One Super Child Can Change a World: A continuation of Mobile Richard's Life in A Different World

By Charlotte Fisler aka Daydreamer80 <Cdfisler@AOL.COM>

Rated PG-13

Uploaded February 2001

Summary: In this alt-world story, a bitter Clark Kent, with the help of Lois Lane, fights a man who would destroy him, as well as the internal demons of his childhood in his struggle to build himself into a superhero and reconstruct his personal life.


"When Daydreamer told me she had written a sequel to my story, Life in a Different World, I begged for the opportunity to read it; I was eager to find out where she had taken the characters from where I had left them at the end of Part 1.

I have to say that the story surpassed all my expectations! It is, by turns, exciting, moving, sensuous, and funny. I was thrilled with the plot and characterizations, and moved by the descriptions of the plight of some of the characters. I enjoyed the subplots involving the supporting characters, too. I feel greatly privileged to have had the opportunity to read this story. Good job, Daydreamer! -Mobile Richard"

A thank you to Mobile Richard for her generosity in allowing me to use her child abused Superman.

His life and character fascinated me from the first reading, so much so that I could not resist writing this sequel before she wrote her fully satisfying and award winning parts 2 and 3 dealing with Clark's Life in a Different World. She and I had corresponded about the concept of how a 'super child' would turn out after surviving such abuse and I agreed with her opinion that he might have a temper but not really be so 'mean' as to cause deliberate harm to innocent people. Added to that, my uncontrollable urge to make *everything* turn out right for my hero and his friends prompted me to write this, for me, quite long story.

I did not intend to post it to the archive or listserv without the author first reading it and approving, but we were recently corresponding about her latest tale, The Fugitive, when she mentioned she liked alternate endings, so I spoke or rather wrote up and here we are.

Feedback welcome at Cdfisler@AOL.COM

Just before the end of Mobile's story, OUR Clark, still in the Alternate Universe, in Centennial Park where a thunderstorm is raging, is attempting to return to his own universe by exchanging places with ALT Clark. This he hopes will happen if both he and his counterpart are simultaneously struck by the same bolt of lightning in the different universes. Thus he will fly directly into the path of a bolt. If the change is not made, he plans to continue trying. ALT Lois is with him in hopes of learning immediately if the exchange is successful. In our universe, ALT Clark and OUR Lois are also in Centennial Park where OUR Lois has been desperately trying to persuade a reluctant ALT Clark to return to his own universe also by flying directly into a bolt of lightning. My story starts immediately after the first unsuccessful attempt of the two superheroes to exchange places and takes place entirely in the alternate world.

My story: One Super Child Can Change a World

Before the next bolt of lightening threatened, OUR Clark picked up ALT Lois and took her over to the park's baseball shelter. "Stay inside," he told her, "otherwise you might get hit by lightning." Lois's attention was focused on Clark so she didn't notice the van that pulled up on the other side of the park. Another bolt turned the whole park light as day, and Superman fell to the ground on the other side of the fountain.

Before Lois could reach him, three men jumped out of the van and ran toward Clark. Fearfully, Lois pulled back into the shadows of the shelter. One of the men had a box that he opened and immediately Clark, who had just managed to get to his feet, screamed as he fell heavily to the ground.

"Bring the alien," the large bear of a man said, and Lois's blood ran cold. As soon as they were in the van, she ran for her jeep, determined to follow them and rescue Clark. She couldn't leave the Clark of another world in the hands of these men, whoever they were. She followed them for almost an hour as they drove down the highway that led out of Metropolis into the more rural sections of New Troy. Eventually, the van turned up a dirt road toward what appeared to be a bomb shelter.

Hiding her jeep, Lois walked the rest of the way, and was relieved to see only one other vehicle parked beside the van. Slipping inside the bunker, she tracked the men through its twisting and turning corridors. Following them proved easy, however, since they'd apparently dragged Clark along the dusty dirt floor. She slowed, then stopped when she heard voices just beyond a sharp curve to the left. With the comparative darkness of the curve hiding her presence, she was able to see and hear everything that was taking place in the large, well- lighted area beyond. The group now consisted of the original three along with two others. Clark wasn't among them, but she soon learned he'd been put into the nearest of the cells along a corridor that opened off to the right.

Lois stopped and listened, as the man with the box gave orders. "Now that we finally got him locked up with the green rock beside him, you four should be able to guard him while I drive to Bureau headquarters to get the dissection team together. Make sure you check the perimeter every half-hour, and check his cell before and after you go on those rounds. I'll be back in the morning with the full force of Bureau 39 to relieve you."

The big man had killed the former head of Bureau 39 a week ago when the alien first turned up. George Thompson wanted to make contact with the alien. "Think of what we can learn from him," Thompson had told him, just before the enraged man killed him. *I should have found out where the green rock came from before I killed him,* he thought ruefully. *Well the information's probably somewhere in the Bureau 39 files. There's plenty of time to locate it before the invaders come.*

The man continued, in a self-satisfied voice that made Lois shake. "Tomorrow we'll bring in the equipment and start the experiments. We need to learn everything we can about the physiology of his people. The fool, all these years he's been hiding out and now he tries to pretend he's here to help with those grandstanding rescues this past week. Bureau 39's been waiting for the aliens to show up for years, and now that we finally have one to study, we'll be able to prepare for the invasion force before it arrives."

"Yes, sir, Colonel Trask," one guard responded. After Trask left, he told his fellows, "What a waste! We don't need four of us to guard one unconscious creature from outer space. He ain't gonna go nowhere, not with that rock in the cell with him. Three of us are gonna go to the room on the upper level with the comfortable couches. We'll play some poker, maybe even nap, while the fourth does the guarding. Nicky, you take the first three-hour shift. We'll keep an eye out for Trask. We don't want him comin' back unexpectedly." With that the other three left.


Lois stayed hidden until all but the single guard had disappeared up the corridor, then took the time to observe the sole guard, Nicky, check one cell — it had to be the one in which they'd imprisoned Clark — then make two full rounds. Timing his absence, she determined that he would be gone fifteen minutes during a round. As soon as the guard went down the corridor to begin a third round, she crept around the corner and grabbed the set of keys off the guard's desk praying they included the one for the prison cell holding Clark. Trying one key after another, Lois was becoming dismayed before she finally hit upon the right one and the cell door opened. Five full minutes had gone by and another few minutes were spent removing the correct key from the ring, then putting the rest of the set back.

Clark was lying unconscious on the cell floor with the open box containing a glowing green rock close to him close to him. Lois closed the box, removed it to the far side of the cell, and tried to wake up Clark. When he finally opened his eyes, she whispered, "Shh, Clark, I'm getting you out of here."

Astonished to see Lois Lane, Clark wondered *Is she trying to help me?* He closed his eyes momentarily, savoring the moment.

Lois couldn't lift him. Although Clark tried to assist her, he was too weak to stand up. Glancing at her watch, Lois groaned, "It's no use. The guard will be coming back in a minute. I'm sorry, I tried to save you, but it looks like I'm just gonna get both of us killed."

"Get away, Lois. Go now. Maybe I can escape later."

Ruefully Lois thought *Too bad the Clark of this world isn't like you. Our Clark doesn't care about anyone but himself.* "You don't understand," she told him. "The guard checks on you through the bars, after he returns from each round, and before he goes on the next one. When he doesn't see the green rock next to you, he'll alert the others. Weakened like this, you won't be able to get away from all four of them."

"Lois," Clark told her, "bring the box here, and put it next to me so he won't get suspicious."

"No! I saw how it affected you in the park."

"We have no choice. Hurry, he's almost here. Can't you hear him?"

Having no other option, Lois brought the box over, and placed it next to Clark. She could see the pain on Clark's face when she opened it, although he made no sound. She hid underneath the cell's cot, praying the guard would just give the cubicle a cursory look. He barely glanced in and, after what seemed like an interminable time, he checked again, then went off on his next round.

Crawling out from under the cot, Lois closed the box, and moved it away from Clark again. The second exposure to the green rock had weakened Clark further, but he was conscious, by sheer force of will Lois was certain. "Can you get up?" she asked anxiously.

"I don't think so. Lois, just get out of here before he comes back."

"No," she told him. "Not without you. My world owes you too much. In the week you've been here, you've done so much good. The least we can do is get you back to your own world."

Understanding at last why she was trying so hard to save him — well not him actually — Clark told her, "Lois, I'm not the Clark from another world. He's back in his own universe. I- I'm Clark Kent of *this* world." Lois's anger blazed, as the truth dawned on her. Sighing, Clark continued. "So you… don't owe me anything. You can leave." He left unsaid, "And you won't have me to bother you anymore."

Lois understood what had not been spoken, and was in fact tempted, until she remembered her words to the other Clark, about the advances this Clark had made toward her, and about his subsequent breaking of Jimmy's arm. *I think it may have been an accident.* Not that it in any way excused his behavior, but she couldn't let that pervert Trask have him no matter how badly he'd acted she decided. "Not without you," she repeated firmly, as she struggled to help Clark get to his feet.

Convinced that Lois, for some unknown reason, wasn't going to go without him, Clark pulled together the last of his waning strength and stood up. With Clark leaning heavily on Lois, they managed to walk out of the cell. Together they made their way slowly to the outside, and soon reached Lois's hidden jeep. After they got in and pulled back onto the dirt road in front of the bunker, all four men came running out of the entrance and, jumping into the van, gave chase. Lois floored the jeep, trying to evade the pursuing vehicle, but it soon became apparent that she wouldn't be able to outrun it. "Clark, I can't stay ahead of them much longer. They're gaining on us and I'm almost out of gas," a terrified Lois admitted.

Turning his head, and pulling down his glasses, Clark saw that she was right. But distance from the Kryptonite and exposure to the sun seemed to have returned some of Clark's powers, so he made a desperate decision. "Pull off at the next turn, stop the jeep and we'll get out."

"Are you crazy? We'll never outrun them on foot."

"Just do it," Clark ordered. As soon as they were outside the jeep, Clark picked Lois up in his arms and took off. They were high in the sky by the time their pursuers came around the bend, so, although Clark was only able to fly for a short period, it was long enough to leave the men miles behind.


After he almost crash-landed in a sunny break in the trees, Clark set Lois down carefully. "You can do what he can," Lois told him breathlessly.

"Yeah, but I'm nowhere near normal, and that short flight drained me. We need to stay hidden, preferably in full sunshine, until tonight, then we'll go back for your jeep."

He sat down on the grass, his back up against a tree trunk, the front of his body in the sunlight. Lois sat next to him. After a few minutes, she spoke, "So the other Clark is back in his world. I wondered if you'd do it — make the exchange. His Metropolis seems like a better place."

Clark's eyes turned hard, and Lois cringed as he said, "Yeah, I came back. Tough luck, Lois." Then, instead of lashing out as she expected he struggled to control his temper and, after a brief but intense battle, said more calmly, "It was a better place, especially for me."

*From the time you were seven, I'll bet* Lois thought. "Will you tell me about it?" she asked, reassured. "Clark told me some things, but he doesn't really understand our Metropolis. I'd like to know what it would be like if I went there." Clark hesitated, until she grinned and told him, "It looks like we're stuck here for a while anyway. You owe me a little conversation, at least."

*I owe you a great deal more than that today,* he thought, so he told her about a world where the officials are not always on the take, and where people expect police protection and feel safe most of the time, without having to pay extra for it. "It's a world where (she noticed he flushed as he said this) women don't have to protect themselves from unwanted attentions with knives, where children can't be beaten with impunity, and where marriages are entered into with the expectation that they'll last a lifetime."

"Yeah, the other Clark told me about that last part. Sure seems strange."

"Well, it works for them. She… she wanted him back badly; she's carrying his child." He stopped abruptly at the look on Lois's face, and explained, "She told me about him. He helps make their world the place it is by being Superman. She said everyone is *nice* to him because he's nice to them! Their country… their *world*… likes *one* extra-terrestrial because he's done nothing but good since he's been there."

"He was nice to everyone when he was here, too."

Clark felt a surge of jealousy. *I have no right,* he told himself. "The other Lois is nice too. Not that you're not," he assured her.

Clark couldn't help remembering the other Lois's concern for him, when he first woke up in the other world. She'd been afraid for him, not of him. He thought it was this Lois, and savored that moment before blowing it all. Yet even before he learned that he wasn't in his own world, he'd threatened Lois and her world, and destroyed any chance he had. "I didn't fit in there," he admitted unhappily, "so she convinced me to come back."

She, the other Lois, had told him, 'your parents need you. Go back and help them. You owe them that much.' But sitting here now, he knew that wasn't possible, not after what he'd done. He sighed. He couldn't even remember causing the fall that paralyzed his father, but maybe that was for the best. He'd known for ten years that he could never go home.

When Clark had said "No! I want to stay here! I like it better here. Everyone is nice to me. And my parents love me again, and my dad is ok, and the whole country likes extra- terrestrials," she'd responded, "Clark! You could accomplish the same things in your own world!"

"I want to stay here," he'd repeated. "There's nothing for me in that world. My parents don't want me, Jimmy hates me, and Lois… well… she hates me, too."

"Then change her attitude!" she said. "My Clark changed mine! He waited almost two years for me to notice him!" *If only I could.* That would be even better than living in the alternate universe. With Lois at his side, he could use his powers for good, and he could bear any hatreds or sorrows or loneliness that life threw his way. *With Lois!* he thought.


Exhausted again, Clark lay down on the soft grass and fell asleep in Lois's lap. Watching him, Lois thought about her sometimes partner at the Daily Planet. Perry didn't like him, she knew, although he had little choice but to keep him on. The newspaper's readers lapped up Clark Kent's scandalous political exposes. Most of the male staffers resented his superior attitude and ability to have any girl he wanted. Younger women threw themselves at him, but the older ones barely tolerated him — at least they pretended they felt that way. Jimmy, of course, hated him.

*Would it be possible?* she wondered. *Could he learn to be the Superman our world needs so badly? Would he be willing? On the face of it, he seems pretty poor material. His own mother hates him. Still…* during the six months they'd worked together, he'd been a partner she could depend on, and one she didn't have to defend herself against. She'd even started to enjoy pairing with him. It was only after the incident in the closet that she told Perry she didn't want to work with Kent.

For the first time, Lois allowed herself to dwell on that incident without a predetermined judgment. She knew that Clark had not caused her to fall off the ladder, but he did catch her when she fell off the ladder and tumbled into his arms, clutching at him for support. With an involuntary intake of her breath, Lois recalled the look on Clark's face, when he put his arms around her and hugged her. She had never seen that look on a man's face after she left her happy, childhood home, but it was, she now realized, familiar. Sam Lane often had that expression on his face when he looked at his beloved wife of 30 years, Ellen Lane, Lois's Mother.

Of course, the expression had disappeared to be replaced by anger, when she'd slapped Clark's face. She blushed now, embarrassed that she'd slapped him in exchange for saving her from a bad fall at the very least, and possible serious injury at the worst. Did she overreact, she wondered, disappointed at having the opinions of the other Planet staffers vindicated?

In their society, an attitude like hers — one that interfered with work — was not tolerated. A woman was supposed to keep her relationship problems out of the office. So, of course, her request backfired on her, not Clark. But Clark had actually supported her, telling Perry he didn't want to work with Lois either. Had he said that only so she wouldn't have to partner with someone she hated?

When Jimmy heard her yelling and rushed in, not to save her she'd been sure, but because he hated Clark, Clark turned abruptly and accidentally, she was now certain, broke Jimmy's arm. At the time, she'd thought that Clark had used undue force, but that was before she understood how strong he/Superman really was. He didn't need the strength to strike out, but rather the control to prevent injuring people when he did. *I could help him with that if he wants to change. I'm not done with you yet, big fella,* she thought, determined to at least try to turn this complex, and she knew, badly wounded man into her world's Superman.

Feeling somehow relieved that there was a chance for someone in her world to turn out even remotely like the Clark of the other world, she pressed a soft kiss on Clark's forehead. Clark awakened, and Lois saw again the expression he had on his face that time in the closet. This time, instead of slapping him, she said softly, "Hi, partner."

Remembering where he was, Clark sat up abruptly, and pulled away. He wasn't going to force himself on Lois Lane, he told himself. She'd made it clear she didn't want him when he broke Jimmy's arm. "I should be strong enough now to fly you to your jeep, and then you can go back to your apartment."

"Will you ride back to Metropolis with me?" Lois asked. "I'd rather not take a chance on any of them following me."

"Sure, I can do that." *Does this mean she wants my company?*

They reached Lois's apartment without difficulty. The men from the bunker seemed to have retreated back into the hole they came out of. After Lois opened the door, she and Clark just stood staring at each other, not sure what to say. Finally, Lois said, "I guess I'd better get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow at the Planet, won't I?"

"Yeah," he promised. "Thank you for… rescuing me."

"My pleasure," she responded. Turning more serious, she reminded him, "At least you know about those guys." While they were driving home, she'd told Clark everything she'd heard Trask say and Clark had volunteered what little he knew about his origin.

"Mom and dad told me they found me in a space ship that landed in a field near the farm. She said a globe that was with the ship told them I came from a planet called Krypton. They also found a strange piece of glowing green rock, and took it home. A week later the ship vanished. Mom called the green rock Kryptonite, but it made me sick so she hid it away." He hadn't, couldn't tell her his mom had threatened to kill him with the Kryptonite, after his dad fell off the roof.

Lois said, "I don't know whether they're part of a widespread conspiracy, or just a few loose cannons. You will watch out for Bureau 39, won't you Clark? Colonel Trask is a frightening man."

Clark was warmed by her evident concern for him. "At least they have no idea who I really am. You won't tell anyone, will you?" he asked uncertainly.

"Of course not," Lois responded indignantly.

"Well, it would make a great story, maybe even a Pulitzer," Clark admitted, grinning, if a trifle sickly.

"No, thank you. I'll get that Pulitzer another way." Then she pressed a brief kiss on his lips, surprising Clark. Before he could respond, she went inside, and closed the door. A stunned Clark Kent went home, for the first time in a long while eager for the next day to come.


The next day at the Planet didn't turn out as anticipated. When Clark came in, Lois was already at her desk, peering intently at her monitor. He walked over, and stood next to her. She looked up and smiled. "Hi."

"Hi," Clark answered shyly. "Can I get you coffee?"

"Sure. Don't you want to know how I like it?" she called out, as Clark headed toward the coffeepot.

"Nah, I'm pretty observant, so I think I can fix it right."

Lois grinned in appreciation, when he brought back two cups. The one for her was perfect, even to its temperature. *Hmm, having him around just may have some unforeseen perks.*

Everything seemed to go well until midmorning when Clark got a far-away look in his eyes and whispered, "I have to go."

"Go," Lois responded. "I'll cover for you."

Gazing at the Daily Planet's news monitors, she saw what appeared to be the reason for his disappearance, a multi-alarm blaze near Hobbs River. *Clark should be there shortly,* Lois thought, eager to see her world's Superman in action. The fire continued to burn, but the Man of Steel didn't show up, and the TV commentators began to speculate on the whereabouts of Metropolis's new Superhero. When the blaze had almost burned itself out, and no 'Angel in blue and red' showed up, the comments from the news media turned against him.

"He's probably gone back to Krypton, or wherever he came from," said one commentator.

"He must have had a reason to come here. Nobody does something for nothing."

"What if he actually is the forerunner of an alien invasion? Maybe he just wanted to soften us up for the full force to come," added Jeff Simmons, a reporter from Lois's own Daily Planet. He was one of the newest, and one whose methods Lois liked even less than she had Clark Kent's. He wasn't nearly as 'successful' at his job as Clark had been, so Perry didn't try to partner him with her.

Lois was sure that something terrible must have happened to Clark, and she was about to make some excuse to go and find him when the object of her concern walked off the elevator, with a French pastry in hand. "Want one, Lois?" he asked. "These are so good, you'd think I went to Paris for them," he told her with a wink.

Confused, Lois lost no time in confronting him. She pulled the pastry bag out of his hands and threw it in a trashcan. "Clark, what's going on? Did you just go out for those… those pastries? I thought when you left you intended to go to… cover the fire." She finished her sentence by mouthing "as Superman."

Not answering the first question, Clark said, "I covered the fire, but Superman wasn't there, Lois. Probably just as well. The blaze was in an old abandoned building, so he just let it burn to the ground. It wasn't even worth the write-up."

Lois grabbed Clark by the lapels, and pulled him into a nearby supply closet. Locking the door, she hissed, "Clark, our world needs Superman. People need the help only he — only you — can give. Now people are starting to think that Superman's no better than anyone else is, and that he won't help out unless he's paid. I thought you wanted… to fight for truth and justice."

"Well, I won't do it," he told her flatly. "People here hate extra-terrestrials, and Bureau 39's still out there. Besides the other Clark never made a dime from anything he did. I'm not that dumb. Absolutely not," he insisted, opening the door and walking away.

Lois stood stunned, her plans in disarray. He'd dashed all her hopes in one short minute, and didn't even explain himself. *Where's the caring person from yesterday?* she wondered dully. *I guess he just pretended to be grateful for being rescued. He sure had me fooled.

Maybe I asked for it. I know what Clark Kent is like, what everyone told me, but I thought I knew better. I thought seeing the other Clark… But I was wrong, he's not like the other Clark.* Sighing, she admitted, *Besides, making him Superman was my idea, not his. There are still a lot of people out there who hate aliens. He's probably decided it's too dangerous, especially with Kryptonite in the hands of someone like Colonel Trask and his mysterious Bureau 39.*

Lois had to admit to the logic of those arguments, but she was still disappointed in the Clark Kent of their world. Later that morning at the budget meeting, an obviously disturbed Lois Lane glared at Clark Kent. Walking right past him, she took the single seat between Jimmy and Eduardo. Gleefully, Cat Grant sat down in the empty seat next to Clark.

*Looks like things are back to normal between Lois Lane and Clark Kent,* Perry White thought wryly. He'd been gratified at how closely the two had worked together over the past week and a half. Lane and Kent had filed several excellent stories. Some were about the new Superman, but a couple of them were excellent exposes. Not at all like Kent's usual stories, the stories he and Lois filed over the past week were obviously the result of excellent investigative journalism.

At first Perry was afraid the newspaper's readers would lose interest, but it seemed a lot of people appreciated good newspaper reporting. Circulation jumped and Perry hoped he might actually have the journalistic team he'd dreamed of when he attempted to partner the two. He'd even had a vision of a Daily Planet known for hard-hitting journalism instead of sleaze. It didn't look like that was going to happen, not after today.

Later in the meeting when Perry tried to partner Lois with Clark once more, she told Perry flatly that she was much too busy working on other stories. Cat eagerly jumped into the breach, but Clark pointed out he still had some preliminary research before he'd be ready for a partner, so the matter was tabled.


An hour after the budget meeting, Lois went into the supply room alone. Clark followed her, closing the door behind him. *Now it starts,* Lois thought terrified. She had a feeling Jimmy wasn't likely to rescue her this time. *Guess I was wrong about the closet thing being an accident too.* "Stay away from me," she ordered, as she pulled out her knife.

"Lois, I just want to talk."

"So talk," she told him, her hostility obvious.

"Not here. Please, can we go somewhere private?"

"You expect me to go somewhere alone with you?"

Clark winced. "Lois, I only want to talk. I would never try… try anything unless you wanted me to, and clearly you don't," he finished, his eyes asking her to believe him, to trust him.

There was no anger in them, no menace, she noticed, but she still had to remind him, "Clark, you broke Jimmy's arm." If he'd denied it, even tried to say it was the accident that she suspected it had been, she would have refused to have anything more to do with him.

Instead, his face fell, and he only said softly, "I'm sorry; I won't bother you any more," as he turned to go.

"Wait Clark," she called out. "It's almost time for lunch. Let's stop at the stand in front of the Planet, and get a couple of hot dogs and sodas. We can eat in the park while we talk."

Clark nodded. Lois put the knife away; it couldn't hurt him anyway. Clark saw that as a gesture of faith, and was grateful. As they left, Lois shouted to a surprised Perry White that she and Clark would be gone about an hour, wordlessly assuring her editor that she felt in no need of protection. They found a secluded spot in Centennial Park for lunch, and ate the frankfurters.

Clark began, "Lois about the Superman thing…"

"You don't want to do it. I guess I can understand that. You're not obligated to, and there are lots of guys like Trask out there who'd be gunning…"

"Lois, stop and listen, please."

She shut her mouth, and waited.

"Lois, the fire was a trap, a setup — to capture me, I think. I was about to fly down and help put out the blaze, when I saw someone who had to be Colonel Trask and two of the men from the van standing with the fire officials. The other two guys who chased us were in the crowd watching the blaze. Trask was holding the box that was in the cell with me. I think it held the Kryptonite. I did scan the building, but there was no one inside, and it looked like the fire had been deliberately set."

