By Crystal Wimmer <email@example.com>
Original Air Date: February 14, 1999
Summary: Mxyzptlk is back and baby Laura is all part of the plan. Now Lois and Clark get to find out much sooner than they'd imagined how it feels to be the parents of a teenager! Episode 5 of S6.
By Crystal Wimmer with creative assistance from Annie Lansbury
The fabric of the universe folded for just a moment, as a hand rended its way between two worlds. With a grunt, the hand pushed through and was joined by a second hand. As the two hands forced the tear wider, a profusion of glitter entered into the known universe, and a small being popped through with triumph.
Dusting himself off lightly, Mxyzptlk faced the Earth below him with only one thought in mind … taking over. He had been too abrupt in his first attempt, allowing a blue-suited Boy Scout to trick him back into his own dimension. He would not be so careless this time.
He would be a god in this world; that was his goal. He would give the mortals what they required, and take from them all that he wanted. First, though, he would have to occupy the Big Blue Guy in some manner. The guardian of this pitiful planet was powerful, and not to be taken lightly.
Using a device he had brought from his own dimension, he managed to locate the potential opponent in his home. He would watch, he decided. He would watch and learn. Every mortal had a weak spot. Generations of attempts to conquer this planet had shown him that. There was always an area of vulnerability in a potential hero. He would just have to identify it, and use it. The Blue Boy Scout was going down.
Lois sighed as she laid Laura in her crib for the fifth time that night. She waited a moment, ensuring that the baby's brown eyes would remain closed, then she backed from the nursery.
Clark smiled as his wife retreated on tiptoe from the room. He often wished he could share his gift of flight with her so that she could escape the infant more easily. Quietly, he hovered himself down the hallway and lifted Lois into his arms. She gave a startled sound as he raised her from the floor, but not enough to wake the baby.
Clark quickly x-rayed through the closed door to ensure that Laura was still sleeping, then floated them down the stairs to the living room, where they could at least talk.
"It isn't even ten o'clock yet, Clark," Lois said, the frustration ringing in her voice. "I bet she'll be up another ten times before we even get to bed."
Clark nodded absently as he carried her a cup of tea from the kitchen. She was right, he knew. "My mom says it's still the teething," he told her as he handed her a steaming cup. "It shouldn't last much longer."
Lois made a frustrated sound as she sipped her tea. "First it was `she's just a newborn', now it's `she's teething'. What's it going to be next week? I haven't slept through the night in over a year." She knew she was being crabby, but she was tired.
They were both glad to have some privacy back, now that Martha and Jonathan had left the guest room for a small apartment of their own, but their departure had left them to get up with Laura several times each night. Part of this was due to Lois's nursing, but more was due to Laura's tendency to wake without reason, and her difficulty in going back to sleep.
Clark tried to bring the baby to Lois as often as he could, but it was Lois who had to remain awake for the feedings. Still, she didn't want to give up the nighttime opportunity to nurse. She was only able to nurse once or twice during the day, regardless of the convenience of the Planet's new daycare center, and it was the nighttime nursing that maintained her milk supply.
Clark laid a sympathetic hand on her arm. He felt partly responsible for her grumpiness. Most nights, Lois did have to bear the brunt of mid-night waking. He was away `saving the world', as she often told him. He did his best to be a good father, to be there for his wife and daughter, but he always felt as though he fell short of his goal.
"I could try giving her a bottle later tonight," Clark offered.
Lois shook her head. "It's not the feedings," she explained. "That's only a couple of times, and I'm half asleep then. It's all the other times she wakes up. It's just so hard to get her back to sleep. Aren't most kids sleeping through the night by now?"
Clark shrugged his shoulders. He honestly didn't know. He reached over and lay his hand on her leg, squeezing gently.
Lois placed her hand over his, accepting his wordless apology. She didn't mean to make him feel worse, but she couldn't seem to help complaining on occasion. In an effort to change the topic, she tried to return to the conversation they had been having before Laura's cries had interrupted them.
"So, where are you taking me for Valentine's Day?"
He smiled slightly as he kissed her on the cheek. "Are you sure you want to leave?" I know you hate to leave the baby."
Lois returned his smile and set down her tea. She snuggled back against her husband, enjoying his warmth. "Trust me, I'm ready to leave her," she said with a trace of sarcasm. "At least long enough for a good night's sleep. Besides, your parents have been looking forward to spending the night with her."
Clark set down his tea and put his arms around his wife. "I don't know," he began. "How about Paris? We haven't been there in ages, and it's definitely the place for romance."
"Mmmmm, romance," she said wistfully, turning her head to kiss him. "I could definitely go for some romance."
Clark smiled as he leisurely kissed his wife. She returned his affection enthusiastically, turning herself so that she could hold him as tightly as he was holding her.
Just as her fingers were finding their way to his shirt buttons, Clark raised his head with a resigned look. Lois took a moment longer to surface, and when she opened her eyes and saw his expression she sighed heavily. "Is it save the world or feed the baby?"
Clark didn't have to answer. As if on cue, Laura's cries floated down the stairway with alarming volume. "Let me get her this time," he told Lois.
She nodded absently, then allowed her head to fall back onto the couch. She would just rest a few moments, she decided, then she would feel more like herself when Clark returned.
Clark was quickly able to quiet Laura. He blew on one of her teething rings, freezing it quickly, and offered it to her. Within moments, she was sound asleep, gnawing on the frozen plastic even as she slept. With a gentle kiss, Clark covered her with a blanket and once more retreated from the room.
He found Lois sound asleep on the couch. He considered waking her, spending just a little time with his wife, but decided that she needed the sleep more. Lifting her as gently as he had Laura, he flew her upstairs and laid her on their bed. It took him only moments to undress her and get her settled beneath the covers, then he undressed to join her.
As soon as he was in the bed, Lois moved to curl into his arms. Holding her, he couldn't help but smile. "You think this is bad," he whispered to his sleeping wife, "Just wait until she's a teenager."
Gently, he kissed her forehead and closed his eyes. If he was lucky, he would get a couple of hours sleep before either Laura or the world in general claimed Superman's attention.
With his eyes closed, Clark was unaware of the glittering presence in his bedroom.
The presence faded quickly, having gained the knowledge he needed, and reappeared in the nursery. He gradually took the form of a glittering little man wearing an old fashioned suit with ruffled white sleeves. His slightly demented smile faded as he looked at the sleeping infant.
"Now there's an idea," he said quietly, to no one in particular. "Instead of forcing him to leave, I'll just keep him so busy that he isn't in my way. Hmm, a teenage daughter would certainly distract Daddy, now wouldn't she?"
With a final soft laugh, and a profusion of glitter, the figure disappeared. The infant glowed for just a moment, surrounded by the same glitter that Myxzptlk had generated, then the light faded. Brown eyes opened briefly, startled by the light, then closed sleepily.
Lois stretched languorously as she woke. She couldn't ever remember feeling so rested. The bed beside her was both empty and cool, indicating that Clark had been up and gone for some time. It didn't surprise her really, as he was often up before she was. With a final stretch, she turned to look at her alarm clock. She rarely set it anymore, relying instead on her daughter's perfect internal clock.
With a start, Lois sat bolt upright in the bed, her eyes flashing to the silent baby monitor sitting on her dresser. It was nearly nine in the morning. Laura had never slept this late. Lois stood quickly, grabbing a robe as she went. She stormed down the hallway with images of sudden infant death and kidnapping flashing through her mind.
She had just enough control about her not to throw the door open. Instead, she eased the door open, and carefully stuck her head in the room, terrified of what she would find. She gazed at her daughter in shock for several moments, completely in shock. Finally, having no clue what else to do, she called out as loudly as she could, "Help, Superman!!"
Clark's head snapped up as he finished setting a thief down in front of the store he had just robbed. He knew that voice. In a blur, he left the fortunate criminal standing by himself on the sidewalk and rushed to his wife's side.
At first, he couldn't figure out what was wrong. He detected the familiar two heartbeats in the townhouse, and while Lois's was a little faster than usual, there was nothing visible to indicate what the problem was. As she turned to face him, he caught a glimpse of his daughter's crib.
The baby he expected to see was nowhere to be found, and in her place was a toddler of around three. She was holding herself upright by the crib railing, slightly unstable on her feet, and she had the longest, prettiest brown hair that he had ever seen. Then, his gaze met hers, and he froze. He had looked into those eyes every day since her birth, seeing both himself and his wife reflected in their depths. Somehow, this was his daughter.
"Lois?" he asked softly, even as she reached for the child. Laura knew her mother, and went eagerly into her arms.
Lois turned to him with an expression of fear and confusion. "We need to call Dr. Klein," she said quietly, her logic at odds with her maternal instincts.
Lois's practicality seemed to jolt Clark back to reality as well. He nodded and began to plan quickly. "I'll go pick up my folks," he said quickly. "We can't take her to daycare, that's for sure."
Lois nodded enthusiastically. Martha would know what to do, she thought, and Dr. Klein would be able to reverse whatever had happened to their daughter. Holding the child as though she were fine china, she went to use the phone. Clark watched her walk away, then flew out the window with a familiar "whoosh".
