By Annie M <email@example.com>
Submitted: January 2002
Summary: When Lois has a baby unexpectedly dumped on her doorstep, she and Clark have to juggle taking care of the baby and solving the mystery of his origins. Meanwhile, they must deal with their evolving relationships — both with each other and with the baby.
I just want to thank everyone who has helped and encouraged me while I was writing and editing this. This is my first full-length story, and it's certainly more than I bargained for. It took on a life of its own, and wound up being a completely different story than I originally envisioned.
Special thanks to Sarah and Kathy, my BRs, who were more help than I can possibly put into words. And thanks to everyone on Zoomway's Boards and IRC who encouraged me to post, and then to send it to the archives.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the episode references at the beginning, this takes place directly following Season's Greedings.
- North Hollywood, CA -
"Just think about what you're saying! I know this is hard, but it's the best thing to do. We decided this ages ago — you can't just back out now." The tall blond man paced back and forth in the small apartment's living room.
The young woman clutched the baby in her arms. "I know, Jason, I know! It's just different now that he's here, you know… He's so sweet and tiny. I want to keep him, Jason. We can do it! Come on, it won't be that bad. It'll be fun once we get used to it. I know lots of girls I went to high school with who already have babies."
The man heaved a heavy sigh and ran his fingers through his hair roughly. "How?! How are we going to keep it? How will we afford it? I'm an artist, you know that. I can't be tied down like this. And you don't even have job. And the agency already paid all of the medical bills, you know. We don't have health insurance; how will we ever repay that?"
"I don't know! I don't know! I just know that I don't want to give him up." She paused, then said hesitantly, "You know, I could always call my parents…"
"Oh, that's a great idea! Why didn't I think of that?" Jason asked sarcastically. "You haven't talked to them in a year. They don't even know that you were pregnant — you *said* you didn't want to tell them. How are you going to explain this to them? And do you really think they are going to support you? I know this is hard, but this is why I told you that you shouldn't even see the baby after it was born-"
"HE! Jason, he's not an *it*, he's your son and his name is Jacob. Stop referring to him as 'it' or 'the baby!' He's two weeks old and you haven't even held him yet! God, Jason — He's *your* son too, not just mine!"
"That is not helping! Don't you see that? Naming him and bonding with him is just going to make it harder when you have to give him up. And let's stop kidding ourselves here, we both know that eventually we *are* going to have to give him up."
"No, Jason. No. I'm not giving him up," she whispered forcefully.
The man grabbed his black leather jacket from the chair and fled the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
The slamming door startled the baby from his sleep and he began to cry. The young woman collapsed wearily onto the sofa and rocked the baby gently. "Shh…it's OK, Jacob. He'll change his mind. He'll be back."
When he continued to cry, she stood and began pacing, jiggling him gently. "Come on, Jacob. It's OK. I've got you. Everything is going to be OK."
His cries escalated, and her sympathy began to fade. "Come *on.* Stop crying! What is *wrong* with you?!"
The baby only cried louder, and she began to cry too. "What do you want?! I can't take this! Just stop crying!"
"I don't know what her problem is," the blond man said agitatedly. He sat in the back of the quiet cafe and spoke in muted tones into a small cell phone. "No, I'm sure she doesn't suspect anything, she's just freaked out and changed her mind."
He ran his fingers through his hair and nodded as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line. "I know, I know. I told her all of that. She said we could ask her family for help—"
"You don't think she'd actually call them, do you?" The voice asked.
"No, I don't think she'll actually call them. You know she's not close to her family, that's one of the requirements. I think she just needs a little time to see that it's not going to be the fun and games she's imagining. I'll keep an eye on her from a distance for a couple of days, and when she realizes she can't handle the sleepless nights and calls from creditors alone, I'll 'return' and offer her a way out. She won't be able to resist."
"Well, for your sake, you better hope so. I can't have business dealings with failures."
"Yes sir," he replied, but the line had already gone dead.
- Metropolis -
Lois smiled as she read through the final draft of the story on her screen. The article wasn't earth-shattering, but it was solid and she was pleased with her work.
Clark glanced up from his desk, letting his gaze rest for a second on his partner as she typed the keys to send the story to their editor. He smiled reflexively at the self-satisfied grin on her face.
Lois felt his eyes on her and looked up slowly. Their eyes met and locked for a second before Lois yanked her eyes away, blushing shyly. 'Get a grip Lane!' she told herself sternly. She couldn't believe she was acting like a silly school girl. This was just Clark. Well not *just* Clark…that wasn't what she meant. He was a pretty incredible guy, she didn't mean to imply that… But, he was just *Clark*…her best friend. She'd never felt giddy around him before.
When Lois looked up again Clark was approaching. "You look awfully pleased with yourself," he grinned, perching himself on the corner of her desk.
Lois pulled herself together rapidly and grinned back, "Ahh. Another day, another success. Just a typical day in the life of Lois Lane!"
Clark's grin widened as he shook his head. "All right, what do you say we celebrate? Why don't you come over for dinner and a movie?"
Lois faltered for just a second. "It's a date!" she agreed before realizing what she'd said.
Immediately she froze, her mouth half open, "I mean…It's not a date-date. It's just a date…well not even a date so much as a get together…I mean —"
"Lois, calm down. It's just dinner and video. Nothing to panic about." Clark's calm smile belied the myriad of thoughts swirling in his mind. Why did she say date? Was it a Freudian slip? Did she wish it was actually a date? Could it be a date? Perhaps he should ask her…
Lois, calmed considerably, asked, "Do you want me to come straight over, or should I meet you there later?"
"Why don't you go home and change into something comfortable and grab a video on the way over? I'll go home and get dinner started."
Lois nodded in agreement, "I have to talk to Perry, then I'm ready to leave. Do you want me to give you a ride home? It's pretty cold out there."
"I'll be OK. I'm gonna take off now so that I can pick up a few things on the way home. I'll see you in a little bit." Clark smiled and rested his hand on Lois' arm for a moment before turning to go.
Lois headed toward Perry's office and Clark began to gather his things, trying unsuccessfully to stop analyzing Lois' use of the word 'date' and focus, instead, on planning the menu for dinner.
Clark's head snapped up at the soft, familiar voice.
"Mayson? What are you doing here?"
"Well, I… I just wanted to talk to you for a minute."
"Sure. Is there something we can do for you?"
Mayson shifted nervously, and it began to dawn on Clark that the reason for her appearance was not professional.
"Mayson. What do you want?" Lois appeared again, and wasted no time on niceties.
"Hi, Lois. I just came to speak to Clark for a minute." She turned back to Clark. "Can we go somewhere and talk? I just wanted-"
"Don't bother," Lois said quickly. "Clark already has plans tonight, and they don't involve you."
Clark was surprised by the possessiveness in Lois' voice. He was well aware of her feelings for the Assistant DA, but he had always chalked it up to competition. He knew that Lois saw Mayson as a professional rival and that she didn't like having to share his time and attention with her, but for a moment he allowed himself to feel just a flicker of hope that perhaps there was more to it than that.
Mayson looked to Clark for guidance.
"I'm sorry, Mayson. Lois and I already have plans. Maybe another time?" Clark kicked himself mentally. He knew there was no future between him and Mayson, and he felt terrible leading her on, but this just didn't seem to be the time or the place to have that discussion. Maybe he could meet her later in the week and explain to her that he couldn't have a relationship with her, that he just wasn't attracted to her that way. The idea didn't sound like a lot of fun, but it really was necessary — regardless of how things turned out with Lois.
"Actually, that's why I'm here. It turns out that someone I prosecuted this year is now being extradited to San Antonio to be tried there. The DA's office in San Antonio has requested that I come and help them with the case, since we believe the two are related. I'm leaving tomorrow."
Clark wasn't sure what to say. Lois had returned to her desk, but was stealthily watching for his reaction. She was trying to convince herself that she didn't care what Clark's response was, but she felt her stomach twist at the thought that he might cancel their plans to spend time with Mayson on her last night in town.
"That's great, Mayson. I mean, it sounds like it's a great career move."
"It is," she said hesitantly. "It sounds like a great opportunity. Look, Clark, I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be gone for awhile. It may be a month or two before I get back to Metropolis."
Clark fumbled for a minute, no idea how to respond to this statement. Perhaps he should tell her now that there was no future for them? He glanced at Lois, still allegedly straightening her desk, and decided this was not something he wanted to do with an audience.
"Well, I just wanted to let you know. I'll call you when I get back, OK?"
Clark nodded dumbly. Finally he found his voice. "Sure, Mayson. Have a good time in San Antonio. Good luck."
"Thanks." She hesitated, then leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "Bye, Clark."
"Goodbye," he said as she turned and walked away.
He turned and nearly ran into Lois. She raised an eyebrow, but said nothing about the exchange.
"All right, I'm going home to change," she said.
Clark's face lit up in grin. He hadn't realized how worried he was that she would be upset. "Great. I'll see you in a little bit."
She smiled back and he beat back the temptation to kiss her. Instead, he reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear.
"Come on," he said, sliding his arm around her place his hand on the small of her back. "I'll walk you out."
Lois kicked the door shut behind her, knocking the piece of greenery from the back of the door to the floor. She retrieved the decoration and hung it back on the door before tossing her briefcase and purse on the floor and surveying the rest of the room. Christmas decorations still hung around the room, but Lois' attention was immediately drawn to the "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree across the room. When she and Clark had gone looking for a tree she told herself she would choose a beautiful tree and have a beautiful Christmas. Well, it may not have been the most beautiful tree on the lot, but she couldn't just leave it there…and her Christmas had turned out to be pretty wonderful after all.
Lois stopped in front of the tree and lightly traced the star at the top. She still couldn't believe that Clark had given up his plans to spend Christmas with his family, just to stay with her. Sure, he had originally claimed to be snowed it, but when she looked out the window and informed him that it wasn't snowing, all he could do was shrug and smile, "It isn't?"
'He's amazing,' she thought. She knew how much he was looking forward to seeing his parents, and the thought that he was willing to give that up in order to spend that holiday with her was a little overwhelming. And it had been an incredible Christmas — the best she could remember.
Lois closed her eyes for a minute and let herself relive the moment she and Clark placed the star on the tree. Clark smiling at her, holding her hand, and then leaning down ever so slightly…it was as if he was going to kiss her. For a second she was so sure he would…but then nothing. And then the carolers began to sing and they moved to the open window. She had wanted so badly to kiss him, but she hesitated, and then settled for threading her fingers through his and resting her head on his shoulder. Lois sighed and opened her eyes again, shaking her head as if to clear the memory.
She had begun to suspect that there was a great deal more to their relationship than friendship during her wedding debacle. She had tried to tell him then how she felt about him, but he had insisted on speaking first, and the words he spoke broke her heart and destroyed the courage she had worked up to tell him the truth. And so she had backed away, telling herself that it was not meant to be, and that she was obviously mistaken.
But as Clark had nursed her broken heart and wounded pride it became harder and harder to deny the way she was feeling about him. The final straw had come when she thought she had lost him forever. Ever since she had thought Clark was gone — stolen from her by Professor Hamilton's goons- she hadn't been able to deny the way she was feeling about him. Again, she tried to tell him. Silencing the nagging voice of doubt that told her vocalizing her feelings would destroy the peace and joy she had been given by just having him returned safely to her life, she forged bravely forward, and for the first time she put into words her desire to move their relationship further, deeper. When Clark didn't reply she began to fear that he had been telling the truth that day in front of the Planet, and that he was just trying to think of a way to let her down easy. The last thing she expected to see when she glanced over was Clark sleeping soundly, oblivious of the agonizing confession she had just uttered.
And so, again, she pushed away the feelings and desires that had arisen, and tried to move on with their lives in as normal a fashion as she could. And the next time she was temped to tell him how she felt about him — when he had appeared at her apartment on Christmas Eve with his obviously false assertion that his plane had been snowed in — she just couldn't bring herself to tell him. After two foiled attempts she couldn't help but wonder if it was a sign from the Gods that this was not meant to be. So when she looked deep into his eyes, longing to hear him tell her that she was not crazy, that he felt the same way… she just couldn't go first. Not this time. This time she was too scared. Because as much as she wanted to believe that it was his second confession that was the lie, she just wasn't sure. And after having felt the pain of losing him once, there was nothing she would do to jeopardize what they had. So any changes in their relationship had to be Clark's decision. He would have to be the one to make the first move this time.
Lois glanced up at the clock and was dismayed to see how much time had passed while she stood in her reverie. She dashed into the bedroom hurrying to change and praying that maybe tonight Clark would give her a sign of what he wanted.
"I don't know, Mom. She just said, 'It's a date,' and then she about had a heart attack back-pedaling. I don't know why she said it. I don't think *she* knows why she said it."
"Oh, Honey, this is so exciting! I told you she would come around —"
"Mom! Let's not get carried away," Clark sighed. "As much as I would love to believe that Lois wants to move forward, I just can't get my hopes up yet. If I pour my heart out to her again, and she doesn't feel the same way…" Clark's voice trailed off and he silently stirred the pasta and peeked at the bread warming in oven.
"Oh, Clark, I know. Just give her time…I just know you two are meant to be together. I think she's been in love with you for a long time, but she's scared, and she needs to work this out. Don't give up, Honey, I'm sure you'll find each other."
"Thanks Mom. Oh! Here she is. I've got to go. I love you."
"Love you too. Good luck!" Martha grinned gleefully as she hung up the phone.
Outside the door Lois smoothed her hands over her jeans again and nervously tucked her hair behind her ear, her heart pounding beneath her tight violet sweater.
Clark swung the door open confidently, then faltered slightly when he saw her. "Hi," he whispered. She was so beautiful. He wondered if she had any idea what she did to him…
"Come on in, the pasta's almost finished." He ushered her into the room and slipped her coat from her shoulders, his hands tingling at the contact with her arms as he slid it off, just slightly slower than strictly necessary. "Why don't we have some wine while we wait."
Lois looked up at him, at a loss for words. She swallowed nervously, then nodded almost imperceptibly. Their eyes met, and for a moment neither of them moved. Then Clark reached out and placed his hand on the small of Lois' back drawing her closer. She came willingly, almost as if she were in a trance. Clark, bolstered by Lois' tacit agreement, slowly lowered his face toward hers. Lois felt her eyelids slowly flutter closed and silently pleaded with Clark to kiss her, to make the first move, to assure her that he felt the way she did, the way she suspected he did. Clark saw Lois close her eyes and tilt her chin up to receive his kiss. His lips curled into a slight smile and he sighed softly as he brought his other hand up to cup her cheek. He closed his eyes and felt her breath, warm on his lips, then moved to close the nearly indiscernible distance between them.
"BZZZZZ!!!!!!!!" The kitchen timer demanded suddenly, startling them out of their blissful moment. Their eyes snapped open and Lois drew back sharply.
Clark was torn between his need to calm the fear he was sure Lois was feeling over what had just nearly happened, and his yearning to pull her roughly back into his arms and finish what he had finally succeeded in starting.
He took a deep breath and tried to beat back the desire welling in his chest, wanting to reassure Lois of his love, not just his desire; to show her that he was her friend first, not just another man trying to take advantage of her. He raised his eyes to meet hers slowly, cringing at the fear he expected to see there. But instead of horror he saw — disappointment? Longing?
Clark moved instinctively, pulling Lois back, closer even then before. "Lois…" he whispered, looking deep into her eyes and raising his hand to cradle her face again.
"Clark…" Lois replied shakily, anticipation still battling back the nerves and fear just beginning to emerge.
Clark needed no further encouragement. In one swift move he lowered his face and captured her lips with his. Lois melted completely against him, surrendering completely to his touch. Clark ran his hands through her hair and deepened the kiss, emotions threatening to overwhelm him as he felt Lois respond hungrily. She opened her mouth and moaned softly as she felt his tongue slip into her mouth.
They basked in the glow of the kiss for another minute before pulling away. Clark caressed her cheek again and smiled. Lois smiled and ducked her head shyly. Clark took a ragged breath to clear his mind.
"I have to get the bread out of the oven before it burns."
"What?" Lois said, her mind reeling. Bread?
"The bread, Lois. In the oven? The timer."
"Oh…right." Lois smiled again and stepped back from his arms.
Clark strode to the oven and, remembering just in time to grab potholders, removed the Italian bread from the oven. Lois joined Clark in the kitchen as he dished the pasta onto the plates.
Clark picked up the plates and nodded towards the bottle of wine and glasses on the counter, "Why don't you grab the wine, and we'll eat." Lois nodded and reached for wine. As she leaned past him, Clark couldn't resist brushing a kiss across her cheek. When she pulled away he thought that perhaps he had stepped across an invisible line. Instead, Lois turned and smiled at him, then pressed a quick kiss to his lips.
Clark smiled widely and said, "Come on, dinner will be cold before we get around to eating at this point."
They ate in a comfortable near-silence, just enjoying each others company.
After dinner Clark cleaned up quickly while Lois leaned against the counter watching.
He dried the last dish and wiped his hands on the towel before placing one hand on her hip and drawing her close. Lois smiled and reached up to place her hands around his neck, toying with the curls at the nape of his neck.
"Is this really OK, Lois? You don't know how long I've dreamed about this…I just don't want to push you. I need to know what we're doing here."
"Why don't we go sit down and talk?" Lois whispered.
Clark took Lois' hand in his and gently led her to the couch. They sat facing each other. Lois leaned back against the arm of the couch and stared at their joined hands. Slowly she threaded her fingers through his and took a ragged breath.
"Lois…" Clark began hesitantly. Lois raised her eyes to meet Clark's and tried to calm the butterflies wreaking havoc in her stomach. "OK, here we go…If you're half as nervous as I am right now, the best thing we can do is just get this out in the open."
Lois nodded and gripped Clark's hands a little tighter. Clark closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. This was so important; there was no room for error. He had to tell her how he felt, but he had to be careful not to overwhelm her. The last thing he wanted to do was to scare her away when he was finally this close…
He looked into her eyes again, and the words came without thought. "Lois…I have been in love with you from the moment I saw you. I never believed in love at first sight until I met you. And then there you were, and I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think, I couldn't do anything but stammer because I felt like I had just found the part of me that I had been searching for my entire life. And I thought I could never love anyone as much as I loved you in that moment. But you know what? I was wrong…"
Lois flinched and ripped her eyes from his gaze. This was it. She'd blown it. He had been in love with her, but now it was too late. If only she had known… If only she hadn't taken so long to see what was right in front of her.
Clark felt her stiffen and raised his right hand to run it through her hair and cup her cheek. He lifted her chin and waited until her eyes met his again. "Lois, I was wrong because I love you so much more now than I did then. I love you more every day. The more I learn about you, the more I get to know you — the more I love you. And I don't know *how* I know, but I just *know*, that I am *always* going to love you. I've tried to stop — oh God, I've tried. I thought that you could never love me the way that I love you, and your friendship meant so much to me that I tried to make my feelings for you go away. I tried to convince myself that I could be satisfied with your friendship because you couldn't offer me anything else and…and…and I can't live without you. I can't even imagine my life without you. I would do anything to keep you in my life. So I tried so hard to push aside my feelings for you, but I can't, Lois. I just can't do this anymore. I love you. I need you…"
Clark stopped and just stared at Lois. Where had that come from? It was too much too soon. He had just meant to tell her that he had feelings for her and wanted to try dating — not declare his undying love!
"Clark?" Lois' whisper broke into Clark's internal diatribe.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I really did mean to take this slow. I don't want to push you, I swear."
"Clark, please don't apologize. Do you realize that was the single most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me? I…I don't know exactly how to respond, but I do know that what you just said touched me like nothing else ever has."
"I meant it, Lois. I didn't mean to lay it all out on you like this, but it's the truth. I meant every word…and so much more."
"Clark." Lois took a deep breath and drew on the utter sincerity she saw in his eyes for courage. "Clark, I love you too. I don't know when it happened, or how. I just know that somewhere along the line I stopped thinking of you as just a friend. I think on some level maybe I've known all along. But I didn't want to accept it. Clark, I've never been in a relationship that didn't end in disaster, and I don't want that to happen to us! You are my best friend. You make me feel so real. When I'm with you I feel safe in a way I've never felt before. I trust you, Clark, and I love you. But I'm terrified that I can't have both of those — that if I love you, I won't be able to trust you anymore."
Clark opened his mouth to protest, but Lois held up her hand to stop him. "I know, Clark. I know what you're thinking. And I believe you. I believe that you love me and you would never want to do anything to hurt me. But, you see, I don't think it's malicious. I don't think that you *want* to hurt me, that you have to some latent plan to break my heart. I just…I just can't believe in a happily ever after the way that you do, Clark. I want to! You have no idea how much I just want to jump into this the way I jump into everything else. But this is different…"
Clark shook his head trying to organize his thoughts. "What do you want, Lois? What can I do? What can I say to prove to you how much I love you? I'd do anything for you, you have to know that."
"Oh, Clark! I don't want you to *prove* anything. I do believe you. I'm just scared, that's all, and I'm babbling again. I just need you to understand that I'm probably going to panic from time to time, and I'm going to need you to help me believe the way that you do. It's just a big risk, that's all."
"But it's a risk you are willing to take?"
And with that Lois realized that Clark was still waiting for an answer. That her declaration of love had not answered his unspoken question of whether or not she would give him — them — a chance.
"Oh, yes, Clark! Yes, of course I am. I didn't mean to make you think that I didn't, I was just nervous. But, Clark I love you, and — "
Lois didn't get any further into her rambling before Clark swooped in to claim her lips. Lois' words of apology died on her lips as she rechanneled her energy into returning his kisses.
Through each kiss and caress ran an undercurrent of passion that held a promise for the future, but these kisses were meant more to soothe and affirm than to arouse. After a few moments Clark pulled back and rested his forehead against hers. Gently he stroked her hair with one hand as his other arm held her tight against him.
"I love you, Clark," Lois whispered.
Clark pulled back just enough to look deep into Lois' eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. Lois held Clark's gaze, frozen by the intensity of the love she saw there. She raised her one of her hands from where they rested on Clark's chest to stroke his cheek. As if freed by her touch, Clark finally found the ability to speak again. "I love you too, Lois." Gently she pulled his head to her for another gentle kiss.
After another moment, they pulled apart again. Clark cleared his throat as Lois nervously smoothed her hair. Clark reached out and tucked her hair behind an ear. "What do you say we watch that video now?"
Lois smiled and nodded her agreement.
Two hours later the final credits finished rolling and the screen went blue just before the VCR stopped itself and began to automatically rewind.
Sometime during the movie Lois and Clark had wound up stretched out along the couch. Clark lay against the back of the couch. Lois' head rested on Clark's bottom arm, while his top arm curled protectively around her waist, his fingers intertwined with hers.
The TV clicked back to cable and the voice of an obnoxious political commenter on LNN's late show began railing on his latest crusade.
Clark awoke slowly and grinned when he realized exactly where he was. "Mmmm," he smiled as he nuzzled against the side of Lois' neck, tightening his grip to cuddle her closer.
Lois began to stir. "Hey," Clark whispered. "Are you awake?"
"Shh…I'm still sleeping." She whispered back.
Clark's laughter rippled through Lois, coaxing her to laugh too. "OK, OK. You win, I'm awake." Lois made no effort to move.
Clark moved his upper leg to nudge against the back to Lois' leg. "It's pretty late, sweetheart. Do you want to stay here tonight?"
Lois opened her eyes and struggled until she had situated herself to look at Clark. "Did you just call me sweetheart?"
Clark blushed and dropped his eyes. "Um…yeah, I guess I did." He looked back up timidly, one eyebrow raised. "Is that OK?"
Lois laughed softly. "Yeah, I guess it is," she said brushing his hair from his forehead.
Clark leaned down and brushed his lips lightly over hers. He pulled back and smiled again. "Seriously, are you going to be OK to drive home, or do you just want to crash here?"
"Mmmm…I'm awake now. I'll be fine." Lois still made no move to get up. "I just want to stay like this for one more minute…"
"Lois," Clark laughed. "You can stay like this for as long as you want."
Lois nuzzled her head into the crook of his neck and sighed contentedly.
"What time is it?" Lois mumbled into Clark's neck after a few moments.
"It's about 11:30."
"Ungh," Lois responded. "I guess I should get going. We have to work tomorrow."
Lois pulled away a little, but didn't really make an effort to leave. Finally Clark sat up and pulled her with him. "Come on, let's get you home so you can go to sleep." They stood and made their way toward the door. Clark helped Lois put on her coat and let his hand linger on the small of her back as he opened the door and led her out. "Come on, I'll walk you to your car."
When they reached the jeep, Lois unlocked the door and opened it. She turned to Clark. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Yeah," Clark whispered. He leaned down and kissed her softly. "I'll see you in the morning."
He hesitated for a minute and Lois looked at him quizzically. "What is it, Clark?"
"Lois, will you be my date for Perry's party tomorrow? I mean, I know we were planning on meeting there anyway, but can we make a real date? You know, I'll pick you at your apartment and we'll actually go together…"
"You mean you want me to hang on your arm decoratively and…" Lois teased.
"Yeah, something like that," Clark laughed. "Think you can handle that?"
"Yeah," Lois said softly reaching to brush a wayward curl from Clark's forehead. "Yeah, I can handle that."
"I'll pick you up at nine-thirty then," Clark said brushing another kiss across her lips.
"OK," Lois murmured, pulling Clark close for a deeper kiss. "Hey, why don't you come over around seven-thirty and we'll have dinner first? I promise not to cook," she said, smiling
Clark's face broke into a grin, betraying his pleasure at her request. "That sounds wonderful." He traced her jaw and leaned in to kiss her one last time.
"Goodnight," Clark whispered as they pulled apart.
"Goodnight," Lois replied, climbing into the jeep.
Clark watched Lois drive off, then stepped back into the shadows, and with a quick glance changed into the suit and shot upwards into the night, executing a few barrel rolls as he watched to make sure Lois got home all right. As he cruised the sky doing his nightly patrol he thanked God, and the fates, and anyone else who was listening for keeping the city quiet for one perfect night.
- North Hollywood, CA -
The young woman watched the door slam behind the man she loved for the second time in a week. The tears streamed down her face as she slid down the wall and wrapped her arms around her legs. She laid her head on her knees and sobbed. The room was in shambles. Clothes and dirty dishes lay strewn around the room. Anyone walking in now would have been hard-pressed to recognize the beautiful girl who had moved into the apartment just seven months ago. The baggy sweat clothes she wore were dirty and her once perfectly coifed hair hung in a stringy ponytail. The dark bags under her eyes testified that she hadn't slept in days.
The girl stayed immobile as the phone began to ring. The answering machine clicked on. "Mr. Crawford, this is Olivia Johnson from Carson Apartments. This message is just to remind you that with the termination of your rental agreement you will have two weeks to vacate the apartment. Please have everything moved out, the apartment cleaned, and all copies of the key turned into the front office by January 15. If you have any questions please call me at 555-5327."
"Oh my God. What am I going to do?" she sobbed. "I can't do this… I just can't do this."
Just then the baby woke and began to cry again.
"ARGH!" she screamed, scrubbing at her face to wipe away the tears, but making no move to comfort the crying baby. "Don't you *ever* stop crying? God, this is not how it was supposed to be!"
Finally she stood and walked over to the wailing infant. She picked him up and grimaced as she smelled the dirty diaper. She sighed and laid him on the bed, yanking a clean diaper from the stack.
"You were supposed to be sweet and cuddly, and we were supposed to go out and have everyone ooh and ah over you. We would be a perfect little family. Instead I'm stuck in this stupid apartment all day with a screaming baby and no one to talk to. I used to have friends! I used to have a life! Now my boyfriend is gone, I can't pay the rent, and I'm going absolutely crazy. What am I going to do?"
Jacob just continued to cry.
Lois was pulling the last curler from her hair when she heard the familiar knock. "Just a sec!" She called, running her fingers through her hair and making sure her dress and makeup were in order. She hurried to the door, then took a deep breath, chastising herself for being so nervous.
Clark stood on the other side of the door wearing a well- tailored charcoal suit and a nervous grin, carrying a dozen red and white roses.
Lois swung the door open, and Clark felt his jaw drop. Her simple straight black dress was held up by the tiniest of straps. The material gathered loosely around her chest, revealing nothing, but creating a suggestive illusion. The dress clung to her curves and the slit that began at her right ankle reached dangerously high, showing generous portions of her thigh every time she took a moved.
"Wow…You look so beautiful." Clark ripped his eyes from her body and focused on her face again. At her knowing smile, his face flushed a deep crimson. "Here, these are for you," Clark said, handing her the roses, hoping to divert her attention from his still glowing face.
Lois smiled and took the proffered flowers. "Thank you. They're beautiful. Dinner is in the oven warming up. Come on in," she said, opening the door wider to allow Clark access.
Clark held Lois tightly as the next song began, swaying gently to the beautiful music. Lois took a deep breath and sighed. Clark tightened his grip around her waist and pulled her closer to him. Ducking his head, he whispered, "What's the matter, Lois?"
"It's nothing," she replied, refusing to meet his gaze.
"It's not 'nothing'. I can always tell when something's bothering you, and something is definitely bothering you right now."
"It's just…I feel like we're on display. Ever since we walked in here, I feel like everyone is looking at us."
"Honey, I can hardly blame them. You look incredible. I know I can't keep my eyes off of you."
Lois blushed and rolled her eyes. "Clark, that is *not* what I meant."
"I know," Clark said softly. "They're just curious. Two weeks ago they were placing bets on how long it would be before I finally got the hint, and —"
"What?" Lois asked, pulling back enough to look at him.
It was Clark's turn to blush now. "Lois, I guess I'm not very good at hiding how I feel about you. So my feelings for you haven't exactly been a big secret. The whole newsroom could see I was madly in love with you, and you certainly didn't seem to return the feeling. I overheard some of the guys a couple of weeks ago…"
"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry," Lois sighed, leaning her head on Clark's chest.
"What?" She pulled back, surprised.
"Lois, I don't care what people say about me. You should know that by now. Besides," he said, pulling her tight against him and dropping a soft kiss on her head. "I got the girl in the end. That's all that matters to me."
A few yards away, at the punchbowl, an already inebriated Ralph swaggered over to a group of Planet reporters.
"So, looks like our resident ice maiden has finally melted, huh?" Mark said.
"Ehh, I give 'em two weeks," Ralph replied. "Lane's a cold fish. Once Kent realizes he's not going to get her into bed, he'll go back to that blonde piece of work from the DA's office. Now there's a woman who looks like she knows how to have a good time!"
"I don't know about that, Ralph," Eduardo argued. "Check them out. Lane doesn't look like such a cold fish to me. Maybe you just didn't have what it takes."
Ralph, unable to think of a comeback, staggered away to get another drink.
The crowd had stopped dancing and socializing and was gathered around the big screen TV in the White's family room. Clark took a step behind Lois and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close.
The gesture did not go unnoticed by members of the party crowd. Lois and Clark had been inseparable the entire evening, and while it was not at all uncommon for them to attend social events together, and to even appear affectionate towards each other throughout the events, there was something different in their demeanor tonight.
Alice White leaned toward her husband and whispered something in his ear.
"I know, honey," he replied. "I think it's safe to say that we weren't the only couple that benefited from the Christmas spirit this year."
"10…9…8…7…6…" Lois turned in Clark's arms to face him. Their eyes met and they were suddenly the only people in the room, on the planet.
"Happy New Year, Clark," Lois whispered over chants of, "5…4…3…2…"
"Happy New Year, Lois," Clark whispered in return.
"…1. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!" As strains of Auld Lang Syne rang out from Times Square, Clark lowered his face and claimed Lois' lips in a sweet tender kiss.
"You know what they say Lois: whoever's arms you're in when the New Year comes in is whose arms you'll spend the year in."
"Is that so, Mr. Kent?" Lois asked mischievously.
"Yes, Ms. Lane, it is."
"Well in that case…" And with that, Lois tugged his head back down and kissed him passionately, wrapping her arms around his neck. Finally, their lips pulled away just far enough for them to catch their breath. "I just didn't want there to be any doubt about it." Lois grinned.
"No doubt, Lois. No doubt," Clark murmured cupping her cheek in what was, by now, an already familiar gesture.
As he brushed a final tender kiss across her lips they suddenly became aware that they had an audience. As they pulled apart they heard muted catcalls and whispers of amusement.
Lois and Clark both turned a brilliant shade of red and averted their eyes from the crowd.
The sound on the TV had been muted again, and the music had resumed. "Dance with me, Lois." Clark whispered in her ear. The sound of his voice and the feel of his breath on her ear made her knees go week. Lois couldn't speak through the lump in her throat, and simply nodded her agreement, allowing him to guide her to the dance floor.
Clark slid his arm farther around her waist pulling her tight against him. His other hand claimed hers and as she rested her head against his chest she intertwined her fingers with his and rested their joined hands against his chest as well.
As one song ended and the next began, neither of them moved. Clark's hand began to caress Lois' back and he felt her sigh contentedly. "Clark?" Lois murmured.
"What, sweetheart?" he asked, letting go of her hand to reach up and stroke her hair.
"After this song, what do you say we say goodnight to Perry and Alice and head out of here?"
Clark hesitated. It was late, and it had been a long day. It didn't surprise him that she was ready to go home, but…he just couldn't bear to let her out of his arms yet.
"Clark?" She prodded.
"Yeah, sure. Whatever you want, Lois," he answered quickly.
"Clark?" Lois pulled back enough to look in his eyes. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he responded, immediately chastising himself for upsetting her. Lois looked deep into his eyes, searching for the cause of his hesitation.
Lois," Clark said sheepishly. "I'm just not ready to let go of you, I suppose. It feels so good to hold you like this, I just don't want tonight to be over yet," he tore his eyes from her gaze and looked down, embarrassed.
"Clark," Lois laughed. She waited until his eyes met hers again. "Honey, I just meant for us to take this somewhere a little more private, somewhere without a hundred pairs of eyes watching for our next move."
She reached up and caressed his face. "I'm not ready to let go of you either."
Clark felt his throat tighten at the sweet, yet sultry tone of her voice.
"Oh God, Lois, let's get out of here!" He laughed, hugging her close again.
He released her and guided her off the dance floor. As they retreated through the crowd, he casually asked, "Lois, did you just call me honey?"
- North Hollywood, CA -
Standing in the shadows of the apartment building he tugged the black knit cap over his hair, completing the all-black cat burglar look. But it wasn't jewels or furs he was planning to steal.
He found himself wondering how this could have happened. He had chosen her so carefully. He had been sure that she would comply. Everything had been going so smoothly.
*This* was not in the plan. This transaction needed to be completed — the deal had already been finalized and the funds had long cleared. He didn't want to think about what would happen if he was not able to deliver. He knew far too much about the program to simply be fired, but failure was simply not acceptable in the program. As far as he knew, no one had ever backed out this late. He would simply have to deliver, and this was the only way.
He climbed stealthily up the stairs on the outside of the building. Slowly he eased his key into the lock. In his nervousness the click of the turning lock seemed indescribably amplified. He took a deep breath and eased the door open.
Clark unlocked the door to his apartment and opened the door to allow Lois to enter first. He had barely got door closed before she launched herself into his arms. "Thank you, Clark," she whispered as she kissed him again.
"For what?" he asked between kisses.
"For tonight. I had such a wonderful time."
"So did I," Clark whispered, trailing kisses from her mouth to her ear
"Oh, Clark," Lois breathed, running her fingers through his hair.
Clark carefully eased her into the living room. He lowered himself onto the couch and pulled Lois onto his lap. They exchanged a few more sweet kisses before Lois pulled back.
Clark ran his hand through Lois' hair, and waited for Lois to ask whatever it was she obviously wanted to ask. Lois nervously bit at her lower lip. "What, sweetheart?" he asked, brushing a kiss across her forehead. "What?"
"Clark, will you dance with me again?" she asked timidly.
Clark smiled and stood, sliding Lois gently to the floor. "Of course. Why wouldn't I want to dance with you?"
Lois shrugged, reminding herself that Clark was different than other men; that his goal was not just to get her into bed as quickly as possible. She moved to turn the stereo on, and as the soft music wafted from the speakers Clark pulled Lois close again. He inhaled deeply and whispered, "God, I love dancing with you."
A few songs later, Lois was nearly asleep on her feet. Clark kissed her gently on the top of her head and whispered, "Come on, sweetie, you're half asleep. Stay here tonight. You can sleep in my bed."
Lois started to protest, but realized there was no way she could drive herself home, and finding a cab this late on New Year's Eve would be next to impossible. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure! Let me find you something to sleep in and you can have the bathroom first." Clark disappeared into the bedroom as Lois turned off the stereo and slipped out of her shoes. Clark reappeared a minute later with a pair of sleep shorts and a faded Midwestern State U. T- shirt.
Lois took the clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. When she reemerged, Clark had straightened up the living room and had placed an extra blanket and pillow on the couch.
He looked up at the sound of the bathroom door opening and smiled at her tussled appearance. He pulled his sleep shorts and T-shirt from the dresser and approached the bathroom. As he passed her, he snagged her arm and pulled her close.
"Hey." He smiled into her hair. "Everything's all set. Get some sleep, OK. I'll see you in the morning…I love you."
"I love you too, Clark. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, sweetheart," he said, releasing her with a quick kiss and disappearing into the bedroom.
Lois sat on the edge of the bed, then pulled her legs up under the covers. As she sat in bed, she couldn't help but think of what a wonderful couple of days it had been.
And he's so amazing. He invites me to stay, and not only does he not expect me to sleep with him, he expects me *not* too. He just goes right ahead and makes up the sofa. God, I love him.
When Clark came out of the bathroom, Lois was still sitting up in the bed. "Hey, you," he whispered. "I figured you'd be sound asleep by now. You were dead on your feet a few minutes ago."
Lois just smiled and reached out her hand to him in a silent invitation. He took a couple of quick steps and perched on the edge of the bed, reaching to caress her face. He pressed a soft kiss to her lips and pulled away again.
Lois took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Stay with me, Clark. Don't spend the night on the couch — I want you to hold me."
Clark looked deep into her eyes, trying to read her. "Are you sure? Lois, I don't want you to be uncomfortable…"
"Clark, trust me, I'm never more comfortable than when I am in your arms."
"Good," Clark growled playfully, climbing over Lois to the other side of the bed. Lois giggled and let herself be pulled into his embrace.
He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her, fitting his body to hers. "I love you," he whispered into her hair, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.
"I love you too," she replied, half asleep already.
- North Hollywood, CA -
His eyes adjusted to the dark of the apartment and he scanned the living room. Not finding what he was looking for, he quickly moved toward the bedroom. In the bedroom, the young woman lay draped across the bed sound asleep. The door stood mostly ajar, and he listened to her steady breathing as he spotted the car seat next to the bed. There, swaddled in a baby blue fleece blanket, lay the answer to his dilemma.
A stab of fear shot through him suddenly. Even if he could grab the child and escape the apartment, surely she would go to the police and he would be the prime suspect. He wondered if he could reasonably count on someone in the organization to construct an airtight alibi.
Smothering all doubts he took another step forward, and stepped directly onto a creaky floorboard. In the silent apartment, the creek echoed ominously. Immediately she was awake and sitting up. Panicking, he took a step back, ready to flee, but she saw him first. "Jason?" She asked as she rubbed her sleep deprived eyes. "What are you doing here? Have you changed your mind?"
He stood mute, suddenly unable to vocalize any explanation. Even the perfect excuse that she had handed him, that he had changed his mind and come back to be with her, would not come out.
"You haven't, have you?! You're not here to stay. What are you doing here, Jason? And why are you dressed like that? What is going on here!?" Frantically, she leapt from the bed and stood in front of the still-sleeping infant. "You were going to take him, weren't you? I wouldn't give him to you, so you were just going to take him! You are sick! That's kidnapping!"
And then suddenly she began to doubt herself. He *was* the child's father, and she had no more legal right to Jacob than he did. And she had no proof that Jason was actually going to take him. Would the police even give her a second thought if she tried to explain the situation? Would it even be worth calling them? Probably not; the police in this area had a lot more "important" things to deal with than a possible attempted domestic kidnapping. They wouldn't listen to her, and they wouldn't be able to protect Jacob.
"Just get out, Jason. I don't ever want to see you again!"
For a moment he hesitated. He couldn't try to overpower her and take the baby — that would never work. Even if he escaped, there was no way he could get away with it. He would simply have to leave, and think of a new plan. Quickly, he spun on his heel and exited the apartment.
Once he left, the girl broke down into sobs. "Oh, God. Now what? He was right, you know, I can't do this. I'm a horrible mother. I just don't know how to do anything, and I'm so exhausted," she said gazing at the baby who was sleeping for what seemed like the first time since he was born. She sighed, and shook her head. "I'm not giving you to him. I don't trust him. I don't know how I could have ever thought I loved him. How could I have ever trusted him?"
She pulled her suitcases out of the closet and began throwing things into them. When she flipped the TV on for a little company, she was surprised to see Dick Clark.
"New Year's Eve," she said quietly. "I totally forgot."
She looked at the sleeping infant and felt a twinge of resentment. She hadn't spent a New Year's Eve at home since she was sixteen. Last year she'd celebrated with friends in New York, watching the ball drop not on a TV screen, but in person. They'd partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning, then they'd gone back to someone's apartment and continued the party there. Definitely a New Year's Eve to remember. She watched the revelers on the television with unabashed jealousy. Her gaze fell to the sleeping baby, and she sighed.
"I probably should have just listened to him in the first place and given you up. I can't do this. I thought this would be so different. I didn't know how hard it was going to be. I'm going to take you to someone who can take better care of you. I'm sorry. I really thought I could do this, but I just can't."
She called a cab, and took the suitcases to the front door. "Come on," she said lifting Jacob's car seat. "Let's go."
- Metropolis -
Lois awoke groggily to the phone's incessant ringing. Something seemed out of place, but she couldn't put her finger on it. As she groped for the phone, she noticed an unfamiliar weight around her waist. She pushed that thought aside and grabbed the phone.
