Family Hour

By Shayne Terry <byron212@yahoo.com>

Rated: PG

Submitted: December 2007

Summary: A chance encounter leaves a teenage Lois Lane a single mother. Twelve years later, as her daughter begins exhibiting strange abilities, a flying man with those same abilities appears on the news.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Lois or Clark or Superman or any associated characters. Lisa Lane is mine, though.

I'd like to thank Chris Patterson for her advice and technical input on medical matters and to all the folcs who gave feedback and suggestions on the way they thought the story should go. I didn't use every suggestion, but they all kept me motivated.

***

The pounding rhythm of the music was like sex, grinding, guttural, almost overwhelming. Lois swayed for a moment. Her face felt numb, and she wondered if this was what her mother felt like when she wanted to forget.

She wasn't supposed to be here at all. A fake ID, a quick lie…it wasn't supposed to be that easy to get away from your parents. There had been a time where it wouldn't have been that easy with hers.

Now that they were imploding, their marriage disintegrating faster than snow on a hot day, they didn't have time for Lois or Lucy. It seemed to be all they could do to keep it together.

So they were at home, and Lois was here.

She hadn't even had to buy her own drinks. Different people had been handing them to her all night.

For a moment she wondered where the others had gone, and then she shrugged.

She was here to forget, not to worry.

Someone grabbed her arm and pulled her on to the dance floor. As she danced, Lois stared at the glowing bracelet she was wearing. How they got the tiny crystals embedded in it to glow she didn't know, but it was the coolest thing she'd seen in a while.

Some guy out of Kansas was selling them for fifty bucks each.

As Lois waved her arm, she could see the pretty colors it made. The light almost seemed to streak into a single trail.

***

"I don't think we should be here."

Clark allowed himself to be shoved along by his teammates. This was wrong, and if the coach found out they were all going to be in hot water. Still, alcohol couldn't affect him as far as he knew, and at least here in Metropolis he wasn't likely to find any of those damned bracelets Wayne Irig's grandkid was selling.

He hated the way they made him feel. He wasn't himself. At the rate things were going, he was going to have to leave Smallville sooner than later. Maybe the fad would fade after a few years, but given what he could do, it'd be safer to stay away.

Clark winced as the pounding music overwhelmed him. By the time he'd regained his senses, his buddies had already bribed the guy at the door and they were in.

"You know what they say about city girls, Clark…" Pete said, turning to grin at him.

"No," Clark said. He tensed, waiting for the punch line, but Pete had already caught the eye of a girl across the dance floor, and he was off.

As long as they stayed more focused on the girls and less on the booze, they would probably be ok. Clark didn't want to have to answer any questions about hung over teammates if he didn't have to.

He was the sensible one. That seemed to be his role in life. Sometimes he wondered if he just didn't have the same glands as an ordinary person. He liked girls, but he didn't seem to have the same sort of overwhelming feeling of need that some of his peers had.

Maybe it made him a little superior, being able to…

Clark's sense of smug superiority vanished in an instant as he caught the eye of a girl across the room. She was dancing on the dance floor, her tight dress sliding provocatively up and down her figure.

She was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen.

His entire body felt as though it was tingling. From his scalp to his back and spreading outward, he felt numb.

Flushing, he realized that for the first time since he was a child he felt sweaty and hot.

He began to work his way toward her.

***

He was handsome, and obviously a jock. When he smiled, Lois felt a familiar thrill going through her. It was something more than what she usually felt when she saw a handsome boy. Tonight she felt different than she normally did. Her world was falling apart, and she felt…restless.

It felt as though anything could possibly happen, as though the night was filled with endless possibilities.

As she slid up to him, she saw that he was noticing the bracelet on her arm. He stiffened, and a sheen of sweat appeared on his forehead.

She was sixteen and she felt numb. As she slid into his arms, she at least felt something.

***

Hangovers were even worse than Lois had been told. Her eyes felt as though they were stuck together with a mixture of sand and mud. Her mouth felt dry, and her head pounded. It took her a moment to realize that she was home in bed.

She had no idea how she'd gotten there.

A flash of memory, and she groaned. She'd been all over that guy last night. She'd wanted to feel something.

Well, she felt something now. An unfamiliar soreness, an unfamiliar ache was in places she hadn't realized existed.

She was never drinking again. Lois closed her eyes and tried desperately to remember his face.

All she could remember was the feeling of his hands on her body…the feeling she'd had when they were together.

His face was a blank.

At least none of the guys who went to her school had been there. The other girls had split out early, and Lois was going to be able to deny everything.

As far as the world was concerned, last night had never happened.

Lois was just going to have to move on.

***

Cold, clinical tile. The coarseness of the paper gown she was wearing. The cold knot of fear deep in her gut…every visit to the doctor was difficult, but this one was different.

Her periods had been affected by all the stress she was under. Hopefully she was only nauseous in the morning due to the stomach flu.

Maybe she'd get lucky and have an ulcer.

The doctor stepped into the room and looked down at her.

"Your STD panels are all clean, but we need to talk."

Lois slowly sat up.

"You're approximately three months pregnant. You need to start considering your options."

Her world was never going to be the same.

***

Thirteen years later, Lois thought exactly the same thing as she stared at the hole in her living room wall. The couch was in the back yard, crushed to bits, and she and her daughter simply stood and stared at the destruction.

"I'm sorry." Lisa stared up at Lois, and for a moment she reminded Lois of the sweet child she'd once been, before she'd entered this rebellious phase.

Before all the freakish things had begun happening around her. Fires starting spontaneously whenever she was angry. Getting in trouble for spying on people, when she claimed she was nowhere near them.

Losing all of her friendships because of things she heard them say about her, when she wasn't even in the area.

Lois had been considering sending her to see Doctor Friskin, but the hole in the wall put an entirely new light on things.

It was a brick wall, and her daughter had thrown a couch through it.

Contritely, her daughter handed her the red glowing bracelet.

"Don't go through my jewelry box," Lois said absently.

Every time Lisa got into it, she got into trouble, but for some reason, it just seemed to call to her.

"Take the couch out to the alley and make sure nobody sees you," Lois said quickly.

Seeing her daughter pick up the three hundred pound couch easily and carry it through the back yard convinced her that it was finally time to face the truth.

Her daughter wasn't completely human.

***

For almost two years she'd worried that she might be schizophrenic. Her best friend Janice had a brother who heard voices and felt suspicious and was angry all the time. Lisa had seen what it had done to Janice and her family, and she'd learned enough to be frightened out of her mind.

Being schizophrenic meant they would send you away and lock you up for weeks at a time. It meant that the people around you were always watching you, waiting for signs that you were coming unglued again.

It meant that the people in your life always had to be on their guard, and that they got taunted about having someone crazy in the family.

When she'd begun hearing the voices, she'd known what it meant. Her time with her mother was limited.

At first it hadn't been so bad. Hearing stray conversations and only later realizing that no one had been nearby to have them. There had been no rhyme or reason to them. Sometimes the things Lisa had heard terrified her. The time she'd heard the daddy hitting his kid had sent her to her room with her hands over her ears, biting her lip to keep from crying.

Sometimes she'd heard bathroom noises that made her giggle. Other times they made her feel sick.

The older she'd got, the more specific it had gotten. Now it seemed that the voices were always talking about her.

It was funny how little you really wanted to hear what people really thought about you.

Grandma Ellen had thought she was fat, and that she had an eating problem. That had lasted until last summer, when she'd suddenly grown and discovered that it didn't seem to matter how much she ate; she no longer gained weight.

Then Grandma Ellen had thought she was anorexic. Lisa had caught the look on her grandmother's face whenever she went to the bathroom, as though she was going to check for signs of vomit.

Aunt Lucy was nice, but she worried that Lisa didn't have enough friends.

Of course, when you were hearing voices that sounded like the people you thought were your friends talking behind your back, it was hard to look for new ones. Especially since there was a feeling in the base of her gut that at least some of the things she was hearing were true.

Uncle Mike argued with her mother about their having their own house. They could have so many more things, he argued, if they would move back in with him. Her mother would argue about being independent and setting a good example.

She'd tell Grandma Ellen though that she felt guilty for having taken advantage of him all those years when she was small.

Her friends thought she was fat at first, and then they started getting jealous. They'd make things up about her liking this boy or that; they'd make comments about her being a slut because she was developing earlier than they were.

As though the fact that most of them didn't even need a training bra was her fault.

The bitter thing was that Lisa had thought she was pretty and popular before all this happened, despite being a little overweight. If she believed the voices, however, the more popular she got on the surface, the more everyone despised her.

In Lisa's experience, the normal changes associated with becoming a woman were more humiliating than gratifying. Shopping for her first bra, her first period.

At least she never seemed to be bothered by much pain. It was something she'd sometimes caught her mother muttering resentfully about.

For almost two years, the voices had tormented her, and Lisa hadn't been able to tell anyone, not even her best friend. Anyone she told would freak out, and the next thing she knew, she'd be locked away somewhere away from her friends.

She'd be stuck with other kids who really were crazy, and she'd be stuck away from her mother.

Lisa didn't even want to think about the voices she'd hear at a mental hospital. She'd seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest one night with Aunt Lucy. Hearing people get their brains shocked out didn't sound like her idea of fun, even if Janice assured her that they didn't do that kind of thing anymore.

After all, she wasn't even sure what her voices were. Maybe she was hearing ghosts, or memories.

She had nightmares sometimes about meeting the faces that went with some of the voices, especially about the daddy who was hitting his kid.

She hoped her own daddy wasn't like that. Her mother had never told her much about him, saying only that he wasn't someone she'd known well.

Sometimes she wished that she could get to meet him, that he'd show up in a big white limousine, (or in her sillier times, a white horse) and come save her mother from the life they'd become stuck in.

As the bus pulled up to the school, Lisa winced. A month ago she'd gone beyond hearing voices and had begun to see things…naked things. It had terrified her at first. Janice's brother only saw things when things were getting really bad for him, when he'd been off his meds for a while.

Apparently this was going to be another one of those days.

Lisa closed her eyes for a moment and then stood as the bus pulled to a halt. She ignored the whispers about how stuck up she was and kept her eyes focused firmly ahead.

She could see the fleshless skulls of some of her classmates ahead of her. Others looked as though they weren't wearing a stitch of clothing. Lisa walked quickly, shoving past several of the boys who immediately protested.

She slowed, reminding herself to be careful. It was getting easier to hurt other people now, and while sometimes she still forgot, the sight of the bruises she'd put on Janice's wrist was warning enough. She didn't need to be expelled for fighting at school. She certainly didn't need to get into any more trouble.

She was off the bus, and after that she kept her eyes firmly down as she hurried away from the stop. She could hear Janice calling to her, but she ignored her. She didn't want to see Janice that way any more than she did anyone else.

Worse, Janice knew the signs, and it terrified Lisa that she might be able to see that Lisa was seeing things.

It was a secret Janice wouldn't keep. She'd been raised to believe that it was important to tell about things like that, and the few times Lisa had even raised the issue, she'd been firm.

Janice's brother had seen skeletons. He hadn't seen naked people, but that wasn't the sort of thing he'd have talked about to his younger sister.

It hurt, losing her one friend, but although Lisa could deal with the voices, the hallucinations were more than she could deal with.

Lisa hurried down the street, down row after row of identical houses with identical lawns. People in the suburbs prided themselves on looking just like everybody else, and although Lois had sometimes wondered why her mother had chosen this life, deep down, she'd known the truth. It was all her fault.

Lisa kicked at a stray rock, and winced as it flew across the lawn to smash into the side of a car. A year ago, it wouldn't have gone that much further than one kicked by a normal boy. Now she was some sort of freak.

The thought that she might not be hallucinating, that the things she was seeing and hearing were real was even more terrifying. Aunt Lucy had let her watch the Exorcist one night when her mother had been out late working. She'd had nightmares for weeks.

What if she was possessed now?

It would explain the freakish strength, the weird hearing and sight. It would explain Lisa's sudden inexplicable rages, times when she felt as though she was standing outside her own body looking in.

She loved her mother. She would never want to harm her. But screaming and throwing a couch, that was exactly the sort of thing that got a kid locked up. Lisa knew it, but she hadn't been able to control herself last night.

Her guilt had kept her from sleeping all night, and her mother hadn't looked any better the next morning. She'd slept beside the hole in the wall so that no one would be able to come into the house and steal things.

Lisa was ashamed of herself, and the worst part of it was that she didn't have anyone left that she could turn to.

Her mother had sacrificed so much for her already. The voices she'd heard assured her of that. She could have been somebody big and important, living the kind of life Lisa only saw on the movies.

Instead of being grateful, Lisa had thrown a couch at her. It was going to cost a lot of money, Lisa knew, money they didn't have, to fix it. That meant they were going back to eating sandwiches for a long time, and they probably weren't going to get to go on the trip this summer.

Lisa was as miserable as she'd ever been, and the worst of it was that there was nobody she could confide in.

***

Lois felt trapped.

What was going on with Lisa was something beyond her control. She was strong enough now to be really dangerous, but sending her away to an institution wasn't really an option.

There was no telling what they would do if they discovered what she was able to do while she was locked away. Lois would lose all control over the welfare of her child then, and she didn't want to find out too late that Lisa was being locked away in a lab somewhere.

She couldn't even share this with anyone. Her own parents would have her committed if she talked about this. Lucy wasn't reliable, and might tell someone. Uncle Mike might understand…although Lois would hate to ruin the special relationship he had with Lisa.

She didn't want to see horror in anyone's eyes when they looked at her little girl.

Wearily she sat on her one remaining chair and switched the television on. She was going to have all day to wait while the bricklayers did their work.

***

"Mom?" Lisa asked cautiously as she stepped into the darkened house.

By the light of day, the hole was even larger than it had seemed the night before, even though the bricklayers had already replaced half of it.

Although it was only a little after six, they'd already apparently taken off for the day. Lisa had heard her grandfather mutter about unions often enough to know what that meant.

Her mother was sitting in the darkness, the television turned down low.

She'd had to use a sick day from work for this, and that was something her mother couldn't afford to do often. She didn't get paid on those days, and Lisa felt her guilt increase even further.

Her mother glanced at her and gestured toward the television.

"They've been playing this all day."

There wasn't a place to sit, so Lisa stood as Lois turned the volume up.

On the screen was a tiny figure in a blue and red outfit. He was flying, and it almost looked as though he was carrying an airplane.

***

The hum of the wheels against the road was hypnotizing; the soft sounds of soft rock playing on the radio reminded Lois of long trips she'd taken with her own parents when she was a child, before everything had gone sour between them.

Usually the hum of the road had been enough to let her drift off to sleep to the sound of the music, after she'd shoved Lucy as far as she could on her own side of the seat.

Lisa had never had that kind of sibling rivalry; she never would. Lois had had her child too young, and further, there had been some genetic abnormalities that had made the pregnancy especially difficult on her body. She'd almost died, and the damage done to her had been more than she liked to think about still.

So Lisa was always going to be alone. She was never going to have to fight over clothes or dolls or boys. She wasn't going to know what it was like to stand up for a little sister, to huddle together and comfort each other when their parents were fighting.

She'd never have that special relationship and part of Lois regretted it. It had been hard enough raising one child alone; even with all the help Uncle Mike'd had to offer, it had sometimes been all she could do to get up in the mornings.

Yet Lois would never regret having her, despite the dreams she still sometimes had of a glamorous life as a big reporter.

She glanced over at her daughter and wondered just how much she hadn't told Lois.

This Superman could do so many things. He was strong; he could set fires with his eyes. He could hear cries for help from miles away.

Lisa had admitted to hearing things that first day. It explained a lot. It explained her sudden coolness toward her grandmother after she turned ten. Ellen had always been careful to keep her vitriol away from impressionable ears, but when those ears could hear telephone conversations from all the way across the house, it meant that Lisa had been exposed to things Lois would have rather protected her from.

Lois was just glad that there had never been any serious men in her life. That would have resulted in the kind of psychological scarring she didn't want to deal with.

It hurt to think that she'd been suffering all this time, thinking she was crazy and that if she told she'd be sent away. Lois's job was to protect her little girl, and she'd failed.

It was an old familiar guilt. There were so many things she wanted for her daughter, things she'd never been able to accomplish for herself. This was the last in a long line of failures.

She'd never been able to provide the kind of material things she'd wanted to provide. Living with her Uncle Mike had helped, but it was only in the last few years that she'd been solvent enough to even consider moving out on her own.

Glancing over at her daughter, who was staring straight ahead, Lois wondered what other things were going on with her that she hadn't bothered to tell her.

"Are you ok?" she asked.

Sometimes it felt as though she didn't know her daughter anymore. Things had changed between them for the past two years, and it was only now that she was beginning to get an inkling of the reason why.

Lisa nodded, and then returned to staring out the window. She'd been silent for most of the trip, enough that Lois had begun to worry.

Since that first day, Superman had been on television, in magazines, on the radio. He'd saved hundreds of people from earthquakes and floods and car accidents. He'd made it clear that there was no place on earth that he didn't consider under his protection, with the exception of Metropolis, which he'd avoided.

It wasn't something that anyone but Lois would have noticed, but there were hundreds of cities in the world, and not all of them had required his services as of yet. Reporters barely had time to shout a few questions at him before he was off to perform yet another few rescues.

The world was desperate for any piece of news about him. In some ways he was bigger than the Beatles, and there were pictures of crowds of admirers trying to swarm him, to touch him, to share in some way a piece of what he had.

None of that made him easier to find; to the contrary, he made rescues and didn't spend long at any one place. Lois could sympathize. Having a needy world always wanting something from you…she couldn't imagine.

Lois had begun to lose hope, after three weeks. It didn't seem as though there was any way to contact this Superman. He didn't have any known place of residence, and he didn't even seem to play favorites in terms of where he worked.

It wasn't until she'd seen an article on the news that Lois had realized her chance. An obscure millionaire, some sort of mining magnate in Colorado, had set up a Superman foundation. It was a charitable organization, and, according to follow up articles in the paper, Superman had agreed to appear at a celebrity auction.

"Do you really think he'll be there?" Lisa asked, finally breaking the silence.

Lois nodded. "He's been pretty good about keeping his promises so far."

"Not with me," Lisa said, her voice sounding strained.

"If he'd known about you…if we'd known…it would have been different."

How different Lois couldn't know. She knew nothing about the man other than that he claimed to be from another planet, and that he spent great portions of his day devoted to helping people.

"He pretends that he just showed up recently," Lisa said. "Isn't that a lie?"

"Well," Lois said. "We're not sure that he might not have been just visiting…or it might not be him at all. He might just be an uncle or a cousin or something."

There was the chance that he could be just one member of a family, or that he was part of an invasionary force. Lois hoped not. It was going to be hard enough to face the man with a child who was almost a teenager. It would only be worse if she had to beg for their lives at the same time.

The only thing she knew was that he would have some answers. He'd be able to answer some of the questions that Lisa and Lois both shared.

Were there ways for Lisa to control her abilities? Would she be able to fly? What else was she likely going to be able to do?

Just how human was she, really?

In the long run, it didn't matter to Lois. Lisa was her daughter, even if she was really some sort of green bug eyed thing from another star. Lois had a sense, however, that it mattered a great deal to Lisa.

Lisa had been alone for far too long.

"I'm sorry I didn't believe you," Lois said, after another long period of silence.

Lisa had claimed that people were saying things about her, things she couldn't possibly have heard. She'd never had a good explanation for it.

Lisa shrugged. "I wouldn't have believed me." She didn't look at Lois, simply stared off into the darkness.

***

Everything went as planned with the auction. The charity earned more money than anyone would have expected. Superman got more publicity, and the Superman Foundation was one more step toward becoming a self sustaining force of good in the world.

There were so many things he had to answer for, and this wouldn't begin to make up for them, but it was a start.

Stepping out onto the red carpet, Clark avoided the instinct to blink as flashes of light from dozens of photographers hit him all at once. There were celebrities in front of him and behind him, but he was the one the media was interested in today.

It still felt wrong, all this celebrity. He'd spent his life in hiding, concealing what he could do, fearing the response of the unthinking mob. People hated what they didn't understand; everything he'd seen had convinced him of that.

What he hadn't understood was that people had an insatiable need to find something to believe in. Pete had told him this, but he hadn't believed it.

As he stepped onto the red carpet and prepared to fly away, he found the world seeming to slow down around him. Everything seemed to freeze around him as his vision seemed to constrict.

In the crowd…she was there, staring at him.

The woman he'd wanted to forget…and had never been able to.

She was the woman who had changed the course of his entire life, and he didn't even know her name.

***

The sounds of the crowd around her seemed to fade into nothingness. Lois felt as though the entire world was condensing down into a single point. She could have sworn he was looking directly at her, but before she could call out to him, he was in the air.

It was a breathtaking sight, more than she would have imagined. The cape billowed out around him, and it gave him the look of something otherworldly.

A moment later, he was gone.

Lois felt numb. They'd driven two thousand miles over the space of two and a half days, and it was all for nothing.

She felt Lisa's hand tighten on hers, and she looked down at her daughter.

This wasn't the end. They'd contact him one way or another.

***

High in the darkness, Clark stared down at them as they left the crowd. The woman and the young girl looked frazzled and weary. They looked as though they hadn't slept in days, as though they'd been traveling and had slept in their car.

He couldn't believe how clear her face was. She'd been the face in his dreams for years, the one person who had haunted him after all this time.

She'd been his first introduction to the poison that had come to define his life, and yet he didn't blame her. As far as he could see, she was the one person he'd known who hadn't had an agenda. She hadn't asked anything of him, and he'd known instinctively that what they were doing wasn't something she'd done before.

It had been awkward, clumsy, wonderful. There had been something about it that made it different than later, more skilled encounters. She'd had a vulnerability about her, a feeling that all it would take would be a single tap, and her whole world would shatter into a thousand tiny pieces.

He'd flown for the first time that night, buoyed by the unfeeling sensations of new love. His joy had only grown. This was the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with. She was going to be the one.

Of course, away from the red poison, he'd gotten sick, and his memory had gotten fuzzy. He couldn't remember exactly where he'd taken her that night.

Worse, the next morning the other guys on the team had talked about it, turned what had been a beautiful encounter into something ugly and tawdry.

He hadn't even known her first name, but that was going to change.

He took a quick note of the license plate number on the battered brown station wagon that was parked haphazardly.

The girl spoke. "What are we going to do, mom?"

"We're going to get in contact with Mr. Kent. He set up this foundation. Surely he has some way of getting in contact with…him."

They were trying to contact Superman? For a moment Clark was tempted to simply land beside them, but his native caution prevented it. He wasn't sure why they'd traveled this far to find him, and he wanted to know more before committing himself.

"I thought he saw you," the girl said.

"I did too, honey." The sound of defeat in that familiar voice was almost enough for him to reconsider.

Before he could reconsider again, he was off.

With her, of all women, he couldn't trust himself.

***

Wearily, Lois staggered into the tiny motel. Switching the lights on, she was relieved to see that it was at least clean, although there was a faint scent of mildew. The tiles in the bathroom were cracked, and the bed had a slight sag to the middle, but on her limited funds, it was all they could afford.

It had been a foolish idea, coming all the way out here to find Lisa's father. What had she expected was going to happen? Did she think he was going to be rich and famous and that he would instantly fall head over heels for her and take her away from her mundane life?

Back child support would have been nice. It would be nice to be able to buy Lisa the things she wanted without having to worry about the bank balance.

By saving diligently, Lois had created a tidy little nest egg…one that had been wiped out by the bricklayer's bill.

It was frustrating, seeing all the things she wanted slip away. Biting her tongue at work because she needed her job, because her daughter needed to eat and have money for clothes. If she'd only had to worry about herself, she'd have said to hell with it. She'd have taken risks, jumped at chances.

Lois wouldn't have been stuck after two years in a dead end job as a researcher. At the very least she'd have demanded to be put to work full time so that she could have gotten benefits.

The pay wasn't so bad, but the crushing cost of living in even a suburb of Metropolis ate every penny and then some. Being able to afford even a smallish house in a poorer neighborhood of town had been a minor miracle.

It was a bitter pill, sometimes, editing the work of people she knew had far less potential than she. Unfortunately, being a reporter required dedication, talent and a willingness to work hours that Lois just couldn't afford.

She was all Lisa had.

Still, she wasn't without skills. She'd start work tomorrow at getting in contact with the head of the Superman Foundation, Clark Kent.

***

Clark read the license plate number into the telephone. In a few hours, he'd have the name of the mystery woman and along with it her life story. It paid to keep an agency on retainer for that sort of thing.

He wasn't sure why she'd brought the girl. Whatever business she had with him wouldn't include anyone else. They'd shared a night together a long time ago, and while it had been mind blowing and earth moving, it wasn't the sort of thing that people crossed mountains and oceans to find again.

He'd been that na´ve once, and part of him still missed that innocence. Believing in the innate goodness of human beings; that had been his parents' lesson to him. Part of him still believed it. If it didn't, he wouldn't be taking the risk of going through the whole Superman rigmarole.

Inspiring people to find the goodness they'd lost. That had been the sales pitch, and there had been something to it that had appealed to Clark. Perhaps it was his own twisted need for redemption, or perhaps it was just that it seemed like something his parents would have wanted.

Deep in his soul he wanted to believe that people were good, that who he became when exposed to the red poison wasn't his true nature, but that it was some sort of aberration.

He stared at the awards on the walls. Making money while under the effects of the red poison was the easiest thing in the world.

Finding gold, oil, even diamonds, was child's play to someone with his abilities, and buying the land up cheap before testing the area had been even easier.

It had been getting the money for the first mine that had been the hardest. Clark wondered if he was still banned from Las Vegas casinos, even ten years later. No one had ever been able to prove that he was cheating, yet the results had been impossible to ignore. He'd taken the money and run, starting a business empire.

It pained him, the thought of all the people he'd cheated along the way. People had been sitting with fortunes and they'd let them go for pennies on the dollar.

He wasn't sure how he was ever going to be able to make amends.

Closing his eyes, he sighed. All he could do was hope that it would be enough.

***

"My name is Lois Lane," Lois said into the telephone. "And I would like to speak to the President of the Superman Foundation."

"The President is a busy man, Ms. Lane. He is currently in a meeting, and he will be unavailable for several hours." The voice on the other end of the line was cool and professional, obviously well versed in screening the assortment of crackpots and greedy money seekers who were likely to try to talk to someone of Clark Kent's wealth and position.

Inwardly, Lois sighed. This was going to be as difficult as she had feared. She'd amassed a file on the Superman Foundation before she'd left the paper; there were advantages to working as a fact checker after all. She'd hoped to be able to set up a straight forward meeting, but…

The tone of the woman's voice changed. "I see that we've had a cancellation at noon. Perhaps you would like to schedule a meeting for twelve o'clock today."

"I…ah…I'd like that."

Lois felt a little stunned as she let the telephone receiver drop. Now she just had to figure out a way to convince the President of a charitable foundation worth millions if not billions of dollars to let her contact his cash cow, without revealing the true reasons for the visit.

The last thing she needed was the media firestorm that would erupt if the world learned that Superman had a love child.

***

Clark stared at the file in front of him. Lois Lane, age 29. Resident of New Troy throughout her life. Graduated with an Associate's degree, current employee of the Daily Planet. They had her listed as a contract employee, as a fact checker. He wondered if they were somehow hiding the fact that she was a reporter.

Although Superman sought the limelight, and encouraged publicity, the last thing Clark Kent needed was any time in the press. He'd been refusing interviews for years. For a copy editor looking to break into the big time as a reporter, this would be a major first step.

By all rights, he ought to send her away and avoid her as much as possible. It was the sensible, safe thing to do.

He could go back to his dual life; lonely and secretive on the one hand, and always playing a role on the other.

If he wasn't looking forward to this interview more than he'd looked forward to anything in years, he'd be on the next plane out of state within the hour. He had people who were experts at canceling appointments.

But after what seemed a lifetime of being alone, he finally was being given a chance to relive the one night that had been a splash of unforgettable color.

He couldn't miss that, not for anything.

***

Staring at her reflection in the cracked mirror for the last time, Lois straightened her business suit. Black, it was her one all purpose garment for interviews, funerals and other official events. Keeping it pressed and looking crisp after all this time had been a minor miracle in itself.

Lisa was already dressed, and for once Lois hadn't had to prompt her. She was dressed, and for once her clothes had stayed pressed and clean. Her hair, usually somewhat unruly, was for once combed and she'd actually asked Lois's help in making it look good.

Lois only hoped she wasn't disappointed. They were only going to meet the President of her father's foundation, not her father himself…not unless things went much better than Lois expected them to.

They'd be lucky not to be thrown out on their ear. At that point their only choice would be to fake some sort of disaster and yell "help Superman." Even then, if he was out of earshot they'd be out of luck.

"Remember what I told you," Lois said shortly. Manners were different when you spoke to the rich, and many of them seemed to regard children as noisy, toxic annoyances.

Lisa nodded. Lois couldn't make out her expression; it seemed to waver somewhere between anxiety and excitement.

For her this was the chance of a lifetime. Lois had no doubt that she'd always dreamed of her father as coming in on a white horse to save them all. It wasn't all that different from her dreams when she was young, of a father who would turn his back on his work and spend time with his family.

How much worse it would be to look at every man who passed you by and wonder if he was the one. Lois hadn't even been able to offer her the comfort of a name, or a picture, or even a description. She'd managed to keep the uglier details of the encounter from her daughter, but there had been questions she hadn't been able to answer.

Why did her eyes have that slightly exotic cast to them? Was her father partially Asian, or was there something else going on? Was she going to grow up tall, or was she doomed to be short?

Did she have other grandparents, and what were they like?

There had been an endless parade of questions when Lisa had finally been able to realize just how different her life was than those of her friends.

It was a sign of just how good a child she was that the questions had trailed off over the last few years. Lisa had seen how much the questions had hurt Lois, and she'd eventually stopped asking them.

