Oh, Give Me A Home (Season 5, Episode 11)

By Jeff Brogden <jwbrogden@bar-b-bar.org>

Rated PG-13

Summary: It's Christmas time, but not all is 'calm and bright' in Smallville. The Kents have a new neighbor, and there are many more changes in store for the family. Episode 11 of S5.

Original Air Date: February 1, 1998


{ The Kent farm, Smallville, Kansas, early evening the Sunday before Christmas }

They had only been at the farm for a short time, but already Lois was starting to relax. They had gotten in later than they had wanted, but Lois was glad to finally be here. Lois finished unpacking her clothes, then zipped up the suitcase and put it in the closet. She turned around to give everything a once over and spotted Clark's bag. It was only half unpacked. He had gone off to look for some wrapping paper so they could wrap the last of the Christmas gifts. Shopping had been next to impossible this year.

'We sure needed this break,' Lois thought. The recent activities with the anti-Superman society, on top of the pregnancy, had started to take its toll later in the week. They had planned on coming to the farm for the weekend only. Martha and Jonathan were first on the list of people to tell their good news. As the week progressed, and her energy levels decreased, Clark had talked her into taking the whole week of Christmas off. Perry wasn't too thrilled, but they were both due a break and they had the vacation time. All the way here, Clark had teased her that his mom would turn her into a country girl with all the free time they would have.

"Wonder where he is?" she wondered out loud. She found him in the living room, arranging the little figurines of a nativity set. She walked up behind him, annd wrapped her arms around his waist, and gave him a hug.

"What are you doing?"

"Oh, just putting everything in the right spot," Clark motioned vaguely around the nativity scene. "This nativity scene is pretty old," he said, putting down a wise man close to the corner of the manger, "it's been in the family for ages."

Lois stepped over next to him to examine the set. It was fairly big, with a large number of figures. Each figure was painted in fine detail, and they had a hand-crafted look about them. The stable and manger were made from real wood, and looked like perfect miniatures of the real thing. The scene was set up on the top of an antique buffet, and took up the whole surface. Someone had put down a layer of thin cotton batting and sprinkled it with some sort of iridescent material to give the appearance of snow. Clark was positioning a cow with the precision of a mechanical engineer, seemingly oblivious to her presence.

"Wasn't this set up before we got here? I seem to remember seeing it out of the corner of my eye as we walked through earlier."

"Yeah, it was here." He set down a dog a few inches from the front door of the stable. "But it was set up wrong." He delicately rearranged a few more of the figures, as Lois looked on in amusement.

"Is that a camel?"

"Yeah … "

"Is this," Lois fingered the cotton batting, "supposed to be snow?"

"Yeah … "

"Snow and camels?"

Clark looked at her, then looked at the nativity scene. "Well … " he stalled. Lois looked at him, waiting for him to go on. " … it *is* Christmas," he stated as if that explained it all.

"Clark … "

"It's *always* been this way, as long as I can remember."

She patted him on the back. "When you're done playing with the nativity scene, you need to finish unpacking and we need to wrap the rest of our gifts." She leaned in close and dropped her voice to a whisper, "We also need to talk about you-know-what, and when we are going to tell you-know-who before we slip up."

There was a blur of motion and a slight breeze then Clark announced "Done." He put his arm around her shoulder and steered her towards their room. "I think we should tell them right away." He scooped up the wrapping paper he had left lying on the couch as they walked by.

Lois could hear the excitement in his voice. They had talked about waiting until Christmas Day, but neither of them thought they could keep the pregnancy quiet until then. Add to that the fact that Lois was starting to feel a little run down all the time, and it wouldn't take Martha long to figure out what was going on.

"Okay, let's tell them tonight after supper. Your mom said something about icing some cut-out cookies?"

"Yeah, that would be a good time." Clark picked up some clothes and put them in the dresser.

Lois took out a roll of wrapping paper and unrolled enough to cover one of the packages. "Is there a lot of skill required to ice cut-out cookies?" she asked with a slight grin.

Clark smiled. "Even you can ice a cut-out cookie Lois. It's like painting with icing. Traditionally, each person picks his or her favorite color."

"Your family has a lot of traditions, I've noticed. Especially around the holidays."

Clark wrapped her up in his arms and gave her a soft, light kiss. "Our family will have a lot of traditions too." He kissed her again.

"Hmmmm … I hope so. I want our family to build strong ties and good relationships."

"It will — as long as we do things together."


Jonathan was starting the Christmas music in the other room as Martha and Lois were getting the cookies set out in little stacks organized by shape. Clark was mixing some powdered-sugar icing in various bowls, each containing a different color.

"It's so good to have you two home for a holiday. I was really looking forward to Thanksgiving. When you two couldn't be here, I was so disappointed," Martha said.

"My parents can do that to people," Lois quipped.

Jonathan came back into the kitchen. "Oh, they were no trouble. We had a lot of fun actually. We just missed seeing the two of you."

"Yes. Even when we come to Metropolis, you two always seem to have something going, or places to go, or things to hear." The last comment was directed in Clark's direction.

"Out here, there's no interruptions, no emergencies, no stories." Jonathan smiled. "Just family. And a chance to relax. You two need to do more of that."

Clark sighed. "It's just so hard to pull yourself away sometimes. I feel like I might miss something."

"Before we start down this gloomy path, bring the icing over and let's get started," Martha said, pulling out a chair for Clark to sit in. "Now - pick out your favorite color and start smearing."

Lois reached over and grabbed the brown icing. "I'll do the brown stuff."

"Brown?" Jonathan and Martha said in unison.

"Is there a problem with brown?"

"A lot of your clothes used to be brown, didn't they, honey?"

"Before we start down *that* gloomy path, Clark and I want to tell you about the latest project we've been working on." Lois smiled at Clark, inviting him to tell his parents the news of the baby.

Before Clark could speak, Martha grabbed the chair next to Jonathan and said, "We have some news to share with you two as well. We're both just so excited."

Jonathan reached out and grabbed her hand. "Yes — we've been busting at the seams to tell you. Mind if we go first?"

Clark saw the expectant look on their faces and hated to make them wait. "Okay," he sighed, "you first."

Jonathan seemed to gather his strength, as if he were nervous. "Your mother and I have decided to retire. We are going to sell the farm, and all our possessions, buy a travel trailer and tour America."

Stunned silence greeted them.

Martha broke the quiet. "Of course, we'll come to Metropolis first." She looked on hopefully.


Obviously, they were expecting a much happier response than the one they were getting. Lois didn't know what to say, it had happened so fast and come out of nowhere. Clark sat back in his chair with a slump.

"You're going to sell the home place?" Martha and Jonathan nodded. "And all your stuff?" They nodded again. "Why?"

"Well, your mother and I are not getting any younger. We are both in good health, and want to do something while we can."

"We've seen so many people work and slave their whole lives, and then die or get sick shortly after they retire," Martha explained.

"We figured, why not retire a little early and enjoy life a little," Jonathan said, spreading open his hands as if to show them something.

"What about money? Do you have enough to last for as long as you might need?" Clark asked.

"With the good harvest we've had the past few seasons and the smart farming techniques your father has been implementing all these years, we think we have enough to last." Martha picked up a cookie star and started smearing yellow icing on it.

Jonathan picked up a Santa-shaped cookie and the red icing bowl. "Plus the sale of the land should bring a bundle. I'm not sure how much the house and barn will bring. The contents of the house might bring in some good money. Your mother has acquired a good collection of antiques here."

"We probably will keep some things. The ones with sentimental value."

"We've always talked about traveling. When you started traveling all over the world, sending us those letters and articles from all over, it got us wanting to do some traveling of our own one day."

"We were a bit jealous," Martha laughed.

Clark finally picked up a snowman. "This money has got to last you the rest of your lives. Now days, that can be a very long time."

Jonathan laughed. "I hope so!"

Lois spoke up for the first time. "This is so sudden, how long have you been considering this?"

"Well, we had a pretty good idea at Thanksgiving time that we wanted to do something like this. We were just not sure. Then Grant caught wind of our plans one day and said he would be interested in buying the place." Martha picked up another star.

"Who?" Lois didn't recognize the name.

Jonathan put another Santa on the done pile. "Grant, Grant Hall. He's our hired hand. I don't think you've met him yet."

"So your hired hand helped you decide to go through with this plan? He's going to buy the farm?" Something about this wasn't right, but Lois wasn't sure she could trust her feelings right now. Right now, emotions in the room were a bit strong.

"You're going to sell the house to the hired hand?" Clark asked a little too loudly. His snowman started to crumble.

"Clark, honey, if you aren't going to ice the snowman, or eat it, put it down before you crumble it into non-existence," Martha said. "He doesn't want the house, he has a really nice one of his own. He bought the old McKibben place. Done a *wonderful* job of fixing it up too." She started on her fifth star. "He's just interested in the land."

"What would he do with it?" Clark was starting to sound like he was whining. Lois decided she would have to say something if he kept it up.

"Farm it, I assumed," Jonathan said gruffly. He sighed, then continued. "Look, Clark, he's a good farmer, a hard worker, and frankly I've given up hope that you might still be convinced to be a farmer someday. He's got a young family and a good sense for the business. If he wants it, and can buy it, he can have it."

"I'm … I'm sorry Dad, Mom. This is just so sudden. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that you could give up this place. You've spent most of your lives getting to where you are now. I'm just … amazed you would want to get rid of it all."

"We did just kind of drop the bomb on you." Martha reached across the table and patted his hand. "We'll talk more about it in the morning. Maybe we can go to town and see Grant and his family."


Grant Hall entered his living room, took one look at his wife, Nicole, and knew that today had not been a good day. She was sitting there on the couch, looking like she had been put through the ringer. Their son, Joshua, was singing the same verse of his favorite song, over and over.

He walked over and patted Joshua on the head. "Hey, sport."

"Daddy!" He jumped up and grabbed him around the leg.

"Why don't you take my lunch pail into the kitchen for me?"

Joshua took the lunch pail and ran for the kitchen. Grant leaned down and kissed Nicole on the forehead, as he put his hand on her enlarged stomach. "Hello, sweetheart. Rough day?"

"Oh, you have no idea." She brushed a stray hair from her face. "That one," she pointed toward the kitchen, "won't quit singing that song to this one." She patted her stomach. "And this one had literally beat me to death from the inside out today. Baby must be doing gymnastics in there."

Grant put his head close to Nicole's stomach, and said loudly, "Hey Baby, Daddy is home. How you doing? You need something to play with in there?" He was rewarded with a feisty kick or punch.


Alarmed, Grant asked, "Did that hurt? Sorry, honey."

"No, no. Just surprised me."

Grant sat down next to Nicole on the couch. "Are we still going shopping tomorrow?"

Nicole sighed. "Yes. I'm just glad Martha said she would watch Joshua. I don't think I could take it if he was coming with us. He has *so* much energy, and I'm always so tired."

"Don't worry hon, It's only six more weeks."

"Easy for you to say, you haven't put on thirty-five extra pounds to lug around." She leaned forward, and Grant automatically started massaging her back. "Thank goodness for Martha and Jonathan. They have been a godsend."

"Amen. I finally feel like we are starting to build a home here."

They sat in silence for a minute, while Grant massaged her back.

"Do you think we will be able to stay here?"

"I hope so."

"It's going to be hard. Once Martha and Jonathan's son comes home for a while."

"Hon, let's try to be positive. Okay?"

Joshua came running in with a bunch of rags. "Here Dad, help me get my costume on. I'm going to be a shepherd in the church play."

"That's great, Josh! Do you have your lines memorized?"

"Well — I don't say anything. I just move a bunch of fake sheep around and look at baby Jesus."

"How about moving your body into the bathroom for a bath."

"Awww, Dad … "


Clark lay in bed, wide awake while the rest of the house slept. In his arms, Lois was making those cute little noises she always made when he held her close as they slept. He couldn't quit thinking of what his parents had told them. He had been so shocked and hurt that he had forgotten all about the news Lois and he had for them. Evidently, his parents had forgotten about it as well, since they had never asked. Funny, Lois didn't mention it again either. She was probably as shocked as he was.

