By Jenni Debbage <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2005
Summary: When a baby is left in their dining room, Lois and Clark are afraid it's too good to be true, and set out to determine who left the child and why. Their search turns up some surprising results in this episode adaptation following the end of the episode "Family Hour."
I've read a number of stories that explain the origins of the baby from 'Family Hour,' yet I never had the inclination to write my own… until now. I can't explain why the need to account for the child came into my head, I only know that it did.
I wanted to stick with the correct time-scale for this story and since in 'Toy Story,' Martha and Jonathan celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, and Lois mentions that she and Clark are just 34 years and 6 months behind them, I assumed that Lois and Clark had been married for 6 months. Again, using dialogue from the show, 'Family Hour' takes place a week later and my story follows directly.
Also, some readers might not agree with my assumption of the age of the baby left abandoned in Lois and Clark's dining room, but I hope they will be prepared to accept my choice.
This is not a prequel to my 'Family Kent' series and it will be a stand-alone story. I'm also hoping that it will be a fairly short story… but who knows! <g>
I'd like to thank my beta-readers for all their help with this story and SQD for giving me advice about the private adoption process.
The rights to these characters do not belong to me and I've only borrowed them for a time to give myself the pleasure of writing 'Lois & Clark' again and in the hope that some readers might derive some enjoyment from my work.
Lois patted the baby's back one more time as she paced back and forth across her living room.
"I know, I know, little one. You must be hungry and we're getting you food as soon as we can." Nervously, she looked at the baby, holding it awkwardly, praying she could comfort him. Him? Maybe, no her! Anxiously, she peered at the fragile bundle, its screwed- up eyes and tiny, so tiny… clenched fists.
The baby poised mid-scream and regarded the strange person with eyes full of hurt while its tiny bottom lip trembled in fright and confusion.
"You must be scared, I know, I know, but I promise, everything will be fine!" Lois added soothingly, at least she hoped her voice was soothing, maternal… Babies were so helpless and they needed people who knew how to look after them, and she wasn't sure she qualified. "You know, Clark, I think whoever left him… or her in our dining room might have been obliging enough to leave some formula as well as that letter you're holding!" Her circuitous wandering about the living room of the Hyperion Avenue townhouse had brought her to a halt by the couch where her husband sat, studying the note intently — probably using his vision gizmo, she decided. "And that's another thing, we've never checked if it's a him or a her! Unless you've already… you know…"
"No! No, I haven't! But there's no time like the present, honey." Placing the note on the coffee table in front of him, Clark stood up, then walked a couple of steps to take the infant from his wife. "And that might be another reason he's crying. His diaper might be wet!"
"How do you know that, Clark! That never even crossed my mind!" She stared at him for a second, wondering if that sort of knowledge came with being a farm boy from Kansas. Maybe he was right. He knew stuff like this… was grounded, she reassured herself. OK then… breathe deeply! She could do this. "Or her diaper. Or it could be dirty." She hoped she sounded authoritative, like she knew how to handle babies and diapers, so she sniffed the air as she passed the bundle to Clark. Yeah, Clark was right. "That's another thing we need to buy!"
Clark cradled the child comfortably against his chest. "Mom and your mom will know what to bring back, honey." The elder Lanes and the Kents had set off earlier to the nearest all-night Wal- Mart to buy supplies, just as soon as Clark and Lois had shown them the baby. "We just have to wait patiently."
"Clark, babies don't do patiently! How'll we manage meanwhile?" She craned over Clark's shoulder, watching closely as he placed the baby on the couch, lifting the gown to remove the diaper. "Oh! It is a boy!"
"Yup! And he does have a dirty diaper." Clark stated the obvious, trying not to turn his sensitive nose away from the unpleasant smell, and smiling apologetically at the tiny boy for the instinctive reaction. "Honey, do you have any of those 'wipes' you use? I can clean him up a bit, at least."
"Yeah, hang on!" Lois ran up the stairs and into their bathroom, hunting around in the cabinets till she found what she was looking for, then raced back downstairs. "There! Lucky I have sensitive skin and use baby wipes. They're the mildest, you know."
Clark grinned at his hyper-active wife as he gently cleaned the baby's tender skin.
Lois was trying very hard to keep her nerves in check and just about succeeding. But she had to admit that finding a baby in their house without any explanation other than a very brief note, a blanket and a Superman shield was pretty disconcerting. Not unwelcome, of course, since Dr. Klein had just told them they couldn't have their own children, and that horrible woman had said they were unfit… well, not Clark, but she was unfit to adopt a child.
Now that the offending material had been removed, the little boy quieted and stared up at the large concerned faces above him.
"He's watching us," Lois whispered in awe. She stretched out her hand, caressing the infant's soft skin, willing him to know he had nothing to fear and that he was safe.
"Yes, honey. Smile at him." Clark wrapped the dirty diaper in the plastic trash liner Lois had also supplied.
"I am!" she said, smiling through unexpected tears. He was hers, this baby from god knew where, just maybe he was hers.
Clark reached out a finger toward the baby's tiny waving fist, his own eyes growing damp as the baby caught hold. "He has quite a grip."
"Oh, Clark, he's such a little sweetheart. Who would abandon a baby like this? You have to admit that it's not a natural thing to do… to just walk into someone's house and leave a baby behind."
"Who knows!" As Superman, he'd seen people do some extremely strange things, but, normally, babies were left at the entrance to the hospitals, or on the steps of an orphanage; some, sadly, were even deserted in parks, or in trash bins, or somewhere equally unacceptable. In his case, he'd been sent off in a spaceship… for his own good, they'd discovered much later. But Lois was right… a baby left in his bassinet in their dining room seemed even more bizarre. He shook his head in puzzlement. "The note wasn't signed and I didn't recognize the writing."
The single leaf of notepad lying on the table could be the only link to their mysterious visitor and Lois stared at it, illogically willing the innocuous object to reveal its secrets. "Are there any fingerprints on the paper?"
"They're kinda smudged, and not any that I know. But then I don't go about checking people's fingerprints." Clark was softly tickling the baby's toes as he spoke and the baby reacted with something that sounded vaguely like a chuckle.
"Oh, Clark, listen! That was so sweet. Do you think we can really keep him?" Lois asked tentatively, finally giving in to her fledgling longing. Though she might lack confidence in her mothering skills, she couldn't deny the strong feeling of connection she'd been experiencing since picking up the wriggling baby from Clark's old, refurbished crib that his parents had arranged to have sent from Smallville. "That note does say 'Lois and Clark, this child belongs to you.'"
Clark's gaze swung quickly to his wife and his heart ached for her. He understood her yearning. God, he even shared it, but they couldn't give into it… not yet. The note could be wrong, and he had to keep a clear head… for both their sakes. "I really couldn't say, sweetheart," he replied evenly. "We should try to find who his parents are, and I'm sure we have to tell the Child Welfare Department. People are going to start wondering where we got a baby from out of the blue. Mom and Dad might be able to give us some advice."
Lois moved to sit on the couch beside the baby, letting her hand smooth the silky hair while her eyes stayed riveted on his tiny features. "Yes, they should know! I mean it's not like they could announce to the world how they found you, but they did adopt you legally, didn't they?" She kept her voice low, even though her thoughts were in a turmoil. Babies had some kind of radar that picked up emotions from the adults around them — she'd read that somewhere.
"In the end, yeah. But they had help from old Doctor Warner and his sister who worked in the local children's home. Mom and Dad didn't mention the space ship, but they did say they found me abandoned in one of their fields. Between the four of them they managed to come up with the correct paperwork and the adoption was legalized. Only that was Smallville in the sixties; everyone was so pleased that Mom and Dad had a baby, finally, that no one really asked too many questions. This is Metropolis in the nineties and 'child care' laws have been tightened up."
"But babies still get abandoned, Clark, and they find adoptive parents. We can apply to adopt him."
"That might not be so easy, honey. I think you need parental consent for a private adoption, and I certainly wouldn't want to risk County Adoptions and Ms. Bailey again."
"That… shrew! If the decision was left up to her, we'd never get to keep him. She hated me… and she fancied you. We should have gotten her charged with discrimination." As she was reminded again of that weird woman, Lois' voice started to rise and she felt the baby tremble in response. That radar thingy must be true! "Oh, I'm sorry, baby," she cooed, scooping him up into her arms and rocking him back and forth. "Did Mommy frighten you?"
After a few moments, the baby once again relaxed against Lois' breast, and Clark felt a silly grin form on his face at the picture he'd so often dreamed about. He hated to destroy his wife's enthusiasm, but they had to be realistic. "Honey, I think it's maybe a bit premature to be calling yourself Mommy."
"The note said the baby was ours!" Lois reiterated, glaring belligerently at Clark.
"A note from an anonymous source, even if it was addressed to us." As the light died behind Lois' eyes, Clark felt guilty, and he sought to make amends. "But the baby was left inside our house. Whoever left him here must have been very determined that we should have him to break in…"
"That's it! They broke in here. Did you check the locks?" Now that the shock was wearing off, Lois' investigative skills were surfacing.
"I'm a lunkhead! The front door was intact, because your parents and mine left that way and they had to unlock the door. So the person must have come in the back way."
Clark strode through the dining room to study the patio door with Lois hurrying behind, carrying the baby. "Nope, that one's OK." Together they went into the kitchen to check the only remaining outside door, but that too was secure. Clark lowered his glasses and did a complete check of the ground floor. "How the heck did they get in? None of the windows have been tampered with and I doubt they got in upstairs. I would have heard them, but until the baby cried there were no unusual sounds."
"Clark, a baby can't just materialize in our dining room… or can he?"
"You're thinking H.G. Wells and his time machine?" At Lois' nod, Clark continued. "It would certainly explain the presence of my shield. But as I recall, that contraption was pretty noisy on entry."
"But that other thing he had… the mini thing that hung round his neck, that didn't make a sound. Maybe he used that."
Clark shrugged, feeling a little out of his depth. "I guess it's possible… I know he's a bit eccentric, but don't you think he'd stay around to explain? A two-line note is pretty cryptic even for him. And why would he bring us a baby anyway?"
"Not just any baby, Clark, *our* baby! Is it our baby from the future?"
"I have no idea, but I know how we can check." Suddenly inspired, Clark pointed toward the living room.
"The book… he autographed your edition of 'The Time Machine.' It's bound to have his fingerprints on it."
The two almost ran back into the living room, directly across to the bookshelves, where Clark quickly found the object in question.
"Careful, Clark, you don't want to mess up any prints." Lois waited with bated breath while her husband took the book over to the table where he'd left the short note. She watched him stare at the two intently. "Well, do we have a match?"
"Sorry, honey, but no…"
"No, they're too smudged to tell or no, they're not from the same person?"
"They don't belong to H.G., that's for sure. And the writing is totally different. Take a look for yourself."
She believed her husband, but she couldn't help but check. The message on the book read, 'To Clark from a traveling companion,' and underneath Wells had signed with a flourish. It didn't in any way resemble the neat concise script of the letter.
"So much for that idea then."
Any other notion the couple might pursue was at that moment interrupted by the return of their parents. Lois and Clark watched in amazement as the four struggled through the door laden down with boxes of varying sizes.
"Did you buy out the store?" Clark asked.
"Of course not, son, but a baby does need a lot of provisions and you're starting from scratch," Jonathan informed his boy as he edged in lugging a baby carry-seat, while Sam followed, balancing boxes of diapers.
"Listen to your father, dear. This little one will get through all this stuff, though we might have gotten a little carried away." Martha laughed as she came over and placed her packages on the coffee table. "But I expect the most important thing right now will be the formula. That baby's sure to be hungry."
"Yes, and as we didn't know which one would suit him best, we decided to get a few brands," Ellen added, knowingly. "Best to be prepared because we don't want to upset his little tummy."
At that, both women crowded round Lois and made cooing baby noises at the latest addition to the family.
"How did you know he was a he?" Lois asked, astonished at her mother's doting expression.
"Well, we didn't, but Martha said he looked a little bit like Clark when she and Jonathan found him in that field, so we guessed a boy. Such a sad story… Lois had told me you were adopted, but abandoned in a field…"
"Yes, mother, but that's not important now," Lois interrupted, not wanting to have to clarify that story. "Maybe we should go make up a bottle for the baby before he starts crying the house down again."
"Gotta good pair of lungs, has he?" Sam joined in the conversation as the whole group made for the kitchen, Clark and Martha picking up cartons of baby milk as they went.
"You think he looks like Clark did, Martha?" Lois couldn't help but pick up on that hopeful tidbit.
"I'd say there's a resemblance. Clark was a little older and he had more hair, but there is something about this little one. Don't you think so, Jonathan?"
Jonathan couldn't fail to notice the meaningful looks he was getting from his son. Clark was trying to be cautious, and he could understand his son's thinking. It wouldn't do for the women to get too attached if it were still possible that the real parents would turn up to claim their child.
"I'm not sure, Martha. Babies tend to look like babies to me, and it was a long time ago."
Obviously, Martha had been looking for some confirmation from her husband, because she threw him an exasperated look when he didn't back her up… and Jonathan hadn't told the whole truth either. Whenever he'd seen the baby, he'd been reminded of the child they'd lifted from the spaceship. There was something familiar about the boy… and not just the blue blanket and the S shield. The baby, however, put an end to the conversation by deciding he'd waited long enough to be fed and let his needs be known by screaming his little head off.
So, for the next hour or so, Lois and Clark had no time to spend wondering where the baby had come from as they concentrated on feeding, burping and bathing the little boy. Lois was pleasantly surprised to be instructed only a couple of times on the correct procedure by her mother. She had to admit, though, that she was feeling out of her depth and was grateful for Ellen's and Martha's help.
Finally, the bassinet was transported upstairs to the main bedroom where the new mother and father could keep watch on their charge. Lois laid the baby inside his little bed, and he snuggled down happily beneath his new blankets, the blue one with the shield having been spirited away almost at once; it wouldn't do for Sam and Ellen to be reminded of what they had so recently forgotten.
It had been an eventful and surprising evening and everyone agreed they were ready for bed, particularly since it was fairly certain that their sleep would be interrupted by a hungry baby demanding to be fed. Any further investigations would have to wait until next morning.
Chapter Two: Beginnings
High in the stratosphere a small Orb ship held a geostationary orbit above the townhouse, while the three-man crew watched the happenings of the night with a mixture of interest and apprehension.
"It's not enough! I have to go back." The long-haired woman took a turn around the pristine interior. "Lois and Clark need more information about their child."
"Zara, you can't! It's dangerous," the grey-haired man stated. "Our enemies are closing in, and since they managed to interfere with our cloaking device, even for a few minutes, our presence has been picked up by Earth's listening stations. All of this world's governments are more security conscious since the visit of Nor and his renegades. It's only a matter of time before they detect us."
"Trey, that's not so! Is it, Ching? You've reconfigured our stealth device and protected it from outside sources."
The younger of the two men shifted uncomfortably, as if he really didn't want to answer.
"Yes, Zara. I've reset the firewalls… but no system is infallible."
"But you've bought us some time?"
"Probably," Ching answered grudgingly. "But that doesn't account for the 'Nor' faction, and we can't ignore their encroaching on our position back on New Krypton. We have to get back home quickly."
At that reminder, Zara's shoulders dropped. Whoever would have thought that Nor's defeat and death would not have been the end to their problems at home? It was true that the more liberal councillors led by Trey had backed her inauguration as sole ruler, and had furthermore accepted Ching as her husband and consort, but not all were in accord. And Ching would never have exactly the same standing or influence as Kal-El. He was not of noble blood and, though New Krypton might have made some inroads toward more democratic rule, it was not prepared to relinquish the past totally.
Yet being given permission to marry Ching had seemed like a wonderful beginning. In fact, life had seemed very promising for Zara and her people. For the first time, she'd experienced true happiness in her personal life and conditions on their barren rock had begun to improve. Now that there was no longer a threat of war, the scientists and biologists had turned their attention into creating a new, kinder environment. The New-Kryptonians had also found time to engage in cultural pursuits, and though they would never be so broad-minded or risqué as the people of Earth, they were learning to enjoy themselves.
And Zara, her husband and councillors had been grateful to Lord Kal-El for making these changes possible. This was the main reason why they had been more than happy to help Lois and Clark when they found themselves in difficulties.
Very soon after it was known that Kal-El had chosen to stay on Earth with the woman he loved, Zara had been approached by Malaki, their top medical researcher, who had made the discovery that Kryptonians and Earth women were not biologically compatible to have children together. During the short time Zara had spent with Clark, he'd spoken often of his deep love for Lois, of his dreams of marriage and of raising a family on Earth. How disappointed Lois and Clark must have been to realize that was never going to happen for them.
Zara's heart ached for her friends so far away, especially since she and Ching were already contemplating giving Krypton an heir. She had jumped at Malaki's suggested answer to Lois and Clark's problem, and the council had given their blessing. Project 'baby Kent' had begun and had reached a successful conclusion to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Why then did fate have to be so cruel as to complicate the simple delivery of the baby to his parents?
When had the first rumblings of discontent begun on Krypton? Zara believed that none of the people on this craft could answer that. It was only when Cro had applied to the High Council to take over his cousin's fiefdom that the warning signs had begun to flash in Zara's brain. But even then, she'd allowed herself to be lulled into a false sense of security, believing, as her councillors had reiterated, that Cro was not necessarily an evil man like his blood relation.
And it was true that Cro-Nor wasn't quite the megalomaniac his relative had been. But he did have ambition, and a desire to be revenged on those he saw responsible for besmirching his family's reputation. He believed his role in life was to reinstate the name of Nor to the great dynasties of New Krypton, and he didn't agree with the council giving their blessing to the union between Lady Zara-Ra and an upstart military man. With that in mind he had begun his insidious plan of discrediting Zara and her husband.
It soon became clear, also, that Cro-Nor certainly didn't approve of spending time and effort to help Kal-El, the man he saw as a traitor, a leader who had abandoned his proper status in life for an inferior world.
If only they knew why Cro had followed them to Earth and what his intentions were now. Would he attack Clark Kent and his wife? Or were Zara and crew the sole targets of his wrath? They didn't even know if Cro was aboard the other ship, or if he had simply hired assassins while he took advantage of Zara's, Ching's and Trey's absence back on New Krypton?
It was that first thought which was Zara's most pressing worry. "Ching, we can't leave here without first warning Clark that another alien presence might be intent on taking revenge on this world."
"Much as I'm afraid of what is happening back home, I have to agree with Lady Zara, Ching." Trey came and stood by his ruler's side. "We can't allow this world to become the battlefield for yet another Kryptonian power-struggle."
"Do you think Cro is aboard that enemy ship?" Zara asked her husband.
"That is not an *enemy* ship! If they managed to interfere with the stealth-device codes, it has to be one of ours."
"I realise that! But whoever is at the controls has no clearance to be here." Zara glared at her husband, wondering if he was being deliberately obtuse. He'd agreed with this course of action, though he had been less enthusiastic about her accompanying Trey and himself on this journey. Was he somehow jealous that she would take such a personal interest in helping Kal?
"How do we know?" Ching demanded. "They could have been sent to inform us of some catastrophe back home." His suggestion was based more on obstinacy rather than logic.
"I doubt that, Ching," Trey added reasonably. "We've been in communication with New Krypton and no one has mentioned a single thing about another ship or any emergency."
"It's been a while… Perhaps something has happened since!"
"Not that long! That ship would have had to travel much faster than any speed we've yet attained to beat our last communication with home. Besides, why haven't the crew contacted us? Taking down another ship's 'shields' is against military code of practise. You know that, Ching."
Ching grimaced at Trey. Trust the incorruptible old man to point out the obvious. "I can't deny that. Forgive me, Zara. I don't understand what's got into me. I just have a bad feeling about all this."
"But you agreed…"
"In principle, yes. But we are far away from home and this mission has so many risks…"
Zara's eyebrows rose and she folded her arms across her chest, closing herself off to her husband. "You mean, I'm too far away from home!"
"Yes," Ching quickly agreed, not at all ashamed at wanting to keep her away from danger. "I don't understand why you insisted on coming. Trey, Malaki and I could have done the job just as well."
"I had to do this, Ching." Zara relented a little in her stance and her voice took on a note of supplication. "I wanted to thank Lois and Clark in person for what they did for our world and for us. Without them, New Krypton and I would be living under the heel of Nor. That would have been a disaster, especially for me, as the wife of such a monster. I would have thought that you of all people would have understood my motives."
"I do, but I'm your husband. I could have passed on your best wishes. I make no apology for wanting to keep you out of harm's way."
"We don't yet know if I'm in harm's way. Remember we're invincible on Earth."
"And have you forgotten that Nor and his cohorts were killed by the people of Earth?"
The two squared off against each other, neither prepared to give an inch. Trey coughed behind his hand and moved between them.
"The General who ordered the use of the kryptonite gas was, I believe, court-martialed. Besides, the people only did what they could to protect themselves. Even if Earthlings were to discover our presence, I doubt they would attack first without sending Lord Kal-El to discover our purpose."
"Perhaps that's true," Ching conceded. "But it would be better for everyone concerned if we left before we were discovered."
"I would rather our visit went unnoticed, but we can't leave until I explain everything to Lois and Clark… nor until we find out the purpose of the Kryptonians on that other ship. And since our cloaking device blocks any telepathic communications with Clark, I have to go in person. You must see that, husband." Zara emphasized the last word, hoping to remind Ching that their unattainable dream had come true thanks to Kal's help.
"And I have to back Lady Zara. However, I believe we should ask the council back home if they have any knowledge of our sister ship. Our communication beacons should soon be in range, and I think this unexpected arrival warrants our breaking out of Earth's orbit to make contact with home."
