By IRC Round Robin
Submitted May 1999
Summary: Another of the group's "Unintentional Season" stories. (To read the others in order, visit either Pam Jernigan's or Anne Ciotola's terrific sites.) Morgan Edge, the renegade editor with Intergang connections who made Lois and Clark miserable a few stories ago, is back. This time he's in charge of a rival news operation that seems bent on undermining Superman any way it can. Meanwhile on the homefront Ellen Lane decides that Lois and Clark can use her *special touch* in setting up the nursery.
An IRC Round Robin by ChrisM <email@example.com>; chrispat <firstname.lastname@example.org>; CKGroupie <NKWolke@t-online.de>; Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; Mackteach <Mackteach@aol.com>; Melisma <email@example.com>; Misha <firstname.lastname@example.org>; zoomway <email@example.com>
Another bustling morning in Metropolis, and Perry White reveled in it as he walked from the donut shop to his home-away-from-home, The Daily Planet building. He loved this city, the people in it, and the news they generated. The news business had been meat and drink to him for so many years now that he couldn't imagine doing anything else with his life. His one attempt at retirement had been short-lived, thank goodness, and he didn't think he'd ever try that again. No, siree … they'd have to carry him out the next time!
Smiling in a self-satisfied way, he paused at the newsstand in the Planet lobby—it was always a good idea to check on what the competition was doing. His glance fell upon the latest issue of Newstime magazine and he picked it up, a whistle of surprise escaping through his pursed lips. What in the name of the King was going on here?
Newstime used to have real news in it, but this! This looked more like those rags Perry detested so much, The National Whisper or The Dirt Digger.
He shook his head sadly, pondering the fall from grace of such a well-respected journal. Still, he thought with the air of someone willing to put the best face on a bad situation, this would mean less competition for the Planet.
A little further downtown, Morgan Edge was proudly surveying a duplicate copy of that same Newstime edition.
This was his chance, and he knew it. He also knew it could be his last chance to make good with a certain blonde crime lord … Or would that be lordess?
A smirk crossed his face. 'Goddess' would be closer to how she thought of herself, he thought ruefully. She certainly didn't hesitate to do exactly as she wanted, and seemed to think she was above the problems and concerns of normal people. Well, even Miss Mindy could be—
The phone on his desk buzzed at him, and he crossed the room to answer it. "Yes?"
"There's a call for you on line 2, Mr. Edge."
"I'm busy. I told you."
"She said you'd want to speak with her, sir."
She? It couldn't be. That was creepy, especially since he'd just been thinking about her. "Did she give her name?" he asked his secretary.
"No, sir. Only that she was friend of Floyd's. She said you would know what that meant." Miss Hartshorn's voice carried her evident confusion clearly over the phone line.
"Damn," Edge muttered. It *was* her.
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Nothing," he responded roughly, more roughly than he would have done under normal circumstances, since he was hoping to foster some extracurricular activities between himself and the lovely young Ms. Hartshorn. "I'll take the call."
The secretary disconnected, and Edge reached to push the button for line 2. His hand was shaking a trifle, and he despised himself for it.
"Yes?" he said, hoping—praying—that he didn't sound the way he was feeling. Jell-o would have had more spine at the moment.
"Hello, Morgie," her voice purred over the phone. "I've been looking at the magazine. It's nice and all, but …"
"I'm glad you liked it," he replied, in a tone of false confidence.
"Actually, I don't like it. I don't like it at all, Morgie. And do you know why?"
"No." Why, dammit, couldn't he tell the b—
"Because," she continued, "it looks like you're getting to like this reporting stuff a little too much. You wouldn't be forgetting about little ol' me, now would you?"
"No, of course not."
"That's good. Don't forget, you're only out of jail because of a technicality, Morgie boy. I hope I won't have to remind you what you're *really* supposed to be doing."
"No, you won't."
"Good." The pout in her voice was gone, but not the steel behind it. "I'll be keeping my eye on you, so you'd better deliver the goods. You remember how I like it, right?"
Her reference to their past relationship made him grip the receiver even more tightly. Did this mean that she might be willing to—?
"Good-bye for now, Morgie. Be a good boy for me, won't you?"
"Y—" he started to say, but he was talking to air.
Looking around his spacious new office, he suddenly felt as if there wasn't enough air in there. His gilded collar had just been tightened a notch.
Lois and Clark met Perry in the lobby of the Planet as he was pressing the button for the elevator. He waited for them and they arrived in the newsroom together a few minutes later.
"Look at them," Perry whispered to his two star reporters. "They're trying to look so busy, but wait until the door to my office closes. Then Ralph will run over to Sylvie and Jimmy will be strolling to your desk and the next moment it will look like breakfast at Gabby's Deli. You think I didn't know? Ha!" He grinned and walked towards his office, leaving a speechless Lois and Clark behind.
"Sometimes I think he's spooky, don't you?" Clark said after a moment, but he didn't get an answer from his wife. Turning around to find out the reason for this lack of enthusiasm for his wit, he saw her leaning against her desk, a stunned expression on her face.
"Honey, what is it?" he asked, concerned. "You don't think he seriously minds us talking now and then, do you? I'm pretty sure he was just jok—"
"It feels like a butterfly!" Lois murmured. "I read about it, and it really does!"
Clark was lost. "A butterfly, Lois? Perry? I have no idea what you're talking about."
Lois suddenly smiled. "No, Clark, not Perry." She took his hand and laid it on her stomach. "The baby is kicking," she whispered and watched him expectantly. "Do you feel it?"
Clark's small smile grew broader until it became a face-splitting grin. "Yeah … I do, honey," he whispered as he wrapped his other arm around her and pulled her close until their foreheads touched. "It's just flat-out amazing!"
Lois nodded. "It is, isn't it?" Then suddenly she giggled. "It also tickles. Something tells me our baby may have inherited your quirky sense of humor."
"Hey, what do you mean quirky-?"
Before Lois could answer Jimmy appeared at their side looking sheepish and holding a copy of the latest edition of Newstime.
"Sorry to interrupt you guys, but have you seen this?"
"Sure, we had a chance to glance at the cover when we were riding up with Perry."
"No, I don't mean the cover, I mean inside in the editorial section."
"No. What's up?" Lois asked as she grabbed the magazine from Jimmy and began flipping through it rapidly.
As she reached Newstime's editorial section and rapidly scanned the pages her mouth dropped open and her eyes began to flash with anger. "Why that dirty sleazy son of a —!" she sputtered.
"Honey! Calm down," Clark said soothingly as he took the offending publication from Lois' hands.
"Clark, take a look at the headline on the lead editorial!"
"'Superman: King of the World?' What the devil?!"
"And take a look at the byline," Lois added.
Ellen Lane looked up from her coffee cup, shading her eyes against the bright sunshine pounding the outdoor patio of her favorite cafe.
"Hi, Beverly, it's good to see you again."
"When you told me that your daughter was pregnant, I just knew I had to introduce you to my sister. Ellen, this is Audrey. Audrey, Ellen Lane."
Looking around the wedding co-ordinator, Ellen saw a younger woman. "Pleased to meet you, Audrey," she smiled.
"Audrey is an interior decorator, and I was hoping that we might pick her brain about decorating Lois's nursery," Beverly announced.
