By Crystal Wimmer <JCWimmer@aol.com>
Submitted April 2, 1998
Summary: Lois and Clark's son, CJ, has more to deal with as a teenager than do most boys. There's finding out that his father is Superman for a start, and the appearance of his own super-powers. What will that mean for his future -- and his relationship with his best friend, Kat? On top of that is the mystery of where he came from in the first place -- and how he can cope with his mother's serious illness after she becomes pregnant.
This is probably what would be considered an "Elseworlds" story. It bears little resemblance to the series, except in the characters; furthermore, I go off on a tangent with those. It is one of those thoughts that just wouldn't go away until I wrote it down, so after many months I gave in, and here is the result.
This story is quite different from anything I have ever written, or seen written. Further, it differs in several respects: — This takes place in seasons 10, 20, and back into 4. It gives what is, in my opinion, a different explanation for the baby that Lois and Clark receive in the series finale, "Family Hour". — There is no villain, other than the emotions and life situations of the characters themselves. I range through simple development into major life trauma, and even I got confused at times <g>. — At times, Lois and Clark become supporting characters to the rest of the story. Fear not, they play a large role in the majority of the story, but sometimes they seem to fade into the background. As with any family, the same members are not always in the limelight. — I took some liberties with exploring different levels of emotional development, and even physical development, and some aspects of lifetime friendships that have intrigued me for years. This was a personal tangent, and I hope it doesn't confuse anyone.
Warning: There is a very serious WHAM in this story. I am a believer in happy endings, but it is through testing that the strength of the individual is developed, and the value of the family is realized. I made this medically realistic, so be forewarned.
As with many other authors, I chose the starting point and an idea for the ending, and the characters took over from there. I spent several months furiously trying to keep up with them, and every time I got close they took off again! As a result of this process, the story became a little long (almost as long as my explanation for it <g>).
I believe in a world of infinite possibilities, but I have done my best here to maintain a temporal stability. The bulk of this story takes place over a two-year period, and has flashes into other time periods as well. There is a great deal of change within the characters, and this was inevitable.
With all of that said (and I am assuming some readers will make it through that mess <bg>), I do hope you enjoy my interpretation of the future of Lois and Clark. Comments are always welcome at: JCWimmer@aol.com
Prologue: March, 2002
Lois glanced out the window of their new two-storey home. She could still smell the paint in this room, so she struggled until she was able to raise the window wide open. She enjoyed the fresh air, the sound of birds, and the peace of this quiet neighborhood. Raised in the city, Lois had her doubts about moving into the suburbs, but Clark had for once been insistent.
"Lois, think of the crime rate," Clark had argued. "It would be safer for CJ, and the schools are better. It's time we moved."
"Clark, no. I don't want to commute. We can't do our jobs from forty minutes away. Besides, we have a good daycare here, and I don't want to search for that again."
"Lois," Clark had pleaded, "his school is as important as his daycare."
After months of argument, Lois had conceded defeat, more as a measure of Clark's persistence than actual agreement. In truth, he had some good points: the Metropolis School District had been plagued with crime and accusations of apathetic teachers. There were guns in the schools, and often in the teachers' desks. The classrooms were overcrowded and children failed to receive the individualized attention that they really needed.
The entire issue of drugs was another point of contention. While Lois had difficulty believing it, drugs had been reported in the *primary* grades. Art and Music had been dropped due to their expense, and journalism training as well. The sports programs were failing and, in general, the entire school system was a mess. No, she didn't want her CJ there.
Finally, they had found a small land plot in the tiny suburban area of Claremont, just outside of Metropolis. They had assisted in the design for the building of this three-bedroom, two-bathroom brick home with a full basement. It was beautiful. Lois was pleased with the house, but still concerned with CJ. He had been despondent since the move was initially discussed. He had looked forward to starting kindergarten with his friends at the daycare center, and was disappointed that he would not have the chance.
Lois and Clark had enrolled CJ in a before- and after-school activity program, and he would begin school at Claremont Elementary in a few days. Lois was confident that CJ would make friends quickly. Although he had Clark's reserved nature, he was as friendly as any child Lois had ever seen. The schools out here had a better reputation, and she had less fear of the situation.
Just then, Lois heard CJ's voice drifting softly up to the window. She couldn't make out the words, but she could hear the concern in his voice. Peeking out the open window, she saw her son carefully looking both ways to cross the street in front of the house. She considered stopping him but, as she had an excellent view from where she was, she elected to observe.
CJ looked carefully, left, right, and left again, before crossing the small street. There were no cars to be seen or heard nearby, so he figured he was pretty safe. His mom hated him to leave the townhouse without permission, but things felt different here, and she hadn't *told* him he had to stay at home… He heard a small voice, and it sounded as if it were crying, so he needed to find out what was wrong. Approaching the house across the street, a smaller and older version of their new house, CJ saw a little girl sitting next to the steps leading to the porch.
"What's wrong?" CJ asked her.
"You're not a girl," the child sobbed softly.
"That's not something to cry about."
"My mama said that a girl might move into your house. But you're not a girl. Now I'll never have anyone to play with."
"You can play with me," he assured her. "I'm CJ. What's your name?"
"I'm Katie. Well, my mama calls me Kathryn, but at school everyone calls me Katie."
"What school do you go to?"
"I'm in kindergarten."
"I get to start kindergarten on Monday. My mom says I'll like it better than daycare, but I don't think so."
"It's okay. At least there's someone to play with. There's no kids on this street, just old people. My mama says that's why it's so quiet, but I think it's just boring."
"Maybe we could be friends."
The little girl looked up at CJ from her seated position. Her huge green eyes were obscured behind blond bangs that had become too long, and her ponytail was on the verge of coming untied. "I'd like a friend," she told him solemnly.
CJ smiled and sat down next to her, using the cement steps as a backrest the way she did. "Good," he told her, "'cause if we're the only kids here, we'd better stick together."
Lois witnessed the exchange from her perch at the window. CJ sat next to the small girl. After a short conversation, they began drawing in the dirt with sticks. She realized that she would have to reprimand him later for crossing the street without asking, and not telling her he was leaving, but that was for later. Now, it appeared he had made a friend, and that was more important. There were few children that she had seen in the neighborhood, and she was glad that there was someone that CJ could talk to that was around his own age. She hoped the child would be a friend to her son. He seemed lonely lately, and it was a loneliness that a mother couldn't breach. He needed friends, and this was a good start.
With a satisfied sigh, Lois left the window and went back to shifting clothes from boxes into the dresser. She would find Clark in a few minutes to tell him of CJ's new friend. She was feeling slightly better about the move now, and she wanted to let him off the hook. After all, this was really the first time that Clark had insisted on making a major decision that Lois disagreed with. Perhaps that was why she had let him sway her into this move; she didn't want to leave the city, but she did know that Clark always had their best interests at heart. He would never hurt their family.
In addition, his arguments had been right. She had never questioned his accuracy, just his insistence. At the moment, she was glad she had deferred to him this time. The house was beautiful, and it was theirs. CJ seemed to be adjusting, and that would steadily improve when he entered school. It was with a light heart that Lois flattened the box she had just emptied and carried it back to the living room to get another.
Ten years later…
Kat smiled as she watched the ending to the movie. She loved this sappy stuff, and CJ was the only person she knew who would tolerate it with her. He was her best friend, and had been since kindergarten. She probably knew more about him than was good for her, but he didn't seem to mind. He was really sweet, and he seemed to be good at everything. He had helped her with sports, math, and even cooking. In addition to all this, his mom was the nicest mom there was. Kat appreciated Lois Kent almost as much as she did CJ. Kat's mom had died when she was young, and she missed having a mother around. Lois made up for that. In fact, lately, Lois had spent almost as much time with her as CJ did.
"That was really good," CJ said as he stopped the tape and hit the "rewind" button on the VCR.
"Yeah, I love that one." Kat picked up the box for the tape, an old VHS copy of "Highlander", and handed it to CJ. "I'm not sure that immortality would be all it's cracked up to be, but I kind of think it would be cool."
CJ ducked his head in a gesture that had become familiar to Kat. He was hiding something, and she intended to find out what it was. He had been this way for the last few months, shying away from her at odd times, and the feeling made her uncomfortable.
"CJ, do you trust me?"
His head jerked up to look at Kat. "Of course I do! We've been friends forever. Why?"
"I feel like you're hiding something from me. It's like you just get quiet all of a sudden, and I can't reach you any more." Kat vainly tried to explain her feelings, but after a moment she just shrugged, looking rather sheepish and wishing she hadn't brought up the subject.
CJ smiled gently. "Welcome to puberty," he commented softly as he wrapped his arms around Kat. "You're a girl, and I'm a boy, and there are some things that we just can't understand about each other."
Kat snuggled into his arms for a moment, drawing comfort, then leaned back with a grin. "So you mean this is a sex thing?"
"Not really," CJ said, returning her smile. "Just a growing thing. Every day, I feel different to the day before. It's kind of weird. Sometimes, I just… I don't know. It's like I can't relate to anyone. I can't tell my parents; they'd think I'm crazy. I can't tell my friends — it's just too weird. I can't even tell you, because you're not a guy." He smiled anew at the expression on her face, "See what I mean? You already think I'm crazy."
"Nah. I tell *you* everything." She glanced at him with a wry expression. "I even told you when I started my period."
CJ laughed at that. "Actually, you came over here screaming and crying because you thought you were dying and you were afraid to tell your dad."
Kat found it a little more difficult to laugh at the incident. She had been terrified. She had run to the place she felt most safe, to have them take care of her. She hadn't known what else to do. CJ hadn't been nearly as frightened as she had, and had immediately called for his mother. Lois had patiently explained the facts of a maturing female reproductive system in a very matter-of-fact way. Kat had felt better, and had even allowed Lois to walk her home and explain the situation to her father. In retrospect, the only one who had appeared uncomfortable that night had been Clark. He had looked around the room, almost panicked, before announcing that he had forgotten to do something and dashing out the back door. But then, Clark did that a lot.
"Well, my point is that there isn't *anything* you don't know about me."
"CJ! Be nice!" Kat yelled as she tackled him. The two of them engaged in a short wrestling match, then sobered as CJ allowed Kat to come out on top. "You never used to let me win."
CJ had that guarded look in his eyes once more. "I just don't want to hurt you," he said simply. "I'm a lot stronger than I used to be, and you might get hurt."
Kat looked puzzled at the thought. "You'd never hurt me."
"Not on purpose, no. But sometimes I do stuff I don't mean to. I break stuff. I just want to be careful."
Kat noted the real concern in CJ's eyes and took his hand in hers. "CJ, I never feel more safe than when I'm with you. You're my big brother. You fight the bullies and charm the teachers, and I know for a fact that you could never hurt me."
CJ smiled at Kat's confidence in him. The fact was, she was two months older than he was, and nearly as tall. Sure, he was protective of her, but that came from years of confiding in one another and backing each other up in battle. Truth be told, he had gained as much from her protectivness as she had gained from his. She had defended him against numerous teachers who demanded that he live up to his "potential", letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that he deserved a life as well as an education.
Actually, what he had told her was more than true. He *could* hurt her. It had been years since she could actually beat him in a wrestling match, and he had just been beginning to get strong then. His dad had explained the situation last year when CJ had gotten mad and pulled off a doorknob that had been locked. CJ's initial shock had been nothing compared to the surprise he had received that evening…
CJ stood with the doorknob and a good-sized chunk of wood in his hand, looking and feeling stunned. When he raised his brown eyes to that of his father, expecting a serious verbal lashing, he was surprised to see an amused understanding there.
"Son, we need to have a talk."
"I know I shouldn't have been mad, and I'm sorry I broke it, but it isn't my fault this stupid thing broke. I mean, it's a door and it should be able to keep out burglars, much less a fourteen-year-old boy. I didn't even pull the thing that hard, you know, I just pulled a little, and this happened. I'll pay for it if you want, I just…"
CJ stopped in mid-sentence to look at his smiling father. "You don't have to yell."
Clark broke into a full laugh. "Son, you remind me so much of your mother when you get nervous. Nobody can babble like your mother, but you sure come close." Once he was under control, he continued, "I'm sorry for yelling, but we need to have a talk, and we need to do it before you break anything else."
"I didn't mean to," CJ said sullenly.
"I know. Let's go into your room." Clark took the doorknob from his son and placed it on the table as they passed through the kitchen. He made a mental note to replace the door and knob as soon as possible. Then, he led his reluctant son into the small but colorful bedroom at the top of the stairway.
Once seated on the edge of the bed, Clark eased into the conversation he needed to have. He had been rehearsing this since he realized that the tiny baby entrusted into his and Lois's care would be around for a while. The years of practice made little difference, this was still going to be hard. "There's a reason you can't control your strength. It's kind of a… hereditary thing."
"You mean I'm strong because you are?"
"Oh, yeah. But it's more than that. CJ, this is really hard, and you might not believe me at first, but you know I could never lie to you."
"Yeah, I know."
"This is ridiculous! You're my son, and I can tell you anything." Clark was exasperated at his own difficulty to deal with this subject. "First, though, I need you to promise that what I have to say will not leave this room. Your mother knows, and your grandparents, but nobody else can find out. Do you understand me?"
"Not really. What could be that bad, that you don't want anyone to know about it?"
"It's not bad. Not exactly. Just watch." With that, Clark decided that a picture could be worth a thousand words and he stood up to spin. In a moment, Clark was standing before his son, wearing a blue and red suit that had made him a household word for more than a decade.
Wide-eyed, CJ watched his father transform into a super-hero. Staring, he immediately saw the resemblance between the "two" men, and wondered why he had been so blind. "Oh, wow!"
Clark stood with the suit on and his glasses in his hand. As he put the glasses back on, he looked down into the stunned eyes of his son. "Any questions?"
"You have *no* idea!" CJ replied.
Clark smiled and twirled back into his jeans and sweatshirt. "Shoot."
CJ considered the first thought that came to mind. "Am I as strong as you?"
"I'm not sure. Probably not, or at least not yet. I was about thirteen when I started bench pressing cars, but you have your mother's genes too, so it may take you longer, or you might not get as strong at all. There isn't any way to be sure, except to wait and see."
"What else can I do?" CJ's mind was reeling with the possibilities.
"That remains to be seen. You have always had really good hearing, so I don't know if it's 'super' or not. The rest was mainly concentration for me. Learning to control how much I see or hear, or how much strength and speed I use are just a matter of really concentrating. That should be the same for you, but I have no idea what limits you will have, because of your mother."
Finally, a big thought jumped into CJ's mind. "Can I *fly*?"
Clark smiled. This was his son, but also a true boy. "I doubt it," he said. At CJ's crestfallen expression, he elaborated, "I was in my late teens before that started for me, so it will probably be a while before it starts — *if* it starts — for you.
CJ's eyes became unfocused a moment as he considered the information. Deliberately, he focused his vision across the room and onto one of his birthday cards. He had left the cards sitting up on his dresser, and now he concentrated on the small image of a basketball in one of the pictures. He concentrated as hard as he could, focusing his energy on this one point. Gradually, he saw the basketball begin to darken as the card started to smoke.
Clark watched his son focus his eyesight, and knew what he was trying to do. He considered stopping the experiment, but decided that this was a good time to evaluate just how much power CJ had acquired. When the card began to smoke, Clark placed his cupped hand before his son's eyes, effectively blocking the beam.
The sudden appearance of a hand before his face startled CJ from his task. He looked up to see his father smiling. "You need to be careful what you focus on," Clark told him. "You can do a lot of damage that way."
"This is amazing!" CJ shouted. "What else can I do?"
"That's something that will take time to find out. It may be fun, but we'll need to find a safe place to do it."
It had begun that day. CJ had started experimenting with his abilities and had rapidly found that they could be quite useful. Suddenly he had that little extra for football, that great jump for basketball, and a little more speed for track. It was fun, really. He had a secret that made him different. On the other hand, it bothered him that his family's safety was dependent on secrecy. Clark had taught him from an early age that truth was to be honored above all else, and he felt very much that he was violating the good faith of his friends.
He kept his word to his father, and he told no one about his abilities. He had to be cautious about using them so that he wouldn't get caught. The hardest part was hiding himself from Kat. She had always been his confidant. He could tell her anything, but telling this would mean lying to his father. It felt unnatural to keep something from Kat. He had shared with her every joy and every hurt for as long as he could remember. Usually, he told her things before even confiding in his parents. At first, it was easy to hide the little changes. After all, unless he had been actively looking for the abilities, he would probably have dismissed them as a little extra athletic ability, or just really good senses.
As time progressed, it became harder to hide the differences. He wasn't just a little stronger, he was a *lot* stronger. He wasn't exactly able to control all of the powers, especially as teenage hormones began coursing through his system, so the incidents where he could be caught became more frequent. What worried him the most, though, was that Kat was noticing changes. She mentioned frequently that his improvement in sports seemed sudden, or his strength too great. Lately, it was harder to make excuses when he could see things that she couldn't, or when he heard things that she was unable to hear.
She was suspicious, but it was more than that. She made him feel like he was betraying her trust. This was the most exciting thing in his life, and he wanted to share it. He wanted her to be excited with him. He had wondered for nearly a year whether it was time to share his secret, then he became frightened for a different reason. His father had told him that Mom had flipped out when she figured it out on her own. Mom had felt betrayed because he did let her in on the secret. Would it have been different if Dad had told her?
It was with these thoughts that he had gone to Lois, early on a Saturday morning. Clark had been up and out early handling a fire near a gas station, and he had not returned yet. "Mom," CJ began, "I need to ask a question."
Lois was still far from June Cleaver, but she took some pride in managing her kitchen. She set two slices of buttered toast in front of her son, and wiped crumbs off the counter with the other hand. "What's up?"
"It's kind of serious," CJ began.
The tone of his voice was the trigger. She looked at him sharply before sitting and waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was definitely the voice — the exact same voice that Clark used when he was about to tell her something she really didn't want to hear. With a fifteen-year-old boy, this could not be good. Nightmare images of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, drug dependence, alcohol-induced stupors and failing grades flashed through her mind in no particular order. This could *not* be good. "Let's have it," she stated, with as much confidence as twenty years of reporting could give her.
CJ saw the look on his mother's face and nearly smiled. She really was expecting the worst. In a way, this would probably be a relief. "It's not that bad, Mom. I just want to know something about you and Dad."
"That doesn't sound terrible," Lois said with relief. Raising a teenager was never easy, and CJ reminded her so much of Clark that sometimes she just forgot he was a kid. "So, what do you need to know?"
"Dad said you were mad when you found out about him." He didn't have to elaborate on what Lois had found out. "Why were you mad? Was it because of what he could do, or because he lied to you?"
Lois pondered the question for a moment, searching for why he needed to know this, and hoping that the knowledge would help guide her answer. "Is there someone that you want to tell about this?"
CJ's instant blush told her more than his hesitant words of "…not really."
Lois smiled softly. She loved her son the most when he was so like his father. They were linked in a way that they were just beginning to understand, and she wondered how rocky that road would be. "He never told me one of the most important things about his life, and that hurt. I really think that it was more embarrassment than anything else, though. I had said things to Superman that I never wanted Clark to know, and that embarrassed me. When I'm on the defensive, I do get angry. It's just a part of me."
"So, would you have been as mad if he told you?"
"I really don't know. Like I said, it had more to do with my embarrassment than his dishonesty. What he did was wrong, but he did it for all the right reasons. He wanted to protect me, and it's hard to stay mad at someone who is trying to keep you safe."
"That really doesn't answer my question," CJ said with a sigh.
"It didn't answer mine, either. Who is it you want to tell?"
This time, CJ's sigh was long and loud. "How do moms always know everything?"
"With you, it isn't hard. I have spent almost twenty years figuring out your father, and you have his eyes. Sometimes, I swear I'm looking at him — especially when you have something to hide." Lois smiled and sat down in the chair next to her son at their breakfast bar. "Is it Kat?"
"You *do* know everything!" he said with surprise.
"Not everything, but I know *you*. You've known her for years, and I know you tell her everything. This must be hard for you."
"Yeah, it is. We don't do secrets. We never have, not about anything. This is the biggest thing in my life, and I can't tell my best friend. I know all the reasons why, but this is still hard. I mean, I know she would never tell anyone. I can trust her more than she can trust me, now."
"It's more than a matter of trust, CJ. If you tell your secret, you tell your dad's. That isn't really your place."
"I know that. That's what makes it so hard. It's like I'm in between Kat and Dad, like a tug-of-war, and I'm losing." The anguish on his face made Lois hurt for him. He had such a soft heart, and it was easily bruised. He had Clark's sense of honor, and her impulsivity. She often wondered just how volatile this combination would become.
"I can't tell you what to do. Maybe I should, but I won't. I can tell you what your dad said, but you already know that. All I can say is, just go with your heart on this. Remember, though, that if she knows, she becomes a target. You'll be making *that* decision, too."
It was with all this in his mind that CJ faced Kat across his bed. She wanted to know, she had said so, and this was as good a time as any. With the feeling that what he was doing was right, but the result would be bad anyway, CJ dove in.
"We're both growing up, Kat. You know how you learn new stuff about your parents all the time? Well, I learned something, and it kind of affects me. It has me worried. I want to tell you about it, but my parents told me not to." There! It was out in the open, or sort of, and he had been totally honest. That had been too easy.
"So, tell! You know all about *my* dysfunctional life. My dad had an affair, my mom made herself sick and died, and my dad makes a lousy mom. There's nothing you don't know about me. We just don't have secrets."
"This is a big one, Kat. If I tell you, you might get hurt." She needed to be forewarned.
"Oh, please! Quit with the melodramatics and just tell me what's bugging you. It won't leave this room, I promise."
"Okay," CJ began. "You know how my folks are friends with Superman?" That was a good start.
"Yeah, I got to meet him. So, what's the point?"
"My dad really *is* Superman."
"Don't shout! And don't tell anyone."
"Right, like I'd repeat *that*. CJ, come on, what's really wrong? It's not like you to make things up, so I'll forgive this whopper. But you need to tell me what's wrong."
"I'm not lying," CJ declared defensively.
"My dad's Superman, and I have powers, too. Not like his. Not yet. But they're getting better. I can outrun anyone except my dad, and I can burn stuff by looking at it. And I can see through stuff, too. My dad says I may be able to fly, but that comes later."
Kat was stunned. She had never heard CJ utter so much as a fib, and this was ridiculous. She couldn't figure out his motivation. They always told each other the truth. Her life had been one big soap opera, and she had always told him about it. For him to make this up was insulting and hurtful. Her emotions had been uncertain at best, lately, and this set them off once more. "CJ, this isn't funny," she said quietly.
"Tell me about it!" CJ said in an exasperated voice. "Can I just show you?"
She looked at him quizzically. This was getting out of hand. This was out of the fib zone and into delusion. "I don't think so."
Rolling his eyes, CJ did the first thing that came to the mind of a fifteen-year-old boy. He concentrated and looked her over from head to toe. "You have on a lacy pink bra and white underwear with blue dots."
Kat's eyes flew open in shock. This was crazy! This couldn't be right. Either he hadn't lied to her, or he had been peeking looks in the girls' locker room. In any case, she'd had enough. "CJ Kent, I never want to see you again in my life!" With that, she marched out of his room, through the house, and left, slamming the door behind her. CJ just stood there gaping. It never occurred to Kat that she had been more melodramatic that even CJ had seemed.
Life was not fair. CJ had learned that in a hurry. School was out, he was finally old enough to drive, and he was miserable. Life was really not fair.
CJ went back to the list his mom had given him of things to do, and groaned. "Stop at the store, get milk, bread, and cake mix for Grandma to make my cake, and remember to fill the car with gas." CJ read the list aloud to be sure he wouldn't forget anything, then grabbed his keys to the car on the way out the front door.
CJ had been driving for six months. Because he had a job, he had received his driver's license at fifteen rather than sixteen, and his parents gave him full access to the truck. He liked driving the small pick-up truck that his dad had fixed up for him. His only responsibilities were to keep it in gas and pay his own insurance. It seemed reasonable to him, and much more fair than what most of his friends were dealing with.
Kat had always liked driving around with him.
Kat… bad thought… and just when he was feeling almost normal again.
Kat had spoken to him only briefly in the last several weeks. She had explained that she did believe him, but she was no longer comfortable having him for a friend. The entire "alien" issue had her seriously confused, and she was still angry that he hadn't told her the truth right away. This was part of the reason CJ just didn't care about his birthday this weekend. What good was a party when your best friend wasn't there?
He did look forward to the visit from his grandparents. He loved Grandma Martha in a way that he couldn't put into words. She was always on his side in any argument, and they had forged a bond that he didn't begin to understand, but couldn't live without.
Grandpa Jon was a lot of fun. They could talk about anything, and CJ never had to worry about it getting back to his parents. Maybe he would ask to go back to Smallville this summer. He had helped out on the farm a couple of summers, and he always enjoyed the break from his parents. It would also get him away from the tension of having Kat mad at him. He just couldn't deal with that. Yes, that's what he would ask for on his birthday. He would miss some work but, other than that, he had no reason to stay here this summer.
After finishing the errands his mom had requested, and switching out her car for his truck, he went back into the small town of Claremont. He drove by the convenience mart where Kat worked, twice, before he got up the nerve to stop. Entering the store, he waited for Kat to finish with a customer before walking up to the counter. "What's up?"
"Not much." Kat kept her eyes down. She had been avoiding him since the incident in his bedroom. It really bothered her that CJ wasn't entirely human. Like every other teenage girl on the planet, she had a fair-sized crush on Superman, and realizing that the hero was the father of her best friend had given her a major case of the weirds. She had rarely given Mr. Kent more than a passing glance, other than to consider him a better father than her own; thinking of him in *that* way made her feel really uncomfortable.
"I wondered if you got the invitation to my party," CJ said quietly.
"I got it," she replied. "I don't think I can come. I may have to work."
"Okay. I get it." CJ turned to leave, then turned back around. He scanned the store quickly to ensure that it was free of customers, then he faced Kat once more. "Actually, I *don't* get it! You have been my best friend since I can remember. You haven't missed one of my birthdays since I turned six, and if you don't come, it isn't because you have to work, it's because you don't *want* to come! I'm sick of you being so damn polite when I talk to you. If you're mad at me, then fine, but admit it! If you hate me, I'm sorry, but I can't change what I said or didn't say. I'm doing my best here to be a friend, and I can't change who I am just for you." CJ finally ran out of steam and walked to the door. Before he left the store, he fired a parting shot. "I may not have done everything right, but I was always your friend. I really thought you were mine."
Kat managed to watch CJ leave the store, get into his truck, and drive away. Once he was out of sight, she calmly walked to the door and locked it, and then returned to her place behind the counter. It was with his words ringing in her ears that she began to cry, sinking down to the floor behind the counter so nobody passing by on the street would be able to see her.
CJ's sixteenth birthday was thoroughly depressing. He moped in his room most of the day, coming out only when Martha served the cake that she had made for him. CJ ate the cake, smiled politely when he thanked her, and promptly went back to his room to mope. There had been no party. CJ had only given out one invitation, and when that had been refused, he had torn up the rest and decided not to bother.
"I'm getting worried about him," Lois told Clark as they shared the job of filling the dishwasher in the kitchen. CJ had refused to eat dinner, and Lois had refused to listen to Clark's assurances that CJ most likely would not suffer from one lost meal. For that matter, they didn't even know if CJ required food. Clark didn't, but Lois most certainly did. They assumed that CJ fell somewhere in the middle, as he did with so many other things. "He won't eat, he doesn't sleep. Clark, he's going to make himself sick."
"Lois, you need to relax. He's just a teenage boy who got his feelings hurt. He'll bounce back; he always has."
"But he's always had Kat to run to. He needs her, now, and she's the problem."
Clark looked at his wife with a wry grin. He smiled at her has he lifted his palm to cup her cheek in a familiar gesture. "Lois, she's reacting the same way you did."
Lois pressed her face against Clark's hand for a moment, then she moved back. "I'm not proud of that, you know."
Clark expanded his grin into a true, heart-stopping smile. "I realize that. I just think that we need to give Kat some time. You came around, and so will she. Besides, this can't be easy on her. It isn't just CJ that she has to get used to, it's me, too. The few times I've run into her since this started, she can't even look me in the eye."
Lois sighed, "At the very least, I think the secret is safe with her. If she isn't willing to talk about it with us, I doubt she'll spread it around. Besides, she thinks too much of CJ for that. She may be hurt and angry, but she won't hurt him. I trust her."
"Now, that's something. You don't trust anyone," Clark said with a smile.
Martha entered the kitchen carrying the remainder of the dinner dishes for Lois and Clark to wash. "I know it's not my place, but I really want to talk to you about CJ."
Jonathan and Martha had immediately noticed that their grandson was not himself. While Clark had explained on the phone that CJ was "a little depressed", and the reasons for that depression, Martha had been unprepared for the desolation she saw in his face. CJ had been a part of her heart from the moment she had held him. She had always felt a strange attachment to the child, and she assumed that it came from his resemblance to Clark. Jonathan, too, had been drawn to the child more than one would have expected, even considering that this was their only grandchild. Initially, they had assumed that it was the fear of losing him to his own time that had intensified their reactions to the child, but that thought had been pushed to the back of their minds for years now. They had given up waiting for the impending arrival of some time traveler that would carry CJ away, and had learned to enjoy each moment as it came. On the other hand, they had never entirely forgotten, and their attachment to him had never lessened.
"Jonathan and I have been talking, and we were wondering if a change in scenery might get CJ back to normal," Martha offered.
"You mean, take him back to Smallville?" Lois inquired.
"Well, yes. We've had him there before, and he seemed to enjoy the time with us. He loves to explore the farm, and Jonathan could really use the help." Martha frowned, wondering how to be more convincing. The truth was, she just felt the need to spend some time with her grandson. "I know that he's working now, but he can write at our house as easily as here, and the stories might even be better. He could always e-mail them to you."
Lois considered the suggestion carefully. CJ's column in the paper was a teenage perspective section that was designed to increase the circulation of the paper by reaching the younger audiences. He had shown Clark's flair for words, and his writing was unbelievably good, considering his lack of experience. It was true that he could write from anywhere, and his comparisons of farm life to city life could be as interesting as the series he had done last summer on the differences of city life to suburban living. He had an amazing analytical mind, and the potential for a good story was always there. In addition, Martha was right about getting his mind off Kat. The boy had lost his best friend, literally. Perhaps removal from the immediate situation would be a good thing.
