By Crystal Wimmer <JCWimmer@aol.com>
Submitted: April 2001
Summary: Lois and Clark, CJ and Kat, and their loved ones continue their journey through life's joys and sorrows. A sequel to the author's "Full Circle."
As with the original Full Circle, this story contains a massive WHAM. Perhaps the most painful WHAM of all… the loss of a parent. I warn you now, because this is a subject that many people don't wish to read about, and I don't want anyone to be hurt by it.
I don't consider this to be a "deathfic", because the main focus in the story is life, not death. Unfortunately, people do die, it is a natural progression of life, and it is something we are never truly prepared for. Losing a parent, whether you are 6 or 60, is traumatic. But, it is through life's struggles that we are strengthened, and that is the purpose of this story. If there is more autobiography here than I intended, I am truly sorry, but that's what happens when you write from the heart. I lived through most of this. That's what makes it real.
This began as a very short story, entitled "Holes in the Floor of Heaven." It "morphed" during the writing process, at one time planned to be as lengthy as the original, and eventually became what you see before you (which is somewhere in between). It became a merging of two stories, each traumatic in its own right, but together they prove that life has no mercy when it tries to slam you down.
*Cause there are holes in the floor of Heaven
And her tears are pouring down
That's how you know she's watching
Wishing she could be here now
Sometimes if you're lonely
Just remember she can see
There are holes in the floor of Heaven
And she's watching over you and me*
What began as a little self-analysis/catharsis type thing, has become a full scale story (for better or for worse), and I feel that it may even be fit for reading. I hope that you agree, but I make no promises <bg>.
Final warning: as with the original Full Circle, CJ and Kat play a prominent role here… it is not *only* a Lois and Clark story.
Special thanks to all my Betas… Anne, Carol, Irene, Joy, Kath, Mark, Merry, and Missy G.
This story is dedicated to the wonderful people who spent far too much of their lives in a waiting room on the third floor of Duke University Medical Center… I give my grateful thanks to Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Tipton, and the Bellamy Sisters. May their lives be smoother now that they are off the board.
With all that said, it's on with the story…
Chapter 1… December
CJ gulped heavily as he glanced around at the people he loved most on this Earth. His grandparents were seated across the table from him — his father's parents — and his mom and dad were on either side. They were just finishing a Sunday dinner that had been particularly good. Grandma Martha had spent hours in the kitchen laughing and joking with his mother, and the result of their escapades had been fantastic.
Lois was still not as adept at potroast and vegetables as CJ would have liked. Perhaps that was why he didn't mind the fast food that had become his habit since he moved into the dorms of Midwestern University. It wasn't that he didn't like home cooking, just that *his* idea of a home-cooked meal usually involved both a fire truck and a pizza delivery boy. Still, his mother tried, and he had to give her credit for that. He certainly remembered what life had been like without her, and this was something he chose not to dwell on.
His eyes wandered the table a while more before finally settling on Kat. She met his eyes with a simple smile and a gentle nod. She was so different, now… so graceful and pretty… there were times that he nearly forgot the rough-and-tumble tomboy that she had once been. Still, she was his best friend, and amongst all the life changes that had bombarded him in the last few years, this was one constant… He loved her. He truly loved her.
With a final deep breath, and a glance at Kat for strength, he stood and faced his family. "Mom, Dad," he squeaked. Clearing his throat, he began again. "Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa… Kat and I have something to tell you."
Lois held her breath as she waited for the bomb to drop. She would have clutched Clark's hand if he had been seated a little closer, but instead she folded her hands tightly in her lap and waited for the worst. Clark had a small smile on his face, as though he knew what was happening, but he didn't say a word.
"Kat and I have decided to get married," CJ finally finished in a rush. His glance at Kat showed that she was smiling carefully, as unsure of what the response would be as he was, and his glace at his parents' faces was even less productive. CJ wondered for a moment if he could just sit down and reach for the apple pie, and maybe the last few seconds would disappear as though they hadn't happened.
Finally, Jonathan's voice, uncharacteristically gruff, broke the strained silence of the room. "Well, it's about damn time."
Jonathan rarely swore, so his choice of words broke the tension in the room. Lois laughed, Clark reached to his side to hug Kat, and CJ found himself bombarded with well-wishes from his grandparents. It was several minutes later, still numb with relief, that he realized that he hadn't been breathing.
Clark finally pulled CJ up out of the chair and into a super-hug. CJ hugged back, with equal strength. There was a moment of silent communication, a realization of what CJ had truly found, that passed between the men. Clark knew that CJ was different, as he was, and to find your soulmate was an amazing thing. He had expected CJ and Kat to marry, just as he had always believed that he and Lois belonged together… but knowing what should be and living with what was were often worlds apart.
With a final clap on the back, Clark pulled back from his son. He really was a man, now, and it was more than his living away from home. CJ was twenty-three, and nearly as strongly built as his father. The two men looked remarkably alike, and they shared the same unique abilities as well as a strong sense of family and values. Clark was certain that CJ would make a wonderful husband, and someday a wonderful father as well.
CJ glanced at his father briefly, then turned to face his mother. If he had been nearly brought to tears by his father's pride, then his mother's love completed the job. He wrapped his arms around her as she reached up on tip-toe to kiss him gently on the cheek. "I love you," she whispered into his ear as he lifted her slightly from the ground with his hug.
Kat was dealing with an overwhelming welcome to the Kent family. She had been hugged first by Clark, and then Lois, and finally by the oldest Kents. They had congratulated her, and smiled at her, and given her a feeling of belonging that she had only experienced in this house. She supposed she should regret that her own father was not here for her, but the void was minimal. Clark had been more her father than anyone, and being allowed to become a real and true part of this family was so much more than she had ever dreamed was possible.
When they were finally seated back around the table, with dessert plates and glasses of champagne that Martha insisted would go wonderfully with the apple pie, Clark proposed a toast.
"To CJ and Kat," he said firmly. "You've been through a lot," Clark said as he faced the couple, "but you'll make it."
Everyone drank, and the discussion ranged for awhile from dates to churches to gowns. There was some confusion regarding Kat's lack of a ring, but she assured them that it was merely being sized and would be ready by the end of the week.
"Do you have a date picked out?" Martha finally asked seriously. "I mean, it would be nice if you could have the wedding here, but I know you have your studies…"
CJ smiled at Kat, then at Martha. "We were thinking about a June wedding, right after we graduate. That gives us almost six months to plan, and by then we may have enough money to pay for it."
The family laughed at CJ's choice of words. Both he and Kat had insisted on working while at college, and as a result they had not managed to complete their degrees within the four years that their scholarships dictated. The consequence of this had been a rough fifth year for the two of them. They were each juggling a couple of jobs along with their senior classes, and having to manage tuition and dormitory expenses in addition to clothes and groceries.
CJ accepted little financial help from his parents. He knew that they were still dealing with medical bills that were almost a decade old and helping his grandparents with their bills as well. A fixed income simply wasn't enough to manage in Metropolis, and Clark insisted on pitching in where he could. CJ had made the decision to attend Midwest University, while there were many schools both closer and less expensive, and he felt that the money was his responsibility.
Kat had graduated with an excellent scholarship to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. It had a wonderful nursing program, and she loved being only a few hours from CJ and yet not right in his hip pocket. They had spent enough time apart over the last four years to know that they wanted to be together, and it seemed that this time his parents agreed.
Kat couldn't help but smile as she remembered the Kents' reaction to CJ's first marriage proposal. They had gone ballistic! Granted, CJ had been only eighteen and still uncertain of where he would attend college and what he wanted to be. He loved journalism but wasn't sure that he wanted to do it forever. Kat had known she wanted to be a nurse, but she hadn't been accepted into a program yet. Their lives had been in chaos, and they had been frightened that a separation would destroy their love. They had never been apart before, and they didn't know how to deal with the possibility.
Clark had begged them to wait one year. One year apart would tell them if the relationship was based only on familiarity or something more. They had reluctantly agreed, but it had not been a happy concession. Finally, the location of the schools and the demands of their education had taken over their time. This, combined with the ever present need for money, had forced them to apply themselves to their own resources, rather than relying on one another. The result had been worth the pain of separation.
Despite being hundreds of miles apart, they had grown closer. CJ had finally chosen Journalism as his major, with a minor in Secondary Education. It was his hope to secure a job in a high school teaching others how to do what he loved to do: writing. Kat had worked as a Nurse's Aide, and then as a Vocational Nurse, as she approached her Bachelor's. Her goal was to be an RN, and she was almost there.
Finally, they were secure enough in their individual lives that they were ready to begin a life together. It had been a long road, filled with all the personality conflicts, jealousy, and frustration that most young couples face… but it had brought them to a place in their lives where they couldn't be closer.
"That went well, don't you think?" Kat asked as they walked back into the tree-filled yard. It was cold, and she was bundled in a heavy coat while CJ walked next to her with short sleeves.
"Mmmm, yeah," he mumbled as he slipped his arms around her and brought her body against his.
Kat smiled and kissed him quickly in the moonlight. There was no snow on the ground, which was unusual for this time of year. Kat wondered vaguely if there would be snow for Christmas and hoped that there would be. Of course, there was plenty of snow on campus… snow that blocked her driveway and inconvenienced her at every turn… but that wasn't the same. She was home for Christmas for the first time in two years… there should be snow.
"Are you going to sleep at Grandpa's apartment, or here with me?" CJ asked her quietly. He didn't know which he preferred. He wanted to spend the time with her, and his parents didn't seem to mind them sharing his bedroom, but the temptation was killing him.
"Could I stay with you?" she asked him softly.
CJ looked down into her huge green eyes and nearly lost his balance. They were the same eyes he had turned to since he was five years old, and he could deny her nothing.
"Stay with me," he answered her.
She stepped forward again, wrapping her arms around him, and held him tightly. She loved sleeping in his arms and rarely missed the opportunity. He made her feel safe, and loved, and cherished. The temptation was always there, and it had been for years, to break their word to one another, but so far they had survived it. Six more months, she thought… six more months and we can both give in. After nearly twenty years, the last ten of which had tested their resolve, the wait was almost over.
CJ stood behind Kat with his arms around her, cuddling her, and began counting backwards from a thousand in Latin, wondering if the water here was any colder than it was in his own shower in Kansas.
Clark rested back against the pillows of his bed. There was a part of his mind that was concerned about his son sleeping in the same bed with his fiancee, but he tried not to let it show. However, CJ was an adult, and the choice was his. In any case, they often stayed together in the same dormitory and Clark could only imagine what went on there. It seemed rather ridiculous to keep them apart when they visited the house. The man was twenty-three, after all… it wasn't as though he were a child.
"It bothers you, doesn't it?" Lois asked him. She had her head pillowed on his chest, prepared to sleep.
Clark didn't pretend to misunderstand. "It shouldn't," he answered. "But, yes, it does."
She lifted her head and smiled at her husband. He was still so old-fashioned in some ways, and she found it charming. "Don't worry too much," she told him. "I don't think that anything is really going on except some sleeping."
"What?" Clark said, startled. "What makes you say that? I mean, they're *engaged*. I remember how hard it was to keep my hands off you during that time, and CJ's only human."
"He's *not* only human," she said with a smile. "Besides, I saw his face tonight, and he had that look."
"Yes, that 'how am I going to make it through another night,' completely frustrated look. Like the one you used to have before we were married." She smiled at her husband's amused glace. "As opposed to that very satisfied look you had *after* we were married."
Clark shook his head, clearly amused with his wife. "You think so, huh?"
"A mother knows these things," Lois told him as she lowered her head to his chest. "They just do," she concluded sleepily.
Clark smiled down at his wife, and kissed the top of her head as she relaxed into sleep. She was probably right, he decided. CJ certainly did seem tense around Kat, and Lois's explanation would definitely make sense. He wrapped his arms more firmly around her, and closed his eyes to sleep.
CJ sighed as he waited for Kat to finish in the bathroom. She'd let him go first, because she always took longer getting her makeup off and brushing her hair. At least her hair was short, now, and he didn't have to wait while she braided it to keep it out of his face while they slept.
They slept together every chance that they got, and had for the last few years. That was a surprisingly rare event. The universities that they attended didn't follow the same schedule, so they normally missed out on Spring Break and three-day weekends due to holidays. It was simply too far for either of them to drive, nearly a thousand miles, when they had less than a week to be together.
This time, their schedules happened to coincide, but CJ had still assumed that he would be sleeping alone. While his mother had offered them the chance to share a room on their previous visits, this was the first time that he hadn't taken the couch instead. It was more a matter of appearances than actual activity. He and Kat hadn't done anything more than heavy petting, even alone in one dorm room or the other, but his parents didn't know that. The engagement changed that, marginally. Not that what they were doing had changed, but the impression he had of his parents speculating had. It didn't bother him the way it had before they'd decided on marriage.
His mind was still wandering when Kat returned from the bathroom, her face glowing and her short brown hair brushed back from her face, making her green eyes seem huge.
"You okay?" she asked softly, getting into the single bed next to him. He scooted over towards the wall, giving her a bit more room.
"You're quiet," she explained.
"Just thinking," he told her. "And watching the scenery."
Kat sat up and smiled, mimicked modeling the borrowed flannel that she was wearing. "Oh, yes," she told him. "The latest in Metropolis fashions."
"You look good in my shirt," he said, blushing slightly. "Nice legs."
"That's all you can see," she told him sarcastically, then reached for the light on the nightstand.
It took them a moment to get settled, not surprising, as they rarely spent the night in one another's arms. When CJ was finally still, with Kat's head in the crook of his shoulder and her arm resting across his chest, he spoke again. "You tired?"
"Exhausted," she answered, then laughed. "And completely wide-awake. I hate this."
"Me, too," he told her. "The drive wears me out, but being here revs me up. I can't sleep."
"So talk," she advised. "Are we going over to see your grandfather tomorrow?"
"No," he answered. "We probably should, but I have so many other things to do that we won't have time."
"Maybe Tuesday," she offered.
"That should work," he agreed. "Mom's going over in the morning, so if you want to send a note or something, you can."
"Nah, that's okay. I don't know him that well."
"Me, neither," CJ told her, and she could hear the smile in his voice. "Grandpa Sam's always been out of the country on one thing or another. He's been working overseas to develop the medical techniques in third-world countries. The only reason he's back is because he's sick."
"Your mom seems to be taking it okay," Kat remarked.
CJ tightened his hold on Kat, then answered, "I guess so. She gets quiet sometimes, like she's thinking about him. I don't think they got along very well when she was a kid. I know he and Grandma Ellen divorced for a while, because she was drinking and he was cheating, but they got back together before I can remember very much. I know they were married by my fourth birthday, and that's just about the first thing I remember."
"The birthday you got your bike," Kat smiled.
"Yeah," he told her. "They gave me the coolest bike. Grandma Martha gave me one the same birthday, so we decided to leave that one in Smallville at the farm. It was pretty fun having two bikes, even if I couldn't ride the Smallville one in the city."
"It was a great bike," Kat agreed. "We used to ride together all the time."
Kat snuggled closer, and CJ did the same. Her leg bent, coming to rest atop one of his thighs, and his hand descended to her bottom. She leaned up slightly, kissed him gently, then smiled at the silhouette of his face that was visible from the moonlight in the window.
"You like this, don't you?" he asked honestly.
"I'd like this forever," she answered honestly. "I don't get to spend nearly enough time with you."
"Agreed, but it's been good, don't you think?"
Kat was silent long enough that CJ started to worry, but eventually she spoke. "Sometimes it was good," she admitted. "It gave me time to work on my degree, and I know that I would have hated my job if it had kept me on a different shift from you. Still, I'm pretty tired of being alone. I think we could have made it work at the same school."
"SIU doesn't have a journalism program," he reminded her.
She sighed. "I know, and even if it did, you didn't have a scholarship there."
"Exactly. We went where we had to. It's just a few years, and we may be running a little behind, but at least we're running together."
"We need to start looking at apartments," she said softly. "I assume you want to be here, don't you?"
"There are a lot of hospitals in the area," he said casually. "Metropolis General, the Claremont Clinics, and a bunch of others. They all need nurses, so you could pretty much pick and choose."
"True," she agreed. "And the Planet's here as well."
"It does help having a dad on the staff," he grinned. "I'd like to get back into writing. I plan to teach, and Claremont High has several openings in their English Department for next year, but I would like to get back into the paper as well."
"I don't see why you couldn't do both," she told him.
"Depends on when you want to start our family," he said, trying to keep his voice casual.
"Anytime's fine with me," she said with a grin, leaning forward and kissing him suggestively on the lips. As she pulled back, she added, "It's not like we don't know one another."
"I wasn't sure how much time you wanted to spend as a couple before we started trying," he told her. "Babies are a pain in the butt."
"I'm twenty-four," she said simply. "If we're going to have more than one, we need to get started. I don't want to be trying to put kids through college when I'm seventy."
CJ laughed at that. "My grandparents were older when they found Dad," he told her. "They did okay."
"Let's get through the wedding, then we'll deal with the kids," she suggested. "If it's just a question of having your baby, I don't have any desire to wait. Still, we can talk about how long I need to work to establish some seniority before trying to take maternity leave."
"I should have a decent income between the high school and the Planet," he offered. "Maybe you won't have to go right back to work."
Kat laughed outright, then punched CJ in the chest. "We're not even married and you're trying to get me barefoot and pregnant," she joked.
"I didn't mean it that way," he said, his voice showing his embarrassment.
"I know that," she admitted. "But I do think we should take it one step at a time. We got love, now let's get married, and then we'll talk babies."
"Sounds good. You tired?"
"Getting there," she admitted with a sigh, resting her head back on his chest.
"Yeah, me too. Night, Kat."
"Night, CJ. I love you."
"Love you, too, Kat."
Chapter 2… January
Lois walked up the few steps to her parents' condo. They had moved back to Metropolis several weeks ago, when Sam had become ill, and had decided to stay. After a few weeks of testing, Lois's father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Ellen had decided that staying in Metropolis was the best idea.
Lois used her elbow to ring the doorbell, carefully holding on to the casserole that Martha had sent with her.
"Lois," Ellen said with a smile as she opened the door. Lois passed her the casserole and gave her a hug as she entered the living room of the condo and closed the door against the cold outside. She would need to go outside to get the Christmas presents that she had brought along, but she could do that later.
"How's Daddy?" she asked quietly.
"Your father is asleep at the moment," Ellen answered, nodding to the hospital bed that had taken up residence in the living room, over by the television.
Lois felt a pang of guilt for using the doorbell. She hadn't expected her father to be sleeping in the middle of the day. She had also been surprised by the hospital bed, a new addition to the living room's decor. She sighed sadly, realizing once more that the doctors were not wrong… her father was terribly ill.
She walked over to the bed quietly, taking in her father's gray tinge and frail body. He wasn't the strong, vital man that she had always known, and that frightened her.
"Hi, Daddy," she whispered as she placed a soft kiss on his cheek. His eyelids didn't even flicker, but she was reassured by his gentle breathing. After a moment more, she turned and followed her mother into the small kitchen.
Ellen's eyes were suspiciously moist as she spoke quickly. "I certainly hope that Martha made this. Not that Sam will eat it. He hasn't been able to keep down anything but strawberry milkshakes for a week, and he can't finish one of those. I don't know how he expects to fight this if he won't even eat." She paused a moment, taking a deep breath and keeping her tears at bay. "I'm sorry we didn't make it to dinner, last night. When CJ called and told us that he wanted us there, I really wanted to come, but your father just wasn't up to it."
"I know, Mother. CJ understood."
"So," Ellen said, once again bringing herself back from the edge of tears. "What was CJ's big news?"
Lois couldn't help but smile as she shared her son's joy. "He and Kat have decided to get married."
Ellen smiled. She had always liked the feisty Kat, probably because the girl reminded her so much of Lois. "That's wonderful. When will the wedding be?"
"They are planning a June wedding," Lois told her.
Ellen smiled again. "That will be beautiful."
Lois tried to return the smile but found it difficult. She was happy for her son, truly happy, but she was just coming to the realization that her father would not be attending the wedding. Suddenly, Lois felt trapped, confined. Falling back on the old defense mechanism of avoidance, she babbled quickly for the next few moments and finally went to her car to get the Christmas gifts. The fresh, cold air relieved some of the panic, and she was able to return to the condo long enough drop off the gifts and give her mother a quick hug.
She knew she was avoiding the situation as she got in her car to leave, but she wasn't ready to deal with the implications of her father's illness. In a big way, she felt as though she had just got her father back, and she wasn't ready to give him up yet.
Unfortunately, life wasn't known for giving people what they were ready for.
Christmas was a happy time. As always, they were up early to see what "Santa" had brought the kids. Martha and Jonathan were at the house before five, cooking a country breakfast for everyone. They enjoyed the meal, then settled in to open gifts.
For the next couple of hours, the Kents took turns opening presents and thanking the givers. It stretched out the bounty beneath the tree and made the morning more enjoyable. Once the bottom of the tree had no more to offer, CJ presented Kat with her engagement ring, assuring her that it wasn't a Christmas gift, but that it had been the first opportunity he'd had to present it to her since the jeweler had resized it.
Martha and Lois sighed over the beautiful solitaire, knowing why CJ's budget had been so very tight this year. Still, it was a beautiful ring, and Kat would wear it with pride.
The day was quiet and relatively uneventful until Lois called her family. Ellen had told her that they would not be attending the Christmas celebration, but it wasn't until nearly dinner time when Lois finally called them.
Sam was sleeping and was too weak to talk even when he was awake. Ellen was quiet and subdued, very much different from her normal personality. As Lois hung up the phone, she felt as sense of dread. It wasn't something she could define, but rather a lingering sense of uneasiness. It worried her.
Soon, though, she was swept up in the celebration of the day and found herself enjoying a wonderful meal. Lois was thrilled that CJ and Kat would be able to stay through both this week and the following week as well. Christmas break had been extended for both universities, due to the unusual amount of snowfall that the Midwest had received, and they were all going to take advantage of the situation.
If there was a feeling of sadness over the family, they tried not to allow it to show. The finality of life was death, and each person was facing the possibility in their own way.
Lois couldn't help but smile as her future daughter-in-law chatted constantly on the way back from the department store. After hours of searching, they had finally found just the perfect dress for Kat's wedding, and a willing seamstress that assured them it would fit her perfectly on her wedding day.
Actually, Lois was thrilled that Kat's mind was moving a mile a minute. The kids would be returning to school in the next few days, and this presented Lois with a sadness that she didn't want to face. She loved having CJ home, and she missed it. Knowing that this was probably the last time he would live under their roof was a frightening proposition. He hadn't truly lived with them in years, but the possibility was there, and this was what she felt she had lost. Still, he was growing up, and if she had to entrust his heart to anyone, she was thrilled that it was Kat.
They were still laughing and joking about a saleswoman's unusual tactics when they pulled up to the house. Entering through the side door, they bustled the shopping bags into the home with less than efficient enthusiasm.
Kat was the first to realize that something was wrong. Clark and CJ were sitting at the kitchen table, and both rose to meet the women. Clark stepped forward to face Lois, her smiling face crumbling as she saw his expression. Something was wrong.
CJ escorted Kat from the kitchen with an arm around her shoulders, giving his parents some privacy. His eyes were moist, but he remained composed.
"Honey, your mother called," Clark began.
He got no further. Lois could tell by the look on his face and the expression in his eyes that her father was dead. She took a step towards the door, intending to head for the stairs at a dead run. She had taken only a couple of steps when her world crashed in on her and went black.
Clark caught Lois as she crumpled. She wasn't entirely conscious or unconscious. She was trembling and crying, and this shook him more than anything ever had. Swiftly, he whisked her upstairs, courtesy of a little super speed. After laying her on their bed, he retrieved a wet washcloth from the bathroom, and went back to place the cool cloth on her head.
As Lois once more became aware of her surroundings, she began to cry. It was not hysterical sobs, but rather a quiet flow of tears that was infinitely more disturbing to her husband.
Clark, having no words that would offer her comfort, held her as she clung to him. He hoped his presence would be enough. It was he who had spoken with Ellen a few moments ago, listening to the tightly controlled voice that normally rambled with such animation. He had promised to deliver the news gently… and he wasn't sure he had managed that. He wasn't sure *he* had delivered the news at all.
It was several minutes later when Lois began to calm. "What happened?" she asked him.
Clark sighed and attempted to relay the events as his voice cracked. "He passed away in his sleep," he explained. "Your mother said he was just sleeping, and then his breathing stopped. The respite nurse took care of the paperwork and making the calls."
Lois nodded, absorbing the information. At least he had not been in any pain. He had hurt so much, for so long, that she was still grateful for this much. Pulling herself together, she sat back from her husband and wiped her face with her hands, brushing the tears away.
With her best "reporter" stance, she stood and walked to the telephone. She took a couple of deep breaths before dialing her parents' — her mother's — number, and waited for the answer.
The funeral took place on a dark and rainy day. The sky was fitting for the gloom that Lois was feeling. It wasn't that she was particularly sad, she decided, but rather that she wasn't. She wasn't hurting. She wasn't angry. She was… numb… for lack of a better word.
She was surrounded by love and support as she sat in the second pew of the church, her husband next to her, his arm around her. CJ and Kat were next to Clark, and both Jonathan and Martha were on her other side. Her family was with her.
Ellen Lane sat in the first pew. Lucy and her son, Daniel, had flown in from California for the funeral. Each sat on one side of Ellen, offering words or tissues as the moment demanded, providing the same comfort that she provided to them.
Sam had actually been closer to Lucy and Daniel than he'd been to the Kent families. Daniel had spent his graduation summer in Brazil, working with Sam in one of the small mission clinics, trying to decide if he wanted to go keep his medical major in college after all. The two had grown very close… close enough that Sam had taken the time to fly back for Daniel's college graduation, and he probably would have done the same when he graduated from Medical School.
Unlike CJ, who had started school in the same year, Daniel had skipped two elementary grades. He was a perfectionist and had managed to finish medical school in only three years, by earning scholarships that allowed him to go to school year-round. Sam and Daniel were two of a kind, each wanting to help others by fixing their bodies. Lucy was so proud that she could bust, and Lois knew that the closeness between her Daniel and his grandfather had brought Lucy closer to Sam as well. Any doubts that the Lane family might have had about Lucy's ability to be a single mother had been erased years before.
Lois had never been terribly close to her father. She had been angry with him in her youth, almost violently so. She had seen his infidelity as the reason that Ellen drank, the reason she lost her mother to alcoholism. His perfectionism had destroyed her confidence, while his eventually leaving them had rebuilt it anew.
Lois had been mother, father, and breadwinner for the Lane family, long before she'd been old enough to understand what it meant. What she had understood was that it was Sam's job, and she was doing it. She was taking Lucy to school, she was wiping up the mess when Ellen was sick, and she was making sure that the house was clean and dinner — such as it was — was on the table.
She hadn't had a great deal of support in those years. Lucy hadn't been old enough to help, and Ellen had most often been beyond noticing the situation. Every crisis, whether it was small or large, had fallen to Lois. Thankfully, that was no longer the case.
