By Irene Dutch <email@example.com>
Submitted November 1999
Summary: This sequel to the author's "Firestorm" chronicles the growing-up years of Lois and Clark's four children.
This is a sequel to "Firestorm". I highly recommend you read "Firestorm" before reading this or you'll be completely lost!
Thank you to everyone for all the wonderful feedback for those two stories. It inspired me to continue. I would also like to offer belated thanks to Wendy Richards for her editorial assistance with my two previous stories as well as with this one. I received valuable editorial help not only from Wendy, but also from Chris, Merry, and Laurie. Thank you for your help. Thank you to Emily Crawford, my archive editor, for her help. Also, a big thank you to Julie for educating me about oil paint and watercolours.
A word of explanation for this story. Each chapter takes place three years after the last. For example, in chapter one, Jon and Sam are three years old, in chapter two - six, and so on. Finally, if you have read my other stories, you will soon realise that Chapter 9 is a rewrite of my short story "Broccoli Dancing".
Please send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
All standard disclaimers apply.
Starfire and Sunstorm - 3 years old.
Chapter One - Caroline
"Clark, I'm really worried about Jimmy." Lois emerged from the bathroom ready for bed wearing her favourite sleep shirt.
"Me too, honey." Fully dressed, Clark headed past her to make his own bedtime preparations only to exit a couple of seconds later wearing his bathrobe. "He did so well after Lee left. I don't understand why he's falling apart now."
"Even though he doesn't want to talk about whatever is bothering him, at least he still comes over and helps with the boys. I really appreciate the extra help, especially when you have to go … you know." She motioned with her hand. " I'll be glad when I'm not so tired all the time." She sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I don't remember you being this tired when you were carrying the twins." Clark sat down beside her and started massaging her low back.
"I know. And I never had this back pain either." Lois shifted slightly to give Clark better access to her sore muscles.
"What does Dr. Swanson say?"
"He says this is normal - that every pregnancy is different." Lois looked slightly guilty. "And I know I shouldn't have bugged her - she's not my doctor anymore - but I called Caroline too. I felt better when she told me the same thing."
"How's she doing?" Clark applied a tiny amount of heat with his heat vision to the small of her back.
Lois stretched and pushed back against the pressure of Clark's hands. "She's getting tired of not being able to see her feet. But other than that, she seems to be doing okay. Dr. Swanson said that he'd induce her if she doesn't deliver by the end of this week. I'm a bit envious. The end is in sight for her. I don't know how I'm going to be able to wait for another six months. At least I'm not carrying twins this time."
Clark grinned. "I don't know, honey. Twin girls might have been nice. We'd have a matched set then."
Lois turned to face Clark. "Bite your tongue, Kent. You might not need as much down time as me, but I know you went through major sleep deprivation too."
He laughed. "Speaking of sleep, we better do some of that while we can. Who knows what time the boys will be up tomorrow?"
Lois grimaced. "I never thought I would become one of those 'early to bed, early to rise' people." She crawled under the covers. Clark turned out the lights and joined her, snuggling into her back and wrapping his arms around her. He lightly caressed her stomach.
"So, did Caroline say how Bernie's holding out?"
Lois giggled. "It sounds like he's driving her crazy, fussing over her all the time. I think it's kind of sweet."
Clark laughed, "He is pretty excited about becoming a dad."
Lois yawned. "Good night, Clark." She twisted around to face him. "I love you."
"I love you too, honey." He leaned in for a kiss. "Let's hope the kids aren't up tonight."
"Oh, let's hope. It would be great to get a full eight hours." Lois yawned again.
Lois and Clark emerged from the elevator into the hustle and bustle of the Daily Planet newsroom.
Lois laughed. "You know, I never thought that I would need to come into work to get some time to relax."
Clark grinned. "Our boys are pretty active, aren't they?"
They looked at each other in amusement, mentally reliving the morning chaos as they had all tried to get ready at once.
Lois and Clark were lucky. The Daily Planet had finally started its own day-care centre. Their boys had been two of the first to be enrolled in it. It was an ideal arrangement for a working couple. They both made a point of visiting the boys as often as possible in the course of their day.
Their days were different now. Before they had children, Lois and Clark had thought nothing of working late, but those days were long gone. On occasion, they would take files home to read after the boys' bedtime, but they tried not to do it too often. They both jealously guarded their free time.
Perry emerged from his office. "Lois, Clark, in my office. Now." He stalked back to his desk, not waiting to see if they were obeying.
Lois and Clark obediently entered Perry's domain and sat down across from him.
"What's up, Perry?" Lois asked.
Perry shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Uh, well … oh heck - I'm not going to beat around the bush. I'm worried about Jimmy. He's been off his game for a while now. Do either of you have any clue what's going on with him?"
Lois leaned forward in her chair slightly and earnestly addressed her boss. "We've been worried about him too, Perry. He still comes around to our place a lot to help and visit with the boys, but he's not talking about whatever it is that's bothering him."
Perry looked down at his desk. "I'm kind of hoping that you two could give it another shot at straightening him out. Whatever it is, it's affecting his work. He's not getting the job done. I thought he would smarten up when I transferred him back to Research, but it hasn't happened yet. I've been letting it slide, but I can't keep doing that."
"Perry, what are you saying? Jimmy's like a son to you!" Lois exclaimed. She opened her mouth to continue, but Clark interrupted, "We'll give it another try, Perry. How long before you have to … do anything official?"
Perry's eyes glistened. "About a week. And Lois, don't think that I wouldn't do it if I had to. There's only so much I can ignore."
"Okay, Perry," Lois said. "We'll do our best."
She and Clark left Perry's office and moved to their desks. They sat in a sombre silence. A moment later, Jimmy approached them with a pile of file folders under his arm. His face downcast, he avoided their eyes.
"Here's that research you wanted, guys." He turned to walk away.
Lois and Clark looked at each other. Using a series of intricate facial expressions, Lois made it quite clear to Clark that she wanted him to try talking to Jimmy. Clark nodded in resignation and got to his feet.
"Jimmy, wait a minute. I want to talk to you."
Jimmy stopped in his tracks. Still facing away from Clark, he asked, "What about, CK?"
Clark laid his hand on Jimmy's shoulder. Jimmy flinched at the touch. "Jimmy, what's wrong? Lois and I are really worried about you. Perry is too."
In the background, Lois answered her ringing phone.
"I can't tell you, CK. I wish I could, but I just can't," Jimmy said softly.
Lois jumped to her feet, and rushed over to the two men. "Sorry to interrupt, guys, but I thought you would both want to know. That was Bernie calling from the hospital. Caroline's in labour!"
Lois and Clark beamed at each other and turned back to Jimmy. Before their eyes he turned white as a sheet. His eyes rolled back in his head and his knees buckled. Clark grabbed Jimmy around the waist to support his weight. "Lois, grab a chair. Hurry!"
Lois rolled her chair over to Clark and Jimmy. Clark carefully sat Jimmy down, holding him in place.
"Honey, please, can you get some water?"
Lois ran to the water cooler and got a small paper cup full of water. She moistened some paper towels while she was there.
The two reporters worked together trying to revive Jimmy. Lois wiped his forehead with the moist towels. Clark urged Jimmy to take small sips of water. Jimmy tried to hold the paper cup himself but his hands were shaking so badly he wasn't able to do it. Finally he seemed a little steadier.
"Jimmy, what happened just now?" Lois placed her hand gently on his arm.
Jimmy silently shook his head.
Clark pulled Jimmy to his feet. "Come on. We have to talk and we have to talk now. This has gone on long enough. Lois and I aren't going to let you off. You're going to have to tell us what the problem is."
Clark firmly led Jimmy into the storeroom. Lois followed behind, closing and locking the door. She stood in front of Jimmy. "Okay, that's it. We're not letting you out of here until you tell all."
Jimmy groaned. "Oh God, Lois, Clark. Please don't ask me. I promised I wouldn't talk about it."
Clark asked, "Who did you promise?"
Lois and Clark looked blankly at each other for a moment. Finally Lois said, "Jimmy, Lee loved you. She wouldn't have wanted you to be in pain. Clark and I are your friends and we can tell that you're hurting. We want to help."
Clark gripped Jimmy firmly by the shoulders. "And, Jimmy, we meant it. We're not letting you out of here until you spill the beans."
Jimmy turned away from them, breaking Clark's grip. White-knuckled, Jimmy gripped the edge of a worktable. They could see tension in every line of his body. He took a deep, shuddering breath, slowly exhaled and relaxed. He turned back to them.
"Lee told me … She made me promise …"
Lois took Jimmy's hands in hers. "What did she make you promise?" she asked softly.
"Not to tell anyone that … her grandmother, Caroline … she's going to die … in childbirth … today," Jimmy stuttered.
Lois gasped, dropped Jimmy's hands, and stepped back, bumping into Clark. He gripped her shoulders to steady her.
"Jimmy, you should have told someone," Clark blurted out.
Jimmy took a deep breath. His eyes glistened with unshed tears. "I wanted to. But if I had told Dr. Klein, you know what would have happened. He and Dr. Lee, they wouldn't have conceived a child. And if that child, Lee's mother, isn't born, Lee won't be born, and she won't come back from the future to help you guys, and your boys would disappear. They wouldn't exist."
"Oh, dear God. What are we going to do?" Lois anxiously looked up at Clark.
"We can't do anything, Lois," Jimmy replied softly.
Clark shook his head. "Yes, we can," he answered. "We can go to the hospital and be there for Bernie when it … happens."
Lois rested her hand on Clark's forearm. "You're right, honey. Bernie's going to need us."
Jimmy backed away from them. "I can't go. I can't face him."
Clark looked at Jimmy. His eyes were bleak. "Jimmy, this isn't your fault. Don't beat yourself up anymore. Sometimes there's nothing that can be done. Believe me, I know. It's taken me a long time to figure that out and I still don't like it."
Lois placed her arm loosely around his shoulders. "Clark's right, Jimmy. There was nothing you could do."
"I know," he answered softly. "But it doesn't make it easier. Knowing about Dr. Lee, it's been like watching a … truck heading right for her, and … I can't move to help her. I'm just frozen in place."
There was a knock on the door. "Lois? Clark? Are you in there?" It was Perry.
Lois opened the door. Perry stood there with a sombre expression on his face.
"The hospital just called. Uh, something's wrong. Dr. Klein asked them to call. He needs you there. The nurse wouldn't tell me what's going on, but … it didn't sound good."
Clark took Lois's hand gently in his own. "Thanks, Perry. We'll go right now." He started to lead Lois out of the room.
Lois paused and looked back at Jimmy. "Are you all right?"
Despite the tears rolling slowly down his face, he looked much steadier on his feet. "I'll be fine. Don't worry about me," he answered. "And guys, thanks."
The two of them just nodded and quietly left the room.
Lois and Clark entered the Maternity Waiting Room. They approached the desk. The nurse in charge looked grim. Her eyes were rimmed with red and her hands were shaking.
Clark cleared his throat. "Excuse me. We're looking for Dr. Klein. Someone called and …" His voice trailed off.
"You're Clark Kent and Lois Lane?" the nurse asked. At their nods, she continued, "I called. Follow me, please. Dr. Swanson needs you."
As the two reporters followed the nurse down the hall, they couldn't help but be aware of the subdued atmosphere in the Maternity Department. The nurse led them to Dr. Swanson's office and knocked on the door. At the murmured response from within, she opened it. "Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent are here, sir."
A grey-faced Dr. Swanson got up from his desk to greet them. "Thanks, Doris. You better head back to the reception desk now." The nurse nodded, turned around, and left.
"Thank you very much for coming, Lois, Clark. I wish I had an easy way to tell you this, but … Caroline Lee passed away a little while ago."
Lois gasped. She had guessed that this was coming but it was so final to hear it said out loud. "What happened?" she asked.
Dr. Swanson sighed and shook his head. "We won't know for sure until after the autopsy, but … it looks like a blood vessel in her brain just gave out. She was gone so fast. It was completely unexpected."
"And the baby?" Clark asked.
"The baby's fine. As far as the actual delivery went, everything was fine - completely normal. Caroline was cuddling the baby when … everything hit the fan." He shook his head again. Lois and Clark could see that he was still very shocked and upset. "At least she got to see her child. She was so happy."
"Oh dear God. Where's Bernie? Was he there when…?" Lois asked haltingly.
"Yes, he was. I'll take you to him. He's with the baby."
Dr. Swanson led them out of his office and down the hall. About a third of the way down the hallway, they passed a door with the name 'Dr. Caroline Lee' on it. Clark realised that Caroline hadn't just been a patient in this hospital but also a friend and colleague. No wonder all the nurses and doctors looked so upset.
Dr. Swanson paused when they arrived at the nursery. Looking through the glass windows, they could see Dr. Klein sitting in a rocking chair holding his baby.
"Lois, Clark, there are scrubs just inside the door that you'll have to wear over your regular clothes. And don't forget, you need to wash your hands with antiseptic soap before you touch the baby."
"It's okay, Dr. Swanson. We remember the drill from when we had the boys," Clark assured him.
Lois and Clark entered the nursery. After they had completed the required preparations, they approached Dr. Klein. Clark snagged a couple more chairs on the way. He arranged them one on either side of the doctor and his baby.
Lois bent down and kissed him on the cheek. "Bernie, we are so sorry. We came as soon as we could."
He didn't look up, but remained completely focused on his child. "I guess Howard Swanson filled you in."
"Yes, he did, Bernie." Clark squeezed his shoulder gently.
"We wanted this baby so much. She was so happy. I can't believe … I don't want to believe that she's gone."
"I know," Lois answered.
"My baby's really beautiful, isn't she?" he said softly as he turned the child slightly so they had a better view.
"Yes, she is," Clark said. "What's her name?"
"We talked about names. We hadn't made a final decision yet but … I think I'll name her after Caroline's mother." His voice broke. "Astrid … Astrid Caroline Klein."
"That's a beautiful name for a beautiful little girl," Lois said.
Dr. Klein nodded and rocked his child in silence for another long moment. He slowly got to his feet and carefully placed the baby in the bassinet. He covered her with a blanket and tenderly stroked her cheek. "I'll see you later, sweetie." Dr. Klein turned away from the bassinet. He walked clumsily, like an old man. He looked lost. Lois felt an ache in her chest while she watched him. She took his hand in hers as they left the nursery. Clark followed close behind looking very anxious.
Dr. Swanson was waiting for them in the hallway.
"Bernie, I'm so sorry. I did all that I could."
"I know you did, Howard."
"I loved her too, Bernie. She was a good friend to me," Dr. Swanson said haltingly.
Dr. Klein gripped his shoulders firmly. "Listen to me. There was nothing you could have done differently. You did your best. You're a good man, Howard, and a good doctor."
Lois almost felt ashamed of herself as she watched Dr. Klein. It was so easy to forget the depth and calibre of this man. Even in his sorrow, he had a genuine concern for Dr. Swanson.
"Bernie, I'm sorry, but you know the drill. There should be an autopsy," Dr. Swanson said grimly.
Dr. Klein blanched. "I know," he murmured.
"Listen, Bernie. I talked to the coroner. He's going to … do it as fast as he can. If he finds what we expect, he should be done tonight. Understandably, you're in shock right now. I want you to go with your friends here," he gestured at Lois and Clark, "and come back tomorrow morning. I'll help you make arrangements for the baby … and for Caroline." His voice quavered.
Dr. Klein nodded. Silently he extended his hand to Dr. Swanson for a formal handshake.
Clark put his arm around Dr. Klein's shoulders. "Come on, Bernie. Let Lois and I look after you."
Dr. Klein and Clark sat at Dr. Klein's kitchen table drinking coffee. They had dropped Lois and the car off at the Daily Planet. She wanted to be with them too but someone had to hold down the fort and be there to pick up the boys. Lois had pulled her husband aside and suggested that he be with their friend. She hoped that Dr. Klein might talk more to another man.
Clark and Dr. Klein had then flown 'Superman Express' to Dr. Klein's home. Clark realised exactly how shell-shocked Bernie was when he made no comment about the flight. Normally he loved to fly and had managed to cajole Superman on a number of different occasions to take him out.
Clark had been uncomfortable going into the Kleins' home. Bernie and Caroline had left in such a hurry for the hospital that the kitchen was still untidy from breakfast. Clark had quickly tidied up and put the coffee on.
Bernie, however, seemed oblivious to his surroundings. Clark didn't know what to say so he just didn't say anything at all and instead looked down at the table.
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Bernie spoke up. "Clark, you don't have to stay."
Clark looked up. "I want to stay, Bernie."
"I know you do, Clark, but you have a family of your own that you should be with. I'll be fine, really." Dr. Klein sighed. "Go home, Clark. I appreciate you being here … but I just want to be alone now."
"Okay, Bernie. But if you need anything …" Clark stood up.
"I know. I'll call if I need to."
Clark hated leaving him there all by himself, but that was what Dr. Klein said that he wanted.
As luck would have it, Clark was delayed returning to the Daily Planet. On his way back, he heard a couple of different calls for help. In consequence, Lois and Clark were only able to get one quick moment together in the elevator before they had to pick up the boys from day-care.
"Clark, maybe I should call Bernie and ask him to supper. He shouldn't be alone."
"He wants to be alone, Lois. But I'll make a point of checking on his house when I patrol later."
"What are we going to tell the boys?" Lois asked.
"I think we should tell them the truth but not yet. Let's wait until after dinner," Clark answered.
"I'm not sure I'll be able to find the right words," Lois admitted.
"We'll do fine, honey. I just know it." He kissed her quickly.
The doors opened on the second floor. They entered the day-care and braced themselves.
"Mommy! Daddy!" Two voices shouted in unison. Two little bodies jumped up into their outstretched arms.
"How was your day, guys?" Clark asked.
"We had a great day, Dad," Jon answered enthusiastically. Sam nodded in agreement.
Sam seemed happiest following Jon's lead. Lois and Clark had been quite worried about him. It had only been in the last three months that he had started speaking and they had still not heard a complete sentence out of his mouth. He seemed comfortable letting Jon do all his talking for him. He was a sober, serious child, a bit of an introvert. No one could ever say the same about Jon, however. He was a much livelier child, always taking the lead in exploring new things. He was the one to lead Sam into mischief rather than the other way around.
Lois and Clark managed to say all the right things to the boys. Then they all said good night to the childcare workers and headed home.
Lois and Clark had both found themselves pushing their food around on their plates. There was nothing wrong with supper as the boys proved by gobbling down everything they were given. But the two reporters were very preoccupied.
Lois couldn't stop thinking about poor Jimmy's predicament. It must have been awful for him, to know this horrible thing was coming and to not say anything. But, much as Lois was going to miss Caroline, she was grateful to Jimmy for not taking a chance with her boys' lives. She didn't know what she would do if anything ever happened to them.
Clark couldn't stop thinking about Bernie. What was he going to do without Caroline? The two of them had been so much in love. For that matter, what would Clark ever do if something happened to Lois? Poor Bernie, left alone to bring up a child by himself. He shook his head. It was exactly the situation that Clark dreaded the most.
Lost in thought, Clark didn't even notice when Lois washed the boys' faces and hands and let them leave the table.
Lois gently cupped his cheek. "Clark, we better talk to the boys now."
Jolted from his gloomy thoughts, he looked blankly at her for a minute, then nodded. They headed to the playroom.
"Sam … Jon … Daddy and I have something we need to talk to you about."
"What, Mommy?" Jon asked as he clambered up onto her lap.
As per usual, Sam was quiet, content to let his twin do the talking. He made himself comfortable on Clark's lap.
"We have some bad news, boys," Clark said softly. The boys looked at him gravely as he continued. "Your Aunt Caroline got really sick. She went into the hospital …" Clark's voice trailed off. He looked helplessly at Lois.
"Is she going to get better, Daddy?" Jon asked, regarding his father in alarm.
"No, honey, she's not," Lois interrupted. She cuddled Jon closer. "She died."
"Oh." Jon and Sam regarded each other seriously before Jon continued speaking. "I guess Uncle Bernie is really sad just like you and Daddy are. Right, Mommy?"
Clark cleared his throat. "Yes, he is. And he's going to need our help. He has a new little baby of his own to look after but he's going to be very sad for a long time."
"Jon and Sam, do you think you and Daddy and I could all help Uncle Bernie and his new little girl?"
The boys looked solemnly at each other once again. Finally Jon spoke up. "Sure, Mommy. We love Uncle Bernie. And we'll play with the baby too."
Sam nodded solemnly in agreement. "Yep," he answered in his customary laconic fashion.
The next few days were just as grim as Lois and Clark had feared they would be. Luckily the autopsy had been completed in a very timely fashion. The coroner had discovered exactly what Dr. Swanson had suspected. Caroline had died as the result of an unsuspected weakness in a major blood vessel in the brain. When this blood vessel had burst, she hadn't had a chance. The coroner made a point of telling Bernie that she could have died at any time and that childbirth was not to blame for this accident.
With Dr. Swanson's help, Dr. Klein planned a simple, dignified funeral. And thankfully, he seemed to be holding up very well. He made arrangements with the hospital to look after Astrid until he had finished saying goodbye to her mother.
Lois and Clark had both felt comforted by the funeral service. They were also reassured by how well Dr. Klein seemed to be doing. He was obviously grieving but he was in control of himself.
Jimmy, however, was a mess. He attended the funeral, the interment and the reception afterwards but was obviously uncomfortable in Bernie's company. He left as soon as he could do so unobtrusively. Dr. Klein watched him go, his eyes dark and troubled.
Later that evening, Jimmy sat alone in his apartment. It hadn't changed much over the years. Jimmy was slumped on the couch, gazing forlornly at the only two new additions to his apartment. Normally hung on the wall, the formal portrait of Lee and the framed copy of Jimmy's award-winning story complete with photo of Firestorm had been removed, and Jimmy had placed them on the table in front of him. The sound of the front door buzzer echoed through the apartment making him jump. He got up and walked slowly over to the intercom.
"Who is it?"
Jimmy backed away from the intercom and looked at it blankly for a long moment before he moved back to press its button once more.
"Come on in."
He opened the door and waited for Dr. Klein to emerge from the elevator. Jimmy silently motioned him into the apartment. Dr. Klein sat down, his eyes going to and locking on the portrait of Lee and the framed photo of Firestorm. "I still miss her," he said softly.
"I do too," Jimmy agreed, "every minute of every day."
"She really loved you, Jimmy."
They sat in silence for a moment.
Dr. Klein leaned forward in his chair. "Jimmy, I don't blame you."
"Yes and no. Lee tried to be discreet and not talk too much about the future but she still let things slip. She talked about me, Lois, Clark, her mom, her dad. She casually mentioned her uncle, some aunts and some cousins. But she never, not even once, volunteered any personal information about Caroline. It was as if she didn't exist in Lee's mind. There was only one reason that I could come up with for that."
"Dr. Klein, how did you go on, knowing that?"
