Clark woke to the sound of his small son sobbing. Beside him, Lois stirred slightly, beginning to wake up. "I'll get him, honey," he said softly, "go back to sleep." Clark climbed out of bed and hurried into the child's room. "Joseph, sweetie, what's the matter?" He asked as he picked his son up out of the crib.
"Mon'ter, Daddy!" the little boy sobbed.
"Shhh," Clark said soothingly, "Daddy's here." He patted Joseph on the back. Slowly the boy's sobs subsided as he fell asleep in his father's warm encircling arms. Clark gently laid his son down in the crib.
Just as he began to leave, Joseph's eyes opened. "No go, Daddy," he demanded. "Daddy 'tay wiv Jo'eph."
Clark sighed a bit as he regarded his two-year-old. He scooped up the child and headed back to the master bedroom. He knew that the experts advised against having children sleep with their parents, but he was simply too tired after yesterday's hurricane in Hawaii to deal with this right now. He supposed that he could get Lois, but at four and a half months pregnant, she needed the sleep more than he did. He laid the child down on the bed and slid under the covers, making sure to cover his son up with a blanket.
"Tank you, Daddy," Joseph said sleepily as his thumb found its way to his mouth and slipped off into dreamland.
Clark smiled as he softly kissed Joseph on the top of his head and closed his eyes. He was glad Kiley hadn't been woken up by Joseph's sobs; at four she was likely to protest and wake her mother. He glanced through the wall to check on her; just in case. She was sleeping peacefully, almost the spitting image of her mother at the same age. Clark closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep; all was right with the world.
Lois cracked open her eyes as the alarm sounded. She sleepily reached out a hand and smacked the button; turning off the alarm. Her other hand flopped over the other side of the bed; searching for Clark. As her hand encountered empty air rather than her husband's solid form, she frowned; it had been a long time since she had woken up alone. Carefully, she used her arms to lever herself up in bed, only then noticing the form of her small son curled up beside her. She smiled tenderly as she smoothed back the rumpled crown of fine dark hair that covered the small head. Lois dropped a soft kiss on her baby's head; he was the spitting image of Clark at the same age, but he had more of her personality. She gently picked the child up and held him in her lap. Wake up, sweetheart," she said softly.
Joseph opened one sleepy chocolate brown eye and grinned. "Hi Mommy," he said as he threw his little arms around her for a hug. Joseph kissed Lois's tummy, "Hi baby!" He looked around the room. "Where Daddy Kiley?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he slid off of Lois's lap and announced, "I find Daddy Kiley." Joseph made a beeline for the door and ran straight toward his sister's room. "Kiley," his little voice called, "wake up!" Joseph barreled into the room and looked around for his big sister. A wide, happy grin spread over his little face. "Daddy!" Joseph yelled as he ran forward and wrapped himself around Clark's leg.
Clark gave the ponytail holder one more twist to secure the end of Kiley's braid before gently disengaging Joseph's arms from around his leg and scooping up his son for a good morning hug. "Lois?" he called softly, "Are you awake?"
Lois, who had followed Joseph, albeit a little slower, walked into the room. Kiley bounced up to her and exclaimed, "Mommy, Daddy braided my hair!" Lois looked at her daughter and chuckled.
"Sweetie, he only got half done," she said with a smile, noting her daughter's hair. Clark had parted it down the middle and begun to braid it in twin pigtails, but he had only succeeded in finishing one braid before Joseph had interrupted. "Kiley, I'll finish fixing your hair." Lois sat down on Kiley's bed and picked up the brush. "Come here please," Lois said. Kiley came over and stood where Lois could reach her long dark brown curls.
As Lois began to brush and braid their daughter's hair, Clark walked over and planted a loving kiss on her lips. "I'll get Joseph dressed and make breakfast," he said with a heart-melting smile. Lois nodded, dropped a kiss on the top of Kiley's head. Kiley jumped up and down excitedly, "I want Emily to see my braids. Are we going to the park today Mommy? I want to play in the sandbox and swing on the swings with Emily. We're going to climb trees and play princesses in the tower."
"Of course we are punkin'," Lois said as her daughter hugged her enthusiastically. Lois reached the end of the braid and twisted a ponytail holder around it to hold the hair in place. "There you go Kiley," Lois said with a smile. "I'll meet you downstairs ok?"
"Okay, Mommy!" Kiley exclaimed and bounced out of the room. Lois smiled as she watched Kiley's enthusiasm. If anyone had told her ten years ago what she'd be doing now, she would have insisted on finding them a straightjacket. Lois went into the master bedroom and began hunting for some clothes that still fit. It was a chilly late September day outside, so she settled on one of Clark's old flannel shirts and a pair of maternity jeans. Lois slipped on socks and shoes and headed downstairs toward the sound of dishes clattering in the kitchen. Kiley and Joseph were sitting at the table, slightly sticky with the syrup from the pancakes that Clark had fixed them. She walked over to Clark, put her arms around his waist, and lifted her face for a kiss.
His face had brightened when she entered the room; he smiled down at her softly before brushing his lips across hers in a gentle caress. Morning sweetheart," he said, joy lighting up his features. His hand caressed her gravid belly as he leaned down and whispered, "Good morning, baby
Kent." He ushered her over to the table, setting a plate full of pancakes in front of her. He grabbed Joseph right before the mischievous little boy grabbed his sister's braids with his syrup-covered hands and hauled him away to wash.
A few minutes later, Lois led Kiley into the bathroom and supervised the removal of syrup from her hands, arms, and face. As Clark cleaned the kitchen, Lois got the kids into their coats. Soon they were on their way to the park. Lois and Clark sat together on a bench by the playground and watched their children play in the sandbox. It was a rare occasion that they got to spend the whole day together like this without interference from the outside world. When Lois had gotten pregnant with Kiley, Clark had cut back his Superman activities so he could be there for his child. Together they had decided that their family came first; the rest of the world could wait.
Lois and Clark walked past the cappuccino stand, where a man dressed in jeans and a leather jacket sat reading a paper, and through the Daily Planet lobby. They headed toward the Planet's daycare center and the elevator. Clark carried Joseph on one hip, occasionally tickling his ribs so that his small son would laugh and remove his thumb from his mouth. "So," Lois said smiling widely, "your mom has promised to baby-sit; what do you want to do for our Anniversary next week?" Clark leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Lois giggled and swatted him gently on the chest. "You're insatiable, Mr. Kent," she said with a broad smile. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the tip of his nose.
Joseph chose that moment to hold out his arms to her. "Up Mommy," he said, wearing one of Clark's patented smiles. Lois took Joseph from Clark and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Mommy," Joseph proclaimed as he threw his arms around her neck and kissed her. Lois smiled tenderly at her little boy as they resumed walking. Far too soon they were at the entrance of the Planet's daycare center. Joseph made his usual Monday morning protest at leaving his parents' side; he started screaming. "Want Mommy! Want Daddy!" he yelled over and over before beginning to whine. Clark glanced through the wall to make sure that Joseph was okay. Anne, one of the daycare employees, was holding him. Clark put his arm around Lois's waist as they walked over to the elevators. This was always the worst part of Mondays for them; they both hated to see their little ones cry, but they knew that Joseph would settle down soon enough.
Sarah walked into the elevator, double-checking the armload of files as she did so. Satisfied that she held the correct files for Lois's and Clark's story on the proposed Hobbs Bay Revitalization Project, she pressed the button to take her up to the newsroom. Sarah grimaced to herself; if she were to claim what was rightfully hers, a long battle lay ahead. She hadn't worked at the Planet for very long, but being near and not able to touch him was exquisite torture. She considered herself lucky to belong to such a handsome man; even though he still remained ignorant of the fact.
The elevator dinged and she walked out, searching for the husband and wife duo. Finally she saw them in front of her. Her guts twisted in envy as she watched Clark Kent turn his wife's hand over and drop a soft kiss in the center of it. She carefully schooled her face to not reveal this emotion and walked briskly toward them. She walked quietly up to Clark and glanced at him shyly through her long eyelashes before turning to Lois. "Here's the research you wanted on the Hobbs Bay Revitalization Project," she said quietly.
"Really?" Lois questioned, "that was fast, I only asked for it yesterday!"
"I, uh, stayed late," Sarah answered.
"For that, you deserve a donut," Clark said, one of his patented 100 mega-watt smiles gracing his face.
Sarah looked up at Clark refusal evident in her face. It only took a few seconds of looking at his brilliant smile before she answered, "well... um, okay," changing her mind.
Clark reached over and snatched a donut from Jimmy's nearly empty box as he passed by. Just as Clark was about to hand the donut over to Sarah, Jimmy spoke up. "Not the banana cream! The Chief'll kill me!" he exclaimed. Clark dropped the donut back in the box and licked his sticky fingers as Jimmy looked at Sarah and froze. <She's beautiful>, he thought, looking her up and down. "Here," he said, "take mine." Jimmy pulled another donut out of the box and handed it to Sarah.
"*Jimmy*," came the bellow from Perry who was on the other side of the newsroom.
"Coming Chief," Jimmy said with a sigh. He turned to Lois, Clark, and Sarah and said, "I've gotta fly!" and ran off in the direction of Perry's office.
Lois watched Jimmy disappear with an indulgent smile on her face. He'd come a long way from the gopher and copy boy that he used to be. After all, Jimmy was now an award-winning photographer and was shaping up to be a darn good reporter. His relationship with Perry had also changed somewhat. His errand-running days were mostly behind him; but, he still occasionally ran a few errands for the Chief. He was still a sucker for a pretty face; however, since Lucy had moved back to Metropolis he had taken to haunting her doorstep. Lois was waiting for their engagement to be announced at any time now. Jimmy had been a surrogate uncle to Kiley and Joseph and the way things were working out between him and Lucy, soon his relationship with them would be official. She really wouldn't mind having Jimmy for a brother-in-law, she reflected. He had been like a younger brother to her and Clark for quite some time now anyway. Lois smiled as she began to pull herself back to reality. She reached out and took Clark's hand in her own before focusing on what Sarah was saying.
Sarah took a deep breath, trying to come up with the courage to speak to the incredibly handsome man in front of her. "Um, I know I'm sort of new here," she began, "I mean, not that new, I have been here for a month, but... do you two ever take story ideas from somebody else?"
Lois smiled at the nervous girl encouragingly. From her demeanor, it was obvious that she was nervous about something; Lois chalked it up to being scared about her boldness in suggesting such a thing. "If it's a good idea," Lois answered.
"Well, I was thinking; there's always so much bad news," Sarah began, "what if you did a series on people who make personal sacrifices for the good of society? Like astronauts..."
"Or medical missionaries..." Clark chimed in.
"Or Superman?" Lois said.
"Exactly!" Sarah exclaimed. "What drives him... or people like him?"
Clark looked as if he were going to reply to this remark. However, before he got the chance to open his mouth, Perry rushed out of his office. "Turn up those things *now*!" Perry yelled. Ray, the newest copy boy, ran over to the televisions and hurriedly turned up the volume. "The broadcast about the dedication of the brand new underwater research center, the Athena," Perry reminded as the entire newsroom turned towards the monitors. "It's not only the first of its kind, it's the first such research center to allow the scientists to bring their children with them."
As the news anchor on the screen up in the newsroom droned on about the Athena's technological advances, the families, and the scientists aboard her, the man sitting at the cappuccino stand pulled a small black device out of the pocket of his leather jacket. The device itself wasn't much to look at, but its design somehow conveyed menace and fear. The man fiddled with it for a few moments as he listened to the announcer's voice on a nearby radio. As the researchers began to use the opportunity to say hello to the world, the man pushed a small, circular button on the device. He smiled; convinced it would work.
The propellers on the underwater research center Athena came suddenly to life, forcing the once stable research center into motion toward the Mariana Trench. Inside the research station, the scientists and their families fell to the deck, unprepared for the sudden movement of their temporary home. Each one found something to hold on to and prayed to survive the experience.
In the newsroom of the Daily Planet, the staff watched in horror as the Athena moved inexorably in a course toward the deepest pit on Earth. The anchor on LNN had just announced the problem when Clark quietly excused himself, saying that he would contact his sources in the Navy, and left in the direction of the stairwell, loosening his tie
as he ran. Perry began to order his reporters to get information for the story; desperately trying to insure that the Planet would not be scooped. Sarah watched Clark go, a small smile adorning her face, before turning to face the monitors to watch the drama unfold.
Clark flew up the stairwell of the Daily Planet while spinning into the supersuit. At superspeed, he dived for the Athena, grabbed it, and began to pull backwards. Every muscle in his powerful body strained as he struggled to prevent the Athena's disastrous dive into the Mariana
Trench. For what seemed like an eternity, Superman was losing his battle with gravity. Every molecule of his being struggled to stop the disastrous descent of the research center. The lives of the scientists and their families were at stake, for the Athena simply didn't have the hull strength to stop the tremendous pressure of the Earth's internal gravity from crushing them to death.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the research station began to respond. At first its response was infinitesimal. It crept out of its seemingly unintentional course and, with Superman's help, began to regain its former position. Finally the Athena's propellers cut off, letting the research station resume its position anchored to the ocean floor. The people aboard released their death grip on the makeshift handles inside the submerged facility and gingerly made their way to the nearest porthole. They waved their thanks to the drenched superhero and resumed their work.
Superman waved at them before flying tiredly back up to the surface. He flew toward Metropolis, flexing his aching muscles as he gratefully let the warm sun play over them. The sun had done its job of partially re-energizing his exhausted body before he reached the roof of the Daily Planet. Summoning one last ounce of speed, he spun himself dry and into his 'Clark clothes'; his movements too fast for the human eye to see and walked slowly down the stairs. He dragged himself into the newsroom, his face screwed up in a puzzled expression. "Did I miss anything?" Clark asked Lois doing his best to seem ignorant of the Superman rescue that had just occurred for the benefit of anyone who happened to be watching.
Lois stood up when Clark entered the room, joy lighting up her face; he had saved the oceanographers and come back to her undamaged. Her eyes caught his, wordlessly telling him how proud she was of him and of her relief that he was unscathed. She wanted to kiss him right there to assure herself that despite the recent adventure, he really was still with her. "Superman saved the research station," she replied instead, knowing that kissing him senseless in the newsroom when a big story was breaking might not be a good idea.
Jimmy looked at Clark, the awe he felt from what Superman had done still evident on his face. "Man, he was like a fly on the windshield except this time the fly stopped the car! Look at the pictures on LNN! I mean, his handprints are on the body of the Athena! Whammo!" Jimmy gaped at the handprints that were still visible on LNN's broadcast. He was astonished that one man could fight gravity over such a heavy object and still manage to return victorious.
Perry stood up, walked over to Lois and Clark, and started issuing commands. "Lois, Clark, I want everything we've got on this story pronto. I want to know why a multi-billion dollar research center tried to re-enact the sinking of the Krusk." Perry turned to look at Sarah and Jimmy. Sarah was standing nearby, simply staring at Clark as Jimmy continued to watch the television screens. "Hey, what is this, a rock garden?" Perry asked as he clapped his hands together twice. Jimmy muttered something about having to load some film and hurried off. Sarah, however, stayed a little bit longer. She looked at Clark longingly before bidding him goodbye and going off to her corner where unfinished work stood in slightly unsteady piles.
Perry winked at his favorite reporting team and strode off to his office, whistling as he went. Now that no eyes seemed to be trained in his direction; Clark slumped forward, catching himself on Lois's desk.
"Are you okay?" Lois asked quietly while surreptitiously checking Clark for hidden damage. Intellectually, she knew he couldn't be hurt. However, when he took care of an incident of that magnitude, her head and her heart often didn't agree.
Clark rotated a shoulder and stretched out his cramping back muscles before replying. "That was the toughest thing I've ever done," he said softly, "I almost didn't stop it."
Lois reached over and gently brushed away the lock of hair that was forever falling forward onto his forehead. "But you did," she said softly, "And that's the important thing. So... Star Labs?"
Clark pushed himself off of her desk. "Absolutely," he said, "And we can check on Joseph on the way." Lois and Clark turned around to leave. To their great surprise, they ran smack into Sarah.
Sarah glanced up at Clark from under long, silken lashes. "Hi. I just wanted to, um, say that if you need any research for your story, let me know." Sarah shot one more wistful glance at Clark before hurrying back to her corner.
As Sarah began to busily rearrange her piles of waiting work, Lois turned to look at Clark and slipped her hand in his. "I think someone has a bit of a crush on someone," she said teasingly as they walked toward the elevator.
"But I'm a married man," Clark said with a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"All the more tempting," Lois said as she playfully butted
him with her hip.
"Someone else isn't jealous are they?" Clark looked at Lois with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Not in the least," Lois said as Clark pressed the elevator call button. "Because," she said huskily, "You are irrevocably *mine*." The elevator arrived just as she finished that statement. Lois and Clark stepped inside. As Clark reached over to press the call button, Lois slipped her arms around his neck and pulled his head closer. She captured his lips in a passionate kiss. After a few moments, they pulled apart, breathing heavily.
"Staking your claim, Ms. Lane?" Clark asked teasingly.
"You better believe it, flyboy," Lois answered with a happy smile as she leaned forward and kissed him again.
Lois slipped her hand into Clark's as the elevator continued in its downward path. Together, they walked out of the elevator on the ground floor and over to the Planet's daycare facility. Clark smiled as he remembered Lois's fight to get the facility in operation when her pregnancy with Kiley had been discovered. It had been operating for almost five years now, and the Planet employees who had children were thankful that it was. The facility had a picture window near its entrance that allowed parents to check on their children.
Lois and Clark crept slowly up to the window and peeked in.
Joseph was playing happily with the trucks that lay scattered around him. Clark smiled as he watched his son scoot a truck around the floor, making 'vroom, vroom' sounds in lieu of engine noise. Lois leaned over and kissed Clark on the cheek gently. "He's fine," she said, "let's get over to Star Labs" As Clark nodded his agreement, they slipped away from the window and headed to the parking garage to retrieve the Jeep.
As Dr. Klein began to explain the specifics of the malfunction aboard the Athena, Lois took the opportunity to look around the lab. It wasn't often that the two of them came to Star Labs; after her first pregnancy, there simply hadn't been much of a reason for it. When she had gotten
pregnant with Kiley, the first order of business had been to inform Dr. Klein. After all, he was the closest there was to an expert on Kryptonian physiology, and their children were the first ever Kryptonian-human hybrids.
They had been uncertain of any problems that might arise.
As a result of this, Dr. Klein was one of the few people who knew that Superman was, in all actuality, Clark Kent. Looking at the lab bench in front of her, the first thing she noticed was a laser beam device that split one beam into two. She refocused her attention on what Dr. Klein
had to say; ruthlessly yanking her recalcitrant thoughts away from the fascinating sight in front of her.
"Seconds before the main propellers initiated," Dr. Klein began, "the research station received a very brief, tight beam microwave transmission. It sent in a computer code that overrode the automatic controls and started the engines."
"Do we know where the transmission came from?" Clark asked a bit urgently.
Just as Lois was giving in to her insatiable curiosity about the experiment in front of her by reaching for the top of the plexi-glass box that enclosed it, her movement caught Dr. Klein's eye. "Don't touch that!" He said urgently.
Lois's hand jerked back suddenly. "Sorry," she muttered, the redness of a blush spreading quickly over her face. "What is it?" She asked finally.
"I'm measuring the electron flow along the plasma wake as the laser passes through different gasses." Dr. Klein said, staring at the laser device meditatively. Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "Plasma wake. That's it!" He exclaimed before hurrying over to the computer and typing madly.
"Dr. Klein?" Lois looked at the scientist in puzzlement, what could he be up to?
Dr. Klein didn't answer; his attention was entirely taken up by his computer. Lois glanced over at Clark, a question evident in her face. Clark grinned slowly. "Caution," he whispered, "mad scientist at work."
Finally, Dr. Klein glanced up. "No matter how brief it was, the microwave beam must have left a trail of agitated molecules along its path."
"I'd say something was agitated." Lois quipped.
Dr. Klein plowed on, oblivious to Lois's comment.
"Agitation means heat. Therefore, by using the infrared detectors on some low orbiting satellites, we should be able to identify and backtrack down the column of heated molecules to its source. Ha ha gotcha!"
Lois and Clark walked around Dr. Klein to look at the computer screen; it was covered in sets of seemingly random numbers that streamed past at an alarming rate of speed. "I don't see anything," Clark said.
"I'm switching to the NIA spy satellite. We'll get real-time photos now that I have a lock on the molecules." Dr. Klein explained.
"A spy satellite?" Lois asked, a skeptical look on her face. "You can do that?"
"The name is Klein, Bernard Klein," Dr. Klein said in an appalling imitation of Sean Connery. He smiled suavely and waited for recognition. Lois and Clark exchanged blank looks as Dr. Klein deflated. "You know, James Bond?"
"Oh yeah," Clark said. He hadn't really recognized Dr. Klein's reference. After all, he reflected, he was more a fan of the Lethal Weapon movies than of 007.
"We were just teasing," Lois said comfortingly, "it really was very good." Privately, she thought otherwise, but in the nine years that Clark had been her partner, some of his tact had rubbed off.
Dr. Klein smiled happily and resumed working with the computer. Within minutes, the numbers running across the computer screen had been replaced with a very high altitude shot of North America. The picture began to slowly zoom in, first showing a suburb, then a neighborhood, then a house, and finally a satellite dish in the backyard. The picture froze on the satellite dish and coordinates popped up on the screen along with an address.
"Twenty-seven forty-two Creel Drive, Metropolis." Clark read out loud.
"Of course," Lois grumbled, "where else would it be? Every villain in the known universe seems to operate out of Metropolis! For once I wish we could have a villain in Maui. Or Aspen. Or Monte Carlo."
"How accurate is this?" Clark asked.
"Plus or minus five feet," Dr. Klein answered.
"I'd say that's close enough. Thanks." Clark said before he and Lois rushed out to follow this interesting development.
Clark parked the Jeep in front of a split-level house in the suburbs of Metropolis. He got out of the car, walked around to the other side and helped Lois out of the car. "Are you okay, honey?" He asked. Clark planted a gentle kiss on her forehead.
"I'm fine, Clark," Lois said, "My back hurts a bit, but you can give me one of your special massages later."
Clark nodded his agreement and put his arm around his wife as they walked up to the door of the house. Lois began to knock on the door, hoping that someone would answer her summons. Clark couldn't help but notice the Century 22 'For Sale' sign on the front lawn behind the white picket fence. He doubted that anyone lived there to answer the door, but he knew that, to be on the safe side, knocking was necessary. As Lois continued to knock, he seized the opportunity to look around.
Recently, they had been discussing the possibility of looking for a new house to accommodate the needs of their growing family. The brownstone on Hyperion Avenue had been a wonderful home, but, with their third child on the way, and the fact that they had decided upon a large family, they were fast outgrowing it.
Clark could imagine their children playing in the front yard... swinging on the tire swing that he would place in the large tree there. He surveyed the house, using his x-ray vision to peek inside. He liked what he saw. "Nice yard," Clark commented.
Lois gave the yard a cursory glance. "Yeah, it's cute," she said.
Clark could tell that she wasn't really thinking about the house-her mind was almost completely focused on the story. He pressed on anyway. "Nice fence. Good driveway, too. Lois, can't you just see the kids here? They'd love it!"
"I know. I like the lattice work around the porch," Lois answered distractedly.
Clark looked at his wife; he was a bit surprised by her answer. After all, they'd had several disagreements over this very issue. They both knew they were beginning to need the extra space, but Lois wasn't too keen on moving out of their beloved brownstone on Hyperion Avenue. Lois
stood on tiptoe and attempted to look into the house.
"And I've always liked this style of house," Clark said.
"Yeah, it's pretty great," Lois allowed.
"It's definitely the kind of place I could go for," Clark admitted.
"Me, too," Lois said, carelessly running a hand through her hair. She stepped back from the window and began to walk around the back of the house. "Let's go check around back." Lois grabbed his hand as they walked. It wasn't long before they came face-to-face with a large satellite dish that stood tall and proud in the backyard. Clark examined it minutely, searching for any sign that it had been used as the transmitter that had put the deep-sea research center in danger.
"Okay, we know that this probably sent the signal, but where is the device the signal came from?" Clark asked.
"Can I help you?" said a voice that came from behind Clark.
Lois and Clark turned around to find a dark haired man dressed in khakis, a white shirt, a tie, and a Century 22 Realty sports coat behind them. "Oh yes, we were just looking at the house. We were driving by and saw the sign, so we thought we'd stop. We've been looking into buying a bigger house anyway with this little one on the way." Lois patted her stomach. She had barely started to show, but the baby-bulge was noticeable enough to attract attention.
