By IRC Round Robin
Submitted October 1999
Summary: Another story in the Unintentional Season. Amid preparations for the upcoming Merriwether Awards, Lois comes down with a bad cold and has to stay at home and rest. Clark gets a *super* workout as he tries to preserve his secret as well as Lois's sanity when Ellen Lane decides to give her "baby girl" a little TLC.
An IRC Round Robin by ChrisM <email@example.com>; Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; Melisma <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Wendymr <w.m.Richards@hrm.keele.ac.uk>; zoomway <email@example.com>; chrispat <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Misha <email@example.com>; athene <>
Lois Lane wasn't a woman who normally gave into self-pity, but being pregnant, *with* twins, *in* August, *and* having a bad cold had put a strain on even her endurance. Clark Kent knew all about his wife's resilient nature, but he could tell this cold was really getting her down.
"Are you sure you don't want me to stay home with you today, honey?" he asked solicitously.
"I'm sure," she told him. "Besides," she added, sniffing, "if you stick around here with that sad face all day long, I'll probably start crying, and a woman with a cold shouldn't be crying."
Clark had to smile at another example of Lois-logic. "Okay, but I'll be calling you often, and coming by to check on you even oftener."
Grateful for his concern, she reached up from the bed for a good-bye hug. Clark was more than happy to lean down and oblige her.
"One good thing," she murmured against his shirt, "I don't have to worry about you catching this, so we can make out all we want to."
Clark chuckled and hugged her a little tighter. "That's my girl. Always looking on the bright side." He pulled out of the hug just enough so she could see him wink. "Wanna neck?" Things were about to get interesting, but the doorbell rang.
"If that's Jimmy, I'll—" Lois muttered.
Clark was checking out their visitor with his x-ray vision. "I wish it was Jimmy, actually," he said, then turned to Lois with an apologetic look. "It's your mother."
"What did I ever do that was terrible enough to deserve this?" Lois moaned.
"Maybe she just wants to see how you're doing," Clark tried to reassure her, as the doorbell rang again. Lois sent him a "yeah, right!" look and told him to go answer the doorbell before her mother pushed it through the wall.
Clark was downstairs before Lois could finish her sentence, which gave him time to take a deep breath and prepare for Hurricane Ellen.
He opened the door, a big smile plastered on his face. "Hi, Ellen. It's nice to—"
"Oh, there you are! I thought you were never going to answer the door!"
"Well, I was—"
"Where's my poor baby girl?"
"Lois? She's up—"
"Upstairs? I'll go right up."
Clark tried to run interference for his wife, but Ellen was not to be denied. "Ellen, I think she just wants to rest."
"Of course she does. That's why I'm here."
Clark rolled his eyes, feeling more helpless than any superhero ought to. "I know you want to help, Ellen, but really she—"
"She'll feel much better knowing that her mother is here to take care of her. I'll just go on up and see if she needs some hot tea or a back rub or something."
Ellen was starting up the stairs, so Clark zipped through the dining room into the kitchen and took the back stairs. When she got to the landing, he was ahead of her.
"How did you-"
"I've been jogging more," Clark hastily explained. "Look, Ellen, we—"
"Jogging? Instead of staying here and taking care of your wife? It's a good thing I came over."
Clark sighed. Was she *ever* going to let him finish a sentence?
Ellen looked at him with an air of discovery. "Don't you have a job to go to? Well, go! We girls will be all right by ourselves."
Clark knew when he was beaten. "All right, but just let me say good-bye to Lois."
"Don't get too close. You don't want to catch it."
Clark sighed again, more heavily this time, because her words had reminded him of what he and Lois had been about to do before Ellen arrived.
They had to say good-bye under Ellen watchful eye, which put a crimp on the proceedings to say the least. Clark could hardly bear the pleading look on Lois' face, but there was little he could do … short of throwing his mother-in-law bodily out the door. Not that that idea didn't have its charms, but …
"I'll come home soon to check on you, sweetheart," he promised.
The two women waited in silence as Clark went downstairs. They heard the front door shut behind him, and then Ellen beamed at Lois, "Isn't this nice? Just the two of us."
Lois gave Ellen a look that would have sent her co-workers at the Planet running for cover. Ellen didn't even flinch.
"Mother, what are you *doing* here?"
"Why. I'm taking care of you, sweetie," Ellen replied affably as she moved to the side of the bed and began rummaging through the drawer of the night stand.
"What!? Mother, I don't need a nurse. And what are you-" Lois' tirade was cutoff as Ellen quickly plopped the thermometer she'd found in the night stand into Lois' mouth. Lois glared again.
"Now, sweetie, you know I have to check to see if you have a fever. I always did that when you were little."
"Now, now, no talking."
Ellen began to busy herself plumping the pillows behind Lois and removing the magazines and books from the bed.
"Honestly I can't believe how messy this room is. I always thought Clark was much neater."
Lois rolled her eyes and pointed at the thermometer.
"Oh, right, dear, let me take that out of your mouth. There, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"No comment," Lois mumbled.
"Never mind, Mother. What does it say?"
