By Irene Dutch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: July 2001
Summary: When Lee (aka Firestorm) is born, Jimmy knows it'll be impossible to pretend he hadn't fallen in love with her older incarnation when they'd been brought together by H.G. Wells. But as we know, nothing can stop two people who are destined for each other from being together, even if it means doing a bit of time traveling themselves. A direct sequel to the author's "Firestorm."
Many thanks to Laurie, Pam Jernigan and Wendy Richards for their wonderful beta- reading, and to Nan Smith and her husband for their help with medical details. I am more grateful than I can say for your assistance. And, of course, thanks to the readers at Zoom's message boards for all your support and encouragement, and thanks to my archive editor, Erin Klingler, for all her hard work.
Also, thank you, Marilyn, Chris and Jude, for your fantastic tacky suggestions for the Las Vegas portion of this story.
This story is a direct sequel to Firestorm. Chronologically, this starts about two months after the ending of Hiding in the Shadows.
All standard disclaimers apply.
Jimmy perched awkwardly on the edge of his sofa, not even noticing how uncomfortable he was. He gazed off into space, his hands sprawled limply across his thighs. It wasn't dawn yet, but he didn't turn on a light, instead preferring to sit and commune with his memories, with the ghost of memories, in the dark security of his apartment. He sat for hours, unmoving, abstracted. The sky lightened, the streetlights switched off, and he could sense the city awakening around him, but he couldn't gather the energy to move. His apartment was warm; even so, he felt chilled to the bone.
A tapping sound drew his attention away from the abstraction of his thoughts. He wearily pushed himself to his feet and shuffled over to shove open his window.
"Hi," Jimmy said matter-of-factly, stepping back so Superman could enter his small apartment.
"Hi," Clark said quietly in response. Uncharacteristically, he didn't look at his friend directly; instead his eyes were downcast. It was as if something were restraining him from acting normally.
Jimmy ambled back to the small couch and threw himself down, gesturing at the easy chair opposite. Clark sat down, arranging his cape carefully as he did so.
"It's okay," Jimmy assured him. "I already know."
"You know? You know that Sam and Astrid had their baby this morning?"
Jimmy nodded. "I felt it. I was sleeping, and I woke up, and I just knew. About three hours ago, right?"
Clark stared at him in disbelief. "Almost exactly." He shook his head. "Jimmy, that's… that's scary."
"Tell me about it," Jimmy agreed glumly, staring at his neatly folded hands lying limply in his lap. "I don't want to feel some kind of weird cosmic connection to a newborn infant. That's just plain sick."
Clark solemnly regarded his morose friend. "Jimmy…"
The younger man held up his hand, cutting off Clark's words. "I appreciate you coming to tell me; I really do. But I don't want to talk about this." Jimmy stared at Clark, an uncharacteristic steeliness to his features. "I'm not trying to be rude or anything, but I just want to be alone."
Clark nodded grimly. He stood up and moved back to the open window. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Jimmy inclined his head in answer.
Clark gazed at him for a long moment before turning and launching himself into the early morning sky.
Poker-faced, Jimmy watched his friend leave in a bright swirl of colours. His outer appearance was remarkably calm, but inside, Jimmy was a seething mass of contradictory emotions, all jumbled together.
Slowly, his shaking hand fumbled out to touch the ever-present portrait of Lee that he kept close. "I can't do this," he whispered through tightly clenched teeth. "Lee, I will never stop loving you, but I just can't do this."
"Uncle Jimmy hasn't been here yet," Astrid called through her hospital room's bathroom door.
"I'm sure he'll show up eventually," Bernie Klein shouted back to his daughter, not sure if his words were true or not.
Jimmy had been struggling silently with his emotions over the course of this pregnancy. Bernie, too, had had mixed feelings about this child. It had felt strange knowing so much about Lee that Sam and Astrid didn't. It had felt strange knowing what name they would pick before they did; it had felt strange knowing that they were having a girl before the tests showed this to be true. And knowing that this baby, this tiny scrap of humanity, was going to grow up to be the vibrant, loving, intelligent woman that he had known in the past and missed more than he would have believed possible, well, it just didn't seem real. How must it seem for Jimmy? Would he see traces of the woman he loved every time he looked at this tiny baby?
Bernie intently studied the sleeping infant cradled securely in his arms. She was beautiful. Her skin was creamy and fresh and almost translucent with a pearly sheen to it. Right now they were closed, but open, her eyes were bright and interested and piercing. He had never seen a newborn before who seemed so alert to everything going on around her. She was almost bald, a tiny bit of auburn fuzz the exact colour of Astrid's the only thing keeping her from that status.
He shifted her slightly, settling her a little bit more comfortably in his grasp. Her little rosebud mouth pursed into a tight bow at the movement and then relaxed once more. A warm wave of affection for the sleeping child rushed through Bernie, and for the umpteenth time that day, he blinked back sentimental tears.
As he watched in wonder, her eyelids fluttered, and then, suddenly, her eyes were open. Her gaze locked on his; it felt as though she were looking at his very soul. Her little mouth formed the newborn 'O' of astonishment — an expression he remembered vividly from the time of Astrid's infancy.
"I love you, sweetheart," he said softly.
Her eyes shifted, intently watching his mouth form the words, before moving back to meet his gaze once more.
"You're beautiful," he told her proudly, glad to have this short moment alone with his new granddaughter.
Sam had headed home for a few hours sleep. Even superheroes had their limits as Sam had learned after being with Astrid for over thirty-six hours of labour. That wouldn't have been so bad — for Sam, at least — except that he'd spent the forty- five hours prior to that battling against mudslides in Peru and Ecuador. He'd been exhausted, but even so, Bernie fully expected his son-in-law to show up sometime soon in order to pamper Astrid and Lee.
"She really is gorgeous, isn't she?" Astrid said as she emerged from the bathroom, her expression softening the instant she caught sight of her baby.
Bernie smiled tenderly at his daughter as she lifted little Lee from his arms. "Of course she is. She looks just like her mother."
Astrid smiled back. "I think you might be a bit biased, Dad." She gazed down at Lee, a bewildered, proud, surprised expression on her face. "You know, I still can't believe that I'm a mother. For nine and a half months, I was so completely focused on being pregnant. I had to be careful to keep my feet up because I was pregnant. I was tired all the time because I was pregnant. And now, suddenly, I'm not pregnant any more, and I have this brand new baby, and I haven't got a clue what to do to look after her, and I'm terrified!"
Bernie laughed. "It is amazing how changed your life is by something that doesn't even weigh as much as a Christmas turkey! Wait till you want to go on an outing with her. You have to take diapers and wipes and toys and the stroller and a change of clothing in case she spits up, and believe me, that's just the short list! There's more."
Astrid mock-glared at him. "Stop! Don't scare me; I'm already scared enough!"
He grinned. "It's okay, sweetheart. You know that you and Sam have a ton of willing helpers just waiting to pamper this little darling." He looked up as the door opened. "Here's one of them now!"
Jon grinned as he inched into the room. "Is it safe to come in? My niece isn't in the middle of breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack-time, is she?"
Astrid giggled. "Not to worry. The milk- bar is temporarily closed."
"Whew!" Jon wiped his brow in a feigned display of relief before sauntering over to gaze down at the infant. "Cute little thing, isn't she?" He looked at his sister-in-law and grinned. "You know I love you like a sister, Astrid, but I'm not ready for you to let everything hang out in front of me."
"Hey! I use a blanket to cover things up. I'll have you know that I have my moves down pat. No one can see anything," Astrid protested indignantly.
"She's right, Jon. Of course, I'm still surprised that Lee could breathe with all the layers protecting the two of them from prying eyes!" Bernie added helpfully.
As Astrid sputtered and stammered, the two men burst into laughter. It wasn't often that Bernie indulged in teasing his little girl, but he always enjoyed it when he managed to get her going.
Astrid finally gave up her protests and joined in, giggling at her own discomfiture. So, it was a happy room that greeted him when Jimmy tentatively pushed open the door.
"Uncle Jimmy!" Astrid cried out, sliding gingerly from the bed, passing Lee to her father, and eagerly beckoning him into the room. "Come and see her! Come and see my beautiful girl!"
Bernie watched as Jimmy, his teeth clenched in a parody of a smile, moved reluctantly closer. Astrid took her daughter back and turned to present her to Jimmy. His arms automatically extended, and Astrid gently placed the precious bundle therein. It was fascinating to watch Jimmy's expression soften as he gazed down at the baby with awe-filled eyes. He shifted his grip, freeing his right hand, and traced her tiny features with one shaking forefinger.
"She's beautiful," Jimmy said quietly. "Perfect." He gently smoothed her blanket. One tiny hand came free and clutched at his finger, the little fist dwarfed at its size. Jimmy's gaze shifted to Bernie Klein, and, as he watched, Bernie could see confusion and desperation and above all panic, fill his friend's eyes.
"I, uh, I think it's Jon's turn to hold… Lee," Jimmy blurted out, his final word chopped short in a half-choking gasp. He thrust her towards Jon who carefully slid his arms underneath to take her from Jimmy's grasp. "I can't, um, stay long," Jimmy continued, turning to Astrid. "I have to go… Things are piled up at the office… She's beautiful, honey," Jimmy said as he quickly hugged Astrid. "Bye, everyone. I'll be back later." And just like that, Jimmy was gone, and the three other adults in the room were left staring at each other in an uncomfortable silence.
"I'm going to go, too, sweetheart," Bernie said hastily, as he jumped to his feet. "Sam'll be here soon, and you've got Jon to visit with you, and I wouldn't be surprised if Perry and Alice or Lois and Clark are along soon, too, so I'll see you later." And with a cheery wave at Jon and with quick, but fervent pecks on the cheeks for his daughter and his new granddaughter, Bernie exited the room, barely keeping himself from running.
He raced down the corridor and checked the status of the elevators. One was on the seventh floor of the hospital, and the other was in the lobby. With a muffled curse, Bernie ran for the stairs; that would be faster.
The heavy metal door flew open with a metallic clang, almost as if it weighed nothing at all, and Bernie propelled himself through. His feet clattered on the steps as he raced to the first turn. He rounded the corner and suddenly, all the momentum that had been hastening him forward vanished away to nothingness. Jimmy Olsen sat slumped a few steps below him, his face buried in his hands, and his whole body shaking.
Bernie sighed and slowly moved forward to sit beside his friend and awkwardly pat him on the back.
"I shouldn't have come," Jimmy muttered, his face still hidden.
"No, you had to come… You had to see her," Bernie told him quietly.
"I wish I hadn't." Jimmy lifted his head and looked Bernie directly in the eyes. His expression was bleak and hopeless, and for the first time Bernie could remember, Jimmy looked his age, his face drawn and grey and worried. "I spent the whole morning at home trying to gather up my courage — didn't go in to work or anything — and I really wish… I really wish…" He stopped, obviously at a loss for words.
"I miss her, too, you know." Bernie squeezed Jimmy's shoulder gently.
"I know, but…"
"It's okay to love her," Bernie said seriously. "It's okay to show her affection. You're allowed."
Jimmy shook his head. "You don't understand."
"What? What don't I understand?"
"I felt it. I felt when she was born. And just now, when I held her… when she grabbed my finger… I could feel the connection. I don't want to feel that for a baby!"
Bernie's hand fell away from Jimmy's shoulder. He opened his mouth only to close it helplessly, not able to form a single word.
"You're disgusted, aren't you? I know I am. I look at her, and my head tells me that she's just a baby, the only child of my niece and my nephew, part of my family, and that's why I love her, but then my heart… My heart tells me something different, and that… Well, I find that very disturbing." Jimmy bowed his head, his eyes fixed on his clenched hands, the knuckles turning white as Bernie Klein watched.
"You're no child-molester," Bernie Klein said, his voice rough with emotion. "I know that you'd never harm that child."
"Oh, God, no!" Jimmy's head snapped back as he twisted to face his friend. "No, I don't mean… No. But my heart knows that somewhere deep inside that tiny little thing is the seed of the woman I love, and I just don't see how I can hide my feelings and play the doting uncle. How can I look at that child and see a woman?" He shook his head. "It makes no sense."
Bernie paused, wanting to get the words right. This was important; he didn't want to mess things up. "I see the woman she'll be, too, Jimmy. And I'm sure Lois and Clark do as well. We all loved her, and still love her. How can we not compare? How can we not search for traces of that beautiful spirit? How can we not gaze into her eyes looking for that wonderful soul? We all see her, Jimmy. You're not alone."
The two men sat in silence for a long moment.
"I'm going away," Jimmy said finally. "I've been looking for another job… applied to a few different papers and magazines."
"Are you sure?" Bernie asked.
Jimmy's eyes shifted to him and away again. "Yes. I have to. I need a fresh start. I can't watch her grow up; it was hard enough watching Astrid — the two of them looking so much alike. I don't have the heart to do it again."
Bernie pondered Jimmy's words for a minute. Finally, he nodded. "I understand. I'm not sure if Lois and Clark will, though."
"They don't have to," Jimmy told him. "They just have to understand I can't live my life like this anymore. I love them, and I love their kids, but I need to be alone. I need to get away."
"It's going to be strange not having you around. You're family."
"I know. You're family, too."
"When will you go?"
"I'm not sure. A few weeks from now, I guess. I've had a few offers; I've just about decided which one I want to take. I'll do that today, and then I have to pack up my place."
"You're really doing this, aren't you?"
Jimmy turned to him, his eyes locking on Bernie's. "Yes, I really am."
"I'm going to miss you."
"I'm going to miss you, too."
They lapsed into silence once more. Jimmy slowly pushed himself to his feet.
"Look after her for me, will you?"
Bernie didn't have to ask whom he meant. "You know I will."
"Yeah, I guess I do."
"You're what?" Lois glared at Jimmy from her seated position behind her desk.
He stood in front of her, resolute, determined. "I'm quitting," he repeated. "This is my official notice to you. I'm going in two weeks."
Moving as though she were on automatic pilot, Lois accepted the envelope he offered to her.
"But why? I don't understand."
He smiled ironically. "You will if you think about it."
"I know that you were scared… You told me that you were scared… But she's here now, and you can see that she's just a baby… I hoped that you would see that she's not the woman you loved. I hoped that it would be over."
"Lois," Jimmy said patiently. "It will never be over for me if I stay. Do you understand that? It will never be over. I'd be watching and waiting and hovering. I know that. It wouldn't be healthy — not for Lee, and not for Sam and Astrid, and especially not for me. I can't be Uncle Jimmy for her. There's no point in trying; I know I can't succeed."
"Oh," Lois said in a small voice as she peered up at her friend as he loomed over her. He didn't seem like the Jimmy that she had known for so many years. He had turned into a stranger, and she was very uncomfortable.
"I wouldn't turn into a stalker or anything. I'd try to hide what I was feeling or thinking. But I'm aware of her in a way that I can't even begin to describe. You wouldn't have to worry. I'd never hurt her. But being around her would hurt me."
"I see," Lois said slowly. She warily eyed the plain white envelope in her hands, turning it over and over. "Where will you go?" she asked softly.
"Australia. I had a really good offer to head up Photography Life."
"Australia's so far away." Lois hastily wiped away a tear before it could roll down her cheek.
Jimmy smiled wryly. "Lois, with our connections, nowhere in the world is that far away!"
A corner of her mouth twitched in spite of her tears. "True. I'll grant you that. But it won't be the same."
"No. It won't be the same. But it wouldn't be the same even if I stayed, and I think you know that."
"Yeah, I guess I do." She bravely smiled up at her best friend and employee, her lips shaking. "Okay, then I guess I have no choice but to accept your resignation and to tell you that in two weeks time, we'll be having one heck of a farewell party!"
He wasn't fooled by her light-hearted comment. He could see the emotion shining through loud and clear in her eyes. He felt the same way. But this was what had to be. It was for the best.
Jimmy had thought that the rest of his day would be hard, but it surprised him, although part of that might have been because Clark was away for the day on assignment and he didn't have to face him. Knowing that he was going to leave had been strangely liberating. For the first time, he realised that he'd outgrown the Planet. He realised that somewhere over the years, his life had changed, and that this job he had once loved, had turned into a prison.
What a relief to look around and know that he wouldn't be there in two weeks. He wouldn't go into the conference room and be reminded of the time he and Lee had spread out their research and had worked together, all the time holding hands under the edge of the table so no one could see. He wouldn't be reminded of the time it had rained, and they'd spread a blanket on the floor of that room and had their picnic inside. He wouldn't look at Lois's office and be reminded of his first boss who, with his wife, was now ensconced in a Metropolis nursing home, only able to make the occasional outing. He wouldn't have to remember the torment involved in having to go to work, day in and day out, all the while concealing his knowledge that Caroline Lee was doomed to die in childbirth. He wouldn't have to watch two of his three best friends share their lives together — right down to their work — all the time torn up in envy at what they had between them, at what was missing from his own life.
Maybe in Australia, he'd be able to forget how lonely he was.
Jimmy didn't have the heart to visit Sam and Astrid and Lee that night. Anyway, he justified, they wouldn't want visitors. No, this was a time for Sam and Astrid to bond with their newborn. More importantly, this was a time for Astrid to try to get some extra sleep, he reflected with a slight smile, remembering his friends' children as newborns. At least in the hospital, they had the nurses' help. In two days when they went home, it would get a lot harder.
He knew that he was welcome at Bernie's or at Lois and Clark's but even though he was eaten up with loneliness, he didn't want to visit them. Instead he walked aimlessly through the streets of downtown Metropolis, trying to lose himself amidst the multitude of shoppers and tourists and businesspeople. It didn't work. He finally gave up and went home close to midnight.
Once he got home, Jimmy puttered around aimlessly, not able to settle down to any one thing. He microwaved a frozen dinner, only to end up playing idly with it with his fork. Finally, he gave up and tossed it out. He wasn't that hungry.
He turned on his radio, but turned it off again almost immediately. He just couldn't seem to settle down. The buzzing of his apartment intercom was almost a welcome interruption, but he wondered who was disturbing him at one in the morning.
"Hello?" he said into the intercom and then depressed the toggle to listen.
"Hello?" he heard in a distorted echo of his own word.
"Uh, who is this?"
"Oh, yes, sorry. It's Wells here. H.G. Wells."
Jimmy's jaw dropped. "Mr. Wells?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes, quite. James, dear boy, would you mind letting me in?"
Jimmy pressed a button to release the lock on the lobby door and then, impatiently, rushed out into the hallway. He waited by the door of the elevator until it opened. Mr. Wells was only able to take one step out of it when Jimmy had grabbed him by the arm and dragged him bodily into his small apartment. He thrust the older man into a chair and sat down opposite him — all done at breakneck speed and without a word spoken.
"I say!" the older man protested.
"Sorry," Jimmy stuttered, his intestines churning and his heart pounding. "I… Sorry… I don't know what to say… I thought I would never see you again. Sorry."
"Yes, quite," harrumphed Mr. Wells, a little bit mollified.
"How is she?" Jimmy asked eagerly.
"Whom are you referring to?"
"Don't you know? She was born today — a healthy, happy baby!" He checked his watch. "Well, yesterday, I suppose."
"I know. Of course, I know," Jimmy said dismissively. "I don't mean her. I mean HER. My Lee. In the future."
"Oh. Well, I don't know, actually. Haven't seen her since I dropped her off the other day. She was pretty upset, of course — not wanting to leave you and then to find out that her grandfather was dying. Hard times, my dear boy. Hard times." Mr. Wells noisily blew his nose into a handkerchief.
Jimmy's whole body went limp. "Oh," he said, disappointed. "I thought… I thought that maybe you'd have news about her. I… I miss her." Embarrassed by the strength of his own reaction, he couldn't look Mr. Wells in the face.
"Interesting you should wonder about her. After all, it has been a long time… for you, at least," Mr. Wells uttered slowly. "I do have something to talk over with you."
"You do?" It was as if his whole body went on alert. He sat up straight, his eyes focused on the writer, barely breathing, barely blinking, his heart thumping so loudly in his chest that he was surprised the older man didn't comment on it.
"Yes, I do." Mr. Wells paused and curiously eyed the younger man. "Are you happy, James? Have you had a good life the last few years?"
