Stony Ways

By bakasi <>

Rated: PG13

Submitted: June 2007

Summary: Metropolis is the place where he will settle down, finally. Clark has made this huge promise to his little daughter Rebecca. And as he meets the woman of his life, he is even more willing to keep it. Unfortunately, Lois Lane isn't the easiest person to deal with, and Rebecca doesn't like her at all. A series of arson attacks make it impossible for Clark to stay hidden, and there are more problems to solve than keeping his powers a secret.

Author's note: I posted this story on the boards in several parts, namely Secret Fears, Sunday's Gain, Seeking Heroes and Serendipitous Infinity. They are one story, and so I didn't send them to the archive separated because it wouldn't have made sense. I like to thank LaraMoon who kept beta reading for me and encouraged me so often to go on writing.

Apart from Rebecca none of these characters belong to me; I only borrowed them to have a little fun. Please don't pursue me; I don't earn money with this, thus I'm poor.

<<<<>>>> indicates flashback

The song mentioned in "Serendipitous Infinity" is the amazing "Dreamland" by Art Garfunkle.


*Secret Fears*

Clark Kent enjoyed one of those rare moments between sleep and wakefulness. It was the time when he wasn't really asleep but also hadn't woken up yet. These brief, little, precious minutes were full of the loveliest dreams. This place was too narrow for grief and sorrow. He didn't need to worry about belonging or being different. These few seconds or minutes were all his. Since he didn't know when he had to leave this refuge or when he would have the chance to come back to it again, he drank in as much of it as possible.

Right now he dreamt of finally finding his destination, or to be more precise — about having found it. The woman he searched for didn't have a face yet. She was more a presence than a real being. Had he been awake, Clark would have sadly dismissed the thought of ever finding the woman to love in this rough world. He had almost lost hope of falling in love with the perfect girl. It just wasn't possible, not for someone like him. Who would accept him the way he was? Who wouldn't be afraid of him? Was there anyone he could trust with the truth?

But that wasn't important right now, because in his dreams his lips were captured in a wonderful kiss. Soft hands were trailing down his chest, stroking it and lips were placing kisses on it. He was aware of every movement of these silky hands and something landed on his stomach, making him gasp.

Clark opened his eyes, wide-awake now. He was welcomed with a warm, beautiful smile.

"Good morning, pumpkin," he murmured, his voice still a little drowsy, and smiled back into dark brown eyes.

"Good morning, Daddy," Becca replied, hugging Clark, who embraced the little girl.

"I told you not to call me dad, Rebecca," Clark admonished her playfully.

"I didn't call you dad, I said daddy," she protested.


"Okay, I won't do it again, Daddy!" Becca promised.

It was a game between them that they played almost each morning. The little seven-year-old whirlwind didn't get tired of it. It had started when Clark had tried to convince her that she should call him Clark instead of daddy because he wasn't really her father. Becca knew that, but she refused to obey him in this case. She had started to make it a morning ritual between them, instead. Calling her Rebecca was a vital part of it. Clark almost never called her Rebecca. When he did, and it wasn't playful, she knew at once that she had done something bad.

"Come here, you!" he turned her around so that she was lying on her back and started to tickle her. Becca giggled and tried to struggle free under Clark's soft grip. Clark laughed and released her. "How about breakfast?"

"Sounds good," she replied.

Clark got up and walked over to the kitchen, while Becca cuddled into his still warm pillows. The new apartment was spacious. They had just moved in the day before and it was still full of brown boxes with an enormous amount of things. Most of them were Becca's as Clark claimed. Becca on the other hand insisted stubbornly that nearly all of them belonged to Clark. So they hadn't agreed yet as to who was going to unpack them.

Clark had never been happier with an apartment. It was bright and after Clark had renovated, it was also very homey. There was a bathroom and the living room and bedroom were separated. A spiral staircase led to another room Rebecca had chosen as hers. It was barely believable that of all places he had found a flat in Metropolis that offered Becca a room of her own. Most of the time she had had her bed within his room. It had been okay for her, but now that she was growing older, he felt that she needed her privacy. And there was another room they both didn't really know how to use.

In the kitchen Clark started preparing breakfast. He fried eggs and made coffee for himself and milk for Becca. He placed jam and bread on the table, all made the good old-fashioned way. He liked to see things develop and if he had time, he didn't use super-powers. So it took some time till everything was ready. When Clark sat down at the table, Becca came to join him.

"Isn't there something that you miss?" she asked sadly.

"Oh, yes, the coffee. It's so much better in Europe." Clark sighed.

"Daddy, I'm serious!" Becca complained.

"I'm serious, too, pumpkin," Clark replied with a boyish grin. "Oh, Becky, I know how much you hate to travel constantly. I know it's my fault. But you'll find friends here in no time; I promise, honey. And I'll really do my best that this won't happen again so soon here in Metropolis. It's a huge city. One more freak doesn't actually count, does he?"

"You're not a freak, Daddy," Becca stated firmly. "Just why do you have to do these things all the time? I thought you could control them."

"Why did I have to have this nice little chat with the mother of that girl you bullied on that playground back in Plymouth?" Clark returned the question.

"Because I couldn't stand there and watch while she was hurting the baby-boy!"

Clark grinned at her words inwardly. The "baby-boy" had been five years old and barely younger than Becca.

"And I can't stand there and watch when people around me are in trouble, and I know I can help," Clark explained.

"I know, Daddy. It's just…" she hesitated briefly, unsure what to say. "I want to stay somewhere for more than half a year."

Clark winced. That had been his mother's words and Becca was repeating them. It added to his bad conscience.

"There are a lot of advantages in the USA. Your grandparents are far closer, and we can fly there over the weekends." Clark hadn't dared to take Becca on a real quick flight, so they had needed hours to get from Europe to the USA. It hadn't been possible to visit his parents for such a short time as only the weekend. Becca's smile was small and hardly visible, even for Clark. "I promise you that we won't move again so fast." He only hoped that he would be able to keep his promise. It wasn't exactly the first time that he had made it, and each time they had arrived at a new place, he had failed to grant Becca her greatest wish of finally finding a home.

"What are we going to do today, Daddy?" Becca asked curiously.

"I have an interview with the Daily Planet's editor-in-chief," Clark replied and tried to hide that he was worrying about that. He was short on money since he had rented the apartment. The landlord had asked for a deposit, and there wasn't much left for the two of them. He really hoped that he was getting that job. He was only eating breakfast with Rebecca to show her that everything was all right when it wasn't. He only hoped that his little act worked, and Becca didn't notice anything until he was earning enough money for both of them.

"And what about me?" she wanted to know. He could hear her disappointment because she might have expected him to take her out somewhere. Clark really wished that he could do that instead of leaving her alone. Well, she wouldn't be exactly alone.

"Don't you remember, honey? Grandma and Grandpa wanted to spend a few days in Metropolis. They will come over soon and take you to whatever you want to see in the big city." A smile appeared on her face. As much as Becca loved days with Clark, she adored her grandparents. Days with them were equally special. Her mood lightened up, and she had that air of expectation around her.

"That's going to be great!" she exulted enthusiastically.


An hour later, Clark was on his way to the Daily Planet, and he was sick to his stomach. Had he ever been so nervous? His future literally depended on this job, and neither his parents nor Becca knew that. Normally he would have told his parents about his problems. But Clark could clearly remember his mother's speech when he had decided to be Becca's father. She had told him that it was risky and not easy to integrate in his life. Not only because he was young, he was also different. It had been about the first time that his mother had brought up that argument. Usually she avoided making him feel like anything but her beloved son. They had been right in many ways, and Clark had been aware of the problems. Nonetheless, he had decided to go down the rocky way and raise Becca himself like he had promised her mother.

His parents respected that and of course understood that a young father and nice grandparents might be a better choice for Becca than old parents and a frequently traveling brother. It had been a difficult problem, and of course, there wasn't a simple solution to it. In the end, they had agreed to grant Becca's mother her last wish and let Clark be the father.

But Clark hated to admit that he was suffering from the downsides of the decision. He loved Becca as though she actually were his daughter. He didn't want to miss a single day with her. But he truly hated not being able to offer her a completely stable life. So far he hadn't gotten into trouble with the authorities, though that was a constant fear in his life. When Becca had been orphaned, the youth welfare office had respected the mother's last will. Clark had had to undergo a psychological examination. When they had found that he was mature enough to take the responsibility, they had gritted their teeth and agreed to leave the little girl with Clark. They had frequently checked on Becca and hadn't found a reason to take her away from him so far. But how long would that work?

Clark wanted to send Becca to school now. He had been her teacher at home before, and her progress had been good. Becca could read, write and calculate. She knew things about history and nature. They had visited a lot of things during their classes. One of the reasons for home schooling had been that he was afraid Becca would let his secret slip unintentionally. But she had understood how important it was to keep it, and he wanted to give her the opportunity to make friends. When she was in school he would be able to earn more money. That had been difficult at times.

Clark looked up and saw the majestic symbol of the Daily Planet. His heart began to beat even faster, if that were possible. It thundered in his ears, and he felt his knees grow weak. The globe was the symbol of all his hopes, and it seemed to call him. Walking over to the building caused a strange feeling of coming home in him. But that didn't make him feel better at all; he just became more and more nervous. A home he didn't know wasn't comforting him. When he reached the big entrance his trembling hands wandered over to the handles, and he opened the door. His hesitation was only brief before he swallowed hard and gathered all his courage to make the first step into the building.

His gut screamed to run away and to escape the stress of the interview that lay before him. But consciously he knew it was important that he go on and ignore his anxiety. Clark stepped over to the elevators and waited for the lift to arrive. With a couple of people he entered the elevator, and as the doors closed, he noticed that this was the point of no return. The first stop was the floor where the newsroom was situated. When the elevator reached it, Clark stepped out.

The newsroom was busy. A few dozen people were running around or were frantically typing stories into their computers. Others were calling people, chatting with them on the phone. It was loud and crowded, obviously chaotic and strangely organized at the same time. Maybe it was comparable with a bee hive. The bees seemed to be flying around without destination, but that was only the shallow view of it. They were highly organized and so was the Daily Planet. The queen bee, which was male in this case, sat in the center of interest. The office of the editor-in-chief was across the room. From there, Mr. White saw and heard everything.

Clark stepped down the ramp and was on the same level with the newsroom now. He walked through the reporters and felt very exposed, though only some of them were really watching him. It was somehow like the dream where he went to school naked. But Clark tried to blind out his uneasiness and walked over to Mr. White's office. Searching for his last amount of courage, he lifted his hand and knocked.

"Yes?" the voice of an obviously stressed man replied.

Clark opened the door a little. "Mr. White? I'm Clark Kent. I have an appointment for an interview with you," he said shyly. His mouth was dry.

"Kent?" Mr. White repeated and kept silent for a moment as if he was trying to remember the name. "Yeah, I know. Professor Carlton called me. He told me a lot of good things about you. Okay, so come in, Mr. Kent."

Clark opened the door a little further and stepped into the office. There were some pictures of Elvis, and the desk looked as if its owner was a really busy man. Clark closed the door behind him and went over to the editor-in-chief. He shook his hand and took a seat as Mr. White invited him to do so.

"What was the last paper you worked for?" Mr. White started the interview.

"The Devon Chronicle," Clark replied.

"I see…" Mr. White said, not hiding a certain disappointment. Clark assumed that it was because he hadn't written for the London Times. "And before that?"

Clark decided that it was the easiest to hand Mr. White his portfolio with a few examples of his work. Mr. White took it and began to skim through the articles.

"Smallville Press…Borneo Gazette…" he murmured and looked at the other articles silently. "There's not a single famous newspaper within these." Mr. White shook his head sadly. "And the articles…the mating ritual of a gecko? As much as I'd like to help you, Mr. Kent, the Daily Planet needs reporters with more experience. They should be able to deal with affairs of international interest. With…" Mr. White didn't manage to finish his sentence. A young man stormed into the office.

"Chief, I've fixed your toaster!" he announced.

"Jimmy!" Mr. White barked. "Not now."

"But…" Jimmy tried again.

"I told you to return later!" Perry impatiently waved at Jimmy to leave. Right behind him a young woman entered the office.

For a brief moment time stood still. She was obviously furious, incredible and awesome. Her beauty was earth shattering, making Clark's jaw drop instantly as he saw her. She was telling Mr. White something, and it had to be an argument. But Clark didn't hear the words; he just saw the movements of her delicate lips. Her gestures were strong enough to involve her whole body. Her eyes were like dark brown honey, and they gleamed with an intense fire. She had the single most amazing heart beat he had ever heard. This woman had an air of courage and determination about her that fascinated Clark just as much as her outer appearance. He knew at once that he wanted to get acquainted with her. He wouldn't give up until he knew the secrets under her surface. And a vague inkling told him that he would be totally addicted to her before he even got that knowledge.

When time went on, the lady vanished out of the office and left a very bemused Clark Kent. After what seemed like ages, he used all his willpower to close his mouth and to return his attention to Mr. White. The editor-in-chief was still working through the articles.

"Well, they're good writing, Mr. Kent. It seems that you've traveled a lot."

Clark nodded. "I know that I don't have much experience with big newspapers and politics. But if you give me a chance, I promise you to work hard and do my best. You wouldn't be disappointed." He added in a low voice.

Clark so much needed this job, but he didn't feel like begging for it. His heart was again beating rapidly. Or was it still beating rapidly? Clark wouldn't have been able to tell. All he knew was that he prayed silently. He didn't want to return home unemployed. He had held a lot of jobs during the past years, and it hadn't always been writing for newspapers. Clark knew that he would find something, but Metropolis was expensive, and he would have to have a lot of jobs to offer Becca the life she deserved. Since junior high all he had wanted to be was a journalist. It was important for both Becca and himself that he get this job. The Daily Planet was for him what Mount Everest was for Reinhold Messner. The only difference was that Messner had already climbed to the top.

"I'm afraid I don't have anything for you, Mr. Kent. You can't expect me to give someone with almost no references a job at one of the world's most important newspapers." Perry devastated all Clark's hopes. "I hope you understand. I'm sorry, Mr. Kent."

Weakly, Clark shook the editor's hand. Inwardly he screamed that he didn't understand and that he thought Mr. White was a damn snob. He was disappointed and furious, and Clark knew that this could turn into something horrible. He mumbled a good-bye and left the office, straightly heading for the elevators to escape the Planet. An incredible weight seemed to press him down to the floor. It was something that was even too heavy for him to carry. How was he going to explain this to Becca and his parents?

But that wasn't exactly the problem. They would understand because not every interview could be successful. They would encourage him to try again with the Metropolis Star or any other newspaper. Neither of them understood the real meaning of this. Clark Kent was on his way to lose the constant battle that he had led since he had taken over responsibility for Becca. It was the first time in years that he quarreled with fate. Why had Lily asked so much of him? Why had she trusted him with Becca? Clark was running out of luck, and he was going to disappoint his parents. He would lose Becca. The worst pain of all was disappointing her. She loved him unconditionally. What had she told him this morning? *You're not a freak, Daddy* Clark winced at the memory. He hadn't told her, but her words had meant the world to him. In fact, he hadn't even noticed that himself, then. But now he was awfully aware of it.

To distract himself from the misery that had washed over him, Clark allowed himself a last look at that beautiful woman. He heard her heart beat, which sent pleasant shivers through his spine. She was still furious about something, and this time she told the young man, whom Mr. White had called Jimmy. Clark listened and noticed that her voice was soft and warm underneath the anger.

"Do you believe it? Perry has assigned me that touchy-feely theater story. What's the news on that? Theaters are closed every day. That's not going to win me a Kerth. I'm an investigative reporter. I'm not writing gossip." She looked over to another woman who was dressed as if she was constantly hunting down men. The face of the fascinating beauty conveyed contempt.

"Hey, Lois. Calm down a bit and please don't bite my head off. It's not my fault. And if I were you, I would rather write that piece than get into trouble with Perry," Jimmy replied.

Lois shook her head. "I'm not going to write this piece. Let Perry do the table dance or whatever." She went away from Jimmy and returned to her desk. Clark watched her leave.

"Don't even think about it!" someone said. Clark returned to the present, startled. He looked into Jimmy's young, smiling face.

"Think of what?" Clark asked and shook hands with Jimmy.

"Lois Lane. I don't recall anyone of the staff members asking her out and being able to tell the story. She doesn't date other reporters," Jimmy explained. "I'm Jimmy Olsen."

"Clark Kent. Well, unfortunately I'm not a staff member," Clark replied.

"Oh, I hope that's not my fault," Jimmy said sympathetically, and as Clark shook his head, he continued. "Anyway, that won't help either. Rumors are that she doesn't date at all. At least Cat constantly claims that."

"What's that theater story about?" Clark inquired.

"You heard?" Jimmy asked surprised.

"In Mr. White's office," Clark said quickly. That was a lie. He hadn't heard a word of the argument in the editor's office. But he could hardly tell Jimmy that. However, he had convinced the younger man. Jimmy told him what he wanted to know. When Clark left the office after their little chat, his mind was a little less depressed. He had a plan.


*Sunday's Gain*

Clark left the Daily Planet and walked through the streets. He wasn't sure if this was indeed a good idea. Did he really have the time to waste on an effort that might be in vain? How could he justify writing that story if Mr. White didn't change his mind? When Clark had heard that Lois Lane wasn't going to write the theatre story, he had felt the sudden urge to do it. Maybe he should just grab his things and walk directly over to the editor of the Metropolis Star and try again to get a job. But the theatre attracted him with magical force, maybe because Lily had played little roles back in school. He had always adored her in the cute clothes she had worn then. Clark missed her. She had been such a good friend and such a nice woman. But it wasn't taking him anywhere if he got lost in grief now. He had to be strong for Becca's sake.

Jimmy had given him instructions where to go. Clark wasn't exactly familiar with the streets of Metropolis. Had it not been for his strange abilities, he wouldn't have found his way in any of those cities he had seen during the past years. He really wanted to feel at home somewhere, but he had never actually had that feeling yet. Clark sighed. He had promised to do his best, so they would not have to leave Metropolis again. He owed it to Becca to really try. Working for the Daily Planet would be great; he had read so many articles in that paper. Clark decided that he wanted to give it a second try. This might be selfish and unreasonable, but he wanted to forget about his inhibitions for a single moment to make his dream come true. The beautiful Lois Lane was definitely a reason why working for the Planet had become even more attractive to Clark.

But right now he needed to concentrate on his way or else he was likely to miss the theatre. Jimmy had described the building and had told Clark that it had been famous years ago. Plays from well-known authors had premiered there. It had been a place of glamour and fame. From the sight of the building, no one would have ever guessed that, as Jimmy had put it. Clark could only agree with Jimmy's statement. The former theatre looked, well, sad. Maybe that adjective could only describe living beings, but the shattered windows that were replaced with boards seemed to be mourning the more pleasant days of the past.

The building had obviously seen better days, and Clark acknowledged that the wrecking ball couldn't possibly do any harm to the building that hadn't already been done. It was probably for the best that the theatre be closed and the building demolished. Otherwise people could be in danger. Clark heard a voice and noticed that it came from the inside. He followed it and entered the building. On the walls there were posters from plays that hadn't been on stage for ages. Dust was everywhere, and Clark assumed that the theatre hadn't been closed recently, but years ago.

The voice belonged to an old woman who proudly stood on stage on the other side of the auditorium. She was wearing a robe that must have been beautiful once upon a time. It was obviously moth-eaten and quite battered now. But the woman didn't seem to care. She saw nothing and surely hadn't heard him coming.

"And all the world's a stage, and men and women merely players." Her eyes found Clark and she stopped. "I just wanted to say good-bye," she said softly.

"Take all the time you need," Clark replied and sat down on one of the few chairs that hadn't been completely destroyed.

"This building has meant the world to me; it's not easy to go." Her eyes conveyed her grief, and Clark could see tears glistening in them. "When I first came here I had barely any money, and I had lost hope of finding a place to live. My parents had warned me that life as an actress would be poor. I have never been searching for wealth or fame. All I ever wanted was a place where I felt that I belonged."

Clark nodded. It was the same with him, and he could understand her sadness. "And you found it here?" he asked sympathetically.

"Oh, yes, I did. Those were wonderful years. I never became rich, but I found a family. My parents had never been much of a family to me; they had always wanted me to be different." She smiled at him. "This was the dress I wore when I was Juliet. It was the best role I've ever had. She was a girl that was loved so much and loved so much in return. It's an eternal love story. Even death couldn't separate them. Isn't that wonderful?"

"But didn't Romeo and Juliet deserve to be together in life? Fate took away their chance to feel the intimacy of spending their life together and to bring up children. What would their tale have been like if they had lived?" Clark inquired.

"They would have argued and lost each other over the years. Real love isn't eternal, young man. Trust me, I have lived way longer than you have," she stated.

"That sounds so sad," Clark stated gently.

"Life is sad," she answered and left the stage to sit down next to Clark. "This theatre belonged to my husband. We all grew old and so did this building. His heart broke when the last curtain fell, and he received his final ovation. His father and grandfather had stood on this stage. They had been Hamlet and Lear. But he had to be the one who had lost it all. He couldn't live with the pain and found solace in the arms of a younger woman. Life isn't fair. To cope with his own grief, he ripped my heart out. I used to come to the theatre to relive the memories. Can you see the ladies in their impressive dresses? Can you smell their perfume still hanging in the air? Close your eyes, and you will hear the murmurs of spectators long gone. When I'm here it's as if my husband were still with me, holding my hand. He was always nervous and I can still smell his sweat. It's as if he has never left me. Eternal love … that's something only a theatre offers."


After his chat with the old woman in the theater Clark had made his way home. It was about three o'clock. Rebecca and his parents had already returned when he entered the flat. The little whirlwind ran across the room directly towards him and jumped up. Clark caught her and lifted Becca up into his arms.

"Hey, pumpkin. Looks like you had a great day," he greeted her when he saw the big grin on her face.

"Oh, yeah," she said contentedly and pressed a wet kiss on his cheek.

"Hi, Mom and Dad," he adjusted his grip on Rebecca and glanced over her shoulder at his parents. "I seriously hope she behaved herself."

"Come on, Clark. Did she ever cause us trouble?" Martha replied and walked over to her son. Clark sat Becca back on the floor and hugged his mother. "It's great to have you back here," she said.

"I'm sorry that I didn't really say hello this morning. My mind was a little occupied," Clark apologized. "It's good to see you, Dad." He hugged his father as well.

"That's unfair, you can call him dad, though he isn't your dad either," Becca complained and tugged at Clark's suit jacket.

"She's right; that's unfair, Clark," Martha agreed and winked at Becca conspiratorially.

"I tell you what's unfair, two against one is unfair," Clark muttered. "Can't you help me, Dad?"

"And spend the whole night arguing with your mother? I don't think so." Jonathan laughed and shook his head. "I'm afraid we have to leave now. Martha and I have tickets to the opera tonight. We don't want to be late. And there are a whole lot of things that we have to do first."

"We'll talk about your interview later, honey. Is that okay with you?" Martha asked, concerned.

Clark wondered whether his mother had telepathic abilities. He was almost sure that she knew something was wrong. But Clark nodded to assure his mother that they didn't need to discuss this immediately. He was glad that he had more time, and maybe he could manage to convince Mr. White after all. He wished his parents a good time, and Becca kissed her grandparents good-bye. When the two Kents left the apartment, Becca and Clark were on their own again.

"So did you get the job, Daddy?" Becca wanted to know. Clark turned to her and tried to smile, but he failed.

"Not yet, Becky," he replied. "But I'll try again this afternoon."

Becca didn't answer; she only glanced at the boxes that were spread all over the apartment. Clark's glance followed her gaze. They still needed to unpack things and preferably as soon as possible. He sighed. He would need his laptop to write the article and moreover a place for it. Becca was the queen of unspoken suggestions. One glance was enough to tell anything she wanted to say. That didn't mean that she usually kept silent. It was just a special ability of hers. Clark knew that she was right.

"You go upstairs, Becca. I'll do this the quick way, and I don't want you to be anywhere near me, comprende?" he stated firmly, but with a smile on his face. Becca nodded and grinned. Clark was aware that she loved watching him do super-stuff. And sometimes she tended to be more curious than it was good for her.

"Okay, Daddy," Becca replied and went over to the spiral staircase. She climbed it and was out of sight.

Clark scanned the boxes and then vanished into a blur. The books seemingly appeared out of nowhere on the bookshelves. Dishes and clothes found their way into cupboards and wardrobes. The number of boxes diminished. In a few minutes most of the empty spaces in the apartment were filled, and it looked even homier than it had before. When Clark was finished, there was only one box left, and Clark carried it upstairs to Becca's room.

"Here you are, pumpkin. That's your job," he said softly. "You can start to do that while I'm working on an article." Becca looked at him with disappointment. She had probably hoped that he would spin through her room and put into place the thousand things she had. But she was old enough to do some things on her own. And after all, she knew where the things should be. He tousled her hair and made his way down the staircase. "It won't take long, honey."

"Okay, Daddy." Becca glanced with unhappy eyes at the huge box and sighed. Clark knew that she hated cleaning up. Putting everything her room contained into place had to be hard for her.

When he returned downstairs, Clark walked over to the kitchen where he had left the laptop. He booted up the computer and sat down. Clark launched the word processor and started typing. The old woman had fascinated him. She had told him about the theater and her life. He had felt her grief and all the joy she had felt herself. Jimmy had told him what kind of article Mr. White expected, especially concerning the length of it. Clark had been right, it didn't take him long to write the article. When he was finished, he printed the document.

"Becca, honey. Please, come down. I want to go to the Daily Planet again," he said. Rebecca was in front of him in almost no time. He suspected that she would rather go out with him than have to cope with the box. He couldn't help but smile. "Get your jacket, pumpkin. You know, it's cold outside." Clark took his own coat and handed Becca her scarf. "Ready?"

"Yes, Daddy," she smiled and laid her small hand in his big one.

"Okay, let's go, then."

It was the first time that they left the apartment and went for a walk trough the streets of Metropolis together. Snowflakes were falling down, but it was still too warm for them to remain on the ground. They could see their breath hanging in the air. Becca told Clark what she had seen today. His parents had taken her to the zoo and to Centennial Park. When Becca mentioned the funny penguins in their black tuxedos, Clark couldn't help but laugh. She could describe them so vividly that he had the impression of having been there with her. It didn't take long until the two of them reached the Planet.

At the sight of the building, Clark felt his heart rate increase again. Would Mr. White even listen? After all, he had wanted someone to write the article, but would he accept Clark's version? Or had he convinced Ms. Lane to write it? Clark assumed that she was a very tough woman. But she surely wasn't as hard as she claimed to be. Why was he thinking about this woman again? He should be worried about the job because even if Mr. White printed his article, that didn't mean he was hired.

Clark swallowed hard when he entered the Daily Planet. Having Becca with him now made it a little easier, despite the earlier rejection. The entrance of the building obviously impressed Becca. Her mouth gaped open and she fell silent. Clark noticed, embarrassed, that he hadn't really listened to her before. But now that she wasn't talking, he was aware that she had been earlier. Hand in hand they went over to the elevators and took the first one that arrived. In a matter of minutes the two of them reached the newsroom.

Clark's nerves were frayed, and he felt sweat appearing on his forehead. Becca's presence, though comforting, wasn't enough to calm him down. Being turned down had been bad enough, but what if it happened a second time and in front of Becca? Clark didn't want to think about it. She had no idea that he had problems, and she never needed to know. Walking across the newsroom hadn't become any easier. But Becca wore her incredibly sweet smile that melted every heart. This time everyone looking at him was smiling back. Clark felt a rush of gratefulness washing through him. He would read her the best possible story tonight, cook her favorite meal, or anything like that.

As they arrived in front of Mr. White's office, Clark bent down to Becca. "You wait here, pumpkin," he whispered gently. "It won't take long." With a sigh, Clark got up again and gathered all his courage to knock at the door. Mr. White called him in, and Clark glanced at Becca for affirmation. She nodded at him and gave him a bright grin. Then he entered the office.

"Mr. Kent!" Mr. White sounded surprised. "What can I do for you? Did you forget something?"

"Uhh, no, Mr. White. Excuse me, it's just…I overheard that you wanted an article about a closed theatre and that Ms. Lane wasn't going to write it. I…" he stopped and handed Mr. White the article.

The editor took the paper and began to read it. His face didn't show any feeling and left Clark worrying what Mr. White thought about it. Clark wished that reading the minds of others was a part of his powers, but he couldn't do anything but wait. Time didn't seem to pass. Clark had no idea if he stood there minutes or hours. Then, finally, the editor looked up and studied Clark's face.

"You might lack experience, Mr. Kent, but there is one thing that I honor more than this. Courage and initiative are vital character traits of a good reporter. And you have both. Please consider yourself as hired. Welcome to the Daily Planet!" Mr. White said and shook Clark's hand. Clark barely trusted his ears. He had made it. He had gotten the job! A rush of excitement filled him.

"I…thank you, Mr. White," Clark stammered.

"I'll see you on Monday at eight o'clock in the morning, Mr. Kent. We've got your address, haven't we?" he asked. Clark weakly nodded his head. He still couldn't believe it. It felt like several tons of stone had been lifted from his shoulders, and he could breathe more easily.

"I'll be there," he managed to reply. "See you on Monday, Mr. White." Clark shook the editor's hand again and was guided out of the room. Something disturbed him about Monday. He couldn't quite put his finger on it. Suddenly it hit him. Becca's first day in school! Clark swallowed hard. There was no way he could ask for a day off on his first day at work. That was downright impossible! But how was he going to explain that to Becca? And even worse, how was he going to tell his mother? She would figure out a way to skin him.

A little shaky, Clark returned to the patiently waiting Becca.

"Did you get the job?" she asked curiously.

Clark nodded. "Yes, honey," he replied absent-mindedly. How was he going to make up for such terrible news for Becca? She definitely didn't deserve having to go to school for the first time without him to be there for her. Damn, why couldn't life be easier?

Becca jumped up and down, pulling at Clark's arm as if she wanted him to do this little dance with her. Clark lifted her up and hugged her. When he set her down again, Clark gave Becca a soft push towards the elevators. Again the reporters in the newsroom were watching him curiously. But this time it didn't bother Clark. He didn't need to be nervous anymore. His dream had come true. This moment was almost perfect. Ms. Lane wasn't around, which disappointed him slightly. They hadn't reached the elevators when Jimmy approached them.

"Did it work?" he wanted to know and studied Clark's face nervously.

"Yes. Mr. White has changed his mind," Clark said happily, and a big grin appeared on his face.

"Welcome to the Planet!" Jimmy sighed with relief and returned the smile. "And who are you?" he turned to Becca.

"I'm Rebecca Kent, his daughter," Becca replied in a dignified tone and offered Jimmy her hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. …"

"Olsen," Jimmy answered, startled. Clark chuckled as he looked from Becca over to a very bewildered Jimmy, who shook the little girl's hand.

"You have to say it's nice to meet you, too," Becca whispered. Clark started to laugh. This was just so…Becca. He could have sworn that he had admonished Becca with just these words not so long ago. She made a habit of copying adults.

"I'll see you on Monday, Jimmy," Clark laid his hands on Becca's shoulders to drag her away. "Thanks for everything. I owe you one."

"No problem!" Jimmy managed to say. "I'm glad that I was able to help."

"Good-bye, Mr. Olsen." Becca waved at Jimmy and went over to the elevators along with Clark.

"Good-bye, Rebecca," Jimmy replied, obviously still fascinated by the little girl.


Clark and Becca returned to the street, which was very busy, though it was already getting dark. The wind was even colder than before, and Becca started to shiver. Clark looked over to her and drew her closer.

"Come on, honey. Let's return home. You can have some hot chocolate, if you like. And I think your grandma left us some cookies," he offered. He had briefly thought about taking her to the ice-rink in Centennial Park. But there was still a whole weekend to come. And he still had to find a way to apologize for what he would do to her on Monday. There was just no possible excuse for not attending her first day in school, regardless how badly he needed money. But what was he going to do? Give up the job? He couldn't do that either. Clark really felt bad about this.

Becca agreed to go home. Clark saw that she was tired. It had been a long day for her. Again she laid her hand in his, and together they walked towards their new home. This time Becca didn't speak. She had fallen silent, and Clark wondered what was going on under the sweet little curls of her hair. Was she freezing and her mouth too cold to open? Usually Becca never stopped talking.

"Since you have this job now, does that mean that we're going to stay here?" Becca asked suddenly.

"Becky, I told you that I'd do my very best. I want to find a home as much as you do, honey. Really," he confirmed when he noticed her doubtful glance. She nodded but remained silent. He knew that he had disappointed her once too often to make her believe him so easily. He knew that she trusted and loved him. And she could rely on him in almost any possible way. But concerning his abilities, he was unreliable. He hated himself for it, but his need to help was so strong that he couldn't ignore people in danger.

It was right at this moment that Clark's promise was tested. He heard screams of fear. People were coughing violently and things were crushing on the ground. Something was burning but sirens from the fire trucks were nowhere to be heard. Hadn't they been called yet? Clark turned to Becca and lifted her up quickly, ignoring her protests. He knew that she wouldn't be able to keep up with his pace when he started running. Clark followed the noise and hurried to get there. The fire couldn't be far away, but he still didn't hear sirens. He frantically looked out for a payphone, but he didn't see one. What would he tell the emergency services, anyway? He didn't exactly know where this fire was.

"Where are you going, Daddy?" Becca asked him. "You promised you wouldn't do it again, Dad." She sounded rather desperate and there was an unusual urgency in her way of saying 'Dad'. Of course she knew that he was on his way to help someone in danger. She admired him for doing these things, but there was little she dreaded more. Moments like these had always been the first step that would lead to another move into another town in another country. It wasn't only she who feared moments like these. Clark was equally afraid. He didn't know what would be worse: losing Becca's love and trust or see people dying whom he could have helped. Either possibility was terrible. He couldn't reply to Becca. There was no way he could form these words that were surely going to hurt her.

Clark approached the screams and he saw flames thanks to his super-vision. Otherwise he might have missed the house. He had reached a part of Metropolis that was densely covered with apartment buildings. But it was Friday night and most people had gone out. The streets were abandoned and so were most apartments around. Clark didn't really wonder why no one had called 911. There was a laundromat at the corner of the street. Clark set Becca back down on the ground.

"Honey, please go into that laundromat and ask them to call the firefighters. There's a house burning over there. If you get in trouble, call me. You know, I'll be there in just a second." Becca nodded weakly, and Clark felt sick to his stomach. Why was he always doing this to her? Why was he leaving his little seven-year-old girl alone? Because he had no choice, because people would die if he didn't.

He started running over to the building. Clark could hear the fire, but he could hardly see it. He scanned the house and located the fire on the third floor. Clark rushed in and ran directly up the staircase. Smoke hung in the air that was thick and black. He could barely see anything, and if he hadn't been able to hold his breath, his lungs would have hurt. It was hot, but that word didn't quite describe it. Clark could barely imagine how terrible this had to be for the humans stuck in this building. He carefully listened for sounds around him, since his vision wasn't of much help in this darkness. And he listened for Becca's heartbeat to make sure that she was still all right. He shouldn't have left her alone; it was irresponsible.

With his scan he had located two people who were still trapped by the flames. He approached them, as quickly as possible. Clark felt a nagging fear inside him. It wasn't because of the flames. He didn't dread fire. What if someone saw him? What if he saved the people, and they recognized him afterwards? It had always been like dancing on a volcano. But what were his problems compared to the threat of death? Becca's heart was beating steadily and so were the two other heartbeats. One of them sounded strangely familiar, but Clark didn't know exactly where he had heard it before. A rush of adrenaline worked its way through his system, and he knew that he had to find them fast.

He was on the right track. At least he assumed as much. He couldn't actually be sure of it. The two persons had been on the third floor. But in which direction should he turn? The smoke was preventing him from seeing anything, but he could still hear. He followed one of the heartbeats, the one that didn't seem so steady. This person had to be in a more urgent danger. It took him only a few glimpses to locate the first victim. He destroyed the door of the apartment and saw a man lying on the floor. He had lost consciousness. Clark breathed a sigh of relief and immediately felt guilty for it. He quickly grabbed the man and rushed out of the building.

After he had placed the man on the ground, Clark rushed back into the house and searched for the second person, the one with the strangely familiar heartbeat. He quickly checked on Becca and then returned his concentration on the second victim. This time he knew where to turn. He again followed the heartbeat, rushed through the closed door and found the small figure of a young woman on the floor. He lifted her up. She was unconscious as well. When he touched her, it was electrifying. It affected his whole body, something which had never happened before when he had touched anyone. But this was not the time to wonder about his strange sensations. He rushed out of the burning house and returned to the streets to gently place her body on the ground.

Now flames were coming out of the windows. The building was abandoned after he had rescued the man and the woman. Clark heard sirens, and Becca came around the corner. She looked at him with blank eyes. The owners of the laundromat were following her and hurried up when they saw the two limp bodies lying on the street. They rushed past his little whirlwind and approached him.

"We called 911," The female owner shouted. "Is everything all right?"

"They're alive. I just came around when I saw the two of them walking past a window and trying to get out of that building. They lost consciousness somewhere in the staircase. I guess it was too much for them." Clark gave a weak explanation. But the two people watching him seemed to buy it. Clark shot Becca a glance; she seemed more relaxed now. The two hadn't asked too many question. Their secret was safe with them for now.

After having seen Becca's relief, Clark studied the faces of the two victims. They weren't hurt. They were black with smoke, but they didn't seem to have any burns. Clark's heart wrenched when he recognized the woman. It was Lois Lane.


An hour later Clark and Becca continued their way home. The ambulance had brought Ms. Lane and the man to the hospital. They had said that both were going to be all right. The police had asked Clark some questions, which he had answered as vaguely as possible. Both the policemen and the firefighters had shaken his hands to thank him for saving Lois Lane and the man. They told him that neither of them would be alive if it hadn't been for him saving them. An officer promised him that his face would surely appear under a newspaper headline tomorrow.

Right at that moment Clark had felt the cold grip of anxiety. He dreaded curious people. For this time he had managed to explain the events, but he couldn't afford to be the center of interest. And he sure as hell didn't want Lois Lane to know who had saved her. Maybe she wouldn't remember that she had still been in her apartment. An average human would have died before he could have dragged two people out of the flames. Clark had told another story. He claimed to have found the two of them lying in the stairs on the second floor. In case Ms. Lane remembered that she had been in her apartment, the police would surely believe him rather than her. He hadn't been intoxicated with the smoke. But who would stop the great Ms. Lane from investigating her rescue?

No, Clark had pleaded with the police to keep his name a secret from anyone. They could call him if they needed more information, but he didn't want to see his name in a newspaper. And he had managed to convince the police. Clark had taken Becca's hand, and the two of them had left the area. Becca was still shivering and hadn't said a word. She remained silent the whole way home, and Clark found his heart beating rapidly. It was the third time this day that he had become rather nervous. The silence of the little girl next to him affected him even more than the interview had hours ago.

"What is it, honey?" he asked gently. "What's upsetting you?"

Becca shook her head. "Nothing, Daddy," she replied. Clark wasn't convinced, but he decided to find out what bothered her when they were in private. It didn't take long before they reached their apartment, and Becca breathed a sigh of relief when they entered the warm room.

Clark took off his coat and went over to the kitchen to prepare hot chocolate and supper for Becca. The little whirlwind followed him and looked a whole lot happier when she noticed that he was keeping his promise. His conscience started nagging when he saw that beautiful smile on her face. He needed to explain to her that he wouldn't be there on Monday, at least not for a long time. But what was the point in destroying her weekend? He really couldn't do this to her.

"I still need to thank you for being so brave, pumpkin. You did a great job in the laundromat!" Clark stated. Why was he saying this? Well, of course he was proud of Becca, but he knew that she wasn't happy about his saving people.

"Thanks, Daddy," she mumbled. She sounded so sad. It cut in Clark's heart like a knife. He lifted her up and sat Becca on the counter next to the sink.

"Hey, what's the matter, honey?" he asked concerned and watched her nervously. "You know you can tell me anything." Tears appeared in her eyes and broke their way down her cheeks. Becca sobbed. "Shh, honey…it's okay, just tell me," he whispered soothingly and wiped away the tears with his thumb. He tried to be calm, but who was he fooling? He was scared to death. Had something happened to Becca, while he had been in the burning house? His heartbeat was thundering in his ears.

"I was so afraid to lose you, Daddy," Becca was crying openly now.

"Why would you lose me, Becky?" Clark asked, a little bit calmer now. Becca's state of distress hadn't been caused by anything that had happened to her.

"I…I was…scared that…that they would see you doing these things," she sobbed. "Gran…Grandpa said that if anyone found out about you they…they…"she didn't finish the sentence, but that wasn't necessary. He knew the rest. They would dissect him like a frog. He had heard that a thousand times in his life. But it took him by surprise that Becca had heard these words as well. His father couldn't…No, Clark couldn't think this.

"Oh, honey, where did you hear this?" he asked gently. He had to prevent himself from being controlled by pure anger.

"I…I didn't eavesdrop; it happened accidentally," Becca hurried to explain. Clark breathed a sigh of relief. His father hadn't told her on purpose, but why did he discuss this when Becca was around and likely to hear it? Clark's anger receded and was replaced by sympathy.

"Becky, darling," Clark said helplessly and pulled her into an embrace. She was still crying, and her tears dampened his shirt. He stroked her back and she laid her small arms around his neck. "That's not going to happen, honey. That's not going to happen." Clark held her tightly and fetched the cup of hot chocolate and her supper. Then he carried her into the living room and sat down on the sofa. "Here, drink this, Becky." She loosened her grip on him and took the cup in her hands. "I'm careful, Becca. The worst thing that could ever happen to me is losing you. Whatever I do, I'm not jeopardizing this." Again, he wiped away her tears and kissed her hair. "You don't need to be afraid to lose me. I'm always there for you. I love you, Becky."

"I love you, too, Daddy." Becca whispered and took a sip of her hot chocolate. Clark held her in his arms, still trying to soothe her. He had to talk with his parents about this. They really shouldn't mention things like this when Becca was around. That she wasn't in the room didn't mean that she wasn't listening. Children knew how to play hide and seek. They could approach you without letting you hear it. They were curious about what grown-ups told each other when they were alone.

Clark knew that. He also had heard things that he wasn't supposed to hear. And with his abilities it had been even worse. He clearly remembered the time when his hearing became better than average. He had been about ten years old and he was stronger than any other boy, stronger than even his dad. It had already scared the hell out of him. But one day he had accidentally heard that his parents were worried as well. He still had had problems controlling his superhuman strength. His parents had been afraid that he would hurt someone accidentally. His father had been worried that Clark might hurt his mother some day. They knew that he was mild-mannered and that he would never do such a thing on purpose. But they had been afraid of him.

Clark had been devastated and had spent the rest of the day and most of the night in his fortress of solitude. No one had been able to find him. He had hidden there perfectly. Only Lily wasn't so easy to fool. She had come to him and convinced him to leave his exile. Lily hadn't known about his special abilities that night. But she had always been able to make him smile no matter how bad the situation was. Somehow she guessed that he had heard something that had upset him. And Lily told him her own story of accidental and painful eavesdropping. Later, Clark had learnt that he had missed a vital part of his parent's conversation. The part in which they had dismissed their fears and reminded each other that Clark would never hurt anyone.

He could understand Becca's feelings and he desperately wanted to soothe her. The cup of hot chocolate seemed to help. Becca wasn't crying anymore. She leaned into his embrace and drank her beverage. But he needed to do something about their present situation. Clark couldn't expose Becca to a life of fear. He had to give up rescuing people for her sake. It hurt him and it felt so very wrong, but Clark had to admit that he was responsible for Becca. He couldn't do this to her, and he couldn't think of a possible way out.

It was late in the evening, and Becca started yawning. Clark patted her shoulder.

"Time to go to bed, honey," he said gently. "Go and brush your teeth."

Becca muttered that she wasn't tired and tried to stifle a yawn, but failed. Clark took the cup and stood up. She had been sitting on his lap, and so he set her back on her feet now. He gave her a soft prod towards the bathroom and went over to the kitchen. He heard Becca turning on the water and gripping her toothbrush. Clark smiled. Becca was too weary to discuss the time for bed with him. He was glad that she wasn't weeping anymore. He could hardly stand seeing her sad.

About ten minutes later Becca was ready for bed, and she was wearing her pajamas. Becca was standing at the top of the staircase, waiting for him to kiss her goodnight. That was one of the moments that Clark loved most about being a father. And he drank in every second of it because he knew that this time would be over soon. Becca was seven now and very eager to hear stories. But would she be equally keen on them when she was ten? Or twelve? Clark knew that the day would come when she didn't want him to take her to bed anymore. Their little rituals would end someday. Clark hoped that this day wouldn't come too soon.

He climbed up the stairs, and she jumped into her bed. Clark reached her room and sat down on her bed. He pulled up the covers and stroked her soft cheek.

"So which story do you want to hear tonight, pumpkin?"

"It's up to you, Daddy," Becca replied. It was always the answer when she wanted to hear her favorite story. Clark pretended trying to remember the story. Of course he knew it by heart. He had told it a thousand times, since Becca wanted to hear it almost every other night.

"Okay, once upon a time there lived a woman in a small village. She had two daughters, who were both called Mary. One of them was friendly and charming; the other was nasty, lazy and often offended people. But the mother loved the nasty daughter more, because she was really her daughter; whereas the other girl was only her stepdaughter. While she spoiled her own girl, she made the always friendly Mary do all the work."

Clark told Becca how the nice Mary had to sit at the well and spin wool until her hands were covered in blood. Becca listened, fascinated, as if she were hearing the story for the first time. Clark went on with the story and told Becca of how the poor Mary lost her spindle in the well as she was trying to wash away the blood. Full of fear that she would get into trouble with her stepmother, she jumped after the spindle down into the well. She lost consciousness, and when Mary came to again, she was in a totally different place, covered with flowers and big trees full of apples.

"When Mary saw the trees, she heard a faint whisper within their leaves. 'Please shake us, shake us, our apples are all ripe.'" Clark noticed that Becca had closed her eyes. She was breathing evenly, and when he stopped speaking, she did not protest. He got up cautiously and blew a soft kiss on her face. "Good night, honey." He mumbled under his breath and tiptoed down the staircase.

Clark was just as tired as Becca had been and so he prepared himself for bed. Just when his head touched the pillows, Clark heard the first siren of the night. He listened carefully and was relieved when the sounds told him that the police had everything under control. But it wasn't the last emergency for that night. Clark knew that he couldn't leave his bed. What if Becca woke up and found herself alone in the apartment? And he couldn't go because he would raise suspicion if he was seen close to several crimes in just one night. Clark didn't drift off to sleep. Seemingly thousands of sirens kept him awake. And every howl appeared to be louder and more accusatory than the previous one. Why had he come to Metropolis? Other cities were more peaceful and had allowed him to sleep.

If it hadn't been for Becca he would have been able to help. Clark didn't really care where he lived, since he had never called a place home. But with Becca it was different. The responsibility was weighing heavily on his shoulders. Though it caused a guilty feeling in his gut, Clark struggled with Lily's decision. Why had she chosen him? Clark had asked her this long ago.


Six years ago…

Clark was sitting in a room rather than a flat. He was working on an article and hoped that he would find an editor who would print it. Actually he hoped that he would stay at this place long enough to type the whole article. He had been busy with saving people as unobtrusively as possible. So far he hadn't been observed by anyone. But it was hard to say if that was really true. Most of his things were packed so he could leave on a moments notice if necessary.

A knock at the door caused Clark to jump. Who would want to visit him? He barely knew people around him. Clark checked with his x-ray vision and gasped in surprise. He hurried to the door and wore a broad smile on his face as he opened it. Lily had come. She carried a small child on her arm.

"May I introduce you, Clark? This is Rebecca, your daughter," Lily greeted him.

Clark gasped again, this time in shock. "My what?"

"Your daughter, Clark." Lily repeated and went past him. "May I come in?" she asked.

"You already did," Clark said hoarsely. "But Lily, we never…" He sounded foolish and he knew it. She knew what they had or hadn't done.

"No, Clark, you never slept with me, which I really don't understand, to be honest. Why is that, anyway?" Lily inquired.

"Because you are my cousin, for one thing," Clark replied helplessly. They had had that discussion once or twice. A million times, to be precise.

"I'm the niece of your adoptive mother, Clark. We're not even related," she disagreed.

Clark decided to end this before Lily started enjoying the argument. "What happened, Lily? What is this with my daughter? I knew you were pregnant, but where is the father?"

"He ran away as fast as he could as soon as I told him that I was going to have his baby," Lily answered sadly, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.

"Oh, Lily," Clark whispered sympathetically. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought that I could do this on my own. I felt strong enough, but that was an error. I didn't know where to go. Then I remembered that you had offered me help in one of your letters." She sobbed.

Clark pulled her in a light embrace and carefully avoided hurting the little girl in her arms. "Oh, Lily, I was speaking more of babysitting, if you needed me." What was she up to?

"Clark, please help…me. Please be her fa…father, I can't imagine any…one who would be be…better than you," Lily begged between sobs.

"Lily, you don't know what you are asking for! Why don't you return home or ask my parents for help? I'm sure they will understand." Clark didn't know what he could do for her. How was he supposed to support a family? He was on a constant run; there was nothing stable to his life.

"No, Clark. My parents won't understand. They kept telling me that the man was a waste of time. And your parents, they are about the nicest people I can think of, but Clark, I want you. You are Becca's father, maybe not biologically, but that doesn't count. And her birth certificate says that you're her dad. I told them your name when they asked me for it." Lily clutched Clark, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

"You did what?" he asked hoarsely. Maybe he should have felt anger for being betrayed by Lily. But her face looked so sad and so very innocent. The world had hurt her, and Clark had protected her their whole childhood through. No matter what Lily did, Clark had never been able to be angry with her. Right now the world seemed to tighten around him; it was reduced to this room, and Clark felt utterly lost. How was he going to cope with this? What had Lily done to him? "Why me?" he whispered.

"Because you are you, Clark," she replied, casting the spell that was able to make him do just about anything.


Clark still hadn't drifted off to sleep. The night drained him, both emotionally and physically. Being helpless always made him feel weak. He regretted having chosen Metropolis as their new home, and he regretted the promise he had made. How could Clark go on living with that constant feeling of guilt? He had to find a solution for his problems, and he had to find it fast. He wanted to be the father Becca deserved. He had tried to resist both Becca and Lily. Clark had been the voice of reason. But he had failed, and the young woman and the little girl had won over him. He loved Becca so much, regardless how difficult life had become because of her.

Soft taps on the floor interrupted his thoughts. "Daddy?" Becca's voice broke the silence.

"Yes, pumpkin?" he replied.

"Daddy, I had a nightmare," she whispered and Clark could hear that she had been crying. Why hadn't he heard her sobs? "Can I sleep in your bed tonight?" She sounded shyer than usual, and Clark could tell that the nightmare had to have been really bad.

"Of course, honey." He reached out to take Becca's hand and guided her towards his bed. Then he lifted the blanket, and she slipped under it. "Do you want to tell me about it?" Clark asked as he stroked her gently. He could feel that she shook her head. Becca cuddled in the pillows, and her body relaxed. Clark laid his arm around her and closed his eyes. As Becca's breathing became more and more even, he finally drifted off to sleep himself.


Hours later, Clark woke up and opened his eyes. Dancing spots of sunlight covered the room. The city had become peaceful, at least a bit more silent than the night before. Becca turned around, and her arm landed in Clark's face. That reminded him of her nightly visit. A nightmare had caused her to beg for shelter in his bed. What had that dream been about? Clark assumed that she was still suffering from having overheard his parent's conversation. His stomach wrenched. He should have been prepared for something like this, but he hadn't been. He was so lost in his own problems that he tended to forget Becca's needs.

He still didn't have the faintest idea how life was supposed to go on. Perhaps he would find a way to close his ears to cries for help, because after last night that was about the only way for him to lead a life without constantly feeling guilty. Tying himself to the apartment would be rather difficult. He had managed to do that last night, but he sure as hell couldn't take that for several years. And how could Becca possibly benefit from a father who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown? And what kind of idol was he when he didn't help when he could?

His inner debate was interrupted by a pair of brown eyes that blinked into the morning. The drowsy glance Becca gave him made Clark's heart melt. Whenever he looked into those eyes, he forgot about all the disadvantages of being a father. This was worth any price he had to pay. He owed it to Becca and Lily to do his very best at being the father this little girl needed.

"Good morning, Daddy."

"Good morning, pumpkin," he replied. "Hey, I think you broke my nose, last night."

"That's impossible, Daddy," Becca defended herself. She examined his nose closely and placed a wet kiss on his forehead. "Healed," Becca stated, convinced.

"Are you sure, doctor? Because I'm not going to pay you if it isn't," Clark said, carefully touching his nose.

"Pay me? Pay me with what?" Becca wanted to know.

"Mmhh, how about going to the ice-rink?" Clark suggested. Becca didn't answer; she just became a one-girl-embrace-force. Clark couldn't actually tell if she was brimming over with enthusiasm or trying to kill him. Whatever it was, he enjoyed it. A couple of minutes later, Becca solved the mystery and kissed him on his cheek. He could hardly mistake that with an attempt to murder.

When Becca released her grip, Clark got up to prepare breakfast for the two of them. Becca used the spare time to take a shower and got dressed. When she returned Clark and Becca had breakfast together. Becca wore her most incredible smile. She knew that it could get her about anything from Clark. He watched her closely, waiting for her to take the first step. It took a whole bowl of corn flakes and three bites of toast until she obviously felt ready for it.

"Daddy?" she asked, particularly sweetly. "Do I really have to go to school on Monday?"

"Becca!" he groaned. "We have already had this discussion. There's no other way, especially since I've gotten the job at the Planet."

"But I don't want to go!" she disagreed. "I want to be with you!"

"Becky, it's not a boarding school; we'll see each other every day," Clark replied as calmly as possible. She had already cried because she didn't want to go to school. He had hoped that this trouble was over, but Becca had only given it a short rest.

"That's not the same," she insisted stubbornly.

"Becca, honey. I'm sure you'll like school. There will be lots of other children around, and you'll make friends." Clark tried to convince her.

"Was it the same with you? Did you have a lot of friends in school?" she asked.

"Things were a little different with me; I was a freak, and you're not," Clark stated. Who was he trying to kid? Maybe Becca had no strange powers that she had to hide, but there were other things that children could explore and use against her. Her mother was dead, and she had very little memory of Lily. Her father was just a birth certificate father, but at least she didn't look completely different from him. Of course no one was allowed to know that he was not her biological father. Even the Vital Records Office thought that he was. And her father was a freak, which she couldn't tell anyone either. Those were just perfect conditions for Becca to have a normal life in school. But he was sure that she would make it nonetheless. "Anyhow, despite my being a freak I had some friends in school. So why would you have a problem, pumpkin?"

Becca didn't reply. Clark knew that she could hardly be satisfied with his explanation. But what was he supposed to do? Should he just stop their argument because he was the almighty adult? That's all there is to say, period? Of course this had been necessary at times, because it was no use discussing everything that occurred with his daughter. But the older she had grown the less often he had had to use this imperative way of education. And he had never actually felt good with it, because Becca had a right to know why some things had to be done as he wished.

"You know that I'm there for you, honey, don't you? I need to go to work and earn money. You want to find a home as much as I do. I chose Metropolis because it's easier for me to hide among so many people. But Metropolis is an expensive place, and I need a permanent job. I can't take you with me and teach you at work. I am not sending you to school because I don't like to be with you, but because I think that going to school will offer you the possibility of making friends. I'm sure you'll like it. And we still have the evenings and the weekends together." Clark tousled her hair softly.

"I'm sure you're right, Daddy," Becca gave in, but her former irresistible smile had faded as it had failed to work.


After breakfast, Clark got dressed and Becca fetched her scarf, gloves and a cap. Her face was glowing with expectation. She absolutely loved ice-skating and was considerably better at it than Clark. When she was ready, Becca was pacing up and down, impatiently waiting for him to come. Minutes later they left the apartment and headed for Centennial Park. Clark had heard that the city built an ice rink there every winter.

It was snowing again, like it had the day before, and Clark wondered if they would have a white Christmas this year. But the weather in Metropolis wasn't important since they would spend the holidays with his parents in Smallville. And after all, it was still three weeks till Christmas, so the weather could change a lot until then.

On their way to the Park, Clark told Becca about the old woman he had met in the theatre. She listened to him eagerly as he mentioned how she had said good-bye to the old stage.

"Do you believe in eternal love apart from the stage and fairy-tales?" she asked him, when he had finished the story.

"I really hope it exists, honey," Clark replied and his thoughts wandered to Lois Lane again. How was she doing right now, and was she still in the hospital? She might take a day off on Monday and Clark suddenly noticed that this possibility made him sad. But he didn't actually know her; he had seen her only twice, and she might not have seen him at all. This was really strange, and Clark couldn't understand it.

"Was it eternal love between you and Mommy?" Becca dug further.

"In some respect, yes, Becky. But you shouldn't mistake the love you feel for a relative with the way you love someone you want to marry. Even though we use the same word for it, it's completely different," Clark explained.

"Different in what way?"

"I can't explain, honey. It's something you have to find out on your own. When you fall in love for the first time, you'll know the difference." Clark saw Becca glancing at him, frowning. She obviously wasn't pleased with the answer she had gotten. But Clark couldn't help her with that question. It was really not easy to answer, and moreover, he lacked experience concerning love.

Reaching the ice-rink distracted Becca enough to make her forget about the problem. They borrowed ice-skates at a kiosk that had opened near by. A moment later Becca had put on the skates and was on the ice. It seemed like she had grown wings. Becca became even more the whirlwind she already was on firm ground. She had a natural elegance that very much resembled Lily's when she had been skating on ice. It was astonishing since they had never had the opportunity to do it together. But obviously the ability was in Becca's blood. Clark had taught her only the first steps on the slippery ground, but Becca knew how to dance.

Clark sat down on a bench to change his shoes as well and followed Becca on the ice rink. He was mostly skating in large circles around the rink. Becca appeared in front of him or vanished in the crowds that were on the ice as well. Clark liked watching her, and she rarely had the chance to really get out of sight. And even if she tried, he still had his special abilities to find her quickly.

It was hard to tire Becca out. She didn't get cold because she was moving so much, but Clark interrupted her from time to time with a hot cup of chocolate. They stayed in Centennial Park for hours, and Clark was relieved that the day had been so peaceful. The best thing about the day was that Becca looked so happy. Seeing her as devastated as she had been the evening before had been horrible.

Time passed quickly, and when the afternoon came, Clark told Becca that she had to leave the ice. She had to be hungry, but Becca tended to forget about those things when she was really enjoying herself. But as soon as he mentioned food, Becca noticed that she was indeed starving. She gave Clark a brief disappointed glance, but then left the rink quicker than he had thought possible. That only confirmed his assumption that the little whirlwind was indeed hungry.

Clark and Becca returned home. It was already too late for lunch, so Clark prepared sandwiches and promised a real meal for the evening. After they had eaten, Becca went upstairs because she still had the big brown box waiting for her. She needed to unpack her things, and Clark could be very stubborn concerning her duties. While she was doing that, Clark examined the flat to see if something needed to be cleaned or anything. But since they had moved in the day before yesterday, everything was as tidy as possible. He decided that he was allowed to read a book and went over to the bookshelf.

Just at that moment he heard a knock at the door. He didn't even need to x-ray it, since he knew the shades of the two people in front of it by heart. Clark hurried to open the door for his parents. Martha greeted him with a kiss on his cheek, and Jonathan hugged his son.

"How was the opera?" Clark asked his parents.

"Wonderful!" Martha stated enthusiastically. Jonathan, who stood behind her, remained silent, but the expression on his face told Clark that it surely wasn't his favorite thing to attend. "So tell me about that interview, honey."

"Mr. White hired me," Clark replied.

"That's great, honey. I know how much you wanted to work at the Daily Planet." Martha watched her son with the glance of a wise mother. "Am I wrong or are you trying to hide a "but"?" she asked. Clark opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by Becca who rushed into the living room to say hello to her grandparents.

"Hi, Grandma; hi, Grandpa!" she shouted excitedly as if she hadn't seen the two for half a year and jumped into Jonathan's arms. Clark's father lifted Becca up easily.

"Hello, sunshine," he said and hugged his granddaughter. "How was your day?"

"Great!" She smiled broadly and started to tell Jonathan about the rink.

Right at this moment, Clark heard sirens and cries. He focused on the noise and was able to listen to the police radio. Policemen and firefighters informed each other about a burning building in the suburbs of Metropolis. The fire was difficult to control and apparently there were still people trapped by the fire. Clark's stomach felt burning as well. He glanced at Becca and his parents who had an interesting conversation with each other. They hadn't noticed his distracted air. Clark felt the urge to help those people, but what was he going to tell Becca? She wouldn't understand that he would risk exposing himself. And to be honest he couldn't really justify it himself. But there were people trapped, and they were going to die if it wasn't for him to save them. What would they say if they could hear his doubts right now? A quick shot of laser vision destroyed the light in the living room. Clark had made his decision.

"I've forgotten to buy light bulbs," Clark muttered, grabbed his coat and left the apartment.


It was almost dark, but the last bits of sunlight sufficed as a threat for Clark. He had to use his powers carefully. How would he get to the suburbs? He couldn't run because the wind he would create couldn't be explained by a strange weather phenomenon. Flying was the appropriate alternative, but that had its downsides as well. Clark hurried over to the alley behind his apartment building and looked around. No one seemed to be watching him, not even Becca or his parents. He took off to the skies as fast as possible. The clothing wasn't the best he could have chosen, and Clark hoped that it wouldn't be damaged afterwards.

From below, people would only notice a grey shadow flying across the sky if they happened to look up. Seconds later, Clark had reached the suburbs and saw the burning hotel. Firefighters were all around the building and some of them were trying to get inside, but unfortunately there was fire in the foyer. Some windows were broken because of the heat and Clark used one of them to get inside.

Again he faced the darkness of the thick, black, suffocating smoke. He felt helpless against the force of this fire since it blocked his vision completely. Clark hadn't been in a lot of burning buildings, but he noticed that it wasn't something he could get accustomed to. It was hot, even for him. He tried to forget about his own fear, and he focused on the people. He had used heartbeats once to find victims, and he could do it again. On his way through the fire Clark extinguished smaller fire sources. Whenever he found people who were coughing and trying to get out, Clark cleared a way for them into rooms that hadn't yet caught fire.

He had to be careful because he couldn't afford to be seen by anyone and therefore his progress was awfully slow. Some people managed to escape through the windows of the first floor, and the firefighters probably did the most to save them. Despite Clark's efforts to get the people out, he couldn't save two of them. When he found them he didn't hear their heartbeats anymore, and Clark knew that even more would die if he didn't walk on. But it got more difficult to continue, and Clark felt absolutely useless. If he had only had the courage to show up openly, he would have saved all people and a lot quicker. Clark asked himself why he had come to help in the first place. He had failed in saving those two people as much as he had failed years ago when Lily had died.

The firefighters considered it a miracle that so many people had escaped the flames. It made them sad that they hadn't managed to save all, but they were glad that so few people had died this evening. They lacked any explanation and so thanked the Lord for this miracle. But Clark didn't notice anything of this, and even if he had, he wouldn't have agreed. He was completely devastated when he returned home.


"Where have you been, Clark?" his mother asked when he entered the apartment. She didn't even need to look at him to see that he hadn't brought light bulbs. But from the moment he had said it, she had known that it hadn't been the reason for his departure. "Clark Jerome Kent, who told you that lying was okay?" She sounded rather angry. Clark didn't even try to look guilty; his expression was just blank or maybe showed sheer despair. It was hard to tell, and Martha forgot about admonishing her son.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Clark muttered and went over to the sofa. He sank down and sighed heavily. "I'm starting to think that coming to Metropolis was a mistake. I can't go on this way. I hear so many cries, and there is almost nothing I can do about it. It kills me to be able to help but be unable to go and do it." Clark buried his face in his hands.

A small hand was touching him, stroking him lightly. Rebecca didn't say anything; she just stroked his hands and back. Clark felt her climb onto the sofa. He pulled her into an embrace and held her tightly. Her presence was enough to soothe him a bit. He wondered what he would do without her.

"I wouldn't mind if we had to move once again," she said softly.

"Oh, Becca, honey," Clark whispered, emotionally. "I promised you to stay here, and I will find a way. I don't know how, but I will."

"I understand that you want to help people, Daddy, I really do," Becca answered.

"I'm sorry that I lied to you, Becca, honey. That was stupid, really stupid," Clark murmured into her hair.

Clark only had eyes for the little girl in his arms. He didn't see his parents glancing at each other, not sure what to say. They had been about to argue with him, to call him irresponsible. And they would have been right. Clark knew that. It would have been the worst argument they had ever had, and Clark could hardly imagine how angry his mother had been. He hadn't left Becca alone, but he had once again put his secret at stage. Martha had spent years hoping to have a child, but in vain. To her, children were the most precious gift in the whole world, and she would never allow anyone to hurt a child. But she did not only consider Becca as the child in this relationship, she was just as protective of Clark as he was of her, and it killed her to see how much he suffered from hiding.

"We will find a way," Martha stated and sat down next to Clark and Becca. "We will find a way to make both of you happy." Martha kissed Becca and then Clark.

"But how, Martha?" Jonathan asked. "How do you think could Clark use his powers to help people? They would never leave him alone if the world found out about him."


Martha and Jonathan had stayed for dinner and had left afterwards. Clark had brought Becca to bed and had told her another fairy tale. After having kissed her goodnight, he had gone to bed himself, just like the day before. And again, the night wasn't peaceful, and Clark heard sirens all over Metropolis. Maybe there weren't actually many emergencies, but Clark got the impression that the whole city consisted of victims tonight: victims of robbery, murder, accidents and all kinds of violence. His bad conscience caused him to count each police car as if it were several of them.

He had drifted in and out of sleep dreaming of horrible things. He didn't remember them afterwards, but they left him emotionally drained. The night seemed endless, but after hours of exhausting nightmares, Clark was spent and managed to sleep deeper. It wasn't enough to allow him regaining strength, and so this would be another night of useless sleep.

Clark awoke from a loud knock. First, he didn't know what it was, but then he realized that someone had to be at his door. The knocking continued and a female voice was shouting his name.

"Mr. Kent?…Mr. Kent? Come on, it's Sunday morning. I know you're there." The woman sounded very impatient. It was silent for a moment. "Where can a hack from Nowheresville actually be at this time of day? It's too early for church. Ahh, why did Perry do this to me?" The woman in front of his door muttered, annoyed. He surely wasn't supposed to hear the last part. Nowheresville… Clark was annoyed as well. Smallville wasn't "nowhere" and he really liked the little town. He emerged from his bed, dressed himself quickly and grabbed his glasses. Obviously the day wasn't going to be any better than the night had been. He went to open the door.

