his voice, Sarah realised, just concern. "It's kind of different from Clark's and my case, remember. Our birth parents sent us to Earth because we'd have died otherwise. So… it might be best all round if he never knows the truth and believes you're his natural parents."

<Yes, and your son would have died at the age of eighteen if you'd kept him> Sarah was unable to resist thinking. But she and Jon had decided, and Lois and Clark agreed, that they should not tell Conor and Laura about that little revelation of Wells'.

Clark, however, came to their rescue. "It's not about what we tell him, I think. It's about being as honest as we can with him, as much as he's able to understand at whatever age he is when we tell him things. Like we had to wait until our kids were old enough to understand before we could tell them about Superman, for instance."

"Yeah, and if you two have been a part of his life, then I think he'll find it much easier to accept that you gave him to Jon and Sarah to bring up because they weren't able to have a child of their own," Lois pointed out, with an apologetic smile in Sarah's direction. "Remember, young children can understand and sympathise with a lot of things — they understand generosity, for instance, because they're taught it's right to share things with their friends."

"And they can understand that adoption is special because their adoptive parents had to make an extra effort to have a child," Clark added. "I don't think it'll be that hard. As long as the one thing he never doubts is that all of us love him."

Sarah turned to watch Conor and Laura, to see how they were reacting to this. Laura was still feeding baby Conor, but her attention was distracted; Conor suddenly got a mouthful of air due, obviously, to her failure to keep the bottle sufficiently tilted. He protested loudly, and Laura caught her breath, quickly reassuring him and removing the teat from his mouth. Conor nudged her, gesturing a little, and she nodded.

"Jon?" Conor attracted Jon's attention, and he came over to accept baby Conor, re-seating himself in his favourite large armchair and resuming the child's meal.

"You may both be right," the older Conor added then, "but that still doesn't remove the other problem we're concerned about. The last thing we'd want is to interfere…"

Sarah shrugged. "If you don't want to interfere, then where's the problem? Look, okay, I admit I was worried before you two came here this evening — I've been waiting for you to find fault with something. But I think now that I've met you both, and seen you with Conor, Jon and I don't have anything to worry about." She smiled quickly to take any sting out of her words. "Okay, I wouldn't be so naive as to think there'd never be anything you'd disapprove of, but I hope we could discuss it amicably when it happens. And anyway," she added with a grin in the direction of her mother-in-law, "Lois could have been in exactly the same position, but so far we haven't fought about anything to do with Conor's upbringing. That's not to say we'll never disagree, but…"

"But I've learned with Katy and Jimmy to let them make their own mistakes," Lois cut in with a grin. "And anyway, I remember the way my mother behaved when you and Katy were young kids. She nearly drove Clark and me crazy, and I wouldn't want to do that to you!"

Laura flashed Lois a quick, curious glance. "I forgot Clark told me your mom behaved almost exactly like mine!" She turned back to Sarah. "Okay, point taken. There is no way on Earth I'd want to behave like my mother did. Strictly hands-off occasional visitors, yeah? If you're really sure you want us to come."

"We do," Sarah assured her, knowing it to be true.

"Anyway, you can't avoid seeing these two and baby Conor," Clark pointed out. "Not unless you're never going to use that device again — and I was kind of hoping we'll get to see a lot of you from now on."

Conor smiled quickly in response. "You won't get any argument from me about that, Clark."

After that, the atmosphere became much more relaxed, and the three couples were able to discuss their feelings about the meeting and baby Conor more openly. Laura, smiling warmly as she watched Sarah cuddle the child, took both Jon and Sarah by surprise some time later.

"You know, what I said earlier is even more true than I thought," she mused aloud. "I said I'm not his mother — you are. I know I gave birth to him, but all I feel now when I hold him, look at him, is the kind of love I imagine I'd have for a child of Joey's whenever she gets around to having kids. I just don't feel he's *mine* now."

Conor reached for his wife's hand and held it tightly. "I know what you mean, sweetheart." Turning his attention to the others in the room and glancing from one to the other, he added, "I don't know, maybe it's because it was all so long ago and we never expected him to be a baby still or something like that, but I don't look at him and feel the same way I do towards Joey or Louis or Clare. I still *love* him, and I always will, but not as a father."