That didn't mean that Lois didn't see them reflected in her eyes sometimes. Every time a good father would be shown on television, Lisa was riveted. She watched the same shows over and over again.

Knowing the void she'd left in her daughter's life made Lois want to cry sometimes.

Lisa stood and Lois brushed some lint off her shoulder. "It's going to be fine."

***

As Lois pulled up around the back of the building, near the servant's entrance, she felt hideously self conscious. Her battered brown station wagon was an eyesore compared even to the vehicles driven by the servants. These tended to be late model sedans, mostly in dark colors.

A classic Rolls Royce that would not look out of place in a James Bond film was being washed by a heavyset man wearing a chauffeur's outfit. He glanced at them and immediately glanced away.

Lois frowned. In her experience, you could tell a lot about someone by the attitudes of the people who worked for them. Sullen, secretive employees usually meant a sullen secretive master.

According to her research, he'd gotten the place for a quarter its value at action. Two hundred eighty acres, four trout ponds, horse paddocks, a gazebo and vast expanses of glass looking out onto the magnificent Colorado skyline.

The mansion was visible from below, seeming to sit on the side of the mountain. Access was limited to a single road, and the whole place seemed designed for isolation.

This was the place of someone who wanted to shut themselves away from the rest of the world.

Lisa's eyes were wide. She hadn't been exposed to much luxury in her life, and this place obviously impressed her.

She kept looking at the wide gazebo barely visible through the Aspen trees.

Lois straightened her shoulders and said, "Are you ready?"

Nodding somberly, Lisa fell into step behind her.

***

Staring through the window, Clark wondered why she'd brought the child with her. That it was hers there was no question. The detective's report had been quite clear about that. Yet it seemed irresponsible to drag a child all the way across the country just to get a news story.

For a moment Clark toyed with the idea of having a child of his own, but he knew it was impossible. Lana had been a healthy, fertile woman and all the tests had shown that he was genetically incompatible.

He was the last of his kind, and he was never destined to have children of his own.

It hurt a little, the thought that he was always going to be alone, but perhaps it was for the best. No one would want a father like him, someone afraid to go out into the world. He wondered what his parents would have thought of the lonely life he'd been forced to lead.

The strange feeling of excitement in his stomach only grew by the moment.

***

Leaving Lisa behind felt wrong, even if she was just through the door. She'd be able to hear anything that was said anyway, and Lois knew she was strong enough to take care of herself from anything short of Superman.

Compared to the other rooms in the house, this one was almost sparse. There was a huge desk, heavy leather chairs and the entire back wall was one gigantic window looking out over the mountain.

The view was impressive. One could almost imagine that you were suspended in mid-air, flying over a landscape that was majestic and beautiful.

A man was standing with his back to her, staring out the window. He was wearing an Armani suit, and Lois guessed that his shoes alone cost more than everything she was wearing.

"I understand that you want to talk to Superman." The man's voice was a pleasant tenor with a light Midwestern accent.

"Mr. Kent?" Lois asked.

The man turned and Lois felt her stomach drop. There was something indescribably familiar about him, as though she'd seen him every day for years without even registering it. Dark hair, exotic eyes, tanned complexion…she couldn't put her finger on it.

He nodded and stepped forward, offering his hand.

Lois kept her grip firm, and she was surprised to find that his handshake was both warm and firm. He held her hand for a moment longer than was polite, and her hand tingled a little after he finally released her.

"I'd like to make an appointment to speak with Superman," she said.

Mr. Kent gestured for her to take a seat. He waited until she settled into the plush leather chair before following suit.

"It's not the policy of the Foundation to arrange interviews with reporters, Ms Lane." The man on the other side of the big desk sighed. "We'd be overwhelmed with requests in less than a month, and the work we've been commissioned to do would never get done."

"He's given interviews to reporters before. Linda King, for example…"

Lois hadn't been able to get hold of Linda to find out how she'd gotten the interview. Apparently, Hollywood had already gone to her head.

Lois had always hated how smug and sanctimonious she'd always been about having a "real job" in journalism anyway.

"Kal El may decide on a case by case basis to make exceptions to the rules, but we can't afford to. He's provided us with the opportunity of a lifetime to make a real difference in the world. We can't afford to lose his goodwill."

He sounded more like a lawyer than a maverick businessman. Lois scowled.

"I'm not planning to do an interview with him. This is personal."

"Oh?" Mr. Kent leaned forward.

"We're old friends who just lost contact with each other."

"I highly doubt that. He's only been on the planet for…"

"Tell him that I know he's been on the planet in disguise a lot longer than most people think. I met him more than ten years ago, and I need to talk to him."

***

Clark froze. He'd thought she'd been unconscious when he'd flown her home all those years ago. His memories were fuzzy, tainted by the red poison, but he'd been sure.

Old familiar feelings of panic clutched at him as his mind raced. Had she known about him all this time? Was she toying with him?

How much was she going to want to keep his secret?

The Superman experiment was a mistake. He'd known it from the moment it had been proposed to him. Coming out in public, even if he was in disguise, was just going to make it easier for him to be identified and hunted down.

All the money in the world wouldn't protect him if the government became involved. They'd freeze the assets they knew about, and it wouldn't take them long to find out about the other, more deadly poison. He'd never be able to sleep soundly again.

He'd be hunted, and the friends he'd managed to make would vanish into the wind or they'd be used against him.

"I don't know what you are talking about," he said, hoping that the quiver in his voice wasn't as audible as he thought it was.

"If he just arrived a few months ago, where is his spaceship?" Lois Lane stared at him intently. "What was he doing before he rescued the President's plane? Where does he live when he's not off doing rescues?"

"None of those are questions people haven't asked before," Clark said. "Of course, most people consider them to be conspiracy theorists."

"I have incontrovertible proof," Lois said.

He could hear the rhythm of her heart, the pace of her breathing…he could see the pupils of her eyes. She wasn't lying; she really believed that she had proof of what she had said.

"How much do you want?" he asked.

Lois Lane stared at him for a moment, as though she didn't understand the question.

"What?"

"How much would it take for you to go away and pretend that you've never heard of Kal El?" He reached into his pocket for a checkbook.

The woman scowled. "What are you talking about?"

"Life has got to be tough on a proofreader's salary," Clark said. "Living paycheck to paycheck, never quite being able to make ends meet. Wouldn't you like to be able to buy a nice house and an education for your daughter? How would you like to be able to afford some of those things you always dreamed about?"

He glanced through the wall behind her, where the daughter had been sitting quietly in a chair.

To his surprise, she seemed to be staring right back at him.

***

"It's not that I don't believe you," Clark continued. "The question is, will anyone else?"

"Yet you're here offering me money to keep quiet about it." The expression on Lois's face wasn't what he'd expected.

He'd expected that she'd start negotiating a price immediately. In his experience, that was what gold diggers did, they tried to get the most money out of a situation with the least effort.

It disturbed him that she'd brought her child with her. What sort of woman brought her child with her when she was trying to extort money from someone?

The same sort of people who might have sent a child on a rocket like some sort of experimental animal?

Clark had seen enough in his time in foster care to know that parents weren't always what they should be. That he'd had wonderful parents for the first ten years of his life was the only reason that he wasn't a worse person than he already was.

Glancing back up, he noticed that the girl still seemed to be looking at him through the wall. It was an optical illusion, of course. She had to simply be staring at a point on the wall and his mind was playing tricks.

It was unnerving.

Realizing that Lois seemed to be waiting for a response, he said, "I haven't always been the person I've wanted to be. It's hard to be and succeed on the scale I have."

Pausing purposefully, Clark said, "This Foundation is my chance to change all that. It's my chance to really make a difference in the world in a way I never even imagined before. We have a chance at reducing world hunger, curing diseases, helping to lift people out of poverty."

"I'm not here to…" Lois began.

Clark said, "They say that what we do now won't matter in a hundred years. I don't believe that. I want a chance to leave a better world for my children and grandchildren."

"It's not…" Lois started to say.

"Superman has given the world hope." Clark paused again. Years of experience in the boardroom and on the podium had given him a sense of timing and delivery. Lacing the story with bits and pieces of the truth didn't hurt. "But all of it is based around a sense of trust. It's hard to believe in something. It's easy to fall back into apathy and cynicism."

He did want to make the world a better place, although it wasn't his great passion, or even his idea.

There would be no children or grandchildren for him, although he might enjoy watching those of others from a distance.

"We're at a critical time in the process, and we can't afford to have scandal disrupting everything." He looked carefully in her eyes. "We've hired several hundred people, all of whom have families that depend on them. You wouldn't want to put innocent people out of work."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his checkbook. Quickly writing out a number and signing it, he pulled it out of the book and slid it across the table toward Lois.

She stared at it as though it was a snake, and he could hear her breathing pick up and her heart rate accelerating.

She was tempted, and he wondered if he should have added another digit to the total.

Glancing back at the closed door, almost as though she could see her child on the other side, Lois turned and said, "Damn the money. I need to meet with Superman about a private matter."

She stood up, and then paused. "I'd like it to remain a private matter, but I'll make it public if I have to."

Clark stood as well, and as he moved around the side of the desk, it was almost as though the child's eyes followed him.

It was unnerving.

"I'm sure you'll tell him where to find us," Lois said. "I hope he'll be discreet."

"Where are you going?" Clark asked, a little dumfounded.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

"Home," Lois said. Without saying another word, she turned and left the room, pulling the girl along behind her.

Clark had a feeling that he'd just made a big mistake.

***

Lois's anger wasn't enough to salve her shame.

She'd been tempted. The sort of money he was offering her wasn't enough to never work again, but it was enough that Lisa might finally have the sort of life Lois had always wanted to give her.

No more scrimping and saving. No more worrying about juggling bills.

Lois might even be able to find the sort of job she'd dreamed of doing, and she might be able to make it stick. That sort of money engendered a certain amount of confidence. Nothing like knowing that you wouldn't have to work for a year or more before finding your next job.

Lisa would find her father sooner or later. If she learned how to fly, she'd find him whether he wanted to be found or not.

Glancing at Lisa, Lois winced. There were tears in Lisa's eyes.

She'd heard the whole thing, of course, and it must have been hurtful.

Maybe it had been a mistake bringing her. Uncle Mike would have been happy to have put her up for a few days, and then she wouldn't have been exposed to this kind of ugliness.

They reached the station wagon, and Lisa slipped into her seat. The door on her side wouldn't lock, and Lois hadn't had the money to repair it.

As Lois slipped into her seat, all she could hope was that Lisa's father followed up. They were sacrificing financial security for a meeting which had no guarantee of working out. While Clark Kent might be a multimillionaire, as far as Lois could determine, Superman didn't have a dime to his name. At best, he'd have a stipend provided by the foundation for new pairs of red trunks.

There was no way to know what sort of a person he was without meeting him.

She slipped the key in the ignition and sighed. Looking over at her daughter, she asked, "Did I make the right decision?"

Lisa reached out and grabbed her hand, squeezing it in a gesture of support.

Lois stared at her daughter, and then nodded. Slipping the gears into position, she began backing out of the driveway.

There were too many questions that were left to be answered. If Lisa was going to be able to fly, then when? Were there other abilities that she was going to develop? How could she control them?

The image of Lisa suddenly levitating out of her chair in the middle of class made Lois shudder. Adolescence was hard enough without being made to feel like a freak. That it would be the start of a major scandal wouldn't help either. Lois had been in the industry long enough to know what reporters were likely to do in pursuit of the story.

It was hard being the target of public attention when you were rich, but at least there were resources to help guard privacy. For the working poor, however, there was no escape.

They had as much to lose from exposure as he did.

Lois sighed as she negotiated the steep road that led down from the Kent estate. She could only hope that Lisa's father was a nicer person than Clark Kent.

***

"You have to go after them."

Clark sat with his eyes closed. The whirring of the motor and the familiar sound of breathing was the only indication he had that anyone was in the room with him at all.

He must be more disturbed than he'd initially thought.

"Someone left the intercom on again, I see." For all his good qualities, Joshua was a terrible snoop. "This is all your fault."

Opening his eyes, he glared at the younger man.

"A beautiful woman comes and refuses money to go away." Joshua grinned at him. "This is my fault how?"

"I knew this whole Superman idea was a bad one. I look like an idiot, and people are already starting to come out of the woodwork. How long do you think it will be before somebody makes the connection?"

Joshua smirked. "Maybe you'd have more of a love life. I hear that the mile high club is particularly popular this year."

Clark shuddered. As a habit now, he scanned an area before landing. Any sign of the red poison, or the green, and he avoided the area like the plague.

"You were dying here," he said. "Did you really want to spend the rest of your life withering away behind these walls?"

They'd had this argument too many times to be worth mentioning. Clark turned slightly and stared out the window. If he looked carefully with his special vision, he could still see the battered old station wagon as it made its way down the one road leading into the estate.

"What did she mean, she'd met you more than ten years ago?" Joshua asked suddenly.

Clark shrugged, staring down at the table.

"You mean she's…"

Clark sighed. This wasn't a conversation he wanted to be having.

"You do know she's the only woman you've talked about in years." Joshua's eyes narrowed as he studied Clark's expression closely.

Lana was the only other woman who'd ever been important in his life, and she, of course, was a forbidden subject.

Even Lois he'd only talked about when he was coming off of the red poison.

"She didn't even recognize me," Clark said. Part of him had been hoping that she would, that they'd be able to start again fresh. She'd shared something with him that night that was more than just sex, and he'd hoped to find it again.

"As flattering as I'm sure that was, I'm also sure that if you don't hear her out it's going to nag at you for the rest of your life." Joshua shook his head. "Life's too short."

With that, he pulled away from the desk and turned his wheelchair toward the door.

Life was full of bitter ironies.

***

Three days there and three days back. Lois had missed a week of work, and it all felt as though it had been for nothing.

Pulling up into the driveway, she glanced over at her sleeping daughter. Lisa had been so good throughout everything. She'd barely asked any questions, although Lois wasn't sure if that wasn't just from her feelings of hurt and disappointment.

There were reports of a disaster in China, something involving a dam and evacuating villages. It explained why Lisa's father hadn't looked for them right away.

It didn't make the disappointment any better. Part of Lois had been hoping that Superman would stop them before they even left the hotel. He owed her that much after everything they'd both gone through.

Wearily, she stepped out of the driver's seat. She was going to have to wake Lisa and get her to bed.

She froze as she heard the sound of movement from behind her. Turning quickly, she fumbled for the mace on her keychain.

If she'd had the money for martial arts lessons, she might not be so slow.

Stepping out of the darkness, a figure moved into the flickering light of the one streetlamp near her house.

"Ms. Lane?" The voice was naggingly familiar. "I understand that you wanted to meet with me."

It took her a moment to understand the implications of the cape, and in the darkness his boots looked almost black. But then it hit her.

Superman had arrived.

Lois stood frozen for a moment. She'd come to accept that she'd been on a fool's journey, and now that it appeared that she wasn't, she wasn't sure what to do.

"Would you like me to bring her in?" Superman asked.

She nodded slowly, hoping he could see her in the darkness. Waking Lisa right now didn't seem right. She didn't want the first expression she saw on her father's face to be one of disbelief.

The door to the station wagon opened, and Lisa stirred a little as the overhead light came on. Lois caught a flash of red as he bent inside to lift her out of her seat, and a moment later he stood again, the light reflecting off the red of his trunks and the blue of his leggings.

He nudged the door shut gently with his hips, and then he was moving across the lawn easily, as though Lisa's hundred or so pounds didn't weigh anything.

To a man who could lift airplanes, Lois supposed that it didn't.

Realizing that he was waiting on her, and suddenly conscious of the empty windows of the houses surrounding them, Lois fumbled with her keys for a moment as she hurried forward.

Her hands were unexpectedly shaky, and she had trouble fitting the key in the lock. Glancing back at the silhouette of the man behind her didn't make things any easier. She wished she'd thought to replace the bulb on the entrance light.

As the key finally slipped into the lock, Lois felt a moment of shame at the thought of the interior of her home. It was shabby and run down, obviously not what this man was used to if he was spending time around the likes of Clark Kent.

No marble floors or long elegant staircases here.

He slipped inside behind her, and a moment later he'd headed down the hall in the direction of Lisa's bedroom.

For a moment, Lois wondered how he knew where to go; then she remembered that it was one of his abilities, seeing through things.

She switched on the light and grimaced. In her haste to move she'd left more of a clutter than she'd intended.

It was ironic that in her life before Lisa she'd been a meticulously neat person. As a mother, however, she'd discovered that children create chaos, and that oftentimes a clean house was simply one where the child hasn't yet come home.

He was out of the bedroom, and there was a blur. Lois stumbled back as she realized that all of her luggage was now sitting by the door. He'd unloaded it all in the space of an instant.

Lois felt a moment of tired gratitude before realizing that all this did was hurry the moment of reckoning.

He stood in the hallway, with the light behind his head like a halo, and Lois wondered what she was going to say.

He spoke first. "You wanted to speak with me?"

Lois nodded and gestured toward her chair. The couch was still gone, of course, leaving the living room looking open and bare. The carpet seemed threadbare and worn, and she felt embarrassed again.

He shook his head slightly and chose instead to stand by the wall. There was something about his body language…it was tense and distant.

Was he worried about what she had to say?

Sitting with him looming over her didn't seem like a good idea, so Lois gestured toward her kitchen, which at least had barstools around a breakfast nook.

"Would you like something to drink?" she asked.

He shook his head. "I had something in Shanghai."

It was subtle, the message that he was a world traveler and that his time was important. Lois forced herself to turn and head for the refrigerator for some orange juice. As tired as she was, she needed a little sugar in her bloodstream, and there wasn't time to make coffee.

She could feel his eyes on her back as she deliberately poured herself a glass and took a quick sip before returning the carton to the refrigerator.

Turning back to him, she said, "Do I call you Superman? Kal El?"

"Kal will be fine," he said.

Lois moved back to the breakfast nook, where she pressed her stomach against the counter.

"Are there any other beings with your abilities out there?" she asked.

It would be embarrassing to bring up the paternity issue if it turned out that he had cousins and uncles out there with the same abilities.

"Not to the best of my knowledge." He shrugged. "I've been looking for a long time and haven't found anyone else like me."

Lois relaxed. That made this all a little easier.

"Is this going to be an interview, then?" He sounded a little disappointed, and Lois wondered just what he thought had motivated her to bring him here.

Lois shook her head. "This is personal. Twelve years ago we met each other for the first time at a bar called the Blue Monday in Metropolis."

He stared at her without speaking.

"I…wasn't myself. My parents were getting a divorce and I…I'd been drinking."

He stiffened a little, and his face went blank. Lois wondered if he was only now recognizing her.

She wondered how many other women he'd met on nights like that in bars all around the world. Had there been so many that he didn't really remember her?

"You were wearing a Midwestern University jacket, but I remember you saying you didn't actually go there."

"Let's say this was all true," he said finally. "Why have you chosen to contact me now?"

"If it was just about me, I'd have left you alone, but I'm not the only one involved in all this."

He looked confused.

"Nine months after the night we met, I gave birth to Lisa."

***

Clark frowned. He'd expected an ugly accusation of rape, followed by a demand for even more money than he'd offered her in the first place. Without Superman, there would be no Superman Foundation, and so she'd reason that he'd have access to the money.

For once, she'd even have a point. She'd been clearly intoxicated and not in her right mind. Under normal circumstances, he never would have done anything with her, no matter how tempting he'd found her to be.

He couldn't even afford to tell her the truth. He'd been just as impaired as she'd been; his judgment had been shattered, and what they'd done together had been a mistake. It had been a mistake even if it had been one of the brighter memories of his life.

Instead, she made this ridiculous claim.

She'd been a virgin the night they'd met, and so unless she'd done something soon afterward…

"That's impossible," he said flatly.

Lois shook her head. "There was nobody else, and…I have other reasons to think so."

"My physiology is very similar to that of a human being, but I am not human. I can't have children."

It had been a devastating blow the first time he'd heard it, but it was something he'd come to terms with.

Children just weren't on the cards for him.

"She threw a couch through my wall," Lois said. She gestured toward the living room, and by leaning back Clark could see where newer bricks had been placed among the old.

It looked like a slipshod job to him, as though someone had rushed through without trying to match the bricks to the wall.

"She can hear things from a mile away," Lois said. "And then there are the fires."

Reaching behind her, she pulled a large basket of candy away from its place on the countertop. There was a huge scorch mark with a distinctive pattern radiating out from the center.

It was a pattern he'd seen before. When he'd first been learning to control his heat vision, there had been more fires than he wanted to think about.

He'd been thrown out of more than one foster home with a reputation for pyromania because of it, and he could remember with excruciating detail just how terrifying it had been.

His mind flashed back to his first meeting with Lois Lane.

The girl had seemed to be staring at him right through the wall.

For a moment the world seemed to go white around him. He'd spent his life thinking that he was going to be alone. This changed everything.

It felt as though he'd been punched in the chest; he couldn't catch his breath. He felt as though his hands were shaking, and he could hear his pulse pounding in his ears.

His mind raced, and all he could think was that his life was never going to be the same.

If there had been a mistake in this, did that mean he could have had other children? Could he have moved on from Lana, found someone, lived the sort of life he'd dreamed of instead of the life he'd been living?

He glanced back through the walls to where the girl was sleeping. Her complexion was like his, and so was the shape of her eyes. She had her mother's hair, but she looked so much like him that it took his breath away.

***

Lois sat, waiting for him to respond. In the dim light of the kitchen she thought she saw him pale a little and sway slightly.

He was silent for a long, interminable moment. She couldn't read the expression on his face, which suddenly seemed older than it had a moment before.

Lois had a sinking feeling this wasn't going to go as well as either she or Lisa had hoped.

"I'm…I'm going to…"

His face changed, and his head turned. He looked almost grateful as he said, "There's an emergency. I…I've got to go."

He stepped around the counter and said, "We need to talk more about this later, but not tonight."

Lois nodded. She was exhausted, and it was probably going to take him a little time to process the whole thing.

He reached up to her shoulder and brushed a few strands of hair off her shirt. Lois thought she saw him palm a couple of strands awkwardly.

A moment later he was gone.

Lois sighed and prepared to unpack. In the end, the ball was in his court. He'd said he thought he was sterile. Nature had proven him wrong.

Creating a child was easy, being a parent was not.

The next few days were going to give Lisa's father a chance to show what sort of man he was. For Lisa's sake, Lois hoped that he was a good one.

Otherwise Lois would be the one who had to pick up all the pieces.

***

"She has a genetic mutation," Joshua said, turning the screen to face Clark. "It literally occurs in about one person in a million, and under normal circumstances, it makes fertility difficult or impossible."

"But not in this case," Clark said tersely. The information on the screen didn't mean anything to him, so he looked at Joshua. "What does it mean?"

"It means that my theory of a single common ancestor between our two species gets a major step forward," Joshua said. "More immediately, it means that I was wrong."

"So I can have children."

"It's estimated that less than six thousand people in the world have this mutation. Half of them are male, half are children, and most of the remainder are probably married."

"But there's a chance that there are more of them out there."

It wasn't as though Clark had been profligate. He remembered every woman he'd ever been with. It did mean more work for his teams of investigators, and more humiliating revelations of things he'd prefer to remain private.

If there was the slightest chance that any others were out there, he'd find them.

"It's a slim chance," Joshua said. "You hit the jackpot with this one. I'd have missed it totally."

Fifteen hundred women in the world he could possibly have children with, and he'd somehow managed to find her.

Josh began setting his equipment to the side. "Funny thing is, she'd have had a hard time conceiving with anyone else. Her extra gene connecting with yours…it's like you were made for each other."

In the days before he'd bought Luthor Labs for a song, this wouldn't even have been an issue. DNA tests had taken weeks or even months. He'd have spent months wondering what had happened without knowing the truth.

Now that he knew it, he had to decide what to do with it.

The telephone rang, and Clark absently picked it up. He said, "Yes?"

Listening to the voice on the other end of the connection, Clark scowled.

***

"You've been gone a week. I don't know what you expected." Corwin Ellison didn't have the presence Perry White had once had, but he had no compunctions about making hard choices.

"I expected a little something better than a pink slip," Lois protested. "I had a funeral."

"You were at the Superman Foundation gala." Her editor threw copies of the pictures on the desk. "Ralph was covering it."

Ralph was the least competent reporter in their stable, and he'd had it in for Lois since she'd threatened to make a sexual harassment complaint against him.

He hadn't dared to do anything overt; other employees had made complaints against him. However, given an opportunity like this, he would have jumped at the chance.

"I can explain," Lois said.

"Unless you have some sort of major news story involving the event, something that would excite the public and bring back some of the readership, I'm not interested."

Lois stared at him for a moment. She had exactly the sort of story he was wanting, but it wasn't one she'd ever be able to tell.

"I've been disappointed in you for a long time, Lois," Corwin said.

"I do good work here!" she protested.

"You hate working here, and it shows." Corwin shook his head. "You were born to be a reporter, and you hate it that lesser talents are moving on while you are stuck in the same place."

Lois stared at him, shocked. She hadn't talked about her feelings about work with anyone; the gossip network ensured that anything she said would eventually reach the bosses' ears.

"I may not be an old warhorse like Perry White was, but I've been in the business to see what's sitting right in front of me. Those freelance articles you did last winter? Those were brilliant. If you'd been doing work like that the whole time you'd been here, the paper might not be in the shape it is today."

Lois flushed. It wasn't her fault that she'd had other responsibilities.

"There weren't any day shifts open," she said sullenly.

"From what I've seen, you'd have done better with the hard news. As it stands though, I've already got a replacement for you."

Lois stared at him in shock.

"The Daily Planet doesn't need anyone who isn't one hundred percent dedicated to her job."

***

Lois sat staring at the breakfast nook, feeling numb. She'd hated her job, but now that it was gone she felt numb.

She knew that a floodgate of worries was waiting at the edge of her consciousness, just waiting to overwhelm her. What was she going to do? Were they going to be able to keep the house? Would she be able to feed Lisa?

Just how humiliating was the job search going to be? Lois had always been able to avoid government assistance, through luck and the help of her Uncle Mike, but he didn't need anyone at the diner at the moment, and she'd asked too much of him already.

She could beg her father, but that involved humiliation she didn't even want to think about.

Everything seemed to be rushing toward her all at once, and once the protective veil of her shock wore off, Lois knew she'd be inundated and overwhelmed.

Being responsible for a child was sometimes terrifying.

She'd hoped to be able to enroll Lisa in some summer programs, giving her something better to do than hang around her uncle's diner all day. Now, with money tighter than it had been in a long time, all that wasn't going to happen.

Lois closed her eyes. Going to the gala had been an impulsive decision, and impulsive was the one thing she couldn't afford to be as a mother. She had to be reliable and steady, not quirky and undependable.

Her own father had taught her that.

The sounds of the doorbell ringing were a welcome relief from the morass of her own thoughts.

Lois rose slowly, feeling as though she'd been beaten. She wondered if she was coming down with the flu.

The doorbell rang again, and she hurried to answer it.

As she opened the door, she felt a sense of astonishment. The last person she'd expected to see stood on the other side of the door.

Clark Kent.

***

By daylight her house was even more pathetic than it had been in the darkness. The carpet was threadbare, the fixtures were obviously old and in need of repair and the whole place, while clean, had an aura of fading neglect.

Clark fidgeted as he waited for her to answer the door. He'd forgotten to take the investigation detail off Lois Lane once they'd gotten her biographic data, and so they'd stayed on the clock.

Following her after she was escorted from the Daily Planet, they'd called him.

She opened the door, and she looked unkempt. Her hair was slightly mussed and her eyes were reddened, as though she'd been crying.

She was as beautiful as ever, and Clark fought to ignore the traitorous part of him that wanted to take advantage of this moment of weakness. Most likely, she'd reject him and ruin any chance of his having a relationship with his daughter while she was still a child.

"Ms. Lane," he said. "I've come to apologize."

She stared at him as though he'd grown another head, and he sighed. "May I come in?"

He hadn't had time to get a limo, and so he'd flown out. He didn't want her or her neighbors to make any sort of connection between the two events.

She stepped aside and he walked in.

Reflexively he glanced into his daughter's room and he winced. In foster homes he'd learned quickly that it was important to be neat and tidy. Beds made straight and crisp and belongings packed so as to be always ready for the next move had been his constant companion.

Although what he could see of Lois's room was tidy, Lisa's room looked like a bomb had exploded inside.

The chaos didn't reach the rest of the house, and it hadn't been that way when he'd been visiting the other evening as Superman. In three days she'd torn her room apart.

Lois was looking at him expectantly.

"I'm sorry for my behavior the other day," he said. "I was wrong about you."

It was a galling admission. He hadn't become one of the richer men in America by admitting to being wrong. Showing weakness was one of the best ways to lose everything you had.

Yet he'd been wrong. Lois Lane had had multiple chances to try to take advantage of the situation and she hadn't.

Trusting her completely would probably take time. He'd been betrayed too badly in the past to completely trust anyone.

Lois nodded slowly. "All right. You've apologized. You can leave."

"That's not the only reason I'm here," Clark said uncomfortably. "Kal feels terrible about the situation he's put you in. If he'd known, he'd have been involved from the very beginning."

"Why isn't he here telling me this?" Lois asked.

"He's a little conspicuous," Clark said. The real reason, of course, was that Kal El in civilian clothes looked exactly like Clark did. "And he asked me to make you an offer of a job."

Lois stared at him for a long moment, her face expressionless. "You heard about my afternoon."

Clark shrugged uncomfortably. "I have contacts."

"What sort of job is he wanting me to do?" Lois asked. Her voice was suspicious.

This was a dangerous subject; trusting Lois with this information would be difficult, even though it was absolutely necessary.

"Do you remember those pieces of jewelry that were a fad around Metropolis a few years back? The ones that glowed in the dark?"

She should. She'd had one.

Lois nodded.