About to give a hasty answer, instead Jimmy stopped and thought hard for a moment before answering. "I haven't had a bad life," he said, almost defensively. "I've enjoyed my friendship with Bernie and Lois and Clark. I love my nieces and nephews — okay, I know that there's no blood shared between us, but they really are my family."
Mr. Wells inclined his head in agreement.
"And I've had a lot of satisfaction from my work, but…" Jimmy paused and shook his head sadly. "I'm not happy. I miss her too much. I feel too alone. I always have. Sometimes it's harder to handle than other times. Right now, it's unbearable."
Mr. Wells slowly nodded. "That's what I thought. I just needed to confirm this for myself."
"Why? Why do you need to know if I'm happy or not?"
"I needed to know because I have a proposition for you."
"What?" Jimmy asked numbly, almost feeling as if he knew what the older man was going to say.
The older man opened his mouth only to close it again. He pulled his pocket watch out and deliberately studied it. "Perhaps I should come back. This could take a little while, and…"
"No!" Jimmy exclaimed loudly. At Mr. Wells' shocked look, he flushed. "No," he repeated more calmly. "I have lots of time. Please, go ahead."
Mr. Wells peered at him myopically. "You're sure?"
Jimmy nodded emphatically.
"Well then, that's fine. Tell me, my dear boy, have you read my book about the time machine?"
"Of course. I read all your books after I met you. I enjoyed all of them, but I think 'The Time Machine' was my favourite."
"Yes, quite," the older man blustered, his chest puffing out in pride. He coloured a bit, his expression pleased. "Thank you, James. I'm so glad that you enjoyed them. I don't want to sound conceited, but I am pleased with how they turned out, myself. It's always nice to be reassured, however. Obviously, I have a certain fondness for 'The Time Machine,' also."
"Of course." Jimmy was on tenterhooks waiting for Wells to get to the point, but the writer didn't seem to be in any hurry to do so. Jimmy sensed that it would be counterproductive to push this man, but even so, he wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him to get him to divulge the information that he had so casually mentioned. "You said you had a proposition for me?" he pointed out, trying to subtly hasten things along.
"Yes, that's right," Mr. Wells stated, totally unconscious of the fever pitch of excitement and apprehension currently afflicting Jimmy. "I'm getting older, dear boy, and I'm looking for someone to replace me. It's a hard life at times, looking after the time-line, but it's a good one. I've seen wonders that you'd marvel at, and inventions that haven't even been hinted at in this century. The future is a truly beautiful place, although the past has its compensations as well." He paused and seriously regarded Jimmy. "I'm ready to give it all up, though. I'm getting older; my duties are becoming harder to discharge. I need someone whom I can trust to take up the reins of responsibility for me. What do you think?"
"What do I think? You mean, for your replacement?"
Mr. Wells nodded.
"Were you thinking about Clark? I don't think he'd be interested. He's happy with Lois and with his family. Bernie's a good person, too, but he can't see the big picture; he gets too focused on the small details. It makes him a great scientist, but it would be all wrong for this."
"You misunderstand me, James. I was actually thinking about you."
Mr. Wells nodded. "I've studied you, James. You're an honourable man — not greedy or power-hungry. In your youth, you were much more malleable, but you've learned from experience. Now you're not easily swayed by others. You'll be able to stick to the proper course, even if it's an uncomfortable course to follow. What do you think?"
"I'm… I'm flattered, of course, but… I don't know. I hadn't thought about anything like this…" Jimmy didn't know what to say. When Mr. Wells had turned up, somehow, he had hoped that this had something to do with Lee, that he would somehow be able to be with Lee. He hadn't expected this. He was silent for a long time, wrestling with demons. Finally, Jimmy looked up and solemnly regarded the other man. "I don't think so. I don't think I'd be able to resist the temptation."
Jimmy nodded. "I wouldn't be able to stay away from Lee. And that would be unfair to her. What kind of life would she have if I were flitting in and out of her time at a moment's notice? It would be awful. Not seeing her wouldn't be an option, but I'd rather not see her than put her through that kind of turmoil."
Mr. Wells smiled. "I'm afraid I haven't made myself very clear at all, James. I'm not looking for one replacement; I'm looking for two."
"Yes. A team. Two people working together for a common cause, sharing a common goal. That's what I want to replace me."
Jimmy stared at the other man incredulously. "A team?" he stammered.
"A team," Mr. Wells stated firmly. "You and Lee."
"Me and Lee?" Jimmy shook his head, literally not able to believe what he had just heard.
Mr. Wells gazed at him paternally, a warm smile spreading across his face. "You and Lee."
Jimmy's eyes welled up with tears. "Yes," he said simply.
"You'll do it?"
"I'd like to take you to her now, if that's all right."
"You won't be able to pack more than a small bag."
"You won't be able to say good-bye to your friends."
"I'll leave them a letter. They'll understand."
"You can't tell them where you're going."
"Could you be ready in fifteen minutes?"
"Give me ten."
Jimmy quickly threw a random assortment of clothes into a duffel bag along with some toiletries. He tidied his apartment and discarded his garbage and his perishables down the garbage chute. Finally, he sat down with a pen and paper.
First, he wrote a note giving Lois and Clark power of attorney over his affairs. Second, he wrote a simple will, leaving all his investments and his money to Lee in trust and his photographs and memorabilia to Lois, Clark and Bernie to be divided between his nieces and nephews. He wrote quickly and logically, his thoughts organized. It was as if he had been practicing this in his mind over and over again so that now that the time had come, the words automatically came to him. Finally, all that was left was his final note to his friends. This was what gave him pause. It took him a moment to think of what he wanted to say, but then he scrawled a few lines on the page and signed his name.
~ Dear Lois, Clark, Bernie, Alice, Perry and children,
~ Thank you for being the best friends that any man could want. And thank you for being my family. I love each and every one of you more than I can say.
~ I can't tell you where I've gone except to say that I've gone to meet my destiny. Please don't look for me. You won't be able to find me.
~ Know that I am happy.
~ Until we meet again, ~ Jimmy
Jimmy put down his pen, stood up and grabbed his bag and turned to face Mr. Wells. "I'm ready," he said.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," Jimmy said resolutely. One thought resonated through his whole being. Lee. He was going to be with Lee. The thought of her pushed all other concerns from his mind. He was determined. There was nothing in the world that would prevent him from being with Lee. Nothing.
Mr. Wells stood up and pulled a handful of small devices from his pocket. "Then I suppose it's time for your lesson." Plucking the smallest one from the palm of his hand, he held it up. "This is a soul- tracker. It's simple in concept and easy to use. All the equipment is easy to use. First, it has to be calibrated to one of the incarnations of the soul that you're tracking…"
Jimmy listened intently, nodding in agreement and taking notes on the various devices and their uses. But Mr. Wells only had a fraction of his attention. Lee, his heart sang in an unending chant. Lee.
It didn't take Mr. Wells long to run through everything. He was correct. It was all easy to use. The possibility for misuse would have been a very real one if it weren't for the fact that each device could only be used by the person it was made for. Jimmy couldn't use Mr. Wells' machine, and Mr. Wells couldn't use his.
Jimmy tucked his devices into his duffel bag as well as the machinery intended for Lee's use. "Let's go," he said.
Mr. Wells nodded and activated his time window.
Without a second thought, Jimmy marched into it, Mr. Wells following closely behind. They emerged into a shabby hallway, doors lining each side of it.
"Student dorm," Mr. Wells said in answer to Jimmy's unspoken question. He led Jimmy around a corner and pointed. "This one's Lee's room. Shall we?"
It was at that precise moment that all of Jimmy's determination and courage completely drained away. His knees grew weak. "I… I need a minute," he managed to say. "I haven't seen her in so long… I don't know what to say…"
"I understand," Mr. Wells told him. "Why don't you stay out here, and I'll go inside to prepare her? Would that be all right?"
Jimmy nodded. "Tell her… I won't do this without her. I can't."
"I understand," Mr. Wells said.
Jimmy moved back around the corner, out of the line of sight of her room. He listened as Mr. Wells knocked firmly on the wooden door.
"Uncle Herb," he heard in that voice he hadn't heard in so many years. The blood rushed to his head, making him feel a little dizzy.
"Lee, my dear, may I come in? I wish to talk to you about something very important," Mr. Wells said.
"Sure, Uncle Herb."
And the voices died away, the door closing and cutting off the sound.
Jimmy gasped for air, his chest heaving like fireplace bellows. He closed his eyes and concentrated on calming himself down. It took him a long moment.
He didn't know what he was feeling. When Mr. Wells had made his offer, seeing Lee had been the only thing on his mind. Now, though, all his hidden insecurities flooded to the surface.
What if she thought he was too old for her? What if she had changed her mind now that she was back in her own time?
He crept back down the hall and pressed his ear against the door.
"Lee, my dear. I want to talk to you about James. Have you been wondering what happened to him?" Jimmy heard Mr. Wells ask.
"Yes, I have, Uncle Herb. I asked Grandpa Clark about him. He said that the last time he and Grandma Lois saw Jimmy, was about two days after I was born. He visited Mom and Dad at the hospital, left, and was never seen again. Grandpa Clark searched for him for a very long time, but he was never able to find a trace of him. Do you have news?" Lee asked in an eager tone of voice.
For the first time, Jimmy realised what his leaving would mean for Lois, Clark and Bernie. They would be… No, they must have been so upset.
"Yes, but before I tell you, I wanted to ask. Did your grandparents ever tell you about Dr. Doodsen? Dr. Veda Doodsen."
"No, I've never heard of her."
Jimmy hadn't thought about Dr. Doodsen in a very long time. He remembered how scared he had been, how horrified when he'd realised that the old man who died in the Planet newsroom had been his friend. What had that friend's name been again? It bothered him that he couldn't recall. He did remember how upsetting it had been, however, to feel his own skin wrinkle, and his bones start to ache. It had been horrible.
"She experimented on many young people, James included," Mr. Wells said. "She hooked herself up with an elderly criminal. She attempted to transfer their life energy to this man in an attempt to rejuvenate him. Using blackmail, she also attempted to transfer some of Superman's life force to him. Except for James, the young people all died. James survived because Superman, Clark, insisted that Dr. Doodsen rejuvenate James using more of Clark's life essence."
"I've never heard this story," he heard Lee say softly. Jimmy remembered vividly how overwhelmed he had been when he discovered what Superman had done for him. Once he'd found out that Superman was, in reality, his best friend, Clark Kent, the sacrifice had meant even more to him. It had been humbling, having his life saved only because Clark had been willing to give up some of his life force.
"This is the main reason that your grandfather and your grandmother are aging at the same rate. Without these two energy drains, he would definitely outlive your grandmother by decades and decades. It's been estimated that his normal life span would have been approximately double the average human male. His life span is still longer than most, and fortunately your grandmother has also reaped some benefits from his aura. It's been discovered that prolonged physical contact with this aura has beneficial effects for humans. This is the reason your grandmother is also in such good shape for her age. And this is also a secondary reason why they are aging at the same rate," Mr. Wells said, sounding like a professor lecturing his class.
Clark had been so relieved to know that his life span would match Lois's more closely after the incident with Dr. Doodsen. He had never overtly said it, but Jimmy had always known that having to live on after losing Lois was Clark's worst nightmare.
"This is fascinating, Uncle Herb. What effect will this have on me, or on my dad?" Lee asked eagerly.
"Your father and your Uncle Jonathan are an interesting case. In the case of twins, there is a decrease in the lifespan, almost as if one is split between the two of them. So your father and mother should also age at the same rate. And your father's aura is still strong enough to keep your mother healthy for a very long time."
"That's a relief!"
"But then we come to you, Lee. You're not a twin. You will have a very long life, probably about a third longer than the norm."
"I still don't understand why you're telling me this, and what it has to do with Jimmy!" she asked plaintively.
"Getting back to James, the transfer of some of Superman's life force had an interesting effect on him. He also started aging at a slower rate. Barring unforeseen accidents, he would have a very long and healthy life."
It hadn't been that long ago in Jimmy's life that he had learned about this. It had been depressing. Living a long and healthy life had held no appeal without the possibility of being with Lee. Now, though… Everything was different. He hoped.
Changing the subject, Mr. Wells asked, "Have you ever wondered what my life is like, my dear?"
"I'm sorry, Uncle Herb. I've never really thought about it." She sounded puzzled.
"It's wonderful and exciting. I'm 'Uncle Herb' to generations and generations of Kent descendants. But it's a big responsibility looking after the time line. It fell to me only because I inadvertently invented my machine. I felt that I should be more careful in the selection of my replacement."
"Your replacement!" Lee exclaimed in shock.
Jimmy tensed. Would she agree? Would she want to be part of this? What would she say?
"Yes, my dear. My replacement. I'm tired. I'm old, and I'm afraid of making mistakes. I've made them in the past. So far, they've been fixable, but …I'm losing faith in my ability to problem solve. I decided to look for someone to take over from me. But I didn't want just one person; I wanted a team who would work together, and bolster each other's spirits. I've recruited one half of the team, but I need now to find out if the other half is willing to take the job on. What do you say, Lee? Will you do it?"
Was that shock or disgust? Was it surprise? Did she sound reluctant? He couldn't tell.
"Yes, you, my dear. You are wonderfully suited to it. You have a maturity and sense of responsibility that is unwarranted in one so young. You are absolutely brilliant, but you temper that brilliance with a loving heart. You are extremely pragmatic and methodical, but have flashes of wonderful creativity. And you've been requested by the other half of the team."
"I've been requested? Who asked for me?"
Jimmy couldn't wait another moment. He had to know what her answer was. With a shaking hand, he reached out and turned the doorknob, throwing the door open. "I asked for you, Lee."
"Jimmy!" The joyful look on her face left him no room for doubt. Lee ran to his waiting arms. He swept her into a fervent embrace, burying his face in her hair for a second before fervently kissing her.
He couldn't believe it. He thought he had forgotten the feel of her; it had been so long. But he remembered everything. How she fit in his arms. The clean, flowery scent of her fiery hair. The wiry strength in the slight frame.
Mr. Wells raised his voice. "Not meaning to interrupt you two, but I should warn you. Although he only looks slightly older than when you last saw him, Jimmy is actually twenty-five years older than he was when you were last with him. And as far as he's concerned, it was only yesterday that you were born, Lee. That's why Clark couldn't find him. I brought him here."
The way her lips moved so delightfully under his. Her body pressed up against his. Her hands tugging lightly at his hair, deepening the kiss. He was shocked at how familiar it all was. When he touched her, it was as if they had never been parted. Jimmy never wanted to let her go.
"And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that you two will have a lot to work out. You have an age difference between you that you didn't have before. And Jimmy's had a lot of experiences that he had on his own. Also…"
Jimmy felt her shift and reluctantly loosened his grip when Lee broke the kiss. He didn't let her go, though. He couldn't let her go.
"Uncle Herb," she said, smiling.
"Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?"
Jimmy nearly swooned as her lips returned to his, her arms wrapping ever tighter around him.
Mr. Wells stood up and quietly made his way to the door.
"Mr. Wells, wait!" Jimmy exclaimed. He had nearly forgotten.
The older man turned to face him.
"I have to ask. It drove me crazy for twenty-five years. What else was Lee supposed to do in the past? What was her other task?" Jimmy kept his arms wrapped tightly around Lee, hardly able to believe that she really was there, that this wasn't a dream. He couldn't bring himself to let her go even for a second.
"Why, my dear boy! It's quite simple, really. Lee had to fall head over heels, completely and irrevocably, in love with you." Mr. Wells smiled at them gently, checked his pocket watch, and then softly closed the door as he exited the room.
Mr. Wells' words echoed and resonated inside him. He shook his head, dazed and humbled at the implications. Then he turned back to her. Their eyes met. They were alone.
He silently gazed at the dear, beloved face of the love of his life. She stared solemnly back at him. He had no idea what to say. It had been so long… He'd missed her so much…
"This has been the hardest week of my life!" she blurted out. "I missed you so much!"
A jagged bolt of pain shot through his chest. "The hardest week?" he gasped. "The hardest week? Lee, for me it's been twenty-five years!" he managed to choke out past the lump in his throat.
"Oh, Jimmy, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that I left you. I should have stayed."
"No! You did what you had to do. You needed to be with your grandfather…" Jimmy's voice trailed off as he realised that his friend, Bernie Klein, was dead. He'd never see Bernie again. He'd never see Perry or Alice.
They were all dead.
His knees gave out, and he sank down onto the edge of Lee's bed, his grip loosening, and his hands sliding down her arms to clutch at her fingers. But then he looked up at her, at her beautiful, expressive face, into her warm, loving eyes, and he knew that he would make the same choice all over again.
Lee sat down beside him, her arm loosely about his shoulders. "I'm sorry," she repeated.
He gazed at her in wonder, his hand moving up to gently touch the warmth of her cheek. His fingers strayed, stroking the silky softness of her hair. "I'm not," he told her firmly. "If you had stayed, the whole time line would have been damaged. And if I had left, I would have missed so much… A lot happened where I was able to make a difference… But now, everything's okay. We can be together now. We couldn't before, but now, not only can we be together, we need to be together."
She turned her head and pressed her lips against the palm of his hand.
"You're so beautiful," he said reverently. "I've never seen anyone more beautiful."
"Oh, Jimmy," she murmured. "I love you so much…"
He interrupted, holding up his hand to stop her. "There's something I want to say… There's something I need to say. Lee, it's been twenty-five years since the last time I saw you. In all that time, I've never met anybody who could even come close to measuring up to you. The memory of you was like a dream — like a talisman that I clung to. It kept me going. I guess what I'm saying is that before, when we first met, I thought you were the only woman in the world for me, but now, I know that you're the only woman in the world for me."
Tears sprang to her eyes.
"But I also want you to know that I'll wait," Jimmy said seriously. "I'll wait as long as you need until you know, too. Maybe I've changed. I don't know. But I'm not going to rush you into anything. I'm not going to push…" His words trailed off as a broad grin spread across Lee's face.
"Jimmy Olsen! Don't tell me that you travelled over twenty years into your future just so you could go all noble on me!" Shaking her head, she laughed merrily as she wiped away her tears. "You're going to marry me, buster," she told him, jabbing her finger into his chest. "We're going to fly to Vegas and elope, and I don't particularly care if you're in my arms or over my shoulder. I'll get you there any way that I have to!"
Jimmy stared at her in bemusement. "Are you sure? We can wait… We don't have to rush…"
Lee stopped his vain protests with her lips. His arms came up around her, and she pressed her body closer to his. A wave of heat flooded his system, and his heart pounded like a jackhammer in his chest. After a long, sensual, delirious moment, she pulled away from him to regard him warmly. "Can you really kiss me like that, and then tell me that we don't have to rush?"
"No," he stuttered, gasping for air. "No, I can't."
Her lips curved into a smug smile. "Good."
Any worries that Jimmy had that being with her might be stilted or unnatural soon faded out of his consciousness. Tailor fashion, they sat on Lee's bed facing each other, talking and talking and talking. Jimmy bore the brunt of it, telling Lee about all the important moments in his life, although she took her share of the conversation, telling him about her grandfather's death and her reaction to it.
They didn't sit too close, their senses too heightened to each other, their nerve endings too charged to the other's presence. For the most part, they loosely held hands, neither one willing to completely separate from the other.
Lee fixed them a simple meal. Jimmy ate it contentedly, but later, could never have been able to describe what it was as all his attention was focused so completely on Lee. They talked and talked until the wee small hours of the night, until finally they ran out of words. Even then, they were content to just sit and gaze lovingly at the other, every once in a while leaning forward for a long, sensual kiss, or reaching out to tenderly stroke the other's hair, or to gently caress a cheek.
Jimmy turned his head to press a kiss into the palm of Lee's delicate hand as she stroked the side of his face. He ruthlessly suppressed a yawn.
"You're tired," she said, concerned.
"A little," he answered. "It's okay. I'm fine." He yawned again, his eyelids drooping.
"We should go to sleep."
Jimmy shook his head. "I don't want to."
