By Becky Bain <email@example.com>
Submitted November 2001
Summary: When every woman's worst nightmare comes true for Lois, she and Clark must come together for healing, and learn to accept that for them, everything is now changed.
Archive warning: This story deals with adult situations and has implied violence. Some readers may find the themes dealt with disturbing
Author's note: This story does contain a WHAM, but I like to think the characters emerge from travail with grace and strength. The title comes from a poem by Theodore Roethke: "In a dark time, the eye begins to see…"
Lois fumbled with her keys as she mounted the steps of the townhouse. It had been a long day; right after lunch, there'd been a news flash reporting massive flooding and mudslides in Venezuela. Clark had flashed her a look and was gone.
He'd been away for hours, leaving her to cover for him, and she knew it might be hours more before he came home; he wouldn't leave until he was sure he'd saved everyone who could be saved. And when he did get home, he'd be exhausted and dispirited. She pulled open the outer door. Maybe she should think about ordering in some of his favorite Chinese dishes. Or something from that little Thai place he liked. Or…
The knife came from nowhere, sharp against her throat. "Don't scream," ordered a low, threatening voice. "Don't move until I say."
With the knife pricking her skin, she didn't dare resist. She let him take the keys from her hand, let him open the door and propel her inside.
He paused, holding her close against him, the knife steady. He didn't turn on a light. Instead, after a moment to orient himself, he pushed her toward the stairs.
Heart pounding, Lois let herself be half-dragged, half- shoved up the stairs. The first door they came to was that of the guest room. Her assailant hesitated, peered inside, and then, for the first time, took the knife away from her neck.
She took instant advantage to spin away from him and throw a quick, vicious side kick, but fast as she was, he was faster. And trained, it seemed, in self-defense. He blocked her kick, caught hold of her arm, dragged her close and dealt her a savage blow to the face with the fist that still held the hilt of the knife.
Dazed, she went to her knees, tasting blood. He hauled her up bodily, his grip on her arm hard and hurting. "You do what I say," he snarled. "You do only what I say. And I might let you live." He hit her once more and dragged her toward the bed.
Clark flew home slowly. Lois would be there, and he could take her into his arms and just hold her. Hold her for however long it took to forget the limp, muddy, bloody bodies. He was concentrating so hard on holding himself together that he was nearly over the house before he noticed the police cars.
He hovered for an instant, incredulous, before panic set in and he streaked downward.
"Lois!" he called as he pushed past a uniformed officer who tried to block his path. "Lois!"
He started up the stairs. Inspector Henderson appeared at the top, his expression grim.
"Superman," he said, his voice flat, and only then did Clark realize he'd forgotten to change.
He struggled to adopt his impersonal superhero guise. "Inspector. What's happened here? Where's Lois?" He looked past Henderson, scanning the upper level, unable to wait for an answer. A pair of forensics techs were working in the spare bedroom.
There was no sign of his wife.
"She's at the hospital," Henderson answered. "And Clark wasn't home."
"Hospital?" he repeated. "Is she…?"
"She's all right," Henderson said quickly — so quickly that Clark knew he must be thinking of the tabloid rumors that Superman and Lois had feelings for one another. Or at least that the superhero did, for her. "Physically," Henderson added.
What did that mean? Panic rose, beating frantically against his ribs. "What happened?" he demanded.
"You know what you can do for us, Superman?" Henderson sidestepped the question neatly.
Clark fought the urge to lift the man by his collar and force information from him. "What?"
"Could you scan the area? We're looking for a Caucasian male, about six-one or six-two, with blond hair and a reddish beard. He's dressed in blue jeans and a worn brown leather jacket."
Clark's mouth was dry. "Why? What did he do?"
"And if you don't find him, then maybe you could go find Ms. Lane's husband? She said he was working on a story down in Hobs Bay, but she wasn't very clear about where we could locate him."
It dawned on Clark, belatedly, that the detailed description must have come from Lois. So she was alert and talking when they took her to the hospital. Thanking God for that, he managed to nod at the inspector. "I'll be glad to," he said roughly, and shot out of the house as fast as he dared.
He made two quick turns around the neighborhood, scanning every car and pedestrian, before he couldn't stand it any longer. He hadn't been gone two minutes before he was taking the brownstone's front steps two at a time, adjusting his tie as he went.
"Where's Henderson?" he demanded of the officer at the door.
"I'm sorry, sir, this is a crime scene…" the young officer began.
"I'm Clark Kent; this is my house. Superman said my wife…"
"Oh, right." The officer stepped aside hastily. "He's upstairs. I'll get him for you."
Clark waited in the living room, frantic, while the young officer called and Henderson responded.
"Glad Superman was able to locate you so quickly, Kent," he said, coming down the stairs. His expression was as grim as it had been minutes earlier.
"What's happened? Where's Lois?" He'd be at her side already if he'd only had the presence of mind to ask *which* hospital, when he'd been here earlier.
"She's at Metropolis General." Henderson put out a hand to keep Clark from rushing past him. "Just wait a minute, Kent. There are some things you ought to know before you go charging over there."
Sexual assault. The words beat in his brain, over and over, as he drove toward the hospital. The police escort in front of him was the only thing that kept him from swerving to the curb, parking the Jeep and streaking to the hospital under his own steam.
"She did all the right things," Henderson had told him. "She cooperated. He roughed her up some, but nothing that won't heal. She's very lucky, Kent."
Lucky. Right. And he'd been hundreds of miles away, in Venezuela. Unable to hear if she called for help. Unable to protect her.
He closed his eyes against the thoughts, snapping them open again at the blare of a horn. He swerved back into his own lane and gave a pained shrug to the officer in the car ahead of him, who was looking back at him in concern.
Thankfully, the hospital lay just around the next corner. He maneuvered into a parking space and stepped out, pausing only long enough to thank the officer before hurrying inside.
"I'm Clark Kent," he said to the clerk behind the desk. "My wife was brought in a little while ago…?"
"Kent?" She keyed her computer and shook her head. "No Kents here, sorry."
Not here? Panic clutched again before reason won out. "No, her name's Lane. Lois Lane. Is she…?"
"Oh, right. They've got her back in Emergency. Down this hall and to your left…"
Only habit, long ingrained, kept him from speeding down the hallway and giving away his secret.
A woman, conservatively dressed and with a business-like air, waited in the hallway outside where he'd been told Lois was being treated. She turned at the sound of his footsteps. "Mr. Kent?"
Surprised, he nodded.
"I'm Detective Mears," she said, showing her ID. "With the Sex Crimes Unit. I've been assigned to your wife's case."
"Have you seen her? Is she…?"
"He hit her a couple of times, pretty hard," the detective answered. "She's bruised and sore. But she'll be all right. The doctor has just finished his examination and she's getting dressed right now; I'll be questioning her as soon as she's ready."
"May I see her first?"
"Of course." The detective's voice held nothing but compassion. "Mr. Kent, has anyone advised you how you should treat your wife now?"
He frowned, confused. "Treat her…?"
"Every victim is different, of course, and every reaction is different. She may be angry, or afraid. She may want to talk about it, or she may not want to mention it at all. She may want to be held all the time, or she may not want to be touched. She may be irritable, or confused, or she may exhibit all these behaviors at various times."
"What can I do for her?" he whispered. "I want to help."
"Take your cues from her. Don't blame her…"
He made a swift, abortive gesture, and she shook her head.
"You'd be surprised at how many friends and relatives of victims want to pin blame. Don't even wonder aloud if she could have done something different. She survived, and so she did everything right. Remember that. And then… just love her. She's going to need all your love."
"She has it," he promised, his voice suddenly hoarse. "Always."
Detective Mears gave him a narrow look. "Right. Okay. Let's see if she's ready for us." She tapped on the closed door.
"Come in." Lois's voice sounded frail.
Detective Mears cracked the door just enough to stick her head in. "Miss Lane? Your husband is here."
"Clark?" Her voice broke on his name, and Clark pushed past the detective without further invitation.
She perched on a low stool, looking like a wounded dove, her expression wide-eyed and wary. Her cheek and jaw were misshapen by swelling, livid with bruising. He wanted to wrap her tightly in his arms and never let her go. Instead, mindful of the detective's warning, he crouched before her. "It's okay," he whispered, feeling that nothing could ever be okay again. "I'm here."
She reached out and he turned his hands palm up to accept hers and gripped them hard. "I'm here," he repeated uselessly.
"Miss Lane, are you ready to give your statement?"
Lois looked toward the door and nodded. Clark stood and helped her up, then steadied her as they followed Detective Mears down the hall from the examining room to a small windowless room with a table and four plastic chairs. The detective took one chair and motioned Lois into another.
"Do you want your husband to step outside while you answer my questions?" she asked gently.
Lois gripped Clark's hand harder and shook her head. "Is it okay if he stays?"
"As long as it's okay with you, and he doesn't interfere with the questioning," the detective answered.
Clark slipped into the chair nearest Lois's and tried to look unobtrusive.
The detective opened a buff folder and took out a pencil. "Now, Miss Lane, would you tell me what happened?"
Lois started slowly, her voice low. She stared intently at the table top while she spoke. "I was coming home… he was inside…"
"Inside your house?"
"No, just inside the first set of doors. The inside doors were locked. It's like a vestibule," she went on, when Detective Mears's look of confusion didn't clear. "An outside set of double doors, and then an inside set."
It occurred to Clark that it was incredibly stupid to have the lock on the inside set of doors. Anyone could go inside the vestibule and wait. Someone had.
But if the detective agreed with him, she didn't let on. "I see. Please go on."
"He must have been there already. I think I would have heard him if he'd come up the stairs behind me. I think he must have been waiting." Lois paused, and swallowed hard.
Clark listened in silence as she described the assault in painful stops and starts. When she reached the point in her narrative where her assailant struck her, he couldn't help himself. He jerked his hand from hers an instant before it clenched itself into a white-knuckled fist. The same urge drove him to his feet, and into the farthest corner of the tiny room, where he stood facing the corner, breathing hard.
"Mr. Kent. If this is too much for you, please wait outside."
But he couldn't do that. Lois had lived through it. The least he could do was listen to her tell it. To be here for her. He took a deep breath, and then another, and gathered his resources.
"No," he answered, turning. "I'm all right now."
But he was afraid to take her hand, afraid the rage would overcome him again and he would crush her fingers in his grip. He placed his closed fist on the arm of the chair; without looking at him, Lois reached out and covered it with her hand.
The strength — and belief in him — it must have taken for her to make that gesture moved him nearly to tears. He focused on the scarred table top, holding himself together by pure dint of will, and listened to Lois tell of the rest of the assault.
"I'm sorry," Detective Mears said, when Lois finished. "I'm going to have to ask you some hard questions now. Please understand that these are things we need to know in order to catch this man, and prosecute him."
Lois nodded tightly.
"Some of them may be questions you've already been asked by the medical staff, but I need to hear your answers myself. The medical staff's needs are not the same as mine."
Lois nodded again.
"All right. Mr. Kent, this would be a good time to step out, if you're feeling squeamish."
"No," he said hoarsely. "I'll stay."
The detective asked a series of clinical questions about the assault. The rape, Clark corrected himself, for rape it certainly had been. Hearing the details in Lois's unnaturally subdued voice chilled him.
If he ever got his hands on this… this animal, he might well forget every ethic he'd ever had instilled in him. He ached for the chance.
But Lois was forging on, answering the questions, deeply intimate questions, as best she could. And so for right now, he had to forget about the man who had done this thing to her. He had to be here for Lois. And he could do that now. He could do anything, if it was for her.
He took her hand from her lap, rubbed it until the fingers uncurled from a knotted fist, and slipped it into his grasp where he held it, firmly and gently.
She glanced at him quickly, and then away, but didn't try to withdraw her hand.
"Have you had consensual intercourse within the past seventy-two hours?" the detective asked.
Low-voiced, Lois answered. "Yes."
Clark's heart lurched painfully in his chest and settled into a quick, unsteady rhythm.
"With your husband?" the detective asked.
Lois nodded once, quickly. "This morning. And night before last." She glanced his way for confirmation.
"Yes," he agreed. His heart ached. The act they had shared so many times in love had been twisted now, degraded into a vile thing of brutality and terror.
"In that case," Detective Mears said briskly, "we'll need you to come in and give a sample to our lab, Mr. Kent. For exclusionary purposes."
That hadn't occurred to him — that they would need a sample of his DNA. "Blood sample?" he asked, swallowing.
"Clark has a problem with blood," Lois added. Her grip on his hand tightened. "Maybe he could give hair samples, or something."
"I think blood samples are usual," the detective answered uncertainly. "But if the lab is satisfied…"
The detective had a number of other invasive questions, which Lois answered in the same low voice; finally, the detective flipped her folder closed. "I think that's it, for now," she said. "Go home, or to a hotel, or to wherever you'll feel safe, and follow any medical instructions you've been given. It's especially important for you to take care of yourself right now. We'll call you if anything comes up, or if we need anything else."
"If anything comes up?" Clark repeated.
"If we catch him," the detective said, fury evident in her voice.
"Here," Lois said, as they crossed the darkened parking lot. "I'll drive."
Clark handed over the Jeep's keys without comment; Lois no doubt needed to feel in control of something, anything. He climbed into the passenger seat and buckled in.
"You have to go see Dr. Klein," she announced, as they pulled out. "He can tell you if your DNA is close enough to human. If it's not, we'll have to think of something else, maybe we'll just say I don't want to press charges, and then they won't need any samples from you, do you think that would work? Or maybe there's a way he can make your DNA look human, even though it's not, except that wouldn't work on the samples they already have, would it? So I guess we have to hope…"
He put his hand across the space between them and let it rest, gently, on her wrist. "Lois." She was thinking of him, of his secret, rather than of herself and the ordeal she'd been through, was still going through. It broke his heart. "Lois, stop. You're not going to tell the police not to press charges. Not because of me, anyway. If my secret comes out, it comes out. You can't let this monster go unpunished because of it."
That stopped her briefly; when she spoke again, her voice was small. "You should still see Dr. Klein. It would be nice to know…"
"Okay. I will. I'll see him tomorrow."
At home, the police had gone and the house was dark. Lois hesitated on the sidewalk, looking up, then put her head down and forged up the stairs doggedly. Clark had to trot to keep up with her as she pushed into the darkness of the foyer.
"I should have put a lock on this door a long time ago," he muttered, mostly to himself. "I'll do it tomorrow. A solid deadbolt."
"Isn't that sort of like bolting the barn door after the horse is gone?" Lois asked, with no particular inflection in her voice.
She didn't wait for his answer. She unlocked the inner door and pushed it wide. "Would you look at the mess they made in here?" she demanded, turning on the lights. "Fingerprint powder everywhere… get me a cloth, Clark, I need to start cleaning this up. And you can sweep, they got it all over the floor, too. And…"
She forged on as if she hadn't heard. "And the bed upstairs… that's got to be stripped, I can't have those linens in the house anymore, I know that sounds crazy, but…"
Clark tried again, louder this time. "Lois."
"…there it is, I just can't sleep if those blankets and sheets are in this house, and…"
Clark moved to block her frenetic straightening of the room. "Lois. I think the police took the bed linens with them. It's okay."
She stopped, but didn't look at him. "I'm sorry, Clark."
He stared at her, incredulous and mystified. "Sorry? What for? You didn't do anything wrong. If anything, I should be apologizing to you. I should have been here…"
She interrupted, sounding lost. "Then why won't you look at me? Why won't you hold me? It's because of him… of what he did to me…"
"No! No. Honey, there's nothing I want more than to take you in my arms and make it all better. But Detective Mears… she told me… sometimes women who have… after… they don't want to be touched. You seem so… I don't know… so fragile, somehow. I'm not used to that. I don't know what to do, and I don't want to do the wrong thing. I don't want to make it worse."
She looked at him then. "You couldn't possibly make it worse," she said bluntly.
He opened his arms helplessly. "I know, I… I'm so sorry. I should have been here, I should have protected you, I…"
She closed her eyes wearily. "And what, Clark? Let all those other people die? You were doing what you had to do. It just… it happened. Now we have to deal with it." She moved forward, into his embrace, and he folded his arms carefully around her. They stood that way, swaying softly, for a long time.
Lois had been in the shower for the better part of an hour. Clark had cleaned up everything the police had left behind, and checked the spare bedroom to be sure the police *had* taken away the bed linens — they had. He stood in the doorway for a minute, looking at the bare mattress, before he turned away, closing the door behind him.
He lay now on their bed, listening to the shower run, wondering how long the hot water would hold out, and if Lois was okay. He was tempted to take a quick peek, just to be sure she was all right, but he didn't. She'd been violated already today — he didn't want to add to it, even if he was her husband. Even if she wouldn't know.
Finally she emerged, wrapped from throat to toes in an old terrycloth robe. He reached over and patted the pillow beside him. "Come on, honey. You need some sleep."
She nodded, and took off the robe to slide into bed beside him. She was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of fleece sweatpants — not her usual bedtime attire. He guessed it had to do with her sense of privacy, with wanting to feel secure, and didn't comment. Instead, he reached for her, intending to draw her into the curve of his arm. He stopped when she caught her breath and stiffened.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you…" he began.
"I'm sorry," she said, just as quickly. "I didn't expect… I didn't know…" She stopped, lying still and staring at the ceiling with such concentration that Clark knew she was trying not to cry.
He waited, and after a few minutes she took a long, shuddering breath and turned to look at him. "It wasn't you," she told him. "It was… I don't know. Your holding on to me — the feeling that I couldn't get away… even though I knew it was you — even though I know you would never, ever do anything to hurt me… I panicked. Just for that instant, I panicked. I'm sorry."
"No, don't apologize. It wasn't anything you meant to do, I know that. I'll just have to start being more careful. Make sure you're ready for me to hold you, before I do. That's all."
She bit her lip, and nodded. "I guess so."
"So… you want to come here?"
Her smile was weak, but she moved toward him. He lay perfectly still while she settled herself against him, and then, very gently, brought his arm up to cradle her back. "Let me know if I'm scaring you," he whispered. "I don't want you to ever be afraid of me."
She turned, nuzzling into his neck, and shook her head. "I'm all right. It feels good, you holding me."
She fell asleep on his shoulder but he lay awake for a long time, staring into the darkness.
He woke to her absence, and lifted his head, listening. She wasn't in their bathroom, so he extended his hearing further, until he found her. Alarmed, he slid out of bed and snatched up his robe, pulling it on as he trotted down the stairs.
She was in the kitchen, sitting solitary under the harsh overhead light, crying great silent tears interspersed with the occasional half-hiccup, half-sob. He wondered how long she'd been at it, and moved forward to take her into his arms. He caught himself at the last moment, and settled for a quick, soft touch to the back of her hand as he sat down beside her. "Hey."
She sniffled and tried to stop the tears.
"Hey, it's okay. Cry all you want. It's okay now." He held out his hands, offering the comfort of an embrace, but she didn't accept. Instead, she began to cry even harder, gasping out a stream of words he could scarcely make out, much less understand.
"…how am I… choice like this… yours… his… pills…" On the last, she opened her hand to display a small brown pharmacy bottle. He took it gently and turned it to read the label. Her name, today's date, the hospital's imprint. Something they'd given her at the emergency room. He didn't recognize the name of the medication.
"What are they?"
She had to say it twice before he understood that the pills were an emergency contraceptive, and that she was struggling with the decision as to whether or not she should take them.
She stared at him with tear-filled eyes. "We've been trying so hard," she finished, her breath coming in heaving sobs. "It's my fertile period and we've been trying and… what if I am pregnant? What if I was already pregnant, I mean? If the baby's yours… and these pills…"
"Would they work if…" He let the question trail away, not sure how to phrase it.
"Seventy-two hours," she answered. "They said. Clark, how can I take pills that might kill our baby?"
He looked at the bottle. "I don't know how to answer that. What if…" he hesitated, and swallowed hard before trying again. "What if… it's not mine? What if…"
"That's why I haven't flushed them."