Zara nodded determinedly. "Then we have a plan. You two take the ship to a higher orbit while I return to Metropolis and talk to Lois and Clark."
"Zara, have you listened to a word I said?" Ching asked, his mind hovering between exasperation and worry. "I always thought you spent far too long on this world. It's too dangerous for you to go alone."
"You didn't object to my taking the baby to Lois and Clark alone!"
"That was before I realized we had company!"
Once again the old councillor intervened. "Please, please, this arguing is getting us nowhere. My Lady, in this circumstance, I believe Ching is correct. While we don't know the intentions of the crew of that ship, it would not be prudent for you to venture alone to the surface… and, since I don't know how to pilot this craft, we must all wait for information."
"But what about the baby and Lois and Clark?"
"The baby will be safe with its parents. I believe that Lord Kal- El… Superman is perfectly capable of keeping his family from harm."
Zara shrugged, giving in reluctantly to Trey's more reasonable arguments, and Ching looked a trifle happier that his wife would be staying within his protection.
"Good! I'm glad we're in agreement. Now, Ching, if you could take this ship to the point of communication."
The younger man gave a curt nod and went to do as he was bid, while his wife walked over to the large window, sighing sadly as she watched the planet below her diminish in size. This mission of mercy was not going according to plan.
Chapter Three: Investigations
Fortunately for the inexperienced foster-parents, the baby slept soundly for a few hours before deciding that hunger was an uncomfortable experience he wasn't prepared to endure. Within seconds he made his plight known to the rest of the inhabitants of his small world.
Clark woke almost immediately, but was surprised to see Lois at the bassinet before him. Was that some kind of mother's intuition?
"Clark, he's hungry. Can you go make him a bottle?" Lois whispered, as she lifted the baby into her arms.
"Sure, honey, but why are you whispering?"
"Our parents are asleep, Clark!"
"I doubt that they're sleeping through that noise," Clark grinned in amazement, while the baby increased the volume. "If you think you can handle him for the moment, I'll be back as soon as possible."
"Of course I can handle him! He's just a little baby," Lois stated, but her actions seemed a little less sure than her words. "It would help if he had his bottle," she added pointedly.
Giving Lois and her noisy, red-faced bundle a final glance, Clark hurried downstairs without using his powers. Sam and Ellen could appear at any moment and it wouldn't do for them to witness him using super speed. He made straight for the kitchen and the fridge, only to find his father there before him.
"Is this what you're looking for, son?" Jonathan smiled and held up the baby bottle.
"Thanks," Clark took the proffered item and moved toward the sink, turning his back to the door. "Dad, can you keep a look out while I heat this thing up?"
"Sure thing, but do you know what you're doing?"
Clark's eyebrows raised at his father's question. "You've seen me do this before. What makes you think I'd mess up now?"
Opening the door a crack, Jonathan looked toward the stairs. "You've heated up food for an adult before, son, but this is a baby and you don't have much experience with them."
"So, I just turn down the heat a bit. Should be a piece of cake! Is the coast clear?"
"Yup!" Jonathan couldn't help but grin a little as he watched Clark concentrate on his task. He was trying so hard to pretend that he was taking all this in stride. A second or two later the young man shook some of the contents onto his wrist.
"Isn't this what you do, Dad?"
"Huh-huh, it's what I did with you."
Clark, however, was still looking a little puzzled. "Do you think that's right?" he asked, walking over to his father.
"Mind you, modern technology is a wonderful thing. There's a bottle warmer there that's set to just the right temperature."
"Right there on the counter." Jonathan pointed helpfully. "You just put the bottle in the holder and it buzzes when it reaches the correct temperature."
Clark did as he was told and watched as the display flashed red. "Too hot," he announced, almost to himself, removing the bottle and blowing cold air onto its surface. Once more he replaced it in the little machine and listened for the buzz, which was a few minutes in coming. "Looks like I need a little practice at this." Clark grinned sheepishly as he waited.
"Don't worry, son. Every new family goes through this, and you and Lois have been thrown in at the deep end. Relax, and you'll soon get the hang of it."
The anticipated beeping cut off Clark's next question to his dad. "I have to get this upstairs before the baby drives Lois nuts, but I'll be back. I need your advice."
"That's what your mom and I are here for." Jonathan spoke to Clark's back as he disappeared through the swing doors.
The elder Kent shook his head in a mixture of amusement and perplexity as he poured two coffees in preparation for his son's return. Old memories assailed him of Martha and himself learning to take care of the man who'd just supersped up the stairs. Was it really over thirty years ago since they'd found their baby? And now history seemed to be repeating itself with the origins of this child just as mysterious as Clark's had been at that time. Or perhaps not entirely so…
The door swung open again, heralding Clark's return and breaking into Jonathan's train of thought. "How's Lois doing with the baby?"
"She has some help from Mom and Ellen." Clark laughed at the thought of the mothers' convention he'd just left, but then his smile changed to a frown. "I just hope her mother doesn't upset Lois too much; you know how she can be." Clark's expressive eyebrows lifted as he contemplated his wisdom of leaving the women alone.
"I'm sure your mother will be able to mediate. Besides, Ellen was pretty encouraging earlier. I think she's taken with the baby too." Jonathan squeezed into the bench seat by the table. "You know son, this contraption here might look good, but they really weren't built for someone with my girth."
Clark moved the table a few inches until his father was comfortable. "There you go!"
"According to Ellen, he's still asleep. Can you believe that? How can anyone sleep through that noise?" Both men's eyes looked upwards, though only one pair could see through the floorboards.
"Some men learn to sleep through anything. Never could understand it myself." Suddenly, silence returned to the house, and, seeing how Clark was concentrating on a certain point in the ceiling, Jonathan wasn't totally surprised by Clark's words.
"He's just latched onto his bottle like he hadn't seen food in days. That little guy sure has a good appetite!"
"Just like his dad." Jonathan nodded knowingly.
Clark, however, looked less convinced. "That's just it, Dad, we have no idea who his parents are."
"The note said 'This child belongs to you'!"
"An anonymous note is hardly proof! I can't even have a baby with an Earth woman, and, unless I've suffered a total blackout, I know I've never been… well, you know… with any other woman that way." Clark shifted embarrassingly as he accepted the mug from his father. "Even unconscious, I would never do that!"
"Of course you wouldn't! And that's not what I meant, but it's not just the note — there's the matter of the blanket with your shield. I'd say whoever left that baby knows who you are."
"Lois and I had this conversation earlier when you were shopping. We kinda wondered if it was H.G. Wells."
Jonathan paused in mid-sip and he stared at his son questioningly. "What made you think of him?"
"He knows my identity." Clark settled onto the bench next to his dad and placed his mug carefully on the table top.
"That's true, but where would he get a baby from?"
Resting his elbows on either side of his mug, Clark cupped his chin in his right hand. "Beats me! He talked a couple of times about Lois' and my descendants, though whether they were blood relatives or adopted ones we have no idea. Maybe the baby is from the future."
"That still wouldn't necessarily explain the blue blanket."
"Dad, he talked about museums dedicated to Superman. My blanket could be an exhibit in the future."
"That's true, but you carried your blanket around everywhere as a comforter when you were a toddler. If it came from the future, it would look a little more threadbare."
"So, the blanket came from the past. Wells is a time traveler, he can go back in time too you know."
There was silence for a couple of seconds as both men contemplated that thought, but Jonathan shook his head again. "Nope, that's not it either. Your mom went up into the loft to fix up the bassinet just before we left and she decided to bring your blanket to Metropolis with us — just to give you and Lois another bit of incentive," he added with a sheepish grin. "We now have two identical blankets upstairs in our suitcase, but one is a lot newer than the other."
Clark's eyes opened wider, but he decided to tackle the easy question first. "You hid the baby's cover?" He smiled at his dad's nod. "Thanks for that. It wouldn't have been wise to let Ellen or Sam see that. They had trouble coming to terms with their son-in-law masquerading in tights. That weird memory washing machine of Sam's cleared their minds of all the bad things that've happened over the past couple of days." Clark took a sip of his coffee. "They've both forgotten about me being Superman."
"Not sure that's a good thing, son. You really have to tell them sometime."
"I guess… but not yet! And definitely not while we're trying to figure out where the baby came from."
"I agree that's the top priority at the moment, but I'd rule out H.G. Wells. It just doesn't seem like something he'd do… at least, not without staying around to tell you about it."
"To tell the truth, Lois and I eliminated him earlier… the handwriting didn't match up, neither did the fingerprints." Clark focused on his coffee to heat it up, then drank it almost down in one swallow. "But, Dad, that leaves only one other source who could have access to a blanket and shield like that."
Jonathan placed his hand on his son's shoulder. "Yeah! The same place where yours first came from…"
Son and father spoke in unison.
Clark sighed heavily. "Does that make sense? Why would they leave a baby here and just disappear?"
"I can't answer that, but somehow I prefer that theory to some unknown person or persons knowing you're Superman."
"I'm with you on that, Jonathan." Lois came backward through the swing doors into the kitchen, sheltering the baby in her arms. "But you know, we're maybe jumping to all the wrong conclusions. Perhaps this is just a mother who for some inexplicable reasons can't look after her child and thinks that Lane and Kent would make good surrogate parents."
Moving quickly to stand by his wife, Clark stared at her dubiously. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"No! But wouldn't it be nice if, for just this once, our life wasn't complicated, and a woman showed up here tomorrow and told us she wanted us to adopt Matthew!" Lois was smiling dreamily at the infant in her arms, so she didn't notice that the face of the man at her side suddenly resembled a 'fish out of water.'
"Matthew?" Clark gasped.
"Yes, honey!" Lois said sweetly to her husband. "We just can't go on calling him 'baby', but if you don't like it… though I think Matthew Kent has a certain ring to it. Your mom agrees with me."
The mom in question came into the kitchen brandishing an empty bottle in one hand and a clean diaper in the other. "Clark, that little man is as hungry as you. Until now, I've never seen a baby devour a bottle as quickly as you did when you were that size. Here, Lois, if my memory serves me correctly, you're going to need this." Almost on command, a fairly nasty smell wafted around the room. "What did I tell you — just like his dad."
"Mom!" Clark protested, letting the women pass him by and stealing a quick glance through the door to see if anyone else was about to join them. "Isn't Ellen with you?"
"No. Gone back to bed. She says she's developing a migraine, but I think she's just wants an excuse to join my father in bed." Lois laughed, indicating that she found the thought a happy one.
"I don't think we want to go there." Clark grimaced at the thought of what his in-laws might be doing in his spare room.
"Me neither! But it does give us a chance to discuss things in private." Lois waved the male Kents to remove their coffee mugs from the table top and replaced them with Matthew, taking the proffered diaper from her helpful mother-in-law. "Martha, did Clark's pooh always smell this bad?"
"Lois!" Clark's voice rose a couple of notches.
"Worse, sometimes! But don't worry, dear, you'll get used to it. I did."
"Mom!" Clark turned several shades of red. "I'd rather you left my babyhood out of this conversation. And you can't stake a claim for paternity on biological plumbing. That would mean that I'd…" Suddenly he became aware of Lois turning away from her task to stare at him wide-eyed. "Lois, you have to believe me, I have never…"
"That hadn't even occurred to me!" But now she was remembering, remembering when she'd first agreed to wear Clark's ring and the emotional roller-coaster she'd been on when Leigh-Anne Stipanovic had convinced the world that her child was Superman's. Lois' babble gene stilled and her gut lurched as she relived that doubt… and now another child had turned up with links to Superman. Her happiness at finding Matthew evaporated.
In the kitchen no one spoke; even Martha restrained her impulse to mediate, intervene… interfere while Lois searched her husband's face.
And what she saw there in Clark's eyes was the truth. She'd been doubtful about little Jesse at first, but she'd been wrong. Slowly, Lois smiled and she touched her husband's hand. "Relax, Clark, I know. You'd never… well, I know you'd never." She turned back to the child, half diapered, on the kitchen table, unaware that the three adults in the room were now breathing normally again.
"Matthew, do you think you could hold still for Mommy? Mommy is very new at this, so you're going to have to be patient."
The baby smiled up at the pretty lady above him and tried to do as he was told, but he was just a few weeks old and the words were in a language he wasn't sure of, though his smile accompanied with a happy gurgle seemed to work wonders, as the four adults grinned back.
"Isn't he just the cutest little thing," Martha declared. "Can I hold him?" she asked, as Lois finished up.
"Would you like to go visit with your grandmom, Matthew?" She scooped up her new son and gently deposited him in Martha's waiting arms. While the baby stretched and yawned contentedly, both women cooed tenderly to the infant.
Clark gazed in shock at his wife and parents, taking in their bemused expressions as they concentrated on the tiny child. More than anything he longed for a family, but this was just surreal. He couldn't allow himself to be swept up in such wishful emotions. At any moment Matthew could be snatched away from them… Matthew! No, that was not the child's name. He had no idea what the child was called, but he was sure that it was not up to Lois or any of them to name the baby. He really hated to disappoint Lois, but he couldn't let her get too enthralled with motherhood. Besides, by the look on his parents' faces, it wasn't just Lois who was getting carried away.
"Hey, guys! Don't you think you're all jumping the gun here?"
Lois' hand stilled as she stroked the fine silky hair on the baby's head and her gaze locked with her husband's uneasy stare. "No, I don't. Someone meant for us to have this baby, and while I do agree with you that we have to investigate where he comes from, I intend to look after him as my own. Whatever you do is up to you."
Oh boy, Clark had never seen Lois act so territorially. She was a lioness ready to fight for her young, even against her mate. It left him feeling a tiny bit envious, but proud too. He'd always known Lois would make a wonderful mother.
"And, Clark, we've already talked about the blanket," Jonathan stepped in. "That is no ordinary baby."
"Exactly!" Lois paused for a moment, and then spoke slowly… pensively. "You know, there is another possibility that we haven't considered…" She met Clark's eyes. "And Martha's already pointed out that he looks a lot like you did…"
"A clone?" Clark almost read his wife's thoughts. That theory didn't particularly inspire him and his brown eyes darkened. "I hope not, Lois. None of the clones we've encountered thrived."
Lois gritted her teeth and crossed the tiled floor to place her hands on Clark's chest. "They were all adult clones. Their growth rate was speeded up somehow. This is just a baby, Clark… just a normal baby."
"Normal? I thought we'd just agreed that he wasn't an ordinary baby, so we don't know that." He held Lois' gaze, challenging her.
"No, but we know a man who can find out."
"Yes, first thing in the morning we take the baby to Star Labs and tell him what we suspect."
"Tell him about Superman?" Clark's eyebrows arched again.
"If we have to, but maybe we could ask him to run some tests for a start — make sure Matthew's healthy. Then we can take it from there. This is very important. It's Matthew's life we're talking about here."
The tic twitched in Clark's jaw, but he nodded in agreement. "I'm aware of that, honey, and I really don't mean to be a killjoy. If this little guy does need a home, then I'm all for offering him one. I just don't think it's going to be smooth sailing. For one thing, child welfare is going to get involved."
Lois opened her mouth to protest, but shut it just as quickly. She'd rather keep this whole thing quiet, but simply just producing a baby in their home in Metropolis was bound to be remarked upon. And if they wanted to do this legally, which they did, they had to have parental consent to adopt, or the backing of the Child Welfare system. Clark was just playing devil's advocate — she'd already caught him staring into the bassinet in the middle of the night with such a look of longing in his eyes, she'd been loath to interrupt the poignant moment.
"You're right, I know you're right." She reached up and placed a soft kiss on his cheek, but he turned his head so her kiss touched his lips. "Which is all the more reason that we find out who and where Matthew comes from."
Martha walked over to the couple and gently placed the little boy into Clark's arms. "We'll get to the bottom of this, Clark. But for the moment, why don't you take this little one back upstairs. There's still time for us to catch an hour's sleep."
The baby snuggled into the large warm chest and the safe arms he found himself in, giving a little contented sigh. The sound brought an answering low rumble against his cheek, and he experimented again, a little more loudly this time.
Clark couldn't suppress a chuckle and everyone laughed.
"See, honey. He likes you. Come on, let's take him back to bed before he wakes up again."
"Lois, I never said I didn't like him…"
Martha and Jonathan exchanged grins as they switched out the lights and followed the kids upstairs. Their laughter overlaid their anxiety, though. Clark might be putting up a brave front, but just how he and Lois would deal with losing this baby wasn't something they liked to contemplate.
Chapter Four: Solutions?
Doctor Klein stared at the test results before him. He had to admit that he was still slightly in shock. He'd checked the results more than once, as well as the reliability of the equipment he'd used to arrive at his conclusions, but everything was in working order and the answers steadfastly remained the same.
Was it only a few days ago that Lois Lane and Clark Kent had arrived in his office at an early hour with a baby? Fortunately, Bernie had pulled an 'all nighter' on some puzzling piece of research, or the reporting team wouldn't have found him here. Yet neither Lois nor Clark had shown surprise, which said a lot for his habits! He really needed to get himself another life… get out more, learn to smell the roses. Bernie was afraid that he'd hardly be able to recognise a rose even if it was pushed under his nose.
Maybe he needed to phone Caroline again and arrange another vacation. They'd had a wonderful time together, only he hadn't been comfortable with the age gap. How could a slightly odd, middle-aged scientist like himself hope to keep the attention of an intelligent, articulate and beautiful physicist? She might have called him a 'god,' but he was fairly sure she'd soon discover he was very ordinary. Still, life was too short not to take the chances offered, so maybe he would. Just as soon as he figured out the latest puzzle Lois and Clark had brought him…
He'd been shocked when the couple had told him how they'd found a baby left alone in their dining room, with hardly any clues as to where the child had come from. At first, he'd suggested they contact the police and child welfare services… babies not being his 'field of expertise,' but when he'd heard about the cryptic note and Superman's shield, he'd immediately agreed to help. Superman was his friend and patient, and if this baby had anything to do with the superhero then he'd be only too pleased to run some tests.
The idea of Superman being involved with an abandoned baby intrigued Bernie, and the puzzle deepened, now that the test results were in. Not only did this baby have something to do with Superman, it was Superman's child. Even more surprisingly; this child's genes were a mix of Kryptonian and Earthling, which should have been impossible.
Klein's first theory was that his earlier tests on Superman's compatibility with an Earth woman must have been flawed, but on checking those figures too, he couldn't refute the results. By rights, a Kryptonian male couldn't reproduce with a Terran female, and yet he'd seen the proof with his own eyes, even held the little boy in his arms. It was a very cute baby, and it had reminded him of someone. Now he knew exactly who — Superman!
That didn't make sense, though. Obviously Superman was very keen to have a child; his asking Klein to run fertility tests had proved that, and his abject demeanor when told that a child was an impossibility had shown the depths of his longing. He'd even asked about other fertility treatments… such as in vitro fertilization, and Bernie had felt like a complete heel when he'd had to explain that any procedure available would have no more success than a natural conception. Superman had been devastated.
So, why would he give up the very thing he'd dreamed of to Lois and Clark? Couldn't he or the child's mother take care of the baby?
In Bernie's opinion, Lois and Clark would certainly make good surrogate parents, but why wreathe the exchange of the child in mystery? Wouldn't it have avoided a lot of problems if Superman had just asked the Kents to adopt his child? Even if he didn't want the general public to know of the existence of his child, Lois and Clark could be trusted never to tell. They might be reporters, but, first and foremost, they were the superhero's friends.
No, Bernie had to be missing something here. He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the sweat on his forehead. It was getting very warm in here. He rose and adjusted the settings on the AC unit, inhaling a few breaths of the cooling blast of air. That was much better! Wherever this research was taking him, he needed a cool head.
Sitting once more in front of his monitor, Bernard drew up the baby's DNA profile again. He stared closely at the twisting strands, then clicked on to the more detailed chart with both Superman's and the baby's genetic markers. There was something very odd here, something that twigged at the far reaches of his memory. In a flash of inspiration, he delved into his files, quickly bringing up another window to allow him to compare a third set of DNA.
Oh, boy! The answer hit Bernie between the eyes. He grabbed the beaker at his hand and took a gulp, and immediately spat out the distasteful liquid. Rushing over to the sink, he rinsed his mouth out a number of times. Yuk! That had been most unpleasant. How had the remnants of his earlier tests on the lab-chimps been left on his desk? He really had to be more careful what he drank from.
Pouring the offending material down the drain, he returned to his computer and reached for his proper drink, but before he could take a sip, his attention was reclaimed by the information on his screen. If he hadn't spotted this earlier, he really was working too hard. But who would have suspected?
He had had the chance to study the mother's DNA before… or a very close facsimile. In fact, he'd worked very extensively on the project to try to save the doomed young woman. Clois! The poor female clone of Lois Lane. Of course, she couldn't be the mother, she'd been dead for too long. But, clones were like identical twins, so it followed that this baby had inherited the genetic make-up of… Lois Lane.
Oh jeez! Klein slugged back a swig of his drink and felt the warm spirit trace its way down his throat. The tabloids had told the truth. Lois Lane and Superman had been an item! More than an item… and he'd just discovered the proof. What was he supposed to do now? How could he tell Clark that his wife had been unfaithful to him, particularly since Lois would probably be present?
"Oh, hi, Clark, Lois! Congratulations, Lois, you're a mother." He spoke his thoughts into the empty room. "Oh, boy! Yes, she's going to destroy me. I'm toast!"
Wait a minute, though. Why did Lois not admit that she was the boy's mother? And why ask him to investigate the baby's origins? Surely she'd known her secret would be discovered…
No, that couldn't be the answer. He might be the 'absent-minded professor', but he didn't think he'd forget something as obvious as Lois being pregnant and giving birth. And even if it had passed his notice, Clark Kent was no fool. There was no way Lois could hide that from her husband. Besides, he'd stake his reputation on the fact that the couple had no idea how the baby had arrived in their home, nor its parentage.