"So, yeah, if you'd like us to act as honorary grandparents, or godparents, or something like that, then we'd love to," Laura added. "I know we'll have to work out all sorts of details later, like how often is reasonable for us to visit and how often we want to do it anyway, and I guess you might want to come up with a cover story for your neighbours…"

"Yet another reason why we need to move soon," Jon put in wryly. "We're looking for somewhere," he explained to their visitors. "We just haven't found what we want yet — it has to be the right house, with plenty of privacy, and close to MetU as well."

"I'm sure we'll find something soon," Sarah commented. "After all, it's summer, and that's always a good time for house sales — and this is a university area. People leaving MetU for new jobs which start in the autumn semester should be putting their houses up for sale about now."

"If your experience is anything like ours, you'll find the perfect house right when you least expect it," Clark pointed out, an amused smile curving his lips upwards.

Sarah noticed Conor was looking a little uncomfortable, however, and she wondered whether this was, finally, an attempt to suggest that they were doing something wrong.

He leaned forward in his seat and frowned. "There is something else we wanted to talk to you about." His tone was awkward, as if he knew what he had to say might not be appreciated, and Sarah shot Jon a quick, concerned glance. "I guess you know all about what Laura and I do — have done — for a living, and it must be obvious that we're pretty well off financially."

Multi-millionaires at Lois's guess, Sarah remembered. Although she seemed to remember Clark commenting that the couple gave a substantial part of their income to various good causes, including the Superman Foundation.

Conor continued. "Well, we'd like to set up some sort of trust fund for baby Conor. I really don't want you to see this as interfering — it's just… well, we can easily afford it, and that way we'd at least feel that we're doing something for him."

"You will be doing something for him," Jon pointed out, and Sarah could detect a faint note of coolness in his voice. "You'll be part of his life, and when he's old enough to understand he'll be told you're his birth parents."

"We're not trying to suggest that you two can't provide for him." Laura's softer, melodious voice injected a note of reassurance. "All we're saying is that we'd like to give him something — a college fund, maybe, nothing more. We wouldn't dream of offending you by trying to do any more than that."

"That sounds pretty reasonable to me," Clark put in, his tone mild. "Jon, what if it was Lois and me offering to do the same thing? Would you and Sarah have a problem with that?"

"I… guess not," Jon conceded. He glanced at Sarah; she'd also found Clark's interjection persuasive and she nodded in his direction.

"Thank you, Conor — that's very kind," Jon told the older man.

Conor shrugged. "The money's nothing. Being able to do something for him is… not nothing." He turned his attention to Clark then. "We did have another idea, too. Laura and I… well, we've always been a little embarrassed at having far more money than we need to live on, and I think I told you about what I've done with the Superman Foundation in our world. If it's okay with you, I'd like to do the same here."

"What's that?" Jon was clearly intrigued; Sarah followed the conversation as she handed baby Conor over to Lois to put down in his crib for another sleep. He'd already been changed, so with any luck he'd sleep for a few hours before needing another feed.

"Well, years ago Superman allowed the Foundation to license the sale of images, the El-crest and the Superman name for various good causes, and all that does bring in a good amount of money — we employ people who then decide what to do with that money, we get applications from all sorts of people and organisations who need help." Jon and Clark nodded; the Superman Foundation in this world operated more or less in the same way.

"There was one other thing I always wanted to do something about," Conor continued. "As Superman, I'm always meeting kids who are having a pretty horrible childhood, for all sorts of reasons — poverty, abuse, neglect, or they're been orphaned or some other reason. And as much as the government can try, they can't solve all the problems. Anyway, the Superman Foundation in my world now has, funded by Laura and me, a dedicated 'childline,' a telephone and internet-based helpline where kids in trouble can talk to someone or get help. We have trained counsellors and social workers available in every state twenty-four hours a day."

Clark gave a low whistle. "That's expensive. It's a great idea, but…"

"But not one which the Foundation could have paid for out of its own income — at least, not without going the Hollywood route, and I know I have no desire to see TV shows or cartoons or movies about Superman. And I know you don't," Conor added. "Clark, you probably haven't a clue how much I've made over the years from my novels and screenplays — my advances are telephone-number figures. Out of state numbers, sometimes," he finished sardonically. "I mean, who needs that kind of money? And as for Laura, at the height of her success she could command tens of millions per movie. And you don't refuse, because your fee is an indicator of your success. Even now, despite the shortage of roles for older women, she's still in demand and still well paid. So… anyway, I wanted to suggest, if you and Jon like the idea, underwriting a similar scheme in your world."