He certainly hoped that his parents were willing to go back to watching Laura. They hadn't seemed upset when the Daily Planet opened its Day Care Center, but neither had they been overjoyed to give up seeing their granddaughter on a daily basis. He hoped fervently that they hadn't found too many activities to occupy their time.
Clark returned with his mother less than thirty minutes later. His father would drive over later, they had decided, after he'd had time to pack and plan. Martha had agreed to come immediately. Neither mother nor son were prepared for the scene that greeted them.
A three year old whirlwind twirled around with her arms outstretched, jelly smeared from the top of her head to her fingertips. There were streaks of jelly on the walls and table as well. Lois was in the kitchen, cleaning up glass from the broken jelly jar before it could do any damage.
Lois had a towel around her head, turban style, and the cordless phone tucked between her shoulder and ear. "Yes, Mother. I know, Mother. We'll try to arrange something, Mother. I really need to go … No, I'm not trying to keep you from your granddaughter, I know that you are an important part of her life."
Lois was still nodding into the phone as she turned to check on her daughter and saw that Clark had arrived, bringing reinforcements. With a sense of relief, she made excuses once more to her mother, and finally managed to end the call with her mother's "just wait until your children grow up, then you'll know what I'm going through" ringing in her ears. With an ominous sense of foreboding, she turned to her husband.
Clark stepped forward quickly, and soothed his wife with a kiss. He smiled at the sweet flavor of grape that was left on his lips. He was almost ready to ask what had happened when Lois launched into an explanation.
"She was sitting at the table, eating toast, so I figured I'd take a quick shower before Dr. Klein got here. I couldn't have been gone more than five minutes, and I have no clue how she made this mess. She couldn't even walk when I left her, and now *look* at her!"
Martha and Clark did just that. Laura was continuing to twirl in circles until she fell with dizziness. Giggling, she stood again, leaving purple streaks on the carpet, and began to twirl again. Shaking her head, Martha took matters into her own hands.
"Hi, Sweetie," she said in a quiet, singsong voice. "How about we get you into a bubble bath so that your mommy and daddy can sort this out." Laura smiled at the pleasant voice, and promptly hugged her grandmother with sticky hands. Laughing softly, Martha lifted the child into her arms and carried her to the bathroom.
Clark was left facing a very frustrated Lois. After a glance around the room, he made a super trip through the kitchen and living room, cleaning as he went. Lois watched the blur clean her home, putting glass in the trash can and cleaning jelly from the couch. Within a few seconds, her husband materialized, wearing a pair of dress slacks and a white dress shirt.
"You cleaned that mess almost as fast as your daughter made it," Lois commented wryly as she sat carefully on the damp, freshly cleaned couch.
Clark smiled at his wife's resilience. "You're handling this pretty well," he said quietly.
She shook her head with a sad smile. "I've kind of learned to expect the unexpected when married to Superman," she explained. "Children aging by the year instead of the day shouldn't even seem out of the ordinary, should it?"
Clark shook his head in denial. "I talked to Mom about that. She said I grew at a normal rate, so I don't think that's it."
"Well, maybe Dr. Klein can figure it out," she said as she stood. "He said he'd be here within the hour, so I'd better put some clothes on. I didn't expect hurricane Laura to require quite so much attention."
Clark stood with her, kissing her gently on the cheek. "We'll get this figured out, and things will go back to normal."
Lois nodded slightly as she headed for the stairs. Half way up to the second floor, she turned to her husband and asked him, "What's normal?"
Dr. Klein returned a stethoscope to his bag and turned to the child's anxious parents. He still wasn't entirely comfortable with clinical work, but he understood their reluctance to call Laura's pediatrician.
"She appears to be fine," he told them with some confusion. "The aging process has certainly been accelerated, but it seems to have stabilized for the moment. I have no idea what *did* cause the acceleration in her growth, but I'm fairly sure this is not a result of her genetic makeup."
Lois closed her eyes in relief as she accepted the information. Her greatest fear had been that she and Clark's genetic material had not been as compatible as they had hoped, and that Laura was suffering from this. "If it's not us, than what is it?" she asked with some desperation.
Dr. Klein sat back and looked at her for a moment. "It might be something as simple as an exposure to something radioactive, although I have no clue when she might have been exposed. It might be a natural side effect of her Kryptonian body being born beneath a yellow sun."
"But, Clark didn't age quickly," Martha cut in, stepping forward to re-dress the now squirming toddler. Laura had been fussy following her blood test, but she was rapidly calming and seemed to enjoy her grandmother's attention.
"So you've said," Bernard commented, almost to himself. "Still, he wasn't *born* beneath the yellow sun. That might be the missing element."
"When will the aging stop?" Clark asked quietly.
"For the moment, it has," he replied. "Without more specialized tests and equipment I can only give you my impressions. Even with the equipment, we are still dealing in theory, because none of us have ever done this before." He briefly held up the glass tubes he had collected Laura's blood in. "At the very least, we know that any "super" abilities haven't kicked in yet, including an aura, so we may be able to find out more with time.
As Martha finished dressing her granddaughter, she handed the toddler back to Lois. Lois reached for her eagerly, and soon Laura fell asleep in her mother's loving arms. As different as the child appeared, it was still clearly their daughter. She knew her parents, she clutched the same battered and well chewed toy, and she carried several of the habits that endeared their daughter to them.
Lois was startled out of her thoughts by the ringing of her telephone. Clark lifted the receiver, and said a few quiet words. He listened for a moment, argued briefly, then finally conceded defeat to his editor. When he turned to Lois, his expression was resigned, if not happy.
"At least one of us needs to get to work," he said quickly. "Perry said that there was a major problem at the shopping malls. Something about a new rock group encouraging teenagers to be violent." He looked at his daughter, sleeping peacefully in Lois's arms, and smiled slightly. "Why don't I have Superman check the situation, and you can get her put to bed."
Lois nodded thoughtfully, her maternal instincts at battle with her search for the Pulitzer. After only a moment's consideration, she decided to put her daughter first. "I need to put her down and make sure she's settled, then I'll meet you there." She looked down at the child sleeping in her arms, the worry clearly etched on her face. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
Clark nodded his agreement, then softly placed a kiss on first his daughter's, then his wife's cheek. "We'll figure this out," he told her gently. He had more experience with leaving his family in crisis, and he did so now with a quick spin, and a woosh out the window.
Clark understood immediately what Perry had been yelling about on the telephone. The Northern Metropolis shopping mall, an area that was normally fairly busy, was now overrun with people. Most of the crowd consisted of teenagers, none of whom were being terribly courteous.
Superman made a couple of quick interventions to prevent injuries, barely taking note of the odd and annoying music in the background. He followed the accelerating arguments between teens and their parents until he reached the display where the rock group was performing.
The group was loud, and their music offensive, although Clark found it difficult to make out any of the words. It was mostly comprised of long haired teenagers, all grouped around a little figure of a man that Clark couldn't see clearly. Moving closer, and rising slightly above the crowd, he finally got a glimpse of the imp, and took a quickly indrawn breath as he realized that this impression was completely accurate.
Mxyzptlk was hovering slightly above the stage in a "seated" position with his legs crossed. His arms were stretched up to the sky, accepting the worship of the teens with a radiant expression on his face.
"Mxyzptlk!" Clark exclaimed, his memory of a particularly bad Christmas leaping into his mind.
The imp glared at him. "Mr. Mxyzptlk, if you don't mind!" he replied in an exasperated tone. "I don't think my followers will tolerate any disrespect."
Superman looked at the group surrounding him— frantic teenagers who looked as if they were searching for a fight. They had done considerable damage to this center section of the Mall, having torn up displays and overturned trash cans in their desire to be nearer their leader. He considered his options briefly, everything from bodily carrying out their leader to taking the teens home individually, before he finally opted to try reason.
"Why are you here?" he asked the imp. He levitated into the air, and Mxyzptlk followed him to the location high above the crowd as his followers cheered below.
"I'm here to take over your world," Mxyzptlk answered quickly. "Last time I wasn't quite smart enough about this … I tried the whole world at once. This time, I plan to do things more carefully. First the kids, then their parents. Soon, they will all worship me." He smiled radiantly as the teens showered him with their attention, then he glared at Clark. "And, you are not going to send me back," he said firmly. "You'll have enough problems of your own to deal with, Daddy."
In an instant, Clark realized that Mxyzptlk must be behind what was happening with Laura. While he was a reasonable man, he had never been able to remain calm when his family was threatened. He lunged forward to grab the imp, and was rewarded with an explosion of glitter and paper fragments exploding in his face, even as the being magically disappeared.
Clark found himself hovering above the stage, covered in sparkling silver glitter, and facing an angry mob of teenagers who were not happy about having their leader dispatched. He descended to the stage, and faced the teens. As they moved towards him in a threatening manner, Clark heard the familiar voice. "If you think the twos are terrible, just wait until you see what comes next!"
Two hours later, a very tired Clark returned to the townhouse. He was thoroughly exhausted by the multiple trips to many homes he had made. He knew that the children weren't really at fault for what was happening, and while he knew it took longer, he had tried to deal with the near riot so as not to hurt anyone. Fortunately, Mxyzptlk's departure had allowed the group hysteria to fade, and he was able to get the teens to their homes with a minimum of police intervention.
