By Terry Leatherwood <email@example.com>
Submitted: November, 2008
Summary: A woman walks away from a plane crash with no other survivors and claims to be from Krypton. Clark decides to train her to use her powers for good, but Lois believes the woman is a threat to both their marriage and to Lois' very survival. A story set immediately following Season 4.
I want to take a moment at the very beginning and thank two very fine Beta readers, GuineaPants and Ray (listed alphabetically and not necessarily in order of importance). They helped me find several problems with the story and correct them, including helping me find a far more appropriate title than the one I originally picked. If you like the story, please think of them fondly. If you don't like the story, feel free to blame them -- I mean me! Blame me. Really.
This story takes place not long after the final Season Four episode. The explanation of where the baby came from and where it went is irrelevant to the plot of this story, except that the baby was returned to its own home and Lois now desperately wants a child of her own.
This story contains a character death, along with other deaths which occur "off-screen." If this type of story is not to your liking, please close this post now.
Martha looked up just in time to see her daughter-in-law heading in to clobber her with a desperate hug. "Martha! I'm so glad to see you I mean we're so glad to see you how was your flight how many bags do you have and I'm sorry you had to fly here on the airliner but Clark was tied up at work really he was and he couldn't get away but he's over by the luggage return and I'm so very glad to see you!"
Martha laughed. "Take a deep breath, Lois!" She did, and Martha patted her on the back. "We're glad to see you, too, but we don't want you to pass out on the floor right in front of us."
Lois laughed with her and leaned back. "I'm sorry, Martha. Oh, Jonathan, there you are! Clark's at the baggage carousel. He said he wants to win a pony."
The three shared a laugh. But Martha noted the dark circles under Lois's eyes and the forced tone in her laughter. Something was still wrong.
Lois scampered ahead of them to the baggage return. Jonathan leaned down and spoke into Martha's ear. "I think she's over her depression."
With a warm smile as camouflage, Martha shook her head. "It's too much laughter too soon. She looks thin and worn. Losing a baby like that would depress Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."
"But the baby went back home, right? Clark and Lois only had him for a couple of weeks. Why would she still be upset?"
She shook her head. "Because she wants a baby more than she wants a Pulitzer, Jonathan! For that matter, so does Clark."
"So you think that's why they paid for this trip of ours on such short notice? And after we and the Lanes spent so much time with them so recently?"
"Yes. I'm just glad Clark was able to help you finish planting the winter wheat. I think the farm will be okay for the next week or so. There shouldn't be anything major for Wayne or his hired man to do."
He sighed. "I hope we can say the same for them."
Martha looked ahead to the carousel and watched her Clark and Lois interact. They weren't comfortable next to each other. They both reached for a bag at the same time, and both snatched their hands back to keep from touching the other. Six months before, they would have both grabbed the bag, smiled warmly to each other, and kissed enthusiastically. Now their eyes wouldn't meet and they danced around each other awkwardly.
Clark lifted his parents' bags to the floor and turned to greet them. His smile was as much relief as it was affection.
"Dad! Mom! It's wonderful to have you here!" He grabbed his father and easily lifted him a foot off the floor.
Martha grinned and playfully punched Clark's arm. "Young man, put your father down this instant! You know he's afraid of heights!"
Lois laughed uproariously and held Martha's arm to keep herself upright. "It really is wonderful to have you two here! We have dinner all planned and you won't have to cook or clean and it won't cost --"
Martha felt the WHOOOMPH in her chest just before she heard it. Everyone in the baggage claim area froze in place. Almost as one, they turned and tried to look past the waiting area and the gates towards the runway. Clark put his father down and lowered his glasses.
He paled slightly, then leaned towards Lois and whispered something Martha didn't catch. Then he skipped away towards the men's room.
Lois wore her work face as she leaned close to Martha. "There's been a plane crash on the runway, a twin-engine commuter airliner. Clark's going to help. I'm going to cover the story. Here's the keys to the Jeep and my parking receipt and money for the gate. You two go on to the apartment; I'll catch a cab later."
"What? You're on vacation, Lois! You can't cover this!"
"I have to, Martha. I'm sorry. We'll be home as soon as we can get there."
She closed Martha's fingers around the keys and trotted away. Martha turned to her husband. "Well, Jonathan, can you carry those bags by yourself?"
He shook his head. "Not going to try. I'll just get one of these nice gentlemen who work for tips to help me."
She patted his forearm. "Finally getting wise in your old age, huh?"
He grinned back. "Getting a head start on it."
Jonathan slid the transmission lever to P, set the emergency brake, turned off the ignition, then sat back and took several deep breaths. "You okay, Martha?"
Martha released her death grip on the dashboard handle in front of her and wiped the sweat from above her eyes. "I think so. You?"
"I surely hope so! I don't remember Metropolis traffic being quite so -- so --"
She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. "That's the word. Maybe it's because we nearly always ride when we're here and almost never drive. Well, we're at their apartment now. I guess we got the good parking space to make up for the terror of the drive itself." She smirked at her husband. "Do we want to haul our stuff upstairs by ourselves or wait for our son to take care of it?"
Jonathan looked into the mirror to judge the traffic before climbing out. "We let him bring it. What's the use of having an exceptionally strong son if he doesn't do any work for us?"
She smiled and nodded. "More wisdom of the aged, eh?"
He slid out the door and hustled around the front of the Jeep. "I wouldn't talk too much if I were you, old lady."
"Old lady? I'll show you what kind of an old lady I am!"
He put his arm around her shoulder. "Promises, promises."
She giggled. "Jonathan! We're visiting our son and daughter-in-law! We can't scandalize them by being noisy at night!"
"Then we'll wait for them to leave tomorrow morning."
She pushed him away from the front door and pressed the button to be buzzed in. They were still making goo-goo eyes at each other and laughing at each other's flirting as they reached Clark and Lois's apartment door.
Before Jonathan could find Lois's house key, the door swung open to reveal Clark in jeans and pullover shirt. Martha started to make a joke about his wardrobe, but a glance at his expression stopped her cold.
"Mom, Dad, come in, please. There's someone I want you to meet."
They followed him into the living room, where an uncomfortable young woman sat on the couch. She was wearing one of Clark's old Kansas State sweatsuits. Her sandy blonde hair was pulled back into a short ponytail and her feet were bare. Martha wasn't sure, but she thought the woman's eyes were light gray.
Clark stood beside the woman and turned to his astonished parents. "Mom, Dad, I want you to meet Robin McGyver."
Martha recovered first. "Ah, hello, Robin. I'm Martha Kent." She elbowed her husband.
"Uh! Yes, I'm Jonathan, Clark's father. We're pleased to meet you."
She glanced briefly at both of them. "Yeah. Me too."
Martha thought she detected a hint of an Appalachian accent. She sat down next to Robin, who leaned away slightly.
"It's all right, Robin, I'm not going to hurt you."
Robin snorted and looked at Clark. He sighed deeply and said, "Mom, you couldn't hurt her if you wanted to. Robin is from Krypton."
Lois limped to her front door and missed the doorknob on the first try when her ankle twinged and she jerked as she tried to maintain her balance. It was one more straw of irritation on the mountain of frustration and annoyance and exasperation and emotional stress she'd endured for the last few months. Her metaphorical camel -- upon which was piled all that stress -- was starting to give her dirty looks.
First it had been the baby in their library. The note had said the child was for them, but the real parents had come calling before very long and she'd had to give the baby back. That had been almost two months ago, but there were times she could still hear that child's happy gurgle. She'd hated giving up the gurgle, the diapers, the night feedings, all of it. She'd hated giving that baby back.
No. Clark had forced her to give the baby back. She hadn't wanted to. In fact, handing that darling little infant to a pair of near strangers had almost torn her apart. She'd never given much thought to being a mother until Clark had burrowed his way into her heart and her life, and from then on she'd been alternately terrified by the prospect of motherhood and utterly consumed by longing for their child. Clark's well-intentioned 'family of two' speech, meant both to placate and to comfort her, hadn't quite done the job this time.
She knew her precarious emotional condition was partly the cause of the rift between them, but she felt that Clark was partly responsible also. He hadn't tried to understand the depth of her loss and her pain. He'd tried to romance her out of her mood, as if all she needed was a super night or two with him to 'get over it,' and she'd reacted with either depression or anger.
She felt like he hadn't listened to her, hadn't tried to understand her feelings, so she'd stopped talking to him about them. As a result, Clark had tried to pry her open and had switched to being overly nice and helpful, but he'd received only sharp words and sharper looks for his efforts. So he'd almost stopped talking to her at all. She was so glad that Martha and Jonathan were coming to visit. She could barely wait to get alone with Martha and talk to her. Maybe her mother-in-law could help her bridge the chasm that had developed between her and Clark.
Her own mother was less than no help. Lois had tried to discuss her feelings with her a few weeks earlier, but she'd only gotten an earful of bad memories and unfiltered bitterness from Ellen Lane. Daddy, apparently, had done something else to make his estranged wife angry with him, and despite the torrent of invective from Ellen, Lois never did quite figure out what he'd done to set her off this time.
Lucy had tried to help, but all of her long-distance advice was tempered not only by her being in training as a Forest Service Ranger in Yellowstone National Park, but by the fact that she didn't know the whole story, and that Lois couldn't tell her. More than once Lois had been tempted to blurt out The Secret, to let her sister in on the conspiracy of silence to keep Superman's other identity from the world stage.
She'd always resisted, of course. Lucy had known each time that Lois had been holding something back, but she'd never pried. Lucy apparently knew that Lois would tell her if and when she could. And while the conversations with her sister helped, Lois never got all that she needed from her. Try as she might, Lucy couldn't help Lois bridge the gap that had grown between the newlyweds.
The crux of it was that Lois didn't feel needed, not at the Daily Planet or in her own home. Oh, she knew she was valuable, that the paper would suffer if she were to leave for some reason, but she also knew that the Planet would continue. She knew that, despite her strong relationship with the editor and the owner, they wouldn't hang their heads and mope for the rest of their lives if she quit.
And Clark didn't have to have her there. He loved her, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but if she wasn't around there were dozens of women who'd kill for the chance to take her place. And there always would be such women. Her husband would never have to be alone, either as Clark or as Superman.
Her thoughts left her almost desolate as she leaned against the door jamb.
She hadn't gotten the whole story of the crash at the airport, either. The chance to cover breaking news was a double-edged sword for her. On one hand, big stories which would put her name on the front page again didn't happen every day. But on the other hand, she really, really wanted to talk to Martha, and covering this story would delay that opportunity. On top of that, she'd slipped down a flight of steps and landed awkwardly on her left foot. Her ankle wasn't broken, but she'd almost certainly suffered a mild sprain. She knew Clark could help her feel better, but she wasn't yet comfortable touching him or letting him touch her, as the incident at the baggage claim had showed.
She was surprised to realize, as she thought about it, that Clark had flinched from touching her, too. The knowledge twisted her heart. She'd made Clark uncomfortable about touching her! That was something she'd never thought would happen. Well, that had to change, and as soon as possible. She needed Clark in her life.
But did he really need her?
Lois believed that Clark loved her. She had no doubts on that score. He'd resisted numerous women, blonde or some other temperament, and countless hordes of grasping groupies, just to wait for her. Clark loved her. He wouldn't leave her, not ever.
But did he actually, truly need her? After all, he was Superman, too. He was exceptionally successful as a superhero, he'd been a successful journalist even before he'd joined the Planet, he'd been offered loads of other jobs for more money and more fame, all of which he'd turned down, but Lois had begun to think that he could have and would have done all those things and more even if she hadn't been around. The alternate universe Clark whom she'd helped start down the path to being Superman had needed her to push him, but H. G. Wells had made it clear that he hadn't needed her to hang around with him. Even when he'd subbed for Clark when Tempus had trapped her husband in the time window, the alt-Clark had left with hope that he'd find his Lois.
That Clark had surely needed his Lois.
She wasn't as sure about her Clark needing her. Loving her, yes. Faithful to her, yes. Solid and dependable, absolutely yes.
But did he need her? Did he need her more than he needed a sky to fly through or an injustice to rectify or a safe place to call home?
She just didn't know.
She finally grasped the doorknob and pushed the door open, leaning on the knob to support her ankle. She was home, the place where she was safe and secure and loved.
Being loved would have to do for now.
She looked around at the front room, smiling to herself, taking in the fireplace, the bookshelf that hid Clark's extra super-suits, the entertainment center, the sofa, the television, the blonde in the bathrobe --"
The blonde in the bathrobe?
The tall young woman was walking out of the master bedroom, toweling her hair, wearing Lois's favorite bathrobe. The woman did a classic double-take as she noticed Lois standing in the doorway.
All kinds of emotions suddenly battled for prominence in Lois's mind. She was astounded, furious, petrified, shocked, stunned, amazed, scared, jealous --"
And then the blonde opened her mouth. "Hey, Clark, Ah think Lois done got home."
Clark was in the kitchen preparing a bowl of canned tuna when he heard Robin call to him that Lois was home. Oh, good, he thought. Might as well face the explosion head-on.
He grabbed a dish towel and wiped his hands as he walked into the living room. He walked to his wife, who was rooted to the carpet in the doorway, and kissed her on the cheek. "Hi, honey, glad you're home. Want something to drink?"
She didn't answer for a moment. "Lois? Are you okay?"
Lois slowly rotated her head towards him. "Clark?"
He saw the confusion in her expression and considered that he'd made a mistake by not calling her earlier. "Yes, Lois?"
"Who is that woman?"
Clark turned and looked at Robin. "You mean her?"
Lois pushed him sharply and actually knocked him slightly off-balance. "Are there any other strange women in my home?"
Now she's mad, he thought, but at least she's mad at me and not at Robin. "Her name is Robin McGyver. She was the only survivor of that plane crash today."
Lois's eyebrows danced above her lashes. "What? Clark, there were no survivors! All four crew and all sixteen passengers were killed instantly! No one could have lived through that crash!"
Robin walked up to Lois and held out her hand. "Howdy. Your man here told me I could clean up a little."
Lois fixed her with a laser stare. "You're wearing my robe."
Robin looked down at her garment, then back at Lois. "Sorry, honey. You want it back?"
"Yes," Lois hissed.
Robin shrugged. "Okay. Here ya go."
She opened the robe and dropped it from her shoulders and demonstrated to both of them that she had no visible scars, tattoos, or other identifying marks. Clark reddened and turned away, but Lois just crossed her arms and intensified her glare. "You can put it away now, 'honey.' Clark doesn't care how loaded your guns are."
It was Robin's turn to lift her eyebrows. After a moment, she pulled the robe back up and belted it closed. "I guess that means you don't care neither."
"Not a bit."
"Okay. I guess maybe you wanna take a swing at me, too."
Lois took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Not just now, but don't forget about it." She took a step forward. "Because I won't."
Without turning around, Clark said, "Ah, Lois? Robin's not from around here."
Lois snarled, "I can see that."
"No, I mean she's not from around here like I'm not from around here."
Lois processed Clark's comment for a moment, then stepped back and dropped her hands to her side. "Clark -- you mean -- are you telling me she's -- she's from --"
Robin smiled and floated two feet above the floor. "Yep. My old homestead's Krypton, just like his is."
Robin drifted back to terra firma. Without thinking about why he did it, Clark turned around and stepped between the two women so that his left shoulder was in front of Lois. "Robin, you have to understand about Lois. She's never met anyone else from Krypton." He snorted. "For that matter, neither have I, except for those idiots from New Krypton."
Lois's eyes widened. "You're from New Krypton, aren't you? You didn't leave with the rest of them! We'll have to contact Zara somehow and send you --"
Clark looked over his shoulder and said, "No. Zara assured me that all of their people left with her and the mother ship. They can't come back to Earth without me knowing about it, and since Nor is dead none of them have any reason to be here."
He could tell from her expression that she didn't believe him completely, or perhaps it was that she didn't fully trust Zara, but since she didn't say anything he didn't pursue the subject. "My mom went out to buy some clothes for Robin, since she can't wear anything of yours and the only thing I have that will fit her is an old sweatsuit. She should be back in a few minutes."
Robin nodded to the front door. "She's in the hallway now. I'll wait for her in the bedroom, okay?"
Without waiting for any response, Robin turned and waltzed into the bedroom. Martha walked in the front door just as the bedroom door clicked shut.
Martha took in the sight of Lois staring holes in Clark, and she walked to the bedroom and handed the two bags from Cost Mart through the doorway. She retraced her steps, and as she passed Clark, she said, "Jonathan and I have some shopping of our own to do. We'll bring back some fried chicken and coleslaw for dinner. See you two in a couple of hours."
The front door clicked shut. Clark looked at Lois. Lois turned her head and stared at the bedroom door.
She didn't turn her head. "What?"
"Don't you have anything to say?"
She slowly turned her entire rigid body towards him. Her words were cut from tempered steel. "Of course I do. But anything I say now, Robin will hear."
He nodded. "How about I tell you how she got here?"
"Do your folks know about her?"
"Only because they were here earlier."
She blew a breath out through her nose, then relaxed slightly and moved toward the couch. "Go ahead. I'm all ears."
Clark took a deep breath and paced in front of Lois. "Her Kryptonian name is Kara. Apparently my father -- Jor-El, my biological father -- built another spaceship before he built the one that brought me to Earth. There were problems with the first ship, so he moved it to his brother's storage unit and made him promise not to mess with it."
She crossed her arms. "I take it Jor-El's brother didn't keep his word."
Clark frowned. "That's where the story gets a little fuzzy. I think Kara must have been about two at the time Krypton exploded, so she remembers a little bit about her biological parents. I think they were professional associates of my uncle, Zim-El, and Kara's dad must have corrected most of the problems on the first ship, because they launched it when they saw Jor-El launch -- well, me."
"Okay. So what happened to her?"
"She landed in the Appalachian mountains, somewhere in West Virginia. A sharecropper and his wife found her and raised her as their own. I suppose no one questioned them having one more girl child."
"What happened to the ship?"
Clark shrugged. "Robin doesn't know. It's possible that her ship was in that Bureau 39 warehouse we broke into where my ship and my globe was, or maybe it was buried and forgotten. She never heard anything about a globe with her ship, either."
"What's she been doing for the last three decades?"
"Working with her adoptive parents, at first, and then at odd jobs around the country, usually working for cash. She's done a lot of things in her time."
Lois sneered for a moment but didn't say anything. Aloud, she asked, "What kinds of things?"
Clark frowned slightly. "She didn't give us much detail about that aspect of her life. I think she's seen some pretty difficult times, though, especially when she had to leave places to keep her powers secret."
"Like you used to do?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure. Like I said, her story is a little fuzzy in places. A lot of places, actually. I don't know all the details yet."
Lois sat down and leaned back. "Where does she call home?"
"As far as I can tell, she doesn't have a home. She just wanders around, doing what she has to do to stay alive."
"Oh, good," she muttered, "a super-powered vagrant." Before Clark could react, she added, "What was she doing on that plane?"
"She was working for a temporary agency in Kentucky when she heard there were some entry-level openings at LNN. She said she's tired of moving around so much and wanted to put down some roots, even if it was in the big city."
"So why haven't we heard from her before now?"