Clark hesitated. "Apparently the gems they are made from are meteorite fragments from Kal El's home planet. They are poisonous to him."

***

"What do they do to him?" Lois asked, her mind racing. If they were poisonous to Kal El, chances were good they weren't good for Lisa either.

"Long term exposure is damaging," Clark said. "Short term…the red gems affect judgment and morality. The green gems cause pain and possibly death."

Lois's face froze. "You mean there are pieces of jewelry out there that can kill him."

Clark nodded soberly. "You are one of only four living people who knows the truth about this."

"I have one of those pieces in my room," Lois said.

Clark Kent stared at her. "Under the same roof as your daughter?"

"I had no way of knowing."

The anger outbursts and behavior problems hadn't begun until Lisa had found the bracelet.

Lois turned quickly and headed for her bedroom. Her heavy jewelry box had been a gift from her father, and it sat in the corner of her bedroom.

Clark followed her, but he stopped at the doorway to her room as though an invisible barrier had been put up.

Throwing the lid to the box open, Lois winced as she realized the bracelet was gone.

"What was the job you wanted me to do?" Lois asked, staring at the place the bracelet had been.

"I want you to track down the other pieces of jewelry and get them for me," Clark said. He'd entered the room by this point and stood beside her. "Kal El has been throwing those we've found so far into space, but without knowing why it's important, it's hard to find dedicated people."

And no one would be more dedicated than a woman trying to protect her daughter.

"I'll take it," Lois said.

***

Absently, Lisa spun the bracelet around and around on her wrist. It had been wrong to take it from her mother's jewelry box, but somehow she didn't care. She felt different when she held the bracelet, more confident and assertive.

She didn't worry that people thought she was a freak, or about what people might say about her. The gossip that she heard constantly didn't seem to bother her much at all when she had the bracelet.

Her grades were even better.

Lisa had always been a good student, but the misery of her day to day existence had been hurting her grades. It was hard to concentrate when you were listening to the teachers in the teachers' lounge talking about the students at the same time as you heard the workers in the kitchens talking in rapid fire Cuban.

It was harder when you sometimes couldn't see the paper you were writing on because your special vision kicked in and you ended up looking through the floor at the worms and cockroaches underneath the school.

Lisa's life was a parade of horrors, but somehow, everything seemed better when she had the bracelet.

While she had it, she had all the confidence in the world. There was no fear, no doubt. There was only what she wanted and how she was going to get it.

She felt guilty about the cheating when she didn't have the bracelet. Normally she would never do anything like look through the teacher's desk at the answer sheet. Her mother had taught her the value of hard work, after all.

Teachers loved the more confident version of her. Normally the last one to raise her hand in class, she was more assertive now, and they were complimentary.

How much she'd craved attention wasn't something she'd liked to think about. Now it was something she didn't worry about.

"I heard that Katie did it behind the bleachers last week." Myrna Peters was one of the biggest gossips in school. She also had an eye for who was in power and who wasn't. There were subtle gradations in status even in the sixth grade, and for most of the week, Lisa had been on top.

The story about Katie was untrue, of course. Her boyfriend had made it up in front of his friends. Lisa had heard the whole thing. It wasn't her concern, even if normally she'd have tried to defend the girl.

Children her age lived in a world their parents never heard about. More jaded than previous generations, they sometimes spoke a language of their own.

Status was king at Lisa's school. The richer kids taunted the poorer. The beautiful kids made fun of the ugly. The weak were left in the dust socially.

They were like a pack of dogs just waiting for a new pack leader.

Lisa had been at the bottom of the totem pole far too long. It was time for her to be top dog.

***

"Just what does this thing do to them exactly?" Lois asked as she slipped into the station wagon.

As Clark Kent slipped into the seat beside her, looking out of place in his Armani suit, Lois wondered where his limousine had gone.

Most likely he'd sent it away. Having an expensive car pulling up in front of a house in her neighborhood wasn't the best way to remain inconspicuous.

That he'd have the car pull up down the block and walk the rest of the way only underscored how paranoid and suspicious he was.

It had to be a lonely, isolated life, living that way. Lois couldn't imagine being able to trust no one, although this secret of Lisa's was beginning to make her understand.

It wasn't something she could share with her parents. Her father would be dispassionately interested in what made Lisa different than anyone else. Her mother…well, Lois couldn't take the risk.

Uncle Mike would probably be able to accept her, but that would mean he'd have to carry the burden of the secret as well. She'd already asked enough of him.

"Where are we going?" Clark asked her.

"School. It's where most twelve year olds spend their day at one o'clock in the afternoon." Lois slipped the car into drive and pushed the gas a little harder than she needed to.

She could see Clark Kent tensing beside her, and part of her was vindictively happy. He deserved anything he got after the way he'd treated her the last time.

If she pulled around the corner a little faster than she normally did, who could blame her?

***

Clark was beginning to wonder how long it would be before he got full custody of Lisa Lane. The way Lois was driving, she wouldn't be alive much longer.

As Lois spun around yet another curve, Clark noticed a commotion up ahead.

He heard Lois cursing under her breath as she took in the flashing lights and smoke ahead of them.

She was out of the car in a flash, and Clark was trailing behind. The entire class was standing outside of the school, and fire trucks were lined up outside the building. A glance inside with his special vision showed Clark that the firemen had the fire under control. A couple of classrooms were going to have extensive damage, but the rest of the school was going to be just fine.

As he felt the familiar feeling of fire caressing his skin, he stepped back quickly. He couldn't afford to lose his head when he was around either of them, and every exposure to the rock was harder to come back from.

He saw Lois walking up to one teacher in particular, and he allowed his mind to wander.

He could hear the children talking about the fire, and about the way Lisa Lane had dumped a tray of soup on the head of one of the other girls in their class. The more he listened, the grimmer he felt.

She was new to exposure to the rock, according to Lois. She'd had it buried in an attic until their recent move to their new house, and even then it had been hidden in her heavy jewelry box, which would have provided some protection.

She still had vestiges of whatever goodness Lois had installed in her, or the extent of things wouldn't have been a couple of burned classrooms. Given that children didn't really understand the nature of consequences, the possibility of someone being hurt or worse was high.

Seeing that no one was looking, he stepped behind a corner and flashed into his full speed. In the space of a moment he was back with a heavy lead pouch. By the time the sonic boom had hit, causing the children to look back in his direction, he was already somewhere else.

Lois puzzled him. She seemed like an intelligent woman. Yet she hadn't realized that stones that were still glowing thirteen years after she'd gotten them might be radioactive.

Lisa was sullenly giving the bracelet to her mother. At least Lois still had that much hold on her. If it hadn't occurred to Lisa before, it would soon that Lois no longer had the ability to force her to do anything.

He needed to meet her as Superman sooner than later.

***

Bracelet in hand, Lois stalked back to the car. They were going to have a long talk when Lisa got home about stealing. Whatever she'd done at school would also be a topic of conversation.

She noticed Clark standing well away from her car. On the hood was a dull gray pouch.

"Put it in the pouch," he said.

Staring at him for a moment, Lois did. The pouch was heavy, like the lead aprons she'd had to wear at the dentist's when she got x-rays.

"Fold it up several times."

Lois did so, and she noticed that only then did Clark approach the car.

"This stuff is poisonous to them," Lois said suspiciously. "Why are you standing so far away?"

"It can cause cancer in humans," Clark said, reaching out to take the pouch gingerly from her. He slipped it into another, heavier pouch. "The artist developed a tumor on his spine and hasn't been able to walk since."

Lois felt her face pale. "You mean…"

"It requires long term exposure," Clark said. "And the radiation's effect on humans requires…closer contact than with Kal El's species."

"I stopped wearing this after…that night. It had too many memories," Lois said.

"I'm glad," Clark said. "It wouldn't have been good for the fetus."

For the first time his voice sounded genuine.

"You were standing so far away," Lois said.

"I'd been exposed for a long period of time, Ms. Lane, before we knew exactly what effects it had on the human body. I have to be more careful than the average person."

She nodded and noticed that even with the bracelet wrapped in lead he handled it gingerly.

"So this could be causing all kinds of health problems in people who didn't just chuck it after a couple of weeks as a fad," Lois said.

Nodding, Clark said, "I understand there's only two weeks left of school. I'd like for the two of you to come spend a few weeks with me while my people get you up to speed on what's expected of you."

"Why would I ever want to stay with you?" Lois asked.

"It's a little conspicuous, having Lisa's father visiting in the suburbs. He comes to my house all the time, as we have to consult about Foundation business."

So no eyebrows would be raised if he slipped off from time to time to visit a wayward daughter.

"What are people going to think about me moving into your house?" Lois asked.

Clark shrugged. "They'll think the truth, that you work for me. I haven't exactly been creating headlines in the tabloids."

He put a hand on her shoulder, and Lois found herself staring at his hand as he continued to speak.

"This is the right thing. It'll give Lisa a chance to know her father away from everybody, without the newspapers and television crews."

He was still trying to sell that angle. He was just as much of a snake as he had ever been.

As he removed his hand from her shoulder, Lois realized that it still tingled where he'd touched her.

She felt an old, forgotten feeling in the pit of her stomach, one that she'd been sublimating for years. The last time she'd felt it had meant an unending amount of trouble for her. Lois had a feeling that this time wasn't going to be any better.

She was attracted to him.

Crap.

***

Lisa had been subdued since the day of the school fire. Lois hadn't asked whether she'd set it deliberately, and Lisa hadn't said anything. The shame in her eyes would have been there either way.

Meeting her father would have to wait, she'd explained already, until they reached the Kent estate. Lois could sense that Lisa was more and more disappointed with each passing day.

Even the last days of school, traditionally a time of tremendous excitement, hadn't lightened her mood. Lois could only hope that the change in scenery was going to be good for her.

Clark Kent hadn't offered to get them a flight, and in an odd way it made Lois feel a little better. She was uneasy enough about accepting his largess; she'd spent most of her adult life earning everything she'd gotten the hard way. It felt wrong to accept charity all because a rich man wanted to keep a secret and another man wanted to keep his daughter close to him.

It wouldn't be a good message to send to Lisa. Lois had a feeling that she'd already been looking for the easy way out with the bracelet.

The glowing reports by her teachers of her last few days hadn't helped any.

***

Lisa stared at the huge building through the trees. She hadn't really noticed it the last time; she'd been too excited at the thought of meeting her father.

It wasn't fair that her mother had already met her father and hadn't even bothered to wake her up. What was worse, she'd gotten rid of the bracelet, and no matter how hard Lisa had searched, she hadn't been able to find it.

For a few days she'd been popular and confident. She hadn't worried about what other people thought, and she hadn't worried that her father hadn't come to see her. Life had been simple and clear.

Now everything was muddled and confused. The few true friends she had she was leaving for the summer. She'd never been away from Janice or any of the others for so long. She was going to meet a father she didn't know, and for all her dreams and fantasies about just that, there was fear too.

What if he was like the fathers of some of her friends?

Not every daddy was good. Lisa had had an unpleasant education in this since her hearing had begun to develop, and even more so with her vision. She'd seen some of the things people were capable of doing to each other, and it was starting to affect her.

Even things she didn't want to hear, she couldn't shut out. Grown-up things, good, bad and embarrassing. Lisa knew more about what went on behind closed doors than she would ever admit to anyone.

As the station wagon wheezed up the hill, Lisa blinked and realized that she didn't hear any of that now. She could hear the servants in various parts of the house, and the sounds of the trees and the wind, the fish and the small animals, but the horrifying cacophony that had surrounded her entire life for months now was gone.

The silence was thunderous. It wasn't until it was gone that Lisa realized just how loud everything had been. Her entire world had been one huge bundle of noise, and although she'd gotten used to it, it had been affecting her more than she'd realized.

Her ears rang with the silence, and Lisa closed her eyes for a moment to drink it all in. She couldn't believe she'd been so nervous before that she hadn't seen it.

This place was paradise.

***

The rooms were huge and luxurious, with a view of the mountainside that wasn't like anything Lois had ever seen. If the furnishings were a little too heavy and masculine for her taste, at least the beds were soft and the rooms had their own sunken bathtubs with Jacuzzi pools.

"Are you sure there aren't any smaller rooms?" Lois asked.

The man carrying their luggage shook his head. "Those rooms are for staff. As a guest, this is the smallest set of rooms in this wing of the house."

"Are there many other guests?" Lisa asked brightly.

Undoubtedly she was wondering if there would be other children for her to play with. The Kent estate didn't seem like the sort of place that was welcoming to children. Their noise and color would interfere with the peace and harmony of the place.

"You are the first in several years," the man said. "Everyone who is here lives here. Your daughter's room is next door."

With that cryptic pronouncement, he was gone.

The room was half the size of her house. The mahogany bed frame was sturdy and polished; the quilts were heavy and lush. Pie wedge tables and antique chairs sat near a huge fireplace.

"Look at the bathroom!" Lisa said.

Black marble everywhere, with brass fixtures, a raised Jacuzzi tub and mirrors covering the entirety of one wall. The sink was a simple basin in the middle of it all, rising from the floor.

There was very little counter space, but at least the toilet was concealed and in a different room.

It was Lisa's room that was the shock. Unlike Lois's room, this room was bright and airy. A huge window covered one wall, with a spectacular view of the mountainside and the lakes below.

There were toys of every description scattered throughout the room, including videogames, dolls, some antique and some new, and some, including a teddy bear, that were almost human sized.

Clark Kent was still trying to buy her out, but this time he was trying to do it through her daughter. It would be easy to bribe an impressionable child, ignoring the fact that she would eventually have to return to a life that didn't have this sort of luxury.

Lips tightening, Lois said, "Stay here."

She was going to give Clark Kent a piece of her mind.

***

Lisa stared morosely into the lake. The fish were swimming, and if she looked at them just right, it looked as though little fishy skeletons were floating through the air.

Her mother had told her to stay put, but she hadn't said how long. Lisa had gotten bored and had made her own way outside to the lake. She could still hear her mother arguing with some of the servants in another wing of the house.

If she'd only asked, Lisa could have told her that Clark Kent wasn't on the premises. He had a strange pattern of heartbeats, different than those of anyone else she'd ever met.

She blinked as she heard heartbeats coming not from behind her, but from above. She looked up and saw a flash of cape and a blue outfit.

A moment later, he was down. He stared at her, and Lisa wrinkled her nose. He smelled of oil and fish and the sea.

For a long moment he did nothing but stare at her, and Lisa wondered if he was waiting for her to say something. It was odd that she suddenly couldn't think of anything to say.

Her mouth felt dry and her palms felt moist. This was the moment that she'd been waiting for her entire life, and she was messing it up. She'd hoped to show him that she was a smart and pretty little girl, that she was good, so that he would always want to be with her and never go away.

Instead she was standing like a lump.

"I'm sorry," he said finally. He almost seemed to be studying her face.

Lisa frowned. "Why?"

"If I'd known about you, I'd have been in your life a long time ago."

Lisa couldn't stop staring at him. He had the same exotic look to his eyes that she did. His skin was the same color as hers, his hair was the same.

Lisa nodded. She took a step forward, and frowned. "Why do you smell like that?"

"I was at an oil spill in Alaska," he said. He looked at her and said, "You can smell things normal people can't."

"That just started last week," Lisa said. She scowled. In a classroom filled with newly developing bodies, the smell of chalk, lab animals and other chemicals had been nearly unbearable.

"It gets better," he said. "You'll like it here. They don't use any strong chemicals, so most of the smells are natural ones."

"So it'll always be like that if I stay around people?"

He shook his head. "You'll get used to it. It's just that when you are starting out your brain doesn't know how to make sense of the new information it's getting."

"Will I be able to fly?" she asked. It was the one question she'd been dying to ask since she'd first learned of his existence.

"I hope so. It's the best part of being what I am." He hesitated. "Would you like to see what it's like?"

Lisa stared at him for a moment, and then nodded. Her heart was suddenly beating rapidly. As he stepped toward her, she ignored the smell of fish and oil, and a moment later, his arm was around her.

She closed her eyes for a moment. It felt like coming home.

A moment later, they were airborne, and Lisa discovered a part of herself she'd never known existed.

***

Lois cursed to herself. Clark Kent had invited her to his home, and he hadn't even had the grace to be home when she arrived? She'd expected a little better of him.

She wasn't sure why. It wasn't as though he'd given her any reason.

She glanced out the window as a flash of blue and red caught her attention. Her heart leapt in her chest as she realized that her daughter was in the arms of a stranger, flying high above the trees.

A moment of terrifying anxiety struck her all at once, and she began to race down the hall, looking for an exit. She hadn't given her permission for any flying expeditions.

She'd wanted to be there the first time Lisa met him, to cushion the blow if he wasn't what she'd expected.

Instead, he was doing something incredibly dangerous with her. What if he dropped her?

She'd spent her entire life protecting her, more than aware of just how fragile little bones were, how tender and soft young flesh was.

Superman was an alien, and by all reports he couldn't be injured. What if he felt her too tight, broke bones, or what if she wiggled too much and he lost his grip?

It was insanely dangerous, and it wasn't something she was going to stand for.

A moment later she'd found a door to the outside, and she was racing for the last place she'd seen them.

They were already setting down, and Lois slowed her pace as she approached. It wouldn't do to lose her temper in front of Lisa, but she needed to have a long talk with the man of steel.

Lisa was already running up the hill. "Mom! Mom! Did you see! We were flying!"

The expression of joy on her face was something Lois hadn't seen in a long time. It was then that Lois realized that the toys and the mansion weren't the real danger. Lisa had never been all that interested in material things, and had in fact been more level headed than she had been.

But this…this was something that she couldn't share with her daughter. This was something wonderful and amazing and mysterious, and it was easily the sort of thing that could turn a young girl's head, no matter how dangerous it was.

Lois forced herself to smile at Lisa, and then turned to Superman.

"Is there any way we can talk?" she asked, her eyes glancing toward Lisa.

She had no idea how far her hearing had grown, but she supposed that he would have a better idea.

He nodded. Turning to Lisa, he said, "Why don't you head back up to the room and get unpacked. We'll talk later."

Lois bristled at the casual way he gave Lisa orders; as though he'd been her father his entire life. He hadn't put the time in. He hadn't stayed up all night when she was young. He hadn't dried her tears, or sacrificed for her.

What gave him the right to move right into her life as though he belonged there?

"She can hear everything for miles," Superman said.

Lois blinked, shocked. She hadn't realized that Lisa's abilities were that far advanced. All Lisa had told her was about being able to hear things on the other side of the school.

He held out his hand. " If you want to talk, we'll have to fly."

Lois glanced back at Lisa, who was obediently making her way back up the slope toward the mansion.

"Do you think she'll be ok?"

"I can hear a lot further than she can," he said. "I'll keep us in earshot."

Lois nodded. Before she could continue, he spoke in a normal voice. "If you need anything, just call out."

It took Lois a moment to realize that he was talking to Lisa, who was already a hundred yards away. She glanced back in time to see Lisa raising her hand in acknowledgement.

He held out his hand, and Lois hesitated. This was exactly the sort of thing she planned on complaining about, but this wasn't a conversation she wanted to have while her daughter was in earshot, no matter how far away that might be.

She took his hand, and a moment later his arm was around her waist.

Then they were flying.

***

As they rose into the air, Lois couldn't help but gasp. She'd never been particularly impressed with the experience of flying in an airplane; her limited experience had been to attend funerals as a teenager, and mostly she remembered feeling cramped in a smoky environment.

This was something entirely different. The world fell away below them, and Lois didn't feel any sensation of acceleration. If it hadn't been for the feeling of the wind against her face, she'd have wondered if they were moving at all.

From the air, the Kent estate was beautiful. It was almost as though it had been designed to be viewed this way, instead of from the more mundane view on the ground. The earth and the sky in Colorado were more breathtaking than Lois had remembered; she'd never been one to pay much attention to the scenery, but here there wasn't much else she could do.

She should have been terrified that he was going to drop her, but instead she felt oddly safe and secure. This was a man who could lift space shuttles and move faster than supersonic jets. If he were to drop her, there was no doubt in her mind that he would be able to catch her before she fell.

She hadn't remembered him as being this impressive before. She'd been more concerned with his role as Lisa's father, but in the space of a moment it occurred to her. This really was a man from another world. He was proof that Earth really wasn't alone in the larger scheme of things.

Finally tearing her eyes away from the world below her, Lois looked at the man who held her in his arms. He was a handsome man, the sort of man who would have turned the heads of her friends. He'd certainly turned her head the first time they'd met.

It was a shock to realize that she was still attracted to him now. This was the second time in a couple of weeks that she'd been attracted to a man, and Lois wondered if this was what it was going to be like from now on. She'd been a mother for a long time, and she'd shut that part of herself away. It had gotten easier to do that than to mourn for all the missed parties and boys and dates.

She'd done what she'd always done and focused herself on one thing to the exclusion of everything else.

Were other women this aware of every attractive man who crossed their path? Or was it just men who were super rich or powerful?

Lois hated to think that she was superficial enough to have her head turned by a mansion, or a fancy cape and tights.

Her lips pursed. She'd come here for a reason. No matter how amazing the experience of flight was, it didn't change the fact that she was angry.

When he finally landed on a large ledge miles away from where they'd begun, Lois squinted. She could barely see the Kent estate from here.

"We had to come this far?" The thought of her daughter being able to hear things to this distance in a city the size of Metropolis was horrifying.

"If she hears as well as I did at her age, yes." Kal El stepped back from her, and Lois was suddenly aware that the air was cold. She ignored it.

"You didn't have any right taking her flying without my permission," she said. "What if you'd dropped her?"

He didn't bother to respond. Instead he crossed his arms and stared at her.

Lois flushed. "It's not a ridiculous question."

"I'm fast enough to catch her," he said. He disappeared and it took Lois a moment to realize that he was behind her. "And at this point, I'm not sure a fall of that distance would hurt her."

Lois blinked. "What do you mean?"

"My abilities developed gradually," he said, "but the last time I felt pain was when I was six. How long has it been since she scraped her knee or hurt herself?"

Her thoughts racing, Lois tried to remember the last time she'd had to comfort her daughter from anything other than emotional pain.

"I can't remember," she said at last.

"When was she last sick?" he asked.

"She was sick as a baby," Lois said. "Not often, and it never lasted very long. It hasn't happened in years."

"I was never sick," he said. "Not even as a child. Being part human must make her a little more vulnerable."

"Wouldn't you have gotten sick on Krypton?" she asked.

"Krypton was an advanced planet," he said. "They'd gotten rid of most illnesses."

The way he said it rang false to Lois, the first false note in the conversation.

"So you don't know if you'd have been sick or not," she said. It irritated her that he knew these things about her daughter. She'd been living with Lisa all her life, and she didn't know any of these things.

Of course, this was the reason they'd taken the monumental risk of driving cross country to find him. These were things no one else would be able to tell Lisa.

That didn't make it any easier.

"I'm not going to do anything unsafe with her," Kal El said. "Keeping her safe is important to me."

"She's all I have," Lois said.

"You came here for a reason," he said. "Growing up with that kind of power and not knowing what's happening or why…it's terrifying. It's the loneliest feeling in the world to realize that you are the last…the only one like you."

It didn't sound like he'd grown up on Krypton. Lois nodded encouragingly.

"I don't want her to go through what I…I don't want her to go through something like that."

"She's going to have a lot of questions," Lois said. "What will she be able to do…what will she need to watch out for. Is there some way to control what she's going through?"

"I'll be there for her," he said. The look in his eyes was convincing, filled with remembered pain.

"Just…don't shut me out," she said. "She's my daughter, and I don't want to feel like the third wheel. I want to be involved in any decisions."

"So no taking her to Paris without you," he said. At her expression, he grinned. "I can be anywhere in the world in under two minutes. It might take thirty minutes with passengers."

She'd dreamed of traveling once, of going to Ireland and Tahiti and Italy.

"Um…just how long will it be before she can fly?"

His expression became carefully neutral. "The first time I flew was the night we met. I was seventeen."

Lois felt heat rising to her face. He'd first flown on the night they'd been together. It wasn't suggestive on the outside, but it felt that way, as though flying was a metaphor for something else.

"I'll have to make sure she isn't doing any unauthorized flying when she's sixteen or seventeen," Lois said dryly.

She took a deep breath. Girls tended to develop earlier than boys, and so there was no telling what the actual progression was going to be. However, this man knew things about what was going to be happening to Lisa, and furthermore, he was her only link to a world that was reportedly dead.

"Let's work together on this."

***

Although Lisa could see them talking quite clearly on the mountaintop, she couldn't hear a word they were saying. Her mother was faced away from her, and her father was turned at an angle, although he occasionally looked in her direction.

Lisa wasn't sure how she was going to feel, having a parent who knew exactly what her limitations were. While she'd been wearing the red bracelet, it had occurred to her that her mother couldn't actually force her to do anything she didn't want to do. Fear of losing her mother's love had been the one thing keeping her in check.

Her father though…she had no doubt that he could do just about anything. He was stronger, faster, and he knew everything about how to use his abilities. He wasn't a knight on a white stallion; Lisa didn't know what he was yet. All she knew was that he was finally here, and a knot that had been inside her for her entire life was finally beginning to unwind.

The sound of wheels rolling against tile behind her startled her, and she turned.

A skeleton sitting in a wheelchair faced her.

Uncertainly, Lisa smiled. Back when she'd been afraid she was crazy, seeing people as skeletons had scared her. It had seemed like sure proof that she was one step away from being taken away from her mother and locked away in a terrifying place forever.

Now, she preferred it to seeing people naked. That had been the most horrifying day of school ever. The discovery that most people absolutely needed clothing had been a shock.

Seeing them as muscles moving without skin had been the worst. All in all, clean bones were preferable to seeing floating guts.

Now, Lisa mostly looked people in the face…or skull.

"Hello," she said.

"You must be Lisa." The skeleton had a pleasant voice, even if it did insist on grinning at her.

Nodding, Lisa said, "I'm supposed to be here."

"My name is Joshua," the skeleton said. "I'm a friend of your father's."

Lisa nodded. The Superman Foundation was based here, so surely some of these people must be his friends, even if the skeleton butler was rude.

"I have a present for you," it said. "I made it myself."

Dangling from its bony fingers was a familiar piece of jewelry. It was a bracelet, and it looked just like the one her mother had, the one which had been so fascinating.

The wheelchair clicked forward as the figure said, "Go ahead…take it."

Lisa stared at the bracelet, and almost involuntarily she stepped forward.

She wanted the bracelet, but her mother would never let her keep it. Still…maybe she wouldn't mind if she held it for a while.

What could it hurt?

***

Lisa took the bracelet and frowned. The old familiar feeling of relief wasn't there. The bracelet looked the same as the one her mother had once had, but the jewel wasn't glowing.

"It's ruby," the skeleton called Joshua said. Its voice was hesitant. "I used to make these with something else, but I didn't know it was bad for people."

"Why would you give me something like this?" Lisa asked, trying to push her disappointment away. In her experience, men didn't give young girls jewelry without wanting something in return. The things she'd seen and heard were proof of that.

"It's my way of saying I'm sorry." Joshua's voice became serious. "I hurt a lot of people with those bracelets, and I can't really do much to help them, although I'm trying."

Lisa stared at the bracelet. Without the glowing gem, it didn't seem nearly as fascinating. In fact, it seemed a little cheap. "Would it be all right if I gave this to my mother? She…lost hers a little while back."

The skeleton nodded.

Lisa felt a breeze at her back and she realized that her mother had returned. Turning, she saw the familiar shape of her mother's skeleton, delicate and petite. In the past few months she'd gotten to know the look of it well, and now it looked as different from everyone else's skeleton as her mother herself did.

Blinking, Lisa fought to keep her jaw from dropping. Her father didn't look like a skeleton at all! He looked the same as when she saw him last, including his costume, except that she couldn't see his cape.

She could hear it whipping in the wind, which meant that it was as invisible as the walls of the house.

She turned to Joshua, who was still a skeleton. "Thank you for this."

Glancing around, Lisa could see skeletons working in the kitchen, out in the garage, and a few cleaning in various parts of the mansion. Some were on the second floor, which gave them the curious appearance of being suspended in mid air.

When her sight was like this, Lisa had to be very careful. She was effectively blind and would tend to run into walls and doors if she wasn't careful. Luckily, she'd had a lot of experience faking it.

She smiled at her mother as she entered the room. She couldn't see her expression, so she had to judge by the tone of her voice, but she'd had a lot of experience with that as well.

"Hello," her mother said, seeing the man in the wheelchair for the first time.

"My name is Joshua Lang," said the skeleton, holding out one hand for a bony handshake. "I live here."

"Oh?" her mother said.

"I did the genetics testing on Lisa's father," Joshua said. "I'm also the one who made the jewelry you'll be helping get rid of."

***

Blindly, Lisa speared a piece of meat off her plate. Everyone was still skeletons, and she was starting to worry. It had never gone on for this long before. She could tell the general location of the meat from its smell, but she still had to be careful, or someone would notice.

"I was working out on the Irig farm helping to move rocks and clear the fields for planting," Joshua said. "It was late in the evening when I stumbled across the first of the glowing gemstones."

Lisa nodded, chewing her food slowly. Mr. Kent hadn't showed up for dinner yet, and her father had left for some sort of unnamed emergency hours ago.

"I had it checked out with a Geiger counter." Joshua's voice was defensive. "I wasn't entirely stupid. What I didn't realize is that Geiger counters aren't as sensitive to high energy radiation."

Her mother nodded encouragingly.

"I'd been working with crafts since I was small; my mother taught me, and she had all the equipment I needed. For ten bucks and a little chip of crystal that Wayne Irig gave me for free, I could make a piece of jewelry that I could sell for fifty. Better still, I could make five of them in a night."

"Your money problems were over," Lois said.

"Well, I wouldn't say that, but it did help pay my way through college," Joshua said. "I kept the crystals under my bed, and I slept with them every night."

"And that's what happened to you…" her mother said. "Mr. Kent told me about the tumor."