The man smiled at the couple and held out his hand for Clark to shake. "Hi," he began, "I'm George Thomas. You've found a nice one."
Lois looked the man over and took his measure. "Lois Lane.
This is my husband, Clark Kent."
"We knocked," Clark began, "but..."
"I know, I heard. But I was in the restroom. Is this house something you'd be interested in?"
Lois looked George over and decided to see if she could extract some information from him. "We love it," she said enthusiastically. "It's just what I've always dreamed of! And we love the neighborhood, but... we drove by here around nine this morning and thought we saw some..."
"...strange people..." Clark chimed in. He recognized exactly what his wife was up to. Over the years, both of them had become adept at gathering information from the unwary. The more they had done it, the easier uncovering these windfalls had become.
"...hanging around," Lois continued, "You didn't happen to notice any, did you?"
"No," Mr. Thomas began, "I haven't seen anyone all morning except for my clients; they're an older couple in their sixties. This is, of course, one of the safest neighborhoods in Metropolis. If you like, I'll give you the name of the listing agent."
"So you don't handle this house?" Clark asked.
"No. I represent some buyers," Mr. Thomas said. "Betty Wilson is the agent for the sellers. She had another showing, so I said I'd close for her. We're old pals. But I'd be happy to show you some of my listings if you like."
"Thanks, but we're really just starting," Lois replied.
"I understand," he said. "Don't hesitate to call. At Century 22, we bring your future to you." Mr. Thomas smiled broadly. A few minutes later, as Lois and Clark were preparing to leave, a van marked with the emblem of Star Labs pulled up and equipment-laden people began to stream out. Lois and Clark thanked the real estate agent for his time and headed back to the Jeep.
Clark glanced at his watch as he climbed into the Jeep. It was almost lunchtime and almost time to retrieve Kiley from preschool. Clark did some quick calculations in his head and realized that they had just enough time to pick up Kiley before heading back to the Planet. Kiley usually spent the afternoons playing with the other kids in the Planet's daycare facility until they were ready to go home. Since Kiley was born, they had cut back on their hours at the Planet considerably. Investigative reporting would never be a 9-5 job, but between the two of them, they were determined to make it work for their family.
Clark knew that being able to keep the jobs they loved simply wouldn't be possible if Ellen, Lucy, and Jimmy hadn't made themselves available for the now rare occasions in which they had to go on stakeouts. Crime in Metropolis was down to a record low due to his Superman activities.
It seemed as if the very threat of Superman made criminals think twice about trying anything. They still had an occasional twisted evil genius to fight, but in the past year, even those were becoming fewer and further between.
Lois looked at her watch as she started the Jeep. She smiled as she drove the Jeep in the direction of Little Hands Preschool. Much had changed in the past few years. Many people, including herself, hadn't seen her as a mother type, but she had proved everyone wrong. Kiley was one of the highlights in her busy existence. Despite having inherited the Lane babble gene, most of the time she acted like a miniature copy of Clark.
It was strange, she mused, that although Kiley resembled her, she acted like Clark. Joseph was the same way-he looked like Clark, but acted like Lois. Lois glanced over at her husband. From the joyous look he was wearing on his face, she knew that he, too, was thinking about their babies. Lois smiled fondly at her love. They hadn't been married for long when they had mutually discovered that they had a form of non-verbal communication that allowed them to know what the other was thinking. It had proved useful on many occasions, and she hoped that it would continue to do so.
Before she could continue thinking along that tangent, her cell phone rang. As she talked to her source, Clark got out of the Jeep. "I'll be right back, honey," Clark walked inside the preschool and came out a few minutes later. Kiley clung to one hand, the remnants of tears still on her face. In his other hand, he carried his daughter's backpack and a note from her teacher. Clark opened the door to the Jeep and helped his daughter in, making sure that she was fastened securely in her safety seat.
"Daddy," Kiley began in a tremulous voice, "will you kiss my boo-boo and make it better?" She held out her bandaged knee to her father, hope warring with tears in her big brown eyes. She knew what the note from her teacher was about and that she might possibly get in trouble for what she had done that day. Her knee really didn't hurt all that much, but she needed her adored daddy's reassurance that he still loved her.
"Of course, sweetheart." Clark said, leaning over to kiss her knee and give her a hug. He saw the uncertainty in his daughter's eyes and knew that she needed some reassurance right now. "Kiley, we will always love you," he said softly and kissed her on the cheek. Kiley suddenly broke out in a smile. Her tears were temporarily forgotten; she was once again the cheerful, sunny child whom they loved so much.
"I love you, Daddy," she said.
Clark simply smiled and kissed her again before closing the door and climbing in himself. They needed to get back to the Planet and back to work... the truth about what had actually happened to the Athena wasn't something that would get figured out on its own.
Lois continued to talk to her source as they drove back to the Planet. She peeked into the back, hoping that Kiley had fallen asleep. She'd seen the tearstains and knew that, whatever else, Kiley must have had a rough day. Lois smiled as she saw that her daughter had, indeed, fallen
asleep. She quickly finished her conversation and turned to Clark. "The U.N. is in an uproar," she said in an urgent whisper. "They cancelled their science conference to deal with the research facility. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility, the NIA thinks it's a lone gunman."
"Great. Just great," Clark replied, "Where is he going to strike next? The Eiffel Tower? The Parthenon?" Clark shook his head, remembering the disaster of September eleventh the previous year. "All it ever takes is one lunatic to bring the whole world crashing down around our ears!"
"Not the whole world," Lois said, capturing his hand in hers as she drove. Clark looked lovingly at his wife.
After all these years, he still wasn't sure how he had gotten lucky enough to have managed to marry her. "What? What're you looking at?", Lois said, noticing for the first time that he was staring at her.
"You." Clark said. "I was thinking how different my life would have been if we'd never met."
"What if you'd never left Smallville?" Lois asked thoughtfully.
"Smallville? What if I'd never left," his voice lowered a bit so as not to wake Kiley, "Krypton?"
Lois squeezed his hand as she pulled the Jeep into the Planet's parking garage. "Yeah," she said with a grin. "Your family might have had their hearts set on a daughter-in-law from Jupiter."
"How'd you know about her?" Clark asked teasingly. Clark got out of the car, opened the back door, and began to unfasten Kiley's restraints. "You know, I bet they would have really liked you and the kids...Jor-El and Lara."
"You think about them much?" Lois asked as she got out of the Jeep and walked around to the other side.
"Sometimes," Clark said as he picked up Kiley and her backpack. "But that's behind me now. What's in front of me is *us* and *our* family." Clark used his free hand to gently caress her abdomen. Lois moved closer to him and leaned in as he captured her lips in his. After a few moments, Lois pulled back, smiled at him and took his hand in hers as they started walking toward the Planet daycare center to drop off Kiley.
George Thomas sat in a dark, windowless room. A metal table stood in front of him covered in electronic components and the beginnings of what looked like an exotic, star-shaped bomb. He loosened his tie and began to fiddle with the device in front of him. A few minutes later, he stopped and looked at his watch. <Time to contact her,> he thought with a sigh. He was reluctant to go along with this whole scheme. After all, if they succeeded, it would mean tearing a family apart. Thomas didn't like the idea of invoking the law and sending a man who was probably clueless about this whole mess into a situation where he might not be able to come home to his wife and children. He closed his eyes and concentrated. <<Are you alone?>>
Sarah took a quick glance around her before her eyes lighted on Clark. He was hunched over his desk, speaking to someone over the phone. It was as if he didn't want anyone to overhear the conversation he was having. Sarah continued in her path towards the bookcase, unable or unwilling to take her eyes off Clark. <<I'm alone. Did they find it?>> she asked. Her mental voice sounded more than a trifle annoyed.
<<No, and it was *super* obvious. A child of two could've discovered it. Maybe we should borrow their son Joseph and let *him* find it for them. Perhaps we should have laid down breadcrumbs, or a neon sign or a large...>>
<<*Ching*! Don't start. I know you're not happy with this mission, but it is necessary.>> Sarah glanced down and watched Clark hang up the phone. Lois walked out of the back hall, returning from the restroom. Clark carefully slid the legal pad he had been making notes on under a stack of other papers and stood up to meet his wife. Sarah continued watching as Jimmy walked by with his camera in his hand and Clark said something that made the threesome start laughing. Sarah suppressed a twinge of jealousy as she watched Clark kiss Lois softly. After all, Kal-El belonged to her, not some Earth woman.
<<Do I detect...fondness?? Even a hint of jealousy there?>> Ching inquired.
<<Not at all>> Sarah retorted. In spite of herself she looked at Clark's butt as he leaned over the desk.
<<Wait, I sense... You're attracted to how tight his clothing is across the muscles of his posterior?>> Ching's mental voice conveyed amazement at this new discovery.
<<No I'm not! I was thinking about... Phase two.>> Sarah retorted.
<<So, is *that* what they call it here? Then we'll continue as planned. It will be interesting to see if he can deal with that--it will be interesting to see how he deals with a situation like this.>> Ching broke the connection and returned to working on the bomb in front of him.
Sarah's face hardened for a minute as she watched Lois and Clark walk into the conference room. She knew that he would probably succeed and return with them. He would be hers permanently after they left; he could not bring the Earth woman or his half-breed children with him.
Lois sat with her feet propped up in the conference room, watching Clark shoot rubber bands into a coffee mug. "So we've got the satellite dish but no transmitter..." she began.
Without thinking, Clark finished her thought. "...and no suspects. Off the TV." Clark let go of the rubber band. It sailed through the air, hit the television screen, and richoted into the mug. Clark grinned in satisfaction. He was the strongest man in the world, but there was something strangely satisfying about doing something as simple as shooting a rubber band into a cup.
"It can't be Lame Brain, the Prankster, the Churches, or Tempus," Lois said.
"Because they're all in jail. Off the lamp with a twist,"
Clark said as he let go of yet another rubber band. It sailed through the air, hit the lamp and performed a series of twisting loops through the air before landing in the cup.
"And it can't be Lex, Bad Brain, or Cyclops Joe because they're all dead." Lois stated.
"Also correct. Combo. Off the door, off the VCR, off the lamp and into the cup with a backwards flip," Clark said as he let the rubber band fly.
The rubber band hit its targets and as it began to zing toward the cup, Lois snatched it in mid-air. Lois looked at her husband with mild exasperation. "You could at least miss every once in a while," she grumbled.
Ray stuck his head in the door of the Conference room. "Dr. Klein is on three," he said. Ray could feel his face turning red as he delivered the message to the Planet's most famous reporting team. He'd been at the Planet for the past six months, but he was still shy of the reporting duo. Just as he was about to leave them in peace, Sarah crept up beside Ray and entered the room.
Sarah set a stack of files down on the table. "Here's all I've been able to find on companies involved in microwave technology."
Lois glanced over at Sarah, surprise written all over her features. "That was quick."
Sarah blushed and averted her eyes, "I, um, knew it was important, so I kinda jumped you to the top of the list." Sarah looked up at Clark adoringly through her eyelashes.
"Thanks," Clark said, barely glancing in her direction.
"Um, y'all," Ray said, gesturing towards the phone. Lois reached toward the phone as Sarah and Ray left the room.
Sarah walked back to her little area and sat down at her desk. As she glanced back toward the conference room, a soft smile stole over her face. She had known that her Kal-El would be handsome. After all, all of the stories she had heard of him growing up confirmed that fact. They were lucky that they had been able to find him. Kryptonians were almost genetically identical to humans; it was only due to a thousand-year-old tradition that they had been able to locate him in the vast sea of humanity...
Lois punched the button for line three and put the phone in speaker mode. "Sorry to keep you waiting Dr. Klein."
"I just finished deciphering the computer code that was sent to the underwater research center. It was very interesting actually, its an encryption based upon the multiples of the wavelength of--"
"Dr. Klein?" Clark interrupted.
"Right." Dr. Klein continued. "Okay. To the point. If Superman hadn't been able to save the research station, the main engines were programmed to stop and the propellers would've started anyway and the station would've saved itself."
"You mean," Lois said slowly, "it was never in danger?"
"Exactly," Dr. Klein answered.
"But why would someone program it to put itself in jeopardy and then rescue itself?" Clark asked.
"That's the eighty-five billion dollar question," Dr. Klein answered.
"Thanks Dr. Klein." Lois hung up the phone and exchanged a glance with Clark. "I think we'd better call that real estate guy... What was his name again?"
"George Thomas," Clark leaned over and brushed his lips across Lois's before picking up the phone and dialing the real estate agency. "Yes," Clark began, speaking into the phone. "I'd like to speak to George Thomas. Um hm. Yeah, he's one of your brokers. I saw him at a house today. Ok-ay, thank you. Bye." Clark replaced the phone in the cradle
and turned to Lois.
"They don't have a broker named George Thomas, do they?" Lois asked.
"Bingo." Clark answered.
"RAY!" Lois and Clark yelled together.
Ray poked his head around the door and shot the duo a quizzical look. "Yes, oh great and powerful ones?" he said, a small smile playing around his lips. He had heard about Lois Lane's famous temper... He wasn't quite sure if he could get away with teasing her like this, but some small perverse part of him insisted that he try.
Clark simply sighed and shook his head. "Call Detective Henderson and see if we can get some mug shots on guys who might do real estate scams and/or be an expert in microwave technology."
"Oh, like those are related," Ray muttered under his breath as he began to walk over to his research station.
Perry rushed into the Conference room, breathing heavily. "Clark, Lois," he yelled. "I just got an anonymous phone call that there's a bomb scheduled to go off across town in front of the Metropolis Interactive Science Museum. It's in a messenger bag by the double helix."
Lois quickly turned to Clark. "Clark, you get the car.
Has anybody called the police and the bomb squad?"
"The cops have already been notified." Perry stated before hurrying out into the bullpen. "Ray, pull me what we've got on the museum." As Ray hurried off, Perry turned to face the rest of the newsroom and began furiously shouting orders. "Jane, yank Plastino off whatever he's doing and get him up here! Ricky, you and Dwyer head over to the police station. Come on, people, move move *move*! It's called 'news' because we get it before anybody else!"
As Lois grabbed her purse, Clark ran towards the stairwell. Within milliseconds, he had spun into the suit and was on the way to the Science Museum. He landed outside and began searching for the messenger bag under the sculpture of the double helix. He turned to the patrons of the museum, "There may be a bomb. For your own safety, you all have to leave." A teacher standing nearby gathered up the children around her and hustled them off to their waiting school bus. Superman spared a moment to watch them leave, the name of the school painted upon the side of the bus, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson Elementary, barely registered in his brain.
He swept the area with X-ray vision until he located the messenger bag. He strode over and picked it up and ripped it open quickly. Instead of a bomb, he found a jumble of electronic parts and a note. Superman picked up the note and began to read. 'Superman, if you're reading this, I assume you got my message. Here's the location of the real bomb. It's on this micro-CD. Unfortunately, you have to assemble the player in time to play it. One more minute. Good luck.'
Sarah hurried out of the museum. She didn't know how she would explain her presence if asked, after all, she *was* supposed to be at the Daily Planet. She hoped that the bomb would prove to be sufficiently distracting so that Kal-El would not notice that she was there. It was
necessary for both she and Ching to observe Kal-El's performance... They must know not only if he was worthy, but also if he would leave his wife and children behind. "Superman, what's going on?" Sarah asked, feigning puzzlement.
"A very dangerous riddle," Superman began, "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to concentrate." Superman reached into the bag and began assembling the electronics at superspeed. He was thankful that he had spent some time fixing the CD player last week. After all, the components couldn't be much different. It took three tries, but finally, the player was together. He slipped in the miniature CD and hit the play button. "Congratulations," a somewhat familiar voice began. "Hope it's not too late. Now here's another puzzle: Why is a raven like a writing desk? Alice went through it." Superman glanced at Sarah.
"Don't look at me," she began, "I can't even do crossword puzzles."
"Okay. Now the riddle "Why is a raven like a writing desk," came from 'Alice in Wonderland', which was written by Lewis Carroll. Lewis Carroll's real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. A writing desk means that it's at a school, and there's an elementary school named after him." Superman took off and flew as fast as he could over to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson Elementary School. Time was running out and he knew that if he didn't hurry and locate the bomb, the school would blow up along with all of the children. He paced back and forth in the main entrance of the school, muttering to himself.
"Alice went through the rabbit hole... But she also went through a looking glass in Carroll's second book. Now another word for looking glass is mirror, and since Alice went through it, it means that it must be in the girl's bathroom."
Superman zipped into the unoccupied girls' restroom and began to x-ray the mirrors. Sure enough, one of the mirrors had a bomb behind it. He removed the mirror, pulled the bomb off the back, flew out of the school, and threw the bomb up in the air just as it exploded.
Superman flew in the direction of the Planet building, thankful that the most recent bedtime story he had been reading to Kiley was "Alice in Wonderland".
Ching sat at a metal table and played with the food on a plate in front of him. This whole mission had made him lose his appetite. It wasn't really necessary for him to eat for several more days anyway. After all, the radiation from the yellow sun gave him almost all the sustenance he needed. On his own planet, things were a little
The last thing Ching wanted to do was rip Kal-El away from his wife and children. Over the past month, he had seen the level of love and care that existed in the small family and he had no wish to destroy their lives. <Our people can solve this problem by themselves,> he thought. Ching had been a stubborn opponent to the plan from the first.
Fetching Kal-El to resolve the problem might be the most expedient way to resolve the current situation, but it was not the only method available to them. Then there was also the irrevocable fact that he loved Sarah... and she did not know he existed.
Sarah paced back and forth in front of the table. Her dinner sat virtually untouched. Kal-El had to pass the tests in order to return with her. She knew Ching's wish that they could leave him there, but it galled her that he had married an Earth woman. After all, according to law, it was their destiny to be together. She belonged to him and he to her. So it had always been in noble families... Marriage alliances that bound house to house and bound the people together in unity. From her childhood, she had heard stories of him.
There was a locator chip inserted under the skin of his right arm soon after birth that transmitted where he was to the main database on their new home. There were as many such records as there were members of the nobility. Usually these chips were removed when a child reached full adulthood, but Kal-El had not been close enough for this to happen. The chips were a tradition from an earlier, more violent, period of history when the kidnapping of children from the nobility was a common tactic in the politics of the council.
Without the chip, they probably would not have been able to find him among the people of Earth. Other devices in his ship had monitored him, following him until his tenth cycle. After that, the transmissions became fuzzier and patchier until, in his twelfth cycle, the devices finally stopped transmitting altogether. Until they had spent time underneath the yellow sun, they had been ignorant of the state of Kryptonians on this planet.
Sarah broke off her train of thought and turned to face Ching. "The bomb almost exploded."
"Correction," Ching said dryly, "The bomb did explode, just not before your friend, with another modest display of strength, threw it into the upper stratosphere. I still don't see why this is necessary. We don't need Kal-El to defeat one man; we can leave him here to raise his children."
"You forget yourself," Sarah said. She glared at him for a moment. "We do need him; it is the most expedient solution to our problems."
"And of course this has nothing to do with the fact that you've heard about him your entire life and you think that he belongs with you... And that you think that after he solves our world's current situation, you can convince him to completely abandon his family here and stay with you." Ching said with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "All that the records show is that he was a nice child, and everything we've observed leads me to the conclusion that he would never abandon his pregnant wife and their two small children."
"Ching, you're right about the fact that I've loved Kal-El for years. But it's also true that once our enemy finds out that he's alive and has a family, not only will he destroy our world but he will also destroy this one and Kal-El's family as well. We both know how ruthless he is.
This may not be the only solution, but it is the best one."
Ching sighed and covered his face with his hands. Sarah was right. As much as he hated it, it was the only solution that would enable Kal-El to protect his little ones. "The testing will continue," he said reluctantly. " We must discover if he will aid us in our quest."
Clark landed in the alley outside the Daily Planet and walked quickly inside. He peeked in the daycare facility to check on Kiley and Joseph. It was still early afternoon, and both children were fast asleep on their mats. A soft smile stole over his face as he contemplated the sight of his babies, asleep side-by-side. Kiley's arm was thrown over Joseph's shoulder in a protective gesture and their mats had somehow been scooted together so that Joseph, lying on his tummy, was cuddled up next to his big sister.
Clark walked away quietly and went to meet Lois at their Jeep. They had planned to go back to the house on Creel Drive to see if they could find anything unusual without the interruption from 'George Thomas'. Just as Clark walked over to their usual parking space in the Planet's underground parking garage, Lois arrived. It wasn't long before she was driving at her usual breakneck speed toward the house.
Clark stood quietly in the backyard of the house on Creel Drive by the satellite dish. He carefully scanned the area one more time, hoping to find the device that had somehow transmitted the signal that almost led to disaster. Clark heard a car door slam. He turned around as Lois came up behind him. "How does George Thomas fit into this?" he wondered out loud.
"Either he's really smart...or a madman." Lois said, "Or even worse, a really smart madman. So what are we looking for?"
"Anything unusual, no matter how unimportant it seems," Clark answered.
Lois began to prowl around the backyard, looking for anything that would be out of place. "Okay, let's assume the worst case scenario: he's a really smart madman. This has got to be something big. He can out-think the most brilliant scientists in the nation..."
"...and is willing to risk hundreds of lives," Clark said.
"But why would he do all this? The underwater research facility was a bluff..." Lois questioned.
"The bomb behind the mirror at the school wasn't a bluff," Clark stated.
Lois shrugged as her husband x-rayed the satellite dish once more. Finding nothing, he slowly shook his head. "El zippo," Clark glanced at Lois. "It's definitely strange. For a moment I thought they might've been attempts to get me out of the way so some other crimes could be committed, but nothing's happened."
"It's... almost as if... you're being tested..." Lois said.
"Or set up for something bigger," Clark thought for a moment, " Yeah. Definitely. Something bigger."
Lois looked down at the low wall surrounding the bushes.
"Hey, here's a quarter we can use toward the down payment."
Lois walked over and looked at the coin before handing it to Clark. "This... isn't a quarter," she said slowly.
Clark looked at the device that Lois was holding. "It's a micro transmitter."
"Then this is what Dr. Klein homed in on. The satellite dish was just a decoy," Lois said, understanding dawning on her face.
"He did say plus or minus five feet. Let me see." Lois dropped the device into Clark's outstretched hand. The moment the transmitter made contact with his skin, a hologram of George Thomas appeared. Lois and Clark started in surprise at the appearance of the image. Clark's free arm automatically came up and encircled Lois, pulling her close to him as the hologram of George Thomas began to speak.
"Finally, it's about time you found this, Superman. Or should I say Super-slow-man? Wait, don't answer. I just wanted to say 'Hello' and tell you that you'll be seeing a lot more of me soon. The best... and worst... are yet to come. Farewell."
As the hologram shut down, Lois looked at Clark. "He doesn't want to do this," she stated quietly. "There's something in his eyes that doesn't click with what he's saying."
Clark put the transmitter in his jacket pocket and pulled her a little closer. "That may be," he began, "But in the meanwhile, we need to get this to Dr. Klein." Clark reluctantly let go of Lois and reached for her hand as they began to walk back to the Jeep.
Jonathan and Martha walked out of the shed carrying old milking cans, long fluorescent tubes, and a spool of electrical wire. It had been a long day on the farm and Jonathan was tired. It didn't help that Martha just *had* to go looking for junk for her latest sculpture. He didn't mind... not really. After all, if it made his Martha happy, it was worth it. He looked at her and smiled. After more than 35 years of marriage, she was still his reason to get up in the morning. He didn't know what he'd do without her. Hopefully, he'd never have to find out. The couple turned as Jonathan locked the door of the shed behind them.
"These will be perfect for my modern sculpture class," Martha said, smiling down at her armful.
"But how are you going to light up both of them?" Jonathan asked, a puzzled look adorning his face.
Martha looked up at him and smiled. "I haven't figured that out yet," she said.
As they turned around to start back up to the house, a figure dressed in blue jeans and a flannel shirt came out from around the barn. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent?" he asked.
"Yes?" Jonathan answered.
Their guest smiled and held out his hand for them to shake. He hated doing this, after all, Kal-El's adopted parents seemed like really nice people. Momentarily he wondered why it was that he had to do all of the dirty work...
Dr. Klein placed the micro-transmitter under a high-powered microscope that was hooked up to a computer. He smiled in delight as he watched the circuitry pop up on the computer screen. He gestured for Lois and Clark to take a closer look as he leaned over the eyepiece of the microscope. "I've got to tell you, this is like nothing I've ever
seen!" He stared at the computer screen as the magnification increased. The level of circuitry on the chip was absolutely amazing. Looking at the chip, Dr. Klein knew that the technology involved in manufacturing such a device was currently beyond any of the recent technological developments.