"I didn't know it would be this soon, but …" His voice quavered and broke. "… I resolved to treasure every moment that Caroline was with me. I loved her, Jimmy, and I continue to love her. I don't regret anything. You know, you and I have something in common."
"Yes, you got involved with Lee even though you knew it couldn't last. And I did the same with Caroline. Neither you nor I knew when our loves would be taken from us."
"I never thought of it that way, Dr. Klein. But how did you figure out that Lee had told me?"
"Jimmy, you don't exactly have a poker face. You always had this look on your face whenever you saw Caroline."
"Should I have told you?"
"No, it wouldn't have changed anything. And it was kinder not knowing when. I want to thank you for not telling me. I know it must have been a hard burden for you to bear alone."
"It was hard but it's over for me. Your burden is just beginning."
"Yes and no, Jimmy. I miss Caroline, and I can't imagine that I will ever stop missing Caroline. Ever. But Astrid isn't a burden. She's a joy. I already love her dearly. But I don't deny I'll need help."
Jimmy extended his hand. "You know I'll help any way I can, Dr. Klein."
Dr. Klein firmly shook his hand. "I know. And it's Bernie, Jimmy."
"Jimmy, I keep thinking she'll walk in the door. That's the hardest thing, but I know that I will survive. I have to. Looking after Astrid really helps."
"Hi, Bernie, it's me. I wondered if you would like Clark or me to go to the hospital with you today to help bring Astrid home … Oh, okay … if you're sure … No, it's fine … Take care. Bye." Lois hung up the phone with a quizzical expression on her face. She turned to Clark who was sitting at the breakfast table with the boys who were inhaling their breakfast. "He doesn't need our help … Clark, he asked Jimmy to go with him. When did they become such good friends?"
"Lois, relax. This could be exactly what Jimmy needs, to help Bernie out." Clark deftly caught the glass of orange juice that Jon knocked over.
Lois moved back to the table and sat down, rejoining her family. "Sam, here, don't forget to eat your vitamin, sweetie." She rescued the pill from under the edge of his plate. "That's a good point, honey. But it did take me by surprise."
Clark got up, moved to the sink, moistened a washcloth and returned to the table. He competently applied the washcloth to Jon's sticky face. "Hey, quit squirming! There. All done, buddy. Go brush your teeth."
"And how about you, Sam? Are you ready to have your face washed?"
Sam nodded. "Yep." He endured the daily ritual unflinchingly.
"Okay, off you go too. Brush your teeth."
Sam silently scooted out of the room.
Lois gazed after him reflectively. "Do you think we'll ever have a real conversation with him?"
Clark laughed. "Of course we will. He just hasn't been motivated enough yet, but he will be, honey. Don't worry."
"I can't help worrying. I think it's in the job description." Lois smiled wryly.
"You sure got that right." Clark adjusted his glasses and looked through the wall to check on the boys' whereabouts. Seeing that they were both safely occupied in the bathroom, he zipped around the kitchen at super-speed cleaning up the breakfast mess. When he was done, Lois was sitting alone at the clean kitchen table with her cup of coffee, glass of orange juice and plate of toast in front of her. A neatly folded copy of that morning's Daily Planet was beside her plate.
"Thanks, hon. I'll see you after my dentist's appointment."
Clark leaned over and kissed Lois. "Boys," he shouted. "Come and say bye to Mom. Hurry up. We've got to get going if we want to take the subway."
The two boys promptly galloped back into the kitchen. "Bye, Mommy." "Bye." Two little bodies threw themselves at her. Two sets of lips smacked against her cheeks.
"Bye, sweeties. You be good for Daddy on the subway. I'll stop in to see you when I get to the office."
Clark grinned at Lois, took his sons by the hand and then set off, children in tow.
Lois chuckled. She checked her watch. Great! She had time to read the paper all by herself before she had to leave for her appointment. After all, she had planned it that way.
"Bernie, she's a doll!" Jimmy lightly stroked the baby's hair.
"She sure is. And she looks like her mom, doesn't she?"
"She's the spitting image of Caroline … and of Lee." Jimmy said huskily as he cuddled the little girl in his arms.
Bernie stood behind him, gazing at his daughter. He rested his hand lightly on Jimmy's shoulder. "Jimmy, do you think you'll ever fall in love again?"
"No. Lee's the only woman for me."
"That's how I feel about Caroline. I know it's too soon to know for sure, but … I can't see myself ever feeling that way again." He moved around the couch and sat beside Jimmy, gently taking his child back and cuddling her close. "Plus I'm going to be pretty busy looking after this little bundle of joy."
"I said it before and I'll say it again. I'll help in any way that I can."
"I know, Jimmy. Thanks."
The two men sat in silence for a time.
"Bernie, did Lee ever tell you which one of the twins would be her father?"
"No. I always wondered if she had told you."
"I think she would have but Mr. Wells came for her before she had the chance."
"I guess we'll have to wait a few years to find out."
"I guess so."
The two men lapsed into silence once again.
After a moment, Jimmy jumped to his feet. "Okay, Bernie. You and I have been dragging around here long enough. I'm going to get moving. You just relax with Astrid while I unpack the stuff we brought from the hospital. You can think about what you want us to get done next."
Jimmy grabbed the diaper bag and the box that the hospital had given them for all the baby's things and headed into Astrid's bedroom.
Dr. Klein looked down at his daughter. "Uncle Jimmy's right, isn't he? It's time to get moving. With you around, I can't give up on anything, can I?" He sighed heavily and shifted her so that she was snuggled into the crook of his neck. He supported her with both arms as he awkwardly got up from the couch. "Let's go check and see how Uncle Jimmy's doing, shall we?" Murmuring to his child the entire time, Dr. Klein followed Jimmy into his baby's room.
"Jimmy!" Clark greeted his friend enthusiastically when he arrived at work. "How's Bernie doing?"
"Hey, CK. He's doing pretty well. He's going to be all right. He's really good with Astrid."
"That's great! And how are you doing?"
"I'm doing a lot better, thanks." Jimmy looked around to make sure no one was listening to their conversation. He continued in a low voice, "CK, he knew!"
"He knew? About Caroline?"
Jimmy nodded vigorously. "Yeah. He didn't know exactly when it was going to happen but he knew all the same. He figured it out from stuff Lee said."
"Wow!" Clark shook his head in disbelief. "I never would have guessed it."
"You know, Jimmy, he always surprises me. There's a lot of depth to that man."
Jimmy nodded in agreement. "There sure is! I'm just starting to learn that."
"How's the baby?"
"She's doing great! She's a real sweetheart. Doesn't cry much. Sleeps a lot. Should be a real problem-free daughter-in-law for you." Jimmy grinned slyly at Clark.
Clark shook his head. "Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Jimmy, have I ever told you? My life is weird."
Jimmy chuckled. "And getting weirder all the time."
"And how are you doing now, Jimmy? Are you feeling better?"
"Yeah, I'm upset about Caroline, but … I feel like a weight's been lifted off my chest. I do feel a lot better."
"Great! Perry, Lois and I have all been worried about you."
"I know and I appreciate it, CK. You guys are great friends." He took a deep breath and changed the subject. "Now, my big problem is work. How the heck am I going to get my job back as a reporter?"
"Don't worry about it, Jimmy. Find yourself a good story and Perry will shift you back in a heartbeat."
"Hey! I don't suppose there are any Superman exclusives at the moment." He grinned at Clark.
Clark grinned back. "I'll see what I can do." He moved to go back to his desk only to turn back to Jimmy. "Before I forget, do you want to come over for a barbecue on Saturday? We're going to ask Bernie and the baby too."
"Sure, CK. Sounds like fun."
Jimmy, Lois and Clark lounged comfortably in their lawn chairs, watching the boys play in their sandbox. Bernie and Astrid hadn't arrived yet.
The boys had joyously greeted their Uncle Jimmy. He was a frequent visitor and was always welcomed warmly. Uncle Jimmy was a good playmate. They were disappointed in him today, though. He didn't want to play with them but instead seemed quite happy sitting and talking with their mom and dad. The boys didn't let it bother them too much, however. There was always the hope that he would join in their games later.
Dr. Klein and Astrid got there about an hour after they were expected. He was looking quite frazzled. The diaper bag was slung over one arm with diapers, bottles and baby blankets protruding out of the top of it. Astrid was sound asleep in his arms looking positively angelic.
"Lois, Clark. I'm sorry I'm late."
Clark got to his feet and took Astrid into his arms. "It's okay, Bernie. Lois and I remember what it's like with a new-born."
Dr. Klein sat down and put the diaper bag at his feet. "I waited for her to get up from her nap. She had soaked through her diaper so I had to change her and put her in a clean outfit. Then she was hungry so I gave her a bottle. We were all set to go when she spat up all over me and all over herself too. So I got changed, and got her changed again just in time for her to fill her diaper."
The other adults laughed. Lois finally got control of herself. "I'm sorry, Bernie but the expression on your face …" She started giggling again.
Bernie grinned in response. "Everyone kept saying new-borns were a lot of work but I hadn't really thought much about it."
"You're doing okay, though, aren't you, Bernie?" Jimmy asked.
"We're doing fine, Jimmy, but let's just say, I've gained new respect for Lois and Clark. How did you guys ever handle two new-borns at once?" Dr. Klein intentionally changed the subject, trying to keep the conversation light.
Clark glanced at Lois in amusement before answering. "Well, Bernie, I do have a bit of an advantage."
Lois leaned forward. "And seriously, it really helps when you have assistance. Jimmy has been a wonderful help to me, especially when Clark's off … you know, fighting killer bees or propping up the Golden Gate Bridge."
Jimmy blushed. "Thanks, Lois. You know I like helping out. And I already volunteered to help with Astrid."
"And I already accepted his help, Lois." Dr. Klein reassured her.
Astrid suddenly woke up and started to wail. Clark looked over at her father, who looked like he wanted to wail too. He took pity on Dr. Klein. "Bernie, hand me one of those bottles. I'll feed her."
"But, Clark, it has to be heated."
Clark chuckled. "I think I remember how long to zap it with my heat vision."
"Oh, right. You do come in handy at times, don't you?"
Jon came running from the sandbox with Sam in tow. "Can me and Sam see the baby? Please?"
"Sure, boys. But don't touch her. Your hands are filthy." Clark had to raise his voice to be heard over the sound of Astrid crying. She was crying so hard and flailing her little fists so much that he was having trouble getting the bottle to her mouth.
Jon took one quick peek at her. "She's just a cry-baby girl," he said in disgust. "Come on, Sam." He turned to head back to the sandbox.
Sam, however, was clearly intrigued. He edged a couple of steps closer, moving into Astrid's field of vision. "Hi, baby," he said softly.
Astrid's sobs changed, becoming softer and more tentative. As her eyes focused on Sam, she fell completely silent.
Ignoring his dad's injunction not to touch the baby, he held out a finger to her. She promptly grabbed it in her fist. "I'm sorry you don't have a mommy. But don't worry. I'm going to help look after you." He looked up at his father. "I am, aren't I, daddy? I'm going to look after her. She can come over all the time, right? And I'll share my things with her and everything."
Clark never took his eyes off his son. He nodded slowly. "That's right, buddy."
"See, baby. I'm going to look after you. You can come to my house anytime. You're a nice baby. I like you. You can be my baby too, okay?"
Lois glanced at Dr. Klein. His eyes, too, were intent on watching Sam with his baby. "Sam, I know you're going to be a big helper for Uncle Bernie. But for right now, how about you go back to playing with Jon. Daddy's going to feed the baby. You can visit with her some more after she's eaten. Okay?"
"Okay, Mommy." Sam gently disengaged his finger from Astrid's fist. He trailed reluctantly after Jon to the sandbox, looking back frequently. The adults could hear Sam still chattering to Jon about 'his' baby.
They sat in a stunned silence that was only broken by the soft sounds of Astrid sucking on her bottle.
"You always told me that Sam would speak up when he got motivated, Clark, but …" Lois couldn't find the words to continue.
"I know." Clark cuddled the little girl closer as she continued to drink her formula. "I guess we just figured out which one of our boys this little one's going to marry. What Lee told us, it didn't seem quite real before, but now …"
Jimmy watched the two boys playing in the yard. Sam wasn't paying attention to his brother but instead kept pausing to look back longingly at Astrid. Jon looked quite lost, obviously not knowing how to handle this major defection in the ranks. Jimmy's heart went out to him. This was a huge blow for a little boy to handle. Jimmy resolved to do whatever he could to help.
Starfire and Sunstorm - 6 years old
Chapter Two - Martha
"Honestly, Martha. You have no idea. One of my children keeps turning into a little monster. We know why, but we don't know what to do about it…No, I don't blame her. But you know how Jon feels about her … No. No better. You'll see what I mean when you're here next week … I wish Jonathan were coming too, but we understand why he's not … Oh well. Maybe we can finagle a girl's night out … I love you too, Martha. I can hardly wait … I'll tell them. Give my love to Jonathan. Bye."
Lois hung up the phone and looked around the kitchen. Boy, had she ever gotten spoiled being married to Clark. He had rushed out in the middle of breakfast, leaving her with two sticky boys, one sticky girl, and a huge mess to clean up. She had been debating what to tackle first, the dishes or the spills on the floor, when Martha called. She sighed. "Come on, Lane. You might as well stop putting it off and get to work." Sighing again, she started scraping plates into the garbage, and then stacking them in the sink. She unearthed her rubber gloves from the back of the cupboard underneath the sink, and ran hot water onto the dishes. She had just picked up the dishcloth in preparation to plunging her hands into the hot, soapy water when she heard a very familiar whoosh. The rubber gloves were thankfully peeled off and re-interred once again in the cupboard under the sink.
"Hi, hon. Sorry about that. Did you get the boys off to school okay?"
"Yeah, we even got there two whole minutes early. Marty's in the den watching a little TV."
"I'm impressed. That's earlier than I've ever got there with them, and I have a bit of an advantage over you." Clark grinned at Lois. "Why don't you get Marty ready, and I'll clean up in here in a jiffy."
Lois beamed at Clark. "My hero. You've saved me from a fate worse than death."
"Wouldn't be the first time."
"Clark!" Lois couldn't help laughing.
"Lois, you don't just love me for my cleaning skills, do you?"
"I don't know, Clark. You'd look kind of cute in a French Maid's outfit. Black suits you."
Clark laughed and swept Lois into a warm embrace. "I know which family member would look their best in a French Maid's outfit and it's sure not me. Maybe we should go shopping for one. You could hang it beside your harem outfit."
Lois giggled as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Oh well, I guess I'll just have to put up with the spandex if I want to ogle you."
"Lois!" Clark blushed a deep red.
Lois grinned. "I just love the fact that I can still make you blush after seven years of marriage."
"There are lots of things that you still do to me after seven years of marriage." Clark waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.
Lois kissed him firmly, effectively bringing their bantering to a halt. He participated whole-heartedly.
A long moment later, she laid her head against his chest. "Mmm. Honey, I would love to continue this … discussion, but we better get to work."
"I guess we'll have to make plans for later," Clark said huskily as he caressed her arms and back.
Lois pulled away from him to gaze deep into his eyes. "I guess so. Oh. Before I forget, your mom just called. She is really looking forward to visiting next week. And she sent you and the kids lots of hugs and kisses."
"You can deliver my hugs and kisses later - in private. In fact, I insist on it." He grinned at her.
"Clark, you have a one-track mind!"
"Only around you, Lois." Clark reluctantly let go of his wife. "I wish Dad would come too, but there's not too much that will take him away from his annual fishing trip. Marty is really going to miss him."
"I know. She adores him. Anyway, I'll go get Marty and my stuff and you can finish in here."
Thirty seconds later, Clark was ready. It took Lois and Marty a little while longer.
Martha arrived for her annual solo visit in due course. She would never admit it, but it was kind of nice to visit Metropolis without Jonathan once in a while. Not that she didn't love him; she did, but this gave her more of an opportunity to do her own thing. Jonathan always tolerated being dragged through the Metropolis Museum of Modern Art, but it wasn't really his style. And when it came to shopping … Martha had much more fun visiting the stores with Lois. For such a focused and busy career woman, Lois could get down and dirty with the best of them when it came to a good sale.
But more importantly, Jonathan never wanted them to interfere. From the sound of things, Lois and Clark were hoping for some help. Without Jonathan's presence, Martha could tackle the problem without a qualm. (Not that she wouldn't dive right in if he were here too. It was just easier without him.)
Martha was used to Clark needing her advice, but she positively loved the way that her daughter-in-law came to her with her problems. Lois was like her own daughter. She would have loved Lois in her own right, but then when you added into the equation Lois's fierce devotion to Clark and to Martha's grandchildren, well … Let's just say, Martha would have done practically anything for Lois.
Martha waited eagerly for Jon and Sam to get off the school bus. It had been too late when she got in the previous evening for her to have much of a visit with the children. Normally they would have gone directly to the day-care at the Daily Planet, but with Grandma Kent visiting, the boys could come directly home. Marty would come home with her mom and dad later when they were done work.
The yellow school bus rounded the corner and pulled to a halt in front of Martha.
"Grandma!" "Hi Grandma!"
"How are my boys?" Martha crouched down and gathered the two boys into her arms.
"Good. I drew you a picture 'cus I knew you were coming today!" Sam held up a purple and yellow squiggle.
"That's lovely, Sam. What is it?"
"A fish so if Papa doesn't catch any, he can look at this one."
"How thoughtful, Sam. I know he'll love it."
Martha watched Jon as he hid behind his twin brother. She grew concerned as this was not normal behaviour for him. He too was clutching a large piece of paper, stiff with paint.
"Hey, sweetie. Do you have a picture for me too?"
Jon nodded solemnly. "Here, Grandma." He thrust the painting in her general direction.
Martha turned it over and gazed down at Jon's painting in amazement. "Oh, honey, this is beautiful!" Jon had painted an extremely credible picture of a horse. Oh sure, the physiology had been simplified considerably, but there was a strong sense of the horse's musculature in the drawing. Plus the perspective was bang on. Martha knew from her own art classes that the horse was one of the most difficult of all the animals to draw. She was positively taken aback that her six-year-old grandson could already draw a better horse than most adults could.
Jon hesitantly took her hand. "Do you really like it, Grandma?" he asked wistfully.
"I really do, Jon." Martha grinned down at her small grandson until she suddenly remembered the proprieties involved in dealing with two children at once. She hastily added, "And I love your fish picture too, Sam."
"Grandma, come on. Let's go home. We're hungry for our snack." Sam tugged impatiently at the hem of her top.
"That reminds me. I have a surprise for you two. Can you guess what it is?"
Sam and Jon looked at each other for a moment and then turned back to Martha, shouting in unison, "Home-made cookies!"
Martha smiled. Sam and Jon were so much like Clark at that age. Almost better, actually, because there were two of them. And for the next few hours she had them all to herself!
The kids had become quiet very quickly after they had been tucked in. They were completely tuckered out. It was flattering to Martha how excited they got every time Grandma came to visit.
Supper had been a riotous occasion with many incomprehensible jokes told by the children. Over half the punch lines remained unsaid because the kids were laughing too hard to get the words out of their mouths. Marty and Sam had told most of the jokes. Jon had been a little reluctant, but had finally been coaxed to tell his Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman, and cow joke. Evidently practically everyone he knew had heard him tell this one joke on numerous occasions. Martha made a mental note to remember the punch line so she could share it with Jonathan. How did it go again? Oh, right. It must be a Scottish cow because it had bagpipes underneath. It really wasn't that funny a joke but the kids had roared with laughter over it - even Marty, who at the age of almost three needed to have everything spelled out for her.
After supper, the children had insisted on taking her on a tour of their bedrooms, showing her every new toy, new book, new stuffed animal and more. They had all displayed their artwork to her. Then Jon and Sam had basked in her praise after reading simple stories to her. Marty had made herself dizzy doing a quick succession of somersaults - a newly mastered skill. Finally the children and adults had piled together onto the beat-up couch in the playroom, and Clark had read the children a couple of bedtime stories.
After the stories were over, Martha had been impressed by how quickly the kids had got their pyjamas on and their teeth brushed. Only Marty had needed a minimal amount of assistance. Martha sighed. It seemed like only yesterday when Clark had been that age, and now her grandchildren were growing up just as fast as he had.
"Mom, Lois. I'm going to head out now on patrol. I shouldn't be out long but you never know. You don't need to wait up."
"Okay, sweetheart. Be careful." Lois gave her husband a quick kiss.
"I will. Mom, how about we take you out for lunch tomorrow? It's hard to visit with the kids around."
"I'd love that. Hope everything's okay for you tonight."
Clark lifted his head and listened. "It sounds quiet enough. But thanks, Mom."
Clark headed out the back door. A moment later, they heard the sound of his take-off.
Martha turned to Lois. "You were pretty upset on the phone the other day."
"Martha, do mothers worry about everything all the time?"
"Pretty much, honey. I always did. But the trick is not to let people see you worry. Always try to look calm even when you're not."
"Thanks. I'll try to remember that." Lois sighed as she ran her fingers through her hair. "Where do I start?"
"Just relax and talk. What is the biggest problem in your opinion?"
"Martha, that's easy. My child turns into an out and out brat."
"Well, what does he do that makes you say that?"
Lois was obviously thinking hard. "You know what, Martha? I think I should just have everyone come over for supper on the weekend so you can see for yourself. It'll be easier than me trying to explain." She reached for the phone, checked her watch, and paused. "Do you think ten o'clock is too late to call?"
"Honey, when you have a baby, anytime after eight o'clock is too late!"
Lois giggled. "I remember. I'll call tomorrow. I think I'll ask Jimmy too. You haven't seen him in a while."
"That would be great. I always enjoy his company. Now, to change the subject, Lois, did you see the picture Jon made for me? I was totally blown away by it! He has a wonderful eye."
Lois settled back in her chair as she indulged in one of her favourite activities - discussing her children's merits.
Martha kept herself busy the rest of the week. Her family enjoyed having her cook for them, although, truth to tell, Clark was pretty close to being as good in the kitchen as she was. As for Lois, well, to be charitable, her culinary skills had improved. They had to. Too many times, Clark had to be away and wasn't able to cook. Take-out was too expensive! It was great once in a while for a treat, but they couldn't afford to eat it all the time. No, Lois had had to learn how to cook, but that didn't mean that she enjoyed it.
Martha had spent one entire, glorious day browsing through art museums and small, privately owned galleries. It was wonderful to be able to take the time to really look at a painting and to try to understand what the artist was trying to express.
Unfortunately, work had been too hectic for Lois to get away and go shopping with her, but Martha hadn't let that stop her. She had discovered some wonderful boutiques that carried really unusual clothing. She didn't actually buy anything as the prices were way too high, but she made mental notes of colour and fabric combinations and fully intended to try and design her own clothes at home. She didn't like spending that kind of money on herself, especially for things that she could make for a fraction of the cost.