"So you didn't fly down, I can understand that. But why didn't you tell me that when you got back to the Planet? You do *trust* me, don't you? I would never hurt you," she assured him.

"I know that Lois; I do trust you. I was afraid someone from Bureau 39 might be following you, and I just didn't want to take a chance of talking in so public a place."

"Oh, so that was the reason for the elaborate charade with the French pastries."

"Yeah," he grinned. "It's too bad you didn't try one. I really did fly to France for them."

"Do you think they set the whole thing up after yesterday?"

"No, it's more likely they were planning this one a while, probably since right after the other Clark showed up. I think capturing me yesterday was just serendipity. They must have seen him flying over the park, so they took advantage of the situation. That would explain why there were so few guards in the bunker. Not that I could have gotten away without your help."

"Clark," she sighed. "Maybe… maybe Superman better not be seen again in Metropolis. Trask will assume he — you went back to Krypton, and stop trying to find you. It's too bad, though, because our world could use someone with your powers."

"No, Lois, I want to use my powers to help people. Maybe if… I were more like him, helpful and nice to everyone, instead of acting like… me, people here wouldn't hate extra- terrestrials."

He gave a disgusted look, and Lois put her hand on his arm, and said sincerely, "You're really a lot like him, you know. The way people are in this world is not your doing."

Grateful, Clark said, "Lois, I don't know much about being Superman, but I did substitute for him a few times while I was in the other world, and it felt good. I wanted to meet him before I found out he was me — Clark Kent. I never met anyone like me, and, after I left… the Kents, nobody… liked me."

*I know it was lot worse than just not liking you. My poor Clark, what a terrible childhood you had. It's amazing you turned out as nice as you really are,* Lois thought.

"I know most people are not like Trask. Most of the time, fires and disasters are real, not faked like today, so I'd really like to try to be Superman here. Still, I'll have to watch out for Trask and others like him."

"I'll help you," Lois assured him. "With both of us alert, Trask won't have another chance like yesterday, or today for that matter. But first, we have to make people believe in Superman again."

"How, Lois? I-I heard the comments when Superman didn't show up."

"You did?"

"Sure, you don't think it takes me two hours to fly to Paris and back — more like two minutes," he laughed. Lois's optimism was infectious. "As soon as I flew away, I changed back to Clark Kent, and went to cover the fire. I-I had to be sure I wasn't wrong, that there wasn't any real danger to people. Lois, please believe me, I would have gone in street clothes, if that had been the case."

"I believe you," she said, sure now that she had found her world's Superman. "I'm glad it didn't come to that. You need your Clark Kent persona. You can't be Superman all the time and, as Clark Kent, you — we — can use the press to modify — no correct — the public's perceptions of Superman.

*You,* Clark Kent, are gonna write an exclusive interview with the Superhero, explaining about the fire. You'll tell everyone that he would have told the firefighters there was no danger, but he had to leave almost immediately after he arrived, to take care of (she giggled at her own joke) a problem in France."

"What problem, Lois?"

"Don't worry. Just be vague, and say Superman just told you he'd been able to stop whatever the disaster in France was before it got started. Superman, your interview will emphasize, was most concerned about clarifying the matter of the fire in Metropolis."

"Well actually I did help out with a 'problem' in France, so the story will be true," Clark admitted. "I just didn't think it was important enough to mention."

"What?" Lois asked astonished.

"My super hearing picked up a short wave broadcast in French about an out of control train rapidly approaching a trestle crossing that had been washed out by heavy rains in the area. I flew there and held the cars up until they cleared the gap, then brought it to a slow stop."

"No wonder you weren't at the fire scene."

"Well, I was most of the time. I stayed until the fire was almost out. I was just leaving to return to the Planet when the emergency came up. And I stopped to check on the fire again when I got back from France."

"But Clark how could you cross the Atlantic, save the train, then return to the Planet just minutes after the end of the fire? I know it was only minutes because I watched the whole fire on the Daily Planet monitors."

"I'm real fast when I need to be. Actually getting the pastries took more time than flying there and back."

Lois was dumbfounded. She'd seen the other Clark do amazing things but this was the first time she really understood how amazing this Clark and his counterpart in the other universe really were.

Pulling herself together, she said decisively, "Even better. We'll use the disaster in France to excuse your not remaining at the fire scene long enough to talk to the reporters there. Saving lives is more important and no one will believe you saved a trainload of people in France in under…"

She paused and Clark supplied, "…fifteen minutes including purchasing the pastries."

Seeing the smugly triumphant look on Lois's face, he added, "Lois, you are a brilliant woman, but a devious one too." He couldn't help thinking what an asset she'd make to any man, Superman or ordinary man.

"A good reporter, too. And Clark Kent, you are about to become my permanent partner."

Clark looked so intently at Lois, clearly wondering what she meant, that she qualified her statement with "working partner. We need to convince people Superman is here to… to help," she finished shakily.

"Sure, Lois. That would be great. You're the best reporter at the Daily Planet," he responded, silently vowing to be grateful for small favors.

"For now, I am the senior partner. You follow my lead, understand, Kent?"

"Yes, Ma'am," he responded happily. *The other Lois said it took her Clark two years to get her to notice him. After the way I've been acting, it should take my Lois an even longer time to notice me — if that ever happens,* he reminded himself. He knew he had no right to call her his Lois, but in his mind and in his heart, that was what she was.


After Lois and Clark returned to the Planet, Clark wrote up the Superman story. "An exclusive interview, Kent. This is great," Perry praised. Just then, Lois noticed another far away look cross Clark's face. Determined not to chance leaving Clark to Trask's tender mercies, she walked over to his desk and said, "As soon as you're free, Clark, maybe you could go with me to meet Bobby Bigmouth. He said he has some information on that water department scandal you've been working on."

"Lois, I thought you were too busy," her editor commented.

"Well, you know how the news business is Chief, feast one minute, famine the next. I find I do have time after all."

"I finished that research I needed to do, Ch… Mr. White, so I can go with Lois now."

"Well, I'm finished with you, Kent. So if that's the way you two want it, go," he told them, wondering what the heck was going on. Still if Kent could bring in Superman stories like this one and Lois was willing to go along with him on investigations, who was he to say them nay.

The two reporters hurried out of the newsroom. As soon as they left the building, Clark ducked into an alley and whispered, "There's a fire at a high rise apartment on thirty-fourth and Walnut." He spun into the Superman suit and took off. *Wow,* Lois thought before she hailed a cab to follow. This time the emergency was real and Bureau 39 was nowhere nearby.

The blaze, cause unknown, was well underway by the time either the fire fighters or Superman arrived. A pair of distraught parents tried to break through the police barricades because their two small children were trapped in an apartment on the fifteenth floor. The fire Chief told them sadly that it was too high for the ladders to reach, too high for anyone to get to… except the now familiar 'Angel in blue and red' who flew overhead and into a window on the unreachable floor. A whoosh was heard as the blaze hit a gas pipe, but despair turned to joy as Superman walked out of the building carrying the children in his arms.

The crowd of people who gathered to watch had heard so much about the earlier fire, they seemed at first unsure how to react. Shouts of 'alien go back where you came , 'we don't need any extra-terrestrials', and 'who can afford to pay for his protection' rang out as Lois Lane's taxi pulled up.

"Wait for me," she told the cab driver. Jumping out, she shouted, "Let me through," as she pushed her way toward the front. Lois Lane wasn't known as a pushy reporter for nothing. "What's wrong with you people? Can't you tell when someone is here to help?" Waving to Clark who was still hovering overhead, she called out, "Thanks, Superman," and the crowd erupted into cheers and additional shouts of thanks as the Superhero flew away.

Almost immediately afterward, Clark Kent joined his partner. On the way back to the taxi, Lois whispered, "Who taught you to do that spin thing."

"She did, the other Lois. Pretty neat, huh," a happy Clark Kent confided.

"Sure is," Lois responded as they got into the cab and left to meet Bobby Bigmouth.

"Bobby had better have some news to impart this time," Lois told Clark as they stopped by The China House to pick up the snitch's usual fee. He came through and Lois and Clark had two good stories to file. That afternoon, they LANed the one about the Superhero's exploit. The next day they were able to report on indictments in the water department scandal.


Over the succeeding week, Lois and Clark gradually learned to depend upon one another. Lois covered for her partner's frequent absences as he answered increasingly urgent calls for help to the delight of a grateful Metropolis. Each Super feat made its way into the Daily Planet's copy and the public began looking eagerly for individual or joint Lane and Kent bylines on stories about the Superhero.

Colonel Trask, Jason Trask Lois learned from the Daily Planet's archives, was not in evidence. Still Clark felt reassured to have Lois Lane, who was invulnerable to the one substance that could harm Superman, in on the secret and frequently at his side. Trusting her as he had not dared trust anyone since he was a child, Clark made certain Lois knew where he would be before he left to be Superman.

For her part, Lois was particularly gratified when Clark gently 'discouraged' unwanted attentions on helpless females by her world's unprincipled males. Soon a new attitude was forming: that a woman's consent was needed before expecting sexual favors.

When he wasn't being Superman, Clark proved a competent investigative reporter. The judicious use of his Superpowers to uncover evidence of wrongdoing proved particularly useful to the pair. "I never listened in on 'pillow talk' until I was certain the person was guilty," Clark assured her shamefaced.

"Well, you won't have to do that anymore," Lois responded. "Together, we'll dig out the facts without resorting to illegal means."

"Ah, Lois," he countered, "using my super hearing to break into a locked warehouse seems like skirting the limits of legality."

"Kent," she told him, "Didn't I tell you I'm the senior investigative reporter? I say that's morally justifiable. Besides, there weren't any 'keep out' signs were there?"

"No, but…" Clark could tell he wasn't going to win this argument and, perhaps in a society like theirs, such methods were merited. Then he remembered that the Lois and Clark of the other world used his powers in just such a way. Lois Lane in any world had her own code to which she strictly adhered, even if it wasn't everybody's idea of ethical behavior. Perry White, too, seemed unconcerned about the source of the new stories. Since Clark knew the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet had not liked Clark's earlier methods, he concluded that somehow this was different.

With the two most important people in the newsroom supporting the 'reformed' Clark Kent, most of the staff grudgingly went along with his new status. Olsen, however, remained adamantly opposed to having anything to do with Clark Kent, even when Clark suggested that he and Lois could use a photographer on some of their stories.


Jeff Simmons was in big trouble. He'd been secretly working for Bureau 39 and Jason Trask. Lois Lane and Clark Kent were making it almost impossible to get to Superman, as the alien was now called and Trask blamed Jeff, who'd been charged with the task of making the press hostile to the Superhero.

Trask had no idea it had been Lois Lane who'd somehow managed to free the alien from his imprisonment in the bunker. The four terrified guards had agreed it would be expedient to keep the use of a Jeep Cherokee with what appeared to be a solitary driver to themselves since all four of them were supposed to be watching the creature. They told Trask an elaborate story of a large group of heavily armed men involved in the escape. Sneaking into the bunker, they overpowered the four and took the alien away in what "looked like a helicopter of some sort."

That 'information' only fueled Trask's conviction that there were other Kryptonians bent on invading and who were already present on Earth. Trask was impatient to once more get his hands on Superman.

At a meeting Saturday night at the warehouse on Bessolo Blvd. where Bureau 39 stored artifacts from years of investigating UFOs, Trask wanted to know what Simmons was going to do about the Daily Planet's new reporting team which seemed to be generating public support for the alien. That, of course, was not acceptable. The public had to remain convinced that extra- terrestrials were dangerous and should be captured or killed on sight.

"Don't worry. I know how to break up the partnership and, without Kent, Lane can be silenced."

"Get on with it," his superior told him, in no mood for any delay.

"Kent's got a temper and Cat Grant says he's really hot for Lane, but she hasn't been forthcoming."

"So, Kent's a patient man. What good does that do us?"

"Several weeks ago, Kent came on to Lane in a storeroom. Olsen tried to stop him and Kent broke his arm. Olsen hates Kent, so much so he even refused the chance to become a photographer for Lane and Kent."

"Stop referring to them as Lane and Kent," Trask growled.

"Yeah, sure. Anyway Perry White hushed the whole thing up. Kent's got some secret way of gettin' information on corrupt politicians and his stories were already too well received to fire him, but rumor has it Kent was called on the carpet and warned to keep his temper in check or he'll be lookin' for another job. If my plan works, Kent will be gone, fired, and so will Olsen, who'll wind up either in a hospital or dead. I need a fake photo of Lane and Olsen in, shall we say, a compromising position, and make it look like Olsen might be forcing her."

"You'll have it."

"Right," Jeff grinned.

"Simmons, I want Kent out of there by next Thursday."

Jeff gulped, but he had little choice. "Just one more thing. My plan involves setting up a meeting with one of our guys with Lane only for Wednesday evening, and then a second appointment that will get Lane away from the newspaper Thursday morning for a couple of hours. If she tells Kent the photo's a fake, he'll believe her and won't go after Olsen. If Lane seems upset, all the better, but she has to leave Kent behind in the newsroom."

He hoped that might buy him a bit more time, but Trask told him they'd arrange it for 10:00am on Thursday. "We'll dangle an exclusive involving Superman and make sure only Lane takes the bait. She's probably annoyed by now about the ones her so- called partner gets with Superman. Just make sure your end goes off right," he threatened.


Thursday morning, Lois Lane came into the newsroom clearly agitated. A concerned Clark Kent asked, "Is something wrong, Lois?"

"Like you don't know," was the cold response.

"I haven't a clue."

*Was my informant lying?* She wondered. Lois was upset, but not for the reason Jeff intended to impart to an innocent Clark Kent. The night before Lois had an unscheduled meeting with a source she used frequently and trusted, not realizing he worked for Bureau 39. He informed her that the 'engagement' tomorrow morning would be at a location different from one he'd given Kent previously. He just learned of the existence of a furniture warehouse on Bessolo Blvd where Bureau 39 allegedly stored files on extra-terrestrials and alien artifacts they'd gathered over the years. More important, a piece of some rock that could kill Superman was supposedly housed there in a safe. He'd get the combination to the safe and would meet them there around 10:00am tomorrow.

Lois was puzzled. Clark hadn't told her about the story. When she asked him pointedly if there was something he wanted to tell her, her partner looked blank. Lois had no idea if Clark was telling the truth or concealing it so he could file the story on his own. *No matter,* she thought. If Kryptonite was involved, Clark couldn't go anyway. Since she knew the danger wouldn't stop him from following her, she waited for an opportunity to go to the meeting without Clark following. After 9:00am, Superman was called away. This time, instead of following him, Lois headed for the warehouse.

Clark soon learned the emergency was a false alarm at a bank. He was perplexed when Lois didn't show up, but concluded she'd somehow learned of the non-event and returned to the newsroom. But when he got back to the Planet, Lois Lane was not at her desk.


Clark was becoming concerned when Jeff Simmons stopped near his desk and told him, "Lois left the newsroom shortly after you went out. She said to tell you not to worry but she seemed pretty upset. I can't help wondering if it has something to do with what happened last night."

"What happened last night?"

"Gee, I thought she'd have told you. After all, you two seemed pretty close this past week. But that's a woman for you. Still Perry White did tell her to keep her personal life out of the newsroom." He bent close and whispered, "Looks like Olsen and Lane made it last night, although the jury's still out as to whether she consented. I guess you didn't see the picture, either, huh?"


"The photo that's been circulating of Lane and Olsen. No one knows who took it, but it's pretty revealing. Listen, pal, I think I know who's got it. How about I get it and show it to you?"

He let a good 45 minutes go by before he came back with the incriminating photo. That gave Lois plenty of time to get to the warehouse for the meeting that was not going to take place. He knew Lane's curiosity would be sufficient to keep her occupied at least for a while. She wasn't the type to just sit and wait until someone showed up. He smiled inwardly at Trask's brilliance and nerve. Imagine letting Lane into Bureau 39's own warehouse.

He slipped the photo to Kent, briefly mentioning 'rumors' that Lane and Olsen had a thing going before either he or Clark started at the newspaper. He shrugged as he said, "Maybe she decided to start it up again." Then he left to wait for the explosion.

Clark stared at the picture trying to decide what to do. *Why didn't she confide in me?* he wondered. He thought she and Jimmy didn't get along but would Olsen force her? *Is she really in love with James Olsen? Is that why she seemed agitated, because she doesn't know how to tell me, her partner?* Had he been wrong about her feelings for him, for Clark? Just because they had Superman in common, it didn't mean Lois wanted a relationship with him. *Especially now that she's met the other Clark,* he reminded himself.

*But I love you so much, Lois. I want a permanent relationship with you, a marriage like the other Lois and Clark have,* he told the photograph silently. He knew he had no right to expect that of her, certainly not this soon. He looked at the picture a long while, hoping Lois would return and set his mind at rest as to her safety and well-being, even if it meant he'd lost her to James Olsen.

When Olsen returned alone and went straight into the darkroom, Clark's fear for Lois's safety and his despair at the loss of the woman who meant everything to him grew. *Maybe he really did force her and that's why she was so upset,* he thought again. His thoughts going in circles, Clark was determined to confront Olsen as soon as possible. Lois's safety was at stake.


Lois, meantime, had reached the warehouse and found it littered with all sorts of UFOs, most of which had never seen a road on Earth much less traveled in outer space. While she waited for her source to show up, she poked around. A dusty filing cabinet in the very back of the warehouse was marked 'UFO sites, 1960-.' Lois looked inside and was shocked to find a file marked 'Smallville, Kansas, 1966.'

Pulling it out, she learned it did indeed have information on a small spaceship which landed there. Included was the analysis of a green, glowing rock found near the landing site. 'Not of Earthly origin. Periodic Number 126. Emits a high band radiation, not harmful to humans.' The investigator speculated that it might hurt or even kill someone who came from the star system that the rocket had originated in.

Her source still had not arrived, and Lois began to wonder if the whole thing had been some sort of trap for Superman. Why tell her they had Kryptonite in the safe? That would only ensure that Superman would stay away. *Wait! What if the trap wasn't for Superman, but was instead intended to keep me away from the Daily Planet? What if the intended victim is my partner, Clark Kent?* They knew she would have to investigate such tempting bait. If she was also angry with her partner — her new partner everyone knew — because she thought he'd lied when he denied any knowledge of the supposed meeting, she wasn't likely to take him along.

She stuffed the file into the enormous purse she'd brought along and hailed the first cab she saw. "Daily Planet, and there's $25.00 in it if you get me there in ten minutes."

"Lady, that ain't possible. The cross-town traffic's brutal."

"$50.00 and that's my final offer."

"You'll be there in time. For that amount, I'd pick the cab up and make like Superman."


When Olsen came out of the photo-finishing lab, Clark Kent walked over to stand in front of the cub reporter. His voice menacing and his eyes hard, he asked, "Where's Lois, Jimmy?"

"How would I know? I-I wouldn't tell you even if I did know," Jimmy said defiantly. The expression on Kent's face terrified him. *He's going to beat me up, maybe even kill me* Jimmy thought. Unable to move, he understood how a bird felt confronted by a python. Mesmerized, he closed his eyes and waited for the blow… but it never came.

Clark saw no evidence in Jimmy's manner of the guilt that he surely would have felt if he'd forced Lois, and Clark's rage fled, replaced once again by fear for Lois. "Please," Clark Kent begged, "if you have any idea where Lois is, tell me. I'm worried about her. She hasn't called in. She could be in trouble. I just want to make sure she's okay."

Jimmy opened his eyes and was astonished to see that Clark had his temper under control. His grip on Jimmy's arm was gentle. Relieved, he was about to tell Kent he really had no idea where Lois Lane could be when the door to the stairwell opened and Lois burst into the newsroom.

"Clark, no!" she screamed as she ran across the room.

Clark whirled and breathed, "Lois."

Reaching them, Lois immediately turned toward Jimmy and asked, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I-I'm fine," Jimmy assured Lois shakily. Clark could see that Lois was worried about Olsen, and he was now sure that they were in a loving relationship.

"Jimmy, leave Clark and me alone," Lois commanded. "He and I have to talk."

Jimmy nodded and retreated into the darkroom. Turning to everyone else in the newsroom, Lois announced, "Okay everyone, show's over. Get back to work." Everyone scattered as Lois guided Clark toward a small, empty conference room. She walked in, shut the door, pushed Clark into a seat and sat down next to him.

*The important thing is that Lois is safe,* Clark reminded himself. *You can still be her friend, although she probably doesn't want you for a partner anymore. But only if you make sure she understands that you'll never hurt the man she loves.*

"Clark…" Lois began, but Clark interrupted her.

"No, Lois, please let me talk first." Haltingly, Clark assured Lois he would never harm Jimmy. "I know… I get angry sometimes, but… I-I'll try to control it, I promise. Please can't we… at least be friends, even if you… don't" — he swallowed — "want to be partners any more? I just want to be… friends."

*Oh, Clark. I was hoping we could be much more than friends, but I guess you're fed up with us humans. I should be grateful you aren't turning your back completely on us, but…* "Clark, what makes you think I don't want to be partners?"

"Well, I thought with you and Jimmy… involved… and… we both know he hates me… Lois, breaking Jimmy's arm, that wasn't intentional, I swear," he finished in a rush. "And I'd never interfere with whatever marriage contract you two want to make."

Puzzled Lois asked, "I know you didn't break Jimmy's arm on purpose, Clark, but what are you talking about? Jimmy and I aren't involved."

"You're not?"

"No, of course not, whatever gave you that idea?"

"Well you and Jimmy," Clark blushed furiously, "spent last night together, so I thought you made up and intended to resume your relationship from last year…"

"We most certainly did not spend last night together and, what's more, James Olsen and I do not now, nor have we ever had a-a sexual relationship. Clark, who told you that lie?" she asked angrily.

Clark wasn't sure whether to be relieved that Lois wasn't in love with Olsen or mortified because of the conclusion he'd jumped to. "Jeff Simmons said it was all over the newsroom and he gave me the picture. At first I thought that was where you went today, to-to meet Jimmy, but when Jimmy returned alone… I had to find out if-if you were okay."

"What picture?" Lois asked.

Clark pulled out the photograph. "Jeff said someone took it last night and… and everyone in the newsroom's seen it… only no one was sure if you consented or were forced."

Lois looked at it for a minute, then handed it back. "The photo's a fake Clark. Jeff probably had it printed up in one of those composite photo shops. I doubt that anyone else at the Planet even saw it."

"Why would he do that?" Clark asked bewildered.

*My trusting Clark, how did you turn out so well after all you've been through?* Gently she told him, "To make you angry enough to hurt Jimmy and get fired. I'm pretty sure Jeff Simmons works for Jason Trask, Clark. He was at the fire, the one that was set deliberately, and was one of the most vocal critics of Superman. He wants to break up our partnership."

"Because of Superman? Lois if he knows, if Bureau 39 suspects… I'll have to quit. I can't take the chance that Trask might hurt you."

"Don't worry. I'm sure they have no clue that you're him. I think they just wanted to stop the favorable news reports by breaking up our partnership, and you were the obvious target." She stopped appalled. She hadn't meant that the way it sounded.

But Clark only said, "I know what I am and what I've done, Lois."

She leaned over and caressed his cheek as she said softly, "You haven't done anything, at least since I've known you. And what you are is one of the kindest, gentlest individuals I have ever known." Then she rushed on. "Besides, they made a big error," she added, grinning as she told him about the warehouse they baited her with. "Clark, I found a file in one of the old cabinets about a UFO sighting in Smallville, Kansas in 1966. That must have been when Bureau 39 got the chunk of Kryptonite Trask has."

Clark was horrified. "My parents… I-I mean the Kents. If Trask learns where the green rock came from, he'll go after them."

"It's all right, Clark. I doubt Trask ever saw the file, it was so well hidden, and we have it now. But Clark, we have to talk to your parents. They have to understand that they can't give Superman's secret identity away to people like Jason Trask."

Surprised at the unexpected change of subject, Clark could only respond with, "Why, Lois?"

"Your Mother came to Metropolis while the other Clark was here and I explained about him and Superman."

"She knows?" Clark asked nervously.

"Of course, she knows. Listen, before she went home to Kansas, she invited Clark to dinner the following Thursday — that's this evening. *You* are going to take her up on that invitation."

Lois saw a brief look of longing pass over Clark's face before he said, "No, Lois, please. I can't go back. Mom has a piece of K-Kryptonite, too. The last time I saw mom and dad, my-my mother told me to… to get out. She said I'd never be welcome in their house again."

"Because of your dad?" Lois asked sympathetically.