"Whoever built this is a genius. I'm down to almost the atomic-level and there's still circuitry. Oh... hold on... there seems to be some lettering here..." Dr Klein used the mouse to pan the picture across the circuit. Soon the words 'CHING LTD.' popped up on the screen.
Lois grabbed her cell phone out of her purse and called the planet. "Jimmy? Do me a huge favor and find the address for a company called Ching Limited. Two words, the last is an abbreviation. Yes, I know you don't do these kind of things anymore, but you're the only one I trust to help with this."
Across town, Jimmy sat as his desk, typing furiously into his computer. "If you'll hold on for a second, I'll have it for you... ask and ye shall receive, Ching Limited is at 379 Gross, suite 518."
"Got it! Thanks Jimmy!" Lois snapped her phone shut.
"Thanks Dr. Klein. C'mon Clark, let's go pay them a visit." Lois and Clark rushed out the door, heading for the Jeep. Clark knew that he would have to convince Lois to take a rest soon... He wanted to make sure that both she and the baby would be okay. Her pregnancy with Joseph had been a difficult one and he wanted to protect her health and the health of their unborn little one.
Ching sat in his apartment, staring blindly at the monitors in front of him. His mind was not on the images of the Superman rescues that were currently replaying at high speed on the screens in front of him. With a grimace of distaste, he pulled at the bulky black commando-style fatigues that he wore. He again wondered why the council had insisted on sending him to this dirtball to destroy an entire family. He admired Kal-El for what he had managed to accomplish on such an alien planet and even envied him for the great love and acceptance he had found.
Ching wondered sadly if he would ever find someone to love him the way Kal-El had. His eyes flickered over to the surveillance screen that monitored the comings and goings of people around the apartment. Ching watched Kal-El and his wife step out of a ground-based vehicle. He was expecting them. It surprised him that they had taken so long to locate his current base of operations.
He heard their heartbeats as they approached the door. Mentally, he prepared himself for what he knew he had to do. Ching reached for the button that switched the pictures on the monitors to other scenes and pushed it. A cold, impassive mask settled over his features as a knock echoed throughout the almost empty apartment. "It's open," he called and waited for the appearance of the people whose hearts he was under orders to break.
Lois and Clark cautiously entered the apartment. With all of the testing that Clark had been subjected to that day, they were unsure if they were currently walking into a trap. Lois had a bad feeling about this whole situation... Something about it just didn't feel right. Ever since the Athena had made its aborted dive into the Mariana Trench, she had felt as if an axe was hanging over them, getting ready to fall.
"Good," Thomas began, turning around in his chair to face them. "You're here. Now the real fun begins."
"Listen, Thomas," Lois began. She was a little nervous about confronting this guy. After all, he had shown his callousness towards human life in both of the incidents earlier that day. "Or whoever you are. If we don't get some answers, Superman is going to come through that door in about two seconds." Lois glared at George Thomas defiantly.
In that moment, Thomas began to understand precisely what Kal-El saw in this woman of Earth. He envied him. Thomas quashed the spark of jealousy ruthlessly, making sure that none of it showed on his face before answering.
"Oh really?" Thomas drawled sarcastically. "One. Two." An ironic smile crossed Thomas's face as nothing happened. "Oops, did I miss him? Or perhaps you were exaggerating a bit? I guess we'll have to go on without him then." Thomas gestured to the monitors.
Clark's eyes widened in shock as he saw his parents tied up outside their storage shed. A bomb, formed in the shape of a star, snuggled up next to them. Its very design conveyed menace and danger. One of his worst nightmares had become a reality--his parents were in mortal danger because a madman had discovered who he really was. It was the only explanation that he could think of; over the years they had purposely distanced themselves from his superhero persona. The only reason for endangering Clark Kent's parents to get to Superman would be if the criminals knew his other identity. Clark tore his eyes away from the image of his parents and to the other screen. Another star-shaped bomb, identical in design to the first, sat on their children's picnic table outside their brownstone.
Lois shivered at the sight of the bombs and turned around to face Clark. She wound her arms around his neck and buried her head in his shoulder. <What next?> she wondered. <Would this madman come after Kiley and Joseph next? After all, the placement of the bomb suggests a veiled threat...> Slowly, she released her husband and turned around to glare at Thomas.
"*NO*!" Clark yelled. The word tore from his throat as if it had been ripped out.
"Now here's the interesting dilemma," Thomas began. "The two bombs are electronically linked. Stop one, the other one goes off. Separate them, say by throwing one into space, the other one goes off. So... do you save Metropolis, or your parents? I assure you that the bomb in your backyard will easily destroy the city. What do you say, Clark... or should I say, Superman?" Inwardly, Thomas flinched as he delivered his pre-planned ultimatum. He was beginning to hate himself for what he was doing. He knew that Kal-El would most likely pass this test... And the resulting situation would probably rip Kal-El's family apart.
Clark strode forward, grabbed Thomas by the throat, and slammed him against the wall. "Why are you doing this?" Clark demanded. Thomas hung in Clark's grasp limply. Before Thomas could answer, Sarah walked up behind them.
"Because we need to know," Sarah stated.
At the sound of Sarah's voice, Lois and Clark turned around to face her. Sarah was clad from head to toe in a form-fitting black bodysuit. As she turned in the light, the fabric shimmered with a metallic sheen. "Sarah!" Lois exclaimed. "Why are you here? What do you need to know?"
Thomas looked at Clark and sneered. "Thirty seconds. Now is not the time to dawdle. Do you save two people you love dearly, your parents, or a million strangers?"
Lois glared at Thomas, a mutinous expression on her face. "It's not fair! You can't make him choose!"
Sarah looked at Clark and smiled sweetly. "People have to make choices all the time," she began, "Low-fat or regular. Calvin Klein or Versace." She looked pointedly at Clark. "Life, or Death? What will it be?"
"Stop. The. Bombs." Clark growled, biting off the end of each word.
"Did you just think of that?" Thomas inquired, his face a picture of innocence. "That's nice, but I cannot."
Lois looked at Thomas in despair. "Nobody can be in two places at once, he'd have to split himself in two!" she exclaimed.
Clark looked at his wife and smiled. He had an idea. With a whoosh and a sonic boom, Clark disappeared from view and reappeared on the monitor dressed as Superman. He scanned the star bomb on the children's picnic table and discovered that Thomas had told the truth; if he threw the bomb into the air, the one next to his parents would also explode. Clark leapt into the air and flew over to STAR Labs. With a whoosh, he picked up the laser device that Lois had noticed earlier in the day and dropped a note that fluttered down in front of Dr. Klein.
Dr. Klein picked up the note and began to read. "Sorry Dr. Klein, but I need to borrow this. Thank you. --Superman." Dr. Klein smiled and simply shook his head. This was a bit of a setback for his experiment, but he knew that Superman wouldn't have borrowed his device without just cause. After all, Clark *had* heard the explanation that he had given Lois earlier that day. Dr. Klein walked over to his desk and pulled up the results from the children's last checkup. After all, he still needed to discover whether or not Kiley and Joseph would inherit Clark's superpowers.
"Why are you doing this? Are you insane?" Lois asked frantically.
"No," Sarah began slowly, "It's a test. And one I'm deadly serious about."
"And now we know the answer!" Thomas said, a tiny smile flitting across his face, "He's going to save Metropolis, we can stop now." He reached behind the monitor and pulled out a tiny black box. Just as he was about to press the button that would deactivate the bombs, Sarah snatched it out of his hand.
Lois watched helplessly as Sarah crushed the remote control and threw the pieces to the floor. "No!" she exclaimed. "We have to see it through. We *have* to know absolutely."
Clark flew up in the air, holding the laser beam splitter that he had acquired from Dr. Klein's lab. He positioned it a few feet away from his face and glared into it with his heat vision. The device split his heat vision into two beams. Within seconds, the beams shorted out the timing devices on both of the bombs, stopping them just as they reached one second. Clark sighed in relief; it had worked.
"Yes!" Lois yelled in relief. Both her in-laws and the city were safe. She was relieved that her husband had managed to once again, save them from a madman.
Despite himself, Thomas smiled, "He did it!" Sarah glared at Thomas. She knew that Thomas was just thankful that innocent people had not been killed due to what he saw as an unnecessary mission. She knew Thomas would rather Kal-El fail... just not at the expense of innocent lives.
Thomas was a bit softhearted in that way--he was an excellent warrior who hated the necessity of war.
Clark landed in the farmyard and quickly untied his parents. "Mom, Dad, are you okay?" he asked anxiously.
"Now we are," Jonathan responded. "But that was a little more excitement than I think we'd normally care for."
"Don't worry, you're not the only ones in for some excitement. Mom would you hold this for a few minutes?" Clark handed the beam splitter to Martha and took off, headed back toward Metropolis.
Martha studied the beam splitter for a moment before looking up at Jonathan. She smiled suddenly. "Jonathan," she began, "I think I can use this in my sculpture class."
Jonathan and Martha gathered up the pieces of junk that they had removed earlier from the shed and walked back up to the house.
Lois looked over at Thomas. "Mr. Thomas, I don't understand. Why did you do this? What's going on?" she demanded.
Thomas hung his head and looked at the ground. "I can't explain right now," he said softly.
Sarah turned to Lois. "You! If it weren't for you, this would have been a fairer test. You spoiled it. This is your fault," Sarah snarled at Lois before turning to Thomas. "Come on, we have to go."
Without thinking, Lois reached out to grab Sarah's arm. Sarah casually flung her off. Before she could hit the wall behind her, Thomas caught her and gently set her upon the floor before glaring at Sarah and hurrying out the door. Lois sat on the floor for a moment, stunned by what had just happened. Most bad guys would have let her hit the wall.... There was something very different about this 'George Thomas', it was almost as if he were on their side.
Lois climbed slowly to her feet as Clark zipped into the room. As Clark silently spun back into his everyday clothes, Lois looked at her watch. She held out her hand to him and began to gently tug him in the direction of the door. "It's time to get Kiley and Joseph," she said softly. "There's nothing here besides the computer equipment anyway." On the way to the car, Lois explained what happened, not forgetting to include Thomas's inexplicable behavior.
"He knew that you are Superman," Lois said worriedly.
"I know... And how does Sarah fit into all of this?" Clark rubbed a hand across his eyes. "This is what I've been afraid of; now that they know who I am, it puts you, Kiley, and Joseph at risk. They already threatened my parents..." Clark looked at Lois with worry in his eyes. "What if they come after you next?"
"Clark," Lois said quietly, "We knew that something like this might happen. We'll just deal with it. After all, plans like this take time. They probably knew about you long before today. It's okay. I love you." Lois reached over, took Clark's hand and squeezed it comfortingly.
Clark stopped walking for a moment and took her in his arms. "I promise that I will do whatever is necessary to protect you and our kids." He turned her hand over and dropped a kiss in her palm. "I love you," he said softly.
"I know." Lois smiled up at her husband before she broke his embrace and began to head back to the car. She laced her fingers through his as they walked. Whatever problems arose, she knew they would face them, together.
Ching sat with his head in his hands. <I seem to be spending more and more time in this position lately,> he reflected wryly. He knew what was bothering him. It didn't take a genius to figure that out. Kal-El. The last and final test would be tonight... and Ching had no doubts that Kal-El would again pass. He had accepted that Kal-El was the best solution to their problem, but deep down inside, he knew that what they were planning simply wasn't right.
Sarah's crush on Kal-El didn't help matters either. Intellectually, Ching knew that it was a crush brought on by far too many fairy tales, but that fact didn't make it any easier to bear. He loved her and it was hopeless. It wasn't just the fact that she belonged to another by law; she was also nobility and he was not. A slightly bitter smile adorned his face as he straightened. Ching carefully schooled his features not to reveal his thoughts as he reinforced the shield around his private mind. As soon as Sarah returned from the Daily Planet, he knew that he had to confront her with certain facts.
Sarah grimaced. As she stood at the entrance to their ship, she could feel his turmoil. Ching had always been a bit too ethical for his own good. She sighed in relief as she felt his shields raise around his mind. It was a mark of his trust in her that he would let down his shields anywhere in her vicinity; after all, he knew what a strong telepath she was...and that she could easily eavesdrop from halfway around the city. She closed her eyes and stepped forward into the ship. No matter how many times she did that, she always experienced a thrill of apprehension. There was always the fear of accidentally walking into the wall that the entrance masqueraded as.
"Ching?" Sarah called softly.
"Z-Sarah," Ching answered. He came out of the sleeping area and looked at her quizzically.
"Ching, you know that you can't use my real name here...even in your thoughts. Kal-El, though untrained, is one of the most powerful telepaths we've ever met. One slip and he will know everything; and we can't risk that until he has passed the tests." Sarah scolded.
"Would that be such a bad thing?" he asked unhappily. "Kal-El has the right to know what we have planned for him... That we plan to convince him to leave his family to prevent our destruction by our own folly."
"Our situation is *not* our fault, it's entirely the doing of--"
"Oh really?" Ching interrupted. "And how many among us can spot a dangerously unbalanced mind? How many of us turned a blind eye to the fact that he is a megalomaniac with a large sadistic streak... and that he is also stark raving mad?"
"Okay," Sarah conceded, "You're right... but the fact stands that Kal-El is the only one with a strong enough legal claim to me to stop our enemy. We both know that he is virtually powerless unless he has a claim on me and Kal-El's presence will make that impossible." A dreamy look stole over Sarah's face at the thought of Kal-El.
Ching sighed in exasperation and ran a hand through his hair. "That's another thing Sarah; your obsession with Kal-El. He's already *married* and he loves his wife."
Sarah glared at Ching. "That is irrelevant. He was married to me first and by law, she is only a concubine and their children--"
"Are still heirs to the throne," Ching interrupted. "By law, as long as he acknowledges them, they are of the house of El and therefore his heirs. Your attitude towards them is also unwarranted. They are only children...and you and the Council have insisted upon taking their loving father away from them. His wife is pregnant with their third child, you know."
"I know," Sarah said, naked envy showing clearly on her face.
"I took the liberty of scanning their memories." Ching stated quietly.
"You WHAT?" Sarah exclaimed.
"Well... I didn't *really* scan their memories. I just kind of nudged them to remember...and then eavesdropped on their thoughts. Kal-El fell in love with his wife within about one second after meeting her. She fell in love with him at the same time... it just took longer for her to realize it. They have overcome everything to be together. Lois, his wife, will not forgive easily when you take her husband away from her; especially now," Ching explained.
Sarah's resolve hardened. "This will work; it has to. The last test will commence at full dark."
Clark sat on the couch, turning the note from Kiley's teacher over in his hands. He pondered the contents of the note yet again. He knew that he and Lois had to talk to their daughter; pushing matches just weren't acceptable. "Kiley," Clark called softly.
Kiley bounced in the room, a happy smile adorning her face.
"Hi Daddy!" she said as she threw her arms around his neck.
Clark pulled his daughter on to his lap. "Kiley," he began quietly, "Would you like to tell me what happened at school today?"
Kiley looked up at him and her face fell. She had been hoping that her dad would forget about the note. "Daddy," she began, "Bobby was picking on Emily. He's lots bigger than both of us an' he was gonna hurt her. So I got Emily to go for the teacher an' I pushed Bobby down. He got up an' pushed me, an' then I pushed him again an' then the teacher got there."
"Kiley, we've talked about this before. Now, why shouldn't we push or hit people?" Clark asked his daughter earnestly.
"Cause somebody could get hurt..." Kiley answered timidly.
"That's right." Clark began. " Now it was good that you stood up for somebody smaller than you are, but next time, just go get the teacher okay? Promise me?"
Kiley nodded her assent and snuggled closer to him. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and looked down at his baby girl. "Kiley, I'm going to call Emily's mom and tell her that Emily can't come over this weekend to play because you pushed Bobby," Clark said.
"But, Daddy, you *promised* that she could," Kiley began.
"Yes, punkin' I did, but you knew that you shouldn't hit or push people. Emily can come and play another time. Sweetheart, I promise she can, but this is your punishment for fighting at school today." Clark looked down at his daughter. Her lower lip was out in what he privately referred to as the 'pouting position'. He knew that she would be okay and into some fresh, new mischief by the next day.
He dropped another kiss on the top of her head and set her on the couch next to him. "Kiley, go wash up for dinner okay?" He watched his daughter reluctantly get up and head to the bathroom before he went into the kitchen to check on dinner. He would have liked to have Lois with him when he gave Kiley her deserved scolding, but she was currently upstairs helping Joseph wash for supper.
Lois descended the stairs, Joseph in tow. It had been the longest day in a very long time and Lois was thankful that it was almost over. She hoped that they could have a normal night together as a family without any Superman emergencies calling Clark away. Lois picked up Joseph, walked into the kitchen, and installed him in his booster seat. Joseph looked up at her and smiled charmingly. "Tank you, Mommy," he said.
Lois dropped a kiss on the top of Joseph's head. "You're
welcome, sweetheart," she said before going to take the dishes out of the cabinet. While Clark was busy pulling dinner out of the oven, Lois set the table. "Kiley," she called, "dinner is ready, come to the table!"
Kiley walked into the room and pulled herself into a chair. She sat there with her lip still stuck out in a pout. It had been a long day and she was hungry, but she still wanted to pout over the fact that her Daddy was punishing her. She knew that she shouldn't have pushed Bobby, but just because she had didn't mean that he had to tell Emily's mommy that Emily couldn't come over to play.
Lois leaned over and gave Kiley a hug. Clark had opened the letter earlier that day and they had talked about what a just punishment would be. Lois knew from experience that by bedtime, Kiley would have forgotten her sulk. Sure enough, halfway through dinner, Kiley regained her normally cheerful demeanor.
Lois and Clark followed their normal Monday night routine. They had their Monday night family night and it wasn't long before Kiley and Joseph had been bathed, had their stories and songs, said their prayers, and were tucked into bed. Lois peeked into the children's rooms one more time to make sure they were asleep before heading downstairs. She
curled up next to Clark on the couch and, as his arms encircled her, snuggled into his embrace.
Clark bent his head and captured her lips with his softly. "I love you," he said quietly. As he held Lois in his arms, he couldn't help but think how perfect life was; he had everything he'd ever wanted. He rested his cheek on the top of her head and pulled her closer to him.
Lois smiled as his hand came to rest protectively on her abdomen. They had spent many evenings together like this, simply cuddled together, happy in each other's presence. Lois tipped her head up for another kiss. "I love you, too," she murmured.
Clark's head shot up and a puzzled look crossed his face. <<Superman...>>
"What is it?" Lois asked.
"Shhh, honey." Clark said. He planted a quick kiss on her forehead.
<<Yes, it is I... I am here... in your backyard... Don't keep me waiting.>>
"What did you hear?"" Lois asked softly.
"A voice... in my head; it sounded like George Thomas.
He's waiting outside... in our backyard," Clark said.
"Then we have to go outside," Lois said. She stood up, grabbed Clark's hand, tugged him to his feet, and began to walk towards the back door.
Clark looked at Lois for a moment and motioned for her to stop. "Wait a minute," Clark said. He spun into the suit and took her hand again. "In case Kiley wakes up and looks out the window, I'd rather she not see her dad fighting after the scolding I gave her this afternoon... And it might come to that." Clark took Lois's hand in his as she resumed her insistent tugging toward the door. She threw him a brief smile as they stepped out into the backyard.
Thomas and Sarah were waiting for them. Thomas carefully stepped away from them toward the wall of the brownstone.
Clark dropped Lois's hand and assumed his 'Superman' pose. "I'm going to put you away for the rest of your life," Clark said sternly.
"That would be an extremely long time. Before you can attempt that, you'll have to pass one last test. How much are you willing to sacrifice to personally 'put me away'?" Inwardly, Thomas flinched as he heard the words come out of his mouth. He hated both the way he sounded and the hateful words that he was engaged in hurling at the man who, by birth, was his overlord.
Clark glared at Thomas. If there was one thing he hated more than anything else, it was someone who would put the lives of innocents at risk for their own gain... especially when the innocents in question were children. "Plenty," Clark growled.
Sarah walked forward, a tiny smile hovering around the corners of her mouth. She didn't think it would take much to convince her Kal-El to come home where he belonged. After all, she, through Trey, knew how little information had been sent to Earth with him as a child. She had used her time at the Daily Planet to research the articles that he had written... One specific article had caught her eye; it was about adoption and the plight of adopted children. It didn't take much to read between the lines and find out that Kal-El knew little or nothing about his birth family... and that he wanted to know.
Thomas stood solidly in place. "Bravo!" he exclaimed. "That's the attitude! Now... Come and get me."
Clark strode forward, only to jump back as he encountered a green, glowing, dome-like shield. He felt the familiar, wrenching, sickening pain that came with exposure to Kryptonite as his normally impervious skin came into contact with the green energy that made up the shield.
Clark glared at Thomas through the shield. It seemed that they were at an impasse--he couldn't get any closer than he already was to the dratted shield, and Thomas would not come out.
"Two guesses what this is; it rhymes with 'Kryptonite'." Thomas shook his finger at Lois. "Lois, no helping!"
Lois glared at Thomas. Fear warred with anger as emotions flitted across her features. "Turn it off!" she demanded angrily.
Thomas ignored Lois's demand and turned back to Clark. "Okay, it's Kryptonite," he said. "Actually it's a Kryptonite force field. What's the matter, Superman," Thomas taunted, "Don't you still want me?"
Lois glared at Thomas. She desperately wanted to defend Clark, but she knew that stepping forward into the Kryptonite shield would most likely be lethal for their child. "If you'll come out of there, I'll take a piece of you," Lois snarled. She hated it when anybody attacked her
In spite of her better judgment, Lois began to step forward. Suddenly, she felt a restraining hand clasp her around her arm. "He must do this alone," Sarah's calm voice stated. Lois tried to shrug off Sarah's hands, but her grip was as tight as steel.
Clark pulled himself a little bit further away from the shield until the pain receded. He knew that the man, whatever his name was, needed to be in jail for the bombings that had taken place that day as well as for putting the lives of so many scientists and their families at risk. But, how could he get any closer when the man had a shield somehow constructed of kryptonite? Clark glowered at Thomas. He wished that, for once, life could be easy.
Thomas sighed inwardly as he saw Kal-El move away from the shield. He really wanted no part in this venture... and now he had to taunt his lord yet again. "Good idea. Or better yet, why don't you just run away?" Outwardly, Thomas smirked; he was beginning to get into the part he was playing.
Clark backed further away from the shield. He didn't want to turn Lois into a widow or leave his children fatherless; it felt as if their lives together had barely begun. "You can't hide in there forever," Clark said threateningly.
"I don't intend to," Thomas said, a soft smile adorning his face. He reached into the cuff of his uniform and pulled out a small weapon. He knew all along that it would come to this. If Kal-El failed, then his life would be well sacrificed; a family would be saved. After all, sometimes how you died made just as much of a difference as how you lived. Thomas didn't want to think of what would happen if Kal-El succeeded.
He rolled the weapon over in his hand. "Expand," he said in a commanding voice. The weapon expanded to a full-sized particle disruptor. He knew that if Kal-El didn't manage to stop him, the weapon would scatter his atoms to the far reaches of the galaxy.
Lois looked at Thomas in disbelief. "Are you crazy?" she asked. "What are you doing?"
"Simple," Thomas answered. He used his free hand to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. "I'm testing the Man of Steel. I intend to shoot myself." Thomas turned to Clark. "Now of course, Superman, you can *try* to stop me, but in order to do that you have to pass through the force field which is, as you can tell, lethal."
Lois looked at Thomas in horror. She knew Clark as well as she knew herself and it was a surety that he would at least attempt to save Thomas. "You *are* crazy," she murmured. "Either that or..." Lois trailed off and stared at the man inside the shield.
Thomas again ignored Lois and focused on Clark. "So, you can either let me die, the man who tried to kill your parents and about a million or so other people, or you can die trying to save me. It's quite, how do you say... the Gordian Knot."
Comprehension dawned on Lois as she stared at Thomas. "You're bluffing," she said.
Thomas sneered elegantly at Lois. "I wasn't bluffing about those bombs, was I?" Thomas played with the weapon for a moment. It lit up, fully charged.
Clark walked forward until he again encountered the kryptonite shield. He staggered back, pain lancing through his body. Clark knew that getting close to the shield wasn't the smartest thing for him to do, but the urge to protect was simply too strong. He simply could not let someone die when he had the power to save them.
Thomas's face twisted into a grimace as he brought the energy weapon closer to his head. "Five," he said, beginning to count down.
"Thomas," Sarah began, "Finish this quickly please." Sarah knew that the delay was necessary, but there were still arrangements to be made if Kal-El were to return with them.
