By Anne Spear (email@example.com)
Submitted: January 2002
Summary: In this prequel to the author's "Tales from the Krypt," Lois helps Clark make an important decision.
Notes: Although this story has the same characters of "Tales from the Krypt," it's not necessary to read both. After reading this, if you want to see the other, I certainly won't complain. It can be found in this same archive. I'd like to thank both of my editors, Rachel and LabRat. Also, my beta reader, Craig. Please send all comments and criticisms to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clark Kent quietly shut the front door of his home and looked around the living room. The house fire he'd just finished putting out as his alter-ego Superman had taken a lot out of him emotionally. He was surprised that Lois and the kids weren't there. Usually, at this time every night, the kids were on the couch arguing over the remote, while Lois tried to work at the desk. Often, Clark would enter the living room, or look over at Lois from where he was sitting across the room, and see that she really wasn't working at all, but gazing at the children with misty eyes. He knew she was thinking how lucky they were to have them. He knew exactly what she was thinking because he would usually be thinking the very same thing.
It was amazing how quickly things could change. When Lois and Clark first met she was a confirmed bachelor; she had sworn off men, she was completely uncomfortable around children and work was her whole life. At that time, Clark had just begun both of his careers; journalist for the Daily Planet and superhero. How could they have imagined then that within four years they'd be married, but told they weren't able to have children together?
Clark walked through the empty living room and pushed open the swinging double doors to the kitchen.
"Kids?" Clark called into the also empty kitchen. The room was messy, but not any worse than when Lois tried to cook. In fact, that's exactly how it looked, like everything had been left from dinner, which would have been an hour ago. Lois insisted that the family follow a strict schedule every night: dinner at six, then both kids helping with the dishes, then TV until bedtime at seven thirty.
Seeing the dirty bowls in the sink reminded Clark of the first time Lois had tried to bake cupcakes for Elizabeth's class. Liz was in the second grade, and she'd waited until the night before to inform her parents that she needed thirty six cupcakes the next morning. When Lois had suggested stopping at a bakery, you'd have thought the little drama queen was going to pass out. "But all the other moms ALWAYS make homemade," she insisted.
"Yes, but how many of the other moms have Kerth awards?" Lois countered, teasingly.
"Mother, are you saying you CAN'T bake cupcakes?" Liz asked innocently.
Without another word, Lois drove into the parking lot of the nearest grocery store for the necessary ingredients for cupcakes. But she couldn't just buy a cake mix and a muffin pan. No, Lois Lane had to find a cookbook that included a recipe to make cupcakes from scratch. So, after purchasing the cookbook, muffin pan, little paper cups, flour, sugar, shortening, cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar (for the icing — also from scratch) and the other ingredients, the grocery bill came to over $30.
At home, Lois suggested that Clark make hamburgers on the grill for dinner so that she could start baking. After two failed batches, the third batch of cupcakes was deemed acceptable by Lois the Perfectionist. Clark carried a passed-out Bobby upstairs and tucked both kids into bed while Lois sealed the cupcakes into an airtight container. That had been the only time in all the years they knew each other that Clark had seen Lois leave a messy kitchen overnight. However, knowing the condition she'd left things, Lois tossed and turned until two in the morning and finally donned a pair of Clark's sleeping boxers with her nightshirt. Clark found her in the kitchen forty-five minutes later, wiping down the counters.
Clark glanced at the wall clock above the sink and realized it was only seven thirty. Thinking Lois may have insisted the kids go to sleep early tonight, Clark took the stairs two at a time in his haste to check. Not too long ago, he would have flown up the stairs, but he'd gotten out of the habit of using his powers in the house. When they'd first learned that Lois was pregnant, they had discussed Lois' wish to provide a normal, stable family life. They knew the need might arise someday to tell the kids the truth, but they both wanted to keep Clark's double life from their kids as long as possible. To that end, whenever they realized that Superman was needed, Clark would suddenly have a source that he needed to talk with, or a stakeout he had to attend. He also got very good at making his computer break down, so he'd have to use the one at work. He would always leave and return in street clothes, changing into Superman once he had left the house. He realized that as the children got older, his excuses would have to get more creative. Maybe he should pretend to take up jogging.
After checking both kids' rooms and the bathroom, Clark finished in the master bedroom that he shared with Lois. The only room he hadn't checked was the attic. Ignoring how remote that possibility was, Clark lowered his glasses and x-rayed the ceiling, just to be sure. It was as empty as the rest of the house.
Now Clark was really getting worried. He rushed back downstairs and searched the living room and kitchen for any sign of what might have happened. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he reached for the desk phone and dialed the number for the Daily Planet. If Lois had a story emergency, she may have brought the kids to work with her. Lois' phone was answered by her voice mail. Without leaving a message, Clark pressed '0' to go back to the automated operator, then dialed Perry's extension.
"White," Perry answered after the second ring.
"Perry, it's Clark. Is Lois there by any chance?"
"No, Son. Why? Did you lose her?" Perry asked.
"I don't know," Clark answered, hesitantly. "I was out for a little while and when I got back, she and the kids weren't home."
"Lois didn't leave a note or anything?"