"Oh, well, I don't know if they've even *thought* about that yet… These reporters have such busy lives, you know," Ellen hedged. The last time she had tried to help her daughter plan something major, Lois had been kidnapped by that awful Lex, and all the wedding preparations had been wasted on a *clone*, for God's sake!
"Well, what better reason do you need to do it yourself? With my help, of course," Audrey spoke up. "What sort of room do they have that might serve as a nursery?"
"Well, there is the guest room, I guess…"
"Mother! Mother, no…" Lois closed her eyes and banged the phone receiver against her forehead as Ellen continued her outline of potential nurseries. "Mother…" Lois began to protest again, then sighed and pressed the mute button. "Clark? You know what you said about moving to the Antarctic? I changed my mind."
Clark moved in close to her, dropping his hands to her stomach and resting his chin on her head. "You sure about that, honey?"
Lois regarded the phone in her hand. "You're right. The moon it is."
Clark chuckled and kissed the top of her head. "Not many newspapers on the moon, Lois. Maybe we can just avoid her."
"Avoid? Dragon Lady Lane? Have we changed the locks lately?"
"Hey, Lois?" Jimmy's head popped around the divider. "You done with your mom yet? Perry wants you and Clark in his office."
Lois smiled gratefully at Jimmy. "I am now." She hit the mute button again. "Mom? Yeah, I know, that sounds really cute, but I gotta go—you know, work? but maybe if you call next week we can have lunch or something, talktoyalaterbye." Lois talked the receiver down to the cradle and levered herself out of the chair as soon as it clicked.
"That was quick."
"Not really. I've been waiting for an excuse to hang up for fifteen minutes now." Lois shot a mock glare at her husband, which melted as soon as she met his eyes.
He held the door and her eyes as they walked into Perry's office. It took a full thirty seconds of silence and a rather loud clearing of their editor's throat before they became aware of their surroundings again.
Perry tossed that week's edition of Newstime across his desk at them. It skidded over a column marked heavily in red pencil and teetered on the edge of the desk. It was open to an obviously doctored photo of Superman in black, crushing the UN building beneath his foot.
"Edge is up to something, kids. Find out what."
Clark lifted the slick weekly, but said nothing. Lois skimmed the first few paragraphs.
"Perry, this is slander!"
Perry reseated himself. "They're getting a lot of mileage out of this 'slander'," he said, crooking his fingers into visual quotation marks. "That scientist they quote is highly respected."
Clark nodded. "Yeah, I've read his work. He's a genius."
Lois' jaw dropped momentarily. "Perry, you can't be buying into this? And Clark," she said, taking the magazine from his hand. "You're Superman …'s … best friend."
"Honey, I'm not saying I *believe* this stuff, it's just … he *is* the most respected scientist in—"
"Fantasyland, Clark! There's no way Superman could be some … cyborg."
Perry rapped on his desk. "Time out. I don't believe this, Lois, but this scientist is gonna run a series of articles in Newstime about his theories on Superman."
"And?" Lois asked impatiently.
"This is news, darlin', and so maybe you two should get out there and do a little digging."
Lois was incredulous. "Perry—"
"Lois, I'm not expecting you to bring Superman in with a tattoo reading '100% organically grown,' but there are other scientists. In fact," he smiled slyly, "you know someone who's worked with cyborgs … I believe."
"Oh, God," Lois whispered as she tugged her preoccupied husband from the office. "My mother is invading and Perry wants my father to check under Superman's hood." She sighed loudly as she moved numbly to enter the elevator.
"What floor?" Jurgens asked politely, offering to press the button for her.
"Whatever floor they're keeping Hell on these days."
The day had been as long as it had been fruitless. Most of the men and women in the scientific community did not want to go head-to-head with Jonah McNamara. The few who were willing to brave an exchange with his brilliant mind refused to even discuss Newstime's other so-called expert, Alexander Carter, a man whose theories were so unconventional they made 'mood rings' and 'pyramid power' seem feasible. Added to everything else, Clark obsessed all day long and well into the early evening over McNamara's article.
Lois watched Clark as he drove in silence. "You're *not* an android, Clark."
Clark shrugged. "Honey, I don't believe I'm an android, but that scientist gave me a lot to think about."
Lois softened and rubbed his arm. "Clark, I'm pregnant. If you're computerized, you bring a whole new meaning to 'hard drive'."
That statement startled a laugh out of Clark. "Now that you mention it…" He turned to her and wriggled his eyebrows lasciviously."Do you think we have time before dinner to retest that theory?"
Lois chuckled and patted his arm again. "That's a distinct possibility, but…oh no!" she ended with a shriek.
"Oh boy," Clark sighed as he watched his mother-in-law climb out of the taxi that had pulled up behind them in front of the brownstone.
Lois and Clark watched as a strange woman joined Ellen on the sidewalk and they both started pulling bags and packages from the taxi.
Ellen caught sight of Lois. "Ah. There you are. Don't just sit there, Lois! Audrey and I have tons of samples to show you. This could take hours. Why don't you order something for dinner and we'll get right to it."
Lois opened and closed her mouth a few times, but Clark jumped in before she could utter something she would regret. "Ellen! Nice to see you, but Lois and I were just stopping in to pick up some files I forgot. We're on our way to um…a stakeout. Right, honey?"
"Yes, yes, a stakeout. Sorry, Mother. We'll just have to do this some other time." Maybe when hell freezes over, she muttered to herself. She smiled gratefully at Clark. "I'll just run in and get those files. You can help put all that stuff back in the cab. Bye, Mother." She waved as she ran up the steps.
Ellen turned on her hapless son-in-law.
Clark shifted uncomfortably for a few seconds under Ellen's glare. "Let me help you with that —" he began as he reached for several bags.
"Put those down!" Ellen commanded. "I simply cannot believe this! To think that you two would have such a cavalier attitude about the nursery for *my* grandchild. Well, we'll just see about that!"
Pivoting, she marched up the front steps after Lois with Audrey in tow and Clark in hot pursuit.
"Mother, I thought you were leaving," Lois said as Ellen barged into the living room.
"Not until we've had a chance to talk."
"Talk about what?"
Just then Audrey interrupted. "Oh dear, this is worse than I expected."
"What's worse?" Clark asked as he entered the room.
"The *interior* of this house! From what I can see, you've decorated it all wrong!"
"That couch should be over there," she said, pointing at the far wall. "And wherever did you get those absymal drapes … and those pictures! I see we're going to have to redo everything if we want to have the proper environment for the new arrival. You have no idea how lucky you are that Beverly contacted me, Ellen."
"See," Ellen said smugly. "I knew you two needed my help."
Lois and Clark looked at each other—he was exasperated, yet amused, while she was quite simply fuming.
"Mother, Clark and I can't do this right now. Perry has assigned us to a big story, and we—"
"And I suppose the bedrooms are upstairs?" Audrey interjected as if Lois hadn't said a word.
"Yes, that's right," Ellen responded. "Why don't you go on up, and I'll be right with you."
Ellen barely waited until the decorator was out of sight before turning back to her ungrateful daughter. "Lois, I ask so little of you. The least you could do after all my wedding plans were ruined—"
"Mother! I love you, but you can't expect me to keep paying for that! It wasn't even my fault."