"I'm afraid that if I go to sleep, I'll wake up tomorrow and find out this has just been a dream. I wouldn't be able to take it."
Lee scooted closer to him, wrapped her arms around him and nuzzled her face into his neck. "It's not a dream. I'm right here."
Jimmy pulled back and smiled tenderly at her. "I don't want to take that chance!"
"We could… sleep together," Lee offered shyly. "I know my bed's small, but…"
"Not till we're married," Jimmy said firmly.
"No, I mean we could just sleep," Lee said, blushing furiously. "I guess we could do more, but I kind of want to wait for marriage, too, so for right now, we could just sleep. That is, if we could get comfortable because it is a small bed which has never been a problem for me because I'm kind of tiny, and there is just me, but it might be a problem for the two of us because, well, because there are two of us. But neither one of us is all that big, although I think you're a little bit broader than I remember. Have you been working out with weights? Neither one of us is that tall is what I meant to say. I didn't mean to say that you're a small person, because you're not. So what do you think?"
Jimmy burst into delighted laughter.
"What did I say?"
He laughed even harder at the indignant tone to Lee's question.
"I think that in many ways you're a lot like your grandma! That whole diatribe was vintage Lane!"
Lee giggled. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm a little nervous. I'm not nervous about sharing a bed with you to sleep, but I am nervous about sharing a bed to do other things, but we've said that we're going to wait until marriage, except I'll tell you, Jimmy, we're getting married really soon. Maybe we should fly to Vegas right now? Although I think it would probably be better to wait until we've had some sleep because we're both tired and…"
"Sorry. I'm doing it again, aren't I?"
Jimmy grinned. "Okay, here's the deal. I'll accept your kind offer to share this bed, and you don't have to worry. All we're going to do is sleep. I love you, and you love me, and I know that you're the only woman for me, but I want our wedding night to be really special so we're going to wait. Okay?"
Lee heaved a sigh of relief. "Okay." Then she frowned. "But I don't want you to think that I don't want to. It's just that I want to wait for our wedding night, too." She looked at Jimmy, the expression in her eyes making him weak at the knees. "But it's not like it's going to be a long wait, is it? We're getting married tomorrow, aren't we?"
"Aren't I supposed to ask you?"
Lee shook her head slowly. "No. You don't have to ask me. I'm telling you. We're getting married tomorrow. That better be okay with you, because I'm not giving you a choice in the matter."
Jimmy reached out and tugged Lee onto his lap. "Good thing that's what I'd choose anyway," he said happily, before framing her face with his hands and fervently kissing her.
Lee woke to feel an unaccustomed warm, comforting presence in bed with her. Jimmy's arm was loosely thrown across her waist, his legs entwined with hers. She sighed contentedly and slowly shifted to face him. She wanted to watch him sleep.
He looked so sweet when he was asleep, like a little boy, his lips curving in a slight, secret smile, and his eyelashes fanning out in a gentle curve. A flood of affection for him rushed through her. She'd never thought about it before, but suddenly, she was overwhelmed with the desire to have a child with this man. She'd give anything to have a little boy that looked just like him.
As she watched, his eyes fluttered and opened. He gazed into her eyes, not blinking, not moving, barely breathing.
"It's not a dream!" he exclaimed. "You're really here."
She smiled. "I'm really here."
Their lips met in a sweet, sensual, heady kiss, Jimmy shifting to press her down into the bed. It was a long moment before he pulled back to lie beside her.
"I love you," she said softly.
"I love you, too," he told her, his eyes filled with moisture.
"What's wrong?" She tenderly wiped the tears from his cheeks.
"It suddenly hit me… After today, this is how we'll always wake up — together, loving each other. It just struck me all over again exactly how much I missed you." His hand stroked her cheek gently.
She laid her head on his shoulder and entwined her fingers in his. "And I just realised something, too," she said lightly, trying to dispel the melancholy mood.
"Today's our wedding day!"
"Are you sure? You don't want to wait and have the family there?"
"Positive," she said gleefully. "I don't want anything to delay us. No, I think we should get up, get dressed, have breakfast and elope. What do you think?"
Jimmy laughed. "Sounds like a plan to me! But don't you want to follow any of the traditional wedding rituals?"
Lee grinned. "You mean 'something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue'?"
She giggled. "Jimmy, sweetheart, you were born sixty-six years ago. I think you're perfect for the 'something old' part of the equation!"
"Keep talking like that, and you'll be borrowing enough trouble to satisfy another part of the saying!"
Lee smirked, unrepentant in her giddy happiness before springing to her feet and hauling Jimmy out of the bed. "Come on, lazybones! I want a husband!"
"Yes, dear," he droned in long suffering tones.
She glared at him.
He cracked a smile. "Just practicing. I figure I'll give those words a good workout over the next few years!"
Lee couldn't keep a straight face. She threw her arms around Jimmy and held him close. "I love you, Jimmy."
"I love you, Lee."
Less than an hour later, Lee and Jimmy strolled hand-in-hand in the hot sun that beat down on the Las Vegas strip. They had readied themselves to go in record time, showering, dressing and having a quick meal. Before they left, Jimmy had insisted on showing Lee how the paraphernalia provided by Mr. Wells was to be used, strapping on their matching time-flux trackers that were cunningly disguised as sleek wristwatches.
Another hour later, a dejected Lee and Jimmy sat on a bench talking over their situation.
"I suppose the Chapel of Hot Burning Love wasn't that bad," Lee said glumly. "All those hearts were a bit overwhelming, but at least the place was a nice shade of pink."
"But there was so much of it!" Jimmy exclaimed. "It hurt my eyeballs!"
"I know, but I could at least tolerate it. There is no way that we could ever get married in that other place where they had the Can-Can dancers high-kicking at appropriate places in the ceremony," Lee said tartly.
Jimmy grinned. "Oh, I don't know. It kind of grew on me."
Lee glared at him. "That could have had something to do with the topless part of their act."
"Topless? Really? I never even noticed!"
Lee burst out laughing at the innocent expression that he put on so well.
Jimmy grinned. "How many people do you think really do get married at places like that? Or at the Golf-a-rama? And how drunk do you think they are when they do it?"
"Hey, I thought the Golf-a-rama was pure genius! Get some exercise, have some fun, and get married all at once!"
"My favourite part was the sign," Jimmy said.
"You mean '18 exciting holes! Count them! Take the challenge and get married at the same time! If you don't want to get married, bring your girl and just play around!'?"
"Yeah, that was the one." He chuckled. "Of course, we could have done the whole Hillbilly wedding. They had 'Marryin' Sam' all set to perform the ceremony, and they even had costumes that we could rent. I think I'd like to see you dressed up like Daisy-Mae!"
He smiled. "Don't worry about it. Just one of those little things that pop up to remind us that we're from two very different times."
"Okay." She shrugged. "I suppose we could always bow to tradition and find us an Elvis impersonator to perform the ceremony," she said lightly.
Jimmy's smile slipped for a second.
"What is it?" she asked, a little worried by his reaction.
"Nothing, really, except… You just reminded me of Perry. He was crazy about Elvis."
"I know. He got Dad hooked on Elvis's music. They used to talk about stuff like that all the time."
Jimmy grasped her hands in his. "What happened to him, Lee? How long has he been gone? And what about Alice?"
Lee gazed off into space. "She went first, I remember. I think it was a stroke, but I'm not sure. I was pretty young. It happened when I was about six, no, seven, I think. He died about a year later. When I was eight. Maybe nine. Dad was devastated. He had always visited Uncle Perry a lot, tried to spend as much time with him as possible. I'm not sure what happened, but I do know it was fast."
Jimmy sighed. "I'm glad for that, at least. It must have been so hard for him when Alice died."
"I'm sure it was. I don't remember, though. I mean I was just a kid lost in my own world. I never paid attention. Man! Kids can be monsters sometimes, can't they? Self-centred and egotistical."
"The nature of the beast."
"The beast?" Lee asked sounding slightly horrified.
"It's an expression! I don't mean that children are beasts, although I could point out that you just finished calling them monsters."
"I know I did," she said indignantly, "but I didn't mean it!"
"I didn't either, sweetheart. I'm sure that our children will be angels."
"You do want children then."
"Well, yeah," Jimmy admitted. "If you do, that is. I would never push you but…"
"Don't worry," Lee interrupted. "I want a couple of children."
"Good." He sighed happily. "Speaking of children…"
"I don't want to be towing our children along to our wedding, but that's what's going to happen if we don't find someplace where we're comfortable getting married! I think we should look some more." He got up, extended his hand to Lee and tugged her up off the bench.
"What about that place?" Jimmy asked, pointing.
"I'm not getting married in the middle of a casino!" Lee retorted. "Our relationship is a sure thing, not a gamble!"
"Okay," he murmured, soothingly. "We'll keep looking. Eventually we'll find the right place. There's always…" He pointed across the street.
Lee glanced over to see a poster of a sunken-chested man in a copy of her grandfather's super-suit. "Bite your tongue!" she snapped as she glared at the 'Super Chapel of Love.'"
He laughed, squeezed her hand, and led her down the street in search of a wedding chapel that they could live with.
As they walked, Lee filled Jimmy in on all the family history that he had missed. In turn, he told her stories that put a new perspective on her relatives.
After summarily dismissing the hot-air balloon wedding, the drive-through wedding, the 'Rootin', Tootin' Wild West wedding, the underwater scuba wedding, and the nudist wedding, Jimmy pulled Lee to a stop. "You're looking pretty discouraged."
"I am!" she blurted out. "I haven't seen one place where I'd feel comfortable getting married. I do love you, Jimmy, but I want our wedding to mean something. I don't want to feel as though we got married in a circus sideshow!"
"You know," he said thoughtfully, "I think that's about the only kind of wedding we haven't seen yet!"
"Yeah. That and the kind we want. What ever happened to two people getting married because they love each other and they want to spend the rest of their lives together? Why is it that the only places we've seen with 'Eternity' in their names have been funeral parlours?" she asked glumly.
Jimmy faced her and wrapped his arms around her. She buried her face in his shoulder and heaved a mighty sigh. "We'll find the right place, Lee. Don't worry. I'm sure that…" His voice trailed off.
"Look!" He pulled away from her and pointed.
She spun around to see 'Forever and Ever, Weddings on request' on a discreet sign in the window of a small and attractive adobe building.
The house looked well cared for, like someone's home. The yard was tidy and the garden flourishing.
Lee gazed into Jimmy's eyes, a smile lighting up her face. "That looks promising. That looks very promising!"
He grinned happily and then, hand in hand, the two of them crossed the street and walked up the short sidewalk to knock on the door.
An hour later, a very happy Lee Kent-Olsen and an equally ecstatic Jimmy Olsen soared through the sky. She had discarded the pretty dress that she'd worn in honour of the occasion, instead, as always when flying, preferring to wear her plain black spandex outfit. Jimmy had questioned her about her Firestorm uniform, but she had made the point that she wasn't going to unveil that in this time until her twenty- first birthday in a few days.
Jimmy still wore his suit, but his tie was tucked securely away in his jacket pocket. They both wore matching gold bands on their left hands.
It had been a lovely ceremony. Reverend Helen had made their wedding meaningful and special. Her husband had been one of their witnesses, his warm smile pronouncing its own benediction on their union. Their son, also an ordained minister and home for a vacation, was their other witness.
"If you're half as happy as my parents have been," Reverend Thomas had said, "then you'll be very blessed."
And now, they were married.
They had thought very briefly about staying in Las Vegas for the night, but had quickly changed their minds. Lee wanted to be alone with Jimmy in her own place. Her student dorm room wasn't much, but it was hers, and it was cozy.
Jimmy hadn't cared. All that mattered to him was that Lee was his, and he was hers, and they could finally be together. Forever. If she wanted to head back to Metropolis, that was fine. If she wanted to stay in Vegas, no problem. If she wanted to camp in Antarctica, he'd go along for the ride as long as she promised to keep him warm! He'd go along with whatever she wanted as long as they were together.
Lee brought them to earth in a stand of trees on the edge of the university campus. She spun into her street clothes and then they strolled, arm in arm, through the quiet of the campus to the student dorm.
Jimmy was silent, his heart too full of emotion for him to begin to verbalise it. Lee was silent, too, respecting his mood. Their senses were charged to the other's presence, the almost visible connection between them heightened by the events of the day.
Finally, they closed the door of Lee's room behind them and locked it. They turned to face each other and stared, silent and solemn, into each other's eyes for a long moment. And then, without a word, she was in his arms, his mouth capturing hers in a passionate, fiery kiss.
Lee's hands came up to frame Jimmy's face and discovered that his cheeks were wet with tears. "What is it?" she asked, her voice soft and husky.
He shook his head helplessly. "Lee, I've waited for you for twenty-five years, and I just can't believe… I've wanted you for so long. I've loved you for so long, and I never thought we could ever be together… I don't know what to say to you… I don't have the words to tell you how I feel…"
"It's all right," she said fiercely. "I'm here, and we're together, and nothing is going to separate us. Ever. I promise."
His hand came up to caress her cheek as he kissed her tenderly. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too," she whispered in reply.
Sometime in the middle of the night, their world turned upside- down. But they didn't notice as they slept, contented, exhausted and unaware.
Once again, Lee woke first. She didn't move from her secure position in the circle of Jimmy's arms. She had never realised how comforting it was to wake up like this. Or how sensual.
She could hear his heart beating, a slow, steady, soothing cadence. His breathing was even and measured, a soft susurration barely audible. With his body curled around hers and their legs entwined, it was impossible to tell where her skin ended and his began. His arm was heavy on her, and she found herself stroking its solid warmth, her fingers sliding across the malleable flesh, back and forth in a measured rhythm.
She belonged in his arms.
For so long, she had felt alone and apart. Her whole life had been one of isolation from others. Her grandfather had refused to be pushed away, and of course, in the last week — since his death and since her return from the past — her relationship with her parents and with Grandpa Clark and Grandma Lois had changed dramatically, but for the most part, she'd been a solitary soul.
Her parents had tried, but she had kept them at a distance. She had kept everyone at a distance. Thinking back, she didn't even know exactly why.
And then, in that magical time in the past, Jimmy had come to her, and not only could she not push him away, she had no desire to do so. She thought she had let him inside all her defences, but it was obvious now that she hadn't. Not really.
Knowing that she would be separated from him eventually, she had held back. Totally unconsciously. But she had. And the only way she knew that she had was because this was so much better. Being with him now, no defences, knowing that they would be together forever, was so much better than anything she could have ever imagined.
She had never belonged before.
Her eyes fluttered closed, and contented, Lee drifted back to sleep.
Jimmy woke with his arms full of sleeping woman. His face was buried in her hair, the clean, flowery scent of it filling his nostrils. He remembered the first time he had seen her with her hair down.
She had caught her bun on a branch and with shaking hands, he had loosened her hair and freed her from the tree's grip. She had looked up at him with those expressive eyes of hers and her auburn tresses framing her face, and he had felt his heart thud against the wall of his chest at how beautiful she was. He remembered.
He'd been nervous around her since the day they had met, but at that moment in the park, all his nervousness had fled. It had been chased away by the love for him he saw shining in her eyes. He had taken one step closer and then another, and then his lips were on hers, his hands buried in her beautiful, beautiful hair and her arms pressing him closer.
At that moment, he had known that this was it for him. There could never be anyone else in his life.
His feelings hadn't changed when she had told him her secret. Even knowing that she was going to return to her own time, leaving him in her past, hadn't been enough to break the bond that had already formed between them.
The last twenty-five years of his life had, on the whole, not been unhappy. He had played his part. He'd been a good employee and a loyal friend. He'd been a loving uncle. But in every part of his life, he'd been on the sidelines. Now, it was time for him to step forward and take part in something that was bigger than him alone. It was time for him to build his own life with Lee, to be lived on their own terms and not following someone else's pattern.
He pulled her a little closer into his embrace. More content than he could ever remember in his life, he was happy just to hold her.
Being with Lee gave his life meaning. Together, they were stronger than they were apart.
As he walked hand-in-hand with his wife, Sam found himself studying his wife's profile. She was as beautiful today as she had ever been. Oh, there were a few silver strands mixed into the copper fire of her hair, and her face had a couple of lines that had never been there in the past, but in his eyes, that only made her more lovely.
There was a tension about her that had never been there before, though. For those with eyes to see, it was obvious that she had been through the mill in recent days.
Bernie Klein had seemed indestructible for so many years. He had retired at sixty- five only because he had had to. Then he had set up his own lab and had tinkered away in happy solitude, enjoying himself thoroughly and not incidentally, registering patents for invention after invention. Some were prosaic — useful on a day-to-day basis like his bathtubs for the elderly. They had proved to be extremely popular due to the fact that they were attractive, functional, safe, inexpensive, and absurdly easy to clean. It hadn't just been senior citizens who had rushed to buy them. Selling the manufacturing rights alone had netted Uncle Bernie a small fortune.
Then there were his other inventions. At least half a dozen were classified, the government having snagged their plans before they could be published. Uncle Bernie hadn't talked much about those ones, but what little he had said was totally incomprehensible. One thing, though, that Sam knew without a doubt — whatever those inventions had been, they didn't have any military use at all. Bernie Klein had been a rarity — a scientist with highly developed ethics.
He had slowed down his pace in his lab after a few years of solitary pursuits, however. But it hadn't been from necessity. Instead, it had been a conscious choice so that he could spend more time with his granddaughter, Lee. Keeping up with her had proved that there had still been a lot of life left in him. As a child, she'd had so much energy that it had taken a special person to deal with it.
As always, Sam glowed with pride as he thought about his talented daughter.
She had been an enigma to her parents from day one. Self- sufficient, independent, extremely, unbelievably bright, she had been a warm and loving child who nevertheless had needed her space. If her parents had pushed to be too close, she had never hesitated to let them know. The only person she had allowed through her barriers had been Bernie Klein.
And now, Bernie Klein was dead.
Astrid had to struggle with the fact that her father, her solid, indestructible father, was gone. She found it hard going. But at least she shared her grief with Sam just as he had once done with her. She had been strong for him after…
His mind shied away from thinking about it. Even after so many years, not knowing what had happened just about killed him. There was a void in his life that nothing could ever fill.
But now it was his turn to be strong for her. Sam had faith, though, that Astrid would emerge from her grief eventually.
His parents had taken Uncle Bernie's death hard, too, but they had each other. They'd get over it in time. He knew that.
It was as if thinking about his parents had conjured up his father. A whoosh drew Sam's attention up, and he saw Superman streak across the sky in answer to some unknown summons. At the sight, to his chagrin, a familiar wave of bitterness and envy flooded through him, only to be choked back under his control. What must that be like? he wondered wistfully.
Sam wasn't so sure that Lee would be able to handle her loss. She and her grandfather had shared so much. She had been so devastated this past week, oddly matured by her pain. With a twinge of resentment that he tried to bury deep within, he acknowledged that he was hurt that Lee had turned to his parents for solace instead of to her mother and father. Would there ever come a time when the fences between them would be ripped down? Sam hoped so. He knew that Astrid did, too.
Perhaps this was the reason that they had both felt this intense need to connect with her. She'd been incommunicado since the funeral. She had to be hurting as much as Astrid was. So when his lovely wife had suggested that they drop in on Lee and whisk her out of her dorm room for lunch, Sam had agreed with no hesitation. She needed to know that she wasn't alone.
The dorm room wouldn't be hers for much longer, Sam mused. Her classes were over, and by now, he imagined that most of the other graduating students had fled campus life for the outside world. They'd have to help her pack up her things soon. Where would she go? he wondered. What would she do? She had never talked about her plans with her parents. That had been reserved for Bernie. He had been so much more than a grandfather for Lee. He had been a teacher, advisor, mentor and confidant. Poor girl. She must be feeling completely bereft.
Silently, Sam and Astrid climbed up the two short flights of stairs to emerge into a dingy hallway. They moved purposefully down the hall to stand in front of a nondescript door.
Sam took a deep breath before lifting up his closed hand to rap firmly on the door. He heard movement within, and then the door opened. He hadn't known exactly what to expect from his enigmatic daughter — maybe tears, depression, sullen stoicism. He had never expected what confronted him. He had never expected to see his daughter greet him, her hair tangled, her face glowing, and her eyes sparkling.
