By the IRC Round Robin
Uploaded January 2000
Summary: The season finale of the Unintentional Season. Lois' and Clark's late summer cookout ends up being more exciting than expected thanks to the rare and unwelcome appearance of a tropical storm and the unexpected arrival of their twins.
By the IRC Round Robin — Chrispat <firstname.lastname@example.org>); Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; Melisma <email@example.com>; Misha <firstname.lastname@example.org>; WendyR <email@example.com>; zoomway <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Clark turned from chopping up potatoes as Lois came into the kitchen. He would much rather have been doing the chore at superspeed, but that would have been rather difficult with his mother-in-law looking over his shoulder.
"Honey, I thought you were supposed to be keeping your feet up."
Lois grimaced and put her hand to her back. "Clark, how can I keep my feet up when I have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom every five minutes? Besides, I want to help."
Ellen bustled over to Lois. "I don't know what possessed you to decide to have a Labor Day cookout in your condition." She paused as a gust of wind rattled the windows. "Not that I think we're going to able to cook anything outdoors with that wind," she added, but before she could work up a good rant, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Lois said hurriedly and made her escape.
As she moved slowly to the door Lois was intercepted by her father.
"I'll get that, princess. You really ought to have your feet up, you know."
Sam gently turned Lois around and shepherded her to the living room couch. "There. Now you put your feet up on the table and I'll be right back."
Sam ignored Lois' mumbled protests and headed back to the front door, only to find Ellen already there helping Jonathan and Martha carry in several grocery bags.
"I thought you were helping Clark in the kitchen," Sam said.
"Well, *someone* had to answer the front door."
"I was just helping Lois—"
"I didn't need any help," Lois yelled in from the living room. "I'm perfectly fine," she added with a groan, as she struggled off the couch and walked to the front hall. Ellen retreated to the kitchen again.
"Where are you going now, princess?"
"Back to the bathroom."
"Have you been watching the news?" Jonathan asked, hurrying into the kitchen and dumping his wet bags on the table just as the bottoms fell out and groceries spilled all over. "On the way back home, they said on the radio that this storm is now being upgraded to hurricane status."
"Perfect, just perfect," Ellen picked up where she had left off. "A Labor Day cookout in the middle of a hurricane…" She turned as Lois came through the swinging door.
"A Labor Day cookout in the middle of a hurricane, and I can't do anything because I'm in the bathroom every five minutes," Lois countered before her mother could finish the thought.
Sam and Clark exchanged sympathetic glances. When *both* Lois and her mother were in full cry… Hoo boy, watch out!
Martha handed her groceries silently to Jonathan, and then herded Lois back out to the couch with a soothing hand in the small of her back. "Here, Lois, take off your slippers, and let's see what we can do for your feet."
Lois' head hit the back of the couch with a whimpering sigh as Martha dug practiced fingers into the arches of her feet.
Ellen sniffed pointedly and returned to her supervision of the kitchen activities. Clark's sigh couldn't be heard outside of the townhouse, but it seemed to be a close thing.
"So where did you learn massage?" Sam asked as he sat down to observe.
"I got my certification a few years ago, but this is more of an application of acupressure techniques." Lois groaned and Martha smiled. "It seems to work."
Jonathan joined them as a sudden burst of rain against the window panes drowned out Ellen's commentary on the proper preparation of potatoes. "Pity you can't have her walk on your back, Lois. It does wonders for me."
Martha favored her husband with a fond smile.
Lois sighed. "Maybe not walk, but could you get my lower back? It's been killing me all morning."
"Well, why didn't you say so earlier, princess?" Sam leaned forward anxiously. "That could be an early sign of labor. Have you called your doctor?"
Lois lifted her head to glare. "I *know* that, Daddy. But it's the same backache I've had since I hit five months." She sighed and wiggled her toes as Martha switched feet. "I certainly haven't been in labor *that* long."
"I didn't mean it that way, sweetie. I'm still amazed you've made it full term with twins. I'm just a little anxious about my grandbabies."
Lois rubbed her abdomen as one of her onboard soccer players decided to start playing. "It's okay, Daddy. The only thing I'm worrying about is how much longer these kids are going to take. I'm about to upgrade my wardrobe >from Omar's tents to the Blue Whale Emporium."
Clark watched the darkening sky, his heart sinking. He certainly hadn't wanted to have to be Superman today; this was supposed to be a day at home with his family, probably the last such occasion they would have before the babies came. But if this storm was turning into a hurricane, he wouldn't have any choice. Even if it didn't hit them directly, the side effects could be pretty devastating.
His biggest problem, of course, would be making an exit without his in-laws becoming suspicious. He'd had a narrow enough escape the previous week when Ellen had almost discovered the secret compartment. He was well aware that because of his continual disappearances Ellen wavered between suspecting that he was having an affair or that he simply didn't like her. He had no wish to add further fuel to her imagination.
As for Sam… Clark was well aware that Sam Lane used to have his own reasons for ducking out of family festivities and cookouts. Which, of course, was the reason for Ellen's suspicions where *he* was concerned. So if Superman was going to be needed, Clark was going to have to come up with a pretty convincing explanation, one which wouldn't lead either Sam or Ellen to wonder any more about their son-in-law's devotion to their daughter.
He didn't want to leave Lois today anyway, whatever their families thought. She was getting very close to her time, and she was antsy. And fed up. And feeling bloated. And needing the bathroom all the time.
And the only thing which really helped her backache was a dash of his patented healing touch. It was really his heat vision which effected the main cure but they both liked to pretend that it was his sensitive healing hands which did it. He had heard his mother giving Lois' feet a rub earlier, but he was sure that she was still in pain.