"Hello?" she answered blearily
"Lois? Is that you? This is Jimmy."
"Yes of course it's me. What do you want? What time is it?"
"Well, actually, Lois, I was looking for Clark. The chief asked me to call and confirm a quote in his story about the dock strike."
"Why are you calling me if you're looking for Clark?" Before the words were out of her mouth she knew exactly where she was, and why Jimmy had called there.
"Because I called Clark's apartment, Lois," Jimmy laughed.
Lois didn't hear his reply because she was already mumbling, "Oh my God," and rolling over to wake Clark up.
Jimmy heard Lois' voice even through her palm over the receiver. "Oh, God, Clark, wake up. Clark! Jimmy's on the phone, wake up!"
A second later Clark's voice came on the line, "Jimmy? Do you realize what time it is? This is our day off. What do you want?"
Lois struggled to get out of the bed. Clark pulled her back to him and brushed a kiss across her forehead before releasing her and mouthing, "Good morning."
Lois shut the door to the bathroom and leaned up against it, her heart pounding, scenes of thinly veiled innuendos and suggestive looks from her coworkers of five years ago flitting though her head.
Damn it! Why did I have to answer the phone? As if everyone at the Planet isn't already going to be gossiping about us. I never learn my lesson! And Clark doesn't seem to be fazed at all…of course not — he's a guy! He'll get slaps on the back, and everyone thinking he's the resident newsroom stud. Never mind the fact that we didn't even actually have sex. Not that anyone would actually believe that.
Lois finished splashing water on her face and brushing her teeth with the extra toothbrush Clark had given her last night. She took a deep breath and reached for the door, but froze when she heard Clark's voice.
"Hey, Jimmy, do me a favor, OK? Don't tell anyone that Lois answered the phone when you called. This is our personal life and I don't want it to be fodder for the newsroom gossip mill."
Lois opened the door wider and smiled at Clark's serious expression and nervous fingers running through his hair.
"Thanks, Jimmy. I appreciate it. I'll see you tomorrow." Clark hung up the phone and looked surprised to see Lois out of the bathroom again. "I, um…I asked Jimmy not to say anything about you being here."
"I heard," Lois replied quietly coming to sit next to him on the bed again.
"He wouldn't have said anything even if I hadn't. I just…" Clark faltered.
"Thank you," she whispered, kissing him softly. "Thank you," she repeated slipping her arms around him.
Clark held her tight and answered, "You don't have to thank me."
- Los Angeles International Airport -
The young woman paced up and down the corridor with the fussy baby. "Come on, Jacob. Give me a break," she pleaded.
It would be another four hours until her plane left, and then a four hour layover in Minneapolis.
As the baby's cries quieted, she made her way to a payphone. She punched in the phone number and waited for her friend to pick up the phone. When the answering machine picked up she sighed, and waited for the beep. "Hi, Maggie, it's me. I just wanted to let you know that the plane seems to be on time. I'll see you soon. Thanks again for letting me crash with you on such short notice. I'm sure it won't be too long before I am able to get on my feet again."
Lois woke up early and found herself humming in the shower.
Good grief, Lane. You sound like a love-sick teenager.
Lois grinned at the thought, and went back to humming. They had wound up spending all day yesterday at Clark's, cuddling on the couch and watching old movies. After spending all day with him, she was surprised at how reluctant she was to leave that night. She had never been the clingy type. She always subscribed to the school of thought that said relationships were better off if both participants had their own lives and just saw each other when it was mutually convenient. The few times she had actually attempted to have a serious relationship, she found herself feeling stifled. But suddenly she was in a relationship, and she didn't want more space. She didn't find herself getting annoyed at him, and when they were apart, she actually missed him. She hurried through her shower, and as she wrapped herself in her robe she tried to convince herself that the reason she was so eager to get to work that morning had nothing to do with her incredibly gorgeous partner.
Lois walked to the closet and, after considerable deliberation, pulled out an outfit and tossed it on the bed. As she headed back to the bathroom to dry her hair, she heard a knock at the door. Lois looked at the clock, and wondered who could possibly be at her apartment at 6:00 a.m. She pulled her robe tighter and cursed herself for not taking down the Christmas decorations that blocked her peephole.
Leaving the sliding lock bolted, Lois opened the door a crack and peeked out. "Lucy! What are you doing here?" Lois exclaimed, unlocking the door and opening it wide. "I thought you weren't going to come to Metropolis for the holidays because you were staying with your boyfriend."
Lois was stunned when Lucy simply began to cry. "Oh, Lois. It's so complicated. I'll tell you everything, but first there's someone I want you to meet."
Lois watched in utter disbelief as Lucy reached down just outside the door, and lifted a baby carrier holding a sleeping infant.
"Lois, this is Jacob. My son."
Clark cruised over Metropolis feeling a small twinge of guilt for neglecting his duties as Superman lately. Amazingly, no major emergencies had clamored for his attention during his time with Lois, but he knew that would not last long. In fact, it seemed like the opposite was normally true. Whenever he needed to spend time with Lois, or more accurately whenever he needed to tell her something important, he would suddenly have to disappear to be Superman.
Clark defused a quick traffic incident and resumed his patrol. After this week it was clear that he would have to tell Lois his secret, and the sooner the better. But, things were going so well, better than he ever imagined, and the thought of having her mad at -having her hate him — for lying this whole time, was a terrifying thought.
Clark began to run through different revelation possibilities, but was quickly becoming frustrated.
Suddenly Clark forgot all about his personal dilemma and shot out of Metropolis towards the Pacific Ocean where an oil barge had been struck by another vessel and was rapidly leaking oil.
Lucy sat curled up on Lois' sofa as Lois paced back and forth in front of her.
"Oh Lucy. Honey, I'm so sorry. How could this happen? Why didn't you call me? I can understand why you didn't call Mother or Daddy, but you know that I would have done anything I could to help you, right?"
"I know, I'm so stupid," Lucy cried.
"You are *not* stupid, Luce. This is not your fault. Not all your fault anyway. Sure you made some mistakes, but everybody makes mistakes. And this guy -" Lois cut herself off right before she launched into a tangent on what a jerk this guy must be. For once in her life Lois was able to realize that it would not help the situation any *before* the words were out of her mouth.
"Look, Lucy, that doesn't matter now. What matters is that you're here now and we'll get this all worked out. You can stay here for as long as you need to, and I'm sure I can help you find a job —"
"Lois!" Lucy interrupted. "It's just…I can't stay here. I have to do this on my own. I hate Metropolis, you know that. I couldn't wait to get out of here and move to California. My friend Maggie, in New York City, said that I could stay with her, and she's got a job lined up for me. Once I get back on my feet everything will be fine, and I'll get an apartment, and I'll be able to take care of Jacob again and…"
"Again, Luce? What do you mean by that? Who is going to take care of him in the meantime?"
"Well…" Lucy paused, waiting for Lois to understand.
"Oh no! No way, Lucy! I can't take him! I don't know anything about babies; I wouldn't have the first clue what to do with him. I have to work. Who would watch him while I'm at work? Oh, Luce, you can't be serious." Lois shook her head, trying to make it clear to Lucy that she could not possibly be expected to do this.
"Lois, you have to. Please! There is no one else I can count on for this. I've already made arrangements with Maggie. I have to leave now to catch my train to New York City. You have to take care of him for me. Please!"
"Can't you take him to Mom? Lucy, I have to work!"
"I can't take him to Mom! I'd never hear the end of it! 'I just knew something like this was going to happen.' 'You're so irresponsible, Lucy.' Besides, you know I'm not speaking to her. I'm sick of her trying to tell me what to do. I'm not going to tell her about Jacob."
"Lucy! How in the world do you plan to hide him from her? If you're going to keep him, you can't keep him a secret!"
"I know that! I just meant that I don't want to tell her about him until I've got it all worked out. Once I'm all settled again, I'll tell her. But I just can't stand to listen to her gloat. Look, you have to help me out. You're the only one I can go to, Lois. Come on! You're my only sister!"
"Lucy!" Lois began as Lucy stood and picked up the two larger suitcases.
"I'll be back as soon as I can." Lucy brushed a kiss across the forehead of the still sleeping infant. "Mommy loves you, Jacob, but she can't take care of you right now. Auntie Lois will take good care of you. Be a good boy."
Lois sat in shock as Lucy headed quickly for the door. "Lucy, wait! Lucy! How will I get in touch with you? When are you coming back? Lucy!" Lois called, going after her. Lucy quickly ducked out the door and disappeared down the hall. Lois stood in the doorway torn between going after her sister and staying with the baby.
A second later the decision was made for her when the baby began to cry. Lois quickly approached the baby and looked at him warily.
"OK, buddy," she said pulling him from the seat and holding him at arms length for a moment before gingerly arranging him in her arms. "We're going to work this out. It's going to be OK."
Jacob nestled into her arms and immediately fell back to sleep, his tiny lips puckering. Lois sighed in relief and smiled down at him. He looked so sweet cuddled in her arms that for a moment she found herself thinking this might not be such a bad thing after all.
Lois settled into the couch and let herself enjoy holding him for another minute before settling him back in the seat and carrying him into her bedroom where she could watch him as she finished getting ready for work.
As she put the finishing touches on her makeup, Jacob began to whimper, and reality set in.
"Oh, God! How in the world am I going to take care of him? I don't know the first thing about babies… Clark! Clark will know what to do!" Lois, nearly hysterical at this point, dashed for the phone and quickly dialed Clark's number.
When Clark's machine clicked on Lois assumed he had already left for work. "OK, Jacob, here's the deal," Lois said seriously to the tiny baby who was now staring at her wide- eyed. "You and I are going to go to work. Let's make a deal. You be very good — no crying and not stopping and making me panic — and I will do everything I can to keep you happy. Oh — and we're going to go meet Clark. Clark is from Kansas, and he lived on a farm, so he'll probably know what to do with you." Lois nodded, satisfied with her logic.
Lois grabbed her purse, briefcase, and looked at the small pile of things Lucy had left behind. There was a diaper bag with a couple of diapers and bottles, and Lois figured that would be plenty for the time being. She'd have to go to the store this afternoon though.
She threw the bag over her shoulder, then turned back and surveyed Jacob. He was wearing only a lightweight blue baby sleeper. Lois rummaged though the pile again, but couldn't find anything warmer.
"How can she not have anything warm for you to wear? I know it's warmer in LA than in Metropolis, but it's not *that* warm." She sighed and looked around for an alternative. Finally, she strapped him into the seat and tucked the fleece blanket tightly around him, hoping it would be enough to keep the cold air out long enough to get him to and from the car.
Forty minutes later, a heavily-laden Lois made her way from the elevator to her desk, scanning the newsroom for any sign of Clark.
Jimmy was standing near her desk as she approached. "Morning, Lois. I got those notes you wanted on the — Hey, who's this?"
"This is Jacob." At Jimmy's raised eyebrows Lois continued. "It's a long story, Jimmy, but basically, Jacob is Lucy's son, and he's going to be staying with me for a little while. I have no idea how I am going to manage this, but I don't seem to have any other options."
"Wow. I didn't know Lucy was pregnant."
"Neither did I," Lois said tersely, setting Jacob's carrier and bag on the floor by her chair.
Jimmy fumbled for something to say and came up empty.
"Look, I need to go explain this to Perry. Can you just sit here and watch him for a minute? He's sound asleep."
Jimmy nodded a little warily, and Lois dashed to Perry's office. When she reemerged she found Jimmy sitting in her chair holding Jacob and talking to him animatedly.
"Did you make a friend?" Jimmy jumped at Lois' voice.
"Yeah, I guess so. He's pretty cute, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he is. Of course, I've only had him for about two hours. Any minute now I expect he'll figure out I have no idea what I'm doing. Then all hell is going to break loose."
Jimmy laughed and placed Jacob in Lois' arms. "I don't know, Lois. You look like a natural to me." He grinned. "What did Perry say?"
"He's pulling some strings to get him admitted to the Planet Day Care Center. Until then he said I can have some time off, or work from home or keep Jake here with me. He's being really great. He also said Alice would probably love to babysit on occasion. Apparently she misses having little ones around the house."
"Well, if you need anything just let me know."
"Thanks, Jimmy." Lois glanced at Clark's empty desk again.
"He hasn't come in yet."
"Clark." Jimmy laughed. "He hasn't been in yet this morning. To tell the truth, I expected you two to come in together…"
"Lois, I'm just teasing — I'm thrilled for you guys. Heck, I've been pulling for you two to get together for ages. Anyway, Clark hasn't been in yet today."
Lois settled down into her chair and flicked on her computer. She propped her left arm on the armrest and let Jacob lay in the crook of her arm. He began to fuss and she pulled the bottle from his bag. As he began to suck, her phone rang. She propped the phone to her ear with her right shoulder. "Lois Lane…"
The elevator dinged, and Clark stepped into the newsroom, immediately searching for Lois. Spotting her at her desk with her back to him, he smiled and headed in her direction. He was about halfway down the ramp when he saw Jimmy catch Lois' eye and gesture to him. Lois glanced over her shoulder and smiled sweetly at him. He smiled back, then stopped dead in his tracks when she swiveled in her chair. Suddenly Clark found himself face to face with the most precious of all of his fantasies. Seeing Lois with a baby awoke a longing in him that he didn't even know existed. For a moment Clark was unable to move, or even breathe.
Lois hung up the phone and gestured for Clark to come over. Clark forced himself out of his stupor and quickly made his way over.
"Hey." He smiled, crouching down to stroke Jacob's cheek with his finger. "Who is this little guy?"
Lois felt a lump rise in her throat at Clark's tender expression. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath. "This is Jacob. He's Lucy's son."
"What?!" Clark exclaimed.
"It's kind of a long story. I'll tell you everything later, but basically Lucy didn't tell anyone she was pregnant because the father had talked her into giving the baby up for adoption. After he was born Lucy decided she didn't want to give him up after all, and the father walked out, leaving her basically homeless. She came to me, but then proceeded to inform me that she was going to stay with a friend in New York City where she is going to try to get back on her feet. Until then, could I please take care of her baby? Great, thanks. And then she was gone."
"She left?" Clark asked clearly still reeling from the new information.
"Yes, and now I have to take care of him. But I don't have the first idea of how to take care of a baby! What am I going to do? This is really serious! I can't take care of a baby! I don't have any of the things that go with taking care of a baby — a crib, diapers, formula! Clark, it took me twenty minutes just to figure out how to strap his car seat into my Jeep!" Lois' voice was becoming increasingly panicked. She took a shaky breath and continued quietly. "I've never even given any thought to having children, except to acknowledge the fact that I would be a horrible mother. Clark, I can't do this."
"Hey, hey, hey. Calm down." Clark reached up to rub her arms. "Lois, calm down, everything is going to be OK. Now, you are looking at the most requested babysitter in all of Smallville. I haven't actually taken care of a baby quite this little, but I haven't met a kid yet that doesn't like me. And I happen to have the world's best mother who would love nothing more than to be asked for advice on taking care of a baby. Sweetheart, I know this is a shock, but we can do this." Lois looked up at him and smiled weakly.
"On the other hand," Clark said suddenly, "If you call my mother for advice, she will probably tell you all sorts of embarrassing stories about me. Maybe *I* better be the one to call my mom!"
Lois laughed, and reached out to stroke Clark's cheek. "Thank you, Clark."
"See," she said turning to Jacob. "I told you Clark would know what to do."
North Hollywood, CA
"You idiot! You did what?"
Jason flinched, and started again, "Well, sir, I knew that it was important to obtain the child so I thought that if she wouldn't give it to me I could —"
"You could what?! You could kidnap the child and draw national attention to the program?! This is *one* child! There are many others to replace it. The reason we have been so successful is because the mothers comply willingly. This kind of behavior could jeopardize the whole program! Do you have any idea what kind of trouble you would have caused had you actually succeeded?"
"I'm sorry, I just —"
"Don't bother apologizing. Look, I don't want to have to explain this since you are under my supervision. I'll just report that the girl changed her mind and could not be persuaded to give up the child, and we'll leave it at that. I'll make no mention of the attempted kidnapping, and if you know what is good for you, you will never mention it again either."
"Now, why don't you get back to work. And we'll try to forget this ever happened. But I'm warning you, you mess up again and I won't protect you."
"It was really nice of Perry to give you the afternoon off too so you could help me," Lois said unlocking the multiple locks on her door.
They had spent the last hour stocking up on the basics like diapers and formula, and had decided to take everything back to Lois' where they could sort through what little Lucy had brought, and decide what else needed to be bought.
"Yeah, it really was. Perry likes to pretend he's tough, but he's a softie at heart," Clark said.
Jacob began to fuss loudly and Clark freed him from the carrier, cuddling him close. "I think he's hungry, Lois. Why don't you go make him a bottle while I try to calm him down a little."
Lois looked at the canisters of formula in grocery bag skeptically. "Just follow the directions on the label, honey. It's not hard."
Lois disappeared into the kitchen and reemerged a minute later with the bottle. Clark was walking back and forth in front of the windows gently bouncing the somewhat quieter, but still crying, baby.
She handed the bottle to Clark, who immediately presented it to Jacob. "Here you go buddy. That's better isn't it? You were just hungry. Poor little guy," Clark cooed as he gently rocked him back and forth.
Lois couldn't help but smile at Clark's ease; he seemed so at home cuddling the little guy.
Clark looked up blushed when he caught Lois watching him. "I just love babies. They're so sweet and innocent."
"Yeah. You know, I was never really into babies, but he's kind of growing on me. He's a cute little guy, isn't he," Lois said stretching up to peer at his contented face as he downed the bottle.
Clark leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Come sit on the couch with me. We'll feed him together."
Lois sat in the middle of the sofa and Clark placed Jacob in her arms. Then he sat in the corner with his back against the armrest and tugged them gently into his embrace.
With his arms wrapped around both of them it was so easy to believe that this was his life. His wife, his child.
Stop it! You cannot think like this! Do you know what Lois would do if she could hear you right now! She'd freak out, that's what! She is not your wife. This is not your child.
Clark willed himself to listen to the voice of reason in his head, but when Lois turned her head and smiled at him all rational thoughts went out the window.
"I love you, Lois," he whispered.
Lois' smile brightened and she replied, "I love you too, Clark."
Unfortunately, Clark wasn't able to process that because all he could hear was, "We have a hostage situation here. The gunman has…"
Clark's tender voice suddenly became panicky. "Lois, I have to go. I…uh…there's something I have to do!"
As Clark gently slid out from behind Lois she looked back at him stunned. "Clark, what's the matter?"
"It's nothing!" He protested backing away and grabbing his coat. "I'll be back as soon as I can, there's just something I have to do." And with that, he was out the door before Lois could say another word.
"I don't know about him sometimes," she said to the baby. Jake looked up at her, wide-eyed.
"I know, I know. He's a great guy, don't get me wrong. And he *will* come back, he always does…it's just…Where is he going? And why did he have to run off so suddenly? He does that all the time! And why didn't he tell me *where* he was going?" Lois shook her head and then laughed at Jacob's serious expression, "It's OK, Jake. Don't worry."
Six hours, one hostage situation, two fires, one bomb scare, and three traffic accidents later Clark found himself nervously approaching Lois' door. Even without super hearing he could hear the wailing baby inside.
He knocked and braced himself. Lois, baby in tow, flung open the door. "Thank God! Where have you been? I've been calling you for hours! He won't stop crying, he just won't stop!"
Clark took the baby from her arms and tried bouncing him around a little. "Come on, buddy. It's OK." Jacob's sobs only got louder.
"See!" Lois cried frantically. "He just keeps doing that! I've tried everything I can think of. He hates me! That's what! I'm horrible at this! What in the world ever possessed me to make me think I could do this? I can't —"
Lois froze at Clark's sharp tone. He tugged her into a one-armed hug. "Honey, you've got to calm down. He does *not* hate you. He's just crying. *All* babies cry. And you are doing a wonderful job with him. You're going to be fine."
She relaxed a little against him, and he reached up to stroke her hair. "Why don't you go relax? I'll take care of Jake, you go take a bath, or read a book, or go for a walk, or something. Take your mind off him completely."
Lois pulled away a bit and nodded. "OK, thank you."
Clark smiled at her one last time and turned to focus his energy on the baby. Lois retreated to her room and shut the door.
"Come on, pal. Work with me here. You gotta give Lois a break, she's nervous enough about this as it is. If you're gonna have a meltdown, at least wait until I'm here."
Fifteen minutes later Clark was still pacing the floor. "On second thought," he sighed. "I'm not so sure I want to be here for these meltdowns of yours either."
When Jake finally calmed down and fell asleep Clark laid him down in the carrier and tucked the blanket snuggly around him. "There you go, little guy. Get some sleep."
Clark approached Lois door and knocked quietly, not wanting to wake her if she had fallen asleep. "Come in," Lois replied.
Clark opened the door to find Lois sitting up in bed reading a book.
"What are you reading?"
Lois tipped up the cover so he could read the title. Clark grinned. "'What to Expect The First Year.' When did you get that?"
"After you left. I couldn't remember how often I was supposed to feed him, so I went to the bookstore…" She sat up and gestured to a stack at least a dozen babycare books. "At first I didn't want to take him out in the cold, but then I started realizing how many things I didn't know, and I was starting to panic. And the more nervous I got, the more I just needed to get out of the house. Finally I decided to just go — the bookstore is only a couple of blocks away. And he was fine for the trip. He actually slept the whole time. But then, when we got back, he started to cry, and…"
He strode to the bed and sat next to her. Immediately, Lois climbed into his embrace. "I'm sorry," she mumbled into his neck.
Clark pulled back a little, and asked, "For what?"
"For freaking out. I didn't mean to yell at you."
Clark burst out laughing. "Lois, you freak out and yell at me all the time. How come I get an apology this time?"
Lois gave him a watery smile. "I don't know. I am sorry though. Is he asleep now?"
Clark pulled her back into his arms. "It's OK. I'm sorry I wasn't here. And, yes, he's sound asleep now. He should be out for a while. Why don't you try to get some sleep too?"
Lois tried to stifle a yawn and grinned. "I am pretty exhausted, and he'll be up again in a few hours."
"Why don't you just plan on taking tomorrow off? If anything big comes up, I promise I'll call you."
"I hate to do that…but I guess you're right. Perry said there is no way he'll be able to get Jake into the day care center tomorrow, so I doubt I would be any good there."
"OK. Call me if you need anything. I'll call you around lunchtime."
Lois smiled and nodded. Clark leaned down and kissed her sweetly one last time. "OK, I'll see myself out. You get to sleep."
"Hello?" Lois' voice was groggy, and Clark mentally kicked himself for waking her.
"Hi, sweetheart. I'm sorry I woke you."
"It's OK, I feel rather lazy for sleeping in the middle of the day."
"You're not lazy, Lois. That's what you have to do when you have a newborn; sleep whenever they do."
"Well, I'm up now. I'm feeling a little better."
"Well, I'm not going to be able to get away for lunch, but I was just thinking I could bring over some dinner after work. Do you feel up to company?"
"That sounds wonderful."
"How's Jake doing?"
"He's OK, I guess. I mean, I'm not really sure what he's supposed to be doing. I've been reading these books, but still…"
"Lois, I'm sure you're doing just fine. If you need anything, just call me, OK?"
Five hours later, Lois answered the door wearing jeans and a sweater, her hair still wet from her late shower. "Hi," she said smiling.
"Hi, yourself," Clark responded, reaching to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I brought Chinese," he said, holding up a bag.
"Thanks. Come on in. Jake's still asleep, but I imagine he'll be awake any minute."
No sooner had Lois and Clark sat down to eat than Jacob began crying from the bedroom.
"I'll get him," Clark said quickly, hopping up from his chair. Lois looked up at him questioningly and he replied, "You just eat. Let me take care of him for a while."
Clark reentered the room a few minutes later cuddling Jacob and cooing to him softly. As Lois watched him snuggle the tiny baby, she was overwhelmed by a wave of tenderness.
An article she had read years ago in a woman's magazine flitted suddenly into her mind. Something about women naturally being more attracted to men who were good with children. Lois focused in on Clark's lips as he whispered softly and then placed a tiny kiss on Jacob's forehead. Of course, Lois thought, it certainly didn't hurt when the man was already as attractive as Clark…
"How long has it been since he ate?"
"What?" Lois asked, trying to focus on Clark's question.
"How long has it been since he ate? Do you think he's hungry?"
"Oh. It's been about two hours. He's probably ready to eat again."
Clark walked to the kitchen, and Lois watched as he deftly prepared the bottle, gently juggling the baby as he did so. The he strode back to the table and settled into his chair, ignoring his food in order to focus on the baby in his arms.
Lois cleared her plate and pulled Jake from Clark's reluctant grasp. As Clark finished eating, he filled Lois in on the day's happenings in the newsroom.
Two hours later, Clark was seated on the sofa feeding Jake when Lois hung up the phone dejectedly.
"Well, that's it. I am totally out of ideas. I have no idea where Lucy is, or how to get a hold of her. What if something goes wrong? What if he gets sick? How could she just dump him like this? She's so irresponsible!"
"I'm sorry, honey. But no news is good news, right? I mean, she'd call you if something was wrong. And let's try not to think about the 'what ifs.' Jake is fine and healthy right now, we'll take good care of him, and hopefully Lucy will call soon. Maybe she just got to New York, she'll probably call as soon as she can."
"Yeah, that's true. But, I just can't help worrying about her, and I have no idea how long she's expecting me to take care of Jake. She said until she gets back on her feet, but that could be anywhere from two weeks to two years, knowing Lucy!"
Clark shook his head and looked down at the baby in his arms. "Well, hopefully she'll call and check in soon. In the meantime, we'll just do what we can."
Lois met his eye with a slightly raised eyebrow. "I mean that, Lois. I'll do anything I can to help you. Just say the word."
"Thank you, Clark. You've already been more help than you know. I'm sure I would have totally panicked by now without you." Lois smiled at him, and tried to stifle a yawn.
"You're tired," Clark said smiling. "Jake's just about asleep. I'll tuck him in, and then why don't you get some sleep too?"
Lois yawned again and grimaced. "I don't know why I'm so tired. It's only nine o'clock, and I took a nap today."
"Lois, taking care of a newborn is exhausting. Besides, I know you didn't get much sleep last night, and tonight isn't going to be any better. Just sleep whenever he does."
"I guess that makes sense. I hate to say it, but I don't think I should come in to work tomorrow. Why don't I work on that story about the mayoral candidates from home? I can make phone calls while he's asleep."
"That's great. I'll send a messenger over tomorrow with the files…or maybe I'll bring them by myself." Clark grinned impishly and Lois laughed. "Give me a call when you're up and ready to work. I don't want to wake you."
Clark rose from the sofa and Lois followed as he carried Jake into the bedroom.
"Oh, by the way," Clark said as he tenderly tucked Jake into the carrier and situated the blanket around him. "I talked to my mom, and she said the best place for him to sleep, since he doesn't have a crib, is in a drawer."
"A drawer?!" Lois was aghast, ludicrous visions of placing Jake in her underwear drawer for the night, flitting through her head.
Clark laughed quietly. "That was my reaction, too, but my mom assured me that lots of people have done it. You just need to take a drawer out of the dresser, empty it, and pad it with blankets."
Lois looked skeptical, but nodded. "OK, if you say so. I'll do that in the morning."
She slipped her hand into his, and Clark slowly led her out the bedroom and to the door. He leaned against the doorjamb and raised a hand to caress her cheek.
For a second neither of them moved. Then Clark slid his hand from her cheek to the back of her neck and gently pulled her forward as he lowered his lips to hers. "Goodnight, Lois," Clark whispered, pulling back.
"Goodnight, Clark. I love you."
"I love you, too," he whispered emotionally, pulling her back into his arms and resting his forehead against hers. After another second he pulled away. "If you need *anything,* I'm just a phone call away. Don't hesitate to call." Clark paused just long enough to brush a feather- light kiss across her lips, then slipped from her arms and disappeared out the door.
Lois leaned up against the door after he left, trying to collect her thoughts. After a moment she sighed deeply and headed for the bedroom.
Over the next two weeks they settled into a comfortable routine of Lois working from home, and Clark spending as much time there as possible. He arrived immediately after work each day, bringing with him either takeout or fresh ingredients for dinner, and he often stayed late, spending time with Lois, and giving her a chance to spend some time alone while he cared for Jake.
Lois spent what little free time she had during the day working on stories from home; making phone calls while Jake was asleep, and emailing drafts of stories and revisions from her laptop. She was honestly surprised to discover how much she enjoyed taking care of the tiny baby who had taken over her life. She had always thought that women who gave up careers to be stay-at-home mothers were either crazy, or they never actually had high career aspirations. So she was amazed not only to find herself enjoying the time she spent with him, but even catching herself thinking that maybe there really was something rewarding about staying at home with children.
Increasingly, though, she was beginning to feel cut off from the paper, and her work, and she was anxious to get back into her routine of going to The Daily Planet each morning, and working on truly interesting stories, as opposed to the mostly fluff pieces she'd been working on from home.
When Clark showed up at Lois' after work, bearing dinner and flowers, Lois nearly pulled him into the apartment. "Clark, I'm so glad you're here. I've been working on something and I want your opinion."
"OK, just let me get some plates and you can tell me over dinner."
"How was your day, honey?" Clark asked. "Everything go OK? What's all this?" he asked, clearing a stack of printouts from the kitchen table.
"Oh, I was just doing a little research on infant first aid. You know…just in case."
Clark smiled at her and finished setting the table. Over dinner, the topic strayed, and Lois seemed to forget what she was so excited to tell him. It wasn't until after dinner when they were seated on the sofa that Clark remembered that Lois had been eager for his input.
"OK, so tell me what you were working on. You finished that story on Johnson and Montero right?"
Lois grinned, recalling the story they had written a month earlier exposing major corruption in the mayor's office. The mayor had been forced to resign, and was still awaiting trial for many of his indiscretions. So, while Lois hadn't been thrilled to write the puff piece introducing the two new candidates running the upcoming special election, she had to admit it was nice that the special election itself was a result of their hard work.
"Well, it's not exactly a story. Not yet, anyway. See, it's just that I've been thinking a lot lately about what Lucy had told me about Jason — Jake's father. And there's just something I can't figure out."
"Like why a man would abandon his child," Clark muttered under his breath.
When he looked up Lois was looking at him quizzically.
"Sorry, it just bothers me," Clark said sheepishly. "Go ahead, what is it that you thought was strange?"
Lois placed her glass on the table near where Clark had just set his. She turned back to look at him, and took Clark's hands in hers.
"What?" Clark asked at her intense gaze.
"You would *never* do that, would you," Lois stated quietly. "I mean, you honestly can't even imagine why a man would desert his family, can you? It's just not in you."
"No, Lois, I can't imagine that. Family is the most important thing in the world to me, and when we have children, I —"
Clark was cut short by Lois' stunned expression. It took only a second to realize what he had said.
Oh my God. What have I done?!
Lois took in Clark's horrified expression. Then she smiled a slow, seductive smile. "When we have children? My, my, Clark, aren't you jumping the gun?" she said, sidling closer and placing her hand on his thigh.
Clark's face took on a deer in the headlights quality. "I just…um…"
Lois couldn't take it anymore and burst into laughter. "God, Clark! You should see your face! First you're afraid I going to kill you, then you're afraid I'm going to jump you!"
Clark looked at Lois, still fumbling for words.
"It's OK, Clark. I can assure you I'm going to do neither."
"Sorry," Clark said, somewhat recovered but still embarrassed. "I just…"
"Clark, I'm just teasing you. You looked like you were about to have a stroke, I just wanted to calm you down. I thought a little humor might do the trick."
Clark smiled at her, relaxing.
"Do you really think about us having children together?" Lois asked shyly.
Clark reached out for her and pulled her into his embrace. "Yeah, I do. I mean, I guess the thought had always been at the back of my mind. I never *really* thought about it until Jake came along… but when I walked into the newsroom and saw you with him… I just…" Clark tried to swallow through the lump from his throat.
Lois reached up and smoothed his hair out of his face. "You know, I've never really given much thought to having children. I've always just been so focused on work and my career, I never thought about having a family. But if I did have children… I can't imagine a better father for them than you."
Clark pulled her close and slowly brought his lips to hers. Lois sighed and parted her lips inviting Clark to deepen the kiss.
Clark slipped a hand behind her neck and tangled his fingers in her hair. His other arm pulled her even closer, gently caressing her back. Lois slid her hands up Clark's chest until they rested on his neck, then she tugged him gently forward, leaning back until she was lying on the couch with Clark on top of her. Clark slid his arm out from under her and used it to prop himself up a little.
He slowly lifted his face from hers, his heart clenching when she softly moaned, protesting the loss of contact. With his free hand he tucked her hair behind her ear, and took a ragged breath. "I love you, Lois. I love you so much," he whispered, bending his neck to kiss her jaw, just below her ear.
As he trailed kisses down along her neck, Lois shivered and murmured, "Oh God, Clark!" as she ran her fingers through his hair. She rolled her head back to allow him better access.
As he pressed a kiss to the hollow of her throat Lois gasped his name, and urgently tugged on his arms, pulling him back to her and blindly seeking his lips. Clark met her hungrily and felt himself groan into her mouth.
"Oh God, Lois," he moaned pulling away. "We've got to cool this down. I can't…"
Lois met his glazed eyes and smiled. "I know," she replied breathlessly.
Clark kissed her gently one more time, then forced himself to sit up, gently pulling Lois up with him. For a minute he just held her, taking deep breaths and forcing himself back to reality.
Finally, he pulled back and asked, "So, what was it that you were going to tell me before we got so pleasantly distracted?"
"Oh, yeah." Lois grinned.
"Well…I've been running through everything that Lucy told me, and there is something that just doesn't add up. From what she says, she met this guy, Jason Crawford, about a year ago. They were 'totally in love' and when she found out she was pregnant he wasn't upset at all; he was just stressed and suggested that they put the baby up for adoption. Lucy said she readily agreed to give the baby up for adoption because she was unemployed and had no way of supporting a baby. He suggested that they not tell anyone about the pregnancy because it would make it harder for them later. She agreed and everything went incredibly well through the pregnancy. Jason knew of an agency that did private adoptions and he helped her set the whole thing up. The only snag hit when the baby was born and Lucy decided she didn't want to give him up. At first he tried to gently persuade her to change her mind, but when she refused he freaked out. He yelled and screamed and eventually deserted her, breaking his rental agreement and leaving them basically homeless."
"Oh, my God."
"But that part all makes sense."
At Clark's horrified look Lois clarified, "Clark, not every man is as wonderful as you are, believe me. As horrifying as this story is, it happens every day, all over the country."
"I know, but…" Clark grimaced, and Lois reached up to caress his cheek. His eyes met hers and she pulled him down for a quick kiss.
"What I don't understand," she said, pulling away, "is what happened next. Instead of just staying gone, Jason reappeared one night. Lucy said she woke up in the middle of the night to see Jason standing in the doorway of her bedroom. She said her first reaction was relief; she thought that he had changed his mind and that he was coming back to stay. She said she had been miserable since he left. I think that when she decided to keep Jake, rather than give him up for adoption, she had this picturesque view of what her life was going to be like — a cute little baby, a perfect little family. But, with Jason gone, she was exhausted and disillusioned. She didn't know what she was doing, and could barely take care of herself, let alone a baby. So, when she saw him in the bedroom, she was thrilled. But when she spoke to him, he froze, totally panicked. Then she realized that he was dressed all in black and had been sneaking into the apartment in the middle of the night. She accused him of trying to kidnap Jake, and he didn't deny it, he just left."
"What! He tried to kidnap him? That doesn't make any sense!"
"I know! That's what I'm telling you. Why would a man who is *that* opposed to having a child try to kidnap him? I wasn't really thinking clearly when Lucy told me the story, or I would have asked more questions. But, I did ask her why she thought he would want him, and she said she didn't know, but that he was pretty obsessed with giving the baby up for adoption and that maybe he was planning on taking him to the agency that had placed him. She said she thought he had gone crazy, and that maybe he thought by getting rid of the baby, things would go back to the way they were before."
"And you think there is more to this than what it appears to be?"
"Well, don't you? I mean, maybe it's nothing. Maybe this particular guy is just a lunatic. God knows, with Lucy's taste in men that's a distinct possibility. But, I just wanted to look into it some more, so…"
"You've already started?" Clark grinned. "So, what did you come up with?"
"Well, I called a friend of mine and pulled a couple of strings, and I was able to get his police records. The guy is pretty clean, a couple of traffic tickets, etc., but nothing suspicious. Then I ran his name through a couple of other databases though, and I can't find any employer listed for the last two years. Now, Lucy said he was an artist, so maybe he is just self-employed. From what Lucy said, he must have been doing pretty well financially, because she said he really wooed her with all sorts of expensive gifts and dates and he completely supported almost a year. But I did a search on the Internet and I called some contacts of mine in that general area that deal with art, and none of them have ever heard of him."
"Hmmm. That is strange. An inheritance or trust fund, maybe?"
"That's possible; I want to run his financial records though. I just have a feeling about this, Clark. Something is missing here."
"OK. It's too late to do anything about it tonight. Why don't we work on it tomorrow? Even if it's not a story, I'm sure that Perry won't mind us using some of the Planet's resources to check it out. We can have Jimmy run a bunch of searches on him."
"But, Clark, what am I going to do with Jake? Perry is pulling a bunch of strings to get him bumped to the top of the waiting list for the Planet Day Care Center, but they don't have a spot for him yet. I don't know anyone that can babysit in the meantime. I'm dying to get back to work, but there's just nowhere for him to go. I finally broke down and called my mother the other day. I've been putting off calling her and telling her about Jake, because I figured it was something that Lucy would want to do, but I still haven't heard from Lucy, and I have no idea when, or even if, she's coming back. Anyway, I finally bit the bullet and called my mom, thinking that maybe once she got over the initial shock she would be able to help me out a little, and maybe watch Jake while I go to work, but I called her at home and all I got was her machine with a message saying she was going on an African safari and wouldn't be home for six weeks! I called my father's office to see if he knows anything about this, and his secretary said that he had gone, too. Apparently, this is another lame reconciliation attempt."
"Well, you never know, honey. Maybe this time it will work."
"Don't hold your breath. Anyway, the point is, I have no one to take care of Jake so that I can go to work."
"We'll just have to bring him in with us. We can take turns watching him, and if there is something we both absolutely have to do and we can't take him, I'm sure we can talk Perry, or Jimmy, or someone into watching him for a little bit. I know you're going stir-crazy at home. Bring him in; we'll work it out. What? Why are you smiling at me like that?"
"You're doing it again. 'We'll just have to…' 'We can take turns…' What would I do without you?"
Clark laughed. "Lois, you know I'll do anything I can to help you with him. Besides, I really like the little guy."
Just then a cry a came from the bedroom, and their eyes met.
"Speak of the devil," Clark grinned.
The next morning Lois was running around frantically trying to get ready when Clark knocked on the door.
Lois flung the door open, still in her robe, hair wet, and crying baby in tow.
Clark immediately reached for Jacob.
"His bottle is on the kitchen counter; can you feed him while I finish getting ready?"
"Good morning to you too, sweetheart," Clark said, brushing a kiss across her forehead as he strode to the kitchen to grab the bottle.
"Sorry," Lois said sheepishly. "Good morning."
Jacob nestled into Clark's arms hungrily sucking down the formula. "Hungry this morning, Jake?"
"I don't know how he can possibly be hungry. He was up all night eating."
Clark looked up worriedly. "Did you get any sleep?"
"A little, not much."
"Oh, honey. You should have called me."
"So you could what, Clark? Come all the way over here in the middle of the night?"
"Well, you need your sleep." Clark felt a twinge of guilt as he silently finished the sentence, 'more than I do, anyway.'
"I'll be OK. I'm just a little tired."
"Why don't you let me stay here tonight? I'll get up with him so you can get some sleep."
"We'll see," Lois said with a raised eyebrow.
"What? *Now* you think I'm thinking I'm trying to seduce you?"
Lois burst out laughing. "Well…you can't sleep on my sofa, you know. You'd have to sleep with me," Lois said slowly approaching him.
Clark juggled Jacob and freed an arm so he could pull her close. "I think I could handle that," he whispered.
Lois pressed a quick kiss to his lips, and darted from his grasp. "I'll be out in a few minutes," she said as she dashed into the bathroom.
Lois emerged from the bathroom dressed for work and stopped short when she saw Clark standing in the light from the window holding Jake aloft. He was stretched out along Clark's forearm with his head cradled in Clark's hand.
"Hey, look who's here!" Clark said, propping Jake up.
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed. "Be careful! You're going to drop him!"
"He's fine, I've got him. Besides, he likes it. Look." Jake waved his arms around and gurgled happily, illustrating Clark's point.
Lois looked at him doubtfully and reached over to scoop the baby into her arms. "God, Clark, you're going to give me a heart attack. He's just a baby," she said, cuddling Jake close to her chest and planting a kiss of the top of his head.
Clark smiled at Lois' protective reaction. "Come on, Lois, you know I would never do anything to endanger him."
Lois hugged the baby tighter. "I know. It just makes me nervous."
Two hours later, Lois was sitting at her desk typing furiously on the keyboard. Clark sat perched on the edge of her desk, holding Jake in his arms.
"Look at this, Clark! If he's an artist, where are these monthly deposits coming from? It looks like he deposits $1000 around the 15th of every month. And look, there are two bigger deposits of $5,000 each; one about a year and a half ago and one three years ago. There are no other deposits in the five years since he opened this account."
"Jimmy!" they both hollered simultaneously.
Jimmy appeared and bent to coo over Jacob.
Lois waited impatiently until she had Jimmy's attention, "Jimmy, I need you to find everything you can on this guy. Specifically, I want you to figure out where these monthly deposits are coming from. It looks like he's been getting it for about three years now. And see if these two larger deposits are coming from the same place. Also, find out if he has any other bank accounts. Aside from that, just find out anything and everything. I want to know this guy better than he knows himself. Oh, and I need a list of every adoption agency in the Los Angeles metropolitan area."