And he had certainly never expected to see a man in her bed!
The man was propped up on one elbow, the sheets thankfully covering him. He looked shocked as he gazed incredulously back at Sam and at Astrid.
Sam saw red. Who was this stranger? What type of man took advantage of a young, innocent girl made vulnerable by grief? Leaving Astrid standing, aghast, in the doorway, Sam pushed past his daughter and with two giant strides stood over the bed.
"Sam, I can explain…" the other man said.
Without a word, Sam clenched his fist and pulled it back.
"Daddy, no!" Lee exclaimed as she moved faster than he would have thought possible to stand in front of him and grasp his upraised arm. "We need to talk."
He pulled against her, but she was stronger than he would have ever believed.
With a strangled cry, Astrid clutched his other arm.
The stranger on the bed regarded him calmly, unafraid.
"Fine," Sam snarled through gritted teeth. "I won't hurt him."
The two women let go of him and took a careful step backward.
Needing the emotional release, with an angry curse, Sam spun on his heel and drilled his closed fist at the wall beside him only to regret it instantly as fire exploded through his hand at the contact.
Lee stared at him incredulously as he stood cradling his scraped, swollen, reddened fingers.
Sam breathed in short, sharp gasps, struggling to control his anger and his pain.
"He's bleeding!" Lee exclaimed, shocked, her eyes locked on the stranger in her bed.
He nodded in return. "We really have to talk," the stranger said slowly. "Something is very, very wrong."
Dressed in her plain black spandex, Lee arrowed through the air, leaving behind three very bemused people. Poor Jimmy. It wasn't going to be pleasant for him to have to entertain her shell-shocked parents. But this was important.
They'd turned on LNN to see if there was a location where her grandfather could be found only to discover that Superman was simultaneously trying to evacuate workers, contain an oil spill and put out a fire on an oil-drilling rig off the coast of Northern Scotland.
Lee had immediately sprung into action, spinning into her flying outfit. She had smiled at the shocked gasps from her parents, before jumping out the window.
As she flew, she couldn't help but wonder what the heck was going on. Neither of her parents had recognised Jimmy; her father didn't have any superpowers, and both he and her mother looked so old! In a way, that shocked her more than anything.
But now was not the time for speculation. Now was the time for action. She put on a burst of speed and arrived at the disaster site, the rolling boom of her passage hanging in the air behind her.
Superman looked up from his frantic tasks to gape open-mouthed at her. "Lee?" he exclaimed loudly.
Luckily the workers had been evacuated, and there was no one to hear.
"You can fly? What the…?"
She smiled. Despite the gravity of the situation, his reaction to her appearance was enjoyable. "We'll talk about this later," she stated firmly. "What do you want me to do first?"
He shook his head, closed his mouth and then opened it again to issue a string of orders. She immediately followed them, battling the waves as she worked frantically to contain the oil slick. He hovered high over her head, darting here and there through the framework of the rig, extinguishing the flames.
By the time they were done, they were filthy. The two of them were coated in oil and soot and salt. Her suit being black, Lee actually looked a little better than her grandfather, but not by much. Finally, they were able to stop and hover in mid-air facing each other.
"How did this happen?" he asked, his expression shocked and wary.
"That's what we have to figure out," she told him. "If I tell you that I've taken over Uncle Herb's job…"
"Uncle Herb? Herbert George Wells?"
He threw his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. "Yeah, that explains a lot. So what caused this discrepancy? Are we from different dimensions?"
"I don't know. But I want to talk about this with Grandma, too. Let's take a few minutes to clean ourselves up and then meet at my place. Mom and Dad are already there, as well as…" She paused, thinking hard. Maybe it wasn't fair, but if Mom and Dad hadn't recognised Jimmy, something more was wrong than the whole issue of superpowers. Deciding to remain silent for the moment, she finished awkwardly, "As well as someone else who can help us figure things out."
Her grandfather nodded. "Sounds like a plan. I'll warn you, though. I have a lot of questions, and so will your grandma."
She grinned. "So at least one thing hasn't changed!"
He laughed. "True enough."
"You're handling this well," she said.
His eyes twinkled. "Let's see. I've been cloned. Your grandma's been cloned. I married a clone. She's traveled to another dimension. My double's traveled here from a different dimension. It's not that I'm handling this well; I'm numb."
She giggled, but didn't say anything. There wasn't a lot to say. She felt pretty numb herself. Besides, she had always prided herself on not letting her reactions show. It was taking a lot for her to change things — to be more open and warm with her family — but that didn't happen overnight.
They silently flew back to Metropolis together. As they neared the city, Lee started to shift direction to head to her dorm room. Superman stopped her, his hand on his arm. "Thanks for your help, today. It was… It was unbelievable working like that with someone else."
"You're welcome." She smiled warmly at him. "Go. Go get cleaned up and then meet me at my place in half an hour."
He nodded and in a blink of an eye disappeared from her view.
Lee and Jimmy sat side-by-side holding hands, exchanging awkward glances with Sam and Astrid.
Astrid found herself studying this woman who looked so much like her daughter. She found herself studying the man she said was her husband.
What a story! How could Sam and Astrid even begin to believe that this girl had traveled into the past and had met this man there? The whole thing was unbelievable — the stuff of fairy tales. Except… Lee could fly. Maybe this fairy tale really was true.
The two of them seemed so happy together in spite of all the awkwardness. Jimmy appeared to be a good man, and his attentiveness to Lee boded well for their future.
Astrid shook her head. Yes, Jimmy was a very good man.
It couldn't have been easy for him to be subjected to the inevitable barrage of questions after Lee had flown away. Although it had been obvious that Jimmy was incredibly confused as to what had happened to the timeline, he had been patient, attempting to answer all of Astrid and Sam's frantic questions. Thankfully, both Astrid and Sam felt much calmer now, although no less confused.
"So, you say that you're one of my father's best friends," Sam said to the younger man.
"Yes. Yes, I am. After Lee left to return to her own time," Jimmy paused and squeezed his wife's hand, "I helped out a lot. I babysat for you and your siblings, Sam. I babysat you, too, Astrid. I was there the day your dad brought you home from the hospital."
"And now, we don't remember you at all," Astrid said softly.
"I know," Jimmy answered. "We have a lot to figure out."
"Grandma and Grandpa should be here soon," Lee pointed out. "Once they get here, I bet we'll sort this mystery out quickly."
"I hope so," Sam answered.
They all fell silent once more.
Astrid sighed, looking down at the folded hands in her lap. She just wasn't sure how she felt about everything. This woman who looked like her daughter, didn't act like her daughter. She was too open. She was too warm. She was exactly the way Astrid had always wanted Lee to be.
Even though it was expected, the knock on the door was enough to jolt everyone. Lee moved to it, took a deep breath and opened it.
Lois and Clark stood framed in the doorway.
"Hi," Lee said. "Thanks for coming."
"There's no way that we could have stayed away," Clark answered as he and Lois entered the room. "It seems that we have a lot to…" He fell silent to gape incredulously at Jimmy.
Lois, too, reacted strongly. All the colour drained out of her face, and she swayed slightly as she stared, shocked, at the younger man. "But you're dead!" she exclaimed. "We buried you!"
"She's right," Clark said grimly. "I don't know who you are, but you're not Jimmy Olsen. I saw him die with my own two eyes."
"But it really is me, guys," Jimmy protested.
Clark folded his arms in front of his chest. "You're going to have to prove it."
"I played the organ at your wedding — at one of your weddings. Not your real wedding, your almost real wedding. Not the first one with the clone of Lois. The one Myrtle Beach wrecked."
"You could have found that out from the archive copy of our story about Myrtle," Lois pointed out logically.
"You stayed at my place to hide from the Prankster, Lois. You even called the cops on me because my friends were too loud."
"Old police reports," Lois replied.
"I helped babysit for you!"
"No, you didn't," Clark said succinctly. "You died before we had children."
"Excuse me a minute, Grandpa, but when did Jimmy die? Was it before or after I traveled to the past?" Lee asked, aghast at this newest development.
"You traveled to the past? When?" Lois's knees gave out, and she sank down onto the small bed.
"I got back just before Gramps died," Lee answered.
"No, I mean when were you there? In the past?" Lois clarified.
"Just before you got pregnant. I traveled to the past to donate blood to make a treatment for you so that you and Grandpa Clark could conceive a child. Gramps and I worked together. Don't you remember me?" Lee's voice shook a bit. It was hard to believe that the magical time she had spent in the past, getting to know Jimmy and becoming friends with her grandparents, had all vanished as if it had never happened.
Lois and Clark exchanged solemn glances before turning back to Lee and emphatically shaking their heads.
"We told everyone that I was his niece. I even helped you with a story. The one about Dr. Jones and his experiments on the homeless. Do you remember me now?" she asked plaintively.
"What name did you use?" Clark regarded her speculatively.
"Dr. Lee Carlyle."
"That was you?" Lois exclaimed. "I remember you now! What a rude, arrogant woman you were! I didn't like you. I didn't like you at all."
"You didn't? I was? But we became friends. I told you about myself. I told you a little bit about the future. I helped you do rescues, Grandpa!"
"Hey!" Clark protested, his eyes shifting to Jimmy. "Don't talk about that!"
"It's okay, Clark. I know you're Superman. You told me yourself," Jimmy said calmly.
"I did? When?"
"Right after you found out that I was in love with your granddaughter."
"You're in love with Lee?" Clark blurted out.
"Uh-huh." Jimmy nodded emphatically.
"And I love him, too. More than anything." Lee took Jimmy's hand in hers, threading her fingers through his.
Clark sat down heavily on the bed beside his wife. "And I thought I was confused before!"
"My head's in a muddle," Lois said.
"I have to admit — so's mine," Sam agreed.
Astrid nodded her agreement.
"Hey! Everyone thinks I'm dead. How do you think I feel?" Jimmy asked rhetorically.
"Point taken." Lois glanced warily at him.
"Okay," Lee said briskly, "we're going to tell you our story, and then we're going to hear your story, and then we're going to compare notes. Is that acceptable to everyone? It better be, because that's what's going to happen!"
Everyone mumbled their consent, and Lee took up the narrative. She started at that fateful moment — less than two weeks ago, chronologically — when Gramps and Uncle Herb explained that she would have to travel to the past to donate blood to create a medical treatment for Lois.
She told them about meeting her grandfather Bernie, and Lois and Clark — her other grandparents. She didn't pull any punches. She told them clearly and concisely how resentful she was of her family — especially of her Grandfather Clark. She told them how isolated and lonely she had always felt — how she thought of herself as a freak.
She described in vivid detail her reaction to Jimmy — how she had fallen head-over- heels in love with him on the spot.
She talked about her alter ego, Firestorm, and her first public appearance rescuing Jimmy from certain death. She told them of her decision to reveal herself to her grandparents and her internal reconciliation with them. She talked about the moment when she told Jimmy about herself and his decision to pursue a relationship with her anyway, even though neither one of them could possibly foresee that they would ever be able to truly be together.
She described the course of Lois's pregnancy, and the birth of Clark and Lois's two sons. She talked about meeting her grandmother, Caroline Lee, and her despair knowing that her grandmother was going to die in childbirth when Astrid was born. Finally, she told them about Uncle Herb returning her to the present — leaving Jimmy behind against her will.
Jimmy picked up the narrative. He gave a verbal recap of his meeting with Lee, and the course of their relationship. He talked about those raw, painful days after she left, when he didn't know how he was going to carry on. He told of the anguished desperation he felt as the birth of Astrid got closer and closer and consequently so did the death of Caroline Lee. He described the early days of Astrid's life and her early bonding with Sam. He talked about what it had been like to watch Sam, Jon, Marty and Vicky grow up. He told them of the close friendship that had evolved between Bernie, Jimmy, Lois and Clark, and how they always supported each other.
He described the panic he felt as Lee's birth got closer and closer. He told them how tormented he'd been, knowing that the tiny baby he had held in the hospital was going to grow up to be the woman he loved. And then in vivid detail, he described the mix of joy and excitement he felt when he traveled to the future to be with her. He told them about their wedding — how they just couldn't wait another moment to commit to each other. He told them everything. And then he fell silent.
Lois and Astrid blew their noses noisily. Sam nervously bit his lip as he awkwardly patted his wife on the shoulder. Clark regarded Jimmy and Lee solemnly as they sat, side-by-side, holding hands, unwilling to let go for a second.
"What story had Jimmy been working on?" Clark asked, his forehead wrinkled in thought.
"What do you mean?"
"When he was shot at… when Firestorm appeared for the first time, what story had he been working on?"
Jimmy thought hard for a long moment. "I'm not sure I remember… It was a very long time ago."
Lee smiled tenderly at him. "It wasn't so long ago for me. I remember perfectly. The story was about labour unrest at the docks. Jimmy found out that the head of the union was in cahoots with a local gang. He also found out when and where they were going to meet. He was there, hiding and taking pictures, when his cell phone rang. Luckily, I had decided to follow him." She grinned at her husband. "I don't think I ever did tell you how stupid it was to leave that switched on."
Jimmy turned brick red. He groaned and hid his face in his hands.
"That's when Jimmy was killed!" Lois exclaimed, looking shocked. "That's what killed him."
"I got there too late," Clark said sadly. "I'll never forget it. I heard the shot, and I got there as fast as I could… I caught them. I caught the men that killed him, but my friend died in my arms."
"I don't know what's happened to change everything, but I do know one thing, guys. I didn't die. I'm right here," Jimmy said.
Clark smiled slowly. "I'm beginning to believe you."
Jimmy grinned and extended his hand to Clark who shook it and then pulled him into a hearty embrace, clapping him boisterously on the back.
Lois was quick to take over hugging him when Clark let go. "We missed you," she told him tearfully. "It wasn't the same without you around."
Lee felt her whole body sag as she sighed her relief.
Lois, Clark and Jimmy were quick to indulge in a spate of 'Do you remember…' and 'Whatever happened to…' But it didn't take long before Jimmy noticed that although Lee was unperturbed by the personal reminiscences, Astrid and Sam looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jimmy said. "This has to be boring for you. Do you have any questions for me?"
Sam and Astrid looked blankly at each other before turning to face him once more.
"Uh, well." Sam roughly cleared his throat. "I guess we do have one… Do you love our daughter?"
Jimmy looked Sam in the eyes. "More than anything," he said seriously.
"Good. We have a lot more questions, but for right now…" Sam glanced again at Astrid who smiled slightly and nodded. "For right now, I might as well welcome you to the family. I think there's a ton of problems that you haven't thought about as you do come from very different times, but… She loves you, and she's chosen you, so I guess it doesn't matter what we think." He grinned at his bemused son-in- law.
"Thank you… I think," Jimmy replied as he shook Sam's hand firmly.
Clark chuckled ruefully. "This is sure going to take some getting used to. The idea of you being alive, and with our granddaughter… It boggles my mind."
"You better get used to it pretty quick," Jimmy said. "I'm never letting her get away again!"
And he and Lee exchanged glances so warm and loving that Astrid and Lois both felt the tears spring to their eyes once more. Neither woman had ever seen Lee so completely and utterly happy before. She seemed so different. She was so open and warm. She was so happy.
"So," Jimmy said briskly, changing the subject. "Lee and I should start examining everyone with our tracking devices. We need to figure out what's happened to everyone. While we get ourselves organized, why don't you fill us in on everything? Sam, are you still a reporter for the Daily Planet, or is that something else that's changed?"
"No, I'm a reporter, and Astrid is into advertising. Is that the same?"
Jimmy nodded as he checked the calibration of his soul tracker. "Tell me about the girls. How are they?"
"Marty's happily married," Lois told him. "She married a local vet…"
"Ben!" Jimmy exclaimed. "I went to their wedding a couple of months ago… Before I left the past, that is. They, um, there were problems for them… Uh, was she attacked?"
"By Paul Stride?" Clark asked.
Jimmy nodded. "It doesn't sound like that changed, unfortunately."
"It was really hard for both of them," Lois said. "Not only did Marty have to cope with the attack, but Ben had to deal with his mother's death on top of everything."
"Rachel? What happened to Rachel?"
In the middle of examining her mother's aura, Lee paused to listen.
"Stride took Marty, Clark and me hostage," Lois told him. "Then he requested a journalist to cover the story. There wasn't anyone around that could help out so Rachel pretended to be a reporter. Unfortunately, Stride recognised her as the sheriff and shot her. Even so, Ben helped rescue us. It was too late for Rachel, though."
"What about Maria? Maria Ramirez?"
Lois and Clark looked blankly at each other.
Jimmy quickly filled them in about Maria, the trustworthy reporter from Puerto Rico, who had learned the true story about Superman and his secret identity, but had kept it to herself for the duration of her short life.
"We never met her," Clark said. "Whatever happened to change everything obviously changed that, too. Anyway, Marty and Ben finally got married, and they have two boys — Jordan and Justin."
Jimmy quirked an eyebrow at Lee.
"That's right," she assured him as she checked Sam's aura. "That's the same as it is for me."
"Vicky's a best-selling novelist," Lois said proudly. "Clark and I keep arguing over who she inherited her writing abilities from." She grinned at her husband.
"And she and Uncle Michael have three kids, right?" Lee asked. "Beth, Sarah, and Adam?"
"No," Clark answered, slowly. "She never married. Who's Uncle Michael?"
"Michael Gale," Lee answered.
"The singer?" Lois asked incredulously.
Lee nodded happily. "He's fantastic, isn't he? I've been to a couple of his concerts. And he's won a ton of Grammies!"
"I saved his life once," Clark said proudly. "Early in his career, he was singing in a small nightclub, and it caught on fire. I got everyone out safely. He was injured though — lost his sight — but had a successful cornea transplant a month or two later."
"That's how they met! That's how Aunt Vicky met Uncle Michael. They told me. She saved him and then she felt so guilty about him getting hurt that she followed him around looking out for him." Lee shook her head as she moved to her grandmother's side. "This is so confusing. At least tell me everything's the same for Uncle Jon, Aunt Lissa and their two kids."
The whole atmosphere of the room changed. Sam gave a strangled, choked cry of distress. Lois grabbed Clark's hands and held them in a white-knuckled grip. Astrid wrapped her arms tight around herself, her face pinched and tight.
"What?" Lee asked looking around the room. "What did I say?" She and Jimmy put down their various devices and waited for the answer.
Clark sighed heavily. "He disappeared," he said softly. "We don't know what happened to him. It just tears us up that we don't know where he is."
"When did this happen?"
"It was fifteen years ago, and I remember it like yesterday," Sam answered. "He had been targeted… We never really understood why, but the Russian mafia had been after him. The FBI assigned an agent to him, and the two of them just disappeared."
"That would be Aunt Lissa," Lee interrupted. "Larissa Lewis."
"Yes. That's right. That was her name." Clark nodded. "I searched but I could never find them."
"I know he's dead." Sam's eyes were moist. "I felt him die. It just about ripped my heart out."
"All we want is to find him and bury him. It just kills me not to know where he is or what happened," Lois said, her hands twisting in her lap.
"I was six," Lee said slowly. "I remember. He and Aunt Lissa got trapped. But they got out. There was Kryptonite, but Aunt Lissa figured out what to do about it, and then Uncle Jon got some of his powers back, and they got out."
"And in our world, he never had any powers. None of us do." Sam's voice was bleak.
"Where were they trapped?" Clark asked sharply, all his attention focused on his granddaughter.
"I'm trying to remember… They told me about it… It was one of those family stories that was told a lot." She paused, lost in thought. "It was a vault, an underground vault lined with lead. There wasn't a lot of air… A few hours worth, that's all… It wasn't in Metropolis. It was nearby, but it wasn't right in the city." She looked at Lois. "I remember you telling me that you were glad that it was on the outskirts, because Aunt Lissa was pretty indiscreet when she and Uncle Jon got out. You always laughed when you told me how she ordered everyone around like a drill sergeant!"
"But do you remember exactly where?" Clark asked, leaning forward and intently staring at her.