Lois reached over and took Clark's hand in her own and stroked it for a minute before prompting, "Clark, tell me the truth. Did you cause the fall that put your dad in a wheelchair?" she asked looking her partner straight in the eye.

His face conveying his agony at the memory, Clark told her, "I don't know, Lois. Dad and I argued, sh-shouted at each other, then I flew away. I heard Dad's scream and flew back, but I wasn't fast enough to reach him before he hit the ground. I'd only recently started to-to fly and… I wasn't that good yet," he finished turning his face away.

*Even if you didn't cause the fall, you blame yourself for not being fast enough to stop him from hitting the ground and being paralyzed* Lois thought compassionately. She reached for Clark and gently turned his face toward her again. "Go on," she said softly.

Clark continued shamefaced. "I tried to tell Mom it was an accident; that I didn't mean to hurt Dad, but Mom… Mom wouldn't even let me go along in the ambulance. Two days later, she told me Dad would" — he swallowed — "never be able to walk again. When I begged her to let me go see Dad in the hospital, she brought out a chunk of Kryptonite. She told me how they found it and that it would k-kill me. I didn't know about it before that, but it made me feel like I was dying, so I left. I haven't been back since." The last few words were whispered.

Clark's eyes had tears in them, so Lois knew that, whether or not he'd caused his father's condition, Clark still loved his father deeply and his mother too. "Well, Clark, your mother invited you to the farm for dinner tonight and you are going," she insisted.

"Lois, we both know she issued the invitation to the other Clark, not to me," Clark reminded her.

"We won't tell her at first. She surely thinks the other Clark is still in Metropolis. After she sees how… how nice you've become, we'll tell her. Don't worry, I'll go with you," she assured him.

He sighed and nodded, unable to speak around the lump in his throat that his terror had caused. His mother was a formidable woman when she wanted to be.

Lois gave him a smile and an encouraging hug. "It'll be all right, You'll see."

*Oh Lois, if only it was me you wanted to protect, not just Superman,* Clark thought sadly.

When Lois and Clark came out of the conference room, Perry White called both of them into his office. "What was that about earlier?"

"Nothing important, Chief," Lois assured him.

"Jimmy isn't saying anything, Jeff Simmons quit without even cleaning out his desk, and now you tell me it's nothing important, Lois."

"Chief, it's nothing we can tell you about, but I can assure you that Clark and I won't let it affect our work at the Planet."

"Lois, honey," Perry told her in the kindest tone he'd ever used with her. "I just want you to be happy. If you don't want to work with Clark here, you don't have to. I'll see there's no blame attached to your actions."

Clark paled, so Lois put her arm around his waist comfortingly. Firmly she told her boss, "Clark is my partner and no one is going to change that. The partnership stands."

Satisfied now that working with Clark was agreeable to Lois, Perry said, "Okay, Lois. Now you two get out of here and get me some copy. I'm not running some kind of country club, you know," he told them gruffly. But Lois knew better now and sassily gave him a peck on the cheek before leaving his office. *Clark Kent's one hell of a lucky guy,* Perry thought.

"I guess that confirms it, Clark. Jeff was working for Trask. At least we're rid of him and you are still my partner," Lois told Clark in a satisfied voice as they returned to their respective desks.


Lois and Clark arrived promptly for dinner that night. Clark had, Lois hoped, learned to control his temper and his actions sufficiently to be welcome anywhere and to fool Martha adequately. While Clark's father was not in evidence (He was sleeping and would join them later they were told) the meal seemed to go well. Martha made fried chicken dinner. Lois complimented her on the dinner, admitting to both Clark and his mother that cooking was definitely not one of Lois Lane's accomplishments.

Martha had been reading about the continuing deeds of the new 'Superman' in Metropolis and other parts of the world, and she was glad that Clark had been able to do so much good while he was still stranded in their world. She hoped his own world wasn't suffering too much from the presence of Martha's own son.

When Martha went to put the dishes in the dishwasher, Clark gave Lois a questioning look but she shook her head. It wasn't time to let Martha in on the truth. Lois hoped that, after dinner when Clark's father joined them, an opportunity might present itself. Clark looked surreptitiously toward the former den that was now set up as a bedroom for the paralyzed Jonathan Kent. His father could indeed be seen sleeping, and, while Clark longed to see his father, he was also afraid.

After dinner, Martha suggested that they go into the living room to await Jonathan Kent's appearance. "Clark," Martha asked, "while I go and wake Jonathan, would you get the old album that I have from when my son was a baby? It's on the second shelf in the pantry."

Excited, Clark went to look for the album, but it was not where Martha said it was. Then he remembered. She always kept it in a bottom drawer of the hutch. Sure enough, there it was. Taking the precious reminder of a happier time out, he returned to the living room, sat down on the sofa, and showed it to Lois. Lois saw pictures of a happy, contented infant and a carefree, laughing little boy, and she was afraid her heart would break.

In the other room, Martha Kent surreptitiously watched the scene unfold. By the time her two visitors were seated on the couch looking at the album she knew the truth. The man next to Lois Lane wasn't Clark Kent from the other world; he was her son. *Does Lois know?* she wondered.* No,* she decided. Determined to drive her son away once more, she went over to the chest where she kept the green rock she'd found near the ship she and Jon found the tiny infant inside so many years ago. She'd discovered early on that it seemed to cause the child pain and hid it away, never expecting to have to use it.

Clark had been such a delightful child those first seven years. It nearly broke her heart when Social Services stepped in and gave the child to the Johnsons, but she and Jon were only poor farmers and the Johnsons prominent and powerful people. She told herself her boy would receive all the advantages that they couldn't give him, a large room of his own, lots of toys, fine clothes, eventually a college education. The Kents wanted to keep in touch with Clark but the agency told her that would only interfere with the little boy's adjustment to his new home, so they agreed to stay away.

Five years later they learned the Johnsons had given Clark up after a fall from a stepladder put Mr. Johnson in the hospital. Social Services suspected the child had somehow caused the fall, but Jon and Martha were certain Clark would never knowingly hurt another person. Over the next few years, they fought to regain custody of Clark, but it was only after he'd been in a series of foster homes, that the agency agreed to return the now teenaged boy to them.

*They warned us,* Martha thought. *They told us that no one wanted Clark, that he was considered hopeless. And they told us all about the mysterious fires that seemed to just happen when Clark was nearby. Jon and I both knew Clark had the capability of causing those accidents, but we couldn't tell Social Services. They would have put him in a reform school or worse.* She sighed unhappily.

*But Social Services was right. The boy we got back was wild, unmanageable and mean, just plain mean. We tried, Lord knows we did try. We begged Clark to confide in us, to tell us how we could help him, but Clark wouldn't listen to either of us. Then that awful day came when he and Jon were arguing…*

Martha had heard the shouting, then silence, and then Jon's scream. By the time she'd got to the barnyard, Jon was on the ground unconscious with a frightened Clark standing over him. Clark insisted the fall had been an accident, but, after all they'd learned, how could Martha believe him? When she learned at the hospital that Jon was paralyzed she knew she had to protect Jon from her son, the son she still loved and would always love. She could never kill the child she loved, but she could frighten him away and she did that with the Kryptonite.

Her heart breaking inside, Martha had brought out the chunk she'd hidden away so many years before. The Kryptonite acted more swiftly and the pain it caused Clark was much more intense than it had been when Clark was a child. He screamed in agony and he flew away, his mother yelling after him that she would kill him if he ever showed up again. As soon as he was out of sight and hearing distance, Martha broke down and wept hopelessly because of the pain she'd had to put her beloved son through in order to protect his father from Clark's future rages.

For the next ten years the Kents didn't see their child, then the Clark of another world showed up and Martha's heart broke again. He was a good, gentle, albeit powerful being, the kind of person she'd wanted her son to become. She shook her head to clear it. That could never be; her son wasn't like the other Clark.

She still couldn't harm her child, but she had to scare him away again. She had to protect Jon from any further damage he might inflict in a temper and — she thought — Lois Lane as well. She retrieved the Kryptonite along with a handgun from the cabinet. She'd purchased and learned to use the pistol while Clark still lived in Smallville for a short time after she threw him out of their house.

Martha Kent walked out of the den holding the piece of glowing, green rock in her left hand and the gun in her right one. Dropping the album, Clark slid off the sofa and fell to his knees as Kryptonite had its usual effect on him. Horrified, Lois shouted, "Stop it, Mrs. Kent. You're killing him."

"Get away Lois," Martha replied. "He may have fooled you, but he's not the other Clark. He's my son. Only my son could have found that album after I gave him the incorrect location. He's lying about being the other Clark."

"Martha, no. Clark's been the 'Angel in blue and red' who's been flying around since the other Clark went back to his world, the Superman you talked about at dinner."

Martha turned to her son and said furiously, "What's that all about, Clark? What are you getting out of it?"

"I just want to make the world a better place, Mom. I'm just trying to help," he told her weakly.

"Beep. Wrong answer, Clark. Lois," she told her visitor, "he may have fooled you but he's got some kind of agenda. My son doesn't do anything for nothing. Unless it's striking out at others in a fit of temper," she finished caustically. "Clark, I warned you after your actions put your father in a wheelchair that I'd kill you if you ever showed up here again."

"Martha, you're wrong," Lois interceded. "I lied, not Clark. I know the other Clark went back to his own world, and I've known all along this is your son, Clark."

"So you're in on his scheme, too. Lois, I thought better of you," Martha shook her head as she turned the gun on Lois.

"No, Mom, please. Lois has nothing to do with this. She only wanted to help me. She-she's just a-a friend." Clark's fear for Lois was evident as he lifted his arm feebly in supplication. Lois realized why Clark had said he only wanted to be friends. *He wants to protect me. He thinks being involved with him will get me hurt. Oh, my love.*

"Martha, I brought Clark here tonight because I hoped…" Her voice trailed off as she acknowledged that there was no way to breach the gap between Clark and his parents. "Just let us go," she told Martha sadly. "Clark won't ever bother you again. All I — *All we* — ask is that you don't tell anyone who Superman is."

"You can go Lois but why should I let Clark go? What's to stop me from killing him now? It's time I rid the world of the menace he's become," Martha lied, as she turned the gun on Clark once again. Silently praying her bluff would work, she thought, *Please leave now. How could I kill anyone, much less the boy I loved once and still love now?*

"Noooo!" Lois screamed, throwing herself in front of Clark. "Pl-please don't kill him," she begged. Taking Clark into her arms, she told Martha, "I love him."

"You-you do?" Clark asked.

"Yes, you lunkhead, I love you. You, not the other Clark and not Superman," she assured him, knowing full well what he would assume, then she kissed him passionately in front of Martha Kent.

Disgusted, Martha let the gun fall away from both of them and said, "He may have fooled you Lois, but stay with him long enough and he'll revert to form. I pity you then. I only hope he doesn't kill you the next time he becomes angry."

*How little you understand your own son,* Lois thought sorrowfully. *He'd die rather than hurt me — or you or Jonathan for that matter.*

Martha unloaded the gun and put it away in a drawer. Then she put the Kryptonite into a box similar to the one Trask had and Clark immediately felt better. Lois was determined to learn what the box was made of, but now was not the time.

"Just go, both of you. Neither of you is welcome in my house," Martha told them as Lois watched the brief-lived hope die in Clark's eyes. Silently, Lois vowed that she, at least, would never turn away from Clark, no matter what happened in the future.


Lois and Clark were at the front door ready to go, Lois supporting a still weakened Clark, when a voice coming from the direction of the den called out, "This is my house too, Martha." All three whirled around and saw Jonathan Kent wheel his chair hurriedly into the room.

Clark froze, then whispered uncertainly, "D-dad?"

"It's good to see you, boy," Clark's father answered with a welcoming smile. "Come over here so I can look at you."

Clark walked unsteadily over to his father and knelt down in front of the wheelchair. Astonished to find himself enveloped in the weak arms of his father who was murmuring "My boy, oh my boy," Clark broke down and sobbed. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm so sorry. I never meant… I love you, Dad."

His father just held Clark until his sobs ceased. "I love you too, boy," he assured Clark.

Martha broke out of her immobilized state and yelled, "Jonathan, what do you think you're doing?"

"Shut up Martha," her husband replied in kind. "If my son wants to visit, even stay overnight, he can and I will not let you deny him that privilege."

Both Martha and Clark gaped. Jonathan Kent, easy going man and loving husband, had always acceded to Martha Kent's wishes. To see him flatly refuse to do her bidding was astounding.

"Jonathan, have you forgotten that you've been in that chair for ten years because of something your own son did?" Martha was on the offense again, but Jonathan wasn't routed.

"Martha, we don't know that. Even if Clark did cause my fall, I'm sure it was an accident."

"So *he* said," Martha responded bitterly. "Do you honestly believe him? Can you believe anything he says?" Disgust was apparent in her voice.

"*I* believe him," Lois told her adamantly. "Martha, Clark does not lie. He avoids telling you something he doesn't want you to know, but he never actually lies."

"Because he's up to something," Martha countered.

"No! He didn't lie to me once in the six months we've both worked at the Daily Planet. Not even when Perry had to force me to partner with him. Now that he's Superman and has to 'disappear' unexpectedly, you should hear some of the pathetic excuses he gives." She grinned at her partner who, she noticed, had turned red at hearing that. "Perry doesn't believe a word, but he's been so pleased with the Superman stories that Clark and I file, he doesn't question Clark's whereabouts."

Jonathan Kent spoke up again. "I think it's time we put the question of accidental or deliberate injury to rest. Clark, will you sit on the couch and answer truthfully about that day?"

Clark nodded and went to sit on the sofa.

"Humph," Martha grumbled unconvinced. "He'll just say it was an accident like he did that day."

"Martha, sit down!" her husband ordered. Tight-lipped and stiff-backed, Martha took a seat on a wooden chair across from the couch.

*Making a statement,* Lois thought as she went to make her own. She sat down on the couch next to Clark, took his hand and gently squeezed it, affirming that she, at least, supported him. Clark gave Lois a look of gratitude before squaring his shoulders and turning toward his parents.

Jonathan Kent gazed for a moment at the dark-haired young woman sitting next to his boy. She had, he was sure, looked beyond the 'tomcat' and located once more the gentle, loving being that Jonathan and Martha had found in a spaceship in Schuster's field. Silently he welcomed his — he hoped — future daughter- in-law into his heart.

Turning his attention to the matter at hand, he strove to comfort his son. "Clark, I have no idea what caused me to fall off that roof, but no matter how it turns out, remember you are my son and you always will be."

Martha's mouth opened but before she could utter a sound, Jonathan went on. "I remember arguing over you being out all night. And," he sighed guiltily, "shouting that, unless you started acting the way your mother and I expected you to, we didn't want you living with us any longer. I didn't mean it, son."

"You didn't?" Clark asked surprised.

"Clark, sometimes people say things when they're angry that they shouldn't, even to those they care about the most. Usually they get the chance to make up afterwards, but this time…" He shook his head regretfully. "I wish the opportunity for me to say I'm sorry had come then, not now, but I am sorry." Clark said nothing, so he went on, "I remember you saying something about 'If that's the way we, your mother and I, wanted it, you'd leave right away,' then you flew off."

"That's probably when he caused you to fall, although maybe it wasn't on purpose," Martha said jumping on the possibility.

"No, Martha. It was several minutes later that I fell. I do remember getting ready to climb down and walking over toward the ladder, then the ground coming toward me, but after that everything's a blank." Turning to Clark, he continued his narrative. "I woke up the next day in the hospital. Your mother told me you'd left home and were never coming back. Were you so angry that you wouldn't even come to the hospital?" he asked sadly.

"No, Dad. I wanted to come, but Mom… Mom wouldn't let me see you. She said you never wanted to see me again because you were paralyzed, and it was my fault. I tried to tell her it must have been an accident, but she didn't believe me."

"Martha!" Jonathan was angry.

"Yes, Jonathan, he swore it was an accident but after what we learned about his actions at the Johnson's and in the other foster homes…"

Lois remembered the horrible things Mrs. Davison had told her she suspected about Clark's years spent with the Johnsons after Social Services took him away from the Kents. *'A horrible thing… screaming and yelling heard halfway down the street-.' 'Were they abusing him? Beating him?' she'd asked, but Mrs. Davison said 'Who knows? They were doing something, though. The poor child.' No one had helped Clark because the Johnsons were prominent and powerful people. *Just the kind of thing I've fought against these last few years,* Lois thought, gripping Clark's hand even tighter.

Martha Kent went on. "Jonathan, you know what Social Services told us. Clark was considered hopeless, otherwise we'd never have gotten him back in the first place. No one wanted him… because of the accidents… rooms and things catching on fire spontaneously." Then she brought up the most damaging evidence of all. "How about the time Mr. Johnson fell off the stepladder after it 'somehow' caught fire and Johnson wound up in the hospital? That's too much like your 'accident' to be a coincidence," Martha concluded.

As his mother spoke those words, Clark turned to Lois and grabbed on to her like a drowning man. Lois wrapped her arms tightly around him and turned a defiant stare at the Kents.* So that's what 'Mad Dog Lane' looks like,* Clark thought, praying he hadn't done anything in the past and never would in the future to have that stare turned against him. He remembered the Lois of the other world grabbing his tie and ordering 'Superman goes now!' This Lois — his Lois, he hoped — was just as overpowering when she wanted to be. *She's magnificent,* he thought.

Pointedly Clark's father asked, "Do you know if you did something like that the day of my fall, either on purpose or inadvertently?"

"I-I don't remember anything except what you said. I heard you scream from far away and, like I told Lois, I tried to get there in time to catch you, but I didn't make it. You were on the ground when I got there, not moving. I tried to go to you, to take you to the hospital, but Mom wouldn't let me near you. She called the ambulance, and when they took you away… that was the last time I saw you until today. Dad, I just don't know what caused the fall," he said despairing.

"Clark, we know your father was always extra careful when he worked on the roof of the barn. You must have done something to cause him to fall." In spite of Martha Kent's words, Lois heard both uncertainty and sympathy in her tone. His mother wanted Clark to prove conclusively that he wasn't responsible for the accident, but none of them had any idea how to do that after so many years.

"Wait a minute," Clark's father said breaking the painful silence. "When you were a small child, you astonished me and your mother with the details you could remember about things we'd all done previously together. You closed your eyes and it was as if you could see the whole thing clearly in your mind."

"Clark," Lois said excitedly, "You must have some kind of total recall when you put your mind to it. You have to think about when you found your father on the ground. You have to remember everything. It's the only way we can learn what did take place."

Aware this was the only chance they had, Clark closed his eyes and tried to picture the scene. "Dad, you were on the ground. The barn door was open behind you, but all the animals were in stalls or coops. The day was hot and… and the ground near you and in front of the barn was dry and dusty. There was nothing around the yard that could have caused a fall," he admitted miserably as he opened his eyes.

"What about on the roof?" his father asked.

Clark closed his eyes again. "There were a bunch of loose tiles on the right side of the ladder — that's the side you were working on — but none looked like they'd been kicked by someone tripping on them. There was a tool box next to the left side of the ladder."

Martha interrupted. "Yes! I remember wondering why the box was there. I put it away as soon as I got back from the hospital. Jonathan," she told him eagerly, "you never put the toolbox on that side because that's the side of the ladder you climb down on when you're done. You told me so many times how important it is to keep the path clear."

Jonathan laughed, "Martha, don't ever decide to become a detective. You not only make a judgement before you have all the facts, but you clear away all the evidence from the scene of the 'crime' before anyone has a chance to consider it."

Martha turned beet-red. "Clark, I'm sorry. I was so sure that…"

"Mom," Clark interrupted, "I want to believe that dad tripped over the toolbox so very badly… but I can't. Dad, it's like Mom said, it's just too much of a coincidence that a near fatal error on your part would absolve me of blame for the fall. No, I'm just seeing what I want to see, not what really happened," he finished shaking his head.

"What about my memory, Clark?" Martha asked.

"I think maybe you're just remembering what you want to be true too," Clark told her warmly, because now clearly his mother was on the side of the 'jury that wanted to vote for acquittal.'

"Clark." Jonathan's voice was soft as he regained his son's attention. "Little boys of seven or less think their fathers are infallible; young men of seventeen are certain they err constantly. The truth, like the truth in this case, is somewhere in between.

I know now the toolbox was on the wrong side. It was there because I put the ladder too close to the damaged section of the roof. I knew it and I was gonna move the ladder and then the toolbox to a safer position, but Martha sent you out to talk to me and I clean forgot. In my haste to get down from the roof after you left — to tell you I hadn't meant what I said — I fell. Son, you didn't cause the accident — and an accident it was! No one is to blame, not you, not me, and not you either, Martha," he finished so his wife wouldn't blame herself.

Both Jonathan and Martha smiled at their son. Lois embraced Clark, elated at the outcome of the 'investigation.' She could feel Clark's relief as he accepted the truth that he was not responsible for his father's paralysis. Clark's face broke out in a huge smile and both parents were amazed. This, once again, was the delightful little boy from the spaceship, all grown up.

Martha walked slowly toward Lois and Clark and stood in front of her son. Tentatively she opened her arms, offering Clark a hug — the first she'd extended to him in ten — no twenty years. She was immediately enveloped in a grateful Clark's strong arms, as her child whispered, "Mama, oh Mama, I missed you so much" into her ears. Returning the embrace, Martha felt wet tears coursing down her son's cheeks. *Why couldn't Jonathan and I see what Lois saw — that Clark was still Clark when we finally got our child back?* she speculated regretfully. She accepted a loving kiss on the cheek, and, gazing proudly at her boy, said, "Let's finish what we interrupted. Clark, I believe, you wanted to get reacquainted with your father. Why don't you two talk, while Lois and I get some dessert ready?"


"Martha, I warn you I'm a disaster around the kitchen," Lois said, not in the least bit discomfited as she followed Martha into the other room. "What do you want me to help with?" Lois asked, looking lost.

"Nothing dear. Just watch and keep me company," Martha told her, as she took strawberry shortcake out of the refrigerator and put it on a serving plate.

"Martha, really I want to help," Lois assured her, but Martha only put her finger to her lips and whispered, "Shhh."

A minute later, Jonathan called from the hall, "Martha, I'm gonna show Clark around the barnyard."

"Take your time, dear. It'll take me a while to prepare something for dessert," Martha called out as she started bustling around the kitchen, accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Lois raised an inquiring eyebrow, to which Martha returned a wink.

A minute or two after the front door closed behind her husband and son, Martha stopped and leaned against the counter. Smiling she said, "One thing about Jonathan, he always did know how to read my non-verbal clues. Lois, I wanted the two of us to be alone so I can tell you how grateful we both are to you for bringing our boy back to us."

"I'm pleased at the way the whole thing worked out, you know that, but it was for Clark that I brought him here. First because we need some help from you and second…" she continued gently, "because I know how much Clark still loves the two of you."

"We love him, too, Lois. We never stopped loving him, even when we got him back from Social Services and learned about the things he did while he was in foster care." Martha frowned as she added, "When he was a teenager, Clark was wild, unmanageable, and… mean — just mean. When his will was crossed, he wanted to do damage. Maybe not as much damage as he actually did, but he meant to do it."

Sadly Martha told her, "Jonathan and I did everything we knew to turn him back into the boy we once knew, but it was no use! I know now he wasn't responsible for what happened to his father… but at the time it seemed the only explanation.

You see Legal and Social Services could never prove that Clark caused the fires, so they couldn't… put him away, but Jonathan and I knew. We knew about the spaceship and the Kryptonite and, occasionally, even as a young boy Clark heard or saw things no human could have. We thought he was a good, gentle boy who would never harm others, but by the time he was fifteen, we were frightened of him. We still have no idea why he became destructive."

"Martha, given his treatment by the Johnsons, it's a miracle Clark managed to turn out so well, even if he does have a temper. I know, now, that I really understand Clark, that breaking Jimmy's arm was an accident. I wish I could prove it to Jimmy," she finished sadly.

But Martha Kent was more interested in something else Lois had said, "What do you mean, his treatment by the Johnsons? The Social Service records showed he was treated well, given a room of his own, clean clothes, food, even a monthly support check that was much more than Jonathan and I could provide. That's why they took him away from us in the first place."

Lois realized that what Mrs. Davison had said was true. The Kents had no idea what Clark had endured living with the Johnsons. "Martha, please sit down," Lois said. In as sensitive a manner as possible, Lois told Martha about the screaming and yelling Amelia Jones heard coming out of the Johnson house during the time they had Clark. "I don't know what the Johnsons did but Clark exhibits classic symptoms of severe physical and mental child abuse."

"Oh God. Why didn't he tell us about that when we tried to get him to explain why he did those things — setting the fires and all that?"