"That's why you're sitting down here, all alone, crying," he finished for her. He couldn't help it — he had to reach out and offer her physical comfort.
She stiffened at his touch, and then relaxed into his embrace, burying her face in his shoulder. "I don't know what to do. Tell me what to do."
"Lois… honey. I can't. I can't tell you. It's your body. You were the one…" he broke off, unable to finish that particular thought. "You're the one who has to decide. I'm sorry. But whatever you choose to do, I'll support you. I'm behind you. I promise."
She pulled away from him. "Whatever I decide…?"
She took the bottle from his hand and shook it, rattling the pills inside. "I'm probably not pregnant anyway," she whispered. "We've been trying for months now, and it's never happened. Why should it happen now?"
He refrained from mentioning his Kryptonian heritage, and Dr. Klein's conviction that Superman could never conceive a child with a human woman. Which news had dampened Lois's spirits for only a few days before she decided there was no reason for them to accept that if they chose not to. Ever since, she'd been doggedly taking her temperature, charting her cycles, and orchestrating their love life.
She set the bottle down. "Come on. It's late, and we're both tired."
He recognized avoidance when he saw it, but he didn't know how to deflect her. And she'd said she had seventy-two hours to take the contraceptive. He moved the bottle to a safer spot on the kitchen counter and followed her upstairs.
The morning after the attack, Clark picked up the telephone just as Lois stepped out of yet another hot shower. "What are you doing?" she asked, suspicion coloring her voice.
"Calling my folks," Clark answered, surprised.
"Oh." She hugged her terrycloth robe more tightly closed. "What are you going to tell them?"
"I don't know, exactly. I usually don't, when I call."
"Were you going to tell them what happened?"
"Well… yeah. I guess so."
"Clark…" Her eyes were wide and imploring, her voice so soft as to be nearly inaudible. "Don't. Please."
"Why…" He broke that question off before he finished it. He supposed he could see why not. There were times when Lois liked being the center of attention. Sometimes she even managed events so she would be. But this was different. This would be pity, people feeling sorry for her. Perhaps some would even view her now as damaged in some way, or despoiled. So of course she wouldn't want anyone to know.
Just as he finished thinking it out, she said it: "I just don't want… people staring at me."
"I don't blame you," he said honestly. "But my folks wouldn't…"
"I don't want them to know. I don't want anybody to know."
Except me and the police and the people at the hospital, he thought unhappily. But… "Okay," he said aloud. "I won't say anything."
He started dialing, but put the phone back in its cradle when Lois went to her closet and started rummaging through her business outfits.
"Honey, what are you doing?"
She looked around, surprised. "Getting ready for work."
"You're not going to work today… are you?" He tacked the question on hurriedly as he saw her expression grow stormy.
"Why not?" she demanded. "There's nothing wrong with me. I'm not sick."
No, but you've been through a traumatic experience, he thought. But he knew better than to express the thought aloud. "I guess not," he agreed. "What will you tell them about your face?"
"My…?" She touched her cheek as if only just aware of the swelling and bruising that marred one side of her face. "I'll cover it with makeup," she rallied. "And I can tell them… I was mugged. Everybody gets mugged," she concluded, turning back to her closet. "They'll believe that."
Shortly before lunch time, Perry White stuck his head out of his office. "Lois, honey? Can I see you in here for a minute?" Perry's voice was too kind for him to be yelling about a story, and Lois cast Clark an apprehensive look as she went.
"You want to close that door?" he asked, as she stepped inside.
"Sure, Perry," she answered, and matched words with action. "What's up?"
"You're up," he answered, fixing her with a stern look. "What's this story you're feeding everybody about getting mugged?"
She touched her bruised cheek self-consciously. "It was so stupid. I stopped off at this little Italian restaurant because I knew Clark would be hungry when he got home, I was going to pick up some linguine, he likes it with clam sauce, and there was this — this thug, and he just came out of nowhere and…"
Perry was shaking his head. "Lois, honey. You can sell that bull to everybody else, but don't you know you can't pull the wool over my eyes?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Perry," she said defensively. "There was this thug, and he came out of nowhere and tried to grab my purse, and when I held on, he hit me. That's what happened."
"Except you told Ralph and Margie that when he tried to grab your purse, you slipped and went face-first into a metal trash bin. And Carl says Clark told him you hit your head on a parked car. So I want to know what in the name of Elvis is going on!" His voice softened. "Now, listen, honey. I've been around a lot of years and I'm a pretty good judge of character. I never would have taken Clark for the sort of man to hit a woman, but if he's touched you, if he's hurt you, you just say the word and…"
It was such a ridiculous idea that she wanted to laugh. Except laughing would make her face hurt, and anyway she didn't really feel like laughing today. "Clark wouldn't lay a hand on me," she snapped, instead. "And you know it."
"Yeah, I do," he agreed. "And if he tried, you wouldn't stand for it, anyway. But I just had to be sure."
"Well, now you are."
"But I still don't know how you got that shiner."
"I told you. I got mugged…"
Perry sighed. "Right. But if you were in trouble, you'd tell me."
"Of course," she agreed. "Well, maybe," she amended, when he glared at her. "Oh, all right, probably not, but then you'd worm it out of me…"
"Don't forget that, darlin'. Now…" He shuffled through the papers on his desk. "I have an assignment for you."
It had taken all Clark's willpower not to eavesdrop on Lois's conversation with Perry — it had been even harder to leave, halfway through, when he heard a frantic call for help. All he wanted today was to be with Lois. To watch over her, protect her. Keep her safe.
But the call came again — a panicked plea — and so he went.
When he returned, Lois wasn't in Perry's office. She wasn't at her desk, either. Wasn't getting coffee, wasn't at the copier. The ladies' room? He didn't have the nerve to check, not just yet. Instead…
"Jimmy, where's Lois?"
Jimmy paused on his way to the darkroom. "Chief sent her out on an assignment," he said. "Where've you been?"
"A fire in an apartment building on the west side," Clark answered. "Some kids were trapped, and Superman rescued them."
"Oh. How do you always find out about the Superman stories?" But it was a rhetorical question; already Jimmy was going on his way.
And Clark still didn't know where Lois was.
"Hey, Sandra." He snagged a passing reporter. "You seen Lois?"
She shrugged. "At some press conference, I think. Ask Perry."
But Perry wasn't in his office. "Ralph, you know anything about a press conference?"
"At police headquarters?" Ralph guessed. "I thought I heard someone say they were having one there. Say, did you hear about this story I'm working on? I'm about to catch Judge Carter with his pants down…"
Clark tuned him out and reached for the phone. Henderson wasn't in, but Sergeant Zymack was.
"Press conference? Sure, it ended a few minutes ago. There's a serial rapist going around assaulting women. Got his third victim last night. The commissioner and the mayor wanted the people warned."
Clark barely managed to thank him before slamming the phone down. What was Lois thinking?
But of course he knew. She was thinking that nothing had changed. That she could go, and listen, and not be affected.
He slipped into the storeroom and out the window; seconds later, he stepped out of an alley and onto the street in front of police headquarters, straightening his tie.
He'd spotted the Jeep from the air and headed straight for it. Lois wasn't there.
But if the press conference had ended only minutes ago, she could still be inside. He hurried up the steps.
He listened for her, but with so many other people around, he couldn't pick her out. He couldn't find her with discreet use of his x-ray vision, either. But she had to be here. "Have you seen Lois?" he asked of several people he knew, but no one had.
And then he spotted a small knot of people outside one of the public restrooms. "What's going on?" he asked a woman.
"There's a lady inside, acting strange," she told him, a gleam of excitement in her eye.
Clark eased his glasses down for a quick peek inside, then shouldered his way into the center of the group and addressed an authoritative woman who seemed to be guarding the open door. "Excuse me," he said. "I think the woman inside might be my wife. Would you mind…?"
"Be my guest," the woman answered, and stepped aside.
There was another small knot of women at one of the white porcelain sinks; Clark saw one of them, her face drawn with compassion, reach out, but Lois flinched away and the woman dropped her hand. The other women seemed equally at a loss as to what to do; they looked relieved when they saw Clark.
"My wife," he murmured. "Let me…"
They stepped aside, and began a subtle retreat toward the door.
Lois stood at the sink, washing her hands. Steam rose from the tap, and the skin of her hands was raw from scrubbing. Her shoulders were hunched defensively, and she was sobbing.
Clark wanted to rush and take her into his arms, but he remembered her reaction the night before, her flinch here from the woman who wanted to help, and approached softly. "Lois? Honey. It's okay. I'm here."
She kept scrubbing, kept sobbing.
"Sweetheart?" He laid a careful hand on her shoulder. "Your hands are clean. You can stop now."
"Not clean," she choked out, around the sobs. "Not clean ever again. I need a bath, a shower. Never be clean again."
"Yes, you will. You are." He slid his hand across her shoulders, so that his arm lay lightly across them. "It wasn't your fault. None of it was your fault."
"They were talking about him," she went on, as if she hadn't heard. "At the conference. About him, and saying what he did. To me. Did you know there were others? Before me?"
"I heard," he acknowledged.
"And then me, and tomorrow maybe somebody else, and I just felt so *dirty*, Clark! I came in here to get hold of myself, and I went to wash my hands, and I couldn't stop. I just kept washing and washing…" Her hands hung limply in the sink now, and her head rested against his shoulder. "I don't know what to do…"
He turned off the water and reached for a paper towel. "I'm taking you home. Right now."
"I'm scared at home," she whispered.
"I won't leave you," he murmured, into her hair. "I won't."
While Lois was in the shower, Clark called Perry.
"Tell Lois I'm sorry she's not feeling well," Perry said. "What'd she find out at the press conference?"
"I'm sorry, Perry, you'll have to ask someone else to get that."
"What, you mean she didn't even cover it? What was she thinking, going out when she felt that bad? Every paper in town knows what's going on but the Daily Planet! Now I'm going to have to…"
"Perry, she didn't do it on purpose," Clark interrupted, sharply. "I'm sorry. She's sorry. But you're going to have to put someone else on that story."
"All right, all right." Perry calmed down. "I know Lois, she must have thought she could handle it. In fact, I'm kind of worried about her, it's not like her to just step away from a story like that."
"She really isn't feeling well, Perry," Clark insisted. "She just physically couldn't do it."
"Okay. You stay home, take care of her. Tell her I said for her to take care of herself! I'll put Simmons on to finding out about the press conference."
Lois was still in the shower when Perry called back five minutes later. "My God, son, why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?" Clark asked warily.
"I just got off the phone with Bill Henderson, who read me the riot act for assigning Lois to that press conference. I never would have sent her if I'd known. If I'd had any idea. Why didn't she tell me?"
Clark sank down onto the edge of the bed. "She didn't want anyone to know. She doesn't want anyone to know."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of!" Perry bellowed. "It's that monster's fault, not Lois's. She ought to know that!"
"She ought to," Clark agreed, "and on some level she does, but deep down…"
Perry sighed. "Yeah. I guess so. Well, you give her my best, and tell her to take all the time she needs. I'll square it with the big shots upstairs, and without telling them what happened, either. You, too. If she needs you…"
"Thanks, Perry. We appreciate it."
Lois emerged from the bathroom as he cradled the phone. "Perry?" she inquired.
"I called to let him know we wouldn't be back in," Clark explained. "Honey… he talked to Henderson."
Lois, who was never still, went quietly motionless. "Oh."
"He says for you to take all the time you need. Me, too."
"Half the newsroom must know by now." Her voice was flat, expressionless.
Clark hated seeing her like this, hated not being able to do anything tangible to help. "I asked him not to say anything. He promised he wouldn't."
"Who's Perry putting on the story?"
"So he'll know, and then…"
Clark shook his head. "The police won't reveal the names of the victims, Lois, you know that."
"Henderson talked to Perry," she shot back, with a burst of spirit.
"Henderson was yelling at him for sending you to the conference in the first place," Clark pointed out. "I'll bet he thought Perry already knew. Or he was so mad, he let it slip. He wouldn't tell Superman what happened last night."
Lois looked at him curiously.
"When I came home… I saw the police cars, and the lights… I was so scared, Lois. I didn't even think — I just flashed down here to find out what happened. To find you. And all Henderson would say was that you were at the hospital, and could I please find your husband."
"It's okay. Luckily, Superman knew right where to look."
She smiled, as he had meant her to.
"So come on, I'll fix you some lunch."
"I'll clean up," Clark said, after they ate. "You didn't sleep much last night — why don't you go lie down for a while?"
Lois shook her head. "I don't want to."
"Lois, come on. You have to take care of yourself. Just close your eyes for a while."
"Well… maybe I'll lie down on the couch," she conceded. "But don't let me sleep all afternoon."
He promised, and she took herself off into the living room.
He tidied the kitchen at a human pace and got some chops out to thaw for supper, then tiptoed toward the living room to check on Lois.
She wasn't sleeping. She wasn't even lying down.
Instead, she'd taken all the books off the bookcase and was industriously polishing the shelves.
"Lois, what are you…"
"I started to lie down, Clark," she said, without stopping. "But these shelves were a little dusty, and it was bugging me, so I thought I'd just…"
"I could do that."
"I know, but you do most of the cleaning anyway, and I guess I'm sort of in the mood…" She flashed him what might have passed for a mischievous grin, if he hadn't known her so well. "You should take advantage of it."
"Honey…" He wished there was something, anything, he could do to assuage her pain.
"I'll be done here in a minute," she muttered, but it was a half-hour or more before all the books had been dusted to her satisfaction and replaced on the shelf.
From there, she moved on to cleaning out the storage closet. After that, she scrubbed the guest bathroom.
She was just finishing up when Clark lifted his head, listening. A robbery at a jewelry store across town. "Honey, I need to…" He broke off because she was staring at him, her expression a blend of determination and terror. "Honey?"
"Go on," she said, the determination winning. "I know you heard something. Go."
But the terror in her eyes held him there.
"What are you waiting for?" Her voice was shrill. "Go!"
Slowly he shook his head. "It's just a robbery. I'm not going."
She tried to look angry, but relief was in the breath she let out. "Not going?"
"No. I'm staying here. With you."
"You don't have to do that, Clark. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."
"I know that." The last thing he wanted was for her to think he planned to hover over her. "But I think maybe you just need a little…" Time, he'd been going to say, but he broke off as a new sound reached him. This one wasn't the shrilling of an alarm. It was the all too human shriek of children.
"What?" Lois clutched at his arm. "What do you hear now?"
"Some kids — from the elementary school two blocks over, I think. I have to go to this one."
"All right." She was pale, but the determination was back.
He changed and made a superspeed circuit of the house, arriving back in front of her scarcely before she'd realized he was gone. "I've checked all the doors and windows — they're locked. I'll be back as soon as I can."
"All right," she said again.
He wanted to kiss her, reassure her in some tangible way that everything would be all right. But the screams of children were loud in his ears, and besides, she would shrink back if he tried to touch her now. So he settled for a smile. "Love you," he said, and sped away.
The scene at the school seemed almost innocuous at first. A minivan sat crushed against the stout timbers of a playground climbing gym, steam issuing from its burst radiator. The shrieks he'd been hearing came from dozens of children, gathered around and staring in horror. Teachers tried to herd them away, but without much success. A quick scan of the kids showed no injuries more severe than scrapes and bruises, though, so Clark turned his attention to the van's driver. The woman behind the wheel moaned, but an x-ray scan revealed no broken bones, and the reek of alcohol was probably responsible for her fuzzy perception.
Only then did he notice the subject of the children's horror: under the wheels of the minivan lay a young woman. Her eyes were open and she was conscious enough to recognize him — he saw her lips form the word "Superman," but there was no sound. He knelt beside her and tried to assess her injuries. She was pinned, her leg crushed by a tire. He didn't dare try to move the minivan off her until the paramedics were here to immediately tend to her. He hated accidents like this, when he could do nothing but wait. His superhearing picked up sirens, and a quick calculation told him they were just minutes away.
Comfort was all he could offer until they came, so he took the woman's hand in his and squeezed. "It's going to be okay," he said. "We're going to get you out of here. What's your name?"
"Jan," the woman replied, faintly. "Jan Brooks."
"Miss Brooks saved us, Superman," one of the children said tearfully. "She pushed me out of the way. She pushed Randa, too. And then the car hit her. Please don't let anything bad happen to her."
"I won't," he promised rashly, without taking his eyes from the injured woman's face. "As soon as the paramedics get here…"
As he spoke, an ambulance pulled around the end of the building and bumped over the playground grass. Uniformed technicians jumped from the vehicle and Clark stepped back to give them room to work.
A small boy tugged on his cape. "Superman?"
"Yes?" He bent down to hear.
"Please help Miss Brooks," the child pleaded. "You're supposed to help."
"I promise I'll do everything I can," he said. "Look, the EMTs are fixing her up — in a minute we'll be able to take her to the hospital."
"She's my teacher, Superman," a little girl added. "I love her."
"I know, sweetie."
The children gathered around him, pressing close, as if proximity to Superman would protect them. He stood there stolidly, letting them take whatever comfort they could find, until the paramedics gestured for him.
"Just lift the van up, Superman," the woman EMT said. "It'll take us a minute to get her onto the backboard and out from under."
"I'll just lift it right away from her," Clark countered. "If that's all right."
The EMT looked first startled, then sheepish. "Oh, right. For a minute, I think I forgot who I was talking to."
He had to smile at that. He'd spent enough time helping with disasters that most of the city's emergency personnel knew him and had worked with him. The awe factor didn't apply so much any more.
It was the work of seconds to lift the minivan and move it safely away from its victim; the driver had already been removed by the police. He waited, in case the EMTs needed him for anything else, but they waved him on as they opened the back of the ambulance and loaded the young teacher inside. "Thanks, Superman!" one of them called in farewell.
He turned to the small group of children who still huddled on the playground, watching. "Go back to your classes, children. Miss Brooks is going to the hospital now, and the doctors there will take good care of her."
"But, Superman," one child asked, her face tearstreaked. "Can't you just fix her? You're *Superman*."
His heart quailed. She had such faith in him. How could he tell her it was misplaced? "No, honey, I'm sorry. I can't."
"But you're *Superman*," another child said. "You can do anything."
He shook his head. "I can do a lot of things, but not everything. Not this." I couldn't protect Lois, he thought, painfully. Lois, who was home, and afraid. "I have to go now. Go inside, and listen to your teachers."
He waited until the group began to shuffle toward the building under the watchful eyes of teachers, then shot skyward.
He scanned the house before he descended because he didn't want to startle Lois when he entered. What he found broke his heart.
He went in through the upstairs window he always used — its lock had been modified a long time ago so he could open it from the outside — and spun into his ordinary clothes as he hurried downstairs. "Lois? Honey?"
She was as he'd seen her, sitting huddled in a chair, positioned so she could see both the front door and windows and the French doors in the back. The chair was drawn up against a wall, so that no one could creep up behind her. She had the fireplace poker in her lap.
She started at the sound of his voice, and tried to slip the poker behind her chair. "Oh, you startled me," she said, flustered. "I was just…"
She must have known from the sound of his voice that he had seen her, because she stopped trying to hide the poker. "Are the kids okay?"
"At the school. The kids. Are they okay?"
"Oh, yeah, fine. One of their teachers was hurt in an accident, but the kids will be fine."
It was a sign of how unsettled she was that she didn't ask for further detail. Instead, she nodded and moved past him, toward the stairs. "Are you going to be home for a while?" she asked over her shoulder.
"Sure," he answered. *Unless there's an emergency, and I'm needed,* was the unspoken addendum, but she knew that. And it would have to be a pretty spectacular disaster to make him leave her again so soon.
"I'm going upstairs to lie down for a while," she said. "Tell me if you go out, okay?"
"I will. I promise."