Lois had received endless support from her friends and relatives, most sending cards and flowers that even now decorated the front of the church. She had a kitchen full of casseroles and desserts from people who were concerned that she was too grief stricken to eat, and they wanted to help out her family. Most of the people who had sent flowers and food had never even met Sam Lane. It was all very sweet, if she stopped to think about it. She wondered if Clark had received this same support when she had been so ill years before.
Still, she felt that it was all a wasted effort. She was really okay. She knew she was. Very little had changed in her life. Her father had always been frequently absent, and now he was permanently absent. It wasn't a great deal of change. She felt a great deal more guilt than grief that she wasn't more affected. The bottom line was that his life had ended, and hers hadn't changed.
The small church was amazingly full, but only a small fraction of the people in attendance had known the deceased. Sam had been out of the country for more years than not, so his colleagues had long since forgotten about him as well as his patients. Similarly, her mother had few acquaintances in the area and chose to have the funeral in Metropolis more out of concern for Lois than because it was where their friends were. Again, for Lois. She felt the pangs of guilt once more.
Lucy had flown over three-thousand miles, and Daniel was missing vital classes in his third year of medical school. They were sacrificing parts of their lives to be here, whereas Lois was only missing a day of work. Was she a horrible daughter to not even be inconvenienced by her father's passing? She couldn't help but wonder.
The funeral was lovely. Daniel gave the eulogy, telling funny stories of the time he had spent in Brazil with his grandfather, the love and generosity that Sam had demonstrated, the understanding of foreign cultures. The music was grand and soothing, the Bible verses comforting. Lois recalled vaguely that her parents had never been particularly religious, but the minister preached anyway, on heaven and hell and better places.
By the time they stood at the graveside, huddled under large umbrellas and hugging their raincoats against the chill of the January shower, Lois was nearly in tears. She should feel something, shouldn't she? Some sense of loss? Some sense of pain? She felt sorry for her mother, sorrier for Daniel and Lucy, but she felt nothing for herself. What kind of a daughter was she?
"Are you okay?" Clark asked her, his arm around her, for perhaps the tenth time.
"I'm fine," she told him, her whisper holding much of the frustration she felt.
Clark heard the emotion but couldn't fathom its cause. As the casket was lowered, he steered her away from the waiting limousine and towards their SUV. Lois didn't resist.
Once they were in the quiet interior of the vehicle, the heater dissipating the relative cold of the unusually warm January day, Clark spoke again. "Do you want to go home?" he asked.
"No, we need to go to the apartment for the reception. There's a ton of food, and I need to help Mom go through all the cards."
"If you're not up to it…" Clark began, but Lois cut him off.
"I'm fine!" she declared in exasperation. "Clark, nothing has changed. I'm fine! He was gone to his mistress, then he was gone to his patients, then gone overseas, and now gone to heaven. Dad's gone. He was, he is, and he will be gone! Why does everyone think I should fall apart?"
"I don't think you'll fall apart," he told her softly. "I just wanted to make sure you were coping."
"There's noting to cope with," she said, mindful now of her tone of voice. "Once all the hoopla dies down, nothing will have changed. Not really." She turned to her husband, brown eyes pleading. "Does that make me a bad person? That my life won't change?"
"No, Honey," he said, taking her into his arms, wiping away the tears that slipped from her eyes even as she denied their presence. "You're a good person."
"I should be sad," she explained with sniffle. "I just don't feel anything, Clark. Nothing. No anger, no pain. What about those seven stages of grief that they're always whining about? I don't feel anything."
"Denial?" he asked, his voice amused.
Lois got the joke. "That is the first one, isn't it?" she said with a small smile. "I don't think I'm denying it, though. I just don't feel it. I want to feel something, Clark. Even anger would be better than this numbness."
"Give it time, Honey," he said softly. "It's only been a few days. It hasn't all sunk in yet."
"He was sick for weeks," she argued.
"Did you really believe that?"
Lois sighed. "Yes," she said, then met Clark's eyes. "No. I thought he'd get better. People don't die of cancer, Clark. They have chemo, and radiation, and they get better. Even at Christmas, I honestly thought he'd pull out of it."
"Parents aren't supposed to die," Clark agreed. "Right now, I'd say you're still in shock. Don't let it tear you up. You'll feel what you're ready for, when you're ready for it. Nobody experiences grief in the same way as anyone else, so you can't hold yourself to what is happening to others. Just feel what you feel. It isn't like you get a choice, you know."
Lois nodded. "I feel hungry," she admitted reluctantly. "As much as I'm not looking forward to this reception, I am looking forward to the food. I saw a rhubarb pie on the stove, this morning."
"Then let's go eat," Clark smiled. "You can help your mom, and if everyone gets on your nerves you can hide at the back of the apartment. No one will question why."
Lois sighed. "That sounds good."
Clark took off the parking break, preparing to follow the limousine that was already pulling out. "Just don't stop talking to me," he advised. "Whatever you feel is okay, but it's a hell of a lot easier if I know what it is."
"I promise," Lois smiled, closing her eyes and resting her head on the back of the seat. "I'm tired."
"You should be," he agreed. "Rest some. I'll wake you when we get there."
"Thanks, Hon," she murmured, already drifting to sleep. She felt better, she realized drowsily. At least she didn't feel like she was an awful person anymore.
A holiday. A death. A funeral. It had all happened so fast. There were times when Lois felt that it was all a bad dream, that her father was just out of the country once more, but then reality would remind her that he would never be with her again.
Life had resumed. Lois faced an entire world of guilt when her life was so unaffected by it all. She felt that she should be falling apart, dying herself. Her father was gone, and it had barely made a ripple in her life. Shouldn't his life have meant more?
Ellen Lane had flown back to California with Lucy. All had agreed that a change of scenery would do their mother good, and it had made the transition much easier on Lois. Truthfully, she'd had a more severe reaction to CJ and Kat going back to school than she'd had to her father's passing and her mother's leaving the area. That was another cause for guilt. Shouldn't she miss them? She honestly didn't know what she felt.
Gradually, life had fallen back into its usual pattern. Clark pulled double-duty as both Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet and Superman. She had never bothered to reclaim her position after he'd assumed it years before. She spent time reporting but spent more time simply helping with the day-to-day operation of the newspaper. It was a big job, and it required as much of her as investigative reporting ever had.
Her battles were with sponsors and advertising idiots rather than the bad-guys of Metropolis. She didn't spend as much time with her life in jeopardy, but she'd come to see that as a relief. She'd celebrated her fifty-second birthday with her family around her, minus one father. It was no different than forty-eight of her other birthdays, and yet it had felt horribly final.
Lois had taken CJ and Kat to spend a day going though the mall just before the kids had returned to school. It had been a wonderful day of shopping and laughing, mother-child bonding. They had embarrassed CJ at every turn, leaving the boy to blush over his mother and fiancee while they ransacked Frederick's of Hollywood and joked over the many uses of massage oil in Spencers.
When they had wandered past the department store where Kat had tried on her dress the week before, Lois had become strangely silent. CJ had made a couple of comments before being shushed by his fiancee. He hadn't understood, but he'd guided them over to the food court anyway. His mother's grateful look had been thanks enough for his actions. He wouldn't learn until much later that Lois and Kat had been in that store even as his grandfather died.
They'd had a fun day, and the joy of it almost overshadowed the sorrow when Kat had packed up her bright-red Volkswagen Beetle and the two young adults had climbed in to leave. Kat would drive CJ to the university, where he had left his own car, and then continue across Highway Sixty-four to Illinois. They were going back to school, and the house seemed unbearably large and quiet.
Clark tried to help. He flew her to China for dinner three nights in one week before she realized how worried he was. She was normally faster on the uptake, but she had been distracted by her loss. She missed her boy.
"You know, when I left the first time, my mother was miserable," Clark mentioned one evening after bringing her back a bag of authentic Mexican Tamales he'd picked up following a short rescue mission in South America.
"What did she do about it?" Lois asked softly.
"Well, she cried a lot. When I found out about that I started coming home more often."
"That's an option," she'd told him sarcastically.
"Actually, it is," he'd told her with a smile.
"I don't cry often," she'd responded wryly.
"Not that part, but CJ visiting. He's almost as fast as I am, so flying home isn't too much of an effort."
"I hadn't thought of that. Still, he's busy with his studies. I don't want to ask that. Besides, he still doesn't use his powers very often. I think he's still afraid of them. If he wanted to, he could spend every weekend with Kat, but he waits until he has time to drive." She never had understood that particular piece of logic.
"He hasn't decided if he wants to join the family business," Clark had said with a smile. "Until he does, I think the powers make him just a bit guilty. He's not comfortable enough to use them in helping, so he doesn't want to use them for his own convenience. I don't understand it very much, but I can agree with him in principle."
"You're two of a kind, all right," she had joked. "But that's okay. I love you both, anyway."
Clark still brought her special meals, still paid her a little more attention, but he realized that she was healing from the loss of her son. Umbilical cords were long, but they had raised their son right, and it was time to let him go. It was time for his life to get back to normal, as it was time for her to do the same.
Life was back on an even keel for Lois Lane Kent. She was busy preparing for her son's wedding in June, and glad that life was giving her something to enjoy. After all, she'd been through a rough beginning to the year, and she felt that she deserved something better, or at least calmer, after suffering such a loss. Yes, Lois was ready for some good. She wouldn't feel guilty about it either, she decided firmly. Everyone deserved a bit of good in their life. She had earned hers.
Chapter 3… April
Clark charged through the hospital corridor as quickly as he could without calling undue attention to himself. He'd been in a panic since he'd found Lois' message for him on the kitchen table.
He had promised himself years before that he would never set foot inside this hospital again. It had been a foolish ambition, but given both the length of his involvement when Lois had been sick, and his sense of helplessness at the time, it had seemed the best idea possible.
Despite his promise to himself, he'd spent two other bouts in this building. Neither of the times had been pleasant. The first had been when Lois had needed some testing. She had spent three days admitted, and each one had been an individual terror to both of them. Fortunately, the results of the testing had been a relief, and she hadn't been back. The second time had been tragic, as Lois' father had been diagnosed with cancer.
Aside from those times, Clark Kent had not entered Metropolis General Hospital. Of course, Superman still made the occasional appearance to drop off an accident victim or an unusually ill person that could not wait for the Emergency Medical System, but he kept even those visits to an absolute minimum.
Now, he was shaking from head to toe as he used both his hearing and vision to track down his wife. He finally located her in the waiting room on the third floor, and it had taken all of his control to resist the use of super-speed or flight to reach her.
The moment he left the elevator, her head popped up and she met his eyes. He could see the fatigue and worry there, the strain of facing this without him.
It hadn't been his fault. No one could have anticipated the earthquake that had shaken Japan on the previous weekend. As he had so many times before, Clark had gone on assignment while Superman worked around-the-clock to save lives.
They'd had little time to prepare, but this wasn't unusual either. Martha had just come down to spend the week with them, so it had been with some sense of relief that he'd kissed his wife and told her to take care of his mom. It had never occurred to him that she might really have to do so.
Lois' arms went around his neck as she greeted him. She didn't try to stand, but instead she tugged him down next to her.
"I should have been here," he began.
Lois cut him off with a firm shake of her head. "You couldn't have done anything," she reassured him. "The doctors are doing everything possible."
Clark sighed, putting his arms around his wife, oblivious to the eyes of the others in the waiting area. "I should have been here," he repeated.
Lois didn't bother to argue, but instead she held him and allowed some of the tension of the last few days to dissipate. She wasn't alone now, and the decisions from this point would be shared as a family.
She had seen the pain and fatigue in her husband's eyes when he'd rushed into the room, so she didn't bother to explain. She held him tightly, allowed him to hold her, and she loved him.
After several silent moments, during which they only drew strength from one another, he raised his eyes to hers. "What happened?" he asked softly.
Lois closed her eyes and composed herself. The last week was a blur, but she tried to sort it out and remember.
It had begun on a Wednesday. She and Martha had spent the day shopping and eating, eating and shopping. They'd tried on clothes, sampled perfumes, and left no store in the Metropolis Mall untouched.
It had been a long day, so when Martha had declined dinner, Lois hadn't worried. She hadn't been terribly worried later, when Martha's indigestion had kept her awake and walking the floors. The true worry had started when Martha began to complain of chest pain and numbness in her left arm.
Lois hadn't played around but instead had called the Claremont Rescue Squad, over Martha's protests. They had been quick, and thorough, and Martha had been in the Claremont Regional Hospital emergency room for most of the night.
When Martha had been transferred to a room a little after seven on Thursday morning, Lois had driven home for a change of clothes and a much needed shower. She'd picked up the phone, called Jonathan and told him not to worry, and promised she'd keep him informed.
Lois returned to the hospital before noon, feeling clean if not rested. She'd kept Martha company even as she got sicker throughout the day. That evening, Martha had experienced a heart attack and was moved into the intensive care unit. Lois had been evicted to the family waiting area.
By morning, when the doctors decided to do a cardiac catheterization, CJ had driven to Smallville to pick up his grandfather. Kat had joined Lois in the wait. Messages had been left for Clark in every possible location, but they all knew it was unlikely that he would check in with them until every emergency in Japan was dealt with.
The cardiac cath had revealed three total blockages to Martha's heart. She was flown to Metropolis General on Friday afternoon, and the waiting began all over again.
The weekend had been a blur of illness and Martha's irrepressible sense of humor. She'd badgered the nurses, grumbled about the food, and whined incessantly that she wanted to go home. Lois had stayed by the side of her mother-in-law, trying to give Jonathan the support he so desperately needed. She had worried, cried, and even laughed with the older woman. She had fielded calls from half of Smallville as Martha's friends expressed their concern. It didn't seem like much, but it was all she could do for the parents that were even closer to her than her own had ever been.
Monday morning had brought the physician's decision to operate. A triple-bypass was Martha's only chance of ever leaving the hospital, and they had to take it. Jonathan had been worried but optimistic. Lois had been terrified.
Martha Kent went to the operating room on Tuesday morning. CJ and Kat had stayed with Lois and Jonathan, reminding them to eat and making sure they took care of themselves.
The surgery had gone well. While it had been difficult to see Martha on the respirator, she'd seemed to bounce back. They'd taken out the breathing tube on Thursday morning and had even set Martha up in a chair for a while.
Lois had teased her about the hoarse, "Daffy Duck" voice with which she'd argued with her nurses and complained about the oxygen mask. But, despite Martha's spunk, her body was weak. Her heartbeat increased and became irregular, and her blood pressure dropped. By evening, she was back on the respirator, weaker than she had been before.
On Friday, Lois went from nervous to terrified. Martha no longer responded to her voice and hadn't even the strength to nod or squeeze her hand. Lois sat for hours in the waiting area, trying desperately not to lose hope. Jonathan stayed at his wife's bedside, speaking little and refusing to eat.
Just as Lois' heart had reached its lowest ebb, she had seen her husband's face. His warm brown eyes at once relieved her and filled her with guilt.
He'd asked her to take care of his mother. While it was a fairly normal request, one he'd made a dozen times in the past, this one time it hadn't worked out. She felt guilty about everything from taking Martha out to eat, to not having been able to contact Clark, to not being able to console Jonathan or protect CJ and Kat from her worry.
Lois had never been one to relax and let matters take care of themselves. Although she had slowed her pace considerably since her own illness years before, her worrying nature had remained persistent.
Clark glanced through the walls and encountered nothing except blackness. "X-ray machines," he commented dryly, recognizing the lead walls from his frustrating experiences in the emergency room.
"I'll take you back," Lois told him softly. She walked over to an intercom panel on the wall and pressed one of the two buttons. After a short wait, the impersonal, disembodied female voice asked her what she wanted.
"Martha Kent's family would like to see her," she said clearly.
"One moment," was the sterile reply. It was more than a moment, but several minutes later the voice returned. "You can come back now."
Lois took him by the hand and led him down the hall. She tapped a metal button on the wall to open the double-doors. She led him to a sink, and he followed her example of hand washing before trailing behind her to his mother's room.
"They just moved her to her own room," Lois said softly. "It looks like we're going to be here awhile."
Clark tried to listen to his wife's words, but his eyes were glued to the form in the bed. He stood frozen until Lois moved to his mother's side and took a swollen hand in her own.
"Honey, Clark's here," she told her, stroking the hand and arm gently.
Clark tried to move closer, but found himself pinned in place. His father was sitting silently on the far-side of the bed and had yet to acknowledge him. The woman in the bed did not look like his mother. She barely looked human. Her face and body were swollen, her skin pierced by dozens of tubes and wires. A plastic tube extended from her mouth, facilitating the artificial looking breathing of the respirator.
Her eyes were open, her hands and feet moving in jerky, disconnected motions. She didn't respond to Lois' words or actions beyond increasing the agitated movement.
Clark had dealt with hospitals. He'd seen his wife incapacitated for more than a year, comatose and frighteningly still. Yet he'd never seen this.
Three months before, his father-in-law had battled cancer and he had lost. It had been painful, but they had seen it through as a family. The cancer that had killed Sam Lane had been mercifully quick and ruthlessly inoperable. The time from diagnosis to death had been less than two weeks. Aside from on oxygen cannula, a clear tube that fed oxygen directly into Sam's nose, they hadn't dealt with medical equipment much more invasive than an IV.
Lois' father had passed quickly, quietly, painlessly, and with more dignity than Clark could have imagined. The loss had hurt, and Lois was still not back to herself, but the hurt had become bearable over time.
Clark and Lois had leaned on one another, and he knew that Lois had become closer to his mother during that time. His trips home had become even more frequent, and gradually the shared grief became shared remembrance of a life that was long and productive.
Sam might have been related to him only by marriage, and certainly wasn't often around, but Clark had suffered a measure of grief in losing him. He had shared the grief with Lois, but only his mother was able to aide him without her own emotions to deal with. His mother had shared her strength with him, and now he wondered where that strength could be. His mother was pale, weak, and frail. Her thin body was swollen from the fluids they had given her, and his father was offering little help to the situation. Clark had no idea what to do.
Lois saw his discomfort and reached back for Clark's hand. He stepped forward tentatively, knowing that this was his mother, but not knowing how to handle this particular situation.
Lois spoke gently. "Clark's here now, Mom. He's been out saving the world again."
Stepping up behind his wife, Clark looked down into his mother's eyes. He couldn't stop the tremor in his voice as he spoke. "I love you, Mom."
Martha's eyes opened widely and she began to struggle against the restraints that were around her wrists. Her lips moved around the intrusive plastic tubing as if she wanted to speak, but there was no sound.
"Mom?" Clark squeaked. Then he turned and fled the room.
She had fluid in her lungs. Her heart was weak and irregular. She was retaining so much fluid that her kidneys were in danger of failing. Martha Kent was a very, very sick woman.
The physicians were guardedly optimistic, but Clark Kent was petrified. He had never seen anyone so deathly ill; not his wife, and not Lois' father. The worst part was that even with all his powers, all his gifts, he could do nothing to save her.
The helplessness and guilt that he had learned while Lois had recovered from CJ's birth, the dread that had been pounded home when Sam Lane had died, was back in his life full-force. The emotions were complicated by the added guilt of having been unreachable when his presence might have made a difference.
"Is she in any pain?" he asked softly. His gaze was unfocused as he stood before the glass walls opposite the main elevators. He saw nothing of the dazzling sunset before him.
"No," Lois answered as she slid her arms around his body and rested her cheek against his back. "The medications are tricky because they make her blood pressure even lower, but they make sure she doesn't hurt."
He nodded his understanding but didn't risk speech. He wasn't fond of emotional scenes in public, but he was very close to being in the middle of one. Closing his eyes, he tried to eliminate the vision of his mother as he had just seen her.
"Can we talk to a doctor?" he finally asked.
Lois sighed and tightened her arms around his body. "We can ask," she told him. "Unfortunately, as much care as they give her is also as little care as they give her relatives. Last night they kept us out here for four hours. It was all I could do to keep your father calm. They kicked us out at five o'clock and didn't let us know what was going on until after nine."
"What was going on?"
"Blood pressure, heart rate… you name it. They defibrillated her twice, and they didn't tell me there was a problem until it was over and she was stable."
He turned in her arms and pinned her with angry eyes. "Don't sugar coat this," he said sarcastically.
She placed her hands on his cheeks and met his angry gaze, knowing his anger was at the situation but not at her. "I won't lie to you about this," she explained. "It's too important, and I love you too much."
Closing his eyes, he rested his forehead against hers. Tears slipped through despite the effort he made to stop them. They had been building from the moment he had read Lois' note hours before:
*Martha has had a
heart attack. We're at
Metropolis General. Come
quick. It's bad.*
Clark had followed the instructions, nearly causing a sonic boom despite his fatigue. Unfortunately, he still felt that it had been too little, too late.
"What else?" he asked softly.
"She's running a fever," Lois said more gently. "That indicates infection. She's not really aware, either. She doesn't know or respond to your dad and I. The epinephrine is messing up her pancreas, so they're having to give her insulin. I guess the worst is that they can't sedate her with her blood pressure this low."
"What do the doctors say?"
"Not much," Lois answered bitterly. "They're mostly absent. The nurses seem optimistic, but I can't tell when they're honest and when they're trying to protect us." She met his gaze squarely once more. "Maybe that's why I was too blunt, but I'm so sick of being placated that I'm ready to throw up! I won't put you through that; you'll get enough of that here from the staff."
He nodded his understanding, his apology for his anger in the lines of his face. "I don't know what to do," he explained. "Whenever I feel this lost, I call my mom."
Lois held him more tightly. "It's just waiting," she explained. "The doctors are doing all they can."
The next days took on a routine of waiting and wondering. While Martha responded some to Clark's presence, her condition only remained stable. There seemed to be times when she wanted to talk to Clark. Her lips moved around the plastic tube, but she was unable to make sounds.
Frequently, Martha became so frustrated with the lack of communication that she refused to even look at Clark. These were the times that he found the most frustrating.
Each day seemed to bring a new concern. Her body remained swollen, her blood pressure remained low, and her frustration seemed to mount.
Clark and Jonathan remained at the hospital almost constantly. CJ and Lois continued their vigil in the shifts that had become routine to them. Lois had been at the routine long enough that she remembered the little things: meals, resting, and keeping something in her hands to occupy her mind and ease the waiting.
Clark was out of practice, so he let his worry overwhelm him. Lois reminded him to eat and showed him the best places to get away from the constant buzz of the busy hospital.
Lois didn't realize how tightly strung her husband really was until they had dinner Monday night in the Cafeteria. Clark finally placed his hands over his ears with every evidence of pain.
"You okay?" she asked softly.
"I don't know," he replied. "I can't seem to tune out sounds, and those beepers are giving me a headache."
"You're tired," Lois reasoned. "We'll start sitting outside for meals tomorrow. You need the sunlight."
"I guess I have been spending too much time in the artificial lights," he admitted.
"You need some sleep, too," Lois added. "When I was sick, you used to sleep in my room. I know you can't do that now, but you have to let your body rest."
"Lois, I don't…"
"Need as much sleep as I do," Lois finished for him. "I know that. Hell, after twenty years I know more about what you need than you do! My point is that you're so worried about your mom that you're not taking care of yourself. She wouldn't want that."
Clark considered arguing, but just then another pager sounded. He misjudged the strength necessary to hold a paper cup, and crushed his coffee in his grip.
Lois handed him several napkins and didn't bother to say another word. Clark sighed as he realized that she didn't have to.
Lois put her arms around CJ and held him as he cried.
The day had begun with such promise. The sun was high and bright, giving warmth to the spring morning. They had arrived for nine o'clock visiting hours and had been elated to see Martha without the noisy ventilator that they had all begun to hate. Their high spirits had plummeted when Martha's disorientation had become apparent.
At first, they had been able to laugh when Martha rolled her eyes and asked where the baby was. Giggling, they had explained that she'd had heart surgery and not a c-section. Martha had laughed with them.
Later, when Martha had called a nurse by Lois' name, asked Clark to fix dinner for his father, and not recognized CJ at all, the humor was harder to see. When CJ had kissed his grandmother on the cheek and told her that he loved her, Martha had bluntly responded, "Who are you?"
CJ had made it to the waiting area before he had broken down. Martha and Jonathan had always been more than special to CJ. They had nurtured him as an infant, named him, and cared for him whenever his parents were unable.
It had been their love and support that had anchored him when his powers had begun to manifest themselves. His parents had wanted to help, but it was Jonathan who had explained and Martha that had accepted when his parents had been too buried in their own crises to see into his.
When Jonathan had strained his back the summer before, CJ had moved in with his grandparents, commuting the distance to Midwestern University, having to assure himself daily that the two of them would be okay.
By the time CJ had neared his graduation, he and his grandparents had been virtually inseparable. And now, Martha had no clue who he was.
Lois rubbed his back, wishing she had the words to offer some hope. The truth was, she had no idea what was causing the disorientation. Martha had been on more medications and in poorer health the first time she'd been extubated, yet she had been lucid at that time. She had been tired and weak, but she'd known who she was, where she was, and knew who was with her. Now, she knew none of these things.
"The nurses are running some tests," Lois murmured to comfort herself as much as her son. "This is probably temporary."
"I know, Mom," he said quietly, finally calming some. "It just hurts. It's bad enough that Grandpa is so quiet, but I really thought Grandma would get better."
"I know, baby," she answered softly. "She will. You just have to keep believing it."
Days turned into weeks. Martha had good days and bad days, and at some point the days began to seem more good than bad. Jonathan relaxed as Martha improved, still demanding his place at her side, and yet becoming easier to manage as well. He ate occasionally, left the hospital long enough to shower and get clean clothes, and once in a great, great while he smiled.
It was a long road. There were no quick-fixes for someone as ill as Martha. Every step forward had at least one step back. She was moved from ICU twice, and twice she returned due to additional complications. As the first of May approached, she finally seemed to be on the road to recovery.
Just as everyone began to feel a sense of relief, Martha required another surgery. The doctors placed a tracheostomy tube in her throat, allowing the respirator to be attached there, rather than through her mouth. It was a mixed blessing. Martha could mouth words now, could have her teeth brushed and suck on flavored, glycerin coated swabs to keep her mouth moist. She could not, however, eat or drink anything. Her nutrition came from the nasogastric tube which was inserted through her nose and descended to her stomach. A feeding pump regulated the rate at which her liquid diet was delivered.
She mouthed the word "coffee" over and over. It became an unwritten rule that no one was to come into the room with a cup of coffee in hand. The subject was skirted, the beverage was never mentioned in her private room in ICU. Once, CJ dipped a dry cotton swab in his coffee and let Martha suck on it a while. The physicians had a fit, but Martha smiled for the first time in weeks. It was amazing what a little coffee could accomplish.
Just as quickly as Martha had turned her body towards recovery, her body turned back. The medications to rid her body of fluid caused her potassium to drop, and this precipitated a rapid and irregular heart beat. The medications to control her heart both lowered her blood pressure and stressed her kidneys. The medications to relieve her kidneys were ineffective, and blood transfusions, while increasing her blood pressure, caused her body to become jaundiced.
Gradually, her liver failed, her kidneys failed, and even her digestive system began to fail. She didn't have the strength to digest food, so she was started on TPN, an intravenous nutrition. This, in turn, stressed her kidneys further, requiring dialysis to purify her blood. Each treatment initiated another ailment, and each ailment required treatment. The roller coaster roared on, and it was Martha and her family that were left stunned and frightened.