"Martha, abused children are the most difficult victims to help. They seldom admit the abuse to strangers or even to those who really care about them. Sometimes it's out of love for the parent, sometimes out of fear, but in the worst cases it's due to enduring a type of emotional abuse to which children are especially susceptible."

Lois had some training in recognizing victims of child abuse. Her parents, Sam and Ellen Lane, both physicians and both involved with such cases — an interest which was rare in their world even for the medical profession, had seen to it that their teenaged daughter learned to detect the symptoms of abuse so she could someday aid a victim. They were dismayed when Lois didn't follow in their footsteps, but, loving her, they understood that children have to follow their destinies. Now Lois tried to explain to Martha what she understood about the abuse process.

"As the abuser administers the physical punishment, he or she tells the child continually that it's his or her own fault. The parent is forced to inflict the chastisement because of something the child did. The early infractions are invariably minor but eventually anything the child does is seen as wrong, evil, and punishable in the eye of the person administering the discipline.

As the beatings become more severe, the child begins to believe the parent, and actually starts to yearn for the 'correction' because, for a short while at least, his 'sins' have been atoned for. The victim would rather suffer the pain than have to admit to anyone else that he is actually to blame for it. Worst of all, the child develops a sense of self-loathing which is almost impossible to correct."

"Oh, my! When Jonathan and I tried to get Clark to admit he'd set the fires, we must have reinforced those feelings. No wonder my poor child didn't want to spend time at home with us. We-we thought he had some kind of… uncontrollable Kryptonian sex drive which was manifesting itself."

"Well, he does have quite a reputation at the Daily Planet for going with a new girl every few weeks." Lois actually grinned for a second, then said in a shaky voice, "I-I hope he… he really wants us to be more than friends."

"Sweetie, Clark loves you, really loves you. You can see it in his eyes."

"I love him too, Martha."

"Lois, while I get the dessert ready, I'd really like to hear about my son. I assume the exchange took place last week when Metropolis had those storms."

So Lois told Martha about the week after the other Clark returned to his own Metropolis. She also told Martha about Clark's capture by Jason Trask. "Trask had Kryptonite, but, of course, I didn't know then that was what it was. I followed them, and was able to get into the cell when the single man left on guard went off to check the perimeter. The Kryptonite had already taken away all Clark's powers — temporarily, thank goodness.

Clark… could barely move, and I was going to rescue him until he told me he wasn't the other Clark. I-I couldn't hide my disappointment, so Clark told me that, since he was really the Clark Kent I knew and even h-hated, I didn't have to stay, I could leave and get safely away alone. I think that was when I knew that he isn't the person he's been made out to be, but someone who puts the welfare of others above his own. And Martha, I wouldn't leave a dog in the hands of that madman."

Then she told Martha about how Clark got them away from the four pursuers. "He was pretty weak, but he managed to fly both of us to safety. Later, I-I told him I hadn't been sure he would change places with the other Clark. Clark's eyes turned hard (I actually cringed, Lois admitted) and he said, "Yeah, I came back. Tough luck, Lois."

Martha sighed, "I know! I warned the other Clark that I wasn't sure my son would willingly fly vertically to make the exchange."

Lois continued, "I watched Clark struggle to control his temper instead of lashing out. After a bit, he said, 'It was a better place, especially for me.' That was when I began to hope he just might be the Superman our world needs."

Martha recalled her words to the other Clark. *Our world could really use you. And there's not a chance that *my* son would ever undertake what you've been doing.* Apparently her son was becoming their world's Superman — with Lois's help. Martha Kent was thankful for her world as well as for her child.

Martha laughed out loud when she heard about the French pastries Clark brought into the newsroom, after the fire which turned out to be a trap. "I really will have to let Clark pick up some more," Lois said ruefully.

When Lois spoke of the elaborate trap Trask had set up to make Clark lose his temper and get fired, Martha perceived how well her son had acted under a stressful situation. Clark really was able to control his temper and avoid harming others.

And when Lois spoke of the decision to visit the Kents, Martha knew that Clark had been fully aware it could cost him his life. *It must have taken a great deal of courage to come here,* she thought. But then so had telling Lois to open the box with the Kryptonite in it, when he was in the cell Trask had him imprisoned in. *What an extraordinary person Clark is.*

After she concluded her narrative, Lois asked, "Martha, the box that you and Trask keep Kryptonite in, what is it made of? The box seemed to protect Clark from its effects."

"It's made of lead, Lois, the same substance they use to absorb nuclear radiation. I'll give you the specimen I have along with the box. Please destroy the Kryptonite, Lois; I don't want that horrible stuff anywhere near my son again."

"I will," Lois promised. "Martha, the second reason I brought Clark here was to ask a favor. You and Jonathan, as Clark's final legal custodians, can petition the courts to have his file expunged on the grounds he was a minor at the time. Please, please do that. If Bureau 39 and Jason Trask get those records, they could figure out that Clark is Superman, and come after him."

"Jonathan will handle that, Lois."


"Yes, dear. Since he's been in that wheelchair, Jonathan has become much more socially and legally active. No one pushes Jonathan Kent around anymore." She laughed at herself, remembering the argument tonight. "Not even me. Oh he isn't mean and everything he does is perfectly legal and moral, but Jonathan has learned to use the system instead of having it use him."


After Martha and Lois went into the kitchen, Clark gazed at his dad in confusion. Jonathan just grinned for a moment, then said, "Come on, son, let's go outside. I want you to see the farm and we'll talk, too." As Clark wheeled his father's chair down the hall, he glanced toward the kitchen and noted that, contrary to what his mom said, the dessert seemed ready to serve anytime.

"Dad, what was that all about?" he asked when they reached the barn.

"Martha wanted to talk privately to Lois, son, and she wanted you to know she trusts you enough to leave us alone together."

A lump formed in Clark's throat at that evidence of his mother's trusting love. For a moment, he found speech impossible as he looked around at the neat, well-cared-for barnyard. It was quite a contrast to the rundown way it had looked the last time he'd seen it. Using his telescopic vision, Clark gazed out over the fields and saw row after row of young wheat growing, as well as a thriving orchard. The whole place had the look of a prosperous, profitable venture.

Jonathan saw his son's surprise and laughed, "Not like you remember, huh, boy."

"How-how did you accomplish this miracle?" Clark asked.

"Well, Clark, if you'll give me a lift down to the clearing near the creek, we'll sit a while and I'll explain." Picking his father up in his arms, Clark treated him to a long, slow flight along on the way. Jonathan was thrilled at the view of his farm from above and was enjoying a sense of freedom unlike anything he'd ever experienced. "You are a very talented boy, son," Jonathan said appreciatively as Clark settled his father gently on the ground. Grateful that he'd been able to give his dad this little gift, Clark positioned his dad against a nearby tree and sat down next to him.

Clark still felt guilty because he hadn't been able to catch his dad before the fall paralyzed him, and it showed. Jonathan sighed. He had to help his son come to grips with this dilemma. "Clark, when I fell you were only seventeen. You hadn't had much experience flying yet and, you certainly weren't fast enough to catch me in time. Don't blame yourself for what you couldn't do then."

"Dad, you always know the right thing to say," Clark responded gratefully.

"Not always, son. If I'd stood up to your mom when we got you back, told her I, at least, was sure you weren't 'hopeless,' maybe things would have turned out differently."

"No, Dad. That's past and you can't change it."

"You can't change what's past either, son. And no matter how powerful you become and, no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to save everyone. You have to accept that or it'll tear you apart inside."

"Then what good are my powers, Dad? When I was in the other Metropolis, I learned about the other Clark, what he does, how he lives his life. I wanted to meet him, to be like him. He- he never used his powers… inappropriately, and everyone likes him. I'm not sure I can live up to that."

"Son, I've been reading about what you've done this past week. What you can or can't do — it doesn't matter. You've given us all hope, and that's the most important part of what you can do."

Clark accepted his father's reasoning. Although he would never be satisfied that he was doing enough he would do what he could. Clark knew his father had helped him with this as far as he was able. Any other healing, Clark would have to do himself — with Lois's help, he prayed. Changing the subject, he said, "You were going to explain about the farm."

"Ah, yes. Well, after I became confined to a wheelchair, I had a lot of time to think. I thought about you and me, and I realized that I should have been able to help you, but it was too late for us. You never came back." He held up his hand to forestall an objection on the part of Clark. "I know, son, but your mother never told me she sent you away, so I thought you made that decision because of our last argument.

Anyway, I wanted to somehow make amends for screwing up, so I volunteered to help out at the Smallville Youth Shelter. After a while, I could tell which kids were incorrigible and which ones just needed a helping hand to get back on track. Those were the good kids — like you, Clark — they'd just gotten into one or two minor scrapes with the law — mostly running away from home, skipping school, that sort of thing. Anyhow, I couldn't see putting them in reform school where they'd be thrown together with a really bad crowd, so I petitioned the court to remit a few into my custody. They could live here, on the farm with Martha and me, while they 'paid their debt to society.'

Worked pretty well. The kids learned to repair fences, paint, plant seed and harvest crops, fix and drive the tractors, even muck out the barn, although I didn't get many volunteers for that chore. I got the help I needed to maintain the farm, and the kids learned useful skills and most of all responsibility. By the time they'd served their 'time,' they were well on the road to becoming productive citizens.

After a couple of years, I could even afford to pay my helpers, so we started putting the kids' money into college funds. The money came out of the farm's expenses, so the savings on business profit taxes easily made it up. The whole thing's been a real learning process for me as well. I learned to be a more efficient farmer, raising good cash crops without spending a fortune on chemical fertilizers. Your mother helped a lot, teaching both the boys and the girls how to can and preserve."

He laughed as he said, "Even the farm's horses contribute, although not by pulling a tractor. The kids see to it that the horses get plenty of exercise and we, your mom and I, see to it that they have sufficient personal time, for homework and recreational pursuits like horseback riding in the spring and fall, and swimming in the summer.

The last couple of years, though, we decided not to board the kids anymore. We're gettin' a little old for that, so now we only take those who go home at night. A couple of the other farmers picked up the slack, the younger Irigs, for example."

"That's great Dad," Clark said, trying not to show the feelings of jealousy he felt over other kids getting the benefit of his folks' attention, attention he needed so badly years ago. *You have no right to feel this way,* he told himself firmly. "I guess it's like they say — it's an ill wind that doesn't bring some good with it."

Jonathan, however, could see how forlorn his only son was feeling, so he assured Clark, "Son, I would have traded all of it in a minute to get you back."

"You would?" Clark asked, startled.

"Yeah. I'm proud of you Clark. And not just because you fly around in a blue and red suit helping to make this world a better place. After working with troubled teens, I can pretty much guess what your life must have been like before you were returned to us. Today, I saw in that young woman's eyes that — in spite of everything you've been through — you somehow managed to turn out to be the fine young man your Mother and I hoped you would one day become when we found you in that tiny spaceship."

Neither one felt the need to say anything more for a bit, just enjoying the quiet as people do only in the presence of those they care about the most. But there was something else Clark had learned while he was in that other world. So finally, his voice low so as not to break the mood, he whispered, "The other Lois is married to the other Clark."

Jonathan at last understood what Clark had been searching for when he was out all night, someone to love and to be loved by. He knew Clark had finally found that someone in Lois Lane. "You love Lois, do you, son?"

"More than anything or anyone in this or any other world."

"Then tell her that and make a marriage contract with her. She loves you, too. It shows in the eyes. Son, you can trust Lois," he concluded, knowing how hard trusting would always be for Clark. Inwardly Jonathan cursed the organization that took a happy, contented seven-year-old child away from the Kents, and returned a badly wounded teenager. *There's one more thing that, while it won't change anything that happened subsequent to that huge blunder by Social Services, might help Clark to heal further.*

"Clark, your mom never stopped loving you, not even when she told you that you'd never be welcome in our house. She said that because she was frightened and thought she had to protect me. But all during the time you were gone from our lives, I'd wake in the middle of the night and hear your mom in the living room, crying quietly all alone. After I got strong enough to get out of bed and into the chair by myself, I wheeled it to the door to see what she was so upset about. She'd sit on the couch leafing through that old album of ours with the pictures of you when we first had you, and she'd sob quietly and desperately the whole time. She loves you too, son, she always has."

His eyes on the ground, Clark didn't say anything for a minute. Then he raised them. Clark's eyes were wet with tears as he looked directly at his father and said, "Thank you, Dad."

Jonathan said nothing more. There was no need. After a while, he suggested they go back to the house. "We don't want Martha's strawberry short cake to spoil sitting out too long."

"How did you know she put it out?"

"Son, I know your Mother, so I don't have to see what she's doing to know what it is. She's got to get up pretty early in the morning to put anything over on your old dad nowadays."


The rest of the visit was enjoyed by all, although Martha suggested an early end to the festivities. Jonathan had enjoyed enough excitement for one day, and anyway, he — they both — could look forward to regular visits, since Clark had no need to pay for airline tickets. "Next Thursday, perhaps?" she asked a delighted Clark, who immediately answered in the affirmative, particularly if Lois would like to come along. He assumed Lois was invited, he said to his mother.

"Of course, but there's no need for a formal invitation to Lois, after all, she's family."

That caused Clark a moment's hesitation — were they rushing things too much? Lois soon set his mind at rest by graciously accepting the blanket invitation. "I'd love to come too, Martha," she assured her hostess, while placing a propriety arm around Clark's waist.

Leaving Jonathan inside, the other three walked out to the back porch where Clark spun into the Super suit. Martha's jaw dropped and she stared for a moment at her son. Lois grinned and Clark blushed furiously, but his mother only said, "Perhaps you'd better stay a little while longer, Clark."

"Well, sure if you want me to, but why Mom?"

"Come inside. I have something for you," she told him. Martha led Lois and Clark over to an old trunk that occupied a corner of the living room and opened it. "The baby blanket we found you in so long ago," she told her son holding it up, "and this." Martha pulled out a pentagonal S, the same symbol that was on the Superman suit. A lump formed in Clark's throat when he realized how many years his mother had kept these precious reminders of him. Even after what seemed like an irrevocable breach between them, she'd kept them. *Dad was right.*

Martha turned a critical eye on the suit Clark was wearing, the only Superman suit he owned. He'd been wearing it when he returned from the alternate universe. "That suit is starting to wear a bit son. With this, I can make you more outfits. What's more the other Clark's heavier than you are. Get undressed, and I'll take your measurements before you go so the new ones will fit better."

Lois could tell by the look on Clark's face that he didn't want to undress and be measured by his mother.* Embarrassment or something else? * She wondered, feeling a familiar fierce need to protect Clark. "Martha, the fact that I can't cook doesn't mean I can't do anything domestic. Actually I'm quite a good seamstress, so if you'll just give us the S, I'll make the new outfits for Clark." Laughing, she added, "I even learned to dye leather in girl scouts, so boots won't be a problem either.

Martha gladly turned the 'S' over to her son and the woman Martha, like Jonathan, hoped she would soon call 'daughter.' With plans made to meet for dinner next Thursday, a get- together which all four were confident would be followed by many more such occasions, Lois and Clark took their leave.

A second round of hugs and kisses put the final touches on an evening that had, at first, seemed likely to end in disaster. Instead it culminated in a favorable 'verdict,' and the rebuilding of a relationship that had so cruelly been torn asunder when Clark Kent was just seven years old.


Back in Metropolis, Clark continued his Superman duties, his routine and spectacular rescues faithfully written up by the Daily Planet's Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Even without the Superman stories, a growing readership eagerly read the copy of the hard hitting investigative journalists, and circulation climbed to the delight of the paper's owner, Franklin Stern. A beaming Perry White was certain a major newspaper award was on the horizon.

The single blight on the relationship horizon was Clark's unwillingness to allow Lois to make new suits for him, even as the old one became increasingly threadbare. Whenever Lois brought up the matter, Clark sidestepped the issue. He didn't need a new suit, he insisted in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, and Lois was becoming increasingly embarrassed with each Superhero exploit, not to mention during the weekly visits to the Kents.


A few weeks later, while Clark and Jimmy went to see Metropolis's football team play last year's championship team, Lois and Penny spent the evening at Lois's apartment. The opportunity to discuss Clark and Jimmy was just too good to miss since both women enjoyed talking about their respective men.

Penny told Lois that while she and Clark had gone out together for several weeks, they had been intimate (she blushed prettily) only a few times before his roving eye turned toward the new Daily Planet trainee. "That was before you two became involved," she assured Lois. "I mean there's no doubt he really cares about you. He wouldn't…" She trailed off afraid that she'd said too much, but Lois replied that she was not worried about losing Clark.

Relieved, Penny went on. "That's wonderful, Lois. So how long a marital contract are you two planning on taking out?" She stopped at the look on Lois's face. "I'm sorry, I thought… Stupid me. It's just that Jimmy and I just signed a six month contract."

Happy for her friend and relieved to be able to change the subject, Lois hugged Penny. "So, when's the ceremony?"

"Three weeks from Saturday. We're only having a small get together. If the 'trial' works out well, we may go for a long- time contract to have… you know… kids. Then we'll have a real wedding." She stopped and asked shyly, "Would you be one of my bridesmaids?"

"I'd love to, of course, Penny," Lois replied and the two hugged again.

Lois however was thinking about her own relationship with Clark Kent. She knew he loved her, and she suspected he wanted to commit. She hadn't mistaken the looks he'd given her, both before and since, they'd become partners, she was certain. As the two reporters became increasingly closer, Lois yearned to take their relationship to the next level of intimacy, but Clark seemed hesitant. Lois was becoming increasingly frustrated, and she could tell that, although he rebuffed all her attempts at physical intimacy, Clark too was dissatisfied with the sexual situation.

"He's a great guy, really, Lois. He treats a woman so well while he's dating you, he kinda spoils you for other guys. I think that's why so many of the men resent him, but gee whiz you'd think they'd take lessons, instead. Jimmy did," she grinned. "Once he got over his ego being bruised and called me, well it's been great." Lois, of course, knew that it had been Clark who set Jimmy straight about Penny.


Jimmy had been loudly complaining to a bunch of eager listeners that Clark Kent took his girl, Penny, away from him, then dropped her. Clark was not in the newsroom but Lois was, and she immediately went into 'Mad Dog Lane' mode. Loudly she announced, "Jimmy, cut it out. You have no one to blame but yourself. Clark wasn't responsible for you losing Penny, or Angela, or Bambi, or Mitzi, James Olsen."

Jimmy's mouth dropped open and he stared at Lois unable to think of a response. Lois turned to glare at the onlookers, who, recognizing that discretion is indeed the better part of valor, immediately scattered, leaving Jimmy and Lois alone.

"Lois, I know you and Clark seem to be partners and all but…"

"Jimmy," Lois interrupted, "Clark's breaking your arm was an accident, an accident I caused."

"But he-he was coming on to you."

"No, he just caught me when I fell. I know that now. Clark's been trying to make that up to you for more than a week, but you rebuff every advance." She felt as protective of Clark in that moment as she had of Superman after the fire. "The whole problem with this lousy world is that nobody ever gives anyone else a second chance," she concluded stomping off.

Cowed and somewhat puzzled, Jimmy retreated to the darkroom where he had some photos to hang up. *If I'd agreed to be Clark Kent's photographer when he asked me, someone else would be hanging up my photos,* he thought. He found his mind drifting back over his relationship with Kent.

Clark really hadn't seemed a bad sort when he started at the Planet nine months ago. He'd even brought in a few good stories and James Olsen was starting to like, maybe even admire the new reporter. Then Clark Kent stole Angela from him.

*Face it Olsen, a turtle, albeit a rich turtle could have had Angela if it wanted her. And most of the other girls you went out with, too. Clark didn't steal Angela. She threw herself at Kent, then badmouthed him when he dumped her. Angela prefers to be the dumper, not the dumpee. But Penny was different,* he reminded himself.

*You never had a chance with Penny,* his conscience informed him.

After Angela, Jimmy had happily joined the anti-Kent faction in the newsroom. *And where did that get you?* Perry White had actually seemed ready to give Jimmy some real photo assignments, but, as soon as he started carping about Kent, the assignments melted away. Jimmy Olsen was back to being the Daily Planet's gopher, instead of a real photographer. *And I blamed that on Clark,* he admitted, *rather than my own actions.*

What's more Lois Lane, who Jimmy thought was a really great reporter, became the next recipient of Jimmy's now clandestine defamation. *I gave Lois the 'Mad Dog Lane' tag* he thought mortified, *because Perry partnered her with Clark Kent. They even seemed to be working well together, getting the choice assignments while I got nothing.

At least until the incident in the closet. Now I wonder what really did happen.* He had to admit he didn't burst in on them to rescue Lois Lane, but rather to humiliate Clark Kent. *Lane never needed my help, and both of us knew it. It could have been an accident. Clark must have been pretty startled. And what did he do really? Turned with his arms outstretched and caught me unawares, not exactly a sinister move. Last Thursday, he controlled his temper, didn't hurt me, even though I could tell he was upset. He even took my word for it when I said I didn't know where Lois was.*

Two weeks ago, Clark had approached him as if they were friends, but Jimmy had angrily reminded him about the incident in the closet. Clark looked upset and had actually apologized. Lois, on the other hand, had been willing to go along with the 'new' Clark Kent and the two were partners again. *Maybe it's time I did give both of them a second chance,* he concluded. *I just hope they'll give me one.*

Seeking out Lois Lane, he contritely apologized for his behavior earlier. Hostile at first, Lois thought, amazed, *Jimmy's apologizing?* She'd been sure Jimmy was no friend of hers; after all he was the one who nicknamed her 'Mad Dog Lane!' *He offered to testify against Clark, because he hates Clark even more than he hates me! Could that be wrong too? Did Jimmy really rush into the storeroom and get his arm broken to help me?" Lois decided to accept Jimmy's regrets and was rewarded with a smile of relief from her young colleague. Jimmy went on to explain his attitude toward Clark. "Trouble is, Lois, none of the others mattered but I-I really like Penny."

"Why don't you ask Clark to help you get her back? He's no kind of rival anymore, he wouldn't dare be," she told him with a grin.

"Do you think he'd help me?"

"Can't hurt to try, Jimmy," Lois assured him. "Just make sure you don't… startle him," she cautioned.


Clark Kent was at his desk writing up a city hall press conference dealing with the fire and Superman's rescue of two children the previous week when Jimmy strolled over. Clark looked up suspiciously. "What do you want?" he asked coldly.

Nervously Jimmy responded, "Ah, Lois said maybe you could give me some pointers about how to get Penny to go out with me." He swallowed. "But if you're too busy…"

"Not that busy," Clark replied hurriedly. Then, because it was the first time any of the newsroom staff, except Lois or Perry White (*or Cat, of course * he thought disgustedly), had approached him in a friendly manner, he smiled and offered, "It's almost lunchtime. Maybe we could go for a bite and a talk. If-if you want to that is."

"Yeah, that would be great, CK. You said I could call you CK two weeks ago," he reminded Clark after seeing Clark's startled expression.

Smiling Clark agreed, "Sure, I'd like that."

Jimmy found himself smiling in return. *Wow,* he thought, *Where have you been hiding that? No wonder women fall all over you.*

Lunch proved both agreeable and informative, as Clark explained a few things about how a woman wants to be treated. Later that evening, Jimmy called Penny and she agreed to go out with him. They were an item in a very short time.

At the next morning's staff meeting, Jimmy Olsen volunteered to accompany Lois and Clark on their next assignment. With the partners seconding Jimmy's plan, Perry happily assigned the young man to the story. He was even happier when he saw the quality of the photographs Jimmy, no longer just a gopher, took.

Lois and Clark and Penny and Jimmy became fast friends. Soon the four of them were doing things together both at work and after hours, although Jimmy did have an annoying habit of barging in on Lois and Clark at inopportune times. He would grin in such a charmingly innocent way, however, that they immediately forgave their young friend.


Penny went on, her face a trifle puzzled. "But it is a little strange that Clark won't really get undressed in front of a woman. Not just me, you know. I mean others have told me…"

"Go on, please, Penny," Lois prompted. She had the feeling this was important.

"Well, the whole time we went together, even the few times we enjoyed sexual relations, Clark never once got completely undressed. I mean I did, and he certainly seemed to enjoy looking at my body… and he-he never made me feel, you know, used or dirty or ugly. But, when he took off his own shirt and slacks, he was wearing a gorgeous pair of black silk boxers and a matching sleeveless black silk T-shirt.

Those stayed on the whole time we made love. I know because I could feel them even after he turned out the light and we made love in the dark. That didn't interfere in any way with my enjoyment," she assured her friend. "He's a really good lover, Lois, one of the best I've ever had. And," she giggled, "he didn't tire no matter how many times I wanted it. Afterwards when I asked why he hadn't taken off the boxers and T-shirt, he made a joke, saying 'I'm a little shy so I don't like people to see me without my underwear.'" Penny's face got dreamy thinking about her sexual experiences with Clark. "I'll have to get Jimmy to get a few more pointers from Clark," she concluded grinning.