Lois slept, but fitfully. Clark kept an eye on her, ready to streak upstairs at the first sign of overt distress, but her restlessness and muttering never evolved into anything that resembled a nightmare, at least not from his perspective. She looked better, if a bit rumpled, when she came downstairs two hours later.
"Good nap?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I guess so." She looked at the coffee table, and the telephone book lying open on it. "Looking for something?"
Clark glanced at the phone still in his hand. "I ordered a lock for that outside door," he said. "And an alarm system."
"An alarm system? Can we afford that?"
"I don't care if we can afford it. I want you safe. I want you to feel safe, even if I'm not here. I'll do whatever I have to do, pay whatever I have to pay, to have you safe."
"I can take care of myself, Clark," she answered sharply.
He didn't want to crush her spirit, not when she was fighting so hard. But he couldn't let her be hurt again. Not like this. "No," he said, gently. "You can't. Not all the time. Not even Superman can take care of himself all the time. You've been around. You know that."
Hostility had flared at his first words, but mention of Superman had dimmed it. She must be remembering, as he was, times that the world's strongest man had been helpless. She knew he didn't mean she was weak, or helpless in any conventional sense. Just that sometimes, someone else was stronger, or more prepared, or had some other advantage.
She dropped into the chair opposite and nodded. "You're right. I… you're right. I might feel safer with an alarm. Or a dog. Maybe we could get a dog."
"Sure, if that's what you want." He gestured toward the phone book. "There's some places in there that train dogs to protect…"
"Clark, no. I don't want a guard dog. If we get a dog, I want a pet. A friendly face when you're not around." She gave a small, sly grin to see how he was taking that, and her ability to tease lifted his spirits. "All the dog needs to do is growl or bark if he hears something. I can do the rest."
He supposed she could, at that. If not for the advantage of surprise, yesterday's assailant might well have been unsuccessful. This time. Clark's blood ran cold as he remembered that this man was a serial rapist. He'd attacked before, and he would again. In a day or two, some other woman would be subjected to the same ordeal Lois had been forced to undergo. Some other husband, or boyfriend would be going through what he was. Or father or brother or friend. Rape, he was learning, had many victims.
He stopped that train of thought before rage overcame him, and flipped the phone book closed. "If you think you want a dog, we can go to the pound this weekend. Or look in the paper, find a puppy. Whatever you want."
"I'll think about it first," she said.
"Okay." He paused, studying her, then plunged ahead. "Listen, Lois, last night at the hospital…"
He could see her tighten up, all her muscles going rigid with memory. But when she spoke, her voice was steady. "Yes?"
"Detective Mears gave you a card. For a support group?"
Her expression grew frosty.
But he'd started; might as well see it through. "I was thinking maybe you ought to give them a call."
She pushed to her feet and leaned forward, her body language as angry and aggressive as her voice. "I don't need a support group. I'm fine."
"You don't act fine," he said bluntly. "When have you ever been afraid for me to leave the house? But you were afraid earlier. I know you were."
"It was just being home alone for the first time," she said defensively. "Nothing happened, so I'll be fine now."
"And what if you aren't?"
"I will be."
Maybe if he tried a different tack. "Lois… honey. These are people who can understand. It might help to talk about it."
"I don't want to talk about it!" she flared. "I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. You don't know what it was like, Clark. You don't know how it felt. I just want to forget it ever happened." By the time she reached the end, she was crying, and instinctively he reached for her.
And when he touched her, she flinched.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I forgot." He backed away, hands raised. He'd never felt so helpless.
But just as quickly, she was coming toward him, her arms open. "No, I'm sorry. I keep doing that to you, and I don't mean to."
He let her wrap her arms around him and place her head on his chest before he very gently folded his own arms around her to hold her close. "I love you, Lois," he whispered into her hair.
"I know," she answered, her voice muffled by his shirt. "I know."
It was two days later that Clark noticed the small prescription bottle was missing from the kitchen. It wasn't in any of the bathrooms, either. The seventy-two hours were up — and he didn't know what Lois had decided. Had she taken the emergency contraceptive, or thrown it away?
But he wouldn't ask. If she wanted him to know, she'd tell him. Meanwhile, the bruises on her face were starting to heal, and he could only hope that inner healing would follow.
He was careful, now, of how he moved when she was near, never reaching towards her without warning, never coming too close without an invitation. She guarded her personal space more fiercely than before, and he knew she had nightmares. She woke in the night, sometimes, sobbing, and what hurt most of all was that he couldn't simply gather her close and comfort her. He had to speak to her, slowly and clearly, from his own side of the bed, until she recognized him. He had to wait for her to come to him. Only then could he close his arms around her and hold her. Only then could he kiss her hair, and murmur soft reassurance.
The security company came and installed an alarm. Lois complained it was too sophisticated, and too expensive, but Clark insisted. All the downstairs doors and windows were wired, and there were motion sensors strategically placed. Clark would have enjoyed a dog, and Lois wouldn't ever have had to be at home alone, but they finally discarded that idea, deciding their current lifestyle wasn't really suited to pets.
He also made the promised visit to Dr. Klein.
"Ah, Superman!" Dr. Klein looked up from his microscope. "How nice of you to drop in."
"Sorry," Clark answered. "It's not a social call."
The doctor sighed. "It never is."
"No, I guess not," Clark agreed, and wondered fleetingly if maybe he should try dropping in occasionally when he wasn't in trouble. But there wasn't time for that now.
"What can I do for you today?" Dr. Klein asked.
"You can answer a question," Clark said, leading into things gradually.
Dr. Klein brightened. "I'd be glad to. What is it?"
Clark swallowed. "How different is my DNA?"
"Oh, quite different," Dr. Klein answered, with enthusiasm. "Several of your…"
"So a forensic scientist would be able to tell by looking…" Clark hated interrupting, but he didn't want the scientist to get off on a tangent.
Clark paused and drew a deep breath, considering what it would be safe to say. But this was Dr. Klein, who knew more about him than anyone except Lois and his parents. He could trust him. "Yes," he said slowly. "The police lab is going to be comparing samples of my DNA with someone else's for exclusionary purposes. But it sounds like they'll be able to tell…"
But Dr. Klein was shaking his head. "Oh, they won't. Not if they're only doing forensic testing. You see, your nucleotide ratios are quite similar to ours, so the type of testing they're doing, comparing only a few RFLP markers…"
Clark didn't even try to follow the science, he just grasped at the meaning. "They'll think I'm human?"
"I don't know why they wouldn't," Dr. Klein answered. "It's only when you start breaking down the…"
Clark broke into his explanation. "Thank you, Dr. Klein. That's what I needed to know. I'm sorry I can't tell you why."
"That's all right," Dr. Klein answered. "I'm always glad to help."
"So it'll be okay," Lois said, when he told her. "No one will know you're… who you are."
"Dr. Klein says no. Not in the kind of testing they're doing."
"So I guess," she said, with a kind of bitter humor, "that as long as they don't try to create any clones, we're okay."
"Yeah," he answered glumly. "I guess so. I'll go by the police lab tomorrow and give them a sample."
In the weeks that followed, the rapist struck three more times. Each time he got away. The police were growing progressively more frustrated.
So was Superman.
With the new alarm system in place, Lois felt safer when she was home alone, so Clark went out most evenings, patrolling fiercely, ignoring minor accidents and incidents so he could focus on one thing. Finding the tall man with the reddish hair and beard. He wasn't quite sure what he'd do with the man once he got his hands on him, but he ached for the chance.
"Well," he heard a policeman say, once, "He's left his DNA all over town — if we ever lay hands on him, we can sure put him away."
But there was nothing. No sign, no clue, just another victim left crying in his wake. Another woman's life forever changed
And Lois, still bravely fighting her own fears. Lois, who'd lost weight and looked increasingly wan. Lois, who'd finally agreed, five weeks after the attack, to go to the doctor.
His parents, who still didn't even know the assault had taken place, were coming this evening for a visit which had been scheduled long ago. He'd suggested postponing, but Lois, who'd allowed herself to be persuaded in the matter of the doctor, was adamant. "We can't cancel, Clark, they'll want to know why."
"We'll just tell them you aren't feeling well," he answered stubbornly. "It's the truth."
"Your mom will just want to come nurse me," she retorted. "And I don't need nursing! So just let them come. Everything will be fine."
But Clark had his doubts. If nothing else, his mother would be sure to notice that the guest room had new curtains and a new bedspread; Lois hadn't been able to look at the old ones, even though they'd been chosen less than a year before, and she'd loved them then.
That the bed was the same was a near thing; not long after the assault, Clark had come home to find Lois standing stiffly in the doorway to the guest room with its stripped bed and bare nightstand. She wasn't doing anything, just looking. He cleared his throat to be sure she knew he was there, and stepped up behind her. "What are you looking for?" he asked gently.
"I don't know," she answered. "Maybe… my innocence? My belief that nothing this bad could ever happen to me?"
"Honey…" Very slowly, he put a hand on her arm, and when she didn't flinch, slid it around her waist and pulled her toward him. Prepared for his touch, she accepted his embrace and leaned back against him.
"Maybe if we got rid of the bed…" she murmured.
He tightened his grip, not enough to frighten her, just enough to reassure. "I wouldn't like to do that," he replied.
She twisted in his arms to look up at him. "What?"
He smiled down at her. "We spent our wedding night in that bed. Remember?"
"Oh." She looked back, and some of the tension bled away from her shoulders, her spine. "I do remember." Her hands tightened on his. "Can we replace the mattress?"
The new bed, a king-size, went into their bedroom; the extra space seemed to make it easier for Lois to sleep. The old mattress from their room went on the bed frame in the guest room.
The mattress on which the assault had taken place went to the dump. Superman saw to that personally.
Lois wasn't yet home when Clark and his parents reached the townhouse. He'd just set them down in the living room and his mother was heading upstairs to unpack when he heard the Jeep pull up outside.
He'd wanted to accompany her to the doctor, but his parents were expecting their transportation — Superman Express — and anyway, she hadn't wanted him to come. But now he was anxious to hear what the doctor had said. Maybe he'd prescribed some vitamins or something. Anything, if it would take away the dark circles under her eyes, and help her regain her appetite.
He hurried to open the front door so she wouldn't have to fumble with her keys.
"New alarm system?" his dad asked, watching him touch the proper code into the keypad to disarm the system.
"Um, yeah," Clark agreed. He opened the deadbolt on the inside door and crossed the vestibule to the outer door with its shiny new lock.
"You been having trouble?" Jonathan asked, eyeing the lock.
Clark couldn't lie, not to his dad. But he couldn't tell the truth, either. Lois had made him promise. He mumbled something unintelligible and opened the door.
Lois stepped past him and began taking off her coat, moving mechanically. She didn't smile, didn't speak.
"Lois? What did the doctor say?"
She froze in place for a moment, then turned very slowly. Her face was pinched, her expression flat. "I'm pregnant."
On the stairs, Martha let out a happy gasp, and began to hurry down. Jonathan beamed and came forward, saying, "A baby! Did you hear that Martha? Lois and Clark are going to…"
And then it all stopped. Clark could see it, in a surreal kind of way, a frozen tableau made up of he and Lois, facing each other, and his parents off to the side, realizing that this wasn't a happy announcement after all, that something was terribly wrong.
And all the time, Lois was looking at him with despair in her eyes.
It was Jonathan who put the scene into motion again. "Come on, Martha," he muttered. "Let's go upstairs, give these two some privacy."
Clark hardly noticed them leave. "Lois," he managed to say finally, his throat suddenly dry, his voice hoarse.
She pushed past him and headed for the kitchen as if she hadn't heard.
He followed, letting the kitchen door swing closed behind him.
Lois was at the refrigerator, as brittle as the ice she was putting into a glass.
She stopped, facing away from him, and carefully put her glass down on the counter. "What am I going to do?" she asked, her voice bleak.
"The doctor said… it's safest in the first trimester. Easiest. So I have a few weeks to decide. But… what will I decide? What will we decide?"
Bewilderment changed to understanding.
Abortion. She was talking about abortion. His heart clenched in his chest.
"It's your decision," he said, fighting to keep his voice steady. "Whatever you decide. Whatever's right for you."
She spun then, and her expression frightened him. "I don't know what's right! I don't know. I've been driving around, thinking and thinking, and I don't know!"
He put out his hands to placate her. "I know, honey, I know. It's a big thing. Huge. Give it some time."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I can't make that decision for you, Lois. It's your body. What happened — happened to you. But whatever you do…"
"You'll support me," she finished for him, and nodded stiffly. "Your parents must be wondering what's going on."
"I'll think of something to tell them," he promised rashly. "I don't know what, but I'll think of something."
But she was shaking her head in slow denial. "I don't want you to have to lie to your parents, Clark."
He waited, watching her, wishing with all his heart he could take her into his arms.
"Maybe you'd better just tell them."
"About the assault?"
Her flinch was barely noticeable. "Yes," she answered in a whisper.
"Do you want to…" Before he could finish the sentence, she was shaking her head violently.
"No! I… I'll just see about starting supper."
He studied her, his heart aching. Everything was wrong, and it just kept getting worse and worse, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Lois, his beautiful, brilliant, pigheaded wife, was falling apart in front of him, and with all his strength, all his extraordinary powers, he was helpless to stop it. "Okay," he agreed softly. "I'll tell them."
Jonathan and Martha reacted pretty much as Clark expected — with horror and compassion. When he was finished, Martha took her hand from her mouth and stood up, determined. "Poor Lois!" she announced, and marched toward the kitchen.
Clark came to his feet, not sure if Lois would want to see or be seen right at this point, but a quick glance through the door, still swinging from his mother's passing, reassured him. She had her arms around Lois, hugging her — and Lois was hugging back with a lack of restraint he hadn't seen in weeks. Five weeks, to be exact.
Of course she'd feel safe with Martha, who was a woman, he rationalized, trying not to be hurt. Just because she hadn't been able to let him comfort her in the same way…
His miserable brooding was interrupted when his father laid a big, warm hand on his arm. "Clark?"
"Sorry, Dad," he said sheepishly, and pushed his glasses back up his nose. "I was just…"
"…making sure Lois was okay," Jonathan finished for him. "Of course you were. But how are you doing, son? This has to be pretty rough on you, too."
"I'm okay, Dad. I'm just doing my best to be here for Lois."
"I'm sure you're doing that," Jonathan said.
"I don't know, Dad. It's been hard. She's jumpy, and afraid, and you know Lois was never afraid. And she tries so hard not to be, now, and…"
"That's why you have the new alarm system," Jonathan said, nodding.
"Right, and it helps a little, I think. But it still startles her if I touch her unexpectedly, or try to hold her, or…
"I've heard," Jonathan said, his voice carefully neutral, "that sometimes women have a hard time with, well, with sex, after something like this."
"That's what I hear, too," Clark answered, keeping his voice bland.
His father took the hint, and dropped the subject. "So. About this… this bombshell Lois just dropped. I thought there were drugs they could give a woman after something like this, to prevent…"
Jonathan's face was a mask of bewilderment. "Then… didn't she take them?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know. She had them… and then they disappeared. I don't know if she took them or not. Well…" He paused, thinking. "I guess she didn't."
"Why wouldn't she take them?"
He shrugged again. "If I had to guess… denial. She kept saying it might be my baby, but we both know that isn't likely."
Jonathan's hand closed on his wrist. "I'm sorry, son. What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know. Talk to Lois, first. Find out what she wants."
"To have the baby?"
"Or…" Clark left the other alternative unspoken.
"And what do you want?"
"I don't know," he said, yet again. "It's not really my decision, anyway, is it? It's Lois's."
"But it's a decision you'll have to live with. Have you thought about that?"
"I don't know, Dad. I don't know anything, yet." He pushed to his feet. "I'm going out. If Lois needs me…"
"I'll holler," Jonathan agreed. "Go ahead, son. You've got a lot to think about."
His dad was right — he *did* have a lot to think about. And for once, he didn't want to fly while he was thinking. He wanted to walk. Fast, with his head down and his hands stuffed in his pockets. He went all the way to the Planet, curved around to come back through Centennial Park, and spent some time just sitting on the edge of the fountain with his head in his hands.
It was well after dark by the time he got back home. He was scarcely inside before he realized the only one in the house was his father.
Alarm flared. "Dad? Where's Lois? And Mom?"
"Lois had a card someone gave her — they went to a support group meeting."
Clark felt his jaw drop. "I've been trying for weeks to get Lois to at least call, and she wouldn't even discuss it. And now she's going?"
Jonathan grinned. "Your mother can be mighty persuasive."
"I guess so. Wow."
"What about you, son? You come to any decision?"
"I kept thinking about it — about the baby." He looked up, into Jonathan's kind, compassionate face. "And what I keep coming back to is… it's Lois's baby. No matter who its father is, it's a part of her." He shook his head. "I want her to have the baby. I want us to keep it."
"Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be."
"You have to be surer than that, Clark. You have to know. Because a baby isn't something you can take back if it doesn't work out. So what you have to ask yourself is… can you love another man's child?"
That was easy. Clark looked into his father's eyes. "You do."
Jonathan's expression softened, and he nodded. "Yes, I do," he acknowledged. "But my son's natural father never hurt my wife."
"I know, Dad. But none of that is the baby's fault. It didn't choose to be conceived. It didn't get to choose who its parents are. In a few months, it's going to be born, and it'll be little and helpless and just need to be loved. I can do that."
His father clapped him on the shoulder and smiled. "I know you can."
Lois came back from the support group with a spark in her eye that Clark hadn't seen in five weeks. "I want to do a story on this," she announced, as they were getting ready for bed.
Clark tossed his dirty clothes into the hamper and came out of the bathroom frowning. "Don't you think you're too close to be objective?" he asked, carefully.
She turned to glare at him. "I can be objective! There are all sorts of ways that men assault women. If you'd been at the meeting tonight, if you'd heard the stories…"
It had obviously helped her to hear those stories herself. Perhaps she had even shared her own. She was fired up and determined. He slid into bed and propped his head up on his hand to watch as she moved around the bedroom, talking rapid-fire the entire time.
His Lois was back.
Lois knew that half her need to chatter was excitement over the story she planned to write. She knew exactly what angle she wanted to take, and could hardly wait to get to the Planet in the morning, so she could start on it.
But the rest was pure nervousness. She'd mostly listened in the support group meeting, but toward the end she'd found the courage to speak up herself. She hadn't gone into details on her assault — those memories were still raw — but she did mention her pregnancy. She'd been gratified — and a little embarrassed — by the outpouring of understanding from the women in the group. They'd made her see that she and Clark must talk about this, and soon. Waiting would only let the knowledge fester.
In the car on the way home, Martha had agreed. "You don't have to decide what you're going to do right now," she'd said sensibly. "But you should talk it over, get a feel for how you're both thinking."
"Clark wouldn't help me decide about the pills they gave me," she'd said, unable to keep bitterness out of her voice. "All he'd say was that it was my decision, and that he'd support whatever I wanted to do. I don't think he even knew, before tonight, that I didn't take them."
Martha put her hand across and gripped her wrist warmly. "He was trying to say that whatever you did was okay with him," she explained.
"I know that! But not knowing what he wanted — it made it harder."
"Then tell him. Tell him you need to know what he really thinks. Tell him it's not something you can decide alone. He may be stubborn about it, but eventually he'll listen."
So when Lois finally wound down and crawled into bed, she was ready to do battle. She moved across the expanse of sheet between them and laid her head on his shoulder, keeping herself still as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pressed a kiss into her hair.
"We have to talk."
"I know," he answered. "Have you made a decision…?"
She lifted her head to look at him. "I can't. Not by myself."
"It's not something I can decide for you, Lois. It's your body. I can support you…"
Exactly what she'd hoped he wouldn't say. "No!" Frustration made her louder than she'd intended. She modulated her voice with effort. "I have to know what you think, Clark. I have to know you won't hate me for whatever I decide to do."
"I could never hate you," he said quickly, holding her closer. "No matter what."