"She doesn't want to be a super-heroine. She just wants to be left alone."
Lois shook her head. "That's not likely to happen, Clark, especially not now. The authorities are still trying to find the twentieth body in the wreckage of that plane. They won't find it because she's in our bedroom getting dressed. Her name, or whatever name she was using, is in their computer. Somebody must remember her from the departure point in Louisville, and we can't just tell people that Superman rescued her and dropped her on our doorstep. This is not the kind of mystery that's going to just go away."
She was right. And that worried Clark more than he was willing to admit, even to his wife.
Lois knew Clark was trying to do the right thing where Robin was concerned, but she wasn't sure he knew what the right thing was at the moment. It was as if he'd latched onto Robin simply because she was from Krypton without thinking through the ramifications of his actions.
He was being impulsive and she was trying to hold him back. That was certainly a role reversal.
Before Clark could respond to Lois's last statement, the bedroom door opened and Robin stepped out. Lois stood and examined her critically. She was about five feet ten inches tall, and slender almost to the point of anorexia. She appeared to weigh no more than one hundred ten pounds -- if she weighed that much -- but Lois knew that Kryptonian physiology was denser than human, and that she could survive for an extended period of time on little food as long as she had enough sunlight. She'd brushed her hair back and secured it with one of Lois's old scrunchies. Her eyes were light gray and her skin was clear. Her new clothes were basic business casual style, and they fit her well. Lois admitted that Robin was attractive despite the poor first impression she'd presented.
But something in her body language concerned Lois. She didn't move like Clark did, confident and relaxed and openly trusting. Nor did she walk like so many of the New Kryptonians had, as superior beings disdainful of other inferior creatures. Instead, Robin reminded Lois of a prey animal, ready to flee at the first hint of a threat. But what could threaten her? She was Kryptonian, and even though Lois hadn't seen any demonstration of her powers other than floating, she'd survived a plane crash that had killed all the other people on the aircraft.
And that reminded Lois of what the flight controller had told her. He'd been almost in tears as he'd told her, "It just dropped out of the sky! It was right in the approach groove, coming in perfect on the glide path, and it just fell down! I don't know what happened! It was like the pilot suddenly pushed the stick all the way forward and shoved the throttles all the way up and deliberately flew it right into the ground! Planes don't crash like that, not by accident."
There was a lot more to this Robin McGyver than met the eye, and Lois was suddenly determined to get to the bottom of it.
This was a time to play the gracious hostess. Lois stepped forward and said, "Robin, please forgive my bad manners. I had to cover a story while on vacation and I didn't get the whole thing, I twisted my ankle, I had to take a cab back to my own home, and I find a stranger here who's from someplace far, far away. I apologize for my lack of hospitality. Did Clark get you something to eat?"
Robin eyed Lois warily. "No."
"What would you like? We have some steaks I could grill, or I could make you a sandwich, or even some pasta if you'd rather have that."
Robin hesitated as if measuring Lois's sincerity. "A sandwich or two would be nice."
Lois smiled. "Good. Smoked turkey and cheddar cheese okay with you?"
"Mayonnaise? Lettuce? Tomato?"
"Uh. Sure, that sounds -- nice."
"Coming right up. Do you like iced tea or would you prefer a glass of soda?"
Robin glanced furtively at Clark, who only raised his eyebrows in confusion. "Iced tea sounds fine. You got some already sweet?"
Lois's voice drifted back from the kitchen. "Clark doesn't make it any other way. I won't be a minute."
Lois could hear them in the living room; Robin apparently had little regard for privacy, her own or someone else's. "Your wife ain't quite what I expected, Kal."
"Please, call me Clark."
"Sure, if that's what y'want."
"It is my name."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Same reason I go by Robin."
Clark hesitated, then his good manners took over. "Why don't you sit down and make yourself comfortable?"
"Thanks." Lois heard the sofa sigh. "Hey, this is a classy couch. Where'd you get it?"
"We bought it just after we signed the lease for the apartment."
There was a puzzled note in the girl's voice. "You bought it?"
Lois entered the room with Robin's sandwiches on a tray, along with the bowl of tuna Clark had been preparing when Lois got home. "We paid cash, too. Clark hates to pay interest on anything. Clark, did you want this tuna or was it for Robin?"
"If Robin doesn't want it, I'll put it in the fridge for later. My parents are bringing home fried chicken, remember?"
Robin took the tray and began wolfing down the meal. She stopped to swallow and muttered around another huge bite, "I jus' thought Sup'man got a lotta free stuff."
Clark shook his head. "Superman doesn't accept gifts unless they're directed to the Superman Foundation. After all, Clark Kent may need a bed to sleep in, or this case a couch to sit on, but Superman doesn't."
Robin belched loudly. "Uh-huh. Maybe Superman don't, but Robin does. This little birdie don't got no nest to rest herself in. You gonna put me up here?"
Lois's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. Clark leaned in and said, "Actually, Robin, I was thinking more like a motel room."
Robin frowned. "What? You gonna stick me in a crappy little motel when you got all this room here? What's the matter with you, anyway?"
Lois recovered and gently asked, "Robin, couldn't you just fly wherever you want to go?"
The girl snorted. "Sure I could, but I got no money! All my cash and my ID papers was in my purse and it's all burnt up in the plane crash! An' so was all my luggage! Even the clothes I was wearin' got scorched pretty good 'n' that's why I was wearin' your robe when you come in! These sandwiches is good but they won't last forever!"
"The motel would just be a temporary thing," Clark said soothingly. "I think we can find you something more permanent, if that's what you'd like."
"Permanent. Yeah, permanent, long as it's where some people are. I got tired o' bein' by myself."
Lois stood. "I'll take the tray if you're done with it."
Robin grinned. "Yeah, sure. Hey, I could get used to bein' waited on."
Like that's going to happen, Lois thought. Aloud, she asked, "Robin, what did you mean when you said I wasn't what you expected?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. I thought Superman's wife'd be all rich and snooty and mean so's other women would stay away."
"But I'm not married to Superman. I'm married to Clark."
Robin shrugged lazily. "Same thing, ain't it?"
"No, it's not. To the public, at least, Superman doesn't have a wife or parents or loved ones. He has people he likes to hang around with occasionally, but no one he's all that close to. It keeps the publicity down."
She guffawed. "Like that story last year that you was messin' around with Supes?"
Lois grimaced. "Yes, like that. That picture turned out to be a fake, remember?"
Robin shook her head. "I dint pay that much attention." She stood abruptly. "Okay, you got a motel picked out for me or not?"
Clark lifted a hand. "If you could wait a minute, I need to check out Lois's ankle. It's swollen and I'm sure it hurts."
Lois sat beside Clark and lifted her foot into his lap. "Actually, I'm really glad you noticed."
Clark looked at and into her ankle, then nodded. "No breaks, and the ligaments aren't damaged too badly. Unless you hurt it again, I don't think you'll need to see a doctor."
Clark began massaging his wife's ankle and foot. Lois winced a couple of times, but then she relaxed and closed her eyes. "That helps a lot. Thanks, hon."
She opened her eyes and spotted Robin staring at them. Lois couldn't decide if the girl was amazed at Superman's solicitude or envious of their relationship.
Lois smiled and thought, Wait till she sees us when we're really in sync.
Then a troubling thought struck her. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea for Robin to see how loving and tender Clark could actually be. Maybe showing Robin how good she and Clark were together wasn't a good thing. And she wondered why she was thinking along those lines.
Her smile slid away like the morning mist in harsh sunlight.
Robin slumped down in the seat. "This stupid wig stinks. It tickles my ears. And it don't fit right."
For the ninth time, Lois calmly intoned, "It's important that they don't recognize you, Robin."
"Who's gonna recognize me? Ain't nobody lookin' for me right now."
"No, but anyone who comes looking for you later will get a description of a redhead from anyone who sees you today."
"Red ain't my color."
Lois tried not to sigh. "It's not mine, either, but it worked for me."
"You still got spotted."
"But not by the police. You don't have any mad scientist types chasing you."
Robin turned towards the window. "You don't, do you?" asked Lois.
"No, I ain't got no freakin' scientists chasin' me!"
This time Lois did sigh. She also made a decision. It wasn't one that Clark might have made, but she believed it was necessary to let Robin in on a couple of fairly important things.
"Robin, have you ever heard of Bureau 39?"
"That a place to eat or a sexy lingerie store?"
Lois wondered yet again about the limitations in Robin's thought processes. "Neither. It's a rogue government agency that went after Clark. I was just wondering if they'd ever found you."
The girl turned to face Lois. "Not that I know of." She shifted and showed some alarm. "Hey, if they went after Clark, that means they knew somethin' about him, right?"
"They did, but we're pretty sure only the top man actually found out about Clark being Superman."
"So I guess they ain't around no more?"
Robin's nasal Appalachian twang was starting to grate on Lois's ears. "No. But we've never found out how much they really knew and how much they reported up in the chain of command."
"So where's this head guy now?"
Robin's eyes grew wide and she almost smiled. "Guess he found out you don't tug on Superman's cape, huh?"
Lois shot her a sharp glance and once again wished Clark had come along with them. "That's not how it went down. A local sheriff shot him because he was pointing a gun at Clark." They pulled into a parking lot. "And here's the motel. I'll go in with you and --"
"I know how to sign my name, honey."
Lois nodded. "Okay. And what will you show them when they ask for ID?"
Robin's face fell. "Oh. Forgot about that. I'll hafta see if I can get another license tomorrow." She turned to pick up the purse and overnight bag Martha had purchased for her. "Don't usually stay in such nice places."
Lois quickly scanned the front of the motel, thinking that 'nice' wouldn't be her description of it. The building resembled the one she and Clark had stayed in when Lois had been on the run from a murder conviction and a date with the executioner. Oddly, it was also the time period from which Robin's red wig dated.
But Robin's standards of housing were obviously looser than her own. "Shall we get you checked in?"
"Yeah. Oh, thanks for the chicken dinner. Reminds me 'bout home a little."
Lois couldn't land on an evaluation of Robin McGyver. The girl would irritate her one minute and the next she'd trigger Lois's compassion reflex. At one moment, Robin might act so much like a snotty teenager Lois would be tempted to send her to her room, and seconds later she'd look so much like a little lost waif Lois would want to hug her and protect her from the big, bad, cruel world. They were about the same chronological age, but in so many ways, Robin was so much younger and so much more emotionally vulnerable.
And, because of her powers, vastly more dangerous.
As they pushed through the office door, Lois decided to postpone any decisions until she had more information. And, since she was one of the world's best investigative reporters, she was sure she'd have plenty of that in the next few days.
Registering didn't take any longer than it had to. The bored clerk tossed two actual, physical keys on the desk. Robin palmed one expertly and handed the other to Lois, then motioned with her head.
As they climbed the stairs to the third floor room -- there was no elevator to be out of service -- Lois asked, "Are your adoptive parents still alive, Robin?"
The girl shrugged. "Guess Pa might be. Ma got kilt on a shine run."
Lois paused. "On a -- a what?"
"She was haulin' moonshine from the still to town. Homemade whiskey and gin and bourbon and beer and weed and some other stuff. They run it back in the West Virginia hills." She turned and gave Lois a lopsided grin. "Ain't a whole lot else for folks with no money or property or ambition to do up there."
"I thought that whole Smokey and the Bandit kind of thing went out when Prohibition was repealed."
"Naw. Just changed it. Pa don't like workin' so he makes shine and grows weed and sells it for what he can get. Grows some weed on the side, too."
"I see." Lois resumed her climb. "I'm sorry about your mother."
Robin shrugged again. "She mashed the pickup and herself into a tree tryin' to run from John Law. I was about fourteen at the time, been a woman for mebbe a year, so Pa tried to trade me for a new haulin' truck to a man who wanted a new girl. Well, I was pretty strong even then, so once Pa was out of sight I beat the crap out o' the man he gave me to and lit out. Been on my own ever since." She chuckled. "Don't even know if the man wanted the truck back from Pa."
Lois was stunned. This tipped her emotional scale back to compassion again. "Are you saying that you haven't seen your father since then?"
Robin stopped and turned. Her face was sudden granite. "He weren't much of a father to swap me for a truck, was he?"
Lois shook her head. "No, I guess he wasn't."
They kept climbing. Robin snorted. "Least he got some use outta me before he traded me."
Lois frowned, not understanding. "You mean you helped him with the moonshine business?"
Robin laughed over her shoulder as they turned onto the floor where her room was. "Yeah, that too. What I meant was that he took me to his bed and showed me how it was with a man and a woman."
Now Lois was truly shocked. No wonder the girl was so coarse, so earthy, so much in the physicality of the moment. She tried to say something as Robin put the key in the lock, but nothing came to her mind.
Robin turned and smiled. "Hey, thanks for walkin' me up here. You wanna come in for a while?"
Lois's mind was racing but the clutch wasn't engaged. "Uh --"
The girl shook her head. "Naw, never mind. I gotta get some sleep anyway. Didn't sleep much in Louisville the last few days an' I'm pretty tired." She stepped into the room and slowly closed the door. "See you tomorrow at ten."
Lois blinked herself out of her stupor. "How about I pick you up at nine and we'll have breakfast?"
The door stopped. Robin looked Lois in the eyes, and it seemed as if she was trying to remember how to smile for real. "Yeah. I think I'd like that." The girl nodded slowly, still smiling warmly. "See you tomorrow -- at nine."
Lois smiled back. "Good. You be hungry, okay?"
"Trust me, lady, I'm always hungry."
Lois didn't go straight home. She stopped by the office and snared Jimmy Olsen for a search for information on Robin McGyver specifically and on sexually abused teenagers who grow to adulthood in general. This girl was looking more and more like a time bomb waiting to go off.
If she hadn't already gone off.
The thought brought her up short. "Jimmy!"
"Yes, Lois? What else, Lois?"
He grinned impishly. "You know me, I'm always careful!"
She bored her gaze into his eyes. "No. I mean really, really careful. Don't make a lot of noise with this one, okay?"
He lifted an eyebrow and canted his head at her. "This isn't personal, is it?"
"No, it's Planet business. But if certain people get wind of this investigation, these certain people might not appreciate being investigated -- " she poked him in the shoulder with her index finger " -- and they might decide to find you and discourage you from ever looking into their business again. Understand?"
His eyes slowly widened as comprehension blossomed. "Yeah. Yeah, I understand. I promise you, no one will know I was ever there."
"Good. I'd hate to have to break in another researcher."
He nodded, eyes still like saucers, and trotted to his computer. Lois pulled up all the news reports on the plane crash, but learned nothing she didn't already know.
She decided to go home and see what happened next.
"Clark? I'm back."
He looked up from the newspaper he was reading. "Hi."
"Hi yourself." She glanced around. "Did your parents leave?"
"There's a new movie out that Mom wanted to see, and Dad mentioned something about a late dinner for the two of them."
"Kind of a date, huh?"
He grimaced and looked at his book again. "Something like that, yes." Like we used to do, she almost heard him say.
She didn't miss his expression. His thoughts were plainly written all over his face. But if he didn't want to talk to her about them, she didn't either. Instead she crossed the living room towards the kitchen. "That's so sweet of them. Any coffee left?"
"About half a pot of decaf."
"Good. I need to get up early tomorrow. Robin and I are meeting at nine."
Clark nodded. "Just you girls for breakfast, huh?"
She carried her cup towards the bedroom. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"You're probably right."
He picked up the paper again. Lois took a sip and nearly asked Clark to heat it up, then stopped herself. With all that lay between them, asking him to heat her coffee seemed trivial and selfish.
So she drank the cool liquid. "What do you think of Robin?"
He hesitated, then said, "Hard to tell."
"You talked to her more than I did."
"Not really. She and I didn't exchange much information before my folks got here."
She nodded, then remembered that he wasn't looking at her. "You must have formed some kind of impression, though. Emotions, feelings, intuition, instinct, whatever you might call it. Surely you picked up something from her."
"Well -- yes, I did. Just not what you'd think."
She did her best not to sound like she was interrogating him, so she meandered towards the bedroom as she spoke. "So? What did you pick up?"
He sighed. "It's -- kind of weird, actually."
Lois paused near the bedroom door. "What's weird?"
He hesitated, then turned to face her. "She's from my home town. In fact, it's almost like she's family. She's not, of course, but she is from Krypton. I never had a brother or a sister. I always wanted a little sister, too. I never told my parents that, but I did." He looked at her almost wistfully. "She's the closest thing I've ever known to my birth family. The New Kryptonians were nearly all either born on that planet or taken there as young children. They'd lived there most their lives. I've never met anyone from my home town."
Lois almost tossed off a flippant answer about Robin not even knowing there was a Smallville, then she softened. "Yeah. It makes me wish I knew more about Krypton."
He turned on the couch. "So you could talk to Robin?"
"No." She dropped her gaze for a moment, then faced him. "So I could talk to you."
She turned and fled into the bedroom before he could respond.
Clark sat on the couch, stunned by Lois's last comment. Was he that insensitive? Was he shutting her out? He thought about it for a while and decided that yes, he was pushing her away. At first, he'd tried to rationalize his actions by telling himself that Lois was also pushing him away from her, but if she really wanted a firm distance between them, she wouldn't have dropped that last statement into his lap, especially not like that.
So. She wanted to talk. He wanted to talk. So why couldn't they? What was stopping them?
He considered that last loud argument they'd had, the one this past Monday morning at work. Lois had wanted to hold off on a story she thought they needed more confirmation on, and Clark had wanted to turn it in, a role reversal that should have raised multiple red flags in his mind. Lois had insisted that there wasn't enough proof. Clark had angrily insisted that the facts were right. Lois had retorted that Superman wasn't quoted in the article even though he was the source of much of the information. Clark had crossed his arms over his chest and flatly stated that Superman's word was good enough for him. Lois had crossed her own arms and coldly replied that despite her complete trust in the hero's testimony, even Superman's word required corroboration for a story which made accusations of criminal conduct against elected public officials.
At that point, Clark had clamped his mouth shut and stared furiously at Lois, who had matched his stare degree for degree. Neither of them had noticed how quiet the newsroom had suddenly become until Jimmy cleared his throat and told them he'd brought the pictures and research they'd requested for another story.
Instead of talking through their disagreement and resolving their differences, Lois and Clark had avoided each other for the rest of the day. They'd done their work well, had cooperated professionally if frostily at several points during the day, and then gone home and not spoken more than twenty words each to each other for the rest of the evening.
Clark sighed. They'd done a lot of that kind of thing lately. And it all seemed to go back to the baby on the porch, and how devastated Lois had been when his parents had taken him home. Clark had hated to see the little guy go, and he really wished they'd been able to keep him. Lois, however, had acted like she'd lost a part of her soul. They'd talked about the impossibility of having their own baby, they'd discussed adopting either a baby or a young child, and the more they'd talked, the more distant and distracted and almost frantic Lois had become.
He'd quit trying to talk to her about it, and Lois had started sitting alone for extended periods of time on the porch or in parks or across from school playgrounds. So far, her obsession with children hadn't affected her work much, but that couldn't last. He knew that their problems had already affected his work. He'd missed an article deadline two weeks before, something that had never happened, not since he started writing for his junior high school newspaper. Without smiling, Perry had accepted the submission and warned him that he was only as good as his last story, and that his last story had been late.