She shook her head. "No, but I remember that it was an old abandoned bomb shelter on a farm. The farmhouse was gone, but the shelter was still there. Aunt Lissa said that the stairs out were hard to climb because they were half filled in with dirt. Plus she was carrying Uncle Jon at the time. That didn't help."
Clark sprang to his feet. "I have to go look."
Lee jumped up and faced him. "I'll go, too. But we better take someone with us. If there's Kryptonite…" A thought struck her. "Does Kryptonite even bother you?" she asked her father.
Sam nodded glumly. "Pretty unfair if you ask me. No superpowers, but it can still kill me."
"I'll go," Lois said immediately, standing up.
"No!" Jimmy interrupted. "I'll go."
Lois looked like she was about to protest, but Jimmy laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Let me do this for you. Please. You should stay here. You and Sam and Astrid need to be strong for each other."
She nodded slowly before sitting back down on the small bed. "Find him!" she hissed. "Find my boy and bring him home."
Clark moved to her side and kissed her gently on the forehead. "I'm going to try, sweetheart. I'm going to try to find our son."
Lee and Clark simultaneously spun into their spandex outfits. Clark took off first, with Lee and Jimmy following close behind.
They started to the north of the city, slowly over-flying the farmland. But it was to the south that they finally located the dark underground presence of a lead- lined bomb shelter on an old abandoned farm.
Lee and Clark exchanged solemn glances before swooping down to land. Clark quickly drilled down to the entrance and with one quick motion, snapped through the locking mechanism on the side of the door.
"You two should move away," Jimmy said firmly. "This is my job now."
Lee and Clark nodded and moved back to a safe distance.
Jimmy took a deep breath and slowly muscled open the heavy door.
A fetid odour came out in a wave, a foul miasma causing him to choke and gag. He waited a few moments for the air to freshen, then covering his mouth and nose with his t-shirt, he entered the small vault.
It was less than a minute before he emerged once more, his face white, and his body shaking. Lee and Clark moved towards him only to stop when he held his hand up.
"Stay back! I've got the Kryptonite." He clambered out of the pit and threw the rock away from Lee and Clark before turning to face them. "He's there," Jimmy said softly. "They're both there."
Clark moved past him in a blur.
Jimmy tried to grab him, but his friend was too fast. He did stop Lee from following. "Let him do this alone," he said.
She nodded sadly. "We better call the police," Lee said. "We have to report this."
Clark emerged from the dank, dark hole in the ground. His whole body shook, and tears poured down his face. His legs buckled as he fell to the earth, great choking sobs emerging from his throat. Lee fell on her knees beside him, pulling him to her. He wrapped his arms around her, and gave in to his grief.
Jimmy stumbled away from them, away from the gruesome tomb. He, too, fell on his knees, retching violently into the tall grass.
After a busy and emotional few hours, Jimmy stood in Lee's small shower, letting the hot water course over him. He had soaped himself repeatedly, but the smell hadn't dissipated. Would it ever? he wondered. Would he ever be free of the odour of the grave?
He didn't emerge from the shower until the water ran cold. He dried himself, threw on his robe and left the bathroom to find Lee waiting patiently for him.
"Feeling better?" she asked, concerned.
"We have to fix this!" Jimmy blurted out. "We have to find out what changed and fix it!"
She nodded. "I know. But it's going to have to wait for one night. We need a break from talking about this."
"You seem calm."
She smiled. "No point in flying off the handle."
"I remember that about you. It took a lot to make you react. Meeting Caroline Lee, having Mr. Wells show up to take you back…"
He smiled sadly. "I know we're on our honeymoon, but…"
"But this doesn't exactly feel festive," Lee finished.
"No. No, it doesn't."
"I know. But we still have to eat. We still have to sleep. Everything else will wait for the morning."
Jimmy nodded again and moved into her embrace. She felt so wonderful in his arms. The clean, fresh, flowery scent of her hair filled his nostrils, finally chasing away the fetid odour that had lingered, overloading his senses. "Oh, Lee, I love you so much." He buried his face in the crook of her neck, her body pulled as close to his as possible.
"I love you, too. More than I can say," she replied, her arms roaming across his back.
As one, they moved to the bed, anxious to physically renew their bond, desperate to lose themselves in the moment and forget all the anguish of the day.
Early the next morning, Lee emerged from the bathroom, and Jimmy quickly served breakfast. As he watched his new wife voraciously devour everything he put in front of her, he was amused. There was certainly nothing wrong with her appetite!
"I didn't see anything when I checked Mom or Grandma," Lee told Jimmy as she finished eating.
"No, and your father checked out okay, too. I didn't get a chance to check Clark, though."
"What if the change had to do with Gramps? He's dead. We'd never be able to figure it out," Lee said plaintively.
Jimmy smiled at her. "Let's not borrow trouble. We'll check Clark before we panic."
"We better check each other, too."
She pointedly looked down at her timeline tracker. "I'd rather check Grandpa Clark first. Then I want to examine Aunt Marty, Uncle Ben and Jordan and Justin. Aunt Vicky's on my list, as well as Michael Gale. After all, the change affected them pretty strongly too…"
"Yeah. But we should still check each other first. It seems to me that I've been the most affected. I died in the past. Okay, yes, your Uncle Jon died, too, but that's a result of him not having superpowers. It strikes me as collateral damage not primary."
"Can't we do things my way?" Lee asked plaintively. "It won't take that long."
Jimmy gazed at her speculatively. "Why don't you want us to check each other?"
"I do!" she protested.
"Then here." He stood up and held his arms out to his sides. "Examine me right now."
"Sit down! I'll get to you later."
"Lee, what's going on? Talk to me!"
She looked up at him sorrowfully. "What if you weren't supposed to come to the future? What if Mr. Wells made a mistake, and you should have stayed in the past?" A tear rolled slowly down her cheek.
Jimmy's heart melted. "Honey, whatever happened to change things, changed my life well before I traveled to the future. Besides, I don't believe that Mr. Wells would have made that kind of mistake."
"He said he'd made mistakes before," she whispered, sniffling a bit.
"But when he made mistakes, he always tried to correct them. He hasn't returned to talk to us. I don't think we need to worry. Besides, I have no intention of ever leaving you again. You're stuck with me!"
"Oh, I hope so!" The words burst out of her throat as if they were under pressure. "I never thought I could love anyone like I love you!"
He pulled her to her feet and tugged her into his arms. "It's all right. We'll figure this out. Things will… I was about to say things will go back to normal, but we haven't figured out what normal is yet!"
She laughed even as she wiped away her tears. "Valid point. All right. You've convinced me. Hold still, and I'll examine you."
Lee carefully studied the results displayed on her timeline tracker before looking up at Jimmy with a big smile on her face. "You're clean!"
He kissed her on the forehead. "Okay, then. It's your turn."
She held her breath as he took his time examining her with his tracker. Her heart sank when he frowned.
"I found the problem," he said. "I'm just not sure how to interpret the data. There's a major blip in your timeline."
She sighed heavily. "I knew it. I knew that being with you was too good to be true."
"Don't say that. Don't think that. We'll figure this out and then we'll be together forever." Jimmy wrapped his arms around his wife, her head snuggling into his shoulder. "Don't worry."
"So what you're saying," Clark said slowly, "is that whatever this change was, it affected Lee and from there affected the rest of us."
"Exactly," Jimmy said.
"And this isn't a different dimension or something. This timeline is the original timeline, but in altered form." Sam regarded Lee and Jimmy seriously.
"And you and Lee remember things the way they should be because those devices that Mr. Wells gave you makes sure that you're aware of anomalies," Lois stated.
"So what are we going to do?" Clark asked.
"We don't know," Lee answered. "We haven't got that far. We know that the problem is in my past, but we don't know what or where yet. We've barely begun." She paced back and forth along the length of her grandparent's living room. "There's something bothering me… Someone said something… Something didn't sound right…" She shrugged. "Or maybe I'm imagining it. Anyway, we know that Dad and the others are supposed to have superpowers, and they don't so I'm going to do some testing. I hope you won't mind donating some blood to the cause, Dad."
"No problem. I'm anxious to get this resolved, too. If we can get this figured out…" Sam sighed, his eyes downcast. "I miss Jon," he said wistfully.
Astrid squeezed her husband's hand gently.
"If we get this figured out, not only will Uncle Jon not be dead, but Grandma and Grandpa will have eight grandchildren, not three," Lee said firmly.
"What will happen to us?" Astrid asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Will we even be the same people? Or will we be replaced with new versions of ourselves, and we'll fade away to nothing?"
Lee's brow wrinkled as she thought hard. "Uncle Herb used to tell me stories when I was younger… If I remember correctly, he said that in a case like this, the person remains the same, but the memories change. You might remember this other stuff in a dream, but it won't seem real."
"Good!" Sam said fiercely. "What happened to Jon should be a nightmare not reality! Getting this fixed is important."
"Can I use Gramps' lab?" Lee asked.
Sam quickly detached a key from his key ring and handed it over. "Go ahead."
"Ready for me to stick you with a needle?" Lee grinned at her father.
"You're just like your grandfather Bernie!" Sam said, chuckling.
Jimmy laughed and the others turned to look at him. "I had my own experiences with Bernie and needles. You're so right!"
"Good Lord. Don't tell me you love me because I remind you of your old friend!" Lee blurted out.
Jimmy grinned at her. "No worries. You know that I met you before he and I became friends. I always appreciated it when things about him reminded me of you, but it was definitely you I fell in love with!"
"Whew, that's a relief!"
"I bet it would have been a relief to him, too!" Jimmy winked at Lee.
"Oh, definitely," Astrid said, smiling broadly. "Dad might have been unconventional in many ways, but not that way!" She shook her head, her smile fading. "It's so hard to believe he's gone."
Sam wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "I know, sweetheart. I know."
Astrid dashed a tear away from her eyes. "You better get going. The sooner you and Lee make a start, the sooner you'll be done." She cleared her throat. "Uh…"
"I don't suppose you remember Dad as still being alive, do you?"
Lee solemnly shook her head. "No, I don't, Mom. I wish I did. But I was there when he died, and it was the right time for him."
Astrid sighed sadly.
Lee hugged her mother before taking a step back away from the others and spinning into her plain black spandex. "You ready, Dad?"
Sam took a tentative step towards his daughter. He roughly cleared his throat. "You look very different in that outfit."
She grinned. "That is the general idea." Lee wrapped an arm around her father's waist.
"Uh, you haven't dropped anyone before, have you?" Sam asked nervously.
Lee winked. "Well, not yet, but whatever you do — don't wiggle!"
And with a whoosh, they disappeared through the open window behind her.
"Wow!" Astrid exclaimed.
Jimmy smiled proudly. "That's my wife!"
Sam watched Lee as she carefully inserted the needle just under his skin. She was gentle. He didn't even flinch, barely feeling the pinprick.
"In spite of all this confusion, you seem very happy," he said.
"I am." She loosened the rubber tourniquet quickly, her eyes intent on the blood that quickly filled the tiny vials. She deftly removed the needle and pressed a cotton ball against the puncture. "Press firmly on this."
Sam did so, crooking his arm and maintaining pressure with his other hand. "You really love Jimmy, don't you?"
She looked at him directly. "I really do. I will never forget the way I felt the first time I saw him. It was like a thunderbolt. And since then, it's only become more intense."
Sam thought about that for a moment. He could relate. Even though he'd been barely three when it happened, the memory of seeing Astrid for the first time had never left him. He'd connected with her immediately, and their bond had never disappeared but had matured and deepened as time had passed. "Okay, then," he said. "I guess I'm happy for you."
She flashed him a grin.
"You two do look well suited. He seems like a bright guy. Close to your age, too. What is he? Twenty-three? Twenty-four?"
Lee started to giggle.
"What did I say?"
"You better brace yourself, Dad. He's forty-six, almost forty- seven."
"You remember him saying that he used to baby-sit you?"
"I forgot. There's so much else that you two told us… And then you and Dad finding Jon…"
"You do remember me explaining about Jimmy and Dr. Doodsen and what Grandpa did to save his life?"
"Well…" She grinned impishly at him. "That's the reason he looks so young. The Kryptonian life force that Grandpa shared with him ensures that he'll age really slowly."
"But I'm only forty-five, almost forty- six!"
"He's older than me!"
"I know. Sorry!" She giggled again.
"Better get used to it, Dad. I'm not dumping him just to make you happy."
Sam shakily smiled at Lee. "I'm not asking you to. It's just going to take some getting used to."
"You think this is bad. Wait until Jimmy and I figure everything out. Then, not only will he be older than you, but you're going to remember him babysitting you!"
He fell silent and watched as she bustled about the tiny lab. She labelled the vials of blood in her neat, precise handwriting and then stored them in the small fridge. She did remind him of Uncle Bernie. He, too, had never looked more comfortable than when he had been working in this small lab.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I want to ask you a question."
She turned to face him. "Okay."
"If things go back to how they should be…" He paused and took a deep breath. "Will you change, too?"
She stared at him blankly, her forehead wrinkled.
"I mean you've always pushed Mom and me away… You've never let us be as big a part of your life as we'd like… But now, you're talking to us. You're sharing things with us." Sam gazed at her warmly. "I miss your Uncle Jon more than I could ever say, but I wouldn't want to have him back if that means things will go back to how they were between us."
"They won't," Lee assured him firmly. "I learned a lot about myself when I was in the past. Gramps helped and Jimmy helped, but I did most of it for myself." Her eyes were unfocused as she thought hard. "I always felt like an outsider. I pushed everyone away before they could do the same to me, but then, when I arrived in the past, I learned how different things could be. I learned that people just might like me if I let them. Dad, I don't know why I was the way that I was, but I do know that I don't want to be that way any more."
Sam blinked back tears. "Okay. Good." He stood up and took a step towards her. She moved in a lightning blur of motion into his outstretched arms.
"I love you, Daddy," she whispered.
"I love you, too, sweetheart. I love you, too."
After Lee and Sam left, Jimmy's conversation with Astrid had followed a similar path. She had been aghast to discover Jimmy's age. After discovering that he was, in reality, five years older than she was, the final insult to Astrid had been the realisation that he actually looked twenty years younger. She was partly mollified when Jimmy explained that if the confusion got sorted out, Sam's aura would have maintained her youthful appearance.
Lois and Clark and Jimmy had enjoyed renewing their friendship. Jimmy had been peppered with questions about their children and about Michael Gale and Larissa Lewis, only to disappoint his friends by pointing out that he had disappeared long before Vicky or Jon had been married.
They were fascinated by the stories he told of when the children had been young. Some things matched their own memories, like the first time Sam had seen Astrid as a baby, but other things, thankfully, did not.
The description of Marty's fall from a high diving board was chilling, as was the realisation that without a rudimentary childhood version of superpowers, she probably would not have survived.
Sam and Lee returned eventually, and they all had a quick lunch. Then Lois, Clark, Sam and Astrid left to go to a local funeral home to make arrangements for Jon, leaving Lee and Jimmy behind. They had offered to make arrangements for Larissa Lewis also, knowing what Jon's relationship with her would have been if he had lived. The FBI had gratefully accepted as Larissa had not had any family to claim her body.
Lee and Jimmy did offer to accompany them, but their offer was refused with a gentle smile from Lois.
"You are still on your honeymoon, you know," she said softly, her eyes shining with moisture. "And this is our job. Your job will be making sure that we don't really need to have this funeral. I don't want to bury my son."
Lee had nodded solemnly. As soon as her grandparents and parents had left, she'd turned to Jimmy and suggested that they immediately return to her grandfather Bernie's lab so that she could commence her testing.
Jimmy had been quick to acquiesce. He, too, was anxious to get this mystery resolved.
It had been a purposeful and strangely pleasant afternoon for them. It was a joy for him to watch her work. He marvelled at her concentration.
While she methodically ran test after test on the vials of blood from her father, he had sorted through the paperwork that Bernie had kept in meticulous order. On Bernie's computer, he was able to locate some hidden files pertaining to Clark, Lois, their children and grandchildren. Jimmy was quick to print out the information and set it aside for Lee to peruse.
Even keeping busy as he did, Jimmy couldn't help but be totally aware of his wife. He admired the clean lines of her neck, her hair in a subdued bun, out of the way. His gaze lingered on the line of her jaw, tracing the elegant profile.
He loved her. And even with everything going on, even with all the confusion and the worry, he was happier now than he had ever been in his whole life.
As if sensing his admiration, she looked up, her eyes locking on his. They stared at each other for a long moment before he finally broke the silence.
"Yes. For now," she added, her voice soft. Moving quickly, Lee tidied up the countertop, putting the vials back into cold storage and gathering together her notes. She moved to his side, put the papers down and laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Shall we go?" she asked.
He didn't answer, instead pulling her closer. His mouth came down on hers, and he delighted in the feel of her as she responded to his kiss. The kiss flared into fire and passion, and it was much, much later when Lee and Jimmy left to go back to her dorm room to prepare a simple meal.
The next day was much the same. After yet more research in the lab, Jimmy and Lee again made their way to Lois and Clark's brownstone. It was an expanded clan gathering, however, with Marty, Ben, and Vicky there, also. Superman had been busy ferrying his children to the meeting.
Marty, Ben and Vicky were incredulous at the news that the timeline had been altered. In contrast to them, Sam, Astrid, Lois and Clark almost seemed blas, in comparison, taking everything in stride.
There was much discussion about all the ramifications of the changes. Ben was speechless when he discovered that his mother's death had been unnecessary. It took him a long moment to compose himself.
Vicky was stunned when she learned that in another reality, she was married to the famous singer, Michael Gale. "I've always had a crush on him," she admitted, blushing furiously. "His music is awesome! And his voice! He has the most incredible voice."
Sam and Astrid grinned, taking delight in her reaction.
"So, do you two have any answers for us?" Clark asked.
"Not yet…" Jimmy started to say only to be interrupted by Lee.
"Yes, actually I do."
"You do?" Jimmy looked at her in surprise.
"Well, yeah. It was obvious. I'm sorry. I thought you knew, too. I know what was done. 'When' is another question, I'm afraid."
"But you never told me…"
"I didn't know I had to. I'm sorry." She shrugged. "It just seemed obvious to me."
"What seemed obvious?"
"Give it up, Jimmy. Lee is just like her grandfather, Bernie. She makes these brilliant leaps of logic and expects the rest of us to keep up with her," Clark told his friend, laughing.
A grin spread across Jimmy's face. "I remember that about Bernie. Do you remember the time… Oops, sorry, I forgot. Of course you don't."
Lois giggled. "We might not remember what you do, but we have our own memories of Bernie, and he pulled that routine on us more times than I can remember!"
"Anyway, you were saying…" Jimmy gestured to his wife as he sat down beside Sam.
"Okay," Lee said as she faced her family. "It was pretty obvious to me that an artificial inhibitor was introduced into my bloodstream that, when part of a serum to facilitate conception of a Kryptonian/Human hybrid, would cross the placental barrier and target the Kryptonian subset of chromosomes that predetermines how superpowers develop. Once I examined Dad's blood, I could tell that this inhibitor has become genetic. I'm still trying to figure out the causality of everything — it's kind of a chicken and egg question — but I think I've managed to isolate the specific chromosomes that have been damaged…"
"Can you cut to the chase, and tell us this in layman's terms? We're a bit lost."
Lee looked around at the others in the room, all of them glassy-eyed, and totally confused. "Oh. Sorry." She blushed. "I guess I kind of got used to talking to Gramps about stuff like this. He always knew exactly what I was trying to say."
"Makes me glad that I never visited the two of them when they were puttering around his lab," Ben whispered to Marty, who giggled.
"Sorry, Lee," Ben said, shamefaced. "I'm still having trouble with the fact that you have superpowers. I forgot that you could hear me."
"It was pretty daunting to listen to," Astrid said, grinning at her bemused daughter. "And he was my father and she's my daughter! You'd think I could handle it. But when the two of them got going, they tuned out everything around them."
"Mom! We did not," Lee protested, for all the world sounding like a rebellious teenager.
"Honey, I love you, but I'm not blind. I do see you clearly — faults and all."
Lee sniffed. "I prefer to call it being focused. I don't see it as a fault."