But the paternity tests were irrefutable, and there was no doubt in his mind that if he had a sample of Lois' actual DNA his deduction would be verified… no doubt at all.
Bernard had eliminated all the possible explanations, which left him with the impossible… the child was a clone… sort of! If he ran some more experimental tests on the baby's tissue samples, he might even be able to prove it, though that idea was just conjecture. This was amazing! Stupendous! Someone, somewhere, who wished to remain anonymous, had perfected the yet risky procedure of cloning a child… a healthy child. Though the child's health would need careful monitoring, he hoped for everyone's sake that this was true. Of course, with the baby's super genes there was every likelihood that it would share its father's good health and invulnerability.
A clone of Superman and Lois! He could understand why someone might want a super-baby to use for their own, probably, nefarious purposes. There was always some megalomaniac villain scheming to take over the world. Only, if that were the reason, wouldn't it be more plausible to make a clone of only Superman? A hybrid baby might not have the total array of super skills.
Could it be that the cloning process needed two sets of genes to produce a viable baby? None of the theories he'd read on cloning had ever suggested that. In fact, as far as he was aware, any ongoing experiments were set to produce a clone of a single being. A clone with two sets of genetic markers hadn't yet been envisioned. This was cutting edge stuff, or beyond. It seemed this unknown scientist had created a normal healthy child using cell tissue from both father and mother.
And it still didn't explain Lois' involvement.
It was a well known fact that the superhero was a close friend of Lois, but wouldn't it have been easier to use a female who was perhaps involved with the experiment… or the woman Superman told Bernie he was dating? Could she have been Lois Lane? Somehow the idea of a corrupt research scientist with a romantic streak didn't ring true.
Besides, Bernie had never believed in the rumors of a deeper relationship between Superman and Lois. She was a married woman, and he'd often witnessed the interaction between Lois and Clark. It was clear they loved each other deeply. Then again, he'd seen the same thing between Lois and the superhero. He'd often joked that they acted just like a married couple…
Lois visited Star Labs with Superman… or with Clark. But Bernie couldn't remember a single time when she'd been here with both. In fact, he'd never seen the two men together, either!
Finally the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. The baby was a cloned blend of Lois and Superman… because Superman was Clark! It explained his yearning to have a child with an Earth woman… a woman he was married to.
Bernie downed the last of his drink and poured himself another as he pictured both Superman and Clark in his mind. The second cocktail followed the first in quick succession. This was mind blowing, but he didn't need a DNA test to confirm his deduction.
Why had he never noticed the similarities between the two men before? More than anyone he'd been allowed to study Earth's strange visitor. He should have worked it out. After all, he was a famed research scientist. Caroline had called him a god! A god who couldn't spot what was right under his nose! And yet, if he were truthful with himself, he was rather vague when it came to dealing with human beings. Give him a scientific formula or equation and he'd probably arrive at the correct conclusion sooner rather than later. Just as he had with this current problem. Only he'd found more answers than he'd been looking for.
Which brought him to the fact that he really should phone Lois and Clark and tell them he had some information. But just how much should he tell them he'd discovered? And even confirmation of the baby's parentage got them no closer to finding out who had left him in their care. Solving that enigma was more in the field of Lois and Clark.
Doctor Klein frowned at the anxious couple before him, but more often his eyes kept drifting to Clark. How could he not have recognized that his star patient — actually his only patient — was the man sitting before him? Of course, the flashy blue and red uniform was distracting, but he was one of the few people who'd seen Superman without it. He'd assumed he was the only one who'd known for certain that the suit came off. But Lois Lane obviously knew that much better than he.
Superman was Clark Kent. Any vestige of doubt disappeared from Bernie's mind as he absorbed more similarities. Both had the same height and build, though Clark tried to hide his bulk… and the glasses were a good disguise, as was the different hair style. But, on closer inspection, they shared the same features, and the tiny mole above the lip was a dead giveaway. Holy cow! How could he have missed that?
"Bernard!" Lois' exasperated voice brought him back to the present. "I'm assuming that since you called us, you have something to tell us about Matthew."
"Matthew?" Bernie turned to Lois so quickly he almost slipped off his chair, while his brain struggled to make the transition from Clark to Matthew.
"Yes, our baby… the one you were running tests on."
"Oh, the baby…"
"Lois, honey, you know we can't call him ours yet." Clark's words were a warning, but even he couldn't quite suppress the hopeful note in his voice.
"Actually, Clark, Lois is right, and you can!"
That silenced the pair, and they simply stared at the man behind the desk. Not surprisingly, it was Lois who first found her voice. "We can?"
"The baby is yours, biologically speaking." Bernie wished he was more adept at explaining things without resorting to scientific jargon. "I ran paternity tests, and there's no doubt about the baby's mother and father. His genetic code is a combination of both of yours."
Again there was a moment of silence before Clark eased forward in his chair. "But surely that's impossible for you to know. You don't have DNA samples from either Lois or myself."
"I have to admit that assumption did prove to be a stumbling block to my research, and I might have reached the right answers a whole lot sooner if you'd been honest with me," Bernie huffed and almost pouted, feeling more than a little aggrieved.
"But you don't, Dr. Klein. Neither Clark nor I have ever given you samples."
"Not as yourselves, no. But I've been studying Superman for nearly two years now, and I was certain you trusted me…"
"Superman? What does Superman have to do with this?" Lois' shock numbed her memory, blocking the fact that they'd told Dr. Klein about Matthew arriving with the 'S' shield.
"Superman, Clark that is, has everything to do with this, and don't try to pretend you don't understand what I'm saying because the contents of this folder prove otherwise." Bernie's agitation made him bold, while his fingers played with the edges of the file beneath his hand. Normally, he wouldn't dare confront Lois Lane this way, though Superman didn't scare him — he was a 'mild-mannered' pussy cat.
The 'mild-mannered' pussy cat folded his arms and his lips compressed into a tight line, making him resemble his alter-ego even more, and Bernie did wonder if he'd misjudged the situation. After a second, though, Clark stated quietly, "I take it you've discovered my secret identity?"
"Yes, and I have to tell you it wasn't a comfortable conclusion to arrive at. For a little while, I was very disappointed in you, Lois."
"Why me? What did I do to upset you?" Lois rose from her chair, regarding the doctor stormily. "And what has this got to do with Matthew?"
Recognizing the warning signs that his wife was about to explode, Clark stepped in quickly. "Bernard, I think perhaps you should tell us everything you've discovered."
Starting to feel very intimidated by Ms. Lane, Bernie agreed. "Yes, of course. I didn't mean to insult you, Lois, really I didn't, but for a short time… a very infinitesimal time, I believed the old rumors about you and Superman." He blanched as Lois edged closer. "Of course, that's not true. I mean you can't have an affair with your husband, even if he is wearing a different suit…"
"Bernie… talk!" Lois demanded.
"OK, but please remember I'm not very good at explanations… especially ones of a personal nature. You asked if I could find out about the baby's origins, and I have. I ran DNA tests and I very quickly recognized the Kryptonian genes, so, of course, I checked them against the only Kryptonian I know who lives on Earth…"
"Superman?" Clark stood and placed his arm round Lois' shoulder.
"They matched up. But I have to tell you, I was sorta puzzled why Superman should turn his baby over to you two without explaining why."
"Especially since you knew Superman wanted a child."
"Exactly, Clark. Though, after working out that you and he are the same person, it's not surprising at all."
Clark's large shoulders shrugged uneasily beneath his jacket. As always, his first instinct was to deny the accusation, but Dr. Klein knew him better than anyone outside his family and he doubted that his lies would be believed… besides, he didn't want to mislead this man. "Can I ask what you're going to do with that knowledge?"
"Nothing! I would never tell anyone." If it were possible the doctor looked even more hurt and disappointed. "I would never betray your secret. Apart from the usual ethics of doctor/patient confidentiality, I consider you a friend, a close friend. I hoped you felt the same."
"Yes, I do! And believe me, Lois and I have been debating whether we should tell you the truth. But you have to understand that this is a very dangerous secret. If it ever got out, my family and friends could be in danger…"
"Oh, I do understand. Wild horses couldn't drag it out of me." Bernie felt his insides shrinking at that scary scenario. For a moment he doubted his courage, and he could only pray that he would live up to his avowal, if he were ever tested. Then a second thought suddenly consoled him. "But I doubt it would come to that. Most people think I wander about in a fog of scientific research and wouldn't notice whether the sky fell in, so I don't suppose anyone would think to question me."
"I have faith in you, Doc, and I'm very grateful for all that research — it's saved me many times in the past. You've been a great friend, and I hope you'll keep helping in the future." The younger man's face relaxed into an eager smile and he reached out a hand across the desk. "I'd like to shake your hand as the 'real' me, if you'll accept?" The question was asked with a certain amount of trepidation, but Clark needn't have worried.
An answering grin lit up Klein's face as he shook the proffered hand. "I'm honored, and the real you would be… Clark?"
"I grew up as Clark, but Lois will tell you I'm an amalgam of both."
"You are," Lois added, smiling too. Usually, when someone got too close to Clark's true identity, her reaction was dread, but she didn't mind this trustworthy doctor knowing the secret. Particularly since they now had Matthew to worry about. He was Kryptonian too. Only, he wasn't just Kryptonian… "Bernie, that explains some of what you said, but how do you know Matthew shares my genes? As far as I know, I've never given you any sample tissues."
"Not you, Lois, but I did study your clone very closely."
Clark drew on what he'd learned of scientific theory over the years. "And clones are like identical twins?"
"Exactly, Clark!" Bernie was happy that one of his visitors understood where he was leading. "I remembered that I'd come in contact with Matthew's second set of genes before… not that it came to me right away. It was all very bewildering at first…"
"Bernie, we would have pointed you in the right direction, but we really had no idea," Clark admitted apologetically.
"Wait a minute!" Lois interjected. "How can Matthew be ours? Neither Clark nor I have ever had a child."
"Lois, how galactically stupid do you think I am? I might be thought of as the 'wacky professor', but I am aware of that fact."
Lois had the grace to blush. She might be unnerved by the situation, but it was very unfair of her to attack the person who was trying to help them. It seemed that Bernie forgave her, however, and he continued to explain.
"Which is why I've deduced that Matthew too might be a clone."
If there had been moments of silence in the small lab before, now its sound was positively deafening. Lois and Clark were completely stunned. Even if they had toyed with a similar conclusion, neither were overjoyed to hear it confirmed. Cloning was still in the experimental stage… and Lois was suddenly very afraid for her baby boy.
"Dr. Klein, none of the clones we ever encountered lived very long." She swallowed hard and asked in a small voice, feeling grateful for Clark's arm around her shoulder. "Is our baby going to die?"
"No, no! I doubt that very much." Bernie understood how hard this must be for a couple who longed for a baby but were unable to conceive in the normal way, and he cared very much what happened to his friends. "Why don't we all sit down, and I'll try to explain as simply as possible. Though I have to say that I'm not at all informed about this procedure either. However, I will tell you what I believe."
Clark settled Lois back in her chair, moving his closer and holding her hand tight. "Just tell us what you do understand, Bernard, please."
"Right… and I'll try to keep this simple." Bernie's lips twitched in a rueful grin, hoping to lighten the mood. "I've studied the baby's genetic make-up thoroughly and I've found no trace at all of doppelbuufo frog DNA, which was the particular agent that accelerated the growth rate of those earlier clones. Not all the clones which have been created in the world have had life spans of only a few weeks…"
"I know! But hasn't the only success, so far, been 'Dolly' the sheep? I can't see why some research scientists from Scotland should break into our house and leave a baby behind," Lois sighed in resignation. They were no further forward in finding out who had brought Matthew to them and thus how they could legally and publicly become his parents. It wouldn't be the wisest course of action to announce to the world that their child was… somewhat unusual.
"There have been some other successful attempts, Lois. That lab has quite a good track record, considering this is on the cutting edge of science. But as far as I know, neither they, nor any other legitimate facility, has cloned a baby. In theory it's possible, but it's far too risky and complicated a process to try with human beings, even if there have been some irresponsible researchers who have claimed otherwise." Bernie was warming to his subject. "Do you know how many attempts it took to create Dolly? And neither Leek nor Mamba could create a healthy clone. We all know what happened to those poor people. Not one of them lived more than a couple of weeks."
Once more a hush fell over the room as the three occupants contemplated the tragic lives of those Luthor had so cavalierly had created for his own ends.
"But, that's maybe not so," Lois' eyes lit up excitedly. "What about those other two clones Mamba made for Lex? He told me they had an unlimited lifespan…"
"You mean the ones Luthor stole from Star Labs?" Bernie enquired, rubbing his head sympathetically in the remembered trauma of that break-in. "I'd already tested those ones, and they weren't much different from the others. Maybe a smaller content of that frog spawn, but they definitely wouldn't have lived to a ripe old age. It's a good job they were crushed in that fall-in before they were brought to life. I'd have given them a matter of months at most. If Luthor thought otherwise, then Mamba was probably too terrified to tell him the truth. It was never a good idea to disappoint Lex Luthor."
Lois' heartbeat raced as she learned how close a call she'd had with death. Thank goodness her very own superhero had come to rescue her, even if she hadn't recognized him at the time. Clark had always been there for her, whether she wanted him or not… Just as he was now, taking her chilled hands into his own, lending her his quiet strength.
"Bernard, I'm sure that the history of cloning is very interesting," Clark conceded, yet he needed to draw Lois' memory back from that dire period in their lives. He didn't like to dwell on it either. "But could we stick with Matthew here? He's the important one."
"Sorry, Clark. I tend to get distracted. It's why I gave up general medicine. I always ended up confusing my poor patients."
Clark gave a tight grin. He could well imagine the truth of that statement, but another train of thought was forming in his mind. His teeth worried at his bottom lip as he tried to put together whatever information he had on cloning. "Aren't clones normally a copy of a single person?"
"As you said earlier… identical twins really." Bernie nodded. "With a number of years between them, depending on when the procedure was carried out. Both your clones were created with DNA which was taken from you as adults. I assume they would have started life as babies, if Leek and Mamba hadn't incorporated the doppelbuufo element which speeded up maturation, exactly as Luthor wanted. But once that gene was activated it couldn't be turned off and all the clones completed their lifespan in a very short time. Fortunately, we don't have to worry about that in Matthew's case."
"You're sure? I need to know Matthew's going to be well." Lois couldn't easily put aside her nightmare concerns for her son.
"Totally! I wouldn't lie to you."
"Thank goodness for that!" After a moment of heartfelt relief at the doctor's assurances, Clark's brow drew down again in concentration. "But you said Matthew has both Lois' and my own DNA. Is that possible?"
"Correct, Clark. It shouldn't be possible, and, strictly speaking, I'm not sure the term 'clone' actually applies to Matthew, or at least, not as we know it. Unless both you and Lois have been transported to the future where they've perfected the practice — and we all know that's completely out of the question — someone's invented a way to produce designer babies. Should be a money making scheme, if it was considered ethical or legal, which I'm sure it won't be."
Lois and Clark exchanged a pointed look, but thankfully Bernard was lost in contemplation. Was it possible that they had taken a trip in time which they'd forgotten about? No, they'd already ruled out H.G. Wells and the only other person with a time machine was Tempus and he wanted to destroy the Lane-Kent bloodline, not propagate it.
Which left them with only one other option… the New Kryptonians, but did they have the ability to create such children? They were certainly far more advanced than Earth, scientifically and technologically.
Bernie sat back up in his seat, returning to the conversation with renewed interest. "Clark, is it possible that those extra- terrestrial relations of yours could be involved? Not all of those New Kryptonians were bad people you know. In fact, I had the pleasure of having a very brief meeting with one of their medical researchers. Now what was his name? Malky or something like that! He wanted to give me some medical pointers in case you should have any long term after-effects from the Kryptonite gas."
"That's right, Clark. I remember there was a physician who took care of you when they brought us back to the mother ship. You were unconscious and could hardly breathe. I was so worried about you." Lois shivered again at the memory of running into the haze of green gas to find Clark lying on the ground so still and lifeless. "He was kind enough to take time to tell me you would recover, though he did ask if you had a doctor on Earth. I didn't know he visited you, Dr. Klein."
"It was a very quick visit. In the aftermath of Nor's attack on Metropolis, he felt it wasn't prudent to linger. But he was very concerned with your well-being, Clark. In fact, I wish he could have stayed longer because I'm sure that between us we could have come up with an antidote for your reaction to Kryptonite radiation."
"Now that might have made that whole terrible disaster worthwhile, Bernie," Clark sighed. His reaction to Kryptonite was still his biggest threat. "I think the man you're talking about is Physician Malaki, one of the more caring Kryptonians I happened to meet."
"Probably because he was a friend of your father…" Bernie mused while still formulating possibilities for creating an anti- K vaccine.
"What?" Clark shot out of his chair in less than a second, causing Bernie to jump like a startled rabbit.
"Didn't he tell you?"
"No!" The reminder of how he'd been treated by most of the councillors and crew of that ship knotted Clark's stomach. For his parents' sake he'd chosen to help his own kind, only he'd found himself a stranger in a world he couldn't understand. "But then no one was exactly encouraged to talk to Lord Kal-El, unless it was to instruct me in my duties or the laws of Krypton."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Lois remarked sardonically.
"Lois, they did come through for us in the end." Conversely, Clark found himself defending his race.
"Maybe, Clark, but not until they'd allowed their resident power- hungry moron to annex Smallville and conquer Metropolis… Not to mention finding you guilty of treason and having your molecules scattered clean across the galaxy. They might be your people, but don't expect me to think of them with high esteem."
"I wouldn't expect that, honey…" Sliding his arm around Lois' shoulder, Clark pulled her up into his embrace. "Even if I did come to an understanding with Zara and Ching, I can't say the experience lived up to my expectations either."
"Have you ever thought that they might be trying to make amends by bringing you the one thing you want but can't have?"
Bernie's question intruded on Lois and Clark's comforting hug. Together, they turned toward the doctor, though their arms still rested round each other.
"You mean Matthew?" Clark asked. "But how would they know we're incompatible?"
"Your father's friend was a very intelligent research doctor and he asked me a lot of knowledgeable questions about Earth biology. I'm also assuming the Kryptonians knew you were Clark Kent and that you intended to marry Lois."
"They wanted me to go back with them to New Krypton, but I told them that my place was here on Earth with Lois."
Bernie digested that piece of information for a moment before continuing, "You know, I'd say that Malaki had a pretty good idea you'd run into trouble when you wanted to have children. It wouldn't take rocket science for a man like him to work that out. What am I saying? These people have rocket science down to a fine art."
"But a clone, Bernie?" Clark was still having difficulty with coming to terms with the fact that their baby was created in a test tube.
"Perhaps that's the way they breed on New Krypton," Bernie suggested, wrinkling his nose in sympathy for a race of people who might never experience the joys of physical passion. Not that he did… very often, but the option was there.
"Oh?" The doctor's voice rose an octave and he leaned across the desk, gazing at Clark in enthusiastic expectation.
"Don't ask me how I know, just take my word for it… and it wasn't through personal experience." Clark flushed and glanced sideways at his wife. A tiny smirk turned up the corner of her lips. The little minx was enjoying his embarrassment.
The moment passed, however, and Lois returned to the more pressing subject. "Ok, let's say that the New Kryptonians discovered we wouldn't be able to have children. Would they have been able to create a cl… no, create Matthew?" This was her baby, no matter how he began.
"If they had the know how and the DNA material," Bernard gave his considered opinion. "They treated Clark after the gas exposure, so it's a fair assumption they would have done blood tests or taken tissue samples."
"Not only then. I had to go through this extensive physical exam before they'd sanction my 'supposed' marriage to Zara. They wanted to make sure I hadn't picked up any Earth diseases that would contaminate the Royal bloodline."
"The nerve of these guys!" Lois' stiffened in Clark's arms as she bridled at the insult to her husband. "You risk your life… you leave everything and everyone you love behind, and they treat you like some leper."
"Lois, don't! It's all in the past, and I really didn't care. I just wanted to get through it all as quickly as possible so I could get back to you."
"Those relations of yours have a lot to make up for…" Moving away from Clark, Lois started pacing, feeling the need to express her pent-up annoyance.
"They did try to atone for the mess Nor created. They put Smallville and Metropolis back in order," Clark offered mollifyingly.
"It was the least they could do…"
"I know, Lois, but it could never make up for the fear they created… the people who were hurt or killed." Contrarily, and as was his habit, Clark took the burden of guilt upon himself. "I'll never forgive myself for what happened."
"Clark, no!" A quick couple of steps brought Lois back to Clark's side and she wrapped her arms around him. He rested his head against her soft hair.
Yet comfort came from another source too. "I don't think you should take the blame in any way, Clark. You didn't ask them to come here," Bernie announced with uncommon conviction. "You're not responsible for what they did, and I'm glad your parents sent you here instead of packing you off to New Krypton. The good that Superman has done for Earth far outweighs any of the bad things that happened back then."
"See, I'm not the only one who believes in you, honey, and I'll tell you as often as you need to hear it — I'm very, very glad that your mom and dad sent you here to me," Lois leaned back and smiled lovingly into Clark's troubled face. Then she brushed a light kiss across his lips, which quickly deepened into something more.
"Hum-hum!" Bernie tried to attract the couple's attention. He was pleased that his friends were happy, but didn't they know he was a very busy man with deadlines to meet? Seconds ticked by, and Bernie cleared his throat, loudly. "Excuse me! I do have a few more questions. I thought you might have some too."
Lois and Clark broke apart, Lois smoothing down her husband's jacket while Clark tucked a stray lock of hair behind Lois' ear. "Sorry," both replied sheepishly in unison and returned to their seats.