Clark's reasoning had followed the same pattern as his wife's. He had watched her face run the gamut of emotions as she considered sending their son away for the summer. This was always hard for her. The first time, back when CJ had been only nine, they had sent him to Smallville for purely occupational reasons. Lois had been promoted to Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet after Perry's failing health had mandated his retirement. While she was more than capable of running the paper, the initial adjustment in time management had threatened their marriage and undermined her confidence in her ability to parent CJ. The two-month-long break that the Kents had provided had allowed her to get together a routine that did allow her time for family.
While Perry had insisted that it was impossible to have both, Lois managed to do so with her determination to have it all. Within a few weeks, she had established a daily pattern that included a home computer, cellphone, and message system. She had also delegated authority to two junior executives to eliminate the constant nightly phone calls that had plagued her. Finally, when the system she devised was working perfectly, they had brought CJ home to a much happier arrangement and found that the whole family, Martha and Jonathan included, had benefited from the situation.
CJ had spent two other summers, and one Christmas break, with his grandparents. He loved the time with them, and he learned so much from the older values that Martha and Jonathan instilled. This really wouldn't be any different, Lois decided. He would spend a few weeks with them, and by the time school started in September, CJ would be back to normal. Hopefully, by then Kat would have resolved this confusion she had, and they could go back to being friends.
"That really may be a great idea, Martha," Lois said. Turning to her husband, she inquired, "What do you think?"
"I think it's perfect. Now we just have to talk him into it."
"That shouldn't be too hard," Jonathan said, as he walked into the kitchen with CJ behind him. "CJ just asked me how to talk you guys into letting him spend the summer with us."
"It's all I want for my birthday," CJ added.
"Well, then," Martha said with a smile, "it looks like you're coming home with us."
Lois helped CJ to pack, and Clark and Jonathan loaded his things into the car. Because CJ had wanted to take his truck, Clark had offered to drive his parents' car for Martha, while Jonathan would ride with CJ. Normally, Martha and Jonathan would have come to Claremont by "Superman Express", but this time they had impulsively decided to drive. The scenery as they traveled through the mountains of West Virginia was beautiful along I-64, and they had decided it would be fun to just drive. Under the circumstances, they were glad for the decision. CJ would be happier taking his truck to the farm, and this trip would provide Clark time to talk with Martha, and Jonathan time to talk with CJ.
At the moment, however, Lois was feeling decidedly left out. As her family piled into the vehicles, she regretted the responsibilities that would keep her near the Daily Planet for the night. It was at times like this she really wanted to skip being an editor, and go back to just being a simple reporter. Odd, she had thought she had worked through this. Yet here she was, having just celebrated her sixth anniversary as Editor-in-Chief, and still having difficulty with the responsibilities of the job. Some things would never change.
"I'll be back before morning," Clark whispered in her ear as he hugged her good-bye.
"I know," Lois smiled weakly. "I just feel like I'm missing something, and I can't shake it."
"I'll miss you."
"I know. I love you."
"I love you too, Lois. I'll be back as soon as I can." With a last lingering kiss, Clark left Lois standing on the porch, waving at her family as they drove away.
Lois had said the rest of her good-byes in the house, so she was surprised how bereft she felt at the moment. She knew they needed her, and knew she was loved. At the Planet she was irreplaceable (as they informed her frequently) but, at home, she often felt like a fifth wheel. Perhaps it was because Clark and CJ had this new bond from sharing powers that nobody else had, or maybe it was just that CJ was growing up and needed less direct intervention. She missed playing "mom" to Kat as well. Lately, she wondered just how important she really was in the grand scheme of things. Oh well, she decided, this mood could be cured by only one thing. Moments later, she settled herself in front of the television with a pint of cookie dough ice cream and put in a favorite video. If she wasn't necessary, she would just have to enjoy herself.
CJ had been on the farm for nearly three weeks when he finally started opening up to his grandparents. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to them; he just couldn't seem to find a starting point. They hadn't been kidding about the amount of help Jonathan needed on the farm. CJ was constantly utilizing his powers to toss hay bails and clean equipment. He lacked his father's skill with repairs, but Jonathan gave good directions, and they even managed to fix some of the larger pieces of equipment working together.
Time with Martha was also a joy. Despite CJ's lingering depression, he couldn't help but feel better about life when he was with his grandmother. She cooked and cleaned for him, and he was on his own for finding ways to keep busy. When Jonathan wasn't around, he often helped around the house with the heavier cleaning chores, and even occasionally with cooking. He became adept at flipping pancakes, and he gradually mastered the art of blueberry waffles.
CJ made another strange discovery. It seemed that, the more he used his newfound strength and speed, the easier it became to control the unique abilities. He was able to lift and carry greater amounts on a daily basis, and he seemed to get faster by the day as well. The wide open area of the farm allowed him more freedom to experiment, and the experimentation resulted in increased abilities. He discovered that his hearing was more than acute. He was able to hear his grandparents' discussions in the house, all the way from the barn. He could pick up their heartbeats if he was close enough, and he never missed his grandmother calling him in to dinner, wherever he was on the farm.
His vision continued to develop as well. He was able to find his grandfather from quite a distance, and he was starting to be able to see through walls. He could heat objects (which came in handy for branding and welding), and only started a few accidental fires in the process. His strength became easier to control with practice. He was less apt to crush objects accidentally now, and yet he was able to deliberately crush bricks, rocks and some metals with more skill than before. He could outrun the horses on a nearby farm, and had no difficulty catching the chickens to remove them from the hen-house for cleaning.
CJ's comfort with his abilities was directly related to his grandparents' encouragement of his learning to use them. They seemed to naturally know what he needed, and when he needed it. He supposed it came from raising his dad. They had been through this once before, and Martha was the first to admit that the previous experience was a help. They'd had no idea how to help Clark when he began to differ from the children around him, but they had those mistakes to learn from and were eager to use their knowledge to help their only grandson.
When CJ finally felt ready to talk about his life, his grandmother was more than willing to listen. She didn't interrupt as he told her of his decade long friendship with Kat, and the pain involved in losing that relationship. CJ eloquently expressed his fears for the future, realizing that if he was unable to maintain an established friendship, initiating new ones would be difficult. He cried as he told Martha about Kat storming out of the house and refusing to come to his party, then he cuddled in her arms as she held him, crying with him as she had done with Clark many years before, sittting on the floor of the "Fortress of Solitude." Martha had been through this once before, but she realized now that CJ had an advantage in the situation that Clark had never had. CJ had Clark. Simply, he had the benefit of not being alone in the world.
Martha was not so naive as to believe that Clark was the perfect father. He certainly tried but, just as she and Jonathan had made their fair share of mistakes, she was absolutely sure that Clark had made his share of goofs along the way. Nevertheless, Clark and CJ shared something that could be wonderful if they could breach the father/son gap of generations and get together on this. Martha told CJ as much, and was surprised when it initiated a fresh wave of tears from the boy.
"I know he loves me and all," CJ told her through the tears. "But this is my fault. He told me not to tell anyone because this could happen. I did it anyway, and that makes it my fault."
"CJ, your father has never been one to hold a grudge. Was he that angry when you told Kat?"
"He wasn't really mad, he just got this disappointed look, you know. It was like he was too hurt to be mad, and that made it worse."
"Oh, sweetie," Martha soothed. "Your father has been through so much in his life. He was trying to save you that hurt, but he can't protect you from everything. If he was hurt, it was because *you* were hurting."
"But he never even talked to me about it."
"That's because he's a man," Martha said with some exasperation at the male of the species. "He may be the sweetest boy in the world, but he still expects everyone else to read his mind. He was probably waiting for you to come to him — and if I'm right, he's just as disappointed that you haven't talked this out as you are."
CJ wiped his face and sat up straight. "You really think so? You think he wants to talk about this."
"I'm sure of it. Honey, he loves you. You and your mother are the most important things in his life, and you always will be. He wants to know everything about you, and this is even more special because it's something that only the two of you can share. Even your mother can't quite be in on this, although she has some experience with learning to use super-powers."
"What do you mean?"
Martha smiled, happy that she had apparently cheered her grandson, "Now, *that* is something your mother will have to explain."
CJ conceded that argument with a smile, and kissed his grandmother on the cheek before walking out into the yard to help his grandfather with a tractor that had gotten stuck in the mud. CJ had been trying to tighten the faucet handle enough to stop the consistent drip that had formed an inconvenient puddle under the faucet when the entire faucet had come off in his hand. By the time he had found Jonathan, and the laughing twosome had turned off the main water valve long enough for CJ to weld the faucet closed, the entire front yard had been flooded. Yesterday, they had spent the day installing a new pipe and faucet to replace the one that CJ had destroyed inadvertently, and today they needed to get the tractor out of the muddy yard and plant a new crop of grass to replace what had been drowned by the incident.
Jonathan directed CJ as he carefully maneuvered the large piece of farm equipment out of the mud hole and onto firmer ground. He was not able to lift the entire unit, but he could pick up various wheels on the tractor and tilt it while he shifted it out of the water. He was extremely careful during the process, taking each of his grandfather's suggestions to heart, and hoping that he would not do any additional damage in the process.
For his part, Jonathan made sure that CJ maneuvered the tractor onto hard-packed dirt, and that he didn't hurt himself in the process. He kept up a running commentary on what CJ was doing, interspersed with funny stories of Clark's similar accidents during the initial development of his powers. CJ was relieved to see that Jonathan had quite a sense of humor regarding the incident, and was also relieved that his father had made mistakes, too.
It was a common misconception among teenagers that their parents had never made mistakes. Jonathan realized that the awkwardness that CJ was demonstrating was more than just an adjustment to super-powers. He was in the unnatural state of being in between adult and child and, regardless of his physical abilities, that was a hard place to be. He was dealing with adolescence as well as could be expected, Jonathan supposed, and he would handle the situation better with time.
When Jonathan quizzed CJ on his conversations with Martha, he was surprised at the answer he got. With a huge smile, his grandson relayed Martha's ideas that Clark would be a wonderful resource for him and that they shared something really special. It was a new concept for CJ, the idea of "different" being a good thing. He had spent most of his life learning to fit in, and permission to be different from those around him was a relief. He had taken a lot of flak for being a writer when his athletic abilities were so promising, and it had been hard to follow his heart on the matter. Certainly his parents had been encouraging — and, of course, Kat — but that was where the support had stopped.
Other students had always growled when he threw off the bell curve with his test scores, and his true enjoyment of writing had earned him condescending looks from even the teachers. Half of them seemed to think he was simply trying to impress them, while the other half spend so much time trying to make him live up to his imaginary "potential" that they had devised that he had nearly begun to hate school.
Kat had always seemed to be able to encourage him when the teachers really got on his nerves. She had a way of understanding what he needed, and when he needed it. Sometimes she had used jokes or stories to pull him out of his bad moods, but more often she used a rare sarcastic wit that challenged him on another level than school. Keeping up with her mood swings lately had been an additional challenge, yet he seemed to manage. If it hadn't been for the Superman thing, he would most likely be with her now. They always kept each other busy over the summers.
Two years ago, when he had come to visit his grandparents, Kat had been allowed to come along. It had been that summer that Katie Lynn had ceased to be, and Kat the tomboy had truly taken over. She had changed that summer from the pristine little girl that her mother had encouraged into a tough little scrapper who could play baseball, football and even hockey. She had become his equal in many ways, able to keep up with him on a physical level while occasionally surpassing his mental abilities.
Little Katie had grown up. She had climbed trees, milked cows, and ran through fields with no dress in sight. Martha had sewn her two jumpers to replace the dresses she had ruined, and had bought her the first pair of running shoes that she had owned. Kat had abandoned the girlish nickname that had followed her since birth, and decided that she was not yet ready for the formal "Kathryn" that was on her birth certificate. It was that summer, when she had barely turned fourteen, that she had truly captured the hearts of the Kents. This little spitfire reminded them of Lois in her spirit and energy, and they were touched by her presence.
CJ had loved that summer. He had been so afraid that he would lose his best friend to the inevitable changes of puberty. Most of his male friends seemed to fade away at the first sign of a girlfriend, and the few friends that were girls were only interested in a boyfriend. CJ wasn't ready for the whole boy-girl relationship idea, and he was grateful to find that Kat shared his ideas about staying friends. It wasn't that he didn't want a girlfriend, just that he wasn't ready to deal with the concept yet.
CJ sighed loudly as he glanced over the yard. With the tractor out of the way, it was impossible not to see how much damage had been done to the grass. It was simply a muddy mess from where CJ stood. He couldn't believe that he had done all of this in just a few minutes. One second of misjudged strength would take weeks of growth to repair.
"I'm sorry, Grandpa Jon. I didn't mean to do this."
"I know that, son. We'll get it fixed up soon. Why don't you use that rake to even out the mud, and we'll let the sun dry it out for the next couple of days. We can reseed it later, for now I just want to get it level."
"Okay. I'll give it a try." With that, CJ quickly (very quickly) raked out the worst of the hills and valleys of the yard, and left a relatively even surface. It was still quite wet, but it would dry quickly in the July heat. CJ stood back and surveyed his work. "How's that?"
"Clark couldn't have done it any better."
CJ smiled at what was so obviously a compliment. He liked being compared to his dad. He liked being *like* his dad. With pride in his voice, he offered to bring his grandfather a drink. Jonathan smiled at the boy and asked for some of the lemonade he had seen Martha making earlier.
CJ came back from the kitchen with two large plastic tumblers of lemonade. He was happy to help out his grandparents, even in small ways. They were getting older, well into their seventies, and it worried him that they might not always be here for him. He always felt so safe here, so loved and accepted. It was a feeling that he had always had, ever since he was a tiny child. There was something about this couple that was also a part of him. Being with them was just a pleasure. He simply could not understand the friends he'd had who complained about their grandparents. His were wonderful, and he was aware that this was a time to be treasured.
"Good, lemonade. Thanks for bringing it out," Jonathan said as he sat down on the porch steps.
"So, what's the deal with your girlfriend?"
"Well, she's not my girlfriend."
Jonathan turned to look at his grandson as he sat beside him on the steps. "Is that the problem?"
"Nah. She has a problem with me being half alien."
Jonathan's eyes flew open at that remark. "Do you?"
CJ sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he replied, "I'm not sure. I never really thought about it. I like being the same as Dad, and it's cool to be able to do stuff, but I get tired of having to hide everything that I can do."
Jonathan nodded in understanding. "Your dad used to feel the same way."
"I'm already different than everyone else. I like to read and write, and I'm better at sports without really trying. Some of the kids don't like me because my grades are too good. It's like I just can't win. The only person who ever really liked me — the only kid, I mean — was Kat. Now she's not even talking to me. I feel pretty alone."
"Your dad spent most of his life that way. In fact, until he met your mother, I don't think he ever told anyone about his secret."
"I just really thought that Kat would understand. I knew she would be mad because I didn't tell her right away, and maybe the way I told her wasn't the best, but she was my best friend. Best friends aren't supposed to just stop liking you when you do something wrong." CJ paused before continuing. "Besides, it's not like I can help the 'alien' thing. I can't make my dad from Earth any more than she can make her dad stop drinking. You don't get to pick your parents, and I'd rather have my dad than hers any day."
"It sounds like you and Kat need to talk this out."
"But I told you, she's not talking to me. She wouldn't even come to my party."
"CJ, your party was over a month ago. Have you called her since you came here?"
"No. I'm afraid to."
Jonathan looked up in surprise, and said, "Now, why would you be afraid to talk to your best friend?"
CJ closed his eyes and thought for a moment. He wasn't sure how to put his fears into words, but he owed his grandfather some sort of explanation. "As long as I don't talk to her, I guess I can think she will talk to me someday. If I try, and she won't listen, then I know I've lost her. I don't think I can stand to lose my best friend."
Jonathan smiled at the sincerity in his grandson's voice. The child apparently had thought of little else since he had come here, and his thoughts were clearer than he realized. Unfortunately, denial was not going to get him back together with his friend. "Go call her, son. You need to know if you're going to move on. This way, if she won't talk, you can have some time here to get used to the idea before you have to go home. If she does talk to you, you can relax and enjoy the rest of your summer."
"That makes too much sense," CJ told his grandfather. They met each other's eyes, and then they both began to laugh. Sometimes, the answer was just so simple.
Kat was just walking into her bedroom when she heard the phone. She flopped over the end of the bed, and answered on the third ring. "Hello?"
There was silence on the line, then a small voice, "Uh, hi."
Kat was somehow not surprised to hear a voice all the way from Kansas. "How's the vacation?"
"Quiet. Working some for Grandpa, but mostly just reading. He makes me write every afternoon for an hour and send it in to Mom."
"What are you writing about?"
"Mostly the farm stuff. How to milk cows and clean chicken coops. I'm putting together a story on country life for the column, but that's about all."
"Sounds pretty good to me. Does your grandma still make those blueberry waffles?"
Yeah. She taught me how, too."
With that, Kat made a decision that eased her mind and quelled her conscience. "Maybe you could show me how when you get home?"
All the way from Kansas, the catch could be heard in CJ's voice when he replied with a simple, "I'd really like that." He knew Kat would probably hear the sniffles, but that really didn't matter to him. She had seen him cry before, and most likely would again. "I can't talk long. I don't want the bill too high for Grandma and Grandpa."
"Okay. I just wanted to say that, well, I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, CJ. I miss you."
He could hear that she was crying, too. In a small way, it made him feel a little better that she missed him. He wouldn't tell her that, of course, but he felt better just the same. "I miss you, too, Kat."
"When are you coming home?"
"Soon. Maybe Grandpa will let me drive back next week. I really want to talk to you."
"Me too, CJ. Me too."
When CJ hung up the phone, he felt a thousand pounds lighter. He had no idea what was going on in Kat's head at the moment, but she missed him as much as he missed her, and that gave him hope.
CJ spent most of the next day cleaning up the room he had been staying in (his father's old room) and loading the cab of his truck with the necessities for a long trip. His Grandmother prepared him a huge batch of brownies to take home to his mother, and several other tasty snacks for himself. Once the truck was ready to go, he spent what was left of the day with his grandfather.
CJ had always enjoyed spending time at the farm, and the last several weeks had been fun, but he wanted to be back at home with Kat. Now that he knew she didn't hate him, he was anxious to get back into his relationship with his best friend. Jonathan understood CJ's need, and tolerated the decision with good humor. Frankly, Jonathan had expected CJ to become bored with the farm before this time, and that would have happened if CJ hadn't spent so much time developing his abilities while he was there.
Martha insisted that CJ wait until the next morning to leave for Metropolis. She had a great deal of confidence in his driving skills, and she was willing to allow him to make the drive alone, but she did not want him making the drive in the dark. CJ was disappointed that he would have to wait, but he was indeed proud that his grandparents would let him make the drive without his father at all. Martha and Jonathan had always been more supportive of his independence than his parents, but he believed that this was because they had already raised their child, and understood the value of independence. It wasn't that Lois or Clark was stifling, just that they were protective.
When the morning came, and all the good-byes were said, CJ drove back to his home in Claremont. He was tired, but proud, when he arrived at home just before dark, and he was also glad to see his parents. He spent a great deal of time telling them about his adventures on the farm, and explaining how his powers were developing. Clark made a point to remind him of keeping the abilities secret, but CJ was already learning to cover his increasing strength and speed.
Once his parents were finished quizzing him, CJ made his way into his bedroom. He spent a few minutes writing in his journal, then he picked up his phone. He had been waiting all day to make this call, and he couldn't wait any longer.
Kat answered on the third ring, "Hello?"
"Hey, Kat. I'm home now." CJ was stumbling over his words. He suddenly felt so stupid.
"That's great. How was your trip?"
"It was cool," CJ stumbled. "I guess I'm tired, but it was fun coming back by myself. I didn't feel so much like a baby."
"Is something wrong, CJ?"
CJ squirmed a bit more, "No. I don't think so. I'm just tired."
"Well, maybe you should get some sleep, then."
"I guess so. Good night, Kat."
CJ hung up the phone feeling confused and shaken. He had always been able to talk to Kat, and he didn't know what the problem was. It wasn't supposed to make a difference, this change in his life. Kat had apparently dealt with it, and it wasn't bothering her any more. At least, she hadn't mentioned it. *He* was the one who was feeling uncomfortable and awkward. He supposed it was probably from the argument as much as anything, but that didn't make sense, either. They had argued many times in the last few years, usually over small things, and when they were speaking again, things went right back to normal. He couldn't figure out why this felt so different.
He had been so anxious to get back to see her. It amazed him that now, when he was here, he had no idea what to say. He didn't know if he should bring up the subject, or work around it. He didn't want to make her uncomfortable and, in the process, his caution was making him miserable. She was his best friend, and he should be able to talk to her. That was, after all, what had started this whole mess in the beginning. He had just wanted to share this part of his life with her. Now, he just wished it could all go away, and go back to the way it had been. At the very least, he realized why his father had kept secrets for so many years.
CJ finally managed to reign in his wandering thoughts enough to get ready for bed. He brushed his teeth, found his shorts in his suitcase, and dressed for bed. Before lying down, he crept out into the hall and down to his parents' room. He paused a moment at their closed door, considering, then he knocked quietly.
After a moment, his father's voice called out, rather breathless, "What do you need, CJ?"
"I just wanted to say good night."
CJ heard rustling, then was startled when his mother opened the door. She enveloped him in the kind of hug that he had loved as a child, and tolerated as an adolescent. CJ hugged back, as much for his own pleasure as for hers.
"I missed you, sweetie."
"I missed you, too, Mom."
"Good night, son," Clark called, still in the bed.
While CJ headed back to his room, Lois climbed back into her bed next to Clark. "That was unusual," she remarked. "Usually, I have to hold him down to get a hug — or even a 'good night', for that matter."
"Maybe he missed us," Clark mused, as he put his arm around his wife's waist. He tugged gently, pulling her into the cradle of his body. He sighed softly as she wiggled her bottom into his groin. "You keep that up, and I'll have to finish what we started before CJ came in."
"Well," Lois smiled, "you do what you have to do." She wiggled her bottom against him once more for emphasis.
"You do know how to get into trouble, don't you?" Clark grinned broadly as Lois looked over her shoulder at him.
"I do try," she assured him with a kiss. "I do try."
The next morning, CJ was up with the sun. He put away the clothes that he had taken to Smallville, then he made his way into the kitchen.
"You're early," Lois commented.
"I didn't eat much dinner," CJ replied as he grabbed an apple out of the bowl on the table. "I figured if I got up early enough, Dad might make breakfast."
"Sorry, sweetie. Your dad had to leave early."
"Is there a problem at the paper?"
Lois considered a moment before answering her son. They had never liked lying to him about Clark's mysterious disappearances, but it had become a habit. It would have been impossible to trust a small child with the secret. CJ had an incredible pride in his father to begin with; if they had added the knowledge that his father was really Superman, it would have spread trough the sandbox and into the schoolyard within days. They had begun making the excuses quite early, and then it had been a matter of not knowing when it would be appropriate to tell him the truth. When Clark had finally revealed the truth to CJ, it had changed the situation. They no longer had to lie to him, but Lois was still unsure how much of the truth to tell him.
"There was a problem, but it wasn't with the paper," she explained. "He heard something on the television that he heeded to check out."
"Oh," CJ said, quietly. He seemed to forget that his father was Superman. He knew about his father's powers, that much was easy to take, but he had thought about Superman as another person for so long that he found it impossible to combine the two images in his mind. "I guess that means I'm cooking breakfast, then."
"You and your father! You won't let me *near* a kitchen," Lois said with a smile.
CJ returned her grin and replied, "That's because we value our health."
Lois smacked her son playfully, marveling for a moment how much he was like his father. He had the same sense of humor and the same gentle manner. He was beginning to look like his father as well, and, as he stood in front of the stove frying French toast, she was stunned. Dressed only in the shorts he had slept in, he clearly showed that his body was becoming more adult than she had realized. She wondered just how long she would have to wait before she had to really become worried about him.
He had always been a beautiful child. His wide brown eyes and wavy dark hair should have looked decidedly average, but, on him, it did not. He had grown quite handsome in the last few years, and she was beginning to develop a motherly concern about his life. He was a good boy, true, but he was just a boy. The challenges of development were becoming greater by the day, and while she didn't worry about drugs or alcohol, she *did* worry about girls. CJ had excellent judgment, and was well able to decide what was not safe. He had a wonderful rapport with his parents and was able to tell them anything. But how would he react when girls started falling all over him?
Lois had expressed her concern to Clark a few months ago, and he had just shrugged it off. Clark had never had difficulty fielding the advances of the women around him. He had been polite, but made it clear that he wasn't really interested. Clark assumed that CJ would have that same tact, combined with the knowledge of when and where to use it. Lois wasn't quite so sure. She had fallen into too many bad relationships, and she didn't want CJ to do the same. While he normally did show good judgment, he *was* only a boy.
Lois set her concern aside for a moment as she watched her son fix the breakfast. Fortunately, he also had his father's ability in the kitchen. Lois was certainly pleased with this as well. CJ was going to be a wonderful man, just as wonderful as his father. She was sure of it. She gratefully accepted the plate when he offered it, and enjoyed the meal before getting dressed for work.
CJ accepted his mother's departure with good grace. Since he had turned twelve, he had been what was termed as a "latch-key kid" during the summers. He didn't mind the label, or the responsibility. He enjoyed having the time alone to write, and, if it was unusual that a young boy didn't look for ways to get into trouble, CJ wasn't aware of it. He valued his parents' opinions, and he worked hard to earn their respect. He had learned earlier than most teenagers that respect was a two-way street, and if he wanted his parents to allow him to do as he wished, he needed to make his decisions responsibly.
CJ quickly cleaned up the kitchen and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Glancing at the clock, he saw that Kat should be awake by now, and he went to his room to change. As he entered the room, he saw Kat sliding his window open from the outside.
Kat jumped at least a foot, hitting her head on the window. She glared at CJ with a typically evil look. "You could warn a person, you know." She pulled her other leg through the window and up onto the window ledge, leaving behind the large tree limb that had served as her ladder up into CJ's room.
"Maybe, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun." Somehow, seeing her there, joking like she had always done, reassured him that their relationship was not irrevocably damaged. It restored his comfort with her as nothing else could.
CJ reached down to help her through the window. He placed his hands on her sides, and just lifted. Kat came quickly through the window, and found herself sitting on the ledge.
She studied her friend for a moment, vaguely surprised that he looked the same as he always did. It wasn't that she had expected him to grow horns or anything, but her perception of him had changed enough that she almost expected to see a physical difference.
"Thanks," she told him, "You really are strong."
"I guess I am," he answered, even though it really wasn't a question. After a moment, with concern, he asked, "Does that bother you?"
Kat shifted uncomfortably. She looked up at him, but failed to allow her green eyes to meet his. He had been her best friend forever, but she was still dealing with the fact that he had lied to her. "How strong *are* you?" she asked.
"Well, I'm not bench pressing cars, yet. My dad says he could do that at my age. I guess I'm pretty strong, though."
"But you can't fly?"
Too bad," she offered. "That would be really neat."
"I guess it would. Maybe I'll have my dad take me. I never really thought about it before." He moved to sit next to her on the window ledge, and leaned his head back against the window.
"So, you don't even know what you can do yet?"
CJ sighed. He had known the questions were inevitable; he had even looked forward to them at first. He liked the idea of sharing his discoveries with a friend. His fear was that soon, the abilities were all she would be able to see. It was his hope that discussing this with Kat would help him sort it all out, but that just didn't seem to be happening. In fact, the more she questioned, the less sure of himself he became.
"My dad says that we have to learn as we go. I'm different than anyone else because I'm only half from Krypton, so there's no way to tell what I will turn out like."
Kat considered the information for a moment. She had to keep reminding herself that this was her best friend. He kept throwing out terms and ideas that had no place in her orderly life, and she wasn't sure how to take it. CJ was not the person that she had always known, and that would take some getting used to.
"Let's start with what you can do. What's the coolest thing, so far?"
CJ thought about it for a moment. He had mixed feelings about his abilities. He appreciated the strength and speed, of course, but he wasn't sure that was the best thing. He liked being able to start fires with his sight, and hear his mother calling from a mile away, but they weren't the best thing, either. Further, he wasn't sure he had explored all of his abilities yet, and the best might be yet to come. "It's cool to see through things," he told her. "I can tell who's on the other side of a door before I open it, and I can see if there are fish in the water before I choose a place to set up my fishing pole. Yeah, I guess the best is the vision."
"You can see through anything but lead, right?" Kat asked, remembering what she had read about Superman.
"Yeah. But most metals give me a little trouble. Dad said that might get better with time."
"Can you see like that all the time?" Kat asked as she stood and crossed the room to sit on the edge of his bed.
"Not all the time," he answered. "I have to concentrate on it, really think hard. Even then, if I'm tired, it kind of fades in and out, like looking through a veil or something."
"So, you can't always see through my clothes?" Kat finally addressed her primary area of concern. After all, it was uncomfortable enough to have your best friend be a boy, without wondering if he was literally undressing you all the time.
CJ smiled, then laughed, not realizing that Kat had developed an angry expression on her face. "I only did it to prove a point, Kat. I don't care what color girls' underwear are."
"It's not my underwear I'm worried about," Kat confided. "It worries me that you can see *past* the underwear if you want to."
CJ's laugh softened into a gentle smile, a smile that would have stunned his mother in its resemblance to his father. "You are my best friend. I would never embarrass you like that. It would be like sneaking into your bedroom or something, and I know that's just wrong. My parents taught me better than that."
Kat smiled a little in return. She was both relived and a little disappointed that CJ was such a sweet friend. As they had gotten older, she knew that her friends thought CJ was really cute, and she had begun to hope that, some day, they could be boyfriend and girlfriend, but she wasn't ready for the concept of loving an alien.
Kat was just finishing up her shift at the convenience mart when she heard an unfamiliar voice. When she looked up, she saw a handsome boy — really cute — with huge blue eyes and a killer smile.
"Hi, I'm Andy. I'm new here. My mom wanted me to pick up some batteries, and I don't see any." He flashed the killer smile once more, and Kat just stared.
After a moment of standing there, very much like an idiot, Kat finally processed beyond the boy's looks, and his words began to register. Andy failed to notice her glazed expression, or perhaps was too polite to mention it, but he waited patiently until she found her voice.
"Batteries… ummm… well, what size do you need? We keep them behind the counter so no one will walk off with them. Not that you would do that, but that's just what we do." Kat attempted to cover her nervousness with babble, much as Lois would do, but she was unaware of how poorly it served that purpose.
"Double A," Andy replied. He watched the girl nervously twirl her hair and fidget. She was kind of pretty. She had wavy brown hair that reached her shoulders and it had a pretty red shine to it. Her eyes were an unusual green, and they were really wide. She wasn't fat, but she wasn't really skinny either. She looked like she was in shape; maybe she was a runner or something. In any case, she seemed sweet, and she wasn't bad to look at. "Do you have a boyfriend?"