"Just as I expected. You have a fever."
"What?! What's the reading?"
"It's 100 and normal is 98.6."
"Mother, I'm pregnant, it's August, and we're in the middle of a heat wave."
"You never can be too careful."
Lois rolled her eyes, but decided not to argue the point. After all, her mother wasn't likely to let herself be out-argued by a patient. Or at least someone she considered a patient. The training she had received as a nurse would be hard to overcome.
"I don't suppose you were sick during a heatwave while you were pregnant with Lucy or me, were you?" she asked after a minute. She would really rather have been able to sit and miss her husband in peace, but since her mother was there, she might as well *try* to be civil, even if she felt like a zoo elephant with peanuts stuffed up its trunk stuck in a paddock permanently in the sun with no shade to retreat to…
"We-e-ell," Ellen said thoughtfully, "I see your point. Let me run mix you up some lemonade…" And she danced out the door before Lois could respond.
Clark parked the Jeep in front of the Planet a short while later, wishing that he had been able to ditch it en route in case he had to run off and be Superman - or play hooky and visit his wife. He had wanted to fly to work today for just that reason, but hadn't been able to slip away to change after Ellen had shown up.
Clark had been accosted by Eduardo Friez as soon as he'd arrived at the Planet.
"Hey, Clark, the Chief's been wondering where you were! He needs a report on that jail riot for the evening edition and - "
"Thanks, Eduardo. I'll talk to him about it." Clark didn't want to be rude, but he was anxious about Lois and he'd been hoping just to show his face briefly in the newsroom before ducking out for a swift flyby to make sure that she hadn't strangled his mother-in-law.
He duly reported to the editor's office, informing Perry that Lois was recovering at home.
"And you didn't stay to look after her?" Perry enquired, an amused grin hovering on his face. He was well aware of Clark's tendency to fuss over his very pregnant wife.
"Um… well, Ellen arrived, so…" Clark explained, his expression saying far more than his words revealed.
"What in the Sam Hill were you thinking of, Clark! You left Lois alone with her mother?" Perry grinned broadly. "I see - you *wanted* an excuse to leave?"
"Um… no…" Clark replied, in a tone which his wife would have instantly recognized as being not entirely truthful. Deciding that this was a topic of discussion he didn't really want to continue, he changed the subject. "You want me to cover that riot?"
"Well, sure, Clark. After all, I guess a horde of rampaging prisoners can't be any worse than your wife and her mother when they get started!" Perry's grin grew even wider.
Clark raised his eyebrows, but commented smoothly that his mother-in-law was a very caring, thoughtful woman and that Lois was no doubt grateful for her company. Promising to submit his story in time for the evening edition, he uncrossed the first two fingers of his right hand and exited Perry's office.
Having done some preliminary research and identified a prison officer who'd agreed to be interviewed, Clark prepared to leave the Planet. With a skill born of long practice, he neatly declined Jimmy's offer to tag along. He had no intention of going straight to the prison. Superman had a little job to do first, which just might involve preventing World War III from breaking out in his own home.
Flying over 348 Hyperion a few minutes later, Clark hovered just above cloud level and activated his X-ray vision.
The house was strangely quiet, which puzzled Clark. He'd expected to find Ellen talking Lois' ear off while his wife tried in vain to get more than two words in. Yet his first scan of the upper floor found his wife lying in bed idly flicking through a magazine, with Ellen nowhere in sight.
He frowned. He was sure, knowing his mother-in-law's persistence, that she wouldn't have given up and gone home. Perhaps Lois had sent her out for something? Yes, that must be it, he concluded. Lois could be very resourceful at times.
He grinned in amusement as he contemplated the kind of request Lois could have come up with. Red currant juice? Fresh mangoes? Or she could have had a sudden craving for pineapple and butterscotch ice cream. But the smile froze on his face as his X-ray vision suddenly found an alien presence in a place where, as far as he was concerned, no-one had any right to venture.
Ellen had just exited the kitchen, carrying a glass of lemonade, but for some reason she had put it down on the table in the living room. She had then crossed over to one of the walls and was now examining it in minute detail. She seemed to be tapping on it with her hand, placing her ear to the wall at the same time. As she did so, a frown crept over her features.
She drew back, hesitated, and began to make for the stairs, but then turned back again to run her hand methodically over the wall. Not just any wall, Clark knew, as his heart started to thump loudly. *This* was the wall behind which lay his secret compartment. The secret compartment in which his Super suits were hidden.
Why was his mother-in-law examining *that* wall? Come to think of it, why was she examining any part of his house in such close detail?
"Here we are," Ellen said brightly as she handed Lois the lemonade.
"Thanks," Lois said, taking the glass, which was a little too full to hold casually. She began to sip the drink slowly, hoping to lower the level enough to make it more manageable.
"You know, sweetie, you have a strange seam on your wall downstairs… near the fire place."
Lois spewed the lemonade and began to cough.
Lois hastily set the glass on the night table. "Needs sugar."