There were times when Martha Kent seemed to be no more than a bundle of diagnoses, a collection of various illnesses were kept alive by needles and tubes. She wasn't the Martha that they knew and loved, wasn't the devoted mother, the understanding grandmother. She wasn't the artist or the friend, the neighbor or the farmer's wife. She was simply a patient, property of the hospital, and there appeared to be no end in sight.
"Happy Mother's Day," Clark said softly as he placed a small teddy bear next to his mother's frail body. The bear wore a "prayer ribbon", made by Mrs. Tipton in the family waiting area.
Clark had found that the area was just that. A waiting family. The Kent family was one of about fifteen families that inhabited the room. They knew one another's names, their family situations, and their loved ones' illness facts.
Mrs. Johnson had been the first friend that they had seen lose the fight. Her husband had received a new heart, and his body had never fully accepted it. For the first three weeks that they had spent in the waiting area, Mrs. Johnson's smile had given them all hope. She hadn't given up, not even at the last, when the man that she had been married to for over thirty years didn't know her name. The night he died, Clark had held her for more than an hour while she waited for her children to come and get her. She'd no longer had a reason to stay. She'd been back to visit twice, bringing donuts and jellybeans to share with the new families that had taken her place. She brought her smile with her, every time.
Mrs. Tipton was a newlywed. Married only four months, her husband had entered the hospital for a lung transplant almost three months before. He was not doing well. The man was combative, when conscious, and his ups and downs were as frequent as Martha's had been. Gail Tipton had begun to weave ribbons into lapel decorations. The "prayer ribbon" was a reminder. When you accepted one, you promised to pray for every person who wore one, whatever their need might be. It didn't matter if you knew who had them, because God did. Clark had loved the idea and had immediately joined the assembly line of people weaving ribbons into the decorations.
He had found it interesting that you could identify a third-floor family member by their ribbon. People who had never been in a church wore them and remembered to pray. Nothing brought you closer to God than the possibility of sending a loved one to be with him.
The family waiting room contained a variety of people with frighteningly similar situations. Third floor ICU was primarily for heart and lung surgeries, so they all had a great deal in common. Mr. Bellamy was in for his new lungs, and his sisters were well known for their cheery personalities, their informal prayer circles when anyone took a turn for the worst, and their failure to arrive before noon each day. Even though their brother had been moved to another area of the third floor, the sisters still remained in the waiting area, answering the phone there and taking messages for the board.
The message board was another thing Clark had grown to love. He frequently found himself in the big chair by the phone, jotting down messages for family members that had taken a moment to go for lunch or grab a shower. The huge dry-erase board was their only way to receive messages regarding who had called them and leave messages regarding where they had gone. It was a simple system, based on families helping one another out, and it worked surprisingly well. It also provided him an outlet for his mind, as the phone was always ringing. In between the infrequent visits to his mother, the telephone occupied him.
The families provided one another with prayers, love, and most of all, understanding. They translated the cryptic words of doctors and nurses with their own experience to guide them and clarified instructions that made no sense. They used their own loved-ones as a guide and aided others through the process of pre-op and post-op routines as though they were the professionals. They took care of one another.
When a family's name was erased from the board, it meant one of two things. It meant that either the family was moving down from ICU into a step-down unit, or that a loved one had lost their battle. When a family member passed on, they all felt it. When a family member moved on, they all rejoiced. Twice, the Kent name had been removed from the board in ICU, with prayers of praise offered all around. Twice it had returned.
The first prayer ribbon that Clark had made was now worn by the small teddy bear he had found in the gift shop. It seemed a small thing, but the hand-blown glass hummingbird that he had chosen for her was back in Claremont, and he didn't have the heart to leave and get it. Flying with it might break it, and the drive was too long to contemplate. He decided instead to give her the cuddly bear with its knitted blue sweater and the uneven ribbon that he had woven himself.
The ribbon was just a symbol, but it was an important one. Religion aside, it stood for hope, and hope was in short supply.
This was not the Mother's Day that Clark had planned. His father had been unusually surly, and it had taken both CJ and Clark over half an hour to get him out of the room for linen changes. It was the one time of the day that the nurses would not tolerate families in attendance, and Clark could understand why.
At seven in the morning, and again at seven at night, the nurses did a full bed and dressing change on each patient. They physicians came through to do "rounds" and discuss the prognosis of each patient. Breathing tubes were suctioned, orders were written, and gowns were changed. It was a full two hours in the morning, from seven to nine, and a single hour in the evenings, only seven to eight. Every family member was evicted, despite their worry and the illness of their loved one. It was hospital policy.
Jonathan Kent had no tolerance for policy. It had been almost eight o'clock before Clark had convinced his father to leave, and even so he had sent CJ to accompany him and ensure that he did eat something and take a shower before returning. A nap would be good, as well, but Clark didn't bother hoping for the impossible.
The only way Clark had managed to get his father out of the room was to promise that he would stay. He had done so, first in the waiting room, and now he would stay here, by his mother's bedside, and spend some quality time.
He turned the television channels until he found a home-improvement program. While he didn't have any interest in putting in a new bathroom sink, he knew his mother would prefer this program to the soap operas and game shows that dominated the morning lineup. He settled into the surprisingly comfortable chair that was next to her bed, and waited.
He was just beginning to doze when Kat walked in. A glance at the wall clock told him that it was almost eleven, and he was stunned that he'd been sitting for so long. Kat smiled, walked over to his mother, and said a few soft words before taking her hand and glancing over her shoulder at the television.
"How is she?" Clark asked. They all trusted Kat's impressions far more than the floor nurses. Kat was honest to a fault, knowing that they needed the truth over placation.
"Stable," Kat said with a smile. "Blood pressure looks good, and heart rate, too. Urine's a little dark, but that's not unusual. Oh-two sats are stable, the pressure's up a bit on the respirator, but the oxygen's down. Looks pretty good, actually."
Clark nodded, then gestured to the dialysis unit that had taken up residence next to the bed. It was an annoying machine, with its clicks and whines and the constant need to change the large bags of fluid with which they filtered his mother's blood-waste.
Martha's blood pressure was too unstable for regular dialysis — the type that was done in an hour or two a day — and required constant filtration. The unit clicked and hummed twenty-four hours a day, its fluid bags requiring hourly changes. Clark appreciated the necessity of the machine, but when added to the respirator and oxygen machines, it still bothered him.
Martha's breath suddenly took on a wheezing quality, and she began to struggle. Kat calmed her expertly even as she reached for the nurses' call-bell. When the nurse stuck her head into Martha's room, Kat requested that Martha be suctioned.
The nurse agreed and came in to perform the procedure. Salt water was dribbled down the tracheostomy tube, and a long tube was lowered and used to remove any fluid and mucus that was causing Martha distress. The procedure took only a moment, but the relief that she received was total. She could breathe again. The nurse nodded in approval, then made an adjustment to the respirator.
As the nurse left the room and closed the curtain, Kat sighed. "I'd rather just do it myself," she commented. "But I know they'd have a fit."
"You do half their job," Clark said with a grin. "Everything from bed baths to linen changes."
"I do what I can," she admitted. "But it's their job, and they're the best at it. I've never worked in ICU, so most of this I'm learning as I go."
"I'm glad you learn fast."
Martha coughed. The plastic connection between the respirator and the trach popped apart, and the woman began to struggle.
Kat reacted quickly, grabbing the call-button with one hand, then re- attaching the respirator with the other. She said nothing as she waited for the nurse's return, but her face was tense. When the connection popped again, this time without even a cough to precipitate it, she gestured for Clark.
He had already stood nervously, and when Kat waved him over he followed her instructions and held his hand over the connection to keep it in place. Kat disappeared quickly though the curtain, leaving Clark standing there, holding his mother's life in his hand.
She returned seconds later with a nurse in tow. It wasn't Martha's nurse, but Clark didn't particularly care. The nurse apologized profusely as she tied a cloth ribbon to one side of the respirator, then slipped it behind Martha's neck to tie it to the other side. The ribbon effectively kept the respiration connection from separating.
"We've increased the pressure so that her oxygen could be decreased a little more. Apparently that's a little more pressure than the connection can take. Instead of pushing the air into her lungs, it pushed the respirator off. This should take care of it."
"How dangerous is that?" Clark asked, but his eyes were on Kat rather than the nurse who had begun the explanation.
"It's not," Kat replied softly. "She could be without the respirator for several minutes before her sats even drop. There's no damage done. It was just a little frightening for her."
"She's not the only one," Clark complained.
The nurse watched the interaction between Clark and Kat but didn't offer any additional explanation. Apparently, Kat's diagnosis was close enough that she didn't feel a need. Instead, she promised to relay the incident to Martha's regular nurse, who was caring for another patient at the time.
Clark watched the woman leave. He had to keep his glare in check, as he didn't want to set the flowered scrubs ablaze.
"Everything's okay," Kat told Martha, her voice pitched so that Clark heard the words clearly. She showed no awareness of the words, but Kat continued talking anyway. "I know it all seems scary, and that you just want to go home, but they're taking good care of you here."
"Are they really?" Clark asked, his voice soft, uncertain.
"They're doing everything they can," Kat told him honestly. "Absolutely everything."
Lois found Kat in the dining room, staring out the far window at the trees that were beginning to blossom. Pink and white flowers seemed out of place in the dim hospital setting, but life went on. Even when it didn't.
She didn't see the tears on Kat's face until she had taken a seat, placing a glass of sweet tea in front of the younger woman. It was her favorite.
"Thanks," Kat whispered. She sniffled, wiped ineffectively at tears, then sniffled again.
"Are you okay?" Lois asked. It seemed a stupid question. None of them were okay. The world was falling apart and they were at the still center of the tornado.
"I'm fine," Kat said. "Just being stupid."
"There's nothing 'stupid' about being upset," Lois corrected.
"I'm not upset about Martha, though," Kat whispered. At Lois' raised eyebrow, Kat clarified. "I mean, of course I'm upset. I love Martha. She's as much my grandma as CJ's, but that wasn't why…" Her voice trailed off.
Lois thought a moment, then dug in her purse for some Kleenex, offering them to Kat. "You know," she said absently, "I was thinking last night that you were supposed to get married next week. I was wondering if that might have you just a little upset."
"It shouldn't," Kat said, her tears flowing once more. "There's so much more to think about, worrying about a wedding just seems stupid."
"It wouldn't be stupid to Martha," Lois told Kat firmly. "She loves weddings. I remember how excited she was when we were planning mine. She wasn't as forward as my mother. In fact, she's all that kept my mother in line, but she was so excited that you could just feel it coming off her in waves."
"I don't want to have the ceremony without her," Kat explained. "Even if I did, I don't think CJ would leave long enough to do it. He's so worried about Jonathan."
"He has good reason," Lois agreed. "Jonathan hasn't been handling any of this very well."
"I know that, and I'm not upset that CJ wants to stay. I mean, his professors have been really good about letting him do his assignments and send them in, and he's going to be able to graduate, if he wants to. I think it's wonderful that he can stay here, even when I can't. But I'm upset, too. We have our whole lives ahead of us, and as selfish as it sounds, I want to get started."
"That isn't selfish," Lois assured her. "It's human. You and CJ have waited six years for this wedding, and you have every right to expect it to happen. I remember what that feels like. Clark and I planned and planned, and everything that could go wrong did."
"You didn't give up."
"We thought about it," Lois admitted. "More than once, as a matter of fact, but we just couldn't let go of one another. You and CJ are the same way. You're soul mates, and you belong together. The longer it takes to get there, the better it will be when you manage it."
"Nice words," Kat said wryly. "But the bed's still cold at night."
"I hear ya," Lois grinned. "The most important things in life are worth waiting for. That doesn't make the wait easy. It's fine for you to feel cheated, feel angry. You're right, this was lousy timing. Still, Martha didn't plan it, and I know she'd be miserable if she realized that her illness was turning our lives upside down."
"She'd kick us out," Kat said, blowing her nose and taking a deep breath.
"She would," Lois agreed.
"So, are you going anywhere?" Kat asked with a smile.
"Of course not," Lois said with a grin. "I'm as stubborn as she is. And she *is* stubborn, Kat. She never would have made it to eighty-five if she weren't. She can still pull through this. The doctors haven't given up on her, and I won't until they do."
Kat nodded. "Thanks, Mom," she smiled.
Lois did a double-take, then grinned broadly. "You're welcome," she said. Then, after a pause, "I always did want a daughter. I'm sure glad I got you."
"I love you," Kat said softly.
"You, too, Kat."
CJ took a deep breath as he walked out of the transportation tunnel that connected the parking garage with Metropolis General Hospital. Perhaps it was the lack of sunlight in the underground transport, or maybe it was just the gloom of the hospital environment, but the tunnel always made him uncomfortable.
They had rented a small apartment across the street from the parking garage. It wasn't much, only one bedroom and a kitchenette, but it was a place that they could rest and shower when they were taking shifts at the hospital.
Oddly, Martha required very little of their attention. The doctors and nurses were able to care for her adequately. The person that needed the most effort was Jonathan.
CJ had always loved his grandparents. They had been as important to him in his growing up as his parents had been. While Lois and Clark had set the limits and enforced the rules, it had been Martha and Jonathan that had given him the other comforts of home. Pot roast and love… there was little more that a growing boy needed. Martha had given him understanding and compassion as well as a good swift kick in the pants when he needed it. She had been his rock.
It wasn't that Lois and Clark were inferior parents, just that they were both new at the job, and dropped in head-first without the usual nine months of preparation time. Martha and Jonathan had been there, done that, and had washed the T-shirts several times. They were old-hands at all of it, from middle-of-the-night feedings to manifesting powers. They had done it all and were more than willing to share their knowledge. They baby-sat, gave advice, and offered their home as a refuge against the world. Dad flew off to save the world, Mom drove off to report it, and it was Grandma and Grandpa that stayed at home with CJ.
Now, he couldn't decide which was more difficult. Seeing his grandmother so close to death, or his grandfather so despondent and ready to follow.
They were not young. As vital as each seemed, they had been in their thirties when Clark had been found and had been in their sixties when he had been born. Now, as Martha approached her eighty-sixth birthday and Jonathan looked forward to his eighty-fifth, they were no longer young. They had battled through various ailments through the years, but never before had they reached a point this low.
CJ loved his grandparents, and he found himself afraid. It wasn't just for his grandmother, although he was terrified of what life would be like without her, but rather it was losing both of them that worried him. Martha was so sick, looked so bad, that he could almost see her passing as a blessing. Jonathan on the other hand was essentially healthy, or had been before he'd stopped eating and moving around. Some days he looked more ill than his wife, and that frightened CJ as well.
He didn't want his grandma to die. He did want the hurting to stop, the waiting to stop. It seemed to be a never-ending ride, and he didn't know what to do about it. He was tired of the ups and downs, the bad outweighing the good. He was tired of the hope being crushed, and the good news being tainted with bad. He was just plain tired.
They had been at Metropolis General for almost six weeks. It was exhausting. He was doing most of his course work by correspondence, due to the light class load he was carrying and a group of very understanding professors. Still, he seemed to spend almost all his time sitting, rather than studying or helping out. The sitting was more tiring than working.
CJ had just made it the distance from the transportation tunnel to the elevators when they opened before him. Kat stepped out, looking tear-stained and tired, giving him a weak smile.
"Hey," she said softly, stepping into his arms for a quick hug.
"Hey, yourself," he replied. "You okay?"
"Hanging in," she told him. "Did you get Jonathan to take a nap?"
"Yeah. He sat down to watch a few minutes of the news and he was out." He looked at her closely, the puffy eyes and tired smile. "What's wrong? Is Grandma worse?"
"Same," she assured him. "They increased the respirator pressure and it kept popping off, not that that's new."
"Is it getting that serious?"
"No," she assured him. "It just looks bad. Oh, they did decide to take her down to CT scan, though. Her lungs have built up so much resistance to the respirator that they're worried about pneumonia again."
"So, what else is new?" he asked sarcastically.
"Yeah," she agreed. "Your dad went with her, but the waiting room's packed so I decided to try and find you."
CJ put his arm around Kat and steered her back towards the transportation tunnel. "You mean, Grandma's inaccessible, Dad's okay, and Grandpa's sleeping? And you and I are in the same place at the same time?"
"It's a miracle," she agreed with a laugh.
CJ laughed too, albeit a rusty one, then turned to give her a hug. He took a quick peek over her shoulder, then his, and finally leaned down to kiss her.
Being in love while your life was in turmoil was not a fun experience. Every moment they spent together was shadowed by the situation, by their worry, and by their family's constant presence. Moments when they could just be together were rare. Moments that they could be *alone* together were nonexistent.
Kat leaned into the kiss, wrapped her arms more tightly around him, and just held on. He could feel some of the desperation in her kiss, the worry for the future and the fear for the present. More than that, though, he felt her love.
CJ startled as he heard voices just beyond the ramp to the tunnel. He pulled away reluctantly just as the voices became clearer and a woman pushing a stroller came into view. He focused his attention on that stroller, trying to get his mind off the disappointment at being interrupted during even such an innocent kiss.
The child was bald. Older than the usual baby found in a stroller, perhaps six or seven, the child was not recognizable as a boy or girl. Long and thin, the child wearing a nasal cannula and leaning against the oxygen tank that was propped next to her. CJ knew they were headed to the fifth floor, the one with the huge aquarium that dominated the lobby. The aquarium that had fascinated him until he realized that he was on the floor for pediatrics.
As one of the largest medical centers on the east coast, and one of the most open to experimental treatments, the pediatric ward was a haven for children with cancer. CJ saw them every day, in the cafeteria and the parking garage, both inpatient and outpatient: Children who might never get the chance to live. For some reason, he found them far more upsetting than his own grandmother's illness, and this was the root of immeasurable guilt.
"I'm thinking about ice cream," Kat said softly, watching CJ's eyes and understanding what he would never say. That was one reason that he loved her so much. She knew his thoughts, even when he didn't speak them, and she never judged.
"Chocolate?" he asked gently.
Chapter 5… June
CJ watched as Kat swirled her dessert around in its bowl. Double fudge brownie ice cream mixed with hot fudge and chocolate chips. He had the feeling that she would have ordered chocolate whipped cream if it had been available, but thankfully it wasn't.
She must have sensed his gaze, because she looked up with a sheepish expression. She shrugged, then took another bite of ice cream.
"Marry me," he requested softly.
Kat smiled at him, turned her left hand, which was still holding her spoon, and flaunted the diamond he had given her.
"No," he said suddenly. "I mean now. Today. Marry me."
"What?" she asked, actually sounding stunned.
"I know the wedding is off, or at least postponed," he explained. "But I'm sick of waiting. I've known that I wanted you as my wife for the last ten years. There's no reason to wait."
"Your grandmother…" she began.
"Will understand," he finished for her. "Hell, she'd probably insist. You know what a romantic she is, and she loves you."
"It's mutual," Kat reminded him. "That's why I'm so confused. Yes, I want to have married you. I want to marry you five years ago! But with everything that's going on…"
CJ sighed, trying to collect his thoughts. He didn't know where his sense of urgency was coming from. Maybe it was losing his grandfather six months before, or the possibility of losing his grandmother now. Life was too short, too unpredictable. "We've had the blood tests," he reasoned. "We were supposed to get married next week, anyway. I know that the big wedding is on hold, because Mom's too busy to put it together, but we can still go to a Justice of the Peace. I don't care, Kat. I want to marry you. I want you to be my wife." He looked her directly in the eyes and told her, "I want to sleep with you, and *not* sleep!"
She laughed softly and took his hand in hers. She petted his left hand, tracing the fine hairs that grew there, lacing her fingers with his until they were palm to palm. "I love you," she told him. "And it's not that I *want* to wait, but I don't want you to regret this. If Martha's out of the hospital in a few weeks, I don't want you upset that she missed it."
"We can have a ceremony later," he reminded her. "But I want the piece of paper, Kat. I want permission to be your husband."
"If she doesn't make it," Kat said gently. "Will you be able to look back on the wedding with more than grief? This will be one of the most important days in our lives, and I don't want it clouded."
"Will it be for you?" he asked. He hadn't considered her feelings on the matter. She was as close to Grandma Martha as he was.
"No," she finally answered. "I've been yours for years. Probably my whole life."
"I'd like to be able to look back on this summer and remember some good," CJ told her. "Nothing will take away how awful it was, but it will be that much worse if I think of it as the time I was *supposed* to get married, and didn't."
Kat just waited, considered. She didn't speak.
"Kat, I love you," he told her again. "I'll love you whatever you decide. But I want to do this. I want you to be my wife. Now."
"I love you, too," she reassured him. "My worries aren't because of that." She released his hand and went back to her melting bowl of chocolate. "If I marry you," she told him. "I want to make love. Are you going to be thinking of your grandmother?"
CJ laughed at that. "I don't think I'll be thinking much of anything," he said with a smile. "Except how gorgeous you are, and how lucky I am, and how much I love you."
"She's fairly stable," Kat reasoned aloud. "There hasn't been any significant change in her condition in the last week."
They sat there together for several minutes, looking at one another, thinking and considering and wondering.
Up until three weeks before, even after Martha's surgery and first tentative steps towards recovery and descent back into illness, they had planned for the wedding to occur. No one had imagined that Martha's illness would go on for so long. One way or another, they had both thought it would be over before this.
Only after the first return to ICU, following a cardiac arrest in the step-down unit, had Kat and CJ decided to postpone the wedding. There had been no formal decision, but rather a mutual, unconscious decision.
"I canceled the band," CJ had told Kat, regret in his eyes. "We got most of the deposit back."
"Good," she had replied. "As long as we give another date, we can move the restaurant reservations without losing anything. I told them August, but we can move it from then if we need to."
One by one, each of their carefully made plans had been changed. No apology was given, and no explanation was needed. The wedding had simply taken a back seat to Martha's needs.
Kat had finished the last of her classes in January and was only waiting on the results of her State Nursing Boards to upgrade her status from Licensed Vocational Nurse to Registered Nurse. She had finally resigned her position at Emmingham Convalescent Hospital in order to look for work closer to Metropolis. The job search had been curtailed by her need to support CJ as he looked after his grandfather. She hadn't found an apartment but instead moved into CJ's room in Claremont when she wasn't at the hospital with him. For a change, money wasn't a real problem. No tuition and no rent meant that there was money to spare from her savings.
CJ had gratefully sent in the last of his take-home final exams. His professors had been understanding enough to waive the requirement of attending the final lectures, based on letters from Martha's physicians coupled with CJ's record of good grades. He would graduate cum laude, regardless of the last several weeks. He hadn't decided whether he would return for the formal ceremonies, as he didn't know what his grandmother's condition would be at that time.
"The JP is open until five," CJ finally prodded. "I checked."
"Witnesses?" Kat asked.
"Uncle Jim only lives ten minutes from City Hall. I'm sure he has a friend or two he could bring along."
Kat thought a minute more, then smiled. "Your parents will kill us," she added, shaking her head.
"Nah. After what they went though to get married, I'm sure they'll understand. I'm surprised that they haven't suggested it, as a matter of fact. Besides, we can always have the big ceremony later, after everything's sorted out."
Kat looked down at her watch. "Three-fifteen," she muttered.
CJ just smiled in what he hoped was a most persuasive manner.
Finally, Kat laughed. "Call Jim," she told him. "Let's do it."
They stood outside the judge's chambers for almost an hour before he opened the door. A small, balding man, he seemed rushed. He escorted them in, gestured for the witnesses to sit, then stood them in front of his desk before grabbing a little book and taking his place behind it.
"I'm used to kids," he murmured with a small smile. "Okay, let's get to business. Do you have rings?"
CJ looked at Kat in a moment of panic, at which she smiled. She slipped off her engagement ring and handed it to him. "We'll pick up the bands when we get home," she said softly.
The judge nodded his approval and began reading from his book.
It was short. There was no "dearly beloved", there were no bible verses or songs, and there was no request for a person to object. He had CJ put the ring on Kat, mentioned that it was a symbol. After having them say some simple vows, to love and respect one another, the judge paused.
"Would you like to make your own vows?" he asked gently.
CJ nodded, then cleared his throat. "I don't sing," he began. "But there's this song. Let me see if I can remember the words…
*"I could never promise you, on just my strength alone,
That all my life I'd care for you, and love you as my own.
I've never known the future. I only see today.
Words that last a lifetime would be more than I can say.
But the love inside my heart today is more than mine alone.
It never changes, never fails, and never seeks its own.
And by the God who gives it, and lives in me and you,
I know the words I speak today are words that I will do.
And so I stand before you now, for all to hear and see.
And promise you in Jesus' name the love He's given me.
And through the years on Earth, and as eternity goes by
The life and love He's given us are never going to die."*
Kat smiled, wiped a tear as it left her eye, and looked at the judge. "What he said," she whispered.
The judge nodded, smiled, and finished the marriage. "Clark Jonathan Kent and Kathryn Lynn Anderson, I now declare you husband and wife," he said. Then, to CJ, "You may kiss the bride."
CJ looked at Kat, at her puffy eyes and shaky smile, and he fell in love all over again. She wasn't cute when she cried. Her nose ran, and her face got puffy. She sniffled, and her red face all but hid the freckles that he so loved to look at. CJ reached forward, put his arms around his bride, and kissed her gently. "I love you," he reminded her.
"I love you, too," she sniffled.
James Olsen began applauding quietly, and his example was followed by the two friends he'd brought along. CJ didn't know them, but he recognized their faces as men who worked at the Planet.
CJ turned to face them, and smiled with embarrassment. He couldn't have said why. "Thanks, Uncle Jim," he finally said.
"Anytime," James told him as he stood. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world. Kat, you look beautiful." He leaned forward and kissed Kat's cheek. "We've been waiting for this since the two of you were old enough to be legal."
"Us, too," Kat assured him.
"Congratulations." One of the men that had accompanied James stood and offered the word, then moved to the desk where the judge was arranging paperwork.
"You'll need to sign here," he was saying. "And then the happy couple will sign just above that." The judge waited while CJ and Kat did so. "That's it," he said with a smile. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent, I hope you have many happy years together. Be sure and come back for the hard-copy of this in three to five days, and you can take that documentation to the DMV and Social Security offices, down on the first floor, if Kathryn should choose to change her name."
"Thanks," Kat said with a smile. "I'll be sure I do that. I've been trying to get into this family for twenty years, and I want all of it."
Everyone in the room laughed at that. Kat and CJ took their copy of the documents and were led from the room by the Judge, who had resumed his rushed demeanor.
"Well, we're married," CJ said, his voice a bit stunned.
"Weddings are quick and easy," James assured them. "It's the divorces that cost a fortune and take two years."
"I don't think we'll worry about that," Kat said softly. "As long as we've been together, if it were going to fall apart, it would have already happened."
"I know you're right," James allowed. He leaned forward and hugged Kat again, then shook CJ's hand. "I'm sorry your folks couldn't make it," he said gently.
"It'll be a good surprise," CJ reassured him. "We all need a good surprise about now."