He lay there listening to every sound there was, as if it was the last time he would hear it in his life. He looked through the ceiling at the stars overhead, and wondered where Krypton was. Or had been. That home was taken from him, and now he was about to lose the only other home he had known. A feeling of restlessness began to overcome him. He felt like getting out and doing a little flying. It had always helped clear his head. However, he hated to run off on Lois. He was afraid he would wake her, and he didn't want to explain things to her. He wanted time to think.

The restlessness continued to grow, until Clark thought he would go mad if he didn't get up and move around. He slid out of bed as gently as he could and padded downstairs. Without knowing why, he turned on the television. Jonathan had been watching LNN before he had gone to bed, so the set came up on that channel. As the picture began to gain shape, the sound came in clearly. Now Clark knew why he had felt so uneasy before. There was a crisis in Iraq. One of the "presidential facilities" the UN inspectors had been barred from looking at had suddenly erupted into flames, spewing a deadly gas of chemicals into the air and surrounding areas. The world needed a superman, and with a spin and a whoosh, it had one.


Lois woke at the familiar sound. She felt for Clark, and noticed he was missing. She got up and started to walk, but sat down quickly. "I thought they called this morning sickness … " she mumbled. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was 2:30a.m. "Oh, guess it is morning."

She found the television still on in the living room. It only took a second to comprehend what had happened and where Clark was headed. "Be careful," she whispered into the night.


The next morning came too soon, and Lois found herself still alone in bed. The shot of adrenaline woke her quickly as she scanned the room for signs of Clark. In the corner, lying on a sheet of plastic, was the Suit. She sighed a breath of relief, knowing he had made it home. She flopped back onto the pillow, "I'm just so tired. I'll sleep just a little longer." A knock at the door caused her to jump again.

"Lois? Are you all right?" Martha's muffled voice filtered in.

"I'm fine, come on in."

Martha opened the door, and stepped in. "Are you sure you feel fine? It's nine-thirty, I was getting a little worried."

"Nine-thirty!?" Lois sat up straight in bed. She put her head in her hands as the blood in her head tried to keep up with her violent motions. "I'm fine — really. Guess I didn't sleep well, worrying about Clark last night."

Martha sat down on the foot of the bed. "I saw the news this morning. Just horrible what they are doing over there with those chemicals."

"Over here, too. Clark and I can't prove it, but we were tracking down some chemical warfare leads here in the U.S."

Martha sighed. "Come on. I've got some bagels downstairs, and I can make you some coffee, hot tea or cocoa."


Lois ate while Martha talked of all the things they needed to do today. Clark and Jonathan had gone to do some chores around the farm, so Lois and Martha were going to go into town to buy some last minute things.

"I wish Clark would have woken me to let me know he was all right," Lois said, popping a small bite of bagel in her mouth. She hadn't gotten sick yet, thankfully. Her energy levels were at an all-time low, however. She hoped she didn't look like she felt — horrible.

"I mentioned something about it to him, but he said you would need the rest." Martha turned to look at Lois. "Wonder what he meant by that?"

Lois could feel her eyes widen as she struggled to swallow the last bite of bagel she had in her mouth. Before she could formulate a response, she heard a car pull up the gravel driveway and stop outside the back door.

"Expecting company?"

Martha walked over to the window. "No … not that I remem … Oh my gosh! I forgot. I forgot I told Nicole I'd watch Joshua today. With all that happened last night … " Her voice trailed off as she rushed to open the door.

"Ms. Martha! Ms. Martha!" A little boy, about six years old, came rushing in through the door just as Martha opened it. "I'm coming to stay with you while Mom and Dad go shopping!"

"Hello Joshua! Yes, I know. I asked them if I could spend the day with you. Shopping can get boring sometimes."

"Yeah, especially when Mom drags Dad past," he took a deep breath before continuing, "past all the … every single … clothes stand in the whole … " another breath, " … whole dog-gone mall."

A very beautiful, very *pregnant* woman came in. "Slow down, Joshua, take a breath. Hi, Martha, you sure you don't mind … " The woman's whole posture changed the second she spotted Lois. Before, she appeared open, and friendly. Now, Lois could almost see her close in on herself. She reached out and grabbed Joshua's shoulder and pulled him a little closer.

"I'm … I'm sorry, Martha, I didn't know you were going to have company. I wouldn't have bothered you. Come on, Joshua, we'll let Ms. Martha get back to her guest."

She was already starting out the door before Martha could speak. "Oh, no, don't worry. Nicole, this is Lois Lane, my daughter-in-law. Lois, this is Nicole Hall, and her son, Joshua." Martha steered them both back into the kitchen. "Nicole is Grant's wife. We were hoping to see you today, we don't mind watching Joshua, really. You're not bothering us at all." Martha gave a small pleading look at Lois.

"No, no problem at all. We'd love to watch Joshua. Don't let me change your plans." Lois put on the best smile she could considering how she felt and looked. She directed her attention to the little boy. "Hello, Joshua. How are you?"

The little boy was shy at first. "I'm fine." He turned to his mother. "Mamma, she's pretty."

Everyone laughed. "My, and such a charmer too. Bet you have all the girls chasing you."

He turned a little more red and just smiled. "Mom, I want to stay with Ms. Martha and Ms. Lois. We gots lots to do, right?"

"Yes, we sure do," Martha agreed.

Nicole looked nervously back and forth between Lois and Martha. "Well … "

"Ms. Martha! I'm going to be in the church play. I'm a shepherd." The little boy beamed at her like it was his greatest achievement.

"That's wonderful. When is the play?"

"Ummm … I think it's soon."

"Wednesday, dear," Nicole supplied.

"Yeah, Wednesday. You going to come?"

"Well, I believe that might be possible. Can I bring Jonathan, Clark and Lois as well?"

The little boy looked at Lois again. "Sure." He smiled at her, and she couldn't help smiling back.

"Martha, I can't let you watch Joshua while … "

Martha cut her off short. "Now I don't want to hear anymore about it. We can watch him, it's no problem. Now, you better get going." She started steering her toward the door. "I'll come out to the car and get his things."

Lois sat there looking at Joshua who was looking at Lois.

"Well, how old are you?"

"I just turned six not too long ago."

"Wow, six years old. You're getting to be pretty big."

"Yep. I'm in school, you know."

Lois nodded her head, and bit back a giggle. Children could be so cute sometimes.

"And I know my whole name and address too." He took up a pose as if he was trying to remember it just right. "Joshua Cr … Craig Hall," he said quickly. "And I live at Route 2," he paused, looking at the ceiling, "Box 44, Smallville, Kansas."

Lois was still stuck on the name slip-up. 'Cr … Craig … ' The little investigative reporter functions of her brain started filing facts automatically for her. Like the fact that Nicole Hall was in a near panic when she first saw Lois, and the fact that she wasn't willing at first to leave Joshua with them.

"Where do you live?" Joshua's question brought her back to the present.

"Oh, I live in Metropolis, New Troy."

"Don'cha know your address?"

"Well, yes, I do. It's … "

"Mom and Dad used to live in Metropolis," the little boy interrupted her. "I never did though. I heard it was *big*!"

'Hall … Metropolis … around six or seven years ago … ' The facts kept building up. Lois couldn't put her finger on the source of nagging feeling she was feeling, but she was sure she would figure it out. Some puzzle needed solving and she would be the one to solve it.

Martha came back in. "Lois, why don't you go take a shower and get ready. Joshua and I will finish up in here, and then we can go to town."

"We're not going shopping, are we?" Joshua whined.

Martha smiled. "Nope. We're going treasure hunting."


"Yes, Jonathan gave me a list of treasure items to find for him today. It's our job to get as many of them as we can before he gets back." Martha clapped her hands together to emphasize the importance of their task. "He doesn't think we can do it, but I know with your help, we can."

Joshua got a determined look on his face. "Oh, we'll do it all right, just to show Mr. Jonathan." He pounded his fist into his open hand.

"I'll hurry then — so we won't waste any time," Lois shouted as she rushed to the bathroom. 'I'll have to start a file on how to motivate kids like Martha does as well.'


Grant watched as Nicole came flying down the road and into their driveway. "Wow, are we in a hurry or what … " he mumbled as he opened the garage door for her. No sooner had the car came to a stop, than she was running up to meet him.

"Grant, Lois Lane is at the Kent's house."

The news was like a hammer between the eyes. It wasn't totally unexpected, but it was still a shock. Grant sighed loudly. "We knew this might happen after we found out she was married to Martha and Jonathan's son. I don't know what we can do about it."

They went inside the house and Nicole hugged Grant as best she could with her stomach in the way. "I'm just so scared she will recognize me."

Grant rubbed her shoulders and back. "We have to think positive about this. It's been, what, almost seven years? That's a long time."

"Is it long enough? She's an investigative reporter — one of the best. Anything could set her off. Joshua is getting better at remembering things, but he's not perfect yet."

"He'll do fine."

"I don't want to leave again, Grant. Not from here. This is home now."

Grant held her closer. He was scared too, but didn't want her to know. "We better get going. We want to look as normal as possible. We'll be okay."


Jonathan and Clark had been going about the chores around the farm in relative silence. They had done this together so many times in the past, neither really needed to say anything to the other. They both knew what needed to be done, and how best to do it. Without talking, they split the chores evenly and efficiently. However, normally they *did* talk. The fact that they could work so well together just gave them *more* opportunities to talk. Only today they were not talking.

Jonathan pulled the truck up to the gate, and Clark jumped out to open it up. He could hear the cows mooing as they came running to greet them. They had been conditioned over the years to come running when they showed up because that meant fresh hay, salt blocks and water. Jonathan pulled into the pasture and Clark shut the gate, then jumped up into the bed of the truck and started breaking down a bale of hay. The cows gathered around the tailgate, shuffling for position, as Clark started tossing the broken chunks over the side. Jonathan continued to drive slowly towards the watering area as Clark broke down the hay bales and distributed them to the animals.

Once there, Jonathan got out and took the salt blocks Clark was handing down to him. He set them up, then checked the water tank to see if it had frozen or needed filling. Clark was already in the truck when Jonathan climbed in.

"Okay, out with it," Jonathan said, turning to Clark.

Clark jumped as if poked by a cattle prod. "Huh?"

"Are you going to sit there all quiet all day, or are you going to talk to me about what's eating you?"

Clark really didn't feel like talking about it. "It's nothing, really … "

"Bull! Clark, I've known you longer than just about everyone. I know when there's something." Jonathan softened just a little, letting the concern in his voice strengthen. "Talk to me, Clark."

Clark sighed. "It's just this retirement thing. It's so … sudden. So unlike you. I'm just trying to grasp it, examine it, figure out what the heck you're doing and why … "

"What we're doing is retiring. Why, is because we want to enjoy life. There's more to life than this farm," Jonathan waved his hand at the windshield, "you know that. You got your opportunity to see what else is out there. Now your Mother and I want to do the same."

It was true, he had gotten his chance to see the world. There was more to life than the farm. Still … "I guess I feel … " Clark paused, not sure if he should say anything. "I feel like I'm having my home taken from me. Like Krypton was, only worse. I actually *know* this place. It's been my haven for so long. To think that it might not be here — it scares me."

Jonathan sat back in his seat and let out a low whistle.

"I'm sorry, Dad, I … I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, no. It's all right. I want you to feel like you can tell me anything. That's important for a good relationship." He sat there for a minute, then said, "Clark, I can't promise we will change our minds about this. But we should have talked it over more with you first. You're as much a part of this place as we are, I just didn't realize it. I'm sorry."

Clark shook his head. "You don't have to be sorry. I'm sorry for acting like this, for putting this guilt trip on you now."

Jonathan smiled. "Don't worry. We have a ways to go yet. I want to get one more harvest in before I do anything." He looked out over the expanse of pasture before them. "The thought of getting out there both excites and scares me. I may need some help from an ol' hand in the business." He glanced sideways at Clark.