"I put three packs of 'I Can't Believe It's Not Sugar' in that glass," Ellen said as she began walking to the bathroom. "Real sugar isn't good for you. It destroys brain cells … or something." She retrieved a face towel and ran it under the faucet. She began to dab at her blouse. "And lemons are sour and so too much sweetening is counter-productive."
She re-entered the bedroom wiping her face. "Clark? What are you doing here?"
"I pick up my mail here, Ellen," he said, and felt Lois playfully smack his rear end. "Actually I was en route to cover a story and wanted to check on Lois."
"Well, that's very sweet, Clark," she said, and began to wipe Lois' face.
"Mother, you haven't cleaned my face since I was six years old. I have a *cold* - I'm not in traction."
Ellen smiled. "And you were so cute when you were six … oh, Clark, you should have seen her."
Clark smiled politely. "I can imagine."
"She was so theatrical. I always thought she'd be an actress."
Lois sighed and handed the lemonade to Clark. "You'll need this," she said, and then lowered her voice. "If you could put whiskey in it you might get through my childhood up to fourth grade when I let the hamsters loose on Pet Day."
Clark took a bracing gulp of the lemonade and set it back on the table. "Too sweet," he said and winked at Lois. "Uh, Ellen… Lois tells me you found some strange crack in our wall downstairs."
Ellen shook her head. "Not a crack. A seam. It runs the full length of the wall."
Clark cleared his throat. "Really? If you don't mind leaving Lois for a moment, could you show it to me?"
"Clark —" Lois began to protest.
"We'll be right back, honey," Clark said casually.
"And I'll bring you some fresh slices of mango."
Ellen, already headed for the door, turned. "Mango?"
Clark shrugged and helped usher her to the door. "Strange little fruit stand on the outskirts of town," he said, but neglected to say what *town* on what *continent*.
Lois watched the door close behind Clark and her mother and slid her legs out from under the covers. She sat on the edge of the bed for a minute, but then levered herself to her feet and crept quietly into the hall and to the top of the stairs. This she had to hear!
Ellen ran her hand down the suspicious seam. "And don't tell me you never noticed this when you moved in. The wall even sounds hollow!"
Clark cleared his throat. "Well, yes, Ellen, we did notice that. You do know that this house belonged to one of the criminals Lois and I helped to uncover, don't you?"
Ellen gasped, her overactive imagination running away with itself. "Don't tell me…" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Did you discover a body in there?"
Clark chuckled. "No, but we decided we didn't need a laboratory, so we sealed it up. The ghost was actually in the kitchen wall."
"Yes. Why don't you get Lois to tell you about that? I have to get back to work. Bye, honey. I think you should get back to bed now."
Ellen gasped again and took off up the stairs. "Lois! What are you doing out of bed?"
Clark smiled to himself as he made his escape. Lois would kill him when he got home, but at least Ellen was distracted from her detective work.
Ellen thought of something before she reached the top of the stairs and turned around to come back down.
"Clark! Could you bring some of those mangoes you were—" But he was nowhere is sight. "Wow!" she muttered. "That must be some terrific jogging he does!" She shrugged her shoulders and resumed her ascent up the stairs, fussing at Lois all the way.
Lois stayed in bed for a while after that, and even took a much needed nap.
While her daughter was sleeping, Ellen decided to tidy up the kitchen. She was humming to herself as she put some dishes away, until she thought she heard something out in the living room.
Cautiously, she opened the door and surprised her son-in-law in the act of leaving the townhouse. "Clark! What are you doing back here?"
"Just checking on Lois, Ellen."
"But, Clark, that's what *I'm* here for! Now, just go to work, for pete's sake! She'll be fine!"
"Okay, Ellen, okay. I know you'll take good care of her. I just can't help being concerned."
Ellen's face softened into an understanding smile. "I think it's sweet that you care so much for Lois, Clark. Of course, if Sam had cared as much for me as you do for Lois, then we never would have gotten a divorce."
Clark could see where this was going. He mumbled something he hoped would sound sympathetic and beat a hasty retreat. Ellen just shook her head in bewilderment over his rapid comings and goings.
She tiptoed upstairs to check on Lois and found her waking up. "How was your nap, sweetie?"
"Fine, Mother. Did I hear you talking to Clark?"
"Yes, he was here again. He's going to get fired if he doesn't stay at work!"
"Well, maybe not, but there's no reason for him to neglect his job."
Lois sighed. "I would think you'd be pleased that Clark cares more for me than he does his work. After all, isn't that what you used to complain to Daddy about?"
Ellen blushed a little, but wasn't deterred. "That's true, but it wasn't just the work. It was all the other things."
"I know. Mrs. Belcanto."
"Lois! How did you—? I didn't think you knew about that."
"Just because I was young doesn't mean I was stupid. Of course I knew."
Ellen moved forward hesitantly until she was standing beside the bed. "I'm so sorry, honey. You know he … we never meant to hurt you girls."
"I know you didn't, Mother." She moved her legs over a bit, to make room for Ellen, then waited until her mother had sat down. "It wasn't all bad, of course. Especially before Daddy stopped his regular practice."
Ellen nodded. "In the beginning it *was* nice. You girls were so cute, and I was married to the smartest, most handsome doctor in the biggest hospital in Metropolis."