Just as he opened, Lois Lane had been about to start knocking again. She stopped the movement as she saw Clark's face. Clark opened his mouth to say hello, but it was to no avail.

Lois Lane interrupted his attempt at politeness. "I knew you were there, Mr. Kent. Don't think this was my idea, but Perry assigned you and me on this article. He should know that I usually work alone. I don't need a partner, but he's the boss."

"Good morning, Ms. Lane. It's nice to meet you, too," Clark stated wryly. He glanced at the woman who looked still quite fascinating. But he wasn't so sure anymore if he really wanted to get acquainted with her.

"Yeah, nice to meet you." Lois snorted. "Kent, I've really not enough time to be nice. I didn't expect to be responsible for a greenhorn, so please get ready quickly."

"Come in, you can wait in the living room while I get ready," Clark offered as patiently as possible. *The day is going to be long*, he thought. *Don't upset her even more than she already is. She has been through a lot,* Clark reminded himself.

Lois Lane entered his apartment, but she didn't wait in the living room. She followed Clark, who went into his bedroom to get his suit.

"Perry assigned me on an article about the series of arson in the last couple of days. I hope you heard about that," she said. It didn't sound as if she really expected him to know what was going on in the city. After all he was from Nowheresville, wasn't he?

"The fires, yes. I heard about them, but I didn't know they were arson," Clark replied.

"Well, that's no wonder; the police only announced it this morning." There was still this annoyance in her voice as if she had to deal with a dumb child. She was still the most beautiful woman on earth, but right now she did her best to scare him off. Why was she behaving like this? It wasn't his fault that Mr. White had sent her to him. "Perry wants me to dig out everything I can find. And he advised me to take you with me for whatever reason he has."

Right at that moment Clark's covers moved and a sigh escaped the pillows. Lois groaned and Clark gasped in surprise. He hadn't even noticed that Becca had again slipped into his bed tonight. Her brown curls were visible under the covers, and she looked so peaceful. Clark wondered what had made her come to him again.

"Oh, my God, I really don't want to know…" Lois muttered and stared at the dark brown curls. "Kent, say good-bye to your girlfriend and get ready. A kiss will do. I have no time for long endearments." She left the bedroom quickly.

At that moment Becca lifted her head and stared at Clark in disbelief. "It's Sunday!" she squealed accusingly.

"I know, honey. It looks like I have no choice but to go with her," Clark replied. Had he ever felt so helpless? He saw the hurt in Becca's eyes. Had he really thought that things couldn't get worse? What a mess! "My new boss wants us to work on an article."

"You can't go! You promised to spend the weekend with me!" In Becca's voice was all the despair of a child knowing that she wouldn't have the last word in the discussion. "Don't leave me alone!" She begged.

"Honey, I'll be back in a few hours. And you won't be alone…" Clark tried to soothe his daughter who was on the verge of crying. He lifted her on his lap and kissed her hair.

"Kent, come on; leave the crybaby. She's old enough to stay alone," Lois shouted angrily. "We've gotta go!"

This was too much! Clark stood up, Becca still in his arms, and rushed into the living room. "She's seven, Ms. Lane! She has every right to cry! What would you say if your father was leaving you when he had promised to spend the whole day with you? I'm afraid, but you'll have to wait until she has had breakfast. I've got a phone. Call me the next time, and I'll be ready when it suits you," he growled.

Lois Lane had turned pale. "I'm sorry," she mumbled weakly and fell silent. She looked as if lightning had struck her. Clark noticed it with fierce satisfaction and then returned his attention to Becca.

"I'm taking you to your grandparents, pumpkin. And I will be back as soon as possible," he explained. "I didn't know that I would have to work today. I'll make it up to you this evening, I promise, Becky." He set her back on the floor and wiped away the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. "I'm so very sorry, Becca."

Becca nodded, still upset. On the other hand, she liked being with her grandparents. Anger and anticipation competed. But she knew that her father would have to go. Though she was still young, she had noticed that adults couldn't always do the things they wanted to do. Obediently, she followed Clark into the kitchen. He prepared breakfast, and Becca sat down at the table.

"How can you go with this nasty woman?" Becca complained.

"Rebecca!" Clark admonished her through clenched teeth. Unfortunately Becca had hit the nail on the head. Lois Lane was either a bitch or she was having a really bad day. He hoped it was the latter; he really did. Otherwise, he would have to reconsider working for the Planet.

Clark's heart wrenched as he saw the picture of misery that was sitting at his kitchen table. He very much wanted to tell Ms. Lane to leave his apartment and to never come back again. He felt like quitting the job, but he knew that would be childish and inappropriate. As unreasonable as it sounded right at this moment, he had to stand this whole thing for Becca's sake. Clark placed a glass of orange juice and a plate of pancakes in front of his little girl. Then he sat down beside her.

"You know that I love you, don't you, honey?" Clark whispered in her ear.

"I dreamt that I had lost you, Daddy. When I woke up you were mumbling and crying in your sleep. I was so scared. Please don't go," she begged again, this time sobbing.

Clark pulled Becca into an embrace. "Shh, it's okay. You won't loose me, pumpkin. You don't need to be afraid," he said in the most soothing tone of voice he was capable of.

Lois Lane entered the kitchen. She looked still a little pale. "I'm sorry, Kent. I was rude to you and your daughter. That was needless. It's just… it has been a rough week." Her apology sounded a whole lot friendlier. Clark looked up and studied her face. The fierce determination in it had receded and was almost gone now. The change in her expression had turned her into an incredibly vulnerable woman. Clark could tell from the look in her eyes that she had been hurt before. He realized that his impression of her had been right: she was tough but not as hardened as she claimed to be. She was watching Becca and himself, but he didn't know what she was thinking. But one thing he knew: she wasn't just a bitch and there had to be more to it than just having a bad day. He had an urge to find out more about this woman.

"I guess we had a bad start, Ms. Lane." Clark released Becca and got up to offer Lois his hand. "Hello, I'm Clark Kent."

She shook it and replied with a weak smile. "I'm Lois Lane. It's nice to meet you, Kent." Lois went over to the table and approached Becca. "And it's nice to meet you, Rebecca." She put her hand forth. Becca looked up, but she didn't take the hand.

"It's not nice to meet you," she said angrily and looked daggers at Lois.

"Rebecca!" Clark used her full name for the second time this morning. "That's not how I told you to talk to other people." He was admonishing her though he was inwardly grateful that Becca had spoken her mind. A child could be honest to an extent that was downright impossible for adults. And there were a lot of things he would have liked to say to Lois Lane earlier; Becca was doing it for him.

Becca winced as she looked into Clark's earnest face. "Sorry, Ms. Lane," she muttered half-heartedly. Clark didn't really expect Becca to say and mean it, so he left it at that. Becca continued eating her pancakes silently, and Lois Lane shifted her position uncomfortably. She had become a lot shier and didn't act like he was her personal lackey anymore. She was definitely more likable this way, and Clark's interest in her increased even more.

About half an hour later, Becca had had a shower and was dressed. Clark had phoned his parents and asked them if they would look after her. They had agreed, and Clark had promised to take Becca to them. During this entire time, Lois had sat on the couch and hadn't said anything. Although Clark didn't actually know her, she seemed quite distracted and lost in thought. He decided not to question her behavior until he knew Becca was safe with his parents.


An hour after Lois Lane had stormed into his apartment, they were both sitting in her car. She drove. They were headed for the fire department in a suburb of Metropolis, and Clark was glad that it wasn't the one that had been called to extinguish the fire at Lois' place. They might recognize him. Clark was rather glad that he didn't need to concentrate on traffic. He wasn't sure that he would have been able to do it. Lois Lane was really intoxicating. She messed up his mind and turned him into a drooling fool. Well, this might have been a little exaggerated; he could keep his mouth shut and his lips and chin dry. Her legs, under that skirt, were just incredible. And so was the rest of her. She was speaking again and telling him what she knew about the two fires. It wasn't anything he didn't already know, but then he had been as close to the fire as possible.

Throughout her monologue, Clark noticed that rumors were right, and Lois Lane was really a brilliant reporter. She really knew how to get information. The physicians at the hospital had certainly made her stay there for at least twenty-four hours, so she might have left the hospital the previous evening. She hadn't had much time, but nonetheless, Lois was aware of most facts concerning the fire. What she didn't mention was how close she had been to one of the fires.

Clark thought briefly about what might have happened if he had found a payphone and called 911. Were the fire fighters right, and she would have died if he hadn't been there? Clark dismissed the thought. He was just grateful, for the first time in weeks, that he had these powers. They had given him a second chance to get to know Lois. He looked over to her, and his heart started beating rapidly. He studied her face, the straight line of her nose and her adorable lips. She was concentrating on the traffic and continued her monologue. He liked the warm tone of her voice when she wasn't angry. The air was filled with the faint scent of her shampoo, mixed with her own unique scent. It was sweet and tantalizingly attractive.

Clark blinked. He shouldn't fall for a woman that he had first met only two days ago. What he had seen of Lois Lane so far had been more scary than it was lovable. She had been impossibly rude and offending, and moreover, Becca didn't seem to like her. Maybe he should listen to his little whirlwind in this current state of temporary insanity.

While Clark was staring adoringly at Lois Lane, he got so lost in thought that he had not heard a single of her words. He realized too late that this was a mistake.

"Earth to Clark Kent!" Lois said with a hint of annoyance.

"Eh, what?" he asked, confused.

"I was asking if you were listening, but no answer is an answer as well," Lois replied angrily. "Let's get something straight, Kent. I'm the best reporter in this city, and you are the most inexperienced. You'd better listen to me when I'm telling you something. I'm not known for my patience, and to be honest, being partnered with you for this story was absolutely not my idea. So if you don't want to do this, just go. I certainly won't hold you back." She parked the car at the side of the street. "Okay, here we are. When we get inside, I'll ask the questions. Your job is to listen and learn. Don't do anything stupid to keep the fire fighters from answering my questions."

"Are you finished, Ms. Lane?" Clark felt anger well up inside him. His self-imposed avoidance of Lois' attractiveness was much easier to stick to now that she had turned into her bitchy self again. "There is such a thing as being too self-assured, you know?" He didn't plan on becoming Lois Lane's personal lap dog.

"Kent, I'm top banana. Take it or leave it. That's not my problem," she shot back.

She was right; it wasn't her problem but his. He needed the job. Clark swallowed his pride and crossed the street a few steps behind her. They went over to a red brick building that had two entrances — a big one for fire trucks and a smaller one for the people.

Lois had an air of certainty as she walked directly over to the smaller entrance and opened the door as if nothing on earth would be able to stop her. Clark followed her more self-consciously.

"Hey, is anybody there?" Lois shouted as soon as they had entered the building. She looked around and turned to the big fire truck. Three men were working around it. They looked up as they heard her.

"We're here," one of them replied, needlessly, since Lois had already seen them. "Who are you and what do you want?" he asked, his brows furrowed.

"Lois Lane, Daily Planet, I'm…" Lois hesitated briefly, remembering that someone was with her. "This is Clark Kent," she then added. "We'd like to ask a few questions about the fire at the hotel yesterday evening."

"The police have all the information. Ask their spokesperson!" said another fire fighter, turning them down.

"I know what the police know," Lois said impatiently. "What I want is your side of the story!"

The fire fighter shook his head. "Ask our spokesperson… that's as much of our story as you will get!"

Clark remembered the fire, his own fear and despair. It had to be a million times worse for those poor men. They had chosen the job, granted, but it had to be hard, really hard. What had left him completely devastated in just one night was their lot in life. How did they deal with it, Clark wondered? Despite Lois' interdiction, he opened his mouth.

"We want to write about how it feels to be a fire fighter," he said softly.

"How it feels?" the third man frowned. "You don't wanna know how it feels. You can't express how it feels," he said, annoyed. Lois shot Clark a very angry glance. If looks could kill, he would have been dead by now. It meant *Keep your mouth shut!* Clark returned that look with an indifferent expression on his face. Only one of his eyebrows was raised a little, silently telling Lois not to be too quick to judge.

"But you can," Clark replied simply.

"No, we can't." The words sounded a whole lot gentler, despite the rejection. Lois was obviously irritated. She didn't say anything, and her mouth was slightly open. "All I can tell you about that fire is that a miracle happened."

"A miracle?" Clark asked, skeptically. "You call two people dying a miracle?"

"I call eighteen people surviving a miracle!" the man stated.

"Why was it a miracle?" Lois asked, pronouncing the word miracle as if she very much doubted the existence of such things.

"Because in my opinion there was no chance for these people to get out of the burning hotel," the fire fighter replied. "The entire hotel was ablaze by the time we arrived at the site of the fire. The hall was a sea of flames. We didn't get inside as hard as we tried. The smoke must have been thick and suffocating. I have walked through many rooms, dark with smoke, and I can't imagine how they got outside."

"So you mean they must have had help?" Lois asked.

"Only God could have helped them."

They asked the three men a few more questions, but they got more and more unwilling to reply. So after about a quarter of an hour, Lois and Clark left the fire department.

"Miracle!" Lois said indignantly. "There is an explanation for everything. You only have to find it." She sounded rather annoyed that their interview hadn't led them anywhere. Clark was silent. He hadn't seen the people he had saved. Had there really been eighteen of them? It hadn't seemed like that, but his troubled mind had only counted the dead people and ignored the living. So had his rescue really been efficient? Clark could hardly believe, after a self-reproachful night, that the fire fighters considered his appearance a miracle. It was pretty much the first time that Clark had really heard such words. Most people he had saved didn't even know he existed. Some had thanked him, but no one had ever been so eloquent. "What do you, think, Kent?"

Clark looked at her, unsure how to reply. He knew the truth, and there was nothing miraculous about it- maybe out of this world, but not a miracle. But he could hardly tell her that. *Ms. Lane, actually it was me who saved the people. I just flew straight into the house.*Yeah, right. He wouldn't end up dissected like a frog but immediately taken away by men in white coats, instead.

"Don't you think that some things that happen to us are just a miracle?" he replied cautiously.

"Kent, this is not about belief, this is about knowledge. I think you've chosen the wrong job. Why don't you study to be a minister?" It was a rhetorical question, or at least Lois Lane wasn't interested in his answer.

"Okay, so you want to investigate further. Any ideas where we should start investigating a *miracle*?" Clark shot back with anger in his voice.

"Easy, Kent. I bet that the guy who set fire to this building got a bad conscience and saved the people," Lois said self-assuredly.

"Yeah, right, Ms. Lane. He walked directly through the flames in the hall without being seen by the fire fighters and then saved these people. Of course he doesn't need to breathe, and he can surely see through thick black smoke," Clark replied dryly. He bit his lip. He was about to say too much, just because this woman made him angry. How could she have such an effect on him? He had met selfish people before, and he had always been able to cope with them. Clark realized why he was feeling like this. Because he liked the woman so much and underneath her bitchy surface she was certainly the most incredible person he had ever met. Well, she was the most incredible person he had ever met, apart from his daughter.

Lois looked at him now, and her mouth gaped open. Obviously, she wasn't used to people disagreeing with her. "So what's your idea, then?" She asked.

This was getting Clark nowhere he liked to be. "I don't know," he said defensively.

"Brilliant idea, Kent!" Lois snorted and quickly paced over to her car. Clark watched her with an uneasy expression on his face, unsure if she was taking him with her. "Come on, Kent. I don't have time to waste staring into space."

Clark sighed and followed her. This was going to be a long day. He was worried that Lois' hunt for news on the fire would finally lead them to the policemen who had interviewed him on Friday evening. He should have known that someone from the Daily Planet would be assigned to the fire. But even in his worst nightmares he had not imagined that it would be him. Of course he was grateful for being able to supervise what others might find out about him, but this was dangerous.

"Where are we headed to?" Clark wanted to know. Better be safe than sorry.

"A source, Kent. I hope you're not hungry!" Lois replied mysteriously.

Clark groaned inwardly and opened the passenger door of the car. Somewhere between breakfast and this moment he had made a huge mistake, and he was paying for it now.

"You could be a bit more explicit, Ms. Lane," he complained.

"And you could stick to your promise of listening and learning, Kent."

"I never promised anything of the sort! I might not be as experienced as you are, Ms. Lane. But I'm not a fool, and I sure as hell won't let you treat me like one," Clark stated firmly.

Lois looked at him, surprised. "Like I said, Kent, it was a rough week," she said with a somewhat guilty look on her face.

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean that you have the right to do anything. It's not like my week has been especially wonderful. I moved, got everything in my apartment into place and will need to send Becca to school on Monday. She doesn't want to go, and I won't be able to attend her first day in school. It was a rough week for me as well. But I'm not running around and taking my frustrations out on the people around me," Clark shot back.

"Don't bother me with those tiny little problems of yours, Kent. It's not like you were in a burning apartment on Friday," Lois disagreed. "My problems are way out of your league."

Clark stopped himself just in time from replying that he had indeed been in a burning apartment. In two burning buildings to be precise. And whereas Lois had spent her Saturday in the caring hands of nurses, he had practically watched two people die. Their weekends were not comparable; in this respect Lois Lane was right. If he had been a normal man, he wouldn't have stopped arguing now. He would have told Ms. Lane what he thought of her. But Clark knew that being controlled by anger was out of the question for him. He only shot her a glance telling Lois that she could think whatever she wanted.

Lois obviously chose to abstain from any further argument and started the car. She still hadn't told Clark who or where her source was. Clark very much wanted to punish Ms. Lane with stubborn silence. But there was this other, irrational part of him that was still interested in her. The friendly, caring Clark wanted to know how she felt right now. And he didn't want to argue with this impressive woman. He wanted to make her notice him and like him. This Clark couldn't remain silent after she had just told him about her terrible weekend.

"So tell me about your weekend," this Clark asked gently, having completely forgotten about their previous argument. "How come you were in a burning apartment?"

"*My* burning apartment!" Lois corrected.

"That must have been rough. I'm glad that you're okay," Clark said sympathetically.

"It was. I was scared to death, and I thought that I wouldn't get out of the room. It was hot and there was smoke. I don't even remember how I finally got out. The police said that I was found on the second floor. I don't recall getting down there," Lois mumbled thoughtfully. "This story is important to me, Kent. Now you know why."

"Yes, now I know," Clark repeated. It wasn't exactly true; he had known from the very beginning.

"I'm sorry, Kent, I guess I'm behaving pretty badly." Her sudden apology surprised Clark. "First with you and your daughter and now yet again." She sighed.

"How about you call me Clark instead of Kent as a sign of reconciliation," Clark offered. He held out his hand and Lois shook it.

"I'm Lois," she said softly. "It was impressive how you made the fire fighter talk," Lois added and glanced only briefly at him before she looked away. Her concentration was focused on the street again.

"Thanks," Clark replied simply.

They were approaching downtown Metropolis. The traffic became denser, and the streets were busy. Both Lois and Clark had fallen silent. Clark watched his surroundings, trying to broaden his mental map of the city. But there were still many places he hadn't seen yet, not even on his previous visits to the city without Becca when he had searched for an apartment. And he was thinking about Lois' comment on being hungry. Why should meeting a source have something to do with hunger? Maybe this mystery would be solved soon.

They had reached a Chinese take-out when Lois parked the car again.

"I'll be back in a flash, Ke…Clark," She corrected herself.

"What…?" Clark wanted to ask, but she was already gone. He watched her leaving, startled.

It took a couple of minutes for her to return. Lois had a big paper bag, filled with Chinese take-out. Clark wondered what she was going to do with such an amount of food. She grabbed in the bag and handed him an egg roll and a fortune cookie.

"Watch these, but *don't* you dare eat them," she said threateningly. Then she placed the paper bag on his lap, covering the two things she had given him previously. "Same with that."

She started the car again and pulled out of the parking lot. They followed the street and continued their way to a yet unknown destination. They passed a couple of blocks and most of the buildings on the side of the street contained restaurants. There was Indian food, French Cuisine, some Bars and Pubs and about any other type of restaurant. Cheap ones and really expensive ones, all accurately lined up like pearls on a string. Clark had no clue as to who this mysterious source could be. When he or she already lived in this El Dorado of food, why had Lois bought so much that he and Becca would need about a week to eat it all?

After an endless row of restaurants, Lois left the street and parked the car in an alley behind a restaurant. She shot a longing glance towards the paper bag, but turned her head again and watched the street. Obviously she was waiting for someone to appear. After a couple of minutes, her gaze wandered back to the paper bag. Clark could hear her stomach growling and realized with astonishment that noon was long gone.

"Why don't you eat something, Lois?" Clark offered. She shot him a glance as if he had made a downright impossible suggestion.

"Don't you dare!" a voice from the back of the car answered instead of Lois.

Clark turned around and gasped in surprise. He hadn't heard anyone entering the car, but there was a man sitting on the backseat. He had light brown curls and wasn't really shaved. His once white shirt was spotted with remnants of various meals, and the man looked as if he needed a shower. He grabbed the paper bag from Clark's lap and opened it, his eyes gleaming with pleasure.

"What did you bring me, Lois?"

It was a rhetorical question. Clark assumed that Lois had brought every available item from the takeout. The man started eating.

"Who is that friend of yours, Lois?" he asked between two bites.

Clark could hardly believe that this man was able to swallow his food. It was amazing and somewhat disgusting to watch him eat.

"This is Clark Kent. Clark, this is Bobby Bigmouth. Bobby, what do you know about these fires?" Lois inquired.

Bobby Bigmouth chewed a couple of egg rolls while he was thinking. Clark considered Bigmouth as the only suitable name for the man on the backseat. He waited patiently for Bobby to answer, but like Lois had said, she wasn't patient.

"Come on, Bobby. I know that you know something about the fires," she repeated.

Bobby shook his head. "Not without that last egg roll, and I bet there was a fortune cookie as well."

Lois denied their existence and shot Clark a pleading glance. Bobby Bigmouth called Lois a liar and insisted on the two last bits of food that hadn't yet found their way into his seemingly giant stomach. Clark handed him the objects of desire and observed, fascinated, how quickly they vanished as well.

"All I know is that someone set fire on your building in an attempt to kill your neighbor. By the way, I'm glad you survived. I have no idea why the hotel burned as well. Oh, and there are rumors that a mysterious man stormed into your building and rescued you and your neighbor." Bobby fumbled with the packages of his meal. "Find your disguise for Halloween," he read out loud and added an address. "Lois, please, where did you get that? Am I going to find advertising for the first journey of the Titanic on the bag next time? Remember, only fresh food means fresh news." With these words he left a very startled Lois and Clark.

Clark noticed that Lois' expression had turned blank, and he could virtually see her mind wrapping around the news she had gotten. He waited for her to come to terms with what she had heard. Clark was a little worried that his rescue hadn't remained a secret. Of course, Bobby Bigmouth hadn't said that Clark Kent had saved Lois. But rumors could be bad enough, especially when they caused Lois to dig further in her rescue. She hadn't been aware of the circumstances in which she had escaped the apartment building. Clark wished that it would still be like that.

In the meantime, Lois had obviously come to a conclusion. "He was there, Clark, both times. These arsons are connected."

"He? Lois, who are you talking about?" Clark asked, confused.

"The arsonist, Clark. He was there. Don't you remember what the fire fighter said? There was someone who rescued people. And Bobby Bigmouth just told us that there was a mysterious man who saved my neighbor and me," Lois explained.

Clark shook his head. "No, Lois. Why should anyone burn down houses and run into them to save the victims?"

"I don't know, Clark, but this is Metropolis. Stranger things have happened here. If he was a hero, why would he hide, then?"

Clark didn't reply. He could hardly tell Lois the truth. And as it was, he couldn't come up with a good argument that would instantly prove her theory wrong. How could she know that she hadn't been on the second floor but the third? That no living being on earth but him could have gotten her outside? And that even the smartest arsonist couldn't have escaped the fire in the hotel? She hadn't been there or had been unconscious and therefore hadn't seen the entire extend of the fire. He wasn't going to tell her; he wasn't going to tell anyone.

All of a sudden two sentences that had been used previously jumped back into Clark's mind and established themselves there, not willing to leave. One of them was the advertising that Bobby Bigmouth had read out; the other was Lois' last sentence. He tried to get them out of his head, but to no avail. All he managed was to reduce them to two words that kept circulating in his mind. * Disguise* *Hide* *Disguise* *Hide* Clark almost didn't notice that Lois was speaking again. She had obviously assumed that he had accepted having lost the argument, which was certainly true.

"Where shall I drop, you, Clark? We are finished now; there is nothing else that we'll find today. The press conference is tomorrow. I think that your daughter wants you back. I almost forgot…Perry told me that you could have a day off on Monday, if you like."

The jumble of thoughts in Clark's head stopped for a moment and was replaced by sheer felicity. His mouth got dry and dark clouds were vanishing. Suddenly sunshine was able to touch the ground. "I…I'd be glad if I could come in a few hours later on Monday," he managed to say.

"Sure, Clark," Lois replied and for the first time since she was with him, a bright smile appeared on her face. Clark was directly transported to paradise as he saw her beautiful face. "You know what? Despite your being so inexperienced you came into your own. Maybe it's not that bad being partnered with you on this story. But don't think that we'll make that a habit."


When Clark returned home it was afternoon and freezing cold outside, but one of his problems had just vanished into nothingness. He could attend Becca's first day in school. It could as well have been a bright and fresh morning in the warm summer air. That reflected how Clark felt much better. After all, it hadn't been that bad a day, though some moments of it had been quite rough.

Clark opened the door to his apartment and noticed that Becca and his parents had already returned. The little girl had obviously forgiven him his early departure and ran across the room towards him. He caught her in mid air, when she jumped up, and held her tightly.

"Hi, pumpkin, nice to see you," he greeted her and she laid her arms around his neck and placed a kiss on his mouth. "What a welcome," he mumbled. Clark walked with the little whirlwind on his arms into the living room. "Hi, Mom and Dad."

"Hi, Clark," his father said, grinning at his son. Martha's smile was slightly smaller, but she didn't say anything. "How was the first day of work?" Jonathan inquired.

"Difficult at times, but mostly okay," Clark replied.

"She's a witch!" Becca stated.

"No, she isn't, honey. She had a bad day. Remember? She's the woman that I saved from the fire in the apartment building."

"Bad day, pah." Becca rolled her eyes. She could win contests at that. Clark couldn't help but smile at the sight.

"Why don't you get dressed, pumpkin? Really warm clothes!" Clark said.

Becca's face started to gleam with expectation. Her cheeks grew red, and her eyes turned into sparkling stars. As soon as Clark had released her to the floor, she started running upstairs. She didn't notice how Martha was shaking her head.

*Clark!* she mouthed in her son's direction. She knew exactly what he was up to. *Don't you dare!*

"Yes, Mom, I will take her out on a flight. She deserves that after I left her this morning," he whispered.

"That's another point, Clark. How do you think this is going to work when we return to Smallville? You can't possibly bring Becca to us on a moment's notice," Martha returned in a low voice.

"I don't know yet, Mom. But I'll find a way. Becca is my responsibility. I'd never let her down," Clark stated firmly.

"We trust you, son," Jonathan said and rested his hand on Clark's shoulder in affirmation. Martha nodded, not completely convinced yet, but knowing that Becca's happiness strictly depended on her being with Clark.

As soon as Becca came down again, Clark lifted her up into his arms and said good-bye to his parents. Then he stepped out on his balcony. It was already dark outside.

"Ready?" he asked his daughter.

"Ready!" she replied happily.

Clark took off and flew high up into the sky. The clear air of the night and the joy of flying washed away all his sorrows. One last time, the two words that had accompanied him since he had said good-bye to Lois suddenly reappeared. First there was *Hide* and then came *Disguise*. As strange as it was, they made sense to him now. Becca's cheers of joy only confirmed it as brilliant. Right at this moment, Clark had the feeling that he had just solved another one of his problems.


*Seeking Heroes*

Cozy was the word that described it best. There was a bunch of smooth pillows around him and underneath his fingers he found velvet skin. Heaven couldn't be better. Soft lips touched his and trailed across his face. Above these incredible lips there were a beautiful nose and eyes like dark honey. Looking into them was amazingly sweet, but even better was the glance they returned. They were admiring and loving. They virtually caressed every inch of him without having to touch. Dark strands of hair were tickling his chest. For the first time, the face of the woman he encountered in his dreams belonged to a real person. If he hadn't been dreaming, Clark would have denied that he wished Lois would be so nice to him in real life.

The sweet dream was interrupted by the ear-shattering tone of his alarm-clock. Clark groaned and involuntarily stretched his arm into the direction of that annoying sound. The alarm was immediately gone but replaced by the sound of breaking plastic. He groaned again. It was the third alarm-clock in the last four weeks. Unwillingly, he opened one eye and then the other. It was still pitch dark. Clark sighed and rose from bed. He stepped out of his bedroom and over to the kitchen. As silently as possible, he started preparing breakfast in order to grant Becca a few more minutes of sleep.

When he was finished, Clark climbed up the stairs. He heard Becca's steady breathing and followed the sound. She was cuddled up in her covers and looked so peaceful that Clark sincerely regretted having to wake her up. He sat down beside her and bent down to place a kiss on her forehead.

"Only five more minutes, Daddy," she muttered drowsily. Clark lit the lamp on her nightstand.

"Come on, sleepyhead, get out of bed. It's not going to be easier in five minutes," he said softly. "And just to remind you: don't call me Daddy, Rebecca." He started their game to cheer her up.

"Okay, Daddy," she replied lamely and sat up. Clark wrapped his arms around her.

"What's the matter, honey? Did you have a bad dream?" he asked gently, trying to distract her.

"Can't remember," she said and leaned in his embrace.

"Are you afraid of your first day?" Clark wanted to know as he heard her heart beating rapidly. Becca nodded and pressed herself even tighter against Clark. "It's going to be okay, honey." His soothing tone seemed to calm her down a bit. "I was afraid as well when I went to school for the first time."

"You were?" she asked, surprised. "I never saw you being afraid, Daddy." Becca looked up to him with dark brown eyes.

"Oh, pumpkin!" Clark chuckled. "Your grandpa often advised me to be careful not to tell others about myself. When I first went to school, I didn't exactly have many of my powers, but I was stronger than average. Considerably stronger! Who else was able to lift a fridge? Not even my dad. So there was something strange about me. I was scared to death that I might possibly hurt someone by accident. Or that I'd lift something that I wasn't supposed to be able to lift. I didn't have much experience with what a six year old boy should be able to do. And your mommy couldn't help me either, because she wasn't allowed to know. My parents were afraid that she would tell someone."

"So you were afraid then. But there isn't anything you fear now, is there?" Becca dug further.

"Becky, honey, of course there is. I'm afraid of disappointing you, of making mistakes. I'm afraid of someone finding out about me. The list is endless. Being a grown-up doesn't mean that nothing is able to scare you anymore." Clark placed a kiss on Becca's dark curly hair.

"So, you're just a big coward, huh?"

"Be careful, little lady. Else I might be too afraid to come along with you to school," he teased her. "Come out of that bed, now. Breakfast is ready." Clark got up from the bed, allowing Becca to get out of it. Clark looked around her room. Becca had stored all her things, but it still looked awfully bare. He would have to do something about that. It was the first room of her own she ever had, and since it wasn't really huge, he wanted it to be comfortable at least. He would think about that problem as soon as possible. There were still three weeks to Christmas and hopefully he would get a paycheck before that.

Clark walked down the stairs with Becca behind him. She yawned accusingly, indicating that she wasn't happy about having to get up so early. Clark ignored that comment. It wouldn't get him anywhere to try to comfort Becca now. She was far too talented at starting arguments. She would distract him completely. Becca could even make him forget about wanting to send her to school. Clark didn't want to risk that. He didn't envy the guys that would fall for her in a couple of years. She had powers like a strong drug and was irrevocably addictive from the moment you met her. Ever since Lily had placed the tiny body of the sweetest baby on earth in his arms, Clark had been committed to Becca and would remain until the end of days. He hadn't been able to say no as Lily had asked him to confirm his parenthood to the authorities. His struggle had been weak, and the battle had been lost before it had even started.

As soon as they came into the kitchen, Becca sat down at the table, and Clark placed her breakfast in front of her. Becca winced for some reason, and Clark watched her worriedly. But she started eating as if nothing had happened. She didn't speak much and Clark blamed it on her nervousness.

"I'm sure you're gonna meet a lot of nice kids," he said.

"Am I allowed to bring them home with me?" Becca asked.

"Why not, honey? You could invite them on weekends," Clark replied and waited a couple of seconds to continue. "I'll pick you up at day care this afternoon. We will fly over to Smallville this evening. Your grandparents are leaving Metropolis shortly after we all accompany you to school."

"Smallville?" Becca was surprised.

"Yeah. I think I found a way to be able to help and to lead a normal life with you at the same time. I need a disguise so that no one will recognize me as Clark Kent," Clark explained.

"Just like Halloween!" Becca said excitedly. Her cheeks blushed. "But you're not going to wear an ugly monster mask, are you?" she mumbled.

"Sure!" Clark grinned at her. "A dark green one — with *large* yellow teeth. The eyes will be bright red, and the expression is going to freeze your blood in your veins the instant you look at it. I always dreamt of something like this."

"Daddy, you're making fun of me," Becca complained.

"Guilty, your honor!" Clark laughed. "Are you finished?" he asked and removed the dishes from the table as she nodded. "Go and get dressed, then." After he had cleaned up, Clark spun into a dark grey suit and searched for the school stuff he had bought for Becca a few weeks ago.


Half an hour later they were on their way to Becca's new school. Dawn had already broken and so Metropolis was light grey with the first weak attempts of the sun to fight the darkness of the night. Clark had found an elementary school that was only a few blocks away from their apartment. It wasn't that far away to walk, and Clark could easily take her to school before he had to go to work. At least he would do that until she was older. It broke his heart that he would leave her alone with people she didn't know. But at least he was able to walk this way with her this morning.

As soon as the school came in sight, Becca laid her hand in his and together they approached the building. Both were nervous, and though he pretended to feel completely at ease, Clark's heart was beating more rapidly than Becca's. He smiled at Becca affirmatively but was really trying to assure himself that everything was going to be all right. The school's secretary had told him he should come to the principal's office first.

Suddenly Becca loosened her grip on his hand and started running. Clark looked up, surprised, and saw his parents standing in front of the school. They had promised to come, but only had time for a few minutes of saying goodbye since their plane was taking off in a couple of hours. Martha and Jonathan welcomed Becca with a huge smile and embraced her as she got close to them.

"Have fun on your first day, sweetie," Martha said and kissed her granddaughter.

"You're gonna make it, Becky. Tell us all about your day this evening. Promise?" Jonathan added and lifted the little girl up. Becca nodded and smiled broadly. She had completely forgotten about her fear and only had eyes for her grandparents.

"See you this evening," she whispered and winked at Martha.

Clark watched the scene from a distance and gave Becca enough time to be comforted by his parents. He liked looking at the three of them. It reminded him of his own childhood with these wonderful people. Every time he saw them, he prayed silently that Becca was just as happy with him as he had been with his parents. Sometimes Clark had doubts about this. His home had been so stable. He had woken up in the same room, in the same little town each morning. Becca didn't know this kind of stability. He hadn't been able yet to grant her this life and neither had Lily when Becca had been with her. Lily had never been very stable. She hadn't even been reliable, not in the "being on time at a date" kind of way. But she had always been there for him.

"You didn't even know what you'd do with her, Lily." Clark whispered into the wind. "I only hope that I can be a good father for your little princess."

"Mr. Kent?" a woman asked from behind him. Clark turned around. It had to be the secretary Clark had spoken to on the phone. He recognized her voice. She was smiling at him and motioning for him to come. "Mrs. Hughes, the principal, is waiting for you." Clark nodded and shouted for Becca.

The little whirlwind kissed his parents one last time and hurried to him. Together, they followed the secretary inside the school. She led Clark and Becca into a bright office where the principal waited. A young, smiling teacher stood next to her. They greeted each other. The younger woman approached Clark and Becca and shook the hand of the little girl.

"Hi, Rebecca, I'm Ms. Anderson. I'm your new teacher," she said and nodded in Clark's direction. Clark returned the gesture silently.

"Nice to meet you, Ms. Anderson," Becca replied and smiled as well. Clark noticed with relief that she was relaxing.

"Why don't you come with me, Rebecca? I'm going to introduce you to your class," Ms. Anderson suggested and opened the door to get out of the office again. Becca nodded and glanced at her father. Clark kneeled down in front of her. He handed Becca the school bag that he had carried the whole way and Becca hugged him.

"Have a nice day, honey. And find lots of friends!" Clark mumbled as he laid his arms around the little girl. She was still so young. He felt the urge to protect her, but he knew that he had to let her go. "See you this afternoon."

"See you later, Daddy," Becca replied and then she turned around to follow the teacher. Clark watched her leave the room as the principal addressed him.

"Mr. Kent?" she said and waited for Clark to look at her. She had an air of severity that Clark found a little intimidating. She wasn't smiling at him, and Clark couldn't help the thought that she didn't like him. "I think your daughter will feel comfortable at our school. It's the *first time* she's going to school, isn't it?" Something about the way she was saying *first time* sounded rather accusing.

"Yes, it is" Clark replied matter-of-factly.

"She might have problems getting accustomed to going to school, Mr. Kent. I don't have to mention that we are helpless without parental support. I hope that you've got time to help your daughter if necessary. As far as I understood, you are a single parent, aren't you?" Her tone of voice was friendly, but nonetheless she sounded offending. Clark felt very annoyed by the way she called him a single parent. It wasn't as if he had volunteered.

"Rebecca is a very clever little girl," Clark replied, almost grimly. "I'm sure she won't have problems keeping up with her schoolmates. But whenever she needs help, I'll be there for her, Mrs. Hughes," he stated firmly and as politely as possible. "Excuse me now; I've got to go to work. If anything happens, your secretary has my phone number. Goodbye."

Clark shook hands with the principal, who seemed to be a bit annoyed by his quick departure. He smiled at her, though he didn't feel like it, and left the office. Inwardly he cursed for not having been able to spend more time with Becca. This episode had been much shorter than he had expected. On the other hand, without the permission to come in a little later, Clark would only have had time for a quick goodbye in front of the school. Outside the office, he couldn't help but hear the principal whispering something about single parents that just wasn't repeatable. Clark flinched and hurried to get out of the school, but as hard as he tried, he couldn't keep certain memories from surfacing.


5 years ago…

"Mr. Kent, we're not convinced yet that you are prepared to be a father," a grey-haired woman said. She eyed him from head to toe, giving Clark the impression that whatever lay beneath his surface was visible to her. Her expression was tense and unfriendly. Clark almost expected steam to come out of her nostrils. He felt exposed even though there was a big desk and a little toddler between them. Becca was sitting on his lap and playing with his shirt. Clark really hoped that she was still too young to understand what was going on here. At least she wouldn't remember, like he himself did not have any memories of when he was two years old. "How old are you?" The grey dragon in front of him asked.

"Twenty-two," Clark replied. He knew it wasn't the right answer, though it was perfectly true. The dragon wanted to hear that he was twenty-something- close- to- thirty years old.

"You've just finished college." She darted her finger at him as if finishing college was something immodest. At least he had a degree! How many people could say that? "During the entire time you went to College you worked for various newspapers. You moved constantly during the semester breaks. You never really stayed anywhere, and the mother was constantly moving with you. Do you really think this is the kind of stability a child needs?"

Clark shrugged. "I suppose not. It was inevitable to earn enough money for Becca and Lily." It was a weak attempt at explanation. Clark realized it as soon as he looked into the dragon's contemptuous face. In her opinion, he should have left college to go to work. He hadn't because Lily hadn't wanted him to sacrifice his dreams for her. It had resulted in about two hours of sleep per night between learning and working. Little had Lily known about the downsides of her gratefulness. He had never complained.

"You didn't marry the mother." She did it again. She called Lily 'the mother'. Didn't she deserve anything more than that? Had dying robbed her of any human dignity? "You weren't even there when the child was born!" Neither did she call Becca by her name. Clark couldn't even force himself to like the dragon. "Why?" The question was obviously expecting an answer. Clark shifted Becca's position on his lap and looked directly into the dragon's eyes.

"Various reasons," he stated fiercely. The dragon was an ordeal to his good manners.

"Name them," the dragon demanded unrelentingly.

"I couldn't afford a ceremony. And Lily didn't want me to marry her." Clark had proposed to Lily shortly after she had shown up on his doorstep, but she had refused his offer. Clark had never actually been sure whether Lily had really been in love with him. They had loved each other in a way that wouldn't usually lead to a marriage. Lily had discussed sex several times, but it was hard to tell if she was only teasing. She had mentioned sex, granted, but she had never actually tried to seduce him. "She said that a certificate wouldn't change the way we felt about Becca."

"Where were you when the mother gave birth to the child?"

"Abroad," Clark said. Why weren't they discussing the real father's whereabouts? That would have been more interesting. But to the dragon, he was the real father. "I offered to come; she never called me."

"And you didn't even see her the whole nine months through, regardless of whether she had called you previously?" The dragon fumed.

*I had no reason. I thought the father was with her, and I sure as hell didn't like to be separated from my cousin so long. But I was on the other side of the world and could hardly fly to her or else I'd have had a lot to explain.* Clark thought helplessly.

"I was there for her from the moment she showed up at my doorstep."


From then on the memory was blurry. Clark didn't really remember how he had managed for this dragon to give him a chance. But she and her co-workers had checked on him frequently from that moment on. The whole situation had been utterly embarrassing as he was accused of things he had never done. He hadn't gotten Lily pregnant and hadn't run off. Clark had been the one staying up nights to soothe the baby, and he had been the one to go out to earn money.

Five years ago, he had condemned Becca's biological father for being so irresponsible. Clark had paid for another man's mistakes and bitterly so. He had needed to distance himself from the real father. He hadn't accepted his own role as the little girl's father then and had regarded himself as an uncle or godfather. In those days, he had tried to convince Becca not to call him dad. He had changed his mind completely, long ago, since Becca could melt his heart with those two syllables.

The schoolyard was empty and Clark assumed that his parents had already left. Their plane was taking off in a few hours, and they had to get to the airport. He decided that it really was time to head for the Planet. Cold wind was blowing in his face, and Clark pulled his coat tightly around him. He was shivering, but not because of the cold air. He would have liked to have spent a little more time with Becca. As it was, he had practically left her alone. But maybe it was better that way, because a long goodbye wasn't always preferable. Once Becca had time to reflect on what a poor little girl she was, she would be giving him a hard time.

With a sigh, Clark dismissed the sad memories that were usually hidden far in the back of his mind. As soon as he regained his composure, he forced his attention back to the present and the things that were yet to come. So far, he had only met Lois, Jimmy and Perry White. Out of those three, Lois was surely the most remarkable person. When they had parted the last time, it had almost been a friendly atmosphere. Clark hoped that this wasn't going to change again, since their first new start had only ended up in an argument.

It didn't take long until Clark reached the Daily Planet. This time, he didn't hesitate before he went in. He was still nervous, but his two worst problems were already solved, so what could bother him? It took him only a few minutes to get inside and up to the newsroom.

As soon as the doors of the elevator opened, it was there. Clark couldn't tell why exactly he heard it, but it flooded his senses. He didn't even need to see her to know she was there. Lois' heart told him, and Clark lacked any explanation why. His hearing ability was the one he couldn't really control. It kicked in and turned itself off, mostly — though not completely — of its own volition. He was able to hear things he wanted to hear, but he had to concentrate on them. Clark hadn't forced his attention on Lois; he hadn't even known she was there until he had heard her heart. Usually, he didn't hear others' hearts. That had only happened back in school when his ability had first presented itself. So, why did it happen now? There was only one answer to that question: he *had* searched for it, unconsciously.

Since he already knew where she was, Clark followed the steady sound. Lois was sitting at her desk and reading something. She was obviously completely immersed in it. The sight of her was breathtaking. While reading, her tongue slipped out and moistened her lips, which was quite a sexy gesture. But there was more to it than this. It showed Clark her commitment and love for her work. That was even stronger than her ambition to be the best. This woman touched him like no other had ever been able to. And at the same time, he felt danger. He knew that he was playing with fire and that, for once, he risked getting burned. Clark shook his head. He wasn't going to fall for her, or at least he wasn't going to fall deeper than he already had. His life was complicated enough, and there was no need to add problems to it.

Clark approached her desk until he stood right in front of Lois. "Good morning, Lois."

Lois flinched, startled, and looked up. "Oh, it's you, Clark. I didn't expect you to get here so early. Wait a few minutes. I just want to read this and then I'll give you a private tour."

"Sounds good," Clark replied with a smile. Lois returned it, and Clark couldn't help but be amazed by the effect her smile had on him. It made him instantly happy, and he forgot about his conversation with the principal. Lois returned her attention to the paper she was reading. Clark heard the sound of high heels on the floor, *very* high heels. Before he managed to turn around, he felt a hand on his upper back.

"Hello, handsome," a woman purred as she walked around him. She was tall and in some way attractive, at least Clark assumed, since she did nothing for him. Her hair was blond and considerably longer than her skirt. Even without using x-ray vision he was able to see pretty much all of her. Truth be told, it was more like he *would* have been able to see almost all of her had she not been standing so close to him that he might have knocked her out by looking down. One of her hands was resting on his shoulder, the other lay on his chest. "I'm Cat Grant," she introduced herself.

"Hi, Cat. I'm Clark Kent," Clark replied and tried to get more distance between them. "I've read your column." He sounded as matter-of-factly as possible. Clark recognized her now. He had seen Cat on the day he had had the interview. Obviously, his impression had been right then. She was really hunting men. He didn't plan on becoming one of her victims.

"And did you like it?" Cat returned, leaning towards him.

"Uh, yes," Clark replied, forcing himself not to run as fast as he could. The woman was scary!

"We could talk about it, tonight. I think I've got a bottle of champagne somewhere in my fridge," she purred seductively, and her hand trailed down his chest.

Clark's mouth fell open. Never had any woman offered herself to him in that way. Or was it his coming from Smallville that had him so bewildered? He shifted uncomfortably, not sure how to decline without sounding rude.


Lois had been completely concentrating on reading a paper. She had forgotten about Clark until she heard Cat. The nerve of that woman! She was purring like a cat, assured that this was irresistible to men. Lois smiled inwardly. Clark would be hard work for Catherine Grant. He knew what he wanted, and he was a kind and caring father, unlike her own. Lois was starting to think that Clark Kent was different. He had fought for his little daughter when she had been rude to both of them. Lois still blushed at the memory of mistaking Rebecca for Clark's girlfriend. She decided to leave the paper and watch Cat Grant being rejected. When Lois looked up at them, she froze.

It didn't look like a rejection. Not at all. Cat's hand rested on Clark's belly and stroked it. Clark watched her like she was the most incredible woman on earth. His mouth gaped open, and he just stared at…well, Lois assumed it wasn't her face. Lois felt anger washing through her, and for some reason, she was angry at Cat. She would have been grateful if this woman had warned her before she fell for the man. She had made that mistake once, and she certainly wouldn't do it again. Clark wasn't different; he was just like any other man. Cat had opened her eyes to that fact, and now she knew that Clark wasn't safe. Yes, Lois should have been grateful, but she felt annoyed instead.

"Forget about him, Cat. He's married!" Lois almost spit out. Why had she said this? She didn't know for sure if he was married. But his daughter had to have a mother. And she didn't see Clark as being someone who didn't marry the mother of his children. *Yeah, Lois. You didn't think he would fall for Cat, either.* Actually, it hadn't really occurred to her until now that Clark could be married. She didn't particularly like the idea, though she had no clue as to why this should bother her.

"Even more interesting!" Cat replied coolly. "I like a good challenge."

"Don't you have any gossip to dig out?" Lois asked, angrily.

"Lois, darling. It's gossip. It just appears. No need for digging." Cat grinned and blew a kiss in Clark's direction before she left.

Lois watched her leaving, satisfied that she had won over her this time. But she couldn't help the feeling that it wouldn't take Cat very long to achieve her goal in seducing Clark. He still looked as if lightning had struck him, and Lois felt a lump in her throat. Why did he have to be like all the others? Apart from his taste in ties, he was cute. Even she had to admit that. Lois dismissed the suddenly occurring thoughts. He was dangerous territory, maybe even more dangerous than Claude had been because he looked rather innocent. Disappointment and anger fought for control within Lois. And there was something she would never even admit to herself: jealousy. Unconsciously, Lois begrudged Cat her ability to wrap men around her little finger.

Clark's stunned silence annoyed Lois beyond belief. "Close your mouth, Kent!" Lois snorted furiously.

He looked at her, surprised. "I wasn't…" he started an explanation.

"I don't want to know," Lois interrupted him. She knew men's excuses, and she was sick of them. She had heard enough from her father to last a lifetime. "Don't worry, Kent. I didn't blow your chances. Cat is not the kind of woman who cares whether you're married or not. Go and run after her, but please be so kind as to do it in your leisure time."

Clark's brows furrowed and his eyes narrowed. "What is it, Lois? Who decided that I qualified for the jerk of the year award?" he snapped angrily. "I didn't expect to be confronted with sexual harassment on my first day. And I'm not interested in becoming Cat's bedmate for that matter. Besides, even if I were, that would be strictly my own business, since there is no wife I could hurt." He turned around and left her.

Lois swallowed hard and bit her lips. She had managed to do it yet again. She had offended Clark in the worst possible way. It wasn't like she usually cared if she was stepping on someone's toes. Inexplicably, she liked him, and though arguments with him were challenging, she hated them. Lois was confused and wished she hadn't made that comment. How was she going to make up for it? She would be the last to admit it, but she needed Clark's help on this assignment. Not only had she been more involved than it was good for the story, she had also spent most of the morning searching for her neighbor. It had been to no avail. The guy had vanished from the face of the Earth. Lois got up and followed Clark, not entirely sure where he was headed to. He didn't know his way around the Daily Planet, and she hadn't even shown him his desk.

The beehive stopped its constant motion to witness a miracle. Though everyone always seemed so caught up in their own work, no one ever missed the little events that interrupted the normal course of life. Little did Lois' co-workers know about her reasons for running after a man, but that didn't count. It was important that she did. Several of the bystanders cursed the fact that they hadn't had a camera to circumstantiate future tales of this historical moment. Anyway, the picture of Lois pacing quickly through the newsroom and pleading someone called Clark to forgive her was certainly the best anecdote of the year.

Clark stopped and turned around as he heard Lois calling his name. He didn't know why he was waiting for her. Given his powers, he wouldn't have had a problem escaping her. She had infuriated him with her accusations even more than the behavior of the principal had, earlier that morning. She was even worse than the dragon that had wanted to take Becca away from him. Or maybe it was just bothering him more; Clark couldn't tell exactly. The only thing he knew was that he didn't want Lois to believe that there was another woman in his life. He didn't really understand why that was and tried to pretend it was out of a need to be honest. But it wasn't that easy to fool himself.

"Yes, Lois?" he said testily.

"I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't mean to insult you," she mumbled self-consciously.

"I'm getting some sort of deja-vu, Lois," he replied dryly. "I really thought we had been through this."

"Perhaps I've been a bit hasty in my judgment. Clark, I need your help with this story. Please help me. Don't let this stand between us." She almost begged, and for a moment, Clark was afraid that she would kneel down in front of him.

"It's okay." He sighed. "When is this press conference?" Whatever attraction he felt to Lois, Clark decided that there could only be a professional relationship with her. He wouldn't try to get any closer. That was about the wisest thing he could do considering Lois' skittishness.

"In an hour," Lois replied, relieved. "Come on, partner, I'll show you your desk."

"I thought that we were not 'partners', just assigned on this together," Clark teased.

For some reason Clark couldn't really understand, Lois' expression darkened. He had no intention whatsoever of finding out what this was about. He'd had enough trouble for today and wasn't keen on another argument with Lois Lane. He was only going to lose. Silently he followed Lois through the newsroom and said hello to the people she introduced to him. Clark didn't dare think about how long this truce would last.


Neither the press conference nor their investigation on Lois' neighbor had led to any results. It was late afternoon when Clark called it a day and made his way to the daycare. He was curious to hear what Becca's day had been like. He really hoped that she liked going to school. He was a bit worried because of the evening activities he had planned. He should be sending Becca to bed early so that she wouldn't be tired in the morning, but Clark felt an urgency to turn his plan into reality. He hoped that finding the right disguise wouldn't take too long. He had spoken with his mother about it; she still had his measurements, and she had promised to buy fabric and try out some designs.

Clark hardly noticed how quickly he arrived at Becca's school. The daycare was in a smaller building next to it. That was one of the reasons Clark had decided to send her to that school. By no means was it because he liked the principal so much. Clark could still feel anger welling up in him when he remembered those few minutes. At least the teacher had seemed to be considerably nicer. Maybe she didn't consider it a capital sin not to be married? Anyway, he didn't feel like receiving the next offense anytime soon.

Clark hoped for the best but was ready to cope with the worst when he entered the daycare center. He went through the hall to a couple of rooms where he saw light. He heard voices of children that were playing together. They obviously had fun and Becca was one of them. He could sound out her laugh among a thousand people. She was okay. Clark breathed a sigh of relief and continued on his way.

He knocked on the doorframe and entered the room. A small group of children was sitting in the middle of the room. A teacher was sitting between them, and they were playing some game that Clark only had faint memories of. He neither recalled the rules nor the name of the game. The young woman looked up at him as she heard his knock. She smiled, but her expression forced him to identify himself.

"Hi, I'm Clark Kent," Clark answered the unspoken question. "I'm Becca's dad."

As soon as she heard his voice, Becca turned around and got up quickly. The teacher followed her and approached Clark, but somewhat slower than his little whirlwind who had rushed towards him, looking like she was going to explode if he stopped her from telling him literally *everything* about her day. Clark couldn't help but grin; this was his little girl. He hugged her as soon as she reached him and took the hand the teacher was holding out to him.

"Hi, Mr. Kent. I'm Julie," she introduced herself. She was about to say something else, but Becca interrupted her. She was pulling at a girl's hand, trying to convince her that Clark wasn't going to bite.

"Daddy, Daddy, this is Anna!" Becca shouted excitedly and pointed at the shy girl next to her. Anna's face was red like a tomato.

"Hi, Anna. I'm Clark." He offered his hand and the little girl took it hesitatingly.

"Hi," she mumbled self-consciously.

"I'm glad that Becca made a new friend so quickly. Maybe you'd like to visit us some day?" Clark smiled at her broadly and managed to bring a smile to her face. "Becca, I'm afraid that we need to go now. Please say goodbye to everyone and get your things," Clark said in apology. "I'm sorry, Anna, that I have to drag Becca away so quickly, but the two of us have got a date. Don't we, honey?"

Becca nodded and said goodbye to her friends. Clark apologized again, and after a couple of minutes, the two had left the daycare and were headed home. They stopped there only shortly for Becca to change into warmer clothes. It wasn't long before they took off.


Lois was still sitting in the newsroom and trying to call a spokesperson of the emergency services. She wasn't keen on returning home, especially since this home wasn't her own but only a hotel room. Lois needed the safety of her own apartment and most of all she missed the locks. They represented her independence and ability to survive in the big city. Lois knew how to protect herself, but that hadn't helped her against the fire. Her memories of that evening were better now that she had had time to think about it…

The week had been long and tiring; Lois had been on a stakeout for several nights and after having written a story, which hadn't really been worth the lack of sleep, Lois had left the Planet a little earlier on Friday. At first she had planned to work through some files, but she had fallen asleep the very moment she sat down on her sofa. She didn't know how much time had passed, but when she had woken up smoke had made her cough violently. The strident tone of the fire alarm had come a bit too late. Lois had tried to get out of her apartment, and obviously she had managed to reach at least the second floor, but she didn't have any memory of getting down there. That bothered her because she was so used to remembering everything. So why hadn't she memorized this moment of her life? Was the fire reason enough? Lois didn't know because she had no prior experience being caught in a fire, something which she didn't exactly regret. She hoped that it wasn't going to happen ever again.

There was another mystery besides this: she still didn't know her savior's name. If he existed, that was. But Lois trusted Bobby Bigmouth, and he had never disappointed her. Anyway, hard as she might try, Lois couldn't get the rumors confirmed. Neither the police nor the fire department answered her questions. She had been on the phone for hours, but every time she had reached someone they had only passed her on to another person. No one was competent, or more likely, nobody intended to reply. It was a particularly annoying task to phone authorities.

Lois could hardly imagine that anyone could easily storm into a burning building and vanish into nothingness afterwards. Somehow she still suspected the arsonist of having done it. But if he really didn't want people to die, why had he set fire to a hotel with twenty guests inside? Lois would be the last to admit to it, but she was clueless. The only hint that she had was her neighbor and he was gone. As she tried to find him, Lois noticed how little she knew about a person who had lived next door. She had never been interested in getting to know him, but now she wished that she had.

Lois had asked Jimmy to find out any possible thing about him, while she tried to convince the police and fire department to release information. Instead of getting it, Lois spent most of her time listening to awful music. She was tired of it. Okay, she was tired anyway, but this was just sickening. Lois felt that she would be better off calling it a day. She wanted to discuss this with someone and, strange as it was, she wished that Clark hadn't already left the newsroom. He was a good listener, and moreover, he didn't second her theory concerning the arsonist. Normally, Lois would have given him a hard time for that, but that was exactly what she needed now. Together they could investigate this story more objectively.

Lois sighed and hung up. It was no use calling people who didn't want to talk to her. And she couldn't make Clark appear in an instant. She wasn't sure how keen he would be on helping her, anyway. He worked with her because Perry had told him to. But after all their arguments, Lois was pretty sure that he hated her. She'd like to get to know him, and that was really new for her. But she had utterly blown her chances, which was quite a pity because Clark was the closest to a possible friend that she was ever going to find. He was smart and determined, although in a different way than she was. And no matter what she had told him earlier, he was a match for her.

With another sigh, Lois grabbed her things and stored them in her handbag. She tidied up her desk a bit and looked over to Perry. Even Jimmy had already left the newsroom, but the editor-in-chief obviously didn't need sleep. Lois admired his ability to rule the Planet. But seeing his never fading power, Lois realized even more how tired she was. She got up from her desk and walked towards the elevators. At the very moment she wanted to enter one of them, the telephone on her desk rang. Lois ran back and took the receiver.

"Lois Lane," she said and listened to the dark and frightening voice of someone who chose to remain anonymous.


The farm was a warm and cozy island in the cold winter air. The house seemed to be looking forward to its guests and blew clouds of smoke into the night. Behind each window was light and almost every other one was decorated nicely. Snow covered the roof, and it looked like a winter dream. A fir next to the house had lights on it and was the icing on the cake for the two special visitors that were approaching quickly.

Clark and Becca were both glad as they felt solid ground under their feet. They had arrived at a magical place where dreams could come true. A delicious scent of cookies was filling the air, and Clark could have sworn that there was apple pie mixed with it. When Clark and Becca glanced at each other, they shared the same joyful expression.

They entered the house and found Jonathan and Martha sitting in the living room. Martha was sewing and Jonathan Kent eyed the bowl of cookies hungrily. They were forbidden and he knew it. Martha guarded them fiercely and kept them for guests or to go with a cup of coffee in the afternoon. Particularly since Jonathan had problems with cholesterol, he was only allowed to have them on weekends or other special occasions. Since her cookies were so very tempting, Jonathan prayed that Becca and Clark's visit counted as a special occasion.

He got up from the sofa and greeted his son and granddaughter. They hugged each other and their eyes wandered involuntarily to that bowl of cookies. Martha came over to them and smiled broadly as she noticed the looks of her family. She, too, embraced Clark and Becca.

"Okay, Jonathan. The two of you can have some cookies, but not too many. You haven't had supper yet. And you …follow me." She grabbed Clark's arm and pulled him towards the table where her sewing machine was. In the meantime, Becca started telling Jonathan about her first day in school. Her grandfather listened eagerly and handed her a cookie before he took one himself.

"So you think that the disguise is a good idea?" Clark inquired curiously. The day before, she hadn't really sounded convinced of his plan.

"Clark, you know that I support you whenever I can. If you think this is going to help, then it's fine with me," Martha replied diplomatically.

"Come on, Mom. Be honest!" Clark insisted, but Martha only shook her head and concentrated on the fabric that was lying on her table. As Clark noticed that his mother wasn't willing to discuss the disguise with him, he gave in.

"So do you think I should wear a mask?" Clark wanted to know.

"Heaven's no! If someone thinks that you've got to hide something they'll only be determined to find out about it. Just remember Becca!"

Clark nodded. He did remember that, and honestly, how could he ever forget it?


2 years ago

Clark was worried about a lot of things. His sorrows never seemed to fade. Becca was just one of them, but definitely the worst. It wasn't anything that was wrong with her, a fact which should have relieved him. After all, he dreaded that something might happen to his little girl that he could not prevent. It wasn't Becca's fault that he was concerned about the future. She was just a healthy little girl. But that was exactly what caused his trouble. She was curious and with every day this trait increased.

He didn't need to be careful anymore that she might swallow things by accident. Becca didn't haul out everything that was stored in his cupboards. And she had already understood that the stove was hot. But she was just developing her social skills. Not so long ago she had started to really notice the differences between them. Unfortunately, there was more to it than just the fact that he was an adult and male. He didn't want her to find out about his strange abilities too soon in her life. And according to him, *never* would be just the right time. Lily had never known, so why should Becca? But Clark wasn't that naive. He knew that he couldn't hide it forever.

Right now Becca gave him a hard time, because she wanted to know everything. She wondered why his kisses scratched in the morning but didn't right after breakfast. The beard had to come off, but she didn't know how. Clark didn't let her catch a glimpse of his shaving habits. But he couldn't keep her completely ignorant to this mystery. Jonathan wasn't hiding his razor and so Becca found out how men usually shaved. And recently, she had started to wonder why she had never seen a razor in Clark's bathroom. Since he was always short on money, Clark couldn't waste it on something he didn't need at all.

Becca's questions became more and more frequent, and there were enough pitfalls for Clark to stumble in. What had started as a little curiosity had slowly turned into a landslide that threatened to destroy his camouflage. Becca was smarter than he had bargained for, and he was helpless against it. Despite his mother's warnings, Clark did his best to hide his being different from Becca. He didn't really want her to know because he was scared to death that she might be afraid of him. What if she found out that he was stronger than she ever would be?

Clark couldn't afford to let her find out. What if she told someone? At least he was always claiming that this was the reason. It was one of those half-truths that plagued his way of life. The most recent threats to his camouflage were Becca's nightmares. She searched for shelter in his bed, and Clark really liked to comfort her, but he himself couldn't fall asleep because he was likely to float involuntarily. And what was Becca supposed to think when she saw that her father was sleeping in mid-air?

Several sleepless nights had left Clark very tired. He knew that he'd need to sleep sooner or later. He couldn't stay up much longer and Becca's nightmares still hadn't stopped. He had to find a solution to the floating problem. He was almost desperate, when suddenly it occurred to him that he could tie himself to the bed.

Clark was working on the bed after having searched his whole flat to find strings or something similar. It had almost driven him crazy since he wasn't actually the "tie yourself to bed" kind of guy. It hadn't been that difficult before because Becca kept sleeping in her own bed, which had been a crib, but she was too old for that kind of bed. She could slip underneath his covers now whenever she liked to. Clark had to be careful.

He moved the mattress back into place and grinned, content with his work. Tonight, he would be able to sleep. He was glad that Becca hadn't come into his bedroom. She would surely want to know what he was doing, and there wasn't a good explanation. Clark sighed and wondered what the next problem would be.

~ ~ ~

Becca didn't always understand her dad. He was behaving strangely the last couple of weeks. He seemed to be nervous, and moreover, he wasn't as gentle to her when she needed to sleep in his bed as he used to be. He wasn't exactly unfriendly and she wasn't afraid that he would send her away; she just had the impression that he felt uneasy somehow. Becca didn't understand that, because there wasn't any difference between now and previous times.

She just knew that she was only able to sleep when he was around. She dreaded the darkness. There were thousands of shadows that seemed so threatening. Her daddy had explained to her that there was nothing to fear, but she couldn't help it; Becca didn't feel safe without him. The night light on the other side of the living room wasn't helping at all. Between her and Clark was an armoire that separated the room into two parts. Her daddy slept in the smaller section where the spiders preferred to settle. But even the spiders were nothing compared to the dark shadows of the night that grew into monsters when she was alone.

Becca sat on her bed. She listened to the faint sounds of the night. When she concentrated she could hear her daddy's even breathing. He had told her a bedtime story, hours ago, and she had drifted off to sleep, but it hadn't taken her long to wake up again. She had opened her eyes, and the shadows had been as frightening as ever. Becca had tried to close her eyes again. She wanted to forget about the shadows, but they remained around her, no matter how hard she tried to block them. She wanted to be brave, as brave as the knights were in fairy tales. Becca silently wished that she would be like those heroines her daddy had told her about.

But she was a coward and though she blushed at the realization, Becca couldn't help it. She didn't want to get out of bed, because she dreaded having to fight her way through the shadows. But on the other hand, she couldn't remain in her bed either. She wanted to feel her father's solid body. She didn't want to be alone. Becca swallowed hard and pushed the covers off of herself. She shivered with fear. There were only a few steps until she reached her daddy. She gathered all her courage and started running. She knew the way by heart, so she didn't need to see too many of the evil shadows.

Becca sighed with relief as she saw her dad's back. He looked like nothing could bother him, and he could lend her the courage that she didn't have. With him, she was strong. Becca imagined him as the invincible knight of the fairy tales. In her fantasy there was a strong, silvery gleaming aura around him that scared the shadows off. His presence was enough to make them vanish into nothingness. But if he wasn't there, they were able to return.

She climbed into bed and slipped under his covers. He didn't stir. Becca pressed herself against him; she needed to hide inside the silvery aura so that the shadows could not get her. Her dad's back was as firm as ever and comfortingly warm. But somehow her position wasn't so comfortable. She lay on something that she didn't recognize. Becca had never felt anything similar in her daddy's bed. Her hand touched something that resembled a rope. Why would a rope be in her daddy's bed? Her small hands followed the rope. Under it she felt her father's belly. The rope was wrapped around him. Becca's brows furrowed.

Had his silvery aura vanished and the shadows could get him? Becca wasn't sure, but why else should there be a rope around him? She didn't understand it, but the rope annoyed her. It prevented her from getting closer to her daddy. Maybe he needed to be saved from the shadows? Her heart sank. She wasn't brave enough; she wasn't the heroine she would have liked to be. But she couldn't leave her daddy tied up like that. Becca knew where the scissors were. Again, she gathered all her courage and took a brave decision.