If only Lois would listen to him! If only she'd believe him that his love for her would never change, no matter how many children they had, even if that number was zero. He loved Lois for who she was, not for the babies she might bring into the world.
And Lois wouldn't hear him, wouldn't listen to him on the subject. She told him that being a mother was part and parcel of being a wife. It was one of the many things she'd been designed to be. She told him that she wanted children so much she could taste it, and as much as he loved her it could never make up for never feeling a child nursing at her breast.
And, according to Lois, he didn't understand her, couldn't possibly understand her, wasn't even trying to understand her.
Once again, Clark wished with all his might that they'd never seen that baby on the patio. He wished --"
He heard the crunch and looked down. He'd destroyed yet another coffee mug.
He sighed. The girl at the stencil shop around the corner from the Daily Planet knew him by sight and would be happy to print up yet another cup that read "World's Finest Husband" on the side.
As he cleaned up the spilled coffee, he wondered if Lois thought he still deserved that title.
Lois got ready for bed and slid under the covers. Her mind, however, was racing at breakneck speed along parallel tracks which threatened to collide directly behind her eyes and explode out through her forehead.
Robin McGyver was a mystery. What little Lois already knew about her childhood would have made most any human woman an aggressive loner with sociopathic tendencies. What Robin's diagnosis might have been was anybody's guess.
And she was having breakfast with the girl. How smart was that?
Lois didn't know. And she didn't think Clark would, either.
That brought her to the other track. What was she going to do about her husband? She'd tried to make him understand that while she loved him deeply and completely, she also desperately wanted a child. She'd never felt like this before. Even though she'd wanted to bear Clark's children almost from the beginning of their marriage, she'd never experienced the desperation that threatened to overwhelm her these days. It was almost as if she'd carried a child full term, delivered the baby, and never had the chance to see or touch or hear her child, and the sense of deep loss was no less real for being an illusion.
What should she do? Should she go along with Clark's suggestion and try to adopt a child? She'd done her research and knew that even if the agencies in Metropolis wouldn't approve her, they could go overseas to China or Vietnam. There were thousands of orphans and abandoned children available to parents who'd love them and would raise them as their own, and Lois knew that they could afford the extra initial expense.
She heard her husband slip into the bedroom and decided to try to talk to him.
His guarded tone pierced her heart. "Can we talk?"
"Sure. What do you want to talk about?"
"Let me turn on a light first. I need to see you."
The bedside lamp revealed his presence at the foot of the bed. "Please come over here and sit next to me."
Hesitantly, he did as she bade him. "What is it, Lois?"
She reached out and gently took his hands. He didn't resist her touch, but he didn't seem to welcome it either. "We have problems."
He held her gaze and nodded without speaking.
She shook her head ruefully. "Huh. It's funny without being funny."
He frowned slightly. "What is?"
"That the only thing we seem to agree on lately is that we have problems."
Instead of smiling, he ducked his head and murmured, "I'm sorry, Lois."
As gently as she could, she asked, "For what, Clark?"
He raised his head again and she could see the pain in his chocolate brown eyes. "For knowing that we have problems and not knowing what to do about them." He finally returned her grasp. "I love you and I couldn't bear to be without you, but it seems that lately all we can do is disagree and argue. I can't remember the last time I made you laugh."
Lois freed one hand and flicked a tear from her cheek. "I know. I love you, too, Clark, and I can't remember the last time you felt comfortable about putting your arms around me in the kitchen while I was cooking."
He nodded. "Yeah." He looked for a moment as if he wanted to say something but wasn't sure how it would be received.
"Clark? Please don't be afraid to tell me what's on your mind. I promise I'll listen."
He looked into her eyes and nodded. "Okay. Do you think we need to see a marriage counselor? Maybe a third party could help us find a way out of this."
That wasn't what Lois was expecting to hear. But she'd already promised that she'd listen, so she controlled her first, negative reaction and thought about it for a moment.
"Maybe we should. I'm not sure how we'd handle talking to a counselor without telling him or her that you're also Superman, but we could give it a try."
He lifted her hands and kissed them gently. "Thank you for listening. I don't know if we could, either, but I don't want to continue like this. I don't think my heart can take too much more."
She blinked back another tear. "Come closer." As he leaned in, Lois wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed him for all she was worth. "I love you."
He put his arms around her waist and returned the embrace. She barely heard his whispered, "I love you more than my own life."
That's what they held in their hands: each other's lives. It was more than just their life together, it was both individual lives. The stress they'd worked through when Lois had been temporary editor was nothing compared to the weight each of them carried now. She blinked back her tears and pulled him even closer.
Lois promised herself she'd do her best to guard Clark's heart. She only hoped it would be enough.
Lois pulled into the parking lot of the motel at eight-forty and picked up her cell phone. On the off chance that the girl from Krypton might be trying to listen in, she left the radio on to keep Robin from hearing the conversation. Jimmy answered on the second ring.
"Daily Planet newsroom, Olsen speaking."
"Jimmy, it's Lois. What did you get on that assignment?"
"The general question or the specific question?"
"Let's cover the general one first."
"You be careful, Lois," he said. "The psych professor I spoke to at Metropolis U said that adults who were sexually abused as kids grow up expecting to be betrayed. They have serious trust issues, especially with anyone in any kind of position of authority. They also suffer from extreme lack of self-esteem, so either they can't form long-term relationships or they tend to bounce from one relationship to another, and they tend to get real close real fast. And no matter which end of the reaction spectrum they're at, they don't take rejection well. That was the doctor's description, not mine. Most of them eventually learn to cope with their problems, but they can't resolve them without professional help."
"What about violent reactions? Can they be provoked easily?"
"Sometimes they act like whipped puppies and sometimes they act like rattlesnakes who've been poked once too often. And there's no reliable way to tell which way they're going to go. The puppies can lash out without warning and the rattlers can cower like frightened mice, and they can flip from one extreme to the other in two seconds. Their target is the person they think is causing their immediate problem, and they don't think through their actions like an adult. They can be either very intimidated or really scary."
"Thanks, Jim. What about the specific item?"
"The woman you asked me to check on?"
He sighed. "She's a ghost."
"Sorry. That's my dad's term for someone who doesn't exist."
"So there's no such person as who I asked about?"
"No birth certificate or registration that I can find under that name, not in any of the Southeast states from 1962 through 1972. And because I don't have a name I can track down, there's no Social Security number for her either. No current driver's license, no bank records, no purchase of real property or securities, nothing. But if she's from way far back in the woods, where they don't have all that many government reporting agencies, there might not be much documentation on her life and she might be legit. Sometimes people just don't leave a paper trail."
"You're telling me you don't have anything?"
"I didn't say that. I found a Robin McGyver answering your description who showed up about three years ago in Tennessee. She had several credits as a background singer in some Nashville recording sessions, but she tore up a studio when a drunken piano player tried to put some moves on her between takes. Broke his arm pretty badly, too, and he lost about two months worth of work, so no other studio would hire her. She was lucky there were no charges filed."
"Where'd you get that info?"
She heard paper rattle through the phone. "The paper has old copies of the Music City News down in the morgue. Perry's idea, I think. I got a quick summary from the Nashville Gazette, and the details from the News. Looks like Robin's temper tantrum put a stop to a promising vocal career. The article said she wasn't quite star quality, but she had a wide range and a powerful voice, plus she could blend with almost anyone in almost any style. Some people thought she could make a good living in the studio or as a backing singer on the road for a long time. But reading between the lines, I get the impression that she scared some other people and it didn't exactly work out for her."
"So she's kind of touchy."
He guffawed. "That's one way to put it, I guess. After that incident, she apparently moved to Kentucky and worked as an office temp in Lexington until some time last month."
"Who got beat up this time?"
"Nobody, as far as I can tell. The woman at the temp agency told me that Robin said she was moving to the East Coast. I can't find any Robin McGyver on any bus or airline passenger lists, but a woman named Loren Glass, who matches the McGyver woman's description, was on that commuter plane that crashed yesterday morning."
"Hmm. Have they identified the victims yet?"
"Yes, but they're missing one body."
"Let me guess."
"If you're thinking Loren Glass, you're right. I checked backwards on her because she's the missing body. That's how I found out about Robin McGyver. Oh, and get this. One of the other victims in the plane crash was the bass player at the session where Robin went ballistic."
"And what was that guy's name?"
"Interesting that you assume it was a man. After all, Carol Kaye played on a lot of Beach Boys recordings, and she did that great bass line intro for the Barney Miller TV show theme."
"So I'm a closet masculinist. Give me the bass player's name."
"Um, lemme see, the guy's name is Marshall Pippen."
"A guy, huh? You're just too funny for your own good."
Jimmy chuckled. "Sometimes you just hang your chain out there with a 'Yank Me' sign on it."
Lois huffed at him, then softened. "Thanks, Jim. You're a big help."
"I aim to please."
"Good. Can you keep looking? I think there's more to find. But be careful, okay?"
"I will. And I agree with you. This gal may be a ghost, but she's left tracks somewhere. If it's anywhere on the Web, I'll find it."
"Thanks, Jimmy. I appreciate it."
"Take care, Lois. I'd hate to deal with CK if you got hurt."
She closed the phone and sat back, letting the music bounce around the inside of the Jeep. If this Pippen guy had recognized Robin, what difference did it make? What link, if any, existed between Robin and the plane crash? What possible motive could she have to kill all those people? Or had she made a mistake with her powers and accidentally caused the crash? Surely she wasn't as familiar with them as Clark was with his.
She didn't have enough information, and the only one who could give it to her was in room 217. She sighed and got out of the car.
Lois knocked at the motel room at four minutes before nine, not expecting the girl to be ready early. Sure enough, the door popped opened as if by magic, and Lois heard the 'whoosh' of super-speed movement in the room.
She glanced in either direction down the hallway, then stepped in and closed the door. "Robin, you really shouldn't move that fast in public. Someone might notice."
The girl stopped to put on her shoes. "Already checked. Ain't nobody in the rooms on either side and the rest of 'em on this floor either sleepin' in or they's already gone."
Despite the fact that they were close to the same age, Lois couldn't help but think of Robin as a girl. Even though she was physically mature, her emotional and intellectual development was more like a young teenager's. She'd have to be careful not to upset her.
Hopefully a large helping of carbohydrates would keep her smiling. "I thought we'd head over to the International House of Breakfast. How does that sound to you?"
Robin's face lit up like a traffic light. "IHOB? Ah love that place! They still got them all-you-can-eat stacks o' silver dollar pancakes?"
Lois relaxed and returned the smile. "Let's go find out."
They got a corner booth away from the thinning breakfast crowd. Robin was thrilled to learn that her desired meal was available, so as soon as the waitress brought the first plate, she dug in with gusto. Lois decided to get into the spirit of things and ordered a Western omelet without onions.
As Robin began drowning her third plate of pancakes in syrup, Lois leaned close and whispered, "I think they're starting to wonder where you're putting all that food."
Robin glanced up. "In mah belly. Why?"
Lois considered the best way to tell her she was drawing attention to herself. "You know, Clark doesn't have to eat very often, as long as he gets enough sunlight on a regular basis. He and I were out West on an assignment not long ago and went to a steak place in the Texas panhandle, the one that advertises the seventy-two ounce steak that's free if you can eat it with all the side dishes, and I asked him if he could finish it in the two hours they give you."
Robin speared a mound of pancake and stuffed it in her mouth. "Love them little things. So, did Clark eat the steak?"
Lois smiled. "He said he could do it easily, except that they pay special attention to anyone who accomplishes that feat, and he didn't want the publicity."
"Too bad." She gulped down her third glass of milk. "They woulda paid a bunch o' money to say that Superman ate there."
Lois glanced around to make sure no one had heard them. "Robin, please don't mention that in public. It's supposed to be a secret."
"Yeah, okay, sorry."
"Anyway, what I was trying to say was that if you keep eating like that, these people are going to remember you."
Robin suddenly stopped eating and sat back. She seemed to shrink in on herself. "Gotcha. I guess I'm 'bout full now."
Lois tried to sound sympathetic. "I'm sorry, but we don't want you in the news any more than you want to be there."
"Huh. Funny, since y'all are both reporters."
Lois sipped her tea. "We report the news, Robin, but we try not to make it."
The girl slowly nodded. Just then, the perky waitress materialized beside their table. "Oh! Looks like we finally filled you up, huh?"
Robin smiled and rubbed her stomach. "Yeah, guess so."
"Great! Would either of you ladies like a little something to top off your meal?"
Robin groaned theatrically. Lois smiled and shook her head. "No dessert, thank you. If we could just have the check, please?"
The waitress dug into her apron. "Sure! You can pay at the front door as you go out. You ladies have a good day!"
Robin watched her walk to another table. "She's pretty good. Not too perky, keeps the drink glasses full, and smiles at the customers. You give her a real nice tip, y'hear?"
Lois dropped a five-dollar bill flanked by three ones on the table. "I'm on it. What would you like to do now?"
A cunning expression stole over the girl's face. "Let's go see Superman."
"Robin!" Lois sighed. The girl just wouldn't learn not to mention that name in public. "Can we talk about it in the Jeep?"
Robin must have realized that Lois was irritated. She looked like a nine-year-old who'd just been forcibly corrected in church. "Fine! We'll talk in the freakin' Jeep."
Lois stopped at the register to pay the breakfast bill, but Robin slammed out through the restaurant's double doors and clomped to the passenger side to wait. Lois smiled and accepted her change and hurried to unlock the Jeep before Robin wrenched the door off.
As Lois approached, she heard Robin muttering to herself. There was a sudden lull in the freeway traffic and she understood the words "...snap her stupid neck like a dry stick if she don't quit talkin' to me like I was some idiot kid who..."
The rest of it was covered by background noise. But what she'd heard had been chilling enough.
If the girl were thwarted or felt sufficiently insulted, Robin might kill someone. And at the moment, the person thwarting her and patronizing her was Lois.
Martha stopped and put her hands on her hips, satisfied with the vacuuming. "Clark? Do you need any help with the laundry?"
"No thanks, Mom. I've got it."
"Do you have room for a couple of your father's things?"
Martha grinned. "Your father hasn't worn anything approaching formal since you and Lois got married. No, this is a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and two pairs of socks."
Clark walked into the living area from the bedroom carrying a clothes basket. "Sure. Where are they?"
She wadded up the aforementioned garments in a large ball and fired a jump shot at the basket. Clark leaned forward and to his left to catch them. "Good shot, Mom! That's two more points for you."
She shook her head. "Are you kidding? That was no layup, that was three from downtown!"
They shared a laugh as the front door opened to admit Robin and Lois. Martha beamed at the tall blonde. "Oh, hello, Robin! Have you had breakfast yet?"
Robin nodded cautiously. "Yes, ma'am, Lois done already fed me." The girl turned to Clark and said, "You got time to chat, Clark?"
Martha understood immediately. "Clark, I'll take those clothes down and get them started. You and Robin just sit down and have that conversation."
Clark protested. "Mom, I'll do it. They're mostly mine anyway."
"Nonsense! I'll just take them down to the basement laundry room. If your father comes back before I do, just tell him where I am."
Robin turned and stared at the wall for a moment, then said, "He's comin' in the front entrance right now."
Martha hid her negative reaction to Robin's blatant use of her powers. She might be wrong, but it seemed the girl had little regard for the privacy of others.
"Thank you, Robin. I'll let him carry the heavy stuff, then."
Robin grinned warily. "That's a right good idea, ma'am."
Huh, thought Martha. She's a lot more polite today than she was yesterday. Maybe she was just having a bad day. A plane crash could do that to a person.
Martha picked up the basket and headed towards the front door, but Robin beat everyone to it and pulled it open. Martha beamed at the girl. "Thank you, Robin. That's very thoughtful of you."
The girl nodded ever so slightly. "You're welcome, Mrs. Kent."
Very polite, and very thoughtful. The girl had come a long way in less than twenty-four hours.
Martha wondered what she really wanted.
Clark was very pleased at Robin's apparent change of attitude. Hopefully she wouldn't be stripping naked in front of him again any time soon.
Make that never, not ever, not at any time whatsoever.
The blonde girl shut the door and grinned at him. "Now that the three of us're alone, can we talk?"
"Of course. Would you like something to drink?"
Robin shook her head. "Naw. Ah mean, no thanks. Just wanna talk to you."
Clark gestured at the easy chair across from the sofa. "Then let's talk."
Lois sat on the sofa as Robin arranged herself in the chair. Clark smiled at her and sat down beside his wife. "I'm sure you have a lot of questions about Krypton."
The girl shrugged. "Maybe later. What I wanna ask you is, can you help me be a superhero like you?"
Clark felt Lois stiffen beside him. He could tell at once that she was stunned by the question. And he wasn't far behind her. Of all the things he'd imagined Robin asking, this wasn't one of them.
He blinked and took control of his thoughts. "That's -- an interesting question. May I ask how you came to this decision?"
She shrugged. "I seen you out there on the runway when the plane went down, and I watched when you was talking to folks afterwards. They look up t'you, don't they?"
He nodded slowly. "Yes, I suppose they do."
She smiled and nodded back. "I want that too. I wanna be somebody. I wanna be looked up to instead o' bein' invisible or looked down on." She leaned forward. "Can you help me?"
Clark felt a hand on his arm, so he turned to look at Lois. Her eyes were trying to tell him something. Although he couldn't decipher it, he understood that Lois thought it was important.
Whatever it was, it would have to wait a few moments. He turned back to Robin. "You know, that's a very important decision, Robin, and it's something you should really think about."
"Have thought about it. Most all last night."
"Okay, but yesterday you told my parents and me that you didn't want to be super in front of people."
"Yeah, but that was afore I knowed who you was 'n' how y'all live. If you can be Superman part of the time and Clark Kent the rest, how come I can't be Superwoman or whatever just when I want?"
Clark frowned in thought. "Tell you what, Robin. Why don't you and I go somewhere we won't be disturbed and do some super-powered evaluation on you?"
She frowned in confusion. "Come again?"
Clark smiled. The idea made more and more sense as he considered it. "You and I will go somewhere and test your control over your powers. I'd like to know how strong you are in contrast to me, and whether or not you have some abilities I don't have."
Her face cleared and she smiled. "Y'know, that ain't a half-bad idea." She rose fluidly. "How's about we go right now?"
Clark stood also. "In a minute." He turned to his wife, who was still seated. "Lois, do you mind? This is pretty important."
She stood and nodded. "I know. You two go ahead. I've got some errands to run anyway." She leaned in and kissed him lightly, then smiled. "Have a good time. And don't break anything that people will miss."
Robin laughed. "Thanks, Lois. See ya for supper."
"Actually, Robin, I have an errand to run, so supper will likely be a bit late tonight unless Clark cooks it when he gets back. Clark, could you meet me at Bernie's office when you're done working with Robin?"
"Sure thing, hon."
Clark pushed his trepidation down. Maybe Lois was just tired. Surely that was why she looked pale and her eyes were so tight.
Had to be that.
Superman smiled and took a deep breath from the nearly non-existent atmosphere. "That's good, Robin. I think we've learned what we need to learn today."