"I'm not sure exactly where it all went wrong. But when it did, it just seemed to get worse and worse. Nothing helped."
Lois could hear the tears in her mother's voice. "Don't cry, Mother, or you'll get me started."
Ellen effected a smile. "I'll try not to, sweetie. I remember how easy it was for me to cry when I was pregnant."
"Yeah, it sure is," Lois responded, willing to lead her mother down a more pleasant memory path."I miss my toes, and my waistline, too."
Ellen giggled a bit. "I used to think I looked like a whale, but your father would always say I looked beautiful." Ellen dabbed at her eyes and took Lois' hand. "He could be such a big goofball sometimes."
Lois giggled. She'd never heard her mother say that about her father before. "Really? Like what?"
"Oh, just silly things. He always liked the silliest things. Like eating ice cream out of the carton instead of putting it in a bowl first."
Lois had to laugh. "Now I know where I get that from!"
"Do you do that, too?"
"All the time. Clark is always finding spoons stuck in the ice cream. He thinks it's cute."
Lois watched as a happy-sad smile lit up her mother's face. "I guess it was kind of cute at that."
Lois took Ellen's hand and they sat in silence for a few moments, remembering.
"Mother, do you think you and Daddy will ever …"
"Ever what, sweetheart?"
Lois hesitated. "Well … er, you know … get back together on a permanent basis."
"I don't think so. As much as I love your father, I just can't see that."
"But if you love him-?"
"There are a lot of old scars there, sweetie. Besides, somehow the way things are right now seems more appropriate for us."
"I'm not sure I'm following you."
Ellen shifted her position on the bed until she was sitting next to Lois and then she wrapped her arm around Lois' shoulder. "Well, haven't you ever met a couple and known that they were meant to be together forever, no matter what?"
Lois nodded. "Like Jonathan and Martha."
"Or you and Clark."
Lois smiled. "You really feel that way about us, Mother?"
"Yes, I do. I didn't want to believe how right Clark was for you when I first met him. I guess I was still a little bitter about your father—"
"I wouldn't say bitter—" Ellen raised one eyebrow. "All right, maybe you were a little bitter."
"But however I felt then," Ellen went on, "the fact is he was and still is the right man for you. You two are just magic together."
Lois beamed. "Mother, you don't know how much it means to me to have you say that."
"I know, baby, but just do me one favor."
"Don't tell Clark how I feel about him. I've got my reputation as 'Dragon Lady' Lane to protect."
Lois tried to protest, but was laughing too hard. Boy, did it feel good to laugh with her mother, instead of feeling threatened by her. Perhaps she would have tried to become pregnant sooner if she had known how good this would feel.
Back at the Planet after his interviews at the prison, Clark was having a hard time concentrating on writing up the story. Good Lord, Ellen had been there only a short while and *already* had found the secret suit compartment. How long was she planning on staying there, and how could he manage to keep The Secret with a nosey mother-in-law shadowing him? And there were the Merriweather Awards coming up. How was he going to concentrate on that, plus produce more award-winning work, with Ellen there and Lois sick?
Life was just not fair sometimes.
Clark blinked and looked up. "Sorry, Jimmy, didn't hear you."
Jimmy smiled. "No problem, not everyone has super hearing."
Clark swallowed. "Guess not .. uh, did you need something, Jimmy?"
"Not really, it's just that every time I've passed by your desk, your cursor has been blinking on the same sentence."
Clark nodded. "Having a little trouble concentrating."
Jimmy scooted a chair over. "Lois? Your mother-in-law?"
"Well, I think I have a suggestion."
Clark tried not to smile. "You having mother-in-law problems too?"
Jimmy laughed. "No, but I've had girlfriend-mother problems before."
"Ah," Clark said and turned his chair to face Jimmy. "For some reason I can't wait to hear this."
"Cool," Jimmy smiled and tried to sound authoritative. "It's like this, CK. A mom is a mom. They all want their kids to have the best, right?"
"I'm with you so far."
"Okay, now the problem is, guys aren't like shoes."
Clark folded his arms. "You just lost me."
"It's like when my mom wanted me to have the best pair of shoes, but there's a difference between the best and what you'd really like to wear, or what you think looks cool, and what your mom thinks cool, which usually isn't, like she actually was getting me these wingtips — they were brown and white, and oh, man…"
"Excuse me, Jimmy, my … beeper went off."
"I didn't hear anything."
"It's the vibrating kind."
"Oh," Jimmy blushed. "I had a vibrating beeper, but I kept wanting to get calls for the wrong reason."
Clark tugged at his tie. "I think that's too much information, Jimmy."
Jimmy nodded and blushed again. "I'll let you make your call."
"Thanks. And, Jimmy … thanks for the advice, too," Clark added.
"No sweat," he said and walked off as if he'd just delivered a father-son chat.
Lois took a sip of her fresh glass of lemonade and tried not to grimace at how sweet it was. Besides, she was enjoying the closeness she and her mother had accomplished. The honesty.