"Oh, it probably was because of some story or other that you shouldn't have written. You know, Lois, if you're going to insist on writing about bad people, they're bound to take offense. I think you're slouching again, dear."
"What?" Ellen asked, stunned by her daughter's scream of exasperation.
Clark decided that they could all use a nice cup of herbal tea, and he headed for the kitchen.
Up in the executive suite of the Newstime building, Morgan Edge was experiencing some frustrations of his own. If his campaign to discredit Superman was going to work, he'd have to be a lot more aggressive. After reading over one of his reporter's latest efforts, he reached for the phone, angrily yanking it off its cradle.
"Get me Henson! I want him up here in five minutes or he can look for another job."
They needed to be going at this from all sides. Superman as a cyborg was good as far as it went, but he had to show everyone that Mr. Goody-Blue-Tights wasn't the hero they all thought he was. What about those killer Kryptonians? He could use those … as a matter of fact, that wasn't a bad headline.
A rather timid knock on the door interrupted his plotting.
"Come in, come in! Henson! Good, get in here." He stood, pages of copy in one hand, while he stabbed at them with the other. "This won't get it, Henson. We've got to do more than this!"
"B-but … Mr. Edge, sir …"
"No 'buts', Henson. Now, I've got a headline for you— 'Killer Kryptonians … Superman's Deadly Cousins?' What do you think?"
Henson's jaw dropped.
The offer of herbal tea had at least gotten that Audrey woman out of their upstairs rooms, but Ellen was still overflowing with ideas for the perfect nursery. As much as she'd enjoyed planning Lois's wedding, she was having even more fun planning for her future grandchild's room. In fact, it seemed that the more outrageous Audrey's suggestions were, the more excited Ellen became.
Lois's heart sank, as she looked at Clark. He smiled and leaned over to whisper in her ear, "Do you think this could be a job for Superman?"
Lois couldn't help but giggle at that idea, and of course Ellen wanted to know what was so funny. Fortunately for everyone involved, the doorbell rang.
Clark sighed but went to answer it. What now?
"Sam! What are you doing here?" Clark had never considered his father-in-law in the light of a rescuer, but he now realized that he'd underestimated him.
"I'm looking for Ellen. We've got plans for the evening."
Clark looked over at Lois with a come-hither look, the kind that meant 'Lois, come here. I have an idea!'
"Mom, excuse me for a minute?" Lois joined Clark and her father at the door with a questioning expression in her eyes.
"What?" she hissed at her husband.
"Um, Lois, remember the assignment Perry gave us? Sam, we really could use your expertise with it," Clark said just loudly enough for the other two to hear. "Could you postpone your evening plans for just a half-hour or so? It would be a *real* lifesaver for Lois and me."
"Yeah, you have *no* idea," Lois muttered.
"Sure, Clark, Lois. You know I'd do anything for you. Um, Ellen, could you and …" Sam looked at his daughter quizzically.
"Audrey," she prompted.
"… Audrey excuse us for a bit, please? The kids and I are just going to take a walk around the block." He herded Lois and Clark out the door before Ellen could react, almost as if he had had lots of practice doing it.
The three of them walked down the steps and stood on the sidewalk. Sam looked expectantly at Lois.
"Um, Daddy, you've seen Superman up close," she said, not sure how to start.
"Um, well, do you think … Oh, this is ridiculous! Do you think he could be a cyborg?"
"A *what*?" Sam's mouth dropped to his knees. "Um, haha, um …" he waffled.
Clark's lips pursed together as Sam hrumphed and cleared his throat repeatedly. "You know, Sam, if you're coming down with something, there's an herbal tea from Micronesia that might help. I have some back at the townhouse."
Lois shot him a glance of horror.
Sam just sighed. "No, no. It's not that."
Sam scratched the back of his head. "Well, if you mean is he a cyborg like one of mine, no. I can make them do a lot of things, but flying isn't one of them. Now the eye-gizmo, I've thought about maybe duplicating some of the …"
"Sorry, princess. It's just that the definition of cyborg is pretty broad. Anyone with an artificial heart qualifies, just because they've got a machine inside them. So I couldn't really postulate based on a cursory examination."
Lois grimaced and traded a look with Clark. "Uh-oh."
"Uh-oh." Henson bit down on his tongue, hoping that his whispered horror hadn't reached his editor. He glanced at the article in his hand for the third time. The title glared back at him, unchanging, and Henson bounced back and forth on the balls of his feet. Nah, Edge didn't really want to find out about the United Nations from him.
He crumpled the article in his hand, the fresh ink staining his palm. He'd let some other employee get canned over this one. Right now, he had a superhero to slander.
Henson wrung his hands nervously. "Slander? Slander. Slander!" he said, as finally a triumphant thought found its way among the convolutions. The name Randy Goode popped out of his mental card file. He'd been busted for several major offenses, but his slanderous frame-up of Lois and Superman was the item that now fascinated Henson.
He had no intention of duplicating that feat; however, the mental association of Goode led to Lois Lane, a name forever connected to Superman. Lois Lane … a woman whose father made cyborgs. Lois Lane … married to Clark Kent, Superman's best friend. Lois Lane … almost every exclusive on Superman, and forever his defender. Henson sat at his word processor and typed one word. Conspiracy.
"Daddy, you saved Superman's life … you know he's human … well … not human, but—"
"Sweetie," Sam soothed. "Bring Superman to me; I'll examine him. I'll make a report, but," he cautioned, "if I find anything that isn't living tissue—"
"Thank you, Sam," Clark said. "That's all we ask."
Sam patted Clark's shoulder. "I'll do what I can, but you better have another scientist for corroboration."
"Dr. Klein," Lois and Clark said in unison.
"Klein's a fine man, well thought of." Sam turned to Lois. "You two go talk to Klein, I'll keep your mother occupied." He thought a moment. "Now, that Audrey is more in line with cyborg technology …"
"Thank you, Daddy," Lois said, and kissed his cheek.
He smiled. "I'm practicing for spoiling my grandchildren."
Clark put his arm around Lois. "You can swap notes with my dad. He already has a Smallville Little League jersey picked out."
Sam straightened and put a hand on his chin. "Then I guess that Metropolis Tigers football helmet I bought yesterday wasn't completely out of line."
Lois folded her arms. "What makes the respective grandfathers think this child will be a boy?"
Clark smiled and started ushering Lois and Sam back towards the townhouse. "What makes you think a daughter couldn't make it to the majors?"
"Ha!" Sam laughed and pounded a fist into his palm. "Exactly! My little girl once intercepted a pass and ran sixty-seven yards for a touchdown."
Clark raised his eyebrows as they walked into the foyer. "Really?"
Lois shrugged and bopped Clark playfully with her hip. "I have good hands."
He smiled and nodded. "No argument there."
As they entered the townhouse, they saw that the dining table was awash in fabric swatches and wallpaper samples. Ellen looked up, her face fairly flushed with decorating combat fatigue.
"Sweetie," she beamed. "Come look at some of these cute samples," she said, and then lowered her voice, "but please, if you love your mother, hate the purple duck wallpaper as much as I do."
"No problem, I hate it already and I haven't seen it yet."
"Clark," Ellen said, taking his hand. "I want you to be part of this, too."
