By Notrepooh <Notrepooh@aol.com>
Submitted December 1999
Summary: In this prequel to the author's story "Coming of Age," Lois and Clark face their baby daughter's serious illness. As they focus on their child, their marriage comes increasingly under strain and they must confront the possibility that they may lose each other as well as their child.
Author's Note and Warning: This story, which is a prequel to Coming of Age, contains a pair of serious and painful situations for our beloved Man of Steel and his intrepid lady. The first involves the loss of a child to illness — the worst of all nightmares for parents and a tragedy that even the powers of Superman cannot avert. The second is a separation, albeit a short one, of our favorite couple. Writing this one has been a sort of therapy for me. I hope you find something of value within it.
"Jon!" his mother admonished. "Sit down! You're rocking the boat!" Jonathan Lane Kent obediently took his seat but continued to lean as far over the side as he could, causing their tiny craft to assume a precarious angle. As Lois opened her mouth to correct him again, she caught sight of her husband's amused grin and rounded on him instead.
"And just what, pray tell, are *you* laughing at, Farmboy?" Her voice was stern, but Clark knew her too well to miss the teasing tone she was trying to hide.
He adjusted the baby carrier that held nine-month-old Emmy close to his chest and responded with a grin at his wife. "Sweetheart, you've been suspended over vats of acid, imprisoned above 200 pounds of dynamite, kidnapped to alternate universes, sealed in a steel drum and dropped into the ocean… I find it amusing that you are worried about," he paused and gazed over the side of the boat for dramatic effect, "ten inches of water!"
"It's not the water that has me nervous, Clark. I think it's all these *shrunken* people." She emphasized the word and lofted her eyebrows, waiting for him to catch on.
He frowned momentarily and then brightened with a chuckle of comprehension. "I see. You mean the idea that 'it's a small world, after all' strikes a little too close to our history for comfort." Clark flashed his wife a delighted grin as they shared their inside joke. The boat continued to travel serenely through the ride's winding waterway, passing village after village of animated native folk. Three-year-old Jon did his best to take it all in, singing along with the folk songs he recognized and giggling at the antics of the puppets while his parents beamed at him and each other.
When their boat "docked", Jon informed Lois and Clark that he would like nothing better than to take the ride again, but Lois pointed out the long line that had formed at the popular attraction and Clark reminded him that they had much more Disneyland to explore before their brief visit was over. Only momentarily disappointed, Jon was soon skipping down the path toward the Haunted House with his parents and his sister following close behind.
The trip to Disneyland was an unexpected bonus for the Kent family. The Planet's star reporting duo had been sent to provide an up-close-and-personal account of the first meetings of the Terra-Krypton Unity Council which had recently been held in San Francisco. Perry had insisted that the pair make use of some of their accumulated vacation time and enjoy some rest and relaxation — *after* filing their stories, of course! Lois had been dubious about mixing pleasure with work, but she had to admit that the time off was renewing her spirit.
The TKUC meetings had been marvelous. Superman presided over the opening ceremonies, an obvious choice since it was at his urging that the dialogue had begun in the first place. It took a lot of convincing to persuade the leaders of the countries of Earth to embrace a partnership with the Kryptonians. The memory of Lord Nor and the havoc he wrought was still very fresh in human minds. But eventually Clark had been able to convince them that Lady Zara and her husband Lord Ching would be honorable and valuable allies.
The Kryptonians were easy to convince. Zara and Ching were anxious to begin to make up for the damage Nor had done and knew that, with Superman's vigilant attention, a partnership with Earth would benefit all. They had carefully chosen their contingent, keeping in mind their own experiences on Earth and choosing only those who would greet the humans with none of the arrogance and stand-offishness that Earth natives found so offensive.
A framework had been constructed which would allow a sharing of technology, medical advances and cultures between the two civilizations. There could be no doubt that Kryptonian technology was superior to that of Earth. However, Kryptonian medical knowledge had been developed in response to conditions on the planet Krypton, a planet that no longer existed. Their new home planet, which they called "New Krypton" presented a different set of challenges and the medical knowledge that the people of Earth could offer might provide much-needed insights into combating diseases new to the Kryptonians. In addition, as New Krypton evolved into a more hospitable environment, the people would finally have time for life's pleasures once again, and human theater and music would be a wonderful starting point.
And so, both cultures stood to gain immeasurably from the interaction. After his opening ceremony duties, Clark, as Superman, had been given an open invitation to all of the meetings and he had taken full advantage of the opportunity. So as Lois covered the events that were open to the press, her partner won them the inside scoop on the closed-door proceedings. The product of their labors was a series of comprehensive articles detailing the meetings, agreements, and the social gatherings of delegates and providing delightful glimpses of Kryptonians and humans enjoying each other's company in moments of relaxation. Their work had been picked up by the Associated Press and had headlined on every major newspaper world-wide. The positive slant they used had gone a long way toward soothing the frayed nerves of humans who had lived through the horror of the Kryptonians' first visit.
Perry hadn't told the couple yet, but he smelled a Pulitzer.
After a wild ride at the Haunted House, the quartet met up with the elder Kents to claim their place on the curb of Main Street for the Parade of Lights. Jonathan and Martha had spent the majority of their day going from show to show and were tired but delighted. When they met Lois, Clark, and the children, they had the obligatory pairs of Mickey Mouse ears for Jon and Emmy. As the last of the fireworks lit the night sky, the six of them left the park with the children asleep in their parents' arms. In days to come, Lois and Clark would look back on this as one of the happiest times their little family had ever shared.
As much as she had enjoyed her respite, Lois had to admit that she was happy to return to the organized chaos of the newsroom. There was something about the endless activity and looming deadlines that revitalized her and she said as much to Perry.
"Ah, Lois, that's how I can spot a natural-born journalist. It's like you've got printer's ink running in your veins, isn't it? I know just how you feel!" Perry paused to watch the bullpen's activity for a moment. "I know just how you feel!" he repeated softly as he headed for his office.
As Perry closed his office door, Lois turned to see Clark deep in conversation with a man she didn't know, the look on her husband's face something between amazement and anger. Curious, Lois approached.
"I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at, Mr. Thompkins," Clark was saying. Noticing Lois, he reached out to draw her into the conversation. "This is my wife and partner, Lois Lane. Lois, this is Mr. Thompkins of the Washington Post. He was beginning to explain the purpose of his visit to me."
"Perhaps it would be better if we found a more private venue for our discussion. A nearby coffee shop or restaurant, perhaps?" Thompkins suggested, his voice lowered, his eyes taking in the activity around them.
Lois bristled immediately at his hint of secrecy. "Actually, Mr. Thompkins, Clark and I are in the middle of an important investigation and have very little time." She squeezed Clark's hand as hard as she could to silence him when he opened his mouth to contradict her. He squeezed her hand in return and followed her lead.
"That's true, we don't have much time to spare," he agreed. "Maybe we could use the conference room for a couple of minutes." Nodding her agreement, Lois led the way.
Once the door was closed, Lois rounded on their visitor. "And what, may I ask, does the Washington Post want with the two of us."
Mr. Thompkins grinned at her comment. "It's not so much what we want *with* the two of you as it is that we *want* the two of you." At Lois and Clark's looks of confusion, he hastened to continue. "The articles you wrote while covering the TKUC meetings have not gone unnoticed in the world of journalism. Surely you're aware that they were picked up by the wire services and sent around the world." The reporters nodded, but remained silent. "Well, the Board of Directors of the Post was impressed, too. And I have been sent to offer you both positions with our paper."
Clark found his voice first. "Mr. Thompkins, we're flattered by the offer, but…"
"Before you answer, let me tell you that we are prepared to offer you both a fifty percent increase over your current salaries and private offices instead of desks in the bullpen. We'll pay for your family's move to Washington and…"
"As I was saying," Clark interrupted, "we're flattered by the offer, but I think I speak for both Lois and myself when I tell you that we are not interested in leaving the Daily Planet."
"There's no need to be hasty, Mr. Kent. The Post is willing to give you as much as a week in which to decide. Come to D.C. Let us show you around. Meet some of the people you would be working with. I think you will find that…"
"Mr. Thompkins, I think my husband's answer was very clear. Thank you for your generous offer, but no." Without further comment, Lois walked out of the room. She saw no need to waste any more time.
Clark lingered, attempting to be polite. When the gentleman finally accepted the inevitable and headed for the elevator, Clark approached Lois at her desk. Before the two of them could talk, they were interrupted.
"So, kids, should I be worried?" Perry asked, cutting to the heart of the matter in his customary fashion.
"What do you mean, Chief?" Clark glanced nervously at the elevator doors that were just closing on their uninvited guest.
"George Thompkins — Washington Post," Perry nodded in the direction of the elevator. "I've known him for years… So, do I need to worry?"
Clark and Lois shared a glance and then a grin. Lois turned a fond gaze on their editor and, smiling, shook her head. "No, Perry. You don't need to worry. You see, it turns out that it's not just any old printer's ink that runs in our veins. It's Daily Planet printer's ink!"
Perry White laughed softly as he nodded and walked away.
There was nothing remarkable about that particular Sunday morning in October. Outside, the streets and parks of Metropolis were painted in the golds and reds of fall as the trees gave up their foliage for the winter. The citizens of the city had pulled their sweaters and jackets out of moth balls and seemed to walk a bit more quickly as they headed down the sidewalks on their nameless missions.
Inside the brownstone on Hyperion Avenue, nothing seemed out of the ordinary either. Clark was in the kitchen dressed in his flannel robe, putting the finishing touches on breakfast. Jon was sitting on the floor in the family room, his hair still tousled from a night's rest, watching his favorite cartoon. Lois gazed lovingly down at her son from her seat on the couch as she cradled little Emmy who was getting a head start on breakfast.
The baby had been named "Martha Ellen" in honor of her grandmothers. Even before she was born, her family referred to her as "M.E." for short, and so "Emmy" seemed the most logical nickname for the child.
When the baby was finished nursing, Lois sat her up in the crook of her left arm as she reached to rearrange her nightgown. Almost immediately, Emmy spit up what seemed like all the milk she had just taken in.
In alarm, Lois called, "Clark! Bring a towel, please!" Before the last syllable was uttered, her husband was there, gently cleaning up the milk and looking with concern at his wife and daughter.
"She threw up?" he asked.
"Yes. As soon as I sat her up. Clark, she's never done this before…" The worry was evident in Lois's tone and in the frown that creased her brow. "Do you think she might be sick?" In an Earth-normal household, that simple question would be nothing remarkable but in this household, it was terrifying. The children were never sick. Thanks to their father's Kryptonian genes, Earthly ailments had never been a problem.
Lois and Clark shared a concerned look and simultaneously concluded, "Dr. Klein!"
In the years since Superman had first made his acquaintance, Dr. Klein's relationship with the Man of Steel and his wife had blossomed. He had first been an occasional consultant to Superman on matters scientific. It wasn't long after that first acquaintance that he became Superman's physician. During those days so long ago, Clark and Lois learned that Bernard Klein, despite his tendency to be the quintessential "absentminded professor", was a man to be trusted and counted on. After their marriage, Clark had consulted Klein about the possibility of his fathering children with an Earth woman and it had been Klein who had delivered the bad news that conception was an impossibility.
Lois and Clark had been digesting that news and attempting to resign themselves to its implications when their son had arrived mysteriously one night. It was a night that neither of them would ever forget. Finding Jon in a bassinet with a note proclaiming "This child belongs to you" had been only the first in a bizarre series of events which included another meeting with H.G. Wells and another confrontation with their old nemesis, Tempus. (But that's another story!) When the uproar had subsided and Jon had been returned to the appropriate place in time, Lois and Clark had been left with the certainty that conception was not only possible but inevitable. They were, however, still ignorant of the specific means by which this would be accomplished. It was then that they had reached the difficult decision that they would need to bring someone else into the tight circle of those who knew Clark's secret, someone who could help them study and overcome their infertility.
Bernard Klein was the logical choice. His initial training as a medical doctor made him a good choice from Lois's point of view and his later work in research made him just the man to deal with the unknowns that Clark's Kryptonian heritage presented. That meant, of course, that he would have to be told, and recalling that scene still brought a smile to Clark's face.
Lois and Clark had been more than a little nervous when they entered Dr. Klein's office at STAR Labs. After all, they spent a great deal of time making sure others *didn't* find out about Clark's dual persona. Purposely *telling* someone was a huge step. And although they both felt sure he would never knowingly betray their confidence, they had been witness to enough of Klein's ramblings to be afraid that the information might just bubble out of the man. But, as Lois had pointed out once before, they would have to fearless if they were to achieve conception.
Lois had begun the conversation. "Dr. Klein, you have been such a great help to Clark and me, and to Superman, over the years that we feel you are the logical person to help us with a problem we're having." She hesitated, waiting for Klein to respond.
"Of course, Lois. Anything I can do, you know that." Dr. Klein put down a beaker, the contents of which he had been examining, and gave the couple his undivided attention.
Lois glanced at her husband and he smiled nervously, nodding at her to go on.
"Well, when Superman came to you and asked about the possibility of a Kryptonian/Human hybrid child, I was the woman he was talking about because, you see, Clark is…"
"You, Ms. Lane?! But, you're a married woman!" Klein's surprise was evident and he turned his gaze immediately to Clark. "And you were willing to look the other way while Superman and your wife… Well, I've heard of open marriages, but I never thought of the two of you as… Of course, Superman is a good friend, I know… and maybe we could manage some kind of artificial insemination so that Lois wouldn't be in danger… Yes, but how will we overcome the incompatibility issue? But, of course, the world could do with a few more men like Superman, if we can find some way…" He continued to babble as Lois and Clark both waited for a chance to stem the tide.
When Klein paused to catch his breath, they both spoke at once. "Danger to Lois! What do you mean?" Clark was alarmed by the suggestion that their physical relationship might present hidden dangers.
"Dr. Klein, you don't understand." Lois was concerned that the doctor had concluded she was willing to commit adultery with Superman.
Bernard Klein, who had begun to babble again, stopped in mid-sentence. "What don't I understand?"
Lois drew a deep breath. "Dr. Klein, Clark would not have to look the other way while I have illicit sex with Superman!" She paused and lowered her voice. Reaching out to gently touch the doctor on the arm, she continued. "Dr. Klein, Clark *is* Superman!"
For a moment, Bernard Klein was speechless.
But only for a moment.
"Clark *is* Superman?" He looked from Lois to Clark and back again. "Clark *is* Superman! Of course! How could I have been so blind?!"
With a wry smile, Lois spoke quietly, "Well, if it's all the same to you, let's not go there. But back to the issue at hand, we need your help. We know that conception is possible. We've seen our future child. But we need your help to figure out how to conceive."
Klein frowned, trying to take it all in. "You've seen your future child? But how…"
Clark interrupted, turning the conversation back to the issue that was bothering him. "Never mind that, Dr. Klein. We really can't answer that question for you anyhow. What I'd like to know is what you meant about 'danger to Lois' should she mate with Superman? Is there some hidden danger?" His concern caused him to reach out and draw his wife closer.
Bernard seemed to blush slightly as he responded. "Well, Clark, or Superman…"
"'Clark' will be fine, Dr. Klein. Let's keep that 'Superman' thing as quiet as we can, please!" Clark glanced nervously toward the door where, just outside, several technicians were working.