Martha did like spending money on her grandchildren, however. She found a bookstore that carried high quality second-hand books. Through judicious browsing, she was able to locate some of her own favourite children's books: "Black Beauty," "The Wizard of Oz," "Mary Poppins," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and many more. She even found a complete boxed set of all the Narnia books for only ten dollars.
When she returned to her kids' place with all these treasures, Clark had been even more excited than the grandchildren had, as he had so many fond memories of these stories. All of his childhood library had survived in great shape and had already been passed on to the children, but there just hadn't been a lot of books to pass on. Martha and Jonathan hadn't had the money available to buy Clark as many books as they had wanted to. Oh well. Martha reflected that it hadn't seemed to have bothered Clark all that much to take books out of the library. At least now she had the money to indulge her grandchildren.
Martha and Lois had hoped to go out by themselves on Friday evening. Unfortunately, Marty had come home from day-care that afternoon with a stomach-ache, and she only wanted her Mommy or Daddy to look after her. Then Clark had to leave suddenly. So instead of watching a romantic comedy with Lois, Martha took her grandsons to an indoor play centre. She spent a noisy couple of hours watching Jon and Sam clamber through tubes, swing on ropes, and tumble down slides. She treated them to stale popcorn and watery pop while she sipped her bitter coffee. The three of them had a wonderful time.
The next day dawned, sunny and warm. Clark set up the wading pool mid-morning and filled it with water so that it would be nice and warm later in the day. Of course the children weren't content to wait until later to play in it. He was forced to refill it numerous times.
Lois and Martha left the children at home with Clark and went to the local farmers' market. Martha always liked comparing the quality and type of produce available in Metropolis versus what was available in Smallville. After checking the prices, she quickly concluded that she much preferred her own market. All the same, she and Lois picked up a ton of fresh vegetables.
They had skipped breakfast in order to sample their way through the market. Martha had to admit that the apple fritters were excellent, although the corn fritters were only a pale imitation of what she could make. She ate a piece of baklava to get the bland soggy taste of the corn fritters out of her mouth. Lois skipped the baklava as she was waiting to get to the home-made fudge booth. They had a wonderful time browsing and nibbling their way from one end of the market to the other.
By the time they were ready to leave, they each had about four bags in each hand. Luckily, most of them were for the dinner that night. Martha didn't want Clark to have to make two trips on Monday when he took her home.
When they arrived home, Clark handed off the children to Lois so he could help his mother get ready for the get-together that afternoon. It seemed like old times. Martha smiled as she reflected that Clark always used to speed through his chores so that he could spend time with her, helping her to make supper every evening. He had always said that he wanted to learn to cook, but Martha knew the real reason had been just that he wanted to be with her.
Mothers and sons - everyone knows that they have a special bond just like fathers and daughters do. That was one of the reasons Martha had been so glad that Lois and Clark's third child had been a girl. Oh, it was true, she had wanted them to have a girl that she could spoil too, but also, she had always wanted Jonathan to experience what that special bond was like. He had always loved Clark and they were very close, but he and Marty positively adored each other. Martha could tell that even though Marty was glad Grandma was there, she really missed seeing her Papa too. Oh well, in another three weeks, school would be over and the kids would be able to come visit for a week or two. Marty would be free to follow her Papa around like a shadow the whole time if she so desired.
Martha and Clark worked steadily for about an hour getting the salads, dessert and appetizers ready - no shortcuts allowed unless absolutely necessary when Martha was in charge of the kitchen. Anyway, Clark was never tempted to speed through anything when they were working together. It would have cut short their time for talking. Martha listened carefully to her son as he shared snippets of his daily family life with her. He shared with her his worry over Jon's aberrant behaviour, but he didn't seem to have any idea as to what to do about it. Clark should have been the first person to see all the ramifications of this problem. He really had no clue as to how to help his little boy. Honestly, for such a smart man, sometimes he was completely clueless about human nature. And Martha didn't think that had anything to do with the fact that he was actually Kryptonian. No, she believed it was because Clark was completely like Jonathan in this one regard - not insensitive, exactly, but … oh, she didn't know how to describe it. She didn't expect as much from Lois. Not that Lois wasn't attuned to her son's needs - she was - but she didn't have the same kind of experience that Clark had. She fully intended to make some very pointed comments to him later.
In due course, Jimmy arrived. Lois and Clark directed him to the backyard while they got the food and drink organized on trays. When he got outside, the kids swarmed all over him. He ran up and down the back yard giving the children turns at piggyback rides. After three turns each, he finally begged off.
"Boy … I'm really out of shape. If I'm going to keep doing this, I'm going to have to start exercising." He dropped into a lawn chair beside Martha, still huffing and puffing.
"Uncle Jimmy, you just need to play with us more." Sam grinned at Jimmy.
Jimmy tousled his hair. "You're right, pal. This sure beats jogging!"
Martha leaned forward to address the children. "Why don't you guys let Uncle Jimmy catch his breath? He can play more with you later. As for you three, there's a plastic bag on the table over there. Marty, could you bring it here so we can see what's in it?"
Marty ran to the table and back again in a flash. Martha took the bag from her and peeked inside. "What have we got here?" She reached in. "Bubble mix! There's one for each of you."
Martha raised her voice to be heard over the chorus of excited thank yous. "Okay, guys. Take it over there away from the grownups. Go see who can make the biggest bubble."
As the kids turned away, Martha turned to Jimmy. "I'm just glad that they continue to be entertained by seventy-eight cent bubble mix! I'm not looking forward to the day when that's not enough."
"I'm sure you'll figure something out, Martha."
"Maybe. Listen, Jimmy, I wanted to ask you about Jon. I gather you've seen him when he's acting up."
"Yeah, I sure have."
"What do you think the solution is? Lois and Clark didn't really seem to know."
"I have some ideas what to do to help, Martha, and I would bet that you do too. You know the problem is that Jon resents …" Lois and Clark emerged from the house carrying trays of food and drink. Jimmy fell silent.
"Here we go." Clark served Jimmy and Martha their drinks before putting the tray down on the patio table. "Here, hon, let me take that." He reached for the tray Lois carried and offered appetizers around.
"Clark, is this dip the Hummus or the Baba Ganoush?" Martha asked as she pointed to a dish surrounded by cut up raw vegetables.
"I used the Baba Ganoush, Mom, because I knew you wanted to take the Hummus home with you on Monday."
Martha grinned at him. "Your father thanks you. You know that's his favourite. Somehow, Hummus is one thing I can't make very well. I don't understand why. It's so simple, but mine never turns out."
Lois laughed as she helped herself to a few vegetables. "You know, Martha, it's very reassuring to me that even you aren't perfect in the kitchen. It gives me hope."
Clark raised his voice slightly. "Kids, there's veggies and dip here and there's juice on the table for you."
A little stampede of children arrived. When they left thirty seconds later, the tray of vegetables looked a little skimpy, and there was juice spilled all over the table.
Clark shook his head, laughing as he wiped up the spills. "They came, they saw, they ate. I should take this tray in to refill it."
"Nah," Jimmy said, "just leave it for a while. Sit and relax for a minute."
Clark pulled a lawn chair closer to the group and sat down just as the doorbell rang. He laughed again. "Typical." He started to get up when Jimmy interrupted him.
"Clark, relax. I'll go." Jimmy jumped to his feet and headed into the house. He emerged a moment later closely followed by Bernie Klein and his daughter, Astrid.
Martha regarded the little girl intently. She hadn't seen Astrid for a good six months and she was surprised by how much she had grown.
Astrid had lost most of her baby fat and had grown into an unusually pretty little girl. Her hair was glorious - it gleamed with a brilliant coppery sheen in the sunlight. It hung halfway down her back in a neat ponytail. Bernie obviously took great pains with her appearance. She wore forest green shorts and a matching T-shirt. Martha was bemused as she noted that the hair band matched her outfit.
"Hi, Unka Clark, Aunt Lois, Unka Jimmy, Mrs. Kent. How're you?" Astrid jiggled from one foot to the other. Her eyes darted repeatedly back and forth from the group of children playing to the grownups.
"We're fine, Astrid. Thank you for asking. And how are you?" Lois regarded the little girl affectionately.
"Fine, t'ank you, Aunt Lois." Astrid's eyes darted back to the children and then focused on Lois's face pleadingly.
Lois took pity on Astrid. "Go on, sweetie. Go play."
Astrid darted off without a word. Martha watched Jon as Sam and Marty deserted him for Astrid. He sat down in the sandbox and started digging half-heartedly. Martha had to force herself to swallow past the lump in her throat. She glanced at the others and saw that they had noticed the by-play too, although no one said anything about it.
"Bernie, I'm going to go fire up the barbecue and get the steaks. What can
I get you to drink?"
"Just a can of pop, thanks, Clark." Bernie smiled at the others as Clark left for the house.
"Martha, it's great to see you again. How are you and how's Jonathan?"
"We're fine, thanks, Bernie. You look well. Astrid is obviously doing great!"
Bernie's expression softened as he watched his daughter play with her friends.
"Thanks, Martha. We have a lot of fun together."
"Bernie, I asked Martha to give us some more input and see what we can do about Jon. I hope that's okay with you." Lois glanced from the children to Dr. Klein.
"That's fine, Lois. Martha, we have all been racking our brains for a solution. We don't want to have to separate Sam and Astrid." Dr. Klein shook his head slowly.
"Separate Sam and Astrid?" Martha was aghast. "You can't do that! No, we have to help Jon accept this situation, but we can't do that by making Sam and Astrid miserable."
Clark emerged from the house with the tray of steaks and Dr. Klein's drink. "Do you have any suggestions, Mom?"
At Jimmy's surprised look, Clark tugged as his ear. "Superhearing, remember, Jimmy?"
Jimmy grinned. "You'd think that after three years, I would remember, Clark."
Clark laughed. "Hey, I like it when you guys forget and just act like I'm an average guy. It's kind of like a compliment."
"Hey, Clark. You are an average guy. You have a lovely wife, three great kids, and a house. All you need is the dog!" Dr. Klein was quick to point out.
Lois got up, moved to Clark, wrapped her arms around his neck, and gave him a quick kiss. "I don't know, Bernie. I don't think he's such an average guy," Lois said huskily. "Not when he's exceptional in so many ways." She fluttered her eyelashes at him, vamping shamelessly.
"Lois! Not in front of my mother!" Clark blushed brick red.
Martha couldn't stop giggling. She enjoyed the fact that Lois could still knock Clark off balance even after so many years of marriage. Of course, she did the same with Jonathan from time to time. She reflected that both her men would have been quite stodgy without their wives to influence them.
The adults postponed the serious discussion and continued to enjoy their idle conversation while Clark barbecued the steaks. Martha and Lois got both the large and small picnic tables ready. Martha was pleased to see that the child-sized picnic table that Jonathan had made for the kids for Christmas seemed to get a lot of use.
Finally it was time to eat. The kids took a few minutes to settle down but seemed to be doing okay. Martha noted that Sam jockeyed for a position beside Astrid as per usual. Jon sat sullenly beside Marty. He seemed to be on his best behaviour. She sure hadn't seen him acting like a brat.
Dinner went well. Martha glanced at Jon from time to time. He didn't look happy but he behaved. Jon and Sam finished first. They both tended to gobble their food. Typical boys, Martha thought in amusement.
"Okay, boys. Go wash your faces and hands now. You can play some more with the girls when they're done eating."
"'kay, Daddy." The two boys started to race for the house.
"Oh, Jon," Martha called. He turned to face her. "Would you get the drawing you made for me? I bet your Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Bernie would like to see it."
His face lit up. "Sure, Grandma. I'll be right back."
True to his word, Jon raced back out of the house in a flash carrying his picture carefully in his hands. He stood in front of the small picnic table, with his back half turned to Astrid and Marty, and held up the picture for the grownups to see.
"Wow, Buddy, that's great!" Jimmy enthused.
Dr. Klein looked at Jon in amazement. "You painted this, Jon? It's really well done!"
Jon positively glowed. He was obviously thrilled by the praise he was receiving.
Astrid craned her head to try and see around Jon. Finally she got down from the picnic table still holding on to her juice cup, and started to move in front of him to see the picture. Not watching the ground, she tripped over an uneven paving stone. Grape juice flew forward in a purple arc - all over Jon and his painting. Astrid landed heavily on her knees, scraping them badly. Bernie hastened forward to lift her to her feet. She bled profusely and wailed loudly. Lois hurried to her side. Clark grabbed a handful of paper napkins in order to staunch her bleeding.
"YOU STUPID GIRL! I HATE YOU!!" Jon stamped his feet, emphasising each word. "YOU WRECKED MY PAINTING!! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!"
"Jon!" Clark started to move towards his son only to be stopped by Martha putting her hand on his arm.
"Let me," she said quietly. He stepped back, yielding his child to his mother.
Martha moved forward slowly and stopped directly in front of Jon. Without saying a word, she picked him up, grape juice notwithstanding, and held him in her embrace. He lay rigid in her arms. After a long moment, he looked up into her eyes. His face crumpled, and he started to sob wildly. Lois moved towards him only to have Clark stop her.
Murmuring soft words of endearment the whole time to her distraught grandson, Martha carried him slowly into the house. Clark was tempted to use his superhearing to listen to his mother and his son but he managed to resist the temptation.
Bernie managed to calm Astrid down. She sat on his lap, snuffling quietly. Sam, her loyal playmate sat beside her, patting her arm gently. Upset by the commotion, Marty cuddled in her father's lap. Jimmy and Lois worked on cleaning up the spill.
Inside the house, Martha sat in the rocking chair in the playroom with her grandson on her lap. He buried his face in her shoulder. She crooned tunelessly as they rocked. When his sobs had finally subsided, Martha tipped his tear-stained face up to meet her gaze. "Feeling a little better?" she asked. He nodded.
"Jon, I am so sorry that your picture got wrecked," Martha said softly.
"I made it special for you, Grandma." He laid his head on her shoulder.
She rubbed his back gently. "I know you did, darling. Do you think you could paint another picture for me?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"You really like to draw and paint, don't you, Jon?"
"I do, Grandma," Jon said with a little more animation in his voice.
"You're very good at it. Did you know that, sweetie?"
"Yes, you are. And that's given me an idea. Would you like me to tell you about it?"
Martha smiled tenderly at Jon. "I think you and I should go shopping tomorrow and get you some real artist's equipment. Would you like that?"
His face lit up. "I sure would, Grandma. I'd be able to paint you a ton of pictures then."
"Okay. It's a deal. Now, I think we should run you a bath and get you all cleaned up."
Jon looked down at his purple-stained outfit and then looked at Martha's clothing. "Grandma, I got you all dirty!"
Martha laughed. "It's okay, buddy. I'm washable. And there are some things more important than dirt."
Jon threw his arms around Martha's neck and gave her a big hug. "Thanks, Grandma. I love you."
"I love you too, Jon."
Martha waited impatiently for the kids to fall asleep. She had some things she wanted to say to her son, and she didn't want them to overhear her. Finally the house was quiet.
Martha, Lois and Clark sat down around the kitchen table. Martha was the first to speak. "Lois, Clark, the way Jon acted today, is that what you meant when you said he acts like a brat?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other. Clark spoke up. "I'll admit that today he was provoked, but yeah. He's rude to Astrid, and sometimes he's downright cruel."
"Well, let me tell you something. I didn't see a brat today. I didn't see rudeness or cruelty. I saw terrible pain. Clark, you should be the first to understand. Your son is miserable, and you don't see it!"
"I do see it, Mom! I just don't know what to do."
"Oh, I guess you're right, Clark. I know that you and Lois see the problem, but I'm just so angry about what that poor child is going through … I could just spit!" Martha took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
Lois placed her hand on her mother-in-law's arm. "Martha, please. Clark and I want your help. You know that. We know the problem here. We really do. Sam has turned away from Jon to Astrid, and Jon resents her furiously. But we don't know what to do about it."
"Okay, Lois. I'm calm now. But Clark, you should know what to do - you went through almost the same thing."
"I did?" "He did?" Clark and Lois spoke simultaneously.
Martha sighed. "Clark, how did you feel before you met Lois?"
"I felt … alone, alienated. I felt empty inside."
"And what made you feel a little better about yourself?"
Clark suddenly understood where Martha was going with this conversation. "I started writing. I wrote about everything I could think of."
"But Martha, Jon's only in first grade. He can't write very well yet," Lois pointed out.
"I know, Lois," Martha said patiently. "But he can draw. Your son is an incredible artist and I don't mean for a six-year-old. I mean he's an incredible artist right here and right now. I can't wait to see how his talent develops. I already promised him we're going shopping for proper equipment tomorrow - paint, brushes, an easel, paper, whatever I can think of. I know you were going to take me home first thing on Monday, Clark, but do you think you could take me after work instead?"
"Sure, Mom. But why?"
"I'm going to find Jon a good art teacher. I'll need to find the right person. We need someone who is a talented teacher as well as good with kids. I'll do a search on the Internet tomorrow. I should be able to find somebody by Monday. If not, I'll keep working on it from home. But my grandson is going to take art lessons even if Superman has to fly him to Kansas every weekend for me to teach him." Martha fixed Clark with a steely glare.
Clark held his hands in the air. "Okay, Mom. I surrender. Jon will take art lessons, right, Lois?"
"Right! Martha, I think it's a great idea. I don't know why I didn't think of it."
"It's okay, honey. At least you knew to call me!"
"Jonathan, I missed you. How was your fishing trip?" Martha threw her arms exuberantly around her husband.
"It was great, Martha, but I missed you too. How was your visit?"
Martha thought about all that had gone on. She thought about Sam and Astrid and their strange, strong connection to each other. She wondered about Marty - what problems that little girl would have to deal with. She thought about Lois and Clark - about the love they had for each other, and for their children. And she thought about Jon and his wondrous talent. She could still see the look on his face when he met his art teacher after school. Art lessons weren't going to solve all his problems, but they were a start.
"Fine, dear. My visit was just fine."
Starfire and Sunstorm - 9 years old
Chapter Three - Perry
"Where's Clark? I need him. Now!" Lois's strident cry echoed around the newsroom.
Perry jumped up from his desk and hastily made his way out of his office. He sighed as he caught sight of his top reporter hunched over in pain at her desk.
"Judas Priest, Lois! Not again."
Lois looked up at him with a wan smile. "Sorry, Perry. It wasn't my idea."
"This'll make three surprise parties you've missed."
"Well, you know how I feel about surprises." She started to grin at him and then sucked her breath in with an audible gasp and clutched at her swollen belly.
The elevator doors slid open. Clark Kent raced out and hastily skated down the ramp leading to the newsroom. "It's time?"
"It's time." Lois smiled at him.
"Honey, I'm not complaining, but what is it about your last day of work?"
Perry chuckled. "Son, I figure your wife just hates people making a fuss over her. This way she can skip all that."
Lois tensed again. She focused on her breathing until the contraction eased. "Uh, guys, these are coming really, really fast. Can we save all this idle chatter for another time?"
"Sorry, honey," Clark said sheepishly. He gently pulled her to her feet. Placing an arm around her shoulders, he started to lead her to the elevator only to stop dead. "Oh, no. The kids!" Clark looked in concern at Lois who in turn looked quite stricken with worry. She tensed again and took a deep breath.
"What about them, Clark?" Perry asked.
"We figured Jimmy would be back from Chicago in time to babysit." A chorus of rhythmic pants from Lois accompanied Clark's words.
"Lois, Clark, don't worry about it. I'll look after them."
Lois managed to catch her breath. "Perry, are you sure? What about Alice?"
"Now, don't you kids worry yourselves about it. Alice is visiting Jerry and Sylvia so Uncle Perry will be happy to help you all out," Perry drawled.
Clark quickly detached a key from his key ring and handed it to Perry. "You'll probably be better off taking them to our place rather than to your own. I might be really late getting home from the hospital. That way they can sleep in their own beds."
Perry took the key and placed it carefully in his wallet. He took Lois's other arm and the two men continued leading her to the elevator. "I might as well go downstairs with you two and check on the kids now - give them time to get used to the idea that Uncle Perry's babysitting."
The elevator doors closed behind the three of them.
"Oh no! My water just broke."
"Judas Priest, Lois! These are new shoes."
"Jon, come back here, and give us a hand with these groceries."
Jon sighed petulantly, grabbed a bag at random and sauntered for the house. He passed Marty and Sam as they hustled back to the car for their next load of groceries. Perry shook his head as he watched his godson disappear into the house followed closely by his two siblings. He hated to say it, but he preferred Sam to Jon even if Jon was his godson. He did love Jon very much, but the kid was too moody for Perry's taste. It was funny how it had worked out. Jimmy seemed to connect with Perry's godson, and Perry got along better with Jimmy's godson. One of life's little ironies, he guessed.
Now, that Marty, she was a little treasure. Not like either parent in looks, she actually was more like Clark in personality - very easy going and open. She had some of Lois's sassiness, though. He missed her tremendously now that she was in school full time. At least school was out for the summer. Other than their regular two weeks at their grandparents' farm in Smallville, the kids would be in the Daily Planet day-care until the fall.
Perry grabbed the remaining three bags of groceries, closed the trunk of the car, and also headed into the house. Jon disappeared to his room while Sam and Marty helped Perry put the groceries away.
"Are you sure you guys like spicy food?" Perry asked.
Marty flashed a gap-toothed smile at him. "Sure, Uncle Perry. We eat real Thai food all the time."
"Well, if you're sure …" Perry handed Marty a measuring cup. "Sweetie, how about you fill this with rice right up to this line." He pointed to the side of the cup. "Sam and I will get started on the vegetables for the curry."
"Sure, Uncle Perry."
Perry watched her surreptitiously as she carefully filled the measuring cup. She levelled the rice, placed the cup on the kitchen table and bent down until it was at eye level to her so she could double-check the measurement. He was amused when she plucked about three grains of rice back out of the cup. "It's ready, Uncle Perry."
"Thanks, honey. Why don't you go watch a little TV while Sam and I finish up in here?"
"'kay. But can I set the table?"
"Sure. I'll call you when it's time."
Marty scampered off into the playroom. Perry turned back to Sam. "Okay, buddy. Let's get organized."
Perry put Sam to work washing vegetables while he located the cutting board and a sharp knife. He also put the water on to boil for the rice.
"Uncle Perry, Mom and Dad let me help them chop vegetables too."
"Are you sure, Sam? I don't want you to hurt yourself."
"Yeah. Don't worry. I never cut myself."
Perry shrugged and got another knife out of the drawer. He figured he could watch Sam like a hawk and jump in if it looked like Sam didn't know what he was doing.
Sam started chopping celery. He handled his knife like a seasoned chef as he cut the celery into uniform pieces. Perry was impressed.
Side by side, the two of them worked together in a companionable silence. The mound of chopped vegetables in front of them got bigger. Perry turned to the fridge to get out the chicken to cut up.