To Lois' surprise, Clark smiled and said, "Sure, happy to."
Sam followed along quietly. He hadn't been invited, but then again, he had abruptly left with Lois and Clark without inviting Ellen, so it was not a real surprise.
Audrey offered her hand without looking up. "I think we can do some good here if we can get rid of some of the sunshine that will be pouring through the window in the room that you've chosen for the nursery."
Lois took the offered hand. "I picked that room *because* it has a lot of sunlight."
Audrey finally deigned to raise her gaze. "But sunlight fades carpets and wallpaper."
"A *lack* of sunlight "fades" babies," Lois replied flatly.
"I agree," Clark said. "The window and sunshine stay."
Sam picked up a swatch. "Purple ducks?"
Audrey, perhaps seeing an ally at last, lowered her glasses coquettishly. "Adorable, aren't they?"
"It reminds me of the time one Easter Ellen and I had a little too much to drink."
Ellen, despite not wanting to, laughed. Lois looked at her parents suspiciously.
"Is that the year you hid the Easter eggs in the neighbor's back yard?"
"No, sweetie," Ellen soothed. "This was back when your father and I were dating. The year the eggs got hidden in the neighbor's yard—"
"Can we please get on with this. I do have *other* clients," Audrey interrupted.
Ellen cleared her throat. "Certainly."
"If the window stays, then we'll go with brighter colors than I had first envisioned."
"Bright colors in a nursery, what a cutting edge concept," Lois said.
"Anyone for coffee," Clark offered with all the false cheer possible.
"I'll have some," Audrey said, tossing the purple duck sample back into her folio.
Clark crooked an arm around Lois and began hustling her towards the kitchen. "Help me find the filters, honey."
Lois nodded as she and Clark reached the swinging door. "You're not too bad at interceptions yourself, Kent."
"Well," he said softly. "I had a feeling you were going to—"
"Get fined for unnecessary roughness?"
He laughed and reached over her head for the cups. "Something like that."
The phone rang. Lois patted Clark's chest as she picked up the receiver. "Oh, hi, Jimmy. Emergency call back to the Planet, I hope?" She listened a moment and sighed. "Great, that's all I need. Thanks, Jimmy. We'll take a look."
Clark began filling the pot with water. "Bad news?"
"Not sure. Jimmy said that Morgan Edge, our friend from Newstime, is the guest on 'In Your Face' in about five minutes.
Clark turned on the small TV set tucked away on one of the kitchen shelves. "Well, we can watch it in here, or we could tape it and watch it later if you'd rather continue our discussions with Audrey."
"I'd rather have a root canal than be in the same room with Audrey. Let's watch it now."
Lois grimaced as the jarring 'In Your Face' theme music came on the air, followed by Barry "Vulture Boy" Dunning's face filling the small screen.
He did the usual introductory droning for a few minutes and then turned to Morgan Edge.
"Oh, God, he still looks slimy."
"Which one, honey?" Clark said with a smirk.
Lois giggled. "Good point."
"Well, Morgan —" Dunning began, "I can call you Morgan, can't I?"
"Of course, Barry," Morgan replied affably.
"How does it feel to be the at the eye of the storm in this controversy about Superman?"
"Oy, he calls that a question? What kind of an interview is this?"
"Sssh, honey, we need to hear this."
"Well, Barry, it's a tough job but somebody has to do it. As editor of Newstime I believe I have sacred covenant with the people of Metropolis to ferret out corruption and dishonesty wherever I find it."
"He should start by looking in a mirror," Lois muttered.
Clark gave Lois a look of mild disapproval and then turned back to the TV.
"Like everyone else in Metropolis, I admired Superman at one time. But there's no denying that, android or alien, things just don't add up about him, particularly after his recent attempt at *world domination*."
Clark winced at the choice of words and Edge's tone. "I really blew it big time," he mumbled.
"It's okay, sweetheart," Lois said soothingly. "It wasn't your fault - you weren't yourself. And the UN has fully absolved you of malicious intent. After all, it never got further than a speech and a written proposal for world reorganization."
"Tell that to Edge."
They turned their attention back to the set as the interview continued.
"So you intend to do further investigation into this?"
"Count on it, Barry. Newstime will be printing special follow-up editions containing new revelations in the great Superman conspiracy."
"So now it's a conspiracy?" Lois said in a disgusted voice.
"I guess so, sweetheart."
At the Newstime offices, Henson watched the TV monitors as the interview continued. He shook his head and murmured under his breath. "'Sacred covenant.' Geez, he really talks like that." His attention was caught by what Edge was saying now.
"… and you know, Barry … what better way to ensure that a conspiracy is hidden than by enlisting one of the most influential and trustworthy methods of communication we have?"
Henson noted Dunning's slightly confused yet excited look. Barry Dunning had absolutely no idea where Morgan Edge was going, but he was sure enjoying the ride. "So, Morgan. You're saying that …"
"We've been manipulated, Barry. Lulled into a sense of safety by the persons and entities involved in this conspiracy."
Dunning leaned forward, sensing an exclusive. "Are you ready to name names?"
Morgan Edge sat back in his chair, a smug look on his face. "Think about it, Barry. Who are Superman's acquaintances? Who gets the exclusive interviews with Superman? Who works for a great metropolitan newspaper?"
Barry Dunning turned to the camera. Looking directly into it, his eyes gleaming, he made his pronouncement. "You heard it here first, people. This conspiracy involves Lois Lane and probably the entire news staff at The Daily Planet!" He turned back to Morgan, extending his hand. "Morgan Edge, thank you for this exclusive interview."
Smiling smugly, Edge shook Dunning's hand. "Just doing my civic duty, Barry. All in the name of truth, justice, and the American way."
Henson stared at the TV screen, his mouth agape. He couldn't believe what he had heard. Morgan Edge had just implicated The Daily Planet in a conspiracy against humankind! He continued to look at the monitor as he reached for the buzzing telephone on his desk.
"Newstime. Henson." Henson's attention was pulled from the television as he heard the voice on the other end. Turning away, he lowered his voice so no one would overhear him. "Yes, I'm here … yeah, I just saw that … I understand." He hung up the phone and quickly looked about. He had never met the person that belonged to that voice and he hoped that he never would. As feminine as it sounded, he heard the ruthlessness behind the whiskey tones.
He let out a long breath and looked at the computer screen in front of him. Opening the file, he continued working on the next article in the conspiracy series, adding the few "suggestions" he had been ordered to include.
Clark turned the television off and looked at Lois. She was staring at the now blank screen.
"Honey? Are you all right?" He reached out and touched her shoulder. "Lois?"
His touch made Lois turn her eyes to Clark. What he saw there made him glad that Morgan Edge and Barry Dunning were nowhere near the brownstone. If she had superpowers, Clark had no doubt that both men would now be piles of cinders, burned by Lois' heat vision.
Her voice low, Lois spoke slowly. "He's made it personal now, Clark."
Clark moved his hand from her shoulder to the side of her neck, feeling the rapid beating of her pulse against his fingertips. Leaning toward her, he whispered into her ear. "I know, sweetheart. I know." His thumb stroked along her pulse line, and as it did, her heartbeat slowly returned to normal. Finally, she let out a long sigh, her arms coming up to hug him.