"Of course. I understand," Klein nodded. "Mum's the word! But back to your question. I have often wondered whether it would be possible for Superman to actually… er… mate… with a human female without ripping her to shreds. I mean, can he… you… control your super powers while in the throes of passion?"
Lois spoke up to answer the doctor. Spreading her arms wide, she did a graceful pirouette and grinned. "Obviously, Dr. Klein, it is very possible! And I am living, unshredded, proof!"
In the meantime, Clark was doing a little blushing of his own. "I have to admit, Dr. Klein, that I once worried about the same thing, but somehow, when I'm with Lois… in *that* way… I don't even have to think about controlling my strength. It just seems so natural." He turned and planted a gentle kiss on his wife's cheek.
"Oh! So you mean the two of you have…?"
Clark sighed, "Yes, Doctor, we have… repeatedly!" He grinned down at this wife.
"Of course you have. You've been married for months! I don't know what I'm thinking!"
"Don't worry, Dr. Klein. I know we've given you a lot of shocking news today. But back to the original purpose of the visit. Lois and I have irrefutable proof that conception is possible, but we have no information concerning *how* it is possible. That's why we need you. Please, help us find the answer."
The months that followed had been a roller-coaster of emotions as theories were advanced, tested and discarded. Finally, the answer presented itself in a most unexpected way. Exhausted from a day of one disaster after another, Superman had stopped to see Dr. Klein before going home. Tests showed startling changes in blood chemistry brought on, Klein reasoned, by the exertion of the day. Dr. Klein hypothesized that if one bodily fluid had been altered by excessive use of Clark superpowers, perhaps others had been as well.
Not wanting to raise Clark's hopes only to dash them again, he explained his idea to Lois and she enthusiastically agreed to test the theory out and soon there was Jon! Their relationship with Dr. Klein had blossomed with the sharing of the secret and he was now a close friend and personal physician to the family. He had taken care of Lois during the pregnancies and assisted in both deliveries, taking great pains to safeguard the family secret and standing ready to intervene if anyone seemed to be getting too close to the truth.
And now the two of them sat in his office once more, this time far more nervous than that day so long ago. Klein turned from the padded examination table where Emmy lay, his concern evident in the deep frown that creased his brow.
"I don't want to frighten the two of you prematurely, but I do want to take Emmy over to Metropolis General to run some tests."
"What have you found, Dr. Klein?" Lois's voice was hardly more than a whisper as she tightened her grip on Clark's hand.
"There is a mass in Emmy's abdomen, Lois. About the size of an apple. I suspect that the reason for the spitting up this morning was nothing more than this mass pressing on her stomach when she sat up." He paused, allowing the frightened parents to take it all in. "Where is Jon? Is he taken care of for the day? This trip to the hospital may take a lot of time."
Clark shook his head to clear it and pulled his eyes away from his daughter to look toward Dr. Klein. "Ah… yes, Jon is with my parents. We'll give them a call. I know they'll take care of him as long as we need them to. Dr. Klein, what do you think this 'mass' is?"
Bernard shook his head. "I don't want to guess, Clark. Let's get over to the hospital and get the real answers. But in the meantime, don't let your imaginations run away with you. It is probable that, whatever it is, a simple surgical procedure will remove it and she'll be fine."
"Surgery!" Lois was appalled. As she dressed her daughter, she questioned the doctor. "How can this be? The kids have never been sick! I was so sure that the Kryptonian genes would…"
"That's just it, Lois. We can't be sure just *what* the Kryptonian genes will do." Too late, Klein realized the implications of his statement and cast a glance at Clark.
Clark lowered his eyes and breathed deeply, struggling to control his emotions. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and his words carefully chosen. "We all need to have this straight before we leave this room. Emmy comes first. If difficult things must be said, we have to say them. If it means that the whole world has to be told who I am, then so be it. But no matter what, Emmy comes first." The other two nodded as Lois picked Emmy up and handed her to her father.
"Agreed, Clark. But at the same time," Dr. Klein said, "let's not be hasty. The kids' 'super' heritage is hidden unless their genetic structure is examined in minute detail. Chances are good that Emmy will receive the best of care by the best doctors in Metropolis and the secret will not be revealed. I'll stick very close to you and try to deflect any problems I might see developing in that regard. We'll safeguard Emmy first, of course, but that doesn't mean we can't protect your family's secret at the same time."
Lois breathed a quivering sigh. "Agreed. Now let's get moving! The sooner we figure out what's going on here, the sooner we can get Emmy well!" With a determined stride, she headed for the door.
Metropolis General was teeming with life, regardless of the fact that it was Sunday. Dr. Klein, Lois, Clark and Emmy made their way through the halls to the office of Dr. Tom Portman, a longtime friend of Dr. Klein's and Chief of Pediatric Oncology. Lois tried to hide her look of shock and dismay at Dr. Portman's title, hoping to avoid upsetting Clark further, but a glance in her husband's direction confirmed that he was equally concerned to be visiting this particular clinic.
Dr. Portman was a stocky man with a clean-shaven face and round, pink cheeks. In some far corner of her mind, Lois concluded that he was a natural for the hospital Santa at Christmas time. On this day, however, he was anything but jolly as he met his new patient and her parents.
"Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane, Dr. Klein has told me a little about Emmy and your family, but I'll need to know a lot more before we can begin to solve your little girl's medical problem. I'm going to take an extensive history now and then we'll examine Emmy and decide what tests should be run."
For the next hour, Tom Portman chatted with Lois and Clark about Emmy and her medical history. He asked about Jon. He questioned Lois about both pregnancies and queried Clark about any history of family illness(!). Midway through the interview, he reached out tentatively for Emmy, who was sitting on Clark's lap, sucking her thumb. To her parents' amazement, she reached out her chubby arms and was drawn gently onto the doctor's lap. As the interview continued, she amused herself with the stethoscope that dangled from his neck as he gently stroked her back.
When the questions had all been asked and answered, Dr. Portman began a more thorough physical examination of Emmy. Already familiar with his gentle touch, she submitted to his ministrations calmly, even giggling when his fingers grazed a sensitive spot. Lois caught Clark's eye and nodded slightly, silently communicating her appreciation of the doctor's tender methods. When it came time for him to examine Emmy's abdomen, the doctor stood the child up with her hands wrapped firmly around his large index fingers. Slowly, he raised her hands up over her head and watched her abdomen as she breathed. Lois could not contain a gasp of shock at what she saw.
As Emmy exhaled and her abdomen deflated, a large round bump was clearly visible on the lower left hand side. His brow knitted in a frown, Dr. Portman lowered the little girl back to the examination table and slipped her sleeper back on. Handing Emmy his stethoscope to play with, he turned to address the three adults.
"I'm very glad that you brought Emmy to me today. I know that you saw the evidence of the abdominal mass when I had her hands over her head. There are some things you should know right now." He paused and took a deep breath, looking the terrified parents in the eyes. "You two are about to enter one of the most frightening times of your lives and nothing I can say here will relieve your pain or lighten your fears. But please know this: there are many kinds of tumors that might appear as Emmy's does. Some of them are malignant, some of them are not. A benign growth can be removed by a simple and safe surgical procedure and then life will go on as if nothing has happened. Should this tumor be cancerous, surgical removal will most likely be followed by some type of therapy, but our success rate is outstanding these days."
He lowered his eyes for a moment and then raised his head to continue. "Emmy will have to face some difficult times… some painful times… and she is too young to explain it all to. It will be extremely important that the two of you keep your wits about you for her sake. Call on family, call on friends, call on co-workers to help you, and don't worry about imposing. At times like these, people want to help but they don't know how. Tell them how. Let them baby-sit Jon. Let them come clean your house or cook dinner or take out the trash. You are going to need their help. Don't be too proud to accept it. Now, I know you have a hundred questions. Fire away."
Silence fell on the room as Lois and Clark struggled to make sense of the nightmare into which they had been plunged. Seeing that his friends needed a moment to collect their thoughts, Dr. Klein offered the first question. "What happens next, Tom?"
"Well, Bernard, we need to get a good look at this thing. A CAT scan is first, followed by a sonogram, if necessary. I'd like to avoid palpating the tumor though. Until we know just what it is we're dealing with, the less we press on it, the better." Klein nodded his agreement.
Clark found his voice. "Dr. Portman, it sounds like Emmy will have to have surgery, no matter what this thing is. How soon do you think this can be done?"
Portman nodded. "I understand how you feel, Clark. Somehow, this tumor is now the enemy and you can't wait to have it *out* of your little girl. Thankfully, the availability of operating rooms is very good here, so as soon as we have conducted sufficient tests to prepare ourselves, the surgery can proceed. I'd say that in five days the surgery will be over."
Lois surreptitiously wiped a tear from her eye. "Dr. Portman, can we stay in the hospital with Emmy?"
Tom Portman nodded. "Not only *can* you stay, but I encourage you to stay. Not both of you all the time, though. Take turns. And let your parents and good friends take turns. The two of you can't let the rest of your lives fall apart even though taking care of Emmy will certainly be your top priority."
Lois drew a deep breath and asked *the* question. "Why?" she whispered.
The oncologist lowered his eyes to the floor for a moment and seemed to gather his thoughts before he looked the distraught mother in the eye. "Lois, I'm afraid you'll have to address that question to a higher authority. In all the years I've worked with these little ones, I rarely find the answer to the question you're asking. There are many identifiable reasons for cancer in adults. We smoke too much or drink too much or our bodies give in to the ravages of time. But in children, we often don't get the luxury of a reason."
"So what do we do next?" asked Clark.
"Take Emmy home and pack an overnight bag with some sleepers and her favorite toys. Decide who will be spending this first night with her and pack for that person, too. Please be back here by 2:00 so that we can keep the appointment I've made in CAT scanning." Dr. Portman rose and offered his hand first to Clark and then to Lois. "Remember, we're in this together and my door is always open."
Both parents accepted the doctor's hand before they gathered their daughter and left the room.
Clark was early to work the next day. Truth be told, it was 3:00 AM when he got off the elevator in the city room of the Daily Planet. He told himself that an early start would allow him to get to the hospital that much quicker. In reality, he couldn't sleep in the empty brownstone.
Martha and Jonathan had reacted as they always reacted to bad news. They had put their own fears on the back burner and reached out to help Lois and Clark. Jon had spent the night with them and would remain in their care for the next week. Lois and Clark would visit him often, spending time with him and sharing news of his little sister.
Perry had offered both parents an indefinite leave of absence to deal with the crisis. Instead, Clark and Lois had asked to be allowed to tag-team their work. One of them would be on the job during working hours with the other available via phone or e-mail. In this way, neither of them would be overburdened and both of them could continue to work. Perry had readily agreed.
Unlike countless other acquaintances, Perry and Jimmy did not make a "call me whenever you need me" offer of help. Instead, the two of them dove right in. Perry insisted on sitting with Emmy in the hospital from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM each night to allow the couple to have dinner together with Jon. Jimmy put himself in charge of the brownstone. He would see to it that the refrigerator remained stocked, the cleaning and yardwork done, and the trash taken out. Unaccustomed to accepting the help of others, Lois and Clark recalled the words of Dr. Portman and allowed their friends to come to their aid.
Clark found it difficult to focus on what was passing for news in Metropolis on this gray October Monday. He was struggling to enliven a report on the morning's city council meeting when news came over the wire of a protest rally in — of all places — Smallville, Kansas. Although the rally had begun peacefully enough, it had taken an ugly turn, a standoff with the local police was now in progress and violence seemed imminent. Clark decided that this was a job better suited to his alter ego.
The elevator doors had just closed when the phone at his desk began to ring.
Superman touched down in Smallville to a sound he was unaccustomed to hearing in his hometown: they were booing him.
Rachel Harris approached quickly and signaled that Superman should follow her into the soda shop that adjoined the city square. Clark winced as he remembered that last time he had been in that shop — as a prisoner of Lord Nor.
"Sheriff, what's going on here?" he asked.
"Ordinarily, Superman, I'd be entirely grateful for your help. But in this situation, I'm afraid your presence is only going to inflame this bunch all the more." Rachel frowned as she pulled her hat from her head. "These folks have taken it into their heads that the alliance with the Kryptonians is the first step to their colonization of Earth."
"But Sheriff, that's ridiculous. The very first agreement hammered out at the TKUC meetings forbids any Kryptonian from taking up permanent residence on Earth! There's no way an invasion could happen so long as Lady Zara and Lord Ching rule." Superman was outraged at the suggestion of duplicity on the Kryptonians' part.
"You're preaching to the choir on that one! They were here, you know."
At Clark's look of surprise, she continued, "Yep! They said they couldn't think of a better place to start mending fences than the town where Nor started raising all his havoc. They spent a whole day. Had a soda in those two chairs right over there. Visited with the townsfolk in the park. When they left, the people of Smallville were convinced."
"They don't seem so convinced anymore!" Clark commented wryly as a new chant of "Superman go home" began outside.
Rachel shook her head. "That's just it. Those are not local folks out there raising all the ruckus. Oh, maybe one or two of the town malcontents. But mostly, those are people I've never seen before." As she spoke, trucks could be heard pulling into the town square. Through the windows, she and Superman could see the troops of the Kansas National Guard pouring out into the Smallville streets.
Rachel smiled. "Looks like the cavalry has arrived! Thanks for wanting to help, Superman, but I think we'd better handle this one with good old human muscle." With a quick shake of his hand, Rachel walked out into the street and took charge of the arriving troops.
Perplexed and annoyed, Superman exited through the back of the building and quietly began his flight back to Metropolis. If the people of Smallville weren't behind the protest, who was? Who had the most to gain if the peace initiatives failed? Or, more frightening still, could it be pure xenophobia at work among the protesters? Clark rarely thought of himself as an *alien*, but Emmy's illness had brought those old insecurities back to the surface and he felt uneasy in a way he had not experienced for years. Clark sighed. If nothing else, he had something to offer Perry for the front page.
Clark emerged from the elevator in the same manner he had entered it - fiddling with his tie. The moment he stepped into the newsroom, he knew something was terribly wrong. His co-workers were speaking in hushed voices and they all seemed to be gazing in the direction of the conference room. It only took an instant for Clark to hear it. Lois's heartbeat, but way too fast. And Lois's voice, choked with emotion. With his heart in his throat, he pushed past the onlookers and burst into the conference room.
Perry and Jimmy were there, Perry sitting in a chair beside Lois, his hand on her shoulder, and Jimmy nervously pacing the room. At the sound of the door opening, Lois's head snapped up and she gave a cry of relief. "Oh, Clark! Where have you been?! I thought you'd never get back!" Ignoring the twinge of pain and guilt her comments evoked, Clark crossed the room in a few quick strides and gathered his wife into his arms.
"Honey, I'm here," he whispered. "Tell me what's wrong!" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Perry silently motioning for Jimmy to join him as he made his way to the door, pausing only briefly to pat Clark on the back. The door closed silently in their wake.
Easing Lois back down to sit in her chair, Clark dropped to his knees in front of her, gathering her hands into his own. Impatiently, he waited for her to regain her composure while his mind raced with terrifying imaginings. When he could stand to wait no longer, he reached out and gently raised her face to look into her eyes. The anguish he found there caused panic to well up in his heart. "Please, Lois, tell me what's happened."
Shaking her head, Lois reached out to touch his cheek. "I don't know how to tell you this, Clark. They read the CAT scan today… they found… they think it's cancer, Clark!" Tears streamed down her cheeks as the look on her husband's face tore at her heart. In agony, she slipped from the chair to join him on the floor and wrapped her arms around him as he lowered his head to hide the tears he could not contain.