"I happen to know someone who has done some extensive traveling in the United States, as well as the world who might be persuaded to give you some pointers." Clark smiled.

"Thanks." Jonathan put the truck in gear. "Change is always scary. Guess that's why that group in Metropolis got started up. Scared of the changes Superman has brought to the world."

Clark could almost make himself understand that, if he hadn't been the object of discussion.

"I'm glad you can talk honestly and openly with me, Clark. Makes me feel good. Like I did a good job in raising you."

Clark laughed. "Oh, I think you did an excellent job. I just hope I can be as good at it as you someday."

"It's a scary thing, being a parent. To think that you hold the key to another person's life in your hands. What you do and say every day will affect how that person grows up, what they think, what they believe. You're responsible for shaping that person into a positive influence on society, and not a detriment — it's almost more than a person wants to think about."

Clark sat there for a moment, the enormity of what his father had just said sinking in. 'Oh boy! What have Lois and I gotten ourselves into now!'


Martha, Lois and Joshua made their way around town smoothly. They took a leisurely pace, of which Lois was glad of. As they went from shop to shop, Martha would introduce Lois to whomever they met. Everyone was so excited to meet a real live celebrity, and they all made a fuss while she was around. For her part, she took the attention and admiration in stride, trying not to let it go to her head, while at the same time making sure no one made too big of a production of things.

One thing she found out, and took some small advantage of, was that everyone was overly willing to talk. As Martha and Joshua went down the aisle looking for their "treasures", Lois would chat with the clerks, managers and town folk at the front of the store.

At least they thought of it as chatting — in reality, it was a cleverly disguised interview and fact finding mission. She wanted more information on the Hall family, especially Grant Hall. She and Clark knew surprisingly little about the hired hand that Martha and Jonathan had employed recently. For some reason, it never bothered her much before. Now that they had announced their retirement, something about Mr. Hall's involvement in the matter didn't sit well with her. She couldn't put her finger on it yet, but she had learned to go with her initial gut reaction. More times than not, it had paid off.

Everyone she met was more than generous with information as well.

"He's such a nice man. Goes out of his way to help."

"They came into town one day, out of the blue."

"Was driving a pretty fancy vehicle. A 'sport utility vehicle' I think they call it."

"Bought the old McKibben place. Heard they paid cash."

"Been sitting there for years, but he fixed it up real nice. Must have spent a fortune."

"Oh yes, he's a strong one. Hands as big as a bears, and strong too. Seen him once pull on a tow-rope and nearly jerk the rear bumper off a car."

"I was playing darts with him one day down at the barber shop, and he hit 5 bulls-eyes. He can sure throw them darts."

"Heck of a farm hand. Could probably make a fortune if he got his own place. Doesn't seem to need it though. Always got plenty of cash on him. Pays for everything with cash."

"Don't talk much about family. I don't think they have any. Your in-laws have kind of adopted them. They act like grandparents sometimes with that little Joshua."

"Poor Nicole, she's a bit confused by this pregnancy sometimes. Called her husband Mark one time."

"They just can't wait to have that baby. Nicole's a real beauty, and her pregnancy has just enhanced it. I think she's got another month or more to go."

"She's got that natural beauty about her. Coulda been a model somewhere else."

"I wish I would have looked that good when I was pregnant."

The information flowed faster than she could mentally catalog it. It amazed her how open they where. She'd always heard about small town gossip, and it certainly looked like it was true.

About mid-afternoon, Lois suddenly felt sick. Not the morning-sickness kind of sick, just a weak all over kind of sick. "Martha, I need to sit down. I'm suddenly not feeling well."

"What's wrong, Lois?"

"I'm not sure, I almost feel hungry, and weak. It happened so suddenly."

Martha looked at her closely. Lois was starting to feel like she might figure out that she was pregnant just by looking at her. It felt like the words "I'm pregnant!" were stamped on her forehead.

"I think your sugar levels have dropped too low. Do you usually snack during the day?"

"Not unless you count Double Fudge Crunch Bars," Lois said sarcastically.

"Well, your system is probably used to that influx of sugar, and we haven't stopped to get anything to eat since lunch."

Joshua came up just then to announce, "I'm hungry too. Let's get a snack."

"Okay, we'll go to the Tasty Treat."


"Lois, you need to watch what you eat. If this sugar drop is a common thing, you need to get checked out for diabetes."

Lois couldn't imagine that she had a blood-sugar problem. However, after she ate something, she did start feeling better.

Joshua was starting to look sleepy, and Lois realized she was getting tired as well. "Martha, how close are we to being done? Someone is getting s-l-e-e-p-y." She pointed at the little boy. He was just sitting there in his chair, eyes half closed and not making a sound for the first time all day.

Martha looked over at him and smiled. "I think we can call it a day. He won't last till we get to the end of Main Street before he's out."

Lois helped Martha gather their things, and get everything packed into the car. Putting Joshua in the car seat they had borrowed from his Mother was an adventure. He was basically 50+ pounds of dead weight that the two of them had to get into position and strapped in.

"Wow! When kids go to sleep, they go to sleep! He's completely dead to the world!" Lois said.

"I know — Clark used to just go and go and go. Then, he would fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I remember one time he fell asleep at the supper table. Now that was tired. Clark *never* missed a meal."

"He fell asleep eating?" Lois couldn't believe it.


When they got back to the farm house, they could see that Jonathan and Clark had beaten them home. After Lois helped lug Joshua into the house, she asked about Clark.

"He's outside somewhere. We came home, fixed a snack, and I took a nap," Jonathan said. "I heard him go out the back door, but I'm not sure where he is."

"I'll go find him," Lois said as she wrapped her coat around her again.

Clark was sitting in the Fortress of Solitude with the globe. He was just sitting there, staring at the setting sun. He was encased in sunlight, and he appeared to glow, the aura around his body giving off an almost visible shimmer.

Lois came walking up under the tree house and shouted, "Hey up there, want company?"

"Sure, come on up," Clark replied sullenly.

"How about some help?"

Clark frowned down at her. "World famous investigative reporter can't climb up into a tree house? Lois, I've seen you nearly scale the outside of a building for a story."

"True. However, I've been walking all over Smallville with your Mother and a six year old the whole day. Quite frankly, I'm too exhausted to climb a tree right now."

Clark put the globe down and dropped down next to her. "Six year old?"

Lois wrapped her arms around him and gave him a long, slow kiss.

"Hmmmm … "

"That was because I'm so glad to see you." She gave his nose a tweak with her fingers. "And that is for not letting me see you all day and not letting me know you got back last night all right."

"Sorry. You seemed so tired, I hated to wake you." Clark gave her a hug and a kiss. "What's this about a six year old?" Clark floated them up to the tree house, back into the sunlight.

"Yes, Joshua Hall. The hired hand's son."


"Your mother had volunteered to watch him while they did some last minute shopping."

They sat there, looking out over the landscape for a moment. Lois looked at Clark, and realized there was something bothering him. He just sat there in the sunlight, staring off to the west, not saying anything. Lois looked to the west and could see that the sun was heading towards the horizon, the clouds in the sky reflecting light in various shades of pinks, purples, yellows, oranges and blues. The wind had blown the clouds into lots of little whips and whirls, reflecting the sun in intricate patterns.

"Looks like it will be a beautiful sunset."

Clark grunted an affirmative.

"I rarely get to see it like this. Here, everything is so clear, and open. You don't realize how much pollution Metropolis has, or how crowded the horizon is with buildings, until you come out here."

"There is nothing quite like a sunset — except maybe a sunrise."

From their vantage point up in the tree, Lois could see for miles. The drab, stark winter landscape was broken up by vibrant green fields. The sunlight enhanced the color of the fields against the browns and greys of their surroundings. The field was speckled with the brown, black and white colors of the cattle that were grazing on it. They were spread out over a large area, and Lois estimated there to be over a hundred cattle in the field.

"Why are those fields so green when everything else is so brown or greyish?"

"That's a winter wheat field. It's harvested in June or July. It grows real fast at first, in the winter, to store up moisture and energy." He paused, then added, "The green is like a promise of the bounty it will deliver in the spring and summer."

Lois arched an eyebrow at that. Clark was being a bit dramatic. "We're not that far up, and yet I feel as if I can see for miles. How far can a person see out here?"

"Oh, about fifteen to twenty miles on a good, clear day. Far enough to see the grain elevators of several towns." Clark pointed out in several different directions. "See? You can see the tops of them poking above the horizon over there, there, and there. That one is Smallville."

Lois could see the tops of a tall, white structure where Clark had pointed. "Amazing. How far can you see with your," she reached up to her face and made a finger gesture, "vision gizmo?"

"I'm not sure, I've never really tried to check it. One obstacle is the curvature of the Earth. It limits my visibility like anyone else."

"You could use the X-ray thing to see through the ground though, right?"

"Well … "

"Take a look back east and tell me if I turned the coffee pot off back home. It's been bugging me all day."

Clark shook his head. "I don't think I really want to … "

"Okay, okay, how about to China?"


Lois leaned over the side of the Fortress and looked straight down. "Yeah, look through to China, or whatever is on the other side."

Clark looked less than enthusiastic. "Lois … I don't … "

"Come on — just take a peek. What could it hurt?"

Clark shrugged and leaned over and started peeling back the layers of rock below them with his "vision gizmo." The further he went the greater the headache he suddenly developed got.

Suddenly, Lois reached over and touched his arm. "Hold on a second. I just remembered something."

Clark pushed his glasses back. "What?"

Lois clutched her stomach. "The baby. I read somewhere that X-rays can be really bad for a baby at this stage of development."

Clark shook his head. "I don't think that applies here."

Lois sat up a little straighter. "Why not? They don't call it X-ray vision for nothing?"

"Yeah, but … "

"Have you ever had it tested? Has Dr. Klein seen if there is any kind of radiation output when you do that?"

"No, but … "

Lois went on. "Then I think you should limit its use. If we don't know much about your X-ray vision, it could be hurting the baby." Lois saw him shrink in on himself a little bit more. "Oh darn," she said.

"Now what?"

"It's just that I came up here to cheer you up and all I've done is upset you."

Clark smiled. "I'm not upset, really. I was just thinking that you may be right. What if I'm using a — skill — of mine that could be hurting people?"

"Just go see Dr. Klein. He can tell you. Until then — limit your use of it."

They were silent again while Clark stared at the sunset. Lois couldn't take it any longer. "Kiss for your thoughts?"

Clark smiled at her. "It's nothing."

"Clark … " Lois challenged.

"Well — it's this whole move thing. This is home. Krypton was taken from me, and now this place will be as well. I just don't know what to do. Mom and Dad are so looking forward to this."

Lois turned Clark's face to look at hers. "Clark, I'm not going to beat around the bush. You're going to have to let it go. It may hurt to hear it, but it's time to move on. You and I and this baby are getting ready to start a home of our very own. It's time for you to realize that home is where you make it."

Clark nodded. "I want so very much to build a home — our home. I want my kids to feel as good about our home as I did about this one."

"Great. Now, what else is there?"

"Nothi … "

"Clark … "

He smiled. "Well — do you realize just what we may have gotten ourselves into with this family thing?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like the responsibilities, the time pressures, the raising them to be good people and productive members of society. Is my running off going to adversely affect them? Is your knack for dangling above the jaws of death going to hinder the positive developmental process?"

"I'm sure we can spend time with them and teach them the very best," Lois assured him.

"That's just it. Time. We barely have enough for each other as it is now. Where is the extra time a baby is going to need going to come from? As we've discussed before, we won't be able to just jump on the Superman Express and fly all over the wold. There will always be little ones to worry about. To give them the time they need, we will have to cut into the time we have for each other."

Now it was Lois' turn to be quiet and watch the sunset. The sun was a huge, orange ball just hovering above the horizon.

Clark broke the silence. "When I was young, I used to watch every sunset I could. It made me *feel* special. I didn't know about the solar power, or the aura at that time. But I could tell I felt different in the sunlight than I did at other times. I used to feel that they were orchestrated just for me. Some sort of special gift that I had to find out how to use.