Kat stopped in the act of reaching for the batteries located beneath the counter. She thought briefly of CJ, but he wasn't really a boyfriend. He was her friend, and he was a boy, but that was about it. She wondered if he thought of her as a girlfriend, and decided that he didn't. He had certainly never said anything like that, and she didn't expect him to.
"No boyfriend," she told him. "Why?"
"I just wondered if you might want to go out. I don't know many things to do around here, but maybe we could catch a movie or something." He looked at her hopefully. She really was pretty, and he would like to get to know her.
After a moment of thought, Kat decided that she had little to lose. He was nice-looking, after all, and her dad had said that she should spend time with people other than CJ. "I'll have to ask my dad," she told him. "But, I would like to go out."
Andy flashed the killer smile once more. He gave her his telephone number, and paid for the batteries before leaving the store. As soon as he had left, Kat called her father at work. While he was a little annoyed at being interrupted at work, he was pleased that Kat was showing interest in another boy. He felt that she was much too young to be getting serious about one boy, and while she insisted that her relationship with CJ was purely friendship, he had his doubts. He had little trust for teenage boys, vividly remembering being one himself, and he was worried for his daughter. It had been hard raising her alone, and if it had not been for the Kents he might not have managed it, but that didn't mean that he was ready to hand his daughter over to their son.
Kat was thrilled that her dad had given her permission to go out, and she couldn't wait to call Andy. She waited on a few more customers, and then decided that it had been long enough for him to make it home. She dialed the number that he had given her, and was surprised when he answered the phone. She told him of her father's decision, and agreed to meet him at the small theater in town. She reminded herself that she didn't know him, so she didn't give him her home address.
It made her feel just a little guilty when she called CJ to tell him that she would not be over to watch videotapes that night, but she rationalized that he wasn't really a boyfriend, so she shouldn't feel too bad. Oddly, he didn't ask her why she had to change her plans, he just agreed and told her that he hoped they might be able to do it soon.
Kat spent hours getting ready for the "date". It was the first time that she had gone out with a boy when she wasn't part of a group, so it was special. Her father said it was fine to give Andy their address, as long as she didn't leave before he got home from work.
When Andy arrived at her house to pick her up, she introduced him to her father. They seemed to get along well enough, and the meeting was short. Once that formality was taken care of, they left the house in Andy's car. It wasn't as nice as CJ's truck, and didn't look as well kept up. Nevertheless, it drove well, and Kat soon found herself entering downtown Claremont and heading toward the Ciniplex there. The little theatre specialized in older movies, classics really, and it was less expensive than one of the larger ones that showed the newest releases.
The movie was really good. Kat enjoyed the thriller about the doomed ocean vessel, and, regardless of knowing what the ending must be, and the fact that she had watched it a dozen times with CJ, she still cried when so many people died. Andy was fascinated with the special effects used in the movie and was still talking about them with animation as they left the theater. Kat had liked being able to watch a movie with a friend, and if she was a little disappointed because the other girls in the audience had their boyfriend's arm around them, she didn't think about it too much.
The return trip to her house was slightly more eventful. Just a few miles outside of the city, just before reaching the little suburb where she lived, Andy's car gave out. They pulled over at the side of the road, and decided that they would walk together to the nearest house. Andy didn't want to leave Kat alone in the car, so he took her with him.
After several hundred yards, Kat twisted her ankle and fell on the side of the road. The joke had always been that the potholes here were big enough to eat a car, and while that might be an exaggeration, they truly were big enough to give a girl wearing high heels a bit of trouble.
Kat screamed when she fell, and she really did try not to cry, but the pain was more than she could handle. She sobbed quietly as Andy tried to comfort her, and tried to figure out what to do. He couldn't leave her there, it was just as unsafe as leaving her in the car would have been. He also couldn't get her into town when she was crying so hard. He put his arms around her as she cried, and he considered his options. The decision was taken from him, though, as a very angry CJ pulled up in his truck, and stopped with a squeal of tires.
CJ had heard Kat's scream. He didn't know how he had heard it and known instantly that it was her, but he had. He had recognized her gasp of pain instantly, and her sobs had torn at his heart. He had barely remembered to get in his truck, rather than just running out of the house at top speed. He had managed to get in the truck and race to her rescue, without revealing his powers to the neighborhood.
When the truck skidded to a stop, CJ leapt out quickly. What he saw was Kat sitting on the ground with Andy crouched over her. Kat was crying, and that was all CJ needed to know. As quickly as he could, he tackled Andy over Kat's head. He took the larger boy to the ground, and was proceeding to knock the stuffing out of him when a deep voice called his name from behind him. CJ didn't hear the voice, but he did feel the hands of Superman as the hero picked the teenager up and relocated him a safe distance away from Andy.
Kat was still trying to figure out exactly what had happened. One minute, she had been hurting, but otherwise safe with Andy, and the next she was watching her best friend knock him senseless. Finally, she realized that CJ must have realized that she was in trouble and just mistaken what that trouble was. She attempted to go to Andy's aid, but Superman's large hand held her back.
"Would you care to explain what is going on here, young man?" Clark said in his sternest voice. In truth, the sternness wasn't only for effect; he was furious that CJ had driven so recklessly.
"He hurt Kat!" CJ sputtered.
Both Kat and Andy looked at CJ with shocked expressions, and quickly denied that this was the case.
It took several minutes of explaining to clear up the situation, and apologies took several minutes more. CJ was caught between what remained of his anger — something he didn't understand — and embarrassment over what he had done. Clark, too, was angry, but this was more due to his fear for his son's behavior than what might have happened between Andy and Kat.
When the discussion finally ended, Clark flew Kat to the nearest emergency room to have her ankle x-rayed, and CJ drove Andy to the Claremont garage to arrange to have the car towed. The boys did talk some on the way to the garage. CJ apologized sheepishly once more, and Andy accepted the apology while rubbing the jaw that would soon bruise. When the reached the garage, Andy spoke before getting out of the truck. "Are you sure she's not your girlfriend?" he asked.
CJ looked up in surprise. "Nah," he told him, "but she *is* my best friend, and I'd do anything for her." The look he gave Andy was still slightly threatening, and Andy took the hint. He nodded briefly before exiting the vehicle.
CJ drove home slowly and carefully, and was quite relieved to see that his father wasn't yet home. He slipped up the stairs and entered his bedroom quietly. He turned off his television, which was now showing a different program than what he had been watching when Kat had screamed, and changed into some shorts to sleep in.
His last thought before drifting off to sleep was that Andy had been lucky that Superman had shown up. He didn't really know how much damage he could have done if he hadn't been stopped, and Andy hadn't really had a chance. CJ was sure that his father would have a good deal to say about what had happened. He had used his strength carelessly, and someone could have been hurt. What's more, he could have been revealed as an alien, and that would have put the entire family in danger. CJ figured he was looking at least a month of grounding, but he decided it was worth it. After all, Kat had needed help. Maybe not the kind he had given, but the situation had worked out for the best. Now, if only he could convince his father of that.
Superman flew fairly quickly with his precious cargo. It wasn't that he didn't want to spend time with the girl — in fact, the opposite was true, but he could tell from her accelerated heartbeat that she was either in a great deal of pain or that she was very nervous about the flight.
Within moments, he arrived at Metropolis General Hospital. He had considered taking her to the small clinic in Claremont, but he wasn't really sure that it was still open. While he didn't see a break in her ankle, he wanted her to have the best care, and this was the place to go.
After letting the receptionist know that she was injured, he seated her in the waiting area for the emergency room. He knew that they would not see her without parental concent, so he quietly told her that he would be right back, and made his way to the nearest empty restroom. He was grateful that it was late enough that the area was relatively deserted. He checked to ensure that nobody was watching him enter, and then closed himself into a small stall. With a quick spin, he changed into the jeans and t-shirt that he had been wearing when CJ had made his mad dash from the house. A loose flannel shirt covered the sleeves of his suit. Once more scanning the immediate area to ensure that nobody was around, he exited the small bathroom, adjusting his glasses as he went.
When he arrived back in the waiting area, he found Kat looking both alone and quite nervous. He introduced himself to the receptionist at the front desk, and explained that Superman had located him and sent him ahead because he possessed a power of attorney for Kat. The receptionist confirmed this through Kat's records, then asked Clark to have a seat.
As Clark approached Kat, she still didn't meet his eyes. She had been avoiding him since CJ's revelation had come out, and this appeared to be more of the same. With a sigh, he sat down next to the teenage girl. The waiting area was unusually quiet, and they were quite alone, so he decided that this would be as good a time as any to get things out in the open.
"How's the ankle?" he began.
Kat shifted herself uncomfortably. "It hurts," she replied.
"Kat, I really think we need to talk."
Kat once more avoided Clark's eyes. "About what?"
"Well, for starters, we can discuss why you won't look at me," he said in exasperation.
Kat finally looked up, her green eyes filled with fear and embarrassment. "I guess I just don't know what to say."
Clark was surprised at the fear he saw in her eyes. Kat had never been afraid of him, not even when he had disciplined her in her father's absence years before. Carefully, he approached what he thought was the matter. "I'm still the same person I was before, you know. I'm still CJ's dad, and I'm still your friend. That hasn't changed."
Kat lowered her eyes once more. It was easier to deal with this when she wasn't looking at him. "I know," she replied cautiously. "But, you aren't just Mr. Kent any more."
Clark sighed. "Yes, I am."
Kat looked up, and saw that he was just as uncomfortable as she was. In a small way, that made her feel a little better. "Look," he told her, "I know that things seem a little different now, but I really *am* the same person. The other part of me is just something I do to help out when I can."
Kat met his brown eyes, eyes that really reminded her of CJ, and realized that it was true. He was still CJ's dad, still the dad she had always wanted. As she looked at him, she decided that if she was going to be embarrassed, he might as well hear it all. "I guess every girl I know has a crush on Superman," she explained. "It's kind of weird, knowing that he's really your best friend's dad."
Clark smiled. "Well, I'm just a regular guy that can do some unusual things," he told her. "Like I can tell you that your ankle isn't broken, or that you don't do as well in math as you could."
Kat smiled again at the reminder of the hours he had spent tutoring her in math. That had been one of the reasons that she had always liked him so well: Mr. Kent had the ability to see whether you didn't understand something, or if you just weren't trying. He had been the one to confront a math teacher who was letting her slide through a class without learning, when even her own father hadn't thought she was capable of the work. He had always been on her side, and she suspected that he might still be, despite his extra identity.
"I was pretty mad when CJ didn't tell me," she added.
"Well, that was mostly my fault," he explained. "It's a secret that we *have* to keep. Anyone who knows is in danger. There are a lot of people that would like to get to Superman. All the criminals that he sent to prison — even some scientists — would like to find out who he really is. If that were to happen, his family would be in a lot of danger." Clark tried not to frighten the girl, but he needed to ensure that she understood the seriousness of the situation.
"I understand, Mr. Kent. If anyone found out that I knew, I could be a target to get to him, too. I won't tell anyone," she assured him. "I would never hurt you guys. You're my family, even more than my real family is." She looked up into Clark's eyes once more. "I guess I kind of forgot that for a while," she said sheepishly.
Clark smiled. He had always thought of this girl as though she were his own, and he was glad to have her able to look at him once more. Also, her heart rate had dropped back to near normal, so he was less concerned about the amount of pain she must be in.
"Kathryn?" a nurse called, stepping from behind closed double doors and into the waiting area.
"Here," Kat called, trying to stand.
Clark saw her difficulty, and quickly scooped the girl into his arms. He carried her behind the nurse, following the white-clad woman into a small exam room. As he sat Kat down on the exam table, he looked down to see eyes that were at once trusting and open. It was good to have her back again. He was sure that this discussion wasn't completely over, but they had made a beginning.
He told Kat that he would be back, then he went back out to the receptionist's desk to call her father. They would be able to see her with Clark's consent, due to the medical power of attorney that was kept in her records for emergencies, but the insurance paperwork would have to be signed by her father. Once he had let the other man know what was happening, he went back to the little exam room to sit with Kat. Surprisingly, despite the empty waiting room, the emergency room was really quite busy, and it was going to be a long night. He settled in to wait with her until her father arrived.
When CJ awoke the next morning, he got the reaction he expected. While his father had not pressed the issue with a tired and frustrated child, Clark knew that he had to address the issues presented by CJ's increasing strength. CJ opened his eyes and stretched, and turned over groggily in bed. His eyes met that of his father, who was perched on the edge of his night stand, watching the boy sleep.
He smiled at CJ as their eyes met, and the smile was returned. "Is this where I get the lecture on controlling my abilities?" CJ asked.
"You've had that." Clark couldn't help but smile once more at the boy. He was still a child, just as Clark had been when he had been developing his unusual gifts. Jonathan and Martha had been far more understanding than anyone would normally have been, and he intended to pass along the benefits of accepting parents. He had an advantage that his parents had not possessed, and that was the first-hand knowledge of how to control the abilities, and when controlling them was appropriate. Clark had been alone when he was most vulnerable, and he didn't want CJ to feel the same way.
"I think it's time for some basic training," Clark told his rapidly-waking child. "You have some things that need to be controlled before you hurt someone." He remembered giving a similar lecture to his wife years before, and was grateful that this time around, he would have the advantage of being able to demonstrate, rather than just observe and coach. "Get some shorts on, and we'll get started."
"What about Mom?" CJ asked. His mother had been slightly withdrawn lately, and he wasn't sure if she should be invited to the lessons or not.
"I told your mom what we were going to do. She thinks it's a good idea," Clark replied. In fact, he and Lois had discussed the pros and cons of this at length and on several occasions in the last few months. Last night's activities had just moved up the time line on what they had already planned to do.
CJ nodded, and stood to dress as his father left the room. He pulled on a sweatshirt without sleeves, similar to the ones his father frequently wore, and a matching pair of running shorts. He tugged on socks, and then his running shoes, before entering his bathroom to brush his teeth.
Once he was ready, he walked downstairs and met his father in the kitchen. Clark handed him a bagel and juice box, and then walked to the back door. CJ took the hint. While his father was not obviously angry, neither was he thrilled with the situation. CJ had nearly hurt someone — and, more than that, he had nearly revealed the family secret. CJ didn't know why his father hadn't done this long ago.
CJ followed his father out the back, and walked with him out into the trees in the yard. "We chose this land for the house because it backed up against these trees," Clark was telling him. "They provide a natural cover for landings, although I do have to make sure I take off fast so that no one catches me above the treeline. They should also make a great hiding place for this." Clark moved slightly beyond the nearest line of trees, to a small clearing.
The entire area was rather small. They owned only about an acre of land, and it extended straight back into the wooded area behind the house. From the street, only the houses and a few trees were visible, but the area did extend for a short distance. There were lines of trees, and it provided a good deal of cover for take-offs and landings, but there was little area that could be considered a clearing. Clark stopped within this small area, and arranged some bottles he had carried out earlier into an uneven line on the ground.
"Let's start with vision," he told CJ. "You seem to be most adept at that, and it's relatively safe." CJ complied by taking a stance as far from the bottles as possible within the clearing. He concentrated firmly, and soon the first bottle exploded with a flash of glass. Fortunately, both were invulnerable to the shards that flew in their direction, and Clark couldn't help but laugh. "Okay, so I lied — *nothing* is relatively safe!"
CJ gave him a sheepish grin, and a short apology. Clark took the event in his stride, and proceeded to begin demonstrations on how to control the beam of heat. For several hours, they worked without pause, each so caught up in the new feeling of camaraderie that was resulting that they were unaware of the time. Clark taught CJ all the finer points that he had spent years discovering. He aided him in the techniques of concentration that he had perfected over decades of use. He taught him all that he knew, and learned a few new things that CJ had discovered during his time of experimentation in Smallville.
They worked through lunch, and by the time that Clark was convinced that they could improve no more, it was nearly dinner time. Fearing that Lois would attempt to cook them dinner, a torture that neither was willing to deal with, they finally agreed to wait until the next day to tackle additional abilities.
As predicted, they met Lois just as she was sticking her head into the refrigerator and hoping for inspiration. Clark sneaked up behind her, and encircled her waist with his hands. When she shrieked and turned around quickly to punch her husband, he met her with an energetic kiss that quickly accelerated into much more. CJ was used to such displays from his parents. As a child, he had assumed that all parents had their hands all over one another all the time, and it had surprised him when Kat had mentioned it. Lately, though, CJ found that watching his parents together made him slightly uncomfortable, and he quickly left the room. He would have to mention it to them later, he thought.
Lois and Clark finally remembered just where they were, and managed to bring themselves back from the direction they had been headed. With an acknowledging smile, Lois was first to break the silence that had followed their mutual groping session. "Wow. That was nice!"
"Liked that, did you?" he smiled. He ran his hands once again up her sides and around to caress her back.
"Yeah, I liked it." Lois returned his smile. "What are you fixing me for dinner?"
Clark sighed, briefly remembering a time when they would have ignored that appetite and satisfied a different one without a second thought. It had been a short period in their lives, interrupted more quickly than even if Lois had gone through a pregnancy. Having a child in the house limited the spontaneous sex, but it had little effect on other demonstrations of affection. They were a demonstrative couple, and always had been. Touching for them was as natural as breathing.
Clark pulled Lois close and looked over her shoulder at the contents of the refrigerator. He didn't see much, which let him know that they had once again neglected the grocery shopping. He did, however, see a full carton of eggs, and he knew that there was a pound of bacon in the freezer. He reached around Lois for the eggs and then, with a final kiss, separated himself from her to begin making a large country "breakfast" for dinner.
Lois watched him work, impressed as always by his economy of movement and natural grace. He was a joy to watch. He looked as good to her now as he had when she had first fallen in love with him, and the feeling had been reinforced by years of companionship and sharing. She knew she couldn't live without him. At one point, she had been concerned that her aging would be obvious next to his lack of change, but there were differences in his appearance as well as hers.
Lois had allowed her hair to grow back to one length and, while it was longer then it had been when they met, it was in much the same style. She had cut it several times over the years, but she always came back to this versatile and simple style. There was a sprinkling of gray strands among the brown, but nothing too noticeable, and good skin care had kept wrinkles to a minimum. She had gained a few pounds through the years as well, a testament to Clark's regular cooking, but not enough to change her dress size or her energy level. On the whole, she felt that she was much the same as she had been when she married, at least in appearance. Emotionally, she was very different. She was open and confident in a way that came from being unconditionally loved for the first time in her life. She was relaxed, even as she persisted in her attempt to be her best professionally. Personally, she was already there.
Close observation revealed subtle changes in Clark's appearance as well. While his hair held no gray, there were a number of new lines on his face that had come from both normal worry as a parent and the enormous weight of being responsible for a planet. He was able to keep the stress to a manageable level with Lois's help, but it had added a certain cynicism to him that had not been present years before. He consistently saw the worst that the world had to offer, and it had made an impact. Lois and CJ reminded him of why he bothered, why the world must be a better place for them to live in. They kept him going.
Clark thawed the bacon and started it frying. Next, he quickly mixed up a batch of pancake batter (his mother's recipe) and heated the griddle by glaring at it before placing it over a burner to keep it hot. His efforts were then divided between frying the eggs and flipping the pancakes. As the eggs became solid, he managed to flip them perfectly, even as he was reaching back into the refrigerator for a carton of orange juice. Normally, breakfast foods were Lois's forte, and he was surprised that she didn't offer to help.
Glancing over at his wife, he found her still standing next to the refrigerator, propped there to watch him cook. He looked himself over carefully, and after determining that he had not spilled anything on himself to earn her constant stare, he waved his hand before her face and gained her attention. "Earth to Lois," he announced.
She smiled up at him, still lost in her thoughts. Gradually, she roused herself enough to realize that the look he was giving her bordered between quizzical and exasperated. "Sorry," she mumbled. "Just enjoying the scenery."
He smiled back at her and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Then, he handed her a small stack of plates with the silverware sitting atop them and told her to "make herself useful for something besides ogling the cook." Lois did so, slightly embarrassed at being so obviously caught. She wasn't too upset, though. How many woman could honestly still be stunned by the attractiveness of their husband after fifteen years of marriage? She was lucky, and she knew it. As soon as she had set the table, she jogged up the stairs to tell CJ that it was time for dinner. She was already at his door when she remembered that he most likely would have heard her if she had stayed in the dining room. Shaking her head, she knocked and let him know that food was waiting. She jogged back down the stairs, eager to ogle her husband for a while longer.
Clark had taken a week of vacation from the Planet. Throughout that time, he instructed CJ carefully on the use, and abuse, of his powers. They spent time controlling breathing, testing strength, working with large and small objects to ensure that CJ would be less likely to misjudge his strength, and conducting speed drill and races. Teaching CJ what he could do was easy, it was teaching him what *not* to do that Clark was having trouble with. Fortunately, CJ was not a child who placed a lot of weight on his athletic abilities or popularity. This type of stress might have made the issue of secrecy moot. Instead, CJ valued his intelligence and his writing talent, and these were not really affected by the developing physical abilities.
Clark found that he shared more with his son than strength. They both used writing as a way to achieve a feeling of accomplishment as they competed on equal footing with their peers. They both had feelings of not fitting in that went beyond what they could do, and had begun early in childhood. Clark was slightly concerned, if not surprised, to find that CJ relied on Kat for his equilibrium in much the same way that Clark had relied on Lois. It wasn't that he didn't like Kat, but the emotions of a teenager were unpredictable, and to place one's trust in that was a precarious thing. Nevertheless, Clark understood CJ's need for a confidant, and was not really angry that he had shared the truth with her.
They developed a special bond that week that went beyond father and son, and entered into a special friendship — or even a brotherhood. They were alone against the world in many ways, and they were able to share hopes, fears and experiences that no one else could possibly understand. They shared so much, and enjoyed joking about the mistakes they had made. They became friends.
It amazed Clark that his son had become so much like a man. They were able to talk as equals, and this was something that took Clark off guard. He was prepared to instruct, and to deal with his child's needs, but being able to receive comfort and encouragement from his son was a surprise.
"Don't feel bad, Dad," CJ had told him after Clark revealed a particularly embarrassing incident that had occurred after he had taken Rachel to the prom and then had to explain that he only wanted to be friends. "At least you had a date for the dance. I wouldn't have the slightest idea who to ask."
"What about Kat?" Clark asked, hoping to get a little more insight into his son's relationship with the pretty girl.
"What about her?"
"Why not ask her to the dance?"
The look on CJ's face clearly told Clark that he had said the wrong thing. "You've got to be kidding! She's my best friend."
Clark looked at his son for a moment before he answered, "Rachel was a friend, too."
CJ sighed, and sat down Indian style on the ground. His feelings for Kat were complicated, as he had realized in the last few weeks. He wasn't sure he could put them into words. "I don't know where to start. She's more than just a friend, she's my best friend. You don't think of your friend like that, you just don't."
Clark sat down next to his son, and continued, "Think of her, how?"
"Like a girl. Like a girlfriend, I guess." He shook his head in frustration, his own feelings muddled and confused, and certain that his father must be even more lost. "Sometimes it's just like it always was, and she's just Kat. But, sometimes, when I'm not thinking about it, I see her and it's different. She's not just a friend any more, and I wonder if she feels different, too. I'm afraid that if she finds out, she won't be my friend, that it would make her uncomfortable, and I don't want to lose her."
Clark felt a wave of empathy for his son. "I remember the first time I asked your mom out," he began. "I was so in love with her, and I was so sure that she didn't feel the same way." Clark chuckled softly to himself, "I suppose she would have preferred for me to ask for money, but I finally did it." Clark stopped when he saw the confused look on CJ's face. "She got to babbling when I told her than I needed to ask her something, and it kind of went from there."
CJ nodded in understanding. His mother was notorious for babbling. Most of the time, it made sense when it was sorted out, but the thoughts that made their way randomly into speech frequently caused more confusion that she ever realized. She still did it when she was nervous or embarrassed, and CJ thought it was cute. It was weird to think of your mom as a girl, but when she was babbling, he could sure see that side of her. "But she went out with you. She must have felt like you did."
"Not exactly, not at first," Clark explained. "She was afraid if we started dating and it didn't work out, that we couldn't work together any more. It took a while for her to have enough faith in our friendship to believe it would survive a break-up."
"How long?" CJ asked with feeling.
"*Too* long," his father replied. "We went back and forth for months, but we always wound up together. We couldn't manage to stay apart, even when we were mad. It was like a part of each of us belonged to the other, and we had no choice but to make it work." Clark wished he had always been so philosophical about his wife, but it had been a long time coming. They had put one another through a lot before they had come together, and it was a time in his life he would have preferred not to dwell on. He would go through this for his son, he would do anything to spare him some of the pain and uncertainty that he had experienced.
"How did you know that you were supposed to be more than friends?"
Clark took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "It was more than a feeling, I was just certain. Your mom was… well… she had been in some really bad relationships, and she was afraid that ours wouldn't work out either."
"Were you ever afraid that if you wanted more, you could lose what you already had?" CJ voiced his greatest fear.
"Every day," Clark said with a sigh. "I think we would have been together a lot sooner if we hadn't been so afraid to lose what we had. Our friendship was very special; we could tell each other most anything, and we knew we'd have the other person on our side. That's a valuable thing, and it's not something you want to mess with. On the other hand, having someone to really love is amazing. It's worth taking a risk, even a big one. I guess you just have to decide that if a friendship really is so valuable, it probably can stand a little risk."
CJ considered the information for a moment, comparing this with his knowledge of Kat. Were they strong enough to stand a risk? If they weren't, was the friendship really so special after all? Aside from his heritage, they really hadn't faced many challenges to the friendship, so he had little to base his opinion on. With a sigh, he allowed himself to acknowledge that the decision would not have to be made today, and he could address it later. Unfortunately, that wouldn't keep him from worrying about it in the meantime.
"What does it feel like to fly?"
Clark turned to look at his son, and was stunned to see the longing in his eyes. He had deliberately never taken CJ flying as a child because he didn't want him connected to Superman. They had allowed him to attend functions where the super-hero was present, but that had been the extent of the contact. When CJ had asked about their friendship with the alien, both Lois and Clark had minimized their involvement and hidden behind the disclaimers that all reporters encountered him at one time or another, and it wasn't so special after all. CJ had accepted the explanations, especially since his friends had no contact with him either, and little had been said about it.
Since finding out about his heritage, CJ was no longer content to allow himself to have the same limitations as others where his father was concerned. He intended to learn all there was to know. He was well aware that his mother had gone flying on numerous occasions, as she had written about it frequently during her earliest Superman articles.
"It feels… There's nothing like it, CJ." Clark answered as simply as he could. "Do you really want to know?"
CJ looked at his father, hope in his eyes. "Yeah," he answered. "I want to go."
Clark stood and stepped a few paces away from his son. They had been reclining in the sunshine after a picnic lunch, and he was certain that they were very much alone. He spun quickly, coming to a stop wearing the familiar blue and red suit, and looked down at his son. CJ had watched the transformation with awe, as surprised by it now as he had been the first time. While he could be fast, rarely were his actions a blur. He simply wasn't confident enough with his skills to take them at such speed.
When Clark reached out his hand to his son, CJ stood and linked arms with his father. "This will be quick, at first. I don't want the neighbors to see the take-off." With that, Clark tightened his grip on CJ. Reminding him once more to keep his arm straight, the two of them rose quickly into the air.
If Clark was a blur when he spun into the suit, that was what CJ felt like as he was propelled into the sky. He tensed momentarily, then reminded himself that this was his father and that he was always safe with him. He finally allowed himself to relax as Clark slowed his ascent and began to take CJ on a high tour of Claremont. CJ was amazed at how natural it felt to be in the air. It was like a memory, only he hadn't done it before. He felt as if he *belonged*, in a way that was new and amazing to him.
After nearly an hour of flying over the local area, Clark flew CJ to Metropolis. It was a short flight, only a couple of minutes, but the change in scenery was enormous. They flew through the buildings, admiring the architecture of the skyscrapers, and finally came to a stop on the roof of the Daily Planet building. CJ was speechless for a moment as he looked at the expanse of city below them.
"This is amazing," he told his father. "Thanks. I'll never forget this."
Impulsively, Clark reached over to hug his son. He truly hoped that CJ would share this ability with him as well. It was amazing to be able to go wherever you wanted whenever it suited you, and it was something he wanted to share.
Reluctantly, Clark decided that he had to end their outing. He locked arms with CJ once more, and they took to the air. Within moments, they had arrived back at their home. CJ's head was still spinning as he regained his balance after landing, and he gave his father a bit of a dirty look.
Clark smiled, apologizing mildly for the speed of the landing, and explaining once more the significance of landing too quickly to attract attention in the neighborhood. CJ nodded that he understood, but still wobbled slightly as he headed for the house.
"Mother, you are going *where*?" Lois nearly dropped the telephone as she plopped herself down onto the sofa. Her mother had come up with some crazy schemes, but this was ridiculous! She sounded so calm, and yet her words made no sense.
"Honey, we are going to Bichallsci. It's a very small area, somewhere in some tiny Third World country; I really don't even know what one. Your father will be working with the natives to establish a medical training program."
Lois rolled her eyes. This was just one more item to add to an already bad day. "How long will you be gone?" she asked in a voice that did its best to be practical.
"Probably around three years."
For a moment, Lois couldn't speak. She had been so pleased when her parents had remarried, and their togetherness had filled a hole in her that she had never thought would be filled. In addition, her father's retirement from one of a thousand unusual projects had led him into the field of training others. He had found that he loved to teach, and the money from his past projects had allowed both he and her mother to travel and explore their relationship.
Perhaps Lois would have been more pleased if she had seen them more often, but it had been just as well that their interests had led them around the world instead of into the tiny community of Claremont. Clark tolerated her parents, and would always be grateful for Sam's assistance when he had been so ill many years before, but he had little tolerance for her mother.
Ellen had always been the typical mother-in-law. She found fault, complained, nagged, and generally criticized both Clark and Lois until they were just as happy to know that the next visit would be six months or a year away. Clark was always polite, and even CJ tolerated the visits with as much good humor as possible, but having the Lanes around was never easy.
"Mother! *Three years?*" While Lois didn't really spend a great deal of time either talking with or visiting her mother, the prospect of spending three years away from her still came as a shock. "What on earth will you do there for three years?"
With a long suffering sigh that her daughter could be so difficult, Ellen Lane continued her explanation. "Lois, it takes time to establish medicine as a legitimate way to heal. These people are used to religion and magic as their only weapons. Your father has found men willing to learn basic medical care, but it will take time to teach them the finer points of medication usage and wound care. The country is at war, you know."