She hovered beside him, both of them floating fifty-three thousand feet above Hawaii. "Good. You wanna let me know what we done learned?"
Superman grinned at her grammar. "Well, we know that you can fly with me until I start making abrupt course changes, and that I can stay with you when you do the same things. But that's because I've had more experience flying than you have. All you need to do is keep practicing and you'll be as quick as I am."
"If you say so. What I gotta learn to fly like that for, anyway?"
"Well, if someone shoots a missile at you, you might want to dodge it instead of letting it hit you. Or you might want to zip around behind it and disable the engines before you dispose of it. It depends on the situation. You want to have a number of possible responses ready."
She frowned. "I'm just as invul- invun- I cain't get hurt no more'n you can. Why bother catchin' 'em when they'll just blow up and not hurt you?"
"Because there might be other people nearby. You can't allow innocent bystanders to be injured because someone's trying to hurt you, not to mention private or public property. You don't want to allow a bullet someone fires at you to ricochet away and hit some innocent bystander."
"Huh." She watched her breath crystallize in the frigid air and slowly drift away. "Didn't think about that. Boy, bein' a superhero ain't no stroll in the woods, is it?"
"No, it's not. There are a lot of things you have to pay attention to. I remember once when Lois and I were dating that I got a bit careless and she got hurt."
Robin's eyes bulged. "Really?"
His brow drew down with remembered guilt. "Really. It upset me so badly that I told her I wanted to break up with her."
"You're kidding me!"
"No. Fortunately she convinced me that I was being stupid."
"Wow." She shook her head. "I'd'a swore that weren't true if you dint tell me."
"It is." A thought struck him. "But, ah, you probably shouldn't say anything to Lois about it. I'm pretty sure she doesn't want to talk about it."
"Okay. I wanna talk about what's next for me, anyway. What do I need to learn now?"
Superman hovered thoughtfully. "I think it would be a very good idea to hang around my parents for a while. There's a lot you could learn from them."
"What? But -- but I thought we was gonna work together!"
"We are, Robin, but that doesn't mean that you can't learn from others at the same time. Besides, I can't be with you all day, every day. I have a home, a family, a job, and a life of my own."
"I know that! Look, we can figger somethin' out! I wanna stay with you!"
Clark drifted back a few feet from Robin and looked at her anew. If he didn't know better, he'd think she was a spoiled nine-year-old who didn't want to put away her toys. "Take it easy, Robin. It was a just a suggestion."
"Well, I don't like it! Nossir, don't like it none a-tall!"
"Okay. Will you at least come back to the apartment with me? I need to check in with Lois."
"She got you on a string, don't she?"
He frowned and didn't answer. Maybe Lois had a point about Robin. Not only was she volatile, she was more than a little bit clingy.
And maybe she had that potential for violence Lois had hinted at.
Even so, it didn't mean that she had to give in to it. He could teach her the control and self-discipline she needed to be a working superhero. He could help her be who and what she wanted to be.
He ignored her last question. "Ready to go back now?"
"Sure. Your mom makin' pancakes?"
"You can ask her. I don't know if we have all the ingredients to make them from scratch. If not, and she's willing to cook up a batch, I'll go shopping for whatever we need."
"That's good." They began drifting to the east, back towards Metropolis. Robin didn't say anything for a few moments, but then she muttered, "Better be good 'cause they ain't no IHOB round these parts."
He chuckled. "Don't worry. She'll make an extra portion for you."
She smiled. "Okay. Whatever you say. They's pretty nice people, though, ain't they? Your folks, I mean. I never seen a man set such store by a woman, 'cept maybe you for Lois."
"They still love each other even after all these years."
"Yeah. That's real nice." She stretched out to a horizontal flight attitude. "Hey, you wanna race me?"
He grinned. "I'd rather see you stay with me. I've got a few flying tricks I haven't shown you yet."
She giggled. "Let's go, flyboy! See if you can get away from me this time!"
Lois wasn't at home. But Martha was, and she agreed to "whup up" some pancakes for Robin while Clark left to meet his wife at Bernie Klein's office. Before he'd escaped, Robin had extracted an additional promise from him to spend time teaching her how to be a super-hero.
Clark had missed his father's frown at overhearing the exchange.
He landed on the roof of Star Labs and made his way down to the managing director's office without being seen. Bernie stood up from his chair across the room and nervously fiddled with his hands. Lois got up to greet him, but before she touched him she stopped. "How is Robin?" she asked.
He sighed. "She's doing as well as you might expect, I suppose. I'll know more after a few sessions with her."
Lois's hands, which had been grasping each other nervously, almost froze in place. He imagined he could see the ice forming between her fingers. "Sessions?" she asked quietly.
He saw, in his mind's eye, the rubber-armed robot from the old Lost In Space TV series waving its claws and stridently declaiming, "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Clark Kent! Danger, Superman!"
The old English proverb that one might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb ran through his mind. He should have consulted with his wife before agreeing to spend that much time working with Robin, but since he was already in trouble with her, she might as well hear it all. "Yes. I told her I'd meet with her three nights a week and teach her. She needs to learn so much." He stepped past Lois and faced Bernie. "Dr. Klein, can you help me design a curriculum for her?"
Bernie's face betrayed his surprise. "A -- a course of study? For -- our Kryptonian friend?"
"Yes. I think she should spend her time wisely."
Bernie nodded. "Of course, yes, I agree. Hmm." He dropped his chin into his hand and thought for a moment. "Yes, I think I can help you. I'd suggest you begin with some American History, with special emphasis on the period between the end of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution."
"Really? Any particular reason?"
Bernie's enthusiasm showed in his demeanor as he began to pace. "Oh, yes! That was when a majority of the colonists became convinced that a strong central government which still guaranteed certain rights and protections to the various states was necessary." He stopped and spun on his heel. "She should study Shay's Rebellion in particular. It was characteristic of the period in that --"
Lois suddenly stood and announced, "I have to leave, Bernie. I need to be home if -- when Clark gets there."
The two men stiffened. Bernie answered, "Yes, Lois, of course. Thank you for all your help." He tilted his head indefinitely towards one wall. "And thanks for bringing back, uh, you know, that thing for me."
Lois nodded, her eyes slate-gray. "No problem. I'll see you later."
They watched her as she departed, leaving a frosty glaze on the air in the room. A few moments after the door clicked shut, Bernie cleared his throat. "Well. Yes, the history is a good idea. I'd also suggest some general study of law, starting with ancient Greece and moving forward through today. At a slow pace, of course."
Superman nodded absently. "Yes." Then his voice firmed. "You should also include some basic math and science, just so she doesn't get bored. And a study of religion would be appropriate, too."
Bernie's brow compressed. "A study of religion? Whatever for?"
"Because she has no moral compass, Doctor. She has no internal measuring stick to tell her when she shouldn't do something simply because it would be wrong. Right now she's making those decisions based on her current feelings, and she has to learn a better way. She needs to learn that there are moral and ethical standards required of people living in a civilized society. The study of religion is essential to learning those things."
Bernie nodded slowly. "Yes, I can see that. Science has no such absolutes because those things are not testable under controlled conditions." He brightened. "I like that. That's a very good idea, especially for the young lady. I never would have thought of it myself."
Superman inclined his head. "I'll be back tomorrow night, hopefully by seven o'clock. We'll go over the courses then."
"Sounds good to me." The hero turned to leave, but Bernie stopped him with a light touch on the elbow. "Um, speaking of starting, where should we begin?"
Superman tilted his head to one side. "I'd suggest the Law of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi. They're both ancient, and they're both codified legal systems."
Bernie smiled. "Yes. Yes, that's perfect! I'll have them ready for you."
"Thank you. Oh, there's one other thing -- a fairly big thing."
"Do you have any spare rooms here, some place where Robin can stay for a few days? I don't think it would be a good idea for her to stay alone right now, and she doesn't have the money for a motel. Besides, I'd prefer a place where she won't have to be quite so guarded all the time."
Bernie's mouth and eyes popped open for a second, then his face rearranged itself. Superman wondered why for a moment, then forgot it as Bernie asked, "For how long?"
"Not long. Just over the weekend, actually."
Bernie frowned in thought, then nodded. "Yes, we have a guest suite on the top floor. I can let her stay for -- let's see, until Tuesday, maybe through Wednesday if necessary. We have two Australian physicists coming for a conference on particle detection at the end of next week and I've promised them use of the rooms."
"Thank you, Dr. Klein. That takes a load off my mind."
Lois fumed all the way home. How dare he make that kind of commitment without discussing it with her first! How could Clark do something like that? How could he cut her out of a decision like that? And how could he agree to teach someone who'd threatened to kill his wife?
She slammed the door and startled Jonathan, who was cleaning off the dinner table. He looked up and obviously decided to be nice despite the weather warnings emanating off her. "Lois! Glad you're back. Robin ate something and went out to practice her flying. Martha saved some dinner for you and Clark. I can set a place for you if --"
"Thanks but I'm going out and please tell Clark I'll be back when I get back."
"Uh -- " The slamming of the bedroom door cut off whatever else he might have said to her. His "Okay" was barely audible to her.
She flopped onto the bed, then forced herself to sit up and dry her eyes. She was in no shape, either mentally or emotionally, to confront Clark about this latest idiocy of his. She needed to blow off some steam, and she needed to do it someplace where he wouldn't find her easily.
So she changed into dark jeans, dark pullover shirt, and black sneakers. She picked up a faded blue denim jacket and stuffed her undercover wallet, the one with Wanda Detroit's ID, into the front pocket of her pants. She glanced in the mirror and nodded shortly. With a navy blue baseball cap pulled low on her face, she didn't look like herself.
It suited her. She didn't feel like herself at that moment.
She tugged open the bedroom door and marched out of the apartment without a glance at either Jonathan or Martha. She knew she couldn't take their solicitude just then. She couldn't stand their sympathy or even their understanding, no matter how well-intentioned or sincere it would be.
She spun her car keys on her index finger and decided to find a late movie, preferably one where the good guy gets blown into dog food at the end.
Ten minutes later, Clark walked in. He looked around cautiously, but saw only his parents sitting together on the couch, watching an old western movie on TV and munching on microwave popcorn.
Jonathan glanced up and waved briefly. "Hi, Clark. There's leftovers in the refrigerator and fresh-brewed tea on the counter. You hungry?"
"Uh -- " he looked around again. "Where's Lois?"
"Lois?" repeated Jonathan. He looked at his wife. "Have you seen Lois, dear?"
Martha pretended great interest in the movie. "Oh, she was here, but she left."
"That's right, I remember now," Jonathan agreed. "She came in and left again."
Clark nodded warily. "Did she happen to say where she was going?"
Jonathan shook his head and turned back to the TV screen. "Nope."
Clark frowned. "Did she say when she'd be back?"
Martha answered without turning her head. "No, she didn't."
This was not good, thought Clark. "Did she say what she was planning to do?"
Jonathan shook his head again. "Not to me. Did she say anything to you, Martha?"
"No. She just changed clothes and said she'd be back when she got back."
Oh, boy, thought Clark, this is very not good. "Did she take her purse?"
Martha picked up a handful of popcorn. "I didn't notice."
"Dad? Did you notice?"
"No, sorry. She was in and out so fast I'm not even sure what she was wearing."
Clark gingerly walked to the chair to the side of the couch and sat on the arm. "You two aren't being very helpful."
"Shh!" Martha hissed. "The bad guys are about to attack a stagecoach while disguised as Indians and they don't know the Indians they're trying to frame are tracking them." She offered the popcorn to her husband, and he smiled as he accepted. She glanced at Clark and continued, "Boy, are they in for a big surprise!"
Clark glanced at the movie and recognized it at once. One of the disadvantages of a Kryptonian memory, he mused, was that he rarely forgot the things he read or watched for pleasure, so re-reading those books or re-watching those movies or music videos wasn't much fun unless he was with someone whose company he enjoyed.
Of course, at the moment, he probably wouldn't enjoy Lois's company much. Nor she his.
He sighed. "Do you know where Robin is?"
Martha nodded shortly. "Dr. Klein called and left a message for Superman. He said she decided to take advantage of that room at Star Labs, and that she'd agreed to let the doctor do a physical exam this evening. Something about a baseline, I think."
He nodded. "Thanks, Mom." At least one of the women in his life was in good hands.
Lois found an all-night theater and sat through two of the late shows without knowing what she'd seen. Then she walked to a cash-only hotel down the street from the Daily Planet and rented a room for the night.
She shook her head at the tiny room, then made certain the door locked tight and the drapes covered the windows. Then she pulled off her clothes and took a shower, regretting only that she hadn't thought to bring her own towel.
She rinsed out her underclothes and hung them over the shower curtain rod, then pulled back the bedcovers. At least the sheets seemed to be clean.
She toweled her hair dry, then wrapped the damp rectangle of thin cloth around herself and sat down on the edge of the bed. What would she do about Clark? What could she do? What should she do? She sighed and mentally reviewed her options.
She could leave him. She could end the marriage. She could go back to being Lois Lane, fierce investigative reporter, loner extraordinaire, and eligible bachelorette. It wasn't as if she were too old or worn out to be high on the Metropolis A-lists.
But she rejected the notion almost as soon as it entered her head. It was a permanent solution to what she hoped was a temporary problem. She loved Clark and didn't want anyone else, nor did she want him to find peace in some other woman's arms. She wanted to spend forever with him, not punish both of them for the rest of their lives because of one difficult patch they were going through. No, divorce was out of the question.
So, what about a separation? Maybe they needed some time apart, some time to think about where they wanted to go together. Maybe they shouldn't even talk to each other for a while.
She considered the idea, then decided. No separation. If she wanted the marriage to work -- and she did, wholeheartedly -- then being apart from Clark for any extended period of time was a bad idea. They needed to resolve their differences, not ignore them or learn to work around them. Doing that was like leaving an infected finger untreated. The infection might heal by itself, or it might get worse and spread throughout the body and cause all kinds of problems. It might even kill the patient.
She shuddered at the thought. That analogy led her back to thinking about the death of their marriage, and that was something she was determined to avoid.
So, that left dealing with the problems. But how could she get Clark to listen? How could she get him to stop cutting her out of his life? Sure, she couldn't be next to him when he was being Superman, she couldn't help him there, but she could listen to him, help him heal, help him cope, but only if he'd let her.
And agreeing to tutor Robin McGyver -- Kara -- whatever her name was -- without talking it over with his wife was just so wrong on so many levels she could barely articulate it. And she knew that he'd carry out his plans, despite what she might say. She remembered the days just before she'd learned about his dual identity, when he'd run out on her as she was trying to bare her soul to him. She had come within a whisker of shoving him out of her life forever. He'd nearly succeeded in completely alienating her, and only the stark and stunning realization that the two men in her life were actually one had kept her from ending the relationship, even after he'd revived her from suspended animation.
Now that they were married, now that they were pledged to each other for life, she was determined that they'd stay pledged, stay together, stay married. They had to work through their problems, not run away from them or simply avoid them.
She lay down on the well-worn bed and pulled the covers over her bare body. Since the air conditioner didn't work very well, she wouldn't be too cold as she slept.
She'd just be alone.
Clark woke up on Sunday morning and reached over to his wife's side of the bed. Already up, he thought muzzily. Maybe I can catch her in the shower.
Then memory struck him like an anvil to the coyote's head in a Road Runner cartoon. She wasn't there. She hadn't come home the night before. It was the first time since their wedding that either one of them had voluntarily stayed away from the other all night. He'd missed some sleep because of his Superman duties, and she'd been away a few nights because of work, but never had they disagreed so sharply as to drive one of them away from the other. Even when they'd argued during Lois's brief time as editor of the Planet, they'd slept in the same apartment despite the distance between them.
The thought depressed him. He hoped his parents were up. Maybe they had some insight on problems like these.
He sniffed the air and nodded. Somebody was cooking, and it smelled like his mother's work. Both of his parents were good cooks, but they each generated slightly different scents when they cooked. His father's cooking odors were bold and strong, while his mother's were lighter and more delicate. They could take the same ingredients, same utensils, same stove, cook the same dish, and Clark could usually tell which one was handling the ladle just by inhaling deeply.
He rose and dressed, then opened the door to verify his guess. Of course, they were both sitting down at the table, enjoying the fruits of their labors.
"Morning, Dad, Mom," he said. "Breakfast smells good."
His parents each murmured something inarticulate without looking at him. He wondered how much trouble he was in with them as he spooned out a healthy helping of scrambled eggs, several strips of bacon, and fresh cantaloupe.
"Is this your cooking, Mom?"
She took a big bite of fruit and nodded without looking at him. No help from that quarter.
As Clark sat down, he asked, "Have either of you heard from Lois?"
They each murmured something negative. He mentally resigned the game and dove into his food.
As he finished, Martha stood and stretched. "Jonathan, I think we could get a cab to the Maxi-Mall this afternoon. There's a dress shop down there with my name on it."
Jonathan grinned impishly. "Does that mean I get to watch you try them on?"
She returned the grin. "Unless you'd care to try them on yourself instead, yes."
They shared a chuckle. Feeling excluded, Clark dropped his fork on his plate with a loud clatter. "Okay, that's it." He glared at his mother. "Sit down, Mom. Right now."
Her eyes nearly fell out of their sockets and into her gaping mouth. Jonathan recovered first and sputtered, "Clark, you mustn't talk to your mother like that."
Clark turned his glare to his father. "You two came all the way out here to talk to Lois and me about our problems. She's not here, but I am, and it looks to me like I need all the help I can get." He leaned back and folded his arms. "So start advising me. Help me! We've got problems and I don't know what to do about them. How do I fix this?"
Martha slowly slid down onto her chair. "Well -- Jonathan, maybe we should talk with him, at that."
Her husband nodded. "Yes, you're right, dear. He asked us to, so we really should."
Clark nodded. "So talk to me. I'm listening."
Martha looked at Jonathan, who nodded for her to begin. She leaned forward on her elbows and took a deep breath. "Clark, you and Lois have problems."
She watched him struggle not to respond with sarcasm. "I know, Mom. And I know we need help with them, too. I don't know what to do."
He seemed to wilt before her eyes. "Oh, honey, every couple has problems! Your father and I had difficulties when we first started out, too."
Jonathan chimed in. "That's right, son. I remember one time when we'd been married for almost a year, hadn't quite had our first anniversary, and we went on a picnic with another couple. They weren't married, just sort of engaged, and Brenda was feeling neglected, so she was trying to get Mickey jealous by spending most of the day flirting with me."
Martha chuckled. "It worked, sort of, but she also made me jealous!"
Jonathan grinned. "I didn't really realize until that evening what was going on. I guess I was too flattered at having two beautiful women pay so much attention to me. I didn't understand just what Brenda was doing until Mickey almost hit me."
Clark's jaw dropped. "You mean -- you almost had a fight with a guy over another woman?"
Martha chortled and touched her son's arm. "Brenda and I managed to keep them apart long enough for me to 'explain' to my extremely dense husband what was actually going on. By then, Brenda was in tears and Mickey was holding her in his arms, telling her how much he loved her and how much she meant to him."
Jonathan took up the narrative. "Your mother, unfortunately, was far less disposed to tears that day. I nearly froze to death that June."