*It'll be different for Clark with me,* Lois vowed.


A week later, on a Saturday night, Lois drove her jeep up Clinton Avenue looking for a place to park in front of Clark's apartment. Clark Kent, AKA Superman, sat in the passenger's seat tight-lipped and stiff-backed. Looking surreptitiously over at her silent partner, Lois couldn't help thinking, *It's amazing how much he resembles Martha Kent although there's no blood relationship.*

Lois and Clark had had their first big fight earlier that night. When Clark picked Lois up — they had tickets for a new play which had just opened — she brought up the question of the Superman suit. "Really Clark, you simply have to let me make you new ones — that one is practically falling apart. You've almost worn a hole in the cape, and who knows what effect that could have on the flying."

For the first time since they escaped from Trask, Clark's eyes blazed with anger. "I'm Superman and I'll decide when I need a new suit," he barked back.

No longer afraid, (she knew that no matter how angry he became, Clark would never hurt her) Lois responded in kind, and they were soon engaged in a full-scale shouting match. The highly vocal argument ended only when it was time to leave for the theatre. Now they were on their way back to Clark's apartment, the play over, and the argument still unresolved.

In addition to refusing to allow her to make new Super suits, Lois knew Clark was hiding something that was interfering with their relationship. After the conversation with Penny, she had some idea about what the problem might be. Looking over at her silent partner, Lois determined to put an end to today's fight. When they arrived at Clark's apartment, she said, "How about I stay a while? Maybe you could make tea and a late night snack?

"Sure," agreed a greatly relieved Clark Kent.

After they had the late night meal, Lois and Clark sat together on the couch and became passionate to their mutual delight. Clark's kisses soon turned Lois on fire. "At last," Lois thought, happily acquiescing when Clark slowly reached behind her, unzipped her dress and pushed it down to her hips. Lois stood up and, after removing her shoes and stockings, stepped out of the dress. Smiling seductively, she unhooked and took off her bra, then slowly pushed her lace panties down her legs to her ankles. She stepped out of the panties, and stood completely naked in front of the man she adored. Clark watched her proud stance as Lois turned slowly around, revealing herself to him. He returned a smile that left no doubt as to his delight. "Is this why you love me?" Lois asked grinning.

"You really do have a great body," Clark responded, laughing as he pulled her onto his lap, and continued what he'd been engaged in doing. Everything went as Lois had dreamed, until she reached for the buttons of Clark's shirt. Feeling the silk T-shirt underneath, she started to push it up and out of the way, but Clark firmly tugged it back down again. Then pulling away, he reached for the light switch to turn it off and Lois went ballistic. "Clark, I showed you all of me, why won't you show me all of you?"

After giving her a defiant look, but not saying a word, Clark's face turned red with shame, before he turned his gaze away. Lois reached out to him and asked softly, "Clark, what's the problem? I just want to hold you, run my hands up and down your body, and make love to you, fully and completely." Lois's voice was sad and her eyes filled with tears. Receiving no response, she got up and turned away from Clark.

Hearing Clark choke out "Lois," she turned back to look at her love and saw a look of utter despair on his face. Gone was the anger of earlier, in its place was suspicion and mistrust, the look of someone who's been rejected, then abandoned by the person he loves the most. *Oh my,* Lois thought, recalling some of what she knew about abused children and the adults they often turned into. In her mind, she heard the words she'd listened to so often in the lectures she had attended. *The ability to trust is perhaps most difficult for maltreated children to develop. Exploited, battered or neglected, they learn to fear rather than to trust. Inability to trust not only prevents children from developing loving relationships, but makes it difficult for them to seek protection from abuse as well. Children may look with suspicion on a concerned adult's attempts to help. Carried into adulthood, the inability to trust may contribute to marital and child rearing difficulties.i*

Lois sat down abruptly and pulled Clark into her arms. She could feel his body shaking as she swore, "I wasn't gonna leave for good. I love you, Clark, but that doesn't mean I won't ever get angry. Just remember that no matter how angry I get, I'll never, ever leave you." After a pause, she tried to reassure him further. "It's okay. We don't have to-to do this. I-I'll get dressed now and go home. I'll see you tomorrow morning at the Planet," she pledged.

"No, wait," Clark sighed. After unbuckling his belt and unzipping his pants, he stood up, pushed them down, and then stepped out of them. He unbuttoned his shirt and took that off as well. Lois gazed at the black silk boxers and T-shirt, now willing to make love with him wearing them, if that was what he wanted. But after a moment's hesitation, Clark pulled the silk undershirt over his head and tossed it on a chair. Lois saw several scars from cigarette burns on his chest and another from an old rope burn going around his waist. She gasped, and Clark looked away ashamed.

Lois wondered if Clark would be able to go further, but after a minute, he sighed heavily again and pushed the last piece of clothing, his boxer shorts, down over his hips and legs. After stepping out of them, he stood naked in front of her. His head down and his gaze firmly on the floor, he turned slowly around revealing himself to her.

Lois saw numerous marks from whips and lashes crisscrossing his back, and scarring from bruises and welts on large areas of Clark's back, torso, buttocks and thighs. Worst of all was the evidence of terrible burns from scalding using overheated tap water, including the characteristic donut burn on the center of the buttocks. *Oh God, no wonder Amelia Jones heard screaming and yelling from halfway down the street.* Unable to stop herself, Lois uttered a cry of despair.

Clark started to move away, but Lois jumped up and threw her arms around him. Clark's body shuddered uncontrollably for a time. Then finally soothed, it quieted. Gently Lois pulled Clark toward the couch and sat both of them down. In spite of their nakedness, she made no attempt to become intimate as she prompted, "Clark, please tell me about it. I-I have to know."

Haltingly, Clark told Lois the complete story of what his life had been like with the Johnsons. "The first month, at the-the Johnsons wasn't bad but I was so homesick. I cried a-a lot and told them I wanted to go home to Mom and Dad. Then one day, I ran away, but the police caught me and brought me back. Mrs. Johnson thanked the police officer and told him how worried she'd been, but after he left she grabbed me by the hair and dragged me upstairs. She pushed me into my room and warned, 'just you wait until your father comes home…'"

As she listened to the horrifying tale of physical and psychological abuse, Lois silently cursed Mrs. Davison and Amelia Jones. Both had turned away instead of trying to rescue an innocent child from the hell they knew Social Services had thrust him into.

When his confession was concluded, Clark looked away. "Shortly after that incident, I found out I could-could start f-fires with my eyes. The first time, the Johnsons thought the room caught on fire spontaneously because they were both standing near me and the blaze started on the bookshelves across the room. Another time Mr. Johnson came after me with a baseball bat and I-I set it on fire. The Johnsons were puzzled, but eventually they decided it had to be me and the beatings got worse than ever."

"Clark, what about the time Mr. Johnson was standing on the stepladder that caught on fire, and he wound up in the hospital?"

"Yeah, I did that. I didn't mean for him to fall so hard, but I was afraid. Mrs. Johnson was coming over with a ch-chain, so I set the ladder on fire. After that, the Johnsons didn't want me any more. I was about twelve years old then, I believe. I thought they'd let me go home to-to Mom and Dad, but they just sent me to another foster home… and another. None of them treated me the way the Johnsons had, but I could tell the families didn't really like me. They-they'd all been told about the 'accidents.'

I-I kept making th-them happen, taking care that no one was hurt," he assured her, "hoping they'd let me go home to Mom and Dad." His voice barely audible, he concluded. "By the time they did, it was too late. Mom and Dad had heard about the accidents, too. Th-they knew I'd caused them, so they didn't want me either."

"Oh, Clark. They did know about the accidents, but they were never told about the Johnsons."

Clark shook his head. "No, it wouldn't have mattered if they did know. It-it was just like Mr. Johnson told me the first time he beat me."

"What did Mr. Johnson say Clark? Please tell me."

Looking away, Clark told her, "He-he said it would serve the Kents right if they got me back. They-they wouldn't want to-to keep me when they found out what I-I'm really like." After a short pause, Clark went on, "Lois I'm not like the other Clark. He never set fires or invaded people's privacy — well not unless it was necessary for a story — or spied on women by using his powers, not even before he married the other Lois. He never got arrested for breaking the door on… on someone else's apartment or damaged his own apartment. He knows how to act like a gentleman and is even a whiz at science," he finished bitterly. "I-I did those things here and when I was in the other world, too. Well not setting fires, but the other things. I even lied to the other Lois, pretending I knew science so she'd think I could help her to get him back."

"Why Clark?" Lois asked.

"Because I wanted to go to work with her — not-not be cooped up in the townhouse. But that's not the point," he told her wretchedly. "Superman is nice to everyone, to his parents, to his country, and to the world. Me, I have black moods and frighten, even h-hurt people."

"You didn't hurt your father."

"No, but I did put Mr. Johnson in the hospital, and I broke Jimmy's arm."

"Jimmy's injury was an accident," she told him firmly. "Clark, did you ever actually batter anyone else?"

"No, but I still get angry and-and lose control, then I smash things, just like the Johnsons said. I'm not Superman; I could never be him. I didn't fit in the other world and this one won't want me either, not when it finds out that I really am the — the monster that Trask thinks I am. No one will want me," he choked. His 'confession' finished, Clark broke down and sobbed hopelessly.

Silently, Lois held Clark for a long time, just letting him cry. When his tears ceased, she dried his wet cheeks, and said softly, "I want you Clark." Purposefully, she held his gaze and told him, "Listen to me, you did nothing — nothing! — to deserve the treatment you received from the Johnsons. The Johnsons and Colonel Trask and Mrs. Davison and Amelia Jones — they are the monsters of this world — not you, never you.

Clark, you are the Superman our world needs, not the other Clark. The other Clark doesn't understand our world. I doubt he ever could — he grew up in too gentle a universe. But you, you've lived here all your life, and you've experienced the worst of our world, and the best of it too. We need you Clark. Please be our Superman."

Clark nodded. "I'll try, Lois," he promised. "Even if-if you don't want to-to be with me now that you've seen this," he sighed pointing toward himself.

*Is that what you thought, my love, that I — that no woman- could bear to be with you if you showed her your body?* Lois pulled Clark close to her and kissed every scar that she could reach individually, whispering, "Oh, Clark, my beautiful Clark. I love you so much."

Shaking his head in disbelief, Clark asked, "How can you love me, Lois? Mrs. Johnson told me I should be grateful for her attention. 'No decent woman will want to be loved by someone like you,' she said."

Lois's tears started to fall again as she held Clark tightly, and murmured words of love and comfort. Continuing to kiss every part of him she could get to, she whispered, "Hush, my love. It's not true. I'm here and I love you."

Using every ounce of Super strength that he possessed, Clark pulled out of Lois's embrace and said, "No! You-you can't love me, Lois. You must be bitterly disappointed to have to settle for me be-because you can't have him — the other Clark."

"No, that's not it at all. Clark, I spent a whole week with the other Clark, and I like him a lot. He's everything you were told and more, a good person and a good friend."

In spite of his words, Clark's heart threatened to break in two, until Lois added with a grin, "I told you he's a lot like you." Then she turned serious. Putting her hands on the sides of his head, she told Clark, "But he doesn't have a smile that makes my heart do flip-flops, the way it does when you smile at me."

"What smile?" Clark asked, wanting with all his heart to be convinced of her love.

"The one you gave me when I fell off the ladder in the storeroom and you caught me."

"I-I didn't think you noticed."

"I didn't at first," she sighed. "That's why I slapped your face and yelled at you, but when I told the other Clark about it, I remembered. I wish I hadn't done that, Clark. Maybe Jimmy wouldn't have rushed in and…"

"No, Lois, you had every right to react that way. And," he said ruefully, "Jimmy has a knack for busting in at the worst possible moment."

Both of them grinned at this tendency of their friend before Lois continued, "You had the same smile on your face when you woke up from your nap. Your head was in my lap because you were still recovering from the Kryptonite Trask used on you. You looked up at me, and I saw the same expression that time too." Clark had gotten up as soon as he was able, not wanting to force himself on her. She had made it plain months before that she didn't welcome his advances. He didn't know what to say now, so he said nothing, and Lois went on.

"Clark, *you* make my knees turn to water and *you* take my breath away."

"Really, you-you mean it?"

"Yes, lunkhead, I told you I love you. Nothing that happened in the past, or will happen in the future is going to change that. You do get angry, but you can control that. I've seen you do it, and I'll help you. You have so much to give to this world. But Clark, it's you that I love, not Superman." She had to convince him that it wasn't the Superhero but the man beneath the suit that she loved.

Clark recalled how his life had changed since he came back from the other Earth. It had been terrifying at first, being exposed to Kryptonite and imprisoned by Jason Trask; but, instead of dying or worse as he expected, he'd been rescued — by Lois Lane. Even more incredible, she'd kissed him twice that day, the first time on the forehead, and the second time on the lips after he saw her to her apartment door. The next day, after a promising start, he'd been afraid she'd never speak to him again after he was forced to let an abandoned building burn to the ground, a building that was a trap set for him by Trask. But Lois accepted his explanation, and promised to help him be Superman. She even told him *he* was like the other Clark.

After Jeff Simmons tricked him, he was sure she wouldn't even want to be partners anymore, but Lois proved to be on his side, and called him gentle and kind. And she told Perry White in no uncertain terms that 'the partnership stands.' He was afraid when they went to see his folks, but that night turned out more wonderful than he could have imagined, and he knew it was all Lois's doing. Defiantly she asserted that she loved him, risking her life at the hands of his angry mother, who was still convinced that Clark had caused his dad's paralysis. Not that he blamed his parent; he'd been certain for more than ten years that he was guilty. But Lois, — Lois — along with his dad, proved he hadn't caused his dad's fall.

Today, she'd listened patiently as he told about his life with the Johnsons, something he'd been too ashamed to tell a living soul about before. And, in spite of everything he confessed about that time, and the things he did subsequent to that awful five-year period, she said she still loved him. He had to return her trust so he admitted, "Lois, I fell in love with you the very first time I saw you in Perry White's office. It was on the day I was hired. You looked so beautiful and so strong and so good, you took *my* breath away. I love you, Lois. No matter what happens, I'll always love you."

"Clark," Lois told him, her voice thick with desire and her eyes dark with passion, "I want you to make love to me, now, please." Well, that was pretty straightforward. He picked up Lois's still naked body and carried her into his bedroom, where he laid her down on the bed.

Lois opened her eyes some time later, still enjoying the afterglow of their lovemaking. *Penny was right,* she thought as she recalled just how — well just incredible — it had been. *I guess it'll be a while before he's ready for another round* she thought with a regretful sigh. Mr. Super hearing, however, immediately opened his eyes and smiled at her. Fully attuned to Lois's feelings, Clark showed her that she had nothing to concern herself about, as he made love to her not once, but over and over again, that night.


In the morning, Lois got up first. "Clark, don't get dressed just yet. I need to get accurate measurements for the new suit," she insisted.

"Do you always carry a tape measure in your purse?" a suspicious Clark Kent asked.

"Only since you started being so stubborn. I figured I'd better be prepared for any opportunity," she told him grinning.

Clark acquiesced ruefully. *Might as well get it over with. She always has her way anyhow.* But he couldn't resist saying, "I never realized you were so bossy."

"Well, you love it," Lois countered.

"Don't I though," Clark admitted with a grin.

Lois thought, *How wonderful you are, my Clark. You never try to change me. You like me just the way I am. That's so rare.*

Lois managed not to giggle as she pulled the measuring tape tight around Clark's chest, but she lost control completely when she went to write down the dimensions of his waist. Turning back to check her numbers, she saw that the measuring tape had slipped. About to retrieve it, she was puzzled when it was neither on nor near the floor. But when she glanced upward and saw what had impeded the tape's downward progress, her eyes filled with desire.

Not certain how she would react, Clark just stood still, blushing furiously. But when he saw the evidence of Lois's passion, he decided to act on his erotic impulse. In the next instant, Lois found herself once again naked and being lifted up onto the bed.

A short while later, they tried measuring again with similar results. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, Lois thought to read the proportions aloud to Clark, who, thanks to that total recall of his, was able to recite them after the next lovemaking session. After a few more interrupted tries, they got the job done.

Lois confessed to Clark that she was a bit disappointed that she wouldn't need to measure him any longer, but a now comfortable Clark offered, "We really should check every now and then, just to make sure the dimensions haven't changed." Lois giggled, and then she kissed him and left to purchase the required material.

A few days later, after several hurried telephone consultations with Martha Kent, Lois had a new suit ready to be worn. The suit, of course, required a final fitting, "just to be certain no alterations are needed," Clark pointed out. He and Lois spent another delightful evening putting the finishing touches on something, although the suit didn't seem to be that something.

The first time that Clark went out in the new Super suit, Lois was hard pressed not to laugh at the aloof and distant manner he projected as Superman. When she mentioned that to him that evening, he asked if he should try to be more approachable, but Lois told him his Superman 'pose' distinguished Clark Kent from the Superhero in people's minds, and that was a good thing.

"I'm glad," Clark told her, "because the new suit you made me is so tight, I couldn't relax my stance if I tried."

"Your mother told me it cuts down on wind resistance," Lois replied apologetically.

Guiltily, he protested, "No, no. I was only kidding."

"It's a sure thing, nobody's gonna be looking at your face," Lois countered, trying to get in the last word.

"Lois…" Clark protested blushing furiously, and Lois proceeded to reassure her lover that looking at his face wasn't something she wanted to do — at least not just then.


The next few months were the happiest of Clark Kent's life. As he'd dreamed of, he was able to use his super powers to help people, and it felt good. During his now weekly visits to Kansas, he had the two people he'd loved as a child in his life once more. And Lois — Lois was his partner, at work and after hours. She was Superman's helper and advisor too. Whether he was Clark Kent or Superman, he was no longer alone. He had his parents and he had Lois.

At work, Clark Kent walked around with a smile on his face all the time and soon made other friends, although that camaraderie was nowhere near as close as the one with Perry, Jimmy, and Penny. Even his association with those three, however, was limited by the need to keep his Superman identity a secret.

It was only with Lois and his parents that Clark dared be himself, but they were all he really needed. His parents he loved and honored for taking in the orphan alien child, even if he'd been ripped from their gentle care at the age of seven. Lois he simply loved. She was his support and his anchor.

When Lois and Clark stood up for Jimmy and Penny at the brief ceremony accompanying their six-month marriage, Clark longed for a similar commitment from Lois. But he was so afraid of having his happiness pulled out from under him like a cheap rug that he couldn't bring himself to broach the topic. The other Lois had told him it had taken her Clark almost two years to get her to notice him, and, while he marveled at how quickly his Lois had become his lover and confidant, he also feared it wouldn't last. What if she changed her mind about him? What would he do then? Lois was so essential to Clark's wellbeing now that he was terrified at the very thought of losing her.

Lois too was thrilled to be working side by side with Clark as he proved to be the partner she'd dreamed of. With his powers and just a little 'bending of the rules' of investigative journalism, they were able to uncover corruption in high places around Metropolis and solve crimes that even had the police baffled. What's more Clark could really write! When he dropped the sleaze and concentrated on the touchy-feely stuff, while she handled the factual reporting, the resulting stories were award winners.

Perry White was ecstatic when Lane and Kent, 'the hottest news team in town' were nominated for a Kerth, the first Daily Planet reporters to be honored in over twenty years. Scandals, crime, social injustice, personal tragedies: Lane and Kent wrote riveting copy on all of them, and a growing readership responded with increasing subscriptions and rising newsstand sales.

Away from work, Lois and Clark enjoyed a fulfilling sex life. Lois did detect a slight reluctance prior to actual lovemaking, at the point at which it became necessary for Clark to expose himself to her. But after a brief hesitation, he continued, and Lois was certain that, with time, his 'shyness' would disappear.

Lois yearned to take their relationship to the next level, a marital contract, but Clark never brought up the topic. That was mystifying because Lois had no doubt at all of Clark's love. Gone was the stallion on the prowl, somewhat to the dismay of the newer female staff members. Clark Kent never even looked at another woman, while Superman projected an aloof and unattainable facade. Romantically he was all hers, thoroughly and completely.

She was even more baffled when she remembered the look of longing that he'd quickly suppressed that first day, when he told her about the other Lois carrying the other Clark's child. Clark's heart and soul were devoted to her. She could see he longed for a formal agreement and she was certain he wanted children. *He'll make a wonderful father, so why doesn't he ask me to marry him?* she pondered, frustrated.


It had been years since Clark experienced the nightmares he'd endured under the Johnsons and for some time afterward. Now they were back in spades — but different. The first time he had one, he enjoyed the early part of the dream because his nightmare started out so promising. Lois came to him and undressed him, in preparation for lovemaking he was sure. Slowly, seductively she unbuttoned and removed his shirt, exposing first his chest and then his back.

Clark was still a bit apprehensive about not wearing the black silk undershirt and the boxers, but Lois kissed each scar as it was bared. Lois spent several delightful minutes arousing her lover. When she pushed the briefs, white cotton not black silk, down around his ankles, Clark eagerly reached for Lois, but she pushed him away… and Clark's eyes filled with hurt. When he asked Lois why she wouldn't let him undress her, her eyes grew cold. "I need to make you ready first," she told him. "You're not ready yet." In spite of his assurances to the contrary, she pulled out a set of handcuffs and, leading him over to the bed, secured Clark to the bedposts.

"Lois," he told her shakily, "the-these can't hold m-me. You know that."

"Not the adult Clark, but you are a child, a naughty little boy," Lois told him in a harsh, guttural voice. Sadly she told him that he wasn't the man she thought he was. The dream Lois informed him in a cold, mechanical voice that she was sorry she'd made Superman out of such poor material. She had to correct her error, so she was leaving him with the Johnsons. They knew just how to deal with bad little boys.

Clark glanced down at himself and discovered he had indeed turned back into the small child he'd been when he lived with the Johnsons. He pulled frantically on the handcuffs to no avail. "Please don't leave me, not with the Johnsons," a frightened Clark begged, but Lois turned her back on him.

"Clark, I gave you six months to prove you were worthy, but in the end you failed. You came on to me in the storage room and when Jimmy tried to help me, you broke his arm."

"I didn't mean it. It was an accident," the child Clark told her.

Lois sighed despondently. "Your Mother told me you can't control your temper, but at first I didn't want to believe it. Now I know she was right. You become angry, then you hurt people, innocent people like the Johnsons, who only had your welfare in mind when they tried to correct your childhood behavior," Lois told him bitterly. "It was bad enough when you were twelve and you set the fire that landed poor Mr. Johnson in the hospital."

"I-I didn't mean to start the fire. I was afraid because Mrs. Johnson had the ch-chain."

"Don't lie Clark!" she told him angrily. "The fire that injured Mr. Johnson was deliberate. You have to be punished."

"No, Lois, please! I-I'll be good, I promise," he said the tears beginning, but Lois only said, "Now you're the most powerful creature on Earth. We can't have that. You have to be taught the proper way to behave."

"You never called me a 'creature' before," he wailed.

"Isn't that what you are?" she asked examining him as if he were a frog to be dissected. "You pretend to be human — but you're not."

"No, Lois, please you said you love me," he told her, his voice filling with despair. "You protected me from Mom and you rescued me from Trask."

"That was before I learned what kind of monster you really are. Clark, you never learned your lessons properly the first time, and now we have to start all over again."

"Don't leave me!!!" he cried out in anguish.

"Goodbye, Clark," Lois said sadly over her shoulder, as she walked out the door. "You'll never see me again."

Mr. Johnson came into the room shaking his head and told Clark he'd been a bad boy so they had to correct his behavior. In a woeful voice, he said, "We have to administer the punishments all over again because Lois asked us to. She told us we didn't do a good enough job the first time around. And she told us about the vision gismo, too, so you won't be setting any fires," Mr. Johnson said walking over and placing a lead foil blindfold over Clark's eyes.

Clark was even more alarmed at being unable to see a thing and he began to tremble uncontrollably. Mr. Johnson told Clark, "This time we'll take as much time as we need to do the job right and we'll beat you as often as needed until you've learned the lessons perfectly." Terrified, Clark listened to the two discussing him like he wasn't even there, and he knew nothing he could say would stop the punishments they intended to inflict. "I see Lois got you ready for us, so we won't have to spend any time warming you up," Mr. Johnson told Clark. "We can get started right now."