"So you have to tell me." She barreled on without waiting for him to stop speaking. "What choice couldn't you live with?"
"I can live with any…"
Suddenly furious, she smacked him, hard. And then clutched her hand. "Ow!" He reached for her, his expression contrite, but she pushed away and sat up to face him.
"I need to know. Tell me what you think."
"Okay! Okay." He sat up, too, and pushed a hand through his hair. "I talked with my dad about it, and he says the same thing — I should tell you what I think."
Bless Jonathan for making it easier for her. She'd expected a lot more resistance from his stubborn, over- protective son.
"And…?" she prompted.
He sighed. "Dad helped me think it through. He asked a lot of questions. Hard questions. And at first I didn't know what the answers were. But I thought about it, and thought about the things Dad said… and what it comes down to is… Life is important. *This* life -" he gestured toward her midriff, "- is important. So… I want this child to live."
Her heart pounded and she gripped the edge of the comforter. "All right." She still wasn't sure what it was that she wanted, but it did help to know his thoughts. But there were more questions. "If I have the baby… what happens next?"
He shrugged, and she could see how hard he was working to appear neutral. "We could put it up for adoption. There are lots of couples out there who would love the chance to raise this baby. They'd give it a good home, and love it, and…"
Impatience flared. "Geez, Clark, you make it sound like a puppy!"
"I'm not… I mean… I'm just trying to lay out the possibilities."
Suddenly, she wasn't at all sure this was a possibility she could live with. Carry a baby for nine months, labor to deliver it… and then give it up? But she kept her face impassive, and tightened her grip on the comforter's bunched edge.
"And the other choice… you know Dr. Klein says we can't have our own children…"
Of course she knew that. She didn't necessarily believe it, but she knew what the scientist had said. "This might be…" she began, voicing the other possibility.
"But it's probably not," he interrupted. "Best to face that now. It's probably not mine. It's probably his."
She could feel her face tighten into the lines her mother always called stubborn. It took all the effort she could muster not to argue.
Clark plunged on. "So I was thinking that maybe, in some bizarre, twisted, painful way… this is sort of a blessing. A chance to have a child of our own. To raise, and love. That's what I was thinking."
She sat very still, looking at him. Gazing into his eyes, trying to gauge how much truth there was in what he'd just said.
He looked back, his expression open and even, waiting.
Waiting for her, just as he'd always waited. She took a deep breath and let it out, letting the tension go out with it. "Yeah. That's what I was thinking, too."
His expression — she was a writer, but she couldn't have described it. Suffused with joy? Yes, but there was more. Admiration? Maybe. She knew he thought she was strong, although personally she had some doubts. But definitely love. Love that encompassed her, made her safe in spirit the way she now knew she could never be in body.
She pushed him down — he let her — and settled herself against his shoulder. "Maybe this is the good they say always comes out of bad things. The silver lining in the cloud."
"Some cloud," he said wryly.
"Yeah." She looked up at him and smiled. "But some silver lining, too. I guess this means we're going to have a baby."
"Guess so." His answering smile was tender, and full of love. Gently he leaned down and kissed her.
She wanted to respond. She loved him so much, and she missed being close. She struggled for a few long seconds to stay relaxed, to kiss him back, but the now-familiar terror rose up, gagging her, and she had to twist her face away from his questing lips. He let go of her with a gasp and she scooted across the bed, far enough to quell the panic.
Clark was breathing hard, fists clenched. "I'm sorry! I forgot…"
"So did I, for a second," she admitted shakily. "Clark, I'm sorry. I don't mean to react that way. It just happens."
"I know that." He reached out and she crept close, snuggling against him.
"It happens sometimes," she told him. "I learned in the meeting tonight, some women get panicky when their husbands or boyfriends touch them. Just like me. And it's stupid, and I don't want to react that way, but I can't help it."
"I know, it's okay."
"One woman said tonight that it's been more than a year, and she still hasn't been able… I don't want it to be that long for us, Clark!"
"Shh. It's all right. It takes however long it takes. I can wait."
She let out an irritated sigh. "I'm not sure I can."
"It's not funny!" she flared.
"I know, but it's either laugh or cry…"
She smiled wryly, and curled closer.
"Lois… can I ask you something?"
She looked up at him, surprised. "Of course. Anything."
"He… when he…"
There wasn't any question in her mind who 'he' was. She went stiff in Clark's arms, though she didn't move from his embrace. "Go on."
"When you were telling Detective Mears about it… you never said anything about him… kissing you."
"He didn't." She said it quickly. "He never tried to kiss me. Thank God."
"That's what I thought." He subsided into pensive silence.
"Clark?" she asked, after a minute.
"Why did you ask that? Why does it matter?"
"It doesn't… matter, exactly. I mean, I'm glad he didn't, that you didn't have to go through that, too, on top of everything else. But I wonder about something."
He must have heard the way her heart was thundering in her chest, the shaky rhythm of her breathing. He ran his hand along her arm soothingly. "I understand why you tense up when I forget and try to hold you or hug you when you're not expecting it. Or when someone gets too close, too fast, invades your personal space. I thought you were going to take Ralph's head off the other day…"
She nudged his ribs to get him back on track.
"That's the feeling of being constrained, of not being able to get away," he continued.
She nodded against his shoulder. She wished he would stop, wished he would hear a cry for help, or get a sudden craving for a drink of water. Anything to stop the questions, to quell the flood of memories.
But he went on. "But kissing…"
"I don't know," she answered quickly.
But he wasn't so easily taken in. "Lois, honey…"
"I don't know!" she repeated, more loudly.
"Yes, you do. I wish you'd tell me." He waited quietly, holding her gently, letting the fingers of his right hand trace light patterns on her arm.
Finally she sighed. "Because…"
"…because kissing doesn't stop there. It's only what comes first."
"I don't only kiss you when I want to make love…" He sounded affronted, and a little hurt.
"I know, but… the connection is there, I guess… in my mind. And so when you try to kiss me, all I can think — only it's more reaction, not really thinking — is that next you're going to want… and I know I can't, and I get scared, and…"
"Shhh…" He cut her off, gently, and gathered her against him. "It's all right, I understand. I just wondered, that's all."
Martha and Jonathan accepted with warmth and approbation the news that they were to be grandparents after all.
"I'm so glad," Martha said, as she gave Lois a congratulatory hug. "You're all right with this, aren't you?"
"I think I really am," Lois answered.
And she was, mostly. Clark was absolutely glowing with happiness over the baby, and Jonathan beamed with grandfatherly pride. Only once in a while did she suffer a twinge of… well, of uncertainty. Having a baby was a big thing. Huge. Nerve-wracking under the most normal of circumstances. And her circumstances were anything but normal. She could start with the superhero husband, and go from there.
But mostly, to her surprise and pleasure, there was a warm glow. She actually liked knowing she carried another life inside her. That it was growing and developing, that her own body was nourishing it and providing for its needs. It felt good in a way she hadn't known she could feel.
She could love this baby. She *did* love this baby. And she was going to be a good mother if it killed her.
After a week's visit, Martha and Jonathan went home. Lois missed the comfort of Martha's presence, but she was feeling better now, and was able to do what she usually did when things weren't quite right — throw herself into her work. Perry wasn't enthusiastic about the story on violence against women she planned to write, but Lois didn't care. She'd write it anyway. He'd print it once he saw it, and she could fit the writing of it in around her assignments.
She was working on the wording of a difficult paragraph for one of those assignments when, with her new awareness of what was around her, she realized someone had stopped by her desk. She looked up to find Clark standing there looking uncharacteristically uncertain.
He hesitated, then spoke in a rush. "I was wondering… would you like to go to dinner tonight? With me?"
She frowned a little, puzzled by his demeanor. "Sure, that sounds good."
"Some place nice," he added. "So dress up a little bit. I'll pick you up at seven-thirty."
But he was gone, threading a path through the crowded newsroom and vanishing in the direction of the supply room.
What a strange encounter. Clark never advised her on what to wear unless she asked his opinion of a particular outfit — and she'd pretty much quit doing that, since he claimed to like everything she put on. And what did he mean by he'd pick her up? They lived in the same house. Unless he had something else going on this evening that he'd forgotten to tell her about.
But no, he was there when she got home, lounging on the living room couch with the TV remote in his hand. "Hey, hon," he greeted as she came in.
"Hi." As it was already past six-thirty and it took her a lot longer to dress than it did him, she hurried upstairs to shower and change. It took her a little while to choose the right outfit — pregnancy was altering her figure, thickening her waist and making her breasts fuller. It was 7:28 by the time she was fully dressed and putting on her earrings, and still no sign of Clark.
That was unusual. Even though he could dress in a matter of split-seconds, he liked to come upstairs and get ready at a normal speed. They would chat, and help one another with zippers and clasps, and she always enjoyed the appreciative glances he gave her. But tonight there was no sign of him. She frowned, wondering if he'd been called out on an emergency. He'd been conscientious about telling her when he had to leave the house, but maybe, this one time, he'd forgotten. But a peek down the stairs showed him still reclining on the couch in t-shirt and shorts, flipping through channels.
She paused at the head of the stairs, confused. Had he forgotten? Or had she misunderstood him? But she was sure he'd said tonight; she remembered thinking that it was midweek and Clark usually cooked something, or they ordered carry-out.
Just then he looked up. "Hey, you look good," he told her. "Big date, huh?"
Big date? Now she really was confused. She drew breath so she could properly interrogate him, but he cut her off before she could get started.
"You'd better finish getting ready, you've only got a few minutes."
Mystified, she stared hard at him, but he'd gone back to the infuriating flipping of channels that men seemed to enjoy so much. She let out an exasperated sigh and headed back to the bedroom, half expecting to find Clark there before her. Maybe this was some quirky game he was playing, and she'd find him getting dressed and smiling at her.
But no, the room was still empty. She slid her feet into pumps and checked her makeup and hair one last time. Satisfied with what she saw, she turned away. If Clark was still on the couch watching TV, she was going to give him a piece of her mind.
She was reaching into the closet for her wrap when the doorbell rang. Drat! Whoever it was better not stay long enough to spoil their evening.
A moment later, the bell rang again.
"Clark, are you going to get that?"
There was no answer.
She went to the head of the stairs. No Clark. The TV was off, and the remote was lying on the coffee table.
She listened, but there was no sound at all from downstairs. No whoosh of Clark changing at super-speed, no voices at the door. Just silence.
The bell rang yet again. Whoever was there wasn't going away.
Lois descended the stairs slowly and steeled herself to approach the front doors. She hesitated — opening doors when she was home alone was still difficult for her. Then, with a surge of determination fueled by impatience with her own trepidation, she threw open the inner door, strode quickly across the little vestibule, and peered through the peephole.
Clark stood on the front steps dressed in his best dark suit, holding a bouquet of flowers.
What in the world…? She quickly disarmed the security system and opened the door. "Clark, what are you…"
"Hi," he said brightly, and thrust the flowers at her. "These are for you."
She took them automatically. "Thank you. But what…?"
"I said I'd pick you up at seven-thirty," he reminded her.
Yes, and moments ago he'd been lying on the couch, watching TV. Lois's head was starting to spin. "Let me just put these in some water…" she muttered.
When she came back from finding and filling a vase, he was still standing just inside the door, looking for all the world like he was a guest, and not someone who lived here.
Lois shook her head and plopped the flowers into the vase. Whatever he was playing at, it was obviously giving him a great deal of pleasure, to judge by his grin, so she'd just go along with it. She let him help her with her wrap and guide her out the door.
Dinner was elegant and excellent, and they followed that with a leisurely stroll in the park. Clark stiffened once and took on his listening pose, but relaxed after a moment so it couldn't have been anything too serious. When she pestered him about it, he acted as if he didn't know what she was talking about, so she finally gave up and just concentrated on enjoying the evening.
She was relaxed and happy as they climbed the steps to their front door. Clark let her unlock the front door and disarm the alarm, but made no move to follow when she stepped inside. Surprised, she turned to look at him.
"I had a really good time tonight, Lois," he said seriously. "I'd like to do it again sometime."
"Well… sure," she stammered, confused again. He was acting like this was merely a date, and not an evening out with his very own wife.
He reinforced that by shoving his hands into his pockets and nodding at her. "Go on," he said. "I'll wait until you've locked up."
Leaving him on the outside. Right. More deeply mystified than ever, she secured the front door and set the alarm.
She wasn't afraid to go inside — she'd seen Clark slip his glasses down as they came up the stairs, and knew he'd scanned the house. And anyway, he was just outside and would be here in an instant if she shouted.
But no… he was already in the living room, lounging on the couch in the same t-shirt and shorts he'd been wearing earlier. He looked at her when she came in. "Have a nice time on your date?"
He was definitely playing some sort of game. Well, she could do that, too. "Yes," she answered breezily. "It was lovely. I hope he asks me out again."
That seemed to flummox him, and she swept up the stairs before he could find his voice.
Their next "date" was to a movie, followed by dessert and coffee. Again, Clark waited on the steps for her to get inside, and managed to be waiting for her after she locked up. She was figuring out this game, and even having fun with it. "Date" Clark wasn't her husband. He wasn't even Superman. Or rather he was — the fifteen minutes it had taken him to visit the men's room halfway through the movie told her that — but he pretended she didn't know his secret. It was kind of fun to watch him fumble for an excuse, since she knew what was going on. The Clark at work was brisk and business-like, but didn't hesitate to touch her hand or arm if he though she needed a moment's tenderness. At home — he was like a brother. Friendly, affectionate, teasing, always loving… but careful not to crowd her, or make her feel pressured. He never tried to kiss her, only hugged her when she invited it. In bed, he accepted whatever contact she initiated, and never asked for more.
For all this, she was intensely grateful. Knowing he wouldn't push made it easier for her to be natural with him, to touch him and even flirt a little.
The Clark she saw on their "dates" was different. He was clearly interested in her as a woman — but he behaved as if they were in the very early stages of a relationship, so there was no pressure there, either.
After their third "date," an evening at a tiny club, listening to jazz music, she invited him inside.
"Well… sure," he answered, after the slightest hesitation.
She wondered if she'd gotten the game wrong somehow, but he waited patiently while she unlocked the door and disarmed the alarm, then let her usher him inside. "Could I get you something to drink?" she asked, finally, when it became clear he was going to behave as if he'd never been inside the house before.
"Sure," he answered, but he didn't accompany her to the kitchen. When she came back with coffee, he was perched on the edge of the couch, just waiting.
"You could have made yourself comfortable," she chided him, teasing.
His grin was sheepish, and he settled back and accepted the steaming cup she offered. She sat beside him, keeping a decorous distance, and sipped her coffee.
The conversation was stilted at first, but gradually they relaxed and spent an easy half-hour talking about the book, a political expose, which Lois was reading. It seemed too soon when Clark put his cup down and got to his feet.
"I should be going," he said.
She walked him to the door. He turned on the step and looked at her. "Thanks for the coffee."
She smiled. "Any time."
He grinned. "Yeah? I'll remember that." His expression softened and sobered, and his gaze dropped briefly to her lips.
Her heart began to thunder even before he leaned toward her, but whether it was excitement or fear, she couldn't have said. He drifted slowly — if she'd wanted to move away, she could have. But it was anticipation drumming in her ears. His lips touched hers, brushing the lightest of kisses across them, and then he stepped back, giving her space. She lifted her hands, wanting him close again, but he was moving away. He paused halfway down the steps. "I'll call you, okay?"
"Okay," she replied, her voice constricted by the tightness in her throat. "Good night."
As he walked away, he was whistling.
Smiling, she went into the house and locked up.
She was beginning to tidy away the coffee cups when Clark came down the stairs. She was amused to see that the book in his hand was the very one they'd been discussing only minutes earlier.
"Hey," he greeted, his tone casual. "How was your date?"
"Pretty good," she answered, working to stay just as offhand. "How was your evening?"
"Pretty good," he said, echoing her.
By the rules of the game, she should have moved on then, carrying the cups to the kitchen.
But she didn't. Instead, she paused, fixed to the spot, looking at the man who was her husband. Her husband, her suitor, her best friend.
He stood halfway down the stairs, book in hand, and watched her.
Something warm and wrenching rose up inside of her, almost choking her with its intensity, and compelled her to give it voice. "I love you, Clark." It came out quietly, but she could see he felt the power of it.
"I know," he answered, just as quietly. "I love you, too."
At the next victim's support meeting — she still had research to do, after all — she mentioned the "dates," and was surprised at the response. The other women were charmed by the idea. The group's leader, Nancy, whose own attack had taken place more than ten years earlier, and who was now the most centered, focused woman Lois had ever known, with the possible exception of Martha Kent, gave a beatific smile. "I think that's wonderful," she said. "He's courting you! And giving you a chance to explore your sexual feelings without any pressure or expectations."
That was true, Lois thought wonderingly. That was what was different about the kiss on the steps that night. She'd known, absolutely, that when the kiss was over, Clark would walk away. A kiss was all there was going to be, and she could let herself enjoy that. And she had enjoyed it. Very much.
She found herself looking forward with more than the usual anticipation to their next "date."
Clark had no idea where the idea to date his wife had come from. It was born, he knew, of her admission that her assailant hadn't kissed her, that she froze up because kissing was only a prelude. He'd thought about that for a long time, wondering how he could make her feel safe, make her know, make her instincts know, that it was safe. That he was safe.
And then it had come to him, between one breath and the next. The memory of their first real date, and later, of their first real kiss. Close on that had come the flash- vision of himself, asking Lois out. Escorting her, being open and warm and friendly… and then saying goodnight on the front steps. How much safer could she get?
And it was working. He knew it was. He'd even caught the sparkle of anticipation in her eyes when she thought he was adopting his "date" persona. Not that it was always easy. He had to remember, always, to keep that little extra distance between them, and he did miss the old easy familiarity. But on their dates, Lois was relaxed and open, with none of the instinctive shielding he saw so often at home. He had his Lois back then. Anything was worth that.
A week after their third date, he came back from a late rescue to see Lois going up the steps. Support group meeting night, he reminded himself as he landed in some handy shadows and whirled into jeans and a flannel shirt. "Hey, Lois," he called, hurrying along the sidewalk. "Wait up!"
She paused at the head of the stairs and waited until he reached them, then opened the outer door and went through. He caught up with her on the far side of the tiny vestibule and held the door for her. He locked up and armed the security system while she hung up her coat.
"How was the meeting?"
She shrugged. "About like usual. I'm about done with my story, so I probably won't go back."
Uh-oh. That wasn't good. She'd continued with the meetings even after Martha returned to Smallville. Clark knew she'd been all but finished with her story about women as victims for a long time, and suspected she was delaying handing it over to Perry just so she'd have an excuse to continue with the meetings. And they were helping her. Talking with other women who'd been through the same ordeal was helping her. He hated to think of her quitting now, and losing that support.
"I thought you liked the meetings," he ventured.
"Well, you thought wrong," she answered sharply. "They were research, Clark," she went on, more calmly. "You know that. Just research."
She went upstairs, leaving him watching her and feeling bewildered.
Moving slowly, he double-checked all the locks on doors and windows, and turned out the lights. Lois was in the bathroom when he got upstairs — he could hear her in there moving around. He turned back the covers on the bed and started getting undressed while he waited his turn at the sink.
He was standing in front of the closet, unbuttoning his shirt, when he heard the bathroom door open. He glanced over his shoulder just to make sure Lois was all right.
Every nerve ending in his body sprang to attention. She was standing by the bed, wearing a gown which covered more than it revealed, but which emphasized every delicious curve, every enticing shadow. Even the swell of her pregnancy drew him.
He could smell perfume, the first she'd worn in months, and she was wearing cosmetics, too — not much, just enough to enhance and define. She took his breath away.
He was still trying to get it back, still trying to engage his brain when she came gliding across the carpet to stand before him.
"Let me help you with that," she murmured, her voice sultry, and she reached for his shirt.