"Would you two stop it, and let Lee explain what she's figured out? I'm going crazy here!" Lois had her hands on her hips as she glared at her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter.
The two younger women murmured embarrassed apologies. Astrid was quick to yield the floor back to her daughter.
"Okay," Lee said, speaking slowly and clearly. "I examined Dad's DNA very carefully. His DNA has been damaged, and the damage is very specific. It targets the Kryptonian half of his heritage. From what I can tell, it's genetic which means that not only didn't he inherit superpowers but it wouldn't be possible to pass them on either. I'll double-check both of you, Aunt Marty and Aunt Vicky, but I am pretty sure that I'll find the same damage to your DNA, too." She looked around the room, making eye contact with each of the adults in turn. "Am I going too fast, or are you staying with me?"
"I think we're still with you," Clark said, "but how did this happen? And why are you unaffected?"
Lee took a deep breath. "Okay, this is just a theory, but it's the only one that fits the facts. In this altered timeline, I don't have powers, right?"
Everyone nodded, their eyes intent on the young woman standing before them.
"And I still went into the past. We know that because Grandma and Grandpa remember me from then. We know that I didn't have powers because I didn't rescue Jimmy, and I didn't tell you about me or become Firestorm."
"But maybe you just didn't want to reveal yourself to us," Lois said reasonably.
"Grandma, I fell for Jimmy like a block of cement when I met him. There is no way that I could have had superpowers and not come to his rescue!"
"Remind me later to thank you again for that," Jimmy murmured under his breath.
Lee flashed him a quick smile before continuing. "Also, I reviewed Gramps' notes about the family, and he mentions the same DNA damage in his file on me. So, if I didn't have powers, but I went into the past anyway, then I must have gone to donate blood to create a serum for Grandma Lois. And it was that blood — with its free-floating toxin waiting to damage our DNA — that allowed Grandma and Grandpa to have children. And it was that damaged DNA that prevented those children from ever developing superpowers."
The other adults looked blankly at each other for a long moment.
"I'm totally confused!" Vicky blurted out.
Everyone nodded their agreement.
"How could this be? In the original timeline, you had superpowers so I had superpowers, too. In this altered timeline, our Lee doesn't have superpowers, so I don't either. It's a paradox." Sam shook his head.
"It's like the riddle about the time traveller who travels into the past to kill his own grandfather," Lee agreed. "One theory is that the grandson would instantaneously disappear, another that time is more fluid than that, and the timeline would adjust to compensate for the damage. I think the first scenario is more accurate. A change has been made to the past, and it's immediately affected the future," Lee stated. "Right now, things are in flux, and we have an opportunity to correct the damage. In time, that opportunity will vanish."
"So now we have to figure out how this happened." Lois regarded her granddaughter seriously.
Lee nodded in agreement.
"Could this have been a natural event?" Clark asked.
"No," Lee said firmly.
"So this was a deliberate act of sabotage," Lois said.
"I believe so."
"How do you think this was done?"
"I think it would be possible to create a solution containing minute bits of Kryptonite that could be injected into a younger version of me that would lurk in my system and wait to cross the placental barrier after I donated blood to Grandma Lois, thereby damaging the next generation's chromosomes and creating a medical problem that would be passed on to all future generations."
Dead silence greeted Lee's last words. Jimmy moved to her side and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
"Are you saying that someone has attacked our family?" Lois asked.
Lois and Clark looked at each other blankly for a long moment before their expressions changed. As one, they turned to their family and spat out a single word in unison.
"Um, what is a Tempus?" Vicky asked tentatively.
"Not what. Who," Clark said, his expression angry.
He and Lois quickly covered their previous history with the nefarious time traveller and described his obsessive interest in preventing a Utopian future from coming to pass.
"It looks like it's going to be our job to find him and stop him," Jimmy said, sounding determined. "Some honeymoon, huh, sweetheart?" he added in an aside to Lee.
She smiled. "Well, I can honestly say I've never had a better one!"
Her light-hearted comment served to break the tension in the room, but even so, Jimmy and Lee could sense the powerful and angry undercurrents that still lingered.
"Okay," Lois said, getting down to business. "Now we have to figure out when this happened. Any ideas?"
Sam and Astrid looked at each other blankly before turning back to her.
"I don't ever remember seeing anyone like that, Mom. And we were always pretty careful when we were out in public with Lee. She was never out of our line-of- sight when she was young. And when she was older, I think she would have told us if anyone had approached her."
"Obviously, since whatever it is that happened didn't happen to me, I don't remember it." Lee shrugged. Her expression was puzzled. "But someone said something suspicious… There's something in the back of my mind…"
"What?" Astrid asked.
Lee grinned at her mother. "Um, Mom, if I remembered, it wouldn't be in the back of my mind any more, would it?"
"Smart aleck!" Astrid exclaimed, her warm smile taking the sting out of the rebuke.
"Okay, honey," Lois said soothingly. "Instead of trying to remember what it was, try to remember when you heard it. Was it recent?"
"In the last day or two?"
"I think so."
"Good! Now try to remember who said it. Was it me or your Grandpa?"
Lee shook her head. "No."
"Was it your Mom or Dad?"
"Was it Jimmy?"
"So, who else have you seen in the last couple of days?"
"Well…" Lee grinned. "I know it wasn't the minister who married us or our witnesses, and I haven't seen anyone else."
"You're forgetting someone," Jimmy reminded his wife.
"Mr. Wells," he stated simply.
Comprehension spread slowly over Lee's face. "Oh! I remember!"
"What was it? What did he say?" Lois asked eagerly.
"He asked me if I had ever wondered what had happened to Jimmy, and I said 'yes, I had.' I also said that I had asked Grandpa," she smiled at Clark, "and he had told me that Jimmy had disappeared two days after I was born. He came to see Mom, Dad and me at the hospital and then disappeared!"
"But that's not what happened!" Jimmy exclaimed. "I left quite early in the morning, the day after you were born. I never went back to the hospital to visit you. I couldn't. It would have been too hard!"
"So if you came to the future the day after I was born, but you didn't disappear until the day after that…"
Jimmy and Lee stared at each other, the rest of the people in the room forgotten.
"This honeymoon just keeps getting stranger and stranger, doesn't it?" Jimmy asked with a laugh. "It looks like we have to…"
"… go back to the past," Lee finished with him.
"Or… maybe just me," Jimmy said tentatively.
"No way!" Lee blurted out. "You can't get away from me that easily. We're both going, and that's final!"
He smiled slowly. "I knew you were going to say that!" He pulled her into his arms. "And I totally agree."
It didn't take Lee and Jimmy long to pack. Jimmy in particular didn't need to take a lot with him as he had left most of his possessions behind at his apartment when Mr. Wells had come for him.
They decided that it would be best if Lee did not take her Firestorm outfit, but instead took her plain black Spandex, as it was less conspicuous. If possible, they didn't want to utilise any of her superpowers, as it was important that she not reveal herself to any of her family of Superheroes. Lee had never heard any mention from her family of a mysterious Superwoman flying around at the time of her birth, and she didn't want to take a chance on changing anything.
After much discussion with Lois and Clark, it was decided that it would be best for them to leave an hour's leeway between the time that Mr. Wells and Jimmy left his apartment, and the planned time of their arrival. That way, there wouldn't be any overlap of their past and future selves.
They weren't expecting Tempus to make his move that day, however. They were going to arrive in the past the day after Lee was born. However, Jimmy wasn't going to disappear until the day after that so it didn't seem likely that anything was going to happen their first day there. If it had, he would have disappeared pretty soon after the problem had been resolved. Wouldn't he? However, they both still intended on being vigilant.
Astrid had assured them that Lee had been well guarded at their planned time of arrival. She had kept her little girl with her every night while she was in hospital. From what Astrid had said, Lee had only been vulnerable during the day. There had been a few times when the nurses had taken the baby out of the room for tests, or to look after her while Astrid had had a shower.
So the decision was made to keep a low profile. Jimmy and Lee would hole up in Jimmy's apartment until it was time for visiting hours. At that point, Jimmy would head to the hospital and visit with Astrid and the baby. If anything suspicious were to occur that he couldn't handle, he would quickly call Lee.
Sam and Astrid accompanied Jimmy and Lee back to the small lab and watched as they made their preparations.
As they were about to leave, Lee turned to her parents. "You're okay with this, right?"
"What do you mean?" Sam asked.
"If we succeed, you won't remember any of this. Whatever we do will have a profound effect on both of you. I don't particularly like the idea of treating people like puppets, of manipulating their lives."
Sam smiled sardonically. "It strikes me that someone else has already done that. You're only correcting the damage."
"But do we have that right?"
"Our family has been the target of a vindictive plot. Someone has to protect us. Someone has to protect our future. Mr. Wells chose you and Jimmy. But if he hadn't, I want to tell you — you two would have been my first choice. I…" He glanced down at Astrid, who stood beside him in the circle of his arm. "We have confidence in you."
Astrid nodded emphatically in agreement. "If anyone can fix things, Lee, it will be you and Jimmy."
Lee's eyes brimmed with tears. "Thank you," she said simply.
Astrid pulled her daughter into her arms for a fervent embrace. "I love you, sweetheart," she whispered into Lee's ear before moving to Jimmy and giving him a slightly more restrained hug.
Sam shook Jimmy's hand and then moved to Lee. He pressed a tender kiss onto her forehead before stepping back and taking Astrid's hand in his. "We both love you, honey. And we both know that you can do this."
Lee and Jimmy glanced at each other before facing Sam and Astrid once more. Their expressions matched — determined and resolute.
As Sam and Astrid watched, their daughter and their new son-in- law moved as one through a time window that sealed itself before their eyes. They stood silently staring for a moment before a choked sob from his wife caught Sam's attention.
He turned to her and took her into his arms. "They can do this," he said fiercely. "They have to do this!"
"Your apartment hasn't changed all that much." Lee pivoted in a slow circle as she looked around the room.
"No, there was no point. I wasn't here a lot."
"This is new, though, isn't it?" She sat down on the small couch and patted the cushion. "It's more comfortable than your old one." Her attention was drawn to what lay on the coffee table. She reached out and lightly touched her portrait that faced her. "You kept this? All these years?"
Jimmy sat down beside her. "Of course. How could I not?"
"Oh, honey," she murmured as she laid her head on his shoulder. "You know, this is so strange."
"Well, yes," he agreed, a twinkle in his eye. "Everything has been really strange. But are you referring to something specific?"
She pulled back to grin at him. "Very true! Yes. Yes, I am." Then a wistful expression spread over her face. "When you came to me, I didn't feel… I couldn't comprehend how long it was for you. I still can't. It felt like we had only been separated for a week, maybe two. Not twenty-five years! Even now, I still can't believe in my heart that it was that long, but there are enough changes here that I can start to see… that I can start to understand."
"And yet, in a way, it's as if all those years have melted away to nothing. Being with you feels so right, so perfect. All those things that happened to me while we were apart — they almost feel like they happened to someone else."
They were silent for a long moment, Lee's head on Jimmy's shoulder and Jimmy's arm around her, holding her close.
"I'm hungry," she said suddenly. "Are you hungry?"
"Maybe a little. There's not a lot to eat here. I tossed most of my food."
"I'm sure there's something. Let's go look." Lee pulled Jimmy up from the cozy couch and led him into the small kitchen. She rooted through the cupboards only to end up empty-handed.
"I was pretty thorough," he said. "I'm sorry. Why don't I order in a pizza from the twenty-four hour place around the corner?"
"Good plan. Do you want me to zip out and…" She made a hand motion.
"No. They'll deliver. Don't worry. It won't take long."
She nodded. As she moved to head past the small kitchen table, she stopped, her attention caught by the papers on it. "What are these?"
Jimmy flushed. "I wrote them… They're for Lois, Clark and Bernie."
"May I…" she asked.
Lee quickly reviewed everything. Her eyes filled with tears as she read the simple note of farewell that he had written. Still sniffling a bit, she picked up the longer letter, the one outlining Jimmy's wishes for the disposition of his property. "Oh! Good thinking!" she exclaimed.
"Leaving your money to me. Once we head back, I'll be twenty- one in less than a week, and I'll be able to turn this money back to you."
He laughed. "I think we can share."
She smiled up at him. "Deal." Glancing down again at the papers in her hand, she asked, "But is this legal? Shouldn't you have taken this to a lawyer?"
He grimaced. "Probably. But there wasn't time that night."
"Well, there is time now. We should arrange to have this done right."
He shrugged. "Fine. No problem. I'll see a lawyer, but after. We have a baby to protect first."
They moved back to the small couch and snuggled into each other.
"Are you tired?" she asked. "It is three in the morning."
He shook his head. "No. I'm too wound up. You?"
"Yeah, me, too." She cast a sideways glance at him to see an abstracted look on his face. "Any regrets?" she asked, trying to keep her tone light.
"About leaving your life? You left everything behind. That has to hurt."
Jimmy grimaced. "My life hurt. I felt so empty and alone. For over half my life, I've been on the sidelines, and that bothers me. I think… I think if I had stayed, I wouldn't have liked the person that I was becoming."
"What do you mean?" Lee stroked the hair back from his face as she listened intently.
He shook his head. "I was becoming so resentful and bitter. It was hard. I loved Lois and Clark and the kids but when I was around them… it felt like they were flaunting their happiness in my face. I even resented Bernie. Yes, Caroline died, but at least he'd been with her. They'd shared a life. All I've wanted the past few years is to make a life with you. I want a home full of love. I want children. But I want you. None of that would mean anything without you."
Lee melted into his arms. His words had a way of touching her, of arousing strong emotions in her. They always had, and she knew they always would.
Their lips met in a sweet tender kiss that flared and ignited into a fast-burning, desperate frenzy.
A couple of hours later, they lay entwined in Jimmy's bed. Suddenly, he laughed.
"What is it?"
"Do you know how many nights I lay here alone, wishing you were with me — imagining what it would be like?"
"Uh, more than one or two, I'd guess."
He snorted. "Let's see. 365 days in a year — I should say nights in a year — times 25 years. That's, um…"
"9,125, not counting leap years. Wow!"
Jimmy pulled her a little closer and pressed his lips tenderly against her hairline. "I have to say — the real thing is sooooo much better!"
Lee chuckled as she caressed his cheek. "Glad to hear it!"
They kissed and snuggled until gradually, they drifted off to sleep.
"… and you'll call me if you have a problem?"
"Yes," Jimmy said patiently.
"You have your cell phone, right?"
He sighed and displayed it to Lee.
"And the battery's fully charged?"
He nodded and turned to the door.
"Oh, wait!" she exclaimed. "I remember from before… You can't use a cell phone in the hospital… It could affect some of the hospital equipment…"
"Honey, relax." He kissed her on the forehead. "Things have changed in the last few years. This phone is perfectly safe for me to use — it's been approved for use in hospitals."
She peered up at him anxiously. "You're sure?"
"Okay." She nodded.
He turned back to the door only to pause and face her once more. "It'll be okay," he assured her.
"How do you know?"
He shrugged. "It'll be okay, because it has to be."
"Oh, very reassuring!" she said sarcastically.
Jimmy didn't say anything else; instead, he leaned forward and kissed his bride on the lips. He caressed her cheek tenderly, winked at her and was gone, the door snicking shut behind him.
Lee threw herself down on the small couch only to jump to her feet once more. She couldn't sit still; she was too nervous.
Bernie Klein bustled down the maternity ward hallway, his arms full of stuffed animals. He knew it was silly, as his new granddaughter wouldn't really care about toys like this for a while, but he hadn't been able to resist the display in the hospital gift shop. He grimaced as he remembered exactly how much these toys had cost. Next time, he'd bring Astrid a newspaper from home and avoid stopping in that excuse for highway robbery of a store!
To his surprise, when he opened the door, he found himself looking into Jimmy Olsen's startled eyes. Jimmy was the last person that he would have expected to see here!
"Hi!" he exclaimed, shocked and flabbergasted.
Jimmy grinned at him briefly but then a strange look spread over his face for a second before his smile came back. "Hi," he answered awkwardly in return before turning his attention back to the baby in his arms. "Astrid will be right out. She's just in the bathroom for a minute."
"Are you okay?" Bernie hissed quietly with a glance at the closed door of the bathroom. "I was worried about you."
"I'm fine," Jimmy said somewhat stiffly. "I'm feeling much better about things."
Bernie sighed in relief. "Good. And you're okay with…" He fell silent but motioned at his small granddaughter.
"Yes." Jimmy moved over to the small bassinet and carefully placed Lee within.
"Good," Bernie said as Jimmy sat back down.
The two men fell silent.
There was a strange quality to the silence, Bernie mused. It felt as though there were many unspoken things hanging over the two of them. He could almost feel tension radiating from his friend.
When Astrid emerged from the bathroom, dispelling the silence, Bernie pushed it out of his mind. It must have been his imagination.
His lively, excitable daughter alternated between castigating him for buying so many toys for Lee and thanking him profusely for the armful of animals.
Jimmy seemed amused.
Lee, however, just slept through the whole thing. Astrid finally selected one of the animals — a giraffe with a particularly silly expression on its face — and tucked it into the bassinet beside her sleeping daughter.
"There," she said. "If Lee doesn't wake up screaming at the sight of this, we'll know it's a success!" She grinned at her father, who couldn't help chuckling.
Bernie reluctantly stood up. "This was nice, sweetheart, but I have to head back to work now. I'll be back later tonight."
"Okay, Dad." Astrid proffered her cheek for his kiss.
"If you're heading back to the Planet, I'll give you a lift," Bernie said to Jimmy, who looked startled at the offer.
"Um, no, I think I'll hang around here for a while longer," Jimmy replied. "But I'll walk you to the elevators."
Bernie nodded and the two men left the room.
When they reached the elevators, Jimmy turned to Bernie with a solemn expression on his face. "I want to thank you… I just want to say…" Jimmy paused and shook his head. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm going to miss you! You've been about the best friend that a guy could have." He extended his hand to a surprised Dr. Klein.
Bernie took Jimmy's hand in his to shake it, only to be taken aback when Jimmy pulled him into a rough embrace. "But you're not leaving yet," he said. "Are you?"
Jimmy pulled back to face him once more. "No. Not yet. I have a couple of weeks to go. But you're going to be busy helping Astrid and Sam, and I have to pack, and, well, there's never enough time for the important stuff so I thought I would tell you how I feel now. Before it's too late."
The elevator dinged, its doors opening.
"I appreciate that," Bernie replied. "You've been a great friend, too. But don't worry. There's lots of time yet. We'll get together a few times before you have to leave. And you know Clark and Lois. They'll make sure that we all visit you on a regular basis." He moved into the open elevator.
"I know," Jimmy said simply. "But I still wanted to tell you."
As the elevator doors closed, Bernie's eyes locked on Jimmy's. Were his eyes a bit teary? Bernie wondered. No, he thought, dismissing his friend's out-of-the-ordinary behaviour. It must have been a trick of the light.
Many years later, Jimmy would think back to the day he spent with Astrid and baby Lee in the hospital and remember that it had been an interminably long day.
Even so, some things stood out clearly in those memories.
It had been a shocking realisation that his boisterous, excited niece would someday be his mother-in-law. However, it hadn't taken long before he had been able to shunt that information to the back of his mind. It had been a relief to have Astrid turn back into his niece once more.
It had also been a relief to find out that the bond that he felt to the infant version of his wife was nothing compared to what he now shared with the adult. Oh, he could still feel the connection, but there was no comparison to what he felt radiating between him and his wife.
And it had been poignant seeing Bernie Klein again.
Bernie had entered the room just after noon, his arms loaded down with stuffed animals. For a second, Jimmy had felt nothing beyond the normal glad, friendly, warm response at the sight of his friend, but then his heart had wrenched in his chest.
After he and Lee left this time, he would never see Bernie again.
It had been difficult to talk with him, but Jimmy had managed to hide his feelings. At least he hoped he had.
Thankfully, he'd had a few moments to recover emotionally before Jon Kent had shown up to visit with his sister-in-law and his niece.
Jon had heartily greeted his Uncle Jimmy. The two of them had always gotten along quite well, sharing a common interest in music. And with Jimmy's eye for photography, he was able to relate to Jon's artistic ventures in a way that many others could not.