James nodded his agreement, then said good-bye. CJ and Kat watched him go, talking and joking with his friends as he did so.
"I'm sorry he never found Miss Right," Kat said thoughtfully.
"He did," CJ told her. "And she took him for all he was worth. He told me a couple of years ago that he'll never remarry, he'll just find a woman he hates and buy her a house."
"That's sad," Kat decided.
"What's worse is that he meant it," CJ agreed. "As for us, though," he said with a smile, slipping his arms around her. "I'm going to take my wife to dinner, then take her home and make love to her, thoroughly, from head to toe."
Kat kissed him. Long, passionate, and loving. "Can we skip dinner?"
Candle light. Soft kisses. Exploration. Above all, the absolute sense of belonging to another person.
Kat was no stranger to the male form. She'd been nursing for the better part of five years, taking care of every physical need that male anatomy could conjure. She'd inserted catheters, irrigated and dressed abscessed groin injuries, and given more enemas than she cared to count. She was not inexperienced in viewing the male body.
She was stunned at the difference when it was someone she loved.
She and CJ had gained more than a little physical experience with one another over the years. They had slept in the same bed, touched and played… explored. For years they had been learning one another's bodies, but nothing had prepared her for this night. Her wedding night.
She'd asked him to keep the lights on. He had blushed. He was still blushing when he rose over her, still blushing as he made her his, and only in the final moments did the blush recede, replaced by a passion that she could never have imagined.
Kat had been CJ's best friend for twenty years. She was his confidant, then his girlfriend, and finally his fiancee. Tonight, she was his wife, and his lover. The words sounded as wonderful as they seemed strange.
Too many times, she had wondered if they would ever reach this point. They'd had their struggles; that much was certain. She had wondered if she'd ever accept his father's heritage. It had been frightening, loving someone from another planet. It had been more terrifying that she'd felt betrayed by his silence. Only time had shown her that he had been as afraid as she was, as unsure of himself as he was of her. Later, they had faced separation, absence. Learning to live independently had been harder than living together, and they had adjusted once more. There had been petty jealousies, meaningless arguments, and more doubt than either of them had been prepared for. The end result had been a stronger love, a better love. The end result was now.
"What are you thinking?" he asked softly. His body was warm around hers, still just a little sweaty, but his breathing was normal once more. Hers was still getting there.
"That I love you," she said with a smile.
He threaded his left hand though hers, looking at his own gold band and the matching ones that were on either side of her engagement diamond. The rings had been hidden in a little box, folded into a pair of burgundy socks that he never wore. Kat hadn't seen them until they'd returned to his room after their wedding, bags of food from a local takeout restaurant in hand.
It was a lovely set. She wondered if he'd chosen it himself, or if the salesperson had helped. Not that it mattered. She loved them, and she'd told him so in no uncertain terms. That was what had led to the hugging, and the hugging had led to that first kiss. The kiss had led them here, and the bags of food were still sitting on his dresser, cold and forgotten, and not really all that important to Kat at the moment.
"I love you, Mrs. Kent," CJ said, and she could hear the smile in his voice.
She turned herself over, enjoying the feeling of being next to him with no material in between for the first time in her life. "Mmm," she mumbled as she kissed him. "Say it again."
"Mrs. Kent," he muttered, but his lips were otherwise occupied to the point that he really didn't make an intelligible word. She understood him anyway.
She kissed him again. Deeper. Longer. *God, this is amazing.*
Her head popped up, and she looked him in the eye. "What did you say?" she asked frantically.
"I didn't say anything," CJ told her, his face showing his confusion.
"I heard you," she said firmly. "You said, 'this is amazing'. I know you did."
CJ frowned slightly. "I thought it," he clarified. "I never…"
"You were kissing me," she interrupted. "You couldn't have said it."
"That's what I said," he murmured slowly, but she could see that he was thinking.
He traced a finger along the side of her face, looked into her eyes. * Tell me what I'm thinking, now.*
"That you love me," she said with a grin.
CJ's surprise was clear. "I didn't say that, did I?"
"Not out loud."
*Count to ten,* he requested.
"One, two, three…" She couldn't finish because of the smile on her face.
"You really hear that," he murmured in wonder.
"Tell me this is another Kryptonian power," she requested. "Otherwise I'm going to think I'm insane."
He shook his head. "Not that I know of," he explained. "Dad had some telepathy with the other Kryptonians, but I don't think he had it with Mom. If he had, they wouldn't have argued so much."
"Do you think it's because we…"
"No," he answered. "I think it's because you know me so well. It's because I love you, and because you *want* to know what I'm thinking."
She shook her head in wonder. "You sound awfully sure."
*I'm sure I love you,* he thought. *Right now, that's all I want to know.*
CJ couldn't seem to get himself awake. His only awareness was of the warmth in his arms and the contentment that was stealing through his entire body. Then the ringing came again.
It took all the control he possessed to keep from destroying the telephone as he reached for it. Somehow, he got his hand around the receiver and brought it to his ear without causing any permanent damage.
"CJ, it's Dad."
He didn't have to hear the next words. He could tell by his father's voice. "How bad?" he asked, sitting up and nearly dislodging his wife in the process. Kat shifted with a grumble, using his legs as a pillow, rather than his chest, and drifted back to sleep.
"Bad," Clark said simply. "The doctors want to talk to us about where we go from here. I think you should be here with us."
"What time is it, now?" he asked groggily, looking for the clock that he'd knocked off the table in his haste to silence the telephone.
"Almost eight. Visiting hours are in an hour. The doctors will see us around noon."
"Yeah, right," CJ said sarcastically. The doctors had *never* done anything when they said they would.
"Well, I'd like you here, anyway."
"I'm on my way, Dad," CJ said quickly.
"Drive safe," Clark said simply.
CJ sat there a moment, feeling his whole world shift for the second time in twenty-four hours. The doctors wanted to talk. Given the condition that his grandmother had been in on the day before, it wasn't likely that the news would be good.
"Kat," he called softly.
"Kat, it's time to wake up."
"Why?" she asked, her voice decidedly grumpy. It didn't surprise him. She had never been a morning person.
"The doctors want to see us about Grandma," he said simply. "If you want a shower, you need to take one. We leave in an hour."
Kat sat up and rubbed her eyes. "Should I skip the shower?" she asked.
"Nah, we've got some time."
"You can fly if you need to," she offered.
"I won't go without you."
Kat nodded, then rubbed her eyes again. As she did so, CJ reached over and touched the wedding rings that were on her left hand. "Good morning, Mrs. Kent," he said softly.
Kat smiled in return. "I love you, Mr. Kent."
"Ya know," he told her, his voice serious. "We can shower in half an hour."
"So, what do we do with the other half?" she asked coyly.
He reached for her, tugging her down into his arms, blocking out the real world for just a few moments more. He needed the oblivion that her arms offered, and just this once he would let himself indulge. "We'll think of something," he told her.
CJ didn't remember her looking this bad. Her skin was darker, almost bluish, and she had no life at all in her eyes.
"I should have stayed," he murmured softly.
Lois reached forward and put her hand on his shoulder. "There isn't much difference," she explained. "You've just been away from it. We forget how bad it looks."
He nodded, reached for the gray hand nearest him. She seemed so much more fragile than he remembered. Had it really been only twenty-four hours?
"I should have stayed," he repeated.
"No, Honey," she corrected. "You shouldn't have." She reached for his hand, noted the gleam of gold that hadn't been there before. "It looks to me like you were right where you should have been."
He smiled softly at that. "Are you mad?"
"I probably will be when I think about it," she said with a grin. "But for now I'm just happy for you. The two of you deserve this."
"We got tired of waiting," he admitted. "But if I'd known how serious things were getting…"
"It would have happened, regardless," she explained. "How's Kat?"
"She's beautiful," he said softly, and his smile told Lois all she needed to know.
"The doctors are late again," Lois murmured as she glanced at her watch. "That isn't much of a surprise, is it? Why don't you sit here with your grandma, and I'll go ask what's taking so long."
CJ nodded, taking the seat by the bed, keeping Martha's hand in his.
Lois looked back at her son as she walked past the curtains on her way to the door. He was growing up so quickly, she thought.
"How's married life?" Clark asked softly.
Kat's head flashed up, her eyes going instinctively to the new rings on her finger. She was sitting with Clark in the ICU waiting room, and for a change they were the only two there. CJ had gone in to see his grandmother, and Lois had followed. Only two people were normally allowed at the bedside at a time. "We wondered how long it would take everyone to notice," she said with a smile.
"I was kind of looking for it," he admitted. "CJ has a lot better sense than I ever did."
"He mentioned that you'd understand," Kat told him.
Clark nodded. "Lois and I had to reschedule the wedding more than once," he admitted. "Looking back, we should have just gone ahead and seen a Justice of the Peace and worried about the ceremony later. It would have been easier."
"I was afraid you'd be upset," she said quietly. "Because we did it without the family, I mean."
"You'll have the rest of your lives to put up with us," Clark told her. "Besides, I'm sure my wife will manage to get you two into a church for the formalities."
"I do want to wear my dress," she said, considering the matter. "But I'm not taking the rings back off."
Clark looked down at his own ring, a gold circle that was dulled by wear. What little texture the ring had been designed with had long since worn smooth. Still, despite its age, it was as solid as the love he had for his wife. "It doesn't come off," he said thoughtfully. "Not for anything. I even have a pocket sewn into my suit for when the world can't see it. It may not be on the finger, but it's always on *me*."
"I feel the same way," Kat told him.
"It's just a symbol," Clark said absently. "It has nothing to do with the actual relationship. Kind of like the marriage license. But, you know, for me… it was more. The symbols have power because we let them. If I lost the ring, it wouldn't destroy my marriage." He paused a moment, turning the ring on his finger, then raising his eyes back to meet Kat's. "But I'd buy a new one, probably the same day."
Kat nodded her understanding. For a while longer, they sat together in silence. "It's after two," Kat finally said.
"Surgery went over," Clark told her, as though it explained everything.
And, as usual, it did.
"As we've told you before," Doctor Frederickson said in a practiced voice. "The longer that Mrs. Kent remains on the respirator, the less likely it is that we'll be able to wean her off the device. At this point, she has not been breathing independently in almost seven weeks, and she requires more oxygen on a daily basis. This, combined with the ineffectual dialysis and repeated defibrillation, indicate that her recovery from this illness is unlikely."
Clark looked at the man blankly, unable to take in the information. Lois took his hand, and squeezed gently in support. Kat had tears on her face.
"Can you say that again," Jonathan requested. "In English, this time."
"She can't breathe on her own," the doctor explained. "She simply isn't getting better. Her body is old, and it's weak. She just doesn't have the strength to recover from the surgery."
"You said the bypasses had been a success," Clark argued.
"They were," Frederickson agreed. "But she isn't healing. Her body just isn't strong enough to heal."
"Why not?" CJ asked, although he suspected the answer.
"To begin with, she's eighty-five years old," the doctor said. "In addition, she's too weak to digest food, which causes her to become weaker yet. It becomes a cycle, each illness precipitating another, which complicates the first. There's always the possibility that she'll recover, but at this point it's a very remote possibility."
"So, now what?" This from Lois.
They were seated around a long rectangular table in the ICU conference area. It was the room used for the beginning and ending of physician rounds, nurses' report, and meeting with the families of exceptionally ill patients. It was not a room that the Kents wanted to be in. Rarely was good news given in the conference room. It was reserved for meetings like the one that was currently taking place.
"We have two options," the doctor told them. "We can continue as we have been, provide support measures, and wait. That's one option. The second is to withdraw our support measures, and let her body shut down."
"Turn off the respirator?" Kat asked. She didn't like the option. Several times it had been attempted, in an effort to get Martha to strengthen her own breathing, but it hadn't been successful. Martha had struggled, fought, and become so tired that they had to turn the machine back on. Watching her die this way was not something Kat was ready for.
"No," the doctor corrected. "The respirator is the one thing I don't recommend discontinuing. The respirator works on her effort, though. When she takes a breath, it augments the breath and oxygenates it. I would recommend discontinuing the medications that are stabilizing her heart rate and blood pressure, stopping the dialysis, and then waiting for Mrs. Kent to do the rest."
"So, she would breathe with the respirator until her body stops naturally?" Kat asked.
"So, we wouldn't be killing her," Jonathan asked. "We don't have to pull the plug?"
"No, Mr. Kent," the doctor said gently. "If or when she stops breathing, it will be her body's decision, not ours."
Jonathan thought for a moment, then looked to his children, and his grandchildren, for guidance. "Do you think she'd want this?" he asked uncertainly.
"She asked us to let her go for weeks," CJ reminded them softly. She hadn't been able to speak, but she had mouthed the words constantly for the first three weeks on the respirator. When they had deliberately ignored her, she had often become angry, refusing to look at them. She had tried to pull out the respirator as well, which had only resulted in her arms being restrained.
"I know she wouldn't want to be the way she is now," Clark added. "I've never seen her on her back for more than a day or two with the flu. She hates to slow down."
"Yes," Jonathan murmured. "She does." He looked up at his son, his eyes pleading. "What do I say? I feel like I can't live without her, but it isn't *her* anymore."
Clark turned to the doctor and quietly agreed to the second option. "Can we stay with her?" he requested, unable to keep the emotion from his voice. Lois and Kat were already crying openly, and CJ wasn't far behind. His father was still and quiet.
"Absolutely," the doctor said gently. "I'll speak with the nurses. You can stay with her constantly, if you like."
Clark nodded, then reached for Lois. She crumbled into his arms, sobbing and shaking. He felt the same way.
The doctor told them that they could stay in the room for as long as they liked, then went to write the orders that would limit the life support that Martha received.
The Kent family remained there for almost an hour. They emptied the tissue boxes that were left on the table for their use, and every one of them was exhausted by the time that they walked back to Martha's room to sit with her.
The Kents had gathered around the bedside, each saying a word or two to Martha. She was still unresponsive. A nurse dressed in a surprisingly cheery flowered smock came in, turned off several of the IV drips, and then backed away. The dialysis machine ceased its noise. Only the sound of the respiration broke the tense silence as they waited.
For a few moments everything stayed stable. Suddenly, Martha's blood pressure began to fall, and her heart rate increased. They watched the systolic pressure, the number that the doctors had strived to keep at one hundred, as it plummeted. Ninety. Eighty-one. Seventy-three. Seventy. Sixty-one.
"No," CJ called out. "It wasn't supposed to happen this fast!"
He moved towards his grandmother, only to be restrained by his wife. He put his arms around her, closed his eyes, and tried to ignore what was happening around him. He was twenty-four years old, and he felt like a baby.
Her pressure stabilized at thirty-four, her heart rate leveled out at over two-hundred and irregular. CJ took a deep breath as he looked up from Kat's shoulder. His father's hand was on his shoulder. Jonathan moved closer to CJ, then took him in his arms.
The waiting began.
Twenty-two hours. The ordeal that had begun at three-forty on Wednesday afternoon didn't end until after one-thirty on Thursday.
Martha was strong, she was stubborn, and she was too sick to beat death. Her body remained stable through the night, through the next morning, but as noon neared the numbers once more began to drop. Heart rate and pressure both slowed until the alarms became a constant companion. They were able to turn off the pulse oximeter that warned them of the low amount of oxygen reaching her extremities, but the respirator itself was safeguarded. The alarm was turned to its lowest level, but it was still audible. Each time Martha waited more than a minute to breathe, the machine would alarm until she took a breath.
The last ten minutes were the worst. Death was nothing like it was shown in the movies. There were no last words, no pleasant expression, no reassurances for her tired family. She simply breathed less often, and then finally she stopped. Her heart rate slowed after that, finally grinding to a halt. They said their good-byes, told her how much she was loved, and then groaned as her heart began once more, and she took another breath.
As they stood around her, Jonathan suddenly laughed. They looked at him in shock, but he spoke through the tears. "She would have really hated this," he said with a sad smile. "Wouldn't she?"
"Yeah, Dad," Clark said, putting an arm around his father's shoulder.
Martha never took another breath. It took a few minutes longer for her heart, the same heart that had gotten her into this situation, to finally give up and stop. A nurse stepped forward, turned off the respirator, and went to get the doctor. Clark hadn't heard her come in.
They stayed a while longer. They spoke in soft tones, cried together, and finally wiped the tears and stood to go. They left the ICU for the last time, walking through the large double-doors that they hated and down the hallway towards the elevators. While they were waiting for the doors to open, CJ turned and walked back to the waiting room. Kat followed her husband, worried, then stopped as she saw him erase his grandmother's name from the board.
Mrs. Tipton stood and wrapped her arms around CJ. He hugged her back, said good-bye, and turned to see Kat watching. She wiped a tear from her face as he walked back to her, put his arm around her, and gave her a similar hug. Finally, he released her, and they walked back towards the elevator that Clark was holding for them.
The casket was simple, polished pine. The lid was closed, and a picture of Martha sat on the lid, surrounded by a profusion of wildflowers. Hymns played in the background, the piano gently bringing music to the somber occasion.
Smallville Community Church was overflowing with men and women who had come to pay their last respects to a lovely woman who had been a great contribution to their lives. Children played towards the back of the church, dressed in their Sunday best and not able to understand why their moms and dads were so sad.
Jonathan sat towards the front of the church, but not in the front row as everyone had expected. Wayne Irig sat next to him, a frail skeleton of a man who now walked with a cane. Clark sat on his other side, eyes finally dry after days of tears. Lois was next to Clark, her hand in his, her eyes as wet as his were dry.
CJ sat in the back row of the church. He knew he should be with his family, but he couldn't bring himself to walk past the people who were hurting as badly as he was in order to get there. He wanted to be near an exit, where he could escape if necessary. Hell, who was he kidding? He wanted to be a thousand miles away, and it took every bit of restraint not to take to the sky and fly as far, as fast, as he could.
Instead, he was here. He was watching the majority of the residents of Smallville congregate in a church to show support, to say goodbye, and to grieve. He'd been doing a lot of that himself.
"Hanging in?" Kat asked softly, her head on his shoulder.
"Doing my best," he answered, trying very hard not to start crying again. He'd cried for most of the last three days, during the funeral preparations and the logistical arrangements that were unavoidable following a death.
He remembered the process from when his grandfather had died, but Ellen Lane had taken care of the majority of the details with little assistance. Jonathan Kent wasn't capable of handling a funeral, much less arranging it, so the task had fallen to Clark. Clark had done the best he could, but when it got to be too much it passed to Lois. From Lois, it came to CJ. From CJ, it passed to Kat.
Kathryn Lynn Kent had spent the week following her wedding arranging a funeral for a person that wasn't even related by blood. They had all contributed, of course, but the final decisions had been Kat's, because she was the only one who could manage to go ten minutes without collapsing into tears.
It hadn't all been sorrow. There had been light moments, too. They had all laughed when they tried to pick out a dress for Martha to be buried in, and couldn't find a single thing in her closet that was plain or dark. Martha wasn't a boring person, so her clothes weren't sedate. CJ had finally pointed out a lovely, soft-pink silk dress that Clark had found for her in Japan. It was cheery and bright, and they had all agreed that it was perfect for her.
The laughter, morbid though it might have been, had started anew when Clark reminded them that the funeral was to be closed-casket. They had spent three hours going through her closet, and no one would ever see the dress. For some reason, they had all found that irresistibly funny, and they had laughed themselves silly. CJ was sorry his grandmother had missed it. She would have loved the joke. Laughter had turned to tears in the blink of an eye.
Most days had been similar. A moment of stolen laughter was followed by sorrow that it could not be shared with Martha. A memory that was good became shadowed by a memory of their time in the hospital. Every moment of relief was chased away by pain, and CJ didn't know how much longer he could handle it. He hurt, and he couldn't make it go away.
The reason for his pain was simple. Martha had always "fixed" whatever was wrong with his heart and sent him away healed. Now, because she wasn't here to fix it, her own death was tearing him apart. He knew what was wrong. He just couldn't do anything about it.
Kat threaded her fingers through his as the minister stepped up to the pulpit. He gripped her hand hard, heard a faint indrawn breath, and loosened his grip. She would have a bruise from that, he realized. "Sorry."
"I love you," she whispered in his ear, then she moved more closely against his side as he watched the service.
He managed to keep the tears in check through the hymns that Rachel sang. "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" and "I Walk in the Garden Alone" filtered through his mind long after her steady alto voice faded. Many of Martha's friends stood to say a few words, and even Jonathan stood to talk about his beloved wife of fifty-six years.
CJ managed to keep the tears at bay until after the minister had sat down and a song began. Children laughing, playing, singing Jesus Loves Me, and then Steven Curtis Chapman began to sing…
*This is not at all how we thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you, we had so many dreams
And now you've gone away and left us with the memories of your smile.
And nothing we can say, and nothing we can do
Can take away the pain, the pain of losing you, but…*
*We can cry with hope.
We can say goodbye with hope.
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no.
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place where we'll see your face again.
We'll see your face again.*
*And never have I known anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more the wisdom of God's plan
But through the cloud of tears I see the Father smile and say well done.
And I imagine you where you wanted most to be.
Seeing all your dreams come true, 'cause now you're home
And now you're free, and…*
*We can cry with hope.
We can say goodbye with hope.
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place where we'll see your face again.
We'll see your face again.*
*We have this hope as an anchor
'Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true, so…*
*We can cry with hope.
We can say goodbye with hope.
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place where we'll see your face again.
We'll see your face again.*
*We wait with hope, and we ache with hope.
We hold on with hope.
We let go with hope.*
CJ listened as the last few notes of the song faded, leaving him winded. Every thought had been his own. He looked over at Kat, knowing she had been the one to choose the music for the funeral. "Thanks," he whispered.
"Welcome," she answered.
"Your grandmother was the dearest woman."
"Martha was so sweet."
"I'm going to miss her so much."
The comments went on and on. By the time they had everyone out of the farmhouse, CJ was ready to crawl into bed and stay there a week. They had enough food for an army, two freezers, and every tabletop in the place.
It was a house full of memories. Years before, when Lois had been gravely ill, the Kents had attempted to sell the farmhouse, moving into an apartment just outside of Metropolis to be closer to CJ. No one had been upset a year later when the buyers had defaulted, and Martha and Jonathan had been able to reclaim their property. In most loans, the bank would have been the winner, but not this time. The Kents had chosen to sell to a couple who couldn't get bank backing, bond for deed, so the only inconvenience had been moving their possessions back "home". That is what the little house represented to them… home. They had long since given up actually working the farm, leaving that to CJ and Kat when they visited in the spring and summer, but it was paid for, and Martha had always considered it the best home in the world.
Kat was wrapping up leftover food and trying to find a place to store it. Jonathan was asleep on the couch, as he couldn't bring himself to sleep in his own bed without his wife. Lois and Clark had gone for a walk, eager to get away from the chatter that had filled the house since the funeral had ended several hours ago. CJ was seriously considering going crazy.
"Huge turnout," Kat commented, trying to get his attention.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Everyone who was anyone was here."
"Can you put this on the fridge for me?" She was holding a tray of cookies, and it looked heavy. CJ walked over to her, took the tray, and levitated until he could set them easily on the top of the refrigerator. As his feet touched the floor once more, he saw Kat's smile.
"That's just pretty cool," she said with another grin. "You don't fly very often."
"It's not exactly flying," he denied.
"Maybe," he said, a smile slipping onto his face. "Want to try it?"
She looked at him for a moment, then shook her head. "I know you're not that comfortable with it," she admitted.
"I don't do it at all in Metropolis," he told her. "Not often in Claremont, either. But here's different. I've always flown here. Dad does it, too. There's no one to catch you, and no one to watch."
She looked uncertain, so he took her hand and walked her to the door. "Are you sure?" she asked, her voice almost childlike.
"I've taken you flying, before," he said quizzically.
"Not in years," she reminded him.
"You never asked."
"You never offered," she countered, but she was smiling broadly.
"I'm offering, now."
Once they were outside, he put his hands at her waist and lifted into the air. When Kat squealed, he tightened his grip on her. His aura would keep her in the air so long as he was touching her, but she wasn't familiar enough with flight to realize that. Besides, it gave him an excuse to hold her, and he wasn't above taking an opportunity.
He headed directly up, the way his father had taught him. Once they were into the low-hanging clouds, hidden from the ground, he slowed and turned her in his arms. They floated there for a long time. When her arms became chilled, he surrounded her with his. When she sighed at the sunset, he echoed the sentiment. As the darkness descended into night, he finally began to feel a little more like himself.
"Better?" she asked him gently.
*You know I am.*
"Yeah, I do," she answered. She slid her arms around him, rubbed his back up under his shirt, and rested her head on his chest. "I wonder if we could make love this way?" she thought aloud.
"You never asked your dad if he…"
"No way!" CJ declared, his face going a dark shade of pink, visible even in the limited light. "I don't think about my parents that way."
"They had *you*," she reminded him. "You don't think they still…"
"We have got to change the subject," he told her adamantly, then laughed.
"That sounds good," she said softly, putting her head back on his chest.
"You," she responded. "Laughing. I guess I needed to hear that."
He took a deep breath, then leaned his forehead against hers. "I'll be okay, Kat," he said gently. "I just… I thought I was ready, and I really wasn't. I didn't think it would hurt this much."
"I know," she told him. "I get a lot of thoughts from you, now," she explained. "Not just the ones that you send, but the ones that are really strong. Some of the things have been bothering me."
"Such as?" he asked, but he already knew.
"Such as feeling like it's your fault," she told him. "Or that your grandfather is your responsibility."
"They're passing thoughts, Kat. I know that Grandma's getting worse had nothing to do with our getting married. I know Grandpa doesn't begrudge us a few hours alone, away from it. I know he's not my responsibility. He's eighty-five, and he's able to take care of himself. It's just… sometimes I have weird thoughts. I'm sorry they worried you."
"I'm not," she told him. "It got you to talk to me. That's a pretty big job, lately."
"I am sorry for that. Dad always said talking was the most important part of a marriage."
"It is. If we don't talk, we can't take care of one another."
He sighed, cuddled her tighter. "You sure took care of me today," he said. "Thanks, Kat."
"I love you."
Graduation arrived. It wasn't the event that had been so eagerly anticipated, but rather a letter received from each of two universities, signifying completion and invitation to the final ceremonies.
"It all seems kind of stupid," CJ muttered quietly to his wife. "Didn't you think it would be a bigger deal?"
Kat looked over his shoulder at the letter, so like the one she had received a week earlier, while they'd still been in Metropolis. Clark had flown back to pick up mail each day since they'd come to stay in Smallville. "It *is* rather anticlimactic," she remarked. "Five years of work, and it all comes down to a piece of paper."
"Just like us," CJ said with a grin. "Twenty years of being friends, and it all changes with a piece of paper."
Kat returned his smile, then kissed him long and thoroughly. She moved to sit beside him on the porch swing. "Worth the wait," she added. "Just like the piece of paper."
"Maybe I should have them mail it," CJ said with a shrug. "I look stupid in robes."
"Not a chance," she declared adamantly. "You worked too hard for this. Your parents too," she explained. "They've put up with a lot. They deserve to see you walk across that stage and get your silly piece of paper."
CJ's face became serious. "You didn't."