In utter despair, Clark thought *Lois, why did you leave me? I tried to be what you wanted. I tried so hard to be good.* And somehow that knowledge was much worse than the pain from the beating. The dream abuse continued until Mrs. Johnson swung a chain around her head and aimed it at Clark, who gave one last terrified scream, and woke up in his own bed sweating.

Sitting up shaking, Clark wondered if he should tell Lois about the dream, but he decided not to. He was ashamed of himself for having the dream, and deep down inside he was even more afraid that it might someday become reality. *My life will be over* he thought. When he was a child, there was always the hope that someday his beloved parents would come and rescue him. But now that he'd experienced true love, he could no longer endure a life without Lois. He would, he knew, kill himself rather than be alone again, so he kept the dream to himself, praying it was a one-time thing. But that was not to be, as Clark had the same dream over and over, sometimes almost every night, during the succeeding nine months.


Nearly a year later, Metropolis, New Troy, had become a far different place from the city that the Clark from a different world had visited. That Clark had shown Lois and the city what a Superman could do, and her Clark — her super child had done it. He'd become the Superman their world needed, patrolling the skies and present at numerous holdups, traffic jams, disasters, and the like, and their world was changing in response.

Given the example of someone who wasn't always on the take, the police and fire departments quickly 'cleaned up their acts.' The police started to arrive promptly to take perpetrators into custody, arraignments were swift, and justice was meted out in timely fashion. The fire department and emergency services responded quickly, and many disasters were averted without the need for Super intervention.

While it was no longer necessary to pay protection money for those services, the monetary loss was minor to all but the top echelon since whatever money a person had collected went to those higher-ups he had to pay off in order to keep his job. The business community found that no longer having to pay protection meant more money to plow back into business. Prosperous, well-run businesses generated more taxes, so the city coffers grew as well. That allowed the city to pay more money at all levels, and so even the aforementioned top echelon was better off.

With prosperity came the demand for more social services, the populace no longer willing to settle for unsafe homes and ineffectual schools. With the enthusiastic help of Doctors Sam and Ellen Lane, Lois Lane and Clark Kent wrote a hard-hitting series of articles highlighting the plight of the city's abused children. A ground swell of support for reform had already resulted in sweeping local legislation putting teeth behind social services and physicians' efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of alleged child abuse. Metropolis's representatives to the state legislature were drafting similar legislation on that level, and there was even a budding movement on the national scene.

It was Wednesday at the Daily Planet, and Lois Lane was bored. There were no new stories, and she and her partner were at a standstill on the ones they'd been working on. Clark Kent sat on the edge of her desk. He could tell what Lois was thinking and just shrugged. Even Superman didn't seem to be needed — certainly not for anything newsworthy.

The phone on Clark's desk rang. "Hey, Clark, it's a long distance call from your folks in Kansas." That in itself was unusual, since the Kents preferred to call him at his apartment where they could talk freely. Surprised, Clark picked up on Lois's extension. Watching her partner as he listened to his folks, Lois became increasingly worried as his face paled. Clark was clearly upset, so, after he hung up, Lois whispered, "What's wrong, Clark?"

Clark looked around to be certain they weren't being observed, then led Lois into the storeroom. Closing the door, he said simply, "Jason Trask's in Smallville."

"What? Oh my Lord."

"Lois, my parents need me. I have to leave — today."

"Clark, you don't know how long you'll be gone. You can't just go off in the middle of… Well, we're not exactly in the middle of anything right now."

"I have to go, Lois. You know that."

"All right, but *we* go together."

"Lois, no! It's too dangerous."

"For *you* too. I'm going and that's all there is to it," she told him firmly.

Sighing Clark gave in. "What are we going to tell Perry?"

"Did your mother say how they found out that Trask is there."

"Yeah. Wayne Irig told them. He said there were a bunch of EPA investigators digging in his fields. Mom and Dad went over to 'visit,' and that's when they saw Trask. Wayne's farm adjoins Mom and Dad's, out behind the back forty… where the spaceship landed." Sudden realization came as he finished, "Lois, he's looking for Kryptonite. I gotta go now."

"No, you'll only alert Trask. He's liable to kill your folks, and Mr. Irig, too. Besides, he's still has one piece of Kryptonite." *Thank heavens we got rid of the piece Martha Kent had.*

Lois started pacing. "We need a reason to go to Smallville, a cover story." It took Lois only a minute for her fertile brain to come up with a plan. "Come on. Perry's gonna send you and me to Smallville," she told Clark, taking him by the hand and heading for her editor's office.

It wasn't quite that easy, even when Clark explained, "There's this decent guy, a farmer, who gets thrown off his land by Federal agents. Next thing he knows, they're bulldozing his land looking for pesticides."

"Sounds like a story to me, Chief," Lois put in.

"Then let Clark go, Lois. You stay here and work on a real story."

"Keep an open mind on this one Chief. I can see it now. A Planet special investigation, 'The poisoning of America'."

"I see guys in overalls discussing hog futures," Perry countered. "Lois, let the Smallville Gazette handle this one."

"Perry, this could be big. Private property rights vs. the public good, urban vs. rural."

"Lois, you've got that story right here in Metropolis."

"It's the same story, it's the same problem. Except sometimes, it's easier to understand in a smaller setting, a microcosm…"

Perry interrupted her. "Lois, its Smallville! You two are not going and I'm done arguing."

Clark's temper was rising. Lois could see a disaster in the making, and not the one in Smallville, unless she could persuade her boss to let them go. Desperately she played her last card, "Perry, isn't that what the editor of the New York Journal said when his reporters wanted to check out Love Canal? And wasn't that editor thrilled when his reporters nailed down a Pulitzer Prize?"

Perry, too, had noticed Clark's change of attitude. *It's his hometown. There must be more to this than just pesticides,* he thought, getting a glimpse into why Lois was so anxious for her and Clark to investigate. The Pulitzer was tempting, but, above all, Perry White didn't want his second most valuable reporter fired for punching his editor. *It sure wouldn't be pleasant to be hit by someone that strong. Although nowadays, Clark would simply quit.*

He was starting to like Clark a lot, Perry realized, and he didn't want to lose him, both as a reporter and as a friend. What's more, Perry suspected that if Clark left the Daily Planet, Lois would leave with him. *I never thought Lois would fall in love, but clearly she's found someone she cares about more than her work.* "Okay, you two have three days. I expect a phone call tomorrow evening, with a report. If there's no story, you can both hop on a plane Friday, and come back here."

"Thanks, Chief," Lois told him, pulling her partner out the door. After a brief, but highly audible, telephone call to the Kents, during which Clark 'told' his folks they would be arriving in the early morning, Thursday, so they wouldn't be able to have her wonderful fried chicken dinner that night, the two reporters headed for the elevators.

Perry White spent the afternoon in his office with the door closed, trying out some new stress relieving techniques. Just before quitting time, James Olsen came into the office. "Still stressed, Chief?" he asked, teasing his Editor-in-Chief. This too he knew, he owed to his new friendship with Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Jimmy's photos had already been nominated for some awards, and he was a valued member of the newsroom team.

"I'm worried about Lois and Clark, Jimmy," Perry admitted.

"That Smallville story you sent them on?"

"Yeah, I got a bad feelin' about that. I should've sent a photographer down with them."

"I'll go, chief."

"What about the investigation of the Mayor and that call girl you're workin' on with Ralph. That could be big. You could win a photojournalist's award."

"I don't think so. I think Ralph's blowin' smoke, chief. And even if he's not… well, if there's any chance Lois and Clark are in trouble, I want to be there to help them."

Perry knew that Jimmy had hated both Lane and Kent, especially after Clark — accidentally he was now certain — broke Jimmy's arm several months ago. But all three were now firm friends, even making up a small social group with Jimmy's now official spouse, Penny, and he was glad of it. So he told Jimmy to take a morning flight to the Wichita, then a rental car to Smallville. After he got settled, he could go to Clark's parents' farm and find out what's going on.

"I'm on it, Chief."


Lois and Clark arrived at the Kent farm in plenty of time for dinner. "I must say, Lois, Superman Express has a much more convenient flight schedule than the commercial ones," a smiling Martha Kent said, as her son and the woman he adored sat down to eat. She had hinted broadly that no discussions involving Jason Trask would be entertained until after they all had eaten the special dinner she had cooked in anticipation of their arrival.

"So, Mom and Dad, what's going on now," Clark asked, when they finally withdrew to the living room.

"Nothing, Son," his father told him, "and that's the real problem. I'm afraid Trask knows you're coming to Smallville, although I doubt he knows you're already here. After we hung up, I tried to get in touch with Wayne and was told he'd been relocated during the 'cleanup'." Jonathan Kent was angry. "One thing, I checked today with my contacts in the court system, and made certain your juvenile file has been completely expunged. No one else will find out about the fires that way."

Seeing Clark's shamefaced expression, Martha walked over and put her arms around her son. "Honey, we know you only did that because of the way the Johnsons treated you. What's more important, we know you would never willingly hurt anyone, even in anger."

As his mother said those words, Clark felt a pang of guilt, but he pushed it firmly aside. "Sweetie, what's past is past. What matters is the fine person you are now. The only reason we bothered with those old records is because we don't want Jason Trask and his like to find out you're Superman and target you, not because we're ashamed of anything you've done."

"Trouble is Martha, Bill Hentleman told me that, after Trask came up against a brick wall in records, he seemed *real* interested in contacting the Johnsons," Clark's father interjected.

"Oh my. Those-those… Oh, I'm just too much of a genteel woman to say what those two are." Both Clark and his father grinned. Martha Kent was a wonderful person but not a 'genteel woman.'

Jonathan continued. "Clark, Trask first came to Smallville two weeks ago. That was when he tried to get the records. I was pretty sure they'd already been sealed, so when Bill reassured me that Trask hadn't been able to learn anything at the courthouse, I figured Bureau 39 was gonna drop the investigation."

Disgusted, he said, "When he showed up again on Monday, with bulldozers and a large group of Federal agents, I started to worry. They're supposed to be cleaning up the Irig property, as if Wayne ever used poison on his farm. Yesterday, I learned Trask rented the Johnsons' rundown house."

"Rundown?" Clark asked.

"Yeah. Mr. Johnson's business turned bad about 15 years ago; right after his brother-in-law lost the reelection campaign for district judge, and not too long after he and his wife lost custody of you. Johnson and his wife have been pretty destitute since then, and no one in Smallville wants to have anything to do with them." He sighed. "Your mom and I were pretty dumb not to put those two facts together, and figure out that Social Services was covering up something in their so-called reports about the Johnsons as foster parents."

"Not we, Jonathan, me," Martha told him. "You were suspicious from the start, but I refused to admit anything was wrong. After Clark left home, I didn't want to own up to the fact that I might have made a mistake." Turning to her son she said, "Clark, I'm sorry."

"Mom, you said it yourself. What's past is past. It's just so wonderful to be able to come home at last," he choked out, as he hugged his Mother.

Jonathan Kent interjected, "That, coupled with the fact that the Johnsons have been sporting new clothes, dining out a lot lately, and driving a brand new sports car around town, was enough to make me contact Sheriff Rachel Harris, then call you. I'm afraid we have to assume that Jason Trask obtained the information he was looking for."

Clark nodded, before the realization of what his father had told him penetrated. "Rachel's the sheriff?" Clark asked surprised.

"Who's Rachel Harris?" Lois asked. Clark heard the jealous note in Lois's question, but his mother was not as familiar with Lois and missed it completely.

Feeling the need to lighten the somber mood, Martha answered, "Rachel's a year or so younger than Clark. She can tush-push with the best of them." Teasing her furiously blushing boy a bit further, she told Lois, "Clark asked Rachel to his senior prom."

Immediately after she said that, Martha Kent's face fell. "Of course they didn't go. Clark's fight with his father took place a few weeks before the prom, and by the time the dance came around, Clark had… had moved out. After he left home, Clark only stayed in Smallville long enough to finish out the school year. He worked during the summers in Wichita over the next several years, accumulating enough money to spend the bulk of each year at Midwestern University, pursuing a Journalism degree. After he graduated, Clark moved away from Kansas."

"I-I didn't know you knew," Clark admitted surprised.

"Honey, your father and I both kept a close watch on you all those years. Although," she grinned, "I doubt if either of us knew what the other was up to." Jonathan just smiled a knowing smile.

His dad continued the narrative, understanding that both Lois and Clark needed to know about Rachel, especially now, with Jason Trask at their heels. "Right after Rachel started at Midwestern, her father, Sheriff Harris, was killed trying to break up some stupid brawl. Rachel immediately transferred to Wichita Community College and got her degree in criminology in record time. When she aced the civil service exams, the Smallville sheriff's department was forced to hire her as a deputy. A few years later, she ran for sheriff. Everyone in Smallville was glad to be able to toss out that crook who'd been running the department after Rachel's dad died. She's been sheriff for five years now. Rachel really cleaned out the deadwood and put together a fine force. A person can trust the deputies who work for Sheriff Rachel Harris."


After the Kents went to sleep, Clark and Lois sat on the porch, looking up at the stars. "They're really beautiful out here," Lois observed. Not looking at her best friend, Lois said in a small voice, "A great place for a teenaged boy to-to make out with girls."

Clark hadn't missed the jealousy in Lois's voice earlier, so he reached over and turned Lois's face toward him. Trying to reassure her, he told her, "Lois, most of my… relationships turned out to be short-term affairs. I-I haven't been seriously involved with anyone in years — until now."

Lois remembered Penny telling her about Clark's roving eye. *But this relationship won't turn out to be short-term, not with me,* she vowed. "Clark, I-I only had one real sexual affair; with Claude — he was French. He worked at the Daily Planet and we-we became lovers. It was heaven, until the night I told him about a story I was working on. In the morning I woke up alone. Claude was gone, and so was the story," she concluded bitterly. "He won a prize for that story and didn't even thank me."

Clark pulled Lois into his arms, trying to tell her without words that he understood. He knew what his mom and dad thought about his own sexual activities, during the two years after Social Services gave him back to the Kents, so he decided to tell Lois the truth about that. "Actually, I seldom got beyond the hand-holding stage with the girls in Smallville. Rachel was no exception. She and one other girl, Lana Lang, were the only two I really liked."

"Lana Lang?" Lois asked, prompting Clark to go on.

"I'd started going pretty steadily with Lana by the beginning of our senior year, but she always insisted we keep it a secret. We-we could only be together at night, not even looking at one another during the day. We never went beyond the heavy petting stage. Her dad wouldn't approve, she was sure." Lois now knew how Clark's reputation for tomcatting originated. "Somehow, Professor Lang found out about us, and he wouldn't let Lana have anything more to do with me."

Clark's face turned red with shame at having to admit that, but Lois squeezed his hand and murmured, "He didn't know you, Clark."

Grateful again to his wonderful Lois, who always seemed to be on his side, Clark said, "Lana sneaked out to tell me about her father's command. She swore that she loved me. She said we'd just have to be patient, and not see one another for a while. After c-college, she promised we could do what we wanted to do, and we'd get married. We made love that night — the only time we actually did make love. It-it was my f-first time, and it was wonderful."

Clark sighed heavily as he concluded. "A week later, Lana told me we couldn't see one another any more. She said she'd recognized that she really didn't love me, and she gave back my senior class ring, which she'd been wearing on a chain around her collar. Right after the prom, she left school and Smallville to join her dad on an archeological expedition. I never saw her again."

Lois could see the hurt Clark still held inside over that first affair. *In his own way, he was as badly hurt by Lana Lang, as I was by Claude,* she thought. Lois had reacted to the disastrous affair with Claude by throwing herself into her work, essentially swearing off men. Clark responded to his youthful betrayal by having short-lived affairs with every girl he met. Lois pulled Clark closer, and together they comforted one another.

"Rachel was different. Rachel was a friend. I guess being the only child of Smallville's sheriff made it hard for her to be seen as a potential date. Oddly enough, though, after I went to live with the other foster families… after the Johnsons, Sheriff Harris — well… he encouraged Rachel to participate in school-related activities with me. By the time, I was in high school, Rachel and I had become fast friends. Sheriff Harris never once objected.

Anyhow, after Lana gave back the ring, I asked Rachel to go to the prom with me. I knew no one had asked her, and it seemed like a chance to do something with, and for my friend. Rachel was thrilled." He paused for a minute remembering, then turned a look of agony at her. "Then my dad had his… accident, and M-Mom made me move out of the house. It was the week before the dance. I had *no money* to go to the prom; the tickets, the tuxedo, the flowers, they were more than I could afford. I tried to tell Rachel that, but she was convinced that I'd made up with Lana, and we would be going together.

I disappointed Rachel so much, I doubt she'll ever speak to me again," he finished sadly. "After that, there didn't seem to be any reason to stay in Smallville, so I took my senior exams early, then "moved" to Wichita and got a job hauling around heavy materials for a construction company. I was pretty strong by then, so the job was a cinch, but I knew better than to let anyone know that. I took the cheapest apartment I could find, in a rundown section of town, and saved every penny I could for college in the fall.

In college, the g-girls wanted to go out with me, because none of them knew about the f-fires. Pretty soon I was doing what Mom and Dad had accused me of, t-tomcatting around. Lois, all that time and afterwards, when I went out with-with women, I was looking for you. I know that now… and I-I'm sorry I didn't wait."

"Shh," Lois soothed, although she was secretly pleased that Clark had not found a woman who cared for him before he met her. Well, all that was in his past. Clark had her now, and she would make certain he would never need another woman. "I believe you. I know you would never lie to me. And *I love you,* not because of what you can do, but because of who you are. Make love to me now, Clark, please," she implored.

Clark felt another twinge of guilt when Lois said the part about never lying to her. But now was not the time to confess his, he hoped, *little* deception. Not with Lois eager to make love and looking so beautiful in the moonlight, he decided. So he happily complied with her request.


Jason Trask was waiting for Clark Kent to arrive in Smallville. He hadn't expected Lois Lane to come as well, but wasn't displeased. *With the two of them here, Superman will surely follow.*

Trask was desperate. Those two reporters were making a hero out of the alien. Word from Washington was that a new head of Bureau 39 would be appointed next week, one like Thompson, friendly to aliens. Once that happened, there would be no chance to capture Superman, much less dissect him. The aliens would invade, and Earth would be lost, Trask's insane mind was sure.

He now knew that Superman was the only Kryptonian on Earth. After an angry Jason Trask had interrogated Nicky, he'd learned that Lois Lane alone, not a group of alien thugs, had rescued Superman from the bunker. *Too bad I had to dispose of the former guard. That may have been what made the higher ups suspicious.*

'I don't want to study him, I want to kill him,' he'd told George Thompson. Trask had set his mind to destroying the one creature from outer space that was already on the Planet. *Maybe, if they no longer have a contact on Earth, they'll drop the invasion plan.* One thing was certain, time was running out, and he had to act.

Since Lois Lane's background was well known as were those of her birth parents, Drs. Sam and Ellen Lane, (a pair of do- gooders, if there ever was one) Trask had decided to focus on Clark Kent. Trask came to Smallville, where he learned Kent was a foundling who'd grown up in a series of foster homes. He'd been denied access to Kent's records, in spite of the fake warrant he had, but, on a tip from a disgruntled former Social Services worker, he contacted the Johnsons.

Johnson's business failed after Judge Johnson lost the election, and he blamed it on Kent, as if a twelve-year-old kid could have any influence. But Johnson did tell Trask about the fires, sold the information really. Well now he and his slut of a wife were paying him (Trask) back for that, Trask thought with a satisfied smile.

*Is Kent actually the alien?* he'd wondered when he heard about the fires. He went back to Bureau 39's relocated warehouse to search for more information. Nothing appeared in the files, but Jeff Simmons, who'd been left behind to continue the search, located what appeared to be some kind of vehicle among the artifacts. The alien's spaceship, Trask was certain, and now on its way to Smallville.

Determined to lure Superman to Smallville and, at the same time, search for a larger sample of Kryptonite, Trask concocted the elaborate scheme to search the farm of Wayne Irig, under the guise of an EPA cleanup. The Irig property adjoined the farm of a Jonathan and Martha Kent, the couple who had custody of young Clark Kent before the Johnsons. The Kents appeared to have renewed their ties recently with the reporter, so Trask was unwilling to approach them. This, after the adolescent Clark, the Johnsons were sure, had caused the fall that paralyzed Jonathan Kent ten years ago. *The fools, unless Clark Kent is the alien, and is using some sort of mind control on them.*


Thursday morning, Clark and Lois went to the 'EPA cleanup site' on the Irig property. The liaison officer, a Ms. Sherman, assured them that it was only a matter of toxic chemicals leaking into the groundwater. "No big story, I'm afraid." Mr. Irig had been relocated during the cleanup, but she didn't have his address. She promised to try to get in touch with the farmer and have him call the Kents.

Clark was tempted to use his X-ray vision on the tent where all the activities seemed to be taking place but he had as yet no proof that anything illegal was going on. As he'd told Lois, he'd never used his vision to pry into the lives of citizens until he was certain a crime had been committed. *Well, except for peering into the women's locker rooms at college,* he thought mortified. *But that's over now,* he vowed.

When Sherman went into the tent to report, she saw Wayne Irig. "You-you said Mr. Irig had been relocated."

"He has. This is his new location." Trask turned to Irig and said, "Either you buried it on your farm or you gave it to someone. Which is it?"

Sherman pointed out, "The EPA doesn't interrogate people."

"No but Bureau 39 does."

"What's Bureau 39?"

"That's on a need to know basis, and you don't."

"I needed a job, but not this bad. I will not be a party to this," she retorted.

"Oh, I'd reconsider, Ms. Sherman. You see, no one alive has ever quit Bureau 39. It's a… curse."

"No-no. I'm okay with it," a badly frightened Sherman told him. She had a young daughter and this man wouldn't hesitate to strike back at her through the child.

"Good choice! Now what is it you wanted?"

She related the news about the reporters, "They believe me but they want to talk to Irig."

"Perfect! If they're here, Superman can't be far behind."

"Superman! What makes you think Mr. Irig knows anything about Superman?"

Trask, having decided to tell her about his mission, walked over to a large sheet and pulled it off to reveal a gleaming egg shaped vehicle. "This — Ms. Sherman — this was retrieved from Smallville, Kansas, in 1966. I have reason to believe this ship, or one like it, brought the alien, Superman, to Earth."

"So you want to contact Superman?" she asked.

"I don't want to contact him, Ms. Sherman. I want to kill him."

"But why kill Superman?" a puzzled Sherman asked. "He hasn't done anything hostile."

"His existence is hostile. He's the advance guard for a group of alien invaders, sent here to soften us up for the hordes to come," Trask told her.

Trask sent Sherman out to tell the reporters Mr. Irig would be in touch. "He'll contact you at the Kents."


In the phone call that came around 1:00pm, Mr. Irig told them he'd gotten into his Winnebago and gone to visit his sister. He'd been on the road so long, he didn't know where he was, he said before he hung up abruptly.

None of them believed him, especially not his lifelong friend and neighbor, Jonathan Kent. "Nah, that's not like Wayne. He'd have let me know where he was going in case his boy wanted to get in touch with him. I'm gonna call Danny Irig. He's in New York, but I think he'd better return home fast."

Just then Clark got a far-away look in his eyes. "Gotta go," he told them. "A fire in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I'll swing by Washington on the way back and see if I can find out if these guys are working for the government."

"Clark, be careful," Lois told him, giving him a hug.

"I will. Superman has a few friends in the FBI, thanks to defusing that bomb at their headquarters a few weeks ago. You be careful, too, until I get back," he told her giving her a sweet kiss, before flying off in the direction of California.

In Washington, after helping put out the fires, Superman learned that Trask was now a renegade, suspected of the murder of his boss and at least one of the men who had Superman locked up in the bunker. Afraid for Lois and his parents, Clark headed for Smallville and his parents' home as fast as he could fly.


Shortly after Clark left, Jonathan Kent got a call from the manager of the Smallville Arms, who informed his friend that a government agent had walked in, paid the hotel bill, and said not to expect them back that night. When Jonathan related the news to Lois, she pointed out that if they were pulling up stakes, and it sounded like they were, she'd better find Wayne Irig and fast. "I can't wait for Clark's return, they could be gone and Wayne with them or dead." What was worse, she thought, although she didn't tell the Kents, it probably meant they'd found what they were looking for: Kryptonite.

Desperate to protect Clark at all costs, she raced to her car and drove off, leaving two surprised Kents behind. As she pulled on to the highway, Jimmy Olsen, who was about to head down the access road to the Kents, saw her. He turned immediately and followed her.

Lois neared the EPA site, got out of her car, and approached the tents. Unsure how to proceed, she'd only been watching for a minute when armed men jumped out of the trees and took her prisoner. Jimmy had hung behind, and, not being noticed, crept up to a hill overlooking the tents and took out his camera.