Lois returned her mother's sigh. "I realize that. That's why I have no idea why you're going."
"I am not letting your father fall into the hands of some native princess! It took me years to get him back, and even longer for him to make up the years he had wasted. I'm going with him!"
Lois briefly wondered why it had bothered her that her mother was leaving the country. She could be so difficult on the subject of her past hurts. "Fine, Mother," she said with a sigh. "You go to the Middle East, and I'll talk to you soon. Do you have a cell-phone number yet?"
"Well, that's part of the reason that I'm calling. Your father doesn't want to carry electronics with us that the tribesman won't be comfortable with. It appears we will be without communication for a while."
Lois considered arguing, she really did. Finally, she decided that there was no point If she needed them, she could always send Superman to fetch them, and deal with the yelling then rather than now. "Fine, Mother. I'll see you in a few years." As usual, her mother missed the sarcasm.
They chatted a few more minutes about inconsequential things, then Lois made an excuse to get off the line. In truth, three years without her mother's phone calls could really be a good thing. After all, her mother was nearly eighty; if she wanted to go traipsing off into another country to find some lost destiny, she was certainly old enough to make that decision herself. Lois would miss her — and her father, too, for that matter — but it wouldn't directly impact her daily life. For now, her daily life was about all that she could handle. It did concern her that she had not been given an opportunity to say goodbye to her father, but it was not unusual that he would leave Ellen to handle family matters while he tended to business.
Lois glared back at the computer screen that was giving her so much difficulty. They had a new writer on staff and, while he showed potential, he was a long way from being perfect. Editing his copy required more effort than she wanted to give at the moment, so she searched through files until she found another story that was nearly the same size, and much easier to proof, to insert in the blank area.
There were days, and this was one of them, that she wished Clark had taken the job of Editor. He was better at it, that was certain. They had discussed the matter at length when both of them had been up for promotion, and had decided that she was the one who should accept. Clark had been dealing with several minor disasters as Superman at the time, and he had realized that he just didn't have the time to give to the position. Also, Lois did have both seniority with the paper and experience in the editorial role.
She loved the job, but she had changed it markedly since she took it over. Now, she took care of the final decisions, but Pat and Andrew took care of the rest. She had decided to create the two Assistant Editor positions when she realized that her job would be impossible with the thirty-mile commute that she had to deal with. Quite simply, she never made it home before she was paged back to work. Her decision became whether to make changes in the job description, or to move back to Metropolis. She had loved her home too much to give it up. While she had been the one opposed to the move so many years before, she was the one who now refused to leave it.
Their little home in the suburbs allowed Clark some peace. While Superman was still active in world affairs, he concentrated less of his attention directly on Metropolis, and gave more time to their family. He had been concerned that he would be connected with Superman in the city, and that CJ would be put in danger. Lois had been tired of his leaving in the middle of each night, off to save someone else while she dealt with the struggles of raising a child alone.
With the press of a key, Lois LANned the final set-up for the evening edition of the paper to her assistants, and changed the screen to allow her to work on tomorrow's editorial. She felt like she never really had time to write, and what she did write was not as good as it had been when she was reporting. Still, her editorial responsibilities included this, and she was always living up to her responsibilities.
Lois heard CJ and Clark come in from their flight. Clark had asked her opinion on several occasions of taking CJ up, up, and away. Her motherly concern was always countered by the knowledge that he would never be safer than when he was with his father. She did worry that Clark would have to leave him long enough to be Superman during their flight time, so she had put off the decision as long as possible. Finally, she had told him that if CJ asked, Clark could take him, but that she didn't want him to bring up the subject.
They had discussed the matter more over the last few days of "training", and she realized that CJ deserved to enjoy the pleasure of flying with his father. She certainly missed the privilege, but her grounding had more to do with the increasing responsibilities of her job and the need to separate Lois and Superman in the public's eye. Having CJ had changed Lois's perception of what danger was. She was no longer content to hope than they would be safe; it had to be a certainty.
"Honey, I'm home," Clark called as he came into the kitchen through the back door. He still loved the domestic stuff, even after all these years. He had sent CJ up to his room to get ready for dinner, and now he needed to figure something out to cook. After checking the refrigerator, he decided that they really needed to make a better plan for getting the grocery shopping done. The current idea was that whoever was near a store would pick up a few things as necessary, but it clearly wasn't working. It had been easy to do when CJ was little, but now they just seemed too busy. Once again, Clark reached for the telephone and called the local pizza parlor.
With pizza on the way, Clark went in search of his wife. He knew she was here, and had a good idea of where she would be. He found her, as expected, growling at the screen of the laptop computer that had become her constant companion in years past. She had it hooked up to a modem, and was clearly patched in to the Planet's computer.
Clark walked up behind her and slipped his arms around her. She growled softly, clearly exasperated with whatever she was working on, and leaned her head back to kiss him. Clark gave her an upside-down kiss, briefly nibbling on her lower lip before releasing her and sneaking a peek at the screen.
"Well, you certainly have an opinion about that," he remarked as he read over her editorial regarding the elimination of creative writing courses in the Metropolis High Schools.
"I'm not sure which makes me angrier," she told him. "I'm almost as angry at not being able to color this with profanity as I am at the high schools' new policies."
Clark smiled and kissed the top of her head. She still had most definite ideas regarding journalism in the public school system. She had fought for years to ensure that Claremont didn't lose its writing program and, as a result, CJ was now reaping the benefits of a full journalism program. Now, she was trying to do the same thing for Metropolis.
"Pizza's on the way," he told her as he pulled up a chair and seated himself slightly behind her.
"You forgot to shop again?" she asked as she glared once more at the screen.
"Yep," he answered with a smile, "So did you". She considered being angry at the oversight, but instead she realized that he was right. They really needed to find a better way to divide the household chores.
As Clark watched his wife work, admiring the line of her neck where she had pulled her hair up into a pony-tail, and finally realized what was wrong with this picture. "Why are you working on the laptop?"
Lois turned her head and glared at her husband briefly before turning back to her story. "Because I haven't taken time to put the dumb thing on disk, okay?"
Clark laughed quietly at his wife's continued refusal to keep back-ups of the work she did. He would have to transfer the files to disk while she ate her dinner. She was notorious for losing files due to power surges and missed keystrokes, and he didn't want to deal with her temper again when that happened. This was one of the little things that he did for her: backing up her work.
It wasn't that Clark needed to look for work. He was still reporting for the Planet, although his stories had become less investigative and more tame over the years. It was a natural progression as his attention went more and more to his family and less into his work. He had a novel going on the side, a continuing project that allowed him to put the travels of his youth to practical use, but this required little of his time. For the most part, he assisted his wife in her duties at the Planet and assisted the world as Superman. This, combined with being a parent, was about all that any one man, even a superman, had time for.
Within a few more minutes, Lois had completed her editorial and run a spell-check on it. She corrected as many grammatical errors as she could find, and passed the laptop to her husband. Lost in thought, he didn't realize exactly what she wanted at first. Finally, Clark shook himself slightly and focused on his wife. With a sheepish grin, he sped through the article and made a few corrections. He then saved it to the hard drive, and reached around her for a floppy disk that sat on the desk. Lois smiled at him before kissing him on the forehead and promising him a more thorough thank-you for later.
Clark was just about to attempt to collect on that promise, or at least to get a preview, when he heard a knock at the door. He reached for his wallet as he approached the door.
"Hi, Mr. Kent," Kat said as the door before her swung open.
Clark looked puzzled, but just for a moment. "Hi, Kat. Since when do you deliver pizza?"
"Just since I was standing in the pizza parlor when you ordered," she said, returning his smile but not quite meeting his eyes. "My dad didn't want to cook either, so we were getting one. I thought maybe we could save the delivery boy a trip. He looked really busy tonight."
Clark smiled once more as he took the pizzas from Kat. "How much do we owe you?"
"I'm not sure," Kat said as she followed him through the door. She was still limping slightly, but she no longer needed the crutches. "I think it's written on the side of one of the boxes."
Clark nodded, tipping the boxes to the side to read the amount. He then removed several bills from his wallet, and handed them to Kat. "Be sure you tell your dad 'thanks' for us."
Clark opened the top box to see an extra large pizza with everything, just like he had ordered. He couldn't help but notice that Kat was watching him over his shoulder. "What did you get?" he asked her.
Kat sighed. "Dad's on a vegetarian kick this week. I think he got tomato and pineapple."
Clark looked up to see the look of disgust on Kat's face. He had always thought of this girl as another of his children. Maybe it was because she spent so much time in their house when she was growing up, or maybe it was because she and CJ had become so inseparable that the two just seemed to be one. If he had ever had a girl, he imagined that she would be just like Kat. "You know teenagers can't live without pepperoni," he told her. "I think you'd better grab a plate and eat here. Do you need to call your dad?" It didn't occur to him that she might refuse.
"Thanks, Mr. Kent. That would be really great," she told him as she took the paper plates that he offered her and carried them to the dining room table. She had spent so many dinners here that it felt more natural to be here than it did to stay home and listen to her father's complaints about his day at work. For the moment, she even forgot that this man was really Superman, and just enjoyed pretending that he was the father that she wished she'd had. That used to make her feel guilty, but lately it just made her feel relief.
Over dinner, Kat was reminded why she had always enjoyed being with this family. They laughed, talked and defended one another as they each detailed the events of their day. CJ was back to his old self, and if she noticed that he and his father both reheated their slices of pizza by staring at them, she didn't feel it was her place to comment.
She was surprised to hear that the Lanes were leaving the country, and she didn't miss the twin looks of relief that the male Kents expressed when Lois made the announcement. She also caught the brief glare that Lois bestowed upon them both, before breaking into a fit of giggles herself.
After dinner, she helped Lois to pick up the dinner dishes and throw them away. While they were breaking down the pizza box for the recycle bin, Lois asked her about her new boyfriend. She was surprised at the blush that rose up her face. "Well, he's not my boyfriend," she told the older woman.
"I thought you were out on a date," Lois asked her, confused.
"We were," she confessed. She plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table and told her, "I guess something happened."
"What happened?" Lois asked as she took a seat across the table from Kat.
"Well, he kind of… well, he kissed me." Kat looked everywhere except at Lois's face.
Lois sat and waited. Obviously, she wasn't getting the whole story, and she didn't want to jump on the girl if there really wasn't anything wrong. She had all the motherly thoughts of the many fates that could befall a teenage girl, and she was at least aware that her imagination could sometimes get the better of her.
"It was just a little kiss," Kat went on. "It was at school, and it was really quick, but it felt…" Kat trailed off.
"It felt how?" Lois asked with concern.
"It felt… wrong. I just felt like it was wrong, and I asked him not to do it again. I said we could just be friends."
"And what did *he* say?" Lois could see the strain that this was putting on the teenager.
"Not a word," Kat said. "He hasn't spoken to me since." Kat looked as much exasperated as anything else. She didn't appear to be angry, or even hurt. "It doesn't really bother me," she said, confirming Lois's suspicions. "I liked him and all, but there are people I like more. He was okay to be with, but just okay. Does that make any sense?"
Lois smiled. "Of course it does. You're young, and you deserve some time to look around before you decide who you want to be with for the rest of your life."
"It isn't just that, Mrs. Kent. It just doesn't feel… well… right, being with another boy. I mean, besides CJ." She paused for a moment, considering whether or not she should be having this discussion with the parent of the boy who was on her mind, then decided that she had always been able to tell Mrs. Kent anything, and this shouldn't be any different. After all, she hadn't done anything wrong, and neither had CJ. "We've just been friends for so long. Nothing feels wrong with him. He can hug me, or hold my hand, and it doesn't bother me. With other boys, when they touch me, I wonder what they really want.
"It's the same way with words. If CJ says something, I know he means it. I don't worry that he's just trying to butter me up or get me to do something. I just don't trust other people that way."
Lois listened to the teenage girl explaining what she was feeling. There was a part of her that was afraid that Kat might be mistaking normal apprehension for something more, but a greater part of her understood that trust was something that couldn't be faked or maneuvered around. Just as she had trusted Clark, despite all her experiences that said trust was never well-placed, Kat had learned to trust CJ. It was a process that had taken years, and that was not a feeling that she could easily duplicate with another boy.
"Are you sure that you don't just need to get to know him better?" she offered. "Like you said, you've known CJ for years. It takes time to learn to trust someone that well. Maybe you just need to give it some time."
"It isn't just that I feel comfortable with CJ — it's that I don't *want* to be that comfortable with anyone else. I would rather just talk to CJ than go places and do stuff with someone else." She closed her eyes and rested her head against the chair back. "I feel different when I'm with him. I can say anything, and I don't have to worry about what he will think about me or what he might do. He already knows the worst things about me, and he's my friend anyway. I don't have to pretend with him."
Lois watched Kat a while longer, absorbing the information. Kat had just described the most important part of a lasting relationship. She had also described the foundation for her feelings towards her husband, both before they had become married and after. The unconditional acceptance and unreserved trust were essential for a friendship, and necessary for relationships to survive the pitfalls of life. Unfortunately, Kat and CJ were teenagers, not adults searching for lifetime mates. The situation was sounding too serious for their ages, and that frightened her.
"Kat, I know that you like being with CJ, but there is no way for you to get to know other people if you spend all your time with him." Lois didn't want to discourage the friendship — it meant too much to both of the kids — but she wanted to slow down any other ideas they might have.
"I know. It's just that I'd rather have a friend than a boyfriend. Does that sound stupid?" Kat opened her eyes and faced Lois again.
Lois stood, then walked around the table to Kat. She pulled the girl into a hug, and continued holding her as she spoke. "I know that CJ feels the same way. You are the most important friend that he's ever had, and I don't know how he'd manage without you. You will always be special to him."
"I guess. I just sometimes wonder if he feels like this too. And sometimes, it's really weird. I feel all hot and cold, and really messed up. I'm afraid if he knows that I feel like this, he won't want to be around me." She held Lois tighter as she continued, "I'm just so messed up inside."
Lois sighed and held Kat a little tighter. It was hard enough to deal with friendships and relationship changes without dealing with their added family difficulties. She wanted to help Kat, she really did, but she didn't know how to start.
"I wish I had answers for you, honey. I'd do anything to make you feel better about this. The truth is, I don't have the answers. I will listen, though," she told Kat. "I'll always be here to listen to you."
"Thanks, Mrs. Kent. You know, having you here almost makes up for not having my mom."
Lois sighed once more. There had been a time she would have protested being called Mrs. Kent. She had felt that her professional reputation depended upon keeping the name, and she had told Clark as much. Now, she was grateful to share her husband's name. She hadn't realized that Lane and Kent were so intertwined in the public eye that they naturally fell together. It hadn't been until after the move to Claremont that she had decided to take up the name of Kent. She had been tired of the hassle of explaining her name each time she spoke to one of CJ's teachers. Also, there was the matter of separating herself from Superman. Lois Lane and Superman exclusives seemed to go together. Lois Kent, on the other hand, was merely a married reporter, mother of one, and not a particular target for anyone. It had gone a long way towards changing her image, and that had been the point.
Her life had seen so many changes since the move, but gaining a daughter had been one of the best. Kat's mother had died less than a year after they had moved into the new house. The rumor mill said that she had been anorexic, and had died from complications of the illness. Apparently, her husband had an affair with a slimmer woman, and this had triggered an unreasonable need to be skinny. Whatever the cause, Lois had inherited a beautiful little girl to pamper. Kat's father had been grateful for the help, and relieved that she would receive some female guidance. Clark had been charmed by the little girl who followed his son everywhere and showed up at their dinner table with alarming regularity.
Whatever the cause, Kat was a member of the family. She had stood with them through chicken pox, driving lessons, and high school dances. Now, she would somehow make it through the pains of maturing, and developing an interest that was more than friendship for CJ. Lois sighed. Somehow, this too would pass.
Stumbling through the front door with her arms full of grocery bags, Lois made a dive for the ringing telephone. She managed to grab the receiver in mid-ring and bring it to her ear without dropping anything breakable. "Hello?"
"Lois! How wonderful to hear your voice."
"Dr. Klein? We haven't heard from you in a while." Lois carefully tucked the cordless phone between her shoulder and her cheek, and went into the kitchen to put away her groceries.
"Well, things at the lab have been pretty quiet. Actually, the reason I was calling was to find out if you and Clark were still interested in trying to have a child."
"A baby? Well, of course. Have you found out something new?"
"Possibly. I really would like to speak to both of you as soon as possible. There have been some new developments in the field of fertility, and they may prove useful for the two of you."
"That sounds wonderful," Lois said, in a cautious voice. She'd had her hopes up too many times in the past to allow herself to get carried away. "When would you like to see us?"
"How about tomorrow morning? You can come in before you go to work; that way, we won't have to deal with explanations to the lab crew."
"Sounds good. We'll see you in the morning, then."
"Yes, in the morning. Good-bye, Lois."
"Good-bye, Dr. Klein."
"What *exactly* did he say?"
Lois sighed once more. Clark had asked that question ten times since they had left home, and would not accept her answer. She repeated it once more, "He just said that new fertility developments might help us. That's all, Clark. He didn't want to talk about it on the phone."
Clark echoed his wife's sigh as they entered STAR Labs. Dr. Klein had been caring for him for nearly two decades, and had known his secret for most of that time. Shortly after Lois and Clark had been married, Dr. Klein had quietly ushered them into a back office to inform them that they really shouldn't come to the lab together unless Clark got rid of the red and blue suit. Clark had looked stunned, and babbled slightly as he attempted to brush off the suggestion, but Dr. Klein had been insistent. "You don't hide your feelings for your wife very well. I think it's wonderful that you have found someone, and I'm happy for the both of you, but if an old scientist can figure this out, it's inevitable that the secret will get out."
Dr. Klein had been so matter-of-fact, and he had been so right. Shortly after that meeting, Superman stopped giving Lois all the exclusive interviews, although she still got her fair share. Further, the Daily Planet always seemed to have Superman's preferential treatment. Lois stopped showing as much concern over Superman's activities and allowed her new status as wife and mother to explain her change of heart. Oddly enough, Superman continued to keep Lois out of dangerous situations, but the situations became less frequent as Lois turned her attentions to her new son and his safety, and her stories became somewhat more tame. Gradually, the link between Lois and Superman fell into memory, and Lois and Clark were able to relax, secure that their secret would remain uncontested.
The situation with Dr. Klein had proved beneficial on many occasions. He became Clark's primary physician, and CJ's as well, and learned as much about Kryptonian physiology as possible in order to keep them healthy. Later, Dr. Klein began studying with various gynecologists and fertility experts in an effort to aid his favorite couple in their quest to have their own child. Finally, he had taken over Lois's gynecological care. He completed her annual exams and treated her for any symptoms that appeared to be related to her unique husband. While this had been initially uncomfortable for both of them, Dr. Klein's professionalism quickly quelled their discomfort. The visits were accomplished early in the morning to eliminate speculation, and allowed them the use of STAR Labs' facilities. As technology advanced, Dr. Klein had become certain that he would be able to help the couple conceive. He dedicated a great deal of time to researching the situation, and kept the couple informed of every possibility.
Unfortunately, they had not achieved success. The attempts had become less frequent over the last few years, as the emotional results of failure had taken a toll on Lois. Dr. Klein had finally reached a point where he did not wish to provide false hope. It was due to this caution that he had waited this long to contact the couple with his newest idea.
It was with a reserved form of excitement that Lois and Clark entered Dr. Klein's office. Certainly, he wouldn't have bothered them if he weren't fairly sure this would work. Clark was especially hopeful, as he still held a great deal of guilt for not being "compatible" with Lois. Lois was more cautious. The constant ups and downs of hope and failure was a roller coaster she didn't want to deal with again. It had been to painful to dream, only to watch the dream repeatedly die. She had tried to be happy with all that she had. CJ had been a perfect son, and Clark a dedicated husband, but she longed to feel the growth of a baby within her body. She lacked that one connection with CJ, and it still hurt after all these years.
"Lois, Clark, please come in and have a seat." Dr. Klein ushered them into his office.
"What can we do for you this morning?" Clark asked as he seated his wife in a chair across from Dr. Klein's desk and sat down in the chair next to it.
"I believe it is what I can do for you," Dr. Klein said with a grin, seating himself behind the cluttered desk. "I have some news. Last weekend, I attended a conference regarding augmented artificial insemination. This is a process that allows us to treat the semen prior to introduction to the ovum, and ensure fertilization in a non-invasive manner."
Lois looked at Dr. Klein with a silly smile. She had no idea what he had just said. "Can we have that in English, please?"
Dr. Klein stopped, then blushed slightly as he realized that the technical terminology had gone over their heads. "Simply put, there is a field of fertility study that deals with problems similar to yours. In some cases, the environment of the woman's body prevents the man's sperm from getting to or fertilizing the egg. In these cases, we are able to treat the semen, and then insert it into the woman, so that fertilization becomes more likely."
Clark set forward in his chair, intrigued but cautious. "But this isn't a matter of pH or blood typing. Isn't it a little more complicated with us?"
"It certainly is," Dr. Klein said with a smile. "It has taken me years to work out, but it was a formula introduced at the conference last weekend that tied it all together. By using a complicated chemical soup, I believe I can alter the chemistry of Clark's semen enough to allow for fertilization of the egg, and implantation of the pregnancy. Of course, I can't make any guarantees, but this really looks promising."
"Does this mean shots and surgery again?" Lois groaned, remembering her previous experience with artificial insemination.
"Not at all. At least, not at first. All we need to do, actually, is obtain a semen specimen from Clark, mix it with the chemical formula, and insert it into your cervix with a small catheter when you are most likely to be fertile. It's really no more difficult than a pap smear."
"What if that doesn't work? What if I'm not fertile any more?" Lois was trying not to get her hopes up.
"We cross that particular bridge when we come to it. Your menstrual cycles are still regular, so there's no reason to believe that ovulation has ceased. If it has, we may need to try some medications to re-establish ovulation, or external fertilization that we have tried before — with the addition of the formula, of course."
"Could this formula hurt Lois?" Clark voiced his primary concern.
"Absolutely not. The procedure wouldn't be dangerous, either. Of course, fertilization would not guarantee implantation, and any pregnancy carries with it a certain level of risk. However, Lois is healthy, and I feel the benefit would outweigh the risk."
"When would we start?" Lois asked.
"We could start immediately with determining ovulation. I could send you home with a basal body thermometer. You would take your temperature in bed every morning before you get up, and when your basal temperature increases it indicates that ovulation is imminent."
Lois smiled at the reminder of their previous attempts to get her pregnant. "Been there, done that," she quipped.
Clark looked at Lois carefully. He wanted a child, certainly, but he had CJ. Lois had always been the one concerned that she absolutely must have a baby to ensure CJ's birth. CJ had been around for fifteen years, and Clark rarely even considered that he had come from their future. He assumed that if it was meant to happen, it just would, and didn't worry beyond that. Lois tended to analyze things more, and she was adamant that she have a baby. She looked back at him now with mingled hope and fear that he would refuse. "I want to do this, Clark."
"Are you sure, honey? We're not kids any more."
Lois considered this for a moment, then directed her question to Dr. Klein. "He's right. I'm forty-four, and my age may be a factor with this. Will that be a problem?"
"You are healthy, and your cycle indicates normal ovulation. Most women wait until well into their thirties, now, to begin their families, and many wait until their forties. I see no reason you couldn't carry a child to term with no difficulty."
"Let's do it," Lois said, turning back to Clark.
"Absolutely. I have to try."
With a resigned sigh, fearing the worst, Clark turned to Dr. Klein. "When and where?"
Dr. Klein barely contained his excitement. "I have a good deal of the formula already prepared. Use this," he said as he handed Lois the box containing the thermometer, chart, and instructions. "When you see a rise in temperature, call me immediately. You and Clark will meet me here that day, and Clark can produce a… sample. I will treat the semen, and inject it immediately. The entire procedure should only take about fifteen minutes."
Clark rolled his eyes at the prospect of having to "produce" once more. He remembered vividly the lecture that Dr. Klein had given on how to accomplish this so that the initial compatibility studies could begin over fifteen years ago. They had both been embarrassed as Dr. Klein described a procedure that any fourteen-year-old boy is familiar with, yet Clark was totally ignorant of. The procedure had become frequent in the first years of his marriage, and he had tolerated this to allow Dr. Klein ample opportunity to study his sperm in the hopes of a successful pregnancy. In the last few years this had been necessary less frequently, and Clark had been grateful. Frankly, it still embarrassed him.
"I don't mean to be rude," Dr. Klein said, interrupting Clark's thoughts, "But my staff will be here soon, and I don't think we want to explain this to them." He ushered them out of his office and received a hug from Lois and a brief handshake from Clark.
Once they got to work, Lois cornered Clark in her office. "Do you really want to do this? You don't seem very happy about the prospect."
"It's not that," Clark sighed, and put his heart into his voice as he told her, "I love you. I don't want you hurt if this doesn't work. I don't want to see you disappointed."
"I can't tell you I'll be happy if this doesn't work. I want your baby. But I'm not as raw, now. I think I can handle the disappointment better than wondering if I missed an opportunity."
"It's your call, Lois. I'm just along for the ride."
"I love you, Clark Kent. You know that, don't you?"
"Always. I love you, too, Lois."
"What do you mean, you don't know if you can have a baby? You had *me!*" CJ was lost. The entire conversation was beyond his understanding.
Lois looked once more at her husband in a desperate plea for help. Clark just looked down. He had always wanted to tell CJ the truth, but he had avoided the issue because he honestly felt that CJ *was* his son. He wasn't sure about the details, but he was positive the CJ was his own flesh and blood. Clark had not wanted to face the concept that CJ might have to be taken away from them, so he had delayed this discussion until he had nearly forgotten that it would need to take place.
In retrospect, it was similar to his deception regarding Superman. He had initially avoided telling CJ because a child couldn't be trusted, and then it had become a habit. CJ had not been grateful for being shielded from the truth then, and he was not thrilled now.
Lois continued, rather annoyed at not receiving more assistance from Clark. "CJ, we believe that you are ours. Your abilities certainly prove that you are your father's son. We just don't exactly know, well, *when* you came from."
Clark finally decided that Lois needed some help. "CJ, we've told you about Tempus, and how time travel is possible. Well, you were brought to us nearly a year after we were married, but you were already a few months old. We can only assume it was H.G. Wells who brought you to us." Clark sat down next to his son on the couch, and put his arm around the boy. "You came with my blanket, the one that Grandma found me in, and a letter that told us to keep you safe. Apparently, you were in some form of danger in your time, and that was a better time for you to be in."
CJ looked at his father with huge eyes, clouded with hurt. "So I'm not really adopted?"
Clark hugged his son, as Lois came and sat on CJ's other side. "You are ours," Lois told him. "I've never doubted that."
"CJ, it was really hard at first. The first few weeks, we just waited for someone to come and take you away," Lois said quietly. "I tried so hard not to get attached. We didn't even give you a name. It was your grandmother that named you; she just started calling you CJ." Lois smiled at the memory as she continued, "She said you looked so much like your father that we just had to name you Clark. It was too confusing having two Clarks around, so she started calling you CJ for short. She never really told us if that was to abbreviate Clark Jerome, or Clark Junior. When we finally had to establish some paperwork to take care of you, we followed her lead and made it official." She looked at her son, putting all the love she had for him into her gaze. "You are our son, however we got you."
Clark had been watching the emotions cross his wife's face. She had run the gamut ranging from fear to nostalgia, and then back to a transparent love that only a mother could show. He remembered those first few weeks as well. He had been learning to juggle the responsibilities of family with the implications of Superman. He had attempted to think of the situation as temporary, but as time wore on, he realized that CJ deserved more than the temporary love that they had been giving him. They had decided to live for the day, believing that they would have him forever, and enjoying the time for what it was.
"Your grandparents were the only ones who really allowed themselves to fall in love with you, at first," Clark told his son. "From day one, they just seemed to know you. I guess it was because you looked so much like me. Anyway, they were a great example for us to follow. We figured that if we kept waiting for something that might never happen, we could be losing out on a lot. We got so used to having you here, and being your parents, that it didn't seem to matter any more how it all started."
CJ sat for a moment, absorbing the information. He was hurt. He couldn't believe that his parents hadn't told him about this. What was more, he couldn't believe that his *grandparents* hadn't told him. They had always been honest, and to find out that they weren't even sure where he came from was making him doubt his identity. Sure, they said he was theirs, but how could they be sure?
CJ thought about running out of the room. He thought about yelling, or crying, or just striking out. Nothing seemed appropriate. He knew that he should do something, say something, but he didn't have the slightest clue where to start. Finally, he settled on the one thing that always helped. "Can I call Grandma?"
Lois gave Clark an official "I told you so" glare, and nodded to her son. She had wanted to have the discussion with the Kents here. CJ quickly went upstairs to use his own phone to make the call. She was left sitting next to her husband, and she couldn't help but smile. "He's yours, all right," she told him.
"What do you mean?"
"When he has no clue what to do, he calls Smallville," she replied with another grin.
Clark blushed slightly, but he did have the good grace not to argue the point. He didn't call Smallville quite as often how as he had done in the past, but for most of his life he had relied on advice that came nearly daily from Kansas. He had received advice on work, on women, on Lois and on raising CJ, with reassuring regularity. It had become a slight point of contention between them, early in the marriage, not because Lois was jealous of Martha's knowledge, but because she had been unsure of her own place in Clark's life. Once he had convinced her that she was always first in his life, she had found that Martha *was* an invaluable source of information, and had begun to call Smallville quite frequently herself.
Lois leaned sideways into Clark, and felt his arm go around her shoulders. She had her own doubts about CJ's reaction, but she was certain that he would accept the situation eventually. After all, he had adjusted to being the son of Superman with relative ease. Now that she thought about it, Martha had been a big part of that process as well. Lois still wondered if she would ever be that good as a mother.
With a sigh that echoed that of his wife, Clark cuddled next to Lois and waited for CJ to come back downstairs. They would get through this, too. They always did. He did wonder why nothing was ever easy.
The phone rang several times before Martha was able to reach it. Ironically, after running so quickly to grab the receiver, she realized that Jonathan had picked up the upstairs line. Disgusted with her speed, Martha nearly put down the phone, but stopped when she heard CJ's small voice. "Is Gramma there?"
Martha immediately recognized the distress in her grandson's voice, and the immature phrasing of her name. She attempted not to panic as she responded, "I'm here, sweetie. What's wrong?"
"Why didn't anyone tell me I wasn't born with Mom and Dad?" If possible, his voice became even tinier.
Martha responded to the hurt in the child's voice with a quiet authority. "You most certainly were born with your parents, honey. We just aren't sure quite when."