Leaving the kitchen — his father would take care of the groceries — he went into the living room. As he'd thought, Lois was leaning as far forward as she was able, while Martha rubbed her back. Sam stood over Martha issuing instructions to her, while Ellen stood over Lois, rubbing her hand and giving her completely contradictory instructions.
"Lois, just keep your feet up."
"Now, honey, are you sure your foot isn't going numb?"
"Don't breathe too quickly."
"Make sure you don't stop breathing evenly."
"Now you just take things easy, honey."
"Are you sure you shouldn't be walking around?"
Clark caught his wife's eye. He could see that, whatever the state of the weather outside, she was about to go off the Beaufort Scale. He thought quickly.
"Ellen, you know what? When Lois is feeling like this, she really likes a cup of tea. Do you think you could…?
"Yes, good idea, Clark," Martha said quickly, picking up her son's cue. "What kind would you prefer, Lois?"
Arsenic, for my mother, Lois thought, but managed to smile warmly. "Some jasmine tea would be nice."
"I'll show you where it is," Martha offered quickly, and ushered Ellen from the room before the other woman could object.
Clark came to stand behind Lois and, before Sam Lane could get in the way, began to rub her back with sure, firm strokes. Checking to see his father-in-law wasn't watching, he slipped his glasses down his nose.
"Daddy, could you get me my cardigan from upstairs?" Lois asked. "I'm feeling a little chilly." Having thus disposed of the remaining family member in the room, Lois twisted her neck to glare at Clark. "I know just what you're thinking, Clark Kent — and don't you *dare* leave me today!"
"Leave you, honey?" Clark protested. "Um… why would I want to do that?"
"Well, not to join Mrs. BelCanto at her family barbecue — at least I hope not," Lois purred softly. "You know very well what I mean, Flyboy — Superman stays locked away in the secret compartment today," she murmured quietly, knowing that he could hear her.
Clark grimaced. "You know I don't want to go, honey. But it's turning into a hurricane out there…" he finished helplessly.
"Yeah, and there's going to be an earthquake in here if my parents don't stop trying to treat me like a five-year-old!" she grunted.
"Lois, honey, they just care about you," Clark tried to placate her, but Lois hadn't finished venting yet.
"You have no *idea* how it is to feel like a beached whale, suffer from excruciating backache, and need the bathroom every five minutes…" She grimaced again. "Which reminds me… help me up, honey!"
Clark hurried around the couch and lifted his wife gently to her feet. "Bathroom again?" he asked softly, sympathetically.
Lois staggered towards the downstairs bathroom, locking the door behind her just as Clark's superhearing kicked in.
"—And this news flash just in. Tropical Storm Irving is now upgraded to hurricane status, and we've just heard that a hospital has been hit badly by the winds. The roof has already come off, and the rest of the building is now in a dangerous state…"
That was it, then. It *had* to be a hospital. Clark glanced in the kitchen where Ellen was arguing with Martha over the proper preparation of tea, then x-rayed upstairs as Sam mumbled, "Cardigan, cardigan …" Clark took one step toward the door, and was gone in a blur.
Martha hurried into the living room at the sound of an insistent pounding at the door. On her way through she noticed her son, daughter-in-law and Sam were all missing. She opened the door.
"Good lord!" Perry thundered as he removed his rain slicker. "It's a real frog-strangler out there."
"Oh," Martha said with a sigh, "You look like a pack of drowned rats."
"Tell me about it," Klein said gloomily. "We all came via the STAR Labs minivan, and the water was already rising. We kind of … hydroplaned to a stop in the yard."
"Yeah," Jimmy nodded. "Tell Lois we're sorry about the rose bushes."
"It was scary," Ruth added as she followed Klein through the doorway. "The traffic lights on Hennesy were blowing so hard we had to guess if the lights were red or green."
"We guessed wrong," Alice added, removing her coat. "Twice."
Jimmy finger-combed his soaking wet hair. "It was kind of cool though. Everyone was guessing at the intersection, and it's not like the dents in the van can't be hammered out. The side mirror is a lost cause, though, but the right head light …"
"Please, Jimmy," Klein sighed. "Now the van reads 'STAR LA'. The 'B' is lost in a dent the size of Wyoming. They'll never give me the keys again."
"Well, Ellen is fixing some hot tea," Martha soothed. "Everyone take a seat and I'll get some towels."
"Do you think any of CK's socks would fit me? I had to jump up and down on the bumpers to unlock the van when it got hooked to a dump truck …"
"I'll see what I can find," Martha interrupted, having heard all the van horror stories she cared to. "Dr. Klein," she added, and tugged the doctor aside. "Would you mind helping me carry a few things."
"No, not at all," he said amiably … at least until Martha bodily dragged him up the stairs. As they rounded the bend in the stairs, they passed Sam moving in the opposite direction.
Sam paused. "Klein, my daughter didn't phone you, did she?"
"Lois? Well .. no. I'm here for the food … and the hurricane."
Martha tugged on Dr. Klein's arm. He blinked. "Oh, er, um, I'll talk to you later, Sam. Martha seems to need my help with something."
Sam grunted and continued down the stairs.
Martha waited till he was out of earshot and then whispered, "I think Lois is going into labor, but she's insisting it's just those same contractions she's been having for weeks."
The doctor frowned. "I hope not. The streets are impassable…" Then he brightened. "However we are lucky we have an alternate mode of transportation available."
Martha sighed. "Not at the moment…"
Klein opened his mouth to reply, but Martha shushed him as Lois came slowly around the corner.
"Honey, you should've stayed on the couch," Martha said reprovingly.
"Daddy couldn't find my sweater," she explained. Lois looked from one to the other. "What are you two doing up here?
Martha put her hand on Lois' arm. "I was just telling the doctor here that I think you're going into labor, honey."