She grinned. "Yes, but I managed to thaw you out by July."
Despite his intense blush, Clark managed to join in the chuckle his parents were sharing. "I'm glad you two worked through that, and I really hope you don't plan to share any more of those details with me. But how does knowing all this help me now?"
Jonathan shrugged. "I don't know. You'll have to talk to Lois."
"And you'll have to listen," insisted Martha. "Just letting her talk doesn't help if you don't hear what she has to say."
"I have listened, Mom! She wants a baby. She wants one more than anything else in the world." He slumped down. "And I can't give her one."
"Are you sure?"
"Dr. Klein says we can't have kids, Dad. At least, he says Superman can't father children with a human woman."
Martha almost whispered, "Did he explain why?"
Clark looked up. "Well, no, not really. He just said Superman wasn't compatible with a human female."
She looked at her husband with a quizzical expression. "Lack of sperm motility?"
"Maybe they're too aggressive," he returned.
"Or maybe it's a chromosomal mismatch."
"Could be. Can't fix that."
"But if not --"
"Maybe it has something to do with the position of the egg."
"Or something in the uterus that blocks the sperm."
"Or redirects them."
"Yes! Maybe --"
Clark raised his hands and made a 'T' symbol. "Time out! You've made your point! I'll get more details from Dr. Klein, I promise."
Martha patted his arm. "Good."
Jonathan nodded. "Now that we've taken care of that, Martha, what about Lois?"
She frowned. "Oh, he has to talk to her."
"Yes, and he has to let her finish talking."
"Not only that --"
"Hey!" Clark waved his hands. "Don't start that again!"
Jonathan laughed. "Okay, Clark, we won't." He sobered. "But here's something that may not have occurred to you. Maybe Lois doesn't want a solution from you."
His face blanked and his eyes bugged out. "What?"
Martha added, "Sometimes all a woman wants to do is to tell you how she feels. She doesn't always want an answer, and she doesn't always want you to fix the problem."
"That's right, son. Sometimes all she wants is a sympathetic ear. Someone who'll listen and who won't judge her or condemn her or even tell her what to do."
"And who else can Lois talk to about problems with her husband who is also Superman besides her husband who is also Superman?"
Clark looked like he'd just been shown the meaning of life. As he sat there, trying to process what he'd just heard, Martha looked at her husband and stage-whispered, "I think we can go to the mall now, dear."
Lois pulled on her clothes and suppressed a shudder as the cool, still slightly damp fabric brushed her skin. She missed Clark. She missed his presence, his maleness, his rock-steady consistency, his flinty determination, his gentle touch, his soft breath on the back of her neck --"
She missed him.
But she had something to take care of. She'd slept until almost ten, something unheard of in her line of work, despite her own proclivity towards keeping late hours. She decided to find a diner close by, then swing by the office and see if Jimmy had learned anything else in his quest for Robin McGyver.
She ordered and paid for a turkey sandwich with coffee, then left a dollar tip and made her way to the Planet.
The news floor was usually quiet on Sunday morning, but someone still had to man the phones and be available. Fortunately, Jimmy had drawn the short straw this weekend and was sorting photos at his desk when Lois walked down the bullpen ramp.
He looked up in surprise. "Hey, Lois, what're you doing here? Shouldn't you be enjoying your inlaws' country cooking about now?"
"Yes, I should, but I wanted to see if you'd found anything else about the woman I asked you to check on."
He knew what 'woman' she meant. "A couple of things for sure and a bunch of 'maybe' stuff."
"I'll take whatever you have that's firm."
Jimmy examined her face and apparently decided that Lois wasn't going to leave without that information. He reached for a thin file folder. "That's all I was able to pin down before today. I should know a lot more by Wednesday morning. I'm still waiting for several people to call me back."
She leafed through the folder and muttered, "Thanks, Jim."
"Hope you can use it."
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, I'm sure I can."
She meandered to her desk and re-read the paltry few lines on the two sheets of paper in the folder. It held little new information on Robin, except that she'd had at least three fake Social Security numbers in the past ten years, had used at least one stolen number, and she'd used several aliases. And she apparently had worked in several cash-only businesses which either rode the edge of legality or stepped across the line altogether.
The only other item that stood out to her was that Jimmy seemed to have taken a personal interest in this particular data hunt. It was right up his alley, of course, and a perfect fit for his hacker skills, but he'd gone above and beyond in tracking down much of the information he'd already given her.
And he claimed he'd have more in a few days. Well, he'd always come through before, she thought, so what he planned to give her later should be really good.
She smiled to herself. Jimmy was growing out of the eager-beaver 'gofer' he'd been when Clark had been hired. His photos regularly graced the 'A' section of the paper, and he'd gotten a fair share of front-page credits. And he hadn't lost a step on his database searches.
That thought led her to another thought, one not so rosy. "Hey, Jim, you have been careful, haven't you?"
He looked up from the pile of pictures. "Of course I have. If anybody has noticed my poking around, and I consider that possibility vanishingly remote, it's a cinch they don't know who's been doing the poking."
She nodded. "So, you're in the clear?"
He put his elbow on his desk and rested his chin on his fist. "Do you really think I'd risk my life just to get Mad Dog Lane a story?"
Her mouth quirked up on one side despite her attempt to glower. She gave it up and released the laughter. "All right, I'll give you that one." Her expression darkened along with her voice. "But I meant it about keeping clear. This isn't as hairy as investigating Lex Luthor or Intergang, but it could still be dangerous."
"Lois." He stood and gathered the pictures in a neat bundle. "I promise you, I'm not exposing myself on this. No one knows who's been poking around looking for this chick."
"Okay." She hesitated, then decided to let him get away with the 'chick' remark this time. "Just be careful."
"Sheesh!" he hissed. "You're worse than Perry!"
"I'll tell him you said that!"
He punched the elevator button. "At this point, Lois, I don't much care. My midnight-to-noon shift is over. I'm taking these shots to layout and then I'm going home." The door slid open and he stepped into the car. "Maybe you should do the same thing."
She watched the elevator door slide shut and mused that yeah, going home was probably a good idea.
As soon as she figured out what to say to Clark.
It turned out she didn't need to say anything. Jonathan and Martha were gone to the mall to shop, and Clark was pacing a trench in the living room carpet when she unlocked the door.
As soon as she turned the doorknob, Clark snatched the door out of her hands and swept her up into a desperate hug. His grip was barely loose enough to allow her to breathe easily, and her feet dangled several inches above the floor. Fortunately, not unlike the night Superman had first danced with her in her apartment, he supported all of her weight.
She felt faint tremors run through his arms. When he finally put her down, his eyes shimmered with unshed moisture. "I was -- I was afraid you weren't coming back any time soon."
She patted his shirtfront. "I live here, Clark. I had some things to think over and I needed not to be here last night while I was thinking about them, but I'm back now."
"Good." He rubbed her arms as if reassuring himself that she was really there. "That's -- that's really good." He closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. "I'm glad you're here."
She tilted her head at him. "Me, too."
"Um." Flustered, he closed the door behind her. "Have you -- did you get some lunch?"
She started for the bedroom. "I got a late breakfast, but it wasn't very good. Is there something handy?"
He stumbled in her wake. "Uh, yeah, we have some deli meat, fresh bread, and condiments. How about a sandwich or two?"
"One will do it. Will you make it for me? I have to change out of these clothes." She opened the bedroom door as she spoke, knowing that he'd hear her. "I rinsed them out last night, but they aren't what you'd call clean."
"One turkey sandwich and a glass of Mom's tea, coming up."
She smiled as she swapped her grimy garments for fresh ones. It sounded like Clark might be ready to talk, too.
Maybe he'd even be ready to listen.
"That sandwich hit the spot, Clark. Thanks. And the tea was good, too."
"That was Mom's tea. She made a pitcher before she left. Said she wanted something to come back to."
Lois smiled. "Smart lady, your mother."
He handed her a napkin. "I've always thought so."
She wadded up the used napkin and dropped it in her plate. "Um, I almost hate to break the mood here, but can we talk?"
He nodded. "I was hoping we could."
She steeled herself and locked eyes with him. Maybe, this time, he'd listen. "I want a baby."
She waited, expecting a flood of reassurance from him, but he only returned her gaze and nodded slightly. When she didn't continue, he softly said, "Go on."
For a moment she was flustered by his silence, but then she found her tongue again. "I want a baby. I want to have a baby in my belly, your baby, a baby I can feel growing inside me and then push out in agony and a baby you can lay on my breast and a baby I can nurse and change and cuddle and love."
He still didn't speak. Usually by now, he'd be well into his 'family of two' speech, but this time he just sat there, listening. She was surprised, but she pressed on. "Clark, I want a baby. I want to have your child. I want to hold our child in my arms and laugh and cry at the same time and listen to you make daddy noises and watch you fly our child around the room when it's nap time -- What's so funny?"
He forced his mouth to straighten. "Nothing, Lois. It just -- well, that sounds so very domestic."
"I can be domestic!"
He lifted his hands. "I know that, and I'm sorry I interrupted you. Please go on."
She sat back, the force of her pent-up declaration spent. "Well -- I guess that's about it." She blew out a long breath. "But then you knew that already, didn't you?"
"Yes. Of course, I would have understood it better if I'd taken the time to listen."
She gave him a wan smile. "No one's perfect, not even Superman."
"Especially not Clark Kent."
Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Let's go back to Superman not being perfect."
His expression sobered and he nodded. "Okay."
Lois leaned back and crossed her arms. "Why did you agree to tutor Robin without talking to me first?"
He licked his lips and ducked his head for a moment. "I'm sorry. This time, I jumped in without checking the water level."
She stared incredulously. "You mean -- you did this on a whim? You didn't plan it?"
"No, of course not. I knew as soon as I said it that I'd probably made a big mistake --"
He nodded. "I know. I should have discussed this with you. But I didn't think you'd understand about Robin."
"Then help me understand. I really want to."
His voice brightened and his eyes almost glowed. "She's almost as smart as you are, even though she lacks your education. She's from Krypton." He paused. "I'm not sure I can explain how important that is to me."
"Give it a try."
"Okay. Robin is from my home, my original home. I'd never choose to leave Earth, not now, not when I have so much here that I love and so many people who are so very important to me."
"You left for New Krypton."
He accepted the soft rebuke without anger. "Yes, I did. And that turned out so very well, didn't it? I'm not likely to repeat that particular mistake."
Her eyes softened and she put her hand on his. "I'm sorry. That wasn't fair."
"You were right, though. I was so taken with meeting people from my home planet that I forgot how much I love Earth and the people here." He grasped her hand softly. "Especially one particular woman."
She lifted their clasped hands and gave his knuckle a mustard-flavored kiss. "Okay, so you're not leaving. Tell me more about Robin."
"You already know she's smart. She's funny, in kind of a crude way, and she loves to have fun. She learns fast, and she's almost as powerful as I am -."
"And she's far more dangerous."
Clark drew back as if struck. "No -- no, it's only because she didn't have my advantages. She's --"
Lois overrode his defense of the girl. "She's dangerous, Clark! She had a tough childhood, sure, and her parents weren't anything like yours are, but since she's been on her own she's lived by her own rules! She doesn't care about other people, she doesn't respect the law, and she thinks that what pleases her is the right thing to do. Jimmy's been doing some background research on her and --"
"Jimmy's been doing research on her. At my request."
Another person wouldn't have noticed how cold Clark had suddenly become. "I see." He sat up and away from his wife. "And what have you learned so far?"
"Nothing definite, nothing to arrest her for, but she --"
"Really?" His voice was Toledo steel, frozen in carbonite. "And from this 'nothing' you've determined that she's not worthy of my time and my efforts?"
Lois's tone matched his. "The girl threatened to kill me so you and she could be together. If that's not an indication of her character, I don't know what is."
"You must have misunderstood her. Robin wouldn't --"
"I heard her quite clearly. Her choice of words was not ambiguous in any way."
"She's Kryptonian. She's not like you."
"And I have some Greek in my ancestry. That doesn't mean I get to own slaves, rule a kingdom, or go to war against people from Asia Minor on a whim."
He crossed his arms. "I'm going to try to teach her, Lois. I'm going to work with her and help her learn to be a contributing member of society."
"Fine!" She stood abruptly and clenched her fists. "Go ahead! And when you think you've trained her well enough and you're ready to let her come back to Metropolis you let me know so I can jump off a building and save her the trouble of finding me and killing me!"
They glared fiercely at each other for a moment, then she spun towards the bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
He watched his wife storm into the bedroom. Well, he'd done it again. He'd started another fight with her.
He was willing to do whatever he needed to do about the baby situation. He'd visit Dr. Klein again and get more details, maybe suggest a course of treatment, maybe come up with a solution. He wanted a baby, too -- he simply didn't want a baby more than he wanted to be married to Lois. And he was willing to bend any direction he needed to in order to make Lois happy on the baby front.
But he wasn't willing to bend where Robin was concerned. He needed to reach her, needed to mold her the way his parents had molded him. He needed her to be a good person, someone who'd respect and obey the law and help people in some way, whether she ever used her powers publicly or not. He needed to know that his blood ancestors had been good people, that he wasn't some aberration or mutation who couldn't have coped with the society from which he'd been sent away.
She was Kryptonian. She was a link to his first home, the most tangible one he'd ever found. The ship and the globe were informative, the knowledge of Jor-El and Lara was useful, and the time he'd spent with the New Kryptonians had been most instructive, both in terms of his home culture and the people of Krypton, but he'd never had a friend from home before.
Had Zara been his friend? He liked to believe that they'd established a rapport during those trying days. He hoped she and Ching remembered him fondly, assuming they remembered him at all. But they were back on New Krypton, and Robin was right here, right now. She was a direct link to Krypton, to his biological roots, and if she was evil, if she were irredeemable, what did that say about him? What did that say about what was at his roots, what was in the deepest core of his heart?
If he could lead Robin to live a productive life, if he could teach her the things his adoptive parents had taught him, if he could lead her to be a productive member of human society, it would validate him as a person from Krypton. He'd never turn his back on his human family, either in Metropolis or in Kansas, but Robin was different. She was a girl from home who needed a friend in the worst way, and he was determined to be that friend.
And if he could teach her how to be as human as he was, maybe he could be a good father to his own child.
He glanced at the clock. If he left on a patrol now, he could be at Star Labs before seven and meet with Bernie. He'd ask about the compatibility tests while he was there, too.
"Compatibility tests?" Bernie frowned. "More details?"
"Yes. I want to see if there's anything I can do to -- um, make myself fertile with a human woman."
"Oh." Bernie blinked. "Well, I'd have to pull out the files and review them before I tell you anything definite, then schedule some more tests for you. But I can do that this week, assuming I don't get slammed with meetings again."
"Thank you, Dr. Klein. Now, what about the curriculum for Kara?"
"For -- oh, yes, her Kryptonian name. She told me when I examined her that she'd been using the name Loren."
Superman's eyebrows rose. "Really? That's -- interesting."
Bernie picked up a clipboard and either ignored or -- more likely -- simply didn't notice the change in Superman's tone of voice. "Here's what I've come up with so far. Since human society is based on adherence to a code of laws, we should probably start with that and move on to other subjects as she progresses."
"I agree." Superman took the clipboard and read the document. "This seems quite comprehensive. May I take this copy of the list?"
Bernie lifted one eyebrow. "I can do better than that. I have a large box of those very materials in my office. I put it together last night."
Superman smiled. "Thank you, Doctor. That was very thoughtful of you."
"Believe me, Superman, I'm almost as eager to see this young woman succeed as you are."
I doubt that, mused the superhero.
The physicists from Australia arrived three days early, and while Bernie Klein was taking them on an impromptu tour of Star Labs, Clark had to collect Robin and her few possessions and find another place for her to stay. He knew without asking that there was no room for Robin at the Kent townhouse, so he had to come up with an inexpensive alternative.
The Daily Planet kept a small house in a semi-rural area on the north side of the city as a combination safe house for witnesses and sources and the occasional personal getaway for its reporters. The location of the house was a closely guarded secret from most of the staff and from all but a very few of the executives, since the deed to the property was actually owned by a corporation whose board of directors consisted of Perry and Alice. Perry had originally arranged the purchase after a very close call involving Lois and a female witness to a gang rape, and there had been several times when the house had probably saved someone's life.
They all knew better than to let Ralph know where the house was.
Perry hadn't smiled when Clark had asked for the key to the house, but he also hadn't asked any awkward questions. Clark hoped he assumed that he and Lois were either getting away for a few days for some up-close and personal time, or that Lois was going to bunk there for a while to decompress. Perry didn't need to know that Clark was going to let another woman stay there. Wouldn't that just start some tender Elvis tales?
Clark drove his mother and Robin to the house on Monday afternoon and opened the place up. He apologized for the dust, joking that Lois hadn't needed to hide out recently so the place hadn't been used much.
Robin waved him off and headed into the den to check it out. "Looks okay to me, Clark. Long as I got HBO and a VCR, I'm happy as a pig in slop."
Martha tapped him on the shoulder. "Clark, is there room in your budget for a few groceries? I'll be glad to get them if you'll do a little super-cleaning for me."
"No problem." He pulled out his wallet and gave her a handful of bills. "I think we should plan for a five-day stay, and if Robin needs to stay longer I'll buy more food." He handed her the keys to Lois's Jeep, then gazed at the dusty room and sighed. "It'll look better when you get back."
Martha smiled at Clark as Robin returned from her excursion to the den. "I'm sure it will. I assume you'll want to start Robin's instruction as soon as possible, so I'll make myself scarce after I drop off the groceries."
He smiled at her. "Thanks, Mom. You're the best."
"Oh!" Robin burst out. "Cain't you stay for a while, ma'am? Please?"
Martha's surprise was evident to Clark, as he was sure his was to Robin. "I thought you'd want my mom -- that you'd want to work with just the two of us."
Robin stepped closer. Her manner gave Clark the mental image of a rookie employee trying to suck up to the boss. "Yeah, well -- I'd kinda like another woman here to, you know, help me if'n I get stuck on somethin' you cain't explain."
Martha reached out and patted the girl on the arm. "Of course, Robin. And I promise not to interfere."
"Oh, I know you won't do nothin' like that." She turned and glanced at the stairway. "They put the bedrooms up thataway?"
Clark nodded. "Why don't you go pick one out and get unpacked? I'll get the materials spread out on the kitchen table. We can start as soon as you're ready."
Robin grinned and ran up the stairs. Martha put her hand on Clark's elbow. "I'll be back as quickly as I can, Son."
Clark met her gaze and nodded. The words were innocuous, but her eyes said so much more to him. He knew his mother was telling him to be very, very careful.
The problem was, he wasn't sure what else he could do if he was to instruct Robin on being a superhero.
"You gotta be kiddin' me, Kal. Bible study?"
"No, I'm not kidding. This is important."
Robin huffed out a breath. "This after two hours of American history and basic physics and modern economics -- which I don't get at all -- and you want me to read the Bible?"
"Yes, I do."
She flipped her hands in the air. "How come we don't just study modern law? Why do we hafta dust off a ol' book nobody reads no more?"