CJ thought about that explanation for a moment, reassured by the confidence in his grandmother's voice. She didn't sound like she cared if he didn't know where he came from. "So, why didn't anyone tell me?"
"Frankly, son," Jonathan added, "It never really came up. It's kind of like when we told your dad that he was adopted. We told him as soon as his strength became an issue, but before that, it just didn't seem important."
CJ hadn't considered that his father was adopted. He wondered briefly if his family was just cursed with family secrets, and decided that it wasn't really the issue. He didn't like being lied to, but they had told him now.
"I hate it when they lie to me," he told his grandparents. "I'm not a baby, and they shouldn't treat me that way."
"You're right, honey," Martha told him. "But," she added, "they did tell you today. Maybe they realize that you are growing up, and this is how they are telling you."
"Maybe," CJ conceded. "Can I call you back later?"
"Of course, son. You go talk to your parents." Jonathan's voice was quiet, but filled with pride.
"Yes, sweetie. Go talk to your parents," Martha added.
CJ hung up the phone and went to confront his parents once more.
CJ discussed the new development with Kat the next day. They had been let out of school early due to a teacher work day, and had a little time to talk before they would each need to attend their individual jobs.
Initially, CJ had been leery of talking to Kat at all. He was still feeling pretty stupid about ruining her date, regardless of the fact that he really had helped. It had embarrassed her, and that fact alone embarrassed *him*. On the other hand, Andy's car was still not fixed and Kat needed a ride home. Her ankle had merely been sprained, but the walk home was uncomfortable even without the crutches. She was grateful for the offer of a ride.
CJ had been surprised that she hadn't just asked him. After all, it wasn't as though it were out of his way. However, it did make him feel good to offer, and even better when she accepted with a smile.
"So, what do you think?" CJ asked her as they pulled up in front of her house.
Kat sighed. "I honestly don't know what to think. On the other hand, being adopted is less strange than being an alien, so I guess this isn't the biggest thing you've had to deal with lately." She smiled, and looked over at him to see if he shared the humor in the situation. What she saw was big brown eyes that were so sad that she didn't know what to do with him. "CJ, however they got you, they love you. They have been here for you, and taken care of you, and that's more than my folks have done when they got me the usual way."
CJ closed his eyes a moment and thought about what Kat had said. She was right, despite his resistance to her answer. His parents *were* great. They had loved him, taught him, and supported him throughout all the pitfalls of growing up. They had held his hand when he was frightened and been honest with him when they could easily have lied. They did love him, and that was more important than a situation that they had no control over, and yet had made the best of.
CJ had a lot of thinking to do. He would have to move a long way before he could forgive this, but he was now certain it would happen. He needed to apologize to his parents first; they must be frantic with the way he had been acting. Then he would call his grandparents. He should have listened to them in the first place.
With a faint smile, he leaned over and kissed Kat lightly on the lips in thanks. It was just a peck, and it shouldn't have been any more than a thank-you, but somehow it *was* more. Kat blushed from her neck to her hairline, and made a quick excuse to exit the truck. She nearly fell when she didn't remember her sore ankle, but she quickly recovered and hobbled into her house.
CJ sat in the truck for a moment, watching Kat stumble towards the house. Why had he done that, he wondered? Why would he kiss her… and on the lips, too? He had never done that. It had just seemed the thing to do, but now he wasn't so sure. She had certainly reacted in a funny way to the little kiss. With a final shake of his head at the strange ways of females, he turned off the truck and walked across the street to his house.
The next morning, as Lois woke, she snuggled into her husband's back. She was grateful to wake up beside him for a change. Normally, early morning was a busy time for him, and she wasn't used to having someone warm to snuggle against before the alarm went off.
Before she got too comfortable, or involved, she rolled away from him and reached into the drawer of her nightstand. She grabbed the glass thermometer that Dr. Klein had given her and gave it a good shake before slipping it beneath her tongue. After three minutes, she read the mercury and reached for her pen and chart. Once she had graphed the little number, she did a double-take, looking at the chart. Her temperature had risen a full four-tenths of a degree from her normal basal body temperature. This was it.
She tried to contain her excitement, but was unable to do so. Unfortunately, this wasn't her cue to wake her husband up in a soft and fuzzy way, it was her signal to call Dr. Klein. She gently patted Clark on the back until he woke up a little, then she explained, "Honey, you have to wake up. My temperature is up. We need to call Dr. Klein."
Clark burrowed more deeply into his pillow, hugging it tightly to his chest, and sighed. "Take some aspirin, honey. I'll tell Perry you're sick."
Lois almost laughed at this blast from the past. It had been a long time since they had worried about placating Perry White. With a wistful, remembering kind of smile, she tried again. "Clark, I need you to wake up."
Clark grumbled a little more. While normally he was quite the morning person, he had only been in bed for about an hour today. There had been a particularly nasty hostage situation that had required Superman's assistance, and while he was thrilled to have the headline to call in to the paper, he was also exhausted after twenty-two hours without sleep. Finally, he rolled over to see the excited face of his wife. This was odd. Normally, he was up and ready to go, and Lois was still grumbling and dragging far behind him. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing is wrong," she answered. "My temperature is up, and we need to call Dr. Klein so he can perform the procedure."
Clark's eyes flew open as what she had said finally penetrated his mind. This could be it. After nearly seventeen years of waiting and wondering, this could really be it. He was trying not to get his hopes up, but it was really hard. They had wanted this so much, and to have the possibility here was amazing. He placed his palm against Lois's cheek, and looked into her eyes. She would be the mother of his child… he just knew it. He always had.
After kissing her softly on the lips, he left the bed to give Dr. Klein a call. They agreed to meet him at STAR Labs, as they had planned to do. Clark showered at super-speed, and left Lois to do the same while he prepared some breakfast.
Lois was considerably slower as she showered, dressed, and put on her make-up. After doing so, she walked down the hall and knocked softly on her son's door. Once she had made sure that he was indeed up and getting ready for school, she met Clark downstairs. He handed her a travel cup of coffee and an English muffin with an egg inside. She smiled at his obvious attempt to hurry her along when she saw that he already had both her laptop case and her purse tucked under his arm.
"Ready to go?" he asked as he started for the door without waiting for her answer.
Lois smiled at his retreating back. "I guess I am." With that, she followed him to the car.
Lois sighed as she allowed Dr. Klein to assist her to a sitting position on the examining table and pulled the sheet more firmly around her legs to keep herself covered. This was still vaguely embarrassing, although he had been much more adept with his bedside manner than he had once thought possible. Years of caring for Clark's needs, as well as Lois's, had taught him to be slightly more tactful than he had once been while describing the demise of a snowman to a shrinking Clark.
Clark stepped forward from his position at the head of the exam table and placed his hand on Lois's shoulder. "How long before we know, Dr. Klein?"
The doctor considered the question for a moment before answering. "Assuming the procedure is successful, fertilization should occur in three to four days. After that, implantation could take as much as another week. The soonest it would show up on a urine test would be one week from now, but most likely it would be closer to two." Dr. Klein noted the pained expression on their faces, and took pity on them. "I'll tell you what: I'll send some test kits with you. Just follow the directions inside, and we'll know as soon as possible. You should start using them one week from today. You really can't expect a positive result prior to that."
Clark thanked the doctor and stayed with Lois while she dressed. They were both lost in their own thoughts; Lois was wondering if this time would be different, and Clark was thinking about how the morning had gone.
Clark had learned long ago that the embarrassing process of providing Dr. Klein with his samples went much more smoothly when Lois was present. Her… assistance… made an otherwise humiliating experience not only faster, but almost enjoyable. This morning had certainly been a surprise. Lois had helped him out in producing a specimen, and then had asked him to stay while Dr. Klein performed the procedure. As promised, it had taken only a few moments, and there had been no needles necessary, for which they were grateful. Lois hadn't appeared to suffer any pain, and that in itself was a relief.
Clark had always hated the infertility treatments that Lois had to endure. For years, they had dealt with medications, fertilization procedures, and other difficult and painful experiences. Of course, the worst part was always that the pain was for nothing. It simply led to more pain with the expected result wasn't achieved. The worst part for him was knowing that, while the infertility was his fault, she was the one who had to endure the pain.
He watched Lois pull on her blouse and begin buttoning it. He walked over to her and placed his hands over hers. She looked up and met his eyes, and he was not surprised to see tears in hers. He pulled her into his arms for a moment, comforting her. "You know," he told her, "whether this works or not, I still love you. We have each other, and we have CJ. We're still very lucky."
Lois sniffled slightly, resting her head against his shoulder. She hated this. She still felt silly when she cried about losing something she never had. "I know, but I just want to feel your baby inside me." She lifted her head and looked into the depths of his big brown eyes. "I feel like I missed something by not being pregnant. I mean, I never sacrificed my figure or tossed my cookies. I feel like I never paid my dues, and someone is going to show up to collect."
"I know that won't happen, Lois. If it did, I'd send them packing at super-speed. CJ is *ours!* We love him, we raised him, and we won't give him up to anyone."
Lois put her head back on Clark's shoulder. She had known he would say that, she had just needed the reassurance. They had dealt with their fears of losing CJ, and their concerns about his origin, on many occasions through the years. Gratefully, the discussions had become less fearful and less frequent as the years progressed. There were even times now when they forgot entirely that he was not acquired in the usual way. At the very least, they almost forgot.
With a sigh, Lois pulled away from Clark and finished getting dressed. Clark watched her, reminding himself that they did have to go to work today as, once again, he realized how beautiful his wife was. She had her brown hair down today, and it curled softly at her shoulders as it had when he had first seen her. She was no longer self-conscious about the occasional gray strand, but considered them to be awards for surviving a teenager. They were her badges of honor, as much as her Kerth Awards were. Once she was dressed, Lois and Clark linked hands and went back to Dr. Klein's office for the promised test kits and any other instructions that the doctor might have for them.
Work went slowly for the Kents. While Lois sorted through possible stories to lead the headlines on the following day, Clark ran the daily staff meeting. Granted, Clark wasn't an editor, but no one on staff would consider questioning his authority. He wasn't just the boss's husband, he was an experienced journalist who had been assisting his wife in the running of the Planet since she had taken over her editorial position. He was good at it, he liked it, and if there was any question asked, it was why he wasn't promoted to an editorial assistant as he should have been.
Lois and Clark had considered the idea of allowing promotion to a full assistant editor, but always decided against it. The first problem was that of Superman. An editor couldn't be running off every time something newsworthy happened. The second problem was that of the job. It was bad enough to have constant demands on Lois's time, especially when CJ had been younger, but to have those same demands placed on Clark would have made a family life impossible. The entire purpose of the editorial assistants was to allow the editor time for a life, not to take away their spouse.
Actually, Lois had completely rearranged the command structure within the city room, and her set-up was much more effective than the one Perry had allowed. She was the day editor, and she had Andrew to cover evenings and Pat to cover nights. Their salary was little more than the average reporter made, but the experience was excellent, and the benefit of working for the Planet made the jobs irresistible. Lois, of course, made all the final decisions, and had Clark to help her out during the day, but there was always enough work for everyone.
Lois sighed deeply. Clark heard it, and was immediately at her side. When she glanced up and saw him, she smiled. "You know, if I do get pregnant, you can't stay by my side the entire time."
Clark gave her a dirty look before replying, "Did you need something?"
Lois lifted onto her toes, and kissed him rather soundly. "Yes, I need you. Always." She kissed him once more.
Clark relaxed somewhat, and allowed himself to enjoy his wife's kisses. After a moment, he put his arms around her, and deepened his kiss slightly. As she pulled away, she asked him, "We're okay, aren't we?" She knew he would understand.
"Yeah," he replied. Then he put his arms back around her and pulled her back to his embrace. "We're very okay."
Kat and CJ were escorted into a very small office at STAR Labs. They were told that Dr. Klein would be with them shortly, and that they were to wait. CJ allowed Kat to sit in the chair closest to the desk, and he paced through the office. It didn't take much distance to cover the small area, but he paced anyway.
He had asked Kat to come with him for this visit. His parents had no idea that he was in Metropolis without permission, and it was his hope that they wouldn't find out. If they did, he could at least say that he hadn't gone alone, and that might get him out of a little bit of trouble.
It wasn't that he wanted to go behind their backs. The opposite was true, he wanted them to know all about this. However, he wanted his answers from a professional before they found out that he was asking. He didn't want them to be hurt by his questions, and, as much as they loved him, it would hurt them for him to investigate his origins.
He supposed that it was being the son of two investigative reporters that drove him to look for the answers. They had told him that they had spent months looking for the reasons, back when he was an infant, but they had not actively pursued it in many years. After a time, they had simply decided that he was their son, and it was their responsibility to raise him. They had stopped asking the hard questions, and just accepted that CJ was theirs forever.
CJ wasn't ready to accept the same ideas. He didn't want to leave them, but he did want to know just why he was here. If he hadn't been born to this time, what time was his? He was obviously their son — or, at least, *Clark's* son — but when was he born, and what situation could possibly be so bad that they would send him so far away? He was confused and angered by not having the answers, and, if they were indeed unavailable, he wanted to know it first-hand.
Bernard Klein entered his office with a cup of coffee in one hand and a scientific journal in the other. He had been told that he had visitors, but he had been so involved in the article he was reading that the information truly hadn't registered yet. He pulled the door closed with one foot, and began walking towards his desk by habit.
CJ had been just as involved with his own thoughts as Dr. Klein had been with his journal. As a result, the two males collided at full speed, and both of them jumped back from the contact. Bernard fell into the desk, spilling his coffee all over — and, most especially, all over *Kat!* Thankfully, he was as forgetful about his coffee as he was with his message, and the beverage was not hot in the least.
Everything seemed to happen at once. Kat screamed, Dr. Klein cursed, and CJ jumped backwards. Then, time seemed to stop as all eyes focused on the teenage boy hovering inches off the floor. CJ hadn't been thinking about anything except for getting out of the way, but he found himself suspended several inces above the ground. CJ was so startled, once he realized why they were staring at him, that he dropped quickly to the ground. As quickly as the excitement had begun, it was over. Dr. Klein was quite certain, though, that he had indeed seen CJ fly.
For the most part, Dr. Klein was less surprised than the teenagers. He had been expecting this manifestation to occur, and felt it was just a matter of time until it happened. He had followed this child from infancy through childhood, and now into adolescence, and their was little that would surprise him.
"Well, CJ, I suppose that answers one question," he said in his best clinical voice. CJ looked over at Kat to see that while she was quite wet, she was less frightened than he was. He attempted to duplicate the action, and was not successful. Apparently, it was not something within his voluntary control yet. That wasn't really unusual; it had taken time for him to recognize most of his abilities, such as strength and x-ray vision. Initially they had been sporadic and involuntary, and as they developed, he had been more able to both recognize and control them. He assumed that this would be the same way.
"I guess I have something new to tell my dad," he said in a shaky voice. Kat smiled at him as she brushed at the coffee on her t-shirt and jeans. Dr. Klein handed her some paper towels and muttered an apology.
"So," he asked CJ, "What brings you to my office?" He was fairly sure that the boy was here without his parents' permission, but he didn't want to deal with that just yet. He was certain that the boy was here for a reason.
CJ thought about several ways to phrase the questions, and, in fact, he had been rehearsing it for days in his mind. Still, even after all of his imagining, the question came out sounding silly. "I want to know when I come from."
"I assume you mean originally," Dr. Klein said.
"Well, yeah. I'm pretty sure that my parents are, well, my parents. But they haven't had any kids, so I want to find out just where I fit in." He seated himself next to Kat, perched on the edge of her chair, and waited.
Dr. Klein nodded. "I understand your concerns, but our Temporal Investigations Section really hasn't discovered anything new in the last several years. We do have a device that will displace time, but we have no clue how it works or how to control it. Frankly, temporal work is so dangerous that we have barely scratched the surface of what might be possible." Seeing the disappointment on the teenager's face, he decided to go out on a limb, and show the boy what little he knew.
Kat was missing the majority of the conversation. Not only did she have no idea what they were talking about, but she was beginning to feel rather clammy.
"Come with me, CJ." Dr. Klein left the room quickly, leaving CJ and Kat to follow behind him. CJ grabbed Kat's hand and quickly dragged her along. They followed the scientist until he reached his destination. It was a large locked door marked "Temporal Displacement Laboratory".
Despite the sign that limited entrance to authorized personnel, Dr. Klein pulled out a key card that allowed him to unlock the heavy door. He mumbled something about rank having its privileges as he entered and held the door for CJ and Kat to follow him in.
It was actually a rather nondescript little room. There were a few instruments and machines laying about but, for the most part, the lab appeared to be deserted. Dr. Klein unlocked one of the many cabinets and removed a small device. It resembled a small remote control unit, and CJ briefly wondered what it could be for. Dr. Klein explained quickly what the device was.
"CJ, this is really the only clue that we have as to how to initiate temporal displacement. We can operate it, but we have no clue how to set the device for a specific destination in time or space." He put the black device onto the nearest table, and began to open other cabinets as he spoke. "We believe that you were delivered with a device of this nature, but we can't prove anything. This device was left following the incident with Tempus several years ago. A similar device was used to place your father into an area of time without dimension, according to your mother. We have been able to disassemble the device and reproduce it, with consistent success, but we have no idea how or why it works."
Dr. Klein finally found what he was looking for, and brought the weathered papers over to CJ. "This is the documentation that you father was given by H.G. Wells regarding the manufacture of an interdimensional transport device. We have kept it under lock and key, of course, but frankly, he's the only one who has been able to duplicate it. The theories simply don't make any sense to the rest of us. There is something at the molecular level that we don't understand that causes this machine to control its own temporal stability. We have asked for his help in the matter, but he feels that if he helps, it will alter the time line and do damage. He feels that we need to understand the ideas on our own if we are to hope to master them. Frankly, I have to agree with him."
Dr. Klein seated himself on the edge of the lab table as he continued. "So, you can see what we are working with. We use this laboratory in conjunction with the military experimentation on space anomalies in order to learn what we can, but temporal control is still beyond our abilities. Even if we understood it, we couldn't necessarily find your specific line of time. Apparently, there are multiple realities at any given time, and no way to know which one you came from. Because of your physiology, I do firmly believe that you are Clark's direct descendant. In addition to that, we have the DNA tests that I did when you were a baby, but we don't know from what time or dimension that you might have originated. I wish I could be more help."
CJ sighed. He had known that his parents were thorough, but he had hoped that they might have missed something. Apparently, science hadn't come as far since their efforts as he had hoped.
Kat hated to interrupt the discussion, but she was beginning to feel miserable. Her clothes were damp, and the constant airflow that maintained the temperature near so many computers had her thoroughly chilled. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a pair of sweats in the truck. They need to be washed, but at least they're dry. Can you show me how to get back down to the garage?
Dr. Klein looked at the young lady as if he was just noticing that she was damp. "Oh, I'm so sorry! Let me get you some help with that." He stood and used the intercom to call for one of his lab assistants. A young woman in a white lab coat arrived to escort Kat down to the garage, and assured her that she would help her find a place to change once she had her dry clothes.
After Kat had left with the lab tech, Dr. Klein escorted CJ back to his own office. Once there, he asked if CJ had any additional questions.
"Actually, I do have one," the boy said, blushing quite thoroughly. "It isn't about where I come from, though."
"What is it?"
"Well, I was wondering, well…" He trailed off for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. "You had to help my mom try to get pregnant, right? Because my dad wasn't compatible with Earth physiology? I mean, she's not pregnant yet — that we know of, anyway — but she's trying."
"That is true. The chromosomes appeared to be compatible for union, but the outer areas of the cell had different densities. I used a chemical to minimize this difference, and allow your mother to become pregnant."
CJ continued to blush. This was not an easy discussion, but he wanted to know what his future had in store for him. If he couldn't understand his past, he could at least know what might be coming up. "So, will I have the same problem?"
"I suppose it's possible," Dr. Klein told CJ. "We wouldn't know for sure without tests. It's possible that you would be more compatible because your mother is, presumably, from Earth."
"Could we do the tests?" CJ asked in a small voice.
"When you are a little older, I'm sure we will. There doesn't seem to be much reason to do so yet. You aren't planning on having any children in the near future, are you?" Dr. Klein tried to lighten the moment with the joke, but CJ was determined.
"I have to wait for everything! I have to wait to see where I come from, I have to wait to learn about time displacement, and I don't want to wait for this!" CJ was near tears. The entire day had been so frustrating that he was almost ready to scream.
Dr Klein smiled. He supposed it could do little harm to run the test on CJ. Aside from contributing to the delinquency of a minor with the reading material that they kept in the little room, he didn't think that allowing the boy this one answer would upset anyone too much. "Okay, CJ. Come with me. We'll need to get a specimen."
"Specimen?" CJ asked as he followed the doctor once more from the room. Dr. Klein had to smile. Once he explained the procedure, CJ would probably decline to do it, and that would take care of the problem without him having to even do the tests.
The blonde lab assistant had accompanied Kat down to CJ's truck, and then allowed her back into the building. She led Kat to the ladies' locker room so that she could change, and, once she was dry and warm again, she led her back towards the room that Dr. Klein had been in. Just as they left the elevator, the technician's pager went off, requesting that she report immediately for some procedure on the eleventh floor.
Kat saw the undecided look on the young woman's face. She also saw the door to the room she had been in earlier. "Just go," she told the technician. "I can see the door from here. Thanks for your help," she finished with a smile.
The woman returned Kat's smile and re-entered the elevator. The truth was, she had been away from her section for too long, and she didn't want to be reprimanded.
As the elevator door closed behind her, Kat began walking towards the room. Once there, she pushed on the door and it slowly swung open. Dr. Klein had not made sure that the door had closed and locked behind him. No one was there. She wondered if they would be back, and sat down on the table to wait for them.
The room was quiet. She saw the little device sitting on the table, the one that Dr. Klein had said could manipulate time. Picking up the seemingly harmless little box, she looked at it more closely. It was small, and the texture of the buttons was unusual. They weren't smooth as she would have imagined them to be. Stroking her fingertips across the buttons, she depressed one by accident.
She dropped the device immediately, jumping off the table and away from the large doorway that appeared in the air. She watched the glowing doorway appear; then, after a moment, it seemed to collapse in on itself and disappear. She stood, shaken, for a moment, just looking at the space where the doorway had been. Grateful she had not been any closer, she quickly left the room and pulled the door closed behind her. She tugged on it once more to ensure that it had locked, then she retraced her steps to Dr. Klein's office.
She felt strange walking through the corridors herself, but was relieved when she saw his office ahead. *This* door was locked, so she carefully sat on the floor by the door, holding her gym bag of wet clothes on her lap, and waited for Dr. Klein to come back to his office.
When CJ and Dr. Klein returned to the office, Kat had fallen asleep. CJ woke her and told her that it was time to leave. If she wondered about the slight blush on his face, or the "test" that Dr. Klein mentioned while they were leaving, she had the good grace not to ask. After all, she certainly didn't want to be questioned about what she had been doing while away from them.
The trip back to Claremont was uneventful, and Kat found it a little odd that CJ wouldn't look at her. He dropped her off in front of her house, and then pulled up into his own driveway. He didn't even tell her goodbye, or thank her for making the trip with him. He didn't say anything, really.
CJ locked his truck and went into the house through the kitchen door. He was still lost in thought from his experience at the lab, and still embarrassed by the procedure that he had done. He had considered backing out of the test once it was explained to him, but had been even more embarrassed to do that. After all, he had practically begged for it, even if he had not known what he was getting into. He had expected a blood test, or even a urine test, but to have to do *that* was humiliating. He really wanted to forget that it had happened.
CJ grabbed a piece of cold pizza from the refrigerator and checked the noteboard to find out what his mother needed him to do. As expected, she would be late tonight. The Friday evening staff meetings usually ran pretty late, and he had counted on that when he had planned his after-school trip into Metropolis. He noted that he was to do a load of laundry and to start something for dinner. A second glance into the refrigerator gave him another piece of cold pizza and a pound of hamburger that he was certain he could do something with.
He browned the ground beef and then added some diced onions. While he raided a cabinet for canned tomatoes, the telephone rang. He stirred the beef with one hand while he grabbed the kitchen extension with the other. "Yeah?" he asked into the phone.
"What's for dinner there?" Kat asked him. She was still a little confused over his lack of conversation on the drive home, and she wanted to make sure it wasn't something she had done.
"Mmm, looks like chili for now. How about there?"
"Well, looks like either Chinese or pizza here. I haven't decided who to call." She twirled the phone cord in her fingers as she waited for CJ's reply.
"How about you just come here?" he invited. "Mom isn't home yet, so I'm cooking. It should be edible, anyway." His mother's cooking still bore the brunt of more jokes than they would admit to, but the reputation was well earned.
"Sounds better than take-out," she replied. "Want me to come help?"
"Sure. You do the best garlic bread around," he said with a smile into the receiver.
"On my way!" She hung up the phone, and headed to the house across the street. Odd, how that always felt more like home than her own house, she thought. Dismissing the idea, she bounded up the three steps leading to the kitchen doorway and opened the door. It never occurred to her to use the front door — that was for *guests* — nor did she think to knock.
Lois and Clark sat side by side on the floor with their backs against the bathtub. Together, they stared at the little plastic container that held the answer to their future. This had been their routine for the last three mornings. Each day, Lois had placed a urine specimen in the little container, carefully followed directions, and watched her hopes die. As they waited, they gave one another some comfort as they discussed every measure of their future except for the tiny person that might or might not be there.
After the requisite ten minutes, Clark stood, and held out a hand to help Lois up. It had been two weeks since Dr. Klein's procedure, and they had been putting themselves through this torture since the tenth day. Dr. Klein had insisted that they could not know to the day when a test would be positive, but he recommended daily testing until they were sure the procedure was ineffective. If this was the case, Lois would begin taking her temperatures again, and they would repeat the procedure for two more months. Lois didn't really want to go through months and months of waiting, but she would do what was necessary to conceive Clark's child.
Lois reached for the plastic unit, and glanced inside for the negative result she was certain would be present. When she encountered a small "+" sign, she was so surprised that it didn't register. Clark reached around her and took the unit from her. He looked at it for a moment more as a wide smile spread across his face. When he looked down at his wife, he was shocked to see tears streaming down her face. He set the unit on the sink and wrapped his arms around his trembling wife. Lois sobbed in his arms for several minutes before calming enough to smile up at her husband.
"This is for real, isn't it?" Lois asked in a trembling voice.
"The blood HCG confirms what your urine test indicated. Implantation has occurred, and Lois is most certainly pregnant." Dr. Klein said these words as he took his seat behind the still cluttered desk. "We will need to monitor your HCG level throughout early pregnancy to evaluate the development of the embryo, but for now everything appears to be progressing nicely."
"If everything is fine, why do you need more blood tests?" Clark asked with concern.
"Well, there are several reasons. At this time, the baby is too small to see through ultrasound, and this is our best indication of continued development. Also, I would like to chart the pregnancy quite closely, to use as a reference point should CJ ever decide to have children. For that matter, this information would be useful if you were ever to father another child as well."
"Let's just get through this one," Lois said with a grin.
Clark returned her smile, and squeezed her shoulder gently. Then he sat back and listened to Dr. Klein quiz Lois on how she was feeling, what she was eating and every other tiny aspect of her life since the procedure Dr. Klein had performed two weeks ago. He made arrangements with her to meet every other morning for a quick blood draw to monitor her hormonal changes, and gave her a renewal for the pre-natal vitamin prescription that he had originated before they had even accomplished the procedure. She took the prescription, as well as another for an iron supplement, and thanked Dr. Klein before standing to leave.
Clark was quiet as he escorted his wife back to work. They needed to make decisions regarding telling their son about the pregnancy, and calling their parents, but for now he wanted to just enjoy this time with his wife. The thought that a part of him was growing within her body was at once thrilling and terrifying.
"Are you sure you're feeling okay?" Clark asked once they reached the relative privacy of her office.
"I'm fine, Clark. I'm wonderful! I'm *pregnant*," Lois said with a giggle. Her face was alight with the knowledge that she was carrying the child of the man she loved. "Oh, no. You are not going to worry for the next eight and a half months! I'm perfectly fine, and I intend to enjoy this time."
"I'm supposed to worry; it's my job."
"Wait a minute — I'm the cynic, and you're the eternal optimist. That's the way it's always been, and I refuse to allow things to change now." Lois shook her head as she lectured Clark.
He finally broke into a small smile as he placed his palm against her cheek. "We're gonna have a baby…" he said with wonder.
"Yes," she said, turning her head to kiss his palm.
The evening was spend talking with CJ and calling Lois and Clark's parents. Martha insisted on coming to visit as soon as possible, while Ellen lectured Lois on the potential ruination of her figure. CJ was both excited at the news and concerned where the baby would sleep. Clark laughed at CJ's worry over losing his own room, and assured him that he would not be displaced by the small child. Lois and Clark went to bed happy, and enjoyed the dreams of their future family.
Quickly, Lois became accustomed to her family dictating her actions in life. Apparently, pregnancy entitled husbands and mothers to decide when she was hungry, tired or working too much. Lois took all of this with an unusual level of complacency. The fact was, she *was* tired. She was always hungry, slightly dizzy, and she maintained a slight level of nausea at all times. Clark became concerned when she had difficulty holding down meals and began sleeping twelve hours each night, but his experience with pregnant women was limited, and all the books assured him that fatigue and morning sickness were quite normal.
By the time Lois reached her ninth week of pregnancy, her situation had worsened dramatically. She was no longer able to work, and frequently was admitted to the hospital for fluids. Dr. Klein enlisted the help of a renowned obstetrician to aid him in caring for her, but it was becoming clear that Lois's body was having a great deal of difficulty with the pregnancy. By mid-August, Dr. Klein began to wonder if Lois could possibly make it to term.
Lois collapsed at home in Clark's arms one evening, and he quickly flew her to the hospital. The test results were terrible, indicating that Lois was suffering from blood poisoning as well as dehydration and pregnancy. Further tests revealed that the baby was demanding far too much of Lois's system, and Dr. Klein began to recommend termination of the pregnancy.
"No. Absolutely not!" Lois screamed when Dr. Klein presented the idea.
"Lois, I don't think you realize just how dangerous this is. Even if we are able to maximize your immune response, maintaining that state for the next seven months would be impossible. I don't see how you could live to term to deliver this baby." Dr. Klein spoke quietly, but with authority.
"I can't kill my baby," Lois sobbed.
"Honey, the baby can't live if you die," Clark pleaded. He knew that Dr. Klein would never introduce this solution if there were any other options.
"What if you can keep me going until the baby can be born early? How long would I have to carry him?" Lois had always believed that she carried a son.