"Thump." Jon must have dropped something on the floor upstairs. Perry turned back in time to see Sam jump. His knife twisted in his right hand and came down on the fingers of his left hand as they held a carrot to be chopped.
"Sam, are you okay?" Perry scrambled to the boy's side and clutched at Sam's hand. He couldn't believe his eyes. There wasn't a mark on it.
"What's wrong, Uncle Perry?" Sam asked quizzically.
Perry couldn't believe it. He could have sworn that Sam had cut himself. He shook his head. What a relief that his eyes had played a trick on him!
"Hey, buddy. I think I'll take over here. There's not a lot left to do." Perry took the knife from Sam.
"Okay, Uncle Perry. I'll go watch TV with Marty."
"Great. I'll call you when supper's ready." Perry started cutting up the chicken while Sam left the room. "What the Sam Hill?" The knife wasn't slicing neatly through the chicken but was shredding it instead. Perry examined the blade. It was completely dull. "How the heck did Sam manage with this?" he muttered to himself.
Perry watched in amazement as the kids gobbled their food. They weren't kidding when they said they liked spicy food. On tasting the curry, Perry had found that he had been even heavier with the spices than normal. It was all he could do to eat. He paused frequently for bites of Indian flatbread, trying to put out the fire in his mouth, but the kids seemed to have no problems.
"Where's Aunt Alice?" Sam asked.
"She's visiting Jerry and his wife in San Francisco."
Sam thought about it for a minute. "That's too far to drive, isn't it?"
"Yeah, she had to fly."
"Did she fly 'Superman Express?'" Marty chimed in.
"Superman Express?" Perry asked.
"Yeah. Mommy and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa Kent, they always say they fly 'Superman Express.'"
Perry looked blankly at Marty. "Uh, no, honey. She flew on a regular plane."
Perry knew that Lois and Clark were good friends of Superman's but he hadn't realised how close they really were. They had never mentioned asking Superman for personal favours but according to what Marty had just said, they must have - on many occasions. Somehow, asking Superman for favours - it just seemed plain presumptuous to him. He shook his head. This had to be Lois's doing. She was bolder than Clark was. He was surprised that the Super-hero would cooperate.
The phone rang as they were finishing their dinner. Marty was the fastest to get to the phone.
"Lane and Kent residence. Marty speaking."
Perry shook his head. Why did parents always insist on their kids answering the phone in such an unnatural manner? You didn't hear adults talking on the phone that way.
"Uncle Perry, it's for you. It's Daddy." Marty held the phone out to him.
"Hey, Clark. How's Lois doing?"
"Good, Perry. But it's going to be a few more hours. Are you doing okay with the kids?"
"No problem, son. If I need to, I can spend the night. You just concentrate on your wife and leave the home front to me."
"Thanks, Perry. That's a relief. Let me say a quick goodnight to the kids and then I better get back to Lois."
The kids said their goodnights, and then Perry sent his best wishes to Lois and hung up the phone.
"Okay, kids. Let's get the dinner dishes done and then we can relax and have some fun."
Marty and Sam grabbed dirty plates and headed for the kitchen. Jon sighed, picked up a dirty knife and fork and followed them.
Perry shook his head. "Jon, I expect a little more effort on your part."
Jon muttered something under his breath. Perry couldn't hear it but the tone was unmistakable.
"What did you say?" Perry practically pounced on the boy. Marty took one look at Perry's face and scooted out of the room. Sam turned away and busied himself running hot water into the sink.
"Nothing," Jon muttered sullenly.
"Well, son, if you don't want to help with the dishes, why don't you …"
"I'm not your son!" Jon interrupted loudly.
Perry's temper flared. "No, you're not. But at the moment, I'm in charge here, and you will listen to me. I want you to head to your room and stay there until you're ready to apologise for your rudeness. Get going."
Jon sniffed contemptuously, glared at Perry, and left the room. Perry was amused in spite of his anger. How many times had he seen Lois pull almost the same routine on someone as her son had just done? But he wasn't tempted to give Jon the same leeway that he normally gave Jon's mother.
"Don't mind him, Uncle Perry. He's been mad ever since Mom and Dad had to take his studio away." Sam spoke up in his twin's defence as he stacked the dirty dishes into the water in the sink.
"His art studio. Mom and Dad had to turn it into a bedroom for the baby. They were going to turn the garage into a studio for him but they couldn't get … um, what's that piece of paper called that lets you build a room?"
"A building permit?"
"Yeah, that's it. They couldn't get a building permit right away. It'll be at least 3 months before it gets approved. Mom says it's 'cus she and Dad did a big story about City Hall and corruption. Do you think that's right, Uncle Perry?"
Perry nodded. He chuckled as he thought about Lane and Kent's last exclusive. No wonder they couldn't get a building permit right away. That was a very hard-hitting story. It would probably win an award.
"Then Dad built a playhouse in the back yard but Jon says it's not big enough. He also said something about the light in it."
"Is he as good as I've heard?"
"Yeah, Uncle Perry. He really is, and I'm not just saying that 'cus we're brothers. His teacher wants his stuff in a show, but Mom and Dad want to wait until he's older - maybe in three years when we're twelve. His paintings are stored in the garage. You should go see them."
"I will. But let's get these dishes done first. Whoa, Sam. Don't just stick your hands in that hot water. We have to add some cold first. You don't want to burn yourself."
Sam slowly took his hands out of the soapy water, and looked at them intently. "Okay, Uncle Perry," he said, puzzled. He'd had his hands in the water for a while before his uncle noticed.
Later that evening, Perry reclined in a comfortable chair in the living room. The kids were tucked in, the house was tidy, and he could finally relax. He had run out to the car for his Elvis CD's and was currently listening to the King. Life was good. He sighed in contentment and closed his eyes.
His eyes snapped open, and he solemnly regarded the sober figure of his godson.
"I'm sorry, Uncle Perry. I was mad about something and I took it out on you."
Perry was impressed that Jon was mature enough at nine years old to figure this out for himself.
"I heard about your studio, Jon. I'm sorry too."
"Sometimes being nine bites!"
Perry hid a smile. He recognised Jimmy's influence on Jon's last comment.
"I agree, sometimes being nine does bite. I've been thinking about your problem, Jon."
"You know, the Daily Planet's been streamlining operations recently, and we have more space than we need, and I was thinking that …" Jon's eyes looked like they were about to bug out of his head. "… we might be able to find you a corner to call your own - at least temporarily."
Jon launched himself at Perry and gave him a big bear hug. Perry hugged him back and continued, "That way, you could hang out with your Mom and Dad more, and with your Uncle Jimmy."
"And with you too. Thanks, Uncle Perry! Wow! This is great!"
"Nice to know that your grey old uncle's not such a bad guy after all!" Perry grinned at Jon, who beamed back at him. "So, do you want to hang out with me for a couple of minutes and listen to some music?"
"Could I put on my classic Pearl Jam CD? Uncle Jimmy gave it to me."
"Sorry, buddy. It's Elvis or nothing."
"Uh, I think I'll go back to bed then, Uncle Perry. Elvis is … really nice and everything, but I'm used to Pearl Jam." Jon gave Perry another quick hug and headed up the stairs.
Perry smiled as he watched Jon go. He felt a lot more charitable towards his godson now. It was just too bad that Jimmy had corrupted his taste in music.
He closed his eyes once again and let the mellow tones of the King wash over him once again.
Marty's turn! He opened his eyes again, reluctantly. "What is it, honey?"
"I can't sleep. Could you tell me a bedtime story? Please?"
Perry was no more immune to Marty's charms than he was to her mother's. "Hop on up here, sweetie." He patted his knee.
Marty clambered up onto his lap and snuggled her head onto his shoulder. He wrapped his arm securely around her.
"What kind of story do you want to hear?"
"A Superman story?" she asked wistfully.
"I'd think your Mom and Dad would have told you all the Superman stories you'd ever want to hear."
"Nah, they never talk about Superman."
"You've met him, though, haven't you?"
"Nope. We want to meet him, but …"
Something didn't feel right about this to Perry. He would have thought that Superman would have made a point of meeting the kids, seeing as he was such a good friend of their parents. It just didn't make sense. "Well, let me think of a good Superman story … Okay, I know which one to tell you. A few years back, some very bad men wanted to steal some explosives from the Bomb Squad. That's the special police unit that gets rid of bombs and stuff. Anyway, they figured the best way to get at the stuff they wanted would be to trick the police into leaving the explosives behind in their office and steal them while they were busy. So what they did then was…"
Perry watched Marty as he talked. Her eyes got bigger and bigger as she listened intently to him.
"And then he said, 'Thanks for flying with me, Mr. White,' and do you know what he did then?"
"He threw me right off the chair I was sitting on, way up high in the sky." Perry chuckled. "I started yelling for dear life, I'll tell you."
"And then what?" Marty could hardly wait for the next part of the story.
"I looked up and watched my chair blow up. Boom! Then Superman swooped back down and caught me in his arms."
"Wow! He saved your life."
"He's a real hero, Marty. But do you know what?"
"It's time for you to scoot back to bed."
"Okay, Uncle Perry. Thanks for the story. Goodnight." Marty gave Perry a quick kiss and ran up the stairs.
Perry looked at his watch. Ten o'clock. It seemed later than that. He closed his eyes again. He started to doze off.
Perry started to chuckle. Three strikes, you're out!
"What is it, Sam?"
"Can I sit up with you for a while? I'm, uh, I'm kinda worried about Mom."
"Sure, Buddy. You can keep me company. Do you want to talk?"
"No, I'll just sit on the couch, if that's okay."
Perry nodded his agreement and Sam settled down on the couch. They sat in a tense silence for a few minutes.
"Mom's going to be all right, isn't she?"
"She'll be fine, Sam. Don't worry."
"But you know my friend Astrid. Her mom died when she was born."
Perry was shocked. He hadn't forgotten Caroline Lee exactly, but he hadn't thought of her in a long time.
"That was different, Sam. She died because she had something else wrong with her. It had nothing to do with Astrid."
"I didn't know that."
"So don't you worry about your mom, Sam. She's tough. She'll be just fine."
Perry studied Sam's face. He didn't look completely convinced. "Hey, buddy, come on up here. You're not too big to fit on your uncle's lap, are you?"
Sam climbed up onto Perry's lap and settled in comfortably. The two of them listened to Elvis sing "Love Me Tender."
"That's a really nice song, Uncle Perry," Sam said drowsily.
"Elvis was a genius all right. Did I ever tell you 'bout the time I saw him in Vegas?"
"No." Sam yawned.
"The man was a real showman - that's for sure. But when you stripped away all the glitz and the glamour, you were left listening to this wonderful voice …"
The Kent residence was dark. Clark slowly climbed the steps and let himself into his home. A soft light glowed from the living room. He smiled to himself when he discovered his boss asleep in the recliner with Sam dozing on his lap. He took his son into his arms and gently carried him up the stairs to bed.
Clark came back downstairs to find Perry waking up.
"How's Lois, Clark?" Perry got up and stretched.
"Lois is just fine and so is Victoria Lucy Kent."
"A little girl. That's great!" Perry solemnly shook Clark's hand. "Victoria, that's a pretty name."
"Well, she's a pretty girl. Victoria is Ellen's middle name. Lois always felt a little guilty that we named Marty 'Martha Ellen' instead of 'Ellen Martha' so she really wanted to name this one with Ellen's middle name."
Perry rolled his eyes. "Names can get pretty complicated, can't they? Anyway, I should head home. It's late."
"You could sleep in our bed, Perry. I can take the couch."
"No, son. Thanks for the offer, but I think I'd rather sleep in my own bed." He clapped Clark on the shoulder. "Congratulations again, Clark. You're a lucky man."
"I know, Perry. I know." Clark walked Perry to the door. "Thanks a lot for looking after the kids for us. You were a big help."
"No problem, Clark. I enjoyed it. Goodnight, son. I'll see you in the morning. And I won't even say too much if you're late tomorrow. Heck, I might even be late tomorrow!"
Clark closed the door behind his boss, locked it and returned to the living room. He sat down in the reclining chair and quickly scanned the upstairs bedrooms to check on his children. He smiled in satisfaction when he saw that they were all sleeping soundly. Leaning back in the chair, he put his feet up and closed his eyes. Life was good!
Starfire and Sunstorm - 12 years old
Chapter Four - Superman
"Uncle Jimmy! Uncle Jimmy! Look at me!"
Jimmy watched as one of his honorary nephews launched himself exuberantly from the high diving board. He waited and gave Sam a thumbs-up as soon as his head emerged from the water. Then Jimmy turned back to little three-year-old Vicky who was in the wading pool with him.
Jimmy had offered to take the kids swimming. Lois and Clark had been under a great deal of stress recently, and they had some issues to work out - or at least one issue. With four kids, they didn't have uninterrupted time too often, and it was imperative that they have some privacy in order to make a very important decision.
Lois had been pushing Clark for at least two years to tell the older two boys that their father wore spandex a good part of the time. Clark was extremely reluctant. Jimmy didn't understand all of Clark's motivations, but he realised that the major focus of Clark's life was protecting his family. He knew that Clark clung to his secret, not wanting to share it with anyone else, not even his own children. He feared that his family would someday pay for his crime-fighting career.
Personally, Jimmy felt that Lois and Clark had almost left this decision until too late. He felt that the impact on the boys would have been lessened if they had been told earlier. He could be wrong; only time would tell. Unfortunately, this issue had been creating a great deal of tension between the two of them. It was only the fact that Lois was so completely sensitive to Clark's feelings that had made her agree to delay this decision for this long. But when Jimmy had picked up the children, he could tell that Lois was done with waiting. She obviously planned on pinning Clark down on this issue once and for all.
"Uncle Jimmy!" Jimmy looked back at the high diving board. It was Jon's turn. He also got a thumbs-up from his uncle when he came up for air. Sam and Jon were both good divers and were very much enjoying the use of the high diving board. However, Marty was restricted to the low diving board, and she wasn't happy about it. But Jimmy really didn't feel that she was old enough or competent enough at nine years old to use the high board. And of course, at three years old, little Victoria (Vicky for short) was content to stay in the wading pool with her Uncle Jimmy.
It was surprising how different the kids were, one from another, in physical appearance. Jon and Sam were not identical twins. Jon was dark like his father with black hair and dark brown, almost black eyes. His eyes had an exotic slant to them, and his high cheekbones added to his distinctive appearance.
His twin, however, looked like the boy next door. Sam had light brown hair. Jimmy would have had no idea where Sam had got hair like that if he hadn't seen old pictures of his Grandpa Lane. Sam also had his Grandma Ellen's roundish face.
Marty was a sturdy looking little girl. Against all the laws of genetics, she had inherited her Grandma Ellen's blonde hair. And even though Jimmy knew there was no blood relationship between them, she had the sturdy frame of her Papa Kent.
Vicky, even at three, was an exotic elf of a child. Her features were delicate. Like Jon, she had her father's dark hair and eyes, and interesting bone structure, but had also inherited her mother's creamy complexion.
Jimmy sat down in the wading pool and graciously allowed Vicky to pour a couple of buckets of water over his head. Finally he stood up to scan for the older kids as he did automatically every few minutes. There was Sam. And Jon …? Okay - there he was going down the water slide. But where was Marty? He visually searched the deep end, then the shallow end, the slide and the low diving board. He was just considering picking up Vicky and leaving the wading pool to search for his wayward niece when his eyes caught sight of Marty doggedly climbing the ladder to the high diving board. His heart leapt into his throat. She looked so tiny as she neared the top. And she looked none too steady. As she reached for the bars at the top of the ladder, Jimmy started to relax in relief. Too soon! Her hand slipped, and Jimmy watched aghast as little Marty came plummeting down!
CRACK! Jimmy had never heard a more horrendous sound in his life. He moved towards her even before she hit, unconsciously scooping Vicky into his arms. Sam and Jon had both turned at the sound of her impact. They were shocked to see their sister lying motionless on the concrete beside the pool. They raced to her side arriving at the same instant as their uncle.
"Marty, honey, can you hear me?" Jimmy thrust Vicky at her brothers and knelt beside the little girl.
Her eyes slowly fluttered open and she looked at him. "Uncle Jimmy?" her voice quavered. She was a pitiful sight, twisted and motionless. A little blood trickled out of her one ear.
"Don't move, sweetheart. Please?"
"I don't want to move." She closed her eyes again.
The lifeguard pushed his way through the crowd of children and adults that had gathered near them, telling them to move back as he came. He knelt down to check her breathing.
"Don't let her move. I'll go call 911." He got up and started to move away.
It took only a second for those words to register in Jimmy's brain. 'Oh no!' he thought in a panic, 'I can't let them take her to the hospital.' Thankfully Jimmy remembered his signal watch. Clark had asked Dr. Klein for a replacement and had requested that Jimmy wear it when he baby-sat the children.
Jimmy pressed in the signal button and held his breath. It only took a few seconds until he heard the familiar "whoosh" sound. He exhaled thankfully as he saw his friend land in a swirl of red, yellow and blue. But when he saw the look on Superman's face as he caught sight of Marty's twisted little body, Jimmy couldn't feel the same sense of relief. Thank goodness the bystanders moved out of the way for Superman, because if they hadn't, Jimmy realised that Superman would have walked right over them! If the Super-hero didn't control himself, people would know that something unusual had happened. Jimmy took a quick look around and realised that he and the kids were alone, bordered on one side by a semicircle of very interested bystanders and on the other side by the pool. He had to do something. This was a desperate and dangerous situation. He took a chance, faced away from the crowd, and spoke quietly but intensely, trusting that others wouldn't be able to hear him.
"Clark, I know you're panicking, but you can't come barrelling in here being the upset daddy! You have to calm down if you want to help your daughter."
Superman's stride faltered as Jimmy's words hit home. His face changed, becoming mask-like as he acknowledged the truth of his friend's advice. Without altering his forward advance, he instructed the lifeguard to move all the bystanders back out of the way.
Sam and Jon looked at Jimmy open-mouthed and then turned to the figure of the Super-hero as he advanced on them.
"Dad?" Jon gasped, loudly.
"That's a good idea, Jon. We should give your mom and dad a call," Jimmy agreed, also loudly. He continued, lowering his voice. "We'll talk about this at home, guys. We can't talk here. Now be quiet so Superman can check Marty."
Jimmy watched as Superman scanned Marty from head to toe. He did it a second time, more slowly this time, and then smiled. "She's shaken up, but I don't see any damage to her neck or back. She's going to bruise, though." He bent down and tenderly scooped up his little girl. "I have a friend who's a very good doctor. I'll take her to him so he can double-check that she'll be okay." He looked at Jimmy who was again holding little Vicky in his arms.
"It was an accident, Superman … "
"I know it was, Jimmy. Don't worry. I think she'll be fine. Why don't you take her brothers and her sister home?" Superman's eyes darted to the boys. He winced as he caught sight of their slack-jawed expressions of astonishment. He leaned in towards his friend and spoke as quietly as he could. "Would you phone Bernie and let him know what happened, and that I'm taking Marty to him? We'll need privacy."
Jimmy nodded in response to his friend's suggestion. He knew that their conversation sounded stilted and unnatural but they had to be careful in front of the crowd of bystanders. They would talk later. And he was just so shaken. He could still hear the horrible sound that Marty had made when she hit the deck. The sight of her little body clad in her bright pink floral swimsuit, and so twisted as she lay unmoving on the ground - he'd never forget it as long as he lived.
As Superman launched himself into the air with Marty cradled carefully in his arms, Jimmy turned back to the boys. Their expressions hadn't changed. Their faces were still blank, completely slack with shock, and their mouths both still hung open as they watched the Super-hero disappear with their sister. As Jimmy watched, Sam blinked first, and then Jon, and together they turned to look at the spot where their sister had landed. The concrete was badly cracked by the impact. Sam sat down suddenly as his knees gave out. Jon looked for a long moment at the cracked concrete, looked back into the air at the tiny, disappearing dot, and then back at the concrete once more. He slowly sat down beside his twin.
Jimmy held Vicky closer in his arms. He sighed. It was going to be a long ride home.
Dr. Klein looked intently into first one, then the other of Marty's ears. He checked her eyes. He didn't take x-rays - that wouldn't be possible - but he listened carefully to Superman as he described what he was able to see when he scanned inside Marty.
"She's a very lucky girl." Dr. Klein smiled reassuringly at Superman. "Other than a slight rupture in one eardrum, she's not hurt, but she is a little shaken up."
"But she's so tired. She can barely keep her eyes open." Superman looked wistfully at Marty on the examining table.
Dr. Klein looked at Marty and then back at Superman before he spoke. "This is just a theory, but … she should have been badly hurt, even killed. I think her Kryptonian heritage saved her, but as her powers aren't fully developed, there was a huge energy drain on her system. It's the only thing that I can think of that makes sense. She has no head injury that would account for the fatigue. I think we'll find that she'll be back to normal by tomorrow." He patted Superman on the shoulder. Superman exhaled shakily.
"I can't thank you enough, Bernie."
"It's okay, Cla … Superman. You know how I feel about your … these kids. They're just like my own."
"I know, Bernie." Superman rubbed his face with a visibly shaking hand.
Dr. Klein gripped him firmly by the arm. "Listen to me. She'll be fine. You need to stop worrying."
"It's not that, Bernie."
"What is it, then?"
"The boys heard Jimmy call me 'Clark' and it hit home all over again. I'll never fit in completely, will I? It doesn't matter how hard I try, I'll always be different, never be normal. And my kids will never be normal either. How can I face them?"
Dr. Klein laughed. "Clark, you're obsessing again! You need to stop blaming yourself for everything. Of course, you're not completely normal - how could you be? You're from another planet. But Clark, I don't fit in either and I can't use that for an excuse!"
Superman smiled wryly. "Thanks, Bernie. You know I need a kick in the pants every once in a while."
Dr. Klein grinned at him. Turning serious, he continued, "There's one other thing you need to remind yourself of, over and over again. If your daughter weren't 'different,' if she did 'fit in,' she would be dead right now, or at least very, very badly injured and most definitely brain damaged. Not being 'normal' is a small price to pay for your daughter's well-being in my opinion. Now, you better get this one home to Lois. She needs to be in bed. I'll stop by later to check on her, okay?"
Superman nodded. He turned back to his daughter and carefully scooped her into his arms. Her eyes flickered open, and she looked him full in the face for the first time since the accident.
He smiled at her, and tenderly kissed her cheek. "Yes."
"Yes, I am."
Marty closed her eyes for a moment then opened them again.
"Cool!" She smiled briefly and closed her eyes once more.
Lois met Jimmy, Vicky, and the boys at the door when they arrived home. She kissed the boys in greeting. "Dr. Klein says Marty is going to be just fine. She's asleep in her room right now."
Lois spoke calmly but it was obvious to Jimmy that she was very upset. She had become better at hiding her emotions since she had children, but she still couldn't fool him.