"Because the code of laws contained in the Law of Moses formed the underlying basis for English common law from the thirteenth century through the seventeenth, and by extension did much the same for American law. One of the required readings for nineteenth century American lawyers was by a man named Blackstone, and he based a lot of his legal arguments on the Old Testament canon."
She frowned slightly and sighed. "Okay. So, this Blackstone guy wrote a lot of laws?"
"No, he just wrote about them. A great deal of what he wrote would be classified today as legal theory, but he wrote about real-life application of the law, too."
"Huh. So you're sayin' that learnin' about what Moses wrote back then will help me understand the law today?"
Clark nodded. "Yes. The purpose of law in a society is to protect the rights of the individual citizens while protecting society as a whole at the same time. It's referred to as a uniform code of justice, and Moses' law is as good a place to start as any other. You've heard the saying, 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'?"
"Sure I did. Who ain't?"
"Did you know it's part of the law of Moses?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess so. Why?"
"Many people today view that as barbaric and violent, but in the context of the times it wasn't. Remember, the nation of Israel had just left Egypt, a land where justice was whatever the local judge or ruler -- or, ultimately the Pharaoh -- said it was on that day. The law could change with no notice, and sometimes did. Punishments for crimes like stealing was harsher for those without money to bribe the judge and for those without influential friends."
Her expression finally showed interest. "You're sayin' Egypt was a bad place to live back then?"
"If you weren't rich or didn't have powerful friends, it could be a very bad place to live."
"And the law there was whatever the rich folk said it was?"
"For the most part, yes, especially for the poor and weak. Egypt's law was fluid, while Moses' law was absolute."
She frowned in thought. "So, what Moses give to Israel was a -- a law that applied to everybody? No matter who they was?"
She was getting it! He tried not to seem too excited. "That was the intent. From the rulers on down the servants, the punishment for any crime was spelled out in detail. No matter how much money you had, no matter who you knew, no matter what political position you might hold, the law was intended to treat everybody the same."
"Still, that was kinda harsh. You poke someone's eye out by accident and they still come and poke your eye out?"
He shook his head. "No. That particular penalty was for doing it on purpose or while you were breaking another law. For example, if a man accidentally tripped and knocked down a pregnant woman who lost her baby because of it, he wasn't liable, but if he did it while he was fighting someone else, he had to pay a big penalty."
"Oh." She sat back, apparently lost in thought. "So, if someone did something bad that ended up killin' someone, it was like they murdered that someone, even if they wasn't tryin' to kill no one?"
"Almost. And the code of Hammurabi was similar, even if it wasn't as even in the application of punishment across social class lines. In fact -- Robin, where are you going?"
She slowly stood and turned away, then walked to the stairs and up to the bedroom she was using. He glanced at his mother, who was standing in the kitchen doorway, but she just shook her head.
Wonder what that was about, thought Clark. He was certain she'd turned pale just before she'd left. He hoped she was getting enough sunlight.
He stood and moved towards the stairs, but Martha shook her head. "Let her think about it, Clark. She needs to digest everything you've told her."
He hesitated, then nodded agreement. "You're right. Besides, I need to go fly a patrol before it gets too late."
"Oh? Is Lois expecting you to be back for dinner?"
"Not -- exactly, no. She's -- well, she's -- um --"
Martha touched his arm. "You're saying that your relationship is still -- oh, how did you put it before -- complicated?"
His smile didn't reach his eyes. "Yes. That's a very good word for it."
When he walked through his front door that night, Lois was sitting on the couch with a legal pad in her lap. She looked up and saw him, but she didn't speak.
"Hi, honey," he assayed. "I'm home."
She nodded without smiling. "I see that." She turned and crossed out something on the pad. "How was your tutoring session?"
Suspecting a trap, he hesitated for a moment, then said, "I thought it went well."
She frowned at the pad and wrote something else. "Good."
He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss atop her head. She didn't respond in any way.
Clark licked his lips and headed for the kitchen. "I talked to Bernie Klein today." There was no response. "I asked him if his research on Superman's compatibility with human females was complete and definitive."
"Hmm," Lois murmured.
He pulled sandwich makings out of the refrigerator. "He said he'd have to review his case notes and maybe perform some more tests."
"Hmm," she repeated.
He'd hoped she'd react positively to that bit of news. Not.
Try something else, he urged himself. "Would you like a sandwich, Lois?"
"Something to drink?"
He heard the pencil scraping against the paper. Whatever she was doing, she was actually writing and not just doodling or trying to pretend.
For lack of a better subject of conversation, he asked, "What are you working on?"
"Pro and con."
That didn't sound promising. "Pro and con what?"
She'd said the word quietly but directly, with no hint of anger or recrimination, but it still sounded ominous to him. "Oh."
She looked up at him and lifted her eyebrows. "What?"
"Um." He didn't want to ask, but he felt that he should. "How am I doing?"
Her gaze returned to the pad. "Not too badly." She scribbled something else. "Not as well as you have in the past." She looked up again, and this time there was the hint of a smile in her eyes. "But it's not as bad as you might think."
He let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Thank you."
Clark walked to the couch and sat down beside Lois but without touching her until he took her hands in his. "I love you. And I know I haven't been as open and honest with you as I should have been. I'm so sorry."
She squeezed his hands. "I love you too, Clark." She pivoted to face him. "Will you try once again to explain to me why you feel so -- protective, I guess is the word -- towards Robin?"
He sighed. "It's hard to explain. But I think it has something to do with the fact that I've never met anyone from Krypton."
"What about the New Kryptonians?"
He shook his head. "They'd been apart from the home planet for so long, they'd developed an entirely different culture. There's no way Nor would have been allowed to do what he tried to do if they'd stayed on Krypton. And that whole political marriage thing was something out of a bad soap opera."
"I see." She kissed his knuckles. "You're saying that you didn't really feel that close to Zara and Ching."
He frowned. "Like I said before, I felt sympathetic towards them. Even duty-bound, at least a little bit. But close?" He shook his head. "No. Not even when Zara and I were -- uh, married. So to speak. I think we established a little bit of a friendship by the time they left, but nothing like -- like our friendship before we started dating."
She grinned a little. "I know, Clark. It's okay." She wiggled a little closer. "So, you feel responsible for Robin?"
"A little, yes."
She lowered her head and peered up into his face. "A little?"
He smiled. "Okay, a lot, yeah. And I think she's made some progress."
Lois raised her head and lost her smile. "She threatened to kill me, Clark. How can you forget that?"
He ran his fingers through her hair. He still didn't believe that Robin had actually made such a threat, but telling Lois that one more time would be pointless. "I haven't forgotten. Please trust me on this, honey. I won't let her hurt you."
She looked up again. "I trust you. I really do. But I don't trust her." She leaned closer. "Can you tell me truly, sincerely, honestly, that you trust her completely, knowing how powerful she is and how few restraints she has?"
Clark looked inside himself, but he had no answer for her.
Clark woke up early, before dawn had fully broken, and he slipped out of bed without disturbing Lois. He ate a cold breakfast and sat down on the balcony to watch the sunrise.
Almost before he realized it, Lois was standing behind him with her hands on his shoulders. He turned his head and kissed her fingers. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
She knelt beside him. "You didn't." She leaned her head on his arm, and that's when he realized she was wearing one of his sweatshirts. "I woke up early and realized you were gone, but I didn't think you'd left yet."
He lifted his arm and gently tugged her closer. "Why not?"
She shrugged. "I could feel you. I could tell that you weren't in any distress and that you weren't anxious about anything, and you were relaxed so I knew you weren't flying."
He frowned at her. "You got all that through our mental link?"
She grinned. "That, and I peeked out the bedroom window and saw you sitting here."
They chuckled together, then Clark kissed the side of her head. "You want to sit down, Lois?"
She turned her head and kissed his lips. "No. I like it right here."
He kissed her back softly. "Now that's what I call a great way to start the day."
She moved her lips close to his ear. "I know a better one."
"Ohh," he breathed. "What -- what is that?"
She cupped her hand behind his head and pulled him into a deeper kiss. "We watch the sun come up and then go back to the bedroom."
He closed his eyes and sighed. "That sounds like a perfect morning to me."
She nibbled the side of his neck. "I figured you'd want your sweatshirt back."
They shared another warm chuckle as the sun peeked over the tops of the buildings to the east. Then they walked arm-in-arm to the bedroom where Lois returned the borrowed sweatshirt.
Lois heard the double "swoosh" from the kitchen and frowned. Clark had brought Robin for what Lois hoped was a brief chat. The girl wasn't a problem to have around, but Lois didn't want Robin in her home. It was just too domestic a situation, and Robin was welcome to visit but not to move in.
For that matter, she shouldn't visit too often. Maybe once every three months or so, and then only for a quick cup of coffee. The girl shouldn't get too comfortable around Clark.
Lois decided to put on a hospitable face for Clark's sake. No sense in making his job of training Robin any harder than it had to be.
She opened the cabinet and took down three coffee cups as the balcony door slid open. She heard Clark say, "Yes, but we can't fly around grabbing people just because they're acting suspicious."
"The cops do," Robin pouted.
Lois tipped the coffeepot and poured three cupfuls. "They have the legal right to. I don't. I won't interfere unless someone's actually in trouble."
"So somebody gotta get mugged afore you help 'em?"
Lois poured extra sugar into Clark's cup. It sounded like he could use it. She turned and slid a tray from its resting place, then loaded the cups onto it.
"I'm not a vigilante, Robin! I want to help people, but only if they want it or need it!"
Lois paused and decided that a plate of snickerdoodles would help calm things down.
By the time she'd loaded the cookies on the tray, she'd heard Clark stride firmly into the bedroom. Robin was standing beside the dining room table with her hands on her hips, frowning and huffing air through her nose.
"Hello, Robin. How about some coffee and cookies?"
The girl turned a hard face towards Lois, but it disappeared before Lois could react. Robin's quick smile seemed forced, but it hid whatever was really going inside her mind. "Sure! Hey, is them snickerdoodles? They's great!"
Lois smiled back. "Help yourself. Here's a cup of coffee. We have diet sweetener and sugar, and I can go get the creamer if you'd like some."
"Naw, this here's just fine far's I'm concerned. Thanks."
Robin sat down as Clark returned from the bedroom. "Hi, honey. Hey, thanks for the coffee and cookies."
Lois smiled and reached out to take her husband's hand. "I know what kind of sweet tooth you have. This is your coffee."
Clark lifted one eyebrow at the cup. "You're sure?"
"If I drank it, Clark, I'd fall into a diabetic coma."
He grinned lopsidedly. "Then it ought to be pretty close to just right."
He and Lois sat together, and as he tasted his coffee and made yummy noises, Lois noticed Robin's expression and her body language.
The young woman wasn't adept at hiding her feelings. Lois could almost trace the longing on her face as she gazed hungrily at Clark. The look was almost the same one Lois had worn when Clark had flown out the window of the Daily Planet with Zara and Ching. The only thing lacking was the tears.
Lois turned her attention to her husband's enthusiastic consumption of her cookies. But out of the corner of her eye, she saw Robin's glare settle on her.
And it wasn't pleasant. The look fairly screamed 'Danger!' at full volume. Only the shift of Lois's head towards the plate wiped it from Robin's face.
She knew she'd never convince Clark of the truth, but Lois knew in the pit of her stomach that Robin wanted Clark. She also knew that Robin considered Lois the main barrier to that relationship. And one other thing was plain, that if Clark hadn't been here with them, Robin might have taken steps to eliminate her only competition.
That decided her. She needed to talk to Bernie. And she needed to do it as soon as humanly possible.
Only crumbs remained of the cookies. The coffee cups were all but empty. And Robin was wiggling impatiently on her chair. "C'mon, Clark! We gotta go do some more practicin'! You gotta learn me some more stuff!"
Clark smiled at her. "We will, Robin. As long as it's okay with my wife."
Clark turned to Lois too soon to catch the narrowed eyes and hardened mouth in the other woman's expression. And Lois knew that calling Clark's attention to Robin wouldn't do any good. Her best hope was for him to spend enough time with her to realize how dangerous she was.
So she smiled to both of them. "Sure. You two go ahead. I'll make dinner for all of us when you get back."
Clark lowered his glasses. "You'll make dinner?"
She forced herself to smile back at him. "Okay! I'll call for take-out."
"Thanks, honey. I appreciate this. And I know Robin does too."
Lois turned to Robin, who ducked her head and nodded. "Yeah. I do, ma'am."
Lois made pushing motions with her hands. "You two get going so you can get back at a reasonable hour. Have fun. And don't break anything that anyone will miss."
Clark laughed and spun into the Suit. Lois watched her husband exit through the patio door with Robin hugging his wake. Within moments, she heard the telltale 'whoosh' of super-powered beings leaving the area by air.
Just to be on the safe side, she sat down and turned on the TV. She found a nature program and forced herself to watch it for eleven minutes.
Then she turned off the set and picked up her purse. Star Labs was only a short distance away, and she fervently hoped that Bernie Klein was working this morning.
If he wasn't already there, she'd make sure he would be soon. She had to talk to him, had to convince him while she still had time.
Superman lifted his hand and called for a halt. "That's enough for now, Robin."
The girl giggled. "Come on, let's do somethin' else! I ain't never had this much fun with my powers!"
He smiled in understanding. "They are fun, but you shouldn't make a habit of using your abilities just to have fun. It's too easy to seriously damage something."
Robin floated above the packed ice and gestured around her. "What're we gonna break at the South Pole?"
He pointed at the ice floe she'd shattered with a single punch. "Well, if we break off too much ice, we'll interfere with the shipping lanes around the southern tips of South America or Africa. We might also impact the weather patterns in the area by cooling off the water the ice is floating in. Or, we could change the way the southern ice cap is shifting and not cool off the air it would have cooled because we've moved so much ice so quickly. We could change the temperature in the local fishing grounds to be too warm or too cold, and if the fish move we might damage someone's livelihood. Or we could upset the ecology of the area by taking away the fish that the penguins depend on for food."
She settled to the ice feet first. "Oh. Never thought about it like that."
"I know. You've never needed to before, but if you're serious about putting on a costume and --"
"I am! I'm real serious about it!"
"Okay, I believe that you're serious. Then you need to consider the results of your actions as time passes as well as what you're doing at the moment."
She frowned and crossed her arms. "Sounds like a lotta work to me."
"It is, but because we have such power, we have to use it responsibly. For example, not long after I became Superman, someone tried to force me out of Metropolis by making everyone -- including me -- believe that I was causing a freak heat wave in the city by using my powers. I was ready to pack it in and go back home until Lois proved that it wasn't me at all, that someone was trying to set me up."
"Y'mean you was gonna quit? How come I didn't know about that?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. It was in the stories Lois and I wrote, and I know they got national coverage."
"I never seen it. Guess I was busy. But if it weren't your fault, why was you gonna leave?"
"Because I was ready to take responsibility for what I'd done, even if I hadn't intended to do it. The safety of the people of Metropolis is more important than my own preferences. It's one of the things that makes people trust Superman."
"Huh. Guess I missed a lot, moving around like I did."
"The positive side of moving is that you have a lot of varied experiences that you wouldn't have if you'd stayed in just one place. And you've met a lot of people you wouldn't have known otherwise, too."
She shook her head. "That ain't all to the good. I done met some folks I'd just as soon not ever met."
"Me too, but at least you gave those people a chance to know you."
She snickered. "Yeah. A real good chance."
He nodded and decided not to pursue that particular conversational thread until later, if he ever did. "Tell you what, Robin, let's see how well you can control your heat vision."
She smiled and lowered her arms. "Sure! What ya want me t' do?"
He pointed at a knob of ice-covered rock inland from them. "Let's see if you can sculpt that rock using only your heat vision. Think of something you'd like to see and then carve it into the face of the rock."
She nodded and thought for a moment, then grinned. "Got one! You like chipmunks?"
Bernie Klein shook his head again. "Lois, I don't care what story you're working on, the answer is no! I cannot possibly do what you're asking!"
Lois hadn't counted on the man being so uncharacteristically obstinate. "Look, Dr. Klein -- Bernie -- there is a situation."
He glared at her. "A situation?"
"What kind of situation?"
"A very serious one."
He waited a beat, then asked, "Concerning what?"
She opened her mouth, then closed it again. "I can't tell you."
He crossed his arms. "Then there's no way I'm opening that safe."
"Bernie, please! It's really important!"
"It's important to Superman, too! He trusts me with this material and I don't plan to let him down!"
She sighed to herself. "Okay. You won't like this, but here's the whole story."
He waited as she turned and paced across the room, but when she didn't speak, he said, "You do know that I have two experiments to write up for publication before I leave today, don't you?"
She stopped and allowed herself a small smile. "You told me. Twice." She took a deep breath. "Okay, here it is. It's about -- about the other Kryptonian on Earth."
He nodded calmly. "Go on."
"What do you know about her?"
"I did a physical exam on her and compared it to Superman's baseline readings. As far as I can tell, she's within the physical norms for a Kryptonian."
"What else do you know about her?"
"Isn't she from New Krypton?"
"No. She isn't connected to Zara and Ching and the others. She's from Krypton, the original planet."
"Really? From Superman's home world?"
"Yes. In fact, I think she's from the same city."
"Oh. That's -- interesting." His eyes lit up. "In fact, that's more than just interesting." He frowned in thought for a moment, then asked, "I've been wondering why haven't we heard about her before now."
"She's kept under cover her whole life. She's discussing with Superman whether or not to go public."
"I see. What's wrong with her?"
Lois started. "Why do you think there's something wrong with her?"
Bernie crossed his arms. "I may not have a good bedside manner, Lois, but I can tell when someone's not telling me everything. Why are you less than enthusiastic about this development?"
"Because she's -- she's ethically challenged."
He didn't look surprised. "Can you be a little more specific?"
Lois sighed. "She threatened to kill someone."
Bernie's mouth thumped his chest and his eyes nearly jumped off his face. "What?"
"Yes, she --"
"Superman didn't tell me that!"
"No, I don't suppose he did."
"Lois, I -- wait. Let me think about this."
Lois waited while Bernie got himself under control, then watched as he thought through the information she'd given him. His eyes widened again, but this time it was in alarm instead of amazement. "I think I understand. This super woman is potentially quite dangerous."
"Yes. Very dangerous."
"And she's actually threatened someone's life?"
"Yes. Quite plainly."
Lois looked away. "Does it matter who she threatened?"
He crossed his arms and frowned. "No, I suppose not. Unless, of course, you were the one who was threatened."
She caught his eye. "Bernie. Please. Don't press me on this."
"Hmm." Klein returned Lois's gaze, but not even Superman could stare down Lois Lane in determined mode. He sighed and gave up the contest, then tapped his chin with his finger several times. Abruptly, he dropped his arms and stood straight. "In that case, I think I need to show you something." He paused. "But let me tell you before you see it that you're not going to like it."
"What? Why not?"
He lifted his hand and gestured aimlessly. "First of all, you have to know that what I'm about to show you was built under the direction of my predecessor, before I joined Star Labs, under the guidance of Bureau 39. It --"
"What!" she exploded. "You have some Bureau 39 equipment here? Are you completely insane?"
"Lois, please! This isn't a device. It's -- well, you'll have to see it."