As Lois finished her dissertation, Jake began to cry softly. Jimmy took one look at the crying infant and began to rapidly back away. "Uh, I'll get on this right now…"
"I think he's hungry, Lois."
"Yeah, his bottles are in the bag by your desk. I'll go get it and warm it up."
"No, I'll get it. You take Jake — I think he wants you."
Lois looked at Clark doubtfully, but when he placed Jake in her arms, the baby did in fact quiet a little. Lois looked up at Clark, stunned.
"Lois, don't look so shocked. Jake trusts you, he loves you."
Lois blushed and looked back down at the baby. She stroked his head and smiled down at him. "Well, just hurry with the bottle or neither of us is going to be able to reason with him."
A minute later Clark returned with the bottle and leaned against Lois desk as she cuddled Jake and held his bottle. He stooped over and stroked Jake's head, smiling as the baby closed his eyes and nestled closer to Lois. Clark looked up and caught Lois' eye. As they smiled at each other Perry walked by and shook his head silently.
He motioned for Jimmy to come into his office. "Olsen, have you seen those two?"
Jimmy grinned and nodded in the affirmative. "You know, I always knew this was going to happen. But I have to admit, I didn't expect it to happen overnight."
"Well, you know, when something is right, it doesn't always take time. Did I ever tell you the story about how Elvis met Priscilla? Well, it was back in '59 and he had just been stationed in Germany. He knew right away that she was the one, and that they would have a family together, but she…" Jimmy sighed and let his mind wander to where he would take Angela on their date that night, while Perry launched into one of his most repeated Elvis stories.
Lois kicked the door shut behind her, juggling her bag and a large stack of papers. Clark set the carrier on the table and unbuckled Jacob, pulling him gently out. "Come on, buddy, let's get you a bottle."
"And I thought Bobby Bigmouth ate a lot," Lois muttered.
Clark grinned as he pulled the bottle from the bag. "Do you want to feed him?"
"Yeah," Lois said sheepishly. "It was nice of everyone at work to turns with him today, but I kinda missed him."
"I know; me too," Clark said, pressing a kiss to Jake's forehead as he passed him to Lois.
Lois walked to the sofa and cuddled with Jake. Clark watched them lovingly for a moment, then turned his attention to the stack of papers on the table.
He flipped through them, skimming them as he went along. "Hmm, looks like those deposits are coming from an Oceanside Realty. Why in the world would he be — Lois?"
Clark turned and smiled as Lois remained oblivious. She was curled up on the sofa, snuggling Jake and humming softly to him. His eyes were closed, and he was just barely still sucking.
Just then there was a sharp knock at the door. Lois looked up, startled.
"I'll get it," Clark said, striding to the door. On the other side was a deliveryman with a large box on a dolly.
"Delivery for a Ms. Lois Lane?"
"Yes, come on in," Clark said. Lois came around the corner as the deliveryman wheeled the package through the door.
"Were you expecting something, Lois?"
"No," she said, peering at the label on the box. "Clark! It's from your parents."
"My parents? What in the world?"
Lois signed for the package and Clark showed the man out.
"Open it, Clark."
Clark pulled the long strip of duct tape down the side of box, and swung open the flaps. He smiled and shook his head when he saw the contents. "Lois, look." He rolled the bassinet from box. "It's my bassinet."
"Oh, Clark," she breathed. "This was yours?"
"Yes. Oh look, there are baby blankets and some clothes. Oh, and look at these old rattles and toys. My mother must have raided the attic. I didn't even know she still had all of this stuff…Lois? Honey, are you OK?"
Clark pulled Lois close as she wiped a tear from her eye. "I'm fine, I just…I can't believe your mom sent all of this."
Clark smiled tenderly and brushed a kiss across her forehead. "Let me get all of this out of the bassinet, and we can lay him down in it. It looks like he is down for the count."
Clark quickly moved everything to the table. Then he carried the bassinet into the bedroom. Lois laid him down gently on his back and tucked the blanket snugly around him.
Clark stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her. For a moment they stood in silence watching the baby sleep.
"I can't believe you used to sleep in this," Lois whispered, finally.
"This bassinet has actually been in my family for years. My grandmother gave it to my mom when she married my father. It sat in my bedroom for years while they tried to have a child. My mom told me once that she used to catch my dad used to staring at it, but only when he didn't know she was around. She said he didn't want her to see how badly he wanted a child, because he knew how much it was hurting her already. But she said she never gave up, she just knew that they would have a baby to fill the bassinet someday. And when they found me, and brought me home, and laid me in this bassinet, my mom said it was the first time she had ever seen my father cry."
Lois turned to face Clark. Her voice quivered as she started to speak. "Clark, that's so… And I can't believe your mom sent the bassinet out here for Jake… I just… That's such beautiful story."
Clark said nothing for a moment, reaching up to stroke her cheek. "They were — are — incredible parents. I couldn't have asked for better." He paused, then smiled and started again, "They adore you, you know. My mom asks about you every time I call. She's been predicting that we would get together for ages, and when I told her that we had, she was ecstatic. I'm not surprised that she sent the bassinet for Jake. I'm sure they think of him as family already."
"They really like me?"
"Yes sweetheart. Almost as much as I do," he whispered, leaning in to kiss her.
After a moment they pulled apart and walked hand in hand to the living room.
"Clark? Did you say that your parents 'found' you? I mean, I know you were adopted, but… Do you know anything about your birth parents?"
Here was the perfect opportunity he had been waiting for. He had to tell her the truth; he couldn't lie to her any longer. His stomach churned at the thought, his mind reeling with her possible reactions. Would she hate him? Could she ever forgive him? Would she even listen to his reasoning? And how would he ever explain why he had waited so long to tell her the truth?
Clark took a deep breath and pulled Lois toward the sofa. "Yes, I do. Although a lot of what I know, I didn't find out until just pretty recently."
Lois looked up at him questioningly and silently urged him to go on.
"My parents found me in Schuster's field when I was just a baby," Clark started nervously.
"You were abandoned?" Lois asked, horrified.
"That's what I always thought, up until a few months ago…" Clark paused and shook his head, his apprehension threatening to make him physically ill.
"Clark? Are you OK?" Lois reached up and smoothed his hair. "Honey, you don't have to talk about this if you don't want to. I didn't mean to upset you. I'm sorry," she said tenderly, stretching to kiss him gently on the cheek.
"No, I have to!" Lois was taken aback by the sudden intensity in Clark's voice.
"I should have told you about this a long time ago, and I'm sorry that I didn't. I'm *so* sorry. I just had to wait until the time was right, and then I was scared. I was so scared about how you would react, I just couldn't tell you. But I have to tell you now."
"Clark? What are you talking about? You were afraid about how I would react? Why would you be afraid of how I would react to the story of how your parents found you? You have to know that it wouldn't make any difference to me. Why would it? And I've known for ages that you were adopted. I don't understand."
"Lois, please. Just let me tell you, then you'll understand. And afterwards I promise I will answer any questions that you have. Just let me get this all out first."
Lois nodded silently and reached for Clark's hand. He smiled at her and reached up to cup her cheek with his other hand. He loved the feel of her skin under his fingers. 'Enjoy it while you can; this is probably the last time she'll ever let you touch her,' a cruel voice taunted. It was true, though. Once she found out that he'd been lying to her this whole time… Clark forcibly pushed aside the distressing voice in his head and willed himself to go on.
"I wasn't abandoned, Lois. I —"
The sharp ringing of the phone startled both of them.
"Go on, Clark. Just ignore it. We'll let the machine get it."
The phone rang again and Clark pulled back. "Maybe you'd better get that. We can finish this later."
"Are you sure?" Lois asked doubtfully.
Clark nodded, mentally castigating himself for ruining this opportunity and cursing whoever was on the phone.
"Martha, hi! Yes, we just got it. Thank you so much, it's beautiful. You have no idea how much this means to me." She paused for a moment, then continued, "Yes, he's sleeping in it right now. He looks like a little angel."
Suddenly, Clark heard the sound of gunshots in the distance. He tried to motion to Lois that he had to leave, but she just looked at him quizzically.
He tried again, and Lois said into the phone, "Excuse me for a second, Martha. Your son is acting out some kind of bizarre charade that looks something like hula dancing. I can only imagine that means he's going to disappear out the door in a minute without giving me any indication of where he's going or when he's going to return."
"Lo-is," Clark hissed.
"What? Go… you can explain later."
Clark looked visibly relieved and nearly flew out the door.
"I don't suppose you know where he goes when he does that?" Lois asked Martha doubtfully.
"I'm afraid you'll have to ask him," Martha replied, wishing briefly that Lois already knew, and that she didn't have to talk around the truth.
Lois sighed and went on. "Anyway, thank you again for sending the bassinet, it's just beautiful…"
It was nearly nine o'clock before Clark was finally able to get away from his duties as Superman and return to Lois.
Lois answered the door, Jake in her arms, and simply raised her eyebrow before opening the door to allow him in.
"I don't suppose you're going to tell me where it is that you suddenly had to go for hours on end?"
Clark sighed wearily, and placed the bag on the table.
"Lois," he started, bracing himself for the argument that was sure to follow.
"Clark, are you OK? You look exhausted."
Clark's face registered his surprise at her sudden change of topic.
"I'm fine. It's just been a long day. I'm sorry that I had to run off suddenly, I just —"
"Forget it. We'll talk about it later. I was just about to feed Jake and put him down again; do you want to do it?"
Clark's eyes lit up as he reached for the baby. Lois turned to grab the bottle, but Clark pulled her to him before she could move. He held her close and rested his cheek on the top her head. "Thank you," he breathed into her hair, the tension draining from his body.
"I just worry about you, Clark," she said, pulling away.
"I know, Lois. I…"
"Just go spend some time with Jake. I think he missed you," she said, smiling. "I want to take a look at these files Jimmy was able to pull for us. Jake woke up almost as soon as I got off the phone with your mom, so I wasn't able to get anything done."
He nodded and carried Jake over to the sofa where he settled in and relaxed into the cushions. Lois smiled as she watched him press a kiss to Jake's forehead, then turned her attention to the papers in front of her.
A half hour later, Lois heard Clark rise from the couch. He walked quietly into her bedroom, and emerged a few minutes later.
"He's asleep," he said quietly, coming up behind her and resting his hands on her shoulders.
Lois turned in her chair and took his hands in hers, pulling him into the seat next to her. "Are you feeling better? I was really worried about you when you got here."
"Yeah, I'm fine now. It's amazing what a little quality time with a baby can do for you."
"Good," she said quietly, gently strOKing the back of his hand.
"Any luck with that?" Clark asked, gesturing to the papers spread across the dining room table.
"Well, I've been looking through these, and there are some things that don't make sense. These deposits of his are coming from an Oceanside Realty, but nothing in any of these personal files shows that he has any prior experience in real estate, and he doesn't have a real estate license. So, if he's not *selling* real estate, and Lucy specifically said he was an artist and he didn't have a day job, so it's not like he's the receptionist or something, then *why* is a real estate agency paying him $1000 a month? *And* if he is supposed to be this up and coming artist, why is there no record of him having any showings in the area? He didn't attend art school, there is no record of him selling any artwork, and no gallery in the area has any record of him."
"Hmmm. But we still don't have any idea what any of it means."
"Not really. I'm not really sure what I'm looking for, though." Lois sighed, and raked her fingers through her hair. "I just wish I could get in touch with Lucy. I have no idea who this Maggie friend of hers is. I just wish I knew if she was OK, and it would be really helpful if I could just ask her some of this stuff instead of having to investigate it."
"Well, maybe she'll call soon. She must be worried about Jake."
"Yeah," Lois said doubtfully, stifling a yawn.
"Oh jeez, I didn't realize it was so late. I'll get up with Jake tonight, and you can sleep in tomorrow. Thank goodness tomorrow's finally Friday."
"You're really going to stay?"
Clark gestured to the duffle bag, sitting forgotten by the door. "Well, I was planning on it. But if it makes you uncomfortable, or if you don't want me to, I won't. And I can always sleep on the couch if that…"
"Clark?" She waited until he was looking at her to continue. "I'm exhausted; let's go to bed."
They quickly took turns in the bathroom. When Clark entered the bedroom Lois was already in bed half asleep. She smiled when she heard him enter and pulled down the blankets next to her.
Clark made his way to the bed, pausing for just a second to peek at the peaceful baby tucked into the bassinet.
"Shh. Don't you dare wake him up," Lois whispered, teasing him. "I want at least a few minutes with you before you have to get up with him."
Clark face broke out into a grin at her words, and he quietly slid into the bed, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close. Lois snuggled close to him, resting her head on his chest and letting his steady heartbeat lull her to sleep. "I love you, Clark," she whispered, half asleep before she finished speaking.
"I love you too, Lois."
An hour later, Jacob's cries woke them from their peaceful sleep. "Shh. Don't move, sweetheart. I've got him," Clark whispered, trying to disentangle himself from their jumble of limbs.
When Lois awoke the next time, the early morning sun was just beginning to rise through the window and Clark's side of the bed was cool. She sat up and peered into Jake's bassinet and saw that he was missing too. For a moment she sat still, listening.
When she heard nothing, she got out of bed and padded into the living room. There she found Clark half-laying on the sofa. His soiled shirt lay discarded on the floor next to the sofa. His head was lolled awkwardly to one side and Jake was sprawled across his bare chest sleeping peacefully.
Lois tiptoed over and cautiously lifted Jake from Clark's chest. Clark started when he felt the sudden loss of Jake's weight. Lois cradled Jake in her arms and nodded her head in the direction of the bedroom. "Come back to bed, Clark."
Clark sat on Lois' sofa, halfheartedly flipping though what little information they had on Jason. Perry had assigned them a number of new investigations, so it looked like their little personal project was going to be relegated to the back burner. They were both committed to working on it in what little spare time they had, but they hadn't been able to dig up anything new, and they were both beginning to believe that Jason was nothing more than a small-time scam artist with no desire to be a father.
When Clark had offered to spend the night a second time, Lois had eagerly agreed. Ultimately, Clark had wound up spending nearly every night of the next week with Lois, and she had to admit that having him stay overnight was a Godsend. Not only was she getting more sleep, but now that she was able to get out of the house on a regular basis, she was beginning to feel more like herself. And if she happened to enjoy the perks that went along with it, well, that wasn't such a bad thing either, she thought as she tucked Jake into his bassinet.
Lois returned from the bedroom and perched herself on Clark's lap. "He's down for the count. At least I hope so."
"Good," Clark growled, bending to kiss her neck.
Lois giggled as she drew her legs up, causing the hemline of her short dress to nudge even higher.
He leaned in, capturing her lips in a slow, sweet kiss. Lois slid her hands up to tangle in his hair, sighing softly and parting her lips in invitation. Clark deepened the kiss, wrapping his arms firmly around her.
She gasped as he ran his free hand down her side, gripping her firmly at the waist before flipping them so that she was beneath him on the couch.
"How did you -" He recaptured her lips before she could finish the question, and Lois decided that the how didn't really matter for the moment and lost herself in his touch.
After a moment she slid her arms from around his neck and slipped them between their bodies, running them down his chest. Slowly she began unbuttoning his shirt, longing to really touch him.
"Oh, honey," Clark moaned, shifting on top of her to dispose of his shirt. A small voice in the back of his head warned him to cool it down unless he wanted to spend the rest of the night swimming in the Arctic. Lois' fingers grazed the waistband of his slacks, and Clark suddenly decided he didn't care how many hours it took him to recover.
He slid his hand up her side, his fingers tentatively grazing the side of her breast through the thin material of the dress. Lois mumbled incoherent words of encouragement against his lips, and Clark moved to cup her breast.
"Oh God, Lois!" he moaned.
"Clark," she gasped, arching her back to press herself more firmly against him.
Clark withdrew his hand and immediately began unbuttoning her dress. After quickly undoing a couple of buttons, he reached up to brush the two sides apart. He stilled for a second, waiting.
"Yes, Clark. Please," Lois gasped, pulling him forward for another searing kiss.
That was all the encouragement Clark needed. In one swift movement he brushed the sides of the dress apart and began kissing his way down her neck.
He pulled back for a second, his hands still caressing her.
"Clark?" Lois asked, worried that something was wrong.
"Just let me look at you for a second, honey," he said, reaching to caress her face and dropping a quick kiss on her lips before pulling back to gaze at her again. "God, you're so beautiful."
His eyes roamed her body for another second before coming back up to meet her gaze. "I love you, sweetheart. I love you so much," he whispered.
The sincerity in his voice, and the love she saw staring back at her, brought tears to Lois' eyes. "Oh, Clark. I love you, too."
Slowly he lowered his face back to hers and captured her lips in a sweet, tender kiss. Within seconds their passion flared again, and their hands began roaming wildly.
"Clark," Lois gasped, straining to look around. "Did you hear something?"
"What?" Clark asked, trailing kisses from her ear down her neck to her collar bone. "I don't hear anything," he said, obviously not attempting to actually ascertain if there was a noise or not.
Lois dropped her head again and stretched to trail kisses along his jaw.
"Clark, someone's knocking at the door," she murmured in his ear once she figured out where the noise was coming from.
"I don't care," he said, scooting lower down her body, trailing searing kisses along her stomach and causing her to forget why she had interrupted him in the first place.
He raised his head to look into her eyes as they both heard another louder knock. "Whatever it is, it cannot *possibly* be as important as this."
Lois shivered at the throaty intensity of his voice. She nodded, unable to form her thoughts into coherent words, and reached for him again.
"Besides," he said in lighter tone. "I am in no shape to answer to the door right now." He raised his eyebrows and glancing down meaningfully.
Lois tried unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle and reached up to pull him to her again. As Clark deepened the kiss, Lois felt her mind swirling, unable to focus on anything except the incredible sensations he was creating in her.
Suddenly they were both ripped from their haze of passion as they heard the door slam and Jimmy's stunned voice, "Whoa! I'm sorry…I knocked, but…oh my God."
Clark's head snapped up and he immediately grasped the dangling sides of the dress together to cover Lois' chest.
"I dug up some more information on that story you're working on. I knocked, but you didn't answer so I just let myself in… you gave me the key when you were going out of town last month…I was just going to leave them on the table…" Jimmy's face turned increasing shades of red as he continued to stutter, his eyes never leaving the floor.
"Oh, God," Clark gasped through gritted teeth, desperately trying to regain control of his body.
Lois quickly finished buttoning her dress. "What the hell were you thinking?" she demanded, as she scooted from beneath Clark and lunged toward Jimmy.
As she rubbed against him, Clark groaned and dropped his head back, desperately fighting his body.
"I'm really sorry," Jimmy said again as Lois took the files. "I had no idea…"
"Give me the key! I gave you this so that you could feed my fish, not so that you could have ready access to my apartment anytime I'm not home! What do you think this is? Your own personal —"
"Honey, calm down," Clark said softly. "It was an accident. I'm sure Jimmy didn't mean to —"
"Yeah!" Jimmy interjected, grabbing on to the hope Clark gave him. "It was an accident. I never thought that you would be…I mean that you guys were… I mean…" When he saw that his fumbled apology was getting him nowhere, he stopped trying, and silently handed her the key.
Lois said nothing, but looked pointedly toward the door.
"Umm, well…I better get going. I'll see you guys on Monday," Jimmy said, hastily retreating toward the door.
As Lois shut and locked the door she felt Clark's arms around her again. He spun her gently around to face him.
"Are you OK?" she asked, reaching to smooth his hair from his forehead, her anger fading rapidly.
Clark responded by kissing her passionately, pinning her to the door, his arms resting on either side of her head. Lois ran her hands over his chest, then settled her hands at his waist.
He pulled back, allowing them to catch their breath, and Lois held up the key, still clutched between her fingers. He watched in fascination as she slowly and deliberately lowered the key, sliding it into the pocket of his jeans.
"I've been meaning to make you a copy of the key," she said, her voice husky. "I guess that kills two birds with one stone."
In an instant, Clark's lips were on hers again. Lois' arms snaked around his neck as she wrapped one of her legs around his.
His hands went to her waist, but before he could lift her to carry her back to the couch, a plaintive wail rose from the bedroom.
"No," he gasped. "Oh God, no," he moaned, pulling his lips from hers and dropping his head to rest against the door.
"I'm sorry, honey," she whispered against his neck. Planting one last kiss on his collar bone, she slipped under his arm and headed for bedroom.
It was late, and Lois was already in bed when Clark returned. He had left under the guise of needing to run some errands, and had been gone longer than he anticipated. He slid carefully under the covers, trying not to disturb Lois.
"Mmm. There you are," she whispered, laying her head on his chest and snuggling next to him. "Where have you been?"
"Swimming laps in the Arctic," he mumbled, telling her the truth even if she would believe it was only a euphemism.
Lois cringed. "I'm sorry, honey."
"It's not your fault," he murmured, wrapping his arms more securely around her. "I love you, sweetheart."
"I love you, too, Clark." Lois paused, remembering her resolve to talk to Clark about what had happened. They'd been so out of control. If Jimmy hadn't stopped them, there was no way they would have been able to stop themselves.
It wasn't that she didn't want to make love to him. On the contrary, she wanted very much to make love to him. She just wasn't sure they were ready. That almost seemed silly. She knew that she loved him more than she had ever loved anyone else — so why was she so skittish?
In the heat of the moment it was so tempting to just ignore her qualms and give in. And she couldn't help but feel sorry for Clark. She knew how badly he wanted to make love to her, even if he would never say anything for fear of pressuring her into something she wasn't ready for. But, still, he was a man, and men have needs, or so she'd been told many times.
Clark lay silently beneath her, holding her as the storm of thoughts had raged in her mind. He listened as her heartbeat began to speed up, and he felt her body stiffen.
"What's the matter, honey? Talk to me," he whispered against her hair.
"Clark, about what happened earlier," Lois stopped, unsure where to go from there.
"What, Lois? You can tell me anything, you know that."
"It's just that, well, things got a little out of hand, and…"
"And you never meant for it to go that far," he completed. He felt her nod almost imperceptibly against him, and he went on. "Honey, I know. I didn't mean for things to get so out of control either. I'm sorry. I love you, and I do want to make love to you. But, when we make love for the first time, I want it to be because we're both ready, not because things got out of control and we couldn't stop ourselves. I know that you're not really ready, and I'm willing to wait as long as it takes until you are, sweetheart."
"You're not upset?" she whispered.
"Upset? Why would I be — Oh, Lois. Honey, I *love* you. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in my entire life. Do you have any idea how much you mean to me?" He rushed on, not waiting for an answer. "I want to make you happy. And pushing you into something you're not ready for is not going to make either of us happy."
"I love you," she whispered. She paused for a moment and in a tiny voice added, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry? Whatever for?"
"I don't mean to be a tease," she whispered, tensing at the name that had been so callously thrown at her in the past.
"Hey, hey," he said, hugging her tightly. "No, you're not a tease. That's not -" Clark chOked up, suddenly wishing he could personally punish every man who had ever hurt her.
"Lois, I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm going to say to you." He pulled away a little and paused for a moment to hold her gaze and make sure she was listening.
"I love every second that I spend with you. Just being with you makes me happy. You don't have to do anything to please me. And being with you — touching you, kissing you, holding you — gives me more pleasure than anything else in the entire whole world. We don't have to have sex in order to make love. You fill me with love."
"Oh, Clark," she sobbed quietly, tears trickling down her cheeks.
"Shh, it's OK. I love you, sweetheart," he murmured holding her close and strOKing her hair until they both fell asleep.
Lois kicked the door shut behind her. "Who would guess that babies could go through diapers and formula so quickly," she said, dropping the shopping bags on the counter. Jake started to fuss, so Clark set the carrier down and set to work unbuckling him. As he was pulling him from the seat the phone rang.
Lois took one look at Jake fussing in Clark's arms and said, "I'll get it in the bedroom."
"Well, that was Jimmy," Lois said emerging from the bedroom. "This is getting more and more strange. Let's see if we can figure out who owns Oceanside Realty. Perhaps it is just a division or a shell company of a bigger corporation."
"My thoughts exactly. And I looked through this list of adoption agencies, but I really don't know what I am looking for at this point, since Lucy didn't say what the name of the agency was that they had been dealing with."
Clark flipped through some of the other papers on the table, "Nothing else here jumps out at me. It looks like we really need to learn more about this Oceanside Realty, before we can figure out anything else."
Lois shook her head and continued. "Jimmy was able to do a little more digging, and it turns out that Oceanside Realty is a division of Coastal Ventures, which is owned by C.S. Huntington, Inc. I don't know anything about Huntington, but Jimmy said he would do some digging and send over everything he could find."
"Good. Hopefully, that'll give us the information we need to really get somewhere," Clark replied, stripping the soiled jumper off Jacob and reaching for the clean outfit next to him on the sofa.
Lois leaned over Clark's shoulder and stroked the Jacob's hair. "Hey there, sweetheart. You're such a good baby," she cooed.
"He single-handedly creates more laundry than any other person on this planet," Clark muttered playfully.
Lois smacked him lightly on the arm. "Don't you listen to him, Jake. He's just being a grouch. You can make as much laundry as you want, we'll still love you." Jake gurgled happily and waved his arms in the air.
Lois reached down and pulled him from Clark's lap. "What?" she asked when she saw Clark's eyes focus on her.
"You. How could you have ever worried that you couldn't do this? How could you have ever believed that you wouldn't be a good mother. Lois, I…I wish you could see yourself. I wish you could see the way that he lights up when you walk in the room. I wish you could see how beautiful, how incredibly *right*, you look holding him in your arms. You are just amazing…" Clark stopped, unable to go any further due to the lump in his throat.
Lois' eyes glistened with unshed tears. Clark took her free hand and tugged her down into his lap. She nestled her head into the crook of his neck, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I love you, Lois."
"I love you too, Clark. How do you always know the most beautiful things to say?"
"I just tell you the truth, Lois." Clark winced internally as soon as the words were out of his mouth. The truth? But you don't always tell her the truth, do you? You've been with her all day, you've had a million opportunities to tell her about your alter-ego. But have you? No, you haven't. You haven't even tried. At least you could have tried.
"Lois, there's something -" But even as the words were out of his mouth, he could hear the neighbor's TV broadcast a report of a high speed police chase. He paused for a second, hoping the police had it under control so he would be able to stay. However, it became immediately apparent that he would not be so lucky. The chase had left the highway and was headed for a residential neighborhood. Unfortunately, this was a job for Superman.
"There's something I have to do. I forgot that I had, uh…an appointment today. I'm late. I'll be back as soon as I can," he said, standing and sliding her to her feet as carefully as possible.
"Clark, what -" Lois started, but he was out the door before she could finish her sentence.
"Well, Jake, looks like it's just you and me again," Lois said bitterly. Jake looked up at her, wide-eyed.
An hour later, Lois was sprawled on a blanket on the floor playing with Jake. "OK, buddy, we need to think about dinner. I have no idea when Clark is coming back, so what do you say we make something?"
She stood, scooped him up, and proceeded to the kitchen. Two minutes later, she leaned against the counter utterly perplexed. "How can I not have *any* ingredients to make dinner? This is ridiculous!" She pondered the thought for another minute, while gently bouncing Jake.
"I know! Dessert! I *know* I've got some chocolate around here. We can make cookies."
Jake gave her his wide-eyed inquisitive look, and Lois started laughing. "Has Clark already told you that I'm a bad cook? He has, hasn't he? Well, let's just prove him wrong."
Lois set Jake in his carrier on the table where she could watch him, and started rooting around in the kitchen cupboards again. She assembled the necessary ingredients on the counter and started looking for a cookie sheet.
"Where could it be? Doesn't everyone keep cookie sheets next to the oven? Where in the…" As Lois continued to babble to herself she remembered that in a fit of reorganizing a few weeks earlier she had placed her cookie sheets in the small cabinet above the stove, assuming she would not have to get them down very often.
She stretched up, opened the cabinet doors, and attempted to dislodge the cookie sheet from under the assorted other little-used cookware.
As she wiggled the cookie sheet the other objects lost their precarious perch and rained down on her. Lois screamed and jumped back from the miniature avalanche.
Clark was still in the suit at the Metropolis Police Station giving his statement to Detective Henderson when he heard Lois' scream. Without so much as a backwards glance, he was out of the station and standing in Lois' living room.
"Lois! What's the matter? Are you all right?"
"Superman," Lois said shakily. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. Everything is fine; I just had a mishap in the kitchen."
As hard as he tried, Clark couldn't keep the smirk from creeping onto his face.
"I knocked some things over. This had nothing to do with my cooking abilities, or lack thereof!"
Clark turned his attention to the cooing baby in an effort to avoid breaking out into a fit of laughter.
As Lois began picking up the pots and pans scattered across the floor and countertops, Clark took Jake and walked into the living room.
"He's a real cutie, Lois."
"Thanks. We think so, too." Lois responded automatically, then stopped to reflect for a moment on the fact that she sounded a lot more like a proud parent than a babysitting aunt. And the automatic 'we'…well, that was a whole other issue…
She finished straightening the kitchen and walked around the corner into the living room. There she saw Superman standing in the light of the window, completely focused on Jacob. He had him stretched out along his forearm, his head cradled in his palm.
Lois froze as the room spun around her. She gasped and Superman whipped his head around to look at her.
Misinterpreting the reason for her gasp, he tried to reassure her.
"Don't worry, Lois. I've got him. He likes it, see," he said nodding at Jake, who was indeed gurgling and waving his arms.
Lois willed her heart to stop pounding. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could form any words Superman tilted his head to the side and turned to Lois apologetically.
"I have to go," he said, handing Jacob to her, and with one last smile he was out the window.
Lois staggered to the sofa. "Oh my God. Oh my God. How? I mean…"
Finally, it all made sense. The constant disappearing act, accompanied by the incredibly lame excuses… He wasn't afraid of commitment, he didn't have a secret wife, he didn't have an illness that made him need to use the restroom every half hour, and he wasn't just the most forgetful man on the planet. He was Superman.
Confusion battled anger as she grappled with fact that Clark had been lying to her for over a year.
"How dare he?!"
Jake's eyes widened at her sudden outburst.
"Sorry, buddy. I didn't mean to scare you."
Lois laughed at his inquisitive look. "I just don't understand. How could I have not known? I must be an idiot…"
"How could he not tell me?" She looked at Jake's perplexed expression and shook her head.
"OK, well, I admit that maybe in the beginning it makes sense that he wouldn't tell me. I mean, he didn't know me, and I *am* a reporter. But, once we became friends…didn't he trust me?" Lois stood up and began to pace around the room.
After a moment she placed Jake back in the carrier so she could move more freely. Back in the kitchen she began throwing the ingredients for the cookies into a mixing bowl.
"He probably has some stupid logic for not wanting to tell me, but I just don't see what it could be. Why would he not tell me?" she asked Jake.
She cracked the eggs and began to violently stir the mixture.
Suddenly a rush of memories popped into her head unbidden.
Clark, on a park bench, eyes beseeching her. "I have been in love with you for a long time. You had to have known."
And her reply, "I'm sorry, I just don't feel that way about you…I admire you and I respect you, and I do love you…as a friend."
Then, later that night in her apartment, the superhero she adored had looked so pained when she told him that she loved him.
"Superman, is there any hope for us? You and me? I'm so completely in love with you. I can't do anything else without knowing.
"Lois, I do care for you. But there are things about me that you don't know, that you may never know…"
"But, it doesn't matter," she had rushed to assure him. "I know you. I don't mean you, the celebrity or you, the superhero. If you had no powers at all, if you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I would love you just the same. Can't you believe that?"
He looked so sincere when he said, "I wish I could, Lois. But, under the circumstances, I don't see how I can."
Of course he couldn't believe her. Just a few hours earlier he had stood before her as that ordinary man and poured his heart out.
"Oh God," she gasped, the wooden stirring spoon slipping from her hands.
"What have I done? Oh, Clark… I… That must have hurt him *so* badly. No wonder he couldn't tell me. How could he have ever believed that I would love him as an ordinary man after that?"
Suddenly, another thought occurred to her. "Oh, God! All those times that I was so worried about Superman — worried that he didn't have someone to come home to, someone to take care of him…And he didn't. And I could never cut Clark any slack. I just yelled at him for disappearing. I had no idea…"
For a moment Lois allowed herself to wallow in self- deprecation as she blamed herself for Clark's behavior.
"Wait a minute! That may explain why he didn't tell me the truth then, or while I was with Lex," she said, spitting out the name of her ex-fiance. "But that was a long time ago. And since then he's had plenty of chances to tell me. Even before I told him that I loved him, he had to know that I cared about him!"
As Lois formed this last thought she began to pace restlessly.
"And now…since Christmas…since I told him that I love him…God, we've been practically living together! How dare he not tell me now! I don't care how scared he was of how I would react, or how badly he needed to know that I loved him as an ordinary man and not just because he's Superman! I had a right to know! Why didn't he tell me?"
Jake looked up at her and started to cry, as if sensing her turmoil.
"It's OK, Jake," she said, lowering her voice and taking a deep breath. He started to cry in earnest and she pulled him from the seat, cuddling him close and stroking his head.
"It's OK, sweetie. We can work this out. Everything is going to be OK." The words seemed to soothe her troubled soul as much as they soothed Jake.
As she walked to the kitchen to prepare Jake's bottle, her anger boiled back to the surface. She battled it back, trying to remain rational. Suddenly something occurred to her…
"He tried…" The words seemed to come of their own volition, and for a moment Lois had to grasp for their meaning. Suddenly she understood.
"He *tried* to tell me the truth! The other morning, remember? He said there was something he wanted to tell me. He said he was so sorry he didn't tell me earlier. And he was. God, remember how nervous he looked? He was so scared that I would be angry. He practically begged me to just hear him out. And he *would* have told me if his mom hadn't called, and then he had to leave — he had to rescue someone. That's why he had to leave," Lois said, truly understanding the implications of this discovery for the first time.
"And I bet he was trying to tell me again this morning when he all of a sudden remembered that he had 'an appointment.' I wonder how many other times he has started to tell me…"
Her sympathy for Clark diminished rapidly as the night progressed. Jacob was fussy and cranky, and nothing she could do seemed to make him happy. By the time he finally fell into a deep sleep around midnight, Lois was dead on her feet, and she was ready to see just how much damage she could inflict on her invulnerable partner as soon as he walked in the door, since he had promised her he would be back as soon as he could.
Just as she was getting herself all fired up again, she heard the sound of a key in the lock. Lois met him at the door, ready to let Clark have it. But she was totally unprepared for the sight of her dejected partner.
"Clark," she gasped.
"Lois, I know I told you I'd be back as soon as possible, and I'm sorry…"
But Lois had completely tuned Clark out as the radio broadcast from the other room caught her attention.
"And in other news, Superman and fire fighters have finally left the scene of the apartment fire that has dominated their attention all afternoon and evening. The fire, which started on the ground floor and was apparently caused by faulty electrical wiring, took the lives of two elderly residents. Six other residents and a fire fighter remain in critical condition…"
"Oh, Clark. Honey, are you OK?"
"What?" Clark was thoroughly puzzled. He had expected her to be angry, frustrated, and possibly to give him the cold- shoulder. He did *not* expect her to pull him into her embrace and ask if he was OK.
Clark pulled back and tilted Lois' face up so he could look into her eyes.
"Clark," Lois whispered, her anger gone, replaced by a need to take care of him, to ensure that he was OK. "Clark, I know."
"You know? You know what?"
"I *know.* I know that you're Superman. I know where you were all day. I'm —"
"What?! How? I don't understand…" He didn't even bother to deny it. Why, when he had been trying to think of a way to tell her for so long, would he try to deny it now?
"Today, when you came rushing in here. While I was in the kitchen, you were playing with Jake…And when I came out of the kitchen, you were standing in the same exact spot you had stood in the day before, holding Jake exactly the same way. Only you hold Jake like that. And when you turned and saw me watching, you gave me the exact same guilty look you had given me earlier, and …Clark, are you OK?"
"I just need to sit down," he said, walking unsteadily to the nearest chair.
"Lois," he started after a second. "I am *so* sorry. I wanted to tell you. I *tried* to tell you. I know you probably hate me because I lied to you, and I don't blame you, but you have to know that I never meant to hurt you. I love you. I'm sorry —"
"Clark! I don't hate you. I'm not thrilled that you kept this from me for so long, and tomorrow I'm probably going to be really mad again. And you have some *major* explaining to do. But, I've worked a lot of it out for myself. And I can see that you had some really good reasons, or at least you thought they were really good reasons, for not telling me."
"Yes, and right now I'm much more worried about you, than about this. We can argue about this later."
Clark needed no further prodding. Immediately he pulled her from her chair and onto his lap. He buried his face in her hair and drew a ragged breath.
Lois ran her fingers through his hair, then let one hand drift down his neck and rest on his chest.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she whispered.
For a moment there was silence as Lois just continued to hold and stroke him.
"It was horrible," he said finally. "It was dark and people were screaming. I couldn't get them all out in time. And then one of the fire fighters, Todd, he went back in — even after he knew it wasn't safe… I saw the board fall, but I couldn't get there in time. I pulled him out, but he was already unconscious. I -" Clark choked back a sob and pulled her closer.
Lois stroked his hair some more and whispered, "It's OK. You did the best you could. Think about all of the lives you saved. Clark, you're only one man. It's not about what you can't do; it's what you *can* do that matters. Think about how much good you did today, sweetheart. Shh. I love you. It's going to be OK."
She murmured soothing nothings for a while longer, and he just let himself be held and comforted as her words washed over him.
Lois felt his body slowly relax until he was on the verge of sleep.
"Come on, honey. Let's go to bed," she whispered, climbing off his lap and taking his hand to pull him to his feet.
"I'm really glad Alice offered to take Jake for the afternoon," Lois said, bringing their mugs of tea to the table.
"Me too. I love the little guy, but we really needed some time to hash this out — without interruptions."
They had spent the last two hours ripping out the heart of the Clark vs. Superman issue. Clark had to admit he was surprised at how calm Lois had remained, most of the time anyway. She had asked a lot of questions, and he had done his best to answer every one of them.
"Are you OK?" he asked, reaching for her hand.
"Yeah," she replied slowly. "I'm going to need some more time to really process this. And I reserve the right to get mad and yell at you when I think of more things down the road!" she teased.
Clark laughed, happy to see her smiling again.
"Do you have any other questions you want to ask me?"
Lois hesitated. "I don't think so. I'm sure I'll come up with some more as we go along."
Clark nodded. "Lois, I never wanted to hide this from you. You know that, don't you?" He paused, waiting for her response. At her nod, he went on. "I love you more than I've ever loved anyone. And I want to share my life with you…all of my life. I've just never told anyone else about this. My father drilled it into my head when I was growing up that I had to keep it a secret. That I could never tell anyone. He told me that if people found out, they would take me to a lab and dissect me like a frog."
Clark could see the wheels turning in her head. "I know what you're thinking — I'm invincible. They may not be able to dissect me, Lois, but they could do a lot worse than that. They could use the people I love as tools against me. Anyone who knows that I am Superman is at risk. I worry about you all the time. I'm so scared that someday I'm not going to be fast enough to save you. I'm scared that something is going to happen to you, and I'm not going to be able to prevent it — and even worse still, that it will be my fault. That someone will use you to get to me. Lois, if anything ever happened to you…I would never forgive myself."
"Clark, you can't take so much responsibility for things you have no control over. I've been taking care of myself — and getting into and out of trouble — for a long time without you. You have saved my life more times than I can count, and I will always be grateful for that. And I admit that sometimes I take risks that I shouldn't, because I know that I can yell 'Help Superman!' if things get really hairy. But that is a risk that I take. And if something happens to me, Clark, then it's my fault. My responsibility."
"But, Lois —"
"No, Clark. You've got to stop. You can't be everywhere at once. You can't do everything. You are just one man, and you do so much…but you can't hold yourself to this impossible standard. You bring so much good to the world — to me — but you can't do everything. Whatever you can do, that's enough."
Clark smiled softly. "That sounds familiar."
Lois smiled and reached up to caress his face.
Clark reached for her and pulled her into a tight embrace. He held her for a minute, strOKing her back and taking strength from her touch.
Finally, he pulled back, leaving his hands resting lightly at her waist. "Are we OK?"
"Yeah, we're OK," she said, smiling sweetly and brushing a lock of hair from his forehead.
Clark pulled her tight again. "I was so scared," he whispered. "I was so scared that you would hate me — that you wouldn't love me anymore."
The vulnerability in his voice clenched like a fist in her chest. Lois pulled back enough to look into his eyes, his adoration for her clearly visible. "Oh, Clark. I could never hate you; I could never stop loving you. I *love* you, Clark. That's not going to change."
Clark looked deep into her eyes, unable to respond verbally. Finally he allowed himself to respond in the only way he could. He raised one hand to slide around her neck, gently rubbing the pad of his thumb along her jaw as he tilted her head up. She smiled softly and her eyelids fluttered shut as he slowly lowered his lips to hers. As his lips gently caressed hers, she felt a tingle course through her body. Her hands came up to hold his head, threading her fingers through his hair.
He parted his lips, tracing her lips with his tongue. She moaned softly granting him access to slip his tongue into her mouth, caressing and tasting her. As they kissed, his hands began to travel over her back, stroking her gently. Lois moved to press her body more firmly against him and moaned her frustration when she was unable to hold him satisfactorily from their current position, side by side. Clark seemed to sense what she wanted, and tugged her firmly onto his lap. He slid his arms tightly around her waist, breaking off their kiss and trailing kisses down her neck.
Lois sighed and dropped her head back granting him access to more of her neck. He kissed around the neckline of her T-shirt, then sucked gently on the pulse of her throat. Lois gasped, her hands fisting in his hair. Clark's hands roamed her back restlessly.
Lois slid her hands out of his hair, softly caressing his solid chest. She twisted her hands in his soft shirt, then tugged firmly, yanking it from his jeans. She slid her hands under his shirt, reveling in the soft feel of his skin, and lowering her mouth to his neck.
