By Zoomway <Zoomway@aol.com>
Submitted: November 2002
Summary: Some surprising news sends Lois and Clark on a roller coaster of an adventure.
"A 'person' is smart. *People* are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody *knew* the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody *knew* the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you *knew* that people were alone on this planet."
— Men in Black
Lois felt rotten. It was like having a hangover but without having enjoyed overindulging the night before. "If Clark gave me the flu, I'll kill him," she whispered drowsily as she trudged to the bathroom.
She looked in the mirror and grimaced. "I look worse than I feel." She turned on the hot water and grabbed her toothbrush. "Although," she said to her reflection, "I've never known Clark to get sick." She ran the brush under the stream of water and her thoughts drifted back to last night.
They had been snuggled together on his sofa, a bowl of popcorn, some wine, and "To Have and Have Not" in the VCR. Being in Clark's arms felt more and more like the place she wanted to be for the rest of her life, and yet the thought frightened her. Though she'd known Clark nearly two years, it had only been in the last couple of months they'd begun sharing a romantic relationship.
She did concede that for a few months prior to that, she had felt a growing attraction to Clark, and when he finally asked her out on a date, she was willing. Then that *stuff* started. That need he seemed to have to run off at the most crucial moment. She squeezed some toothpaste onto the brush. Then again, when she thought about it, he ran off *before* they started dating.
"Where do you go?" she asked as she placed the brush in her mouth. What was he so afraid of? *Was* he afraid? She'd dumped Dan, and she thought when she'd done that, Clark would stop being so…high-strung, but no, he was still nervous…flighty. Not all the time, though. She smiled as she rinsed. Most of the time he was the sweetest, most loving man she knew.
Lois rubbed her stomach. "Bleh. Please just be that salmon I had for dinner last night, and not the stomach flu."
Maybe it was too soon, she consoled herself. She'd only dumped Dan a week ago. Still, she shrugged, Clark had said 'I'm ready to take the next step if you are.' When she'd asked him what the next step was, he'd said 'Commitment. Just you and me.' An exclusive relationship. A little scary, but in a good way. He was also understanding. Sometimes they'd kiss pretty hot and heavy, but she'd always…stop the forward momentum. Maybe that was it. She was sending mixed signals. She loved him. She loved him so much, but that intimacy line — why couldn't she cross it with him?
Lois started dressing, still feeling queasy. Maybe it was a good thing they'd never been intimate, she mused. If they had, she might rush out and buy a pregnancy kit considering her unhappy digestive system.
It wasn't like she had no experience. Not that any of it was good, but she *did* have experience. Could that be it? Every man before had been a disappointment. Worse, she felt she'd been a disappointment. They always seemed to leave after the relationship became sexual. Did men have a sixth sense? Could they tell she was only going through the motions?
She shook her head as she buttoned her blouse. Then again, she'd never felt desire with the few other men she'd been with, but she most *definitely* did with Clark. It was so overpowering sometimes, and yet, the stronger the pull, the more she resisted, the more she balked.
Did that frustrate Clark? Probably. Was she unintentionally telling him she didn't find him desirable? "God," she whispered. "I hope not."
There was a soft rapping at the door. Lois brightened instantly. "Speak of the devil," she said ruefully as she slipped into her blazer. She loved Clark's new habit of dropping by to accompany her to work.
Maybe it was time to take Clark where no man had gone…well…no man in at least five years…had gone before. Cross the line. Love him completely. She sighed. They hadn't even said the "scary words" to each other yet, and while Lois acknowledged that every kiss, glance, and gesture from Clark shouted the unspoken words, she also acknowledged it would be nice to *hear* them.
She trotted to the door, smoothing back a few stray hairs, took a composing breath, and opened the door. "Hi," she said brightly.
"Good morning, Ms. Lane," a nasal voice responded.
A young man with a smooth-featured face sporting owl-eyed glasses smiled benignly back at her. Lois placed a hand on his thin shoulder and swung him out of the way like a garden gate. She peered down her apartment hallway, sighed with disappointment, and then swung the young man back into place. "Good morning, Corey," she said and glanced at the large manila envelope he was carrying. "Perry can't wait for me to even get to the Planet this morning?"
"Guess not," Corey shrugged and handed her the envelope, receipt and a stubby little pencil.
"I've got news for Perry White," Lois griped as she scribbled her name on the receipt. "I'm not a twenty-four hour convenience store."
"Hey, Corey. How's it going?" Clark said cheerfully as he brushed by the young man en route to Lois.
"Fine, Mr. Kent," he replied, his voice breaking with a squeak.
"Hi," Clark said softly as he touched Lois' shoulder.
"Morning," she smiled, and leaned into a kiss waiting to happen.
Corey swallowed and tried to fix his eyes on something else in the apartment. Unfortunately Clark Kent was a bit broader in the shoulders than Corey had anticipated. The young man, suddenly feeling inadequate, squared his shoulders and took a deep breath in an effort to puff himself up. The effort only served to make him dizzy, however, and so he exhaled quickly.
Lois broke from the kiss. "Oh, I'm sorry, Corey," she said and handed back the receipt and the pencil.
"It's okay, Ms. Lane," he said rather glumly as he turned to leave. He wished he had at least given her a bigger pencil.
Clark closed the door. "Perry delivering homework?"
"Apparently," Lois sighed as she opened the envelope. She extracted the contents. "Photos," she said, handing them to Clark.
"From a security camera."
"Uh huh," Lois nodded as she read an enclosed note. "Perry says these were taken at STAR Labs last night…blah…blah…the police were already called in…blah…and wants us there ASAP."
Clark smiled. "You've got a real Reading Rainbow flair, Lois."
She tipped her head slightly to the side. "Cute," she said and grabbed the free corner of the photos. "This guy is pretty bold. He's staring right into the camera."
"Arrogant," Clark said as he surreptitiously lowered his glasses to magnify every detail. He noticed the man had a tattoo of barbed wire around his wrist.
"That too." Lois stuffed the photos back into the folder. "So, I guess we'd better head to STAR—" She stopped and held her stomach. "I almost thought this went away for a minute."
Clark's jovial expression changed to one of concern. He placed the back of his hand on her forehead and then her cheek. "Feeling bad?"
"Rotten," Lois corrected. "Remember Ralph's Pagoda?"
"Lois, you didn't—"
She shook her head. "No, no, but I think it's the same thing. I had some salmon last night and it's not always easy to tell if fish is fresh."
"Why don't you stay here and get some rest," he offered. "I can cover the STAR Labs thing."
"That's sweet of you, Clark," she said as she opened the door, "but sometimes I get like you and … obsess."
She fished in her pocket, removed her car keys and dangled them in front of Clark. "Do you mind driving? I don't feel up to it."
Clark took the keys. "I do *not* obsess."
Lois switched off the lights. "You *do* obsess, Clark."
"All I'm trying to prove," Clark said as he held open the door to STAR Labs, "is that I do *not* obsess."
Lois placed a hand on his chest. "Clark, all the way up here you've been obsessing on how you *don't* obsess. What does that tell you?"
A balding man in a lab coat approached them. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Lois Lane, and this is my partner Clark Kent. We're from the Daily Planet."
The man extended his hand. "I'm Dr. Bernard Klein. I'm the one who phoned the police."
Clark shook his hand. "We've seen the security photos."
Lois quickly retrieved a tape recorder from her purse. "What was stolen, Dr. Klein?"
He shook his head. "We're still cataloging, Ms. Lane. They definitely took all controlled substances they could carry."
"Illegal *and* legal, Mr. Kent. Worst of all, they took some experimental drugs, some with very dangerous side effects."
Lois frowned. "Do you think they'd try and sell them on the street, Dr.—" Lois suddenly placed a hand on her forehead, and then swooned forward.
Dr. Klein caught her, "Oh, my! Ms. Lane?"
Clark hurried to Klein and took Lois into his arms. "Lois?"
"Here," Klein said. "Place her on this examining table."
Clark laid her gently on the table and then took her hand. "Lois," he whispered.
Klein put his fingers at her throat and then lifted her eyelid. "She seems to be fine. Just fainted." He sighed with relief. "But I'll do a more thorough exam."
"She was complaining about not feeling well. Her stomach was upset."
"Do you know if she's been vomiting," Klein asked offhandedly as he pulled a small cart next to the table.
Clark shook his head, his face clouded with concern and confusion. "I don't know. Maybe. She didn't say."
"Does she have a boyfriend or husband, Mr. Kent?" Klein asked as he inflated a blood pressure cuff.
"I'm not trying to pry, I'm just trying to eliminate certain possibilities, like pregnancy."
"Oh," Clark smiled uneasily. "I'm her boyfriend, but she isn't pregnant."
"You never know," Klein shrugged. "Even the most proven birth control methods can fail on occasion."
"I guess so," Clark said, and couldn't believe he'd even said that. Why was he embarrassed to tell Klein that he and Lois had never made love to each other? Did it make him feel less of a man?
Clark tried to comfort himself with the knowledge it was not for a lack of interest. He had wanted to make love to Lois that night she came to his apartment stating that he was the one she wanted, not Scardino and not Superman, but Lois had put on the brakes. She *always* put on the brakes. Maybe it was a matter of trust. He still ran off to be Superman with no explanation. That certainly must make her feel insecure. She deserved to know the truth, and maybe it wasn't right for them to make love until she knew.
Lois's eyes fluttered open. "Clark?"
Clark squeezed her hand tenderly. "I'm right here, Lois," he said, putting a hand behind her neck and helping her sit up.
"Did I faint?"
"I'm afraid so, Ms. Lane. Mr. Kent told me you weren't feeling well. Have you been vomiting?"
Lois held her stomach. "Don't remind me. I think it was that salmon I had last night for dinner."
"Then let me run a few tests," Klein said. "I don't often do clinical work, but—"
"Oh, no, please, Dr. Klein. I'm sure it's nothing." Lois insisted.
Klein looked down at her, his expression rather resolute. "People don't faint from 'nothing', Ms. Lane, and since you're so petite, vomiting could be a little too much for your body to take. You might be partially dehydrated, or your electrolytes—"
"Okay, okay," she said, surrendering. She knew Klein was probably like her father, and that meant take the tests and get it over with. She looked up at Clark. "As long as I'm conscious, at least for the time being, I can finish the interview. Maybe you could find Superman and have him stop by. Maybe there's something at the crime scene here he could pick up that the police might have overlooked."
Klein beamed. "Superman? Maybe he's old hat to long-time residents, but I'm new to Metropolis. I'd love to meet Superman."
Lois sighed. "Another scientist who wants to find out how he ticks?"
"How he ticks?" Klein asked. "Oh, how he ticks! No, Ms. Lane, I just want to meet him. I mean he's from another planet. Don't you find that fascinating?"
Lois smiled. "You'll find he's as far from a Hollywood alien life form as you can get, Dr. Klein."
Clark heard a cry for help. "Well, I'm going to leave you in Dr. Klein's capable hands, Lois, and try and find Superman," he said and kissed her cheek before dashing for the door.
The Superman emergency took longer than Clark had anticipated. One side of a high-rise under construction had become the victim of a nasty sinkhole. The skeletal structure had shifted violently and two men were killed instantly. The entire site was deemed unsafe and ambulances were told to keep back and that helicopters would try and rescue the stranded workers. It was the kind of accident scene that presented too many options, and none of them good. Since the medical teams were warned away, Clark had to pick up the injured and deliver them to the ambulances waiting behind the designated line. There were also men trapped on a gondola scaffold after the structure shifted, which was being battered by high winds. Other men dangled from safety harnesses at various places throughout the massive skeleton. On top of all that, the building was still sinking on one side.
Brute strength wasn't going to solve the problem, and Clark's strength was not infinite. Usually he lifted extremely heavy objects by letting his aura do the work. When he levitated, and was thus weightless, any object he touched likewise became weightless. This time, however, the building had been stressed and bent and straightening it would stress it again, perhaps fatally so. No, he had to rescue the workers and then turn his attention to the building. He began a painstaking process of breaking and rewelding key support points so that they could take the stress of being straightened, and then came the problem of literally propping up a multi-ton metal structure. After two hours an extremely tired Clark flew to STAR Labs.
Klein studied information on his clipboard, seemingly oblivious to the sound of someone calling his name.
Klein finally glanced up. "Superman!" He smiled and extended his hand. "I was expecting you. Thank you for your help in solving this…" He thought a moment. "Caper."
Clark smiled despite his fatigue. "My pleasure, Dr. Klein. If you can show me where they broke in."
"Right this way, Superman."
After studying the area a few moments, Clark folded his arms and sighed. "No fingerprints, no substances or particles. They were certainly careful."
"Oh well," Klein shrugged. "It was worth a shot."
Clark glanced over to the far wall. "They left this vault intact."
"From what we've been able to catalog of our losses so far, it seems they were interested mainly in drugs and chemicals. Even if they weren't, that vault weighs about four tons and has three different locking systems. It would likely require a sizeable explosion to force it open." Klein said. "Actually you can be glad they didn't access that vault, Superman. It contains Kryptonite."
"Kryptonite?" Clark asked, and actually felt his blood chill. "Why would STAR Labs keep Kryptonite here?" His tone became suspicious, even a bit accusatory.
Klein looked startled. "I'm sorry, Superman, I thought you knew."
"What's to stop me from taking that vault and throwing it into the sun?" Clark asked, and wasn't kidding.
"Nothing I can think of, but it was my hope that since all specimens of Kryptonite, known and unknown, can't realistically be disposed of, then perhaps this element could be studied. Maybe we can find a weakness that can be exploited," Klein said simply. "Or perhaps a pseudo- vaccine developed rendering it harmless to you."
Clark suddenly looked hopeful. "Is that possible, Dr. Klein?"
"That's what I was hoping to find out, Superman."
Clark sighed. "Then what can I do to help? Did you want me to be exposed to it over a period of—"
"No," Klein interrupted. "That would be a toxic trial, and maybe fatal." He shook his head. "Much too risky."
"Well, a hair or skin sample. Something we can test the Kryptonite against. Get an idea of how it affects you, what it specifically attacks and then," he smiled, "build a counter-attack."
Clark pulled a couple of hairs from his head and handed them to Klein. "Thank you."
"I hope we can come up with something efficacious."
"Me too," Clark finally smiled. "Oh, Clark Kent told me that Lois Lane fainted. Is she all right?" he asked, though he knew that Lois was back at the Planet, having done a 'fly by' to make certain.
"I'm sure Mr. Kent knows by now that she's fine, Superman. Her upset stomach and fainting were due to her pregnancy," he said casually as he placed Clark's hair samples into a plastic bag. "It must have been a total shock to Ms. Lane. She kept saying 'that's impossible', but then again—" Klein looked up, and saw he was talking only to himself.
Clark sat in his apartment staring at the blank TV screen. He was numb. It was all a lie. It was all over. Lois was pregnant with another man's baby. Clark closed his eyes as his thoughts grew ever darker. He began to convince himself that Lois hadn't dumped Scardino at all, that it had been the other way around. He dumped *her*, maybe when she told him she was pregnant. What had she planned? Turn to him after Scardino left her pregnant? Foist the baby off as his? That thought made Clark laugh bitterly. She'd left out an important step if that had been her plan.
"No," Clark said firmly. "Lois would *not* do that."
She could so easily have made love to him and then claimed the baby was his. It's not like he was the one balking. No, it had to be another reason she'd turned to him. To make Scardino jealous? Clark laughed again. Right, a DEA agent jealous of a journalist.
Something wasn't adding up. *Nothing* was adding up. If Lois knew she was pregnant, she wouldn't have let Klein run tests on her. So, maybe she didn't know she was pregnant until she got the test results. Maybe that's why he hadn't heard from her yet. She had to contact Scardino and give him the "joyful" news.
Clark rose from the sofa with an exhausted sigh. Lois hardly *knew* Scardino. Clark had known her two years, and yet even with them now in a romantic, committed relationship, she wouldn't … Nope, it wasn't adding up at all. Something was just *way* off.
It was at that moment Klein's comment cut through Clark's murky thinking. "It must have been a total shock to Ms. Lane. She kept saying 'that's impossible'."
"Impossible," Clark whispered.
Lois had no idea. Had Dan done something? Taken advantage of her? He had access to drugs … no, no, no. Clark shook his head vigorously. He may not have liked Scardino much, but while the golden boy of the DEA was certainly an opportunist, he hardly seemed a crazed sexual predator.
Clark started at the sound of the phone ringing, but was grateful for the interruption. "Hello?"
"Hey, Jimmy," Clark said, trying to sound casual. "What's up?"
There was a long pause before Jimmy responded. "Is there some trouble with you and Lois? I mean I know it's none of my business, but she just filed for a leave of absence and didn't want you knowing about it until tomorrow after she was safely on a plane —"
"Jimmy," Clark interrupted. "Thanks, don't worry. I'll find her, and I won't tell her you called."
"That's okay." There was another awkward pause. "I mean if it was my girlfriend and she was pregnant—"
Clark's heart began to pound. "She told you!?"
"No, she didn't say anything, CK," Jimmy quickly corrected. "But I guess hanging out with you guys for the past couple of years has made it easier for me to put two and two together," he said and laughed weakly. "I mean if you guys had just had a fight or something, she wouldn't run away."
Clark sighed. "You're getting pretty good at deductive reasoning."
"Well … that and Lois got sick in Perry's office twice." Jimmy cleared his throat. "And Perry said that's what Alice went though when she was pregnant. Plus," Jimmy added, "Perry said it looked like Lois was retaining a little water—"
"That's fine, Jimmy." Clark interceded before Jimmy's "deductive reasoning" ended up including a confession and three pieces of corroborating documentation.
"If there's anything I can do, CK, just ask."
"Thanks, Jimmy, I owe you … We *both* owe you."
"Nah," Jimmy said, and swallowed hard. "Just bring her back, CK."
"No, Lucy," Lois sighed into the phone. "Please don't fly out here. There's nothing you could do right now. Maybe I'll fly out there and spend time with you later."
Clark hovered outside the window and noticed Lois' packed suitcases.
"No, the DNA test wasn't dangerous, everything's fine." Lois groaned with frustration. "Quit believing everything Mother says. It's *not* Satan's needlepoint. Dr. Klein only took a sample of *my* blood to do a maternal-fetal cell separation test. He said he wouldn't need to get any samples from the fetus itself … I don't *know* how it works," Lois said, her voice edgy.
"I just wanted the test for my own peace of mind, that's all, and Dr. Klein said he could accelerate the process for faster … No! I definitely do not suspect Clark … I'm *not* defending him … He's just not like that."
Lois sighed again as Lucy droned on and on. "Look, Lucy, I've got to go…what? No, I won't change my mind … That is a non-issue, so please stop bringing it up. No, that's okay…really. I'm just upset. I love you too. Bye."
Lois hung up the phone and sank back into the sofa. She barely had a chance to relax when she heard someone knocking at the door. She glanced at the plane ticket on the coffee table. She should have just gone and waited at the airport. Now she was stuck. Maybe if she was just quiet.
The rapping continued. "Lois," Clark's voice called softy. "I know you're home, please open the door."
Lois started for the door, but froze in mid-stride. "Clark, it's late."
"Lois, I know you're pregnant," he said tenderly. "Just let me help you."
That did it, the dam broke. Lois opened the door and fell against him sobbing. "Thank you, Clark. You don't know how badly I needed someone to say that. *Just* that. "
"Shh," he whispered as he closed the door behind them. "I'm here, Lois. It's going to be all right."
Lois began crying very hard. Clark, though having faced Lois's tears before, had never experienced this. She was just crying her heart out. No words, no attempt at words, just a steady stream of tears and sobbing as if they'd been bottled up inside her forever. All he could do was hold her and let her cry. Just be a physical presence for her to release against. Then, after what seemed an eternity to Clark, Lois's crying subsided and she pushed away.
"I swear to you, Clark, I don't know how this happened," she sniffed. "I mean I know *what* happened, but not who or how he got access to me. I must have been drugged! Remember that story we did on—"
"I remember," he said. "The article on date rape drugs." Just knowing someone could have done that to Lois made it difficult for Clark to stay calm.
"Dr. Klein figured I was about 10 weeks pregnant, I mean I knew I was late, but I had called my doctor about that weeks ago, Clark."
"Lois," Clark said softly. "I'm on your side. I'm not looking for loopholes in your story. There was no reason to think you were pregnant. I believe you."
"Thank you." Lois sighed with relief. "Anyway, my doctor said that if I hadn't been sexually active, then any number of reasons could be responsible, including stress. I had an appointment for next week."
Clark ran a thumb across one of her stray tears. "You've certainly had your share of stress the last couple of months."
"That's why I didn't want to face you," she said, the tears threatening to start anew. "I figured you'd think it was Dan's baby, but Clark," she said firmly, "there was absolutely nothing between us. One kiss on the cheek was about as romantic as it got."
"I know," he soothed, but felt a bit guilty that he had briefly thought exactly that.
"Oh, God, Clark, my life is ruined! Every hope and dream of what I wanted to accomplish was taken away from me by some animal who's out walking free knowing he got away with this," she said as she paced the room. "It's over for him. He can go on with his sick little life, but it doesn't end for me. I'll have a reminder of what happened every *single* day of my life."
"You're keeping the baby," Clark said, and made certain that it did not sound like either a question or accusation, but rather a simple statement.
Lois turned and looked at him. She'd never looked so small and helpless before. Her face was puffy and red from so much crying, and there was a deep pain in her eyes. She looked so lost. "It's not wrong, Clark. It's not the baby's fault."
"I know," he said, once again taking her into his arms. "It's late, but I'm guessing you haven't gotten any sleep since you found out, have you?"
He felt her shake her head against his chest. "Come on," he whispered and reached down and lifted Lois into his arms. He carried her into the bedroom.
"Get ready for bed and I'll heat some milk for you," he said as he set her down next to the bed.
He drew a thumb down her cheek. "You're keeping the baby, Lois. Keep the baby healthy."
Lois sighed and nodded. "Thanks."
Clark left the bedroom, his thoughts working overtime. He'd always been the one to think and plan for the future, and Lois had always been the impulsive one. Now she was going to have a baby, and for the most part, her impulsive days were over. Clark poured some milk in a pan and heated it the old-fashioned way.
After several minutes Lois heard the soft rap on the door frame. "Come in," she said. She had placed a cool cloth over her puffy eyes. She heard the glass being set on her night table. "Thanks, Clark."
"You're welcome," he said and then sat on the floor, his back resting against the wall.
Lois pulled the cloth away and looked at Clark. "You haven't gotten any sleep either, have you?"
He smiled and shrugged. "I'm fine."
Lois reached her hand down to him. "Sleep with me, Clark."
"We're in this together?"
"Then sleep with me," she repeated. "I just need to feel you with me, Clark."
Clark swallowed. "Okay," he said, his voice robbed of breath. "Drink your milk."
Lois smiled and took the glass. "Thanks."
Clark loosened his tie. He'd thought about changing in the bathroom, but he was experiencing a strange, seductive emotion. For no logical reason whatsoever, he suddenly felt like a husband. It was a crazy unshakable thought. It didn't matter to him that he and Lois had never made love; or that he was a virgin. Just the sight of Lois lying there, waiting for him to come to bed, a baby growing inside of her, fueled his irresistible notion.
As soon as Clark had stripped to his shorts, Lois pulled the covers back. "Leaving your glasses on?"
"All the better to see you with," he smiled and slid in next to her. "Actually, I take my glasses off just before I turn the light off."
Lois leaned forward and kissed him tenderly. "I love you, Clark."
Clark's heart skipped a beat. All the time they'd been dating, he'd longed to hear those words. Well, he conceded, for two years now he'd longed to hear those words. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her just below the ear. "I love you too," he whispered. "We'll be okay."
She pulled back slightly and smiled. "I know."
The tender moment was interrupted by the phone. "Oh, no," Lois said and looked at the telephone as if it had just been delivered from Hell. "It's probably my mother."
"You want me to answer it, honey?"
"No, that's the last thing … did you just call me 'honey'?"
Clark hesitated for a moment. "I don't know, did I?"
"Having endearment blackouts?" She laughed and reached for the receiver. "And yes, you called me honey."
"I guess the question is, did you like it?"
Lois pressed the receiver to her ear and covered the mouthpiece. "Yes, very much. In fact … oh, Dr. Klein?" Lois sighed with relief. "Thank goodness, I thought you were my mother. What? No, Dr. Klein, it had nothing to do with your voice… no, really, your voice is very masculine."
Clark smiled. "Is this a lead on the burglary?"
Lois' expression darkened. "The DNA sample? How is that possible?"
"What?" Clark asked, his expression becoming a mirror of hers.
"Good bye, Dr. Klein … and … thank you." She pulled the receiver from her ear and looked at it for a long moment as if it had betrayed her in some unspeakable manner.
"Lois? Are you all right? What did he say?"
"He said he knows who the father of the baby is."
Clark shook his head. "That's impossible unless he has sample DNA from a suspect."
"He does," Lois said, her voice trailing off as she hung up the phone. "It's Superman…he says the father is Superman."
The blood began to thunder in Clark's temples. "It can't be," he whispered. "That's impossible," he finally managed in a louder voice.
Lois covered her face with both hands. It was almost as if she wanted to keep her head from splintering into a million pieces. She finally lowered her hands and looked into Clark's stunned face. "This can't be happening," she said, her voice fragile.
She backed out of the bed, her steps unsteady. "This can't be happening," she repeated her mantra.
Clark quickly followed her and grabbed her shoulders firmly. "This *isn't* happening, Lois. It's *impossible*!"
Lois looked into his urgent and assured expression. Clark suddenly seemed so strong. She smiled a smile that did not reach her eyes. "Clark, when you didn't leap to the conclusion that Dan was the father, I was so touched and so relieved, but this—"
Lois shook her head and pulled from his grasp. "You know how I've always felt about Superman, how over the top I was about him. You'd be crazy not to at least *consider* that he could be the father. I mean," she laughed, and like the smile, it was not really a laugh, "I know I did *not* sleep with Superman. Not once. Not even close, but who would believe me?"
"I would," Clark said, the urgency of his conviction undiminished.
"Why?" Lois asked, some frustration entering her voice. "It's not that I don't appreciate this unconditional support from you — I do, Clark, more than I can say— but," she sighed, "why disbelieve a *fact*? A medical and scientific fact."
"What about the *truth*, Lois? Isn't that as strong as a fact?" he asked. "You say you didn't sleep with Superman, and I believe you."
Lois shrugged and walked towards the window. "Maybe truth and fact can be the same thing here, Clark."
Clark rubbed the back of his neck. "Lois, I'm having a little trouble following this."
"Think about it," she said, staring through the dark glass. "There's no expert out there on Kryptonian biology. I mean how do we know how Kryptonians … you know. Maybe it's mental, or some kind of trance thing."
Clark closed his eyes for a moment. "*Trance* thing?"
"I don't know, Clark!" Lois exploded. "He's from another planet! Maybe Kryptonian men and women go into some kind of trance and then they … well … they make love, and then snap out of it, and … and I have *no* idea what I'm talking about!" she wailed. "All I know is I'm carrying Superman's baby, and I don't know why!"
"You are *not* carrying Superman's baby, Lois."
Lois, tiring suddenly of Clark's "confidence" on the subject, felt suspicion creeping in. She folded her arms and approached him slowly. "Okay, Clark, let's have it."
Clark swallowed. "Have it?"
"You know something," she said pointedly. "Nobody is *that* trusting. Especially when a scientist at STAR Labs seems to disagree with you," she continued as she circled for a landing. "Did Superman tell you something?"
"No," was all Clark could manage to say.
"But you *do* know something."
"Lois, remember I had asked you to go to breakfast with me tomorrow morning? I mean," he said, and scratched the side of his head, "I asked you that before all this stuff with the pregnancy … happened."
Lois shook her head. "What does that have to do with any—"
"I asked you to breakfast," he quickly interrupted. "A little place called Callard's I'd found, because it has a nice quiet garden outside, and I wanted to tell you something very private there."
He gently gripped her shoulders again. "I had to tell you this *one* thing before our relationship went *any* further. If I didn't—" Clark sighed. "If I didn't … it wouldn't be fair to you."
"What *thing*, Clark!" Lois began to tremble. "This has to do with Superman? Why I'm pregnant? What!?"
Clark looked up at the ceiling, his expression almost prayer-like as he searched the air itself for the right words. He took a deep breath and brought his gaze down level with hers. "It has to do with why Superman can *not* be the father of that baby, Lois. But," he said, regret softening his tone. "I almost wish it were true. You have no idea how much." He removed his glasses. "Because … *I'm* Superman."
Lois' knees suddenly buckled, and she went reeling into Clark and dangled limply in his arms. "Lois!" He touched her face tenderly, "Lois?"
At first he thought she had fainted, but then a low hissing sound became audible. There was some faint scent filling the room. Clark began to feel light-headed. He placed Lois on the bed with what seemed his last bit of strength.
A man wearing a field protective mask stepped into Lois' bedroom. The mask plate was darkly tinted. "Who are you?" Clark asked, and fell to his knees next to the bed.
The man, unheeding, reached for Lois. There was a tattoo of barbed wire around his wrist.
Lois moaned and opened her eyes. Greeted by bright sunlight, she closed them again. She forced herself into a sitting position and was surprised to feel grass under the palms of her hands. She glanced down cautiously and shook her head. Sure enough, she was sitting on a patch of grass.
Lois frowned. "What is this?" she asked as she lifted her gaze and noted several smallish hardwood trees, vines and undergrowth in front of her. She looked to the right. More trees. The left. Ditto. She closed her eyes and rotated her head from shoulder to shoulder. She had a dull, persistent headache.
She decided to stand and get her bearings. There was something vaguely familiar about the setting, but she couldn't remember anything specific. Just a feeling of 'deja vu' and nothing more. She swiveled slightly to the left, pulling her feet under her to stand. However, the new position gave her a downward and slightly rearward view of her surroundings. She froze instantly when she saw a bare leg less than a yard away. The rest of the body, assuming there was one, was obscured by the low drooping foliage of a weeping willow.
Lois gasped and fell backward, scrambling crab-like in the opposite direction until her momentum was stopped by a tree. She placed her hands behind her and crawled them up the bark until she was in a standing position. She panted for breath as her heart pounded. She wanted to admonish herself, to find that scolding voice that always told her to "get a grip," but Lois was in a place she hadn't remembered entering voluntarily and seemed to be outfitted only in her nightgown. Not a good defensive position at all.
She held her breath and moved warily in a sideways direction. She noticed the leg had a companion, and with great relief noticed both were still attached to a body — or was it a relief? Did the legs belong to her kidnapper? Was she kidnapped? Why couldn't she remember? She took a cautious step forward. Maybe seeing his face would remind her.
"Clark!" she shouted, and ran to him and knelt next to his body.
Clark was only wearing boxer shorts. His glasses were missing. Lois finally felt the fog lifting. She remembered. She was pregnant. She and Clark had been together the night before. He had been in her bed. The phone call.
"Superman," she whispered.
Doctor Klein had told her that Superman was the father of her child, but Clark had told her that was impossible, because *he* was Superman. Lois brushed back Clark's hair gently and held her hand in place. She smiled sheepishly. He was Superman all right, or a long lost twin.
She nudged him. "Clark?" There was no response.
"Superman," she said, and nudged him again. Nothing.
Lois felt panic creeping back. She took her thumb and lifted one of his eyelids and took his pulse. Though alive, he was totally unresponsive. She rose quickly and moved a few paces from Clark hoping to spot something or someone who could help. Unfortunately there was nothing but woods in every direction. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead. It seemed so much hotter than the last time she had been here.
Lois halted abruptly. The *last* time? "What's happening to me," she said and was again overtaken by that feeling of 'deja vu', but it was coupled with the anxiety that reality itself was breaking away.
"It's happening to *all* of us, I'm afraid."
Lois, already bristling with anxiety, executed a swirling roundhouse kick. Fortunately for her intended victim, he was a bit shorter than average and so just his bowler hat was sent sailing. Lois watched the small man retrieve his hat, all the while keeping herself tensed in a combat-ready position.
"I apologize for startling you, Miss Lane," the man said as he dusted off the brim of his hat.
"You know my name?" she asked, but did not budge from her defensive stance.
"I dare say," he smiled. "I've known you and your husband Clark for quite some time."
"My *husband*!? Look, mister, I don't know who you are, but you should have done some research before you pulled this stunt," she said, her defensive posture giving way to her anger. "I lo…I care about Clark, but he is *not* my husband."
The man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped it across the back of his neck. "Well, no, not in this time era anyway. Not that there really is a distinct time era anymore after I created that time flow ripple," he babbled on. "And I'm so dreadfully sorry I did, Miss Lane."
"Did *what*?" Lois asked, now feeling her adversary was more lunatic than criminal mastermind.
"Well, I did explain the dangers of creating a time flow ripple effect the day you and I met for the first time, which," he considered, "would seem to be a couple of months ago…to your current memory anyway."
"Listen…whoever you are, I don't remember meeting you two months ago or two *days* ago, but I have a feeling you're someone I wouldn't forget," she said, eyeing his antique wardrobe. "But you *are* adding to a headache I've had since I woke up here, and the heat isn't helping."
"Quite right," he agreed. "It is deucedly hot. Then again it's July and the last time we were here it was May, but it does feel a bit more like Pakistan than Kansas, doesn't it?"
"Kansas," Lois whispered. Her mind started to race. Images of Clark, Superman, his parents, all started to flash in her memory. Even the odd little man was there.
"No, I…it…doesn't make any sense. Maybe I'm losing my mind. That would at least explain all this."
The man's eyes filled with sympathy. "You're not losing your mind, Miss Lane. You remember me. I'm H.G. Wells."
Lois shook her head and laughed softly at the irony. "You're a dead writer from England just chatting with me in Kansas, and that's supposed to convince me I'm not crazy?"
"I know it's a horrible shock, Miss Lane, but Clark is the issue here. If we can't reverse the time ripple…he might…well, he might cease to exist."
"Clark," Lois said. Her voice and pace sharpened by fear, she hurried back to where she had left him. Though she was relieved he was still there, he was still unconscious.
She knelt down and began to stroke the side of his face. "Clark, please wake up."
Wells, puffing loudly, finally caught up to Lois. "Still unconscious."
"Yes, but alive."