Lois looked stubborn. "I told you, Martha, it's just those same false labor pains I've been having for weeks."
"In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll *ever* have these babies!"
"Now Lois-" Martha began soothingly.
"Well, we are in unknown territory here!" Lois said. "We're only guessing that Kryptonian gestation is nine months! They could be like elephants! I could be pregnant into the year 2000!" she ended in a voice tinged with hysteria.
"Lois, I don't think that's very likely," Dr. Klein replied. "All my examinations have shown things are progressing at a normal *human* pace. You're going to have your babies soon." He eyed her protruding stomach carefully. "Very soon by the look of things."
Lois sighed. "I know. But it just doesn't seem soon enough. I want to *see* them, hold them. They need to get off the stick, already," she added with a grin.
"Well, I hope they can wait a little while, sweetheart," Martha said. "The middle of a hurricane is not exactly the best time to make an appearance."
Lois nodded but before she could speak, Jimmy called upstairs. "Hey, Lois, Dr. Klein. You've got to get down here! Check out what Superman is doing on LNN! "
"Okay, Jimmy, we'll be right down," Lois replied. But before she could take two more steps, a cramp tore through her middle and she doubled over.
At Metropolis Mercy Memorial Hospital, Superman quickly tucked the two remaining patients under his arm and took off in a red and blue blur toward Metropolis General, which had gladly agreed to give sanctuary to its beleaguered colleague.
After depositing them in the new Emergency room, he zipped back and ferried the last remaining staff members to safety. It was none too soon, since they had barely lifted off when the hospital walls collapsed with a crash amid debris that would have been billowing dust if the rain hadn't been falling.
Clark was about to ask what else he could do when he heard another cry for help. It was coming from the Hobb's Bay Yacht Club.
He winced, casting an x-ray glance over his shoulder even as he rocketed toward the bay. The winds were battering waves against the rocky outcropping protecting the small harbor, and one small craft was in the midst of being smashed into so much kindling and fiberglass splinters.
He slowed enough to pluck the battered sailboat from the water and set it down gently on the pier. A quick check of the other imperiled boat showed no lives in danger, so he smiled in what he hoped was a heroic manner at the couple emerging from the sailboat, and took to the sky in a flash of red and blue.
Behind him, unnoticed in the faint triple-heart beat that had become the center of his world, three of the most expensive yachts moored on the East Coast slipped their moorings and became one with the rocky arm of surf.
Clark slipped in the back door, empty trash can handy for his excuse, only to find it deserted. His rush to the living room was more hurried than humanly possible, but the crowd on the stairs was concentrating on something else.
Lois eased back against the wall and closed her eyes as her children tried to give her belly-dancing lessons.
Clark shoved the trash can into Perry's hands, shouldered past Jimmy and Ellen, and knelt gently at Lois' side. "Are you all right, honey?" He brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes.
Lois sighed, her crowd-induced claustrophobia disappearing as her world narrowed to one man crouching next to her. "Fine." She smiled at him.
Perry grabbed Ellen's arm, righting her before she fell off her step, and marched her down the rest of the stairs. "All right, people, let's give Lois a little breathing space!"
Continuing to crouch next to Lois on the stairs, Clark's hand shook as he cradled her head gently. "How are you doing, sweetheart?"
She winced. "I… was okay. But I guess that was another contraction!"
Clark closed his eyes briefly. Pain wasn't something he had much experience of apart from his few encounters with Kryptonite. But when it affected his wife he frequently felt as if he himself was also being physically torn apart. He hated to see Lois hurting.
Suddenly, the enormity of what was about to happen hit him. Lois was going to give birth. She was going to produce their children, their babies — and it was going to happen *now*, in the immediate future. He felt both humbled by the wonder of it all, and scared stiff by the responsibility. They were going to be parents!
"Now come on, honey. Breathe deeply," Martha's soothing voice entered Clark's consciousness. He inhaled, long, slow, deep breaths, as he tried to calm himself down.
His wife's voice impinged on his thoughts. "Clark, I think your mother was talking to me."
"Oh… uh, sure, of course she was!" He gripped Lois' hand tightly. "Sorry, honey, I guess it's taken me by surprise — I mean, we didn't expect this for another couple of weeks."
"Well, I sure didn't think our Labor Day party was going to turn into *labor* day, you know, sweetheart," Lois gasped through another contraction.
Suddenly Clark mobilized his reactions. This was nothing *that* new to him, after all. Superman had delivered several babies — though he sure hoped he wouldn't have to deliver his own! Ellen was here, and she was a trained nurse, and Sam was a doctor, and Dr. Klein was there, and Dr. Friskin…
That was a good point, he realized suddenly. Perhaps Dr. Friskin could help to calm Ellen down, which would help Lois… Glancing up at the people still surrounding Lois, Clark asked his mother quietly, "Has anyone called an ambulance?"
"Already tried, Clark," Sam called up from the bottom of the stairs. "They say there'll be a several-hour wait. All the emergency services are busy with the hurricane stuff."
O-kay, Clark told himself. Keep calm… "What about the hospital, Sam? Are they expecting her?" Not waiting for the answer, he resumed stroking Lois' hair back from her forehead, at the same time applying a discreet amount of cooling super-breath.
"Well, they can take her, son," Sam replied slowly. "But I don't know how we're going to get her there. I don't think anyone should risk driving in that wind!"
"You don't mean Lois is going to have the babies right here?" Jimmy demanded. Clark couldn't tell whether his young friend's voice was high-pitched from excitement or fear.
"That won't be necessary," Clark announced softly. "I can get Lois to the hospital. Honey," he added, turning his attention back to his wife, "do you mind if I leave you for a few minutes?"
"Where are you going now?" Ellen demanded crossly.
"To get Superman," Clark announced as he stood up, giving Lois one last tender glance.