Clark's muscles clenched reflexively at the feel of her soft, questing hands. Lois smiled against his neck, moving her kisses higher to the sensitive skin behind his ear. Clark ran his hands up her back, fisting them in her hair and guiding her lips back to his.
Satisfied with having her lips on his again, his hands abandoned her head and wandered down her back, tugging her T-shirt from her jeans and sliding his hands underneath to caress the soft skin of her lower back.
He layered open-mouthed kisses down her exposed throat, groaning as he felt the vibration of her pleased moan rumbling against his lips.
"Clark," she gasped, her hands fisting in his hair.
She raised his head from her neck, capturing his lips in a searing kiss.
"Bedroom," she gasped, as she tore her lips from his.
"Oh, God. Lois," Clark moaned. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Lois whispered.
"Lois …" Clark fumbled. Insecurity began to settle over him. What if he wasn't able to please her? She'd been with other, more experienced, lovers. What if he was a disappointment to her?
"Clark, what is it? What's the matter?" Lois reached for him, pulling him against her hugging him tightly.
"I don't want to disappoint you," he whispered.
Lois pulled back and guided him to look at her. "Honey, what in the world are you talking about? This is…incredible. I've never felt so wonderful in my entire life. You couldn't possibly disappoint me," she said softly.
Clark dropped his gaze from her. "Lois, I just… Well, I've never done this before, and I'm just afraid I won't know what to do."
"See, and now you're —"
"Clark, are you serious?"
"Yes, I'm serious! Why in the world would I make this up? I'm different, Lois… And I could never really be with a woman until I knew that I was really ready to be with her completely. To have her know everything about me. To share my whole life with her…"
"And I'm the first woman you've ever felt about that way?" she asked tentatively.
"Yes. The first, the only… Lois, I love you more than anyone or anything in this world. You mean everything to me. You're everything I've ever dreamed of and so much more. I've waited my whole life for this, for you, and I just want to make you as happy as you make me."
"Oh, Clark…" Lois felt tears pool in her eyes as she listened to his passionate speech. "Clark, you've already given me more happiness and more love than I ever thought imaginable. Do you have any idea how it feels to know that you waited for me? That I'm the only… God, Clark, that's amazing." She smiled as he seemed to relax. "It's even rather sexy," she said with an impish grin. He laughed and leaned over to brush a kiss across his lips.
"And, Clark? As for the whole not-knowing-what-to-do idea…well, I just want you to know that's ludicrous. You've already brought me such incredible pleasure… You make me feel so beautiful, so sexy. I've never felt like this before. This is the most intense experience of my entire life. So, just…keep doing what you're doing," she said with a grin.
Clark smiled and leaned over to capture her lips again. "I think I can handle that," he whispered before deepening the kiss and stealing her breath away.
The last of the short winter daylight was streaming through the window when Clark woke again. He smiled when he felt Lois shift sleepily beside him. She was nestled against his side, her head pillowed on his chest and one arm slung across him, their legs tangled together.
"Hey, sweetheart," he whispered.
"We don't have to get up yet, do we?" she murmured sleepily. Lois shifted again, tightening her arm around him and nuzzling her head against his chest.
He chuckled softly and hugged her. "Not quite. But we have to leave to pick up Jake in about an hour."
"Really?" she asked, lifting her head to look at the clock. "Wow, I had no idea it was so late."
Clark pulled her back to him, kissing her softly.
"What was that for?" she teased.
"For being you," he whispered seriously.
Lois' eyes shone bright with realization. For the first time in her life she truly knew what it felt like to be cherished. He loved her. There was no question about it. And as he gazed into her eyes she felt the last of her barriers dissolving. She loved him — mind, body, soul — completely.
In her eyes, Clark saw her love and, almost more importantly, her acceptance. She knew him, all of him, and she loved him. No longer was he just Superman, an idol to be fantasized about, or just Clark, her partner and best friend, for whom she could never feel more than brotherly affection. He was finally truly himself, and he was hers.
Lois opened her eyes to speak, but found herself speechless. She raised a hand to smooth a lock of hair from his forehead, and let out a ragged sigh — a sigh of contentment, completion. A feeling unlike any other she had ever known, and one she saw echoed in her lover's eyes.
Clark bent to kiss her gently, bowled over by the intensity of the sensation. Their eyes locked and between them passed love, honor, devotion, and promises of forever.
She leaned forward and kissed him softly again. When she pulled back again, Clark's deep brown eyes were troubled.
She reached up and stroked his cheek. "What, Clark?"
"Lois, I want to ask you something, and you can feel free to say no if you're uncomfortable with it. I mean, I know you are still working all of this out, and I don't want to make things more complicated, but I really think it would be good —"
"Clark? Just spit it out…jeez and you think *I* babble…"
"Lois, I want you to move in with me."
Lois didn't respond immediately and Clark hurried to explain.
"Just temporarily…Look, it will be easier on everybody. I want to help you with Jake, especially at night. I don't need as much sleep as you do, so I can do the nighttime feedings — unless I'm out at an emergency or something. And I've been spending the night here anyway…I would suggest that we stay here, but my place is bigger, and besides I have my suits there, and there really isn't anywhere to hide them here —"
"That makes sense."
"So, I was just thinking it would be — It does?" Clark asked, her words finally sinking in.
"Clark, did you really think I was going to say no? I mean, you're right, we're practically living together here anyway, and your place is more practical. I could definitely use your help with Jake — the more sleep I get, the better off everyone is going to be. Besides," she added, grinning. "I love you, and I want to be with you."
Clark's entire face lit up. "I love you, too. And there is nothing I want more in the world than to come home at night and know you are going to be there."
Lois let herself in with the key Clark had given her, and quickly looked around the apartment for him. "Clark?" she called.
Lois set Jake's carrier on the table, and was unbuckling him as she heard the soft whoosh-thud of Clark's landing. She turned just in time to catch him spinning into his "Clark" clothes, and tried not to let her jaw drop as she watched.
Clark looked up and smiled at her expression. Then he strode over to then and took Jake from her arms. "Hey, buddy. We missed you. Did you have a good time with Perry and Alice? Perry didn't make you listen to all of his Elvis stories did he?"
Lois couldn't help but laugh at Clark's serious demeanor.
"What, like *you* never talk to him," he said, laughing.
Lois blushed, recalling the long, drawn out "discussion" she'd had with Jake the day before, when she had discovered Clark's secret.
Lois quickly tried to change the subject. "You know, I can't believe we didn't get any work done this weekend at all. I thought Jimmy was going to send over that research…"
Clark raised an eyebrow. "Well, if you really would have rather spent the weekend working…" he teased.
Lois burst out laughing. "I didn't say it was a totally wasted weekend." She let Clark pull her tightly against him with his free arm. "Actually, I'd say it was a pretty spectacular weekend."
"Well, that's good to hear. I'd hate to think I was just an unwelcome distraction."
"You are definitely a distraction," she said, reaching to stroke his cheek. "But, you are certainly *not* unwelcome." She sighed softly as he kissed her, then pulled away with a smile.
"Well," Clark said. "I'm sure there will be a big stack of information waiting for us tomorrow morning."
"Yeah, I'm sure you're right. I just really want to get to the bottom of this. I can't help feeling like there is something more to this than we are seeing."
"We'll work on it first thing tomorrow, Lois. I promise."
Lois reached for Jake, and Clark grudgingly handed him over.
"Oh, that reminds me," Lois started. "Perry said he was able to get things worked out at the day care. Jake can start there in the morning; we just have to go fill out the paperwork tomorrow morning."
"Oh, that's…great," Clark stammered.
Lois looked at him funny, and Clark shrugged. "I kinda liked having him with us."
"I know," Lois admitted. "But he's just going to be right downstairs. We can go see him whenever we want. And maybe we'll actually be able to get some work done."
"Hey, where's the little guy?" Jimmy asked as he approached Lois' desk with an armful of papers and folders.
"He's downstairs, Jim," Clark said.
"Oh, you got him into the day care center?"
"Yes, Jimmy. Now what have you got for us?"
"Well, I wasn't able to find anything on the MetroCorp. story, but I remembered that you were still looking into that other story, so I pulled up everything I could find on this C.S. Huntington, Inc., the parent company of Coastal Ventures and Oceanside Realty. This is a *huge* corporation, and they've got their hand in everything from real estate to technology. Here's a list of all of their subsidiaries. The rest of this is information on the company — their financial records, lists of the board of directors, etc."
"Great," Lois said, taking the papers. "This is perfect."
Four hours later Lois and Clark were seated around the conference table papers strewn all over the table.
"Clark, why does the name Dr. Christopher Myerson sound so familiar?"
"Hmm…I'm not sure." Clark began typing furiously on the laptop in front of him.
"Oh, here we go. He's the scientist that made all those waves five years ago claiming he had discovered a vaccine for HIV."
"Right, I remember. An independent lab did some more testing and it turned out that it wasn't the miracle vaccine after all."
"Yeah…too bad," Clark said, scrolling rapidly through the information on the screen.
"Interesting, but how is he connected to Oceanside Realty and Jake's father?"
"He's not. I just saw his name on list of scientists employed by Huntington, and recognized his name. I can't find anything more about Oceanside Realty or Jason," Lois said, shaking her head. "What do you say we go get some lunch? Maybe if we get away from this for a little bit things will seem a little clearer."
"Good idea. Let's go get Jake and take him with us," Clark said, rising from his chair.
Lois smiled and nodded her agreement.
That evening Lois sat on the couch browsing through the stacks of personnel information Jimmy had been able to obtain on the lab. Clark was out patrolling and Jake was sleeping peacefully in the bassinet beside her.
A sudden whooshing sound caught Lois' attention. She looked up just in time to see Clark spin out of the suit and into jeans and sweater. He stood, glasses in hand, smiling at her.
"Hey, welcome home. Is everything quiet out there? I didn't expect you back so soon."
Clark crossed the room quickly and reached for her extended hand. He bent and gently kissed her cheek. "Do you have any idea how incredible it feels to hear you say that?"
"Say what?" she asked, scooting over and gently tugging him to sit beside her.
Clark reached up and cupped her cheek. "Welcome home," he whispered.
"Hey, there you are. I've been looking all over for you," Clark said softly, weaving carefully through the nursery.
"I thought you weren't going to be back until after lunch."
"Yeah, I had to reschedule that interview. Something came up and he couldn't meet with me after all."
Lois nodded, her eyes drifting back to Jacob, feeding in her arms.
Clark smiled at them and crouched by the rocking chair. "Is everything OK, honey?"
"Yeah, I just kinda missed him. Since you weren't going to be back in time for lunch, I thought I'd spend my break down here with him."
"Well, since I am back, what do you say we go get some lunch? You can fill me in on what you found out while I was gone. We can bring Jake with us."
Lois smiled and nodded her agreement. Clark reached out and eased Jake from her arms.
Ten minutes later they settled into a booth in a quiet cafe across the street.
Clark pulled Jake from the carrier and grinned as the baby nestled into his arms. He looked up to see Lois gazing tenderly at them.
"Can I take your order — oh, what a sweet baby!" the waitress exclaimed. "How old is he?"
"He'll be six weeks old tomorrow," Clark answered. Lois smiled, only mildly surprised that Clark remembered Jake's exact birthday.
The waitress took their orders and disappeared behind the counter.
"OK, did you make any progress on the Jason investigation while I was gone?"
Clark saw the excited twinkle in her eye, and knew she had something to tell him.
"I did some more looking into the company that has been issuing Jason's paychecks. Coastal Ventures is a very real company. It's been around for fifteen years and it looks like it's made a good profit every year. They've got offices all up and down the coast. Most of them seem to be financial viable, including this Oceanside Realty. But why in the world would they have Jason on their payroll? I can't even find his name on any of their personnel records."
"I know. It doesn't make sense at all. Any ideas?"
Lois stretched, her muscles, sore from sitting immobile for hours on end. "Well…"
Clark grinned, "Go ahead, Lois. Lay it on me; what do you think is going on?"
"Don't look at me like that," Lois admonished, grinning. "OK, here's what I think. I think Jason is working for someone or some group involved with another division of C.S. Huntington, Inc. It's obviously not above board, so they filter his paychecks through Oceanside Realty, to which he has no real connection."
Lois paused, waiting for Clark's reaction.
"I think you're right. But, what in the world is he doing for them? And what does that have to do with the fact that he's a jerk who tried to abandon his family?"
"I don't know, Clark. But I think you're coming at it from the wrong angle by thinking about him as just another guy who deserted his family."
"Lois, you're the one who told me that this kind of thing happens every day."
"Oh, I know! I don't mean to take that back. It's just that the more I think about it, the stranger the whole situation seems. From what Lucy said, it seems like she got pregnant almost immediately after meeting and getting involved with Jason. She thought he really loved her because he was so attentive while she was pregnant. She said he accompanied her to all of her doctor's appointments, and he was very active in the adoption process. In fact, it was Jason who chose the company, and he shepherded her through nearly all of the adoption proceedings."
Lois paused for a second, and began nervously tapping a pencil against the desk. "But, if he is so attentive, so loving, so caring, why does he freak out when she decides to keep the baby? If he was *that* freaked out about the thought of fatherhood, or whatever it was that freaked him out, why didn't he panic when she told him that she was pregnant? Lucy said one of the reasons she was so shocked by his reaction was that he had never shown any evidence of panicking when she told him she was pregnant. She said he was very supportive. She said he told her he would support her no matter what she chose, but said he hoped she didn't choose to have an abortion. She told him that she didn't want to have an abortion, and he brought up the idea of adoption. At no point did he try to force her into the idea, but he was very persuasive."
"So, he was calm and rational when she found out she was pregnant, even before she had decided what she was going to do?"
"Lois…you don't think…you don't think that Jason planned to have her give up the baby from the beginning, do you?"
"I don't know, Clark. But it just all seems a little too convenient. He meets Lucy, gets her pregnant, 'supports' her through the pregnancy, all the while guiding her to give up the baby to some agency that he picked out. She changes her mind about giving up the baby at the last minute, and he not only abandons her and kicks her out of their home — he tries to kidnap the baby."
"So…he wasn't kidnapping Jake in order to get him out of the way and continue his relationship with Lucy, he was kidnapping Jake because what he really wanted all along was the baby, and Lucy was just the means to the end. He wanted her to give the baby up for adoption because he had a plan for the baby…"
Lois just looked and him and nodded.
"It's unbelievable, but…" Clark shook his head slowly, working through the logic.
"I'm exhausted! What a week," Lois said, dropping onto the couch. She'd been making phone calls for two days, but apparently Jason hadn't kept in touch with any of his friends from high school or college, and none of them knew what he was doing. She refused to admit defeat, but she was really glad it was the weekend so she could have a little time to clear her head and get a fresh perspective.
"Why don't you go take a bath and relax for awhile, sweetheart. I'll take care of Jake."
Lois nodded, and Clark juggled Jake to hit the button on the answering machine.
"Hi, honey," came Martha's voice. "I was just calling to check on you guys. We haven't heard much from you. I know you're busy, but we thought you might like to come out to Smallville for the weekend. We're dying to meet Jake, and we thought you and Lois might enjoy a weekend off. Give us a call when you get in."
Clark looked up at Lois, waiting for her response. "What you think? Do you want to go to Smallville for the weekend? I could fly us out there tomorrow morning."
Lois smiled and said, "You know, it still doesn't seem real…that you can just fly us out there."
Clark just grinned at her and shrugged. "So, what do you say?
"Have you ever known me to turn down a flight with you?"
Clark rolled his eyes jokingly.
"I think it's a great idea. I'd love to talk to your folks now that I know, well, you know."
"Great, I'll call Mom back and let her know we'll be there tomorrow morning."
Clark fed Jake while he talked to his mom on the phone and Lois took a bubble bath. When she emerged from the bathroom, wearing one of his button-down shirts, Clark was sitting on the couch flipping through the channels. He looked up immediately, smiling as she tucked a strand of still-damp hair behind her ear nervously.
"Come here," he whispered, reaching an arm towards her. She came quickly, and allowed him to pull her onto his lap. "Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?" he murmured, brushing a kiss across her lips.
"Well, it never hurts to hear it again," she teased, returning his kiss.
"God, you look sexy in my shirt. You should wear my clothes more often. I love it."
"Feeling a little possessive, Kent?"
"Very," he whispered, running his hand up her thigh and kissing her softly on her neck. "Do you hate me for that?"
"No," she breathed, tilting her head away from him to give him better access to her neck. "I…ahhh…it's actually…Oh, Clark…I actually think it's kind of sexy, your possessiveness. I feel the same way. I love knowing that you're mine."
"Always, Lois, always," he murmured, running his fingers through her hair, and guiding her lips back to his.
"Where's Jake?" she asked, pulling away.
"He's asleep in the bedroom," Clark whispered, pulling her closer and capturing her lips again.
"Did you call your parents?" she murmured against his lips.
"Lois," Clark said firmly, tangling his fingers in her hair. "I called my parents, the baby is asleep, and we agreed to take the weekend off work. No more distractions. Now, can we focus here, please?"
Lois laughed, and then leaned in to kiss him again.
"OK, no more distractions," she whispered, pushing him to lie back on the couch and stretching out on top of him.
"Lois, are you ready? Honey, we're only going for one night," Clark said, shaking his head at the luggage assembled at Lois' feet.
"Clark, babies need a lot of stuff," Lois said, smiling as he rolled his eyes.
"All right, all right. Look, I'm going to fly all this stuff out there first , then I'll come back for Jake, drop him off with my parents, and then I'll come get you. OK?"
"Mm hmm," Lois agreed distractedly, returning to the bedroom for Jake's carrier. "Do you want to take him in his carrier, or are you just going to carry him?"
"I'll just carry him. I'd rather have him in my arms."
"OK, then take this with the other stuff."
Clark spun into the suit, before quickly gathering all of the luggage and disappearing out the window.
He returned a few minutes later and stood in front of Lois, reaching for Jake. She placed him in Clark's arms. "Be careful with him. It's his first flight, you know."
"I know, honey. I'll be careful."
A half hour later Clark landed in the backyard and slowly slid Lois to her feet. He placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her through the back door, and into the kitchen.
"Mom? Dad? We're here."
"We're in the living room, Clark," Martha called.
Lois and Clark appeared in the doorway and found Martha and Jonathan seated on the floor playing with Jake.
Lois smiled up at Clark.
"Come on in, you two," Martha said, smiling.
"I'm so glad we decided to come," Lois said, leaning back against Clark.
They were out in the pasture, having gone for a nice quiet walk before dinner. It had snowed the night before, and everything was covered in a fine white powder. Icicles hung from the trees and fenceposts.
"Are you warm enough?" Clark asked, wrapping his arms around her.
"Yeah, perfect," she replied, intertwining her fingers with his.
"We should probably head back. Dinner should be ready by now."
Lois sighed reluctantly and nodded. Slowly, he released her and grasped her hand, leading her back to the house.
"Perfect timing," Martha said as they walked into the kitchen. She finished placing the last of the dishes on the table and gestured for them to take their seats.
As they sat down to eat, a cry came from upstairs. "I guess someone else is hungry, too," Lois said. "I'll get him."
A minute later Lois reentered the kitchen with Jake in her arms. "I made up a bottle," Clark said, holding up the bottle.
"Thank you," Lois said, patting him on the shoulder before taking the proffered bottle.
"Do you want me to take him?" Clark asked.
"No, that's OK. I've gotten pretty used to eating one- handed." Martha and Jonathan exchanged knowing glances as Clark smiled fondly at Lois and Jake.
"Ah, yes. I remember the days of eating one-handed," Martha said.
"Oh, really. Was Clark a good baby?" Lois asked eagerly.
"Oh, yes. He never gave me a moment's trouble when he was a baby. It was when he got older and started walking and talking that all the trouble began," Martha said, her eyes twinkling.
"Mom!" Clark interrupted. "I don't think Lois wants to hear about that."
"I most certainly do!" Lois exclaimed. "What kind of trouble, Martha?"
"Well, one time when he was eight…"
"Well, it looks like this little guy is down for the count," Martha said quietly.
"I think he's got the right idea," Jonathan replied. "I think it's time for us to go to sleep ourselves. It's going to be a long day tomorrow with all this snow we're getting."
"Here, I'll take him, Mom," Clark said, striding across the room to ease the baby from her arms.
"OK, we'll see you guys in the morning. We've set Clark's room up for you, I figured now that you're living together you'd want to share the bedroom," Martha said calmly.
Lois turned bright red, "Oh, well…we…I mean…we're not…well, we are, but we're not —"
"That's great, Mom. Thanks," Clark said, cutting off Lois' incoherent babbling.
He turned to Lois and smiled. "I'm going to take him upstairs and tuck him in, and then I'll be right back."
A minute later Clark came back into the living room and found Lois tucked under a blanket sitting in front of the fireplace. She lifted the blanket next to her and motioned for him to join her.
Clark settled behind her, wrapping his arms around her. Lois relaxed against him and sighed contentedly.
"Your Mom was really good with Jake. He really took to her right away."
"She seems to be quite smitten with him. So does Dad actually."
Lois laughed, "Yeah, they do. Your Dad's so cute with him."
"They've never really come out and said it, but I think they've been dying for a grandchild."
Lois was quiet for a minute, mulling over Clark's words. "He's not, though. He's not their grandchild. He's not our baby, Clark," she whispered finally.
"I know that. It's just…"
"Easy to pretend?" she asked softly
"Yeah," he whispered.
"I know. I do it, too," she admitted,
Clark hugged her tightly and then ran his hands up and down her arms.
"I just… I love him. I know I'm not his father, but I'm the only father he's ever known."
"Lucy could come back tomorrow," Lois whispered, surprising herself with the intensity of the regret in her voice.
"I know," Clark said in a strangled voice.
"Oh, Clark," Lois said, twisting to face him. "Honey, I don't want to give him back either, but we have to be realistic."
"I know. It's just…we've only had him for a month and already I love him so much. It's going to be so hard to give him back."
Lois said nothing and curled up against Clark's chest, letting him hold her again.
It was almost five o'clock before Clark finally crawled back into bed.
Shortly after he had laid Jake back in his crib around two, he had heard cries for help coming from one of the neighboring villages. Apparently, the storm had knocked down some power lines leaving one family trapped and many without power.
"Everything OK?" Lois mumbled, reaching for him.
"Yeah, everything's fine," he replied, pulling her close. Their breathing slowed and soon they were drifting back to sleep.
Jake began to whimper and Clark automatically began to rise. Lois gently pressed a hand to his chest, brushing a kiss across his forehead. "Get some sleep, honey. I've got him."
Climbing from bed and lifting the crying baby from the cradle, she tiptoed out of the room, shutting the door softly behind her.
She padded down the stairs and into the kitchen where she found Martha already at work.
"I can't believe you're up already," she mumbled, bleary- eyed.
Martha laughed. "Welcome to life on a farm. How about some coffee?"
Lois nodded, juggling Jake to warm his bottle. She settled into a chair at the table and gently cuddled the baby now peacefully sucking his bottle. She sighed contentedly as Jacob nestled closer to her.
Martha set the cup of coffee on table and sat in the chair next to her. "I always loved the early morning feedings. Just me and my baby. The rest of the world quiet and still around us."
Lois looked up and nodded. "Clark usually feeds him at night so I can sleep, but I like to do it sometimes."
"Speaking of Clark, did I hear him land a little bit ago?"
"Yeah, poor thing. He had to go out tonight and he just got back. He's fast asleep now. He's fine. I guess it wasn't anything too upsetting — he just seems exhausted."
Martha watched Lois for another moment as she focused her attention back on the baby, whispering softly to him. Suddenly she was struck by such an intense wave of tenderness she couldn't help but be grateful that this was the woman her son had chosen to give his heart to.
Lois looked up and met her eye again. She blushed softly and said, "I talk to him all the time. Clark makes fun of me, but he's just as bad."
Martha smiled broadly. "It's good for them," she said. "To talk to them, I mean."
She paused for a moment, then went on. "You're so good with him, Lois. Clark told me how nervous you were when he first came to you, but you're really a natural."
"Thank you," Lois said softly, feeling there was no one in the world from which this would be a greater compliment. "I just do my best. Thank God for Clark. I don't know what I'd do without him!"
"I felt the same way. I don't think I ever would have survived without Jonathan."
"Really?" Lois looked up, genuinely surprised. "I mean, I just can't imagine you not knowing what to do."
"Oh, honey. Jonathan and I had wanted a baby for so long, but we certainly weren't prepared for him. I don't think any parent is really prepared for their first child, no matter how much they want one. And we were overjoyed to have him, but we had nearly resigned ourselves to the fact that we would never have a child of our own. So our situation was a bit like yours in that we were totally unprepared for him. He just dropped into our lives…literally!"
Lois laughed. "What did you do?"
"Well, we brought him home, and loved him, and did the best we could to take care of him. We made plenty of mistakes along the way —"
"Mistakes? I can't imagine you guys making mistakes. Clark always says that you're the best parents in the world."
Martha beamed, her pride in her son's love for her evident. "Lois, *all* parents make mistakes. We love our boy, and we try to be the best parents we can possibly be, but that doesn't make us infallible. There were so many times when he was growing up that we just didn't know what the right thing even was…"
"Especially because he's, well, Clark…" Lois said knowingly.
"Right." Martha's eyes glazed over as she wandered back in time. "When we found Clark we didn't know if he was a Russian or a Martian, and we didn't care. All we knew was that he was ours and we loved him."
Lois smiled, moved by the incredible strength of Martha's love. She found herself thinking that it was no surprise, with a mother like this, that Clark would have such unflinching faith in their love for each other.
"We told everyone he was the child of a distant cousin of Jonathan's who lived in another state. Smallville is a typical small town; everybody knows everyone else's business. So, everybody knew how badly we wanted to have a child, and no one was at all surprised when one finally showed up.
"A few days later some scary government men showed up in town asking a lot of questions about satellites and meteors. We were terrified that they would take Clark away from us. They seemed so cold and cruel — there was no way I was going to hand my baby over to them! So we destroyed all the evidence of Clark's unique arrival into our lives and got him a birth certificate that listed us as his parents."
Lois sat in rapt attention, listening to the story unfold.
"For a long time he seemed just like any other child. He didn't get sick or hurt quite as often, but we just chalked that up to him being a strong, healthy boy. But, by the time he was nine or ten I started to get a little suspicious. He just seemed stronger than most boys his size and he was such a daredevil, always falling out of trees and getting into stuff, but no matter how bad his falls looked, he always came out without a scratch. I tried to talk to Jonathan about it, but he refused to acknowledge that there was something different about him. He was just scared. Scared that if he was different someone would find out about him and take him away.
"After a couple more years it became impossible to ignore his abilities. He was so strong, and nearly invulnerable. I saw him fall from the top of the hayloft and land on the concrete floor of the barn without so much as a bump or bruise.
"It was about that time that Clark started pulling away from his friends. He had been so popular and well-loved by his classmates, but suddenly he seemed to withdraw. I finally got him to talk about it, and he told me he thought he was going crazy. He had been hearing things for a couple of months, things he knew he shouldn't be able to hear. And then just recently his vision had started to act weird too. I told him he probably just needed glasses, but he told me his vision wasn't getting worse, it was getting better. I couldn't understand at first, but he told me that he could see long distances, and not only that, but when he concentrated enough, sometimes he could even see *through* things.
"I didn't know what to think. I was so scared. Finally, Jonathan and I sat him down told him the story of how we found him. Up until then we had always just told him the same story we told everyone else. We figured that he was probably a government experiment. It was during the cold war, remember, and the government was hatching all kinds of crazy plans. It wasn't much of a stretch to think that they would engineer some sort of super-human and then try to put him into orbit.
"Clark was devastated. All he wanted was to be normal. We got him the glasses to remind him not to use his special vision by accident, and Jonathan worked with him to refine his other powers. But the more his powers expanded, the more upset he became. He was terrified that he would accidentally hurt someone, and equally afraid that he would accidentally use his powers in public. Jonathan drilled it into his head that mustn't ever let anyone know about him. He told him that if the government found out they would come and take him away. I know that sounds horrible, but it was a very real fear, and we were so scared. For years he told Clark that if anyone found out about his powers they would put him in a lab and —"
"Dissect him like a frog," Lois whispered.
"Exactly. He's told you," Martha said gently.
Lois nodded, her heart breaking for the little boy who would grow to be the man she loved.
"Lois, I know you were upset with Clark for not telling about himself sooner, but you need to know that he never wanted to deceive you. It was so ingrained in him never to tell *anybody* that no matter how much he loved you, trusted you, he was terrified."
"I know," she whispered, near tears.
"And more than that even, he was afraid you wouldn't love him. He was afraid you would be so angry at him for deceiving you that you wouldn't love him anymore. He's been alone for so long. Ever since his powers first began to develop he's had to shut himself off from the world a bit, never letting anyone too close. Never really letting himself love anyone. Your love means so much to him."
Tears streamed down Lois' cheeks. "I love him," she sobbed. "I love him so much. I —"
"Honey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry. I just wanted you to understand."
"No, I…I want to hear this. I need to. I want to really understand. It just hurts so badly. It kills me to think of him being so lonely. I hate for him to be in pain."
Lois' chest heaved as she sobbed again. Martha reached over and took Jake from her arms. Lois dropped her arms to the table and rested her head on them, crying. Martha rubbed her back with her free hand.
"But he's not alone anymore, Lois. He has you now."
Lois lifted her head. "He'll never be alone again. I'll never hurt him, I promise."
"Oh, honey, I know that. I can see how much you love him. I know you would never hurt him."
Lois rubbed the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath. "Tell me the rest."
"Well, by the time he was eighteen his powers had pretty much developed into what they are now. Flying was the last thing to develop, and I'll be honest with you, that was the one that scared me the most. I guess it was then that we realized there was no way he was a government experiment. I suppose it's possible they could have engineered a baby that would grow to be strong and invulnerable and maybe have some of his other powers, but I just couldn't believe they would have the power to make him fly. Clark loved to fly immediately. It seemed to be the one real compensation for all of his suffering. When he was flying he could be himself. He felt so free.
"Clark always dreamed of moving on. He loved Smallville and us, we never had any doubt about that, but it always seemed that something was just missing. Jonathan was terrified of Clark moving to the big city. He was sure Clark was just putting himself in harm's way. He desperately wanted him to stay on the farm with us. Clark compromised by going to college at Midwestern. He could have gone just about anywhere, but Midwestern had a good journalism school, and it was close to home, so it seemed like the perfect choice. He lived on campus, but came home to visit us regularly, and over the summers he lived at home and wrote for the Smallville Post.
"But, that was only temporary. And the closer he got to graduation the more apparent it became that he was not going to be happy to stay around here. Also, Clark was having a terrible time not being able to use his powers. It was killing him to hear people in trouble and not be able to do anything about it. A couple of times he almost got caught and Jonathan was furious.
"So, after graduation, he told us he was going to travel the world for a while. Since he could fly, he could go anywhere he wanted. He wandered for years, always looking for something, but never seeming to find it. He moved on every time he got bored, or someone got suspicious of him. That seemed to be OK with him. I knew that deep down he really wanted to settle down, but he thought the only way he could use his powers to help people was if he moved around, never giving anyone a chance to connect him to it.
"But all that changed when he moved to Metropolis. Suddenly it was clear that he wasn't going to move on again. He'd found exactly what he was looking for, and he had to find a way to use his powers without getting caught. He had to get it right this time, because there was no way he was going to leave now that he had found what he had been looking so long for."
Martha looked into Lois' eyes and saw the question there.
"You, Lois. He was looking for you."
Lois opened the door slowly, not wanting to wake him.
"Hey, you," he said, cracking open his eyes and grinning at her.
"Where's Jake?" he asked, starting to sit.
"Don't get up," she whispered, climbing into bed. "Your mom's watching Jake."
Clark pulled her into his arms and buried his face in her hair. "Good," he growled.
Lois closed her eyes and held him tightly, the ferocity of the love and protectiveness she was feeling threatened to overwhelm her and bring her to tears again.
"Are you OK, sweetheart?"
Lois nodded, refusing to meet his eyes.
Clark tilted her chin up with his finger and waited for her eyes to meet his. "What's the matter? Have you been crying?"
The concern in his voice did her in. Tear began to leak from her eyes again.
"Lois, what's the matter?"
"It's nothing, really." She brushed the tears from her eyes and pulled herself together. "I was just talking to your mom —"
"My mom made you cry?" Clark asked, utterly confused and unsure whether he should be angry or worried, or both.
"No," Lois said, starting to laugh. "Well, I mean, I guess she did, but she didn't do it on purpose. She was just telling me stories from when you were younger. She was telling me how you had to hide what you could do and not let anyone get too close, in case they would find out. It just made me sad," she said, her eyes following her fingers as they traced indiscernible patterns on his chest.
She stopped abruptly and looked deep into his eyes. "Clark, I love you."
"Lois, I love you, too," he said, reaching to stroke her hair. "I don't want you to be sad, honey. I'm not lonely anymore. I am happier now than I ever dreamed I could be. I've got everything I ever wanted."
He brought his lips gently to hers, letting his kiss comfort her. Telling her without words how much he loved her and how much happiness she brought to his life.
"Look at those two, Martha. I don't know what has gotten into them."
Martha looked out the window and laughed. "They're in love, Jonathan." She shook her head and went back to cooing to the baby in her arms.
Outside, Lois and Clark were engaged in a full-scale snowball war. Clark abandoned his snowballs and lunged for Lois. Grabbing her waist, he swung her around and pulled her close. Lois waited until his grip loosened then dropped to the ground, rolling away from him and springing to her feet before he could grab her.
She took off running with Clark in close pursuit. In a couple of strides he caught up with her and wrapped his arms around her. Lois struggled until she escaped, falling to the ground in the process. Clark pounced on her, straddling her waist and pinning her wrists above her head.
Lois continued to struggle, but quit when she was overcome by laughter. "OK, OK. I give."
"You mean it? This isn't a trick?" Clark asked mock warily, loosening his grip on her wrists just slightly.
Lois shook her head, eyes still dancing. Clark released her wrists and slid his hands slowly down her arms.
"Clark," Lois breathed, no longer laughing. She reached for him and Clark dropped his head to capture her lips.
"Oh, honey," he said, raising his hand to cup her cheek before kissing her again.
Clark pulled back again and smiled at her, brushing her hair from her face. "Hey, you've got to be freezing," he said, immediately hopping to his feet and pulling her with him. He gently brushed the snow from her clothes and kissed her again. "Sorry, I didn't even think about how cold you must have been."
Lois raised her eyebrows and smirked. She leaned in for another kiss and whispered, "I wasn't cold."
Lois set her cup of coffee on her desk and reached for a stack of papers. She was glad they had been able to get away for the weekend, but it was good to be back. She'd told Clark as much the night before.
"I had a great time in Smallville, Clark," Lois had said as she climbed into bed. 'I'm so glad we decided to go."
"Me too," he said, tugging the blankets over them and turning to snuggle against her.
"I think we really needed to get away for a bit. I'm ready to get back to work tomorrow, though."
Clark chuckled. "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Lois smiled, remembering Clark's response.
"Lois, look at this editorial Dr. Myerson wrote for Science Weekly," Clark said, bringing Lois back to the present. "He claimed that the reason the vaccine didn't work was because it was being tested on adults. He said the vaccine needed to be administered while the body was still growing — the younger the better. He was lobbying in the piece for approval to test the vaccine on children."
"When was that written?" Lois asked, scanning another document.
"March of 1990."
"Well, I wonder if that has anything to do with why he was hired by CSH Laboratories in May of that year. Maybe his ideas were too controversial for his old laboratory."
"That makes sense. I do remember that the scientific community was really outraged by some of his claims."
"Clark…do you think this has anything to do with Jake?"
"Well, it does seem odd that Myerson was hired by a lab owned by C.S. Huntington only months after publishing an editorial calling for the testing of his vaccine on infants and five years later someone on the C.S. Huntington payroll, for unexplained reasons, tries to kidnap an infant. But it's a really big company, and we don't have any proof that Jason ever even met Myerson. It could just be a coincidence."
"Clark, I just know this isn't a coincidence. I think Jason was paid to convince Lucy to give her baby up for adoption and when she decided not to he panicked and resorted to kidnapping. If he's connected to this Myerson character then maybe he was planning on handing Jake over to him for testing!"
Clark reached for her hand.
"Oh! Clark! You don't think he's still in danger, do you? I mean, if Jason finds out where Lucy brought Jacob he could come here and —"
"Lois! Honey, don't panic. I will not let *anyone* hurt Jake. I promise."
Lois looked up at Clark, her eyes wide with fear. Clark slipped from his chair and crouched in front of her. "Honey, I'm sure Jason doesn't have any idea where Jake is, and even if he does, do you really think he's going to come all the way out here to get him? You told me that Lucy said he left when she confronted him. He's probably given up. It's been over a month and we haven't heard anything from him."
"I know, but…"
"I know. Look, it's late. Let's go get Jake and go home. OK?"
Lois nodded eagerly and began quickly gathering her things.
"Lois? Honey, are you OK?" Lois was curled up in the corner of the couch holding Jake. He had finished eating almost a half hour ago, and was fast asleep, but Lois made no move to take him to bedroom, choosing instead to hold him.
"I'm just still a little nervous I guess. It just never occurred to me that Jake could still be in danger. Oh, Clark…I'm just scared something is going to happen to him!"
Clark sat next to her and pulled them into his arms. "Lois, I will do *everything* in my power to protect both of you. I promise you, no one will hurt him."
"Oh, Clark…" she murmured, resting her head on his chest.
Clark held her and stroked her hair as murmured soft soothing words into her ear. "I love you, honey. Nothing bad is going to happen to you…either of you. I would never let anything hurt you. I love you so much."
"I love you too, Clark."
It had been another long and fruitless day. They had been unable to make anymore headway on any of the stories they were assigned, and then had spent countless frustrating hours on hold trying to speak to someone at CSH Labs about Dr. Myerson's work. Additionally, Jacob was sick — not enough to really worry them, but enough to cause him to be ejected from the day care center — and therefore, unusually cranky.
That, along with the fact that Superman had been incredibly busy, causing Clark to zip out at the worst possible moments, resulted in both of them being pushed to their limits. They'd wound up bickering, and Clark was still feeling a little guilty about the whole episode.
He'd been lying in bed, relishing the feel of holding her in his arms when his superhearing had kicked in again. Lois had groaned when she felt him stiffen, knowing he was going to have to leave again. She'd kissed him gently and told him to hurry back, and Clark had every intention of returning as soon as he could. But fate seemed to be playing a cruel jOke on him that day, and it was over an hour later when he was finally able to get away.
Clark landed with a soft thud and quickly spun back into his sleep shorts.
He sighed, glad to be home.
Lois lay sleeping peacefully, her arm stretched across his side of the bed, as if she had been reaching for him in her sleep.
He smiled at her as he slid back the covers, eager to hold her in his arms again. He glanced at the bedside clock as he started to climb into bed and grimaced.
Midnight. Jake would be up any second. Clark figured he might as well get Jake's bottle ready while he was already up. He reversed directions and headed for the kitchen.
As he finished preparing the bottle he heard a knock at the door. He quickly x-rayed the door and winced when he saw who was on the other side. He reached for his glasses and opened the door.
"Mayson? What are you doing here?" he asked, purposely keeping his voice low.
"Clark, I know it's late. I'm sorry, I should have called first, but I just got back in town and I saw your light on…"
Mayson's eyes widened as she slowly eyed Clark's bare chest. She shook herself back to reality and forced herself to continue. "Anyway, I know we kind of left things up in the air the last time we spOke, and I said I was going to wait for you to make the next move, but —"
Before Clark could react, Mayson launched herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him soundly on the lips.
"Clark? Honey, was somebody at the door?" Lois, her hair disheveled and obviously fresh from bed, entered bleary- eyed from the bedroom. In her arms lay a softly whimpering baby.
Clark pushed Mayson away from his as quickly as possible, but it was too late. Lois stood in the archway to the bedroom now wide-awake and speechless.
"Lois!" Clark gasped, desperately trying to regain control of the situation.
Lois quickly assessed Mayson's short skirt and then looked pointedly at the clock. "Mayson, it's so nice to see you," Lois said icily. "And at 12:15 in the morning no less."
Mayson looked from Lois to Clark and back again, trying to comprehend what Lois was doing in Clark's apartment at this time of night. She had obviously been asleep…the answer seemed obvious. And was that a *baby* in her arms?
"Lois! I can explain!" Clark said.
Jacob started to cry in earnest and Lois strode to the counter where Clark had left the bottle.
"Look, I'm going back to bed. If you're going to be up anyway, you can feed him," Lois said, gently laying Jacob in Clark's arms and handing him the bottle before she turned and headed back to the bedroom. Clark sighed deeply, then offered the bottle to the baby, who began to suck hungrily.
"Look, Mayson," Clark said, turning to her.
Mayson had closed her mouth, but she still looked as if she had been blind-sided by a runaway train. "I know I've been out of town, but I haven't been gone *that* long," she said, looking pointedly at the baby in Clark's arms.
Clark couldn't help but smile. "Jacob is actually Lois' nephew."
"So you're babysitting."
"Well, not exactly. We're sort of taking care of him indefinitely."
"Mayson, it's a long story."
"You said 'we.' So, you and Lois are…"
Clark took a deep breath, "Mayson, I'm sorry. I never should have led you to believe that there could be anything more than friendship between us. You're a wonderful person. You're beautiful, and intelligent, and I honestly enjoy spending time with you…"
"But…" she prodded.
"But I'm in love with Lois. I always have been."
Mayson took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. "I guess I've known that all along," she conceded. "I was just kidding myself to think that I could make you forget about her."
"It's not you, Mayson. There is no one in this world that could make me forget about her."
Mayson smiled bravely. "I should go. I'll see you around," she said, her voice faltering, before turning to leave.
"Yeah," Clark said, opening the door for her. "Take care."
Clark softly closed the door behind Mayson's retreating figure.