Wells removed his jacket. "When I said he would 'cease to exist' I hadn't meant that as a metaphor for Death, Miss Lane," he said and began scrunching his jacket into a ball. "I meant *literally* Clark would cease to exist. Gone. Vanished without a trace … as if he never were."
"That's impossible," Lois said, though there was no conviction in her voice.
Wells knelt next to her. "Lift his head. We can make him a bit more comfortable."
Lois hesitated a moment, but then did as instructed. Wells placed his jacket beneath Clark's head and then turned to face Lois. "You're remembering some things, aren't you, my dear?"
"Impossible things," Lois said, but did not take her eyes from Clark. "They *can't* be true."
"I wish that were so," Wells said sadly. "But very shortly now, the effects of the time flow ripple will become apparent, and you'll have to be ready, Miss Lane."
Lois finally turned on him angrily. "Ready for *what*! You know, I'm getting a little sick of hearing about this time ripple flow…"
"Time flow ripple."
"Whatever! The point is, Clark and I have been hijacked and dumped here in the middle of nowhere, and you keep going on and on about this time flow…"
"Oh, my," Wells whispered, and then covered his mouth.
Lois, despite her anger, followed Wells' horrified gaze. "Clark!"
Clark's features were changing. He looked subtly younger. His hair lengthened and his body became slightly thinner. Then, just as abruptly, his hair began to shorten, his boyish features were reclaimed by the more manly face Lois had become accustomed to, yet the changes continued.
"Oh, my God," Lois whispered as she observed the last change. His hair, cropped shorter at the temples and winding it's way to the back of his head, the style Lois had teasingly referred to as 'hat hair', was an unmistakable identifier to her. "He *is* my husband…I remember…I…but the timing is…"
"All wrong," Wells said, finishing her sentence.
Lois grabbed Wells by the front of his shirt and pulled him to his feet. "What did you do to him?! What did you do to *us*?!"
"Very nearly destroyed you both." Wells lowered his head. "It may yet happen if we can't reverse the effects."
"Because of this time flow ripple?"
"How do we stop it?" she asked, and released her death-grip on his shirt. "Why am I pregnant in my…in *this* body? This is how I looked over two years ago!"
"You were caught outside the ripple effect."
Lois shook her head. "What *is* this…ripple effect?"
"To put it simply, it's a time anomaly caused by a phasic temporal…"
"Hold it," Lois said flatly. "You said *simply*. Just cut to the chase."
"Tell me how it happened and how we can stop it and why am I remembering pieces of things that can't *possibly* be true."
Wells took a deep breath. "Do you recall Perry White's surprise birthday party?"
Though Wells' comment sounded like a complete non sequitur, Lois tried to concentrate. "The Planet," she said with uncertainty. Her memory seemed to have all the cohesion of a document sent through a paper shredder. Only flashes of things were clear. "1995."
"Excellent. Yes, Mr. White's birthday."
"You…took us from there… to … somewhere… but you brought us back… Why can't I remember this?!" Lois finally blurted in frustration.
"I'm afraid that's my fault too, Miss Lane. I *said* I would take you and Clark back to a point before our adventure took place, but I realistically couldn't do that."
"But I remember that part," Lois insisted. "Well, some of it."
"No," Wells said softly. "I could not return you and Clark in time to a point before the adventure took place for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that you both were kept outside of passing time with me in the time machine. I…" Wells hesitated. A look of guilt was in his eyes.
Lois leveled her most menacing gaze at Wells. "You did what, exactly?"
"I used a device from Tempus' era…"
"Who?" Lois asked. The name was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Lois was mentally and emotionally trapped between two distinctively unique versions of herself — the Lois she had been two years ago who believed Clark and Superman were two different men, and the Lois of two years later who was married to both men and had learned to "live the impossible."
"You'll remember him in a moment," Wells said, a bit impatient to get to the point. "The upshot of it is, this device shunts recent memory from the forefront of the thought process and also makes the person susceptible to suggestion… well, a bit like hypnosis."
"Men in Black," Lois said, and laughed at the unreality of all of it.
"Men in black?"
"A movie Clark and I went to see…*will* go to see." Lois sighed in exasperation. "A gizmo was flashed at people that made them forget what they'd just seen or done in favor of memories *implanted* by the men in black."
Wells nodded. "That cinematic version sounds quite similar; however, I never took your or Clark's memories away. As I said, it was more like hypnosis. I even gave you both a post-hypnotic suggestion…or rather a trigger word that would permit you to remember in the event it became necessary."
"Wonderful," Lois said sarcastically. "We've left the Men in Black for the Manchurian Candidate."
"What was the trigger word?"
Lois' eyes closed instantly. Images appeared and moved forward in a logical order. Missing time and memory restored themselves. She opened her eyes. "I remember," she said softly. "You…the older you, used that word on me in the alternate Metropolis."
Wells smiled with relief. "Then you understand."
"No, I *remember*, but I *don't* understand," Lois sniped, her restored memory lending confidence to her voice and demeanor as the more mature version of herself became dominant. "What memories did you give me and Clark?"
"Ah," Wells nodded. "You'll recall I said that realistically I couldn't return you to a time before our adventure, but I had to make you *believe* I had."
"And you did this by…?" Lois prompted.
"By making you and Clark believe you'd attended Mr. White's party, left during it, and returned to the beginning of it." He thought a moment. "Instilling a sense of deja vu, you might say."
"But *why*?" Lois asked and glanced back down at Clark, his body still caught in the continuous loop of aging and regressing. "If you wanted us to forget, why make us remember false bits and pieces? That doesn't make sense!"
Wells expression became contemplative, his fingers steepled in front of his chest. "Imagine the reaction if you landed an aeroplane in ancient Egypt, or screened a motion picture at the first Continental Congress. Miss Lane," Wells sighed, "the world is more fragile than most can comprehend or would care to comprehend. There is order and there is chaos, or on a more human level, sanity and insanity. Sometimes the *only* thing keeping chaos and insanity at bay is the desire of the human spirit to cling to that which is conventional and familiar."
Lois, though tempted to argue the point, found herself agreeing. "Like me," she said, after a long pause. "I thought I was losing my mind when I first woke up here. Everything was familiar and *nothing* was familiar. But," she added quickly. "It was those fragments you implanted in my memory that made me think I was going crazy in the first place."
"Initially perhaps," Wells said with a shrug. "However, those memories have spared me from having to try and convince you that time travel is viable, that we've met before, or that Clark Kent is your husband."
"Fair enough," she said. "But why is this only affecting Clark and not me, or *you* for that matter?"
Wells removed his hat. "Since the adventure in Smallville took place in 1966, you were caught outside the effect because you weren't born until 1967," he said, and ran his handkerchief around the perspiration soaked hatband.
"What does *that* have to do with any of this?"
"Quite frankly, Miss Lane, it has *everything* to do with this," he said matter-of-factly. "Neither you, nor I, or even Tempus for that matter, had another version of ourselves that existed in 1966, but Clark did. And because he did, that set the ripple effect in motion."
Lois pushed an annoying strand of hair behind her ear. She was hot, exhausted, frustrated and completely lost. "If you *knew* that would happen, then why did you deliberately put him through that? Through *this*," she said, pointing down to Clark's ever changing form.
Wells closed his eyes momentarily. "I didn't know this would happen, Miss Lane. I knew the time flow ripple phenomenon was theoretically possible, and I took all precautions to prevent that, but the theory gave no indication that it could be triggered by your husband encountering another version of himself from his own lifetime."
Lois shook her head. "I wish I could feel some kind of sympathy for you, or forgive you for what you're putting Clark though, but I can't," she said, her voice and expression filled with reproach. "All of this could have been avoided if you hadn't believed a lunatic. Hadn't brought him back from the future giving him a chance to kill Clark. Hadn't…"
"…put Tempus in an asylum in 1866 rather than taking him back to his era where he could have been properly restrained and cause no further problems."
Lois turned. Though the voice was unmistakably that of Wells, it was the older Wells who was speaking. The older man, a bit stooped and diminished by the aging process, stepped from a thicket into the clearing. A bewildered Dr. Klein stood at his side and a third man, whom Lois did not know, but who seemed vaguely familiar, joined them.
"Thank goodness," Klein said as he approached Lois. "I was beginning to think I was losing my mind. Not that seeing you precludes that hypothesis, but … you have your old Prince Valiant hairdo."
"Prince Valiant?" Lois shook her head. "Forget the hairdo, Dr. Klein, I'm still the Lois you know from 1997, but what are *you* doing here in 1966?"
Klein put a hand on the older Wells' shoulder. "This man told me Superman was in trouble, and then this one," he said, looking up at the stranger, "brought us both here in some … "
"Hold it," Lois interrupted and walked past Klein. "I thought you said the time flow ripple was caused because there was another version of Clark in 1966," she said, addressing the younger Wells. "Dr. Klein would have another version of himself in 1966 too."
Klein nodded. "Definitely. I was a senior in high school in 1966. Our class song was "Last Train to Clarksville" oddly enough." He thought a moment. "What does this have to do with Mr. Kent?"
"He's my husband."
"I know, but…"
"He also happens to be Superman."
"Oh, dear." Klein shook his head. "I hope when I wake up from this, I remember to write everything down," he said as he knelt next to Clark.
"Actually, Miss Lane, I said Clark *encountering* the other version of himself was the suspected catalyst," Wells corrected. "Dr. Klein won't likely meet up with his counterpart in Kansas."
"Then what about you and *your* other self, Mr. Wells? You're both here."
"True," he conceded. "But if you'll forgive the Dickensian waffling, the two of us are more like shadows from the past. Neither he nor I ever existed in this era. But," he said, raising an index finger. "Clark not only existed in 1966, his adult self had physical contact with his infant self. It may have been that very contact that triggered the anomaly."
"However, there still might be a risk to Dr. Klein," the elder Wells added. "But when I explained the situation, he was willing to take that risk to help save your husband."
Lois walked back to Klein and knelt next to him. "Thank you," she said softly.
Klein smiled. "He's my friend," he said as he observed Clark trapped in the loop. "It's hard for me to see him like this. I can imagine how hard it must be for you, Lois."
"Can you stop it?"
"From what Wells told me, and from what I know of temporal theory, Clark encountering himself in 1966 caused the creation of duplicate time lines." Klein straightened with a groan. "Not that I know that much about temporal theory, you understand."
Lois glanced at the older Wells. "Like the alternate Metropolis?"
"Oh, no, my dear. These worlds are identical in every detail. Imagine a stone being cast into still water causing rings to ripple out from the centre. The rings are concentric. Since they don't touch each other, they can't overlap and cause an alternate reality. However," he said, his tone a bit darker, "these identical time lines are causing distortions in the true time line, like…"
"Being pregnant at the wrong place in time," Lois finished his sentence.
"Correct. It is a phenomenon that will continue and Clark will remain trapped if this isn't reversed."
"I *know* he's trapped!" Lois erupted as she rose to her feet. "How do we get him back?"
"With this," he said, and handed an object to his younger self. "You remember this device, Lois."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Please, not the Quantum Leap thing again."
"Quantum Leap?" Klein asked.
"That Gameboy from hell gizmo. It made me and Clark leap into versions of ourselves from the past."
"Although in this case," Wells continued. "You'll only be "leaping", as you put it, into versions of Lois Lane between the years 1993 and 1997. The span of your current relationship history with Clark."
"And that will stop this … how, exactly?"
"Theoretically," the elder Wells began, "if you "leap" into each of these extraneous time lines and are successful, they'll vanish in favor of the one *true* time line. There will be no more distortion and Clark will be freed from the temporal loop."
Lois took the device warily. "What am I supposed to do? You said if I'm successful. Successful how?"
"By accelerating the time lines," Wells said and tapped the device. "When you go back to each phase of your relationship with Clark, you have to try and speed along the relationship."
"Ah," Lois nodded. "The dawn finally breaks. By speeding up the relationship, the other time lines are brought up to speed with the real one."
"Precisely. Thus merging them back into one."
Lois' jaw worked itself back and forth tensely. "Isn't this all just a little too pat?" she finally asked. "I throw myself at Clark, promise him love everlasting, and suddenly a magic pink bow appears to tie all the time lines together?"
"Not exactly, Lois," Klein said as he brushed dirt from the knees of his trousers. "As I understand this phenomenon, Clark will be as he was in each era you return to."
"And?" Lois shrugged.
"Well," he continued. "If you "throw yourself" at him in a time when Clark would never expect such behavior, it's doubtful you'd get the reaction from him you hoped for, or worse, it could backfire."
Lois half-smiled. "You're right. A chemist created a pheromone compound that made people fall madly in love, or *lust* was more like it. I chased poor Clark all over the place and he ran like a scared rabbit."
Klein sighed. "Only men who look like Clark get chased by women who look like you."
Lois noticed the stranger smiling at Klein's comment. She approached the fiftyish, distinguished-looking man. "I don't know you, but you seem familiar."
"My apologies, Ms. Lane," he said, extending his hand. His sleeve receded to reveal a barbed wire tattoo. "I believe you've only seen my photograph."
"That's where I know you!" Lois said with unhidden disgust and quickly disengaged her hand from his. "The thief from the STAR Labs surveillance photos."
"Yes, ma'am, that would be me."
"The robbery two years ago?" Klein asked.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Klein," the man said and ran a hand through his silver-gray hair. "It was necessary to get the right combination of elements to create a compound that would not only render Ms. Lane unconscious, but Superman as well. Plus making sure it would not harm the unborn child. No small task."
"So you're the one who drugged me and Clark and brought us here?"
"I am, but believe me, Ms. Lane, it was necessary. This is the focal point of the ripple flow effect," he explained. "If we ever hope to break your husband out of this loop, it has to happen here."
Lois narrowed her eyes. She wasn't ready to buy everything just yet. "And just how did you happen to know I was pregnant?"
"I'm from the future, and …"
"Of course," Lois said and sighed with resignation. "I'm beginning to think I know more people from the past and the future than I do in the present."
"I'm sure that's not true, Miss Lane," the younger Wells said sympathetically.
Lois raised an eyebrow. "No offense, but coming from a man who's dressed a hundred years out of step with current fashion trends that isn't really reassuring."
Wells tugged at his collar. "Point taken."
"Speaking of points," the elder Wells chimed in, facing the gray-haired man. "You have your work to do while Miss Lane does hers."
"On my way," he said with a nod and departed.
Wells turned back to Lois. "There's also another danger," he cautioned. "If you accelerate things too much, you'll start causing any number of bizarre glitches in time."
"Great," she sighed. "How do I work the gizmo?"
Wells took the device and smiled. "I'll operate the "gizmo." It will send you back to the widest ring in the ripple, so to speak," he said, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you ready?"
Lois glanced longingly at Clark a last time. "Yes," she said, and soon felt her body begin to … drift.
"Incredible," Klein whispered as Lois vanished. "I would have thought her body would stay here and just her soul, or spirit, or whatever … would leave. I mean on Quantum Leap …"
"No," Wells said as he looked up from the transmigrator. "This device creates what might be called an evanescence effect. The body particulates, if you will, become one with the spiritual component. In that aggregate form, they're able to merge with the host body."
Klein loosened his tie. "But what about the host? I mean won't the other Lois feel the … the … intrusion? Fight it?"
"There's nothing to "feel" actually. In fact," Wells said as he slipped the device into his pocket. "It's the person migrating who experiences odd sensations. Depending on the circumstances, it can take anywhere from seconds to several minutes before the migrator has total control of the host body."
"I think I need a drink."
Wells nodded. "I dare say Miss Lane will be wanting one in a few short moments as well."
The effect was disorienting. Lois was suddenly watching the conference room door at the Planet closing. Yet the body she was occupying—her body— was moving without her having any control over it. She felt like a camera being operated by someone else. She turned. Clark was there smiling. He was so young!
"He was right!" Lois heard herself saying. "Platt was right." Platt? Platt! The Messenger shuttle.
"Now we can write the story," Clark said.
"*I* can write the story," 'Lois' corrected.
"With *my* help."
"With your help," she agreed. "And if we can convince people there was sabotage, and who was behind it…"
"We can stop them," Clark said firmly.
"Oh, God!" Lois heard herself squeal, and then felt her body move impetuously to embrace Clark. He laughed warmly in her ear. His hair was so long.
They broke from the embrace and Clark's eyes locked with hers. It was his turn to be impetuous. "Why don't we have dinner?"
"Oh," her former self wavered. "I don't know."
"We should celebrate," Clark said, taking the 'date' onus off the suggestion.
She relaxed. "Okay. Dinner."
"Okay," Clark said, but was so happy the word dissolved into a chuckle.
"Oh, wait a second, what am I talking about? I can't, I have plans tonight."
Plans? Lois tried to think back, but it was so long ago.
Clark's jovial expression quickly sobered. "Luthor?"
Oh, yes, that worthless interview dinner with Lex Luthor. How could she forget. She mentally sighed waiting for her 1993 self to speak, which in turn would trigger Clark to launch a nasty argument, but … nothing happened.
Lois wiggled a finger experimentally. Yes! She had control. She looked into Clark's grim eyes. "Yes, but I don't want to stay long," she said, and was amused by the higher pitch of her voice. "It might just be me, but Lex Luthor kind of made my flesh crawl."
Clark's brows peeked over the top of his old, heavy-framed glasses. "He did?"
"Yeah," Lois shrugged, and then placed her hands softly on his chest. "We haven't known each other long, Clark, and I know I haven't been the easiest person to get along with so far…"
"I hadn't noticed," he said warmly, completely unaware that Lois could feel his heart pounding under her palms.
"Thanks." Lois smiled. "Then would you mind rescuing me at nine forty-five tonight?"
"Come to Lex's penthouse and just say that Perry wants us pronto," she said, and moved her hands to his lapels. "Then we can go out for coffee and late night jazz at this little place I know." She smiled. "And celebrate."
Clark shook his head, but returned the smile. "Deal."
Though Lois had avoided the argument that had taken place in the original time line, she had done little to accelerate the relationship. She was still stuck listening to Lex drone on about himself as he dodged direct questions and made polished passes at her. Strangely enough, Lois felt nothing as she tried to remember questions to ask Lex that had seemed so important a long time ago.
"All work and no play," Lex crooned. "Is that your credo, Lois Lane?" he asked, finally tiring of the endless line of questions.
"I don't think…"
"Why don't we just enjoy the evening? Enjoy each other. Let down your hair, loosen your tie…"
"I'm not wearing a tie."
"You're so tense," he said, and took her hand. "Here, just let your defenses down."
Lois pulled her hand away. It was amazing how fast he moved to crowd her. Overwhelm her. Eyes that had seemed intense and piercing four years ago now seemed haunted and on the edge of insanity.
Lois grabbed her note pad. "I have a story to write tonight. I should get going."
Lex leaned away and smiled. He was still at a point in his life where he could more or less control the madness. He still had the capacity to discern when he was pushing too hard and when it was time to relent. "No dessert?"
"No, I … uh … I only have dessert when I'm in love," Lois said, but regretted the wording instantly. She wasn't even sure why she phrased it that way other than the word dessert itself always made her think of Clark feeding her chocolate on their first date. However, she knew how Lex would misread the comment, and she was right.
"No lover, Lois?" he asked, his tone more of a challenge than a question. "You don't know what you're missing."
"Mr. Luthor," Asabi interrupted. "Pardon me, sir, but a Mr. Clark Kent is here for Ms. Lane."
Lois' whole posture became a visual sigh of relief, but she noticed Lex's eyes flash with anger as he glanced up at Asabi. It was only momentary, and something most people who didn't know him would never notice. His demeanor quickly eased back into reptilian coolness.
Lex dabbed at the corner of his lips with his napkin and then casually tossed it on the table. "Don't keep Mr. Kent waiting, Asabi. By all means, show him in."
"Yes, sir." Asabi bowed and retreated.
Lex turned back to Lois. "You know, Lois, it's a good thing I'm not suspicious by nature, or I'd suspect Mr. Kent's sudden interruption to be of a …," he paused, pretending to search for the proper wording, "…prearranged nature."
"Prearranged?" Lois stalled.
"Well, yes," he said smoothly as he clasped Lois' hand once again. "Perhaps little Red Riding Hood, fearing she'd be trapped in the lair of the big bad wolf, convinced a gullible farmer from the village to come to her aid."
Lois pulled her hand away. "I think you've gotten the wrong idea about this dinner, Lex."
"I see," he nodded soberly. "So I'd be wrong in assuming that Mr. Kent will be rushing in here to spirit you away to some late breaking news story your editor just happened to stumble upon at this late hour?"
Lex was so clever. Always one step ahead. Always able to keep an opponent off balance. Lois cleared her throat. "Well, actually …"
"You would be wrong, Luthor," Clark said as he took Lois' coat from Asabi. He walked to the table and pulled Lois' chair out for her. "Ready?"
"Yes," Lois said gratefully as Clark helped her on with her coat.
Clark turned to Lex. "Lois estimated your interview dinner would last about two hours and so wanted me to pick her up afterward so we could leave from here for our date."
Lois sighed inwardly. God bless super hearing and male posturing. "Right," she said, and picked up her note pad.
"A *date*?" Lex asked in a tone that Asabi seemed to fear. The servant stepped back reflexively.
Clark shrugged. "Just coffee…"
"And dessert," Lois added, locking eye contact with Lex momentarily before exiting arm in arm with Clark.
Lois was sure she heard the whole elegant dinner setting clatter to the floor in a characteristic fit of Luthor rage as she began to fade from the current time era. Pity, she would have loved dessert …
Once again Lois found herself in a body that was moving robotically without her input. She saw Clark round a corner in the wrong glasses and wearing a server's tuxedo. Oh, God, the Metro Club. Anything but that!
"Lois!" he said in a distraught, strangled whisper.
Lois put a finger to her lips. "Shhh!" She whispered and then motioned for Clark to join her.
Clark hurried forward nearly colliding with two chorus girls dressed in humiliating animal costumes. Lois entered the supply room with Clark hot on her heels. He closed the door. "Did you see him?!"
"Of *course* I saw him," she replied and noticed she had a rose in her hand. A rose Lex had thrown to her while she was on stage.
"Well get out of here, now! Don't even stop to get your things."
"Lex Luthor is a friend of mine. He wouldn't do anything to hurt me," Lois' naive counterpart insisted. "And besides, he's way too smart to let anything slip."
"I don't trust him. What's he doing here anyway?"
Lois waited for herself to respond, but realized she was in control when the rose slipped from her hand. She knew that in about one minute Toni Taylor would be coming through that door and in about five minutes after that, Lois would end up in a garbage dumpster.
She had to think fast. "Doing here? It's a nightclub, Clark. Why *shouldn't* he be here?" she said, glad for the chance to state the obvious this time.
"I still don't trust him, and if he talks …"
"Okay, okay," Lois said and patted Clark's chest. Time was running out. "Toni's looking for a leak, so if you sell me out, she'll stop looking for one and your cover will still be intact."
Clark blinked slowly. "You're *volunteering* to be sold out?"
Lois sighed. "Clark, you were right. You're a man, she's a woman and you don't have to draw me a diagram. You're currently in a better position to, excuse the expression … score," she said, and extended her hand. "Deal?"
Clark smiled and took her hand, pleased by the turn of events. "Deal," he whispered, his voice gone soft and smoky.
Lois noticed the door beginning to open. She brought her other hand up and grabbed Clark's wrist and then began to struggle, or rather pretended to. "Let go of me!"
Clark, suddenly confused, tried to release her hand only to find Lois' grip increase.
"I said let go of me!" she demanded as the door swung open.
"Run out of olives?" Toni Taylor asked placidly.
Lois finally released Clark's hand as if it took every ounce of her strength. "Okay, you win," she said in a defeated tone. "Your goon boy here found me out."
Clark frowned. "Goon boy?"
Toni looked from Lois to Clark. "What?"
"Uh … this is your leak," Clark said, finally snapping back into character. "Lois Lane. A reporter for the Daily Planet."
"Good work, Charlie."
"What do you want me to do with her?" Clark asked, taking Lois' forearm aggressively.
Toni merely tipped her head to the side indicating the exit. Clark quickly hustled Lois from the storeroom and winced as she called him several names, "jerk" being the mildest of her epithets.
Though Toni was obviously impressed with Clark, she didn't seem to completely trust him since one of her well-fed thugs joined the escort to the exit. Lois decided to seize that opportunity to forestall the inevitable trip to the garbage dumpster.
She put on the brakes and continued to pretend to struggle in Clark's grasp. "What do you mean you're putting me on a bus! Is your boss too cheap for cab fare?"
The tuxedo-clad thug leaned inside the doorway. "You ain't worth cab fare."
Lois took a sweeping kick at the thug that did not connect. "There isn't even a bus stop near this place!" she lied.
"How'd somebody so dumb get a job at a newspaper?" The thug laughed. "There's a bus stop right around the corner."
"Let's go," Clark growled convincingly and began ushering Lois back toward the street. As soon as they turned the corner, Clark released his grip. "Okay, what was that all about?"
"I needed a chance to talk to you where that trained penguin couldn't hear us," she said, keeping her voice low. "Toni has a bag of groceries tucked away in her office. According to the backstage gossip, she's planning to visit you tonight and give you a home cooked meal … if you know what I mean."
"Clark, just listen. The bus will be here any minute and if you don't get back to the club after it passes by, they'll get suspicious," she said, and glanced down the street. "After your romantic dinner with Toni, ask her about Lex."
Clark folded his arms. "What would she have to do with Luthor?"
Lois sighed. "She was sitting ringside with him tonight, Clark. How many patrons does she do that with? I think she and Lex are up to something."
Clark smiled. "You're jealous."
It was Lois' turn to fold her arms. "Ah, so that means you're jealous of Lex Luthor."
"That's ridiculous," Clark said, his self-satisfied expression giving way to a defensive one.
"Oh, I see. If a woman is suspicious of another woman, she's having some territorial emotional response, but if a man is suspicious of another man, like your suspicions about Lex, the man is being logical?"
Clark sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry. You're not jealous of Toni."
"Actually," Lois said. "I probably would be jealous of Toni if I liked Charlie King, but I don't. He's a self-centered, condescending creep channeling Bruce Willis from a rejected Moonlighting script."
"Now wait a minute!"
"Clark Kent, on the other hand," she said casually as the bus pulled up, "is the kind of man a lot of women might get territorial over."
Clark, his jaw gaping, watched the bus pull away from the curb.
Lois slipped off her shoes and then her earrings as she walked towards the bedroom. This time she would not be caught in her schlumpy bathrobe when Lex paid his visit. She remembered how uncomfortable and vulnerable she had felt. He probably loved that, she thought as she wiggled out of her gown. "The snake," she whispered and pulled a t- shirt out of the dresser.
Lois was well ahead of schedule since she hadn't gone to Clark's apartment to chew him out over blowing her cover this time. Not that it had done her any good. The smarmy smug expression never left his face the whole time. Lois sighed as she buttoned her jeans. 'Smug' was not something Clark wore well, and it probably explained why Lex, though attractive, was never really handsome in her eyes.
She sat on the edge of the bed a moment after tying her sneakers. She wasn't looking forward to her meeting with Lex, but this time she wouldn't feel ambushed and off her guard either. She began to formulate possible responses to Lex's well-oiled routine, but realized she'd spent too long lost in her counterpoint thoughts when they were interrupted by a knock on her door.
Lois took a deep determined breath and headed for the door. She smoothed her hair back and put her hand on the doorknob. "Here we go," she whispered, and opened the door.
No, no, no, this was *all* wrong. What had she done? She looked furtively into the hallway, grabbed Clark by his vest, and pulled him into her apartment and slammed the door.
"What are you doing here? You're supposed to be at your apartment while Toni spins her pasta web!"
Clark merely shrugged casually and pulled a large bag from behind his back and walked over to the sofa and sat down. He placed the bag on the coffee table and started extracting small cartons. "It occurred to me," he said as he opened a package of paper plates, "that you might not have time to fix dinner after your farewell performance at the Metro Club and it didn't seem fair that someone was going to fix dinner for me, but not for you."
"So, I thanked Toni for her thoughtful gesture, but told her I had a date tonight. I was able to save most of the groceries she threw at me."
"Clark, the story …"
"Lois, I know what you're going to say," Clark interrupted, "and you're right. The story is the important focus, but I don't want 'the story' showing up on my doorstep with a bag full of groceries," he said, and turned slightly to face Lois more directly. "Where do we draw the line? I'm still new to all of this. If I find out something important for the story, I want to find that out at the Metro Club, not at my apartment while Toni is … what did you call it … 'spinning her pasta web'?"
"Something like that," Lois said and offered him the parmesan.
Clark smiled and waved off the offering. "I just like having a private life … a personal life away from work. Though," he said, after a thoughtful pause, "I have to admit I enjoy *discussing* work … at least with you."
Lois smiled up at Clark. "That's probably because work is about all I ever talk about."
Clark laughed, but the moment was interrupted by a soft rapping on the door. "Expecting company?"
"No," she lied, having forgotten all about Lex. "Could you get the door and send whoever it is away?"
Clark rose from the sofa. "You sure?"
Lois nodded. "We only have enough spaghetti for two."
"Okay," he smiled and headed for the door. "I feel like a butler anyway in this vest."
"Oh!" Lois bolted from the sofa. She ran to Clark and began undoing the buttons on the vest while Clark just observed her in stunned silence. She didn't think Lex had taken notice of Clark as the bartender, but that server's vest was a dead giveaway.
"You told Toni you had a date," she said as she peeled the vest from his shoulders. "So, now you look more like you're on a date and less like a caterer."
Clark watched her fold the vest and place it beneath a sofa cushion. "And I thought pasta affected *me* strangely," he muttered as he opened the door.
"Let's do … it?" Lex Luthor said as he belatedly noticed Clark had answered the door, and not Lois.
"Excuse me?" Clark said, and folded his arms.
"Song lyrics, Kent," Luthor said as he walked in uninvited. "Birds do it, bees do it, even …"
"Educated fleas do it," Clark said, finishing the line.
"You've surprised me yet again, Mr. Kent," Lex said, and punctuated his sentiment with a condescending smile. "I wouldn't expect someone who has the blush of youth still so prominent on his boyish face to be familiar with the old standards."
Lois rose quickly from the sofa. "Hi, Lex, this is a surprise," she said and moved to Clark's side and slipped her arm around his waist. "I didn't even know you had my address."
Clark unfolded his defiant stance and draped an arm over Lois' shoulders. "Can I get you something to drink, Luthor," he offered casually.
"Yes, we have some nice wine," Lois added.
"*We*?" Lex said as if tasting the word and finding it bitter. "Then you two are a couple?"
"Yeah, just don't ask a couple of *what*," Lois responded, laughing at her own joke and nudging Clark with her hip. She was determined to undermine Lex's image of her. The image of a Lois Lane who was sultry, deep and not mundane. She would destroy that fantasy for Lex even if she had to rent bowling trophies and paint-on-velvet Elvis portraits. Actually, she could probably get both from Perry.
"I see," Lex said thoughtfully. "I should have phoned before dropping by. I'm sure you have plans for this evening that my intrusion might disrupt."
"Not really," Clark shrugged. "We were going to finish dinner, and then turn in early."
Lex's spine stiffened despite his efforts to appear unaffected. "Well, I won't detain you any longer. I had just wanted to congratulate you on your bravura performance at the Metro Club, Lois."
"More like my swan song. My undercover assignment didn't quite pan out," she said, and opened the door. "Though I wondered why *you* were there, Lex. You told me you never went to public places."
Lex merely half-smiled. "A bistro hidden away in an economically depressed area of Metropolis hardly seemed that *public* to me, Lois. However," he added thoughtfully, "I'm interested in some property in that area and so I decided to mix a little business with pleasure."
"You can certainly get property at fire sale prices there, Luthor," Clark noted dryly.
"Astute, Mr. Kent. Goodnight, Lois," he said with a slight nod of his head, and departed.
Lois closed the door with a sigh of relief and then smiled conspiratorially at Clark. Soon the smile turned to laughter for both of them and they embraced.
Lois drifted from the embrace, metaphysically speaking, and found herself in darkness. Her hand swam through the dimness and tripped a light switch. It was Clark's apartment. As with all times before, Lois was still on auto-pilot. Her body turned to the open doorway. "Clark? Come in. This is your place. Does it look familiar?"
Ah, the Nightfall asteroid. Clark's amnesia. She watched Clark look into his apartment. He was wanting to remember, but she could tell it meant nothing to him. "Not yet," was all he said.
Lois followed him as he looked carefully at various books and mementos on display in his apartment. Each was met with the same blank, but pained expression. He picked up the game ball he'd been awarded. She smiled as he put the football to his nose and inhaled.
"You played in college," she said, but her smile faded as the football, like everything else, failed to trigger a memory.
He lifted a framed photograph. "My parents?" he asked, and looked to Lois for confirmation.
"Nice people," Lois said, still not under her own control, though relieved she'd been kind and patient with Clark that far back in their relationship. "The office tried to get in touch with them, but they didn't answer. Phones have been overloaded all over the country."
Clark gave the photo one last look. "I'll keep trying," he said, but his voice sounded unsure.
Lois handed Clark his apartment keys. "Well, I should get going."
Her heart sank as she turned from him. Still not in control of her actions, she did as her former self willed her to do.
"Do you have to?" Clark asked. His tone was almost urgent.
She turned back. "Clark, there's too much at stake, I can't just write Superman off, we need him."
"You're right, we should keep at it," he said, though now, from this new rearview mirror perspective, it was so easy to see that all Clark wanted was to be with her.
She walked back towards him. "No, *I* should keep at it. We need you too. You've been through a lot. Why don't you get a good night's sleep. I know you must be scared."
"To have time running out, and not even know what you've missed, it's …"
"Well, you've traveled the whole world, and you have a family that loves you," she said and touched his chest. "You haven't missed anything important."
Nothing important! Lois was screaming for control, but again, she turned from Clark and began to walk away.
"And we're friends, right?" he asked, once again causing her to turn and face him.
"Sure we're friends."
Clark met her halfway this time. "Are we … more than friends?" he asked, and dropped his voice as if it were the most private intimate thing he could ask.
"More than …," Lois' past self paused, trying to take in Clark's question and its implications. Lois remembered that moment — now her skin seemed to burn with the realization. Clark was feeling something he should not have been feeling for her. Lois had not known about the bond back then, and yet she knew something was telling Clark that despite any comments or evidence to the contrary, there was some very deep connection they shared.