Kat shrugged. "Martha was just too sick," she reminded him. "Besides, that wasn't the piece of paper that I wanted. All a diploma allows me to do is take State Boards, and I've done that already. It's the license that I'm waiting on."
"But the ceremony, the recognition…"
"Being here was more important," she told him, kissed him again. "Besides, I don't have a family that's been waiting five years to see it happen."
"Your dad," CJ began, but Kat cut him off.
"My family is here," she said firmly. "The man who got my mother pregnant and let me stay in his house has been out of my life since I turned eighteen and he could legally walk out."
"I'm sorry, Kat," he told her quietly.
"I'm not," she assured him. "It's the best thing he ever did for me. I had you, and your folks, so I didn't really need him anyway."
CJ put both arms around Kat, tugging her onto his lap. They were sitting together on the porch swing that CJ had assembled a few summers before. It had been a gift to his grandmother, who had loved to sit outside and watch the sunsets.
Most of the morning had been spent cleaning up the mess from the evening before. Several families in the area had helpfully decided to treat Jonathan to a barbecue, bringing all the fixings for the event and effectively taking over the kitchen.
He had seemed to appreciate the gesture, but Jonathan hadn't joined into the fun. Clark and Lois both had used the time to thank the friends that had done so much for all of them since Martha's death, but the oldest Kent had still not been ready. While the younger Kents had spent time talking and laughing about previous barbecues, Jonathan had retired to his room for a nap. He hadn't come back out for the rest of the night. At bedtime, Clark had found him asleep in the rocking chair, the bed still made. He had escorted his father to the couch, where he could be more comfortable, and had headed back to the guest room to hold his wife.
CJ was worried about his grandfather. He was more depressed now than he had been when Martha was ill. For CJ, there was a measure of relief in his grandmother being out of pain. Her life had been long and full, charged with energy right up until the last few weeks. If he had one regret, it was that she should suffer such pain and not recover. A part of him wished she hadn't chosen the surgery, that she had passed without the physicians turning her into a collection of medical treatments rather than a person.
Still, the choice had not been his. He was grateful for that as well. Martha had made her own decision, after finding out that she could not leave the hospital without the surgery. Her heart simply wasn't strong enough following the heart attack. She had chosen the surgery, so she had been responsible for its aftermath.
CJ was startled from his thoughts as Kat shifted position and cuddled closer on his lap. His arms were already around her, but he still hugged a little tighter, in acknowledgment of her presence and pure enjoyment of the same.
"I need a nickname," she said with a giggle.
"Your dad always calls your mom "Honey", or something like that. I need a nickname. You just call me Kat."
"Okay," he agreed, getting into the spirit of the game. "Pick one, and I'll use it."
"Oh no," she corrected. "You have to pick it. That's half the fun."
"How about 'Pushy,'" he suggested. "There's a name."
"Seriously," she argued, punching him in the arm.
"I don't know," he admitted. "I've always called you Kat. Even when you were little, and everyone else was calling you Katie at school. Maybe that *is* my name for you, and everyone else just borrows it."
"That's a cop out," she argued.
"Too common. Try again."
"Nutcase comes to mind," he said dryly.
"You think about it," she advised. "I want a pet name."
He nodded, and they sat their together for a few minutes.
"You need to go to graduation," Kat finally said, again. "If nothing else, it will get your grandfather out of here for awhile. He could stay in Claremont with your parents until after the ceremony."
CJ nodded, liking the idea of changing his grandfather's scenery, even if the idea of walking across a stage in front of a couple thousand people didn't appeal. "Okay," he said. "I'll send back the letter and check 'attending.' Will that get you off my back?" He said the last with a smile on his face.
"For the moment," she clarified. "I can be a very demanding wife, though."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah," she agreed, leaning forward to gently nibble him on the ear. "Very."
The auditorium was filled with a sea of blue hats and robes. Lois couldn't see her son through the crowd, but she knew he was there. A part of her could feel his presence, much the same way that she felt when Clark was near.
She was so glad that her son had decided to go ahead and participate in the graduation ceremony. She had been worried that the loss of his grandmother would steal this from him, as it had stolen the formal wedding that they had been planning. Even though Kat assured her that they would still have the wedding, eventually, she couldn't bring herself to believe it. In retrospect, it didn't matter. Her son had married the woman he loved, and that was what was important.
Lois grabbed Clark's arm and gestured to the sea of blue before them. "Where is he?" she asked anxiously.
Clark glanced over the crowd, slid his glasses down, and looked again. "Down by the door," he answered. "All the way over to your left, about three rows back, maybe ten seats over."
"All I see is a hat," she said in disgust.
"I can't see him, either," Kat told her with a grin. "This place is huge."
"It's nothing like when mom…" Clark began, then his voice trailed off as his gaze flashed to his father.
"No, it isn't," Jonathan said, his smile soft and full of memories. "But Midwestern Community College wasn't a university, and it's fairly small. Still, Martha was so proud of that Associate's Degree in Fine Arts. She'd stuck with the program, and she finally got it."
"How about you?" Clark asked gently, sensing his father's need to talk, despite the noise around them as the graduates found their places and their families took their seats. "Was it worth learning to cook for yourself?"
Jonathan laughed at that. "Well worth it," he agreed. "She was so proud of herself and finally convinced that she was more than a farmer's wife. She was so young when we married, Clark. The farm was tough, and at first all she wanted was a family. After we found you, she put everything she had into being a mother. When you left home, she didn't think she had anything left. The farm didn't need our constant attention, and she felt empty. I think she needed to prove that she could do something for herself."
"I understand that," Lois admitted, resting a hand on Jonathan's forearm. "I have a career already, and it's still hard seeing CJ leave the house."
"CJ left years ago," Kat said quizzically, finally taking her attention from her husband and focusing it on the conversation at hand. "He's been at M.U. for five years."
"It's different," Jonathan offered when Lois couldn't seem to find any words. "It didn't bother Martha when Clark was looking over the world. He came home every few weeks and called us at least every couple of days. When he settled in Metropolis, we took that in stride as well. I think she started getting antsy though when he rented the apartment. He'd never committed to a single place before that, and it made a difference. A statement."
"I never knew that upset her," Clark murmured.
"Of course you didn't," Jonathan said, the smile reappearing. "She would have done anything to keep you from knowing. She was so proud of you. We both were. She didn't want to spoil it with missing you."
"You know," Kat said thoughtfully, "We'll actually be living closer to you now than he did for college."
Lois looked over at Kat, her eyebrows raised in silent query.
"He's already put in his application at Claremont High, and another at the Planet. We'll start looking for an apartment as soon as we get settled from the graduations."
"Why didn't he say anything?" Clark asked, taking his wife's hand when he saw her eyes filling with happy tears.
Kat shrugged. "I guess he figured that you knew."
"We thought he'd settle in Kansas," Clark said, his face showing his confusion. "He was always talking about how he liked the slower pace when he was at the farm. I guess we just assumed that the two of you would move there, especially since you work so close."
Kat shook her head. "SIU isn't all that close," she clarified. "It's almost three hours to drive to the farm from there. I liked my job, but I'd rather be closer to you guys."
"Have you already resigned your position?" Jonathan asked.
"I took a leave of absence the beginning of May," she answered, not elaborating on the reason that they were all too familiar with. CJ had been upset about his grandmother, and she'd felt a need to be closer to him. She had completed her final classes in December and had only stayed because the job was good, and she had built up a level of seniority. Once Martha had become so much worse, being with her family seemed more important than her job, and she'd requested the time away. "I'll take my resignation in when I clean out my apartment," she added. "I'll have to get that done by the end of June, when the rent runs out."
"That's right, you did move out of the dorms," Clark said.
"Had to. I finished my classes in December, then couldn't take the boards until March."
"They're starting," Jonathan interrupted, pointing to the stage where the lights had dimmed.
The Kent family watched as the valedictorian gave his speech and as the president of Metropolis University encouraged each of the graduates on to their full potential. They checked their programs periodically as each of the separate colleges introduced their outstanding students, presented their diplomas, and gave their various speeches.
The College of Business was first, followed by the College of Engineering. Towards the middle, the Dean for the College of Education presented its diplomas. CJ's was presented in the middle of the group. He walked across the stage, accepted his diploma in Secondary Education with a handshake and a smile, then moved his blue tassel from one side to the other, leaving a gold tassel hanging by itself. He then walked from the stage. He didn't go back to his seat but rather to another seat several rows back that had yet to be called.
Over thirty minutes later, the Dean for the College of Communications presented him with his diploma for Journalism. He accepted this diploma with a smile as well, placed it in the hand with his first, and shook the Dean's hand before moving his gold tassel to hang beside its blue companion. He glanced out at the audience, towards his family, and smiled brightly before walking from the stage.
The remainder of the ceremony was short. In total, ten different Colleges had presented their diplomas, all in the same ninety minutes. Lois felt that if she heard another name called, she just might scream. Several names had been called more than once, the graduates rotating seats in the same manner that CJ had. It had been a very long ceremony, and Lois was elated that it was over.
By the time that the final words were said, and the hats were thrown in exhausted relief, the Kents were more than ready to get out of the stuffy auditorium. They walked outside, surrounded by the crowd of friends and family that had come to cheer on the other graduates.
If it hadn't been for CJ's vision, so like his father's, they might never have caught up with one another. The crowd was loud and boisterous, excited for good reason. Years of work and worry were over, and the relief was pervasive to the atmosphere.
"I want out of this monkey suit," CJ said brightly, his robe already unzipped and his hat long lost. He held his two tassels in one hand and the diplomas in the other.
"We're going out to dinner," Jonathan announced. "You pick the place."
CJ looked at Kat, then at his parents, before smiling. "Taco Bell," he declared with a grin.
"What?" The gasp was collective, and came from most of his family, Kat excluded.
"Fifty cent tacos," Kat said with a grin. "A college student's staple diet."
"Two tacos and a large Coke are only two-forty-five," CJ added. "It's a way of life. I want one last dinner there, then I'll never eat another taco again!"
They all laughed, and Kat moved over to insinuate herself into CJ's arms. "Someplace good," she requested. "I want champagne."
"You pick," he suggested. "I got the ceremony. You can have the dinner."
Kat's grin reached from ear to ear as she whispered in something to CJ.
CJ pushed back from the table with a groan. "That was way too good," he declared, to the laughter of those around him.
"Better than tacos?" his mother asked, grinning.
"Absolutely. I'll give up tacos for a steak, any day."
"You should have had the shrimp," Kat argued as she pushed around the tiny pieces of white in the lemon and garlic butter on her place. "The scampi was amazing."
Lois reached for the basket in the middle of the table, snagging another of the garlic rolls that remained. If her count was correct, this would make six. She didn't want to know how many hours she would have to spend exercising to make up for it. "I'll stay with the bread and salad," she joked. "I can always take the rest of my meal home for lunch tomorrow."
"It's almost as good as Holsteins, in Smallville," Clark admitted. "The prime rib is better there, but the steaks here are a good rival."
"Prime rib is great," CJ commented. "Just don't order it by the pound." His face could have been serious, but his voice was sarcastic so the rest of the family laughed.
"How's your steak, Jonathan," Lois asked softly.
He shrugged, pushed around the meat that he had cut and not eaten. His baked potato was similarly abused, as well as the salad. He simply wasn't eating. He'd finished a glass of the champagne, but only because of the number of toasts that the family had offered, and that wouldn't account for his being too full to eat.
"Everything okay, Dad?" Clark asked with concern.
"Steak's fine," Jonathan said gruffly. "I need to use the restroom. Excuse me." With that, he left the table.
Clark started to rise, but CJ stopped him with a hand to his arm. "Let me, Dad," he requested softly.
Clark nodded, and CJ followed his grandfather. As he'd half expected, he found the older man drying tears in the restroom, not using the facilities.
"It's okay, Grandpa," he told him softly.
Jonathan shook his head in denial. "This is your night," he said gruffly. "You don't need me messing it up."
"You aren't," CJ assured him. "You couldn't. I miss her too, you know. I feel it when she's not here. If it's that bad for me, I can't even imagine how you must be feeling."
Jonathan wiped tears again, then splashed cold water on his face and dried it with a paper towel. "She talked about this," he said at last, his voice barely audible. "How we were going to celebrate when you finally graduated. It just doesn't seem right that she isn't here."
"She is," CJ said softly, and that got his grandfather's attention.
"She's always here," CJ said, pointing to his chest. "She raised me, as much as my parents did. She taught me and cared for me. She loved me. Everything I learned from her is still in me, and nothing can take it away." He moved towards his grandfather, looking into the sad brown eyes that had always given him such comfort but now seemed so lost. "She's in you, too," he said quietly. "You can't live with a person for fifty years and not have them *in* you. Hell, Kat's in me, and we've only been married a few days."
"You've known her your whole life," Jonathan argued, not commenting on the rest of what his grandson had said.
"Most of it. Enough to know how she'll answer me before I ask, and what she'll think of something even when she's not there. Just the same way I know that Grandma would be so happy tonight, *is* so happy, even if she isn't here with us."
Jonathan nodded brusquely, then took a final sweep at his eyes with the towel before tossing it into the trash.
"I guess we'd better get out there before they send Clark in after us," Jonathan concluded, meeting his grandson's eyes with a little more strength than he'd had before.
"Good idea," CJ agreed. "I'm about ready for dessert."
"You're going to eat more?" Jonathan asked with a laugh.
"Sure," CJ answered with a smile. "Like you said, this is my night. Kat's going to want chocolate, but I'm thinking about that cheesecake."
"Strawberry pie," Jonathan interjected.
"Fresh strawberry pie," Jonathan repeated. "I saw it on the dessert cart. It was your grandmother's favorite."
"Almost like having her with us," CJ said with a soft smile.
"Almost," Jonathan agreed. "Except I'll get to eat it without the chocolate sauce."
"Women and chocolate," CJ said with a laugh, oblivious to the fascination that the flavor had to females. "I don't get it."
"You don't have to," Jonathan told him. "Just don't get between them and their chocolate. It's a dangerous thing, my boy. Most men don't survive a mistake like that."
"Is he okay?" Kat's question was soft, too quiet to be heard by anyone without super hearing. She didn't have to specify who she was talking about.
She and CJ were getting ready for bed back at the Kent house. Jonathan was sleeping in the guest room, so Kat was staying with CJ in his room. As she thought about it, it was the first night that they'd spent here as husband and wife since their wedding night.
"I think he will be," CJ answered. "I can't even imagine what he's going through."
Kat folded back the covers, and placed his pillow back at the head of the bed. "Me, neither," she answered. "Sometimes it still doesn't feel real, even after how long it went on."
"Like tonight?" he asked softly.
She nodded reluctantly. "Do you believe in angels?"
CJ sighed, took a seat on the edge of his bed, and gestured for Kat to sit next to him. "Angels," he wondered aloud. "I don't know. I believe in God, though. Dad says that too much in this world is orchestrated perfectly for it to be chance. That makes sense to me. And, if there's a God, then there are probably angels, too."
"Did your grandmother believe in God?"
"Yeah, she did," CJ told her. "Probably in a more concrete way than the rest of us. She took a lot of comfort from religion and from prayer. I think even more in the last few years. She wasn't real obvious about it, but it was there."
"So then, she might be an angel?"
"I think so," CJ answered honestly. "I kind of like the idea that she watches over us, you know?"
"I do too," Kat agreed, pulling her legs up onto the bed and slipping beneath the covers. "Your light," she said with a grin.
CJ glared at her, but it wasn't serious. He closed his eyes and floated himself over to the light switch, then flipped off the light before floating back to the bed.
"You don't even get your feet cold," she complained. "I think turning the lights off should always be your job."
"Nope," he argued. "Whoever comes to bed last. We both have to do our parts."
"Marriage is a partnership," she recited. "We share the responsibilities."
They rested in bed, secure in one another's arms for several minutes. CJ rubbed her back and arms gently, tender and loving rather than sexual. Kat smiled as she cuddled against his chest, just enjoying his touch.
"When do you think we'll have the wedding?" Kat asked after a few moments of silence.
"I don't know," he murmured. "We kind of have to start all over with the planning."
"Not all of it," she corrected. "The dresses are bought, and we've picked out the tuxes. We know everything we want, so we just have to give everyone the replacement dates, like the caterer and band."
"New invitations," he added. "Make sure the church is free."
"Before we can do anything, we need a date," she reminded him.
He sighed at that. He hated picking a date. September ninth," he finally said, then turned to look at her.
"You won't forget it that way," she said with a smirk. "But I'm not sure I like the idea of only getting one present."
"I'll get you two," he promised. "One birthday, and a second for anniversary."
"That's you," she groaned. "Everyone else will combine them."
"So you get one good gift," he agreed with a smile. "If you don't like it, pick a different one," he told her.
Kat thought a moment. "It *is* on a Saturday this year," she admitted. "That would be convenient.
"September ninth," he said again. "We'll start calling people tomorrow."
They were silent for a moment more. "Kat?"
"How tired are you?"
Kat rose up on one arm. "It was a long day," she admitted. "Why?"
CJ fumbled around for a minute, then finally slipped his hand up beneath her tank top and changed his caress from gentle to sensual.
Kat grinned. "I'm not *that* tired," she told him softly.
"Just checking," he said, and she could hear the smile in his voice.
Chapter 8… July
Clark finished looking over the preliminary draft for the lead story and groaned. His editors were good, but this was ridiculous. The story was there, but the reporting was poor at best. He was going to have to have it completely rewritten, rather than merely edited.
Standing, he left his office and walked out into the City Room of the Planet. As always, the hustle of the room energized him, made him feel just a little more alive.
"Jimmy," he called out.
James Olsen looked up from his computer with a grin. "Yeah, Chief."
"Don't go there," Clark said with a smile. "I'll send your butt back to New York."
"No thanks," the younger man said adamantly. "My ex lives there, and I'd rather be shot than stay in the same state with her."
"That bad?" Clark asked softly, gesturing for Jimmy to follow him back to the office.
Jimmy sighed, then shook his head. "Probably not," he admitted. "I'm sure Penny has some wonderful qualities. Unfortunately, she doesn't show them to me anymore. My lawyer speaks to her lawyer, and frankly anything said loses a lot in the translation."
"I'm sorry," Clark said. It seemed lame, but it was all he had. "How's Amy?"
"She's sweet," Jimmy said with a grin. "Trying to get her mother to pay her way through college. Smart little brat, and too cute for anyone's good. I do miss being around her, but it's a lot easier on her if I just stay out of their way when I'm not writing checks."
"That can't be fun."
"I'm good," Jimmy shrugged. "At least I've got a job. I didn't get a chance to thank you for that, did I?"
"I should be thanking you," Clark said, taking one of the seats in front of his desk and gesturing Jimmy towards the other. He considered getting behind his desk, but it just didn't feel right with Jimmy.
"Thanks," he said, taking the seat. "What did you need?"
"A writer," Clark groaned. "I just got back another story from Shugart," he explained. "The guy has great potential as a reporter, very good instincts, but his reporting style is horrible. I can't even give this to the editors without feeling guilty." He passed the printout to Jimmy.
"The traumatic accident was worse but it could have happened without the police involved," Jimmy read with a smile on his face. "I think I know what he means, but I'm not certain."
"Exactly," Clark agreed. "He doesn't need an editor, he needs a partner to write for him."
"Like you used to do for Lois?" Jimmy asked.
"More or less," Clark said. He glanced down at the sheet Jimmy had returned to him, read a few more lines. "Make that more," he admitted.
"I haven't done reporting in years," Jimmy hedged. "Are you sure this won't be a conflict of interest or something? I mean, I was hired on as primarily an editor, with a little freelance thrown in. I don't want to ruffle any feathers."
"To begin with, that was almost six months ago," Clark reasoned. "And you've both reported and written for the Planet in the past. Just because you were working out of our New York office, you don't lose your seniority with me."
"Fair enough," Jimmy allowed. "But how will you explain it to Shugart?"
"I'm thinking, 'Hey, Rich, this is your new partner, Jimmy. Like it or lump it.'"
Jimmy laughed at that. "Sounds like the way Perry introduced you to Lois," he remarked.
"Just about. The thing is, Shugart has some amazing instincts, and he finds some great stories. You just can't read them when he's written them, and no one can figure out how to edit them. If you're with him, *you* can write the story, and the editors will sing your praises to the heavens."
"As long as jumping up on the totem pole doesn't make me public enemy number one, then I'm cool with it."
"Good. I'll introduce you as soon as he comes in."
"Sounds good," Jimmy said with a grin and stood to leave.
"By the way," Clark added. "Thanks for what you did for CJ."
Jimmy looked over his shoulder, the guilt clear on his face. "He was going to do it anyway," he explained. "I thought it would be better if the witness was someone you knew."
"They should have done it years ago," Clark admitted. "I'm starting to see that life is way too short for waiting when you don't have a good reason."
Jimmy nodded, then left his office.
Clark sat still for a moment longer, then reached for his cell phone. Pushing a button for speed dial, he patiently waited for his wife to answer.
"Lois," she announced without preamble.
"Hey, you," he said quietly.
"Hi," she said, excitement in her voice at the unexpected phone call. "What are you up to?"
"Just matched Jimmy up with one of our weaker writers," he explained. "Your staff is going to love me."
"Lord, that would have to be Rich, wouldn't it?"
"Good match," Lois agreed. "I miss seeing Jimmy's writing down here."
"How's your day going?" he asked.
"Slowly," she admitted. "We got a virus in the main computer, so we're formatting everything over to the old one. It takes forever to do it by hand, but the program keeps printing over the pictures."
"Need me down there?" he asked, but he knew she didn't.
"Nope," she confirmed. "Unless you want to type this all in by hand."
"If we get near deadline, call me back," he told her. "I have to rewrite Rich's latest blunder, but other than that I'm fairly open."
"I may take you up on that. At the moment, I have four different secretaries typing from hard-copies because the old computer doesn't want to cut and paste."
"Yuck," Clark told her. "I'll leave you to it, then. Are you going to get out of here tonight?"
"In theory," she answered with a laugh. "The computer geeks are tearing apart the main computer and trying to debug or rebug or something. If they can manage to get it up and running, we'll be ready for the morning edition."
"Sounds like it's under control," he agreed. "I'll see you when you get home, then."
"Lois?" he asked, his finger hovering over the end button on his cell phone.
"I love you," he told her. She knew it, but for some reason he needed to let her know.
"You too," she agreed. "Don't forget to eat dinner tonight."
"I will. See you later."
Clark punched the end button, then slipped the phone into its holder on his belt. They had only been back at work for a week, and already he missed his wife. They might work in the same building, but half the time their duties kept them at opposite ends, if they managed to stay that close.
When Lois had been ill years before, her job had fallen to the two deputy Editors-in-Chief that she had appointed. It had worked well, allowing him time to be with her and yet still keeping the paper running, but her recovery had complicated matters.
Clark had always shunned the Editor in Chief position, feeling that Superman would take too much time away from the paper. Still, when Lois had come back to work he had wanted to stay close, and Pat's retirement had been a wonderful opportunity to slip into his job. No one had questioned his assumption of the role of Lois's right-hand man, because he'd been with the paper almost as long as Lois, and certainly longer than anyone else at the Planet. Gradually, they'd reformed the position to be a two-person job, and together they kept the paper running. They still had several subordinates that handled a great number of the details, allowing them time together as well as the ability to take time off, but for the most part, they ran the paper.
Superman did far less than he had when he'd arrived in Metropolis. Part of that was due to his obvious aging. Clark appeared to be a man in his late forties, with gray hair and the occasional wrinkle. Unfortunately, Superman also appeared to be aging, and at the same reduced rate. The less he was seen, the better it was. He still made the occasional rescue, worked far more in foreign affairs than he liked, but he did his best to stay out of the public eye. Clark Kent did the same, hoping no one would make the connection that they had managed to hide for so many years.
Dr. Klein knew. As Superman and CJ's physician, he had to. Perry had figured it out years before, telling them that had not become the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper because he could yodel. Jimmy had figured it out as well, nearly twenty years before, proving that he was a better reporter than Lois and Clark had given him credit for. A few other miscellaneous people had suspected, but so far none had been able to confirm it. Clark wanted to keep it that way.
He took his time cleaning up his desk and double checking that things were ready for the following day. He rewrote Rich Shugart's story, then LANned it down to Lois, in printing. By the time he was ready to leave, the clock told him that it was after six, and that the paper had long since gone out. Shaking his head at his loss of concentration, thinking he was slowing down in his old age, he locked his office and headed for the parking garage.
The July day was hot and muggy, the air dripping with humidity. They needed a good rain, Clark thought, to clear the air and lower the temperature. He climbed into his Jeep, started the engine, and headed out of the garage. He hadn't realized how tired he was.
The drive to Claremont was tedious in late-evening traffic. What would normally take him an hour could often become two or more. He turned on the radio and played with the station until he found a report on the traffic. As he'd anticipated, there was an accident on the expressway, with traffic stopped in both directions while they awaited LifeFlight intervention. He considered getting off the road and lending a "super" hand, but he was at a full stop half a mile from the nearest off ramp.
He stayed in his Jeep, waited until there was a second report on the accident, and finally pulled the vehicle over onto the side of the freeway. He got out, carefully locked his doors, and then flew to the accident site, his takeoff hidden by the dense foliage near the freeway.
When he arrived at the accident site, he was glad that he had followed his instinct instead of waiting in the Jeep. The ambulances had not been able to get through the dense traffic, despite knowledge of the accident from various traffic helicopters. Three police officers had managed on motorcycles, but they were able to give only rudimentary first aid. Whether it was luck, impatience, or something more, he found that the situation was far more grave than the radio station had portrayed in its traffic report. There were several injuries, some of which were quite serious, the result of a single drunk driver and a van full of teenage students that had collided at an on ramp.
It took Superman only a few minutes to transport the most seriously injured teen to the trauma center. He cringed as he walked into the Emergency Room of Metropolis General, but beyond that he seemed to have no reaction. He was there to do a job, and to do it quickly. He delivered his charge, and then returned a physician and his equipment to the accident site. Moments later he transported another teen, returning later with the additional equipment — a back board and spinal supports — that the doctor had requested.
Clark worked for the better part of an hour before he had the accident effectively cleared. It had been emotionally exhausting, the frequent trips into the hospital and exposure to medical equipment taxing his strength far more than the flying had. When it was over, he managed to move the vehicles before leaving the traffic management to the police officers that were on the scene.
He landed back in the trees that had provided him cover earlier and spun back into his suit and tie. He was still straightening the tie when he arrived at his Jeep and discovered that the officers who could not reach the accident had left him a ticket for illegal parking. He laughed at the irony, climbed into the SUV, and started the engine.
He had forgotten that his radio was turned up, and tuned to an unfamiliar station for the news report rather than for the music. The commercials sounded unfamiliar, and the music had a distinctive country twang, but he was too keyed up from Superman's activities to care. A few songs played just on the edge of his consciousness as he waited for an opening in the traffic and merged carefully. When the words to a song finally registered, he froze, stunned by the emotions that the lyrics invoked.
*One day shy of eight years old,
When grandma passed away,
I was a broken hearted little boy
Blowing out that birthday cake.