Long moments passed as they sought comfort in each other's arms. Twenty-four short hours earlier they had been enjoying an unremarkable Sunday morning at home. Now, their world was in tatters.
Clark found his voice first. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart," he whispered. "I should have been there with you. I shouldn't have left you there to hear this alone!" He dropped a gentle kiss on the top of her head.
"No, Clark! There's no way you could have known the report would come in so soon They told us it might take two days for the scan to be read. Please, don't blame yourself." She reached out to wipe away a tear that trickled down his cheek. Clark did not contradict her but instead he stored the guilt and pain away to take out and examine later. Now, he stood, pulling Lois to her feet as well.
"I guess we should go over to Mom and Dad's and talk to them and to Jon. It's time for the family to pull together." He paused at his computer only a moment and, with Lois shielding him from view, super-typed the Smallville story and sent it off to Perry.
Martha and Jonathan Kent sat in stunned silence as their children shared the day's news with them. When Clark finished his strained monologue, Martha released her husband's hand and moved to sit on the couch near Lois, wordlessly enfolding her daughter-in-law in a tender embrace. The comforting cocoon of Martha's arms released the tears Lois had been struggling to hold at bay and she cried unashamedly. Jonathan and Clark rose with one accord and walked through the patio doors and out into the night's chill.
"Son," Jonathan began, "I don't know what to say. It's so hard to believe that our little Emmy… I guess I always thought her Kryptonian heritage would keep her safe." He turned his gaze to the sky and its thick carpet of star-studded velvet.
Clark flinched at his father's words and quoted, "Truth be told, Dad, we can't be sure just *what* the Kryptonian genes will do." The wave of guilt and fear that washed over Clark was beginning to feel familiar.
"Well, we've fought through hard times before, Clark, and we'll fight through this. Together — as a family." He rested his hand lightly on his son's shoulder.
"You know, Dad, I'd rather face a dozen Lex Luthors or a hundred Bad-Brain Johnson's than face this. At least I knew how to fight them. But this…" He shook his head at his own helplessness.
Jonathan and Martha stood at the window until the silver Cherokee disappeared down the street before each released the breath they had been holding. Jonathan leaned his head against the cool pane of the window and whispered, "Why the baby, Martha? Why not an old guy like me? I've lived my life, but little Emmy's hasn't even had a chance. Sometimes I just don't understand what He has in mind."
Unable to give him an answer, she simply reached out for his hand.
Half an hour later, Lois and Clark stood silently in the dim light that filtered into the hospital room from the hallway. Their daughter slept in sweet innocence, her thumb still in her mouth. Clark looked from his little girl to her mother and spoke from his heart. "She'll be okay, Honey. She has to be. God wouldn't take her from us."
Lois began to respond but was interrupted by a deep "harrumph" from the shadows in the far corner of the room. Perry White rose from the rocking chair and stepped into the light, regretting the need to interrupt the couple's conversation yet unwilling to eavesdrop. He paused by the bed and gently touched the sleeping child's head. He shook Clark's hand and kissed Lois on the cheek before gathering his coat to leave.
"Good night, kids. I'll see you tomorrow," he whispered as he headed for the door.
"Chief?" Perry stopped and turned as Clark continued. "Thank you… for being here."
A ghost of a smile crossed the editor's face. "Where else would I be?"
As the door closed on Perry's retreating form, Lois turned toward the cot on which she had spent the previous night. Wordlessly, she turned back the covers and then looked toward her husband. "I know this is supposed to be my night to go home, Clark, but I don't think I could bear…" Her voice trailed off as she saw Clark nod.
"I know what you mean, Honey. I can't imagine going home to spend the night alone in the brownstone tonight. I'm sure the hospital staff won't mind if we both stay with her this one night. You take the bed. I'll sleep just as well in this chair." Clark pulled the chair up near Emmy's bed and took a seat, reaching out to curl her tiny hand around his index finger. Lois observed the tender scene for only a moment before lying down on the cot, her back to her husband and daughter. She didn't want to intrude on the moment or to allow him to see any more of her tears.
Long moments passed as Clark watched his little girl sleep. When he turned to wish Lois a good night, he found her already in bed, her back turned towards him. In the depths of his heart, an ache that had been growing for the last two days flared suddenly to a searing pain as his self-recriminations echoed in his mind. Snippets of conversation haunted him. "We can't be sure just *what* the Kryptonians genes will do." "Oh, Clark! Where have you been! I thought you'd never get back!" "Superman go home!" "I guess I always thought her Kryptonian heritage would keep her safe." In anguish, he laid his head down on his daughter's bed and sought escape in sleep.
None of the three stirred a few hours later when Dr. Portman opened the door. Despite the many years and countless scenes like this one, Tom Portman never failed to be moved by his tiny patients and their families. In fact, he had vowed that should the day ever come when he was no longer so moved he would leave the profession. And so, as he pulled the door gently closed, he sent up a silent prayer for this little family and success in the battle to come.
Clark stared blindly at the computer screen, panic rising in his chest. The return address on the e-mail that had just been posted read "Lady Zara, New Krypton". The answer he had so anxiously awaited had arrived and Clark found himself unable to open it. "Lois," he murmured, "it's here."
Lois appeared in the doorway from the kitchen where she had been busily putting away the groceries Jimmy had delivered. One look at Clark's face and she didn't need to ask what *it* was. Writing to Zara and Ching was such a logical thing to do that Lois wondered why it had taken the two of them two days to decide to do so. After all, it was entirely possible that the Kryptonian people had found the cure that continued to elude the medical expertise of Earth. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Lois came to stand behind her husband and rested her hands on his shoulders. "Then, let's read it," she said softly. "We have to know, Clark."
With a nod, Clark opened the e-mail and the couple read in silence.
"Lois and Clark, our dear friends: It is with heavy hearts that my husband and I answer your latest message. The disease that afflicts your little one is known to the Kryptonian people, although it is a disease of late adulthood among us. I have displayed the data you sent me to our finest persons of medicine and all have delivered the same response. Kryptonian medicine has no cure for this disease you call 'cancer'. To a person, the Kryptonian physicians expressed their deep sorrow at their inability to come to your aid as you have so nobly come to ours in the past. They admit, with some embarrassment, that very little research has been done into this disease, primarily because it occurs late in life to those whose time to live is near an end. Please keep us apprised of Emmy's progress and know that you are always in our thoughts. With affection, Zara and Ching."
As daylight began to filter into Emmy's hospital room on Friday morning, Lois looked back on the week that was drawing to a close. Five days ago, she and her family had been preparing for a leisurely Sunday, looking forward to the Metropolis vs. San Francisco game. Five days ago, Lois had no idea how hard it was to find a vein in the arm of an eleven month old child. Five days ago, she didn't know that the only thing worse than holding your own child still for a painful medical procedure was allowing someone else to hold her still. Five days ago, she never dreamed that her hopes of a charmed life for her daughter could so quickly become a prayer for one more month, one more year…
The door swung open and Clark appeared carrying a single red rose and a huge Pooh Bear. Lois wondered if she looked as haggard and scared as he did. With a forced grin, he presented the rose to her with a flourish and a bow and then stepped forward to kiss her cheek.
"How is she this morning?" he whispered.
"Still sleeping, as you can see. I didn't want to wake her before we absolutely had to."
"You're right. She'll need all the rest she can get today." Still holding Pooh in the crook of his arm, Clark sat down in the chair that had become his during the course of the long week and Lois settled into her chair on the other side of the bed. The couple did not talk. They had long since said all they could think of to say. No tears were shed. They were both cried out. Now, there was only the numbness and the waiting and the fear. And although they were together, they each felt painfully alone.
The silence was shattered by a loud crash in the hallway, evidently a breakfast cart run amuck, and Emmy stirred. Opening her eyes, she grinned in recognition and reached out with both arms. Clark held out the Pooh, assuming that Emmy had caught sight of her gift. But Emmy brushed the bear aside and continued to reach in her father's direction. With misty eyes, Clark rose from his chair, deposited Pooh in a far corner of the bed, and picked his little girl up, taking care not to dislodge the IV tube. He sat down with her on the bed and as he turned with the child in his arms, Emmy caught sight of her mother. Over Clark's shoulder she reached out again. With a sigh, Lois rose and joined the two on the bed.
Martha, Jonathan and Jon found the three of them cuddled together in the center of bed when they came through the door half an hour later. Jon promptly clambered onto the bed and joined his sister in their parents' embrace, completing the picture.
"How's our little angel doing this morning?" Martha inquired, reaching out to stroke Emmy's hair.
"Much better now that the three of you are here, Mom. Thanks for coming down so early." Clark's voice was carefully controlled, his fears tightly leashed. He and Lois stood up to give Jon and Emmy more room to play with the Pooh Bear that they had just discovered at the foot of the bed.
"When will they be coming for her?" Jonathan inquired. As if in answer to his question, Dr. Portman pushed open the door and entered with a stern and somber man in his wake.
Lois stepped forward. "Good morning, Dr. Portman, Dr. Rodriguez." Turning toward the elder Kents, she continued, "Martha and Jonathan, this is Dr. Rodriquez. He will be performing the surgery today. Dr. Rodriguez, these are Clark's parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent." With a curt nod, the grim Dr. Rodriguez acknowledged the couple. As he turned toward Emmy, Martha caught Lois's attention and rolled her eyes. The man was the personification of arrogance. Lois could only agree with a nod of her head.
After a brief examination of Emmy, Dr. Rodriguez turned to Dr. Portman. "Let's get her prepped." With a perfunctory nod to all assembled, he was gone. As soon as the door closed, Dr. Portman turned a wry smile on Lois and Clark.
"Like I said before, he'll never win the Mr. Congeniality award, but in the operating room, he's the best I've ever seen."
"And that's all that matters!" Clark concluded, the others nodding their consent.
A nurse with a hypodermic needle arrived and a sedative was pumped into the IV stream. Dr. Portman stepped back from the bed and motioned Lois and Clark forward. "Stand near her. Hold her hands as she drifts off to sleep. Be the last people she sees so that her dreams will be happy." He reached down and plucked Jon up into his arms. Carefully, he set the child down at his sister's side then backed away to allow the little family a moment of peace.
In a few minutes, a gurney arrived from the surgical ward and Emmy's unconscious form was loaded on it. One by one, the Kents kissed her good-bye before the gurney began its trip back to surgery with its precious cargo.
Tom Portman turned to Lois and Clark before leaving the room. "I'll be in the surgical suite with her every moment. As soon as we know anything, I'll come out to tell you. But please understand this: the longer we're in surgery, the better. If the tumor can be removed, it will be a time consuming procedure. A short surgery will probably mean that we found a problem we couldn't repair. Be patient. Have faith." With a nod, he was gone.
Silence fell in the room. Jonathan, who had been watching Lois carefully, reached down and picked up Jon as he spoke, "Martha, let's you and I go see if we can't find this young man a glass of juice and a pancake for breakfast."
Martha needed no urging. The emotions in the room were tangible. When the door closed behind them, Clark moved immediately to his wife's side and wrapped his arms around her. When she collapsed, he caught her up gently in his arms. With a wordless cry of anguish she buried her face in his shoulder. In the silence of the empty room, the young couple clung to each other until their tears were spent.
When Lois and Clark arrived in the surgical waiting room, Dr. Klein, Perry and Jimmy were already there. The couple settled into a worn couch and their friends moved to sit near them but no one spoke. After a few awkward moments, Perry broke the silence.
"So, did they give you an estimate of the time the surgery will take?" It wasn't a great question, Perry knew, but it might break the ice and ease the tension that pervaded the room.
Lois's eyes finally lost their faraway look as she focused her attention on her editor-in-chief. "Actually, Perry, I think Dr. Portman was trying to tell us that the longer it takes, the more likely they have found a way to remove the tumor. Did you understand it that way, Clark?" Her husband's head came up at the sound of her voice speaking his name.
"What… oh, yes. He said that a short surgery might mean that there was no way to remove the tumor." He ran his hand through his hair and made a valid attempt to focus on the conversation at hand.
"Well, then," Jimmy proclaimed as he put a cup of hot coffee into each of the parents' hands, "here's to a long surgery!" And he raised his own cup in a toast.
Five hours later, it appeared that Jimmy's wish had been granted. There had been no sign of Dr. Portman. In the intervening hours, other visitors had come and gone, but Jimmy, Perry and Dr. Klein had remained steadfastly at Lois and Clark's sides. Martha and Jonathan had appeared and disappeared several times. It was a great relief to the younger Kents that his parents had made it their mission to keep Jon happily occupied for the day.
For Lois, the day seemed to be lasting an eternity. Worrying about Emmy would have been difficult enough. But added to that, Lois's mind continually returned to the question of why Emmy had been afflicted with cancer in the first place. Dr. Portman had told them that there was no way they would ever know the answer to that question, that they would simply have to accept the situation. But simply accepting difficult situations was not in her nature. In fact, Lois remembered telling Clark that part of what made her a good reporter was that she *didn't* just accept things. In this case, she was paying a hefty price for her tenacity. As she struggled to figure out why, her mind repeatedly returned to a situation that had played itself out five months before Emmy had been born.
Lois and Clark had been busily at work in the bullpen of the Daily Planet when, simultaneously, word of a possible meltdown at a local nuclear power plant and of an earthquake in Bolivia reached the newsroom. Superman made a quick phone call to the manager of the plant and discovered that the situation was not as dire as first reported and that they were still hopeful of avoiding a real problem. Judging that the earthquake presented the most immediate danger, Clark was instantly on his way, pausing at his wife's desk only long enough to ask her to stay away from the power plant until he returned. He had even reached down to gently touch her swelling abdomen to remind her of her need to stay clear of the radiation that the plant might be emitting.
When she left the newsroom for the power plant, she had no intention of going anywhere near the source of the possible radiation leak. She was going to keep her distance and still do her best to get the scoop for the Planet. But one thing led to another and before long Lois found herself in the thick of the action as the core threatened to go critical. When the plant had been locked down, Lois and other members of the press who had entered uninvited had inadvertently been locked inside until Superman had arrived to avert the disaster. The plant officials had sworn at the time that the amount of radiation emitted had been minimal and would have no impact on the health of those who had been exposed. However, as she sat in the waiting room with nothing to do but think, Lois convinced herself that Emmy was in the operating room paying the price for her mother's carelessness.
Lois did not share her thoughts with Clark. After all, he had a heart full right now and didn't need the added burden of trying to soothe his distraught wife's guilt. And, although she knew he was too kind to ever admit it, Lois suspected that Clark blamed her, too.
In the midst of his worry, Clark was having trouble holding his feelings of guilt at bay. After all, several comments had been made about his heritage and the uncertainty it brought to Emmy's situation. And the protest in Smallville had been a painful reminder of his "alien" status. And then there was that time when Lois had been trapped inside the nuclear power plant when it had been locked down to limit radiation seepage. If he had only stayed in Metropolis instead of trekking all the way down to Bolivia, he could have saved Lois and the others sooner and their unborn baby would not have been exposed to so much radiation.
Clark did not share his thoughts with Lois. After all, she had a heart full right now and didn't need the added burden of trying to soothe her distraught husband's guilt. And, although he knew she was too kind to ever admit it, Clark suspected that Lois blamed him, too.