Thomas glared at Sarah for a moment. "Four," he growled, bringing the weapon even closer to his head.
Sarah sighed and shook her head. She wished that this final test would be completed soon. She wanted to go home.
Thomas caught the expression on Sarah's face and grimaced. He wished that the Council had never thought up this idiotic idea. He raised the weapon into position. "Three."
Lois looked at him in astonishment. "What is killing yourself going to prove?" she demanded.
Thomas looked at Lois for a moment, pain written on his face. "That keeping a family together is important... And that we can solve our problems at home. Two."
Clark looked at Thomas. He had absolutely no idea what the man was talking about. "Whatever it is, it can't be worth dying for."
Thomas looked at Clark. The pain in his eyes was replaced with a subtle sadness. "Yes it is. One."
Clark made a mad dash for the shield, determination written all over his face. He passed through the barrier at superspeed, knocked the weapon out of Thomas's hand, and pushed Thomas to the ground. A scream ripped its way out of Clark's throat before he collapsed against the wall of the house from the pain inflicted upon him by the kryptonite shield.
Thomas deactivated the shield as Lois wrested herself from Sarah's grasp and rushed to her husband's side. She dropped to the ground beside him and cradled her head in her lap. "Clark, sweetheart talk to me. Are you okay?" Lois turned slightly to glare at Thomas. "Why did you do this?"
"I'm sorry," Thomas said softly. "I didn't want to... He is the one."
Sarah walked forward calmly and placed her hand on the El-shield adorning Clark's chest. She scanned him quickly, using her training in healing physical ailments to assess her lord's condition. She straightened and glanced over at Thomas. "He's going to make it," she said before motioning to Thomas. "Come, we must tell the others."
Thomas stood and walked over to Sarah. Slowly, they rose in the air and flew off, leaving Lois and Clark behind. Lois watched in astonishment for a moment before refocusing her attention on Clark.
A few moments later as the pain receded to manageable levels, Clark opened his eyes. "Did I save him? Lois? Where'd they go?"
Lois looked at Clark and pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek. "I'll tell you when we get inside, sweetheart." Lois stood up and grabbed Clark's hand as he rose to his feet. Hand in hand, they walked back inside their home. "I'll go check on the kids while you change," she said softly. Lois went upstairs and peeked in the children's rooms. Both Kiley and Joseph were still asleep, unbothered by the commotion in the backyard.
Lois walked back downstairs and sat on the couch. Soon Clark joined her, so she snuggled into his side. Clark slipped his arm around his beloved and rested his hand on her stomach. "What happened?" he asked quietly.
Lois quickly filled him in on the events of the evening, including the amazing fact that Sarah and Thomas had flown away. "You don't think that they're... Kryptonian too?" Lois asked.
"I don't know." Clark said. A troubled look passed swiftly over his face. "The messages that Jor-El and Lara left for me seemed to indicate that I'm the only survivor... The last son of Krypton." Clark began to disentangle himself so he could get up when Lois stopped him with a gentle hand.
"Sweetheart," she began, "the globe can wait until tomorrow." Lois stood up and tugged on his arm. "Come to bed. You need rest after that Kryptonite exposure."
A smile tugged at the corners of Clark's mouth as he leaned down and placed a swift kiss on her lips. "Your wish is my command," he said as they walked toward the stairs.
Lois rested her head on Clark's shoulder and turned her face up to his for a kiss as he pulled up the covers around them. It had been an extremely long day and she was thankful that Clark was okay after his encounter with the kryptonite shield. Clark put his arms around Lois and captured her lips with his. Before the kiss could escalate, Clark heard the sound of small footsteps. He broke off the kiss and turned his head to see Kiley standing in the doorway, clutching a battered black and white teddy bear.
Kiley rubbed a hand across her eyes and wiped her nose on her Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas. "Mommy and Daddy," she began with a slight wobble in her voice, "Clarkie-bear and I had a bad dream. Can we sleep with you tonight?"
Lois nodded and turned down the covers for Kiley. Kiley clambered into the big bed and climbed into Lois's lap. She buried her face in her mother's chest and sat there, trembling. Clark gathered his wife and daughter up and held them close. He gently stroked Kiley's hair. "What's the matter, punkin'?" he asked.
Kiley looked up at her dad. "Daddy, don't go away," she pleaded.
Lois rocked her daughter back and forth as she to, stroked her daughter's hair. "I'm not going anywhere sweetie." Clark said quietly. "Is this about your dream?"
Kiley nodded and climbed off Lois's lap. Lois moved over slightly and tucked her daughter between herself and her husband. Kiley snuggled down in between her parents. Lois hugged Kiley and kissed her on the forehead. "What was the dream about sweetie?" Lois asked.
Kiley yawned sleepily. Now that she was with her Mommy and Daddy, the fear was receding; she knew that she was completely safe. "Some people came and took Daddy away. And then he got hurt real bad." Kiley yawned again and cuddled closer to her parents.
Clark gently kissed his daughter on the cheek. "Sweetheart," he began, "I'm right here. I'm not going away, and I'm not getting hurt."
"I know Daddy," Kiley said sleepily, "I love you." Within minutes, Kiley was fast asleep. Clark reached out and caressed Lois's cheek. "I love you," he said softly.
"I love you too," Lois returned as she tucked the blankets securely around their daughter. Clark caught hold of Lois's hand and planted a kiss in the center of her palm. He caressed her hand with his thumb and soon they drifted off to sleep.
Clark woke to the sound of a woman screaming for help. He rolled over and looked at the clock: 3 am. Carefully, so as not to wake Lois or Kiley, he slid out of bed and spun into his suit. Clark dropped a kiss on Lois's forehead. "I'll be right back," he whispered softly. He flew out the window and sped to the scene of the crime. He stopped the would-be rapist and handed him over to the police. Just as he was about to head back home, he heard a voice in his head.
<<Kal-El, come. We're at Thirty-Fifth and Maple Street.
Go in the alley and await instructions. We're communicating with you telepathically, which is the way of the Kryptonian people.>>
Clark wasn't too inclined to do as he was told, but after a few indecisive moments, his natural curiosity took over. He flew over to Thirty-Fifth and Maple. After looking around to make sure that no one was watching, he spun into his favorite jeans and his leather jacket; they were much more inconspicuous than the Suit. He walked over to the
alleyway and entered it. <<Kal-El, go to the wall. Imagine an entryway, and it will appear.>>
Puzzled, Clark walked over to the wall and pretended that a door was there. He put his hand up to the wall and was amazed to find that his hand passed through the wall. He went into the wall with trepidation and found himself in a curvilinear room. There were no straight lines to be seen anywhere around him. Bright, colorful tapestries adorned the walls and fluttered out to meet him as two darkly clad figures stepped through a pair of tapestries.
"Welcome, Lord Kal-El." One of the figures stepped forward.
"Sarah?" Clark gasped in recognition.
"Zara," she corrected. "I am Lady Zara of the house of Ra and this is my bodyguard, Lieutenant Ching. You are Lord Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara. Your parents sent you here to protect you when our homeworld exploded."
"But, I thought I was the only survivor," Clark said confusedly. "And my name is Clark."
"Milord," Ching began, "A few thousand of the children of our world were saved--they were put on a colony ship and sent off to find a new place to live. We are from New Krypton."
"But how did you find me, and why should I trust you anyway?" Clark questioned. "After all, you nearly killed me along with thousands of people in this city!"
Zara picked up the thread. "There is a chip, a tracer device under the skin of your right arm. It is customary to insert such devices soon after birth... It is a remnant of an earlier time when the kidnapping of children of noble houses was considered a political gambit. We knew you arrived here from the electronic images sent to us by recording devices in the ship that brought you to this planet. They stopped sending images in your tenth cycle; the power source must have been exhausted."
Clark frowned, remembering the device that he had discovered in the barn as a teenager. "So that's what that was," he murmured. "Why did you put me through such hell?"
"We were ordered by the Council to find you. Not only to find you, but to test you to see if you are worthy of your heritage... And to find out if you care enough to leave here to save a world full of people you don't know," Ching grimaced. He knew that Kal-El had passed the tests, and he hoped that his leader would stay on Earth... where he belonged.
"Kal-El, there is a tradition among noble houses. This tradition dates back thousands of years. Noble children are married at birth. Our people are bound together by an alliance between several families and these alliances are renewed by marriage in between these households. You are my husband. You must come back with us; the houses of Ra and El must be joined to prevent a civil war." Zara looked at Clark expectantly. His reaction, however, surprised her.
"No," he whispered hoarsely. Clark ran out the door and flew home quickly. Clark flew into Joseph's room and picked up the sleeping child. He carried him into his and Lois's room and laid him next to Kiley on the bed. Clark changed into his sleep shorts and climbed back into bed. He knew that this was something that he *had* to discuss with Lois, but it would have to wait until morning. He cuddled close to his wife and children, suddenly terrified that he would lose them.
Lois rolled over to face him. "Clar-," she murmured groggily. "What'smatter?" Even through the haze of sleep that overshadowed her mind, she could feel his distress.
"Nothing, honey." Clark said softly. "We'll talk about it tomorrow." He looked at his beloved again to find that she had already fallen asleep again. <What should I do?> he asked himself. He'd always felt contempt for men who abandoned their families and he was determined that he would not join the ranks of such men. Clark reached out and gently stroked Lois's hair. "No," he whispered, "I won't go with them." He loved her more than his own life; he could not leave her to raise their children alone. Satisfied that he had reached a decision for this moment, Clark went back to sleep.
Ching smiled ironically at Zara. "I told you he would not leave." Ching turned a chair around and straddled it. "When you report to the council, please remember to remind them that I was against this whole mission."
Zara crossed the room to perch daintily on another chair.
"He will come," she said resolutely. "I will simply appeal to his sense of duty and honor. It is his duty to come back with us and his honor is at stake here."
"You don't really believe that?" Ching asked incredulously. "His duty and his honor lie here with his wife and his children."
"But *I* am his wife!" Zara exclaimed.
Ching sighed and shook his head. "By the laws of a society that Lord Kal-El has barely heard of, yes. From what he said, Jor-El's messages led him to believe that he was the only survivor. He grew up on Earth with Earth humans. He knows nothing of our society, language, or culture. Kal-El... Clark belongs here, not on New Krypton." Ching wondered if he could ever get Zara to listen to him. He knew he was right... They needed to leave Kal-El alone.
Zara glared at Ching in exasperation. "He will come." She repeated again. "It will just take more convincing."
<<Zara and Ching, you found him. You found Kal-El. And what's this? He doesn't want to return? Oh how wonderful. Too bad that as long as he lives he is a threat to me. I will just have to remedy that.>> The mind voice faded from their heads with an evil laugh.
Zara shuddered. "We will have to make sure that he returns..."
Tez landed in the Earth town known as Smallville, Kansas. He had seen some of the surveillance of this place and knew that he would have to find someone to imitate soon; in his current form, he simply stuck out far too much. He glanced down at his long, scraggly fingernails and knew that they would have to be the first thing to go. Although somewhat humanoid in appearance, Tez had the pointed canines of a carnivore, and he was built like the hunter and assassin he was made to be. His race was specifically designed for this purpose... to hunt down and kill those that their masters ordered them to. Kal-El would soon be
his rightful prey. He glanced around the town before finding a communication device and looking up the name of Kal-El's adoptive parents. He grimaced as he noticed the address. Carefully, he shifted into a large predatory bird and flew over to the place of their habitation. He changed back into his natural form and headed into the domicile...
Lois woke slowly and smiled to see her husband sleeping peacefully beside her. She gently brushed his hair back from his face and slipped out of bed to check on the children. She padded down the hallway and checked Kiley's room. It was empty. Joseph's room was also unoccupied.
Lois stood in the hallway wondering where the kids had gotten to at such an early hour. When she heard muffled giggles emanating from behind the bathroom door, she smiled, headed there, and opened the door.
Joseph was standing on the step stool, playing in the potty while Kiley watched. The night before, the door to the bathroom had been shut, and Lois knew that the lid had been left down on the toilet also. Lois put her hands on her hips and stared at her daughter. "Kiley Christine Kent did you open the door for your brother and let him play in the potty?" Lois reached down, picked up Joseph, and took him over to the sink to wash. She was grateful that she had managed to stop him before he could spread water all over the bathroom.
Kiley smiled innocently at her mother, mischief sparkling in her eyes. "Yes, Mommy. But you always say that I should help my little brother!"
Lois closed her eyes for a minute to struggle with her self-control. She knew she could *not* give in to her desire to laugh. "Kiley," she said sternly, "Is Joseph allowed to play in the potty?"
Kiley looked thoughtful for a moment. "No, Mommy, he's not."
"Punkin', if Joseph isn't allowed to play in the potty, is it a good idea to help him do something he's not supposed to do?"
"No, Mommy. I'm sorry. I won't do it again." Kiley looked properly penitent as she delivered this speech.
"Kiley, sweetie, it's a good thing that you want to help your little brother, but please don't help him do things that he shouldn't!"
"I promise, Mommy," Kiley said as Lois dried Joseph's hands off and hustled them out of the room.
Clark emerged from the bedroom and took Joseph into his room to get him dressed. Lois took Kiley's hand as they walked toward her daughter's bedroom. As they picked out clothes and Kiley started pulling them on, Lois smiled. Her family. Her children. Her husband. She loved those words. It was strange to remember a time when she had not wanted any of the things that now filled her life. Lois leaned down and tied Kiley's shoes. She straightened up and grabbed the brush off the dresser.
"Come here, punkin', so I can fix your hair." Kiley came over and obediently stood while Lois began to brush and braid her daughter's hair. She couldn't believe that only a few years ago, she hadn't been at all sure that she even wanted children. She didn't want to think of life without her family. Life without Clark, Kiley, and Joseph was too horrible to contemplate. Her life had been so empty before Clark flew into it and into her heart.
Lois knew that without Clark and her babies, life would simply not be worth living.
Clark grabbed a pair of Joseph's overalls and a shirt out of the dresser. Before Clark could begin to try and get Joseph dressed, Joseph looked up at him imploringly. "Potty, Daddy." Joseph headed toward the door and waited for his dad to open it. Clark reached for Joseph's hand as he opened the door. Hand in hand, they walked into the bathroom where Clark put Joseph's special seat on the potty.
Joseph climbed the ladder and was soon finished. Clark boosted Joseph up to wash his hands and carried him back into his room to dress. Clark grabbed the tiny shirt and began to try and pull it over his son's head. "I do!" Joseph demanded as he pulled out of Clark's grasp.
Joseph shoved his head through the top of the shirt and pushed his arms through the sleeves, walked back over to his dad, and reached for the overalls. "Mine." he said. Clark smiled and steadied his son as Joseph climbed into the overalls. Clark fastened them up and pulled Joseph into his lap to put on socks and shoes. Quickly, Clark grabbed a comb and combed the child's hair before Joseph got a chance to escape.
"Come on, scout," he said with a smile as he gently tickled Joseph's tummy. "Let's go downstairs to get some breakfast." Clark lifted Joseph onto his shoulders, went downstairs into the kitchen, and settled him in his seat at the table with a bowl of cereal and a sippy cup full of juice. Joseph smiled happily, all was right in his world.
"Tank you, Daddy," he said as he began to eat.
"You're welcome, scout," Clark said. He smiled and finished setting things out on the table for breakfast. Clark knew that he'd have to tell Lois about last night's encounter with Zara and Ching soon; he knew that she would *not* be happy about it. Heck, he wasn't overjoyed about it himself. As much as he wanted to learn about the world that birthed him, he didn't want to leave his family to do so. He'd tell her after they dropped the kids off, he decided. After all, this wasn't something that they should know yet.
Lois walked into the kitchen with Kiley trailing behind her. As Kiley climbed into her chair, Lois walked over and put her arms around her sweetheart. "I love you." She murmured.
"I love you too," Clark whispered back. "After we drop the kids off, we need to talk."
Wordlessly, Lois reached up and tugged his head down to hers. She kissed him, letting him know that whatever he had to say, it would be all right. She remembered his distress when he came back to her the previous night and knew that whatever he had to talk about had something to do with what had happened. Lois broke off the kiss and touched her forehead to his before moving away to pour juice for Kiley.
Tez searched the Kent's residence quickly until he came across a large stack of books containing various pictures of Kal-El growing up. He had never seen this primitive form of portraiture before and he was fascinated by the flat, paper images that had the appearance of having three dimensions.
Tez flipped through them quickly until he found the most recent photographs. He always had to know what his target looked like before he carried out his orders. Tez looked at the last photograph with puzzlement. It was a family portrait... Kal-El had *children*! <<Milord, I have just run into something... interesting. I will still carry out the mission of murdering Kal-El, but I thought you should know that he has *children*.>>
<<Very good Tez! I have changed my mind... While you are an assassin, this time I want you to do something a bit different. Forget killing Kal-El. I have another assignment for you... One that will destroy Kal-El forever.>> An evil chuckle coming from his master resounded in Tez's head.
A wicked smile stole over Tez's face as the Master filled him in on the new plan. <<Yes, Master...>> Tez broke off the connection, replaced the picture books, and left for Metropolis to carry out his assigned pleasure.
Lois and Clark dropped Joseph off at daycare and walked into the elevator. Clark stopped the elevator before it could reach the newsroom and told Lois about the meeting the night before. Lois stood silently, trying to take it all in as Clark re-started the elevator. When they arrived in the newsroom, Lois grabbed Clark's hand and began to pull him toward one of the conference rooms. Once there, Lois pushed her husband down into a chair. "Let me get this straight," she began, pacing back and forth in front of him. "Sarah, from research, is really this Krypton babe, who has some big plans for you?" At Clark's nod, Lois continued. "So, who is she? Some sort of relation? Your cousin, a sister?" she asked hopefully.
Clark ran his hand through his hair in a nervous gesture that Lois had come to know well. She knew that it meant that he had something to tell her... and she wouldn't like it one bit. "Well, no, apparently... she's my... wife."
Lois stared at him in shock. "Your *wife*?"
"On Krypton," Clark clarified.
"Oh!" Lois began, using the syrupy-sweet tone of voice that meant trouble for *someone*. "Well, we're not on Krypton!" Lois laughed. Her laugh sounded brittle, telling Clark without words how much this new complication hurt her. His heart ached as he stood up and pulled her into his arms.
"Lois," he began quietly, "It's a thing they do. They marry you when you're a baby if you're... of noble blood."
Lois slowly pulled away from her beloved so she could see his face. Clark's whole posture was one of embarrassment and the longer she looked at him, the redder he became. She knew that he was as uncomfortable about this as she was... and that he wouldn't be telling her this if it weren't important. "Noble blood," she repeated, trying to understand.
"Apparently, I'm Lord Kal-El," Clark said uncomfortably, "of the House of El."
"Uh-huh," Lois paused and searched her husband's face before continuing. "And Miss Krypton..."
"Zara," Clark supplied
"...is of course, a big-wig too." She finished.
"No she's not," Lois said dismissively. "She's a whacko! Clark! You don't actually believe any of this!"
"Lois, I was on their spacecraft. *You* saw them fly! You tell me!" Agitated, Clark ran his hand through his hair again.
"Oh yeah, well, you're right, there was the flying, wasn't there," Lois said worriedly.
Clark gently put his arms around Lois, and gave her what comfort he could. "Lois, I'm as blown away by this as you are. I mean, to find out one night that there are living Kryptonians, I've got another wife out there, and there might be a civil war..."
"Civil War? What?" Lois asked.
"That's what happens in their society if the ruling families fall apart," Clark explained.
"I just don't see what this has to do with you...with us," Lois said.
"That's why they're here," Clark said quietly, "They expect me to go back with Zara and rule over New Krypton."
Lois stared at Clark in shock. As her eyes began to fill with tears, Clark moved forward and gathered her into his arms. "Shhh. Baby, it's okay." Clark leaned down and kissed her gently. "I told them no; I won't leave you and our kids."
Lois looked up at her Clark. "I know," she said quietly. "I know that you won't leave us." Clark tightened his arms around his beloved and laid his cheek against her hair. He knew that the New Kryptonians would probably try to convince him to leave... But he couldn't. If they had come ten years ago, it might have been possible. His life was different now and his place was on Earth with his wife and their children. Clark inclined his head towards Lois's and captured her lips with his. Somehow, he would convince the interlopers to leave them alone.
Tez poked around the den inside the Kent's brownstone. He needed information, fast. He could not fulfill his contract without the proper information. It had been easy enough to gain entry to the residence-the occupants had kindly left a window open for him to fly through. Tez rifled through the papers on the desk until he found precisely what he was looking for. This afternoon would be the perfect time to act upon his Master's orders...
Lois took Clark's hand as they walked out of the Conference room and into the newsroom. "I'm not going with them," Clark reiterated.
"Good," Lois growled. "Us wacky Earth women, well, we get mighty cranky about losing our husbands!"
Clark leaned over and kissed her gently. "You're not going to lose me," Clark said quietly. "Not now, not *ever* if I can help it. Sure, I'd like to learn about my heritage, but not at the expense of our family. My home is here... where you, Kiley, Joseph, and our new little one are."
Lois released his hand and slid her arms around his waist. "I'm glad you don't want to go haring across the galaxy on some wild goose chase to court loneliness, violence, and possible death on some space rock... Am I missing the big picture here?"
Clark grabbed Lois's hand and dropped a kiss into the center of her palm. "Lois, don't worry. I know where my home is, and I know who I am. There's no confusion about that, okay?" Before Clark could continue, he heard the voice in his head speaking again. <<Kal-El, we need very much to see you. We're coming to the Planet.>>
Lois watched Clark as his face took on his familiar 'listening' expression. "What's the matter, sweetheart?"
"It's Zara and Ching," he said with a grimace, "They're calling me telepathically. Kryptonians can speak to each other like that. They're coming to the Planet."
"Great. Just great." she said grimly as she settled in to wait.
Clark hugged Lois gently and brought his hand to rest protectively on her gravid belly. He watched the other Kryptonians warily; he knew that they wanted to take him away from his precious family.
Lois brought her hand up to rest on Clark's before speaking. "So, Sarah," Lois began casually, "Um, Zara. All this time I thought you were just this shy, awkward girl working in research." Clark sensing his wife's need to pace, carefully released her. He maintained his protective stance, telling Zara and Ching through body language how important Lois and the child she carried were to him.
"Yes," Zara stated.
Lois began speaking in the syrupy sweet tone that Clark knew signified that Mad Dog Lane would soon be coming out to play. "I used to tease Clark that you might have a little crush on him. Didn't I Clark?" Lois glanced at her husband for confirmation before continuing. "And he'd say, 'Oh, Lois, you're being silly,' and then we'd laugh." Lois giggled nervously. She knew that Clark would again refuse to accompany these strangers, but somehow she still had a bit of trepidation about their presence. "That was before we realized that you were, of course, married to him." Lois finished flatly.
"So, Kal-El has told you," Zara commented.
"Oh yes," Lois said with a sweet smile adorning her face. "I'm his *wife*; he told me everything. Not telepathically, of course. The old fashioned way... talking of course."
"And Ching," Lois said shooting a sharp glance at him, "You are..."
"Lieutenant, bodyguard, and defender to the death of Lady Zara," Ching said quietly. He was becoming more and more uncomfortable with this whole situation. He had never wanted to take Kal-El away from Earth in the first place... and Kal-El's wife had every reason to be upset.
"Uh-huh," Lois said. "Well, listen. See, I know what you want from Clark, and frankly, I think you've got a lot of nerve." She looked expectantly at Ching, waiting to see some sort of response.
Ching looked down and scuffed his toe against the floor. "I never wanted to do any of this," he muttered. Lois looked at Ching in shock. She'd suspected that he was somehow on their side, but this was the first time her suspicions had been confirmed--his last words had been just loud enough to hear clearly.
"What Clark doesn't realize is the urgency of our plight," Zara interrupted Lois's thoughts. "Lord Nor is closing in on us."
"Who is Lord Nor?" Clark asked.
Zara looked at Clark for a second, as if she expected him to know of the threat Lord Nor posed to her world. "Next in line for my hand, should you annul our union," she explained.
"Oh, well that's good!" Lois exclaimed enthusiastically. "Then the trip's not a total loss!"
Ching smiled sadly. "Nor is a monster, a soulless brigand who would joyfully enslave all who oppose him."
"Marriage to me would ensure his reign, and he would do anything to achieve that." Zara said, looking a bit desperate.
"He's already dispatched an assassin to dispose of his problem," Ching said quietly.
"His problem being?" Clark asked.
Ching looked at his Lord and Master sadly. "You."
"Does this assassin have powers like you and Clark?" Lois asked.