Clark greeted his mother briefly, then floated up the stairs to check on the daughter he had left sleeping. He sucked in a quick breath when he saw her, a child of around five, sleeping on the crib mattress which had been relocated to the floor. Now, more than before, he was certain that this was the handiwork of a certain mischievous little imp.
Clark resolved that he and Lois would not give up until things were back to normal. They had been through too much to get their daughter back to let an interdimensional being take her away from them.
The knowledge that this was not a natural occurrance reassured him somewhat. Even though she was aging at an unnatural rate, he was fairly confident that if he could get rid of the imp, he could get things back to normal. Oddly enough, this was far easier to deal with emotionally than the possibility that the aging might be permanent. He shook his head, laughing slightly. It was truly a strange life when magic was easier to accept than reality.
Once he had assured himself that his daughter was fine, for the circumstances anyway, he said a quick goodbye to his mother and headed for the Planet. He found his wife on the phone, quizzing the Police Chief on the events of the day. He grabbed two cups of coffee, one for himself and one for Lois, and walked over to her desk just as she was hanging up the phone.
He set both cups of coffee on her desk as he allowed her a moment to put her thoughts into notes on the notepad, then asked her what the conversation had been about even though he had a good idea.
"Well, I was just getting the Police Chief's agreement that something odd is going on. Apparently, Superman just returned his son home. Michael was involved in the same riot that the rest of the kids started at the Mall." With a gentle smile, she touched her husband's arm. "Superman must be exhausted after taking home all of those kids to keep them out of trouble."
His smile acknowledged her understanding. "It wouldn't have been nearly as bad if the kids had wanted to go."
The truth was, most of the teens had been returned amidst kicking and screaming tantrums, and had he not been invulnerable, he would be sporting more than a few bruises and bites. Children could certainly be unreasonable when provoked.
Lois nodded, then added a few more notes to her pad. "The police chief feels that someone is inciting the riots, a leader of some sort. It's his thought that if we can identify the cause, and take that one person out, then we should be able to regain some control over the youth."
Clark nodded in agreement, but something in his expression was unconvincing. "What is it, what aren't you telling me?" Lois asked him with concern.
"I found the leader," he answered her. "And he pretty much admitted that his intent is to take over the world, beginning with the kids."
Lois stood quickly. "So, let's go get him," she announced quickly.
"It's not that easy," he told her. "We need to talk a minute." He glanced around, and saw that the conference room was vacant. He led his wife to the room and guided her inside, closing the door behind them.
Clark took a moment to collect his thoughts. It seemed ironic to him that they should discuss this here, in the conference room. This was the very room in which they had battled the imp once before. Clark dismissed the random thought, and turned to face his wife, who was waiting patiently.
"Lois, remember that little man from the other dimension? The guy we had to send back by having him say his name backwards … Mxyzptlk?" he asked her.
Lois recalled the particular Christmas quite well, although her memories of the interdimentional villain were rather sketchy. "I remember," she answered him.
With a sigh, Clark told her with finality, "He's back."
Lois absorbed the information for a moment before asking, "Is he what's happening to Laura, too?"
"I think so," Clark responded. "I mean, it certainly fits, and he all but said that he was responsible. Yes, I'm sure he is. We have to send him back."
"Any ideas on how to do that?" she asked him. Somehow, knowing that this imp was affecting their daughter made it a little harder to deal with him, and yet it made it more urgent.
Clark considered for a moment, then walked over to place his hands on Lois's shoulders. "Not one," he said quietly. "Yet."
She nodded, sensing his frustration. "Then we need to get one."
Perry chose that moment to come through the conference room door. "I knew I'd find the two of you in here," he blustered. "This is the biggest story to hit the news since the Beatles, and my top reporters are hiding in here. What have you got for me?"
Clark kept his hands on his wife's shoulders as he gave Perry an edited version of what he had seen. He threw in a couple of Superman quotes, and made sure to leave out any references to Superman being called "Daddy" in front of the mob.
"So, if we can eliminate the lead singer," Clark concluded, "We should be able to stop the teenagers from congregating."
Perry thought a moment, then asked, "Any clue where this guy came from? I mean, no one had heard of him a week ago, and now he's got his music on every station and every kid I know about has his CDs."
Clark looked at Lois for help, and she answered Perry quickly. "You know, Chief, the sales distribution in the music industry is awfully fast. Sometimes, it almost seems … magic."
Perry mumbled his agreement with the statement. "Well, it looks like Clark has the mall story nailed. Lois, why don't you start a sidebar on the truancy problem. According to LNN, the high schools have been vacant for the last two days. Can't believe you let them scoop us on that."
With a shake of his head, Perry turned to leave. Just before he left the room, he turned back to the couple. "Hey, where's that baby of yours? I moved heaven and earth to get that daycare center up and running, and you didn't even drop off my favorite little junior reporter."
Lois couldn't help but smile. She and Clark had indeed pressed for the center to open sooner, rather than later. She had no doubt that they had made Perry's life a little difficult until the center was up and running. After weeks of complaints and arguments about everything from staffing to security measures, Lois and Clark had gladly been the first to sign in their daughter.
The daycare center had been in full operation for more than three weeks, and this was the first day Laura had missed. Despite a few minor adjustment problems, Laura had easily adapted to her new caregivers. She was a good baby, after all, and she seemed happy anywhere that she was shown love. In addition, she was somewhat of a celebrity after her parents' activism in creating the center, and she delighted in the attention.
Lois had adjusted more easily to the demands of working full days than she had expected. She was able to drop in and see Laura a couple of times each day, and even managed to slip in to nurse. She missed some aspects of working at home, and they had been late to work more than once due to the complications of sharing morning responsabilities and juggling Superman's demand, but in general they were handling the new circumstances with their usual resilience.
She had known Perry had been slipping downstairs to the Planet's new daycare center to peek in at the kids, but she had hoped he wouldn't notice Laura's absence. "She was running a little fever this morning, and we were afraid she might be contagious, so we left her with Clark's mother."
Perry nodded in understanding. "Anything serious?" he asked, worry touching his voice.
"Just a cold," Clark replied, hoping he wouldn't push for more information.
Perry nodded once more. "Hope she's feeling better soon, she's the prettiest one in the group." With a brief smile, he left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Well, let's try to get some work done," Lois told her husband. "I have a feeling Superman's going to be awfully busy, so we need to use what time you have."
Clark nodded his agreement, and began to follow his wife from the conference room. As she opened the door, she got an odd expression on her face. He looked at her quizzically, and was rewarded with her sheepish grin.
"I couldn't exactly nurse this morning," she told him quietly. "I used the pump, but it's not the same. I'm a little … uncomfortable."
Clark nodded his understanding. "Anything I can do?"
Lois shook her head. "I took some Tylenol, and I'll use the pump again when I get home. That will have to do until Laura is back to her usual self."
Clark looked at her for a moment, considering what he wanted to say next. Lois caught his look and shook her head emphatically. "No," she told him firmly. "I'm not going to give this up, yet. If it were Laura's decision, or mine, then I might consider it, but I'm not going to let that creature take this away from us."
Clark kissed his wife gently on her forehead, not the least bit surprised that she was willing to fight for this. She did everything with her whole heart, whether it was her reporting or her mothering, and she let nothing stand in her way. That was part of the reason he had fallen in love with her. Giving her a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, he guided her from the conference room and shut the door behind them.
Lois had not overestimated Superman's demand for the day. As she had feared, the impact of the imp was beginning to make itself felt in the city.
Superman was instrumental in stopping several small riots of teenagers. Each time, he arrived too late to actually see the teen's leader, if indeed Mxyzptlk had actually been present. No teenager in the city seemed to be immune to the effects of the music. The schools were deserted, and there was no way for the truant officers to keep up. The music itself seemed to incite violence, and the teens appeared to take joy in ransacking the city.
Lois spent her day at the Planet, trying to keep up with Clark's call-ins of the city's turn of events. Always, there was an accompanying quote from Superman and a continued frustration with not being able to either locate or eliminate the imp.
After Clark's third call of the morning, Lois decided to call home and check on Laura. A breathless Jonathan answered the phone. "Hello, Lane-Kent residence … Wait Sweetie, Grandpa is talking on the phone."
Lois could hear her daughter's laughing voice, "Hurry Grandpa, I want to play horsey again. This time we gotta go fast. Faster than choo-choo train."
Jonathan heard the person on the telephone chuckle. "She's got you wrapped around her little finger, hmmm."
"A place I gladly want to be. Lois, this sweet baby girl has made both me and Martha feel 20 years younger today. She is a joy to behold. Clark had her same curiosity at this age. He wanted to know everything, and she's just the same way."
"Who you talking to Grandpa? Do I know them? Is it Mommy? Is it my Daddy?"
Without saying another word to Lois, she could hear Jonathan ask her daughter, "Why don't you find out for yourself, Ms. Inquisitive."
Laura, giggled as she took the phone. "Grandpa, my name's Laura, not Ms. Inquissizy."
Imitating her grandfather, Laura took the phone. "Hello, Lane-Kent residences. Who is this?"