"Let me go," Lois shouted, struggling in her captors' arms as Jason Trask came out of the tent. "Trask," Lois shouted defiantly, "what are you doing here?"

"Brave words, Ms. Lane and so many questions, especially for someone in such a precarious position. What are you and your writing partner doing in Smallville, Kansas?"

"We're investigating an EPA cleanup."

"You're not here for your environmental virtue anymore than I am."

"What have you done with Wayne Irig?"

"Let him go. Yes, you see, small town people have strong ties. Anyone else would have given up his contact in a minute, but this man… this man took sodium pentothal, a couple of broken fingers, and he still wouldn't talk. That's when it dawned on me — let him go."

"Why are you here, Trask?"

"I'm looking for the alien. You see, Ms. Lane, Superman's spaceship landed in Smallville about the same time Clark Kent was born. There has to be a connection."

Sherman came out of the tent at that moment and told Trask, "They have a fix on Mr. Irig. He's headed down the access road to the home of a Jonathan and Martha Kent."

"Lois, why didn't you tell me this was a family affair?" Trask asked, his suspicions confirmed. *Why didn't I put it together before, the small ship landing nearly 30 years earlier?* "The time for playing games is over, Ms. Lane. Where's the alien? Tell me and I'll let you live and the Kents too."

Lois, terrified for Clark, defiantly spit in Trask's face. "Put Ms. Lane in the van and get ready to move out. Sherman you help with the cleanup. The rest of you head out as soon as you're done. I have some unfinished business with Jonathan and Martha Kent."

As Ms. Sherman walked back into the tent, Lois shouted, "How did you get into this Sherman? Did they recruit you? Did they tell you, you'd be working for the government. Instead you're just a thug. Is that what you wanted to be — a thug?"

As Lois was herded into the van and the vehicle took off, Jimmy snapped photographs. He was packing up to leave when he saw the woman, Sherman, crawling out from under the back end of the tent. Confronting her some distance from the site, he asked where she was going.

"Away from here and away from that madman."

"What about Clark Kent and Lois Lane? They're my friends. We have to help them.

"I can't help you. Trask's got your friend. He's going to the Kents'. He's gonna make it look like a fire killed them all."

"That'll make you an accessory to murder," he told her.

"All right," Sherman said reluctantly, "I'll go with you."

"Let's go. My car's this way."

"No, we need help. We should drive to town and get the sheriff. Besides the town's on this side of the Kents' farm."

"Right." They jumped in Jimmy's rental car, and he drove into town, parking in an illegal spot when he saw what he was looking for. "Sheriff, Sheriff, we've got an emergency."

"Over here," a young, blond woman called out from down the street. "If it's an emergency, you'd better talk fast."

"Right, there's this guy, he thinks there are UFOs. Well there are UFOs but this guy collects them. And he's got my friend, and if we don't get to her, she's toast. You know how to call out the Army, the National Guard?"


Sherman spoke up, explaining the situation, "Lois Lane, a reporter for the Daily Planet. Sheriff, we gotta get to the Kents' right away. Trask has her and he's gonna set fire to the Kents' barn and kill her along with the Kents and Mr. Irig,"

"Hank, put this car somewhere legal," Rachel told her deputy tossing him the keys. The sheriff and the two strangers got into the patrol car and took off. "Did Clark ever mention me?" Rachel asked as the sheriff's car and several others left town, lights flashing.


Jason Trask and four men burst into the Kent's living room, one of them holding Lois. "So, all three traitors are together. The alien's on his way back from California, after another grandstanding rescue attempt. He should be here in a few minutes. Take Irig, Mrs. Kent, and Ms. Lane out to the barn and tie them up," he told two of the thugs.

"What about him?" the third man asked, pointing to Jonathan Kent. As Lois and Martha were ushered out of the room, Trask took the shotgun the man was holding, and calmly shot Jonathan Kent. Martha screamed and tried to turn back, but she was forced through the door and out to the barn. After they were some distance away, Trask pulled out a gun with a silencer on it and killed the man still in the room. "Can't have any witnesses," he told a dying Jonathan as he pushed his wheelchair over. "The alien has ten minutes to give himself up or the women die," he said as he ran out after the others.

Clark landed at the Kent farmhouse minutes later. "Mom, Dad, Lois, where are you?" he asked before he saw Jonathan Kent on the floor next to his overturned wheelchair. Another body lay next to him. "Dad?"

Weakly Jonathan tried to sit up. "Son, Trask took your Mother, Lois and Wayne Irig out to the barn. He's threatened to kill them if you don't come. Hurry, boy."

"First, let me call for an ambulance."

"It'd never get here in time. My body is riddled with shotgun pellets, son, and there's not enough time for an operation. I'm dying."

"Dad, I-I can melt the bullets, I think, and stop the bleeding too."

"Try it son, there's no other chance. However it turns out, never forget I love you."

Clark scanned his dad's body, located the pellets and atomized the fragments. One was close to a mass on his father's spine, and he had no choice but to disperse the mass as well. Then he cauterized the wounds. Jonathan gave a shudder and collapsed. Clark was afraid that his dad had succumbed; however Jonathan's pulse was weak but steady and his breathing regular. He called 911 for an ambulance and, placing his father on the couch, covered him with a blanket. Then he went out to deal with Jason Trask.

Clark found Trask at the barn. Wayne Irig and his mother were tied up inside the barn. One man was holding Lois Lane. Gasoline had been poured around the perimeter of the barn and in a line leading to Trask. "Just remember," Trask told his prisoners sarcastically, "you give your lives in the cause of humanity." As soon as Trask saw Clark, he gave the signal for the last Bureau 39 van to leave, then ignited the gasoline. As prearranged, the man holding her knocked Lois to the ground and ran to catch up with the van, but Trask shot him in the back.

Clark, meanwhile ran up and, pulling the flames into his own lungs, blew them safely out again into the atmosphere, as Trask looked on astonished. "Don't take another step," he told Trask.

"Those are fighting words, Mr. Kent or should I say Superman? Secret identity, very clever."

"You're going to prison, Trask, for murder, for kidnapping, for abuse of power."

"Oh, but I'll tell everyone your little secret."

"I don't care. This ends now."

"I agree. The question is for who?" Trask told him, pulling a large chunk of Kryptonite out. Clark collapsed in pain. "You think you're better than humans, flying around oh so perfect and superior. Well, those days are over now, aren't they?"

"You're wrong, Trask."

"No, you are wrong. It's over now, and I have won, and this little piece of home is going to be the death of you — Superman."

As Trask turned away, Clark crawled to the Kryptonite, picked it up and threw it against a rock in the pond. Trask turned back. "Very brave and very foolish," he said as he pulled out a pistol. "Now who goes first, you or the human traitors who sheltered you all these years?" he asked, walking toward the barn.

Knowing that if Trask succeeded, Clark's new life and everyone he held dear would be gone, Clark managed to climb to his feet and attack Trask. A struggle ensued, one Clark had to fight without superpowers and still partially under the influence of Kryptonite, but Clark won. Clark pulled Trask to the surface of the pond in which they'd finished the fight rather than allow him to drown.

"Kill me, Superman. I would have killed you," Trask challenged.

"That's not how I work," Clark told him. With relief, Clark acknowledged to himself that it was true. Clark turned his back on Trask and, after locating his glasses, climbed out of the pond. He looked over at Lois, who was just getting to her feet.

Brakes screeching and sirens sounding, three patrol cars pulled up at the edge of the barnyard followed by an ambulance with flashing lights. Sheriff Rachel Harris got out of the first car, followed by James Olsen. Clark's attention was focused on Lois and his mother, so he didn't see Trask, in the water behind him, pull out a revolver and aim it at Clark's back.

"Clark," Lois called out; then "Clark!!!" she screamed as she saw Trask. The Smallville sheriff took careful aim from behind the patrol car, and shot Jason Trask dead before he could get off his shot. Lois ran over to her love and they embraced, each relieved that the other was safe at last from the madman who had been pursuing Clark almost since birth.

"Lois," Clark whispered, "my powers — they're gone."

"Shh. Don't worry. They'll come back."

Released from her bonds by a deputy, Martha ran to join her son and Lois. "Clark, your father — he-he's…"

"No, Mom. He was unconscious when I left him, but very much alive." Calling to a pair of paramedics, he told them, "Mr. Kent is on the couch in the house. He's not conscious but still breathing."

Two members of the medical team grabbed a stretcher and ran to the farmhouse, while the third bandaged Wayne Irig's hand and made him comfortable in the ambulance. The paramedics brought Jonathan Kent outside and guided the stretcher into the ambulance. One paramedic told Martha Kent, "Don't worry, Mrs. Kent. Mr. Kent's vital signs are good. He'll probably regain consciousness before we get to the hospital, but the doctors will most likely want to keep him overnight for observation." Pausing he said in a puzzled tone of voice, "It's a good thing that guy didn't shoot him before he left him." Martha was about to correct him when Clark shook his head, so she said nothing.

"We're gonna take your husband and Mr. Irig to County General. Get in the ambulance, Mrs. Kent. I'm sorry," he told Lois and Clark, "but there's only enough room for one more person."

"No," Martha responded firmly. "Clark will ride in the ambulance with his father."

"But Mom…" Clark began, but his Mother silenced him with a hug. "Clark, I should have let you ride with your father ten years ago. I have a feeling it's you Jonathan is gonna wanta see when he wakes up. Go on, dear. Lois and I will follow in the car as soon as we can."

Rachel Harris watched this exchange. *So, Hank was right. The Kents have settled their differences with Clark, and they're a family again.* She'd noticed the embrace between Clark and the city woman earlier, too. After the ambulance left the Kent farmhouse, lights flashing and sirens sounding, Rachel Harris told Martha with a shrug, "They get kinda bored. You can go to the hospital right now, Mrs. Kent.

We'll have the coroner remove the bodies to the county morgue and clean things up a bit. I'll leave a deputy here until you return tonight. You and Lois — is it Lois?" she asked. Receiving confirmation, she continued, "Your statements can wait until tomorrow. James Olsen, I'll need your statement too, so you can ride back with me. Then I'll drop you at the Smallville Arms Hotel."

"After I take a few pictures for the Daily Planet, if that's okay with you."

"Sure, the coroner won't be here for about a half hour." Jimmy looked a bit sick at that, but he agreed, so Martha and Lois got into her Ford and headed for County General.


Wayne Irig moved to the front of the ambulance to give Clark Kent time alone with his father. About three-quarters of the way to the hospital, Jonathan Kent opened his eyes. "I thought I was gonna die for sure, son. So, it worked? What you did."

"Yeah, but we can't talk about that now," Clark told his father gesturing toward the front of the ambulance. After telling his dad they were on the way to County General, Clark hastened to assure him that everything was all right. "Jason Trask is dead. Rachel Harris shot him in the line of duty, Dad. Mom and Lois will be following us as soon as they can clean things up at home. Mr. Irig's up front. They gave him something for the pain and he dozed off. Are you feeling okay?"

"Better than I've felt since the accident, son. But I am sleepy. I think they put something in the intravenous to make me rest."

"Sleep, Dad. The paramedics think the doctors will want you to stay overnight at least. Don't worry, Mom and Lois should be there by the time they get you settled. We'll all come back together in the morning." Bending close, he whispered. "Trask had Kryptonite. My powers are gone for now, but Lois thinks they'll come back in a day or two."

"You went up against that madman without powers? Son, he could have killed you. Are you all right?" Jonathan Kent's voice slurred as the drugs took affect, so Clark was certain no one else understood what his father was saying.

"I'm okay, Dad. Don't worry," Clark assured Jonathan who had already drifted off to sleep. He gave his father a kiss on the forehead as they pulled up at the hospital. As predicted, the doctors insisted that Jonathan Kent stay overnight, but if he continued to improve, they were sure he'd be able to go home the next day. They admitted him, and, by the time he'd been moved into a room, Lois and Martha arrived. Jonathan was still sleeping but both Clark and the doctor assured the other two visitors that he'd be fine. The best thing they could all do for him would be get a good night's sleep.


Friday morning on the way to the hospital, Clark, Martha and Lois gave their statements to the sheriff. A court recorder was present at the meeting. Rachel Harris was also there, but said little. "Thank you for coming," she told them when they were finished. "I think we can put the case of Jason Trask to rest. After the hospital released Wayne Irig yesterday, his son brought him in so we have his statement as well, and it confirms what you said. I doubt we'll need anything more from any of you again, although we would like Jonathan to stop by whenever he has the chance. You three can leave."

Martha could see that Rachel was actually shaking by the end of the meeting, so she said, "Clark and Lois, would the two of you wait in the car? I'd like to talk to Rachel privately for a few minutes."

"Sure, Mom."

When they were alone in Rachel's office, Martha began. "Rachel, I've known you since you were a little girl, since before either of your parents died. Your dad did a fine job of raising you. You're a good sheriff and a good person. I know he'd be proud of you now."

"I still miss him," Rachel offered, wondering where Martha Kent was going with this. In sharp contrast to her often-formidable demeanor, Martha seemed sympathetic and warm, the way Rachel's dad had described Mrs. Kent to his daughter when she was small. *I don't remember her like this,* Rachel thought. *I wonder if this is the real Martha Kent. If it is, her reemergence is probably due to the reconciliation with Clark after all these years.*

Martha went on, "Rachel, I can see that you're still upset about having to kill a man in the line of duty; although, if anyone deserved killing, it was Jason Trask."

"Yeah," Rachel said in a small voice, in direct contrast to her usual commanding tone.

"Honey, isn't there anyone you can talk to about this?" Martha asked tenderly.

"Actually there is someone," Rachel answered, with a relieved smile. "And he's someone who would understand exactly how I feel."

Martha could tell, by the small smile playing around Rachel Harris's lips, that the man was someone Rachel wanted to get to know a lot better. "Then call him, honey. Maybe invite him to this weekend's Corn Festival. That way you won't be alone all weekend. It's gonna take a few days for you to recover from the shock."

"I don't know if I can do that," Rachel responded, conveying her insecurities clearly to someone as sensitive as Martha.

"Rachel, one thing I've learned recently is that you're better off talking about your feelings than hiding behind them. Call him," Martha told the young woman decisively.

"I will. Thank you, Martha."

"Rachel, there's one other thing I wanted to tell you. Your father insisted all along that my son, Clark, wasn't the type of person to cause his dad's injury, but I didn't believe him at the time. A couple of months ago, I found out Sheriff Harris was right, and I was wrong. I wish I could tell him that, but since I can't, I'm telling you instead."

"I know he thought that way, and I'm glad you told me. I wish Clark and I had remained friends those many years ago, but…"

"There's no way to change what's past," Martha told her. "We can only go on from here. Clark told me that. Rachel, you can't imagine how wonderful it is to have my son back in our lives after so long."

"Maybe… Martha, do you think Clark and Lois will stay in Smallville for the festival?" she asked eagerly.

"I'll try to persuade them. They both could certainly use the rest." *And Clark needs time to regain his powers away from Metropolis and all the cries for help he won't be able to answer,* Martha thought, deciding that Lois and Clark would stay at least through the weekend. With that, Martha Kent said her good-byes and left the office. She'd done what she could for Rachel. The rest was up to the young woman.

Rachel sat in her office for a while, no longer shaking. She'd known that someday her job would require her to take the step of 'executing' someone in the line of duty, but it was still unsettling. Fortunately, as she told Martha Kent, she did have someone she could confide in now, someone very special. She picked up the phone, and said, "I'd like to make a long distance call, to Abilene, Kansas, person-to-person to U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earl Jensen." After a long talk, Rachel felt ready to face things again, but she still had one problem to work out. So she took the rest of Martha's advice and invited Wyatt to come to Smallville for the weekend. She was gratified at how swiftly and enthusiastically Wyatt agreed. He promised to leave as soon as he could finish up there.

"Hank," Rachel called, coming out of her office. "I'm takin' the rest of the day off, and the weekend, too. I'll put in some time at the Corn Festival, though. I think Smallville's police department should maintain a presence. Can you coordinate shifts, so everyone has plenty of time to 'work' during the festival? And make sure you see to it that you're included. You and Sally deserve a bit of time with the grandkids. Oh, and Marshall Jensen is coming up from Abilene," she added blushing. "Do you think you could get him a room at the Smallville Arms for tonight and Saturday?"

"You bet," he grinned. He'd always been protective of Rachel, and he'd been worried about her. Now he could tell, by the excitement in her voice, that she was looking forward to the weekend with this guy she'd met a couple of months ago at the Kansas State Law Enforcement Agencies Conference. He hoped it would work out for Rachel; she deserved someone. One thing was sure, he'd get that room, even if he had to pull strings. *The sheriff's department has pull,* he thought. Fortunately, that proved to be no problem, since the government people had abruptly cancelled the rest of their reservations and left the day before.

Hank was even more pleased when he saw, through the front window, Rachel heading, not for home, but toward Molly's Beauty Shop. Later, when patrolman Foster mentioned seeing the sheriff buying a new dress at the department store in town, he thought, *Way to go, Rachel.*


In the car on the way to the hospital, Martha Kent insisted that Lois and Clark stay in Smallville, at least until Monday. "Your father needs you, Clark, and you're not likely to be flying around rescuing people for a few days. You should be fine in a couple of days, though," she assured him. *At least, I hope so,* all three of them thought simultaneously, none of them as confident as they sounded. Clark agreed, and, without further ado, they headed for County General to bring Jonathan Kent home.

When the three visitors arrived at the hospital, they were told that Jonathan was expected to be released as soon as the attending physician, who would be there in about a half-hour, gave the okay. In the meantime, they could go up to the room and make any needed preparations. Clark unloaded his dad's wheelchair, and they headed up to the fifth floor room that Mr. Kent had to himself, because there was no one else currently in the other bed. On approaching Jonathan's bed, they were all pleased to see him sitting up.

Martha greeted her husband with a relieved hug. She'd been sure Jason Trask had killed him the day before. After the visitors had left the hospital together with Wayne Irig the night before, and were in the car headed back to Smallville, Martha had asked Clark what he'd done. "I saw Trask shoot Jonathan, Clark."

Clark looked anxiously over at Wayne, but Martha assured her son that he would never betray their confidence. That statement was seconded by Lois, who told Clark what Trask said about the Kents' neighbor, after he tried to get him to talk. So Clark explained about using his heat vision to melt the shotgun pellets.

"It's a good thing he used shot, since it melts easily. I was able to zap it quickly, then disperse the remains as microscopic particles that could be attacked and removed by Dad's white blood cells. It wouldn't have worked with regular bullets. I wouldn't even have tried that, if it weren't for the fact that he-he would surely have died otherwise," he concluded, unsure if he'd done the right thing.

"Clark," his mother had told him, "you saved your father and all of us."

A brief period was spent filling Jonathan in on the disposition of Jason Trask's — "that — I won't even call him a man — that creature's body," Martha interspersed. Then Jonathan suggested that Lois and Martha take a walk down to the news shop and pick up a copy of the day's Smallville Gazette. As soon as they left, he told his son to shut the door so they could be alone.

"Is something wrong?" Clark asked anxiously.

"No, son. On the contrary, I think something may be very right for the first time in ten years."

"What do you mean?"

"Clark, when I woke up last night, I could feel my legs. This morning when no one was looking, I tried to wiggle my toes, then lift each leg. Son, I can do it, although my muscles are pretty weak, probably from lack of use."

"You-you mean…" Clark asked dazed.

"Yes, I think with your help, I may be able to walk. I want to test that theory now, while your mom's not here. We wouldn't want to disappoint her if it doesn't work."

Carefully, Clark helped his dad get out of the bed and place his legs on the floor. A shaky Jonathan was able to take several steps, to the delight of both father and Son. With his boy's assistance, Jonathan Kent was able to walk to the nurses' station where the astonished duty nurse paged the doctor on call.

The latter examined Jonathan, then left to consult with the other doctors. He telephoned both the attending physician and Jonathan's own Doctor Craig. Both promised to be at the hospital in fifteen minutes with the needed records.

While he was gone, Lois and Martha Kent came back in the room and were greeted by the sight of Jonathan standing by the window, leaning on Clark for support. "Mom," an ecstatic Clark called out, "Dad can walk." Jonathan happily demonstrated while the women looked on, thrilled.

Jonathan was, however, clearly tired out by the time the doctors arrived, and he was summarily ordered back to bed while they conferred. They placed two sets of x-rays on a lighted display rack, one set taken the previous night, and the other set, taken about a year before, during Jonathan's annual checkup.

Pointing to the older x-rays, Dr. Craig said, "This mass along the lower spine — it's gone on this set we took yesterday. Mr. Kent, we don't know why it's suddenly disappeared, but that was what had been causing the paralysis. With it gone, you should be able to walk normally."

"That's wonderful. But right now, I want to get out of here."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible," the attending physician told him.

"What?" asked an indignant Jonathan Kent.

"You're going to need several weeks of physical therapy to bring your muscle tone up to normal. We want to start that Monday morning."

"Fine, then I'll come in Monday for the therapy, but today I'm gonna go home."

"But, Mr. Kent, you could overexert yourself."

"My son and his friend will be in Smallville this weekend, and I intend to spend the time with them. Clark can see to it that I don't strain myself. He's a strong young man," he insisted, giving his Super son a knowing grin.

Clark could see that his father was more fatigued than he wanted to admit, but he decided the best place for Jonathan was in his own home. He put a stop to the arguments by insisting that the doctors release their patient. "We'll see to it that he gets the rest he needs this weekend," he assured them. The doctors had no choice but to agree, especially when Martha promised faithfully that her husband would be there Monday for the physical therapy and any additional tests they wanted to perform.

The young intern, who'd been on call, mused *Hmm, if some spinal paralysis can be cured by the mass disappearing spontaneously, I wonder if laser or other non-evasive surgical techniques would have the same effect on similar cases.* He decided to devote his career to the study of spinal paralysis, and, in a few years, became a world famous expert in the field, performing near miraculous cures. He never knew he owed his fame to Superman's heroic attempt to save his father's life, after his dad had been almost killed by Jason Trask.

After the Kents and Lois arrived at the farm, they put an exhausted Jonathan Kent to bed. "Lois and I are going into town to talk to Jimmy Olsen, but we'll be back around dinnertime. No fair cooking, Mom, Lois and I will bring take- out." Clark concluded. "We'll just take it easy this evening." He knew his father needed the rest, and, really, they could all use an evening off.

"All right, Clark," a happy Martha Kent told him.

Lois and Clark told Jimmy of their decision to stay in Smallville for the weekend. Jimmy, however, wanted to go back to Metropolis. "You and Penny have plans for the weekend?" Clark asked, grinning. Jimmy, blushing furiously, said, "Yeah."

"Jimmy, you can give some of the pictures you took to Perry. They should be good enough to accompany the stories Clark and I already LANed to the Planet from our laptops, early this morning."

"Okay. Sure you two aren't gonna be bored?" Jimmy asked with a grin.

Clark imparted the news that, "Nah. It so happens, Smallville is hosting the Annual Corn Festival this weekend."

"This is a good thing?" Lois asked, teasing her farm boy.

"Shhurrre," Clark responded in a Smallville accent. "We'll get to see the Corn Queen Pageant, the Husk-Off, the Corn-O-Rama, popcorn, creamed corn, corn on the cob. *We* are in luck," Clark assured her.

"Be still my heart," Lois giggled. *Just being with Clark away from work for two whole days is gonna be wonderful, especially since he won't be able to fly away as Superman for a day or two,* she thought, with a twinge of guilt about that last part. She pushed the guilt firmly away as she led Clark toward the car.


Saturday afternoon, they drove into town to enjoy the Corn Festival. Clark insisted on supporting his dad while his father learned to walk all over again, a few tentative steps at a time. They might not have planned on letting the news out, but when Maisie saw them, they knew it would be all over town before the day was out.

Jonathan was tiring rapidly, so the four of them sat down next to Maisie's lemonade stand for refreshments. Their pleased friend was informed that indeed, Jonathan Kent had regained the ability to walk, although the doctors didn't want him exerting himself yet. Happy for her long-time friends, Maisie turned to the newcomer and asked, "And this must be… Lois?"

Lois, responding innocently, was surprised when Maisie held out her hand and said, "I'm Maisie. How's the writing coming? I love to read a good romance novel."

At Lois's peeved look of inquiry, Clark admitted, "I might have… accidentally mentioned it to my Mother… who may have…"

"accidentally told the whole town," a disgruntled Lois finished.

"Oh," Maisie assured her, "that's just Smallville, honey. Everybody knows everything about everybody."

"What about Clark here?" Lois asked a trifle apprehensively.

"With Clark here, what you see is what you get," Maisie responded to a relieved Lois Lane. It was obvious that Maisie and, by extension, no one in Smallville suspected that Clark Kent was Superman.