"You know, Mother … Mom," she said, wanting to broach a subject that she feared broaching with Clark, and so deciding to test drive it. "Despite what you might think of the job you did raising me and Lucy and holding down a job at the same time, I just want you to know I was always proud of you."
Ellen seemed genuinely touched. "Thank you for that, sweetie, but you'll do much better than I did."
Lois wet her lips. "But what if I don't want to? I mean I want to be a good mother, I just don't know if I want to do it that way. I … I might just want to be a stay-at-home mom, and not … go back to the Planet."
Ellen gasped. "Not go back to the Planet? But, Lois…"
"I know, Mother, …" She stopped as she heard the door open downstairs. "Clark's home. Please don't say anything to him. I haven't told him about this yet…and anyway, it's just something I've been thinking about. I haven't decided anything yet."
"Oh, all right. I won't say anything now, but I want to hear more about this. Did Alice White put you up to it? I can't believe this is my …"
"Mother! Please! He'll hear you!"
Ellen looked bewildered. "Lois, he's downstairs. How can he possibly hear us?"
Lois was saved from answering by the door opening and Clark entering with a steaming cup in one hand.
"Hi, honey. I stopped by that shop in Beijing and got this herbal tea for you. It's supposed to be great at breaking up congestion."
He stopped short as he caught sight of Ellen. "Oh. Ellen. I thought you'd be gone by now, er… I mean…um…Thanks for looking after Lois, but I can take over now."
Ellen took the cup from his unresisting hand and sniffed at it suspiciously. "Hmm. Smells all right…Beijing? I thought that was in China."
"Er…um…" He cast an imploring glance at Lois who jumped into the fray.
"Yes, Mother, it is, but there's a shop called Beijing near Hobbs Bay. Clark met the owner when he was traveling in China before he came to Metropolis. Now, do you think I could have that tea before it gets cold?"
Ellen sighed but handed over the cup. "Okay. I'm sure Clark wouldn't bring you anything dangerous." She glanced from one to the other and sighed again. "I'll get out of your hair now." She pointed a finger at Lois. "But we *will* continue this conversation."
Ten minutes later, Clark reentered the bedroom and settled against the headboard of the bed next to Lois. He kissed her gently and reached out to pat her stomach. "Hi, sweetheart and hi, Frick and Frack. You know, we really have to get serious about names for those two. We don't want them starting kindergarten as Baby A and Baby B Kent."
Lois laughed. "I know, but right now I just want to enjoy some quality time with my husband." She nestled against his shoulder. "I missed you."
Clark kissed the top of her head and rubbed his hand gently up and down her arm. "I missed you too. Sorry I had to leave you alone with your mother so much today. Was it bad?"
"It wasn't bad at all. We actually had a nice talk." She sniffled. "Clark, could you hand me a tissue?"
Clark watched with concern as she blew her nose. "Honey, I'm so sorry you had to catch that cold. Especially now, with the babies and all…and we've got the Merriwethers coming up in a couple of days. I know you don't want to miss that."
She settled back against his shoulder. "Oh! I'd forgotten all about that."
Clark's eyebrows rose. "You forgot we're up for a Merriwether?? You *must* be sick."
Lois yawned. "Don't worry. I should be fine by then. I wonder if black tents are in style this year," she murmured and promptly fell asleep.
Clark floated them up and slipping out from under her, tucked her in. Bending down, he gently kissed her forehead. There was something going on in that pretty head of hers, but he was willing to wait. She would tell him eventually.
Lois put a fist in the small of her back and straightened with a groan. "Clark, you're going to have to finish tying your bow tie. I have to bend so far forward to keep the Dynamic Duo out of the way, I feel like I'm wearing a saddle, and Orson Welles is the cowboy."
Clark laughed. "That's okay, honey, I could always tie my own ties. I just *preferred* having you do them," he said as he gave a last tug on both sides.
"Besides," Lois said, "that's what I was doing for Leslie when he made that pass at me."
Clark's smile vanished. He turned away from the mirror. "You never did tell me exactly *how* Leslie made a pass at you."
Lois sighed, took Clark's hand, and touched her hair with it. "That, Clark. That was it."
Clark's smile returned. "I guess I shouldn't be jealous of that, but," he said, lacing his fingers through her hair, "I am."
"Good," Lois replied and kissed him. "I feel insecure when I'm the same shape as the Daily Planet globe."
"Ah," Clark shrugged. "I told you that was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen."
She pushed him away playfully. "I remember you said that just before you told me you had lied about loving me."
Clark dug a finger under his suddenly tight collar. "I had my fingers crossed."
Lois impetuously snapped his suspenders. "Do you realize if you hadn't lied back then, we'd already have these babies in pre-school and I wouldn't have to wear a tent to the banquet?"
Clark grabbed his jacket. "I have a feeling you'd be pregnant again, anyway, so it wouldn't make any difference."
"Really?" she asked. "How long can you hold your breath… ah, skip it, never mind. I found that out in the bathtub."
"September 3, 1999 — The Committee for the Joshua P. Merriwether Awards for Journalistic Excellence Welcomes You to Its 77th Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony."