"Superman? But won't he be busy…?" Jimmy trailed off as he saw the determination in his friend's expression.
Perry threw Jimmy a quelling glance. "If Clark says he can get Superman to help, then that's what'll happen," the editor murmured softly.
Clark turned back to the assembled group. "Can you help Lois into the back of the Jeep? Mom, Dad, Sam, Ellen — if you want to get in as well, Superman will fly you all to the hospital. I'll see you there."
"Clark! What do you mean, you'll see us there?" Ellen protested. "Lois needs you *here*!"
"He'll be there for me, Mother," Lois protested. "In fact, I'll bet he'll be at the hospital even before we are."
Clark hurried out the back door, his heart turning over as Lois experienced another contraction.
Clark took to the air and was momentarily disoriented by an unexpected tumble caused by the strong wind. The rain was now falling in buckets, limiting visibility, and the cape his mother had thought would look so good while flying was tangled around him like a rain-soaked flag. In frustration, Clark ripped the cape from his collar and sped through Metropolis.
Nothing. There was no room at the inn. Every hospital was working beyond capacity and even maternity units were doubling for emergency duty. Clark began to feel overwhelmed. He was the strongest man on Earth, but what did that mean to his wife and unborn children now? Nothing.
Perhaps a combination of helplessness, frustration and anger dictated his next move. Two young looters were pulling plywood from a storefront. Clark swooped down and yanked the teenaged boys back so fast that one was literally pulled out of his shoes.
He held the young men aloft,suspended by the scuff of their necks as if they were kittens. "Isn't it enough that a hurricane is blowing this city apart? You have to add to the misery?" he asked, but the stunned boys did not reply.
Clark set them down rather roughly. "If I catch you on this street again, I'll help you get through that plywood the hard way."
"Who do you think you are, Batman?" sniped one boy, trying to recover his streetwise toughness.
"No. Batman can't do this," Clark said, and focused his heat vision on the discarded pair of shoes. They were instantly transformed into a steaming memory. "Any more questions?"
The boys shook their heads vigorously.
"Good," Clark said, and released his grip on their jackets. "Go home."
The boys exchanged confused glances.
In their panic to comply, the two ran right into each other. They tumbled backward into the rain-swollen street, stumbled and staggered until they'd righted themselves, and began running.
Clark took a deep 'get a grip' breath. His whole life was about practicing control, because his temper was the one thing he could not afford to lose, yet sometimes he came close.
Clark reentered the townhouse. He'd only been gone five minutes, but already his dad and Sam had rigged something to carry Lois safely out to the jeep.
"I'm sorry, Lois," Clark said, and sighed, the frustration still lingering. "Dr. Klein, I guess you're it. Superman says there's no room for Lois and it's not likely she'd get the attention she needs."
Klein paled. "I hate hurricanes," he whispered. "Jimmy, get my bag out of what's left of the van, Clark, stay with Lois and hold her hand, and Ruth … hold mine."
Ruth took Klein's hand. "You'll do fine, Bernie. You have the right stuff."
Klein shook his head. "The only 'right stuff' I need at the moment is Alka-Seltzer with a Pepto Bismol chaser."
Ruth looked at him sympathetically. "Feeling nauseated?"
"Nauseated? Ruth," he groaned, "the last time I felt this sick to my stomach I'd been at Disneyland on the Mad Hatter's tea party ride."
"Oh, dear. The spinning teacups?"
Klein nodded. "I staggered away. The horizon kept tipping at opposing angles," he said, swaying his hand left and right for emphasis. "I finally threw up on Dumbo."
Ruth forced herself not to laugh. "I'm sure no one noticed."
Klein shrugged. "Only the kid who got between me and Dumbo," he said and released a long sigh. "A very unpleasant child. He kicked me in the shin and broke his all-day sucker over my head."
"It may have been that very incident that hastened my hair loss."
Ruth reached up and grabbed Klein's chin and forced him to look at her. "You can do this, Bernie."
Klein nodded with conviction and faced Lois and Clark, who were both trying unsuccessfully not to smile.
He took a deep breath. "Okay, Lois, why don't we check to see just how far you have progressed? Clark, let's get her into the bedroom." He turned to take his dripping bag from an equally wet Jimmy. "Thanks. Good thing this didn't end up in the same condition as the van's side mirror."
Lois grimaced. She still felt uncomfortable having to submit to intimate examinations by someone she knew so well, but she trusted Dr. Klein and what choice did she have anyway? If something 'super' manifested itself during the coming ordeal, they wouldn't have to worry about seeing themselves splashed all over the tabloids. Maybe this hurricane was a blessing in disguise.
Ten minutes later, Clark helped Lois down the stairs. They were immediately besieged by an anxious group of people all talking at once. Clark held up his hand as he felt Lois tense beside him. "Please everyone, calm down. Dr. Klein says it's going to be a while yet."
Lois gratefully squeezed his hand and scowled at the waiting horde. "And I don't want you all sitting around and staring at me. This was supposed to be a Labor Day cookout. We may not be able to cook outside, but that doesn't mean you can't eat."
Ellen opened her mouth to protest, but Martha cut in quickly. "That's a wonderful idea, Lois. Come on Ellen. Let's get to work, and," she glanced meaningfully at the rest of the group, "you can all help."
Lois leaned against Clark as the crowd dispersed. He could feel her trembling slightly and looked anxiously into her eyes. "Honey?"
Lois smiled shakily and burrowed closer to him. "I'm okay. I guess I'm just a little scared …and excited that we're finally going to see and hold our babies." She straightened purposefully before he could reply and took his hand, tugging him toward the living room. "Come on. Aren't we supposed to be timing contractions or something?"