Stunned and eager, he let her push the shirt from his shoulders, let her take his hand and lead him to the bed. He lay down beside her and put out a tentative hand. He ached to touch her, but he didn't want to scare her. He definitely didn't want to trigger a panic attack! Not now. Not when she was urging him on…
Her skin was silky under his palm. He ran his hand up her arm, down her side, over her hip and leg. Her scent was intoxicating, her touch dizzying. He buried his face in her hair, then pulled her closer and sought her mouth.
Only gradually did he realize that her responses were slow, that she seemed stiff in his arms, that she ended their kisses much sooner than usual. He forced his eager hands to stop, and held her a little away from him. "Lois? Are you okay?"
"Fine," she answered, but her voice sounded as rigid as her spine. "Keep going."
His body wanted nothing more, his instincts urged him on, but his love for her held him back. "No."
With effort he moved completely away from her, propped his head on his hand, and looked at her closely. "Lois, this isn't right. Why are you doing this?"
She edged closer. "I just want you to be…"
"No," he interrupted, afraid of what might happen if she came too close. "This isn't about me. It shouldn't be about me. This should be for you. And you're not ready."
"I am," she insisted, avoiding his anxious look. "I'm just… nervous. But I'm ready."
But he knew her too well, and now that desire wasn't clouding his reason, he could see all the signs that said otherwise.
"No," he answered simply. "You're not. What's going on? Why are you doing this?"
Her face crumpled and she began to cry.
At least he knew his part in this — he pulled her carefully close and cradled her head against his shoulder.
"There's this woman," she sobbed out breathlessly. "In my support group. Her name's Pat, she's nice and I like her. Her… her husband left her."
"Because she couldn't… she was like me. They're not all like this, you know, Clark. Some of them never had any trouble sleeping with their boyfriends or their husbands. They're okay with that. There are just a couple of us… me and Pat and Dina… we're the only ones who freeze up, and Dina's getting over it. But then Pat's husband left, and I got scared, and I thought if I could just…"
"Just what? Force yourself to do something that you're not ready for, something that frightens you, that would make everything okay?" Clark couldn't quite keep the indignation from his voice. Did she really think so little of him?
"I just thought… yeah. I guess so."
He moved her away from him, just enough so that he could look into her eyes. "Lois, you don't need to do that. You've been through a terrible ordeal, and it takes time to get over something like that. I want what's best for you, and if that means waiting, then we wait. I wait. For as long as it takes. Okay?"
She sniffled, but didn't answer.
"Got it?" he repeated, more insistently.
Finally, reluctantly, she nodded. "Okay."
He looked at her without speaking for a long moment. "I love you, Lois. That's not going to change."
She nodded again. "I know."
"You have to be patient "
Being patient wasn't something Lois was very good at, and she scowled.
"Okay! I'll be patient."
"Good. Now…" he swatted her lightly on the rear. "…do me a favor and change into one of those frumpy sweat suits you've been wearing to bed lately. Because this outfit's driving me crazy!"
As he'd hoped, she responded with laughter, tear-choked but genuine. "Hey! Who're you calling frumpy?"
A couple of days later, Clark disappeared just before lunch. He was gone nearly two hours, and Lois couldn't have said what it was that made her look up in time to see him, his expression grim, striding down the newsroom ramp toward her. He paused for an instant at her desk and looked as if he wanted to say something, but the words wouldn't come. He reached down, grasped her wrist in a hard grip, and pulled her to her feet.
Fighting down instinctive panic, she trotted in his wake. Something was terribly wrong, and Clark would never hurt her. She kept repeating it silently, like a mantra; it was just enough to keep panic at bay.
Clark dragged her into the conference room and slammed the door so hard the glass rattled. He faced her for a span of heartbeats, his gaze fixed on hers, and then pulled her into a fierce hug.
She took long, deliberate breaths, keeping herself calm. She couldn't free herself from his embrace anyway, not if he didn't let her go, and she didn't want to give in to the urge to struggle. Slowly the trapped feeling subsided. This was her husband, she loved him, and he obviously needed her.
As her heart slowed, she was able to make out the words he was muttering into her hair.
"Thank God," he said fervently. "Thank God you didn't fight him. I'm so glad you didn't fight him…" He repeated it, over and over.
She held on to him and let him ramble, until finally he was calm enough to let her go. She stepped back just far enough to look into his eyes. "Clark, what is it? What happened?"
His voice shook. "Him."
Involuntarily she stiffened.
"There was another assault," Clark went on, blindly. "I was flying back from… I heard her crying… he'd already left. I… she'd tried to resist. Tried to fight him off. He beat her… I transported her to the hospital. She lapsed into a coma on the way. The doctors… they don't know how bad it is. They don't know if she'll be all right. And all I could think was how glad I was that you didn't try to fight him. It could have been you…"
He pulled her close again, burying his face in her hair.
And Lois felt a weight she hadn't known she'd been carrying lift from her shoulders. He didn't blame her. Of course, he'd never, by slightest word or deed, indicated he did, but still it had gnawed at her. Should she have put up more of a fight? Struggled with him there in the entry, maybe, before he was even in the house? Or on the stairs? Maybe she could have put him off balance, overpowered him.
But he'd been careful to keep her close to him, she remembered. His grip was hard and practiced. She'd made the decision to wait for her moment, and when it came, outside the bedroom door, she'd taken it. And he'd parried her kick easily, and punished her for it.
It was after that, dazed and bruised, that she'd decided — she could remember deciding — not to struggle any more. The cold, flat look in the man's eyes had frightened her, enough so that she let him do what he wanted.
Let him. And wondered, ever since, if Clark knew. If he blamed her.
"If I find him…" Clark's voice broke, not with tears, but with fury, and she stepped back to look at him. "If I can just get my hands on him…"
She hadn't realized he was so angry. Or rather she had, but she'd wondered if some of his anger was for her. Now she knew it wasn't. None of it. It was all for him — the man who'd forced his way into their house and stolen her belief in herself.
Superman in a rage could be deadly, and Lois began to think it would be better if the police, and not the superhero, found her assailant first. Much as she wanted the man arrested, tried for his crimes, and incarcerated for the next four or five hundred years — preferably in a dank, smelly, rat-infested dungeon — she suddenly wanted Clark nowhere near when it happened.
The morning headlines blared the news that the man now known as the Switchblade Rapist had struck again. His victim count was up to eight. Six of the women had been surprised as they entered their homes. The other two had been home alone; in both of those cases, the assailant had entered by means of an open window. The victims ranged in age from nineteen to fifty-three. All had been threatened with a knife, and seven of them had been struck, usually in the face, with a closed fist. The level of violence had increased with each attack, and the most recent victim, a forty-three year old mother of two, was hospitalized in a coma. The doctors were guarded about her chances for recovery.
The police recommended precautions, asking women to leave a light on if they were going to be getting home after dark, reminding them to make sure they locked doors and didn't leave windows open.
The people were growing angry. "Why can't our police catch this man?" one irate letter to the Daily Planet's editor asked. "And where's Superman?"
Superman was doing his best, Lois knew. The public unrest was getting to him, too, and he was spending more time in the air, circling the city, all senses attuned to pick up the slightest cue. He often slipped out of the house after she was asleep, and sometimes didn't get home until just before daybreak. He disappeared from the Planet for hours at a time, too, leaving her to cover for him. Not that this was unusual, but it was more frequent now, and too often there were no headlines later, explaining where he'd been.
She woke early on a Saturday morning to find Clark's side of the bed empty and cold. Again.
She sighed, and settled back into her pillows. She tried to understand — he was doing it, or thought he was, for her. But pregnancy was making her back ache, and morning sickness, which in her case presented itself as mild nausea which lasted all day, was making her cranky. It was making her petulant, too, and she wanted her husband home with her. If he were here, she could snuggle up against him and go back to sleep.
Deep inside the small mound of her belly, something fluttered.
Her eyes came open in shock, and she put an instinctive hand on the place where she'd felt it, willing it to come again.
Long seconds passed… and then she felt it again, soft and delicate as a butterfly's wings. But she *had* felt it, she was sure she had. She held her breath, waiting.
Startled, she looked toward the bedroom door. Clark stood there in sleep shorts and rumpled t-shirt, looking concerned. So maybe he hadn't been out flying around, after all.
"Is something wrong?"
She shook her head, shifting her focus back to her own body. She felt like she was glowing. "Not wrong. Not wrong at all."
A small frown puckered his forehead. "What do you look so stern for, then?"
"Do I look…? I guess it's because I'm concentrating."
"On…" he prompted.
"Clark. I think… I'm almost sure… I felt the baby move!"
His face lit up the way she suspected hers had. "Really? Just now?"
"Just now," she confirmed. "While I was lying here thinking about getting up."
That made him grin. He knew how much time she'd been spending, recent mornings, thinking about getting up instead of actually doing so. He came around the bed and perched gently on the edge. "Can I…?" His open palm hovered over her midriff.
"I'm not sure you'll feel anything. I barely felt it myself. But sure, right here…" She positioned his hand right over the spot where she'd felt the elusive flutter.
The warmth of his bare skin against hers made her throat tighten. But not in the instinctive fear. This was warm, and wanting, and she held his hand harder in both of hers, pressing it into her flesh. His expression was one of hope, of expectation — it was clear he had no idea what he was doing to her, inside.
The flutter came again, and she gasped. "Did you feel that?"
The disappointment on his face gave her the answer even before the slow shake of his head.
She almost cried out when he took his hand away, but swallowed instead and said, "I'm sorry. It's just so soft and feathery. Maybe in a week or two…"
He nodded, and the look of expectation came back. "Yeah. Probably when the baby's a little bigger, and stronger."
It was real now. It wasn't just morning sickness, slacks that wouldn't button, and dresses that wouldn't hang right. It was a baby.
A real, living, moving, growing baby.
Her sudden anxiety must have shown on her face.
"Lois, what is it? What's wrong?"
"It's real." The words burst from her on a wave of astonishment.
"Yeah," he answered, clearly uncertain whether he was supposed to be questioning or reassuring.
"I mean… I knew it was, but it's been sort of abstract. But this… it's *real*."
As her meaning sank in, he began to smile. "Yeah, it is. Pretty miraculous, huh?"
She grinned back, relaxing. "Pretty miraculous. Yeah."
That evening was another of their "dates." Clark had surprised her with tickets to a community theater production of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance". She was a little uncertain going in — she'd heard of Gilbert & Sullivan, but had never seen an actual performance, and wasn't sure how she'd like it.
She loved it. Even at the community theater level, the acting was decent and the singing voices strong and clear. She couldn't understand all the words in the major- general's song, but it went so fast, she wasn't sure she was supposed to. The dancing was lively and made up in energy what some of the actors lacked in skill; her favorite was a song and dance in the second act, called, according to the program, "With Catlike Tread." The actors were clearly having a fine time stalking their way across the stage brandishing their swords. She and Clark talked about the play all the way home.
"You want to come in for a while?" she invited when they reached the house.
His hesitation was mostly for show, she suspected. "Sure," he said, and followed her in.
When she came back with drinks, he'd turned on the TV and was just setting down the remote control. "'True Lies,'" he said, pointing to the screen. "It's just starting."
"Great," she answered breezily. "Action-adventure and comedy. Who could ask for more?" She settled on the couch beside him to watch the movie.
After a while, Clark stretched elaborately and eased a little closer. His arm came to rest on the back of the couch, behind her shoulders.
She didn't move and didn't look his way, but inside, she felt like she was vibrating. She was so aware of his arm, mere millimeters behind her, that she imagined she could feel its warmth.
Just when the tension seemed unbearable, Clark stretched again. When he settled, his thigh was pressed firmly against hers, and his arm had shifted so that it lay, close and warm, across her shoulders. She couldn't help it — she turned to look at him. He was looking back at her, his expression deep and inscrutable.
It happened without thought — she lifted her chin ever so slightly, in silent signal. Clark responded so slowly she thought she might explode from anticipation, drawing her toward him and leaning in until he met her lips with his own.
She didn't know how long the kiss lasted, but it was too short. She heard herself whimper, ever so softly, when he pulled away. The look he gave her was long and deep. She could feel his heart pounding in his chest; its thunder nearly matched her own.
And then he eased away from her. "I think… I'd better be going."
Her body clamored for another kiss, for the touch of his hands, and the warmth of his scent. But as she drew breath to plead with him to stay, her imagination leaped forward. Touching, kissing… these led to other things. Things which made her throat tighten, and her heart pound in a way that wasn't pleasant at all. "All right," she said instead, and got up to walk him to the door.
There he paused, turning back to face her. "I had a really good time tonight, Lois," he said softly. "A really good time."
"Yes," she answered. "So did I."
His goodnight kiss held more promise than passion, and she watched him go with a blend of longing and relief.
To her surprise, he wasn't inside waiting for her, as he usually was. She wondered wryly if he'd had to take a detour to the North Pole, for a super-version of a cold shower.
While they'd been saying goodbye, the movie had ended, and the late news was just starting. For once, Lois couldn't summon any interest, and moved to turn the TV off. She paused with her hand on the remote, then let it drop into her lap as she sank onto the edge of the couch. There'd been a passenger train wreck near Detroit. Superman, an eager reporter confirmed, had just arrived to help.
Her heart sank. He'd be hours on the scene. He wouldn't leave until he was certain every survivor had been removed from the wreckage, and even then he might stay to help with the horrific task of extracting the dead.
Disappointed, and annoyed with herself for that disappointment, she went to bed alone and fell into an uneasy sleep, waking at every creak and groan the old house made. And then, finally, fatigue overcame nerves and she slept deeply.
Dreaming. She knew she was dreaming, but she couldn't break free of it, couldn't stop herself from plunging straight into horror.
It began innocuously enough — she was at the hospital, giving birth in a Disney-like setting, with no pain and no unpleasantness. Clark was there, beaming with pride as a white-capped nurse (nurses never wore those caps anymore, did they? So she *must* be dreaming!) brought to them a small, blanket-wrapped bundle.
"A little boy," she announced, with a seraphic smile, and placed the baby in Lois's arms.
She looked down… into the seamed, angry face of her rapist.
She screamed and screamed… and woke trembling and drenched with sweat.
"Lois? Honey?" Clark leaned anxiously toward her, careful not to touch. "Lois, wake up."
"…awake…" she mumbled, heart pounding. "I'm awake. Clark, hold me."
He slipped his arms around her carefully, slowly, and pulled her to his chest. She rested her head there, just above his heart, and tried to think of anything but the dream.
"I thought I was past that," she raged, the next morning. "I thought I was past worrying about who the baby's biological father was. I was looking forward to it being born, and loving it, and… Clark, what if the baby looks like him?"
"It's not going to look like anybody at first," he said placidly. "Babies don't, usually. The ones I've seen have been sort of red and squished."
"But when it gets older. It's going to look like *somebody*."
"It might look like you," he answered reasonably. "It might look a little bit like Lucy, or like your parents."
"Oh, please, don't let it have Daddy's ears!"
He smiled at the forced joke. "It was just a bad dream, honey. Your subconscious getting rid of a fear that wasn't really rational to begin with."
"I guess so." She sank down on the side of the bed with a sigh. "I thought I was past the nightmares, too."
He put a cautious arm around her shoulders and she let him draw her to his side. "It might be a long time before you're past the nightmares," he said softly. "You know that, don't you?"
She leaned her head against his shoulder and nodded. "I guess so. I keep thinking I'm over it, and then something else crops up."
"You'll get past this, Lois. I know you. I know how strong you are, and I know you can do this. It's just going to take some time."
And she'd have to let it out of its box and look at it, they'd said at the support group. She couldn't keep pushing it away, the memories and the fears they evoked. She needed to face them, over and over, if necessary, until they'd lost the power to paralyze her.
And despite everything Clark said, everything he believed about her, she wasn't sure she was going to be able to do that.
She almost walked in on him. She'd thought herself alone in the house, and was at the bedroom's threshold when she realized Clark was home. He lay on their bed, head thrown back and eyes closed. He wore only a shirt, open down the front; his trousers and jacket were draped over the arm of a nearby chair. His hand…
She poised in the doorway, seized by a fierce wave of desire. He was so beautiful, and it would be so easy, so natural, to go in and join him on the bed. She longed to touch him, to replace his hand with hers… but then he would touch her, too, and the thought of his hands…
She stayed there, frozen between fear and wanting, until suddenly he arched and let out a soft moan. She retreated then, in shame and frustration and helpless dread.
When Clark came downstairs some fifteen minutes later, she was in the kitchen, attacking the oven with fury.
"Hey, I didn't know you were home," he said.
Of course he didn't. His super-hearing didn't seem to work during passionate interludes with her — she wondered why it surprised her to think it didn't work when he was by himself, either. Concentration, she supposed grumpily.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" she snapped. "Cleaning the oven."
She could feel him watching her.
"Honey, is something wrong?"
"No." It came out as a grunt as she scrubbed viciously at something which had spilled over on the oven floor. "I'm fine. Everything's fine."
"No, it's not."
"Yes, it is, Clark, why would you say it isn't?" She sat back and glared at him.
He pulled a kitchen chair around and straddled it. "Because we have a self-cleaning oven. And I'm the one who always cleans it."
"So? Does that mean I can't do it once in a while? It's my oven, too."
"I know it is… honey, please? Stop for a minute. Talk to me."
As suddenly as it had come, all the fight went out of her. She sank back on her heels, let the soapy steel wool pad drop from her fingers, and stripped off the rubber gloves. "I got home a little while ago," she whispered. "I went upstairs… you were… you… I saw you."
"Oh." He paused, seeming to gather his thoughts. "I guess that wasn't exactly what you were expecting to see."
She shook her head. She couldn't bring herself to look at him.
"Honey." He stood, and held out his hand. "Lois?"
She was so confused about what to feel, what to do. But he was patient, and finally she put her hand in his and let him pull her close.
"Come here," he murmured, and drew her into his lap.
She perched uneasily on his knees; he eased her closer, until she lay against his chest, her head on his shoulder. Slowly, and with exquisite tenderness, he folded his arms around her.
His scent, warm and familiar, helped her resist the urge to go rigid in his embrace; gradually she relaxed.
"There you go," he said, encouraging. "Now, let's talk."
"Okay." Her voice came out muffled by his shirt, but she didn't move her head.
"Are you mad at me?"
Her headshake must have lacked conviction.
"Did it… upset you… that I was… doing that?"
She shook her head again.
"Not upset, exactly. I was… surprised."
"That you would… I didn't know you did that."
He let out a low laugh. "Honey, how do you think I made it to our wedding night? I may be the Man of Steel, but I'm not made of steel. But if it bothers you, I won't do it anymore."
"Anymore? You've done it… since… before?"
He hesitated. "A couple of times."
"But Clark… why? I mean…"
He was silent so long, she was afraid he wasn't going to answer. "Lois, this is going to be hard to explain. Please promise me you'll listen, and believe that everything I tell you, everything… is the truth."
That was scary. She swallowed. "Okay."
"What I said to you last week, all of it, is still true. It will always be true. I love you, and I want to be with you, and I'm not going anywhere just because we don't make love."
She nodded against his neck.
"But… I miss you, Lois. I miss kissing you, touching you… I miss holding you, like this. I miss making love with you. And so sometimes… well, it helps. A little. Makes it easier for me to be with you and not… I don't know, give into my urges, I guess."
She pressed her face harder against his shoulder. "Clark, I'm sorry. And ashamed…"
"Because I watched you. And part of me wanted, so much, to be with you. But I was scared. Of you, Clark, of you, when you've never done anything to hurt me."
He began to rock, gently. "Shh. That's not your fault. It's okay."
"I'm so tired of feeling this way! I want to do things, and then I just freeze up. I've always been able to do the things I want to do! Always! And now… it's like someone else has control of me, and I hate that! I want myself back. I do."
"I know. It'll happen. It just takes time."