Lois was amazed at the level of love just the sound of the child's voice brought her. A tear formed in her eye as she thought of what had been taken from her baby. She cleared her throat and wiped her eyes before anyone could see or hear her. "It's, Mommy. Pumpkin. You being a good girl for Grandma and Grandpa?" She kept her voice low, and looked around her to ensure that no one was listening to the conversation. This would be a little hard for her to explain.
"Mommmmmy! It's my Mommy, Grandpa! Oh Mommy, me is being very good."
"No, no … It's *I* am being good."
"Okay," a little voice said. "Me is glad you are being good too."
This made Lois laugh out loud. "Oh, Laura. What have you been doing all morning?"
Lois sat back in her chair and listened as her daughter told of her morning's activities. Laura told of everything she had done in the last few hours. "You know what I liked the bestest of all?" she finally asked.
"What's that, Pumpkin?"
"It's you calling me and talking on this telephone. I like talking on the telephone. Will you call and talk to me again? It's almost like having you here with me."
Lois again felt a love as strong as the one she felt for Clark build in her. "Sweetie, you know I will. Talking to you has been the best part of my day, too."
"Mommy, Grandma wants to talk to you. She said to tell you not to hang up. What's hang up, mean?"
"That means she wants you to give her the phone. Mommy and Daddy love you, Baby. Bye-bye."
"No Baby! I big girl now. Love you, Mommy. Bye-bye."
Martha took the phone as Laura ran towards her grandfather. "Horsy Time, Horsy Time." Lois could hear a gale of laughter come from Laura as she envisioned Jonathan parading around their living room and dining room being Laura's horsy.
"Hi, Honey. Have you or Clark found out anything yet?"
"Nothing yet, Martha. Clark has called a few times telling me where he's been looking, and I can hear the frustration grow each time he's called. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you taking care of Laura. I am both relieved and just a little jealous at the same time. I wish Clark and I could be with her."
"I know, Honey. Jonathan and I are having the time of our lives with this young lady of yours. She is so special, Lois. I think both of us will sleep well tonight. She's kept us hopping today. But, I can see she is winding down. I think a nap will be in order."
Lois nodded as her mother-in-law spoke. "Thank you again for all you've done. Laura isn't the only one who is special in this family."
"Honey, we love you all more than life itself. We're here whenever you need or want us. That's what families are for."
For the ten thousandth time, Lois said a prayer of thanks for this wonderful woman who she had learned to love nearly as much as her son did.
"Martha … "
"Not a word more. Don't worry about Laura. She's safe and sound. You and Clark find out what or who caused this."
"We will Martha, we will … I will call again later if I can get the chance."
"Okay, Dear. Take care. Bye."
"Bye, Martha. Tell Laura we love her."
"I will, Honey. Don't worry.
Lois was still smiling when she hung up the phone. She sobered when she faced her notes on Clark's last phone call. With a grimace, she took a sip of her cold coffee, and settled in at her computer. It was going to be a long day.
It was quite late when Lois finally asked to go home. Perry was accomodating, assuring her that he would hold any further messages for her, and that no one would scoop her on this story.
Gratefully using her daughter's "illness" as an excuse to go, Lois said goodnight to Perry and quickly drove home. She wondered if she would be in time to see her daughter, or if Martha and Jonathan would have already put her to bed. She arrived at the townhouse in time to join her in-laws for a late dinner. She tried not to look too shocked when she saw her own daughter.
Laura appeared to be around ten or eleven years old. Jonathan explained that she had awakened this way after her nap earlier in the day. It appeared that most of her growth occurred when she was sleeping, so they hadn't really encouraged her to lay down for the night.
"Hi, Mama," Laura said as her mother approached the table.
"Hi, Pumpkin." Lois did her best to steel herself from the shock and worry that was beginning to overwhelm her. She heard the strained sound of her own voice, and tried to remain calm.
"Mama, what's the matter?" Laura's hand, now the twice the size of hours before, touched her mother's cheek. "Laura doesn't want Mama to be sad. Mama smile for Laura."
Lois kissed the palm of her daughter and was amazed that it still smelled like the same little hand of her baby of the night before. "Sweetie, I could never be sad when I am with you. You and Daddy are my source of laughter and love."
The small girl moved her hand across Lois's cheek. "We know, Mama. We both know."
For an instant Lois froze as another moment in time came back to her … Superman standing before her as she told him … "If anything should happen to me, tell Clark I love him."
Lois was drawn back to the present. "Mama, are you hungry? Laura is very hungry."
At that moment Martha came into the dining room carrying a tray. She placed a plate in front both mother and daughter. "Now I don't want either of you to leave this table until that food is all gone. You both need to eat."
Lois watched as Laura picked up her fork and began to eat the mashed potatoes on the plate. It wasn't until she tried to eat the chicken next to them that Lois took her fork and knife and begin to cut up the chicken for her.
"Mama, eat too?" Laura said, with her mouth full.
"Yes, I'm going to eat, too. I'm very hungry."
"She's quite a talker," Jonathan said quietly. "She seems to pick up a new word every minute. She uses most of them correctly as well. I've never seen anything like it."
For the remainder of the meal the adults chatted as they tried not to watch Laura eat. The child managed to empty three plates before she slowed, astounding the adults who were caring for her.
"I have to say this much for her she has her father's love for food," Martha said. "She's eaten everything I've given her today without being picky."
"That's good to hear," Lois added. "I was concerned about how she would take to solid foods, but I see there haven't been any problems."
Martha and Jonathan smiled at each other. "Well, there was one little problem this afternoon just after she woke from her nap."
Jonathan leaned forward on the table as he looked at his granddaughter. "This young lady has got herself one big sweet tooth. She discovered a drawer full of chocolate bars, cookies and brownies and before we knew what she was into she ate the lot."
"When we realized what she had done, all she said was, 'More, please'," Martha added.
They all chuckled as Laura looked at them and smiled. "I guess the leaf doesn't fall far from the tree where chocolate is concerned."
All the adults looked at Laura and burst out laughing. "Where did you hear that, Pumpkin?" Lois asked with a smile.
"I heard Grandpa and Grandma say that when I ate the goodies."
"Well, Honey, in your case you get it from both sides of your family tree," Martha said.
Lois leaned forward and kissed Laura.
Laura giggled. "Love you Mama."
"Love you more, Baby."
"I'm not a Baby! I am a big girl."
"Yes, Honey, you keep telling me that, but it's hard for me to believe that you're getting so big. Now, you finish your dinner."
I'm tired, Mama," Laura said, after they had finished with dinner. "I wanna sleep, now."
With a sigh, Lois stood, and walked over to her daughter. She stroked the long hair, nearly to the girl's waist, and closed her eyes to prevent the tears that threatened. She was as afraid of what would happen during the child's sleep as Clark's parents were.
"Okay, Honey. I'll take you upstairs," she finally said with resignation.
Lois held Laura's hand as they ascended the stairs. She couldn't believe how coordinated the child had become in a matter of hours. Still, Laura did seem very tired, and Lois didn't want to risk her falling.
Lois brushed out Laura's hair, and braided it quickly down the back to keep it out of her face in the night. Then, she dressed her in one of Clark's T-shirts and settled her into a sleeping bag on the nursery floor. Laura was already too tall for the crib mattress, and they hadn't had time to make other arrangements.
She sat with Laura long enough for the girl to fall asleep, then finally let the tears that she had been holding back all day fall. She was still sitting there, stroking her daughter's hair, when Clark joined her.
Clark did his best not to show the shock that he felt in seeing his child so grown up. He could see that Lois was having enough difficulty with the situation, and he didn't want to worry her any further.
He was completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, but he had finally decided to let the police take over. The stress of worrying about his daughter had combined with the activities of the day to make him as tired as he had been following several natural disasters. He touched Lois's shoulder gently, and was slightly startled when she turned to him and he saw the silent trails of tears on her face.
Lifting her gently, he carried her from the room and into their bedroom.
"Mom's going to finish the dishes, then they're going to bed," he told her. "I guess they aren't as energetic after baby-sitting as they used to be."
"I guess she's quite a handful," Lois answered quietly. She rested a moment, then went about preparing for bed. Clark didn't press her. He knew that she needed time to collect herself. When she finally spoke, her voice was stronger. "If we take out the leprechaun, Laura should go back to normal, right?"
Clark smiled at her wording. "That's the plan."
"How's the rest of the world holding up?" she asked him. "I see you came home. Is it any better?"
Clark sighed as he turned back the covers on the bed. "No," he answered. "I finally decided to let the police take over. We can straighten out all the legal stuff later, and with their own kids involved, most of the police are being pretty lenient. I don't think any of the kids will get hurt. They don't seem violent towards the police, just property."
Lois nodded her understanding. She had seen the creases around his eyes, and she could practically feel his fatigue. Even Superman needed rest when he was under this type of stress. She knew he was probably here for her, as much as for himself, but she didn't question it. She merely climbed in bed next to him, and allowed him to pull her close.
"Mom said she was walking and talking," he whispered quietly. "I knew I'd miss a few milestones when I was working, but this is ridiculous."
Lois laughed slightly, trying desperately to see the humor in the situation. "She looks more like you every minute."
He smiled against her, hugging her to him. "We're going to get this straightened out. I know it. We always do."