Let me speak! Lois mentally demanded, but her past self continued on. "Well, like I told you, we're partners. We work closely together."
"How close?" Clark asked quickly.
"Close," she responded, and at that moment her former self finally relinquished control.
Unfortunately, Lois had been thinking how much she would have loved to hug Clark. To comfort him. Not expecting to have complete control at that moment, her mental desire became a physical act. She was propelled forward, her arms wrapping tightly around Clark's neck. Before she could react, Clark folded his arms around her.
"I knew it," he whispered into her hair. "I could feel it … something between us."
Clark pulled away slightly. "I … wasn't wrong, was I?"
Lois searched his eyes. Clark was always so strong, so focused, but here, in this exiled moment, nothing was real to him except… her. He looked so forsaken. Lois considered the consequences of moving things too fast in any one time line as she'd been warned, but she couldn't bear to see Clark like this.
"No," she said softly. "You're not wrong."
She pressed her lips gently against his. Though the kiss was brief, the effect lingered. Without opening his eyes, Clark pulled Lois back into a tender embrace. "I love you, Lois."
Lois was suddenly standing in a hole she had dug for herself, the shovel still in her hands. The best she could do now was try and minimize the damage she had started in a vulnerable moment.
"I love you too, Clark," she said and then pulled away. "But this is all pretty new between us."
To Lois' surprise Clark smiled. "That's why you waited until we were alone to tell me? The people at the Daily Planet don't know?"
Lois laughed. "That's for sure. I guarantee no one at the Daily Planet knows," she said and took his hand. "You try and get some sleep."
"Okay," he nodded and escorted her to the door.
Lois kissed his cheek. "Good night."
"Good night, Lois … and thank you."
"You don't have to thank me. I was happy to help you."
"No, I don't mean for helping me— well I do, but …" He sighed in exasperation. "It's just that until you told me you loved me, I was starting to believe that maybe I'd lost my mind along with my memory."
Lois put a reassuring hand on his arm. "Clark —"
"No, I'm serious, Lois. I kept having this *feeling* every single time you were near me. But," he shrugged. "Everyone, including you, kept acting like there was noting there. Even when Ms. Grant told me that she and I had a relationship, I didn't believe her. I *couldn't* believe her. That feeling wasn't there."
"Hold it," Lois interrupted. "Cat told you that she was in a relationship with you?"
Clark nodded. "And that we were keeping it a secret … especially from you."
"Incredible." Lois shook her head. "Of all the colossal gall. Taking advantage of a man who's lost his memory. She should go into business with Max Deter. I can see it now," Lois ranted. "They could put up a billboard. 'For the best in amnesia abuse …' "
"Who's Max Deter?"
"Cat Grant with a diploma."
"Nothing." She smiled. "The important thing is that you didn't fall for her lie."
Their eyes locked a moment and once again Lois' heart melted. "I have a feeling you're not really sleepy, are you?"
Clark grinned. "No, not really."
"C'mon," she said, and took his hand. "In that case you can help me find Superman."
Clark's grin widened as they left his apartment. "Sounds good to me."
It was nearly midnight when Lois unlocked the door to her apartment. She and Clark had spent hours interviewing everyone from scientists and scholars to drug dealers and prostitutes hoping for a lead on Superman's whereabouts. It had all been as fruitless as it had been years ago when she made that same circuit by herself, but this time, with Clark … it was nice.
Lois smiled and headed to the bedroom. She knew that things really couldn't have been too different between them back in those days because neither one of them was really "ready." Still, she conceded, it was pleasant walking near the waterfront with Clark, holding his hand and commenting on their hopes of finding Superman, refusing to dwell on the negative, and pausing for a moment to notice how beautiful the moon's reflection was as it glinted on the surface of the bay.
She sighed as she pulled back the covers on her bed. Something dangerous was happening. Lois was falling in love with Clark all over again. She missed him. She missed touching him, holding him, making love with him, and just the simple pleasure of Sunday mornings spent lounging in bed for as long as the world could do without Superman.
Lois put on a sweatshirt and shorts and slipped under the covers. She hated sleeping alone most of all. How incomprehensible her feelings would be to her counterpart of this era. The Lois who belonged here would have laughed in the face of anyone who dared suggest that one day Clark Kent would become the center of her world, love of her life and the father of her child. She closed her eyes, exhaustion finally setting in. How much longer would this last?
Lois had scarcely finished brushing her hair when she heard knocking at the door. She tossed down the brush, picked up her blazer and headed for the door. She peered through the peep hole and smiled.
"Come in, Clark," she said, and stepped back as she started putting on her blazer.
"Morning," he said cheerfully as he entered, and as was his custom, even in this time, helped Lois on with her jacket. However, unlike the Clark of this era, he kissed her. It was soft and brief, but very welcome.
Lois, who if truly of this era would have handed Clark his head on a platter for that, returned the kiss. "Morning," she said as she grabbed her purse. "Did you remember how to get to my apartment, or look it up in the book?"
"It's strange," Clark said, and opened the door wider. "I felt like I knew where I was going until I got here. For some reason I ended up in the alley facing your window."
Lois laughed nervously. "Really?"
He nodded. "It's like, in my mind, that's where the entrance to your apartment should be."
"Well," she said airily as they headed for the street, "I think your memory is coming back. It's just a little … off."
They decided to walk to the Planet and Lois was grateful. It afforded her some 'thinking time' on the way. She couldn't figure out why she hadn't "leaped" yet. She'd already accelerated her relationship with this Clark far beyond what had been years ago, and yet she was still here, and the Nightfall asteroid was still coming.
"Oh, no," she whispered. Was she to tell Clark about his secret identity?
"What's wrong?" Clark asked, having overheard her whispered concern. He looked up and noticed the Planet. "Oh, right," he said, and removed his arm from her shoulder. "You said the staff doesn't know we're dating."
Lois smiled and took Clark's hand. "Maybe it's time they found out."
Klein glanced up from a stack of paperwork. "Yes?"
"I'm Joey," the handsome young man said as he extended his hand.
Klein rose and shook his hand, but then rotated it slightly. "Is that a tattoo?"
Joey smiled sheepishly as he released his grip. "You know how it is," he said and pulled his sleeve down over his wrist. "I was assigned here to help with some file transfers."
"Wonderful," Klein smiled. "I'm fairly new here, but I seem to have arrived during a major computer upgrade."
"No problem," Joey said confidently.
"Great. You can start with the personnel files."
"Well," Joey shrugged. "I was thinking about the inventory files. After all, the personnel know who they are, but they'll be needing those inventory files."
Klein smiled. "True. I was just trying to start you out with something less complicated. The inventory files need to be recoded before being transferred."
"The more complex, the better, Dr. Klein," he said cheerfully. "Can't wait to get started."
The news room seemed almost business as usual as Lois and Clark exited the elevator. There was still a feeling of high tension in the air, but with EPRAD planning an attempt to destroy the remnant of the asteroid, there was also a feeling of guarded optimism.
"I could use some coffee," Lois said, her hand still clasping Clark's.
Clark stopped. A puzzled expression on his face.
He nodded. "I think so. You never take real cream or real sugar in your coffee."
"Very good," she said, and laughed. "Since you remember so well, I'll let you get my coffee."
"Happy to," he said, but then turned back, "Do I like coffee?"
"Oh, Clark," she said softly and smoothed down his necktie. "Your memory will come back, but I have to admit it's kind of sweet that you remember how I like my coffee even though you can't remember if you like it at all."
Clark gazed down at her with that adoring expression. That look that could de-ice every snowbound plane at JFK in the middle of January. An apt analogy, Lois conceded, because he certainly melted her heart, and back in those days her heart was rumored to contain enough ice to sink the Titanic three times over.
"Did we like each other right away? You and me?"
Lois remembered that question and her answer from years ago, but now she felt maybe Clark would be more comforted by the truth, or at least part of it. "Would you believe me if I said you fell in love with me about two minutes after you met me?"
"It took me that long?" Clark grinned. "How long before you fell in love with me?"
"Well … I … uh —"
"Message for you, Lois," a woman said, handing off a note to Lois as she passed by.
"It's from Lex Luthor." Lois paused and looked up at Clark. His face was a blank. The name meant nothing to him. "He's the most connected man in Metropolis," Lois said flatly, with none of the naive enthusiasm she had expressed the first time.
Clark shrugged. "Then maybe he's heard something that might help locate Superman."
Lois slipped her arm around Clark's waist. "I doubt it, but I guess there's no harm in finding out what he wants, partner."
Clark reflexively wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I'm afraid I'm still not much of a partner yet."
"You'll get there, Clark."
"Well, well. What is this? Jack and Jill: The Motion Picture?"
Lois sighed. "And good morning to you too, Cat."
"Ms. Grant," Clark said, dipping his head slightly in acknowledgment.
"So what's the gag here? Why the Siamese twin act?"
Clark's eyebrows raised slightly. "Sorry?"
"You and Lois," Cat said with a sweeping hand motion. "You look like you just got back from one of those cheap honeymoon junkets to Florida … not that Lois would be any fun, but …"
"Cat," Lois sighed, tiring of the exchange. "It's not very complicated. Clark and I love each other."
Oh, that felt good! Lois hadn't expected to feel that way, not after so long. But there was definitely no denying she felt a slight vengeful glee at telling Cat that she and Clark were in love.
Cat placed her hands on her hips as her narrowed eyes darted from Lois to Clark. She was a cheetah sizing up her prey. Which would she pull down? Who would get it in the neck?
To Lois' surprise, Cat didn't pounce. She laughed, or rather what passed for a laugh from Cat. A kind of humming in the throat. A purr of amusement. "I get it," she finally said. "The stakeout at the Lexor Hotel last week."
Cat clucked her tongue sympathetically as she drew a finger down Clark's jaw line. "Poor baby. Trapped for three days and two nights with Dry Ice Lane."
Lois folded her arms. "Dry ice?"
"All smoke and no heat," Cat said and turned to leave. She slowly smoothed the undercupping of her skirt and then looked back over her shoulder at Clark. "When you're ready for a forest fire, I have the gasoline."
Lois and Clark watched her slink away, their mouths both slightly gaping. When they turned to look at each other and noticed their expressions matched, they both laughed.
Clark shook his head. "She's kind of blatant, isn't she?"
"Blatant? Try shameless," Lois countered. "The only present she ever thanked me for was a set of knee pads that were supposed to be for Jimmy to go with the Rollerblades Perry gave him."
"At the very least," Lois agreed and tugged his arm. "Ready to take on Lex Luthor?"
"Sure," he smiled and took her hand.
They had almost reached the elevator when Jimmy came barreling up. "CK," he puffed. "Just the man I want to see."
"Yeah," the young man nodded and brandished the charred remnant of Superman's 'S' emblem.
Clark took the cloth gingerly and examined it. Lois could tell he was experiencing another one of those moments. The feeling of waking from a dream, but not quite remembering the details. Clark glanced at Lois. "What is this?"
His question was so earnest. Somehow he *knew* Lois could tell him what he needed to know. She took the cloth from Clark and then pressed it against his chest. "Superman," she said, her eyes locked with his. "Always shows up in the nick of time."
"Exactly," Jimmy agreed. "And since my last hunch paid off, the chief is giving me another chance. I figured we could go to this psychic and give her the …"
"Uh, you know what, Jimmy," Clark interrupted and blinked a couple of times as he emerged from his waking slumber. "I just remembered my parents have been trying to reach me and I have to … uh …" He searched Lois' eyes.
"Check your phone messages."
"Right," Clark smiled and quickly disappeared into the elevator.
Jimmy scratched the back of his neck. "I think CK's memory is coming back."
Lois swallowed nervously. "What makes you say that?"
"CK always used to run off like that…well, before he bumped his head."
Lois shrugged innocently. "I guess I never noticed."
Lois felt a crushing disappointment as the leaping effect took over. She wanted to be there for him when he returned, but she would go where she was sent. It wasn't like she had a choice in the matter anyway.
She found her counterpart reading a book. The words on the page were familiar, but she couldn't connect a specific time in her life when she'd read that novel. She was trapped reading and couldn't check out her surroundings. However, after several minutes had passed, Lois realized it had been a while since a page had been turned. She finally had control of the body.
Lois glanced up and noticed she was in her apartment and dressed for bed, but … A breeze stirred her hair. She turned around and saw Superman standing by the window, his expression stern and implacable.
"Clark Kent said you wanted to see me." There was anger and hurt in his voice. It was so much easier to hear it now, looking back, than it had been when he had originally spoken that simple sentence years ago.
No! Not *here*! Why? What could she do? This had been a low and painful point in her life. Clark had confessed his love for her, and though Lois had loved him as a friend back then, she didn't love him romantically. Of course not. That was saved for Superman in those days, and there he stood, all primed to break her heart in exchange for the one she had broken.
Lois set her jaw. There was no time to formulate a plan. She'd have to create something on the fly.
"Superman," she said as she tossed the book on the sofa and approached the man of stone. "I'm so glad you got the message. I need your help."
There was a momentary glitch in Clark's granite expression. Obviously that was not what he expected to hear. "My help?"
"Yes, I've decided to investigate Lex Luthor's … business practices," she said, and emphasized the words with air quotes. "So, I'm accepting his marriage proposal so I can investigate from the inside."
Clark's defiant stance fell completely apart. "Lois, you can't do that! It's too dangerous!"
Lois observed him placidly. "That's why I called for you instead of letting Clark in on this, Superman," she said casually and seated herself in the windowsill. "If I told Clark, he'd go through his Clark cycle reasoning, and I …"
"You know," she said, and began counting off on her fingers. "'Lois, this is crazy.' 'I'm not going to let you do this.' 'Do you ever stop to think about your own safety?' 'We'll see what Perry has to say about this …' and by the time Clark gets to 'I'm going with you,' a lot of precious time has been wasted."
"It actually sounds like good advice."
Lois couldn't help but smile. What a surprise that Clark would think Clark's advice sounded good. "Oh, it is, Superman," she agreed as she rose from the windowsill. "That's why I contacted you. You'd be able to stay close, but out of sight, in case something went wrong."
Clark's granite expression returned. "I have to side with Clark on this, Lois. It's too dangerous. Luthor, whether you believe it or not, is capable of anything, including murder."
Lois narrowed the space between them. Even without touching him she could feel his body warmth, his energy. "I wouldn't be wanting to investigate him if I thought he was a straight arrow, now would I?"
"Superman, if you believe Lex is crooked and Clark believes he's crooked, don't you think it's about time someone found out for sure and brought him down if it turns out to be true?"
"Okay, yes, of course someone should," he conceded reluctantly. "But *not* like this. If he found out you accepted his proposal just to get a story … Lois, he'd kill you."
"You're probably right." Lois sighed. "Even you can't watch me 24 hours a day. I guess I'll try to figure out a way to investigate from the outside," she said and patted his arm. "Thanks for stopping by and at least hearing me out. I think I'll turn in and work on a new angle tomorrow."
"Uh … Lois," he said as she walked past.
Lois suppressed a smile and turned back around. "Yes, Superman?"
"Is that *all* you wanted to talk to me about?"
"What else is there?" she asked innocently.
"Nothing, I guess," he said, his voice confused. "It's just that Clark made it sound … that is, he mentioned that he told you he … that he was in love with you."
Lois nodded. "Yes, he did."
She could tell Clark was becoming agitated. It always happened when he obsessed on something. "I got the impression from Clark that an investigation of Lex Luthor wasn't exactly what you had wanted to talk to me about."
"Really?" Lois asked, her innocent tone unshakeable. "I told Clark that I hadn't told Lex yes and that I wouldn't until I talked it over with someone else first. Apparently he understood who that 'someone else' was, because here you are."
Clark's mouth opened, his lips moved, but for all his powers, he could not, at that moment, form one single word.
"And because of your good advice, I won't be telling Lex yes. I'll just figure out some other way of investigating him."
Clark shook his head. "I guess Clark got the wrong impression."
"What impression would that be?"
Clark cleared his throat. "Well, since you told Clark you only loved him as a friend and you didn't admit to loving Luthor … then … sent for … me, I thought —"
"Oh, Superman," Lois said with practiced sympathy as she approached him. "You thought I asked you here to confess my love for you?"
The upper edges of Clark's ears turned crimson. "Well … like I said," he fumbled, "Clark must have gotten the wrong impression."
"For what it's worth, Superman," she said, placing a hand on his chest. "I do love you in a special way."
"A *special* way?" he asked, his facial expression akin to a man who'd just been told he had a rare disease.
"*Very* special," she said, savoring the moment. "You almost single-handedly restored my faith in human nature, made me believe in magic, and most of all, Superman, you helped me learn to trust again."
"Lois, I …"
"Trust is the most important thing," she said as she brushed her fingertips lightly across the shield on his chest. "Without that, I'd never have been able to open my heart to Clark. And though he's not happy that it's not romantic love … not yet anyway," she continued. "I hope he understands how far I had to come emotionally just to be able tell him how much I love, admire and respect him, because he's the last person in the world I would ever hurt."
Clark swallowed hard and closed his eyes momentarily. "If he can't see that," he began, his voice very soft, "then he doesn't deserve you as a friend, Lois."
"He understands, Superman." She smiled up into the eyes of her hero. "But maybe I'd better phone him."
"I could give you a lift to his apartment," he suggested. "Uh, Clark .. told me he'd be up late."
"Even better," she laughed. "Just give me a few minutes to change into something less comfortable."
"Hi. Can we talk?" Lois asked as Clark opened the door. She was impressed. He'd just dropped her off as Superman and yet managed to reach the door dressed as Clark in less than ten seconds.
"I think we should."
They walked down the steps to his living room in silence. Lois moved to the sofa and sat in the far corner. "I wanted to make sure we're okay."
"I've had some time to think about this afternoon," he said, taking the opposite corner. "I probably shut my hearing off after you said you didn't feel the same way about me, but," he sighed, "after going back over our conversation, I realized how close we've become … as friends," he added hastily.
"Definitely." Lois scooted a bit closer and placed her hand on his. "I don't think I could have been this honest with you even as little as a month ago."
She laced her fingers with his. "It used to be a big show for me. I guess it was easier to pretend nothing touched me than to run the risk of being disappointed or hurt." She met his gaze. "You're not going to recant your confession of love, are you?"
Clark blushed. "If I did, I'd be lying," he admitted. "I guess I could cross my fingers."
Lois smiled. "Please don't. When you told me you could lose the Planet, say good-bye to Perry, Jimmy and everyone and still go on, but realized there was one thing you didn't want to live without …"
"Yes," she said softly. "I have to admit that scared me, because it's how I've come to think of you too."
Clark became electric with anticipation. "Really?"
Lois nodded and tightened her grip on his hand. "I prided myself on my independence. I liked believing I'd never need anyone, but," she shrugged, "that day you packed up and left the Planet … *that* day, I knew I'd been kidding myself."
"If it's any consolation," Clark said after a long pause, "I know *exactly* what you mean. I had all kinds of rules and goals set up for myself and they were easy to follow … until I met you."
Lois released his hand and moved her arms around his neck. "Is there a relationship stage between friendship and romance?"
He smiled and pressed his forehead against hers. "Agony?"
"Poor baby," she teased and kissed the tip of his nose. "We might make it past that agony phase, Mr. Kent."
"In the meantime, Ms. Lane?"
"Ah," she brightened. "You and I will take down Lex Luthor."
"The loop is down by one!" Klein shouted triumphantly.
The younger Wells approached Klein and looked down at Clark's face. "Thank God," he whispered, noting that the youngest of Clark's many versions had vanished. "Miss Lane must be succeeding."
"Apparently," Klein said thoughtfully. "Still," he sighed, "I can't figure out why this is happening at all. None of the theories would account for this phenomenon. I just don't understand it."
"Neither do I," the elder Wells commented as he rose from an uncomfortable sitting position. "However, as with all things scientific, one must eliminate as many of the variables as possible in order to reach the most viable conclusion."
The younger Wells nodded in agreement. "In this case, the one variable Clark possessed that was untrue of the others, was the existence of a duplicate version of himself in the year 1966 and having contact with that duplicate."
He glanced warily at Klein. "Of course, if it turns out merely to be the fact that two Clarks existed at the same time in this era, you could be at grave risk, Doctor."
"True," Klein acknowledged. "But something isn't adding up logically here. Not to mention there's one variable we can't really account for."
The elder Wells nodded. "The fact that Clark is extraterrestrial."
"You look nice," Clark said as he stepped into Lois' apartment.
"So do you," she said with a smile as she straightened his necktie — which didn't need to be straightened.
"I still don't like the idea of taking Luthor's limousine to Perry's retirement party."
Lois leaned against the door frame. "Think of it as Lex's last hurrah, partner, because when we get through with him, that limo likely won't be used for a long, *long* time."
"I guess." Clark shrugged. "But I'm worried about what happens when that limousine gets returned to him tonight."
"Simple," she smiled. "I turn down his marriage proposal."
"*That's* what I'm worried about, Lois. You have no idea how he'll react, what he'll—"
"Clark," she interrupted. "First of all, you said Superman would be there watching over me, and second, Lex, even if he is crazy, is not crazy enough to do anything to me while I'm in his home."
"Maybe," Clark said. "But I want you to stay with me after you turn him down and until he gets arrested."
"Oh?" Lois asked and folded her arms.
"Lois, I'm not saying you can't handle this. In fact, maybe what I'm saying is *I* can't handle this." He shook his head. "If Lex is even half as vindictive as I suspect he is, you'll be a target the minute you turn him down and if you won't stay with me, then I'll park outside your apartment —"
"Okay, okay," Lois said, cutting him off. She grabbed his lapels playfully. "I didn't say I wouldn't stay with you, Clark. Sounds like a good idea to me."
"Good, because I was ready to—"
"Shh," Lois cautioned. "I think our ride is here," she whispered and with a nod of her head indicated a tall, exotic woman dressed in traditional chauffeur's regalia moving up the hallway.
The woman observed them coolly. "Lois Lane, Mr. Kent. Follow me, please."
Clark shot a quizzical glance at Lois as they followed the woman. Lois shrugged. "Lex's *personal* assistant," she whispered.
"What exactly does a personal assistant do?"
Lois replied, quoting Mrs. Cox from memory. "Whatever is necessary."
"The loop sequence stopped," Klein said casually, almost as an afterthought.
Klein glanced up. "But he's still unconscious."
The elder Wells hurried over. "I don't understand. Something must still be holding him back."
"Well, at least we're down to one Clark, the *right* Clark," the younger Wells commented.
The gray-haired man, who had rejoined the group, sat under a tree with his eyes closed. "Hopefully it means Ms. Lane is getting close to ending this thing."
"Amen to that," Klein said, fanning his lab coat. "I've had about all of this heat I can stand."
Jimmy had to literally pour Perry White into the limousine. The besotted editor was singing, "Just say you will, say you will."
Jimmy turned to Lois. "You know, it must be nice to have a free car at your beck and call."
"Come on, Jimmy!" Perry shouted as Jimmy ducked into the back seat.
"The word 'free' is not in Luthor's vocabulary," Clark sniped. "With him you *always* pay."
Lois looked at Clark over the open door and out of Jimmy's line of sight. "You coming?"
"Time to find Superman to make sure he can watch you at Luthor's penthouse," Clark whispered. But, "I'd rather walk," is what he said aloud.
"Suit yourself," Lois said, but pleasantly, not with the hurt and anger in her voice that had been true of the first time this incident happened.
Clark had barely walked two paces after the engine to the limousine engaged when the report and concussion from the explosion knocked him forcefully to the ground.
He turned on his side, his eyes squinting as the fireball remnants of the leviathan automobile came crashing back to the street. "No!!"
The four men stood holding their ears as a deafening roar erupted. "What is it?!?" Klein shouted over the din.
The older Wells shook his head. "I haven't a clue!"
"What's happening to me?" the gray-haired man asked. He pulled his hands from his ears as his entire body began to shimmer and fade.
"Joseph!" the younger Wells shouted. "Hold on!"
"I can't," he said simply, and vanished.
As Joseph's last word still lingered in the air, Clark sat up abruptly. "Lois!"
The noise ended as swiftly as it had begun.
Klein rushed to Clark's side and helped him stand. "Are you all right?" he asked urgently. "How do you feel?"
"Feel?" Clark rubbed his forehead. "Tired … fuzzy," he said, trying to focus. "Dr. Klein?"
Klein nodded. "That's right. I'm sure this is very confusing."
"This *what* is very confusing?" he asked, but began to survey his surroundings. "This is near my home … I mean my Smallville home," he commented foggily. "But some things are wrong … out of place… I—" he interrupted himself when a downward glance revealed he was attired only in a pair of boxer shorts.
Clark's dismay quickly turned into anger. "What is this? Where's Lois?!"
"I…I …Superman … please calm down!"
"Who told you I'm Superman?"
"Your wife!" Klein assured him, but kept retreating as Clark advanced.
"Please, Clark, it's not Dr. Klein's fault," a familiar voice protested behind him.
Clark wheeled around. "H.G. Wells," he said, recognizing the man who had sent him and Lois on their honeymoon- delaying adventure. He glanced past him to the older man similarly attired. "And you're the one who rescued me from the time window. The one Lois met in the alternate Metropolis."
The elder Wells cleared his throat nervously. "Quite correct."
Klein raised an eyebrow. "There's really an alternate Metropolis?"
Clark nodded. "Yes. I've met the other … me from there."
"The *other* you," Klein said thoughtfully. "That must have been fascinating."
"Actually," Clark said, leveling a stern gaze on Klein. "He was a little too attracted to my wife for me to find the experience 'fascinating'."
"That … that would certainly kill the moment." Klein tugged at his collar. "I'm having enough trouble keeping the two H.G. Wells straight as it is."
"If I might suggest a basic contrivance, Dr. Klein," the elder Wells commented. "Simply refer to me as George and my younger counterpart as Herbert."
Klein nodded his approval. "Thank you … George."
"Yes," the younger man agreed. "But please, not *Herb*. I found Tempus' condescending usage quite off-putting."
Clark took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "No offense, but it *never* seems to be good news when either of you show up," he said evenly, trying to keep the edge out of his voice. "And with both of you here, it's probably *very* bad news."
"I believe I can be of some help, Superman," the newly christened 'Herbert' said as he approached. "First you'll need to … unspool."
Clark, as Lois had done, closed his eyes. Finer detail filled in the blanks between the choppy dreamlike images. After several moments he opened his eyes slowly. "That's why everything is out of place, isn't it? We're back in Smallville in 1966."
"Now," Clark began carefully, "I'm not going to ask why. Frankly, I don't *care* why. I just want to know where Lois is."
Herbert removed the transmigrator from his pocket. "I'm sure you remember this, Clark."
Clark sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "So Lois is back in time?"
'George' Wells, still maintaining a discreet distance, nodded. "Yes … after a fashion."
"I can retrieve her," Herbert asserted as he pressed several buttons on the device in sequence. "But…this can't be." His expression became grim as he ran the sequence again.
"Can't be what?"
"She's … gone," he whispered.
"I know she's *gone*," Clark said, his anger resurfacing. "Bring her back!"
Herbert raised his hands in a gesture of supplication. "I'm so dreadfully sorry."
Clark set his jaw and approached the younger Wells with an unmistakable menace. "I don't want apologies, explanations, or excuses," he said tersely as he literally loomed over the smaller man. "I want Lois back. *Now*."
Klein hurried forward and placed a restraining hand on Clark's arm. "Superman," he said, deliberately invoking the hero's name hoping it would act as a calming influence. "I think what he's trying to say is that currently he can't find Lois and so he can't retrieve her."
Herbert nodded and extended the device cautiously. "As you can see, Superman, she's simply not there."
Clark took the device and looked at the display screen. "Does this mean she's lost in time?" he asked, and turned to the elder Wells. "Like I was?"
"Unfortunately, no." George shook his head. "This isn't a time travel device, Clark, despite any similarities it may have to one. As you'll recall, it was used to send your and Lois' souls into former incarnations of yourselves."
"But it doesn't make sense," Clark said absently as he glanced back at the screen. "This device, if I'm reading it correctly, says Lois vanished in 1994. That wouldn't be a 'former incarnation' of her."
"In all fairness," Klein interrupted softly, "you did say you didn't want any explanations, Clark."
"All right," Clark said bluntly. "Tell me what happened, but," he added, "just the bare minimum. I just want to know how to get Lois back."
Herbert swallowed. Despite the bluster in Clark's voice, he could hear the fear as well. "It seems when you were here in 1966 the last time, your encounter with your infant self set a chain of events in motion. It not only created identical, concentric time lines which started causing anomalies in the real time line, but it trapped you in some sort of temporal loop."
Clark tapped the transmigrator against his fingertips. "Temporal loop?"
"Yes," Herbert nodded. "A version of you from what I would guess was 1993, one from 1995 and … well.. this one," he said, extending a hand towards Clark. "The current you, were all trapped in the loop."
Clark sighed. "So Lois was sent back to former versions of herself to change something?"
"Not precisely. Her task was to accelerate the time lines by accelerating her relationship with you in an attempt to bring the time lines current with the true one," Herbert explained. "It was hoped that if she was successful, it would free you from the loop."
"But I *am* free of the loop, so she must have succeeded."
"Indeed. However", he said, exchanging a furtive glance with his older self, "since the transmigrator tracks souls, but can't find Lois … I fear she —"
"No," Clark interrupted abruptly and thrust the device back into Herbert's hands. "You sent her back, now send me back to find her."
"But … but, Clark, there is no one to find!"
"I'll find her."
Clark put a hand on Herbert's shoulder. "Send me back…please."
"Maybe Clark has a point," Klein said, his voice hopeful. "Since the device is still displaying the moment Lois disappeared, you could send Clark back to some point prior to that."
"Yes." Herbert brightened. "Perhaps there's still a chance."
"Then do it," Clark said anxiously.
Herbert nodded enthusiastically as he began pushing buttons on the transmigrator. "Keep in mind, Clark," he said without looking up from the device, "the Lois you encounter, though looking like the Lois you remember from three years ago, will be *your* Lois. Your wife."
He glanced up. "You'll not only have to convince her that you're her husband, but also prevent her from doing whatever it was that … made her vanish," he said, avoiding stating the obvious.
Clark nodded. "Let's do it."
Herbert set the final sequence in motion. "Good luck, my boy," he said to the dissolving image of Clark Kent.
"Maybe he won't need luck, Herbert," Klein said thoughtfully. "I mean if he doesn't succeed this time, can't you retrieve him and try again?"
"Theoretically it's probably viable," he said with a shrug. "However, I plan to simply monitor the transmigrator. The instant I see Lois make a reappearance, I'll retrieve both of them, and then —"
His confident chatter was interrupted by a low rumble. Klein, who had come to expect almost anything at this point, was thrown to the ground by the force of a powerful tremor and collided with Herbert.
A tree the elder Wells had been leaning against suddenly vanished, causing him to topple backward and hit the ground hard. Before either of his companions could come to his aid, trees throughout the small wooded area began to vanish as well.
"Oh, God," Klein groaned. "Now what did we do?"
"Dear me," Herbert exclaimed and rolled away from the spot where he'd been sitting. A small green stalk had appeared and was growing rapidly. "What do you make of this, Dr. Klein?"
Klein shook his head. "I don't know," he said grimly. "But if a giant climbs down the other end, I hope he just eats me and puts an end to it."
"Astounding," Herbert said, surveying the changing landscape. "There's row after row going out to the horizon."
As the young stalks reached the height of Klein's knees, he noticed brown stalks of some type sprouting around the perimeter. "Oh, no!" he shouted and began running towards the other Wells.
"What's wrong?" Herbert asked, struggling to keep pace through the jungle of rapidly growing stalks.
"I think George is lying right on the fence line."
"But there isn't a fence!"
"Give it a minute," Klein puffed, his breath growing ragged.
George, still dazed from his fall, turned slowly, his eyes widening as he saw the sprouting fence posts approaching him like a jack-in-the-box army. "What the devil?"
Klein grabbed George's wrist and yanked him away just an instant before a fence post took his place. The three men, their jaws gaping, watched as the fence post army closed ranks. Horseshoe staples suddenly embedded themselves into the posts and glistening strands of barbed wire snaked their way through the staples. In less than five minutes, the fence was complete.
Klein wiped a sleeve across his forehead. "I'll accept any theory at this point."
"I'm at a loss," Herbert said, consulting the transmigrator. "It's nothing Clark could have done. He hasn't had time to even prevent Lois' disappearance much less precipitate this cataclysmic change."
"Indeed," George nodded. "I'm afraid Lois' disappearance is more likely the cause. After she vanished, it apparently triggered a chain of events that has brought us to this moment."
Klein shrugged. "But what *is* this moment?"
"There seems to be a placard of some type affixed to the front of the fence," Herbert said, pointing out a sign a few paces ahead. "Perhaps it can shed some light on the situation."
"It's better than nothing," Klein said glumly as he moved up the fence line.
Reaching the spot, Klein pressed down a strand of barbed wire and poked his head and shoulders through. He craned his neck awkwardly to read the sign. "It says LFC … PRIVATE PROPERTY … TRESPASSERS WILL BE …"
"PROSECUTED," a new voice interrupted.
Klein quickly pulled his head back through. A bearded man in a khaki jumpsuit and matching baseball cap was leveling a double-barrel shotgun at him. The two H.G. Wells already had their hands raised. Klein did the same.
"At least you can't claim you don't know how to read when you're charged with trespassing," the man said blandly.
"Trespassing?" George bristled. "That's absurd. Do we look like the type of men who would steal beans?"
"Corn," Klein corrected.
"These are hard times, Pop. No telling what a man would steal these days," he said as he moved from the older to the younger Wells. "Aren't you a little old to be playing video games?" he asked, noticing the transmigrator in one of Herbert's raised hands. "Beg pardon?"
"This," the man said as he struck the transmigrator sharply with the shotgun. The device fell to the ground in two pieces.
"Oh, God," Klein whispered.
The man made a rapid jerking motion with the shotgun indicating that they should precede him. "Get moving, gentlemen."
Clark found himself powerless to turn away from Perry White, who was relating a story about Elvis Presley's twin brother who had been born dead. The transmigrating effect was always disorienting, at least what Clark could recall of the experience that had delayed his wedding night, but he could not remember having to wait this long to gain control.