Jimmy schooled himself to not react oddly to Jon, but it had been difficult especially since he couldn't get the image of his nephew's skeletal remains out of his mind.
It hadn't been as difficult to visit with Clark or Lois or Sam as he had seen older versions of them in the future. He knew that Lois and Clark had been quite curious as to his continued presence visiting with Astrid and the baby but he was relieved when they didn't question him about it. He had, however, noticed Lois and Clark exchanging many puzzled, questioning glances. With an inward smirk, Jimmy realised that when they left the hospital, they would be analyzing every aspect of his behaviour, looking for subtle nuances that would explain why he was acting the way he was. He didn't expect any less from them. There was a reason that they were both award winning journalists!
And so the day wore on. A couple of times Jimmy intercepted puzzled glances from his niece who was obviously wondering why his visit seemed like it would never end, but he pretended as if he didn't notice her confusion.
In the late afternoon, Sam arrived for his visit with his wife and new daughter.
Jimmy stood up and stretched. He was stiff after sitting for so long. "I think I'll go and get a cup of coffee," he said, wanting to at least give them a few minutes of privacy before he returned. "Can I get you guys anything?"
"No, thanks, Uncle Jimmy," Sam answered, not taking his eyes off Astrid.
Jimmy glanced back as the door closed behind him. He was in time to catch Sam pulling Astrid into a loving clinch. From the way that she responded, it looked like Astrid was pleased to have a moment's privacy also. He'd have to remember to make lots of noise when he returned from the cafeteria!
There was a long line-up of people waiting to pay at the cashier. It was obviously a prime break time for a lot of the medical staff. Jimmy recognised a few of the nurses from Astrid's floor of the hospital.
As the line inched past the food selections, he looked them over, but none of them looked very appetizing. He'd never particularly enjoyed 'mystery meat.' He heard the woman behind him gag and turned to her in concern.
"Morning sickness," she blurted out in response to his look of inquiry. "Except it's not just in the morning. Don't worry. I'm not contagious."
Jimmy smiled. "That's good." He glanced at the chopped meat cutlets floating in a congealed pool of grease. "Just don't look at it."
"I'm not," she replied, her eyes turned resolutely away from the display case of food. "But it's the smell…" She turned a delicate shade of green as he watched.
Jimmy exerted himself to be charming, trying to distract this stranger so she could keep her mind off her unruly stomach. He seemed to be succeeding, telling her a few amusing stories that he remembered from Lois's many pregnancies so many years before.
Once they had finally inched past the food display cases, the woman took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. She grinned at Jimmy. "Thanks!" she said happily. "You're a lifesaver!"
He chuckled and faced front once again, his thoughts heading off on a new tangent. He couldn't help but imagine Lee pregnant with their child. She would be beautiful, her belly rounded and prominent. Would she suffer from morning sickness, he wondered, or would the Kryptonian side of her heritage protect her from that? Would she have to be careful during her pregnancy like her mother had been forced to, or would it be effortless?
What would it be like to have a child with her? Would they have a delicate elf of a daughter or a sturdy boy? Or would they have both? Twins did run in the family after all.
How had Lois felt when her children had started to develop superpowers like their father? She had always seemed to take everything in stride. How would he feel when his own child started swooping around the house leaving him earthbound?
He was suddenly eager to dive into fatherhood so he could learn the answers to all of these questions. Lee had expressed her own desire to have children. But they hadn't talked about the timing yet. Would she want to wait, he wondered, or would she want to start trying right away?
He grinned. Trying to become pregnant had a different meaning for this family that he had married into although, thankfully, some things were the same. His grin faded. He was sure that Lee wasn't looking forward to being exposed to Kryptonite so that she could be injected with the needed serum required so that she could conceive his child. He wasn't looking forward to it either. He'd never seen Lee around Kryptonite, but he had seen Clark and Marty suffer and he didn't want to see it again. All the same, he knew that Lee wouldn't flinch when the time came. She was strong. He also knew that he would be there for her. Nothing would keep him from giving her his support.
The line continued to inch forward with Jimmy finally nearing the cashier, and only three people ahead of him. So it was with a great deal of frustration that he saw that it was time for a shift change at the cash register. A new worker showed up, her cash box tucked under her arm.
"One moment, please," the first cashier said. "This won't take long." And she pressed a button on the cash register which immediately started spewing out a long ribbon of paper. "So, what's it like out?" she asked the incoming worker.
"Starting to cool down a bit," the other woman answered. "How's it been going in here?"
"Busy. How 'bout with you?" The cashier folded up the paper ribbon and tucked it into her cash box which she pulled out of the register.
"Not bad," the other woman said as she fitted her own cash box into the till. "Hey! Guess what? You'll never believe it!"
"I just saw Starfire — up close and personal! Right outside the hospital!"
"Really?" the other woman asked incredulously.
"Really," the new cashier confirmed as she rang in the next person's purchase.
"What was he doing?"
"He came running out that exit over by the ambulance bays, and then he took off right in front of me! I couldn't believe it! He's even better looking in person than he is on TV."
"Wow!" The other cashier sighed as she unconsciously cradled her cash box a little closer.
Jimmy stood frozen in shock as he listened. If she really had seen Starfire, then… Astrid was alone! His hand convulsed, hot coffee spraying out over his fingers.
"Hey! Are you okay?" the pregnant woman behind him asked.
He didn't hear her. Instead, he pushed his way past the two people in front of him and took off at a run, not even noticing the burn from the hot liquid. A chorus of protests rang out behind him. He didn't hear them.
It seemed to take forever for him to reach Astrid's room. Forcing himself to be calm, he pushed open her door. Inside, his niece sat on the edge of her bed, cautiously prodding her dinner with her fork. Jimmy started to relax only to tense up again when he realised that the bassinet was missing.
"Where's the baby?" he asked curtly.
"Gone for tests," Astrid said absently, as she dubiously eyed her food. She gingerly scooped up what looked like mashed potatoes.
"I'm not sure," Astrid answered. "Kerry took her — you know, the pretty blonde nurse that was here earlier. I think she said that she wanted to check Lee's weight — make sure that she's getting enough nutrition from me."
"That makes sense," Jimmy said, trying to sound normal. "They'd do that in the nursery, right?"
She forked a bite of mashed potatoes into her mouth, only to grimace and shudder. "Yeah, I think so. Why? What's wrong?"
He thought furiously. There was no reason to worry Astrid as there was nothing that she would be able to do. "Oh, I don't know. Kerry was kind of cute," Jimmy said, prevaricating madly. "Maybe I'll go see if I can help. You won't mind, will you?"
Astrid's jaw dropped. She looked completely stunned. "Uh, sure, go for it. I don't mind."
Jimmy smiled and slowly sauntered from the room. As soon as the door had closed behind him, he hurried towards the nursery.
He never made it there, however. As he got closer, he suddenly heard the howl of an upset baby coming from behind a closed door. Perhaps it was because of the bond that he felt with Lee, but he knew. He knew who was behind that door.
As he pushed it open, he caught sight of the pretty blonde nurse sprawled limply on a bed. Lee was screaming, the short pathetic angry crying of an infant in pain. A man dressed as an orderly was bending over her bassinet. He straightened as Jimmy came barrelling into the room.
"You!" Jimmy exclaimed. "You… You…" he repeated incoherently.
The bearded stranger slowly smiled even as Jimmy glared at him grimly. "You're too late," he said, his expression smug. He held up an empty syringe, displaying it to Jimmy.
Jimmy bellowed in rage and started forward only to flounder to a stop as the man pulled a gun from his pocket.
"Not so fast, Cowboy Bob!" the other man drawled. "You can just stand still unless you really do want to find out who's the quickest draw in the west!"
"Why are you doing this to us?" Jimmy blurted out as he stood helplessly eyeing the gun levelled at him.
A thoughtful expression spread over Tempus's face. "I don't really know. I guess I just find it… fun."
"Fun?" Jimmy shook his head, unable to believe what he had just heard. "Attacking women and children… Fun?"
"Absolutely!" Tempus crowed triumphantly. "But I'll tell you what would make things better."
"Having some real opposition. Now Herb — he might have been a bit of a bore, but at least he provided me with a challenge now and again. But you and your wife… Who's kidding whom? You two, you're supposed to be my new nemesises." Tempus paused for a second. "Is that even a word, do you think, nemesises? What is the plural form of nemesis?" He chuckled at the nonplussed expression on Jimmy's face. "Anyway," he continued, "do you think your pretty little wife — she is the brains of the outfit, right? — do you think she can try harder next time to foil my plan? This was just too easy!"
"You won't win. We won't let you." Jimmy glowered at the other man.
"Bravely said, but let me remind you — I already did!"
Not taking his eyes off Jimmy, Tempus reached into his pocket and pulled out a small device that Jimmy instantly recognised. Tempus pressed a button, a time window appeared and he moved to stand in front of it.
"Well, what can I say? This has just been enchanting meeting you. Too bad you'll soon be dead."
"Oh, didn't Herb tell you?" Tempus smiled maliciously. "Those devices that protect you from timeline anomalies — they're only intended for short-term use. Eventually they fail and then… Well, what can I say? I hope your will's up to date. Too bad, so sad. Ta ta, cheerio, and all that!" Tempus strolled through the time window which snapped shut immediately.
Jimmy ran to the bassinet and scooped the screaming infant into his arms. Jiggling her awkwardly on his shoulder, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialled one-handed. "It's me," he said tersely. "You better get over here. We have a problem."
Kerry Baker slowly came back to her senses. Her head hurt. She wanted to sleep some more but the voices wouldn't let her.
"… going to do now?"
"… don't know."
"He really did it… been injected."
"… can't stand to hear her crying."
"What … expect? She's in pain."
"… will be until … flushed out of her system… could be hours … stops hurting her."
"… poor thing."
"… hate to sound callous, but … bigger problems than a baby's pain."
"I know, Lee, I know. If … right, I'm going … die. Jon, too…"
"… won't let that happen… love you… won't lose you."
"… anything can be done?"
"Not here… Could try… go back to the lab."
Kerry couldn't make any sense out of the conversation. She slowly opened her eyes, half pushed herself up and tried to focus on the room.
Two adults stood in front of her, the man holding an infant in his arms. As she watched, the three of them disappeared — one second there, the next, gone.
Kerry fell back onto the bed, her consciousness fleeing once more.
After watching their daughter and new son- in-law disappear into the past, Sam and Astrid had started to leave the lab when they heard a commotion behind them. They turned around in time to see Lee and Jimmy reappear in front of them, Jimmy carrying a small baby.
The two of them were grey-faced and shaking.
"What happened?" Sam asked.
Jimmy opened his mouth but no words emerged. He shook his head angrily and tried again. "I failed!" he exclaimed. "I didn't stop him… Tempus won. It's my fault."
Lee cleared her throat noisily. "It's my fault, too. We were too complacent. We weren't careful enough."
Astrid couldn't take her eyes from the small infant who continued to whimper, even in her exhausted sleep. "Is that…"
"Me," Lee confirmed.
"You brought her here. Why?" Astrid's arms were practically itching to hold the small child.
"There is one thing that might help… one thing that we can try."
"What?" Sam asked.
"Kidney dialysis. We can try to filter the toxins out of her. But we're going to have to do it quickly."
"Why don't you just go back to the past and try again?" Astrid questioned them.
Lee shook her head. "No. It doesn't work that way. We had one chance and one chance only. If we tried again… Because we're already there, if we went back, we'd end up splitting the timeline and creating another dimension. We'd only end up complicating things too much."
Beside her, Jimmy faltered, his legs collapsing under him. Lee turned to him with a startled cry and held him up. Astrid sprang forward and grabbed the infant before she tumbled out of his arms.
Lee and Sam helped Jimmy to a chair. Before their eyes, he seemed to almost flicker. It was as if his flesh became momentarily translucent.
Jimmy held up his hands and watched as they shimmered into non- existence and back again. "It's started," he said blankly. "One moment I'm here, the next…"
"NO!" Lee exclaimed, shaking her husband almost angrily. "You have to hold on… I'm not going to let this happen!"
He looked up at his wife hovering over him and gently touched her cheek with a shaking hand. "I love you. You have to remember that I love you. I… I don't want to leave you."
"Then don't!" she ordered. "Don't leave me." She crouched down to gaze directly into his face. "I need you to hold on for me. I need you to be strong."
Jimmy nodded, his eyes intent on hers. "I'll try. But you better hurry."
Lee didn't say anything, instead swallowing convulsively before standing up to face her parents. "I'll need some help," she said simply. "I can't do this alone."
"We're here for you, honey," Sam replied.
"We're here for both of you," Astrid added. "What do you need us to do?" She gently rocked the small baby who promptly settled into a deeper sleep.
Lee gazed around the small lab, but her parents got the impression that she wasn't actually seeing anything therein. She looked tense but calm until they caught a glimpse of the terror deep within her eyes. She was in a panic, only a thin veneer of control keeping her emotions in check.
"I'm not sure… There's so much to do… There's so much that I need." She shook her head. "Mom, could you look after the baby? Dad, keep an eye on Jimmy. I need to think… I have to get some equipment. I can't jury-rig a dialysis machine. I'll need the real thing. I guess I'll have to go to the hospital and steal one. They'd never understand what I'm going to use it for. It would take too long to explain…"
Sam and Astrid exchanged a worried glance before Sam straightened up from his position hovering over Jimmy and strode single-minded to the window. He flung it open and took a deep breath. "Help, Superman!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs. He turned to face Lee once more. "No daughter of mine's a thief!" he proclaimed. "Dad can get us what we need."
They heard a great whoosh and a second later, Sam's startled father stood in front of them.
Lee tried to tell her grandfather what had happened, what was wrong, but she wasn't able to talk coherently. Her words tumbled out, one on top of the other, as she fussed over her husband. Sam and Astrid took over, outlining the problem clearly to Clark.
"What equipment do you need?" he asked.
"I… I'm not sure… I can't think straight…" Lee shook her head violently, tears welling up in her eyes.
Sam grabbed her by the shoulders and held her tight. "Come on, honey. You're a doctor. You know this stuff. Take a deep breath and blow it out… Good. Do it again… Okay, then. Better?"
"Take your time. You have to concentrate. You have to focus. Think really hard about what you want and write it down. Okay?"
Lee nodded again. "Okay." She took another deep breath and then sat down at the small table. The scratching of her pen on paper was the only sound to be heard for a moment. Finally, she stood up and handed the paper to her grandfather.
He perused it quickly before pursing his lips in a silent whistle. "Pretty heavy duty equipment that you're asking me to get."
"I know, but I wrote down everything that we could possibly need. I figured too much was better than too little."
Clark nodded. "I'll be back. It shouldn't take me long to get all this."
"What are you going to tell them at the hospital?" Jimmy asked.
"Not a lot," Clark replied. "Just that I need to borrow this stuff, and I don't have a lot of time to explain. Let's hope whoever's in charge is a fan of mine!" He kissed his granddaughter tenderly on the forehead, clapped Jimmy on the shoulder and was gone in a flash.
They didn't have long to wait before he was back, his arms piled high. He placed the equipment in the centre of the lab and flashed off again to get more.
Lee rapidly examined the dialysis machine and sorted out all its tubing. She connected it to a power source, checked all the dials and then turned to her mother. "It's time," she said.
Astrid gently laid the baby on a padded table and took a step back, relinquishing the child to her adult daughter's control. She found herself taking another step back at the sound of the outraged infant's initial shriek of protest.
Sam wrapped his arms around her and felt his wife jerk at each sharp scream from the baby as Lee competently hooked her up to the dialysis machine. Astrid wormed her way out of his arms and moved to stand beside the squalling infant, but she wasn't able to calm the child down.
Strangely enough, the baby didn't stop screaming until Jimmy shifted his chair to sit beside her. At the first sound of his soft comforting voice, baby Lee stopped yelling, whimpering pathetically instead.
"Here goes," her adult counterpart said as she flipped a switch. The muted hum of the dialysis machine filled the small room.
Lee's eyes were intent on her husband as he whispered softly to the tiny baby. Sam moved to stand beside her and hooked his arm around her shoulders.
She turned to him with a gasp. "Oh, Daddy!" she sobbed, throwing herself into his arms.
"Shhh," he crooned, rocking her back and forth. "You can't fall apart now. You just can't."
She cried silently in his arms, her body quaking, but he could tell that she was striving to gain control. It took a few moments, but finally, she pulled back to look him in the eyes. "Thanks," she whispered.
"When will we know?" Clark asked as he moved into position beside his son and granddaughter.
"In a little while, I'll run some tests… I'll check to see if it's working. For now, though, we just have to wait."
Sam and Clark nodded. The three of them stood and watched as Jimmy and Astrid fussed over the tiny infant, the tubes and shunts almost dwarfing the baby.
Lee checked her watch and waited, her heart in her mouth. She noted a further attenuation in her husband, his flesh becoming less and less substantial, but she didn't mention it out loud. She knew that he was aware of it, too, and mentioning it wouldn't do any good.
Finally, she roused herself from the reverie she had fallen into and walked over to the small baby. Pricking one tiny finger, she squeezed a few drops of blood onto a glass slide. The baby protested as she worked, but Lee hardened her heart to the sound, viewing the child with a curious lack of pity. There was too much at stake.
She had an audience watching her as she studied the blood droplets under the microscope. It was harder than she would have thought possible to straighten up and face them. "It's not working," she said bleakly. "The dialysis isn't recognising the kryptonite solution as a toxin. And the toxin's designed to bind with my — her — system. It's going to free-float in her bloodstream until it does."
There was silence in the small room, broken only by the sound of the machine and the quiet whimpers of the exhausted infant. Clark stared at Jimmy who looked blankly off into space, his face an expressionless mask. Astrid moved into the comfort of her husband's arms, the two of them bracing themselves, taking strength one from the other.
Lee stood bereft in the centre of the room, her eyes locked on her husband. A strangled sob escaped from her throat.
At the sound, Jimmy buried his head in his hands, unable to face his wife's sorrow. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "It's all my fault."
Lee's eyes glittered angrily at his words. "No, it's not," she hissed. "It's the fault of that madman. It's the fault of Tempus. And I refuse to let him win. Okay, this isn't working, but that doesn't mean that he's won. That doesn't mean that this is over! Because it's not. Do you hear me, Jimmy? This is not over. You can't give up. I won't let you."
"But honey," Astrid said, stepping away from the comfort of Sam's arms. "What else can we do? What else can we try?"
Lee didn't answer her directly. She thought hard for a moment and then marched over to her grandfather. "I need some Kryptonite," she said. "Can you get me some Kryptonite?"
He nodded, his expression startled. "Yes. I can get you some. What are you going to do with it?"
"You don't want to know," she said grimly.
Clark disappeared with a whoosh only to reappear a few minutes later with a small lead box.
Lee took it from his reluctant hands. "You and Dad better get out of here. Mom, I'm going to need your help. Jimmy, you stay where you are. You have to look after the baby. Okay?"
As her family followed her instructions, Lee stood in the middle of the room, cradling the metal box in her arms. She was going to fix this, she vowed silently. She wasn't going to let that madman win.
Clark disappeared for a few minutes to fetch his wife and then he, Lois and Sam waited anxiously outside the small laboratory. Clark was currently cursing the fact that Bernie had lined the place with lead. He couldn't see a thing! So they waited impatiently, pacing up and down and not talking. It seemed like it had been days when the door finally opened, but it had only been an hour.
Astrid emerged, pale and shaking. She marched over to the two men. "Could you get me a bottle with formula? The baby's hungry, and this is going to take a little while longer."
"What is?" Sam asked anxiously.
Astrid gave him a tight smile. "Lee has hooked herself into the dialysis machine, too. She's filtering the baby's blood directly. She said that the solution has been designed to bind itself to her system and to nothing else, so she figured it was better for it to bind itself to hers than to the baby's."
"What?" the three of them exclaimed as one.
"I couldn't talk her out of it," Astrid said simply. "I tried, but she was adamant. She says it's the only way to save Jimmy and to change Jon's death. She insisted." Astrid looked back at the closed door of the lab. "I better get back. The Kryptonite's tough on her system."