How I cried when the sky let go
With a cold lonesome rain.
My mom smiled, said "Don't be sad child,
Grandma's watching you today."*
*'Cause there are holes in the floor of Heaven
And her tears are pouring down.
That's how you know she's watching,
Wishing she could be here now.
Sometimes if you're lonely
Just remember she can see.
There are holes in the floor of Heaven,
And she's watching over you and me.*
*Seasons come and seasons go,
Nothing stays the same.
I grew up, fell in love,
Met a girl who took my name.
Year by year we made a life
In this sleepy little town.
I thought we'd grow old together.
Lord, I sure do miss her now*
*And there's holes in the floor of Heaven
Where her tears are pouring down.
That's how I know she's watching,
Wishing she could be here now.
Sometimes when I'm lonely
I just remember she can see.
There are holes in the floor of Heaven,
And she's watching over you and me.*
*Well my little girl is twenty-three,
I walk her down the aisle.
It's a shame her Mom can't be here now
To see her lovely smile.
They throw the rice, I catch her eye,
As the rain starts coming down.
She takes my hand says, "Daddy, don't be sad,
'Cause I know Mama's watching now."*
*There are holes in the floor of Heaven,
And her tears are pouring down.
That's how I know she's watching,
Wishing she could be here now.
Sometimes when I'm lonely
I just remember she can see.
There are holes in the floor of Heaven,
And she's watching over you and me.*
Clark finally gave up the battle, and pulled the Jeep back onto the side of the road. He put his head down on his arms, and just wept.
Lois cursed the traffic, cursed the Planet computers, and generally cursed the world as she crawled along on the Metropolis Expressway. The only thing worse than leaving work late, in her opinion, was leaving work late and hitting traffic.
Her Jeep was moving along at the grand pace of fifteen miles per hour, and her patience was rapidly coming to an end. At this rate, it would be after eight before she made it home. She hadn't eaten, was completely exhausted, and had no patience for the mess that some careless driver had wrought on the rest of Metropolis.
If she hadn't been moving so slowly, she might have missed the Buffalo Bills bumper sticker on the back of the black Jeep. It was a twin to hers, albeit a few years older because Clark hadn't wanted to spend the money on a new vehicle for himself. More curious than concerned, Lois worked her way through the traffic and came to a stop in front of her husband's SUV.
Clark was known for leaving his Jeep wherever he could when Superman was needed. More than once she'd run across the vehicle while on her way to a story, although she kept that running around to a minimum these days. It wasn't until she was at the passenger side door that she realized he was in the vehicle, slumped over the steering wheel.
Lois moved quickly. Thoughts of Kryptonite bullets and old enemies flashed through her mind as she fumbled on her key ring for the keys to his Jeep. She banged on the window, called out Clark's name, but he didn't respond. By the time she slid the key into the lock and released the door, she was frantic.
"Clark," she called out, her voice showing her panic. "Clark, answer me!"
He shook his head vaguely, but didn't raise it. Seeing the movement, a part of her relaxed. If it was Kryptonite, he wouldn't be able to move around. He'd be in clear pain, groaning or something.
Lois changed her tactic somewhat and slid over next to him. She put a hand on his back, then spoke softly. "Clark, honey, I need you to talk to me."
Once again he shook his head, but what drew her attention was the movement in his shoulders. It was the distinct motion of a suppressed sob. She had done it enough in her own past to recognize it. She put her arm around her husband and just sat with him. She didn't speak and didn't try to comfort him. She waited.
The sun set before them, an orangish-red as it passed out of their vision. She watched the show but didn't remark on it. Gradually she noted that the traffic to her left was moving more fluidly, and she absently considered that they might be able to get home tonight after all. Lois gently rubbed his back and eventually noticed the unfamiliar voice of a country singer on the radio. She scrunched up her nose as she turned the radio off. She'd never particularly liked country music. Neither did Clark, for that matter, and she wondered about his choice.
Lois didn't know how long they'd sat together before Clark raised his head. His face was surprisingly clear for the tears that covered it. No blotches, no puffy eyes. Lois couldn't help feeling just a little bit of envy for the evidence of his invulnerability. She looked like a wreck after a crying jag.
"Better?" she asked softly.
He shook his head. "It was a stupid song," he explained, leaning his head back on his arms, but this time he was facing her as he did it rather than hiding his tears.
"About a kid whose grandmother died," he explained. "It just… I…"
"It hit a nerve," Lois reasoned, leaning into Clark's side, giving and taking comfort in an unconscious manner.
Lois remained quiet but stayed close to Clark. His control didn't often falter, and when it did she always retained the right to worry. She considered it a wifely prerogative, a privilege that came from folding his socks and sharing his bed. She was allowed to be concerned, and he would just have to deal with it.
"I thought I was over it," he finally offered. "It's been over a month."
"You don't' *get* over it, Clark," she explained. "There will always be a hole where she was. It'll always hurt just a little bit."
"Thanks," he said dryly.
She shook her head. "I didn't mean that as gloomy as it sounded," she clarified. "I just mean that you won't forget her. You don't get over losing someone that your life revolves around, but you do get to where life is easier. You get where it doesn't hurt all the time, and you can move on."
"I thought I had," he said in confusion. "I mean, I've accepted it. She's gone. She had a long, full life, and now it's over. I *know* that. But, all of a sudden, I just…"
"Had to deal with it all over again?"
"Not exactly," he said. "But it just started hurting."
Lois reached across him, locked the door on the freeway side of the vehicle. "Come with me," she requested.
"You can't drive this way," she said simply. "You need to come home, to rest a while. Come with me. I'll drive."
He looked as though he might argue, then his face changed. He nodded his acceptance and moved past the gear-shift to follow her out. He checked the door, made sure it was locked, then shut it as he exited the vehicle. Clark followed Lois quietly to her Jeep and got in on the passenger side after she had done the same. He watched as she scooted over into the driver's seat, slipped her keys into the ignition, and started the vehicle.
Lois merged back into traffic, which was moving far more steadily than it had been when she had stopped. A glance at her watch showed that it was ten minutes until nine. They had been sitting in his Jeep for more than an hour. She glanced over at Clark and noted that he was resting his head against the glass of the door, his eyes closed. She hoped he would sleep.
Clark didn't cry often, but when he did it was frightening for her. His emotions tended to be total, whether pleasure or pain, and he reacted accordingly. He didn't do things half-way. He had been upset following his mother's death, but she hadn't seen his emotions turn loose this way. Part of her was worried, but another part was relieved. He couldn't keep it all inside. It couldn't be good for him.
By the time they reached the house, Clark was breathing deeply and steadily. Lois was fairly certain that he was asleep. Momentarily, she was thankful for the same invulnerability that had annoyed her earlier, because she didn't want CJ to worry the way she had. Clark's face looked relaxed in sleep, with no trace of the tears that had covered it earlier in the evening.
She eased out of the driver's door and went inside to find her son. She wasn't looking forward to interrupting him, but there was no way she would be able to get Clark into the house by herself. CJ would understand.
Lois curled up next to her sleeping husband, grateful for his warmth. She and CJ had managed to get Clark to bed without waking Jonathan, but his sleep was still unnaturally deep, and he appeared troubled. She wished that they had been able to talk more before he'd shut down.
CJ and Kat had gone to retrieve Clark's Jeep from its place on the side of the expressway. They hadn't minded and had even seemed eager for the opportunity to get out of the house. Lois was just grateful to have one less thing to worry about. The Jeep was now parked safely behind her own.
Months earlier, Lois had coped with the death of her father. She remembered vividly the guilt when her life hadn't changed, hadn't fallen apart as she was sure it was supposed to after losing a parent. She wished desperately for that consistency now. Martha's death had shattered her world, and she was still trying to recover from it.
Jonathan was sleeping in the guest room. He still didn't want to go home, to the memories and "helpful" neighbors that had bombarded him after Martha's funeral. He kept making excuses, most of them pretty pathetic, but neither Lois nor Clark had pushed. To begin with, they enjoyed having him here. He was a sweet and loving man, and they had always gotten along well. In addition, Clark was still worried about his father's state of mind. He wasn't himself yet, and it seemed cold to turn him out when he was so uncertain.
CJ and Kat were staying in his room for the time being. They had looked briefly for an apartment, but Lois had to admit that she had done everything except forbid it. It wasn't that she didn't want them to leave. She knew that they deserved time to themselves, deserved to live their lives, but her world had changed so much in the last few months that one more alteration just might split her universe apart.
Martha Kent had been one of the main reasons that Lois had fallen so hard for Clark. There was something unusual about a man in his late twenties that still called his mother a couple of times a week. Lois remembered thinking it strange and even that it might be worthy of a referral to the nearest shrink. Later, as she'd gotten to know Martha, she'd realized why Clark was so attached.
Lois had come from a family where love was in short supply. Oh, it had been there, but it hadn't been shown. Lois had learned to fend for herself at an early age, both physically and emotionally. Often she'd had to be more mother than child, and she'd learned to deal with it.
Clark had learned the opposite. His parents were strong and loving and provided a support that Lois could barely believe, even after being in its presence for almost thirty years. They didn't judge, they didn't condemn, and they always showed love for their children. She was both awed and honored to be accepted into that family, to be considered one of their children.
Even as Lois had been learning independence, Clark had been reaping the benefits of unconditional love and acceptance. It had made him stronger than she could have imagined. Instead of taking, Clark gave until there was nothing left, and then he gave some more. It wasn't his Kryptonian nature, as they'd learned the hard way just before their wedding, but rather his upbringing. He'd been nurtured with love, and so he showed love. It was as simple, and as amazing, as that.
Martha had become an integral part of Lois' life very early in the marriage, if not even before the marriage had taken place. Gradually, it was Lois that picked up the telephone to see how the older Kents were doing. It was Lois that found birthday gifts and Christmas presents that were appropriate. It was Lois that needed the support and wanted the help.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Clark's parents became hers. It hadn't been overt, but rather it was a natural progression that came from time spent together, shared interests, and more of that unconditional love that Lois had learned from Clark. She had been a part of a *real* family for the first time in her life, and she was loathe to surrender that privilege.
Martha was gone. It hit her several times a day, in varying degrees and forms. When she had found a particularly nice painting that she knew Martha would love, she'd put her hands on it before remembering that there was no reason anymore to buy a gift. When she had watched her son walk across the stage at his graduation, she had actually reached out before remembering that Martha's hand was not where it could be grasped. When she had watched the sunset earlier that evening, her hand had itched to grab the cell phone and let her mother-in-law know that she was loved, that she was thought of. It was becoming a hard habit to break.
Occasionally it occurred to her that she had never missed her father this way. She had never reached for him, never wondered what he would think about something. For all his biological contribution to her genetic makeup, he had never been a part of her life. Even at the end, when he had wanted to know her, his ambitions had placed her at the end of a long list of priorities. She missed him, certainly, but it didn't leave the same tremendous sense of loss in her life that Martha's passing had.
She knew that Clark's difficulty must be even more acute. He had known her longer, had relied on her more. He had loved his mother with all that was in him. She knew it, and a part of her hurt more for him than it did for herself.
Early in their relationship, Lois had wondered about Clark's devotion to his parents. She'd known nothing like it in her life, and seeing it seemed vaguely unusual to her. She'd wondered if she was first with him, or if his parents were. At that point she hadn't even been sure that it mattered, but she'd been curious.
Clark had faced losing his parents. At one point, he'd even been forced to choose between Lois and his parents, the choice no man should ever have to make. She had found a compromise, of course. She had been frozen and revived, and his parents had been freed, but there was a part of her that always marveled at his insistence that she run, that she stay safe. She knew he had no intentions of sacrificing his parents for her, but that wasn't the point. As much as he loved them, he loved her as well. It had been the first time she'd felt anything so strong, so pure, and so good. It was no small wonder that she had fallen in love with him.
Marrying Clark had meant marrying the Kent family. When they had first been married, she'd almost resented that every holiday was spent in Smallville. She'd wanted a fancy vacation, an exciting opportunity, and she had found herself sitting on a farm. When she'd finally told Clark about her feelings, several years into their marriage, he had been immediately contrite. She hadn't known until then that he had gone home as much for her as he did for himself. She hadn't told him any different, and for all his gifts, he wasn't a mind reader.
Ironically, once they'd begun to spend their vacations at Disneyworld or in Hawaii, she'd longed for the slower pace and loving atmosphere of Smallville. Life was funny that way.
The previous six months had been the most exciting and depressing in her life. Her son had graduated college and gotten married, and he was preparing to start his life as an adult. Her father and her mother-in-law were both dead. Her mother had moved to California. All of the changes left Lois feeling more than a little lost, and the grounding factor in her life was less stable than she was. If she was feeling rocked by the events, then how much worse must it be for Clark?
Nothing seemed to be working out the way that it had been planned. Perhaps that sounded juvenile, but it was how she felt. Nothing was balancing out the way it was supposed to. She felt angry, cheated, and very hurt by it all.
Her son was married, and she hadn't been there to see it. She hadn't seen Clark walk Kat down the aisle, or seen her son fumble to untie the ring from a heart-shaped pillow. She hadn't seen him lift the veil, kiss his bride. His life had altered, and she hadn't been there for it. She was supposed to have been there, damn it!
She wasn't angry that they were married. On the contrary, she was thrilled that they were so happy, and that they had taken an initiative that she and Clark had not. She wished them only happiness, and she truly believed that they were meant for one another. Still, she was hurt that she hadn't been there when it had begun. She had watched as her son met Kat, had seen their first kiss, and yet she had missed one of the most important moments in their lives. She wasn't a voyeur, but there were some things that a mother had the right to see, and her son's wedding was one of them.
Okay, maybe she was angry. Just a little. What made her feel the worst, though, was that she couldn't imagine what they could have done differently. There was simply no easy "fix" for the situation, and that bothered her.
Kat and CJ would have a wedding. They were already making plans for early September. They had ordered invitations, called their caterer, and arranged for another band because their first choice was unavailable. Lois would see the ceremony, get back that little bit of history she had missed, and the world would go right on turning.
She was back to that, her thoughts coming full circle. God, she missed that woman. A remark that Clark had made in the hospital came back to her. He didn't know what to do when he was in pain, because he'd always gone to Martha for support. Lois was feeling the same way, now. She wanted more than anything to pick up the phone and call her, to ask her what to do, to be sure that her feelings were normal and right. She wanted to apologize for always taking that love and support for granted.
Lois reached beneath her shoulder and tugged the long braid of her hair out. She fiddled with the strands below the rubber band that secured it for the night. Martha had been the one to tell her that long hair was less trouble than short. She'd been right about that as well. Lois normally kept the waist-length strands either braided or in a bun, casual or professional as the occasion demanded. More gray than brown, her hair was a reminder that she too was aging. She too would die. She would leave her son, just as Martha had left hers.
She left the braid lying along her back, where she wouldn't strangle herself in the night or wake up with Clark lying on it, then cuddled up against his back. When she put her arm over his body, he covered it with his own and brought her fingers to his lips for a kiss.
"You're awake? she asked in surprise.
"In and out," he murmured. "My head hurts."
"That's the crying," she told him. "I don't think aspirin would work for you, though. Sleep is the best thing."
He nodded, then threaded his fingers through hers. "You wanna tell me how I got here?"
"I drove us home," she answered. "CJ brought you in, then went back for the Jeep."
"Tell me he's not the one that stripped me," Clark requested, a bit of life coming back into his voice.
"That was me," she admitted. "I didn't think the suit would be comfortable to sleep in."
Lois shifted, and Clark rolled onto his back, letting her rest her head on his chest. His arms came around her automatically, and she sighed in contentment. "Nice," she said softly.
"I heard that Superman was busy tonight," she mentioned. "You do good work."
"Just transport," he admitted. "Although being in the hospital brought an awful lot back. I felt the same way right after you got out. I just couldn't stand to be there."
"Hospitals are lousy places," she agreed. "They all smell the same."
"Pagers," he muttered.
"The pagers all sound alike. I can hear them a block away, over and over. I think a pager goes off every second in that hospital."
"Probably does," she agreed.
Lois kissed him lightly on the shoulder, felt his arms squeeze tightly, just short of pain. "It's okay to cry, you know," she said almost absently. "There are supposed to be hormones in tears that make you relax, or something like that."
He laughed softly. "Sounds like a convenient excuse," he told her. "Crying is worse than Kryptonite, though. At least with that damn green rock I can get away. This just throbs and lingers."
"Yeah," he admitted. "I don't have much of a pain threshold. I don't usually feel pain, so I never had a chance to get used to it."
"You don't get used to pain, Clark. You just get through it. Let me try something."
She lifted her body from his chest and sat up to straddle him. She might have reached fifty-six with her last birthday, but she still exercised enough to maintain her muscle tone and flexibility. With a leg on either side of his body, she put her hands to his temples and began to rub. "Close your eyes," she told him. "Relax. Let me take care of you for a change."
Clark closed his eyes and stopped moving. His body was a long way from relaxed, and she had a good idea that his tension was more responsible for the headache than his crying had been. Still, he didn't cry often, so it was hard to know how it affected him. She rubbed his temples in tiny circles, the same way she would do for herself if she'd had a headache. Gradually, his body relaxed some.
Lois moved her hands down, rubbing his cheeks, behind his ears, down to his neck. She shifted herself back so that she could massage his shoulders lightly. She'd learned long ago not to use any strength with her massages, because it would only cramp her fingers without denting his muscles. She used warmth and gentleness in place of brute strength, and over time her patience was rewarded.
As her hands moved down to his chest, his eyes opened and his hands came up to cover hers. "Thanks," he said softly.
She leaned down and gently kissed his lips, her braid hanging over one shoulder and coming within his reach. He tugged on the cord as though it were a tail, bringing her closer for another kiss.
"I thought you had a headache," she said with amusement.
"I did," he agreed. "Now I have something else in mind."
Lois giggled softly as she lowered herself into her husband's embrace, and they both were able to stop thinking for a while.
Clark walked in the back door of the house carrying a handful of letters, reading through them with a frown.
"That bad?" Lois asked softly, knowing the mail was retrieved from his father's house in Smallville.
"Bills," he mumbled, tearing open a familiar envelope. He'd dealt with hundreds of them over that last several years, mostly from Lois' illness and CJ's birth. HMO's were far from perfect, and there were always charges that fell through the cracks. When a death was involved, the hospitals had no tolerance for grief or final expenses. They were a business, and they wanted their money.
"How high?" she asked, biting her lip nervously.
"It's itemized," Clark said with an ironic grin. "$176,400 for the ICU room, $4,780 to X-ray, nursing care, physicians, various departments…"
"Bottom line?" Lois asked.
"Before insurance, close to a million," he answered. "But they're only holding Dad responsible for about eight thousand."
Lois' eyebrows rose. "That's the deductible?"
"No, that's the co-pay. Mom went over the catastrophic cap that they placed, so everything over he's liable for. The deductible is another $250, but we've already paid that."
Lois took the sheet out of his hand, looked at the staggering figures, and handed it back. "Five dollars a month," she grumbled. "As long as we're paying it, they can't start legal action. It's a law."
"True," he agreed, putting the bill back in its envelope. "It's not like they can repossess Mom."
Lois looked up at her husband, at his totally straight face, and broke into laughter. Clark shook his head and joined her. After all they had been through, the bills were adding insult to injury, and they deserved to be laughed at.
"I'll make some calls," Clark finally said, once he'd regained some control of himself. "I don't want Dad to see this and panic. He's having a rough enough time."
"He went for a walk this morning," Lois told him. "That's a good thing."
"Yeah, it is," Clark agreed. "What brought on the change? All he's done is sleep."
"I'm not sure. He got up early, asked where you were, then grabbed a pack of Pop-Tarts and said that he was going for a walk."
"It's gorgeous out there," Clark commented. "The humidity's down for a change, and it isn't as hot."
"Sounds like a good day for a walk," Lois smiled. "CJ and Kat went apartment searching, again. Oh, and CJ got his contract for Claremont High. He's so excited that he gets the summer off."
"Wow, some good news," Clark said with more sarcasm than he would have liked. "Are you sure I'm in the right house?"
Lois laughed lightly, a sound he hadn't heard enough of lately. "We hit rock-bottom, Honey. It has to come up from there."
"I guess so," he agreed. "I'm just constantly stunned by how *low* low can be."
Lois reached up and kissed him on the cheek, placed a slightly charred Pop-Tart in his hand, then turned back to the dishes she was washing.
Clark looked at the pastry and smiled. Some things in life were constant, and Lois' cooking was one of them. "You didn't cook Dad's, did you?" he asked.
"No, he wanted it cold," she answered. "I guess he knows me pretty well."
"That he does," Clark agreed, breaking the burned edge off his pastry, dropping it in the trash, and then taking a bite. "What's on the agenda today?"
"Dishes, laundry, dusting," she said with a smile. "The usual stuff."
"It is too glorious out there to waste a Saturday inside," he argued. "Let me take you flying," he asked, his arms slipping around her waist from behind and bringing her body closer to his.
Lois smiled as she leaned back into her husband. "I like to fly," she admitted.
"I'll do the housework," he suggested. "It'll only take me a minute. Why don't you go get some clothes on?"
"You don't like my fuzzy slippers?" she asked plaintively.
"I love your slippers," he said with a grin. "The robe's a nice touch, too." He absently traced his fingers around the "S" shield on its lapel. CJ had found the nightclothes in a comic book store a couple of years before, and the gag gift had become a private family joke.
"I'll get dressed," she conceded. "In a minute." With her arms still buried in sudsy water, she leaned back and puckered her lips for a kiss. Clark was more than willing to oblige her.
That was the way CJ found them when he and Kat entered the kitchen. "You see where I get it from," he said to Kat, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek.
Lois and Clark jumped apart, more startled than embarrassed at being caught by their kids. "You two need to knock," Lois grumbled, giving them a smile to take the sting out of the words.
"You two need a room," CJ countered.
"That works, too," Clark admitted, waggling his eyebrows at Lois. She only punched him playfully and reached for a towel to dry her hands. "Clean my house," she told him. "Then we fly." With that, she left the room and headed upstairs.
"Looks like I have maid duty," he admitted. "Want to help me out, son? We can get it done in half the time."
CJ wavered, but then his wife pushed him. "Help your dad," she said with a smile. "Then maybe we can all go flying," she said hopefully.
"You can't super-speed laundry," CJ told her with a shrug. "Can you put in a load of whites?"
"You got it," she grinned, kissing him on the cheek.
"Goober," he muttered as he slapped her bottom lightly while she turned away.
"Goober?" Kat looked back over her shoulder, her eyebrows raised in question, without turning around.
"It's a little peanut," he explained, his eyes crinkled with laughter.
"Ask and you shall receive," she said, shaking her head and laughing. "Goober?"
"My Goober," he corrected, and kissed her once again.
Clark watched them a moment longer, unable to keep the grin off his face, then turned to begin the cleanup that he'd promised Lois.
Clean air, blue skies, and fluffy clouds. Kat would remember this day forever.
CJ didn't often take her flying. He seemed almost embarrassed about his powers most of the time, and she wondered if it was because she'd had so much trouble accepting them when they were teens. The suggestion by Clark had been inspired, and Kat didn't even mind that CJ had been railroaded into both cleaning and taking her on the flight.
Clark was holding Lois against his chest, one arm behind her back and the other beneath her knees. They were talking but far enough away that Kat couldn't hear their voices clearly over the noise produced by their motion. CJ was holding her as he always did, hands at her waist, her body aligned full-length against his. He spoke occasionally into her ear, telling her where they were or what she was seeing, but remained quiet most of the time.
She turned her head so that she could face him, looking back over her shoulder into brown eyes. "Why don't we do this more often?" she asked softly.
He shrugged, but didn't offer an answer.
He sighed, then blushed slightly. "I'm not very good at direction," he finally admitted. "My dad has a knack for it, but it seems to have skipped a generation. I can fly, but I never wind up where I plan to. One day I got lost over the ocean and it took me over an hour to find land. I kept flying in circles, I guess. Anyway, I don't take off much on my own anymore."
"Why didn't you tell me that?" she asked gently.
He shrugged again, and she felt the movement along her whole body. "So much for my son-of-Superman status," he admitted wryly. "Grandma used to say I couldn't find my way out of a paper bag. She was joking, but there was just enough truth to it for it to be funny."
"I thought you just weren't ready to follow in his footsteps."
He shook his head. "Not exactly. I mean, I don't have that same need to help that he does. He hears something, and it's like he can't *not* help. That's just how he is. I kind of see people as needing to help themselves. I do some stuff, when I can manage without being caught, but I don't have any desire to wear the suit."
"I'm glad," Kat admitted. "It would be worse than being married to a cop or a fireman. I remember how your dad was always taking off when we were kids. I just didn't know then that it was literal."
CJ shifted his grip on her, pulled her closer to him and wrapped an arm around her waist so that he could point with his free hand. "That's Mount Rushmore," he told her softly. "We're too far up to see the faces, but that's where it is."
She leaned her head back against this chest, watched the scenery and enjoyed being in her husband's arms. Lois and Clark were still ahead of them, but Clark had brought himself to a stop to allow them to catch up.
"Did you want to grab lunch somewhere?" he asked casually, as though their impulsive flight had been no more than a Saturday afternoon stroll around the block.
"Whatever you decide," CJ said, and only Kat seemed to be aware of the man's discomfort.
Clark nodded, then began to descend towards a heavily wooded area that would conceal their landing. CJ followed, close but not too close.
They landed almost a quarter mile into the trees, both concealed and yet close enough to walk to the edge. Clark insisted there was a wonderful restaurant nestled near the ranger-station, so they were taking him at his word.
As expected, they found a small lodge next to the ranger-station, and had no difficulty getting seated. They enjoyed sandwiches and all the fixings, as well as a simple bottle of wine. It still surprised Kat when Clark ordered wine for all of them, as she had been a "kid" around him for so long, but he took the change in stride. She wondered if she'd ever see him as more than CJ's father first and everything else second.
They walked back into the woods for takeoff once their lunch was done. CJ had been unusually quiet during the meal, although neither of his parents had commented on it. "Are you okay?" Kat finally asked.
"Do you ever wonder," he began, but didn't finish.
"If I should be following in Dad's footsteps?"
"Why? Do you think you should?" She turned her head once more so that she could watch his eyes. She saw a lot of confusion there, and apprehension.
"I just can't see myself in the suit," he admitted. "I don't mind helping out. I've been in the right place at the right time more than once, and I love being able to do some good. But, sometimes, I just don't see the difference. Dad comes in totally exhausted, miserable because he can't do enough. It all seems to be as much a curse as a blessing."
"I guess in a way it is," Kat agreed. "But isn't it also a responsibility?"
"That's how Dad feels."
"How do *you* feel?" she asked carefully.
He paused for a long time, his head resting against hers, his breathing soft in her ear. *All the powers in the world couldn't save Grandma,* he thought — she heard. *I guess I just don't see a point.*
"Give it time," she suggested. "You have a lot going on in your life now, even without the issue of your powers. You make good decisions, and I know you'll make the right one for you. For us."
"I wish I was so sure," he admitted.