As the story droned on, Clark became concerned that he would remain powerless, but by the time Perry began singing Lonely Teardrops, Clark was finally in control of his former self. He was not going to waste any time. He rose from his seat abruptly, stepped past Jimmy and took Lois' hand. "Would you like to dance?"
Jimmy turned his head. "Dance? To *this* music? It sounds like somebody playing a guitar in a bathtub."
"It's a sitar, Jimmy. Besides," Clark smiled as he pulled Lois into an intimate dance hold, "it's not about the music."
Jimmy watched in stunned silence as Lois and Clark took the dance floor. He shook his head. "I think something's going on with those two, Chief."
Perry, a scarf looped around his neck by a belly dancer who was urging him to follow, merely shrugged at Jimmy and left the table with his seductively dressed partner. Jimmy sighed. "And the cheese stands … *sits* alone."
"This is a nice surprise," Lois said softly against Clark's shoulder, but hoped he hadn't heard the longing in her voice.
"I love dancing with you, Lois," he whispered as he nuzzled her ear. He had most definitely heard the longing.
Lois' breath caught. She knew she should just resist, but she'd grown tired of waiting and wanting. "You shouldn't love dancing with me, Clark," she replied coquettishly and tugged down the edge of his shirt collar. She kissed his neck, her lips clinging a moment as if in protest of the separation. Though quite aware of what kind of signal she was sending Clark, she didn't care anymore.
"Mm," he cooed softly. "Why shouldn't I enjoy it?"
Lois pulled her head back slightly and gazed up into his eyes and smiled. "Because the last time we danced like this, I smacked you for cutting in."
Clark returned her smile. "The White Orchid Ball," he said as he moved his arms down to the small of her back and pulled her firmly against his body. "You looked so beautiful, Lois, I had to hold you just to believe you were real."
Clark's words dissolved into a kiss. The pretense of dancing was forgotten. Lois and Clark, in their own way, were making love to each other fully clothed in the middle of a crowded, noisy restaurant. "You know," Clark finally said as he broke from the kiss, his breath stolen by his lover, "I probably had that smack coming."
"No," Lois said airily and drew her thumb across Clark's lower lip in a vain attempt to remove the lipstick smudge. "I can think of worse offenses than cutting in on a dance."
"True," Clark conceded. "Like x-raying your lingerie in case I lose at strip poker."
Lois stepped back and froze, her heart pounding. "Clark?!"
"Mrs. Kent … I presume?"
"Clark!" she shouted and launched herself back into his arms. Lois repeated his name over and over as she alternated between sobbing and laughing.
"I'm here, honey," he assured softly. "I'm right here."
The bearded man stood in the doorway of the spartan office. "This little building has all the comforts of home except a telephone," he said, brandishing a key. "So I hope you don't mind being locked in while I go up the road to call the cops."
"At least this building has air-conditioning," Klein said as the door slammed.
"Do you think that air-conditioner could be pushed out to afford an escape?" Herbert asked.
Klein shook his head. "Not a chance. See this?" he asked as he tapped a steel rod. "They've got the unit caged in. However," he continued, "when we were walking up here, I noticed a concrete wall just behind this building. There's so little space between the two, I doubt the unit would clear the gap even if it wasn't caged."
Herbert shook his head. "Somehow I doubt this is how the Kents run their farm."
"No indeed," George concurred and walked over to a calendar on the wall near a small window. "1997."
"At least I'm back in the year I belong," Klein said as he began opening drawers on the desk. "Maybe we can't move that air-conditioner, but if I can find a spare key to that door, we can get out of here, get the transmigrator and bring Lois and Clark back here to the right year."
Herbert moved to the small window and gazed into the cornfield. "First I'd have to *fix* the transmigrator," he said. "Although I wonder if the thing was working properly even before it was broken."
Klein glanced up. "How do you mean?"
Herbert sighed. "Not only was I not reading Lois, but once I sent Clark back, I wasn't reading *him* either."
"Oh, fine," Klein groaned as he continued to rifle the desk. "There doesn't seem to be an end to this nightmare."
"I'm afraid the nightmare might well stretch to Metropolis, Dr. Klein," the elder Wells said as he continued to examine the calendar. "You'll recall the initials LFC from the sign?"
"It stands for Luthor Farm Consortium," he said, pointing out the text beneath a photo of farm equipment.
"Luthor? As in *Lex* Luthor?"
"The very same."
Herbert turned from the window. "Apparently Lois must have done something that not only put her in disfavor with Mr. Luthor, but also caused him to exact revenge against Clark as well."
Klein nodded. "Buying up the Kent farm."
"Perhaps," George shrugged. "But I would wager it was something a great deal more heinous."
"Undoubtedly," Herbert agreed. "In any event, I hope Clark finds Lois and reverses this reality. If not, we're to be incarcerated and Clark will be trapped in a past and a future without Lois."
"Or his parents," Klein added grimly as he approached Herbert and George. He held out several sheets of paper. "This is a land plat of Smallville."
George took the papers. "Oh, my," he said softly, and began to read from the plat. "Kent farm, deed holders Jonathan and Martha Kent … deceased."
Herbert reached over George's shoulder and tapped the document. "It says to reference Abstract 11 from the Newtrich survey for details."
George quickly leafed through the pages. "Here it is," he said as he scanned down the page. "The Kent farm and holdings were put up for public auction September 19, 1994, following the deaths of the deed holders Jonathan and Martha Kent May 22, 1994, in a house fire at deed homestead. County authorities determined a gas leak caused an explosion and subsequent fire. With the discovery of the body of the deed holders' son and sole heir … Clark Kent … also recovered from the fire, it was decided that a public auction—"
"Impossible," Herbert interrupted. "Clark couldn't have been killed by an explosion or fire … unless …"
"Unless there was Kryptonite," Klein said as he dropped heavily into a chair.
"As grave as these findings are," George said, "it does explain why you couldn't find Clark with the transmigrator."
Herbert nodded. "He and Lois no longer exist."
"But he was here," Klein protested. "He was alive!"
"I didn't say 'dead'," Herbert corrected. "I said he didn't exist. As an entity, a person or even as a soul, if you will, Clark Kent does not exist and has no history beyond May of 1994."
"Then … what is he?"
"I suppose he could be called a living memory," George said, trying to pick his words carefully. "The only reason he's alive at all is because he was still trapped inside the loop at the time Lois changed history, or, more precisely," he continued, "at the time Lex Luthor changed history by eliminating Lois."
Klein tipped his head back. "So a Clark who doesn't exist is trying to prevent a Lois who doesn't exist from … not existing."
"I fear that is so," Herbert agreed. "And if he is not successful, then this world becomes the reality for everyone."
"But it doesn't make sense," Klein said as he rubbed his very tired eyes. "Lois wasn't in the true time line. How could her death change *this* time line if she wasn't in it?"
"You answered your own question, doctor," George replied. "She no longer exists in this time line because she died in 1994. It doesn't matter that she died in a duplicate time line, because that, in turn, caused *it* to become the true time line."
"Well, I'm *so* glad we came back to fix things," Klein muttered. "Maybe before this is all over we'll still have time to fill in the Grand Canyon and paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa."
Lois and Clark hurried up the back service stairs of the restaurant. They entered a small room and Lois quickly closed the door. "Okay," she said breathlessly, "you said we needed a private place to talk, so here it is." She placed her hands on his chest. "Are you sure you just want to … talk?"
Clark took her hands in his. "I'm sorry, honey, but we *have* to talk."
"Oh," Lois said, her giddy tone disappeared instantly. "Something went wrong, didn't it? That's why you're here instead of me being sent back."
Clark nodded. "You vanished from the transmigrator."
"Oh, God," she whispered. "I died."
"I … I died," she repeated, letting the thought soak in. "It had to be Lex, but …"
"Honey, what *exactly* did you and this Clark do to Lex?"
"Nothing," she insisted. "I mean we were planning to investigate his business dealings, but we hadn't even had time to start on that yet."
"Then it had to be something you did here or immediately after you left this party."
"I was going back to Lex's penthouse to turn down his marriage proposal, but Clark," she added quickly, "before you say anything, you … well, the you who belongs here, promised that Superman would be watching over me at the penthouse."
Clark thought for a moment. "Then it must have happened before you even had a chance to reach the penthouse," he said and then smiled faintly. "Because if I said Superman would be watching you, he *would* have been watching you."
"I know," she said softly and returned his smile. "Maybe the easiest solution would be just to fly me away," she suggested. "Remember that little place in Jamaica?"
"Mm," Clark moaned as he pulled Lois into an embrace. "I remember it *very* well. Horseback riding on the beach at midnight."
"You know what horseback riding does to me."
Clark nodded and kissed the top of her head. "Why do you think I rented horses instead of a sailboat."
Lois laughed, but noticed Clark's distracted expression. "What are you hearing?"
Clark shook his head and began scanning the restaurant. "It's a strange radio wave, but it's not coming from here," he said and moved to the window. "Lex's limousine just got back, but it stopped moving when the radio wave stopped."
Lois' eyes widened. "Clark, do you think—"
"I'm way ahead of you, honey," he interrupted, his gaze fixed on the limousine. "It's loaded down with explosives and …Jack is handcuffed to the steering wheel."
Clark instinctively spun into the Superman costume, but then hesitated.
Lois placed a hand on his arm. "What's wrong?"
"I came back here to make sure *you* didn't die, Lois, but if I leave you…"
"Clark, I know … sometimes … I'm not the most cooperative damsel in distress, but I promise I'll stay right here until you get back." She rubbed his arm. "Go save Jack."
Clark reluctantly nodded. "I'll be right back," he promised, and vanished through the window.
"I'm hungry," Klein said as he absently drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. "It's been over an hour and still no police."
"Well," Herbert sighed, "I'm hoping it means the local constabulary saw no merit in the trespassing charge."
"Mm-hm," Klein smiled and craned his head to the side. "That's strange. There's a phone jack in the wall. I assumed when he said there was no telephone that the building wasn't wired for one."
"I'm afraid little would make sense in a world run by Lex Luthor," George observed dryly.
"Perhaps we don't have to telephone anyone," Herbert said as he gazed back out the small window. "There's some sort of huge contraption in the cornfield. If we can get the driver's attention, perhaps he can let us out, or at least find out what happened to our jailer."
Klein rose and moved to the window. "Some kind of harvester, I guess," he said and glanced at the calendar. "According to the illustration, that's a Lex-All combine."
Herbert backed away from the window. "Is … is it very powerful?"
"Oh, yes." Klein nodded. "275 horsepower with a boost to 308 horsepower for 'tough spots' it says."
"Powerful enough to crush this building?"
Klein laughed. "Well, it doesn't say anything about … oh, God!"
George rushed to join the other two and stood in horror as the mammoth combine headed straight for the building with no signs of slowing down or stopping.
Lois had barely paced the room twice before Clark returned and stepped through the window on the opposite side, Jack dangling limply in his arms.
"Oh, Clark, is he—"
"Just unconscious, honey," he said as he laid Jack gently on the floor. "Probably drugged."
Lois knelt next to the young man. "A chauffeur's cap and a whiplash collar?"
Clark nodded as he removed the collar. "There was also fishing line around his chest woven through the back of the driver's seat."
"Naturally." Lois shook her head. "Giving the illusion of an alert driver at the wheel."
"Apparently," Clark sighed. "I guess we can call the police and the bomb squad and wrap this up."
Lois slipped the chauffeur's cap from Jack's head. "Or maybe we can do something a little more creative," Lois suggested and offered the cap to Clark.
Klein and the younger Wells picked up a chair and began using it as a battering ram against the door.
The elder Wells, who had been keeping watch at the small window, waved his hand. "It turned!"
Klein and Herbert slumped to the floor. Both men were completely spent by the effort. "Well…" Klein puffed, "… maybe we were just being paranoid."
"Perhaps," George conceded. "However, our jailer has returned, but with no police officers. He's standing off to the side of this building with his twin-bore weapon."
Herbert dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. "I fear that he is there for insurance purposes," he said breathlessly.
"That would be my guess too," Klein agreed. "If we could have busted through that door, it wouldn't have made any difference. He'd be waiting for us."
"But surely he couldn't expect to get away with gunning down unarmed men."
Klein managed a bitter laugh. "Don't worry, George. By the time the police got here, we'd be armed. We'd also be dead," he added soberly. "But we would be found armed."
"That's rather crooked billiards, I must say," Herbert snipped.
George glanced back out the window. "Crooked or not, that machine is heading straight for us again."
"Well done, Mrs. Cox," Lex said into the speakerphone as he seated himself on the edge of his desk. "Our young friend Jack has already been reported as an escapee from the juvenile detention center. Once his body is discovered … well … once they find enough of his body to match his dental records, the police, using their perfunctory detective skills, will assume that the angry young man wanted revenge and was caught in his own trap."
"I'm glad things are back on track, Lex," Mrs. Cox's voice purred from the speaker. "You seem to be your old self again."
"Well," he sighed, "I must admit to initially feeling guilty having Lois and Kent's apartments bugged. However," he continued smoothly, "hearing her and Kent plotting my overthrow was the tonic I needed."
"It must have been painful for you, Lex."
Lex tapped his cigar into a large crystal ashtray. "Not at all, Mrs. Cox. Sorrow, like guilt, is an emotion that is to be savored briefly, then vanquished."
"Then I will savor my remorse momentarily when I send the signal to the limousine's ignition."
Lex smiled and shook his head in admiration. "You are the jewel in the Luthor crown, Mrs. Cox. Beautiful and invaluable."
"Thank you, Lex," she said, managing a sincerity in her voice that was usually alien to her nature. "But what about Kent? According to their plans, he won't be getting into the limousine, he'll be contacting Superman."
"I have a different plan for Mr. Kent." Lex consulted his watch. "Nigel should be arriving in America's heartland any minute now. I've instructed him to find a gas leak at the Kent farmhouse. If he can't find one, I've instructed him to create one." He shrugged. "Clark, losing Lois and his parents in such short order, will surprise no one when he takes his own life."
"Then I will begin work on his suicide note after I'm finished here," she said officiously. "And what about Superman?"
"Waste not, want not, Mrs. Cox," Lex said as he pushed away from the desk. "That Kryptonite cage in which I hoped to house Superman during my wedding to Lois can still fulfill its destiny."
"I never doubt you, Lex, but I don't think he will be so easily lured given the new circumstances."
Lex laughed. "On the contrary, Mrs. Cox, I won't have to lure him at all. Superman, as he always does, will assume I'm responsible. Which at least makes him more intelligent than the Metropolis police department," he added thoughtfully. "His magnificent x-ray vision will find me in the wine cellar where he'll confront me and promise to make me pay for my crimes. One quick turn of the barrel spigot later and … voila."
Lex bowed grandly to the small speaker box. "Thank you."
"A slow and painful death. An appropriately ironic death for a fast and invulnerable man."
"Slow and painful to be sure," Lex agreed. "But his death will occur in Kansas. I've arranged a flight for our dying hero. He'll be placed in the Kent farmhouse with full knowledge of its imminent destruction. His last earthly thoughts will be of the two lives he was unable to save."
"But how will the death of Superman be explained?" Mrs. Cox finally asked after a long silence.
Lex exhaled a long plume of smoke. "It won't be. Given Nigel's talent for spectacular conflagrations, only the charred remnants of three bodies will be found. The authorities will probably assume the third body is that of Clark Kent, the son who chose a tragically bad time to visit his parents. However," Lex shrugged, "at some point Kent's landlord will no doubt find poor Mr. Kent's body and your suicide note in his Metropolis apartment."
Mrs. Cox's laughter crackled over the speaker. "The world's greatest hero will be given a pauper's burial as a John Doe."
"Ashes to ashes, Mrs. Cox," Lex said and consulted his watch again. "Perry's retirement party should be winding down soon, so I'll leave you to your task." He smiled. "When you've dispatched your duties, you and I will have a private celebration."
"I look forward to it, Lex."
As Lex pressed the disconnect button, he felt a sudden blast of wind from his balcony. He turned as Superman, dressed in a complete chauffeur's uniform with the added accessory of a red cape, stepped into the penthouse office. Before Lex had a chance to react, Lois stepped from behind her hero. "Your ride's here, Lex," she announced casually.
"What an unexpected pleasure, Lois," Lex said, trying to maintain a facade of calm. "And Superman, I see you've decided to work for a living."
"Oh," Lois said as she slipped an arm around Clark's waist. "He's my personal assistant."
"Interesting," Lex observed coolly. "A super-powered assistant would be invaluable."
Lois nodded. "I like to think of him as the jewel in the Lane crown."
Clark draped an arm on Lois' shoulder in imitation of how Lois had described the pose Mrs. Cox had struck with Lex days earlier. "I do whatever is necessary."
"I see," Lex said, arching his neck slightly to accommodate a swallow. "Am I to infer from this, that I have some … fate worse than death awaiting me at your hands, Superman?"
"I hate to disappoint you, Luthor, but I don't take the law into my own hands, though you make it tempting," Clark said as he walked over to Lex's desk and pressed a button. A heavy glass and steel partition separating the office from the terrace slowly descended. "I heard you were a 'flight' risk."
"I'm sure if you overheard part of my conversation," Lex began unsteadily. "And … misinterpreted it, you might think me a bit cold-blooded."
Lois smiled. "Cold-blooded? Lex, you'd give a vampire brain-freeze," she said as she opened the large double doors of the penthouse. Inspector Henderson and three uniformed officers entered.
Henderson nodded a polite acknowledgment to Lois and then approached Lex. "I hope you'll forgive our perfunctory detective skills, Mr. Luthor."
Lex, his eyes gone dark with rage, strained against the grasp of the police officer who was attempting to cuff him. "I loved you, Lois!"
"Oh, I could tell, Lex," Lois conceded dryly. "You loved me to pieces … almost."
Henderson smiled. "Lane, tell your partner that Nigel St. John will be the guest of the Kansas City police department the minute he steps off the plane."
"Thanks," she said and glanced at Clark. "I'll tell him."
As Henderson and his officers departed with a defeated Lex Luthor in tow, Clark pressed the button behind the desk raising the partition. He stretched out his arms. "Back to the party?"
Lois laughed as she leaped into his arms. "You're driving."
Friction sparks sputtered as the building's metal frame was pushed across its slab by the unstoppable machine. The men inside the building where forced against the wall in a crawling retreat as the combine's immense tangs penetrated the wall. Klein tumbled into the corner as the building's momentum was stopped abruptly by the concrete wall.
Amid the cracking timbers and collapsing ceiling, the three men cowered, awaiting the inevitable. But as the nearest tang threatened to pierce Herbert's side, the machine ghosted, passing through them like a phantom. In short order the building, guard and cornfield likewise vanished. The three men, no longer supported by the building, fell to the ground just beneath a small walnut tree.
Klein rubbed the back of his head. "I guess Clark was successful."
"Thank God," Herbert whispered.
"So," George sighed. "We find the transmigrator and retrieve them."
"But where *is* the transmigrator?"
Herbert turned slowly in a circle taking in the seemingly endless woods. "That, doctor, is a very good question."
"How does it feel to be a free man, Jack?" Jimmy asked as a fresh round of drinks was delivered to the table.
"Great," he replied, "but I don't think I'll feel safe again until I get out of Metropolis."
Clark set down his drink. "You're leaving?"
Jimmy shook his head. "You can find another job, Jack. Don't give up."
"Jimmy," he smiled, "It's not about a job. It's about Metropolis. In the short time I've been here, I've been kidnapped, tied up in somebody's private museum, held hostage by phony terrorists, framed for arson and murder, sent to jail, broken out of jail and handcuffed to a limousine loaded with explosives."
Jimmy shrugged. "The first week in a new town is always the hardest."
Jack stared into his glass and laughed. "I used to think I was tough. I knew I could handle anything. But you know what, Jimmy?" he asked as he glanced up. "All I want now is one good night's sleep. I want to wake up in my bed instead of waking up chained to a sinking ship, or in a snake pit, or…"
"Okay," Jimmy sighed, but offered his hand. "I'll miss you, buddy."
Jack shook his hand. "Same here," he said and then offered his hand to Clark. "Thanks for everything you did for me and my brother, Clark. You're pretty decent for an old guy."
"Ouch," Clark winced. "I'm not *that* much older than you."
"Maybe not," Jack smiled. "But you're not Superman either."
Clark laughed nervously. "I never said I was."
"Yeah, I know," he agreed. "But until I was told that Superman brought me to you and Lois, I … well I kinda got the idea that maybe … *you* were Superman."
Jimmy laughed. "CK?!?"
"Hey," Lois interrupted. "Clark may not be Superman, but he has his moments."
"Right," Jimmy nodded with pretended sincerity. "I heard about that bad paper cut, CK. A lesser man would have fainted."
Jack laughed and rose from his chair. "Well, I'm heading for the bus station to check out the schedules."
Jimmy put down his drink. "I'll see you off," he said as he pushed away from the table. "Catch ya later, Lois … Superman."
Lois released a pent up sigh of relief as the young men departed. "That was close."
"Speaking of close," Clark whispered as Perry passed by in a conga line. "I don't know why we haven't been retrieved yet, but in the meantime, we don't have a job in this era and we're definitely not known for being … an item."
Lois patted his arm. "So, maybe we can just bunk at your place and read the want ads over breakfast."
Clark blinked a couple of times. Lois' voice was fading. He felt himself being pulled away.
Clark shook his head. "What happened?" he asked and looked around the restaurant. "Where are we?"
Lois knew instantly her husband was gone and the Clark who belonged here was back. It scarcely mattered, though. She could feel herself being pulled away as well. The restaurant faded.
Clark found himself following Lois down the corridor leading to her apartment.
Lois found herself … in darkness.
Klein brushed at the grass and leaves with the toe of his shoe. "What if a tree materialized over the transmigrator?"
"Worse," Herbert sighed. "The transmigrator was dropped in 1997, we're back in 1966. It may not be here at all."
Clark felt strangely light-headed. He watched as Lois put the key in the door and glanced over her shoulder at him. "Well," she smiled.
"Yeah," his counterpart said with a nervous smile in return.
She stepped into her doorway and then turned to face him. "Okay, look … um … Clark, I had a really nice time."
Their first date! Clark knew what was coming, at least what was coming if he didn't gain control soon.
He nodded robotically. "So did I."
Lois laughed softly. "No, I mean I had a *really* nice time. Probably one of the best times I've ever had. It wasn't the funniest or the wildest, but —"
"Don't knock yourself … out," Clark said, finishing the sentence begun by his earlier self.
"It just seemed to … work," she said, fumbling to continue. "It was really, really … nice."
This was the do or die moment. Lois had slipped her hand around the back of the door. The slamming was imminent. "Can I make a confession, Lois?" Clark asked quickly.
"Well .. I …"
"Please," he added tenderly. "It's just that I was so nervous about tonight …"
"Really?" she asked, a tone of expectation in her voice.
"Definitely," he smiled. "Even the suit I'm wearing is the third or fourth one I tried on tonight."
Lois laughed nervously. "You seemed so calm and collected at dinner."
Clark shook his head. "I couldn't even tell you what our waitress looked like."
Lois seemed to become visibly calmer. "That's because we had a *waiter*," she said and released the door.
"Did we?" he asked softly and took a step forward.
Lois leaned against the doorframe. "We did."
"I'm glad one of us stayed calm," he said as he moved another half step forward. "I just kept talking. I was afraid to stop."
Lois laughed softly again, but the nervous edge was gone. "I was afraid to stop talking too. I think we were afraid of the dreaded awkward silence. The dating kiss of death."
"I guess so," he acknowledged quietly. Lois was so close, so beautiful and so vulnerable. Looking back at his future wife with twenty-twenty hindsight allowed Clark to understand things about Lois that he hadn't understood at all at the time. How fragile she really was and how no one would have believed that of Lois Lane, not even Clark back in that era.
Success and failure were absolutes to Lois. She was a respected, awarded-winning journalist. A success. On the relationship front, however, where success is often measured in longevity as well as such intangibles as compatibility, happiness and trust, Lois was an abject failure. At least in her own mind and heart.
"But I have to admit," he began, "as funny as this is probably going to sound, this kind of qualifies as my first … grown-up date."
"First?" Another little sigh of relief escaped Lois' lips. "You don't mind if I find that a little hard to believe."
Clark shrugged. "Why?"
"You can't be serious," she said, her voice incredulous. "I've seen women *throw* themselves at you, Clark. Remember Toni Taylor?"
Clark shrugged again. "She was a criminal."
"Uh-huh," Lois acknowledged skeptically. "And Mayson Drake?"
Clark felt a sharp pang in his stomach. Tomorrow night Mayson would be dead … or would she? Could he change that outcome even if only in this time line? "I have to have a talk with Mayson," he said, and leaned against the opposite side of the doorframe. "Passive resistance isn't working."
Clark straightened. "You … know?"
It was Lois' turn to shrug. "I chased Superman for almost two years. His passive resistance didn't work on me either."
"Superman? I … I …"
"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up Superman," she said apologetically. "But as much as I hate to admit it, Mayson and I seem to have that delusional character trait in common."
"But if Superman never encouraged you, and I never encourage Mayson, then …"
"It wouldn't matter." Lois put a hand on his chest. "As long as Superman never *dis*couraged me, then I was free to justify his passive resistance in a thousand ways." Lois shook her head and walked into her apartment.
Clark followed and closed the door quietly behind them. "A thousand ways?"
"At *least* a thousand," Lois said with a groan as she removed her shoes. "He was shy, he was careful, he was old- fashioned, he was playing hard to get, he was the solitary hero type who couldn't have a girlfriend … should I go on? I said I had a thousand."
"No," Clark smiled. "So you really think Mayson is doing the same thing?"
"Definitely," she replied as she dropped onto the sofa.
Clark sighed and took a seat next to her. He'd never considered any of this in the past. "Then I need to talk to Mayson. I don't want her to think I'm stringing her along, but …"
"You don't want to hurt her feelings."
Lois patted his arm sympathetically. "You can't avoid that, Clark. It's going to hurt. Trust me," she added wistfully. "Mayson probably has quite a fantasy built around you."
Clark dropped his head back and closed his eyes. "*Please* don't tell me that, Lois."
"Clark, I'm not trying to make this more painful than it is, and maybe it's still the wine talking, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to my share of Superman fantasies."
Clark tipped his head to the side and opened his eyes. "I'm not sure I want to hear this."
Lois tilted her head back so she could meet his gaze. "I *know* you don't want to hear this," she said and started to laugh.
Clark laughed in response. "Okay, a confession deserves a confession," he said, his mood brightening. "It was a fantasy … well, a daydream, that prompted me to ask you out."
"Mm-hm," he murmured. "It was the first time I daydreamed about you at work. Since that might get me fired, I decided I had to ask you out. If you laughed in my face, well, I could quit daydreaming, but if you said yes …"
"The daydream might come true."
Clark swallowed. "Right."
"And the daydream was about?" she asked, her voice becoming soft and drowsy.
"Nothing very exciting," he shrugged. "Just you and me walking out onto my terrace … talking."
Lois grinned. "Was I wearing burgundy?"
"No." Clark had to laugh. Even drowsy and still buzzing a bit from too much wine, Lois wouldn't let it go. "Maybe a combination of a lot of things I've seen your wear."
Clark laughed again. "I don't know. Kind of like what you're wearing, but longer…"
"Sort of a cocktail dress."
Clark began to blush. "Well, at the top it … the dress kind of …"
"Ah," Lois smiled. "It was low cut and not terribly … constricting?"
Clark's face was on fire. "Yes."
"I didn't happen to bend forward in the daydream, did I?"
"Only when you set the champagne glasses down," he said, feeling very awkward. "Oh, but I wasn't looking at them!"
"At the champagne glasses?" Lois asked innocently.
"No, at your … " Clark, who rarely perspired, was having a rare moment. "I meant … that … I better go home."
Lois held onto Clark's jacket to prevent him from standing as she laughed. "I'm sorry, Clark," she said, catching her breath. "A lot of guys would have made up a daydream as a slick come-on, but you…" she said, releasing his jacket, her voice softening. "You really did have a daydream, didn't you?"
He nodded. Lois was amazing. She was his wife, or rather would be, and Clark knew every inch and curve of her body intimately, yet she could still make him blush, make him break a sweat, and set him on fire.
"So what happened after I put down the champagne glasses?" she asked coyly.
Clark took a deep breath. "You put your arms around my neck and asked what I was waiting for."
"Hm," she smiled. "And then what?"
Clark shrugged. "Then Perry interrupted."
"Oh," Lois said and sounded disappointed.
"Fortunately," Clark whispered as he moved his face closer to hers. "I have a pretty good idea where we were headed."
Lois looked from Clark's eyes to his mouth. "Fortunately."
It was very dark and the air was heavy. There was a strong smell of ozone. The reason became apparent as a brilliant flash of lightning briefly turned night into day. Clark stood before her, his head tilted back.
"Come on!" he pleaded with the sky. "Give me a break!"
The proposal. Oh, great, Lois thought. What was she to do this time? Accept his proposal outright? Turn him down?
"You wanna go back?" her counterpart asked.
Clark lowered his gaze. His eyes were so intense, the lightning had nothing on him. "If the earth opened up beneath my feet, I wouldn't move until I'd said this."
Lois held her breath as Clark knelt down and pulled the ring box from his jacket. She could finally feel the rain and knew she had control.
"Lois," he said, his voice almost solemn. "Will you marry me?"
It was amazing how time changed things. Lois had been so stunned and hurt by Clark's failure to tell the truth before proposing two years ago that she hadn't noticed the look in his eyes at the time. There was more fear than anticipation in them. A lifetime of fear. A lifetime of not quite fitting in or belonging. A very human fear of rejection. Only she had the power to change that, and she would.
"Yes, Clark." Lois smiled. "I'll marry you."
Clark swiftly took Lois into his arms and pulled her from her perch on the fountain. "I love you," he whispered. "Thank you."
Amid the stinging drops of icy rain, Lois felt an occasional warm drop tap her shoulder. She nuzzled his neck. "I love you too."
Clark, though wondering why he hadn't 'leaped' after avoiding the door slam, was nevertheless in excellent spirits as he exited the elevator into the news room the next morning. Necking with Lois in her apartment after their date was a *definite* improvement over how things had gone the first time. He did a quick scan of the news room and found her at her desk scrutinizing the tacky "Bath Friend" gift from Lucky Leon.
Clark smiled as he approached. She seemed oblivious to everything around her. "Decide to break down and spruce up your shower?"
Lois smiled and pushed a shoulder against Clark playfully. "It's apparently a present from Lucky Leon. Maybe it's a death threat where he comes from."
Clark laughed and then impetuously kissed her. "Good morning."
"Good morning," she replied and lowered her gaze. "I could get used to that."
"I'm *already* used to that."
"That's what I'm afraid of," she said, that fretful tone entering her voice. "There are things I want to say to you, Clark … to explain … I mean why I want to say them and not have you worry about what they mean … not that you're the type to read hidden meanings in things, but if I'm honest, I'm afraid that—"
"Okay," Clark interrupted gently. "Let's go into the conference room and take this one sentence at a time."
Lois combed back her wet hair as she approached Clark.
He rose from the sofa. "Better?"
"Much. Thank you," she smiled. "Nothing like a hot shower after a freezing rain."
Clark had still not told her the big secret, nor had he given any indication of doing so, but his demeanor seemed suspiciously guarded. Especially for a man who had just had his marriage proposal accepted.
Lois decided to just play it safe. She reached up and gave him a quick kiss and then tugged him down on the sofa. "It's a beautiful ring, Clark," she said casually. "How long have you been planning this? The proposal, I mean."
"Since yesterday," he said softly, his eyes averted. "To tell you the truth, I'd planned to spring something very different on you yesterday, but…" he shrugged and finally met her gaze. "A lot changed."
"Something very different?"
Clark nodded. "The night we agreed to take the next step … enter into a committed relationship, I decided I wanted to tell you everything about me. I didn't want to keep any secrets from you."
"But you changed your mind?"
"No, I just changed the order around, I guess."
"So you proposed before telling me some … deep dark secret?" she asked, but managed to keep an accusatory tone out of her voice.
"Yes, I did," he replied simply. "And I did that for a couple of reasons. For one thing, like I said, I hadn't planned to propose."
"And for the other?"
"For the other, well, after what happened with Jase Mazick, I realized you can lose *everything* in an instant," he said, his voice breaking slightly as he took her hand. "What you did for me … for my parents … I loved you so much at that moment, Lois, that nothing else mattered. I *had* to let you know, before *anything* else, how much you meant to me."
Lois squeezed his hand. "So you proposed."
He nodded. "Everything else seemed like a formality, but," he continued, "I also knew I was being selfish. I was keeping something from you, but I had to know whether you'd marry me. Just me — Clark Kent— before I told you."
Lois couldn't believe what she was hearing! Even accepting his proposal without admitting she knew the secret, he was *still* insecure. "Clark, you're not making any sense. Who *else* would I think I was marrying?"
Clark sighed again. "No one else, Lois, but that's the point," he said as he rose from the sofa. He removed his glasses and spun into the Superman costume. There was no flair to his actions, nor attempt to impress. There was just a look of regret in his eyes.
"I wasn't going to tell you this unless you were absolutely sure you wanted to share your life with me, Lois," he said, the regret in his eyes overtaking his voice as well. "Because this is a *dangerous* secret, and once you know the truth, you're stuck with it. You're stuck with me … Clark Kent. Not Superman. Not his powers … but," he added thoughtfully, "you'll definitely be stuck helping me take care of him."
"Oh, God," Lois whispered. Her astonishment was genuine. Was *this* what Clark had meant two years ago?
"Lois, I'm sorry," he said tenderly as he approached her. "I know this is a shock, and I expect you to be mad, but *please* try and see my side of it."
"I … I…" was all Lois could manage to say after absorbing the truth
"Lois, you don't know how long I've wanted to tell you this," he said, his soft, apologetic voice incongruous with the hero's costume, "but something would always happen to change my mind. What happened to my parents is the kind of nightmare that always made me back down." He took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Made me believe that if I didn't tell you, you'd be safe."
"But…?" she prompted.
"But I guess I'm not as noble as I should be, or as noble as you deserve." He seated himself next to her. "Because the truth is, even though I'm not human, I *am* a man, Lois, and as a man I love you and want you. I want you in my life, in my bed … and if that's crude," he added quickly, "I apologize, but if this is my one chance to tell you the *whole* truth, then there it is."