"What did you want to ask us?" Lois sat up straighter and crossed her ankles demurely. They really needed to stay on track here.
Bernie stood up and came around the bench. "Lois, is it possible you left some tissue on that spaceship, inadvertently perhaps?"
"I guess, yes. I was on it a couple of times, not for long, though. I didn't eat or drink there, and I didn't touch much of anything, except Clark, but I guess I might have… shed a few hairs for example." Lois suddenly remembered preparing for Lord Kal-El's inspection. "Yes, I definitely brushed my hair. Can't they use hair samples?"
"It's possible, if a follicle is attached. They could extract DNA from minute samples, especially with their technology…"
The floodgates of Lois' memory opened up, reminding her of the time she'd tried hard to forget. "And they took a blood sample from me. I guess they didn't want to put their precious First Lord at risk either."
Clark, however, was lost in his own thoughts. "Lois, what happened to the concubine's dress?"
"I left that on board. It wasn't exactly something I'd normally wear to the office…"
"Pity!" Clark cocked his head to one side and wiggled his eyebrows expressively as he too relived the scene of spotting Lois in the control room of the floating palace.
"The New Kryptonians have something you wore? I expect they could have found traces on that," Bernie suggested, knowingly.
"Sweat traces? I don't know about you, honey, but I certainly did a fair bit of sweating when I saw you in that pink dress — that leash must have appealed to my baser instincts."
"No kidding. What about me? That black skin-tight outfit they put you in really was a turn on."
"No, not sweat traces — they're just water, but perhaps skin particles. I'd be more inclined to go with the hairbrush or the blood sample, though." Bernie found the questions intriguing, but seeing that Lois and Clark weren't listening to him, and fearing another romantic interlude looming, he brought them quickly down to Earth. "Well, between us, I think we've safely established the how and the who, because I really don't believe anyone on Earth has the capability."
"Adding the blanket and my shield into the equation, I'd say you're right, Bernie, but that still doesn't explain why they left Matthew in our house and disappeared without a reasonable explanation."
"And it doesn't make it any easier for us to get legal custody of Matthew," Lois said, blowing out a breath in frustration.
"I can give written proof of paternity…"
"And how would that help, Bernie? Just how would you explain our becoming biological parents without an actual pregnancy? The stork delivered him? Because that would be just as probable as cloning!"
Sighing audibly, Bernie sagged against the wooden bench. "Yes, I can see how that would create a problem."
"Not to mention we really don't want to attract any more media attention to our family. We have a secret to protect." Clark stood again, realizing the meeting was coming to an end. His hands dug deep into his pockets and he looked as perplexed as the doctor.
"It looks like we have another secret to protect now, and I think I'd prefer that Matthew isn't referred to as a 'clone' ever again," Lois declared adamantly. "He might have been created a 'little' differently, but from now on he's just a baby… our baby." She rose to stand by Clark's side and slid her arm through his, seeking warmth.
Immediately, Clark squeezed Lois' arm, tucking it closer to his body. "I understand completely, honey, and I'm sure Bernie does, too." The doctor nodded his head vehemently, confirming Clark's words. "Thanks, Doc. We appreciate all your work. At least we know something about our son now. It means a lot to know he really does belong to us, even if we can never tell anyone else."
"That's OK. I was glad to help… and don't hesitate to come back, if you have any problems with Matthew. Not that I foresee any," Bernie rushed to calm Lois' and Clark's alarm at his tactless words, then he turned to pick up the file he'd left on the desk and handed it to Clark. "I think I'd rather you took care of this. It's my findings on the paternity tests. I trust Star Labs security systems completely, but I think this is for your eyes only. And remember, from now on, I have two patients."
"Thanks, Bernie. We'll be in touch." Clark waited while his wife slipped the folder inside her briefcase, then with his hand at her back they walked together through the door.
Watching them go, Bernie tugged at his bow-tie, his collar suddenly feeling very tight. "That went better than expected," he told himself, returning to his seat behind his desk. Yet he did feel conflicted. There was one important piece of information he had kept to himself. The very fact that a hybrid baby was alive and well was confirmation that Kryptonians and Earthlings were genetically compatible and only the insemination process wasn't in harmony. Which meant that he might eventually be able to rectify the couple's infertility problem. Of course, it would take a lot of research and perhaps his quest would never be successful, so he'd made the decision to say nothing. To raise Lois' and Clark's hopes on such a flimsy supposition would be too cruel, but Bernie wasn't about to give up on his friends. Perhaps one day Matthew would have a brother or sister.
Chapter Five: Explanations… of a kind?
Following their visit to Star Labs, Lois and Clark had spent the rest of the morning and afternoon at the Planet, putting in some work on a current story to keep Perry satisfied. Then they'd come home a little earlier than normal to take over their new roles as Mom and Dad, which they both had to admit weren't exactly easy. Thank goodness they had Clark's parents to help out.
Lois' father and mother had left the house on Hyperion Avenue the day following Matthew's arrival, Sam to return to his backstreet lab and his work on his strange experiments and Ellen to visit an old 'Bridge Club' friend in Florida. Both Kent couples had been surprised at Ellen's travel plans, since it was clear she was still enamored of her ex-husband. Yet, she was acting diffidently, making Sam work for his redemption, and neither Martha and Jonathan nor Lois and Clark could blame her. Besides, it was probably for the best that Lois' parents weren't too closely involved with the details of Matthew's origins.
In the early evening, after Matthew had finally gone down to sleep for a few hours, Lois and Clark had, at last, found time to relate all Dr. Klein's findings to Martha and Jonathan.
"So, that's where we're at now!" Lois concluded, settling closer to Clark on the couch. They both felt slightly overwhelmed. Where did they go from here? It was the question that filled their thoughts.
Wide-eyed and silent, the elder Kents sat on the opposite couch, having listened intently to the amazing litany of revelations. Just like the younger couple their hands were entwined. Even for Martha and Jonathan, who had raised a superboy from another world, this was fairly staggering information.
Martha was the first to speak up. "OK, so Matthew is a clo… sorry, Lois, a… test tube baby?" Lois gave a brief nod of her head, preferring that description, but only just marginally, and Martha continued. "Created from DNA, which someone… the New Kryptonians, you think, managed to collect from both of you while you were on their spaceship?"
"I know it sounds a bit 'sci-fi-fantasy', Mom, but that's about it in a nutshell!" Clark leaned nearer to Lois, realizing she was in need of the physical contact… Sheesh, he needed it too! "Pretty mind-blowing, eh?"
"Son, nothing surprises your mom and me much any more," Jonathan chuckled as he answered. "But I have to say this comes pretty close! The important thing is, though, that Matthew is *our* grandson — *your* child. Seems to me the rest is just detail!"
"Exactly,!" Lois agreed, her expression brightening a little, pleased that the level-headed Jonathan had once again cut straight through to the crux of the matter. "You've no idea how relieved I feel, knowing that strangers aren't going to turn up at our door to claim Matthew back."
"Me too, honey. That was the one thing I was dreading and my fears just grew worse with every minute he was with us. You don't know how many times I've considered picking up you and Matthew and flying away, if that had happened."
Lois smiled gently into her husband's face. He'd tried to keep his emotions in check, but he couldn't hide how he felt. "You think I didn't know that, Clark." She nudged his shoulder with her own and they stared into each other's eyes, silently reaffirming their commitment to each other and now to their son.
Her beauty still had the power to take his breath away, especially when she looked so vulnerable… but there would be time for private comfort later, or maybe not, now that Matthew was sharing their room. A slow smile spread over Clark's face as he realized how much this little guy was going to alter their lives, but he welcomed the changes, and he knew, without a shadow of doubt, that Lois felt exactly the same.
After a moment, though, Clark reluctantly broke away from his wife's gaze and faced his parents again. Right now, they had a problem to solve. "Mind you, the New Kryptonian part is still supposition… but they do seem to fit the profile."
"Have you tried contacting them telepathically, dear? You could do that last time they were here."
"Yes, Mom, it was the first thing I tried when we left Star Labs, but either I've lost the knack, or no one is listening!"
"Maybe they just sent Matthew in one of those transporter things. Like the ones they have on that TV program… you know, 'Beam me up!'… or in this case, down!" Lois was prepared to consider every angle. "Maybe they never came near Earth."
"You mean those molecular-transport pods? I don't know much about them, honey, but I did learn they don't have the range to reach from New Krypton to Earth." Clark let go of Lois and walked over to the large window, pulling aside the drapes. "If they brought Matthew here, they have to be somewhere up there, fairly close."
"Or they've already headed back to New Krypton." Lois followed Clark and slipped by him to stare up into the heavens. Twilight was coloring the sky and a few brave stars twinkled dimly against the deepening purple. She felt his arms come around her again, enclosing her with his gentle strength. "Whatever they have planned, I think we should forget about them for now and concentrate on how we can legally make Matthew our own!"
"I don't think we have an alternative." Clark's breath was warm on her skin as he spoke softly into her ear and Lois felt her legs grow weak. Even now, he had the power to touch her…
"You need to adopt Matthew. It's the only way to make his position secure." Martha's voice broke into Lois' comfort zone and she shook herself mentally. This was not the time for lingering in the safe world of her husband's caress, and Superman's strength wouldn't help them solve this dilemma. In fact, the superhero's involvement in this case was definitely not an option.
Lois took hold of Clark's hand and pulled him with her back to the couch. "We've known that from the moment we found him, Martha, but adopting Matthew might be easier said than done!"
"Yeah, Mom, as we've already told you, Metropolis County Adoption Department have recommended that we're not parental material."
"You mean, I'm not, Clark! Ms. Bailey thought you'd make a great dad." Lois' shoulders slumped a little.
"Lois, we're a team, remember. We're in this together."
"Yes, and since both partners have to be approved, we struck out!"
Jonathan rested his elbows on his knees, and leaned forward. "But that was just one woman's opinion. Maybe when you applied this time, you'd be assigned another social worker…"
"Dad, I'd like to think so, but I'm pretty sure that Ms. Bailey's findings will be recorded. She only checked us out a few days ago. Even if we did get another agent, it's sure to come up again."
"And in the meantime we'd have to let Child Welfare know that we'd found a baby." Lois' fingers nervously pushed her hair away from her face. "Given Ms. Bailey's opinion of me, they'd probably take Matthew away immediately and place him in a foster home while we were investigated…"
"And there would be no guarantee that we would get him back. Knowing Matthew's genealogy, we can't risk that!"
"Definitely not!" Martha was of the same point of view. "You know, I think maybe we should ask Doc Warner to help again."
Lois looked surprised. "The same old doctor who helped you adopt Clark? Isn't he dead?"
"No, dear," Martha replied. "He wasn't that old when Clark was a baby, though he's probably a little over 70 now. He's retired, but every so often he helps out at the local practice if some of the other doctors are on vacation or sick. The people of Smallville trust him and he's still as sharp as a tack! The towns' folk won't let him hang up his stethoscope for good."
"Does he know about Clark?" Lois asked, intrigued despite their present predicament. She'd learned about most of her husband's life but, apart from knowing that Clark was legally adopted, she'd never really heard the details of that particular chapter.
"Officially, I'd say no… but, unofficially, I've always suspected he put two and two together," Jonathan joined in the conversation. "We never did tell him, but Doc Warner doesn't miss much."
"Neither did his sister, Miss Margaret." Martha nodded thoughtfully. "She was quite a few years older than her brother and when she died he asked Maisie and me to help clear out her personal things. I found a copy of the Daily Planet that headlined Superman's début into the world. She'd had it framed and there was a scrap book with a few other articles on your rescues. Course she died the same year, but she always told anyone who was willing to listen how lucky the world was to have Superman."
"You never told me that, Mom!"
"Clark, you had enough to worry about that first year, learning how to be a superhero and how to balance both your jobs! Not to mention trying to get a certain lady reporter to notice you existed!" Martha and Jonathan shared a grin.
Lois had the grace to blush. She wasn't exactly proud of the way she'd treated Clark back then, yet her mood changed quickly as she searched for information; perhaps they could use something that could help them out now. "So, she knew and she never told anyone! But how did Miss Warner help with the adoption?"
Martha sat forward in her seat as she took up the tale. "Margaret ran the local orphanage. Any abandoned child would have been taken there, but, like you two, Jonathan and I had already approached the adoption agency — we were a little further down the road though. Margaret and the Doc just sped up the process for us. They suggested it was pointless taking the baby away from the home that was going to become his anyway. As the Warners were a very well thought of family, the rest of the adoption board agreed. We got to keep Clark and the legal papers were signed pretty quickly."
"Right!" Lois huffed. "No one was ever going to suggest that either of you wouldn't make good parents!"
"I'm not so sure about that, Lois," Jonathan leaned over and touched his daughter-in-law's hand. "We went on those 'civil rights marches' in the sixties, and though we never did get arrested, I can tell you, Martha came darn close a time or two. Boy, she had my heart in my mouth a few times!" The older Kent grinned and shook his head as he reminisced. His wife's elbow digging into his ribs surprised him.
"Jonathan! That was years ago!"
"I know, I just don't want Lois thinking she's the only 'rabble rouser' female in this family."
A tiny smile turned up the corners of Lois' mouth, but again she returned to current matters. "Ok, so what could this Doctor do to help us now?"
Taking a firm hold of Lois' hand, Jonathan answered as honestly as he could. "I can't say for certain, but I think he'd want to do what he could. I think he might be prepared to sign a paper to say he was present at Matthew's birth, which might help in getting a birth certificate. The mother's name could be registered as unknown."
Clark's eyebrows rose at his Dad's words and he didn't need his superpowers to hear Lois draw in a quick breath before she asked. "And why would he be willing to lie for us? I've never even met the man!"
"Doc Warner is one of a kind, and… well, he has a 'soft spot' for Martha…"
"Jonathan!" Martha spluttered again.
"Don't be coy, Martha, pretending you don't know! Besides, the Doc was way too much a gentleman to do anything but admire from afar, so it was never a problem. But apart from that, he's always taken an interest in Clark. He was real proud when you went to Metropolis, son, and got a job with the Daily Planet…"
"He took out an annual subscription for the paper then…" Martha injected, smiling. "And he was thrilled when you two finally made it to the altar. Every time your Dad or I meet him, he asks how you're doing. So yes, I think it would be worth our while for me to make a phone call."
"Mom, maybe I should ask," Clark suggested. "This is for Lois and me."
"No, son, let your mother talk to Doc; she knows just how to wind him round her little finger!" Jonathan said with a wink at the pair still sitting opposite.
Martha shrieked. "Jonathan, will you stop it! You're giving Lois and Clark the wrong impression of my friendship with the doctor. I can assure you, he's a real sweet man, full of old-world charm perhaps, but he'll want to help only because it's the right thing to do!"
"I know, but I just couldn't help kidding you a bit." Jonathan and Martha exchanged a look of gentle understanding built upon long years of living with each other's habits and idiosyncrasies. "But there's no time like the present. Why don't you go call him now."
Patting her husband's shoulder, Martha stood. "You're right. And if you don't mind, I'll phone from the kitchen. I don't think I need any distractions from you." This time it was her turn to tease, but she dropped a kiss on Jonathan's head as she turned to walk out of the room.
An interminable period of time passed for the three people left behind in the living room, and Lois was even wishing that Matthew would wake up, crying for attention to take her mind off the conversation taking place in her kitchen. Beside her, she noticed Clark fidgeting with his glasses and unconsciously touching his ear a couple of times. Clearly he was tempted to eavesdrop on his mother's phone call, but his parents' teaching and his own self- discipline prevented him from doing so. Jonathan was the only one who seemed fairly calm.
At last, after an eternity which was closer in reality to ten minutes, Martha returned.
"Well?" Lois jumped up, unable to contain herself any longer.
"Doctor Warner is willing to say that he brought Matthew into the world." The older woman grinned as she related the most important point.
"He is?" Clark stood too.
"Oh yes! He never regretted helping out the first time round, so he doesn't see any reason why this current crisis should be any different."
"And he isn't even curious about where Matthew came from?" Lois was having difficulty getting her head around someone who would want to offer such altruistic and unquestionable support, which could very well land him in trouble with the authorities, if it got out.
"I asked him that in particular, sweetie, and he told me that Matthew's past wasn't important — he was more interested in making sure that the baby had a safe future."
"He does know that we're not the biological mother and father? At least, not publicly." Clark was still wary of giving away too much information, even to someone who probably knew a lot more about his history than he'd ever imagined.
"Oh, yes, Clark, I kept that part quiet. I just told him that the baby was abandoned on your doorstep, but you couldn't go through the normal channels, since you'd had some previous difficulty with the local adoption agency because of your life-threatening jobs."
"And that didn't worry him, Mom?"
"Of course not!" Martha crossed to where her daughter and son stood side-by-side. "It all boils down to the fact that Doctor Warner has complete faith in you both. He knows you'll love Matthew and take good care of him. In fact, he was kinda tickled at the 'lost baby' bit, saying it was funny how history repeated itself! But he's happy to play his part again. Which just leaves the travel details to be settled."
"Travel details?" Clark asked.
"Yes, he wants to know if Superman is going to fly you, Lois and the baby out to Smallville, though I think that was asked with a wink. Or maybe you'd rather Superman flew him to Metropolis. Truthfully, I think he'd prefer the latter option, cause he mentioned he'd been waiting a long time to fly with the Boy in Blue, and he'd rather do it while he was still 'young' enough to enjoy the experience!" Martha couldn't help but laugh at her kids' bemused expressions. "Oh, and I'm to tell you he is looking forward very much to meeting his hero."
"Superman?" Lois asked.
"No, dear, I expect he knows he's already met Superman. He means Lois Lane. He does admire all those exposes you've written — putting all those criminals behind bars. He says he might be in his dotage, but he still appreciates a brave young woman, especially one with a lovely pair of eyes!"
Lois found herself laughing unexpectedly. "I think I'm looking forward to meeting Doc Warner too."
"Yeah," Clark gulped, not really sure that this time he was in complete agreement with his wife.
In the corner of the couch, Jonathan found himself laughing heartily. "Don't worry about it, son. Doc Warner's bark is worse than his bite. He's been a confirmed bachelor for many years and I doubt he's thinking of changing his status this late in life."
"Clark, you can't tell me you're jealous!" Lois swung round to stare at her husband. "This is the man who almost brought you into the world, even if he does fancy himself as an ageing beau!"
"Will you two stop!" Martha sent a disapproving glance at her husband and daughter-in-law. "Doc Warner is an old man who likes to tease, but it doesn't change the fact that he wants to see Matthew settled safely as part of this family. He's free tomorrow night and you're to let him know if he's coming to Metropolis or not."
"OK, I guess I owe him a flight, even if he is going to ogle my wife!" Clark finally joined in the fun. "But just behave yourself, Ms. Lane. No one knows better than I do how you can send a man's blood pressure through the roof, and I'm Superman! I'd rather he signed those papers before he died of hyper- tension!"
Lois allowed herself to be pulled into her husband's arms for a kiss. "I'll be good, and on the way Superman can tell the doctor that Clark Kent is a very jealous man, so he'd better be on his best behavior." But once again Lois' teasing mood disappeared, leaving her dispirited. "So, now we can establish Matthew's birth, but that idea about the mother remaining anonymous would send us right back to Child Welfare. Before we begin a private adoption process we need a mother's consent."
"You've been doing your homework too, honey?" Somehow that didn't surprise Clark. "And we have to at least attempt to look for a father to get his co-operation."
"Clark, we can get round not having a father, but where are we going to get a woman who'd be willing to perjure herself by signing an affidavit stating she's giving her baby to us, and then keep quiet about it for the rest of all our lives?"
"Yes, it does seem an impossible project, and even if we could find someone, how would you feel about that, Clark?" Martha stared steadily at her son.
Clark drew in a deep breath and his lips pursed visibly as he let it back out. His gaze took in the others in the room. "Pretty much the same way as I do about Doc Warner's part in this, I guess. You all know how much I hate lying… how I always try to stand for the truth. But this isn't about me; this is about securing Matthew's birthright and keeping him safe. For the sake of my son, I'm more than willing to live with my conscience." Clark's voice softened on the words 'my son' and his lips twisted involuntarily into his lopsided grin. He'd been afraid he'd never get the chance to say those words. They sounded… incredible!
"Looks like that's our plan of action, then," Lois stated firmly. "But I have no idea how to begin. Does anyone else have any suggestions?"
"Why don't we take this into the kitchen? I'll make us some coffee and we can have a brainstorming session," Martha spoke as she headed through the dining room, followed by the rest of her family.
"Coffee, coffee, would be good!" Lois murmured, but suddenly she collided with an immovable force as, in front of her, Clark stopped to listen. At the familiar action, Lois' heart sank a little. "Oh, no, don't tell me there's some emergency you have to rush off to? This is important, Clark." For the most part, she didn't mind the rest of the world borrowing her husband, but this was a family crisis.
"No, sweetheart, I was just checking that Matthew was still asleep." He smiled down at her and slipped his arm gently round her shoulder.
"He's sleeping like a little angel! Come on, let's see if we can think up some solutions before he wakes up for another feed."
Yet no matter how hard they tried, an answer to their problems didn't spring to mind. At one point, forgery and masquerading were mentioned, but no one could really take them seriously. Three cups of coffee later and Clark finally voiced an idea which, it had to be said, was born of desperation.
"Lois, what about Lucy?"
"What about her?" Lois was standing by the sink, rinsing out her mug. She'd debated with herself about having yet another coffee, but felt a bit waterlogged, and with this much caffeine, she probably would have trouble sleeping later. Though that might not be a bad thing, given that Matthew was still waking up every few hours. Suddenly, she turned to face her husband. "Clark, are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"
"Maybe!" He shrugged, looking very uncomfortable. "I wouldn't bring her into this if we could come up with another way, but is it possible… no, forget, I mentioned it. Bad idea!"