"No, nothing, and now I'm starting to worry," Clark admitted.
"Did you try calling her parents?" Perry suggested.
"No, they're out of the country again, and Lucy's still in California."
"I wish I could help, Clark, but I haven't seen Lois since y'all left together earlier. If I do see her, I'll let her know you called," Perry offered.
"Thanks, anyway," Clark answered before hanging up. He immediately lifted the receiver and dialed Jimmy's number at home. Besides being a co-worker and a good friend, Jimmy was the godfather of Liz and Bobby. On more than one occasion, Lois and Clark had asked Jimmy to baby-sit, although he usually came over to the Kent home, so the kids would be more comfortable.
Jimmy answered his phone on the first ring, "Yello."
"Hey, Jimmy. It's Clark."
"Have you seen or talked to Lois tonight?" Clark asked.
"Naw. Not since you guys left work. Did something happen to her?"
"I hope not. I went out for about an hour and when I got back, the house was empty."
"Well, I've been here since six, and you're the only one who's called. You know, whenever you need someone to watch the kids, I jump at the chance to spend time with them," Jimmy assured him.
"Yeah, I know," Clark answered, "and we really appreciate it."
"Well, let me know if there's anything I can do to help find them," Jimmy offered.
"Thanks. I'm sure it's something simple. Lois probably just needed something from the store, but I'll let you know."
Clark hung up the receiver and reached for the address book. After looking up an entry and lifting the receiver again, he dialed another number.
"Star? It's Clark."
"Oh, hi, Clark. Is everything okay?"
"Why do you ask?" When Lois and Clark first met Star, he was very skeptical of her claim to being psychic, but Lois insisted on asking for Star's help on a few stories, and she'd really come through for them. Clark especially appreciated her help when they were fighting Baron Sunday. If Star hadn't helped Clark overcome those visions the Baron was sending, things would have ended very differently.
"Well, your voice is very sad. Wait, don't tell me…you've lost something, no…someone. Oh, Clark. I'm sorry. Was it your dad? Heart attack, right?"
Clark was stunned for just a second by Star's comments. "No, no. It's nothing like that. Mom and Dad are both fine. But you were right about my losing someone, just not so metaphorically."
"What do you mean?" Star asked.
"Lois and the kids weren't here when I got home, and I thought she may have talked to you," Clark explained. "Have you heard from her?"
"No, not since we had lunch last week, but don't worry, she's fine."
"Is that a prediction?"
"Just reassurance," Star answered. "Since I haven't received any messages saying she isn't, she must be fine."
Clark sighed. "Thanks, Star." He hung up the receiver and was reaching for the address book again when the front door opened. Clark turned to see Lois guiding Liz into the house with one hand and carrying Bobby in the other arm.
"What happened?" Clark asked, reaching for his sleepy son to relieve Lois. "Where have you been? I have been frantically calling everyone I could think of looking for you. I was even thinking of calling Superman to start searching."
"I thought you were with Superman earlier," Lois commented.
"I was…house fire…long story, but what happened to Bobby?" Clark asked when he noticed that the six-year-old's face was swollen and blotchy.
"Hives…also a long story. Help me get them to bed and I'll explain."
After both children were changed into pajamas and tucked into their own beds, Lois and Clark sought their room. Clark sat on the bed while Lois went to the closet to set out clothes for the next day. "Okay," Clark started, "how did Bobby get hives?"
"According to the ER doctor, probably a food allergy and, since it's the only new thing he's had today, most likely coconut," Lois explained.
"But you never cook with coconut," Clark pointed out.
"Right," Lois agreed, "because I don't like it myself. But today was Stevie's birthday and HIS mother brought cupcakes to school decorated with green coconut and gummy worms. Since Bobby's had gummy bears in the past and nothing's happened, Dr. Michaels suspects it was the coconut that caused the reaction."
"Was it really bad?" Clark wanted to know.
"Bad enough," Lois answered vaguely. Clark lifted his eyebrows and shrugged, indicating he needed more information. Lois sighed and walked into the bathroom while continuing. "The rash started along the bottom of his jaw and moved up his cheeks and down his neck. Before I could get a call into Dr. Freidman's service, he was having trouble swallowing. We rushed to the Emergency Room, where Dr. Michaels gave him a shot of epinephrine and took a blood sample for a radioallergosorbent test. He should be calling next week with the results."
Clark walked up behind Lois as she set her hairbrush on the counter top and wrapped his arms around her waist. "I should have been here," he whispered.
"You were busy," Lois answered. "Besides, you WERE here, in spirit. Isn't that what you told the press after everyone thought that Superman and I were having an affair?"
"'In spirit' isn't enough anymore," Clark said, turning Lois around to face him. "After I finished putting out that fire tonight, the family came over to thank me. The house was almost completely gone and yet, they still THANKED me for TRYING to save their home. The kids were the same ages as our kids and their mother was raising them alone, and all I could think was that could be you and our kids some night when I'm off saving some stranger." As he explained, Clark took Lois' hand and led her back into the bedroom. He sat on the end of the bed and pulled her down into his lap. "I've been wrestling with the idea of cutting back on my Superman activities, but after what happened tonight, I'm thinking of just retiring him altogether."