He was *definitely* all man, and how well she knew. Lois reached up and stroked his cheek reassuringly. "I guess loving 'pure and chaste from afar' gets kind of old fast, doesn't it?" she asked, and felt his facial muscles relax under her palm.
"*Very* fast," he acknowledged. "But I'm not saying I can't wait. Believe me, Lois, I've waited twenty-nine years. Though I admit it wasn't much of a sacrifice … until I met you."
Lois was surprised, though pleased. Clark was telling every single secret without hesitation or embarrassment. Is this how it would have been? "Are you telling me you're a virgin?" she asked, sponging the old spilt milk away.
Clark swallowed. "Yes. Shocked? Disappointed?"
"Well," Lois considered a moment. "Would you be surprised if I told you that I'm more amazed to find out you're a virgin than I was to find out you're Superman?"
"To be honest, Lois," he said, and finally smiled, "you haven't seemed too surprised or amazed by *anything* I've said tonight."
Lois returned his smile. "Maybe I've turned an emotional corner."
Clark's eyes narrowed with suspicion, but tempered by humor. "Uh-huh."
Lois laughed softly. "Or maybe it's just that I realize how hard this was for you. Not just keeping the secret, or telling it to me, but living with it your whole life. And maybe," she added with certainty, "if the circumstances of your confession had been different, I might have been mad and I might have been hurt, but right now," she said wistfully, "I'm very happy to be engaged to Clark Kent, a guy who just happens to moonlight in this cool costume."
Clark pulled in a sharp breath as Lois' hand moved across his chest. "So, even after all of this, you still want to marry me?"
"On one condition."
"Anything," Clark responded enthusiastically. "Name it."
Lois took his face in both hands. "Let's not plan. Let's not wait. Just marry me, Clark."
"Is this what you fellas are lookin' for?"
The older Wells beamed. "Eureka," he whispered, but as he reached for the transmigrator, the stranger pulled his hand back.
"I'm not normally the suspicious type," he said, and his demeanor and tone were sincere, "but there's been too many strange folk nosin' around this area lately and I'd like some answers."
"Strange folk?" Klein asked as he swept back his phantom hair. "Did they look like us?"
The man grinned slightly. "Well … no. You folks are stranger than any of them."
Klein sighed. "I get that a lot."
"I assure you, my good man," Herbert said as he removed his hat, "we mean no harm to you, or anyone else in your fine community, but we are in desperate need of that device."
"Then you wouldn't mind telling me what this contraption is."
"It's a trans…"
"Transit," a voice interrupted.
"Joseph!" Herbert shouted. "You're back! I thought we'd lost you, my boy."
Joseph shrugged. "Sometimes surveyors get lost. It's a hazard of the profession, I'm afraid."
"A surveyor?" the stranger asked.
"Yes, sir," Joseph said politely. "And that's my transit. The newest, most expensive model on the market."
"Well," the stranger said as he gingerly handed the device to Joseph. "I guess I'll take your word for it, Mister …?
"McKensie. Joseph McKensie," he said and shook the stranger's hand.
The elder and younger Wells exchanged knowing glances, but Dr. Klein frowned as if concentrating on something troubling.
Joseph cleared his throat. "This is George and Herbert. Their company installs water pumps and … wells."
"And this is Bernard Klein, one of the leading mineralogists in the Midwest."
"I've never met a mineralogist," Jonathan said as he shook Klein's hand.
"Neither have I," Klein replied, still mentally distracted.
Joseph laughed nervously and patted Klein on the back. "Bernie is also quite a kidder."
"Hm? Oh, yes, a kidder," Klein said and managed an apologetic smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kent."
"Well," Jonathan smiled, "I'd be pleased if you fellas joined my wife and me for lunch. Nothing fancy, just tuna sandwiches, but I feel I owe you an apology for …"
"No," Joseph interrupted. "That's very kind of you, but we still have a lot of work to do."
"Actually," Klein said, his eyes narrowing with suspicion as he regarded Joseph. "My 'mineralogical' work is done for the day and I'd love a tuna sandwich."
"I must say," George chimed in, "I'm a bit famished myself."
Jonathan nodded. "Good, it's settled. Just follow me. Our house is about a half mile up this way," he said, and began walking in the direction of his outstretched arm.
The air was crisp and the sunlight fading when Clark landed with Lois outside the farmhouse. He held her a moment longer. "Ready?"
Lois smiled and nodded. "Ready."
Clark set her down gently, but maintained his grip on their luggage. He held up the suitcases. "Anything missing?"
"Not from where I'm standing," Lois said, looking only at Clark. She smiled inwardly knowing that she'd remembered the bag with the black teddy this time. On this occasion she had purchased the teddy herself, but knowing her husband's taste in advance helped a great deal.
"Okay," he grinned as he set the luggage down. He stepped back and spun into a t-shirt and jeans.
Lois appraised him with slow deliberate admiration. "Thanks for wearing the t-shirt I got you."
"You're welcome," he replied and then flexed his shoulders. "But it's a little tight. My shirt size is …"
"Oh, I know your shirt size," she interrupted. "After all, I've been your wife for…" she consulted her watch, "almost two hours, but," she added, "I also know what I like."
Clark pulled her to him. "One hour, fifty-six minutes and eight seconds, but…"
Clark bowed his head slightly. "You're good."
"Actually," she said coquettishly as she backed out of his arms and grabbed her overnight bag. "I'm awesome."
Clark's smile widened as he retrieved the other bags. He followed Lois slowly, entranced by the pendulum sway of her hips. "Awesome."
Clark surreptitiously cooled the water carafe in the conference room and poured Lois a glass. "Now," he said as he handed it to her. "Tell me what you were trying to tell me in the news room. I think I upset you when I kissed you good morning."
Lois took a sip of the water. "Actually, you *didn't* upset me when you kissed me good morning and *that's* what upset me."
Clark shook his head and poured himself a glass. Lois was certainly being Lois, at least the Lois he remembered from this era. "Not being upset is what upset you?"
"Exactly," she replied and took another sip. "We've only had *one* date, Clark, but kissing you good morning…"
Lois averted her gaze quickly and stared into her glass as if water had suddenly become the most fascinating element on the planet. "Yes," she said softly. "It did."
Clark sympathized. Lois was always insecure when dealing with her feelings openly, especially when those feelings involved romance. Clark reached across the table and lifted her chin. "Is feeling natural … unnatural?" he asked with a smile.
Lois returned his smile with reluctance. "Clark, it's just that I don't want to lose this," she said and took his hand. "I can hold your hand like this and know it means friendship, but, if I do this," she added, and kissed his palm, "it means a lot more than that."
Clark smiled warmly. "Yes it does," he agreed and drew her hand to his side of the table and kissed the curl of her slender fingers. "It means you and I are going to a new place in our relationship, Lois, and I like where we're going."
Lois sighed. "So do I, Clark, but I have this fear in the pit of my stomach that if where we're going turns into a dead end, then I won't have any of you left. I won't have you as a boyfriend, a best friend or a partner, because I just know how I am."
"You're afraid that if we go forward and it doesn't work, you won't be able to go backward to what we were before."
"Yes, that's exactly why," she admitted. "I know I can't go back to holding your hand or hugging you just as a friend after it's come to mean a lot more to me."
Clark released Lois' hand and moved around to her side of the table. "Come here," he urged softly.
Lois rose into his waiting embrace. "This hug is always here whenever you need it, Lois, but I should tell you that it *already* means more than friendship to me."
Lois pulled her head back. "But Clark…"
"Lois, we're standing here in each others' arms while we're talking and I *like* this. We kissed each other good morning, and I liked *that* too." Clark pulled her in a bit more firmly. "I don't want to go backward, Lois. If we hit a dead end, I'll just plow right through it and make a new street, because I *know* we can make this work."
"Wow." Lois blinked. "You sure are a lot more confident than you were last night."
"I was trying too hard last night," he shrugged. "But after we talked in your apartment, I felt better … more relaxed."
Lois smiled. "Me too. I was on the verge of panic. I almost slammed the door in your face."
Clark feigned surprise. "Why?" he asked, and *really* wanted to know the answer.
"Like I said, I panicked. In fact," she said and pulled out of the embrace. "It's what I started to tell you in the news room."
"Lois," Clark sighed as he watched her pace. "I couldn't quite untangle what you said in the news room."
"I know." Lois nodded. "I guess I was trying to say too many things at once, but basically I was just trying to tell you that last night was a great date and I didn't expect it to be."
Lois kept walking methodically as her hands and arms created gestures whose meanings were known only to her. "That surprised me and *that* made me panic. I didn't know where to go from there and so I was going to slam the door in your face."
Clark folded his arms and leaned against the table. "Why didn't you think our date would work out?" His curiosity was definitely piqued.
Lois made an exaggerated shrug. "I don't know. Maybe I thought that after the date we'd realize that we were only suited for friendship but at least be glad we'd made the attempt at something deeper so we wouldn't be left wondering."
"Ah," he smiled. "I take it that means you felt a little more than friendship happening between us."
Lois leaned forward and tugged Clark's tie playfully. "Ding. Good answer."
Clark laughed. "Lois, if it's any consolation, I was worried about the same thing. I mean I knew I felt more than friendship for you, but I was afraid you wouldn't feel the same way about me."
"Well, I do," she said softly as she smoothed his tie back into place. "But I felt like an idiot last night when I blurted out that 'make love' thing. I didn't want it to sound like some cheap come-on or something."
Clark winked at her and smiled. "I figured that was just the chocolate talking."
"Maybe." Lois laughed and dropped her head against his shoulder. "But our friendship…"
"Is still here," he said as he slipped his arm around her waist and kissed the top of her head. "It just has more perks now to sweeten the deal," he teased.
Lois rotated in his grasp and pressed against him. The table allowed for no give. "I like the perks," she said with a hesitant tone.
"There's no buts, really … it's just that I don't know what's happening to me, Clark." Her eyes searched his. "You said you liked being in my arms while we talk."
"I do too, but then I start thinking about the future and how nice it would be to have that every day…" Lois stopped herself with a sigh. "See, that's *exactly* why I don't talk about the future. Especially with a man."
Clark frowned. "Why?"
"Because I get carried away and if I slip and mention something down the road, even just a week in the future, the typical male mentality translates that into a desperate woman who can't wait to walk down the aisle."
"Lois," he laughed, "let me remind you of two things. First, not long after we met, I told you I was *not* your typical male, and second, when you asked me last year if I ever thought about the future, what did I say?"
Lois half-smiled. "You said you thought about it all the time."
"I did," he whispered as he slid his cheek gently across hers. "And I do." He kissed her earlobe and brought his face back stopping just short of her lips. "And you are *always* in that future, Lois."
"Mm-hm." Clark placed his mouth over hers.
Clark knew he was moving too fast. At least too fast for what would have been acceptable in this time, but even Lois, despite her caution, was responding to him in a manner that would not have been common in their relationship until much later. However, Clark also conceded, as Lois melted against him, that he didn't care. He just wanted her back. He just wanted *them* back.
"Well, what do you know," a voice intoned flatly. "Stop the presses."
Lois and Clark's kiss ended abruptly. Clark tried to catch his breath. "Mayson?"
Hurt, shock, anger and loss all took turns displaying themselves on Mayson Drake's face. She took a breath as if to speak, but thought better of it and turned to leave. That pang of guilt Clark had felt the night before increased itself tenfold. He grasped her arm gently. "Mayson, wait."
Lois was frozen in place, trapped partly by the uncomfortable silence and partly by her own guilty feelings over the situation. She looked as though she wanted to be anywhere else. Clark decided to grant her unspoken wish.
"Lois," he said softly. "Would you give us a few minutes?"
Her frozen features thawed into an expression of relief. "Of course," she said, and quickly exited the conference room.
As soon as the door closed Mayson pulled from Clark's grasp and seated herself at the opposite end of the table. Clark took a deep breath. He was never good at emotional confrontations, but this one was inevitable. However, before he could formulate an opening sentence, Mayson spoke.
"Listen," she began. "This isn't easy, but I'm sure it's obvious by the way I've been throwing myself at you that I have feelings for you."
Clark swallowed. Those had been Mayson's exact words at the lunch they had shared. The last lunch she would ever share with anyone. It was still painful. Clark blanked for a moment.
Mayson sighed. "This is where you're supposed to say, 'I have feelings for you, too, Mayson'."
"Well," Clark faltered. "I do."
Mayson slumped slightly. "That was enthusiastic," she said flatly, unable to keep the disappointment and edge of frustration out of her voice.
"Mayson, I care about you," he said, and he was being honest. He had cared about her, but only in the way he cared about anyone who had become close to him. Unfortunately, it was not in the way Mayson would have wanted him to care. "And I think about you a lot" he added, which was also true of that era, but again, not in a way she would have wanted.
"Then what's the problem?"
This was still difficult. "How do I say this?"
"Just tell me," she urged. "Look, Clark, I'm a lawyer, I know you're hiding something. Something that's keeping us apart," she continued without pausing. "What is it? I can handle it."
"Mayson, it's not that easy," he said, just as he had said two years ago. "I'm not really good at this," he added to his long-ago sentence.
"If it's Lois, just say it."
There it was. Mayson had only wanted the truth. She hadn't wanted to pursue a hopeless romance anymore than Clark had wanted to string her along fueling those hopes. Yet, it was so much more difficult to see back when it happened the first time. Lois had slammed the door in his face and said she never wanted to see him again. All of which had culminated in Clark's wishy-washy reply to Mayson's statement. This time it would be different.
"Yes," he said. "It *is* Lois."
Mayson averted her gaze. "I see."
"I don't think you do, Mayson. I don't think you ever have, but that's been *my* fault."
"Well," she sighed. "That at least sounds gallant."
"I'm not trying to be gallant, Mayson, just honest," he insisted gently. "I fell in love with Lois almost the instant I met her. That never happened to me before. But," he added with a shrug, "Lois didn't exactly feel the same way about me."
Mayson nodded. "Unrequited … I think I know where this is leading."
"I guess so," he acknowledged. "But recently Lois has started to show signs of mutual interest and…"
"I get the picture. At least you told the truth. I appreciate that."
"Thank you," he said, the pang of guilt vanishing at last.
"I finally know the secret that's been keeping us apart, and," Mayson added as she rose from her chair, "if Lois is as smart as I'm afraid she is, it will continue to keep us apart."
Clark opened the door. "Definitely."
"You know, Clark," she said thoughtfully as she stepped through the door. "There's a difference between 'honest' and 'blunt'."
Clark cleared his throat. "Sorry."
Mayson offered her hand. "I'm not going to say 'let's be friends' because I don't think anyone ever believes that when they say it, and besides," she shrugged, "friends and family are invited to weddings, so staying professional acquaintances works better for me."
Clark nodded as he shook her hand. "I understand."
Mayson pulled her purse strap higher onto her shoulder and grasped it tightly as she turned to leave. With each crisp departing step Clark was reminded of a soldier clutching a rifle sling marching off to war.
Mayson moved swiftly across the news room. Lois, pretending to be preoccupied, watched Mayson's departure. As soon as the elevator doors closed, she swiveled in her chair and shrugged a 'well?' at Clark.
Clark smiled inwardly as he approached her. He felt good about finally clearing the air, but more than that he was experiencing that 'crazy in love' feeling for Lois. Before he could even pull a chair over, his inner smile split his face wide open. "Hi."
Lois lowered her head slightly, her expression blank. "'Hi'? You just gave Mayson her walking papers and 'hi' is all you can say?"
Clark found it impossible to reel in his smile. "I told her the truth. It was the right thing to do and I owe it all to you, Lois," he said and propped his elbow on her desk and then rested his chin in his palm. "You're very smart."
Lois blinked. "If I wasn't sure there was just water in the conference room, I'd swear you were drunk."
Clark laughed. "Would it be too corny if I said I found you intoxicating."
Lois echoed his laugh. "Yes, it would."
"Okay," he nodded, his smile undiminished. "I have to meet someone about a tip in a few minutes, but it could lead to the front page."
Lois sighed. "I'm guessing that means the informant doesn't want me tagging along."
"Sorry," Clark said as he rose from the chair. "But if this tip pans out, *both* of us will be there for the story."
"Wait," Lois said and snagged Clark's jacket as he turned to leave. "You didn't tell me what 'truth' you told Mayson."
Clark bent down and brought his face close to Lois'. "That's easy," he whispered. "I told her I'm in love with you."
Before Lois could respond, he kissed her, and as before, he realized his actions were too forward for this time, but also as before, he didn't care … especially since Lois didn't seem to care either.
Klein sat on the porch swing as he sipped his iced tea. It was the first chance he'd had in a long time to just sit down and relax. Every muscle in his body ached and he would have given almost anything for a hot tub soak. Still, there was a pleasant breeze, his tea was in a converted Flintstones jelly jar and through the nearby open kitchen window a jingle was playing on the radio, promising that Coca-Cola was the real thing. He was happy, at least the happiest he had been since being dragged back in time, but it didn't last long.
Josheph exited the screen door and stepped onto the porch. "George says that Lois and Clark still haven't appeared on the transmigrator, but they're sure it's just a glitch since we're back in 1966 again. It must mean Clark saved Lois. Anyway," he shrugged, "George and Herbert are tinkering with it."
"That's good," Klein replied evenly, but didn't turn to look at Joseph.
Joseph sighed. "All right, Dr. Klein. I don't know what I did or said, but it must have been something pretty bad to make you this upset."
Klein sipped his tea. "I'm not upset."
Joseph walked around to the front of the swing and leaned on the porch railing. "I might be from the future, Dr. Klein, but suspicion on a man's face looks the same then as it does now."
"All right," Klein said, finally turning to face Joseph. "Are you the same Joey McKensie who worked at STAR Labs a couple of years ago? A kid who couldn't have been more than twenty years old?"
"I was twenty-two, and yes, it was me, Dr. Klein," Joseph acknowledged. "But I couldn't very well show up for a job at STAR Labs at this age and then rob the place looking the same, so I got the job as a young man to learn where all the inventory items were kept and then pulled off the robbery looking as I do now."
Klein shook his head. "But why? I mean you stayed on at STAR Labs as 'Joey' long after the robbery, were you stealing from us the whole time?"
"Um … well … that's a little more complicated to explain."
"Maybe you can just give it a shot," Klein suggested curtly. "Humor me."
"Okay, but you're not going to like it."
"Oh, honey, this is such a nice surprise," Martha cooed as she ushered Clark and Lois through the door.
"Let me help with that, son," Jonathan offered as he picked up a suitcase. "I know you don't need the help, but it makes me feel useful."
"Thanks, Dad," Clark replied, and then just grinned.
Lois, who no longer wondered why she hadn't leaped yet and no longer cared, mirrored her husband's grin.
Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances and then regarded the young couple. "You know we're always happy to see both of you," Martha began. "But is there a special reason for this visit?"
"Well," Clark shrugged. "We knew you'd be heading for Italy soon and wondered if you might want us to watch the farm for you while you're gone … oh, and Lois wanted you to see her new nail polish."
Lois blanked for a moment. She understood the reference to Italy. Clark had told her that Jonathan had bought tickets to Italy as an anniversary gift, but nail polish? Lois glanced at her hands and her grin widened. Ah, nail polish!
Lois raised her left hand level with Martha's eyes and wiggled her fingers. "Like the shade?"
"Well, dear, I'm not much of …" Martha paused as the wedding band finally caught her eye. "Lois … is that…?"
Lois nodded enthusiastically. "Yes!"
"I can't believe it," Martha said as she hugged Lois, her eyes becoming teary. "I'm so happy."
Jonathan shook his head. "This *can't* be about nail polish."
Clark laughed. "I don't know, Dad, Lois gives a killer manicure," he said as he showed the back of his left hand to his father.
Jonathan dropped the suitcase. "My lord."
"Sorry, Dad," Clark said as he hugged his father. "It was kind of sudden, I guess."
"Kind of? Son, we were just in Metropolis and you didn't say a word about getting married."
Lois looped her arm through Clark's. "Well, I think proposing was a last minute decision, and maybe we should have waited so that everyone could attend a wedding, but…"
"Lois," Martha interrupted as she continued to dab away stray tears. "Sometimes it's just the best thing to do. Jonathan and I eloped, too."
Clark looked surprised. "Really, Mom?"
"Well, honey, your father and I had a family member who wasn't terribly supportive."
"Her mother," Jonathan said flatly.
"Ah," Clark nodded, but Lois could tell her husband was making every effort not to laugh.
Martha adjusted her glasses. "She eventually got over it."
Clark's attempt not to laugh failed. "I'm not so sure, Mom. I remember that Thanksgiving when I was about six, and …"
"That's enough, young man," she said with amused sobriety. "Just because you're Super …" she cut herself off and then shifted her glance to Lois. "Did Clark tell you … *everything*?"
Lois smiled. She loved how protective his parents were. She drew an S on Clark's chest. "This guy? The one who talked the mayor into rushing Lois and Clark's marriage license through and waiving the waiting period?"
"Oh," Martha cooed, "this is so nice. Almost 30 years, you're the first woman I've ever been able to talk to about my boy."
Superman landed softly at the outdoor cafe. Patrons turned in their seats and pointed. Mayson, who had been prepared to drown her sorrows in as much white wine as possible, turned to see what had caused the commotion. "Fine," she whispered. "My day is complete."
"Yes, Superman," she said stiffly. "Turning yourself in for impersonating a law enforcement officer?"
"Uh, no," he replied politely. "However, since you find my brand of justice questionable, I decided that maybe I should just come to you with a tip I received and let your office handle it."
She sighed. "Frankly, Superman, any tip that …"
"It's about a drug called Resurrection," he added hastily, remembering Mayson's tendency to dismiss anything he had to say while in the Superman costume.
Mayson straightened in her chair. Her expression was suddenly very alert. "Where did you hear about Resurrection?"
"As I said, Ms. Drake, it was a tip. I have no way of knowing if it's important or just a prank, but if you're interested, I can write down the particulars if you have a pen and paper."
Clark bit back a smile as Mayson frantically pawed through her briefcase for a pad and pen. "Here you go," she said, trying to sound casual. "I don't know if it's anything I can use, but my office should check it out just in case."
"Of course," Clark said and nodded with practiced Superman sincerity as he wrote. "I'm also giving you the name of a man who can help your office."
"A friend of yours, no doubt."
"Believe me, Ms. Drake," Clark said as he handed the pad and pen back to Mayson. "Daniel Scardino is no friend of mine, but he's apparently the most decorated DEA agent in the field."
"I'll try to look into this when I return to my office."
"Good," he smiled. "But now, if you'll excuse me, I have to prevent a shipment of warheads from being hijacked," he said and lifted into the sky.
Clark finally smiled as he gained altitude and looked back as Mayson urgently dialed her cell phone. Maybe this would change nothing of the outcome as far as Mayson Drake's fate was concerned, but he knew he had to try if only to make a difference in one life in one time line.
"I *already* don't like it," Klein replied. "I'm tired of being left in the dark. I get this feeling that you and the two H.G. Wells know exactly what's going on, but for some reason don't trust me enough to tell me everything."
Joseph shook his head. "Dr. Klein, I've been asked to do things for them that don't make any sense to me and they don't always offer explanations. Then again," he added hesitantly. "I wasn't exactly in a position to bargain."
Klein lifted an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Mr. Wells … the older one, got me out of jail."
Klein took a sip of his tea. "I can't say I'm really surprised."
Joseph sighed and took a seat in front of the porch railing. "I know."
"But if Wells needed a thief, why go into the future to get one?"
"First of all, I am *not* a thief," Joseph said bluntly. "I'm a chemist, and one with some working knowledge of Kryptonian physiology. That's what Wells needed."
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" Klein asked in one quick breath as if finally getting to the point of what was troubling him.
"I've been wondering ever since you disappeared if … well, when you mentioned a working knowledge of Kryptonian physiology, I wondered if …" Klein took a bracing gulp of tea. "Are you the baby Lois is carrying?"
Joseph laughed. "No, I'm not. I'm no descendant of Superman's in any way, shape, or form. Believe me, I wouldn't have needed H.G. Wells to bust me out of jail if I were."
"I guess so." Klein shrugged and seemed disappointed. "But if you weren't arrested for stealing …"
"Ah," Joseph sighed. "I guess it's one more point against me in your book, but a campus party got out of hand and when I woke up … I was in jail."
Klein finally relented and smiled. "I'm sorry, I'm not keeping score. Here," he said, and handed his glass to Joseph. "I was at a fairly wild party myself at MIT. Haverson did something so disturbing with a slide rule … well … I had to switch to using calculators from that point on."
Joseph took a sip of tea. "What did he do?
"And calculators were *very* expensive back then, and … he? Haverson was a *she*."
"Hm … well, never mind."
"That was a wonderful dinner, Martha," Lois said as she placed her napkin on the table.
"Thank you, honey," Martha replied, practically beaming at her daughter-in-law. "Be glad Jonathan didn't fix his spicy fried chicken."
"Now, Martha …"
"The rest of us have grown a tolerance to it over the years."
Clark whistled. "Deadly."
Jonathan smiled conspiratorially at Lois. "Don't listen to them."
"I won't," she assured him. "I make a pretty spicy rumaki myself."
Lois waited for the inevitable comment from Clark, but when none was forthcoming, she turned to face him. "No jokes about my cooking?"
"Uh …" Clark faltered. "It's our wedding night, I don't want to jinx it."
Jonathan laughed. "That's my boy."
"But it is getting pretty late," Clark said as he held his gaze on Lois.
"Goodness, you're right," Martha teased as she consulted her watch. "It's almost eight-thirty. I don't know how you can keep your eyes open."
Clark blushed. "I must still be on east coast time."
Lois patted Clark's knee. "Me too," she said, turning her words into a forced yawn.
"In that case," Martha said as she rose from the table, "I'll have to make your bed since I did laundry today and never got a chance to …"
"That's okay, Mom," Clark interrupted anxiously as he wiped the corner of his mouth. "You're probably tired. I'll do it."
"No, honey, I don't mind …"
Clark was gone so quickly that his napkin remained suspended in midair for a moment. Lois caught it as it fell and grinned sheepishly. "You should see him take out the garbage."
Superman landed in front of the ersatz military men. Clark remembered how convincing they had been a couple of years ago. They had all the right answers and even beautifully forged papers. Everything convinced him that they had been attacked and that the nuclear warheads they'd been transporting were stolen. It would be different this time.
Lois came running up to him. "Superman, thank God, these men …"
Clark moved Lois behind him an instant before the nearest man opened fire. Jimmy dove under the jeep and covered his head. A little heat vision and a strong gust of super breath later, and the men were disarmed.
Lois, slightly dazed, stepped forward as Superman trussed up the last of the men. "How did you know?"
Clark tried to smile with Superman confidence, but was sure it looked more sheepish in nature. "Experience."
"Well," she sighed. "I guess it's a good thing."
"I'll say," Jimmy said breathlessly as he brushed dust from his jeans. "If you'd been as gullible as Lois … uh … I mean … "
Lois folded her arms and pretended an expression of complacency. "That's okay, Jimmy. 'Gullible' isn't even in the dictionary."
Clark, despite trying to maintain his Superman facade, laughed. His wife … future wife, was hard to beat in a battle of one-ups-manship, and it was no arena for an amateur.
Jimmy, attempting to recoup a smattering of dignity, smoothed back his unruly hair. "I think I'll just make a call to the police," he said as he headed back to the jeep.
Lois shrugged. "He's right, though. I fell for their sob story completely."
"Don't feel bad about it, Lois," Clark soothed. "They went to a lot of trouble and expense to look authentic."
"Still, Superman," Lois said with a defeatist tone, "it's lucky I don't have some mystical power over you that makes you blindly believe everything I …"
"Lois," he interrupted tenderly. "You have more power over me than you know, and even if it does sound corny, you're pretty … intoxicating."
"Jimmy's coming back, but we have to talk. Meet me at my apartment," he whispered and was gone in a blur.
Clark felt a shiver crawl up his spine as he flew to his apartment. He had no idea why he had so blatantly given his secret away to Lois, and had almost done so as an afterthought. It was as if something was driving him, urging him to move more quickly. He could not shake the feeling that time was running out.
Klein finished his tea and set the glass on the railing. "So you didn't know why H.G. Wells wanted you to do things, but you did them anyway?" he asked, and then stretched out in the swing.
"Well," Joseph considered, "not *everything* he asked me to do. Some things, sure, I understood, but others," he shrugged, "no clue, but it wasn't just me."
Klein closed his eyes. The combination of exhaustion, the heat and a full stomach had caught up to him. "Wells recruited others?" he asked drowsily.
"Yes," Joseph nodded, "but then again he might not have had a choice, since the other two he recruited were in the cell with me when he showed up."
"Mm-hm," Klein responded, but it was unclear if he was still hearing Joseph, or just responding automatically as he drifted towards sleep.
"It's kind of funny," Joseph mused as he thought back, or rather forward to the incident. "Wells took me, Rob Farentino and Michael Zebranuk back to late 1994. Rob and Zeb got odd jobs here and there, but I was sent to Metropolis University for a crash course in computer programming so I could get that job at STAR Labs in '95, but …" Joseph interrupted himself. "What's happening to me?"
Joseph's clothing suddenly fit him a good deal more loosely than before. He shook his head as if feeling dizzy. He scrambled to his feet and tapped Klein.
Klein yawned. "I'm listening, I'm just resting my eyes."
"No, Dr. Klein, open your eyes!" Joseph pleaded. "Something's happening to me!"
Klein blinked back into consciousness. "Joey? Joey! You're young again!"
"I … I figured. My clothes are too big and I can hear my voice, it's too …"
Klein sat up. "But how?"
"I don't know," he whispered and rubbed his forehead nervously. "It's not just this, but I have to … leave. I have to be back where we started."
Klein rose and grabbed his shoulders. "Calm down, Joseph. You'll be all right, you're just panicking over the change. Take a deep breath and …"
"No!" Joseph shouted and pushed Klein away causing him to fall back into the swing. "I'm sorry, I … I have to be back there when it … happens," he said as he turned and began to run.
"When *what* happens?" Klein called after him.
"I don't know!" he replied, and just kept running.
"Oh, God," Klein groaned as he fumbled under the swing for the shoes he'd slipped off. "I could be in a nice quiet office right now giving a poodle a rabies shot if I'd been a veterinarian like my Dad wanted."
Lois ran her hand down the bedspread. "Nice job."
Clark half-smiled. "I guess I got a little carried away, but I just want our first night together to be perfect."
Lois met his smile as she put her arms around his neck. "Clark," she whispered against his lips, "I'm married to the man I love. It *is* perfect."
Clark moaned with disappointment as Lois broke the kiss. She tapped his nose. "Don't move," she laughed and grabbed her overnight bag and vanished into the bathroom adjoining the bedroom.
Lois smiled as she began to undress. She heard Clark opening and closing dresser drawers in the bedroom at a high rate of speed. He was probably unpacking the suitcases and putting things away in attempt to keep himself … distracted while he waited. Lois had to remind herself that Clark was a year younger than he had been when they married in the true time line and so hadn't even experienced some of their hotter and heavier romantic sessions that had taken place in that extra year.
Her mind drifted back to the time Clark, overcome by the moment, had taken them both to the floor of her apartment. They hadn't been there five seconds before Jimmy had interrupted by knocking on the door, but even so, her jacket had been peeled off, her blouse untucked and unbuttoned half way. "Oh, boy," she muttered as she slipped into her teddy. She'd have to find a way to cool his jets a little or 'faster than a speeding bullet' would take on a new ironic meaning.
Clark, still dressed in the Superman costume, watched through the wall as Lois charged up the steps to his apartment, raised her hand to knock, froze, and then descended to the street again. At the bottom of the steps she seemed to stiffen with resolve. She pivoted and charged back up the steps, raised her hand to knock … then plodded back down again.
Clark sighed and went to the door. This time, as Lois charged San Juan Hill for the third time, he opened the door and her momentum did the rest. She finally captured the hill. "We need to talk," Clark said as they both descended the backside of the hill into his sunken living room.
After what seemed an interminable moment, Lois finally spoke. "It's like a magic trick," she observed thoughtfully. "Once you know the secret, you can't be fooled again."
"Lois, I know what you're feeling, and …"
"Wait," she interrupted and held up her hand. "The only way you could possibly know what I'm feeling is if I suddenly told you that I'm a man and that I've been impersonating a woman the whole time you've known me."
"Okay," Clark acknowledged softly as he considered the analogy. While he liked to think his dual identity wasn't quite as duplicitous as her scenario, he did agree that perhaps the shock value was nearly equal. "But just know that in my case and your example, that maybe we both started feeling deeper things for each other before we knew our secrets would end up hurting the person we loved. And," he added quickly as Lois began to speak, "I *do* love you."
Lois shook her head in frustration. "It's easier talking to Clark."
"You still are."
"That's just it," she said and released an exasperated sigh. "I don't know anymore."
"You are," he soothed and then stepped back. He began to spin and an instant later he slipped his glasses on.
Lois displayed the same stunned expression she had the first time she had seen him change— even the breathless 'wow' was identical, but this time he understood what he hadn't before. He'd been so focused on his own feelings at that critical moment long ago that he had shut himself off from hers at the instant she needed his understanding the most.
He'd been prepared for her to be angry back then, and even acknowledged that her being hurt would be worse than being angry, but he'd never considered that she'd need time to adjust to the truth. He had ignored that element, and when confronted with it, had given in to the temptation to exchange a hurt for a hurt. He wouldn't make that mistake twice.
"I know this is a lot to take in, especially considering the abrupt way I told you," he said as he cinched his tie. "And I know it'll take time for you to get used to the idea … I mean I *hope* you can get used to the idea so I can start rebuilding the trust you once had in me and we can … get back some of what my secret took away from us … well," he corrected, "what *keeping* my secret from you took away from us."
"I … it's …" Lois quickly put a hand over her eyes. Her deeper feelings were betraying the hard line she was trying so strenuously to maintain. That, combined with *the* truth, was just too much. It all overwhelmed her.
Clark grasped her shoulders and pulled her gently to him. "I'm sorry, Lois," he whispered. "I hate to see you cry and I *especially* hate knowing I caused it."
Lois raised an arm and put it around Clark's neck, but kept her tearful face hidden against his chest. "I think I was wrong," she said, her words muffled by his shirt.
Clark lowered his head. "Wrong?"