"I'm sick of people telling me that," she answered fiercely. "I wish they'd just catch him. I think if they caught him, it would help. I don't know why I think that — I don't really think he's coming back here to hurt me again — but still, I think it would help. If they caught him. If I knew he was in jail."
"Turn that TV on!" Perry charged out of his office, waving his fist in the air. "Don't you people know there's a breaking news story?"
No one pointed out that Perry was the one with the police scanner in his office. Jimmy reached up and snapped on the newsroom television. It swelled to life, sound before picture. "…repeat, the man known as the Switchblade Rapist is believed to have been apprehended and is now in police custody."
Lois, having joined the group crowded around the screen, drew a quick, involuntary breath. Claustrophobia gripped her; panicked, she pushed back, trying to escape the tight knot of people.
The voice on the TV, accompanied now by a shot of the outside of the Metropolis Police Department's main headquarters, continued. "We're being told that Superman was responsible for the suspect's capture. He apparently…"
Panic over the sense of being trapped transformed itself swiftly into another kind of dread. Clark. What had he done?
The rational part of her mind struggled to remember that they were showing the police station, not a hospital, and the announcer had said the suspect was in custody, not that he was injured, or…
She bumped into someone broad and solid, started back, and looked up to see Clark, his expression grim.
Relief flooded her and she caught his hand and hauled him toward the conference room. Once inside, she swallowed down the remnants of her earlier panic and followed instinct by putting her arms around him. He leaned into her and dropped his head onto hers.
"I was on my way back from that hazmat spill," he said, before she asked. "I was flying over… and I heard a woman's… not a cry, exactly, but a sound of alarm, cut off. I focused in on it and I heard this man saying, "Do what I say, do exactly what I say, and you won't get hurt."
Even though Clark's delivery was monotone, the words had the power to send a frisson of terror down Lois's spine. She struggled to suppress it.
He lifted his head and looked at her. "I knew it was him. I was down there before he could say another word. He didn't have time to hurt her. He didn't have time for anything."
"I was afraid, when you found him, you'd…"
"I wanted to. Part of me wanted to just pick him up and break him in half for what he did to you. For what he did to all those other women, but especially what he did to you."
She swallowed, her mouth and throat painfully dry. "But you didn't."
He shook his head. "I took him to the police pretty fast, though. I wasn't sure how long my resolve would last."
She hoped the flight had been swift enough to terrify the passenger.
There was a soft knock on the conference room door, and then Jimmy stuck his head in. "Lois? There's a Detective Mears on the phone for you."
She looked at Clark, stricken. She'd forgotten that as one of the victims — she hated that word — she was also a witness against the man who'd just been apprehended.
Clark gave her a look — the one of pride and confidence — that said she could do anything. She squared her shoulders. "Thanks, Jimmy," she said. "I'll be right out."
Detective Mears met them at the precinct's front desk and escorted them back through a maze of corridors. Lois clutched Clark's hand as the detective brought them into a short, dead-end hallway. Two men, one in police uniform and the other in a dark suit, waited with an older woman in a stylish business outfit. Mears made quick introductions: Sgt. Trawney would be conducting the lineup, Doug Asherton was from the District Attorney's office, and Brenda Rhodes was the suspect's attorney.
Lois arrested her motion to shake Ms. Rhodes's hand and stared. Never in a million years did she think she'd be facing a female defense attorney.
Ms. Rhodes's eyebrows rose just a fraction as she looked pointedly at Lois's hand which was not extended far enough to shake.
That was enough to jar Lois into speech. "Do you know what your client is accused of?" she demanded.
Rhodes's eyebrows rose even higher. "Of course," she answered.
"You're a woman… you can stand there and defend him?"
"He's entitled to a defense," Rhodes answered coolly. "I'm one of the best."
Lois knew that. Brenda Rhodes was legend around Metropolis courtrooms. But the idea that a woman — any woman — could defend a rapist astounded her. She shook her head a little to clear it — she needed to focus now, and thinking about Brenda Rhodes would only distract her. She drew her hand back and groped for Clark; his fingers slid between hers, warm and comforting.
"Are you ready?" Detective Mears asked gently.
Lois took a deep breath, squeezed Clark's hand once for strength, and nodded.
"Clark can come in, if you want him to," the detective offered. "As long as he doesn't say anything."
She shot Clark a look. She wanted nothing more than to have him there, by her side, as she looked into the eyes of the man whose face had haunted her dreams for so many weeks.
But they'd talked about it in the car on the way over.
"I want to be there for you," he'd said. "With you. Every step of the way. But I'm the one who captured him. You know me so well… even if I tried not to, I might give it away somehow. I don't want your identification to be tainted, even if it's just in your own mind. I want you to be sure."
She'd nodded agreement; it made sense. She wanted to be sure, as well. Her deep, secret longing for vengeance wouldn't be satisfied if they put away the wrong man.
"Clark will wait outside," she answered, and let go of his hand.
If Detective Mears was surprised, she didn't show it, but still, Lois felt the need to explain. She didn't want Mears — or either of the attorneys, or even Sgt. Trawney — to believe for one second that Clark wasn't as supportive as he possibly could be.
"He wants to," she hastened to say. "He does, but…" Inspiration struck out of the clear blue — they hadn't discussed this at all. "He was here, earlier. In the precinct. When Superman brought… him… in."
"So he's seen him. He knows what he looks like."
She looked at Clark, who nodded agreement.
"Yes," he confirmed grimly. "I did see him."
"How do we know," Brenda Rhodes said sharply, "that your husband didn't prime you with information about my client's appearance?"
Lois felt herself swelling with righteous fury. "Clark wouldn't do that," she spat. "He has *integrity*."
"I didn't say anything to Lois about the man I saw, except to say I saw him," Clark added, his voice tight. "I wouldn't want to influence her in any way. I want the monster who assaulted her locked up — incriminating the wrong man wouldn't do that."
Ms. Rhodes studied him intently, then gave a brief nod. "I'm familiar with your reputation, Mr. Kent," she said tersely. "I'll accept your word on the subject… for now."
Sgt. Trawney led them into a small, dim room. Detective Mears seemed to know how unsettled Lois felt, and stayed close by. The two attorneys stepped to either side, and Sgt. Trawney manned a panel in the corner.
Lois turned to give Clark one last, desperate look before the door closed, shutting him out.
"Ms. Lane." Sergeant Trawney was speaking.
Reluctantly she dragged her attention from the closed door. "Yes."
"I'm going to explain how a lineup works," he began.
"You're going to bring in a number of men matching the general physical description of the suspect, they'll line up out there," Lois pointed to the room on the other side of the glass, "they can't see in here but we can see them. I know. I've done lineups before."
Brenda Rhodes eyed her narrowly. "You've been a victim before."
Victim. She hated that word. "No," she answered crisply. "But I've been a witness."
Doug Asherton moved smoothly between them. "If you know the procedure, then I'd say we can go ahead," he said easily.
Lois nodded tightly and looked through the window. She tried hard not to wish Clark was beside her, holding her hand.
On the far side of the one-way glass, a door opened. A uniformed police officer entered, followed by eight men, all blond. A few of them were bearded, some were clean- shaven, and a couple sported only mustaches.
She hadn't known her heart could pound so hard. Clark must be hearing it, and worrying about her. The stress couldn't be good for the baby, either. She unclenched her fists and took a couple of slow, deliberate breaths. It helped a little.
Determined, she studied the faces of each of the men. She'd thought her assailant's face was indelibly etched in her memory, but suddenly, looking at these men, she wasn't sure. They all looked the same.
No, not the same. Not quite. She could eliminate that guy on the end, for example. Number eight. His face was too narrow, his nose too long. Definitely not him. It wasn't number six, either. His eyes weren't right.
Number four… number four made her skin crawl, looking at him, and there was something about his forehead, the line of his jaw…
Uncertain, she looked at the others.
"Would you like to hear them speak?" Sergeant Trawney asked.
Doug Asherton shuffled some papers. "He said to you, 'Do what I say. Do only what I say'?"
She nodded, and swallowed hard against the memory the words evoked.
Asherton nodded to Trawney, who leaned into a microphone. "One at a time, beginning with number one: repeat these words…"
Lois listened numbly to the instructions, then focused on the men standing in line on the far side of the glass. Number one said the phrases. Number two. Number three.
When number four began to speak, she startled. "That's him," she hissed. "He's the one."
It was only when Asherton patted her hand that she realized she was gripping his forearm hard. She let go with effort, and gasped for air.
When number four spoke, his face changed, taking on the sneer she remembered so well. The inflection of his voice was the same, too, and the menace he put into the words.
"You're sure of your identification?" Sergeant Trawney asked. In the other room, the men continued to speak the words as instructed, but Trawney must have hit a switch to cut the intercom because no sound came through.
"Yes. That's him. Number four."
Trawney glanced at Brenda Rhodes. "Miss Rhodes?"
The attorney looked through the glass and nodded stonily. "All right."
"Thank you," Trawney said through the intercom to the uniformed officer in the other room. "You can go."
Detective Mears took Lois by the arm and escorted her outside. Clark waited, as she'd known he would. He looked even more harried and frazzled than she felt, and she went to him gratefully, letting him put his arms around her.
"You can go on home," Mears said. "I'm sure the D.A.'s office will be in touch when they need you."
"Thank you, Detective," Clark said, over Lois's head. He looked down, and addressed her softly. "What do you think, honey? The day's about over anyway."
Shaky and drained as she felt, Lois had no intention of going home to relax. Her memories had been well and truly stirred up by the lineup; what she needed was work, and lots of it, to take her mind off things. "No, Clark," she protested, pushing away from him. "I've still got to call the mayor's office on that tax thing, and…"
"All right." He sounded uncertain, though. "Whatever you…" He paused, and took on that familiar, far-seeing look.
She steeled herself, and was ready even before he looked at her with real apprehension. "I have to…"
"I know. It's okay, I'll be fine. Go."
"I wouldn't, except that it's a real…"
"I know," she repeated. Just because she didn't know the exact nature of the emergency didn't mean she didn't understand, from the way he was behaving, that there was one, and that it was serious. "Go on. I'll be fine."
"All right." He kissed her quickly and ducked into a nearby doorway. An instant later, she heard the familiar "whoosh" and felt a gust of displaced air.
"Hey!" Someone nearby grumbled as papers went flying.
Lois hitched the strap of her purse a little higher on her shoulder and headed for the exit.
Knowing her assailant — she was sure now it was him — was behind bars should have relieved some of the anxiety that had weighed on her for so many weeks. But it didn't. At the house, she still hesitated before going into the little vestibule, even though there'd been a lock on the outer door for months now, and the security system had been armed when she'd come up the stairs.
Once inside, she fought the urge to prowl the house until she couldn't stand it any longer, then made her rounds as quickly as possible, throwing open doors, checking closets, and peering under beds. Only when she was absolutely certain she was alone could she return to the living room to try to relax.
She turned the TV to an all-news station in hopes of learning what was keeping Clark, but the only mention of Superman was a report of how he'd rescued a disabled airliner earlier in the day — that must be what had called him away from the police station. But there was no word on what he might be doing now. Probably he was just dealing with a series of small events, that happened a lot. He'd be home as soon as he could.
Restless, she tidied the kitchen, though it didn't need much tidying, and tried to watch a movie on TV. But the plot was inane and she couldn't get interested in the characters. Finally she turned it off, double-checked to be sure the house was secured, and went to bed.
She'd intended to wait up for Clark, but somehow drifted off to sleep before he got home. When she woke, daylight streamed through the window and rumpled sheets showed where Clark had slept at least for a little while, but he was already gone again. This time the TV was more forthcoming — fog across a busy interstate highway coupled with impatient drivers unwilling to slow for conditions had led to a massive pile-up. Superman had just arrived on the scene and was helping to untangle the mess.
Lois sighed, bit back frustration, and went to take a shower. Clark still wasn't home by the time she was ready for work so she set her teeth and went in alone.
It was midday before Clark put in an appearance in the newsroom. He paused at her desk as he came in. "Hi, honey," he began. "Sorry, but…"
Irritation flared. Couldn't he see she was busy? She shook him off without taking eyes from her screen. "I can't talk to you right now, Clark, I'm on deadline. In a few minutes, okay?"
She sensed his bewilderment as he stepped away to his own desk, felt the quick, puzzled glances he threw her way, but she didn't acknowledge them. She couldn't have explained her own sense of pique — she knew he had responsibilities as Superman, and people might well have died if he hadn't been at the accident scene this morning, helping to free and sometimes even transport the injured. She knew that, understood it, and still there was this simmering resentment. She didn't understand it at all, and she couldn't seem to keep herself from snubbing him.
A little while later, Lois came back from a trip to the ladies' room — those were becoming more frequent as her pregnancy advanced — to find a single blush rose on her desk, with a note. "Dinner tomorrow?" it asked in a familiar hand. It was signed simply with the initial C.
A date. She could use a date about now. It might take her mind off… well, things. And she couldn't be mad at Clark with the prospect of a date. She sighed and looked around for him, but he was nowhere to be found.
"He mumbled something about a repairman he had to meet at the house, and took out of here a few minutes ago," Perry said, when she asked. "To tell the truth, I'm a little more worried about you. How're you holding up?"
Perry, of course, knew the significance of the arrest yesterday, knew why neither Lois nor Clark had been in the newsroom for most of yesterday afternoon. He also seemed to know not to come too close with his question, be too overt with his sympathy. As it was, she could feel emotion rising in her throat. "I'm fine," she answered brusquely.
But Perry'd known her too long to be deterred. "Are you really?" he pursued. "Because if you need some time off…"
"Later," she replied, cutting him off. "When the baby comes, I'll need a leave of absence then." And maybe, her little voice whispered, when the trial happens and I have to testify, but I won't think about that now.
"Lois, you know that's not…"
"Listen, Perry, I've got to go," she interrupted. "I just remembered I have to meet a source."
"What? What do you mean, you have to…"
"Sorry, no time to talk!" she tossed over her shoulder, grabbing up her coat and her purse. "If Clark comes back, tell him I'll see him at home."
She breezed out before he could stop her, and stood in the elevator shaking. All he'd wanted was to be supportive, so why did that upset her so much?
There was no source to be met, of course. That was only an excuse to get out of the newsroom. It had worked, but now she had to figure out what to do with the rest of her day. She could go home, but Clark wouldn't be there for a while and she didn't want to be there alone. She could go shopping — she and Clark still had nothing for the baby's room — but that didn't appeal, either.
She ended up in a quiet corner of Willie's, a small neighborhood diner where she and Clark often had lunch, nursing a cup of decaf and toying with the pastry she'd ordered to go with the coffee as she brooded.
It was dark when she finally reached home. Clark wasn't there. Switching the TV to LNN told her why. He was in India, helping with the disastrous results of an earthquake. Hundreds of people were dead, hundreds more trapped in collapsed buildings. It would be morning, she knew, before she could expect him home.
Her heart sank. She needed him. She wasn't sure why — she was a grown woman, after all, and had lived on her own for years before she and Clark were married, and she understood the enormity of the need he was filling in India. But still she wanted him here, with her. Somehow she knew having him here would help.
And then, irritated, she snapped off the TV and stomped into the kitchen. She was mad at Clark anyway, wasn't she? Or maybe not — she'd lost track. But she was mad at somebody. She yanked open the refrigerator door and scowled at the crowded interior. It had been much easier to decide what to eat when she'd lived on her own. Then the refrigerator rarely held more than one or two choices, but now, with Clark doing much of the shopping and the cooking, there was always plenty. Leftover Chinese carryout, some spaghetti from a meal Clark had prepared earlier in the week, abundant sandwich fixings. There was even some homemade soup she could take from the freezer and pop into the microwave.
In the end she opted for the Chinese — she had the oddest craving for vegetables. She was just taking the steaming carton from the microwave when the phone rang.
She almost didn't answer it, but Clark must have turned the answering machine off, because it just kept ringing. Finally she picked it up just to stop the din.
"H'lo?" she managed, around a mouthful of chicken with broccoli.
"Hi, Lois." Martha's voice, as always, was firm and pleasant. "We saw the news and thought you might be feeling a little lonely?"
Lois swallowed hastily. "Hi, Martha," she answered, cheered by the friendly voice. "It's sweet of you to think of me, but I'm fine. Really."
"We heard about the arrest yesterday." That was Jonathan's voice, deep and gentle. "So with Clark in India…"
"I'm fine," Lois repeated, a bit more insistently. "Really."
"Well, that's good to hear," Martha answered briskly. "So tell us, have you started on the baby's room yet?"
Lois sighed. "I was thinking about that today — no, we haven't bought a single thing yet for this baby, and I realized I have no idea what to get! I mean, a crib, right? A baby needs a place to sleep. But what kind is best? And do we need a cradle, or a bassinet? What about a high chair? And a car seat, I wouldn't let my baby ride in a car without one, but there are so many different kinds! And what about clothes? What do babies wear under those blankets they're wrapped in, anyway? And diapers? Do we want to do the easy thing, and use disposables, or be environmentally conscious and use cloth? And…"
"Lois, Lois!" Martha was laughing. In the background, Jonathan was chuckling quietly.
Lois took a deep breath. "Sorry. Sometimes I just get…"
"I know," Martha said sympathetically. "There are a lot of choices to make."
"And I never did this before, so I'm not sure what's best. I mean, I've been reading a lot but… Martha! Do you suppose you could come out some weekend — Clark would fly you — and we could go shopping for baby things? Jonathan could come too, of course."
"Oh, honey! I'm flattered to be asked, and of course I'd love to! But your mother lives right there in Metropolis. Won't her feelings be hurt if…"
Lois gripped the phone hard. "My mother… my mother doesn't know."
"Doesn't… about the baby?" Jonathan asked. "Or about…"
"About either one," Lois answered flatly. "I don't know how to tell her. 'By the way, Mother, I was assaulted a few months ago, and guess what?'"
"Now, Lois." Martha's voice was a combination of sympathy and firmness. "You have to let her know, about the baby at least. It's not as if she won't notice when she sees you next time!"
"I know." Lois had been feeling guilty about this very thing. "But it's so hard to bring it up…"
"Lois, of course it's your decision to make. But the longer you wait, the more hurt she's going to be. You don't have to tell her about the assault if you don't want to, she doesn't need to know about that. But she needs to know about the baby. I'm sure she'll be as happy as Martha and I are."
"I know, Jonathan. You're right. I know."
Clark had thought so too, although he'd only mentioned it once. Her conscience even chimed in, whenever it could get a thought in edgewise.
She chatted a bit longer with Martha and Jonathan, then ended the call. She kept the phone in her hand, though, glaring at it. And then finally she dialed.
"Hello, Mother? I was wondering if you'd like to go to lunch one day this week."
Ellen, as it happened, was free the very next day. It was with equal parts trepidation and determination that Lois entered the latest fashionable lunch bistro and looked around the crowded interior. Her mother, already seated near the big front window, waved to get her attention.
"Hello, Mother." Lois settled into the chair opposite.
"Hello, Lois!" Her mother was in an effusive mood. "I must say, I was surprised to get your invitation — you never seem to have time for me any more."
"Mother, let's don't…"
"All right, all right." Surprisingly, Ellen backed down easily. "You're looking a bit peaked, dear. You've put on a bit of weight, though, and it looks good on you."
She probably looked peaked because Clark never had come home last night. She'd arrived at the Planet this morning to find he'd been and gone, stopping only long enough to write an exclusive on Superman's rescue efforts in India. Superman, LNN had announced, was back in India again this morning, still helping with the rescue efforts.
And the weight… well, it was wonderful what they were doing with maternity clothes these days. She didn't have to settle for shapeless smocks. Her designer suit was cleverly cut to give room to her expanding abdomen without emphasizing it.
"You're right, Mother, I have been putting on some weight," she agreed, and took a sip of ice water. "Clark and I…" she hesitated, gathered her courage, and plunged on. "Clark and I are going to have a baby."