~ ~ ~

Hours later Clark was awoken by an ear-piercing scream. He fell down, startled and looked into a pale face. Becca's eyes were wide, and she stood next to his bed, frozen in place. Her mouth was gaping open, and she was looking at him in shock. Clark could only guess what had happened. He heard the thud from something falling down. The only light came from the moon, and it gave him only a faint idea of Becca's current appearance, but he knew what she had seen. He'd been floating in his sleep and had fallen.

"Becca," he whispered. It was a moment of sheer agony. She had found out and now stared at him, terrified. Clark felt like he was dying at this very moment. His own feelings were even beyond fear. Panic wasn't the right word to express it. He was utterly lost. Could he address her or would she be afraid of what he really was? If he himself only knew what he really was! Human? A Russian project? Or something completely different?

"I…I…I'm so…sorry," Becca stuttered, her lips shaking with every syllable.

This took Clark by surprise. He had been about to apologize, to beg for her love. He had already opened his mouth to say something, but his mind had now gone blank. Her apology had blown every thought away and left him hanging in the air. He looked at her, bewildered and confused. She seemed so completely horrified; it was heart-wrenching.

"Th…they…to…took you!" her voice was low, but still there was this squealing tone to it. She was shaking violently and watched Clark who was sitting on the edge of his bed now. He ran his fingers through his hair, not knowing how to explain his floating to Becca in the middle of the night. He couldn't send her to bed again; it was too late to escape this situation. It was time for the truth. And he needed to know what Becca was talking about.

"Nobody took me," he said hoarsely.

"The shadows," she whispered. Suddenly she jumped on his lap, pressing her small frame against him. "I…I'm not brave." She sobbed and leaned against him.

Involuntarily Clark laid his arms around his little girl and started to whisper soothing words. Guilt and fear were partially replaced by warmth and tenderness.

"The…the shadows! Scare them off."

"There are no shadows, honey," he replied gently.

"I…I didn't know that you needed the rope to protect you. I thought the shadows had done that to you." Clark saw the scissor lying on the floor. Becca had cut the rope. He knew that she was afraid of the darkness. He reached for the lamp on his nightstand and lit it. Her imagination was vivid and she had problems separating reality from the things that only existed in her fantasies.

"Nobody took me," Clark repeated and swallowed hard. This was the point of no return. "I was floating in my sleep. It happens accidentally sometimes. It's not because of the shadows." Clark bit his lip. Could he dare call her honey? Would she still grant him that after she had found out? Clark felt sorry for deceiving her.

"Really? How?" she asked, breathlessly. The moonlight painted her face in various shades of gray. Clark could only imagine the dark brown color of her eyes. He had to be hallucinating because what he saw in them seemed to be a loving expression. Becca couldn't be caring for him, could she? Not after she found out how different he was.

"I…I…don't really know. I have been able to do that since I was about eighteen." He looked at her briefly and prayed he would wake up from this nightmare. He didn't. Becca's eyes remained on him, studying him thoroughly.

"Show me," Becca said. Obediently, Clark floated towards the ceiling, Becca still on his lap. "Can Grandma and Grandpa fly as well?" She wanted to know.

Clark shook his head. "No, honey, they can't," he mumbled shakily. "I…I'm dif…different. I…I can do some things that other pe…people can't do." Clark returned down on the edge of his bed and really tried to look in Becca's eyes. He managed to do so for several seconds. What was she going to think of him? Would she be afraid? Sure she would. He couldn't manage to be the father that she needed. He was going to disappoint poor Lily who had been there for him when he had needed her. He had never trusted her enough to actually tell her his secret. Maybe he had only been scared to death because he had always dreaded a moment like this. Now that it had arrived, it wasn't any easier with Becca than it would have been with Lily.

"Are you a wizard?" she inquired, curiously. Her eyes examined him as if she was expecting that little stars would spread out of his fingertips. Clark shook his head. The idea almost made him laugh.

"No, I'm not a wizard. I don't know what I am," he replied.

Becca shook her head. "You do," she said. "You're daddy!" She embraced him and kissed him, making him forget all the doubts he had had.

"I'm Clark," he protested weakly and tears of relief streamed down his face.


It had taken him about a week to explain everything to Becca. She had been more surprised than scared. Who wouldn't be if your father started floating right after you cut ropes tying him to his bed? Becca had promised not to tell anyone and had never disappointed him. He had shown her his abilities, and she had been more fascinated than afraid. And with each new superhuman power he showed her, Becca had increasingly enjoyed watching him.

Clark should have learned that hiding something too desperately could backfire sooner than anyone bargained for. So maybe his mother was right; if he hid his face, someone would try to find out what he really looked like. And maybe they would do it when Clark was paying the least attention. But he was concerned nonetheless. How could he be disguised properly without a mask? He voiced his worries.

"We'll sew you a flashy outfit so that no one will really look at your face," Martha said confidently and sat down in front of the sewing machine.


Lois cursed. She didn't know why this always happened. For some unknown reason she *had* to end up in a dark and dirty place. Why didn't her sources meet her in a park, somewhere in the bright sunshine with singing birds in the trees? Instead, she walked on a ground that probably consisted of mud. Honestly, Lois hoped it was just mud. Somehow she suspected that it was something far uglier. Usually, she didn't mind too much what she stepped in. But Lois only had this one pair of shoes. When Lois had been released from the hospital, she didn't have anything but the clothes she had on her back on Friday. She had known that she would need something to change, but she had only bought the strict minimum since she needed the time to find out who was responsible for the fire. Lois noticed now that she should have spent more time shopping. She just didn't have the right outfit for this trip.

It was a dark building close to the docks. Lois could only guess how the mud on the ground had gotten inside it. She shivered; no one bothered to heat an abandoned building at the docks. She wore a coat, but it was a cold night and the temperature was still falling. Maybe it was just her uneasiness? Lois didn't know. She wished she had called Clark or Jimmy. But Clark was with his daughter, and Jimmy wouldn't really be able to help her. She sighed and continued on her path. There wasn't any light. She had brought a flashlight, but it wasn't working anymore and she didn't have a change of batteries. This really wasn't her day! The whole weekend had been terrible and the new week hadn't started any better. She only hoped that whoever had information for her would show up sooner rather than later.

Lois shifted her weight from one leg to the other, trying to get warm. The moon shed a bit of light into the hall. It was enough to see shades of the various objects that lay around. She would see her contact — if he appeared, that was. Lois was starting to doubt that. A lot of time had already passed, though Lois didn't know how much exactly. It was too dark for a look at her wristwatch. She considered leaving this inhospitable place, but she was curious and determined to find out who had burned down her apartment. She couldn't exactly decide which desire was the strongest.

Suddenly, Lois saw some movement at the other side of the hall. She stared intensely into the darkness but couldn't recognize anything. Maybe it had just been an illusion. She listened carefully but couldn't hear anything, not even the tapping of rats' feet. Lois came to the conclusion that it was nothing. Again she felt the urge to leave. This whole day was just so frustrating. She should be driving home and stopping at a shop somewhere on the way to buy some chocolate ice cream. That might be the only thing that could still save the night.

"Lois Lane?" a man asked.

Lois flinched, gasping in surprise.

"Yes," she whispered as soon as the worst of the shock had somewhat decreased.

"I'm Henry Meadows. I need your help," the man whispered, his voice trembling with fear. "Someone is threatening my life."

Somehow, Lois recognized the name. She studied what she could see of the stranger's face. As far as the moonlight allowed her to see, his eyes looked haunted. He was glancing around nervously as if he expected someone else to appear any moment. It was somehow contagious, and Lois felt her own heart rate increase yet again. When he looked at her again, Lois realized that she was talking to her neighbor whom she had searched for the entire day.

"Who?" Lois inquired.

"Robur viridis," he replied before suddenly all hell broke loose.

Something exploded and Lois was shoved to the floor. The world around her went dark as she lost consciousness.


"I think you look great!" Becca said confidently. She looked at Clark whose brows were furrowed.

"For a smurf," Clark replied wryly.

"Your face isn't blue and besides they don't wear red," Becca disagreed.

"Papa Smurf does," Clark retorted and watched his mirror image in doubt.

"I think that worse things could happen to you than looking like Papa Smurf," Martha chuckled. "Anyway, I bet that no one's going to give your face a second glance. Everyone will be far too distracted by the sight of a six foot-tall smurf." She burst into laughter.

"Is this cape really necessary?" Clark still stared at his appearance in blue and red.

"It's cool, Daddy!" Becca stated. "I bet it will look great when you fly!"

"I can't help the impression that this suit lacks something," Jonathan muttered.

"Yeah, the jelly bag cap," Clark said.

"No, something else!" Martha replied; her eyes were gleaming. "I know how we can turn you into a hero and get rid of Papa Smurf." She giggled at the new mention of the comic character and left the room to fetch a certain thing.

Jonathan, Clark and Becca waited curiously for her to return. When she did, she held a red and yellow pentagon in her hands. On it was something that looked like a S.

"This came to Earth with you. It was on your blanket," she explained.

When Martha held it in front of Clark's chest, they all knew that this completed the outfit. Suddenly Clark no longer doubted that this looked right. A smile appeared on his face, and Becca nodded, excited. Even Jonathan grunted something that could count as acknowledgement. It didn't take Martha long to affix it to the suit.

While Clark was looking at the improved disguise, Jonathan had turned on the TV.

"A huge explosion has destroyed significant portions of the docks in Metropolis. Firefighters are still having trouble controlling the fire. Reportedly, there are several tons of fuel stored on or near the docks. So far this information hasn't been confirmed. This is possibly the worst incident in the recent series of fires. If there is fuel near by, the explosion could threaten hundreds of lives," the reporter said.

Clark didn't hear anything more; he headed outside and took off into the dark sky. Minutes later, he had reached the docks in Metropolis. The fire was worse than the two others before. Clark could see why the firefighters had problems. He didn't know how he would be able to extinguish it, but if he wasn't the one, who would? He scanned the area, looking out for fuel. He didn't quite find what he had expected, but what he saw almost made his heart stop. There were two people lying on the ground in one of the buildings. He nosedived towards the building and picked up the two people.

Only as he flew up again did he notice that one of them hadn't survived. The other was still breathing. He knew both of them because he had saved them earlier. Clark didn't really understand why Lois and her neighbor had been in this place. It rendered him sad that her neighbor was dead now. It seemed so useless. But he was also relieved that Lois wasn't badly hurt. He had scanned her body and hadn't found any internal bleeding. Clark brought them both to the emergency services and returned to the fire. With much effort Clark managed to control the fire and extinguish it hours later.


The world had gone crazy, and utterly so. Clark had hoped that his disguise would enable him to save a few lives. And it did, but that wasn't the whole truth. He was well known, but that didn't quite describe it. It was almost three weeks ago that he had done his first rescue, and by now he had about a hundred fan clubs all over the world. Whenever he landed on the street, everybody shouted his name excitedly. It was unbelievable. His mother had been right; nobody recognized Clark Kent in Superman, as Lois Lane had named him.

The strangest things were happening with Lois. She still hadn't forgotten about the fires. Not completely. She hadn't really been hurt in the explosion at the docks; she had been suffered from a concussion for a few days, but it wasn't too bad. She had seen Superman briefly during his efforts to prevent further explosions. He had wanted to check if she was all right. Lois had asked him who he was, and Clark had replied that he was a friend. From this moment on, Lois had been the first in a long row of reporters that had begged him for an interview. Lois had developed a crush on the hero. So far Clark had always declined … or, truth to be told, escaped — before anyone could nail him.

He was afraid of their questions. Since he had to care for Becca, Clark couldn't always leave when someone needed him. He tried to be there for Becca and the rest of the world, but that wasn't easy. So he mainly rescued people while he was at work. That wasn't that good either, but nobody complained since he wrote new stories about every new breath-taking rescue Superman had made. Soon enough, Clark Kent had turned into a vital member of the Planet's staff.

Lois and Clark were tiptoeing around each other. He carefully avoided giving Lois any reason to lash out at him. She was already fuming because he wrote most of the stories about the new hero in town. Clark could only imagine that she was jealous. She tried to hide that she planned on an interview with Superman, but with his hearing — and since he was the object of her desire — Clark was well aware of her plans. When she wasn't trying to catch a glimpse of his flashy alter ego, she also worked with him. So far the truce had lasted, with minor interruptions. Their relationship was strictly professional. Lois didn't ask where Clark went when he left on a moment's notice, and Clark didn't tell Lois more than she needed to know.

He still adored her, though it annoyed him that she kept speaking of Superman. He should have been grateful, because it suited his intentions perfectly to stay away from all the temptations Lois held for him. Clark knew that she wasn't interested in Clark Kent. Probably in Superman, but not in the real him. So if neither of them had any interest in a relationship, why should he bother? Except, he liked her and the more he knew of her, the stronger the attraction became. Clark dreamt of her almost every night. When he didn't, it was because he was too tired to dream or because Becca kicked him in the side.

That life would become easier with the disguise was a false conclusion, but Clark didn't regret becoming Superman. The disguise had raised more problems than it had solved, but he was happier nonetheless. He knew that Becca and he could stay in Metropolis. Clark could use his powers and was really able to help. He didn't need to be afraid that anyone would see him doing those things. Superman could just do them. He had set Clark Kent free.


Lois was sitting in her hotel room, sulking. The whole world was against her! She had hoped to find a new apartment a little sooner. Usually it wasn't that difficult to find something in Metropolis, but as soon as she told them her name, they would hang up on her. That might be because the newspapers all over Metropolis had printed her name on the front page. She was the first living being that had ever seen Superman, she had been in two burning buildings in only four days, and the rumor was that Lois had been the target of both arsons. It was silly and Lois knew better, but landlords all over Metropolis believed it and were afraid that their houses would be the next to burn down.

Unfortunately, Bobby had been right: her neighbor, Henry Meadows was the target of a murderer. In his last attempt, the murderer had succeeded. This made Lois sad. She was sorry for never having tried to get to know him. She should have been more careful, particularly since Bobby had *told* her who the target was. Lois had never felt so helpless. She wanted to hunt down the killer, to nail him and send him to prison. But the more she tried, the less hope she had. With Henry, their last trail had died. The only hint Lois had was a name: Robert Wirts. That wasn't much. Lois realized even more now that she couldn't do it on her own. But it was difficult with Clark… They were so careful with each other, as if both of them had been porcelain dolls that were going to break any moment. She knew that she had an incredible talent for saying exactly the wrong things in absolutely the wrong moments. He probably hated her.

Unbelievable as it was, Lois liked him. She was sure he would be a good friend, someone she could rely on. And he was reliable in every way. He sometimes left without saying where he went, but he always came back with a story. When she asked him to do something he would do it, without complaining or discussing it further. And each morning she found a hot cup of coffee on her desk. Lois assumed that it was his daily peace offering, his appeal not to be the target of her affronts. She really tried, but somehow she did it again and again.

Lois could only excuse her behavior with her futile attempts to get an interview with Superman. He always vanished so quickly that it was utterly impossible to exchange a word with him. She had tried desperately, but he never looked at her. Lois doubted that he even recognized her. He fascinated her and she wondered where he came from. She wanted to know him, wanted to talk to him. Lois owed him her life. She felt a special bond towards him that she couldn't quite explain. It was strange. There was attraction and curiosity but also something else. Lois couldn't name it — she wasn't even sure it really was anything. It was too complicated to think about. At least Superman wasn't dangerous territory…unlike Clark Kent.

Ever since Lois had learnt that he wasn't married, she was twice as careful around him. He seemed to be a good and caring kind of guy, if anything like that still existed. Was his behavior towards Rebecca real or had he made it up to impress her? Lois had lost all trust in parents in general and fathers in particular. Why wasn't Clark married? She hadn't dared ask him yet, and she still hadn't found out where Rebecca's mother was. She had the strong feeling that she would put her foot in her mouth if she dug into this. Lois wanted to stop behaving so childishly; she wanted to come clean with Clark. Lois still felt sorry for being so rude to Rebecca. She remembered how disappointed she always was whenever her father left.

Lois sighed and looked out the window into the darkness of the night. What she saw made her gasp. *He* was hovering in front of her window. Superman! Lois couldn't believe it. That was impossible. She had been trying to get to him for almost three weeks, and now he was just in front of her window as if it was a natural thing to do. When he realized that she had seen him, his face turned dark red. Superman blushed? That seemed even more unrealistic. Lois was afraid that he might leave right this moment.

"Wait!" she shouted.

Would he hear her? The window had glass with noise insulation. Lois' heart sank. She rushed over to the window. How could she keep him from flying away? But the hero didn't leave. He patiently waited for her to get to the window, and he was still there as she opened it.

"Superman," Lois whispered weakly.

"Good evening, Lois," he replied.

He was so strong and confident. He looked straight into her eyes, and there was no shade of red on his face. She must have only dreamt that he had blushed. What a silly idea!

"You know my name?" she asked, confused.

He nodded affirmatively.

"It is Lois, right?" It was not really a question.

Superman didn't doubt that he was right. He looked amazing from such a close distance. The fabric of his suit didn't leave much to imagination. The muscles in his arms were just breathtaking. His pectorals were firm. This man looked like nothing could harm him. It wasn't just because Lois had already heard about his invulnerability; even if it hadn't been for that knowledge, there was such force radiating from him, banishing every feeling of fear or insecurity.


Another whisper! He must think she was stupid. There he was, Metropolis' most sought after interview subject, and all she could do was stare at him.

"I'm glad you're all right," he said, not seeming the least bit annoyed by her stupidity.

Darn it, she needed to pull herself together!

"Thank you for saving me," Lois replied. It was a start, at least.

"You're welcome, Lois."

His warm voice sent a pleasant shiver down her spine. He was so gentle…how could a man with such strength be so gentle?

"Do…do you mind the name I made up for you? You only told me you were a friend…"

"I don't mind it, Lois. I felt uncomfortable with it, at first, but I guess it's too late to invent another one, anyway," he said with a wry smile. It looked nice on his face and Lois wondered whether she had seen it before.

"You could tell me your real name! There is so much I want to know about you."

Involuntarily, she laid her hands on his arm, trying to hold him, because she feared that he was going to leave now. But he didn't, and it was most definitely not her grip that had stopped him.

"I can't tell you much, Lois," he replied, but there was no anger in his voice. He made it clear, though, that he didn't want her to ask any further questions.

Lois looked down towards the floor. She knew that her cheeks were flushed. She did not want to upset the man who had saved her.

"Can you tell me one thing? Did you save me from the first fire?"

"No, Lois, it was not me," he answered and then turned towards the window again. "Good night," he said softly and took off into the dark sky.

Her gaze followed him until he was out of sight.


Clark cursed inwardly. What business did he have visiting Lois? He was breaking his own rules. What a hypocrite he was! Superman was the guy who flew around and saved people. There was no need for anyone to know more about him. And there he was, hovering in front of Lois' hotel room and giving himself away. Lois was no fool, and it didn't take much intelligence to assume that he hadn't dropped by accidentally. Lois had to be aware of his interest in her. He hadn't been in his right mind. He should have left the moment she had seen him, but that had proven to be impossible. Clark just had not been able to leave. He was far too distracted by his being so close to Lois. And she really saw him; she didn't ignore him like she ignored Clark. It wasn't the awkwardly polite relationship that the two of them had the rest of the time. Clark Kent couldn't let Lois see how he really felt for her. She wasn't the kind of woman he could introduce to Becca as a potential step-mother, as much as he wished that she might be.

Becca shifted her position in his arm, which really didn't make it any easier for Clark to hold her. It was Friday evening, and Becca's school had had a little Christmas party. It had been an exciting day for Becca, but it had taken its toll on her. The teachers had read Christmas stories. They had had cookies to feed an army. Becca had been raving about the fruit punch with cinnamon. It was late in the evening when the party ended. Clark had known about that, and he didn't mind Becca going to bed late once in a while. She had had a lot of fun, but she was tired now and the way home was too long. When he had picked her up, she was hardly able to stifle her yawns. Her pace had slowed down increasingly. It was a cold night and Clark had decided that it was better to carry her. As soon as her head had touched his shoulder she had dozed off.

Christmas Eve was on Sunday and Clark still had only a vague idea of what he was going to offer Becca as a Christmas present. He didn't even know what he would give his parents. Christmas always came too soon. He had only two days left to think about the problem, less actually, because he needed to know before they flew to Smallville.

He wasn't far away from the apartment when Becca stirred.

"Are we there yet?" she asked, drowsily as she lifted her head.

"In a few minutes, honey," Clark replied and Becca leaned her head back on his shoulder, but she didn't close her eyes again.

It really didn't take long to reach the entrance of the apartment building. Clark set Becca back on her feet and started searching for his key. Becca yawned and clutched her arms around herself, trying to maintain her warmth. Suddenly, Clark heard screams. Someone near by seemed to be in danger. He didn't usually fly around in the evening or at night. Clark couldn't leave Becca alone, but the screams indicated that someone was going to be hurt or worse — killed. He couldn't abandon this poor guy to his fate; that would be unnecessarily cruel and inhumane. Clark opened the door at super speed.

"Go inside, honey. I'll be back in a few minutes. Lock the door behind you. Don't open it to anyone but me and stay inside," Clark said and headed in the direction where he heard the screams coming from.

It was just a short walk around the house to the back alley behind his building. As soon as he reached the place, Clark could see two dark figures fighting. The blade of a knife twinkled in the dark alley. One of the men held the knife in his hand; the other had his assailant's arm in a firm grip. Neither of them seemed stronger than the other. Clark listened for Becca, briefly. He heard her steps on the stairs up to her room. She was safe. Clark breathed a sigh of relief. He returned his attention to the fighters. They still struggled with each other, both trying to dominate the other. There was determination written all over their faces, and whatever reason they had for fighting, neither of them was willing to let go. This wouldn't end peacefully.

Clark lowered his glasses and focused on the blade. He only saw its shape, and he didn't want to burn any of the men accidentally. When he felt confident enough, Clark shot a beam of laser-vision towards the blade. It gleamed in bright red and the knife fell to the ground. It didn't hurt anyone, just clanked as it hit the street. The fight continued, though. They didn't even stop to wonder why the blade became so hot. Clark was worried. He knew that people didn't need weapons to kill each other. It was no use to stay hidden. He didn't change into Superman because that would only increase the possibility that someone saw him. They weren't armed. Clark checked on it with his x-ray vision. There was no reason why a regular guy shouldn't be able to end the fight.

Clark stepped further into the alley. "Stop it!" he shouted confidently and approached the fighters. He was taller than the two men, and even if it hadn't been for his powers, he would have been stronger. They looked up, but only briefly. Afterwards they continued their fight, bickered with each other and battled their adversary. Clark was annoyed. He didn't want to use his superior powers. A light headache built up behind his eyes. He really had enough of this violence. It was Christmas for Heaven's sake. Couldn't people love each other just once a year?

For some strange reason, Clark's headache increased with every step he took. The pain spread from his head through his body, taking possession of his arms and legs. It became increasingly difficult to lift his feet, and he staggered. Something was wrong! Clark felt limp, as if his legs weren't strong enough to hold his body. It wasn't anything he knew or would have been able to describe. Breathing became exertive, as if he had to work against a power that was pressing on his thorax. The place seemed to narrow around him. He didn't see the men or the walls of his building. In fact he couldn't see anything at all. Clark wasn't sure if he had been blinded or if he had just closed his eyes.

His senses weren't working properly; only two of them were left. Clark could smell the garbage in the alley. He was lying on the ground; his legs had given way without his noticing it. But the garbage was there, stinking and nasty. It wasn't the worst of it, not compared to the pain that had rendered him helpless. He knew that he couldn't get up. Clark felt nothing but hot, searing pain invading him, setting his body on fire. It was running down his spine and working its way through his stomach. Every cell seemed to scream in agony. And then it was over. Suddenly the world went black and every feeling stopped as Clark faded into grateful, comforting unconsciousness.

When Clark came to, he was alone in the dark alley. He was cold, but his muscles were too sore to tremble. The pain had receded and had left utter exhaustion. His body felt numb. Clark couldn't tell if it was the cold or the remnants of pain. Would he be able to move? He didn't know, but he had to try. How long had he been lying in this alley? Clark could only guess. Becca! The image of his little girl appeared in his mind, and Clark felt the urge to get to her. She was alone; it was late and she didn't know where he was. It had to be a nightmare for her. Clark groaned as he moved his sore limbs.

He tried to listen for Becca, but he only heard silence. That gave him another push. Getting up had never been more difficult. Clark had lost almost every feeling in his legs. He wasn't sure if they could support his body. He seemed to have gained an immense amount of weight since he had reached the back alley. Clark tried to fly; he didn't even care if someone was watching. But it was to no avail. He was grounded. Ages later, he stood on his feet, anything but stable. He reached out to steady himself on the wall. His progress was slow, the time it took, agonizing. Clark wanted to get to Becca. What would she be thinking? That maybe someone had caught and dissected him? Well, Clark really felt like someone had dissected him. But he wasn't injured; he just hurt all over.

Would Becca think that he had left her, like Lily had left her before? She didn't really remember her mother, but there were times when Becca missed her. She was only seven, and she sometimes thought that Lily just hadn't wanted to be with her. It wasn't true, but those things were difficult to understand at Becca's age. Clark wanted to get to her, as soon as possible.


Becca sat on the sofa in the living room and stared at the door, intensely. She mumbled incoherent words, which mostly consisted of 'daddy' and 'come back'. She could read the clock, and it wasn't just a few minutes that had passed. When Becca didn't watch the door, she turned her glance towards the clock. The minutes passed slowly. To make sure that they went by at all, she counted the seconds. Becca knew all the numbers to sixty, but she almost never counted that far. Her eyes returned to the door before that. She bit her lip. Why was Daddy taking so long to return?

When she had entered the apartment, Becca had closed the door. She had rushed upstairs to store her things in her room. It had taken her some time; at least Becca had thought so. She was tired, very tired. She would usually never have admitted it, but her bed looked very tempting tonight. Becca dressed in her nightgown and shot the smooth pillows a longing glance. The urge to slip underneath her covers and the wish to go to her daddy fought within her. Finally, her daddy won over. He would be disappointed if she didn't give him a kiss goodnight.

Becca padded downstairs on her bare feet and felt the cold metal of the spiral staircase. She shivered and started running to the sofa as soon as she had reached the floor. She jumped onto it and cuddled in a blanket that lay in a corner of the sofa. Becca felt a little warmer. She sighed and started watching the door. She was only a bit surprised that her daddy wasn't already there. When he said that he would be back in a few minutes, he usually was back in only a few minutes. He rarely left her alone, and when he did, it was only for a very short time.

But, as more and more time went by, Becca started feeling uncomfortable. She didn't like to be all alone. A few minutes were okay, but this was close to unbearable. Becca didn't know what to do. Daddy had told her to stay inside, and she had heard enough about the wolf and the seven little goats to take this advice seriously. So she kept staring at the front door, praying for her daddy's shape to appear soon. Her glance wandered to the phone on the kitchen wall. She wanted her grandparents to call her so they could tell her what she should do. Becca whispered the plea into the empty apartment, hoping for someone to fulfill her wish. Nothing happened. Maybe she had to call herself? Becca decided to wait another couple of minutes before she would go to the phone.

Becca didn't need to wait any longer. She heard steps and someone coughing. Scared, she tried to hide under the blanket. She trembled. The steps came closer. Becca peeped out of the blanket, trying to see who was at front of the door. She regretted having thought about the big bad wolf. What if he came now? Another cough was heard, but it was even closer now. She could even hear ragged gasps. A huge shape appeared at the front door. Becca pulled the blanket even closer around her. She whimpered. Seconds dragged on as if each one lasted an eternity. Becca just wanted her daddy to come back to her. Why had he left her alone? She shivered violently.

"Bec…Becca." A soft moan came from the front door. "It's me."

Becca recognized her father, but he sounded oddly weak. She emerged from under her blanket, struggling to free herself from the fabric tightly wrapped around her. She got to her feet and rushed over to the door. Becca desperately tried to not make any noise. What if she was mistaken; what if it wasn't him? After all, he never sounded weak! She stopped her pace and watched the shape. It was trembling, leaning against something. Becca tiptoed closer to the door and carefully avoided being seen from the outside.

"Daddy?" she asked softly, her voice trembling as she leaned against the doorframe.

"Yes…pum…pumpkin." He coughed again.

Becca was irritated. She hadn't ever heard her daddy cough. But only he called her pumpkin. Becca was even surer that it was really her daddy in front of the door. Gathering all her courage, her hand wandered to the doorknob.

"Daddy!" Becca gasped, shocked, as she saw his pale face.

Clark stumbled inside and closed the door behind him. He clutched at the handrail as he stepped down the stairs and unsteadily took the last couple of steps over to the sofa, before he sank down with a groan. Becca followed him and kneeled down beside him.

"Daddy!" she whimpered.

"I'm okay, honey!" he managed to say.


He wasn't okay, but Becca needed comfort. It was doubtful that she would buy his assertion. Clark still ached all over; he didn't really know if he could soothe his little girl when he felt so awful. But she was more important than his discomfort. He reached out for her hand. Clark knew he couldn't lift her, not tonight. That scared him to death. Never had he felt so weak. He was desperate and wished for someone to say that everything would be all right, that the soreness would disappear and that his powers would return. He had lost them and he didn't even know how. No one came to comfort him; Clark stayed alone with his fear.

Becca laid her hand in his and followed as he dragged her closer to him. She carefully climbed onto the sofa as he guided her and lay down next to him. Clark wrapped his arms around her. He felt her trembling body under his light grip. She rested her head on his shoulder and a flow of warm, wet tears dampened his coat. Clark heard her sobs and each of them was testament to the fear she had felt. He muttered soothing words, knowing that it wasn't enough. Becca hated when he left her alone, and her imagination came up with the most frightening threats. She had told him about the shadows. She wasn't afraid of them anymore, but other fantasies had taken their place. Clark could only guess what she had imagined while she was alone.

Clark wanted to drift off to sleep. He was far too exhausted to think of much more than his bed. His sudden weakness in the dark alley was still a mystery to him, and it worried him beyond belief. It was the first time that he got any impression of how it felt to be sick. His face was bathed in sweat, and Becca wasn't the only one who shivered. Clark still felt cold, though his walk to the apartment should have warmed him up. Maybe he was running a fever? Becca showed similar symptoms when she had caught a cold.

He couldn't just close his eyes and forget about the rest of the world. Becca needed to calm down, but honestly, how could he achieve that when he was frightened like a deer in the headlights? Though he felt his daughter's even breath against his neck, Clark felt lonely. Nothing had prepared him for this to happen. He had never been sick; there had never been a day when he hadn't been able to be there for his little girl. Clark needed help, but he wasn't used to being the one at the receiving end.

He couldn't admit his helplessness. Not really. He couldn't send Becca to bed right now without her usual bedtime story and without him following her upstairs. Not in her current state of distress. She was as lonely as he was, and that connected them somehow. The burden of adulthood weighed heavily on his shoulders. There was no one he could pass the responsibility on to. Clark promised himself just a few minutes of rest before he would get up to do what needed to be done. He closed his eyes, though only briefly.

Someone knocked at the door, hard and demanding. Clark glanced over to the clock, irritated. It was a quarter to eleven. Who wanted to see him in the middle of the night? Becca looked up as well. Her face was white, apart from her red eyes. There was another knock; it sounded even more urgent. Clark silently told her to get off of him. Becca obeyed and flinched at the soft moans that he let out as she climbed across his body. He could see the worry in her face.

"It's all right, honey," he whispered.

He slowly got up again and groaned as his sore muscles protested against the effort. His legs threatened to give way under him. He concentrated on every step he took. Had he ever imagined that walking could be so exhausting?

"Go upstairs, Becca."

Clark stepped closer to the door, dragging himself up the few stairs. Why had these stairs needed to be there right now? Clark cursed, silently. He stopped in front of the door, panting.

"Who is it?"

"It's me, Lois. Please open up, Clark," a female voice answered.

He should have known! Who else could be visiting him in the middle of the night and at the worst possible time? He opened the door.

"Lois, it's late," he complained.

"You look awful," she stated.

"Thanks," Clark replied wryly.

The world spun around him; he struggled to remain upright. He was so weak, so sore. He couldn't deal with this woman right now.

"Lois, I've got a terrible cold. Please, I need to go to bed."

"Clark, I really need to talk to you," she replied.

"Can't you wait until tomorrow?" he asked.

"No, Clark, this is very important to me. I don't want to postpone this conversation," she disagreed.

"Really, Lois," he moaned, but futilely.

She walked past him, and he couldn't do anything but close the door behind her. He had to lean on the handrail again in order to be able to follow her. His legs were shaking as he stepped down the last stair. She had started speaking, but Clark had missed almost all of it. His mind was too busy keeping him from stumbling.


Lois was confused by Clark's behavior. He was deadly pale, and she couldn't help but think that he wasn't listening. Under normal circumstances she would have been very annoyed, but seeing Clark in his current state didn't allow any anger to well up in her. He hadn't bothered to get his coat off, though he was at home. That was the first thing Lois usually did when she got home, unless she was carrying a lot of stuff. Clark still wore his shoes and had spots of dirt all over him. Suddenly, he stumbled and fell to the floor.

"Clark!" Lois gasped in shock as she rushed over to him.

She could hear him groan and someone else squealed. It was Rebecca. Shouldn't she be in bed already? The little girl rushed to her father's side and cried out his name frantically. She seemed scared to death. Lois couldn't deny that she was scared as well. Clark had told her that he didn't feel like talking to her. She had seen his pale face. He moaned again, struggling to get to his feet. He wasn't unconscious. Lois breathed a sigh of relief and helped him to turn around. Clark coughed heavily.

"Shh, Becky…honey," he whispered, calmly and comfortingly. "I'm all right."

Lois didn't believe her ears. There he was, lying on the floor and had just barely turned around enough to look in his daughter's face. He was still ghostly pale and yet he was telling her that he was okay! Who was supposed to believe him? She shook her head. The little girl obviously wasn't buying his assertions, either. She still sobbed heart wrenchingly.

"You're not all right, Clark," Lois stated grimly. "You have to see a doctor. I'll call an ambulance."

"No, Lois, don't!" he replied and held her wrist. "All I need is some sleep."

Becca looked up, her face swollen from crying. Her glance wandered from Lois to Clark and back again. Her lips were trembling as she awaited the adults' decision. Lois pressed her hand on Clark's wet forehead.

"You're running a fever, Clark," she stated as if this was substantiating her earlier advice.

"It's just the flu, Lois," Clark answered firmly as he sat up.

He trembled. Lois realized that there was no way of convincing him to go to a doctor. She helped him up and steadied him. Together they walked over to Clark's bedroom.

"Get out of those clothes, Clark," Lois said.

Clark didn't undress; he just stared at her, intensely.

"Come on, Clark," she repeated, impatiently.

She hadn't intended to become his nurse, but obviously he needed just that. She would have to ask Rebecca where she could find towels to prepare cold compresses. Clark still had not removed his coat. Instead, he reached out for Lois' arm.

"Lois," he whispered as he drew her closer towards him.

She didn't know what to expect now. Was he already caught in feverish dreams? His grip was considerably stronger than it had been before. Maybe that was a good sign? She didn't know, but Lois felt slightly afraid. She hadn't been prepared for this, and she didn't really know how to react.

"Whatever happens, don't send Becca away from me. She wouldn't understand and she's already frightened." His voice was low, barely audible.

Lois assumed that he didn't want Rebecca to eavesdrop. His tone was urgent and uncommonly bidding.

"What do you mean, Clark?" Lois asked, slightly confused.

"Don't send her to bed; don't tell her that she can't come to see me," Clark replied.

Lois was about to disagree, to tell him that he needed rest. But she noticed the firm expression on his face, telling Lois that he wasn't going to give in on that topic. So Lois gave him an affirmative nod.

He started taking off his coat, and since he looked more stable, Lois left him his privacy. She went back into the living room. Rebecca was sitting on the sofa and wrapped in a blanket. The little girl looked rather pale, worried and frightened. Lois wondered what had happened before she had arrived at Clark's place. Why on earth was Clark in such a condition, and why was Becca still awake? As soon as Becca saw Lois, her brows furrowed, and she looked at her censoriously. Lois went over to Becca and sat down next to her.

"Rebecca, can you please help me?" Lois forced herself to ask softly. She wasn't good with children.

The girl's glance had not turned a bit friendlier. Lois was determined not to be intimidated by a seven-year-old girl.

"I need a few towels and a bowl. Do you know where they are?"

The girl nodded but didn't move. She stared over to Clark's bedroom, frozen into place. Lois laid her hand on Becca's back and stroked it softly. She really hoped it was the right thing to do. Clark had told her that Rebecca was already scared. How should she deal with a frightened child? Lois felt helpless. But she understood now that it would be a mistake to send Becca upstairs.

"It's going to be all right, Rebecca." Lois tried to sound confident, which she wasn't.

She took the girl's hand in hers and made her stand up from the couch. Becca followed; she wasn't protesting.

"Can you show me where the towels are, Becca?" Lois asked. She remembered that Clark didn't use her full name when talking to her.

Somehow the spell on her seemed to lessen, and she came to life.

Becca showed Lois to the kitchen and opened the right cupboards or pointed to them because she was too small. Within a few minutes, Lois had what she needed. She gave Becca a soft push towards Clark's bedroom and followed her. Becca gave her unsure glances.


Becca was frightened. She had heard the adults. Her daddy was ill. He never got ill. What he was telling this Lois-woman wasn't true. She didn't know about him; Becca would know if he had told her his secret. She remembered his moans as she had touched him. She didn't want to hurt her daddy. Becca had been careful, but he had moaned nonetheless. He had even collapsed on the floor. He had told her, then, that he was all right. But how could he be okay when he couldn't manage to stand on his feet? She hadn't dared go to him.

Becca was afraid that the Lois-woman would send her away. Had Becca not been so caught up in her worries, she would have heard Clark calling for her. But she hadn't. When the Lois-woman had sat down beside her, Becca had expected her to say that she should go to bed. Becca had been sure that this woman wouldn't understand that sleeping was completely out of question right now. Lois had surprised Becca.

The soft push towards her daddy's bedroom was almost enough to change Becca's opinion of Lois. Becca decided to give her a second chance. Maybe she was just having an awful lot of bad days. Becca approached the bedroom self-consciously. Her eyelids were growing heavy. Becca didn't want to be tired, but she was. And she was glad that she wasn't alone with her dad. She had been shocked at the sight of his pale face, and she wouldn't have known what to do. Lois was a grown-up. She knew how to handle things.

Clark was sitting on the edge of the bed. He wore long pants, as he usually did in winter. His chest was bare. He wasn't that pale anymore, but his skin was still damp with sweat. Becca rushed towards him; she couldn't hold back any longer. When he heard her approach, he looked up at her. A smile appeared on his face, and he held out his arms to embrace her.

"And I thought you'd rather leave me alone, pumpkin," he said. His voice was hoarse, and Becca heard a soft groan as he lifted her up on his lap. It sounded as if she was too heavy for him, which was odd, since he was the strongest man in the world. "Sorry, honey. I didn't want to scare you," he whispered in her ear.

"Can I sleep in your bed?" she asked, shyly.

Becca looked from Clark to Lois, expecting one of them to send her away. Lois opened her mouth to say something, but Clark was quicker.

"Of, course, honey," he replied gently and placed a kiss on her cheek.

He lifted up the covers and Becca slid under them, cuddling with the pillows. She inhaled the comforting scent of her dad that was all around her. Whatever had made her afraid had slowly faded and left her calmer. Clark lay down next to her and sighed with relief. Becca watched Lois sit down next to Clark. She bathed the towels in a bowl of water and laid them on his forehead and arms. Clark squealed as the cold cloth made contact to his hot skin.

"Pull yourself together!" Lois muttered and wrapped dry towels around the wet ones. "This will help to get your temperature down."

Clark's teeth were chattering with cold.

"Ohhh, some hero you are!" Lois shook her head and grinned.

It was right in that moment that the sandman finally caught up with Becca, and practically before she even had closed her eyes, she was fast asleep.


"Thanks, Lois," Clark said softly. He was starting to feel better. "I don't know what I would have done without you. So what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Nothing, really. You're welcome, Clark. Get some sleep, now," she replied.

"Lois, I know you. You didn't come here without a reason. You told me this was so important that you didn't even want to give me a rest. So tell me," he repeated, softly.

She had gotten up from the bed again, but he pulled at her hand gently and made her sit down next to him.

"I owe it to you to listen now."

"It's not that important, Clark." Lois watched him with a worried expression.

It was the first time that Clark realized that she cared for him.

"It is," he insisted, in a very low voice in order not to wake Becca.

"I wanted to apologize, Clark," Lois gave in.

That took Clark by surprise. Lois turned away, her face slightly flushed.

"I kept lashing out at you for no reason. And I never made it up to Becca. I was behaving so badly on that Sunday, and I didn't even tell her that I was sorry."

"You made it up to her tonight, Lois. Didn't you see the smile on her face?" Clark whispered, glancing over to the little girl next to him. She looked so peaceful in her sleep. "You calmed her when I wasn't able to. I guess you got a second chance to become her friend."

"Do I also get a second chance to be your friend, Clark?" Lois asked, self-consciously.

"No, Lois," Clark replied.

The hopefulness on Lois face turned into disappointment in a split second.

"You never needed a second chance with me," he hurried to add. "Friends?" he asked.

"Friends!" Lois confirmed softly. "Get some sleep, now, Clark. You look tired."

"It's late Lois. Maybe you want to sleep on the sofa instead of going home?" he offered. "There are some blankets in that box over there." Clark didn't even hear her reply. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Lois watched him, fascinated. She saw his chest raising and falling — his bare chest. She couldn't help but admire the firm pectorals under the smooth skin. Never had she imagined that he hid such a perfect body under his dark gray suits. His complexion had returned to that olive tone. He wasn't so pale anymore. Clark really looked better, and Lois was glad that she hadn't dragged him to the hospital. Lois assumed that the sterile atmosphere wouldn't have done him any good. She turned off the light and suddenly remembered that he was still wearing his glasses. In the darkness she tiptoed over to Clark. She took them off and placed them on the nightstand next to his bed. He didn't even stir.

"Goodnight, Clark," she whispered into the dark room and turned around to leave.

Back in the living room, Lois grabbed the coat that she had lost somewhere in the process of nursing Clark. She wanted to go back to the hotel, but when she passed his sofa, she looked at it, longingly. Even though the hotel bed would be much more comfortable, the sofa seemed inexplicably inviting. Lois sighed. She was just as tired as Clark and Becca had been. She didn't really want to return to a lonely hotel room. Lois remembered Clark's kind offer to stay. Somehow it seemed natural to accept it. Lois glanced at her coat and made her decision. She placed it on a chair and went to fetch the blankets Clark had spoken of. Just a few minutes later she was lying on his sofa. It was even more comfortable than it looked like. It didn't take her long to be sound asleep as well.


Clark wasn't sure whether he had even moved once during the night. The exhaustion had rendered him almost paralyzed. But the night's rest had driven away the soreness of his muscles. He was comfortable now, and the pain was nothing but a terrible nightmare that had finally, finally faded. It hadn't left him unchanged, though. Clark didn't feel like he was back to normal. As soon as he had opened his eyes, he had tried out his x-ray vision. It didn't work. Neither did any of his other powers. He couldn't deny that he was worried. How could his powers be there in their full force for over ten years and fade in just a few minutes?

Clark looked towards Becca, who was awake as well. She was watching him, almost without blinking. Her glance didn't leave him for a second as if she was waiting for something. She had watched his efforts to use his powers. It was hard to tell how much she had understood from what he was trying to do. Since nothing had happened, she could only have noticed the strained expression on his face. He turned towards her.

"Good morning, pumpkin," he said, his voice firm now, totally unlike a few hours ago.

"Good morning, Daddy. How are you?" Her voice was trembling.

Clark could tell that she was worried and afraid that what had started yesterday would last throughout this day.

"Better, honey," he replied, comfortingly.

Becca shot him a doubtful glance.

"Really!" he confirmed and got out of bed.

Clark stood on his own two feet, firm and solid. He smiled at Becca and went around the bed to sit down at her side.

"I was weak yesterday, but I'm not anymore. I don't know where it came from. I felt terrible, out of the blue," he explained and then bent down closer to Becca. He didn't know if Lois was still there. So Clark decided to whisper the next part. "But, honey, whatever happened to me, it robbed me of my powers, and they haven't returned yet. I'm not sick anymore, but I'm not my normal self, either."

"And how are we going to get to Smallville, now?" Becca asked in a normal voice.

Clark shrugged. "I don't know, pumpkin. It's too late to get a flight. I guess we've got to stay here."

It was hard to see the disappointment in her face. She had been looking forward to seeing her grandparents. And so had they. Clark would have to call them, and after yesterday, he wanted to talk to his parents anyway.

"I'll prepare us some breakfast, honey."

He tousled her hair, giving her an apologetic look. He knew that this was hard on Becca. Christmas in Smallville was so magical and special. Hard as he might try, he couldn't be as good as his mother. He didn't have the power to turn Christmas into the really special occasion that it usually was. Clark always felt the spirit, but he wasn't sure if he was able to cast the spell on others.

Clark got up again and went to the kitchen. On his way through the living room, he noticed … slightly surprised … that Lois was still there. She was sleeping on his sofa, cuddled into a blanket and was a most peaceful version of herself. As she was lying there, her expression relaxed and her hair a mess, she was even more adorable than ever before. Clark couldn't help but stop at the sight of her. She looked darn good.

The most impressive thing about her were her lips. Lois was smiling in her sleep, and her tender lips attracted his glance with a magical force. They had a soft shade of rose, and Clark couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like to touch them. He imagined the electrostatic shock between the two of them, if he should ever be allowed to kiss her. But that was just a dream, the kind that teenagers had. Clark should know better. He was grateful that they had decided to try friendship instead of fighting with each other, but he couldn't really expect more to happen. This was all he would get, and maybe it was really better that way.

Clark sighed silently and forced himself to continue his way to the kitchen. The breakfast wouldn't prepare itself. It didn't take him long to make breakfast. Clark noticed more than once that he used his powers more often than he thought. The pan was hot, and Clark almost burned himself before he took a towel to hold it. That wasn't the only incident, but the most serious. Apart from that, Clark didn't have too many problems in the kitchen. He decided to give his parents a quick call. He knew his mother; she would already be cleaning the house and would soon start cooking like she had invited Kansas in its entirety. Clark took the receiver and dialed the number. While waiting for his parents to take the call, he watched the food.

"Hello," his mother said.

"Hi, Mom, it's me," Clark replied, suddenly not so sure that he really wanted to talk to his parents. They would only be scared, and probably more than he already was. He was so used to his invulnerability that the threat of getting burnt while cooking alone was frightening.

"Hi, honey." Martha sounded surprised. Why shouldn't she? After all they were supposed to see each other in a couple of hours. "You're still at home? I thought that Becca would have already put you in your suit."

The light-hearted teasing confused Clark for a moment. He noticed that his own good humor this morning was just a futile pretence. He tried to lead himself to believe that he didn't really care whether he was super or not.

"Oh, yeah!" Clark chuckled in a weak attempt to sound sincerely amused. "I guess she would. But, Mom, I'm afraid there is a problem. I can't fly." He mentioned it as if it was something incidental. Was he really attempting to play that down, as if he just wasn't able to buy the bottle of wine that he had promised to bring? He had lost his powers for crying out loud!

"You can't…what?" Martha gasped, shocked. Stunned silence followed. He couldn't fool her. She was smart and she knew him. She had definitely heard the worried trembling in his voice, the suppressed panic.

"I don't really know what happened, Mom. All I know is that I felt sick yesterday, and that I feel really normal today." He tried to tell his mother everything without mentioning something that would raise any suspicion in Lois, in case she listened.

"Normal? As in 'like any other guy'? You mean you…you've lost your powers?" Martha asked, sounding very worried.

"All of them. It's possible they're even gone for good." Clark felt awkward as he said this.

Although he had always wanted to be a normal guy, he couldn't help feeling sad now that he was. It was as if he had lost a vital part of himself. But at the same time, a strange relief was also welling up inside him. This meant that he could be free to really lead a normal life. He no longer heard any sirens in the city. He couldn't listen to police radios, and there were no cries for help. Clark knew it didn't mean that someone had turned Metropolis into a peaceful place, just overnight. He could care for Becca without being haunted by the cries of the people he wasn't saving. Clark shook his head. Who was he trying to fool? He didn't actually hear those cries, but he knew they were there. It made him nervous because he imagined terrible disasters. His mind was busy thinking about fires and accidents all over Metropolis. Inwardly, he saw people dying violently because he couldn't be there to help. Clark assumed that his imagination was probably a thousand times worse than the real emergencies that occurred while he wasn't listening.

He felt a strange ambivalence in addition to the panic that losing his powers had caused. Not having his powers meant that he didn't need to pretend that he was normal. He just was. This was a good thing, considering that Lois was around. He vividly remembered the few moments in her hotel room… He hadn't expected to see her again so soon, and most definitely not as Clark.

"Gone for good?" Martha muttered. "I don't think so, honey."

"They are a part of you, son." Jonathan joined the conversation. "Whatever happened, I'm sure they will come back, Clark. It might take some time, but I'm sure they'll return."

"Tell us, what happened, Clark," Martha pleaded him.

Tell them? They wouldn't be satisfied with what he wanted to tell them. *Mom, Dad, I stepped into the back alley and when I left it I had lost my powers. Yeah, Clark! Great idea!* he thought. He didn't want to mention the intense pain, the soreness and the angst back in that alley.

"Later, Mom. Lois is here." He was grateful that Lois provided him with an excuse not to tell the whole story. "I'll call you later. I just wanted to tell you that we won't come. I'm so sorry," Clark replied, sadly. How he had wished to spend Christmas with his parents. It was always so special. "I'm afraid we're never going to get a flight today."

"We understand, Clark. Get better soon. We love you. Merry Christmas."

They said good-bye to each other and Clark hung up. He sighed and turned around and flinched as he saw Lois' face right in front of him.

"Good morning, Lois," he greeted her, startled. Clark wondered how much she had heard of the conversation with his parents.

"You should be in bed!" she retorted, almost angrily.

Her brows were furrowed as she watched him in his upright position. He didn't notice that Lois stole a glance of his bare chest, still fascinated by the firm muscles.

"Good morning, Clark," he muttered wryly, trying to hide his real state of mind. After a brief pause, he continued. "I'm feeling better, now, Lois. Thanks for your help, yesterday. Would you like to have breakfast?" Clark hoped that the prospect of food would distract her from his strange illness.

"What was that, Clark? I've barely seen anyone in a worse condition than you yesterday."

As she was speaking, Lois placed her hand on his forehead, again. She obviously noticed that his temperature was back to normal. Clark sighed inwardly. Food obviously didn't suffice to change the topic.

He shrugged. "I don't know, really. Maybe I ate something bad." He hadn't eaten at all, but he wouldn't tell her that. "So, how about breakfast?"

Lois nodded. "Yeah, breakfast would be great," she said and gave him a broad smile.

Clark grinned at her and called Becca. His little whirlwind appeared but stopped dead in her tracks as she recognized Lois.

"I offered her to spend the night at our apartment, pumpkin," Clark explained as he noticed Becca's expression. "It was too late for her to go home, really."

The furrowed brows on the little girl's face vanished. "Good morning." It didn't even sound angry.

Clark was well aware of Becca's resentments concerning Lois Lane. But she behaved in an almost friendly manner towards her, which relieved him. He wasn't up to appeasing the two of them.

"Good morning, Becca. Did you sleep well?" Lois asked with a slightly insecure smile.

"Yes, Ms…" Becca started, not completely sure of the right way to address Lois.

"Call me Lois. Thank you for your help yesterday," Lois replied and turned to Clark. "You should thank her as well, Clark. The cold compresses were her work. Well, almost…"

Clark was at a loss for words. He looked from the woman to the little girl and back again. He didn't really know what had happened. Somehow, whatever had changed him, had obviously also influenced them. But as he examined them closer, he noticed that the friendly atmosphere was a facade. They still didn't trust each other, but they had both decided to give each other a second chance. It was a weak truce and Clark hoped that Lois wouldn't blow it the next second. She was quite good at that. Nobody knew that better than him.

"Anybody hungry?" he asked, with his best puppy dog eyes.

It annoyed him that he couldn't come up with a better idea than breakfast to distract Lois and Becca. He only hoped that it would work. Lois and Becca nodded and sat down at the kitchen table. Clark poured Lois a cup of coffee, while Becca started eating silently. She glanced at the two adults. They didn't talk to each other, either. It was a rather awkward atmosphere, and Clark felt forced to turn it into one of the light-hearted conversations that he usually enjoyed at the table. The only problem was that he didn't feel light-hearted. It was the same with Becca after he had told her that a flight to Smallville was out of question.

"So, Lois, what have you planned for Christmas?"

"Christmas!" Lois snorted. "I don't plan Christmas; I'm trying to survive it."

"Survive?" Becca gave her a very confused glance.

Well, that started out just wonderful. The truce hadn't even lasted three seconds. Clark groaned inwardly. Someone wanted to punish him for whatever sin he had committed. He didn't know what it could be, but it had to have been a really bad one. This was going to be the worst Christmas ever. Maybe survive was actually just the right term. He didn't say it, though.

Lois was about to reply something as Clark interrupted her. "Lois was just joking, honey. Right, Lois?"

His voice sounded somewhat threatening as if to warn Lois to keep her tongue in check before she spoke again. For a brief moment Clark was afraid that Lois would ignore the obvious hint. It would be typical for her. But apparently she remembered that they had buried the hatchet. Lois chose to remain silent instead of taking back her statement. She seemed to be thinking about what she should say next. Clark decided to step into the breech.

"Becca and I wanted to fly to Smallville today. But the flight was cancelled, unfortunately." 'Cancelled' was an interesting description for what had happened to him, he mused. "So we'll have to stay in Metropolis. I'll still have to find a way to make it up to Becca."

"So you've got an awful lot to do today, Clark, don't you?" Lois asked, sympathetically.

"Oh, it'll be okay," he replied with a shrug and grinned. "Actually I hope it'll be fun. What about you, Lois? Did you find a new place to stay?"

She shook her head. "They still think that their house is going to explode the moment that I appear in front of their door." Lois sighed sadly. "I'm really fed up with that hotel, and so far nobody has been kind enough to burn it down. You would think that the arsonists would have tried again in the last three weeks. These landlords are such airheads! They just don't understand that I wasn't the target."

Clark couldn't help but laugh at Lois' outburst. "Would you like to spend Christmas with us? You don't seem to have anything planned, and I think that Becca and I will feel a bit lonely without my parents."

Lois watched Clark in disbelief, and he was already expecting to get another taste of Lois Lane's offenses. He even started searching for words to defend himself and Becca. It wasn't necessary, though. Lois Lane surprised him.

"You would really invite me for Christmas?" she asked, stunned and somewhat excited.

"Well, that's what I just said, Lois. Of course, if you want to be with your family, we would understand that."

Lois chuckled, and then suddenly burst into laughter. "My family? Yeah, good joke, Kent." But for once the use of his last name didn't sound offensive. She had said it gently. Lois turned serious again. "Clark, my family is awful, really. They would kill each other on Christmas. Maybe that's why I never really feel the Christmas spirit. I don't know."

"So, you'll stay?" Clark insisted.

He felt a flutter in his belly. Somehow, it seemed inexplicably promising to him that he would spend some time with Lois. It was unbelievable. Usually he tried to avoid being too close to her.

"I'll stay," she agreed. "But don't expect me to be too cheered up about Christmas."

Becca's face had darkened. She didn't look as if she liked the prospect of having to share her dad with Lois. But she reminded herself that Lois had helped her daddy. Becca wasn't allowed to forget that.

"I bet you will be at the end of the day. You've never seen Becca's smiling face on Christmas Eve. It's contagious," Clark said, sounding more convinced then he actually felt.


A little later Lois and Clark were walking through the streets of Metropolis. Clark had decided that they needed a Christmas tree and so they had to search for someone who was still selling them. Becca was a few steps ahead of them, trying to find places in the fresh snow where nobody had set their feet in. It wasn't particularly easy in the big city. Clark watched her, smiling, while he talked to Lois. Their constant arguments were forgotten. They weren't even discussing their job.

"So tell me, what's so awful about your family, Lois. Can it really be that bad?" Clark inquired.

"Trust me, it can. My parents… they stopped loving each other. My dad was so caught up in his work that he didn't even notice my mother anymore. She became so incredibly sad, disappointed about love and life. She started drinking. They divorced. Whenever they meet now, they always start fighting," Lois explained.

"Oh, Lois. I'm so sorry," Clark mumbled sympathetically.

"And what about you? Becca must have a mother. Where is your wife?"

"I was never married. Lily — Becca's mom — died five years ago. So we've been pretty much on our own the past few years. It was difficult at times, but I think we're doing okay now."

"Five years?" Lois whispered, shocked. "Oh, Clark. It must be awful to lose someone so early."

Clark nodded. "She was special. We grew up together, and I really thought that we'd end up in the same nursing home one day. People joked about us being inseparable."

"How did it happen?" Lois wanted to know.

"He never tells," Becca said suddenly. Somehow she had appeared next to them. Lois and Clark flinched, surprised. "Not even me."

"She's right. I don't tell, and it's too sad a story to be mentioned on Christmas," Clark stated, firmly.

Becca was right. He never told anyone; it was a family secret. All anyone knew was that Lily had wanted to see her parents and that both her parents and Lily were dead now. The rest was a mystery, and Clark hadn't told either Becca nor his parents or anyone else for that matter. It was too painful to even remember. He closed his eyes against the memory and for once managed to let it stay hidden. He smiled at his companions broadly.

"So, Lois, since this is your city, where do we get what we need for Christmas?"


Lois was clueless again as to how such things happened. There she was, going for a walk on the crowded streets of Metropolis. It was Christmas Eve and seemingly the whole of Metropolis was trying to get a last minute present. Usually, Lois would have stayed hidden in the newsroom or her apartment. She didn't like Christmas. She didn't like it because of all the people running around to get presents and because of all the people pretending to like each other when they didn't. Christmas was nothing but commerce. On every street corner, there stood another Santa Claus in a red and white costume. The children staring at him didn't even know that it was a famous soft drink manufacturer who had invented that outfit. People called magic something that really was just advertising.

She had never found it especially magical, not even as a child, or at least not as a teenager. Children tended to romanticize those moments. They believed in Santa Claus and flying reindeers. As soon as Lois had realized that both ideas were ridiculous, she had seen Christmas for what it really was. Namely, another occasion for her parents to fight. It had always started with her mother preparing dinner. She spent hours and hours in the kitchen, cooking like it was the last meal they were ever going to get. Ellen Lane always bought the best. Lois hadn't understood it at that time, but a vital part of dinner was truffles. They were immensely expensive and Lois had always been surprised by the small amount of mushrooms they got for their money.

She was old enough now to understand her mother. She didn't favor her actions, though. Ellen Lane wanted to punish her husband. She cooked a great meal and expected him to appear, to help her pretend to be the family that they were not. But he was too busy… he had always been too busy. So the expensive meal served as a reason to give him a very hard time. Leaving his family alone should have sufficed in Lois' eyes, but that wasn't enough for her mother. She loved those histrionic scenes in which she ditched Sam's dinner. It was all planned in advance. She waited in the living room, pouring herself several glasses of wine until she changed to Bourbon. Her father always got home late. Lois rarely saw him anymore. And then it started: the argument, the fight and the screaming. They lashed out at each other, sometimes violently on her mother's part. And Lois and Lucy would lay in bed, cuddled together, trying to soothe each other when they both felt so incredibly lost.

No, Lois didn't like Christmas because all those memories surfaced. She felt alone, and she was that scared child again, someone she didn't want to be ever again. Helplessness wasn't a feeling that Lois appreciated and that was inherently connected to the holidays. Lois didn't want to feel lost anymore like she had felt in her futile attempts to comfort Lucy.

But, inexplicably, she enjoyed this walk with Clark. She liked seeing the expression on Becca's face, conveying expectation and sheer happiness. How could this girl look so happy when she had just learned that she wouldn't see her grandparents on Christmas? And how could Lois feel so comfortable with a man she hardly knew? Lois realized that she had just gotten the first present that she considered as something you should really get on Christmas. She had made a friend.

Clark had told her about Lily but quickly changed the topic. She could understand it because it had to be really painful for him. But Lois couldn't help to admire him for his strength. She had been wondering where he had hidden Becca's mother. She had never really imagined that she might be gone forever. Lois had expected her to appear in the newsroom one day, holding Becca's hand and waiting for Clark to call it a day. Now, Lois knew that this wasn't going to happen. And, disturbingly, she wondered what it would feel like to be loved by Clark. She had seen him with his daughter. How would he treat a woman that he was truly and deeply in love with?

"Oh, Lois, come on, what is bothering you?" Clark interrupted her train of thought.

"Huh?" Lois was too startled for complete words.

"I've asked you three times if you like these tree decorations. Would you mind answering my question?" Clark said, teasingly.

He was in a good mood and grinning at her. Obviously Clark was enjoying the sheer prospect of Christmas immensely, too. He looked like a big kid, and Lois had to admit that he was just sweet that way. She couldn't quite understand how Becca and Clark could be so excited about this day of the year. Well, as to Becca, Lois had most definitely an idea why the girl liked Christmas, but Clark wasn't a child anymore. Lois remembered that he had asked a question and tried to concentrate on answering it. She looked at the tree decorations that he held in his hand and sighed with relief.

"Nice," she stated. And they really were. Lois had seen many items that she could only describe as kitsch, pure unadulterated kitsch. She wasn't going to think of any of them in particular; they were just too ugly. But Clark held out a package of red Christmas tree baubles that did not represent this completely exaggerated Christmas spirit. There was nothing else on them but the red color. In his other hand, he had a set of small bells, also red, with little golden stars on them. Lois liked them at once. She nodded affirmatively.


Clark couldn't help the feeling that somewhere in the process of pretending to be happy, his smile was adhered to his face. At first, he had forced himself to play the light-hearted Clark who enjoyed Christmas. Well, he did enjoy Christmas, but he was worried since his powers were gone. With time it had become easier, and he hadn't had to force himself anymore. Now, he couldn't stop smiling. He must look like a fool, he really must. But at least neither Lois nor Becca had asked him if he was still playing with a full deck.

They had been in almost all the stores of downtown Metropolis, and Clark was carrying an awful lot of bags. He didn't have much at home to prepare Christmas dinner, and he lacked decorations. At least they had found the right things, and while Lois was distracting Becca, Clark had managed to buy a few things for her. He had also found something for Lois, which surprised him because he had expected this to be a lot more difficult. All they needed now was a tree.

It was freezing cold, and the streets and sidewalks were densely covered with snow. Lois, Clark and Becca were trying to keep warm, but that became difficult. Even Clark was shivering, which was a new experience for him. He felt tired. That wasn't exactly uncommon for him, but usually shopping wouldn't have sufficed to leave him worn out. Clark wanted to sit down somewhere, and watching Lois and Becca told him that the two of them would also like a bit of rest.

"How about a cup of coffee?" he asked as the three of them were standing in front of a little coffee shop.

It looked nice. The windows were decorated with images of bells made of sprayed-on artificial snow. There were a few people sitting inside, but the place was not so eye-catching that it attracted a lot of visitors. The place looked quite comfortable. Lois and Becca nodded, relieved that he had made the suggestion. Lois opened the door and entered the coffee shop.

It was a bit like coming into a living room or — more precisely — coming into the living room of good old Auntie Elsie. There were various styles of furniture, antique sofas of all kinds and miscellaneous tables. Nothing seemed to fit together, but at the same time it was the only possible combination. In the middle of the small place was old Aunt Elsie. The small, chubby elderly woman served her guests tea and cake. She looked like she belonged to the place and wore a big smile on her face. Clark wondered if this place existed only for Christmas. Walking through that door had led them into another world, away from the hectic streets. Cinnamon and apple pie smelled sweetly in the warm air.

The elderly woman looked up, studying her new guests, and the smile on her face became even broader. Clark hadn't thought that possible, but he was proven wrong. Her cheeks were flushed.

"Mistletoe!" she shouted jollily and pointed to a place above Lois and Clark.

They blushed, instantly.

"Come on, you two. It's tradition!" the woman added as neither Clark nor Lois moved.

She waited. Lois glanced at Clark, her cheeks still bright red. To Clark's utter amazement, Lois didn't seem adverse to the idea of kissing him. She even leaned forward a bit.

"You don't want to disappoint her, do you?" Lois whispered as Clark still wasn't preparing to kiss her.

He couldn't believe it. What was happening to Lois Lane?


Yes… What was happening to Lois Lane? She wanted to kiss Clark. Why would she want to kiss him? Lois tried to find an explanation for her feelings. She had known him for only three weeks now. They had mostly argued with each other. It couldn't be the prospect of touching his lips, though they looked delectable. Lois saw the encouraging smile on Auntie Elsie's face. That was it; she didn't want to disappoint the nice elderly woman. After all, it was tradition!

Lois could blame it on the mistletoe. That was what her conscious self thought. Unconsciously, though, Lois was eager to find out how well Clark kissed. She wanted to know in order to forget about him. She wanted to forget about his chest and the warm olive tone of his skin. His smile and his charms would no longer be important if he proved to be a lousy kisser. They would be just friends and a kiss wouldn't change that, no matter how bad it was. Lois looked up at him. She saw his flushed face and the insecurity in his eyes. Lois leaned in forward; she would surprise him and catch him off guard. He wouldn't be able to gather whatever kissing skills he had. He wouldn't be able to cast a spell over her.

But Clark didn't even look like he was particularly interested in kissing her. He would do it because he was forced to. It would be a dry kiss, just two pair of lips meeting each other, briefly. That thought, unconscious as well, made Lois slightly sad, because she missed male lips. She wouldn't admit it, but she was longing for a real kiss that conveyed care and longing and need. Lois was craving for a good kiss, but this wasn't the afternoon she would get it.

Clark leaned in forward as well, somehow managing to keep all the bags he was carrying out of the way. Lois watched him, saw the look in his eyes, still insecure but giving in to his fate. His lips touched hers, shyly, and ready to pull away any moment. His kiss was teasing; his lips were cold but incredibly soft. She forgot about the cold, feeling warmth welling up in her. She couldn't tell if it was him or the warmth of the room that spread through her. His lips parted, slightly but in a determined manner. And her lips parted as well. It wasn't something Lois had consciously decided; it just happened. She could feel the caress of his warm tongue against her mouth. It was shy as well, not willing to cross a certain line, but it was undeniably there. Her tongue slipped through her lips, meeting his briefly.

Lois could taste him. She smelled his aftershave, though she noticed that he hadn't shaved this morning. She made another brief contact with his tongue before it was over, suddenly. Clark had pulled back and had left her longing for more. They looked at each other unsure about their counterpart's reaction. Awkwardness was written all over both their faces.