He felt her nod against his chest. "It's *not* easier talking to Clark," she said, followed by a sniffle.
Clark kissed the top of her head. "Why?"
She lifted her face and met his eyes. "Because, against my better judgment, I've fallen in love with him."
Clark drew a thumb across her tears. "Better judgment?"
Lois sighed and pulled away. "Considering I almost married Lex, I may not have a 'better' setting on my judgment control panel."
Clark watched sympathetically as she walked to the sofa. Her near-wedding to Lex Luthor was a truly sore point for her … for both of them. "But you didn't love him."
"No," she said, as she coiled herself into a ball on the sofa and rested her head on its arm. What psychologists would call a fetal position, Clark recognized as Lois' "little girl retreat" position.
"You loved me," Clark said as he approached her. "Well … Superman."
Lois closed her eyes. "Yes," she sighed again. "It at least explains something I never understood until today."
Clark seated himself next to her. He knew what she was talking about without asking. "Why Superman broke your heart when you confessed that you loved him and would still love him even if he were just an ordinary man with an ordinary job."
"Good memory," Lois muttered.
"Maybe it does *explain* it, Lois, but it doesn't *excuse* it, and so I owe you a long overdue apology for that night."
Lois stirred slightly, but kept her eyes closed. "Please don't apologize, that only makes it worse. I turned down the 'ordinary man' before I made my love-sick speech to Superman. You had every right to feel hurt … to strike back."
"No," he said softly. "I was blaming you for believing exactly what I hoped *everyone* would believe, that Superman and Clark Kent were two different people." He rubbed her arm. "There was no reason for you to think that Clark Kent was a civilian version of Superman."
Lois considered his comments a long moment. "Maybe."
"There's no 'maybe' about it, Lois, but the worst part is I … I put my hurt feelings above your safety, and I …" Clark took a composing breath. Even after all this time, it still upset him. "I've never been able to forgive myself for that."
Lois uncoiled slightly and propped herself up enough to look at Clark. "What?" she asked, her expression filled with confusion.
"I let you accept Lex's proposal."
Lois finally uncoiled completely and sat up. "I wasn't a child, Clark," she said and placed a reassuring hand on his arm. "You tried to warn me about Lex, but I didn't listen. That's not *your* fault, it's *mine*."
Clark shook his head. "But see, Lois, I *knew* Lex was bad. It didn't matter if you believed me or not, *I* knew," he said and lowered his gaze. "And that I didn't do everything I possibly could to stop you, I felt …"
"Okay, hold it," she interrupted. Lois, regardless of what era in time she was from, was always good at stopping Clark in mid-martyrdom. "You *did* stop me from marrying Lex."
"I stood in front of a mirror on my *wedding* day in my gown, *weeping* because I couldn't stop thinking of *you*, Clark. I marched down the aisle thinking of you, and when I was supposed to say 'I do' at the altar, I said 'I *can't*'."
Clark nodded. He remembered Lois telling him about this, but it did little to lighten his guilt. "Thinking of *anyone* at that moment might have led to the same results, Lois," he insisted. "I'm talking about what *I* could have done to stop the wedding." "Look at me, Clark," Lois urged as she tugged his arm. "If you can tell me that the *only* reason you launched a full scale investigation into Lex's buy-out of the Daily Planet was purely a sense of civic duty, journalistic instinct, or even old-fashioned revenge against Lex, I'll believe you and you'll be free to wallow in your guilt, but," she added and held his gaze, "if, in your heart of hearts, you know that at least part of the reason you did what you did was to stop me from marrying Lex, then it's time for you to stop dragging that particular cross through the streets of Metropolis."
Clark shook his head with admiration. "You know," he said, as he took her hand, "falling in love at first sight can be pretty powerful … overwhelming, but," he sighed, "it's not the kind of love where you can tell someone *why* you're in love, or even tell *yourself* why you're in love. So," he continued slowly, "if it all starts to get too frustrating, you begin trying to find ways to rationalize the feeling away, because …"
"It hurts too much to hold onto the feeling if the other person doesn't feel the same way."
Clark raised her hand to his lips and held the kiss a long moment, then met her gaze. "But if you're lucky …" He paused and cleared his throat. The emotions were beginning to overwhelm him. It didn't seem to matter anymore that this was two years ago, it was all beginning to feel like yesterday. "If you're *very* lucky, the person you fell in love with keeps giving you so many reasons to *stay* in love with her, that you just can't let go … ever."
Lois' eyes began to mist over. "Thank you," she whispered as she put her arms around his neck and held him tight, "for not letting go."
"I never will."
As Lois stepped back into the bedroom, she wondered how she would … slow Clark down. The black teddy wasn't going to make that easy either, but she had to smile when she noticed Clark giving himself a heat vision shave. He applied a little aftershave lotion and then did an inhaling whistle as the lotion stung his face. Most people would find it hard to believe that 'Superman' could be stung by aftershave lotion — then again, most people wouldn't be able to shave with something hot enough to melt lead, either.
Lois leaned casually against the wall. "It's always nice watching a man shave, but you're definitely more fun to watch than most."
Clark laughed. "Well, I guess it'll take some …" He stopped in mid-sentence as he turned to face her. "…getting used to."
Oh, boy, Lois thought, Clark was not only ready, he was ready with a capital R. Even his right eyebrow dipped momentarily, a reflexive facial tic that signaled Clark was trying to repress something, but was nearing his limit of success.
He took a deep breath as he approached her. "Lois, that … you look … I mean what you're wearing …"
She smiled. "I guess you like it?"
Clark nodded. Even the breath he had taken to get out those few words had expended itself. He took another breath. "Very much," he said and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. "Even if I could have picked something out for you, I don't think I could have done as good a job."
"Oh," she smiled as she slipped her arms around his waist, "never underestimate yourself, Kent." But even as she spoke the words, she realized that perhaps Clark *was* underestimating himself.
This wasn't the man who had been made so strong, determined and confident by all of the obstacles and struggles they had overcome to reach this moment. That extra year together wasn't just a matter of time, it was a trial … a test of their desire to be together no matter what. And she and her Clark had passed that trial; this Clark had yet to be tested.
"Maybe I should go out and get us some champagne," Clark suggested, but his voice sounded more nervous than anxious. "You know, to … celebrate, before we …"
"I don't want anything to cloud this moment," Lois said as she took his hand and led him towards the bed. She knew she couldn't recreate the missing year for Clark, but she could put them on equal footing.
She pulled back the covers and slid into the bed. Clark, almost reluctantly it seemed, slid in next to her. Lois had forgotten that back then he often waited for *her* to take the initiative. Lois smiled at the irony of the fact that Clark, the man who couldn't understand why she would need time to adjust to the truth of his dual identity, was now a Clark who might need time to adjust to this new and very intimate shift in their relationship.
Lois put a hand on his cheek. "I … I know this might sound funny, but before we … before we make love, there was something I wanted to tell you," she said, and could feel how tense his jaw muscle was. "But I can understand if you'd rather wait until later to talk, because …"
"No," Clark answered too quickly. "I don't mind talking. Talking is good."
Lois blinked. Clark's words overlapped each other so fast, she needed a moment to process them. "Well … good, because I felt you deserved to know this."
Clark's expression became apprehensive. "Know what?"
"Oh, it's nothing bad," she reassured. "It's just that you know those times we'd be kissing, and sometimes it would get a little … heated, but I'd … put on the brakes?"
He nodded and smiled faintly. "Vaguely."
"Well, I wanted to explain to you why I behaved that way."
The three men walked towards the woods. "Are you sure that's what Joseph said, Dr. Klein?" Herbert asked.
"Yes," Klein insisted. "He said he had to be there when *it* happened, but he didn't know what *it* was."
"Extraordinary," George commented as he continued to press buttons on the transmigrator. "I can't imagine what possessed him, but according to this, Lois and Clark are still … lost."
Before the men had taken another step, the July sun over Kansas began to arc across the sky. Within a minute the sunset was only a momentary red blush on the horizon. Night had not so much fallen as crashed around them.
Klein looked up into the star-filled sky. "Naturally."
"Lois, you don't owe me an explanation," Clark said, but still maintained a discreet distance in the bed. "I just figured that because I was still running off without saying why … that maybe you read that as a fear of commitment on my part, and I really don't blame you for feeling … reluctant."
Lois paused for a moment after his comment. It was strange. She had started this exchange to slow things down, but a voice in the back of her head was telling her to move faster. An odd feeling that somehow … time was running out.
She shook off the feeling and focused on Clark. "Even though I wasn't happy about you running off, Clark, I decided to accept it as some quirk in your character that I'd have to learn to live with since I loved you." She smiled. "As it turns out, I *will* have to live with it."
"Believe me, I'm *glad* you've decided to live with it … with me, but if that wasn't the reason …"
"It was my past relationships getting in the way."
"Oh," was all he could manage to say.
Lois understood. Clark had no experience. He was a man who had traveled the whole world, but in terms of relationships, he hadn't even been around the block. "Let me preface this by saying that I haven't had very many," she stalled, "and the few I did have turned out to be federal disasters, especially my last one … with Lex."
Clark winced. "Ouch."
"But I suppose in a way Lex was more typical of my history with men than I'd ever want to admit," she confessed. "He had a false charm, a smooth line and I'd always been afraid to go any deeper than the surface because if I did … I could be hurt."
"It's okay," Clark whispered and moved closer. "Nobody wants to be hurt."
"I guess," she agreed and then shifted her position so that she could lie on her back, making sure she moved just a bit closer to Clark with the maneuver. "I'll skip the boring childhood trauma about my father leaving me and making me believe that all men leave eventually, and just say that I was sure that if I didn't get too attached to any of them, then it wouldn't be too painful when the inevitable happened."
Clark shook his head. "Did it work?"
"If becoming more cold and cynical after each breakup could be called 'working', then yes, it worked like a charm." Lois laughed softly. "Then I met you … well, Superman, and I was in *real* trouble."
Clark leaned in closer. "How so?"
"Well," she said, smiling up at his intense gaze. "I started having romantic fantasies about you … him, and trust me, Clark, I *never* had those before."
Clark swallowed. "Fantasies?"
Lois placed a reassuring hand on his chest. "Don't worry about living up to them. In fact, I hope you *don't*."
Clark, though looking a little relieved, was confused. "You *don't* want me to live up to your fantasies?"
Lois shook her head. "They were so idealized that I think even a 12-year-old girl with rainbow sun catchers in the window and stuffed animals on her bed would roll her eyes at how sanitized my romantic fantasies were."
Clark smiled. "For instance?"
"Okay," Lois began with amused embarrassment. "I would dream of kissing Superman, of holding him and spending the night in his arms, but …" She paused for effect. "We … never … had … sex."
"Never," Lois repeated. "That would *ruin* everything. So, in my fantasies, we went from kissing straight to the afterglow. Not to mention our conversations in my fantasies might require insulin shots …"
"Wait," Clark shook his head. "Why would sex 'ruin' it?"
"Oh, that's easy," she said with a shrug. "Because it *always* did. I mean I only had a couple of intimate relationships, and thank God Lex wasn't one of them, but it was never very long after I crossed that line with them that they decided to leave."
"I'm sorry," he said tenderly.
Lois sighed. "So, keeping the fantasies safe, kept *me* safe, but," she brightened, "when I fell in love with you … with Clark Kent, I started feeling something I hadn't felt with *any* man."
"What?" Clark asked, anticipation overtaking the apprehension.
Lois rolled back onto her side to face him. "Desire," she whispered. "Clark, just kissing you made me want you, and I mean *really* want you, but because sexual intimacy in the past always seemed to signal the end of a relationship, I'd get … skittish." Clark finally closed the small space remaining between them. "First of all," he said as he placed his hand on her cheek, "we're in this for life, so I'm not going *anywhere*. And second," he added, "I never felt desire for anyone else either, so maybe we can just think of this as the first time for *both* of us."
Lois regarded him tenderly as she began to ease herself back to the mattress. "I love you … Clark Kent."
"I love you … Lois Lane."
Lois' tight embrace had quickly progressed into a very passionate kiss. Her renowned skittishness not withstanding, Lois had been the one to turn up the heat. Clark began to wonder if his sense of urgency had transferred itself to Lois through some bizarre romantic osmosis.
She finally broke the kiss. "Sorry," she panted, "I don't know what came over me."
"Well," Clark replied and tried to swallow, "whatever it was, I approve."
Lois laughed breathlessly. "Really?"
Clark nodded, trying to catch his breath. "Lois, if you have to ask, I must be doing something wrong."
"No," she smiled, "you seem to be doing everything just right."
"Thank you," he said softly and kissed her again. "But could I ask you a personal question?"
Lois cinched up her grasp on his neck. "Anything."
"You were kidding before about that whole 'being born a male' thing, right?" he teased.
To Clark's surprise, Lois didn't laugh, she just brought her mouth closer to his. "There's one way to find out."
Brought to a complete halt by the sudden onset of darkness, Klein and the two H.G. Wells stood in silence for a moment. George shook his head. "I have no explanation for this. No theory, not even a guess."
Herbert sighed. "And without light, I'm afraid, we'll never find our way back through the woods to the point where all this began … assuming Joseph made it that far."
"You wouldn't happen to be carrying a torch, would you, Dr. Klein?"
"A torch? No, I lost my torch and pitchfork the day STAR Labs stormed Frankenstein's castle," he replied sarcastically. "We couldn't stand the competition anymore."
"I'm sorry, a language problem," George corrected and laughed uneasily. "I should have asked if you have a flashlight."
"Oh," Klein said and reached into his lab coat and retrieved a small pen light.
"Dear me," Herbert observed, "that's not enough light to see even five paces ahead of us."
"That's because I use it to check eyes for dilation reflex, not for manhunts in Kansas."
"True, Doctor, but it will be more than enough light to read the transmigrator," George said as he fished the device from his jacket.
"Still missing?" Klein asked as he shined the light on the small screen.
"Oh my, they're back." Herbert said as he peered over Klein's shoulder.
Klein sighed with relief. "Good."
"Not precisely, Doctor," George observed. "We seem to have three sets of Loises and Clarks in three separate time lines."
Lois and Clark began to float above the bed …
Lois and Clark began to float above the sofa …
Lois and Clark began to descend …
"Perhaps it was a momentary anomaly," George smiled. "Only one Lois and one Clark are showing now, and they're together."
"Excellent," Herbert said softly.
Klein switched off his flashlight. "The sun's rising … fast. Maybe if we hurry, we can cover a couple of hundred yards before it sets again."
The couple landed gently and tumbled together in the darkness. After a few more breathless kisses, they both sat up and both … looked confused.
Lois couldn't tell very much in the darkness other than she and Clark were outdoors. "What happened?"
"No idea," Clark replied. "We were making love in my apartment on the sofa."
Lois shook her head. "We were making love at your parents' home in Smallville," she said, but suddenly brightened. "Clark? *My* Clark?"
"I think so, honey," he said with relief as he embraced her. "I hope we can stay this time."
"But stay where? Where are we, Clark?"
He scanned the surroundings. "This layout is becoming all too familiar lately. We're back in 1966 Smallville."
"That means we made it back, right? We can just hop in the time machine and go home!"
Clark frowned. "There's no time machine, and no matter how far I scan in any direction, I can't find Doctor Klein and the others."
"You … you don't think they gave up on us, do you?"
"No, honey, but something might have happened," he said, then noticed Lois was shivering. He wasn't sure if it was from the damp air or fear, but he retrieved his cape and wrapped it around her. "Better?"
Instead of responding, Lois examined the cape a moment. "Clark, what's your costume doing here?"
"Well it …" He broke off his sentence. "That's right … when I woke up here, I was only in my … boxer shorts."
Lois, still clutching the cape around her, shuffled over to the costume and noticed two piles of clothing next to it as she knelt down. "One of your suits is here," she said as she examined the articles of clothing. "Necktie and all."
Clark retrieved the bundle. "This doesn't make any sense."
"I think it's starting to," Lois replied as she held up the second bundle. "I haven't worn this outfit in about two years."
Clark closed his eyes. "Oh, boy."
"It's not July, Clark, it's May, and we're here because …"
"Because this is exactly where we were when Wells left us to take away Tempus."
Lois rose slowly. "And we got … carried away."
He nodded. "I remember, I mean I do *now*, but why didn't this particular fact 'unspool' with everything else?"
"I don't know," she shrugged. "Or maybe it did, we're remembering it now, at least."
"Maybe," he replied, his voice skeptical as he began to get dressed in the clothing he'd discarded so long ago. "But you'd think this specific memory would stand out."
"Well," Lois considered, "It *definitely* would have made an impression if we'd been given that trigger word not long after this actually happened. I mean back then we'd only just started dating and were falling in love, but think about it, Clark," Lois added thoughtfully. "Having this memory restored two years later after everything else we've been through, not to mention that the main thing on my mind even with my memory restored was getting you out of that time loop …"
"Okay," Clark agreed. "Saving you was *definitely* all that was on my mind when they sent me back," he said as he slipped on his jacket. "But how did they make us forget in the first place?"
"You'll love this." Lois smiled. "Remember that flashy thing from Men in Black? They used something like that. It made us forget what we really experienced in favor of what they wanted us to remember."
"Great," Clark sighed. "Remind me to give Wells a heat vision hot foot when we see him again."
Lois laughed as she took a seat beneath a small oak tree. "Since this is the first time we've had a chance to relax during all this leapfrogging, I'm remembering other things too."
"Like?" Clark asked, taking a seat next to her.
"Well, I remember slapping your face."
"Hm," Clark grimaced. "Now that you mention it …"
Lois rubbed his knee. "I'm sorry."
"That's not where you slapped me."
She smiled and moved her hand to his cheek. "Rightfully that slap should have gone to Tempus."
"Honey, I saw you beat him up. If I have to choose one, I'll take the slap."
Her smile became a laugh. "I missed you, Clark. I missed *this*."
Clark nodded. He understood. "It's funny, isn't it? We were with each other … in a way, but not really."
She nuzzled closer to him. "Our history together was missing. It might be another reason we didn't immediately remember making love back in this era — it felt like … a mistake."
"I know." Clark leaned his head against hers. "Making love to you was wonderful, but …"
"We got kind of awkward with each other right afterward."
Clark shrugged. "I didn't know what to say. We'd been given a giant shortcut to our relationship finding out we'd end up married and have kids, but emotionally …"
"We weren't ready. So," she added wistfully. "We got dressed without saying a word to each other. I tried to force a safe conversation when we got back to the barn, but Wells interrupted saying something about tampering with history … Wells!"
"Yes!" Clark scrambled to his feet, pulling Lois up with him. "If we wait in the barn, he'll be there soon and we can explain all of …"
Lois began to fade. She reached for Clark, but was gone.
The three men kept running. They no longer had to worry about light being a problem. Night and day had begun displacing each other with such rapidity that the sky itself had become a giant strobe light.
They finally reached the starting point of the whole misadventure. Joseph, still the youthful version of himself, sat in front of a campfire as the older men straggled back.
"Joseph," Herbert panted as he dropped heavily next to him. "What happened to you?"
"I don't know," he answered without looking away from the fire. "I just had to get back here. I couldn't get that one thought out of my head until I finally did." He shrugged. "Then I built this fire when the sky started flashing so I could have something to focus on that wouldn't turn my stomach."
"Well," Klein said, finally catching his breath. "The strobing rate is slowing down."
Joseph looked up. "It is. Wonder how many days passed?"
"More like *months*," George corrected. "At one point a month was passing every 15 seconds. By the time we got back here, it had slowed to one day per second, and now …"
"It stopped," Klein said.
"Or at least slowed down enough so that we're getting a steady patch of darkness."
Klein shook his head and pointed upward. "You can just see the moon through the treetops. It's almost full, but it's staying put. It's not racing across the sky like before."
"Thank heaven," Herbert whispered, but his feeling of relief didn't last long. His eyes widened with fear. "What's that?"
The other men followed his line of sight. "Some type of apparition is manifesting itself," George observed as he moved back a pace.
Lois, her white nightgown given a ghostly glow by the flickering firelight, stepped unsteadily forward. Joseph leaped up and ran to her, catching her an instant before her legs failed her.
Klein hurried over and helped Joseph ease her gently to the ground. He placed two fingers at her throat. "Her pulse is strong, she just seems to be exhausted … and *very* pregnant," he added, noticing that her loose fitting nightgown was now nearly stretched to its limit.
Joseph scratched the back of his head. "I don't understand this. When I brought her here, she was just a *little* pregnant, but now …"
"I'd assume it's due to the fact that she left us in July," George offered, "but returned to us after several months passed."
Herbert fanned her with his hat. "The poor girl, she's been through so much."
"She has indeed," George agreed as he angled the transmigrator screen towards the light of the fire. "But I no longer see Clark, where is he?"
"Right here!" he said, elbowing his way past Joseph and Herbert. He knelt next to Lois and stroked the hair back from her forehead. "Honey?"
Klein knelt next to him. "She's all right, Clark, just exhausted, but considering her advanced stage of pregnancy, we should get her some place comfortable."
Clark nodded. Slipping an arm under her shoulders and one under her knees he lifted her effortlessly.
Lois opened her eyes. "Clark?"
He kissed her softly. "How do you feel?"
"Okay, just a little tired," she replied, and then noticed her body's new profile. "And … a lot more pregnant."
"Honey, I'm taking you to my parents' house and then we can call and make arrangements to …"
"Clark, your parents met us in May. They're not going to believe I'm about to have a baby two months later in July."
"Actually," Klein interrupted, "We experienced a rather bizarre phenomenon here while you were gone … I mean bizarre even for *these* circumstances," he corrected himself.
"He's quite right," Herbert agreed. "Several months passed in the matter of a few moments. The phenomenon didn't cease until just before your return."
Lois sighed. "Then I guess there's no problem going to your parents' house."
"Though I think you should procure some trousers, Clark," George suggested.
Clark blushed. "Good idea," he replied, tiring of being stranded in only his underwear. "Can you hold her, Dr. Klein?"
"Clark, I'm fine," Lois insisted. "I can stand."
"Clark, just get some clothes. If I start to feel woozy, I have *several* spotters who can catch me," she said, indicating the circle of men around her, then suddenly noticed the younger man in the group. "Who are you?"
He cleared his throat. "I'm Joseph, Ms. Lane. You last saw me as a middle-aged man with gray hair."
"Of course," she replied sardonically. "I get more pregnant and you get younger. It makes *perfect* sense."
Clark smiled. "You're *definitely* feeling better," he said as he set her down gently. "I'll be right back."
Clark, attired in purloined jeans and flannel shirt, drifted down to the porch of the farm house with Lois. "Ready?"
"Ready," Lois nodded. "And don't forget to stick to our story."
"Got it," he said and knocked on the door. "You warm enough?"
"Sweetheart, I'm pregnant, not in shock … okay, bad example, but … I'm fine."
The house remained silent and dark. Clark knocked again. This time a baby began to cry. "Oops."
Finally a light went on downstairs, followed by a trail of lights leading to the porch. Jonathan cautiously opened the door a crack. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Sorry, Da.. sir, but it's kind of an emergency. My wife is pregnant and our car broke down."
"Oh, my," he said and opened the door. "Please come in."
"Thank you," they said in unison as they entered.
Jonathan regarded the couple curiously for a moment and then smiled. "I remember you."
"Yes," Clark replied, returning the smile uneasily. "We met a … while back," he said, having no idea how long ago that was.
Jonathan nodded. "You folks were looking for a baby," he said and glanced at Lois. "I'd say you found one."
"Yes," Lois grinned sheepishly. "It worked much better when my husband helped me look for one."
"Is there some kind of trouble?" Martha asked as she descended the stairs with a very young Clark Kent in her arms, but instead of the baby Lois had remembered, this child seemed closer to a toddler's age.
"Just car trouble, Martha," Jonathan said as he put his arm around her shoulders. "I think you remember this couple."
"Yes," she replied, smiling warmly at Lois. "I guess we both found what we were looking for."
"Definitely," Lois agreed as she approached the older couple. She stroked the baby's dark hair. "He's so beautiful," she smiled and glanced at her husband. "He'll grow up to be a real heartbreaker."
"Sir," Clark interrupted, eager to change the subject. "Would it be possible for you to give us a lift into town. We can get a hotel room and …"
"No, no, don't be silly. We can put you up in our guest room," Martha insisted. "It's very cozy with a lot of sunshine in the afternoon. One day I want to convert it into a little art studio." She shrugged. "Just a hobby."
Jonathan chuckled. "One day she painted a picture of a tree, but I thought it was a scarecrow … uh…" He hesitated. "It was very …"
"Imaginative?" Clark suggested.
"Thank you," Martha said to Clark after shooting a reproving look at Jonathan.
Jonathan cleared his throat. "Well, if you folks will follow me, I'll get you settled in."
"I guess this is better than the woods," Joseph said as he tried to make himself comfortable on a bale of hay.
"True," Klein yawned. "I hope Clark's right about his parents only using this barn for storage."
"It would certainly be difficult to explain our presence here," Herbert added. "Perhaps we should have just taken them back to 1997 with the time machine."
George shook his head. "No. Not only would it be impossible for them to explain Lois' delicate condition if they were suddenly taken back to the right time, but I have no idea how time travel might affect Lois and her unborn child this far into her pregnancy."
"Here you go," Jonathan said as he opened the door to the guest room. "The bathroom's the next doorway up the hall and there's some cold chicken in the fridge."
Lois hugged Jonathan. "Thank you."
"Yes," Clark smiled and shook his father's hand. "We really appreciate your help."
"What are neighbors for," Jonathan shrugged. "You folks have a good night," he said, closing the door as he left.
"If I haven't mentioned it lately, Clark, I think your parents are terrific."
"I've always been fond of them myself," Clark teased as he pulled back the covers. "But I never saw this room like this growing up. It was always full of Mom's art supplies. It smelled like linseed oil," he mused. "Sometimes I'd come in here as a kid just for the smell."
Lois impetuously kissed him and then held his face for a long moment. "And if I haven't mentioned it lately, Clark, I think *you're* pretty terrific, too."
"Thank you," he smiled, and returned the kiss as he helped her into the bed. "I wish we were home, though," he added. "*Our* home, but I guess if we can't be there …"
"This is the best alternative."
"Exactly," he nodded as he pulled the covers up to her chin. "I'm going to take some of that chicken to our friends hiding in the barn, but I'll hurry back."
"I'll probably be asleep before you get back," she said drowsily as she drew a hand down his cheek. "But I think I finally understand something you tried to tell me once… about 'home' meaning permanence to you … a place to be safe … away from chaos." She yawned and closed her eyes. "It's all here."
He lingered a moment as his wife drifted off to sleep. "It is now," he whispered and then slipped quietly out of the room.
Clark tried to enter the barn quietly too, but its old hinges protested loudly. There was a sudden burst of rustling noises coming from various points inside the barn. Clark smiled. "It's okay, it's just me."
"Thank God," Klein muttered as he crawled out of an old nail keg. The other men quickly abandoned their hiding places as well.
"I brought some chicken, and filled a canteen with water," Clark said and set the items on a cable spool. "I'll go back and get you a lantern."
"I'd prefer no light being visible from inside the barn," George said cautiously. "Besides, the moon is quite bright coming through that loft window."
Herbert picked up a piece of the chicken and examined it curiously. "It has a crust."
Clark laughed softly. "It's fried chicken, you'll like it," he said and then turned to George. "Thanks for retrieving us. We *both* needed the rest."
"Well, my boy," George began with a sigh. "In point of fact, we *didn't* retrieve you."
"But, how …"
"You just appeared," Joseph replied as he pulled a drumstick from the bowl.
"And there was a peculiar reading on the transmigrator just prior to your reappearance," Herbert added. "We saw you and Lois in three distinct time lines."
George shrugged. "After a moment, though, the two other sets vanished, but I'm at a loss to say why. It must have been a problem with the transmigrator itself, because it showed you *already* in 1966."
"Ah," Clark nodded. "It wasn't a glitch. Lois and I *were* in 1966, but May, not July."
Herbert glanced up. "The date of the first adventure?"
Clark hesitated a moment. "Right," he finally replied, but seemed uncomfortable. "It turns out that when you left to deal with Tempus, Lois and I … well we were alone together … and … we …"
"You what?" Herbert prompted.
"Got carried away with each other."
Joseph took a bite of the chicken to keep from smiling. Klein merely lifted the canteen. "Cheers."
Clark swallowed. "I think I'll head back to Lois. If you need anything, just tap on the double window at the far end of the house," he said, and quickly departed via the loft window.
Herbert blinked a moment. "I … I can't believe that they … I mean to say … I never expected that when I left them alone …"
Klein patted his shoulder. "Don't feel bad, Herbert. I've seen them together a lot more than you have," he said sympathetically. "When Superman told me that he had a girlfriend and was curious to know whether they could have children together, I suspected the woman was Lois, even though I knew she was married to …wait a minute." Klein cut himself off. "My data showed that they *couldn't* have children together."
"That was my fault, Dr. Klein," Joseph said, averting his gaze. "Remember when you asked me why I stayed on at STAR Labs long after the robbery … and I said that you wouldn't like the answer?" he said, finally making eye contact. "I … I tampered with your data."
"What?" Klein asked angrily as he rose from the ersatz table. "Why would you do that? Do you have any idea how much that *hurt* him? I could barely face him, Joseph." Klein shook his head. "And I can't even imagine how it hurt Lois when he had to tell *her*."
"Please, Dr. Klein," George said softly, "It's noble of Joseph to take the blame, but he was only doing as I instructed."
"You?" Klein asked, his expression changing from anger to incredulity. "But *why*? I can't believe this! You of *all* people …"
"Because time was already beginning to fracture in that era, Dr. Klein," George interrupted. "I had hoped that tampering with the data results would merely delay Lois and Clark's attempt at having children long enough for the time flow ripple effect to be reversed." He sighed. "But now it's clear that Lois had conceived a child *long* before Superman ever asked for your help."
"Define *long*," Klein said flatly. "Because those tests I ran on Superman took place over a period of several weeks. If Lois conceived *long* before the tests began, she'd surely know she was pregnant before they were concluded."
"Define 'long'?" George repeated thoughtfully. "I'd say she conceived approximately two years and two months before you began to run the tests."
Klein's jaw dropped open and seemed content to stay fixed in that position.
"That figure, of course," George added after a moment. "Includes nine months of gestation."
"What were you basing your calculations on?" Klein finally exploded. "*Elephant* years?!"
Joseph, not wanting to, laughed. "I'm sorry, George, but … that's crazy."
"I'd have agreed with that as little as ten minutes ago," George replied. "But Clark not only did the mathematics for me, he solved the mystery of why the time flow ripple even happened in the first place."
"But you said that Clark having contact with his infant self caused the ripple effect," Klein insisted.
"I did indeed, Doctor. However, you yourself said that things weren't adding up logically, and how right you were."
Joseph shrugged. "I'm lost. It *wasn't* his contact with the baby that caused this?"
George thought a moment. "Well, it *was* contact, but it was contact with Lois … *intimate* contact with her back in May 1966 that set all of this in motion."
"All right," Klein said, making an attempt to calm himself. "Even *if* they conceived a child in 1966, *why* would it cause this mess with the duplicate time lines?"
Herbert sighed, looking quite miserable. "Because Lois did not *exist* in 1966. Were I a betting man, I'd put a heavy wager on this night being October 15, 1967."
George nodded in agreement. "It also explains why Lois and Clark were returned to 'the scene of the crime', so to speak, without having to be retrieved by the transmigrator."
"And that date is?"
"Lois Lane's birthday."
Klein sat down heavily on the cable spool. "We've been experiencing time trying to catch up to the event."
"Precisely," George replied. "However, before time began splintering, Lois and Clark had moved a great deal forward from this point in their history together. They fell in love, got married and began thinking in terms of starting a family."
Klein sighed. "Now Lois is going to have a baby in 1967 … very soon, in fact."
"And then what are we supposed to do?" Joseph asked. "When we take them back to 1997, how do they explain the baby?"
"I think you're rather missing the point," Herbert injected. "A kind of time barrier has been created by …" He froze in mid-sentence. The noisy hinge of the barn door began to creak. It was too late to dive for cover.
"Would you gentlemen mind explaining something to me?" Clark asked, breaking the forced silence.
Klein's starched spinal column regained its suppleness. "Thank God," he moaned. "I don't think I could stand one more surprise."
"Then you might want to take a walk, Dr. Klein," Clark said bluntly as he swung the door wider.
Lois, who was no longer pregnant, entered with a baby in her arms. "I'm taking a wild guess that this means the time flow ripple thing isn't through with us yet."
"Oh my," Herbert said as he placed a hand over his mouth.
"When I went back to the house, Lois was asleep with … with the baby lying next to her," Clark began unsteadily. "I … don't understand how this can be happening."
"Here," Dr. Klein said as he dumped Christmas lights from a small cardboard box. "This should work," he continued as he pressed handfuls of hay into the box and then placed his lab coat atop the hay. When confronted by silent, questioning eyes, he merely shrugged. "The baby should have a bed."
Lois smiled. "Thank you, Dr. Klein," she said as she gently placed the baby in the makeshift bed. "But the first person who sings 'Away in a Manger' gets a black eye."
Joseph, with great effort, avoided smiling. "No comment."
"Okay, hold it," Clark interrupted. "Am I the *only* one here who thinks this whole thing is crazy?"
"No, sweetheart," Lois soothed, "It *is* crazy, but we're together and our baby's here regardless of how he arrived."
"Okay," he relented. "So what do we do now?"
Lois rubbed a hand across his shoulders. "Any chance you could find some baby clothes, or at least diapers?"
Clark finally smiled. "Sure."
He began scanning the storage barn. "Since the younger me isn't a baby anymore, then his clothes … Ah, here we go," he said as he retrieved a box from the rafters and handed it down.
Lois opened it and grinned. "You probably looked so cute in this," she said and held up a little sailor suit.
Clark sighed. "No wonder I hate spinach."
Lois folded a square cloth into a triangle. "I'll be glad when we're back in the 90's and have disposable diapers."
"Uh … as to that," George said as he stepped forward. "You were quite correct when you guessed that the time flow ripple problem wasn't completely resolved yet."
Clark crossed his arms in a typical Superman stance. "And that means?"
"Well, it's rather complicated," George continued cautiously. "But there are basically only two time lines left that are still in conflict with each other. The one we're in now, and the one in which you belong."