Lois was shocked. "No," she blurted. "You can't stop being Superman."
"Why not?" Clark asked.
"Because it's who you are. Superman isn't just a costume. Superman is your life," Lois countered.
"You and the kids are my life," Clark answered. "Nothing matters to me as much as this family."
"And we know that," Lois assured him. "But Superman isn't just a hobby that you can pack up and forget about then start up again when you have more time. A lot of people depend on him."
"My family depends on me more."
"Your family expects you to be true to yourself. Imagine you did give it up. Every time you heard about some emergency or catastrophe that could have been avoided with your help, you would feel guilty. Eventually, that guilt would turn to bitterness and resentment, directed at us, because it was our fault that you stopped doing what you were born to do."
"I would never let that happen," Clark insisted.
"You can't know that for certain. Not unless you don't quit."
"I just feel like I can't do it all anymore, and you're picking up too much of the slack, both here and at work," Clark explained.
"I knew what I was getting into before we were married." Clark started to argue further, but Lois stopped him. "Do you remember right after we met, when everyone at work was desperate to find out everything they could about this new hero?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "How could I forget? You were like a woman possessed; stealing Jimmy's idea, following me to my new apartment because you thought I had a lead, even believing that stupid map I sent to teach you a lesson."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Lois answered, impatiently. "That's not what I meant. Right around that time, there were some weird things happening, like someone was trying to test Superman's abilities."
"Luthor," Clark whispered angrily.
"That was Lex?"
"I could never prove it, but I always suspected him," Clark explained. "Is there a point to this trip down Memory Lane?"
"Yes, if you'd let me finish. After those tests, Superman seemed to quit for a while. I guessed it was to make sure that no innocent by-standers were hurt because of him."
"That was basically what happened," Clark confirmed. He didn't want to admit to her that she was the innocent by- stander he was mainly concerned about.
"And do you remember a certain reporter who returned from a drive-by shooting feeling the weight of the entire world on his shoulders?"
"Vaguely," Clark muttered, lowering his eyes.
"And I'm sure you remember the conversation we had about how important the idea of Superman is to the world. Little did I know at the time that I was really convincing Superman to come back," Lois continued.
"Of course I remember," Clark insisted. "If it hadn't been for you, my costumes would still be packed away in that old suitcase in the back of my closet."
"Well, the world hasn't changed that much since then," Lois explained. "People still need Superman to give them hope."
"I know," Clark admitted. "I guess I just needed to be reminded."
"That's my job, giving you a good prod when you need it," Lois answered, poking Clark in the ribs.
Five years later
Clark and 15-year-old Liz were toasting marshmallows over a campfire. Liz had just found out that she and her brother were half Kryptonian a little over a week ago, and she'd been testing her new-found powers all day.
"Okay," Clark started. "So far, we know you can see about two miles and hear about the same distance. You have increased strength and speed and x-ray vision, but no heat vision or super-cold breath, although those could develop as you get older. Tomorrow, we'll test flying before we head back to Metropolis."
"Cool," Liz whispered.
"Don't get your hopes up," Clark warned. "Like I said before, flying was the last thing I learned how to do. Learning to control it took even longer. I remember, one time, my dad and I were in the barn searching for our cat, Mr. Whiskers. Somehow, he had gotten all the way up into the rafters and couldn't find his way back down. Dad went to get the ladder, but I figured I could get up there faster my way. So I levitated up and right past the cat until I hit my head on the ceiling. Your grandfather came back with the ladder and had to rescue both me AND the cat. Boy, did I get a lecture from your Nana during supper that night."
Liz nearly fell off her log from laughing so hard. "I can just imagine Pop-pop's face when he found you stuck to the ceiling," she managed to say.
"Yeah, well I didn't tell you that story just to entertain you. There's a lesson to be learned," Clark admonished his daughter.
"Oh come on, Dad, lighten up," Liz answered, reaching for a graham cracker. She tucked her marshmallow stick under an arm and broke the cracker in half. Then, she placed one half on either side of the marshmallow, squished them together and used the crackers to slide the hot marshmallow off of the stick.
"Don't you want chocolate with your s'more?" Clark asked, reaching for the confection.
"Naw," Liz declined. "I like 'em better plain."
"Better not let your mom hear you say that," Clark laughed. "To her, s'mores without the chocolate is practically blasphemy."
"I know," Liz admitted. "That's why I don't tell her."
For the next few minutes, Clark and Liz sat quietly, staring into the flames and enjoying their snack.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Sure, Kitten. Anything."
"Well, I know having these powers is a big responsibility. I mean, I've read most of the articles written about Superman. He's done a lot of good. But don't you ever get tired of it? Haven't you ever wanted to give it up and just walk away?"
Clark closed his eyes for a moment. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed, before opening his eyes and looking back at his daughter. He suddenly realized just how much Liz was like Lois, although not only in appearance. Like her award-winning mother, Liz knew how to ask the tough questions.
"Yes, twice," Clark finally admitted. He reached for the bucket of sand to put out the fire and continued. "Why don't we go inside and I'll tell you how your mom saved me from making the biggest mistake of my life."