Ching grimaced. "No, he's not Kryptonian. On the other hand, he has never failed."
"You can see how desperate Nor is," Zara stated quietly, "and why it is imperative that we return quickly."
"Wait a minute," Clark interrupted. "You're asking us to trust you... How do you know that you're not agents of this Lord Nor yourself? Besides, didn't I tell you that I won't go?"
"Yeah," Lois chimed in. "It's not exactly like you've been the souls of honesty, you know! Why should *my* husband and I believe anything you say? Good, Clark!" A pleased smile spread over Lois's face as she turned to Clark. She moved closer to him and he put his arms around her, holding her close.
Zara looked at the happy couple consideringly. She still hated the fact that *her* Kal-El was in the arms of an Earth woman, but that would soon be remedied when she got him away from Earth. Due to the records that Jor-El left behind, she was in possession of some knowledge that Kal-El currently did not have... Knowledge that would prove that this time, she was telling him the truth. "Do you have the craft that you first journeyed to Earth in?" she asked.
Lois and Clark exchanged a glance. They had managed to obtain possession of Clark's spaceship a few years back. It was now carefully hidden behind a false wall in the basement of their brownstone. "I know where to get it," Clark answered quietly.
Zara nodded sharply. "Good. Then go retrieve it. We'll meet you back at our vessel."
Lois and Clark watched silently as Zara and Ching left the Conference Room. Clark glanced at his watch and noted the time. "We need to pick up Kiley before we get my ship," he said quietly.
Lois looked at him and nodded. "Sweetheart, it's okay," she said reassuringly. She knew the expression he now wore on his face. He was obsessing again. She knew that she could ease the obsession soon enough, but they had to get Kiley from preschool and drop her off at daycare first.
Tez lurked around the Daily Planet building. He had looked up when the Kent's oldest child got out of preschool; he still had time to wait for his targets to bring the older child to him. It was only a matter of time before he could fulfill his Master's wishes. Until then, all he could do was to lurk unnoticed in the background. Tez changed his guise into that of an old bag lady and tottered across the street to settle on one of the benches and wait for his prey to appear.
Clark stood in Zara's and Ching's spaceship with his arm around Lois's waist. He was determined not to leave Earth; no matter what Zara and Ching had to show him. He needed his wife's physical closeness... in a strange sort of way, part of him wanted to help these people, but with Lois by his side, he knew that he had made the right decision. Together, Lois and Clark moved closer to the tiny ship that Clark had retrieved from their basement.
Zara and Ching stood close by, examining the by now obsolete little craft that had brought their Lord to Earth. "I'm surprised, Kal-El, that you have chosen to share the location of our vessel with an outsider," Zara said frostily. She had wanted to share this with Kal-El in privacy, away from the Earthling he had married. After all, Kal-El was hers by law... and she intended to claim what was hers. She had hoped that showing him the evidence aboard the ship would help to create a bond between them; she knew of Kal-El's thirst for knowledge of his homeland.
"Lois is not an outsider," Clark stated quietly, "Lois is my wife and I share everything with her." Clark kissed Lois softly. He knew that he was probably kissing her for the wrong reasons; he wanted to prove to these interlopers that for him, leaving was simply not an option... He
needed his wife with him, not halfway across the universe.
Ching stood in the background, watching the play before him. He knew that Kal-El did not wish to leave... and that it would take drastic action to convince him to do so. Ching had seen into Clark's heart and knew of the depth of emotion and commitment he had with his Lois. Ching bit the inside of his cheek thoughtfully as he contemplated the scene in front of him, and again wished that he might find someone to love him the way Lois loved her Clark. <While I'm at it,> he thought bitterly, <I might as well wish that Zara would give me more notice than a piece of tapestry.>
Zara looked at Lois and Clark curiously. "And don't you find this constant intimacy draining?" she asked. In many ways she, too, envied them. She wanted that kind of relationship for herself... with Kal-El.
Lois and Clark exchanged a glance. "No," they said simultaneously with conviction. They were sure in the knowledge of their commitment to each other. After all, their sixth wedding anniversary was the next Sunday, and they'd been best friends, partners, and finally dated in the three years before that.
Zara stared at the couple for another few minutes before asking, "Kal-El...Clark, can you read these symbols?" She ran her hand over the writing impressed upon the body of the ship.
Clark looked at her in puzzlement. "No. They look kind of like a cross between Russian and Arabic... are they Kryptonian?"
Zara flashed a brief smile at him and began to read the letters. "'Behold Kal-El the Noble of Krypton, born from the House of Lo and into the House of El.' The symbols go on to direct Kal... Clark... to place his hand alongside the hand of Zara from the House of Ra." Zara reached out and put her hand into a geometric shaped depression on the front of the ship.
Slowly, ever so slowly, without releasing his hold on Lois, Clark put his left hand in the other depression on the face of the ship. When both of their hands were in place, the 'S' shield upon the front of the ship lit up and a hologram issued forth from it. Clark started in surprise; it was the same man whose hologram had been projected from his globe.
A familiar voice issued from the hologram. "I am Jor-El, the father of Kal-El." For a brief moment, Clark considered removing his hand from the ship, however, the hologram had only activated when he had touched it, so he let his hand rest where it was.
The hologram continued to speak. "If I am being seen it means that both Kal-El and his birthwife, Zara, are alive and together, for only your unified touch can activate this image... just as only your unified lives will keep strong the dream of a peaceful Krypton. My son, I do not know if you will ever see this message, but remember this: your mother and I love you. We only wish for you to uphold the traditions and values of our people. My voice reaches across the galaxies, calling upon my son to keep alive the watchfires of his people, bringing them from the darkness of chaos and into the light of peace." The hologram turned
his gaze upon Clark before continuing. "My dear son, that is my legacy, that is your destiny."
The hologram smiled as it gazed upon Clark. "Kal-El, my dear child, I know not how old you are or who you have become. Take up your destiny; be the standard bearer for our people so that they might not wander in the darkness of uncertainty." Suddenly, the hologram cut off with a jolt of static, leaving the foursome alone in silence.
Clark removed his hand from the ship and stared off into space for a moment before turning to Zara and Ching. "This changes nothing," he said firmly. "This is my home. I have a family to take care of. I have responsibilities here and I will not leave them."
Lois covered his hand with hers, silently giving him the reassurance and support he needed. She knew her husband as well as she knew herself and she could feel the turmoil within him. Lois knew that sooner or later, when he was ready, Clark would tell her what was bothering him... they had long since stopped keeping secrets from one another. She also knew that such things were often better said in privacy; without the audience that currently watched them.
Zara stared at the couple for a moment, thinking furiously. "We will give you some time to think this over," she said quietly. "Ching." Zara gestured to her bodyguard and walked behind some of the tapestries.
Tez shifted forms into the semblance of Kal-El and walked into the Daily Planet's childcare center. "Hello," Tez/Clark began, "I'm here to pick up my kids." Tez did his best to act as Kal-El would, but he must have somehow slipped... the woman behind the counter gave him a strange look before she silently walked into the room where Kal-El's children were playing.
Kiley was puzzled. It was far too early for her Daddy to be there, yet Ms. Linda said that he was waiting for them. Kiley frowned. There must be something wrong. Daddy never came this early... Ms. Linda held out her hand to Kiley and Kiley gave her a measuring glance before taking it. Kiley walked out of the room with Joseph and Ms. Linda determined to figure out exactly what the problem was.
Tez watched as the woman walked over to Kal-El's children and spoke to them. She gently took their hands and led the kids out to the waiting room. The little boy took one look at him and began to cry.
"What's the matter, sweetie?" Ms. Linda asked.
Joseph glanced at Tez again before answering. "He not Daddy." Joseph said stuffily. "*Not Daddy*! Jo'eph want Daddy."
Tez looked at the little boy in horror. <How could he know?> Tez wondered.
Kiley looked at Tez for a moment before chiming in. "Joseph is right. That's not Daddy." She had known something was wrong from the start... Whoever the man in front of them was, it was definitely not her daddy; he simply 'Felt' wrong.
Ms. Linda picked Joseph up, clutched Kiley's hand to her side tightly, and began to back toward the safety of the playroom. There was a phone with a direct line to the Planet's security guards inside as well as a deadbolt on the door. They had put such measures in place last year after a kidnapping attempt on one of the international news reporter's children. Before she could reach the door however, the strange man had disappeared. Soon, after notifying the authorities of the aborted kidnapping attempt, Ms. Linda had comforted Joseph and the children were again playing happily. However, one difference was to be noted... Kiley stayed protectively by her brother's side.
All was silent in the Kent household that night. The children were safely in dreamland while Lois slept encircled in Clark's strong arms. Both the authorities and their children had informed Lois and Clark of the kidnapping attempt, but they didn't think that they really had to worry... at least when they were safe in their own home. Both of them knew that the kidnapping attempt could very well be linked to the assassin Lord Nor had sent after Clark, but they simply had no proof. With the children tucked securely in their beds, and all of the doors and windows locked, the couple thought it was unlikely that any other attempts would be made. As an added protection, Clark's superhearing would pick up any break-ins, so they felt doubly safe.
Tez flew through the night to the Kent's residence wearing the shape of an owl. <There are advantages to this form,> he thought. <I should use it on my next assignment when I need to be silent>. After noting that the occupants of the house were sleeping soundly, Tez gained access to Kal-El's children by flying down through the chimney and up the stairs. He flew silently into Kiley's room, shed his owl shape for his natural form, and injected the little girl with just enough sedative to ensure that she would not wake. He picked her up and took her with him as he slid soundlessly down the hallway to get Joseph. Within minutes, Tez walked out of the house with a sleeping child under each arm. He took them to his ship, which he had hidden close by, and carefully set them down in a containment area. Tez checked his chronometer... it was much too late to contact his master; it would have to wait until the next day.
<<Kal-El. Wake up.>>
Clark woke with Zara's voice echoing in his head. <<What?>> he asked groggily, relying entirely on instinct to answer her.
<<Come to the park. There are things we must discuss.>>
Clark groaned, pulled his pillow over his head as if to block out the sound, and snuggled closer to Lois. <<Lemme alone. Am busy.>>
<<Kal-El, come *now* or I'll start yelling for Superman!>>
Clark sighed. If she started yelling for Superman, he'd have to go anyway; for all he knew she really could be in trouble. <<Give me a few minutes and I'll be there.>> he sent before halfheartedly dragging himself out of bed. Clark looked at the clock and winced. It was 5:30 in the morning. He wrote a note for Lois to let her know where to find him before pulling on jeans, a flannel shirt, and his favorite leather jacket. It was far too early for her to be up, so he decided to let her sleep, and it wouldn't be time to wake the children up for another hour and a half. Clark unlocked the window flew out, relying on superspeed to keep from being seen. Within seconds, he landed in the park.
<<I'm over by the fountain.>> Zara's mind voice said.
Clark walked over to the fountain and found her on the far side. He had fond memories of the fountain; it was where he had proposed to Lois... And later where she had proposed to him.
"Kal-El," Zara's voice cut off the stream of memories that threatened to overwhelm him.
"Yes?" he answered. "Coming here doesn't mean that I've changed my mind. I'm staying here on Earth where I belong." Clark glanced at Zara and shoved his hands in his pockets. "I love Lois. I love our children and our life together. I'm not leaving her. The feelings I have for her and our family are the greatest gift that anyone can receive! My feelings for my wife are the most wonderful things in the universe."
"And they're selfish, certainly for people born of noble blood," Zara rejoined.
Clark gave her a long look and again attempted to explain. "This thing I have with Lois, it's the kind of thing you grab on to, and you never, ever let go of, because it's one of the few perfect things in this world, and I value it above all else. Above my own life. Zara, I've told you that I can't go with you and I mean it." Zara simply stared at him for a few moments. "Did you hear what I said?" Clark asked.
"Yes, Kal-El, I heard your words," Zara said, a tiny smile flitting across her face. "But I also know your thoughts. Part of you wants to go with me so that the thousands of surviving Kryptonians will not perish. You really haven't truly made up your mind at all."
Clark sighed heavily and burrowed his hands further into his pockets. "I need to go," he said finally. Clark took off and flew quickly home.
Tez closed his eyes and reached out to feel the mind-presence of his master. <<Milord,>> he called out and waited for an answer.
<<Tez, *report*!>> The voice of Lord Nor came through loud and clear.
<<I have the children of Kal-El.>> Tez answered. <<What would you have me do with them milord?>>
<<Kill them, of course>> came the bored reply. <<Not right away; wait until Kal-El is there to watch. Then dispose of him for me. Until then, keep them sedated... We can't have them escaping and finding their parents now can we?>> An evil laugh echoed through Tez's head.
Tez smiled, this job was getting better by the moment. <<My pleasure, milord>> Tez replied. He needed to find a way to lure Kal-El to his ship. From there it would be simple enough to obey his master's wishes.
Lois woke slowly. She was still a bit tired from the previous day's exertions... and Clark, her hot water bottle, was missing. It didn't take long for Lois to spot the note on the dresser.
"Dear Lois," it read.
"I have to go meet Zara to convince her that I'm staying here with you and our family. I'll be back soon. I love you.
Lois smiled as she set the note down. She grabbed her husband's robe and pulled it on quickly. It was a bit chilly in the house and she loved the way his robe smelled of him. She made her way to Joseph's room to wake him up. She stuck her head through the doorway, waiting for the familiar sight of her little one fast asleep. She wasn't surprised to discover that he wasn't in his crib. Mentally, Lois shrugged. Since Joseph had learned how to get out of his crib, it wasn't unusual to find him playing in his sister's room early in the morning. Clark had intended upon converting the crib into a toddler bed this week, but because of recent events, he had not yet found the time to disassemble it and then reassemble it in its new form.
Lois walked down the hall and peeked into Kiley's room. It was empty. <There's no reason to panic> she thought to herself. Lois walked to the bathroom and checked in there. Soon, she began to search the house, looking for signs that her kids were there. Nothing. Panic filled her heart as she realized that Kiley and Joseph were not in the house. She remembered the kidnapping attempt of the previous day with a shudder. It was obvious what had happened; her babies had been stolen! Lois fell to her knees in shock and horror. "*Clark*!" she yelled.
Within seconds, Clark burst into the house and landed next to her. "What's the matter, honey?" he asked, a worried look on his face.
"Kiley and Joseph are... gone," Lois said with tears welling up in her eyes. She drew in a shaky breath, "I've looked everywhere; they're not here!"
Clark reached out his hand and helped Lois up. "I'll look for them," he said softly. "You call the police, ok?" Clark took a deep breath and began to carefully x-ray the house as Lois made her way to the phone. Clark looked at Lois, his eyes haunted by the fact that he had found
"They're not here." Clark said, fighting to control his emotions. His children had been kidnapped and he, Superman, had been unable to prevent it. Clark felt an enormous weight of guilt pressing down on him; his children, above all, should be safe from the kind of person who would snatch them from their beds. He should have been able to stop it; he should have been aware of it as it happened.
But, for the sake of their children, he couldn't afford to give into the luxury of his guilt; he had to concentrate. He locked away the guilt and pain in the back of his mind and heart. He knew he would pay for it later, but now was the time to find their babies. He took a deep breath to calm himself. "After the police get here, I'm going to locate Kiley and Joseph and bring them home." Clark strode over to Lois and put his arms around her. Lois burrowed her face into his neck; each of them took comfort in the other's presence. Together, they would find the kidnapper, put him in jail, and reunite with their little ones.
It didn't take long for the police to arrive; because of the attempt the previous day, they had been on alert. Inspector Henderson was the first on the scene. Lois and Clark were almost celebrities in Metropolis, and he didn't want to see anything happen to their children. Kiley and Joseph were adorable... they made him think of his own kids at that age. He knew that he would have been frantic if he had awakened one morning to find them missing... and Lois and Clark probably felt the same way. With all of the criminals that Lois and Clark had brought to justice over the years, it was very likely that the children were in serious danger. Because of their connection to Superman, it was also probable that Kiley and Joseph were hidden in a place that was soundproofed and shielded by lead.
Henderson interviewed the couple quickly. There were very few people in Metropolis who could pull this kind of job. After all, the kidnapper had entered a locked house, stolen two small children, and gotten out without leaving fingerprints, waking anyone up, or leaving any other kinds of evidence. It was the rare cat burglar who could do such a thing. "Lois, Clark, we'll do our best to find them," he said gently. "We'll put a tap on your phone in case of a ransom demand, and we need to have one of you stay here at all times just in case the perpetrator calls." After Lois volunteered to stay and keep an eye on the phone, Henderson bid the couple farewell and vowed to himself that he would pull as many strings as he could to make sure that the Kent children were returned home safely.
With shaking fingers, Lois picked up the phone and called Perry to let him know what had transpired. "Perry," she said, her voice audibly trembling. "Kiley and Joseph have been... kidnapped. Clark and I won't be coming in today okay?"
"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry said sounding concerned. "Lois, darlin' don't worry about working today. We'll run a story on the front page in this afternoon's edition to help try to find the kids. The Planet takes care of its own. You concentrate on finding those kids of yours okay?"
Lois shakily answered him before hanging up the phone. Clark kissed her quickly and whispered that he was going to find the children before quietly exiting the house. Lois collapsed onto the couch and put her arms around her legs as she watched the uniformed cops dust for prints. If the assassin that Lord Nor sent was responsible for this, she doubted that they would find any strange prints. Lois frowned, when Clark found him, this guy would pay. *No one* kidnapped Lois Lane's babies and got away with it. Lois settled in for the long haul. She hated waiting more than anything, but in case the kidnapper called with a ransom demand, she had to sit by the phone and wait.
Clark, as Superman, flew slowly over the city, x-raying every inch of it. He had to find Kiley and Joseph before something worse happened to them. He forced himself not to remember the number of kidnappings in recent years that had ended with the death of the child. Clark carefully concentrated on the waterfront district; there were a number of abandoned warehouses there that would be ideal to hide two small children in. Some of the insides of the warehouses were covered in layer after layer of old lead-based paint. These he had to search on foot. As he picked yet another lock, he was thankful that Lois had taught him the finer points of breaking and entering some years ago.
Finding nothing, Clark again took off and began to search another section of the city.
Kiley opened her eyes slowly, aware that wherever she was, it was definitely not her house. Without lifting her head, she noted that she was in a large white bubble-like room, and her little brother lay beside her. She shivered a bit; the room was cold and she was only wearing her pajamas. Kiley hugged Clarkie-bear closer to her; thankful that he
had somehow been brought along to provide her with much-needed comfort in this alien environment. She remembered all of the stories about her mother's frequent kidnappings; so she knew precisely how to get herself and her brother out of the kidnapper's clutches. However, from the stories she had heard from Grandpa Perry, Kiley realized that if she could get a good look at whoever had snatched her and Joseph, the police would take him to jail. Patiently, she moved closer to Joseph, snuggling up to his still sleeping form to await their captor.
Perry paced back and forth in his office. He loved those kids. Lois and Clark were like his children; and their little ones had been his surrogate grandchildren since the day they were born. He had been delighted when they had begun to call him 'Grandpa Perry' just as Alice loved it when they called her 'Grandma Alice'. Their own children and grandchildren lived so far away that it was wonderful to have 'family' close to them. He would do everything he could to ensure *his* grandchildren's safe return. Perry stopped pacing and picked up the phone to call in some favors.
Tez paced back in forth in the other room of his ship. He knew he had to check to make sure that his captives were still asleep soon, but he didn't relish the thought. His contract made sure that he obeyed his Master's orders, but he was an assassin, born and bred for the purpose. It went against every instinct in him to keep captives alive; he wanted to kill. The sweetness of the hunt was over--he had his prey, but he was forbidden to do as his instincts demanded. Kal-El's children were his rightful victims... and their parents would be left behind to grieve. The grief of the loved ones left behind was as important as the kill itself; his kind fed on the fear of their victims as well as the grief of those left behind. The grief of a parent for a lost child was the most delicious of all. Tez licked his lips in anticipation; he was hungry and it was a long time since he had fed on such emotions.
Tez ran a long, finger-talon down the side of his face, and decided that he had to check on his victims. He carefully opened the door and stepped inside. Tez examined the children from a distance--they were still sleeping, and from the look of things, they would be for quite sometime. He returned to the other room, shutting and locking the
door behind him with a palm print. Swiftly, he changed forms and flew to the residence from which he had stolen Kal-El's children the night before.
He examined it carefully, looking for any sign of the blue-coated men called 'police'. There were men like them on every planet, men who would stop him from carrying out his assigned pleasure. Every job he took, he always made sure to find out what these men looked like; to be caught would be to fail... and he knew the penalty for those of his species that failed. Tez snuck silently into the house, looking for Kal-El or his mate. He soon found the woman sitting on the couch. He looked at her and smiled evilly.
"I shall enjoy killing them," he said in a thin whispery voice that sent chills up Lois's spine. "Kal-El is strong, those with the strength to resist only die more slowly. I watch the fear in their eyes, as the last flicker of life goes dark. The terror of your children will be even more enjoyable as their life force trickles from them. I will savor it as I now savor the fear I see in your eyes."
"I'm not afraid of you," Lois growled. She stood up suddenly and moved closer to him, prepared to hurt this creature who had taken her babies.
"You stupid creature! I can feel your fear. But it's not you I want. You must be left behind to grieve." Tez ran one of his finger talons down her cheek before continuing. "What is the use of killing without a griever?" Tez chortled wheezily, the air rattling in his lungs.
Lois glared at the assassin, "You be afraid," she said, "you have no idea what you're up against."
Tez laughed again before shifting into the shape of a swallow and flying out the open window.
Lois collapsed on the couch, shivering. She picked up the phone and enabled the 'follow me' function to forward all of the calls to the house to her cell phone before grabbing her coat and heading out. Within minutes, she entered Zara and Ching's spaceship. She found Zara sitting at the table, with an open book in front of her. Lois put a hand on Zara's arm to get her attention. "I just want you to leave," she said quietly. I want you to go away and leave us alone, so this person will have no reason to kill Clark, Kiley, and Joseph. I'm begging you!" she finished tearfully.
"I can't go," Zara rejoined, "Lois, there are too many lives at stake," Zara looked at Lois with a smile. "I've been trained to rule; in the grand scheme of things, one family isn't as important as a whole civilization. I am here to bring Kal-El back to save my people; the lives of my people hang on his decision."
"What about Clark's life? What about my life? What about our *children's* lives?"
"If Kal-El does not return, Lord Nor will seize power, which will divide all of the ruling houses in the hold that they have over the people. Riots will be followed by mass murders, followed by civil war." Zara said seriously.
Lois had no doubts that Zara was telling her the truth; her years of experience as a reporter told her that. However, there was one thing she desperately needed to know. "Do you love Clark?" She asked.
"This was never a question of love," Zara began. "What I'm talking about is more important than two people's love; it's more important than one family."
"I've always thought that love and family were the most important things there are," Lois said quietly.
"I know how much you love Clark, and what he feels for you and your children. I wish that Clark could stay here forever, but Kal-El cannot." Zara favored Lois with a serious look. Inside however, she knew that she probably shouldn't be lying to Lois. She simply couldn't let her know of her plans to steal Kal-El away... this woman of Earth would be yesterday's news when they got to New Krypton. Kal-El had been exclusively hers since birth and she would not let him stay with his wife and half-breed children. He belonged on New Krypton...with her.
"You're asking Kiley, Joseph, and I to sacrifice everything...for a world we'll never see," Lois said.
"I'm asking you to save an entire world," Zara corrected gently.
Unable to bear another moment in Zara's presence, Lois fled, returning home again to wait by the phone for the call that would tell her of her children's safe return.
Clark sat on the park bench and wearily rested his head in his hands. It was nearing dark, and he had spent the entire day searching the city for Kiley and Joseph. More than anything, he wanted to hold his children in his arms.
Wherever they were, they were probably cold, hungry, and frightened. He wanted to give his babies the assurance that they were safe; he swore that he would never let anyone take them from him ever again. He would keep his family safe if it killed him; he couldn't stand the thought of any of them hurt or scared.
Clark pushed his glasses up far enough to rub at his aching eyes. He was invulnerable, but twelve hours of using his x-ray vision was enough to make his head and eyes hurt. He was settling his glasses back on his face when he heard something. A wide grin split his face as he realized what the sound was. He looked around quickly, seeing no one, he ducked into a stand of trees and spun quickly into the suit and took off in the direction of the noise.
Kiley opened her eyes again. She had peeked when the kidnapper had entered the room again to look at them. This time, she had gotten a really good look. The most difficult part had been convincing Joseph to pretend to be asleep while their captor was in the room. Kiley sat up and looked over at her brother. It was well past his naptime and she knew, from the growling in her tummy, that it was past dinnertime too. Joseph was curled up into a ball with his thumb in his mouth. He had her Clarkie-bear cuddled up under one arm as well.