Lois pinned the diaper and looked up. "I know it won't be easy explaining why we have a baby when we go back, but when we leave here, won't this era be … well, no pun intended … history?"
"It already *is* history, Miss Lane, at least for you and Clark," Herbert offered as he extracted an antique timepiece from his pocket and opened its cover. "I always carry this watch with me as a reminder. It grounds me, if you will, in the era in which I truly belong. Time is not just the passing of minutes and hours, but of history and people and what they do in those eras in time."
"You must remember," George added, "that time is not apart from nature. On the contrary, it has very specific properties in common with nature. Not the least of which is an abhorrence of vacuums."
Lois and Clark exchanged a quizzical glance. "Okay," Clark said slowly. "And that means what?"
Herbert closed his pocket watch. "Your true time line currently has a vacuum."
"Because … we're missing from it."
George nodded. "Precisely. And because of that, those strange time anomalies …"
Lois and Clark vanished.
"… will continue," George finished with a sigh.
"I thought I'd be used to this sort of thing by now," Joseph whispered.
"The baby is still here!"
"Of course he is, Doctor Klein," Herbert said as he drew a finger tenderly down the baby's cheek. "He belongs to this time line, not Lois and Clark's time line, so he won't reach his parents … without help."
"The time machine."
"Yes, Joseph," Herbert replied. "But Lois and Clark will have no memory of this child … right away, that is, so …"
"No problem," Joseph said with a smile. "I'll be right back … uh … after I break into the Kent farm house and steal something."
Klein shook his head as he watched Joseph depart. "You know, for a man who tried to convince me he's not a thief, he's not doing a very good job of it."
"Regardless of Joseph's plan," Herbert said as he began searching through boxes, "we'll at least need a note to send along with the baby."
Klein raised an eyebrow. "And explain this whole thing? You won't need a note, you'll need a billboard."
Herbert smiled as he continued to search. "Brevity is the soul of wit, Doctor. I don't intend to tell them *everything* in the note," he said and then sighed. "I don't see a pen anywhere."
Klein looked over items Herbert had discarded from various boxes. "Here," he said as he grabbed a handful of ballpoint pens.
Herbert took one and examined it. He pressed the button on top. "Ah, that's rather convenient," he said and then tried it out on the side of a box. "Convenient *if* it worked, that is."
Both men tried out several pens, all of which seemed destined to fail. "I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anyone would put these pens in storage when it's clear they don't work."
Klein nodded as he continued to scribble ruts into the box. "I think people don't want to throw these away because they're sure one day they'll get refills for them, but they never do, and … ah, this one works," he brightened and handed the pen to Herbert. "I went through a lot of these old Bics in school."
Herbert rolled the pen between his thumb and forefinger. "It's not terribly attractive, but at least it works."
"I remember a commercial as a kid where they loaded one of those pens into a rifle and shot it into a block of wood." He shook his head and laughed. "It looked like an exploded cigar, but it still worked."
"Well, I shan't do anything quite so dramatic with it, but I do need something to write on."
"How about a Christmas card?" Klein suggested as he reached into the jumble of ornaments he had dumped on the floor. "It just says 'Merry Christmas' and nothing else."
"Excellent, and how ironically apropos," Herbert said as he took the card and folded it inside out.
"Still," Klein shrugged. "No matter what you say in that note, I can't imagine that Lois and Clark will just accept this baby without question. I mean wouldn't *Superman* want to find out who the child belongs to?"
"Oh, without a doubt," Herbert agreed. "At least under normal circumstances, but," he added as he completed the note, "if our timing is flawless, then that won't be a problem."
Lois was stretched out in the bed next to Clark. Her arm was draped over his waist as she rested her head on his chest, but despite the cozy positioning, Lois' expression was melancholy. "He doesn't think we'll be able to have kids."
"Honey," Clark began softly, "I have not, for one second, doubted in *us*. We *live* the impossible." He gently pushed back a strand of her hair. "A child is something brought about by love, isn't it?"
Lois nodded against his chest. Clark's strength sometimes functioned as a life force all its own that Lois was able to draw from during dark moments like this one.
"Then *that* above all else, has *got* to be possible for us."
"Success!" Joseph crowed triumphantly as he returned with a large, weathered suitcase.
Klein sighed. "I hope that means we're leaving."
Joseph set the suitcase down. "No, sorry, Doctor Klein, but I hope my memory of Kent history is accurate," he said as he opened the suitcase. He smiled and extracted two objects. "I guess it is."
"Excellent," George said. "Now let's hurry."
Moved by her husband's faith, Lois stretched up to kiss him, only to stop when she recognized that look on his face. "What? What are you hearing?"
Clark looked confused. "I'm not sure."
"Well, what does it sound like?"
"I can't actually … *believe* what it sounds like," he replied, and slipped out of bed.
Lois followed Clark out of bed, her expression of curiosity matching his. They descended the stairs of the townhouse and moved towards the den. Clark opened the sliding door cautiously. The bassinette his parents had given to them was sitting on the table, but it was no longer empty.
An infant, covered by a blue blanket bearing the Superman shield, gurgled happily. Clark lifted the note lying atop the blanket and read aloud, "Lois and Clark, this child belongs to you."
Lois placed a hand on her chest, her breath partially robbed. She smiled down at the baby as she pulled back the blanket.
"Son?" Jonathan called from the stairway as he, Martha and Lois' parents descended. "Everything all right?"
"Everyone okay?" Sam asked.
Martha unfolded her glasses and put them on. "We saw the lights."
Ellen, still drowsy, smoothed back her mussed hair. "Lois?"
Clark stepped out of the den. Though smiling, he seemed nervous. "Yes, everyone, everything is absolutely fine," he assured them. He took a deep breath. "Mom and Dad," he said to his parents. "And Mom and Dad," he said to the Lanes. "We have something … to tell you."
Behind him, Lois came into the room. Only her head was visible over Clark's shoulders. She stepped out from behind him and stood at his side. She was carrying the baby. As the two sets of parents looked on, Clark shrugged, his expression happy, but also a bit flabbergasted.
"My lord," Jonathan said in a soft voice as he approached.
"He's beautiful … 'he', right?" Ellen asked.
Clark blanked, "I'm not …"
"Where did he come from?" Sam asked.
"Well, Daddy," Lois began hesitantly, "I'm really not …"
"From our organization," Joseph interrupted as he emerged from his hiding place in the den.
Martha examined him suspiciously. "What *is* your organization?"
"Unified Natal Social Placement Orphan Organization … uh … Limited," he said and then turned to Lois and Clark. "UNSPOOL for short."
Clark blinked. "Yes … the … UNSPOOL organization. We …"
"We only spoke on the phone, Mr. Kent," Joseph offered. "And I'm afraid I got lost a few times trying to find my way here," he added as he turned back to face the others. "But the Kents were nice enough to let me in … let *us* in at this late hour."
Lois kissed the baby's forehead. "Yes, we were happy to see you."
Clark cleared his throat. "Well, I guess we should get dressed and then we can all sit down and talk about the organization and the … adoption."
"Good idea, son," Jonathan nodded as he and the others headed for the stairs.
"He looks awfully young to be working for an adoption agency," Ellen muttered under her breath.
Lois and Clark shared a sigh of relief as their parents departed. Clark shook Joseph's hand.
"Thank you for bringing our baby back to us," he whispered. "But … I hate the idea that we have to pass our son off as adopted …" Clark shook his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I mean *I'm* adopted and couldn't have asked for better parents, but …"
"Don't worry," Lois smiled. "As soon as he starts juggling bowling balls, he'll know who his father is."
Clark smiled in response. "I know, honey, but I don't like lying about this."
"You won't have to," Joseph said. "I'm not here to drop off the baby, I'm here to take you back to 1966 …well, 1967."
"No!" Lois answered curtly. "We're back, we have our baby, and we're not going *anywhere*."
Joseph swallowed nervously. "I'm afraid you don't have much choice."
Clark stepped in front of Lois and the baby. "Is that a threat?"
"Believe me, Mr. Kent," Joseph said as he stepped back a pace, "even on the drunkest day of my life, I would *never* threaten Superman."
"Then why did you say we have no choice?" Lois asked, peering around her husband's back.
"Because the time lines are still distorting and it will only get worse until you go back and … fix them."
Clark shook his head. "We already *tried* to fix the time lines. If this is the closest we can get to setting things back to normal, then that's how it is, because I'm not risking Lois and the baby by going back and making things …"
"Clark!" Lois cried as she stepped from behind him, her arms empty. "The baby!"
Clark hoisted Joseph off the floor. "What did you do?!"
"Nothing," he choked. "It's the time line!"
"How long before they get back?"
"Not to be cliche, Doctor Klein," Herbert replied, "but time is relative in this situation."
"However," George added, "I'm sure we'll see a harbinger of their return."
Klein heard a soft rustling and turned in its direction. "Will the harbinger be wearing a diaper?"
Before either Wells could respond, the barn door flew open. Unfortunately due to the frustrated super force applied, the door banged against the wall it was hinged to and then hung open at an odd angle. The loud noise not only caused the baby to start crying, but set off several neighboring dogs as well.
Lois trotted past Clark as he stopped to reset the door and scooped the baby into her arms. "Shh," she soothed. "Daddy's just having a bad day."
Clark sighed and drew a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, I … this whole thing …"
"No," Herbert said softly as he approached the frustrated young father. "*I'm* sorry, Clark. If it weren't for my initial inaccurate theory as to the cause of the time distortion, we could have corrected this sooner, and I dare say with a good deal less trauma."
"To be fair," Lois whispered as she swayed the infant rhythmically, "you couldn't have factored in something you didn't know about."
"True," he shrugged. "I suppose one reason I had not considered the possibility that you and Clark had conceived a child in 1966 was due to the specifics of the curse, but …"
"Curse?" Klein interrupted.
"Yes," Herbert nodded absently. "A curse was placed on their love centuries ago, the upshot being that whenever they physically consummated their love for each other in any given era, the result would be death … and quite a gruesome one at that."
Klein tugged at his collar. "It's always something."
"Though," Herbert continued thoughtfully "the fact that Lois, as a soul, didn't exist in 1966, effectively prevented the curse from taking place."
"But unfortunately," George added, "it's also the reason a time barrier has been created. A barrier that will keep Lois and Clark separated in time from their baby."
"*Nothing* will keep us separated from our baby," Clark said as he moved next to Lois and put a reassuring arm around her shoulder. "If we have to stay in this era to be together, then that's what we'll do."
Klein shook his head. "It won't work, Clark. The barrier functions in both directions. The time line you belong in will keep pulling you back, and if you take the baby, he'll be pulled back to this one."
"But that's not how it worked before," Lois insisted. "We had to be brought here by the time machine and taken back the same way."
"Quite right, Miss Lane, at least to a point," George agreed. "But this is a facet of the distorted time lines and it will not cease until the distortion ceases."
"So we fix the time lines and we can take the baby back to our time and keep him there?"
George nodded. "I'm afraid that's the only way, Miss Lane. The distorted time lines have become rather like a city that's been carved out of a jungle. If the people were ever to leave the city, the jungle would reclaim all signs that a civilization was ever there. If we can't fix this, time will reclaim you regardless how many attempts you make to stay with the baby."
"Then Joseph was right," Clark sighed. "We have no choice."
"Where *is* Joseph?" Herbert asked.
Clark shook his head. "He dropped us off and said he had something to do but would meet us back here."
Lois settled the baby back into his straw bed. "How reliable is this guy? Who is he? Why is he part of this thing?"
"Apparently George broke him out of jail in the future," Klein began. "And … well, he tampered with my data … the data I was compiling on whether or not Superman and a human woman could conceive a child."
"Jail!" Lois said in a strangled whisper as she moved away from the baby. "And what do you mean *tampered* with the data?"
"So that the conclusion drawn from the results would indicate that you and Superman were genetically incompatible for reproduction."
"Sorry it took so long," Joseph panted as he entered the barn. "I had to put the blanket and Superman emblem back, but as soon as I slipped the suitcase back under the bed, a bunch of dogs started barking and …" He paused and noticed all the blank stares. He shrugged. "What?"
Lois, saying nothing, approached Joseph swiftly, drew back her fist and planted it squarely on his jaw. He staggered backward and collided with the door, a door that had already taken more abuse than it had ever been designed to take. Joseph and the door fell into the barnyard with a muffled thud.
Joseph pushed himself into a sitting position. "What was that for?!"
George stepped out cautiously and offered Joseph a hand up. "I'm afraid you received a clouting that should have rightfully gone to me."
Joseph rubbed his jaw. "Klein's data?"
"Ah," he nodded as he struggled to his feet. "At least I got off easier than Colonel Cash when he got on Ms. Lane's bad side."
"How would you know that?" Lois asked, still bristling with anger and suspicion.
"Kent history," Joseph replied and then worked his jaw back and forth experimentally.
Clark frowned. "Kent *history*?"
"Oh, yes," Herbert smiled. "As you'll recall, I did tell you and Lois how revered the two of you are in Utopia. Your history is …"
"That's another thing," Lois interrupted as she continued to glare at Joseph. "Why don't you have a Utopian name like Tempus, Andros, Nauseous…"
Joseph laughed. "I'm from the future, Ms. Lane, but not as far into the future as Utopia. Though," he added thoughtfully, "I'd like to think the war to end Intergang's global tyranny helped lead to the creation of Utopia."
"It did indeed, my boy," Herbert agreed enthusiastically. "And Joseph was quite the freedom fighter. In fact, his tattoo, the symbol of the underground resistance movement, became the design for Utopia's flag."
"Wait a minute," Clark said, his eyes narrowing. "A flag of Utopia has barbed wire on it? Wouldn't that pretty much be a visual oxymoron?"
Joseph smiled as he rotated his arm and raised his sleeve. The barbed wire from the back of his wrist continued around to the inside, but on that side both ends of the wire were broken by the Superman emblem. Joseph tapped the emblem with his finger. "Always shows up in the nick of time."
Lois swallowed, her demeanor softening. "The Superman shield … is that … is it worn by our son?"
Joseph nodded. "My best friend," he said, his voice catching slightly. "When I mentioned 'Kent history' it was a much more personal history. He even saved my life …" Joseph paused and turned to face George. "That's why I'm young again, isn't it? As long as their baby stays in limbo, I can't advance past the point where he saved my life, can I?"
"You are unfortunately correct."
Joseph closed his eyes. "That's the real reason you broke me out of jail … to keep me safe until the time lines were repaired. Because if you didn't …"
"If I didn't," George interrupted softly, "you and your cellmates would have perished in that questionable 'accident' at the detention facility."
Lois leaned heavily against Clark. "Because our son wouldn't be there to save you."
"Lois … Ms. Lane," Joseph fumbled. "I'll do anything … *everything* I can to help your son. I owe him a lot more than just my life," he said as his tone became wistful. "He introduced me to … my wife. I want my life with her and our children back."
Clark held Lois a little tighter. "I know the feeling."
"Well, George can use the transmigrator and have Joseph leap into his 1997 self," Klein suggested. "I know that only solves part of the problem, but at least the data won't be tampered with and …"
"Actually he can't," George corrected. "Joseph doesn't exist in 1997 other than as a time traveler since, unlike Lois and Clark, he didn't physically arrive there from his true time line. However," he continued as he removed the transmigrator from his pocket. "You, Dr. Klein, *do* exist in 1997."
"Oh, no," Klein said as he raised his hands in front of his chest and began a slow retreat. "I don't travel well."
"You'll be fine."
"I get carsick … even in the front seat!"
"Good bye, Dr. Klein," George said with a smile as he finished the programming sequence.
"Wow," Lois whispered as Klein vanished. "I always wondered what that would look like from this side."
Klein's mind was swimming. As a scientist, he found the experience fascinating, but as a man whose greatest adventure prior to time-traveling had been outrunning a shopping cart to save the paint job on his Ford Escort, it was also quite unsettling. He comforted himself with the thought that he had an important job to do, a job that would help fix a mess that was literally over 30 years in the making.
After a moment, Klein's lab coalesced around him. He tried to move, but realized he was not under his own control. It was disturbing. He heard a tapping at his door and he turned, too slowly he felt, to acknowledge the knock. "Come in," he heard himself say.
Diane Waters stepped in. "Superman is here, Doctor."
"Great," his past self said and picked up a clipboard as he followed the technician out of his lab.
This was wrong. Diane Waters left STAR Labs in 1996 to continue her studies. Why would she reappear in 1997? As soon as Klein moved through the double doors into the examining room, he knew *exactly* why.
Sitting side by side on an examining table were Superman and little Jesse Stipanovic, the boy dubbed 'Superman's love child' by the press. It was 1995.
"Hello, Superman, Jesse," Klein said, still not having control of his actions or words. "We obviously won't be drawing blood from you. I take it Jesse's skin is also impervious to puncture?"
"Yes, though why that is I have no idea," Superman said and sounded sincerely confused.
Klein felt his brow furrow. He remembered his reaction from years ago. He'd been surprised that Superman was confused. It seemed so obvious that Jesse had to be his son.
Superman noticed the look of doubt on Klein's face. "No, really, I have *no* idea," he insisted. "You said you can do DNA tests with hair follicles, correct?"
Superman pulled a hair from his head and handed it to Klein. "I talked to Jesse and he's agreed to do the same thing."
The little boy pulled a hair from his own head and both samples were put into bags by Diane.
"Excellent," Klein heard himself say. "We'll do our best to rush the tests along, Superman. The results will be quite *definitive* … *incontrovertible*, really."
Klein had remembered emphasizing how foolproof the DNA test would be in case Superman wanted to save face and admit paternity before the results took the chance away from him. Instead, Superman had seemed relieved. "That's great, and I can expect the results when?"
Klein's former self shrugged. "Based on what I suspect to be the complexity of your cell structure … four to five months.. a year, tops."
George frowned as he observed the readout on the transmigrator. He slid his foot forward and surreptitiously tapped the edge of his shoe against Herbert's. His younger counterpart acknowledged the private communication and then leaned over to look at the screen. He echoed the frown.
Clark, sleep deprived and worried, took no notice of the soured expressions across the room. Lois had fallen asleep against his chest and their baby slept quietly nearby, but though exhausted, Clark was fighting the urge to sleep. He feared what he might find when he awoke and he hated that kind of helplessness. Time itself had become a thief robbing him of his family and nothing in his arsenal of super powers could help him.
He decided conversation might be his only hope of fighting off fatigue, not to mention he was now more curious about the young man who claimed to be his son's best friend. "How did you meet him?"
Joseph, who was feeling drowsy himself, rubbed his eyes. "Your son? We met in college," he said and then smiled. "He was one big question mark."
Clark frowned. "Question mark?"
Joseph nodded. "Yeah, he was sort of invisible in the beginning. You know, the guy that's there, does what he's supposed to, but no more than that. Keeping to himself mostly."
Clark shrugged. "I guess I was the same way. The only time I drew any attention in college is when I played football."
"Wasn't that kind of like … cheating?"
"No," Clark protested, but had little conviction in his voice. "I played football because I knew that if I wanted to appear normal to everybody else, I'd have to establish some standards of performance in terms of human strength and speed. Playing a sport where everyone was padded seemed to be the best choice."
Joseph smiled. "So you weren't a star player?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably. "Well … I did win the game ball once, but …"
Lois started chuckling softly against Clark's chest and then sat up. "He *says* he plays to play, but he likes to win."
Clark sighed. "Everybody *likes* to win, but I don't get upset if I *don't* win."
"He told me he almost cheated at cards with Perry by using his x-ray vision. It's why I don't trust him when we play strip po … uh, Monopoly."
Joseph laughed. "Well, your son wasn't on the football team. Like I said, he was practically invisible, but that all changed," he added, his tone darkening. "Intergang started becoming a political force, and your son took a stand against them, and …"
"Joseph," Herbert tried to interrupt gently.
"I won't forget a speech he made," he continued wistfully. "He said something about evil winning only if …"
"*Joseph*," George interrupted, his tone insistent.
"This structure seems to be interfering with the readouts from the transmigrator," George replied.
"You mean Dr. Klein isn't appearing on the screen?"
"Well … " Herbert began.
"Yes," George interrupted quickly. "He did appear, but as I said, this barn is interfering with the readout. Perhaps you could accompany us outside. I'm assuming without the barn walls in the way, we might get a clearer readout."
"Why me?" Joseph shrugged. "I don't know the first thing about how that gizmo works."
"To tell you the truth," Herbert offered weakly. "We're quite tired. We're having a spot of trouble with our eyesight due to the fatigue, but since you're currently a good deal younger …"
"Okay," Joseph sighed as he rose and brushed the dust from his trousers. "Excuse me," he said to Lois and Clark before departing.
Clark smiled. "I get the feeling Herbert and George didn't like Joseph telling us too much about our son."
"Me too," she smiled. "I wonder what he said?" she mused. "The thing about evil winning."
"Probably the quote attributed to Edmund Burke," Clark said and rubbed the back of his neck. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
"I like that. It sounds so … Supermanish."
Clark laughed softly. "Well, our son apparently does wear the Superman costume. If this whole thing wasn't such a nightmare, I'd feel a lot better about it."
"True," she sighed and kissed his shoulder. "But nightmares are always better with a co-star."
Clark rubbed the back of his neck again. "You're a great co-star, honey."
Lois reached up and stroked the hair just above his ear. "Headache?"
He closed his eyes and nodded. "Bad one."
"I had one too when I first arrived here," she said as she rose behind him. She bent down and began rubbing his neck and shoulders. "It felt like a hangover."
"Never had one."
Lois draped herself over his shoulders and patted his chest. "Only because you're Superman."
Clark reached up and grabbed her hand. "If it's any consolation, I don't get the buzz before a hangover either."
"Poor baby," she teased.
He ran his thumb across her tiny wrist. "What if we can't fix this mess?"
"We'll fix it, Clark," she said, and slid back into a sitting position without disconnecting from his hand. "We live the impossible, remember?"
"That's what I love about my co-star," Clark said and wrapped his arms around her. "You remind me of the obvious."
The incredulous expression on Superman's face was burned in Klein's memory. Despite strong evidence indicating that Superman was the father of Jesse Stipanovic, he behaved in the manner consistent with that of an innocent man wanting to be vindicated.
"Dr. Klein, there has got to be a faster way. Dr. Klein …?"
Klein, who had become accustomed to having someone else in control, realized that he was finally back in the driver's seat … but why? Why was he sent to this place in time and not 1997 as had been intended?
"Uh … Diane, would you take Jesse to the commissary for a chocolate sundae?"
"Sure," she smiled and turned to the little boy dressed in the Superman costume. "Would you like a chocolate sundae?"
"Strawberry!" he corrected enthusiastically as he departed with the technician.
"Dr. Klein," Superman began as the door closed. "I know that you, like everyone else, probably have no doubt that I'm that child's father. I can see it in everyone's eyes. But he is *not* my son."
"To tell you the truth, Superman," Klein replied, knowing there was only one set of doubting eyes that were troubling him. "When that woman and her child started making headlines, my first thought wasn't about the paternity so much as wondering if a conception between you and a human woman was even possible at all."
Superman frowned. "I guess I never really thought about it. I mean I seem human in every other way … except for the powers, but …"
"May I ask a couple of blunt questions, Superman?" Klein asked.
"Did you have any intimate contact with Leigh Anne Stipanovic?"
"*None*," he replied flatly. "I've met thousands of people and had my picture taken with hundreds of them, but I have *never* had intimate contact with any of them … with any*one* at all."
That was the answer Klein expected. He knew Leigh Anne was lying since this was all literally water under the bridge years ago, but he was curious as to whether Clark and Lois had been lovers at this point in their relationship. Apparently they had not.
"I see. So you're not even in love with someone currently?" he asked, though he already knew the answer.
Superman averted his gaze. "Yes, I'm in love with someone, but we haven't been … intimate yet."
"Then perhaps I can give you test results as to the *possibility* of conception long before I can give you definitive paternity results," Klein said thoughtfully. "If you and an Earth woman can't have children, then that should be equally conclusive evidence that you aren't Jesse's father."
Since Klein could think of no other logical reason for being sent to 1995, he theorized that perhaps he'd been sent back to give Superman the good news early, making the tests in 1997 a non-issue that would never take place. However, Klein was not prepared for Superman's response.
"I'm not sure I'd like to know the answer to that, Dr. Klein."
"What reading do you see, Joseph?" Herbert asked as he angled the transmigrator screen to take the best advantage of the direct moonlight.
Joseph squinted. "I guess if I'm reading it right, it says November … *1995*."
"But why did you send him back to 1995, I thought …"
"I didn't," George insisted. "I haven't a clue why Klein ended up in 1995."
"That's interesting," Herbert observed. "November 1995 Lois and Clark became engaged. Of course it all took a bad turn a few months later …"
George placed a hand on his forehead and froze in place for a moment. "I'm a fool," he whispered. "A complete and *utter* fool," he repeated, his voice filled with self- reproach
Joseph blinked. "Excuse me?"
George shook his head. "I always believed that with age comes wisdom," he ranted, "but clearly I *seriously* overestimated the value of my grey hairs."
Herbert sighed. "Would you mind telling us what you're going on about?"
"An eclipse," he said and shrugged grandly. "Unnatural selection, a competition, a race to the wire … take your pick."
Herbert pulled off his glasses. "You sound stark staring mad."
"Do I? *Good*, because I *feel* stark staring mad."
"Have a care," Herbert said as he approached his older self cautiously. "Perhaps the stress of this …"
"Don't you see?" George interrupted, his arms splayed as if balancing something awkward. "According to history, at least before it was unintentionally altered, Lois and Clark's first child was born March 11, 1998."
Joseph shrugged. "So?"
"My question is *why* was that child born?" George asked, his gaze intense.
"Well," Joseph smiled. "I'd assume it's because Lois and Clark made love about nine months earlier."
"Exactly," George agreed. "And what would the date have been nine months earlier?"
"Uh … it would have been May … no June," Joseph corrected himself. "It would have been June 1997."
"Oh my," Herbert whispered.
George smiled and nodded at his younger self. "You understand, don't you?"
"I'm afraid I do."
"Then would you mind telling *me*?" Joseph asked, his patience waning.
"Well," Herbert began slowly. "While it could mean the failure of a contraception method, the odds are that no contraception was used at all."
"Okay, so they got carried away and forgot, what's the big deal?"
"That's the point, Joseph," George said. "The reason they sought out Klein in the first place was because they had made love, but had forgotten to use precautions and so were scrupulous about being careful after that. At least until June when Klein …"
Joseph closed his eyes. "When Klein gave them the bad news based on my sabotaged data that they *couldn't* have children."
"Precisely," Herbert agreed. "And if they believed Dr. Klein, and obviously they did, they felt no further need for contraceptives."
Joseph sighed. "Maybe the tampering wasn't such a bad idea after all."
"Now you're catching on, my boy," George said enthusiastically. "It's what I meant by an eclipse. If we can send Lois and Clark back to conceive a child in 1995 …"
"Now there's a cool mission statement," Joseph commented and whistled.
"As I was *saying*," George continued in a peevish tone. "If they conceive a child in that era, they will eclipse the conception from 1966 that caught up to Lois in 1995."
Herbert nodded his approval. "Sometimes the simple solutions are the best."
"Simple?" Joseph laughed. "If you wanted *simple* why not send Lois and Clark back to 1966 and have them just say no to sex?"
George shook his head. "We daren't attempt that. Even though that conception caused the time anomalies, it was the anomalies themselves that prompted me to instruct you to tamper with Dr. Klein's data in the first place, and if you hadn't tampered with the data …"
"Okay, okay," Joseph surrendered. "I get the point. If I hadn't tampered with the data then their son might not have been born … at least not on March 11, 1998, but even so," he added thoughtfully, "Lois and Clark *did* want children. So maybe knowing they could have kids, they would have just delayed when they wanted to start their family and their son would have been born later."
"How much later?" George asked grimly. "A year? Two years? Joseph, you know yourself how vital their son was to the cause to overthrow Intergang's tyranny. Any delay, no matter how small, could allow Intergang to get a foothold that even Superman might not be able to undo."
"You're right," Joseph sighed. "But if he's born two years earlier, won't that cause a problem too?"
"Perhaps," George acknowledged. "But nowhere near as grievous a problem if he were born too late."
"Okay," Joseph shrugged with resignation. "I guess we go back to the barn and tell Lois and Clark they have to do the naked pretzel in 1995."
"Such eloquent prose," Herbert teased. "It's a wonder you don't write romantic novels."
"It's a gift," he replied. "But what about Dr. Klein? He's still stuck in 1995."
"Yes," George nodded. "I tried to retrieve him in the barn and just a few moments ago, but because he's not in the year I sent him to, I've had no success so far. However, his retrieval will have to wait. Lois and Clark are the issue now. Besides," he said with a brighter tone as they began walking towards the barn, "it's not likely the subject of Superman's genetic compatibility with a human woman would even come up in 1995."
"You're not interested in whether you're genetically compatible with your girlfriend, Superman?" Klein asked, surprised by his response.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Klein, I didn't mean it to sound that way. Of *course* I want to know if we're compatible," he said as he rose from the table and began to pace. "I guess I'm *afraid* of the answer."
"That's understandable," Klein said sympathetically. "But if you and … this woman are serious, it's a subject that would have to be addressed sooner or later."
"Maybe that's it, Dr. Klein," he said, followed by a long sigh. "I'd have preferred *later*."
"That's ridiculous," Clark said.
"You've got to be kidding," Lois added.
Herbert cleared his throat. "Perhaps if I go over the points more slowly and …"
"We *get* the point," Clark interrupted. "You want Lois and me to go back to 1995 and to …to …"
"Have unprotected sex until I get pregnant," Lois said, finishing Clark's faltering sentence.
"What about our son?" Clark asked and moved to stand next to the sleeping infant. "What happens to him?"
"I wouldn't let anything happen to him, Mr. Kent," Joseph said softly. "And your parents are just a few yards away if we need anything."
"Not to mention," Herbert offered, "if this … uh … mission is a success, your son will be *with* you after things are set to rights."
"Best of all," George added, "you and the child will no longer be separated by a time barrier."
Clark took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Then I guess that's it."
Lois nodded. "Oh well, we've had tougher assignments."
Clark, despite his mood, managed a slight smile. "Always a trooper."
"Very good," George said as he set the controls. "Don't worry, we'll be monitoring … well … keeping track of you at any rate."
Lois offered Clark her hand. "See you on the other side."
Just as he reached for her hand, they both began to dissolve.
Lois found herself outside a small house. She had just turned away from someone in a news van parked out front. Though not in control of her movements yet, she recognized the house immediately. It belonged to Leigh Anne Stipanovic, the mother of Jesse, Superman's 'love child.' Lois released a mental sigh.
Clark found himself sitting on the edge of the bed in his apartment. He was pouring champagne. He could tell by his sleeves that he was dressed as Superman. He knew instantly it was their wedding night, which also meant it was 1996, not 1995.
"Impossible!" George said angrily as he pushed the transmigrator into Herbert's hands. "Science, at its best, should at least have consistency. The *only* consistency we've had so far is failure!"
Joseph rocked the baby's makeshift bed. The child had become restive the instant his parents departed. "Another problem?"
Herbert adjusted his glasses and looked at the transmigrator. "I'm afraid so. While one of them is in 1995, in fact the same month as Dr. Klein, the other has appeared in October 1996 … the month of their wedding."
Joseph smiled. "Which one?"
"Which one? Oh, which wedding … well, the one that succeeded, of course, though the fact that Lois and Clark are now separated means that each will be dealing with a partner who may need some convincing to …"
"Why is this happening?" George interrupted. "This isn't about mistakes or oversights. This is *deliberate*. I *know* I sent Klein back to 1997, but he appeared in 1995. I *know* I sent Lois and Clark back to 1995, but only one of them is there and the other is in 1996."
"Agreed," Herbert nodded. "And retrieval wasn't working either."
George's eyes narrowed. "Exactly. It's almost as if the transmigrator has been tampered with."
"Don't look at me," Joseph said reflexively, now feeling guilty any time the word "tampered" was mentioned. "The only time I had my hands on it was when Clark's father handed it to me. On our walk to his farmhouse, I gave it to you."
"Don't worry, Joseph, I wasn't …" George paused a moment. "Jonathan Kent held up the transmigrator and asked us if it was what we were looking for," he said, his voice rather distant as he recalled the moment. "How did he know we were looking for *anything*, let alone the transmigrator?"
"Well, we *were* looking for it," Herbert said. "Though I'll concede that we weren't exactly crawling about on all fours parting every blade of grass."
"Precisely my point. We were a group of men, who, by Mr. Kent's own assessment, were 'strange folk' apparently among many strange folk that had been 'nosing around' his property recently."
Herbert nodded. "I assumed the other strangers were members of Bureau 39, the group who absconded with Clark's space craft."
"Perhaps," George said softly. "But I suggest we get a bit of sleep and then find Jonathan Kent in the morning."
Lois robotically entered the house and approached Jesse's distraught mother. "Some guys in a news van saw the lawyer Rafferty drive off a couple of hours ago," Lois heard herself say. "Nobody thought anything of it."
"Why would he do that?" Leigh Anne asked tearfully.
"Extortion," Lois suggested and then felt herself pat the woman's shoulder reassuringly. "Oh, Leigh Anne, we're going to get Jesse back for you."
"This is all my fault," Leigh Anne sobbed as she walked away. "All my fault."
Clark, who had been standing quietly nearby, crossed the room and picked up the small Superman cape Jesse had worn. "It's strange," he said softly. "I mean he's not my son, but I do feel close to him in a way … a way I can't explain."
"Maybe it's because you lived what he's living," her former self commented. "Or, maybe it's because you're the most caring person I ever met … and the most honest."
Lois' heart melted as Clark turned to look at her. He'd gone through hell as Superman being accused of being Jesse's 'deadbeat dad' and Lois herself had added to his pain by her inability to believe his innocence, but her last statement had restored the life in his eyes.
Lois shook her head. "I amaze myself sometimes. I'm so used to having to track down the truth …always thinking that things aren't what they appear to be. I forget sometimes that the truth is just staring me right in the face."
"And the truth is?"
"The truth is what you tell me," she replied. "And what I tell you, because that's the kind of relationship we have."
Clark's expression conveyed so much. Relief, redemption, and most of all, love. "Lois," he began in a strangled whisper. "The best day of my life is the day that you found out that I'm Superman. It meant no more secrets. I am *done* hiding things from you."