Both parents were startled from their introspection by the appearance of Dr. Portman at the waiting room door. Before he even uttered a word, Lois and Clark knew. The huge grin on the doctor's face told the tale. The tumor had been removed and the areas it had touched had been cauterized to eliminate any remaining cells. The surgeon felt certain that Emmy would recover fully. There was no sign that the cancer had spread. The many people who loved Emmy and her parents sent up a collective sigh of relief and a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving.
It had been a slow news day and the atmosphere of the bullpen was lethargic. Lois and Clark huddled together at her desk, attempting to turn a penny-ante burglary at a local pawn shop into a front page story. Jimmy paced back and forth, a phone affixed to his ear. He had been on hold for what seemed like hours. His job was to verify rumors that the Smallville incident had been instigated by remnants of Bureau 39, Trask's old outfit. Jimmy was getting nowhere fast. Outside, the mid-December snow fell furiously and the staff of the Daily Planet was spending more time wondering whether they were going to be snowed in than worrying about their stories.
In the two months since Emmy's surgery, life for Lois and Clark and their family had slowly returned to normal. The two of them had gradually come to believe that the episode was truly behind them and little Emmy once again seemed like a happy, healthy baby. The family had celebrated her birthday with great relief. The nagging guilt that each of them felt had faded into the background as their daughter's health returned. The two of them had never even discussed it.
As Perry hurriedly crossed the newsroom, Clark called out, "Hey, Chief! Maybe we should send someone outside to take some pictures of the snow. It's sure more interesting than anything we've got going on in here!"
Perry stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face Clark, a twinkle in his eye. "Well now, Clark, that just shows you how wrong a man can be!" Not bothering to explain his cryptic remark, he continued on his way to the upper level of the room, near the elevators, leaving a puzzled Clark in his wake.
The Editor-in-Chief had just reached the elevators when they sprang open simultaneously and activity burst forth. Suddenly, the newsroom was filled with commotion. Waiters in tuxedos entered carrying bottles of champagne on ice. Waitresses followed with tray after tray of hors d'oevres. And not those little hot dogs in barbecue sauce! No, these were serious appetizers! Lobster on toast, caviar, escargot… Those who had been halfheartedly at work in the bullpen suddenly came alive with amazement. And from the upper level, Perry beamed with delight at the uproar he had caused!
Lois was the first of the stunned staff to find her voice. "Okay, Perry," she demanded when the food and drink was all in place and relative calm had returned. "What's going on?"
"What's going on? We're having a party! That's what's going on!" He stopped there, with a look on his face like the cat who swallowed the canary.
Clark decided to play along, since his boss was so obviously enjoying the moment. "And just why, Chief, would we be having a party?" His eyes twinkled as he played straight man to Perry.
"I'm so glad you asked, Mr. Kent. In fact, the reason involves you and your lovely wife. If the two of you would please step up here…" Perry motioned "come hither" with a crook of his index finger.
Clark raised a questioning eyebrow in Lois's direction, but she frowned and shook her head. She had no more idea what was going on than he did. The room was silent as the pair walked up the ramp to stand before Perry.
"Kids," he began, "this is a proud day for me. A proud day for the Planet." While saying this, he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and drew out a long white envelope which he placed in Clark's hand. The envelope was still sealed and Clark opened it gingerly. He had seen the return address and his heart was picking up the pace. Lois leaned in close to read with him and when they had finished, looked up at him with tears in her eyes and victory written all over her face.
"So what does it say, already?!" called an exasperated voice from among those assembled in the bullpen below.
Lois took one look at her husband and knew that he was too choked up to read the letter aloud. She took it from his hands and turned to face their co-workers and friends. Skipping over the preliminary niceties of the letter, she went straight to the meat of the message. "The Pulitzer committee is proud to announce that your series of articles entitled, 'TKUC: The Future is Now!', has been nominated in the 2001 Pulitzer Prize competition." She would have read more, but the room erupted in cheers.
People flooded up the ramp and stairs to shake the hands, pat the backs, and kiss the cheeks of the nominees, both of whom were still too stunned to really take it all in. The electronic bulletin board that ringed the room began to scroll the message, "Planet's Star Reporters Receive Pulitzer Prize Nomination", thanks to a little quick thinking on Jimmy's part.
Jimmy came to stand by Perry, who was waiting apart from the others and grinning like a Cheshire cat as he watched the celebration. "Well, Chief," he quipped, "looks like we've got that first page story now! Aren't you going to congratulate them?"
"Not just now, Jimmy. Let's you and I wait until the uproar dies down. Then we can let them know how proud we are of them." Perry looked every bit the proud father.
Jimmy smiled down on his friends, still surrounded by a horde of well-wishers. "Well, God knows they were due for some good news!" he observed. Perry could only nod his agreement.
The Fates allowed the Kent family only a few months to bask in Emmy's good health and Lois and Clark's success. In February, the storm broke again.
Clark was changing Emmy's diaper when the child began to cough. With each contraction of her abdomen, the bulge appeared. Within a few hours, the Kent family had descended again into an all-too-familiar nightmare. Little time was wasted on pre-surgical testing this time. Two days after Clark discovered the tumor, Emmy was returned to surgery.
The cast of characters in the waiting room was the same as before. Perry and Doctor Klein were engaged in a silent game of checkers and Jimmy was reading an ancient Hot Rod magazine he had found on a table. Martha and Jonathan sat with Lois and Clark, attempting to make idle conversation while Jon played with a set of building blocks from the toy box in the corner of the room. Having lost interest in the blocks, Jon approached his mom and laid his head gently in her lap. Lois absentmindedly stroked his hair as the adults' conversation continued.
"Did Dr. Portman *tell* you that she would need chemotherapy?" Martha asked her son.
"He mentioned it as a possibility, Mom." Clark's voice was weary.
Lois picked up the thread of the conversation. "Given how aggressively this tumor came back, I can't believe they would stop at surgery again. Obviously, this is a more persistent form of cancer than they originally thought."
Dr. Klein had overheard her comment and crossed the room to join the group. "The problem is, this cancer is so rare that there is no treatment protocol. After the first surgery, they had to make their best guess as to whether to conduct follow-up treatment or not."
A hint of bitterness crept into Martha's voice. "Well, it looks like they guessed wrong!"
Jonathan reached for his wife's hand. "Now, Martha, you know that Emmy's getting the best care possible. Sometimes, there are questions that even the best don't have the answers to." He shared a cautionary glance with his wife. The last thing Lois and Clark needed was a display of emotions from Martha or himself.
Martha smiled weakly at her husband and nodded. Message received. When she spoke again, her tone held no anger. "Well, whatever they need to do to get Emmy well, she'll have all of us to love and support her." Jonathan flashed her a smile.
The silence that fell among the adults was broken by a whisper from the little head resting in Lois's lap. "Mommy, is Emmy going to die?" Lois desperately sought Clark's eyes as her heart flew into her throat. Tears clouded her vision and she shook her head at her husband. She had no idea how to frame an answer to her son's honest question.
Clark pulled in a deep breath as he reached to lift Jon into his lap. His son turned deep brown eyes to look earnestly into Clark's. Choosing his words carefully, Clark began, "Jon, we don't know the answer to your question. Emmy is very, very sick. The doctors are doing everything they can to make her well again, but they can't promise us that everything will be okay. We just have to wait and see."
The four-year-old carefully considered his father's response before continuing. "Daddy, if Emmy dies, who will take care of her in heaven?"
His son's innocent question tightened the fist around Clark's heart and he found himself unable to form a response. Perry stepped forward and dropped to one knee in front of the child, gently reaching to turn the child's face so that he could look Jon in the eye.
"Jon, do you remember the Nativity scene that we had in front of the Daily Planet at Christmas time?" The child nodded solemnly.
"And do you remember how the two of us talked about what a good mother the Baby Jesus had? We said she was almost as good as your mom. Do you remember?" Again, a solemn nod.
"Well, I know for a fact that moms like yours and the Baby Jesus's always help each other out." Perry reached unconsciously for Lois's hand. "And if God takes Emmy to heaven, well, I'm pretty sure that the Baby Jesus's mother will take good care of her."
Silence reigned as the assembled adults awaited Jon's response. Finally, with a curt nod of his head, Jon hopped down from his father's lap and concluded, "Good. Then she won't be lonely 'til I get there." Satisfied with Perry's answer, Jon crossed the room to resume his exploration of the contents of the toy box.
"Thanks, Perry." Lois's voice was barely a whisper.
The surgery was judged a qualified success. All visible tumor had been successfully removed, but so had the left kidney which the tumor had surrounded. As Lois had suspected, the doctors prescribed aggressive treatment with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The months that followed were to be difficult indeed.
At his desk at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent's head came up abruptly and a faraway look crossed over his handsome features.
"Clark!" Lois's frantic call had her husband by her side in a matter of seconds.
Together, they looked down at their daughter as she lay in her crib. All around her head, like an angel's halo, lay her ebony hair, loose on the pillow.
Clark reached down to stroke his daughter's head, now nearly bald. "Well, Sweetheart, we knew it was going to happen… I just didn't realize she would lose it all at once like this."
Lois wrapped her arm around Clark's waist and rested her head on his shoulder. "I know. It shocked me to see it. I'm sorry if I startled you."
Clark dropped a kiss on his wife's head. "Don't be sorry, Lois. I *want* you to call me when you need me. Do you want me to hang around a while?"
"No, Clark. You go back to work. Emmy and I are going out shopping after her treatment this morning. Maybe we'll find a couple of cute hats to keep her head warm until her hair grows back in!" Lois smiled bravely as Clark kissed her good-bye. In a blur, he was gone as quickly as he had come.
The treatments took their toll on little Emmy's tiny body. Unable to hold down much food, she lost weight rapidly and had to be hospitalized for the last two weeks of her radiation treatments. When all the treatments ended, though, she began to regain the lost weight and life at the Kent home slowly regained some semblance of normalcy. Although they didn't discuss it, Lois and Clark both felt apprehensive, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The hoopla that would normally have accompanied their Pulitzer nomination had been, of course, muted by more important concerns. But as May approached and Emmy seemed to be on the mend, the excitement around the newsroom began to grow. The higher-ups at the Planet were eventually persuaded to spring for motel rooms and plane fare so that Perry and Jimmy could join the reporting duo for the weekend gala in Washington, D.C. The entire Kent family, Jonathan and Martha included, made the trip as well.
The Kennedy Center sparkled like a jewel against the velvet darkness of the Washington, D.C. night. Stars glistened in a cloudless sky and the air was filled with the delicious scent of the cherry blossoms along the Potomac. As they arrived via limousine from the hotel, the young couple was greeted by polite applause from the elegant crowd assembled on the steps. Lois was breathtakingly beautiful in an understated black gown, a simple strand of pearls at her throat. Clark drew the attention of the ladies in the crowd with the irresistible combination of his casual good looks and impeccable tuxedo. Arm in arm, they walked in on the red carpet and made their way toward the festivities.
As the great hall filled and dinner was about to be served, speculation began to spread through the crowd. At the head table, four seats remained vacant, two on either side of the dais. The room was filled with the world's premier journalists and photographers, each a celebrity in his or her own right. Everyone was busy speculating. Who could possibly be missing who would be important enough to fill these places of honor? The speculation came to an abrupt end when the massive double doors at the back of the hall opened and a voice rang out…
"Ladies and Gentlemen, honored guests," the crier paused and the assembly held its collective breath, "Her Highness, Lady Zara and His Highness, Lord Ching of New Krypton, President Alexander and Mrs. Alexander!" In shocked silence the crowd rose to its feet, then erupted in thunderous applause.
When the applause finally showed signs of ending, Clark gently pulled out Lois's chair as she resumed her seat, bending low to whisper in her ear. "Zara and Ching? Why?"
She thought for a moment before leaning in his direction. "I should have thought of this before, Clark. This is the first time that Kryptonians have been nominated for a Pulitzer. Of course they're here! It's a wonderful opportunity for a show of unity." As a part of the new cultural exchange effort, Kryptonian journalists had been invited to attend the recent Olympic games. While there, they had preserved the images of the human athletes using a three-dimensional presentation unlike anything the Earth had seen before. A hologram would be the closest Earth analogue, but even that technology paled by comparison. The resulting images had been collected and displayed to the delight of art gallery patrons world-wide. The exhibit was one of exquisite beauty, revealing the grace and power of the athletes' perfect bodies. And the fact that the visiting Kryptonians, who could undoubtedly run faster and jump higher than any of the Olympians, still admired the fluid lines and graceful form of the human athletes had not escaped notice. It was another step forward on the journey toward unity and harmony between the two worlds.
As Zara and Ching settled into their chairs to the right of the podium, Zara made brief eye contact with Lois, smiling and nodding slightly. Lois once again leaned in Clark's direction to whisper, "I hope they brought the baby! I can't wait to see little Kal-Ra!" Their conversation was cut short as the master of ceremonies welcomed the crowd and announced dinner.
Looking back on the event later, Lois found she could not recall the menu they had enjoyed or the details of the nervous conversation at their table. They shared that table with Perry and Jimmy, Perry smiling as if he knew the evening's outcome and Jimmy squirming uncomfortably in his rented tuxedo and paisley cummerbund. Martha and Jonathan were there also, smiling their pride on their son and his wife, already winners in the older couple's eyes.
When dinner had been consumed and coffee poured, the master of ceremonies once again took charge of the event. Photojournalists were honored first, with the Kryptonians collecting the last of several prizes in that category. Clark turned his attention to those nominees who had not been named winners, attempting to assess the depth of their disappointment. What he saw were forced smiles and barely-contained tears. Unconsciously, he reached under the table to capture Lois's hand. Somewhere nearby, a disappointed photographer murmured the old "honor just to be nominated" line that was heard so often at such events.
Having also overheard the remark, Lois turned a wry smile to her husband. "Ya… Right!" she whispered.
He grinned at her and bent in for a quick kiss on her cheek. "Remember, Honey, that even if you don't have a Pulitzer, you'll always have me!" His teasing was rewarded with a heart-stopping smile as his wife leaned to whisper in his ear. Her comment, something about the many ways in which she was planning to "have" him in the near future, left him blushing and breathless. He marveled at her unswerving ability to unsettle him as he fought down the fire her comments had ignited. Reasoning that turnabout was fair play, he turned a passionate gaze on his wife — the gaze that told her he was planning to give as good as he got when they were finally alone.
Their reverie was interrupted as the next category — their category — was announced. Forty-five minutes later, as the last winner for print journalism made his way back to his seat, Clark turned to Lois, ready to offer words of comfort to his disappointed partner. Instead of disappointment, however, Lois favored him with in impish grin. Sighing audibly, she began, "Oh, well, it's an honor…" Clark grinned and chimed in as they finished, "just to be nominated!" With a chuckle, he leaned in to kiss his wife tenderly.
The kiss ended when they each felt a hand on a shoulder. Perry looked disappointed enough for all of them while he murmured, "Kids, I'm sorry. I was so sure… I guess we should have campaigned harder…"
"No, Perry," Lois answered softly. "Clark and I are proud of the work we did, even if the committee didn't give us a Pulitzer. We feel like the work speaks for itself."
Perry returned her smile. "Well, you two know that you're prizewinners in my book. The Planet is damn lucky to have you!" He resumed his seat as the next category was announced.