"I have enough faith in you for both of us," she said with a grin. "After all, you're holding me a couple of hundred feet in the air with no safety net. If that isn't total trust, I don't know what is."
Chapter 10: August
CJ couldn't stop his smile as he lifted the picture up so that he could look at it. His father must have been all of three years old when the photo was taken, smiling at Grandma and doing his best to wiggle away in the tub. The look on Martha's face was priceless, captured for all eternity by the lens of the old camera. His dad had been a scamp.
It was one photo of thousands that they were going through. Once more, CJ was grateful that his teaching responsibilities wouldn't begin until late August, leaving him three weeks in which he could help his grandfather sort through years of history. Kat was here in Smallville with them, having decided to wait until the nursing students had gone back into class before accepting a shift at a local convalescent hospital. While she could take a job now, and the money wouldn't hurt, it would have to be a night or evening shift, and she didn't want to work opposite CJ's schedule. Once you accepted a night job, she'd told him, getting back to day shift was nearly impossible. When the summer was done, and any local students went back to school, a few daytime positions should open and her chances were better for the preferred shift.
So, with a few weeks to use, and an intense desire to spend some time together, CJ and Kat had accompanied his grandfather to Smallville to sort through memories before selling the farm once and for all.
CJ had some definite concerns about losing the farmhouse, but he respected his grandfather's wishes. Jonathan wanted to move closer to his family, and away from Martha's dear, if smothering, friends. He couldn't take the constant compassion or the carefully diverted conversations. He had been married for more than fifty years, and he refused to pretend that Martha hadn't existed.
The situation had come to a head when one bold friend had the nerve to ask him why he still wore his wedding band, and CJ had honestly thought that his kind and gentle grandfather was going to hit the woman. Instead, he'd simply walked off and slammed a few doors. CJ thought he had handled it pretty well.
The difficulty of living in a small, rural community was that everyone knew everyone's business. While it could be comforting in the right circumstances, at the moment it was just plain stifling. Everyone knew Jonathan's business and wanted to offer a helping hand. He wasn't ready to accept help, and might never be, but they wouldn't allow him any time or space to make that decision.
On the practical side, CJ was thrilled that his grandfather would be closer to them. It would allow him more opportunities to drop by and more of a chance to spend time with him. He didn't object to having Jonathan close at all.
It did hurt, some, that they would have to lose the farm. He'd even considered buying it for himself, until the practicalities of the situation had registered. He still had school loans to pay off, so getting a new loan for the farm would be almost impossible. Also, he and Kat had planned their lives to be just outside of Metropolis, so the logistics of moving it all to Smallville would have been difficult. Finally, he and Kat had no desire to farm. She might plant a kitchen herb garden when they found an apartment, but that was the extent of their need to see nature grow. The farm was special to them because of its place in their lives, not because of their agricultural needs.
The Kent farm had been a stable force in CJ's life. It had been where the vacations were spent, where he was sent when things got too rough in Metropolis, and where he had learned to control most of his powers. It was more than a building and some land. It was home, in every sense of the word. Every wall had a memory attached, every doorway a story. There were marks on one wall — dated — that showed Clark's height at various ages, and CJ's, and even one line a year for Kat when she had begun spending her summers with CJ.
After the deal had fallen through on Martha and Jonathan's first attempt at selling the farm, they'd been able to spend ten years in the home that they loved. This time, Jonathan had gone to the bank, rather than selling the farm to an individual. Banks were less likely to default, so the sale this time was final. He'd gotten a fair price, and he was able to pay off both Martha's final expenses and to have enough to tuck away for emergencies. Moving into an apartment in Claremont wouldn't be difficult monetarily. Emotionally, however, CJ had his concerns.
CJ put the picture of his father in the "keep" box, then dug around some more in the box of photos that had never made it into albums. Kat had offered to organize them, but first they had to determine which pictures should be kept, and which were too far gone from age and neglect to be worth saving. He grabbed another handful of pictures, tossing them quickly into one box or the other, and then stopped as another one caught his eye.
He'd grown used to seeing pictures of the farm, rather than pictures of people. Many of the shots were of crops ready to be harvested, or new equipment that they had been so proud of. This one was not. This one was precious.
His grandmother seemed so young. Her smile was genuine and loving, but the child that she posed with was not himself, or his father. The little girl was eight years old, and had been spending her first summer at the Kent farm. To look at her glowing face, CJ wouldn't have imagined that this was the same girl who had watched her mother die only weeks before. Dressed in some of CJ's outgrown clothes, Katie Lynn had turned into a tomboy that summer. She'd discovered that there was more to life than tea-parties and pretty clothes, fathers that didn't want children, and moms that didn't get well. CJ wondered if that had been the summer when he'd truly fallen in love with her.
Martha and Jonathan had never questioned the tagalong that CJ brought with him for his summer visits. They had merely thrown a sleeping bag on the floor in Clark's old room for CJ to use, and suggested that Kat take the bed. She had been fragile that first summer, still reeling from her mom's death and her dad's anger over the situation. Eight years old, and her world had been upside down. When Lois had suggested that Kat accompany CJ on his vacation, Kat had jumped at it like the lifeline it was. CJ had been just as thrilled, because leaving his best friend was the only down side to being with his grandparents. It hadn't taken much effort to convince Will Anderson. He hadn't really wanted his daughter around, anyway.
Scared and lonely, half afraid to talk to them, Kat had arrived at the Kent farm with a tiny suitcase and a lot of tears. Only when she'd been introduced to the animals — a couple of goats, one cow, and more chickens than she could count — had Kat relaxed.
She hadn't had any play clothes, only the dresses that her mother had loved. Martha had first put her in some of CJ's old things and had eventually taken her shopping. She'd worn her first pair of jeans, marveled at the T-shirt with pictures of her favorite cartoon characters, and finally had the opportunity to be a kid instead of a little lady.
"You're not sorting," Kat said accusingly. "What did you find this time?"
CJ smiled and surrendered the photo, then watched his wife's stern face go soft with memories. She settled down beside him, cross legged on the attic floor. "Gosh, I was little," she commented.
"You were adorable," he corrected, kissing her quickly on the cheek.
"Martha looks so young," she said softly.
"I thought the same thing. I never noticed how old she'd gotten until I started looking at these."
"Well, it didn't happen overnight," Kat grinned.
"No, it didn't. It was so slow that I didn't see it." He looked at Kat for a few moments while he considered his next words. "Grandpa looks older now, too."
"Yes, he does."
"He'll likely be next," CJ added.
Kat just nodded.
Mortality was a tricky issue. Once the protective bubble had popped, illusions that you wouldn't have to deal with death were shattered. CJ had found this out years before, when his mother had been so ill. Still, he'd never lost anyone, and it kept hitting him in unusual ways.
"Hmmm?" She was already sorting the pictures that he'd put in the "save" box and had to look up from her task when he called her name.
"How long does it take to get over it?" He knew he didn't have to elaborate.
She paused, as if thinking. She looked back down at the picture taken of her the summer after her mother died, and a sadness crossed her face that he hadn't expected. Desperately, he wished he could call the words back.
"You don't," she finally answered. "Not completely. After awhile, the memories fade a bit and you fill your life with other stuff, but there's always a hole where someone you love used to be." She met CJ's eyes as she concluded, "I don't think that was what you wanted to hear, was it?"
"You've always been honest with me, Goober," he grinned, trying to lighten the moment. He could tell from her tentative smile that he'd succeeded. "I don't ever expect less from you."
"A little peanut?" she complained, but her heart wasn't in it.
"Well, it's chocolate, too," he informed her. "Chocolate covered peanuts. Does that help?"
Kat didn't bother to answer.
Kat wrapped the plate in a dish towel and tucked it into a box marked "Kitchen". It wasn't easy sorting out the things that Jonathan would need in a one-bedroom apartment from what was necessary to run a complete household, but they were finally managing to get it done. The bank had several prospects for the farmhouse, but even if the sale had been in question, Jonathan had been adamant about moving as soon as possible.
She had begun to understand his need to move earlier that morning. The previous day, two older women had dropped by with fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and Kat had thought Jonathan rude not to stay and speak with them. That afternoon, another older woman had come by with a basket of sandwiches. Again, Jonathan had made himself scarce, and Kat had been confused. This morning, one of the women had returned, this time with fresh blueberry muffins and a pie, and she hadn't been as casual about her motives. After Jonathan had left, she'd talked to Kat for several minutes regarding her frustration.
"Someone has got to take care of that man," Mrs. Flood had said in exasperation. "He won't do it himself, and with Martha not here he'll waste away to nothing without good food."
"Jonathan's quite a good cook," Kat had remarked, but she'd been cut off.
"Nonsense. Every man needs a woman, and it's just practical that he needs someone who's spent her life running a farm. Why, until my Elmer died a few years ago, I was known for my jams and pies at the Smallville Corn Festival. If he were with me, he wouldn't have to worry about cooking. Why, Martha — God rest her soul — was no more than a burden to that man…" Mrs. Flood had finally trailed off at the expression on Kat's face.
"Martha was never a burden," Kat had corrected. "She was the other half of him. And, if you think that he'll forget her in a matter of weeks, you're sadly mistaken."
"Of course he won't forget," Mrs. Flood had remarked, blushing slightly. "I'll never forget my Elmer, either. But a man shouldn't be alone, nor should a woman. It only makes sense that we come together."
"Maybe it makes sense to you," Kat had reasoned, trying to be mindful of the older woman's feelings. "But it's still very fresh in Jonathan's memory. I don't know if he'll ever be ready to be with another woman."
"He was married for fifty years. How would he manage alone?"
"He's never alone," Kat informed her. "He has his family."
Mrs. Flood had huffed off after that, and Kat had been relieved. Suddenly she understood the impact of a widower living among the people who had known him. A widower was fairly rare in this small town, with women statistically outliving the men around them, which left him as the only fish available in a very large pond. Until he was out of the area, he would be a target. She knew he wasn't emotionally ready for that.
Kat placed the last plate in the box, then closed it and taped it shut. A glance around the kitchen showed that she was nearly finished. The dishes were packed, as were the glasses, and soon she would have the silverware put in boxes as well. Unfortunately, this would relegate them to paper plates and plastic utensils for the remainder of their stay, but she wanted to have the packing done.
The practical matters hadn't been nearly as difficult to sort as the emotional ones. It was fairly easy to decide to take the newer sheets rather than the old ones, the newer towels instead of the ones with holes. They packed the fax machine, the laptop that Clark had bought his mother a few years back, and the useful appliances from the kitchen. It was more difficult to determine what to do with fifty years of accumulated memorabilia. There were more books and photographs than could fit in a tiny apartment, and while Lois and Clark would store a good deal of the boxes, some of it had to be eliminated for the sake of good sense.
Jonathan hadn't been as helpful as Kat would have liked. He kept to himself most of the time, taking long walks or longer naps. He seemed to be saying goodbye to his life, as well as to the memories that the farm represented. Kat knew this was hard for him, remembered how miserable he'd been when he and Martha had moved briefly to Metropolis years before, but at least then they'd had one another. Now, Jonathan had nothing except a few miscellaneous boxes and more memories than he could sort through.
"Kitchen done?" CJ asked, walking into the room with a box marked "Books".
"Mostly," Kat told him. "I still have to get the pots and pans put in some boxes."
"I'll get them," CJ offered. "How many boxes will we need?"
"Just one. We'll keep it simple."
CJ nodded, and returned a moment later with a medium-sized box that he'd marked appropriately. He opened the bottom of the electric stove and began sorting through to make sure he chose the pots and pans that were in the best shape. The rest they would leave to be picked up by the Salvation Army. There was simply no reason to take all four sets of cookware.
By the time he had finished, his wife was standing in the doorway looking out. He sat there on the kitchen floor and just watched her, his mind drifting from their past to their future, trailing along a dozen different paths as it did so. When she finally turned and caught him watching her, a strange expression on his face, she gave him her most beautiful smile.
"What?" she asked, already blushing.
CJ shook his head and laughed softly. "I'm allowed to look at my wife," he told her. "Right?"
"Something about that look I just don't trust," she admitted, her grin still firmly in place. "What were you thinking?"
*Not telling,* he insisted.
"You know I can't take any more than you give me," she reminded him. "The telepathy, if that's what it is, is yours. I can't read your mind."
"I tell you everything that's important," he said with another of his patented grins.
He shrugged at that. "Having anything even remotely to do with reality," he admitted. "I was just daydreaming, Kat. Nothing more exotic than that."
"And I'm expected to believe this?" she asked as she took a seat next to him.
He tugged her from the floor up onto his lap, wrapped his arms around her. "I don't lie," he told her firmly. "I get the honest streak from my dad."
"You also don't tell me everything," she reminded him as her arms went around his neck. "You've always had this silly idea that I'm fragile or something."
"You are *not* fragile. But maybe I do try to protect you. You can't blame me for that, can you? I just want to be sure you're happy."
"If you want me happy," she informed him, "then tell me what you were thinking that put such a sappy grin on your face."
He took a deep breath and blushed. "I was wondering how much stuff I'll have to sort through when we're old," he said softly. "And then, I got to thinking about how much fun it will be accumulating that stuff. The places we'll go, the things we'll do." He moved his hand to her stomach, rubbing gently. "The kids we'll have."
"I like those thoughts," she admitted, blushing slightly herself.
"I wonder how long…" His voice trailed off as he continued to rub her tummy.
"No way to know," she said softly. "Just because we aren't trying to prevent it, we can't expect it to happen quickly. Some people are lucky, and it happens right away. Some couples try for years. You remember all that went on with your parents."
He nodded, then met her eyes. "Dr. Klein said I shouldn't have the same trouble."
"Well, no more than any other couple," Kat told him. "It's kind of an individual thing. Chemistry and pH levels and such. We'll have to wait and see. But, I'll tell ya, if I don't get pregnant it certainly isn't for lack of effort."
"Are you complaining, Mrs. Kent?" he asked with a smile.
"Not a bit," she denied. "Just commenting."
He nodded, then kissed her. The kiss threatened to get out of control, as was common of late. He couldn't remember for the life of him how he had managed to control himself for so many years. Now just seeing her, much less touching her, was enough to send his body into overdrive. He imagined that he'd been successful only because his body really hadn't known what it was missing. Now it did, and it didn't want to miss a thing.
"Mmmph," she murmured, her head coming up and her eyes popping open as she clearly remembered something. "We need to find your grandpa," she said. "The bank guy is supposed to come by and check out the remaining farm equipment. That's why I was looking for him."
CJ took a deep breath, then another, and finally succeeded in getting his body back under control. He shifted Kat off his lap, groaning slightly as he moved to stand, and then he frowned as he saw the amused expression on his wife's face.
"What?" he asked, the irritation clear in his voice.
"You," she answered, not backing down an inch.
"I don't like being interrupted," he complained.
"I'll make it up to you later," she promised. "If you'll help me find your grandpa."
"I'll find him," CJ promised. "You just start thinking of how you'll make it up to me."
Chapter 11: September
Kat put her head on her arm and took a deep breath. The arm rested on the seat of the toilet. The toilet was painfully cold, and it had been her constant companion for the last three days.
It was one of those cases, Kat decided, of the cure being worse than the disease. She'd come down with a virus the week before, running a high fever and developing a cough. When she didn't improve over the next few days, she'd gone back to the doctor only to find that she had a mild case of pneumonia. Unfortunately, the antibiotics had not stayed down and her condition had not improved.
CJ had finally taken her to the Emergency Room. After two liters of fluid and a dose of IV antibiotics, the fever had finally come down within reason and he'd been allowed to take his wife home. Now, two days later, Kat was actually better. She was so much better, in fact, that she'd stopped taking the Phenergan that the doctor had prescribed to alleviate the nausea that went along with the antibiotics. She wouldn't make that mistake again.
"Better?" CJ asked softly, offering her a cool washcloth and a glass of water.
Kat looked up from her perch on the floor and tried to smile, failing miserably. "Just ducky," she muttered, taking a sip of the water and rinsing her mouth with it.
He sat down beside her and put his arm around her, pulling her towards him. She rested her head on his shoulder, instead of the cold porcelain.
"How many more days of antibiotics?" he asked gently.
"Another week. They want me to go the full ten days."
"There isn't another one they could use?"
She shook her head, knowing he could feel the motion even if he couldn't see her face. "Not for pneumonia. They use the mildest thing available, and that's Amoxocillin. Believe it or not, the other stuff is worse."
CJ sighed as he rubbed her arm and gave her time to rest. Several minutes later, when her breathing was steady and quiet, he lifted her into his arms and carried her back to bed. He placed the big bowl beside her, just in case, and went to get her some juice.
When he returned a few minutes later, a glass of apple juice and a little pink tablet in hand, Kat had to smile.
"Thanks," she said after taking the medication with the juice.
"You're welcome," he answered softly.
"What?" she asked. His voice had held more uncertainty than the reflexive response should have.
"Should we put off the wedding again?" he finally asked, clearly reluctant.
"But if you're not feeling well…"
"I'll be fine by Saturday," she insisted. "Ceej, we worked too hard for this. I'm not going through all the rescheduling again, even if I have to go down that aisle in a wheelchair.
CJ smiled at her, his expression showing that he agreed with her urgency, if not her judgment.
Kat finally mustered a reassuring smile of her own. She snuggled into the pillow and relaxed into CJ's bed. She still didn't think of it as theirs, even though they'd been sharing it for the last nine months, off and on.
They still hadn't managed to find an apartment. Well, they'd found several, but none that had been within reasonable driving distance and without bugs. Kat didn't mind staying at the Kent household, as it had always been her second home, but she was looking forward to having a place of her own. Jonathan had found a one-bedroom apartment in record time, both clean and furnished, but larger apartments seemed to be harder to come by.
As a final resort, she and CJ had begun looking at homes in the area. More expensive by far, they offered an alternative to the simple two or three bedroom apartment that they had originally been searching for. With the rent so high, Kat had to wonder if actually buying one would be that much worse, but she hadn't yet broached the subject to CJ.
It was several more minutes before CJ spoke. He'd taken the spot next to her, sitting up against the headboard. "Better?"
"Yeah," she told him, and she was telling the truth. The Phenergan worked quickly, and the debilitating nausea was receding. Unfortunately, she was also getting very sleepy, which was the reason that she'd tried to go without the medication.
"Ready to sleep?" he asked gently, already tugging the covers up over her.
"Yeah," she murmured softly. She felt the pull of the medication, the lack of awareness, and began to struggle against it. She hated to be out-of-it.
Just as she began to panic, realizing that the medication was stronger than she was, she felt CJ's arms go around her. He gave her some of his strength, and all of his love.
"In sickness and in health," he reminded her.
She took a deep breath, calming herself. "I love you," she said with a sigh, finally relaxing into sleep.
"I love you too, Goober."
Lois smiled as she set the bowl on the table. It was takeout from their favorite local Asian restaurant, and it was as close to home cooking as she was going to attempt. She'd learned long ago that her family appreciated good food far more than her fumbling efforts with the culinary arts.
Most of them were still at the church, hashing out the details of who would stand where and what music would be played when. While Lois certainly had an interest in the events, she didn't have a need to be there. After more than an hour of watching the discussion, she'd finally decided that she and Jonathan had done their part in the ceremony and were ready to come home. They had done so by way of the restaurant, and soon the rest of the family would arrive for dinner.
In retrospect, Lois figured it wasn't the usual after-rehearsal dinner, with its gifts and toasts, but she didn't think that the kids would mind. They were practical almost to a fault, and far more than any newlyweds their age had a right to be. They were living in CJ's room, they were preparing for stable and rewarding lives, and they were doing everything they could to make everyone else's life easier.
It had Lois worried.
What normal twenty-three year old boy lived at home with his new bride and parents without complaint? What type of woman willingly moved into her new husband's home and then took a job while he waited for his? They were good kids, and they always had been, but Lois was beginning to worry that if they didn't take some initiative for themselves, they wouldn't have the opportunity to be independent.
A more maternal part of her was just glad that she hadn't lost her son when he graduated after all. She had expected to have him move away, not have him move back in. In the process, she'd gained the daughter that she'd always wanted, and, while thrilled, she still was expecting the other shoe to drop.
Apartment hunting was difficult this close to Metropolis. Less then an hour away when traffic was agreeable, the community of Claremont was inundated with commuters who were looking for a suburban home, much as Lois and Clark had almost twenty years before. The result had been a distinct lack of available, reasonable housing. The couple hadn't given up, though. They still checked the classifieds daily, and had contacted more than one local realtor.
The problem in Claremont wasn't the lack of housing, but rather the lack of apartments. There were a few studio-style places, such as her father-in-law had found, but not much in the way of family apartments. The few that had been around had been bought by a large corporation a few years back. Now those apartments were condos, and they were far outside the price range of a young couple making no more than they were.
Recently, CJ had begun asking about houses. There weren't any in the area to rent, but there were a few for sale. It would be hard managing a mortgage and car payment and paying off their student loans with a first-year teaching position and a new job at a hospital, but they might just make it if they tried. It would allow them a yard as well as a larger living space. On the other hand, it would also give them more rooms to clean and a lawn to keep up, but that was the tradeoff.
Lois' head came up and she had to smile when her husband's hands slipped around her waist and he placed a gentle kiss on her neck. "Mmm, you're back."
"Can't get anything past you," he murmured in her ear. "The starving heathens are parking the car. I flew ahead."
"Why would you do that?" she asked with a smile.
"To get a minute alone with my wife," he admitted.
"It may be the last one for quite a while," she agreed. "My mom's supposed to come in tonight."
"Yeah," he said softly. Lois heard the regret in his voice.
"Let me guess. She's not coming."
"She didn't think we'd be home, so she called the church. Something about an airline strike. She'll try to get out early next week."
Lois rested her head back on her husband's shoulder. She could feel the tears welling in her eyes, but she couldn't figure out why. She'd never been fond of her mother's company, and yet she *had* been looking forward to this visit. "How are the kids taking it?" she asked.
"They're fine with it," Clark admitted. "CJ said that as long as we're there, and his grandpa, then he doesn't need anyone else."
Lois sighed, finally letting the tears slide free to make wet tracks down her cheeks.
"I'll get her here if you want," Clark promised.
Lois shook her head in denial. "No," she said firmly. "It isn't my day. It's Kat's."
"But, nothing," she said, standing and wiping her cheeks with her hands. "I'm fine. And the kids will be here in a moment. You said so yourself."
"I'm fine," she said again.
Clark didn't get another chance to reply, because Kat and CJ were indeed coming through the front door, laughing and shoving as they did so. Clark sighed as he watched his wife wipe her face with her fingers once more and then go to meet them.
CJ looked over the church, took a deep breath, and tried to keep his knees from shaking. He was already married, he reasoned. There was absolutely no reason for him to be this nervous. Hell, he hadn't been *this* nervous when he'd gone to the Justice of the Peace.
"You're looking green," his father commented wryly.
"Thanks," CJ muttered. "That makes me feel a lot better."
Clark laughed, the sound drawing a few curious looks from the audience. "You're fine," he said, reaching over to pat his son on the back. "Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that this doesn't change anything."
CJ nodded, took a deep breath and held it, then released it slowly. He *did* feel calmer, he decided. Maybe there was something to the relaxation techniques that his father was always recommending. He felt relaxed, ready, calm…
Then his heart flipped over in his chest.
He saw his grandfather appear, wearing a tuxedo with cream colored bow tie and cummerbund to match Clark's. CJ's tuxedo was white on white, just as Kat's dress was. Then, he saw Kat.
He'd seen her in the dress before. Despite all the superstitions to the contrary, she'd wanted his opinions on the bridal pictures that had been taken. He'd thought she looked lovely, if almost too pretty to be true. Seeing her in person, the effect was devastating. He couldn't breathe.
He felt his father's hand on his back again, showing his presence as well as support. CJ spared a moment to think that if he passed out, at least his father would catch him.
The evening before, during the rehearsal, he'd managed to get Kat laughing every time she looked at him. For this reason, he didn't bother to try to see her face, veil or not. He didn't want to embarrass the both of them by another fit of giggles. He watched her move, instead. Graceful as she walked to stand at the back of the church, she tilted her head to the side as she listened for the wedding march.
As the piano began the song, his mother was the first to stand, causing the rest of the observers to do so as well. They stood, but even their motion couldn't distract him from seeing Kat begin to move towards him. He took a breath, then another, but for the life of him he couldn't manage to get enough air in to keep his head from swimming. There was a knot in his throat that made breathing difficult, and he had the strangest suspicion that he was about to cry.
Looking at Kat's face didn't become an option until she had stopped before him and turned to his grandfather for the veil to be lifted. Jonathan did so almost reverently, then she turned back to him.
He did cry. The tears wouldn't stop. Kat's face was drenched as well, her smile tremulous. Never one to wear much makeup, she had gone against her usual pattern and the result was a pool of damp mascara that made her look vaguely like a raccoon. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
They said their vows quietly, more concerned with one another than the church full of people that watched them. Kat's voice broke as she said "I do," and he had to stop twice as he spoke his vows, unable to get any words past the knot that simply wouldn't go away. They didn't exchange rings, neither willing to remove their wedding bands even for the few minutes before the ceremony, but no one seemed to notice the absence of that particular part of the ritual.
Vows complete, they joined hands for the remainder of the ceremony. They lit a unity candle together, knelt as a friend of his mother sang The Lord's Prayer, and then finally CJ was allowed to kiss the bride.
It had been a long week. While Kat had been recovering from her pneumonia, she had spent most of the week in bed. He'd wanted very much to join her, but instead he had started teaching. It was exhausting work, confusing and exciting all at once, and nothing like he had expected. He had yet to decide if he really liked it or hated the bureaucracy of it.
Looking into his wife's face, none of the struggles of the week seemed to matter. He leaned forward, touched his lips quickly to hers, and then pulled himself away. It wasn't the kiss that he wanted to give, but he wasn't willing to share at the moment. His true feelings could wait until they didn't have an audience. The twinkle in his wife's eyes told him that she understood, and agreed.
They were presented to the church, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, and neither could hold back a smile. More than one person in the church applauded, his grandfather and father among them, and soon the entire congregation was cheering wildly. With a final grin, CJ decided to give them what they came for, and he tugged his wife into his arms. He dipped her and joined his lips to hers in a laughing kiss. After he had returned her to an upright position, he lifted her up and raised her high into the air, twirling her slowly around for all to see.
As he brought her down into his arms, her breathless laughter making it impossible to erase his own smile, he just stood there and held her. It was done. She was his wife, before God and everyone, and nothing could have made him happier.
Some time later, after pictures had been taken of the small wedding party and each guest in the reception line had been greeted, Kat finally managed to sit down. CJ had prepared her a plate from the buffet table and left it with her as he was swept onto the dance floor by another of his mother's friends from the Planet. He wasn't much of a dancer, but he took the insistence with good humor.
Kat settled in next to Jonathan, comparing her full plate to his half-emptied one. "It must be good," she commented.
"It's not Martha's," he began, but then his voice trailed off.
Kat took a bite of the chicken wing that Jonathan had been referring to, and nodded her agreement. "Yeah, she made a lot better."
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
"Why?" Kat asked solemnly. "Martha made great wings. It was one of the things she'd planned to do for the reception. I don't mind you mentioning her."