"Well, with current NICU procedures, we can usually gestate children as long as they pass the twelve-week mark."
"That's it, then! That's what, three more weeks?" Lois was encouraged by the hope in this choice.
"Closer to four," Dr. Klein replied.
"Then that's what we do! I will *not* let you kill this baby just to save me some discomfort."
"Lois," Clark interrupted, "this isn't inconvenience. It's your *life*."
"Clark, promise… you won't let… them do this," Lois pleaded through her tears. "Just get… me through the next… couple of weeks. Then they can keep the… baby alive, and I'll… get better. Please, Clark. We… won't get another chance. Dr. Klein… won't do this again… and you… know it. Please, I don't… want to lose… my baby," Lois finished with a sob.
Clark closed his eyes and held his wife's hand as she sobbed. He wanted the baby, but he wasn't willing to risk Lois's life to have it. "Is there any chance it could work?" he asked Dr. Klein quietly.
"Yes. The risks are high, but if we keep her here with medical care available, we may be able to get the baby up to twelve weeks." Dr. Klein looked doubtful, but he wanted to give them some hope. "I want to move her up to intensive care. We have life support there, so if she becomes unstable, we will be better able to handle it. It will limit your visiting hours, and I don't believe CJ will be admitted up there, but the care is the best available."
"That will be fine." Clark's voice was more certain than his heart was, though.
The next two weeks crawled by. Lois's condition gradually worsened, and she lapsed into a coma towards the end of the second week. Lucy came to visit, but Lois didn't even know that she was there. After a week, Lucy returned to California to care for her family, leaving Clark with specific instructions to contact her if there was a change, or if she could do anything to help. Lois didn't even appear pregnant, and yet the baby had taken hold of her body completely. When her vital signs began to fail, Dr. Klein arranged for a Caesarean section to be performed. Lois was placed on a respirator, and the surgery was performed with a quick efficiency.
Baby Boy Kent was placed in a gestation tank in the Newborn Intensive Care Nursery. While just shy of twelve weeks, the neonatalogist felt that he stood a fair chance at normal development. He was surrounded by a viscous nutritional fluid, and his blood was oxygenated through intravenous lines that entered his umbilical cord. Martha and Jonathan spent hours sitting with him, partly because they were still not allowed to see Lois in the ICU downstairs. It was hard to believe that this two-inch form would ever develop into a child, but as long as there was any hope at all, the Kents would sit here with him and wait.
Lois's condition did not immediately improve, as Dr. Klein had anticipated that it would. While the agent that had poisoned her blood was gone, her system had been severely depleted in the process. Her brain waves remained stable, but her body was still in a shut-down mode. Lois remained on the respirator, and she was fed through an arterial line into her neck. This line made it possible to give her nutrition as well as fluids, and it also allowed physicians to draw blood without continuing to make her a pincushion. It also permitted the nurses to remove the IV lines from her arms and hands, and Clark was once again able to hold his wife's hand and dress her in nightgowns that had sleeves.
At first, Clark remained with his wife at all times. He left her side briefly to attempt to locate the Lanes, but returned when they were not immediately accessable. He felt that his place was with Lois, not searching the globe. He refused to see the baby, feeling that Lois needed him more than the new child. Martha and Jonathan did their best to understand Clark's fear and anger, and they became the baby's "parents" to the nursing staff. They were allotted all the privileges due to parents, including unlimited visiting hours and training in the care of the tiny child. For all of the Kents, days ran together into weeks, and nights blended with days into a seamless hospital experience that lost all relation to reality.
As time progressed, Clark had to spend time away from the hospital. He had not had the benefit of taking shifts, as his parents had, and the fatigue was causing him to lose his grip on reality. Superman had ceased to exist as Clark slowly drowned in a well of pain and fear. He made an effort to be with CJ on occasion, assisting with homework and even working with him on his truck. He found some comfort in sharing his fears with CJ, but he was cautious not to frighten the boy any more than he already was. Clark went back to work during the day, and went straight to the hospital when he was done. While he had assumed most of Lois's editorial responsibilities during the pregnancy, he deferred most of the decisions now to her two editorial assistants, and allowed them to take top billing in the credit section of the Daily Planet.
Lois's condition remained stable, yet failed to improve. She was taken off the respirator when she seemed ready, and continued to maintain normal breathing on her own. Her heartbeat was strong, and her brain activity normal, and yet she remained unconscious. Clark spent hours at her bedside, both talking to her and caring for her physical needs. Each morning, he entered her room and bathed his wife. He massaged lotion into her skin to repel dryness and increase her circulation, then dressed her in one of his large flannel shirts for warmth. When the nurses were ready, he lifted Lois into his arms so they could change her bedding, then he arranged her as comfortably as possible. He washed and brushed her hair regularly, and kept it braided so that it would not be in her face. The nurses were amazed with his willingness to care for each of her daily needs, but they allowed him to do as much as possible and tried to give him some privacy with his wife.
Meanwhile, Baby Boy Kent continued to grow. Nine weeks after his birth, he was transferred into a standard incubator. He was finally able to breathe air instead of fluid, and Martha and Jonathan were permitted to hold the baby. He fit easily onto Jonathan's hand, and measured about ten inches in length. His brain and lung development, the primary concerns of neonatalogists, had progressed beautifully. Martha suggested that his incubator be placed as close as possible to the large window of the unit, and the baby responded well to the additional sunlight. His growth rate increased, and within a few more days he began sucking a dextrose solution from a tiny bottle with a preemie nipple. Martha loved to feed him, and she spent all of her free time holding the tiny baby and giving him the skin-to-skin contact that the nurses said was so important. Her only regret was that she could not convince Clark to come see the baby. His heart was still with Lois, and he seemed to have no time for anyone else except for CJ.
Clark was doing his best to handle life with Lois in the hospital, and Martha knew that everything possible was being done for the two fragile Kents, but Clark was changing. He was easily startled, and he seemed to be weaker than he had been. He was not sleeping at night, and Martha was rarely able to get him to eat. Even with CJ to care for, losing Lois was tearing Clark apart. If he couldn't have Lois back, she seriously wondered if her son would maintain the will to live. Only time would answer her questions, and time was dragging in a way she had never known.
It had been four months since the baby's birth when Lois opened her eyes. Her brain activity indicated responses to sound and sight, but she did not react to it. Clark was the first to notice the big brown eyes of his wife begin to follow him. When he moved across the room, her head would vaguely move to follow his movement, and her eyes began to fixate on him. The link appeared to only be with Clark, as she did not react when other people entered her room. Clark continued to care for as many of her needs as possible, and the nurses were relieved to have one less patient to bathe and turn.
Nearly a month later, Lois left the ICU for a step-down unit on another floor. Dr. Klein continued his daily visits, although there was rarely any change in her condition. Dr. Klein feared that Lois had experienced brain damage as a result of the continued exposure to the pregnancy, and he felt responsible because he had both initiated the pregnancy and allowed it to continue against his better judgment. He was unable to look Clark in the eye, and he sensed a subdued rage when he was in the other man's presence.
Once Lois was moved to the new floor, she was allowed to have visitors. CJ was able to visit his mother, and he was finally able to feel a part of a family again. He brought copies of the Daily Planet and read the stories to her, one by one. Lois began to respond to more of her visitors, and especially to CJ. She vaguely imitated a smile, and followed him consistently with her eyes. Even the other physicians and the nursing staff remarked about her improvement. She was not talking, or caring for herself, but just the fact that she appeared aware of her surroundings was encouragement to those around her. Martha and Jonathan brought her pictures of the baby and, while Clark refused to look at them, Lois stared at them for hours.
The Metropolis General Hospital became a member of the Kent family. They lived there, slept there, and their lives revolved around its schedule. Clark was there first thing in the morning and last thing each night. More than once, he slept next to Lois on the tiny hospital bed, his arms wrapped around her still form. The nurses knew that this happened, just as they knew it was against all the rules, but the only acknowledgment it ever received was when an extra blanket was left for him, or a reminder given to put Lois's rail up so he would not fall. Even the staff realized that something special was going on in the room, and they were loath to disturb it.
"Can I go with you to the hospital today?" Kat asked as she sat down on CJ's bed. She had dropped by for a ride to school, and he was almost ready.
"Sure. I wanted to take Mom my new column. I finally got the farm piece edited, and I think she'll like it." CJ finished buttoning his flannel shirt, and turned around to tuck it into his pants.
"What time did you want to leave?" Kat swallowed heavily and looked anywhere except at her friend. Friends were *not* supposed to feel like this about friends.
CJ thought about it for a moment. "Let's leave around four. Dad wants me to pick up some chow mein for Mom. The doctor said she's ready for solid foods, and Dad doesn't want her starting with that nasty hospital stuff."
"Leave it to your dad to think of everything," Kat commented.
"Yeah, I guess." CJ didn't sound so sure. "I just wish, sometimes, he thought about someone besides Mom."
"You know she needs him now."
"I know. Forget I said that. We need to get to school."
"CJ, talk to me," Kat pleaded. CJ had been quieter this week than he had since his brother's birth. She knew he was worried about his mom, and even his brother for that matter, but this felt different.
"I'd rather not."
With a sigh, CJ gave in to the inevitable. "Sometimes, I just wonder why I'm even here. I feel like I'm just in the way. They give me these little jobs to keep me busy, but it's not like they really want me here." CJ sat on the bed with a miserable look on his face. "I just want stuff to be like it used to. I'm sick of living in that place, or living here alone. Even my grandparents spend most of their time with the baby, and they don't care about me now." CJ quietly began to cry.
Kat was immediately by his side, with her arms around him. She hugged him as the small cries turned into wracking sobs, and cried with him when he began to shake. She was vaguely aware that he was hurting her with his grip, but she didn't feel it was a good time to mention it. After a while, CJ loosened his grip on her and relaxed somewhat.
"Sorry about that," CJ mumbled as he wiped his face on his sleeve.
"That's what friends are for," she replied as she wiped her face in a similar manner. They looked at each other briefly before breaking down into a laugh.
"We're pretty pitiful," CJ commented.
"Oh, well," Kat smiled. She sobered quickly and her eyes met CJ's. "You know your dad loves you. He'd do anything for you. He's just really having a hard time with this."
"I know. Sometimes, it feels like I'm losing both of them, and I'm sort of afraid of being left all alone."
You'll never be alone, CJ. You'll always have me."
CJ smiled and kissed Kat on the cheek in thanks. Then he took her hand in his and reached for their backpacks with his other hand. If they didn't leave now, they'd be late for school.
Baby Boy Kent was moved into a regular baby isolette on the first Tuesday in May. He was no longer in need of oxygen, and he was eating more than two ounces of formula every two hours. Martha nagged the baby's doctor incessantly until he consented to allow the baby off the floor. With her husband and a nosy nurse following behind, Martha pushed the isolette to the elevator, went down three floors, then pushed the baby out of the elevator towards Lois's room. Martha had a bottle tucked in her pocket and was intent on allowing Lois the privilege of feeding her own son.
When Martha saw Lois sitting up in bed, she smiled. She rolled the baby into the room and right up to Lois's bed. Her attention was so focused on Lois that she did not see her son begin backing away from the bed with an alarming speed.
"I've brought someone to see his mommy," Martha told her. She picked up the tiny infant, now just over four and a half pounds, and placed him on the bed next to his mother.
Lois focused on the tiny infant and smiled. She wished she had the strength to hold him, but she couldn't lift her hand. She wanted to tell them how beautiful she thought he was, but her voice wouldn't make any sound. She stared at the beautiful child for several moments before she became so frustrated with her limitations that she began to cry. Martha, seeing Lois's tears, smiled at her daughter-in-law. She took the bottle from her pocket and placed it in Lois's hand. Holding her own hand around Lois's, she helped Lois guide the nipple into the baby's open mouth.
The little boy latched on to the food source immediately and, within a few minutes, had drained the bottle dry. Lois watched the boy eat with fascination, grateful that Martha had understood her need to be with the baby.
Martha lifted the child into her arms, and patted gently until a large burp was heard. Then she sat next to Lois on the bed and laid the baby carefully into the crook of Lois's arm, supporting it with her hand. Lois smiled down at her son, then focused on her mother in law. Her lips moved to form the words "thank you", but no sound came out.
Martha had been watching. "You're welcome."
Lois smiled once more at her mother-in-law before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep. When Martha took the baby back into her arms and placed the baby in the isolette, she was surprised to see that Clark and Jonathan had disappeared and the nurse that had followed her was wiping suspiciously moist eyes on a tissue.
Jonathan had found Clark downstairs in the hospital cafeteria. He alone had noticed his son's hasty departure, and was concerned that he was quite upset. Clark was getting a candy bar from a rather uncooperative vending machine when he lost control of his temper. When the candy caught behind the spiral dispensing arm, Clark brought his hand down on the machine with a frustrated sigh. Unfortunately, the material that the machine was made of was not designed to tolerate such abuse. The aluminum crumpled beneath his strength, and would be quite useless to others in the future.
Jonathan could see that Clark was at the end of his frustration threshold, and suggested a walk outside. Reluctantly, Clark followed his father into the May sunshine. It was a rare clear day, that seemed filled with such possibility. Clark was momentarily stunned that the world was going on outside the hospital. His life had been reduced to the enormous cement structure standing behind him, and the metal and glass structure of the Daily Planet Newsroom. He saw little in between, whether flying or driving, and occasionally he began to feel that the world had ceased to exist.
"Do you want to talk about it, son?"
Clark glanced back at this father and sighed. He really should talk to someone, but he had no clue how to put his feelings into words. It seemed impossible that anyone could understand the pain that he felt each time he looked at his wife and could feel that she was reaching for him but not able to get there. It was so frustrating to look into those brown eyes that he loved and not be able to communicate on any level more complex than awareness. It was tearing him apart to feel as if touching his wife, his privilege and joy in the past, was being observed beneath a microscope.
"I guess I'm just tired," he finally answered. That didn't begin to address his pain, but it was all that he thought he could share.
"Is there a reason you don't want to see your son?" Jonathan addressed his primary area of concern. He had watched Clark avoid the baby for months, usually under the pretense of caring for Lois, but he had never seen him actively turn his back on the child. He was becoming concerned that this ran more deeply than a matter of not having time for the infant, and might even border on disliking the tiny person.
Clark leaned his back against a tree. They had walked to a small park that was located a block or so from the hospital. He could see children on swings and playing in a sandbox, boys chasing balls and Frisbees with their fathers, and various families taking advantage of the unusually pretty day. He wanted to feel a part of that. He remembered sharing similar activities with Lois and CJ in years past, and he longed for the feeling that he had lost. He just wanted to go back to the way things had been before. He wanted to take back the pregnancy and the illness that had followed. He wanted his wife back.
"I guess it's not really the baby," he finally told his father. "I feel like I've lost Lois, and I just can't seem to care about the baby. I know how much we wanted him, but it doesn't feel right without Lois." Clark sighed. He knew his father couldn't understand. Jonathan had always loved Clark unconditionally, and it seemed unlikely that he had ever had doubts. Clark felt like a traitor. If he loved the baby, he was loving the one thing that had cost him his wife. If he hated the baby, he was betraying what Lois had wanted the most. He had stayed between the two extremes by ignoring the existence of the child, and this was becoming more difficult to do. The child wasn't a medical definition any more, as his mother had just demonstrated. Martha had just forced Clark to see the child as his son — as *Lois's* son — and he wasn't ready to deal with the implications of this.
"I'm afraid he won't go away if you ignore him," Jonathan told his own son. It was hurting him to see Clark in such pain, but denial was not solving the problems. "The baby is nearly ready to be taken home, and you haven't even given him a name yet."
Clark looked up in alarm. His face blanched, and he appeared near panic. Jonathan observed Clark sweating, a sure sign of panic, and reached out to steady his son. Clark was breathing rapidly, and thinking as quickly as he could.
"You and Mom can take him, right? You can take care of him for us, until Lois is better." The look of fear in Clark's eyes nearly broke Jonathan's heart. He had known the question would come, just as he knew the answer. "I just can't take him home. How could I take care of Lois and him at the same time? I just can't do it."
"Son," Jonathan began, "I wish we could." He sighed and walked around the tree to lean against it, next to his son. "Your mother and I have raised our family. Martha turns seventy-five next month. I can't ask her to start over. It isn't fair to her, and it wouldn't be fair to the baby. Just the few hours she spends here during the day tire her so much."
Clark sighed as well. His father was right, and he knew it. The baby was his responsibility, and there was no way around it. He also knew that his father was being kind with his explanation. He had noticed how tired his mother had been looking. The older Kents had moved into the house in Claremont, and had been commuting here daily to see the baby and Lois. They had placed the farm up for sale, and were planning to move into an apartment closer to Metropolis to help with raising CJ and caring for the baby. He knew that this situation wasn't the only reason for the move. Martha had been having trouble with arthritis for the past few years, and Jonathan was just now realizing how much he had relied on Clark to get his work done on the farm.
It had not been a fabrication, telling CJ that he was needed on the farm. There was too much work for the older man to do alone, and there was no reason to deny it any longer. In truth, Jonathan had looked into selling the farm long before this medical crisis had necessitated the move into Clark's house, but the final decision had not been necessary until Clark had asked for help in caring for CJ.
Martha had enjoyed getting to know her grandson. Both of them, for that matter. She had spent hours talking with CJ about his concerns regarding his mother and the new baby. She had taught him a little more about cooking, and had helped him with his homework just as she used to do for Clark. She spent hours caring for the newest Kent while CJ was in school, feeding and diapering the little one, and holding him for hours on end. The experience had not been all bad, but she was tiring. She was sleeping longer at night, and beginning to feel less herself. She had shared her concerns with Jonathan when they realized that Clark was not even attempting to bond with the baby, and Jonathan needed to relay the concerns to Clark.
Jonathan would do anything for Clark, but he could not commit to raising a child for him. He had hoped that Clark would start to show an interest in the baby when Lois had begun to improve but, if anything, he had withdrawn from the child more. His care of CJ had not suffered — in fact, he had seemed to grow continually closer to the teenager as the crisis enveloped their lives, but he would not acknowledge his newest son. Jonathan understood his fear, but he didn't know what to do about it.
"The nurses say the baby can go home within the next few weeks. You will need to make a decision, son." Jonathan knew that Clark would not face the choices without some prodding.
"What decision? Can't the baby stay here until Lois is well enough to care for him?" Clark had never allowed himself to consider that Lois might *not* recover. They had always planned to raise the child together, and he had not dealt with any other options. Lois was strong, she was feisty, and she *would* get better. From the moment that she had come off the respirator, Clark had believed this, and he would not listen to the doctors' opinions to the contrary.
Jonathan knew that his son was not dealing with the facts, but he didn't know how to force him to do so. "Son, we don't know when Lois will be able to come home. She may be here for some time and, even when she does come home, she won't be able to take care of a baby right away. This is something she can't do for you."
Clark looked at his father sharply, ready to argue, but having no grounds to do so. Just because his father had a better grasp of reality, that was no reason to attack him. Clark took a deep breath and attempted to face a world without Lois in it. He contemplated the concept for several moments, then decided once more that it simply couldn't happen. He needed her too much. "I can't live without her, Dad."
Jonathan placed his arms around his son, as Clark began to cry. Tears too long denied flowed down his face for several moments, and he was too shaken to stop them. His father held him tightly, just as he had done for CJ, and waited for the storm to pass so that he could continue with what had to be said. When Clark had calmed somewhat, Jonathan offered him a handkerchief, which Clark took gratefully.
"I can't raise him alone, and you can't help. Lois isn't up to it now, and she may never be." Clark's voice was desolate as he recited the facts as he saw them. "We can't put him up for adoption; he's *my* son. Eventually, he'll be like CJ, and there are powers that would have to be explained. I don't want him winding up being dissected because I'm not capable of raising him." Clark turned to his father with a hopeless expression on his face, his eyes tortured. "Do you have any ideas?"
"Not at the moment, son," Jonathan told him. "We'll figure this out together. I just wanted to make sure you were thinking about it. It's something we need to settle."
Clark knew his father was right, just as he knew that he had a little time to make the decisions that would affect the rest of his life. At least the issues were out in the open. Where they would go from here, Clark had no clue, but at least he had a starting point.
As CJ entered the room, Lois roused herself from the half-sleep that had followed her moments with the baby. She had been so pleased to see the tiny child. Somehow, it made it all worth it to realize that the fear and frustration had resulted in such a perfect person.
CJ leaned down and kissed her on the forehead before making himself comfortable in the large chair that sat beside her bed. As usual, he pulled out today's copy of the Daily Planet, and began to read it to her. Column by column, she was able to catch up on what was happening in the world she remembered. It all seemed so far away, hidden from her. She could remember being a part of it, and she could feel that she belonged there now, but it felt as if she were surrounded by cotton. Every image was dulled, every feeling muted. She felt isolated from the rest of the world, and she had no idea how to bridge the gap.
Regardless of this feeling of separation, she clung to each of her son's words. As he read, she became aware of a second presence in the room. She turned her head to see Kat moving into the room, with an odd look on her face. Kat moved close to CJ and sat next to him, sharing the large chair. Lois nearly smiled as she thought of how she and Clark used to do similar things. She missed cuddling with Clark. Often, he stayed for hours with her, but they rarely touched unless he was saying hello or goodbye, or when he was tending to her needs.
Kat listened with Lois and was struck by how hollow Lois looked. Kat had rarely been to the hospital, and then she never went into Lois's room. Today, however, CJ had seemed so shaken that she didn't want him to do this alone. Every day, CJ came to read to his mother after school, and every day he came home quiet and withdrawn. Today, Kat had made a quick trip upstairs to see the baby, then she had decided to join CJ in his time with his mother. Lois appeared to be paying attention to the reading, but she still looked so far away. Kat wasn't sure what she could do, but she could see from his expression that CJ was worried as well.
Cautiously, Kat slipped from CJ's side and moved closer to Lois. She saw the brown eyes following her, and realized then that Lois had not taken her eyes from her since she had entered the room. Carefully, Kat eased herself onto the bed next to Lois, and took the older woman's hand in hers. Lois squeezed the connection to life tightly, and then released it slightly as her strength diminished. Kat understood the non-verbal signal, and continued to hold Lois's hand. She had missed time with this woman who had acted as her mother for so many years. She hoped that Lois felt the same way.
Lois reveled in the feeling of connection that the contact brought her. She felt so lost in this bed, all alone, and everyone treated her as if she were fragile. She knew that she had been ill, but she needed her family now. She couldn't find the words to tell them, and when she thought of them, they slipped away once more. How could she make them understand that she needed to be with them? She squeezed Kat's hand once more, gently this time, and held on as her son's words flowed over her. She listened to most of the paper at this sitting, without the usual grogginess that she had been experiencing. It felt good to feel a connection.
As CJ was finishing his reading, she began to feel really tired. Her eyes drooped, and she clung tighter to Kat's hand in hopes that she could delay the inevitable. Kat saw Lois's struggle, and quickly spoke to reassure her. "We'll be back tomorrow, Mrs. Kent. I promise we'll be back so you won't have to be here all alone. It's okay for you to sleep now."
CJ marveled at how calm Kat sounded, how she seemed to know just what his mom needed to hear. Lois released Kat's hand, and allowed herself to sleep.
"I think she was afraid we were going to leave," CJ commented to his friend.
"I think so, too. She seemed to like having me here. Maybe you should sit next to her when you read?"
"Maybe," CJ thought aloud. "I bet she does get lonely here. You know," he mused, "I don't think Dad holds her hand very much, either. He usually sits where I do. Maybe I should tell him how much she seemed to like this."
"Good idea, CJ. It's getting late. We need to head back home now." Kat was reluctant to leave the sleeping Lois, but they had been there for hours, and she did have school the next day.
"Okay. I need to check upstairs to see the baby, then we can go."
Together, CJ and Kat went up to see the infant. CJ declined holding his brother, and instead left that task to his grandmother. Martha smiled her understanding, and went back to rocking the baby as the two teenagers headed to the truck.
Clark eased into Lois's room just after dark. He had seen CJ getting in his truck with Kat, down in the parking area, and he realized that Lois would be alone. He needed to talk to her. For nearly two decades, she had been his best friend. He needed to use her as a sounding board for his confused thoughts and emotions, even if she couldn't provide any feedback.
She had been asleep when he entered but, as he seated himself on the edge of her bed, she opened her eyes and smiled faintly. She knew him, and that was some relief. She had not yet responded verbally, but she was showing a definite awareness of her surroundings.
"Hey, sweetheart," he said, leaning down to kiss her on her forehead. He wanted to linger, to hold and caress her, but he knew that there were cameras that reflected each motion she made to the nursing station down the hall. What he really wanted was some privacy. He slipped his arms beneath her, and lifted her up onto his lap. Her body was mostly slack, but she had more strength now than she had possessed even a week ago. He positioned her head on his shoulder, so she appeared comfortable, and relaxed onto her bed. Her hands moved faintly where they rested against his chest, as though seeking contact, and he held them against him as he spoke into her ear.
"I've wanted to hold you for so long. I missed you," he told her, placing a kiss on her cheek. "I wish I knew what you wanted. I wish I knew what you were thinking. I need you, now, and I feel like you're so far away from me." Clark rubbed his hand up and down her back. He could feel every rib along her sides, and her spine was so prominent. She had lost so much weight that she appeared to be only a shadow. "I've got some decisions to make," he continued. "They affect us both, and you need to be involved, but I have no idea how to know what you want." Clark sighed and held her a little tighter, feeling the need to share his thoughts with her.
"Dad says I'll have to make a decision about the baby. He can't stay here indefinitely, and I have no clue what to do." He looked down into Lois's face, and was stunned to see a tear in her eye. He lightly brushed away the drop, and replaced it with a soft kiss. "I know you wanted him so much, but I have no clue how I can take care of him. It isn't like when we got CJ. I don't have you there to help, and my parents are getting too old for this. Lucy has a family of her own, so I don't really want to hit her with this. I don't know how to do this."
Looking down at Lois once more, Clark could sense that she was listening. Not just hearing, but really listening to all that he said. He felt better sharing his fears with her, so he decided to tackle the big stuff as well. "I haven't held him," he admitted. "I thought about it, but every time I look at him, all I feel is anger. I know I can't blame him for what happened — he was the result of the decision, not the cause — but it's how I feel. Every time I see him, I think that if he weren't here, you would be back at home and we could forget about all of this. I've lived without you for half a year, and it feels like a lifetime. I just want you back."
Clark relaxed against the raised head of the bed, and cradled his wife in his arms. "I can't live without you, Lois. I don't know how, and I don't want to learn." Clark closed his eyes, and sighed at the feel of his wife in his arms. He was only going to rest a moment, he told himself. Just a moment, then he would lay her down and go home to CJ.
Several moments later, a very observant nurse carried a blanket in to the sleeping couple. She quietly raised the rail behind Clark's back, then covered them both with the blanket. She smiled slightly as she closed the door to the room behind her. It was strange, she thought, that other nurses complained about patient families. She walked back into the nurses station and touched the "off" button for the monitor to room eight. She was quite certain that, if she was needed, the man would call her. Meanwhile, they were married, and certainly didn't need her to watch over them. With her mission accomplished, she sat down at the desk and began her documentation in one of her patients' charts.
It was two in the morning when Clark woke. He glanced down at his sleeping wife, then gently lowered her into her bed. He watched her briefly before deciding that she would indeed continue sleeping, and leaving the room.
He needed to get home. He was certain that his parents were with CJ, but it was still his responsibility to be there. He stepped into the elevator, and really intended to go down to the parking levels, but instead he pressed the button for his son's floor. His son… that didn't even *sound* right. He stepped off the floor and walked to the windows that shielded the babies from drafts. He watched the hustle and bustle for a moment before he felt a soft touch on his shoulder.
"Can I help you, sir?" The nurse was young, and her voice was soft.
"Maybe. I haven't been here before. My son is here; the name is Kent." He felt odd making the admission, but he had to start somewhere.
The nurse smiled. She had been told that the baby's father had not yet come to see him because his wife was ill. She found it odd but, as the child had such dedicated grandparents, she hadn't given it much thought. It was not uncommon for babies to be abandoned when they were so ill, especially by young parents. What surprised her was that this man was so old. Most of the parents who had such tiny children were children themselves, in her experience, and she was pleased to see this father now taking interest. "Let me show you where to dress and scrub, and then I'll show you your son."
Clark hesitated briefly, then let himself be led to a large sink. He followed the nurses instructions and removed his watch, then held down a foot lever to dispense some water. He used the little brown scrubber sponge to lather his hands and arms up to the elbow, and continued to scrub for the required five minutes. Once he had rinsed the foul-smelling lather from himself, he dried with the towel she handed him and allowed her to help him into a blue paper gown.
She escorted him into a nursery that consisted of tiny babies and enormous machinery. He finally saw his son lying on a table with shallow raised sides, and what appeared to be a sun lamp over him. He was tiny, lying on his stomach with his diapered rump sticking up in the air. Clark felt a familiar and unwelcome surge of anger that this tiny person had caused his wife so much harm, but he was able to quell it for the moment. The nurse offered to allow Clark to hold the baby, but he declined. He chose instead to stand there, just watching the baby sleep.
So this was the person whose fate was held in his hands. This was the child who must be cared for. He wondered what Lois would want him to do. Would she want him to hire a nanny and keep the baby at home? Should he demand that the baby be kept here even when it was well enough to live at home? Should he expect CJ to help raise the child, or do it himself?
Seeing the baby made the situation more real, and more important. He would have to figure out what to do, and soon. With a sigh, he left the newborn nursery and walked back to the little room where he could dispose of his paper gown. He then went back to the elevator and headed down to the parking garage. He would have to be at work in a few hours, and he needed a shower. There was so much to be done.
Clark entered Lois's room early the next afternoon following work. It had been a quiet day at the Planet, and he was relieved not to have to bring work here with him. After kissing her hello, he walked into the small bathroom and placed a towel on the bottom of the tub. He ran water into it, making sure that it wasn't too hot, and arranged Lois's shampoo and soap on the floor next to the tub.
Once the tub contained about six inches of water, he went to get Lois. He made sure that her catheter bag was attached to the IV pole before lifting Lois into his arms and maneuvering the pole before him with the arm he used to support her knees. When he had her in the little bathroom, he stood her on her feet, carefully supporting her weight with one arm while unbuttoning the shirt she wore with the other hand. He carefully placed her in the tub, seated on the towel, and continued supporting her with his left arm. He used his right arm to wash her body, and use a cup to wet her hair.