He kissed Jake on the forehead and whispered to him, "She's never going to believe me. She's going to hate me. Oh, God…"
Jake suddenly began to cry again.
"You and me both, buddy. You and me both," Clark repeated.
When he entered the bedroom a minute later he found Lois sitting on the bed, her legs pulled up to her chest.
"Honey?" he whispered.
Lois remained unresponsive, but he heard her heartbeat speed up.
Jake continued to cry plaintively.
"Honey, I think he wants you…"
At that, Lois uncurled and reached for him. She cuddled him to her chest and whispered to him softly. "It's OK, sweetheart. I'm here. I've got you. Everything is going to be OK. I love you, baby."
As Lois cuddled and cooed to him, Jake's cries faded to until he was calm again. He began to eat again, gazing up at her wide-eyed.
Clark remained seated on the edge of the bed. "Lois…" he began again.
When she continued to ignore him, Clark pressed on. "Lois, I'm sorry —"
"You know, when you and I went out into the living room a few minutes ago, the last thing in the world that I expected to see was Clark kissing another woman," Lois whispered to Jake.
"I was *not* kissing her! *She* was kissing me." Clark shook his head when he realized he had just addressed that to Jake, rather than to Lois.
"Well, I don't understand why they were kissing at all," Lois said to Jake.
"I had no idea she was going to kiss me. She just *lunged* at me!"
"I don't know, Jake. Even if she *did* just lunge at him — "
"She *did* just lunge at me! I'm telling the truth. You know I would never lie to you!" His gaze fell to the baby who was staring at them wide-eyed. "I would never lie to her. I love her with all my heart."
Lois chOked back her tears. "I believe that he loves me, but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't be tempted to kiss another woman."
"That's *exactly* what it means! I *love* her, and I would never do *anything* to hurt her. And I *wasn't* tempted, I'm *still* not tempted! How could I be tempted to kiss another woman? You know Lois… she's incredible. And our love is *so* amazing — why would I settle for a poor imitation when I already have the real thing?"
Lois almost smiled when she realized that Clark had completely given up on addressing her, and was directing all of his comments to Jake.
Lois drew her knees up and laid Jake along her thighs, propping him up so she could look into his eyes. Jake however, had begun to lose interest and his eyelids fluttered as he fought sleep.
"Well, I think he's pretty incredible too. But so does Mayson. She's been throwing herself at him since the first day she met him."
"But *I* have been in love with Lois since the first day I met *her,* so it really doesn't matter what Mayson does or doesn't do."
Lois' voice quivered as she whispered, "I'm in love with him, too. I'm just so scared that I'll lose him."
"You could never lose me," Clark whispered emotionally, no longer keeping up the pretense of looking at Jake. "There is *nothing* you could ever do, *nothing* that could ever happen, that would make me stop loving you."
Tears began to stream down Lois' cheeks. "Clark…"
Clark pulled back and took Jacob from her, tucking the baby back into the bassinet and quickly returned to the bed.
He reached for her and tugged her into his arms. "I love you, Lois. I love you. You have to know that I would never do anything to hurt you."
"I'm sorry. I should have trusted you."
He held her firmly in his arms and kissed her gently. Again and again they kissed, sweet and tender kisses reassuring each other of their love for each other. After a while they pulled apart and Lois nestled snugly into his arms.
"I promise I'll try harder to trust you," Lois whispered as they succumbed to sleep.
"And I promise I'll never give you a reason not to."
"Guess who I just got off the phone with?' Lois asked, perching herself on the corner of Clark's desk
"I have no idea," Clark said with a grin. "Who?"
"Michael Alexander. He was Jason's roommate during the semester he spent at UCLA."
"Did he have anything interesting to say?"
"Well, he says he hasn't talked to Jason in about five years. After Jason dropped out of school he didn't really keep in touch with anyone. But, Michael did say that the last time he talked to Jason, he seemed really excited. Something about a brand new business venture that was going to make him rich. He said Jason wouldn't give him any details, all he would say was that it was easy money and that an old friend of his had hooked him up."
"Five years ago. That's when he started getting paid by Oceanside Realty."
"Well," Clark started. "I called Oceanside Realty pretending to be looking to buy a home and said a friend of mine had recommended one of their agents, Jason Crawford. The woman who answered the phone said she there was no one there with that name. I told her that my friends had purchased their home a couple of years ago, and asked if it was possible that he had moved on since then. She said that she had been working there for ten years, and that as far as she knew, there had never been anyone there with that name."
"Well, I guess that settles that then. Let's see if we can find a link to anyone in the CSH Labs."
"Can you hit the button on the answering machine?" Lois asked as she dropped the stack of mail on the table and reached for the fish food.
She cringed as her mother's voice screeched from the machine. "Lois, where are you? This is the third time that I've called since I got home. All I ever get is your machine, and you know how I feel about leaving messages on a machine. If I didn't know better I'd think you were avoiding me? Don't you want to know how my trip went? Well, I'll tell you. It was horrible. Miserably hot. Bugs and wild animals everywhere. Absolutely indecent. It's January for crying out loud; one would think that even the African veldt would have the good sense to be cool in January. But, no, of course not. Did you know that it's actually summer in Africa right now? Apparently because they are south of the equator it's *hot* during the winter. Isn't that the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard? OH! And don't even get me started about your father. You know what his reaction to the whole safari was?"
Lois hit the delete key with great vigor and turned to Clark. "And you wonder why I'm reluctant to discuss my mother's travels with her?"
Clark stood, agape.
"Oh, you think that's bad? That's nothing. You should hear her when she gets started lecturing me about my love life… Maybe we can just pretend I never got the message. I'll stay at your place and — No, that won't work. She'll just track me down at the paper, and if I have to deal with her, I'd rather have it be in private."
Clark swallowed and shifted Jake nervously. He knew that there was no love lost between Lois and her mother, but he really hadn't gotten the chance to see the woman in action. And if she was this annoying in an answering machine message, what must she be like live and in person?
Lois turned to the baby in Clark's arms and made a silly face. "Sorry buddy, but Grandma is wacko!"
"Lois!" Clark burst out laughing. "Don't prejudice him before he even meets her!"
"I'm just giving him fair warning, Clark!" She laughed, reaching to tickle Jake, then freezing her tracks. "Oh, my gosh! Clark, he just laughed!"
"I know!" Clark said, jiggling the baby who laughed again.
"That's so cute," Lois gushed. "Oh, I wish we had that on tape. He is so adorable! Come on, let's get out of here and celebrate. I'll call my mom later tonight and set up an appointment for lunch or something."
Lois opened the door and cringed as she heard Jake's wail.
"Clark?" she called.
"Oh, thank God!" he said, coming around the corner from the bedroom. "Look who's home, Jake!"
He strode quickly across the room and thrust the wailing baby into Lois' arms. "He woke up about half an hour after you left for your tae kwon do class, and he hasn't stopped crying since! I have no idea what his problem is! I've fed him, changed him, played with him, rocked him, everything! There is just no reasoning with him…"
"Hey, hey. What's the matter, baby? I've got you. It's OK." Jake continued to cry, but without the same panicky edge Lois had heard when she walked in the door.
Clark ran his fingers through his hair and paced nervously in front of her. "I've tried everything that I can think of! I just don't understand —"
"Clark, it's nothing you did or didn't do. Sometimes babies just cry, remember?" She said, repeating his words to her when he rescued her from Jake's first meltdown. "I've got him now; why don't you go relax. Go do your patrol now, and then we can spend a little time together before we have to go to bed."
Clark nodded reluctantly and spun into the suit.
When he returned home an hour later, Lois was curled up on the couch feeding Jake. He quickly spun out of the suit and walked over to where they were sitting.
"Is he OK?" Clark asked as he crouched down beside them and gently stroked the baby's head.
"Yeah, he's fine now."
"I'm sorry about earlier. I really didn't mean to ambush you the minute you walked in the door. I know you're probably exhausted. I just… I was losing it. I hate it when he cries because I want him to be happy, but it's not that bad when there's something I can do to make it better. But, I tried everything I could think of, and nothing was working."
Lois reached out and pulled him in for a quick kiss. "It's not your fault, Clark," she said as they pulled away. "You can't always fix everything."
"I know," Clark said softly.
Lois turned her attention back to Jake, his big brown eyes looking up at her as he sucked, traces of tears still on his cheeks.
"I guess he just missed you," Clark said with a smile as he watched Jake's eyes flutter shut as he nestled contentedly against her.
"I think he's a bit of a Mama's boy," he teased. His smile fell as he met her eyes.
"Clark…" she whispered.
"I know, I know. But, Lois, it's been two months and we haven't heard from Lucy once. I just can't help but think that she's not coming back for him. Wouldn't she have called or something? Besides, we *are* his parents, whether we call ourselves that or not. This isn't just babysitting, Lois. He loves us and he trusts us. He doesn't even remember Lucy anymore, and she probably wouldn't even recognize him!"
"I know that! It's just… Clark, I love him so much. The thought of having to give him back kills me, and I just can't help but think that if we go that much further, and really begin to think of ourselves as his real parents, it's just going to be that much harder when we have to give him back."
"Lois, how long are we going to go on like this, though? Dancing around the issue, loving him like he's our son, but not allowing ourselves to think of him that way? I know you're scared. I'm scared, too. But, honestly, at this point, I'm not sure I even want to give him back if Lucy *does* reappear."
"Lois, she *abandoned* him! And, yes, she gave him to the best person I can think of, and I thank God every day that she did, but that doesn't change the facts of the matter. He was a tiny, helpless baby, and she left him. And she hasn't called, or written, or stopped by. We have no idea where she is, or how to get a hold of her. What if he needed medical attention? She didn't even bother to stick around long enough to make sure that you were willing to take him. She just took off."
"She was scared, Clark! And confused!"
"I know that, honey. I don't think Lucy is a bad person. I actually think she did the right thing. She obviously wasn't ready to take care of him herself, so she brought him to someone who could. That's great. But she can't expect us to just raise him until she's ready to take him back, and then just give him up without a fight. Surely, by now, she must have decided that he's better off here, than with her."
Lois sat quietly, pondering everything.
"I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean to upset you," Clark said, reaching to caress her cheek.
She looked up, tears in her eyes. "You're right. I know you are. I just… She told me she was coming back. She didn't ask me to adopt him, she asked me to take care of him until she could get her feet back on the ground. And I just keep thinking that any day now she's going to reappear just as quickly as she vanished, and say, 'Guess what? I've got my feet back on the ground. Thanks for everything.' And then just disappear again…but with our baby this time."
Clark climbed beside her on the couch and pulled her into his arms, letting her cry against his shoulder.
Lois glanced from the empty desk at her right to the screens in front of her where a muted image of Superman zipped around the scene of a multi-car pileup. She sighed and turned back to her screen, putting the final touches on a piece they had been working on before he had left.
She flipped through the notes beside her, reviewing what she knew about CHS Industries. She had been excited earlier when a phone call to a former neighbor of Jason's revealed the name of a former girlfriend who had been pregnant three years earlier. But, the neighbor had not talked to Jason or the girlfriend in years and had no idea where they were.
Jimmy had been trying all morning to locate the woman, but with a relatively common name — Charlotte Johnson — he was having a hard time finding the right woman.
Lois decided to shift gears for the moment, pulling up the data she had saved on her computer about Dr. Christopher Myerson. He appeared to have dropped off the face of the scientific community five years ago. Prior to the failure of his AIDS vaccine he had been a prolific writer, publishing articles and editorials in various scientific journals. But the editorial she and Clark had read earlier regarding the testing of his vaccine on children was the last piece he had published. Lois found it hard to believe that his setback would have been enough to discourage him from working on his project, and wondered if his sudden silence had more to do with his new employer than his failed theory.
"Lois!" Jimmy approached her desk, smiling and waving a printout. "Boy, are you going to love me! I found your Charlotte Johnson. She's Charlotte Montero now, as in Councilman Montero's wife!"
"Councilman Montero? As in the councilman who is running in the special election for mayor of Metropolis? You're kidding me?!" she said, jumping from her chair and grabbing the printout. "OK, I'm going to see if I can talk to her. If Clark gets back before I do, can you tell him where I am and that I'll be back soon?"
Twenty minutes later Lois stood on the porch of a modest home on the outskirts of the city. She knocked on the door and waited for a response.
After a moment, a pretty blonde woman in her mid-twenties opened the door.
"Hi, I'm Lois —"
"Lane, from The Daily Planet," the woman finished. "My husband's not home right now. You'll have to call the office."
Lois smiled. "I was actually hoping I could ask you a few questions."
The woman looked puzzled. "I really don't know much about David's campaign. What could you possibly want to talk to me about?"
"I want to ask you some questions about Jason Crawford."
The woman visibly withdrew. "I'm afraid I can't help you with that. I haven't spOken to Jason in years."
"I just want to ask you some questions about when you did know him," Lois prodded. As she saw that the woman was ready to retreat to the house, Lois pushed forward impulsively, "You had a child with him, didn't you? A child that you gave up for adoption."
All color flooded from the woman's face. "How did you know that? Those records are sealed, and I never told anyone. Ms. Lane, please! You can't publish that! You don't understand. I just got married, and my husband has no idea… I can't talk to you about this," she said, stepping inside and moving to shut the door.
The desperation in Lois' voice caused the woman to falter.
"Please, Mrs. Montero. Just hear me out."
She paused, then hesitantly opened the door again.
"This isn't just a story. My sister just gave birth to his baby. A baby he tried to force her to give up for adoption."
"Jason didn't force me to give our baby up, Ms. Lane. I was young, poor, and totally unprepared to be a mother."
"I understand that. But, please, I need to learn more about him. I just want you to tell me what you remember."
"Ms. Lane, do you realize what you are asking me to do? I am a totally different person now than I was then. I've moved on. I have a wonderful husband and a life I love. I'm not going to give that up."
"I can protect you!" Lois pleaded. "I won't use your name if you don't want me to. It'll be totally off the record. If you're not comfortable talking here, we can go somewhere else. We can meet for dinner at a restaurant, or you can come to my place if you aren't comfortable talking about this in public."
Lois held her breath as she waited for Charlotte's answer.
"You won't use my name?" she asked.
Lois exhaled in relief. "No, I won't print anything that will identify you."
Charlotte nodded slowly. "All right. I'll speak to you, but not here, not now. My husband is going out of town on business this weekend. You said we could meet at your place?"
Lois nodded. "How about we meet for dinner on Saturday? I'll get my partner to cook for us; he's a fantastic cook." Lois smiled at her encouragingly.
Charlotte nodded. "Is seven OK?"
Lois agreed and gave her directions to Clark's, then handed her a business card. "If you need anything in the meantime, just give me a call. If I'm not in you can ask to speak to Clark Kent."
Charlotte nodded again, then slipped back into the house.
"Here, Clark. Let me take him. You finish with dinner," Lois said, scooping Jake from his arms and taking the bottle from his hands.
Clark strode back to the stove, and began stirring the sauce. "So Charlotte Montero really did have a baby and give it up for adoption three years ago, and she never told her husband?"
"Yeah," Lois said, settling into a chair where she could feed Jake while watching Clark.
"I just can't believe that. Why didn't she tell him?"
"I don't know, Clark. Maybe she was afraid it would change the way he felt about her…"
"Lois," Clark began, turning to look at her. "If he really loves her, there is nothing in her past that could change the way he feels about her."
Lois held his gaze for a minute, smiling softly. Then she quirked an eyebrow and said, "Well, *maybe* she didn't tell him in the beginning, and then the longer they were together the harder it was to tell him. After a while she was afraid he would be angry that she lied to him and kept the secret for so long."
"Touche," he laughed, moving beside her and brushing a kiss across her lips.
As he pulled back, there was a knock at the door.
"That should be her," Clark said. "I'll get the door."
Clark swung the door open and flashed his famous smile at the obviously nervous woman in front of him.
"You must be Charlotte Montero," he said, reaching to shake her hand. "I'm Clark Kent. It's nice to meet you. Come on in, dinner is almost ready. I hope you like pasta," he said, reaching to take her coat.
He led her down the steps and into the living room.
"Thank you for coming," Lois said. "It really means a lot to me."
Charlotte nodded, her eyes fixing on the baby in Lois' arms.
"Looks like the little guy is all tuckered out," Clark said with a grin. "Here, I'll put him down. Why don't you open a bottle of wine?"
Clark eased Jake from her arms, brushing a kiss across his forehead before cuddling him close to his chest. Lois watched him retreat to the bedroom, then turned to the young woman in front of her.
"Let me get us some wine," she said, standing and striding to the counter where Clark had already set out a new bottle.
Charlotte glanced from Lois back to the bedroom before stuttering, "I didn't know you two were…I mean…you have a beautiful baby."
"Thank you," Lois said. "I mean, Jacob is actually my sister's baby. We've been taking care of him…"
"Your sister's baby? He's Jason's son?"
Lois nodded and watched as a series of emotions flitted across her face.
"He's my baby's half-brother, then," she said softly.
"Yes," Lois said, reaching to place a hand on her arm.
Clark reentered the room and they quickly brought the food to the table and sat down. They ate in silence for the first few moments until Clark led them in some small talk.
Finally, Lois broached to the reason for their meeting. "Can you tell us about how you met Jason?"
Charlotte took and deep breath and began her story. "Well, it was about three years ago. I had been floundering around since high school, living at home and not really doing anything. I'd always wanted to be an actress, so one day I just packed up my stuff in the back of my car and moved out to Los Angeles. I didn't know anybody, and I was staying in a youth hostel. I started going on open casting calls for extras, and I got a job as a waitress to make some money."
Charlotte stopped and took a sip of water. She toyed with her fork for a minute then pushed forward. "That's where I met Jason. He would come in the restaurant where I was waitressing, and one night he asked me out. We went for this long walk on the beach and talked for hours. We had this incredible connection…at least I thought so at the time. He seemed to genuinely care about me. He asked a million questions and I wound up telling him my whole life story. By the end of the night I felt like I'd known him for years. I guess that's why -" She broke off suddenly and dropped her eyes to her lap.
"I don't normally do things like that — going home with someone I've just met."
The young woman's shame was evident and Lois' heart went out to her.
"We all make mistakes," Lois said quietly. "We've all done things we regret."
Charlotte smiled at her gratefully. "I thought I was in love with him. He said he didn't want me staying at the hostel anymore because he didn't think it was safe…he told me that he loved me…so, I moved in with him.
"I know now that I wasn't really in love with him. But, he was so sweet and so attentive. It was a new feeling for me. I've never been close to my family, and I'd grown apart from all my high school friends. So when Jason appeared in my life and appeared to adore me, it was like a dream come true.
"Two months later I discovered I was pregnant. I was absolutely devastated. I'd only been with Jason for two months, and I fully expected him to freak out. I had no benefits at my job, and I was totally unprepared. I didn't know what to do. I debated just having an abortion and not even telling Jason, but I thought I was really in love with him, and I didn't want to lie to him…
"I sat him down one night and told him that I was pregnant. I really expected him to panic, but he hardly seemed surprised. He told me that he would support me in whatever decision I made. He was incredible. I was so relieved. I told him that I was considering having an abortion, and he told me that he would support me if that was what I really wanted to do, but that he was personally opposed to abortion and he really hoped I didn't choose that option. Honestly, I wasn't really comfortable with the idea either. I've always supported a woman's right to choose, but when it came right down to it, it just wasn't something I wanted to do.
"A week later Jason told me about this adoption agency that he'd heard about. He said a friend of his had told him about it. They paid for everything and even arranged all of my prenatal care. Jason did most of the dealing with them, which I was very thankful for. He was incredibly supportive all through the pregnancy, and he was there for the delivery too…"
Charlotte was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I haven't talked about this is so long…I've tried so hard not to even think about it."
"It's OK," Clark said. "Take your time."
"I never saw my baby. They told me it would be easier that way…" She drew in a ragged breath, making a valiant effort not to cry.
Lois and Clark sat quietly, giving her a moment to pull herself together.
"After the baby was born, Jason and I just drifted apart. A month later we broke up and I moved to Metropolis to live with a friend of mine from high school. I met David and fell in love. We were married last month, and we're talking about starting a family of our own. I never told anyone about the baby, not even David. That's why I was so shocked when you told me you knew," she said, looking at Lois.
"I'm sorry about that," Lois said. "I didn't mean to scare you; I was just desperate to talk to you."
"What was Jason doing to make a living then?" Clark asked.
"He was an artist. He didn't make a lot of money, but he sold enough paintings to get by. He hinted once or twice at an inheritance or trust fund. I was just so grateful to be taken care of that I didn't really question it."
"Did Jason ever mention the name 'Oceanside Realty' to you?" Lois asked.
"Not that I can remember. It doesn't sound familiar at all. Why?"
"We've uncovered some of his financial records," Clark said. "It looks like he's been on the payroll at Oceanside Realty for about five years."
"What?! I *know* he never worked there while we were together. My mother is a very successful real estate agent, and I grew up hearing about real estate all the time. I would remember if Jason ever told me that he was working for a real estate company, or that he had ever worked for one in the past."
Lois and Clark were silent for a minute, absorbing the information. Lois jotted a few notes in her notebook as Clark asked the next question.
"Charlotte, what can you tell us about the adoption agency that you went through?" Clark asked.
"Not much, I'm afraid. Jason really took care all of that. He brought me all of the paperwork to sign. I only went to the office once, very briefly. And that was so long ago, I don't remember where they were located or anything."
"Do you remember the name of the adoption agency?" Lois asked.
Charlotte grimaced. "It had nothing to do with babies. I remember that because I thought an adoption agency would have a name about babies. You know, 'America's Babies,' or something like that. There were a bunch of initials in the name, but I honestly don't remember them…God, I feel like such an idiot! How can I not even know the name of the agency I gave my baby to?!"
"It's not your fault," Clark said reassuringly. "We understand. You were going through a very emotional time, and if Jason was handling everything it's understandable that you wouldn't have paid close attention."
"Thanks. It's been a long time since I thought about this, too. After I moved to Metropolis I tried my hardest to forget that any of this ever happened. It was like that year of my life never existed."
"You said that the agency provided your medical care," Lois said. "Do mean that they paid for your medical care, or that they had a doctor on staff to provide it?"
"They paid for my medical care, but I had to see a doctor they chose for me. I didn't really ask a lot of questions, but it never occurred to me that the doctor was employed by the agency. I just assumed they had specific doctors who took their form of insurance or something."
"Hmm," Lois said thoughtfully. "Do you remember anything about your doctor or the clinic or hospital where you went for your visits?"
"It wasn't a clinic; it was just a doctor's office. I don't remember where the office was, but I do remember the doctor. He was incredibly attentive. I met with him often and he ran lots of tests to make sure the baby was healthy and developing properly. He monitored what I ate and how I was taking care of myself. He even gave me a number where I could reach him 24 hours a day if I had any questions. At the time I was really pleased because he genuinely seemed to care about me. Later, though, I realized it was probably just the baby he was worried about. If the agency was paying his bills they were probably expecting healthy babies," she said with a wry grin.
"Do you remember the name of your doctor?" Clark asked.
"Umm, yeah. Michaels…Myers…Myerson! Christopher Myerson!"
Lois and Clark simultaneously dropped their forks to their plates with a loud clang.
Charlotte looked startled. "Is everything all right?"
"Christopher Myerson?" Lois asked. "Are you positive?"
Charlotte nodded warily. "Why? What does that mean?"
"Clark, there is a picture of Myerson in my briefcase with all our notes. Can you go find it?"
Clark nodded and immediately rose to find the picture.
"Charlotte, if the doctor who saw you is who we think he is, this could be a lot more important than you think. We're going to need you to tell us everything you can about him."
"I don't understand. I thought you were investigating Jason? What does the doctor have to do with this?"
"I'm not sure, exactly," Lois replied. "That's what I need your help to discover."
Clark returned with the printout of the picture Jimmy had given them with Myerson's background check. He handed it to Charlotte who nodded.
"This is him. This was my doctor. I wouldn't forget — I saw him at least every other week for seven months."
"Every other week?" Lois asked. "I'm certainly not a pregnancy expert, but is it normal to see your obstetrician every other week though your entire pregnancy? I always thought the visits were more spread out until it gets close to time to deliver."
"I…I don't know. It seemed like a lot to me, too. But the doctor insisted that everything was normal. He said he just wanted to keep an eye on me and the baby and make sure that everything was progressing normally."
They were silent for a minute, as Lois and Clark tried to take in the magnitude of this discovery. Finally, Jake's cry from the bedroom broke the silence.
"I'll get him," Clark said, pushing his chair from the table and rising.
"He's probably hungry," Lois said. "He didn't eat much before he fell asleep."
Clark nodded and strode to the bedroom.
Lois turned back to Charlotte. "I need you to tell me everything you can remember about Dr. Myerson and your prenatal visits."
"I will, but can you at least tell me why? I thought you were investigating Jason. I don't understand why this is important. And why were you so shocked that Dr. Myerson was my doctor?"
Lois smiled at the litany of questions. "I promise I'll tell you everything we know, and what we suspect, but I'd like you to tell me what you remember first. I don't want to accidentally influence your memory."
Charlotte nodded, her eyes drifting to the kitchen where Clark had moved to heat a bottle. "OK, I'll tell you everything I remember, but I don't know how much of it will be useful to you.
"I started seeing Dr. Myerson immediately after being accepted by the adoption agency. At my first appointment he ran a whole series of tests on me and the baby. I guess they were just trying to make sure that she was healthy."
Lois noted Charlotte's acknowledgement of her baby's gender for the first time, but didn't comment.
"After that I came in about every other week. He weighed me, measured me, took my blood pressure, and listened to my heartbeat and then the baby's heartbeat. Sometimes he did an ultrasound. He had me taking all sorts of prenatal vitamins, but I don't remember any of their names. I'm not sure I even knew their names then."
"Do you remember anything that seemed odd or out of place during any of your visits?"
"Not really, but that was my only pregnancy, so I'm not totally sure what 'normal' is."
Lois nodded. "That's understandable. Do you remember any of the nurses or assistants? What about other woman you may have met in the waiting room?"
"I only ever saw Dr. Myerson. Everything was strictly confidential. The agency was obsessed with protecting the privacy of the mothers.
Lois scribbled a final note in her notebook, realizing they probably weren't going to learn any more new information that night.
"Now can you tell me why this is important?"
"Dr. Christopher Myerson is a famous biogeneticist. He worked in the field of virology and made a big splash in the scientific community five years ago when he claimed to have found a vaccine for HIV. His claim was negated, but he wrote an article claiming the vaccine would work if given to young children. The FDA refused his proposal to test on children, and Myerson dropped out of sight. Two months later he was hired by a lab that's owned by the same parent company that owns Oceanside Realty, where he is now apparently acting as an obstetrician to women who are planning to give their babies up for adoption. I don't have any proof, but my guess is that when he couldn't get legitimate volunteers for his vaccine because he lacked FDA approval, he decided to find volunteers by masquerading as an adoption agency."
Charlotte looked shell-shocked. "Oh, my God. You think he's testing his vaccine on the babies we gave up!"
"I don't know," Lois said honestly. "We don't have any proof of anything yet. But I can't help but believe that this is not just a coincidence."
"How is Jason involved?"
"I don't really know that either. It looks like he was somehow acquainted with either Myerson, or someone Myerson was working with, through this Oceanside Realty business."
"Do you think he got me pregnant on purpose so that he could sell my baby to Dr. Myerson?" Charlotte asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
Lois sighed. "I don't know. It's possible. Especially considering how similar your story is to my sister's."
"But your sister didn't give her baby up for adoption."
"Lucy changed her mind at the last minute. For two weeks Jason tried to convince her to hand the baby over to the agency. When she refused, he tried to kidnap Jake."
All of the color drained for Charlotte's face. "Oh, my God. She must have been terrified!"
"She was, but she was also adamant about not giving her baby up for adoption. She brought him here and asked me to take care of him."
"She's very brave. I wasn't strong like her. I was so scared."
Lois followed Charlotte's gaze to where Clark sat on the sofa softly cooing to Jake while feeding him his bottle.
"Clark's really good with him," Charlotte said quietly.
"He's amazing," Lois said with a tender smile. "He really adores Jake, and Jake loves him. I don't know what I would do without him."
A sad look flitted across Charlotte's face. "It's incredible the way he cares about him so much, even though he's not his father."
"Well, Clark is an all-around amazing guy," Lois said. "But I don't think he's totally unique in that department. I mean, lots of men wind up raising step-children and loving them. Clark may not be his biological father, but he's the only father Jake has ever known."
"My father died before I was born, and when I was six my mother remarried," Charlotte said slowly. "Her husband was a nice man, and he provided for me, but he never loved me the way he loved the children they had together. I always felt like a second-class citizen." She paused for a moment, then added, "I didn't want that for my daughter."
Lois placed a hand on her arm, searching for words to comfort her.
"But I think you're right," she added softly. "There are men who are so full of love…"
"Your husband," Lois said quietly. Charlotte nodded.
"But you never told him about the baby," Lois prodded gently.
"I love David more than anything in this world, and I know he really loves me. But what good would it have done to tell him about this? There is nothing I can do now. Maybe if I had known then that I would meet David, and that he would be… But, it doesn't change anything, and it would have made him so sad. He hates to see me hurting. I can see it in his eyes whenever I talk about my childhood. He would do anything to protect me, to make me happy. And I thought that by not telling him about the baby I could spare him a little pain. Besides, it was something I really thought I had buried in the past."
Just then Clark looked up. Seeing the look of longing on Charlotte's face, he nodded at Jake and asked, "Would you like to hold him?"
Charlotte hesitated, then rose to join him on the sofa. Clark rose and gently placed Jake in her arms. He slipped away quietly, joining Lois in clearing the dishes from the table.
"I told her what we suspect," Lois said. "She's pretty upset, understandably."
Clark glanced at Charlotte. She was cuddling Jake and looking at him with what appeared to be a mixture of sadness and regret.
"She looks so sad," Clark said quietly.
"She's dealing with a lot of issues. I think she really regrets having given her daughter up, and now she has the added guilt of wondering if instead of the giving her to the loving home she imagined, she actually turned her over to a mad scientist."
Lois and Clark quickly finished cleaning up the dinner mess, and went to join Charlotte in the living room.
"He's so sweet," she said, placing him in Lois' arms. She looked at him longingly and added, "I can't help but wonder if he looks like my daughter."
They walked quietly to the door, and Charlotte started to leave.
At the last minute she turned and took a deep breath, a determined look coming over her face. "When my husband comes home from his trip tomorrow, I'm going to tell him everything. Then I want to help you. Whatever you need, I'll do it. If Dr. Myerson really is buying babies and experimenting on them, he has to be stopped. I can't sit back and let him continue just because I don't want my name associated with any of this."
Lois and Clark shot a quick glance at each other.
"Thank you," Lois said. "We really appreciate it. I think we're going to need your help. We won't say anything implicating you until you've told your husband though."
"Thank you. David deserves to hear this straight from me. I would hate for him to hear about it second hand."
Lois gave Clark a funny look as she watched him surreptitiously look around the newsroom. He winked at her, then lowered his glasses and warmed their coffees.
Lois laughed and shook her head. Sliding her hand onto his thigh, she leaned forward and whispered, "I knew there was a reason I keep you around."
"Well, shucks," Clark drawled, grinning impishly. "I aim to please."
Lois laughed again and sat back up in her chair, leaving her hand resting just above his knee. As she read through the material on her desk, her fingers drew lazy patterns on the inside of his leg.
Clark's leg twitched and he reached to cover her hand with his own. He smiled when she looked up at him in surprise. "You're driving me crazy," he whispered. "Unless you want me to drag you into the nearest broom closet, you'd better stop doing that," he said, only half teasing.
Lois turned in her chair, bringing her legs to rest against his and sliding her hand higher up his thigh. "The nearest broom closet, huh? That sounds intriguing," she whispered against his ear, sending a shiver down his spine.
Clark rolled his eyes and grinned. He was pleased that she was feeling secure enough in their relationship to tease him at work, but he was beginning to worry that her teasing was going to lead to some embarrassing reactions if he didn't get her to stop soon.
He placed his hands on her chair, firmly guiding it back to its rightful place at the desk. "Stop it!" he whispered. "Or I'm going to do something that is going to get both of us fired!"
Lois giggled and, deciding to behave, returned to the information on the screen.
"Excuse me. Lane and Kent?"
Lois and Clark looked up sharply at the unfamiliar voice.
"Councilman Montero!" Lois exclaimed, jumping to her feet.
Clark rose and asked, "Is there something we can do for you? Would you like to go into the conference room?"
He nodded and followed them into the conference room. Once they were seated, with the door closed, he spOke.
"Charlotte has told me everything. I have to admit that I didn't want to believe it at first; it sounds preposterous. But, I've been reading your work for long enough to see you uncover all kinds of seemingly ridiculous schemes. I'd like to see what you have so far, but I'm inclined to believe you."
"Thank you," Clark said. "We can show you what we have so far, but I'm warning you, we don't have any airtight proof. There is not enough evidence to get the police involved at this point."
"I understand that. I also know that my wife has agreed to help you in any way she can. I fully support her decision. However, I just want to ask that you do what you can to protect her. Charlotte is under a great deal of stress right now, and she's terribly upset. I want to stop this man and bring him to justice, but I don't want Charlotte to be hurt any more than she already is. That being said, I want to offer my services as well."
"You realize, of course, that the election is only a few weeks away. I'm sure your opponent will capitalize on your wife's indiscretions. I can't promise that we'll be able to protect her from that, and I can't guarantee that this won't have a negative effect on the election," Clark said.
"My wife is much more important to me that this election. I won't lie to you and say that I don't care if I win. I do care. I've worked long and hard to get to this point in my career, and I honestly believe that I could do a lot of good as mayor. But, I know where my priorities lie. I would do anything in the world to protect Charlotte and make her happy." He glanced at Lois, and then directed his attention back to Clark. "I believe you understand how I feel."
"I do," Clark replied quietly, his respect for David Montero growing rapidly.
"Good. Then let's get down to business."
Lois and Clark filled him in on everything they had gathered, then sat back and waited for him to absorb all of the information.
"So that's where we are now. We've been trying to get someone at the lab to talk to us by claiming that we're doing a 'Where are They Now' piece on Dr. Myerson, but we couldn't get past the secretary."
"Let me see that list of directors again," David said.
Clark sifted through the stack of papers and handed him the list.
"Yeah, here we go. Andrew Gillespie. He's a friend of mine from college. I haven't spOken to him in a while, but we've kept in touch. I just might be able to get him to speak to you if I tell him that you are friends of mine. Let me give Andrew a call and see if I can get you an interview."
Lois and Clark left David in the conference room to make his phone call.
As they closed the door, Perry stuck his head out of his office. "Do you want to explain to me what David Montero doing in my conference room? I was under the impression that you were working on that story about the state legislature."
"We finished that, Chief," Lois said, motioning to his computer where the 'new mail' icon was flashing. "David Montero is here helping us with another story."
Lois quickly filled Perry in on the latest developments. Perry shook his head in amazement, then nodded towards the window of his office where he could see David Montero exiting the conference room and scanning the bullpen for Lois and Clark.
"Go ahead, you two. Go do whatever it is you do that brings in the stories."
They grinned and quickly headed for the door, calling to David.
"I finally got through to him," David said. "But he was pretty adamant about not doing any interview. He said the lab has a long-standing policy against unsolicited publicity."
Lois sighed deeply. "All right, well, thanks for trying anyway. We'll just have to think of another tactic. I asked Jimmy to see if he could hack into their computer system this morning. If we can get into it, that will give us a lot of answers. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be having any luck yet."
"OK," David said. "I need to get back to work, but if you need anything, you know where to find me."
David left, and Lois and Clark walked quietly back to their desks, deep in thought. Lois sat down and began tapping the eraser of her pencil against her desk. Clark grinned at her nervous habit and grabbed their coffee cups from her desk, heading to the coffee machine.
When he returned to her desk, Lois was furiously tapping away at the keyboard.
"What are you working on?" he asked, sitting her coffee in front of her.
"Thanks," she said, glancing at the coffee. "I'm just trying to run through some of this information again. Here's what I don't understand: our theory is that he is buying babies to experiment on, right? Well, then what I want to know is what he's doing with all of these children after he experiments on them. Does he then legitimately turn them over to adoptive parents? Or is he keeping them in a lab somewhere? And how many children do you figure he's experimenting on? Scientists have to test their drugs hundreds, if not thousands, of times before their research is considered credible. Do you think he has a lab with hundreds of babies in it?"
Clark paled. "I guess I hadn't really thought about the logistics. They must be keeping them somewhere that they can keep an eye on them though, don't you think? I mean, they'd have to be watching them for side effects, and testing to make sure — Oh, my God. In order to test the vaccine, he's going to have to infect them with HIV! What if the vaccine doesn't work?"
"Oh, Clark. We must be wrong. I mean, no one would purposely infect innocent children with HIV, would they?" Lois asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
"I can't think of any other explanation for any of this though…You know what I've been wondering about?"
"What?" Lois asked, shaking herself from her depressed haze.
"Why is Jason getting a monthly payment from them? I mean, I can understand that they would pay him a lump sum for a baby. In fact, that's probably what that five thousand is for, it lines up with the date of Charlotte's baby. But if that is the payment for the baby, what are the monthly thousand dollar payments for?"
"You think he's on the payroll there for something else?"
"I don't know. It just doesn't seem to like they would pay him monthly, especially for the months when he doesn't seem to be working with them. I mean, there was a pretty big gap in between the time that Charlotte's baby was born, and when Jason met Lucy. Why would they pay him for that time?"
"He must be working for them in some other capacity."
Lois flipped through the papers again, hoping something would jump out at her. When nothing new appeared she tossed the papers on her desk in disgust.
"Come on, let's go home. It's almost six. Perry won't care if we leave a few minutes early," Clark said. "Besides, I think Jake's not feeling 100%. He could use a little extra attention."
Lois smiled up at him, grateful again that she was lucky enough to have such a wonderful, caring man in her life.
"He's finally asleep," Lois said, sliding next to Clark on the couch.
"Poor little guy, he just wasn't having a very good day today, was he?"
"No, not at all. But, he's all settled in now, sleeping peacefully."
"Good," Clark growled, pulling Lois onto his lap. She giggled at the sudden move and let herself be pulled in for a kiss.
Clark groaned and deepened the kiss. Lois ran her fingers through his hair, relaxing against him completely. Finally, they pulled back, gasping for air. Clark's arms tightened around her as she began pressing kisses against his neck.
He sighed contentedly. "I've been dying to get you home so I could do this with you ever since you started torturing me at work," he whispered.
Lois giggled again. She raised her head and looked at him with a twinkle in her eye. "Yeah, I was a little afraid you were going to make good on that broom closet threat."
"Well, I just might have if you hadn't decided to behave. Do you have any idea what you do to me?"
"Oh, I have a pretty good idea," she said, pushing him to lie back, and stretching herself out on top of him.
Clark reached up and gently tugged her face to his, capturing her lips and tangling his fingers in her hair. Clark tugged her T-shirt from the jeans she had changed into after work. Just as he got his hand under the shirt and began to caress the soft skin of her back, the phone rang. They both groaned, and Clark began to sit, but stopped when Lois pressed him firmly back to the couch.
"Let the machine get it," she mumbled against his lips. Clark raised his eyebrows, but complied eagerly.
After the fourth ring the answering machine picked up, and Lois heard Clark's voice say, "Hi, you've reached Clark Kent and Lois Lane. We're not home right now…"
Lois pulled back and looked from the Clark to the answering machine and back again. "When did you…?"
"Oh, I was going to tell you about that… You don't mind, do you? I just thought, I mean, you *are* living here, and if someone calls for you —"
Lois silenced him with a sudden kiss.
"I take it that means you're not mad," Clark said with a grin.
Lois rolled her eyes and leaned in for another kiss.
Slowly, Lois began to realize it was Jimmy's voice coming from the answering machine. "…Anyway, I was able to hack into their computer system, and it's —"
Lois leapt from the couch and lunged for the phone.
Clark shook his head and grinned wryly as she began to talk animatedly. She hung up and turned back to him, already relaying the conversation.
She stopped mid-sentence when she saw him still sitting on the couch. Her face broke out into a grin at his amused expression. "Sorry," she said, laughing as he pulled her to sit on his lap.
"It's OK," he said, nuzzling her neck. "I fell in love with a workaholic reporter. I knew what I was getting into," he teased. "So tell me what Jimmy had to say."
"Well, he was finally able to hack into their system. He couldn't get into the really secure stuff. He's still working on that. But, he was able to find some of their personnel records and such, and guess what?" she asked excitedly.
"I have no idea," he said, grinning.
"They have satellite labs all over the country. It seems they have a lab in every major city, including…Metropolis, of course. Sooo…I was thinking that if we can just get into their lab here, we might be able to find some proof. We can break in and look through their files, even if we can't get into their electronic system, we can probably find hard copies of most of the stuff anyway. And, who knows, this might be a nation-wide scheme! What if all of these labs are acting as fake adoption agencies? Ooh! Maybe would should stake out the lab first and see how many pregnant women come and go!" Lois jumped from Clark's lap and grabbed the file off the table. She began making hasty notations as she paced back and forth.
She stopped suddenly when she saw Clark watching her. "What? What are you thinking? Oh, no, don't tell me. Let me guess — 'there she goes again, off on a crazy tangent, planning some crazy, dangerous scheme'," she finished, standing in front of him.
"Actually," he said, using a well-timed tug to pull her into his lap. "I was thinking about how brilliant you are."
Lois quirked an eyebrow at Clark's grin.
"And…I was thinking that it's too late to do anything about this tonight, but that I think a stakeout is a good idea."
"Lo-is! Why are you so surprised? You act like I've never gone on a stakeout before."
"I don't know, I guess I just expected you to tell me that I was going overboard again," she said, leaning in to kiss him.
Clark smiled as their lips melded together. He lifted his hand to stroke her hair, and sighed as he felt her relax against him
"Lois," he murmured against her lips. "But about the whole breaking in to search for proof idea…"
"Here you go," Clark said, handing her a sandwich.