"Ahhh, I love Christmas," Auntie Elsie said, grinning. She came over to her three new guests and pushed them over towards a free table. "Two cups of coffee for you, I assume?" She wasn't really asking, but Lois and Clark nodded, weakly. "And for you, young lady, I have something special!" The woman vanished and left Lois, Clark and Becca startled.


Clark watched Becca. He didn't know how she would take the kiss. She wasn't too eager to become friends with Lois, and he was aware that she dreaded losing him. It was ridiculous, though certainly not for Becca. Clark could never *replace* her. He loved his little girl. But Becca didn't seem to be upset; she was rather enjoying the very Christmassy atmosphere. Clark also looked at Lois, still not able to believe that he had truly kissed her. And he was even more amazed by the way it had felt. Clark was well aware that this had been a kiss neither of them had planned on and neither of them had actually wanted. It had been a traditional kiss. And Clark started to wonder what it would be like to kiss her under different circumstances. He knew that he was right on his way to losing his mind completely. He forced his attention away from the kiss and to a light, innocuous conversation.

Auntie Elsie returned, still wearing a bright smile that was either on her face permanently or belonged inseparably with her Christmas outfit. Clark somehow doubted that this strange woman existed outside Christmas. She was a bit like a female Santa Claus. She carried a tray with three cups.

"I know you'll enjoy these drinks," she said.

She placed the cups in front of them. Lois and Clark got coffee, and Becca found herself with a steaming beverage. There was whipped cream on it that was slowly melting. At first, Clark thought that Becca had gotten hot chocolate, but the color was different.

"What's that?" Becca asked, inhaling the scent that emanated from her cup.

"Magic potion!" Auntie Elsie whispered, mysteriously. "Try!"

Becca took a sip. The cream left white spots on her lips. Becca grinned, broadly. "Yummy!"

"I knew it," Auntie Elsie replied. "Hot apple juice with cream never fails to work!"

She left them alone, turning to someone else to aim her Christmas magic at.

"Did you know this place?" Lois asked Clark.

He laughed and shook his head.

"Lois, this is your town. I've only been living here for three weeks," he returned.

"We've got to come back here," Becca stated.

"Uhh, I don't know if this shop will still exist when we try to find it again," Lois muttered.

"Why?" Becca wanted to know.

"Because it's way too out of this world," Lois said. She didn't sound pessimistic, just fascinated by the atmosphere.

Clark couldn't help the impression that Christmas was getting hold of Lois Lane. He grinned, forgetting about his powers and about the fear that losing them had caused. He just felt completely at ease. Clark leaned back in his chair and watched Lois and Becca. His little whirlwind was still thoroughly enjoying her magic potion, while Lois seemed lost in thought. Her glance met no one in particular, and Clark wished that he knew what she was thinking.

Going into the coffee shop had proven to be the best idea Clark had ever had. Had he been able to read Lois' mind, he would have known that she thought just the same… and more. Lois couldn't really understand why kissing Clark had affected her so much. She didn't know why she was enjoying this time of the year now that she was with him. Maybe it was just the place, and when she left it, the spell would be gone. Auntie Elsie seemed to know what Christmas was really supposed to mean. Lois thought of the mistletoe wryly and mused that this was an interesting way to play matchmaker.

But she wasn't going to fall for Clark Kent; she couldn't because she had already fallen in love with Superman. When he had stopped by the day before, Lois had known it. He was drop-dead gorgeous. He was strong and completely reliable, unlike other men she had met. And who knew when Clark was going to show his real face? Lois had realized that Clark wasn't like other guys. He was such a caring father, it was amazing. But that didn't mean that he was never going to hurt her. Besides, she wasn't in love with him. Perhaps slightly attracted, but not in love.


"Don't believe what they say…" The speaker's voice was low, hardly above a whisper, but intense. Very intense. He didn't look impressive. He was tall, but slim, gangling really. Nobody would have noticed him but for his bright, intelligent eyes and his voice.

"Don't believe what they say…" he repeated and a smile appeared on his face. It was small, but irritating. Somehow he seemed to know more than the people listening to him. The man was enigmatic. When he paused, his glance wandered across his auditorium at the few people that were sitting in front of him. They admired and dreaded him at the same time. He seemed pleased by the expressions on their faces, which conveyed feelings of fascination and fear.

"They are all trying to influence you. They want to make you think that what they say is right to think. Don't believe them," the speaker made another pause. His smile grew wider. "Consider the facts and make your decision," he continued softly. He rose from his chair and started pacing through the dimly lit room. His face vanished in the gray shadows, leaving him somewhat more unreal than he already was. "It's a difficult time. There are so many different opinions, so many theories. The sun, the wind, nuclear, oil and coal: everybody has a different solution. But you know better, don't you?" He spoke up, seemingly addressing each of his listeners personally. "Your minds are free of all the propaganda that the industries put about."

The listeners nodded, slowly, convinced that the speaker's words were right. His ideas would lead to real progress. In the auditorium sat a young man who caressed a little piece of green crystal with his thumb. This was his day, the day of his initiation. He had brought it, the piece of crystal that would make him a true and important member of this group, unlike so many others. It had cost him a lot; the fight with the original owner of the crystal had been rough. He had proven to be the stronger, finally. His adversary was dead now and wouldn't be found before the river's current dragged him to the shore again. He was content with his work; he had added a vital part to the building of the new world. Soon he would get up and hand the crystal over to his incredible boss. He smiled.


Finding the right tree had been less complicated than Clark had thought. It was much more difficult to look at Lois without wanting to touch his lips against hers. He had desperately tried to dismiss the thoughts that were involuntarily coming to his mind. Hadn't he promised himself to be careful? Hadn't he wanted to withdraw before things got out of hand? But that was precisely the problem. He hadn't been with a lot of women, and he didn't know how far was too far. Now it was too late, Clark had crossed the threshold and was already lost. He was in love, and he would be until the end of time. The only problem was that hell would freeze over before he became Lois' lover.

No…Clark shook his head. That was the least of his problems. Lois didn't love him, and he would be grateful if they even really became friends. The real issue was that he wasn't able to predict Becca's reaction. After they had been on their own for about five years now, she wasn't going to accept Lois easily. He could understand that. Becca might feel replaced and maybe she would be afraid of losing his love. He didn't love Becca less because of his feelings for Lois, but would his little whirlwind understand? Maybe she would even mistake his friendship with Lois for an attempt to replace her mother. Clark could only hope to convince Becca to understand and Lois to return his feelings. He didn't actually expect his dream to come true; that was too much to ask for. Clark sighed. He had to put a loving relationship with Lois out of his mind, as hard as that would be.

Clark was just unpacking the things he had bought when Becca appeared next to him. He stopped storing the food in the fridge and waited for her to say something. She looked up at him, obviously not completely sure how to voice what she wanted to say.

"Come on, pumpkin, spit it out," he said gently, giving her a warm smile.

"Does she have to be here?" Becca asked, shifting uncomfortably. Clark knew at once that Becca was speaking of Lois, and honestly, who else could she have meant?

"I invited Lois," Clark explained. "You remember that she helped us yesterday, don't you?"

Becca nodded, but she didn't seem convinced. "You don't really like her," she stated.

"Becky, honey, that's not true," he replied with a sigh. "I do like Lois. When you were asleep, yesterday, we decided to try and be friends."

Becca gave him a shocked, disbelieving glance as if he had started cooperating with the enemy.

"Oh, pumpkin, please don't look at me like I've betrayed you." He kneeled down in front of Becca and gently brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "You know how important you are to me."

"You kissed her!" Becca said accusingly.

"It was just a kiss under the mistletoe, Becca." Clark hoped that he wouldn't blush, and he was glad that Becca had only seen and not felt the kiss. Otherwise, there would not be the slightest chance that she would agree to his statement. "It didn't mean anything beyond that." At least so much was true, Clark mused. He might be longing for a meaning that went deeper than the superficial Christmas kiss, but there hadn't been any. "I've kissed her, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to marry Lois. And I don't think she would agree for that matter."

"Good to know that you got that one right, Clark," Lois mentioned from behind.

Clark groaned and got up. "Really, Lois, once more exactly at the right moment. How do you do it?" he stated wryly but smiled at her. Clark looked back at Becca who seemed a bit more content with the situation. "See, Becky? There's absolutely nothing to worry about. The two of us can be grateful if we manage to remain friends," Clark commented. "How about the two of you decorate the Christmas tree while I start cooking?"

Lois watched father and daughter and bit her lip. She had once again put her foot in her mouth! She admired Clark for his ability to make up for her mistakes. He shouldn't have to do that, but somehow Lois stepped from one terrible situation right into the next one. She gave Becca what she considered a reconciliatory smile. The girl studied her thoroughly, and Lois felt indescribably exposed. Strange as it was, it mattered to Lois what Becca thought of her. She couldn't help but be afraid of Becca's decision concerning her. This seven-year-old girl had a strange power.

"Come on, Becca, will you help me with the tree?" Lois asked and held out her hand invitingly.

Becca strolled over to her, but she didn't take Lois' hand. Instead, she went right past her and into the living room where Clark had set up the Christmas tree.


Dinner went by without any noticeable incidents. Becca had announced that she wanted to play Parcheesi after dinner. Clark wasn't so sure if this was a good idea. He had tried to make Becca change her mind about it, but it was to no avail. Becca had loved the game from the moment they had first played it. For Clark, it was always hard work because he knew that Becca was a sore loser. That alone would not have been so bad, but she always became furious when she noticed that Clark was cheating in order to put her in a better position. Not that it was easy to actually cheat in that game without anyone noticing it. Clark only hoped that Lois could cope with losing a game, but he wasn't too optimistic about that.

Becca had just disappeared upstairs as Clark started cleaning the table. His powers had gradually started to return throughout the day. He had noticed it mainly while he was cooking. His hearing had become better and better, his vision was almost back to normal and he didn't get any burns regardless how hot the pot was. That relieved Clark and he was finally able to relax. He was glad that his powers didn't kick in suddenly; otherwise he might have had problems controlling them. He couldn't really fly yet, but that didn't worry him too much. All in all, Clark felt ready to cope with Becca and Lois together at a table. He had handled worse situations, hadn't he?

Lois had volunteered to help him get the dishes into the kitchen, but Clark had told her she was a guest. So he had poured her another glass of wine before he had left Lois alone in the living room. It didn't take long until she followed him, though. Maybe she was afraid of her Christmas tree result, which was actually frightening to someone who didn't like Christmas. Becca and Lois had decorated it beautifully, but maybe it was just a tiny bit ornate. Clark didn't really know where the tinsel on it had come from. Maybe Lois had bought it somewhere? Chances were good that Becca had talked her into it. She was crazy about tinsel, but that was about the only wish that his mother had never fulfilled.

Anyway, the Christmas tree was a real beauty. If the sight of it didn't distract Santa so much that he fell from his sleigh, Clark didn't know what would. For a Christmas newbie like Lois, Becca's enthusiasm had to be intimidating. He grinned at her as she entered the kitchen, her glass in hand.

"Is it always like this?" Lois asked. "Your daughter is so brimmed over with joy that I can hardly believe it. Doesn't she get tired?"

Clark laughed at the comment. "Well, I guess she's using my bad conscience against me. I feel somewhat guilty for not being able to take her to Smallville this year. And I think that my little whirlwind is far more tired than she would ever admit." Clark remembered what Lois had told him about her previous Christmas experiences. "You know, with my mom and dad, Christmas has always been special. The whole family would meet and we'd go to church together. My mother always prepared a fantastic meal and made the world's best apple pie. I felt so safe with my family, so absolutely sure that they loved me. I guess I still get this warm and fuzzy feeling around the end of the year."

"I've never seen you so relaxed before, Clark. You can really enjoy Christmas. There is nothing forced about it. How do you do that?" Lois wanted to know.

"Years of practice, Lois," he replied. "Come on, let's join Becca. I'm glad that you're here this evening. It would have been lonely, just the two of us."

"But she doesn't like me, Clark," Lois said somewhat miserably. "Children don't like me."

"She needs time, Lois. She doesn't know you. Becca is shyer than she seems to be. Over the years, the two of us have traveled a lot to various parts of the world. Not all the people we met could speak English, and she had problems making friends. So she depended on me. I am her father, her mother, her big brother and her best friend. She's afraid of losing me, but I think it will get better with time," Clark explained and approached Lois. He laid his arm on her shoulder and smiled at her affirmatively.

The two of them went into the living room where Becca was already waiting. She had placed the board on the table and had put the pawns on the board. Becca had chosen the red ones. Clark and Lois sat down at the table. He handed Lois the box so she could decide which color she preferred. He noticed her longing glance towards the red ones. With an almost inaudible sigh, Lois took the blue ones. Clark chose the yellow pawns, happy that Lois hadn't started a war right there and then.

He handed Becca the dice. "The youngest player starts." Lois rolled her eyes. Of course Clark would let Becca go first. She was a child, more precisely she was *his* child.

Becca grinned and held the dice in her fist as she whispered something to it. Then she shook her hand and threw the dice. It rolled across the board and showed a five. Becca's face looked rather disappointed. Lois smiled. Her hand wandered over to the dice, but Clark stopped her.

"Oh, no, Ms. Lane. No cheating here. Becca is allowed to throw the dice three times," Clark said teasingly. He watched his daughter, who wore a broad smile, as she grabbed the dice again. She repeated her ritual another two times, but it didn't help. The dice refused to show a six. Becca pouted.

Lois took the dice and threw it. She got a six. Becca squealed, disgusted, and her pout became even more exaggerated. Lois didn't notice it because she had started doing a little happy dance. She moved her pawn on the start position and threw the dice again. Another six! She repeated her dance and moved six spaces forward. Becca looked at her, miserably. Lois threw the dice again and got a five. Clark closed his eyes. He could virtually see Becca's miserable expression. Lois had been able to move 11 spaces. Becca would catch up to her soon, but there was no way she would see that now.

"That's not fair!" Becca exclaimed, angrily.

"I'm just good at that game." Lois shrugged and smiled at Becca. The girl returned the glance with daggers in her eyes. Fortunately, Lois didn't even flinch. She just watched Becca, and for a few moments it looked like they were trying to see who would give up first. Clark remembered the game that he had used to play with Lily. Look into the other's eye until one starts to laugh. And Lois did indeed the same with Becca. Lois lost. She started giggling.

Clark was so distracted by the two of them that he almost missed his turn. Only when Lois' and Becca's hands landed in his side in order to wake him up did he notice that he had to throw the dice. Clark carefully weighed it in his hand. He knew that the chances for a six were smaller than those for any other number, and he really hoped that the odds were on his side, this time. Fortunately, he didn't get a six either. The pout on Becca's face, which had diminished during her silent battle with Lois, got even smaller. He grinned, content and handed the little girl his dice. Becca tried a new ritual and obviously it helped. She could move her pawn as well.

The game went on and slowly more and more pawns moved on the board. But with their increasing number, Lois and Becca entered another stage of their battle … bumping. While Clark carefully avoided moving his pawns on an already occupied space, Lois and Becca made an art of it. They thoroughly enjoyed the fight, watching each other, trying to predict the opponent's next step. Clark wondered briefly if it would be necessary to step between them. But he noticed that both Lois and Becca had a lot of fun, probably more than he was having, appeasing the two.

Clark leaned back in his chair and watched the girls. Briefly, he imagined what it would be like if both were *his* girls. Every now and then they returned to their silent game, staring at each other intensely. Most of the time, Lois lost. Becca was incredibly good at it.

"You're not concentrating, Daddy," Becca complained.

"I am concentrating," Clark disagreed and returned his attention to the board. All four of his pawns were back in the starting position, while Lois and Becca had both managed to save two of theirs.

"Obviously," Lois stated wryly. She shot a glance at Becca, winked and smiled. Becca returned the gesture. "Would you at least try, Clark? Or do you enjoy losing against two weak girls?" She had that mocking tone that Clark remembered from his schoolyard days.

"So, you think I'm not trying, huh?" Clark replied and kissed the dice before he threw it. He got a six. A little later, Clark's position was getting increasingly better than it had been before. He smiled. "And you think I'm not trying?" he said teasingly.

Lois and Becca glanced at each other conspiratorially. It didn't take long before Clark had lost all the progress he had made. Lois had allied with Becca.

"Noo, Clark. You're not trying," Lois stated, grinning. They started to laugh.

In the end, Becca beat Lois just before she could win. She was hardly able to stifle her yawns, and Clark shook his head, as she wanted another turn.

"Time for bed, pumpkin," he said softly. She protested, but he didn't change his mind on that. "Go brush your teeth, honey. It's way past your bedtime."

Becca murmured another couple of arguments, but she knew that Clark wouldn't give in. Clark watched her strolling to the bathroom and smiled at the sight of it. Trust her to fall asleep standing somewhere and to still claim that she wasn't tired.

"Do you want to return to your hotel, or would you like to stay overnight?" Clark asked Lois.

She shrugged. "Maybe it's better if I leave. I'm paying an awful lot for that room, and last night I didn't even sleep there."

"Whatever you prefer… I'd like to get a chance to prove that I'm a better host than I was yesterday. It's your decision. But I can't walk you to your hotel. I can't leave Becca here all alone. Of course I could call you a cab," Clark offered. "I'll just take her to bed. It won't be long," he said and got up. Becca had appeared next to him and had taken his hand.

"Come, Daddy!" she announced.

Clark nodded and followed Becca upstairs. As soon as she was in her room, she jumped into her bed, and Clark sat down beside her. He pulled up the covers and kissed her softly on her forehead.

"Good night, pumpkin," he said, gently.

"Daddy?" she asked.

"Yes, pumpkin?"

"Will Lois stay here, tonight?" Becca wanted to know.

"I don't think so, Becky," Clark replied and ran his hand over her cheek, softly. "I guess she's going back to her hotel." Clark bent down to her and whispered in Becca's ear. "I'm all right, again."

Her eyes grew wide. "Really?" she asked, happily.

"Yeah. I think we can visit your grand-parents tomorrow," he said in a low voice. Becca embraced Clark, overwhelmed and kissed him.

"That's great!" she whispered.

"Yeah, it is, honey. Close your eyes and sleep now, Becky. Santa won't come if you're not asleep," he murmured and blew a kiss on her cheek. Becca was already asleep.


When Clark returned downstairs, he noticed that Lois had left the living room. A soft gust of wind met his face. Clark used his x-ray vision and saw Lois on his balcony. She looked up into the dark sky of Metropolis and sighed. Clark couldn't help his curiosity and listened to her. She was whispering, incoherent words that didn't make much sense. But what he heard made him think of the day before. She wanted to see Superman, and honestly, he wanted to see her as well, dressed in that suit.

It was silly and Clark knew it. He knew that he needed her to see Clark, not Superman. Superman didn't have a daughter; at least he couldn't tell anyone that he did. Clark wasn't free in the way Superman was. Unfortunately, both men were completely and utterly in love with Lois Lane. He had tried to fool himself long enough, but there was no other way to say it. Clark couldn't ignore it anymore. There was no way he could ignore the rush of happiness that cursed through him whenever he saw her. Clark had to accept the cruel truth. He was deeply in love with a woman he had just agreed to be just friends with. There was only very little chance of changing that and to make her return his love. But even if that should happen by some mysterious twist of fate, how was he supposed to explain it to Becca?

Clark stopped in his tracks and watched Lois Lane staring into the dark sky, wishing he was there with her. Wishing that she'd look at him like she had the previous evening. He swallowed hard, to get rid of the lump that had built up in his throat. She was so adorable, so amazing and so beautiful. He remembered her teasing Becca, the two of them staring at each other. He saw Lois giggle. He had never actually liked giggling girls, but with Lois it was different. Really, Clark couldn't mistake this for anything else. It was love.

A split second later, Clark had made his decision. He stepped onto the balcony. Lois turned around and looked at him.

"It was a nice evening, thanks," she said softly. She looked at him, but not in the way Clark wanted her to look at him. She smiled, but it wasn't conveying the bond between them, like he had felt it yesterday.

"I enjoyed it as well. Lois, may I ask a favor? I need to go out and get something… Could you please stay here until I return? It won't take long. I'll call you a cab, later. Or you could change your mind and stay here, if you like."

Clark couldn't believe his own words. He was willing to leave in order to be able to cheat on himself. He was losing his mind, he definitely was. He gave Lois his best puppy dog eyes. That was even more ridiculous. He wanted to pull her in an embrace; he wanted to feel her body against his. But he knew that she wasn't ready for that. She wouldn't let him.

Lois nodded. "Of course, Clark."

"Becca is asleep. I doubt that you'll have problems with her."

Clark thanked Lois and turned around to leave. Not for long, he told himself, just a few minutes to be close to her. He grabbed his coat and keys. A moment later he was outside.


Superman was hovering above Lois Lane and slowly landed on his balcony. Clark's balcony … he reminded himself. He wasn't quite used to that secret identity thing, yet. From above, Lois looked even more adorable. Her slender frame seemed so fragile, but Superman knew that the woman he stared at was strong. Stronger than anyone he had ever met before. And when she recognized the man above her, the expression on her face changed. It turned into the one he had been longing to see the whole day through.

"Good evening, Lois," he said, his voice firm and self-assured in his heroic persona. His feet touched the ground.

"Superman!" she whispered. She blushed and looked down in order to hide it.

"I hope you are doing well." He was behaving so foolishly. He wanted to see her, but he didn't really know what to say.

"Yes, Superman," she replied.

"Merry Christmas, Lois."

"Merry Christmas, Superman. You know Christmas?" she asked, surprised. "Do you celebrate it as well? Where you come from, I mean."

Superman chuckled, but didn't reply.

"Where do you come from?" Lois wanted to know. "Why don't you fly during the nights? I mean, hardly anyone has ever seen you doing that… Can't you fly at night? But you are…flying, I mean. And it's dark, isn't it? What is your favorite food, if you eat, that is? Do you need to eat? Are you human? Or from another Planet? Oh, Superman! There is so much I want to know about you!" She stepped closer to him, and he could read on her face that she was afraid that he'd pull away. He stayed.

"So many questions…" he said, smiling. His smile was very brief, though. It faded as he realized that he could hardly answer a single one of them.

"Oh, please, Superman. I want to know everything about you! You've appeared so suddenly, and nobody knows anything about your background."

*Neither do I,* he thought miserably. "I'm here to help, Lois. That's all I can say for now."

"Can I quote you?" Lois whispered.

Superman nodded. He wasn't capable of much more as he saw the movement of her delicate lips. Those lips that were messing up any coherent thought he had tried to have since he had been standing under that mistletoe. Too bad there was no mistletoe on this balcony. Unbeknownst to him, Lois was thinking exactly the same.

Suddenly there was a terrible noise that attracted his attention. He couldn't help but clutch at his ears. Cries for help destroyed the peaceful night and pierced his ears like needles. Superman groaned. Lois watched him, anxiously.

"What is it, Superman?" she asked, scared. "Are you all right?"

He flinched, trying to regain his composure. "I need to go…Many people need my help," he said. "They are crying for me. Good night, Lois." Superman turned around and lifted off into the sky.

Lois watched him in complete amazement. She knew that she was one of the few persons who had seen him fly into the darkness. And she was even surer now that he hadn't been in her hotel room accidentally the day before. But how did he know where she was? She would ask him that the next time she saw him. Lois glanced at the dark sky. She knew that he would return.


Serendipitous Infinity


—Smallville, July 1966—

Daylight was fading and the warm, early summer air was gradually cooling down. But the little town was still full of life on this Friday evening. People were returning from work or buying a last couple of things for the long weekend to come. Monday was Independence Day, and most people were excitedly preparing the celebration. Young couples enjoyed walking in the mild air; others just stood in hidden corners, kissing passionately.

Martha and Jonathan Kent were strolling down the streets of their town. They held each other's hands and were alternately glancing at the shop windows and their sleeping son in the baby carriage. Whenever their glance slid over to the small child, a smile appeared on their faces. In fact, they had hardly stopped smiling since the moment they had seen the meteor on that miraculous night. Though the baby boy had been with them for a little over a month, both still couldn't really believe their luck. Neither of them had dared to keep hoping that their deepest wish would come true some day. But it had and this was just incredible. They both had promised themselves to protect their son. Since his arrival in their little family had been a bit off-the-record, Jonathan and Martha were now anxiously watching the big dark vans that were driving down Smallville's main street.

All these vans had darkened windows but for the windshield. However, the driver was hardly visible because the sun reflected in the glass. It wasn't the kind of vehicles that were usually seen around Smallville. They looked a bit too mysterious and official. Martha and Jonathan wondered what kind of people would travel in such vans. Martha's grip on her husband's hand became stronger, searching for support as they watched the strange vans pass. The vans headed out of town again, driving straight in the direction of Shuster's field. Or was that just their imagination? Martha and Jonathan looked at each other, unsure what to think of the strangers.

They weren't the only ones. Several people stopped on the streets, glancing at the vehicles. Confusion was written all over their faces. As soon as the vans were gone, a soft murmur started all over the street, and it didn't take long until the wildest speculations as to who the strangers were had started circulating in every corner of Smallville.


Henry Meadows didn't care about the rumors that his arrival had caused. He was just excited. It had taken him a full month to get the authorization to research the meteorite that had smashed into a field in Kansas. At first, there had been an epic discussion via the hotline as to what the radar had detected. The governments of the USA and the Soviet Union had needed two weeks to assure each other that neither of them was responsible for it. When they had finally agreed to find out what was there, the place had been unobtrusive but for a few glowing stones.

That had been the exact description: 'glowing stones'. Henry Meadows couldn't believe it. Who on earth was so ignorant to any kind of science that he wasn't able to tell more about them? Well, that was a stupid question, since whoever had been on the particular field hadn't even bothered to bring samples. There weren't any weapons or national secrets to detect in the middle of nowhere, and so Henry had finally been informed of the incident. It took him an agonizing amount of time to gather the money and the piece of paper that enabled him to go there. Sometimes he envied the tomb raiders that didn't bother with rules but just went to get what they wanted.

As soon as Henry reached the reported place of impact, he forgot about the problems he had had in the run-up. He even forgot about his two co-workers who had accompanied him. Frantically, his eyes started searching the field for something that corresponded approximately to the description of a 'glowing stone'. It took him some time since he didn't even know the color it was supposed to have. He used metal detectors. Henry knew that most meteors consisted at least of a fair amount of metal, but it was to no avail. The meteor was either not where he searched for it, or it wasn't detectable by his equipment.

After hours of searching, one of Henry Meadows' co-workers was finally successful. The 'glowing stone' proved to be an unknown crystalline substance. It emitted an eerie green glow and didn't quite resemble anything Henry had ever seen. It was fascinating and Henry gathered as many samples as possible. They would take them to the Smithsonian Institute in Metropolis. He could hardly wait to study the crystals. What if it was a yet unknown compound? Or even better… a new element? He would be able to name it. Meadownium… The prospect was tempting.


—Present Day—

Lois sighed as she had a look at her bank statement. Her apartment hadn't been especially cheap, but that was nothing compared to the money the hotel was costing. She had to find something soon, else her savings would melt like snow in the sun. She sighed again. Not even Christmas had changed the fact that no landlord in Metropolis seemed to be willing to rent out an apartment to her.

"What is it, Lois?" Clark asked, as Lois sighed yet again. Concern was written all over his face. Obviously, he had already guessed that she hadn't received good news.

"Living in a hotel is charging my financial limits. I didn't think it would be so long," Lois replied sadly. "I only wish I had a new apartment. Do you know someone who has a place to rent?"

Clark shrugged and smiled apologetically. "Uhh, I don't think so. I guess I was kind of lucky with the one that I got. But I promise I'll tell you if I hear of anything."

Clark fell silent and for some reason he seemed to become absent-minded. Lois thought briefly that he would soon mumble something about a forgotten book or a video he hadn't returned yet. That would be typical for him, and she often couldn't help but wonder about Clark Kent. He was perfectly able to keep his life with a seven-year-old girl under control, yet at the same time, he was at a complete loss of organization concerning the rest of his life. But somehow he managed, and that wasn't just Lois' impression. She heard him talking about parent-teacher conferences that he had attended. And his daughter Rebecca had never complained that he didn't have enough time for her. Simultaneously, Clark wrote an inordinate amount of articles for the newspaper.

Lois watched Clark until the absent-minded expression on his face vanished. For once, he didn't make any excuses but looked at her like nothing had happened. Lois put the bank statement in her handbag, and she and Clark continued on their way back to the Planet. Her mind was still busy with the possibilities she had now. Honestly, there weren't many. She could continue trying to find an apartment in Metropolis, or she could extend her search to the suburbs. But that wasn't really an option for her, only a last resort before her money was completely gone.

It didn't take long to get to the newsroom and as soon as Lois and Clark entered it, Jimmy came running towards them. He was waving a folder that had the alarming proportions of the Metropolis phone directory. Clark and Lois both gasped at the sight, wondering which of Jimmy's recent researches could have led to this result.

"C.K, Lois!" Jimmy shouted, almost panting. "Here's the list!"

"What list?" Clark asked, confused. He looked at the younger man, who proudly pointed at the huge pack in his hand.

"The list of victims," Jimmy replied, grinning contently.

"Jimmy, that was three weeks ago!" Lois complained. "You didn't get it ready, and I made that list myself."

"The background research took some time," Jimmy explained, obviously disappointed that Lois didn't thank him for his efforts.

"The *background* research?" Clark asked, startled. He took the folder that Jimmy held out and flipped through it. "Jimmy, two people died in that hotel, three if you count Henry Meadows at the docks. What on earth did you research about?"

Jimmy blushed. He didn't answer, but that wasn't necessary. Clark and Lois had agreed on the assumption that only the three dead people had been the real targets of the arsonists. The preliminary report on the fire had established that both victims in the hotel had been dead before the fire had even started. Lois patted Jimmy's shoulder, comfortingly.

"Next time, you concentrate on the *victims*," she said. "But thank you anyway; I guess there are a lot of things in there we could still use."

Clark, too, said something encouraging to Jimmy, and then he followed Lois to their desks. Lois noticed a woman who was sitting in front of Clark's desk. She seemed rather impatient, looking at her wristwatch every now and then. Her eyes were examining both Clark's desk and the newsroom. There was something scary about her and the most unfriendly look Lois had ever seen on someone. She wondered what kind of business Clark might have with her. Maybe she was a source that Lois didn't know yet? On the other hand, he had been working for the Planet for only about a month; where would he have met sources?

Lois glanced over to Clark, who strolled towards his desk, still flipping through the folder. She shook her head. Where was the point in that? Was it a strange habit of his? There was no way he could read any of the words that fast. Having almost reached his desk, he looked up and stopped dead in his tracks. Clark turned incredibly pale at the sight of the unfriendly woman seated in front of his desk. Lois could have sworn that sweat appeared on his face, but she had never actually seen him sweating apart from that one night of sickness back on the 23rd of December.


Clark swallowed hard as he noticed the woman. He did not actually know who she was. Or, more precisely, he didn't know her name. Because he was all but certain of what she had in store for him. He closed his eyes, wishing that this would make her disappear. But that was a futile and childish hope. Why on earth did she come to the Planet? Usually they showed up at his doorstep. Clark had made sure that the Child Services had gotten his change of address. And why did she come now, just one day after Christmas? Whatever fuzzy and light-hearted feeling the holidays and the returning of his powers had left in him was swept away and probably wouldn't come back anytime soon. Clark sighed, trying to prepare himself for the conversation that was about to come.

He approached his desk, aware that there was no point in avoiding the woman. She would get him sooner or later and not even his flashy alter-ego could do anything about it. The entire way, he prayed silently for an emergency, though. He felt guilty for that, but only slightly. He always tried to be there in time for the emergencies. They really could come in time for him once in a while, Clark mused grimly. But the world was giving him the cold shoulder; it just remained annoyingly silent.

"Clark Kent?" the woman asked, icily. Her voice indicated that she wasn't sure whether the man in front of her was really the right one. What did she expect? That he would be greeting her with a knife rather than just his hand? That he had tattoos all over his body or that the word dangerous was written on his forehead? He knew that she was one of those ladies from the Child Services who were visiting him with a frustrating frequency.

"Yes," he replied with a forced smile and held out his hand.

"I'm here because of Rebecca Kent," the woman said. She didn't take his hand, she didn't introduce herself, and she just watched him like he was a particularly ugly piece of mud.

Clark couldn't think of a single one of those ladies who had been unfriendlier than her. It looked like New Troy had already heard of him and had sent its worst watchdog. Clark tried to ignore her contemptuous expression and forced himself to keep smiling. He failed.

"What can I do for you?" he asked as politely as he could. He knew what they wanted him to do: pass away, let his daughter be with his parents, something like that. He wagered that she would have liked to see him in the state he had been in last Friday.

"How is Rebecca?" the lady without a name asked, her voice threatening. How did she do that? She was smaller than him; he was the strongest man on Earth — he was Superman for crying out loud — but she intimidated him nonetheless.

"Alive and well," Clark replied, somewhat annoyed. He tried not to show it, but it was tough. "She goes to school and likes it. I love my daughter, Mrs…" He made a brief pause, long enough to remind her that she hadn't mentioned her name.

"Edwards. Mr. Kent, given your history, we have every reason to check on her. I just wanted to inform you that we'll soon be visiting you at home." She got up and turned around to leave, not telling him the exact date of her visit. Clark hadn't expected that anyway; they were keen on surprises. He was startled though. After the past five years he could smell the Child Services staff for miles around. Usually they would just visit him, have a look at Becca and leave. Obviously Mrs. Edwards was of the worst kind. Why had she visited him here? To get a first impression? To see him when he wasn't around his daughter? Or was she just trying to give him a hard time, to punish him for what he had done?

His knees felt weak and he noticed, embarrassed, that he was trembling. Clark sank down on his chair with a sigh and stared at nothing in particular. He only saw the film in the private cinema of his head, with all those agonizing pictures. He closed his eyes, trying to block them, but it was futile. He couldn't escape these demons.


From a short distance Lois had watched the conversation between Clark and his mysterious visitor. Lois had dismissed the idea that she was a source. Unless she had told him something horrible, a source wouldn't have had this effect on him. And Lois had clearly heard the name of Clark's daughter, which she found very strange. But really frightening was the change of expression on her partner's face … on her friend's face, Lois corrected herself. He had not actually seemed pleased to meet the woman, but when he had approached her, Clark still had this air of politeness as he smiled at her, almost warmly. That hadn't lasted long though. The smile had vanished completely, in a way that Lois hadn't thought possible. She had seen him both smiling and serious, but even when he was really serious there was a smile hidden somewhere on his lips. This time, hard as she had tried, Lois hadn't been able to detect one.

The lost smile had been the first step of the frightening change. Afterwards, Clark had turned paler than any ghost could ever be. And as if this hadn't been enough yet, he had started trembling like a leaf. Lois knew that he wasn't Superman, and that he could very well have his weak moments, but she didn't quite understand how this strange woman had managed to push him into this state of distress. Clark was still staring into space when Lois went over to his desk, determined to find out what this was all about.

"Kent, Lane! In my office! Now!" Perry yelled through the newsroom.

Lois winced. *Not now,* she thought and was about to say that out loud when Perry repeated his order. She would have to go to him first. But anyway, she needed to wake Clark up from whatever dreamland he had traveled to. She made her way to his desk and tapped on his shoulder.

"Clark," she said, loud enough that he had to hear her. He didn't. Lois repeated his name twice before Clark emerged from the place he had been.

"Huh?" he whispered, startled.

"Perry has called us, Clark," Lois explained.

It took him a split second to return to his usual self. No one would have noticed that something had been wrong but Lois. She was amazed, but at the same time slightly annoyed. He had to have practice with hiding how he really felt. Lois had gotten a taste of that as he had been lying on the floor of his living room, telling his daughter that he was fine. It would have been convincing hadn't he been flat on his back in the middle of his apartment. Lois sure wouldn't leave it at that, but for now she had to concentrate on Perry. Their talk was postponed, not cancelled, Lois thought grimly as she followed Clark, who went right to the editor's office.

Perry asked them about their progress in the arson story. Both Lois and Clark were frustrated by the time the research took. They chased after an enormous amount of loose ends that didn't lead them anywhere. The arsonists hadn't left any devices that could lead to him. The police were clueless, and for three weeks now there had been hardly as much as a single hint. The name Henry Meadows had given Lois shortly before dying was just another dead end. They had found several people named Wirts in Metropolis, but none had Robert as their first name. Elsewhere in the country there were some matches, but none of them seemed to have any connection to either Metropolis or fires or Henry Meadows. It just seemed hopeless. And just to add to the flops of the last weeks, Lois still hadn't found out anything about her mysterious savior. She had contacted Bobby Bigmouth once again, and he had told her that maybe the owners of the local laundromat knew something. Lois had tried to find them, but she had only very little time and currently they were on vacation.

Lois was annoyed that they just couldn't find anything reliable. She was tempted to blame it on Clark — she had never been so unsuccessful when she had still been on her own — but that couldn't be it because he was working hard. He was at her side whenever they had tried to investigate the arsons, and Lois knew that he was good. Clark had proven himself as a worthy reporter more than once. It wouldn't be reasonable to make him the scapegoat.


Clark managed to concentrate on the conversation with Perry. It was hard work, but he could do it. The editor-in-chief was mostly interested in the arson story. Lois filled him in with all the information they did *not* have. The story was really kind of frustrating. Whenever Clark had taken off to be Superman, he had also tried to find out more about these incidents and the mysterious man Lois' neighbor had mentioned. It was to no avail. He had visited the remnants of the hotel, Lois' apartment building and the docks. But no matter which power he used, he didn't even get a hint.

Another topic on Perry's list was Superman. He had been around for three weeks now and still hadn't given an interview. Perry could hardly live with that. It appeased him only slightly that all the other papers around the city couldn't write anything based on fact either. Of course the yellow press didn't really care for facts, and since people desperately wanted to know something about the local hero, they started to read other papers than the Daily Planet. Perry had already asked every available reporter to find out something about Superman, but it hardly led to any results.

Clark was careful. He didn't want people to ask too many questions. He still suspected that someone would recognize Clark Kent in Superman if they only looked closely enough. Clark hadn't actually planned for Lois to meet Superman twice in such a short time, but he hadn't been able to help himself. The glances she shot the hero were addictive. The brief moments when he could make himself believe that she was in love with him were just too precious to let them pass.

"Great shades of Elvis! Kent!" Perry barked. "Are you listening?"

Clark flinched and noticed, embarrassed, that he had drifted away again. He gave Perry an apologetic look and nodded. Clark forced his concentration back to the newsroom. He had other problems than Lois Lane, and if he didn't want his life to go completely out of hand, he better not think about her.

"Kent, you write an interesting amount of articles about Superman's rescues, more than anyone else. How do you do that?" Perry asked.

Clark shrugged. "I'm lucky, I guess."

Obviously that wasn't the answer Perry had expected to get. "Lucky, huh? Well, you'd better use your luck and the two of you get me an interview with that man. I want to know everything!"

"Perry, I don't…" Clark began.

Perry interrupted him. "I don't want to know what you don't. He has been in the city for three weeks now. I want this interview. Grab his cape and pull him down from the sky, if necessary."

Clark didn't make another attempt to argue. He just mumbled an agreement. Perry started telling them something else, but Clark wasn't really listening anymore. Superman! He wasn't up to adding the hero to his list of problems. As if it wasn't just bad enough that he was deeply in love with a woman that he could never have and had to keep Becca safe. He felt drained and his thoughts were rushing back to Mrs. Edwards and what she had told him. As Perry showed his reporters out of his office, Clark just mumbled a quick good-bye and turned around to leave the editor's office. He didn't want to stay there for Lois and Perry to notice that something was wrong. Becca was strictly his own business. He couldn't tell them anyway why Child Services were so keen on getting Becca away from him.

Clark moved through the newsroom unconsciously. He merely saw the shapes of his co-workers and stopped his pace only when it was absolutely necessary. In slalom, he walked to his desk, a safe haven in this beehive where he could pretend to work while the haze of memories washed over him. Clark sank down in his chair with a relieved sigh. He was glad that no one had asked him anything; at least he was pretty sure that nobody had.

For a brief moment, he had thought about spinning into the suit to escape the world. But whenever he changed into his alter-ego, the world was bidding for attention. It didn't leave him alone to take a breath, let alone to think about the future. And after all, the desk had just been closer. In his current state of distress, he wasn't sure whether he would have been able to go all the way to the staircase to vanish into a blur.

Clark leaned forward, seemingly reading a paper, but he didn't even see a single black letter. The noises of the newsroom faded and left only those that were repeating over and over in his head.


10 years ago…

Clark couldn't remember a day that had ever been so good. He went down the main street of Smallville and it was already getting dark. Right next to him was the most beautiful girl in the entire town. Lana Lang had agreed as he had finally dared to ask her out on a date. Clark still couldn't quite believe it, but it was true. She held his hand and smiled at him, laughed as he joked and seemed to be enjoying his company. Her hand felt so very small in his that Clark was afraid he might break it by accident. She looked nice in her summer dress, and her long blonde hair lay softly around her face. Clark felt a rush of excitement as he walked with her down the street. They were having a light conversation, nothing special, really. But she was with him, and that was more than Clark had ever expected to happen.

Smallville's youth was meeting downtown. There were several of Clark's schoolmates, and most of them were just kissing their girlfriends. Clark wondered what it would feel like to kiss Lana. He wouldn't kiss her tonight. This was just their first date and maybe she wouldn't want him to kiss her. And Clark wasn't exactly sure if he would be ready for it. He had kissed before, but that had never been particularly wonderful. It was just wet and nothing he was eagerly wishing to repeat. But then, he had never kissed a person that he was in love with.

A couple of years ago Lily had been determined to learn what a real kiss was. Since she didn't have a boyfriend at the time, she had decided that Clark was the right partner to find out about that issue. He hadn't been convinced, but his protests were futile. She had just dismissed his argument that he was her cousin and therefore not the right partner. Lily had told him that he was adopted and not related to her. For some reason Clark always used the same weak arguments. He should really try to find something more convincing. When Lily had gotten tired of discussing this with him, she had just kissed him and Clark had been too startled to pull back. He hadn't been prepared for the following attacks, either. Lily had just amazing skills in preparing a surprise attack.

Lost in thought as he was, Clark didn't see the fist that met his jaw a split second later. He hadn't been fast enough to duck away. Clark was taken by surprise and he staggered back. He heard laughter and a whimper from the guy who had punched him. Clark wasn't hurt; he had felt the contact, but that was pretty much all.

"Hey, geek!" one of the guys that had approached him shouted. They hardly even noticed that their friend was hurt; they were too busy with mocking Clark. He watched the guys in front of him closely. They were already drunk, wasted really.

"Would you just leave me alone, please?" he pleaded, touching his jaw as if the punch had caused him pain as well. He had a look at Lana and to his relief she seemed okay. Clark heard steps from behind him; someone was pushing him and he stumbled forward at just the right moment. This time, he had had the time to react.

"You're not gonna take out the town beauty," one of Clark's attackers shouted.

The guys shot each other a glance and started laughing. Clark could tell from the looks in their eyes that he was supposed to be the punching bag for the evening. That had last happened in Junior High, and after that he had earned some respect by being a good football player. But maybe the combination of alcohol and the beautiful girl at his side had changed that. As Clark saw the next fist, he fell to the floor before his opponent hurt himself. Inwardly, he cursed. He felt anger well up inside him because these idiots were blowing his whole evening, and he could hardly do anything about it. He remembered his father's words. Clark wasn't allowed to really fight against these weaklings. And he was far too angry to just defend himself without hurting them. Instead he had to swallow his male pride and play along. If they didn't stop soon, he would have to pretend to be sick for a couple of days…


"Clark, are you completely mad?" Lois interrupted the flashback. "Did you just promise to bring Perry an interview with Superman?" She sounded rather impatient. As Clark looked up at her, he saw her disbelieving glance. She hardly hid her anger. "How do you think you will get it? He never gives interviews, not even…" Lois closed her mouth in a sudden movement as if she wanted to prevent something from slipping out.

It dawned on Clark that she had wanted to say *not even me*. It had to have been tough for her to be turned down by Superman. And honestly, her smile had made it really hard for Superman to say no. And now, he, Clark Kent, who didn't even have the benefits of being the most beautiful woman in town, dared to think that he could get such an interview? Not to mention that he was still a greenhorn in the reporting business.

"Lois, I'm not…" Clark tried to explain.

She didn't let him finish his sentence. "And who was this woman at your desk? Was she a source?"

"Lois, that's…"

"She can't have been a source," Lois answered her own question. "So what did she want with you and your daughter?"

He could see Lois biting her lip. Obviously she hadn't wanted to admit that she had eavesdropped. Clark couldn't help the anger that welled up inside him. He didn't want to talk about it. He just wanted to close his eyes and let all his problems disappear.

"First, you accuse me of being mad and then you want me to discuss my private life with you?" Clark snapped. "I could do with some good days, really," he grumbled and got up to search for another place to be alone. He needed to think, and he needed to do that on his own.

"I thought we were friends, Clark. Who is she? Are you dating her?" Lois asked, softly.

"Dating her? I am not dating that… that… bitch!" Clark yelled, furiously. Lois stepped back, startled, and he could see fear in her eyes. That cut him deeply. Defeated, he sank back on his chair and buried his face in his hands. "I'm sorry, Lois," he murmured weakly.

"Clark! What's the matter? I never heard you use such words! Are you sure you don't want to tell me about it? Maybe I'd be able to help," Lois offered.

"I don't think this is going to help, really. But okay, I'll tell you. Just not here." Clark got up and headed for the elevators. Lois couldn't solve his problems. Clark wasn't really sure whether he was comfortable with her knowing about this. But on the other hand he was quite sure that she would want to find out anyway. His choice of words to describe Mrs. Edwards was just too much of a hint for Lois not to become curious. And if he didn't tell her the truth, maybe Mrs. Edwards would find an ally in Lois Lane. If Lois thought that he really had something to hide, maybe Mrs. Edwards could convince her that Clark Kent was more dangerous than he seemed to be.

Lois followed Clark, still shocked by his sudden outburst. Her natural curiosity had found a new mystery to solve. Lois hadn't really expected to find one in Clark Kent's life. But then, she wasn't really able to tell how much of a secret was necessary to make Clark Kent leave the room. Maybe he just had another boring story to tell. The mysterious lady was maybe just a woman that his daughter had had trouble with. Perhaps he was embarrassed by the fact that he hadn't been able to watch Becca. But Lois didn't really believe that. Clark knew which buttons to push to make Becca do what he wanted her to do. Lois was just astounded how nice the girl was, most of the time.

And Clark loved his little Rebecca too much to fuss over a small mistake she would have made. He was so relaxed with her that even Lois started to believe that raising a child might be fun. Of course, she knew better; Lois wasn't that naive. She had seen the two of them for little over 24 hours. She didn't think that this was enough to judge.

Clark left the newsroom and headed out of the Planet. His pace was rather quick and Lois had a hard time keeping up with him. But she managed and honestly, the more difficult it got to follow her partner, the more curious she became. He slowed down as they reached a park close to the Planet that was deserted, for Metropolis standards. Clark turned around and faced Lois. His gaze was worried, and she could see him chewing on his lower lip.

"So who was that woman?" Lois asked.

"She works for Child Services. They have been searching for a reason to take Becky away from me for quite some time now," Clark replied in a low voice.

It wasn't easy for him to tell her that. Lois could see it in his eyes. His whole body was tense and Lois bet that he'd rather have a long date with the dentist. But she couldn't really understand what he was talking about. Was he overreacting? Lois hardly thought it possible that Becca should be a candidate for Child Services. If there was a happy little girl on this Earth, it was Becca.

"What?" Lois said shocked. "Why? You are the perfect father. Why would they do that?" she voiced her doubt.

Clark looked at her and smiled sadly. "Various reasons. Let's just say I had some problems in my youth. I was out with a girl and a few guys attacked us. I tried to defend the girl. I never intended to hurt anyone, but it happened. That wasn't the only incident. I can't really explain that to you now. When Lily died, Child Services ran a check on me, and unfortunately they discovered something they called violent tendencies."

"Violent? You?" Lois asked incredulously.

Clark just nodded. Lois watched him closely. She couldn't imagine that Clark was even capable of violence. She rather expected him to be the kind of guy that didn't even defend himself if he was attacked. Well, obviously he *had* defended himself.

"They decided to have a closer look at us. But things got really bad when Becca was about five years old. She didn't sleep well at night because she was afraid of the dark. She often woke up screaming in the middle of the night. A curious neighbor didn't believe that they were just nightmares. I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't listen. He called Child Services and informed them. Last but not least, Becca's maternal grandparents never believed that I was her real father. I guess they couldn't live with the fact that Lily and I were cousins." Clark made a brief pause and looked at Lois. "I was adopted," he added, to dismiss the idea of inbreeding.

"Wow," Lois sighed. Obviously Clark had more interesting secrets than she had ever expected. She understood now why Child Services was interested in him. "Clark, why didn't you just prove to them that you are Becca's father? That would solve a lot of problems."

"Lois, please drop that topic," Clark pleaded.

"I'm serious, Clark. It might help! Is it the money?" she asked, remembering that paternity tests were still expensive.

"It wouldn't help, Lois." Clark replied bluntly. "Trust me, it wouldn't. They'd still think I'm violent. And now please drop the topic. I've told you what's bothering me, but I'm not going to discuss this with you further. Becca is none of your business." He turned to leave the park, but Lois grabbed his hand to hold him back.

"Clark, I'm trying to help you. We could write an article. To do this properly, we would need evidence. A paternity test might come in handy. I'm sure when Perry hears about this he would lend you the money if this is the problem. Child Services can't do this to you. That's arbitrariness and we can stop them. We are investigative reporters for Heaven's sake, Clark. Don't act like you are helpless." Lois started thinking through their options. Maybe there was some scandal they could dig out? Clark might receive an official apology. She got all excited at the prospect of dealing with governmental agencies.

"No, Lois. I don't want anything published about me or about Becca. I'm not going to tell Perry, and you shouldn't do that either," Clark said firmly.

"But, Clark, you don't want to spend the rest of your life proving that you are a good dad. A paternity test would be useful if this ever goes to court," Lois insisted. She could see Clark rolling his eyes. Lois didn't understand why he was so reluctant to take her advice.

"I can just hope that it will never go that far," he replied and headed out of the park again.

"Clark, don't you dare go now. Tell me what's so bad about that test. Are you afraid that Lily lied to you?" Lois asked, now really determined to solve the mystery that was Clark Kent.

"She didn't lie to me, Lois. Can we please go back now?" Clark shifted his position uncomfortably.

"Clark, I'm not the enemy. I'm just trying to help. So would you please tell me what this is all about? I know that Becca is entirely your daughter. So what should you be afraid of? We can think of a solution to get rid of them." Lois wondered why she hadn't already given up. He was so darn stubborn that it drove her right to the edge. She wanted to slap Clark's face to get a little bit of reasonable thinking into him. But she managed to stay calm. "I just want you to take a test to prove who the father is."

"Oh yeah, and you think a test will tell you who her father is, huh?" Clark replied, almost angrily. "It can't tell you, Lois. This test doesn't say who changed the diapers or who got up late at night to soothe a crying baby. I saw Becca's first steps, I listened to her mom as she sang her to sleep, and I almost worked 24 hours a day to earn money and go to college. This test just tells you about the conception, but nothing about what happened afterwards. I'm the person she calls 'Daddy', but I'm not the one who got her mom pregnant."

"You're not? But you said…" Lois whispered, shocked. She took a few steps back to sink down on a park bench.

"I said that Lily didn't lie to me. She never claimed that I was Becca's father," Clark explained. "Lois, you are not going to tell anyone, and you are not going to use this in a story. Nobody knows this but my parents and Becca. I will lose her if the authorities ever learn about this."

Suddenly Lois could imagine why Child Services assumed that Clark Kent could be violent. He seemed threatening, and Lois felt that he would be able to do a lot of things when it came to defending his daughter.

"I won't tell," Lois promised. "Where is Becca's biological father? Do you know him?"

"I do know him, yes. He left Lily as soon as she told him that she was pregnant with his child. I don't know where he is now, and honestly, I don't really care. I only met him once or twice." Clark seemed more relaxed now. "Lois, I'm sorry that I lashed out at you. That was uncalled for. But surely you see now that a paternity test would only make things worse."

"Yeah, I see that now," Lois replied softly.

"Lois, I forgot to tell you that I saw something interesting in the folder Jimmy gave us." Clark suddenly changed the topic.

"You actually read that?" Lois asked, disbelievingly.

"Um, speed reading classes," Clark muttered. "Come on, let's go back to the Planet and find out why all these buildings were set on fire."


"He is so tall…" Jessica said dreamily.

"Oh, come on, Jess. You didn't even really see him," Anna replied, laughing.

"I did!" Jessica protested. "He was on that street, helping with an accident."

"And how close were you?" Becca wanted to know. "I mean, could you see the color of his eyes?"

"Blue!" Jessica stated, convinced.

Becca chuckled. "Yeah, Jess. Chocolate-blue."

"How do you know that, Becca?" Anna asked, surprised.

"I just know," Becca said firmly. She was angry with herself for having said anything about Superman. She hadn't wanted to do that. Her daddy had explained to her more than once how important it was that his powers stayed a secret. And honestly, now that she was talking about her daddy with a couple of other girls, she didn't want any of them to know. They wouldn't believe her anyway, and if people knew about it, they would show up on their front door to meet him.

"Oh, come on Becca, tell us," Anna and Jess pleaded with puppy-dog eyes. "Have you seen him?"

Becca sighed silently. It was obvious that her two friends were completely out of their minds when it came to the hero. Sure, he was cool. But honestly, Becca liked her dad even more when he was not wearing that suit. She couldn't quite understand how these two girls could be swooning over him in this way. He was twenty years older, not to mention he was an adult and they were still kids. Not exactly good conditions for a crush on somebody.

"Can't we talk about something else but Superman?" Becca tried to escape the topic.

"Not talk about Superman?" Anna asked, somewhat shocked. "But he's cool!"

"Yeah, and you know something about him," Jess insisted. "Oh, come on Becca, talking to you is like pulling teeth out."

"How can she possibly know things that no one else knows about? Becca is teasing us," Anna said. "You don't know the color of his eyes; you just guessed, right?" She addressed Becca. Her expression was hopeful as if learning that Becca knew Superman personally would destroy her view of the world.

"Well, he has dark hair. I just assumed that his eyes had to brown," Becca replied. She didn't really lie. Okay, there was no assumption about it, but maybe that was not as bad as a real lie.

"I bet they are blue! What do you say? Two bucks?" Jess asked, excitedly.

Becca grinned. She'd easily win that money. But she knew that it wouldn't be right. If it hadn't been Jessi, maybe Becca would have agreed. If it had been that terrible girl she had met back in Plymouth, Becca most definitely would have robbed her of her money. She had deserved that. But Jessi and Anna were her friends.

"I won't bet with you, Jess," Becca replied.

"Party pooper," Jess said gently. "Admit it! You just don't stand a chance."

"Maybe…" Becca returned and laughed.

"Do you know what I really, really want to do? Fly with him," Anna stated.

"Girl, you're crazy," Jess said, shuddering. Becca knew that she was afraid of heights. Every time they climbed the staircase in school, she pressed herself against the wall when they got to the upper floors.

"I'm not!" Anna protested. "I want to feel it!"

Becca mused that she could have told Anna what it was like. "I bet that's cool!" she whispered, grinning. Becca thought back to their flights. "I think it's even cooler than flying in your dreams is. I mean, you would feel the wind in your face. And you'd know that you are safe with him. I imagine that flying with Superman would feel so safe that even Jessi would dare to do it."

Becca remembered what it had been like to hear the whispers of the wind in her ears. It had almost sounded like joyful laughter. Maybe she had been laughing herself. It was hard to tell because up there the world was endless, and Becca couldn't really have said where she ended and the world began. Flying with her dad felt like nothing could ever stop her. It was pure freedom, and Becca was sometimes able to consciously ignore that her daddy held her. Being up in the sky alone had some advantages to it, but she wouldn't have felt as secure if he hadn't been around. Anyway, flying was great.

Just as Jess finally decided to discuss something other than Superman, the teacher called them to return inside. The three girls had to go back to the daycare. Becca actually liked it there. She hadn't expected that. But she was always glad when her dad came to pick her up and listened to her as she told him about her day. On their way inside, Anna patted Becca's shoulder.

"Didn't you say that I could come to see you on the weekend?" Anna asked.

Becca nodded. "I'm going to ask Daddy this afternoon. I don't think that he will disagree."

"Good. Mom said that she has to know this before tomorrow, so she can go on planning the weekend. She is awfully busy these days, and that always makes her impatient." Anna sighed. "Adults!"


"How many pieces are left?" he asked, impatiently.

He wanted to finish this business. He wanted to go to the next step. The whole thing was taking too long. The crystals had been found in the sixties, for Heaven's sake. And it had taken a lot of time to do the research on them. The crystals reacted with no known element on Earth and that was quite remarkable. It might have been just another inert gas; just that it wasn't gas but a crystalline substance. That meant that its molecules somehow interacted with each other. First, Meadows had tried to analyze the molecular structure of the crystal. Meadows had always gone for the easiest explanation, namely that the crystal was a compound of various elements. But the analysis hadn't been so easy, and it had taken him some time to get a gas chromatograph. For some reason he had been very protective of these crystals.

When they had finally gotten that chromatograph, the crystals had refused to melt and turn into a gaseous condition. They had needed a few months more to find the right temperature. When they had managed to solve that problem, another one had appeared. It just wasn't a compound. And finding out which element they faced wasn't easier, actually. The cold war and the constant lack of money had only added to the problems. And one day, the scientist had come to work in the early morning and had realized that almost every sample of the mysterious crystal was gone.

Meadows had always suspected that it had been one of his colleagues who had been with him in Smallville. That wasn't true. Unfortunately. It would have been easier to find the pieces that were now in almost every corner of the world. The real thief had been someone who had sold them to lots of people who spent money on almost anything that was purchasable. And the eerie green glow was fascinating.

With the last remaining pieces, the research had taken forever. They had to be careful not to destroy their samples. And in the end, he, Meadows' stupid little assistant, had found out the most important things. He, not the great Henry Meadows. With a bit of effort he had managed to get Henry Meadows out of the Institute. After he had been finished with Meadows, the poor guy hadn't been able to publish even just a tiny article.

"There are still some pieces left, if my count is right. But I'm pretty sure where they are," his assistant replied.

"How much is some?" he wanted to know, darting an intimidating look at his assistant. His voice sounded calm, but that was just the way he could be even more threatening. His ability to influence people was an important part of his strength.

"I think three or four," the assistant specified.

"You *think* or you know? Anyway, be sure to prepare our visit in Smallville. We'll need to get *everything* we left there in the sixties."


"So what did you find, Clark?" Lois asked curiously. Clark could see by the look in her eyes that she hadn't really bought his speed reading excuse. But that was the least of his problems. And whatever way she would explain this to herself, Clark was pretty sure that it would be comfortably far away from the truth. He had shared enough secrets for today.

"The three victims, the two from the hotel and your neighbor, all worked at the Smithsonian Institute of Metropolis. Henry Meadows was the director of the institute. Jimmy didn't find out what they were researching because it was classified as confidential," Clark said.

"What kind of scientists were they?" Lois wanted to know. She grabbed the large folder and started to read. "And why did the police tell us nothing about their connection?"

"Geologists. They worked on different projects over the years. This mysterious project dates back to the late sixties, early seventies. Maybe the police just didn't dig that far in the past. It looks like their project didn't get too much financial support. If they continued it then it would have been unofficially," Clark explained. He knew that he needed to say something else. He didn't want Lois to know about it, but she would find out anyway. And if she did, she would surely ask why he hadn't told her right away. "There is something else, Lois. All three of them were in Smallville in 1966. There are no records as to what they wanted there, exactly. I think that the impact of a meteorite was reported in that year."

Lois glanced at him, surprised. "Smallville? Isn't that the place where you come from?"

Clark nodded. There wasn't anything more to say about it. Or was he supposed to tell her that the meteorite had been really a spaceship? It worried him that he hadn't known about that research in the first place. Since he had no idea where he really came from, he was interested in such things. Not to mention he was terrified that someone could find out about him.

"Do you think your parents would know something about Meadows and his team?" Lois asked.

Clark shook his head. "I don't think so, Lois. But we can ask them, of course. Becca and I will spend New Year's Eve in Smallville, anyway. You can even accompany us, if you like." Wait a minute, where had that one come from? He hadn't intended to invite her. Clark needed to protect his secret, and that would be best achieved if the great investigative reporter Lois Lane was not around.

"Smallville? I don't know, Clark," Lois replied doubtfully. "Don't you think that New Year's Eve is something for big cities?"

"Uh, so tell me, Lois, how many celebrations of New Year's Eve did you attend in small towns? Are you even allowed to make comparisons?" Clark teased her, grinning.

"No, you tell me something, Clark. What happened to you on Friday?" Lois' expression was firm, definitely saying that he wouldn't escape her with a lame excuse.

Clark wondered why she changed the topic so suddenly and studied her face. He noticed her discomfort. Maybe she was afraid that he wouldn't take another comment on his hometown gently. His origins had more than once been the target of her offenses. She had implied that coming from a small town hadn't prepared him for life in a big city. He had proven her wrong as he stood his ground, not letting himself be intimidated by her efforts to scare off her unwanted partner. They were past this, but Lois was still afraid of putting her foot in her mouth. Unfortunately, this question contained even more possible pitfalls.

"I told you, Lois. I don't really know. I might have eaten something bad." It was partially true. He didn't know. Neither he nor his parents had found any explanation. He had never been sick in his childhood — or his teenage years, for that matter. Clark knew that the two guys he had tried to stop that night were somehow involved in this mystery. But that wouldn't help him. He didn't usually get sick when he got close to people. And it hadn't happened again after this incident. To make things worse, he wouldn't be able to recognize these guys. It had been too dark, and when he had been close enough, his vision had been too blurry.

"You didn't look like you just ate something bad, Clark. That has happened to me, too, but I didn't end up lying on the floor," Lois disagreed.

"Lois, CK?" Jimmy yelled through the newsroom and gave the conversation a sudden end. "There was a dead body found close to the docks. Perry wants you to investigate that."

"We're on it, Jimmy!" Clark returned and got up. Lois followed him as he headed out of the newsroom.

"A dead body," Lois muttered. "I'm trying to find out who set those buildings on fire and all I get is another daily Metropolis drama."

"Hey, maybe it's a hint. One of the arsonists or whatever," Clark said to cheer her up. Lois only shot him a glance as if to ask whether he really believed that. He didn't. This would be just another ugly picture in his head that would lead to a few lines in the newspaper.


Lois would kill him! She most definitely would kill him, Clark thought miserably. But he hadn't been able to tell her. The problem was that he really should mention this. They were partners and investigated this story together. They hadn't been friends for a long time now, just for a few days. Their friendship was not strong enough to survive his betrayal, assuming that what he suspected turned out to be right. What had he been thinking? Well, he hadn't thought at all. Clark had just seen the face of the dead man who had been found at the docks and panic had made further decisions. Though he hadn't thought that possible, Clark had recognized one of the men from the other night in the victim. The man had been killed when he had been unconscious. And Clark hadn't told Lois about this; he hadn't told her that he knew the victim.

Clark had a hard time dealing with those lives he hadn't been able to save. He tried to convince himself that his failure wasn't that bad. Actually, he couldn't know if the murder was connected to the arsons. But somehow, he couldn't help the feeling that it was the case. However, could he really tell Lois something he didn't even know for sure? On the other hand, he figured that Lois would want to hear this. She desperately wanted a hint, and if there was any evidence, she would find it. The idea was ridiculous. How could the victim be connected to the arsonists?

Clark took Jimmy's folder to prove to himself that there was nothing to worry about. He was just seeing things. It just couldn't be. This would just be too much to be a coincidence. The murderer hadn't cared that the police would be able to identify his victim. The dead man had still had his wallet with his driver's license. Clark knew the name. Ryan Northwood. He started flipping through the folder. Clark kept telling himself that this would be just way too weird as one page after the other he found no sign of that name. It wouldn't appear. He might just as well have stopped, but that was not how he handled such things. It didn't hurt to look. He didn't give up that easily. And he wanted a hint as well, something that would explain the events of the last weeks. But Clark wasn't sure whether he'd like this kind of hint. He shook his head and concentrated on the folder. There was still nothing that resembled Northwood even just a bit. He had almost gone through the entire pile of papers. It wouldn't appear. His gut feeling was wrong, but that wasn't surprising. After all he was still a greenhorn, wasn't he? Clark froze as the name finally appeared. Ryan Northwood. The date of birth was exactly the same as on the driver's license.

A jolt of electricity shot through his body as soft female hands touched his shoulders. He looked up, startled. Lois was leaning forward to look over his shoulder as he was sitting at his desk.

"Did you find something?" Lois inquired. She had surely seen that he'd found something. She had a talent to detect such things. He had flipped through that folder almost slowly, aware that his co-workers were close.

"Yes," he managed to say, still shocked both by the effect Lois' touch had had on him and by the name he had found. Clark opened the folder completely and pointed with his finger on Jimmy's notes about Ryan Northwood. That man had been in one of the burning buildings. Obviously, the arsonists hadn't been successful with whatever they had planned with him in the first place.

"Wow!" was all Lois could reply. She sat down on the edge of his desk and read the paper. It took her a while. Clark watched her as the expression on her face changed from disbelief to utter astonishment. He could see that she was thinking just the same as he had a few minutes before. It was weird, impossible, maybe for him even more than for her. Or was it the other way round, because there was no way she was going to understand why exactly he had tried to find Northwood's name in that list. Or why he had found it so quickly. "How is that possible? And how did you find that?" Lois continued after an eternity of silence. Clark answered both questions with a shrug.

"He wasn't in Smallville. But I think we should do some research on that Institute," he suggested.

Lois nodded and glanced at her wristwatch. "Jimmy can do this. I think you should call it a day. Becca is certainly waiting for you, and I don't want to risk our new found truce."


When Clark arrived in front of the school, Becca and a few other children were playing in the yard. She saw him almost at once and ran over to him, grinning. Her face was flushed from the game they had played and she was panting. But she looked absolutely happy, and Clark was grateful to be greeted by this kind of expression. It cheered him up like even watching Lois hadn't been able to. Usually, the sight of her was enough to stop any dreary thought. But she hadn't been able to make Mrs. Edwards disappear.

Clark swept Becca up in his arms and hugged her. "Hi, pumpkin! How are you?"

"Great, Daddy!" Becca replied and laid her arms around his neck, so that he couldn't easily set her back on the ground. "Daddy?" she asked, sounding particularly nice. It was obvious that she wanted something.

"Yes, honey?" Clark said gently. He knew that Becca usually didn't have any wishes that he couldn't grant her. There was no need to be careful.