"Yes, it is! I wouldn't ask Lucy to tell such a huge lie for us, Clark… to say she's the baby's mother." Lois' voice rose unusually high. "It just wouldn't be right. Maybe if she offered, that might be different. But she doesn't even know we have a baby, so that's not going to happen… and no, I'm not going to tell her about this." She leveled a finger at Clark. "Not until everything is sorted!"
"If it ever is," Clark uttered with uncharacteristic pessimism, and cringed at Lois' glare of disapproval.
In the background, Martha and Jonathan exchanged anxious glances. The kids' nerves were fraying badly.
"Besides, I wouldn't sully Lucy's reputation that way." At Lois' statement, Clark's eyebrows lifted skeptically. "And before you say anything, I know Lucy does have a certain penchant for guys with an unsavory reputation, but as far as I know, she's never been foolish enough to become an unmarried mother. So just forget that idea, Clark."
"OK! I didn't really care for it anyway…"
"And, I don't know what we could tell Lucy that would justify why we need her to do this. You know, Clark, I love my sister… I really do, even if it doesn't always seem that way, but she can be a bit of a flake, and I'm not sure we could rely on her. I mean, she wouldn't purposefully give us away, and using Lucy would definitely be preferable to a complete a stranger… but she…" Lois' babble halted as Clark's last sentence penetrated her brain. "You don't want to use Lucy, either?"
Crossing to Lois' side, Clark placed his arm around her and led her back to a seat at the table, pulling her onto his knee as he sat down. "I don't want to use anyone, sweetheart. And I was wrong to think of putting Lucy in that position, but not because I don't trust her. I think she'd be very good at keeping our secrets. The Lane women happen to be very smart, you know."
"Except my mother!"
"Even your mother!"
"You think so?" Lois' brow furrowed in consideration. Her mother had proved pretty stable lately and very supportive.
"I do." Clark smiled encouragingly into his wife's face. "Ellen went through a lot, you know. Being cheated on by someone you love very much must be pretty hard to take. It's not too surprising she fell apart. I'm sorry that meant you had a really hard time growing up, honey, but I can't be too mad at either of your parents. They made you — the best wife, the best mother in the world, and I'm very thankful that they did."
"Oh, Clark, how is it that you always manage to say the right thing?"
"Just telling it how I see it, Lois."
"Clark's right, sweetie. Your mother and father are really trying hard to make amends for their past mistakes," Martha ventured her opinion. Even knowing Lois had an unhappy childhood, she couldn't help but like Ellen and Sam.
"I know, Martha, and I'm pleased about that, I really am." Lois slid her hand down Clark's arm and her fingers intertwined with his. "Though I can't help but be a little uneasy about them getting back together. I'm just not sure that can work, and I don't want to see history repeat itself. But that's not up to me and I'll try to back whatever they decide."
"Your mom isn't rushing into anything, Lois; that has to be a good sign," Clark suggested.
"True! She's acting fairly wisely for once, so perhaps there is hope for them," Lois agreed, then sighed and leaned into Clark for support. "I just wish there was such a silver lining ahead for our plans. You know, Clark, I think we're back to the crazy idea of me donning a secret identity as Matthew's biological mother, signing an affidavit saying I want to give my baby over to *me* to take care of for the rest of his life! Geesh!"
"How many checks would they run on that?" Jonathan asked, not treating the plan as impossible. It was 'out there', but if it was the only option, what choice did they have? "I mean apart from Doc Warner's statement that he was present when you give birth, wouldn't you need some proof of identity… like a social security number, or a driver's licence… maybe a passport?"
"Oh boy, this is getting even more complicated!" Clark shifted uneasily in his chair, nearly unseating Lois. He pulled her back onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her securely. "Do you think Bobby Bigmouth would be able to find us a good forger?"
"Clark, we can't involve any strangers in this!"
"I know, honey. I was just thinking out loud again. Do you have any other suggestions."
Lois couldn't help but grin conspiratorially. "Well, you could sneak into the relevant offices and steal some blank forms. Then you can draw pretty good, so you think you can copy well too?"
"Lois, Superman doesn't break in and steal things!"
"Clark, you've done it before when we've been in tight situations, and you said you'd be willing to do anything to protect Matthew. That's what all this is about, keeping your son safe."
"I know!" Clark hugged Lois against his chest comfortingly.
"Actually, Lois, you've got the wrong person in the family if you're looking for a forger," Jonathan said, looking pointedly in the other direction to the couple. "Martha's the resident copier."
"You are, Martha?"
"Yes, dear, but don't ask me to explain at the moment. It was a long time ago, before Clark came along."
"This wouldn't have anything to do with why you almost got arrested, would it?"
Thankfully for Martha's sake, Matthew chose that moment to wake up, and both Lois and Clark hurried upstairs to see to their son.
"Jonathan, did you have to bring that up?"
"I'm only trying to help the kids. This whole business is stressing them out."
"Yes, dear, but I'm not a very good forger, otherwise we wouldn't have got caught when we showed our passes to get inside that base. Thank goodness they just took us for crazy kids and threw us off the premises. Contrary to what you thought, I didn't really want to get a criminal record."
"I'm well aware of that," Jonathan grinned, "and I'll admit now that I was proud of the way you stood up for what you believed in. But as for not being a good forger… I know you've been practicing."
"Jonathan, I thought you hadn't noticed!" Martha toyed nervously with her empty coffee cup. "You know, I'm only still standing up for what I believe in. I believe that Matthew should be with his true mom and dad, and I'll do anything to make sure that happens."
Jonathan's hand stretched across the table and stilled his wife's anxious twitching. "I understand, Martha. You know, Clark isn't the only man in this family who found the best wife and mother."
Chapter Six: That Silver Lining?
The next day at the Planet Lois and Clark were closeted in their editor's office for sometime, as they'd decided to let Perry and Jimmy into part of the story of Matthew's arrival and their intentions for the future. Both men were surprised, but not too much. After all, strange things often happened to Lois and Clark — a baby abandoned on their doorstep wasn't too far off the scale.
"That's quite a story, kids, and you have absolutely no idea who the baby's parents are?" Perry asked, leaning back in his chair and watching closely his two star reporters' reactions. Lois kept her expression bland, but something flickered briefly in Clark's eyes. Was it remorse or embarrassment, or a little bit of both? Clark never had been as good at hiding his inner feelings as Lois, but the boy was improving, Perry thought. Must be living with Lois that's doing it! He could be wrong, but he was certain he hadn't been told the whole story. Then again, did he want to know the truth? Probably not! So, instead he grinned helpfully up at the couple, waiting…
"No, Chief!" Lois finally offered, choosing her words carefully. "We still have no idea who left him with us."
She glanced over at Clark, her look conveying the point that she hadn't told an outright lie, but he answered with a non- committal, minuscule shrug. Clark had stated that he was willing to hedge the truth to protect his son and he was discovering that he'd be prepared to go a lot further down that road than ever before. Matthew's helplessness simply magnified the protective instinct in Clark.
"That sucks!" Jimmy decided to join the conversation. "Poor little guy! But whoever did it, must have known they were leaving him with the best people ever. I mean, everyone in Metropolis knows Lane and Kent's reputation for fighting for truth and justice…"
"Isn't that Superman, Jimmy?" Lois asked with just a hint of an exasperated smile.
"Sure, but you two do it too… in your own way. Maybe someone thought you'd make good parents. And weren't you checking up on adoption…"
"Jimmy!" This time it was Clark who cut in. "I don't think we want too many people to know about that, not now with Matthew involved. The last thing we want is Child Welfare or County Adoptions breathing down our necks. So, Lois and I would be grateful if you kept this quiet for the moment, until we can sort out what to do."
"Hey, CK, no sweat!" Jimmy quickly agreed. "I understand. Who would want someone like that 'dragon lady,' Ms. Bailey, chasing you around? Boy, did she have a face like an old prune!"
"I think we can do without your colorful remarks, Jimmy, but in this case, you're right. Lois, Clark, you know you can rely on our discretion. Also, I probably don't have to tell you, because I'm pretty sure you're already doing it, but you can use the Planet resources to look for… whoever abandoned your baby," Perry said helpfully. "And if you want any legal assistance, don't hesitate to ask and I'll talk to the Planet's legal team. If you're planning on adopting Matthew, I'm guessing you'll have to do so privately, so you're going to need a lawyer."
"Thanks, Perry." Clark stood up, intending to close the conversation. "We'll be sure to let you know if we need extra help."
"Oh, and in the meantime, you two can work more flexible hours if it will help with child care… until you've got something more permanent worked out. But don't you let that cat out of the bag," Perry said with a wink. "I don't want the rest of the newsroom thinking I've gone soft."
"Thanks, Chief. Martha and Jonathan are helping out just now, but they can't stay here forever. The farm won't run itself and we don't want to bankrupt them. We're lucky to have them here. This parenting business isn't as easy as I thought it would be," Lois admitted with a blush. "Babies don't keep the same hours as the rest of us do!"
A loud laugh issued from Jimmy. "Oh, that's why you two have been dragging yourselves around these past couple of days. Here I was thinking you were getting all ho… you were… well, you know what I was thinking, " Jimmy finished feebly. He was aware of being stared at. "Look if you don't need me any more, I'll just go… go stick my head under a cold tap!" With that final declaration, he backed out of the room, and the three others finally let their anxieties go with a hearty laugh.
"I guess you two should get back to writing some copy," Perry suggested. "This is still a newspaper, and I do need something from my best team. Just keep me informed on what's happening with Matthew, and maybe I could stop by and meet the newest member of the Kent family, if you wouldn't mind, that is."
"No, of course not, Perry. Look, why don't you make it this weekend, say Saturday for dinner?" Clark asked, heading for the door.
"Yes, and, Perry, bring Alice, if she'd like to come," Lois added, slipping past Clark and out into the newsroom.
"Hey, Lois, how did you know I'm seeing Alice again? I thought I'd kept that quiet!"
"Chief, Clark and I have sources everywhere!"
Lois' laughter echoed round the door just as Clark closed it behind them, leaving Perry alone in the room, staring open- mouthed. Then he too continued to laugh. Lois and Clark weren't the only ones who knew secrets, only he kept them to himself!
As arranged, later that evening, Superman duly picked up Doc Warner, and, since the old gentleman seemed to prefer to pretend that the hero and Clark Kent were two separate people, Clark played along. Superman flew carefully and slowly toward Metropolis as the doctor looked more frail than he remembered. At first, they traveled in silence, but the older man's lively personality soon emerged, and Clark spent most of the journey answering questions on his latest rescues.
Finally they arrived above the park near Hyperion Avenue, and Superman warned the doctor that he planned on landing in the cover of the trees where Clark was waiting nearby to drive him the short distance to the brownstone. The old man felt his feet touch the ground and he was grateful for the hand that steadied him while he found his balance, then the brightly clad figure faded into the shadows. Moments later, Clark appeared, glasses fixed firmly on his nose and dressed in casual clothes. He shook Doc Warner's hand warmly, enquiring whether the doctor had enjoyed the flight, before escorting him to the Jeep and home.
The rest of the family welcomed the old man in and made him comfortable in the living room, Martha offering him something to drink, and not in the least surprised when he ordered his favorite beverage.
If Lois was surprised at her first sight of the elderly doctor, she kept it to herself. No one had described the man to her, but she hadn't been expecting him to look quite so old… and tired. He was tall but stooped, though she had the feeling that once his back had been ramrod straight, and that his now deeply lined countenance had once been very attractive. Yet, when she was introduced to him, his eyes lit up from within and his smile beamed brightly. He took her hand and shook it gently, as if she were made of fine porcelain, and Lois realized she was seeing the real Doctor Warner. The old man's body might be failing, but his spirit remained undaunted.
"Ms. Lane," the doctor said in a voice that was only a little stronger than his physique. "I've been waiting a long time to meet you. Did Clark tell you, you're my favorite reporter? He's a close second, of course, but I do think you are much prettier! I know I shouldn't say that. These days, young women like to be known for their brains and not their looks, but it doesn't hinder to have both, you know… and you do!"
"Well, thank you, Doctor Warner, and I'm pleased to meet you too. Won't you sit down? You've had quite a journey!" Lois led her guest over to the couch.
The old man's eyes seemed to sparkle even more as he sank into the thick cushions. "Oh, yes, flying with Superman. An 'out of this world' experience if I've ever had one, but I'm sure you're quite used to it by now, Lois. May I call you that?"
"Of course, you may." Behind her, in his brand new baby carrier, Matthew began to stir — not crying, not yet. Lois decided to lift him, just in case. After all, her son probably wanted a cuddle and Lois was very happy to provide one. Deftly, she lifted him into her arms — she really was beginning to get the hang of this — and turned to face her visitor. "Doctor Warner, we thought you'd like to meet Matthew, too."
"I would indeed," the old man replied, patting the sofa next to him in invitation. Lois sat with her child, showing him proudly to the doctor, who reached out a hand to touch the baby's soft cheek. "Matthew's a handsome boy, Lois, and do you know, he reminds me of Clark that very first time I saw him." For a moment, Doc Warner appeared flustered as he relived his memories, but he quickly composed himself. "Of course, that's not possible, but I can't help but feel like a surrogate grandfather here."
Lois smiled. This clever old gentleman certainly knew a lot more than he was willing to admit, but she wasn't perturbed. "For what you're about to do for us, you are practically family!"
"Which brings up a good point! Dr. Warner, are you sure about this… violating your code of ethics?" Clark asked gently. He was grateful for the help, but felt he should give the doctor another chance to back out. "You know, you can still change your mind. We'd understand."
The grey-haired doctor accepted the Irish coffee Martha had brought into the room and turned to smile at the young man he'd watched grow into one of the finest, truest, most compassionate beings on the planet. He supposed it was difficult for Clark to understand his motives. Young people saw things mostly in black and white, and real life was never so easily judged.
"I'm over seventy, son, and I've lived a long and mostly happy life, but this heart of mine isn't working as well as it was." He took a sip from his mug. "Mmm, Martha, just the way I like it!" The liquid slid smoothly down his throat, warming his innards. The night air had been cool on the journey, and he'd been thankful his transport had been superheated. Nevertheless, his old bones were happy to be back indoors and sitting on a comfortable sofa. "You know, my doctor would be telling me coffee topped up with whisky and cream isn't good for my state of health, but I'm a firm believer in a little of what you fancy does you good! Mind you, I'm not planning on buying the farm any time real soon, but I have treated my last patient, finally. I'll never work as a doctor again, so there isn't much the Medical Board could do to me, even if they did find out I'd bent the truth a bit."
"What you're doing is more than just a bit!" Clark reminded him.
"True, and I wouldn't be contemplating lying for a second if I didn't believe it was for the best. Clark, over the years I've seen people be economical with the truth — people who were in positions of trust who were willing to bend the rules for the greater good, or even for far more self-serving motives than we're dealing with here. Special circumstances call for special sacrifices, so think of my breaking my ethics as my small sacrifice. One I'll gladly pay to help this baby find his proper home in this world. My heart may be failing me, but there's nothing wrong with my eyesight; I can see how much you and Lois love that little boy."
He glanced at the dark-eyed woman holding her child, staring down at him as if he were the most precious gift in the world. If only he'd had a second chance, he might have done things differently, he thought. When he'd lost Laura, he hadn't wanted anyone else… but that had been long ago, in another lifetime. He'd dedicated the rest of his days to helping the people of Smallville; good people, like Martha and Jonathan, and now Lois and Clark. Until this moment, he'd never regretted that decision, but seeing Lois and Matthew together…
Doc Warner felt his eyes mist over and he sniffed audibly. There was nothing he could do to change the past, but he could make sure of the future for this small family. "Now how about we finish our coffee and get down to business. I'd like to get home before I fall asleep in Superman's arms."
A short time later Doctor Warner began to write his statement saying he was present at the birth of Matthew. Just as he had done with Clark all those years ago, he used his professional experience to estimate the baby's age, in this case about eight weeks old. He'd hoped for a shorter time scale that the Kents would have to explain away, but he didn't think anyone would believe the baby was younger… even eight weeks was stretching it a little.
A date of birth, however, was needed to go on this document, and after a quick calculation, it was decided on the 22nd of February 1997. At this point, though, the doc's powers of invention started to run into trouble.
"Do we have a name for the baby's birth mother, or are both parents to go down as unknown?" The doctor enquired, his eyes alight with interest. "A father could quite plausibly remain anonymous, but a mother would have to have been present at the birth. Though, I expect it is just possible she could have left without telling anyone her identity and leaving her baby behind."
"Apart from that, doesn't that form have to say where the birth took place? And won't people wonder why it wasn't registered at the time?" This came from Jonathan, who'd been reviewing a number of questions ever since Doc Warner had gotten involved, determined to make sure every angle was covered.
"Could we say that the doctor left the paperwork with the mother, thinking she would do it?" Lois asked, realizing just how creative they were going to have to be in concocting a background for their plans. Still, that shouldn't be a problem for her or Clark. They were professional reporters, though normally they reported on fact and not on fairy tales. Lois was beginning to understand Clark's reluctance to fabricate stories… it led to a quagmire of complications and, in this situation, they couldn't afford to leave any loop-holes.
Her question, however, caused the old doctor to chuckle. "Oh, Lois, I wouldn't worry your pretty head about that one! I have been known to forget things these days… It's a side effect of my dickey ticker and the medication. But I do have to warn you; anyone who knows me would find it very unlikely that I wouldn't discover my patient's first name, at least. Yet I suppose people might believe I would withhold it, if that mother requested it."
"But that's really not an option, Doc," Clark spoke up. "We already know that we need a mother's permission to apply to adopt Matthew…" Suddenly Clark's voice tailed off, but instead of the customary tilt of his head, he simply frowned intently.
Always attuned to her husband's moods, Lois' gaze switched to Clark and she barely stopped herself from asking what it was he was hearing… but perhaps he wasn't hearing anything. Then again, she knew by his body language that something had definitely caught his attention, so she was hardly surprised when a knock sounded on the front door. It seemed Clark knew who was outside, and he hadn't had to use his X-ray vision to discover who their visitor might be.
Directing a warning glance in Lois' direction, Clark hurried to the door and opened it. Even though he was aware of who was standing in the vestibule, his voice still sounded stunned as he uttered one word. "Zara!"
It was all he had time for before the young woman stepped up close and hugged him warmly.
<It's Sarah! Follow my lead!> The warning sounded in his head. Then she was walking past him toward the small group seated on the twin sofas and when she spoke again, it was in the normal way. "Aunt Martha, Uncle Jonathan and Lois, I want to thank you for taking care of my baby!"
Those last words stabbed like a dagger into Lois' heart. Lois too had recognized the woman immediately. Klein must have been mistaken when he'd identified her clone's DNA. Matthew was Zara's child — Kal-El's and Zara's! It was her worst nightmare. Lois died a little inside, even if she did believe that the baby was conceived artificially. Clark would never have lied about a thing like that; he just didn't have it in him. Yet, how dare Zara leave her baby here with them and disappear without a trace, even if it was for his safe-keeping. How cruel could she be, letting them think Matthew was their own, and now return to claim him? Lois' arms tightened round her boy. She was not giving him up without a fight!
"And you must be Doctor Warner." Zara walked calmly forward, yet inwardly thanking Ching for insisting that they check out Lois and Clark's current situation before her visit. His thoroughness had allowed them to adapt their plan of action. "I'm Sarah Kennedy, the baby's biological mother and Aunt Martha told me you could help out with the adoption."
Adoption! Lois' eyes widened. Just what game was Zara playing here? Maybe this meant that Bernard had been right. Her emotions were in chaos and she stole another glance at Clark and was relieved to see him looking as confused as she was.
Meanwhile, Doc Warner was studying the newcomer. Dressed in a plain black skirt that almost skimmed her ankles, a grey nondescript top that tried to hide most of her curves and her brown hair tied back in a severe fashion, this young woman was someone who was trying to look extremely dowdy, but failing miserably. The doctor decided to play along. "I don't think we've met before, but you do look a little familiar. Martha is your aunt?"
Martha rose from her place on the couch and came to stand next to the latest visitor. "Well, actually, not quite. Sarah's father is a cousin on my mother's side of the family. They live in Boston and we don't really see much of them, though Sarah has visited the farm in the past." Now the latter statement, at least, wasn't quite a lie. After Clark's duel with Nor, Zara had visited the farm, briefly, to assure Jonathan and herself that Clark was recovering from his exposure to the Kryptonite gas and would be staying on Earth. Both she and Jonathan had considered it very thoughtful of Zara. But in the meantime there was a story to create and suggesting that this child had a link to her family might not be a bad plan. "To tell the truth, that side of the family never did approve of me. They thought I was too much of a free spirit!"
Zara shot a searching glance at Martha and was grateful but not totally surprised. All the women in this family seemed to be very intuitive. Clearly, the older woman had understood why Sarah had chosen that particular surname — they were a branch of Martha's extended family who lived near Boston. "I'm afraid they don't think much of me either now, Aunt Martha. They have a reputation to maintain, you know. Daddy was so angry that I'd gotten myself into this mess, and Mother says I've let the family down."
"It's terrible to think that even in the 20th century there are still parents who are so set against single mothers that they cast their children adrift. I can't understand it myself, but I know it still does occur." Doc Warner sympathised helpfully, enjoying this little game of charades.
"That's exactly it! They won't contemplate my keeping the baby and to tell the truth, I don't think I'm brave enough to raise a child on my own… and then there's my studies. I just don't think I could manage." Sarah heaved a gulping sigh and a trace of tears glistened in her eyes.