Lois nodded, allowing herself to drift to sleep, her head pillowed on her husband's chest. She said a silent prayer that things would be better in the morning.
Breakfast was tense in the Kent household. Gathered around the table, the adults discussed what to do about the situation that faced them, while a teenaged Laura watched them with interest.
Laura was nearly as tall as Lois, now. Her brown hair was still braided down her back, and reached nearly to her knees. Her face was a reflection of her mother's in its cheekbones and lips, yet she had her father's long eyelashes and earnest expression. Martha continually looked from Laura to her parents and back again, astounded at the blending that was present in the girl's features.
"I'm going to have to take off work," Lois said with finality. "I'm afraid if I go anywhere she'll be older than I am when I get back."
"Lois, Perry is upset enough that I called in sick. Superman is needed, and I don't have much of a choice. We have to get this guy sent back to his own world so that we can have our daughter back."
"Clark is right, Dear. We can stay with Laura," Martha put in. "She's certainly easier to handle today than she was yesterday."
"There," Clark said firmly. "They can stay with Laura and you can go to work."
"I'm staying here," Lois said as she stood. "It's perfectly acceptable for me to stay home when my daughter is sick. Even more so if you're sick as well, which is what you told Perry. It's settled."
Laura stood quickly, glaring at the adults around the table. "I'm not a baby!" she shouted. "You don't have to baby-sit me, and you don't have to talk about me like I'm not here!" With that, she turned and ran up the stairs to her room, taking them two at a time.
Martha looked after her, and had trouble stifling a giggle. She had looked so much like Lois when she'd stormed off that the effect had been comical. Martha's laughter was brought to an abrupt halt when they heard the unmistakable sound of wood breaking.
Clark was the first to make it to the top of the stairs. He faced his daughter, who looked more surprised than he was. She was holding a door in her hand, supporting its entire weight with the strength of her hand on the doorknob. The door had clearly been torn from its hinges in her anger.
Her shocked brown eyes met those of her father, and he thought he saw a touch of fear there as well. He turned to see the equally shocked expression on his wife's face, and the quick understanding in the expressions of his parents. It seemed that Mxyzptlk wasn't the only problem they would have to deal with today.
Perry wasn't happy that both of his star reporters were out, but he dealt with the situation with a minimum of yelling. Lois had no difficulty convincing her in-laws that she could be of benefit once Laura had shown that her powers would soon equal that of her father.
The morning had been a frustrating experience for everyone involved. Laura had been more than a handful. She had burned a hole in the counter top while heating a snack, broken several pieces of furniture during a minor temper tantrum when she couldn't find anything on television that she wanted to watch, and shredded three pairs of Lois's jeans to make them look like the more stylish clothing she had seen in an advertisement.
Lois had finally resorted to a trip to the local mall to calm the girl. She knew she would have to find her some clothes that were "acceptable", or she would lose her entire wardrobe of casual clothing.
After a lengthy discussion on the necessity of controlling her powers, they drove to the Northern Metropolis shopping mall.
Lois tried to avoid the groups of teenagers that congregated throughout the building, but her success was limited. Laura, too, was drawn to the speakers that played a rather coarse form of music.
Still, she managed to distract the teen from the music with a combination of frozen yogurt and shopping. She hoped that Clark wouldn't be too angry about the damage she was doing to the budget, but it wasn't as if Laura could wear any of her baby clothes and Lois wasn't willing to sacrifice any more of her own clothing to the current teenage fashion trends.
The single time that Lois drew the line was when Laura began to circle a leather mini-skirt that would have looked more appropriate on a Hollywood street corner than at Metropolis High School.
"Absolutely not," Lois told her quickly. "And, that's the end of the discussion."
"But, it would be so cool!" Laura exclaimed. "I bet you'd look really good in it, too."
Lois looked the skirt over once more and had to smile. She had worn something similar during one of their undercover assignments, and she had looked more than good. Clark had ironically told her that it was a "killer" outfit just after their assignment had died in front of them. Still, it wasn't an appropriate piece of clothing for a teenager, and the price tag was prohibitive even if the style had not been.
"Not a chance," she answered, once more. "Your father would kill us both."
Laura whined a moment more, but was soon attracted to a colorful display of tie- dyed T-shirts and her attention was quite thoroughly diverted. Lois sighed in relief as she followed Laura to the display.
"These are so pretty," the young girl exclaimed. "They're the newest style!"
Lois smiled secretively, thinking it best not to inform the girl that this particular style had been around since her own childhood. The colors were bright and cheerful, and the style would cover her more thoroughly than the skirt she had just left, so Lois considered it a fair trade. She grimaced slightly as she looked at the price tag, though. She didn't remember "style" being so expensive when she had been a teenager. So this was what her mother had been complaining about.
They managed to make it through the majority of the day with little difficulty. After a brief lunch in the food court, at which time Laura consumed most of a pepperoni pizza, they began to make their way out of the mall.
Lois was just beginning to congratulate herself on her success in redirecting Laura's attention, when the annoying music which had been on the loud speakers became suddenly louder. Lois turned in time to see the youth around her walking towards the center of the mall where a group of musicians were playing on a small stage. Seeing that Laura was slipping away from her, Lois moved quickly to intercept her daughter.
What seemed to be hundreds of teenagers were gathered about the stage. Their arms were stretched heavenward as they chanted to a little man who was dressed as cupid on the stage. The man was seated in the air, skinny arms crossed over his naked chest. He was wearing a white diaper, and he held a red bow and arrow in his hands. His face was radiant with the adoration he was receiving.
Laura moved quickly to the front of the group of teens. Her hands raised towards him, reaching for the being, as she chanted something incoherent with the rest of the group.
Lois fought her way to the front of the crowd, and firmly grabbed her daughter. The rest of the group was too involved in their worship to notice the mild scuffle, and Laura was too indignant to remember that she had enough strength to pull away if she really wanted to.
Lois directed the screaming teen towards the doors of the mall, then out into the parking garage. With a great deal of screaming and yelling, she managed to get her daughter into the car, and then she got behind the wheel. The drive home seemed far longer than the drive to the mall had been.
"I can't believe the way you embarrassed me," Laura was still going on. "None of the other kids were being hauled out by their parents."
"You aren't one of the other kids!" Lois yelled back. "You're my kid, and I won't have you in the middle of a mob."
"It wasn't a mob," the teen insisted. "We were just listening to the music."
"You were worshipping someone you know nothing about!"
"We know a lot about him," she insisted.
"You can't know anything about this … you've only been a teenager for a few hours!"
"I'm not stupid!" Laura yelled, unable to argue with this particular bit of logic, and yet unwilling to concede the battle to her mother.
They completed the ride in stilted silence, with Lois having no clue how she had lost control of the situation, or what to do about it.
Once they had arrived home, Laura ran into the townhouse and up the stairs to her room. Lois followed more slowly, feeling older and more tired than she ever had. Seeing Martha in the doorway with a sympathetic smile was a balm for her ego, and gave her the strength to explain.
"I guess we had an argument," she offered with a small smile.
"Get used to them," Martha replied with a huge grin. "The older she gets, the bigger the fights will be."
Lois was unaware that she had removed Laura from a volatile situation only moments before the true explosion took place. The youth that had been chanting had gone completely out of the realm of reason, and had done their best to destroy the mall. Trash cans were turned over, glass was shattered, and most of the adults were sent cowering into the stores, fearing for their lives.
Superman once more found himself cleaning up the mess, and trying to minimize the violence. Once more, he hauled indignant children to their homes, leaving them in the care of frustrated and confused parents. He considered letting the police collect them all, but even Metropolis didn't have the facilities for handling this number of offenders.
Finally, with the worst offenders in jail and the rest in their homes, Superman consulted with the police chief.
"I don't know how to thank you for all you've done," the man said, wiping the sweat from his brow and then returning his hat to his head. "We never could've regained control without hurting someone."
Clark nodded his acceptance of the thanks. "I'll do some quick cleaning in the mall. I'll get the glass cleaned up and the shops secured, but I really think that you should consider closing the mall until we have the situation more under control."
The Chief nodded, agreeing with the idea. "You're right. This is the second major disturbance in less than two days, so I don't think we can risk it again."
Clark nodded, and then did as he said. He cleaned up most of the mess left by the youth, then secured the doors of each store. Just as he was locking the electronics store, he saw one of the big screen televisions come on. He stepped closer, wondering what was happening, as Mxyzptlk appeared in the screen.
He was once more dressed as Cupid, complete with his diaper, requisite bow, and arrow tipped with a red heart. "Can't you just feel the love," he said with a sigh.
Clark stepped towards the screen just as Mxyzptlk materialized from it, and became what appeared to be solid matter. Hopping off his seat in the air, he stepped towards the super hero. "I'm just glad your daughter has better fashion sense than you do."
"You leave Laura out of this," Clark said loudly.
Mxyzptlk shook his head in mock dismay. "Can't do that, Sups," he said brightly. "She's all part of the plan. I'm going to rule the world, and she's going to be at my side while I do it."
"You will never rule this world," Clark said firmly. "I won't let you."
Mxyzptlk laughed with mirth. "Of course you will. Not only that, but you'll help me every step of the way."
"I don't think so," Clark answered firmly.