"But can you do it?" Sarah interjected quickly. "I mean, I assume your money is the same… but apart from that, how would anyone explain where the cash came from?"

"Yeah, the money's the same," Laura confirmed with a grin. "It's weird, I know, but despite all the differences between our worlds our presidents seem to have been the same so our notes are valid. As for explaining the sudden influx of cash, I think we can work it out. It may mean Conor having to withdraw vast sums of cash and explaining to our accountants where it's gone, but that's our problem. On your side, the Superman Foundation just gets a large cash injection with a letter explaining what it's to be used for."

"And I can do it again when needed," Conor added. "Course," he quipped, "I could always bring one of my manuscripts to this dimension and see if any publisher would take it — or one of my screenplays. And I could sign over the profits to the Foundation."

"I guess with Bernie's device the options are endless," Lois put in, rejoining the group.


The two older couples left shortly after that, Laura and Conor thanking Jon and Sarah again for allowing them to visit and welcoming them as a part of baby Conor's life. Jon, still feeling that he hadn't quite expressed his gratitude sufficiently, grasped Conor's hand warmly as the older man was leaving.

Conor held Jon's gaze in return, the brown eyes so like his own compelling him to pay attention.

<<Stop obsessing. You're too like your father>>

With a shock, Jon realised Conor was talking to him. <<I guess… sorry. I just wanted to say thanks, and sorry — we wouldn't have kept him unless…>>

<<Unless you felt it was the right thing to do. I know>> Conor responded. <<And I believe you>>

Jon caught Sarah giving him an odd stare, and he realised that she'd figured out that something was going on. He grimaced, then said aloud, "I imagine you two must have wished you'd never heard of HG Wells."

But Laura was quick to contradict him. "No, Jon. Without Mr Wells Conor and I would never have known the truth about ourselves, and Conor wouldn't have had so much help — from your parents — in learning to be Superman. And of course, without Mr Wells Conor wouldn't even have been alive in the first place."

"I'd agree that he's done a lot of good," Clark pointed out. "Though if we were being cynical we'd say that a lot of that has been putting right what he caused to go wrong in the first place — after all, it was he who willingly brought Tempus from the future, which is what started all of the problems Wells has had to put right. But this — bringing baby Conor here from your universe — is nothing to do with correcting something Tempus did."

Jon shot his father a quick glance, remembering the fate of that other child who had grown up to be an eighteen-year-old Jon Kane, and who died of Kryponite exposure. That had been Tempus's fault.

"I don't hold this against Wells," Conor continued at the same time. "Sure, I thought when I first heard about this that the guy had gone too far… but I've seen tonight that what he did was right. You two — " his gaze encompassed Jon and Sarah " — deserve to have a child of your own, and I'm very happy that Conor has you as parents."

"Me too," Laura emphasised, before hugging both Jon and Sarah and leaving.

After he'd closed the door behind their visitors, Jon reached for Sarah, taking her in his arms and cradling her tightly against him, burying his face in her abundant hair. She returned his embrace, seeming to sense his need for closeness.

After a few moments, she pulled back. "Told you it'd be okay."

"You did. Does that mean you want a prize? Is it my turn to get up for the four am feed, then?"

She grinned. "You usually do anyway." Looping her arm about his waist and encouraging him back towards the couch, she added, "That's just one of the advantages of being married to Superman — he doesn't need as much sleep!"

Jon laughed aloud. "I seem to remember you telling me in the first month of our marriage that was a *disadvantage*!"

"That was because you were keeping me awake as well," she pointed out dryly. "Not that I necessarily minded all the time…"

"So… you wouldn't be averse to being kept awake a little later tonight?" he asked, a rakish grin hovering around his mouth.

"Maybe not," she teased in return.

Jon sobered as he pulled her down on the sofa beside him. "It was okay, wasn't it?"

"It was fine. *They* were fine," Sarah assured him. "I spoke to Lois briefly before they left, and she told me she thought the visit had really helped both Conor and Laura. And she said she could tell they really meant what they said about not thinking of our Conor as their son any more. He's ours, completely ours."

"Ours," Jon repeated, loving how good that sounded. Their son; and at last, he didn't have to feel guilty about depriving his natural parents of the joy of bringing up their child. Conor's parting words had helped him finally to come to terms with the situation.

He stood up suddenly, extending his arm to Sarah. "Come on, honey. I'm going to take Conor's crib back into our room now — let's go to bed."

"Thought you'd never ask!" she grinned in return.