The large placard on an easel in the lobby of Metropolis' finest hotel was nearly obscured by a small group of well-dressed Daily Planet employees.
When the nominations had come in and Planet reporters, as usual, were on the list, Perry had distributed the extra tickets allotted to the paper on the condition that the attendees look sharp and show how proud the Daily Planet was of the honor. Now, he and Alice stood arm-in-arm at the edge of the group, smiling at the chattering group and each other. Jimmy hovered nearby, looking surprisingly elegant in black tie.
With a glance at his watch, Perry raised his voice slightly. "Okay, people, looks like Lois and Clark are running late, so let's head on down to the banquet room. We can wait for them there. Jimmy, get your camera ready … you can take some pictures of us." He turned to his wife, and his face softened. "You can start with Alice … I want a shot of how beautiful she looks tonight."
Jimmy nodded and the group followed Perry down the wide hall to the large double doors of the Apricot Ballroom.
Standing with the Whites outside the banquet hall, Jimmy smiled to himself as he pretended to make adjustments on his camera. He'd always seen Perry as a father, and it was nice that he was so happy again, but Alice and Perry did bill and coo …a *lot* … these days, so Jimmy chronically had to find something else to look at.
It was strange though, Jimmy thought. With Lois and Clark he had to admit he *liked* "catching them in the act". Maybe it was because he once had quite a crush on Lois…
"Jimmy," Perry said, nodding to the couple coming toward them and thankfully derailing Jimmy's train of thought. "Get a picture of the doctors. Lois and Clark invited them to sit at our table."
"Hiya, Dr. Klein, Dr. Friskin," Jimmy called. "Great to see you here."
"It's nice to be here, Jimmy," Ruth Friskin replied. "We wanted to come and cheer Lois and Clark."
"Yeah, I think they have a great chance of winning," Perry observed proudly. "Their series on Morgan Edge was one of the best I've seen in a long time."
"So where are the two of them?" Bernard Klein asked, frowning. "They *are* coming, aren't they? They wouldn't be late to an important event like this, would they?"
"Not if they know what's good for them," growled their editor.
Alice led the group into the banquet room, and bestowed a wink and a roll of her eyes on Jimmy. Jimmy hid his amusement over Perry's muttered imprecations with his camera, snapping shots of the last trickle of award nominees.
"Say, Perry, how much longer do you think Lois will be at work? Wasn't Alice saying something about time off for the baby?"
Perry shrugged and scanned the crowd. "Clark's been worried, but I haven't heard a peep out of Lois. I wouldn't be surprised if she tried to drag her keyboard into the delivery room."
"I may be dedicated, Perry, but I'm not crazy," Lois announced from behind them. She smiled up at her husband behind her. "Besides, Clark wouldn't let me."
Perry's expression lightened. "Well, you can take however much time you'd like later. Right now, you've got a Merriwether to win."
Lois grinned. "See, Clark, I'm not the only one who thinks we're the best."
"He's our editor, Lois, he's supposed to."
Perry snorted. "Only at awards time, kids. Let's find our table."
As Clark was pulling out her chair just moments later, Lois was struck by Perry's earlier words. She really didn't want to drag her keyboard into the delivery room with her. She was creating a family with Clark, and she wanted that to be separate. Her children, and their birth, didn't have anything to do with the rise and fall of corporate empires, or unveiling the greed and corruption of local politicians. Or even the celebration of life in Metropolis. It was time to celebrate her own family, to give something to her children, and to Clark, that was uniquely theirs.
Clark noticed the slight frown on Lois' face. "Honey, are you okay?"
She smiled at him reassuringly, her expression clearing. "Yeah, just thinking about work and the baby and …" Just then the band began to play background music. "They must have read my mind." Lois laughed, then began to sing softly along with the music. "Love changes everyone … live or perish … in its flame …love will never … never let you …be the same."
It wasn't the perfect moment she'd been waiting for, but … Lois took a breath and turned to face him directly. "You know, Clark, I've been thinking…"
"What about, honey?"
"Well, that maybe after the babies are born, I might…"
Before Lois could finish her sentence a high-pitched voice called out from across the room, "Yoo-hoo! Lois and Clark!"
"Oh good lord, what is *she* doing here?" Lois asked as Mindy Church made her way to their table.
Clark shrugged. "Maybe it has something to do with the fact she owns Newstime magazine. Aren't they up for a couple of awards? And with their managing editor cooling his heels on Stryker's Island she may be filling in."
"If there was any justice the only thing she'd be filling would be a cell next to Morgan Edge," Lois replied through gritted teeth.
"I'm so happy to see you both!" Mindy bubbled. "It's so good to see friendly faces. I thought Pookie and I would be here all alone. Isn't that right, sweetie?" Mindy said to little dog she was cradling in her arms.
"Nice to see she has something here that she can carry on a conversation with," Lois whispered in a voice only Clark could hear.
"Is something the matter?"
"No, not at all, Mrs. Church, it's just that Lois is, er… well, she…"
"I'm just feeling a little dizzy," Lois interjected. "I think I need some fresh air. Could we go outside on the patio for a little bit, darling?"