Joshua chuckled bitterly. "Something keeps glowing for years, you'd think it'd occur to me that it was radioactive."

Lisa heard the sound of someone coming in from the other room. Her eyes widened as she saw Mr. Kent stepping inside the dining room.

Unlike the others, he was not a skeleton. Instead he seemed to be wearing boxer shorts and an undershirt and nothing else.

Lisa frowned. Usually, when her vision went strange, it saw everyone the same way. Everyone was a skeleton, everyone was nude, or everyone was a collection of floating intestines. It didn't work one way for one person and another way for another.

He looked at her and then looked away. Lisa knew she probably was staring, and it was probably rude, but she couldn't help herself.

There was a familiar smell in the room; fish and oil. It was fainter than it had been before, now being covered with the smell of soap and shampoo, but it was there. Lisa looked around wildly. Was her father going to join them all for dinner?

No matter which direction she looked, she couldn't see him.

"Lisa?"

Lisa glanced back up at her mother and was relieved to see familiar flesh instead of bones. A quick glance showed that everyone else looked normal as well.

Joshua looked older than she would have thought, given his voice, but he seemed nice enough.

Clark Kent was seating himself and whispering to a servant…something about bringing coffee.

Lisa stiffened as she realized she was hearing something else. A familiar heartbeat, faster than anything human, was in the room with them.

Was invisibility going to be one of her powers? Why was her father spying on them? They'd be happy to have a meal with him.

"Kal El had to help with a dam that collapsed in China," Mr. Kent said. There was a strange sound of pride in his voice. "He saved two thousand villagers and helped divert waters that would have destroyed their homes."

Lisa turned her head. If she could only pinpoint the sound, she'd be able to find out where her father was hiding.

The sound was coming from Mr. Kent's part of the room, which would make sense. Lisa hadn't heard it until he'd come into the room. Her father must have slipped in behind him.

Lisa took a bite and winced as the sound of her own chewing thundered through her head. There was so much she had to learn about all of this; she only hoped her father would be able to find the time to help her.

"I understand that the Foundation is doing a lot of work in foreign countries," her mother said politely.

"It's enlightened self interest really. Malnourished people have suppressed immune systems, which make them the perfect incubators for new and deadlier diseases. If you'd seen some of the things I'd seen…" Mr. Kent's voice trailed off. "I haven't been doing this very long, and I've already seen a lot of things I wished I hadn't."

There was a weird sound of guilt to his voice. Lisa tried to ignore it and hone in on the sound of the heartbeat. When she found her father, she was going to throw something at him- probably a carrot.

The surprise that her father was invisible would help her mother forget her rudeness at the table.

"How long have you been doing this?" her mother asked.

Lisa didn't hear the reply. She stiffened as she realized that the sound of the heartbeat wasn't just coming from near Mr. Kent. It was coming from Mr. Kent himself.

***

The look of realization and shock on his daughter's face was an unwelcome addition to the meal. He'd hoped to be able to keep his secret for at least a while longer, but given the senses that they obviously shared, it wouldn't have lasted forever.

It hadn't lasted more than a few hours, and Clark suspected that if he hadn't had to leave, the disguise wouldn't have lasted more than a few minutes.

"Don't tell your mother," he murmured under his breath. Although the words would have been inaudible to a normal listener, Lisa clearly heard them. The look of doubt on her face prompted him to say, "I'll explain later."

Damn. He'd promised to be honest with Lois about his relationship with Lisa, and here he was already screwing it up.

But he had his reasons. After what had happened before, he wasn't going to share his secret with anyone who didn't already know it. It was too easy for people to take advantage. It was too easy for him to get hurt.

Now it was even more imperative that he keep his secret. Before, he could have always flown away. If he'd been found out, there was enough money in secret accounts in the Caymans and in Switzerland for him to live in luxury for the rest of his life.

But Lisa couldn't fly, and she was emotionally attached to her mother, who was even more vulnerable. It would be very easy for someone to use Lois to get Lisa. He'd told the truth when he'd told Lois that her safety was his highest priority.

Lisa was in as much danger from the red poison and the green as he was, but her mother wasn't. He didn't know her mother; other than one night together and what little time they'd spent together recently, he wasn't sure he could trust her.

He'd been betrayed in the worst way a man could be betrayed, and sometimes he wondered if it was always going to leave a scar on his soul.

He and Lisa were going to have to have a serious talk. He wasn't ready to tell her mother yet, and he had to convince the girl of that.

What had happened with Lana could never happen again.

***

Staring at her father, Lisa shook her head slightly. He wanted her to lie to her mother, and that wasn't something she was ready to do. Her mother had been there for her for her entire life, while her father was still an enigma. All she knew about him really was how she felt when she was around him and that he could fly.

She frowned as she realized that it wasn't entirely true. Her father was also the man who'd insulted her mother when they'd first met, the man she'd felt angry with and wanted to hit in the stomach.

It was confusing. Who was her father? Was he the gentle man she'd flown with, or was he the emotionally distant man in the business suit?

After a moment, she nodded slightly. She'd talk to him and make her own decisions. She couldn't see any good reason to keep the secret from her mother, but then, she didn't always see what motivated adults. The world they lived in seemed unnecessarily complicated to her. They seemed to worry incessantly about things that seemed to be clear to her.

Her mother was good. To Lisa, it seemed as though that ought to be enough for her father to share his secret with her.

If he shared his secret, then maybe good things could happen.

Maybe they'd like each other.

Lisa had known better than to even fantasize about her mother becoming involved with Kal El. Superman was an alien who flew around and helped people. He didn't have a job, likely couldn't help pay rent and he wouldn't be able to provide anything like a stable life for either Lisa or her mother.

Worse, it would mean that for the rest of her life everyone would look at Lisa as though she was a freak, even if they never admitted she was actually her father's daughter.

But Lois Lane and Clark Kent…that was a different story. A millionaire getting married wasn't bug news at all, and having someone like him for a father would only make Lisa the envy of her class. They could be together forever and be happy, and Lisa would have a full time dad instead of one who just dropped by for occasional visits.

Telling her mother the secret would solve everything, Lisa was sure.

Her father had better have a very good argument as to why she shouldn't.

***

Clark could hear Joshua going over the basics of the search for the poisoned jewelry down below. It was a concession to her pride that he was even involving her at all; his people were quite competent. That they hadn't been completely successful over the years was a sign of just how enthusiastic Joshua had been about making the things, and about the dimming effect of time.

Too many people weren't sure what had happened to the bracelets. They'd lost them or thrown them away, had them stolen or just lent them to people who never gave them back. It was a convoluted maze of a problem, and it was costing much more than it should have cost.

He heard Lisa step into the room behind him.

"Why?" she asked.

It was a complex question, and Clark considered his answer carefully.

"I want to get to know your mother better," he said finally. He stared out the window out over the lake. The moonlight lit everything in high relief. He wondered how it would look to a normal person's eyes.

"Before you tell her?"

Lisa approached, and Clark stepped to the side so she could look out over the lake.

"The last time I told someone my secret, it didn't work out very well," Clark said. It was an understatement.

"My mother wouldn't do anything to hurt you," Lisa said. "She's a good person."

Clark had thought Lana was a good person too. In high school, she'd been a little overbearing, but he'd thought she'd cared about him. It had been more than he'd had with anyone else. After he'd made his first million, she'd gotten a lot friendlier.

It had hurt when he'd realized that she liked who he was while under the influence of the red poison a lot more than she'd liked the person he really was.

When he'd realized what she'd been doing, it had felt like something inside him had died.

"She might not mean to," Clark said, "But sometimes we hurt people without even knowing what we are doing."

Lisa just stared at him, and Clark looked away. For some reason, he felt as though his throat was closing up a little.

It shouldn't be this difficult.

"I'm not Superman," he said. "I don't want her thinking I am."

"So you aren't my father," Lisa said skeptically. Given her senses she knew better. "You can't fly and lift things and…"

"That's not what I meant." Clark stared out over the lake. "Superman is good. He's heroic, trustworthy, kind. Me…I'm not even a nice person really."

It was a hard thing to say, especially to someone who should have looked up to him. Admitting that he wasn't the person he ought to be, that he was damaged, was more than he had wanted to do. Yet it was important that Lisa believe him, and part of that was to tell at least part of the truth.

"So it's all a lie," Lisa said. Her voice was neutral, and her expression was carefully blank.

Shaking his head, Clark said, "Superman is who I always wished I could be. I think I might have been like him if my parents had lived, or if some of the bad things that happened to me hadn't happened."

Lisa stared at him, and Clark cleared his throat. "If your mother knew…she'd have certain expectations. She'd think I was one kind of person when I really am not. In the end…she'd be disappointed."

"So you want her to know the real you," Lisa said quietly.

Clark nodded.

"Ok," she said simply.

They stared out at the landscape together.

It felt strange. It was important that Lois not know who he was, and Clark had set out with the intention of telling Lisa a lie. She wasn't old enough to handle the truth.

Yet as he was telling it to her, Clark had realized that it wasn't a lie at all. There was a reason for his gut reaction at the thought of Lois finding out who he was.

For some reason it mattered what Lois Lane thought of him.

He'd enjoyed his time with her as Kal El. She'd looked at him differently than she did when he was Clark Kent. As Clark Kent all he got from her was thinly veiled contempt. That he hadn't done much to earn anything else didn't change the fact that this was the response he'd come to expect from almost everyone.

He'd gotten that from Lana in spades.

Yet as Kal El, she looked at him differently. She treated him as a different person, and as much as she tried to hide it, there was respect in her eyes.

He'd hate to lose that.

***

Lisa felt elated. Her father wanted to get to know her mother better, and he wanted her to know him. It reminded her of Beauty and the Beast; on the outside her father wasn't a nice person. He wasn't friendly or even very kind. Yet the face he showed the world was that of a man who was everything he claimed not to be.

After she'd begun to believe she was schizophrenic, Lisa had become interested in psychology. She'd borrowed books from her grandfather's library when he wasn't looking, and she'd tried to read as much as she could. Most of it had been over her head but some things stuck.

One thing was that people tended to become who they were treated as. If everyone treated someone as though they were a bad person, eventually they would come to believe it. If everyone treated someone as a good person…

People loved Superman, and wherever he went people showered him with love and affection for what he did. Even if her father really was a beast, that sort of thing couldn't help but change him.

All his mother would have to do was to love him.

Lisa suspected that if she knew the truth, she never would. Her mother resented Kal El for the hardships they'd had to go through for her entire life. It didn't matter that he hadn't known about Lisa; he should have found her mother again.

Clark Kent, however, hadn't done anything but behaved like an —-.

From what Lisa understood, her mother encountered a lot of people like that at work every day. He'd done a good thing by giving her mother a job. If he spent much time with her, he'd surely show her that he wasn't as bad as he pretended to be.

Lisa could have a normal family, the kind of family that she'd dreamed of as a child, but better.

There wasn't any way her father was as bad as he pretended to be.

***

A single point of light flickered in the darkness, and the smell of cigarette smoke filled the air. The single shaft of light from the doorway illuminated the ashtray, filled with dozens of stubbed out butts.

The man blinked into the darkness. He knew better than to reach for the light. When she was in this sort of mood it wasn't worth it.

"I trust you have a report for me?" The southern accent was marred by the roughed sound of a smoker's voice.

"She's moved in with him," he said. "Her and the kid."

The single point of light snapped out viciously, landing in the ashtray. "Damn him."

"They're in separate wings of the house," he said. It had seemed important, considering how she had taken the news of his trips to Metropolis.

"Like that matters. Where did he put the brat?"

He coughed, suddenly uncomfortable. "In the nursery."

The ashtray coming out of the darkness almost caught him by surprise, but he'd been waiting for something like it. He flinched out of the way and it shattered on the doorframe beside him. He felt a trickle of liquid against his ear and realized he was bleeding.

"After everything we went through, he puts the brat in the nursery?" The muted sound of rage in her voice worried him. She wasn't stable at the best of times and now he didn't know what she was going to do.

"Keep an eye on them. Find out why he's brought them to the house." The voice was suddenly curt.

Relieved that he'd gotten away so lightly, he backed out of the door, never letting his eyes stray from the spot he thought she was in. He'd learned never to turn his back on her.

As he shut the door, he was startled to see a greenish light burst forth in the room, illuminating a bracelet and the hand that wore it.

If the money wasn't so good, or if Clark Kent had been something more than a crabby recluse, he might have reconsidered what he was doing. As long as Kent had spent his life hiding, it hadn't seemed like such a bad job.

Spying on someone who never did anything was easy money.

Now…he was beginning to regret the deal. Deep in his gut he knew that something bad was going to happen. For all that they'd once been married, she'd been content as long as he'd been as miserable as she was.

Now that Lois Lane and the kid had entered the picture, he wasn't sure what was going to happen. He didn't dare turn against her now, though.

Lana Luthor was crazier than a March hare, and if she thought he'd betrayed her, she'd kill him. Worse, though, was what she would do to him before he died.

***

The maid waved at her as she walked by, her face a horror mask of moving muscles surmounted by floating eyeballs.

Grimacing, Lisa tried to keep her eyes on the floor. It was a skins day, the one she most hated. Skeletons had a nice, clean look to them and were sometimes even a little amusing. Disembodied guts floating in midair at least had the virtue of being somewhat interesting. Naked was embarrassing, but at least people looked like people, and Lisa could just stare at their faces and try not to look any lower.

But on the days when she saw just a few millimeters below the surface, those were the ones that bothered her the most.

She'd seen part of a horror movie when she'd been smaller, before Aunt Lucy had come in and changed the channel. It had been about aliens taking over the world. When viewed through special glasses, they looked like skinless monsters. For weeks afterwards, Lisa had nightmares dreaming that everyone around her was an alien.

If she'd only known. Seeing people skinless had been the first way in which her powers had manifested themselves, and she'd spent an entire school day terrified to move, fearing that the monsters were coming for her. Seeing her mother like that had been almost more than she'd been able to bear, and she'd spent a sleepless night before her vision had returned.

When things had changed, and she began to see people nude, or as skeletons, she'd decided that she was just crazy. The world wasn't filled with aliens out to get her. Instead, it was her own mind devouring itself. She'd begun to worry more about the implications of what she was seeing than the actual thing.

Now that she knew the truth, seeing people as skeletons didn't bother her much anymore. Seeing them without their skins though…it was still disgusting. She hated the wet, slimy look of muscles moving.

Lisa ducked hastily back into her room. She wondered if she'd be able to get away with staying in, at least until her vision returned to normal, or at least something a little more acceptable.

Of course, she wouldn't be able to read, or watch television, but perhaps she'd be able to close her eyes and listen to music. Things looked weird without the first few millimeters of their surface, but at least she didn't stumble around blindly.

Lisa frowned as she stared at the walls. Instead of the more mature wallpaper she'd seen when she'd first come to stay here, she was seeing something else. The wall underneath was brightly colored, with balloons and circus animals. The whole thing was gaily painted, the sort of thing Lisa would expect to see in a nursery, although the colors were curiously faded.

There was a knock at the door, and Lisa started.

Her mother stuck her head in the room, and Lisa quickly looked at the floor.

"Are you ready for breakfast?" Lois asked.

"I'm not hungry," Lisa said. "I'm feeling kind of tired."

She hoped her mother would let her off the hook. It was the summertime and some of the rules tended to be relaxed then.

"Mr. Kent was hoping to show us more of the property." Lisa could almost hear her mother frown. "Are you sick?"

Her mother stepped forward and lifted one skinless hand toward her forehead.

Lisa flinched.

Her mother stopped and said, "What's going on?"

"I'm not feeling well," Lisa said. In a way it was even true. She hated flinching away from her own mother, but there was something about seeing people without their skins that she just couldn't overcome.

Lisa heard her mother's heart begin to speed up. Before she could react, her mother was touching her forehead. Lisa sighed and closed her eyes.

She heard her father's distinctive heartbeat approaching.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

She opened her eyes and was relieved to see that he at least still looked like himself, although his clothes looked oddly fuzzy.

"She says she's not feeling well," Lois said. "She hasn't been sick in a long time."

He frowned and stared at her intently.

"Just what's wrong?" he asked carefully.

Lisa shrugged and looked back down at the floor. She didn't want to admit the truth; it would hurt her mother to know just how horrifying the world was sometimes.

"Do you think her father could have given her something?" Lois asked.

"What?" Her father looked up at Lois.

"Maybe he has some kind of Kryptonian germ or something," her mother said. Her voice sounded worried. "Something just the two of them would be vulnerable to."

Clark shook his head. "He's never been sick, not since he's been on Earth."

"Maybe it's something worse, then…"

"Did this place used to be a nursery, Mr. Kent?" Lisa asked.

It was the only way Lisa could think of to tell him what was wrong while her mother was watching. Also, she really wanted to know.

"What makes you think so?" he asked.

"The wallpaper," she said.

His eyes widened a bit, and he said, "I was married once. My wife hoped to have children."

"You didn't have any?" she asked. Part of her hoped he had. The idea of having a brother or a sister she didn't know about appealed to her, even if they had to live with some other mother.

He shook his head. "We couldn't. After a while, this place just got to be a reminder of what we couldn't have."

He'd wanted children. That was what he was telling her. He'd wanted children and hadn't been able to have them.

Lisa felt oddly better. She'd wondered whether he wanted her, or whether he was doing everything just out of a sense of duty. She needed his help with her powers; she wasn't like some human child he could just make payments on and send cards every birthday.

He was obliged to help her. It was the only decent thing to do. But whether he wanted her to be his daughter, that was a question that had been nagging her since the beginning.

At least now she knew that he'd wanted some kind of a child. Whether it was her or not remained to be seen.

"Are you having trouble with your vision?" he asked carefully.

Slowly she nodded.

"I'd wondered if something like that might be happening," he said. "When Kal El first came to earth and developed his powers, he went through something just like it. We were able to help him."

Lisa stared at him. "There's something you can do?"

He nodded. Stepping back into the hallway, he said, "I'll be back in a couple of minutes."

"What's wrong with your vision?" her mother asked sharply. The tone of her voice indicated that she wasn't going to let things go.

Lisa stared at the floor.

"Look at me," Lois said.

Eye contact had always been very important to her mother.

"I'd rather not," Lisa said. She sighed. "I see through things."

"Like what? Walls?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes I see through other things…skin, bones…"

She could almost hear her mother frowning, then the hiss of indrawn breath. "So I look like…"

Lisa nodded. "Sometimes I can't see what I'm doing because I'm looking through things."

"How long has this been happening?" Her mother's voice had an odd, strangled quality to it.

"Six or seven months," Lisa said.

Her mother was silent for a long moment. Lisa glanced up, but couldn't read the expression on her mother's skinless face.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought I was like Janice's brother." Lisa blinked, trying to ignore the sudden lump in her throat. She'd been afraid for so long of being sent away, of being crazy and never getting better. Her entire life had been a nightmare.

She was startled as she felt herself being gathered into her mother's embrace. She blinked again as her mother held her tightly and said, "I'm so sorry."

"I was afraid I'd have to go away," Lisa said.

Janice's brother had been forced to live at an institution for months, and even after he'd come home, he'd never been the same.

"I wouldn't do that," Lois said. "We're a family. We stick together."

Janice's parent's hadn't wanted to send her brother away either, but they hadn't seen any other way. It had been the best of many bad options for him.

If sending her away was the only way to keep Lisa safe, Lisa knew her mother would do it in a heartbeat. She'd hate it, but she'd do it.

That sort of strength was part of what Lisa admired about her mother, part of what helped her feel safe. Sometimes, though, it could be a little scary.

Lisa tightened her grip on her mother just as she heard the footsteps coming down the hall. A moment later she stepped away.

A glance told her that her mother was looking away, so she wiped her eyes quickly. Her mother had been through enough without seeing Lisa cry.

Her father stepped into the room, and once again Lisa was relieved. He looked like himself still, although he was carrying something she couldn't quite make out in his hand.

"When your father first came to the planet, we had to find a way to deal with his abilities," he said. "This was one of the things we came up with."

He reached out, and Lisa gasped as she felt a pair of frames slipping over her eyes. The world slid into focus, and she glanced at her mother.

Her mother's face was as beautiful as ever, although her eyes looked a little red. The rest of the room was back to normal.

"I know the frames may not be right, but we'll have a better looking set made up for you."

Lisa slipped the glasses down her nose. The world slipped back into the ugliness she'd been dealing with all morning.

Through the lenses though, everything was crystal clear.

The implications struck her. No more staring at the lunch ladies in the nude. No more floating stomachs or skinless faces around the cafeteria at lunch. No more bumping into things because she was seeing straight through them.

The nightmare was over.

Despite herself, she burst into tears and lunged forward, hugging her father.

***

It had been two years since the last time Lois had seen Lisa cry. In some ways, she'd wondered if it was a sign of distrust between them. Eventually she'd decided it was just her daughter trying to grow up faster than she'd had to.

Clark Kent looked vaguely embarrassed as Lisa hugged him and cried. After a moment, though, his hand reached up and he began patting her on the shoulder. His expression of embarrassment changed into something Lois couldn't interpret.

He'd told Lisa that he hadn't been able to have children. Lois wondered what it was like to come face to face with the evidence of everything you'd never have. Would it highlight the emptiness in your own life?

What must it be like to be able to afford everything in the world except the one thing you could not have?

Lois couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Clark Kent, all alone here in this massive house. He'd lost almost everyone he'd ever loved, and yet here he'd given her daughter the one gift Lois never could have given her.

He'd won her daughter's heart, not with fancy cars, big houses or cool toys. All it had taken was a pair of glasses.

Her daughter's sobs were evidence of the long nightmare she'd been through.

"How?" she asked.

"Leaded glass," he said. "The vision doesn't work through lead, so…"

He gave a shy smile, which was unlike the polished facial expressions she'd seen him with in the past. For the first time he seemed open and almost vulnerable.

As he held her daughter, Lois couldn't help but love him a little too.

***

Staring out the window, Lois wondered when she'd become so blind. She'd always considered herself to be a good mother, which had been a miracle considering who she'd grown up with. Yet Lisa had been suffering for months, and Lois hadn't had a clue.

All she'd noticed was that Lisa had become withdrawn and quiet, and that the joy had faded from her eyes. She'd been concerned, especially at the outbursts of anger and defiance, but she'd never realized the truth.

Her daughter had lived in a world of monsters, and she'd suffered quietly and alone.

It was almost anticlimactic, now that a solution had been found, but Lois couldn't help but feel the sharp sting of guilt. She should have been the one to comfort her daughter; she should have been the one who made it all better.

Glancing over at Clark Kent, she wondered why he was being so nice to her. The face he was showing them now wasn't anything like the man she'd first met. That man had been cynical, irritable and something of an —-.

This man was someone she couldn't read. The moment of awkward vulnerability he'd shown when Lisa hugged him had vanished afterwards, but it hadn't been replaced with the same polished veneer.

"I'm sorry," Lois said, glancing at her daughter, who was sitting across from her. The huge black glasses looked ridiculous on her face, but considering what they were doing for her, it was worth it. "I'm sorry you had to go through all that."

Lisa was reading a book of poetry Clark had found her. She glanced up at Lois and said, "It's ok."

Clark tapped on a button and the window between them and the chauffeur began to rise. Lois could see the man staring at them through the rear view mirror, a fresh looking scar on his raised eyebrow.

When the window was up, he said, "Let's try to be careful around the staff. Joshua and I are the only ones who are in on the secret."

Lois flushed a little. She hadn't been sure just how much the staff knew. Most of them were so closed-mouthed that she hadn't really gotten an image of them as people. They were professional, but Lois hadn't seen any sign that Clark encouraged them to be friendly, or that he tried to get to know them as people.

"Why are you being so nice?" Lois asked abruptly. "Surely you've got better things to do with your time than to take my daughter to get a more attractive set of lenses."

"I made a commitment a long time ago," he said. "I don't have much of a family. But Kal…we're very close. I was there throughout his vision problems, and I know just how horrifying they can be."

Vaguely, Lois remembered something about glasses on the night she'd met Kal El. She wondered if that meant he had been still new to the world, a newcomer struggling with abilities that he hadn't had before.

Obviously he hadn't had them on his home world, or Clark Kent wouldn't have had to help him with his glasses.

She wondered idly if the glasses her daughter was wearing were the same ones she'd slipped off Kal El on the night they'd met.

"So this is out of sympathy?" Lois asked.

"Partly," he said. "And partly because Kal and his abilities have given me more than I can ever repay."

He sounded a little guilty at that, and Lois wondered about their history together. Had Kal El used his abilities to help Clark Kent become wealthy? It seemed a little unethical and very much unlike the alien she'd met these few times. It was totally unlike his public image as standing for truth and justice.

"Could we go out for ice cream after we get my glasses?" Lisa asked. There was a strange pleading note to her voice, and she glanced first at Lois and then Clark.

"It's been a while since I've been out," Clark admitted. "I don't see why not."

"Dinner first," Lois said.

Whether she'd been blind or not, she was still a mother.

When Clark nodded, she couldn't help but see the pleased look on Lisa's face.

***

"You'd be happier with a polycarbonate lens." The technician clucked disapprovingly at the old glasses. "It's lighter and a lot stronger, not to mention safer. With children it's important…"

"We just need a set of frames," Clark said. "Help the girl out."

His voice was firm and his gaze unyielding. This was a man who was used to getting his way, and the technician saw that as well. Lois saw him slip the man a hundred dollar bill, and she sighed to herself. At least the man shut up about lenses, finally.

At least the technician seemed to know his business. With discussions of face shapes, coloring and current styles, he soon had Lisa outfitted with a pair of stylish wire rimmed glasses that complemented rather than detracted from her face.

Lois winced when she saw the price tag. Although the designer frames were the most attractive in the store, Lois wasn't sure that spending hundreds of dollars on a set of frames was really necessary.

"We'll take two," Clark said.

"Um, maybe we can…"

They were out of the store before she had a chance to really protest.

It wasn't like her. Usually Lois was the first person to stand up for what was right. But this time was different. Maybe it was her guilt for not having seen what was right in front of her face. Maybe it was just her feeling that Lisa deserved to have something nice for a change.

Maybe it was just that Lois was still overwhelmed by everything. She'd spent the last few weeks trying not to think about the implications of her daughter's heritage.

Would she be able to have children? Would people find out what she was and ostracize her? Would she be able to have anything resembling a normal life? None of this was anything she'd ever imagined for Lisa.

All she'd wanted for Lisa was a chance at the things she'd been denied. College, a career, a partner who loved her. A marriage that wasn't a horror show.

Being able to see through walls hadn't been in the plan.

Now she had to face a whole new slew of questions. What other time bombs lay in her daughter's genetic makeup? Was there new unpleasantness coming that Kal El simply hadn't mentioned? Would Lisa even get the full complement of her father's powers?

What if her bizarre genetic makeup never let her get the same sort of control over her abilities her father had? Would she always be forced to look at the world through glasses?

Would she be able to fly?

It would be a grave injustice for her daughter to go through all the pain and anguish these powers brought and not be able to do the one thing that made it all worthwhile.

Kal El had a lot to answer for. If it wasn't for Clark Kent, Lois wasn't sure what she would have done.

***

The restaurant was a lot fancier than what Lisa was used to, but that didn't matter. Her plan was working. Her mother and father's attitudes towards each other were thawing considerably.

If she kept them together long enough, Lisa knew that they would realize that they were both good people. It was only a step from that to realizing that they were both lonely.

How could her father NOT be lonely, living isolated on a mountain and barely even talking to the people who worked for him? Lisa knew better than to think that he was perfect, but she could see that he needed someone.

She was sure of it.

Her mother's loneliness was old and familiar. Lisa hadn't realized it for a long time, having never known anything else. The nights spent at friends' houses had shown her the difference.

Her mother wore her loneliness like an old shirt, one she'd worn so long she didn't even realize she was wearing it anymore.

There was a look in her eyes when she saw happy couples walking down the sidewalk, an expression that Lisa knew was probably reflected on her own face. It was a craving for something more…even if neither of them was sure exactly what that was.

Lisa stared at the arrayed silverware in front of her, at the crystal glasses and linen, and she was suddenly glad that Grandma Ellen had been such a stickler about manners.

It hadn't felt like it at the time, but this was something she could use. Her father's surprised but pleased expression after he realized that she knew how to sit and choose her silverware sent a warm glow through her. She was going to be able to fit in, and so would her mother.

Lisa stiffened as she noticed someone staring at them. A blonde woman wearing a big hat. She'd always thought it was polite to take hats off indoors, but it didn't seem to bother this woman.

Her first impression of the woman was hair. She could barely see her face due to the profusion of blonde hair. Huge sunglasses covered her eyes, and her lips were covered in a lipstick that was startlingly red.

Even from here, Lisa could smell the scent of cigarettes. It didn't seem to bother her mother, who was usually sensitive about these sorts of things, so Lisa assumed it was another one of those things she shared with her father.

Worse, though, was the vague smell of rot. There was something about this woman that wasn't right, and Lisa had an uneasy feeling it was some sort of sickness.

The woman rose slowly to her feet and Lisa could see that she was painfully thin. Her dress was beautiful. It reminded Lisa of something she'd seen Audrey Hepburn wearing in an old musical.

But as the woman approached, she saw her father stiffen. His back was to her, and he couldn't have seen her, but his senses were at least as keen as Lisa's.

"And so I was telling him he had to…"

Lisa's mother was trying to be bright and funny, but she broke off as she noticed the sudden tension between Lisa and her father.

The woman stepped forward and put a clawlike hand on her father's shoulder. He stiffened and hunched in on himself slightly, almost seeming to shrink before Lisa's eyes.

"Hello, Clarkie. It's been a long time."

The woman's voice was shrill and strident, but there was an unpleasant sound of phlegm to it that Lisa didn't like.

Her father didn't say anything, and the woman continued. "Why don't you introduce me to your new friends?"