Kiley took a deep breath. It was time. "*Help, Superman*!" she screamed. Kiley sat back to wait. D-Superman would be there soon to rescue them and take them home.
Tez burst into the room and glared at her evilly. She refused to be scared; help was on the way.
Clark flew over a grove of trees and landed in a clearing in the center of it. He x-rayed the area, looking for the source of the call for help that had jolted him from his reverie. Within seconds, he had seen something that could not be seen with the naked eye. <How very star-trekish,> he thought as he walked toward the 'cloaked' vessel. He approached the side of the ship where the children were and ripped it open like a tin can. With a burst of superspeed, he dashed forward and snatched his kids as their kidnapper advanced toward them. He flew off, holding Kiley and Joseph securely in his arms. The first thing he had to do was to take them home where they would be safe; he would deal with their captor in a few minutes.
Clark flew home as quickly as he dared with his precious burden. He made soothing noises as his baby girl threw her arms around his neck and began to cry. Minutes later, Clark landed in front of the house, went inside, and handed the still-sleeping Joseph to Lois while he gently soothed away Kiley's tears before placing her in Lois's waiting arms. "I'll be back to check on your kids," he said, "But first I have to go catch a kidnapper." Clark flew back to the cloaked ship and began to scout the area for the person who had stolen his children. Tez was nowhere to be seen. He growled in frustration and flew home. Clark flew into the upstairs bedroom window and quickly spun back into his street clothes. He and Lois called Perry and the police to let them know of the children's safe return and spent most of the rest of the evening cuddling and reassuring Kiley and Joseph.
Tez grimaced as he began to prepare to contact his Master.
He hadn't failed... yet. There was still time to kill Kal-El and the children, but he didn't want to hear what Lord Nor would say when he told him about the rescue. Out of petty spitefulness, he decided not to tell his Lord about the strange abilities Kal-El possessed. With a deep sigh, Tez sent out a query. <<Master?>>
<<What have you to report, assassin?>>, came the reply.
<<Kal-El rescued his children; he has become... bothersome, and his wife is just as bad.>> Tez sent.
<<Fine. Kill Kal-El first and then dispose of his children. I can't have any claimants from the House of El getting in my way.>> Nor's mind-voice sounded bored as he ordered the murders.
<<Yes, Milord.>> Tez sent with an evil chuckle. He would definitely enjoy this.
Martha checked her watch again. Clark was late. They'd made plans for herself and Jonathan to come to Metropolis for a long weekend. After all, Lois's and Clark's six year anniversary was on Sunday, so it gave them time to spend with the grandkids. Lois and Clark had been planning on getting away for the weekend, leaving them to baby-sit Kiley and Joseph. Martha glanced at her watch a final time before picking up the phone and dialing her son's number. As the phone began to ring, Jonathan walked in the room.
"Clark?" Martha said as her son picked up on the other end. "You're late, sweetie. What happened? Joseph and Kiley were *kidnapped*?" At those words, Jonathan picked up the other phone to listen in.
"Clark Jerome Kent! As soon as those babies are asleep, you're flying your butt to Smallville and bringing your father and me to Metropolis! They're asleep now? Then I expect you here in ten minutes. You *know* that after today, Joseph probably won't tolerate daycare for a while! Clark, I said *now*. Tell Lois that you're coming to get us so we can watch the kids. We need to talk about this whole mess. I'll see you in a few minutes."
Martha hung up the phone and went to get the beam-splitter and the toys that she had picked up for her grandchildren. Within minutes, Clark was there; he took the luggage and then came back for his parents one at a time. It wasn't long before they were sitting in the living room of their children's home. Martha offered to watch the children sleep so that Lois and Clark could go talk to Zara and Ching about the kidnapping...and find a way to protect the kids from the likes of Lord Nor and Tez.
Hand-in-hand, Lois and Clark entered the New Kryptonians' vessel. Clark knew that he probably could have contacted them telepathically, but not only was he not in complete control of this newly discovered ability, but also this interview would best be conducted in person. He couldn't help but think that if they had not come his family would be safe. He felt a surge of irrational anger towards them for being here... he almost hated them for their very existence.
He was very much aware that he and Lois had not yet had the chance to talk about many of the events that had transpired in the last few days. Swiftly, he composed himself for the coming confrontation. Clark wanted to know exactly why they remained on Earth; why they refused to leave without him.
Zara 'Felt' Kal-El enter the vessel. Silently, she called Ching and strode forward to meet her visitor. Her eyes narrowed as she saw Lois with him... she refused to be reconciled to the fact that he was *married* to this--creature. "Hello, Kal-El," she began quietly, "I trust that you have made your decision?"
Clark looked at Zara, the pain and suffering that he had underwent in the past few hours shining forth from his eyes. "I told you 'no' our first meeting; as of this moment in time, it has not changed. I want to know why; we want to know why. Nor's assassin kidnapped Kiley and Joseph; they could have been killed by that monster!"
"Why is he attacking us?" Lois asked softly, her question almost a plea.
Zara collapsed into a chair as Ching entered the room. "Ching will explain," she said as she brought her head down to rest in her hands. She couldn't tell them. Kal-El's pain was far too easy to see. She wanted to take him in her arms and kiss away the pain, fear, and worry that he had suffered for his offspring.
Ching gazed at the royal couple seriously before replying. Kal-El had chosen Lois for his mate; as far as Ching was concerned, that made her equal to Zara. "Clark, Lois," he began. "Lord Nor most likely wanted to hurt you before eliminating you. Clark, you and your children are the only thing that stands between him and ruling our planet. Kiley and Joseph are, as of yet, too young to be of any threat to him, but you are not. It is often his way of playing with those he considers rivals before taking them out of the picture." Ching looked at them sadly.
"Even if you defeat Tez, this will not be the last attempt. Nor will continue to send assassin after assassin until you, Kiley, Joseph, and your wife's unborn child are all dead. He is utterly without conscience or scruples. The Council ordered me to come; I didn't like their orders then and I don't like them now. However, Clark, you are the best hope for saving our world. I can't promise much, but I know Nor. If you come with us, he will ignore the children and Lois in favor of focusing on you; as Lord Kal-El you are the greater threat to him."
Lois and Clark exchanged a glance. Clark looked at Ching measuringly for a moment. "Lois and I need to talk about this," he said after a long pause. Without another word, Lois and Clark left the ship and headed home. Martha and Jonathan were waiting for them.
Clark finished filling his parents in on the past few days and looked at them expectantly.
"So, if you do go to this New Krypton," Martha began, "The children will be safe, Lois will be safe, but you won't have any of your powers, is that right?"
"Ching swears that Nor would leave them alone... and yes, I will be like anyone else," Clark answered.
"Able to die like anyone else," Lois reminded him quietly. She hated the thought of him leaving, but she knew it would be almost worse to live through day after day of the kind she had just endured. Clark would go to any lengths to protect her and their children... even leave for a brief period of time to keep them safe.
"So, help me out here. What do you guys think I should do?" Clark asked after a long pause.
"Oh, Clark," Martha said. "Do you know how much I want to say that you should tell these people to just get lost, that this isn't your problem; that you can find a way to keep Lois, Kiley, and Joseph safe without going with them?"
"And I guess a lot of folks would say that's the smart thing to do," Jonathan said.
"When your father and I were young, we marched for civil rights," Martha explained.
"We were hit by fire hoses, chased by dogs... Ah, it was something... Most of the people we met were like us, they just wanted to make sure that their children could grow up safely; they didn't want their kids to have to worry about the things that they did growing up," Jonathan remembered.
"And people said to us, 'Why should you go there? This isn't your fight!' and I didn't even know what to say! Because it was something we believed in," Martha continued.
"We've never been asked to send you off to war, son, but if we were, and you asked me, 'Should I go?', I'd say to you, 'Is this your fight?'" Jonathan looked at his son, love shining in his eyes. His boy sat in front of him, his boy that he was proud of.
"Is this something you believe in? Is it worth going with them after the kidnapper is behind bars to ensure that the children and Lois are safe?" Martha asked.
Clark closed his eyes in sudden pain. Their words struck like a hot knife through his heart. He felt Lois's arms come around him, helping him bear the burden of the decision that these interlopers had forced them to make. He heard his parents slip out of the room and head upstairs to give them some space.
"Maybe Nor would leave us alone if I abdicated." Clark said, strain evident in his voice. He opened his eyes and looked at her, almost pleading to be told that the decision he dreaded could be delayed.
Lois put her hand on the side of his face and caressed it gently. "Sweetheart," she began. "How many megalomaniacs have we dealt with over the years? This Nor person sounds almost like Lex to me. Do you *really* think that he'll leave us alone? After all, the children can be considered heirs even though they can't go to New Krypton."
"You're right," Clark whispered. "He probably hates me for even existing. And as long as I stay, you, our kids, and my parents are in danger because of the blasted locator chip in my arm. I don't want to admit it, but I think that Nor has to be dealt with, and I can't see any other way of doing that than going with Zara and Ching." Clark closed his eyes as a fresh wave of pain swept over him. Without opening his eyes, he pulled Lois to him. Somehow he felt that what he had to say would be easier if he didn't look at her.
"I could hate them easily, you know," he began harshly. "I could hate all of them. Especially Jor-El. Why couldn't he have told me in the globe's messages from the beginning 'Kal, don't bother to fall in love, get married, and start a family. Because guess what! You're probably not the only survivor and in thirty-five years or so, the other survivors will come and rip you away from the place you call home and all the people you love. Just don't *bother* to have a life of your own!'" Clark spat out bitterly. He opened his eyes and looked at his wife, the pent up emotion of the past few days surfacing with a vengeance. Tears began to stream down his cheeks as he struggled to control himself.
Lois gathered him close to her and comforted him as he sobbed into her shoulder. He seldom let go like this and let her help bear this kind of pain. It had been a long time since he had cursed fate as he did now; and the best thing she could do for him was to simply hold him close.
"Shh, sweetheart, it's okay. We'll get through this." Lois climbed to her feet, gently pulling him with her.
They would inform Zara and Ching of their decision in the morning; for now, Clark needed her. Lois pulled him into their room and began to gently kiss away the tears. She yanked his shirt from his jeans and slid her hands underneath it. She tugged the shirt off of him and began to trail open-mouthed kisses down his chest. Tonight, he needed to hold onto her to assure himself that she was there for him, she loved him, and that she knew he was meant to have a life with her; tomorrow would take care of itself.
The next morning, Lois and Clark left Kiley and Joseph with their grandparents and went to see Zara and Ching. They approached the space ship and entered it hand in hand. Zara and Ching appeared from behind the tapestry and walked over to them. "You have something to tell us, Kal-El?" Zara asked.
Clark took a deep breath and squeezed Lois's hand. "*We* have something to tell you," he stated firmly.
Lois freed her hand and slipped her arm around her husband's waist. "He and I have decided that he should help you in your struggle," Lois said as she fought desperately to keep her voice steady.
"And you both understand that Lois and the children must remain here? She would never survive the other world... and it is possible that the children would not either," Zara stated.
"We understand," Clark said.
Misery radiated from the couple, causing Ching to wince in sympathy. He was a marginal empath, and the couple's pain hung thickly in the air. He sincerely hoped that somehow, Clark's unhappiness would soften a bit. If not, the trip to their homeworld would be torture until he taught his
Lord how to properly use and shield the mind gifts he had been born with. Ching slowly approached Lois. "I know exactly what you're giving up," he said compassionately.
Lois looked into his eyes and noted the sadness that lurked within. She didn't know this man's story, but something in his past must have affected him to the point that he was militant about keeping families together. Somehow, she knew that he understood. "I know you do," she said softly.
"Excellent," Zara said approvingly. "We'll make arrangements to leave as soon as Tez is no longer a hazard. He won't willingly let you leave, Kal-El. Can you overcome him?"
"Zara," Clark began, "First of all, I need time before I can leave... at least until Monday morning. I have responsibilities here that I cannot just leave behind me. I will leave for New Krypton with you in three days; you must be able to wait that long. As for Tez, I will have to
in order to keep my family safe, now won't I?"
Zara nodded her acquiesce to the plan before she closed her eyes and frowned. "Tez is very near." She said quietly.
Clark spun into the suit and ran out into the alleyway as Lois, Zara, and Ching followed behind him.
"I am here, Kal-El," came the whispery voice that sent chills up Clark's spine. He looked around for the source of the words; they were coming from somewhere nearby, but he couldn't find the location of the speaker.
"I am here, Kal-El," the voice said gleefully before the creature known as Tez seemingly appeared out of thin air. He had been hiding as a spider on the wall of the alley; changing into something small had always been a sure-fire way to hide from his prey. Tez lofted a small sphere in his hand. The weapon pulsed in the limited light of the alley. "You are finished, Kal-El!" Tez crowed joyfully as he pressed a button on the sphere and a bolt of lightning issued forth from it and slammed into Clark's chest. Clark staggered from the force of the blow and aimed a blast of heat vision at the globe. The globe transmuted the heat vision and sent it back as a green beam that sent Clark reeling. "Kal-El, your life belongs to me!" Tez gloated joyfully as he again pressed a button on the globe to send another lightening bolt after Clark.
Clark blocked the beam with his hands and redirected it towards Tez. As Tez reeled from the force of the blast, Clark followed up with a blast of heat-vision that knocked Tez off balance. Clark strode forward at superspeed, knocking Tez into the brick wall behind him. Tez left a Tez-shaped indentation in the wall right before crumpling to the ground in a daze.
Zara, Ching, and Lois walked out of the disguised door of the spaceship to join Clark. Lois came to him and put her arms around his waist. Tez had been defeated; soon he would be in jail for his crimes and their children would be safe for the time being. Clark dropped a kiss on the top of his wife's head and brought his arms up to surround her.
"Impressive," Ching commented.
"Most impressive," Zara agreed.
"What should we do with Tez?" Clark asked.
"Tez has failed. Among his kind that is unacceptable," Ching said.
"He will bring his life forces to an end," Zara explained.
Tez's eyes turned into empty voids and his remains collapsed into a pile of ashes. Just as they were about to turn around to leave, the foursome heard something. <<You have won the battle, not the war. If you're fool enough to make the journey, Kal-El, I'll await your arrival-and ruin -- on New Krypton.>> The voice faded with an evil chuckle.
Lois looked at Zara and Ching in confusion. "How did I hear that?" she asked quietly.
"Some Kryptonians can project their thoughts into the minds of the non-gifted," Ching explained. "Nor is one such person."
"Ok-ay," Lois said thoughtfully. She planted a kiss on Clark's lips and turned to Ching with a determined look on her face. "I need to talk to you for a few minutes," she demanded.
Clark saw the look on her face and immediately felt sorry for Ching. When Lois looked as she did now, heads usually rolled. He was thankful that her look was not directed towards him, and it was fairly easy for him to guess exactly what she wanted to talk to Ching about.
Lois walked back into the spaceship, expecting Ching to follow. She sat gingerly on one of the chairs in the middle of the room and settled back to wait. Ching soon entered the room and stood in front of her. "Mrs. Kent?" he questioned.
"Lane," she corrected, "But you can call me Lois. If you're going to take my husband haring across the galaxy to prevent some war on a planet we've never heard of, then there are a few things we need to talk about." Lois looked at him expectantly.
"Yes, ma'am?" Ching said, a question evident in his voice.
"I want you to promise to protect my Clark and bring him back to me in one piece. I'll make you a deal; he goes with you and solves your problem as part of his never-ending quest to keep our kids and me safe, and you protect him and find a way to make the council or whatever ruling body on New Krypton let him come home. Do we have a deal?"
Lois stared at Ching, her 'Mad Dog Lane' expression still evident on her face.
"Milady," Ching began. "I swear to you by..." his voice took on a kind of ritualized chant, "The stars, the ground and all things in between, that I will bring Clark home. I swear by the One Who Holds Us All, that I will die before I allow a hair of his head to be harmed. I swear with my breath, my blood, my body; I will return him to you in one piece. If I fail to keep my word, may I be sent into the All-Encompassing Darkness From Which There Is No Return. Is that sufficient for you Milady?"
Lois nodded slowly. "Watch over him for me, please... be his friend while he's there..." her voice trailed off. She stood and crossed the room. "He takes on too much; he always has," she murmured, choking back tears.
Hesitantly, Ching walked over and laid a hand on her arm. "Milady, he will be all right; he will be safe. I swear it." He said sincerely.
Clark looked around and quickly spun back into his street clothes. He needed to talk to Lois. If he really were to leave with Zara and Ching, it was far past time for Perry and Jimmy to be let in on the secret. Clark stuffed his hands into his pockets and scuffed his foot against the ground. Lois would need all the help she could get in his absence with the new baby coming and two very active children. He knew that Perry and Jimmy would be willing to help take up the slack caused by his absence. Perry wouldn't be expecting them in today because of yesterday's kidnapping, but that fact simply meant that today would be
the ideal time to finally tell both of them the truth. He would also need a plausible excuse for his continued absence from the newsroom and he was sure that Perry could help them come up with one.
With Perry's help, his coinciding absence with Superman's would go unmarked... especially if they convinced the world that Superman left a few days before Clark dropped out of sight. He had learned his lesson long ago about making important decisions without Lois's input. Hopefully, she would finish speaking with Ching soon so that they could
find a quiet place to talk. Clark leaned back against the brick wall of the alleyway and lost himself in his thoughts. He hoped Lois would be okay in his absence.
Over the last few years, she had become more careful. Clark knew that there were three little reasons for that. Being responsible for the tiny little pink bundles that they had brought home from the hospital had made her just a little bit less willing to risk life and limb for a story.
A smile stole over Clark's face as he thought of the new life growing inside his beloved wife. He desperately wanted to be there throughout her pregnancy; the last one had been hard and he wanted to be there for Lois as much as possible. He heaved a sigh as he thought of leaving her to go halfway around the known galaxy to a world he'd never seen, a world he didn't know existed until a few days before. He wanted to grab her and the children and fly to a place where they wouldn't be found.
<Fat chance with that chip in your arm>, a little voice in his head taunted. He resented it. He resented the chip, he resented the fact that they could find him with no trouble. He hated the fact that he was expected to simply drop everything and go with them... especially since, to keep his kids safe, it was his only choice. Clark balled his hand into a fist and hit the palm of his other hand with it in frustration. He was stuck in a no-win scenario. No matter which decision he made, someone would suffer. Distantly, he heard Lois's voice stop. Lucky for him, she would be coming out soon.
Kiley opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling of her room. She was thankful that Superman had rescued them; the guy that had kidnapped them was creepy. Vaguely she remembered her grandparents coming up to tuck her in again late the night before. She hoped that it hadn't been a dream and that they would be staying. Kiley shoved back the covers and climbed out of bed. She grabbed Clarkie-bear and went in search of her Grandma and her Mom. "Mommy? Grandma?" she called. She wandered downstairs and called again, "Mommy? Grandma? Where are you?"
"In here, honey," Martha called from the kitchen. "Your Mommy and Daddy had to go to work, but they'll be back soon."
Kiley dashed for the kitchen and hugged Martha as hard as she could. She looked up at her grandmother with a troubled look on her face. "Grandma, why did the man take Joseph an' me? It's my fault 'cause I was bad, isn't it?"
Martha leaned over, picked her granddaughter up and hugged her tightly. <She's definitely her father's daughter; she becomes more like him every day>, Martha thought before she reassured her grandbaby as she had reassured her son so many times before. "Oh, sweetheart, it's not your fault at all! The man who took you and Joseph wanted you because of who your mom and dad are. The man thought that kidnapping you was a good way to hurt your mommy and daddy. But he's never going to try and hurt you again because your parents are going to make sure he goes to jail."
Kiley wound her arms around her grandmother's neck and clung to her tightly. "Are you an' Grandpa staying with us, Grandma? I don't want you to go."
"Of course I am, punkin'," Martha answered.
"Good," Kiley said, comforted at last. Her parents would put her kidnapper in jail and Grandma and Grandpa would be staying for a few days. Better than that, tomorrow she would be going to work with her parents; it was a take your child to work day. She loved the newsroom; better yet, she loved spending time with Grandpa Perry. She especially
loved it when he let her pretend to be an investigative reporter... just like her parents.
"Now, sweetheart, would you like some breakfast?" Martha asked, interrupting her reverie. She put Kiley down and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
"Uh huh. But Grandma, I'm still wearing my pajamas."
"It's okay just this once, punkin'. Come and sit at the table." Martha walked over to the stove and slid Kiley-sized pancakes on to a plate. Kiley climbed into a chair and smiled; all was right in her world.
Perry sighed in relief as he saw Lois and Clark walk into the bullpen. Despite the call he had received the night before, he hadn't been quite willing to believe that *his* grandchildren were okay until he saw their parents walk into the newsroom the next day; he needed to hear the news in person to truly believe it. He had offered to stop by the night before, but they had wanted to spend time alone with the kids. "Lois, Clark, *in my office now*!" he called.
Lois and Clark exchanged a glance, wondering what Perry could possibly have to say to them; after all, he had given them the day off. "Coming, Chief," Clark called.
Lois reached out and grasped Clark's hand as they hurried toward Perry's office. It hadn't taken long for her to agree to tell Perry their secret. After all these years, surely he deserved to know the truth and having one more person in on their secret would be an invaluable asset in the days to come. Her mind and heart recoiled from the concept of not having Clark by her side; she simply didn't want to think about life without him.
Hand-in-hand, they walked into Perry's office and sat down in the chairs that sat in front of his desk. Perry looked at them soberly. "Kids," he began, "are you two and the little ones all right? I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to y'all."
"Perry, we're fine," Lois said. "But there is something we have to tell you and Jimmy."
"Privately," Clark chimed in.
"Sure, kids," Perry answered. He walked over to the door and stuck his head out of it. "Jimmy," he called, "Get your butt in here! Everyone else, if you so much as try to interrupt us, or stick your nose inside my door for the next half an hour, you're *fired* got that?"
"Yes, Chief," Jimmy called as he jogged toward Perry's office. Jimmy entered the office and wordlessly assisted as Lois, Clark, and Perry shut the blinds tightly and locked the doors. He knew that something was up; he hadn't seen looks as serious as the ones Lois, Clark, and Perry were wearing for a long time. Whatever it was, he vowed, he would stick by his friends. Clark had been the older brother he had wanted for years, Lois had been like an older sister, and Perry had long ago filled the role of surrogate father. For all intents and purposes, they were family; and, in his mind, families should stick together.
Soon the room was as secure as they could make it. Clark quickly checked for any hidden listening devices and prying eyes or ears. They were prepared to tell the family secret to Perry and Jimmy; not to the whole world. Clark walked over and stood behind Lois, encircling her within his embrace to give her the comfort and support that both of them desperately needed. The couple watched as Jimmy and Perry settled into chairs and looked at them expectantly. Clark took a deep breath and looked at his beloved. Lois smiled at him reassuringly, telling him without words that she supported this decision wholeheartedly.
"Perry, Jimmy," Clark began, "we have something we need to tell you... a secret that we can't keep from you anymore."
"What is it, kids?" Perry asked quietly.
"Yeah, CK, Lois, what do you have to tell us?" Jimmy questioned.
"The first thing we have to say is that this is not for publication, *ever*. Too many lives are at stake if this gets out," Lois said earnestly. "This secret has to remain etween the four of us; no one else can know."
"I wouldn't be a man in my position if I hadn't learned how to keep secrets," Perry stated seriously.
Jimmy nodded his assent. "I won't tell anyone, I swear."
Clark took a deep breath, turned Lois's hand over, leaned down, and dropped a kiss in her palm. He stepped away from her for a few minutes. They had agreed that the best way to tell Perry and Jimmy would be more show than tell. He stared at his friends for a moment, hoping that they would not regret this decision. "Perry, Jimmy, ever since I've known you, I've been keeping this secret. In fact, I've kept this a secret my entire life. There are only four other people on Earth who know this about me... about us." Clark took another deep breath before continuing. "We decided it would be easier to show you rather than tell
you, so here we go." Clark quickly spun into the Suit and stood in front of them as Superman. "I'm Superman," he said softly.
Jimmy's eyes widened in shock. Suddenly, all of Clark's strange disappearances over the years made sense. Everything that he had found inexplicable about his best friend had been explained. Another shockwave hit him as he realized that one of his closest friends was *Superman*. He had gone camping, fishing, to the movies, and to baseball games with *Superman*.
Clark, noticing his friend's reaction, quickly spun back into his street clothes and held out his hand. "Jimmy, I'm still me. I'm still Clark."
"CK, wow. I know... it's just... Superman? I never thought he and you were the same person; it just never occurred to me."