He was quite skilled at bathing his wife. He knew just how to position her so that the catheter wasn't pulled and the IV into her neck didn't become wet. He washed her hair efficiently, as he did every other day, and cleaned her with her favorite shower gel. Once she was clean, he wrapped a towel around her hair and another around her body before lifting her from the tub. He took another of his flannel shirts from a hook behind the door, and slipped it over her shoulders.
Clark managed to get her back into bed, the shirt buttoned and the towel removed without exposing her body to the cameras that monitored both the main room and the bath room. It seemed a small thing, but he wanted to protect her modesty just as she would if she were able. When he had her in bed beneath the covers, he dried her hair with the towel and carefully combed the tangles from its length. Her hair had grown past her shoulders and was quite easy to braid, so he combed it over her right shoulder and quickly braided it to keep it out of her way. He wondered if she would want it cut, but he didn't want to make the decision for her. All he really could manage was to keep it tended until she was able to make the decision for herself.
Clark reached into her bedside table and grabbed a bottle of her favorite lotion. He used it as he rubbed her arms and legs, back and chest beneath the shirt. He needed to keep her circulation stimulated, and prevent the bedsores that were so common with extended hospitalizations. Also, he completed her physical therapy as the technicians had trained him to do. He carefully moved her body through a full range of motion: arms, legs, fingers, toes, hips, and neck. It was important to keep her muscles familiar with movement so that she would be able to recover her strength more quickly when she was able.
Clark had the procedure for Lois's daily needs down to a routine. He accomplished the task in just over an hour, and it allowed him time to relay the events and frustrations of the day to his wife. He was careful to be finished before normal visiting hours began, that way she always looked her best when others came to see her.
Just as Clark was finishing his task, and reaching for the pasta he had brought for her dinner, Lois moved. She deliberately raised her arm, and rested it against his cheek for a fraction of a moment before it fell back to the bed. When Clark met her eyes, he saw unshed tears there, most likely from frustration at her own weakness. Gently, he lifted her hand back to his cheek, and held it there for several minutes. Lois's eyes were grateful, as he assisted her in doing what she most wanted to do. Her lips formed the words "I love you," and Clark saw it. He bent down and kissed her, lingering for longer than he normally did. He felt her respond slightly, although certainly not like she would normally do, and a feeling of unbridled hope speared through him. He pulled back for a moment to look at his wife, and saw a faint smile on her face.
For the first time, Clark really felt like everything would be okay. He pulled Lois into his arms, feeling her still-damp hair against his shoulder. He held her for several minutes, just enjoying the feeling of her in his arms, then released her to deal with practical matters.
Reaching to the table behind him, he picked up the container of angel hair pasta that he had purchased at her favorite Italian restaurant. He used a fork to twirl single strands of the pasta, and lifted them gently to her lips. Lois took tiny bites of the meal, chewing carefully, and swallowing with some difficulty. She was grateful that Clark brought her meals, and hopeful that she would soon be able to eat enough to get the horrible needle out of her neck. She forced herself to take several more bites even after she was full, then she slowly turned her head away. Clark understood her signal, and placed the remainder of her meal back on the table. She had eaten more than usual tonight, and he was pleased.
Clark reached into the pocket of his shirt, and withdrew a small foil-wrapped candy. The chocolate was slightly melted, so it would require little effort on her part, and he knew it was her favorite. He unwrapped the little kiss, and bit a tiny piece off it to place between her lips. Lois devoured the candy, allowing it to melt on her tongue and enjoying the sweet flavor. Clark repeated the process until the candy was eaten, then licked the remaining chocolate off his fingers.
"Thank you," a tiny voice said. Clark's head snapped up in shock at the familiar sound of his wife's voice. It was faint, barely a whisper of sound, but it was her voice. When he met her eyes, he saw the glimmer there of so many words unspoken. He reached for her and held her in his arms.
Lois cuddled into Clark's embrace. She knew he would think that the "thank you" was for the chocolate, and that wasn't really what she had meant. She would explain it all to him later, she thought, when she was feeling stronger. For now, the bath and massage had relaxed her, and eating always tired her, so she rested her head on her husband's strong shoulder and drifted off to sleep.
Lois was getting better. Clark finally was able to believe things were going to be okay. Of course, she was not getting better terribly quickly. Even though each day brought a new phase of her recovery into view, she had such a long way to go that it would be quite some time before she was her normal self.
The baby, on the other hand, was ready to go home. As Clark had feared, the doctors were no longer willing to allow a healthy child to remain in the newborn nursery. He was eating normal amounts, taking no medications, and in general was as normal as if he had been born right on time.
Against all his arguments, Clark was faced with a choice: he could take the baby home, or he could relinquish him to foster care. Although Clark certainly advocated adoption, this was not a possibility for their baby. He was normal enough now, but CJ's abilities proved that the Kryptonian heritage was a dominant one, and the baby would most likely grow to be like his brother.
The decision was finally made that the baby would have to come home. Clark wasn't sure how he would deal with caring for both an infant and the daily needs of his wife who was still in the hospital, but he had accomplished super-feats before, and he assumed that he would have to again.
Martha found her son up in the attic, searching through CJ's old baby things. He was looking for a crib, but he had not been able to find it. Currently, he was sitting and staring at the old bassinet that his parents had sent before they had found CJ. It was slightly yellowed, but it was still usable. He knew that there was a set of sheets and a fancy cover somewhere in one of the boxes, but he had no clue which one, and it took time to x-ray each box, layer by layer, to find the appropriate cloth.
"What's wrong, Clark?" Martha hadn't taken much time to quiz her son on his unusual behavior of late. She knew that Lois's illness had been hard on him, and she suspected that he still held some resentment towards the baby. Jonathan had said that Clark was uncomfortable with the child, but hadn't gone beyond that. She needed to know just what was going on with her son before they brought a helpless infant into the situation.
Clark sighed, lowering his eyes. "It's just so different, Mom."
He held up a little overall outfit that CJ had worn many years ago. "It doesn't feel like this baby belongs with us," he said. "I know he's ours, but I felt more attachment to CJ the first time that I saw him then I feel towards a baby that has been here for nearly a year."
Martha had been treating Clark gently since this ordeal had begun. She vividly remembered his voice when he had told her that Lois was ill. She remembered the devastation in his face when she had first seen him in the hospital. He had seemed so lost, so afraid and alone. She had followed her instincts since then, coddling him as any mother would do. She hadn't pressed him on the issue of his son because she didn't feel that he was ready for it. She had hoped that, once Lois had begun to improve, he would start to accept some responsibility for the child, but this hadn't been the case. If anything, he seemed to be withdrawing even further from his baby.
Clark always managed to be conspicuously absent when the baby was taken to Lois's room, although that was virtually the only time he wasn't by her side. He refused to go up and see the baby, and wouldn't even give the poor child a name. She was beginning to wonder if she needed to be a little more stern with her son. After all, a mother's love gave a child what it needed, not what it wanted, and he needed for her to put him in his place. At least, she *hoped* that was what he needed…
"Well, I must say that you were a lot more excited about CJ than you have been about this baby," Martha began. "And you certainly spent more time with CJ."
Clark continued to fail to meet his mother's eyes. He knew that she was right. He hadn't allowed himself to love the baby because he was still so angry at himself for allowing the pregnancy in the first place. Granted, he'd had no idea how things would go so badly wrong, but he still felt responsible for both putting Lois's life in danger when the pregnancy began, and allowing her to continue the pregnancy against medical advise. If he were honest with himself, he would have probably seen that the decision had been Lois's and not just his, but he wasn't seeing things quite that clearly. Self-reproach was easier.
"Do you honestly think that you could have changed anything that happened, Clark?" Martha's voice was quiet as she seated herself with some difficulty on the floor of the attic next to her son. "I know you think you can protect the world, but you can't take the blame for everything."
Clark finally met his mother's eyes, a mixture of pain and longing clouding the normally soft brown. "I just want her back, Mom."
Martha hugged her son briefly, then pulled back to look him in the eye. "And just how do you think your wife will feel when she realizes that you won't have anything to do with her son?"
Clark hadn't thought of it in quite that way. The baby looked mostly like him, rather than like Lois, or so he had thought in the few brief instances that he had looked at the baby at all. He hadn't really considered the baby as a part of Lois, because her body so clearly hadn't been able to tolerate it. Maybe he did need to rethink this. Things seemed so much clearer in his own home, rather than in the artificial environment of the hospital. He couldn't wait to get Lois back home, so he could think clearly all the time.
"So," Martha added as she turned away from her son, "Do you think you have room for this in your room?" She carefully stood and inspected the bassinet that Clark had been working with when she had come in. "He's sure small enough for it now, although we will have to look for the crib soon."
Clark allowed the change of subject, and went back to preparing for the baby's arrival. With his mother's help, they found the cover for the bassinet, several sets of sheets, baby clothes, and even managed to locate the crib, although they elected not to get it out just then. Clark was still helping his mother sort through which clothes were too big for the baby to wear when he heard the screams.
Children were calling out in fear. He was normally able to block out cries for help, allowing himself to believe that he had his own problems to worry about. He hadn't worn the blue suit in nearly a year and, after the first few weeks, the public had seemed to forget about him. Now, though, a child was most specifically calling for Superman, and the terror in her voice was more than he could ignore.
Martha saw the expression on her son's face, and was relieved to see it there. He had buried himself beneath pain and fear for too long, and she was refreshed to see him concerned for someone else. Perhaps it was because Lois was doing better, or maybe it was the discussion about responsibility that they had just had, but, whatever the reason, she was going to encourage it. "Go!" she told him firmly.
Clark hesitated for only a moment more, then he sped from the room and down the stairs to his closet. Within seconds, he had opened the false back to the closet, retrieved the suit and flown out of the window.
He followed the scream to a school bus that was recklessly veering into oncoming traffic. Quickly, he lifted the bus into the air and out of the path of danger. The wheels of the bus continued to spin for several minutes, and Clark finally maneuvered himself beneath the bus and tore the fuel line from beneath it. Once the fuel had harmlessly drained to the field below, the motor sputtered and died, and he rested the bus in the grass.
A quick check assured him that the children were all shaken, but appeared to be unharmed. He silently gave a prayer of thanks that school buses were now required to have seat belts, and that no students had been thrown around within the bus. The driver of the bus was quite dead, and Clark spared a brief thought that, if he had been a little faster, he might have been in time to save him too, but he was too grateful for the little girl clinging to his legs to allow himself to grieve.
"Oh, thank you, Superman," the child kept saying. "I'm so glad you came back." Clark held the little girl tightly, reassuring her. as well as himself, that he was indeed "back". He would have to get the bus back to the school, as it was very much disabled at the moment, and parents would certainly be worried. He briefly used the bus's radio to let the dispatch office know what he was planning, then he had the children buckle themselves back into the bus for the flight back to school.
It was later than usual when Clark arrived at the hospital. He had been caught up in the media rush that had followed Superman's return, and it had taken him hours to satisfy their curiosity about his absence and return. Finally, they had allowed him an opportunity to leave, and he flew straight to his wife's side.
Lois was just finishing up her lunch tray when Clark arrived. She was surprised that he was so late on a Saturday, but she realized that life did go on outside of her world. "You look tired," she commented, as he greeted her with a kiss on her forehead.
He smiled at her concerned look. "I am tired," he replied. He took a seat on the edge of her bed and quietly watched her for a moment. He felt awful that he had forgotten to bring her lunch. He normally didn't allow her to eat the hospital versions of food, and instead he brought her favorites from the take-out restaurants that they had frequented before. In all the chaos of the morning, it had slipped his mind.
"What's wrong, honey?" Lois hadn't seen him look this upset in quite some time. He always came to her room with a smile, and it bothered her that he wasn't sharing what was wrong.
"I forgot your lunch," he mumbled quietly. He didn't meet his wife's eyes.
"Look," she said firmly, getting his attention. "I know I'm not up to one hundred percent here, but you can talk to me! I *want* you to talk to me. You think I can't see that something is bothering you? I know you better than that, and I know when you're hiding something — and you are most definatly hiding something…"
"Lois!" Clark said, effectively interrupting her babble. He smiled softly at the reminder that, while his wife might not be back up to full speed yet, she was still his wife. He placed the palm of his hand against her cheek, and smiled at her. "Do you know that I missed you?"
Lois covered his palm with hers, absorbing the love in his eyes. "Don't think you're going to get out of answering me."
Clark smiled once more, and took a deep breath before starting. "Superman made his return appearance today," he told her. "It wasn't planned, but I couldn't just… I had to…" He couldn't think of a way to explain the feelings he'd had when he heard the child screaming.
"What happened?" Lois asked, taking his hand in hers and gently kissing his palm.
He had forgotten how much he relied on her to pull out the things he didn't want to deal with. While he wasn't thrilled to have to find words for the emotions, he did know how much she helped him to get through the confusion that the feelings caused. "I heard a little girl screaming," he began. "It was a second-grade class on a field trip. They had to have the trip on a Saturday because of all the snow that we had over the winter. They needed the rest of the week for school."
Lois listened carefully. Just the fact that he was muttering about the inconsequential details of the day, like the mandatory number of school days in a year and the necessity of moving extra-curricular activities to the weekend, let her know that he was avoiding the issue. She considered prompting him, but decided instead to allow him to continue at his own pace.
After a moment more, he went on, "The paramedics said that the driver had a heart attack. He probably died instantly. When the bus started swerving into traffic, the kids started screaming. I heard this little girl," he continued, tears in his eyes. "God, she sounded so much like Kat. She was calling for Superman. The others were just screaming, but she was specifically calling for Superman." He looked up into Lois's eyes, and saw the understanding and acceptance there that he relied on.
Clark allowed himself to be pulled into her embrace. She gently wrapped her arms around him, and just held him. She wondered how he had gone so long, denying this part of him that needed to help. It just wasn't in his nature to see things going wrong and not jump in. She wondered what it had cost him to stay at her side for so long.
"I'm glad Superman's back," she told him quietly. "What did you tell the press?"
Clark pulled back slightly and smiled. "Well, I gave the Planet an exclusive interview," he said with a smile. "I told them that there had been some problems on New Krypton that required my attention, and that I had needed to leave without much warning." He looked up at Lois with a question in his eyes, if not his voice. "I told them that the situation was still erratic, and I might need to go back."
Lois shook her head. "I've told you before; the world *needs* Superman. I won't monopolize your time." As she rested back against the pillows, she sighed. Just the little effort it had taken her to eat and hug her husband had left her exhausted. She wondered how much longer it would be before her body recovered from the extended inactivity.
"But I need to be here for you." Clark sighed again, allowing some of his frustration to surface. "I need to be here to bring you lunch, and listen to you yell about your therapists, and gripe about the limited visiting hours. My place is with you."
Lois could see his frustration. His sense of duty was one reason that she loved him so much, but he was tearing himself up trying to forget about his other responsibilities. Granted, they were responsibilities of choice, but they were no less real because of that. "Clark, I'm not upset that you saved some lives today. As a matter of fact, I think that saving children is definitely more important than bringing your wife her Spicy Pork." She smiled, hoping he would see the humor in the situation, but his face remained serious.
"I *need* to be here for you, Lois. If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even have to be here." He looked down, unable to meet her eyes, tears filling his own.
"What are you talking about, Clark? I'm here because I couldn't tolerate a simple pregnancy, not because of you."
"You could tolerate a *simple* pregnancy; what you couldn't handle was having *my* baby."
Lois looked at Clark, completely confused for a moment. Surely he couldn't hold himself responsible for this as well? She had been the one who insisted on continuing the pregnancy against Dr. Klein's advice. She had been the one who insisted that they not give up on trying to have their own child, whatever the risks. She had been the one who had placed her own life in danger without realizing that she would be orphaning CJ if things didn't work out. *She* was fully responsible for the situation, and she had payed for her arrogance with a year of her life.
"What are you talking about, Clark? This was *my* choice. In fact, I distinctly remember arguing with both you and Dr. Klein when he wanted me to take the safe way out."
"But, Lois," he told her, his voice anguished. "It was my physiology that caused all this. If I had been normal, you never would have been in danger."
"And if you had been normal," she yelled back, "I would have died on the space shuttle, or married Lex, or been boiled in oil, or any of a hundred other things that you saved me from. I wouldn't be *alive* if it weren't for you!" Exhausted from her outburst, Lois fell back once more onto the pillows. She reached out for the bed railing to steady herself as the world began to spin.
Hearing her small sound of distress, Clark immediately reached for his wife. He grasped her hand firmly, while reaching for the call button. Lois halted his motion with her hand over his, then closed her eyes against the spinning once more. "It's okay, Clark," she told him. "This happens when I do too much. Between feeding myself and yelling at you, I just went past my limitations for a moment."
Clark accepted her explanation, but still held the remote control call button in his hand. Within a moment or two, Lois's heart rate slowed to the familiar rhythm of sleep. He sat listening to her for several more minutes before he was relieved enough to return the call button to its place next to her pillow. He reached out his hand, caressing the fragile skin of her cheek, and tracing the skin down to her neck. She had a small scar where they had removed the Broviak line that had fed and hydrated her for so long. It was pink now, and barely an inch long, but to him it was a constant reminder of how long she had been out of his reach.
Clark sat for a long time, watching his wife. He would need to go home and pick up the car. He was supposed to take the baby home today. Glancing at his watch, he realized that he was late for that as well. He hated to leave Lois, especially after the half-argument that they had been having, but he was needed elsewhere. After kissing her cheek, he removed the two foil-wrapped candies from his shirt pocket and placed them on the bedside table next to her nearly empty tray. He had made a habit of bringing her tidbits of chocolate every day. It was one tangible way that he could show her his love.
The other way he could show her was to take her baby home. He really wasn't ready for this. His parents were staying with him for a while longer to ease the transition, but he had no desire to take this baby into his home. With CJ, he had always felt an attachment, a love, that had eased the hard times. He had also been able to rely on his wife to care for him when he wasn't able. This was entirely different.
At best, he felt indifference for the baby. He couldn't even bring himself to name the child. At worst, he felt an irrational anger at the child for all that he had lost. If he could have wished the child out of existence, he would have done so. That surprised him; he had always loved children, all children, even those that weren't his. Now, he wasn't able to look this child in the face without anger. He didn't know what to do about it.
He didn't feel like he could talk to Lois about it. He certainly didn't want to admit his feelings to his own parents. After all, they had loved him unconditionally when he wasn't even from their planet, and he couldn't love his own son. It embarrassed him, and it humiliated him as well. What kind of a man couldn't stand his own child? What was wrong with him?
With another sigh, and a final glance at his sleeping wife, he left the room. He stepped into an unused conference room and quickly spun back into Superman. He flew from the window, and soon arrived at the grove of trees behind his house. He descended quickly, and spun back into his jeans and flannel shirt. When he entered the house, he saw that his mother had been quite busy. She had laundered the baby clothes and set up the bassinet in the living room.
Clark found a note inside the bassinet:
We've taken the car to pick up
the baby. Please bring CJ's truck
so he can run some errands for
us after we've finished. Love You.
Clark used his spare keys to unlock CJ's truck. He made the drive to the hospital in good time, and even found a parking place relatively close. With a feeling of dread, he met his mother at the admissions office of the hospital and signed the paperwork that would allow him to take the baby home.
Once that paperwork was complete, he walked beside his mother to the elevator, carrying the infant car seat that they would use to transport his son. As they left the elevator, his mother stepped in front of him and forced him to stop. Confused, he looked down into a very determined face.
"Okay," she told him. "I know how hard this has been on you. I realize that this is the last thing in the world that you want to do, and that you don't think you're ready. But I also know that there is a baby in that room that needs your love. He was born of you and Lois, and I will *not* allow you to ignore my grandchild, any more than I would have tolerated you ignoring CJ when he was that age. You *will* be his father, because you *are* his father. Do we understand one another?"
Clark lowered his head. If he had felt ashamed of himself before, this made him feel worse. The reprimand from his mother had put him effectively in his place. With a quiet, "Yes, ma'am," he followed her to the nursery.
Clark carefully carried the infant car seat into the house. He set it on the kitchen table, and then put down the large bag of formula, diapers and instructions that the nurses had given him. He was still somewhat startled by all that had happened in the last few hours.
He had arrived in the nursery to see CJ holding his brother, and carefully feeding him a bottle. After listening to twenty minutes of instructions from the nurses, CJ had burped the baby and strapped him carefully into the car seat. The baby wasn't much bigger than a regular newborn. The truth was, he probably could have gone home much sooner. Clark had begged the doctors to extend his stay, and they had done so for as long as they could. Now the baby needed a home, and that was what he would have.
After Clark had strapped the baby into the car — a skill he was still adept at, although he hadn't done it in nearly fifteen years — he and Martha had driven home with the baby, allowing CJ to drive his truck into town to pick up Kat. Now, he found himself faced with caring for an infant. Martha followed him into the kitchen and unstrapped the child from its seat. Giving Clark a look that clearly told him that she didn't approve of his actions, she carried that baby into the living room while Clark began unloading the bag of baby things.
When Clark entered the living room a few minutes later, he found his mother asleep with the baby sleeping on her chest. He carefully removed the child from his mother's arms and placed him in the bassinet. He managed to do this without actually holding the baby (he just quickly transferred him) and looked back at his mother. She was sound asleep, her head awkwardly leaning to the side. She hadn't even awakened when he had removed the baby from her hands. She was far too tired. As his father had told him, Martha was too old for this. She was seventy-five years old, and she had been spending too much time caring for the rest of the family rather than herself.
Clark closed his eyes as he felt another wave of guilt wash over him. He felt guilt over Lois's illness, CJ's neglect, his mother's fatigue, and his ambivalence for his own child. His father had returned to Kansas to sign the final papers selling the farm, and Clark even felt guilty for that. There was guilt over Superman's absence, and guilt over his forgetting to do the grocery shopping this week. Clark was more miserable than he had ever been in his life, and he had no clue what to do with the emotions.
Normally, he would use Lois as a sounding board, but she was so weak that he was afraid to do so. Still, he felt a need to be with her. He used the phone to call Mrs. Mosby, their next-door neighbor. She had asked on several occasions if she could do anything to help, and this was as good a time to call in that favor as any. She agreed to come right over, and to stay until either Martha awoke or until CJ made it home.
After her arrival, Clark began to drive into Metropolis. When he encountered rush hour traffic, he pulled the car into the parking lot of a truck stop and locked it. Once he had walked into the trees behind the little diner, he spun into the suit and took off quickly. He really wanted to be with Lois, not driving back and forth.
Clark did manage to run by a fast food restaurant and pick up a value meal for his wife. After signing a few autographs, and answering several children's questions about how he carried money in the suit, he began to wish he had taken the time to change before going into the restaurant.
Clark landed behind the hospital in an alley. After scanning the area to ensure that he was not being watched, he spun back out of the suit. Wearing his jeans and T-shirt, with an unbuttoned flannel shirt covering his arms, Clark entered the hospital carrying his wife's dinner. He greeted a few nurses on the way up to Lois's floor, and then entered her room.
He found his wife carefully lowering her water glass back to the bedside table. Even though the glass was plastic and contained only a couple of ounces of water, the weight made her arm shake. With a disgusted sigh, she pushed the table away from herself, spilling water from the pitcher in the process. With that done, she finally broke into frustrated tears.
Clark crossed the room quickly, and took Lois into his arms. He allowed her to cry until she was finished, stroking her hair and her back and whispering nonsense into her ear. He held her upright as she sagged into him, too tired to maintain a sitting position on her own. When she was calm once more, he helped her to rest against the elevated head of her bed.
"I didn't hear you come in," she told him.
"I was quiet," he replied. "Are you ready to tell me what's wrong?" Gently, he stoked his fingertips down her arm, and took her hand in his.
"Nothing," she lied. Then, with a sigh, "Everything." Lois shook her head. "I'm just tired of being so weak. I want to go home," she finally said, breaking into tears again.
Clark watched her, and continued to hold her hand. He wanted her home, too, but he was afraid that he wouldn't be able to care for her adequately. Superman's return had made a live-in nurse a difficult proposition, and she still required constant care. He was fortunate that their medical insurance didn't have a cap, and he could keep her here as long as she needed to stay, just as the baby had been covered. Frankly, the only problems he *wasn't* facing were financial. Emotional, physical, and spiritual were a mess, but financially they were fine. There was a certain level of irony in that fact.
Clark considered the situation as Lois pulled his hand to her chest and cuddled with it as she went to sleep. She often did this — held onto him during sleep — and it seemed to give her comfort. The bottom line was that he couldn't do everything. He could care for Lois's needs, but not for her and the baby, and work, and care adequately for CJ. His parents needed to get back to their lives. They needed to find an apartment and get settled; they had spent enough time taking care of him and his family.
He had to work to maintain his insurance. He had used all of his vacation time, and then some, when Lois had first become ill. She received a monthly disability check, but that was signed over to the insurance company as part of the hospitalization agreement. Money wasn't really a problem as long as he continued to work but, if he stopped to care for his family, the medical bills would become impossible, and he didn't want to lose the house.
His parents had done well enough financially since they had been living with him. They were receiving fixed incomes, but that didn't go far when you were eating out two or three meals a day, especially with the prices in the hospital cafeteria. The sale of the farm would pay off the debts that they had accumulated over the last few years of drought, but it wouldn't leave them much more than what they would need to rent an apartment in Claremont.
He hated to even consider financial situations. After all, he had his wife back, or nearly back, and that was worth any price. Still, he did have to consider the practical side of taking her home. His medical insurance was designed for inpatient care, not outpatient visits, and having her here was the best decision financially. In addition to this, the memory of her collapsing in his arms was still vivid in his nightmares, and he was afraid that he couldn't get her help if he took her home. Maybe he was a little paranoid, or perhaps it was the illusion that one fell under when they spent too much time around hospitals — the hospital staff was necessary to maintain health. Whatever the reason, he wasn't entirely comfortable taking Lois home this way, and he would have to explain that to her.
Lois woke up nearly an hour later. Clark was thrilled to see her big brown eyes as she smiled up at him. She was still cradling his hand to her chest, and she now reached down to kiss his fingers. "You stayed," she said quietly.
He smiled in response. "Always."
Hearing something in his voice that she couldn't quite place, Lois asked him, "We need to talk, don't we?"
"I guess we do," he replied.
"What is it?"
Clark sighed. This was so hard to admit. A psychiatrist had once accused him of having a "Superman Complex", believing he could fix anything. The entire situation had taught him that he had very little control over anything, but it was still difficult to admit. "I just don't know if I can do this," he told his wife.
"Everything," he said quietly. "I don't know if I can take care of CJ, and the baby, and you, and the Planet, and still be…" He lowered his voice to ensure that he wasn't heard beyond Lois's bed, "Superman."
Lois considered her husband for a moment. "Well," she began, "I am getting better, and until I'm up to par I won't be going home. You really don't have to visit every day," she added. "I know that you have a lot that has to be done."
Clark cut her off abruptly. "Lois, out of that whole list, you and CJ are the only things that I *want* to do. You're what keeps me going."
Lois met his eyes, and took his hand. "I notice that there was someone absent from that," she said. "What about the baby?"
Clark lowered his eyes once more. "I'll take care of him," he said quietly.
Lois knew that voice. It was the same one he used when he was talking about disciplining CJ or leaving her to go be Superman. He wasn't happy about the baby. "I see."
Clark finally looked up into his wife's eyes. The pain he saw there tore at him. "Lois, I just don't feel anything for the baby," he admitted. "I don't even feel anger any more, just… nothing. It's like he isn't even ours. I don't understand it, and I hate it, but I can't change what I feel." His eyes pleaded with Lois to understand, but the hurt remained in her gaze. After a moment, he told her, "I'm sorry."
"No," she told him, squeezing his hand gently. "You told the truth. I'm not angry, I'm just… I don't know. I thought I'd be so excited about the baby, and I'm not. I thought maybe it was because I'd been so sick, but I'm starting to wonder if that's it." Lois paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts. "I wanted him so much, and now I feel like maybe it was the wrong decision to have him. I never felt like this with CJ; I was always so thrilled to have him, and I couldn't stand to put him down." She laughed softly at the memories. "Remember the time Perry jumped on me for bringing him to work in that backpack? I never wanted to be away from him, and this just feels so… different."
Clark considered what she had said for a moment before agreeing. "I'm worried about the baby," he told her. "Children need love, and that can't be faked. Lois," he said in a stricken voice, "I don't love him."
Lois put her arms around her husband and held him as he cried. How long had he been holding it all in? He must have been so alone, for so long. She understood what he was feeling about the baby; she felt the same way. What she didn't understand was *why*. They had loved CJ unconditionally, from the moment they had first held him. He was theirs, and they had *felt* it, even before Dr. Klein's DNA tests had confirmed that he did have both of their genes. She wished they felt the same connection to the child that she had given birth to.
Bernard Klein stared at the lab report before him. He couldn't believe it! He felt so stupid, and yet so relieved. He *hadn't* been wrong! He clutched the report tightly and was half-way out of the room before he remembered to check for the results on the second test. After printing these results as well, he held both papers tightly and scrambled from the room. Now, where were those car keys?
Clark was just finally dragging himself from Lois's side to return home when Dr. Klein came bursting through the door to her room. Lois jerked awake, and Clark whirled quickly to see who had invaded their privacy. He had begun to relax some since the nurses had disconnected the monitors in Lois's room, but he lived in constant fear that someone would find out his secret.
"Lois, Clark, I have to speak with you!" Dr. Klein was breathless with excitement, and his intensity stunned Clark enough that he didn't comment on the fact that Dr. Klein had awakened Lois.
"What is it?" Clark asked. He offered Dr. Klein a seat, but the older man declined. Clark sat back down on the edge of Lois's bed to await the news. He was pleased to see Dr. Klein here. He would always be grateful that the man had taken such wonderful care of his wife. When her illness had reached beyond his scope, he had enlisted the aid of the best medical doctors in the field, and had worked with them to keep her alive. He had managed the paperwork to keep the insurance company paying for her private room, and he had found the best pediatricians to care for the baby. Also, he had accomplished all this without raising questions as to why Lois had become ill. He had documented a rare blood disorder that had kept Clark's secret, and had protected them both from the media as well as the hospital administration.
Truly, Bernard Klein had been a friend as well as a scientist and physician, and Clark would forever be grateful. If it had ever occurred to him to be angry with the doctor for initiating the pregnancy, he certainly hadn't held a grudge. In fact, he was pleased that the doctor had helped them to grant Lois's wish. After all, Dr. Klein had been the one to suggest termination of the pregnancy, and her illness hadn't been his fault.
Odd, though, that Clark's forgiving nature didn't extend to himself. Maybe not so odd, as he had always been harder on himself than those around him.