He closed his eyes for a moment then said, "Lois, Lisa, I'd like you to meet my ex-wife, Lana Lang Luthor."

Lisa couldn't help but stare. This was the woman her father had been married to?

Why would he marry someone who reminded her of nothing so much as one of those Halloween witches, the kind with the warty noses and scraggly hair? It wasn't that her skin was green, but there was something about the tone of her voice that made Lisa's stomach clench.

Perhaps it was just that she could hear the blood pumping furiously through the woman's veins, and her heart pumping rapidly. Although she appeared to be calm on the surface, she sounded like a woman who was furiously angry.

The woman smiled, and although Lisa couldn't see it because of the sunglasses, she knew the smile didn't reach the woman's eyes.

"I'm sure we're all going to be the best of friends."

Lisa didn't have to hear the woman's heart racing to know that was a lie.

Although some of the other patrons of the restaurant were looking in their direction, Lana Lang never took her hand off of Lisa's father's shoulder.

"I didn't know that Clark had any friends," the woman said sweetly. There was something about her voice that grated on Lisa's ear, although whether it was the accent of the contrast between her tone and her heart rate, Lisa couldn't tell. "Are you related to the family?"

Lisa wanted to blurt out the truth, that she was her father's daughter, but she knew better than to say anything. This was the sort of woman who would use anything they had to say against them.

"I work for Mr. Kent," Lisa's mother said. "He's showing us around town."

"Are you and your sister enjoying Colorado?" the woman asked.

"She's my mother," Lisa found herself saying. At the look from her mother, she flushed and became silent.

"But you look so young to be a mother!" Lana Lang said. "You'd have had to be a child when she was born!"

"What brings you here?" Lisa's mother asked, ignoring the question.

She'd had a lot of experience dodging that sort of question. Lisa had heard the comments people made behind her back, and most of them weren't pretty.

"When I was married to Clark, this was our place," Lana said.

"This was the only place you'd bother to come to," Lisa's father said. His voice was weary.

"I think it's brave," Lana said, as though he hadn't spoken. "Not caring what people think about how you dress. Most people seem to think they need to dress up when they come to a place like this."

For the first time, Lisa became aware of how she and her mother were dressed compared to the people at the other tables. No one else in the place was wearing jeans or shirts. Most people, in fact, tended to dress more like Lana or her father.

It wasn't as though Lisa had much experience in restaurants. Going out to eat was a rare treat, something that happened only every few months. Eating someplace like this was out of the realm of her experience.

There weren't even prices on the menu.

Lisa had been so pleased that her mother and father were talking that she hadn't even noticed, although she was suddenly sure that her mother had. Suddenly, her earlier joy began to evaporate.

She was suddenly aware that some people were looking at them, and she wasn't sure whether it was because Lana was making a scene, or because of how they were dressed.

Involuntarily she shrunk down into her seat.

"I'm sure that if I ever marry a millionaire, I'll have plenty of money to spend on dresses," Lois said. "But I work for a living."

"What do you do for Clark, exactly?" Lana asked.

Lisa wasn't sure, but there seemed to be some sort of insinuation in Lana's tone. Her mother stiffened.

"I work in acquisitions."

Her mother was going to help her father gather up the jewelry that was hurting people. Although Lisa still thought longingly of the red bracelet sometimes, she knew it was important work, and she was proud of her mother for doing it.

"Clark has always been good at acquisitions. When he sees what he wants, he goes for it and nobody better get in his way."

The woman almost sounded proud, even though Lisa could see that her father was hunching even lower in his seat, his expression strained.

Lana leaned forward. "Just be careful that if he gets what he wants, he doesn't throw you away."

She tightened her grip on Clark's shoulder.

"As long as I do what I'm hired for, I'm sure Mr. Kent won't have any complaints," Lois's mother said coolly.

"Maybe it's Clark I should be worried about. A lot of women would love to get their hands on the sort of portfolio he has. I wouldn't have thought of flaunting a pre-made family. I suppose it might have some attraction for a man who is sterile."

"That's enough," her father said sharply. "Is there something we can do for you?"

Lana pulled her hand away from his shoulder, as though hurt. "Why Clark…you'd think you didn't like to be around me."

"You are a sick person," he said quietly. "You need help."

Lana smiled even wider and said, "I'm sure we'll meet again, Ms. Lane, Lisa."

With that she stepped around Clark and walked unsteadily down the aisle. It was then that Lisa realized that she hadn't even ordered anything at her table.

She'd been sitting there waiting for them.

***

Somehow the evening hadn't gone how Lisa had planned. She'd been sure that her parents were finally opening up to one another. Her mother had smiled more than Lisa had seen her smile in a long time. It was all there in their body language and the way they sat.

But after the witch woman had visited, everything had been different. Her mother had been cool and distant and her father had been distracted.

He hadn't lost that hunched look that he'd taken when he'd first realized she was in the room. It reminded Lisa of a neighborhood dog that had been hit one too many times, and was now afraid to get close to anyone.

Most of the meal had been had in silence, and Lisa had barely been able to taste it.

When it came time for the bill, Lisa could tell that her mother wanted to know how much the bill was. She pushed her glasses down and saw that her vision was still not back to normal.

A glance at the bill made her gasp. She decided immediately that it was better that her mother not know.

The last thing she needed was yet another reminder that she and Lisa's father came from different worlds.

***

In the darkness, the road seemed even more winding than it had before. What had seemed welcoming and inviting on the way in suddenly seemed dangerous and treacherous.

Lois stared out the window, relieved when she felt her daughter slump against her. It had been an emotionally draining day.

Clark and Kal reminded her of one another somehow. The two men looked enough alike to be brothers, and seeing Lisa respond the way she had to Clark had only confused things.

Clark Kent had done a wonderful thing for her daughter, but that didn't make him her father. It didn't even necessarily make him Lois's friend. She'd seen a glimpse of what he was really like before he'd realized that she was important to Kal El.

He was very good at getting what he wanted. His ex-wife had alluded to that. While Lois didn't trust Lana any further than she could throw her, she only had to look around at the Kent estate to realize that it was true.

No one had given him his wealth. He'd taken it, piece by piece, building a financial empire. It took a certain kind of person to do that. It took determination and obsession and ambition.

What it didn't take was someone who made a good father.

Lois had grown up around people like Clark. Her father had been a doctor, and her mother had been status conscious, at least before she'd fell into a bottle after the divorce. Lois had played chess and tennis with the children of the wealthy; she'd spent times in their homes.

Although Clark had come from poor beginnings, he'd earned his own money. Lois, however, would always carry the baggage of her circumstances with her. If Lois became involved with him, she'd always be considered a gold-digger. People would think she was with him for his money, and they'd make snide remarks behind her back. Lois wouldn't hear the remarks, but Lisa would.

"I'm sorry," Clark said. "I'd have taken her somewhere else if I'd realized she was in town."

"Why did you ever marry a woman like that?" Lois asked quietly.

"She wasn't like that when I married her," he said. "Or at least…I didn't think she was."

"You don't always get what you expect when you get involved with someone," Lois said. Not that she'd know. Her relationships had been few and far between. Having a child hadn't been attractive to men her age, and she hadn't had time for them anyway.

"She's not well," Clark said. "But she refuses to get any help."

Lois was silent for a long moment. "Thank you for what you did for my daughter. I can never repay it."

"But…" he said. From his expression she could tell he knew something was coming.

"It might be better for everyone concerned if we keep our relationship on a purely professional basis."

His expression went blank and then he nodded curtly.

***

Lana's hands shook as she lit another cigarette.

She'd recognized the glasses the brat was wearing right away. Clark had worn them in the early years of their marriage, and on a vulnerable night, he'd told her the reason he'd worn them.

There was no reason a thirteen year old girl would be wearing glasses that ugly without a reason. Given that the lenses weren't even prescription grade, Lana could come to only one conclusion.

Joshua had lied.

Clark wasn't sterile at all, and now that Lane woman was coming to worm her way into his good graces with a ready made family.

Clark was a sap for a sob story. If he thought of you as family he'd do anything for you. All the little floozy had to do was show a little skirt, flash a little leg, and the next thing she knew they'd be together in some sort of sickening parody of a normal family.

It wouldn't matter that neither Clark nor his daughter was human. With the sort of money and connections he had, it would never be much of an issue.

That wasn't going to happen.

Lana had been cheated out of her own chance to have children, and it wasn't fair that after all this time Clark got the second chance Lana had never gotten.

She'd given him some of the best years of her life, and all she'd gotten in return was this rotting sickness that made her constantly miserable and angry.

As long as Clark had been lost in his own misery, she'd been content to leave him alone. This, though, was beyond the bounds of decency.

It wasn't right and it wouldn't stand.

If no one else would give her justice, she'd have to take it into her own hands.

Clark Kent was going to be miserable until his dying day, and Lana was going to make sure that happened, one way or the other.

With any luck, Lana's own problem would be solved as well.

For the first time in as long as she could remember, Lana genuinely smiled.

***

The explosion didn't startle her as much this time as it had before. Lisa glanced at her father, who shrugged.

Littering the field with cans of soda didn't seem strictly kosher to her, but they did tend to explode with a satisfying crack if she looked at them for too long.

Of course, the task her father had set her was to burn a hole in the side of the can without making it explode, so she wasn't doing very well.

"How long have you known you were different?" he asked her.

She hesitated. Long habit made keeping her differences a secret second nature to her, and it was difficult to talk about.

"I've been hearing things for two years," she said finally. "I've been seeing things for the past few months. All this is new."

She gestured at the cans littering the ground.

"How long has it been since you've been sleeping?" he asked.

She glanced at him, startled. It still surprised her sometimes that he knew so many details about the changes she was going through.

"Just a few weeks."

"As you get older, you'll need less sleep. If you are anything like me you'll only need three hours a night."

Lisa rolled her eyes. Like that was going to be fun. There wasn't anything good to watch on television at three in the morning, even if she'd been willing to wake her mother up with the light from the television. With her hearing she could turn it down low, but the programming was boring.

There were only so many MASH reruns she could take before wanting to pull her hair out.

"It's not all bad," her father said. "It makes finding time to study a breeze. We'll find things for you to do while your mother is in bed."

At the mention of her mother, Lisa felt guilty. Her mother should be here with them, even if she'd agreed that this might be too dangerous for her to be near.

The thought of looking at her mother at an inopportune moment while she was still burning things was the only thing that had kept her from demanding that her mother be there with them.

She couldn't stand the silence that had sprung up between her parents. Three days and they'd avoided each other. Her mother had spent most of her time with Joshua tracking down leads, and her father…he was gone from the mansion more often than not.

She glanced back at the assorted cans and thought of Lana Lang.

The explosion was even louder than the last.

***

"So you are telling me that someone bought your necklace for a thousand dollars. You wouldn't happen to have a card or anything…"

Lois hung up with a frustrated sigh.

"At least we're starting to get an idea why your guys aren't getting things done these days. Somebody's been buying up the necklaces before our guys can get there."

Joshua frowned. "How can you tell it's the same person?"

"Um…well, to put it bluntly, the necklaces aren't worth the price people are paying for them. These are fifty dollar necklaces, and these people aren't even trying to bargain."

"Because it's not their own money," Joshua said, nodding.

"Furthermore, I've talked to four or five people who had their necklaces stolen after they got greedy and started asking for a lot more money."

"So?"

"These burglaries always happened within three days of the offer."

"They were the only thing stolen?" Joshua asked.

Lois nodded. "They went missing, and there was never any sign that anyone had broken in. The police couldn't find any evidence, and have tended to dismiss the cases."

"You'd think someone would have gotten a number or a business card or something."

Lois smiled slowly. "I talked to an old woman who got suspicious and wrote down the license number of the car." She held the card up in the air. "I don't suppose you'd know someone who might…?"

Joshua shrugged and said, "With Clark's resources, I'm sure we'll be able to find something."

***

Lisa lay on her back and stared up at the sky. Her father had cleaned the area up so that no one but the ants would ever know they'd been there. She'd been impressed. He'd moved so quickly that even she hadn't been able to follow him, even with her special vision.

"It's nice here," she said when her father returned from wherever he'd disposed of the cans.

"I grew up near here," he said.

He wasn't in the suit; between them it wasn't needed and the last thing they needed was to attract attention.

"It must have been nice," she said.

From here, she couldn't hear the sound of a single other person. All that existed was the sounds of nature. The wind, the sounds of the creatures under the ground, the insects, earthworms and the prairie dogs; unlike the usual human noises, these sounds were soothing.

Even at the Kent Estate there was always the sound of people, and in Metropolis it was a constant din that threatened to drive her crazy. Here, though…Lisa just enjoyed the peace and quiet.

"My father used to take me fishing near here," he said. "Our farmhouse wasn't far away and it was close enough to walk."

"It must have been nice to have a mom and dad," she said. As the expression on his face changed, she hurried to say, "Not that I'm blaming you. I'm just saying…"

"They were the best people in the world," he said. "Everything that's good about me came from them."

"What happened to them?" she asked.

She knew something had happened from the sound of his voice, the sad sense of finality that came when adults talked about people who had died.

"They had a car accident when I was ten." He closed his eyes. "I was fast even then…but I wasn't fast enough."

"You saw it?" Lisa asked, a sense of horrified fascination entering her voice.

"I still see it sometimes," he said. "Losing your parents…you don't get over it, especially when you are a kid."

He reached out to her, and she took his hand. He pulled her up and he gestured in the direction of the sun.

"Would you like to see where I used to live?"

Lisa nodded. She couldn't imagine seeing her mother die and losing everything.

As they walked, Lisa tried to think of something to say. "Who took care of you?"

"People hired by the government," he said. "Foster parents."

He glanced back at her and said, "That's never going to happen to you."

"I know," she said. "My mom has family."

Her uncle Mike would take her in. Her Aunt Lucy would too. If absolutely necessary, Grandma Ellen or Grandpa Sam would step in. For all that they were sometimes rough and didn't agree with her mother, Lisa had no doubt that they would step in to help her.

She was blessed that way, she realized with surprise. Her father hadn't had anyone when he was growing up, and she had no doubt that he had gone through the same things she was going through.

"You didn't have anybody?"

"I had an Aunt Opal," Clark said. "But she was too sick and old even then to raise a child. There wasn't anybody else."

Lisa squeezed his hand and said, "You've got me now, Dad. You aren't alone anymore."

Calling him dad was new and it felt strange, but when she felt him tightening his grip in hers, she knew she'd said the right thing.

Nobody should have to be alone.

***

After the mansion, Lisa had imagined that her father had lived on a huge kind of farm. But as he showed her the limits of it, she realized that it was a lot smaller than his estate now.

The house and barn were bigger than her house, but they weren't huge. Lisa had friends with larger houses.

Her father produced a key, and Lisa stepped into the farmhouse. After all these years, it should have been empty and deserted. Instead, she could barely even smell any dust. Everything was carefully placed, and it almost seemed as though the place was ready for someone to step back inside.

The place was a shrine.

"I had to buy this place back from the people who had it. Aunt Opal had kept most of the pictures and things in storage…what I couldn't get back I bought copies of."

"Why?" Lisa asked. She was a little horrified by the realization that this place that hadn't been used in all these years had been rebuilt piece by piece by her father.

"It's all I have left," he said. "This is the only place I can ever remember being really happy."

Lisa tightened her hand in his. It was creepy and it made her wonder if her father was entirely stable, but she could understand what it was like to be lonely. She knew what it was like not to be able to turn to anyone and to face the world alone.

In her case, it had only been from fear her mother wouldn't understand. In his, there had literally been no one. He'd been the last of his kind in the universe, and there had been no chance anyone was ever going to be there for him.

"You aren't alone anymore," she said.

"Let's take a look around," he said, as though she hadn't spoken. He had a far away look in his eyes, and Lisa wondered if he was entirely here with her.

"Ok," she said. If he needed to show her how his life had been, she'd go along.

***

"This would have been the perfect place to grow up," Lisa said. The two of them were lying on the roof of the barn, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun.

"I wish I'd gotten to," her father said. "My hearing started kicking in after I was already in the system, but at least it was Smallville and not some huge city like Metropolis. I can't imagine how you do it."

"Does it get better?" she asked.

"You learn to tune some things out," he said, "ignore some things, but it's always there in the back of your mind."

"And the vision?" she asked.

"You'll have relapses for a while," he said. "But eventually you won't need the glasses anymore."

"My mother doesn't mean it," Lisa said.

"What?"

"When she pushes you away."

"I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"She does it to everybody. She's had to be the strong one my whole life, and she hasn't had a lot of time for guys."

Grandpa and Grandma hadn't helped any.

"I'm not taking relationship advice from you about your mother." Her father stared at the sky.

"You married that woman, didn't you?"

"Yes," he said. He glanced at her. "So?"

"Obviously you need some sort of advice. I've always heard you were supposed to marry nice people."

"She was nice!" he said. "Well…sort of nice."

"Sort of nice doesn't cut it. If you are planning to spend the rest of your life with somebody, they'd better be really nice."

The logic of that seemed obvious to Lisa. Spending years with someone who wasn't nice didn't make much sense.

"That's why she shouldn't get involved with me," he said. "I'm sort of nice at best."

He smiled at her, as though it was a joke, but she knew better.

Lisa scowled and said, "Not from where I'm sitting."

The adult world was more complicated than she wanted to admit. How did you take a prince who thought he was a frog and convince him of the truth?

***

"Most of the kids I know have parents who are divorced," Lisa said. She stared at her hands. "It happens a lot."

Her father nodded. "I saw it a lot when I was in the foster care system. I even lived through it a couple of times."

"So why does it happen? I thought love was supposed to last forever."

That's what it said in all the stories anyway. Part of Lisa desperately hoped it was true, even if a more cynical part realized that it wasn't.

"Sometimes it does," Clark said. "I think if Mom and Dad had lived, they'd have been together until the day they died. Before the accident I didn't know hardly anybody who'd been divorced."

"So why did you get divorced?" Lisa asked.

Her father hesitated, then said, "When Lana found out what I was, what I could do, it changed things between us."

"She didn't like it?"

Lisa had thought long and hard about telling someone, anyone. She'd known better than to tell Janice, because after Janice's experiences with her brother, she'd have been sure to tell.

Anybody else would look at her like a freak, and that was the last thing Lisa wanted.

"Not at first. I think it bothered her a lot, until I started getting rich."

Lisa nodded. She'd seen and heard enough of what went on between adults to know a little about how that went.

"She liked having nice things."

"She liked being looked up to," Clark said. "People admiring her because of her car or house or position as a trophy wife…I think she grew up that way and didn't know any better."

Lisa stared at him dubiously.

"Her father was the town banker, and the whole family always wanted people to treat them like they were something special."

"That's why you aren't worried about her telling about you," Lisa said.

Her father nodded. "She has as much to lose as I do. If people knew she'd been slee…married to something that wasn't human, they might look down on her, and she won't tolerate that."

Lisa shuddered. "She gave me the creeps. She smells wrong."

"She's not well," her father said quietly. "She hasn't been in a long time."

***

"The car was registered to the Centavos Corporation. That's a shell company owned by Gatestar Limited, which is in turn owned by Luthercorp." Joshua stared down at the printout.

"Lex is dead, right?"

Joshua nodded. "He committed suicide after his criminal misdealings were mysteriously revealed to the police."

"Clark?" Lois asked.

Joshua nodded. "Clark and Lex had clashed over a number of business decisions — companies they both wanted to buy, deals they wanted to make. Lex always wanted to get a leg up on Clark, so when he found a chance with Lana…"

"So that's why Clark divorced her?"

Joshua shook his head. "She divorced him and took half his net worth with her. It was a major coupe for Lex. Lex loved rubbing it in whenever they'd meet."

"So Clark went to the police with information about dirty business dealings?"

"He was running guns to Africa and he was being paid in conflict diamonds. He was responsible for burning down much of the dock district in Metropolis so he could rebuild it, and he was the one who blew up both the Messenger and Prometheus shuttles."

"So he could build the Luthor space station."

For all that Clark claimed to be a ruthless businessman, Lois couldn't imagine him killing innocent people in the name of profits.

In fact, she'd been doing some digging, and from what she could see, he'd made a lot of changes since his divorce from Lana. His mines were considered some of the safest in the country because of new safety regulations and expensive equipment.

He'd instituted progressive policies in the workplace, and efficiency was up in most of his companies.

Oddly enough, the people who worked in his subsidiary companies seemed more loyal to him than his own staff did.

The people working for the Superman Foundation seemed most in awe of him. They described him as motivated, driven and even charismatic.

Joshua said, "Clark bought up a lot of the companies piecemeal after Lex Luthor died. With the stocks plunging like they were he got most of them for a song."

"That seems…a little ghoulish," Lois said uncertainly. Clark had as much as admitted that he hadn't always been a good man, but still…

"He kept a lot of people working who otherwise wouldn't have," Joshua said sharply. "And he turned a lot of the businesses over to the Foundation. Luthor Labs is now working on curing cancer, on spinal chord injuries, on actually curing diseases instead of just finding expensive long term treatments."

Lois blinked, surprised. She hadn't realized Joshua was so passionate about the Foundation.

"A long time ago Clark promised me I'd walk again, and I believed him." Joshua hesitated. "I believe in him more and more every day."

"What happened to him?" Lois asked. "With Lana?"

Joshua looked quickly down at his desk and said, "It's not my place to say."

Even Joshua was loyal to him. It was strange, the difference between those working for him outside the home and those closest to him. It was almost as though he were a different man at home, as though he felt the need to push them away.

After having met Lana, it didn't surprise her. She didn't need a sign to realize that Lana had betrayed him terribly; when he'd heard her voice the other night he'd visibly shrunk into himself.

To have married Clark's biggest competitor and flaunt the relationship in his face would have been bad, but Lois had a feeling that there was more to the story than she'd been told.

Joshua wouldn't have felt the need to be so secretive otherwise.

Although she wasn't a reporter, Lois did have a sense when someone wasn't telling the entire truth.

Clark had dismantled her second husband's financial empire, and a woman as money driven as Lana would resent every penny, even if in the end he'd been kinder than other corporate raiders would have been.

Their problems with Lana weren't over, and if Lana was stockpiling this material that was poisonous to both Kal El and her daughter, things could be really dangerous.

Everyone believed the Superman Foundation was important to Clark Kent. What better way to get back at him than to do something to the one person who was the figurehead for the Foundation?

She was going to have to warn Kal El.

***

As Lois saw Kal El bringing Lisa in for a landing, she wondered what the servants had been told. It had to be a little suspicious, the costumed hero spending so much time with a little girl.

Lisa was laughing, and Lois felt her heart constrict. It had been too long since she'd heard her daughter laugh.

The hunted look in her eyes was almost gone, and she was starting to finally relax. She seemed happier here than she had in a long time, and it wasn't the surroundings, although she had to admit that the food was exceptional.

Lois blinked as she realized that the heavy black rimmed glasses were gone, replaced by one of the stylish frames Clark Kent had bought for her. Apparently Clark or Kal had managed to get the lenses made and fitted.

They looked good on her.

"Mom!" Lisa said. She ran up the hill and hugged her mother. "I can make holes in things without burning them!"

"I can do that too," Lois said, making a punching motion with her finger at her daughter.

Lisa giggled and twisted out of the way. "I'm not perfect, but Da— Kal says I just need to practice."

She'd almost said dad. Lois smiled slightly and said, "Why don't you go wash up for dinner?"

Why did she feel a pang of jealousy? This was a relationship Lisa needed. It was one that appeared to be more than good for her, yet Lois couldn't help but feel the same pangs she'd felt when she'd seen Lisa responding to Clark Kent, but worse this time.

At least Clark Kent didn't have any sort of real bond with her other than kindness. Kal El, though, was her father, and for some reason, Lois felt a little threatened.

Lisa nodded and raced up the hill. She had more energy too these days, as though the urge she'd had to constantly hold herself in was slowly unclenching.

Approaching the man slowly, Lois said, "You seem to be doing pretty well with her."

He watched her, his expression unreadable. "She's going through some of the same things I went through. We can relate."

"Is there anything I need to watch for?"

"She's going to need less sleep the older she gets," he said. "She won't need to eat as much. Eventually, she may not need to eat at all."

This surprised Lois and worried her a little. The need to eat was one of the most fundamental things about being a human being, or alive for that matter.

At her expression, he rushed to say, "She'll be able to eat if she wants to, but after she's done growing, she'll get most of her energy from the sun."

If Lois had been on her own, she'd have worried that Lisa wasn't sleeping or eating. Those were signs of depression that she was familiar with after having lived with Ellen Lane.

"Cities are bad until she gets her hearing under control. She's already seen and heard some things she shouldn't."

Lois had suspected this; she was going to have to do some work to try to put the things Lisa had seen into context. Hearing the neighbors next door making love was one thing if you were a college student with thin walls. It was something again if you were a thirteen year old girl.

"How long will that be?" Lois asked.

It was nice being here, but she didn't want Lisa to have to grow up in an isolated life with tutors and nannies. Lisa had friends back at home and a life.

"It's hard to tell," he said. "She's developing some things quicker than I did and others more slowly."

"How did your people deal with these powers?" she asked.

"I don't know," he admitted. He hesitated and then lowered his voice. "I don't remember much about them."

Lois blinked. The implications of that were huge. Was he saying that losing his homeworld was so traumatic that he'd blocked most of it off? Or was he saying he'd been too young to remember his people?

Either way, she had to downgrade her estimate of when he'd come to earth. He'd been wearing the glasses when they'd first met. She had a few vague memories of those heavy lenses. She'd assumed that meant he was still new to his abilities.

But if he'd been on earth since he was Lisa's age…that suggested that he'd once lived as a human being. It meant he might have another name, another family, other children, a whole other life.

It explained why he was around so rarely, even when the news reports were empty of suitable disasters.

"You need to watch out," she said at last. "Someone has been buying up necklaces and bracelets before your people can get to them, and at least one of them was driving a car owned indirectly by Luthorcorp."

She almost thought she saw his face pale for a moment.

"Watch out for Lana Lang."

***

Shifting uneasily in her chair, Lois watched as Superman cut the ribbon for the opening of the Jonathan Kent Community Outreach center. She wondered idly where Clark had gotten to. He'd responded to a telephone call on his cell phone moments before Superman had flown down for the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Superman was posing for pictures now near some of the Kent Scholarship winners, young African Americans judged most likely to make a difference in their communities in the years to come.

Beside her, Lisa was staring at her father with an expression of pride. Seeing how everyone responded to him really drove home how larger than life the rest of the world saw him.

It was the greatest secret in the world to be related to someone the world saw as a combination of Gandhi and Hercules. Lois felt a moment of pity for her daughter. It was the one secret she'd never be able to share with anyone, other than possibly a spouse.

Lisa lived in a world of secrets now, as did Lois. No one could argue that this wasn't the best situation that could be expected, but it bothered Lois.

She'd always wanted to be a journalist, someone who exposed the secrets the world kept behind closed doors. Now she was the one who kept those doors locked.

Lisa tugged at her coat as the line formed to get an autograph from her father. If she got the autograph in public, she'd be able to take it home and show her friends. She'd at least get a little right to brag.

The atmosphere around them was jovial. The proud mothers of the scholarship winners stood with their sons and daughters, beaming at the public recognition their children were finally getting.

Lois noticed one boy not much older than Lisa scowling. He slipped into the new building, and she noticed Superman watching him as well.

Kal El pretended he didn't know Lisa as he signed her autograph book; naturally it was one of those with his emblem on the cover.

The merchandizing campaign for Superman's likeness was fierce. Everything from lunchboxes to women's panties had the Superman logo on them, and every item sold sent a little money back to the Foundation.

It made people feel good to think that they were supporting good causes by buying things they wanted anyway.

Other people were leaving money in their wills.

The Foundation was by this point the third largest charitable Foundation in the United States, and it was growing fast.

A cynical mind might wonder about the sort of power that gave Clark Kent, but if Clark was really out for power and influence, he'd be standing beside Superman for the ribbon cutting.

Clark seemed to avoid opportunities for personal aggrandizement. Even now, as the cameras flashed, he was nowhere to be seen.

***

Someone had seen Clark heading for one of the classrooms. Lois walked quietly, peeking into door after door. Lisa was riding home with Joshua; the ride home would be the perfect time to talk where Lisa couldn't overhear.

She could hear voices from up ahead. She moved quietly until she reached the doorway. All she could hear was the almost inaudible sound of Clark's voice murmuring.

"He should be here." The boy's voice cracked. "Hell, this should be his scholarship, not mine."

"Bad things happen," Clark said quietly.

"What would you know about it, rich man?" The boy's voice held no real anger, only a sort of bone weary resignation. "You gonna tell me to snap out of it and get back to work?"

"No," Clark said. "You aren't ever going to snap out of it. It gets a little easier, but it never really goes away."

"I have nightmares sometimes…I saw it happen."

"I'm sorry you had to deal with that," Clark said. "I watched my parents die too, both of them."

"How old were you?" The boy's voice held a hint of curiosity.

"Ten," Clark said. "But I don't guess it matters how old you are. It's always going to hurt the same."

"Where was Superman when I needed him?" The boy's voice sounded strained, as though he was fighting tears. "Why couldn't he save them?"

"I've asked myself that about my parents too," Clark said. "I've gone over and over and over it in my head, and it never changes. What if I'd done something different? Could I have saved them?"

"Superman could have saved them."

"Maybe, if he'd been close enough to hear what was happening. He can't be everywhere," Clark said quietly. "It'd be nice if he could."

"I don't see him in my neighborhood except when it's time for a photo op." The teenaged boy's tone was resentful.

"It's a big world," Clark said. He sounded a little uncomfortable. "One man can't do everything."

"So what good is he?"

Clark was silent a moment. "He does what he can, just like anybody else, I guess. The things he can do…they are a gift, the kind of gift that's meant to be shared with the world."

"So being strong is a gift?"

"So is being smart, or talented. You've got that, a lot of that."

"How would you know?"