Clark stood behind Lois, waiting patiently in the hallway. As his children came in, he moved hesitantly towards them only to see his two boys flinch at his approach. Only Vicky greeted him wholeheartedly in her normal exuberant fashion, throwing herself into his arms for a hug. Jon and Sam disappeared quickly up the stairs towards their bedroom. Clark's eyes met Lois's over the top of Vicky's little head. They turned to Jimmy.
"I'm so sorry, guys. I told her not to go on the high diving board but …"
Lois sighed. "It's okay, Jimmy. It's not your fault. I'm just so glad that she's going to be all right."
"What did Dr. Klein say?"
Lois quickly filled him in on what Dr. Klein had theorized about Marty's system. She was very careful to make sure everything she said would go over little Vicky's head.
Jimmy grew a bit concerned about Clark. He hadn't said a word yet. "Clark, did Marty figure it out too?"
"Yes." Clark's lips tightened in a brief parody of his normal smile. "She thinks it's cool."
"Not bad. Four children. One down, one on hold, and two to go." Jimmy tried to joke, but no one even cracked a smile.
Lois moved to stand beside her husband and her daughter. "Did they say anything on the way home?"
"Not a word."
Lois tilted her head in thought. "Well, maybe they don't really …"
"No!" Jimmy and Clark spoke simultaneously. Jimmy fell silent, letting Clark continue.
"No, Lois," Clark repeated. "They know. I could see it in their eyes at the pool and it was obvious when they saw me just now." He turned away and sat down on the stairs, still cuddling Vicky close. "You've been wanting us to tell them for a while now. I guess you were right. It was only a matter of time until they found out by accident."
Lois sat down on the step beside Clark and put her arms around him. Jimmy interrupted before she could say anything.
"Clark, why don't I take Vicky into the playroom so you and Lois can talk and you can talk to the boys too."
Lois smiled at him. "Good idea, Jimmy. And Jimmy, thanks." She loosened Clark's grip on the little girl and passed her over to Jimmy's arms.
Jimmy hesitated for a second. "I'm sorry, Clark. I spoke without thinking. They wouldn't have figured it out if I hadn't said anything."
"It's okay, Jimmy. We were going to tell them anyway. It was time for them to know." He sighed. "I just wish I had been the one to tell them."
Lois leaned into Clark's side. The two of them were silent as they watched Jimmy and Vicky leave the room.
With elbows resting on his knees, Clark laid his head in his hands. He ran his fingers through his hair. "I guess we should go talk to them."
"I guess so." Lois gently squeezed his shoulders. "Do you want me to do the talking?"
"Yes … No … Maybe. I don't know, Lois. I don't even know what I'm going to say."
Lois stood up and extended her hand to him. "Well, whatever you're going to say, we better get on with it."
He slowly took her hand and let her pull him to his feet.
Together, they slowly mounted the stairs.
As they walked down the hall, they took a moment to check on Marty. She was sleeping soundly. Thank God, she was all right. Seeing her lying on the concrete had to be one of the most terrifying moments in his life. He prayed that there wouldn't be any more like that.
They stopped in front of the boys' bedroom and knocked on the door.
Lois and Clark entered the room and sat down together on Jon's bed. The twins sat cross-legged facing each other on Sam's bed. They turned and swung their legs around to face their parents.
"Are you boys all right?" Clark tried to look them in the eyes but they both averted their gaze from him.
"Fine." "We're fine."
Clark looked at Lois helplessly. She motioned to him to continue.
"I guess you figured something out today."
"Yeah." "Guess so."
They sat in silence for a long, tense moment. Finally, in frustration, Lois turned to Clark.
"Honey, why don't you take the boys and go … you know? I want to come too, but … well, I know Jimmy's here and everything, but I should stay with Marty."
Clark turned to Lois and spoke softly, "Where should I take them?"
"It doesn't really matter. Someplace quiet. You do need to get a lot of things out in the open. I figure the best thing to do is take them … you know." She made an unobtrusive hand gesture.
"I should …" Clark made a twirling motion with his hand, "… in front of them?"
"Yes. We have to bring everything out in the open. We can't even talk about it here. We're tiptoeing around the subject like it doesn't even exist. Oh, listen to me. 'The subject.' I'm still doing it! Anyway, I think it's a good idea, but I want to watch when you … you know." Lois glanced at her two poker-faced boys and then back at Clark. She muttered under her breath, "Maybe you'll at least get a reaction out of them.
Clark jumped to his feet relieved to have something to 'do' instead of something to 'say'. For someone who made his living working with words, he was having a terrible time verbalising his emotions.
Spinning in place, he transformed himself from Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter, into Superman, resident Super-hero of Metropolis. He was pleased to see that he had managed to wipe the blank expression off his boys' faces. To be sure, the shocked and sullen expressions now on their faces were only a small improvement.
"Come on, boys. We're going flying!" He pulled Sam and Jon to their feet and wrapped an arm around each one of their waists. Lois ran to their bedroom window and opened it.
"Hold on tight, guys." And they were gone.
Lois sat down on the bed. It wasn't really funny, but their expressions … She laughed hysterically, but only too soon, her laughter turned to tears. She would never, ever forget the sight of Marty lying limply in her father's arms. What a day! And she knew it wasn't over yet.
Superman glanced surreptitiously at his two boys as they soared through the sky. They wore identical expressions of wonderment as they watched the world pass by below them. He made a point of travelling over exciting sites like waterfalls and white water rapids. He flew high enough that no one on the ground could see them.
He gave the boys a good half-hour of sightseeing before he swooped down to a clearing in a forest. He set the boys on their feet and stepped back from them. He smiled as he quickly spun back into his street clothes. Clark sat down on a handy fallen tree and patted the trunk to each side of him. "Come on, boys. Sit down. We have a lot to talk about."
Sam and Jon hesitantly moved forward and sat down beside him. Clark wrapped an arm around each boy. "Before I start talking, I want to ask you what you're thinking right now. Who's going to go first?"
There was a long silence. Clark waited patiently.
Finally Sam piped up. "You're from Krypton, right?" he asked in a small voice.
"Mom's from Earth and you're not. Are you really our dad?"
Clark could see the worry in Sam's face. He looked at Jon and saw the same expression there. He quickly pulled the boys closer and wrapped his arms even tighter around their shoulders. "Of course I am!"
"Does that mean we're half-Kryptonian?" "Are we going to have super powers too?" The boys each asked a question simultaneously.
"Yes, you are. And I think so. You could see everything on the ground when we flew here, couldn't you?"
Sam and Jon both nodded.
"Well, you shouldn't have been able to. We were pretty high. I'd say that you both have super-vision."
"Do you think we could fly if we tried?" Sam hopefully peered up at Clark.
"I don't know, Sam. I was eighteen the first time I flew. But I don't know if you'll develop the same way I did. We'll just have to wait and see. Before we go home, we'll see what you can do, okay?"
Sam nodded, and lapsed into a thoughtful silence.
"How about you, Jon? What are you thinking?"
Jon shook his head. "I don't know, Dad. I'm pretty confused right now."
"I know, buddy, and it's my fault. I should have told you sooner."
"Why didn't you?" Jon's voice wobbled a bit.
Clark looked away from them for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. "There are a couple of big reasons, guys. There's not much that can hurt us, but your mom is from Earth. You know that bad guys are always trying to hurt Superman. What do you think they would do to Superman's wife, or to his friends, or his family? What about Uncle Jimmy, or Uncle Perry? Then there's Aunt Alice, Uncle Bernie, Grandma and Grandpa Kent, Grandma and Grandpa Lane. I mean, how would you feel, Jon, if someone hurt your Aunt Lucy, or your Uncle Brian, or your cousins, just to get back at you? Or, how would you feel, Sam, if someone hurt Astrid? This is a pretty big secret, and your mom and I wanted to wait until you were old enough to keep it. Maybe we waited too long."
Clark watched the expressions change on the boys' faces as they assimilated what he had said. Sam winced when he mentioned Astrid.
Finally, Jon spoke up. "I wish we hadn't found out. This changes a lot."
"Yes, it does, Jon. But you know one thing hasn't changed. I'm still your father, and I still love you and Sam very much. You, your mother and your sisters, you're my whole life. I am thankful every minute of every day that I have such a wonderful family." He wrapped his arms tighter around the boys.
"Can I tell Astrid?" Sam asked plaintively.
Clark hesitated. He knew that Astrid was going to have to know eventually but she was only nine. On the other hand, Marty knew now and the two girls were such close friends. Plus Sam had never been able to keep anything secret from her - had never wanted to, for that matter.
"Could you wait a little while, Sam? Let's talk to Uncle Bernie about it. If he thinks she should know, we'll tell her, okay?"
"Uncle Bernie knows?" Sam asked.
"Yeah. He helped your mother and me have children. There's no way we would have been able to have kids without his help." Clark briefly thought of Lee, the other person who had made a major contribution to the conception of his children. He knew, however, that he did not want to tell Sam that someday Sam and Astrid's daughter would be a time traveller. That would have to remain a secret for a long, long time. "I should tell you who knows. It's a very short list. Uncle Bernie, Uncle Jimmy, Grandma and Grandpa Kent, your mom, and you two. Oh, and Marty figured it out today, too."
Jon sighed. He buried his face in his dad's chest. Clark could hear him sniffle a little bit. He gently tipped his son's face up to meet his gaze. "Jon, what are you thinking?"
His son's eyes brimmed with tears. "Dad, I'm already different. You know the kids at school tease me about my painting. I don't want to be MORE different!"
Clark tenderly kissed the boy on the forehead. He sighed. "I know exactly how you feel. I never wanted to be different either. But there's nothing we can do about that. You two are different. You will always be different but that doesn't mean you won't be happy. I wish I could fix this and make this go away but I can't. I've found my own answer to the problem of fitting in. I hide what I can do most of the time, and I pretend to be someone else the rest of the time. At least I can help others that way and still feel like I'm living a normal life. You kids are going to have to find your own answers. It might be exactly the same answer as mine, or it might be different. Your mom and I will help you. And you can help each other too."
Sam and Jon regarded each other solemnly before looking back up at their father.
Time to lighten the mood, Clark thought. "One other thing, guys," Clark smiled tenderly at his two sober-faced boys, "super-powers can be a lot of fun sometimes. Do you guys want to fly some more?"
"Yeah!" "You bet!"
Half an hour later, they once again landed on the ground.
"Dad, that was so cool!" Sam enthused.
Jon agreed excitedly.
Clark hugged them tight for a second, before setting them on their feet. "Are you guys ready to take inventory, and figure out what you can do?"
The boys nodded vigorously. Clark surveyed the interested and alert expressions on their faces - much better than the poker faces from before.
"Let's start with heat vision, okay?"
Much later, they had mapped out what Sam and Jon could do, and what they could nearly do. They both had heat vision. Their control wasn't good, but luckily they had to focus pretty intently on this one ability so at least they wouldn't be setting any fires by accident. They both had x-ray vision. Again, they had to expend a great deal of effort to achieve this. Clark made a mental note to arrange for lead crystal glasses for them anyway. These powers would only improve so it was best to be prepared. Their hearing was enhanced although it wasn't as acute as his was. Jon was a great deal stronger than Sam was, but Sam could almost fly. He couldn't launch himself into the air, but after Clark threw him up into the sky, he was able to control his descent without a great deal of difficulty. Jon on the other hand, plummeted to the ground like a stone. Clark made a point of catching him. He didn't want to test their invulnerability yet - or ever, to be honest.
The three of them swooped into the house through the open window in the boys' bedroom.
After spinning quickly into his everyday clothing, Clark turned back to the boys. "Remember, you can't tell anyone about this. It's too dangerous for your mom and for our friends."
"Don't worry, Dad. We won't tell, will we, Sam?" Jon looked over to his twin.
"No we won't, Dad," Sam agreed, somewhat reluctantly.
"Why don't you boys scan the house and see if you can find your mother?"
"She's in Marty's room with Dr. Klein," Jon informed Clark after a moment of intense concentration.
"And Astrid's in the playroom with Vicky!" Sam enthused. He started to hurry to the door, only to be brought up short by his father's hand on his arm.
"Remember, Sam, not a word to Astrid. We'll tell her but not just yet, okay?"
Sam nodded slowly. His gleeful expression dampened a bit but he still exuded an air of barely repressed excitement. He left the room quickly. Clark and Jon could hear him thumping down the stairs towards the playroom. Jon sighed and leaned a little closer into his father's side. Clark took Jon by the hand and led him to the bed to sit down.
"Are you okay, Jon?"
Jon looked forlornly at his father. Somehow, everything he had gone through this day - the shock of learning about his dad, the flight, experimenting with his powers, everything - it all combined in his head and gave him the words to express something that he had always felt but had never been able to say before. "Daddy, when there's just Sam and me, we're best friends. But every time Astrid comes over, he just … forgets all about me. Is there something wrong with me?" he asked plaintively.
With one quick motion, Clark shifted his little boy onto his lap. "Oh, Jon." His throat tightened. "I know this is hard for you. There's nothing wrong with you, and Sam loves you, you know that. But in a way, this is my fault too. I made you boys different; you're part Kryptonian because of me, and well, Sam acts very Kryptonian around Astrid."
"Kryptonians fall in love very intensely, and for forever. I felt the same way about your mom the very first time I ever saw her. It was like the rest of the world didn't exist for me any longer. I don't know how to explain it exactly, but … a really strong bond forms between two people who are meant to marry. Sam seems to feel it with Astrid just as much as I did with your mom."
"You mean, Sam and Astrid are going to get married someday?"
Once again, Clark thought about Lee. "Yes, probably, Jon."
Clark had to smile. "You won't always feel that way about girls and marriage, Jon!"
"Do you think I'll feel that way about someone some day?"
"I don't know, Jon. You might and you might not. We'll have to wait and see."
Clark cuddled his son, enjoying the moment. His boys didn't sit on his lap too often anymore as they were getting pretty big. He hadn't realised how much he had missed it until this moment with Jon.
"You know what, Jon?"
"I feel really close to you right now. I mean, you've been growing up and changing so much. And you have your painting. Sometimes I feel like you've been growing away from your mom and me. You know we love your paintings, and we're so proud of what you've accomplished, but we don't understand the world that you've become a part of. I've missed talking to you. It's a hard thing for a father to admit that his child has grown beyond him, but you have when it comes to your art. But this, these powers, they're something we can share, that I can still teach you. Someday, you won't need me anymore for this either, but for right now, I'm going to enjoy it."
Jon threw his arms around his father's neck. "I love you, Dad, and I'll always need you."
Clark rocked his son back and forth. He knew it wasn't true, that Jon wouldn't always need him as he did right now, but he was content for the moment.
Starfire and Sunstorm - 15 years old
Chapter 5 - Jonathan
"Who wants to go to town with me?"
"I will, Papa." Twelve-year-old Marty jumped up and down eagerly. She was the only one of Jonathan Kent's grandchildren to show any enthusiasm at the prospect.
"Okay, Marty. Go hop in the truck and we'll be off. Martha, can I pick anything up for you while we're there?" Jonathan called through the screen door of the house.
Martha opened the door and walked towards the driveway with him. "You could pick up some ice cream for dessert, but other than that, I don't need anything." She stuck her head through the window on the passenger side of the truck, and addressed her excited granddaughter. "Have a good time with your Papa, Marty."
"I will, Grandma."
Martha gave Jonathan a quick peck on the cheek and then waved until the two of them were out of sight. My, it was so nice to have the children arrive for their annual two-week visit in the summer. She didn't know who got more excited as the time came for the Junior Kents' annual trek to Kansas, the kids or Jonathan.
It was principally because of the grandchildren that Martha and Jonathan had delayed making the decision to sell the farm. Jonathan had been renting his fields out for a few years now. The two of them only did enough light gardening to meet their own needs. The rent helped with the finances, but it didn't bring in as much as they needed to maintain the place. It would break their hearts to leave, but the sensible thing to do was to move either into a small apartment in Smallville or into Metropolis. But oh, it would be hard to move.
Jonathan and Marty bumped along the backcountry roads on their way to Smallville. Marty always looked around excitedly at the fields and farms that they passed. She asked a multitude of questions about the crops and animals that she could see from the truck. Jonathan enjoyed sharing his wealth of experience with such a willing listener.
In due course, they arrived in town at the supply store. Martha and Jonathan always delayed putting in their vegetable patch until the kids arrived for their visit. It was really almost too late to plant, but the kids would be so disappointed if they didn't do it together. And they would have had better selection ordering their seed from a catalogue for the garden, but Marty enjoyed picking out the seed with her Papa so much, well, they just had to wait for the kids to arrive for their vacation.
Marty always enjoyed roaming the store with her Papa. She wanted to know what everything was used for, and what good it would be on a farm. As she and Jonathan busied themselves examining some very unusual blacksmith tools, her ears, courtesy of her very powerful listening skills, picked up an interesting conversation at the front of the store.
"Hi, Bill," the unknown customer said to the storekeeper. "Who's that with Jon Kent?"
"That's Clark's eldest girl."
"Oh, so that's little Marty. Doesn't look like him or his wife, does she?"
"No, she looks like her Grandpa, but there's no blood relationship there, as you know."
"Yep, I knew that. And she doesn't look like any of those weirdoes who … caused so much trouble."
"Shh, don't talk about them out in public. Every time I think of them, I remember how much we have to thank Clark for. I don't want to cause him trouble by shooting off my mouth in public."
"Point taken. He is a good man. I'll shut up now."
Marty heard the door close behind the talkative customer. What had he meant? And who were the weirdoes he had been talking about? She didn't know whether to ask her Papa about it or not. At least, both the men seemed to like her dad.
As they progressed through town on the way to the grocery store for the ice cream, Marty was conscious of an unusually knowing attitude from the people that they met on the street. So many people made a point of stopping and talking to her Papa and they all asked respectfully after her father. She didn't know exactly what it was, but there was an air about the people that she spoke to, of a secret well kept. It was very puzzling.
Eventually Marty and her grandpa were all done their errands. They headed home with a varied selection of seeds and, of course, with the ice cream.
Somehow or other, it ended up being just Jonathan and Marty who planted the vegetable garden. Jon had asked Martha if he could paint her portrait as a present for his mom and dad. She was thrilled to be asked. Vicky was more interested in playing with the little six-year-old who had moved to the next farm, and Sam disappeared with some teenagers from town.
In the end, Jonathan supervised while Marty did all the work. She ably spread the compost that had been ripening over the winter and spring, tilled it in to a good depth, and competently sowed the seeds.
"You know, Papa, I just love to dig into the earth with my fingers. Did you ever notice that it smells so rich and warm?"
Jonathan looked at Marty in delight. "That's exactly right, Marty." He bent down and gathered his granddaughter into his arms in a warm embrace. It was so nice to have a grandchild who shared his interests.
Jonathan and Marty ended up doing any number of solo excursions. They attended many stock auctions although Jonathan hadn't bought animals in years. He was impressed by Marty's intelligent questions. She never asked the same question twice but seemed to absorb all the information that he imparted to her and more. She developed quite the eye for picking out superior animals. They had a lot of fun planning what their dream herd of cows would consist of. Jonathan had missed doing this. Maybe he should invest in a small flock of chickens for next year. They weren't too much work.
Marty noticed the same knowing glances as they travelled around the local countryside attending the auctions. They weren't unkind glances. To the contrary, they were very friendly and warm. But there was an intangible quality to the attention that she attracted wherever she went. At the same time, contradictorily, she was made to feel welcome in a way she had never felt before. It was all very strange, and she had no way at her young age to interpret what she sensed from the grownups around her. But, no matter what the cause of the ambiguous feelings that she sensed, she knew that she liked being in Smallville better than Metropolis.
Jon's portrait of his Grandma Martha was a masterpiece. He took it into town to Smallville's only framing store and art gallery. The small gallery owner was intimidated when she was presented with a Jon Kent original to be framed. And she was very impressed. Instead of using the customary oil paints for the portrait, Jon had painted his Grandma using watercolours. It had given the portrait a very unusual, luminous quality that was absolutely breath-taking.
Jon's work was becoming very well known. His first show at the age of twelve had been a huge success and had been totally sold out. Many of his works were purchased by museums around the world. His second show the previous winter at the age of fourteen had also been sold out. The critics too had been unusually kind. There had been no condescending remarks about "the artist's immaturity" or about his youth in any way.
It took a couple of days, but the gallery owner managed to frame the small portrait to the young artist's satisfaction, and the present was brought home and suitably wrapped in anticipation of his parents' Christmas. He had already prepared a portrait of Jonathan as a companion piece. He had to work from a photograph, though. His grandfather was too self-conscious to pose well, and Jon wasn't experienced enough at working with difficult models to set his Papa at ease.
Vicky spent all of her free time playing cops and robbers with the little boy who lived on the next farm. They both played hard every day. Luckily there was no rain. It didn't seem to matter how much time Vicky spent in the sun. Her complexion remained the same creamy white that it had been since she was born. And the sun didn't seem to lighten her hair at all either.
Sam disappeared a lot, either with boys from town or on his own, exploring the countryside. He seemed to want to be alone more this summer than he ever had before. Martha and Jonathan kept an eye on him. He didn't seem unduly depressed, but they maintained their watch over him anyway.
Jonathan woke up in the middle of the night. He glanced at the clock to see it was three in the morning. After tossing and turning for a few minutes, he conceded defeat and got up. Martha stirred a bit but seemed to settle back into a deep sleep as he quietly left the room. Jonathan felt quite glum as he proceeded down the stairs. The kids were leaving tomorrow. No, it was already morning, wasn't it? They were leaving today, in about 7 hours. He was going to miss all of them, especially Marty.
He padded into the kitchen, hitching his robe tighter around him. After pouring himself a tall glass of buttermilk, he made his way out the back door onto the porch. Martha found him there in his rocking chair, sipping his drink and surveying the farm.
Jonathan smiled at her as she pulled her rocker close to his. He took her hand in his.
"I was just thinking about how much I'll miss them."
They rocked in silence.
"Jonathan, what's that in the barn?" Martha leaned forward in her chair, pointing.
He strained his eyes and got a tantalising glimpse of a white figure.
"I don't know." He got up from his chair. "You should stay here."
Martha snorted. "When pigs fly!" She got up and accompanied him to the barn.
"Grandma? Papa? Is that you?"
"Marty? What are you doing out here at this time of night?" Martha studied the solemn face of her eldest granddaughter. "You gave us a fright."
"I'm sorry, Grandma. I couldn't sleep. I don't want to go home today. I mean, I miss Mom and Dad, but I love this place. I wish I could stay for the whole summer!"
Jonathan smiled. "What do you love so much about this place?"
Marty paused, thinking hard. "It's hard to put into words, but I'll try. I love the … the openness, and the space. I feel like I can breathe here. And I love looking after the vegetable garden. It makes me feel so good when I see the plants growing." Her words were flowing faster and faster, almost tumbling over each other in her eagerness. "And I love going to the stock auctions. I just wish you had animals that I could look after. And when we go to town, I like how the people treat me. They're friendly, and they make me feel welcome. I don't feel that way in Metropolis at all, even if it is my home." She sighed. "I wish we lived on a farm."