"When I got older, and the powers started manifesting, I knew it was a sign that I was to do something special with them. I just didn't know what. I spent a lot of time looking at sunrises and sunsets trying to figure out what to do. I've seen them from all over the world, but none are like the ones at home, here on the range."

Lois couldn't resist the opening. "Home on the range? Where the deer and the antelope play?"

Clark smiled. "Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word."

"And the skies are not cloudy all day," Lois finished.

After a moment's pause, Clark said, "Everything will be all right. I'm sure of it. Just as I was sure that those rays of light the sun gives off as it sets were just for me." Lois looked at the sunset again. The clouds were partially covering the sun, and there where shafts of sunlight where it was escaping through a hole in the cloud.

"I used to think those shafts of light were a trail for me to follow. I could feel the sun drive its power to my very soul when I was in one of those shafts. I once chased a sunset all the way around the world, just to get close to them."

Lois laughed. "You're kidding … "

"Nope." He laughed. "Nearly scared Mom and Dad to death when I didn't come home for a whole day. It wasn't long after that, that I decided to travel. I felt like there was something for me out there. Guess that's what Mom and Dad are feeling now."

Lois grabbed Clark's hands, and held them in hers. "Clark, we are going to build the most wonderful home together."

The magic of the moment seized them, and they fell together in a passionate embrace. The world consisted of the two of them and the promise of their future together.

"I thought you were exhausted … " Clark asked between kisses.

"The sun energized me," Lois replied then proceeded to demonstrate for him.


The next morning, Lois woke up just in time to make a mad dash to the bathroom. She was tired and sick and sick of being tired and sick. The feeling tired wasn't as bad as the feeling of being sick. It wasn't happening a lot now, but it was too much for her taste.

"Speaking of taste … bleah … " Lois grabbed the mouthwash and gargled for a while. She came out of the bathroom, and found Clark still in bed, asleep. She looked at the clock and was shocked to see it read nine fifty in the morning. Oh my. Martha and Jonathan were going to suspect something was up for sure now.

She tried to wake Clark up, but nothing she tried seemed to even faze him in the least. She pulled the sheets down to reveal his muscular chest and stomach. She traced a finger down his breast bone toward his navel, admiring the landscape as she proceeded. She tried to tickle his belly-button, but that didn't work. She toyed with the little hairs there, and started to follow their trail lower to the waistband of his sleeping shorts.

'Mmmmm … don't go there, girl. You're not feeling good enough to finish what you could start by playing around in there … ' she thought to herself as she slipped her index finger just under the waistband and ran it back and forth. She pulled the band up about two inches (and was darned tempted to take a peek, but resisted mightily) and let them go, sending a resounding "Snap!" through the quiet of the room.

No response. 'Wow!' Lois did a quick review of what Clark had done the past few days. He'd been pretty stressed already before coming here, had the retirement bomb dropped on him, had the Iraqi disaster to take care of, miscellaneous small patrols of Metropolis at odd hours to keep the crooks in line while they were gone, the pressure of being a father suddenly brought to the foreground, and an extensive treehouse workout the night before.

Guess the poor boy did have a reason to be tired after all. The stress was probably just taking its toll. The quiet solitude of the farm did tend to help her relax and recharge. Clark was probably no different, thus his reluctance to accept the fact that it might not be here for him soon.

Lois decided to go downstairs and grab something to eat. Something small and … neutral. Hopefully, she could stall Martha and Jonathan long enough for Clark to wake up and they could tell them together.


Lois didn't have anything to worry about as Martha had left a note for them saying that Jonathan and she would be back around 11:00am. She fixed herself some herbal tea and some toast and sat down at the computer to do some email

work. Martha had shown her how to access their Internet Service Provider, and telnet over to the Daily Planet's host. She started to compose a letter for Jimmy to do some research, when she notice a message from the network gurus down in the netcave. They had installed some new internet phone software. Lois downloaded the plug-in to the Kent's computer and looked for Jimmy's "number." After a couple of rings, a voice vaguely recognizable as Jimmy's came over the speakers.

"Hello? This is Jimmy, who's calling?"

"Hey, Jimmy, it's me, Lois."

"Lois? Wow, you sound horrible. What are you using, a 14.4 modem?"

Lois looked for a modem, but couldn't find one. Must be an internal model. "I have no idea, I'm in Smallville, Kansas, remember?"

A low whistle came back as the response. "Wow. Works from way out there - amazing … "

"Jimmy, I need you to do some research for me."


"Okay, all I have is a series of names. Take them, combine them, do what ever magic on them and see if you come up with anything."

"All right, what are the names?"

"Grant. Hall. Nicole. Joshua. Craig. There was one more … oh yes, Mark. I'm looking for a man or a woman. Lived in Metropolis around six or seven years ago or so. I need to know who they are, what they did, and where they are at now."

"Geeze, you don't want much, do you. Want me to tell you their hair color as well?"

"Ha ha. The static on this thing is just horrible. Why would anyone want to use this in the first place?"

"Hey — it's the mark of the future, Lois. Get with it. I'm amazed it works at all from Kansas."

"Well, honestly, I am too. Don't let Clark hear you say that though."

The response was mostly garbled and broken. Lois hung up and sent some more email with detail of what she had learned from the people in Smallville. At the end she put the Kent's phone number, and fax number for good measure.

About that time, Clark came stumbling downstairs and into the kitchen. Lois logged off and followed him in. He had his back to her, and that waistband called her name again, so she slid up behind him and grabbed the waistband and pulled it back a good six inches, intending to let it fly. The sight of his bare back-side halted her in her tracks.

Clark had a suntan! "Clark! You have a tan line!"

"Huh?" He didn't sound as if he was fully awake yet.

"I said you have a tan line." Lois tipped his head forward and saw a faint tan line around his neck as well. His forearms were a bit darker than the rest of his body also. "Have you ever had a tan before?"

More awake now, Clark said, "No. Well, when I was a kid. But not since then. The sun quit affecting me that way years ago." He spun around and around as he tried to pull the waistband back on himself and turn enough to see what it looked like back there.

"What's going on Clark," Lois had a bad feeling about this.

"Calm down, Lois. It's just a tan line."

They heard a vehicle pull in the drive and Martha and Jonathan came in shortly after that.

"Hi kids! Finally decide to join the living?" Martha asked.

"Have you ever seen him tan since he started … " Lois gave the flying hand signal.

"No … " Martha suddenly got serious, as she walked over to inspect Clark for herself.

"Come on guys, this is embarrassing. I don't need my Mother looking at my rear-end … "

Clark suddenly got real still.

"Clark, this isn't normal, and we … "

"Shh … " Clark closed his eyes and let his senses extend. "Something isn't right."

"I *know* that — you've got a tan that you didn't have a day ago."

"No, not that. Something else. It's like that feeling I had the other night, with the Iraqi thing." He went into the living room and turned on the television.

Several reporters were jamming microphones in some man's face, trying to get their statements. The caption at the bottom of the screen read "Viktor Blagov, Deputy Flight Commander" next to the little LNN symbol.

"All we know now is that there has been an incident on the Mir space station," the man explained. "We do not know the nature of the problem. Communications are not working. The last message we received, which was very, *very* garbled, made mention of the emergency re-entry module. We do not know if the problem is with the module or Mir itself."

"I've got to go. They need help." He spun into the Suit.

Jonathan spoke up. "Clark, be careful out there. Remember how badly the last space station taxed your abilities."

Clark looked at Lois, as if asking permission.

"Oh Clark, I don't know. I … I don't feel like I can say no, don't go, and yet I don't want you to go."

Clark wrapped her in a hug. "I promise, I'll stop by STAR Labs on the way back to find out about the tan, and that other — thing. Okay?"

She nodded and he was gone.


Lois, Martha and Jonathan spent the next few hours taking turns watching LNN for updates on Clark and the space station. Superman had arrived just in time to prevent the aging space station from drifting so far off course that the earth's gravity well would have claimed it. There were the usual computer hardware problems, and leaky fluid claims made by the Russian Space Agency. Superman was reported to be assisting the space station inhabitants with "mechanical repairs" on the exterior of the Mir, but these reports were difficult to verify.

As the day wore on, it became apparent that Clark wouldn't be returning soon. One thing led to another, and Superman was kept busy all day, helping the world move on.


Twelve hours later, a very tired Superman stumbled into Dr. Klein's lab at STAR Labs.

"Superman! Clar … er … What … err … you look horrible." Dr. Klein rushed over to Clark, and pulled out a chair for the Man of Steel to collapse in.

"I feel horrible. I've got no energy left. I can barely fly. I can't lift much anymore, and I can't see as well as I used to. On top of all that," Clark pulled down around the collar of the Suit to expose his chest a bit more, "I'm getting a sun tan."


Clark was stripped to his underwear, laying on a table with lots of little wires sticky taped to his body. He had called Lois to let her know where he was, and that he might be a while. How much time had actually passed, he wasn't sure. After he had filled Dr. Klein in on his involvement in the Iraqi chemical weapons testing mishap, Dr. Klein had immediately started testing. Computers hummed and monitors flickered with information on all sides. Dr. Klein removed some paper from the laser printer and walked over to Clark and handed him a terry cloth robe.

"Here, put this on, I think we found something."

Clark put the robe on thankfully, he was actually starting to feel cold. "What did you find?"

"Your entire skin has been coated with some kind of chemical substance that has the most amazing properties. It behaves like a liquid crystal."

"A liquid crystal?"

"Yes, liquid crystals are composed of moderately sized organic molecules which tend to be elongated and shaped like a cigar. The literature is full of a variety of other, highly exotic shapes as well. Because of their elongated shape, under appropriate conditions the molecules can exhibit orientational order, where all the axes line up in a particular direction. As a result, this ordering can profoundly influence the way light and electricity behave in the material. For example, if the direction of the orientation of these molecules varies in space, the polarization of the light follows this variation. They are commonly used in liquid crystal displays. Under other conditions the molecules may form a stack of layers along any one direction, but remain liquid like within the individual layers … "

"Whoa! Dr. Klein, in English, please."

"Sorry. Basically, this material is orientating itself such that it is diverting the sun's energy away from your skin. It is using your aura and the sun itself as its energy sources. You don't have a sun tan, that's the substance itself. As it is exposed to more sun light, it strengthens, and thickens in those areas. The result is that the very thing that gives you your super powers is also powering something that keeps you from getting what you need."

"So, how do we stop it?"

"I don't know. But! I do have some theories. In the meantime, try to stay out of direct sunlight, and don't over-do it. I suspect you may be running on some kind of internal reserve. Flying is definitely out. It seems to be the largest consumer of your energy."

"How am I going to get home?"

"Take the bus? Or a cab? I'd take you home myself if I had the time, but I'm going to start right away on this … "

"No, no. Home as in," he dropped his voice to a whisper, "Smallville, Kansas."

"Oh! Oh … Oh … " He put his chin in his hand. After thinking for a bit he said, "Try walking, very fast."



Jimmy was extremely pleased with himself. Not only was he a supreme computer god, but he was beginning to turn into a pretty good investigative reporter. He was so happy, he called Lois in Kansas.

"Hello, Kent Residence," he recognized Lois' voice on the phone.

"Lois, it's Jimmy!"

"Jimmy! What can I do for you?"

"I've found out who your mystery people are, and boy are you going to be surprised."

Lois was shocked. He'd found out already? Wow.

"Well, who are they?"

"It took some brilliant hacking by yours truly, and some darn fine investigation work, I might add."

"Okay, great, you're a genius — now who are they?"

"Well, I started by running all the combinations of the names you gave me. Then I cross-referenced those with some of the other stuff. You know, the modeling, handy with his hands, junk like that. Man — I had to write this really cool data base engine in Python to … "

"I don't care about snakes or the Information Technology mumbo-jumbo, just give me the names." Jimmy was a sweetheart, but a bit too enthusiastic about himself sometimes.