Lois smiled crookedly, "You weren't suppose to connect the two of them... I should know; it took me two years to figure it out!"
"The reason it works so well is that no one expects a superhero to work as a reporter and have a normal life... people only see what they want and expect to see," Clark explained.
"CK, it's just... Wow! It's a lot to take in," Jimmy repeated.
"We decided to tell both of you now because something has happened," Lois said seriously.
"Some people from my homeworld have come; apparently without me, war will commence and tear their society apart. I wouldn't consider going if it weren't for the fact that the leader of the other side, Lord Nor, is determined to kill Kiley, Joseph, Lois, and me so that he can rule New Krypton. If I go with them, he'll leave Lois and our kids alone," Clark explained. "He was behind yesterday's kidnapping... and he would have killed the children if Kiley hadn't yelled for Superman."
"As any proper Metropolian child would," Perry murmured.
"We don't know how long he'll have to be gone," Lois continued.
"We decided that you two needed to know; Lois is going to need support while I'm gone." Clark glanced at Lois sadly, the hurt of being forced to leave already evident in his eyes. "With the new baby on the way, she'll need help with Kiley and Joseph... and we were hoping that you could help us come up with an excuse for me to be away for a while so that the world doesn't connect Clark Kent's disappearance with Superman's."
Perry nodded slowly. An idea was already beginning to form; and it wouldn't take much to carry it out.
"We also want to call a press conference tomorrow for Superman's official announcement and farewell; that way Clark doesn't drop from sight the same time that Superman does." Lois said.
"Okay, kids. We'll arrange the press conference... and Clark, we'll tell the powers that be that you're on assignment--undercover. That way Lois and the kids will be financially okay because I'm keeping you on the payroll. But I expect the exclusive when you get back." Perry opened a drawer and rummaged around inside before pulling out a leather-bound book. "Take this journal with you and write down *everything*. I want accounts of your time on this planet of yours."
"Thanks Chief," Clark said softly. It was more than he hoped for. He had been worried about how his family would be able to cope without him there; Perry's offer to keep him on the payroll eased some of the pressure he felt when considering his family's financial future. He had never liked the idea of using his powers for financial gain, but he had been seriously considering going to an undiscovered gold mine he knew of to make sure that his family was provided for in his absence.
"I'll help in any way I can," Jimmy promised solemnly.
"Thank you," Lois said softly. She walked over to Jimmy and hugged him before turning to Perry. Gratitude shone from her face as she gave him a hug as well.
"Aw, y'all that's enough of that. You two have the weekend off, with Sunday being your anniversary and all...I'm giving you Friday as well so you can spend time together as a family before you leave. When are you leaving anyway?" Perry looked at his favorite reporters questioningly.
"Monday," Clark said quietly. "I told them I couldn't possibly leave until then; they say that we must leave as soon as possible in order to stop this Lord Nor. Perry, we can't take tomorrow off; first there's the press conference and we promised Kiley that she could come to work with us tomorrow because it's 'Take your child to work day'."
"You're taking the rest of today off and you have tomorrow afternoon off as well. That's an order." Perry said. "Now, Jimmy, don't you have a story to work on?"
"Yes Chief!" Jimmy headed toward the door. He exited the office, making sure to close the door behind him to give them a measure of privacy.
"Lois, Clark," Perry began, "I just wanted you to know that I've known about Superman's true identity for years... I wouldn't be a man in my position if I didn't know certain things." Perry smiled suddenly, "I'm not editor of the world's greatest newspaper because I can yodel. Now, you two get on out of here and spend some time with the kids. Take them to the beach, the park, the amusement park; anything."
Lois and Clark exchanged a surprised glance. "Yes, Chief," they chorused and headed out of his office and home.
Perry tipped his chair back and put his feet up on his desk. He had known that sooner or later Clark would come clean to him about his true origins. After all, it was probably only a matter of time before Kiley and Joseph started exhibiting signs of their parentage. He, too, hated the fact that Clark was being forced to leave, but he could see the wisdom in it. Clark would walk on water for Lois and their children or die trying. A blind man could see that they meant everything to him and that Lois felt the same way. He vowed that he would do whatever he could to keep the small family afloat in his surrogate son's absence. He owed it to Clark, the ordinary, extraordinary man who had saved the world more times than he could count.
Lois stared unseeing into the darkness, silent tears slipping down her face as a sleeping Clark held her close. His promise a few days earlier to protect her and their children now seemed a bit ominous as they faced his imminent departure. They had taken the children to the zoo; their favorite place. The normal everyday rituals of teir small household had seemed comforting, as if their lives were not being slowly, inexorably ripped apart by a world light years away from their own.
She rolled over and stroked Clark's hair away from his face as he murmured incoherently in his sleep. They had made love frantically that night as if by loving each other they could delay the inevitable. Worn out, Clark had finally fallen asleep, but she remained awake. Carefully, she slipped out of her lover's embrace, threw on a robe, and
walked over to her jewelry box. She opened it and pulled out an heirloom that was an inheritance from her great-grandmother. She had never had a use for it... until now. Lois opened it, pulled out the original contents, and put them away carefully for later. She had to do this while Clark was asleep; she didn't want him to find out until the time was right.
Quietly, she picked up the scissors and snuck in the children's rooms to accomplish her purpose. She added her gleanings to a little pile of plastic bags that she then hid in her jewelry box along with a miniature family portrait that had been taken in Smallville the month before. She was determined that Clark would have something with him to remind him of what he left behind... what he had to come home to. With that thought in mind, she took off her robe and slipped back into Clark's warm embrace. She had three days and three nights left with her beloved before he had to leave for who knew how long. Lois was determined to make them count.
Kiley bounced up and down in between her parents as they entered the newsroom. She loved coming to the Daily Planet and was triply excited when her mother had mentioned something about a news conference there this morning. As they walked down into the bullpen, Kiley spotted someone she hadn't seen for a few weeks. She pulled away from her mother and ran toward him happily. "Grandpa Perry!" she called as she jumped into his arms. "Catling!" Perry said laughingly as he swung her around and hugged her tightly. "I hear that you had an adventure this
week and got to meet Superman... want to tell me about it, darlin'?"
Kiley threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. "Okay, Grandpa Perry... but can we stay in here an' watch the press comfrense? I want to see."
"We sure can, catling," Perry said with a broad smile as he tickled her gently. He was very thankful that his small granddaughter had come through her ordeal safely and very grateful that he now held her in his arms. He sincerely hoped that her father's absence wouldn't be too hard on her; she was a sensitive child and liable to blame herself if she thought he had left them for good. He hadn't really been there for his own children growing up, but when Kiley was born, he vowed to try and make it up to the only 'grandchildren' still within reach. He would be there as much as he could for the two precious little ones that belonged to his heart-children.
Kiley leaned her head against Perry's shoulder. She was content to let him carry her; it wasn't often that she got the chance to come to the Planet, and even less often that she got to see a press conference. She tightened her arms around her grandpa's neck; she was lucky. Most of her friends only had two sets of grandparents while she had three. She hoped that she could go to visit Grandpa Perry and Grandma Alice soon... Grandma Alice always had warm chocolate chip cookies for her during visits and Grandpa Perry had a little typewriter there for her to play with.
Someday she would work for the Daily Planet and be an investigative reporter like her parents... or editor like Grandpa Perry.
Perry walked over to Clark's desk and sat down in the chair behind it, settling his little girl in his lap. He smiled at her interested look as reporters from all over the city began to gather in the bullpen in front of the podium set up on the second level. He hugged her tightly and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. It was his fondest wish that she might follow in her parents' footsteps; newsprint was in her blood, printer's ink ran through her veins.
Kiley spotted Jimmy across the room and began squirming to get down. "Is it okay if I go see Uncle Jimmy, Grandpa Perry?"
"Of course, catling," Perry said as he set her down and kissed her on her forehead.
Kiley dashed off. "UncleJimmyunclejimmyunclejimmy!" she called as she ran towards him.
Jimmy turned around and laughed as he saw her running toward him. He leaned down and scooped her up for a hug. "How are you punkin'?" he asked with a big smile.
Kiley smiled. "I'm ok. How's Aunt Lucy?"
"She's fine; she told me to tell you that as soon as she can get away from the hospital next week she's going to come and see you."
Kiley grinned. "Yay! I miss her." She quieted as Superman flew in, settled behind the podium, and began to make a speech.
"Although I have loved life here on Earth, and have called it my home for the past nine years, I have another home as well... one that needs me now." Superman looked over the crowd, a small measure of sadness discernable in his face. "But wherever I am, I'll carry the best of Earth with me. And while I'm gone, I ask each one of you to look to yourselves for the strength, decency, and compassion that each one of you has inside. Emerson said that self-trust is the essence of heroism. Inside each one of you is a hero. And so I leave, knowing that a world full of heroes has nothing to fear." Superman stepped down from the microphones and with a single backward glance at the crowd, took off through the window.
Kiley squirmed in Jimmy's arms. "Uncle Jimmy," she began, "I need to talk to Mommy. Let me down, please?"
"Sure, sweetheart." Jimmy put the little girl on her feet and smiled as she again took off through the crowd.
Kiley wound her way through the crowd looking for her mother. After a bit of searching, she found her near the conference room. Kiley walked over and threw her arms around her mother's legs. "Mommy?" she began tentatively.
Lois brought her hand down to her daughter's head and stroked the soft, brown curls that grew there. "Yes, punkin'?"
Kiley looked up at her mom, fear shining in her eyes. "Mommy, is Daddy leaving?"
Lois crouched down to her daughter's level. "Punkin' Daddy *does* have to go away for a little while on a business trip. We were planning on telling you and Joseph tonight." Lois reached out and hugged her daughter. She hated having to even tell her a half-truth, but they had
decided that Kiley was too young to be let in on the secret.
Kiley hugged her mother back thoughtfully. She knew that her mom wasn't telling her everything; after all her mother didn't know... She needed to talk to Grandpa Perry. Her parents had enough to deal with right now without her adding to it. "Mommy, I'm going to see Grandpa Perry okay?"
"Sure, punkin'" Lois said and released her. She had a feeling that she needed to talk to her daughter fairly soon; something was on the child's mind and she needed to find out what it was. Sometimes Kiley was enough like Clark that the resemblance was a tad scary.
Kiley walked softly into Perry's office. "Grandpa Perry?" she said, a question evident in her voice.
"Yes, darlin'," Perry answered absently as he set down the paper. It was one headline he had never wanted to see; a picture of Superman graced the front page with the headline 'A World Without Superman'. He looked down at the little girl and was saddened to see a look of unchildlike woe written all over her face. He carefully got up and shut the door before he settled down on the couch and held out his arms in a silent invitation.
Without hesitation, Kiley climbed into her surrogate grandfather's lap. She knew that her Grandpa Perry was to be trusted. Knowing what she did about the true state of things, she had to talk to a grown-up person about it. She had almost told her mother what she knew, but her small
heart told her that her parents were having enough difficulties with daddy going away without her adding to them by asking this all-important question. "Grandpa Perry," she began, "I know why Daddyis going away. It's because he's Superman, isn't it?"
Perry looked at Kiley in astonishment. This tiny scrap of a girl had figured out something that, in nine years, the rest of the world was in ignorance of. "Catling," he began, using his own special pet name for her, "how did you figure it out?"
Kiley looked trustingly up at Perry. "I saw Superman kiss Mommy. An' she didn't slap him like she slapped Ralph when he tried to kiss her at the Planet's Avinursery party. The only person allowed to kiss Mommy is Daddy." Kiley smiled impishly, all the sadness clearing off her face like the sun after rain. "I started looking around an' I found where Daddy keeps his Superman clothes. So since Daddy has Superman clothes and Superman was kissing Mommy, it means that my Daddy is Superman." Kiley finished triumphantly. She had been proud of herself for figuring out such an important secret.
Perry hugged his granddaughter tightly before looking down at her sweet little face and smiling. "Darlin', you're right... and my nickname for you has just proven itself to be true; you *are* as curious as a little cat!" He held Lois and Clark's daughter closely for a few moments before continuing. "Catling, you have to remember something very important for your parents, brother, grandparents, and me, okay?" Kiley looked up at him through serious brown eyes and nodded. "You can't tell anyone who your daddy really is; you can't tell anyone your family's secret."
"I know," Kiley said. "Grandma Kent told me about people who might want to hurt Joseph an' me 'cause we're Mommy's and Daddy's kids..." her little voice trailed off as she looked up at Perry anxiously.
Upon seeing the look on Kiley's face, Perry hastily moved to reassure her. "Catling, it's okay. Nothing's gonna happen to you or Joseph if we can prevent it. Now, shouldn't your Mom and Dad know what you just told me?"
Kiley hesitated for a moment before she nodded her assent and climbed out of Perry's lap. Perry reached wordlessly for her hand and walked over to the door. "Lois, Clark in my office *now*!" he called.
Lois and Clark hurried into Perry's office and shut the door behind them. "Yes, Chief?" Clark asked.
"My little catling here has something to tell y'all," Perry sat down and pulled Kiley back into his lap.
Kiley squirmed a little before looking up at her parents. "Daddy," she began hesitantly, "You're leaving because you're Superman, aren't you?" At the look of shock on her parents' faces she reiterated her earlier story of how she had figured out the big secret.
Clark felt a swell of pride as he listened to *his* daughter relate how she had discovered a truth that most of the reporters in the world would give their eyeteeth to know. He smiled; joy and pride welled up inside of him. He went over, picked up his baby girl and swung her around in the air, laughing at her squeals of delight. "My little investigative reporter!" Clark said joyfully as he brought her down and hugged her.
Lois came up in front of him and put her arms around both of them, sandwiching Kiley in between the adults. "We are so *proud* of you!" she said as she kissed her daughter on the forehead. They stood like that for a few minutes before coming back to Earth and the knowledge that their small family would soon be separated for an unknown amount of time. The rational part of Lois reminded her that if Clark was unable to stop the civil war, there was a very real chance that he would never make it back to her. Resolutely, she pushed the knowledge of his imminent departure to the back of her head. She had two and a half days and three nights left with him to last until his return.
Lois and Clark stood in the park, watching their children play. Together, they had decided to spend as much time with the kids as possible instead of taking their planned anniversary trip. It was more important that they spend time together as a family at this moment than spend time alone. They still planned to spend Sunday night together before Clark had to fly off into the unknown. Lois smiled as Clark slipped behind her and wrapped his arms around her. She leaned back into his embrace for a few minutes; it always felt wonderful to feel his arms surround her and she didn't know what she would do without him there to rely on. Reluctantly, she broke the embrace. Lois took her beloved's hand and they walked over to play with their children.
Moments like these had always been precious, Clark reflected, but now they were doubly so. In a few short days, he would be leaving everything he ever wanted behind to face an unknown. He knew he had no choice but to go, but every fiber of his being protested leaving his pregnant wife and their two small children behind.
He had often wondered how soldiers of past wars felt... Now he understood what they had gone through. He felt that his situation was a bit worse; after all, they at least got to stay on the same *planet* as their loved ones. As Clark looked at his Lois and their children, emotions threatened to overwhelm him. How could he leave them? Despite the fact that the only decision possible had been reached, a large part of him protested that he *could not* leave them behind. Resolutely, he crammed the knowledge of his... desertion in the back corners of his heart and mind and concentrated on spending some time with his babies.
The next two days were spent in much the same way, spending time together as a family, desperately attempting to hide their distress over their impending sacrifice while cramming in as much family time as they could. From talks with Zara and Ching, they knew that even at hyperlight speed, New Krypton was a month away. Even if the succession problems were quickly and easily solved, it would be months before they were together again. Much of their evenings were spent cuddled together on the couch, reading stories and singing songs to Kiley and Joseph until they fell asleep.
Clark leaned over Joseph's newly transformed toddler bed and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Daddy," the little boy said sleepily. He had taken the news of Clark's 'business trip' rather well and Clark hoped that his continued absence wouldn't hurt his little boy. Kiley, due to her knowledge of his alter ego, understood slightly better. As Clark smoothed Joseph's hair away from his face, he noticed, for the first time, a small place on the child's head that had been cropped closely to his scalp. Mentally, he shrugged. Most likely, he thought, Joseph got his hands on Kiley's scissors and gave himself a haircut before someone stopped him.
Quietly, he got up and went down the hall to tuck Kiley in. She held out her arms as he walked in the room. He walked over and hugged her gently. "I'll miss you, Daddy," she said, her big brown eyes brimming with unshed tears.
"Hey," he said softly, "don't cry, punkin'! I'll be back, sweetheart, I promise! This isn't a time for tears. I'll still be here when you wake up... and it isn't goodbye, it's just a 'see you later' until I get back." Clark hugged his little girl once more before continuing. "Kiley, can you do something for me?" Kiley nodded; she would do whatever she could for her daddy. "Punkin' I need you to be a brave little girl and take care of your Mommy for me when I'm gone okay?"
Kiley threw her arms around Clark and hugged him fiercely. "I promise, Daddy. I'll take care of Mommy."
"Ready to go to bed now?" he asked quietly. Kiley nodded as Clark put her down on the bed and tucked the covers securely around her and Clarkie-bear. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead before walking to the door, plugging in the nightlight, and turning off the light. "Goodnight, punkin'. I love you."
"I love you too, Daddy... 'night," a little voice answered sleepily.
Clark smiled sadly as he gently shut the door and made his way to the master bedroom where Lois was waiting for him. As he came into the room, Lois stood and put her arms around him. She trembled slightly in his embrace. "I don't know what to do here," she said quietly, her voice filled with pain. "I can't even write you. We haven't been separated for any length of time for six years; I don't know if I can stand it."
"That makes two of us," he said miserably, "I don't know if I can do this."
"You can. You will... and then you will come home to us," she asserted softly, fighting back tears.
"I just want to take you and the kids and fly away where they'll never find us," Clark confessed.
"And do what? Spend the rest of our lives hiding from assassins? We will be here, waiting for you, Clark. And *when* you return, you and I can start working on getting the rest of that big family we decided on." Lois reached up and traced his lips with her finger.
Clark kissed her finger gently. "You have such faith in me," he said quietly.
"My faith and my love for you are all I have," she said raggedly, "I think they're what's keeping me standing here, because when I think of tomorrow without you, I start to shake."
Clark took her into his arms and held her to him tightly. "Lois, I wish I could take you with me; if there were any way, I would."
Lois took his face in her hands. "I know," she said softly. She moved out of his embrace and pulled a small box out of the dresser. She turned to face him, clutching the box in her hand. "My great-grandmother died when I was 14," she began, "and she left me this with a note saying that I might need it someday. It was her mother's. My great-great grandfather took it with him when he fought in the Civil War, my great-grandfather had it during World War I, and my grandfather had it with him in World War II." Lois opened the box and pulled out an antique, silver, oval-shaped locket out of it. She opened it hand handed it to him.
Five small braids of hair were twined together and coiled in one side under glass. A family portrait that had been taken the month before resided in the other side. "The hair belongs to all of us; Jonathan, Martha, Kiley, Joseph, and I each contributed some," Lois said quietly. She gently removed it from his hand and clasped the locket's chain around his neck. "I was hoping that you'd keep it for me."
"I'll keep this as safe as I keep my love for you and for our family," Clark said as he dropped a kiss on her palm. "Lois, I have loved you from the beginning. I have loved you and will love you forever."
Lois swallowed against the lump in her throat before replying. "And I will love you until the end... through all eternity." Lois tugged him over to the window. "Which star is yours?"
"I'm not sure if you can see it...it's right *there*." Clark pointed out a bright star to the north.
"I see it," she said quietly, "I'll watch it every night... Now I only have one problem," Lois said as she slid her hands underneath his shirt.
"What's that?" Clark asked as he leaned down and captured her lips with his.
After a few moments, Lois broke off the kiss and looked at him breathlessly. "I need to make tonight so unforgettable..." He raised his arms so she could finish the task of divesting him of his shirt. "...that the minute you defeat Nor," she slowly began to layer warm kisses on his neck and across the sleek muscles of his chest, "...you'll come flying back to me." She pulled his face close to hers and kissed him before she led him over to the bed.
Clark threaded his hands through her beautiful, long brown hair and brought her face up to his for a soul-shattering kiss. "I love you, Lois" Clark said, kissing her passionately.
"I love you too, Clark" Lois said softly. Their lovemaking that night was bittersweet as they each strove to commit to memory every touch, every kiss, every breathless sigh. It was many hours later that the two lay, spent, in one another's arms.
Lois clung to him tightly, stroking his hair as he slept. Lying awake in the darkness, she prayed that he would be returned to her whole; his mind, body, and soul still in one piece. She had never been one for praying; her early experiences with religion hadn't been all that good. But she'd reached the point where she knew that her prayers and her love were the only things she could send with her beloved. Lois hoped that it would be enough to keep him safe.
Lois woke early the next morning. She slept very little the night before; after all, Clark's dreaded departure was imminent. She propped her head on her hand as she began to run a finger over Clark's face, as if committing his features to memory. She drew in a shaky breath, knowing that this would be the last time for months, at best, that she would wake with Clark beside her... where he belonged.
She refused to contemplate the thought that death might await him on New Krypton; that would mean that last night would have been the last night she would ever... Lois shook her head, refusing to allow the intolerable thought to fully surface.
He looked so innocent, so vulnerable in sleep; she wondered how long it would be before she would again behold the sight of *her* Clark asleep in their bed. How long would she be without his teasing, without his unflagging support, without his love? She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved their family; would do anything for them, but a small part of her was afraid that time with his own people would change him from the gentle, loving man she knew. Her fingers brushed his lips as his eyes began to flutter open. "Good morning, sweetheart," she said softly. Lois kissed him gently and moaned as he pulled her closer to him, deepening the kiss. A few moments later, the kiss ended
and they drew apart, breathless.
"What time is it, honey?" Clark asked softly.
"We have time enough," Lois answered quietly, as she pulled him toward her for another kiss. "Make love to me, Clark," she said, the sadness of his departure clouding her eyes.
Clark reached for her and cupped her cheek in his large hand in an old, familiar caress. Slowly, he kissed her. Without words, he told her how much he, too, dreaded leaving and how much he would miss her presence. He took his time, savoring every caress. He knew that being separated from her would be akin to losing his right arm; the memory of the last time spent alone with her would have to carry him through many a long day and night to come. He swore to himself that whatever it took, he would come back to her; three years of being best friends and partners coupled with six years of marriage simply wasn't enough time. He took his wedding vows seriously; he had promised, above all else, that he would be there for her as her father had not. He didn't intend to break his sworn word now.
Desperately, they clung to one another, savoring this last moment of togetherness before going into the backyard for their final goodbyes. Clark kissed her deeply and brought his hand to rest on her gravid belly. "I love you," he said quietly. He started when he felt a small, fluttering sensation against his palm. He looked at his wife with wonderment on his face. "Lois, did you feel that?"
Lois placed her hand over his. "Our baby knows his father's touch," she said softly. "I love you; we love you." She reached out and grabbed him by the arm. "Promise me, Clark. Promise me that you won't take any
foolish risks; you're not invulnerable there--you could *die*. Promise me that you'll come home."
"Honey, this is me. I *always* come back. I swear that I will come back to you and our family." Clark grabbed her hand and dropped a kiss in her palm. Slowly, they pulled apart to rise and dress. Both drew comfort from the other's presence, but knew that it was short lived. A
scant few hours later, Clark would be on a spaceship bound for New Krypton where Lois and their children could not follow. He drew on clothes quickly, picking his favorite old jeans and a worn flannel shirt to leave in. By mutual decision, the children would not be in the backyard when he left; their goodbyes would be in the living room.
Clark kissed his Lois once more before heading into Joseph's room to get the toddler dressed. It was early yet, but the earlier they got up, the more time that he would have with his family before the final farewell. He carefully picked up the sleeping child and dressed him in clothes identical to his own. He settled Joseph on his shoulder, walked downstairs, and laid him on the couch. Clark pushed his baby's hair off his forehead, gently smoothing it back from his little face. He leaned over and dropped a kiss on the top of Joseph's head for what might be last time he could for months. His heart ached as he gazed at the sleeping form of his child, doing his best to memorize his little boy's face.
Clark sighed heavily and straightened up. He walked slowly up the stairs and entered Kiley's room. He stood near the doorway to watch his daughter sleep. She lay tangled in the sheets, curled around the bear he had won for Lois so long ago. Her long brown curls lay fanned out against the pillow while her long eyelashes kissed her cheeks. His
firstborn. Clark crossed the room and carefully untangled her from the sheets. He gently pulled off her pajamas and dressed the sleeping child in her favorite dress before he picked her up and carried her downstairs. He picked Joseph up with his other arm and walked over to the double rocking chair they had placed in the living room after Kiley's birth. He sat down and held them close to him as he slowly rocked back and forth. To leave was unthinkable; but it would be infinitely worse for his family to perish at the hands of assassins because of his carelessness.