Martha watched Jonathan as Marty spoke. She knew her husband well enough to see exactly how much Marty's words had touched him. "I know you do, Marty, but it's still the middle of the night. Give your Papa and me a kiss and you scoot off to bed."
Marty hugged them both enthusiastically and then scampered for the house. At the porch, she turned, saw they were watching her still, and lightly blew them kisses before she disappeared inside.
Martha turned to Jonathan. "Jonathan, I've been thinking …" "Martha, I've been thinking …"
They paused, laughing.
Martha continued, "… that we should change our wills …"
"… and leave the farm to Marty," Jonathan finished.
"But, Jonathan, do you think we'll be able to afford it?"
"I don't know, Martha. But one thing I do know, we need to try. You know it used to be my dream to have Clark take over the farm one day, but he's never had the interest. The boys aren't interested either. And I don't imagine little Vicky is either. Why, do you remember Marty at that age? We couldn't keep her out of the garden. Remember when she pulled out all the squash vines because she thought they were weeds? What was she, only two at the time? But she never made that kind of mistake again."
As Martha and Jonathan continued to reminisce, neither one of them noticed the figure watching them from the dark second story window.
Although Martha, Jonathan and especially little Marty didn't want the sun to rise, inevitably it did. The three of them didn't have much appetite for breakfast, but that wasn't a condition that afflicted Jon, Sam or Vicky.
At six years of age, Vicky had missed her mom and dad the most. She couldn't wait to see them again.
Jon was quiet. He had a lot on his mind. He knew what he wanted to do, but now the only thing that remained was to talk everyone into it.
Sam could barely restrain his eagerness. He missed Astrid so much that it almost physically hurt him. It was always like this, but somehow this year, it was worse. The only thing that had kept him from flying back to Metropolis to see her was knowing how mad his mother and father would have been. His dad didn't want him flying anywhere by himself as he was still pretty wobbly in the air. Not that he would hurt himself if he fell. Of course he wouldn't. But he might hurt something else, like a plane or a radio tower.
Jonathan sat at the kitchen table, surveying his grandchildren. He sensed that two weeks was about three days too long for little Vicky. He sensed that two weeks was about fifty weeks too short for little Marty, and about thirteen days too long for Sam. But he could never tell what Jon was thinking. Sometimes the child, the young man actually, was very much an enigma to Jonathan. Martha understood him better. Jonathan felt, however, that Jon had something on his mind that he was thinking hard about. He didn't pressure Jon to talk about it, however. Jon kept his own counsel and never talked about anything until he was ready. Jonathan sighed. He used to be such an open child. But even though his talent had added a new and wonderful dimension to his life, he still lacked a basic self-confidence that Sam had in abundance.
Jonathan looked at Sam and saw that his other grandson was almost literally champing at the bit to get home. He was almost vibrating; he was so excited and eager to leave. Astrid again. Jonathan smiled to himself. Sam reminded Jonathan of a racehorse in the starting gate. When did Sam get so broad and so muscular? Jonathan looked at Sam with fresh eyes. It wasn't as noticeable with Jon as he was much wirier than his twin was, but Sam was very much physically mature. Jonathan looked a little closer. When had Sam started to shave? Hmmm, he better have a talk with Clark.
In due course, Clark arrived to ferry his children home. Vicky was the first to leave, Marty the next. The boys were capable of flying home under their own steam as long as dad was there to supervise. Jonathan interrupted the trio's preparations for leaving.
"Clark, son. Your mother and I would like to have a word with you about something before you leave. Could you join us inside for a couple of minutes?"
After suggesting to the boys that they go for a walk, Clark dutifully followed his father inside the house.
Sam set off into the woods near the farm. Jon did not. He made himself comfortable in the hayloft waiting for his cue.
"What's this all about, Dad?" Clark asked in concern. "Is everything okay?"
Martha was quick to reassure him. "We're fine, but we've made some plans and we want to know what you think of them."
Clark sat down with a thump. "You're selling the farm, aren't you?"
Martha and Jonathan looked at each other and smiled. Jonathan moved over to sit beside his son.
"No, we're not, son. I think it would just about kill your mother and me to leave this place. But it is about the farm that we want to talk to you. How would you feel if we left the farm to Marty?"
"To Marty?" Clark exclaimed. "I hadn't really thought about it. She does love it here, doesn't she?"
The more Clark thought about it, the more he realised this was an excellent solution to the nagging question of the farm's future.
"I think it's a brilliant idea, but can you manage? You haven't been bringing in as much only renting out the fields."
Martha leaned forward and took his hands. "We'll have to manage, Clark. We don't want to leave and we want Marty to have this place some day. We have no choice."
"Lois and I can help a bit, but I don't think it'll make much difference. I wish we could afford more, but we have four children and neither one of us makes that much."
"You don't have to help, Dad. I'm going to." Jonathan, Martha, and Clark turned to the doorway to see Jon standing there. He smiled. "I'm sorry. Grandma and Papa, I heard you talking last night. I don't want you to sell the farm either. And I think it would be perfect if Marty took over some day. Dad, I know you've been putting the money I've made from my paintings away for me, but I want to use some of it for this."
"I don't want to take money from my own grandson," Jonathan spluttered as he stood up. "I'd feel like I was stealing."
"Papa, has Dad ever told you how much some of my paintings have gone for?"
"Uh, no, he just said a lot of money."
Jon smiled gently at his grandfather. "Papa, my smaller canvases sell for about one hundred - that's thousand, my larger ones in the neighbourhood of two hundred and fifty thousand. Of course, my agent takes a large commission, but … I sold nine large canvases and ten small ones at my last show."
"Oh!" Jonathan sat back down heavily.
Jon continued, "And you know I'm not a greedy person. I don't care about the latest clothes, or the fanciest sneakers or anything like that. The only thing I really want to spend money on is my family. I want to set some aside for Sam and Marty and Vicky, for college. And I want to give some, a lot actually, to charity. If you want, you could think of this as the share that I'm going to give Marty. But I'd rather you just took it as a gift."
Jonathan looked helplessly at Martha and Clark. They were both equally speechless. Martha too had been unaware of the amounts Jon had been making. Clark had been unaware that Jon had been thinking about what good he could do with his money.
Jonathan looked back at his grandson. He stood up, walked over to him and extended his hand. "What more can I say but, yes."
"It's okay with you and Mom, Dad?" Jon asked hopefully.
Clark walked over to his son and pulled him into a rough embrace. "Of course it is. I'm proud of you, Jon. We'll go home and set up the arrangements today." He released Jon and moved back. "You go get your brother now, and we'll head home."
Jon smiled as he left the room.
Clark turned back to his parents. "My boy became a man without me noticing! I'm so proud of him."
"We're very proud of him too, Clark. His offer is, well, it's just an answer to our prayers." Jonathan shook his head in disbelief. Then he paused, searching for the right words. "But, Clark, he's not the only one who's growing up. I'm a little concerned about Sam. He's getting older too. You know I don't normally stick my nose into your business - I leave that to your mother - but Sam is physically a man, and Astrid's only twelve and he's crazy about her …"
Clark was taken aback by this second shock to his system. He should have seen this one coming. "Oh! You're right. I better have a talk with him."
Sam and Jon returned to the farmhouse and put on their plain black spandex outfits and hoods. They loaded themselves up with luggage for the trip back and, after one last hug and kiss for their grandparents, launched themselves into the air. Clark paused long enough to embrace his parents and then he followed in a splash of red, yellow and blue.
Martha and Jonathan watched them go. They stood on the porch surveying their property for a long time, long after the three figures had disappeared into the sky. Finally Martha squeezed his shoulder gently. "Come on, sweetheart. Let's go in."
Starfire and Sunstorm - 18 years old
Chapter Six - Astrid
"Hey, Dad." Astrid walked sedately into the living room and sat down beside her father on the couch. "Marty just called. Uncle Clark and Aunt Lois are taking everyone to the beach tomorrow, and they said she could ask me to go too. Could I, please?"
Dr. Klein lowered his newspaper. "Sure, honey, you can go. We just need to check to make sure we have sunscreen left over from last summer. What time will they pick you up?"
"Around ten, Marty said. And I already checked. We have lots of sunscreen left."
Dr. Klein set down his newspaper and pulled out his wallet. "Here's thirty dollars. That should be enough for your lunch, and you can buy everyone an ice cream with what's left."
"Thanks, Dad." Astrid threw her arms around her dad's neck, and gave him a big hug.
"You're welcome, sweetie. Now then, you and I should start thinking about what we're going to make for supper." The two of them got up and headed for the kitchen.
The next day dawned, hot and sunny. It took Astrid a while to get ready. She did her nails, both finger and toe. She fussed over her hair, trying different hairstyles until she realised that none of them would last if she got them wet. Finally, she settled for taming her auburn hair in a long braid that hung down her back. She got into her bathing suit, a rather daring bikini, and liberally greased herself all over with sunscreen. She looked at herself in the mirror and then, in a fit of shyness, put shorts and a T-shirt over top. The doorbell rang just as she put her hat on.
Astrid grabbed her towel and ran to the door. "Hi, Marty! Hi, Uncle Clark! Bye, Dad!" She and Marty ran past the two men to the van.
Dr. Klein looked at Clark, who looked back at Dr. Klein. They simultaneously started to laugh.
"For a second, Clark, they looked like kids again instead of grown up fifteen-year-olds."
Clark grinned. "Don't worry. We'll take good care of her, Bernie."
"I know you will, Clark. Have a nice time."
Dr. Klein closed the door behind his friend, smiling. He loved the way Clark always needed to reassure him that Astrid would be safe - just like a regular guy would!
Hmm, a day to himself. Maybe he would go into the lab for a while. There were a couple of things he wanted to check into on his own time.
Astrid and Marty dropped their towels on the sand. They quickly shed their T-shirts and shorts and ran shrieking into the water. They were both good swimmers, although Marty was much better, of course.
Jon and Sam ran at the edge of the water, throwing a Frisbee back and forth. Astrid watched Sam surreptitiously. She glowered when she realised that he and Jon were both getting lots of attention from the young and not so young women on the beach. Even Uncle Clark was getting his fair share of attention.
Nine-year-old Vicky and Aunt Lois worked on a sandcastle. Vicky diligently trekked back and forth getting buckets of wet sand.
Uncle Clark laid claim to a small patch of sand and set up lawn chairs and towels. He made a few trips between the beach and the van, carrying the cooler, the beach umbrella and all the other paraphernalia that they seemed to travel with.
As she and Marty played in the water, Astrid watched as her friend's father disappeared, first with Jon, then with Vicky and finally with Sam. They must be going to practice their powers, she thought to herself. Astrid was fully aware that Uncle Clark was really Superman. She had known for a long time. Marty had spilled the beans about a week after she had found out. In the ensuing fuss, Astrid didn't have the heart to tell Uncle Clark and Aunt Lois, or her dad, that Sam had told her 'accidentally' on purpose a few days earlier!
Knowing about Uncle Clark hadn't really been a big deal until she and Marty got into high school last year. Now that had been embarrassing! The girls in grade nine all thought Superman was "dreamy". It seemed like everywhere they went, they would see posters of him in lockers, or pictures of him taped to girls' binders. Both she and Marty had been hugely uncomfortable with the whole situation. After all, it was just Uncle Clark that the other girls had been drooling over. It had been really hard for the two of them not to say anything, but it was just too dangerous to even hint at anything. Astrid would never do anything to hurt Uncle Clark and Aunt Lois, their family or any of their friends.
Eventually the girls tired of swimming and emerged from the water. They grabbed cold drinks from the cooler and flopped on their towels. Astrid looked around. Aunt Lois sat in a lawn chair reading. Jon played with Vicky, who was still building her sandcastle. Sam and Uncle Clark weren't back yet. Astrid lay back and closed her eyes. She was a little worn out, and the sun felt nice as it dried her off.
She woke up with a start.
"Oh, hi, Sam." She blushed. "Where's Marty?"
"She and Dad have gone, you know, to practice. I thought I would keep you company for a while." Sam sat down on Marty's towel, leaning forward slightly, with his hands linked around his knees. Astrid scrambled up from her prone position in the sand to sit beside him. She glanced quickly and surreptitiously at him. He had changed dramatically over the winter. His shoulders had broadened, making his waist look slimmer. He wasn't as well muscled as his father, but he was close to it. He shifted position slightly, and Astrid could see the muscles in his back ripple as he moved. Astrid swallowed and looked away. Her eyes drifted back to him, almost against her will. He sometimes seemed like a stranger to her now. He had been her best friend ever since she could remember, even closer than Marty was, and for the first time in her life, Astrid didn't know what to say to him. And when she was around him, she felt things she had never felt before. She knew he liked her, he always treated her like a pal, but for the first time in her life, that wasn't enough. What was he thinking? Did he notice how she looked? Was he interested in what she had to say? She focused intently on the water. Not knowing what was running through his head was hard, but what bothered her the most was that he seemed to act the same as always around her. Didn't he know that things had changed? How could she get him to notice that she was all grown up?
"Whoa, Astrid! Your back is really starting to burn. Pass me the sunscreen and I'll grease you up."
She flinched away from him. "No … It's okay, Sam. I think … I'll put on my T-shirt now." Astrid could feel her cheeks flush with a rush of heat. He looked at her quizzically but didn't say anything.
They sat quietly for a time. Finally Sam broke the silence.
"Hey, do you want to go for a walk?"
Walking was good. Walking wasn't talking about nothing, or sitting together feeling uncomfortable. Walking wasn't wondering what he was thinking, or whether he liked being with her.
Sam sprang to his feet and extended his hand to Astrid. She hesitantly took it, and Sam effortlessly pulled her to her feet. She felt a thrill run through her body at his action.
"Hey, Mom. We're going for a walk, okay?"
Aunt Lois looked up from her reading. "Sure, guys. Just be back in an hour
"Okay, Mom." "Okay, Aunt Lois."
The two of them sauntered down the beach. They stopped occasionally to pick up interesting shells, or bits of polished glass. But even the simple act of walking with Sam had become a source of irritation for Astrid. He was so much taller than she was. He was almost six feet, like his dad, and she barely topped five feet. And he probably out-massed her by at least one hundred pounds, although he was by no means heavy. No wonder he treated her like a child. Astrid sulked silently as they walked.
They clambered over a series of sand dunes getting farther and farther away from the ocean. There was no one else around. Astrid paused at the top of one of the dunes. "It's so nice to look around from up here. You can see so much." She glanced shyly at Sam. "Is it like that when you're flying with your dad?"
"Better!" Sam turned to her. "Hey, I have an idea. Let's go, right now."
Astrid was puzzled. "Go where?"
"Let's go flying. I've been practicing. I should be able to take a passenger."
"Are you sure? I thought your dad doesn't want you flying without him."
"Don't worry. We'll be fine. Piece of cake!" Sam scooped her into his arms and launched himself into the air.
Astrid squealed and clung tightly to him. She was ashamed of herself. He hadn't scared her that much, but, even so, she had been quick to take advantage of his closeness.
"Hey, trust me. I won't let you drop."
She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax her grip a bit. "I know you won't, but you moved so fast … You startled me."
"Oh, sorry." Sam grinned apologetically at her. Astrid melted inside and grinned back, and then turned to look at the world pass by below. She gasped in wonder. "Oh, Sam. It's beautiful. This is great!"
They flew in silence, admiring the landscape passing by below them. As they progressed in their journey, Astrid became more and more sensitive to Sam's physical presence. Slowly, bit by bit, she became progressively more uncomfortable. Could he feel what she was feeling? Did he know what she thought about him? At the same time, his arms felt so … right around her.
"I think we should go back now," she heard herself say in a breathless voice.
"Okay," Sam agreed, cheerfully.
Perversely, now that their flight was almost over, Astrid didn't want it to end. For a moment or two, earlier in the flight, she had been completely comfortable being with him. That was getting rarer and rarer all the time.
Sam swooped down for a landing. He gently set Astrid on her feet. Her arms remained linked around his neck. She started to lean into him, her face upturned to his.
"Uh, Astrid? You can let go now. We're on the ground."
Astrid was mortified by her slip. Suddenly she got angry. Why couldn't he feel the same way that she did? What did she have to do to clue him into her feelings? When would he see that she wasn't a child anymore? She stepped away from him quickly, pushing him violently back from her.
"Hey!" Sam exclaimed. "What did I do?"
"Nothing!" she retorted, indignantly. "You did absolutely nothing!" She turned on her heel and stomped back towards the beach. Unfortunately for Astrid's dignity, it was difficult, well nigh impossible, to stomp in sand. Astrid's foot slipped, her legs flew up, and she landed on her rear end in the sand. It was too much. She could feel her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She buried her head in her hands, not wanting Sam to see her face aflame.
"Hey? Are you okay?" Sam knelt down beside her.
"What do you care?" she spat out, still angry.
"What do you mean? You've been my best friend ever since I can remember. Of course I care about you!" Sam responded, in an injured tone of voice.
"Best friend," she blurted out. "Is that all I am to you? A buddy? A pal? Someone to kick a ball with?" She swivelled away from him, still sitting on the sand.
The world spun crazily about her, as she was lifted to her feet and forcibly turned to face Sam once again.
"No, that's not all you are!" he exclaimed, almost angrily.
And without really knowing how she got there, Astrid found herself clasped tightly in Sam's arms as he plastered her with frantic kisses. Astrid was almost scared at the intensity of her own emotions as she clumsily kissed him back.
As if in a dream, she heard herself moan deep in the back of her throat. And then, as quickly as he had taken her into his embrace, he pushed her away and took a step back.
"No! I can't!" And he spun on his heel, turning his back to her.
Astrid looked at his back in shock. Two big tears fell, slowly rolling down her cheeks. She raised her hand as if imploring him to face her again, and then let it drop. She wasn't going to plead with him. He had rejected her. That had to be that. Her knees threatened to give out. She shakily sat back on the sand. She had spent so much time wondering about Sam's feelings. At least now she knew. Her tears began in earnest, streaming down her face, as she tried to hold them back in vain.
Sam turned back at the sound of her muffled sobs. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Astrid, please, don't cry." He knelt beside her and wrapped his arms gently about her.
She held herself rigid in his arms, not wanting to give him any excuse to reject her again.
"Astrid, I'm sorry," he repeated. He kissed her tenderly on the forehead. "I … I lost control. I'm sorry I scared you."
She looked up at him, her eyelashes sparkling with her tears. "You didn't scare me." She glanced down, hiding her face. "I'm sorry too. I'm sorry that I pushed you to act like you felt something more for me. I won't bother you that way again," she promised, her voice so soft that he could barely hear her.
Sam tipped her face up to meet his gaze. "I do feel something more for you. Astrid, sweetheart, don't you know? I'm crazy in love with you." He gently brushed the tears from her cheeks.
"You are? Then why …?" Astrid regarded him, forlornly.
"Why did I push you away?" he asked, shamefaced.
"Because you're fifteen, I'm eighteen, and it wouldn't be right for us to … for …" He blushed and glanced away.
"Oh." Astrid blushed also. She hadn't thought about that. She wasn't ready to … She wasn't old enough for …
"Um … yes … you're right, Sam," Astrid finally acknowledged, shyly. "Is that why you've been ignoring me since I don't know when?"
He nodded. "Yeah, uh, my mom had a talk with me a few years ago, and warned me that I better not, uh, push you into anything. She said I needed to wait for you."
"Your mom?" Astrid was aghast. Aunt Lois? She pushed that topic aside to focus on what was really important. "So what do we do now? Because I'll tell you one thing, I'll kill you if you start ignoring me again!"
Sam grinned as he pushed himself to his feet, and helped her up. "How about we go on dates? You know, to the movies, or bowling, regular stuff like that."
She smiled. "Sounds good." Gaining confidence, she continued more firmly, "But I know one thing. I love you and you love me. We're meant to be with each other. So what do you think we should do about it while we wait for me to get older?"
Sam grinned at her. "You think we should set up some ground rules, do you?"
"Don't you?" Astrid retorted.
"Yeah, you're probably right," Sam replied. "We'll have to be careful not to um, get carried away. But I want you to know, the minute you turn eighteen, we're getting married."
She laughed. "I think you're supposed to ask me first."
Suddenly serious, he held her by the shoulders, and looked deep into her eyes. "No, I'm not going to ask. I'm telling you. You are going to marry me. I couldn't bear it if you and someone else …"
She reached up, and cupped his cheek tenderly. "I couldn't bear it either. I love you, Sam. You're mine and I'm yours, now and forever."
"Now and forever," he echoed, as he slowly lowered his mouth to hers in a gentle kiss.
Starfire and Sunstorm - 21 years old
Chapter 7 - Starfire
The organ music rose in a gentle crescendo cueing the action to begin. It was time.
Lois took a deep breath, and braced herself before taking Jimmy's arm. She glanced behind at her husband, handsome as always in his black tuxedo. He smiled in reassurance and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Lois turned back to Jimmy. "Let's go. It's show time." To her chagrin, her voice quavered, making a mockery of her show of bravado.
Lois was grateful for the support of her friend's arm as they marched slowly and solemnly up the aisle. She was also grateful for the solid presence of her husband behind her.
Sam stood with Jon at his side at the front of the small chapel. Hot tears filled Lois's eyes as she saw how unabashedly joyful he looked. Her little boy. Her baby. It was a bittersweet moment for Lois. She loved Astrid. She had always loved her like a daughter. But for one brief moment, she felt as though Astrid were taking something very, very precious from her. Had Martha or Jonathan felt like that when she had married Clark? If they had, they had hidden it well.
Lois forced those stray thoughts from her and focused again on Sam's joy. She knew that this moment was inevitable, and, in fact, had been inevitable ever since Astrid at only a week old had gripped Sam's finger with her tiny fist. And this moment was necessary; in fact, not just necessary but all important for her family. Lois still felt a sense of awe that this moment in time would come to fruition in such a wonderful way. Lee. But Lois couldn't allow herself to think about that right now.
Lois thought back to her own wedding day and the vows she and Clark had exchanged. They had kept those vows through good times and bad. Lois had faith that Sam and Astrid would be able to do the same.
Jimmy stopped at the front of the chapel and passed Lois back to Clark, who led her into place on the hard bench.
As Clark studied his son, standing so tall and proud as he waited for his bride, his heart swelled with pride. His son. A man. Clark thought back to his own wedding day and remembered all over again the joy he had felt when Lois was finally, and forever, a permanent part of his life. He could identify with Sam's thinly veiled impatience to have Astrid achieve the same status in his own life.