They had been parked in an alley watching the front entrance of the Metropolis office of CHS Laboratories for the last four hours, and had yet to observe anything suspicious.
"Clark, this is ridiculous. We aren't going to find out anything sitting out here. We've got to get inside."
"Patience, Lois. We've only been here for a couple of hours. Maybe they just didn't have any appointments scheduled for this morning."
"Or maybe they don't have any appointments scheduled for the rest of the day, or even the week. Or maybe they aren't even running a fake adoption agency out of this lab. Maybe they only run that out of the LA lab. Clark, we've got to get in there!"
"Lois! Think about what you are saying! If they aren't running the same scam here, what would be the point of breaking in to look at their records? Why would they have records of illegal activity being run out of a lab on the other side of the country?"
"I don't know, but it's worth checking out! We don't know what we will find until we're in there."
Clark sighed and raised his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose.
- Los Angeles, CA -
"It seems that we have a problem."
Dr. Myerson raised his eyes to look at Charles Huntington, owner and president of the board at CSH Labs.
"That reporter has been calling here non-stop. She's even got friends of her calling in special favors with members of the board to get an interview. For a "Where are They Now" piece? You don't expect me to believe that, do you? Do you have any idea who she is? You assured me that there was no way this would become public. So, how did two reporters on the opposite side of the country come to be interested in a small pharmaceutical laboratory?"
"I'm not certain —"
"Well, you had better explain what you do know as fast as you can."
"Well, it appears there was a small glitch in the screening process. Apparently one of the women in the program is the sister of the reporter."
"What?! How is that possible? I was under the impression that all of our 'volunteers' go through a rigorous screening process in which it is assured that they fit a certain profile."
He lifted a piece of paper that Myerson recognized as the project proposal from his desk, and read from it coldly. "Beyond just the physical requirements, these women must meet a detailed list of personal and emotional qualifications, foremost of which is being young, poor, and alone."
Huntington raised an eyebrow and glanced at Myerson before continuing. "They must not have family or a close group of friends to support them through their pregnancy. Their vulnerability, and subsequent dependence on the man who is the father of their child, is the key to ensuring that they will comply when he presents them with a plan to deal with the unwanted pregnancy by relinquishing the child to a "reputable" agency he knows of."
"The woman underwent extensive screening. She does not have a close relationship with her family," Myerson parried. "They live all the way in Metropolis and she had little to no contact with them since she moved out here. We had no way of knowing that she would turn to her sister afterwards."
"And this woman, she has already given birth, and the child has been relinquished?"
"Well, not exactly. At the last minute she decided not to go through with the adoption. Our employee was unable to convince her to change her mind, and she seems to have moved from the area."
"What?! Is she with her sister?"
"Apparently she left the child there and then disappeared. Our sources were unable to locate her."
"So what you are telling me is that this reporter has, in her possession, a child who was meant to be a member of this program."
"Yes, but —"
"And not only does she know that this child was meant to be given up for adoption, she seems to have somehow connected that to CSH Labs, and to you personally."
"Well, we don't know that. I mean, there is a possibility that her phone calls are unrelated to -" he broke off at the director's icy glare.
"Surely you do not expect me to believe that."
"Even if she does suspect, there is no way that she has any proof. The child itself is not proof."
"This must be dealt with. Immediately. I want the entire program disbanded and all evidence destroyed —"
"NO! I'm so close! We've come too far to stop now!"
"Don't you dare raise your voice at me! It's your own stupidity that has been the downfall of this program. I've spent millions of dollars on this. Do you think I *want* to disband this project? I took on a huge risk by allowing you to run this out of my laboratory, and now it's all for nothing because *you* didn't bother to find out that one of your stupid women was the sister of one of the nation's most famous investigative journalists!"
"It doesn't have to be over, sir," he said calmly.
"You have another suggestion?"
"Well, this Lane woman seems to be the only one who is suspicious. Perhaps if we can just find out what she knows…"
Lois tugged angrily at the hem of the white lab coat she was wearing, and strode out of the front entrance of the lab to where her Jeep was parked on the street. She climbed into the vehicle and screeched away from the curb, reluctantly conceding that the afternoon's investigation had been a complete waste of time.
She had succeeded in getting into the lab, and had even convinced the incompetent security guard at the front desk that she was a visiting scientist from Metropolis University. But, once inside the lab, there was just nothing to be found. Everything appeared to be legitimate, and in the hour she had spent stealthily exploring the facility, she had not come upon a single pregnant woman.
Clark knew that Lois had entered the newsroom even before he heard her scathing reply to something Ralph had said. He grinned and shook his head. If this was any indication of her current attitude, this was going to be a long afternoon.
"Hi, honey," he said sweetly, placing a fresh cup of coffee in front of her.
"You were right."
"Excuse me?" Clark asked, wondering if he could have possibly heard her correctly.
"The lab. It's either clean, or they're hiding their connection really well. I spent an hour in there pretending to be a visiting scientist and —"
"Oh, for crying out loud, Clark. Don't look at me like that. I'm fine. There is nothing to get upset about — except, of course, for the fact that the whole thing was a bust."
"Lois! I thought we agreed last week that we weren't going to go into the lab because it was too dangerous."
"No, Clark, *you* agreed that we weren't going to go into the lab."
Clark his hands up in exasperation and perched on the corner of her desk. "Honey, I wish you would have at least told me where you were going. We have no idea what type of people we were dealing with. I thought you were going to be with Charlotte. What if something had happened to you? I wouldn't have even known where to look."
Lois felt a lump rise in her throat as she heard the quiet desperation in his voice.
"I really was out with Charlotte. But we weren't able to think of anything new, and on the way back I had to pass the lab, and I just found myself drawn to it… Clark, I can take care of myself. I was never in any danger. Really."
"I'm not trying to run your life, I swear. But, honey…God, if something were to happen to you… Lois, I can't live without you," he finished quietly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, reaching to stroke his cheek.
"Just promise me that you'll tell me if you're going to do something potentially dangerous."
Lois bristled. "Clark, how many times do we have to have this same argument? I am a grown woman, and I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself! Furthermore, if something were to happen to me, it would be no one's responsibility but my own. I have been putting myself at risk for years without you —"
"Did you ever think that things may be different now?!"
Lois stopped abruptly, startled by the angry tone of Clark's voice.
Clark softened, reaching to take her hand. He continued more gently. "Lois, I'm *not* trying to run your life. But have you ever stopped to think that what you do now doesn't just affect you anymore? We're a family. I need you. We have a baby who needs you… Lois, do you realize that I have absolutely no legal claim on Jake? That if, God forbid, something was to happen to you, I would lose you both. Social services would yank him away from me in a heartbeat. I'm not a relative. In one moment I could lose everything that was important to me."
Lois paled visibly.
"I'm just asking that you think about that," Clark continued. "Think about how much you mean to me; how much I love you. And think about Jake. He needs you, Lois. I can't do it alone, and I doubt they would even let me try."
"Oh, God… I never even thought about that," she whispered. "Do you really think they would take Jake away from you? What would they do with him?"
"Yes, I do. And I don't know what they would do with him. Put him in a foster home, I would assume… Try to find someone else to adopt him… That's not the point. The point is that I don't want to lose you. We're a family now, Lois. We can't just pretend we have only ourselves to think of anymore. I'm not asking you to live a sheltered life. I'm just asking you to look before you leap, and if you see something you think might be dangerous, *tell* me. Can you do that?"
She nodded slowly, still a bit dazed. When she met his eyes, he could see that she was near tears.
"Hey, hey. I didn't mean to make you cry," he said softly, standing and embracing her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"I'm sorry," she whispered against his neck. "I'll be more careful, I promise. I love you. I love Jake. I'll be more careful."
"I know. I know," he whispered, stroking her hair. "It's OK. Everything's going to be OK. I love you, sweetheart."
- Los Angeles, CA -
For the second time in as many weeks, Dr. Myerson found himself seated in his boss' office fidgeting nervously.
"I just received a fax from our lab in Metropolis."
Myerson took the proffered papers and looked up in confusion.
"Those are stills from the security cameras. Do you recognize the woman in pictures?"
Myerson sighed. "I think I could probably guess."
"That woman," Huntington said coldly, "is none other than that nosy reporter, Lois Lane. She was able to breach security and enter one of the Metropolis labs. Thankfully she picked the wrong one, and I have been assured that she was not able to find anything to connect the lab to this 'project' of yours. However, I don't think we can take any chances. She's gotten too close. I want to know exactly what she knows. And I want your assurances that she won't be able to discover anything else. And I don't want to know how you intend to ensure that."
With a cursory nod, Huntington returned to the paperwork on his desk, ending the conversation.
"Here, Clark. Can you take him for a minute?" Lois asked, handing Jake to Clark as she rummaged in her purse for her keys. "This shouldn't take too long. I just want to grab the mail and check the answering machine."
"Take your time, sweetheart. We've got all day."
As they walked the short corridor to her apartment, Lois couldn't help but wonder at how weird it felt to be back after such a short time. She'd lived in this apartment for nearly three years, and it seemed like she should miss it. It surprised her just how little she did; how quickly she had come to consider Clark's apartment "home."
As they reached the door, Lois was still fumbling for her keys.
Clark's wary tone caught her attention immediately. "What?" she asked, lifting her head and following his gaze to the door.
"Oh, no," she moaned, her hand stretching to touch the crack that splintered down the doorjamb, leaving the door just slightly ajar.
He captured her hand gently, returning it to her side.
He x-rayed the apartment quickly. "There's no one here, but the place is a disaster," he said, nudging the door open with his foot.
"Oh, God," Lois gasped. The room was in shambles. Furniture was overturned, drawers dumped, papers and disks from her desk strewn around the room.
"Don't touch anything. I'm calling the police," Clark said, pulling out his cell phone.
Fifteen minutes later Detective Henderson and a small entourage of MPD officers entered Lois' apartment.
"So, who'd you tick off this time, Lane?" Henderson asked as he gave the room a once over.
"This isn't a joke, Henderson!"
"Honey," Clark said softly, placing a hand on her arm.
"All right, Lois. I'm sorry. Let's get to the bottom of this. Can you tell me approximately when this happened?"
"I don't know," she said softly. At Henderson's raised eyebrow, she continued. "I haven't been here in about a week. I stopped by last Thursday to check the mail. This morning is the first time I've been back since."
"Lois has been staying with me for the past couple of weeks," Clark added.
"Congratulations," Henderson said dryly. "You can send my wedding invitation to the precinct."
Lois glared at him.
"All right, Lois. Calm down. I'll have my men search the place for evidence, and then you can put it all back together again. There's no need to panic. I've seen your place look worse than this."
"It's different now," Lois said shakily.
Henderson's head snapped up. In all the times her life and property had been threatened, he had heard Lois react with anger, annoyance, frustration, and determination. Never had she reacted with fear, at least not in his presence.
"Excuse us for a minute," Clark said, guiding Lois into the deserted hallway.
As soon as they were alone, he pulled her into a one-armed hug and stroked her hair. "It's OK, sweetheart. You know I won't let anything happen to you."
"It's not me I'm worried about," she said softly, pulling out of his embrace.
"I know," he said, relinquishing Jake to her outstretched arms.
Lois slid down the wall, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Clark sat next to her quietly.
"It's not just me that's in danger anymore, Clark. What if Jake had been in there?" Lois asked, a hint of desperation edging into her voice. "It's just like you said the other day. We can't just pretend that we have only ourselves to think about anymore. If this had happened before Jake, I would have just blown it off. But now we have him, and…"
Clark tugged her into his arms, sighing as he felt her head rest against his chest. "I'll never let anyone hurt him, Lois. You know that. I'll do everything, *everything* in my power to protect you two."
"I know," she whispered. "I'm just so scared. If something happens to him…"
"Nothing is going to happen to him. I promise," he said fervently.
For a few moments they sat silently.
"Is this what it's like to be a parent?" she asked quietly. "To love someone so much that the thought of them being hurt is more terrifying than any possible threat to your own life?"
Clark couldn't answer through the lump in his throat, so he merely pulled her tighter. Finally, Jake began to stir and whimper.
"He's probably hungry," Lois said.
"The diaper bag is still in the apartment. Stay here. I'll go get his bottle."
Clark slipped out from behind her and entered the apartment. He quickly located the bottle, and nearly ran over Henderson on his way back out.
"Hey, is she all right? I've never seen her like that." The concern in the detective's eyes belied his gruff voice.
"She'll be fine. She's just a little nervous."
"It's the baby, isn't it?"
Clark looked at Henderson in surprise.
"I heard a rumor you two were playing house, but I couldn't believe it. I mean, I just never pictured Lois as the June Cleaver type. But I have two kids of my own, and I recognize that look in her eyes. That's pure maternal instinct."
Clark nodded slowly.
"Go ahead," Henderson said, looking at the bottle at jerking his head toward the door. "I'll let you know if we need anything."
Clark thanked him and hurried back to Lois. He handed her the bottle and slipped back behind her, guiding her to lean back against his chest. Lois bent her head to kiss Jake softly of the forehead. She straightened, and Clark wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling her neck.
They were still in that position when Henderson appeared before them, clearing his throat to announce his presence.
"We're all finished in there. I just need you to come down to the station and give me your statements. The door is broken. I don't suggest you stay here until you can get that fixed… I assume that's not a problem."
"We've got to figure out who did this. It's got to be Myerson, or someone who works for him, right? We're too close; they're getting scared," Lois said, pacing back and forth across Clark's living room.
After a superspeed cleanup job, and a frustrating hour at the police station, Lois and Clark had finished the rest of their errands, and returned home for a quiet dinner. Their intention had been to curl up on the couch and watch a video, but as the night progressed Lois became more and more antsy.
"I think that's definitely the most likely option, and the way your files and computer disks were ransacked, I'd guess they were trying to find out just how much information you have on them."
Clark's eyes followed her as she paced in front of him. Suddenly, the shrill ring of the telephone startled them both.
Lois pounced on it. "Hello?!" She paused for a second. "Just a second. Clark, it's for you."
Clark took the phone. "Hello?"
The man on the other end of the line paused nervously. When he spOke again, he kept his voice low, as if he was purposely keeping it unrecognizable.
"Are you the Clark Kent who works for the Daily Planet?"
"Yes. Who is this?" Clark tilted the phone and motioned for Lois to keep listening.
"I… I can't give you my name. Look, I hear you and your partner have been looking into CSH labs and Dr. Myerson. I think I have some information you could use.
Lois' eyes lit up.
"OK, I'm listening," Clark said. "Go on."
"Myerson never gave up on his dream of finding a vaccine for HIV. When he was denied the chance to experiment on children legally, he went underground. Charles Huntington, the owner of CSH Labs, has been funding Myerson's study for the last five years."
Lois and Clark's eyes locked. This was it. This was the break they had been looking for.
"What else can you tell us?"
"Plenty, but I'm not going to do it over the phone. Look, I just wanted to warn you that they're on to you, and tell you to watch your backs. I'm really busy this week, but if you can meet me on Friday night, I'll tell you everything I know."
"Just tell me when and where," Clark said.
"Meet me in Centennial Park, by the fountain," he said. "Nine o'clock. I know who you are, so I'll approach you. Oh, and come alone. Don't tell anyone else about this. I'm risking a lot by offering you this information. I'm not going to stick my neck out any further than I have to."
Clark quickly agreed and hung up the phone.
"This is it!" Lois exclaimed.
Clark grinned. "I hope so. In the meantime, I want you to be extremely careful. You heard what he said about them suspecting us, and you saw what they did to your apartment. Just promise me you won't take any extra risks."
Lois held back for a second, then caved at Clark's exasperated look. "OK, OK. I promise. But, you know, it's not like I go looking for trouble. Somehow it just seems to find me."
Clark snorted skeptically. "Sure, Lois. You just keep telling yourself that."
Lois and Clark sat on the edge of the fountain talking idly while they waited for their unnamed source to show up. Jimmy had agreed to babysit, and while Lois was still a little nervous about leaving him in charge, she had to admit it was nice to spend a little one-on-one time with Clark. They had taken advantage of the late meeting by going out to dinner first, and making a pact not to discuss either the story or the baby for the entire duration. She smiled as she thought about how pleasant the conversation had been; how much she loved him. Of course, dinner was over now, and neither the case, nor the baby, was taboo subject matter anymore…
Clark lowered his glasses slightly, and was so busy scanning the area that he totally missed the beginning of what Lois was telling him."
"So, I think that when we go to the grocery store tomorrow we should get some baby-food — "
"What? Baby-food?! Is he really ready for that?"
"Clark, haven't you been listening to a word I've said?"
"Sorry," he said sheepishly, pushing his glasses back in place. "What were you saying?"
"I was saying that all of the books say you should start your baby on baby-foods at about four months, and Jake is going to be four months old tomorrow. I have noticed that he seems to be eating more and more lately; I really think he's ready to start."
"Wow. Yeah, I guess you're right, I just can't believe he's already old enough for baby-food. You know what else we need? A highchair."
"Ooh, yeah. You're right."
"I bet my parents still have mine up in the attic. We can give them a call tomorrow and see."
"Great. I think we should start Jake on vegetables, because I was reading this book that said —"
"Lane and Kent?"
"Yeah, that's us," Lois said as she sprang to her feet.
Clark stood and offered his hand to the man. He looked at Clark warily from under his hat, then extended his arm.
"Thanks for meeting with us," Clark said. "We really appreciate it."
"Look. This is all off the record. I mean, you can print whatever you want, but I don't want my name associated with it. What I'm telling you could get me in a whole lot of trouble."
"No problem. We'll do everything we can to protect your anonymity," Clark assured him. "Now, what can you tell us about Myerson?"
"Originally, Myerson's plan was to take administer the vaccine at the same time they were given their other childhood inoculations. He soon realized, though, that for the vaccine to be truly effective, it would have to be administered with as many as three booster shots spread through the first five years of the child's life. Additionally, the first vaccination would have to take place in utero."
Lois and Clark both gasped.
"Myerson employs a small group of men at each lab whose sole job is to screen donor women. They get a stipend every month to scout for them. These 'volunteers,' as the women are called, are all screened to make sure they are young, healthy, and likely to be able to have children. They are all first-time mothers who are very poor, and have a weak support system. Women who are likely to let their boyfriend make decisions for them. The men then approach these women, and woo them. The goal is to get them pregnant as fast as possible."
"And once they are pregnant?" Clark asked.
"The 'boyfriends' convince the girls to give the baby up for adoption. 'The Agency' then takes over all prenatal care, telling the girl it is standard procedure. They are given excellent prenatal care, as the health of the baby is imperative. But along with the standard prenatal care, they are also given a dose of the vaccine. It's injected during the second trimester, and the mothers are simply told it's a concentrated dose of vitamins. The vaccine doesn't affect the mothers, but it does seep into the bloodstream, giving the baby its first dose of the drug."
"After the children are born, what happens to them?" Clark asked tersely.
"They are placed in group homes. Because the adoptions are private there is no government regulation. The mothers never have any idea where their baby goes, and the fathers don't know the specifics, and don't care. They get a bonus for each child successfully delivered to the agency. The homes are run by efficient and competent staff, and the children's health is constantly monitored. They receive vaccinations at six months, two years, three and half years, and finally, they will receive one on their fifth birthday. None of the children in the program have reached their fifth birthday yet, of course."
"And once they are given the final vaccination?"
"They will be infected with the virus."
Lois and Clark blanched. They had expected as much, but to hear it laid out in such straightforward terms was horrifying.
"You've been involved with this project for a long time. Why have you decided to come forward now?" Clark asked shakily.
"Mr. Kent, this vaccine is not going to work. I've been working in the Metropolis lab from the beginning of this project. In the beginning, I honestly believed that this was going to work. I was willing to break the law because I thought the ends justified the means. But I've run the numbers over and over. This is *not* going to work. And in less than a year, Myerson is going to infect the first of the children with HIV, and the vaccine is not going to protect them."
"Oh my God," Lois whispered. This was the worst-case scenario. Innocent children being purposely infected with HIV in order to test a vaccine that would surely be unable to protect them.
"Do you have any evidence?" she asked suddenly.
"Once I realized that the vaccine was not going to work, I confronted Myerson. He refused to acknowledge my findings, so I started making copies of incriminating documents. I have copies of some of the women's files, plus copies of all of the Myerson's research, and my research that refutes his claims."
Lois and Clark exchanged excited looks.
"The papers are in a safe deposit box. I'll meet back here next Saturday. Noon," He said, then spun on his heel and disappeared into the shadows before they could even thank him.
"All right, folks. I've got an announcement to make." The newsroom din quieted until there was silence as all eyes focused on their editor.
"You know, I've been saying for ages now that they're the hottest team in journalism. Haven't seen anything like 'em since Norcross and Judd. Well, now, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks so…"
Lois and Clark shot each other curious glances as Perry paused for effect.
Perry unfolded a piece of stationary and read aloud, "'The Merriweather Excellence in Journalism Foundation is pleased to announce the nomination of The Daily Planet writing team of Lois Lane and Clark Kent in the Investigative Journalism category for their series "Wall of Sound'." He turned and smiled at the duo. "Congratulations Lois, Clark. Good luck, you two."
After congratulations and pats on the back from the colleagues, Clark wandered over to Lois' desk. "Congratulations, sweetheart," he whispered, slipping his arms around his waist.
"Congratulations," she replied, lifting her face for a kiss.
Clark smiled and obliged eagerly, brushing his lips gently across hers before kissing her more firmly. He sighed as he felt her fingers tangle in his hair and her lips part beneath his.
"Hey! Hey! Hey! Just because you two got nominated for an award does not mean my newsroom has been transformed into the honeymoon suite. Get back to work!"
Lois and Clark pulled apart reluctantly and grinned sheepishly at Perry. He shook his head and turned back to his office before they could see his grin.
The sun was shining and the April air was warm and inviting. They had decided to celebrate the weather by spending the afternoon of their day off strolling through the city streets window shopping. Clark pushed Jake's stroller, and Lois walked beside him reaching to hold his hand or caress his back occasionally.
"Honey," Clark started. "I've been thinking…"
Lois looked up and him and quirked an eyebrow. "About what?"
"Well, I was just thinking that we could do something special next weekend. We've been working like crazy lately, and if this evidence is as airtight as it looks to be, we should have this investigation all wrapped up and in the Sunday edition, or early in the week at the latest. I talked to my mom yesterday, and she offered to take Jake for the weekend. We could make reservations somewhere, but I almost think it would be better to stay in anyway. What do you say? Candlelight dinner, dancing, the whole night to ourselves…"
"I think…that sounds wonderful," she said with a smile. "I can't wait."
They had stopped in front of a small boutique with a stunning burgundy dress in the window.
"Wow," Clark said softly, as it caught his eye.
Lois grinned, "You like that?"
"Yeah. Do you?"
When she nodded, he bustled her through the door into the shop. "Try it on. I want to see it on you."
"Oh, come on, honey. You're going to get a new dress for the Merriweathers anyway, right?"
"Well, yeah. OK."
The shopkeeper, a stylish woman in her late fifties approached them with a smile. "Can I help you?"
"I'd like to try on the dress in the window. Do you have it in a four?"
She nodded and moved to a rack, pulling out a dress and holding it up for inspection. Lois nodded and Clark eased Jake from her arms.
"Go ahead. I'll wait right here."
She disappeared behind a curtain, the saleswoman close on her heels.
"It looks like it's made for you," she observed as she zipped up the dress. She gestured to the mirror. "What do you think?"
Lois smiled at her reflection. "I love it. Let's see what Clark thinks," she said with a wink that caused the woman to laugh knowingly.
When Lois exited the dressing room Clark was deep in conversation with Jake. She grinned at the woman next to her, then looked back at Clark and shook her head lovingly.
Lois cleared her throat, and Clark's head snapped up. His reaction was well worth the wait.
Immediately his jaw dropped. "Oh, honey. That is… I mean… oh, wow… You *have* to get that dress."
Lois' grin widened. "I take it that means you like it."
"Like it? I love it." He moved towards her, reaching for her waist and holding her at arms length so he could study her.
"You look…wow. Oh, sweetheart, you are so beautiful," he whispered, worshiping her with his eyes.
Lois met his gaze for a moment and felt herself drowning in his eyes. Her arm moved of its own volition, reaching to stroke his cheek.
The shopkeeper's discreet cough and brought them both back to reality. Her arm dropped back to her side, and they both pulled away blushing.
The shopkeeper smiled at them. "So, should I wrap this up for you?"
Clark looked to Lois for confirmation, then turned to the woman. "We'll take it," he said with a grin.
Lois reentered the dressing room with the woman. As she unzipped the dress the woman casually commented, "He seems like a very special young man."
"He is." Lois smiled. "He's amazing… I absolutely adore him."
"Well, the feeling is obviously mutual."
Lois slipped out of the dress and handed it to her.
"I'll just take this and wrap it up," she said, slipping out of the dressing room.
When Lois finished dressing and exited the dressing room, she was surprised to see Clark at the counter, signing a credit card receipt.
"Hey, you," she whispered, standing behind him and slipping her hands around his waist.
Clark slid the paper over the counter with a quick word of thanks, and turned to face Lois.
"You didn't have to do that," she said, gesturing to the wallet he was replacing in his pocket.
"I wanted to. I like buying you presents; I don't get to do it often enough." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "Besides, it's really as much a gift for me as it is for you," he teased. "I can't wait to see you in it again. As a matter of fact, why don't you break it in next weekend?"
Lois grinned. "Your wish is my command," she whispered, mock-suggestively.
Clark burst out laughing. "Now there's something I don't hear every day!"
Jake began to fuss loudly. Lois reached for him. "What's the matter, buddy? Did we forget to make you the center of attention for a few minutes?" she joked.
Clark laughed as he reached for the dress and ushered them out of the boutique.
Clark paced in front of the fountain, glancing nervously to over his shoulder to where Lois and Jake were spread out of a blanket.
Clark spun to face the older man. He was wearing a nondescript overcoat with a hat pulled low over his eyes.
The man thrust a banker's box into his hands. "Everything's in here."
The man turned to leave.
"Wait!" Clark watched as the man hesitated, then turned back. "If you've been involved in this from the beginning, you're sure to be implicated."
"I know that. But I can't let these children be infected."
"I know. I just… Go on the record with us. We'll take this to the cops. If you are willing to testify, I'm sure the police will cut you a deal."
The man hesitated again.
"Come with us. Help us sort through this information."
"I'll help you," he said reluctantly. "But, I want to stay off the record… at least for now."
"I'll never understand it," Perry said, shaking his head and holding up the Sunday edition.
Lois and Clark just grinned.
"I'm just glad we were able to stop them before they infected any of the children," Clark said.
"So, now that the program has been closed down, and Myerson and most of his staff are in jail, what happens to the children?"
"Well, they're all in foster homes for now. With the exposure this is getting, and the public outcry that is bound to result, I think they'll find good homes," Lois said. "Some of the mothers may actually petition for custody since they gave up their custodial rights under false pretenses."
"Myerson, Huntington, and some of the other top brass are looking at life in prison. The other scientists are looking at shorter sentences, but they can all count on their careers being over. No one is going to fund any of their research after this. And the men who fathered these children aren't going to get off scot-free either. They're being charged with a host of things including conspiracy and aiding and abetting."
"And you actually got the director of the Metropolis clinic to go on the record about all of this…"
"Well, it took a little persuading, but he wasn't such a bad guy, just misled," Clark said. "And because he came forward and was so cooperative, Henderson was able to convince the DA to reduce his charges. He's still probably going to go to prison, but it's not going to be for nearly as long as he originally feared."
"And Councilman Montero's wife was involved in this?"
"She was just an innocent victim," Lois said. "She and her husband have been very supportive of us through this whole thing, calling and asking if there is anything they can do to help."
"The election is in just two weeks. Do you think her involvement in something like this is going to hurt his public image?"
"Well, maybe, but he was more worried about helping these kids. If the voters of Metropolis can't understand that, there's something wrong with them," Clark said.
"Besides," Lois added, "he's just thrilled that this whole thing has been solved. Charlotte told me that the police have identified all of the children, and she is eagerly awaiting the chance to be reunited with her daughter."
"Wow. Well, good work, you two. Why don't you take the rest of the day off? It looks like you worked all weekend."
"You don't have to tell us twice, Chief," Clark said, rising from his chair. "Come on, honey. Let's get Jake from Jimmy and go home."
"Thanks, Perry." Lois grinned. "We'll see you tomorrow."
Perry watched as his star reporters exited his office, and grinned as Clark slipped his arm casually around Lois' waist.
"Come on, honey. It's time for me to take him," Clark called from the living room.
Lois entered with Jake in her arms. "He's all ready to go," she said reluctantly.
"Are you OK?" Clark asked. "He's gonna be fine you know. My mom will take good care of him. And if they need us, we're only a phone call away. I can be there in seconds."
"I'm sure he'll be fine, and I'm really looking forward to this weekend. I'm just a little nervous, I guess. He's never spent the night away from us…"
"I know. I'm a little worried, too."
"You are?" she asked, relieved.
"Sure. But, I know he'll be OK, and I really want to spend some time alone with you. Not that I don't love the little guy, but…you know."
Lois smiled. "Me too." She kissed Jake on the forehead and placed him in Clark's arms. "Be careful," she said, stretching to kiss him on the cheek.
"I will," he said, adjusting his grip on the baby before slowly drifting out the window.
Lois watched them fly off and wandered into the kitchen. She peeked on the oven, relieved that Clark had assured her she wouldn't have to do anything to the chicken while he was gone.
She wandered back into the bedroom, her fingers running over the silk of her new dress. Glancing at the clock, she strode into the bathroom and began filling the tub.
Twenty minutes later, Clark landed and spun out of the suit. He walked into the kitchen, checking on the food, and reached out with his hearing to find Lois. He smiled when he heard her soft humming over the splashing of the bath water. He resisted the urge to lower his glasses and sneak a peek, focusing on finding the candles in the cupboards and placing the roses he'd picked up on the way home in a vase with water.
As Clark set the table he heard Lois step from the bathtub, splashing the water and wrapping herself in a towel. For a moment he was tempted to abandon the romantic evening he had planned, and ravish her in the bathroom. He grinned as he pictured her reaction. Finally, he shook his head and reminded himself that it would be worth the wait, then zipped out to pick up a few last minute items.
Lois leaned gracefully over the table, lighting the candles Clark had arranged earlier. The flickering lights danced across her skin and glinted in her hair. As she placed the match to the wick of the last candle a sudden gust of wind extinguished the candles and ruffled through her dress and hair.
Still bent over the table, she turned slightly to the look at the open window. Clark stood, frozen, gazing at her. She smiled and straightened, reaching out to him. Clark instinctively moved toward her, then stopped.
"Just a second," he whispered, disappearing into the bedroom.
Lois smiled and struck another match, and slowly lit the candles again. As she shook the match, extinguishing it, and straightened, she felt two strong arms wrap around her waist. She relaxed against him, dropping her head to the side, exposing her neck to him. Clark smiled and nuzzled into her neck, kissing her gently. Lois sighed contentedly, placing her hands over his, and gently caressing his skin with her fingertips.
"You look incredible," he whispered.
Lois shivered as she felt his breath on her ear. She turned slowly in his arms, pulling away just enough to look at him. He had changed into a dark charcoal suit and crisp white shirt with a subdued — for him — tie. She slid her hands slowly up his chest, letting one rest above his heart, while the other rose higher to caress his freshly- shaven cheek. She dropped her head to his chest and inhaled deeply, smelling the clean scent of his soap and the fabric softener on his shirt mixed with his own unique scent.
Clark smiled as he felt her breathe deeply against him. He slid his arms tighter around her, gently rubbing her back through the silk of her gown.
Finally, Clark reluctantly pulled away. He reached to cup her cheek. "Let me get dinner out of the oven, and we can eat."
He pulled her chair out for her, and guided her to the chair. "Just sit here; I'll be back a sec," he said, grabbing her plate.
A minute later he placed the plate in front of her again, and slid into his own chair. He pulled the wine from the bucket on the table and gave it a quick blast of super- chill before pouring a glass for each of them.
They ate slowly, touching frequently.
"This is so nice, Clark. Thank you," Lois said with a gentle smile.
"You're welcome, sweetheart. I'm just glad I can do this for you. I love you."
"I love you, too."
"You know, it's really nice out. Why don't we go for a walk, then we can come back here for dessert?"
"Dessert?" Lois asked with a grin.
"Don't worry, it's chocolate," Clark teased. "Come on, let's go for that walk." He stood and walked to her chair, reaching for her hand.
They put on their coats and exited the building, walking in the direction of Centennial Park. As they neared the fountain, Clark felt his stomach clench. So far the night had gone exactly as planned, but he wasn't sure what would happen next.
"Clark? You're awfully quiet," Lois said, snuggling closer to his side.
He turned and took her hands, sitting on the edge of the fountain and guiding her to do the same.
"Just thinking," he replied.
"About anything in particular?"
"You," he whispered, reaching to cup her cheek. "How much I love you. How you make my life complete. I don't know how I ever lived without you."
"Oh, Clark. I love you, too. You've changed my whole life, you know. I can't believe it took me so long to see how much I love you, how much I need you."
"Lois, I have loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you, and every day I love you more than I did the day before. You've made me happier than I ever imagined I could be. Being loved by you is a dream come true. These last few months have been the best of my life." Clark paused, valiantly trying to keep himself calm and collected.
"Clark," Lois started, reaching to caress his cheek. "I —"
"Honey," Clark interrupted. "Just let me say this, OK? I'm a little nervous, and I really want to get this right."
Lois looked a little confused, but she nodded, and waited for him to go on.
Clark slid from the ledge beside her, landing on one knee in front of her. Lois gasped as Clark pulled a small black box from the inside pocket of his coat. He opened the box slowly, and held it out to her, the simple diamond sparkling with the light of the street lamps above them.
"Lois, I love you with all my heart. I want to spend the rest of my life with you." He took a deep breath and looked deep into her eyes. "Will you marry me?"
Lois sat in a stunned silence. Her mind reeled. It was so soon, so sudden. She loved him, but…marriage? Her mind flashed to snippets of her parents' spectacular failure of a marriage, then to her aborted wedding to Lex.
"Clark, I… I just…" Lois fumbled for words.
Clark visibly withdrew, closing the box and moving to put in back in his pocket. His jaw tensed, but his voice was warm and soothing. "It's OK, honey. You don't have to answer right away. I'll wait. I'll wait as long as you need."
Lois saw the pain in his eyes, and felt her heart clench. Her love for this man was so intense, so strong. How could she have ever questioned her desire to spend the rest of her life with him? Suddenly she knew what her answer had to be.
"Say it again," she said suddenly.
"What?" Clark asked, caught off-guard.
"Ask me again," she said, more confidently this time.
Clark looked at her, confused, but pulled the box from his pocket and opened it in front of her and repeated his earlier question. "Will you marry me?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," she whispered.
Clark's whole body snapped to attention. "Lois…"
"Yes! Yes, I'll marry you. Yes," she said, her face lighting up with a smile. She launched herself into his arms, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him soundly.
Clark recovered from his shock almost immediately, pulling her tight against his chest and returning her kiss.
"Oh, God. Honey, are you sure?" he asked as they pulled apart.
Lois pulled back and looked at him. "Are you trying to change my mind?"
"NO!" he exclaimed, horrified.
Lois burst into laughter, then pulled his face to hers, kissing him gently.
"Good. Because it's too late now," she teased.
Clark pulled her to sit next to him on the ledge of the fountain again. He pulled the ring from the box and smiled as she gave him her hand. He slid the ring on her finger gently, then looked up into her eyes. Slowly, he reached to tuck her hair behind her ear. "You know, you've just made me the happiest man in the world," he said, sliding his hand down to cradle her cheek.
Lois smiled and pulled him in for another kiss. Clark tightened one arm around her waist, holding her to him, while the other snaked up into her hair.
"Clark?" Lois mumbled against his lips.
He responded with something unintelligible and deepened the kiss.
She whispered his name again as she pulled away. She waited until his eyes focused on her, then smiled sweetly. "Come on, let's go home and celebrate."
"I'm so glad David won the election," Lois said as they entered the ballroom of the Lexor hotel; red, white, and blue balloons and steamers mixed among signs proclaiming 'Montero for Mayor.'
"So am I. I think he's going make a really great Mayor."
"Apparently, the rest of Metropolis thinks so too. He's been way ahead in the exit polls all day, and the pundits are already saying this may be the biggest landslide in the city's history."
"I think Johnson really signed his own death warrant when he tried to attack David's morals by bringing up Charlotte's involvement in this Myerson scandal."
"Yeah. The people really sympathized with her, and all the other women. And David couldn't possibly have been any more supportive. The conference he gave announcing his intention to adopt Emma, and urging others around the country to consider adoption, really endeared him to the public."
"Definitely. His adoration of his wife and little girl was obvious, and it made attacks on his character look absolutely ridiculous."
"There is one downside to David being elected though," Lois said, eyes twinkling.
"Oh, yeah? What's that?"
"With no more corruption in the mayor's office, what are we going to write about?"
Clark burst out laughing. "I'm sure we'll find something…or more accurately, it will find us."
They turned to see an excited Charlotte Montero rapidly approaching.
"Congratulations," Clark said. "Where's that husband of yours? We want to congratulate him, too."
"He's talking to his campaign manager. Just give him a sec. I know he'll want to see you. And…I hear congratulations are in order for you two as well," Charlotte said with a pointed look at the ring on Lois' finger.
Lois and Clark beamed.
Charlotte bent to coo at Jake, who was nestled snuggly in Lois' arms.
"I'm so glad you brought him! He's getting *so* big!"
"I know," Lois said with a grin. "He's rolling all over the place now!"
"Really? Aww, who's a big boy?" she cooed, tickling him again, then grinning when he gripped her finger.
"Where's Emma?" Lois asked. "Did you leave her with a sitter for the night?"
"Are you kidding?" Charlotte gestured a quiet corner of the room where David stood talking to a young man in a dark suit. Emma, decked out in a red, white and blue party dress, slept peacefully in an armchair nearby. "David won't let her out of his sight."
David looked up just then, and waved them over.
After quick congratulations, David said, "I just want to thank you two for everything. This night is so much more special to me because we have our daughter here to share it with us. We owe that to you, and I can't thank you enough."
"You're very welcome, but don't forget, we had a vested interest in this as well," Clark said, easing Jake out of Lois' arms.
"Have you heard from your sister?" Charlotte asked.
Lois shook her head and sighed.
"With all the publicity this is generating, she must have heard about it. I thought maybe she would have contacted you."
"I thought so, too," Lois said. "But so far, I haven't heard a thing."
"Well, I think Jake has the best parents a kid could ask for," Charlotte said. "Lucy really knew what she was doing when she brought him to you."
"Thank you," Lois whispered.
"Come on, let's go get something to drink," Charlotte said, grabbing Lois' arm and dragging her off.
"You realize," David said as they watched to women retreat into the crowd, "they are now gossiping about us."
"I know," Clark said with a wry grin. "But you have no idea how happy that makes me; how long I waited for her to *want* to gossip about me."
David slapped him on the back affectionately. "Clark, I know exactly what you mean."
"So," Clark said, nodding at the sleeping toddler. "How long until the adoption is final?"
"Well, my lawyer says it will be a couple of months before everything is final, but in the meantime we're getting all settled in. We know it's going to be a long hard road. We've started her seeing a therapist, and we're prepared for a lot of difficulties. She doesn't seem to have any physical scars, but she's bound to have some emotional ones. Still, she seems to be adjusting incredibly well — better than anyone predicted. We've changed her last name to Montero already, and yesterday she called me 'Daddy' for the first time," David said, his pride evident.
"What about you?" David asked. "Jason signed away his rights to all of his children, including Jake. I know you already consider him your son; are you ready to make it legal?"
"In a heartbeat," Clark said. "I'd like nothing more than to make it official, but Lucy is still missing, and until she returns and signs the papers, we're still kinda stuck in limbo. We've filed a petition with the courts asking for permission to adopt him without her consent on the grounds that she abandoned him. However, for that to be approved we have to wait six months and prove that during that time we made a concerted effort to find her and notify her of our intention to do so. We haven't had any luck looking for, so it looks like we'll just have to wait the six months and file the papers then. Anyway, it looks like it's going to be a long time before this is legal."
"It's OK," Clark said, gazing fondly at the baby. "I don't need a judge's decree to know that he's my son."
Lois shook her head as she plucked a stray streamer from her desk, tossing it in the general direction of the wastebasket. Hanging above their desks was a banner declaring, "Congratulations Lane and Kent!' decorated with pictures of the Merriweather trophy.
Lois glanced at the screens on the newsroom wall just in time to see Superman leave the scene of a minor car accident. She just looked at her watch and smiled. Assuming he didn't get distracted en route, he'd be back just in time for the newsroom lunch party someone had organized to celebrate their win.
Lois heard the elevator ding and looked up to see Clark exit. Her grin widened when she realized he had Jake in his arms. Clark looked up, his eyes immediately finding her.
Clark approached her desk, leaning to kiss her quickly, then depositing Jake in her arms and crouching beside her.
"I figured that if we were having a party, we could include the little guy."
Lois grinned at him, reaching to stroke a wayward lock of hair from his forehead.
Soon the newsroom was in full swing, the lure of free food drawing all of the reporters from their respective desks.
Lois sat back in her chair surveying the scene, while Clark perched on the edge of her desk bouncing Jake.
As they made polite conversation with their coworkers, Jake became increasingly fussy.
Clark dropped him into Lois' arms. "I'll go get him a bottle, he must be hungry."
He reappeared a minute later, but even the bottle didn't seem to help.
"I think there's just too much going on out here," Lois said, obviously concerned. "He's not used to so much noise when he's trying to eat."
Clark gazed down at her tenderly. "Why don't we take him into the conference room?"
Lois nodded and Clark reached for her elbow to steady her as she stood. He placed his hand on the small of her back, gently guiding her to the conference room.