Clark grinned. "Of course, sweetheart. You'll excuse us, won't you?"
Mindy pouted. "I suppose so."
Clark helped Lois up and put his arm around her waist. "You're milking this pregnancy for all it's worth," he whispered in her ear with a grin.
Lois chuckled softly. "You better believe it."
As they walked away from the table, they could hear Mindy exclaiming in her breathless voice, "Oh! Are you Dr. Klein? I've seen your picture. I do love a bald man."
Lois looked over her shoulder and saw Dr. Klein turning a bright pink as Ruth glared daggers at Mindy.
Lois and Clark made their way to the open patio doors. It was a beautiful August evening and they stood together for a moment looking up at the stars.
Lois sighed and leaned against Clark who tightened his arms around her.
"What were you starting to tell me when we got interrupted, honey?"
Lois looked up at him. "I know this isn't the best time or place to be discussing this, but well, I've been thinking."
"I know. You said that." Clark chuckled. "Should I be scared?"
"No, not scared," Lois said, but her tone was serious and a bit distracted. "I've been thinking about something, Clark, and I'm not sure how you'll…"
"Please forgive the interruption, Lois," Ruth Friskin said as she trotted toward the young couple, "but Mindy's dog bit Bernie in the nose and I wondered if you might have some tissues."
"Oh, boy," Clark sighed as he reached into his pocket and extracted a handkerchief. "Here ya go, Ruth."
"Thank you, Clark, but I was thinking more of a disposable tissue. I don't think you'd want blood on this nice handkerchief."
Clark shrugged. "When you think about it, nothing very nice ends up on handkerchiefs."
"I suppose so," Ruth acknowledged. "I just hope we don't have to worry about rabies."
"Only if Mindy bit him," Lois offered dryly.
Dr. Klein entered the patio with his head tipped backward and his fingers pinching his nose shut. He extended a hand toward Ruth. She deposited the handkerchief in his palm forcefully in the manner of a surgical handoff in an operating room.
Klein put the handkerchief over his nose and then leveled his gaze. "I *hate* awards banquets."
Lois smiled sympathetically. "I used to hate them only if I lost."
"Or wasn't nominated," Clark teased.
Lois nudged him playfully. "That's true," she said, but her serious expression and distracted tone resurfaced. She turned so that she was only facing Clark. "But now…it…doesn't seem to matter that much."
Clark tipped his head to the side, his expression a combination of concern and confusion as he studied his wife's face. "Honey, are you feeling all right?"
Klein pulled the handkerchief from his nose. "Are you feeling ill, Lois? Your cold isn't still lingering, is it? "
"I'm fine," she said with a forced casualness. "Let's get back to the banquet."
Ruth smiled. "Your nose stopped bleeding, Bernie."
"Wonderful," he moaned as the small group headed back to the main room. "I'd sure hate to miss the flavor of those vulcanized Jell-O cubes."
"Ah, Lois, there you are." Alice patted the seat next to her. "You just missed the first speaker."
"Alice, you're the one who said that the opening speeches were so deadly dull you wanted a flak jacket and earplugs." Lois levered herself into the chair.
"Well, we found a way to pass the time." Alice winked at Jimmy across the table. "Jimmy's been telling us about the betting pools on the baby. It seems that your twins have made a couple of long shot bettors very happy."
Jimmy nodded glumly. "Yeah. And I was so sure I had it in the bag. But," he said, brightening, "there's still the delivery date." He studied Lois carefully. "I'm down for October 1 …"
Lois glared. "Don't even think it, Jimmy. I refuse to be pregnant for that much longer. Two weeks and that's it."
Everyone at the table laughed, and Alice patted her arm understandingly. "I know how you feel, dear, but the babies will decide. All you can do is wait."
Further comment was interrupted by the sound of applause as the master of ceremonies for the awards dinner, Barry Dunning, walked to the stage.
Lois rolled her eyes. "I can't believe that they couldn't find a better host for tonight's program."
"Maybe he works cheap?" Clark suggested.
"He should pay them!" Lois countered testily.
An hour later Jimmy was startled out of sleep by Perry's elbow in his ribs. "Get your camera ready. Lois and Clark's category is next." Jimmy fumbled with the settings as Barry droned through a few more lame jokes.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, to present this year's award for best feature series… one of our fair city's greatest philanthropists… Mrs. Mindy Church."
Mindy undulated her way to the podium and grasped the award. "Thank you, Barry," she piped in her little girl's voice. "I just can't believe that little old me got picked to give out this… um… award. What's it for again?"
Barry rolled his eyes and pointed at the paper on the podium.
Mindy looked bewildered. "Huh?… Oh!" She picked it up and stumbled through the nominees, mispronouncing most of the names. Then Barry handed her the envelope. She opened it slowly and then pouted. "Oh, them!"
Barry elbowed her and she reluctantly read out, "Lois Lane and Clark Kent."
Everyone at the Daily Planet table jumped up and applauded loudly as Clark once again hauled Lois out of her chair and guided her to the stage.