"You said that Anna could come over sometime. Can she come this weekend? On Saturday?" Becca pleaded.

Clark stopped walking. He wanted to say *Yes, of course she can come over. I'd be glad if you invited your little friend.* But there she was again, the terrible Mrs. Edwards. He saw the darting glance of her eyes, her contempt. She had promised him to come over. It was Monday, and maybe, maybe she would come to their apartment before that. Maybe it would be a good thing if Mrs. Edwards saw the two girls playing together. He still didn't like the idea, though. What if the nice lady introduced herself just too obviously? What would Anna think about him then, or what would her parents think if she told them?

"Becky, honey," Clark said as he shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not sure this is a good idea right now." He looked up and saw Becca's friends standing close enough to overhear to conversation.

"Why?" Becca protested.

"I'll tell you later, honey. Would tomorrow be soon enough for Anna to know if she can come or not?" Clark asked, not wanting to disappoint Becca. This wasn't her fault, but his. Clark mused that the incident with the policemen on the night of Lily's death was one of the major reasons why the Child Services were watching him so closely. He tousled Becca's hair as if this was going to change anything. "Go and get your things. Say goodbye to your friends and we'll discuss this when we get home. Okay, pumpkin?"

"Yeah, tomorrow will be *just* soon enough," Becca replied lamely. Obviously she was already half expecting that the discussion would only confirm his refusal. Clark patted her shoulder in an attempt to soothe her. He knew that as soon as he had told her the whole story he would need much more than a light pat to do that.

Becca went inside to fetch her stuff. She didn't hurry to get it and so it took her some time. Clark could imagine that his little girl wasn't keen on the conversation they were going to have. He patiently waited for Becca to return and thought of a way to break the news to her gently. But how was he supposed to do that? Becca hadn't liked any of the ladies who had visited them in the past years. He had pleaded with her to be nice to them, and she had complied reluctantly. She didn't understand his point though, and honestly he didn't either. What had Lois said? She didn't want to risk her truce with Becca. That sounded somewhat unlike Lois. Whatever Becca had done to turn Mad Dog Lane into Lap Dog Lane, maybe she should give Mrs. Edwards a taste of it.

When Becca returned, she stopped at Anna's side and talked to her briefly. Anna nodded. Clark assumed that she had accepted the delay. He didn't feel good about letting Anna wait a whole day, because normally there would have been no reason to do so. This whole situation was so awkward. Clark hoped that Child Services would leave them alone some day soon.

"Why did I have to lie to her, Daddy? I already know the answer. It's *No*, anyway," Becca asked sadly as she strolled over to him after she had said good-bye to her friends.

"It's not necessarily *No*, pumpkin," Clark objected. "You know very well it isn't. And if it isn't this weekend, then it will be another."

"Another!" Becca grumbled. "That is *No*!

"Becca, we're not going to discuss this right here. I haven't decided anything yet, so would you please stop acting like I did?" Clark said softly as they headed for their apartment. He knew that this wasn't going to be easy. Dealing with a furious Becca wasn't something he looked forward to. She had every right to be angry, but why did he have to be the target? This whole thing was only partially his fault. He certainly hadn't decided to let it go out of hand. He hadn't been the one telling the Child Services that something bad must be happening to Becca at night.

Becca pouted, not looking at him on their way to the apartment. One thing was for sure, she did know how to punish him. Her whole bearing told him clearly what she thought of being the child. She had accused him more than once that whatever he claimed, she didn't get a chance to make decisions. It wasn't right and she knew it. Becca had admitted that as well. But the moments when Clark had willed Becca to do something were engraved in her mind.

Like every child she longed to be a grown up, thinking that this would make her life easier. It wouldn't, or at least not in major proportions. She'd be able to have her own bank account, a driver's license. She would be allowed to drink alcohol, or go out on her own, maybe even without telling him where she went. He'd appreciate it if she told him, but she wouldn't have to. Children thought that everything they *had to* do vanished out of their lives as soon as they became adults. But in fact, it only meant that they had to tell themselves what they had to do, and that tended to be more than their parents had ever made them do.

Walking next to an angry Becca was hard on Clark. He was fairly sure that their argument would be over almost as quickly as it had started, but for the time being he hated it. Becca complained about how little influence she had on him. In fact, Clark had to be careful not to show her just how completely she had him wrapped around her little finger. He sighed inwardly and cursed his fate for not having been able to tell her the news and explain it right away. But at the daycare, that had seemed impossible. Maybe the principal already knew about his special relationship with Child Services. But if this wasn't the case, he didn't want her to know — or anybody else for that matter.

The walk back to their apartment didn't take long, and Clark was relieved as they were finally inside and he was able to end the awful silence. He walked over to Becca, who had sat down on the sofa, her face still in a pout. She had her arms folded in front of her chest and shot him an almost angry glance. Clark sighed and sat down beside her.

"I had a visitor today. It was a woman from Child Services. She told me that she is going to come to our apartment," he explained.

"And that will be on Saturday?" Becca asked, for the first time really looking at him since they had left the daycare.

Clark shrugged. "I don't know. They don't tell you when they come exactly. Becca, honey, I didn't say that Anna can't come. I'm just not so sure if it would be a good idea to let her meet with the lady from Child Services. Do you think that would be good?" Clark watched her closely, trying to make it obvious that he really wanted her to think about the problem.

Becca was silent for a while, and Clark waited patiently for her to say something. She had her brows furrowed and seemed very concentrated. Now and again she looked at him intensely as if she was expecting him to just give her the answer, but he kept silent. Honestly, he enjoyed seeing her musing. She looked positively adorable when she did that.

"The lady would want to talk to me, wouldn't she?" Becca asked.

"I suppose so," Clark replied.

"I wouldn't have time for Anna…If the lady comes, that is." She faced him now, the anger in her expression, vanished. It was replaced by sadness. "Anna's mom wants to know this soon. She wouldn't allow her to come on a moment's notice," Becca murmured. "Anna has several siblings, and she says that it's difficult for her mom to organize that."

"Uhh, I can imagine…" Clark stated. "Look, honey, if the lady comes tomorrow, I'd say go on and meet with Anna. I know that it's not too likely that she'll come on Saturday, anyway. Of course we can invite Anna and see what happens. I can't deny that I'd be a bit embarrassed if Anna met the 'nice' lady. I assume you didn't tell her that I'm not the one who blessed your mother with you. And I don't think she'd understand the whole thing."

"I guess not, I mean, even those ladies from Child Services don't understand that you are nice. You have tried to show them, but they are just too dense!" Becca grumbled.

"Rebecca Kent!" Clark admonished her, but chuckled. "What am I hearing?" Then he turned serious again. "Becky, you already know that I'd rather postpone your meeting. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to say 'No'. Mrs. Edwards is not one of the nice ladies. She has already made up her mind about us. Maybe she'll show up before Saturday and everything will be perfectly okay. If we manage to convince her that I'm not the child eating monster she thinks I am, that is. The question is: do you want to risk Anna seeing that woman? I guess she would be nice to both of you, at least I hope she would. I had to tell you this first, before I said yes or no."

"I don't really want Anna to see the lady," Becca said. "I didn't like the way the last one looked at me when I told her that I sleep in your bed sometimes. She even asked me if you touch me and where you do that. It was kind of silly."

"She asked you where I touch you?" Clark asked hoarsely. He closed his eyes, trying to fight back the nausea that the mere thought of being cruel to Becca caused in him. What did they think of him? What *did* they *think* of him? He got up suddenly, following a desperate urge to breathe fresh air. This was worse than he had ever thought. He tried his best to be a good father; he comforted Becca when she was frightened. It must have been Becca's screams that night when she had found out about his secret. Clark went out on his balcony and leaned against the wall. He sank down to the floor, defeated. Becca had followed him; she watched him, fearfully. "Why did you never tell me, honey?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I thought you'd listen in, anyway."

Clark cracked a weak smile. "You had to know that I wouldn't, pumpkin."

"What's this about, Daddy? It has to be something awful," Becca whispered and sat down beside him. "What's so bad about you touching me?"

"I can't convince you to forget about that question until you're older, can I?"

"Daddy!" Becca complained.

Clark laughed briefly as he saw the angry look on her face. "It's okay, honey. I will try to explain. But let's go inside again. It's too cold out here." Clark and Becca returned into the living room and sat down on the sofa. She looked at him with huge, innocent eyes. His mouth was dry. How was he supposed to tell her such things?

"What's so bad about touching?" Becca repeated her question.

"That's not an easy question, Becky. You see, touching is not necessarily bad if I do it to comfort you. But there are people who touch children to hurt them. It's not just like tanning your hide, though that's bad enough." Clark made a pause and looked at Becca, knowing that she wouldn't get his point this way. He didn't want to tell her all because she really was too young. "You know that there is a difference as to who touches you and where…" he gave it another try. Becca still looked confused. Maybe an example would help. "Do you like it when Grandma, Grandpa or I kiss you on the cheek?" he asked.

Becca nodded. "Of course, Daddy."

"And what do you think if Mrs. Pritchard does that?"

Mrs. Pritchard was an old lady who had a tiny cafe back in Smallville. She sold ice cream and she kissed most children she either met in her cafe or somewhere on the streets of the small town. Therefore Becca tried to avoid Mrs. Pritchard's place, though she had the best ice cream in town.

"It's disgusting," Becca replied and rolled her eyes. "I don't like it when people I hardly know are trying to kiss me."

"Becky, honey, there are people who wouldn't just place kisses on your cheek. That's one of the reasons why you should never go with strangers. But this can also happen in a family. Some adults hurt children, just because they can. This is very, very bad. The children who suffer from this are too weak to defend themselves, and they don't understand what the adults want of them," Clark said softly.

"And what has all this got to do with touching now?" Becca wanted to know.

"If I was like one of these bad adults, I could touch you in a way that you would find even more disgusting than Mrs. Pritchard's kisses. You wouldn't like it although you know me." Clark bit his lips. "I will never do anything like that to you, Becca," he added.

"But they think you would," Becca whispered, shocked.

"They are afraid I would," Clark replied. "And it's a good thing that Child Services care so that fewer children have to suffer from this." He studied Becca's face and tried to figure what she was thinking now. He couldn't quite tell, but she was returning his glance intensely.

"Does that mean that I'm not allowed to sleep in your bed anymore?" Becca asked. "Just because they have the wrong ideas about you? Don't they see that you are a nice dad?"

"It's not something you can see, Becky, honey. And you can come to me, if you've got trouble sleeping. There's nothing bad about that."

He pulled her in an embrace and held her tightly for a while. She leaned against him and sighed with relief. They sat silently on the sofa, and Clark wondered how he was going to change the topic now. He had told her what she needed to know, but as long as Becca was just a child, he'd definitely feel uncomfortable answering more questions. Clark watched Becca's expression trying to find out if there was anything else she wanted to know.

There was a knock at his door. Clark released Becca and got up to open the door, hoping that he wouldn't find Mrs. Edwards on the other side of it. He decided to find out the quick way and used his x-ray vision. Clark breathed a sigh of relief as he noticed that his visitor wasn't Mrs. Edwards, but Lois. She knocked again, impatiently. The expression on her face had told Clark that she wasn't really in a good mood. He didn't know what she was up to, but he knew that he would have to be careful around her.

"Hi, Lois," Clark said as he looked at her face.

"Hi, Clark, can I come in?" Lois asked in a tense voice and went past him. She still looked angry and paced quickly into his living room. Clark closed the door behind her and followed her slowly. She turned around to face him, her expression angry and scary, actually. Clark mused that Lois was in Mad Dog Lane mode again. Obviously Becca's spell hadn't lasted for very long.

"What were you *thinking*, Clark? Why on Earth did you promise Perry that interview? He's gonna kill us if we don't bring it! I've spent the *entire* day trying to get just a little piece of information as to where Superman is. Apart from one rescue, he hasn't been seen *anywhere* today." Lois pointed a finger at him, furiously.

Clark remembered his quick flight to save a few people that had been involved in a car accident. Two of them had been seriously hurt, and the ambulances hadn't been able to make their way through the traffic and the pile of cars. He had completely forgotten about that interview, assuming that he had ever really noticed making the promise. Clark winced. Superman was very reluctant to give interviews. Getting him in his apartment wouldn't be a problem. A completely different problem would be explaining to Lois why the hero appeared just because Clark wanted him to. And he couldn't send Lois back to her hotel, telling her that he would go looking for the hero. This meant leaving Becca alone and that was just impossible. Lois had to have noticed his discomfort.

"I already guessed that you were just showing off, but I really thought you were different, Clark!" she growled angrily. Lois put her hands on her hips to emphasize her annoyance and studied Clark's face thoroughly.

"Lois, I'm sorry," he muttered defensively. He knew that disagreeing with Lois wouldn't be the best response right now. "But I'm sure we will get this interview," he confirmed lamely. What was he saying? He could hardly confess that Clark was the one who decided if Superman gave interviews or not. Maybe he could write his own interview and submit it to Perry. Clark dismissed the thought. If Lois saw that he had gotten the interview instead of her, she would kill him, regardless of his invulnerability.

"So, I'm gonna tell Anna that she can't come this weekend?" Becca asked suddenly.

"So, what are we going to do now, Clark, huh?" Lois said at the same time.

Clark looked at both of them and sighed heavily. He didn't know, he just didn't know. He had no idea how to answer these questions. He couldn't tell Lois that her appointment with Superman wouldn't be until tomorrow. And he couldn't predict when the Child Service's lady would show up on his doorstep.

"You'd better tell her that she'll need to come another weekend, honey," Clark replied and sat down beside Becca. "I think she'll understand. Don't you?"

"I told her that her coming wouldn't be a problem," Becca said miserably.


Lois couldn't help but notice that Clark was too distracted to deal with her. He had his own problems to care about, and obviously Superman wasn't one of them. He had promised her to get an interview with the hero, but Lois didn't believe that he would really be successful. It frustrated her beyond belief because she longed for a conversation with the big guy. She had already had two, and Lois had really hoped that he would come to her again. But so far, he hadn't.

She was being irrational, anyway. What did she expect? She had seen him only two days ago, so why was she complaining? If anyone was to blame for the lack of interviews with Superman, it was her, not Clark. He hadn't met Superman twice and had let him fly away without getting an interview. Lois had had her chances, but had failed. Clark really did have problems, judging from the things he had told her today. Obviously, he had told Becca about Child Services as well. The girl looked pretty unhappy, which wasn't typical for her, actually. Lois decided to swallow her anger for once. She didn't know why she would do it for Clark — of all people — but she could, and she felt better not lashing out at him right now.

"I guess we can discuss this later, Clark," she said and turned around to leave his place. It was kind of silly because she really hadn't come all this way just to leave again. But she had to do it anyway. For the sake of their friendship, she wouldn't put her foot in her mouth this time.

"Don't go, Lois." Clark held her back. "I'm… there is just too much to deal with these days. I know that you've got problems too. I tend to forget that and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have promised Perry that interview. I was hardly listening to what he said."

Lois looked at him, trying to decide what the better option was. She didn't really want to go, and after he had trusted her with his secrets today, she rather wanted to talk to him. She had never had a real friend. With a sigh, she went over to his sofa and sat down next to Clark and Becca.

"So, what do we do now, Clark?" she asked again, softly this time, making sure that every hint of anger had vanished.

"Make a list of problems and get rid of them one by one…" Clark suggested with a wry smile.

"Sounds like a good idea," Lois replied with laughter. "So what comes first? The Child Service's lady?"

"Nahh." Clark shook his head. "Go for the tiny problems first so that we don't get discouraged before we even begin."

"Great, Clark. Only, we don't have any tiny problems!" Lois commented.

"I'm not so sure, Lois. Your apartment or rather the absence of one could be a minor problem…" he said carefully. "I know we haven't known each other for a long time yet, but there is a spare room in my apartment that we don't have any use for. You… you could stay here. Until you find something else, I mean." He watched her, obviously feeling insecure.

Lois was ready to dismiss the idea, but then she thought about her current lack of money. Who knew how long landlords would keep turning her away? And Clark's offer was kind. They were supposed to be friends, and she supposed that it was okay to spend a few days with a friend. Clark seemed to be a gentleman; he was raising a girl who wasn't even his own daughter. He certainly was one of the last knights in shining armor. But she couldn't agree! What would Becca think? The girl wouldn't like the idea; Lois was sure of this. But then, Becca was sitting right next to her, and she hadn't protested yet.

"That's very kind of you, Clark," Lois replied, still not sure whether to agree or to tell him that she wasn't going to live there with them.

What was she thinking anyway? She couldn't live with a man; she was an independent woman. And honestly, why would she need a man to rely on? They had proven to be unreliable more than once. She and Clark had just become friends. That sort of relationship might be okay for her, but when it came to anything that went beyond friendship, Lois always ended up in a federal disaster. What if Clark wanted more? Could a man share his apartment with a woman in a strictly platonic way? She didn't want to risk their newfound friendship. She didn't know Clark well enough. In fact, she had no clue as to his love life. Until Clark had told her that Becca wasn't his daughter, she had at least had an idea what his past had been like. There had to have been Becca's mother and maybe a few other girlfriends. But that wasn't true anymore. Somehow she didn't like the thought of Clark being with other women, kissing another woman just like he had kissed her.

And now that darned kiss had popped into her head again. She had tried to forget about it, to pretend it had never happened. She had made a weak attempt at convincing herself that she had kissed Superman instead. At least she had desperately wanted to kiss him the last time she had seen him. His lips had looked so tempting; the solid muscles underneath his suit had been so appealing. And suddenly the image of other muscles appeared, muscles that had not been hidden by spandex. She remembered Clark's bare chest and felt that she was blushing. Lois blinked, trying to get rid of the inappropriate thoughts.

"Come on, Lois. I promise I won't try anything funny," Clark said, obviously aware of her inner conflict. Fortunately, he wasn't aware of the fact that Lois had just been enjoying the thought of the funny things he might try.

"What funny things could you try, Daddy?" Becca asked, innocently.

Lois could almost see herself blush. Couldn't he be more careful with what he said? She looked at him, curious as to how he would react to the question. Obviously, he had been taken by surprise as well. His face looked just a little flushed. Lois smiled inwardly, grateful that Becca wasn't her child. And honestly, she was also glad that Becca had caused a bit of delay. Maybe she would find the answer in the meantime.

"I could try to get her to marry, me, Becky," Clark stated, sounding serious, but Lois could see the tiny twitch in his smile that appeared when he was teasing. She liked his smiles. They could light up the whole room in an instant.

"No!" Becca stated, shocked. The twitch increased. "You're making fun of me!" she complained, sounding as if she desperately hoped it was just a jest.

"Of course, pumpkin. But I hope you won't let poor Lois sleep on the streets, just because the two of you had had a few difficulties." Clark tousled his daughter's hair, which was an adorably comforting gesture. Lois couldn't really remember her own dad doing that, neither with her nor with her sister. "So, would you consider staying here, Lois?" Clark interrupted her thoughts.

"That would be great, Clark. Thank you," Lois managed to say. She was surprised by herself. Had she honestly agreed?

"Okay, so the first problem is solved, I guess. This is a good start, don't you think, Lois?" he asked. "What's next upon our list?"

"Interview with the local hero!" Lois replied.

"Uhh, yeah. Not a minor problem, if you ask me. I think we should postpone finding a solution to that one for now. What else?" Clark wanted to know.

"But Clark, this is important. Perry will skin us alive if we don't get him this interview," Lois insisted.

"I guess he will. We'll get that interview, Lois. Just give it a rest now," Clark pleaded. "What is next?" Lois sighed with frustration and thought of something else.

"Finding out who's responsible for the arsons and how Smallville is linked to the whole thing," Lois mentioned. She suddenly remembered that there was something Clark should probably know. "Jimmy did some research on the incident in Smallville. You already told me about that impact. It was in May, but Meadows didn't go to Smallville before July. It looks like the Cold War had something to do with the time delay. Anyway, the local paper tried to print articles about the official visitors. It was to no avail; Meadows rushed in and out of your hometown and didn't bother giving interviews. All the newspaper could report about was that Shuster's field was completely dug up afterwards. None of the reporters had any clue as to what had been found in that field."

"So whatever Meadows found, he took it with him. And that would make sense, I guess, if he was a geologist. Okay, that much we know. Everything else could only be wild speculation, but I think we need to go beyond the borders of what we know to solve this mystery. Okay, let's assume that Meadows' mysterious project was those meteorites. But, honestly, I can't really think of a reason for keeping those meteorites a secret for 27 years," Clark replied and waited for Lois to answer.

She watched him closely; her brows furrowed a little while she was thinking about the problem. While she did that, Becca got up from the sofa, bored by the adult's conversation. She strolled over to the staircase and went up to her room.

"Yeah, it would be strange. We know a bit more, though. In the early 80's the Institute was burglarized. According to the police reports nothing vanished, but the mysterious working group fell apart afterwards. Meadows was forced to leave the Institute barely a year later. So if this is really about the meteorites, maybe they had a certain value. And I suppose that the scientists wouldn't have told the police that the meteorites vanished when they had never publicly confirmed their existence in the first place," Lois said thoughtfully.

"Okay!" Clark nodded. "Maybe the meteorites vanished out of their labs because somebody stole them. But why is somebody killing former employees of an institute in Metropolis? And why did these fires happen?"

"That's the billion dollar question, Clark." Lois sighed. "And I guess the other important question is why should those meteorites be of value if you're not a geologist. I mean, our whole theory is based on the assumption that the meteorites were stolen."

"Okay, I think we should pay that Institute a visit. Is there still someone working there who knew Meadows?" Clark asked, getting up from the sofa slowly. He went over to the kitchen. "I think I should start preparing supper. Would you like to eat with us, Lois?"

"Like I would say no!" she chuckled and followed him. "The director of the Institute worked with Meadows. He joined the workgroup only a few months after Meadows had returned from Smallville. His name is Hugh Danes."

Clark nodded as he fetched a few things from his fridge. Lois watched him, amazed. He seemed rather relaxed in the kitchen, while Lois couldn't help but feel under pressure there. She wasn't able to have a look at more than one pot without inviting trouble. Clark used several pots at the same time, and it didn't even bother him. Soon she smelled something delicious, and Lois had to admit that Clark Kent surely had his advantages.

"I still need to thank you, Lois," he said suddenly.

"What for, Clark?" she asked and went closer to him to have a look at the result of his cooking efforts.

"For listening to me today. I know I was unfriendly and rude to you because I didn't really want to talk about the issue. You helped me, a lot. Thank you, Lois!" He looked at her sincerely.

She noticed his honest brown eyes, the warm smile on his face. His soft lips. Why was she thinking of them again?

"I… I couldn't really help you, Clark." Her voice sounded hoarse for some reason.

"Sure you did, Lois. I'm glad that we became friends. I haven't had a friend since Becca's mom died," he replied. "You don't know how much this means to me."

For a moment Lois hoped that he would bend forward like he had done under the mistletoe a couple of days ago. She still hadn't forgotten about the kiss. And she still was curious as to how it would feel if Clark kissed her now for real. And then her thoughts drifted to Superman that night on Clark's balcony. She thought of how close he had been, and Lois remembered his nice smile. And she had seen that strange expression on his face again, shortly before he had given her the first quote that anyone had ever gotten from Superman. *I'm here to help. That's all I can say for now.* Why did she have this feeling that this really was everything he could possibly tell her? Somehow his expression had conveyed such an utter loneliness that it had been heart wrenching. Just when Lois had wanted to ask him about that, he had left her to save the world another time.

However, Clark didn't try to kiss her. He raised his head instead, having this far away look on his face that he sometimes had. A rush of different feelings that Lois couldn't really describe obviously went through him. There was insecurity and embarrassment, maybe guilt as well. His lower lips trembled briefly, before he looked at her again, blushing.

"Supper's ready, Lois. I completely forgot about an appointment. I don't even have a baby-sitter. Can I ask you to look after Becca?" he asked.

"Sure, Clark," Lois replied, startled. He really was completely unable to organize his daily life.

"Thank you," he mumbled and left her alone in the kitchen. "I'll be back soon, Becky," he shouted and hurried to leave the apartment.

"You're going?" Becca replied, disbelievingly.

"I'm sorry, I have to." His voice sounded rather guilty and then Lois heard the door shutting closed. She went into the living room and met Becca, who had just descended the stairs.

"I guess the two of us are on our own now, Becca." Lois shrugged. She wasn't sure whether she was comfortable with this. The girl had been asleep last time that Clark had needed to go out. With Becca awake, it was completely different. "It's not my fault he left," Lois muttered uneasily.

"I know," Becca sighed. She watched the door and then glanced at Lois. "I'm hungry."

"Supper's ready." Lois smiled. "And your daddy prepared it, so chances are good that it's edible."

Becca cracked a weak smile as well. "He's pretty good at cooking, not as good as Grandma, though." She went over to the kitchen, and Lois followed the little girl.

"Does he leave you alone once in a while?" Lois asked. She wondered what Clark would have done hadn't she been there.

"He never leaves me alone," Becca replied, firmly.

She wanted to say more, to defend her daddy. But she remembered last Friday, when he *had* left her alone. The memory still made her shiver, though nothing had really happened. Her daddy was all right again. The nightmare had vanished, but it hadn't completely left her yet. She didn't want to show Lois that she felt uncomfortable with her father's absence. So instead of giving Lois a hard time for implying that her daddy could do such a thing as deliberately leaving her alone, she just showed her where the plates and cutlery was. Together they set the table and Lois served the meal.

"How is school?" Lois made a new attempt at conversation. She sounded a little insecure, and Becca studied her face curiously. She realized with astonishment that Lois was just as uncomfortable with the situation as she was. Neither of them had bargained to spend this evening together. Becca knew that her daddy was off to save people that were probably in danger of dying without him. And she knew that he wouldn't have left if it hadn't been for Lois agreeing to stay with her. He would have been sitting next to her, barely touching his own supper, trying to act as if nothing was wrong. She had figured him out; he couldn't fool her that easily. And she would play along, knowing that he would be even sadder if she destroyed his weak camouflage. However, Becca couldn't really be angry for being left with Lois.

"Okay," she answered, not really sure what else to say. What was she supposed to discuss with Lois? Her daddy was the one whom she usually told about her day. Lois just nodded and remained silent. Obviously she wasn't sure what to talk about either. They continued eating in an awkward silence. Becca wasn't used to that. She only knew funny conversations with her father or her grandparents. All three of them could always make her laugh. Could Lois also be funny, Becca wondered? She had been on Christmas Eve, but maybe that was only because her daddy had been around.

"I suppose you don't know how long Clark will be gone?" Lois asked when they had finished supper.

Becca could only shrug. "He talked to you," she replied with a hint of anger.

"He only told me he has an appointment. Do you know where he went?" Lois asked.

"It depends…" Becca stopped dead. She had been about to say that it depended on who had called him.

"Depends on what?"

Becca regretted her mistake. She had dropped a hint and that wasn't good. "It just depends," she repeated with a shrug. If Lois asked further she would just play the game and say it over and over again until Lois got tired of it and stopped digging. But that wasn't necessary, Lois didn't ask again. She just stood up and placed the dishes in the sink. When she turned around to face Becca again, she caught her yawning.

"You're tired?" She smiled.

"No," Becca said. She wanted to wait for her daddy to return and kiss her goodnight. She knew that he would come to her anyway as soon as he made it home, but it wouldn't be the same. Maybe she wouldn't be awake anymore, and he surely wouldn't wake her up. A quick glance towards the clock told her that it already was past her usual bedtime. The discussion with Lois about their job had distracted him enough to prepare supper a little late. She couldn't help yawning again, as if the clock had cast a spell on her, betraying her efforts to wait for her daddy. Lois saw it and chuckled.

"I wouldn't want to go to bed either if I had a father like yours," she said suddenly. "My dad was completely different. He never had time." She sounded sad and lonely. Becca couldn't really understand why that was. Lois' obvious strength had Becca convinced that she didn't need anyone. Maybe Becca had been wrong about that. "You like him a lot, don't you?"

Becca nodded. "Do you want to see what I got for Christmas?" she asked excitedly and grabbed Lois' hand to pull her towards the staircase.

Lois followed her, surprised. Together they went up the stairs to Becca's room. When Becca switched on the light, she waited for Lois to say something.

Lois was amazed. She knew pretty well that this wasn't Santa's work but Clark's. He had let her in on the secret, but hadn't told her much about it. She had known just enough to agree on distracting the little girl so that he could prepare everything. She would never have expected that the result would be so good. The room looked really like the fulfillment of her own childhood dreams.

"Wow," Lois exclaimed "Your room's beautiful!"

"Isn't it?" Becca agreed. "I almost missed it. I was so excited that I didn't turn on the light and ran downstairs real fast. I couldn't believe it when there was nothing under the tree."

"Nothing?" Lois asked incredulously. "That must have been pretty tough." She tried to imagine how she would have felt in Rebecca's place. Most likely devastated, crying.

"I thought that it was because I had done something bad," Becca explained. "Daddy woke up and he showed me that I was mistaken. Santa hadn't left me out." She smiled mischievously.

"And what kind of bad thing could you possibly have done to deserve such a thing?" Lois was incredibly curious. She wondered what kind of little sins Clark's daughter would commit.

"I asked Santa to get rid of you," Becca replied frankly.

Lois gasped in surprise. "Get rid of me? My behavior must have been worse than I ever thought." She chuckled. "Do you still want to get rid of me, Becca?"

The girl shook her head. "Not anymore. I think Daddy likes you, so you must be nice." She shrugged. "That doesn't mean we're even." She grinned. "It was *my* Sunday, that day."

"I'll remember that, Becca." Lois chuckled. "Don't you think you should get ready for bed? Your Daddy will probably skin me alive if I let you stay awake all night. Or maybe that's just the right payback, huh?"

"I'll think of something else," Becca promised and went down the staircase to go to the bathroom. "You can stay up here and wait for me, Lois." She offered generously. "I'll be back soon. Oh, and don't get me wrong. I'll be ready for bed, but I won't go to sleep yet."

"I thought so," Lois stated dryly and took a seat on Becca's bed. She saw the girl go downstairs and turned her glance towards the bookshelf. Becca had some books, but not very many. The shelf looked somewhat empty, which Lois found strange. She had had a look at Clark's library and had assumed that he had bought Becca a lot of books. But then, the girl was just seven. Surely she could read, but maybe not enough yet for her own books.

Lois wondered what she was supposed to do once Becca got into bed. What would Clark do? She was fairly sure that he read her stories, but Lois didn't consider herself a good story teller. She could write decent articles, and she hoped that she wasn't too bad at setting up a good plot for a romance novel, for example. But she didn't have the skills of a really good narrator. Or maybe she just didn't want to compete with Clark, knowing that she was likely to lose the contest. Becca wouldn't vote for her.

It took some time until Becca returned. There was no sign of Clark yet, and Lois was a bit worried. His appointment was taking awfully long. Who was he seeing? He surely wouldn't have forgotten about a girlfriend, would he? On the other hand, who knew how many girls Clark was dating? He would certainly not be the only man who lost count. But when Lois heard footsteps in the staircase, she was forced to stop musing about Clark's whereabouts. Becca had changed into her pajamas. It was cute, with a huge, weary teddy bear on it. She smiled at Lois as she approached her and climbed into her bed, but remained in a sitting position.

"What would your daddy do now?" Lois asked.

"He'd kiss me goodnight and then ask me which story I want to hear," Becca replied. She looked really cute as she sat on her bed, but there was something in her smile that made Lois suspicious. The girl was up to something and somehow Lois had the feeling that Becca had figured much more about her than she had about the little girl. She was a strange and obviously very clever little seven year-old.

"And which story would you like to hear tonight?" Lois replied.

"It's up to you," Becca returned and smiled expectantly.

"Uhh, I don't know which stories you've got here." Lois shifted uncomfortably.

"We don't have that one, anyway; Daddy knows the story by heart," Becca said with a shrug. Inwardly she chuckled. She knew that Lois wouldn't understand because this was something she shared with her daddy.

"That story? You mean it's a certain one? I thought it was up to me to decide." Lois was confused and her surprised expression made Becca laugh.

"That means that I want to hear Mother Holle," she explained, graciously. It was a joke between her and her daddy from the day she had first heard that story. They had been in Germany at that time. When she had first said that it was up to him to decide, he had found the story in a German book and had translated it for her. She loved that story.

"I don't even know that one," Lois gasped. She definitely didn't stand a chance to compete with Clark. He was just too perfect a daddy. It really shouldn't be a problem to make Child Services see that. Lois had thought about a solution to Clark's problem for quite some time now, but she hadn't found anything yet. She knew that his confession was a sign of deep trust. She didn't want to betray this trust by doing something inconsiderate. She still didn't know enough about Clark's life to be sure that she did everything right.

"Do you think you can do with something else, Becca?" Lois asked.

The girl seemed to be musing about that issue, her brows furrowing. A twinkle in her eyes told Lois that she was just making fun, enjoying the opportunity to give Lois a hard time. Lois decided to play along and tried to pull a face that conveyed worry. She failed terribly, because watching Becca made her laugh. The girl had to have seen the strange expression on Lois' face. She chuckled and she laughed as well.

"So you are no good at telling stories, huh? If you don't even know Mother Holle," Becca stated, teasingly.

"You could tell *me* the story, instead," Lois replied.

"I thought storytelling was your job tonight? Is there anything you're good at?" Becca asked, grinning.

"I'm good at a lot of things!" Lois answered back. "I'm a prize winning investigative reporter! I'm good at tae-kwon-doe!"

Lois could tell that Becca wasn't the least bit impressed. She just raised an eyebrow and continued to look at her. Lois almost imagined Becca shrugging, telling her that anything her daddy could do was much more fascinating. But Becca didn't, she just kept staring at Lois. Nothing on her face really gave a hint as to what the girl was thinking. Lois was surprised. Why did she care what Becca thought about her anyway? But somehow the girl managed to make Lois feel like she still was a child. Lois suddenly saw her with different eyes, not with those of an adult. She noticed that Becca was one of the girls everyone wanted to be friends with. But that didn't mean she was shallow. Lois could imagine that Becca chose her friends well.

"Tae-kwon-doe? Really?" Becca asked, excitedly. Lois had obviously had the wrong impression of Becca. "You can fight?"

Lois nodded. "And fairly well! It helps to deal with the bad guys," she explained.

"That's cool. I wish I knew how to fight properly. It would have been useful that time against Gillian." Becca sighed.

"You've been in a fight?" Lois asked, surprised. She couldn't believe it. Becca wasn't entirely the perfect girl that she seemed to be. She was determined to hear all of it and made Becca tell her the story.

The two of them had the first real conversation ever. Surprisingly it was a heart-to-heart one, candid and frank. Lois considered this an important step. She was glad that obviously she wasn't at a complete loss in dealing with children. Becca told her about her life with her father, their moving around, and she explained everything about the fight. The girl was incredibly honest; she easily admitted her own mistakes. Lois hadn't been able to talk so freely when she had been seven. It was still quite difficult for her to confess whenever she had done something wrong.

From the first time she had met Becca, Lois had been a bit afraid of her. And that feeling hadn't worn off completely. Becca was strangely wise for her age. She had a charming smile that provided her with powers which went beyond the usual cuteness of children her age. Lois knew that children already had a great influence on their parents. Becca seemed to be even stronger, and Lois hadn't been sure how to deal with a father who had completely lost his free will to a pair of huge brown eyes. Fortunately Clark wasn't one of those people who knew absolutely no other topic than their precious little children. That was hard to deal with for childless single adults like Lois. But despite the fact that Clark was surely very fond of his daughter, he was quite an interesting partner for conversations. And so was Becca. Lois had always thought that talking to a 7 year old could only be boring. Strange as it was, Lois was enjoying herself immensely as she listened to Becca's little adventure when they lived in Plymouth. That girl was more of a hero than most people around.

Time passed quickly. Lois didn't notice until Becca started yawning. She had been trying to stifle her yawns for quite some time, but her efforts had become useless against the force of weariness. Lois had a look at her watch and was surprised that Clark still hadn't returned. That had to be some appointment! But she would find out about this.

"I think you should go to sleep now, Becca," Lois said softly.

"I'm… I'm not… tired, yet," Becca replied between yawns. Her brows furrowed as she got angry at herself for betraying her own words. But she sank back into her pillows. "So if there is no story tonight, I want something else!" she demanded, hopeful. Lois wagered that Becca counted on her inability to come up with an appropriate solution.

"Oh, I think I've got an idea," Lois answered, remembering what Clark had told about Becca's mother. Lily used to sing Becca to sleep. Well, that was something she could do as well.

{*"The sun goes down and says goodnight

Pull your covers up real tight

By your bed we'll leave a light

To guide you off to dreamland*}

{*Your pillow's soft, your bed is warm

Your eyes are tired when day is done

One more kiss and you'll be gone

On your way to dreamland*}

{*Every sleepy boy and girl

In every bed around the world

Can hear the stars up in the sky

Whispering a lullaby*}

{*Who knows where you'll fly away

Winging past the light of day

The Man-in-the-Moon and the

Milky Way

Welcome you to dreamland"*}

"Goodnight, Becca," Lois whispered, looking at the girl who was already fast asleep. Becca didn't answer; she had really flown away to dreamland. Lois smiled at the sight and got up cautiously in order not to wake her up again. She tiptoed towards the staircase and went down, wondering where Clark was.


Clark was busy as Superman. The sirens had sounded rather urgent, and that was why he had left Lois and Becca in the first place. Superman couldn't have been more grateful for Lois' sudden appearance. Without her, this would have been worse. It was already bad. A train had derailed and a pile of wagons was lying all across the railway in an unimaginable heap. Superman heard the screams and shouts of both the survivors and the emergency services. It was too much to handle and too much to see. Just the sight of the wreckage was horrible. Knowing that victims were stuck in-between tons of destroyed rail cars lacked words to describe.

He helped wherever he could. This wasn't anything that threatened to go beyond his physical powers, but it drained him nonetheless. He had to go on, because every pause he took to give in to the grief that was threatening to pull him down could cost the lives of more innocent people. And they wouldn't understand his weakness. He wasn't human and moreover the most powerful being on this planet. What could possibly give him the right to be weak? Nothing, he mused, and he continued his work. He saved people from the terrible wreckage and brought them to the paramedics. He lifted up parts of the train that were too heavy for the equipment that the fire-fighters had brought. Without him, they would have had to wait for more assistance to come. They would have been bound to watch people dying while they stood next to them, unable to help.

Without Lois, Superman would have been merely Clark. He would have kissed Becca goodnight, knowing that there were people needing his help. Every step would have been full of restrained power, like a watchdog leaning into the hard chains that were tying him to his house. It would have been worse, because he would have forced himself to watch the horrible pictures on TV. He would have felt even more useless than he already felt as he was flying high up in the sky, carrying the bodies of those that had been lucky enough to escape death.

He needed Lois and not only because she had come right in time to spare him the nightmare in his own apartment. He also looked forward to the opportunity to talk to her about all this. He wouldn't give her all the nasty little details. Clark could write them instead even though this could cause another disagreement between him and Lois. She wouldn't understand why Clark received all the news about the terrible accident. But he couldn't explain this to the fragile, amazing woman that he was going to meet after this disaster.

Superman was devastated when he returned from his rescue. Lots of people had died, and it wasn't really soothing him that it would have been a lot worse without him. He didn't know whether to fly quickly or slowly. Quickly in order to escape the horrible place, slowly because he didn't know how to face Lois right now. He couldn't tell if he would be able to pull the heroic face that a Superman was supposed to wear. His disguise had never been weaker than today. Superman probably had never seemed to be more human and at the same time had never felt so alien. He was returning home alone. There wasn't even the possibility of discussing this with his colleagues. Fire fighters weren't really his co-workers, and those who were could never know about this.

He let out a pained sigh and suddenly heard a familiar name, so he decided to listen in. He heard it again and a couple of minutes later someone else mentioned it. Only this name — Robert Wirts. Superman flew a little lower in order to hear more of the conversation, but even getting closer didn't help to hear more. The name was repeated over and over again, but there was no pattern. And as Superman concentrated on the words more carefully, he realized that the people below him were not saying Robert Wirts, it was Robur Wirts. It startled him, but he knew that this had to be Latin. He didn't understand what it meant, but it wouldn't be difficult to find out. Was this what Henry Meadows had tried to tell Lois? What if he hadn't been referring to a person but a code? That would definitely explain why they hadn't found Robert Wirts. He just didn't exist.

Superman was just above the Smithsonian Institute of Metropolis. Another coincidence. But it wasn't so strange anymore. Actually, he had already known that it held the solution to some mysteries of the past month. This was his chance to learn more, and so he landed a safe distance from the Institute to avoid being noticed. Superman mused that his suit would be seen too easily, even in the darkness, and changed back into Clark. He ran closer to the place where the voices had come from, carefully staying out of sight. His heart was beating hard, and he felt a certain uneasiness in his stomach. It was fear. Clark was aware that these people were likely to have a connection to the incident in the back alley of his apartment building. What if it happened again, whatever had actually made him weak? He had to go back to Lois and Becca. This time it wouldn't just be the staircase that separated him from his apartment.

He went on. He would feel that headache again, wouldn't he? This time he knew what to expect. If it happened again, he would be prepared. He trembled nonetheless as he approached a group of people. Clark x-rayed them, but somehow this was pointless since he didn't know what to look for. They were not carrying anything out of the ordinary. But Clark stayed put, just to be sure that nothing unforeseeable happened to him. He needed to get home in one piece and with all his powers. He listened in on their conversation.

"Are they already here?" one of the men asked nervously. He looked around but obviously didn't spot whoever he searched for. He shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. His glance returned to the others, waiting for the answer.

"They still have to be careful. Too much has happened tonight. I heard that they were successful. The pieces really were aboard the train. As far as I know they could collect them. Our Boss advised them to stay hidden for a few days and join us in Smallville," another man replied.

"What is this about Smallville anyway? What are we supposed to do there?" the first man wanted to know. The others only shrugged and shook their heads. They obviously didn't know.

Clark couldn't help the impression that whoever the boss was, he wanted the Smallville meteorite. At least it would explain the pieces they had mentioned. Or could there be something else? And why should anyone find pieces of a meteorite on a train in Metropolis if it had originally landed in Smallville? It was strange and sounded impossible. But if Henry Meadows had really taken the meteorites to Metropolis, and they had been stolen afterwards, maybe someone was searching for them now? But why?

Clark didn't want to go any closer. Lois and he were better off if the bad guys weren't aware that they had found their trace. This had to be something big. He was afraid that he knew what train they had been speaking about. But how could they have known that the train was going to derail? Unless…he didn't really dare think about it. They couldn't have killed people to get pieces of a meteorite, could they? Clark felt sick to his stomach. He had to go. He had promised Lois and Becca to get back soon, and he had already been gone for hours. Clark went away from the mysterious group of people to change back into Superman without anyone watching him. Minutes later, he took off and headed back to his apartment.


As he floated above his terrace, Clark heard a soft voice. It was Lois and she was singing a song, barely audible but for him. Her voice was beautiful, sending shivers down his spine. She sang only for herself, wandering through his apartment. Clark hadn't imagined Lois as a person who sang when she was on her own. He listened in. He knew the song; it was a lullaby. Had she sung it for Becca as well? Clark wished he had been there; he wished he knew for sure. Many years had passed since he had last heard such a beautiful voice. Clark kept floating; he didn't want to touch the ground yet, not when flying had such unexpected advantages to it. He was pretty sure that Lois would stop singing as soon as she noticed Superman.

The song was over far too soon, and Clark acknowledged that he had to return to reality. He had to give Lois the interview, as uncomfortable as he felt with seeing things about him printed. Superman landed on Clark's terrace, making sure that Lois noticed his approach. He didn't know what he wanted to tell her. There wasn't much he could share with the world. As soon as his feet touched the ground, Lois was in front of him. She smiled, almost shyly.

"Superman," she whispered in awe. Superman couldn't help feeling flustered by the tone of her voice and the way she looked at him. "I've been searching for you."

"I know," he replied firmly. He tried not to let her see what her look did to him, how his knees went weak as her gaze travelled from his chest down. "I met Clark and he told me about your problems." Fortunately his voice sounded completely unaffected. It was surprising though. Considering his current thoughts, he would have expected it to be husky, if working at all.

"You met Clark?" Lois asked surprised. "Where is that guy? He can't possibly spend so much time with the dentist."

"He covered my latest rescue," Superman explained, hoping that Lois wouldn't dig too deep in it. "There was a terrible train accident."

"Oh, I understand," Lois said. "How did he hear about that?" she muttered under her breath. Superman ignored the question that she obviously hadn't asked him.

"I don't know. Maybe he saw the news on TV," Superman replied. He wasn't sure if there had actually been any reporters around. He hadn't had time to pay attention to anything but the pile of wreckage. But Lois seemed to buy it. She didn't object but nodded instead.

"Will… will you give me an interview? I mean, I know you have been reluctant… it's just… this is important for me, for us. Perry — I mean our Editor-in-Chief — he desperately wants this interview. Clark has been a bit overhasty, I'm afraid." Lois started babbling.

"Don't worry, Lois. You will get the interview. How could I say no to a woman like you?" Superman said softly. It took a moment until it dawned on him what he had just said. Darn it, he should really be more careful with his raging hormones. Where had that come from? He cursed himself, sending a quick prayer to Heaven that Lois would forget about this slip.

"A woman like me?" Lois blushed, obviously flattered. The shade of red only made her more attractive. Superman felt his heart rate increase and wished he could change into Clark to enjoy the moment to the fullest. But he was better off not doing that. He couldn't let Lois in on his secret, and Superman wasn't supposed to have close relationships with anyone. People had a certain idea of him, and they might take it badly if that image was destroyed. Superman was for everyone; he didn't prefer someone over someone else.

"I'd have to be blind not to notice that you are an attractive woman, Lois." He tried to sound matter-of-factly, as if this wasn't emotionally affecting him. What a hypocrite he was.

"So you are a man?" Lois asked, blushing even more. "Sorry, this is such a stupid question, but you know, men usually don't fly, I mean…"

"I know what you mean, Lois. Am I a man? Well, I'm a man as in I am male, but I'm not sure I'm human," he said gently.

"You… you are not sure?" Lois asked incredulously.

"I believe that I'm an alien, but I don't really know much about my origins." *Not much* was an understatement. His parents had only been able to tell him that they had found him in some kind of spaceship. "You can write that I was not born on earth." If it wasn't the truth, it wouldn't hurt anyone. He hadn't found out where he came from in 27 years now, why should it suddenly change?

"What else can you do? Apart from flying, I mean?"

"I'm pretty strong, but I guess you know that already. I can see through things and I have something I call heat-vision," Superman answered.

"Heat vision? Does that mean you can heat things up with your eyes?" Lois asked.

"Yes, but not only that. When I concentrate on a spot I can use my eyes like a laser. Or I can warm up your cold hands. Trust me?" he asked and gently took her hand in his. As she nodded her agreement, he sent comforting warmth in her fingers that were frozen from the winter air.

"Thanks," she muttered, blushing. "How do you know when someone is in trouble?" Lois wanted to know, studying his face as if she could find the answer there. "Oh, I remember, you've got super-hearing, don't you?" Superman nodded. "Is there anything else? Are you telepathic?"

"Not that I know of." He chuckled. "I've got a pretty strong breath. I can show you, but you better get out of the way, or warming up your fingers was for nothing." Superman used his frosty breath, knowing that this was the only visible power besides flying and super-strength. "I guess you'd call it super-breath, huh?" Lois laughed at his comment and nodded.

Her smile made her more beautiful than ever. She was obviously enjoying Superman's company. If she'd just look at Clark the same way, he thought miserably. But then, hadn't he promised himself not to get romantically involved with Lois Lane? Not that she wanted it; there was surely no danger from her side. But he had to take care that he didn't lose his heart completely to her. Maybe it was already too late, he mused, as her beautiful smile filled his heart with warmth.

Superman thought back to the people who had died on the train. A rush of guilt washed over him for feeling so happy shortly after having seen such grief and misery. Lois noticed it. Her smile vanished and was replaced by concern. It was almost the same expression she had had when Clark had told her about his problems. It was strangely comforting to see her care for him, for both his selves.

"Are you all right, Superman?" she asked. He shook his head, unable to fool her.

"Not really. The last rescue… has been tough," he only whispered the last bit, sensing that it was inappropriate for Superman to show such weakness. He didn't look at Lois. Instead, he desperately tried to rebuild the wall of strength behind which he could hide his true feelings. Lois was quicker than him — stronger. She found her way through his weak lines of defence and made him tell more.

"I'm sorry," Lois murmured self-consciously. "I guess I never considered how hard these rescues have to be on you. You know, I'm glad that you came to us, Superman. Mankind needs someone like you." She stepped a little closer to him, touching his arms that were folded across his chest. Before Superman even realized what was going on, she placed a kiss on his cheek. Embarrassed by her own nerve she stepped back again, leaving Superman longing for a real kiss.

"I don't think there is more that I can tell you," Superman said, this time unable to prevent his voice from getting husky. "Goodnight, Lois." He gave her a brief smile, before he lifted off into the sky. He could feel her glance on him, admiring and yearning. Superman had been crazy to get this close to Lois. When she saw the same foolish loving expression on both Superman's and Clark's face, wouldn't she just know the truth? Nobody could be so stupid!


It wasn't much later that Clark returned home. Lois was waiting for him in the living room. He didn't really know what to expect now. Maybe she would be angry with him for leaving her alone. She would be right; he really should have warned her that it would take some time. And he should have thought of a better excuse than the dentist. That one had really been lame. Clark closed the door behind him and stepped down the stairs.

"Thank you for staying, Lois. I hope Becca didn't cause you any trouble," he said guiltily.

"We managed just fine. Superman has been here, Clark. I have the interview," Lois replied, calmly.

Clark watched her carefully. Wasn't she supposed to be mad? As Superman he had had the impression that Clark would have a hard time as soon as he returned. She would be right to be angry; he had lied to her. But Lois just looked at him, her expression curious. Did she expect him to ask her questions about the hero, now? That would be kind of silly. If anyone knew the answers, it was him.

"Oh, good," Clark commented. "Lois, I'm sorry for being so late. I… I heard that a train derailed and decided to cover that story. I should have phoned you."

"That would have been better. I was worried, Clark. But thanks for remembering to ask Superman for the interview. I didn't think that we would get it so quickly." Her eyes were gleaming with joy. Her encounter with Superman had obviously had similar effects on both of them. The memories of the brief kiss on his cheek made his un-kissed lips tickle with desire. He dismissed the thought. What was left was Clark, the gentleman, and he should call a cab now and keep his hands and lips to himself.

"I'm sorry, Lois," he repeated. "Shall I call you a taxi, or would you like to spend the night here?" Clark, the gentleman, obviously didn't have much say in this apartment.

"You'll have to tell me Mother Holle if you want me to baby-sit again." Lois smiled.

"Oh my, I didn't expect that she would want to hear that one again. I thought it wouldn't be due until tomorrow, I told her yesterday evening." Clark chuckled. "I hope it wasn't too bad. Becca is addicted to that story. I tried withdrawal treatment; that was the hardest week in my life!" He gave Lois a boyish grin, silently wishing that it would elicit the same wonderful smile she had given Superman not so long ago. To his own surprise it almost worked. Her smile lacked the worshipping quality, but that wasn't important to Clark.

"I found a substitute," Lois replied.

"Really? You've gotta tell me. I'm afraid that I will get tired of that story some day soon." Clark was excited. He had a good idea what Lois had done to bring Becca to bed, but he wanted her to tell him. He could still hear her voice in the back of his mind, comforting and adorable.

"I sang a song," Lois mumbled, a little bit flushed and slightly embarrassed. Maybe this was something she had never considered doing one day. Lois was a tough career woman, or at least she liked to see herself that way. Clark had also seen her softer spots. Though she certainly hadn't wanted to, she had allowed him to catch a few glimpses of what lay behind the wall she had build up around her feelings.

Her confession gave Clark's vivid imagination the final push, made him see her with his daughter, singing that amazing song. He imagined her bending down to Becca, blowing a soft kiss on her forehead. Lily had done that years ago, but Clark's mind put Lois in her place. Lily was forever connected to the sweet little baby and the toddler Becca had been. But Lois could very well adopt the role of a mother in Becca's childhood. Clark blinked. Someone had to slap his face, hard. What was he thinking? He couldn't easily make Lois Becca's mother, not even in his daydreams. There were at least two other people involved in making his dream come true. The fact that he wasn't able to think of Lois without thinking of them having a possible future together didn't mean that she was the mother Becca would need sooner or later. He had to give up on Lois if that was necessary for Becca's well being. He hoped that this never would have to happen, but if this was his fate then so be it.

He didn't say anything more. He couldn't. His mouth was too dry, and his voice would have been too hoarse. There was something about Lois Lane that was able to make him lose his mind, that was awakening something in him he thought didn't exist. Years ago, he had believed himself in love with Lana Lang. It hadn't been real, a passing fancy at best. As soon as Lana had noticed that he wasn't the best guy to hang around with, that he was considered a nerd, she had found other guys to go out with. He had been depressed, granted, but not overly so. Lily had been able to cheer him up pretty easily. Clark knew that if he ever got rejected by Lois, no one would be able to ease his pain in just an instant. It would take him long to heal — if he ever managed, that was. And that was before he had even tried to get close to her. He wasn't sure whether that would be a wise thing to do. Could he risk ending up with a broken heart? He couldn't be the dad he was supposed to be if he was dying from a broken heart. It was too much a risk to take, and he was approaching the edge quicker than was reasonable.

Clark swallowed, trying to regain his composure. He wanted to see Lois for who she was: his friend and partner. Everything that went beyond that, like the smell of her hair and her soft lips, was out of question. He was so out of his mind, how was this supposed to go on? Clark blinked again, forcing his concentration back on a light conversation with Lois.

"Tell me about Lily," Lois asked suddenly.

"Lily?" Clark replied, startled. Where had that sudden change of topic come from? "Why are you interested in her?"

"I was just wondering what kind of woman she was," Lois explained.

"She was beautiful and funny. Lily was like a sister to me. She never failed to cheer me up. She spent quite some time on our farm because her relationship with her parents wasn't too good," Clark said.

"Sounds familiar," Lois stated wryly. "What was the problem?"

"Oh, her mother — my aunt — wasn't a happy woman. She had married someone she wasn't really in love with. While he was about the richest man around Smallville, he really wasn't the nicest. My mom said that her sister was completely different when she was younger. And when she got married, she was proud of the good catch she had made. She was only slightly envious of my parents who were happy together. Their only problem was that they couldn't have a child. My aunt became pregnant pretty quickly, but she gave birth to a girl and my uncle wasn't happy about that. My aunt became bitter and sometimes gave Lily a hard time, just because she wasn't a boy. When my parents adopted me, my mother and my aunt grew even further apart."

"Poor girl. I can imagine why she spent time with you," Lois said softly. She fell silent, watching Clark intensely. He could once more feel that tension between them, wondering if Lois felt the same. "She must have been glad that she had someone like you. I don't think that many guys would have taken over responsibility for another man's child."

"It was the natural thing to do, Lois. When Lily appeared on my doorstep, I couldn't possibly send her away. No one would have done that," Clark replied.

Lois shook her head, her expression clearly indicating that she didn't believe this. She laid her hand on his arm, getting even closer to Clark. His mind began to swim as he was able to inhale the sweet scent of her shampoo.

"I'm glad you were here today, Lois," he managed to say. "You helped me more than words can ever say. And I think Becca likes you."

"I'm glad that we became friends, Clark," Lois answered. Did her voice sound husky, or was he imagining things? Maybe this was a new step in wishful thinking. "Perhaps I should go now, Clark." Her words sounded a bit lame, as if she wasn't convinced that she really meant them.

"Thanks for being here, Lois," he whispered. His voice was unmistakably husky. His body was betraying his thoughts.

"Good night, Clark," Lois said and all of the sudden kissed him on his cheek.

The last coherent thought Clark might have had right then was forgotten. What had started as a brief, dry kiss on the cheek turned into something far more intimate. Her lips trailed from the corner of his mouth to his lips. Or was it his head that moved just enough to make her touch his lips? Clark wasn't able to tell; maybe it had been a bit of both. No matter, because he was in heaven. He had been at least partially right: Lois had felt the tension as well. She was far more responsive to his kiss than she had been under the mistletoe. It wasn't his lips that had opened first. Instead, he was feeling the soft caressing brush of her silky tongue on his lower lip. She played with it, seemingly pleading for entrance. He happily obliged and his lips parted. Her tongue met his, sending a jolt of electricity through him at the contact. He felt Lois shiver in his arms as well. When had he embraced her? Clark was unable to tell, but suddenly he was aware of her arms around his neck, felt the small of her back in his hands. She was so small, so fragile. She was sweet, better than chocolate. Her mouth was hot, tender and exciting. He could feel the tickle of her breath against his cheek. She was addictive, and Clark didn't know what would happen if she withdrew. But she did. She had to. Humans couldn't hold their breath as long as he could. It left him longing for more. He wouldn't get it though. Not tonight, maybe not ever. Lois shot him an embarrassed glance. She mumbled a quick goodbye and was gone before Clark was able to move.


Lois woke up to the annoying sound of her alarm clock. She opened her eyes, wearily. She blinked, slowly getting aware of the fact that she was in her hotel room. Why was that? Hadn't she been in Clark's apartment, hadn't they spent a passionate night together? She groaned and switched off the alarm. No, she had just kissed him; the rest had only been a dream. A nice dream, she thought wistfully. It had taken her hours to finally drift off to sleep. She had tried to sort her feelings in a futile attempt to understand what was going on. Kissing Superman's cheek had been wonderful, though one-sided. She hadn't given him the chance to respond, scared as she was of being rejected. Touching his soft skin had churned up long hidden sentiments. She felt love and compassion for this strong man who was yet so alone that he obviously didn't really know where he had come from.

And then, there had been Clark. She had only wanted to give him a brief kiss to say goodnight. It shouldn't have meant anything more than that. But suddenly, it had been more. Much more. With Clark, she had fulfilled the longing Superman had awoken. But Clark wasn't just the second prize, a replacement for the man she really longed for. When she had kissed Clark, she had really kissed *him*, not a fantasy but a real, amazing man. Lois had been confused yesterday night, and she still was. She couldn't tell which of the two men she preferred.

The access to Clark was easier and she knew more about him than about Superman. On the other hand, Superman didn't have any family. There wouldn't be all those problems that Clark's life held. Becca would never accept her; she would see her as a threat to their happy family. And Lois understood that because if another woman had invaded her torn family, she would have regarded her just the same.

Lois was fully awake now, her mind racing back to the ideas that had established themselves in her mind while she had been trying to sleep. She wanted to help Clark; she needed to help him. He was offering her a place to stay, which was about the kindest thing anyone had ever done for her. And she knew how she could help him. Months ago, she had written a story about orphans. She had made friends with a woman from Child Services. Angela could help her. She wouldn't ask stupid questions and she might find out something that would help Clark. Lois glanced at her clock, figuring that it was late enough to call Angela. She would be awake; the woman was a morning person, unlike Lois.

Lois still knew the number. They had even met outside work, just for fun. It didn't take Angela long to get to the phone, and she was pleased to hear from Lois, even this early in the morning.

"Hi, Lois! I have been meaning to call you for weeks now. How about an evening at the movies?" Angela asked, excitedly.

"Angela, that's a good idea. Unfortunately I'm busy these days, but we will do that. I promise. Can I ask you a favor?" Lois replied.

"Sure, what is it?"

"This has to stay a secret, okay?" Lois pleaded. Angela gave her an affirmative sound and Lois continued. "My partner, Clark Kent, has a daughter. It's strange, Angela, somehow I've got the feeling that he's pursued by your agency."

"Pursued? That's ridiculous, Lois," she stated and paused. "Wait… did you say Clark Kent?"

"Yes, you know about his case?" Lois was paying full attention now.

"Yeah, kind of. He must be legendary. I received some calls about him in the last couple of weeks, and I remember some of my co-workers saying something similar," Angela said thoughtfully.

"Someone's asking questions? Who?" Lois wanted to know.

"Oh, yeah. She's a legend herself, at least in our business. She's Margaret Donovan who worked for Child Services somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And then one day she met the love of her life." Angela made a pause as if to think of what else she knew about Mrs. Donovan.

"She married a Texan billionaire," Lois continued. "I remember reading about that in some paper a few years ago. They called her the Silver Cinderella because she was already close to 50 when she married for the first time."

"So you know her. She's done a lot for Child Services. The Donovans donate a lot of money for various foundations to help Children," Angela said.

"And she called you?" Lois asked incredulously. "Why?"

"Actually, she called several times, insisting that we visit him and check on his daughter. I didn't see a reason for doing this, but I bet she has found someone else. People like her can be quite convincing. She knows people who know people, you see?"

"I see. But have you any idea why she is so keen on the agency visiting my partner?" Lois inquired.

"No, but I can try to find out if you like," Angela offered.

"That would be great, thanks. You still have my phone number at the office?" Lois replied.

"Yes, I do. Goodbye for now, Lois. I'm in a bit of a rush, actually. I'm already a bit late for office."

They said goodbye to each other and Angela hung up. Lois stared at the receiver in her hand. If Lois wasn't mistaken, it seemed as though Clark had pissed someone off. And he had definitely chosen the wrong person as an enemy. Lois wondered what he might have done wrong to incur the Donovans' wrath. She had deduced that much from her talk with Angela, and maybe she would know more by this evening.

Hard as she might try, Lois couldn't think of anything that was a convincing reason for Child Services to check on Clark so frequently. On the other hand, would he really tell her if he was actually guilty in some way? Lois dismissed the thought. Whatever Clark might have done, it was most definitely strange that such a famous woman as Margaret Donovan called the Metropolis Child Services to start a frantic chase after him.

Lois placed the receiver back in the cradle and got up to get ready for the Daily Planet, ready to face Clark Kent. *Oh, God.* Lois groaned as she remembered the kiss. Weary as she had been this morning, she had only seen its pleasantries. Now she realized that this could be the overture to a catastrophe. She had kissed him, and he had responded, but what did that mean? Was he going to be mad because she had kissed him without his permission? What would she have said if he had been the one who just bent down to capture her lips in such a kiss? She wouldn't have complained, Lois thought dreamily. Absolutely not!

It wasn't true; Lois had to admit that to herself. She would have complained because she was an independent woman, because no one could just decide to kiss her. There was a threshold towards intimacy that couldn't be crossed that easily. If the crossing happened, it should be consensual, regardless if it was a man or a woman who made the first step. What would Clark say? Had he even felt the same electricity, the same tension between them? Or had he just given in, afraid to hurt her and to lose her friendship. Had he simply not dared say no?

Lois wondered if she could even have this kind of effect on men. When she had last seen Claude, he had called her cold, frigid. Maybe she wasn't attractive enough to make a man want to stay with her forever. People called her Mad Dog Lane. Who would want to be close to a mad dog? A little surprised, Lois realized that she was already thinking about Clark in a romantic way. What was the matter with her? It had been just a kiss. For love, there had to be much more than this. There had to be deep trust and similar interests. They needed something to talk about in the evenings. She wasn't going to mistake the mere attraction between two people for unconditional endless love. That didn't exist anyway. But everything else was second best for Lois. She wouldn't go for the second best; she had learned that. Her father, Claude and Paul had taught her. Lois wouldn't be so silly ever again.


He was a nut case. There was no other way to put it. With her kiss, Lois had sucked out his brains, leaving nothing but emptiness and a dull feeling of floating in his head. Clark kept looking at the floor, assuring himself that he was still earthbound. It was ridiculous; Becca had asked him three times to prepare something for her lunchbox before he had actually done it. She had needed to pull him into the right direction as they were on their way to school. And the way back to the Daily Planet had ended up in a detour and almost an accident. He couldn't think of anything but Lois.

Well, that wasn't new, actually. But until now, he had been able to stop thinking about her long enough to make his way to work without major problems. Today, that was rather doubtable. Maybe, it was because he knew now how being loved by Lois Lane might feel. Or maybe it was because no erotic dream he had had before had ever been as good as the one this morning. Or he was just scared to death, knowing that it would kill him if she'd murmur an apology today. What happened if she said that this had been a bad mistake? Or even worse: if she blamed him for this? If she turned her back on him, hating him for the rest of his, then certainly short, life.

Had it been his kiss more than hers? Had it been his fault that it hadn't remained a platonic kiss on the cheek? Had he interpreted things wrong, blinded by the wishful thinking and longing her earlier kiss had caused? Maybe it wasn't him who she had kissed, but Superman? There it was, the proof. He was a nut case. Clark shook his head, trying to clear it. He didn't want to knock out an innocent passerby. He didn't really want to go to work either. He was scared to death, knowing that the morning might hold more source of hurt for him than a dark ally or Child Services could.

But he went on, placing one foot in front of the other, unconsciously. It would look strange if he didn't show up at the office today. After all, there was something he needed to tell Lois. Something he hadn't been able to tell her yesterday, partially because she had been kind of distracting. And he hadn't been able to come up with a good idea as to why he had heard it and how. Clark Kent wouldn't have passed the Smithsonian Institute of Metropolis on his way back from the train accident. He wouldn't even have gotten close to the building without breaking fences and laws.

So, now that he thought of it, he had to lie to Lois. Or tell her that Superman had told him. She would be fuming. Why did the hero tell her dumb partner when she had kissed his cheek yesterday? But Clark figured that it was preferable to end up having to deal with a furious Lois as opposed to lying to her. If she found out the truth, she would consider him a pathological liar; she would never be able to trust him *ever* again.

Without really noticing it, Clark had crossed the Planet's lobby and had stepped into one of the elevators. Before he even knew it, he was in the newsroom. Everything looked as usual, but why shouldn't it? Because Lois had kissed him? Because he had returned the kiss? Clark went down the ramp towards his desk, almost surprised that no one shot him knowing glances. But what was he expecting? That Jimmy would ask what touching Lois' lips felt like? For Heaven's sake, it was just a kiss, nothing out of the ordinary. He hadn't made love to her; it had just been a kiss.

Clark reached his desk and sank down in his chair with a heavy sigh. He needed to gather his concentration; this wasn't the right place for daydreams. He looked around, trying to go back to his daily routine. It was almost embarrassing that it started with finding Lois. But she was his partner; why wouldn't he want to see her? Clark forced his concentration back to the pleasant task. He didn't see her, but he could hear her, talking with Perry. She was in his office. Now that this was done, his mind went blank. What was to come next?