"Okay. The woman is Nicole Craig, the rising super-model from several years back. You once covered a puff story about her about seven years ago or so … "

"Oh my gosh, you're right! I remember her now … "

"Yeah. Seems she got pregnant and dropped out of circulation. Her boyfriend wasn't the kind of guy anyone liked though. Everyone thought she could do better. Seems he was a real loser or something. I did some checking around with some of her old friends at the modeling agencies. Man, talk about heaven! Interviewing them was good. But to think someone has a job where they get to take pictures of them all day! And they get paid to do it! Wow. Now that's heaven."

"Jimmy, control your hormones just a little longer. What did you find out?"

"Well, someone said they thought his name was John. Someone else said no, it was Marcus. I asked if it was Mark, and the answer was no, it was definitely Marcus. Now, there *is* a Marcus Hallman, who just happens to be a big time crime syndicate hitman by the name of Marksman. Marcus 'Marksman' Hallman was one of the top eliminators in the business."


"And, he disappeared a little over six years ago, after he turned himself in, and turned state's evidence that put half of the Metropolis underground behind bars."

"Man oh man. I *knew* there was something here … "

"I figured, hey, he's in the witness protection program, right? So I hacked into their computer … "

"Uh, Jimmy, was that wise? I mean, isn't that a little — illegal?"

"Well, maybe. However, I managed to get in and get his and her mug shots. Couldn't find out any other information on them. It was too secure, and I didn't want to raise any flags." Jimmy dialed the Kent's fax number into the machine and loaded the pictures. "I'm faxing them to you now."

The machine on Lois' end answered the incoming call and started producing the pictures.

"Jimmy, you're great. We'll have to work on that little bit of illegal business, but when Perry hears about this, it will likely get you out of the dark room and out where the action is." Lois was grinning ear-to-ear as the first picture finished transferring and she could see Nicole Hall on the page.

"Wonder why they would want to hustle the farm away from Clark's parents?" she wondered out loud.

"What was that about a farm?" Jimmy asked.

"Oh, nothing. The second picture is almost in, thanks."


"Oh oh." Jimmy watched as two suits and dark sunglasses came off the elevator, and started walking rapidly towards Perry's office. "I've got to go Lois, bye." He grabbed the pictures out of the fax machine and walked slowly over to the paper shredder. He fed the pages in as normally as possible, not wanting to attract attention to himself.

The two men heard the paper shredder activate, and their attention was immediately drawn to Jimmy. "Hey! You there!"

Jimmy jumped and turned around. "Who, me?"

"What are you doing?"

"Oh nothing … "

The men came over and started digging through the box of shredded paper, looking for something. Not finding anything, they grabbed Jimmy and forced him into a chair.

"What were you doing?"

"What do you do here?"

"Have you ever been in trouble with the law before?"

"Have you ever seen this man before?" one of the men held up a picture of Marcus Hallman.

"What in Sam Hill's going on here? Jimmy, don't you answer any of those questions till the lawyers get here," Perry gruffly shoved his way between Jimmy and the men.

"Mr. White, we're with the FBI. If we wish to question this young man, we will do so."

"What exactly is this all about?" Perry asked. "Let me see some ID."

The two men exchanged glances. They pulled out their wallets and flashed the ID quickly. "My name is Det. James Reilly. Someone from this facility accessed a secured government computer and transferred potentially Top Secret information. We are here to determine the perpetrator, and take them in for further investigation."

Perry started to say, "Now, I'm sure no one here would … "

One of the men cut Perry off, and asked Jimmy, "You, did you hack into the government computer?"

As innocent as a newborn, Jimmy replied, "Hey, if I was *that* good with a computer, do you think I would be stuck in *this* crummy job?" He glanced over to see Perry giving him a none-too-pleased look. "Uh, sorry Chief."

Det. Reilly, the one who looked to be in charge, casually walked around the office. He spotted the fax machine. There were no printouts in the tray. He reached over and hit the redial button and the machine called the Kents' again, the phone number showing up on the display.

"Well, well, well. Let's see who this belongs to," James said.

Jimmy slumped back in his chair. "Oh, boy."


Det. James Reilly was sweating. He'd been on the inside for six years, waiting for this information. Now he was going to report the news to the appropriate people, and maybe he could get out and go south. He needed to get out of the business.

As he parked his car, a shadow fell over him from outside the driver's side door. He looked up into a set of eyes that gave definition to the word 'evil'.

"Stick! Wha … what are you doing here?"

"I've heard you may have information on the location of the Marksman."

"Well … what makes you think that?" He could feel the little bead of sweat form on his upper lip. Damn! His fear was starting to control him.

Richard 'Stick' Stull was a man who thrived on fear. He invented it. His reputation was large and well deserved. He, too, was one of the premier eliminators in the business. His problem was he enjoyed it too much. He wouldn't simply do the hit. He would capture his victims, spend hours or days torturing them, then kill them slowly.

His love for the business was what got him in trouble. Clients no longer wanted to be associated with him. Some things are too bad for even the criminals to take. He and the Marksman had a long, outstanding feud over territory. The syndicates' dismissal of him drove him crazy with hate for the Marksman.

"Listen. You tell me what you know, then I'll tell the syndicate. I'll pay you the usual fee. We both get what we want."

"I … I don't know. I think I should tell them myself."

"You can tell me now," he paused and twirled a walking stick between his fingers, " … or later. Much later." The walking stick came to a halt, firmly grasped in his hand.


Lois, Martha and Jonathan were all pacing the floor of the farm house living room. Jonathan paused to look out the window.

"When did he say he was leaving STAR Labs?" he asked no one in particular.

"Seven o'clock, a.m. He wanted to rest up after the tests Dr. Klein did on him."

Martha stopped pacing. "I wish he would have told us what they found out … "

Jonathan could see a small cloud of dust rising down the road, "Here comes someone — are we expecting anyone today?"

"No … " Martha went to look out the window.

A blue and red streak came blitzing down the road, turned into the drive and into the barn. By the time they had all exited the house, Clark came out, still buttoning his shirt, breathing heavily.

They all hugged him, and Lois asked, "What's wrong, Clark?"

"Come … come inside … " he said between breaths, " … and I'll … I'll tell you about it."

He explained as best he could about the liquid crystal coating, and how it was keeping the sun from getting to his body to power his abilities. He ate a large breakfast while he relayed the information. He'd never felt so hungry!

"So, slowly, you're using up your reserves and becoming more and more … " Lois trailed off.

Clark said flatly, "Normal."

Lois blushed. "Oh, Clark, I didn't mean it like that. Don't sound so down. I'm sure Dr. Klein will find something to reverse this."

"In the meantime, be careful. We don't want you hurting yourself around here, trying to do things you can't." Martha was always the mother. "Tonight is Joshua's Christmas play, and we are all going to watch, so let's all relax and have some fun till then."

Lois squirmed visibly in her chair.

Jonathan asked, "Lois, something wrong?"

"Ah … oh, no. Nothing, it's nothing. Just some story I was working on. I got some information that I need to talk to Clark about." She stood up, and motioned for Clark to follow her into the other room. "Come on, honey, I *really* need to talk to you."

Once out of earshot of Martha and Jonathan, she told Clark of Jimmy's findings about the Halls.

"I can't believe you interrogated a six-year-old, Lois!"

"I didn't interrogate him … I … passively interviewed him," Lois said defensively.

"Just like everyone in town, hmmmm?"

"Can I help it if they like to talk?"

"I can't believe you even felt the need to investigate them in the first place."

"Well, I had this feeling, and you know how my feelings are." Her look dared Clark to open his mouth and make a comment.

At his silence, she continued. "It's a good thing too. Who knows what scam he may be trying to run here?"

"Lois, he sounds like he gave up crime long ago … "

"Oh, yeah, sure. Mr. Always-see-the-good-in-a-person." She threw her hands in the air. "Look, someone needs to tell your parents about this," she poked the mug shots in her hand with her finger, "and this," she poked her stomach, "soon, or I'm going to explode."

"Okay, calm down. We'll tell them tonight, after the play, about the," he rolled his hands around an imaginary bulge around his middle, "and then we hit them with the other … thing, and let them decide. Okay?"



Martha led the group down front, and seated them in the pew behind the Halls. "Grant! I'd like you to meet my son and his wife. Clark, this is Grant Hall."

The two men shook hands. Clark noticed he did indeed have large, strong hands. The man was very physically fit, and he moved like a trained athlete.

"And this is his wife, Lois Lane."

Lois looked him straight in the eye, piercing him with an "I know who you are" look. He didn't miss it, and it caused him to nearly fall down with fear. Everything they had so patiently built was in danger of being destroyed. He was tired of the running. Tired of moving. Tired of the hunt. He just wanted a place he and his family could call home. They had found that in Smallville. Now, fate had thrown them into a relationship with Lois Lane. God help them survive. If she knew, who else knew? The Kents appeared to act normally. If they knew who he was, surely they couldn't act so oblivious. He looked at Clark again. Clark was looking on with a casual air, but he knew. Grant could see that Clark knew and was studying him for more information.

"Uh … Mr … uh … Clark, this is my wife, Nicole." Continuing introductions helped him think. He looked at Nicole, and realized she knew something was wrong. She looked at Lois and Clark, and he could see the fear widen her eyes just a little. Almost imperceptible, but he knew her well enough to see it. The music started, and the lights came down. Everyone took their seats, and began shushing each other to attentiveness. At the back of the church, a man walked in just as the doors were closed. He took a seat at the very back of the church, next to the aisle, and leaned his walking stick against the pew next to him.


"Oh, that was wonderful Joshua; you and your parents must come over for some hot cocoa," Martha said.


"Oh, no dear, we need to be going home. Santa's coming and you've got to get to bed." Grant rushed to get his coat on. The last thing they needed was to be in the same house as Lois and Clark.

"Yes, we need to get home," Nicole agreed.

"Awwww, mom … "

Jonathan joined in. "Nonsense, our house is on your way home. It's only nine o'clock, you have plenty of time to have something. I think there are some cut-out cookies as well."

"No, really … " Grant was stopped by a firm grip on his shoulder.

Clark looked him in the eyes. "Grant, it's okay. Come over and have something to drink. I promise."

The total sincerity in his voice was overwhelming. He looked at Lois and could see a marked difference. Her eyes almost said: "You're getting your chance, take it."

Nicole saw the looks and gave a tiny nod of approval. She'd learned long ago to trust Grant's intuition.

"Okay. We'll meet you there."


Martha was cleaning up the dishes and mugs, as Clark got up from the table. "Hey Joshua, let's go turn on the television and see if the news has anything about Santa on."

"Yeah!!!" Joshua jumped up from the table and led Clark into the other room.

Grant looked at Lois, and then at Nicole. "Martha, Jonathan. I have something to tell you about myself and Nicole." He took a deep breath and continued. "I only pray you have it in you to listen to the whole story before judging me."

He relayed the whole, complete story of who he was, what he had done and why he was here now.

"I've put my complete trust in your hands, now. If anyone finds out that we live here now — our lives are ruined." He looked at Lois. "Who else knows besides you?"

Lois said, "Just Clark, myself and Jimmy."


"He's the one who put all the pieces together, and hacked into the computer to find out who you are."

Nicole dropped her head in her hands. "Oh no. It's over now."

Grant put his arm around her, and pulled her close.

Jonathan had to ask. "What changed you, Grant?"

"I was starting to get sick of the whole thing. Another man, Stick, enjoyed his work too much. We never really got along well, but he just got worse and worse. I began to see that what we were doing was wrong." He gave Nicole another squeeze. "I wandered around the city for a while, and ended up at a church. I heard this lovely voice coming from inside and just had to see who it belonged to."

"He came in and it was love at first sight," she smiled.

"I told her about myself on the first date. I wanted to be completely open and honest with her. I wanted to know right up front if we had a future together."

"Imagine how I felt," Nicole continued. "Here is the man of my dreams. *The* one, I was sure. Only he's got a dark secret, he's a cold blooded killer."

Grant looked down, turning red with shame. Nicole squeezed his hand reassuringly.