"I'm the guy who writes the checks," Clark says. "And no matter what anybody says, I'm a little cheap."

The boy looked up at him with a confused expression on his face.

"I don't throw money away on anybody who doesn't deserve it. I've talked to a lot of people about you, people who could have suggested just about anybody."

"Teachers don't know anything," the boy said. "You spout back what they want to hear and they are happy."

"I didn't just talk to teachers. I talked to Reverend Johnson. I talked to your neighbors. I talked to your friends. You wouldn't believe just how many people you have pulling for you, how many people love you."

"Nobody said anything," the boy said, sounding bewildered.

"They didn't want to spoil the surprise."

"You even talked to Grams?"

"Your grandmother is a remarkable woman," Clark said. "Did you know she marched in some of the same civil rights marches my parents did?"

"Get out," the boy said.

Clark pulled a faded photograph from his pocket. "I don't have many pictures of my parents."

He pointed to the picture.

"They look like they were nice," the boy said.

"They were the best people in the world," Clark said. "But look up here."

He pointed to another section of the picture, and the boy gasped. "That's Grams! How did you ever find this?"

"I've studied these pictures so often I know them by heart," Clark said. He hesitated. "Why don't you give this one to your grandmother?"

"But you said…"

"It's easy to give away things you have a lot of," Clark said. "But for it to really matter…"

"Yeah, but I can't." The boy shook his head. "This belongs to you."

"It belongs to you now," Clark said firmly. "I've spent my whole life looking backward. I think it's time I started to move forward."

"She'll love this," the boy said in a muted voice.

"You're lucky," Clark said. "You have a mother and a grandmother and family that loves you. You owe it to them to do the best you can, to live a good life and be happy."

The boy nodded slowly.

"If your dad or your brother could be here, they'd really be proud of you," Clark said. "I know that, because that's what I see in the eyes of everybody else in your family."

Lois slowly backed away from the door and wondered why her heart felt heavy in her chest.

***

Clark was silent for a long time after he finally entered the limousine, staring out the window pensively.

Lois had to wonder about the contradiction he posed. He treated his household servants as though they were invisible, actively attempting to maintain a distant and impersonal relationship with them.

Yet with strangers he was capable of acts of generosity and kindness that he obviously didn't want the rest of the world to know about.

When he'd emerged from the building, he'd been as cold and impersonal as he'd ever been, and if Lois hadn't known better she'd have assumed that was how he was.

He was an expert at hiding his feelings, at keeping secrets, and while Lois should have felt repelled by that, instead she felt reassured. She and Lisa had the biggest secret on the planet, and this was the man who was going to keep it safe.

Joshua was fiercely loyal to him, and after tonight, Lois was beginning to suspect why. For all his lying, Clark was a man of his word. If he told you that you were going to go to college and be a success for your family, you believed it.

If he told you that you would one day walk again, you'd believe that too. You'd believe it because once he made the promise he would move heaven and earth to make it happen.

In the beginning, she'd been attracted to both Superman and Clark. Yet as her jealousy of Superman had grown, her attraction had begun to subside.

Her attraction for Clark though had never waned. The more she knew about him, the more she wanted to know about him.

He was dangerous to her in a way that Superman wasn't. Superman was never going to be able to really share himself with anyone. Whatever life he had at home meant that he had secrets he never intended to share, any more than Lois would tell Lisa's secret.

The person he showed the world wasn't his real self, but only a mask, the best part of what he was held up to the light and put on display.

Lois could respect that because of what Superman represented, but she was never going to be able to fall in love with a facsimile.

Clark, though…he tried to hide his pain, but Lois kept seeing flashes of his real self, of the little boy who'd been left standing on a lonely road with parents who were never coming back.

It was getting harder and harder to maintain the detachment that she needed to keep. Having to remind herself that this wasn't a permanent situation was getting more difficult as she grew accustomed to his presence.

"It's going to be hard giving all this up," Lois said.

Clark glanced in her direction and said, "What?"

"It's going to be hard, moving back to Metropolis." Lois spoke quietly but firmly.

"Go home?" Clark asked. "Why are you talking about that now?"

There were still a couple of months of summer left, plenty of time to make decisions.

"Lisa likes you," Lois said. "Maybe even more than she likes her father."

He seemed pleased by the admission.

"Kal El can visit her any time he wants to, in the blink of an eye. That won't change whether Lisa lives here, in Metropolis, or in Calcutta."

"Thinking of moving to Calcutta?" Clark asked. "I've been there. I'd advise against it."

"You know what I mean. But you…this is your life. Once all of this is over, she won't see you again, and that's going to be hard for her."

Lois was talking about herself as much as Lisa. Unlike Lisa, she was old enough to realize that fairy tales generally didn't come true. Wealthy people tended to marry other wealthy people. While Clark hadn't always been wealthy, he'd slid seamlessly into the role.

"How kind of you to be so concerned," Clark said flatly. "You aren't talking about leaving tomorrow, are you?"

Lois shook her head. "We just need to start talking about an exit strategy."

Clark closed his eyes for a moment. "What if I don't want to?"

"What? Talk about it? We could wait, I suppose, but it's going to come up eventually."

"What if I don't want her to leave?"

Lois frowned. For some reason, her heart was beginning to pound in her chest.

"There are people who hate Kal El because of what he is, and no matter how well you try to keep the secret, if he comes to visit her, someone will notice."

Lois had wondered a little about the logistics of the meetings. Unless they drove out of town to meet him on the highway, there was always a chance of discovery.

"You don't think people are going to wonder why you are buying expensive things for the child of a single mother you have living under your roof?"

"Nobody would ask any questions if I claimed she was my biological child."

Lois stared at him, flabbergasted. She'd known that Clark Kent had craved a child of his own. Lisa's stories about the wallpaper in her room were proof of that.

"Lisa already has parents," she said frostily. "We did just fine without anybody."

"If I claimed her as my own, she could receive all the things she deserves," Clark said. "She could get an education at a college of her choice. Kal El could visit her without anybody questioning the relationship."

"How do you think Kal would feel about this, your taking over his role as a father?"

"We're quite close," Clark said. "I don't think it would bother him at all."

"And me?" Lois said. "If I agreed to this farce? What happens when my idea of parenting doesn't match yours?"

She'd heard of too many cases of poor mothers who lost custody of their children to richer spouses. Although there was a streak of altruism in Clark Kent that impressed her, there was also a grim determination to get what he wanted.

"I'd defer to you, of course," Clark said. "It'd be an arrangement on paper, but Lisa would know who her real father was."

"She has friends, family in Metropolis."

"Have you thought about the kind of environment Metropolis is for her right now?" Clark asked. "We've solved the problem with her vision, but there is nothing that can be done about her hearing until it settles back into a state of equilibrium."

Lois frowned.

"She's hearing everything in a three mile radius," Clark said. "Constantly."

Lois felt the blood drain from her face. Even in her neighborhood in the suburbs of Metropolis, there had to be hundreds of families in that radius.

Every fight, every cruel word, every gesture…every time anyone made love. It would be a horrendous cacophony.

She shook her head. "Not all at once. That's not possible. She would have said something."

"She's been very quiet over these past couple of years, hasn't she? Always seemed distracted."

Lois nodded warily.

"I think she's already developing some abilities to discriminate between noises. Eventually she'll learn to block out most sounds, other than the sounds she wants to hear."

"That's what Kal does," Lois said. "He blocks out everything except the sounds of people in trouble."

"He can hear ten times as far as Lisa can," Clark said. "Sometimes more if the conditions are right."

"Still…we could move to a small town outside of Metropolis," Lois said. "Maybe live out in the country."

"Why?" Clark said. "Why go to all the effort to leave?"

"Lisa loves this place," Lois said, not adding that she did too. "But she's going to have to make her own way in life. She can't go depending on the kindness of strangers."

"I'm no stranger," Clark said.

"Not now," Lois said. "But what happens when you get married again, and the new wife doesn't want Lisa?"

His eyes glittered. "That won't happen."

"What, you won't marry again, or you won't marry anyone who doesn't like Lisa?"

"Maybe both," he said.

"Adopting someone else's child as your own…that's something huge."

"I'm not likely to ever have any other children of my own," Clark said. "Joshua tells me that I'm only biologically compatible with one woman in a million."

Lois frowned. "He said something like that to me also."

She hadn't really understood his convoluted explanation, other than to understand that she had some sort of mutation that made fertility difficult for her with a normal human being.

"We're compatible," Clark said, looking suddenly embarrassed.

Lois found herself gaping.

"Biologically. It wouldn't be easy, and it wouldn't necessarily work at all. But of all the people in the world, you are one of the vanishingly small percentage with whom I might have a chance at having another child."

"So that's why you insisted I come live with you?" Lois felt her vision going red. "Because you hoped I'd be some sort of…brood mare?"

Clark glanced uneasily behind her, at the partition separating them from the front of the vehicle. "Keep your voice down," he said.

"So all this rigmarole about Lisa was just a thin ploy to get to me. You don't care about my daughter at all!"

"It's not like that," he said uneasily. He shifted in his seat and looked as though he wished he were anywhere but where he was.

"I thought this was all about you looking for a substitute daughter. It seemed a little creepy, but that was ok. This…I can't believe I fell for…"

"It was about Lisa. It's always been about Lisa," Clark said. "The thing with you…that was entirely secondary."

This caught Lois up short.

"If I never have another child, I'll be completely happy." Clark stared at her, then he looked away. "I never could have believed how I'd feel when I realized…"

Lois frowned. She'd thought Clark was childless. Did he have an illegitimate child somewhere? Was that the real reason Lana had left him?

If so, then why wasn't the child a part of his life?

"I thought you didn't have a child?"

"There's always been a void in my life. I never knew my real parents," Clark said. "And my adoptive parents…well, you know what happened to them."

Lois didn't speak. Instead she simply stared at him. Clark seemed oddly reluctant to continue, as though he feared her reaction to discovering that he had another child.

"When I was seventeen, I met someone. She was amazing. Fire and passion, no fear. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. When she kissed me, I thought I was going to die."

Lois frowned. If Clark and Superman had been friends even back when she'd first met Kal, Clark might have been there the night they'd conceived Lisa. She vaguely remembered that he'd come with a group of other boys.

"I thought I was in love," Clark said. "But I wasn't in my right mind; I was intoxicated on something and the next morning I couldn't remember where I'd left her."

It sounded like a mirror image of her own story, Lois thought. She'd given up drinking entirely after that night; it had no place in her life as a mother, and given her mother's history of alcoholism…it was scary.

"So how do you know you have a child?" Lois asked quietly. "You said it was a pretty slim shot even with someone who was compatible."

"She came to me recently," Clark said. "She'd tracked me down. She brought her daughter with her…the most wonderful child I'd ever seen."

"Then why are you still making all this fuss about Lisa?" Lois asked. "You should be reaching out to your own daughter, trying to be part of HER life. And this other, perfect woman? You should be bringing her into your house instead of me."

"I want to acknowledge Lisa as my daughter and make her my heir because…she IS my biological daughter."

Lois felt the blood drain from her face for the second time in the evening. Staring at Clark, she could see all the similarities between him and Kal El. In her mind, their faces superimposed on each other. They had the same eyes, the same lips, the same mouth. The hair was different, but only in so much as hair gel and a different style was concerned.

There was a reason Clark hadn't taken his place on the stage tonight, Lois realized. It wasn't that he was modest, and wanted to avoid the spotlight, although apparently he did. It was that he couldn't be in two places at once.

That was probably why Clark was so careful about being photographed. He didn't want anybody making visual comparisons of him and the alien hero.

It was so obvious now that she looked at him. How had he been able to pull it off with a change of hairstyle and an outrageous outfit? True, he'd been careful not to spend much time with her as Kal El, but…

"Lisa knew," Lois said, her mind racing.

Lisa had been cold and standoffish toward Clark until the incident with the glasses, but afterwards she'd been overly affectionate and sweet.

"I asked her not to tell you," Clark said, looking embarrassed.

"Why?" she asked, a hint of anger appearing in her voice. "Did you think I was going to run to the tabloids? Lisa has just as much to lose in this as you do."

"I…I wanted you to get to know me for who I am," Clark said. "I was afraid that Superman would confuse things."

"You thought I'd be so blinded by the cape and tights that I'd fall for you right away." Lois's voice was flat.

"I haven't been the nicest person," Clark said. "Some of that was the red poison, but I can't blame it all on that. I'd hoped…If you got to know me for who I am and if you still liked me a little that all of this would go a little easier."

"This? What is this?" Lois asked.

"I want to claim Lisa as my biological child, and I want the two of you to move in with me permanently."

***

Lana felt the blood dripping from her hand. Irritably, she ripped the earpiece from her ear and went in search for a towel. The shattered remains of her wine glass lay on the table in front of her.

Putting the recording device in Clark's limo had been inspired. It was amazing what modern technology could do. In the past, Clark would have heard anything with moving parts, but these gadgets were entirely digital.

Anyone who knew her would have thought Lana would be in a rage by this point, but she was beyond that.

She felt cold and numb. All that was left was to put her plan in motion. When this was all done, she'd have a child of her own, and Clark would lose everything, including his life.

Sometimes revenge was best served cold.

***

"Live with you permanently?" Lois said. "That's not going to happen."

She was still reeling over the thought that Clark Kent and Kal El were the same person. The similarities were now so obvious that she wondered why she'd been so slow on the uptake.

She supposed it had to do with one thing. She'd been led to believe that Clark Kent had no powers. That single fact meant that he couldn't be Lisa's father, despite their obvious similarities. As a disguise it was remarkably effective.

"Why not?" Clark asked. "It would solve all our problems. Lisa would grow up with someone who understands what she's going through. She'd be in a place that's quiet enough that she can hear herself think, and she'd have a mother who wasn't working herself to the bone."

"So I'm not to work?" The idea of being a kept woman was unpalatable, and Lois knew her displeasure was creeping into her voice. She'd worked for everything in her life, and she didn't intend to stop now.

"I didn't say that," Clark said quickly. "I've been looking over the work you've done for the Foundation, and I've been more than pleased."

He'd been double checking her work? It should have angered Lois, but instead it pleased her. It meant that the work she'd done was valuable to him, as the Foundation itself was. She wasn't just being given make-work to keep her satisfied while Clark got to have a relationship with his daughter.

"So I'd be living in your house, accepting your charity?"

She'd grown up around enough wealthy people to know what they called poor people who lived off the wealth of richer friends. Being thought a gold-digger would be the least of her worries, but it wasn't a way she wanted to be viewed.

Clark shook his head. "I owe this to you. I owe you for every time you wiped her nose when I wasn't there, for every diaper you bought with money you didn't have. I owe you for the life you would have had…should have had. I'm not sorry about Lisa, but I'm so sorry about leaving you alone."

"About that," Lois said. "If the night was as special as what you are saying, why didn't you try to find me?"

"I was ashamed," Clark said slowly. "You were clearly drunk and I took advantage of you. I may have been bounced around the system for a while, but I lived with the Kents long enough to know what was right and what was wrong. What I did that night was inexcusable…"

That wasn't how Lois remembered the night. What few memories she did have made her still want to blush with how aggressive, how wanton, she'd been.

"So you thought I wouldn't want you?"

If he'd come to her, she'd have been cautiously open. She'd thrown herself at him, after all. It would have changed everything to have had another set of hands to help with Lisa. Perhaps she could have gone back to college, finished up, had a career.

"How could you?" Clark asked. "I was some guy you'd picked up at a bar, and either you did that sort of thing all the time, in which case I was going to be nobody special…or you didn't…which would be even worse."

"It was my first time," Lois said quietly.

"Me too," Clark said somberly. "I'd planned on waiting until I found someone I could share everything with."

She'd stolen that from him, from them both. Lois frowned.

"I'm glad I did," he said.

Lois blinked. "What?"

"It doesn't repel you that I'm an alien."

Lois shook her head. How could she be repelled by him? What he was, her own daughter was.

"You were human enough to give me a child," Lois said. "You don't repel me."

He smiled at her slowly, and Lois realized that this was only going to encourage him. "That doesn't mean that I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

"Just give it a few years," Clark said. "I think you'll want to stay."

Lois suspected that she might as well.

"We barely know each other."

"We have a child together," Clark said. "We can hardly be considered strangers."

But they were. Lois had barely met the real Clark Kent, or Kal El or whoever he really was. She was only beginning to learn who he really was.

"We haven't even been on a real date!"

"I seem to recall differently," Clark said.

Lois flushed. "That wasn't a date. That was sex."

"I'm not asking you to have sex with me," Clark said. "Just to move in with me so I can have access to my daughter. Whatever happened with us…that'd be entirely separate. Living with me doesn't mean you want to marry me."

Lois suspected that's what it would have meant to her parents; they'd been disapproving of Lucy's living arrangements often enough.

As a thought occurred to her, Lois frowned. "How does the red poison affect…relations?"

If it was as Lois suspected, Clark wasn't factoring in the most obvious flaw in his chain of arguments relating to his guilt.

"A little like alcohol," Clark admitted. "It removes inhibitions…tends to make me more passionate and more likely to do things I wouldn't normally do. It doesn't affect performance."

That was a tidbit she hadn't needed to know.

"Lana liked me better on the red poison. She always thought I was a little too…conservative normally. She liked me without my inhibitions." Clark's voice was a little bleak. "She tended to want to do things in the bedroom that I wasn't comfortable with."

That was definitely something Lois hadn't wanted to know.

"How did you get involved with her anyway?" Lois asked, happy to change the subject. Talking about sex was the last thing she needed at the moment, especially if it involved Lana Lang.

"She started dating me when I was eighteen as a way of getting back at her father," Clark said. "I was the kid from the wrong side of the tracks that he hated, and it excited her to think that I was forbidden fruit."

"And when she discovered your secret?"

"She was repelled, a little. She didn't want to dump me right away for fear people would ask questions. Then she started to realize just how much money I was making."

"At eighteen?"

"I found work on an Alaskan King Crab boat and made enough money in two weeks to pay for two years of college." Clark smiled wistfully. "I saved a couple of guys' lives, and they asked me back every year."

Crab fishing was dangerous work, but being invulnerable, strong enough to lift the boat by yourself and able to go without sleep for days if needed had to have made him an invaluable asset.

He probably hadn't even been cold in the freezing waters.

"I drifted after college," Clark said. "Found work, mostly in mining. In a couple of years I learned my way around mines all over the world, and then I used crab money to buy my first mine, one everyone said was played out."

"But you knew better."

"They were going to blow the place up as a local danger to children," Clark said. "I didn't feel like I was hurting anyone."

"Lana found out about it, I don't know how, but suddenly I wasn't this person who repelled her any more."

"She sounds like a really wonderful person," Lois said. It amazed her just how many excuses Clark was willing to make for the woman.

"She wasn't always crazy," Clark said. "It was a while before we realized that it was the effects of the jewelry that made me act the way I was. I wore a necklace Joshua made myself for a couple of years before I realized what it was doing."

Lois had her doubts that Lana hadn't known, but she didn't say anything.

"It wasn't until I took it off and forgot it one day that I started feeling different. When I got around Lana I felt the same way though."

"Because she was wearing the jewelry."

"It never made much sense to me that she would wear it," Clark said. "As status conscious as she was there were much finer pieces I could have bought her."

Lana had to have known, otherwise she'd have never turned away expensive jewelry for handmade fifty dollar pieces made by her cousin. Especially when they were gaudy and glowed in the dark.

"I convinced her to take them off, and we argued," Clark said. "I felt guilty about cheating people. I may have said something foolish about giving the money away."

Lois could imagine that hadn't gone over well with Lana. As invested as she was in being rich and important, the idea of letting it all go would have been repugnant.

"I'd really only accumulated the money in the first place to make her happy," Clark admitted. "Even under the red poison I mostly just wanted her to love me."

He hadn't had that from anyone since the Kents had died, Lois suspected. She couldn't imagine how achingly alone he must have felt. Being the only one of his kind in the universe, the last of a dying breed, he'd have tried to latch onto the least bit of affection anyone could have given him.

Lana would have used that, dangled the prospect of love in front of him. In the end, though, Lana struck Lois as the sort of person who might be incapable of love.

"And she didn't."

He shrugged and looked away. "Sometimes it seemed like she did."

With his parents dead, and with him unable to share the greatest secret the world had ever seen, he would have been desperate for the affections of the one person who knew. The fact that she'd initially rejected him would have made him only more desperate for her affections.

"It was good sometimes," Clark said quietly. "I could never tell when, and whenever she did something that hurt, I always told myself that the next time would be good."

Lois had edited an article once about abusive relationships. Abusers tended to do the same thing, dangling the possibility of things being good just often enough to string the other person along, while at the same time keeping them abused enough that they never felt strong enough to leave.

"So what did she do?"

There had to have been something, or Clark never would have left her.

"I started to feel like I did around the red poison all the time, even when I wasn't close to any of it." Clark stared out the window. "I couldn't figure out why it was happening. I started thinking that maybe it was just the cumulative effect of too much exposure."

"It wasn't, though," Lois said. "It was something she was doing."

"She was putting it in our food. We were both eating it."

Lois stared at him. "She was poisoning you?"

Clark didn't look at her. He only nodded.

"By the time we found out what it had done to Joshua, it was too late. She'd developed cancers in the brain, ovaries and small intestines. Doctors were able to get rid of most of it, but there is a tumor in her brain that is inoperable. It isn't growing, but it puts pressure on her brain, making her behavior increasingly erratic."

"So…"

"She got worse when she found out that the treatments had made her infertile. I think that was the last straw."

She'd been infertile with Clark because of what he was, and then afterwards she'd become completely infertile.

"She's sick," Clark said. "She was my wife, and I wouldn't have left her. After she found out she couldn't have children, though…it was never the same. She became bitter and erratic, and she divorced me."

And she'd taken half of his wealth to Lex Luthor. Lois could even see how the affair might have started, with Lana desperate to have a child from a human man, and taking out her anger on Clark by having sex with his greatest rival.

Lois had looked Lana Lang up after she'd realized just who she was. She'd been married to Lex Luthor for a little less than eighteen months before he'd been killed in a car bombing. The bomber's identity had never been discovered.

Just how crazy was Lana Lang?

"She wasn't good before the illness, Clark."

"But she wasn't all bad." Clark stared stubbornly out the window.

Lois frowned. Clark was loyal to a fault and wracked with guilt. She suspected that if she made a deal with him he'd do his best to live up to it. She thought a moment and then she made her decision.

What they needed was time. Time to get to know each other, to know if they could live together, or if they could become more than that.

"We can at least stay the summer," Lois said. "Make our decisions closer to the end."

Clark nodded, and the limo faded into silence.

***

Receiving roses was unexpected. Lois stared at the huge bouquet on the table in her room, and she found an unexpected smile blossoming on her face. She hadn't had much experience getting flowers; as a teenager, she hadn't had many opportunities for dating in the midst of her determination to succeed. Spending nights memorizing maps wasn't conducive to dating and relationships.

After she'd had her child, opportunities were even fewer. Lois couldn't recall ever actually receiving flowers and she was surprised at the unexpected jolt of joy she felt as she leaned forward to enjoy the unexpected smell.

There was something odd about the smell, and as the morning light filtered through the window, she could almost imagine that she saw the roses glowing.

He was really making an effort to keep them there. Lois felt a small sense of satisfaction. The balance of power in their relationship was terribly skewed. He had all the money, he had powers that no human being could match, and he was the only one who could even remember their first night together.

Even after all these years all she could recall was flashes of memory, of skin touching skin, of hot flesh and passion and awkward fumbling.

It should have been an important moment, and in the context of her life, it was life defining. Not being able to remember was a frustration.

She felt a little odd, her head feeling light and dizzy.

He didn't leave a card, Lois noted, but he didn't have to. Leaving flowers was gesture enough.

Perhaps she'd been wrong in pushing him away. She'd been attracted to him from the moment she'd seen him all those years ago. In many ways he was the perfect man; he was rich, he was powerful, and he was devoted to helping people. He was strong enough to protect both Lois and her child from just about anything the world had to throw at them. His treatment of Lana showed that he could be stubbornly loyal to those he cared about, even if that loyalty was misguided.

Yet there were complications. He was closed off and secretive. He lied easily and as glibly as a lawyer. He didn't yet know how to be a father, no matter how much he tried.

Everything was weighted in his direction. He had all the power; he had the money, he was her employer and he had a legal right to her child. Once he made the claim legal it would be even truer.

He had an education and he was used to running all over people. If she wasn't careful, he would do the same with her. It would be easy just to drift into a relationship with him just because he'd made it so easy.

Glancing at the roses wistfully, she realized that her lips were burning. Perhaps it was time to have a discussion with Clark about just where exactly he expected the relationship to go, not in the long term, but more immediately.

As she left the room, she noticed Lisa's door open. Lisa was coming down the hall, presumably from the bathroom. Lois smiled at her daughter and kissed her on the forehead.

She didn't notice Lisa stagger, or the glazed expression on her daughter's face in the aftermath of the kiss.

***

Clark was speaking into the telephone in a rapid melodic language that Lois didn't even recognize. She'd studied Gaelic in preparation for the exchange program to Ireland that had been cancelled due to her pregnancy, and she knew enough of German, French, Italian, Russian and Chinese to at least recognize the sounds of the language.

This was something she hadn't experienced before and she took a seat as he spoke. He noticed her and smiled.

A moment later the conversation seemed to be done to his satisfaction. He set the receiver in its cradle and said, "What can I do for you?"

At her expression he said, "Some of the local officials were trying to throw up roadblocks to the food shipment Superman is making later today."

"And you happen to speak their language."

"I speak three hundred and forty seven languages," Clark said. "Unfortunately, I only speak the main three in Nigeria, and the country has more than five hundred languages."

"Three hundred forty seven?" Lois asked.

Clark shrugged. "I've always had an easy time picking up languages."

Lois wondered if Lisa would share that skill, and whether there were any other abilities coming that Clark had forgotten to mention to them.

"You don't think it's unwise for Clark Kent to know all the languages Superman does?" Clark was usually so careful about separating the two halves of his lives. Lois suspected that it was part of what kept him so distant from the household staff. He didn't want anyone to have a clue that he and the man from another planet were one and the same.

Of course, it was possible that he just didn't want to get hurt again.

"I didn't identify myself," Clark said. He leaned forward in his chair. "What brings you here?"

"I wanted to thank you," Lois said. Thinking of the roses, she said, "For everything."

Leaning forward slightly, he sniffed and said, "Have you done something different with your perfume?"

Lois shook her head. She'd almost think that his eyes were glazing over.

"Why don't you let me take you out for dinner?"

"This evening?" Lois asked. She'd been pushing him away for so long that the thought of getting to know him was a little frightening.

"Now," he said.

"It's eight in the morning."

"It's ten tomorrow night in Shanghai," Clark said. "We can be there in ten minutes."

He'd be there faster if he didn't have to carry her, Lois knew.

She bit her lip, and Clark said, "Lisa will be fine here with Joshua."

Finally, she nodded.

They deserved a chance to see if they even liked each other.

***

"I'd kind of given up on the idea of love," Lois admitted as she stared out the window. They were on the eighty seventh floor of the Jin Mao tower, and the view of the city below was mesmerizing. "When you're in your early twenties, most people aren't ready for pre-made families."

"I would have been ok with it," Clark said. "What I had with my parents…it was something special. It was something I wanted for myself…especially after everything I went through in foster care."

"People were abusive?" Lois asked. She'd had experience with people who'd had abusive pasts, if only through her sister Lucy's boyfriends, and she tended to be a little leery of them.

Clark shook his head. "It wasn't that. It's just…I was going through all the things Lisa is going through, and I didn't have any idea what was happening to me. It's hard to explain to a family you've only known for a week why you burned a hole in their living room floor."

"You must have been angry," Lois said. "At your parents for leaving you, at your foster parents…at everyone."

"I was mostly angry at myself," Clark said. "If I'd just been a little faster, a little stronger…if I'd heard the truck coming a little sooner I could have done something."

"You were ten," Lois said.

"I was already different," Clark said. "I knew even then that I could do things."

There was a stubborn tone to his voice that warned Lois to back off. Although it was clear to her that the accident wasn't his fault, it wasn't at all clear to him.

"They wouldn't have even been on the road that night if I hadn't begged to spend the night with Pete…I nagged them to do it, even though my father said the roads were too icy." Clark stared at his hands for a moment. "If I'd been a little more worried about what they were telling me, and a little less worried about what I'd wanted…my whole life would be different today."

"You were ten," Lois repeated. She reached out and touched his hand.

Regret was a toxic thing. The mind went over and over and over things it could not change, as though somehow if it worked long enough, it could find a way to make things different.

She'd felt the bitter pangs of regret for long months before she'd come to peace with her pregnancy and what it meant for her life. She'd asked herself over and over again what might have happened if she hadn't stumbled into that bar on that evening. If she'd drank a little less or if she'd had a little more self control. If she hadn't been such a slut.

"I never wanted to be a mother," Lois said.

Clark looked up, startled.

"I think if we'd never met I'd have found my dream career, and I'd have been a big success," Lois went on. "I'd have earned trophies and awards, and I'd have had the professional acclaim I deserved."

She had enough ribbons and trophies and awards at home from her teenage years to make her think things wouldn't have been any different as an adult. Lois knew what she was capable of.

"I might have won a Kerth or maybe even a Pulitzer prize."

Clark's fingers tightened on hers and he said, "I'm sorry…"

"At the end of the day, I'd have been alone," Lois said. "Work would have been my life, and I'd end up watching sappy soap operas while eating chocolate ice cream."

"You don't know that," Clark said. "You might have met someone."

"I'm an intense person, Clark," Lois said. "Whatever I do, I throw myself into one hundred percent. I couldn't have children and the sort of success I craved. There wouldn't have been room in my life for both. Most likely I wouldn't even have had time to date."

She certainly hadn't had time in high school. There wasn't any reason to believe things would have changed much. No matter how much money or success you had in life, the one thing you could never escape was yourself.