So that was what Zara was up to, and she was good. Doc Warner, too, Lois thought. Not that the doctor surprised her, but she was amazed that one of these pragmatic Kryptonians could turn on such an act. Zara had obviously missed her calling. Oh, well, if her throne was ever usurped again, she could always return to Earth and go on the stage! But Zara… no, Sarah was talking again and Lois felt it imperative that she listen to every word.
"That's why I want you, Lois and Clark, to have my baby and to raise him as your own. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have to be his parents."
"Are you sure, Sarah?" As he spoke Clark drew nearer to Lois and Matthew, playing his role in the little drama.
"Oh yes! There really is no other way," Sarah affirmed. "Matthew is meant to be with you… if you want him?"
A loving glance passed between Lois and Clark before Clark spoke again. "With all of our hearts!"
There was a moving silence for some moments and hardly a dry eye in the house, so Doctor Warner decided it was up to him to see his part in this saga concluded. Not that he wasn't deeply touched too… but he was an old man and it was past his bedtime. "Good, then if you all know what you're doing, perhaps we could finish off this documentation, now that we have the mother's name. I take it, young lady, that you wish the father to remain unknown?" The question was asked very kindly.
"Indeed!" Sarah shuddered for effect. "I really don't want to give his name… I should never have got involved. He's a married man."
Lois almost choked while Clark rolled his eyes. <Very funny, Zara, but don't over-play it! I hope you're going to give us a fuller explanation.>
<In due time, Clark.>
Doc Warner was oblivious to the mental conversation as he quickly concluded writing. "There it is," he said, finally, laying the piece of paper on the coffee table. "That should allow you to obtain a birth certificate for Matthew. Though I do believe another will be issued when the adoption's complete. I wish you all the very best, and it really was nice to meet you at last, Lois… and you, Sarah." The doctor struggled to his feet. "Now, Clark, if you would be so kind as to call that super-powered friend of yours, I'd really like to get home. All this junketing about the country has tired me out."
They fussed over the doctor; Jonathan brought him his overcoat and Martha helped him into it, before tying his scarf securely about his thin neck. By the time he was fully dressed, Superman had entered the room and was waiting for his passenger. They exchanged fond goodbyes with promises to keep in touch, but at this Doc Warner smiled sadly. He had also been a little economical with the truth regarding his condition; the life left to him in this world would be short.
Within no time, the house on Hyperion Avenue and Metropolis fell away beneath Superman as he and the doctor turned southwest, toward Smallville.
"The Kents are such a lovely family," Doc Warner mused. "I feel privileged to know them."
"It's they who should be thanking you, Doctor! You did a really good thing for Lois and Clark tonight."
"Oh, think nothing of it, Superman. I've known Clark for most of his life and he's a very special boy. This was the least I could do to thank him for all the good he does in the world."
In the darkness, Clark's brow creased. Was the old man finally admitting that he knew the truth about his identity? "Don't you mean me… Superman?"
"Oh, no! I mean Lois and Clark, exposing all those master criminals by writing about them in the Daily Planet and making sure that they're locked away in prison. Because of the work they do, Metropolis and this country are a safer place to live in. Believe me, I was delighted to be asked to ensure that the first of the next generation of Kents is safely set on his path to creating a better world."
"Doctor Warner, you haven't by any chance met a middle-aged Englishman in a frock coat and bowler hat?"
Clark heard the doctor chuckle at that.
"Now that would be telling! An old man is entitled to some secrets too, you know."
They flew on in silence and soon Clark realized his passenger had fallen into a deep sleep. When they landed in the backyard of the doctor's home on the north edge of Smallville, he didn't awake, nor when Clark carried him through the house into his bedroom and laid him gently on the bed.
Carefully, Clark removed the old gentleman's outdoor clothes and shoes, loosening his tie to make him more comfortable, but still the doctor slept on. A brightly colored quilt was folded at the bottom of the bed, and Clark pulled it over the old man, smiling as he did so. The ladies of the town, his own mother amongst them, had made it and presented it with love to their favorite physician when he had officially retired.
A wrinkled hand touched Superman's sleeve, causing Clark almost to jump. He hadn't noticed Doc Warner waken. The fitful moonlight penetrated the gloom and Clark caught sight of the old man — he looked exhausted and his skin was wan.
"You've made me very happy and very proud of you throughout the years. I'm only too glad that I've been able to help in some small way, Clark. Now you should get off home; your family will be waiting for you. Take good care of them…"
The hand slid away and once again there was a deep hush. So much so, that Superman strained to listen to the doctor's heart beat. It was there, though slightly irregular. Probably a symptom of his illness, Clark surmised, but was reassured that Doc Warner's breathing and pulse seemed steady enough. Into the stillness of the room came the sound of muffled snores, telling Clark that the old man was asleep again. The doctor had called him Clark. For that one time, all pretence had fallen away and he'd said his real name.
Superman stood for a few minutes in the doorway of the bedroom, watching the man who had helped give him a chance in life and who had now done the same for his son. The Kents would always be beholden to this kindly country physician. Then he did as he was bid and flew quickly toward Lois, Matthew and home. He couldn't wait to hear Zara's story.
Chapter Seven: Somewhere the Sun is Shining
When Clark returned, he found not only Zara but also Ching and Lord Trey waiting with his family. Landing speedily on the terrace, he almost ran through the kitchen and dining room, changing into his Clark clothes as he went.
"Clark, thank goodness you're back!" Lois exclaimed, rising from the sofa to meet him.
"What's wrong? Has something happened?" Clark stopped abruptly, eyeing these latest visitors with some concern. There hadn't been time for explanations, but he'd concluded from Zara's earlier behavior that the Kryptonians had been involved in Matthew's creation and that they wished Lois and he to have the baby. Could he have been mistaken about the last deduction?
Lois looked a little stunned at his words, then she understood Clark's anxiety. "Oh, no! Nothing's wrong. But rather than go through a complicated explanation twice, we agreed we should wait for you to get back. I just thought you might be a bit faster." She'd reached his side and laid her hand on his arm, pulling him further into the room.
"I'm sorry, honey, but you know I can't super speed with someone as fragile as Doc Warner." His shoulders relaxed visibly and he smiled down at his wife. Waiting was a perfectly reasonable choice, but he knew only too well that patience was not one of Lois' strong traits. "But now I'm home and you can stop chomping at the bit!"
Together they closed the space between themselves and the three visitors, who, it had to be said, were watching the couple a little warily. Oh, boy, Clark guessed the intervening time since he'd left must have been fairly uncomfortable.
"Clark, I'm sure you remember Commander Ching and Lord Trey," Martha interposed in her friendliest of tones, rising from the sofa.
Clark was grateful. Trust his mom to always try to act as peacemaker, since he was well aware Lois' first instinct was probably to demand just what game the New Kryptonians thought they were playing — depositing a child in their house and disappearing off the face of the Earth — which he was sure had to have been the case. Otherwise, even if they couldn't have been present in person, there was always telepathy!
"Yes, of course, I remember." He stuck his hand out in the very Earth-like greeting of a handshake; damned if he'd walk forward and say 'Brothers and bonds, I greet thee thrice!' It was time these New Kryptonians learned that when in Rome…
Both Ching and Trey had clearly learnt that lesson already, because both accepted his hand in turn, Ching electing to speak up.
"It's good to see you again, Kal…" Clark noticed a minute glance of censure pass between Zara and Ching. "Sorry, Clark! You and your family are all looking very well." The small-talk sounded awkward on Ching's lips but he continued. "I know you've probably been somewhat perturbed by the situation we left you in, but it was unavoidable."
"Oh, whatever gave you that idea?" Lois could contain herself no longer. "Finding a baby left inexplicably in our dining room is nothing out of the ordinary for us!"
"Lois!" Clark warned, yet he couldn't be too annoyed at Lois' sarcasm. He did think they were owed an apology and an explanation, yet antagonizing their guests probably would make things even more difficult.
"No, Clark. Lois has a point," Zara conceded quickly. "It was very unfeeling of us to leave things that way, and, believe me, I fully intended to stay to explain. Only I was called away urgently to deal with an emergency of our own, which isn't important at the moment."
Thankfully, the Kryptonian crisis had proved to be more of a difficult nuisance than a dangerous catastrophe, but it had taken a fair amount of time to resolve. The traitorous Cro-Nor had stayed behind on New Krypton to disrupt the council, while his hired mercenaries were to destroy Zara's ship and create trouble on Earth for Lois and Clark. It could have been a very serious problem indeed, had the council not discovered the conspiracy and immediately sent a battle cruiser to rescue the rightful rulers of Krypton.
For a number of days, however, the occupants of the small globe ship had been in a precarious situation, as they'd opted to lead the attackers away from Metropolis. A risky game of hide-and-seek had ensued between Zara's craft and its pursuers, which ended with the arrival of the reinforcements. Cro-Nor's ruffians had proved to be no match for the New Kryptonian military and had been vanquished expeditiously, allowing Zara, Ching and Trey to complete their mission.
Zara found the stares of her Earth friends concentrated on her face, waiting for her to continue, and she cleared her throat. "It was a New Kryptonian situation which did need our assistance, and we will tell you later, if you want to know. Suffice it to say that I only had time to leave your son and write that short note before I was beamed back to our ship. Unfortunately, we have been unable to return until now. For that, we are really sorry."
"Couldn't you have contacted me telepathically?" Clark demanded. "I tried a number of times myself… ever since we discovered how Matthew was created?"
"You discovered that?" Ching looked a little incredulous. "Though, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You and Lois were always extremely resourceful."
"Not just Lois and me!" This time Clark's voice had an edge to it. "That was your problem, Ching, along with the rest of the New Kryptonians. You always did underestimate the people of Earth."
"Clark! Could we put this aside for later, please?" Lois' stomach clenched in irritation as the two men faced each other. She empathized with Clark's feelings, but this was not the time to compare the qualities of the two races.
"No, Clark's right, Lois," Ching admitted with a shamefaced chuckle, which was in itself unusual. "It is a shortcoming of mine, but one which I think I'm beginning to outgrow. Yet it was impossible to speak to you telepathically. For a time we felt it necessary to leave your solar-system, to remain cloaked from all Earth transmissions, including telepathy, but more importantly to distract the ship that was tailing us…"
"Tailing you? That doesn't sound exactly friendly. Don't tell me!" Lois interrupted with a snort. "Another Nor?"
Again, Ching laughed, but this time his smile was admiring. "Straight to the point, Lois, and correct as usual. But, before you go rushing off to save the world, Superman, you should know that the ship has been destroyed, its crew imprisoned and the current leader of Nor charged with High Treason on New Krypton."
"All that remains is for us to explain Matthew's existence and to help you claim him as your son, which he is," Zara said soothingly. "Please understand that we only want the best for your family. Lois and Clark, you did our world a great service when you helped defeat Nor, at the risk of your own lives; now it is our turn to repay the favor."
"Yes, everyone on New Krypton agreed we should help you in your plight." Silver-haired Lord Trey emerged from the shadows of the room where he'd been listening quietly to the conversation.
Lois turned toward the First Councillor reluctantly. Because of this man's judgment, Clark had almost died, but she also grudgingly admitted it was because of this man's change of heart that her husband had been saved. But, for all that, she wasn't quite ready to trust this elder statesman implicitly. "And which plight is that?" she asked sardonically.
"Ms. Lane, Lord Kal-El… though I expect here on Earth I should address you as Mr. Kent, but forgive me, I'm an old man and traditions die hard. You might have renounced your title, but I still think of you as the head of the House of El…"
"Trey, believe me, Clark will do, or Mr. Kent, if you feel you have to give me a title. But do you think we could get down to business here?" Clark suggested almost as tetchily as his wife. "Why have you come? And why is Matthew here? Not that we're upset about Matthew's arrival. We're very… very glad to have him."
"Then we're very glad that you're glad." Zara said graciously.
"That's so nice of you!" Lois was unable to bite back her caustic comment, feeling a little at odds with Zara's regal demeanor. This was her home and she wasn't about to let someone else take control.
Unused to the irreverence, Zara's first instinct was to bristle, but she quickly set her annoyance aside. Lois and Clark had lived with a great deal of uncertainty these last few days, and she'd come here to put an end to their insecurities. Instead, she smiled appeasingly. "I expect you think we've acted very autocratically again…"
"You could say that," Lois concurred, a little less edgily, forcing her anxieties to calm down.
"…and perhaps we have, but we did so with the best of intentions."
Lois gave a very faint shrug of acceptance. "And I guess sniping is futile, so perhaps it would be good if we all took a few deep breaths and you can explain everything."
"That sounds like a very good idea, and perhaps I should make some more coffee." Martha found herself saying, sounding very much like a broken record. She smiled. There was no doubt life with Lois and Clark was never dull.
"Thank you, Martha," Zara said, "But if it's not too much trouble, I really liked your Earth drink which I believe is called wine. Do you have any, because I'd very much like to try another glass?"
"Yes, we do!" Clark felt like the house he'd returned to had been transported to the land of Oz and wondered if everything would go back to normal if only he had red shoes to click — maybe red boots would work just as well. "Would everyone like some wine?"
"No, I don't need a beverage." The curt refusal came from Ching, who was obviously not amused by his consort's request. He was very aware of what alcohol did to the people of Earth, and his puritanical personality was affronted, though he didn't feel in a position to amend Zara's suggestion in public.
Lord Trey, on the other hand, felt that Ching was being too judgmental and that their hosts might be insulted by the commander's attitude, and it was his job to act as a mediator. It was why he had insisted on accompanying the royal couple. "I should be happy to try a glass. If that is acceptable?"
"Sure!" Clark stood to go, but Jonathan stopped him.
"Son, your mom and I will see to the refreshments. Why don't you stay with Lois and listen to what your visitors have to say."
"OK, Dad. You'll find a selection of red and white wine in the rack. Maybe you should bring a bottle of each." His parents nodded their assent, and Clark watched them disappear in the direction of the kitchen before turning back to the Kryptonians. "Perhaps we should make ourselves comfortable." He gestured with his hands toward the couches again — time for round two. This had been a very busy night.
Clark smiled tenderly as Lois lifted Matthew out of his baby- carrier once more. Obviously she'd put him down while he was flying the doctor home, yet he understood she needed the self- assurance of having her son in her arms. After all, the pending revelation was very likely to be about their guardianship of Matthew.
After they were all seated, Zara chose to begin. "I'm sure your first question is why we created Matthew?"
"We did wonder," Clark remarked, easing himself closer to Lois and placing a comforting arm around her back, his other hand unconsciously coming to rest on his son's feet.
"Malaki was the first to discover that a Kryptonian male would have no chance of impregnating an Earth woman. He mentioned some sort of chemical rejection in the conception process, and since you'd chosen to make your home on Earth with Lois, he felt concerned enough to bring it to my attention." Zara's pale skin took on a rosy blush as she discussed such a personal problem with the couple in question, yet she felt it important that Lois and Clark should understand their motives. "Clark, while we were on our way to New Krypton, you and I had talked of your hopes and aspirations for the future. Of how you wanted to make Lois your wife and hopefully raise a family with her. I remembered how you looked when you spoke of those things, how much you cared that someday you would have a blood relation on Earth and that you wouldn't be the last of your line. It broke my heart to know you wouldn't be able to fulfill that dream."
"It broke both our hearts when we found out we couldn't have babies," Lois admitted quietly. "We felt like we'd lost something we'd never had and never would have. Clark, I know you tried to pretend that getting pregnant didn't matter and to remain positive, that someday *it* would happen, but it was only a dream. Doctor Klein and Daddy couldn't have gotten the results so wrong."
"Then you're not angry that we brought you the baby?" The slight quaver in Zara's voice proved she was not so confident in the New Kryptonians' actions as she might pretend.
Once again a hush fell on the room as Lois and Clark stared at Matthew, then at each other. Clark was the first to speak.
"We could never regret having Matthew… We've loved him since the moment we saw him."
A tender smile touched Lois' lips and tears sparkled on her thick eyelashes. She'd been completely aware that Clark's reticence in those first days had been a front to protect his yearning heart and her own neediness. Neediness — that was strange state of mind for her under such circumstances. If anyone had ever told her that she would long for motherhood so quickly after becoming a wife, she would have suggested they should be committed. Lois Lane didn't have the maternal instincts that drove many women to long for children.
During their engagement, she and Clark had touched very lightly on the question of children. She supposed a family was something that she'd vaguely considered they would have in the future. But, even when they first got married, she'd been very happy to remain a family of two for a few years, learning to know and enjoy each other… and she was sure Clark was content too.
Of course, she'd always known he wanted children, which was something she couldn't say of herself. Somehow, she wasn't confident in her abilities to be a good mother. Let's face it, she'd never had an example to follow, and she'd always been afraid she'd screw up her children's lives, just as her mother had done with Lucy and herself. Clark had been her one anchor in her fears of having a family. Perhaps she wouldn't have too many difficulties with Clark by her side. There was never any doubt in her mind that he'd make a great father… and the kids would always have one set of wonderful grandparents. So she'd allowed herself to believe that one day some little Kents would exist.
Then she and Clark had made love on the kitchen floor, without using protection, and the whole subject of children had been catapulted into the present, including the question about whether they could actually have kids together. Superman had approached Dr. Klein and they'd soon received the answer. Bernard had reached the conclusion that it would be impossible for she and Clark to ever have babies, and her father had only confirmed the findings. Those words had struck like a shaft of ice in both their hearts. Not that they'd stopped loving each other; that would never happen, but they had lost something precious.
Lois had never imagined how much she could hurt, especially since children hadn't been an important issue for her before. Was it that she hated to be told she couldn't do anything by anyone? Normally that had just made her more determined to prove the assumption wrong, and, she admitted, there had been a bit of stubborn contrariness in her heartache. But it was so much more than that…
Looking at Clark now, as he watched her, waiting for her to speak, she understood that her deepest hurt had come from seeing the light dim deep within his eyes, when he'd discovered he'd never be a father. Oh, he'd covered his feelings well, for her sake, suggesting there was always the adoption route… but she knew him too well. And suddenly the reason for the aching sadness she'd felt came to her. She'd wanted so much to give this wonderful man his dream… a living, breathing connection to the planet he'd chosen as his home. If Clark's and her own Earth genes could come together in another little person, then he would no longer be an alien living on a world that wasn't his own.
So, perhaps they'd needed a little Kryptonian help to make that happen, but Matthew was living proof that the people of Earth and Krypton were compatible. It appeared that Zara had understood this too, and Lois felt closer than ever before to the woman she'd once feared as a rival.
"Lois?" Zara's worried voice broke into Lois' thoughts. "Please say something. If you're angry at what we've done, you can tell us… shout at us, if it will make you feel better."
"Angry? Why should I be angry?" Lois realized that there had been a long silence while everyone waited for her to speak. "No, I'm not mad. How could I be mad when you've given me such a beautiful gift? A gift I never realized I wanted so much, until I held Matthew in my arms. If I was annoyed, it was because we didn't understand what was happening. Clark will tell you, I hate to be left out of the loop… But now I know you didn't mean for that to happen, I'm fine… perfectly fine."
Then everyone was laughing in relief and Martha and Jonathan returned with the wine. When everyone had a glass, the company sat down once more for another brainstorming session. Only Ching and Lois refused a drink.
"So, Zara, first things first!" Clark opened the proceedings by addressing the adoption subject first. The scientific explanations could wait till later. "I'm assuming that Sarah Kennedy is about to give her baby to Lois and me to raise as our own."
"Yes, Clark." Once again, the Kents had quickly reached the correct conclusion, though Zara felt that was to be expected. "On our way to Earth, we researched your adoption processes and decided the private method would be the less problematic and quickest way to go, but we could be wrong."
"No, we'd already reached the same conclusion. Our problem was that we didn't have a mother who could legally sign her child over to us," Clark explained.
"Which is why I arrived on your doorstep in the guise of a distant relative who desperately needed a home for her child. But that is just a ruse… I have no real relationship to Matthew." The Kryptonian woman's earnest gaze studied Lois and Clark. The couple had mentioned they'd found out how the baby was created, but did they really understand his heredity? "Genetically, he belongs to each of you. You do know that, don't you?"
"Yes!" Matthew began to stir at the sound of the strange voices around him, and Lois rocked him soothingly to and fro. "We had a friend do a DNA test on Matthew. The results were pretty conclusive, though surprising too."
"I'm sure they were, Lois." So they did know! Internally, Zara heaved a sigh of relief. "I would have explained all that too, but…"
"No, it's OK! You've already apologized for leaving." Lois was prepared to forgive, but she wasn't prepared to listen to a dry, clinical lesson on biology… not yet anyway. "We didn't know such a procedure was even possible… well, it isn't on Earth. But why don't we stick to the question of Matthew's future for now?"
"Of course, if that's what you want." Zara couldn't quite follow why neither Lois nor Clark wanted to hear about Malaki's miraculous breakthrough in cloning, or the possibilities for the future. Still, she didn't mind going along with their request. She sipped her wine, and allowed herself to become distracted. "Hmm…yes, the wine is as satisfying as I remember."
"Lady Zara, I do agree. It is extremely palatable! May I have another?" Councillor Trey asked hopefully, as everyone stared at his already empty glass.
His First Lady grinned, happy to have someone from home agree with her tastes, while Ching frowned again, advising reproachfully, "I believe that wine should be savored slowly, Lord Trey. And be careful; alcohol has a very degrading effect."
Picking up the bottle, Clark filled Trey's glass. "Don't worry about it. I've never gotten drunk because of the superpowers…"
"But we're not… superpowered," Zara cut in. "We felt it best not to acquire such powers again, so we've stayed out of your yellow sunlight. In fact, delivering Matthew was my only previous visit this time, and I was beamed down and up. We traveled by the same method tonight, and we'll stay on the ship just outside Earth's atmosphere until the business of Matthew's adoption is concluded."