"The first thing I had him do was start coming to church with me." Nicole sat back and rubbed her stomach absent-mindedly. "Once we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, we made the decision to marry."

"A few weeks later, I dedicated my life to Jesus Christ, and we had a private wedding ceremony the same day. We kept the marriage a secret. As a way to repent, we had agreed that I would turn myself in to the law." Grant shuffled in his chair. "I turned state's evidence on most of Metropolis' criminal underground. I knew they would be after me, and I didn't want them coming after Nicole."

Martha asked, "How many people did you put away?"

"Plenty. The big fish got away though."

"Who was that?" Lois asked.

Grant looked her in the eye. "Lex Luthor. Everyone knew he was one of the top men. I never got a direct order from him though. The DA thought it was laughable that a man of Luthor's standing would be involved. Especially since I had no hard evidence. Naturally, the people I got my orders from wouldn't talk. So, Luthor walked."

"I knew it! Even if this Lex isn't the Lex that did all those things to Clark and me, I knew he wasn't Mister Angel. The problem is, I still don't have any proof."

Grant continued. "After I got out of jail, the witness protection program stepped in and found us a place to live. Jobs, money, everything. We thought we had it made. I wanted to get away from big city life as much as possible. It reminded me too much of who I used to be and what I had done. We moved to rural America and I went to work as a field hand."

"Only someone kept finding us. We moved from place to place. Finally, we just took out on our own, and came here. We told the agency what we were doing, but not where we were going," Nicole said.

"The problem is," Grant said, standing up, "if you could find us, someone else will too."

"Maybe not." Lois stood up as well. "Jimmy is a pretty good hacker. Maybe no one noticed he was in the system?"

"I hope so. We just knew we had found our home," Nicole said.

Lois gave Nicole a hug. "I'm sorry. I feel awful. I get an idea in my head, and I run it down. I don't know what I'll do if I'm the cause of you losing your home again."

They all sat there in silence, no one knowing what to say.

"What about the farm?" Lois suddenly asked.

"The farm?" Grant looked puzzled.

"Yes, the Kent farm? Why did you talk them into retiring? What do you want the farm for?"

"To farm," he said as if the answer was as plain as the nose on his face.

"That's it!!??"

"What else is there?"


Grant and Nicole had just laid down for bed. Getting Joshua to settle down long enough to go to sleep had been a chore. He was so excited about Santa, he had been running around, bouncing off the walls, literally.

They were just drifting off, when the phone rang. Grant leaned over and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Hello, Marksman."

Adrenalin pumped through his veins as he realized who was on the other end.

"Stick!" he spit, with all the hate and contempt he felt.

"So good to hear you, too. Listen, and listen well. I have the Kents. I thought I might find you here, but all I found was your friends. It took some … persuading … to get this number. It wasn't nice to have an unlisted one."

The fear turned to hate. "If you've hurt them, I'll … "

"Save me the dramatic speech. You and I have a score to settle. Come to the Kent farm, and enter the barn from the west door. Bring no weapons. Contact no one. The Kents will be safe as long as you follow my instructions. Be there at dawn." The line went dead.

"Grant, what is it?" Nicole touched him and could feel him trembling all over.

"We've been found."

"Oh, no."

"Stick has the Kents," he jumped out of bed and turned to her. "You and Joshua need to get out of here now." He reached under the bed and pulled out the suitcases. He crossed the room to the dresser and opened the drawers.

"I'm not going anywhere, Grant. We're staying with you!"

He turned on her. "You don't understand! He's evil. He would love nothing more than to kill you both, while I watched, just to get a kick out of it. You *have* to save Joshua and the baby."

"Grant, I just can't leave you. You have to come with us."

He sat down on the bed. "He's got the Kents. If I don't show up, he'll kill them. I can't have that blood on my hands. Not now, I'm dirty enough as it is."

"Grant … "

He stood up and continued packing. "I've got to free them somehow before Stick and I clash. It's their only chance. They'll be lucky if he doesn't kill them before, just for the heck of it." He stopped and looked at his wife. "I love you. I'm going to finish this, here and now. I'm tired of running. One way or another, it ends here."

Nicole finally agreed to leave with Joshua. She got him ready, and Grant got the car. He burned into his memory their last kiss, the way she looked, smelt, felt. He wanted to remember every detail of this moment, so it would give him the strength to finish this last battle. As the tail lights disappeared down the road, he slipped the black mask down over his face, and set off toward the Kent farm. He had to free them before dawn.


Lois woke up, but couldn't remember where she was. She had a dull ache at the base of her skull that made it hard to think. She tried to sit up, only to realize she already was sitting. She tried to rub her hands, but couldn't move her arms. She could hear voices, and they sounded familiar.

"I think Lois is starting to come to, Jonathan."

"Lois! Lois, this is Jonathan, can you hear me?"

She tried to talk, but her tongue felt a mile thick. "Yeah, I can hear you. What happened? Where is Clark?" She tried to look around for him.

'Where to start!' Martha thought. "Lois, listen. We're being held in the barn. That man tied us all up. Clark still hasn't come to yet."

Lois was freezing. She could feel her body shivering, and wondered if it was from cold, fear, or both. "I'm cold," she mumbled.

Jonathan answered her, trying to sound assuring. "It's probably only in the high twenties outside this time of night. The wind is making it feel colder. Luckily, the barn is a bit warmer. The animals help, but I would guess it's still only around fifty degrees or so." Lois shook her head groggily, and looked around. They had been tied up in the middle of the barn, and dim light filtered in from the outside.

Martha called to Clark, bringing Lois further back to herself. "Clark! Clark, honey, can you hear me?"

Things were starting to come back to Lois now, and she gradually pieced together what she remembered of what had happened …


They had been getting ready for bed when Clark heard something downstairs.

"Honey, you'd best stay here."

"Don't be silly, Clark— this is Smallville, what could it be?"

Clark sighed, and started downstairs to investigate, with Lois hot on his heels. Without his superhearing, he hardly recognized the sounds of scuffling, until he burst in on a strange man wrestling with Jonathan in the kitchen.

The man had a gun, but Jonathan had such a grip on the man's wrist and hand that he wasn't able to use it effectively. Jonathan might have looked out of shape, but one didn't work the land for more than fifty years and not benefit from it in some way.

Lois noticed Martha laying nearby. She was not moving, and the sight sent a chill down Lois' spine.

Jonathan's hands were big and strong, and he used his weight advantage to keep the man off balance. The other man was a bit surprised by his strength, and was having trouble recovering. Clark rushed in to give his assistance; he may not have had much Super ability left, but seeing his parents in danger forced him into action.

When the other man saw Clark advancing on them, he deftly twisted under Jonathan and sent him sprawling towards Clark. Clark couldn't just let Jonathan fall, and caught him before he hit the floor. Unfortunately, the man took that opportunity to connect the walking stick he carried with the base of Jonathan's skull. He slumped to the floor in Clark's arms, a sight that enraged Lois as she saw the shock and pain on her husband's face. The man smiled. He was enjoying this! She launched herself at him, not thinking of the gun, which the man had strangely thrown aside.

'Look before you leap … ' went through her head briefly as she landed one good kick before the man gracefully countered her motion, sending her slamming into the kitchen wall. Dazed, all she could see was Clark, his face a contorted mask of rage as he set his father down on the floor. Hate burned in his eyes so brightly she could almost imagine it was heat vision … almost.

"Clar … " she stammered as she felt the stick strike the back of her head, seeing Clark's look change from rage to horror as she fell. The last thing she saw was Clark throwing himself at the man; then, all went dark.


She looked around again, and could see from the dim light that Jonathan had blood running down the side of his head. His left eye was swollen and his lip was cut. Martha was also sporting a black eye. They were all tied in the sitting position to chairs, spaced equally apart, facing one another. She looked to her left to find Clark, and gasped at what she saw.

He looked like he had been beaten to a pulp. Blood flowed freely from several places on his head, face, chest, arms and hands. The remains of his shirt were stained a dark color, and little pools of blood were forming in the dust beneath his feet.

Lois nearly choked with panic. "Clark! Clark can you hear me!"

His head hung loosely to one side, and he didn't respond.

"Oh my God, Clark." He must have given that … monster … a time of it to have deserved such treatment. She felt so alone.

"Lois, he *will* be all right. He's been breathing fine." Martha's calm voice help smother her feelings. "He's not bleeding as much as he was. I'm still worried about him, though."

Lois looked back over at the two of them. They looked beaten and worn. "How long have we been here?"

"I've no idea," Jonathan confessed.

Lois sat there, trying to clear her head enough to think. "Who was that man? What does he want?"

"His name is Stick," Grant whispered as he appeared out of the shadows, "and he wants me."

To their credit, everyone knew enough to keep quiet. Grant checked on Clark's condition, and expertly wrapped a strip of cloth around the largest bleeder on his head. "We have to get you out of here." He opened a knife and was about to cut Lois' ropes when they were bathed in light.

"Naughty, naughty Marksman. I said show up at dawn. You're an hour early." He shone a large flashlight at them.

Grant spun on him. "Let them go. I'm here. Let's finish this so I can get on with my life."

"You're such an optimist. What makes you think you will have a life to get on with?"

"Listen, let them go and we can take this somewhere where we won't be bothered. Just you and me."

"Tempting. However, I anticipated your attempt to save your friends." He walked over and opened the door to the other half of the barn. Tied to a chair at the far end of the barn was Nicole Hall. Joshua was tied to a post near by.

"You son-of-a … "

"I didn't know you had married. Wives are a liability in our field, Marksman. You should know that."

"Why? Why are you doing this?"

Stick shrugged. "I feel I've been wronged. You're going to pay. Simple as that. I made sure no one would find you but me."

"All right, I found you, and you found me. Let the others go— you don't want them."

Stick smiled. "Oh, but I do. I want your lovely wife and your friends to be able to watch, as I slowly take your life, bit by bit. Then, just as you're begging me to release you from this hell-hole, I'll make you watch as I take my time with your friends and wife. The little tyke over there isn't worth my time, so I'll just finish him quickly."

Grant began to tremble all over, barely containing his rage. He let the knife slip from his hand, and it fell to the dirt floor.

"The big one there gave me quite a fight. He softened me up for you. He could have been a player in the Game with some training. Too bad he won't survive long enough."

Stick turned half his attention to Nicole. "The baby's due soon, huh? Would you like to know what it is before you die?" He produced a large knife and ran his thumb down the blade.

Lois nearly vomited, she was so revolted. Grant simply threw himself at Stick in an all-out attack of fury. The suddenness of his attack had caught Stick off guard, causing him to drop the knife and back pedal at first.

The scene was like a street fight from hell. Blow after blow was delivered and deflected with trained precision. Both parties traded offense and defense as the battle moved from one location to another. Everything that wasn't tied down became a weapon in the hands of these two killers. They were completely silent except for the grunts and groans of the exertion they endured. Their worlds existed of each other, their concentration was so intense. A stray hubcap came flying across the barn, striking Clark in the stomach.

Lois yelped at seeing him get hit, and Clark jerked awake. He struggled to keep his head upright. He could hear lots of commotion around him, and someone was calling his name. He opened his eyes to see Lois and his parents, tied to chairs. The memory of last night's events flooded his mind. He struggled, but found his head hurt too much. The ropes bit into his skin, searing a path of pain where they touched.

"Clark, talk to me. Are you all right? Clark!" Lois was eyeing the knife Grant had dropped not too far from her. If she could just get to it, she could set them all free and they could escape. That would take Stick's advantage from him. Then they could call for help. She began rocking her chair back and forth, trying to tip it over.

Clark's muddled mind could see two men fighting. He saw one of them throw something and watched as Lois' chair toppled over. "Lois!" he screamed. 'If anything happened to her, I couldn't live with myself,' he thought.

He struggled with the ropes some more, but was rewarded only with pain. He calmed himself, and turned his concentration inward. He tried to block out everything around him. He searched within himself, deeper and deeper. Stretching his consciousness to every molecule of his being, drawing on every last bit of energy he could use. Pooling it into a growing reserve of strength. He could feel the pain start to ease and mentally shut down his regeneration to conserve the energy. He would need every last bit to break free. He let the pool grow and grow, thinking of one thing, family.