Lois took the award from Mindy and smiled sweetly. "Thank you, Mrs. Church." She turned to Clark. "You can give the speech, honey. I'll just stand here with Mindy… and gloat," she added under her breath.
Clark adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. "My wife and I are very honored by this award…" he began.
Lois looked at her husband and smiled. Three years ago it was another award, another speech, and she had joked about hanging on his arm and telling people how proud she was of her "great big reporter man," but she *was* proud. She was proud of him then, and she was even prouder now.
Clark finished his speech and as the applause started, that 'look' crossed his face. Lois was surprised they had made it this far into the evening. She walked with him quickly backstage.
"I'm not sure how long this will take," he whispered. "Do you mind driving yourself? Maybe Dr. Klein could —"
"Of course not," she said, pulling him close and kissing him. "I'll see you at home."
"Ms. Lane," a tall man said, tapping her shoulder. "I'm the photographer for the ceremony. Where's your husband?"
"He… uh… had to go to the… bathroom… He had my chicken instead of his vegetables, and chicken never agrees with him…well, not *never*, just chicken at banquets…They add rubber, I think…"
Clark stepped gingerly into the townhouse. His boots actually *squished*. Climbing the stairs as quietly as possible, he pushed open the door to the bedroom.
Lois, brushing her hair at the mirror, struggled to a standing position and faced a Superman covered in some type of greasy substance.
Clark sighed as he unfastened his cape. "A Papa Leoni's cooking oil truck collided with a Cindy Lou Muffin Toppers truck. No one was hurt, but I've been digging pink sprinkles out of my suit for half an hour."
Lois laughed and took the soggy cape. "Get a shower, Clark, and I'll soak the suit… in something."
He kissed her cheek, "Thanks, honey. We get more shampoo?" he asked as he entered the bathroom. "I think the police at the scene thought I had pink dandruff."
"Next to the sink," Lois said as she headed downstairs with the costume.
Fifteen minutes later, clean, dry, and back in his tuxedo, Clark descended the stairs.
"Wow," Lois said with a sigh. "You clean up real nice, but why the tuxedo?"
Clark walked over to the stereo and put on some music. "Because we didn't get a chance to dance at the banquet, and it's the *only* reason I ever look forward to going," he said, and took Lois in his arms.
"Can we talk about something first, Clark?" Lois said as she gazed into his eyes.
"The 'something' you started to tell me at the banquet?"
"Yes," she nodded. "What would you say if I told you I was thinking of not going back to work after the babies are born?"
Clark stared at her in shock. "What???"
"Did you just say what I thought you said?" Superhearing aside, Clark couldn't believe his own ears. "You don't mean that, do you?"
Lois broke out of his embrace and distanced herself a bit.
"I just don't want…" Her voice was getting smaller and smaller.
"You just don't want what, sweetheart?"
"I just don't want our babies…" Her voice trailed off once again. She still refused to look at him when he started stroking her back in reassuring circles. "…coming to me in twenty years and reproaching me for never being there when they needed me… How will we ever find the time to go see a school play? To drive them to football practice or even read them a bedtime story?"
Lois was talking faster and faster and Clark could see the glimmer of tears on her cheeks.
"Hey, hey," Clark whispered and gently drew a thumb across her cheek to wipe her tears. "I've had the same nightmares, honey. We live the impossible, remember?" he asked and tipped her chin up.
Lois nodded and sniffed. "Taking a chance," she said, repeating what he had said to her in the Lakes' zoo, "is what we're all about."
"Right," he smiled.
"Then I hope you understand I mean this, Clark. I… I really have been thinking that maybe I don't want to be 'super mom'… wait, bad choice of words." She laughed faintly. "I just mean I don't want to *prove* anything. I don't want to have my job at the Planet and raise our kids in between stakeouts and interviews."
Clark scratched the back of his neck. "Honey, I'm not quite following. It almost sounds like you're saying you want to be a full-time mom, and I know I can't be getting the message right."
Lois patted his chest. "No, you're following me pretty well. I'm not saying that's what I'll feel like a year from now when I want to throw a shoe at Barney the dinosaur, but… I am feeling that way right now, I guess."
"Lois…" Clark sighed. He hadn't expected *this*. "When I first started at the Planet, I knew that no matter how much I thought I had you figured out, I'd be wrong. I haven't felt that way in a long time…until just now."
Lois looked at her husband. That lost-little-boy look had taken over his features. "Are you upset?"
"No," he replied quickly. "Not upset… stunned would be a better word. And for the record," he continued, as he regained some composure, "if that's truly what you want, I'm on your side, Lois. It'll just take me a while to recover from the shock," he said, and kissed her forehead.
"Fair enough." She stepped into his arms. "We'll talk about this some more after our dance, though I don't feel like I'm exactly built for dancing."
"I hadn't noticed," Clark whispered as they lifted off the floor. "You seem pretty light on your feet."
Lois laughed. "Wonder what Perry will think about my… plan."
Clark froze them in midair. "Perry," he sighed. "Do me a favor, honey. When you tell *him* your news, wait till I'm dressed as Superman."