He glanced at the computer and booting it up seemed like a good idea. Clark groaned. This was going to be a long day. He was completely useless and could only hope that no one called for Superman today. He would end up appearing with a blue spandex suit and a charcoal jacket instead of a cape. Perhaps a loose tie would make the outfit perfect. Just at that moment, he heard sirens and frantic cries for help. It was a bad car accident. *Okay, Kent. Go to the staircase. Red boots, a red cape and a blue suit. Does Superman wear glasses? Probably not.*


When Lois stepped out of the editor's office, she realized, embarrassed, that she hardly knew what he had been talking about. She had tried to make herself believe that she could forget about Clark, that she could continue working with him professionally. But as soon as she had set foot back into the newsroom, she had searched for him frantically. He hadn't been at his desk or anywhere else for that matter. Clark still wasn't there, or was he? Lois noticed his coat that was hanging across his chair. So he had been there. But now he was nowhere to be seen. Lois sighed inaudibly. She wanted to work, and she needed her partner.

Lois went to her desk, sitting down on her chair. She was supposed to read a press release, but her eyes wandered over to Clark's empty desk. She hoped that he would return soon; he couldn't have gone far without his coat. He would come back, Lois thought slightly nervously.

Her telephone rang three times before Lois had made her way back to reality and was ready to talk and listen to anyone. She took a deep breath and answered the phone.

"Lois Lane."

"What's the matter with you? The Lois I know doesn't lose chocolate on her way to work."

"Bobby?" Lois asked, surprised. "What are you talking about?" She was confused. Bobby almost never called her, dreading that he wouldn't get the usual amount of food if he was giving away information so freely.

"A whole box of double fudge crunch bars was on the top of your car when you drove off. Of course it fell down on the street. Thanks, Lois. This was a nice way to start the day. Tell me if you plan on losing more of them. I'll be around," Bobby replied with laughter.

"Bobby, why are you calling?" a mildly annoyed Lois wanted to know.

"Well, thanks to your chocolate I feel able to tell you that I've got more information concerning your mysterious savior. The people who run the Laundromat couldn't recall his name, but they could describe him. He's tall and has dark hair; he wears glasses. They said he was rather nervous, oh, and he was with a little girl, his daughter maybe," Bobby said.

"That's all, Bobby?" Lois was disappointed.

"Lois, honestly, what do you expect to get for a tiny box of chocolate?" Bobby ended the conversation and Lois hung up. This didn't really help her. Bobby's description was anything but exact. On the other hand, it was enough for Lois to doubt her former theory. Would an arsonist bring his daughter to a crime scene? Probably not. But who had saved her?

"Good morning, Lois," Clark interrupted her thoughts.

She looked up, saw his soft smile, his dark hair and his glasses. He had a daughter. Lois blinked. No, that was impossible. Clark couldn't have saved her; he didn't even know where she lived before the fire. And why should he keep this a secret? Lois dismissed the thought. She would speak with the owners of this laundromat as soon as possible.

"Good morning, Clark," Lois said and turned towards him.

"Did Bobby tell you anything interesting?" he asked. "I only heard the last part of the conversation," Clark added, blushing slightly, obviously embarrassed at having overheard. Lois had the feeling that they were returning to their awkwardly polite way of talking to each other.

"I'm still trying to find out who saved me from the flames," Lois answered.

"And he wasn't able to tell you?"

"No, he wasn't. He gave me a description, but that could fit almost anybody," Lois replied sadly.

Clark had heard more of the conversation than he was ready to admit. Inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief. His heart had skipped a beat as Bobby had mentioned his daughter. At that moment, Clark had been almost sure that Lois would guess the truth. He was awfully afraid of that moment. Clark didn't want to tell her. If there really was anything between them, he would have to tell her some day, but right now that seemed impossible. He had carefully hidden his secret from the world and even Lily hadn't known. He hadn't told one of the most important persons in his life.

She had been his friend in times of trouble. Lily had come to him when he hadn't wanted to see anyone because he was afraid that he could set someone on fire accidentally. He had tried to make her go away, but Lily hadn't left. She had just smiled and said that if he didn't want to see her, she would sit down behind him. And then she had laid her arms around him and told him about her latest fight with her parents. Clark had taken her hands in his and they had supported each other. She hadn't asked what he was upset about; she had just been there. Even Lily had never known, so how could he trust Lois with this secret?

Clark started telling Lois what he had heard the previous evening. He said that he had met Superman this morning, that the hero had told him about this. Lois listened patiently and waited for him to tell her everything before she commented on it. Clark knew that this was another trace that led to Smallville. Maybe Lois would come to Smallville with him and Becca? He wasn't sure whether this made him happy or not. Part of him was very happy about the prospect, but he was also afraid that this would end in a catastrophe.

"Smallville again," Lois muttered. "And what did Superman say…robur viridis? Do you know what this means, Clark?"

"I can look it up," Clark replied, blushing. He had completely forgotten about it this morning. "Maybe you can call the Smithsonian Institute and make an appointment with Hugh Danes. I'm pretty sure that he will be able to tell us more about this."


Lois glanced towards the elevators. This wasn't happening! Clark had left again, without even bothering to tell her where he went. She was dying to tell him what she had found out, but he was gone again and God only knew when he would return. Lois wondered what it was this time. Had he forgotten to return a book to the library? When she thought of his private library at home, it was strange anyway that there were still books he didn't own. Lois decided to get herself a cup of coffee, and maybe she could tell Perry about this in the meantime. It served Clark right if he was the last one to hear about it.

She strolled over to Perry's office and knocked at the door. A grumpy voice invited her in. A moment later, Lois stood in front of Perry. He looked up from his work. Lois could tell from the expression on his face that he wasn't keen on another conversation with her. Perry hadn't been happy about the interview. It's mere existence, though some kind of miracle, hadn't been enough for him. Perry would have liked to learn more; he wasn't content when he got only the second best. Superman had agreed to the interview, but he had barely told her anything. He had left far too early, and Perry was right to be upset that the interview had only been a pale image of what it might have been. It was better than nothing, but that was pretty much all you could say about it.

Lois couldn't change it anymore. She knew that Perry was mad just for the sake of being mad. He wouldn't have become the great editor he was by being easily satisfied. He challenged his reporters in order to awaken their latent skills.

"What is it, Lois?" Perry asked.

"I think we've got a valuable hint for the arsonist story, Perry," Lois said.

"Are you sure?" Perry sounded impatient, stressed. The glance he shot Lois hurried her to explain things a little faster. She did. She told Perry about the traces that were leading to Smallville, including the new one; the one she hadn't been able to tell Clark about. Hugh Danes, Director of the Geological section at the Smithsonian Institute of Metropolis was on his way to a congress in Wichita, Kansas. Perry wasn't convinced. "Great shades of Elvis, Lois. Don't you think that this could be just a fluke?"

"No, Perry. All this is linked to Smallville and the institute. I don't know how, but I'm sure we will find out. Clark and I will spend a few days in Smallville and investigate this. I promise you that we'll be the next on the list of Pulitzer winning journalists," Lois replied, excitedly.

Perry only raised an eyebrow, as if to say that a Pulitzer Prize was a big promise, too big to keep.

"What does Kent have to say about it?" Perry wanted to know. Lois was surprised for a moment; Clark was still a greenhorn, though talented. But then it dawned on her that Perry was interested in his opinion because he wasn't personally involved in this story, unlike Lois.

"I haven't told him about Hugh Danes, yet. But I know that he wants to investigate in Smallville," Lois said. She watched Perry, wishing that she could read his mind. All she could see was the musing expression on his face. He was silent for a while. For Lois, it seemed like an eternity.

"Okay. If you can convince Clark to go with you, the two of you can go to Smallville. But you better return with a good story." Perry grumbled and then showed Lois out of his office.

As Lois returned to her desk, her phone was ringing again. There was still no sign of Clark, and Lois couldn't help but feel annoyed. Why was he leaving so often? And why wasn't he telling her where he went? She still didn't know anything about his mysterious appointment. She had forgotten to ask him about it yesterday, but that didn't mean that Clark wouldn't have to explain sooner or later.

Lois picked up the receiver. Angela was at the other end of the line. A jolt of excitement rushed through Lois. She would hear more now. Lois sat down, eagerly listening to her friend.

"Hi, Lois. It's Angela. I've got the file on your partner in my hands."

"That's great, Angela. Tell me," Lois replied. She was dying of curiosity.

"It's interesting, really. You told me that Clark Kent has problems with Child Services. Well, that's not exactly true." Angela paused dramatically.

"You mean he lied?" Lois held her breath without even noticing it.

"I don't think so. I doubt that he would be able to tell the difference between Child Services and his real enemy," Angela explained. "We only had brief contact with him. When the mother of his child died, our people in Smallville ran an initial check on him. There were no reasons why the child couldn't stay with him, but he had been moving quite frequently, although he was only 22. Reportedly, there were rumors that he wasn't the child's biological father. I also read here that there was an incident with the police. Thus, he was asked to leave his current address with Child Services. He always did that."

"So who is actually visiting him, Angela?" Lois asked.

"Well, your partner must have pissed someone off, maybe Margaret Donovan in person. She was responsible for his case back in Smallville. I'm pretty sure that whatever they did back there was all Child Services could legally do to get Rebecca Kent away from her dad. But that was to no avail because there was no proof that he was harming his child in any way. If you ask me, Margaret Donovan used her connections with all kinds of powerful people to give Mr. Kent a hard time ever since. I've spoken with a few people in agencies in other places in the USA. Mrs. Donovan starts calling the agencies as soon as she hears that Clark Kent has moved again. After a rush of twenty phone calls every day in two weeks, you can easily convince people to just have a look at the guy. Most of these visits happened unofficially. Nobody ever found any hints that Mr. Kent was cruel to his daughter."

"But someone called your agency because they were afraid that Rebecca was being abused by her father," Lois mentioned.

"Yes, I see that note. But the girl was healthy and there was no sign of abuse. However, after this incident, Mrs. Donovan seems to have started telephone terror. She would convince her former co-workers to check on your partner again and again. I guess you can call that an obsession," Angela said.

For a moment there was silence between Angela and Lois. Both waited for the other to say something. Lois needed time for the news to settle down. This story was hardly believable, and she wondered what Clark might have done to make such a powerful enemy.

"Thanks, Angela. I can't tell you how much learning this has meant to me. I'll call you soon. Bye."

"Good bye, Lois," Angela replied and hung up.


Clark returned to his desk, glad that the rescue had been successful. It had been another bad car accident, but fortunately nobody had died. It had taken him a little longer than he had expected, and Clark hoped that Lois wouldn't be too mad at him. He really shouldn't leave without even trying to give her one of his rather lame excuses.

He expected to be yelled at; he wouldn't have been surprised by a pout. However, he hadn't bargained for the tornado that hit him. She was suddenly there, speaking so fast that even super-hearing didn't allow him to understand a word. All he noticed was her agitation, and he was pretty sure that she had mentioned Smallville once or twice.

"Lois," he tried to stop her, but she kept on babbling. "Lois!" he repeated, a little louder. She looked at him, with her adorable brown eyes.

"What?" Lois asked, irritated.

"I didn't understand a word, Lois. Can you please slow this down a bit?" Clark pleaded, smiling broadly.

Lois bit her lip, aware that she had said too much. She could only wish that it had really been too fast for Clark to understand her. The first part was relatively harmless. She had been telling him that there was more evidence leading to Smallville. He had already offered to take her with them to his hometown for New Year's. She was only explaining her reasons for changing her mind.

The other part had been one of the infamous pitfalls she kept stumbling into ever since she had met Clark. Lois couldn't believe that she had really told him about her unauthorized investigation concerning his trouble with Child Services. She couldn't just throw all the things in his face that she had found out. After all she *had* been betraying his trust, regardless of the result. She had to explain this more carefully, making sure he understood that it hadn't been like that.

Lois started telling Clark about Smallville. In the process she learned that "robur viridis" was Latin and meant "green force" in English. Knowing this wasn't really helpful, though. Neither of them had any idea what "green force" could mean or why a group of geologists would use it. Or were they really a group of geologists? Henry Meadows had known the expression and so had a few people around the Smithsonian Institute. Some of them wanted to go to Smallville, and Hugh Danes, the director, was on his way to Wichita, Kansas. It couldn't be just coincidence, could it?

The first thing was easy to agree on. Clark didn't exactly put up a fight to stay alone with Becca on their trip. He just nodded and told her that they would be happy to take her with them. And the fact that Perry would even let them leave before New Year's Eve had him pretty excited. Lois wasn't sure how to discuss the second issue with him. She took his hand and led him towards the conference room, feeling beads of sweat running down her forehead. Partially because she was afraid of the conversation to come and partially because his warmth was radiating through her and threatened to enflame her.

"Lois, what is this about?" Clark gasped in surprise as he tried to keep up with her pace.

"Just come with me," Lois muttered under her breath. She didn't want people to start wondering why she was dragging Clark towards the conference room. She silently prayed for him to keep quiet, for she knew that they would be sure to attract everybody's attention if this didn't look like a professional talk between partners. Much to Lois' relief, Clark had caught the hint and was simply following her now. Together they entered the conference room, and Lois closed the door behind herself.

"Can you please tell me why you are so conspiratorial, out of the blue?" Clark wanted to know, eyeing her as if he were afraid that she might have lost her mind. Or was he afraid that she was preparing her next attack on him? Lois blushed at the thought. Kissing him wasn't on her mind right now; she felt far too uncomfortable with what she was going to tell him.

"Um, Clark, I have been thinking of how to help you with that Child Services problem," Lois said, carefully, and watched him to see his reaction. Clark's face remained rather stoic. He just raised an eyebrow, which Lois took as a sign to continue. "I… I've called a friend. She was a source for one of my stories. I trust her completely. She will never speak of our conversation," Lois hurried to explain. In the meantime Clark had raised his second eyebrow, obviously wavering over whether he should be curious or angry.

"You called someone without asking me?" he stated, hoarsely. His tone was revealing his anger; Lois could clearly hear it, though Clark did his best to suppress it. She wasn't sure if it was the kind of anger he was going to overcome, or if it would finally lead to explosion. However, Lois was relieved that he hadn't heard all this in her earlier explanation, as she had tried to tell him the great news without checking the water level before she jumped. She could count herself lucky that Clark didn't know everything already because she was afraid that even Superman might not come in time to save her from a furious Clark Kent.

"You wouldn't have agreed, Clark," Lois replied, somewhat dryly.

"You're right. I wouldn't've," Clark said, still annoyingly calm.

It made Lois even more nervous than she already was. Maybe he was a volcano. There basically were two types. One erupted right away, flooding the land around it with lava. It looked dangerous, but was really the more foreseeable one. The other stayed calm until shaken by a powerful explosion. Lois was afraid that Clark might be one of those — Clark "Mt. St. Helens" Kent.

"It's not the Child Services who are after you, Clark. It's someone else, but she's a powerful enemy. Her name's Margaret Donovan." Lois looked at him, waiting for him to say something. He stared at her with a blank expression. She wasn't sure if he even saw her, it was more like he was deeply lost in thought. Then suddenly, he emerged from wherever he had been and shot her an intense glance.

"I don't know this woman," he said, without any hint of doubt in his voice. Clark was obviously certain.

"Maybe you know her under another name. Before she married Mr. Donovan, her name was Margaret Finnegan."

"The dragon!" Clark gasped. "I should have known! But how?"

"She's one of the richest women in the USA. She knows a lot of people, and I'm fairly sure that her money and her connections open a lot of usually closed door. You must have done something to really, really upset her, Clark," Lois answered.

"But how is that supposed to help us, Lois?" Clark asked. "I mean, that is not going to change my situation." Clark looked a little defeated. He most definitely wasn't at the verge of exploding. Lois had managed to avoid this trap.

"We could talk to her, Clark, convince her that you're a good guy," she replied, trying to sound confident, which she wasn't. Clark had made a powerful enemy that wouldn't be easy to defeat. And she still didn't know why exactly the woman had become his foe. "Tell me why she hates you," Lois pleaded softly. Somehow she felt that knowing this would provide her with the right solution. But Clark only shook his head.

"No," he said, his face flushed. "I… I can't." His voice was barely more than a whisper. And then he suddenly turned around, storming out of the conference room before Lois could even try to hold him back.


Hours later, Lois was sitting in her hotel room. She sighed. She had done it again! It was unbelievable, but she had managed to offend the man who had offered her a place to stay. How could she have done such a thing? Clark had run out on her, and she had hardly seen him for the rest of the day. He had mostly been somewhere outside the office, meeting sources or whatever. Lois had the strong feeling that he had only returned when absolutely necessary. He had hardly spoken to her — hadn't even looked at her. Or so she thought.

She was mistaken, for Clark had looked over to her every other minute whenever he was in the newsroom, except that he had been quick enough to turn away right in time. For people watching them, it had looked like a strange choreography, as one of them always looked up when the other turned away. When Clark had been off to save people or attend meetings, he had listened for her heartbeat as long as she had been close enough for him to hear.

Lois hadn't known what to say or how to apologize. She hadn't done anything wrong, actually. She knew that everything Angela had told her could help Clark to keep Becca. She had hoped that Clark would thank her, embrace her and hold her tightly. In fact, she had been longing for another kiss. But that wasn't important anymore. He had taken it badly. Lois sighed again, feeling tears burning in her eyes. She didn't want to cry. She had wanted to help Clark. He should go to hell for not being more grateful! She didn't need him; she had managed to live without him for years.

Lois looked over to her window, hoping that Superman might float in front of it, ready to comfort her. But at the same time, she was afraid that she would actually see him there. She didn't want him to see her tears. Lois sank down onto her bed, staring at the ceiling, blankly. She didn't want to think about tomorrow or their assignment in Smallville. Since Perry had agreed, he would make Lois and Clark go no matter what they thought of it. Smallville would be a nightmare. Lois didn't want to spend an undetermined amount of time in the middle of nowhere, without a single friend and with a little girl that might be able to kill with her eyes.

Lois' thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. She groaned. Superman didn't knock on the door but on the window. As for all the other living people around, she didn't want to see them. She heard the knock again, this time sounding a bit more urgent. Lois winced and decided to get up. The day couldn't get worse, so what was the point in not opening up?

She strolled over the few steps that separated her from the doorknob. A moment later, her mouth gaped open as she saw Clark standing in front of her. His face had a deep shade of red, and he looked uncomfortable. Right next to him was Becca, looking just as uneasy as Clark, but lacking the blush.

"Hi, Lois," he said somewhat hoarsely. "I thought you might need help getting your stuff to my place." He blushed even more. "I… I think I forgot to say thank you, Lois," he muttered.

"Clark, what is this about? Why have you refused to talk to me the whole day through?" Lois asked angrily. What was he hiding? She wanted to trust him, but whenever she felt that possible, he pulled away.

"Let's say you touched a sensitive spot, Lois. I've still got problems speaking about Lily's death," he replied, looking down to his feet instead of facing her.

"This was not about my betraying your trust?" Lois whispered, surprised. He shook his head.

"It wasn't," he stated and Lois believed it. But he wasn't really answering her questions. However, Lois had the strong feeling that he wouldn't do that this evening. He looked up, meeting her gaze. His expression was apologetic, and he was obviously waiting for her to say something, to send him away or invite him in.

"I… I don't know, Clark…" Lois mumbled, wondering what it actually was that she didn't know.

"I was confused, Lois. What you told me had me thinking about a lot of things. I wasn't purposefully avoiding you. So, do you want me to help you check out of the hotel, or would you rather stay here?" he asked. "I thought we should get you moved in, before we head to Smallville. Perry wants us to go there right away. I booked three seats on the flight for tomorrow. If you still want to come, that is."

"I guess, I have to…" Lois said uneasily. "Perry can be very convincing. I… I mean, it would be nice to go. And I would like to come to your place…"

"Lois, are you mad at me?" Clark asked.

"Perhaps a little bit," she replied with a shrug. "Not really."

"Can you give me a chance to make up for my stupid behavior this morning?" Clark pleaded, smiling at her almost shyly. Lois nodded weakly. She noticed with embarrassment what even Clark's small smile did to her. She had to get that out of her mind.


"It's nothing special, but this is our home," Martha said with a broad smile as she gestured towards the comfortable kitchen and living room. "It's nice to have you here, Lois. Oh, is it okay if I call you Lois?"

"Of course Mrs. Kent," Lois replied and looked around self-consciously. Being in a place that she didn't know always made her nervous, no matter how nice the people she met there were. "Thanks for inviting me, but I don't want to disturb you. I can sleep in the hotel in town."

"Call me Martha," Clark's mother said and chuckled. "We enjoy having guests, and I'm looking forward to having another woman around. Becca is a strong girl, but sometimes it's not enough to overpower my two men."

"You and Becca are more than enough," Jonathan objected. "Son, I think the two of us will have to live with the fact that we're not going to have any rights whatsoever for the rest of the year," he stated dryly and came over to shake hands with Lois and hug Clark and Becca.

"I guess so," Clark muttered and smiled. "Lois and I will have to do some investigation while we're here. I already told you about the things we found back in Metropolis. We think that the series of arsons that happened over the last month is somehow connected to a group of people who want to come to Smallville."

"All right, son. Find out everything you can about them. I'm sure you two can stop them," Jonathan said confidently.

"But not tonight," Martha stated and took Lois' hand. "Come on, dear, I'm going to show you your room. It's Clark's actually, but he'll gladly sleep on the sofa."

A few moments later, Martha and Lois were gone. Clark, Jonathan and Becca stayed in the living room, slightly perplexed by the new situation. Usually it was Martha and Becca who left the room, telling each other everything that happened in the past days. Jonathan would have told Clark about the farm and what was going on in Smallville. For a while nobody said a word, though Clark could tell that Lois had made his father rather curious. He had told his parents about her, but they had been a bit astonished when he had asked them if he could bring Lois along.

It was Becca who broke the silence. She started a little chat with her grandfather, telling him about her week and how she had spent an evening with Lois. Clark decided to leave the two alone and went out of the living room towards the kitchen. On the way, he met with his mother, who shot him a knowing glance. She smiled mischievously.

"Oh, she sure is pretty, Clark," Martha said, somewhat reproachfully because he hadn't bothered to mention that. "And she's a nice woman, too. No wonder you're in love with her."

"Mom!" Clark protested.

"Oh, come on. Do you really think you can fool me? I've seen that look in your eyes when you think that no one is watching you. It's way too obvious," she chuckled. "And I think she feels the same way about you."

"I don't think so," Clark replied almost sadly. "But it doesn't matter anyway; there is no future for Lois and me."

Martha studied her son's face carefully. "Becca will understand, Clark. I'm sure she will. She's a clever little girl, and she wants her daddy to be happy. You know, I was always proud of you because you took responsibility for her. But that doesn't mean that you aren't allowed to fall in love with a woman."

Clark looked down at his feet. His mother's confidence concerning Lois' feelings for him gave him butterflies. It was a strange feeling that even flying wasn't able to give him. He wanted to sweep Lois up into his arms and kiss her senseless. He wanted to go with her for a long walk, telling her about everything that mattered to him. He wanted to share his life with her; she was someone he wanted to take flying. She made him nervous and happy. He felt safe with her, but at the same time she was more dangerous to him than anything could ever be.

"Talk to Becca," Martha interrupted his thoughts softly. "And tell Lois how you feel about her. You will see that everything will just fall into place."

"When you say it, it sounds so easy, Mom." Clark sighed. "But I don't think I really have the heart to tell Becca."

"You can't expect her to accept this easily. Of course she will cry and fight. She will tell you that she hates you and that she would rather run off than to share you with Lois. She will need time, Clark. But in the end she will see that accepting Lois is best for both of you."


The rest of the evening went on without any noticeable events. The four Kents had dinner together with their guest. Lois enjoyed the company of Clark's parents immensely. She now understood how Clark had come to be the man that he was. In Smallville, he was even more relaxed than she had ever seen him in Metropolis. His smile was a little bit broader and the twinkling in his eyes a bit brighter. His mother told some tales of his childhood, which seemed to embarrass him, but it didn't suffice to make him lose his good humor.

Lois learned that Clark had taken his stuffed animal to bed until the age of twelve and how crushed he had been when the animal had dissolved into a thousand pieces because of old age. She heard more about Lily and the time they had spent in Clark's fortress of solitude, a tree house where he found refuge whenever he had needed to be alone. Lois got the strange impression that Clark hid from the world more often than a regular teenager. She couldn't really understand why. Clark didn't seem to be a solitary person. He made friends easily.

Clark Kent was surely the most fascinating person she had ever had the pleasure to know. Had she actually called him a hack from Nowheresville? That had been in another life, said by another Lois. He was anything but boring. Whenever she thought that she had finally figured him out, she learned something about Clark that didn't match up to her view of him. She hadn't known about the more serious sides of him.

It was a nice evening and Lois couldn't remember when she had ever felt so comfortable with a family. Clark's parents were almost too good to be true, but even the great investigative reporter Lois Lane couldn't sense any dark secrets in this idyllic family. They shared a lighthearted conversation in which all of them were involved. Even Becca didn't stay out of it like it happened to so many children. Lois remembered the times she had been sitting at the table with her parents. Lucy and she had to stay quiet whenever her dad invited someone for dinner. They would talk about subjects that Lois wasn't able to understand, anyway.

After dinner, Becca desperately tried to stifle her yawns. Clark suggested that she should go to bed. Whenever they stayed in Smallville, Becca slept on a daybed in his bedroom. They had agreed on Becca sharing his room with Lois. She could as well have moved over to her grandparents, but Jonathan was a terrible snorer. Martha had gotten accustomed to it over the years. But for the little girl it would have been pure torture. Becca protested but gave up quickly as both her grandparents offered to take her to bed. She started to smile at the prospect and got up quickly. Becca rushed over to her father, kissed him good night and then went up with her grandparents. Suddenly Lois and Clark were alone in the living room.

"Would… would you like to go for a walk, Lois?" Clark asked shyly. His face was slightly flushed and he didn't really look at her. The whole situation was incredibly awkward. They hadn't been on their own since the previous evening back in the Daily Planet. Though they had sort of made up again, there were still unresolved issues between them. Lois agreed willingly to Clark's suggestion and went to fetch her coat.

She felt they needed to define what their relationship was. The kiss hadn't left her mind; she kept reliving it over and over again. Was she going crazy? Never before had she felt this attracted to a man. She hardly knew Clark, but she had the strange impression that she had known him for a long time. It was confusing and oddly comforting to be with him. But while she was thinking about the kind man next to her, Superman's face never left her thoughts. She had seen his loneliness. He needed someone, a friend and someone to love him, someone who was able to make him feel at ease on this earth. He was so distant when he did all the things to save people, but Lois had seen his longing to belong. He desperately tried to hide it, didn't stay anywhere long enough for others to see it, but Lois had had the chance to see this side of him. He needed someone; he needed her.

Lois and Clark left the farmhouse and stepped out into the cold winter night. Snow was covering the fields and scrunched under their feet as they walked. For a while, neither of them said anything and Lois used the time to have a look at the impressively cloudless sky that was littered with a myriad of stars. Even the misty band of the Milky Way was visible. Lois wasn't sure she had ever seen it before. Maybe she had, but it had never been this beautiful. Sharing the view with a man that she deeply cared for was increasing the pleasure.

"Clark, can we please talk about the other night?" Lois asked, surprised by her own nerve to actually discuss this. She was afraid that Clark might say something that she didn't want to hear. That he would either be angry or apologize, or even worse, say that it had been a mistake.

He answered with a careful "Yes."

What she could see of his face conveyed a jumble of different emotions. His voice was hoarse, and she could hear him swallowing. Lois assumed that Clark was afraid as well. That eased her mind a bit, though not completely. She didn't know yet what he was afraid of.

"Did you want to kiss me?" Lois had been thinking about this for quite some time. It had worried her, caused her a sleepless night and had left her unable to eat anything for breakfast this morning. Clark stopped walking and stared at her. He looked at her uneasily and mostly like he didn't know the answer. He opened his mouth and closed it again. He ran his hand through his hair in a nervous gesture and took a few deep breaths before he said something.

"I… I didn't plan it, Lois, if it's that what you're thinking. But… but I guess you can say that I wanted to," he muttered self-consciously.

Lois felt her heart rate increase though he hadn't actually said anything that gave her a clue as to how he interpreted this. Had it been just a kiss or had it been the beginning of more? It sent jolts of hope through her that he might feel for her what she felt for him. On the other hand, this was a rather ridiculous idea, since Lois wasn't so sure what it actually was that she felt for him. A huge lump built up in her throat, reminding her of the fact that Clark wasn't the only man in her life. Oh, this was just plain crazy. Lois tried to swallow the lump, but it remained stubbornly in place.

"Good, I mean… I wasn't sure, I…" she started babbling. Sensing it was taking her nowhere, Lois fell silent for a moment and gathered all her courage to ask the question that was really bugging her. "Clark, what is going on between us?"

Her voice was barely above a whisper. She was flustered by her own nerve to ask something like that. What kind of answer was she expecting? Did she really believe that Clark had the right answers? He didn't even know about her inner conflict. He probably had conflicts of his own. Lois already regretted having asked. She looked down to her feet and noticed with astonishment that this Clark Kent was doing strange things to her. She behaved out of character, she felt insecure, there was barely anything left of Lois Lane — the award-winning journalist. Right now, she felt like a teenager. For Heaven's sake, it wasn't the first time in her life that she was talking to a guy, but why did it feel like that? She looked up into Clark's deep brown eyes, as if she was going to find the answer there.

"I… I'm not sure, Lois," he replied hoarsely. "This is confusing me as well, because I don't know how to deal with this. But I think you are right. We should talk about it instead of beating around the bush. I don't know what is going on, but there is one thing I know for sure." He stopped speaking and looked at her somewhat helplessly as if he lacked the words to tell her what he knew. Lois could tell from the expression on his face that he was terribly afraid. His lower lip trembled, and he swallowed once more before he finally continued. "I… I'm in love with you, Lois," he muttered and met her gaze briefly, before he looked away.

Lois' mouth fell open and she stared at him, disbelievingly. She was completely unable to speak. Lois had most definitely not bargained for that answer. His confession invited a whole slew of different opinions to raise their voice. One of them was happily pleading Lois to reply *I love you, too.* Another one was asking * What about Superman?* A third begged her to forget about the flashy hero, because the man in front of her wouldn't fly away. A voice that was almost identical to her mother's warned her that she hardly knew Clark and that she couldn't trust men. Old memories of Paul and Claude surfaced. They had taught her that her mother's view wasn't all that wrong.

"But you… you hardly know me," Lois protested weakly against the growing need to press herself against him. She wanted to kiss him again, to fall in his arms, oblivious of the problems this might cause.

"I don't know why I feel this way. I've tried to deny it; I kept telling myself that this isn't a good idea for various reasons. But I can't help it, Lois." He reached towards her and brushed away a strand of her hair that had fallen into her face. Then he cupped her cheek in such a comforting gesture that Lois could only hold her breath. The warmth of his soft palm was setting her face on fire and slowly spread heat throughout her entire body. When she finally remembered that breathing might be a good idea, it was shallow and erratic.

As soon as Clark noticed what he was doing he withdrew his hand as if he had burnt himself and looked at her apologetically.

"I'm sorry," he muttered shyly. His face had to have a deep shade of red, but Lois couldn't tell for sure. It was too dark.

"Don't be," she said softly and took his hand in hers. "Clark, I want to be honest with you. I… don't know where this comes from, but I've never felt more comfortable with any man. You mean a whole lot to me. You're my friend, my best friend, I should say. And I… I feel very attracted to you." Lois breathed heavily. Had she really said that? Was she still the same Lois she had been in the last twenty-six years?

Clark stared at her, dumbfounded. That was some admission for his partner. What had Jimmy said, seemingly ages ago? It really had been just a month, but for Clark it was like another lifetime. *Lois doesn't date at all; forget about her.* Those weren't his exact words, but it was close. She looked incredibly vulnerable as she said this, as if lighting was going to strike her, punishing her because she dared give that away. Lois shivered in the cold air, and Clark wanted nothing more than to hold her. He wanted to soothe her, tell her that whatever trouble she feared to have invited wasn't going to come.

"But I'm not sure what to think of this, Clark. I know that you hide things from me. For some reason you don't tell me what's really bothering you. You give me weak excuses, and you obviously think that there are things that I don't deserve to know. You keep shying away all of a sudden when it comes to topics that might be painful," Lois voiced her doubts.

Clark could tell that she was speaking of Lily's death. But he was hardly able to think about it, much less discuss it. However, he was aware that if he was planning to start anything serious with Lois, he should tell her the truth. And that meant the whole truth, not only what Lois already suspected that he was hiding. He bit his lips. *Lois, I'm Superman* Oh, yeah, this way it would definitely work just fine. *Lois, I knew the whole time who has saved you from that fire, I just thought that I'd rather keep that knowledge to myself. You see, I liked watching you chase after shadows.* That was definitely going to make her say the favored words: *Clark Kent, I love you.* He sighed unhappily.

"And… and there is this other man," Lois added as he didn't say anything. "I feel attracted to him as well."

Clark's world fell apart. His heart missed several beats and his blood ran cold as he heard her say the words. Cold sweat stood on his forehead. How was Clark "my-life's-a-mess" Kent going to compete with whomever it was that Lois liked as well? Assumingly it was Mr. Perfect, a guy with no family and problems. Whoever it was, Clark didn't stand a chance, so much was certain. But who could Lois have met? They had been working together closely. He had never even heard her mention another man. Or was it… could it be?

"There is?" he asked breathlessly.

"Superman," she admitted hoarsely, obviously embarrassed by her own boldness to consider herself as a worthy partner for a Superhero.

Clark stared at her, his mind completely blank. He didn't have a rival, given that he could hardly compete with himself. But how was he going to explain to her that there wasn't another man? He would either destroy Clark Kent or Superman when he told her. Had he really ever thought that putting on that Suit was going to solve any problems? This whole situation was ridiculous and he needed to tell Lois the truth. But he was afraid. It was not like he had actually done that before. Becca had found out on her own, and Clark didn't want to relive that nightmare with Lois. Through the haze of his mind, he heard Lois' voice. She had obviously seen his shock, but her interpretation was naturally wrong.

"It's not his powers, Clark," she assured him, maybe in an attempt to make him see that he had a chance against the hero. "He seems so lonely, so lost. He needs a friend, Clark, and I feel that I'd be able to help him. He helps people but asks for nothing in return. This is eating him inside, Clark. He needs someone to talk to, someone who loves him, who sees the human being beneath the cape. A soul can get hurt despite all this invulnerability. You've got a family and an amazing daughter, but he is alone. I think he needs me more than you probably do. And I don't know which of you is dearer to me, Clark."

"Oh, Lois, my dear Lois," Clark whispered helplessly and pulled her into an embrace. He didn't know what to say. He could just inhale the scent of her hair. He tried to imprint this moment into the depth of his memory, to make sure he still had it just in case that he wasn't able to do this ever again.

"Clark!" Lois muttered in protest. By the sound of her voice, he could tell that tears were filling her eyes. Her hands were pressed against his chest, as if she was trying to get away from him, but she didn't actually push, obviously indecisive.

He had to end her struggle. He knew that this was probably going to be painful for her, but it surely couldn't be as bad as having to decide between two men. He loosened his embrace and stepped back until she was at arm's length.

Lois felt Clark's withdrawal. She knew that this must have hurt him incredibly. He had confessed his love for her, and she told him right away that there was another man. He surely deserved to know that, but she could have been gentler. It surely hadn't been easy for him to say that, and Lois felt flattered and unbelievably excited.

"I appreciate that you were so honest with me," he said hoarsely. His voice was low, trembling really, overwhelmed with emotion. "There… there is something I need to tell you. I…" he stopped and ran his fingers through his hair while he seemed to be trying to find the right words. His gaze met hers for a moment, before he looked away again with an almost embarrassed expression on his face. Lois was getting scared. What was he going to tell her that had him so flustered? Could there be anything even bigger than*Lois, I love you* For a guy, anyway?

"Oh, this shouldn't be so hard," he muttered. "I wish I had tried this in front of the mirror, though." He bit his lip and cracked a weak smile. Lois was beginning to freeze in the cold air. Particularly since he had robbed her of his body heat. She shivered.

"Clark?" she asked as she saw him struggling with his fate. "Come on, spit it out. It can't be that bad." She tried to encourage him.

"Well, maybe it isn't. That's your decision anyway. Before I say this, I need your word that you are never going to tell anyone. It's important that this stays a secret, for your own sake as well as mine and Becca's, too." Clark's voice was firm now, revealing how serious he was. Lois nodded her consent. He nodded as well and took a deep breath. "Lois, I'm Superman."

She could only stare at him, flabbergasted. This couldn't be true. He was leading her on, figuring that this was the only way to make sure she chose Clark over his rival. Hadn't he understood that though he was very human, Clark stood a chance against the hero? That the powers didn't matter to her? They looked a bit alike. Both had dark hair and about the same stature. Clark's body was rather muscular, though he kept hiding that underneath his dark suits. But it was nevertheless impossible. Superman had arrived on earth a few weeks ago, while Clark Kent had been born here.

Lois shook her head. Superman hadn't actually told her when he had arrived exactly. She just assumed that it had been only recently. And Clark wouldn't have wanted it to be public knowledge that he was born on earth, assuming that this was really true. Clark being Superman would explain some things. Superman couldn't easily fly out to do rescues in the middle of the night if he had to care for a seven-year-old girl. It could be a reason why Clark disappeared now and again and why he had no good excuses for it.

Clark's heart was beating so loud that he feared people in Wichita might hear it. Lois' silence was deafening; the tension it provoked unbearable. Clark wanted her to say something, no matter if he was going to like it or not. He couldn't stand it anymore, but he forced himself to be patient. Lois had every right to be shocked. She needed time to come to terms with this.

"Clark, don't lie to me," Lois whispered hoarsely. She didn't believe him, maybe didn't want to.

"I wouldn't lie to you, Lois," he replied weakly. "Do you remember your last encounter with Superman? You kissed his cheek… you kissed my cheek," he corrected himself. "And I wanted to kiss you back, so badly. But you stepped away. I heard you singing this wonderful lullaby when I was floating above my terrace. You were singing it to yourself."

Lois was silent for a while, but Clark was pretty sure that the truth of his words had sunk in. Again, he waited for her to speak. It was killing him slowly. His life was in her hands. She had the power to decide whether to crush him or to make him the happiest man alive. Waiting for his sentence was one of the most difficult tasks that he had ever had to face.

"It was you," she said suddenly, still not giving him the answer that he longed for. The glance he gave her in return was obviously puzzling enough for her to explain herself. "You saved me from that fire, even though you told me you didn't."

"Yes, I saved you," he admitted. "Clark saved you. I wasn't Superman then. I couldn't tell you the truth. I had only known you for a couple of days. I wasn't sure whether I could trust you. If I had told you it was Superman, this would have gotten me in trouble. Why didn't Superman extinguish the fire? And why did a normal man claim to be the savior when he really wasn't? I begged the police to remain anonymous. Becca and I had just moved to Metropolis the day before. I have been moving around a lot because I kept doing such rescues, and Becca was the one who suffered. I can't let my girl suffer just because I am an alien, or whatever it is that I actually am. I'm sorry, Lois." He said softly. "I never meant to hurt you."

She just kept on staring at him. Telling her his secret was supposed to solve Lois' problems, since there weren't two men anymore, only one. But he couldn't expect her to accept this so easily. He had deceived her, and all he could do was hope that she would forgive him eventually. He had to go through this now. He would have the patience to wait or the strength to let her go, whatever was necessary to make Lois happy.

"How can I be sure that I know you, Clark?" Lois whispered.

"You got to know Clark Kent minus the powers. I've been hiding them all my life, only when I came to Metropolis did I find a way to reveal them without losing my private life. I should have known that the number of crimes in a city is so incredibly high. The sirens kept me up all night; they still do sometimes. But Superman allows me to help; he is what I can do, not who I really am." He paused briefly to look at her again. "I understand that you have to think about this first. And I see that you're cold, so we should probably go back inside now. I will accept whatever decision you make. If you ask me to never see you again, then I will leave. I can't promise, however, that I wouldn't save you as Superman. I love you too much to let you suffer if you got in trouble."

"I wouldn't ask you to go, Clark. Just give me some time, please. Do Becca and your parents know about this?" Lois asked.

"Yes, they do. And I will tell them that I've told you as well," Clark replied.

They wandered back to the farmhouse in silence, both of them lost in thought.


A few hours later, Clark was waiting for the sandman to come. But he didn't even catch a glimpse of him. Maybe today was his day off or he had only dropped by to help his parents, Becca and Lois get some sleep. There had been nothing left for him, and so Clark was doomed to stay awake all night. It wouldn't have been so bad had it not been for the constant, lovely heartbeat resounding in his ears. Lois was sleeping in the room just above him. They were separated by nothing but the ceiling, which would have been a severe obstacle for another man. For Clark it was a permanent struggle to overcome the temptation. For him, looking at her was less difficult than spying through the keyhole would have been. But he couldn't do it; he simply couldn't take advantage of her like that. Lois deserved better, and he should really forget about his hormones.

Clark got up. He hoped that a glass of milk might do the job that the sandman had refused to do. He went over to the kitchen, as silently as possible. He didn't want to disturb anyone's sleep just because he wasn't able to take even a little nap. He knew the farmhouse like the back of his hand. His parents hadn't changed it a bit since he had moved out. For them, it was already perfect. As he was pouring himself some milk, Clark heard the soft noise of steps on the floor. He left the glass of milk in the kitchen and went into the living room again, curious as to who was coming down. His first idea was that Becca had woken up, but the steps he heard weren't caused by his little girl. It was Lois.

"I'm thirsty," she whispered as she noticed him. "You're still awake?"

"I can't sleep," he admitted.

"Me neither."

"Let's get you a glass of water or whatever you prefer," Clark offered.

"Water is fine," Lois said and took the last couple of steps down.

Clark didn't know how it happened, but somewhere in the process, Lois had lost her balance and stumbled. She fell right into his arms, clinging to his neck as she tried to steady herself. Clark's mind swayed as he felt her body pressed against his. He gasped at the sudden unexpected contact with Lois. It wasn't as if Clark had never before been that close to a woman, but Lois was one of a kind, incomparable to others. Maybe it was just the fact that his chest was bare and all that separated him from the woman of his dreams was a thin layer of cotton. Even more irritating was that he could only feel a much too small part of her bare skin pressed against his belly. Clark drew in a sharp breath as her warmth slowly spread through him. His skin tickled where she touched him. He felt the pressure of her every finger, could almost sense the small, unique lines that covered her fingertips. It couldn't be anything but imagination.

He had to let go of her before his mind went blank and it was too late to make reasonable decisions. But it was so good to hold her that he just couldn't let the moment pass. Just another second wouldn't hurt anyone. Lois glanced up at him and mumbled a soft thank you for catching her. He could feel the tender whiff of her breath on his chin as she was saying those words. It was replaced by warm, wet lips. Her kiss traveled towards his mouth, sending a rush of pleasure and panic through him. This was too close, too dangerous. He had to step back now, right now. Panic's strangled cries resounded in his ears, but they died down quickly, leaving only the tender warmth of her lips on his. He was aware of nothing but her silky tongue that had started to dance with his.

As opposed to the ancient custom of dancing, Lois was taking the lead, guiding Clark softly but assertively. He didn't protest, did nothing to claim his right as he allowed Lois to be the strong party. Her teeth played gently with his lower lip as her kiss grew hungrier and her hands became more restless. Her hands roamed down his back, sending waves of heat through his muscles. Clark's hands longed to be more reckless, and of their own volition, they left the small of her back to find more wonderful, amazingly silky, bare skin. The tips of his fingers were set on fire as the sensation clouded his mind.

Lois' soft lips were more than he could take; making him hungrier with every kiss they shared. Really unbearable though became the moment when her touch was slowly leaving his mouth. His own lips were mourning the loss, begging for consolation, while his neck happily cheered the tender visitors. Before Clark even knew it, his lips found Lois' ear. Waiting for further instruction would take much too long anyway. They started nibbling on her earlobe and allowed his tongue to graciously slide forward a little, just enough to get a taste of her creamy skin. The effect was tantalizing. He wanted more.

The voice of reason was quickly defeated, imprisoned in the back of his mind. Its usual power was diminished to a soft whisper, frantically trying to get through to him, to make him stop what he was doing. This wasn't right, not now. But Lois felt so good in his arms, whatever small part of her he was touching wasn't enough.

The house was silent but for the couple's soft moans of pleasure. Only Clark could hear a little more. His parent's even breathing was just a faint sound that didn't have the power to make its way through the haze of his mind. Becca's anxious murmurs, her frantic heartbeat and her uneven breathing, however, fought his way to him and sobered him almost violently.

"Stop," he gasped. "No." His words were muffled against her skin.

"Clark?" Lois murmured, taken aback.

"I'm sorry, Lois. I can't," he replied hoarsely, stepping back a little more to get away from the sweet temptation this wonderful woman presented. He must have lost his mind completely, letting go of her now was just plain crazy.

The moonlight was bright enough for him to be able to see the longing and disappointment in her beautiful face. Her eyes were dark with passion, which only increased his frustration. He wanted to touch her again, to kiss her and show her just how much he ached for her.

"Why?" Lois asked angrily. "I thought you are in love with me. So why can't you kiss me? You did it before. It's not that difficult." She saw him flinch and felt a short moment of satisfaction as he looked at her guiltily. It was a weak consolation for the disappointment his sudden withdrawal had caused. As she noticed the hurt in his eyes, she instantly regretted her words. He had asked her to stop, and she shouldn't be angry with him now. She would have expected the same kindness from him if she had been the one to say no. "I'm sorry, Clark. It's just that I didn't expect you to stop so suddenly."

"I'm sorry, Lois. I should have realized a little earlier that this was too fast. I want you, I can't tell you how much. Stopping now is just as painful for me as it is for you." Painful was an understatement. Clark assumed that even several hundred laps in the Arctic Ocean wouldn't ease his desire. "But it wouldn't have been right to go through with this, at least not now. I need to tell Becca about us before it's too late. I can't betray her like that. She has accepted that you and I are friends now. I have to tell her about my love for you before we become lovers. It means a lot more to me than just sex. You and I sleeping together would have repercussions on all our lives … yours, mine and Becca's too."

Lois stared at him, his words sank in slowly. Clark was right, and she hadn't really considered the consequences as passion had overcome her. Taking the next step had to be a decision made carefully. She wasn't sure if she really was ready to be his girlfriend. They hadn't even dated yet. And Clark couldn't just go out with a woman; he had to consider what this meant for his daughter. Becca wouldn't happily accept her father's girlfriend. This left a nagging thought within her.

"Does this mean that Becca has the final say?" she asked, incredulously. "You would turn away from me if Becca cannot accept me?" Lois fearfully waited for his answer; she already imagined his hurtful nod. This couldn't be! He couldn't let his seven-year-old daughter make such life-altering decisions. Children had to do what their parents wanted, Lois thought helplessly. She didn't want to depend on the grace of a child that had hated her until very recently. She was an adult and had the right to decide what was going to happen and what wasn't.

*And what about Becca?* her conscience screamed. *Isn't it her life as well?*

A younger Lois would have slapped this Lois's face. What would her life have been like if her father had been forced to ask her permission before staying away all night and leaving them completely? Wouldn't have Lois wanted to bar her mother from becoming an alcoholic?

"I'm not sure, Lois. I don't want to have Becca tell me whether I'm allowed to love you or not. You and me, we have to think about this next step. And I want Becca to know about this before anyone decides anything about her future. She deserves this much honesty. Tomorrow I will tell her that I'm in love with you," Clark said softly. "Please understand me."

"I do," Lois replied hoarsely. "But you'll have to make up for this, Clark." She grinned. "And it won't be easy, buster."

"I know." He shot her another apologetic glance. "Lois, I…" A scream interrupted him. "Oh my, it's Becca. She's having a bad dream. I better have a look."

Clark left Lois alone in the living room and made his way up to Becca's room. From afar, he heard Lois sigh with frustration. From the sounds of it, he could tell that she was wrapping herself in his blankets, trying to calm down. She muttered a curse which Clark could only second. Closer to him, Becca was whimpering, sobbing softly. It tore at his heart. As much as he wanted to talk to Lois right now, he knew that soothing Becca was more important. Clark opened the door to her room and switched on the light. He went over to her bed.

"Shhh, honey it was just a dream," he muttered and sat down beside her. Small arms touched him as if to make sure that he was real and not a part of the nightmarish monsters that had disturbed her sleep. Clark pulled her closer. "Tell me what happened, pumpkin."

For a while she just leaned in his embrace, shaken by her sobs. He kissed her hair and muttered comforting nonsense, caressing her back softly as he waited for her to calm down enough to tell him what was causing her distress. It took a while until Becca's breathing became more even and she stopped shivering. She looked up into her father's concerned eyes, her cheeks wet with tears. He gently wiped them away.

"I dreamed that someone came to take me away from you," she mumbled. "I couldn't even say goodbye. It was just like Belle and her father in 'Beauty and the Beast' when she offers the Beast to stay if he lets her father go."

"Becky, they won't take you away. I wouldn't let them. Lois has found something out that will probably help us so that we will never see those Child Service's ladies again. And even if we don't succeed, honey, don't you think that I would do anything to keep you with me? And you know what anything means, don't you?" he said and looked into her eyes.

She nodded and gave him a weak smile. He brushed a stand of Becca's hair out of her face and smiled back at her. She embraced him again and rested her head on his chest. Clark was painfully aware of the effect telling his little whirlwind about Lois might have on Becca. That would be another painful moment. But how much more painful would it be if she caught him kissing Lois before he had had a chance to explain the situation to her?

"Honey, would you like to go sledding tomorrow? Just the two of us?" Clark asked.

"Only you and me?" Becca whispered excitedly. Clark nodded with a grin.

"Now close your eyes, pumpkin, and get back to sleep. Dream something pleasant. I'll go back downstairs now." He tucked the covers around her and kissed her goodnight.

"I love you, Daddy." She said softly. Clark squeezed her hand.

"And I love you," he whispered and got up. He looked at Becca as she cuddled into her pillows and closed her eyes. He switched off the light and went out of the room. "Good night, honey." He said into the darkness and closed the door.

"Good night, Daddy," Becca replied.

When Clark returned to the living room, Lois was still wrapped up in his blanket. She lay on the sofa and was fast asleep. She looked like a princess, no matter where she was. On Lois' face was a peaceful smile; she seemed incredibly relaxed considering what he had done to her. He still suffered from a strong feeling of loss. Knowing that it had been right to stop their amorous play before they got more serious wasn't making it any easier. His body ached for her kisses; it ached for more. He was bound to live with the images in his head now. He sighed silently.

Clark thought about carrying Lois back to his room. She would certainly be more comfortable in his bed, but he wasn't so sure if it was a wise idea to touch her body again. He didn't want to disturb her peaceful sleep, anyway. He allowed himself to drown in the sight of her for another couple of minutes before he felt able to sleep. Perhaps he could continue in his dreams what had ended so abruptly in reality.

Clark floated up and stretched out in the air. It was the most comfortable place to sleep that he could possibly find, other than a bed. He felt a bit sorry for Lois. The sofa wasn't really uncomfortable, but flying was better. She would be better off going back to her bed, but he didn't have the heart to wake her, much less the courage. He just couldn't do it the rude way, which was calling her name. The soft and gentle way would only lead to further problems. Kissing her awake as the prince had kissed Sleeping Beauty wouldn't be an innocent kiss. Clark wasn't sure whether there was anything connected to touching her that wouldn't drive him insane, just like a single drop of alcohol was doom to an alcoholic.

Clark rested his head on his arms and closed his eyes. Lois' even breathing next to him and her steady heartbeat unified to the sweetest lullaby that anyone would ever have the pleasure to hear. Just a little later, he was sleeping as well.


A scream brought Clark's dreams to a sudden end. He almost crashed into his mother's favorite vase. He managed to stop his fall just barely an inch above it. Lois stared at him, open-mouthed. He should have known. A partner who floated in his sleep wasn't actually something common. Clark cursed himself for not having told her about this habit of his. He bit his lip and got a safe distance from the vase before he set his feet on the ground.

"I didn't mean to scare you, Lois," he said. "I… you were sleeping and I didn't want to wake you."

"You were floating." She gasped, still staring at him, amazed.

"You're sleeping in my bed," he stated matter-of-factly as if this explained everything. To him, it was all there was to say. Lois, on the other hand, had just been introduced to a new interesting side of Clark Kent. A smile appeared on her face and there was a gleam in her eyes that was hardly visible. But what Clark could see of it was telling him that Lois was enjoying the idea of knowing something about Superman's sleeping habits. Lois had seen him in a way that no one else would be able to witness.

Clark mused that there was much more than floating in his sleep that Lois would be the only one to experience. In fact, his parents and Becca had already seen him floating. But no one else had ever been so close to him as Lois had. He had never been so close to making love with a woman. Hadn't he stopped it, Lois would have been his first. She would be his first someday soon. And he was quite sure that she would be his only one. If by any unpleasant twist of fate they didn't end up living happily ever after, Clark was convinced that he wouldn't want another woman. He slapped himself mentally for allowing his thoughts to return to the previous night.

Lois' scream had alarmed the majority of the Kent family and soon they joined Lois and Clark in the living room. Jonathan and Martha were already dressed, since a day on the farm usually started early in the morning. Clark wondered briefly whether his parents had seen them earlier. From the very surprised expression on their faces, he figured that they had probably seen him floating in mid-air, but not Lois sleeping on the sofa.

"What happened, Lois?" Martha asked worriedly.

"Lois found me floating in my sleep," Clark explained with a shrug. His parents just stared at him intensely as if they were trying to find out if he had completely lost his mind. "I told her about my secret yesterday evening," Clark hurried to say. He knew that at least his mother would understand. She had advised him to tell Lois about his feelings, and he was pretty sure that this included telling Lois about his abilities. His mother wouldn't want him to lie to the woman he was in love with.

"You told her?" his father asked hoarsely. Clark almost heard him add that he was going to be dissected like a frog because he had told a reporter about him. But Jonathan didn't say anything more, maybe because he was stopped by Martha's glance. It could also have been Clark's expression, or a combination of both.

"Of course he did! He's in love with her!" Martha added softly to stop any argument about this before it could even start. "Uh, you told her that as well, didn't you?" She asked somewhat nervously and barely above a whisper, just in case Becca was anywhere close. Lois and Clark nodded simultaneously and his mother sighed with relief

"Oh, okay," Jonathan agreed weakly. He obviously wasn't sure if he should consider this a good thing. He had come to like Lois, but this might not be enough. Knowing that his statement wasn't strong enough to emphasize his consent, Jonathan felt forced to say something more. "You should have told her about the floating, son," he remarked dryly.

"You do that regularly?" Lois asked surprised and shot Clark another fascinated glance.

"It happens from time to time," he said with a nod.

"I've got some work to do." Jonathan obviously wanted to escape the awkward situation, maybe because he didn't consider himself to be the right person to deal with the news properly. Martha was the better person for giving advice and support. He wished everyone a good morning before he turned around to leave.

Martha chuckled, knowing her husband well enough to figure why he had left so quickly. She needed to break the spell that had been cast on Lois, Clark and herself. They needed some distraction and fortunately her granddaughter came down just in time to help her. Becca looked a little drowsy as she came downstairs on her bare feet. She tried to stifle a yawn, but her eyes were otherwise gleaming with expectation.

"It's not nice to scare all the girls around you, Clark." Martha grinned broadly as the sight of Becca reminded her of a similar situation a couple of years ago.

"Mom!" Clark protested. "It's not like I do that on purpose."

"Yeah, all right, Clark. Lois, how about some breakfast? It's the best household remedy against shocks so early in the morning." Martha took Lois' hand and dragged her towards the kitchen.

"Thank you, Martha. That sounds nice," Lois managed to say and followed Martha obediently. She didn't have much choice anyway. Besides, she was hungry.

"Good morning, Becky," Clark greeted his daughter and received a brief kiss before he went to the kitchen as well. Becca was close behind him. Martha smiled at her granddaughter and greeted her as well, before she held out a package of cornflakes and asked her whether she wanted them or preferred pancakes.

"Dad and I won't have breakfast with you!" Becca stated, smiling broadly.

"You won't?" Martha asked slightly surprised.

"We're going sledding," Becca exclaimed, thrilled. She turned around to leave the kitchen, now that she had made sure her father wouldn't forget about his promise. She hurried up the stairs to get dressed and ready for their day outside.

Lois shot Martha and Clark a puzzled glance. "What does sledding have to do with breakfast?" she asked.

"Oh, that means that the two of them will have their breakfast somewhere outside. It's one of the things I never really understood. I mean, you would think that everyone else would like to have it nice and warm. Becca is a special case. She loves picnics, and she doesn't really care about the temperature," Martha explained.

"It all started two years ago. Becca and I were in the south of Germany at that time and spent a few days in the Alps. One day, we climbed to the top of a mountain. I decided to go rather early in the morning, so that we would have enough time. We took breakfast with us, and ever since, Becca keeps insisting on this little ritual," Clark added.

Martha looked at her son and noticed the insecurity in his eyes. She could tell that he was nervous. It was impossible to ignore that Lois had been sleeping on the sofa. Martha hadn't actually seen her lying on it, but that wasn't necessary. She could tell, anyway, by the weariness in her eyes. Lois just didn't look like she had spent the night in a comfortable bed. And Clark hadn't just floated in his sleep; he had slept floating. Something had happened between them a few hours ago, she knew. Martha hoped that it had been a pleasant something. She had hoped for her son to find the one woman that would make him complete.

"You're gonna tell Becca about Lois, aren't you?" Martha asked.

"Yes, I am. I figured that I need her in a good mood to break it to her gently. I'm still clueless on how I should do that, but I will try," he muttered. "When I'm back, we can talk about everything that still needs to be explained. I bet you have a lot of questions, Lois."

"You bet I have. But take your time, Clark. I imagine this will be difficult. Have patience with her, Clark." Lois squeezed his hand quickly to give him her best wishes. She didn't envy him his fate, so much was clearly visible.

"I'm sure you'll make it," Martha said convincingly. "Lois and I will have some breakfast, and I'm already looking forward to showing her all those cute pictures of you." She winked at him and pulled Lois towards the kitchen.

"Pictures?" Lois asked excitedly, grinning. She saw Clark flinch, which made her laugh. She sounded strangely relieved, maybe because Clark's embarrassed expression reminded her that he was still the normal guy he had seemingly ceased to be after telling her his secret.


Hugh Danes sat with a couple of men who were the most loyal members of his group. Their meeting lacked the usual mysterious aura that he liked to project around himself. They were in a bright, comfortable hotel room, nothing special really. It was the only place that was available in this town. The other men who were working for him stayed in a motel way out of town. They wouldn't see him anytime before dawn. Apart from his voice and intense glance, he wasn't impressive. As soon as he had found out who had committed the theft, back in the better days of the institute, he had decided that a religiously embellished view would give him easier access to willing helpers.

The three men who were watching him now knew the truth about him. They didn't believe in the image he had made up about himself. One of them was a geologist and the second man was a physicist. The third man didn't know much about energy and natural sciences, but he was nonetheless very important. He had degrees in history, literature and ethnology. He knew everything about the techniques that were useful in influencing people, only he lacked the talent to really use this knowledge.

With the help of these three men, Hugh Danes hoped to finally reach his goal after years of tiresome research and countless setbacks. The eerie green glow that had fascinated him ever since he had first seen it was going to change his life. He had almost the entire amount that he needed. There wasn't much that separated him from reaching the critical mass. He was almost sure that there was still something left of the meteorites that had landed in Smallville so many years ago.

What they knew about the critical mass was mostly deduced from hours of discussion and based on pages and pages of calculations which most likely were incomprehensible except for his friend, the physicist. But even their pessimistic estimations promised something big. Each single piece of crystal held an immense amount of energy of its own, emitted in a formerly unknown kind of radiation. Just like the right amount of plutonium or uranium could cause a blast forceful enough to destroy entire cities, the right amount of "danesium" would allow him to rule the Earth. He didn't actually want to use the critical mass as a weapon. The mere possibility of generating it would serve as a powerful threat. And then he could use this sheer endless power source to change the face of the world forever.

"Do we have all the crystals that have been stolen?" Hugh Danes asked his confidants.

"We have the amount of danesium that was registered by Meadows. Everything has been prepared for the search of the meteorites that Meadows left here in Smallville. The Shusters are on vacation just like you suggested. Our man, whom they hired a couple of months ago, is taking care of their farm. It won't be a problem to remain unnoticed," the other geologist replied.

"That's good. Make sure that no one gets suspicious," Danes advised.

"Uh oh, that won't be easy. A field that's covered with snow isn't likely to be dug up. But I guess I can manage to find an explanation," one of his friends said and got up to leave the hotel and head for Shuster's field.

"Take care of any passersby. I don't want any witnesses, at least not before we are sure we have the right amount of *danesium*." Danes shot his friend one of his famous intense glances and awaited the other's nod. As he received it, he smiled contently and waved at the two men who were still sitting in front of him. The meeting was over.


Clark wandered through the snow. Becca was sitting on the sled and enjoyed being dragged along by her father. It was freezing cold outside, and Becca did her best to hide that she was shivering like a leaf. At least she didn't complain about the cold, knowing that Clark would tell her to walk beside him in order to get warm. She just did her best to look rather pitiful from time to time when he shot a glance at her, smiling at him with blue lips. Then he usually smiled back, lowered his glasses and warmed her up with a beam of heat vision. That was far more comfortable than having to walk, plus it was more effective.

While Becca was enjoying herself immensely, Clark's mind was busy thinking. He had absolutely no idea whatsoever how he was going to tell Becca about the new situation with Lois. He shouldn't have promised Lois anything. Now that she knew the truth, it became more difficult to lead her on. When he still had been able to claim that protecting his secret served as a valid excuse for several minor lies and broken promises, it had been easier. But it wasn't only Lois who deserved his complete honesty. It wouldn't be fair to Becca to keep this to himself longer than necessary.

Clark's train of thought was interrupted by something hard that hit him in the back. When he turned around another snowball landed right in the middle of his chest. Becca grinned at him, her lips still very blue. She already held the next snowball in her hands, and she threw it in his direction a moment later. Clark ducked away instead of warming her up again. He was slightly surprised by her boldness. She usually didn't start a snowball fight before they had had breakfast; Clark didn't know if that was because she dreaded that he would make her wait for their picnic. Maybe she was usually just too cold to put her hands into the snow. But his little whirlwind looked rather cold right now, so that couldn't really be it. Or she had figured that a little chase would warm her up more efficiently than a beam of heat vision could? Nevertheless, he accepted the challenge and gathered some snow on the ground. His snowball was bigger than Becca's. It deliberately missed her by a couple of inches. Becca laughed and threw another one at him.

"Missed me, missed me!" she shouted teasingly. Her face became a little flushed, replacing the unnatural shade of blue on her lips.

"Just you wait!" he replied and moved a couple of steps closer to her. Becca left the sled to run away, Clark a few paces behind her. Though he very much tried to give her a chance, he was soon too close to her. He couldn't but grasp her. "Got you!" he stated and lifted her up easily.

Becca squealed in protest, though she undoubtedly was having a lot of fun. He simply loved the sound of her giggles as he swung her around a few times. Then he set her back on her feet again. Her feet had barely touched the ground when she ran off once more, looking over her shoulder to make sure that her daddy was following her. He wasn't. Instead, another snowball was flying after her, hitting her back almost softly. Becca turned around and defended herself, without being too successful. She couldn't throw well enough and didn't reach Clark.

That hardly diminished Becca's motivation; she only had to change her tactic. Knowing that she would reach her goal if only she was closer, she approached him again. She obviously had forgotten about the fact that the main purpose of running away was to be not close to him. A little later, he had caught her again and swept her up in his arms. But perhaps this was exactly what she had hoped for. It was difficult to tell, and assumingly Becca wasn't so sure about this herself.

"You are my prisoner now," he stated grinning. But Becca knew where the strongest man in the world was ticklish. He winced as she laid her cold hands in the back of his neck. And a few seconds later she had found just the right spot to tickle him. He gasped with laughter and let her down again to escape her fingers. Becca, however, didn't even think of letting go of him. She clung to him and it barely mattered that she couldn't reach up to the spots she had found earlier. Just seconds later, she had found the ticklish parts of his belly, and she grinned because the effect was even better than it had been before.

Clark didn't know how it happened exactly, but a moment later, he was lying in the snow. Becca sat on him and searched frantically for a yet undetected ticklish spot. When she found that she wasn't successful, she grabbed another handful of snow and it landed on his chest.

"Who is whose prisoner?" she asked and grabbed his hands to press them against the ground.

"Okay, okay, I'm the prisoner, pumpkin," Clark gave in.

His retreat was a little too quick for Becca not to notice that something was going on. She knew that he enjoyed their little fights and only stopped them when she was visibly out of breath. He had been rather calm all morning, and her mentioning of their outing had taken him by surprise. Well, maybe surprise wasn't really explaining it. It was more like he had forgotten about it. He eventually would have remembered, but nonetheless all this had Becca convinced that he was bothered by something.

"Daddy, something is on your mind. You can tell me," Becca said suddenly and let go of him.

Clark looked into his daughter's eyes. She glanced back at him, seriously, in a way that made him almost laugh. But the short burst of joy was stopped before it made its way to his mouth. He realized that he wasn't prepared for this kind of conversation. But he had to do it now, knowing that he couldn't escape this moment forever. *Pull yourself together*, Clark admonished himself.

"Becca, I've told Lois that I am Superman," he started with what was probably the easiest part of the issue. "I felt she had to know. She won't tell anyone. I'm absolutely certain we can trust her."

Becca stared at him with huge brown eyes. "I thought this was our secret." She sounded shocked, disappointed and reproachful. She got up and stepped away from him, allowing Clark to get on his feet as well. The happiness from their earlier playful fight had completely vanished from her expression. Her glance seemed to accuse Clark of having betrayed her, which wasn't true. Clark already felt like dying, but he was well aware that this was only the first step on a stony way. The rest would be far more difficult to go.

"I never said this was our secret, Becky," he replied slowly and kneeled down in front of her, so that she was able to look into his eyes easily. "Be sure that I carefully decided whom to tell. And I won't tell anyone else. There are several reasons why I decided that Lois had to know, pumpkin." He swallowed hard. This was so simple and yet so impossible to explain.

"You didn't even tell me!" Becca complained angrily and turned away from Clark. He held her back gently and made her face him, at least the major parts of her body. She didn't look at him though, her head stubbornly turned away as far as humanly possible. Her whole stance was clearly expressing how hurt she was, how deeply he had disappointed her. Her lips shaped into a very offended pout. Becca knew that this could break her father's heart, but she didn't really care.

"That was a bad mistake, Becky, and I know that now. You were only five years old, and I didn't know how to make you understand. This wasn't easy for me. And I definitely didn't take telling Lois easily. But there is more you have to know," Clark said, trying not to sound too uncomfortable. "I like Lois, very much. I… I'm in love with her."

"No," Becca whispered. "No! You can't love her. You love me! Me!"