Once inside, he shut the door and sighed. "I didn't realize just how loud it was out there."
Lois nodded and settled into a chair. Jake calmed immediately and nestled into Lois' arms, his eyes fluttering shut as he sucked. Clark scooted his chair next to face her and bent his head to hers; together they watched the baby in silence.
"I love watching him," Clark said finally, raising his head to look at Lois.
"So do I."
Clark reached for her, settling his hands at her waist. "Come sit with me," he whispered. "I want to hold you."
Lois looked at him longingly, then darted a glance at the conference room windows. "Clark, we're at work."
Clark shrugged and gave her his best puppy dog look. Lois rolled her eyes and smiled, moving to sit in his lap. Clark slid one arm around her waist, holding her snuggly against him. She relaxed against him, resting her head in the crook of his neck, sighing deeply.
"I love this," she whispered.
Clark turned his head and pressed a kiss to her forehead, raising his hand to stroke Jake's head. He nuzzled against her ear. "I love you, sweetheart," he whispered.
Lois smiled against his neck. "I love you, too."
Meanwhile in the newsroom, a young visitor went mostly unnoticed as she surveyed the room.
"Hi. I'm Jimmy Olsen. Can I help you with something?"
Jimmy's jaw dropped when the girl turned around. "Lucy!"
"Hi Jimmy," she said, smiling nervously. "It's been awhile, huh?"
"Yeah. How are you? You look…great," Jimmy said, cringing at the way he always found himself tongue-tied in her presence.
She did look great. She had obviously been working out to get her body back into its pre-baby shape. Her hair had been cut and styled to fall in a flattering style around her face, and her make-up was impeccably applied.
"Thanks; you look pretty good yourself," she said with a grin.
"Lois told me that you had moved to New York. Are you planning on staying in Metropolis for awhile?" Jimmy asked.
Lois and Clark had told him about their petition to adopt Jake, and its stipulation that they make a concerted effort to locate Lucy. He decided that their search must have been successful, though he wasn't sure why they hadn't told him. He wondered for a second why Lucy had come to Metropolis. Perhaps they had had their lawyer draft the papers, and Lucy was going to sign them now, rather than waiting for the six months to be up. Jimmy hoped this was the case. He knew that Lois and Clark loved Jake, regardless of the legal status of their relationship to him, but he couldn't help thinking it would be nice to have the adoption finalized. Maybe they would even have it finalized before they were married. That brought up something he hadn't even thought about… He wondered what last name they were planning to give him. He assumed Jake's last name was Lane right now. Would they want to keep that, especially given the fact he was pretty sure Lois intended to keep her last name, or at least hyphenate it, when she got married? Or would they give him CK's last name?
"No, not really." Lucy's words snapped Jimmy from his musings. "I'm looking for Lois. Do you know where she is? I stopped by her apartment this morning, but she wasn't there."
"Oh! That's because she's living with Clark," Jimmy explained.
"She's what?! When did that happen?"
"Well, I think she moved in there about a week after you…about a week after she got Jake. She and Clark had been seeing each other for awhile, and I think she needed help with Jake. They seem really happy together." He omitted the news of their engagement, figuring Lois would want to tell her sister herself. A small worrisome voice asked why she didn't already know this if she was here because they had contacted her. Perhaps they just hadn't had a chance to catch up yet. Or maybe their search hadn't been successful after all? But if not, then why was she here now?
"I can't believe Lois finally got together with Clark. I always told her there was something between them." She paused, then timidly asked, "How's Jacob?"
"He's great! He's such a cutie, the whole newsroom in smitten with him. Lois and Clark used to bring him with them to the newsroom occasionally until they got him into the daycare center. Everyone would take turns holding him. He's a really happy baby. Lois and Clark absolutely adore him. And CK is really great with him. You should see them together! Lois too. I never really imagined that Lois as the 'motherly' type, but she adores Jake. They're like the perfect family -" Jimmy broke off when he realized what he was saying. Lucy was probably already upset enough about giving her baby up for adoption without him throwing it in her face. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking…"
"No. It's OK. I'm glad that he's happy." Lucy took a deep breath. "You don't happen to know where I can find them, do you?"
Jimmy scanned the newsroom looking for them. "They were just here a minute ago…"
Through the open blinds of the conference room window he could see Lois cradled on Clark's lap feeding Jake, both of them wearing identical expressions of adoration as they gazed as the baby in her arms. He glanced back at Lucy, wondering what her reappearance meant to their lives.
Lucy followed his gaze and inhaled sharply. She braced herself and said, "Well, I guess I should go see them."
Jimmy nodded and Lucy walked determinedly to the door. She paused, watching them through the glass for another second, before opening the door.
Lois and Clark had been so caught up in their own world that they hadn't noticed her approach until the door was open. Lois looked up and immediately felt her world tip upside down.
"Oh, God," she whispered, as Clark reached to steady her.
"Lucy," Clark said, sliding Lois to sit in her own chair. "It's good to see you. We've been worried about you."
"Thanks," she whispered. "I'm sorry I didn't contact you sooner. I guess I just didn't know what to say."
Lois finally found her voice. "Where have you been? I tried to find you…"
"I'm sorry," Lucy repeated, slipping in a chair across from them. "I was just trying to get settled. My friend Maggie has been great. She's helped me a lot…"
"Why didn't you call? Do you have any idea how worried I was?" Lois said, still trying to steady herself.
"I told you I was going to New York."
"But you never gave me any way to contact you? What if something had happened to you? I never would have known. What if something had happened to Jake? What if he was sick or injured and we needed you?"
"But you didn't need me. He's fine," Lucy said, looking at the baby for the first time. "And I'm here now. I didn't mean to surprise you at work, but I went by your apartment this morning, but no one was there…"
"I'm living with Clark now. I have been for months. I would have told you, but…"
"I know. So, things must be going really well between you two, if you're living together."
They shared a brief smile before Lois turned back to her sister. "Better than I ever could have imagined." She paused for a moment. "We got engaged a couple of weeks ago. We haven't set a date yet, but we're planning on having a pretty small wedding. We don't want to have a long engagement."
"Wow! I had no idea! I mean, Jimmy told me you were living together, but he didn't say anything about marriage."
"When did you talk to Jimmy?" Lois asked.
"Just a minute ago. I ran into him in the newsroom. I was looking for you, and he pointed me in the right direction."
Lois nodded. "He probably just figured we'd want to give you the big news ourselves."
"Yeah… So, what else is new?"
Lois' gaze automatically shifted to the baby in her arms.
"He looks wonderful," Lucy said softly.
Lois raised her eyes slowly. "He is. We love him so much. He's incredible, Luce."
Lucy smiled at the baby, who nestled closer to Lois, turning his head away from her.
"He's just a little shy," Lois said, cuddling him. She focused her attention on the baby and cooed to him for a minute.
Finally, she looked back up. "Lucy, Clark and I have started the paperwork to adopt him. We tried to contact you, to tell you, but we couldn't find you. We have the papers all drawn up…"
"You what?!" she shrieked, leaping from her chair.
Lois looked confused. "Lucy, you must have known that we were planning to adopt him. He's nearly six months old. You haven't seen him in five months."
"I never meant for you to adopt him! He's my son!"
"Your son? You abandoned him!"
"I didn't *abandon* him! I left him with my sister, who I *thought* was going to take care of him for me while I got some stuff straightened out!"
"OK, OK. Everybody calm down," Clark said, his stomach churning. "I really don't think this is something we should discuss here. I'll go tell Perry that we need the rest of the afternoon off, and we'll continue this someplace a little more private."
The three adults rode in silence to Clark's apartment, Lois insisting that Lucy sit in the front seat so that she could sit in the back with Jake.
They entered the apartment and Lois carried the sleeping baby to the bedroom before returning to the living room.
"How long are you planning to stay in Metropolis before you return to New York?" Lois asked finally.
"Not long at all. My train leaves tomorrow morning… Lois, I'm sorry. I know how this must seem to you. I stormed into your life and turned everything upside down, and now I'm doing it again. But I've finally got things worked out. I've got a job as a secretary at a law firm in the city. It pays well, and after I've been there for a year, they'll even pay for me to go back to school. I've got a nice little apartment. It's only one bedroom, but there's an enclosed sun porch that's perfect for a nursery. I've got it all set up and everything. Maggie has a friend who runs a small day care center. I was able to get him enrolled there… It's going to be so much fun having him again."
"Fun? Is that what this is to you? Lucy, having a baby is not about having fun. He's not a doll that you can just put on a shelf when you get bored with him. He's a real baby with real needs."
"I know that," Lucy said hesitantly.
"Your life will be different, Lucy. No more staying out until all hours of the night and bringing home your loser boyfriends. No more fooling around. You have to be responsible 24 hours a day, not just for yourself, but for another little person who is totally dependent on you."
"I can be responsible!"
"Really? You never even called! I was so worried. I had no idea where you were or how to get a hold of you. What if there had been an emergency?"
"I know," she said softly, hanging her head. "It was stupid. I was just so embarrassed in the beginning. I was afraid you would be mad, or that you would lecture me. But, I thought about him every day. And I did think about calling. But I was afraid that if I talked to you, you would convince me to give up and come back. And I wasn't ready to come back yet. I just needed to prove to myself that I could make it on my own. I needed to know that I wasn't dependent on anyone else before I could have someone else dependent on me."
"It's not about what you need anymore, Lucy. It's about what Jake needs. Jake needs parents who love him and put his needs ahead of their own. You don't have the first clue how to take care of a baby, and you weren't even willing to stick around and find out. You could have stayed with me. I would have helped you. Then you could have been with him every day. You could have acted like his mother. But you chose not to. You decided to just dump him on my doorstep and disappear for five months."
"I didn't know what else to do! I didn't know where else to go! I thought you would *help* me!"
"I *did* help you! You showed up, completely without warning, dropped a baby in my lap and disappeared! And I took him in, and took care of him, and fell in love with him. Did you honestly expect to just waltz in here and take him back as if you'd just been gone for lunch?!"
"No! Yes! I don't know!" Lucy dropped to the couch and out her head in her hands.
"You can't have him," she said suddenly.
"What?" Lucy gasped.
Lucy stood in silence, totally stunned. Her mouth hung open slightly, as if she couldn't quite believe what she had just heard.
Lois took a deep breath, and tried to remain calm. "Listen, Lucy. I understand why you left him with me. I do wish you would have given me a way to contact you, but that's really irrelevant at this point. What's important now is what's best for Jake. He's happy here. He has a home, and a family that loves him. You can't just yank him away. God, forget how hard this is for us, think about Jake."
"I *am* thinking about him! I've been thinking about him this whole time! I want him back! He's *my* baby!"
"Lucy, this isn't just about possession! Can't you understand that? He's a human being!"
"He's a human being who belongs to me! I gave birth to him!"
"You gave birth to him, and then you abandoned him! You don't even know him! You don't even know anything about him! What's his favorite food? His favorite song? His favorite toy? When he cries in the middle of the night, what makes him feel better? Where were you for his first smile, his first laugh, the first time he rolled over? Who sat up with him all night when he was sick? You're not his mother, Lucy. You gave that up when you walked out of his life and disappeared for five months without so much as a phone call. What if he had been hurt? What if he had been sick? You never even called to check on him!" Lois burst into tears, and Clark quickly moved to embrace her.
Lucy refused to be moved by her tears, stubbornly telling herself that she was right. This was her baby, and she had the right to claim him.
Lois pulled herself together and forced herself to face her sister again.
"Lucy, you have no idea what you are getting into here. This is an incredible responsibility."
"I *know* that! Why do you have to make it sound like I'm the most irresponsible person in the world?!"
"Maybe because it's your irresponsibility that put us in this position to start with!" Lois snapped back. "How long did you know Jason before you started sleeping with him? How much did you know about him? Did you even bother to use any kind of protection? You'd only known him for a little over a month when you found out you were pregnant. You were in way over your head, and still you were too stubborn to ask anyone for help. Finally he disappears and what do you do? You drop your baby practically on my doorstep and disappear, leaving me no way to contact you and no idea when, if ever, you are going to reappear. Those are hardly the actions of a responsible person, Lucy!"
"You just think you're so perfect! I'm not the only one who's made mistakes when it comes to men! I may have dated some losers, but at least I never agreed to marry the country's most infamous criminal!" Lois paled visibly, but Lucy rushed on. "And don't even bother getting all high and mighty with me when it comes to sex! How long were you dating Claude before you started sleeping with him? Oh! That's right! You weren't! You barely knew him! I'm not the only one here that's indulged in a little —"
"Enough!" Clark thundered, his fists clenched. Lucy jumped. The look in Clark's eyes could only be described as fury, and suddenly she found herself thinking he wasn't as meek and mild as he appeared to be. Something told her she didn't want to be on the receiving end of his wrath.
She looked at him wide-eyed, and fumbled for her voice.
"That is absolutely enough of that," Clark said icily. "I will not stand here and listen to this garbage. Lois has done nothing but help you, and love your son. These attacks are uncalled for and unacceptable. Do you understand me?"
Lucy nodded mutely.
"Now," he continued. "Let's see if we can continue this a little more civilly. Why don't you explain to us why you didn't feel the need to contact us for this long, and why you have now suddenly changed your mind."
"I told you. I was just trying to get my life back together. I know I should have called, or at least given you a number where you could get a hold of me. I'm sorry that I didn't, but I can't go back and change time." As Lucy regained her voice, she felt her anger grow as well. Who were they to try to tell her how to live her life? She was a grown woman, and she didn't need anyone telling her what to do.
"Have you thought about the effect that this is going to have on Jake?" Lois asked. 'He's a happy, healthy, well- adjusted baby. He loves us as much as we love him. We're the only family he remembers; the only family he's ever known. I know this is hard for you, but think about what this is going to do to Jake."
Lois looked at Lucy, lost.
"Jacob! I named him Jacob! You keep calling him Jake. I *never* called him Jake. I don't *like* the name Jake. His name is Jacob!"
Lois' eyes flared, and Clark reached for her, momentarily afraid she was actually going to leap forward and strangle her sister.
"Lucy," Clark started, his voice measured. "You've got to cut us a little slack here. You have to understand that we've lived in fear of this moment for months. This is our worst nightmare. And while I don't doubt that you have been through your share of troubles over the last year, this has not been easy for us either. And this -" Clark's voice cracked as he tried to remain unemotional. "This is the worst. We have loved Jacob for months. We couldn't possibly love him any more if he were our biological child. We have a past with him, and we hoped we had a future with him. We have plans and dreams…and we've just had them all taken away from us. So you will just have to forgive us if we aren't sympathetic because you think we're calling him by the wrong name."
Lois reached for his hand as she heard the bitterness in his last sentence. She had been so caught up in her own grief that she hadn't given him much thought. Clark loved Jake just as much as she did, and she knew this had to be killing him.
"Clark," she whispered. His jaw clenched and he closed his eyes briefly, trying to compose himself.
Lucy had the good grace to look abashed, but didn't say anything.
Finally, Lois broke the silence. "Why don't we make some tea, and we'll sit down and discuss this calmly."
Clark and Lucy both nodded, and Lois pulled Clark into the kitchen under the guise of having him help her with the tea.
"Clark," Lois started shakily. "What are we going to do?"
"I don't know," he whispered.
"I mean, we can try all we want, but I don't think Lucy is going to listen to logic. She seems totally set on taking him back tomorrow. We can't let her take him away." A hint of panic began to creep into her voice.
"Oh, honey." Clark reached to hug her again.
"I'm sorry," he whispered as they pulled apart. "I just don't know how to fix this. I mean, legally she has every right to take him back. We never had legal custody. Remember, this is exactly what the six month waiting period is for. We had to prove that we had made an effort to contact his birth mother in order to give her a chance to deny our petition. I really don't see how we can fight this. Even if we wanted to claim she's an unfit mother, which I'm not sure we could prove, it wouldn't necessarily mean that we would get to keep him. And in the meantime, Lucy would have custody of him, or the judge might order that he be put into a foster home —"
"Honey, I don't want that either…I'm just…"
"Trying to be realistic? I know," she said softly.
"And honestly, eventually Lucy would probably win custody of him — especially if she really does have her act together in New York. The courts really work to keep biological families together. And in the meantime we would have subjected ourselves, and Jake, to a lengthy, expensive legal battle that could easily get nasty and result in Lucy refusing to ever let us see him again."
"Oh, God," Lois sobbed, leaning against the countertop for support.
"I know," Clark said, his voice trembling.
"So, that's it? We just give up? We just let her walk out of here with our baby?" Lois challenged half-heartedly.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I just don't know what else to do. Maybe we can convince Lucy…" Clark looked at her helplessly, his mind racing fruitlessly for another option, any other option.
"That's not going to work! You don't know Lucy like I do! She doesn't listen to logic. Once she gets an idea in her head, she just doesn't let it go. There's no talking her out of it!"
If the topic hadn't been so horrific, he would have been tempted to tease her about the pot calling the kettle black. As it was, though, the thought barely crossed his mind. Instead he just absorbed the information at face value and tried desperately to think of a new tactic.
"Maybe we can scare her a little," Lois said, pacing back and forth. "Lucy doesn't know anything about family law. We can tell her that we'll sue for custody. We'll tell her that the judge will side with us because she abandoned him. Even if it's not true, we might be able to convince her that she has no choice but to leave him with us for a little longer. It may not be a permanent solution, but it will buy us a little time."
Clark mulled that over for a second. "It's just too dangerous, honey. Think about it. We have no legal standing. If I thought we had any chance — *any* chance — of winning, you know that I'd jump on it. But we don't. And if Lucy is really serious about this, like she seems to be, then scaring her is only going to backfire in the end. When she realizes that we've lied to her… She's going to be furious. And she'll have sole custody, Lois. Sole custody. That means she has full control over who does — and doesn't — get to see him. If we make her angry, she could forbid us from ever seeing him again, and there would be absolutely nothing we could do about it."
Lois took a shaky breath. "That's so scary," she whispered. "We can't let that happen. Even if she takes him away, we can't let her cut us off from him completely. He *needs* us, Clark."
"I know, honey," he said, hugging her quickly. "That's why we have to be really careful. We can't afford to make her mad. We have nothing to bargain with here."
The teakettle began to whistle, and as Clark reached for it, Lucy appeared in the doorway.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I shouldn't have snapped at you for calling him Jake. I know that's not important… I just don't know what to do here. I feel awful, but…"
"It's OK, Luce," Lois said slowly. "We're all a little emotional right now. Let's take this tea to the table and see if we can talk about this a little more calmly."
Lucy nodded and accepted the mug of tea Clark handed to her.
They sat at the table in an awkward silence for a minute, no one sure how to start.
Finally, Lucy began. "I've got a really nice place now. My friend Maggie helped me get some baby stuff, so I've got everything I need…"
"That's good," Lois replied carefully. "Have you thought about how you are going to take care of him and work too? I mean, you said he's going to go to daycare, but what if he gets sick? Or what if you have to work late?"
"I…I'm not sure. I guess I'll just have to take off work."
"And you realize that this is going to be hard work? Jake is a joy, but he's a lot of work too. He doesn't sleep through the night, and he requires constant attention when he's awake. Having a baby takes up *all* of your free time, and then some."
"I know that," Lucy said, a hint of bitterness edging into her voice.
"Lucy, we're not saying that you can't handle this," Clark said. "We're trying to make sure that you really understand what you are getting into. And we're just looking out for Jacob's interest. You can understand that, can't you? We all just want what's best for him."
"What's best for him is to be with his mother!" Lucy shot back.
Lois flinched. Clark reached for her hand and took a deep breath.
"Are there any questions you want to ask us, Lucy? About Jake?"
"I don't think so," she said, sulking. "I'm his mother. I'm sure we'll be fine."
Lois and Clark exchanged heated glances, and forced themselves to remain calm.
"Well, why don't you let us tell you a little bit about him anyway? Just to bring you up to speed on him," Clark said. As frustrated as he was with Lucy, he refused to turn Jake over to her without giving her all the information he could. It would be so easy to refuse to tell her what she needed to hear; to sulk and refuse to cooperate. But in the end, the only person who would really suffer would be Jake. And nothing in the world would make him hurt his baby.
Lucy considered Clark's words carefully. "I guess that would be OK."
"OK. Well, he's rolling really well now, so you have to watch him carefully. You can't take your eyes off him for a second, especially if he's lying on a bed or changing table or something. He can roll right off in an instant."
Lucy nodded, realizing that she did need this information after all.
"We've just started him on baby-food, and he really seems to be doing well on it."
"You have to feed him the meats and vegetables first," Lois said softly, joining the conversation. "And you can't let him see the fruit, or he won't eat the others. He likes fruit the best, but he needs to eat vegetables and meats too."
Clark smiled at her and squeezed her hand gently, then turned back to Lucy. "He doesn't have a security blanket, or anything like that, but he does have a little teddy bear that he really loves."
Lois choked back tears, remembering the day they purchased the teddy bear. It was a soft plushy toy, made especially for infants, with soft brown fur and a sewn-on smile. But it was the t-shirt the bear was wearing that had caught her eye. Clark had groaned when he saw the Superman insignia, but Lois had fallen in love with it, and convinced him that Jake absolutely had to have it. Clark had worried for a second that any connection to Superman was too much, but Lois had immediately reminded him that millions of babies around the world were in possession of Superman toys, and no one thought any of them were the offspring of Metropolis' resident superhero. Clark had known when to concede defeat, and decided he should just be glad Lois wasn't trying to convince him to purchase the Superman baby jacket — complete with cape — that she had pointed out earlier.
Clark turned and pulled her in for a hug, ignoring Lucy's uncomfortable shifting. "Shh…honey. I know…" he whispered into her hair.
Lois straightened up, wiped her eyes and forced a calm expression. "He really likes to be sung to. It doesn't really matter what you sing; he just likes the sound of it."
Clark nodded. "He's really good with strangers most of the time, but he has his clingy moments. And he's a very affectionate baby. He loves to be cuddled and held. He likes to rock, too. When he wakes up in the middle of the night he's hungry and needs to eat, but he also really wants to be rocked…" Clark's voice trailed off as he drifted back to all the nights spent just like that. Rocking Jake, cuddling him and humming softly… And sometimes Lois would wake up and pad quietly into the living room to join them. Those were moments he loved best. She would smile sweetly and climb onto his lap without a word. He'd settle Jake against her chest, freeing his arms to snake around her. Sometimes they'd sit in silence, just enjoying the serenity of the moment. Other nights they'd whisper to each other, never talking about anything serious, just quiet affirmations of love and whimsical dreams for their future.
Clark shook his head and forced himself to continue. "He can sit up if he's propped against something, but he can't really do it on his own yet. You can't leave him unattended, or he'll flop right over."
Lois shuddered at the thought. Could Lucy really be responsible enough to care for a baby? She had always been irresponsible. From the time they were children, Lois had always had to take care of Lucy. She just hadn't seemed to possess the desire to do things for herself. She was the kid in school who just didn't bother to turn in assignments. Not really out of any sense of rebellion — though Lois occasionally wondered if it was actually some type of passive-aggression — but seemingly just because she simply didn't care. She joined one club after another, never staying with anything long enough to actually learn anything. Her goldfish died and were left to float in their bowl for days before someone else gave them a burial at sea. And as she got older, rather than maturing, her failures just seemed to grow with her. She moved around constantly, leaving a trail of failed relationships, one- night stands, and abandoned career aspirations in her wake. With each new job, each new relationship, Lucy swore she had found her niche. The novelty usually lasted no more than a few a weeks before she was back, looking for support; her life in shambles again. And then she would meet someone new, and the cycle would begin all over again. Lois couldn't help but think motherhood was just one more passing fancy.
Lois' mind swirled with the knowledge that there were so many things that could go wrong. So many things Lucy didn't know. Not just about taking care of a baby in general, but about taking care of Jake. In the months that they had raised him, they had come to appreciate him as a special, unique individual, with likes and dislikes, and his own little budding personality. How in the world was she going to be able to teach Lucy all about him in the tiny amount of time they had before she left? She couldn't.
Jake woke and began to fuss quietly. Lois automatically started to rise.
"I'll get him," Lucy said, nearly knocking over her chair in her haste to get up first.
Lois collapsed into her seat and dropped her head onto her arms, weeping softly. Clark stroked her hair silently, unable to think of any comforting words.
In the bedroom, Jake continued to cry as Lucy nervously paced back and forth, jiggling him gently. "Come on, Jacob," she whispered. "Don't you remember me? I'm your Mommy."
Jake began to wail and twist in her arms. "Oh, come on, Jacob. You've got to help me out here. I'm going to take care of you now. I'm your mother."
Lois looked pleadingly at Clark as Jake continued to scream. "Clark, he doesn't know her. He's scared," she cried.
"He'll be OK, honey," Clark said unconvincingly.
A piercing wail propelled Lois out of her seat and into the bedroom before she even had time to consider her actions.
"Let me have him," she pleaded.
"I can do it! He's *my* baby!" Lucy yelled.
Jake arched his back and reached for Lois, still screaming.
"He's scared," Lois pleaded. "Just let me hold him for a minute, Lucy. Just let me calm him down."
"No! I can do it!" Lucy insisted, jerking around until Lois was no longer in Jacob's line of vision. Jake wailed louder, startled by the harsh movement.
Lois' eyes flashed with fury. "Don't you dare hurt him because you are angry with me!"
Lucy scowled silently, keeping her body turned away from Lois.
"Lucy, he has no idea what is going on here. He's scared and confused. Just let me get him calmed down," she pleaded. "This isn't about pride, or who's better at this. It's about Jake — what he needs, what he wants."
Lucy bit her lip and looked back at Jake, who was still screaming and twisting in her arms.
"Fine!" She spun around and thrust Jake into Lois' arms, then stalked into the living room and threw herself on the couch.
"OK, OK. It's all right, sweetie. I've got you. I've got you," Lois whispered, cuddling him close. Jake relaxed immediately and his wails turned to soft whimpers.
Clark appeared in the doorway. He hesitated for a moment, watching Lois with their child.
She felt his presence before she heard him move. She looked up, her eyes meeting his.
"It's OK," she whispered, futilely trying to ease the pain and worry she saw in his eyes.
He moved silently to the bed, reaching to stroke Jake's head. "No," he whispered, his voice and body language more defeated than she had ever seen. "It's not."
"If we just had a little more time to get used to the idea…" Lois said unconvincingly as they lay in bed that night.
The rest of the evening had been painful and emotionally draining as they allowed Lucy to provide the majority of Jake's care, offering their advice only when they felt it was absolutely necessary. They had begged Lucy to consider staying in Metropolis for a while, or allowing them to come to New York with her, in order to give Jake a little time to adjust, but she had flat out refused. She insisted that she had to get back to New York so that she wouldn't miss any work, and she didn't want them to come with her.
They had moved the bassinet into the living room for the night, and Lucy was asleep on the couch, intending to rise with him in the middle of the night as well.
Clark sighed. "But in some ways that seems like it would be just as bad. Can you imagine having to live with Lucy as she refused to let us help her?"
"But what's the alternative, Clark? Our baby disappears from our lives without any warning? Oh, God, he's going to be so confused," she cried.
Clark pulled her tight against him, strOKing her hair. "I know," he whispered. "I know."
Lois tensed as she heard Jake begin to cry. "I want to go to him. I hate hearing him cry and not being able to do anything."
Clark nodded silently.
When his cries continued, Lois pulled back and met Clark's gaze in the dim light.
"Lois…" he whispered. Clark's heart clenched as he watched her climb out of bed, unable to stop herself from comforting her child.
Lucy didn't notice Lois at first. She was seated in the rocking chair, busy juggling the crying baby and the bottle he refused to take from her.
Lois moved forward slowly. As she came into Lucy's line of vision, the younger woman flinched back. "I can *do* it!"
"God, why can't you just give me a break?! You say that you want me to be responsible and take care of him, but every time I try to, you bust in and take over!"
Lois ignored her outburst, her attention focused solely on the whimpering baby.
"Please, Lucy," she pleaded, reaching for him.
"No! He's mine!"
Lois raised her eyes to meet her sister's defiant gaze. Lucy was shocked by the raw emotions she saw there. In all the years they had spent together — through their troubled childhoods and their days living together as adults — Lucy had never seen Lois in so much pain.
"Please, Lucy. Please," she begged. "You're right. You win. He's yours. And you get to spend every day and every night with him for the next eighteen years. All I'm asking for is one more night. Let me hold him. Let me have him for one more night. Lucy, *please*."
Unshed tears shone bright in her eyes, as she tentatively reached for him again. Lucy hesitated, then slowly handed him to her. Lois collapsed onto the couch, cuddling him close as the tears began coursing silently down her cheeks. Clark appeared in the doorway from the bedroom, and moved to her instinctively. He sat next to her on the couch, and pulled her into his arms. She laid her head on his shoulder and sobbed quietly, still clutching Jake tightly.
Lucy watched the scene unfold before her in muted horror. Lois had always been the stronger of the two of them. As much as they had fought, and as often as they had disagreed, Lucy had always respected her sister's strength. She could count on one hand the number of times she had seen her cry — really cry. More than that, though, Lois always seemed to know what to do. She knew what she was doing with her life. Her confidence overwhelmed Lucy, who had never really had any idea what to do with her life. And the most amazing part about all of Lois' plans was that she was so sure of herself that she made other people believe as well. Lucy was honestly a bit in awe of her older sister, and to see her so utterly defeated, so distressed, was devastating. For a moment she felt as though she had toppled her own hero.
Lois and Clark remained oblivious to Lucy's presence. Slowly, Lois began to calm down, and she and Clark cuddled together as she fed Jake.
Though Lucy had never really doubted her sister's ability to do anything, she had to admit that she was surprised with the natural grace she seemed to have when it came to taking care of Jacob. Lois had always been a mother figure to Lucy, but she had not otherwise been a motherly type. She had never babysat as a teenager, and as she grew older, she had always insisted that she was too much in love with her career to ever consider having children. But now Lucy saw how much this time with Jacob had changed her. While Lucy often felt uncomfortable holding him, afraid she would hold him too tight and hurt him, or not tight enough and drop him, Lois seemed to know exactly what she was doing. And whether they were curled up on the couch, or moving around the room working, Jacob seemed to be at home in her arms, so peaceful and relaxed.
Lois' soft laughter brought Lucy back from her reverie. Jacob was looking up at them, apparently performing some act they found amusing because Lois and Clark were both laughing. He gurgled in response, then laughed with them. For a moment Lucy forgot who she was — who they were — and felt a twinge of jealousy. When she had decided not to give her baby up for adoption, that was what she had thought she was signing herself up for. A perfect little a family with a mother and father very much in love and a sweet little baby they adored. Instead she had found herself miserable and alone. Yet here was her sister enjoying the dream that should have been hers.
And then she remembered.
This perfect family was about to be shattered, and she was the one doing the shattering. Her jealousy was quickly replaced by guilt. She forced herself to stifle those feelings, though, reminding herself that he was her child, she had given birth to him, and she had come to claim him. Eventually, she assured herself, she would be a part of a picture perfect family as well. She might not have a perfect husband, but there were tons of single mothers out there. If they could do, so could she. And eventually she was sure they would find someone to complete their family.
Lucy watched silently as Jacob slowly fell back asleep, still snuggled in Lois' arms. Clark whispered something in Lois' ear, and she grinned before turning and kissing him lightly. Lucy shifted in her chair, and both of their heads snapped up, and their peaceful, happy expressions instantly fled their faces. It seemed they were remembering for the first time that she was there, and all that her presence signified.
"He's asleep," Lois whispered, rising reluctantly. Clark followed as she carried him to the bassinet. She took a deep breath and hugged him once more before laying him on his back and situating the covers around him.
"I love you, baby," she whispered as she kissed him gently.
She pulled back and Clark bent to kiss him, fussing with the covers in an attempt to delay the inevitable. "Good night, little guy. We love you."
Finally he stepped back and pulled Lois into his arms. They stood silently for a minute, watching him sleep.
"Come on, honey," Clark whispered, reluctantly. "Let's try to get some sleep. We have to get up early."
Lois cringed, knowing the reason they had to get up early was to take Lucy and Jake to the train station. Clark pulled back, leaving one hand on the small of her back, and gently guided her toward the bedroom.
Lucy stood as they passed her.
"Lois," she called quietly.
They turned to face her.
"I'm…I'm sorry." It seemed like so little to say. So insufficient an apology for the unimaginable pain she knew she was causing.
Lois said nothing; just nodded wearily. For a moment their eyes locked, and Lucy shivered at the haunted look she saw. She was relieved when her sister finally turned away and disappeared into the bedroom.
"You'll call us as soon as you get in, right?" Lois asked for at least the third time that morning.
"Yes, Lois," Lucy said, rolling her eyes and shifting the diaper bag to her other shoulder.
"And you're absolutely certain you don't want us to take you to the train station?"
"Yes! Come on, the cab is outside waiting!"
Clark glanced from Lucy to Lois. He closed his eyes for a second, then kissed the baby in his arms before handing him to her.
Lois swallowed her tears and struggled valiantly to remain calm. She had promised herself she would not make a scene in front of Jake — she would wait until they were alone to fall apart.
"OK, Jake, it's time to go. You be a good boy, and we'll come to see you as soon as we can. We love you so much…" She took a ragged breath.
Clark wrapped one arm around her shoulders and reached with the other to stroke Jake's head. Lois lifted the baby and kissed him gently. "I love you, Jake," she whispered.
Lucy fidgeted impatiently, then reached for him. "Come on, Lois. I have to go."
She clutched him to her chest, unable to hand him over. Clark's heart clenched. His own pain at losing his son was amplified by the knowledge that this was tearing her apart as well. Her eyes begged him to do something, anything, to stop this.
"Lois…" he started apologetically. "Honey…"
"I can't. Clark, please, no. Don't… I can't do it," she pleaded, beginning to cry.
Clark moved forward, gently pulling the baby from her arms.
"No…" she whispered, frozen in place.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry."
He pressed a final kiss to the baby's forehead then turned and placed him in Lucy's arms. She darted one final look at her sister, then hurried up the stairs and through the door.
"Oh, God," Lois whispered as the door slammed shut.
Clark pulled her into his arms, and she collapsed against him. He swept her into his arms and strode to the couch, sitting and holding her on his lap, and she began to sob. "It's over. Everything's over. My baby…"
He held her tight, stroking her hair as she continued to sob. He forced himself to remain strong, needing to comfort her. But her next words, spoken so softly he could barely hear them, twisted like a knife in his stomach.
"He's gone. You took him away…"
Eventually, Lois cried herself to sleep in his arms. Clark stood, careful not to wake her, and carried her to bed. He tucked her in, then climbed in beside her. She moved instinctively to curl up with him, resting her head on his shoulder and fitting her body to his. Clark sighed softly and wrapped his arms around her.
"Love you, Clark," she mumbled sleepily.
"I love you too, sweetheart," he whispered, stretching to drop a kiss in her hair.
She shifted again, then fell more deeply asleep. Clark lay stiffly beside her, his mind still reeling. He shifted a little so that he could watch Lois sleep. Her brow was furrowed, and Clark was sure that even in her sleep she was unable to escape the horror that befallen them.
Why couldn't he fix this? He had always thought that with enough thought and the occasional use of his special abilities, he had always been able to fix any problem that had come his way. But now…
Lois shifted again, reaching to hold him more tightly, as if she was afraid he would disappear too. He stroked her back softly. She looked so small, so fragile. Her eyes were still red, and her face still streaked with tears. He smoothed her hair, and his heart clenched as he was reminded just how much he loved her. He had never seen her so heart broken, so pained… And it was his fault.
Her words echoed in his head over and over again. "You took him away…"
He was the strongest man on the planet, and yet he was unable to protect the one person he loved more than anything in the world; unable to give them both the one thing that would make them happy.
His parents, and then Lois, had told him repeatedly that he couldn't be responsible for the world; that he couldn't always save everyone. He accepted this grudgingly, because he knew they were right. But when it came to his personal life, that was different. He loved Lois more than he had known he could ever love someone. He had promised himself he would never let anyone hurt her, never let anyone make her cry again. But he had failed.
Not only had he let someone hurt her; he had participated. It had killed him to pull their baby from her arms and hand him over to Lucy when every nerve cell in his body was screaming at him to run; to scoop up his fiancee and their baby and fly them somewhere where no one would ever be able to separate them again. For a moment he allowed his thoughts to run wild without thought of consequences. It would be so easy for him. He was the fastest, strongest man in the universe. He could take Lois and Jake somewhere where the law would never be able to reach them. They could start over again where no one had ever heard of them. Their family would be safe, intact.
But he couldn't. There was never really any question about it. Superman couldn't kidnap a child, no matter what the circumstances were. And what was more, Clark Kent couldn't either. He could never live with himself. And in all honesty, Lois would never be able to live with that either. They couldn't be fugitives, and they would not raise their son on the lam. They wouldn't teach him that laws were only meant to be followed when they suited your needs.
So he had done the only thing he could — he had tried to make it as short and painless as possible. He had pulled Jake from her arms and handed him over to Lucy, sending them out into the early morning hours. But the look in Lois' eyes as he took her child from her arms would haunt him for the rest of his life. Disbelief, horror, fear and…betrayal. She had trusted him; trusted him more than she had ever trusted anyone else. And he had betrayed that trust more spectacularly than anyone else ever had.
Even though he knew he had done what was right — what had to be done — Clark still could not forgive himself. And even though he had heard her sleepy expression of love a few minutes earlier, he couldn't help but think that Lois would not be able to forgive him either.
Clark choked back a sob and tightened his arms around her. Lois stirred, then turned to look at Clark.
"It's OK, Lois. Go back to sleep."
"Are you OK?" she asked, reaching to stroke his cheek.
Clark's jaw clenched as he tried to control his emotions. "I'm fine, sweetheart."
"No, you're not. Of course you're not. Oh, Clark. How in the world are we going to survive this?" she asked, not really expecting any kind of response. "I always knew this could happen, and tried to prepare myself. But, I just never knew it would be so painful. This isn't like anything I've ever felt before."
"I know," he whispered. "I miss him so badly already. And I'm so scared. I can't stand to think about him being scared and lonely. I…" Clark's voice trailed off as he wrestled with his guilt.
She ran her fingers through his hair and stroked his cheek gently, waiting for him to continue. When he said nothing, she pulled back and sat up. "Come on, let's get up. There's no use trying to sleep anymore."
Clark nodded and dragged himself out of bed. "I'll make us some breakfast. You can shower first."
She slipped silently into the bathroom as he padded to the kitchen and started pulling things out of the cupboards. While she showered he reflected on their short conversation. It didn't seem like she blamed him for what had happened, but perhaps she just hadn't had time to really think it through yet. She was still in a grief- induced stupor, but it wouldn't be long before she emerged like the little tornado she was, and took the world by storm again. And then…then she would realize what he had done, and she would hate him.
Lois emerged from the bathroom and Clark turned the breakfast preparations over to her and disappeared into the bathroom.
When he reappeared she had finished cooking and set the table. For the first time she could remember, they ate in an uncomfortable silence. She knew he was hurting just as badly as she was over the loss of their child, but while she desperately needed his support, and wanted nothing more than to stay in his arms, he seemed to be pulling away. It was as if he was just giving up. Perhaps all of their dreams had died when Lucy had taken Jake away. She glanced around the apartment she had been calling home for months now. There was really no reason for her to stay anymore. She had moved in because she needed Clark's help with Jake. Now that was obviously not an issue, and maybe he would rather she moved back into her own apartment.
The thought of leaving nearly brought Lois to tears again. She couldn't imagine returning to the lonely life she had led before Clark and Jake came into her life. Her gaze fell to the ring on her left hand. What would this loss mean to their impending marriage? Certainly she believed that Clark loved her — regardless of what happened with Jake. But was their relationship strong enough to survive this? She had thought it was strong enough to survive anything, but now, with Clark so distant, so closed off to her, she wasn't sure.
Across the table, Clark pushed the food around on his plate, not really paying attention to it. From the corner of his eye, he watched a series of indecipherable emotions war over her face. He felt his stomach drop as he followed her gaze to the ring on her finger. She dropped her fork and moved her hands to her lap, where they continued to fidget. Clark closed his eyes and sighed. It was happening just as he had feared. After a minute he realized he had been holding his breath, waiting for her to hand the ring back to him.
Then, to his surprise, she stood suddenly and began to hastily clear the table. "I'm not really hungry after all, I guess," she started, not making eye contact with him. "Maybe we should just clean up and watch a little TV, or go for a walk, or something. Or, you know, maybe we should go to work after all. I mean, I know Perry told us to take as much time as we need, but I just don't see what good it's going to do for us to just sit around here all day. It just seems like such a waste of time…"
"Lois, I don't really feel like going into the office today. I don't think I could be civil to anyone." He hesitated, wondering if this was her way of trying to get away from him for awhile. He desperately wanted to grab her and pull her into his arms, begging her never to leave him, telling her how much he loved her. But if leaving was what would make her happy, that was the least he could give her. "But, if you want to go to work, I'd understand."
Lois froze. Was this it? What this his way of sending her away? She wanted to throw herself in his arms, beg him to hold her, never let her go. But if he wanted her to leave, that was the least she could do for him.
"I guess I'll go in for awhile then. I don't think Perry will give me any new stories today, but I have some paperwork I need to get caught up on…"
Clark nodded dumbly, fearing that if he opened his mouth he wouldn't be able to stop himself from begging her to stay.
"OK, well… I'll be back in a little while," she said, stalling, praying he would give her any inclination that he wanted her to stay. One word was all it would take.
Lois turned and walked to the door slowly. She pulled on her coat and shot him one last desperate look before slipping out the door.
Clark watched the door shut and collapsed in his chair, dropping his head to his arms. Two days ago he had been the happiest man on earth. He was engaged to the most beautiful woman in the world, who loved him and accepted him like he never imagined anyone could. They had a beautiful, happy, healthy baby, whom they utterly adored. They had just won their first journalism award as a team, further solidifying their partnership.