Lois watched as Clark grew still. "My God, I'm losing him!" She struggled with the chair to wrestle it toward the knife she could see, just feet from her. "Clark, don't you give up on me, not now. Clark? Clark!"

Hearing her call his name sparked him into action. He threw himself against the ropes that bound his wrists and chest. He could feel them cut into him. He could also feel them give, just a little. He sent the energy flowing down his arms and into his chest. The sunlight started trickling in through the cracks between the boards of the side of the barn. He could feel its warmth on his face, see its glow through his clenched eyelids. 'I've got to try harder! I've got to dig deeper!'

Lois, Jonathan and Martha watched as Clark strained against the ropes that bound him. To their amazement, little cracks started forming on his skin around where the rope was cutting into him. A large crack opened up down his breast bone, in the center of his chest. They could hear the audible cracking as is split.

"Clark! No!" Martha was numb with fear. Her son was literally tearing the skin from his bones in his attempt to free himself!

Clark tried to expand his chest and arms even more. He could feel the muscles crying in pain from being overworked. He blocked out the feeling and commanded them to pull harder. 'I'm trying Lois, I'm trying. It's … just … so … hard … ' His face was turning dark purple as the blood flowed to his head. The veins on his arms, chest, neck and head were bulging. The ropes creaked and groaned but held.

'Must … try … harder … ' the darkness started to enclose on him. He could feel himself starting to descend into it. 'Lois … '

The ropes snapped loudly and they popped one by one. Clark fell forward and rolled over, releasing a lung full of air he had been holding.

"Clark! You did it!" Lois whispered in his ear. "Clark, stay with us here. There is a knife, just two feet to your left. Can you reach it? Clark?"

He gasped for air. His chest and wrists felt like they were on fire. The sunlight poured into the barn more freely. Little shafts of light pierced him where he lay on the dirt and hay floor. It felt like every shaft of light was stabbing him to his soul. The feeling was a mixture of pain and pleasure at the same time. 'The coating! The ropes must have cracked through the coating, and the sunlight is reaching my skin.' The largest area of pain/pleasure was his chest. He started clawing at his chest, trying to rip more sections of the coating away so he could soak up more sunlight.

At first, Martha couldn't understand what Clark was doing. "Clark! Stop, you're just going to hurt yourself even more!" she pleaded. He was pulling off large chunks of his skin, similar to when he had blistered after getting sunburned when he was alittle boy.

"It's that stuff, that liquid crystal stuff!" Jonathan exclaimed excitedly. "That's it, Clark, peel it off. There's a large pool of light to your left, boy!"

Clark heard the instructions and threw himself into it. He could feel the sunlight coursing through his energy-starved system. He was drinking it in as fast as he could. He looked back to the right and saw the knife. He left the sunlight just long enough to retrieve it, his cell structure screaming its displeasure at losing the sun's magic. He flopped back into the sun to recover a second before looking for Lois.

"Right here, Clark." She had managed to wiggle around so her hands were accessible to him, without him having to leave the light. He cut her ropes and laid back to soak up more energy.

Lois shed the ropes easily, picked up the knife and cut Martha and Jonathan loose. They turned around as one as Clark stood in the sunlight and gave them all a hug. A loud noise behind them caught their attention.

Grant was starting to wear down. The work around the farm had kept him fit, but his lack of practice was beginning to show. He was beginning to fear he was going to lose this battle. He looked for Nicole and caught a glimpse of the fear and desperation in her eyes. Stick came in low, with a roundhouse kick aimed at his knees. Grant jumped just high enough to avoid it and clipped the back of Stick's head with a kick of his own.

Stick stumbled back, out of reach and paused, panting to regain his breath. "You're good. But I can tell you haven't practiced. Sooner or later, you will slip up. Then I'll be there … "

"Not today." Lois' strong clear voice echoed through the barn. Martha had run to call for help, while Jonathan, Clark and she had gathered pitchforks and some rope. Clark was careful to stay within the sunlight.

Stick stared at them in disbelief. He had been so confident in himself, he couldn't believe they were standing there. "How did you get loose?"

"Determination," Clark answered. "It's over for you. You're no match for the four of us. Not this time." The increasing power level was boosting his confidence.

Stick assessed the situation and had to agree. This young man looked different. Larger, more confident. Grant was a match by himself. The big guy was good as well. Stick remembered how long it had taken him to gain the advantage last time. The girl was surprisingly strong and quick. His back still hurt from the kick she had delivered. The old man didn't look like much, but he knew of the hidden strength that was there. The old woman wasn't to be seen, so she must have gone to call for help.

"It's over for you, Stick," Grant said.

"Maybe, but I'll make sure you suffer, just the same." He pulled a gun from his boot, and turned it toward Nicole.

Clark *knew* as soon as Stick reached down, what was going to happen. He knew he wouldn't make it to Stick in time, but he might be able to get to Nicole. He was on his way before Stick drew the gun from his boot, moving as fast as his sun-starved body would allow. He saw the gun come up and level in her direction. He saw the bullet exit the barrel of the gun. He watched as it approached her, he and it in a race to get to her first. He knew he wasn't going to make it; he hadn't absorbed enough sunlight. The coating was still in place over a large percentage of his body, blocking the sun's effect. He leapt into the air, trying to propel his body forward. A thought sprang to his mind. He exhaled as hard as he could, blowing Nicole over backwards. Hopefully the dirt and hay floor would soften her fall. She started to fall slowly, and Clark was scared it wouldn't be enough. In a last ditch effort, he shot the bullet with a low intensity beam of heat vision to try to deflect its path. The bullet caught Nicole in the upper shoulder, going completely through the fleshy part.

Lois saw what Stick was going to do as well, and launched herself at him. She saw Clark knock Nicole over, and was going to make sure Stick didn't get a second shot off. She kicked his wrist up before he could do anything else, the gun flying off into the haystacks. She spun around backwards and delivered a roundhouse kick to his stomach, sending him sprawling backwards.

Grant stood rooted in his spot like a giant tree. He saw the gun in Stick's hands, and felt completely out of control. How could he stop a bullet? He stood helplessly as he watched Stick aim the gun at Nicole and pull the trigger. He automatically turned to look for his wife. He watched as Clark seemed to push Nicole over. He couldn't tell if she had been hit. Lois had gotten to Stick, and was in the process of putting him out of commission, when Grant regained the ability to move. Grant ran to Nicole's side, and saw the blood on her shirt. "No! Oh God, please, no."

Nicole grabbed him. "Grant, I'm alive." He sobbed heavily as he pulled her to him. "Grant. The baby, it's … it's coming Grant. It can't come now, not now — it's too soon."

"Okay, hon. Help's on the way, I just know it. Hold on."

Stick kicked out suddenly, knocking Lois into Jonathan. He jumped up and started fishing in his other boot for something. The commotion grabbed Grant's attention and he picked up the first thing his hand found. He threw the large knife Stick had dropped earlier, striking Stick in the chest. The man gave him a look of contempt, then fell backwards, still clutching the throwing knife meant for Grant's heart..


Lois, Clark, Jonathan and Martha sat around the Christmas tree, the presents still where they had been. The sun had helped Clark's injuries to heal quickly, and after convincing everyone at the Smallville Hospital that they were fine, they were sent home. The doctors assured them that Lois' pregnancy had not been affected in any way.

Nicole had not fared so well. Efforts to stop her labor had failed and she was air-lifted to Wichita where more capable hands could watch over her. The hospital in Smallville just wasn't equipped to deal with that kind of problem.

"Some Christmas," Lois said to no one in particular. "I had such hopes for a quiet, warm, happy day with friends and family."

Martha stood up. "Well, we're all here, I'm tired of sitting around and moping about. Yes, things are bad, but let's try to remember what the season is all about. It's about being thankful, and giving. It's about friendship and hope. We can't let what happened to us last night ruin our Christmas. If we do, then in a way, Stick won one of his battles. I, for one, am not going to give him the satisfaction."

Jonathan smiled and shook his head. "Only you would take the disaster that happened here, and try to turn it around for the good."

"Nope," Lois said, "I know someone else who would, too." She leaned over and gave Clark a big kiss. "And he happens to be the most wonderful husband in the whole world."

"Thanks. I'm just glad we are all here to have a Christmas. I thought we weren't going to make it. When I couldn't break those ropes … I got so scared." He pulled Lois in for a hug. "I just kept thinking of you and our family. Family is what drove me to overcome my weakness, to dig deep, deep down, and pull that extra little bit."

"Family can move mountains, Clark." Jonathan stood up and gave Martha a big hug and a long, long kiss. Clark and Lois started blushing, feeling a bit uncomfortable witnessing this rare exchange of passion between Jonathan and Martha.

Clark cleared his throat. "Uh, gee Lois. Think this is how other people feel when we do that?"

Martha broke the kiss and took a deep breath. "Whew! We better get to these presents before we have to send the kids off on some errand so I can have you alone to myself, big guy."

Lois and Clark got up and offered to play Santa. They each took turns opening a gift, and thanking the giver. After all the presents had been opened, and the pile of shredded wrapping paper threatened to engulf them all, Lois and Clark stood up in front of Martha and Jonathan.

"Well, we have one more gift to give you," Clark started.

"But you're going to have to wait about seven or more months till you get to unwrap it."

Confusion showed on the elderly couple's faces for a few seconds.

"Oh my, you mean … you and Clark," Jonathan stumbled for the words.

"Jonathan and I are … " Martha was starting to cry.

"I'm pregnant!"

"Hello, Grandma and Grandpa Kent, meet Baby Kent," Clark patted Lois' stomach.

Jonathan and Martha sprang out of their seats and hugged them both so hard they thought their eyes would pop out.

"We've been trying to tell you *forever*, but something always came up," Lois offered between hugs.

"We just found out about a week ago," Clark said.

Realization dawned on Martha. "That's why you're so tired all the time! And why you get hungry suddenly."

"And why I've been throwing up in the bathroom from time to time."

Jonathan laughed out loud. "You did a good job of hiding it; I don't think I ever noticed."

Martha hugged Lois again. "How far along are you?"

"Well, we're not 100% sure, but I think around six to eight weeks," Lois said.

"Oh, you should be able to hear the heartbeat soon. I think that's around that time frame isn't it?"

"Around ten weeks," Lois said nervously, "we're a bit skittish about seeing a 'normal' doctor. I've got a friend that's an OB/GYN. We'll probably go see her when we get back."

"This is wonderful news. The first place we are going to go after we retire is Metropolis," Jonathan stated.

"Yes, and we are going to spoil that kid rotten," Martha added.

"About the retirement," Clark spoke up. "I'm sorry I acted the way I did."

"That's okay, Clark. After talking things over with your mother, I think we have decided to keep the farm house and some small acreage. We'll lease the remaining land to keep some income going. We're still going to travel, though."

"And I'm sorry I caused all this mess with the Halls. I can't ever seem to leave things well enough alone," Lois said as her face showed her worry.

Martha, put her arm around her shoulder. "You were only thinking of us."

"Still doesn't help me feel better." Lois walked over to the window and looked out. "At least it could have snowed; a white Christmas would have been something to see."

Clark walked up behind her. "Wait an hour. You may get your wish."

Jonathan said. "Yes, Wichita is getting snow now. I wouldn't be surprised if we got some before the day was over."

Lois looked out at the overcast skies. "I hope everything is going well for them."

"Let's all say a little prayer, just in case," Martha suggested.


Grant looked out the window of the hospital room at the snow blowing below. Joshua was asleep in one bed, and Nicole was asleep in the other. They hadn't been able to stop Nicole's labor, and their baby girl, Christine, was born nearly six weeks premature. It had been a stressful delivery, and in the end, they had to go in and take her via a Cesarean. The doctors had rushed the baby away before Grant and Nicole had even gotten a chance to see her. Ever since, they had asked about her and were told that she was in extremely critical condition. They hadn't been allowed to see her yet, and it was driving Grant crazy.