Half an hour and two contractions later, Martha carried a tray into the living room and set it on the coffee table. "I brought you some food, Clark. The rest of us will eat and stay out of your way, but I'm afraid Dr. Klein says Lois had better stick to liquids." She looked at Lois sympathetically. "How are you doing, sweetie?"
Lois smiled. "I guess I'm doing fine." She patted Clark on the arm. "We're doing fine. Why don't you go ahead and eat, Clark? I think I'll walk around for a while." Clark helped her to her feet as a particularly vicious blast of wind rattled the windows and the lights flickered.
Martha gasped. "Oh my! I can't believe how dark it is already. You would think it's the middle of the night, instead of barely four o'clock. Clark, do you have any candles in case the lights go out completely?"
Clark started to reply but paused as Lois moaned. He dropped his fork and supersped over to where she was leaning against the wall. He put his arms around her and Martha watched in surprise as the pain lines smoothed from Lois' forehead. She watched them breathe in unison through the contraction and shook her head. Every time she thought she knew everything there was to know about this alien son of hers, he would come up with something new.
The contraction ended and Clark looked at his watch. "That one was only seven minutes since the last one, honey. They're getting closer." He turned to Martha. "Mom, there are candles in the kitchen in the pantry and flashlights in the hall closet. It might be a good idea to get them out now, just in case."
Martha hurried away with a nod, just as Sam appeared.
"Clark! Lois! Everything going okay?" Sam boomed as he strode into the living room. Dr. Klein followed close behind, napkin in one hand and a chicken leg in the other.
"We're fine, thanks, Sam," Clark insisted, not shifting from his position by Lois' side, "but can you keep an eye on the others? Lois really needs quiet…"
His father-in-law nodded, withdrawing silently. Just as the door shut, Lois gasped loudly.
"What is it, honey?" Clark asked anxiously. But she laughed hesitantly.
"How's your heat vision?" she inquired. He looked at her blankly. "I think my water has broken. The carpet's going to be soaked."
Clark and Klein laughed, Lois' remark serving to relieve the tension. To take Lois' mind off things still further, Clark gave one quick glance over his shoulder, then leaned over to the damp patch and dried it quickly and efficiently. He'd barely finished when Lois gripped his hand tightly again and moaned.
Jimmy blanched as the sounds filtered into the dining room, where the rest of the group still sat around the table. "Boy, that doesn't sound good. I hope Lois is okay."
"I wouldn't worry, son. Women have been having babies for a long, long time and I'm sure she'll be just fine," Perry said reassuringly. Giving Jimmy a grin, he moved closer to Alice. "Why you should have heard Alice wail when she started going into labor with Jerry, but it turned out to be a piece of cake. Right, darlin'?"
Alice frowned slightly. "Well, it turned out fine, but I wouldn't call it a 'piece of cake.' It took twenty-three *hours*."
Jimmy turned paler. "Twenty-three hours!"
"Funny, it didn't seem that long to me."
"That's because you weren't around for most of it. You left the hospital in the morning to check on things at the Planet and you didn't get back until almost midnight, *remember*? It was almost over by then," Alice said pointedly.
"Darlin', you know how sorry I am about-" Perry began.
"And just how did that make you feel, Alice?" Ruth interjected.
Before Alice could answer, Ellen got up and began pacing. "At least *he* got back in time for Jerry's birth," she said sharply as she pointed at Perry. "Sam totally missed Lucy's!"
"Now, Ellen, you can't still be angry about that," Sam said soothingly as he returned to his seat. "It was over twenty-five years ago. Besides, how was I to know my plane would be grounded by fog in Chicago?"
"You never should have gone to that medical convention in the first place!"
"The very idea of leaving your pregnant wife home alone with a toddler just so you could deliver some stupid paper-"
Martha started picking up the lunch dishes. "Why don't I take these into the kitchen and bring out that plate of chocolate brownies for dessert? I'll even make some coffee." She glanced at Ellen over the tops of her glasses. "I think we might need it.
"Sounds like a great idea, sweetheart." Jonathan replied as he followed her out. "I'll help you."
Jonathan eyed Martha carefully as they entered the kitchen. "Are you okay Martha? You seemed a little quiet just now."
Martha sighed. "I'm fine, Jonathan, really. It's just hearing Alice and Ellen right now reminded me …"
"Reminded you of what?"
"That it's my fault we weren't able to have children." Martha sighed again. "No one could ask for a better son than Clark, but don't you ever regret the fact that we didn't have babies of our own?"
"Never." Jonathan said matter-of-factly.
He moved closer to Martha and gently cupped her cheek with his hand. "Martha Clark Kent, you are the best thing that ever happened to me and I've never regretted one moment about my life with you."
"Oh, Jonathan …" Martha hugged her husband and they stood for a moment, just holding each other, Then, with a little sigh, Martha stepped back and turned to the counter where the coffeemaker stood.
Jonathan opened the cupboard and began bringing down cups. "You know, Martha," he said quietly, "I never said this before, but I've sometimes wondered if maybe it wasn't all … well, *meant*. Us not having children, I mean."
Martha looked at him, startled at the odd intensity of his voice. "Meant? How do you —?"
Jonathan shrugged, and his chuckle was slightly embarrassed. "Oh, I don't know. You know I'm not one for philosophizing .. life just is, and you deal with it … but think about it. Who better to take in a baby that fell out of the sky? Who better to raise him and protect him from the world out there until he was ready? If we'd had children already, or the hope of them, would we have risked so much to keep him? He was a gift to us, but I like to think that maybe we were a gift to him, too."
Martha nodded, her eyes warm with love as they met his. After all these years, her farmboy could still surprise her. She leaned over and kissed Jonathan. "Yes. A gift."