Partners. They had been partners in every sense of the world. And now, only two day later, his life had fallen apart. They had lost their son, and his fiancee could barely stand to be in the same room with him. He hated himself for the role he played in her grief, and he didn't blame her for wanting to escape from him. How could everything have fallen apart so quickly?
Lois stood aimlessly at her desk. She picked up the framed picture of the three of them in Smallville and ran her finger over the glass silently.
Perry stood in the door of his office, and felt a stab of sorrow as he watched Lois at her desk. He had always considered her to be the closest thing to a daughter he had ever had. He had watched her grow from the stubborn but scared intern, to the take-no-prisoners workaholic intent on pushing her way to the top, and finally to the well- rounded happy woman she had become in the last six months.
No one had been more surprised than he by Lois' sudden jaunt into motherhood. But his love and respect for her had grown as he watched her shed her tough exterior to become a darn good mother. And when she and Clark had appeared in his office a few weeks ago with 'an announcement,' he couldn't hide his pleasure at their engagement. He had never met two people so perfect for each other. When he watched the three of them together he sometimes felt so proud he thought he would burst.
So when he had asked Jimmy yesterday where his star reporters had suddenly needed to leave during the party that was being thrown in their honor, he was stunned by Jimmy's response. A phone call later that evening had confirmed Jimmy's suspicions. He had assured Clark there was no need for either of them to come into the office for the next couple of days, and offered to do anything he could to help them.
And now, seeing his surrogate daughter wander around the newsroom in a stupor unlike anything he had seen since the day after Clark had been shot, he felt himself searching for something to say to comfort her. She didn't notice him approach, too focused on the photograph in her hand.
"Lois? You didn't have to come in today, honey."
"I know," she whispered. "I just didn't know where else to go."
"Where's Clark?" he asked, looking around for him.
"He's…at home. He didn't want to come in today."
"Why aren't you with him? Shouldn't you two be together right now?"
Lois just shook her head sadly and began to cry. Perry put his arm around her and led her into his office. He shut the door and guided her to sit before perching on his desk. "Talk to me, honey. What's going on?"
"I don't know. It's horrible," she cried. "I miss my baby. I want him back. And I'm so scared. Lucy is so irresponsible. What if she hurts him? And I know he's scared and confused. We've never left him overnight with anyone except for Clark's parents. He doesn't even *know* Lucy! He cried every time she tried to hold him! I just — " She broke off, sobbing.
Perry pulled her into his embrace, holding her silently until she had worn herself out. Finally, she pulled away, wiping the tears from her face.
"Lois, I want you to go home. There is absolutely no reason for you to be here today. You need to be with Clark, and if I know that boy at all, he needs to be with you. Now go on. If you need anything at all, I want you to call. But I do not want to see you in here again until at least next week. Do I make myself clear?"
Lois nodded unconvincingly and stood. She left the building slowly, deciding to walk for awhile before heading home. She walked aimlessly up and down the city streets. The sky was overcast and dark. The rainy, dreary weather matched her mood.
Suddenly she found herself at Centennial Park, heading straight for the fountain. As she approached, scenes from a happier time in her life flashed through her mind. They had spent so many happy moments in this park; at this fountain. She smiled as she remembered Clark's face after she accepted his proposal. Was that only a couple of weeks ago? It seemed like a whole other lifetime.
She sat on the ledge, cradling her head in her hands. They had brought Jake here, too. So many memories. Were they all she would have now? A future that had once looked so bright and promising was now bleak.
Finally Lois decided it was time to go home.
The apartment was dark when she entered. She wandered around looking for a clue as to Clark's whereabouts, but found nothing. She wondered if Superman had been needed, or if Clark had just decided he didn't want to be home right now.
Lois wandered back into the living room and felt her chest clench when her gaze fell upon the bassinet still sitting in the middle of the room. She found herself approaching it, unable to stop herself. She ran her fingers over the soft blankets, then lifted one to her face. She inhaled deeply, breathing in the sweet baby smell of milk and baby shampoo.
She brought the blanket with her to the couch, and curled up in the corner. Resting her head against the back of the couch, and clutching the blanket to her chest, she watched the window, waiting for Clark's return.
Meanwhile, Clark drifted above Metropolis. Earlier, he had cried, venting his emotions. But now a feeling of emptiness had settled over him, numbing him. He drifted aimlessly, feeling more alone than he had in months. He flashed back to the first time he had brought Lois up to drift in the clouds with him. It was only a few days after she had discovered his secret. Jimmy had offered to babysit so that they could have dinner together, and afterwards Clark had told her he had something he wanted to show her. She had been dazzled by the brightness and clarity of the stars. The clouds had been light and wispy. The air was cold, but his aura had seemed to protect her. When she had snuggled closer to him, he had worried that she was cold, but she assured him it was because she wanted to be close to him, not because she was chilly. He had explained to her how he used to come up here to drift, alone, not belonging to the earth or to the stars. She had kissed him and told him that she loved him, and that he did belong. He belonged not just to the world, but to her, and to Jake. Family. He finally had a family of his own. All of his dreams had come true.
Clark couldn't remember a time in his life when he didn't want to be a father. Growing up, watching his parents, it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. And he really did have a soft spot for babies and kids. Maybe it was just the protector in him coming out, urging him to help those that can't help themselves. Or maybe it had something to do with the way they seemed to be so fresh, so clean. After dealing with scum he dealt with all the time, it was so refreshing to see the smile of an innocent child.
And then there was Jake. He had fallen in love with him instantly. The moment he saw that tiny baby nestled in Lois' arms he was head-over-heels. He was more than happy to help Lois with him as she adjusted to her new role, and he delighted in the time he spent with him. And as time went by he found himself more and more wrapped up in this tiny life. He lived for the times they spent together, especially the time the three of them could all be together; the quiet strolls through the park on their days off, watching him as he learned something new everyday. It was amazing how much having a child could change you. How clear it could make your priorities. He had noticed an article in the Star a few weeks ago wondering why Superman seemed to have cut back his hours. For a moment he had felt guilty. Then Jake had giggled up at him from his stroller, and Clark tossed the paper into the garbage without a second thought. Metropolis might need Superman, but Jake needed Clark Kent. He would never shirk his duties as a superhero, but his family came first. He smiled as he thought about how much motherhood had changed Lois too. Once she had been so unwilling to accept his love; to accept any love. Now she sometimes amazed him with the intensity of her devotion, both to Jake and to him.
And now they were gone. In the blink of an eye he had lost everything. First he lost his son, and now he was losing the only woman he had ever loved.
Clark finally decided that he had delayed the inevitable long enough. He hated the thought of returning home to face an empty house, but he knew he could only put it off for so long.
He landed softly and spun back into his clothes, not bothering to put his glasses on. He walked dejectedly through the dark living room, overlooking the shadowy figure asleep on the couch.
He walked into the kitchen, rummaging through the cupboards half-heartedly. He wasn't hungry, and he really didn't feel like eating. He opened the far-right cupboard, and flinched when he saw the contents. Absently he reached out and picked up one of the baby bottles. Who would have guessed that such a simple object could bring back so many memories? He shook his head, too emotionally drained to start reminiscing again, and placed the bottle back on the shelf before shutting the cupboard door.
He flipped off the kitchen light and turned back into the living room. His heart lurched as his gaze fell on the sleeping woman curled up, her head resting on the arm of the couch. She looked cold, and he immediately reached for a blanket to cover her. He walked quietly across the room, wondering what her presence meant. He had thought that he would return home to an empty apartment, Lois having decided that she was better off without him.
He tucked the blanked around her gently, careful not to disturb her. He moved back a little, still crouched down so that his face was level with hers. His arm reached out, as if of its own volition, and smoothed her hair, tucking it behind her ear.
"I love you," he whispered. "I'm so sorry, baby. I'm so sorry."
"Clark?" she whispered, her eyelids fluttering open.
He tensed, waiting for her to yell at him, ready to accept whatever blame she placed on him.
Instead, she struggled to sit up, pulling him to sit beside her. "Oh, Clark. I'm so glad you're home."
He felt a flutter of hope. Perhaps she really didn't blame him after all. Her words from the previous evening echoed in his ears. "You took him away… You took him away…"
"Clark?" she asked timidly.
"It's OK, honey. I'm here," he whispered, pulling her onto his lap.
"Just hold me. Please, just hold me," she whispered, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his neck. "Oh, Clark… I miss him so much. I'm so scared."
"I know. I know." He hugged her tightly, rocking gently. He sighed softly, relieved that she didn't seem to hate him; thankful that he could hold her like this. And in that instant he knew. Knew he could never leave her. Even if she hated him, he couldn't leave her. His life wouldn't be worth living anymore. He would fight. He would beg. Anything. Anything to convince her to give him another chance to prove he would never hurt her again.
"Clark, I need you," she cried softly, clinging to him.
"I thought you hated me." The words slipped out quietly. He didn't even realize he had spoken the words aloud until Lois pulled back sharply to look at him.
"Hated you? Why? Why would I hate you? I love you, Clark."
He hung his head, unable to meet her eyes. "I took him away. I took him out of your arms and I -" The words caught in his throat.
"Oh, Clark." She raised his head and waited for him to meet her eyes. "Clark, this is not your fault. You only did what you had to do. We both knew she was going to walk out with him. You were just stronger than me. You did what I couldn't. Clark, I'm not *angry* that you took him. I'm…I'm *relieved*. I couldn't do it. I needed you to be strong for me, and you were. Just like you always are. I don't know what I'd do without you."
His eyes filled with tears as she reached to stroke his cheek, mindless of the tears coursing down her own cheeks.
Relief flooded his body. He relaxed visibly, all tension fleeing. He tugged her back into his arms and held her against him. Stupid. How could he have been so stupid? She had needed him, and he had shut her out because he was so paranoid. Why hadn't he pressed harder? Why hadn't he tried to discover what she was really feeling? "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Lois."
"Shh. It's OK," she whispered, relaxing into his embrace. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."
He smiled weakly at her last reassurance. She knew him so well. Knew that to lose her, on top of losing Jake, was his greatest fear.
"I need you, Clark. I can't do this by myself. Please don't shut me out anymore," she whispered so softly he barely heard her.
"I won't. I promise." He stroked her hair, the motion soothing both of them. "I love you, Lois. I need you too. More than anything in the world."
They sat silently for a while. Finally Lois shuddered and began to speak softly. "I didn't know it would be this hard, Clark. I mean, I knew it would be horrible, I just didn't know *how* horrible. Everywhere I look, I see him… His toys. His bottles. His bed. And it's not just here, either. He's everywhere. At the Planet. At the park. I can't go anywhere without seeing him. Without being reminded. They're such good memories… I don't want to lose them, and I know we should be grateful for them… But it hurts so much to think that it's all we have left of him — that there won't be any new memories."
"I know," he whispered. "Our whole lives have revolved around him for so long; I just can't even imagine what our lives will be like without him. What did we do before we had him? I can't even remember…"
"I miss him so much already, and he hasn't even been gone for a whole day. I catch myself forgetting… I start to think about something I have to do for him… He's due for his next round of vaccinations next week. Earlier I caught myself thinking that we really need to call his pediatrician and schedule an appointment…and then I remembered. And while I was waiting for you on the couch, as I was drifting between being awake and asleep, I thought I heard him. I swear, I could *hear* him crying. I actually stood up and started to reach for him before I remembered."
Clark hugged her more tightly. "I do the same thing… After you left I was trying to keep my mind occupied by doing stupid chores, and I was adding a couple of things to the grocery list when I saw that we were really low on baby-food. I actually wrote it on the list before I realized what I was doing. Before I realized that we don't need to buy baby-food anymore…"
Lois began to cry again. "I feel like I've lost a part of myself. I can still feel him in my arms, snuggled up against my chest. I can smell his baby shampoo and hear his coos. I *know* he's not there, but I *feel* him. My arms ache for him."
"Oh, Lois. Honey, I'm so sorry," he whispered, stroking her hair and holding her tight. "If there was anything I could do…anything… I just don't know what to do…"
"I know," she whispered.
Lucy sat slumped at the kitchen table, softly banging her head against her folded hands in frustration. The cries from the cradle in the bedroom grew more insistent.
"Give me a break!" she cried. "All day long! Cry, cry, cry! I can't take this anymore!"
She stalked in the bedroom and yanked Jacob from the cradle. She held him to her chest and jiggled him. Rather than being comforted by the movement, Jacob cried louder.
Jacob had been crying for nearly the entire day. He started crying the moment he realized he was no longer in Clark's arms, and had continued to cry during the cab ride to the train station. Once on the train he had taken a short nap, but when he awoke and was unable to spot a familiar face, he began crying again.
During Jacob's nap, Lucy had been flirting with the cute guy across the aisle from her. The conversation had seemed quite promising. She discovered that they lived in the same area of the city, and they had talked about getting together sometime soon. But once the baby awoke and began to cry, and once the young man realized the baby belonged to her and not the middle-aged woman on the other side of the carseat, he had fled to another seat and Lucy hadn't seen him since.
Lucy was taken aback, having never considered this sort of reaction. She was an attractive young woman, and she knew it. Her good looks matched with her free spirit had made her seemingly irresistible to the opposite sex. Granted, the men she attracted were not always the most upstanding sort of guys, but she had never had a guy just disappear in the middle of a conversation.
"Come on! This always works when Lois does it! Why won't it work for me?!" she cried, jiggling him harder.
There was a knock on the door, and for a moment Lucy felt relieved. Perhaps it was someone who could help her get this screaming baby under control. She shook her head, realizing that all of her friends had less experience with children than she did, and it was unlikely they would have any idea what to do.
She opened the door to find three of her new friends dressed for a night out on the town. They gaped at her haggard appearance and the squalling baby in her arms.
"Babysitting?" one of the guys asked tentatively, taking an unconscious step back.
"No," she said, exasperated. "This is my son, Jacob. Remember? I told you guys I had a baby."
"Yeah, but I thought he lived with your sister or something," the girl said, looking at the baby warily and tugging nervously at the hem of her short leather skirt.
"He did. But I told you I was going to take him back someday…"
"Well, did it have to be today?" the girl asked, annoyed. "I thought we were all going to go out tonight. That new club is opening, remember? You have no idea what I had to do to get these invitations."
"I'm sorry. I totally forgot. I really did want to go," Lucy said, looking again at Jacob whose cries had quieted as he curiously observed the newcomers.
The first guy spoke up again. "Well, can't you just get a babysitter? It's still early; we have plenty of time for you to change."
Lucy bit her bottom lip and looked wistfully at the bedroom. She really did want to go out tonight. She had been looking forward to this night for ages. Besides, she'd spent all day with Jacob, and she was dying to get away and have some fun. Her mind quickly scrolled through the list of people she knew in town, searching for someone she could call to babysit. "I can't," she said, with a sigh. "I don't know anyone who can watch him on such short notice."
"Fine. I'm sure we can find someone else to go with us," the girl said, obviously exasperated. She turned quickly to the two guys accompanying her. "Come on. Let's go!"
Lucy hung her head as the girl stormed off, the others following.
She looked up and saw that one of the guys, Tom, was lingering. He had been silent throughout the brief scene, and Lucy suddenly felt hopeful. Maybe he wouldn't turn away from her like the rest of her friends. They'd hooked up a couple of times in the past month, and she thought he was pretty cute. Maybe he wouldn't be scared off by a baby. Some guys didn't mind dating women with babies. Look at Clark. He'd been willing to help Lois raise a child; maybe Tom would be willing to help her.
"Yeah?" she asked hopefully.
Tom glanced at the baby, then back to her. "I'm sorry," he said softly, before hastening to catch up with the others.
Lucy shut and bolted the door, then leaned back against it. Was this what her life would consist of now? Staying home with a crying baby while her friends continued to live carefree lives, visiting all the trendiest spots in the city? She had acknowledged the fact that her life would change when she resumed caring for Jacob, but the changes had seemed so theoretical. Now she was faced with the reality of the situation. It just wasn't fair. Was it so wrong to want to have a social life? A boyfriend? She'd have to think of something. Maybe the woman who owned the daycare center could recommend a babysitter…
She wandered into the kitchen, thankful that he had stopped screaming, at least temporarily. She rifled through the empty cupboards and sighed. She would have to go grocery shopping soon. Maybe tomorrow.
The apartment seemed eerily quiet now that Jacob had stopped screaming. Suddenly Lucy noticed a quiet buzzing noise. She looked around the kitchen and rolled her eyes when she noticed the phone was off the hook. She had slammed it down on a telemarketer a couple of hours earlier and apparently hadn't hung it up correctly.
She looked at the phone in her hand for a second, feeling as if she was supposed to remember something. Finally she shrugged and hung it up.
Almost immediately the phone rang.
"Lucy?!" Lois' frantic voice came from the receiver. "Where have you been? We've been trying to call for hours and all we get is a busy signal! You were supposed to call us as soon as you got in!"
Crap. That was what she was supposed to remember about the phone.
"Sorry," she said. "I just forgot."
"You just forgot?! We've been worried sick!" Lois' voice was sharp and panicky. Dozens of phone calls answered by nothing but a busy signal had them on edge. If Lucy hadn't answered this time, Clark had vowed to fly to New York himself to figure out what was going on.
"Look, I said I'm sorry. What more do you want?"
Clark took a deep breath and ran his hands soothingly over Lois' arms. "Let it go," he whispered. "We don't want to make her mad…"
Lois' eyes flared, but she nodded at Clark's words and tried valiantly to moderate her tone of voice.
"OK. Fine. How's Jake? How was the trip? Is he OK?"
"He's fine," Lucy said in an exasperated voice. There was no way she was going to admit what a disaster the day had been.
"Is he really, Luce?" Lois asked in a softer voice. "He must be confused…scared…"
Clark pulled her into his arms and waited for Lucy's response.
Lucy hesitated. Then, as if to answer the question himself, Jacob began to cry again.
"What's the matter?" Lois asked immediately, on the verge of tears.
"Nothing," Lucy snapped. "He's a baby. He cries."
Lucy felt a twist of guilt when she heard Lois begin to cry. After a second, Clark's voice came on the phone.
"Is everything OK, Lucy?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed, jiggling the whimpering baby.
"You know, if you need anything — *anything* — you can call us. Night or day. It doesn't matter."
Lucy felt her anger slip a little at the genuine concern in his voice.
"We aren't trying to hurt you, Lucy. We just love him."
"I know," she said quietly. After a pause, she surprised herself by asking, "How are you guys?"
Clark sighed, stroking Lois' hair with his free hand. "Honestly? You don't want to know."
Lucy's guard slipped, and she suddenly saw this through their eyes. A child they had loved as their own lost to them. It must be…
"The worst day of my life…" Clark whispered.
Lucy swallowed the lump in her throat and forced herself not think about the bitter irony of the situation — just moments ago she had been wishing she wasn't saddled with a baby, and yet here were two people whose lives were being destroyed because she insisted that she wanted to be.
When Lucy said nothing, Clark continued. "Lucy, we were just wondering… I know you're busy and you have to work, but we were thinking maybe we could come out and stay for a while. You know, to help with the transition. We could stay at a hotel if you don't have room for us… We just want to help…"
Lucy pondered the offer for a minute. "I don't know… I don't want to confuse him any more than he already is. He has to accept that I'm his mother now."
Clark winced. He knew it was a long shot, but he had prayed she would accept their help.
"OK," he said quietly. "But the offer's still open. Anytime you decide you want our help, just say the word. We can be there…" in an instant, he finished silently.
"Maybe after he's all settled in… Maybe you could come for a visit then."
"Sure, Lucy. Just say when. We'll be there."
"Well, I should probably get going…"
"Yeah. Give him a kiss for us, OK? And tell him that we love him."
Clark's voice cracked and Lucy found herself battling back involuntary tears.
"I will. And, Clark…thanks for everything. I know I haven't seemed very grateful, but I really do appreciate all you've done for us…although you probably wouldn't do it again if you knew in the beginning how it would turn out…"
"In a heartbeat," he whispered.
"What?" she asked, certain that she had heard incorrectly.
"We'd do it again in a heartbeat. Lucy… Giving him back has been the hardest thing we've ever had to do, but we wouldn't trade the time we had with him for anything in the world. The last six months have been the best months of my life. *Nothing* could ever make me regret them. I'll cherish these memories for the rest of my life."
Lucy was speechless.
"Goodnight, Lucy. If you need us, you know how to get hold of us," he said softly.
"Goodnight, Clark," she managed to choke out before placing the phone on the hook and breaking into sobs.
She moved to the sofa and looked at the baby in her arms. "What have I done?" she whispered.
Lucy hugged her knees to her chest and watched the sun rise through the picture window in her living room. She had been awake all night, exhausted, but unable to sleep. She had spent the night honestly examining her motives for claiming Jacob.
She hadn't exactly been honest with Lois when she had told her that she had thought about Jacob daily and that she had spent the six months they were separated preparing for his return. In reality, she had only thought about him sporadically. When she left him with Lois she really did have every intention of returning for him as soon as she could. But after only a few days in New York she found herself relishing her freedom. She was a naturally social person, and she had hated the isolation she had felt during her pregnancy and in the weeks following Jacob's birth.
So when she moved to New York it was so easy to fall back into her old lifestyle. Most of her acquaintances didn't even know she had a child. Her new friends were all childless, and the topic just never seemed to come up. After a while she hadn't even thought about going back for him anymore.
She had thought about calling Lois, just to make sure they were OK, but she was afraid that Lois would convince to her to come back and give up her freedom again.
She felt an occasional pang of guilt, but she pushed it aside, assuring herself that Lois was competent and had yet to fail at anything she had set her mind too. Surely taking care of a baby would be just one more dazzling success for her.
All of that had changed a couple of weeks ago when Maggie had dropped by with a copy of the New York Times.
The first thing Lucy had noticed was the byline. She knew that her sister was very successful, and that her articles were occasionally syndicated and run in other papers, but she had still been surprised to see her sister's byline on the lead story. Then her eyes had drifted to the headline, and her stomach plummeted to her feet. She sat for an hour reading and rereading the article. She had felt used, betrayed, and incredibly stupid. Lois and Clark had stressed that the women were just as much victims as the children were, and that no one could blame them for what had happened, but Lucy couldn't help but feel guilty as well. And then she felt relieved. At least she had changed her mind. At least her baby wasn't among the hundred or so that the police were struggling to identify and find homes for. Her baby was safe.
And *then* she had missed him.
She hadn't really thought about him in months, and now he was back in the front of her mind. She remembered the tiny baby that had been placed in her arms five months ago and realized that she had abandoned him.
It hadn't helped that she was just getting over another relationship, and she was feeling lonely and abandoned herself. The pain she was already feeling was amplified by the memory of the pain she had felt when Jason had left her. Suddenly she desperately needed someone to love. And in her mind she had seen her baby — abandoned by the two people who were supposed to love him more than anything in world — and she had decided that the only way to heal both of their pain was to find him and to bring him home. Immediately, she set to work arranging for the arrival of her baby.
What she hadn't counted on was that Jacob wasn't the abandoned infant she had imagined. He was a happy, well- adjusted baby with his own little personality and a deep love for the people he thought were his parents.
She had never doubted that Lois would take good care of him, but she had never imagined how attached they would become to each other. For some reason, when she decided to take her son back she had imagined that they had spent the last five months waiting patiently for her return, and that they would welcome her with open arms.
She shook her head sadly. Naive. She was so naive sometimes.
So when Lois had told her that she and Clark intended to adopt Jacob, she was floored. The thought that they would not leap at the chance to unload him had never occurred to her.
That, Lucy realized, was the biggest difference between them. She still thought of Jacob as a burden. Lois and Clark saw him as a valuable part of their family. When Lucy was away from him, she was relieved. When Lois and Clark were away from him, they were miserable.
Lucy closed her eyes as she recalled Clark's desolate tone as he told her how much they loved Jake, and how much they missed him.
He had said that yesterday, the day they had given Jacob up, was 'the worst day of his life.' Lucy asked herself if the day she had dropped her two-week-old infant off with her sister had been the worst day of her life.
Probably not, came the honest answer.
Certainly it was hard, horrible even. But she could think of a dozen other times in her life that she had been more upset. And what she had felt did not even begin to compare to what she knew Lois and Clark were feeling now.
Lucy sighed again. There was only one thing to do.
She stood and began to walk toward the phone when Jacob began to cry. She changed course and headed for the bedroom. She leaned over the cradle, and when he realized it was her, he began to cry harder. She leaned forward, scooped him into her arms and carried him into the living room, settling back into the window seat.
Jacob's cries quieted as he seemed to search the sky. Lucy was surprised to find that now that she had made a decision to do the right thing, his cries no longer drove her crazy. Instead she found herself sympathizing with him. For the first time, she allowed herself to view this all through his eyes. He had no idea what was going on. All he knew was that a stranger had taken him away from the only parents and the only home he had ever known, and brought him to a strange new place where everything was unfamiliar. It was no wonder he cried so much. He must be terrified. Lucy was thoroughly chastened to realize that this was what Lois had been referring to when she had beseeched her to think about how this would affect him.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, stroking the baby's head. "I didn't really give any thought to your feelings, did I?"
He looked up at her, eyes wide and glistening with unshed tears. He began to whimper again.
"Hey, hey," she whispered soothingly. "It's going to be OK. I promise."
When she looked at his tears she no longer felt that he was crying just to spite her. He was just a scared little baby. She felt tears come to her own eyes.
"You miss your Mommy, don't you?" she whispered.
He looked around, as if expecting to see Lois, then cried more pitifully when he didn't find her. Lucy cried silently, acknowledging the fact that she wasn't really his mother, hadn't ever really been.
Lucy sniffled and tried to pull herself together. "I'll tell you what, honey. We're going to fix this. It'll be all better soon, you'll see. And you know what? I'm going to be the best aunt in the world. I'll send you presents and come to visit you, and when you get older maybe your parents will let you come visit me. I think you'll really like New York. It's no Metropolis, but it's a pretty great city." Lucy's voice cracked as she forced herself to go on. "I'll always love you…but I can't keep you here. It's not what you need. You already have a Mommy and Daddy who love you very much, and you belong with them. I just hope you don't hate me when you grow up. I know I did some really stupid things, but…" She broke down, sobbing.
Later, when Lucy had cried herself out, she walked into the kitchen and made the phone call.
Clark landed gently on the balcony and walked slowly into the living room. Lois stirred sleepily in his arms.
"We're home, sweetheart," he whispered, bending his head to kiss her lightly.
After moping around the apartment most of the morning, Lois and Clark had forced themselves to go out for an early lunch, hoping the fresh air would soothe their spirits.
That had lasted for approximately thirty seconds. They had no sooner descended from the stairs to the sidewalk when they bumped into a woman pushing a stroller containing a little boy just slightly bigger than Jake. One look and Lois had burst into tears.
"Oh, God. Come here, honey. It's OK." He pulled her into his arms, and tried unsuccessfully to give the very confused woman a reassuring smile. The woman looked slightly alarmed.
"It's OK," he said again, to the lady this time, and bustled Lois back up the stairs.
Once inside he pulled away for a second and spun into the suit.
She looked up at him, confused. "Where are you going?" she asked through her tears.
He scooped her into his arms and headed for the balcony. "Smallville."
A couple of hours on the farm had helped them both. Lois had really needed time to talk with Martha and cry on her shoulder, and Clark had drawn strength from the hours spent working along side his father in the fields. Jonathan was a man of few words, but the words he spoke were carefully chosen, and imparted a wisdom that could only be gained with age and experience.
Clark gently slid Lois to a standing position. She kept her arms around his neck and tugged him into a warm hug. "Thank you, Clark. I love you."
"I love you, too, sweetheart." He hugged her tightly, thankful that their time in Smallville had helped her some.
Lois pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and pulled away. Clark spun back into his jeans and sweater. Lois smiled at him, but he noticed that it wasn't the same smile she usually gave him after watching him spin change. The smile was genuine, but it just didn't quite seem to reach her eyes.
"Why don't you see if there's a movie on TV, hon? I'll get us something to drink. We can just chill on the couch for a while."
"That sounds like a good idea," Lois said, flopping on the couch a reaching for the remote. She paused for a second, her eyes following him into the kitchen. "Hey, honey? The answering machine's blinking. Hit the button, will ya?"
Clark reached over and hit the button before opening the cupboard to reach for glasses.
"Um… Hi guys. It's me, Lucy. I just… I need to talk to you. It's about Jake. It's really important, so give me a call when you get in, OK? You have the number."
Lois was on her feet making a mad dash to the phone. "She sounds really upset! Oh my God! How long ago did she call?!"
Clark stepped back and spun into the suit. He covered her hand with his and stopped her from picking up the phone.
"Don't bother," he said, scooping her into his arms and speeding out the window.
Minutes later, Clark landed in an alley near Lucy's apartment and they hurried inside. Lois rolled her eyes at the sleeping doorman, and they rushed past the front desk and into the elevator.
Lois pounded on the door to Lucy's apartment, shifting nervously from one foot to the other. She was just about to ask Clark to x-ray the apartment when the door swung open.
"Lois?! Clark?!" Lucy gasped. "How did you -? I just called a half hour ago…"
Lois and Clark exchanged a quick glance. "Superman," Lois said.
"Superman flew you here?" Lucy asked incredulously.
"He's a friend of ours," Clark explained. "We told him it was an emergency. Where's Jake? Is he OK?"
Lucy glanced back and forth between their worried faces. "Oh! Oh, no! I'm sorry. He's fine! Come in, come in," she said, pulling them into the apartment. "He's asleep in the bedroom. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
They both relaxed visibly.
"Can we see him?" Lois asked shakily.
"Yes! Yes, of course," Lucy said, gesturing to the bedroom. She kicked herself for not being more specific in her message. The last thing she wanted to do was cause them any more pain.
In the bedroom, Lois and Clark hovered over the cradle. She watched as Clark pulled Lois into his arms and nuzzled her neck. "He's fine," he whispered. "Look at him. He looks like a little angel."
"Oh, Jake," Lois whispered, reaching to tuck his blanket around him. "I love you, baby. We were so worried about you. We love you so much."
Lucy felt the lump growing in her throat again. How could she have ever doubted what she had to do? This was so right. She cleared her throat, and Lois and Clark raised their eyes to meet hers.
"Can I talk to you guys for a minute?"
They nodded and followed her into the living room. She waited until they were seated on the sofa, then sat in the chair facing them.
She wrung her hands nervously. "Look, I'm not quite sure how to say this, so I'm just going to come out and say it. I was wrong. And I am *so* sorry. I just… I wasn't thinking clearly I guess, but I thought about it all night and all morning, and I realized that you were right. You are his parents, and I never should have tried to take him away from you. I really thought that I loved him and I was doing the right thing, but now I realize how badly I've screwed everything up. I'm sorry -" Lucy began to cry.
Lois and Clark exchanged confused but hopeful looks. "Luce?" Lois asked. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying," she replied shakily, "that I want you to adopt him. I'll sign whatever papers you need me to sign to make it official. I should have done it in the first place. I'm sorry."
Lois' jaw dropped. "Oh…wow. Lucy, are you sure? I mean, you really mean it?"
Lucy nodded and smiled as she realized that she had once again brought her sister to tears, but they were tears of joy and relief this time.
"I was up all night thinking about this. And I realized that everything you said to me was true. I'm *not* responsible enough to take care of a child. I'm not ready for this. But even more importantly, Jake already has parents who love him. It was wrong of me to try to take that away from him. He loves you, and he's missed you horribly. I feel…just…awful for making him so miserable. I never should have taken him away from you. You guys have been wonderful parents. I know that you adore him, and I know that the past couple of days have been torture for you. And for that, I am *so* sorry. I can never make it up to you. But I can fix my mistake before it gets any bigger. I want you to take him…right away. You shouldn't have to spend another day away from him, and he's missed you just as much as you've missed him."
Lois stared at Lucy, still too shocked to say anything. Finally she turned to Clark and collapsed in his arms. Lucy noticed for the first time that Clark was crying too.
"Oh, Clark. He's coming home. Our baby's coming home," Lois cried softly, clinging to his neck.
"I know. I know," he whispered. "Everything's going to be OK."
After a minute Lois sat back and began to pull herself together, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand.
Jake's soft cries came from the bedroom, and Lois and Lucy locked eyes for a minute. "Let me," Lucy said softly. "One more time."
Lois nodded, and Lucy slipped into the bedroom. A minute later she returned carrying the still-crying baby. "Look, Jake. Look who's here, sweetie," she whispered, juggling him so he could see Lois and Clark on the couch. His cries stopped immediately and his face lit into a smile. He waved his arms, reaching for them.
Clark reached for him, taking him from Lucy and placing him gently in Lois' arms. Their eyes met for a moment, and Lois reached her free hand to stroke his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered. He smiled sweetly at her, then they both turned their attention to the baby in her arms.
"Did you miss us, sweetie?" Lois cooed, tickling him gently. "We sure missed you."
- Epilogue -
"…Happy Birthday, dear Jake! Happy Birthday to you!" Lois leaned over and helped Jake blow out the single candle on his cake. She pulled the candle from the cake and fussed with his bib for a second before backing away.
"OK, buddy. It's all yours," she said, cringing as he plunged his little fists into cake and smeared the chocolate frosting all over himself.
The small crowd of family and friends assembled in their dining room burst into laughter.
Lois turned to Charlotte Montero and rolled her eyes jokingly. "I'm never going to get all the frosting out of his hair," she groaned.
"Enjoy it while you can," Charlotte laughed.
"Mommy! Look at the mess Jake is making!" Emma exclaimed, her lips curling in disgust.
The adults burst out laughing, and Emma looked confused as she daintily kicked her feet, rustling the frills on her party dress.
"It's OK, Emma," Lois reassured her. "That's why he has a cake all of his own."
Emma still didn't look convinced, and turned to her mother with raised eyebrows. "For real?"
"Yes, honey, for real," she said with a laugh.
Emma looked as though she had a sneaking suspicion all the adults in the room had temporarily lost their minds. Charlotte handed her a piece of cake and turned to Lois. "David said to tell you he was sorry he couldn't make it. He was so upset that he couldn't be here today."
"It's OK. We understand. It's not every day the President invites you to come to Washington and speak before Congress."
"True," Charlotte said with a grin. "He really did want to be here, though. He told me to make sure you got it all on video."
"As if reminding us was necessary! We're talking about Clark 'I might as well have the video camera surgically implanted in my hand' Kent."
"Hey! I heard that!" Clark called from where he stood at the other end of the table.
Lois walked over and wrapped her arms around his waist. She glanced at the video camera in his hand then met his eyes again with a smirk.
"OK, fine," he laughed. "But someday you are going to appreciate this!"
"I already appreciate it," she said softly, kissing him quickly on the cheek.
"I love you," he whispered, moving to kiss her lips.
"I love you, too."
"All right, all right!" Perry muttered as they reluctantly pulled apart. "As if I don't have to witness enough of this lovey-dovey newlywed drivel in my newsroom."
"You think that's bad? You ought to see them when you're not looking," Jimmy teased.
Perry gave up his fake consternation, and joined in the laughter.
Jimmy eased the camera from Clark's hand and panned the room before focusing on Lois and Clark. Clark had slipped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. He whispered something in her ear, making her giggle before turning her chin to kiss her again.
"Good idea, son," Perry said. "Now when my godson grows up and watches the video of his first birthday party, he can witness the spectacle his parents like to make."
Clark laughed. "I don't know, Chief. Something tells me that by the time he's old enough to watch these videos, he'll be used to witnessing these 'spectacles.'"
Perry accepted the piece of cake Martha handed him and said, "I just don't know about this son of yours, Martha."
Martha laughed and gave Jonathan a quick hug. "Where do you think he learned it from?"
Perry chuckled and decided to quit while he was ahead.
"So, Lois, where's your family today?" Charlotte asked.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Who knows? My father said something about a new 'breakthrough,' and my mother is in Europe somewhere. Sweden? Holland? I can't remember."
"And Lucy," Clark added, "is terribly upset that she couldn't be here, but she's helping on a big case that's going to trial on Monday, and she just can't get away. Apparently one of the partners has really taken Lucy under her wing, and she's encouraging her to go to law school. She says Lucy has real potential."
Lois smiled, wondering if maybe this time her sister had finally really found her niche. She couldn't remember ever seeing her this happy. The firm she worked for was a big corporate firm, but they did a lot of pro bono work for what they considered to be good causes. Lucy was currently working on a case trying to prevent a group of historical homes from being bulldozed to build a corporate center. When Lucy called earlier that morning, she had rambled on passionately for nearly a half hour.
She was back in school now, taking evening and weekend classes. She was scheduled to graduate in a year and half, and the way things were looking, law school was a definite possibility. Lois shook her head trying to replace the image of her free-spirited little sister with the picture of a high-powered attorney.
Lucy was still Lucy, though, Lois thought with a grin. She had also rambled for a half an hour about her wild social life and the newest man in her life. This guy actually had a job, but he still seemed a bit immature. But Lois had decided to reserve judgment for once, acknowledging that her sister was a grown woman who was capable of making her own decisions.
In between ramblings, Lucy had asked a million questions about Jake, and had repeated over and over that she wished she could be there for his birthday. Lois really had to give her credit; she had worked hard to become a great aunt. She called often, and had even come for a visit over Thanksgiving. Lois had been terrified for the week before Lucy arrived, sure that Lucy would change her mind again once she saw him. The adoption papers had all been filed, but the judge hadn't made it final yet, and Lois couldn't help but think back to what had happened before.
Her fears were unfounded though, because Lucy's visit had only served to strengthen her resolve. Seeing Jake so happy and well taken care of had proven to her yet again that she had made the right decision. And without the strain of motherhood, Lucy realized that she actually enjoyed spending time with him. She played with him and cuddled him, but was perfectly content to hand him over when he got cranky or tired. Jake had warmed to her quickly, and Lois found herself feeling grateful that her son would have an aunt who loved him as much as Lucy did.
"They remembered to send gifts, though," Jimmy said, gesturing to the mound of brightly colored packages on the coffee table in the living room.
"Yeah, I don't know what they sent, but it looks like it's a good thing Jake is going to have his own room soon," Clark said, gesturing to where Jake's things, including his crib, had taken over the living room.
"Ah, yes. The new house," Charlotte said. "When are you moving in?"
"Well, we take possession on January 1st, and we're moving in ASAP," Lois laughed. "I'm really gonna miss this place, but we desperately need the room."
"I can't wait to see it," Perry said. "It sounds great."
"Oh, it is! It's a big old brownstone with this great iron work…and we couldn't ask for a better location. It's right on Hyperion Avenue, so it's close to work, but it's in a nice neighborhood where Jake can make lots of friends and play outside," Lois said.
"Well, you guys will just have to have a party and invite us all over as soon as you get all moved in," Jimmy teased.
"We will," Clark said. "As a matter of fact, if we get things moved in quickly enough, I was thinking about having a Superbowl party. I can't wait to watch the game on the big screen TV Lois' parents got us as a wedding gift."
"Yes!" Jimmy exclaimed. "You can count me in."
"Oh, Lord. Male bonding." Lois turned to Charlotte and grimaced. "I say you send David to my house, and you and I can hang out at your house with the kids!"
"Sounds like a plan," Charlotte laughed.
Five hours later, an exhausted Lois collapsed on the couch. "What a day! Look at this mess. We'll never get this all cleaned up."
"Ah, but you forget…" Clark grinned. Lois watched in amusement as Clark disappeared and a Clark-shaped blur streaked around the apartment. After a few seconds, the blur slowed to stop in front of her. Lois glanced around the immaculate apartment, then back to where Clark stood, his arms folded across his chest in his famous Superman pose.
"That's right. I forgot." She grinned, reaching for his hand. She pulled him down beside her and kissed him gently. "I forgot just how *super* my husband is."
Clark rolled his eyes and kissed her again. When he pulled away, all teasing was gone from his eyes. "Have I told you yet today how much I love you?"
"Yeah," Lois whispered. "But you can tell me again if you want. I never get tired of hearing it."
Clark chuckled softly. "Well, I never get tired of telling you, but I think I'd rather show you."
"Mmm, I think that could be arranged," Lois said, leaning in for another kiss.
Just as Clark's fingers were threading through her hair, pulling her closer to deepen the kiss, there was a whimper from the crib.
Lois and Clark let our identical groans, and pulled away reluctantly. They stood to peek in the crib and were relieved to see Jake resettle himself and fall back to sleep. Clark pulled Lois into his arms, and they watched him sleep for a moment, the irritation they had felt at the interruption forgotten.
Lois sighed softly. "Can you believe that a year ago today, we had no idea that he even existed?"
"It doesn't seem real, does it?"
"Not at all."
"It's been quite a year for us, hasn't it?" Clark asked, capturing her left hand and tracing her rings with his the tip of his thumb. "Don't forget, a year ago today we hadn't even been on our first date."
Lois turned silently in his arms to face him. "This has been, without a doubt, the best year of my life, Clark. You make me so happy."
"You make *me* happy. Happier than I could ever tell you. You've given me everything I've ever dreamed of."
Lois stretched up and kissed him gently, then turned back around to gaze at the baby in the crib. The lights from the Christmas tree reflected on his skin, and in the dim light of the apartment he almost seemed to glow.
"I love him so much," she whispered.
"I know. Me too. When I think about how close we came to losing him…" Clark chOked up.
Lois shivered. "I know…"
"I have something for you," Clark said softly. He disappeared into the bedroom and emerged with a manila envelope. He handed it to her and wrapped his arms around her again. "It's an early Christmas present."
"Is this what came during the party?" Lois asked.
Clark nodded. "It can't wait until Christmas, but I wanted to wait until we were alone."
Lois looked at him, intrigued.
"Open it, honey."
Lois smiled at him for a second, then opened the envelope and pulled out a stack of papers. She looked at them for a second, confused, then began flipping through them. Slowly, their significance began to dawn on her.
"Oh, Clark," she whispered.
Lois began to cry softly. She turned and hugged him tightly, still clutching the documents.
"Shh. I know," Clark whispered. "It's official, sweetheart. He's ours. Forever."