Clark smiled to himself. Why did this ceremony bear such significance? Lois had been linked to him long before their wedding day. And Sam and Astrid had been linked almost from the moment of her birth. Maybe it was the fact that the ceremony ensured that others knew of the bond. Could it be? Was it possessiveness? Clark shook his head. He knew better than to ever share those thoughts with Lois. And thinking on it further, he couldn't bring himself to believe that there was anything to that theory. No, it was the recognition that there was something more than just the physical in the universe; there was an intangible side of life that had to be recognised and acknowledged in this sacred way.
Clark thought back to his own wedding day and the vows he and Lois had exchanged. They had kept those vows through good times and bad. Clark had faith that Sam and Astrid would be able to do the same.
As if in response to an invisible signal, the organ music suddenly swelled, heralding the approach of the bride and her father. Jimmy moved slowly to the front of the chapel, joining Sam and Jon. The three of them waited as first Vicky, then Marty, came into view, leading the stately procession. Sam strained impatiently, anxious to glimpse his bride.
There she was. She floated towards him in a cloud of shimmery material. A shaft of sunlight shone through one of the stained glass windows directly upon her, setting her hair aflame. Sam had to remind himself to breathe, for she was so beautiful, she literally took his breath away. Finally. His bride. His friend. His lover. He had waited for her, and longed for her, and lived for her, and breathed for her, all for her, for so long. He couldn't believe that the end of his wait was in sight. In a few minutes, she would be his and his alone, always and forever, and he would be hers. His star in the sky who set him on fire. He vowed that he would always strive to be her Starfire too, to warm her, and shelter her, and guard her from all harm.
At that moment, Sam felt a reverence for her that he had never felt before. She had agreed to bind herself to him, to be there for better and for worse, through good times and bad. He felt humbled by the depth of her devotion to him, and was grateful.
On her father's arm, Astrid only had eyes for one person. Sam. Her friend. Her love. The one, the only one for her. It had been a long wait for this moment to arrive, but finally, this moment was now. Her whole life had been leading her to this time and this place, to stand with him in the sight of God and their community. In a few minutes, Sam would be hers and hers alone, always and forever, and she would be his. Her shining beacon who set her aflame. She vowed to be a beacon for him too, to care for him, protect him, and cherish him through all their days to come.
At that moment, Astrid felt a rush of love for him sweep through her entire being like she had never felt before. He had agreed to bind himself to her, to be there for better and for worse, through good times and bad. She was humbled by the depth of his devotion to her, and was grateful.
Dr. Klein paused at the front of the chapel. Sam moved forward, shook his hand, and felt him transfer Astrid's hand to his arm. Dr. Klein stepped back and sat down. He watched his daughter move forward to stand in front of the minister. His baby. His little girl. She was too young. She was only eighteen. His heart ached. He had lost his child. In reality, he had lost her a long time ago. Almost at the same time he had lost her mother. It had just taken him a while to realise it. And yet … What a wonderful gift she would give to him. Lee. But he couldn't allow himself to think of that right now. That would be in the future. This was now. This loss was too real.
Astrid looked like her mother, her auburn hair shimmering in the light. As Dr. Klein watched the ceremony unfold, he was reminded of his own wedding day. Caroline, his bride, the light of his life, had looked at him the way Astrid was looking at Sam. A wave of sadness swept over him. It had been so long since Caroline died, since he had held her hand or kissed her lips. He missed her. She would have been - no, not would have been - she was proud today. For one brief, shining moment, he could feel her presence beside him, the whisper of her spirit touching him lightly in benediction.
Standing beside Sam, Jon still couldn't believe Sam was getting married. His brother? A husband? Jon didn't feel ready for a commitment like this. He couldn't believe Sam was. But as he saw how Astrid looked at Sam, he was envious. No one had ever looked at him that way. Would there ever be someone special in his life? He didn't know. He didn't even know if he wanted anyone to have to share in his secret, to live the life of an outsider with him. It was hard not to be resentful of Sam's relationship with Astrid. It had been a sore point for a long time. But at that moment, seeing his twin happier than he had ever seen him before, Jon managed to do something he had been struggling with for years. He managed to forgive Sam for turning away from him to Astrid. He managed to forgive Astrid for unconsciously displacing him in Sam's affections. He even managed to partially forgive himself for having harboured those bitter feelings.
As the wedding party moved to the side of the chapel to sign the wedding register, Jimmy was focused on only one thing. Lee. His lost love. The one, the only one for him. This was the next step in the process required to bring her to new life. Jimmy regarded Astrid serenely. She was beautiful, but not as beautiful as his once and future love. His feelings were mixed. He was overcome by the sense that events were coming to pass as they were meant to. But his joy was mixed with unrequited longing. He could never be with his love again. When she reached adulthood, he would be too old, and she would be too vital to link herself with a doddering old man. For one more long moment, Jimmy saw Sam and Astrid only as tools to achieve this one, singular purpose, but then he was able to push those bitter feelings aside, and focus on them as individuals again. But oh, he was envious of their happiness. He was a fool.
"And by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Sam took his petite bride in his arms. "Always and forever," he whispered.
"Always and forever," she echoed as their lips met.
Starfire and Sunstorm - 24 years old
Chapter Eight - Shadow
Shadow the dog was not happy. He sat at the base of the old oak tree, peering up into the branches mournfully. Why was his owner sitting up so high on the top branch? Didn't she know that he needed to be scratched behind the ears? Didn't she know that he needed his belly rubbed?
Marty laughed at the plaintive expression on her dog's face so far below. His eyes pleaded, his tail drooped, and every aspect of his body language shouted out his displeasure with her loud and clear. However, when he saw that she was not coming down any time soon, he gave up, stretched out, and was soon making little yipping noises in his sleep.
The dog and his owner played out the same ritual most nights. The top of the tree was the best vantage point for surveying her farm, and that was something Marty liked to do as much as possible. Her farm. A thrill still ran through her every time she thought or said those words. It had been almost three years since she had moved to Smallville full time, and had taken over the day to day operations.
Her parents had wanted her to take Jon up on his offer to send her to university. They had been quite adamant about it, but she had declined. She had been too anxious to take over. She had opted instead to take courses by correspondence over the computer. It had proven to be a lot easier on her. She didn't have to sit in a classroom for hours on end, learning material that she already knew. No, she could do her reading and writing in a flash, and then e-mail it in to be marked. She only needed to show up once a semester to write her final exams. She was due to graduate in another month, and then she would be free of school!
It had been exciting proving herself to the local farmers. The community had always made her feel welcome, but for her to actually run the Kent farm, that was a different matter. Farming was still primarily a man's business - at least in this small corner of the world - and Marty had to prove herself to be capable time and time again. Knowing how they felt about her dad, she had had an advantage over other women. Or had she? Even after so many years of visiting Smallville every summer, and even after having lived here fulltime for the past few years, Marty was still unsure as to whether the locals actually knew her dad was Superman or not. Too many snippets of interesting, intriguing, half-heard, half-understood conversations over the years prevented her from out and out dismissing the possibility that her dad's secret was out. But at the same time, no one had ever said anything to her directly that would lead her to believe that people did know. It was puzzling, but it wasn't something that she could confront directly. 'So, Sheriff Palmer. When my dad took you to the prom, did you know he was going to grow up to be Superman?' Nah. Not a good idea.
That reminded her. Ben Palmer was supposed to be home soon from college. Word was that he was going to set up a new veterinary practice in town. Good thing. Ever since his dad was killed in that car accident, the nearest vet was an hour's drive away. It would be nice to see him. He and Marty had played together when they were younger but Marty hadn't seen him for quite a few years. Being on a scholarship, he hadn't had the money to come home to visit his mom too often. It was too bad the local school didn't offer courses in veterinary medicine. Marty had heard that he always got a job at his college over the summer hiatus doing maintenance. It would sure make it easier for Rachel Palmer to have him at home. She had been pretty lonely the past few years. It would be fun for Marty too. He had been a good buddy to hang around with - a bit dorky, but good company.
Marty had been feeling more than a little lonely herself. Grandma and Papa were gone now, and they were very much missed. Marty smiled sadly to herself, thinking of her grandparents. They had been so pleased by the changes she had just barely started to make at the time of their deaths. They had both told her how proud of her they were. Marty was so grateful that they had both died peacefully in their sleep. It had been hard at the time. Grandma had gone first, very unexpectedly, and Papa had followed her only a week later, almost as if he didn't know how to be alone anymore. Poor Dad had been beside himself, but finally, even he had to accept that this had been merciful and a kind way for his parents to die. Sometimes Marty felt as if she could still sense their presence around her. It was a comfort.
Marty turned her thoughts back to her major concern. She was going to be twenty-one in a week, and she needed to pick a name and design a suit.
After Sam had been spotted flying around with Astrid a few years back, and after all the tabloid fuss about two flying teenagers, Dad had set out rules. They were a bit strict but the kids adhered to them. No major rescues until they were twenty-one. No passengers allowed until they were twenty-one. And, due to the swimsuits that Sam and Astrid had been wearing when they were spotted, no flying unless wearing their plain, black spandex outfits that Grandma had made for them. Marty didn't always follow that rule, like tonight. But she had no intention of leaving the farm, and she kept a good look-out. Luckily, Grandma had taught Marty and her brothers and sister to sew so they could all make their own outfits.
Sam and Jon's outfits were great. Jon wore a one-piece golden suit, with Dad's 'S' crest in red on the front. His cape was an abstract mix of gold, black, and red. He looked like a bonfire. Sam's was bright silver, also with Dad's 'S' crest in red. His cape was an abstract mix of silver, black, and red. The two of them looked absolutely fantastic when they wore their suits.
Her brothers' names were cool too. She thought back to Sam and Jon's twenty-first birthday party. Sam was so smooth the way he came up with his name. Yeah, as if he actually needed to score *more* points with Astrid. She had already been head-over-heels for Sam, and then for him to tell her what he did … Marty could still hear it.
"Astrid, in Latin, your name means 'star' and you're the star in my sky. You set me on fire with love for you. In honour of that love, I pick the name, 'Starfire.'"
Astrid had said "ooh" and "aah" and had thrown herself into Sam's arms. Big surprise there! And it had been no surprise when they had told everyone that they were getting married. Marty would have thought that Mom and Dad, or Uncle Bernie, would have protested a bit that they were too young, but no, they hadn't. They hadn't even asked them to wait until Sam was done school, although he had. How come her mom and dad had pressured her to go to school full time, but Uncle Bernie hadn't with Astrid? Marty shook herself. She was getting angry again and it wasn't worth it. But the whole situation seemed so unfair. Sam and Astrid had been treated differently, and she still couldn't understand why. Oh well, at least Astrid had gone on to school too. She was due to graduate soon also.
Marty forced herself to calm down. Oh, she was lonely. It wasn't like her to be so bitter. But she didn't really have time to make new friends, and she ended up keeping to herself a lot. And her brother had married her best friend who never called, who never wrote, who never … Oh! Just forget it! It was hard to let it go, though. It hurt.
Jon didn't seem to let it affect him. But it was different for him. He hadn't been one of Astrid's best friends. And Jon lived close by to them. He didn't wait for an invitation but just dropped in when he felt like it.
Jon hadn't really known what name to pick. He had finally picked Sunstorm because he wanted the 'storm' part to tie in to Firestorm's name. Now that had been a really cool revelation! Marty remembered how upset her mom and dad had been when the tabloids had started speculating if the new super-dudes were the result of a marriage between Superman and Firestorm. For the longest time, Mom and Dad wouldn't tell their kids who Firestorm actually was. The TV stations had dug out all their old footage of Firestorm, and the tabloids had written all sorts of juicy, gossipy articles linking her to Superman. They had also revived all the old footage about Ultrawoman, but Dad had soon put a stop to that. There had been a couple of women who had figured out at the time of the whole incident that Mom had been Ultrawoman, and Dad had not wanted his wife, Lois Lane, to be linked to Superman.
It had been so neat when Mom and Dad had finally explained to Marty and her siblings that Firestorm was from the future, and that she had come back to help her ancestors conceive children. It would have been even better if Firestorm had told them who she was descended from, but she obviously hadn't as Mom and Dad didn't say. Marty grinned as she remembered the flurry of controversy. It would probably start all over again when she made her own public debut. Just as long as the tabloids didn't start speculating about Superman with Vixen again. That had really set her mom off!
Anyway, her brothers' names and costumes were really great, but that didn't help Marty with her problem. She wanted a name that would have some kind of personal meaning for her. Earthfire? Nah. Nothing really wrong with it, but it just didn't seem to work somehow. Hmmm. 'Storm' - what went well with it? Duststorm? Windstorm? Rainstorm? Thunderstorm? No, no, no, and no. Maybe Tornado? No, Dad already called Mom his little Tornado, and it might get confusing. Plus, Marty had seen the kind of damage a real tornado could do, and she wanted no part of that.
Marty put her problem aside for a moment to survey the barn. She could hear the rustling of her chickens' feathers as they shifted in their sleep. She could hear the snorting snores of her pigs. And she could hear the soft, breathy sounds of her cattle. She grinned to herself. How many other farmers got all aflutter listening to their stock sleep? She had a feeling that she just might be unique in that regard!
Hmmm. Farmerwoman? Chickengirl? Porkchop? She laughed. Now she was getting plain silly!
Hey, what the …?
As she watched, Starfire swooped down to the front porch of her house and knocked loudly. Shadow jumped to his feet, confused, as he hadn't heard anyone coming, and started barking wildly.
"I'm up here," she called.
Her brother jumped into the air, scooped her off her perch and swung her exuberantly through the air.
"Sam?! What the heck?"
"Marty! I'm going to be a father!"
Marty whooped and swung him around her in turn. They stopped in mid-air, hovering in front of each other, bobbing up and down lightly in the breeze.
"This is so cool! How's Astrid feeling?"
"Excited and a little scared."
"And how about you?"
"Excited and a lot scared!" Sam grinned at her. "I want to get back to her, but I had to come and tell you."
"I'm so happy for you," Marty said sincerely, her past anger all but forgotten.
"Come and see us? Astrid shouldn't fly with me for a while. We don't want to take any chances."
"I'll pop in tomorrow sometime."
"Great!" He gave Marty one more giant bear hug, and darted away.
Marty floated gently down to earth, climbed the steps of the porch and sat down on the swing. Shadow ran to her, jumped up beside her, and stretched out with his head in her lap. Her brother. A father? And Astrid was going to be a mom? The whole thing seemed pretty unreal to her. It would be nice to go visit, though. It was nice to know that Astrid missed her.
She smiled and returned to thinking about a name as she idly stroked her dog's head.
Maybe if she thought of the costume first, she would be able to come up with a name. Did she want bright colours like her dad and her brothers? No. It would make it harder to fly to and away from the farm without being seen. She was basically happy with her plain old black spandex outfit and wasn't in a hurry to trade it in for something different. Maybe she would make her new outfit in a mix of black and grey. The 'S' crest could be in white. That would work. She could make a really cool abstract design. It would also help to hide her figure. She just wasn't as petite as Mom or Vicky, and she really wouldn't feel too comfortable in anything too revealing. Did she want to keep the hood? Yes, she did. She didn't want to have to wear glasses in her everyday life. They would get too dirty when she did the manual labour that the farm demanded. And her blondish hair was hard to disguise. Marty didn't want to flaunt her secret identity; she wanted to keep to the shadows, and stay as unnoticed as possible. The shadows? Shadow! Her hand froze, resting on the dog's fur.
"What do you say, Shadow? Should we share the same name?" she asked with a grin.
The dog sat up at the mention of his name and nudged her hand with his nose, silently begging her to resume petting him.
"You like that, huh? You know what, boy? I think I do too."
Starfire and Sunstorm - 27 years old
Chapter 9 - Lee
*I love you.
You love me.
We're a happy family.
With a great big hug,
And a kiss from me to you,
Won't you say you love me too?*
"Dad! What the heck are you two watching?" Astrid closed the front door behind her and walked into the living room.
"Hi, sweetie. How was your day?" Dr. Klein kissed his daughter on the cheek.
"My day was just fine but don't change the subject. What is that?"
"You should know. You used to love Barney."
"The operative words are 'used to,'" she laughed. "Don't tell me those old shows are being rerun."
"Of course not. I dug out some of your old videos the other day. I thought Lee might like them."
The two adults turned in unison and surveyed the three and a half-year-old sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the television. She was singing merrily, albeit tunelessly, along with Barney, blowing him kisses all the while. Dr. Klein and his daughter grinned at each other.
Astrid waited patiently for a few seconds while the credits rolled and the song finished, and then she swooped down upon her daughter. Tossing her in the air, she asked, "How is my hippity-hoppity Bunny Rabbit today? How was nursery school?"
"Mommy, guess what? I'm going to be in a play!" Lee exclaimed, completely focused on her news.
"A play!" Astrid exclaimed in mock amazement. "What are you going to be? Should I guess?"
Lee nodded enthusiastically. She looked sternly at her grandfather. "Gramps, no telling."
Dr. Klein grinned as he drew a cross on his chest. "I won't tell, I promise. Cross my heart."
"Hmm, let me think. I bet it's Alice in Wonderland and you're going to fall down the rabbit hole." Astrid said, seriously.
Lee fiercely shook her head.
"Okay, second guess. Um, I bet it's Peter Pan and you're going to be Tinkerbell."
"No!" Lee shook her head again. She wriggled in excitement, still in her mother's arms.
"Okay, last guess. If I'm wrong, you're going to have to tell me. Hmm, I bet you're going to be in Sleeping Beauty and you're the Princess."
"No!" Lee exclaimed triumphantly. "You lose. You couldn't guess!" she taunted. "I'm going to be a broccoli!"
"A broccoli!" Astrid exclaimed. She glanced at her father and quirked an eyebrow.
"They're studying healthy foods this month," he explained sotto voce.
"Mommy," Lee interrupted. "We can ask special people to come and see our play. Can I ask Nana and Papa? Please? And maybe Uncle Jon too?"
"Of course you can, bunny. We'll call them right after supper, okay?"
"Okay." Lee squirmed in her mother's arms. "Now can I watch more Barney?"
"Sure, sweetie - if I hear the magic word."
"Pleeeaaase!" Lee wheedled.
Astrid hugged Lee quickly and put her down. "Off you go, honey. Do you need Gramps or me to change the tape for you?"
"Nope, I'm a big girl now, Mommy. I can do it. Gramps showed me." Lee marched over to the VCR and carefully ejected one tape and inserted another.
Dr. Klein and Astrid started moving towards the kitchen.
Astrid grinned as she looked at her father. "My daughter, the broccoli! Who would have thought it?"
Dr. Klein laughed. "I watched the first rehearsal today. We're in for a treat!"
"So, when is it being performed?"
"Three weeks from now, the afternoon of the sixteenth. I think the nursery school teachers are being overly optimistic with such a short time for rehearsals but it's not my call." He chuckled. "Thank goodness it's not my call."
"So, Dad, would you like to stay for supper tonight?" Astrid asked.
"Not tonight, honey. I have some snacks - some healthy snacks - to get ready for tomorrow's session at school." Dr. Klein replied.
"Are you finding it too tiring helping at the nursery school two days a month?"
"No way," he said with a laugh. "I have a ball with those kids. The teachers aren't quite sure what to do with me, though. They're not used to having a grandfather help out. They have their fair share of grandmothers, but I'm the first grandfather who comes in to help."
"It's not as if you're not experienced. I always felt so special when I was Lee's age, and you helped in my nursery school."
Dr. Klein smiled. "I loved it when you were that age, just like I'm enjoying Lee now. Anyway," he briskly changed the subject, "I better get going if I want to stop at the store for groceries. I'll see you tomorrow, okay, sweetie?"
"Sure, Dad. Can you let yourself out please? I'm going to start supper. Sam has been working awfully hard lately. I'd kind of like to have supper waiting for him when he gets home."
Astrid kissed her father on the cheek. He walked back into the living room.
"Lee, I'm going home now."
Lee threw her arms around Dr. Klein's neck.
"Bye, Gramps. Are you going to play with me again tomorrow?"
"I sure am, sweetheart, and I'm going to help at your school again just like I did today."
"Yay! I like it when you help!"
"I know you do. I do, too." He put her down. "Off you go, watch the end of your movie, and then you can go into the kitchen and give your Mom a hand with supper."
"Okay, Gramps. I like being Mommy's helper. Maybe we can make broccoli! See you tomorrow." As per their regular routine, Lee blew him a kiss. He pretended to catch it and then blew her one back. She mimicked him, then turned back to the TV.
As he put away his groceries, Dr. Klein reflected on the past few years. He had been delighted when Astrid became pregnant with Lee. He had eagerly anticipated Lee's birth, remembering her vividly from her trip to the past when she was a twenty-year-old.
It had been a shock to the system when his daughter had placed such a tiny bundle into his arms. Realistically, he had known that his twenty-year-old granddaughter that he remembered from twenty-five years before was actually going to return to his life in the form of a baby, but somehow, it had still been a surprise. It had taken him a few days to see his new granddaughter for herself, not overlaid with memories of what had been.
And when his daughter and son-in-law, without any prompting from him, had named her Lee, for Astrid's mother's maiden name, and for one of Sam's middle names, he had been thrilled. It had been, somehow, a vindication of all the pain he had gone through when his beloved Caroline had died in childbirth.
Astrid had wished to go back to her job in the advertising agency after only a few weeks off, and he had been quick to volunteer to baby-sit Lee every day. It made his retirement much more interesting.
It was good for Lee too. Sam and Astrid seemed to lead too sheltered a life. Oh, Dr. Klein guessed that it was perfectly understandable; they did have a pretty big secret to protect, but it wasn't healthy. They needed more friends, but they weren't willing to take the chance. It might be better if they had more children, but Astrid had not only had difficulty conceiving but had also had a very scary pregnancy and delivery. That whole period of their marriage had been difficult because of it. If they asked, he knew he would be advising them not to risk having another child. They hadn't approached him for his help in conceiving again, which was good. And he knew from his oh-so-special past and future grandchild that she had been an only child.
Nevertheless, it had been delightful to watch his tiny, perfect grandchild thrive and grow over the last few years. And she was developing so quickly intellectually, also. She could already play a credible game of chess, actually beating him a couple of times. Sam and Astrid had been concerned that Lee might not fit in with her peers, hence the nursery school.
All their fears seemed quite groundless, however. She fit in very well at school.
He was relieved that, so far, there were no signs of the hostility towards Clark that he remembered so vividly. He was always watching, hoping that he could somehow nip those angry feelings in the bud. Perhaps, he wondered, he was exaggerating those feelings in his memories. He certainly hoped so.
He feared, however, that he did indeed remember correctly Lee's feeling of alienation from the rest of her family. Astrid and Sam kept in close contact with Marty and Ben, but only over the phone or by e-mail. Lee was getting smart enough and old enough to figure out things that she wasn't supposed to figure out yet, and it was just too dangerous for them to fly back and forth so frequently. Instead, they were planning on visiting just a couple of times a year by conventional modes of transportation.