Jimmy burst through the swinging doors. "Hey, guys, Dr. Klein says he thinks this may be it. He needs us all in there now!"
Jonathan and Martha grinned at each other, and followed Jimmy.
The living room was suddenly overflowing with people and everyone converged on the sofa where Lois half-reclined in the circle of Clark's arm. Dr. Klein exchanged a look with Clark, then straightened a bit with confidence.
"Sam and Perry, help Clark get Lois on the table, and Alice, get every spare lamp you can and put it in the dining room. I want it as well-lit as possible." He hoped there was enough light for a birth— it wasn't surgery after all, unless worse came to worse, which he refused to consider— besides, people reacted better in an emergency with things to do … or so Ruth had told him.
Klein walked into the dining room, which looked more like a war room with all the flurry of activity. Lois was gently placed on the mat and quilt covered table. Clark never released her hand.
"Okay, Sam, get Lois a pillow for her head, and Perry, get some cushions so that I can place them under her knees." Klein watched the two men leave. One was like a father to Lois and one *was* Lois' father, but their grim, determined expressions were identical.
"Ellen, would you gather some towels, and Ruth, check in the bathroom to see what they have in the way of disinfectant soap?"
"Right away." The two women hurried off.
"Lois," Klein said, now that the dining room was momentarily empty. "I think this birth will be normal .. well, as normal as it can be under the circumstances, but in case anything is … out of the ordinary, I'm going to try and keep everyone out but Clark."
As if on cue Jonathan appeared at the door of the dining room with an armful of towels and the soap. He put them down near the table and turned to leave. "Don't worry, son. Your mother and I will try and keep everyone busy. We figure you might need some *privacy*," he said with a wink as he pulled the door shut.
Lois smiled despite her pain and shook her head. "I thought only the Kryptonian side of the family was telepathic."
"I always used to wonder whether both he and my mom could read minds when I was a kid, honey. They just seemed to have the knack for knowing things, particularly when I did something bad."
"You did something bad? I'm shocked to hear that," Lois replied teasingly.
"Well, not too bad. But there was that time I got mad at Pete Ross and hid his bicycle on the roof of the barn."
Lois began to giggle. "Let me guess how it got up there," she said as she made the hand signal for flying.
"Yep, I guess you could say it was my first sustained flight. Although I was only fourteen at the time, so it was more like a sustained leap."
"So what'd he do to make you so mad, honey?" Lois thought she detected another contraction coming, and wanted to distract herself. She knew she had changed from the rigid, don't-show-your-weakness-to-anyone person she had been five years ago, but still, she *did* want to maintain a modicum of dignity…
"Well, Pete and a gang of his friends were planning to pull a prank on someone in our class who was not very well-liked, and, well … I overheard them with my superhearing, kinda accidentally. It made me mad, so I figured the only way to stop them was to take away his mode of transportation. Since he was the ringleader, when he couldn't be there to carry out the plan his friends abandoned it, too."
Lois reached up and caressed his cheek. "My hero, even as a child …" she started to say, when her contraction grew too strong, so she finished off with a little gasp.
"It's okay, honey," Clark reassured her. "Squeeze my hand as hard as you can…"
Clark continued to hold Lois' hands, squeezing firmly but reassuringly so that she would be able to feel him despite the pain and confusion. His attention was slightly distracted, however, by the voices he could hear outside the room.
Ellen was arguing with Jonathan. "But Dr Klein could use my help … I'm a nurse… and it's my *daughter* in there!"
Jonathan replied, soothingly, "I know, Ellen, but it is Lois' first pregnancy, and we all thought she and Clark could do with a little privacy."
"Oh," Ellen replied in a small voice. "Well, okay, but aren't there things they'll need? I mean, this isn't a hospital…"
Clark then heard his father-in-law's voice, more serious and insistent. "Ellen, Jonathan's right. Klein will call us if he wants anything. If I can stay out of it, so can you." He missed Ellen's reply, as Lois reclaimed his attention.
"Clark…" Her voice was a long, low pitiful cry.
His heart turned over again, and he threw Klein a sharp glance that said '*Do* something!'
Dr. Klein returned Clark's anxious glance with a steady look. "She's doing fine, Clark. Well… as far as I can tell, at any rate. I mean, I've never actually delivered a real baby before…"
Clark sighed. He really hadn't wanted to be reminded of that right now. He studied Lois' face: she was pale and in pain.
On impulse, he stretched his long body out so that he was floating in mid-air beside her, his face next to hers. His hands continued to hold hers as he gazed deeply into her eyes.
"Is this the most comfortable position for you, honey? You know I can support you if you want to sit up more."
"I'm… okay for now," she told him.
He continued to hold her, his eyes staring compellingly into hers. She met his gaze.
As Lois continued to stare at Clark, she suddenly felt a very strange sensation… nothing like the contractions. This was different. It was almost as if a warmth was flowing through her. She felt light… floating… and the pain was diminishing. She had no idea what was causing it; she decided she would have to ask Clark about it later.
Klein's voice penetrated her musings. "I think it's time to start pushing, Lois!"
"Come on, honey, that's right, push," Clark told her, as he let go her hands for a moment to move to the end of the table.
Clark's words were lost to her with the loss of his touch and her body gripped her in yet another contraction.
Somehow, Clark understood her gasping cry, and his hand returned to hers. She blinked in the tiny space between contractions, relief and love flowing back through their connection. She could feel Clark's thoughts just out of reach, and two tiny sparks of light danced in front of her eyes as the pain receded into Clark's touch.
Klein's panicked "Ruth!" intruded on the edge of her concentration, but only Clark's voice made any sense. "Push, Lois." She pushed. All of a sudden there was a rushing sound, and something was being expelled from her.