Lois nodded in agreement. "That seems like a wise decision, but you will need to spend some time in Metropolis during the adoption, Zara. There will be papers to sign in front of a lawyer… maybe two; perhaps even a court appearance. We're not sure of the actual details, yet."
"Believe me, I'll do whatever it takes; talk to your lawyers, appear in court. But I can commute directly between the ship and this house by our molecular transportation pods. No one will discover my origins."
Clark's jaw tensed worriedly at the thought of the Kryptonian's possible discovery. "You should keep a pretty low profile, though, Zara. You didn't exactly court the media's attention during the battle with Nor, but pictures of you and Ching did appear in our newspapers and on TV. It's possible someone might recognize you."
"Are we back to blonde wigs again? Or better still, a hair cut and dye job! Just as well you're not invulnerable, Zara, " Lois couldn't help but laugh, "Otherwise we'd need Clark's heat vision to style your hair, and I'm not sure how good he'd be as a ladies' hairdresser."
If it were possible, Ching looked even more thunderstruck. "Hair cut? And what does a 'dye job' mean? Zara, you wouldn't consider changing your hair?"
"Why not, Ching? We can't afford to let the people of Earth know that the New Kryptonians are back in town. The authorities would be bound to inquire why we're here, and our visit can't be associated in any way with the arrival of Matthew in Lois and Clark's home. Matthew has to be thought of as an Earth child." The demure First Lady's eyes began to twinkle. "Besides, I think I might enjoy a new image."
"I wouldn't!" her husband announced emphatically. "I'm perfectly happy with the way you are, as are your subjects. Earth always did have a bad influence on you, Zara!"
"Perhaps a wig would be best," Lois dared to interrupt, hoping to halt a marital spat. Secretly she was loving every moment. It was very satisfying to see that Kryptonian marriages could be just as stormy as Earth ones. Yet this discussion was getting way off track — first wine and now a makeover! "Zara, wear a wig and more colorful clothes and I'm sure nobody will connect you with the black-suited leader of New Krypton."
"And this time your visit will be private," Clark conceded. "You should only meet up with a couple of people who've probably had no previous contact with you. I think you should be safe enough. In my experience, people see what they expect to see."
"Good! So we're agreed. Zara should wear a disguise when she appears as Sarah?" Lois took charge of the conversation and at Zara's enthusiastic nod of approval and Ching's grudging one, she continued. "So, tomorrow, I think we should contact our lawyer, Constance Hunter, and find out exactly what legal steps have to be taken to adopt Matthew." Lois stood, still holding her son in her arms and addressed her visitors. "I'm sorry, but it's been a long night and I'd really like to put Matthew to bed. Perhaps you can come back tomorrow and we'll plan our next move."
"But don't you want to know how Matthew was made?" Ching asked.
"You might not understand, Ching, but that's not our first concern," Clark stated, believing he was speaking for Lois as well as himself. "Our own doctor has already given us an idea of what happened, how you used DNA from Lois and me to create Matthew. He doesn't completely understand the science, but I'm sure he'd be delighted to have a blow-by-blow account of the process. Perhaps we could arrange for you to talk to him. All we know is that Matthew is our son, and that's enough for us, at least, for tonight."
"To tell the truth, I don't totally understand the science myself," Ching admitted with another wry grin. "But if your doctor is named Klein, then we do have a package for him from Physician Malaki. I believe it explains everything. There will be time enough to pass it along later."
"Until tomorrow, then. We bid you goodnight!" Zara's voice was kindly and all three gave a small bow, while behind them a steel cage-like contraption appeared which they entered quickly. Within seconds they'd disappeared, the only signs of their visit being the two empty glasses on the coffee table.
"Wow! Beats rush-hour traffic," Lois said, then dismissed the thought as Matthew decided to howl. "Are you hungry, baby? Come on, Mommy will feed you and then we'll all go to bed. The next few days are going to be busy, little one, but don't worry. You'll soon be ours and no one will ever take you from us."
Chapter Eight: The Sunny Side of Life
Lois bit her lower lip in concentration as she carefully applied the pale lipstick to the woman seated in front of her, noticing the delicately bowed mouth, the smooth ivory-like skin, and wondering, absent-mindedly, why Clark had never commented on such beauty. Yet there was no nagging insecurities in Lois' thoughts on that topic. She was confident that Clark's love for herself made him blind to every other woman… well, perhaps not blind, but definitely immune to their charms. Lois brushed a tiny amount of blusher over Zara's cheekbones, then gave her visitor's hair a final comb before stepping back to view her handiwork.
"There, I think that should do!" Lois smiled encouragingly as she offered her opinion. "That style suits you. See for yourself!" She pulled Zara toward the long mirror and watched as the Kryptonian twisted this way and that, tweaking her new hairstyle and smoothing down her borrowed clothes.
Of course, Lois had been forced to curtail her creativity with the disguise, since Zara's adopted persona was that of a young woman from a very straight-laced, religious background. Both Lois' and Zara's enthusiasm had been dampened by that realization, though Ching had perked right up. Clearly he didn't relish seeing his wife 'going native' in this busy, chaotic world.
Still, the dark gold bobbed wig and the flower-print dress, which Lois had bought so long ago in Smallville, did suit Zara's coloring and the cut of the dress hugged her curves attractively. There had been some dispute as to whether the attire was suitable, but the dress did have a certain countrified air; the material a subdued brown color sprinkled with tiny flowers.
Besides, Lois had rummaged through her closets for some time without success. In the aftermath of her first, disastrous wedding to Clark, when she'd been abducted by Lex Luthor and suffered from amnesia, she'd lost some weight and was only now putting it back on. Most of her recently bought clothes were too small for Zara, and Ching had raised a number of objections to what was left of her earlier wardrobe — the skirts were too short or the tops too revealing. Quite frankly, the Smallville dress was one of her last choices and Ching had grudgingly accepted it. Clark thought the dress would do fine, though he preferred it when worn by his wife. It brought back some very fond memories.
"I do look different," Zara marveled, barely recognizing the woman who stared back at her.
These past few days had seemed much like a vacation for the ruler of New Krypton, while she waited to play her part in Matthew's adoption. Time off duty was a rare occasion for the young woman, or in fact, for any Kryptonian. But, back on New Krypton, the council were managing affairs of state efficiently in her absence, and Zara could finally relax, knowing that her world was at peace and her people were flourishing.
All three Kryptonians had stuck by their intention not to expose themselves for long periods to the yellow sun, but they had found it possible to pay brief visits to Hyperion Avenue and even wander around the city a little, dressed in their drab Earthling outfits from their previous visit.
Even Ching was starting to unbend, and Lord Trey, surprisingly, was enjoying the short expeditions that Martha and Jonathan had persuaded him to take. The elderly councillor had convinced himself he simply wanted to check that Metropolis had recovered completely from Nor's monstrous attack, but he couldn't deny he was fascinated by the eclectic inhabitants who had tried to defend their freedoms against an enemy of much greater strength. During those dark days, he'd learned to admire the indomitable spirit of these people and he now found he was growing to like them too, particularly the Kents.
"Zara?" Lois asked, worried that the silence which was developing meant that something had gone wrong with their plans. "Have you changed your mind?"
"About what?" Zara tore her eyes away from her image in the mirror and turned to Lois, a little shocked to see a flicker of fear on Lois' face. "You mean about Matthew? Lois, it's not my place to change my mind about him. He's not my child. He's yours and Clark's and he belongs with you. This whole adoption thing is only a necessity to make Matthew legally yours in the eyes of your world."
Lois' gaze stayed riveted on her hands as her fingers twisted nervously. "But what I really want to do is shout from the rooftops that Matthew truly is our baby." She raised her face to Zara. "Stupid, I know," she admitted ruefully.
"Not stupid at all! I think I'd feel exactly the same, but, sadly, it's not possible." Zara dared to put her hand on Lois' arm. Such physical contact with a friend would be considered improper back home, but, each day, she found herself leaning more toward Earth ways. "You've kept Clark's secret for a long time, in many dangerous situations. Now you have another secret to keep."
"Yeah! Secrets seem to run in our family, and I'll do everything I can to protect Matthew. Clark can take care of himself, up to a point. He's invulnerable to everything but Kryptonite, but Matthew is so helpless… and he will be, at least for a few years." Lois' voice rose questioningly.
"If you're asking if Matthew will be superpowered, I can't give you a definitive answer. Kryptonians have never bred with another race before. Malaki believes it's only possible with Terrans since our two races share the same genetic patterns. Because the 'K' gene is dominant, he also believes that Matthew will eventually develop Clark's powers, but he can only guess as to the extent of those special abilities."
"So, Matthew will be his father's son," Lois mused. Already she'd caught a few glimpses of Clark in her son's expressions — a lopsided grin, a soulful stare when he had to wait too long for his bottle. And one day he could have X-ray vision and little ears with too great a range of hearing. Raising a superchild should make life interesting, but she suddenly realized she was looking forward to the future, whatever it might bring.
"But Matthew has as many of your genes as he does Clark's." Zara broke in on Lois' thoughts.
"Oh joy, an impulsive superchild… and, believe me, that's probably one of the better traits he could inherit from me!" Lois said disparagingly.
"Lois, you do yourself a disservice. Matthew is lucky to have you as his mother and I'm sure Clark believes so."
"Clark is biased," Lois chuckled, but she was grateful for Zara's vote of confidence. She wandered over to the dresser and picked up the new photograph that took pride of place there — the one which Martha had insisted on taking the day after Dr. Klein had told them that Matthew really was their child. Both she and Clark still looked a little bemused, but proud and so very happy. "By the way, we've asked Dr. Klein to take care of Matthew for now. We didn't think it would be wise to let just any doctor examine him."
"Routine examinations shouldn't be a problem. Matthew might have begun life a little differently, yet Malaki was adamant that it would be impossible to prove how he was conceived. However, he is a hybrid baby, so it would be safer to stick with someone whom you trust."
"Dr. Klein is very trustworthy," Lois assured the other woman, thinking that the two doctors must be kindred spirits, since they'd reached pretty much the same conclusions while living on different worlds.
"Malaki certainly thinks so. He's recorded all his findings onto files and holograms, which we're to deliver to Dr. Klein before we leave. He wanted you and Clark to have someone on Earth who could help you in future. And he also stressed that it was very important that Matthew be treated exactly as an Earth child for as long as possible. Since he has your genes he could be susceptible to contracting indigenous diseases until his invulnerability kicks in."
"Right! Vaccinations, vitamins, dentist's visits… check!" Then Lois stopped. There was still one thing that troubled her… or maybe two questions she still didn't feel comfortable asking… answers she wasn't sure she wanted to hear. Yet, Lois never let fear overcome her. "Zara, I have a question…"
The other woman looked quizzically at Lois, having a fair idea of where this conversation might be going. Truthfully, she was surprised that Lois had waited so long. "Please, feel free to ask me anything." Zara sat back down on the stool in front of the dresser, clasping her hands, waiting calmly for Lois to speak.
With gentle fingers, Lois traced the faces in the picture, then set the frame back in its place. As her head came up, she caught Zara's gaze. Her shoulders straightened. "Dr. Klein explained the basics of how you, well, not you personally, created Matthew using DNA which was gathered from Clark and me, somehow…"
"Yes, that's correct. Lois, I don't wholly understand the science either, but Malaki has given very detailed instructions in those files…"
"I'm not interested in the science, not really," Lois stated with a shake of her head. "But, knowing the basics, I'm sure that when you create a cl… some sort of clone, and, whether I like it or not, Matthew has to be one, in a way… you do need a donor egg. Malaki would have needed an egg to implant the cells in… And once Matthew formed, someone… some female had to carry him till he was ready to be born."
"That's so," Zara said mildly. "Please, Lois, why don't you sit and I'll tell you everything I know. It isn't what you're thinking, I'm sure."
Lois ignored Zara's request to sit, and rather squared off a little belligerently. "How do you know what I'm thinking?"
"You believe I might be involved in Matthew's conception, but I wasn't."
The tension seeped out of Lois' spine and even her legs gave way a little, enough to make her cross to sit on the bed. She didn't really know why that information should comfort her, she just realized that it did. After all, this was a woman who had once been Clark's wife, if only in name.
"Also Malaki dislikes the term clone, he prefers to think that what he accomplished was a type of advanced assisted fertilization." Zara's lips curled at the corners, recalling the kindly doctor's insistence on that point.
And for the first time since she'd ventured into this topic, Lois spoke enthusiastically. "I'm with him on that! But, if not you, there had to be some other surrogate mother?"
"There was a donor, and to ensure success, Malaki and his team preferred to use a female whose fertility was already proven. This lady has two children of her own. She is also a distant relative of Clark's, from his mother's family, though a few generations back, but we felt that would be appropriate. When we approached her, she was only too happy to help."
"Does this lady have a name?" Again, Lois wasn't sure if she was right to ask. Did she really want to make this person more real to her?
"Her name is Rhanna."
"And she provided the egg, and carried Matthew?" Lois found herself leaning forward, anxious, yet afraid too, to learn of her son's history, before he came into her life.
"She donated the egg that Malaki worked with, but Matthew was gestated in an artificial womb. Birthing matrixes are rare, but not unknown on New Krypton. We felt that you should be the only woman that Matthew should bond with. Though I grew quite fond of him on the journey to Earth; he is such a sweet baby. But Trey was the most accomplished nurture-giver… I think on Earth you would say nanny." At Lois' raised eyebrows, Zara laughed. "Yes, surprising isn't it, but he tells me he has had a lot of practice with his new grandchild."
A slightly hysterical chuckle broke through Lois' intention to remain calm. "Excuse me, but this is all a bit overwhelming. Trey is a grandfather? Though why I should find that hard to believe, I have no idea… And birthing matrixes? Life on New Krypton sounds so weird, yet on the other hand so normal. You haven't by any chance brought one of those birthing matrixes with you?"
"No, why? You won't need one, Lois, nor a donor egg. Should you and Clark want another child, Dr. Klein should be able to replicate the procedure with the help of Malaki's instructions. Once the cells start to divide the egg can be planted in your womb and nature will do the rest."
"Clark and I could have more children? That's what the files are about?"
"Yes, of course. Malaki has every faith in Dr. Klein's understanding…"
"Have you told Clark?"
"No, I thought you might want to do that." Zara could see that Lois was somewhat stunned. "It's a lot to take in for the moment. Why don't we concentrate on making Matthew legally your child and a citizen of Earth? Of course, it's for you and Clark to choose whether to give him a brother or sister, but we thought you should have the opportunity, if you wanted to take it."
"Clark and I would need to discuss it…" Yet already a spark of hope had been lit within Lois. They could decide that one child would be enough for them to raise due to their busy schedules and slightly risky jobs. Only, now they had the possibility to have more babies and Lois found her mood suddenly lighten. "Thank you, Zara, and please tell Malaki how much Clark and I appreciate all he's done for us. But you're right, we have an appointment to keep, and I'm sure our men are growing impatient waiting for us."
Right on cue, Clark's voice could be heard, calling up the stairs. "Come on, ladies. We'll be late for our meeting with Constance and her associate if we don't get moving. You know how busy traffic is round noon on Fridays… everyone goes out to lunch!"
"What did I tell you? Coming, Clark," Lois shouted, as she exited the bedroom followed closely by Zara. "You know you should have given Dr. Klein the blueprints for that Matrix thingy. All these career women in the U.S. who want kids without taking time off work would die for one of those. We could have made a fortune…"
Zara's eyebrows rose in shock, then she caught the twinkle in Lois' eye and the two women shared a laugh while starting down the stairs. The Kryptonian woman was beginning to appreciate her friend's teasing sense of humor, so she wasn't surprised when Lois halted her at the landing and continued on alone.
The moment Lois reached the living room, she turned with a flourish toward the staircase. "Ta-dah!"
Recognizing her cue, Zara walked down the last flight of steps with more confidence than she felt. Two male gazes were locked silently on her.
"What do you think?" Lois asked, prompting both men for a reply. "Isn't she lovely?"
"Very," Clark agreed. "One thing, no one is going to connect her to the imperious First Lady of Krypton."
But if one man was casually complimentary, the other was dumbstruck. It was true, Ching barely recognized his wife… yet he did think she was…
"Beautiful!" He stared for a few seconds as he felt his temperature rise. It appeared that the time spent on this world was beginning to loosen the tight rein he kept on his emotions, and for the moment, he didn't mind one bit. Back home he always had to tread carefully, stay in control, knowing there were a few who still disapproved of his marriage; who were waiting for him to fail as consort to their First Lady. He'd made a promise to himself never to let Zara down and, hopefully, in time even the doubters would be won over.
But here on Earth he was simply Zara's husband and he found he was enjoying the role. Especially when his Zara looked so sexy. "I like it," he said, his voice sounding gruff. "You know, Zara, maybe you should take Lois up on that offer of a little retail therapy — I believe is how she put it — before we return home."
That brought a happy smile to Zara's face. "You think so?"
"Sure," Ching replied, his eyes still locked with his wife's.
"Then it's a date," Lois chipped in before the staid Kryptonian changed his mind. "And you know, Ching, you could do with a bit of a makeover yourself."
"What, you don't like the suit?" He glanced down at his mud brown suit, looking crestfallen, but within seconds, his eyes took on a definite gleam as he explored his new easy-going personality. "Perhaps I should borrow one of Clark's ties."
"Oh, I wouldn't go that far." Lois giggled.
"Hey, what's wrong with my ties?"
"Nothing, honey. They're just so… you," Lois told him, slipping her hand through his arm. "But right now we have more important things to think about."
Everyone sobered immediately and hurried to get ready to leave.
"OK, honey. Mom and Dad have taken Matthew to the park, so let's get started. We only have thirty minutes to get to Constance's office and you know how snarled up the traffic can get." Clark opened the front door and stood aside to let the other couple past, then leaned down to whisper in Lois' ear. "By the way, what were you and Zara laughing about as you came down the stairs?"
"I'll tell you later," Lois said mysteriously. Her hand tightened on his arm and for a moment tears sparkled in her eyes. "Clark, this is going to be all right?"
"Sure, Lois." But Clark sounded more confident than he actually was. He ushered Lois outside and locked up. "It'll be OK. You'll see."
Clark was aware that whatever happened in the next few days was crucial to their happiness, and though their attorney had taken care of all the legal arrangements and assured them that she couldn't foresee any problems with the adoption, Constance Hunter wasn't aware of the true facts. No one except their little band of conspirators could know the truth, and fear of discovery haunted Clark. He knew similar nightmares beset Lois. Yet as long as their cover story remained intact then surely nothing could go wrong. After all, it was very unlikely anyone would suspect this wasn't a normal adoption or that the baby in question began life on a far off planet. Constance Hunter certainly hadn't and she'd been only too happy to represent them.
Today, they would pass Doctor Warner's documentation on Matthew's birth over to Constance, and Zara, aka Sarah Kennedy, would sign an affidavit, relinquishing all rights to 'her' child in favor of Lois and Clark. As required by law, there would be another attorney present to witness the signing of Sarah's statement, but that was just a formality and, since the lawyer was recommended by Constance, he probably wouldn't ask too many awkward questions.
Acting on Constance's advice, an advertisement had already been placed in The Daily Planet and a couple of local Boston newspapers asking the father of Sarah's baby to come forward if he had any objections to his child being adopted. Both Lois and Clark were surprised that the man didn't need to be named, but Constance pointed out that since Sarah Kennedy's name did appear, the father would know his own identity and make himself available, if he so wished. Of course, that was never going to happen, but the ad had to run for three weeks before the case could be heard by a judge in Family Court.
Once on the stoop, Clark bent down toward his wife and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Come on, Lois. I know you're scared. I am too, but this time there's no Ms. Bailey to object, and we're not going to let anyone take Matthew away from us. If I have to fly us all away to a desert island, we're a family now and I won't let anything destroy that. I promise."
Again, Clark had given her strength. "You're right! We've fought for what we believe in before, and I've never believed in anything quite so much as our right to Matthew. But I don't think we'll need that desert island. It is going to be fine… we're going to be fine." And Lois climbed into the Jeep with added determination; they were going to make this adoption happen.
A little over three weeks later, Lois and Clark sat in one of the smaller hearing rooms of Metropolis City Courthouse, while Matthew was strapped into his carry-seat on top of the long table in front of them. To say that Lois had butterflies in her tummy would be to understate the truth, though she tried very hard to remain as calm as possible and concentrate on the proceedings. She was sure that Clark was feeling the strain too. From her vantage point at his side, she could see the muscle in his jaw spasm — a sure sign he was anxious.
The temperature was high for a late spring day, and the outmoded air-conditioning system in the old building struggled to cope with the afternoon heat. Lois felt flushed, though she wasn't sure if it was a symptom of the cloying atmosphere or her jangled nerves. She checked out the other members of the court and wondered if they too were feeling over warm.
At the head of the table Judge Roberta Sharpe presided, a small curly-haired woman whose expression was serious, but not unkind. She also looked trim and cool as a cucumber. Constance, still sporting her preferred natty gentleman's attire, and the guardian ad litem, the lawyer appointed to represent Matthew's interests, sat on the opposite side of the table, both seeming very composed.
Yes, Lois deduced, she and Clark were the only ones who were feeling slightly nervous. And what did she mean, slightly? Never had Lois experienced such apprehension — not even at each one of her three marriages! And she'd face a thousand Lex Luthors or Tempuses rather than this hearing.