Never had Clark seen her so horror-stricken, not even when he had last told her that they would have to move again. And she certainly had taken learning about his strange powers a lot better than this. Her lips were trembling; salty tears were running down her cheeks. Her face was pale and her eyes were widely opened. She pulled away from him, easily so, since he didn't want to hurt her physically when he had already been so cruel to her otherwise. The insistent, yet desperate sound of her voice was stabbing into his heart like a knife. The disappointed glance of her eyes felt like she was turning that knife around in his already bleeding wound.

"Becca, but this doesn't mean that I don't love you anymore. I love you and that will never change." Clark sighed helplessly as he noticed that she wouldn't understand this, not now, not in this moment of deep hurt. "I'll be there for you, always."

The look she shot him was clear evidence that she didn't believe him. Instead, she winced at his words, shaking her head as even more tears ran down her cheek. Each of them touched Clark. His heart tightened and he felt almost unable to breathe. *Just tell her that you will give up on Lois* a tiny voice in his head pleaded for mercy as he watched Becca. But the mere idea of letting go of this fascinating and lovable woman was almost just as painful.

"But I'm not your daughter; you could leave me. You don't need to care for me!" she cried helplessly, her voice sounding accusing as if she was speaking about a given fact. As if this was something that was irrevocably going to come now that Lois had stepped into their lives. Clark swept her in his arms, shocked by her statement.

"Don't ever think that, Becky. Don't you ever think that! I am your father and that will never change, no matter what Child Services or anyone else says. I'm your dad and you're my girl." Clark held her tightly, feeling the sobs that shook her body violently. "This won't change because I have feelings for Lois. I love both of you, with all my heart. What makes you think that it would matter to me that you have another father?" he asked softly, pressing her against him firmly.

"A girl in school told me that her dad left their family 'cause she wasn't really his daughter," Becca muttered against his chest.

"You really are my daughter, honey. We might not be related, but that doesn't matter to me. You are my daughter in all the ways that count. That will not change because of Lois," he reassured her.

"Will… you… marry Lois?" Becca asked between sobs.

"I don't know, Becky, honey. Maybe," Clark replied softly and wiped away her tears. "But this will need time. Lois and I need to find out if we really want to live with each other. Real life is not like what you read in fairy tales. When real princes meet their princesses, they don't always know right away that they will live together happily ever after. They have to get to know each other. I don't know everything about Lois, and she doesn't know about me. Maybe we fit together perfectly and maybe we don't. I want to find out. I didn't want to confront you with the accomplished facts. I'm in love with Lois, so we might kiss and embrace each other. That's the reason I'm telling you, Becca. Whatever it is that will happen in the future, you are my little girl. I promised your mommy that I would take care of you and love you like you were my own child. And I do. Nothing is ever going to change that."

Becca nodded slowly. Clark could tell that she was still struggling with her fate. She began to realize that Lois was far from becoming her stepmother, yet closer than she had been before.

"If you and Lois get married, will I have to call her Mom?" Becca wanted to know.

"You don't have to, honey. That is your decision. You can call her whatever you want to, though…" he made a pause, looked into her eyes, and harrumphed before he continued. "…personally I'd prefer if you give her nice names."

Becca managed a weak smile. "Okay, Daddy. I'll try."

"You know you can come to me with whatever it is that is on your mind. If there ever is a problem, don't be afraid to be honest with me, pumpkin. I will listen. And if I refuse to listen, then remind me of today," Clark said.

"Promise?" Becca pleaded, her teeth chattering.

"Scout's honor!" Clark replied and held two fingers up into the air to emphasize his words. "You look like you're cold, Becca." He shot another beam of heat vision at her and drew her close again. "I want you to give Lois a chance, and I won't ask anything more than this. I completely understand that this is difficult for you. You and me, we have been pretty much on our own over the past years. It will mean some changes in our lives and that is never easy."

Clark got up again and a rough wind blew in their faces, carrying some loose fresh snow with it. He placed himself in front of Becca to protect her a little. She looked up at him, grateful.

"I don't have to be happy about it, do I?" Becca asked.

Clark chuckled. "No, you don't." He brushed a strand of her hair back under her cap and smiled at her. "I bet you're hungry. Let's find a place that is a little less windy and have some breakfast."

Becca and Clark continued their way, leaning against the strong wind. Of course, only Becca struggled with its force, while Clark did his best to help her. They couldn't move on just as quickly as they had before. Becca had decided to walk beside Clark, feeling that the cold would catch her in its icy grip much more quickly when she sat on the sled. Moving around helped her only a little, though, and she was clinging close to her father in order to get some of his body heat. From time to time, he warmed her up with another beam of heat vision, and they approached a shed on Shuster's property.

Clark couldn't see much of it yet, but he knew that Mr. Shuster didn't lock it. His parents had told him that the Shusters were on vacation, which was kind of strange, because Clark couldn't remember them taking even a single day off. On the other hand, it had been a long time since he had last spent more than a couple of days in Smallville and things changed. So why wouldn't the nice old couple take a second honeymoon, or whatever it was. Clark wagered that it was much more likely their first honeymoon, if anything. Clark couldn't really imagine that Mr. Shuster had ever left his animals long enough for the first few weeks after his marriage to deserve the expression "honeymoon." Anyway, the Shusters wouldn't mind if Becca and he searched for refuge in their shed.

As they came closer, Becca began to walk faster. She was looking forward to being in the slightly warmer place. It would at least protect her from the cold wind, and she knew that her father would do everything to make her as comfortable as possible. Her grandmother didn't understand that a picnic outside didn't necessarily mean it was freezing. A beam of her father's heat vision was so pleasant after having been in the cold air that it just wasn't comparable to a warm kitchen. Besides, Becca was hungry and after a walk through the snow everything seemed to taste a little better. The pancakes they had taken with them were sweeter; the hot beverage she was going to get was even more chocolaty than usual.

Clark laughed as he watched his enthusiastic daughter, and soon they were both running over to the old shed that probably consisted of more holes than wood. The cold wind was blowing heavily against them as if it didn't want them to reach their destination. Maybe Lois had convinced the wind to get him home a little quicker. If anyone was able to do that, it would be her. She was determined enough to get everything she wanted.

Clark opened the door of the shed, giving Becca a soft but helpful push inside. She shivered as the wind's force suddenly stopped. Clark closed the door behind him and smiled at Becca as she stood amidst all the old stuff Mr. Shuster kept there. Clark wondered if he was actually still using any of these antiquities. There was a scythe that was so covered with grind that it was barely recognizable. At least he didn't have to be afraid that Becca might cut herself by accident. That was pretty much impossible. As for the other things that were nailed on the walls, Clark figured that most of the tools were heirlooms from Mr. Shuster's grandparents. He might never have used them himself.

Clark warmed Becca up and then searched for a place where she could sit safely. He wondered if anything had been added since their last visit in the shed. He couldn't remember it being so crowded. As they sat between pitchforks and flails, Clark unpacked the things he had stored in his backpack. The cocoa needed a little reheating just like the pancakes. He handed Becca a cup of the steaming beverage, which she gratefully took.

"Thank you, Daddy," she said softly and smiled at him as the warmth was slowly filling her, first her hands and than from her belly through her whole body.

"You're welcome, pumpkin," he replied and poured himself some hot chocolate as well. There was enough for both of them. "I hope it helps you to get warmer. It's not exactly the right weather for such a trip. The sky should be cloudless and it shouldn't be so windy."

"It doesn't matter, Daddy. I like our trip. I'm glad that we're taking it," Becca answered and grinned at him. Her eyes were still slightly red from crying. It tore at Clark's heart. He felt bad for having destroyed her high spirits. She was slowly returning to her smiling self again. His bad timing was forgiven, for there couldn't have been a moment that would have been any better than the one he had chosen to tell her. It was forgiven, but not forgotten. There was a sad lineament to her smile that reminded him of the pain he had caused his little girl.

Clark could only hope that living with Lois would work out and be worth the trouble it was causing before it had even begun. And maybe Becca could accept Lois and forget about the fact that they had both rivaled to be the center of his attention. Perhaps everything would turn out to be easier than it now seemed to be, which was definitely desirable. They continued eating their breakfast silently, studying each other's faces as if trying to read their minds.

They weren't successful. Whether it was because reading someone else's mind was impossible, or because they were disturbed by a faint sound from afar was impossible to say. However, they both listened carefully. The sound returned and what was only something unidentifiable for Becca, Clark identified as voices. A couple of men were talking to each other. He didn't know them and was pretty sure that he had never before met them on Mr. Shuster's property. Of course, he wasn't in Smallville very regularly, but his father had told him of only one new worker who took care of the farm. This was a whole group of strangers.

As they came closer, Clark could hear more of them. There were noises which confused him as they sounded strangely like people working. It wasn't actually the right weather for work. His father looked after the animals, but in winter there was nothing to do on the fields, at least not on such a stormy and unfriendly day. He was slightly worried. Was the shed damaged and needed to be repaired right away? He couldn't see anything that looked like it might need to be restored. Clark used his x-ray vision to find out what was going on.

There were a couple of men with rather strange equipment and shovels. They were obviously searching for something, but Clark wasn't able to detect what that something could be. Kansas wasn't really known for its hidden treasures. They were too far away from the sea for any ancient pirates to have buried chests full of gold here. And the men didn't look like archeologists; besides, any scientist in his right mind would have waited for spring to come. If there were any remainders from another culture, they would remain in place.

Clark felt burdened by the fact that Becca was with him. He would rather have her safely at home. But what could really happen to her, given the fact that he was stronger than all those men together? The men were working silently, leaving Clark ignorant as to what they were doing. He wanted to know more, to dislodge them from Mr. Shuster's land, if necessary. Clark decided to do something and told Becca silently to stay put. She nodded at his gesture, and he turned around to go outside. Snow had begun to fall again, rather densely.

"What are you doing here?" Clark asked as he went around the shed. The three men winced and looked at him almost panicked. When the first shock subsided, they shot each other glances to silently agree on their next step. The shovels hit the ground and the men approached Clark. All three of them were built impressively. But Clark didn't feel the least bit intimidated. "This is Mr. Shuster's private property. Has he given you the permission to work here?"

"Yes, he has!" one of the men confirmed, but it sounded downright like a lie. Whoever had selected those men to do his work had made a rather bad choice.

"I don't think so," Clark said sternly and folded his arms in front of his chest in Superman manner. But even this gesture that usually turned the criminals he faced into whining cowards did nothing to stop the three men who were approaching him. They just smiled at him with an air of superiority that was in no way justified. Obviously the guys couldn't know that, and Clark had to remember that Becca was with him. The three men couldn't be dangerous to him, but they might very well be to her. He could be glad that she was safely in the shed. "What are you doing here, anyway?"

"That's none of your damn business," the man who had spoken earlier replied harshly. His two companions nodded. "We have the right to work here and you'd better leave right now…" His words ended with an unspoken threat that remained hanging in the air as the three closed up the distance between him and them. Clark had noticed that the men's heart rates had increased. Despite the cold wind, there was sweat appearing on their foreheads. Both were clear indications that the men were lying and got nervous because he refused to run off.

"You aren't working here with anyone's permission. And *you* are going to leave now," Clark stated and shot them his best intimidating look. It would probably have been a bit more convincing, had it not been for his glasses. They always gave him the 'geek of the week' appearance that he otherwise used to hide his powers. Right now it was hindering him, but he had to live with that.

It was just then that a fourth man started approaching. Through the dense snow he was barely visible at first. Only when he was very close could Clark see him. He was shouting something that sounded very much like "What's going on here?"

A second later, Clark himself wondered what was happening. He was struck by a searing pain that pushed the air out of his lungs. His legs gave way under him and he fell down in the snow. He managed to remain in a sitting position. But, as his hands were touching the snow, he found out how cold it really was. Within moments, his fingers were icy cold and hurting. His vision was blurry, and his mind swayed just like it had in the dark alley a few days ago. He had hoped to never experience this again, but it was happening. Only he was still awake, which could be considered as some kind of progress.

Clark looked up and saw the fourth man fumbling with something that emitted a sickening green glow. Just watching it was enough to make his stomach heave. The glow pulsed and every time it got a little brighter, a new wave of pain washed through him. It barely receded when the glow got a little weaker. Clark sensed that he had found the source of his discomfort. He needed to get away from it, as soon as possible. He took a deep breath to gather what strength he had left. The sickening green stone had already rendered him almost helpless. His limbs were trembling and felt as stable as cotton wool.

A panicky squeal indicated that Becca was watching him. Becca! She had given away where she was. And the guys around him didn't look like they would invite her to a picnic. Though it was costing a lot of effort, Clark got to his feet again. A punch landed in his stomach and sent him back down into the snow. He heard another squeal, and as Clark lifted his head, he saw that Becca had left her hideout.

*Run away*, he mouthed as she was staring at him. Clark got up again, feeling that he probably couldn't do that again. His attacker prepared to land another punch, but Clark realized it in time. He backed away and used the man's own energy to bring him to fall. He had read a lot about the Asian martial arts, which was helping him now. *Run away* he repeated his silent advice and staggered towards Becca. He could hear the men shouting behind him. They were helping their fallen friend and had obviously forgotten about him for the moment. This was the right time for him to get away. Clark didn't want to give them a chance to do something to Becca and him by staying put. He grabbed Becca's hand and together they hurried through the high snow. Their progress was annoyingly slow. Clark would have liked to carry Becca because he usually was likely to be a lot faster than her. But right now, he felt drained and powerless. All he wanted was to escape these men.

The pain receded as soon as he had made the first steps. Getting away from the green glowing object didn't make his powers return immediately, but the diminished pain alone was helping a lot. Clark panted heavily. He was exhausted and as weak as a kitten. But these feelings would have to wait. The rush of panic and fear allowed his body to use whatever resources he still had. It couldn't be a lot, judging from the soreness of his muscles. Yet it was more than he had ever expected. And they were closing in; he didn't need super hearing to know that. Besides, he was feeling the waves of pain increase in their paralyzing force. They were weakening him further. He just didn't know how much longer he could remain conscious.

"Becky." He panted. "You've gotta… run, no matter… what happens… to me. Run home."

He swayed again, his feet no longer obeying his will. He needed to run, run. Fly if he could. If only he could. His feet didn't leave the ground, not that he had really expected that to happen. Becca breathed heavily beside him. Their hurry didn't leave her the time to understand what was going on, much less ask questions. She just concentrated on her task, which was running. Dragged along by her father, and half dragging him, they made their way through the much too high snow.

The voices behind him came even closer, and the last working parts of Clark's mind wondered how they had managed to escape the men for so long. It seemed impossible and yet sent a jolt of hope through him. Maybe they would make it; maybe the men behind him would give up the chase. It was his last thought before his back exploded in pain. His ribs screamed in protest as the stem of a shovel hit him in the back. He loosened his grip on Becca's hand as all his strength finally left him.

"Run," he let out in a last sigh, but it was doubtable that anyone had heard it. The world around him dissolved in front of his eyes before he even touched the snow. He choked on a mouthful of the icy substance. He struggled to remain conscious, knowing that Becca would need him awake if she was caught as well. If they were caught, that was. Clark tried to get up once more but his sore back protested in pain.

Strong hands grabbed his arm and pulled him up until he hung almost lifelessly between two men. They were dragging him along and from what he noticed it was the direction that led to the Shuster's farmhouse. He tried to struggle against them, tried to get free. It was more like the hopeless attempt of a worm to get out of the bird's beak. A high-pitched scream told him that Becca was caught as well. Her screams filled his ears and came closer as her captor caught up with them.

How could he have been so thoughtless? Why had he addressed them? Why hadn't he just stayed in the shed where no one was going to find them? He would have endured a little pain and told Becca that everything was okay. With a bit of effort she wouldn't even have noticed. Better yet why hadn't they just stayed at home? Going sledding was just an awful idea. He could have discussed everything at home. His parents and Lois would have left them alone if he had asked them to. But this wasn't important now, anyway. He couldn't change their situation, thus had to make the best out of it.

But how was he going to tell Becca that he was still awake? That he was okay, except for the searing pain that was cursing through him? Who was he trying to fool, anyway? Even if he had been a good actor, he wouldn't have been able to hide the fact that the world around him was swimming. It threatened to fade into blackness, and every time he blinked, he tried to get his surroundings a little clearer. It was frustrating because with every minute that passed, staying conscious got a little more difficult.

His trousers were wet from the snow, his legs getting undeniably cold. Clark gritted his teeth against the new source of discomfort. The rough grip on his arms was hurting, not to mention that his whole position was anything but comfortable. But it was no use worrying about himself. Clark listened for Becca and heard her muffled cries. He was pretty sure that someone was pressing his hand against her mouth. *Bite him*, he pleaded with her silently. But that wouldn't be easy. Becca had lost a considerable amount of her baby teeth. Even if she did bite the man, it wasn't likely that she would actually hurt him.

*Kick him*, he thought. *Kick him somewhere where it really hurts.* But Clark wasn't really sure whether they had already told her about that place. Probably not, since she was only seven. He cursed himself for not having taken better care of her. *Please let her be okay,* he prayed silently. The mere idea that something could happen to his little whirlwind was enough to shoot new energy through his body. Clark used the remainders of his waning strength for a last attempt to get free. It was hopeless, though. Clark hung between his captors and struggled for air.


"Oh, look at them!" Martha exclaimed happily as she held out a picture to Lois that she hadn't seen yet.

At least, Lois was quite sure that she hadn't seen that one. Martha had an incredible pile of them. Pictures of little Clark, pictures of little baby Becca, Clark as a school boy, in his early teenage years, in his late teenage years and finally pictures of Clark with Becca in his arms. Lois wondered where Martha stored that heap of photos. The farmhouse almost seemed too small. But strange as it was, neither she nor Martha got tired of looking at all those pictures. When Martha had arrived with one album after the other, Lois had feared that it would end up being one of those endless sessions of looking at pictures taken on some vacation that was years ago. Everybody had forgotten about it and only the proud presenter did still know where all those places were. Or rather they thought so, correcting themselves over and over again until nobody was able to follow anymore.

The latest picture showed Clark at about seven years. Next to him was a girl who was a little older, perhaps by two or three years. Clark was grinning at the camera with an incredibly nice, but strangely toothless smile. Lois couldn't help the impression that he had lost every other tooth, which gave his smile an interesting touch. Even more fascinating than this was that Clark was smiling at all. Lois hadn't ever met a boy who would wear a scarf wrapped around his head like a turban and a pink tutu. A lavender feather boa was hanging around his shoulders, and his legs were drowning in grey rubber boots that were most likely his father's.

The girl next to him wore a bathing cap over her long dark hair. A much too large bikini hung loosely over her usual clothes. She had a large vest on that Jonathan Kent would usually wear for fishing, and a blanket was wrapped around her shoulders like a cape. Another feather boa, this time a yellow one, completed the outfit. Lois burst into laughter. She didn't know who of the two looked more ridiculous.

"Who is the girl next to him?" Lois asked. "Lily?"

"Yes," Martha replied with a loving smile towards the old picture. "She loved disguises and made Clark dress up in the most ridiculous ways. He wasn't always happy with it, but he adored his older cousin and did almost anything for her." There was a sad tone to her voice and Lois could feel the sadness of the older woman next to her. She had considered the girl with the broad impish smile her daughter.

"He is raising her child," Lois added.

Martha chuckled. "Did he tell you that she just came and held out her child to him? She introduced Rebecca as his daughter and told him that she had named him as the child's father. He called me that evening, furious. He said that Lily had gone too far and swore that he wouldn't help her this time. He didn't mean it, not a second. He thought that maybe he would let her handle this alone. But I already knew that he couldn't. I was worried because I knew that Clark didn't yet feel ready for this kind of responsibility. He was only twenty-one and he was scared of making mistakes. So very afraid that I think he overdid things a lot at first.

Lily was a nice girl, kind and caring, but not very considerate. She greeted each new day with a smile and didn't think much about tomorrow. Maybe it was because her tomorrows began with a breakfast in a house that was as silent as a church. I sometimes wonder how my sister survived there so long. When we were children, she just couldn't stop talking, not even for a second. Lily was very much like her in that respect.

Lily's father managed to show her every single day how unwelcome she was. He read the newspaper and no one was allowed to disturb him. Any word above a whisper was too much. When she came here, it was as if the sun was rising on her face. She was so happy here, and it was awful letting her go after a long day out on the fields."

"That must have been hard. What about your sister? Didn't she love Lily?" Lois wanted to know.

"I guess she didn't dare to show her affection. Besides, my sister didn't get pregnant again. I think she spent more time trying to give her husband the son he had demanded than she had ever had for her daughter. My sister must have really fallen in love with him. She wanted to please him and get something in return. But it never happened, and I don't know if my brother in law was capable of loving anyone but himself."

Lois glanced at Martha who was still smiling despite the sad story she told. There was something strong in Martha Kent that provided her with seemingly unbreakable spirits. She never ceased to smile, however faint her smile became. It was hidden somewhere on her lips, like a smile was always hidden on Clark's. He might not be her biological son, but he was her child in every sense of the word.

Lois pictured Lily as a girl who had longed to escape the boundaries of her childhood. She might have been a late hippie or an early punk, someone who protested against the old social conventions of life that served to cover how cruel life really was. Everything that happened in the family had to stay a secret for no one else to know. Lois could very well imagine that Lily had gotten into trouble more than once. She asked Martha what had happened before Lily had gone too far, as Clark had called it.

Martha told Lois that Lily had really been neither a punk nor a hippie. She had never been really extreme, but for the conservative climate of a town like Smallville. She had had a lot of boyfriends, more than it was considered suitable for a girl. Whenever the youth of Smallville met, Lily was the last to go and Clark had to bring her home. Sometimes she had been sober, at other times wasted. And Clark had always been the one to explain Lily's sorry state to her parents.

But it had been a give and take relationship. Lily had been there for Clark whenever he had needed to be cheered up. Lois learned that Clark had retreated from the world when his powers had started to develop. He had been afraid to participate in sports and had seldom dared go out. With each new power that appeared he had dreaded that another one would come as soon as he had realized that it wouldn't stop at being strong. Though he had never actually told Lily, it hadn't been as difficult to hide from her. She hadn't asked questions, figuring that he would tell her if something was bothering him. From her own experience of pain, Lily had known that talking about it would help. And it would help even more, if it happened without pressure.

She had been the one who listened to what Clark told her. She defended her younger cousin when someone dared mock him. Lily used to work in a small diner in downtown Smallville. She had made Lana and her new boyfriend pay twice the price of a meal after she had turned away from Clark. All in all the two of them had been some kind of old couple, even in their early days of childhood.

Lois hoped that her role in his life would be equally important someday soon. She wanted to be there for him to take away some of the pressure he was threatening to fall apart under. She knew that his problems hadn't ended with her finding out about Margaret Donovan. And honestly, she still didn't know the real source of all his problems. Lois studied Martha's face and wondered how much Clark's mother could tell her about Lily's death and its connection to Margaret Donovan.

"Martha, I was wondering if you could tell me something," Lois asked the older woman.

"Yes, dear?" Martha replied and gave Lois an affirmative smile to continue.

"I'm trying to help Clark solve his problems with Child Services," Lois explained. "He certainly wouldn't want me to, but I know that he can't do this alone. I've found out some things that might help us to get rid of them, but there are others I still need to know."

For a moment there was silence between the two women and Martha studied Lois' face as if to find an answer in it. Under the curious eyes of Clark's mother, Lois felt flustered. Had she actually come to touch a family secret just as it had always seemed to her whenever they had mentioned Child Services or Lily before? The whole secrecy thing began to annoy Lois. There obviously wasn't anything she could safely speak about without having her level of trustability checked. Lois impatiently waited for Martha to say something, bracing herself for further explanation.

"How bad is it, Lois? I mean, how bad is it really? Clark told me about Child Services. I don't know if you have already noticed it, but my son is Mr. Understatement. He'd never tell me deliberate lies. But for some reason he thinks that he's not only super strong, but has to be super brave as well. Sometimes it helps to ask Becca, but he doesn't tell her everything either."

Lois' mouth fell open. She had expected a lot, but certainly not this answer. But thinking of Clark as she had found him in his apartment a few days before, it made sense. Interestingly, she hadn't really thought about that evening since Clark had told her his secret. What had happened to Superman that he had been so close to unconsciousness when he usually was invulnerable? Lois couldn't find a suitable explanation, but something told her that neither Clark nor Martha would be able to solve that mystery.

"Clark has made a powerful enemy. Her name's Margaret Donovan. She worked for Child Services years ago here in Smallville. She is not pursuing him in person, but she makes sure that wherever he is, he gets visited by her former colleagues. You should have seen the last one; she was really awful. Clark was actually afraid of her. I've rarely seen him so pale." Lois started to tell Martha the whole story, and Clark's mother listened patiently. She was curious what Lois would like to know and how they were supposed to help Clark against the famous billionaire's wife.


Clark was lying on the cold cement floor. He could hear sobs right next to him. He was awake, had been awake for almost the entire time but for the last couple of minutes after he had been shoved down into the cellar. As he had hit the floor, Clark had passed out. Now he was shivering. The wet trousers were clutching to his legs, and his invulnerability aura that usually served to keep him warm was completely gone. His body was aching all over, his arms were bruised and he was pretty sure that there were more bruises that he didn't yet know of.

The sobbing resounded again in the darkness. The intense pain that green 'something' had brought him was gone. All that remained was an incredible soreness. Clark was tired but there was someone who needed him sobbing heart-wrenchingly in another corner of this room.

"Becca?" he asked. He could vaguely discern the shape of some furniture and other things that were all around him.

"Daddy?" she replied in a muffled cry.

"Becky, talk to me, so I can find you. It's too dark in here," Clark said, and as she answered with more sobs, he followed the noises she made. He got closer and finally he could make out his little whirlwind sitting on the floor. Her head rested on her knees as she was trying to be as small as humanly possible. She was shivering like a leaf, but Clark could tell that it wasn't from the cold. She was afraid and, unlike him, she had absolutely no idea what had happened to them.

Clark sat down beside her and pulled her in an embrace. "Come here," he murmured and held her tightly.

"I couldn't find you," she whimpered against his arm.

Clark let her cry, caressing her back softly as she was shaken by more sobs. He knew that the past hour had been horrible and full of angst. There was no way to make it better with just a kiss and soothing words. Their whole situation was a testament to the trouble they were stuck in. He really hoped that his powers would return soon to help him get them both out of this. But right now he felt incredibly drained, almost unable to move his limbs let alone break out of this dark room.

"Daddy, why are we here?" Becca screamed in panic. Clark was afraid, as well, but this had to be much worse for Becca. He knew that the time she had had to struggle alone against these men had taken a huge toll on her. She was used to his being there for her, but he hadn't been able to help. Becca was hysterical and her voice resounded loud in his ears. Clark flinched and tried to calm her as her crying became louder. "I want to go home now. Home, Daddy!" She squealed, painfully aware of the fact that there was no easy way out.

"Shhh, honey. I want to go home just as much as you do," Clark replied and realized at once that it had been the wrong thing to say. She only cried louder. His answer had only served to convince her that they couldn't get out of this. Becca had already known that, but hearing her father say it was a hundred times worse. Clark cursed himself inwardly for not having said something to give her hope.

"Then why don't we just go?" she asked desperately, tugging at his shirt to make him stand up. She pulled at his arm, frantically, forgetting that she wasn't strong enough to lift him up. "Come on, Daddy, let's go! Let's go!" she repeated.

"Rebecca!" Clark raised his voice far above the usual level he used with her. He took her by the shoulders so firmly that she could barely move. His loud voice took her by surprise and interrupted her roar. "Look at me, Becky. We will get out of here. But now I need you to be brave. You are brave, aren't you?"

He could see that she was shaking her head. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and her lips trembled. Clark got to his feet with some effort, wincing from the bruises that covered his ribs and most other parts of his body. He needed rest, just a little bit. Clark wanted to regain some strength so that he didn't feel as weak anymore.

At least he had a good idea as to where they were. The guys had dragged him though the snow towards the Shuster's farm. Chances were good that he and Becca were stuck in their storm shelter. Clark was familiar with those shelters. They weren't big, but he was quite sure that there was a light somewhere. At least a flashlight had to be in here. Any light would be good, but the shelter also meant that there wasn't any heating and it was already cold.

Clark didn't want to stay here any longer than necessary and he decided that it was probably best if he tried to free them. His glance wandered over his surroundings. He was able to see more of it, now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. He could discern the shape of a bed in one corner. Right next to it was a chest that probably contained blankets. This was rather useful to know in case he wasn't able to get out right away. In the other corner of the room was a shelf with several preserves and a few other things Clark didn't recognize. He had to find a flashlight on this shelf.

"Wait a moment," he told Becca and went to the place where he hoped to find the light.

He was slower than usual, considerably so. He hoped that nobody would be waiting for them outside so that they could escape unseen. He surely wouldn't be too successful at running away. But they had to try; giving up was not the solution to their problems. He would escape and find Lois. Together they would call the police and stop whatever crime was actually taking place here. He and Becca hadn't done anything except come across a couple of guys who were digging up Mr. Shuster's field. That they were now in this kind of situation could only mean that their captors were acting against the law. Lane and Kent would stop them and write a Pulitzer story. Then they would reorganize their lives, and there would be a happily ever after for both of them. At least Clark hoped this would happen.

This on his mind, Clark managed to walk a little more steadily and quickly searched the shelf. Only moments later he held a flashlight in his hands that was actually working. Luck was on his side, it had to be. With the light in his hands, he had a closer look at the place they were stuck in. A ladder led to a heavy looking skylight that was probably locked form the outside. Clark couldn't imagine that anybody could be dumb enough to leave the only exit opened. If it had continued to snow since they had been shoved down there, their escape would also be covered with a heavy white blanket.

*Don't discourage yourself!* Clark admonished himself silently before he went over to Becca again. She was standing close to the ladder and clutched her arms around her body to keep warm. Clark tried to use his heat vision on her, but it was futile. *Not good,* a hopeless voice in the back of his mind stated, but Clark did his best to calm it down.

"Becky, honey, please go over to that bed," he said and flashed the light in its direction to show her the way. Her face was so pale, contrasting with her red eyes that were swollen from crying. His heart ached as he saw her so defeated. Nobody should be trapped in a shelter and most definitely not a child her age. A rush of helpless anger filled him. He was angry with these men who were ruthless enough to capture a child and leave her in the darkness. And he was angry with himself for having put her in danger in the first place. He should have known; he should have been wiser.

Clark followed Becca to the bed and sat down beside her. He bent over to blow a soft kiss in her hair and embraced her. Becca wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned against him. She had stopped crying, maybe because all her tears had already been used, and there was nothing left to show her fear but the constant tremor of her muscles. It could also be the cold air, but Clark considered her fear as the more likely cause.

"I'm so sorry, honey," he mumbled. "I didn't mean for this to happen." He didn't know how to apologize properly. How could he expect anyone to feel safe in such a situation, let alone a little girl?

"It's not your fault," she replied softly, her words muffled as she pressed her face against him.

"Becca, I will try to get us out of here. I can't promise you that it will work, though. I need to be honest with you. I'm pretty weak right now. These men had something that can take away my powers. They will return, but that might take a while. But I will do my best to get us out of here now. I need you to stay here and hold the light. Don't go over to the ladder, I want to know you're safe." Clark explained and awaited her nod before he handed her the flashlight. "Everything is going to be all right, pumpkin."

"Be careful, Daddy," Becca pleaded and pressed herself against him. "I need you."

"And I need you, honey," he replied. "I'll be right back."

Clark kissed Becca on the cheek and tousled her hair softly before he and got up. He went over to the ladder and climbed it. In Becca's trembling hands, the cone of light that was emitted by the flashlight wandered restlessly up and down, one moment lighting Clark's way and leaving it again a moment later.

"Becky, try to hold it a little steadier, please," Clark asked, and in response, he saw a little more of the ladder as he climbed it. Beads of sweat were streaming down his face as his task proved to be more of an effort than he had first assumed. *Not good,* the pessimistic voice in his mind repeated, this time louder and not as easy to fight back. He needed to feel capable of this, if anything. If he was loosing hope right away this would lead him nowhere but back to the bed without having managed to do anything.

He approached the massive skylight that seemed threatening enough in his weakened state. Clark steadied himself on the ladder, trying to stand there as safely as possible before he lifted one arm to press it against the door. He pressed against it with all his force, but it didn't move even a fraction of an inch. He took his second arm to be able to use more pressure, but the skylight remained stubbornly in place. Clark panted at the effort and even more sweat was running down his face and back. His shirt felt clammy under the jacket, and he could really be grateful that it was only chilly and not windy in this shelter.

Clark groaned heavily as the door still refused to move. His muscles protested painfully, still sore from his encounter with the mysterious green glowing stone. What was left of his strength was seeping out of him, leaving him exhausted and gasping for air. His mind was swimming and black dots were appearing in front of his eyes, warning him that he would faint if he didn't stop his fruitless efforts soon. He pushed against the door one last time with all his force, but finally had to give in. He would only end up crashing on the ground after losing his balance. With a broken neck he wouldn't be very useful to Becca. As much as it pained him, they would have to wait until he was stronger. Clark bit back a curse and climbed down the ladder, feeling somewhat relieved as his feet touched the solid ground.

He went over to her again, limping on his weak legs, and sadly shook his head.

"I'm not strong enough, pumpkin," he muttered and sank down on the bed.

His clothing was wet and he could tell that Becca's wasn't any drier. She had to get out of them before she caught pneumonia. And he had better do the same. Since his powers and invulnerability were all gone, he probably would be in danger of getting sick as well. By no means was this something he was willing to try.

Becca only stared at him, her expression disappointed at his admission. He seriously couldn't blame her for it. Just like him she had hoped that their being trapped was nothing but a short unpleasant episode in their lives. Now that this hope was shattered, her heart sank to unknown depths. He could very well understand her. But before he tried to cheer her up again, he had to keep her warm.

Clark got up once more and went over to the chest he had seen previously. He hoped that his guess had been right and there were nice and dry blankets in it, preferably a couple of them.

He was lucky for the Shuster's were very careful and tidy people. They had several blankets stored in their shelter, though the tornado season wasn't actually in winter. But Mrs. Shuster had obviously been afraid that one of her loved ones might feel uncomfortable and had done her best to avoid that. Clark had hardly ever felt something so fluffy and warm. Not that his mother wasn't very protective of her family, but Mrs. Shuster had certainly her own ideas about perfection.

For now, he was rather happy about this character trait, though at other times it had given him a hard time. It had never been possible to step into the Shuster's farmhouse without receiving a raised eyebrow from Mrs. Shuster, the worst punishment she was capable of. No matter how hard he had tried to clean his shoes at the front door, no matter how early he had taken them off, it had never sufficed to keep the floor of her kitchen as tidy as it was before he had come into their house. Mrs. Shuster's raised eyebrows had been dreaded amongst the children of Smallville. Lily had been a master at imitating her, making them all laugh and shudder at the sight of it.

Clark sighed as he was suddenly reminded of Lily. He had disappointed her; he hadn't been able to keep Becca safe like he had promised her, like he had promised himself on that horrible night. When he hadn't been able to rescue Lily, he had vowed that he would never allow anyone to harm his little girl. And yet he hadn't been able to keep her out of the hands of madmen. Clark swallowed down his pain and the tears that were threatening to come. He needed to be strong for Becca, if this was all he could do.

"We need to stay here, don't we, Daddy?" Becca asked, and he could hear the lump of fear in her throat.

"Yes, pumpkin. I'm afraid this is all we can do for now. We need to stay warm. Get out of your wet clothes, dear," he said softly. "I've found some warm blankets. They will help us."

Becca nodded obediently and took off her jacket and trousers. Clark followed her example and soon they both stood there in t-shirt and underwear. They quickly slipped underneath the thick warm blankets, both shivering until their body heat had warmed the blanket. Becca was sitting on Clark's lap, leaning against him. He wrapped his arms around her.

"Are you warm enough, Becca?" Clark asked. "This might take some time, and I want you to tell me if you get cold. This is not the time for heroism."

"Don't be afraid, Daddy. I'm not a heroine," Becca whispered and looked at him. "My feet are cold."

"I'll rub them warm," Clark offered and gently kneaded her feet with his fingers until they felt warmer.

"You're pretty warm, Dad." Becca remarked and pressed herself more firmly against him.

"I guess I'm running a fever," Clark admitted. Like he had said, this was no time for heroism. Not on his part or on Becca's. He needed to be honest with her, someone she could model herself on. Clark was pretty sure that it wasn't cold enough down here that they were really facing the possibility of freezing to death. He was bruised and Becca knew it. He needed her to trust him if they were supposed to go through this together. He had deliberately violated her trust in him earlier this day. Truth was an important part in their relationship. "I don't feel so good right now. But I'm sure it will be better soon."

"What did they do to you?" Becca asked and gently caressed the back of his hand to soothe him. Clark smiled at her comforting gesture, feeling that everything between them was going to return to normal again.

"I'm not sure, Becca. I always thought that there was nothing that could injure me. But that isn't true, obviously. These men had some sort of stone. It is green, and when I came near it, my power vanished and I became vulnerable." There was no need to tell her about the searing pain that he felt. He could tell that he had already worried her. Becca wasn't used to a father who had to be careful with knifes and who couldn't protect her from villains. "Did you feel any different, Becky, when the men were near us?"

"I was afraid," Becca replied. "I am still afraid."

Clark breathed a sigh of relief. Fear was bad enough, but he didn't want to see his little girl in pain. Clark didn't know what he was going to do if anyone ever hurt her. He was probably going to kill them, even if he didn't mean to. But so far she looked rather unharmed, at least considering their situation. As much as he would have liked to help her, this wasn't possible for the moment. He had to regain his strength, and then he would get them both out of here. If he tried too soon, he would only spend his strength in a useless effort. That wouldn't help them in any way and only serve to keep them stranded in this shelter even longer.

"We are safe for now, Becca," Clark reassured her. "We only need to wait a little while. I guess, we have more time to discuss things than I planned," he stated wryly.

"Do you really love Lois?" Becca asked, trying to distract herself from the darkness around her. "And how do you know she loves you too. That's important, isn't it?"

She had her eyes closed, not willing to open them before her daddy told her that he was all right again and would bring her away from this terrible place. She didn't want to see the shape of the ladder her daddy had climbed earlier only to realize that he couldn't help her. A rush of disappointment had washed over her and while she consciously knew that it wasn't his fault but the bad guy's, she couldn't help but be angry with him. She was so used to his making the world a better place for her whenever there were moments of distress that she could hardly believe this wasn't possible right now.

Of course, it wasn't rational any more than it was rational to blame it on Lois. Becca didn't know much about the relationships of adults. She had never really wondered about how they ended up together in real life. Other than in fairy tales, she had never experienced it, for her grandparents had already been together. But one thing was obvious for Becca, Lois hadn't exactly set out to be the woman her father would fall in love with. She had been mean to him, mean in a way that he couldn't have been mistaken for affection.

"Yes, Becky, that's very important," Clark interrupted her thoughts. "Well, honestly I fell in love with her because I was fascinated by her enthusiasm for her work and her temper from the moment I first saw her."

Becca pulled a face and let out a sigh of disapproval. Clark laughed at the sound and tousled her hair. She didn't understand how he could honestly have been fascinated by someone who had called him a hack from Nowheresville. Lois Lane hadn't noticed him until the moment when there had been absolutely no other way. She hadn't hidden the fact that she wasn't keen on being partnered with him.

"Oh, Becky. Love isn't always rational. And I said I was fascinated. I like how strong she is, but that doesn't mean I liked how she treated me at first. I could see that this was some kind of self-defense. I think Lois is afraid to let anyone see the weaker sides of her. This was when I decided that I wanted to know her better, wanted to see the reasons behind her behavior. And what I found is a nice woman under her defensive attitude," Clark continued his explanation.

"So when?" Becca insisted to have him tell her the exact date and time.

"I guess it was on Christmas Eve that I couldn't deny anymore how I felt for her. That was before she told me that she had feelings for me as well. That happened yesterday after you had gone to bed."


"What are we going to do with the guy and the girl?" The man who spoke tried to look impressive, but he seemed rather ridiculous now, given his black eye. He silently cursed the weakling who had hardly been able to defend himself, but for the amazing shiner that had once been his right eye. It was embarrassing, particularly since his two companions stood completely unharmed beside him.

Neither of them could really see the man in front of them. He remained in a dark corner of the room, and there was nothing but a shade indicating that he was there at all. The shade got up, rising to an impressive height. He looked down at them. Their boss's eyes were almost gleaming in the dark. He stared at the three men in front of him intensely. The man with the shiner would have killed anyone who would ever dare call him a coward, but now he was afraid. He thought about all the things they had taken care of. They had firmly closed the entrance of the storm shelter. Their fourth man was having a look at the shelter fairly regularly. He couldn't possibly have done anything wrong.

Their boss had advised them to take care of any passerby. Of course he hadn't done it in person, but nonetheless. If there had been a misunderstanding, the boss surely wouldn't blame him, would he? But there was no way to be really sure about this. They hadn't been working for him for a long time, yet, and he had warned them all that these days were the most important steps to their ultimate goal. They were approaching the day when the boss would finally get the respect he deserved, from anybody not just the people who already followed him. In his wisdom, he was always right. Even if the man with the black eye didn't really understand much about the green glowing stones and the large energy source, he was pretty sure that the boss would know what he was talking about.

"The guy and the girl…" their boss said in a low voice. They had to listen carefully to hear his words. "Do you know who they are?"

Panic was rising inside the men who were standing in front of him. Hugh Danes saw it with a certain feeling of content. His old friend was right; it was so easy to influence people and the best weapon was fear. They wanted to please him, but there was just never a way to be good enough. Of course, they didn't know who the guy and the girl were. And there wasn't actually a good reason why they should have asked. It was good that they hadn't because that now provided him with the chance to let them think they had failed. They would be eager to please him the next time, only to stumble into the next pitfall he would set up for them.

Hugh Danes let out an unduly frustrated sigh. "Of course, you don't," he said as if he was talking to little and annoyingly stupid children.

They flinched at his words, their expressions guilty as they awaited his orders. He let them wait, knowing that with every second of silence their fear would increase. As long as he was silent, their minds would play tricks on them, feeding them in with all sorts of horrible punishments he could have in store for them. He counted the seconds, while he was waiting to speak again. His friend had taught him so. Hugh Danes was far too impatient for the role he played. And he knew it. But this farce was necessary to achieve the power he longed for so much. Usual people only dreamt of being famous and powerful, but he would turn this dream into reality. And as long as he hadn't reached his goal, he needed to play this stupid act. And count the seconds. After an unholy long time, he could speak again.

"Don't let them go away. For now I want them alive, so take good care of them. I might want to talk to them later," he said somewhat mysteriously and went back to his chair in the dark corner of the room. Before he sat down, he shot the three guys in front of him a glance that clearly indicated that their presence was no longer desired. They quickly made their way out of the room. Every single one of the three seemed to be as relieved as if he had just given them a second life. They were forgiven.

When the three men were gone and assumingly too far away to overhear anything, a second man, who had been hiding in the darkness, left his safe place. He applauded with a grin on his face, his eyes were wet with tears and he seemed rather shaken.

"Brilliant, Hugh, absolutely brilliant," Jack the aesthetic academic said, giggling lightly. "Too bad, I can't do it. Would be lots of fun, I believe." He laughed harder and tears of joy streamed down his face. "I really shouldn't be in the room when you are giving this show. It's just hilarious."

"I don't know what's so funny about it, Jack," Hugh Danes replied good-naturedly. He studied his friend's face and recognized a lot of the things he had so much liked about his roommate back in their university days. His good humor never left him, and he was too much of a prankster for anyone to take him seriously.

"Oh, it is funny, Hugh. Don't you remember the first night that you returned from your new job at the Smithsonian as scientific assistant? What did our beloved Mr. Meadows call you?" Jack, his philosopher friend, asked with a slightly wicked grin. He was about the only person on this planet who could smile at Danes like that.

"Freshman," Danes growled, still angry as the memory resurfaced.

"And what did you do?" Jack laughed madly. "*Nothing.* You just let it happen. Did you look at those guys? They carried their hearts in their boots! I call that a change!"

"I call that a farce," Danes replied. "But I have to admit that it feels pretty good to see those guys flinch at the mere sight of me. There were times when they would have pushed me around if I had tried to give them orders. But thanks to you, they are obeying my every word and are grateful if I only call them idiots."

He looked at his eldest friend and fell silent. Even now, when they were already so close to making their dreams come true, he still couldn't really believe that his life had changed so dramatically. Soon the world would see that it wasn't wise to snigger at people like him. They had already stopped calling him a geek and they would soon stop smiling. With this new source of power and destruction he would make sure that he got the respect he deserved. He would never ever allow anyone to look down on him again. Together with his three friends, he would become wealthy and powerful and all the things he had always dreamed of.

"What comes now, Hugh?" Jack asked and his expression turned serious, which was rare.

"How much Danesium have they found yet?"

"It's almost enough, at least Dan says so," Jack chuckled at the word almost. Dan was well known for the fact that he just couldn't make up his mind. Whenever he made a statement, there was a word in it that allowed him to escape the real decision. The friends still liked to tell each other the anecdote of going to lunch with Dan. It had ended with Hugh ordering Dan's meal because Dan couldn't pick one.

"Well, then I guess we could need your help to prepare our first series of blackmail letters. Is your writing hand all right?"

"Couldn't be better." Jack grinned and kissed the fingertips of his right hand before he left Hugh Danes alone.


"Martha, where is he?" Lois asked impatiently as she looked out on the fields around the farm for the thousandth time. The footprints Clark and Becca had left in the snow were long gone. It was snowing crazily and Lois was getting worried. Of course she consciously knew that even a blizzard couldn't hurt Clark, but his absence was nonetheless frightening her.

"He'll come back, Lois," Martha stated confidently and laid a hand on Lois' shoulder to calm her down. "They usually spend quite some time on the fields. There is nothing to worry about." She looked at the younger woman next to her and smiled in silent contentment knowing that her son had found a woman he could love. Though Martha knew Lois for no more than two days, she had come to like her. She could see that she deeply cared for Clark, and that was pretty much all that was necessary to win her heart.

"But it's been five hours already, Martha. I know he can take care of himself, but won't Becca get hungry and cold?" Lois objected and started pacing through the room again.

"He takes good care of her, and I doubt she will get cold," Martha grinned and gestured towards her eyes. "You know about his heat-vision thing, don't you?"

Lois nodded absently and stared at the still empty field. Snow was falling even more densely, and Lois started to fear that they would soon be stuck inside the farmhouse, unable to get through the high snow. She wasn't used to so much snow. In Metropolis it rarely remained on the streets, rapidly removed by the city services. But why should anyone bother to remove snow from the fields? It was a pointless question and Lois knew it, but these kind of silly thoughts distracted her from the feelings of deep worry that were building up inside her. She had the strange impression that something was seriously wrong, though she couldn't have explained why.

"It pleases me beyond belief to be able to talk to you about all this," Martha stated, interrupting Lois' train of thought. "I've never been able to speak about him with another woman, well, assuming that Becca doesn't yet count as one."

"I guess she doesn't," Lois replied with a shrug and forced her concentration back on what she had been discussing with Martha earlier. She tried to ignore the uneasy feeling that had gotten hold of her. "Martha, we need to stop Mrs. Donovan's irrational chase. But I've no real idea how I could manage this. All I know is that all this has got something to do with Lily's death. But Clark refuses to tell me anything about it, and I hoped that you would be able to help me solve that mystery."

Martha nodded slowly and gave Lois a somewhat apologetic look. "That's difficult, dear," she said and took Lois' hand in hers to lead her over to the sofa in the living room. They both sat down. "The truth is I don't know very much about it either. I'll tell you whatever I can, though I have to admit that I doubt it will help. I've often tried to make Clark tell me about that night, but he is very reluctant to do so. I guess you already know how stubborn he can be at times. So I don't know anything besides the official version, really. Lily, my sister and my brother in law — all three of them died in a car accident. It had been a rainy night and somehow my brother in law must have lost control over his car. He collided with a big oncoming truck. The emergency services stated that they were killed instantly; there was no way to save them. For some reason, Clark was never able to accept that. I know he blames himself for her death, though I could never make him tell me why. In the first weeks I thought it was the shock. I know that Clark arrived at the scene only minutes after the crash. The police interviewed him repeatedly to be sure that this really had been an accident and not intentional. Since they couldn't find any hint that my brother in law had tried to stop the car, this was one of the possibilities. But after a thorough investigation, it was confirmed that it had been a tragic accident…"

Martha's voice trailed off and Lois looked at her, dumbstruck. When Becca had told her that Clark never spoke about it, she had thought it was because of Becca's age. It had made sense to Lois that he would tell her a little white lie, making her think that nobody knew. She just couldn't imagine Clark telling her that she would have to wait until she was older. That was an awful comment, and Clark knew so well what would upset Becca. He could easily make her do what he wanted to without ever giving her the impression that he was forcing her.

Martha's answer both surprised and disappointed Lois, and the sad look in Martha's eyes showed her that the older woman had noticed it. Lois felt a sudden rush of guilt wash through her, for it just couldn't be Martha's fault that Clark kept such important things to himself. Lois cursed him inwardly. His stubbornness was going to do him no good. Whatever had happened on the night of Lily's death, it just couldn't be bad enough to justify his silence. There were times when Clark was unforgivably foolish, and she would certainly tell him so when he showed up again.

Lois' heart skipped a beat and her stomach heaved uneasily. *If he came back.* The thought settled down in her mind, poisoning her slowly with its sickening force. It was irrational; Clark was a grown man and he was Superman, for Heaven's sake. He was invulnerable, even bullets couldn't hurt him. What could snow possibly do to him? There was nothing to be afraid of, and yet Lois couldn't help it, her hands were trembling. Something was terribly wrong, though she couldn't say why she felt this way.

"Martha, where is Clark?" Lois repeated her earlier question, her voice now barely above a whisper.

"Lois, he will come back," Martha said, but failed at sounding reassuring. "After all he is…" she didn't finish her sentence, suddenly remembering his call, early on Christmas Eve. "Christmas," she muttered anxiously, her hands now shaking just as much as Lois'.

Lois knew instantly what she was talking about, and she went pale at the mere memory of Clark lying in the middle of his living room, fighting to remain conscious. Had she really thought about the fact that it had been Superman lying there? But then, she had barely had time to consider this, given that he had only told her yesterday. Only yesterday… It seemed like ages ago that he had made his confession, that she had admitted her own feelings. She wanted him to come back; there was still so much she needed to ask. Besides, she longed for his touch, for his passionate kisses. He should sweep her up in his arms and tell her that he would never leave her again. Staring out at the snow covered but otherwise empty fields, Lois realized that she was not just worried, but actually missing him desperately.

She tried to convince herself that Becca and Clark would probably show up the next minute, unharmed. They would happily tell her about their day outside and all her worries would be forgotten. But what if Clark had come across whatever had made him so weak the day before Christmas? He wouldn't be able to protect Becca then, even though he would surely die trying. The mere thought made her afraid, though Lois kept reminding herself that there was no reason, yet. But her mantra didn't help, and the longer she denied her own uneasiness, the worse it got. Lois didn't really expect Martha — or Clark — to know what had caused his weakness.

With a heavy sigh, Lois decided that facing her fears was the best way to cope with them. If something really had happened to Clark, she needed to find out what it was. Maybe he would appear on the doorstep in the meantime; she really hoped he would. Breathing in and out slowly, Lois recollected her thoughts. Analyzing the situation was the key.

What did they know, she wondered? They had come to Smallville because they were trying to find a connection between a series of arsons in Metropolis and a man who had spent his life researching a meteorite that had landed in Smallville. It was likely that he had not only burned down houses but had also caused a train to derail. He had killed people and probably just to find something. Clark had told her about some pieces of — Heaven knew what — a group of men from the Smithsonian had mentioned. Could they be pieces of the meteorite? Was Hugh Danes searching for them after they had vanished out of his lab? But why should he kill people to get pieces of an old rock, or whatever it was, even if it had actually traveled through space?

Lois knew that it was nothing but wild speculation, but it was the only real theory that she had so far.

"Martha, what can you tell me about the meteorites that landed in Smallville?"

"Not much. Only that we found our son that same night. I might have seen them once. There were strangely green glowing crystals around his ship. I didn't pay much attention to them; I only had eyes for the sweet little baby boy who lay so silently there and just looked at me with his huge brown eyes. About a month later, there were strange visitors in Smallville. From what you and Clark told me, I assume that they were scientists. There were all kinds of speculations as to what they wanted. They never exactly told anyone. They just appeared and vanished almost as quickly as they had come."

And maybe they had come back now to look if there were more meteorites, Lois thought. It was nothing but a weird theory, but Lois felt unable to just look out on the fields and do nothing but wait for Clark to return. The mere thought of sitting around caused a new wave of worry to rise up inside her. She needed to do something. She asked Martha where Clark and Becca usually went and Martha gave her a description of Clark's favorite places throughout Smallville, including the place where he had been found. Before Martha had really ended her explanation, Lois had already grabbed her coat to go out searching for Clark and Becca.

Martha held her back. "I'm worried as well, dear. But wait for Jonathan to come with you, he knows the area and out in this snow, you'd probably get lost without him."

Lois nodded and Martha left the living room to get Jonathan. She wouldn't need to wait long, Lois told herself, but she nonetheless started to pace through the room. She wasn't used to waiting before she could get started. She sighed impatiently. It was crazy. She couldn't expect Clark's father to be ready in just an instant. But no matter what her mind was thinking, her heart was already racing. She was in her investigative reporter mode and Heaven knew that it took the force of an army to stop her then.

Lois glanced at the door Martha had closed behind her just a couple of minutes ago. Unfortunately, Clark's mother was right. It would be wise to take Jonathan along. She would be faster if she knew where to go. Without him, she would probably spend most of the time searching the way to the Shuster's field. The densely falling snow wasn't exactly going to help her and, with the fields all white, orientation was becoming difficult.

Even though she kept struggling with her decision, Lois knew that it was best if she simply did what Martha had asked her to. She stayed put and tried to get over her own impatience. Martha and Jonathan would return pretty soon and she could wait that long.


Clark had fallen into an uneasy sleep; it was more like dozing anyway. From time to time he was awoken by a light kick from Becca. She was still lying on his chest, safe and warm in his arms. It didn't seem so cold anymore, and Clark was relieved because he knew people could freeze to death when they weren't moving about. But his feverish state had most likely played tricks on him. It wasn't as cold in here as he had first assumed, and he was indeed feeling better now.

Becca was dreaming in his arms, she muttered sleepy words he couldn't really understand and she moved from side to side. The need to hold her more firmly and another kick against his leg brought him to wakefulness. He opened his eyes and was still greeted by darkness. But he wouldn't have expected it to be bright in the shelter and in a few hours it would get dark outside. Clark was glad that, despite the lack of light, he hadn't yet lost his sense of time.

Becca became more restless and Clark decided to wake her. He patted her on the arm and softly called her name until she stilled in his arms and slowly came to.

"Wake up, honey. You're just dreaming," Clark said soothingly.

"Daddy?" she replied drowsily and turned her head towards him. Clark smiled at her and ran his hands through her hair comfortingly. She moved around to face him and with a bit of Clark's help she was lying on her stomach and looking at him.

"Everything's okay, pumpkin. The dream is over. Wanna tell me about it?" Clark asked and brushed a strand of her hair out of her face. He didn't know how much she could really see of him, but he hoped that his encouraging smile would do its work.

"Don't remember much. I think I dreamt of you between the bad guys." She let out a pained sob. "I was so afraid. I wanted to help you, but…" Her voice trailed off as she remembered her fear and agonizing helplessness.

"Shhh, it's okay, Becky. You couldn't have helped me. Don't feel bad about it. I'm sorry you had to go through this. I'd have liked to spare you this nightmare. But I promise you we will get out of here, and we will get rid of Child Services, too. New Year's Eve is coming soon, and it will be the beginning of a new life for both of us. No more moving around, no more fear of discovery. Any more wishes, honey?" he asked gently.

"A day at the beach?" Becca suggested excitedly. "Going somewhere warm?"

"Granted," Clark chuckled. "Would you mind if Lois joins us?"

"I guess that's okay," Becca replied graciously. She planted a small peck on her father's cheek and wrapped her arms around him. "Just get us out of here as soon as possible," she pleaded.

Clark checked on his powers, but if they had indeed returned, it was only marginally so. He definitely felt back to full human strength, which was good for a start. Given his well-built body, he was pretty strong even if he didn't have his powers. But it was difficult to say how much his human strength would help him. There was no way to find out but to try. Clark decided to have a closer look at the door of the storm shelter, which would most definitely be more effective now that his head wasn't hurting anymore and he felt reasonably healthy.

"Please move off of me, Becky. I'll see what I can do. You stay under the blanket and try to keep warm," he said and helped her move to his side.

Clark swung his legs over the side of the bed and felt the cold air on his bare skin. He grabbed for his clammy trousers and pulled them on. It wasn't helping much, but at least he could try to convince himself it did. His powers were still gone; otherwise the coldness wouldn't have been more than a chilly tickle, just enough to let him get a general idea of the temperature around him. Clark bent down to Becca and blew a kiss on her forehead and made sure that the blanket was firmly wrapped around his little whirlwind. Then he took the flashlight and went over to the ladder once more.

This time, he had a more careful look at the door, figuring that he would still be too weak to just push it away. This was going to be more of a battle of the mind than a battle of strength. Fortunately, the strange green rock didn't have the power to turn him into a blithering idiot. At least he hoped not. He blinked away the thoughts, since they weren't going to get him anywhere and concentrated on the door.

It was made of a heavy looking metal. Between the two wings of the door, he could see a small stripe of sky and big chains that secured the door firmly from the outside. He wouldn't be able to use enough pressure on it to break the metal, so much was sure. Clark sighed unhappily and continued to study the door above him. It was rather new and the metal looked pretty strong. He had silently prayed for rust, which he could break eventually. But it didn't look good. He let out another sigh and turned his glance towards the hinges. They were another potentially weak link and these seemed really old and rusty.

New hope flared through Clark, and he started to apply pressure on the hinges to see if they would move. But with just his fingers he didn't stand a chance. Clark cursed and bit his lip a moment later. Becca wasn't supposed to hear words like this. But being the perfectly nice little girl she had chosen to be today, she pretended to have missed the bad words.

Clark descended from the ladder and went over to her again, sinking on the bed beside her.

"Doesn't look good, pumpkin," he mumbled dejectedly.

Becca laid her small hand on his back and stroked it. "You'll be strong soon," she said reassuringly, her voice trembling at her obvious lie. She tried to soothe him, but didn't really believe her own words. Clark smiled faintly and pulled her close.

"It might take a while, honey," he replied trying not to sound too pessimistic.

"I'm hungry, Daddy," Becca said quietly. She was unsure whether it was decent to ask for food in a moment like this.

"I'll have a look if I can find something, Becky. The Shusters usually are prepared for everything; I bet I'll find something." Clark tousled his daughter's hair and went over to the shelf.

He found some tins and had a closer look for an opener. He would think about a way to heat it up later. The shelf was full of amazing things and Clark wondered briefly why Mr. Shuster kept several ropes, buckets and an old dog bowl in his shelter. He didn't even have a dog. There was an old sewing machine in one corner of the shelf and a rusty toolbox in another. Next to it was a box full of candles that were burned down to stumps. Clark stopped dead, and his glance wandered back to the toolbox. There had to be something inside that would help him.


Lois and Jonathan were both wandering through the high snow, getting closer and closer to the Shusters' farm. They had agreed on starting the search there since Jonathan knew that Clark used to take a break in the Shusters' old shed. They had already come past it and hadn't found anyone there. The lonesome shed had left them worried nonetheless. The backpack Clark had taken with him was lying there, forgotten. And right next to the shed, someone had tried to dig a hole into the ground. They hadn't been too successful since the ground was frozen deeply. However it was clearly visible that someone had been trying to work there.

Right after seeing that, Lois and Jonathan had hurried to get closer to the Shusters' house. What they had found in the shed certainly served as evidence that Clark and Becca had been there and that something was going on. Lois had felt like her stomach had suddenly turned into a bucket of ice, and she didn't want to think of the face Jonathan had pulled as he had found the backpack. His growl had been frightening, and Lois had gotten an idea of what Jonathan might look like if he were angry.

Lois shook her head and forced her concentration back on her way. She could now see the farm that was nicely covered by snow. It looked rather empty and Lois wondered whether they might be wrong, and there was no one there after all. She was worried. If they didn't find Clark here, where could he be? And how had the men managed to overpower him, assuming that they had really taken him. She couldn't really imagine that Clark would just disappear with Becca without telling anyone where he went.

No, something had to have happened, and she was determined to find out what it was. Lois felt uncomfortable as the two of them walked over the fields. They were likely to be seen and all Lois could do was hope that the snow was still falling densely enough to provide them with some cover. Hopefully the villains, if they were there that was, were too busy to watch the area around the farm. Apparently they were, because Jonathan and Lois made it all the way to the back of the barn without anyone coming after them.

"Where could Clark be?" Lois asked anxiously as she pressed herself against the wooden wall of the barn. She looked around the farm, but there were no footprints in the snow. If anyone was here they hadn't come out for some time.

"I've no idea," Jonathan whispered back nervously. He felt awkward standing behind his neighbor's barn in such a conspiratorial way. It strongly reminded him of James Bond, except that the secret agent would surely not hide behind an old barn. "Let's have a look inside this barn," he suggested trying to be helpful. If anyone, Lois was the investigator of the two of them, but she seemed to be just as clueless as he was.

She nodded her agreement and Jonathan made his way to the door, carefully avoiding being visible to anyone who might be looking through the windows of the farmhouse. They both tried to be as silent as possible, in case anyone was in the barn. Slowly they moved forward and winced as the snow crunched under their feet. They stopped dead at every sound they heard, afraid that someone was coming after them. But still no one did, and they had almost made their way down the far side of the barn towards the door when a soft whistle ultimately stopped them.

A man was approaching the barn from the other side, and both Jonathan and Lois heard their heart pounding loudly in their ears. They held their breath, nervously waiting for the whistler to come around the barn, but he didn't. Instead, they heard a jarring sound coming from the door and a thud as it fell shut. Lois looked at Jonathan who had gone rather pale and let out his breath between clenched teeth. His expression was clearly indicative of the fact that he had come close to having a heart attack. A farmer just wasn't born for this. Lois couldn't deny that she was pretty relieved herself that whoever had come over to the barn hadn't seen them.

"What have we got, Dan?" came the voice of a man, muffled by the wall but still audible, for the barn had lots of knotholes in it.

"This should be enough Danesium, Hugh," replied Dan, who sounded rather nervous. "I guess there can't have been much more, anyway. The destruction reported back in 1966 allows this assumption, at least according to my estimations."

"Right, Dan, I trust you," Hugh replied. "How long will it take for you to build both the weapon and the machine to use the energy generated by this element?"

"A couple of days…could be a week, maybe longer…" Dan said.

"Just get it ready, I'm sure you'll manage. I've gotta go now and think about what we'll do with the man and the child," Hugh muttered ponderingly. "I asked Jack to prepare for blackmail. You better be ready as soon as possible if we want this to work. Washington will have to pay a lot if they don't want their White House painted in a sickening green radioactive substance. We don't need to tell them that the radiation is completely harmless to humans." His laughter made Lois' stomach heave. "And unbeknownst to them they will sponsor us to get the energy monopole for the entire United States. I love a good plan."

The rest of the conversation wasn't audible, and Lois couldn't do anything but have a look inside through one of the knotholes. The barn was slightly illuminated by an eerie green glow. All across the floor lay pieces of a rock that emitted the radiation. Two people were standing in the room, their faces barely visible. Lois looked back at Jonathan who seemed to be just as shaken as she was. Whatever was going on inside, it augured badly.

"We need to get the police!" Lois mouthed to Clark's father, and he readily agreed with a nod. "And we need to find Clark quickly. I don't want to think about what they will do to him and Becca," she whispered, her voice as low as humanly possible.

Jonathan nodded once again, but remained still. He wasn't able to believe what he had just heard with his own ears. Someone wanted to blackmail the government and had chosen Smallville, of all places, as their headquarters. That was more than odd and certainly nothing he had ever expected to experience, being the regular Joe he was. For a moment Lois couldn't decide what their next step should be. She certainly knew what her tasks were, but never before had she felt so nervous as she stumbled right into the story of the year.

She shook her head to clear her mind and suddenly she was Mad Dog Lane again.

"You go and get help," she advised the older man beside her. "You'll surely be quicker than I can ever be, and you know people around here. They probably won't think you've gone crazy. I'll try to find Clark."

Jonathan nodded weakly and made his way back to where they had come from while Lois remained behind the barn and tried to figure out where Clark and Becca could be. She glanced around the area to find something that could give her a hint.


Beads of sweat were running down Clark's forehead as he tried to break the door's hinges with the crowbar he had found in the toolbox. He groaned from the effort as his arms began to hurt, reminding him that he was still without his powers. The soreness returned and the hinges simply didn't move. They were obviously more stable than he had first thought. Trust Mr. Shuster to find the most stable rusty hinges to secure his doors with. Clark cursed silently and rested, panting heavily.

"Daddy?" Becca asked, scared, as she looked over to her father, who was standing on the ladder and looking rather exhausted. He steadied himself with one arm and seemed about to fall off the ladder any minute now. "Are you okay?"

"I'm all right," Clark replied, catching his breath. "This is more difficult than I thought. But that doesn't mean I won't manage," he stated, trying to reassure himself that he would really get them out of the shelter. He let out his breath slowly, bracing himself for another try and grabbed the crowbar more securely, before he made a new attempt at the hinges. He used all his force, groaning again loudly.

"You'll do it, you'll do it!" Becca encouraged him from her place on the bed, watching her father anxiously.

She so much wanted to help him more than just with words, but she knew very well that she was too weak. It was doubtful that she would be able to open the doors even if there wasn't a chain holding it in place. Much less could she manage to break the chain when even her father couldn't. She just kept muttering encouraging words, hoping that her prayers would help him.

Clark heard Becca and increased his efforts. He owed it to her to try his very best. He hadn't been able to save Lily, but he sure as hell was going to rescue her daughter. It was his fault she was an orphan, and he wouldn't leave his little girl in the hands of villains if there was anything he could do to prevent it. *Oh Lily, I'm so sorry I didn't take better care of her,* he whispered to himself. He had once failed in his duties; it wasn't going to happen ever again.


Clark slowly emerged from a deep dreamless sleep. He didn't exactly know what was waking him up. No matter how much he wanted to resist the unknown force, it was impossible to return into the warm embrace of his sweet slumber. He noticed with astonishment that the ground he was lying on was pretty uncomfortable. What had happened to his bed and why was his back so stiff?