The evening was drawing to a close as the last of the broadcast journalism awards was handed to its proud recipient. Around them, people began to reach for their belongings and pull out car keys. The master of ceremonies took the microphone again for what all assumed would be a short farewell to conclude the evening. The crowd was surprised by his words.
"I hear you all beginning to rustle around out there, but if I were you, I wouldn't leave quite yet!" All around Lois and Clark the activity ceased as those gathered turned their full attention back to the speaker. "The President and Mrs. Alexander are not here tonight just to honor our first Kryptonian recipients. Although I know the President is pleased to welcome our new intragalactic friends, he is in fact here as a presenter. Mr. President…" The man stepped away from the podium and joined in the applause as the President of the United States approached the microphone.
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. As Mr. Denison said, my wife and I are indeed delighted to host Lady Zara and Lord Ching tonight. Your Highnesses," he turned to make eye contact with the Kryptonian rulers, "your presence here tonight is very much in keeping with the award I have the privilege of bestowing." Turning back to the crowd, he continued, "Six short months ago, at the behest of Superman, the United Nations of Earth opened a dialogue with the people of New Krypton. The delegates to the TKUC conference were immediately convinced that an alliance between our two worlds was not only possible, but desirable. The problem was, how were we to convince a planet full of people who had lived through Lord Nor's visit that this alliance was right. Little did we know that the answer to that problem was waiting for us in the press room."
Across the room, a stunned Clark Kent reached out to gather his wife's hand into his own as he heard her gasp of surprise. The President turned and fastened his gaze on the couple as he continued.
"A pair of reporters, a husband and wife team, began a series of articles on that first day: a series meant for Metropolis's fine paper, The Daily Planet, but which eventually found its way into countless publications, translated into a dozen different languages. In those articles, the people of this world found the assurances they needed to embrace the partnership the delegates so fervently hoped for. The words of Clark Kent and Lois Lane illuminated the Kryptonian culture for the people of Earth. Here was a people, much like us, who wanted nothing more than unity and friendship. Here were individuals, much like us, who loved their children, felt allegiance for their world, prayed for peace. Lois and Clark, you delivered the word that we are no longer alone as we hurtle through space. You opened the hearts of the citizens of this world to the possibilities that this new alliance brings with it." The President paused as the sprinkling of applause became a roar.
Overcoming his initial shock, Clark turned to glance at the people who shared this moment with him. His folks were beaming, their pride and love shining in their eyes. Perry looked as if he might pop a button or two off his brocade vest, basking in the President's praise for both his reporters and his paper. Jimmy was busy snapping pictures, pausing only to whisper, "Way to go, you two!" And Lois… his lovely Lois had a look of wonder on her face that he knew he would remember as long as he lived.
The President signaled for quiet and continued, "And so, with no further ado, please step forward, Lois Lane and Clark Kent, to accept this Pulitzer Prize, along with the thanks of a grateful world." Clark's head dipped momentarily as he pulled in a deep breath and tried to take in this turn of events. The crowd remained silent, waiting for the reaction from the couple in the spotlight. When Clark raised his eyes again, they glistened with emotion. Slowly, he rose to his feet. Turning solemnly to his wife, he extended his hand. She raised her eyes to his and her expression of shock slowly became a smile. Taking his hand, she rose gracefully… and with a lusty cry of "YES!", flung herself into his arms, shocking him with an unexpected kiss. The shock was momentary, though, as he quickly recovered to participate enthusiastically in the embrace. The crowd erupted in delighted laughter and applause.
Lois tumbled into the back seat of the limousine, reaching out to pull her husband in beside her and away from the last lingering well-wishers. As he sank gratefully into the leather of the seat cushion, he reached out to draw Lois close. Finally, a moment alone to savor their achievement!
"Oh, my aching feet!" she exclaimed, kicking her heels off and snuggling up next to his chest. "I don't think I'm ever going to wear shoes again!"
His eyes sparkled with merriment as he teased her. "Well, that's how we 'farmboys' like our women, you know: barefoot and pregnant."
She drew back to look up at him, her delighted smile making her completely irresistible. Lowering her voice, she murmured, "Barefoot is no problem. Pregnant — well that will take some exhaustive effort." She reached inside his tuxedo jacket to run her fingers up his chest, delighting in the sharp intake of breath her touch evoked. Self-conscious in the presence of the limousine driver, Clark stilled the movement of her hand. He glanced in the direction of the front seat just in time to see the driver raising the privacy window, a warm smile on his weathered face.
Clark turned a reproachful gaze on his wife and chided, "Lois, you're incorrigible…" He paused, reaching down to gently cup her upturned face in his large hand, then continued in a voice husky with longing, "and absolutely irresistible." He lowered his lips to hers and reached out to lightly trace a path from her throat to her waist. With a moan, she deepened the kiss, pressing him back against the seat. Time stood still as the couple lost themselves in each other. Finally, satisfied for the moment, they pulled apart.
"Clark, if you really love me, you'll do something about these sore feet!" Before he could think of an appropriate response, she had slid the width of the seat and her tired feet were resting in his lap. With a chuckle, he reached down and captured one set of wiggling toes in his hands. He gently began to massage the ache away and Lois flung her head back in ecstasy. Long moments passed as he continued to minister to his wife and he began to wonder if she had fallen asleep.
She answered the unasked question with a ragged sigh. "God… who knew a foot massage could be so sexy?" He had just opened his mouth to voice his agreement when he became conscious of what Lois's other foot, the one resting in his lap, was up to.
"Lois…" He moaned and reached down to stop her foot's seductive motion. "You're making trouble!"
Lois opened her eyes wide in mock innocence as she replied, "Trouble? I'm sorry, Clark! Here, let me see if I can relieve your discomfort…"
He snagged her hand as it neared the zipper of his tuxedo pants and raised it instead to his lips. "Let's save this to be continued later. How would it look if a couple of new Pulitzer Prize winning reporters were caught groping each other in the back seat of their limousine? Besides, we should be at the hotel by now." Leaning forward slightly, he lowered his window and peered outside.
Confused by what he saw, he rapped on the privacy window to get their driver's attention. When the driver lowered the window, Clark asked, "What are we doing downtown? Our hotel is out by the airport."
Glancing back with a smile, the driver responded, "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm not permitted to reveal our destination. Orders from the very top!"
Lois and Clark shared a knowing look as Lois muttered, "Perry! What's up his sleeve now, I wonder?" She didn't have time to wonder long, for their limousine had pulled to a stop at the curb. The two of them leaned simultaneously to stare out the window.
The limo was parked under the imposing marquee of the Washington Hyatt Regency Hotel, a marquee on which the message read, "Congratulations Lois and Clark!" They both nearly fell out of the door as it suddenly opened and Perry himself appeared in their line of vision.
"You two didn't have a clue, did you?!" His voice was animated with delight. "Surely you didn't think we'd let this night end so early!" He stepped back and opened his arms invitingly. "Come on in, kids. It's gonna be one hell of a shindig!"
Clark flashed his wife a radiant grin as he bounded happily from the back seat. Lois, however, was frowning as she reached down to retrieve the shoes she had so happily discarded a short half-hour ago. Holding them aloft on the end of her fingers, she implored, "Clark, please tell me I don't have to put these things back on!"
With a laugh, he grasped the offending heels and dropped them back to the floor of the limousine. Sweeping his wife up effortlessly into his arms, he brushed a soft kiss across her cheek as he replied, "Darling, your wish is my command! Allow me!" And with Perry in the lead, the trio made their way to the ballroom.
Several hundred people turned as one when Lois and Clark made their entrance, Lois still cradled in Clark's arms. Silence fell and Perry stepped forward. His pride and elation were evident when he spoke. "Well, folks, our guests of honor have arrived! I don't want to embarrass them with lots of flowery words. Heck, I'm not sure if I even know any flowery words!" A sprinkling of laughter danced around the room. "Let's just say that I couldn't be prouder of these two if they were my own children and that the Daily Planet is the envy of every paper in the country tonight. So let's help them celebrate! Everybody have a great time! Oh, and Lois has hereby declared this the 'Barefoot Ball' so all you ladies kick off those damned high heels!" As if to illustrate, Lois raised her shoeless toes and wiggled them in the air. The crowd erupted in laughter as, almost to a person, the women in the room kicked off their shoes.
As the guests turned back to their merrymaking, Clark reluctantly set his wife back on her feet. Turning to Perry, he shook his head and began, "Chief, how did you pull this off? The entire staff of the paper is here. Who's back in Metropolis to put the paper to bed?"
"Son, some things are more important than putting the paper to bed." He lowered his voice before continuing, "But if you tell anyone else I said that, I'll deny it." Perry grinned.
"Perry, this has to be costing a fortune. Don't tell me the Planet is springing for all this!" Lois's voice was incredulous.
"Yes, Lois, this time the suits on the upper floors came through!" He leaned toward them to whisper as he continued. "Of course, not before I threatened to walk, and take the two of you with me!"
"Perry! You didn't!"
With a wink, Perry plucked three glasses of champagne from a passing tray. After handing a glass to each of his star reporters, he raised his glass in a private toast. "To the best darn reporting team these old eyes have ever seen!"
After taking a long sip, Clark raised his glass again. "And to the best editor… and friend… that any reporter could hope for!" And the three of them toasted again. "And now, Chief, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to take my wife to the dance floor." Depositing both of their glasses on a nearby table, he swept Lois back into his arms and headed for the center of the room.
Lois was fairly sure that her feet never touched the gleaming wood as she swirled around the dance floor in Clark's arms. Truth be told, Clark was periodically checking to be sure that *his* feet were still in contact with the floor. He knew he had a tendency to become airborne at times like these. With his wife in his arms, his friends surrounding him, and the taste of victory still fresh and sweet, it would be easy to slip gravity's grip.
Martha and Jonathan were enjoying a waltz when Jonathan felt a firm tapping on his shoulder. Turning, he was not at all surprised to find his son standing behind him, his lovely wife on his arm and a grin on his face. "May I cut in, Dad?" Wordlessly, Jonathan stepped aside and watched while Clark and Martha picked up the rhythm of the dance and glided away. Turning to Lois, he offered his hand and she curtsied solemnly before bounding into his arms. With enthusiasm making up for what they might have lacked in grace, the pair joined in the dance.
Across the dance floor, Martha and Clark were talking as they danced. "Honey, I can't tell you how proud your Dad and I are of the two of you tonight. And how happy we are for you." Martha smiled up into her son's face. "I remember a time, back in the old apartment on Clinton Street, when you told Dad and me that you realized the life you had hoped for could never be: that you would never be able to have friends, a job, someone to love. And look at you now! A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, surrounded by a roomful of friends, married to a wonderful woman who adores you."
Clark replied in a low voice, "And all because a Kansas farm couple were willing to take a chance on a foundling. Mom, anything… everything… I am able to do is because of the two of you. I have never forgotten that… I will never forget."
The sun was beginning to peak over the horizon by the time Lois and Clark returned to their hotel suite. After paying the baby-sitter and sending her on her way, they stopped in the kids' room to check on them. Jon was sprawled half on and half off the bed, his covers thrown on the floor. His father carefully repositioned and covered him before kissing him gently on the forehead.
When Clark turned from his task, he found Lois leaning on the railing of Emmy's crib, watching the child sleep. Her hair had begun to grow back in and she had gained back most of the weight she had lost during therapy. Most of the visible signs of her battle were gone.
Clark joined his wife and slipped his arm around her shoulder. With a deep sigh, she spoke in a whisper, "You know, Clark, there was a time when the Pulitzer was the most important thing in my life. I was sure that if I could just win a Pulitzer I would be eternally happy." Clark remained silent when she paused to collect her thoughts and momentarily she began again. "But I would trade it in a heartbeat for a promise that she'll be all right."
He nodded thoughtfully. "I know what you mean, Lois. I feel the same way. I'd trade anything. My superpowers? In a moment! The Pulitzer? No question! My life? Without a second thought…"
She turned her head to smile at him. "You know, maybe the hell Emmy went through has had some positive effects after all." At his look of confusion, she continued, "Maybe it has forced us to examine our priorities. To decide what really matters and what's just window dressing."
Clark raised his eyebrows in amazement. "So now the Pulitzer Prize is 'window dressing'?"
Lois grinned. "Well, there's nothing wrong with a little 'window dressing' now and then!" She turned to face him and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Anyway, Mr. Kent, that'll be enough stalling! I believe you promised me a private celebration!"
Her husband grinned and swept her into his arms. When they reached their bedroom, he sat her gently back on her feet and reached out to cradle her face tenderly in his hands. "Lois, I can't think of a better way to end this night than to make love to the most beautiful woman in the world." His love for his wife was so clearly visible in his expression that it took her breath away. To be loved this way by this man was a gift beyond measure to Lois.
Shaking her head slightly, she returned his passionate gaze as she responded. "I'm not sure what I did to deserve your love, Clark, but I couldn't agree with you more. Make love to me, Clark."
Their lovemaking had taken many forms in their years of marriage. There were the nights of healing when Clark returned from a mission as Superman and reached for his wife to erase the haunting memory of the cruelty or pain he had witnessed. There were nights of desperate need when they made love over and over again, each seeking to possess more of the other's soul. There were stolen moments in the middle of the day and impetuous trips to deserted islands to make playful love in the sunlight. And although all of these had their merits, Clark treasured most the times when their lovemaking was an expression of the depth of their love and respect for each other, the times when they touched each other with awe and reverence.
He reached behind her to pull the zipper of her gown slowly down, trailing his fingers down her spine as he did so. In an electric moment, he realized that his fingers had encountered no other garments on their way down. Even so, he was unprepared for the sight as her dress dropped in a satin and lace heap at her feet.
With equal care and tenderness, she removed the studs from his shirt and, reaching gently inside to caress his shoulders, pushed the shirt slowly off.
In those few precious moments, the lovers banished the world's cares. They put aside their worries, their guilt, and their fear.
And with gentle passion, they loved each other.
Lois and Clark were sitting silently in Dr. Portman's office when he entered, his expression grim. He did not hesitate.
"I'm afraid the news is not good, but I'm sure you knew that, given the short time we had Emmy in surgery." He paused to assess the young parents before him. When neither of them responded, he took a deep breath and steeled himself to continue.
"The tumor is growing on her spinal column. It has infiltrated the column itself and there is no hope of extricating it with surgery." Again, he waited for Lois and Clark to digest the news.
When Lois spoke, her voice was filled with a desperate hope. "But there's something we can do, right? More radiation therapy? Or restart the chemotherapy?"
Dr. Portman shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid not, Lois. We could do the things you mention, but they would only cause Emmy to suffer with no hope of recovery. The best thing you and Clark can do for Emmy is take her home and love her. I'll be sure that you have everything you need to keep her comfortable. Then, when the time comes, we will care for her here in the hospital…" His voice trailed off at the look of agony on Clark's face.
"So, you're saying there is no hope." Clark's voice was a whisper. He reached out and gathered Lois's hand into his.
"I'm sorry, Clark. I wish there was something else I could do, but we've run out of options. I'd like nothing better than to stand here and tell you that Emmy's going to be fine but I won't lie to you or give you false hope. We have come a long way in the treatment of cancer, but there are still patients who cannot be saved. Emmy's cancer has defeated our best efforts."
Tears spilled from Lois's eyes as she looked to her husband. "Clark, no!" He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her as she buried her face in his shoulder. Clark looked past her to Dr. Portman whose expression told of too many sad conversations with too many anguished parents.