With a wink, Mxyzptlk replied, "I do. In fact, I think I could use my own caped superhero to represent me to the public." He looked pointedly at Clark, taking in the blue tights and red cape. "But, I plan to stay away from primary colors. Far too plain for what I have in mind."
Clark stepped forward once more, attempting to grasp the imp. He found himself once more showered in glitter, and watching a bouquet of red and white balloons ascend to the sky.
Laura was laying on her sleeping bag, angry at the world in general. She knew her mother had a point, but this fact only made her angrier. She reached over to turn up the volume on the radio, and then laid her head back on her arms, letting the rhythm of the music fuel her distress.
She wasn't sure what appealed to her about the random sounds of the music she found on every station. It wasn't the words, for she couldn't clearly make them out, but there was a feeling that was undeniable. It made her feel justified in her anger, and peace with her distress. What was more, her parents hated it, and that was enough of a recommendation for her.
She sighed, then rolled over to face the ceiling. She was momentarily startled to see her idol there, the lead singer of the group. She sat up quickly, smiling instantly. "You're here!"
"Well, of course I'm here. I could tell that you needed a friend, and you know that I'm your friend."
Laura nodded enthusiastically, pleased that she had someone to talk to.
"What's your name?"
"Mxyzptlk. Mr. Mxyzptlk, if you don't mind," he answered her with a smile, descending slowly from the air to take a seat at the foot of her sleeping bag.
"How about just Mister?" she asked him with pink tinged cheeks.
"Mister will do just fine. You look a little down in the dumps. Let me guess." He began ticking things off on his fingers, as though going through a list. "You're mad at your parents. They don't understand you. You don't have any friends. No one cares about you." He regarded her intently for a moment. "Does that sound close?"
"You *do* understand!" she exclaimed.
"Of course I understand. I told you I was your friend."
"You are my friend," she whispered in a childlike voice. "My only friend."
Mxyzptlk floated closer to her, and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You know," he said casually. "Friends do things for each other."
"Do you want me to do something for you?"
"Well, I was thinking. I have a lot of things to say to the kids of the world, if I want to rule them that is. Anyway, it's a little hard to lead them when I'm being adored, so I might be able to use a spokesman. Someone young and pretty, who can talk to them on their level."
Laura smiled brightly. "I could do that!"
Mxyzptlk smiled back at her. "Of course you can. That's why I came to you. You'll have to come with me though."
Laura looked around the nursery slowly. The room was more than childish. It was in disarray from her earlier tantrum, and the door was off the hinges. The crib had been removed the day before, and even the mattress had been pushed back out of the way to make room for her sleeping bag. There wasn't a lot in the room that she would miss.
"My parents will worry," she said absently, looking around at her familiar surroundings.
"Sure they will," Mxyzptlk told her. "Of course, after the way they treated you, they deserve to worry, don't they?"
"I guess," she answered, but her voice was uncertain.
"It's not like they ever understood you," he continued. "In fact, I bet they wanted you to stay a baby forever. They're probably still looking for a way to turn you back into a baby."
With that, Laura nodded, recalling the conversation at breakfast that morning. They had spoken about her, but they hadn't spoken to her. Maybe they wouldn't even notice she was gone. Maybe they wouldn't care. With her anger restored, she told Mxyzptlk in a firm voice, "I'm going with you, Mister."
"That's my girl," Mxyzptlk said with triumph. With a profusion of glitter, the two disappeared, leaving the nursery deserted. A small card materialized out of thin air, and floated leisurely to the floor.
Lois was pacing through the living room when Clark returned. She had been doing so for the last hour, despite Martha's assurances that this type of argument was quite normal when dealing with teenagers. Finally, both Martha and Jonathan had gone shopping, hoping to find something that Laura would be willing to eat, besides the Twinkies and Cupcakes that she had demolished that morning.
"I see it's not any better," Clark said, placing his hands on his wife's shoulders to calm her.
"She's just so completely unreasonable!" Lois insisted. "She doesn't listen to a word I say, and when she does listen she assumes what I'm saying is wrong even when I have perfect proof that it isn't wrong. She won't eat anything except for junk food, she won't talk unless it's to argue, and she won't turn that infernal music off long enough for me to have a civil conversation with her, even if she was listening to what I said."
At the look in Clark's eyes, Lois finally broke off, taking a deep breath to get her emotions into check. "You love her and you're worried. Does that about sum it up?" he asked her quietly.
"Then let's go talk to her."
Taking her hand in his, Clark led her up the stairs. "I have a bad feeling that Mxyzptlk is going to try to use her for more than a distraction," he told his wife. "I think we need to warn her."
Lois nodded and stepped past the broken door to enter the nursery. There was no one there. She looked around, somewhat frantically, then knelt to pick up a single white card in the middle of the sleeping bag. She shook off the glittery substance that coated it, and read, "Thanks for the help."
Clark closed his eyes, trying not to panic. Lois saw his reaction, and reached for his hand. "He has Laura, doesn't he?"
The curtains fluttered as if on cue, allowing a cool breeze into the nursery and accentuating its emptiness. "Yeah," he answered. "But we're going to get her back." He took a step back and spun back into the suit. He kissed Lois on the cheek, telling her, "I'll bring her back," and then departed through the open window.
Lois watched him go, and tried not to give in to the panic that was creeping into her mind. Laura was safer than most, she reasoned, for she had her father's strength. She would be fine. Of course she would. She had no choice.
Lois began to wish fervently that she had gone to work today, after all. At least if she were at the Planet, she wouldn't be fighting this fear alone. She even considered going in for a bit, to get her mind off the situation until Clark could sort it out, but then decided against it. If Laura were to come home, the house shouldn't be empty.
Deciding that she must do something, or go crazy, Lois began to clean up the room. Seeing the sleeping bag, she thought that perhaps Laura should have a real bed to sleep in. She vaguely remembered a fold away bed from Clark's apartment that they had stored in a downstairs closet, but she wasn't entirely sure if she could get to it. Coming to the decision that she had little to lose in the attempt, Lois went downstairs to search for the old bed.
It took nearly an hour of re-arranging the closet, but she was finally able to see the bed behind a couple of boxes. Shifting those, she was able to move the heavy old bed using leverage and a good sense of balance. Once she had it out of the closet, she moved to replace the items she had removed to reach it. She was still putting things back when Jonathan and Martha returned carrying two bags of groceries.
Still working, Lois explained what had happened to her in-laws, and she managed to accomplish the entire discussion without having to look them in the eye. Martha put away the groceries as Jonathan handed Lois the boxes, and the mess that had moved from the closet to the hallway began to disappear.
Just as Lois was finally getting things back where they belonged, she froze. Martha noticed the change immediately, and asked her what was wrong. Lois stepped from the closet holding a garment bag that was both open and clearly empty.
"What's that, Dear?" Martha asked her.
"The costume," Lois answered in a hushed voice.
"One of Clark's?"
"No. Mine," she said, finally meeting Martha's eyes. "The one you made me."
Martha's eyes locked with Lois's as understanding dawned. The Ultrawoman costume was gone. No one had known where the costume was hidden, not even Clark. In order to find it, someone would have had to have used … Magic.
Clark was more than frustrated when he returned home. He had flown search patterns over the whole city, concentrating on the areas around the malls, and still he hadn't found his daughter. Knowing that Lois would be terribly worried, he finally decided to head back home and see if Laura had returned there.
He entered through his bedroom window, and quickly changed from the suit into a pair of sweat pants and T-shirt. It was late, and he was fairly sure that dinner was finished. He jogged down the stairs, reluctant to face Lois without their daughter, and froze at the sight that greeted him.
Lois and his parents were seated on the couch, watching the television in rapt attention. It took him just a moment to recognize the figure on the screen. Actually, he recognized the suit long before he recognized his daughter.
In a fluorescent wash of purple and pink, she descended from the sky. She looked almost identical to the original Ultrawoman, except that her chest was a little smaller, bearing a glittering silver "H", and her braided hair much longer. She pushed at the turquoise cape, moving it off her shoulders, and then she faced the crowd.
The news camera captured the tiny smile that was so familiar to him, a mischievous little grin that he had come to realize meant trouble. She waited a moment, poised before the cameras and a group of adoring fans.
"Hi everyone," she began, her voice trembling just slightly. "I'm here to represent Mr. Mxyzptlk. He is here to lead us, and we are to follow him without question."
Clark groaned, knowing that Mxyzptlk had indeed managed to brainwash his child. The small noise drew his family's attention from the television to him. Lois rose immediately, and went to him, slipping her arms around his waist. "At least we know she's okay," she whispered in his ear. "The rest we can deal with."
He nodded, seeing the logic in her statement. Soon, their daughter's voice once more claimed their attention.
"The youth of the world have found a new leader in our Mister. His music inspires us, and his leadership will bring us all that we want. Our parents don't understand us, and they can't love us because they are too different from us, so Mister is all we have.
"He has asked me to speak to the world, to tell you what he wants from you. Mister wants you to be happy. He wants you to be free of the tyranny our parents force on us."
She looked around the group, seeing the attention of the children focused on her, and she became bolder. "Mister has several demands for the adults of the world. They can either join us, or we will banish them from our world. If they choose to join us, they must give us all the money and stereo systems we want. They must play our music, loudly, and never yell at us."