After sitting quietly a while with Clark and his mom, Lois said, "Be back soon. There's something I want to take care of."

"Girl never stops working, does she?" Jonathan commented.

"Not that I saw."

Jonathan turned the conversation toward a topic they were all concerned about. "Clark, you can't go all your life with powers and then, poof, they just disappear."

"Well, it's happened Dad. Here, I'll show you."

He walked over to a carnival attraction where a person could try his strength against the already legendary Superman. "Ring the bell and win a prize," the barker called out.

Clark handed him a quarter and, picking up the hammer, swung it with all his current might, but was only able to reach the low 40s.

Lois came over wearing a country style dress she'd spied earlier, decided to purchase, and had hastily changed into in the back of the owner's stall. "Maybe you should try corn husking," she teased, hoping Clark was not upset that his powers had not yet returned. She needn't have worried.

Raising an eyebrow, Clark asked, "What is this?"

"When in Smallville…"

Lois and Clark spent the rest of the day walking around the festival, clearly enjoying themselves. They ate caramel apples, corn on the cob, and cotton candy while looking at the farm exhibits, Lois cooing over the cuddly baby farm animals. They played the arcade games and tossed balls into the hoop game.

Jonathan and Martha spent a good part of the day talking to their numerous friends, all of whom were thrilled at the news that he was no longer confined to a wheelchair and just had to tell him so. Many commented on how wonderful it was to see Clark being so nice. This brought angry stares from Jonathan Kent, so the matter was dropped. They were country folk, and didn't pry into the affairs of friends. Clark and his parents were reconciled, and that was all they needed to know.

During the late afternoon, Lois and Clark spied Rachel Harris, in full uniform, walking toward them. Clark looked like he wanted to bolt, but Lois was walking straight toward the Smallville sheriff, so Clark had no choice but to follow. A tall, blond man wearing the uniform and insignia of a U.S. Marshall was arm in arm with Rachel, and the two appeared to be headed right for Lois and Clark.

"Clark," Rachel called out. After introductions had been made, Rachel asked, "So are you two…?"

"We are," Lois quickly affirmed, placing her arm around Clark's waist in a proprietary manner.

*Well, I had my chance. I should have believed Clark when he told me he had to break the date for the prom because of the cost. But at least we can still be friends,* Rachel thought.

A few more trite inquires into everyone's health were followed by an uneasy silence. Rachel could see that Clark was uncomfortable in her presence, so she prompted, "Wyatt, why don't you and Lois dance while Clark and I talk — old times sake?"

Lois was about to protest, when Wyatt whispered, "It's okay, Lois, trust us." So she allowed herself to be pulled toward the dance platform, vowing to keep a close eye on Clark the whole time. Lois and Wyatt danced several rounds, Lois participating enthusiastically in the barn dancing. The Marshal, surprised at how well the city girl could tush-push observed delightedly, "You can really do this."

"Last year, I had a girlfriend who convinced me it was a great way to meet guys," Lois laughed, not missing a beat.

"Was it?"

"Define 'guys'," Lois told him grinning.

*She's utterly charming,* Wyatt thought.

Meanwhile Rachel, with Clark in tow, approached a nearby, empty table. "Clark, sit please," Rachel said. Clark looked like he'd rather be anywhere else but sitting at a table with *her,* and Rachel grieved for the friendship she'd so carelessly thrown away over so trivial a matter as the prom date. Clark sat down next to her, but he refused to meet Rachel's eyes.

"After you left in the ambulance with your dad, your mother and Lois told me Jason Trask would have killed both of them, and your dad and Wayne Irig, too, if *you* hadn't gotten there in time and stopped him."

"But he would have killed *me* if you hadn't shot him," Clark pointed out.

"True, but stopping people like Trask is part of my job."

*Part of mine too, at least my night job,* Clark thought, still not looking her directly in the eye.

"Clark, please look at me," Rachel said softly. At Rachel's request, Clark sighed and turned his gaze toward her. Rachel told him sadly, "I know I hurt you, Clark, when I told you I never wanted to see you again. I was angry because you wouldn't take me to the prom, and because I-I didn't believe your explanation."

"Why should you, Rachel? No one in Smallville believed anything I told them," he replied, the bitterness evident in his tone.

Feeling like her heart was breaking, Rachel reached over and took his hand. "*I* should have believed because my *friend* — my only *friend,* really, was taking the time to tell me why he couldn't go. But I didn't."

She paused, trying to think of the way to tell him how she felt at the time. "I knew you and I were just friends, and that, even though I was a-attracted to you, you didn't feel that way about me. I also knew you'd been seeing Lana Lang, beautiful, red-haired, Lana… and I was jealous. So… I was certain you were just giving me excuses so you could break the date with me and go with her."

"Rachel, I swear I didn't…"

"Shhh," she told him putting her finger on his lips to silence him. "Hear me out, please."

Clark nodded.

"I was so sure of my 'facts' that I refused to talk about the dance, even to my dad after I returned the prom gown. I told him I didn't want to discuss it, but he could tell that I was upset." When it became evident even to Sheriff Harris, that his daughter was not going to tell him what was troubling her, he gave up trying to get her to open up to him.

"I only learned the truth a few days before school ended for the summer. The seniors had graduated the week before and we juniors were allowed — no expected — to sit together as a group in the cafeteria. You know that tradition. Nothing much was going on, so the twenty or so of us spent the time just talking and, of course, trashing the reputation of certain members of that year's senior class.

Lana, to my delight, (Rachel blushed prettily at having to admit that) was described as snobbish, aloof, someone who thought she was better than the rest of us. In the course of the conversation, I learned that Lana went to the prom as Pete Ross' date." Rachel's eyes went blank as she recalled that long ago dialogue.


The voices, conversing back and forth, were as clear in Rachel's mind now, as they had been that day when she sat, quietly fascinated.

"I hear Ms. Lang left Smallville to go with her dad on an archeological dig. Imagine, a high school graduate without any college under her belt."

"Not much chance of *her* returning here to be a farmer's wife."

"Nah, she would have left even earlier if she hadn't wanted to be prom queen."

"I saw her arriving at the dance in a hired limousine. With that red hair done up, she was gorgeous."

"Yeah, and hanging on Pete Ross's arm, like she owned him."

Before she could stop herself, Rachel piped up with, "I-I thought she went with Clark Kent."

"Nah, she dropped that loser, a month before the prom." That remark was from Jerry Johnson, the son and only child of former Judge Johnson. "Guess her old man found out about her and Kent, and put a stop to that romance," he sneered.

Rachel felt compelled to defend her former friend. "Clark's really a nice guy when you get to know him," she assured everyone. "My dad always liked him, and he's the sheriff, so he should know."

"Maybe, but I guess that's pretty moot right now," one of the girls responded, giving Rachel a smile. "Clark left home and moved away from Smallville the week after the prom. My dad says it's because he caused the fall that put Jonathan Kent in a wheelchair."


"When I learned you had-had left Smallville, I went home and… and finally talked to my dad," Rachel admitted.


Sheriff Harris found his only child sobbing on the sofa, when he came home from work, and Rachel poured her heart out to her sympathetic father.

When she concluded, her dad said sadly, "Oh, Rachel, if you'd only confided in me before this, we could have arranged something so that Clark could have taken you to the dance."

"But, Dad, why would you want me to go out with Clark? Everyone says that he caused Mr. Kent's injury."

Her father's voice got hard and angry. "Rachel, a law enforcement officer does not make judgements on what 'everyone says'." Then he went on in a soothing voice. "As it happens, I investigated that injury the following week. I couldn't find out what happened, no one was actually present but Jonathan Kent and Clark. Mr. Kent doesn't remember anything about the fall, although he and Clark had been arguing.

Clark denied responsibility. He claimed he wasn't even there when his dad actually fell, that he'd gone off by himself. He said that by the time he heard his dad's scream it was too late to stop Jonathan from being injured. Martha Kent blames Clark, and she ordered him out of the house. I couldn't convince her otherwise," he finished with a sigh.

"Dad are you saying that Clark didn't cause his dad's injury?" Rachel asked, desperately wanting to hear an affirmative.

"Rachel, life is never black and white, and sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can't identify the perpetrators of a crime. I just don't know what happened. But I do know Clark — and I don't think he's capable of deliberately causing any injury, much less one like Jonathan Kent has, no matter how angry he was at the time. As sheriff, I can only call it an unsolved case. As a friend, I can say that I believe it was some sort of accident, and that Clark was not responsible."

"Oh, Dad. I didn't know any of that. Clark just told me he couldn't afford the prom, and-and I thought he wanted to go with Lana. I only found out today that Lana went with Pete Ross."

Oddly enough, Rachel's defense of Clark Kent resulted in several of the kids seeking her out during that final week, and extending invitations to swim parties and the like over the summer. During her senior year at Smallville high, she found herself with a group of close friends, even if it wasn't the coolest or the largest group in town. *If only Clark was here to share it with me,* she'd thought so many times that year and afterwards. But he'd left Smallville, it seemed for good, and Rachel hadn't seen him until now.


Feeling that Clark deserved to know, she told him, "Before he died, my-my father told me that he was certain you hadn't caused your dad's injury. He believed you when you said it must have been an accident."

Clark remembered the sympathetic sheriff telling him that, even asking Clark if he could help in any way, but Clark had been too upset over his dad's injury and too hurt at being blamed, so he'd barely listened to the only man who had befriended him.

Clark was silent for a while, immersed in memories of what had been, up to that time, the most horrible period of his life. It was even more dreadful than the five years he spent in the care of the Johnsons. Then, at least, he had the hope that he might someday return to the two people he'd always thought of as his parents. But that option had been lost to him when he was seventeen, and it had been, he was becoming convinced, by his own actions.

After Clark's mother had refused to let him go along with her in the ambulance, he waited at the Kent farmhouse, pacing the floor and becoming more and more agitated. She didn't return home for two days, and when she finally did, she told Clark his father had been paralyzed by the fall. Clark swore he hadn't meant to hurt his dad, he didn't even remember doing anything that could have caused Jonathan Kent to fall off the roof, but Martha wouldn't listen to him. She brought out the Kryptonite, and told him to leave the house, not come back, and not go near Jonathan Kent or she would kill him with it.

Clark had flown to a remote part of the arctic, and sat down on a glacier. He had remained there all night, his thoughts in turmoil. He wanted to die; he wished he'd died during the trip to Earth as a baby; everyone would have been better off if he'd never been born. Most of all, he wished that he'd been the one paralyzed not his dad. *I love you so much, Dad,* he'd thought hopelessly. *And you too, Mom.* But he soon learned the lesson everyone does, that no matter how bad things seem to be, you go on living.

When he'd cried himself out, he returned to Smallville. School became a living hell for him, since his Super hearing soon let him know that everybody in the town was certain he'd been the cause of the fall. Lana gave him cold, angry stares, when she deigned to glance his way, and, after he broke the date with Rachel, her hurt looks were even more painful to bear.

Sheriff Harris had questioned him about his father's injury later in the week, but Clark had been unable to tell him anything. "It must have been an accident," he mumbled over and over again. The sheriff sighed, and arranged, at Clark's request, for the young man to take his exams and qualify for early graduation.

Before he'd let Clark leave his office, Sheriff Harris extracted a promise from Clark that he would try to control his temper. "You do have a temper, boy," he told Clark, "and you're strong enough to injure some one seriously in anger, even accidentally." Clark interpreted that request as confirmation that the sheriff had proof that Clark had caused his dad's injury. All hope of ever returning to the home of the two people he loved more than anyone else died in that moment. Clark left Smallville as soon as he could.

In Kansas City, both working in construction, and later, when he'd attended classes at Midwestern University, Clark discovered that women who hadn't known him as a child were attracted to him. Pretty soon, he became the tomcat his parents had described him as, dating each woman who caught his eye for a while, but soon dropping her for the next.

He had a vague sense that he was looking for someone, but despaired of finding that person, until he saw Lois Lane in Perry White's office. He'd tried to make their relationship different, patiently giving her time to get to know him before making any advances. But that plan went awry in the storeroom, when she fell into his arms and he caught her. He soon learned she wanted nothing to do with him, and his heart broke again.

What was worse, he'd broken his promise to Sheriff Harris when Jimmy rushed in. Startled he'd turned and rushed out of the room, wanting nothing more than to get away from the culmination of the loss of that fragile hope for his future. He learned the next day when he returned to work that Jimmy's arm had been broken, and despair settled in once more.


Rachel saw the look of pain on Clark's face, and she was sure he no longer wanted her friendship. She couldn't blame him, so she said, "I'll go find Wyatt and send Lois back here," as she turned away.

"No, Rachel, wait," Clark told her. He turned her face back toward him and saw the unshed tears in her eyes. He hugged her for a minute, both of them grieving for the lost years. Finally, Clark said, "Thank you Rachel, for telling me what your dad thought. 1-I never knew. You were, and still are, a true friend."

Rachel was grateful for that. She forced down that long ago hope for what, she now knew, could never have been and, smiling, stood up. "Come on, let's join Wyatt and Lois on the bandstand. They're about to start another round, and I want to show him I can still tush-push with the best."

Clark laughed, and happily complied. After a few rounds with Clark, Lois told Rachel they had to find Martha Kent and have some dinner. Seeing the dress Lois had on, Rachel told them she and Wyatt had been invited to dinner at her deputy, Hank's, house, and she needed to go home first and change. Before she left, to assure Lois she had no designs on Clark, Rachel said in parting, "We'll get together, Lois and swap some Clark stories tomorrow."


Lois and Clark got ox dinners and brought plates back for Jonathan and Martha. The beef was succulent and thoroughly delicious, Lois thought; although she suspected the company was what actually gave it the seasoning.

In the evening, Lois persuaded Clark to once more try to hit the bull's eye. This time Clark managed to make it to 48,000. Two succeeding tries resulted in ringing the bell. Clark's powers were coming back! Lois, given a choice between a Superman doll and a black and white teddy bear, chose the bear to Clark's intense delight.

"I don't think I've ever seen you so relaxed, so just Clark," Lois told him happily, as they walked off.

"That's who I am, Lois — Clark," was the response.

True to form, by the next morning, Clark's powers had returned. They learned that fact when he heard far off sirens during breakfast at the Kent farm, and flew to Wichita to help out with a massive traffic pileup on the cross-town expressway.

After Clark left, Lois and the Kents had breakfast together. Martha looked at her husband and Jonathan nodded his agreement, so Martha went into the other room and came back with a platinum engagement ring with a 1.1 caret diamond solitaire. The ring was surrounded by attached dual white gold wedding bands encrusted with small diamonds. "Lois, this belonged to Jonathan's mother. She died before we found Clark, but I know she'd want you to have it."

"Martha, it's beautiful. But Clark hasn't even asked for a short term contract much less a permanent one and a ring like that should go with a lifetime marriage."

"Lois, we don't know why Clark hasn't asked, but we know he loves you and whenever he's worked out what's making him hesitate, he will," Jonathan assured her. "We want you to have the rings until then. You're our daughter and you've brought us back our son."

"Thank you both. I'll take care of it until Clark is ready."

Lois and Clark's parents went to the Corn Festival — Sunday was the final day. Clark joined them when his Super duties had been completed, and another relaxing day was spent by all, although Clark was slightly embarrassed when Rachel and Lois swapped Clark stories. *Just my luck, the only woman in Smallville with any tales to tell, and she and Lois become fast friends.* But he really wasn't upset, especially when it soon became evident that Lois's goal was to protect her partner, even if it was only from embarrassment.

The Kents spent the evening together as well, since Clark could get Lois and him home in record time. "Superman Airways, once again, beats the competition," Lois said laughing. He flew them back to Metropolis and deposited Lois at her apartment, promising to be there in the morning. "We'll drive to work," Lois told him before giving him a passionate kiss.

When they returned to work Monday, Perry complimented them on the excellent story, reading it aloud to the newsroom staff. "And so in the end, Jason Trask's obsession caused him to search for a mythical rock he alone imbued with destructive powers, and to confuse one reporter with the object of his obsession, Superman. It was an obsession that made him see this strange visitor where he was not and enemies where there were none, and, which in the end, for Jason Trask, would prove fatal."


In the late afternoon about a week later, a long distance phone call from Smallville, Kansas for Clark Kent came in to the Daily Planet. Clark had been away for two whole days fighting a typhoon in the Philippines and had gone home exhausted as soon as he filed the story. Sheriff Rachel Harris wanted to let Clark know that the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had been uncovered in the basement of the house Jason Trask rented before he died.

The subsequent investigation uncovered the murder weapon, a 38- caliber revolver with Trask's fingerprints on it. The autopsy, however, proved that the pair had been half-starved and beaten for several days prior to their deaths. "A couple of the neighbors heard screams," Sheriff Harris informed Lois disgusted, "but no one paid any attention to the sounds."

Lois took the message, then powered down her computer and left for the day. She wished she could feel sorry for the Johnsons, but all she felt was relief that they would never again be able to inflict on another innocent child the kind of pain that they had subjected young Clark Kent to. She drove directly to Clark's apartment and let herself in with the spare key. Clark was sound asleep, so Lois, not wanting to disturb him after his two grueling days, climbed into bed next to him and fell asleep.

She was awakened about an hour later by Clark thrashing about. He appeared to be having a nightmare. Listening closely to his murmurs, she was astonished to hear Clark pleading with her not to leave him alone with the Johnsons. Then Clark screamed as if he were in pain and begged Mr. Johnson to stop hurting him in a little boy voice. Lois threw her arms around her beloved and, holding him tight, whispered over and over into his ear. "I'm here, love. I won't let them hurt you. I love you."

In his nightmare, as Mr. Johnson prepared to beat the child Clark, the door burst open. Clark heard Lois order in a voice that was no longer either cold or mechanical, "Release him — now!" Johnson complied and Clark felt himself being enveloped in a pair of warm, loving arms. As Lois whispered, "I'm here, love. I won't let them hurt you. I love you," she gave him a passion-filled kiss and the Johnsons just faded away. Clark awoke to find himself in his own bed, being held tightly in Lois's loving embrace.

"Lo-Lois?" her dazed partner asked.

"I'm here, Clark. You were having a nightmare."

Clark was still shuddering, so Lois pulled him even tighter into her arms. "Clark, the reason I came here tonight was to tell you the Johnsons can never hurt you again. They're dead, killed by Jason Trask."

"D-dead?" Clark asked, not sure whether to believe it.

"Yes, Sheriff Harris called the Planet to tell you. And without Trask, Bureau 39 isn't much of a threat either."

But Clark didn't care about that. There was only one concern on his mind. "You — you said you were leaving, you said I wasn't-wasn't the man you thought I was, and that you were sorry you'd made Superman out of such poor material. You said I was a naughty little boy."

"Oh, my dear love, it was only a dream, none of it was real. You are the man I thought you were, and much, much more."

"You said that I'm mean and when I get angry, I hurt people."

"Clark, you help people all the time. You're generous and good, both as Superman and as Clark."

"You called me a 'creature' and a 'monster' and said you were sorry you rescued me from Trask and Mom's Kryptonite."

"You know that's not true, nothing in the dream is true. Clark, I thought you trusted me. I love you." *What is it, my love?* she asked silently. *What are you keeping from me, that's giving you these nightmares, and not allowing you to take our love to the next level? 'Trust is the hardest thing for abused children to learn,'* the voice in Lois's head reminded her again.

Clark put his large hand along her cheek, caressing it softly, and bent down to give her a sweet, gentle kiss. Then he turned and walked away. His back to her, he whispered, "Not everything you told me in the dream is false."

When he turned to look at her, Lois saw tears streaming down Clark's cheeks. "What Mom said about me — that I would never willingly hurt anyone in anger — it isn't true. Lois, *I* lied to you. Mr. Johnson's injury wasn't an accident. It was deliberate, just like you knew it was in my dream. I wanted to h-hurt him the-the way he hurt me. That's why I set the ladder on fire."

"But you stopped when he fell, didn't you?"

"Yeah. Mrs. Johnson screamed, and I got scared, and ran to the bedroom, and-and hid behind the bed. The Johnsons didn't come near me for two weeks after that. When Mr. Johnson came home from the hospital, he said the Social Services people were going to come and take me away. I prayed they'd take me back to Mom and Dad, but they only took me to another foster home. After that, I always tried to make sure that no one was hurt when I set a fire," he whispered, "but they didn't let me go home for another three years."

"Clark, your father found out that Social Services forged the records to show that you were 'hopeless.' They were afraid to let you go home. If anyone found out what the Johnsons had done, there would have been a scandal, and a lot of them would have been fired. Your dad is working on getting all of those involved to resign or retire. They don't belong in Child Care Services," Lois finished fiercely.

Then Lois kissed Clark's tear-stained cheeks, and said, "Oh Love, no one is perfect. What happened is past. I won't tell you it was right to set that fire or any of the others, but that's over and done with. We can regret what happened, but we all have periods of anger over imagined or real hurt. We all dream of revenge, but most people don't have the power to…" She faltered. Both of them were well aware of the potential for destruction someone with Clark's powers had.

"In a way, it's a good thing you were able to stop the Johnsons. If you'd been an ordinary human, eventually they would have killed you. My Love, for an extra-terrestrial, you're the most human person I've ever known." Understanding at last his real need, she assured him, "I still love you. I will always love you."

Clark felt a tremendous sense of relief. He'd told her the worst, and she still cared for him, but "Lois, I-I want to believe that, but how can you be so sure this soon? The-the other Lois, she said it took her Clark almost two years to-to get her to notice him. We've known each other less than a year and, most of that time, we weren't even friends."

Lois thought about what Penny had told her and understood why Clark hadn't asked her for a marriage contract. "It didn't take me two years because you're not the Clark of another world, and I'm not that Lois. We have our own world, and our pasts are very different from the other Lois and Clark's.

Clark, I think I knew when I first met you what you're really like." Sighing regretfully, she told him, "After the closet incident, I told myself I must be wrong, that everyone else knows *you* better than I do. But Clark, I was sure that *I* hadn't been wrong, that everyone else does *not* know better, after you got back from the other world. Ever since you told me you're this world's Clark, everything — *everything* you've said and done has only confirmed that."

"Lois, I'm so grateful I was able to visit the other world. I learned how their Clark Kent acts, and how much better their world treats aliens — because of him. I've tried hard to be more like him since I got back."

"You've succeeded, love. But that's because in spite of your horrible childhood, you *are* just like him — caring, loving, kind, generous and self-sacrificing."

"I'll-I'll try to be more like him in the future, I promise," Clark pledged. "I'll try to be everything you want me to be. I love you and-and I need you, Lois," Clark admitted in a rush.

At last, Lois understood what it was that Clark feared the most. She would, she decided, put that final fear to rest. Punctuating each word with a kiss, Lois told him, "I know you will. I *love* you, and I *need* you too, Clark Kent."

Lois pulled out of Clark's arms and walked over to her purse. Opening it, she got out the box that held the ring, the ring that Martha and Jonathan Kent had given her during the Smallville Corn Festival. Clark recognized his maternal grandmother's wedding rings.

Returning, Lois got down on one knee in front of Clark, opened the box, and looked her stunned partner straight in the eye. "I love you, *my Clark.* Will you marry me? Not just for a short term contract, but for as long as we both shall live."

Clark's face broke into a smile that dazzled even more than his previous ones. Gone were the shadows from his past. His horizon was filled with the sheer joy of life. It hadn't taken two years, but he was certain now that Lois loved him. "Yes," he responded simply, "for as long as we both shall live." Taking the ring from her, he placed it on Lois's finger.

Then he lifted her to her feet, and floated with her high above the bed. Lois looked down, then back at her fiancZ's face, and smiled in complete trust. Clark laughed out loud, and proceeded to make 'floating' love to Lois, something that no one in his world, except the future Kent children and those they loved, would be able to enjoy.


Author's notes:

The high rise apartment fire scene was taken from a DC comic book from late 1999 — a special issue that takes place when Superman (formerly self-styled 'King of the World) is no longer the beloved hero he'd been. I changed the plot around slightly to fit my story but the reaction of Lois Lane to the crowd's hostility is what that comic book story is about. Who says Lois Lane in the comics is not our Lois? — A loving wife in at least some DC writers' opinions.

In case anyone asks why the jeep is conveniently at the park when our Superman flew Lois there before returning to his own universe, I postulate that she sent him back to the Planet to pick it up — something that would take seconds. Otherwise how was she supposed to get back herself — depend on the alternate Superman that she hates at this point in their relationship?

i Clark, Robin E. The encyclopedia of child abuse / Robin E. Clark and Judith Freeman Clark, introduction by Richard J. Gelles. New York, N.Y.: Facts on File, c1989.