Little hands were hitting his face angrily, and an anguished cry pierced in his ears. He hadn't noticed before, but the child in his arms was moving restlessly and his shirt felt rather wet. Becca made a squealing sound that could have woken up a dead person, and it certainly alarmed Clark. His ears were ringing, and his head began to hurt as she continued to cry loudly and seemingly without stopping for a gasp of air.

"Clark!" he heard the angry voice of a woman. "What are you doing here?" she shouted at him, the tone of her voice threatening.

It took Clark a moment to be able to open his eyes. They seemed to be glued shut, reluctant to face daylight. He still wasn't fully awake, but at least he knew now what had disturbed his sleep. He wasn't quite sure what the reason was, but there was a riot in his bedroom. Not exactly the best conditions to have a nice refreshing nap. Hands reached for the baby in his arms.

"College students, all drunkards," another woman grumbled reproachfully. "I should have known! Listen, Miss, you are going to sober up that boyfriend of yours, and if this happens ever again you will have to search for another apartment. I understand many things. I can tolerate a child even if it's giving me sleepless nights, but this is too much!" She hollered and made Becca cry again.

"Shhh, honey," Lily tried to calm her daughter. "She's teething. It's tough at the moment," she tried to explain. "I will have a serious conversation about drinking with Clark," Lily said though she had to know very well that Clark wasn't drinking on a regular basis, much less did he spend his money on getting wasted. It would have been a waste of money, anyway. "I promise this won't happen ever again." His cousin sounded rather desperate and he could hear the anger in her voice, but he couldn't get a grip as to what the matter was.

What did his lying in bed have to do with being drunk or getting a new apartment? Clark saw their landlord leave as he opened his eyes. Bewildered, he looked around, trying to get a grip and swallowed hard as he realized that he was far from lying in his bed. His back was stiff because he had slept right in the staircase. He had to be dreaming.

Clark sat up and his wet shirt clung to his chest. He looked down and began to understand why Becca had been so irritable. The diapers hadn't been enough to keep her dry. Clark gulped and winced guiltily. This had to be a nightmare. Had he really worked so much that he had fallen asleep in the stairs? He tried to remember the previous night. Granted, he hadn't been able to sleep much during the last couple of days, but it couldn't be that bad, could it?

"You promised me you would care for Becca tonight," Lily hissed at him, her eyes gleaming dangerously. "You told me not to worry, said that I should get my much needed rest. And how do I find you…?" Her voice trailed off. She didn't need to remind him of his situation. He was well aware of it.

He tried to remember when he had last slept. It couldn't be more than three days ago, he assured himself. But it had been the weekend then, and he knew that he hadn't managed to even close his eyes, let alone take a nap. But it couldn't be…Clark realized, shocked, that it had to have been Thursday. That was more than five days! This had obviously taken a toll on him, and at the worst moment imaginable.

"I'm sorry, Lily," he replied, his gaze lowered to the floor. "I've been working a lot over the last days."

"Clark, it can't go on this way," she said and ran her hand along his cheek to lift his chin so that he looked into her eyes. "You are overdoing things," she said quietly, now clearly regretting that she had yelled at him earlier. "I can't do this to you."

"I've had my last exams, Lily. Life will be a little calmer now, and I promise you this won't happen ever again. I would never want to do anything to harm Becca," he said apologetically.

Lily shook her head. "No, Clark. It was a mistake to bother you with all this. Can you please look after her today? I'll go and do what I should have had the courage to do long ago." With these words she handed him Becca and turned around to leave. "Good bye, honey," she said and brushed a kiss on Becca's cheek before she left.

"Bye," replied Becca and watched her mother, having forgotten about her wet diapers for a moment. Clark stood there, dumbstruck, and as he was on his way to run after Lily, Becca cried again, reminding him that there was still a diaper to change. He would get Lily soon enough, he told himself, and wondered where she wanted to go to. And what had she meant about courage?


Slowly the hinges were giving in and with another growl, Clark managed to break them. He almost lost his balance at the sudden release but was able to steady himself just before he fell down to the floor. His knees were wobbly and his breathing still came in panting gasps. His shirt was soaked with sweat and he was shivering in the chilly air. It was time to get out of there. That was for sure. With a relieved sigh, Clark climbed down the ladder and went over to Becca.

"Get your things, honey. We're leaving this place," he said quietly.


Lois cursed herself for not having a single good idea as to where Clark could be. What had happened to her intuition? Had she lost it on the way, was it frozen in the icy wind or was it simply restricted to work in city area? She forced herself to concentrate; if it didn't work the simple way she would have to do it the good old-fashioned way — think about it. She looked around. What did she know about Kansas? Not much, Lois admitted silently, and her glance continued to wander over the snow-covered ground.

Between the farmhouse and the street was a path where someone had shoveled snow to an extent that people could walk along easily. There were hardly any footprints that could give her an idea where the guys who were on the farm walked. But besides the heaps of snow next to the path, there was only one other heap around. It lay close to the barn, and Lois wondered why she hadn't seen it earlier. Someone had to have removed snow from a place beside it. She briefly wondered what it might be, but then she remembered that Kansas was one of the states that were frequently hit by tornados. It could be the door to a storm shelter.

Lois blinked. Could it really be that or was her mind playing tricks on her? The solution seemed simple, but she wasn't exactly a country girl, and if she was mistaken, she might not get a second chance to find Clark. She was still likely to be found any moment now. She sighed and gathered her courage. It was a chance, and she really hoped that the guys didn't keep Clark and his daughter in the farmhouse. It would be much more difficult to get to him if he was guarded.

Slowly, Lois went along the far side of the barn to get closer to the mysterious heap of snow. She shot nervous glances towards the farmhouse, afraid of being watched secretly. Her heart was beating loudly in her ears, and she couldn't help the impression that someone had to hear it. The pondering beat simply couldn't be missed, and there also were her heavy gasps for air. Lois gulped. Wasn't she used to moments like these? But then, never before had her best friend been in trouble. He was Superman, she reminded herself. She was painfully aware of how dangerous this situation was. If not even Superman was safe, who was supposed to be?

Slowly, she came close to the supposed shelter and hid herself behind a huge pile of firewood as she again heard someone coming closer by the minute. She stole a glance at the person, seeing a slim but tall man, who was shivering and bracing himself against the icy wind. He looked like he would like to be anywhere but here, preferably in a warm house. The man wasn't walking towards the pile of firewood where she was hiding. She had been afraid he would, but he headed towards the heap of snow. He was carrying a huge package, which sent a jolt of hope through Lois. Maybe he was bringing food, she thought excitedly. Maybe she had found Clark. If so, she only needed to get rid of the guy in front of her.

Lois looked towards the farmhouse once more and tried to figure out if someone would be likely to see her if she knocked the guy out cold. Hopefully her tae-kwon-do would be enough to do that. She prayed silently and anxiously waited for the man to turn his back so she could approach and surprise him. If he had the time to strike first, she would probably lose. Lois held her breath as she watched him kneel down and fumble with a key to open the lock.

When she was sure that he wasn't looking, she tiptoed towards him, cautious to remain out of sight as long as she wasn't close enough. Frustratingly slow she went on, dreading with every step she took that he would look up. Her heart seemed to beat even louder, as if trying to indicate where she was. Her stomach lurched threateningly, and she couldn't quite say if she had ever been quite so afraid.

All of a sudden, she heard a metallic sound and a heavy thud. Startled, she looked over to the entrance of the shelter, finding it open. The man who had knelt there was lying on his back, but already trying to get back on his feet. Lois didn't waste another thought on her safety and rushed towards him, sending him back to the ground with a violent kick as soon as he had recovered. He remained lying there, unmoving.

"Get out, Becky," she heard Clark's voice. "Get out and run over to the farm as fast as you can. I'll be right behind you. Hide as soon as you can. You'll be safe with your grandparents."

"But, Daddy!" Becca protested.

"Just do it, honey, please. Don't argue with me," Clark replied and soon Lois could hear the little girl climb out of the shelter. She crawled over to the door.

"Becca, it's Lois. Come out," she whispered nervously and looked over to the unconscious man in the snow. She didn't know if he was going to wake up from the noise. Lois was rewarded with sounds of joy, as the girl heard her voice. Soon Lois could see her head and a bright smile that was only slightly diminished by red eyes that were swollen from crying. Becca jumped right into Lois' arms as soon as she left the shelter. Lois embraced the little girl a bit awkwardly and held her tightly. "You're safe now," she whispered soothingly and hoped that it wasn't a lie. They needed to get away before the man woke up again.

Reluctantly Becca let go of Lois' arms as she pointed out that helping Clark would be easier if Lois could use both hands. Becca crawled aside and grabbed Lois' ankle to reassure herself that she had indeed come to save them. Becca was well aware that one of the evil strangers was still awfully close. He made her nervous though he didn't move a limb. Full of fear, she stared at the shelter's door and prayed that her daddy would come out already. She obviously wasn't the only one who became impatient, although Lois and Becca hadn't been waiting for a very long time yet.

A moment later, Clark's head appeared and suddenly a heavy groan escaped him. He stood on the ladder, swaying and fighting to remain upright. Something was wrong. Becca squealed in panic as all the memories of their earlier struggle with the evil men came to her mind all over again. She increased the pressure of her grip on Lois as if this would help her to escape her fears.

"Daddy!" she breathed helplessly as he climbed more steps, his face turning ashen. Both Lois and Becca could see his gritted teeth. When Becca thought he might faint, Lois grabbed her father with both hands, steadying him.

"Clark," Lois said in shock as she saw his very pale face. She swallowed hard. Beads of sweat were running down his forehead. He seemed in distress and surprised by its sudden onset.

"Lois," he whispered back and suddenly his legs gave way under him, and he slipped from the steps. He moaned in pain and grabbed the upper steps with his hands, fighting to remain upright. Lois held him even tighter.

"Come on," she encouraged him. "We'll get you out of here. You can do it."

Clark looked into Lois' brown eyes, grateful to have something in front of him to concentrate on. He should have known that the pain would come back to him again as soon as he tried to leave this prison. An adventure like this just couldn't go on the easy way. But as difficult as it was, he wasn't planning on giving up now. He had to fight as well as he could, even better, really, if he wanted to get out of here. Neither of the three was well off staying here longer than necessary. With a groan, he summoned his strength and, with a little help from Lois, managed to get out of the storm shelter. Breathing heavily, he remained lying in the snow, trying to recover when Lois started tugging at his sleeve.

"Get up, big guy. We need to get away from here. Whatever it is that puts you into this state, I bet it's the green glowing stuff in that barn. We need to get you away from that," Lois said urgently and forced Clark to sit up and struggle into a standing position. She knew she could only support and not carry him. And the unconscious guy could wake up any minute now. Nervously, she tapped with her foot, glancing alternately at Clark and the man lying in the snow. Becca seemed to be just as afraid as she was. Her face was pale, but for flushed spots on her skin. Her eyes were open wide, and she was sweating despite the cold.

"Come on, Daddy" she said pleadingly, her voice barely above a whisper. She took his hand in an attempt to support him, giving him her strength.

Seeing this, Lois suddenly felt like an intruder into this perfect relationship between father and daughter. How was she ever going to measure up to him in Becca's regard? How was Becca not going to see her as an intruder, which she was? Her mouth felt dry and she felt incapable to say anything encouraging. Becca's gesture was so simple and yet so endearing, even though the seven year-old girl wasn't going to be much help for him physically. Lois gulped and felt a wave of envy washing over her. She didn't have the impression that she was of much help for Clark right now. And somehow she felt like the evil invader disturbing two people that were fitting together so perfectly.

Lois shook the undue thoughts away. Becca was seven. She was special to Clark, no doubt about that. But so was she. She was a woman and her relationship with him would be just as precious to him as his daughter was. But it would never be comparable. Clark loved both of them, each one uniquely and with all his heart. It was time to make sure that they would end up together, happily ever after. Becca could learn to love Lois. She certainly didn't need to learn that anymore. The little girl had silently found her way into Lois' heart. She loved her, she, the woman who had vowed to never have children.

"Come on, Clark," Lois whispered hoarsely, and he looked up at her, his face twisted in pain. But his expression softened as he gave both her and Becca a smile. He staggered forward, away from the barn that contained the substance that was supposedly causing him so much discomfort.

Half running on his own, half being dragged and carried by Becca and Lois who had both taken his hands, Clark was making his way through the high snow. He felt better with each step that separated him from the barn. Breathing became easier, and he didn't need to lean on Lois so heavily anymore. He thanked God that Lois had come and helped him find his way. She surely would pay attention on their way, trying to keep them out of the villain's view. Clark didn't feel like he was capable of doing that himself. But he trusted Lois, and she wouldn't want to risk being seen too early. She was heading to the street, obviously hoping to find someone there who could help them.

Soon, all three of them were panting heavily, sweating and exhausted by their run. Afraid, Lois shot glances back to the farm now and then, checking if anyone was following them. Clark wished he could will his powers to return, but that was a futile hope. He would be glad if they came back at all. Luckily, the fields behind them were empty, and Clark felt a wave of hope flood him as Lois told him so between gasps for air.

Meanwhile, Lois prayed silently that Jonathan had found the police, but she wasn't naive. Even if they did believe him, it was highly unlikely that Smallville's Sheriff's Department had enough men to take care of this group of men. They seemed to be powerful and with Superman out of the picture it probably wouldn't be an easy task to stop them. It seemed like hours since they had parted. There weren't many law enforcement officers in Smallville, though. And if the police asked for support, it might take some time for help to arrive. At least Clark was getting better now. His color had improved and he was breathing easier now. Maybe there was hope after all.

"Daddy, I can't run anymore," Becca panted and slowed down. "I'm sorry."

She was close to tears and Lois could feel her heart break. She had almost forgotten about her. They were running fast, at least considering Clark's current state. Becca wasn't able to follow them over such a distance and in the snow, which had to be even higher for her. Lois felt her heart sink. Slowing down meant it would take longer. The bad guys wouldn't ignore their absence forever and sooner or later start to chase after them. But before Lois could even think of a solution, Clark had slowed down as well.

"It's okay, honey. You did great. I'm so proud of you," he said as he swept her up into his arms. "Hold on to me tightly," he asked her, before he continued to run.

Lois had stopped as well and now hurried to catch up with Clark again. She looked at him with astonishment. It was amazing how his condition had gotten better, though she could tell that the additional weight was slowing him down considerably. Lois bit her lip. He was still weak. She could see that by the way he desperately tried not to stumble and fall. His shoulders were sagging, and it seemed like it was more Becca clinging to him than his holding her. But Lois was sure that was just an impression. There was no way he would be too tired to hold his little girl even if it was the last thing he did.

"I can carry Becca for you," Lois offered with a sense of guilt. She was stronger than him right now. She wanted to give him a chance to recover; he had suffered enough as it was.

"I'll be fine. Thanks, Lois. But one of us needs their full strength to fight if it comes to that, and I don't think I'm the right person for that job," he admitted with a sad smile.

The street came in sight and getting closer to it they could hear a car approaching. Both Lois and Clark summoned whatever strength they still had and hurried over. The end of this nightmare seemed to have come and neither of them was willing to let this chance pass. Both were gasping for air and Clark saw black spots dancing in front of his eyes. He already thought he might faint if he carried on running this fast.

The sounds of the car died down as if it was heading away. Lois cried out in despair and she was running faster. Clark had to admit to himself that he couldn't keep up with Lois. He shook his head in frustration and let out a deep growl. Annoyed by his own incapability, he followed a few steps behind, but the gap between them was getting bigger.

"Daddy? Are you all right?" Becca asked, worriedly. Until this moment she had remained silent, ashamed of being so weak. She noticed her father's discomfort and saw the sweat streaming down his face. He looked pale, which didn't exactly help her conscience. "I can walk, Daddy. I'm fine now," she protested mildly and though she still felt pretty wiped out, she hoped that her father would put her down.

"Really, I'm fine, Becca," Clark said as convincingly as he could and slowed down even more as he finally reached the street. "We're already here."

Clark looked around but didn't see Lois right away. A car was parked on the side of the road, and Clark realized that it was his parents'. Martha was sitting inside and so was Lois, gesturing at the older woman wildly. When she saw Clark, her expression softened, and she waved at him to come. Clark set Becca back on the ground, and they both hurried over to the pick-up.

With a sigh of relief Clark sank onto the car's backseat after he had helped Becca climb inside. The two women on the front seat looked at him anxiously. Becca shot him almost the same kind of glance, as he wasn't speaking right away but still trying to catch his breath. He was exhausted and seriously drained, although feeling better now that he was safe.

"I'll be fine," he stated. "All I need is a bit of rest. A good night's sleep and everything will be all right again."

"We were so worried," Martha replied, her eyes glistening with tears as she looked at her pale son. "Jonathan is still with Sheriff Harris. She is trying to get help and told us to stay calm for the time it takes. I… we better get home now," she said, figuring that the backseat wasn't exactly the best place for Clark to recover.

Martha was deeply worried. Suddenly she was forced to accept that her son wasn't invulnerable to everything. And she never had imagined him to become quite so pale. He was in a worse condition than Jonathan or anyone else she knew had ever been. All the time she hadn't needed to worry about him catching a cold, falling sick or hurting himself. That was different now, and the sudden realization that her son could get into physical danger was worrying her sick.

Like any mother she wanted to spare him pain. And today a nightmare had come true. Becca and Clark had been in danger, and she hadn't been there to help, hadn't even sensed it, unlike Lois. She was grateful that this young woman had appeared in Clark's life and had managed to become such an important part of it. She had been afraid that he might never find the woman he felt was the right one. In pensive silence Martha steered the car towards the Kent farm. On the backseat, Clark pulled Becca into an embrace, doing his best to comfort her to make her fear recede.

"It's over, honey," he said and softly stroked her arm. "It's over now."


"I didn't even say thank you for saving us," Clark muttered miserably as they were in the farm house again. Martha had left them alone to get Jonathan as soon as she had made sure that all three of them were perfectly fine. She knew that Lois would take good care of her son, so it hadn't been that much of a conflict for her to go looking after her husband.

"I'm glad you're okay," Lois replied and went over to Clark to take his hands. "I worried about you and Becca, and I couldn't stand the thought that something had happened to you."

"You worried about me?" Becca asked surprised. "Why?"

"Cause you're a nice little girl, and I wouldn't want that something happened to you, Becca," Lois said and kneeled down in front of her. "I was hoping that the two of us could become friends. Would you like to be my friend, Becky?"

The girl studied Lois' face thoroughly and her expression was pensive as if she wasn't sure whether this question contained a trap. Her brows furrowed and, for a moment, Lois couldn't help the impression that Becca was looking right through her. She realized that she hadn't yet asked Clark if he had told Becca that they were in love. And she didn't know what Becca's reaction had been. Lois wondered if she had made a mistake by asking Becca for her friendship. Maybe the girl already hated her for being her father's girlfriend.

"You are a lot nicer than I thought," Becca said slowly. Lois' heart raced because she couldn't discern if this was already a yes or still just a maybe. "You really were a witch at first."

Clark gasped and let out a helpless "Rebecca!" as she was so incredibly honest. It didn't sound really angry though, and his little girl looked at him and grinned at his use of her full name. Lois on the other hand couldn't help but chuckle. She took Becca's comment for what it was, a childish way to take revenge on her. And the girl was right, Lois had to admit. She hadn't behaved very well.

"You know, witches are cool!" Becca stated with a broad smile and winked at Lois.

"Oh, yeah?" Clark asked and tousled his daughter's hair. "So does that mean the two of you are friends now?"

"I guess. We can try," Becca replied graciously and took the hand Lois was holding out to her. "But don't you think Daddy is all yours now!" She warned the older woman and gave her a firm glance.

Lois swallowed. Clark had really told her. For a moment her heart was pounding in her ears and cold sweat covered her forehead. In Becca's eyes she could see that the girl was just about as nervous as she was. She knew that the ultimate decision wasn't hers but her daddy's. Lois was sure that so early in their relationship Clark would rather give up on her than on Becca. The little girl obviously wasn't quite so convinced of that fact. Lois could see the fear in her eyes, though Clark had certainly explained to her how important she was to him.

"Oh, Becky, I wouldn't take him away from you. And I don't want your daddy. What do you think? How about you keep your daddy, and we share Clark and Superman?" Lois asked and brushed a strand of hair out of Becca's face. She wiped away a tear that was threatening to break its way down the girl's cheek. "I'd never want to hurt you. I like you very, very much. You're not losing your dad; you will only win a friend or whatever it is that I can be to you."

"Sounds fair," Becca whispered. "I like you too, Lois. I don't want to, but I do."

"You can never lose me, Becca," Clark said softly and lifted her up into his arms and held her tightly. With his other arm, he reached for Lois, who had gotten up from the floor. He pulled her into an embrace and kissed first Becca's forehead and then Lois'. "I love you both, with all my heart. My two brave women. Without the two of you, I wouldn't be here. You saved my life. Words cannot say how much I owe you."

"I guess he owes us a flight, what do you think, Lois?" Becca whispered excitedly as she remembered what her father had promised her back in the storm shelter.

Lois let out a surprised gasp, but she couldn't deny that she was excited as well. She'd love to fly. Since the first time she had seen Superman she wanted to fly with him again. She couldn't really remember what the first time had been like, but it had to be great. Flying like a bird had to be so much better than sitting in a plane with hardly a chance to see the clouds in the sky. Her eyes were gleaming with expectation.

"You would take us flying?" she asked, almost shyly. Somehow Becca's suggestion had turned Clark into Superman again, at least for her. It seemed so unreal to stand right in front of the Man of Steel, chatting casually. She realized once more how much she needed to come to terms with his admission. Clark was no longer just the farmboy she had thought he was. He could fly, for crying out loud. And Lois found herself fascinated.

"As soon as my powers return," Clark confirmed with laughter. "For the time being my two ladies will have to think of something else to keep me occupied."

It was then that Lois noticed how weary Clark still looked. He succeeded well at hiding it, but he couldn't fool her. When they had come back to the farm he had seemed healthy enough. He had jumped out of the car and had been goofy to make Becca forget about their horrible day. She had assumed that Clark was back to his usual self, but he couldn't be. She had seen him in his apartment, and he had really been in a bad shape. He seemed better now, but better didn't necessarily mean super.

"That's okay, Clark. We've got time, don't try to overexert yourself," She said as she laid her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it lightly. "Why don't we sit down and relax. I think you still owe me the entire truth about Superman. And I want to hear everything in detail. Becca, don't let him leave anything out."

The little girl grinned broadly and took Clark's hand. "You bet I won't."

With Lois' help she dragged him towards the living room and made him sit down on the sofa. Lois settled herself next to him, and Becca crawled on Clark's lap. She tried to adjust herself to a comfortable position and finally found one, having her legs across Lois' and resting her head against Clark's chest. She sighed with contentment and waited for the adults to start talking. In her father's arms she felt safe. After hours of being frightened she couldn't think of a place where she would rather be.

"So, what do you want to know, Lois?" Clark asked.

"Everything!" Lois replied and gave Clark an irresistible smile.

And he started telling her how his parents had found him and what his life as a child and a teenager had been like. He told her about his older cousin Lily and how they had spent their holidays on the farm. He told her how worried he always had been that Lily might catch him doing one of his tricks. Clark had never dared tell her because he knew that Lily was a lonely girl and would do a lot to get attention. He hadn't really thought she would tell anyone, but the fear had been enough to prevent him from saying a word too much. And later on, it hadn't been possible anymore. How was he going to explain to her that he had been lying to her all their lives through? How was she supposed to understand?

Clark told Lois about the development of his powers and about how they had scared him. Lois enjoyed listening. Once in a while she asked questions, wondered why he had chosen to come to Metropolis and heard everything about what had happened there before she and Clark had become friends. But as much as he told her, the real secret wasn't out yet. He didn't say a word about the night Lily died. Lois knew that she had to make him tell her. It wasn't like she wanted to force him, but as it was she could only help him with Child Services if he let her in on this well kept mystery.

Indecisively, she looked from Clark to Becca and back to Clark again. She didn't dare ask him when Becca was around. Though she couldn't really imagine that Clark had anything like a dark secret in his past, she honestly didn't know him well enough. Suddenly he stopped talking and looked at her intensively. He studied her face as if he was trying to read her mind.

"What are you thinking about, Lois?" he asked softly. "You were so keen on hearing all this, and now you're not even listening. What's bothering you?"

"It's nothing. We can talk about it later. Come on. Tell me about your first flight." Lois made a weak attempt at changing the topic.

"Lois, I can see it in your eyes that you don't want to discuss this later. You want to ask it now, so do it!" he insisted. "I promised you to be completely honest with you. There is no taboo."

"Okay, if you absolutely want me to say this now. I need you to tell me about Lily's death. It's important for me to know about it, so I can help you with Child Services, or rather, Mrs. Donovan, to be precise."

As Lois had already suspected, Clark grew pale. He looked at her with huge brown eyes and lowered his glance guiltily. She could tell that he felt like he was pressed into a corner with no way to escape. Of course, he could give her one of his irresistible smiles and make his excuses. She was more than aware of the fact that she was helpless against those smiles. It wasn't like she got some perverse pleasure out of forcing him to tell her his secret.

"Clark, it can't be that bad because I know you could never do something cruel. Why is Mrs. Donovan pursuing you?" Lois said and took his hand in hers, brushing her thumb over the back of it.

"Yes, Daddy. What happened with Mom?" Becca tugged at his sleeves and wore the kind of smile she knew would melt his heart.

She had tried it over and over again. She didn't have any memory of her mother. Ever since she knew that every child was supposed to have one, she had wanted to know what hers had been like. It had never been easy for her on the playground when all the other kids had talked about their moms. For some reason, especially the girls she knew had always been a little afraid of the dads. So having a mom had to be different from having a dad. Becca didn't really understand what a mother could give her that her father couldn't. She didn't feel like she missed anything. Her daddy was always so kind to her. How could there be more?

Her father had told her a lot about her mother, about their youth and how she had appeared on his door step. But Becca didn't know what had really happened to her. Of course, he had said that she was dead and would never come back again. He had assured her that she had loved Becca with all her heart and that she hadn't wanted to go. But in the end she had left anyway, and Becca hadn't yet understood why that was. Where was that other world her father sometimes called Heaven? And who would force someone to leave when there were people who were left alone with their grief? Becca knew that her father and grandparents were very sad that her mother was gone. And her daddy had always been reluctant to talk about the night when her mother left.

Clark swallowed hard and looked at Lois and Becca. He wasn't sure he wanted to tell the story now where his little girl could hear the whole truth. She was still so young, and he didn't want to bother her with death and grief. But now that Lois had asked him to tell her, Becca would feel excluded if she didn't hear the story as well. Maybe he could start with a minor version and later he would tell Lois the rest of it.

"Okay," he gave in. "I'll tell you." Clark closed his eyes and took off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. "It all started back in college. I was working hard and spent many nights earning money. I was hardly sleeping back then, because my exams were to come soon. I rescued a few people when they were in trouble. When I wasn't working or rescuing someone, I looked after Becca. You were a healthy little baby." Clark smiled at Becca and softly tousled her hair. "And just about then you were teething. That added to my sleepless nights and even though I don't need much rest, I was dead tired. I still don't know how it happened exactly, but when I was just trying to calm Becca, I fell asleep on the stairs with her in my arms."

Lois gasped in surprise. "You slept on the stairs? How is that possible?"

"As I said I was tired. Lily found me and got very angry because our landlord thought I was drunk." Clark blushed, embarrassed as if the mere thought of lying drunk in the staircase was already too much for his sense of decency. "And I guess she couldn't find a better explanation, either. I hadn't told her that I was working so much because I didn't want her to feel guilty. She thought that I was taking my free time to meet with friends or to get a bit of sleep where Becca's crying wasn't disturbing me. Maybe she even thought I had a girlfriend with whom I was spending my nights. After all she didn't have any claim on me. She had asked me to help her with her child, and that was what I did."

Clark paused and sighed. Lois could tell that he was feeling uncomfortable with his admissions. And she knew exactly why. From Lily's point of view he must have looked irresponsible, and to make things worse, it wasn't like his cousin had been able to blame him. After all, Clark hadn't been the girl's father and he was still young. Though Lois didn't know Lily, she could imagine how torn this woman must have felt. On the one hand she had known that Clark wouldn't betray her trust, that he would be the perfect father. But on the other hand she had known that a young man deserved his freedom and that she couldn't force him to take responsibility for something that wasn't his fault. Seeing that Clark didn't feel comfortable in the roll she had pressed him into must have been painful. And it had been Clark's stupid pride and secrecy that had led to all these misunderstandings.

"How did Lily react?" Lois asked and tried to ignore Becca's anxious glance.

The little girl leaned against her father's chest as if she was trying to drown in his warmth. She was afraid to hear something that would either destroy the image of her mother or her father. When she imagined her parents, she wanted to think of them as two happy people who didn't argue, who were just perfect. This hint of imperfection was obviously worrying her deeply, and Lois could very well understand that. Whenever her parents had had a bad argument, after her dad had come home late and had found her mother on the sofa sleeping with a bottle of wine in her hand, she had closed her eyes and had dreamt herself away into the perfect family.

"Lily was furious at first and then she muttered that she would do something she should have done long ago. I didn't know what she was talking about, and I couldn't follow her because I had to help Becca first. She had had a little accident while I was asleep." Clark shrugged and smiled sadly. "She called me later and asked me to bring Becca to her. She said that she would live with her parents from now on and that she was sorry she had ever bothered me with her baby. She was crushed and couldn't stop apologizing. To be honest, I was too shocked to say something. I loved Becca so much, and I couldn't imagine being just her cousin from then on."

"Mom wanted to leave you?" Becca asked, her eyes wide with shock. She turned to face her father. "Why would she want to do that? You wouldn't have let her, would you? She…she must have known I would miss you!"

Clark caressed his daughter's cheek, trying to calm her down. "Of course, I wouldn't have given up so easily. I wanted to talk to her about this to clean the air between us. But don't forget that I wasn't in a position to make any decision. She was your mother, and I was just your cousin then. Even if she had named me as your father, I didn't want to act like I really was. It didn't feel right to me. Your mother surely didn't want to leave me in order to hurt you. Lily thought she was doing what was best for both of us."

Clark paused, looking at Lois and Becca uneasily. Even now, years after the morning Lily had left to go to her parents' home, he still felt guilty. If it hadn't been for him falling asleep in the staircase she might be alive and well. She would have seen her daughter grow up to become the beautiful little angel she was now. Just one little mistake had led to catastrophe. He was never going to forget that. It was painfully engraved in his mind.

"Only it wouldn't have been," Becca muttered. "I wouldn't want to live without you."

"You wouldn't have known what it was to live with me in the first place, honey. Maybe you would have been happier with your mom? No weird powers, no girlfriend…" Clark pointed out and grinned at her impishly.

Lois chuckled. "How do you know she didn't have any weird powers, Clark? After all, you didn't tell her about yours, if I get this right. Why would she have told you about hers? Maybe I'm hiding something as well?" She winked at him and wore a broad smile, trying to lighten up his mood. Becca glanced at them, bewildered, before she got the joke and began to laugh.

Clark joined Lois and Becca in laughter, but soon his smile faded as he thought about what had happened later that day and his expression darkened. It didn't take long for Lois and Becca to realize the change in him and soon they became quiet again. They both looked at Clark, anxious for him to continue, but at the same time afraid of what it was that he was going to tell them. After all there had to be some secret that he hadn't yet dared tell anyone, let alone his seven year-old daughter and a woman that was still somewhat of a stranger to him.

As Lois saw his sad eyes, she was about to let go of Clark. Why didn't she let him keep his secret, if it was so hard for him to tell her? For a moment, she honestly couldn't see the point in torturing him like this. He had done so much for her and deserved a little respect. Lois bit her lip, then opened her mouth to tell him that he didn't need to go into further detail. But the truth was that it wouldn't be right. Not for him and not for Becca. They both deserved a life without the fear of being separated sooner or later if Mrs. Donovan used all her power to get what she obviously wanted.

"What happened then?" Lois asked softly and squeezed his hand in reassurance.

She wanted to kiss him. He looked like he could use a kiss, one that would make him forget about all the bad things. A kiss that conveyed all her love and affection and would express all her feelings, reminding him that she would never leave his side. Lois tried to deny her sudden impulse to crawl over to him and turn into reality what she had just daydreamed of. Her body was responding to the mere thought of touching his lips, and she felt her heart beating faster. She felt like a teenager and could almost see her cheeks going red. This wasn't what an honest talk was supposed to be, she reminded herself grimly and, at the same time, sighed with disappointment. Why wasn't life easier? Why did her boyfriend have to have secrets that needed to be uncovered? And why was Lois Lane behaving so out of character? She mentally slapped herself.

Clark saw her inner struggle and even though he didn't know what had caused it, he didn't want to see her suffering. He cupped her cheek and what started as a gesture of comfort soon became more. With one hand, he held Becca and moved towards Lois, his hands set on fire as if a strong electrical force had gotten hold of him. It was the same magical source of power that he had experienced seemingly ages ago and yet only the other night. He had almost forgotten about it to discover it yet again. Before he really knew it, he leaned forward and touched her lips, eliciting an excited gasp, before Lois recovered from her surprise. Slowly she parted her lips, inviting him in with a low moan and caressing the tip of his tongue with hers gently.

Becca let out a muffled protest and Clark could feel her fists on his chest, failing to push him away. With a guilty look he pulled back, savoring the creamy taste of Lois' lips. He knew he was blushing and as he glanced up, he could tell that Lois was embarrassed as well. She lowered her glance, turning beet red and mumbling an apology.

"If you want to be all kissy face with each other, you could let me go," Becca complained and pouted, her arms folded in front of her chest. "I think I'd rather go anyway…"

She looked at the two adults, studying their faces carefully as if she was afraid that they would continue to kiss for hours to come. Her daddy had warned her that this could happen. And it wasn't that she wouldn't allow her father to kiss Lois. She didn't understand what was about it that adults seem to like. Other than a few pecks on the cheek from her father or grandparents, she wasn't too keen on being kissed. One of the boys from her school had tried it once, and it hadn't been anything but wet and, if she was honest, disgusting. If he liked it, of course, he could do it. After all, it was Lois' mouth, and she didn't need to worry about that. But did they have to suffocate her in the process? Becca could imagine better things to do than watch her father and Lois kissing.

"We will pull ourselves together now, Becca," Lois muttered embarrassed and tried to look at Becca. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you."

Lois didn't know what had gotten into her, or rather she did know. Clark was like a force of nature. She was completely helpless against him and even though she hadn't wanted to act on her fantasies, she had done it nonetheless. It had been him who had started the kiss, but she had readily participated. She hadn't even thought about Becca, and strange as it was, he obviously hadn't either. As much as she had liked kissing him, she now felt guilty for not respecting the little girl's feelings. The idea of sharing her father with someone else was relatively new to her; she deserved time to adjust to it.

"We talked about that, pumpkin," Clark said gently and looked at Becca, who was still pouting. "I told you that Lois and I might kiss sometimes." Becca grumbled something unintelligible and got up to leave. Clark held her back and lifted her up on his lap, holding her in his arms. "Does this upset you so much?" he asked.

"Yes," Becca replied and then hesitated. "No…It's just…I don't know."

"You didn't think it would happen so fast, huh? If it's any comfort, me either. I got kind of carried away. I didn't mean to crush you between the two of us." Clark cracked a weak smile and placed a peck on her cheek.

"What is it about kissing, anyway?" Becca asked, not yet satisfied.

"It's…mhh, one day you'll try it with a boy you're in love with, Becca. And I promise you, you'll find out. It's nothing you can really explain. But trust me, it's amazing." He shot a meaningful glance at Lois and released Becca. "So do you want to stay with us, or do you rather want to go and play?"

"I'll go play," Becca decided and in the next moment she was running upstairs into Clark's room.

Clark looked after her, unsure if he was relived that she had left. He hadn't really wanted to tell her the whole story quite so soon, but he wasn't actually looking forward to telling the whole thing once again. And she most likely would want to hear it; she deserved the truth. Just, not yet. He decided that it was better this way, and obviously Lois was thinking the same. Her expression was more relaxed, as if she was less afraid of the words to come. And so was he. This story wasn't exactly something a child Becca's age should hear.

"I'm sorry, Clark," Lois said but didn't really look at him. She was still uneasy about the kiss they had shared. It had been wonderful, but that didn't actually help her and much less was she comfortable with her still burning desire to kiss him again.

"It was me kissing you. If someone needs to be sorry, it's me. Do you regret it?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I didn't want to hurt Becca," Lois replied quietly.

"She'll get over it. It's new to her, but sooner or later she will accept it and will learn that the two of you make me the happiest man alive." Clark ran a hand through Lois' hair. "Isn't that going to be good for her as well?"

Lois nodded self-consciously. "I guess I'm afraid to do something wrong. I'm not very experienced with relationships or children. This is all so new to me as well. I just confessed to myself that I have feelings for you, though I tried hard not to fall for anyone. But you just stormed into my life and conquered my heart."

"As long as we are both comfortable with what we're doing, there is nothing to be afraid of. You have to know that I will never ever force you into doing something that you don't want to do." Clark took her hand in his and pulled her in an embrace. With a sigh, Lois rested her head against his chest and closed her eyes to intensify the moment.

"I'm glad I met you," she whispered into his shirt and enjoyed being held in his strong arms.

"So am I, Lois," he replied and placed a kiss on her forehead. "I guess I owe you the rest of the story, don't I?"


Clark lifted Becca up after he had changed her diaper. She was still crying and no matter how tightly Clark held her, nothing seemed to be able to calm her down. He tried to rock her back to sleep, since he knew that she had to be tired. In the staircase, it had surely been cold and uncomfortable. Even if a toddler could sleep just about anywhere, he was pretty sure that she hadn't gotten much rest.

Maybe it was his own nervousness that made his little girl restless. Clark was looking at the clock over and over again. What was Lily doing. Where had she gone? He had tried to listen in on her, but he couldn't find her heartbeat anywhere around, not with Becca crying. The sound pierced into his head like a knife when his super hearing was turned on. So Clark had given up, trying to calm Becca down first.

"Shhh, honey," he mumbled soothingly. "It's okay. Mommy will come back soon."

He didn't know what to do. Clark tried with food, but Becca turned her head away and continued to sob heart-wrenchingly. Clark wondered whether she knew that he and Lily had had some kind of fight, and if she was misunderstanding things. But Becca was still too young to know about fights, wasn't she? He hoped she was, and he wished Lily would come back so that he could clean the air between them. Why hadn't he told her the truth long ago? He should have had enough confidence in her to trust her. After all, she was his cousin, and this whole day wouldn't have started out so horribly if she had known why he had fallen asleep there. Clark cursed himself and paced through their much too small apartment.

He glanced over to the phone, indecisively. Perhaps his mother could help him. But he could imagine her speech already. She would tell him that Lily was right to take over responsibility for Becca and herself. She would say that it was about time that she did it. As much as Martha Kent loved her niece, she had never particularly liked the fact that Lily had named Clark as Becca's father without asking him. And she saw how much Clark was working to help his cousin raise her child. But honestly, his mother didn't even know the half of it. He remained silent about most of the rescues so that his parents didn't worry too much about him. He didn't want to hear any more of his father's lectures on hiding himself.

If he phoned them now, telling them what had happened and asking them if they knew where Lily was…Clark shook his head. It just wasn't a good idea. But he couldn't stay at home either. He had to find Lily and the sooner the better. But he had no idea how he was going to turn his plan into reality. After all, he was left alone with a crying toddler, and there was no way he could go anywhere without Becca.

"Oh, honey, I wish I knew where your mommy is," he said, no longer able to lie to himself. She wasn't going to come back soon. He didn't know what exactly she had meant by saying that she was going to do what she should have done long ago, but as it was, it didn't sound like she had just gone shopping. "Any ideas where we are going to find your mommy?" he asked the toddler in his arms.

"Mommy?" Becca replied and looked at him with huge eyes.

His addressing her had obviously distracted her enough to stop crying. Clark let out a sigh of relief and used the opportunity to listen for Lily. He knew her heartbeat so well that he could find her about anywhere, assuming that she was still within earshot, which was several miles. Becca played with his shirt and rested her head against his chest, now obviously tired from crying so long. He caressed her head gently to calm her further and to assure her that he was still there for her, even if he was far away, mentally.

Hard as he tried, he couldn't hear anything that sounded even close to Lily. Disappointed by his inability to find her, he scanned the area once again, hoping that he had just missed the faint sound. But it was futile, and Clark hadn't really expected to find anything, anyway. His heart sank and sadly he decided to give up on it, when suddenly a loud ring tortured his ears. With an anguished moan, he turned down his super hearing, rubbing his temples with his free hand. The phone rang again, this time in a normal volume as it seemed, and Clark rushed to the receiver.

"Lily?" he asked.

"No, Clark, it's Mom. I assume you don't know why Lily came to Smallville?" his mother replied, and he could tell by the tone of her voice that she was worried. "Are the two of you having any problems?"

"Kind of," Clark admitted carefully. He didn't lie to his parents, but that didn't mean he had to be completely frank about everything. "I was hoping I could solve some misunderstandings we had. You said that Lily is in Smallville? Have you talked to her?"

"Yeah, she asked for a place to sleep. She said she probably isn't going to need it, but she wanted to make sure she had one, just in case," Martha explained.

"Did she say what she was going to do there?" Clark wanted to know and adjusted Becca's position in his arm. She let out a soft protest but kept quiet otherwise.

"No, actually I called to ask you about it. It's been a long time since I've seen her here," she said and destroyed Clark's hope of finding a quick answer to his questions. At least he knew where she was now.

"Come on, Mom. You can't actually call three weeks a long time," Clark laughed despite himself.

"Given the frequency of her visits a few years ago, I can. For years she practically lived with us and now I hardly ever see her, let alone her sweet little darling. Why don't you wrap Becca up in something really, really warm and come over, son?" she asked, putting no effort in trying to hide her broad hint.

Clark couldn't help but chuckle, though he didn't really feel like it. "You're asking me to fly over to Smallville in broad daylight?" He did his best to sound incredulous.

"Don't you dare mock me, Clark Jerome Kent! We both know it's a cloudy day, and no one will see you even if you set out to be seen," she said. "See you in a bit."

"Yeah, I'll be there. Bye, Mom," Clark replied and hung up. "Looks like the two of us are going on a journey. Fancy a flight, little Miss Becca?" Though she couldn't possibly have understood what he meant, she let out an excited giggle, and Clark kissed her forehead. "I'll take that as a yes, but don't you complain later, honey. Okay, let's get you dressed in something really, really warm."


It was fascinating as ever. Each time he visited his parents Clark knew why they, and his mother, in particular, had longed for having children. The moment Clark had opened the front door his mother was with him, placed a kiss on his cheek, and reached for Becca. The next fifteen minutes the two of them had a private conversation that Clark couldn't understand despite all his hearing abilities. Martha Kent let out a rush of baby talk or rather a secret language which Becca seemed to know. She giggled and answered in the same manner, sometimes making sweet little noises and at other times just looking into her grandmother's eyes. They shot each other knowing glances, and Clark couldn't help but feel excluded. But he didn't really mind. In fact he liked to watch their ritual.

While his mother was busy telling Becca about the last week, or whatever it was that the two of them were discussing, Clark went out to see his father. Maybe he was glad to get some help, and while they were working, he could ask him about Lily. It was anything but usual for her to go to Smallville. Lily had kept complaining that Wichita was far too close to Smallville. She had asked him why he wouldn't go to a college on the east coast or the west coast. Anywhere, but Kansas. Of course it had never been about his parents. Lily liked them. But her parents lived no more than a few miles away, and Lily thought that even if they were on another continent, it would be too close.

She was a little happier when Clark left Kansas to travel all over the country during the semester breaks, though she would have preferred to stay somewhere. But anything that brought her farther away from her parents was okay for her. Clark kept vanishing for a month or two as frequently as he could, hoping the people would forget about all the strange things that had happened while he was around. It was a miracle that Lily hadn't yet become suspicious. Or maybe she had and hadn't bothered to ask him. Clark was still trying to understand all the aspects of his cousin, and he was quite sure that he was never going to understand her completely, even if they both were eighty years old and toothless.

His father was outside and looked after a newborn calf that obviously wasn't sure if it should really start to explore the world around it or stay with its mother instead. The calf went back and forth and was scared and fascinated at the same time. Jonathan Kent leaned against the fence and watched the scene with obvious amusement. He turned around as he heard his son approaching and wore a broad smile on his face.

"Don't you love spring in Kansas?" he asked Clark and waited for the affirmative nod.

"Yes, Dad. You know I do. It's great to see you," Clark replied and hugged his father. "I'm sorry I didn't come earlier, but I was so busy over the last weeks. But now my exams are all finished, and all I can do is work and wait for the results."

"I'm sure you did just fine," Jonathan said without a hint of doubt. "Now tell me, son, what happened between you and Lily? She was kind of confused while she talked to your mom. I've hardly seen her quite so nervous. It was as if she was preparing to do something extremely unpleasant. And why did she leave you to come to Smallville of all places?"

"She said that she was going to do something she should have done long ago. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if she meant going to her parents," Clark answered thoughtfully. "When she first came to me I asked her why she hadn't gone to them for support, or to you for that matter."

Jonathan shrugged. "I've always assumed that you young people like to stay together, though I cannot deny that it was rather selfish of Lily to make you care for her child. I'm proud of you, Clark. You took the responsibility, but it was a huge risk and it still is."

"I can't let her go back to her parents. She would do it for all the wrong reasons, Dad. She doesn't like them, and if you're honest, you'll agree with her just as I do. It wouldn't be right for Becca. She wouldn't grow up happy like she deserves," Clark murmured sadly.

He knew that his father wouldn't agree. He was the voice of reason, the most considered man he knew. And really, his father gave him a speech, telling him that he couldn't be sure of that. He was right. Clark hadn't seen his aunt and uncle for years. They had probably changed or would change at the sight of their grandchild. So many people were better grandparents than parents and the whole affair about the unloved son in law, namely Becca's real father, was probably already forgotten.

Clark didn't like his father's arguments, no matter how reasonable they were. To keep from exploding he started to work on the farm, doing all the things that his father usually did in spring, like for example, repairing the fences. It helped only a bit against the pain. Consciously, he knew that Lily was Becca's mother and thus allowed to make the decisions about her future. But he didn't want to lose his little girl. He tried to listen out for Lily, now that he had an idea where she was. But he didn't manage to force enough concentration on this task, always thinking about how his life would change if Lily would leave him.

It was getting dark when Clark returned to the farm house. His father had long ago made his way inside after Clark had started to do all the work. Jonathan Kent knew his son well enough to not get into his way when he was angry like that. He wasn't afraid Clark would accidentally hurt him, but he had wanted to give him enough space to calm down without having to worry about humans around him. And Clark was indeed far more relaxed when he made his way back to his parents and Becca. Maybe it was because of the work, but maybe just because he had finally made his decision. He would tell Lily his secret as soon as possible. She had every right to know.

He hadn't even arrived at his parent's house when the door flew open and his mother stormed out. Clark stopped dead at the strange sight of Martha Kent running so fast. His father followed her a lot slower and with Becca in his arms. For a moment Clark couldn't help the idea that something terrible had happened, but his mother's flushed cheeks didn't look like she had just learned about a catastrophe. "Clark, Clark!" she called out and just in this moment realized that he was already there. She slowed down and soon was with him.

"What's the matter, Mom? Has something happened?" Clark asked and patiently waited for his mother to speak. She was panting and it took her a moment to summon enough air to say something. Meanwhile she shook her head, indicating that there wasn't yet anything to worry about. Clark let out a sigh of relief. He hadn't really expected that something would happen to his cousin, just because she was with her parents.

"Lily just called us and told me that she will stay over night. She was crying and sounded rather distressed but didn't say why. Clark, you should talk to her. From what I understood her parents will bring her over, but I'm not sure I like the idea of her spending more time with them than necessary. Maybe you could…" she didn't finish the sentence, but that wasn't necessary, anyway. Clark knew that she was asking him to go and get his cousin. He should have done that hours ago instead of working like a madman. He cursed himself for letting Lily beg for her parents' good will. Hadn't he already learned that at least his uncle was anything but the nice and caring father? Instead of licking his own wounds he should have helped her.

"I'll go, Mom. Look after Becca, please," he said needlessly and didn't await his mother's affirmation.


In a blink Clark was in the air high above Smallville and grateful that the sky was still cloudy. Nobody was going to see him. But he had to be careful nonetheless. He could never be absolutely certain that he wasn't seen by anyone. As much as he loved flying, he hated the implied danger. Hardly any of his powers was as obviously abnormal as flying was. It was nothing he could explain with a flimsy excuse; there was just no wind strong enough to accidentally carry him high above the clouds. Trying to make that plausible was downright impossible. He scanned the area underneath him, but there was no hint of Lily or her parents. Maybe they were still at home and hadn't left yet. Clark hoped for it, knowing that it would be much easier to explain why he had found her there rather than anywhere on the street.

He sped up in order to reach his uncle's house before they left. Meanwhile he kept an eye on the streets, praying that he wouldn't miss Lily and her parents. Clark wasn't exactly looking forward to talking to Lily. What was she going to say? Wouldn't she hate him for lying to her? But he just couldn't leave her alone like this; he couldn't let her think that he was careless, that he didn't pay any interest in his little sunshine Becca. He loved the little girl as if she were his own daughter, and Lily had to know, just like she needed to know a couple of other things.

His train of thought was interrupted by a desperate call for help. His first idea was that Lily was in danger, but soon he dismissed the thought. He had never before heard that voice. It was a woman he had never met and from the sound of her voice he could tell that her life was at stake. She was unmistakably afraid, and it took Clark only a moment to make his decision. Lily probably was in an unpleasant situation, and he would need to soothe her later, but this woman needed his attention right now. He changed directions and only moments later he headed towards the fearful cries.

A little later Clark knew why the poor woman was crying. She was mugged, which wasn't too common a crime around Smallville, though it happened now and again. The mugger was still with her, obviously not content with the amount of money she had given him. Grumbling a rush of curses, he waited for her to give him her ring. Clark could see the fear in her eyes, her trembling form. He heard her sobs and muttered affirmations that she wasn't going to call the police if only the mugger left. It tore at his heart. The woman was young and the ring looked like it was the only thing of value that she owned. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

Clark landed nearby, trying to keep a distance that was safe for him as well as for her. He rushed towards the mugger, fast enough that his approach could easily be mistaken for a brush of wind. In a sudden move he grabbed the man's shoulder and drew him back from the woman, shooting him a threatening glance. With his other hand Clark reached for the woman's handbag and gave it back to her.

"Leave her alone!" he said as calm as he could and made the guy turn around. The mugger froze for a moment but quickly regained his composure and ran away as fast as he could. Clark didn't follow him. "You're okay?" he asked the shaky woman. She nodded weakly but didn't say anything. Her lower lip was still trembling as new tears were running down her face. "Shhh, he's gone, and I'm pretty sure he won't come back," he murmured soothingly and suddenly she was in his arms, her head pressed against his chest.

Clark ran his hand up and down her back and kept murmuring soothing words. Between sobs she was telling his chest just how afraid she had been and how grateful she was for his help. It took her a while to regain her composure, and Clark let her cry. Strange as it was he liked the feeling of her in his arms. He knew it wasn't the right moment to feel drawn to a woman, and he did his best to control himself. He didn't want to act on the strange feelings that the smell of her hair and the warmth of her body against his caused in him. She was most likely engaged given the beautiful ring that she had so desperately fought for. He was nothing more than the man who had saved her, the broad shoulder she could lean on. It should be enough for him. The woman was forbidden area.

"Would you mind walking me home?" she asked as she pulled back after what seemed to be an eternity.

Clark shook his head. "Of course not. My pleasure. My name is Clark Kent."


"So you walked her home?" Lois asked and studied Clark's face to see his reaction. "Have you seen her again? Was she really engaged?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know, but that isn't important anyway. Yes, I walked her home. I have to admit I enjoyed her company. I shouldn't have." He lowered his glance down to the floor. "It took me longer than necessary, and I didn't exactly rush saying goodbye to her. I guess I had forgotten about the other woman, and she had reminded me of the fact that I didn't have a girlfriend. She was beautiful, but it wasn't really her that fascinated me so much. She was just someone who shot me worshipping glances. And I enjoyed it," he said bitterly.

Lois heard the sad tone of his voice. She instinctively knew that his being distracted was one of the reasons why he blamed himself for his cousin's dead. Had it happened right in the moment that he said goodbye to the woman he had rescued from the mugger? Lois for once didn't make him tell more, she just waited for him to continue. He had found a very interesting spot on the floor that needed his attention, or so it seemed. While he studied it with undue intensity he searched for the right words to continue.

"I…," he then started, but his voice broke and his eyes grew wet. "I suddenly heard a loud noise and screams. I made my excuses and rushed to the emergency side as fast as I could. But I had to be careful; I couldn't let the woman see me using my powers."

"You couldn't have saved Lily. You're mother told me that she died in that accident, in the very moment that it happened," Lois said in attempt to soothe him. "It wasn't your fault."

Clark shook his head. "I arrived at a place of sheer destruction. I don't know how it had happened exactly, but Lily's father had somehow steered the car into the oncoming traffic. It wasn't a busy street, particularly not at night. That's why the big trucks usually have the street for their own. My uncle's car was hardly recognizable, and it took me a moment to realize it was his. I could hear faint breathing from inside the car, though even today that seems quite a miracle to me. And I could hear sirens of police and ambulance. They were approaching in almost the same moment that I did. I couldn't easily run over to the car without the services watching me. I wasted valuable time and x-rayed the car, only to see her. Lily had blood all over her face, but her chest was rising and falling, though only barely so. In that very moment, I lost my head and started running over to the car in a fairly normal speed. I could hear shouts behind me, but I couldn't have cared less. Policemen were running after me, trying to hold me back, and they actually got hold of me. I hardly even realized they were there. Thus, they managed to knock me down."

"They were trying to protect you, Clark. Do you think you could have saved her if only you had been fast enough?" Lois asked quietly. "She was badly injured. You told me she was. Hardly anyone survives a crash with a truck. It wasn't your fault. You were helping someone else, Clark. You cannot possibly be everywhere at once."

Lois could tell from the expression on his face that this wasn't the whole story. Besides she still didn't know what part Mrs. Donovan played in the whole thing. She couldn't possibly be the young woman Clark had saved that night. She didn't have any motive whatsoever to hunt Clark years after that night because she might have fallen in love with him. That was downright ridiculous. Clark got up from the sofa and walked over to one of the windows and stared at the snow covered fields.

"I fought against the policemen, and I might have injured one or two of them. As soon as they learned that it was my family in that car they conceded that I wasn't responsible for my actions. I continued to run towards the car, and they shouted after me, just like they tried to hold back the young police officer who ran after me in an attempt to bring me back. He wanted to save my life. There was highly explosive liquid in that truck and the emergency services knew that. There wasn't much they could have done for Lily and her parents, not until the fire fighters had an idea how dangerous approaching really was." Clark swallowed hard before he continued to speak. His voice was now no more than a hoarse whisper and Lois found it difficult to understand what he was telling her. "Well, the truck did explode, and the young police officer died. The investigators concluded that he managed to throw me down to earth as the explosion hit us and that his covering my body saved my life."

Clark looked into Lois' eyes, searching for any hint of accusation in them. But he didn't see any of it. Instead her eyes were wide with shock, and she held her hand clasped over her mouth. It was strange talking about all this for the first time in years, if not for the first time ever.

"I heard the police officer shortly before the truck exploded. I turned towards him, trying to explain why I had to reach that car. I gestured towards him to get back, to run as fast as he could. I thought about giving up on Lily, but I hesitated too long. A split second later it was too late. I tried to save at least him, but my attempt to cover his body was too weak. He died in my arms." Clark's voice trailed off and he buried his face in his hands.

The sight of him in such great distress tore at Lois' heart. She wanted to take him in her arms and soothe him. No longer did she wonder why he hadn't told her this before, why he hadn't told anyone. This wasn't exactly a story one would like to tell. Lois stood up and went over to Clark. She laid her hands on his shoulders comfortingly and gently kneaded his stiff muscles. His every muscle was clenched from his jaw line down to his toes. Lois had never seen anyone so tense.

"The newspaper didn't say more than that one policeman died in the explosion. They never heard the real story. I don't know why exactly that was. It took lots of time until the investigation was finished. There were hardly any witnesses. The emergency services were trying to safeguard the area, while I had knocked out most of the policemen…" Clark looked at Lois and then turned away. "I should have been able to help…This young police officer died because of me. Hadn't it been for me running around like a madman, he would still be alive."

His voice was so low that Lois could barely hear his words. She knew that he was blaming himself for something he wasn't responsible for. It wasn't his fault that the woman had been mugged, much less had he asked the police officer to run after him. And Clark couldn't possibly have known that the truck had stored explosive liquid. But even though she had first met him a little over a month ago, she knew him well enough to be certain that he would never see it for what it was … an accident.

"Margaret Donovan was his aunt and she loved her nephew with all her heart. She worked for Child Services back then. In her eyes I had been irresponsible, not worthy to raise a child. She liked to consider it my fault that Lily ran away in the first place. My parents and a few other people spoke up for me and confirmed that it was all just a tragic accident and that Lily had wanted Becca to grow up with me. She read the official report over and over again, hoping she would find something to use against me. But there was nothing. Truth be told, I might have been responsible for her nephew's death. But more people would have died, hadn't I knocked out those policemen. Their lying motionlessly on the ground saved their lives," he gave Lois a rueful glance.

All she could see in his eyes was pain. Instinctively, Lois stepped closer to Clark, allowing him to rest his head on her shoulders. And he obviously needed the support she offered him. Clark pulled her into an embrace, holding her tightly like he was never going to let go of her again. He was shaking against her touch. He suffered because saving several lives but losing one instead was still too high a prize in his regard. "Maybe it was her who stopped the press release, figuring it would be easier to take revenge on me if the story wasn't public knowledge," he added quietly and in his voice Lois could hear no blame. It was as if he felt he deserved this kind of punishment, even though he might continue to fight against it for his daughter's sake.

"So you think that she had already become Mrs. Donovan by the time the official investigation was over?" Lois asked.

"I guess so," he replied. "I kind of remember that she appeared around that time. Becca and I spent time abroad. Since there was no hint of the accident being something else but an accident I was allowed to travel freely. I needed to put distance between me and Smallville." Clark made a pause and took a step back in order to be able to see Lois' face. He loved her more with each moment he was with her. She was just listening and waited for him to tell her what he felt capable of telling her.

"I couldn't believe I had lost her. It seemed impossible to come to terms with what had happened. And yet there was this little girl who needed my attention. Mom and Dad offered to take Rebecca. In fact, I think they would have preferred if she had stayed with them instead of me. They thought that coping with all these problems was too much for me. Honestly, I wouldn't have known how to go on without Rebecca at my side. She gave me a reason to get up every morning. Fighting for her kept me alive. I didn't even know that Mrs. Donovan had been Ms. Finnegan before you told me so. I just assumed that she had convinced Child Services in general to pursue me," Clark said and fell silent.

Lois didn't know what to say. And really, was there anything to say now that would sound right in a moment like this? All she could do was lay a hand on his shoulder to reassure him she was there for him. She couldn't shrug his problems off as if they were nothing to worry about. Clark was indeed in trouble and now that Lois knew how he had upset Margaret Donovan, she wasn't so sure how she was going to help him. But there was a way, there had to be.

Unbeknownst to Lois and Clark, Becca approached them. Seeing her father's face wet with tears shocked the girl. She couldn't remember having seen him crying ever before. But he surely had done it, Becca thought. He had liked her mom so much, he must have cried then. Anyway, it was strange seeing him like this, leaning against Lois for support. It couldn't be anything but that. Her father seemed to be so weak, in a completely different way from the state he had been in a few hours before. Now he was drained and all Becca wanted to do was to make it better, just like he always made things better for her. With a small peck on the cheek, a reassuring embrace or whatever it took to make the pain recede.

She didn't know what he had been talking about. Or rather she did. Lois and her father had certainly been discussing her mother's death. And from the sight of her father, she wasn't so sure she still wanted to hear the story. It had to be a rather sad one. Hesitantly, she took her father's hand. He hadn't even heard her coming, lost in dark thoughts as he was.

"Becky," he gasped, surprised and flinched at her touch.

"Don't be so sad, Daddy," she whispered and stepped towards him as he pulled her towards Lois and him, letting her share the embrace. "I'm sure Lois can help you." She glanced up at the woman who had been a stranger to her until recently. "You can, can't you, Lois?"

"I'll do my very best, honey." Lois nodded affirmatively and gave Becca a smile. "That's my New Year's resolution for this year. I wouldn't let you down. Trust me?"

"Yes, and Daddy does, too. He loves you, you know?"

Clark laughed despite himself and lifted his daughter up. "Do you know how much I love you, Becca?" he asked and kissed her. "I love you so much, my little whirlwind."

"And what about me?" Lois grinned.

"You are much more like a tornado," Clark replied. "Or what do you think, Becca? Mhh, definitely a tornado." He bent down to Lois and kissed her briefly. "But an extremely lovable tornado."


A couple of days later the world seemed to be back to normal. The police had stopped Hugh Danes without major problems as it seemed. Martha and Jonathan had both returned safely. The strange meteorites had been gathered together and stored in a container that could stop the radiation the rocks were emitting. Some samples had been sent to STAR Labs in Metropolis, but the major parts had been brought to a safe and very secret place. Much to Clark's disapproval, even he didn't know where the rocks had been brought. But he had decided that the moment he would hear anything, he would throw the rocks into the sun, regardless of what Danes had thought of their potential. But for now, there was nothing he could do about it. The immediate danger, however, was gone and his powers were already returning. Clark could stick to his promises; they would spend New Years Eve in Smallville and afterwards fly to a nice little island somewhere in the Caribbean Sea.

Lois had been very content with the first story they had investigated together, and she was grateful for the partner Perry had assigned her with. She had called Angela about Mrs. Donovan. Her friend at the Metropolis Child Services had promised her that they would leave Clark alone now. It had been a long conversation and Lois knew that Clark would freak out if she ever confessed to him just how much she had told Angela. But he didn't need to know and after all she had convinced Angela that there was no reason whatsoever to pursue Clark.

Not so much later Lois had talked to Jimmy. He would dig out everything he could about the famous woman. The only problem was that Perry had overheard parts of the conversation and for some reason he thought that Lois was working on a second front page story. She had hardly ever heard the voice of her editor sounding so excited. It would be an awful lot of work to convince him that there wasn't any story to write. Clark had been right all along, he couldn't possibly make his story common knowledge. There were more reasons than his life and Becca's. Even though Margaret Donovan had given him quite a hard time, she didn't deserve a story like the one Lois would like to write about her.

She hoped that talking to Angela and Jimmy was going to help Clark in one way or another. Lois knew that it was probably going to be a long way. This private war Mrs. Donovan was leading went on too long to be ended so easily. Only time could tell if her efforts would lead to success, but one thing was for sure, she would never ever allow that anyone took Becca away from Clark. The person who was going to survive the attempt wasn't even born yet. And since Lois could be sure of Angela's help, Clark and Becca were safe as long as they stayed in Metropolis. And Lois wouldn't mind if this was forever.

"Hey, beautiful. What are you thinking about?" Clark asked and laid his arms on her shoulders. "We are already waiting for you. Mom has prepared dinner and Becca can't sit still because she wants you to try her cake."

"Becca has made cake?" Lois asked surprised and suddenly she found her heart beating in her ears. A seven year old was far better in the kitchen than she was. How could she imagine herself as the right woman for Clark? This was downright impossible; Becca needed a mom, not an investigative journalist who failed at everything that was somehow related to household. She just couldn't…

"Hey, what's the matter, why are you getting so pale? Is something wrong, Lois?" Clark asked concerned and gently lifted up her chin to make her look at him.

"I… no… it's just… I…" Lois tried to get away from Clark. What was she doing here? He didn't need someone like her. Maybe he had fallen in love with her, but there was no way this could last.

"Lois, why don't you just tell me? What's bothering you? Did I do something wrong? Are you afraid of spending New Year's Eve with us?" he asked her and cupped her cheek with his hand, carefully and affectionately. "You should know that it means nothing more than you want it to mean, Lois. We know each other for about a month now. It might feel like a year, because so much has happened, but it is only just a month. I don't expect anything from you, but I'd love to spend this evening with my friend." He held out his hand to her, waiting for her to take it.

Lois looked at him, hesitating. "It's not that. Clark, I'd love to spend this evening with you as more than just your friend. But Becca, the cake…"

"Hey, I helped her with it; it can't be that bad," Clark grinned. "Come on, she so much wanted to do something for you and while you were busy calling people in Metropolis, Becca and I had fun in the kitchen. It meant a lot to Becca to do this for you…"

"But Clark, that's it… I mean, I even scorch water and your seven year-old daughter bakes for me. How can I ever…" she whispered desperately.

"Lois, honey, Becca and I don't need a cook. I'm fairly good at that myself. What we need is someone who has your kind heart, if you want to share it with us, that is. We need you hugging us once in a while, we like your spirit and I'm sure Becca will be grateful one day if she doesn't have to discuss certain things with her old dad. I love you how you are; to me you are perfect as you are." He drew her closer and pulled her into an embrace. Lois rested her head on his shoulder, her worries diminished, though not completely gone.

For a while they were standing in the corridor like this, holding each other tightly. They could hear laughter and snippets of a conversation coming from the living room. Everything was so peaceful, just as it should be. Lois felt warmth filling her body. Just as Christmas a week ago, New Year's Eve with the Kent's was so completely different from anything she knew. There was only joy in this house, not even the faintest hint of an argument. Enjoying the new experience and drinking in the sweetness of being so close to Clark, Lois decided to not let this moment pass so easily. Only the moment didn't want to stay with her.

Two small hands tugged at her blouse and at Clark's shirt. They parted and looked down at a grinning Becca. She didn't seem to be the least bit sorry for interrupting them. Instead she was smiling broadly and gestured towards the living room.

"Everyone is waiting for you!" she stated and gave Lois and Clark a soft push into the right direction.

Laughing, Lois and Clark obeyed and followed the little girl into the living room where Martha and Jonathan were already waiting. The older Kent's had lifted their glasses of wine and waited for the younger couple to join them. Lois couldn't remember when she had seen so many smiling people celebrating together. She sat down next to Clark who had already lifted his glass as well. Lois took her own glass of wine.

"I toast to a wonderful new year!" Clark said and looked deeply into Lois' eyes.

"But, Clark, this one hasn't ended yet," Lois protested.

"If it starts half as good as this one has ended it will still be more than wonderful!" he grinned.

"To a wonderful new year," Martha and Jonathan replied in unison, and Martha added, "Welcome to the family, Lois. We don't know if it will work out between you and Clark, but I think after all that happened, we can consider you a part of this family."