She stared icicles and lasers at him all at once. "This better be good, Bernie, or you won't have a job on Monday and Star Labs will be boarded up for good."
He returned the glare with his own furious intensity. "Don't threaten me with the Daily Planet, Lois! I don't like playing office politics, but I'm a lot better at the game than people think." He held her gaze for a long moment, then relaxed microscopically. "Besides, the existence of this -- this thing -- isn't something I can control. The military made that decision, and without Federal funding this lab wouldn't exist in its present form. This is a black project, super-secret, and I could lose a lot by showing it to you. You're not even supposed to suspect that it's sitting down there."
Lois forced herself to calm down. "All right, Bernie, I'll play nice. We'll do it your way." She waited another moment. "Assuming, of course, that I get what I came for."
He nodded. "If what you say is true, and I'm starting to believe it is, you will."
Robin leaned back and frowned at Clark. "You wanna do what?"
"I don't want to hit you, I only want to teach you control of your strength. If you can throw a full-speed punch and pull it at the very last instant and only touch my face, you can grasp anything safely."
She obviously wasn't convinced. "I don't like this game."
He stepped closer and took her hand in his. "Robin, I promise you that I won't hit you. I only want to demonstrate what you can do if you practice a little. Okay?"
She didn't exactly relax, but she did turn to face him. "Awright. What do I gotta do?"
His fist blurred and appeared beside her face, barely tickling her cheek. "Just stand there."
Her eyes widened. "Wow! I dint even see you move! I thought I could see super-fast stuff!"
"You can. But just like a human fighter has to have time to react, you and I can move fast enough to beat each other's reaction times if we're quick enough."
She grinned impishly. "So if I throw a punch at you --"
He caught her left fist in his hand. "If I have enough warning, I can block it."
"Pretty good, Clark. How about this?"
She flicked her left hand to draw his attention and then fired a right cross into his chin.
He saw stars he'd never seen before.
Lois stumbled into Bernie's office and sat down hard. He poured a cup of tepid carbon remover from the coffeemaker on his filing cabinet and handed it to her.
She gulped it down without tasting it. "How -- how long?"
"Are you asking me how long it's been here?"
She opened her mouth to answer but could only nod dully.
He took the empty cup from her cold fingers. "Bureau 39 started the excavation for the area just before the Nightfall Asteroid incident. It took them less than three months to complete it."
"They kept on even after Nightfall?"
He shrugged. "Paranoia isn't logical. And fear is a great short-term motivator."
"Yeah." She swallowed hard. "And -- and the liquid synthetic? Who came up with that?"
He frowned. "I did, although I didn't know what it was or what it would be used for at the time. I only knew that the powers that be wanted a synthetic version of the mineral. It was one of the first projects I worked on here, back when Dr. Wilson was director of special projects. The whole thing was ready for operation just after Jason Trask died in Kansas. Bureau 39 lost all their special projects then, and the room is now under the control of Special Homeworld Security Operations."
She lifted her head. "I've never heard of them."
"Almost no one has." He sat down in the chair next to hers. "There are several 'spook' agencies in the government that have to remain unknown in order to function efficiently. This is one of them."
"And you're part of it?"
Bernie shook his head. "No. Absolutely not. I'm the civilian head of Star Labs and I'm not a government agent."
"But you have that -- that -- thing -- down in the basement!"
He sighed. "Lois, you have to know that Jason Trask wasn't the only xenophobe in the government. Superman still worries some people, and after what happened with the New Kryptonians, some people wonder if there are others out there somewhere who might be even more dangerous."
"But that thing's designed for Superman, not a regiment of super-goons! You couldn't keep more than three or four Kryptonians down there for any length of time!" She stood and paced to the window, then crossed her arms. "This is supposed to be America, not some police state. Superman is a free man. That thing -- he'd be a rat in a cage down there."
"Think about what would have happened to Superman if he'd landed in Russia instead of Kansas. They would've tried to make him an agent of the state. At least he has some freedom here."
She ducked her head. "I know. You're right about that." She sighed. "Well, this isn't getting me what I came for."
He stood and held out what looked like a cell phone. "Here."
She took it and almost dropped it. "Wow! How much does this thing weigh?"
"About six pounds." He almost grinned. "It's the lead lining."
Lois examined it more closely. "Press here and it flips open, right?"
"Yes." He sighed and seemed to shrink in on himself. "I sincerely hope you don't need it."
She met his gaze and softly replied, "So do I, Bernie. So do I."
He drifted up out of the darkness with a throbbing pain in his chin and the feel of a woman's hands slapping his face.
"Clark! Wake up! I'm sorry! I dint mean to knock you out! Come on, Clark, wake up! Wake up!"
His eyes fluttered open and he lifted his hands to either side. "Wha -- what happened?"
Robin sat back and clasped her hands together. "I just done what you tole me to do! I tried to hit you and you stopped me and I done it again and you dint stop me and I thought I'd kilt you!" She shook her head and sniffed hard. "I'm sorry, Clark, I'm so sorry! I dint mean to --"
"Robin!" He reached up and caught her hands. "It's okay. I guess I wasn't clear enough on what I wanted you to do. It was my fault."
"But I'm the one what hit you!"
He sat up. "I know. But you were just doing what you thought I asked you to do. It isn't your fault my instructions weren't clear." He massaged his jaw. "You hit like an asteroid, you know. That was some punch."
Robin spoke in a little-girl voice. "I promise I won't do it again. Not never."
"It's okay, I believe you." He took a deep breath and let it out quickly. "Will you help me up?"
"What?" she cried. "You need help? Oh, man, I did hurt you! Oh, no no no no no --"
"Robin! I'm fine. It's simply polite to help your opponent to stand after you clobber him."
"Oh. Yeah, sure." She stood and held out her hand to him and he pulled himself upright. "Guess our practice is done for the day, huh?"
"Not necessarily. You learned a valuable lesson today." He rubbed his chin dramatically. "And so did I."
Despite the trembling still dancing around her chin, she laughed.
When Lois stepped into the apartment, Jonathan and Martha were sitting on the couch watching "The Philadelphia Story" on a classic movie station. Martha gestured to her. "Come on in, Lois! This is hilarious!"
Lois hung up her sweater and sat on the armrest. "Oh, Cary Grant! I haven't seen this movie in years."
Jonathan waved at the screen and chuckled. "They're getting to the late night pool scene with Jimmy Stewart and Kate Hepburn. Maybe this time they'll sell tickets."
The three of them shared a laugh and settled down together to watch.
Superman and Robin leaned into each other with their hands clasped like pro wrestlers. "Come on, Superman! Push a little harder!"
He grinned and complied. "Okay."
And Robin went skidding backwards until she bumped into the rock sculpture she'd created earlier. Superman released her hands as she lost her balance and let her slide down to the ice.
"Hey!" she shouted. "Now my butt's wet!"
He laughed and put out his hand to help her up, but she yanked him down on the packed snow beside her. She rolled over and straddled him. "Now your butt's wet too!"
"Nice move to knock me down. But I don't think this is the proper relationship between teacher and student."
She laughed. "Your fault! You gotta be more careful not to fall on your 'S'!"
"Okay, Robin, you've made your point. Please let me up."
Instead of moving, her eyes softened and she gently touched his face with one hand. "You know, you ain't a bad-looking man at all."
"Uh, I think I should --"
And she leaned down and kissed him.
He was shocked for a moment, then he put his hands on her shoulders and slowly pushed her away. "I don't think Lois would like you doing that, Robin."
She rose to her feet fluidly. "Sorry. Just that I ain't been around many men who treat me nice."
He stood beside her. "Thank you, but I'm not your type. Besides, I'm starting to think of you as if you were my sister."
Her eyebrows danced. "Sister? How's that? We ain't all that close related."
His eyes narrowed at her choice of words. "I thought we weren't related at all."
Her face turned open and innocent. "Oh, no, we ain't, not that I know 'bout. So why you think I'm like your sister?"
He decided to leave the subject of their possible blood relationship for another time. "You're the closest to family from Krypton that I've ever met."
"What about them New Kryptonians? Wasn't they family too?"
"Not really. They only wanted to use me for political reasons. Zara and I got to be friends by the time they left, but family? Not really."
"Too bad for you, I guess."
He nodded, thinking that she didn't sound as if she were sorry, either for his lack of family or for what she'd done a few moments before. "I think we're about finished here anyway. Let's fly home."
Her eyes twinkled. "Race ya?"
He held up his hand. "Whoa! Remember what I said about consequences?"
"So, if we create sonic booms here, we might do more damage to the ice shelf."
"Oh." Her face fell. "Didn't think about that."
"Not to worry. We'll just lift slowly up to about fifty-five thousand feet and start from there. If we keep to that altitude, we'll be above any airliners and below any satellites, and we won't bother anybody."
Her grin returned. "Oh, okay! Gotcha! First one to get straight above Prospect Island in Hobb's Bay wins!"
Clark stepped through the front door as Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn mugged for the still photo that ended the movie. Robin nearly ran him down in her eagerness to get inside and tell them what she'd accomplished. "Hey, y'all! Boy, we had us a good time! An' I learned a bunch about what these here powers can do!"
Clark felt all three movie watchers shift into wary politeness. His mother was the first to speak. "I'm glad the two of you enjoyed yourselves, Robin."
Clark nodded as Robin flipped her hair into place and flopped into Clark's favorite overstuffed chair. "She's a fast learner, Mom."
"That's very good. So, what's next on the agenda for Robin?"
Clark looked at the still smiling girl and said, "I'd like for her to live with you two for a while."
Robin's smile faded. "What?" she exclaimed. "You want me to -- to go there? With them? You gonna send me away?"
"No, of course not." Clark sat on the arm of the couch closest to Robin. "But part of what helps me be Superman is what I learned from my parents. They taught me a lot of things that I still lean on today, and when I have a tough choice to make, their lessons still guide me."
As Robin gaped, Lois offered, "That's true, Robin. Clark's inherent need to help people almost derailed our relationship before I found out he had a second job as a super-helper."
Jonathan turned on the sofa to face Robin. "Actually, even though Martha and I weren't exactly consulted on this --"
Clark opened his mouth to explain, but Lois beat him to it. "He didn't consult me either, Jonathan. But it might be a very good idea, assuming you and Martha agree. And assuming Robin agrees to it."
The subject under discussion suddenly leaped to her feet. "I ain't agreein' to nothin' like that! Ain't no way I'm going nowhere!" She leaned towards Clark and grabbed his arm, pleading with him. "Please don't send me away! I ain't been bad to you and you know it! I wanna stay with you! I don't wanna go!"
Clark, like his wife and his parents, was astounded by Robin's sudden shift in demeanor. He'd expected to have to convince her this was a good idea, but he'd not anticipated her reverting to an almost child-like state.
He tried to calm her. "Robin, please look at this as part of learning to be a superhero. I learned discipline and control from my folks, and a good dose --"
"I don't care!" she yelled. "I ain't leavin' and that's that!"
Clark stood. "Robin, please, let me --"
And he spun down into unconsciousness as her fist crashed into his jaw once again.
Lois stood and slowly backed away from the shocking scene. Focused on Robin, she could see Jonathan and Martha rush to Clark's aid, but her vision was dominated by the blonde girl turning to face her.
"Robin," ventured Lois, "will Clark be okay?"
"He'll be fine," she squeezed out. "Didn't hit him that hard, just knocked him out."
"I'm glad to hear that." The girl took several quick steps and stood before Lois. "What do you plan on doing now, Robin?"
Robin took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I gotta kill you," she said softly.
The girl hesitated, then repeated, "I gotta kill you." She blinked and added, "I'm real sorry, though."
After a stunned moment, Lois managed to ask, "Why?"
"Cause Clark won't be with me unless you're gone. I don't think you'll just up and leave, and even if you did you wouldn't stay away, besides he'd come after you, so the only way to split you two up for good is to kill you."
"I see." Lois glanced at Clark, who was still woozy. "What makes you think he'll be with you after you kill me?"
Robin shrugged. "He won't, not for a while, but he'll come around. We're the only Kryptonians alive here on Earth. We was made for each other."
"Oh? How's that?"
Robin shook her head. "You're stallin' and hopin' Clark'll wake up in time to save you." Robin lifted her hand and reached towards Lois's throat. "But he won't, not this time."
Lois backed up until she bumped the wall. "Wait!"
"Can't. He'll wake up in about forty seconds and I gotta be gone by then." The girl's face softened. "I'm sorry. You been nice to me. I'll make it quick. You won't feel nothin'."
Lois pulled a phone out of her pocket. "Can I call my mother to say goodbye?"
Robin hesitated, then nodded. "Fifteen seconds."
Lois lifted the phone and stared at it, then slowly moved to open the cover. Robin's eyes narrowed and she muttered, "This ain't right. You're too calm."
Then she snatched the phone from Lois at super-speed and took a step back. "Somethin' wrong with this phone, ain't it?" She cautiously opened it and looked at Lois's personal cell phone. Robin glanced up. "This ain't nothing but a phone! What you acting so funny about?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Lois replied. "This is the right one."
As soon as she saw the other woman's face, Robin knew she'd been tricked somehow, but before she could react, Lois had flipped open the other phone and a pulsing green glow filled the room.
The pain hit her immediately. She'd never felt such agony. It penetrated every pore, pierced every muscle, twisted every bone in her body, and tore at her brain. She knew Lois had done something, had found something that would hurt her, but she didn't know what it was and she didn't know why this was happening to her.
She fell to her knees and then curled up on the floor on her side. "Ahhgghh! Take it away! It hurts! Take it away! Please!"
Lois's barely audible voice drifted over the raging sea of pain. "I don't think so, Robin. You were going to kill me, and that's not something I can afford to ignore."
The girl couldn't answer. It took all her strength just to pant. She'd never felt so weak, not even when her drunken parents -- her fake parents -- had beaten her bloody as a child and then laughed at her attempts to apologize for something she couldn't understand that she'd done wrong.
She could sense Lois leaning closer. The woman was close enough to touch, and that meant she was close enough to kill. It would be easy. She could still just reach out and squeeze her throat and --"
And Lois's hand caught her wrist and held it still with almost no effort. Robin's strength was gone, dissipated as if she were an ordinary woman.
No. Less than ordinary. Weak as a newborn kitten and just as helpless. As helpless as she'd been when her parents had abused her.
She couldn't believe it. Worse than the pain was the knowledge that her powers had been taken away from her. Without them, Clark wouldn't love her, couldn't love her. She'd be alone for the rest of her life.
She cried out in fear and torment and fell into a pit of blackness.
Lois grabbed Robin's collar and slowly dragged her across the room away from the door. She turned and called out, "Get Clark out of here! He should be okay down in the lobby."
Martha goggled at Lois, then shook herself. "Come on, Jonathan, let's get him up."
Lois watched his parents struggle to help Clark to his feet, then guide him to the door. He was still woozy from the punch, but the Kryptonite in Lois's hand didn't seem to be affecting him as badly as it was hitting Robin. Lois turned and checked the girl again, then set the lead-lined case with the green rock in it down on a table out of her reach after making sure the lead top was between Clark and the Kryptonite.
She turned to face her husband. "Clark, I'm sorry, but it was do this or let her kill me."
His head snapped around and he forced himself to stand upright. "What?"
"That's right, you didn't hear that part, you were out cold. She was going to kill me."
His face twisted and he insisted, "No way, Lois! You misunderstood --"
Martha interrupted. "No, Clark, it's true. I heard her, too."
"But -- Mom, no, she --"
Lois forced herself not to shout. "Clark, you have to leave the room. I'm going to call Bernie Klein."
"Dr. Klein? What can he do?"
"He can -- he can take care of her, keep her safe."
He grimaced and demanded, "How?"
She felt the tears tickle her eyes. "You'll have to see it."
It was hard for Lois to believe that she'd met Robin McGyver less than a week before, on a Friday evening after a mysterious plane crash at Metropolis's busiest airport. Now, late on a Wednesday evening, she was at Star Labs, visiting the girl's prison cell, the place where she'd probably spend the rest of her life.
Only it wasn't quite a prison cell. She had her own living room, a spacious bedroom, a bathroom which was free from any cameras or microphones, her own kitchen, including a pantry which could be stocked from outside without anyone entering her quarters. She had a television, radio, card games, a computer -- without a direct Internet link -- and access to any books on almost any subject which she might want to read.
But the girl couldn't leave, not ever. She wasn't free. And there was no legal record of her incarceration. No one but Lois, Clark, and a very few high-level Star Labs employees would know where she was, or even who she was.
Lois stood iron-stiff, watching Robin on the video monitor as she stalked back and forth in the living room of her new apartment. Bernie Klein, standing behind her shoulder, shuffled his feet and sighed deeply.
"I'm sorry, Lois, but if half of what you tell me is true, we have very little choice in this matter."
Lois crossed her arms. "I know. I keep telling myself the same thing."
A phone on the wall buzzed and Bernie picked it up. "Yes? Of course. Send him right down."
He hung up and blew out a breath. "Superman is on his way down. I'd imagine he'll have some very interesting things to say about this setup."
Lois didn't answer. She was too busy anticipating some of the interesting things Superman might say to her.
Superman strode into the monitor room, saw the scene before him, and stopped dead. Lois turned and noticed Bernie Klein's odd expression. Maybe he'd seen the makeup on Superman's jaw and wondered what it was covering up. Lois understood that Clark Kent could have a bruised jaw courtesy of someone he was investigating, but Superman couldn't, not if they wanted to keep his dual identity secret. And Bernie didn't need to know any of that. If he thought Superman had a Kryptonian zit and was embarrassed about it, that was fine with Lois.
Superman stepped forward slowly and gripped the back of a chair. Lois kept silent as she saw his fingers twist the metal.
"Tell me about this place, Dr. Klein," he ground out.
The doctor stepped closer. "Uh, it's, uh, it's a secure, uh, facility --"
Lois butted in. "It's a Superman containment room."
Superman's gaze snapped to Lois, then slowly turned to the doctor. "Explain."
Klein had never heard that tooth-grinding, unbending, barely suppressed fury in the hero's voice before. He took a deep breath and began.
"Before I joined Star Labs, Superman, the faculty was partially funded by Bureau 39. They -- wait a minute!"
Superman stopped his move towards Bernie, then crossed his arms. "Very well. Please finish explaining."
The nervous bald man wiped his forehead. "I have so not been looking forward to this moment for such a very long time."
"Okay, okay! Bureau 39 designed and built a Superman-proof apartment below the sub-basement of Star Labs. The walls, floor, and ceiling are filled with an interlocking network of thin lead-lined pipes which carry a liquid synthetic green Kryptonite. It has the same damaging properties that regular Kryptonite does, but with the added little bonus feature that it clings to whatever it touches, as long as it touches something less dense than lead."
"Yes, like skin or hair or clothing. As another little added bonus feature, it's at least twice as effective as the green crystal you're familiar with, although it doesn't have the range. It needs to be in contact with the subject in order to maximize its effectiveness." Bernie gestured to the video monitor, where Robin had stopped her tirade and appeared to be listening. Superman turned his gaze in that direction as the doctor continued. "We've already explained to our -- our guest -- that any break in the wall will also spray the pressurized liquid all over her, and it would take an acid bath to get it off. By that time, the radiation might have already killed her."