"Tough on her?" Sam asked, momentarily puzzled.
"She needed it so that I could break her skin," Astrid answered gently. "Without it, she wouldn't have been able to do this. I've got it as far away from the two of them as I can, but still…"
"Oh, yeah, right," Sam replied. "I forgot about that. I'm not used to her having superpowers."
"But will she still have superpowers after this?" Lois asked, her forehead wrinkled in thought.
"She doesn't know. Now, if you'll excuse me…" Astrid turned and re-entered the lab.
They stared at each other for a long moment before Clark shook himself. "I better go," he said. "I'll be back in a few minutes with a bottle. The hospital will give me one, I'm sure."
Sam nodded. "Better get some diapers, too," he replied blankly. "Lee always needed to be changed after she ate."
Clark nodded and disappeared again.
Sam wondered what story his father was now going to tell at the hospital. But he supposed it wouldn't matter. If Lee succeeded, this would all fade out anyway.
If Lee succeeded…
He put the palm of his hand against the outside wall of the lab. Inside that small room, his baby was putting herself through torture, and there was nothing he could do to help. There was nothing anyone could do to help.
His mother didn't say anything. Instead, she reached out and took his hand in hers. He clung to her familiar comfort.
Four hours after they started, Lee and Astrid emerged from the laboratory with Astrid carrying the small infant. Lee had changed her attire, wearing the anachronistic white lab coat that Dr. Klein had always favoured.
"Are you all right?" Sam asked his daughter.
She nodded. "A little sore, but I'll be fine."
"What about your superpowers?" Lois asked.
She smiled wryly. "Non-existent at the moment, I'm afraid."
"Will they come back?"
"I don't know. And I don't care. I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I had to. I'd do anything to save Jimmy!"
Lois, Clark and Sam craned their necks looking into the lab.
"He's lying down," Lee said in answer to their unspoken question. "He's so weak… He's trying to conserve his strength."
"Did this work?" Clark asked quietly.
"I don't know," Lee answered in a subdued tone of voice. "I won't know until Jimmy and I take her back." She took the small baby from her mother. "We better get going."
One by one, she kissed Lois, Clark, Sam and Astrid goodbye before turning and making her solitary way back into the laboratory to her husband.
The two couples stood silently and watched as the door slowly closed. Clark wrapped his arm around Lois's shoulders, and Sam took Astrid's hand in his. All they could do now was wait.
Kerry Baker made another valiant effort to push herself into a sitting position. It was hard with her head swimming and her body feeling like a limp noodle, but she made it. No sooner had she pushed herself up, however, than the air started to shimmer and quiver in front of her. To her shock, the people from before were back, the woman holding a baby and half dragging the man after her through the disturbance. Her eyes rolling back into her head, Kerry fell back onto the bed, out for the count.
Lee helped Jimmy to a chair and then stood back and studied him. "Better?" she asked.
He looked around the small room. "I think so."
"Thank God!" Lee closed her eyes, shaken by the depth of her relief.
"What happened?" he asked. "I don't remember much."
"You were kind of out of it. I'll tell you later. For right now, I better take this one back to Mom and Dad." She cuddled the tiny baby a little closer. "Are you okay to go and get this poor nurse some help?"
He tentatively stood up. "I think so. I feel pretty steady. What am I going to tell them?"
Lee thought for a moment. "Try to keep it simple. Tell them she tripped and hit her head or something."
Jimmy nodded and turned to the door before suddenly turning back and kissing her fiercely.
Lee pulled back and pressed her forehead against his needing a moment to compose herself. She could feel her whole body shaking. The intensity of her emotions, combined with the physical drain on her system from the Kryptonite, had taken its toll on her.
He left the room. Lee watched him go, feeling weak from relief. But she wasn't looking forward to telling him what this desperate ploy of hers might have cost them.
Feeling sore and bone-weary, Lee left the room, baby and bassinet in tow, in search of her parents.
"There she is! There's my girl!" Astrid exclaimed as the door to her room opened and a strange nurse wheeled in Lee's bassinet.
"Sorry to take so long," the petite auburn- haired nurse said quietly.
Astrid waved away the woman's apology. "She was only gone about five minutes. But it felt like much longer!"
The other woman smiled tightly at her words, but didn't say anything as she turned to go. "Oh!" She paused as she caught sight of the large pile of stuffed animals. With a smile, she turned back to Astrid. "I had a bear just like that blue one when I was a little girl. I called it Mr. Binkie."
"Good name," Astrid said. "Mind if we borrow it?"
"No. Of course not."
The door opened, and Sam entered.
"There's Daddy's little girl!" He deftly scooped the small baby into his arms.
The nurse stood frozen and watched with a strange, wondering expression on her face. As she became aware of Astrid's attention, she visibly shook herself. "Sorry," she said softly. "It's just… so obvious how much you love your baby."
"He does. And so do I. More than I ever would have thought possible. Before I had her, I never understood how she would make me feel," Astrid replied. "Do you have children?"
The other woman's hand reflexively cradled her abdomen. "Not yet," she said. "I want to, though." A sad expression spread over her face. "I've only been married for a little while so… We're not ready yet… We want some time for us before we have children."
"We wanted children right away but it took us a while," Astrid told the nurse. "This little one was worth the wait, though. Right, Sam?" She held her arms up as Sam competently transferred the baby to her.
"Right," he agreed, smiling broadly. "Lee's a little fussy," he told her. "Maybe she's hungry."
Astrid grinned and started undoing the buttons on her nursing nightgown.
"I should go and let you have some privacy," the young nurse said.
She turned back and regarded Astrid warily.
"You never told me… Kerry was going to check her weight… How's Lee doing?" Astrid fondly watched her baby as she rooted around and then latched on to nurse.
The auburn-haired woman smiled slowly. "Your baby's doing just fine," she assured them. "Everything's just fine," she said firmly.
"That's great!" At the news, Astrid forgot all about the nurse, instead turning to Sam. Did she ever have something good to tell him! "Guess what?" she hissed as the nurse moved to the door.
"You remember that blonde nurse — Kerry?"
"I think Uncle Jimmy's fallen for her! He was here, but then he headed off looking for her!"
Sam gaped, open-mouthed. "Uncle Jimmy? I always thought he was gay!"
As she left the room, the nurse choked. And then they could hear her giggling even through the closed door. Astrid looked at Sam, Sam looked at Astrid, and then they promptly dismissed the nurse from their attention. As one, they watched their baby as she suckled. This baby, this gift from God — all the pain and suffering she had put them through in their quest to have her, she transformed and made worthwhile.
That night, Lee and Jimmy lay snuggled together in his bed. The two of them were abnormally quiet. She hadn't really wanted to talk, and neither had he. It was going to take them a while to assimilate what had happened over the past day.
"Are you feeling any better?" Jimmy asked quietly, pulling her a little closer into his side.
Lee nodded, her hands caressing and taking comfort from the solid warmth of his chest. "Yes," she said softly, her voice cracking a bit. She cleared her throat.
"I'm so sorry that you had to go through that."
"I know. But I'd do it again. I'd do anything for you," she assured him as she buried her head against his chest.
"Thank you," he whispered into her hair.
Hot tears sprang to her eyes and overflowed to roll down her cheeks.
At the first touch of moisture, he pulled her closer. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." She sniffled a bit, trying to control herself.
His gentle hands tipped her head back so that she had to meet his concerned gaze. "Yes, there is, so what is it?"
"Oh, Jimmy!" She burrowed into him, sobbing against his shoulder.
"Are you in any pain? Is it your superpowers?"
The alarm and worry in his voice cut through the emotional fog she found herself in. "No, it's not that," she assured him as she struggled to regain control. "My powers are starting to come back. I thought that they would. There wasn't a lot of Kryptonite in the solution, and it was geared to a baby's body- weight not an adult's. That's not going to be a problem."
"Then what is it? Are you… You said that you didn't blame me, but… can you forgive me for being so stupid and complacent? It's my fault that…"
"No! I don't want to hear you blame yourself any more! We were both stupid… We were both complacent… No, that's not it."
"Then what is it?"
Lee lifted her head and gazed deep into her beloved husband's eyes. "Tempus' poison… You know that I'll never be completely free of it, right? Oh, my body will filter away the Kryptonite, but that was only part of what he injected into her… I mean, me. It was only there to enable the other toxins to do what they were intended to do."
"Yeah, lay dormant until they attack a fetus …" In shock, Jimmy reared back away from her and regarded her with stricken eyes. "Our children," he said, his voice heavy. "They won't have superpowers, will they?"
She slowly shook her head. "No."
"Did you know that before you…" His voice trailed off.
He stared at her, shocked and dismayed. "You gave up their birthright to save my life!"
"No. I didn't." Each word was distinct and carefully enunciated. "If you… died," she choked on the word, "then I wouldn't want children. I wouldn't have children. There's only one man that I want to share my life with, that I want to 'be fruitful and multiply' with, and that's you. But," she continued, wistfully, "it does make me sad — to know that even before they're conceived, I've deprived them of part of their heritage."
Jimmy pulled her into his arms, intent on trying to alleviate some of the pain he heard in her voice. She moved into his embrace, struggling to comfort him, too, struggling to assuage his guilt.
They talked a long time that night, striving to console one another, but in the end, Lee and Jimmy both knew that this guilt would never completely leave them. It would stay in their hearts forever.
As Sam opened the door to his home, he called out to his wife as per his regular routine.
"I'm in here," she shouted back to him. "I'm just feeding the baby."
"Again?" He paused in the door of the nursery, admiring the pretty picture his wife made sitting in the rocking chair with their baby in her arms.
"Must be a growth spurt. Didn't the baby book say she was due for one at the six week mark?" Astrid shifted Lee onto her shoulder and started patting her back, waiting for a burp.
"I think so," he agreed. "Here, let me," Sam offered eagerly, anxious to hold his child.
Astrid gratefully passed their daughter to her husband's waiting arms. "She's getting heavy! My arms get tired sometimes."
"That's what you have me for."
She grinned at him. "Oh, you're good for other things, too. In fact…" She cleared her throat and continued. "Went to the doctor today," she said diffidently. "Had my six week check- up."
"Oh?" His wife's words didn't register. He was busy trying to coax a stubborn burp to emerge from Lee's throat.
"He says she's doing great."
"So am I. Everything's back to normal."
"That's good," he said absentmindedly before the implications of what she had said caught his full attention. "Oh! You mean…"
She giggled. "Uh-huh. I'm back in action, cleared for take-off, open for business…"
"That's good!" he repeated, unable to keep from grinning from ear to ear.
"I thought you might think so," she said happily.
Their eyes locked, both of them suddenly feeling the connection between them flaring into life. She stood up and moved towards him as he stood frozen in the middle of the room.
Unconsciously licking his own lips, he couldn't stop looking at hers, so full and luscious. So inviting. She stood in front of him, and he slowly bent his head down to her. She leaned into him and…
Lee's sudden eructation of air broke the tension.
Astrid started to giggle at the look on Sam's face.
"Guess that will have to wait," he said sheepishly.
"Guess so." Astrid quickly pecked him on the cheek. "You must be hungry. Supper's all ready. Let's go eat, and you can tell me about your day."
"Tell me about yours first."
"Well, let's see," she said as they left the nursery and walked to the kitchen. "Lee woke up, I changed her diaper, she ate, I changed her diaper again, she had a quick nap, I had a quick shower, I changed her diaper again, she ate some more, etc, etc. Oh yeah, there was a lot of burping done, too! Honey, I love our daughter, but I'd rather hear about your day!"
He laughed as he carefully put Lee into her sling-back chair and buckled her in. "Well, Starfire didn't have a busy day at all — only helped at one fender-bender, that's it. But Mom and Dad had me busy doing data searches for any news about Uncle Jimmy. I couldn't find a thing."
Astrid's expression turned pensive. "I miss him, but… For some strange reason, I feel like whatever he's doing is, oh, I don't know, but I feel like whatever he's doing, he's meant to be doing. Do you know what I mean?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I do. I miss him, but I don't at the same time. It's a really odd feeling." He sat down at the table across from her and picked up his knife and fork.
They talked about other things as they ate, Sam sharing some Daily Planet gossip with her, and Astrid telling him exactly how cute Lee had been when she'd had her bath.
When they were done, Sam cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher in a flash, only to pause and pick up an envelope on the counter. "What's this?"
"I almost forgot!" she exclaimed. "That came today. It's addressed to both of us so I thought I'd wait and open it with you."
He ripped open the bulky letter, sat down shifting his chair next to hers, and spread the papers out on the table before them. They read it through once, stared at each other incredulously and carefully read it through again.
"Yeah," Sam replied, practically speechless.
"I know!" Sam shook his head. "Why don't you call Mom and Dad, and I'll go get your father?"
Astrid nodded. "Good idea. They're going to have to know about this."
It didn't take more than fifteen minutes before Lois, Clark and Bernie were ensconced in the small kitchen, glasses of wine in hand. Astrid stuck to milk in deference to her status as a nursing mother. And then Sam and Astrid stood in front of Lois, Clark and Bernie and showed them what they had received in the mail.
"So that's it," Bernie said sombrely. "Jimmy doesn't want us searching for him anymore."
"I don't care what that letter from the lawyer says, I don't plan on giving up," Clark replied with a hint of steel in his voice.
"But Dad, where else is there to look?" Sam asked, exasperated and frustrated. "You've had me checking out news-reports, online info, tracking his credit history — which has been completely inactive for the last six weeks — and I haven't found a thing. Plus, we've all done our fair share of searching, but not one of us has found a trace of him. This notice from his lawyer is very clear. He wants us to clear out his apartment and divvy up his possessions."
"I don't care," Clark answered. "I don't intend on giving up."
"Clark, be reasonable." Lois laid her hand gently on her husband's arm. "Jimmy doesn't want to be found. I know that you're not used to this, but sometimes there's really nothing more that can be done."
Clark looked at her, a shocked and incredulous expression on his face.
"Oh, I know," Lois said. "I don't want to give up either. He's my friend, too. But I think in this case, we have to respect his wishes."
"But what if he's hurt… What if he needs us?"
"If he's hurt," Bernie answered, "or if he needs us, he knows what he has to do. All it would take is a 'help, Superman' and you'd be there. No, Jimmy has decided, for whatever reason he feels to be valid," Bernie surreptitiously glanced at his small granddaughter cradled in Sam's arms, "that he needs to distance himself from us for a while. I don't think we have any choice but to respect his wishes."
Clark didn't answer, but Sam and Astrid could see that he wasn't yet totally convinced.
"What I don't understand," Sam said, "was why he left all his money to be invested in Lee's name!"
"Or why we can't tell her about it until she's twenty-one."
"Not that we're complaining!" Sam hastily added. "It's a fantastic gift."
"Right," Astrid quickly agreed.
Clark, Lois and Bernie exchanged a series of cryptic glances.
"I don't know why he did that," Lois replied, an unfathomable expression on her face.
The two older men were quick to agree that, no, they hadn't a clue why Jimmy had made that particular decision.
Sam and Astrid studied their parents intently. There was something that they weren't saying, but the two of them didn't know what. Whatever that might be was beside the point, though.
Uncle Jimmy was gone, and it didn't look like he'd be back any time soon.
"You don't think he, uh, did anything drastic…" Lois's voice trailed off into silence.
"No!" Clark replied emphatically. "No," he repeated more calmly. "That's not the kind of thing he'd do… He'd never…"
Lois didn't look convinced, but she didn't say anything.
Bernie shook his head slowly. "No, I didn't sense that from him the last time I saw him. He wasn't himself, but I didn't get the feeling that he had reached a decision of that magnitude. No, I think he's decided that he wants a different life for himself, and he's gone to actively pursue it. So, if that's what he wanted, well, more power to him!" Bernie raised his glass into the air. "To Jimmy Olsen. May he find what he's searching for!"
"To Jimmy Olsen!" the others echoed as they each held their own glasses high.
Sam and Astrid didn't notice the speculative look on Bernie's face as he glanced surreptitiously at his new granddaughter, but Lois and Clark did.
In the years to come, Jimmy's disappearance remained a mystery, often discussed, but never resolved. Lois, Clark and Bernie each had their own theory about their friend's vanishing act, but they never spoke of it, instead preferring to believe that somewhere, somewhen, their friend had finally achieved the happiness that he had been searching for.
Twenty years, ten months and one week later
As he walked hand-in-hand with his wife, Sam found himself studying his wife's profile. She was as beautiful today as she had ever been. Her hair was as fiery as ever and her face unlined. She looked just like she had on the day they had married, but familiarity had made her even lovelier in his eyes.
There was a tension about her that had never been there before, though. For those with eyes to see, it was obvious that she was grieving for her father, as everyone who had ever known the redoubtable Bernie Klein was also.
Bernie Klein would be missed. He had been one of the most ethical men that Sam had ever known. And one of the most compassionate.
Bernie had had a special way about him. And he had been good for Lee.
Lee was so talented, so self-sufficient, and unbelievably bright, but she had always kept those around her at arm's length. Sam and Astrid could never understand why. She had always been treated with love and respect, but she was wary of them even so. It was as if she had been let down by life once upon a time, but Sam hadn't a clue how. There had been nothing traumatic in her past.
The only person she had allowed through her barriers had been Bernie Klein.
And now, Bernie Klein was dead.
Astrid had to struggle with the fact that her father, her solid, indestructible father, was gone. She found it hard going. But at least she shared her grief with Sam. He did his best to be strong for her.
His parents had taken Uncle Bernie's death hard, too, but they had each other. They'd get over it in time. He knew that.
It was as if thinking about his parents had conjured up his father. A whoosh drew Sam's attention up, and he saw Superman streak across the sky in answer to some unknown summons. Where was Dad going in such a hurry? he wondered. Oh, well, he'd find out later.
The sight of Dad soaring through the sky was enough to make him want to scoop his pretty wife up into his arms and go flying, too, but this wasn't the right time. There was nothing he and Astrid enjoyed more than spending time alone together high in the stratosphere. But for the moment, they were restricting themselves to the face of the earth, having something more important to attend to.
Sam wasn't so sure that Lee would be able to handle her loss. She and her grandfather had shared so much. Perhaps this was the reason that they had both felt this intense need to connect with her. She'd been incommunicado since the funeral. She had to be hurting as much as Astrid was. So when his lovely wife had suggested that they drop in on Lee and whisk her out of her dorm room for lunch, Sam had agreed with no hesitation. She needed to know that she wasn't alone.
Maybe later, though, they could fly out to visit with Jon and Larissa. For some reason, Sam had been missing his twin more than normal. Even though he had seen Sunstorm briefly on a rescue the day before, there was something nagging at him… Something saying that he had to visit his brother and make sure everything was okay. It was odd how strong his desire was to connect with Jon. Perhaps it was a residual effect of Uncle Bernie's passing, this internal imperative to check on his loved ones.
His thoughts turned ahead to the impending meeting with Lee. The dorm room wouldn't be hers for much longer, he mused, but she wouldn't be without resources. In a matter of days, he and Astrid would be free to tell her of the legacy that Uncle Jimmy had left to her. He shook his head. It was hard to believe that his little girl was about to become a very wealthy woman, but Uncle Jimmy's lawyer had arranged to have his client's estate invested wisely. Someday Lee would have to work, but she would certainly be able to afford to have some breathing space to make her own choices as to what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
But Lee didn't know any of that. Poor girl. Uncle Bernie had been a teacher, advisor, mentor and confidant. She must be feeling completely bereft.
Silently, Sam and Astrid climbed up the two short flights of stairs to emerge into a dingy hallway. They moved purposefully down the hall to stand in front of a nondescript door.
Sam took a deep breath before lifting up his closed hand to rap firmly on the door.
"Come in," he heard his daughter say.
Sam opened the door, Astrid moved inside, and he followed only to stop dead when he saw his daughter sitting with a man on the couch facing the door. They were holding hands, he noticed in spite of his shock.
"Uncle Jimmy?" Astrid gasped.
Sam shook his head, closed his eyes and opened them again to see that nothing had changed.
"Uncle Jimmy!" he blurted out. "What are you doing with my daughter?"