Clark ruthlessly shoved back the tears that threatened to overwhelm him. He clasped his babies to him and kissed them on the tops of their heads fiercely. If he could help it, no one would hurt them. It was in his power to stop the assassins from being sent after his family. Despite the fact he knew that his departure had become necessary, his heart ached at the thought of abandoning his family. He closed his eyes and concentrated on remembering how his kids felt in his arms. They would be forever changed when he returned, children grew so fast at their ages...
Not for the first time, he bitterly cursed the parents who had birthed him. How could they have saved his life only to put his family through such hell? Just because they hadn't lived long enough to watch him grow up and to meet their grandchildren was no reason to ensure that his own
family would be split up by circumstances beyond their control.
Mentally, he shook himself out of his self-enforced funk. He couldn't afford to wallow; he had to do what they needed him to do so that he could come home. The goal of returning home was the only thing that truly mattered. He laid his cheek on the top of his daughter's head and began to pray for his family's safety in his absence. His parents had taught him to pray as a boy. He had long since fallen out of the habit, but sometimes faith and love were all a man had to sustain him.
He smiled painfully as he heard Lois's familiar footstep on the stair. He listened to her heartbeat as she crossed the room and sat beside him in the chair. She slipped her arms around him and so they sat, the four of them cuddled together. Jonathan and Martha came downstairs a few
minutes later to find them in that position. They pulled up chairs and sat as close to their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren as they could.
Martha felt the need for a physical connection to her son, so she quietly laid her hand on his arm. She cared not where he originally came from, he was her son and she hurt with him over this imposed separation. Her baby sat holding his babies and his wife; he was obviously in pain and she wished she could make it go away. Sad experience had taught her, however, that as much as she wished to spare her only child pain, it could not be so.
She had always been grateful to Jor-El and Lara for gifting her with her son, but now she felt only anger toward them. She almost wished they were still alive so that she could give them a piece of her mind. Martha hated feeling helpless, and there was nothing she could do to ease her family's pain. Her mouth twisted in a wry smile as she
remembered a simpler time when every problem would disappear with a slice of warm pie and a glass of buttermilk. Her free hand found Jonathan's as she instinctively reached for the comfort and support that had been her constant for almost forty-one years.
Jonathan laced his fingers through his wife's as he leaned forward to push a lock of curly hair out of his granddaughter's face. He wanted nothing more than to fix this whole mess so that his boy could stay home. Jonathan reached out again and put his free arm around his daughter-in-law. He, too felt a sense of helplessness, but knew the
only thing he could do was to offer his support now and in the aftermath. He vowed to himself to do what he could to see to the well being of his family. Lois would need them; being a single mother was hard enough with a regular nine to five job... with their third child on its way, and her demanding career, he knew their help would be needed.
He started as the doorbell rang. He carefully extricated himself from his loved ones and made his way to the door to answer it. He opened the door to find Perry and Jimmy standing on the doorstep.
Perry spoke first, "We wanted a chance to say goodbye," he said softly. "If this weren't so serious, I might try to equate this with Elvis having to go and join the army, but..." Perry shook his head. As much as he loved telling Elvis stories, he simply couldn't bring himself use yet another metaphor when his almost-son had to leave for what might become a war.
"I thought you guys could use somebody to keep and eye on Kiley and Joseph while Clark leaves," Jimmy said quietly. The two men entered the house and walked over to where Lois and Clark sat.
Just as they arrived, Kiley woke and rubbed a sleepy hand across her eyes. "Daddy?" she questioned sleepily.
"I'm here, punkin'," Clark said as he pressed a kiss to her cheek.
Kiley threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "I love you, Daddy," she whispered. Her little voice caught in a muffled sob, "I'll miss you."
Clark patted her back soothingly. "Shh, punkin', it's okay. I'll be back before you know it. Sweetheart, whenever you miss me, just close your eyes and think about me real hard; I'll do the same." He gently gathered his daughter in the crook of his arm and regarded her seriously. "Punkin', I'll be missing you all the time, because you're my little girl and I love you. Now, you be my big girl and help Mommy while I'm gone, okay?"
Kiley nodded seriously. "Daddy, promise that you'll come home?" she said with a tremor in her voice.
"I promise, punkin'," Clark answered. He hugged her tightly and desperately wished that he didn't have to go.
Kiley kissed his cheek solemnly and gave him a hug. "I love you," she said softly. She hugged him one final time before she extricated herself and moved to Lois's lap. She wrapped her little arms around her mother and held her tight, sensing somehow that Lois needed a hug.
Joseph opened a sleepy, chocolate brown eye and smiled. "Daddy!" he said joyfully. The little boy looked puzzled for a moment. "Daddy go bye-bye?" he asked hesitantly. "Daddy come back to Jo'eph?"
"Yeah, scout. Daddy has to go on a trip for a little while and then I'm coming home." Clark smiled stiffly, desperately trying to hold back the flood of tears that threatened to come.
Joseph threw his arms around Clark's neck. "I love you,Daddy." Joseph kissed him on the cheek wetly. "Daddy blow on Jo'eph's tummy," the little boy demanded.
Clark lifted Joseph's shirt and gently blew on his tummy. He smiled as his baby laughed in delight from the funny sound it produced. He hugged Joseph tightly and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, scout," he said softly.
Joseph looked around the room for a minute until he spotted Jimmy. "Up, Uncle Jimmy," he said with a sunny smile on his face as he held out his arms to be picked up.
Jimmy stepped forward and picked up Joseph. "I'll miss ya, CK," he said quietly. "Be careful and come back to us in one piece, ok?" The younger man held out his hand to Clark who reached out and grabbed it as one might grab a lifeline.
"I promise, Jimmy. Would you take care of Lois and the kids for me?" Clark looked pleadingly at his friend.
"Sure, CK," Jimmy said around the lump in his throat. He turned to look at Kiley. "C'mon, kiddo," he began, "let's go get you some breakfast." He held out his hand to the little girl, who reluctantly climbed off Lois's lap and took his hand as he led her toward the kitchen. Kiley glanced back once with an expression on her face that would make a stone weep. "Goodbye, Daddy," she whispered, "I
Blindly, Clark fumbled for Lois's hand. She slipped her small hand into his large one, lacing her fingers through his. Together, the couple stood up and walked out into the backyard with everyone else following behind. Pain and sorrow settled over Lois and Clark like a blanket. They turned towards Clark's parents and he reached out his free hand to take his mother's. "You're the only parents I've ever known," he began softly. "The only parents I've ever wanted. Whatever good I bring to New Krypton will be because of you."
Martha, unable to hold back the tears any longer, began to cry. She threw her arms around him and hugged him; hard. "I love you," she whispered through her tears.
"I love you too, Momma," he said softly as he returned her embrace with his free arm. He had given up calling her 'Momma' in junior high school, but at this moment, the name he had called his mother throughout his childhood slipped out. Reluctantly, he let her go and went to talk to Perry.
Perry held his hand out to Clark, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "I'm proud of you, son," he said quietly. "I'll watch out for Lois and the kids for you; come back to us quickly." Clark took Perry's hand and simply nodded, unable to speak around the lump in his throat. Perry pulled him into an embrace, attempting to let this heart son of his know that the people who loved him best would be waiting for him when he returned.
After the embrace broke, Clark turned to his father. "You take care of yourself, son," Jonathan said quietly. He stepped forward and gave him one last hug. "I love you," he murmured.
"I will, Daddy. I love you, too." He choked out.
Perry, Martha, and Jonathan stepped away, giving Lois and Clark some much-needed space. They had said their private goodbye the night before and early that morning, but this was their final chance to talk for months to come. Lois carefully pulled the locket out from under his shirt and looked at it once more before tucking it back where she had found it. "Be careful, Lois," Clark said quietly. "I couldn't bear it if something happened to you while I'm gone." His lips brushed across hers in a whisper of a kiss.
"I will," Lois promised through a haze of tears. She freed her hand to wrap her arms around him. As his arms came up around her, she buried her face in his chest. "You come back to me, Clark. Don't you dare get yourself killed; if you do, I swear that I'll find a way to bring you back from the dead so that I can kill you myself."
Clark kissed her, deeply, passionately, once more before Ching and Zara flew into the secluded backyard. He dropped to his knees and planted a kiss on her abdomen. "You be good for your Mommy," he said softly, "Don't give her any trouble. I love you, Baby Kent." He got up from
the ground and pulled Lois back into his arms.
"It's time," Lois said as a single tear ran down her face. "Go before I can't bear to let you. I love you, sweetheart." Ching and Zara beckoned to him as they flew straight up into the air.
Reluctantly, Clark released her and stepped back. "I love you," he whispered as he slowly began to fly after the New Kryptonians. He stopped at the high fence for one last, lingering look back at his family before following them at superspeed.
Lois fell to her knees and began to sob. "Why?" came the tortured whisper, "Why did they have to take him away?"
Perry dropped to his knees beside her and pulled her into a tight embrace. "Shh. Honey, I don't know. But I do know Clark. That boy will move Heaven and Earth to make it back to you." A ghost of a smile passed over Perry's features as Jonathan joined them.
Jonathan gently pushed her long hair away from her face and clasped her hand in his. "He'll be back, Lois; you two have always found a way--you always will." Jonathan stood, helped his daughter-in-law up, and led her inside.
Upon their arrival to the ship, Ching showed Kal-El to his quarters and handed him a set of practice clothes. "Milord," he began, "I'm sorry. I never wanted to do this to you and your family," he concluded quietly.
Clark looked at Ching measuringly, somehow, he knew that not only was Ching telling the truth, but that he could be trusted. "I know," he said quietly, "But what I don't know is *why*. Why are you on my family's side? Zara certainly isn't."
Ching grimaced. If he told Kal-El the truth, it would be perilously close to opening old wounds better left undisturbed. Lying, however, was unthinkable. Kal-El was his lord, and he owed him the absolute truth. "I was married for a brief time years ago," he began. "Her name was Hesa... We'd grown up together; she was my childhood sweetheart, and we married rather young. I joined the military to provide for the two of us... We hadn't been married for very long when she discovered that she was pregnant and they sent me off to be stationed at Seraulk. We had planned for her to join me in a few months...but she died." Ching looked at Clark with sadness in his eyes. "If I had been there... she wouldn't have gotten into the accident; she wouldn't have even been there."
Clark reached out to clasp the other man's arm in sympathy, but Ching shrugged it off. "It was a long time ago... and that's not the only reason," he said quietly. "Anyway, before we leave the solar system, there are a few things you need to learn..."
Lois sat on the couch, staring numbly into space. One week ago, they had been happy. One week ago, they had been ignorant of the New Kryptonians' existence. She sighed heavily and brushed back yet more tears as they rolled down her cheeks. She wanted Clark back. She wanted to come home to find him waiting for her in their bed. She wanted to feel his arms surround her, holding her close. She wanted her husband back where he belonged; with her and their kids.
She got up and began to pace back and forth restlessly. Lois wished that Perry hadn't insisted that she stay home for the day. He had said that she needed some time... he was wrong; she needed work... to be busy, to... forget. <Who am I trying to kid?> she thought, swallowing the large lump that had formed in her throat. Work held only more memories of Clark and herself. Jimmy had whisked the kids off to the park for a few hours... maybe she should go and find them. Suddenly, she knew it was exactly what she needed; to hold their little ones in her arms... to once again feel a physical connection with her Clark, her soulmate. Lois grabbed her coat and purse and hurried toward the door. She needed their kids; more importantly, she knew that they needed her.
Kiley clutched Jimmy's hand tightly. He'd asked her if she wanted to go play, but playing was the last thing on her mind. As she watched Joseph play in the sandbox, she wondered how he could be so carefree. Daddy was gone. He had left to protect them, but she wanted him to be at home. Daddies weren't supposed to have to go away. She scrubbed the back of her hand across her eyes, trying to erase her tears.
"Uncle Jimmy?" She asked quietly.
"What is it, punkin'?" Jimmy asked absently. He couldn't believe that Clark had been forced to leave; it simply wasn't fair. How could anyone be so callous as to make a good man like Clark Kent abandon what was most important to him? The Kents deserved better; they deserved to stay together. Lois and Clark had been through so much already... surely they should be allowed to raise their children together! He shook himself out of his reverie, leaned down, and scooped Kiley up.
"Is Daddy going to come home?" she asked tremulously.
Jimmy hugged her tightly. "Of course he is sweetheart!" he exclaimed. "He loves you. Do you know how your mommy has a baby brother or a baby sister growing inside her tummy?" Kiley nodded seriously. "Well, when you were growing in her tummy, he told me that he had never been happier when your mommy told him that they were going to have you. When you were born, I've never seen anybody happier than your daddy was."
Jimmy embraced her again before he walked over to a nearby bench, sat down, and deposited her in his lap. He held her gently, suddenly angry at the New Kryptonians for making it impossible for Clark to stay at home. Kiley didn't deserve to experience this kind of sadness. She was only four and a half years old dammit! He knew that pain was a part of
life, but at her age, she should be well insulated from it. He took a deep breath, pushing the anger away to be dealt with later.
Kiley cuddled close to her 'uncle', reassured that her father would come home. She remembered what her dad had told her to do when she missed him, so she closed her eyes and thought of him-hard. In her head, an image began to form, she saw a strange room in which a straight line was nowhere to be found. Puzzled, she opened her eyes to find herself back on Jimmy's lap in the park. She smiled in sudden joy as she saw a familiar figure approach them. "Mommy!" she called as she propelled herself off of Jimmy's lap and wrapped herself around Lois's legs.
Lois smiled at her daughter's enthusiastic greeting. She had been right; her children needed her as much as she needed them. "Thank you for watching them this morning, Jimmy," she said quietly.
"No problem, Lois. I'm happy to do anything I can do to help while CK is gone. Call me if you need help ok?" Jimmy stood up and began to stroll away. He knew that Lois had the kids well in hand; he had seen the expression on her face at Kiley's greeting and knew that the best thing for the kids was to be with their mother. He turned around and smiled wistfully as he watched Lois walk over to the sandbox with Kiley in tow and collect Joseph.
He fingered the ring in his pocket and wondered if Lucy would accept his proposal. After all, she was Dr. Lucy Lane while he was still a photographer. Granted, he had achieved some success in his chosen field in the past few years, but would she want to spend the rest of her life
with him? Seeing Clark's departure had made him aware how short and fleeting happiness could be; he resolved to ask Lucy to marry him that very night.
Lois walked over to the sandbox and watched her son play in the sand. "It's time to go home, Joseph," she said quietly.
Joseph looked up at her with a sunny smile and pushed himself up. "Okay, Mommy," he said, sporting one of Clark's wide grins. Lois leaned over and picked him up, her heart contracting at the sight of that particular smile on her son's face. She hugged him close to her with one arm and took Kiley's hand with the other. "Let's go home, kids," she said softly, fighting back tears. She walked over to the car, strapped them in, and drove home. It would be dark soon... bedtime for the children. She shivered as the realization hit her that Clark would not be at home waiting for them. Clark would not be there to hold her that night or for many nights to come.
Clark sat in a featureless white room and attempted to concentrate on Ching's instructions.
"Kal-El, clear your mind. The control you learned on Earth is purely instinctual. It will not be enough on New Krypton. Block out everything coming in from the outside. This room is shielded; the only people in existence right now are you and I. You must bring your abilities under conscious control lest Nor will try and overpower your
half-trained mind." Ching half-closed his eyes and invoked his gifts to see Kal-El's attempt. "Relax, Clark. You can do this. In order to build a wall around your mind to keep others out, you must first have a solid base from which to build. Clear your mind of all outside thoughts. Look inside yourself and find your center--the still spot that is who you are."
Clark wearily took a deep breath and turned inward. They had been at this for hours and he had yet to 'center' as Ching wanted him to. He closed his eyes and began once more to look for his center. Deep inside himself he found the quiet of the farm he grew up on, a treehouse called the Fortress of Solitude, and an image of his soulmate and their children.
Ching watched as Kal-El finally located his center. With the sound of a dislocated joint being popped into place, Kal-El's gifts turned inward and fused into one. "Very good," he said approvingly, "Now, there is a floor below you. Anchor yourself into it; create a hook with your mind
and clip it into the rock. This gives you a solid base to build your shields on," he finished matter-of-factly. He had not expected to be giving his Lord the basics of controlling his abilities, but in hindsight, he thought he should have.
Zara was unsuited for such a task; patience did not come easily for her. As a ruler, she was used to having her orders obeyed instantly. It was a good thing that she had been so carefully trained, he reflected soberly as he continued to watch Kal-El. She always put her people first... otherwise she was inclined to be a bit selfish and stubborn... but when it came to being First Lady, she was brilliant.
Because of the secrecy that cloaked this mission, only the two of them had been sent. The people were secure in the knowledge that their Lady was off visiting relatives until they returned with their First Lord. He was the obvious choice to teach Kal-El the necessary skills to survive in their society. Today it was necessary to teach him to control his mind gifts. Tomorrow it would be necessary to begin to teach him to defend himself. As First Lord, a corps of bodyguards would surround Kal-El, but anything could happen. Ching felt that his promise to Kal-El's wife necessitated more extensive defensive training than was
usually given to men in Kal-El's position; he was determined to keep his word.
Clark took another deep breath and mentally thrust a hook into the ground, anchoring himself there.
Ching smiled. "Very good!" he began, "Now, imagine a wall around your mind. It can be as thin as a piece of sheer cloth or as strong and fast as a stone wall."
Brick by brick, Clark built up an imaginary wall around his mind. He finished quickly and looked at Ching expectantly.
<You have it! Can you hear me?> Ching sent.
Wordlessly, Clark nodded.
<Now, try and send your thoughts back to me. You did it once without thinking to Zara.>
Clark took a deep breath and pushed his thought to Ching. <Like this?> he asked tentatively.
<Well done! You are a quick learner Kal-El! > Ching smiled teasingly. <If this is what life on Earth has done for you,
perhaps we should send more children there!> He grinned broadly and explained how to keep his new shields in place without thinking about them. "You can now have speech with anyone without making audible speech; there is some psychic residue left behind, but I will teach you how to mask that." Ching looked at him thoughtfully.
He was more than strong enough to use this particular trick... it just might take some convincing. "You can have speech with those who do not share our gifts... if you are emotionally close to them and have a focus; it is possible. Kal-El, that's enough for today; come, let's get you cleaned up and get you some food. Now that we're moving farther away from the yellow sun, you will get hungry sooner than you would on Earth."
Ching reached out and helped Clark up before turning toward the door. He hoped that he might be able to do as the Lady Lois wished and become Kal-El's friend, but he knew if Kal-El was to learn some necessary skills, he must maintain a distance while he taught his Lord.
Wearily, Clark followed him toward the door. He wanted his life back. He believed that what Ching now taught him was necessary, but it felt alien, unnatural. He wanted to be home... with Lois.
Lois huddled in the corner of the couch, tears coursing down her face. The children had been asleep for hours and Martha and Jonathan were set to go back to Smallville the next morning. They had offered to stay, but the farm still needed looking after and as much as she loved them, Lois
wanted to be alone with her memories. Everywhere she looked, memories of Clark followed her. Presents he had given her over the years, furniture and decorations they had picked out, his scent on the bedclothes; these things taunted her. Rebelliously, she had taken one of his bathrobes out of the closet and put it on, taking comfort from his smell on it. She cuddled into the warm flannel of the bathrobe; it almost felt as if his arms were around her.
A few minutes later, she got up and began to pace restively; occasionally stopping to pick up an object that held some special memory. Lois stopped in front of the bookcase and restlessly picked up a book of poetry that he had jokingly given her a few years ago. She began to flip through it, but it wasn't long before she had to put it
down. Anne Bradstreet's love poems had always seemed to express her feelings for Clark, but one of them now seemed particularly apt.
Her breath caught in a sob as she dropped the book as if it were a hot coal and stumbled blindly over to the couch. She collapsed into its soft embrace, clutching Clark's robe close to her body. She knew that the decision they made had been the best one; the only one under the
circumstances, but why did it have to be so hard?
Clark followed Ching to his room. He hadn't yet managed to learn his way around the ship, so it was necessary to have Ching as a guide. Ching opened the door and scouted around before he let Clark enter. It was unlikely that Nor would have planted an assassin on board their ship, but it never hurt to be careful. Ching rummaged in the closet and pulled out some appropriate clothes for Kal-El to wear and laid them out on the bed. He purposely avoided the ceremonial robes that Zara had carefully hung there. After seeing Kal-El's world, he knew what his lord would most likely think of them.
"I'll be outside to show you the way to the common area," Ching said quietly on his way to the door.
Clark picked up the clothing and grimaced. It was much more ornate than he liked; he'd rather be wearing *normal* clothes; not black tunics and slacks completely covered in embroidered renditions of the El shield. While most of the symbols were sewn in matching black thread, one of them had been sewn in silver over the chest of the tunic. He placed
the clothes back on the bed and hurried to the sonic shower in the corner. After a three second shower, Clark stepped out and dressed, wishing for hot water. With a purely internal sigh, he walked out into the corridor and followed Ching to the common area.
He pushed past the tapestries and a fierce blush stole over his face as he met Zara's approving glance. The clothing they had provided for him fit a bit more closely than he would have liked, and Zara's almost... proprietary air towards him was bothersome. He walked over to the table
and sat down, pulling the locket out from under the collar of his tunic. He turned it over in his hand and began to apply the lesson he had learned from Ching a few hours earlier...
Lois curled herself in a tighter ball in the corner of the couch. She pulled one of Clark's handkerchiefs from the pocket of his robe and wiped her eyes again. She had been crying for what seemed like hours and she knew she needed to pull herself together. She rubbed her red-rimmed eyes once more and took a deep breath. Her eyes fluttered shut as she imagined Clark in front of her. Lois's head snapped up as she heard a faint voice in her head. If she didn't know better, she would have sworn it was... Clark.
"Lois," she heard again, "Lois." Lois stood up and walked over to the window. A bright light shot across the sky and disappeared quickly. "I love you," the voice said, "Kiss Kiley and Joseph for me..." Clark's voice trailed off as her eyes again filled with tears. She stood for a moment, staring up at the stars before dashing the tears out of her eyes. She wasn't sure how he had managed to speak to her, but for right now, it didn't really matter... except... her mind jumped into overdrive as she considered the possibilities in HG Well's assertion that they were soulmates.
While it was true that she always knew when he was upset or in danger and vice versa, it had never occurred to her that there could be nything more to it. There was a way to find out; surely if something like this was possible, Jor-El and Lara had left him a message? Lois resolutely walked over to the basement door and descended the stairs. She hurried over to the panel, hit the catch that swung it open and entered the room where Clark's ship was stored. She examined it carefully and remembered what had happened the week before when Clark's and Zara's hands had come into contact with the depressions on the front.
Feeling foolish, she laid her hand in the depression where Zara's hand had been; Clark was *her* husband after all... Upon her touch, an image of a slender, auburn-haired woman emitted itself from the nose of the space ship. Startled, Lois almost jumped back, but she knew if she removed her hand, the image would disappear.
"My daughter," the image began, "you must wonder how this image has activated. I am Lara, wife of Jor-El and mother of Kal-El. I recorded this message and a few more on the globe in hope that my son would find you. It was programmed to recognize my son's Kreh'kle'vshta... in your language that would be 'soulmate'."
"The Kreh'kle'vshta bond is the most precious, most rare, most sacred thing on our world. You, my daughter, are the other half of my son; without each other neither of you are whole. The two of you are bonded -- soul, mind, and hopefully--heart."
"You may have noticed that you can communicate without words. This ability may be expanded; I have left other messages upon the globe explaining how. My beloved daughter, I wish that we might have been able to meet, but even now, time grows short. Krypton could explode at any time. I give my son into your keeping. No matter what happens, you cannot be truly separated... you are Kreh'kle'vshta."
The image faded from view and Lois carefully removed her hand from the tiny vessel. Thoughtfully, she exited the room and closed the panel that hid it from view. Clark's communication and Lara's message were like a balm for her soul, yet weariness settled over her like a blanket.
Crawling into their bed upstairs suddenly held great appeal. Before Clark left, he had wisely placed the globe in their safety deposit box at the bank. The bank had been closed for hours, so she could not retrieve it until the next morning, Lois decided to follow the insistent urgings of her body and went to bed. Comforted, she hugged Clark's pillow to her chest and drifted off to sleep.
TBC in Forever and All Eternity II: Kismet