Clark pulled her into his arms. "We'll find out what's going on, honey."
Lois buried her head in Clark's shoulder, feeling his calm strength flowing from him to her. She muttered under her breath.
Clark pulled back slightly. Even his superhearing hadn't been able to decipher what she had muttered. "What did you say?"
Sighing once more, Lois looked up at Clark. "I said that Morgan Edge is a —"
"Yellow bunnies!" Ellen exclaimed as she entered the kitchen. "Lois? What do you think?"
They stared at Ellen for a moment. Clark pulled Lois to him once more as he heard her whispered, "Oy."
Ellen stared back at the stricken couple before her. "What is it?"
Before either of them could reply, Sam poked his nose through the door. "Did I hear a TV in here? I thought I heard them say something about androids."
"Where did you all go?" Audrey wailed, sweeping past the elder Lanes.
"Oy and oy," Lois whimpered, so softly that only Clark could hear.
"Ellen, Sam, Audrey, I'm really sorry, but there's a crisis at the Planet," Clark cut in. "We need to get back there. You can stay here, of course, and work on the nursery if you want."
"Oh, let these ladies stay," Sam said. "Maybe I can help you?" He shooed them out the door yet again.
As soon as they were in the Jeep he blurted, "Okay, what's going on?"
"Not sure, Sam," Clark said as he pulled into traffic. "But it looks like that 'Superman conspiracy theory' is heating up."
"Vulture Boy had Edge on his show tonight," Lois added as she threw a candy wrapper out the window.
"Barry Dunning?" Sam asked.
"Honey," Clark frowned. "I wish you wouldn't throw things out the window when you're mad. I get the ticket, and that's how we lost the air-conditioning instructions."
Lois sighed. "Sorry."
Sam smiled. He loved being with his daughter and son-in-law. He was sorry he had missed so much. "So Edge has upped the stakes," he said. "I think Superman should file a lawsuit."
Clark looked into the rearview mirror at Sam. "A lawsuit? I don't think Superman—"
Lois turned in her seat. "Daddy, that's a brilliant idea!"
"Thank you, princess, I have them every once in a while."
"I think you're on the right track," Clark conceded, "but lawsuits take time and a *lot* of money. Neither of which Superman has."
Lois got on the cell phone and waited impatiently, drumming her fingers on her knee. "Perry? Lois. Meet us at the Planet, we were thinking about filing a—" She stopped and listened. A smile broadened across her face. "Perfect! We're on our way."
Clark looked at Lois. "Well?"
"Perry has a better idea. Because Edge impugned the Planet's integrity on the air, he got on the phone to 'In Your Face' and demanded equal time."
"And?" Sam asked, craning forward anxiously.
"He *got* it," Lois crowed. "So," she continued, "we're going to have a pow-wow at the Planet and work out the arrangements with some of Dunning's 'people'"
Clark smiled as he made the turn off for the Planet. "I hope the TV censors don't have too much trouble with Perry."
Henson crushed out his fifth cigarette. The logistics of getting Dr. McNamara and Professor Carter on the same program was difficult, but he had his orders. McNamara viewed Carter as the worst kind of pandering "pop" scientist, and Carter decried McNamara as an "old school" lackey of scientific dogma. "Oh yeah," Henson moaned. "I love my job."
Edge entered the room and began fanning the smoke furiously. "Trying to kill me before I put Superman in his place tomorrow night?"
"Sorry, Mr. Edge," Henson said, and opened a small window. "I think I finally have McNamara and Carter willing to appear together, but they'll both be on remote satellite uplinks. They don't want to be in the same studio together."
"For God's sake," Edge growled as he took the cigarette pack from Henson's pocket and threw it in the garbage. "They live in *this* city! You're telling me a satellite hookup will be put up a couple of blocks apart so they won't—"
A woman leaned in the door. "Phone, Mr. Edge."
Henson watched Edge leave, and then pulled his pack out of the garbage. "And the perks just keep on comin'," he said, and lit up a slightly rumpled cigarette.
"I can't thank you enough for helping us out in the debate, Doc," Clark said warmly as he, Lois and Klein walked from the parking lot over to the main entrance of LNN.
"That's for sure. You don't know how much this means to have you up there defending Superman alongside my father," Lois added.
"To tell you the truth, I'm a little nervous about it. I hate being on TV," Klein replied. "But under the circumstances it's probably better if Superman's defense occurs in this medium rather than in print."
"I'm not sure I follow you," Lois said.
"Well, if I were to produce a written report outlining my findings on Superman's physiology it would by necessity have to be very *vague* about things, and in the present climate —"
"It would be seen as just another part of the Superman conspiracy," Clark finished flatly.
Klein nodded. "But for TV, the land of the 'sound bite', my lack of detail will be an asset instead of a liability. Besides I think it will be interesting discussing matters with Dr. McNamara. He's got a fine mind, one of the best in his field."
"So what do you know about this Professor Carter?" Lois asked.
"Well … he's … a *little* more unconventional."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Score one for our side," Clark interjected.
Lois chuckled. "I'm not so sure about that, Clark. Remember Abs in a Bottle."
"Abs in a bottle?" Klein repeated.
"Oh, jeez, how could I forget? Right, honey, it's a draw."
"Anyway, I just hope this works. Then we can get back to more important things like changing the locks on my mother."
"Now, Lois, I don't think we need to …"
Lois stopped short. "Her latest comment to me was, and I quote, 'Teal would set off the fish tanks so well, and the color is entirely complimentary to the feng shui …'"
"Okay, the moon it is."
Lois watched from behind camera 1, nervously chewing on her thumb as the television crew scurried about during the commercial break. Barry Dunning was in discussion with the assistant director, while several make-up personnel fussed with the panelists.
The two experts hired by Newstime were eyeing each other warily. Lois had overheard the producer earlier apologizing profusely to one of the men … something about a satellite link. She hadn't paid much attention, her mind totally focused on the ordeal to come. Checking her watch, Lois sighed before turning toward a certain red-and-blue clad superhero.
Sensing her eyes on him, Superman looked at Lois, his gaze locking with hers. He half-smiled, trying to reassure her. Lois mouthed "I love you," and relaxed a bit when he nodded slightly, acknowledging her message discreetly. When he dared a wink, she covered her mouth with her hand to hide the quick smile that came to her lips.
"All righty, people! Here we go!"
The sudden exclamation startled Lois and she stepped back as the cameraman moved into position.
"Ready, Barry? And in three … two … one!"
During the countdown, Dunning adjusted his tie and focused on the cue cards just to the side of the camera. When the assistant director pointed at him, he began to read.
"Welcome back, ladies and gentleman. This is the last half of our special presentation of 'In Your Face.' The topic of tonight's show is 'Superman: Alien or Machine?' Once again, let me introduce our panelists."
Dunning turned to his left. "We have with us tonight Professor Jonah McNamara, noted robotics expert." The small man removed his glasses and nodded slightly into the camera.
"Next to him, Dr. Alexander Carter, from the Devil's Head Institute for the Study of Extra-Terrestrials." Dr. Carter grinned and waved into the camera, mimicking the hand gestures from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.' McNamara turned away in disgust.