As the crowd cheered, Laura seemed to drink in the adoration of the crowd, as though it were meant for her rather than Mxyzptlk. Her demands continued, becoming immature and whiny, yet the cheers continued.
By the end of the speech, Laura sounded almost silly, but only the adults seemed to notice. She stood there, before her followers, until the cheers receded. Then, she walked into the crowd, greeting her fans and sharing with them the wonder of Mxyzptlk.
Most of the news crews were preparing to leave as the group dispersed. A cameraman walked up to her, and spoke. "Hi, do you remember me?"
She looked confused for a moment, then decided he must be mistaking her for someone else. "No, I don't. I haven't seen you before."
Realizing his mistake, and seeing that she certainly wasn't as old as he remembered, he tried to save face. "Sorry," he told her. "I thought you were Ultrawoman. You have the costume, except for the "H", and you do fly."
"Mister gave me the costume," she told him. "So that I could be his spokesman. He said people would be impressed if I wore it. I'm not a woman, though. Adults can't be trusted. I'm just a girl." She paused for a moment before adding with a small smile, "Hypergirl."
Jimmy looked her up and down. "Well, that costume certainly is impressive." Still, he found that it didn't hold the same fascination for him that it once had. Briefly, he wondered what Penny would look like in the suit, then he banished that thought. She was a little too practical for something like that.
"Do you know Superman?" Jimmy asked her. With most of the reporters gone, she seemed calmer, less demanding, and he hoped that he could get an exclusive for the Planet. At the very least, it might impress his editor slightly.
"He's an adult," she said firmly. "I don't want to know him." She started to turn and leave, then she pivoted back and faced him once more. "You don't look old," she said brightly. "I mean, you aren't one of us, but you don't look like one of them either. You might be okay."
Clark spun quickly and, now wearing the suit, faced the television set. The reports had ended when Laura's demands had become so petulant as to be comical. The news was now speculating on the origins of the new super hero, and her questionable motives.
"At least we know where she is," he told his wife quickly. "Now I just need to get her." With that, he disappeared out the window with a whoosh.
"Where do you come from?" Jimmy asked, eager for the opportunity to get a story.
"Metropolis," she answered, slightly confused.
"You live here?"
"I was born here," she answered lightly. "My parents live here, too."
"Who are your parents?"
Before she could answer, one parent in question descended from above her. "Young Lady, we need to talk."
She looked at him for a moment, allowing memory and instinct to fill in the missing parts. "Dad?"
Jimmy's eyes opened wide as the implications of that statement sunk in. Before he could form a coherent question, Superman scooped his daughter into his arms and took to the sky, leaving a confused photographer staring skyward.
Clark landed with his daughter on a ledge which overlooked the city. He needed a place where they would not be disturbed, and this seemed to fit the bill. They sat for a moment, not speaking, before she finally accused him.
"You didn't tell me you were Superman."
Clark turned to his daughter, seeing the anger and accusation there, and sighed. He and Lois had discussed when they would tell their child about his second job, but they hadn't come to a conclusion. Still, this situation hadn't left a great deal of time for details like genealogy.
"I really didn't have the opportunity," he said quietly. "Remember, two days ago you were a baby."
"Like that's an excuse," she said sarcastically.
"What *are* you so angry about?" he replied. "All we've ever done is love you and try to keep you safe. There's no reason for you to be so angry."
"You don't understand me," she declared. "You never did."
"You haven't given us the chance," he said quietly, willing her to drop her voice. He was certain that yelling would have no effect, so he instead was trying for a tranquil tone.
"Mister understands me," she told him firmly.
"Oh, I see," he answered, thinking quickly. "Is he the one that gave you the costume?"
She smiled proudly, swinging her legs over the edge of the building and kicking rhythmically. "Yes, he gave it to me. He said people would take me more seriously if I wore it."
Clark nodded, still not entirely sure how to proceed. "Do you know where he got it?"
She looked confused for a moment. "No, he didn't tell me. I guess he made it."
"Actually, he stole it," Clark answered. "It was in a closet. It belonged to your mother, and she hid it. I don't know how he even knew about it."
"Mister wouldn't steal," she said emphatically. "He doesn't have to. He can make whatever he wants. He can give us whatever we want."
Clark faced her, looking into his own brown eyes. "If he can make whatever he wants, why does he want the adults to give him money and stereos?"
"He doesn't," she answered proudly. "I do. I want to be able to play my music when I want, *not* when you say it's okay."
"Have I ever told you that you couldn't play music?" he asked her quietly.
She thought a moment. "No, I guess not. But lots of parents do. And Mommy wouldn't let me stay at the gathering when we were shopping."
"That 'gathering' turned into a mob scene. I had to take all those kids home and close the mall after they tore it up."
She looked shocked for a moment. "Why would they do that?"
"I guess to show Mxyzptlk how much they liked him."
They sat in silence a while longer, before she faced him with a hurt expression. "You want me to be a baby forever," she accused.
Clark sighed, and reached over to take her hand in his. "Not forever, Honey, but it would have been nice for you to be one till the end of the year."
"Why? I like being big."
"I know you do, but you missed a lot of neat stuff by growing so fast. You didn't get to go to school, or read stories, or play with other kids. You didn't get to see Disneyland or play Little League." He faced her, reaching out to caress her cheek with his hand. "We didn't get to see you grow up," he said simply. "We would have loved to do that."
"My Daddy," she whispered as Clark reached out and pulled her into his arms. He held her for a moment, content to let her rest. When she raised her head, there were tears in her eyes.
"I want to go home," she told him simply.
"I'm glad. We want you home."
She thought a moment more. "He won't let me leave, I don't think."
Clark nodded. He was pleased that she was realizing she was Mxyzptlk's prisoner. "I have an idea, but you'll have to help me do it."
"What do I have to do," she asked him.
Clark considered carefully before allowing her to help him. He knew that Mxyzptlk could be anywhere, and listening in on the conversation. Still, he knew that he couldn't do this alone, and he wouldn't presume to try.
"We have to get him to say his name backwards," he said quietly. "If he does that, he gets sent to his own dimension. Then, you could be my baby again, and grow up the right way."
She nodded slowly, beginning to understand. "He said you sent him away once before. How did you do it?"
"We gave him a Christmas present. When he read the card, he read his name backwards."
She nodded once more. "That won't work again," she told him. "He's too smart."
Clark agreed with her. "I know. But, like I said, if you'll help me I have another idea."
It took Clark until the next morning to get his plan put into motion. He made a call to the printing department in the Daily Planet, and explained what he needed. With a laugh, the head of the department promised to do what was required, and have it available within the hour.
Lois was both pleased and relieved to hear that Laura was doing well, but she was somewhat concerned that her daughter still hadn't come home.
"She's going to help us send him back," Clark explained. "He wouldn't trust us to do it, I'm sure of it. He trusts her."
"Do you trust her?" Lois asked skeptically. "She hasn't exactly been a model teenager, lately."
"She has a good heart," Clark said after some thought. "I trust her. Besides, she's our daughter."
Lois nodded, then went upstairs to change. As she passed by Laura's room, she couldn't help but step in. She walked over to the dressing table, and trailed her fingertips across the smooth wood. Then, opening the large closet, she touched the crib that they had stored there a few days before.
Clark found her there, quietly touching the furniture in their daughter's room. He gently took her into his arms, holding her close, as a single tear slipped down her cheek.
"I just want her back," she whispered into his ear. "I want my baby back."
"I know," Clark whispered back. He wished he could give her the confidence that he felt that everything would be okay. He wished he could relay to her the pride he felt in their daughter's honesty and willingness to help. These things were intangible, however, so he merely held his wife, and tried to give her some of his strength to sustain her for the coming day.
Laura landed shakily on the ledge. It was so much simpler when her father did it. She smiled once more to herself. Her father was Superman. That was probably the coolest thing ever.
She sat on the edge to wait for him, swinging her feet before her. She hadn't had a hard time getting away from Mister that morning. His followers were holding a worship session, and he'd been quite involved in it.
Clark landed gingerly on the ledge, holding a paper sack before him.
"Did you bring it?" she asked him anxiously.
He held up the bag to show her that he had it, then sat down next to her. "Your mother said to tell you she loves you, and to be careful. She's worried about you."
Laura rolled her eyes, but was warmed by the concern of her mother. "Tell her I'll be fine. I'm a big girl."
Clark nodded as he handed her the package. "I know," he reassured her. "But Mxyzptlk is a nasty little imp, and I don't trust him."
"I know," she answered. "But, you need to trust me."
Clark nodded, and reached over to kiss his daughter on the cheek. "If this works, you might not remember this," he told her.
"That's okay. You can remind me someday." With a smile, she stood, and slipped on the edge of the ledge. She caught herself in mid-air before she could drop the package, and smiled at the concerned look on her father's face as he reached for her. Shaking her head, she told him, "Still getting used to this flying thing."
With that said, she was gone. Clark watched her retreating figure for a moment, and desperately hoped that the plan would work. He had learned to love the spunky person who was his daughter, and he missed not having seen her grow into that person.
With a final sigh, he took off, and flew to meet his wife at the Daily Planet.