"It's a day for happy things," Jonathan told her softly.
"Every thought I have of Martha *is* happy," Kat assured him. "Do you think she would have approved of the ceremony?"
Jonathan watched her for a moment, then seemed to decide that Kat was serious. "She would have loved it," he admitted.
"My mom, too," Kat said with a soft smile. "She always loved weddings. I remember once when I was really little that I got to be a flower girl. She worked for weeks to sew the dress for me, and I thought the day would never come when I'd get to wear it. Anyway, the day of the ceremony she spent an hour curling my hair and ironing out the wrinkles from the dress. It was all so much bigger than I could understand, of course, but I could see how excited Mom was and that made it special for me."
"Your mother sounds like a lovely person," Jonathan commented.
"She was. You know, after she died, I think the reason that I enjoyed being in Smallville so much is because Martha was the only person that didn't tiptoe around her death. I needed to talk about my mother, needed to remember her while it was all still fresh. If I'd waited, I'm afraid I would have forgotten, but Martha didn't let me. She was so gentle about it, asking me if my mom had ever braided my hair, or if she wore jeans. But she brought her up, brought her back, and I will always be grateful for that."
"Everyone seems so sad when I mention her," Jonathan admitted. "I don't know if they're mourning her, or if they're pitying me, but either way it's uncomfortable."
"It's healthy for you to remember her," Kat said gently. "It would be abnormal if you spent fifty years with someone and then went on without their name coming up."
"She was my life."
"A big part of it, anyway. You shouldn't have to panic every time you mention her name."
Jonathan smiled softly and nodded. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me," Kat said with a grin. "My motivations are totally selfish. I wanted her here as much as anyone, and if the only way I can have that is to remember her, then I'll have to settle."
"Did I ever tell you about our wedding?" Jonathan asked suddenly.
"No," Kat admitted. "Tell me now."
He shook his head. "I don't want to keep the guest of honor from her dinner," he said, gesturing to her still full plate. "You need to eat something, and then get out there and enjoy your party. It's your day."
She smiled, then blushed slightly. "All the attention makes me nervous," she admitted. "I'm not one for being in the middle of things."
"You're a beautiful centerpiece," Jonathan told her. "And I'm not the only one who thinks so."
Kat turned to look over her shoulder, where Jonathan's gaze had risen to. She smiled when she saw her exhausted husband moving towards her.
"I know you haven't eaten," he admitted. "But please come dance with me. I haven't had my hands on you since the first song, and I'm tired of being groped by strangers."
"Are they groping you?" she said with a giggle, setting her plate on the chair beside her. She wished there were a table nearby, as she didn't want anyone sitting in her dinner, but she could always get another plate.
"Miserably," he elaborated, but he was grinning all the while.
"I can't have that," she said as she stood. Turning back, she asked Jonathan, "Is it okay if I desert you? I promise we'll talk later."
"It's fine," he said with a gentle smile. "Just don't expect your plate to be here when you come back." He reached over and snagged the last chicken wing from her plate and moved it to his own with a wink.
She laughed, leaning down and kissing him on the cheek before joining her husband on the dance floor. When she looked back at him a moment later, he was stealing a couple of meatballs from her plate as well. She was glad. This was the first time she'd seen him really eat well since they had begun a vigil at the hospital months before. He had needed to lose some weight, granted, but she didn't want to see his health jeopardized by the rapidity of his weight loss.
What was more significant to her, though, was that he honestly seemed to be enjoying himself tonight. He was smiling, eating foods he loved, and talking to those around him as though he was going to be fine. While it was what she had been telling herself for weeks, it was a good thing to see. He was going to be okay after all. Slipping her arms more tightly around her husband as the music changed from fast to slow, she realized that soon they would all be just fine.
Martha would have wanted it that way.
CJ looked at the piece of white-frosted chocolate cake that was coming at him and had the distinct desire to duck. Instead, he opened his mouth, prayed that the rented tux would survive the onslaught, and hoped for the best.
Most of the cake made it into his mouth. Most. The rest was on his face, but it wasn't too big of a mess. This was saying quite a lot as he looked at his wife's smeared face. He knew he deserved what he had gotten, but the temptation to go after her with the cake had just been too strong.
She had washed her face and reapplied her makeup after the ceremony, a necessary step before they'd taken the photographs. The wedding party was small, as most of her friends lived in Illinois, and most of his were back in Smallville or returned to their origins after graduation at the end of the Spring. He really didn't have many friends in Metropolis or Claremont anymore, most of them having gone away to school and not returned afterwards, but the few he had were here.
They had forgone the usual entourage and kept the wedding simple. His father had stood as his best man, and his grandfather had walked Kat down the aisle. His mother had sat in the front row, grinning throughout the whole ceremony instead of crying as was expected, and the simplicity of the service had been both a relief and a surprise.
Kat's family hadn't attended. She hadn't spoken to her father in years, and she had no brothers or sisters. If she felt their absence, she wasn't showing it. She basked in the love of his family and his parents' friends, and she seemed to be genuinely happy despite how ill she had been during the week.
The Daily Planet crew had definitely monopolized the guest list. He had all but grown up in the news room, so they all knew and loved him. Friends of his parents, mentors to him, the majority of the staff had been in attendance as his life changed, officially, forever. Most of them didn't know that a JP had already taken care of the legalities, but CJ didn't care. He was married, twice for good measure, and he was thrilled about it.
On the surface, it was a happy time, but statistically there was more depression at this holiday than at any other time of the year. Ironically, Clark had discovered that there were no more suicides, despite the increased incidence of low-level and mid-level depression. The article he'd written a few years back had concluded with his impressions that there was more knowledge of depression at this time of the year as well, so while the rates went up the deaths did not. People were expecting it, therefore they were prepared to battle it. Perhaps he was wrong, but it seemed to make sense.
As the holiday approached, this first year after losing his mother, Clark knew that he was depressed. Unfortunately, there was no way for Superman to see a psychiatrist or be placed on a medication to alleviate the symptoms. He was just lower than usual, a little melancholy, and he would have to deal with it.
One of the reasons that Clark had been so interested in alternative medicine in his youth was because he was indeed aware of his own tendency toward depression. There were too many things that Superman couldn't do, too many things that he saw which no one man should have to be exposed to. Just as he knew that Paava leaves could reduce stress and place a person in a meditative state, he also knew that sunshine and activity could relieve mild depression. He was taking advantage of that knowledge, along with the understanding that Lois was his center, the force that kept him stable.
Ironically, his father seemed to be handling the holiday with more grace than he was. While the single-bedroom apartment held no holiday decorations or fancy foods, his dad had a smile that was unmistakable. It was a small boost to Clark's mood, but a boost just the same.
"What do you have for me, tonight?" Jonathan asked as Clark stepped through the doorway.
"Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," Clark grinned, catching his father's contagious smile. "And double-butter popcorn."
Jonathan laughed, and brandished his bag of Milk-Duds. It was movie-night for the Kent men, and it was going to be a good time. "Let's get to it! CJ is going to be a little late, but he promised he'd make it by intermission."
Clark nodded, tossing the first of the bags of popcorn into his father's microwave. Jonathan was already moving to the VCR, putting in the classic movie.
"What's CJ's holdup?" Clark called over his shoulder. He glanced at the readout on the microwave, and tapped his fingers as he began to wait the four minutes required. He could always do it himself, but the popcorn tended to be dryer when he used his heat vision. The slow way tasted better.
"He didn't say, but I got the feeling it was something with Kat," Jonathan answered. "I think she might have finally picked out her Christmas tree."
"I've never seen a woman so picky about trees," Clark added with a smile. "We must have looked at two-hundred of them on Saturday, and she couldn't find one that fit her mood."
"It's her first house," Jonathan reasoned. "She wants the first Christmas there to be perfect. Your mother was the same way."
Clark took a seat on the arm of the couch, looking down at his father. "Was she really? She always seemed so relaxed about it to me."
"By the time you remember, she was. Those first years, though, when the house was new and she had nothing else to concentrate on, she just loved to decorate for Christmas. All the holidays, really. Halloween meant pumpkins and haystacks everywhere, and then on Thanksgiving she made these huge cornucopias and put them everywhere. Christmas was the worst, with a huge tree and wreaths all over the place. And the mistletoe! You couldn't walk three feet without having to kiss her. I think she did that on purpose." Jonathan chuckled at the memories.
"That's so weird," Clark said softly. "I don't remember her decorating very much."
"Well, she got out of the habit when you came along," Jonathan explained. "You put everything in your mouth, so the mistletoe was the first thing to go. Ribbons, too. You pulled them apart. We had to get a smaller tree and put it up on a table to keep it away from you. I've never seen a more curious child."
"I wasn't that bad when I was older," Clark said.
"No, but by then she was out of the habit. She had other interests as well."
Clark nodded his understanding. As the FBI warning against duplication went off the screen, Clark watched the previews for movies that he'd seen decades before.
"I thought about decorating," Jonathan said softly, almost absently. "But I didn't keep much of that stuff. I never thought it was practical to keep things all year and only use them for a few days."
"That's why you spent so much on the harvester?" Clark asked dryly.
Jonathan had to laugh. "That's different, son. That's work. This is just pretty stuff. I thought about getting something, but I figure that Kat will put enough up for all of the rest of us, and then some. This way, I can look at hers and not have to clean up the mess myself."
"That's sneaky," Clark said with a smile.
CJ's knock at the door was expected, but neither of the older men went to answer it. By long-standing tradition, CJ knocked once, then opened the door and entered. "Hey, what did I miss?"
"A few credits," Clark informed him. "Everything okay?"
"Fine," CJ said, placing a six-pack of cola on the table in the living room and taking a second six-pack to the refrigerator. "Kat had some stuff she wanted on the east wall, and I didn't want her on a ladder for it."
"Decorating?" Jonathan asked innocently, but the wink he gave Clark eliminated any pretense of doubt.
"Yeah. You know women in a new house. It's like this nesting thing. She wants everything all homey." He took the bag of popcorn out of the microwave and tossed in another from the box left on the counter.
"Makes for a nice place to live," Clark agreed. "Even Lois got a little bit domestic when we bought the house. I did most everything when we were on Hyperion, but she helped with the house. Thank God she never got into Tupperware parties."
"Tupperware's nothing," CJ said with a grin, seating himself and handing his father the bag of popcorn after taking a handful for himself. "They have this stuff called 'Home Interiors,' and you can't even cook with it. It just takes up space."
"We had some of that," Clark remembered with a smile. "Until Lois got tired of dusting it."
Clark laughed at his memories, then stood to go get the second bag of popcorn out of the microwave. Glancing back at his father and his son, sitting next to one another on the couch and settling in to watch Mel Gibson's rampage, Clark suddenly didn't feel quite so depressed after all.
Maybe Christmas wouldn't be so bad.
Kat finished hanging the last stocking and couldn't keep the grin off her face. She moved back to survey the wall, now adorned with a wreath and three green Christmas stockings along with simulated holly leafs and bright white snowflakes. It looked exactly like the wall in the interior design book that CJ had bought her for her birthday.
Looking over the room, she saw that the tree was still tilted slightly, but CJ could help her take care of that when he returned. He was off playing cards and watching movies with his father and grandfather, and she didn't want to interrupt that time. Their weekly get-togethers were becoming infamous among the Kent women, but no one had the heart to complain.
Jonathan had experienced a lot of difficulty adjusting to life alone. After more than fifty years of sharing space, he'd withdrawn from all of them when he'd first moved in to the new apartment. Clark had been the first to notice and suggest the episodes of "Male Bonding" that had worked such miracles. CJ had loved the idea, excited to spend time with his father and grandfather without the influence of the Kent women.
Kat and Lois hadn't complained. In fact, they each found that they liked the Thursday night event. Kat especially enjoyed having a little time to herself. She loved marriage, was thrilled with her husband, but she didn't mind having a few hours when she could take a bubble bath, read a book, or just take a nap without feeling as though she needed to be paying attention to CJ. Some of the evenings she and Lois got together for a sappy girlie movie — a hopeless romance that the men would never sit still for — but most nights she just enjoyed the silence in her home.
Her home. CJ's home. Their home. The grin split her face once more.
They had gone back and forth for two weeks over buying the three-bedroom ranch style house only half a mile from the elder Kents. The mortgage was high, but within their budget if they were careful, and the neighborhood was older and friendly. The house needed a little work, but its roof and foundation were stable, so CJ felt that he could keep up with most of what was in-between.
They had finally come to the conclusion that if they wanted to remain in Claremont, they would have to either buy the house or buy a condo. That decision made, the house was an easy choice. They had a small front yard, a larger back yard with a few fruit trees, and enough room that they weren't tripping over one another.
They'd moved in mid-October, which had been a mistake. It had been unseasonably hot in the daytime, with typical temperatures at night. The result had been a sweaty move that prompted them to start up the air conditioner, and a house so cold that first night that they nearly froze because CJ was clueless how to light the pilot on the heater. Since then, Clark had helped them out with regulating the temperature, but it had shown them just how little they really knew about managing on their own. Home ownership, it appeared, was a good deal more than making a payment.
Kat had spent the last ten weeks turning the house into a home. She'd used a lot of Martha's artwork to accomplish this, enjoying the few paintings that CJ's grandmother had completed, along with the sculptures. They had teased her mercilessly, but Martha did have a degree of artistic talent, and the touches made CJ and Kat's home feel special. Kat was grateful that Jonathan hadn't minded.
Actually, the eldest Kent had been very pleased when Kat had requested the items, knowing how much time that Martha had devoted to them. He had told Kat this very thing and given them with his blessing. Kat had been honored to find a place for the items in her home, and so far everyone seemed to like the results.
The furnishings were still sparse, courtesy of a limited budget, but the house was livable. Rather than buying the pressed-board furniture that was inexpensive and disposable, CJ preferred to buy older items and refinish them. They had spent a long weekend finishing the entertainment center that now housed a fairly powerful stereo system, and another week sanding and sealing a lovely bedroom set that CJ had found at a yard sale.
The dining room still contained two card tables that they'd been given for their wedding, and all eight matching chairs. They would make great spares someday, but for now they were all she had. She hoped it wouldn't look too tacky to serve Christmas dinner on card tables, and that the tablecloth she'd found would make them passable as decorative.
It was Christmas Eve. CJ had offered to stay home with her, but she'd sent him to be with his father because he really did enjoy the time. She had the tree set up, the good dishes washed and ready, and all of the ingredients set out for tomorrow's dinner. They would spend Christmas morning at the big house — Lois and Clark's house — then would come back here to open presents and enjoy a nice dinner. Lois had been more than happy to pass that particular chore to Kat.
They hadn't spent a lot of money on Christmas gifts. They didn't have it to spend. They had found a dark blue robe with the S-shield emblem for Lois, to add to her collection. Superman memorabilia had become harder to find since the merchandising had become not-for-profit, but both CJ and Kat kept their eyes open for potential gifts for his mother, who still found it all quite amusing.
Kat had found Jonathan's gift in a small smoke shop down at the waterfront of Metropolis. When she'd been to visit him, he had given her the "grand tour" through the small apartment. She'd commented when she'd seen Martha's small gold wedding band sitting on the night stand. Jonathan had explained that he couldn't sleep without it being close, and he had quickly changed the subject. Kat had found him a tiny wooden box with gold trim that would be perfect to hold the ring and keep it safe.
Shopping for Clark was always the hardest. The reality was that if he wanted something, he could have it. He flew all over the world on at least a weekly basis, even with Superman making fewer public appearances. If he wanted an item, he was able to find it easily, and money wasn't really much of an issue since the final hospital bills had been paid for Lois. Kat knew that the couple was conserving money once more for Martha's final hospital expenses, but they hadn't stopped buying entirely.
Given that there was nothing that Clark really wanted, nor anything he needed, they were left to their own creativity. Kat had finally gone through the boxes of pictures that Martha had hoarded away over the years and CJ and she had elected to keep rather than throw away. Finding a group of postcards that Clark had sent to his parents in the earliest years of his travel, Kat had put them together into a collage of sorts. It had made a lovely presentation, and CJ had taken the time to build a frame for them as well. Kat had decided it was a good thing that CJ was invulnerable, as he'd had more than a little difficulty with getting the glass into the frame and probably would have cut off a hand without his special gifts.
Kat had the presents wrapped and under the tree. She'd put CJ's there as well, taking this evening as an opportunity to wrap the two new pairs of dress slacks and neutral tan blazer that CJ had asked for to teach in. The wrapping was a formality, as he could easily see right through it, but she was fairly sure he'd learned his lesson about that as a teen. The first Christmas after discovering his powers, he'd checked every last one of his gifts before Christmas morning, and he'd been miserable when there had been no mystery left. She didn't think he'd done it since.
There was one small gift under the tree for her. She was fairly sure that it was a ring, as CJ had done enough hinting and sideways suggesting that she'd eventually told him both her ring size and favorite stones just to get him off her back. It didn't matter to her, though. She had her gift within her, and it was more than enough.
Kat smiled as she heard the front door open. CJ had promised her that they'd read The Night Before Christmas as soon as he returned, so she'd left the book on the chair near the fireplace. She wanted to start her holiday traditions early in the marriage, and this was one that she had kept even after her father had fallen into a drunken haze. Every Christmas Eve, she read the Night Before Christmas, and each Christmas morning, she read the Bible story from Luke. It was a tradition she wanted to share with her children.
"Hey," CJ called softly. "The house looks good."
"Thanks," she answered, giving him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek when he came near. "The tree is still at a slant."
"I'll fix it," he assured her. Then, glancing at the wall, he grinned. "You think anyone will notice the third stocking?"
"If they don't, we'll just tell them anyway," Kat said with a smile. "You think your mom's gonna be okay with it? She's probably the one woman over the age of fifty that isn't begging for grandkids."
"I think she'll be fine," CJ smiled. "She just wants us happy."
"I'm happy," Kat said, looking around at her home and slipping her hand into her husband's.
"Me, too," he said gently, reaching over with his free hand to pat Kat's tummy carefully. "You happy in there, Kiddo?"
Kat giggled, but CJ didn't look the least bit embarrassed. "You ready to read that story?" she asked.
"Bring it on," he told her with a grin. "'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all though the house…"
Jonathan smiled as he watched his grandson tear into the large package that he'd brought over this morning. He'd kept it under his bed, already wrapped, since long before the move. It had been tricky slipping it into a suitcase when the kids had been helping him pack, but he'd finally managed it. He and Martha had agreed on the gift months before, and he hadn't bothered to take her name off the tag that she'd taped in place. CJ had been startled when he read it, and then he'd smiled, and the paper had begun to fly.
"Oh my God!" he exclaimed. Turning the box reverently in his hands, CJ raised grateful eyes to his grandfather. "This is way too much," he said, the reluctance clear in his voice.
"It's far too late to take it back now," Jonathan said with a laugh. "Your grandmother got a bargain on it, and we've kept it hidden for most of the year. It's probably obsolete by now."
"Hardly," CJ said softly. He turned the laptop computer over in his hands, reading the specifications listed on the side of the box. "It's wonderful."
"Well, if you're going to be juggling two jobs, and still find some time to write, you're going to need that."
"Yes, sir," CJ said with a smile, old habits still so ingrained that they were unconscious. "Thank you *so* much."
"You know he's been drooling over one of those since he started college," Kat told Jonathan covertly.
He nodded and patted his granddaughter's hand. "Martha wanted him to have it," he said simply.
Kat nodded, then went back to watching the opening of the gifts. She'd already opened hers, exclaiming over the simple emerald ring that CJ had found on sale, and hugging both Lois and Clark when she'd opened a box full of hospital scrubs in various colors and patterns. Jonathan had given her a gift-certificate to a local beauty salon, and a note that she really didn't need it, that she was pretty enough.
In time, all the gifts were opened and paper tossed all over the room. It was a homey kind of clutter, and Jonathan didn't mind it. It was the kind of mess that Martha would have enjoyed cleaning up, complaining good-naturedly the whole time.
God, he missed her.
They always said that the "firsts" were the worst. The first birthday alone, the first Easter, the first Christmas or Valentine's Day. He'd handled Martha's birthday less than a month after he'd lost her and had still been so numb that he barely noticed. Thanksgiving had been lively, with CJ getting just a little time away from his job and Kat insisting it was the perfect time for them to shampoo the carpets in his little apartment. Granted, they hadn't been very appealing, but he'd never expected the fun they'd all had trying to get them clean. What should have been pure work had become a joy, and he remembered it fondly. Afterwards, he'd gone with CJ and Kat to serve a turkey dinner at the convalescent hospital where she was working, and he'd been so caught up in the memories of others, and the pure joy of caring for someone besides himself, that the day had flown by.
"Um, before we do anything else, Kat and I have one more Christmas present. Kind of." CJ looked decidedly ill at ease, and it reminded Jonathan of the evening he'd announced his engagement to Kat. Shuffling his feet, CJ reached a hand out to his wife and she came to stand beside him. With the blinking Christmas tree in the background, the couple announced what Jonathan had already half expected.
"I'm pregnant," Kat had laughingly said, clearly frustrated with CJ's mumbling efforts.
"Kat!" Lois squealed, and immediately rushed to hug the woman.
"Congratulations, Son," Clark said as he clapped CJ on the back, then gave up on his emotions and tugged the boy into a firm hug.
The cheering and questions went on and on. When was it due? Was everything okay? Did they know if it was a boy or girl? Jonathan sat and watched the interaction through a veil of numbness. He could see and hear, but for the moment he couldn't really feel.
Kat knelt down before him, taking his hands in hers, smiling widely. "You're already a great grandpa," she told him. "Now we're making it official."
Jonathan nodded, tried to smile, and felt a tear slip down his cheek. Kat didn't seem to mind, but instead reached forward and hugged him. "I wish she were here, too," Kat whispered in his ear.
Jonathan nodded, hugging his granddaughter, and hoping that the rest of the room wasn't paying him too close attention. Fortunately, when he was able to regain his composure, Lois and Clark were still quizzing CJ on dates and plans for the future. Taking a deep breath, Jonathan stood and gave Kat a hug, then reached for his grandson.
"Are you excited, Grandpa?" CJ asked, and his emotions were bubbling over into his voice.
"You know I am," Jonathan said with a laugh. "It's been too long since we've heard little Kent feet."
"Five more months," Kat laughed. "The baby's due in May. We've known for a couple of months, but we wanted to make sure everything was okay before we announced it."
"So everything's okay?" Lois asked, her voice slightly shadowed by memories of her own pregnancy.
"Everything's wonderful," CJ assured his family, his arm going protectively around Kat. "Absolutely perfect."
"One…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight…nine…ten," CJ counted. He barely had time to catch Kat as she collapsed back into his arms, breathing heavily.
"No more," she begged. "Please, no more."
Kat was lying on a bed in the delivery suite of Metropolis General, where she had been pushing for almost an hour. The labor itself had been fairly quick, only about four hours from the time her water broke until they had wheeled her in for delivery, but it had been intense. Natural childbirth hurt, and she wasn't willing to receive any medications to alleviate the discomfort.
"Just a couple more like that," Dr. Castille said encouragingly. "We're almost there, Kat. I can see the head."
Dr. Klein had retired years before, his arthritis eliminating even the minimal clinical work that he'd agreed to do for the Kents. He'd offered them a successor, a family practice physician that had a special interest in Superman. The young doctor's wife and child had been saved years before from a doomed private plane, and he felt an allegiance to the superhero for the rescue.
Dr. Castille was friendly and outgoing, and well able to keep a secret. He'd worked with Klein for years during and after his residency, so the older man was convinced that he was a competent physician. Kat had just been happy to find a doctor that could know about CJ and her child's lineage. He had monitored the pregnancy and made all her delivery arrangements, and so far everything had gone well.
"One more time, Kat," CJ begged. "Hang in there. It's almost over, Goober."
"I'm tired," she complained. "No more. No more. SHIT!"
"Okay, Kat, here it comes. Deep breath and hold it." The doctor's command didn't leave any room for argument.
"One… two… three… four," CJ began.
"Hold it," the doctor said quickly. "Stop pushing, Kat. Breathe through it. Pant. No pushing."
"Look at me," CJ told her, meeting her tired eyes with his own. "Breathe, real quick. Pant. Come on, you can do it."
He glanced down between his wife's legs, trying to see if there was a problem. She was lying on a birthing table, her legs in the frog position, and the nurse hadn't bothered to drape her. What CJ saw astounded him. There was a head, round and fuzzy and almost blue. The doctor suctioned the mouth and nose quickly with a blue bulb syringe, wiped slime away from the puckered face, and then turned to Kat. "Okay, you can push again. Once more will do it."
"Kat, look!" CJ said, the awe clear in his voice. "It's a baby."
"It hurts!" she told him in no uncertain terms.
"Push for me, Kat," the doctor said once more.
As the baby turned to the side, the doctor slipped one shoulder free, then the other. The baby slid easily from there, was caught by the physician and was placed immediately on Kat's abdomen.
Kat had groaned with her final effort and now sighed in relief. She was still uncomfortable, but the insistent pain was finished. She looked down at her belly, just a little smaller than it had been, and saw the baby lying there.
"Oh, God," she said softly. "You're here."
"It's a girl," CJ said with a grin. "She's a girl." He leaned over and kissed his wife, his hand resting on the baby's small back as though he was afraid she would get away. He didn't bother to try to hide the tears. There was no need.
"A girl," Kat said softly, laughing and crying at once. "We have a girl? Are you sure?"
"I can tell," CJ said wryly.
"You don't have to be a doctor to tell some things," the physician agreed. "Just relax for a minute, Kat. We have some repair work to do down here."
"How bad?" CJ asked, finally turning his attention from his new daughter to his wife.
"Nothing to worry about," the doctor assured him. "Just a few stitches. The little one was just a bit bigger than your wife was."
Kat's attention was riveted to the baby. A nurse was rubbing the little girl with a towel, and she didn't like it. Scrunching up her face, the baby let out a howl that could probably be heard out into the family room, where the elder Kents were waiting.
"She's got a voice," CJ said with a laugh.
"She's beautiful," Kat added. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Goober," he said softly.
There were a few moments of silence while the doctor did his work, and Kat managed to calm the upset baby. The nurse clamped and cut the cord, then tossed a pink blanket over the messy baby for warmth. CJ watched his wife and baby girl, a smile covering his face.
"Hmmm?" Her eyes raised to his.
"Name?" he asked gently, the hope evident in his eyes. They had talked about it, but as they hadn't known if the baby was a boy or girl, they hadn't come to a firm decision.
"Martha," Kat told him with a smile. "Definitely Martha."
CJ nodded, a few more tears coursing down his face, dropping unnoticed to the covers. "Welcome to the world, Martha Kent," CJ said softly. "You've got a lot of name to live up to."
"She can do it," Kat assured him.
And so she did.
(again, for now ;)
I Could Never Promise You
written by Don Francisco / NewPax Music Press / ASCAP
Available on the CD: Don Francisco: The Live Concert
Written by Steven Curtis Chapman / Peach Hill Songs
Available on the CD: Speechless
Holes in the Floor of Heaven
Recorded by Steve Wariner
Available on the CD: Burning Down the Roadhouse