Dunning turned to the other side. "Dr. Bernard Klein, New Projects Director at STAR Labs." Dr. Klein nodded.
"And finally, Dr. Sam Lane, cutting edge researcher in bionics and artificial intelligence." Sam smiled genially into the camera.
"Also with us are Morgan Edge from Newstime and Perry White from The Daily Planet. Gentlemen, shall we continue?"
The scientists all shifted in their seats as Dunning continued. "Dr. McNamara, in your expert opinion, is Superman a machine?"
"I've never said that Superman *is* a machine," McNamara corrected. "I merely said that given the recent advances in robotics, Superman *could* possibly be an advanced machine of some type. Look at Vixen, for example."
Dunning nodded. "Excellent point. Ultra Woman, likewise, may have been a machine. She certainly vanished without a trace."
Lois glanced at Clark. He was getting angry. Though she didn't blame him, it wouldn't help their case if he lost his temper. She rose from her chair and went to the water cooler just around the corner backstage.
"Clark, I know you can hear me, and I know you're upset," she whispered, and began filling a cup with water as someone walked past. "But you *can't* let them get to you. That's what they want." She sighed and took a sip of the water as another person passed by. "Don't give them the satisfaction, Clark."
She gulped down the rest of the water and walked back quietly to her off camera seat.
Clark's jaw was still defiantly set, but his eyes had softened. He'd gotten the message.
Dunning swiveled to face Klein. "Any comments, Doctor Klein?"
Klein swallowed hard and smoothed down his bowtie. "I've examined Superman on numerous occasions, and if he's a machine, then my hat's off to his creator for making organic parts."
"Organic parts aren't out of the realm of possibility," Carter chimed in. "A mixture of man and machine is what gives as cyborgs, after all."
Dunning turned to Sam. "That would be your area of expertise, Doctor Lane."
Sam glanced briefly at his daughter and then back to Dunning. He decided to beat them to the punch. "I just tinker in that field, Barry," he shrugged. "I haven't practiced medicine for years. I was kind of surprised I was asked to be on the panel. That is, unless you're interested in buying some Abs in a Bottle," he said, and released a laugh as loud as thunder.
Lois laughed along with the small studio audience. He had taken himself out of the "expert" running, but did so in a way that damaged nothing and even let some of the hot air out of the proceedings.
Edge, made furious by the sudden tone of levity, leaned forward. "Doctor Lane, there are those who believe that you yourself might have created Superman, and then, in concert with your daughter, who used the Daily Planet as a propaganda tool, safely insinuated Superman into the world as a 'hero'."
Sam maintained his easy-going attitude. "Mr. Edge, if I had that kind of talent, I'd sell the Superman patent to the U.S. government, retire to my own private island, and surround myself with hundreds of beautiful robots who'd serve me martinis and massage my feet." He spoke casually, but somewhere in the back of his mind he could see Ellen throwing a purple duck at the television screen.
As the laughter died down a second time, Barry Dunning saw his chance. "To be fair, Mr. Edge," he said and pulled a tabloid from behind his desk. "last year the rumors were that Superman was not only 'living' but also," he said, holding up the Dirt Digger cover showing Lois and Superman in their amorous embrace, "living it up."
"A complete hoax," Perry said, finally entering the battle. "Hank's Photo Lab faked that picture and was paid handsomely for it."
"True, Mr. White," Edge nodded. "However, I attended Samantha Fox's trial. She did admit to having to resort to faking the photo but only because her actual photos of Lois Lane and Superman were destroyed."
"What a coincidence," Perry laughed. "The same thing happened to my photos of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe doing the jitterbug during the Gettysburg Address."
Edge finally exploded. "The fact is those 'rumors' never completely went away," he blared. "In fact, many believe that Lois Lane's marriage to Clark Kent is a sham!" The audience crooned the "ooh" chorus at that comment.
Perry, noticing Sam's hands clinching into fists, interceded. "I hope you know the meaning of slander, Mr. Edge."
Edge's lips curled into a patronizing grin. "I do indeed, Mr. White. I clearly said 'many people' believe, not that *I* personally believe."
"I'm afraid I don't follow," Dunning said, knowing *exactly* what Edge was implying.
"Simply this, Barry," Edge continued. "Lois Lane and Superman's mutual affection has been documented since his arrival in Metropolis, and—"
"Oh yes," Barry nodded. "We've seen most of that footage. At least," he added with a smile, "the *public* displays."
Lois sighed and rolled her eyes. Maybe she should have stayed home and waged war with Audrey the funereal nursery decorator instead.
"Exactly," Edge said. "So public that Ms. Lane often became the target of various nefarious types."
"Takes one to know one," Lois muttered under her breath.
"Those gunning for Superman, you mean?" Barry asked.
"Yes, and because of that, some speculate that Clark Kent, Superman's close friend, agreed to enter a 'straw man' marriage with Lois Lane to draw attention away from her affiliation to Superman."
"Oh, judas priest," Perry moaned. "I've been a guest in Lois and Clark's home dozens of times. I've never seen a couple so—"
"Rehearsed?" Edge offered.
"Now just a minute," Sam interjected angrily. "If you're implying that my son-in-law just serves as some … public front for Superman—"
"*I'm* not implying anything," Edge insisted.
Dunning folded his hands and faked his best 'pensive' expression. "Doctor Lane has a point, Mr. Edge. Regardless of who is making the accusations, the very idea that Lois Lane's true relationship is with Superman rather than her legal husband would seem to imply-"
"Precisely," Edge said, an air of triumph in his voice. "That Superman is the father of her child."
Sam was out of his chair like a rocket. The audience began chanting "Bar-ry! Bar-ry! Bar-ry!" But as fast as Sam was, he couldn't get past Superman who had sped onto the set the instant Sam had left his chair.
"Believe me," Superman said as he held Sam back. "I can understand your anger, Dr. Lane, but violence would only serve *his* purpose," looking over his shoulder at Edge.
"You're right, Superman," Sam said, and ran a hand over his scalp, trying to compose himself. "I think I'll go back to what apparently is my Frankenstein laboratory and destroy all my brilliant blueprints of a robot so sophisticated it not only looks human and can fly, but can also impregnate my daughter."
The audience laughed and applauded as Sam took his seat. The tide was turning and Edge knew it. Even though he'd squeezed in the pregnancy accusation as Mindy had wanted, it had ironically served to make a burlesque of what had been, up to that point, an effective and scientifically plausible smear campaign against Superman.
"Gentlemen," Superman said, addressing the horseshoe-shaped assembly of guests. "I can't give you answers that would likely satisfy your curiosity. Because frankly," he shrugged, "I don't know the answers. I'm no different from you in that I have to take on faith what my heritage is."
He looked at McNamara. "I take Dr. Klein at his word that I'm not a machine. Then again," he continued, "none of you would ever have to face that kind of accusation. Why?" he asked, and turned to Dunning. "You currently have an autobiography on the bestseller list."
Dunning nodded proudly. "And I'm in negotiations for the film rights."
"You stated in your book," Superman continued, ignoring the hyperbole, "that your parents are Irene and Joseph Dunning."
Dunning stiffened. "You're saying they aren't my parents?" he asked defensively.
"No, of course not," Superman smiled. "But I *am* saying that most of us accept on faith what our origins are."