Still staring at the monitor, Superman bluntly asked, "You said Bureau 39 designed and built this?"
Bernie nodded slowly. "Yes."
"With me in mind?"
Bernie paused, then answered, "Yes."
Superman hesitated. "How long have you known this was here?"
Bernie's shoulders slumped. "Since I took over as head of Star Labs. One of the requirements when I took the job was that the appropriate government agency retain control of this room. It's never been used until today."
"You could have held some of the New Kryptonians in it."
"True. But not enough of them. A group of six or more, maybe as few as four, would have been able to create a breach in the wall large enough to keep at least one of them from receiving a lethal dose of synthetic Kryptonite. This facility couldn't be used during that awful time because there was no way to safely restrain them all here, so the government kept it secret. And there wasn't time to build enough rooms to contain all the invaders." Bernie sighed. "No one has ever been held here." He turned to the monitor again. "Until now."
Lois spoke up. "Does the government have this synthetic Kryptonite formula?"
Klein shook his head emphatically. "No, they do not. They keep asking about it, but I have told them repeatedly that the only copy of the formula is in my head. I'm not ever giving it to anyone, it isn't written down anywhere, and there's no way to reverse-engineer it from a physical sample. It's too complex and too unstable. What's flowing in these pipes is all that exists in the world."
Superman motioned to the monitor. "What about sunlight? She needs it in order to stay healthy."
"I know. We collect sunlight on the roof and send it down here through coated glass fiber-optic wires. Then the light is reflected through lenses in the ceiling and distributed evenly throughout the apartment. It's not like being in broad daylight, but it is enough to keep her alive."
"Have her powers returned yet?"
"So you know how Lois captured her?"
His voice seemed to flow from beneath a glacier. "I do."
Klein nodded. "Some of them have. The rest should be back in a day or two. But, like I said, there's no way for her to get out of that room without killing herself, even when her powers do return fully."
Superman nodded slowly and sighed. He turned back to face the monitor. "Is there a way to talk privately with the young lady?"
Dr. Klein motioned to an opaque bulge in the corner of the room. "In there. There's a corresponding audio-video link in the near corner of the living room in the apartment. They're both sound-proofed, and the audio link isn't monitored. This booth is also lined with lead in case of a containment breach in the liquid Kryptonite system. You can speak to her from there."
Superman shut the door to the booth, then lifted the handset and sagged against the wall. He closed his eyes and imagined that he felt a twinge from the synthetic green Kryptonite pulsing through the walls. He couldn't envision how Robin could possibly cope with being shut up in a box for the rest of her life, never seeing the sun, never able to fly or use any of her powers, never being free --"
He felt as if he were the one in the containment room. His father's old refrain -- "don't let them know what you can do or they'll put you in a room and dissect you like a frog" -- echoed in his head. And now he'd helped put a fellow Kryptonian in that dissection room.
This conversation would be more difficult for him than anything he could remember doing in his life.
"What d'you want, Superman?"
Robin's angry drawl reached his ear and pulled him away from his maudlin musings. He straightened and looked into the monitor. "Robin? Are you okay?"
Her face took on a 'you-have-to-be-kidding' slant. "Oh, I'm just peachy-keen, ain't never felt better." She snorted in disgust. "What'd'ya expect?"
He hesitated, then plowed forward. "I need to know something, something only you can tell me."
She shrugged into the camera in the apartment. "So ask. I got nowhere to go and nothin' to hide."
He steeled himself. He had to know. "Very well. Why did you threaten to kill Lois?"
Robin's eyebrows leaped upwards. "You mean she ain't told you yet?"
"I want to hear it from you."
The girl sighed. "It was a stupid idea. I was stupid. Again."
"Okay. So, tell me about it."
Her eyebrows burrowed downward. "You really wanna know?"
"Well -- " Robin shifted and actually looked embarrassed. "I -- she had you and I wanted you."
It was Superman's turn to express surprise. "That's it? You threatened my wife's life because you wanted me?"
"It ain't like she dint have no ace in the hole! I thought I was gonna die when she pulled out that green rock."
Superman's own face hardened. "You were going to kill her. I'm glad she did what she did."
"Oh, so you're glad I'm stuck in here like this?"
"I'm glad Lois is alive, yes."
Robin started to yell at him, then apparently thought better of it and lowered her voice. "I'm sorry. I wanted somebody to love me. I just wanted to belong to somebody." She sighed. "Somebody nice, like you."
"Like Lois belongs to me now, you mean?"
"Yeah." She brightened. "Yeah! I knowed you'd unnerstand! Just like Lois! Hey! Maybe she could share you with me? You know, a week with her and a week with me? Somethin' like --"
She recoiled. "Wow. Okay, you don't have to get all snotty about it."
Superman forcibly calmed himself. "Robin, here's no way I could have let you remain free if you had managed to kill Lois. I would have hunted you down and brought you here myself."
The girl's face fell. "You mean -- you'd do that to one o' your own people? You'd lock me up like a mad dog? Just for -- for that?"
"Just for trying to kill -- " He took a deep breath and counted to ten. "First of all, Robin, I don't own Lois. She's married to me of her own free will. And she doesn't own me, either."
"But I only --"
"Second, you haven't grasped a bit of what we've been talking about during all your lessons. This society is based on the rule of law. It's more important than family or friends or personal preference. It's the only way to ensure that everyone is as safe as he or she can be."
He overrode her protest. "Third, you lack the moral fiber necessary to be a hero. You don't respect the rule of law or the need for discipline in an ordered society. You can't kill someone just because you're inconvenienced!"
"You don't unnerstand --"
"The world can't have a super-powered murderer running around loose! Can you imagine the kind of chaos that would result? Do you understand that?"
The girl furrowed her brow. "They don't bother me none and I won't bother them none."
"Haven't you been listening to anything I've said? It doesn't work that way! You can't -- " he stopped himself in mid-shout and exhaled deeply. "I'm sorry, Robin. I assumed that you'd be more like me than you are. I shouldn't have done that. I should have investigated you more thoroughly." He snorted. "Serves me right, though. I condemned Lois for not investigating Lex Luthor, for not looking past the surface and finding the reality underneath." He sighed. "And I've done exactly the same thing. I took you at face value and assumed that you were who I wanted you to be instead of delving for the truth."
Robin reached out and touched the screen. "Superman -- Clark -- you really love her, don't you?"
He sighed again. "Yes. I do. I love her more than I love my own life."
She leaned back and dropped her hand. "Yeah. I heard about it a time or two. Never saw it before I come here. Never knowed no one what loved like that."
"I know. I'm sorry, Robin. That's one of the reasons I wanted you to live with my parents. They could have taught you a lot if you had only listened to them."
Her tone softened as she asked, "Like what?"
His hopes for Robin rose ever so slightly. "Respect for life. Love for freedom, for everyone and not just for yourself. Reasons to treat people right. How to help others without expecting anything in return. Why you should care about what happens to the innocent and those who can't defend themselves."
She nodded. "I know. Believe it or not, I been listenin' to you."
"Good. Can you tell me anything of what you've learned?"
The girl stared into the camera. "I -- I really never thought about that stuff much, what was so different between right and wrong. I always thought it was something the folks with money got to decide. Never thought it was something that stood up on its own, something that just was without bein' made to be. Leastways, I never thought much about it not before you started teachin' me. I was just tryin' to stay alive and keep my head down. Didn't want nobody to know what I could do."
"I know. I went through a lot of the same kinds of problems."
"Yeah." Robin blinked several times. "But you found someone to love you."
"You could find someone like that, too. You have the time. You just have to make some changes."
"No. I cain't."
"Yes, Robin, you can. Where there's life, there's hope."
"Not for me." She shook her head. "It's too late for all that. I got too much blood on my hands."
Blood on her hands? "What? Robin, what are you --"
"Marshall Pippin recognized me."
"What? Who? What are you talking about now?"
"I ain't ever gettin' outta here, am I?"
She was jumping from subject to subject and he wasn't following well. "I don't know. I know we can't let you out until we're sure you won't be a danger to others. Then we'll --"
"B-but I am! I'm a danger to other people!"
"You can learn. You can change. You can become the hero you said you wanted to be."
"No. It's too late for that. Lois will tell you. She been diggin' into my past, she's too smart not to, and by now I know she done found me all over the map." She wiped dampness from her eyes. "Marshall was the guy on the plane who recognized me. Told me he'd call the police and tell 'em what I done in Nashville. Said he'd make sure I spent my time in jail, said he wasn't gonna let me get off easy."
"I don't understand --"
She looked directly into the camera. "All I could think was I couldn't let him do that to me! I was gonna start a new life here! I was gonna be somebody! And I weren't goin' to jail again!" She glanced around herself at the tube she stood in, at the apartment into which she was locked. "But now I'm in jail for good! It ain't a real jail, but you ain't lettin' me out, not never! You cain't! And we both know it!"
Focus, he told himself. "Robin, I want you to sit down and --"
"No! I cain't live here! I cain't stay here! I crashed that plane and kilt everyone! I panicked! All I could think of was not gettin' arrested! I weren't gonna let that happen! And then -- then the plane blew up -- and the fire -- somebody screamed --"
Killed everyone -- "Robin! Are you telling me you crashed that plane on purpose?"
Her tears began in earnest. "Y-yeah! No! I dint do it a purpose but I done it anyway! I got scared and pushed it into the ground cause I dint wanna go to jail! You can tell your wife I done it! She can stop lookin' now!"
"Oh, Robin." He hesitated. "I don't know what to say."
"I do." She wiped her eyes again. "Tell her I'm sorry for what I done to them folks on that plane, and for what I almost done to her. Tell her I'm glad it worked out this way. It's for the best. And -- and thank her for me for them pancakes. They was real good. Ain't nobody been so nice to me for a long time, maybe not never."
"You can tell her yourself. She's here."
The girl's voice softened again. "No. You tell her. She'll believe you."
"Okay, I'll tell her if you really want me to. But I'm sure she'll be willing to talk to you. She doesn't hate you."
She lowered her head and shook it slowly from side to side. Her ash blonde hair flowed like a shampoo model's tresses. "It don't matter. This is goodbye."
"What? No, Robin. Wait. You don't have to --"
The click in his ear confirmed what his eyes told him, that she'd hung up. The monitor went blank, too, and he sighed as he opened the door.
Lois stepped closer and almost reached out to him, then stopped herself. "How is she?" she asked softly.
"Not good. She asked me to -- to tell you she was sorry."
To his surprise, instead of scoffing, Lois asked, "Do you believe her? That she really is sorry, I mean?"
He nodded slowly. "Yes. I'm not sure she realizes exactly what she --"
The floor shook and alarms blared in the control room. A monotone computer voice spoke from hidden speakers in the ceiling. "Breach in room thirty-nine west wall into passageway eleven west. Occupant no longer contained. Breach in room thirty-nine west wall into passageway eleven west. Occupant no longer --"
Lois snapped a look at her husband and saw the grimace of pain on his face. She grabbed Superman and shoved him towards the communications booth. "That little room is lead-lined! Stay in there! You'll be safe from the Kryptonite!"
Superman dug in his heels and stopped them both. "No!" he shouted. "Robin needs help! I have to help her!"
"You can't go to her!" she shouted back. "It's already affecting you! That stuff will kill you!"
"I can't leave her to die!"
"You can't risk yourself!"
He pushed Lois away and took a step towards the door. "I won't let someone die if I can stop it from happening!"
"I won't let you!"
Bernie Klein stepped in front of the Man of Steel and pressed his hands against Superman's chest. "It's too late! She's gone!"
Superman pivoted around Lois and the doctor and headed for the door again. "Then I'll find her no matter where --"
"That's not what I meant!" shouted the doctor. "She's dead!"
He stopped in mid-stride and turned slowly. "What?"
"It's too late." Dr. Klein pointed upwards. "Listen!"
The computer's litany had changed while they'd argued. "Occupant of room thirty-nine is located in passageway eleven west. Life signs are at zero. Occupant is now deceased. Occupant of room thirty-nine is located in passageway eleven west. Life signs are at zero. Occupant is now deceased. Occupant of room thirty-nine is --"
Clark sat on the sofa with his head in his hands. It was Friday morning and he hadn't slept since coming home from Star Labs days before.
He couldn't get Robin out of his mind. He couldn't accept her death. He couldn't believe he'd found someone else from Krypton, someone else who'd also lost a home and was trying to make another, only to lose her so abruptly and so devastatingly.
If only he'd tried harder, he might have been able to save her. If only he could have found the right words to make her hesitate, to make her change her mind. If only he had realized what she was planning. He might have been able to convince her not to die.
If only he'd realized that Robin would behave so precipitously, Lois wouldn't have needed to use the Kryptonite on her. And he didn't blame Lois for being prepared. He should have thought of it. He should have realized what she was capable of doing. He should have been prepared for any eventuality.
It was his responsibility. It was his fault. The woman he'd begun to think of as a member of his family was dead, and he'd lost one more link to his home.
And he'd never know just who Kara had been to him. Was she his cousin? Was she the daughter of some diplomat who'd bought or forced a chance for her to have a new life on Earth? Had her mother or father been his uncle's servant, or had perhaps both of them been in his employ? Or was she the daughter of some stranger off the street who'd neither known nor cared who Jor-El was?
It didn't matter. He'd failed. He hadn't been able to save her. She was dead, and the truth made no difference now.
Some hero he was. There wasn't even a grave where he could mourn her properly. Star Labs had sealed her body in a lead-lined coffin to prevent Kryptonite contamination, and he'd taken her out of the atmosphere and guided her casket into a terminal cometary orbit. In a few days, her mortal remains would be vaporized by the sun's heat, and there would be nothing left to mark her passing, nothing to show that she'd ever lived.
Except a dozen and a half grave markers and broken families. It was a horrifying legacy.
He hadn't told Lois about the plane yet. He hadn't been able to tell her that Robin had killed all those people in a moment of panic. It was still too raw, too painful, too mentally draining to think about. It was too much for him to bear, too much to think that a super-powered Kryptonian could kill so many people for such a weak reason, too much to accept that Robin had taken all those lives so casually and not felt any guilt until her last moments.
As Superman, he'd refused Bernie Klein's offer of help. As Clark, he'd called Perry and told him he needed to use a couple of sick days, the first ones he'd used in a long time. He'd made some lame excuse about a head cold and told his boss he'd try to make it in on Monday or Tuesday.
Perry hadn't been fooled, but he'd played along. He'd suggested that Lois stay home with him and nurse him back to health. She hadn't had much time off recently even with the vacation time they'd just taken, Perry had said, and maybe she needed the rest as much as he did.
He'd accepted for her and left her a note with the message from Perry taped to the bathroom mirror. Facing his wife at that moment had been beyond him.
He lay down on the couch again and closed his eyes, hoping the tears would hold off long enough for him to find some respite in sleep.
Lois slipped into the living room and tiptoed to the couch. Sure enough, he was there. At least he looked like he was finally asleep. She'd leave him alone for now.
She crept into her office, turned on her computer, and downloaded her e-mail. Jimmy had worked his virtual magic once more and had dug up reams of information on Robin McGyver of Virginia, alias Loren Glass of Kentucky, alias Delta Ames of Mississippi, alias Kara Allen of Louisiana, alias Jennifer Anne Young of Florida, alias --"
She shook her head. It didn't matter. What did matter was that Robin had left a long string of unsolved assaults and injured victims behind her, along with at least four escapes from city or county jails, and nine outstanding warrants for her arrest on charges ranging from solicitation to prostitution to loan sharking to extortion and racketeering. It looked like the girl had been living under the radar as a minor criminal for years There were also six known failures to appear after posting bail, and --"
Lois stopped and stared. The girl had been the lead suspect in the murder of a small-time pimp in Georgia and was wanted for questioning in three other suspicious deaths in various locales.
It couldn't be. Lois had known murderers before, and Robin hadn't acted like one. She hadn't appeared to enjoy the pain of others.
Yet she'd almost killed Lois, just because the girl wanted Clark for herself and had believed that Lois's death would allow her to have him. Maybe she had been a murderer.
Lois leaned away from the screen and pushed her hair back with one hand. She'd suspected that Robin had caused the plane crash -- perhaps she'd even done it accidentally -- but she hadn't believed until now that the girl had been a practiced dispenser of death, either on the wholesale or the retail level. She'd been raised badly, treated horribly, and apparently no one had ever demonstrated proper morals or ethics to her until Clark had made the effort. As far as Lois could tell from what little she knew and what little she'd read, no one had ever really loved the girl.
But she'd known the law, despite her disadvantages. She'd understood the difference between right and wrong. She'd known that her powers were special and that she could do anything she wanted, but she'd still decided to live an amoral, selfish, and destructive life.
Until, perhaps, her last moments. From the few disjointed statements Clark had made, Lois figured out that Robin had finally realized how badly she'd lived and how many people she'd hurt. She had either decided that she was too great a danger to be allowed to live and that she couldn't be tried or punished for her crimes, or she'd chosen the only escape route open to her. Either way, she'd refused to live as a permanent captive.
So she'd committed suicide by bursting through the wall of her cell and standing in the liquid Kryptonite spray until she fell unconscious, never realizing how painful and damaging her final action would be for Clark. To the end, she'd remained selfish, even while apparently thinking she was being noble for perhaps the only time in her life.
Lois shut down the computer and slipped back into the living room. Clark hadn't moved. He still looked troubled, even in sleep, so she took a blanket and covered him as gently as she could. He didn't need the warmth, of course, but maybe the presence of the blanket would give him some comfort.
As she turned away, she heard him whisper, "Lois?"
"I'm here, Clark."
He sounded so distressed, so alone, so bereft. "Please -- will you come sit with me?"
Her heart broke for him, for all that he'd lost, for all that he'd never know about his family and his first home and his origins. She had her parents, which were a mixed blessing at best, but she also had Clark's parents. She had Lucy, a sister she could talk to about almost anything. She had Perry, the best boss a reporter had ever had.
All Clark had, after his parents, was her. She was his home, his root, his bridge to a normal life. She was the one who made his double life as the man and the hero worthwhile.
And Lois realized that it was reason enough for her to live, reason enough for her to be who she was. Her husband was the strongest person on the planet, but he was also Clark Kent, a fallible man who needed her strength to help him be Superman. She reflected for a moment on the day early in Superman's career during Luthor's testing of his powers, when Clark had questioned aloud whether Superman was worth anything if he couldn't save everyone. She'd told him that all that Superman could do was enough, even if he couldn't do everything. At the time, she hadn't known that she'd probably kept the hero from putting the blue spandex away for good.
Maybe they'd have children some time in the future. Maybe they wouldn't. In the meantime, she'd give to him all she had and hope it was enough. She couldn't save people like Superman could, but maybe -- no, surely -- she could save Superman. She was certain that no one else could. He definitely needed her for that.
She sat down beside him and gently stroked his forehead. "Of course I'll sit with you. I love you, Clark." She kissed his cheek. "I'm here, darling. I'm not going anywhere."
His breathing evened out as he finally drifted off to sleep. Lois sat beside him, lightly kissing his forehead and stroking his hair in turn, until she lay down beside him on the couch, wrapped him in a gentle embrace, and joined him in soft slumber.