It was why unhappy lottery winners didn't suddenly become happy overnight. Why rock stars and famous people weren't all living the life of Riley.

"A woman like you wouldn't have any problem finding someone," Clark said.

"It would have been the life I wanted," Lois said. "But it wasn't the life I chose."

Clark sat still in his chair and said nothing.

"I had other options. I could have had Lisa and adopted her. I could have had an abortion."

His sudden wince wasn't unexpected. For a man who'd wanted children his entire life, the thought of aborting his one chance at ever having someone with whom to share his legacy would have been difficult.

"I had the choice," Lois said. It had been important to her that she be the one to make the decision that was going to affect the rest of her life. "And I made it."

"Lois…"

"This is the life I chose," Lois said. "And you know…on the whole, I'm pretty happy with it. Part of the reason I never wanted children was because all I'd ever seen in my own childhood was arguing and strife. My parents weren't any kind of role models. They weren't any kind of example at all."

Clark pulled away from her, releasing her hand as the waitress arrived with their order. He smiled and spoke to her in rapid Mandarin. The woman glanced at Lois and smiled demurely.

After she left, Lois said, "But overall, I've done a good job with Lisa. I haven't been the kind of mother my mother was. Were there times I could have used some help? Yes. But overall, I've felt more rewarded doing this than I would have with a closet full of Kerths."

"You've done a wonderful job with Lisa," Clark admitted.

"So have you," Lois said. She tasted the strange looking concoction on her plate and closed her eyes for a moment. Delicious.

"Sometimes I get a little jealous," she admitted. "There are things the two of you share that I'm never going to be able to understand. I'm never going to know what it's like to be able to see the sunset on Jupiter, or hear an ant fart."

"We can't actually…well, not Jupiter anyway."

Apparently he could hear ants farting. Lois grinned at him, and he smiled slowly.

"It wouldn't matter if I was here every day for the rest of her life," Clark said. "I wasn't there for her first steps. I didn't hear her first words. I didn't hug her and kiss her when things hurt. There were so many things I imagined myself doing if I ever had a child…I've missed so much."

Lois reached out and touched his hand again. "You've got the rest of your lives to make it up to her."

"It's already so late…she's already pretty much the person she's going to be. You were the one who showed her how to be the person she is today. I didn't have any part of it."

"So show her who she is going to be."

***

It was disconcerting, going from morning to night and back to noon. Clark was in his costume, as he always was when flying near the mansion.

Lois sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. Despite everything, Clark would be an easy person to love. She could see the hurt little boy inside him, but she was attracted to the man he'd become.

Lisa would probably do cartwheels if they were to start some sort of relationship. To a child's mind it was the best of all solutions, and it was getting harder for Lois's adult mind to remember her reasons for avoiding him.

It had a feeling of the inevitable.

She noticed Clark stiffen beside her. "You didn't send Lisa anywhere did you?"

"What do you mean?"

"I can't see her anywhere."

>From the way his eyes were frantically flickering from place to place on the mansion and grounds below, Lois had a sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong.

Her child was missing.

***

If Lisa had been afraid of bugs, she'd have gone mad the first time her hearing had appeared. On a quiet day, when it wasn't drowned out by the larger sounds of the human world, Lisa could hear the sounds of thousands of feet marching through the soil beneath her. Interspersed with those sounds were occasional tiny popping sounds that had puzzled her until she'd asked her father about them.

When he'd explained, she'd flushed and giggled. An anthill sounded a little like popcorn in a microwave sometimes, and Lisa could simply lie in the sun all day just enjoying the sounds of the earthworms crawling through the ground.

It was good that her mother had encouraged her to be a little bit of a tomboy growing up. The girlish things were great, but her mother believed that being female didn't mean that doors were closed. It meant that they were open, even if sometimes you had to push a little.

If she'd been afraid of the creepy crawlies, she'd hate a place like this. She'd have wanted to stay back in Metropolis, where the constant sounds of motors, jackhammers, screams, arguments and making love blotted out the quieter sounds.

She wouldn't have been able to sit against a tree and stare out over the lake at the mountains, enjoying the sun and the world around her.

Altogether, the sounds of the earth and wind were a little like music. It was almost as though life moved together in harmony somehow.

Her father said that was just an illusion, but Lisa didn't believe him. It appealed to her to think that everything was somehow connected, that she was part of a greater whole.

Every sense was sharper here in the country. The cacophony of millions of lives was so overwhelming in Metropolis that Lisa could barely understand any of what she was experiencing.

Here, though, everything was serene. She could identify one sound from another, one smell from another, and she could feel the warmth of the sun on her skin and the breeze gently touching her.

She was as happy here as she could ever recall being, and it wasn't just that the place was beautiful. It was seeing the sudden spark of life in her mother's eyes, the sudden spring in her step when she didn't think anyone was looking.

There was a smell that had been bothering her all morning. She'd come to know the smells of the Kent manor pretty well in the time that she'd been there. The rich smell of earthy soil, the smell of water, of grass, the occasional faint reek of machinery. She could actually smell things here, whereas in Metropolis the smells were so strong they nearly deadened her nose.

This smell reminded her a little of death. Her mother had smelled a little like that this morning, and Lisa had felt a little dazed and confused. Usually her mother smelled like life, a little like jasmine, which she wore only occasionally but left trace scents for days afterwards of soap.

This smell, though, was oddly familiar, although Lisa couldn't put her finger on it.

She found herself rising to her feet and wandering through the grounds. She'd never tried to track a smell down before, but considering how much it was bothering her, now was as good a time as any.

When she found herself approaching her mother's window, she suddenly knew where the smell was coming from. It was coming from her mother's room, mixed in with the overpowering odor of roses.

Lisa's lips tightened and she headed for the nearest door. This wasn't the smell of the occasional dead mouse or squirrel droppings. This was something altogether different and more pungent.

A moment later she was inside, heading for her mother's room.

She stopped at the doorstep. The flowers in the room were the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. They sparkled in the light of the morning sun, and as Lisa approached she felt a feeling of lassitude and contentment wash over her.

Everything was right in the world.

***

It felt like she'd been standing there for hours just staring at the roses. The smell seemed to be coming from the roses, a light dusting of scent, as though they'd been handled by someone she didn't like but couldn't remember.

Lisa couldn't remember why it had seemed so important to find out in the first place.

There was a knock at the door, and Lisa looked up. The chauffeur Bruno was standing there.

"Hey, little lady," he said. "I've been looking for you for a while."

"Can I help you?" Lisa said. Normally being alone with a strange man would have alarmed her. Not only had her mother warned her repeatedly, but she'd heard stories from her friends.

However, she had no doubt that she was already strong enough to hurt him if she had to, and besides, he worked for her father.

"Your parents called," he said. "Their date has been going very well, and they wanted you to come out and meet them."

Lisa nodded. She'd heard part of what her father had said to her mother. She'd been so excited that he'd asked her out that she'd missed part of the conversation.

It didn't matter now. All that mattered was that they were going to be together.

"OK," she said.

He stepped into the room and looked at the flowers for the first time. "These are pretty roses. Your dad got them for your mom?"

Lisa smiled.

"Maybe you ought to remind them about it," he said. He pulled a heavy Swiss army knife from his pocket and Lisa still didn't move away.

He reached out and snipped off one blossom and when she started to protest, he tucked it behind her ear.

Her ear tingled where it touched, and Lisa's small amount of resistance faded away. He put a hand on her shoulder as they stepped out the room and said, "It'll all work out."

***

Clark sniffed the air and said, "She came this way and left with Bruno, the chauffeur."

"How can you tell?" Lois asked. Was this some new ability he hadn't mentioned before?

"Bruno wears Aqua Velva cologne. He insists on slapping it on despite my complaints about it. Now he just slaps it on after work and thinks a shower takes care of it."

"And Lisa?"

"She smells like I do," he said. "Nobody else in the world smells like her."

She'd never noticed that he smelled any different than anyone else, but she didn't have a nose like a bloodhound either. He'd always just smelled good to her.

Clark wrinkled his nose. "What's that smell?"

"What?"

He strode forward and pushed the door to her room open.

She should have put the flowers from earlier in water, Lois thought.

Clark suddenly staggered beside her and his face turned pale. He backed out of the room. "When did you get these?"

"They arrived this morning," Lois frowned. "Wasn't that when you meant for them to come?"

"I didn't send them," Clark said. "Lana has handled these flowers, and there's red poison dust all over the room."

He stepped further back out of the room and said, "I've got to go."

A moment later he was gone, presumably to look in all the places he knew Lana had property.

***

Lisa blinked as she woke, suddenly aware that they'd been driving for far longer than they should have. If they'd wanted to have her come this far, her father should have flown for her.

Nothing was familiar to her. The mountains were completely different, and, unlike the Kent estate where the trees had been cut back, here the trees loomed in every direction, barely leaving enough room from the road.

Before her was a large building that looked a little like a hunting lodge Lisa had once seen in a horror movie. There was an old battered pick up truck parked out beside the place, and in the distance Lisa could smell a lake that was much larger than anything on the Kent estate.

Had her parents decided to go camping?

Lisa risked allowing her glasses to drop to the bridge of her nose and she frowned.

The lodge was utterly deserted. To the best she could see there wasn't anyone inside or anywhere nearby.

She began to get an unfamiliar feeling in her stomach, although the tingling in her ear still left her feeling confident.

She could handle any kind of human threat, but getting lost in the mountains…it would be hard to find her way home.

The man at the wheel glanced at her in the rear view mirror and said, "They'll be here shortly."

Lisa attempted to open the car door only to realize that it was locked, and nothing she could do would change that.

Nothing she could do that wouldn't reveal just what exactly she was. If she needed to, all she had to do was give the door a solid shove and it would end up in the lake.

The driver looked at her and smirked a little. It was all Lisa could do not to reach through the divider and shove his face into the steering wheel.

Lisa frowned. She didn't usually have violent thoughts, but the thought that he might be trying to keep her from her family bothered her a lot.

Absently she scratched her ear where the rose still sat, bedraggled and worn.

***

"There were two recent deposits to Bruno's bank account in the amount of nine thousand dollars each. Both were made in cash," Joshua said.

"She didn't want any kind of trail leading to her," Lois said. "She must have told him how to split the money."

Depositing too much cash raised red flags and tended to invite Federal scrutiny.

"I'm guessing that Clark is looking over all the usual places," Lois said. "Are there any properties that she just acquired in the past couple of years?"

Joshua looked frustrated. "I've got someone on it. It's not like they keep all this stuff online. Maybe someday…"

Lois scowled. It was the nineteen nineties. It ought to be easier to track someone down through this.

"Credit card receipts, company gas cards…any place where she's bought an unusual amount of food."

"I've pulled everyone off the jewelry detail and put them on this. These people know their business, and they won't leave a stone unturned until we get Lisa back."

What he didn't say, and what Lois feared, was that Lana wasn't at all stable. Worse, she had the green poison that could kill both Lisa and her father, and she had it in quantity.

"Damn you, Clark," Lois said to herself. They were supposed to be doing this together.

Joshua must have heard her because he looked up and said, "He can move a lot faster without a passenger and time is of the essence."

Lois closed her eyes for a moment and swayed. There wasn't any telling what Lana was doing to her little girl.

***

Lisa had fallen asleep again; something was making her sluggish.

It was the sound of the door opening that alerted her. She opened her eyes and stared as she saw the woman from the restaurant…his father's ex-wife.

She knew what Lisa's father was, and that meant she knew how to hurt him.

Lisa realized suddenly that she was in real trouble.

Without speaking, she shoved at the door beside her and it exploded off the hinges to fly out over the ground and smash into a nearby tree.

She was out of the limousine a moment later, and when the driver tried to grab her, she punched him hard in the stomach.

He fell back against the car and slowly slid to the ground.

Before Lisa could worry whether she'd hurt him or not, the entire world changed around her.

Everything was surrounded with a filthy green haze, and as Lisa stumbled and fell, all she could do was scream inside her mind.

Unconsciousness came a short time later.

***

The first thing Lisa noticed was the complete and utter silence. It was as though the entire world had been banished into a void, leaving not even the sounds of the wind, the insects or the creatures of the earth.

It was like she was trapped in space, where there was no sound, only at least there she should have heard the sounds of machinery.

She felt a hand on her forehead and she started to relax. It had all been a bad dream. She was at home with her mother and everything was going to be all right.

Her head hurt and her body ached, and she didn't remember ever feeling like that before, but as long as her mother was with her, she would be content.

She didn't hear her mother, though. She didn't smell her, or feel her, or any of the hundreds of things she'd come to notice since her senses had become so sharp they were painful.

Reluctantly she opened her eyes. The world swam into focus, and Lisa stiffened as she saw the blond woman above her, stroking her forehead.

Her mouth felt dry, and Lisa tried to moisten her lips.

"Wha…?"

There was something wrong with the world. The colors were so dull and flat. Although she was no longer wearing her glasses, it was as though Lisa was looking through a thick, murky lens at a world she could barely see.

The woman handed her a cup with a straw, and Lisa drank thirstily.

"Don't try to talk," she said. "You had a nasty fall."

That wasn't how Lisa remembered it. She'd pushed the door off its hinges, and then she'd just sort of collapsed.

"What's wrong?" she asked. "With the world?"

It was hard to gather her thoughts enough to express what was bothering her. The world had been vibrant and amazing, filled with colors her friends hadn't seemed able to see, with textures and hues so vivid it sometimes made her want to cry.

She'd been able to see twelve different shades of black, and more shades of other colors. Even without trying she'd been able to see the fine details on wood, the texture and weave of cloth and the details of people's faces.

Now the world looked gray to her. Everything was dull and blurred and she couldn't see the detail on anything that wasn't a few inches away from her face.

"It would take a long time to go over everything that's wrong with the world," the woman said. She laughed slightly. "Suffice it to say that things are going to get a lot better."

She caressed Lisa's forehead, and Lisa felt too weak to push her hand away. Her head hurt, and for the first time she realized just how heavy she felt.

It was as though gravity was a huge vise that was crushing her. Whereas before she'd hardly ever gotten tired, she felt exhausted now, even though she hadn't done anything all day but lay in the sun. Usually that made her feel better, not worse.

It was ironic that she'd spent so much time cursing her abilities, and now that they were gone, she missed them.

It felt as though a part of herself was missing.

The woman continued speaking. "We got off on the wrong foot. My name is Lana, and I'm your father's wife."

Ex-wife. Lisa knew the difference.

"I guess that makes me your step-mother…but not the wicked kind."

You couldn't be a stepmother unless you were married. Lisa frowned, and Lana caressed her forehead again.

"Where?"

"We're at a little house in the mountains," Lana said. "Your father and I are getting back together and he thought it might be a good idea for you to get to know me."

That was clearly a lie. Lisa's mother and father had gone on a date. You didn't do that when you were planning on going back to your old wife.

Lisa gestured weakly and Lana handed her more water.

Lisa didn't know what Lana was planning, but if she thought she was fooling anyone, she didn't know whose daughter Lisa was.

She'd just have to wait for her chance to escape.

"You remind me of my own daughter," Lana said. "The one I always dreamed of having. Of course, I always thought she was a blonde, but that's easily taken care of."

She ran a hand through Lisa's dark hair, and for the first time Lisa's flesh began to crawl.

***

Clark's expression as he entered the room caused Lois's heart to sink.

"I've been over every place I could think of," he said. "Even back in Metropolis. Lex had some hiding places that Lana knew about."

"We've got every agent in a four state area looking for her," Joshua said. "If need be, we'll hire more people."

Clark turned to Lois and said, "I'm sorry about all of this. I never thought she'd actually…"

Lois grimaced and looked away for a moment. It had been obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that Lana had been unstable. That she had millions of dollars meant that she had the resources to hide Lisa just about anywhere, although it would be hard for her to not leave some sort of financial trail.

Their only hope was to find a lead in the case and to get there before something horrible happened to their daughter.

Hesitantly, Clark raised a hand and put it on her shoulder.

Lois fell into the hug blindly, no longer trying to hide her tears. After a moment she felt Clark's other arm wrap around her, and for what seemed like an eternity they just held each other.

***

Lisa stared sullenly at the television. She was still too weak to even get out of bed, and somehow Lana had failed to leave her a remote.

She'd never cared for adult soap operas. They bored her silly, even if her mother did sometimes watch "The Ivory Tower" when she thought no one was looking.

She was well enough to at least look around the room with her new, almost blind vision.

The walls were covered with severed heads of game animals…Elk, bear, mountain lion…all staring at her with horrible glass eyes, their expressions curled into snarls of anger and rage.

As connected as Lisa had once felt to the natural world, this felt like a violation. No real mother would leave her child alone in a place like this.

Lisa found herself sullenly missing her mother and wishing that she had the energy to get up and change the channel.

As the five o'clock news flickered onto the screen she gritted her teeth and tried to roll on the couch. She grimaced in effort, but finally managed to find a more comfortable position.

"Clark Kent, multimillionaire mining magnate, died today."

The sound was turned down low, and now Lisa had to strain to hear anything. Despite her previous weakness she managed to push herself into a sitting position.

They were showing old pictures of her father, lists of his accomplishments. Scenes of Superman Foundation charity work and then a picture of a burning limousine.

She heard the sound of shattering glass, and she turned slightly to see Lana staring at the screen.

Ignoring the broken glass, she strode forward and turned the sound on the television up.

"Sources say he was killed by rivals as revenge for a business deal gone wrong. Unidentified as of this moment is his female companion who was also in the vehicle at the time. He is survived by his wife Lana."

The familiar newscaster's face looked solemn. "Clark Kent…dead at age thirty."

"He's not dead," Lisa said. Her voice was shaky, but she was strong. "You know he's not. My father was…special."

Lana grimaced and shook her head. "He was supposed to be picking up a shipment of the green poison for disposal. If he'd survived, he'd have pretended that Superman saved him."

Lisa felt uncomfortable as the woman flung herself at her and held her tightly. "I'm sorry, baby," she said. "I'm so sorry."

As Lisa rocked back and forth in the woman's arms, she began to feel a numbness growing in her chest, an emptiness and a void that would never be filled again.

She was all alone in the world, crippled and no longer special. Who would take care of her?

If this is what her father had felt when he'd seen his own parents die, she didn't know how he'd managed to survive.

***

Lana scraped the broken glass carefully into the trash. Everything was going according to plan. As long as Lisa believed that her parents were alive, there was a danger that she would try to escape.

There were advantages to owning a media empire. Most television companies pre-recorded tributes to celebrities and as majority owner of several local television stations, it had been a simple thing to get a copy of Clark's. As head of the Superman Foundation, he was enough of a celebrity to warrant his own tribute.

By mixing footage from that with long cherished footage of Lex's tribute and news reports of his death, she'd come up with something quite convincing, especially for a child.

Children tended to believe anything they saw on television.

Without her parents, it was only a matter of time before Lisa latched onto Lana as a parental figure. Children craved authority, needed to believe they were safe. All it was going to take was time.

Her plan for Clark and his little floozy was coming along quite well as well. Even if they'd thought to report a kidnapping, which they wouldn't, given Clark's obsessive need for secrecy, they'd be unable to give any evidence that Lana was the one responsible.

In the meantime the rest of her plan would be moving along quite nicely.

She began to prepare a new batch of tea, and as she did, she stirred a pinch of green powder into the mix. It glowed slightly in the darkness of the kitchen, and then faded as Lana brought it into the light.

She wanted a normal child, and that's what Lisa would remain, even if she had to take her medicine for years.

With any luck, she'd burn the alien contagion right out of her.

***

Lois stared dully at the various reports, none of which had found anything. Lana had worked hard at covering her tracks, using the still extensive resources of the Luthor financial empire. No one had any idea where she might have taken Lisa.

It was frustrating to feel so helpless. She'd made a promise to Lisa when she was just a baby that she would always be there to protect her. It was tearing her up inside to think what might be happening to her even now.

The telephone rang and Joshua picked it up. There was something in his expression that alerted Lois and she immediately leaned forward.

She felt Clark's hand tighten in hers and she glanced over at him. Since all this had happened, they'd clung to one another. Touching him had not been a matter of romance or love, but of simple reassurance.

He'd been there when she needed him, and she was going to remember all that, whatever happened.

She noticed that for the first time, his face was losing that tense, drawn expression. He almost smiled.

Of course, he could hear whatever was on the other end of Joshua's conversation.

"We've got a lead," Joshua said. "Bruno just turned himself into a hospital down in Pueblo with a set of broken ribs. He filed on the company insurance plan."

Clark started to rise, but Lois didn't let go of his hand.

"I'm going with you," she said.

For a moment he looked as though he'd protest, but then he relaxed and acquiesced.

They were going to have a word with Bruno about what had happened to their little girl, and they weren't going to stop until they got some answers. They were going to do this together, and together they were going to bring Lisa home.

***

"They think he was hit by a car," the doctor was saying. "There isn't much else that could explain the massive bruising on his back. What I don't understand is that there is another, much smaller bruise on his chest."

Lisa was strong enough to throw a couch through a wall. A man wouldn't be much more difficult.

Lois found herself staring at the unconscious man in front of her and wanting to grab him by the throat and shake him. He at least knew where he'd taken Lisa; he might know where she was at.

The thought that she might have escaped from him only to be wandering alone in the mountains was as horrifying as the thought that Lana might have taken her. If she was lost it might be days or weeks before anyone found her, and while her strength would protect her from wildlife, it wouldn't protect her from being cold and alone at night.

"How long before he wakes up?"

The doctor shook his head. "Given the amount of painkillers he's been given, I wouldn't expect him to be coherent for several hours."

"I thought hospitals were supposed to watch how much medication they gave people?" Lois asked sharply.

"He became violent when we began asking questions about his injury and offered to call the police."

The penalties for kidnapping in Colorado were severe; Lois didn't feel sorry for him.

"How did he get here?" Clark asked. "Was it by ambulance, or…"

"He staggered into the emergency room on his own. He had keys in his pocket." The doctor looked at them and said, "We keep an inventory of all the property."

Clark nodded once and said, "You've been a great help, Doctor Levinson."

"I'm always glad to help the FBI," the doctor said.

"There will be police detectives coming soon," Clark said. "Tell them what you told us and don't leave anything out…"

"You think this man is a criminal?"

Clark nodded. "An accomplice."

They were out of the hospital before the doctor could ask any real questions.

"Since when were you in the FBI?" Lois asked.

Clark looked at her levelly. "It's a misdemeanor. We don't have time to go through channels."

"We're as lost…wait. He had keys," Lois said.

"He might have been well enough to drive himself to the hospital."

Lois looked frantically around the parking lot. At this time of the year, sunset shouldn't have occurred until late in the evening, but all the intervening mountains cut time off the day. If they didn't…

"There," Clark said.

Parked off in the corner near a tree was the limousine. The rear door on the driver's side was missing. Lois suspected she knew why.

"She didn't go quietly," Clark said.

Lois felt a moment of pride. Her daughter knew when to stand up for herself. Accompanying it, however, was a feeling of worry. Lisa knew how important it was to keep her secret, and she would have waited until she was sure that there wasn't any other choice.

"There's mud on the undercarriage," Clark said. "They had to go over some dirt roads."

It had rained recently, which meant that places with dirt had become huge mud pits.

"They took her out in the country," Clark said.

That didn't cut off the possibility that they may have simply transferred her to another vehicle in the country while moving her to another urban location, but the odds were that she'd been taken to a rural location.

"We'll get Joshua to have the team look into recent property transactions within a hundred mile radius," Clark said.

"You don't think he'd have been stupid enough to mark the route on a map," Lois asked.

Staring at the car for a moment, Clark said, "There's a map in the glove compartment. It looks like it's been marked on, but I need to open it up to make much sense of it."

He stepped in the direction of the car and Lois put a hand on his arm.

"It was a little stupid of Lana to let him go to the hospital," Lois said.

"Maybe she didn't realize how hurt he was," Clark said. "Gave him his final payment and sent him on his way."

"Does Lana strike you as stupid?" Lois asked.

Clark turned to stare at her for a moment. "No…not exactly."

Lois was struck by a feeling of foreboding. "She had to know that we were going to find Bruno sooner or later."

"It wouldn't hurt if Bruno wasn't around to say much," Clark said. He stared at the car once again then grimaced.

"I can see something under the car," Clark said. "It's lined with lead."

"The same thing that's in Lisa's glasses."

"Lex died in a car bombing," Clark said reluctantly. "Everybody always assumed that it was done by Intergang in Metropolis, but there were some suspicions that Lana was responsible."

Would Lana leave some sort of trap for Clark? Lois wasn't sure. Getting rid of Bruno, though, that seemed like a logical next step to her plan.

With Bruno dead, the trail leading to Lana died as well.

"I don't think we should…" Lois began.

Clark squinted. "Is that a camera…?"

Lois caught a glimpse of something glinting in a tree before the world exploded around her, the flames tinted green.

***

Lana stared at the small monitor and smiled viciously as she dialed the telephone number leading to the cell phone imbedded in the underside of the limousine. The picture on the monitor instantly turned to static, which wasn't unexpected, given the magnitude of the explosion.

Getting Nigel to teach her how to do this had been one of her best decisions. Hiring specialists like Nigel was always expensive and usually led to the hireling thinking he had some sort of hold on the person involved.

But there was nothing in her background as a banker's daughter or a socialite that gave any indication that she would know anything about the dirty side of wetwork.

No one knew that she'd been the mistress of Nigel St. John for more than a year right under Lex's nose. The things he'd taught her…

He'd assumed he'd get control of Lex's empire after Lex was dead. It was unfortunate that he'd been in the car at the same time as Lex met his untimely demise.

The beauty of the plan was that Bruno had bought all the parts himself, one piece at a time as per her instructions. Police would assume that he had planned to detonate the car himself and fake his own death.

She'd reported items stolen with a street value of the same amount Bruno had deposited in his accounts. She'd had him fence them through people he'd assumed were legitimate but she knew to be fronts for Intergang.

With any luck, the police would assume that Intergang had taken Lisa in hopes of blackmailing Clark into giving them some of the properties they'd tried to squeeze Lex into giving them. Bruno's incompetence leading to his death, or perhaps the thought that his heirs might be more amenable to making the sale would give them the motivation the police needed.

Lisa would remain an unsolved case.

Lana had several chalets in Europe. Once she got Lisa out of the country, no one would care where she came from and Lana would at long last have the daughter that had been stolen from her.

Speaking of which…

Lana rose from the table and slipped out the door hidden behind the bookcase, carefully locking it behind her. There wasn't any sense in hiding her bomb making paraphernalia if she just left the door open.

Heading down the hallway she was reassured by the sound of the television.

The girl would grieve for a time, but eventually she would come around.

All the doors had locks on them, and the windows were barred. She'd be trapped here until she learned who her new mother was and what was expected of her. The first thing would be a little discipline. Lois Lane had been far too lax on her daughter, letting her get away with anything she wanted to do.

But there was time for that later. For now, she needed to bond the girl to her with more expressions of affection.

Bombs weren't the only thing Lana had learned from Nigel. There were ways to influence a person's thinking. The first step was to isolate them from their support system.

If Lisa received food, water and shelter from Lana and no one else, and if Lisa had no one else to turn to, it was inevitable that she would eventually give in to simple human cravings for love and affection.

If that didn't work, there were less pleasant things she could try to bind Lisa's loyalty to her.

Lana absently caressed the heavy leaded pouch on her waist. With two kinds of kryptonite to use as carrot and stick, it was going to be easy.

***

Lois woke to feel a heavy weight lying on top of her. She struggled for a moment and managed to shove it to one side.

They'd somehow managed to move the length of the car lot; in the distance she could see the firefighters working on the burning car. In the darkness no one had noticed the two of them, which was something of a blessing.

Lois blinked as she realized that there *were* two of them.

Clark lay face down beside her, the back of his jacket shredded and burning. She could see several sharp fragments of something that was sticking out of his back; it was glowing a sickly green.

He could have gotten away in time if he hadn't tried to save her. Human bodies couldn't withstand the sort of sudden accelerations that didn't bother him at all, and so he'd had to move slower than he could.

He'd shielded her from the blast with his own body, and although Lois's head and neck hurt a little, there were no burns on her skin, and no serious injuries that she could tell.

Clark on the other hand had born the brunt of it. There were dozens of places on his back that had been perforated; the skin around each injury was blistered and raw.

Lois grabbed for the largest piece she could find. She pulled it out, grimacing as it started to bleed.

This was a man who had convinced himself that he was a bad person, the sort who believed that he was fooling the world when he showed up in a brightly colored outfit. He saw being good as putting on a role, something that he sloughed off like a snake's dead skin when he returned to being Clark Kent.

Yet this man who was never meant to feel pain had thrown himself in front of a fire for her. He'd saved her life, possibly at the cost of his own.

Something hot and painful blossomed in her chest, something that was unexpected.

She'd been attracted to him and even felt twinges of something that might be affection. But in this moment, this horrible moment, she realized something she hadn't known before.

This was the man she was meant for, the one person who made her feel like she wasn't in control of her life or her emotions.

For years she'd dreamed of experiencing the kind of white hot love that she read about in romance novels, the kind that made you weak in the knees and unable to think about anything.

Lois was in love with this man, and it was too late.

She threw the shard as far away from her as she could possibly manage. Her hands shook as she pulled out the next largest and the one after that.

Each spot began bleeding, and the wound didn't close over. It was soon apparent to Lois that she wasn't going to be able to do this alone.

She felt a moment of panic clawing at her throat. This was outside her experience, and she wasn't sure what to do.

She needed medical help and she needed it soon, or Clark was going to die.

Grimacing, she considered the choice she had to make. She was beside a hospital; medical care was around the corner. But if she used that help, then Clark's secret would be out in the open. He'd be exposed to the world for what he was, something he never wanted, either for himself or Lisa.

Lois grimaced as she checked him for further injuries.