A man with a shoulder-mounted camera moved behind the panelists to get a face shot of Superman.
Edge, trying to recoup control, leaned forward. "Are you asking us to accept what you say on *faith*, Superman?"
To the panel's surprise, Superman shook his head. "No," he said softly. "I guess what I'm really asking is does it matter?"
Lois' heart went out to her husband. If they only knew he was more Kansas farm boy than "strange visitor" it likely would be even more impossible for the world to believe.
"If," Superman continued, "despite Dr. Klein's findings, I turned out to be a machine, would it matter? If, despite Professor Carter's supposition that aliens are grey with large heads and bulging eyes, I truly am an alien, would it matter?"
"Actually," Edge said. "Your *origins* don't really interest me. I couldn't care less if you're a machine, an alien or a product of mass hypnosis. *Regardless* of what you are, sometimes you're very dangerous," he said and leaned to the side so that his face could be seen clearly on the other camera. "That business with the UN recently, and nearly a year ago when your powers went kerflooey."
Klein raised his eyebrows. "Kerflooey?"
"That's all very true, Mr. Edge," Perry said, rising from his seat. "But you seem to be forgetting that the only reason you and I and everybody else is able to even be here today debating this issue, is because Superman saved the Earth from the Nightfall asteroid." Perry folded his arms. "Or are we supposed to take *that* on faith too?"
"All right," Edge shrugged. "I'm willing to judge Superman by his deeds alone, that business with the UN, for example—"
"I'm glad you feel that way," Perry interrupted. "Maybe if we put this issue to a world vote, the results might surprise you, Mr. Edge. How do you think the citizens of China would vote after Superman rescued thousands of trapped and injured survivors?"
"How about India," Klein offered. "After he diverted a typhoon?"
"Or the one thousand, six hundred and ninety-eight passengers from commercial airlines." All eyes turned to Carter. He shrugged. "I keep up with air traffic news. It's a good source for UFO sightings."
"Okay," Dunning said, wanting to prevent the show from becoming a Superman hero rally. "None of us would discount Superman's great humanitarian efforts, or that it probably doesn't matter what his origins are, so that only leaves the issue of his relationship with Lois Lane."
Edge sighed and rubbed his forehead. The burlesque had returned. He hoped Mindy was getting her money's worth.
"I guess that's where I come in." Lois spoke as she entered the panel to a smattering of applause. "Hello, Superman," she said, offering her hand.
"Ms. Lane," he smiled, and took her hand. "I hope this hasn't been too stressful for you."
Lois shrugged. "No more than 'In Your Face' usually is." The audience laughed.
"So, you're here to deny you ever loved Superman?" Dunning asked flatly.
"Mr. Dunning, I once told you that my relationship with Superman was nobody's business but my own, but you twisted that to suit your own purpose. So," she sighed, "I'll be more specific this time."
"Please do," Barry said, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
"I admit that when Superman first appeared in Metropolis, I was seriously infatuated with him," she began. She scanned Superman slowly from head to boot and then turned to the audience. "What's not to like?" The audience whistled and applauded. Superman blushed.
"But," she said, "there's a big difference between infatuation and true love. The whole time I was infatuated with Superman, before I fell in love with Clark Kent, Superman and I *never* had a sexual relationship. Not in legal terms, or presidential spin-doctoring terms."
The "ooh" chorus returned. Barry seemed unconvinced. "So you're saying that you've only been intimate with your legal husband."
"Yes, but I like to call him 'Clark'. It fits better on party invitations."
The audience laughed again. Edge loosened his necktie, but it did nothing to alleviate the feeling of a noose tightening around his neck.
"However, I'd like to put this kind of rumor to rest once and for all," Lois added. "So, after the baby is born, Dr. Klein can perform a DNA test to prove to everyone that Clark is the father of my baby."
"I'd be happy to," Klein said.
"Fine," Lois said, and sighed airily. "Then what we've accomplished today is to establish that Superman, no matter if he's an alien, a robot, or a delivery boy for Ralph's Pagoda, is a hero whose good deeds far outweigh anything negative, and that I have a fairly conventional relationship with my husband. Does that about sum it up?"
"Apparently," Superman nodded.
"Great, then I guess we're finished here," Lois shrugged and stretched out a hand to her father. "I need to pick Clark up and meet his parents at the airport. You can tell me how you built Superman out of box tops and kite string on our way there."
Sam laughed and took her hand. "Best offer I've had all day."
Perry rose from his chair and glared at Edge. "And *I* have an editorial to write."
Henson, sitting alone in his dark little cubicle, shut off the TV and lit another cigarette. "That's that," he sighed and turned back to his computer screen. He flicked ashes in the general direction of the ashtray, and then typed one word. Resume.
As they exited the airport Lois turned to Jonathan and Martha who were squeezed into the back seat next to her father. "Are you sure you don't want to be dropped off at the hotel, Martha?" Lois asked with concern. "This could get pretty ugly."
"Honey, I don't think you have anything to worry about. I'm sure your mother will understand how you and Clark feel and why you want to get rid of Audrey," Martha replied soothingly.
"That's right, Lois. It's not like your mother is irrational," Jonathan added.
Lois and her father exchanged looks of disbelief, but said nothing.
Parking in front of the brownstone, the group entered the house, but instead of Audrey and Ellen madly going through the books of wallpaper samples, they found Ellen alone, sitting at a bare dining room table.
"Mother, where's Audrey?"
"Gone," Ellen said flatly.
"Oh, did she have another appointment?" Clark asked.
"No. I fired her."
"You what?! Why? I thought you liked her ideas."
Ellen sighed. "I did, at least those that didn't involve purple ducks, but watching you a little while ago on 'In Your Face' made me realize something."
"What?" Lois asked warily.
Ellen stood up and looked directly at Lois. "That you're not my little girl anymore. You're a grown woman, with a husband you love, and who loves you, and I can't just barge in and take over the way I used to."
"I wouldn't exactly call what you do barging in, Mother—" Lois glanced at Clark, who raised one eyebrow. "All right, maybe I would. But—"
"But nothing. I'm pushy and overbearing," Ellen sighed, "and that's one of the reasons why you and Clark don't want me to have anything to do with the baby."
"What?!" Martha and Jonathan chorused.
"Mother, you can't be serious."
"Oh, geez, not again. Ellen, I told you before it's not tr-"
Lois turned to Sam. "You mean she's said this before?"
Sam nodded. "It started right after you told us that you were pregnant. She decided that you and Clark were trying to isolate yourselves from us, because we'll be *unsuitable* grandparents."
Lois's and Clark's mouths dropped open. "Ellen, why would you think something like that?" Clark asked when he could finally speak.
"Well, look at us," Ellen said as she pointed at Sam. "We're divorced—"
Jonathan shrugged. "It happens in the best of families," he stated matter-of-factly.
"I'm an alcoholic —"
"Recovered," Sam and Martha said in unison.
Ellen rolled her eyes. "The point is that compared to Jonathan and Martha, Sam and I are like the … the Addams Family. I don't blame you for wanting to keep your distance."
"Ellen, this isn't a competition or a contest, it's a family. No one expects you to be perfect," Martha said gently.