Laura flew with her package back to the mall. Since its closing, the teens had been using it as a base — locked doors were no problem for their master, Mr. Mxyxptlk. The food court had plenty to eat, and there was a great variety of clothes to wear. There were many activities to keep the youth occupied as they ditched school to worship their idol.
She removed the paper bag from a large red heart, and went in to find Mister. She found him reclining on a cushion of air. He sat up quickly when he saw her.
"Where have you been?" he asked her abruptly. "You haven't been getting into trouble, have you?"
"No, Mister," she told him earnestly.
"Oh," he replied with clear disappointment. "Then you should. You'd like causing trouble. All the kids like causing trouble."
"I went to get you a present," she told him, holding the red box out before her. "It's a valentine for you."
"A box," he said, wiping an imaginary tear from his eye. "You got me a box." He looked the package over for a moment before opening the card. As he began to read, his head snapped up. "This isn't a trick, is it?"
Laura shook her head, relying on her innate sense of honesty to get her though this. "The card isn't a trick, Mister. It's from me. It's to thank you for my pretty costume."
Cautiously, Mxyzptlk read the card silently. Once satisfied that it held no tricks, he smiled and read it aloud. "To my favorite Mister, from Laura."
Laura smiled radiantly at him as he turned the box over in his hands. "What do I do with it?"
"You open it," she answered him. Separating the cardboard, she revealed a sweet smelling treat hidden in the box.
"Ohhhh … " Mxyzptlk said, as he lifted one of the candies to his nose. He sniffed it, then licked it lightly, and finally sunk his teeth into the fine confection.
With a sigh near rapture, he gobbled the chocolates, one after the other. Only after the box was nearly half empty did he remember Laura was there. "These are yummy," he declared in a childlike voice. "What are they?"
"They're chocolates," she answered him. "I tried to figure out what was in them, but I can't read very well."
Mxyzptlk nodded in understanding as he flipped the box over. He grimaced slightly as he began to read the list of what was in the treats. "Chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, refined hydrogenated coconut oil, lactic … umm … lecithin, monosodium gluti- glutamate, kltpzyxm, and other natural flavors."
With satisfaction, he completed the list and looked up. "Natural flavors," he said again as a pale cloud of glitter began to form around him. His confused look was quickly replaced by fury as he realized what he had said. Kltpzyzm … his own name backwards. He was going back.
"That's not fair!" he shouted indignantly. "You tricked me again, you little brat!"
"I guess I did," she answered, backing away from the swirling mass of glitter.
"But you're just a kid!" he yelled as his body was sucked into oblivion.
"I'm my father's daughter," she answered him, quietly.
But she doubted that he had heard her. The glitter enveloped him, and then it faded away.
Clark flew into the mall as soon as he saw the brightness through a window. He entered in time to see the glitter envelop Mxyzptlk and pull him back to the fifth dimension. He wondered briefly what kind of power must be necessary to cause such a shift in the dimensions, and how Mxyzptlk had found that much power to enter the third dimension in the first place, but he decided that he would never truly know.
Just as the being dissolved, the glitter was replaced with a flash of light. He shaded his eyes from the momentary glare, and when he looked back it was to see his daughter lying on the floor with the costume draped over her tiny body.
Carefully, he lifted the baby into his arms, and closed his eyes for a moment as the emotions washed over him. He draped the costume over one arm, and wrapped the cape around Laura. "Yes, Honey. You are your father's daughter," he whispered gently against her forehead.
With that, he quickly flew her home. He knew Lois would be as anxious to see her as he had been, and he didn't want to keep her waiting.
Lois smiled at the bouquet of two dozen roses that had found their way to her desk when she wasn't looking. She glanced past their profusion of color and scent to see her husband walking towards her desk.
Clark knelt down as he reached her and rested his crossed arms on her desk. "Happy Valentine's Day, Sweetheart."
Lois smiled back at him. "I guess this wasn't exactly like we planned it," she said with chagrin. "So much for Paris."
Clark reached over her to grasp the copy of the Daily Planet that Perry had just dropped off to her. "MYSTERIOUS IMP BANISHED BY SUPERMAN" led the headlines, and he couldn't help but smile. "I think it was a productive day," he said quietly, reading the smaller print below the headline that declared, "Hypergirl vanishes without a trace."
"It was pure genius to have his name printed backwards in the ingredients list," Lois told him with a touch of pride.
"Joe in printing owed me a favor," he said lightly. "And Laura could charm the socks off just about anybody."
"I kind of miss her," Lois said. "She was an amazing person."
"She still is," Clark replied. "And she'll get better by the day. I'm just glad we'll be there for all of it, this time around."
Lois nodded absently before looking up at her husband. "I want to go home."
Clark smiled his understanding and left her to find Perry. He did so a few moments later, and he confronted the editor with his request.
"Let me get this straight," Perry said, his voice slightly gruff. "You two have been off work half the week, and now you want to take the afternoon off as well? Why, I got better work out of Jimmy with his Hypergirl story." Perry laughed a moment before adding, "Couldn't let him write up the part about her being Superman's kid, though. If she had been, she wouldn't have disappeared when they sent that thing back where it came from."
Clark shuffled his feet. He had never been a very good liar, so he tried to stay as close to the truth as possible. "We've been pretty worried about Laura, and Lois hasn't been sleeping. We want to make sure that she's okay." It was indeed close to the truth. After he had brought Laura home the night before, he and Lois had spent the night in bed, holding the baby between them, just grateful to have her back.
The time he had spent watching his wife nurse in their bed was a time he would always treasure, moreso because he had feared never to experience it again. Lois, too, had seemed to sense the magic of the night and neither of them had slept until the wee morning hours.
Perry's gruff demeanor softened slightly at the mention of his favorite little girl. He had missed seeing the baby in the Center downstairs, and was looking forward to her return in the next few days. He was fairly confident that his star reporters didn't realize how much time he spent down there, and he intended to keep it that way. They walked over him quite enough without knowing that his weakness was their daughter. Still, this particular Sunday afternoon was relatively quiet in the aftermath of the big story, and he didn't need them here.
"Get out of here," he finally told the reporter. "And don't let me see you two here again until Tuesday morning."
Clark smiled, glad to have the day off. "Thanks, Chief."
Perry mumbled slightly as he turned to leave, unwilling to let Clark see the mirth in his eyes. He understood a couple's need to be alone on Valentine's Day … but they didn't have to know that. Seeing Clark on his way back to his wife, Perry headed to the telephone. Maybe he would give Alice a call and see if the flowers had arrived, he thought. Alice had always loved roses …
Lois and Clark entered the townhouse together. They were charmed by the sight that met them, Jonathan bouncing Laura on his legs while Martha warmed a bottle on the stove.
"I'll take care of that," Lois said quickly, relieving her father-in-law of the fussy baby, and heading upstairs to the bedroom to nurse. She had missed this, and she was enjoying making up for lost time.
Clark met her upstairs a few moments later. "Mom and Dad said to tell you `Happy Valentine's Day', and that they had dinner reservations for five-thirty, so they wouldn't be hanging around."
Lois looked up in disappointment. "I didn't mean to run out on them," she said quickly.
Clark kissed her on the cheek before spinning into a pair of black jeans and a black T-shirt. Lois looked up at him appreciatively.
"They know that," Clark told her. "They figured we could use some bonding time after the past few days."
Lois couldn't help but agree. She finished nursing Laura, and then they walked together to the nursery to lay her down. The older Kents had spent the morning restoring the room to its previous condition, complete with clean sheets on the crib. The bed that Lois had taken such pains to locate was neatly made with colorful sheets and pushed into a corner of the room.
It took a moment of patting Laura's back to settle her down once she was placed in the crib, but she was soon sleeping peacefully. With a heavy sigh, Lois turned to walk from the room. She gasped lightly when Clark scooped her into his arms and flew her down the stairs.
"You're getting pretty good at that," she told him with a smile.
"My pleasure," he answered quietly. He sat next to her on the couch, and they argued briefly over which video to watch before finally settling on "The Princess Bride."
As the opening credits began to play, Lois allowed her eyes to drift over to the roses she had carried in earlier and placed on the coffee table. It was still a little early to fix dinner, but she imagined they would make a lovely center piece during the meal.
Clark watched her gaze, and gently put his arm around her. "I'm sorry we couldn't make Paris," he told her quietly.
Lois shook her head. "I'd rather be here," she told him honestly. "Any place we're together is full of romance."
Clark smiled, and leaned in to kiss his wife. Her arms came around him, pulling him closer to her as the kiss deepened. All of the relief and love that they each felt was poured into the emotion of the kiss, and a warmth enveloped both of them.
Clark had just begun to slide his hands beneath Lois's sweater when he heard the first tiny cry. Closing his eyes tightly, he held his breath and began to count backwards from one thousand.
Lois sensed his withdrawal, and wondered briefly at it's cause. Just then, she heard the quiet whimper of their daughter beginning to drift down the stairway. With a smile, she kissed her husband lightly on the cheek. "I'll get her," she said quietly. "After all, they are only babies for a little while."
Clark returned her smile and stood with her, putting his arm around her waist as they headed for the stairs. "We'll get her," he told her in reply. "Because every day is precious."
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 6 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1999 to the author(s).