It wasn't until she saw the flash of blue cloth under his clothes that she realized what she was going to do. As a plan ran quickly through her mind, she felt a sudden surge of relief.

Clark Kent wasn't going into the hospital. Superman was.

All she could hope was that they would be able to save him.

***

As the doors to the emergency room bay slammed open, doctors and nurses glanced up at the familiar sight of a body being wheeled in on a stretcher by paramedics on the run.

It wasn't that the patient was lying on his stomach that was unusual. It was what he was wearing. The blue tights and red trunks were as familiar to most of them as their own clothes.

Only the cape and boots were missing.

Superman had brought dozens of victims to this hospital over the last few months. It was thought that he had a special love for Colorado because he worked there more often than he did anywhere else.

Although he was most often seen in Denver and Colorado Springs, he'd been to this location more than once, most often bringing in victims who couldn't have made it to the hospital on their own.

The people of Pueblo owed him a debt of gratitude, one they'd thought they could never repay.

The doctors sprang into action.

***

"The fragments in his back are poisoning him," Lois said. "They interfere with his special abilities and cause him pain. If he's exposed to them long enough he thinks they can kill him."

The doctor stared at her. "How is it that you know all of this?"

"I work for the Superman Foundation," Lois said. She pulled her employee's ID out of her wallet. "And I've worked with the closest thing he's had to a personal physician."

"Do you have a number?" the man asked. "We've just sent him in for x-rays and some of the things we are seeing disturb us."

Lois nodded and jotted down the number for him.

"We need to get the fragments out of him and away from him, or at least covered with lead."

"Are they a danger for my staff?"

"I don't think so short term," Lois said. "There are people who have handled similar material for years before they started showing signs of tumors."

The doctor scowled and wrote something quickly down on the sheet.

"Doesn't a nurse usually do this part?"

The doctor nodded. "It's a slow night."

Lois could see several nurses and doctors staring at her in the distance. Looking back at them, the doctor said, "Actually, I wanted to do this. He's done a lot for the people of this city, and we're going to do everything we can to keep him alive."

He gestured toward a nurse and said, "He'll be getting the rest of his history. Answer as best you can."

"The Superman Foundation will pay his medical bills," Lois said. Clark didn't have health insurance as Superman, or if he did she didn't know about it.

"They are already scheduled to put a new wing in next year," the doctor said, smiling. "If there is a possibility of getting him through this, we're the ones to do it."

***

Escaping wasn't as easy as it looked in the movies.

Lisa was glad she hadn't drunk the tea Lana had provided. It had burned her lips, and so she'd only pretended to drink it under her watchful eye.

Pouring it into the potted plant by the window had already produced streaks of yellow where the plant had once been green.

Lisa was strong enough now to move around, and she'd explored the lodge as quietly as she could. If she could find a telephone she'd be able to call Joshua or her great Uncle Mike, or even in a pinch her grandparents.

Hopefully they'd be able to explain to her that what she'd seen on TV was all a big mistake, that she didn't have to have this feeling like her stomach was weighted down with a lead balloon.

She hadn't felt hungry and she hadn't eaten any of what Lana had prepared either.

The place was locked up tight as a drum. The windows were all barred and the outside doors were all locked. The place didn't seem to have a telephone, and power seemed to be provided by a generator off in the distance.

Now that Lisa was getting used to her new impaired hearing she could hear the distant roar of the engine.

There wasn't anyone else in the place.

It occurred to Lisa that her best chance was to wait until Lana went out to fill the generator and make her break for it then. Lana was pretty frail and weak for an older person, and if Lisa could sneak up on her she could push past her and run before she pulled out whatever it was that had caused her to become sick and unconscious.

She wasn't sure what the range of it was, but if it was anything like the red poison it was relatively short. She'd be able to get away and make her way through the trees. If she followed the road she'd eventually find something. Worst came to worst she could choose her direction by always going down.

It worried her that Lana might not be as frail as she seemed. She was five or six inches taller than Lisa and outweighed her by possibly twenty pounds. She was a full grown adult. Lisa had a mental image of those clawlike hands wrapping around her neck and never letting go.

Sneaking up behind her was going to be a problem as well. Lisa had already figured out the most likely egress for going to the generator house, and it was going to be tricky to sneak up on Lana just as she was opening the door.

The safest thing would be to find a telephone and call the police. However, Lisa didn't actually know where she was even if there was a telephone to be found, and the thought of what Lana might do in retaliation was frightening.

As Lisa heard the sounds of Lana's footsteps she froze and dived back toward the couch. The weaker Lana thought she was the better off she'd be, no matter what she decided to do.

Lisa stared sullenly at the television, which flickered in the growing darkness. To add insult to injury, she was only able to get three channels, and all of them were somewhat grainy.

Funny that…the news report telling about her parents' death had been as clear as a bell.

"You didn't eat your dinner," Lana said, leaning over her.

Lisa shook her head slightly and said, "I wasn't hungry."

"At least you drank your tea." There was a slight sound of smugness in Lana's voice, and Lisa knew she'd been right not to drink it.

She caressed Lisa's forehead and Lisa fought not to flinch. Instead she looked away from Lana and allowed tears to rise to her eyes.

People thought girls were weak; even other girls thought it sometimes. The girliest thing of all was to cry, and so Lisa allowed herself that.

Lana pulled her into a hug and Lisa was struck by just how skinny the woman was. Her hand touched the heavy bag at Lana's side, and her fingers started to tingle unpleasantly near the flap of the bag.

Lana kept the poison in the bag. It was probably what she'd used to hurt Lisa before.

Lisa pulled her hand away from the bag unobtrusively.

Getting the bag away from Lana would be her first priority, although if she had a chance to run, she'd take it.

***

Bruno woke to stare up at a familiar but unwelcome face.

"I have a question for you," she said quietly. "What do you call somebody who betrays the person they work for?"

He didn't answer. All he could do was stare up at her in horror.

"Someone who gave you a roof over your head, food, who took you in?"

This wasn't part of the plan. The look in her eye was something familiar, something that had scared her before on another face. He'd never seen it on this face however.

"You took my little girl someplace," Lois Lane said. Quietly she pulled the call button for the nurses station out of his reach and said, "You are going to tell me where that is."

"I didn't…" he began, only to stiffen as he felt her fingernails digging into his hands.

"There's something you need to know about mothers," she said. "Normally they are nice people, pretty much like anyone else. But when you take their child…well…they'll do just about anything."

She stepped away from him and he felt a momentary sense of relief until he realized that she was using a chair to block the door.

The rolling table beside his bed she pulled slightly away from him and she started pulling things out of her purse. A curling iron, scissors, nail file, something that may have been an eyelash trimmer, but looked like something that came out of a medieval torture chamber and finally an innocuous looking thing that looked a little like a pink electric razor.

He strained to see what it said on the side and he realized that he could read it.

It said Epilady.

"It's nice that we're all alone in this part of the hospital," Lois said. "Everybody else is on the other end helping to treat some bigwig that got hurt when a limousine out in the parking lot exploded."

Her face was neutral although Bruno found himself frowning. There had been another limousine out in the parking lot?

"It was your limousine that hurt him," Lois said. "I hope that you didn't plan for that. Adding murder to charges of kidnapping would be pretty bad."

Bruno tried to jerk away, only to realize that somehow she'd strapped his arms to the rails by the side of the bed.

"If my daughter dies…you know they have lethal injection in this state," Lois said. "But I suspect you wouldn't get to spend years in prison waiting for appeal after appeal."

She leaned close. "How well do you think police are going to guard a guy who helped kill Superman and a little girl? How hard would it be for someone to slip inside and do something…well…terrible to you?"

Bruno shook his head. She was bluffing. She had to be. No one had proof that he was involved at all, and no jury would convict him without evidence. If he told where the girl was, though, he'd be incriminating himself.

Lois sighed. "I'd hoped not to have to do this."

He opened his mouth to yell, although it was hard to get a breath, probably because of his ribs. Before he could, Lois stuck something in his mouth and tied it into a gag.

She picked up the Epilady and a moment later he felt the sheets at the base of the bed move.

"Wow," Lois said. "You've got really hairy legs."

A moment later he began to scream.

***

Lois stepped out of the hospital room, checking both ways to make sure no one had noticed anything.

Bruno had folded quickly. She'd barely ripped the hair out of half his calf before he'd given her all the information she needed.

The fact that some women had been voluntarily using the Epilady on themselves for years hadn't seemed to impress Bruno. Of course, as long as his hairs had been, it had probably hurt a good bit.

Although she wasn't proud of what she'd done, Lois would do a great deal more to get Lisa back. Lana had made a bad mistake in underestimating her.

Underestimating a mother's love was a stupid mistake.

Lois strode quickly down the hall towards the section where they were working on Clark. It had taken longer than she had hoped and they were still in surgery.

She saw the doctor who spoken to her before.

"How is he?"

She felt a curious sensation in the pit of her stomach, as though the rest of her life was riding on what he had to say next.

"About halfway through the surgery, some of the lesser injuries started spontaneously healing on their own, after the fragments had been pulled from them. There were a few fragments that we had to go deeper for, and it was touch and go for a while as to whether we were going to be able to get them."

Lois nodded. If he was healing spontaneously, that was a good sign.

"We couldn't use anesthesia," the doctor said. "We had no idea how his system would react to it."

"He was awake?" Lois asked.

"For part of it," the doctor admitted grimly. "He's out now. We just sent him through to get x-rays to see if we got it all. Since we broke a couple of scalpels toward the end, I'm betting the answer is yes."

Lois reached out and hugged the man impulsively. "You don't know how much it means to everybody that you've saved him."

The doctor said, "Actually, I think I do. He needs to get a real physician, though. The things we found out about his physiology tonight are amazing, but they won't be enough to save his life the next time something like this happens."

"Is he well enough to receive visitors?"

"He's been out of surgery for less than fifteen minutes," the doctor said. "With anyone else, I'd say it was out of the question. But his wounds have all healed over. Don't stay long, though. He needs his rest."

***

He looked pale and drawn, smaller than the man she'd come to know both in the costume and without.

He was normally such a dynamic, imposing personality that sometimes it seemed as though his personality made him taller.

"I haven't been fair to you," Lois said softly. "Except for that first day you've always been good to me."

He lay on the bed, terribly still. It was the lack of animation in his features that bothered her as much as anything. When he was awake he was the first person you noticed when he entered a room. He had charisma, a sort of dynamism that was more than just physical beauty, although he had that as well.

"I've been alone for a long time," Lois said. "Being responsible for someone else makes you grow up in a hurry, and it was just easier to focus everything I had on Lisa."

She touched his hand, which seemed cold and still. If it wasn't for the slow rise and fall of his chest she'd have thought he was dead.

"I always believed that a woman doesn't need a man to be happy, and I think that's true." Lois stared down at him. "But since I've been around you I've been happier than I've ever been in my life."

Grasping his hand in hers, she said, "I'm going to save our daughter. When we get back, I think I'd like to give being a family a try."

Almost imperceptibly she felt his hand tighten in hers, and she felt a moment of hope.

***

The bed was comfortable, but Lisa ignored it as she stared at Lana, who was touching her again.

She'd had to pour even more of the horrible tea out, and Lana was getting suspicious.

"Why do I feel so weak?" she asked sluggishly. "Before I could do things like my daddy could do."

Her ear tingled where Lana set the red rose, and Lisa felt the familiar sense of apathy and lassitude steal over her. She sighed in relief as the tension and fear that had been knotting her stomach all day finally eased away.

The red poison left her with no fear, no doubt and no regrets. It meant a relief from pain, and while that hadn't meant as much to Lisa before, it did now.

The quiet fear in the back of her mind that the television program hadn't been a lie had been growing with each passing moment. Between them her parents had all the resources in the world. How difficult could it be to find her?

Lana stared at her for a moment and said, "Maybe God took them from you. The things your father could do weren't right. Maybe God is just giving you a chance to be a normal little girl."

"Why would he make me like this if he didn't want me to be this way?" Lisa asked, unable to surpass a note of irritation in her voice despite the red poison that seemed to be relaxing her.

"Maybe he was testing you," Lana said. She stared at Lisa and said, "I don't imagine that these powers have caused you anything but misery for your entire life anyway."

Lisa gaped at Lana, who smirked a little in satisfaction. "Maybe you are getting a second chance."

Patting her on the head, Lana rose and turned off the lamp. A moment later the room was bathed in nothing but moonlight.

Lisa waited until she could hear Lana's footsteps heading down the hall. She then reached up and grabbed the rose, throwing it across the room.

After the day she'd had, being that relaxed would mean she would go to sleep, which was undoubtedly what Lana was counting on.

By Lisa's count she'd already left the lodge twice to go fill up the generators. Lisa had kept a careful count, both of how long it was between trips and how long it took her to finish.

By Lisa's count, Lana would be leaving soon.

Lisa rose to her feet and dressed as quietly as she was able. Lana had bought her a flannel nightgown and after a moment Lisa decided to put the top on over her other clothes. The homeless people she sometimes saw in Metropolis often seemed to wear all the clothes they owned in layers, one on top of the other.

She had to assume that they knew what they were doing, even if most of them did seem to have a screw loose. It was ironic that she'd feared becoming like some of them for so long and now she was imitating them.

Lisa had heard some of the kitchen staff complaining about how cold it was in the mountains at night, even in the summer. Now that she didn't seem as immune to the heat or cold it would be important to keep as much warmth as she could.

Opening the drawers, Lisa saw that Lana hadn't provided her with much in the way of clothes; what she did provide was mostly in the form of pajamas.

It was all a way of keeping her from leaving. Lisa silently slipped on three shirts and several pairs of pants. Luckily Lana had guessed wrong about her sizes and had bought outfits in three different varieties.

It made putting things in layers easy. The largest thing was pink pajamas with bunny rabbit designs.

What twelve year old wore that kind of thing anyway? Lana was trying to dress her like she was a six year old girl.

Lisa didn't have time to worry about what she looked like, though. She could hear Lana's footsteps coming down the hall.

She looked around, grabbed the rose and stuck it behind her ear. She slipped into bed fully clothed and hoped that Lana didn't notice that her shoes weren't in the place they had been; she wouldn't have time to put them on if everything was to work as she'd hoped.

She closed her eyes a moment before Lana opened the door. She could feel Lana standing there for an eternal moment, the light from the hallway lighting the back of her eyelids.

Then she heard the sound of the door closing.

Lisa opened her eyes to see Lana's face not six inches away. For a moment it felt as though her heart had stopped. She gasped a little in horror.

"I knew you were faking, you little…" Lana's face twisted into an expression of rage.

She was caught by surprise when Lisa punched her in the face.

The angle wasn't good, and Lisa only had the strength of a thirteen year old girl, but Lana was frail and the surprise of it caused her to stumble and fall backwards.

Lisa was out of bed in a flash and she landed on Lana with a resounding thud. If Lana reached her bag it was all over.

She was stronger than she looked, almost as strong as Lisa had feared. Furthermore, the bag was firmly attached to her waist. Lisa struggled with Lana, but Lana was stronger than she was, and while one arm fumbled for the bag, the other clawed for her face.

Lana rolled, and suddenly she was on top of Lisa. Lisa heard a metallic sound, and she realized that Lana's keys had fallen out of her pockets.

With Lana forcing her arms over her head, Lisa did the only thing she could think of.

She bit down hard on Lana's arm.

Lana shrieked, and Lisa rolled out from under her. She grabbed the keys and ran for the door.

She felt green fire scorching her back, but she managed to skin far enough down the hallway that she was out of range. Then she was up and running.

Lana shrieked behind her and Lisa grimaced as she realized there was more than one key. She pulled the likeliest looking candidate out as she ran and when she finally reached the door to the outside she fumbled as she tried to get the door open.

Her hands were shaking and it was hard to get the key in the door. The first one was a failure. So was the second.

She could hear Lana coming. The woman was running, probably for the first time in years.

As Lisa slid the third key into the lock, she saw Lana at the end of the hall holding a bracelet out before her as though it was a cross to ward off evil.

"I was going to be a mother to you," she said. "I was going to give you everything, and you reject me?"

What Lisa saw on her face was more than just anger. It was more than just rage. There was something that she'd only seen on the faces of some of the sickest homeless people in Metropolis.

Lana had finally snapped.

Lisa felt the door give way under her hand and as Lana came charging toward her she slipped outside.

Her feet slipped in the mud, but her sneakers had fairly good traction.

Lisa ran, stumbling a little as the ground began to slope downwards. She could hear Lana cursing behind her as she slipped and fell in the mud.

A moment later she was in the trees.

The sounds of her breathing combined with that of her feet pounding on the pine needles under her feet were the only things she could hear. Her senses were gone and she wasn't sure if they would ever come back.

This would all be so much easier if she had her abilities. She'd have been able to run for miles without getting tired, and if her special vision was working, she'd have been able to see Lana a long time before she could ever reach her.

Lisa could see the road to the left of her and she purposefully tried to run parallel to it. It wouldn't do her any good to escape Lana but then get lost in the woods.

She was gasping already, though, and Lisa slowed to a quick walk. As dimly lit as the place was, she was risking stepping into a hole and twisting her ankle. Her only asset was that she was faster than Lana, and presumably had more stamina. If she hurt herself she'd lose all that.

When she heard the sound of an approaching engine, her heart leapt for a moment until she realized that it was coming from the direction of the hunting lodge.

The old battered pickup truck was moving slowly down the road. There was a searchlight on the top of the vehicle, the kind used to hunt deer, and when it passed over her face Lisa froze.

A moment later the bark on the tree behind her head exploded as the sound of a bullet reached her.

Lisa dived behind the tree and frantically began to work her way away from the road. Being lost was a lot better than being shot.

She heard the sound of the pickup truck's door slamming, and she realized that Lana had gotten out and was going to follow her.

Grimacing, Lisa ran deeper into the dark forest.

***

"You are going to have to explain to us just what happened, Miss."

The police officer was standing in her way, and Lois tried to duck around him. "There isn't time," she said. "Lana Luthor kidnapped my daughter, and I think she's going to kill her."

"Slow down and let's start from the beginning."

"She could be killing her right now!" Lois said. "I know exactly where she is, but I don't know how long she'll be there!"

One of the officers looked at the other and, as one, they grabbed Lois by the arm.

"Explain it to us slowly."

***

Lisa's lungs were on fire and she grimaced as she tripped over yet another tree root. The forest was getting darker and it was getting harder to avoid falling down and hurting herself.

She'd made some distance on Lana, but every time she felt safe enough to rest she'd heard Lana following behind her.

Wearing the layers of clothing had been a good idea. Not only had the temperature dropped to somewhere in the upper fifties, but the extra layers protected her a little from the ubiquitous tree branches and tearing thorns on the occasional bit of underbrush.

She could hear the sound of water up ahead and she felt a little better. She vaguely remembered having heard that you were supposed to follow water when you were lost in the woods.

For the first time she wished she'd picked joining the girl scouts instead of dance classes. Wilderness survival had seemed silly when you lived in the city.

Being able to figure out what the moss on trees meant, how to set a fire and ways to make a weapon out of pine needles sounded like exactly the sorts of things she needed to know about now.

Lisa slowed to a walk. How was Lana able to find her so easily in the dark?

She brushed her sweaty hands back and then she grimaced as she realized that the rose was still behind her ear.

Grabbing it, she realized that it was glowing dully.

In the dark of the woods, that much light would shine for miles if there weren't trees in the way.

Lisa's mind hadn't even noticed that she had the extra light.

Stopping as she reached the small creek, Lisa stared down at the expanse of water. Maybe five feet wide and a couple of inches high, the water was moving at a fair clip.

She started to throw the rose in the water, but suddenly she stopped.

She'd been a lot braver through all of this than she would have expected. What if she threw the rose away and she was suddenly unable to deal with her own grief and fear and loss. Was she brave, or was it just an artificially induced state, a product of the red poison affecting her mind.

Now that she knew about it, she could easily tuck the petals of rose inside her shirt next to her skin. No light would show through the multiple layers of cloth, but she'd still receive all the benefits.

She hesitated, and then threw the rose into the water. Her father had dedicated his life to making sure that people were protected from the poison that had arrived with him from his native planet. He could easily have kept using the red poison but he'd chosen not to.

Lisa bent and drank slowly, carefully warming the water in her mouth before swallowing it. She'd drunk too much cold water after gym class in the past and it had given her cramps. She couldn't afford that, but she hadn't been drinking anything all day.

She lay on the ground to drink, because her hands were already chilled and she didn't want to cup water in them and freeze them more.

Lisa froze as she heard footsteps nearby.

Without the rose, it was even darker in the woods, but she could make out Lana's legs standing not six feet away.

Lisa fought not to breathe as she heard Lana's heaving gasps interspersed by mutterings to herself that Lisa couldn't understand.

Lana coughed and then she apparently caught sight of the rose as it floated down the stream.

She lifted her rifle to her shoulder and fired off a quick shot.

The rose turned around a curve and vanished from sight. Lana cursed and began to splash as she ran down the creek bed in pursuit.

Lana could run faster than the creek's water, so it wouldn't take her long to figure out what had happened.

Lisa rose to her feet and began to head back the way she came. If she was lucky, Lana would have left the keys in the truck. Although Lisa hadn't had any experience with driving, how hard could it possibly be?

***

Lois cursed under her breath as the police cruiser glided down the back country roads. Convincing the police that her story was true had been harder than she had imagined, and she could only hope that the time she'd lost hadn't given Lana the time she needed to hurt her daughter.

If only Clark still had his powers they'd be there in the space of an instant. The convenience of them was addicting.

The only thing they had in their favor was that Lana thought they were dead and that she'd gotten away Scot free. Whatever she had in mind for Lisa she wouldn't be in any rush.

***

The only thing that saved her was the rasping sound of Lana's breathing moments before the butt of the rifle came flying toward her head.

Lisa rolled with it, and then screamed as the increasingly familiar green pain came over her.

She'd gotten within sight of the pickup before Lana had caught up to her.

The searchlight was still on, illuminating Lana as a silhouette. The green of the bracelet illuminated her face as she held it in front of her.

"Why did you do that?" she gasped. The sound in her lungs wasn't a healthy one. She coughed, and it sounded like one of the worst smoker's coughs Lisa had ever heard.

"Why do you make me hurt you?"

"You aren't my mother," Lisa said. She gritted her teeth from the pain. "Even if she's dead, you won't ever be."

"I was going to give you shelter, food, clothing…" Lana gasped, staring down at her. "All you had to do was pretend."

Lisa knew she was going to die. All she could do was die bravely, like her mother and father had. She felt a sudden surge of despair and fear.

"You don't love me," Lisa said.

"You don't know that," Lana said.

"If you loved me, you wouldn't be doing this."

Lana stared down at her and grimaced. She dropped the rifle and clutched at her chest with one hand.

"You did this to yourself," she said, and in that moment the last light of humanity left her eyes.

She grunted again, and a moment later she slumped to the ground.

Whatever illness had coursed through her veins had finally run its course.

Unfortunately, that left Lisa trapped with the green poison.

***

The police cruiser slid to a stop. Completely blocking the road was a rusted heap of a truck with a searchlight illuminating the two bodies lying off to the side.

Lois screamed and before the policemen could react she was out of the car and running toward her daughter.

Viciously she kicked the glowing green rock out of Lana's unresponsive hand and then she ran to grab up her daughter.

Lisa had never looked so much like her father in that moment. Her eyes fluttered, and when she looked up at her mother she mumbled, "Am I dead?"

Lois hugged her tightly and said, "Of course not. You are going to live for a long, long time."

They had all the time in the world now, time to find out what being a family was all about.

Lois knew she was going to treasure every moment.

***

"This is the first time since you began the Superman Foundation that you have opened your home to the public." The reporter, James Olsen, stared up at him.

"My wife worked for the Daily Planet in the past, and she convinced me that they'd be the best people to cover some of the new activities the Foundation is planning. People have been very generous, and the Foundation is moving beyond its initial work in health and education to expand into other fields where we can make the world a better place."

"Some critics say that you and your wife are trying to turn the world into some sort of unrealistic Utopia."

"What's wrong with that?" Clark asked. "All that means is that we are trying to make the world the kind of place where everyone can be happy, healthy, and safe."

As one of the servants opened the door for them, Clark said, "Thank you, William. How is your daughter?"

"She's getting better," the man said quietly. "The new treatments are working better than we'd hoped."

Getting rid of his old staff and treating the new ones like human beings had been one of the better decisions Lois had pushed on him.

"There have been several breakthroughs in health and medicine," Clark said to Olsen the reporter. "Many of them have come about through studies in tissue regeneration and further studies of Superman's physiology performed by the pioneers down in Pueblo."

Giving the doctors who had saved his life as much cooperation as he could had seemed only fair. The benefits had been unexpected.

As they stepped through the hall, Clark said, "I'm going to let you speak with someone who has a closer relationship with some of the research."

They entered Joshua's room, where he was sitting, looking over reports on the computer. He glanced up at them and smiled.

Slowly, he stood up and shook the reporter's hand.

Although Joshua still needed a cane to walk, Clark had fulfilled his promise. Joshua had been the first to push for clinical trials for some of the new treatments, and although he was still being treated, his prognosis was bright.

"Six months ago I was confined to a wheelchair," Joshua told the reporter. "But through the work of the Foundation I am able to walk again."

Clark smiled as he stepped out of the room. Joshua had told his story many times to professional journals, but the mainstream press required a little dumbing down. He'd do fine.

He stepped out of the room and headed for his office.

Lois was already there.

"How is it going?" she asked.

"He's fresh as a new penny," Clark said. "He'll do fine."

Lois smiled. It was one of the things he loved about her, the sense of kindness. She'd forced it on him until it was becoming a second nature to him and he was discovering that it also came with unexpected benefits.

His wife had gotten over her fears of being the lesser partner by demanding to be treated as an equal. She was a major force behind the work the Foundation was doing, and she was a major part of the reason he was changing.

She pushed him into becoming a better man. For all that he resisted, he loved the person he was becoming, and it was all because of her and Lisa.

"It was good of you to give him a chance," he said. Once again he felt the old attraction, one that hadn't abated at all over the past four years.

"He was good to me when he was just starting out," she said. "He deserves it."

"Have you heard from Lisa?" Clark asked.

Lois scowled slightly and said, "I haven't heard from her since this morning."

"Do you want me to take a look?"

Lois shook her head. "She'll be back when she's ready."

Sometimes Clark wished for the hero worship Lisa'd had for him in the early days. She'd treated him as though she was afraid that if she said anything wrong he'd leave.

But somewhere down the line something had changed. She'd finally started to realize that he was going to be there for her for the long haul, and with that had come something unexpected.

She'd developed her own opinions.

Although she was in some ways more level headed than either of her parents, there were things about Lisa's life that Clark didn't approve of. She'd been educated far too early in things that children shouldn't see, and though her ability to selectively hear or see had finally developed, the damage had been done.

There was a certain cynicism to her that shouldn't exist in a seventeen year old. Clark recalled his own childhood as having been a little more protected than hers had been, and perhaps he'd been more na´ve even despite being raised in the foster care system.

She was going to turn his hair prematurely white. If he didn't know that she carefully considered the risks of what she did, he'd have been even more worried.

Where she'd gotten her political views he'd never know. She was even more liberal than her mother, and some of the political arguments around the dinner table were heated.

Clark may have been trying to be more compassionate, but he was a businessman at heart. He knew what was good for the economy and some of the things she was pushing for were ill advised.

Going to protests for half a dozen different causes, spending time with people who would have been hippies back in the sixties but now weren't half as respectable…

Sometimes it felt like she did it just to vex him.

At least she didn't bother with sex as far as he could see. Her observations about human nature had left her too cynical to fall for the lines that teenaged boys tended to use. Plus, the thought that daddy might be listening in might have been a factor.

The main thing was that she was too level headed to be seduced.

He relaxed a little as he heard the sound of a distant motor.

Getting her the motorcycle at 15 had been a mistake. It made her all too mobile and gave her exposure to people he didn't particularly care for. It didn't help that she refused to wear a helmet. She didn't actually need one, and Colorado law didn't require it, but Clark felt she was setting a bad example for the others.

She'd be eighteen in a couple of months and she'd be going off to college soon. It didn't help that she seemed to have no interest in going into either of the family businesses. She didn't feel there was room for two super people, and Foundation work bored her.

"She's on her way," he said. "About ten minutes if I don't miss my guess."

"Do you think we should tell her?" Lois asked, putting a hand on her still flat stomach.

"She'll know the moment she hears you," Clark said.

The rapid beating of the second heart under her ribcage would be glaringly obvious to Lisa, even if she did usually choose not to hear things her parents were doing.

He kissed Lois deeply and passionately. The promise of their early meeting had been more than fulfilled. With her he'd found passion that he hadn't ever experienced before, and joy.

***

Lisa ran up the slope of the hill as she had so many times before. This time was different. This time she had news of things that were going to change her life.

Her parents were waiting for her, as they always were, at the top of the hill.

Lisa threw herself at her father and hugged him. Even after all this time he acted surprised.

"I did it!" she said. "I flew!"

He gaped at her for a moment and then grinned. This was something the both of them had been waiting for, the last thing they could do together that no one else could.

Flying with him had been wonderful, but flying on her own was indescribably better. Especially since it had happened after…

"I met someone," Lisa said.

The color drained from her father's face.

"He was my arresting officer at the sit in down in Colorado Springs," she said cheerfully.

"You're interested in a police officer?"

"A police detective," she said. "The youngest they've got on the force. I've invited him to my birthday party."

It was the clearest way she knew to let him know that she was old enough for a relationship and no longer a minor.

Her father scowled, but her mother put a hand on his arm and he quieted down.

Lisa hugged her mother, then frowned, looking downward. "Mother?"

"We've got a lot to talk about," her mother said gently.

For all their arguments and contentiousness, they were a family. Lisa was happy with the person she was now, and she knew both of her parents were as well. It wasn't the life she'd envisioned when she was a child wondering about her father.

It was better.

THE END