Clark stared at her, his eyes exultant. "It's a girl!" His voice was low and quiet and dizzily delighted in her ear. "I love you so much, honey … you and our daughter, and just push for me, honey … one more push and we're done and you're so beautiful … just push…"
An invisible octopus wrapped its arms around her and squeezed. With one last huff of breath and a strange sense of loss, Lois pushed one last time… She was dimly aware of activity around her, and for a moment let herself drift, but then she suddenly opened her eyes to see Klein hitting the ground with a muffled thud.
"Clark…" Lois gasped for breath, her diaphragm feeling oddly like a deflated balloon. "Clark, our babies?" He gestured behind him at the bright faces of Martha and Ruth holding two towel-wrapped bundles.
He bent over her, one arm wrapping around her, the other hand cupping her cheek. "They're perfect, Lois. A girl and a boy. You've given us such a gift."
Lois sagged into his arms, that sense of transcendent connection fading into a warm, aching glow. "Oh, thank god that's over. Where are my babies?"
Martha laughed and handed over her charge. "Right here, Lois. He's so precious." Martha's fingers lingered in a caress on the red-faced infant's cheek, before she turned to Ruth.
Jonathan slipped quietly to her side with a quick kiss on the cheek. "The troops are getting restless." He jerked his head toward the door as they helped Dr. Klein sit up. "How are…"
"Fine." Clark's eyes were shining, bright with happy tears. "Lois and…" his voice hitched. "Matthew and Joanna are just fine." He cradled the infant in his arms with infinite care, her twin resting in Lois' arms.
At the sound of the healthy crying from the newborns, Jimmy, Perry, Ellen, Alice and Sam all crowded into the room.
Ellen rushed to Lois, tears streaming down her cheeks. "They're beautiful, sweetie," she whispered. Clark handed her the baby he was holding and kissed his mother-in-law's cheek.
She looked up at Clark, her eyes glistening. "Thank you."
Clark stroked a hand across Lois' forehead, still looking at Ellen. "Thank *you*." He felt Sam pat his back and turned to face his father-in-law. Sam smiled a crooked smile. It was at that odd moment Clark realized where Lois got that facial expression.
"How's it feel to be a dad?" Sam asked, trying not to let his emotions overwhelm him, but the catch in his voice betrayed him.
Clark embraced him. "It feels great … Dad."
What little control Sam still had left vanished at that moment. "Just do a better job of it than me, or I'll kick your butt," he said, and sniffed loudly.
Clark pulled away, laughing through the tears. "You can make up a lot of ground as a grandfather."
"I plan to," Sam laughed.
"CK," Jimmy interrupted, a sense of wonder in his voice. "You're a dad … I mean a real dad. I barely got over you being a husband … and Lois is a mom … It's like, well … four years ago if someone had told me this day would come, I woulda called drug intervention."
Clark patted Jimmy's shoulder. "I'll take that as a compliment," he said and then hugged his mother and father.
"Welcome to parenthood," his father said softly.
"Thanks. I hope it comes with a manual."
Lois laughed, over-hearing what he'd said. "Wouldn't matter … Men don't read instructions anyway."
Alice broke in from her place near the window. "An EMT got through! They can take Lois to the hospital now."
Klein wiped the lingering perspiration from his forehead. "Watch them get all the credit."
Clark, who was in no short supply of hugs, embraced Klein. "Not a chance, Uncle Bernie."
There was a clatter in the foyer, and Klein laughed as the crowd began to make way for the EMT people. They rolled in a stretcher and began gathering up the babies and Lois.
Clark glanced around the emptying room. "The power went out?" he asked, noting the mirrors, candles, and chimney lamps that had been strategically placed around the table.
Klein nodded, but looked surprised. "Don't you remember? You used your heat vision on the chandelier. I said it was like delivering the babies at a disco."
Clark shook his head. "No, I don't remember. I guess my mind was … elsewhere."
"You know, Clark, even without powers," he said in a whisper, "you *are* Superman."
Clark sat in the subdued lighting of the hospital room. The air-conditioner hummed softly in the background as he stared down at the pamphlet in his hand. For some reason, though, he couldn't seem to get past the title, 'Care of Your Newborn.'
Could all the questions swirling through his mind be answered by a tri-fold piece of paper? Would it tell him how to be a good father? If so, then it was a pamphlet that Sam Lane, Jack Olsen and, to some extent, even Perry White had never read.
He closed his eyes. The old fears. They always seemed to return like specters rattling their chains, haunting him with feelings of inadequacy and doubt. Despite such dark imagery, however, Clark smiled ruefully. The ghosts that had plagued him for most of his life found themselves driven back time and again by an avenger who took the unlikely form of an investigative reporter sporting a Prince Valiant hairdo.
Clark reached out and clasped Lois' hand as she slept peacefully. No hint of the exhausting hours of labor she had endured earlier showed in her contented expression. Perhaps it was due to the strange phenomenon they had shared during labor.
He didn't really understand what had happened other than a long-hidden instinct had seemed to take over. Was it Kryptonian? He didn't know, and maybe it didn't matter. All he knew was that he and Lois 'floated' together and the rest of the world was shut out. Time had no meaning, and yet meant everything as they continued to drift in their separate world.
Clark recalled sitting in a forest glade speaking at length with Loisette of the irony of Baron Tempos falling down a flight of stone steps on his wedding day. His funeral had been sumptuous and apparently quite welcome. That memory had barely faded when it was overtaken by a vision of lying next to Lulu, who seemed to be wearing nothing but her leather riding gauntlets.
So lost was he in these memories, Clark did not hear his mother-in-law enter the room.
"Clark," she whispered, and touched his shoulder.
"Ellen." He smiled as he rose from the chair and gave her a hug.
She glanced at the pamphlet. "You know you'll ruin your eyes reading in bad lighting."