"That's right Mother," Lois said, with a grateful look at Martha. "Clark and I love you and Daddy, warts and all. Even if you do make me crazy sometimes," she murmured, in a voice only Clark could hear.
Clark gave Ellen his warmest smile. "And we not only want you both to be a part of our baby's life, we're pretty much expecting it."
Ellen was no more resistant to that smile than her daughter. She smiled back. "Really?"
Lois nodded and gave her mother a hug. "Really. So you'd better be prepared for baby-sitting duty," she said with a grin.
Ellen's eyes misted slightly and she laughed self consciously. "Well, in that case, maybe I should call Audrey again. We've still got a nursery to decorate—
"Mother, forget about Audrey."
"But she has such wonderful ideas—"
"I think that if the six of us put our heads together we should be able to come up with some wonderful ideas of our own," Lois said firmly.
"And I think," Clark linked arms with both Lois and Ellen and began shepherding them to the door, "that the best place to discuss them is over dinner at Mama Lucia's."
Morgan Edge shut his door gently behind him and closed all the blinds. Only then did he take the late edition of the Daily Planet and rip it into tiny shreds. He sat down finally, sweat beading on his forehead.
Only two days ago, he'd been riding the crest of the wave that should have crushed Superman. His sources were discredited and his staff writers had just quit en masse, headed by Henson of all people. Edge shook his head. He was a leader of men, well respected and feared by his lowly underlings. What had gone wrong?
His gaze rested on the scraps of confetti littering his floor. Lane and Kent had gone wrong, he decided. They had somehow blindsided the UN into believing that Superman had committed a journalistic offense with his proposal, instead of a plot to enslave humanity. They had subverted his staff, perhaps enticed them away with dreams of 'real' journalism. Edge snorted. He'd been to Hollywood. There was no such thing. The deluded fools.
His thoughts glanced off the scientists that Mindy had pointed him towards and halted on the image of the blonde beauty. The witch who… he shied away from contemplating his fate.
Instead he sat shaking in his chair, waiting for the phone to ring.
It was a little after midnight when Clark unlocked the front door of the brownstone. Finally! He and Lois could be alone … even if one of them was already asleep, he thought with a tender smile.
The dinner at Mama Lucia's had been nice—even entertaining—since a couple of patrons had recognized Lois and Sam from the TV show and came over to shake their hands. Their waiter had overheard this and was quick to voice his own support for Superman. He'd called Barry Dunning a "sleaze merchant," and said he never watched "that trashy show" but had heard all about it from some of the staff. Then, he must have told that self-same staff because the owner himself, Raphael Bottellini, had wafted from the kitchens to add his own congratulations, and to offer a complimentary bottle of wine for the good doctor to share with his family.
He'd beamed upon them all, shook their hands and, because he thought that Ellen was Sam's wife, he'd kissed her hand, very gallantly, and complimented Sam on his good taste and Ellen on her "oh so beautiful eyes." The wine had been presented and approved, uncorked and poured, and toasts had been solemnly drunk to "Truth" and "Superman, wherever he might be" and everyone in the restaurant had applauded.
For Clark, it had all been extremely gratifying, and humbling, to know that most of Metropolis's citizens did not seem to share Dunning's nor Edge's desire to see Superman disgraced. Lois had squeezed his hand and smiled at him in a comforting way, and his parents had managed to look proud without drawing attention to themselves … yes, it had been quite an evening. If only he hadn't been called away to an emergency a bare couple of minutes after he and Lois had gotten home.
And now, here it was, much later than when he'd hoped to return, and Lois had had to go to bed without him … again. He turned off the downstairs lights, made sure the doors were all locked and then floated up the stairs and into their bathroom. There he quietly spun into his sleeping shorts, grateful that he didn't have to worry about stepping on a creaky board. Superman had kept him away from Lois, but Superman's powers could also keep him from waking her.
She must have sensed he was there, though, because he saw her eyes open and her lips begin to smile as soon as he approached the bed.
"Hi, sweetheart," she murmured sleepily.
"Lois!" he said, surprise and consternation in his low voice. "I thought you were asleep."
"I was," she grinned at him, "but I'm not now." She watched him for a moment as he settled himself into the bed. "Are you okay? I saw the fire on LNN."
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just … glad to be home. To be with you." He was pulling the covers up, making sure that her shoulders and back were protected from possible drafts, as she automatically moved to find her favorite position against his chest.
Now things were as they should be, she thought, a contented smile playing about her mouth. "I'm glad you're home, too. I missed you." She lifted her head at that, and he kissed her upturned face, just as she'd known he would. Settling herself again, she yawned slightly. "I must have been sleeping really well … I didn't hear you 'whoosh' in."
He didn't say anything in reply to that and, since a reply wasn't really required, it was hard to put a finger on just what made her wonder what was up. But something was. She held him a little tighter. "Clark?" she prompted softly.
She could almost feel that mental shrug of his, and couldn't resist a small smile over it. This was some guy she had.
"Well, that's because I didn't … 'whoosh in.'"
"Why?" she asked, softly. She was rubbing her hand, lightly, up and down his arm—giving him the time and comfort he needed to resolve whatever this was.
"Well, after all that's happened the last couple of days, it seemed wiser for *Clark Kent* to enter his house by his front door."
She looked up at that, a twinkle in her eyes. "Like a regular guy, huh?"
"Something like that."
She smiled and shook her head at him.
His expression and the confusion she could hear in his voice made her grin. She leaned forward to kiss him. "I love you," she told him, with the air of one who was stating the perfectly obvious.
"That's good." He kissed her back, but was still confused. "Do you want to tell me why? I mean … usually when I … get … like this, you—"
"Obsessing, you mean?"
She propped herself up on her elbow so she could better see his face, and so he could see hers. "Honey, the only thing—well, the biggest thing—I don't like about your obsessing, is what it can do to you. It could give you a skewed perspective, tunnel vision, gargantuan ulcers—!" She could see that he was about to interrupt her, but she stopped him. "No, let me finish. Clark, I have no complaints about the kinds of things you obsess over. I mean, other guys might obsess about ball scores, or investment portfolios, or mag wheels for their cars, or how to score with the newest sweet young thing in the office steno pool …"
She kissed the tip of his nose. "You, on the other hand, my wonderful husband, you obsess about being a good husband and father, or taking care of me and your parents and our friends, and doing a good job—both as Clark Kent *and* as that guy in tights. These are things worth putting thought, time, and effort into. And," she kissed him again, "I love you for it. Just don't go overboard, okay?"
She had gotten a grin out of him. "Okay."
"Morgan Edge has been so thoroughly discredited that Superman won't have to worry about him for the foreseeable future … and neither should we."
"You're right … as usual."
"Well, that goes without saying."
He laughed aloud at that remark, and they snuggled together again, settling themselves into their familiar positions, arms and legs intertwined and heads close together.
"Honey?" Clark ventured, after a few minutes.
"I've been thinking … about that obsessing stuff, and well, I'll try not to worry so much … be so intense, you know."
"Mmmm, that's good, because I can think of *much* better ways for you to spend your time."
His responding chuckle was deep and rich, and it warmed her heart as much as his arms around her warmed the rest of her. "So can I, Lois. So … can … I," he assured her, his words punctuated by kisses. And he proceeded to show her one of those ways.