Jon did drop in a lot, and Vicky made a point of visiting on her school breaks. But would it be enough? What else could he do to prevent Lee from becoming so isolated from her family? And thinking about it logically, he knew that he wouldn't succeed in dissipating her fears and concerns, but he had to try.
He sighed. All this wool-gathering wasn't getting the snacks prepared for the nursery school. He got his storage containers out and got to work.
Over the next couple of weeks, Lee threw herself completely into her role as 'broccoli'. She practiced her one line over and over again. Dr. Klein reflected that she might lack confidence in her line, but he could say it in his sleep.
She was so excited. Every time she saw her Nana Lois, her Papa Clark, and her Uncle Jon, she reminded them that her play was on the sixteenth. She made them all solemnly promise that they would be there.
The big day arrived. Astrid had arranged her schedule so that she had the whole day off work. It was easy for her Uncle Jon to arrange his schedule so that he would be free. Sam, Lois and Clark had blocked off four hours in the middle of the day - more than enough time to have lunch with their family and then see a nursery school play. It was a little hard on the Planet to lose their three best reporters at once, but it was for only a few hours. Dr Klein had enjoyed sleeping in that morning. He didn't do it very often, being so busy looking after Lee.
Lunch was fun. Of course, Lee had been completely distracted. She was so excited. She had just about driven all the adults crazy asking whether it was time to leave. Even so, the adults had enjoyed their conversation very much. Jon had been at the top of his form, keeping them all laughing. He was especially good at amusing his young niece.
It was amazing the difference between Sam and his twin. Sam was extremely conservative and serious, sometimes stodgy. He was the stereotypical head of the household, Pater Familias. There was nothing *not* to like about Sam, but he wasn't as interesting as his brother.
Jon was an interesting character. He did take his Super-hero responsibilities seriously but treated his personal life in a bit of a cavalier fashion. He was a true free spirit, able to travel here or there on a whim at the drop of a hat. To his credit, though, he was an excellent uncle for Lee. He had gone through a very intense spate of dating around the time Sam and Astrid had got married but had dropped it fairly quickly. He too was a bit of a hermit. Dr. Klein always felt a bit sorry for Jon. He was always searching but never finding.
Dr. Klein had enjoyed Lois and Clark's company as always. He reflected ruefully that it was possible he wasn't exactly the type of friend they would have chosen, but they were stuck with him now. And to be truthful, they were not exactly the type of friends he would have chosen either. They really didn't have a lot in common, and there were almost 15 years between them in age. But it had been rewarding being their friend. He hadn't chosen it, but he was very glad that it had happened. And of course, they had both been a wonderful help when Caroline had died leaving him alone, his hands full, trying to cope with a newborn daughter. They were his family.
Jimmy, too, had been a wonderful helper with Astrid. He had babysat, run errands, and otherwise made himself indispensable to Dr. Klein, and he was missed very much. For the umpteenth time, Dr. Klein wondered about Jimmy's disappearance three years before. He had the feeling that there was more involved than a simple vanishing act. But he had no way to check out his suspicions. Jimmy's letter had been very bare of facts. At least he had reassured them that he was okay and happy. Poor Clark had searched and searched, but he had never found a trace of him.
Finally, to Lee's relief, lunch was over, and it was time for her to dress in her special 'broccoli' costume. She looked adorable with her green top and leggings. Her face, too, was painted green. The crowning glory was a cap that one of the moms who helped at the school had made. It covered her auburn hair completely and was topped with green, tissue paper wrapped wires, making her head look like a forest had sprouted on top of it.
Her little feet dancing in her excitement, Lee led her six special adults into the nursery school. She could barely contain herself. Astrid was about to take Lee backstage with her teachers when Lee stopped her.
"Mom, I want Gramps to come with me. He has to help me practice one more time."
"Is that okay with you, Dad? I mean, you bring her here practically every day."
"Sure, honey. And the teachers are used to me. It's okay, really."
Dr. Klein led Lee by the hand backstage.
"This is it, sweetie. Let's hear that line of yours."
Lee grinned at him, her teeth flashing incongruously white in the midst of her green face. "Okay, Gramps. After the apple's done talking, I say 'Broccoli is green in hue. Broccoli is good for you.'"
"Very good, honey." Dr. Klein couldn't help but smile. Lee's teachers were not exactly Pulitzer Prize winners but they sure tried hard. He continued, "I know you're going to do a great job, Lee. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks, Gramps. I better go with the other kids now, okay?"
"Okay, honey. I'll be watching you."
Dr. Klein handed Lee over to her teachers and watched for a moment as she chattered excitedly with the other children. He finally left to rejoin the others.
The auditorium had filled up quite a bit since Dr. Klein had been backstage. He had to practically crawl over people in order to make his way to his seat.
The adults talked idly while they listened in amusement to the hustle and bustle coming from behind the curtain. As the lights started to dim, Clark, Jon, and Sam's heads snapped up in perfect unison. Jon immediately got up and quickly left the room.
"Oh no, honey. What is it?" Astrid whispered as she placed her hand on Sam's arm. Lois, too, was regarding Clark in concern.
Clark whispered to the group. "It sounds like a train derailment."
Astrid hissed, "Jon can handle it, can't he?"
Sam answered, "He can't handle it on his own. He's going to need some help."
Clark placed his hand on his son's arm. "I'll go. You have to stay. This is your daughter, after all. She needs you here."
He got up and started crawling over people, apologizing as he went. The curtains opened. The children were already in their places. Dr. Klein watched Lee. Her face dropped as she watched her Papa Clark leave the auditorium.
The kids did well with the play. Miracle of miracles, no one forgot a line. But through it all, the only thing Dr. Klein was aware of was the stricken look on Lee's face.
He had a horrible feeling that he hadn't overestimated Lee's feelings at all.
Starfire and Sunstorm - 30 years old
Chapter 10 - Sunstorm
"A glass of wine, Madam?"
Jon watched his sister shake her head and instead take a glass of ginger ale from the server's proffered tray. She quietly thanked him and moved back to the protection of her older brother's side. From that safe vantage point, she surveyed the bustling art gallery.
He grinned at her. "You could have had a glass of wine. No one would know that you're not twenty-one yet."
She sipped her ginger ale delicately. "Yeah, but I would know."
"Girl scout," he muttered before turning back and watching the milling throng once again.
"There's a good crowd here, Jon," Vicky pointed out, virtuously ignoring his teasing comment. "Sometimes I still find it hard to believe that so many people want to see your work."
Jon chuckled. "Vic, only a couple of them are here to see my paintings; most of them are here to see and be seen by each other." At Vicky's questioning look he continued, "A lot of them know nothing about art except as an investment. Would you believe at my last show, I actually had someone ask if I would repaint one of my abstracts and change the colours so it would match their living room!" He laughed at Vicky's horror-filled expression and changed the subject. "Come on. You haven't seen all my paintings yet. Let me give you the grand tour." He threw his arm loosely around his sister's shoulders.
Jon was enjoying his youngest sister's company. The nine year gap in their ages had prevented them from really getting to know each other well in the past, but being the only two unmarried siblings of the family, they had started hanging out more and more with each other. When she had graduated from Oberlin two weeks ago, Jon had invited her to stay with him. It was no problem; he had lots of space in his loft apartment. Vicky had jumped at the offer, telling him that she hadn't been looking forward to moving back in with mom and dad and being treated like a kid again. Oh, they both knew that mom and dad would try hard not to do it, but they were parents. They wouldn't be able to help themselves.
Jon was really beginning to appreciate the agile mind and subtle sense of humour hidden behind Vicky's shy facade. Over the last two weeks, he had got into the habit of asking her to be his "date" for events like tonight's art show and for charity events. This way, he didn't have to worry about unpleasant romantic entanglements anymore.
The worst thing about being wealthy and famous was dealing with all the people who didn't really see him as a person but only as an opportunity. He had been the target of more get-rich schemes and more matrimonial machinations than most of his peers. His mom and dad had sheltered him from that kind of thing when he was younger but he was on his own now. They still were there offering him advice when it was requested but otherwise kept out of his business. He appreciated their watchful attitude; it was comforting.
After the umpteenth time of having his date make more moves on him than he was comfortable receiving, he had said 'the heck with it' to himself. Enough. No more dating. He was quite content going solo or having Vicky's company. Before Vicky had become available, Astrid had accompanied him to charity events for a long time as she found that kind of thing invaluable for networking and Sam had had no interest in accompanying her. But as her business got busier and her time with Sam and Lee at more and more of a premium, she had cut back considerably on the socializing. Luckily Astrid's bowing out had coincided wonderfully with his baby sister's college graduation. Jon had then asked Vicky if she would be interested in helping him out from time to time, and here they were.
Their tour of the gallery nearly didn't happen, as Jon was delayed by many back-slappers boisterously greeting him and shouting their congratulations in his face. Vicky stepped back out of the crowd and waited patiently for him to divest himself of the unwelcome attention. He caught sight of her on the fringes of the group, patiently waiting. He was pleased to see no sign of nervousness at the hustle and bustle around her. She had really made great strides in the last couple of months.
Jon was finally done with the back-slapping and the hand-shaking and the congratulations and the two of them disappeared into the gallery proper. It was surprising to Vicky that with the reception area of the gallery so crowded for Jon's much anticipated new show, there were actually not that many people looking at the paintings. Jon wasn't surprised, though. He had seen it time and time again. What had someone said to him once? 'No one goes to these things to actually *see* the paintings, dahling!' Jon shook his head as he remembered being told that.
Anyway, Vicky was a much better audience than the jaded cynics who were loading up on free food and drink. Jon found himself watching the play of expression on her face as she flitted from one painting to the next. He could hardly wait until she saw his surprise, his anticipation building as they neared it.
Vicky gasped and gaped at Jon when she caught sight of her portrait. He had never painted her in this way before, but then he had never really gotten to know her before. Vicky's reaction was everything that he had hoped for. Her hands flew up to her neck as if to verify that it was really as long and as graceful as he had painted it. From there, they reached up to feel for herself the high cheekbones that were on the canvas in front of her. She was silent for a long moment, her eyes never budging from the mirror image that faced her. Jon was content to watch her, drinking in the moment.
"Jon, I don't know what to say. It's beautiful," Vicky said softly.
"Sis, you're beautiful."
"Well, I, oh, how am I going to say this without sounding awful. I mean, I know I am, but that's just how I look. It doesn't really mean anything. The way you've painted me, I'm beautiful on the inside."
Jon smiled warmly at her. "Vic, I painted what I saw."
Her eyes brimming with tears, Vicky reached out to her brother and gave him a warm hug.
Jon hugged her hard, then pulled himself away and grinned. "Come on. Let's go back and enjoy all the *beautiful* people."
Vicky wiped her eyes, then giggled and linked her arm into his as they headed back to the reception area.
It was late. By the time all the last of the hangers-on had left the art gallery, it was after two in the morning. It was such a nice night, Jon and Vicky had wasted no time deciding to walk back to the apartment.
Vicky skipped a little ahead of Jon on the sidewalk, caught up to a discarded pop can, and kicked it a little further ahead again, continuing her game. He ambled along behind at a comfortable pace, enjoying watching his baby sister away from the confines of the busy art show.
By the silvery light of the moon, and in her loose and flowing cocktail dress, his baby sister looked like an ethereal woodland creature incongruously transported to the city. She shimmered and gleamed, positively unearthly looking on the dark street. Tiring of playing, she flipped the pop can up into the air with her foot and, judiciously using her breath, launched it into a garbage can. She moved back to her brother's side and resumed walking sedately again.
"Anyone watching you right now would never guess that you're going to be twenty-one next week."
Vicky looked at him archly but didn't respond to his comment.
They walked in silence for a few moments before Jon finally spoke up. "Have you decided what you're going to do now?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know you're welcome to stay for as long as you want but have you decided what you want to do with your life? I know mom and dad are going to be asking you about your future pretty soon."
Jon continued, "This is different for you than it was for me."
Vicky looked at him questioningly.
"What I mean is, I knew I was going to be an artist from the first time Grandma and I talked about painting. I've been very lucky. I was more than paying my way from the beginning. So I didn't have to worry about money or work when I turned twenty-one; I had that pressure removed. Donning your costume for the first time and announcing your Super-hero name to the world - it's a lot of stress. When you add job-hunting to that …"
"I know. I remember what you and Sam went through - being the first. The tabloids were pretty vicious in their coverage of you two. All that speculation as to who was your mom - was she from Krypton or from Earth? Was Dad married or did he have an affair? Did you guys have the same mother? What was Kryptonian sex like? It got pretty nauseating. Sometimes I think Dad should have just decided to lie about the whole thing. He could have said Mom was from New Krypton or something instead of saying 'no comment' all the time but the fuss did die down eventually." Vicky shook her head as she remembered what had happened nine years before.
"Yeah, the fuss did die down," Jon agreed, "but it started up again when Marty announced herself. And Vic, it's only going to get worse next week when you don your costume." He saw his shy sister wince at his words.
"I know," she said softly. "But it'll stop again. I'll just have to be patient." She was quiet for a moment before asking, "Do you ever wonder about what it must have been like for Dad? He didn't have anyone to help him except Grandma and Grandpa. No one had ever heard of Krypton or Super-heroes and suddenly there he was, flying around and eating bombs. The whole thing must have been pretty overwhelming."
They continued walking, not talking as they each thought about how lonely their dad must have been.
"At least he had Mom," Jon eventually said.
"Not right away, though, Jon. Remember what Dad said - it was two or three years before she found out and before they got together, you know, romantically," Vicky pointed out.
"True." Jon opened his mouth to continue, closed it and then opened it again. "Do you ever wonder …?"
"Do I ever wonder what?"
"Do you ever wonder …" he repeated wistfully, "if there's, there's someone out there for you … or for me?"
"Yeah, I do," Vicky said, sighing heavily. "From what I can see, it's easier to, you know, handle all the stress if you have someone there for you. Dad has Mom. Sam has Astrid. Marty has Ben. But I still remember what it was like for Marty before she and Ben got together. I think it must be easier having someone in your life like that. I'm not looking forward to the, the messy car accidents, or the explosions, or anything where everything's over before you even get there. How do you handle it, Jon?"
Jon stopped walking, pensive as he considered her question. Vicky stopped also and turned to face him.
"Mom and Dad are a big help, you know that. They're both really good at helping me sort through my emotions. And you know what they're like. Ever since I found out about Dad, they've both been drilling it into my head that one person can't do everything and …"
"And that you can't be everywhere at once and …" Vicky interrupted.
"That sometimes there's nothing that can be done to prevent a death," they finished together.
Jon grinned at Vicky. "Sounds like you know the party line too."
Vicky couldn't help but giggle.
"Seriously, Vic, it can be pretty bad sometimes. I channel a lot of my anger and, well, I can only call it despair, into my art. It's kind of ironic but I think it makes me a better artist." He smiled briefly in amusement before continuing, "You know, most successful artists have horrible personal lives. Their relationships are a mess, their health poor, they're drug addicts or alcoholics or both. Like I said before, I'm lucky. I have a great family and I don't have any choice as to whether I'm in good health or whether I abuse drugs or alcohol. I mean, let's face it. Unless there's Kryptonite around, neither one of us is going to ever get sick and neither one of us is going to get drunk or high either."
Vicky giggled. "All my roommates at college were amazed by my uh, capacity for booze. When we went out, people would take turns buying me drinks just to see if they could make me drunk. I'd go along with it just to see their reactions. I'd finally start acting slightly tipsy after 9 or 10 shots. I finally gave it up, though. I had enough of babysitting roomies who had decided to try and keep up with me!"
Trying not to laugh, Jon looked and her and shook his head. "I wish I could have seen it, Vic. I mean, you look like you'd float away on a stiff breeze."
Vicky giggled. "You forget, big brother. I have been known to float away on a breeze."
The two of them laughed heartily before resuming walking towards Jon's apartment.
"Jon, is it okay if I ask you something? Something personal?"
"Sure. I don't guarantee I'll answer but you can always ask."
Vicky glanced quickly at Jon and then pointedly faced forward. "Being the tag-on of the family, I missed a lot of what you, Sam and Marty were doing but I always got the feeling that …" she paused, looked worried but then finished in a rush, "that you were jealous of Sam's relationship with Astrid."
Jon didn't answer for a few moments. Vicky walked quietly beside him, her eyes darting to him, obviously worried that her question had disturbed him.
"I'm not jealous of Sam's relationship with Astrid," Jon said slowly, "but I am of Astrid's relationship with Sam."
"I don't understand."
"Okay, you know I love Astrid, right? I think of her as my third sister. I don't want Astrid, romantically; I never have. So I'm not jealous in the traditional sense. But Sam, he's my twin. I can't think of anyone in the world that I feel closer to than him. Not even Mom and Dad. I can't imagine what it would be like to have a day go by when I don't see him. We don't even have to talk. We can sit in a room together reading the paper and that's enough for me. It's like he's a part of me. But when Sam's around Astrid, it's like I'm not a part of him. He focuses completely on her, and I guess that's the way it should be - she's his wife, after all - but it still hurts at times." Jon smiled wryly at Vicky. "I'm used to it, sort of, and I like Astrid; I really do. But yeah, sometimes I'm still jealous."
"Is that why you went crazy dating around the time they got married?"
Jon shook his head, remembering. "Yeah. I was so incredibly and desperately lonely; I can't even begin to explain how I felt. It was like he deserted me. I went nuts and dated everyone in sight but …" He shrugged. "I didn't meet anyone I felt right with. You know what I mean?"
Vicky smiled sadly. "Yeah. I dated a lot in college - nice guys and everything, but nothing seemed to, you know, mesh or fit. I finally gave up and just hung around with my friends. It was too hard. I had some guys fall for me and it hurt to tell them that there could never be anything more."
Jon laughed. "Just imagine adding my personal wealth into the mix. Once I decided to stop playing the field, I just about had to fend them off with a stick! I can never tell if someone is attracted to me because of my money or not."
"And that's why you've given up looking for someone," Vicky concluded.
Jon nodded in confirmation.
"Me too," admitted Vicky. "I figure it will happen or it won't happen, but you can't force it."
"Exactly," agreed her big brother.
They fell silent once again. After a few moments, it was Jon's turn to ask his baby sister a question.
"Have you picked a name or a costume yet?"
Vicky smiled. "Yes, I have."
"Do you want to tell me or have me wait for your party to find out like everyone else?"
"I'll tell you but you can't tell anyone else, especially Dad. It's a surprise for him."
"What is it?" Jon asked eagerly.
"Do you remember seeing pictures of Dad when the New Kryptonians came? You know, all in black?"
"Yeah, Uncle Jimmy showed me a pile of them. I think I still have those pictures in some of the boxes of stuff we took out of his place when he disappeared."
"Well, I decided on a black suit like his, midnight blue 'S' symbol, belt and boots. I'm adding a black hood and a midnight blue cape. What do you think?"
"Sounds great. It's funny, though. You and Marty picked dark, unobtrusive colours and Sam and I picked the flashy ones."
"I think it's harder for a woman to disguise herself than a man. I don't know why. But when I look at pictures of Dad as Superman, well, he looks completely different from Clark Kent. But when I see those old pictures of Mom as Ultrawoman, well, let's just say, I don't think I would have been fooled. So, it kind of makes sense for Marty and me to try and stay in the background a bit."
Jon nodded in agreement. "Have you picked a name?"
Vicky blushed. "I did. Is it ever hard picking a name! I mean, Mom named Dad but if she hadn't, do you think he would have called himself Superman? He probably would have picked something more like 'Friend' or 'Helper'. I wanted to pick something cool sounding but not pretentious. What do you think of 'Nightwind'?"
"I like it!" Jon exclaimed enthusiastically. "I think it kind of suits you. Not like 'Sunstorm'. It doesn't suit me at all."
"I don't know, Jon. A storm is full of passion and power. You've got a lot of that hidden deep inside you. All I have to do is look at your art to know that. I actually think your name really does fit you."
"Thanks," Jon said, pleased at her offhanded assessment.
They had arrived at Jon's apartment. He was about to approach the door with his key when Vicky laid her hand gently on his arm and pulled him to a stop.
"Wait a second. Before we go in, I want to answer your question."
"What question?" Jon turned away from the door to face her once again.
"You asked me what I wanted to do with my life."
Jon looked at her curiously. "You sound like you've made a decision."
"Actually, you could say that a decision was made for me." Vicky grinned at her big brother.
"What do you mean?" Jon asked, puzzled.
"Well, journalism classes were great. I really enjoyed them. I figured I'd end up a reporter like Mom, Dad and Sam. I thought it must be in my blood. I heard, we all heard so many stories from Mom and Dad, Uncle Perry and Uncle Jimmy; I never thought of being anything else."
Jon nodded in agreement as she spoke.
"So it only made sense that I major in Journalism. Then I had to decide on a minor."
"You picked English for your minor, didn't you?" Jon asked.
"Yeah," Vicky answered, nodding her head. "And one of the classes that I decided to take was Creative Writing. I enjoyed it so much in Freshman year that I took more Creative Writing courses over the next three years."
Jon waited patiently for what his sister was trying to tell him.
"One of my profs really liked my writing and was really complimentary so he helped me make contacts and …" Vicky grabbed Jon's hand and started pulling him back down the street, "I guess it's easier to just show you. Look!" She pointed in the window of a local bookseller's.
Jon looked at the display and then looked blankly at Vicky, completely nonplussed, not comprehending what she was trying to tell him. "I don't get it."
"See that book there by Victoria El? The one called 'Rainbows?'"
Jon nodded. "I read that book."
"I know." Vicky grinned. "And I wrote that book."
"You did?" Jon exclaimed, completely flabbergasted.
Vicky nodded happily.
"I loved that book."
"It's on the bestseller list."
"You're Victoria El?" Jon was having a hard time comprehending what his sister had just told him."
"Yep." Vicky beamed, obviously enjoying his reaction.
Jon whooped, grabbed her around the waist and swung her in a circle before setting her back on her feet. "I can't believe it! My baby sister! Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell Mom and Dad?"
Vicky giggled. "I wanted to surprise everyone. I'm going to announce it at my birthday party next week."
"I'm surprised! I'm very surprised! Wow, I can hardly wait to see everyone's faces. This is so great. I'm so proud of you, Sis." Jon pulled Vicky into a warm hug.
"Thanks, bro. I'm pretty proud of me too." Vicky linked her arm in Jon's and started to lead him back to his apartment.
He pulled her to a stop. "Wait. How long have you been keeping this a secret? That book's been on the bestseller week for a few weeks."
Vicky grinned. "Three weeks, to be exact. I signed the contract about a year ago, but I wanted to wait to see if it would succeed or if it would sink without a trace. Well, it did succeed."
Jon blinked at the understatement.
Vicky tugged at Jon's arm and once again started to lead him back to his apartment.
Jon followed, alternating between looking back over his shoulder at the display in the bookstore window and regarding his baby sister proudly. His family never ceased to amaze him. He wondered who was going to surprise him next.