"Thank you, Dr. Portman. We know that Emmy has had the best of care."
Tom Portman acknowledged Clark's remark with a nod and stood to leave, wishing to give the young couple some privacy to begin to cope with the news. "Lois, Clark, we will continue to take the best possible care of Emmy. We'll control her pain and, with your help, make her life as happy as possible."
Long moments passed before either Lois or Clark spoke. They clung to each other and allowed the tears of sorrow and impending loss to fall freely. In those moments, the worst of the guilt and fear they had so carefully hidden from each other in the past returned with a vengeance. And they were both so overwhelmed that they pulled inward, away from each other, instead of reaching out.
Finally, Lois found her voice. "So, what do we do now?"
"I guess we do what Dr. Portman said. We take her home and love her. We make the days she has remaining as joyous as we can." Clark brushed a wayward lock of Lois's ebony hair back from her cheek as she gazed up into his face.
As he watched, the grief changed to defiance on Lois's face. "Then, you think we should just give up? Just like that, we accept that she's going to die?" Her voice rose as she pushed herself away from Clark. "Since when have we accepted that anything in life is impossible? You and I have challenged and beaten the odds over and over again! I refuse to accept this death sentence, and I can't believe that you're ready to accept it either!" She sprang from the couch and crossed to the window where she stood staring, her hands clenched at her sides in fists of anger.
Clark sighed deeply and moved to stand behind her. With his hands on her shoulders, he began in a low, comforting tone, "Lois, believe me when I tell you that I feel the same as you do…"
Breaking free >from his caress, she wheeled to face him, her anguish turned to anger. "No, you don't! If you felt like I do, then you would be ready to fight this thing instead of just giving in! Look at you! You've saved hundreds of people — thousands of people — and now, when it counts, what are you doing? Nothing!" Her words were delivered with venom the likes of which Clark could not remember.
For an instant, he stared at her, too shocked by her verbal assault to respond. Then, as the meaning of her words sank in, a look of confusion and great pain darkened his expression. In that instant, all of the buried feelings of guilt rose up and engulfed him. And then, in a flash of red and blue, he was gone.
Even as the words had escaped her lips, Lois was wishing she could retract them. If Clark had lingered only a second longer he would have seen the horror and profound regret on his wife's face. She had lashed out in her frustration and grief and her target had been the person she loved above all others. The memory of the look on Clark's face started an ache in Lois's heart as she rushed home, hoping to find him there.
Clark was not at the brownstone. He was not at his parents' home. He didn't answer his cell phone. Lois was frantic to find him. The thought that he was alone somewhere, suffering not only the news of Emmy's condition but also his wife's stinging indictment, was more than Lois could bear. As she looked for him, she berated herself brutally. After all, she had been Ultra Woman long enough to know the pain of not being able to save everyone. And to accuse Clark of neglecting Emmy… Hot tears spilled down her cheeks as she pulled up in front of the Planet. She threw the car into "park" and raced in, hoping that he had chosen to escape for a moment into his work.
As the elevator doors opened, she cast a furtive glance at his desk. Nothing. The papers he had left the night before were undisturbed. Lois was at a loss. Perhaps he had gone to Kansas — his Fortress of Solitude, maybe. Or maybe that spot near the North Pole…
She was standing immobilized in the center of the bullpen, staring blindly at the unoccupied desk when a voice from behind her made her jump.
"Lois? Honey, what's wrong?" Perry's concern came straight from his heart.
At the sound of his voice, the tears began anew and Lois made no effort to hide them. "Oh, Perry, it's all falling apart," she managed to exclaim before her emotions overwhelmed her. With his arm gently around her shoulders, Perry led her to his office and closed the door. Away from the curious eyes of the newspaper's staff, he listened while she poured out the story of the afternoon's events.
When she had finished, Perry found himself groping for words of comfort. If the news was overwhelming to him, he reasoned, it must be mind-numbing for Lois and Clark. He cleared his throat and began with a statement he was absolutely sure of. "Lois, honey, you know that Clark adores you. Whatever hurtful things you might have said to him, he knows that it was your pain talking. He'll forgive you — heck, he probably already has. The important thing is to get the two of you together so you can deal with this thing as a team!"
"But, Perry, where is he?" Her tone was one of anguish. "You didn't see the look on his face. How could I have been so cruel? And to Clark, of all people!" The tears threatened to spill over again.
As Perry began to respond, he was interrupted by a knock on the door. Raising his voice, he called out gruffly, "It had better be a disaster!" The door opened slowly and a sheepish Jimmy Olsen put his head bravely in.
"Sorry, Chief, but I thought you'd like to know. I've got CK on line 2… for you." The young reporter cast a nervous glance in Lois's direction.
"Jimmy, get in here," Perry directed, "and close that door. Line 2, did you say?" Perry picked up the phone and motioned for Jimmy to take a seat near Lois.
"Clark? It's Perry. Listen, son, Lois has told me the news about Emmy. I couldn't be more sorry. If there's anything, anything at all, that I can do…" His voice trailed off as he listened to Clark's response. Jimmy looked in shock at Lois and drew the obvious conclusion from Perry's comment and Lois's tear-stained cheeks. He reached out gently to take her hand in comfort.
"Don't you worry about that, Clark," Perry was saying. "That story can wait, or better yet, I'll reassign it. You just stay there with your little girl." He cast a glance at Lois as her head came up. Clark was with Emmy! Of course!
By the time Perry hung up the phone, Lois was off the couch brushing the last tears from her eyes. "Thanks, Perry." She delivered a kiss to his cheek.
"It's nothing, honey. I wish there was something I could *really* do. Jimmy, why don't you drive Lois over to the hospital? You can take a cab back and the paper will pick up the tab."
"Sure, Chief," Jimmy responded, placing a protective hand on Lois's shoulder as they turned to leave.
Clark had left Dr. Portman's office so quickly that he hadn't even taken time to choose a destination. He circled the globe aimlessly for several minutes, not able to see the terrain that passed beneath him through the tears that clouded his vision. Finally, Lois had given voice to the feelings that he had suspected all along. Emmy was sick because of him. Somehow, his alien genetic structure was to blame. And his powers were useless when his family needed him the most. Kryptonite had never hurt like this. The pain was overwhelming, even for the Man of Steel.
Suddenly, his destination became clear. He had to be with his daughter. Superman made a gradual descent into the heart of Metropolis.
Lois found him in Emmy's hospital room, watching the child sleep. Her tiny hand was curled around his index finger. His face was expressionless. He didn't look up when she came in, but instead spoke in a hushed tone, "I've told Dr. Portman that we want a second opinion. It turns out that he has already sent tumor samples and medical records to the chief of pediatric oncology at St. Jude's. He expects to hear from them within a couple of days."
Lois stepped into the room and allowed the door to swing closed. Not sure how to begin, she approached him slowly and dropped wordlessly to her knees beside his chair. As her tears began to flow again, she rested her head on his knee. Immediately, his free hand reached down to stroke her hair gently. Long moments of silent communication passed between them before she raised her head and spoke.
"Clark, I'm so sor…" She paused abruptly when he raised a finger to her lips to silence her. He turned his face to hers then, and what she saw caused her breath to catch in her throat. The characteristic gleam was gone from his eyes, eyes which bore the unmistakable mark of hours of tears. He looked hollow — blasted out — and Lois knew that she would hear none of the words of encouragement and hope that she had come to rely on during these trying times. When he finally spoke, she had to lean forward to hear him.
"No. No apologies. You owe me none."
"No, Clark, really, I didn't mean…" She fell silent as a look of agony crossed his face.
"I said 'No', Lois!" Something in the tone of his raised voice caused her to recoil from him. It wasn't that she felt threatened, exactly. Instead, she found herself acutely aware of the tightly controlled strength he possessed, as if she knew that control was wearing thin. It was as if his grief had robbed him of the gentleness that was his hallmark. Confused, she rose to her feet and walked to the far side of the bed, feeling the need to put distance between them.
>From her new vantage point, she looked him in the eye. With a jolt, she >realized that this was not the Clark she knew. She was looking into the >eyes of a stranger. In those eyes which had so often given comfort she >felt sure she could read condemnation; condemnation of the careless >actions on her part which had led to their daughter's illness. The guilt >tore at her heart.
As his wife rose and moved away from him, Clark could easily read the abhorrence on her face. Yes, she blamed him. She blamed him for their daughter's illness and impending death. And he wasn't surprised, because he blamed himself, too.
The tension in the room was palpable.
In the days to come, Clark was more of a shadow than a presence in Lois's life. Convinced that Lois thought him to blame, he retreated inward. When they brought Emmy home from the hospital, he spent countless hours with her, but found a reason to disappear as soon as Lois joined the two of them.
For her part, Lois was sure that Clark was rejecting her because it was, after all, her carelessness that had caused Emmy's illness. By the time the day arrived that Emmy had to return to the hospital, the two of them were barely speaking.
As nearly as he could, Dr. Portman had told Lois and Clark what to expect as Emmy's disease progressed. There would, most likely, be a loss of motor function as the tumor continued to invade her spinal column. Knowing it might happen and watching as it did happen, however, were two entirely different things. On a gray November morning, when Emmy could no longer move her legs, her parents returned with her to the hospital.
When they returned home, Lois's grief overwhelmed her and the tears began to fall. But strangely, there were no arms reaching to comfort her, no words of support and love to soothe her. In this moment of agony, he had turned from her and she saw the fabric of their marriage begin to unravel. Lois felt herself descending into despair — a despair into which he had abandoned her.
In the silence of the empty nursery, his tears fell as his heart broke. He clutched his daughter's pillow to his face, breathing in the scent of her baby shampoo. How could he turn to Lois for comfort when he was the cause of her pain? How could he ask her forgiveness when he could not forgive himself? Grief and guilt clutched at his heart and he had never before been so utterly alone.
Hours later, he descended the stairs and took his jacket from the closet. Relieved that Lois was nowhere to be seen, he headed for the front door. Then, from the darkness of the living room, he heard her.
"Clark," she whispered in the direction of his retreating form, "if you walk out that door now, I'm not sure I'll be here when you walk back in."
He stopped and Lois saw him tense, his head jerking up in shock as her words sank in. She sent up a silent prayer that he would turn and come back to her. But he breathed a deep sigh, shook his head sadly once, and walked out the door, closing it silently behind him.
Dr. Friskin sat in attentive silence, waiting for Lois to speak. As she waited, she took a good look at her patient. It was clear that Lois was not sleeping. Her eyes were dull and sunken. The healthy glow was gone from her skin and her hair hung in lifeless strands. Whatever the problem was that had brought about Lois's unscheduled visit to her office, it went beyond Emmy's illness.
"He left me," Lois declared when she finally found her voice. "Or maybe I left him. I'm not really sure." Hearing the painful truth spoken out loud for the first time brought tears of despair to Lois's eyes.
"How did it happen?"
"He refused to talk to me and started to leave, and I suddenly felt as if being alone would be better than the continuous agony that being together has become. So I told him that if he walked out I would be gone when he walked back in." The tears flowed freely down her cheeks.
"And how do you feel about that now?"
"I feel lost."
"Do you regret your ultimatum?"
"Regret it? I regret that it was necessary. And I'm confused. How could our love, a love that was so perfect, come to this? Where did we mess up?"
"Where do you think you 'messed up'?"
"I don't know. That's why I asked you! I feel like I'm trying to wade through quicksand here and there's no one to throw me a lifeline! My lifeline turned his back and walked out the door! How could he do that?!" Anger flared in her voice and flashed in her eyes as she bolted up from the couch and began to pace the room. "How *dare* he turn from me at a time like this?! I need him! Doesn't he know that?!" She ran her fingers through her hair and glared at Dr. Friskin.
Relieved to see a resurgence of her patient's characteristic passion, Dr. Friskin met Lois's intense gaze with one of her own. "When was the last time you told him?" she demanded.
He was sitting in his customary chair near Emmy's hospital bed, his head resting against the mattress, his eyes closed. He didn't stir when she entered the room and took up her own spot on the opposite side of the bed. Gently, she lifted her daughter's tiny hand into her own and caressed each perfect finger as she surveyed the monitors and checked the level of the IV bag. Satisfied that the machinery was working as it should, she allowed her eyes to drift shut and began to rock slowly to the rhythm of the heart monitor.
"Don't leave the brownstone, Lois." He spoke in a whisper. "You and Jon stay there and I'll move in with Mom and Dad, if they'll have me."
"If that's what you want, Clark," she answered, not trying to hide the agony she felt.
"What I want, Lois? No, that's nothing like what I want." He paused to gather his resolve and banish the tremor from his voice. "But I guess it's what has to be." He had raised his head from the bed and was looking intensely at his wife. What he saw shocked him to his core. Lois was wasting away before his eyes. Her lovely face was gaunt, her eyes haunted. The tears brimming in those eyes tightened the grip of the fist that never seemed to loosen its hold on his heart. Whatever it cost him, he had to quit hurting her. He lowered his head so that she would not see his tears.
"So this is how it all ends, Clark? After all we've been through, we just walk away without a fight?" The challenge in her voice brought his eyes suddenly up to meet hers.
"I can't bear the fight anymore, Lois. I'm too tired to fight." Her intense gaze unsettled him. What was it that she expected from him?
"So," her voice was barely a whisper, "you don't love me anymore." It was a statement, not a question.
"Lois, I'll always love you."
"Maybe sometimes, love just isn't enough."
He didn't appear at the Planet that day, but instead sent his story on the economic summit directly to Perry via e-mail. Lois spent most of her day in front of her computer, typing and deleting until she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. Her heart leapt into her throat as she turned but her momentary elation was dashed when she saw Perry's face instead of Clark's.
"Why don't you call it a day, Honey," Perry suggested gently. "You've been struggling all day. Go home and get some rest."
"Home," she repeated wryly. "I'm not sure I know the way there anymore."
"Lois, has something else gone wrong with Emmy? I mean, I don't want to intrude, but you've got to know that we all love you and want to help." His usually gruff voice was filled with gentle sincerity.
"I know, Chief. And believe me, I don't know what I'd do without all of you. But right now, I just have to work through it on my own." At her boss's look of concern she hastened to add, "But no, there has been no change in Emmy's condition since we took her back to the hospital, so don't worry."
She stood and began arranging things on her desk and packing her briefcase. "I was really waiting for Clark so that I could proof his article on the summit…" Her voice trailed off as she noticed Perry's expression change. "What?"
"Well, Honey, Clark sent that story in an hour ago, directly to me. I guess I thought you had already seen it…" He watched Lois's reaction with apprehension. There was something going on here that he didn't like one bit.
"Sent it to you? Without my proofing it?" She bit her lower lip in consternation. Tears welled in her eyes, but she reached out to squeeze Perry's arm. "Don't worry, Perry. We're still the hottest team in town… news team, that is." And before her shocked editor-in-chief could decide how to respond, she was gone.
She and Jon met him on the steps of the brownstone, his old leather suitcase in his hand. He put it down and dropped to one knee to take Jon into his arms. Clark planted a gentle kiss on the boy's forehead and met Lois's gaze over the top of his son's head.
"How much have you told him?"
"Jon knows that you are going to sleep over with Grandma and Grandpa for a little while, just like he gets to do sometimes. I told him that your Mommy and daddy miss you and want to spend some special time with you." Her eyes held his, daring him to look away. He matched her gaze for only a moment and then glanced down.