Nicole and Joshua had finally given in to exhaustion, Joshua sleeping with his mother. The poor boy would probably be mentally scarred for life after what he was put through. It was hard to be optimistic with your life falling apart around you.

The only good thing was that Stick had admitted he was the only one to know about them. Now, Stick wasn't a problem anymore. They could stay in Smallville if they wanted. There would be lots of questions, but Jonathan and Martha said that they would take care of everything. Lois and Clark said they would help as well.

Lois and Clark, there was an interesting pair. Grant had never known anyone to hold out against Stick as long as Clark had who wasn't a trained player. He had never seen anyone move so quickly, either. Lois was equally amazing. She had somehow known to go after Stick when Clark went for Nicole. He hadn't been able to do anything but stand there and watch. God himself must have propelled Clark to get to Nicole as quickly as he had done. For the millionth time that day, Grant said a quick prayer of thanks and pleaded for his young daughter's life.

The doctor suddenly entered the room, his face set in stone. "Oh no! This is it, isn't it?"

Nicole was instantly awake. "Where's my baby girl? I want to see her."

The doctor sighed heavily. "Your daughter is only six week premature. Normally, the outlook is very good in these cases. She isn't breathing on her own, so we're using a machine to breathe for her. This isn't uncommon, and should be temporary until her own systems can take over. She may have difficulty eating, so we may have to feed her through a tube. Again, this sort of thing isn't that uncommon." He paced back and forth as he talked, then stopped and took a deep breath. Nicole reached for Grant.

"However," he licked his lips and continued, "for some reason Christine's functions aren't stabilizing. She shows little signs of life. We've done everything we can, but it's almost as if she doesn't have the will to live. For no medical reason that we can determine, her condition isn't improving."

Nicole was shaking with tears, and Grant sat down, too stunned to say anything.

The doctor looked pained, and continued with difficulty. "I'm sorry my news isn't better, but I didn't feel you should be kept in the dark any longer. We'll do everything we can to help Christine, but right now, there isn't much we can do but wait."

"Can we see her?"

"You can see her, but you probably won't be able to touch her. She is extremely sensitive to sensory overload. After a while, the sensations become painful." The doctor turned toward the door and spoke over his shoulder. "I'll … have a nurse get one of our private rooms and come and get you when we're ready."


No amount of preparation would have prepared them for what they saw. Little Christine was in an incubator, stripped naked, tubes and wires running everywhere. There was a blindfold over her eyes. Her little hands and feet were a dark purple from bruising. A needle was stuck high in the soft spot on top of her skull. Monitors were everywhere, reading out heart rate, blood-oxygen level, respiratory rate, everything. A large mouthpiece was attached to a tube in her throat, and a smaller tube was stuck down her nostril. She lay there motionless, looking like she was dead already. She was so tiny, she was nearly lost in it all.

Grant and Nicole clutched each other for support. Joshua simply said, "Oh man … " They approached the incubator slowly. A nurse came up and greeted them.

"Hello, my name is Sheila. I'm here to answer any questions you may have and to help with your visit. Would you like to hold her?"

Nicole simply nodded as she sat down in the large rocker.

The nurse got out several pieces of clothes and some blankets. "She can't regulate her temperature yet, which is why she is under the lights. The blindfold protects her eyes. The hands and feet are bruised from the IV's. They only work so long in each place, before they clog up. Her little veins are so small." She began opening the container and dressing her. Christine's little arms and legs shuddered and quivered at the assault. "Don't worry, that's normal. She's not used to the stimuli." After she was bundled up and a stocking cap put on her head, the nurse handed her to Nicole. The doctor walked in shortly after that.

"Hey, little one. How are you? You're so precious … " Nicole choked back the tears so she could talk.

"Hey, Christine, this is your Daddy … "

They sat there for about a half an hour under the doctor's watchful eye, talking to her, but getting no response. Finally, the doctor said, "It's time we put her back under the lights. We are going to change some of her needles and her bedding, start some new IV's, and hopefully get her stabilized for the next few days. We need to discuss where to go next with her treatment."

Grant and Nicole nodded their agreement.

Sheila began preparing the incubator. "We'll need to turn off some of the equipment. Don't let the alarms scare you."

"I … I have a … poem, a song really, that I'd like to read to her. It's silly I know," Nicole sniffed loudly, "but it tells her how I feel."

"That's fine," the doctor said. He began sorting out the wires and tubes.

Nicole pulled the crumpled paper out of her robe pocket, spilling several tissues in the process. She had copied the words down from memory, she trusted she had them right. She smoothed the paper out and began reading.

*"Fly, fly little wing

Fly beyond imagining

The softest cloud, the whitest dove

Upon the wind of heaven's love

Past the planets and the stars

Leave this lonely world of ours

Escape the sorrow and the pain

And fly again"*

The doctor unhooked the blood-oxygen monitor, and it squealed its protest.

*"Fly, fly precious one

Your endless journey has begun

Take your gentle happiness

Far too beautiful for this

Cross over to the other shore

There is peace forevermore

But hold this mem'ry bittersweet

Until we meet"*

It grew quiet in the room as the monitors were turned off one by one.

* "Fly, fly do not fear

Don't waste a breath, don't shed a tear

Your heart is pure, your soul is free

Be on your way, don't wait for me

Above the universe you'll climb

On beyond the hands of time

The moon will rise, the sun will set

But I won't forget"*

The nurse felt the tears fill her eyes. She was finding it difficult to see what she was doing.

*"Fly, fly little wing

Fly where only angels sing

Fly away, the time is right

Go now, find the light"*

The doctor turned off the lung machine that was breathing for Christine, and took the tubes out of her mouth. "We can't leave this off for too long," the doctor informed them.

Joshua spoke up for the first time. "Mamma, I want to sing my song to her. Like I did when she was inside your tummy." He looked up at them with innocent eyes. "Can I?"

"Sure, honey. You can sing as much as you want."

He stepped up close to her head, and whispered to her ear. "Hi Christine. I'm your brother, Joshua. You can call me Josh, it's easier to say. Remember me? I used to sing to you. I'll sing your favorite song, if you would like me to?"

Christine coughed a tiny cough, her breathing changing rhythm.

In a voice clear and pure, Joshua sang the only verse he knew of his favorite song.

*"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

You make me happy when skies are grey.

You'll never know dear, how much I love you.

Please don't take my sunshine away.*

*You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

You make me happy when skies are grey.

You'll never know dear, how much I love you.

Please don't take my sunshine away."*

At one time, Nicole thought she might go crazy if she heard that song one more time. Now, she'd give anything to keep the little sunshine she held in her arms right now.

Christine coughed again, and her arm twitched. She somehow managed to get it unwrapped from the bundle it was in. She sneezed and then turned her head toward Joshua's singing.

"See Mamma? She likes this song." Joshua bent over her again.

*"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

You make me happy when skies are grey.

You'll never know dear, how much I love you.

Please don't take my sunshine away."*

He repeated the verse over, and over. The more he sang, the more animated Christine became. Finally, her little eyes came open, and she blinked at having seen the world for the first time.

"Oh my God … " the nurse said.

The doctor looked up from his chart into two little coal black eyes.

"She's looking for me, Mamma!" Joshua exclaimed loudly. At his shout, Christine closed her eyes shut tightly. He whispered the verse again, and she opened them slowly, blinked, then shut them again.

On a hunch, the doctor pulled out a small nursing bottle, and poured one ounce of formula into it. He handed it to Nicole. "See if she will take this. She might not be able to suck very well, you may have to coax her."

Nicole took the bottle. "Keep singing, Joshua … " She put it up to the tiny lips and wiggled the nipple. "Come on, sweetheart, open up."

Christine felt the bottle and slowly opened her mouth. Her little tongue touched the nipple and she automatically latched onto it. She had trouble forming a good seal for suction, but she pulled on it readily. Every time Joshua would quit singing, she would stop eating.

Joshua switched to other songs. Nursery rhymes, Christmas songs, everything he could remember. As long as he sang, she ate.

After about twenty minutes, the doctor took the bottle from Nicole. "We don't want her expending more energy eating than she is getting from the calories in the formula. We'll try again later if we can." He helped Nicole sit Christine up a bit and suggested. "See if she will burp for you."

Nicole lifted her a couple inches to get a better grip on her, and Christine let out a loud burp. Joshua laughed loudly, and Christine wrinkled up her face.

"Joshua, honey, loud noises hurt her. Let's be sure we whisper, okay?" Nicole asked.

"All right," he whispered back.

Grant looked down at his daughter; she was getting sleepy. He gently reached out for her and took her from Nicole. He laid her up on his shoulder and hummed to her. She felt so good he thought he would die from happiness.

"It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen," the doctor said. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it. We'll have to run some more tests, but from the looks of things, she may pull through this yet."

Grant sat down on his knees and pulled Joshua and Nicole into a big embrace. A family hug. "Everything is going to be all right now, doctor. You'll see. The good Lord just delivered another Christmas baby. And we're going to make sure she has a wonderful life with us, together. At home."


Lois was curled up in Clark's warm embrace as they sat on the sofa, listening to the fire crackle and pop. Christmas music played softly in the background, and Martha and Jonathan were humming along, holding hands and sipping fresh egg nog. They hadn't moved around a whole lot all day; everyone being content to let their sore bodies heal.

Lois let out a long sigh. "You were right; I did get a white Christmas." Big, chunky flakes fell slowly past the front window.

Clark pulled her closer for a small hug. "You know what they say about the weather in Kansas … "

" … If you don't like it; wait an hour," Jonathan finished for him. He gave a heart-warming smile to Martha when she chuckled.

"Other than how the day started, this is how I always dreamed Christmas should be," Lois stated. "Together with the ones you love. Sharing. Watching the snow fall. Listening to 'Silent Night.'"

Clark kissed her on the forehead. "You even got to learn how to make stuffing."

"That's right. It doesn't come in the bird you know," Lois said mockingly.

Clark smiled at the memory. "I've never seen so much food for so few people in my entire life."

"We had a pretty good spread today," Jonathan said.

"That's because I was expecting more people for dinner," Martha explained.

Lois' mood darkened slightly. "We haven't heard from the Halls. I hope everything is all right."

Jonathan stood up and walked to the fireplace. "That's one of the things Christmas is about. Hope." He stirred the burning embers of the fire.

"And faith," Martha added. "We must have faith."

The phone rang, and Martha stood up. "I'll get it. I need a refill anyway."

Lois stood up and walked over to the window, peering out at the gently drifting snow. "I hope they can still carry on their lives here. It's tough, looking for something all your life, then having it taken from you time and time again."

Clark came up behind her, and placed his hands on her shoulders. "What were you looking for?"

Lois looked at his reflection in the window pane. "Someone to love me as much as I was willing to love them." She turned around and looked him in the eyes. In a whisper she said, "I was lucky enough to find what I was searching for."

"It's a girl!" Martha screamed from the other room. Everyone turned as she came running into the room, her face awash with happiness. "It's a girl and she's doing better than expected. Tomorrow the doctor is going to talk about a schedule for coming home. It may take a few weeks, but they don't expect a lot of problems."

Lois let her head fall to Clark's chest as he wrapped his arms around her. "Maybe it will work out after all," she said.

Clark lifted a piece of mistletoe over Lois' head. He held it there patiently, until she noticed the silly grin on his face. She looked up and smiled.

Clark gave her a long, soft kiss. He slowly lowered the mistletoe as Lois quickly captured his lips for a second, deeper kiss.

"Agghhmmmm … " Jonathan politely cleared his throat. Lois and Clark looked up.

"May I borrow that mistletoe, please?"



"Fly" — Celine Dion. From the Album "Falling Into You".

Written By: Jean-Jacques Goldman and Phil Galdston

Produced By: Jean-Jacques Goldman and Humberto Gatica

Published By: 1996 Les Editions JRG/CRB Music Publishing

"You Are My Sunshine" — words and music by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell, 1940.

Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 5 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1998 to the author.