"Oh!" Ellen clapped hands to her cheeks, her expression wondrous. "A baby! Oh, Lois, that's wonderful! You were always so wrapped up in your career, and Lucy's so flighty, I wondered if I'd ever get to spoil a grandchild. Oh, you must be so happy!"
Lois tried to smile, to preserve her mother's belief, but there had been so much over the past few days — the arrest and subsequent lineup, the two sleepless nights, Clark's extended absence… she felt her smile crumpling, felt tears tightening her throat and prickling her eyes.
"Lois, what is it? What's wrong? Everything's all right with you and Clark, isn't it?" Her mother reached across the table and took Lois's hand in both of hers. "What can I do?"
Lois shook her head. "Nothing," she whispered, absurdly grateful for the offer. "Nothing. Clark and I are fine. It's…"
"Something's wrong. Tell me what's wrong." It was a plea, not a demand.
Lois struggled to maintain her composure. "Really, Mother, it's nothing. Hormones or something, maybe…"
"It's more than hormones," her mother said crisply. "But if you don't want to tell me…"
The old familiar pattern of rejection and hurt. Suddenly, Lois wanted to break that pattern. She wanted to tell it all, and have her mother comfort her the way she had when Lois was eight, and her best friend hadn't invited Lois to her birthday party. Ellen had been wonderfully understanding that day. They'd baked cookies together, and Lucy hadn't been allowed to help because she was too little. And afterwards the three of them — Lois had no idea where her father might have been that long-ago day — had sat around the kitchen table eating warm cookies and washing them down with cold milk. It had been such a wonderful afternoon, Lois almost didn't mind about missing the party.
Funny, usually when she thought back on her childhood, it was the bad times she remembered. Her mother drunk and demanding, her father distant or absent altogether. But there had been good times, too. And one thing Lois was sure of — her mother loved her.
"I'm not hungry," she blurted. "Mother, can we go somewhere and talk?"
"Of course." Ellen didn't fuss. She laid a bill on the table, picked up her coat and purse, and followed Lois out of the restaurant.
Lois led the way at a brisk pace. Ellen kept up with her, but still wasn't complaining or nagging. Eventually they came upon a small park, and Ellen laid a hand on Lois's arm. "Lois, honey. Why don't we sit on this nice bench in the sunshine, and you can tell me about whatever's troubling you. All right?"
It was a sensible suggestion, and the tone in which it was delivered reminded Lois of Martha. The smile she gave her mother was tinged with incredulity as she took a seat and wrapped her coat around her — not because it was cold, but because she was chilled from within. But the walk had steadied her, and she was able to face her mother calmly.
"Now," Ellen said briskly. "Why don't you tell me what's wrong? The baby? The pregnancy?"
"No! The baby's fine. The pregnancy is going fine, my doctor is very pleased. But… yes."
Her mother's eyebrows rose delicately. "Go on."
"About five months ago, I was attacked. In our house. He was waiting in the foyer, he had a knife, and…"
"Oh, my God." Ellen put a hand on Lois's arm and squeezed.
"I… we think Clark can't father children. He had some tests… and now…" Lois waved toward her expanding abdomen. "So…"
"You think the baby isn't Clark's?"
"But it might be. We were trying — we were on a schedule, I was taking my temperature, and anyway the tests he took weren't conclusive."
"Oh, Lois. I wish you'd told me." Ellen leaned forward and hugged her.
Lois laid her head on her mother's shoulder and let herself be soothed. It felt good.
"I was ashamed," she muttered, low.
"Oh, sweetheart! Never be ashamed. It wasn't anything you did or didn't do. I'm so glad he didn't hurt you any worse… wait, that black eye you had last fall…"
Lois straightened up and let out her breath in a long sigh.
"You didn't slip on wet leaves…"
"No," she admitted.
"Oh, Lois." There was compassion in Ellen's voice, rather than censure. "What you must have been through."
The unexpected understanding brought the tears again, and this time Lois let them fall. Ellen held her, and soothed her, until it was over.
"Better now?" she asked, when Lois finally reached into her purse for a tissue.
"A little." Lois swallowed a last sob. "I've been under some strain, I guess. And they finally caught the guy a couple of days ago — I had to go down to the police station and identify him — and that's been hard, too."
"Of course it has," Ellen agreed. "A couple of days ago? You mean…"
Lois nodded stiffly.
Ellen's hand tightened on hers. "Oh, Lois, he beat one of his victims — she's still in the hospital, you know…"
"That could have been you…"
"That's what Clark said," Lois admitted softly.
"Clark. How's he taking all this?"
"He's been wonderful. So worried about me, and so angry… not at me, but for me, you know?" At Ellen's nod she blundered on. "But he wants the baby. He says it's my baby, and he can love it because it's part of me. But really, I think he'll love it because it's a baby. Because it'll be little and helpless."
Ellen smiled. "Clark's sort of a pushover for small helpless things, isn't he?"
"Sort of," Lois agreed, smiling back. "I wouldn't have him any other way."
"Of course you wouldn't."
Now — right now, with her mother being so wonderfully understanding and compassionate, so totally focused on Lois's needs, rather than her own — now was the time to ask. "So… what I really called for, Mother, was to ask… how would you like to take an afternoon and help me shop for baby things? Because I don't have any idea what a baby needs…"
Ellen's face lit up and she was off. "Oh, Lois, what a wonderful idea! I know the most darling baby boutique down on 7th Street, all my friends buy things for their grandchildren there, they have the most darling clothes! Oh, do you know yet whether the baby's a girl or a boy? We could do the nursery all in pink and lavender if it's a girl, that would be precious, don't you think? For a boy…"
Lois smiled. This was the mother she knew — full of ideas and not listening to anyone. She tugged at Ellen's arm. "Come on, Mother. Let's go shopping."
Perry had been more than understanding about her unexpected afternoon off — he'd urged her to take even more time. "You've been under a lot of strain lately," he'd said. "Enjoy yourself."
Surprisingly, Lois had. They'd been to every children's shop in west Metropolis, and the back seat of the Jeep was piled high with bags and boxes of what her mother insisted were absolute necessities: fitted crib sheets and soft flannel receiving blankets; a full dozen impossibly tiny t- shirts — including one with the Superman logo brightly emblazoned on the chest; socks — not booties, her mother had instructed, because those were too easy to kick off; terrycloth sleepers, and a few long gowns that tied at the hem with drawstrings.
She'd bought a car seat after her mother had a long talk with the salesman about safety factors, and a molded infant carrier even though Ellen said she didn't really approve of the way parents were hauling their babies around in these carriers all the time now. Babies were meant to be cuddled," Ellen announced.
Lois privately thought the carrier looked like a convenient and safe place to park a sleeping baby when you weren't home and had other things to do, but kept her own counsel on that.
There was even a package of cloth diapers, purchased over Lois's faint protest that she and Clark hadn't actually decided what kind of diapers they were going to use.
"And when you do, you can lay in a supply," her mother answered briskly. "These are for you to put on your shoulder when you burp the baby."
"Why?" Lois's experience with babies consisted of glimpses of sweetly sleeping infants in strollers or carriers, and squalling brats from across a room.
Her mother had patiently explained about spitting up, which sounded absolutely disgusting, but Lois had added the diapers to the purchase pile anyway.
She shouldered into the house now, laden with packages, fumbling for the locks and security system, securing them again before struggling up the stairs and into the nursery- to-be.
She stood in the little room with its drab beige walls and smiled. She and Ellen had tentatively decided on cheery pale yellow walls with a border of seafoam green, pending Clark's approval, of course. But Lois knew Clark's taste was similar to hers, so she expected he would agree to their choice, just as she knew he'd love the charming crib and matching chest of drawers she and her mother had found today. She'd take him to see them this weekend, and if he liked them as much as she though he would, they'd buy them.
She stacked her purchases in a corner, pending the paint job and purchase of furniture, and wandered back toward the master bedroom, smiling. Who knew shopping for baby things could be so much fun? More, who knew shopping with her mother could be so enjoyable? And most of all, who knew that talking about the assault, even obliquely, would make her feel as if a weight had been lifted from her heart? Well, all right, she amended the thought, everyone at the support group had been telling her that for weeks. She just hadn't wanted to listen. Hadn't wanted to open up those terrifying memories. But they were right — it helped.
If she only knew where her husband was, the day would be perfect.
She turned on the TV, but LNN's coverage of the earthquake made no mention now of the Man of Steel, so apparently he'd completed his portion of the rescue efforts. She picked up the phone and called the Planet; Jimmy answered on the second ring.
"Daily Planet newsroom!"
"Hi, Jimmy, it's Lois. Is Clark there?"
"Um, no, Lois, he left about fifteen minutes ago."
So he'd been there, at least, which was good for the preservation of his job. "Did he say if he was coming home?"
"Um… well, actually, he sort of said something, um, maybe…"
"Come on, Jimmy, spit it out," she commanded.
"He said… you know, I might have heard him wrong, or something, there was lots going on and I was sort of distracted…"
Lois was losing patience. "What did he say?"
"He said he had a date." Jimmy said, all in a rush.
"Omigosh. I forgot."
"You forgot Clark had a date?" Jimmy sounded genuinely bewildered.
"Jimmy, you dolt. His date's with me!" She hung up and looked at the clock. His note of two days ago hadn't mentioned a time, but if their previous dinner dates were anything to go by, he'd be there to pick her up in fourteen minutes.
She changed clothes in record time, ran a brush through her hair, and was touching up her makeup when the doorbell rang.
She hurried down the stairs and only just remembered to peer through the peephole to confirm it was Clark before she disarmed the security system, snapped open the locks, and threw open the door.
It had been nearly two days since she'd actually seen him face to face, she realized. And then she'd been snappish and short-tempered. But here he was, on the steps, looking a bit tired but still smiling with all the charm and warmth she loved so much. "Hi," she whispered.
"Hi," he said back, still smiling. "Ready to go?"
"Sure, just let me get my purse."
He waited at the door while she grabbed her purse and coat, then helped her into the latter.
"Make sure you lock up," he reminded her, then offered his arm. "Do you mind walking? I made reservations at Giorgio's."
It was only a few blocks, and the evening air was brisk, but not too cold. "Walking sounds great," she answered.
"So… tell me about your day," he invited as they strolled.
She opened her mouth to do so — and just as quickly clamped it shut again. This was a date — and the Clark she dated wasn't her husband, wasn't Superman. She wasn't his wife, wasn't pregnant. It was a lovely game, and one she'd enjoyed, but now, for the first time, she felt a flicker of resentment. She wanted to be able to tell him everything about her afternoon with her mother, but if she did — it would spoil the game. And the game had been a refuge for her, a way to enjoy her husband's attentions without strain or fear intruding. She didn't want to risk losing that. "I spent the afternoon shopping with my mother," she said finally, briefly.
Surprise flared in his dark eyes. "Really? Did you have a good time?"
"Actually, yes, I did. I think we both did."
"That's nice." She could see that wasn't really what he wanted to say, but he must have suspected something, because he steered clear of the minefield. "You must have taken the afternoon off work, then."
"Yes, I called Perry and he was very understanding. I *have* been working pretty hard lately, you know."
"Yes, you have," he acknowledged with a grin. "I was sorry you weren't there, though."
"Did you work this afternoon?" She kept the tone of the question innocent — she wasn't supposed to know about his Superman persona when they were on a date.
"Yeah. I missed the morning, you know — had an appointment. I must have gotten to the office just after you'd left."
"Well," she said lightly, slipping her hand into his, "we're together now. That's what counts."
But over dinner, the slight awkwardness continued. She couldn't ask him what he'd been up to the past couple of days, couldn't offer any comfort for the horrors she knew he'd witnessed. Their talk was trivial and pointless, and she declined dessert just to get dinner over with more quickly.
She was glad when Clark didn't suggest, as he sometimes did, a visit to a club to listen to music or to dance. She wanted to go home. She wanted her husband, the man she could talk to about anything, beside her, so she could hold him if he needed to be held. So he could hold her.
Back at the house, she disarmed the security system and opened the door, then turned back to see Clark standing on the step just below her, looking expectant. "Would you… would you like to come in?"
She didn't want to invite him in, not as her "date". But it would have been rude not to, and she still felt bound by the rules of the game.
But once inside, she couldn't summon the energy to offer him something to drink. Instead, she sank down onto the couch and buried her face in her hands.
He was beside her immediately, his hand warm on her shoulder. "Lois? Are you all right?"
"I don't know. I don't…" She looked up and recognized the care and concern in his dark eyes. And suddenly, she saw a way out. If the Clark she dated knew everything Clark her husband did…
"Five months ago, I was attacked," she began. Her voice was low, and she had to fight hard to keep it from trembling. She told it all — not just the facts she had shared with the police and with her mother, but all of it. All the fear and humiliation, the revulsion and the nightmares. Even the moment when she had decided — she made sure he understood it was a conscious decision — to cooperate with her attacker. To do what he said. Because he was bigger than she was, and stronger. He had a knife. He was a vicious man who quite simply didn't care what happened to her because she didn't matter to him. She told about the shame, and the guilt. And because she couldn't bear to look at him while he listened, she kept her gaze fixed on her hands, clenched together on her knees to keep them from shaking.
When she finished, she looked up. Clark was perched on the edge of the coffee table, watching her. Silent tears made glistening tracks down his cheeks.
She put up one trembling hand and touched him. "Don't cry. It's not so bad, you don't need to…"
"Oh, Lois. All the things I tried to imagine, so I could empathize… I never knew."
All pretense was gone now — the game was gone. She didn't know if they would ever play it again. She didn't care. She didn't care about anything just now, except that Clark knew everything now, all the very worst, most degrading parts of it. Even…
"I don't think there was anything I could have done," she said firmly. She'd been over and over it in her head — as often as she tried to avoid the memories, they came rushing in, and she'd examined each moment minutely, looking for the way out, looking for the chance she'd missed. But she never found one. "I don't think I could have stopped him, or gotten away. He had some martial arts training — he knew how to counter the kick I threw. And he was so strong… I had to do what he said. If I hadn't, he'd have killed me."
"I know that. I've always known it."
Of course. He always had.
She had been the one who doubted. Who worried and wrestled and thought it must be her fault, somehow, that if only she'd done things differently…
But she hadn't. She understood that now, although she didn't quite know how the understanding came. She'd done the best she could, and she'd survived. None of it was her fault. Her mother had known that from the moment she'd told her. So had Perry, and Martha, and Jonathan. Clark had known, too.
What had scared Clark most of all, she realized in a rush of understanding, was her own natural disinclination to be told what to do. He'd known, all along, what a near thing it had been. Because she'd wanted to fight, to kick, to get away. Only the sheer brutality of her assailant had made her give in. But it had been close. Clark was probably the only person who knew her well enough to realize how close.
So of course he'd been terrified after the fact. She'd known that after he came to her in the newsroom that day, after Superman had transported the woman who'd been beaten. That woman was still in the hospital. But now, somehow, her understanding was on an entirely new level.
It was the breaking loose of all her long-held fears. Everything she'd locked up for so long had been jostled and unsettled by the arrest of her assailant, and by facing him in the lineup. That was what had moved her to tell her mother what had happened, after she'd decided not to. That was what had moved her to tell Clark everything — not just the clinical facts, which he'd already heard, but what had really happened, deep inside, to her, during and after the assault.
And suddenly she felt in control of herself, of her life, in a way she hadn't in five months. And somehow, the knowledge that she could never truly be safe merged with the fact that she had never truly been safe before, either. It was all right, or as all right as it ever could be. Because she was strong, and she wasn't going to be afraid any more.
"Take me upstairs, Clark," she whispered hoarsely. "Make love to me."
"I want you to," she insisted. "It'll be okay."
"I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to scare you."
"You won't. You never could. Please." It occurred to her that having him worry about her could be a double-edged sword. It also occurred to her just how long it had been since she and Clark had made love — desire flooded her body in a rush.
He studied her for just a moment, his gaze intense — and then seemed to accept what she had asked. He took her hands in both of his and gripped them firmly, pulling her to her feet.
His kiss was warm and gentle, giving her all the opportunity she needed to back out if she got scared.
But remarkably, there was not even a flicker of the panic she'd come to associate with any embrace. This was Clark, who knew all her secrets. She was safe with him.
Smiling, she seized his hand and pulled him toward the stairs.
"You weren't scared?"
Lois shook her head. "No."
"Clark," she mumbled, into his chest. "Stop."
"But I just want to…"
"Stop. Now. It was fine. It was fun. I wasn't scared even a little bit, and I'm so glad!" She rolled onto her back and stretched her arms up joyfully. "I was starting to think it was never going to happen."
Clark rolled onto his side and stroked her bare abdomen with the tips of his fingers. "Yeah, me, too," he said, but he was smiling. "I'm pretty glad to have you back. All of you. Even though," he hastened to add, "I would have been fine if you'd needed more time."
"I know that," she answered. "But I didn't, and… here we are."
"Yes," he agreed, and bent to nuzzle her neck. "Here we… hey! What was that?"
"That," she said smugly, "was the baby."
"Really? Wow." He spread his fingers and laid his palm gently on the swell of her belly. "Last time I tried this, I couldn't feel anything. Now it feels like he's trying to kick my hand off."
"Yeah, she got really strong really fast," she answered.
"She?" he asked, surprised.
"He?" she countered, with a challenging look.
He looked momentarily perplexed, then grinned. "Okay, you got me."
"Do you want a boy?"
He kissed her cheek. "I want a healthy baby. And for you to come through it okay."
"Yeah." She grinned at him. "That's what I want, too."
Lois woke the next morning feeling energized. It had been a perfect night — Clark hadn't had to leave even once to attend to superhero business. They hadn't actually slept very much — they'd lain together talking and touching and, yes, making love. But the lack of sleep wasn't bothering her this morning.
She steamed into the Planet office, booted up her computer, and opened the file on her battered and assaulted women story. She read through it rapidly, making minor changes here and there, but really, she couldn't think why she hadn't sent it to Perry before. It was a good story, sharp and hard-hitting. If it made some people uncomfortable — well, they *should* be disquieted. They should be upset. They should be mad, and they should agitate for change.
"Perry!" she shouted. "I'm sending you a story!"
"What?" Perry appeared in the doorway to his office. "What story, I haven't assigned you to any… Lois, if you've been out digging for stories in your condition, I'm going to…"
She finished saving the story and hit 'send'. "Just read it," she called. "And calm down, yelling's not good for your blood pressure!"
He retreated to his office muttering, slamming the door behind him.
"You really shouldn't bait him like that," Clark observed, setting a cup of decaf on her desk.
"Oh, why not?" she asked, grinning up at him. "A girl's got to have a little fun, doesn't she?"
"Seems to me you've had plenty of fun," he answered, mischief twinkling in his eyes.
"And plan to have a lot more in the near future," she agreed cheerfully. She would have teased him more, but just then Perry emerged from his office under a full head of steam.
"Lois!" he shouted. "Honey! You're back!" He charged across the newsroom waving a slender sheaf of papers. "This is a top-notch story — you've even got a human interest angle! It's going in the Sunday edition. Now — what are the chances you can get me a follow-up?"
"Perry," Clark protested. "She worked on that story for months. I don't think there's any material for a…"
But Lois had other ideas. "Sure, Perry. I'll see what I can do."
Lois attended the support group meeting that evening with only one purpose — to hand out copies of her story. "It's going to be in Sunday's paper," she explained. "And my editor's asked for a follow-up. The original story is pretty general — I have a couple of quotes from experts, but I don't have any actual survivors' stories in here. So what I'd like to do is, let you all read this, and then if you're comfortable talking to me… I wouldn't use your real names or other details that would identify you. But maybe if people really understood how traumatic and devastating this kind of attack can be…"
One woman was already shaking her head. "I couldn't. My husband doesn't even like thinking about what happened to me… he'd be furious."
"Lois would change it," one of the other women tried to explain. "So no one would know it was you."