Lois held tightly to one of Clark's hands, while her free hand stroked the soft skin of her son's arm. They were her anchor in the storm. The baby cooed as his attention was caught by the shafts of sunlight, tinted like a rainbow by the stained-glass windows set high in the walls of the vaulted room. Matthew stretched his hands toward the dancing sunbeams, and Lois was heartened by the way the judge's eyes softened at the sight of the happy playful baby. Yet the change was only momentary, and the woman returned business-like to the task in hand.
Both Lois and Clark were sworn in before they were asked a number of pertinent questions which they were able to answer with complete confidence and sincerity. It was their dearest wish that Matthew be considered their son in every sense of the word… and forever.
At the end of the questioning, Constance sent the prospective parents encouraging glances, endorsing Lois' supposition that everything seemed to be going well. Both lawyers concluded with a few additional comments, then the judge was left to study the documentation, occasionally asking for clarification on some particular points. Finally silence settled over the room — even Matthew had fallen asleep — as Judge Sharpe reread some of the paperwork.
The butterflies in Lois' stomach turned into giant bats and she was shocked when she felt her husband's palm grow sticky. Clark didn't normally perspire, but this wasn't a normal situation. Moments stretched out seemingly endlessly… Clark and Lois hardly dared to breathe; the only sound in the room a faint rustling of paper and the hypnotizing hum of circulating air.
Finally, the judge looked directly at the couple sitting expectantly on her right. "I'm satisfied, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, that you understand the responsibilities of parenting Matthew and this court endorses your petition to adopt Matthew." Judge Sharpe signed the papers and set her pen aside tidily. "A new birth certificate will be issued for Matthew Kent, registering Clark and Lois Kent as his mother and father. Now that the adoption is finalized, the law instructs that the records will hereafter be sealed by the court."
At last, Matthew was where he belonged, and Lois and Clark found they could breathe again. They started to smile, happy beaming smiles that came from within.
"Judge Sharpe, can I ask something, please?" Clark spoke up earnestly, though he couldn't quite suppress the joyful laughter in his voice. "There is one thing I… we would like added to the birth certificate." He bumped gently against Lois' shoulder.
"Of course." The woman inclined her head. "If you would tell the clerk of court your wishes, he'll do his best to oblige. Now, if there is no further business, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, I suggest you take your very cute son home and start enjoying your life with him." Judge Sharpe couldn't resist returning those joyful grins as she closed the proceedings and made ready to leave the room.
The moment the judge had gone, Lois and Clark hugged each other tightly, each laughing through tears, yet saying nothing — no words could express the depth of their emotions. After a second or two of shared bliss, they broke apart to shake hands with Constance and her colleague across the table. Then, obeying the judge's instructions, Clark lifted his son's carry-seat and Lois and he walked arm in arm from the hearing room, pausing only to exchange a few words with the court official on their way. Both attorneys congratulated each other on a successful result as they strolled behind.
Outside in the warm sunlight, five people waited nervously for the outcome of the adoption hearing. Occasionally, one or another of the men would pace up and down, while the two women talked quietly between themselves. Each member of the group had done everything in their power to ensure a welcome result and now they could only wait. Not one of them could say precisely how long they were waiting… time seemed to stand still.
Yet, when Lois and Clark came through the large doorway of the Courthouse, none of the group could doubt the verdict; Lois' and Clark's huge grins and shining eyes revealed all. Almost in concert, they sighed in relief, watching as the couple spent a few moments saying their goodbyes to the lawyers who had helped them in their quest to legalize Matthew's birthright.
Very soon, Lois and Clark crossed the road, their steps so light that both surreptitiously checked that they were still in contact with the ground. Clark had a tendency to float when he was blissfully happy, but everything was normal… except normal was now changed forever.
In the park, the others moved forward to greet the couple, Martha and Jonathan briefly outstripping the Kryptonians to congratulate their kids with special hugs and kisses.
"Mom, Dad, and everyone, Lois and I would like to introduce you to our son, Matthew Malachi Lane Kent," Clark declared proudly.
"Oh, my, that's such a mouthful for a tiny boy, but it's a lovely name." Martha smiled as she dashed the tears from her cheek and bent to kiss her grandson, while Jonathan stood with his arm around his daughter-in-law, a doting grin on his face.
"It's also very appropriate," Lois confided as Zara and company moved forward to add their congratulations and best wishes. She lifted her eyes to include the New Kryptonians… Clark's people, whom she now thought of as part of their family. "I chose the name Matthew because I liked the name, and it seemed to suit him. But I've since found out that the name means 'gift' and Malachi means 'angel,' the angel who gave us this most wonderful gift…" Lois meant to continue but she found her voice choking with emotion.
"We wanted to thank Malaki, but nothing seemed to be enough." Clark spoke up to allow Lois time to recover. "And we felt it should be something that would always remind us of how much he did for us…"
"So we decided that Matthew should have his name, or the Earth equivalent!" Lois finished, a tiny self-conscious smile ghosting across her face; Clark still didn't know the extent of the gift they'd been given. She hadn't yet found time to tell him, since they'd been intent on the adoption and learning to be good parents. At present, Clark was finding it a little hard to balance his two jobs with his thrill at being a daddy and she hadn't wanted to distract him. For the first time in his life, Lois was sure he viewed his Superman duties as a necessary nuisance.
She just hoped that no one associated Superman's rather patchy appearances over the last few weeks with the arrival of young Matthew Kent. Though that worry was probably groundless. After all, the public wasn't aware that Mr. and Mrs. Kent had adopted a child. Nor would they be interested, since the fact was hardly newsworthy. Besides, Clark was quickly learning to adapt and only those who already had suspicions would see the connection… people like Perry.
"Malaki will be gratified by the gesture," Zara said, breaking into Lois' train of thought. "Though he believes that helping you both fulfill your desire is reward enough."
"Tell him that Lois and I thank him from the bottom of our hearts." Clark felt his own throat constrict and he felt Lois' hand tighten on his arm. For a few seconds no one spoke until Trey ventured to lighten the mood.
"Malaki and I will enjoy toasting young Matthew-Malaki's health with the wine which you've so kindly given us to take back to New Krypton." The elderly lord smiled pleasantly in contemplation of sampling the bottles of fine wine from the crate that Superman had delivered to the orb ship. In a very short time Trey had become quite a connoisseur — he could certainly get used to this world's wining and dining traditions.
"Don't think you're keeping all those to yourself, Lord Trey. My wife will be expecting a share," Ching quipped ironically.
"Ching, I do believe you've turned an emotional corner," Lois said, laughing and everyone joined in.
Even Matthew attempted a toothless grin, burping as he did so and the little group's laughter grew louder, causing passers-by to look questioningly in their direction.
"Perhaps we should carry on this celebration back home," Clark suggested, hoping to keep a low profile, as always.
Zara suddenly sobered and her gaze fell momentarily. "I'm sorry, Clark, but that won't be possible. It's time for us to leave."
"No!" Lois remonstrated, surprised by the depth of her disappointment. It had been so long since she'd had a close girl friend of her own age and she'd come to appreciate Zara's companionship. "Can't you spare another day, at least?"
"Lois, we're truly sorry and we would love to stay for the party…" This time it was Zara whose voice died and whose eyes filled with tears. She too had loved having another woman who regarded her as an equal and who didn't bow in deference whenever she entered a room.
"Zara is correct," Ching interposed, but his tone was kindly and filled with genuine regret. Earthlings, and particularly these Earthlings, had taught him that it was neither weak nor improper to show feelings. "We've been away from New Krypton for far too long and, besides, Earth's sun is starting to have an effect on us. We grow stronger with each passing day."
"We'll miss you all so much, but it's time for us to go home," Zara continued sadly, yet there was no denying the yearning in her voice when she spoke the word 'home.'
"Will we ever see you again?" Clark asked somewhat diffidently. After their last visit, he'd been relieved to see his people leave. Though Zara and he had become friends, he'd never felt any rapport with the rest of the New Kryptonians. Yet this time was different. He'd shared some touching conversations with Trey who had actually been acquainted with Jor-El, discovered he had relatives on New Krypton and developed an empathy for Ching, once the younger Kryptonian man had dropped his guard.
"I doubt there will be any reason for us to return, so we must say a final goodbye. Take care of each other and be happy… and look after this little one." Zara's hand strayed to rest on the baby's silken hair.
"We will always love him, Zara," Lois vowed softly, stepping close to wrap her arms around her friend. "But I wish we didn't have to say goodbye forever…"
"I never thought it would be so hard to take leave of my own people for all time." Clark was by Lois' side, needing her comfort, yet offering her support too.
"It is difficult for us too," Lord Trey acknowledged readily. "For me, it has been an honor to get to know you, Clark… and you, Lois… all of you." His glance strayed to the older Kents before coming back to rest on Clark. "I know Jor-El and Lara would be very proud of the fine man you've become. New Krypton lost a great leader in you, my boy, but I now understand why your place is here on Earth with Lois." New Krypton's First Councillor shook hands with all the Kents then moved off a little, leaving Zara and Ching to say their goodbyes.
"I don't know what to say here… except to wish you long lives and happiness… " Clark stammered, then turned to pass his sleeping son to Jonathan. He rested his hands lightly on Zara's shoulders, bending to drop a gentle kiss on her forehead. When he straightened, Ching was waiting to shake his hand, but Clark wasn't about to let his friend leave with such a casual salutation. Whether Ching was ready for it or not, Clark pulled him closer, slapping his back. Amazingly, Ching returned the gesture.
"Goodbye, Clark and Lois. I never believed it possible, but I have enjoyed my time spent here with you," Ching admitted, his mouth quirking in a rueful grin. "Your sports are most pleasurable." Clark had shown him how to throw a few 'hoops.' "Earth is not a bad place to visit, but I still prefer New Krypton."
That brought a smile back to everyone's faces and Zara and Ching exchanged final farewells with Lois, Clark, Martha and Jonathan, not forgetting little Matthew.
"We have a transporter cloaked in an alleyway behind the courthouse, so we won't return to Hyperion Avenue this time," Zara explained, lingering a little behind as her menfolk backed away. "Lois, the package I spoke of is back at the house. Don't forget to deliver it to Dr. Klein."
"I won't." Lois raised her voice as Zara started walking off.
Zara's last words drifted back to the Kent family as they watched the three stride down the street and disappear round the corner of the municipal buildings. Clark lowered his glasses for a moment, following their progress, until the meaning of Zara's message penetrated his thoughts.
"Package? What package?"
Lois smiled mistily at her husband. "It's a long story, honey. I'll explain later. Now I think we should go home too. It's almost time for Matthew's dinner and you know how crabby he gets if he doesn't get fed."
The thought of an angry baby howling his dismay in the middle of the park didn't much appeal to Clark. "Sounds like a good idea, honey! And now that you mention it, I'm pretty hungry myself."
"Clark, you don't need to eat!" Lois retorted.
"No he doesn't," Martha agreed, "But when did that ever stop him?"
"You do know that's all your fault, Mom?" Clark joked, taking his son back from his father. His mood brightened, but he still felt the need to keep Matthew close. "You shouldn't be such a good cook."
Lois linked arms again with Clark. "Martha, Clark has a point. I'm sure I've put on pounds since you've been here…"
"Ha! Why do you think I'm this size, Lois?" Jonathan patted his rounded stomach, joining in the banter as the family made their way back to the Jeep and home.
Lois soon discovered it was more difficult to let Clark in on her news about the Kryptonian package than she'd expected. When the family returned home they found Ellen Lane waiting impatiently on the stoop. Aware of the date of the adoption hearing, Ellen had cut short her extended stay in Florida to return to Metropolis, but, unfortunately, due to a delayed flight, she'd arrived too late to show up at the courthouse. Instead, she'd made her way directly to Hyperion Avenue and her nerves were on edge by the time the family arrived home. The joy on her mother's face when told the good news surprised and delighted Lois.
Not long after their homecoming, Sam also turned up. He'd phoned earlier and, learning the good news, didn't want to miss out on the celebrations. He arrived bearing a huge blue rabbit, bright balloons and a large bottle of champagne. However, this time Sam remembered his wife and his gift sack also contained a bottle of sparkling Perrier water.
Lois couldn't suppress a wish that her father had shown just one small part of such enthusiasm for her own childish accomplishments, but bleak thoughts had no place in her heart at this moment. As everyone toasted the 'newest' Kent, Lois smiled at both her parents, realizing it was never too late to mend fences.
The party was complete when Jimmy and Perry arrived at Hyperion Avenue, considerably earlier than either would normally leave the Planet. Since no one seemed inclined to go home, Clark ordered dinner from his wife's favorite Chinese takeout and a good time was had by all, not excepting little Matthew, who seemed to be a very sociable child. A little like his father, Martha imparted in an aside to her daughter-in-law. Which was probably a very good circumstance, Lois considered as she watched her baby being fussed over by all, and seemingly loving every minute.
Now, as twilight fell and their guests had finally gone, Martha and Lois cleared away the refuse of the impromptu party. Jonathan snoozed comfortably in his favorite chair in the living room, while Clark bathed and put his weary son to bed. Tiredness had finally overtaken the little boy and he'd grown a little fractious, which was no bad thing either, Lois concluded, as it had prompted the others to say their goodbyes. Now she just wanted to relax. It had been a very long day for the Kents, one which had dawned with them all in a state of high tension.
"It's been a tiring day, but a wonderful one too," Martha said, echoing Lois' thoughts, as she switched on the dishwasher.
"Oh, it has!" Lois dried her hands with a dishtowel and found herself using it to dab at her eyes, which were suddenly leaking fresh tears. "Sorry for blubbering, again," Lois hiccuped between a sob and a smile. "I think I'm just a little tired."
"Oh, honey, that's just reaction kicking in. You've been under a lot of strain lately. And I'll bet those are happy tears."
"Martha, I never knew I could be so happy. Clark and I have shared so many monumental days, but this must top every one of them. I feel over the moon! Never in my wildest imaginings could I have dreamed how proud I would feel to be a mother."
"Sweetie, this is just the beginning. You'll have many days when you feel so proud you could burst. His first tooth, his first step, that wonderful day when he says Mommy for the first time. and later his very first day at school." Martha's hand settled over her heart as her mind strolled down memory lane. "And it never stops. I'm still so proud of my son and my daughter." Martha pulled Lois into a hug, her own eyes moist. "Of course, you do a fair bit of worrying too along the way, but that's just part of being a mom."
"And a grandmother too, I'm sure." Lois smiled. "I'm glad I'll have you to come to for advice."
The two women stayed close for a moment before Martha stood back, dragging a tissue from the box on the counter to blow her nose. "Jonathan and I will always be there for you and Clark. You know that, Lois, but you have someone even closer at hand — your mother."
"I should be shocked by that suggestion, but I'm not. Mother was so good with Matthew today. Even Daddy! I think they're going to be much better grandparents than they were parents and that makes me even happier. It's like we have a chance to be a family again."
"Good! Ellen and Sam deserve a second chance. Now, why don't you leave me to finish up in here and join Clark upstairs with Matthew — they'd both appreciate that."
Lois took a quick look round her kitchen and decided that most of the tidying was done. "If you're sure, Martha. There really is something I need to tell Clark, something way overdue." For a second, Lois looked a little serious, then she gave a distinct chuckle. "And I'm not ashamed to admit that I get a kick out of watching my baby sleep. He looks so sweet and innocent."
"Enjoy it while you can, Lois. Once he starts teething you won't get many moments of peace, not if he's anything like his father."
"I take it that's one of those times when it isn't quite so great to be a parent?"
"You'll cope, Lois, and the good times always outweigh the… not so good!"
Sending Martha a final grin, Lois headed up the stairs to her husband and son.
Epilogue: When You Wish Upon A Star
"Do you see it, Matthew? That's our star, New Krypton, where we have our roots, but Earth is our home. Metropolis, here with Mom, is where we really belong."
Lois pushed open the door to the newly furnished nursery to hear Clark talking quietly to his son. They were by the window, Matthew cradled in the crook of his father's large arm, while Clark's other hand pointed to a bright point of light, shining high in the cloudless heavens.
Once, long ago, she'd stood by a window at Clark's side as he'd pointed out that same star, only that night her heart had been heavy with sadness and fear for the future. They were saying goodbye, perhaps forever, and the knowledge that both she and Clark were doing the right thing by parting… the only thing that could be done under the circumstances, had only highlighted her frustration.
But Clark had come back to her and slowly they'd managed to put the whole terrible episode of Lord Nor's attack on Earth behind them. Yet she'd despaired for Clark when he revealed he'd felt no connection with his people. Of course, Clark always insisted that Martha, Jonathan and herself made up all the family he needed.
Lois suspected that might be a tiny delusion on his part, which was why this second visit had proved so rewarding. This time, he'd gotten to know at least three of his race and had found that hitherto missing affinity. She'd been content to watch the bond grow between Zara, Ching, Trey and her husband, yet she'd been surprised to experience a similar link. And it wasn't just because the visitors had brought them the one thing they didn't dare to desire too much. Matthew was the icing on the cake.
Lois felt a contented warmth spread through her being as she listened to Clark croon slightly out of tune to his son while rocking him back and forth. They made such a wonderful picture, which she took a moment to enjoy before walking forward and slipping an arm round Clark's waist.
"Will you miss them?" Lois asked, laying her head against his shoulder.
"Uh-huh. But not half as much as I'd miss you, if you're asking where I'd rather be."
"No!" Lois lifted her head, gazing toward the far-off world. "I know the answer to that question. We were meant to be together, but that doesn't mean you can't miss your own kin. I was sad to see them go too."
"Then, yes, honey, it does make me a little sad, but Zara and Ching did what they came to do and their place is back on New Krypton. I'll always be grateful that they helped us out with our problem, though. I never expected it."
"Me neither," Lois smiled again and traced her hand up Clark's arm. "Now that it's official, I take it you're thrilled to be a father?"
"Thrilled doesn't cut it, Lois. Excited, astounded, even a little scared, but totally happy." Clark leaned down and placed a lingering kiss on Lois' inviting lips.
The kiss might have lengthened, but Matthew squirmed, feeling his safe position tilt a little. Lois and Clark parted at once and together watched their son stretch, his rosebud mouth opening wide in a yawn.
"Has he been fed?" Lois asked, eager to do her duty.
"No, I thought you might want to do that before he goes to sleep. Why don't you take him and I'll fetch his bottle."
A few minutes later, Lois was settled in her rocking chair with Matthew busily guzzling his evening meal. "This is my best-loved time of day, Clark. Just you, me and Matthew here alone. Even the city seems quiet."
"That's good. I'm all for Metropolis behaving itself tonight. I kinda appreciate this time too." Clark sat down on the edge of a wooden toy box, in touching distance of his family. But for now he was content just to stare at the two people he loved beyond life. "Honey, when I was a kid growing up, I dreamed of finding 'the one' person who would make me feel complete. I wanted so much to get married and raise a family, just like my parents. When I met you, I knew without a shadow of doubt that the first part of my dream had come true and, when you married me, I couldn't have wished for more. But I guess the second part of my dream was always there in the background. And even though I pretended otherwise, I was always afraid that the 'family' part might not be possible. Dr. Klein's prognosis almost broke my heart."
Lois' arms were filled with her child, but she reached out to him with her words. "I know, Clark. I might not have had the same dream while I was growing up, but falling in love with you changed that. Being told we couldn't have children hurt me more than I'd ever imagined."
"I never doubted you'd make a great mom." Clark's smile rested tenderly on Lois. "But I keep having to pinch myself to be certain I'm not dreaming."
"I do the same thing, Clark." Matthew's mouth dropped away from the bottle and Lois lifted him to her shoulder to burp him.
"Oh, wait, Lois, I have a cloth here." A couple of seconds were taken up in the humdrum business of covering Lois' shoulder with a terry-diaper, then Clark reseated himself on the box. "I'm sure that the uncertainty of the adoption contributed to that."
"True, now we can settle down to being a family without having to worry that someone like Ms. Bailey is going to take Matthew from us."
"Right!" Matthew's loud burp interrupted his father and both parents chuckled. "I diapered him right after his bath, so maybe he's ready to go to sleep now."
Clark helped Lois stand and they walked together over to the new crib. Matthew had already outgrown Clark's bassinet. As Lois laid him down and covered him, another yawn split his baby face and his eyelids fluttered shut, his dark lashes shadowing his plump cheeks.
"Don't you think he's the prettiest baby you've ever seen?" Lois asked, completely forgetting the fact that she used to think people who gushed over infants were slightly neurotic.
"Definitely! He has your long lashes, Lois." Clark closed in behind his wife and laced his arms around her small frame. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "I always pictured having a bigger family, honey, but after believing we'd never have any kids, Matthew is much more than enough and, just so you know, he is beautiful."
There was a moment when Lois hesitated, then she leaned back into her husband's embrace, still watching her baby. "Clark, Matthew might not be our only child," she said slowly.
"How so?" Clark asked somewhat dreamily, soothed by the quiet shadows of the room.
"That package for Dr. Klein from Malaki, it's an instruction manual or hologram, probably a bit of both. Zara says that Malaki is confident that Bernie will be able to help us make another baby. And we won't even need a birthing matrix; I can manage that part. So you see…"
Clark interrupted, turning Lois round and staring earnestly into her eyes. "You mean we could have more children?"
"I think so."
"Oh, Lois," Clark ground out, pulling her tightly against his hard body. "That's great news." Yet, strangely, Lois grew still in his arms. Was she a bit unsure? Perhaps it was too soon to be discussing more children and this was a decision they had to make together. Setting his hands gently on her shoulders he held her a little away from him, care and admiration for her his first consideration. "That really is amazing, but if you don't mind, sweetheart, we can figure that out in the future. In the meantime," he told her laughingly, "we'll have a terrific family of… three."
Love glowed in Lois' returning gaze and a smile touched her lips as she once again entered the haven of his arms. Clark always knew just the right thing to say.