Dr. Klein took a moment to regain his composure before he spoke. Clutching two wrinkled papers in his hand, he waved them before his face. "It's all here!" he announced. "I was wrong. It was a chemical reaction!"
Lois and Clark looked at one another for a moment before confronting the doctor. "What *are* you talking about?" Lois asked.
Dr. Klein looked stunned for a moment, then went back to the beginning. "I've been doing some additional testing on the agent I used to facilitate fertilization," he began. Looking at the confused couple before him, be began again. "The chemical soup I used to help the egg and sperm join," he clarified. "We had assumed that it was the pregnancy itself that caused Lois's reaction, but that isn't the case. It was the formula."
"But you said that it was safe. I remember asking." Clark was confused.
"It was," he answered. "The formula itself was safe. However," he said, waving the papers in front of him, "The combination of the formula *and* the HCG in Lois's bloodstream was nearly fatal."
Clark reached out and held his wife's hand. "HCG is the hormone that meant she was pregnant, right?"
Dr. Klein nodded his head vigorously. "Yes. The level of this hormone increases with pregnancy. It's the hormone that allows the body to maintain the pregnancy. This explains why the illness got progressively worse as the pregnancy continued. The level of HCG increased, and the reaction intensified. This also explains why Lois didn't immediately recover when the pregnancy ended. HCG is also present at low levels during lactation and, even if a mother doesn't nurse, the hormone still declines very gradually."
"So it was a combination of chemicals that poisoned me, not the baby?" Lois asked.
"Exactly!" Dr. Klein replied. "It wasn't you, Clark," he told him earnestly. "It was the chemicals."
Clark faced Lois with tears in his eyes. The relief they shared at knowing that it was not his genetics that poisoned her was enormous. They looked at each other for several moments, forgetting about the doctor until he spoke again. "This also means," he continued, "that additional children are a possibility. The egg and sperm could be fertilized outside her body; then, once the chemical is removed, the ovum could be implanted into Lois without exposing her to the danger."
Clark was still looking into his wife's eyes when the last was said. He saw her smile and he smiled with her. "I don't think that's something we'll be interested in," he told Dr. Klein. "But it's something that CJ might need to know."
"Not really," Dr. Klein replied. "That was the other thing I wanted to mention. CJ's specimen didn't contain the same resistance to fertilization that yours did. In fact, he seems more than able to easily fertilize an Earth female. I think you should really have a discussion with him about taking proper precautions should he become…" Dr. Klein blushed slightly as he continued, "…active."
Clark smiled at his wife once more. They had been startled when Dr. Klein had notified them of CJ's request for testing, but they had agreed that it would be a good idea to let him find out as much about himself as possible. They couldn't give him all the answers, but they would allow him all the answers possible.
"Well, I do need to go," Dr. Klein told the couple. "I left the office as soon as I received the results, and I may have left some things undone." He recognized the look of affection in their eyes, and he had a feeling that he was really not needed now. Quietly, he left the room, leaving the test results forgotten on the bed.
"So, Lois, are you ready to try again?" he asked his wife. He knew her answer, but he needed to hear it.
Lois shook her head. "No," she told him. "It's not something I want to go through again; at least, not now. Maybe, in a few years, we'll reconsider, and it's always nice to know that the possibility exists, but I'm not planning on it any time soon."
Clark agreed with her silently. He didn't know that he would ever want to risk another pregnancy. There were too many unknowns to it, and it didn't seem worth the risk. Besides, the joy of having a child with her was not what he had expected, and he was still grieving somewhat for the loss of that imaginary ideal.
With a sigh, Clark leaned his forehead against his wife's. "I need to get home," he told her. "It appears that I need to have a discussion with our son."
Lois drew back to look at her husband. "I know that you need time to adjust to the baby, but I really want to come home."
Clark looked into her beautiful brown eyes and sighed. He wanted her home more than anything, but he liked the idea that she had nurses at her beck and call here. She wasn't able to walk yet, and was barely able to feed herself, much less bathe and clothe herself. He loved caring for her, but he didn't think she would allow it once they left the hospital.
"We'll ask the doctors," he told her. "If they think it's okay, then we'll manage something." He had his doubts, but he would do whatever would make her happy.
He wasn't disappointed. Lois smiled, and gave him a kiss unlike anything he had felt in a very long time. He knew that she was a long way from being able to deliver all that the kiss promised, but he enjoyed it just the same. "I love you," he reminded her. Then Clark made a hasty departure, hoping all the way home that he could get to a cold shower before his mother saw him in the suit.
The shrill, piercing cry tore through the quiet of the Kent home. CJ rolled over in bed and groggily reached for his alarm clock. He had already crushed the object when he realized that it was not what was producing the awful sound.
He wished vaguely that he had looked at the clock before destroying it, but he hadn't. As the cries subsided, he got up to see whether it was his father or grandmother that was taking care of the baby.
He nearly tripped over Kat's body on his way out the door. She had rolled in the night, and her sleeping bag was now blocking his path. As he stepped over her, he wondered if she ever woke up with noise, but he didn't dwell on it.
Kat had spent many nights in his room. Once again, her father was away on business, and she was his roommate. Granted, she no longer shared his bed, but that was the only concession to age that they had made. CJ grinned a little as he plodded down the hallway. The irony of the situation was that his father had just completed a lecture on the necessity of birth control in the unlikely case that CJ chose not to observe abstinence when Kat had asked to spend the night. "Right," he mumbled. "Like I'd take the chance of having a screaming brat of my own."
CJ peeked his head in the door of his father's room. He saw his grandmother lifting the baby out of his bassinet, and asked her if he could help. It appeared that his father was out on patrol again, and the stairs gave Martha some trouble.
"CJ, can you run downstairs and warm up a bottle for me"? she asked.
"Sure, Grandma." CJ darted down the stairs and removed a prepared bottle from the refrigerator. He used his heat vision to warm it slightly, then checked the temperature. Then, he darted back upstairs. His grandmother looked tired as she set on the edge of the bed with the baby, so he stepped in. "Let me feed him."
Martha agreed gratefully. She was tired, and her arthritis was bothering her. She never slept well when Jonathan was away, and the details of selling the farm were taking longer than they would have liked. She passed the baby to CJ, then reminded him, "He'll need a diaper, too."
"I know, Grandma," he replied as he picked up a diaper from the table next to the bassinet and placed the baby on the bed. Martha watched long enough to assure herself that CJ did know what he was doing, then she said good-night and walked back to the guest room.
CJ efficiently diapered his brother, then fed him the warm bottle. Once the infant was burped, he settled down next to him on his father's bed, and cuddled the baby. It wasn't long before both boys were asleep. CJ's last coherent thought was that he was glad he had helped Kat with her baby-sitting so many times, so he knew how to take care of babies.
Simply put, the next couple of weeks were a mess for the Kents. Clark juggled his time between the paper, hospital visits, the occasional rescue and the absolutely essential household chores. CJ did his best to study for his finals, in between caring for the baby and visiting his mom. He had to stop writing for the Planet — there just weren't enough hours in the day — but he tried not to worry about that.
Jonathan and Martha finally found an apartment within their budget, and began to move some items into it. They knew that they would need to move out soon, because the baby was moving around enough that the bassinet wouldn't contain him much longer. They had promised CJ that he wouldn't lose his room, so they needed to vacate the guest room to make room for a nursery. Frankly, they were worried about how Clark would manage nights without them in the house, but they weren't sure what to do about the situation.
Martha was most concerned about CJ. She was afraid that night-time care of the baby would fall to him. Granted, he was adept at caring for the infant, but he was a teenager. He had already given up his job under the pressure of final exams and child care, and they didn't want him to lose his summer as well. Nevertheless, the house could only accommodate so many full-time residents, and the growing child would soon displace them.
It was on one of many chaotic nights that the knock came on the front door. CJ was juggling a full bottle in one hand and an uncooperative baby in the other, so he asked Kat to get the door. When she opened the door, she was faced with a short man wearing an old-fashioned suit and wire-rimmed spectacles. She probably should have been worried about a stranger at the door, but he seemed familiar in an odd sort of way.
"Why, you must be young Kathryn. How nice to finally meet you. My name is Herbert George Wells, and I've come to speak with CJ."
The little man spoke quickly. He had a friendly energy to his voice that belied his obvious age. Kat thought again that she should have been frightened, but instead she was slightly bemused.
"CJ," Kat called over her shoulder. "There's someone here to see you."
CJ entered the living room with his brother in one arm and a soggy diaper in the other. He passed the baby to Kat, then excused himself long enough to wash his hands in the kitchen. He returned carrying a warm bottle, and apologized for the interruption.
CJ didn't exactly recognize the man before him, but he did know who he was. He had heard dozens of stories about the little time traveler, and had, in fact, wanted to meet him. If anyone had any clues as to his origins, this would be the man.
"Mr. Wells," he greeted the older man. "Please, have a seat." CJ indicated the couch, and waited until the man seemed comfortable. Kat settled herself on a chair a few feet away, and began to feed the baby.
"Oh, it certainly is nice to meet the two of you," the man said in the same friendly voice. What he wanted to do was to dive right into the issue, but he had learned with this boy's parents that the direct approach was not always best. With that in mind, he decided to engage in a little friendly conversation.
"Actually, it's pretty cool meeting you, too," CJ answered. I've been wondering about a few things, and you seem the most likely person to answer my questions."
"I'd be happy to help with anything I can regarding your past," Wells told him. "I'm afraid I can't answer questions about the future, though, without causing problems in the time line."
CJ smiled in understanding. "That makes sense, I guess. Anyway, my questions are about the past. Specifically, they're about *my* past. No one seems to know where I came from, or *when* I came from. I thought maybe you'd know." CJ tried to keep the hope from his voice, but was unable to do so. He wanted so much to know the answers. His life was so confused at the moment, and this one piece of knowledge would give him some comfort, even if it wouldn't solve his problems.
Wells looked slightly confused as he regarded the boy. He had believed that CJ understood his origins. The future CJ certainly had an understanding of his origins, and he was slightly unprepared for this. He glanced over at the baby and allowed a questioning look to slip through before he answered. "CJ, *this* is where you come from," he said, looking pointedly at the baby in Kat's arms.
CJ looked completely confused. He had been expecting some cosmically brilliant answer as to why he was displaced from his own time, why he belonged here now rather than later, and this wasn't what he was expecting. He looked down at his "brother" for a moment. Sure, the baby looked like him, but it looked like his father too. Family resemblances were not unusual, and he didn't look *that* much like him.
Kat alternated glances from CJ to the baby. She saw some resemblance, but not that much. Finally, she stood and carried the baby over to the far wall in the room, the wall where the family portraits were hung. She looked from the baby pictures of CJ to the child in her arms, and wondered if the label of "galactically stupid" was stamped on her forehead. It seemed so obvious. As she looked from the baby to the picture and back again, she was stunned at how similar they looked. It was rather obvious, now, and she wondered how they could possibly have missed it.
CJ had followed Kat, and he too was looking from the baby pictures to the baby. It *was* him. It gave him an odd feeling to see himself, to know he had held himself. It was beyond weird. He looked back at Mr. Wells, who was just now rising to speak to them. "You are in the proper time, CJ; it's this baby that is out of time," he said. "That's why I'm here."
Clark sat next to his wife on her hospital bed. She was so much better now. She was nearly back to her old self. Now she was sleeping, still in a form of shock from the news that had been delivered.
Clark had been as stunned at his arrival home that night as he had been the night he had found CJ and the baby asleep in his bed. They had looked so sweet, and yet there had been a feeling of unreality to the scene that he hadn't understood. He did now.
There was also level of comfort in the whole situation that hadn't been present before. A type of understanding that he hadn't possessed. He wondered if this were taking the easy way out. After all, there was a certain amount of transition that was normal when an infant entered the home, and it made Clark feel like he was defying nature to allow this to happen.
H.G. Wells had explained that he had entered this time to check on a temporal anomaly. Apparently, a time window had been opened into this general time frame, and he needed to check for disruption into the time line. They had not been able to find exactly when or why the temporal disturbance had taken place, but it didn't appear that Tempus, or any other villain, was at work.
He had mentioned this to CJ and Kat earlier, and had got a shock when Kat had nervously confessed that *she* might have been responsible for the "rogue" time window. She'd explained what had happened at STAR Labs when she'd visited there with CJ, and swore that nothing more had happened, so there couldn't be any disruption to the time line… could there?
Wells assured her that her inadvertent "interference" with the time stream could not have had any significant effects, and she sagged against CJ with relief. After a moment, she realised what she was doing, blushed and moved away to flop into a chair; CJ's eyes followed her as she did so, and he was pinker than usual as well.
Wells was equally relieved; he knew how fragile the thread of history could be, and to have a possible attack on Utpoia reduced to the harmless effects of a young woman's curiosity was a great load off his mind. It did, however, make him realise that the Interdimensional Transport Device could continue to be a danger if it remained in this time. Fortunately, his own such device meant that removing the other one from STAR Labs would be a simple matter, and he'd asked Clark to apologise to Dr. Klein for him, but the danger was simply too great.
Clark had agreed; he'd felt that he had no choice, really — as, indeed, he'd felt about giving the baby to the little man. Wells's presence did solve the problem of relocating the boy into his proper time. If the baby weren't sent back to 1996, CJ would not be here now; if he *was* sent back, they would lose the opportunity to raise him now. Of course, they had *already* raised him. Clark put his head back in his hands as the intricacies of time travel once more threatened to give him a headache.
Lois was better. She had been starting to look forward to coming home, and the baby had been in that equation. Of course, she seemed less bothered about transporting the baby back in time than Clark, but she did appear to be in shock over the situation. They had always assumed that they had been sent CJ to protect him from some outside danger, but the only danger this baby faced was a busy family. Working families had been raising their children for decades — they had done so themselves — and it seemed like cheating to send the child to an easier time.
Wells entered the room, and Clark raised his head to face him. "I'm sure you have reservations about this decision, Clark. Please, ask any questions that you have." Wells seated himself in the chair next to the bed, and waited for Clark to voice his concerns.
"It just seems so strange," Clark began. "We have to choose something that should be out of our hands. It's confusing," he smiled. "But it makes this strange sort of sense, too."
Wells nodded his understanding. "How a temporal loop begins is a mystery to us all. The fact is, once a loop is initiated, it *must* be carried out to maintain temporal stability. The circle must be completed, or the time line will change. There are elements that allow us to see when a temporal disturbance is taking place, and one of those is a feeling of… wrongness… for lack of a better word. Can you honestly tell me that it feels right to have this infant here, now?"
Clark shook his head. "No, I can't. This has felt 'wrong' ever since I first saw him. I thought I was just angry or guilty because of Lois, but I guess I should have realized that it was more."
"Having the child raised in this time line would make Utopia impossible. At seventeen, CJ is capable of dealing with the stresses that Lois's recovery and your parents' aging will impose. For that matter, he can be a remarkable help, and what he learns now will be instrumental in the formation of Utopia. His descendants will create a world that will be ideal for all of the inhabitants of Earth, but he can't do that if he is raised in chaos."
"Clark," a quiet voice said from the bed. "The baby doesn't belong here. That's why it's been so hard." Lois leaned toward her husband, placing her hand on his leg. She gave a brief, bitter laugh before adding, "Why isn't our life ever simple?"
Wells glanced at Lois fondly. "Are you feeling better now?" It had concerned him when she had become so upset during their initial discussion, and he was pleased that she was showing her usual resilience.
"I'm as well as I can be, knowing that my baby is about to be sent nearly two decades into the past," she smiled once more. "Still, it does explains so much. I remember how right it all felt back then, and how hard it is now. Just the thought of facing the terrible twos is enough to make me ill, and I didn't know how I was going to get through it."
Wells smiled his understanding. He hadn't realized the essential part that he had played in situating CJ in time, but he was pleased that he could be a part of putting this family back where it belonged. They had been through so much, and the best part of their lives was just beginning. It was no wonder that they were awash in confusion when things began to go wrong.
"When does he go back?" Clark asked quietly.
"I need to pick up the Interdimensional Transport Device from STAR Labs, then I will meet you back at your house. That should give you time to explain things to your parents, and also to prepare the baby for the trip."
Clark nodded, and Wells shook his hand before leaving the room. Turning back to his wife, he looked for the pain that he was sure to find at the loss of her child. Strangely, he saw nothing but the relief that he felt himself. "Are you okay with this, Lois?"
Lois sighed, and then replied, "I suppose so. I can't imagine CJ growing up without Kat, and I couldn't live without the son that I have now. I just feel like I'm taking the easy way out, and I keep wondering what the catch is."
Clark kissed his wife gently, and then prepared to confront his parents. They had been the grounding force for the baby, caring for him when his own parents could not. He had no clue how they would take this news, but they had to know.
Martha wrapped the infant in the dark blue blanket, and stroked his cheek once more. She would miss him, but she was grateful to know that she would be young enough to enjoy watching this child grow into such a wonderful young man. At least, she had been young enough, or was, or would be? The entire concept really confused her, but Clark seemed at peace for the first time in ages.
She had always wondered why CJ's blanket had looked as new and fresh as the day Clark had arrived in it. CJ had carried the blanket for years, and now it was a tattered mess that he kept hidden in his bottom dresser drawer. She had spent hours digging through boxes back at the farm until she had found Clark's blanket, still new and fresh. It had been worth the effort to give him this. She covered the baby more tightly and kissed him gently. "I'll see you soon, little man," she told him. "I love you."
With tears in her eyes, she turned back into the waiting arms of her husband. Jonathan had already said his good-bye, so he merely held his wife as she cried.
CJ was next to say goodbye. He felt as though he was losing his brother, and it hurt. Realizing that he held a part of this baby within himself was some comfort, but he would still miss the warm snuggling and sweet smell of the child. Someday, he planned to have his own children. Lots of them! He wanted to fill a whole house with them. Of course, not in his immediate future, but someday.
CJ reached down to allow the baby to grasp his finger, then whispered a few words to him. Kat heard him, and stepped a little closer to CJ. Once he was finished, he stepped back, and put his arm around his best friend, both taking and giving comfort.
Finally, Wells carried the baby to Clark. After looking at him for a moment, Clark finally took the baby into his arms. He turned away from the group gathered, and spoke to his son. "Hey, little one. I know things have been tough here. They're gonna get better now. You are going someplace where people love you, and will take really good care of you." He caressed the infant's cheek, looking into the solemn brown eyes and, for the first time, seeing his son. He lifted the baby a little higher and gently kissed his forehead. "That's for your mama. She wanted to be here, but we decided that this would be easier. You're gonna be with her soon, and she will be able to really enjoy you. Try to take it easy on her at first; she'll be new at this, and not too sure of herself. But, I'll tell you what, she's the best mom in the world, just as good as mine, and she'll take the very best care of you."
Clark rocked the baby for a moment more, feeling again the love and attachment that he had felt for the little person that had been dropped in his lap so many years ago. He glanced down at the infant, now drifting off to sleep, and traced the side of his cheek with a tender finger. Knowing the wonderful person that this baby would develop into made the decision easier and at once made it harder. With a sigh, he conceded that the decision had never really been his at all and, with a final kiss, he gave the child back to H.G. Wells.
Wells once more reassured them that what they were doing was right, and shifted the baby slightly to reach the keypad of the device in his hand. After touching a few buttons, a window appeared in the air, and he stepped into it. Clark stood quietly as his son was taken into another time, and then watched the window collapse upon itself and disappear.
As Clark turned away from the empty space, he was enveloped in a hug by his parents. He held on, and allowed himself to cry for the loss of the few months he'd had with the baby. Perhaps, if he could have pulled himself from the grief and pain sooner, he could have enjoyed the baby, and perhaps not. The saddest part was that he would never know.
It was barely a week later that Clark carried his wife over the threshold of their home. It had been a long morning, and she was exhausted. There were balloons, banners, and flowers wall-to-wall in the living room. Friends from the Planet, neighbors — even Lucy — had joined together to welcome Lois back to her world. If there was an undercurrent of sadness to the gathering, due to the loss of the baby (the Kents had told everyone that the little boy had died, and Dr Klein had helped with the paperwork), then it was more than overshadowed by the joy at having his mother well again.
Amid the chaos, Lois put her head down on her husband's shoulder, and whispered in his ear. He nodded his agreement and, instead of stopping in the living room where all the craziness was centered, he carried his wife up the stairs and lay her down in their bed. With a sigh, Lois curled up on her side and went right to sleep, leaving Clark to face the people gathered downstairs.
The group seemed to understand that Lois was too tired to deal with their party and, while they kept it quiet, they did stay to enjoy the food and conversation. Jimmy had flown in from New York, where he was working as a reporter for the Times. He casually flirted with a few of the guests, but the ring on his left hand demonstrated that the flirting was friendly and not serious. Martha and Jonathan sat at the kitchen table with Lucy, discussing with her the pitfalls of parenting a teenager. Lucy was just drifting into this world, and she felt a little lost. Her husband had stayed home with the kids so that they wouldn't miss finals, and she was enjoying a little time to herself. Clusters of neighbors and Planet employees were scattered about the room, celebrating the return of one of their own.
Clark drifted from group to group. He still felt some guilt that he had not tried harder to locate Lois's parents for the party, but she seemed almost grateful not to have to deal with her mother's smothering just now. He promised himself that, as soon as things calmed down, he would go find them and bring them up to date. The resolution eased his guilt somewhat, and he was able to enjoy some of the gathering, even as he felt detached from it.
"Dad, why don't you just go upstairs for a while? You look as tired as Mom did," CJ said as he returned from the kitchen with another case of sodas. "I'll make excuses if you want, but you were up all night, and you look like you need some sleep."
Clark nodded vaguely in thanks. He *was* tired, and still feeling a little too much melancholy to deal with the festive atmosphere. With a sigh, he ascended the stairs and let himself into the dimly-lit room that he once more shared with his wife. She was curled onto her side, as she had been when he had left her.
Clark made sure the door was locked, then pulled off his shirt and jeans. He carefully levitated and lowered himself next to Lois's side in the bed. He wanted to pull her close, but he was afraid that he would wake her. Instead, he curled onto his side, facing his wife, and watched her sleep. He relaxed as he listened to her heartbeat, and was soon lulled into a state of relaxation that was neither fully awake nor fully asleep. He became more aware of her when she rolled away from him and then backed herself into his lap, snuggling spoon-style as they had always slept. With a smile, Clark put his arm around Lois and pulled her a little closer before giving in to the first true sleep he had experienced in over a year.
Lois awoke to the amazing warmth of her husband wrapped around her back. She wiggled her bottom back into his lap, and sighed as he pulled her closer. After a few minutes of contentment, she carefully pulled away from her husband. She sat up slowly, allowing herself to adjust to the faint dizzy feeling that still accompanied a change in position, then padded carefully to the bathroom to tend to her morning business.
Once her teeth were brushed, and her bladder relieved, she walked back through the bedroom and sat herself on the window seat. She considered cuddling with her husband, but he was still asleep, so he most likely needed that more than he needed her for the moment.
CJ was already up. She supposed that he was enjoying the freedom of not spending his weekend at the hospital with her. She glanced down to see him running through the yard, dodging trees. She observed carefully, much as she had done years earlier when they had moved in. Once again, she saw him approach Kat, but this time, instead of sitting with her, he wrapped an arm around her at a full run, turned, and pulled her to the ground. They landed in a giggling tumble of arms and legs, and rolled around for a few moments before settling into what appeared to be a discussion with Kat lying atop CJ's chest.
Lois really considered going downstairs to find out what was going on. She was warm, though, enjoying the early morning sunshine. She did need to talk to her son; she had still heard voices from downstairs when Clark had come to bed, and she was certain that CJ had handled the end of the party. If she knew her son, the room would be spotless when she went downstairs. CJ was the most responsible child she had ever known, and it was that faith in him that kept her from checking on him when she saw Kat lower her lips to CJ's in a kiss that was part experiment, and maybe more. Discreetly, she turned away from the young couple and gave a silent prayer that they would not get in too deep.
As she turned from the window, she saw that Clark had not yet removed the bassinet from the corner of the bedroom. It was still sitting there, as though waiting for the baby to be returned to it. She sighed deeply, wondering what the little one was up to now. She supposed that she should feel some guilt for allowing the child to be sent away, but just looking out at CJ had reassured her that she had done the right thing. CJ belonged here, now, with Kat. It was a minor miracle to find someone that you really belonged with in the world, and she was pleased that he had done so.
After several more minutes, Lois began to feel sleepy once again. She was certain that the constant tiredness would fade with time, and the doctors assured her that this was the case, but she had found that it was best to give in just now. She stood, and then took the couple of steps back to her bed. She sat down carefully and, with some difficulty, pulled her legs up to the bed. By the time she had settled in, Clark was awake and reaching over to pull her close. She rested her head on his chest, tangling her legs with his, and fell into a healing sleep. She was back where she belonged.
Clark looked down at his sleeping wife, content to feel her heartbeat against his chest. He could hear CJ and Kat playing outside, and vaguely wondered what time it was, but he didn't care enough to check the clock. Lois was in his arms, and that was all he needed to know. He kissed her gently on the forehead, and allowed himself to drift back to sleep.
CJ caught Kat in a running tackle, and pulled her to the ground. She had dared him to catch her, and he had certainly done so. She laughed as he spun her through the air, and carefully cushioned her body with his as they hit the ground. He still hadn't mastered levitation, but he could manage to remain airborne a few seconds longer than most.
Kat playfully kicked at CJ, relatively sure that she couldn't hurt him. They rolled a few times in the soft grass before she came to a stop on his chest. Looking down at him, seeing a light in his eyes that hadn't been there for so long, she felt a great deal of relief. "Okay," she relented. "So you *are* still faster than me. Boys are *supposed* to be faster than girls."
CJ looked up at Kat and wondered at the softness atop him. She certainly didn't look soft. In fact, Kat was one of the most athletic girls he knew. She ran, played soccer, and had even tried out for cheerleading once, although she had dropped out when she got her job. Still, there was a softness, both to her body and her eyes, that he hadn't seen before. He looked up into her wide green eyes and really considered giving her a hard time. In fact, he had just decided to really embarrass her when she leaned a little closer to him. Lost in the moment, he kissed her. He didn't plan it, or analyze it, he just felt it. He felt it from the warmth of his lips to the tips of his toes. Who would have thought that lips could have so many nerves?
When Kat finally pulled back, looking down into soft brown eyes that were slightly fuzzy, she knew that something had changed. She tried to think of something brilliant to say, something profound and fitting to such a moment, but the only thing that came out was a whispered, "Wow…"
CJ looked up at his best friend, and had no clue what to do. This changed things, and he wasn't sure what to think of the situation. The one thing that he did know was that this was Kat. She was as much a part of him as his love of books and his skill with writing, and she would never hurt him. He echoed her whispered, "Wow," before reaching a hand up to wrap around her head, threading his fingers through the cool brown strands of hair. When his lips met hers this time, there was less surprise, and more enjoyment as he let himself get lost for a moment in the sensations.
They stayed that way for a long time, just enjoying the newness of their first real kiss. Then Kat suddenly realized that something wasn't right. When she tried to pull back, she realized that CJ was floating about six inches off the ground, levitating his own weight as well as hers. She considered mentioning it, but decided instead to just enjoy and not spoil the mood. After all, every girl wanted a boyfriend that was "super".
Herbert George Wells stepped from the window with a bit of a spring in his step. He had left the baby with a short note, just enough to tell Lois and Clark that the baby was theirs. He knew from the history books, and the legends of the current day, that this was all they would need. Frankly, he wouldn't have left that much, except for the innate honesty of Clark; the super-hero most likely would have turned the child over to Child Protective Services, concerned that he was stolen or missing, without this little bit of help.
He sighed as he sat in the self-adjusting chair that dominated his living room. This was a wonderful time to live in. Aside from resting and enjoying the life here, he had no worries in the world of Utopia. Certainly, Lois and Clark's descendants had made this world a wonderful place. It had taken several generations, but it had all begun with the dedication and honesty of the reporting team that he had just left the baby with.
He glanced up at the picture on the wall. It was one of several family portraits that the Kents had taken over the generations. This particular shot held nearly thirty people, including CJ and Kathryn, their six children, and their children's spouses and children. They were a remarkable group, full of energy and life — and, above all, integrity. He briefly allowed his mind to wonder what would have become of Utopia if CJ had grown up in his birth time rather than the time he was meant for, but he didn't allow the train of thought to go far. It simply wasn't meant to be.
Without his proper placement in time, CJ would not have been what he should have been. In addition, he would not have met Kathryn, and his children would not only have been different, but their spouses would have been different. The near-perfect world that he now enjoyed would not exist, and millions of lives would have been lost. It was not a world that he chose to think about. He had seen enough alternate dimensions to understand that a single change in history could violate a time line for an eternity.
With a feeling of accomplishment, and gratitude that he could be a small part of the formation of Utopia, he leaned back in the chair and relaxed. Within moments, he slipped off to sleep, dreaming peaceful dreams.
!!!!!!!!!! (sort of <bg>)
My Thanks… a word from the author
If you made it this far… I figure you won't mind a little more rambling by the author. I have a lot of people to thank for their dedication and friendship, for without them, I never would have started, much less finished, this story.
First, the authors. There are a number of specific authors that inspired me. Certain stories just stayed with me, and made me want to try. Thank you to Zoomway, Chris Mulder, Sheila Harper, Demi, Kathy Brown, and Erin Klingler. These are the ones who helped me to fall in love with fanfic, and, without reading it, I never would have wanted to write.
Next, to my friends. Anne, Annie, Erin, Carol, Julie, and Lissa (and many, many other IRC buddies). You kept me going when I wanted to give up. You demanded the next chapter, and you graciously gave me such positive feedback. And Anne… you kept me sane. :)
Finally, a thank-you to my "editors". I originally sent this story out in chapters to the fanfic list, and the feedback I received suggested changes, errors, and really kept me in line. I know I will miss someone, but I really need to thank: Sara, Wendy, Sheila, Laurie, Pam, Chris, Christy, Jenni, Deborah, Joan, Mariann, Allyson, Marie, Regina, Priscilla, Gay, Alyssa, Jeanne, Lucie, Linda, Deb, Donna, Anne, Cristin, Avia, and all the others who read, commented, and kept me "on track" to finish the story.
A last note to Kathy Brown… you were right; making Clark angry enough to send CJ away in order to protect the baby from himself was not a good idea. The closer I got, the more it just didn't work. I guess you did know more about this than me. There's a lot to be said for experience… <bg> At least I found a way to finish the story without trashing it completely… I am a persistant person. ;)
Thank you all for reading… I truly hope you enjoyed it, and were not permanently damaged by the WHAM.
Sincerely, Crystal B. Wimmer JCWimmer@aol.com CrystalW on IRC