"No, no. He's so upset about it anyway…"
Lois flashed back to her talk with Clark the evening before. He hated thinking about what had happened to her, too, but he'd listened. He'd paid attention to every word. And it had made so much difference.
Something of what she was thinking must have shown in her face, because Nancy, the group leader, was looking at her oddly.
"Lois?" she asked. "Has something happened?"
"Like what?" Lois did her best to act unknowing.
"Like a success? Because you've got this little smile. Come on, we share each other's woes, we ought to get to share in the triumphs, too! Even the little ones."
"Well…" Lois could feel her smile growing broader. "It wasn't exactly a little one. Last night — Clark and I talked. I told him everything that happened when… not just the clinical stuff, he knew all that already because he was there when the police talked to me, but everything. What I felt, what I did, what I thought. All of it."
"What did he say?" one of the women asked, breathlessly.
"He cried. And he was so wonderful and I am just so lucky to have a guy like him… and then we went upstairs and…"
Someone clapped hands. "You got past being afraid!"
"Yes." By now, her smile was ear-splitting.
They gave her a rousing round of applause.
"Lois, let me do up there."
Lois reached to daub paint in a high corner. "I'm *fine*, Clark. I can reach just… oops!" She overbalanced on the stepladder and swayed precariously.
Clark was by her side in an instant; she could have caught her balance, but decided it would be more fun to fall into his arms. The swipe of yellow she managed to put on his face was just a bonus.
She laughed at his scowl as he set her on her feet.
"I'm not kidding, Lois. You've got to be careful. What would have happened to you and to the baby if you'd fallen?"
"I only fell because you were there to catch me," she answered pertly. "And you're cute with paint on your cheek."
They were painting the nursery — or at least, they were supposed to be. But first Clark had to read the labels on the paint cans to be sure the fumes weren't toxic. ("It's latex, Clark. It'll be fine!" Lois had insisted, and of course she'd been right.) Then he kept trying to stop her from lifting, or reaching, or doing anything he deemed too strenuous. Which meant pretty much anything. It was a wonder he didn't think a loaded paintbrush was too heavy for her fragile state.
"You're supposed to be painting the closet," she charged. "Why aren't you painting the closet?"
"Burned out light bulb," he said sheepishly.
"You don't need a light bulb."
"No, but if we're going to keep some of the baby's things in there…"
"Right." She put her paintbrush into his hand. "You do the high corners, I'll get the bulb. Where do we keep the spare bulbs up here, anyway?" she called back over her shoulder as she went out.
The tone of his voice told her, before she fully comprehended the words. "The guest room."
She stopped. She hadn't actually stepped inside the guest room since that evening nearly six months ago.
"In the closet, on the shelf," Clark added. He'd come to the door of the nursery, and was watching her. "I can get one, if…"
She cut him off with a violent shake of her head. "No. I can do it." Resolute, she crossed the hallway and put her hand on the guest room's knob. It was as much the thought of Clark's eyes on her as her own determination that made her twist it and push the door open.
Someone had rearranged the furniture, moving the bed from the north wall to the east wall. Lois knew about the new curtains and bedspread, she'd picked those out herself, but she hadn't known that someone — Clark or Martha? — had replaced the bedside lamps. There was a new rug on the floor, too. The whole room looked different.
She took a deep breath and stepped inside, anticipating her own reaction.
But there was none. It was just a room. Homey, comfortable, pleasant. Just a room. Surprised but relieved, she crossed to the closet, opened it, and took the box of light bulbs down off the shelf. She extracted one bulb and put the box back, closed the closet, and returned to the door.
Clark was waiting there for her. "You okay?"
"Yeah." She turned to look over her shoulder. She still had no violent reaction, no sudden terror-filled flashback. "I'm good." She tossed the light bulb in his general direction, trusting his super-reflexes to catch it. "Come on, Super Dad, we've still got a nursery to paint."
Her follow-up piece on violence against women appeared a few days later, and was met with even more acclaim and approval than the original story.
"I smell a Kerth," Clark teased in the newsroom the next day, as she leafed through a stack of phone messages.
"I don't know if it's that good," she demurred, smiling. "But I'm pretty pleased."
"You should be," he told her, and was leaning in for a kiss when someone nearby cleared his throat.
"Excuse me? Lois Lane?"
Lois turned to look at the young police officer. "Yes?"
"I've been asked to give you this," he said, and handed over a white envelope. "And… this sounds stupid, but do you know how to get in touch with Superman? Because I have one of those for him, too, and I don't know how to deliver it."
"If you give it to me, I can see he gets it," Clark offered.
"Thank you, sir, but it has to be delivered to Superman personally. If you could ask him to come by the 16th Street station any time in the next couple of days?"
"Next time we see him, we'll pass the message along," Lois promised. The envelope in her hands was making her fingers itch to open it and find out what was inside.
The polite young officer thanked them and left; the elevator doors weren't all the way closed yet when Lois ripped her way into the envelope. She scanned its contents quickly, then let the paper drop onto her desk, her buoyant mood quashed.
Clark gave her a quizzical look and picked the paper up to read it. "You've been subpoenaed," he said aloud. "As a witness against…"
"Yes, I know," she said tartly, cutting him off. "I can read."
"I'm sorry. I know you're not looking forward to testifying."
Testifying. The mere thought of sitting in front of a roomful of strangers, telling what had happened that awful night, made her skin crawl and her mouth go dry. And yet, if she didn't tell — if the other women didn't tell — their attacker would go free. She'd undergo any torture to keep that from happening.
"Did you hear?" she said aloud, changing the subject. "Cheri Taylor woke up this morning."
Cheri Taylor was the woman who'd been beaten into unconsciousness by their mutual attacker, and who'd been in a coma ever since. Her name hadn't been released to the press, but Superman knew because he'd been the one to find and transport her to the hospital. And so of course Lois knew.
"She did? That's great."
She could hear the relief in his voice — he'd suffered over the memory of Cheri Taylor's limp body in his arms, wrestled with the knowledge he hadn't been in time to prevent her being hurt. Just as he'd wrestled with Lois's own attack.
"The first reports from the hospital are encouraging," she said. "Guess she won't have to worry about testifying, though."
"No, probably not," Clark agreed. "But Lois — I'm glad you're able to testify. I want this animal put away for a long, long time, and you can help to do that."
"Yeah," she agreed morosely. "I know."
Martha and Jonathan flew in for the trial. Much to Lois's surprise, her mother insisted on coming, too. They hadn't told her father about the attack.
"It would just upset him," Ellen said. "He'd be mad because it happened, and because there wasn't anything he could have done to prevent it, and it would just make him worried about you. Plus it would make him really, really grouchy. I don't need that, and neither do you."
Lois concurred with that evaluation. In truth, she wasn't really sure she wanted her mother and Martha and Jonathan in the courtroom when she testified. They all knew she'd been raped, but none of them knew the details, and she didn't want to tell them.
The person she wanted in the courtroom was Clark. He already knew it all — the worst, most degrading details — and she knew she could get through anything if she could look at him and feel his love. But Superman had been subpoenaed to testify, too, since he had been to several of the crime scenes, had transported one of the victims to the hospital, and had apprehended the defendant. He was scheduled to testify after all the victims — no, survivors, Lois reminded herself sternly. They weren't victims, they were survivors. Every last one of them.
He was scheduled to testify after, and couldn't be in the courtroom before his testimony. Clark Kent could, of course, but Clark's sense of honor wouldn't let him bend the rules. She knew he hated it — he wanted to be there, giving her all the support he could. But he would stand by his principles.
And so Lois sat in the wide, bustling hallway of the Municipal Courthouse without him, waiting to be summoned into Courtroom 9B. "I still don't understand why Clark can't be here," her mother complained. "Seems to me he'd want…"
"He does want to be here," Jonathan said patiently, going with the story they'd agreed on as the most plausible. "Lois doesn't want him."
"I don't," she agreed nervously.
"He's your husband," Ellen argued. "He should be giving you all the support…"
"He is!" Lois snapped. "Please, Mother. I don't want him in there. I don't want him hearing… it's bad enough knowing you'll be there, and Martha, and Jonathan."
"We can wait outside if you'd rather," Martha offered gently. "Whatever you want, that's what we'll do."
"No, I…" Lois struggled for words to explain. "I don't want you there, but I need you there even more. I know that doesn't make sense — "
"Of course it does," Martha answered. "You need the support more than you don't want us to know the details."
"That's it exactly," Lois agreed, grateful. "I just… I'm so scared. He's going to be in there…"
They knew his name now — John Patrick Talbert — but none of them ever used it. "It seems too humanizing, somehow," Martha had mused earlier. "Much easier to despise him when he's just 'him'."
"I don't have any trouble despising him as John Patrick Talbert," Clark had answered with rancor.
But Lois had heard Clark refer to her assailant other times, and he never used the man's name. She ascribed his use of it on this occasion to his resentment at not being able to be in the courtroom when she testified.
The District Attorney, who was trying this case herself, had warned it wouldn't be easy. "Brenda Rhodes will do everything she can to make you look bad," she'd said. "To make you look guilty."
So it would be tough in there. But all she had to do was tell the truth, as completely and concisely as she could. She was a writer, she told stories for a living. She could do this.
Her entire body tightened and the baby gave a convulsive jerk, probably in reaction. She made a conscious effort to relax.
"Deep breath, Lois," her mother murmured in one ear.
"Come on, honey, you can do this," Martha whispered in the other.
Lois took the suggested deep breath, centered herself, squeezed the comforting hands holding hers, and pushed awkwardly to her feet. Momentarily she hated the clumsiness of late pregnancy — just this moment she wanted to be slim and graceful and eminently self-assured.
"We'll be right there," Jonathan said encouragingly; evidently he misunderstood her slight hesitation.
"I know," she answered firmly, and swept into the courtroom.
She made her way up the wide center aisle with as much poise as she could muster, keeping her head high. The district attorney stood near the front, smiling at her. Lois avoided looking to the left, where her attacker would be seated. No point in seeing him before she absolutely had to.
And then, as she reached the witness stand and turned to face the packed courtroom, her glance moved involuntarily toward the defense table. She found him instantly, saw his slight sneer as he met her look — then saw his expression go swiftly startled as he took in her obviously pregnant form. An instant later the sneer was back, this time with and element of something else. Gloating, maybe?
Defiantly she lifted her chin and glared, stubborn pride not letting her look away first.
The bailiff, moving between them to administer the oath, broke the staredown.
She placed a hand on the Bible, affirmed her intention to tell the truth, and took her seat.
"Would you state your name for the record, please?" It was more a statement than a request, but the D.A. was clearly doing her best to be non-threatening.
"Lois Lane," she answered firmly.
"Are you sometimes known as Lois Kent? Or Lois Lane Kent?"
"Kent is my husband's name," she acknowledged. "But I seldom use it. I've always used my own name both professionally and privately." A small, observant part of her applauded the smooth way the attorney had slid the fact that she was married into testimony.
"We're not supposed to try rape victims anymore," the D.A. had said sourly, when she spoke to Lois about her testimony before the trial. "But the fact is, juries wonder if the women did something to provoke it. It's wrong, but there it is. So it helps to establish that you're married, you were entering your own house, you were conservatively dressed…"
Yes, it was wrong. But Lois did understand. She held hard onto her temper as she went through the rest of the ritual of establishing who she was and why she was there.
"Now," said the attorney. "Can you tell the court what happened to you on the evening of last October 24?"
Showtime. Lois swallowed hard and thought of Clark. Slowly and clearly she told her story. Not all of it — not the parts she had related only to Clark — but everything she had told the police, all the horrible, slimy, clinical details. Partway through, she happened to glance in the direction of her mother and Clark's parents, who had seats in the back of the courtroom. Her mother had a deathgrip on one of Jonathan's hands, her face was ghostly pale, and there were tears in her eyes. Martha was holding Jonathan's other hand, and looked equally grim. For his part, Jonathan looked like seething fury, and Lois had the quick startled thought that maybe he wasn't offering comfort to Ellen and Martha — maybe it was they who were holding him in place, keeping him from bulling his way to the front of the courtroom and breaking John Patrick Talbert clean in half.
It was a comforting image, and got her through the rest of her story.
The cross-examination was surprisingly easy — the defense attorney challenged her identification of her assailant, but didn't assail her character or whether or not the assault had actually happened — and soon Lois was walking out of the courtroom.
She could feel the defendant's gaze on her all the way, but she didn't look back even once.
"That wasn't so bad," she said, when she reached the corridor.
"Not so bad!" her mother expostulated. "That was the most horrendous thing I've ever…"
But the young assistant district attorney who'd walked them out was shaking his head. "No, she's right," he said. "It wasn't bad at all. They went easy on you, Miss Lane. Because you're… expecting. It would have looked bad to grill a pregnant woman, the jury wouldn't have liked it."
She hadn't thought about that.
She also, she realized with a start, hadn't thought even once about the possibility that this child she carried might be the result of the attack. It was her baby, hers and Clark's. Loved and wanted and waited for.
And then Clark was there, hurrying toward her from the end of the hall, wrapping his arms around her and holding her tight. "It's over, honey," he whispered. "It's over, and you don't ever have to face him again. I love you so much…"
The trial ended two weeks later. The jury convicted John Patrick Talbert on nine counts of aggravated sexual assault. The judge sentenced him to nine twenty-year sentences, to run consecutively. Even with time off for good behavior, he'd be in his nineties before he was eligible for parole.
Lois took her hands from her keyboard and shifted heavily in her chair. She was supposed to have started her maternity leave three days ago, as Perry and Clark kept reminding her. She just wanted to finish up her third and final piece on women and violence — this one a first person account. She'd disguised her name and identity, but it was her story. The last band-aid, Nancy joked, on her healing.
She'd planned to finish the story by lunchtime, but here it was, nearly three p.m., and she was still struggling with the final polish. She'd have had it done, she was sure, if only her back didn't ache so persistently, and she didn't keep having to go to the bathroom.
She was scowling at her monitor screen when Perry came out of his office.
"Lois! I thought I told you to go home!"
"You did," she answered, without taking her eyes off the screen. She changed a word and frowned at the result.
"You're still here," he observed gruffly.
"I'm almost done," she said, and moved a sentence to a different place in the paragraph.
"You are done," he replied, and unplugged her monitor.
"Perry!" she squealed, as her screen went dark. "I was just about…"
"Done, I know," he said. "You've been saying it for three days, so excuse me if I don't believe you any more. Jimmy!"
"Yeah, Chief?" Jimmy hurried over. He knew better than to ignore one of Perry's bellows.
"I want you to drive Lois home. And don't let her come back!"
"Um, sure, Chief. And just how…"
Perry stalked back into his office and slammed the door.
"…am I supposed to do that?" Jimmy finished.
Lois eyed the dangling monitor cord. If it didn't mean getting down on her hands and knees, she'd plug it back in. But hands and knees were pretty much impossible these days. "Jimmy," she started, her tone sweet.
But he wasn't having any of it. "No way," he answered firmly. "Perry'll have my head. Come on, Lois. Clark can finish up any polishing you need. You're not supposed to be here."
A half-dozen scathing replies came to mind, but the breath she drew to voice them never quite made it out. Her backache returned with a vengeance, this time sweeping forward to clutch at her belly, too.
"Lois? Are you okay?"
It was a full minute before she could answer him. "I think… where's Clark?"
"At the courthouse, I think," Jimmy answered, turning to look at her.
Something in her face must have given her away, because his eyes widened.
"Omigosh, it's the baby, isn't it? You're having the baby!"
"Maybe," Lois conceded cautiously. "I think maybe."
"I'll page him."
"What's going on here?" Perry roared from his office.
"Lois is having the baby!" Jimmy yelled back, and reached for the phone.
"Great shades of Elvis! Jenny… Sandra…" He picked a pair of the hapless bystanders. "You two help Lois downstairs. Jimmy…" Perry fumbled in his pocket for his keys. "Run down and get my car, bring it around to the front door. We'll meet you."
Jimmy nodded, took the keys, and punched a code into the phone before hanging up. "When Clark calls back, tell him we're taking Lois to the hospital!" he shouted to no one in particular, and dashed for the stairs.
Lois felt herself scowling. "Perry, I'm fine. I can drive myself to the…"
She broke off when Perry gave her his sternest glare.
"Okay, okay. But I'm walking down on my own, got it? I don't need any help." She slung her purse over her shoulder, heaved herself up from her chair, and waddled — well, it *felt* like waddling, anyway — toward the elevator.
Jenny and Sandra shadowed her, too afraid of Perry not to come, but obviously too canny to actually help unless Lois asked for it.
Clark showed up as she was sliding into the front seat of Perry's car and hurried toward them, his tie askew. "Lois! Honey, are you okay? Is it bad? Are you going to the hospital? I could…"
Perry saved him from whatever rash thing he'd been about to offer by clapping him heartily on the back. "Clark! No time to waste!" he said, nervousness making him extra jolly. "Get in the car, I'll drive."
They left Jimmy, Jenny, Sandy, and a handful of other Planet workers standing on the sidewalk waving and calling out good wishes.
Perry drove a little too quickly to the hospital, but Lois hardly noticed. She had her eyes closed, breathing through the contractions — she was sure now that was what they were — while Clark reached over the seat back to massage her shoulders and whisper endearments in her ear.
They reached the hospital without incident. Clark was beginning to hover, so while the nurses were helping Lois into a hospital gown and prepping her, she sent him off to fetch his parents and her mother. They should all be present for the occasion.
It was some hours later when the big moment finally arrived. Lois was hot and sweaty and cranky. How come no one had told her how much having a baby hurt? They'd offered an epidural to block the pain, but just then she'd had the urge to push, and the pain had lessened after that. She never did get the epidural. Now, in the birthing room, she curled up over the mound of her belly, supported by Clark, and pushed. Panting, she leaned back to rest between contractions.
"One more should do it," the doctor said, smiling up from between her raised knees.
One more — she was going to hurt somebody, when she could get up and walk around. The doctor, maybe. And Clark — definitely Clark, who was way too encouraging about this whole thing, and whose fault was it, anyway… no, wait. Her concentration faltered.
"Come on, honey." Clark's tone was warm and supportive. "You can do it."
She wanted to argue, but her body had other ideas. Yelling would have to wait. She took a deep breath and *pushed*. And felt something slide out of her. She looked down and saw dark wet hair and a red, scrunchy face, heard soft almost-whimpers.
"It's a girl!" the doctor announced, and placed the baby face down on Lois's stomach.
She put a hand out and touched the wet, sticky little head. The baby's face was turned toward her, and she watched with awe as the baby's tiny mouth opened and closed and her dark eyes blinked against the bright light. A girl. Her daughter. A miracle.
Clark's hand joined hers, and she glanced up at him, suddenly, irrationally afraid. That he would denounce this child, turn from it. A fierceness rose up in her. It didn't matter what he thought, or what he said. This was her baby, her daughter, and Lois knew she would do anything to protect her. Childbirth or no childbirth, she was ready to do battle.
But she worried for nothing — the expression on his face was one of wonder. "Oh," he said softly, and stroked the baby's cheek with a reverent finger. "Oh, Lois, look at her. She's so beautiful."
"Yes," Lois agreed, smiling and fighting back tears at the same time. She loved both of them — Clark and this new little person — so much it took her breath away.
"Does she have a name?" one of the nurses asked, eyes smiling over her mask.
They'd discussed names, but hadn't quite made up their minds. Lois gave Clark a supplicating look, but he only shrugged and smiled, giving the final selection to her.
Her mind raced over the choices — names to honor someone they knew, names that meant something, names they merely liked. Out of all those, one seemed most apt. This baby, whose paternity was blurred, should be named for someone in Clark's family. Clark's birth family.
She glanced up at him, knowing he trusted her to make the right decision.
"Lara," she answered, and smiled at him. "Her name's Lara."
Clark's grin broadened in approval. "Our daughter," he agreed proudly. "Lara Lane Kent."