"Thank you, Lois," he whispered as he stood. To Jon, he added, "I'll see you every morning when your mom drops you off to Grandma and I'll see you every night before she picks you up, okay?"
"Okay, Daddy," the child answered, looking in confusion from one of his parents to the other.
Clark raised his eyes to Lois's once again, "Good-bye, Lois."
She did not respond.
At ten o'clock the next morning, Lois was in her customary place by her daughter's side. She had been shocked by the sight of a respirator in the room when she arrived. When questioned, the nurse on duty had admitted that the doctor had ordered the device, stating solemnly that it would be needed before long.
Lois grappled with a new wave of fear as she looked down at the tiny form in the bed. In her head, she knew that Emmy's little body could not fend off the cancer's attack forever, but in her heart she could not grasp the notion of going on without her daughter. As she gazed, Emmy stirred and opened her eyes. Immediately, she flashed her mother a smile and reached out to be picked up. Careful of the IV tube, Lois lifted the child into her arms and held her close.
"Hi, Angel. How are you feeling this morning?"
"Mommy, dink!" Little hands reached for the water glass beside the table and Lois held it gently to the child's lips.
As Lois was returning the cup to the table, Dr. Portman entered the room. Struggling to keep the fear from her voice, Lois asked, "A respirator… so soon?"
"We'll hold off as long as we can, Lois, but there is no advantage to being unprepared. When she needs it, it will be here." The doctor spoke with compassion but refused to sugarcoat the truth. He had learned over years of hard experience that his little patients and their families needed and deserved his honesty. Hiding the truth was no act of kindness. Helping them make the most of a limited span of days was his goal.
Now he reached out to place the back of his fingers against Emmy's sunken cheek. "So how's our little gal doing this morning?" He picked up the chart and scanned its contents.
"She seems to be feeling pretty well, Doctor, but I just arrived myself."
"Well, I'll leave you fine ladies alone to enjoy your time, then."
"Thanks." As the doctor turned to leave, Lois suddenly blurted out, "Dr. Portman, I don't want her to die here!" When the doctor turned back to face her, the look on her face was a mixture of shock and relief. Finally, she had found the courage to voice the thought that had been plaguing her.
She hastened to continue. "I know that she is being well cared for here and believe me, I appreciate it, but I don't want my baby to die in this hospital. I want to take her home!" Relief washed over her as she spoke her mind. Lois looked intently at the doctor, bracing herself to deal with his objections. She was shocked to hear his words.
"I agree completely. It would be much better for Emmy… much better for all of you… if she were at home. I'll contact the home-care nursing staff and get your name on their list." He turned again and moved towards the door, only to be stopped again by Lois's question.
"Why didn't you suggest that I take her home, Doctor, if you feel it's best?" Her confusion was evident in her tone.
"Lois, that is a choice that a family must make. If I suggest it and a family is not comfortable with the notion, they often feel guilty — as if they are not doing enough or the right thing for their loved one. No, it has to be the family's idea or it's not the right thing to do."
"Will you still be her doctor?"
"Of course. We'll arrange a schedule of house calls."
"Thank you, Tom."
"It's nothing, Lois."
The fountain in Centennial Park splashed and bubbled as cheerily as ever when Lois sat down on the bench nearby. She stared at the water and wondered how it could be that the world in general went merrily on its way while her personal world was falling to pieces around her. She wondered if life would ever feel "normal" again.
The decision to bring Emmy home had brought her a measure of comfort. She knew she would have to cut back on her time at the Planet, but she had not really been accomplishing much there anyway. When she called him to ask for an indefinite leave of absence, Perry had assured her that her job would be waiting for her when she was ready to return.
The stillness of the park was broken only by the splashing of the water in the fountain as she sat there, lost in thought. The chill of late fall had set in and few Metropolitans chose to linger for long in the cold. But Lois was oblivious to the temperature. Her mind was wandering back to another time; a time when she had stood in this place and looked into the eyes of the man she loved and dreamt of a long future together. That day seemed forever ago to the woman she had become. Who could have foreseen that she and that man who was her soulmate would come to a moment such as this, a moment when it had all come crashing down?
Finally, Lois cried. She gave in to the misery that gripped her heart and sobbed until her anguish was spent. The setting sun had turned the park into an illusion dressed in peach and gold by the time she once again became aware of her surroundings. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, Lois realized that giving in to her tears had eased some of the pressure in her heart. As she stood to leave and gazed one last time at the fountain, she felt a new resolve forming.
How could she stand here in this place — this place where they had pledged their love forever — and consent to let that love die? She had told Clark once that there was nothing she hated more than "slack-jawed wallowers" and she had become the queen of wallowers! How could she watch Emmy's courage in the face of incredible pain and be such a coward herself?! Let the love die?! No, damn it! Not without one hell of a fight!
With only an instant's hesitation, she decided to do something she had not done in a long time.
"SUPERMAN! HELP! SUPERMAN!" And in an instant, he stood before her, his face lined with concern.
"Lois! What is it?! Honey! What's wrong!"
Lois eyes widened and she jabbed her finger into the "S" shield that adorned his chest. Her voice animated in triumph, she proclaimed, "AHA! I knew it! You called me 'honey'!"
Confusion drew his eyebrows together into a frown. "Lois, what's wrong? Why did you call me?"
"How can you ask me that?! 'What's wrong?' I'll tell you what's wrong!" She pushed him firmly to sit on the bench that she had so recently occupied as her angry, passionate tirade continued. "What's wrong is that you and I are planning to walk away from the best thing either of us has ever had, that's what's wrong. What's wrong is that instead of pulling together to face this thing with our daughter, we've allowed ourselves to be pulled apart, that's what's wrong!" Suddenly, her voice softened. "What's wrong is that I love you, and the thought of trying to live the rest of my life without you starts an ache in my heart that I can't bear, that's what's wrong…" Her voice trailed off to a whisper as she continued. "Please, Clark, tell me that we're not over. Tell me you still need me. Tell me you'll come home."
He raised his tortured gaze to meet hers. Like so often before in the face of Lois's intense scrutiny, he found himself tongue-tied. "Lois, I… I don't know what to say."
Disappointed in his response, Lois murmured, "Then just tell me the truth, Clark. If it's really over, if you don't want to be together anymore, if you want a…" she couldn't say the word. "If you want your freedom, tell me."
His heart swelled as he looked at her, standing in front of him, hands on her hips, insisting that he face the demons he had been working so hard to avoid. Suddenly, he saw his hesitation for what it really was: cowardice. He had faced down terrorists, stood in the path of speeding trains and at the center of nuclear blasts, but he was terrified of facing this hundred and fiften pound woman who was armed with nothing more than her resolve and her love for him! With a wry smile and a shake of his head, he reached out to cup the side of her face, wiping a renegade tear with the pad of his thumb.
"As usual, you're right, Lois. We do need to talk. But not here."
A look of relief washed over Lois's features as she responded, "Okay, where? When?"
"Tonight. I'll pick you up. I'll ask Mom and Dad to keep Jon for the evening. Eight o'clock?"
"Eight o'clock," she confirmed. "And when you say that you'll pick me up, do you mean in a car, as Clark, or are you really picking me *up*?" And she made their hand signal.
"No, I think we can leave Superman out of this." And with that cryptic comment, he was gone.
Lois stared at her image in the mirror, trying to remember the last time she had had butterflies in her stomach. The bed was covered with nearly every dress she had ever owned and she frowned skeptically at the one she had finally chosen — a simple burgundy silk adorned by an elegant string of pearls.
She had raced home from the park and thrown herself into the shower. The warm water cascading over her had helped to clear her head as she planned her strategy for the evening. If he was planning to divorce her, she was going to make it as difficult as possible. She was certain it was love that she had seen mixed with the sadness in his eyes at Centennial Park and he was *not* going to walk away without a fight. If he blamed her for Emmy's illness, it was time to bring his anger into the open. Hearing his words of condemnation couldn't possibly hurt worse than the perpetual silence that had fallen between them. If he could not forgive her, then she would let him go, but not before she made it clear that he was walking away from a woman who loved him and always would.
The doorbell rang. Lois cast a final glance in the mirror, picked up her coat and purse, and walked with determination to the door.
Clark had walked the distance from his parents' home to the brownstone trying to formulate a plan of action for the evening. There was no question that he loved Lois, but the last few months had been miserable for both of them. Guilt, grief and regret had built a wall between them and they had each retreated to ache alone. The silence that had descended on their relationship had become deafening. For better or worse, he and Lois had to talk. One way or the other, their situation had to be resolved.
As he walked up the steps of his home, he steeled himself for the difficult evening that lay ahead. He rang the doorbell and his wife answered the door. The sight of her caused his breath to catch in his throat.
"Lois… you look fantastic." If not for the relentless ache in his heart, Clark might have believed that he had been transported back in time — back to a time when he and Lois had been carefree and in love. She was breathtaking.
"Thank you, Clark. You look great, too." It was not lost on Lois that he had chosen his charcoal gray wool suit. Was he trying to remind her of happier times? In any case, she felt every bit as nervous as she had on that first date so long ago.
"Shall we go?" He offered his arm.
Lois slipped her arm through his and together they descended the stairs, each feeling awkward and ill-at-ease. As they stepped toward the car parked at the curb, Lois made a conscious effort to relax. After all, this was Clark! The man she loved. The man she had married. The man who had seen her at her best and her worst… The man who had packed a bag and moved out. She had never been so nervous.
Clark opened the passenger door and, after helping Lois in, gently closed it. As he walked around the car, he found himself wondering at the boulder-sized lump in his throat. He remembered telling Zara of New Krypton that it had been Lois who had finally made him feel as if he fit in on Earth. Now her presence made him supremely uncomfortable. And that knowledge threatened to break his heart.
Martha Kent paced past the kitchen table for the umpteenth time and her husband reached out his hand to catch her arm and reel her in.
"Martha, will you please sit down! Watching you pace is making me crazy!"
"Well, Jonathan, I'm not sure how you can just sit there when everything our son has ever wanted from life is slipping away from him. How *can* you be so calm?!" She gently broke away from his restraining hand and continued her path through the room.
"Now, Martha, you know that I'm worried, too. But it's not our place to butt in. Lois and Clark will have to find their own way out of this problem… and they will. I'm sure of it!" He rose from his chair and captured his wife in his arms.
"And just what makes you so sure of that?" she responded skeptically, pulling back slightly from his embrace to look him in the eye.
Jonathan smiled down into the eyes of the woman who had been his partner in life for thirty-five years. "Because I know our boy. And I know the woman who raised him. He'll come to his senses before it's too late. He doesn't really want his marriage to end, you know. He's still head-over-heels in love with Lois."
"Well, of course! I know that! But he's so stubborn sometimes." She gazed fondly at her husband. "And we all know where he gets that!"
Jonathan nodded silently in agreement. With a sweet kiss on her forehead, he released Martha and began to walk into the living room. At the door, he turned and remarked, "Yes, he gets it from his mother!" The pot holder she had been holding breezed harmlessly past his left ear as he chuckled.
Bogart's was a quiet, upscale restaurant in the harbor and Clark had thoughtfully called ahead for an isolated table with an ocean view. Drinks had been ordered and the waiter had retreated for the moment. Silence reigned. Clark glanced around them and wondered why he had suggested a restaurant instead of a more private meeting place. After a moment of consideration, he concluded that he had chosen the restaurant in a subconscious effort to avoid the frank conversation he feared. Weary and confused, he shook his head and braced himself to speak.
"Lois…" "Clark…" They both began at once.
"You first," she offered.
"No… you go ahead." He was relieved when she nodded her agreement.
"Clark, when Emmy was first diagnosed Dr. Portman tried to talk to us about the strain this was going to put on our marriage. Do you remember?" He nodded mutely, not sure where she was going with this. "And do you also remember how quick I was to tell him 'not us', 'not this marriage'?" Again, he nodded and she continued. "Well, once again, Lois Lane the know-it-all should have just been quiet and listened to the voice of experience." She paused, waiting for him to comment.
"Lois, I'm not sure what to say. What are you getting at?"
"Clark, what I mean is that we're in the state we're in because we didn't make an effort not to be. What we're going through is bound to stress out even the best relationship. And because we didn't plan ahead for that stress, it has overwhelmed us. We've lost ourselves and each other." She paused until he raised his eyes to meet hers and then continued, "We've been so wrapped up in our grief that we've forgotten to take care of our love and now I'm afraid that it has died from neglect." Tears glistened in her eyes as she awaited his response.
"So where do we start? How do we sort it all out?" He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it across the table to her. As she reached out to take it, their fingers touched and on an impulse, he captured her delicate hand in his large one. Lois gazed at their joined hands for a moment and then raised her eyes back to his.
"I guess we go back and start from the beginning. So I suppose the first question is,'Do you still love me?' "
His breath caught in his throat. He knew that the rest of his life depended on the words he was about to choose. And so, he reached back to another time when his heart had been at the breaking point and answered her. "Lois, I have loved you from the beginning…"
As his voice trailed off, she responded in a choked whisper,"…and I'll love you 'til the end." Silence fell between them, but they gazed into each other's eyes, both hoping to see confirmation of their bold words. Without dropping his gaze, Clark raised their intertwined fingers to his lips and kissed her hand.
"I guess that means we have a lot to talk ab…" Clark stopped in mid-word and cocked his head in a manner all-too-familiar to Lois. After a moment, he returned his gaze to hers. "No," he said firmly. "Not tonight! The world will have to go it alone tonight." He picked up her hand again and began to speak, only to be shocked by her words.
"Go, Clark. You know you need to go. You'll never be able to concentrate on our conversation if you're worried because you're needed elsewhere."
He searched her eyes to see if there was anger there. "You're serious, aren't you? You won't be angry or hurt?"
She managed a wry smile. "No, Clark, I won't be hurt or angry. Now go! I'll be here when you get back." She reached across the table to tug at his tie.
Rising from his seat, he paused and bent down to gently kiss her cheek and then was gone.
It was barely a half-hour before he returned to Lois at the restaurant and, true to her word, she was waiting for him. As he adjusted his tie and settled in his seat, she spoke. "I ordered you the pork chops. I hope that's okay."
"It's fine. Thanks. There was a cabin cruiser floundering and taking on water about six miles out."
"Were there people on board?" She frowned her concern, knowing how Clark would be affected if he had been unable to save all the lives involved.
"Yes, a family of four. They're all at the Coast Guard Station in the harbor, drinking cocoa and trying to get warm." He smiled weakly and ran his hands through his still-damp hair. Lois found it oddly touching and more than a little sad that her Man of Steel could be made so nervous by her presence.
She reached across the table to capture his hand, unconsciously playing with his wedding ring as she spoke. "And they're alive tonight because of you. Clark, just think how many lives you have saved… how many people still have their loved ones because you care so much…" Her voice trailed off as her eyes clouded with tears. She loved him so completely! Somehow, things just had to work out! Lois was so lost in her silent thoughts that she almost missed his anguished whisper.
"But I can't do the same for my own wife and daughter!" He lowered his eyes to hide the glistening of tears he could no longer hold back.
Lois was so shocked by his comment that it took her a moment to frame a response. When she did respond, her voice was incredulous. "What did you just say, Clark? Did I hear you correctly?"
His shoulders rose and fell with a deep sigh as he raised his eyes to hers. The sight of his tears tore at her heart and she tightened her grip on his hand. "I said that, even though I've saved hundreds of people the pain of lost loved ones, I can't save Emmy or spare you the pain of her loss. What good are my powers if I can't save those I love most? I've let you two down in the worst possible way…" His gaze dropped once again to the table top.