Clark laughed softly. "My mom says the same thing even though she knows I … um … eat a lot of carrots."
Ellen shook her head but smiled. "This is so nice," she said as she glanced around the room. "I wish there'd been something like it when Lois and Lucy were born. You're probably too young to remember the days of the daddy waiting room and newborns kept in the baby salad bar."
Clark frowned. "Baby salad bar?"
"A glass-front nursery where babies were put on display," she said, and shrugged. "I guess they still have them, but they always reminded me of the reptile house at the zoo."
Clark suppressed an urge to laugh. "Please, have a seat," he said and scooted the rocker towards Ellen.
"Oh, no, I shouldn't. Lois is asleep," she said and gently stroked the side of her daughter's face. "She must be completely exhausted."
Clark nodded. "True, but she gave me orders to wake her about …" He glanced at his watch. "Twenty minutes ago. I just figured since the babies are still asleep, she should get some sleep too."
"Good advice," she agreed, and settled into the rocking chair. "I really only stopped by to give Lois this."
Clark, who had taken a seat in an armchair he had angled to face the rocker, reached over and took a slender, cellophane-wrapped box from Ellen. He looked at the top. "Frangos?"
"Only the best chocolate on Earth," Ellen said with confidence. "Of course you might get an argument from Godiva fans, but trust me, Clark, nothing compares to Frangos."
"I would *never* argue chocolate with a Lane woman. I sometimes think Lois was born with a cocoa gene," he said and winked. "But I have to admit, I've never heard of Frangos before."
"Well, I did have to have them shipped in from Seattle."
Clark nodded. "Lois said you were born in Seattle."
"Born and raised," Ellen said proudly. "Frangos used to be made in the candy kitchen on the tenth floor of the Frederick & Nelson flagship store downtown. When I was a child, I thought that's what heaven must smell like."
"But they're not made there anymore?"
"They're still made on the tenth floor," she said, regret in her tone. "But it's not F&N anymore. It's just … not the same."
"I guess not."
"You may not believe this, Clark," she said, brightening slightly. "But the old F & N came as close to Harrods of London as any store west of the Rockies. I'd even put it up against the finest stores in San Francisco."
"I went to Harrods when I was in the Knightsbridge district. They had this huge…"
"Then you know what I mean, Clark," she said, fairly flushed with renewed enthusiasm. "The old F & N had posh carpeting, crystal chandeliers, and even a doorman. A doorman in Seattle, can you imagine?"
Clark smiled politely. "It sounds very nice."
"Nice?" she echoed, as if the word fell woefully short. "It was elegant, Clark. There was even a dining room with real linen tablecloths where women in hats and white gloves had luncheons and watched a fashion show."
As Clark listened to Ellen wax nostalgic about the old department store, he realized how like Lois she was, or more accurately, how like Ellen Lois was. Both women had a great capacity for sentimental memories, yet both often only revealed this side when vulnerable or caught off guard.
"What happened to the store?" Clark asked, thankful that Lois, for the most part, had overcome the need to hide her feelings. At least from him, and since they shared an exile together most would never understand, it was enough.
"Oh, you know," she replied, trying to sound dismissive. "People moved out to the suburbs and preferred malls and chain stores. Women went to work and didn't have time for luncheons and fashion shows anymore … and hats …" She paused, a catch in her throat. "We stopped wearing hats."
Clark reached for his handkerchief. The "tangent." That too was like Lois, but only now he realized it was something used to veer away from the painful things.
"That's too bad," he murmured, not really knowing what to say.
"I went back to Seattle when I was about to turn fifty. For some reason I just wanted it to happen there." She glanced at Clark. "I guess that sounds silly."
"No," he smiled. "Not at all."
"Anyway," she sighed. "I went to Frederick's and found out it would be closing forever in a couple of months. They were already dismantling things, but it felt more like they were dismantling … me."
Clark, seeing a tear trickle down her cheek, handed her his handkerchief.
"Thank you," she sniffed, and dabbed carefully under her mascara. "I felt lost. I just wandered around until I found myself in the fifth floor ladies' lounge. I sat down staring at a ridiculous little sign on the wall and started bawling like a baby."
"It read, 'Gentlemen over the age of five are asked to use the Men's Room'," she said, and laughed even as she cried.
"Hey," Clark whispered, and knelt on one knee next to the rocking chair. "This is a promise," he said as he took Ellen's hand. "When the twins are older, we'll all make a trip to London and go to Harrods. If there's no place there for luncheons on linen tablecloths, then we'll buy our own tablecloth and have a picnic in Hyde Park. And I'll make sure Matthew finds the men's room."
"Oh, Clark," she sobbed. "No wonder my daughter loves you so much. I sometimes think you're from another galaxy."
"Well," he smiled as he helped her from the chair. "Maybe another planet."
She patted his hand. "I'll come back tomorrow when Lois and the babies are awake."
"Are you sure you don't want to wait?"
"No, no," she said and handed back his handkerchief. "I had a very good cry. I think I'll just relish it for a while." She kissed his cheek and exited the room with a satisfied sigh.
Clark just stared for a moment at the door. A good cry? While he did understand tears of joy, especially those shed at the birth of his children, the concept of a cathartic cry remained totally alien. Clark had reconciled himself with the reality that he would never understand women fully, and half suspected men were never meant to, but he had to concede that the continuing study program was fascinating.
He shook his head and walked over to the small plastic bassinets at the back of the room and looked down at his children. *His* children. The very thought put combat-sized butterflies in the pit of his stomach, but it felt good in a strange way. He smiled and wondered if it was his equivalent of a "good cry."
He turned his head slightly as he heard Lois begin to stir and knew the babies would be waking shortly too. His smile broadened. This was one never-ending battle he looked forward to.