Lois tried to choose her words carefully. "Clark, you may be Superman but you're not God! Your special gifts are amazing, but no one can expect you to…" She stopped short in mid-sentence and her free hand flew up to cover her mouth in shock. Suddenly, she knew the source of his pain and her heart nearly broke with the realization. As her eyes misted over with tears again, she recalled her angry words of a few weeks ago.
"Look at you!" she had ranted, in the doctor's office on that painful day. "You've saved hundreds of people — thousands of people — and now, when it counts, what are you doing? Nothing!"
The memory of her words shamed her and she reached out to touch his cheek — to lift his eyes to meet hers so that she could face his reproach for her cruelty. But his eyes held no accusation. Instead, she saw the same look of agony and regret that had haunted him for months, an expression of grief that he had so often turned away from her to hide. The honesty of the moment threatened to overwhelm her and she drew in a breath that sounded more like a sob.
"Oh, Clark!" Her voice was filled with remorse. "I didn't mean that. I was so frightened. I lashed out at you and you didn't deserve it! You have to know I didn't mean it!" She pleaded for his understanding and forgiveness.
He shook his head as he reached out to stroke her cheek. "No, Lois. You have nothing to regret. You were right." As she began to protest, he gently brought his finger to her lips to silence her. "No, please, let me say this. I *need* to say this." Lois nodded and remained silent, giving him the moment he needed to collect his thoughts.
When he began to speak, his voice was so low that she leaned forward to hear him. "When you needed me… at the power plant… I wasn't there. I wasn't there because I was off saving other people's wives and children while my wife and unborn child were being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation."
Lois could contain her protest no longer. "Clark, have you forgotten what happened that day? You *begged* me not to go to that plant. You made me promise that I'd wait for you to return from Bolivia. How can you possibly think you're responsible for my stupid…"
He interrupted her. "Lois, in all the time I've known you, you've *never* waited when I've asked you to. Never! I should have known you'd go. I should have stayed to protect you. But instead I went off to answer a stranger's call for help and left you to walk into danger alone. And now our baby is going to die." His voice trailed off again as he finished, his tears falling freely now.
Long moments passed as each of them struggled for the words that should come next. Finally, with tears streaming down her face, Lois found her voice. "My God, Clark, what have we done to each other? I've been walking on eggshells — just sure that you were beginning to hate me because I took our unborn baby into a nuclear meltdown."
Clark took up her thought as he continued, "And I've been ignoring you and avoiding you because I was sure you blamed me for not saving you sooner." He shook his head. "If it wasn't so sad, it would almost be funny."
"And the saddest part of the whole thing is that there's no evidence at all that the power plant incident had anything to do with Emmy's cancer. Dr. Portman told us that this type of fibrosarcoma has never been attributed to excess exposure to radiation… that there is no discernible cause…"
"So why have we both insisted on blaming ourselves?" Clark reached across the table to capture his wife's other hand as if he suddenly needed as much contact with her as possible.
Lois bit her lower lip as she considered his question. "Maybe because it hurt less to accept the blame than to continue to wonder 'why'." She raised a questioning eyebrow in his direction.
"Or maybe because conceiving of a God who would allow a child to suffer so for no reason was too painful — so we each made ourselves the reason." It was clear that Clark had given the matter deep thought.
Lois raised their joined hands and brushed her lips over his knuckles. "So now that we've both 'fessed up, where do we go from here?"
Clark smiled softly as he replied, "Honestly, my dearest Lois, I don't care. So long as we go there together."
Martha had made up her mind that, as soon as Clark returned from his 'date' with Lois, she was going to talk some sense into him. She heard the front door open and was heading down the stairs when the voices of her son and his wife reached her ears. Martha didn't need to see the couple to know. She heard the relief and joy in their voices. Turning quietly, she retreated into her bedroom and silently closed the door.
Lois and Clark made their way into the bedroom where Jon slept and kissed their son goodnight. Then they moved into the guest room and repacked the belongings Clark had taken from his suitcase. Finally, they paused in the kitchen to leave a note for his parents as they left the Kents' home.
When they finally returned to the brownstone, the uneasiness set in again. It had been so long since either of them had touched the other that, although both desperately needed and wanted intimacy, neither of them was quite sure how to initiate it.
So they stood in the foyer and stared at each other.
Finally, Clark decided to take the first step. He reached out for Lois's hand and gently led her up the stairs. When they reached their bedroom, Lois loosened her grip on his hand and turned toward the bathroom, but Clark held fast to her and gently pulled her back. Lowering his head, he captured her lips in a tentative, feather-light kiss. With a low moan, she deepened the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck and stepping forward to mold her body to his.
Emboldened by her response, Clark resolved to let his needs and desires be known. Then whatever Lois decided, he would know that he had been honest with her. He closed his eyes and rested his forehead tenderly against hers. In a voice filled with longing he whispered, "Lois, I want to make love to you. I *need* to be inside you and feel complete again. But if this is too soon, too fast…" His voice trailed off and he breathlessly awaited her answer.
Her heart skipped a beat at the tightly controlled passion she heard in his voice and she felt her own body and soul respond with a surge of desire. "Too soon? Too fast? Clark, it was almost too late… Yes."
He exhaled a sigh of relief and joy. "Then go, take your bath. I'll be waiting for you when you finish." Clark watched as she walked into their bathroom and closed the door.
After a quick shower in the children's bathroom, Clark slipped into a pair of sleeping shorts and robe. Then, with a little *super* assistance, he set to work on their bedroom. Seconds later, he stood back to take in the effect he had created. Soft piano music drifted up the staircase from the stereo in the living room. The glow from a dozen candles bathed the room in a flickering light. Two glasses of wine stood on the nightstand. As he heard the sound of the bathroom door opening, he quickly warmed the satin sheets with his glance and turned to meet his Lois.
One look at her told him that she felt just as he did about the importance of this moment. The gown she had chosen was modest yet so enticing that Clark had to remind himself to take it slowly. Her hair was tossed in a flurry of curls that surrounded her face in a soft halo and, with the light of the bathroom outlining her slender form, she looked every bit an angel to this man who loved her so. Picking up the wine glasses, he stepped to meet her as she emerged from the doorway. After just a sip, she took her wineglass and his and returned them to the nightstand then stepped forward to slide her hands inside his robe to caress his chest. Standing on tiptoes, she nuzzled the tender flesh near his ear as she whispered. "Promise me, Clark… promise me that we'll never lose sight of our love again."
The room began to spin as he lost himself in the sensations she was creating but he managed to gather his thoughts to respond, "God, Lois, how could I have ever thought I'd survive without you? Yes, my love, I promise. Never again…"
Their love that night was gentle and unhurried. He touched her as if he was afraid she might break and she clung to him as if in fear that he might change his mind and be gone. And then they slept, wrapped around each other in profound relief and incredible joy.
As Lois and Dr. Portman had agreed, Emmy came home in late November. With Dr. Klein, Perry, Jimmy, Martha, and Jonathan's help, the living room of the brownstone had been transformed into a room for Emmy, complete with her favorite toys and books, as well as the heart monitor, respirator and other equipment necessary for her care.
Dr. Portman, true to his word, had remained attentive to the child's every need, managing her pain and monitoring the progress of her disease. And so it was that they all came to be gathered together on a particular night in November.
Dr. Portman had arrived for his customary house call, but after examining Emmy he had pulled Dr. Klein aside for a private discussion on the front porch. Lois and Clark shared an anguished look, for they knew the content of the conversation. Emmy's condition had worsened dramatically in the last twenty-four hours. Her parents knew that her battle was nearly at an end. When they returned to the living room, the two doctors confirmed Lois and Clark's suspicions.
Dr. Klein began, "Clark… Lois… Tom and I feel certain that Emmy's illness… her little body can't…" Bernard's voice trailed off, choked with emotion, as he struggled to deliver the painful news.
Clark approached the doctor and reached out to place his hand on Klein's shoulder. "It's okay, Dr. Klein. Lois and I have seen the signs. I think we all know that it will be soon." He glanced around the room to see anguished agreement from all those gathered. Turning to Lois, he asked, "Sweetheart, are you still okay with what we decided about Jon?"
Nodding slightly, Lois spoke softly, "I'll go get him."
As she started up the stairs, Clark explained to the others, "We don't want him to wake up and find her gone. We think he should get to tell her good-bye…" His voice trailed off, choked with emotion. Simultaneously, both of his parents came to stand near him, their proximity lending support as he struggled to focus beyond his personal grief.
When Lois returned with Jon in her arms, Clark stepped forward to join them. As Lois sat in the rocker near Emmy's bed with Jon in her lap, Clark dropped to one knee in front of them. Reaching out, he brushed a stray lock of hair out of his sleepy son's eyes and steeled himself to speak.
"Jon, do you remember the talk you and Mommy and I had a few days ago about Emmy?"
The little guy looked from his dad to his mom and back before he answered. "Do you mean about her going to heaven ahead of us?"
Biting her lip to hold back the tears, Lois nodded. "Yes, Sweetie. Remember how we said that we would have to say good-bye to Emmy for a little while?"
Tears filled Jon's eyes as he began to realize just why he had been awakened and brought downstairs. "Is Emmy going now?" His childish honesty pulled at the heartstrings of the assembled adults.
Clark stood and took his son in his arms. "Yes, Jon. Emmy is going tonight. Your Mom and I wanted you to have the chance to tell her good-bye." He walked to the crib and lowered the side rail. Mindful of the tubes and wires, he sat Jon down beside his sister.
Jon cried openly as he reached out gently to touch Emmy's face. She stirred and opened her eyes. A ghost of a smile crossed her face as she saw her brother. "Hi, Emmy," he whispered. "I'm going to miss you! I'll take real good care of Mom and Dad for you." Bending, he delivered a tender kiss to his sister's cheek.
Martha and Jonathan stepped forward then and helped their grandson hop down off the bed. Clutching his little hands in theirs, they headed for the stairs. Martha murmured as she passed Lois, "Honey, we'll stay with him until he falls asleep."
By unspoken agreement, no one left the brownstone that night. Each of them in their own way and in their own time said good-bye to the little one whose heroic battle had touched them all so deeply. At 2:00 AM, Dr. Klein solemnly nodded to Lois and Clark and the two of them came to stand by their daughter's bed. Working quickly and silently, Dr. Portman and Dr. Klein disconnected all of the wires and tubes that tethered Emmy to her bed and Clark gently lifted the child up and placed her in her mother's arms, wrapping his own arms protectively around them both.
Moments later, the light that was Emmy passed from this life.
Tuesday morning dawned as usual. The sun shone brightly and birds raised their song in the trees outside the house on Hyperion Avenue. In some distant corner of her mind, Lois wondered how it was that the world could go on as normal on this day. She bent to straighten Jon's tie as Clark came solemnly down the steps. Wordlessly, he reached out for his wife and son's hands and the three of them left the brownstone.
The small whitewashed chapel was filled to the brim with those who had loved Emmy. A tiny white casket, showered with red roses stood on a dais near the altar as the assembled family and friends prayed and sang and wept. When the time came for the eulogy, Clark rose and made his way slowly to stand beside the casket. He stood before those assembled and lowered his head, closing his eyes and battling to rein in his emotions. Finally, he raised his eyes and began to speak.
"Our daughter lived a marvelous life. Thanks to all of you, she was showered with love. Although her days with us were short, they were radiant with her laughter, her smile, her courage. I thank God for the days, the moments, that he gave Lois and Jon and I with this little angel. I know that it's hard, at a moment like this, to ignore those questions for which we have no answers. Why were her days so few? Why would a loving God allow children to suffer so terribly? Why…" Clark's voice caught in his throat and he paused, struggling to regain his composure.
Lois thought her heart would break as she watched her husband's anguish. Rising quickly, she moved to stand beside him. Gently, she took his strong hand in her own delicate one and, when he looked into her eyes, she nodded her encouragement. "You can do this, Clark. Take a deep breath," she whispered. As he had done so often in the past, Clark found the strength he needed in her eyes and raised his head to continue.
"But we mere mortals don't have the comfort of those answers today. We have to rely on our faith in God's infinite wisdom. This is a day to remember Emmy and rejoice in the gift that her life was to us. And so, Lois, Jon and I thank you. For your many kindnesses to our girl, for the countless thoughtful words and actions that have sustained us, for coming today to celebrate her life. God bless you all." With their hands still firmly entwined, Emmy's parents took their seats.
Martha Kent knew that images >from this day would be with her for the rest of her life. The sight of her son, the strongest man in the world, struggling as he tried to say the things he so needed to say to family and friends. The heart-rending memory of Lois, awash in a grief only a mother could imagine, reaching out to lend her strength to her husband. Little Jon, so stoic and silent in his suit and tie. The image of Clark and Jonathan, father and grandfather, tenderly carrying the tiny casket from the church. Pride swelled up to mingle with the pain in her heart as she walked slowly from the church.
Perry White was astonished to see Lois and Clark exit the elevator above the bullpen of the Daily Planet the next morning. "Listen you two, no one expects you to be here today," he began as he walked up the ramp to greet them.
"We know that, Perry," Clark answered, "and we appreciate it. But Lois and I have decided that this is the best place for us to be today. Back with our friends. Back doing what we do best." He smiled down on Lois and gently squeezed the hand he held firmly in his own.
Lois favored Perry with a smile as she added, "I remember a wise man who told me that this place had the power to heal… that the vitality of the newsroom was infectious. Sounds like just what we need!"
The days and weeks that followed were a roller-coaster of emotions for the young couple, but through it all they held fast to their love for each other and found great strength in that love. Both Clark and Lois knew that never again would they consider walking away from their commitment to each other, for they had rediscovered its strength and its value.
The pain of Emmy's loss would always be with them and, at first, that pain was often overwhelming. As time went on, however, their grief receded and wonderful memories of Emmy came to the fore. The two of them kept her memory and the lessons her short life had taught them very close to their hearts.
Neither of them was conscious of the changes that their daughter's brief life had brought about in them, but a careful observer would have noticed a calmer, more focused Lois. She approached her work, her family, her life, with a quiet intensity and a deep passion. She was slower to fly off the handle and quicker to reach out the hand of compassion. She saw what was important in life more clearly than she had ever seen it before. Life's challenges had strengthened her, tempered her, as flame tempers steel.
In addition to covering her normal beat, she penned a series on childhood illnesses, highlighting the wonderful work of the doctors and nurses and the courage of the children and their families. The Daily Planet ran the series and the citizens of Metropolis responded with a windfall of donations. The hospital was finally going to get that new children's wing!
Clark, too, had undergone changes. Keenly aware of the price he had nearly paid for his silence, he was less tongue-tied than before, taking care to share little concerns with Lois *before* they became gigantic. Although he would always ache for the people he could not save, he was more accepting of the fact that his superpowers did not make him omnipotent. Clark had made peace with his limitations.
Superman, always a friend to children, became a guardian angel to the children's ward at Metropolis General. Many a little one took to the skies for the ride of their lives, gently cradled in the arms of the Man of Steel. At his request, the physicians of New Krypton and Earth agreed to join forces in an effort to find new ways of defeating disease in children.
And in the future, when more little ones joined the Kent family, they were the beneficiaries of the lessons their parents had learned as they loved and lost Emmy.