Lois felt the sting of tears as she began to gain control of her past self. "I know. I guess I'm still getting used to that," she said, and rubbed his shoulder. "Come on."
They left the house and headed for the jeep in silence, but that was wrong. For some reason Clark wasn't behaving the way he had the first time they had gone through this. He had been quite chatty and upbeat after their conversation in Leigh Anne's house, but now Clark seemed distracted, even a bit depressed.
"Hey," she said softly as she took his hand. "If I didn't make it clear in there, I *believe* you, Clark and … well, I'm sorry it took me so long to …"
"You don't have to be sorry, Lois," he interrupted as he entwined his fingers with hers. "What you said in there meant a lot, maybe more than you can ever know, but now Dr. Klein is running tests, and I guess we should talk about that."
"Clark, Jesse isn't your son. You shouldn't be worried about the DNA test."
"It's not about the DNA test," he said, almost agitated. "It's that Dr. Klein wondered if Superman and a human woman can even conceive a child at all, much less one running around with super powers. Which," he added with a sigh, "I did *not* have at Jesse's age."
This was *all* wrong. Klein didn't run the genetic compatibility tests this far back in their relationship. That being the case, Lois quickly assessed the situation. The "wrong" Klein was here.
"Clark, listen to me," she said firmly. "If you and I were a human couple, and I told you that it was a medical impossibility for me to have children, would it change how you feel about me?"
"No, of course not, Lois," he replied as he tugged her towards the jeep. "And it's not even really about our ability to have children together. It's about something that's not easy for me to explain. Not just to you," he added hastily. "It's hard to explain to my parents, too."
Lois reached inside his jacket and rubbed his side as he opened the door for her. "It's about feeling … different, isn't it?"
Clark nodded. "Partly. Even though my parents have always tried to convince me that I'm basically a human man with special powers … it doesn't feel like that."
"That's because you *are* different, Clark. I think about how different you are a lot."
Clark frowned. "You do?"
"Listen," she said as she fastened her shoulder harness. "At first I made the same mistake your parents made. I tried to think of you as being like everyone else, the only difference being your bag of impressive magic tricks."
Clark leaned against the door frame. "But?"
"But that was as bad an analogy as the one you came up with not long ago when I wondered if you'd have time for me," she said, and smiled. "You said I should think of you as a very strong, very fast … doctor."
An amused puff of breath escaped Clark's nostrils. "I guess. So what *am* I then?"
"If you had your heart set on Hawaii, I'd really understand, because …" Clark's counterpart stopped talking as Lois, wearing the black teddy, appeared in the archway of his bedroom. He stood and faced her.
Lois tried to pose alluringly, but seemed to find it amusing and quickly cast off the thin mesh shawl. "You were saying?"
As Clark spun from the Superman costume into shorts and a black shirt he found it very disorienting when not in control of the action. "Didn't spill a drop."
Strange. Looking back at Lois at this moment, she seemed more apprehensive than anxious. Maybe he was just reading her wrong, but …
"I don't want anything to cloud this moment," she said as she took the champagne glasses from his hands and set them on a step of the loft stairwell. She moved around him and pulled the unbuttoned shirt from his shoulders.
"A moment," he said as he moved over her like a shadow, "that we've been destined for."
"That's what makes it so special," Lois said, but now the apprehension seemed to be in her voice.
Clark began kissing her in a way that he had not kissed her before that night. This was the 'no holds barred' Clark Kent. No turning back. It was unnerving to have no control at this point. However it made it easier to realize that Lois was not quite as into "the moment" as he was. She was trying, he could tell, but that's also what made it obvious.
Lois finally moved one arm from around his neck and placed it almost in a restraining position on the front of his shoulder. She did not apply force or push, but let the hand placement speak for itself. Clark raised his head and looked down at her questioningly. She rubbed the back of her fingers along his cheek. "I love you … Clark Kent," she said in a small, searching voice.
Clark smiled down at her. He understood. Lois wanted to know if he was still there. That he hadn't become completely lost to the passion of the moment. "I love you … Lois Lane," he said with a warm smile.
Apparently convinced that Clark wasn't lost to her, Lois happily slipped her arms around him, pulling him down to her. The renewed kissing was intense and hungry. Clark, not yet in control, felt he was devouring her. It was overpowering. They began to levitate above the bed, the passionate kissing continuing. Yet, at the same time, the feeling that Lois was merely trying to keep up, rather than contributing, was even stronger than the passion.
Finally Clark felt the control returned to him. He, Lois, and the blanket all descended back to the bed. He rolled slightly to the side and stroked back her hair. "What's wrong, honey?"
"Wrong? Nothing's wrong, Clark," she replied, trying to sound sincere, but failing. "I was just … startled when you levitated, and I—"
"Lois," he interrupted. "You weren't *with* me."
"Of *course* I was with you, Clark," she insisted, a slightly petulant tone entering her voice.
"Honey," he said tenderly. "When we kiss, and I mean *really* kiss, you moan into my mouth and your body melts against mine, and, Lois," he sighed, "we're making love. Admittedly not the ultimate step in lovemaking, but we *are* making love. But just now, we weren't."
"Oh … I … Clark."
He was right. His facial expression softened seeing Lois so overwhelmed. He took her hand. "Are you afraid, honey?"
"I … yes," she finally sighed, feeling utterly defeated. She sank back against the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. "I'm so sorry, Clark," she said, her voice breaking a little.
"Lois, if you're afraid that I might hurt you—"
"No, no!" she corrected quickly and squeezed his hand reassuringly. "It's definitely nothing like that. I know you could never hurt me, Clark. It's just that, well, I know you wanted everything to be perfect, and …"
Clark shook his head. "I'm sorry, Lois."
"I put some pressure on you I didn't mean to. When I said I wanted everything to be 'perfect', I didn't mean it like that."
He looked into her eyes. "I just meant that when we make love, I want what you and I have in everything else … a kind of perfection in our …" He paused, searching for the right words.
"Private exile?" she coaxed, and jiggled his hand playfully.
He nodded. "Lois, if you just want me to hold you in my arms tonight, and nothing else, then that's what I'll gladly do," he whispered and drew a thumb across her fingers. "Because I'd rather have you completely with me, no matter how innocent, than to feel you drifting away from me during something a lot more intense."
"I love you for that, Clark," she replied softly. "Don't blame yourself. I've been putting so much pressure on myself over this, that I didn't really notice you adding any."
"Uh-huh," he teased gently.
"It's true," she smiled, apparently feeling more relaxed. "I wanted to be everything you dreamed of, but you were so … self-confident, I just couldn't match that."
Clark finally laughed as he propped himself up on an elbow. He knew that was a difficult confession for her, so he decided it should be rewarded with one of his own. "I was trying to look suave," he said, drawing out the word as if it were two syllables. "I was trying to hide my training wheels, I guess, but kind of overdid the David Niven bit."
"That's because you're more the Gary Cooper type."
"Ouch," he said, feeling deflated.
"There is *nothing* wrong with Gary Cooper. He was sweet, and unassuming. I mean you're more handsome … you're more handsome than David Niven in my never humble opinion, but—"
"Oh," she smiled. "I guess so."
"I have an idea," he said, and placed his finger lightly on the tip of her nose. "Don't move."
He left the bed and walked directly into the closet. "And, please," he cautioned over his shoulder. "No 'coming out of the closet' jokes."
Lois laughed. "What are you doing?"
"I'm looking for Gary Cooper."
"If you come out in black chiffon …"
"Coop wouldn't wear chiffon," he said, and then stepped back into view. "Well?"
"Oh my God," Lois whispered.
Clark stood before her wearing a blue work shirt with the sleeves rolled up. The shirt was offset by a slightly gaudy tie. The ensemble was completed by dark blue slacks, unshined black shoes, slightly mussed hair, and …
"Your old glasses."
Clark smiled and approached the bed and sat next to her. "You never seemed to find this guy very … intimidating."
"Oh, Clark," she said softly and drew a hand down his unique necktie. "Don't underestimate this version of Clark Kent. He won me over."
"Did he?" Clark smiled and slipped his arm around her shoulders.
"You know he did." She lifted only her eyes and met his. "I fell pretty hard for this guy."
"Hm, maybe I'd better go back to this look."
"No," Lois laughed and leaned her head against his shoulder. "I was so flattered when you showed up at the Planet with your uptown look after our 'almost first date'."
"Flattered?" Clark hugged her in a little tighter. "You knew I changed my look for you?"
"I'll put it this way," she said. "I *hoped* you did."
"Lois, honey, I was so high after that stakeout at the Marina … You seemed interested."
"I was *very* interested."
"I guess I was kind of rehearsing on our 'almost first date'."
"Mm," Lois cooed and nuzzled his shoulder. "Rehearsing for the real date?"
"No, for *this*," he said, then shook his head and smiled. "I don't mean just tonight. I mean all of it … everything. I wanted to show you how we could be together." He rubbed his thumb along her shoulder as he continued enthusiastically. "I wanted to show you I wasn't into this for just one night or for something … well …"
He smiled against the top of her head. "Definitely not cheap. That take-out food set me back sixteen bucks."
"That food made me sick," Lois said and bumped Clark hard with her shoulder. "But I have to admit that tummy rub almost made up for it."
Clark placed his forehead next to her temple. "I wanted to make you feel better," he whispered and brought his hand up and began rubbing her stomach.
Lois stiffened for a moment and Clark was surprised that his sudden movement startled her, but he conceded the setting was a lot more intimate than the marina hideaway and that Lois might have expected his touch to be of an entirely different nature. However, as he continued the soothing motion, Lois let out a pent up breath and relaxed a little against his shoulder.
"Mm," she sighed. "That feels better than I remember."
Clark increased the diameter of the circle, but only slightly. "You looked so beautiful on our first *real* date," he said softly, his lips close to her ear. "I was so proud that you were with me, I wanted the whole world to see us."
Lois nuzzled him again. "You looked elegant."
He kissed her ear. "Did I?"
"Mm hm," she nodded. "I was so nervous. I wanted it to work out, but I was so afraid it wouldn't and the first date would be a disaster and you wouldn't want to tempt fate again."
Clark laughed. "The only disaster was you slamming the door in my face."
"Why do I get the feeling you'll remember that even on our 50th wedding anniversary?"
"Because we'll be too old by then to do anything except remember," he teased.
Lulled by the soothing, arousing motion of Clark's hand, and his soft voice and the lightness of tone the conversation had taken — Lois slipped. "Our first kiss," she said dreamily. "I felt like I was seducing a virgin."
Like a hand abruptly pulling the needle from a record, the music of the moment ended. Clark found her revelation so surprising he stopped the tummy rub, but realized instantly the wrong message that sent Lois.
"Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to make that sound like I thought you were a virgin, or thought you kissed like a virgin," she said, her words increasing in velocity.
"Because it wasn't that at all! I didn't know you were a virgin until you told me. It was just the way you sort of … froze there after the first kiss, the little one, like it was the best kiss you'd ever had and that … got to me." She paused a moment, her words finally slowing. "*You* got to me. It was such a little thing, but you got to me like no man ever had," she said, and found herself lost in the memory rather than the apology. "I … I enjoyed that feeling of seduction. It was so powerful and …"
In a sweeping motion Clark pulled Lois around to face him. The awkward maneuver caused her to straddle his right leg with her knees. She placed her hands on his chest to steady herself, and then searched his eyes for any glint of the reproach she feared she might have caused, but his eyes were as they had been that night, warm, deep and kind. Eyes partially hooded by eyelids made heavy with desire.
"Seduce me, Lois," he whispered.
Lois' eyes sparkled at the invitation to initiate the seduction, but Clark could tell something was still slightly off as she slipped the glasses from his face and smiled at them wistfully. "Believe me, I definitely wanted to seduce this Clark Kent the night of our first kiss," she whispered as she shifted her gaze to Clark's eyes. "But that night passed into history a long time ago, and maybe … in a truer sense, so did that Clark Kent."
Lois leaned forward, pressing her body against his as she set the old glasses on the headboard and then pulled back slowly. "Your face doesn't match those glasses anymore."
"My face?" he asked, surprised he had enough breath to put the words together. When Lois shifted her position, she had moved from straddling his leg to straddling his lap.
She smiled. "Those glasses went with that boyish face from Kansas," she teased as she began undoing his tie.
Clark swallowed, or tried to. "So I have an *old* face now?"
Lois shook her head. "You have a man's face … my husband's face," she said, her tone sensual as she took both ends of the tie and began sliding them back and forth. Her movement caused her hips to shift rhythmically above him.
Clark moaned. Lois was *definitely* into the moment, but now it was time to be honest and it almost seemed a shame. "Honey … there's something I have to say about … precautions."
Lois, who had tossed the necktie aside and was busy assaulting Clark's shirt buttons — stopped. She remained frozen in place a moment, her fingers still poised around the fourth button. "Sweetheart," she finally said. "I know you're Superman, but isn't this a really bad time to start a public service announcement about safe sex?"
Clark smiled. She was right, but he didn't want to go about this dishonestly. "It would be, yes, honey, but what I wanted to say is that I'm *not* using any protection. *Neither* of us can," he said rather matter-of-factly. "You deserve to know the truth about this."
Lois raised her eyebrows. "You're Catholic?"
"Fair enough," Clark smiled. "I'm yours, but what else am I? You said you always think about how different I am, Lois."
"I do, Clark," she said as she grasped his lapel and pulled him towards her for a more private conversation as a couple of joggers trotted by. "It's not just the super powers, it's how you use them. You *could* have been a super doctor, or super football player, or even a super thief, but," she whispered as she started to loosen his tie, "you're a super *hero*, and right now I think Superman should check out the old Metro Chem plant."
"Metro Chem …"
"Big red smoke stacks," she said and kissed him. "Hurry, I got a … lead that Rafferty might have taken Jesse there."
"A lead? From who?"
"Remember those guys with the news van?"
"Yes, but …"
"Well, there you are," she replied evasively. "Go!"
"I'm gone," he laughed and a blast of air later, was as good as his word.
Lois sighed and pulled down the visor and looked in the mirror. She began smoothing back her 'super' windblown hair. "I should just get a convertible."
Dust swirled in the slants of sunlight pouring into the barn as Herbert moaned into a sitting position. "I feel positively filthy, I'm hungry and there isn't a part of my anatomy that doesn't ache."
Joseph squinted in Herbert's direction as he rubbed the baby's back. "We had a … fussy night. Where's George?"
"Right here," George said as he stepped out of the shadows fastening his cuffs. "I took a notion to bathe in a small pond near here."
Herbert smiled. "That sounds refreshing, perhaps I'll take a dip as well."
"I should point out," George continued in a bristly tone, "that I took the notion because a rather unpleasant black snake with an enormous white mouth struck out at me when I strolled by. The pond simply seemed the better part of valor at that moment."
"That sounds like a cottonmouth. I didn't think there'd be any this far north." Joseph shook his head. "You're lucky it missed, George. They're definitely venomous."
"Oh, I *do* feel lucky," George replied sarcastically. "Not only was I not poisoned by the snake, I caught a perch in my trousers."
Herbert, despite his own unhappiness at the turn of events, laughed at his fuming counterpart. "I'm sorry, but things have reached that point where they're so bad they're funny."
"Indeed?" George asked stiffly. "In that case 'things' haven't got quite bad enough for me yet. To quote the long- lived Victoria, 'We are not amused.'"
"Perhaps," Herbert acknowledged softy. "But also quoting the venerable queen, 'We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat', and with that in mind, I think we should seek out Mr. Jonathan Kent and find out exactly what might have happened to the transmigrator."
"On that we concur," George agreed with a sweeping arm gesture.
"Wait," Joseph said as he picked up the baby. "He's going to need food. He's not 'super' yet."
"Quite," George sighed. "All right, Joseph, Herbert and I will look for Jonathan while you go to the farmhouse where I assume Mrs. Kent will be tending to young Clark."
"Thanks … I think," he said as he headed through the door with the others. "What am I going to say to her, though? Don't you think the 'my car broke down' excuse is wearing thin?"
"You'll come up with something," Herbert encouraged. "Of course there could be a cow …"
"Forget it," he sighed. "My car broke down."
Lois took a deep breath as she entered STAR Labs. Though fairly certain that the Dr. Klein who had told Superman that he'd run genetic compatibility tests was the Klein who had been helping out in Smallville, she had to make sure. As she rounded the corridor, she ran into the man himself … literally.
"Sorry, Dr. Klein," she said as she knelt down to help retrieve the paper avalanche their abrupt meeting had caused.
"That's quite all right, Lo … Ms. Lane."
Lois raised an eyebrow as she scooped up the last of the papers. He had almost called her 'Lois', which wasn't common for the good doctor to do back in this era. "Here you go," she smiled as she handed the papers back to Klein. "Could you and I find a place to talk … privately?"
"Ms. Lane," Klein said as he rose slowly, careful not to topple the restacked tower of papers, "If you're worried about the paternity test …"
"No, Dr. Klein, I know Superman isn't Jesse's father."
Klein smiled. "I'm sure your faith means a lot to him. I know you've always been his … uh … close friend."
"Very close," she replied impatiently. "I still need to speak with you privately."
Klein looked confused, but nodded. "Okay, just wait in my office and I'll be with you as soon as I take these files to the copy room."
"Thanks," she said and headed back up the corridor. She felt as though she should be contemplating the cosmic meaning of all this, but the stranger things became, the more 'normal' her life with a superhero in Metropolis began to seem and the more she longed to have that life back.
She entered the lab and sat on a tall stool. Time was running out again. Clark would have rescued Jesse from Metro Chem by now and would be wondering where she was. She fished her cell phone out of her purse and punched in a number.
"Hi, Jimmy, it's me. Really?" Lois asked with feigned surprise as Jimmy told of Jesse's rescue, the averted missile strike, and the capture of Anonymous. "That's great … oh, Clark's looking for me? Well, tell him I'm doing a little shopping for a private celebration dinner. I'll drop by his apartment at six … no, don't worry, *I'm* not cooking. That's why I'm going to *his* apartment. It is *not* 'sneaky' … it's just … health conscious."
Lois lowered her voice as Klein entered the lab. "Gotta go. I will. Give Clark the message. Thanks."
"I hate to speed this along, Ms. Lane, but I have a frozen culture that needs my attention."
"You and me both, Dr. Klein."
"Nothing," she smiled. "Look, since we're short on time here, I'll just be blunt. Are you the Dr. Klein who was helping my husband escape the time loop in Smallville?"
Klein's knees began to buckle. Lois hopped off the stool and pushed it under Klein just in time. "I guess that answers my question."
"What are you doing here? Did … did something go wrong?"
"What am I saying? Of *course* something went wrong. *Everything* has gone wrong."
Lois nodded. "It certainly seems that way," she agreed, "but I don't think you'll like the latest … development."
Klein shrugged with resignation. "I haven't liked *any* development so far. One more won't surprise me."
"Okay," Lois said and took a deep breath. "You *can't* tell Clark that he and an Earth woman are compatible."
Klein craned his head forward. "Excuse me?"
"I know, I know, it's the opposite of what you were supposed to tell him, but … because of Joseph's tampering, Clark and I apparently stopped using contraceptives after we were told we weren't reproductively compatible in 1997, and so …"
Klein closed his eyes. "Conceived a child you hadn't thought possible."
He shook his head. "But why did they send you here to tell me that? Wells could have just brought me back before I had the chance to talk to Clark."
"Ah, as to that," Lois said and cleared her throat. "They're having a few problems with the transmigrator gizmo, so I'm actually here on a totally different … mission."
Lois tapped her fingertips on the counter and averted her gaze. "I'm here to convince Clark to make love to me, but without the use of contraceptives so that I can become pregnant in this era to eclipse the 1966 conception that manifested itself in 1995, which will hopefully allow the 1997 pregnancy to happen as it was meant to. But," she added quickly as she placed a hand on Klein's shoulder. "*Please* don't make me repeat that."
Klein remained silent for a long moment. "Just a hunch," he finally whispered as he patted her hand. "But I don't think you'll have to try hard to convince Clark."
Lois smiled crookedly, "No, probably not, but maybe what Clark really needs from me is a show of faith," she said, followed by a long sigh. "Back when this 'love child' thing really happened, all I saw was a little boy with Clark's powers and a woman claiming Superman was the father."
"I know," Klein agreed sympathetically. "I'm afraid that's what most of the world saw too."
"But see, Dr. Klein, 'most of the world' isn't in love with him and isn't expected to have faith in him." Lois shook her head. "He told me he could handle anyone else thinking what they wanted to think about Jesse, but …"
Lois shrugged. "Thankfully, I did finally believe him even before there was any proof that Jesse wasn't his son, but still, had it been the old *old* days when I practically worshipped Superman, I'd have believed him right from the beginning with no doubt at all."
Klein smiled. "Not that I have a wealth of experience in this area, you understand, but I think Clark prefers that you believe him because you love him and have faith in him instead of just believing him because you think he's infallible."
Lois' smile returned. "You have a lot of relationship savvy for a single guy, Dr. Klein."
"Well," he sighed. "You know the old saying, 'those who can — do, and those who can't …' spend a romantic evening with a frozen bacterial culture."
Lois laughed softly. "What about Caroline?"
"Oh," Klein moaned. "It turns out she was just cozying up to me to pilfer a few things from STAR Labs. Apparently she was a corporate spy selling secrets to the highest bidders."
"I'm sorry," she said as she rubbed his arm. "If it's any consolation, I was once swept off my feet by a charming Frenchman who pretended to be in love with me just so he could steal my story. And," she added, noticing her confession hadn't seemed to lift his spirits, "he won an award for it!"
Klein finally smiled. "I appreciate your efforts, Lois, but don't worry, I haven't given up hope … well, not completely. But you know," he added wistfully, "sometimes it seems as though time travel, alternate dimensions, or even an alien who wants to have a baby with an Earth woman are all easier to achieve than a successful relationship."
Lois nodded knowingly. "Amen."
Lois sat quietly for a long moment after trying to absorb everything Clark had told her. "So," she said finally. "This wedding night is something we've already gone through?"
"And you were sent back so we could go through it again, but without any … precautions this time."
"Well, not just the wedding night, honey," he said softly and tipped her chin up. "But from this point forward until …"
"I get pregnant."
Lois concentrated another long moment. "I'm not going to ask you to repeat the scientific mumbo jumbo about eclipsing other pregnancies. I'll just assume it's accurate and hope for the best, but … was our first … the *real* wedding night … like this, Clark? I mean did you have to put on the old glasses and suit?"
"No, I … well …" Clark blushed. "I guess I was so … eager the first time, I mistook your apprehension for eagerness, too. I'm sorry."
"Oh," she said, her tone disappointed. "So our real wedding night was a fiasco."
Clark laughed and pulled her to him. "No, honey, far from it. You might have been reluctant at first, but you really … I mean when you … let me just say that you nearly wore me out on the honeymoon."
"Really?" she asked, her voice uncertain, but hopeful.
"Lois," he smiled. "After two solid incredible weeks of doing nothing but making love to each other, you *attacked* me in the elevator our first day back at the Planet."
Lois pulled back to meet his gaze as the corners of her lips drew up into an appreciative grin. "Attacked you?" she asked, and began unbuttoning Clark's shirt again with a renewed interest. "As in … I *had* to have you?"
Clark slid his hands slowly up her thighs. He was vaguely aware that she had asked a question, but as her lips began exploring his chest, he realized the answer had become self-explanatory.
Joseph tucked the ends of Klein's lab coat around the baby. "I didn't expect it to be chilly."
"You would had you fallen into the pond," George sniped.
Herbert smiled. "Well, it is the middle of October. Perhaps a minor front passed through late last night."
"That's kind of strange when you consider the snake, though," Joseph said thoughtfully. "When the weather gets cooler, snakes are pretty hard to find."
"I hope you don't take offense, Joseph, but I find your knowledge of snakes rather … disturbing."
"I'm sorry," he laughed. "Blame my mom."
"Your mother … has a fondness for snakes?"
"Just as a hobby," he replied casually as he shifted the baby to his other shoulder. "But after she and my father retired, they traveled extensively in Africa and Asia and were pretty respected for their research in the field."
"Ah, so your father shared her passion for snakes?"
Joseph laughed again. "No, but he had a passion for my mother."
"I hate to interrupt," George said, "but I believe I just saw someone enter that building on the far right. It may have been Jonathan."
"Okay," Joseph nodded. "I guess this is where we split up. I'll head for the farmhouse."
"Good luck, my boy."
"Thanks. We could all use some luck right now."
Lois finished her wine with a satisfied sigh. "You're a great cook, Mr. Kent," she said, her mood elevated after her chat with Dr. Klein.
"Well, you're a great reporter, Ms. Lane," he said as he began picking up the dishes. "That lead really paid off. Why didn't the TV station run with it? You said you got the lead from the guys in the TV van, right?"
"Maybe they were disgruntled employees," Lois offered nervously as she picked up the glasses and followed Clark into the kitchen. Having knowledge of the future would make anyone look like a great reporter, but trying to justify the knowledge was the hard part.
"Maybe, but it just seemed strange that …"
"You know, sweetheart," Lois interrupted, trying to turn the subject away from the 'great lead', "why don't we just leave the dishes till later. I'd much rather just neck on the sofa while we pretend to be watching TV."
"Mm," Clark grinned. "Sounds good to … what did you just call me?"
Lois blanked a moment. Call him? Sweetheart! It was a strange facet to their relationship that even after months of being in love with each other, they hadn't really used any endearments. Now Lois had jumped the gun. "It just sounded natural," she replied, recovering her balance. "We're engaged now, and so I thought …"
"No, I agree and I *definitely* approve," he said, putting his arm around her shoulders as they strolled into the living room. "In fact," he admitted with a slight blush, "I've wanted to call you 'honey' a couple of times, but chickened out."
Lois smiled. "Afraid I'd penalize you for excessive mushiness?"
Clark returned the smile. "Something like that."
"Well," she said flirtatiously as she blocked his path to the sofa and slipped her arms around his neck. "Try me."
Clark wrapped his arms low around the small of her back and gazed intently into her eyes. "I love you … honey."
"Ooh," Lois cooed and dropped her forehead against his chest. "It always gets me."
Another slip. What was happening? Why was she being so careless? She lifted her head, a sheepish expression on her face. A million thoughts raced through her mind offering a million excuses for the slip, but lying to Clark was one thing Lois found impossible after falling in love with him. X-ray vision indeed.
"C'mon," she said softly as she took his hand and continued towards the sofa. "It's a long story."
Lois drew her foot up Clark's bare leg slowly, an expression of ineffable satisfaction on her face. "I don't know what I said on our first wedding night, Clark." she murmured with her first restored breath, "but … wow."
Clark chuckled softly and pulled her closer. "That's *exactly* what you said."
"Mm," she smiled as she pushed him back so that she could sprawl atop his chest. "That means you didn't leave anything out."
Lois blushed. "You know what I mean."
"I know," he laughed and drew his hands slowly up her back. "Though we actually stayed on the ceiling longer the first time."
"Why didn't we this time?" she asked as she brushed a perspiration-soaked strand of hair from his forehead.
"Well, like I said, I mistook your apprehension the first time for eagerness, so everything was a little more … straightforward."
Lois nestled her head under his chin. "Yes, straightforward sex on the ceiling. I should have guessed."
Clark laughed again. "What I mean is, this time after we talked things through a little, you were a lot more … adventurous," he said, and then drew a breath through his teeth. "Though I'm really going to have to fill in those finger indentations I made in the oak cross beam."
"You know what the best part is?" Lois asked airily.
"Can I make a list?"
A small chuckle hummed in her throat as she sat up abruptly. "This," she said and stretched and arched her back atop him. "Being completely uninhibited with you."
Clark moaned. "Oh, yeah, that is *definitely* at the top of the list."
Lois playfully snapped her fingers above her head. "My face is a little higher up."
"Sorry," Clark said with pretended sincerity as he raised his hands. "Let me cover the distracting parts."
"You're so thoughtful."
"You said your car broke down," Martha commented as she set a tray on the coffee table in the living room.
"Mm-hm," Joseph replied distractedly as he looked at the old television. The chassis had been pulled out from the back and he was fascinated by all the antique components.
"Here," Martha said as she took the infant. "I'll feed the baby. You look like you could use some coffee."
"Yes, ma'am, thank you, I sure could," he said as he handed her the bottle from the tray. "I guess I wasn't too prepared this morning. I appreciate your help, Mrs. Kent."
Martha settled herself in the rocking chair Jonathan had purchased the morning after they had decided to keep the special baby they had found. "He's a beautiful baby … is it a 'he'?"
"Yes, definitely a he," Joseph said as he poured a cup of coffee. "I … uh … phoned my wife while you were in the kitchen. She'll come to my rescue shortly." He hated lying, but felt he had little choice given the unique circumstances.
Martha smiled and nodded. "What is the baby wrapped in?"
"Oh, that's my … my lab coat. I'm a chemist."
"I think I can find something a little better after he's finished with breakfast."
"No, please, Mrs. Kent, you've done so much already. Don't go to any more trouble."
"No trouble," she said cheerfully. "I'll just wrap him in one of my son's baby blankets. In fact," she added thoughtfully, "your son is wearing an outfit identical to one Clark outgrew last year."
"Really?" Joseph swallowed. "Where is your son, Mrs. Kent?" he asked, desperate to change the subject.
"My husband is taking him into town. Clark's fascinated by the tube tester in the hardware store."
Joseph frowned. "What's a tube tester?"
Martha regarded him curiously. "Well, as you can see, our TV's out of commission, so Jonathan took some of the tubes to test them."
"Oh," Joseph smiled nervously. He had absolutely no knowledge of vacuum tubes, but realized that his ignorance of them was just one more glaring slip.
"Jonathan also has to stop by the phone company … since our phone line went dead some time last night."
"That's too … " Joseph cut himself off with a sigh. He'd been busted. His phantom phone call was now exposed as a lie.
"Now," Martha said after a long awkward pause. "How about a little truth this time."
Joseph set his coffee cup down slowly. "You'd never believe me."
"You might be surprised what I'd believe."
Jonathan closed the passenger door after securing his squirming toddler into a primitive car seat. "Yes?"
"Might we have a word with you?"
Jonathan squinted in their direction. "Aren't you the pump and well men who came through here in June?"
"July, actually, but yes, that would be us," George said, feeling awkward with the occupation Joseph had stuck them with, especially considering they knew nothing of pump mechanisms.
"Planning on putting in a well around here?"
"Uh, yes, however we thought we'd pop in and thank you again for returning the trans … transit device to us. Where did you find it?" Herbert asked, trying to sound casual.
"Well, you're actually thanking the wrong man," Jonathan said and then grinned. "I guess there's no harm in saying so now, but a man gave it to me and asked that I not give him credit for finding it." Jonathan shrugged, "It didn't make much sense to me, but he said a group of fellas would be showing up pretty soon looking for it, and sure enough, you did."
George would ask the obvious, but he already knew the answer in the pit of his stomach. "Was he a tall chap who laughed incessantly at his own peculiar brand of humour?"
Jonathan nodded. "That's him to a tee. It's funny you should bring him up. I saw him again just a while ago near the Elbow River." Jonathan paused a moment. It was all sounding so familiar, but he couldn't put his finger on exactly why. "Who is he?"
The elder and younger Wells exchanged a glance and whispered simultaneously. "Tempus."
Clark had tipped his head back on the sofa and closed his eyes about halfway through Lois' explanation. Lois couldn't tell if he was still listening or had fallen asleep until he stretched out a hand. Lois took it and sat closer to him. "Well?" He smiled faintly, but kept his eyes closed. "I appreciate the story, Lois, but I'm okay, really. I know we'll get married, but having kids …" He sighed. "We might have to face that not being a possibility."
Lois couldn't believe what she was hearing. Clark thought she was making up the story. Giving him an optimistic fable to make him feel better. "Clark, we *will* have children. I'm telling the truth! It's not a fairy tale rendition of some wish list."
Clark finally opened his eyes and lifted his head. "Honey, are you all right?"
Now what? Clark not only thought she made the story up, but maybe had gone crazy in the process. Since she'd told him the whole story, including their 1966 time travel adventure, even saying 'unspool' would do no good. It restored memories, not faith and she'd already restored his memory … for all the good it had done. She needed proof. She needed something that Clark would know for a fact, but not expect Lois to know yet. She finally smiled.
"Clark, not too far in the future, you and I decide to talk about our past relationships."
Clark straightened, but looked uncomfortable. "Lois …"
"I wanted to explain to you why I'd been so … skittish. Why every time you and I get passionate … I put the brakes on."
Clark straightened further, but his expression had changed from discomfort to interest. "Go on."
Lois smiled inwardly. Clark probably thought she was making this part up, too, but since it did broach a subject that no doubt had him baffled at this point in their relationship, he was at least interested. "Well," she began slowly, "I told you that my past relationships had all been federal disasters. Especially my last one with Lex."
"You won't believe this, but that's exactly what you said … *will* say in the future."
Clark smiled. "Uh-huh."
"So," she continued, "you told me that you had had girlfriends, and that you'd dated, in fact, further down the road you tell me about Lana Lang, and …"
"Lana? Wow, I haven't thought about her in years."
"See!" Lois said, anxiously latching onto the recognition. "How would I know about her if you hadn't told me?"
"My yearbook, my parents, my …"
"Okay, skip it."
Clark looked off in the distance. "I had a crush on her, but dating her cured that."
Lois remembered the adult version … well, the one from the alternate universe at any rate. "High maintenance?"
Clark nodded. "But unlike you," he smiled, "she wasn't worth it. She turned trivia into tragedy … is there a word for that?"
"I used to be a little melodramatic myself before I outgrew it," Lois said, then quickly fixed Clark with a gaze. "Don't say it!"
"Say what?" he asked innocently.
Clark laughed. "Seriously, Lois, you are *nothing* like Lana. She even wanted me to pronounce her name 'Lah-nuh', but I told her if that's what she wanted, she needed to spell her name L-O-N …"
"Can we get back on topic?"
Clark cleared his throat. "Sorry."
"Anyway, after telling me that you'd dated, you said that you'd never … crossed the 'big threshold' with anyone …"
"I admit I'm a little fuzzy on your exact words after that since I went into mild shock, but …"
Clark rose swiftly from the sofa and laughed nervously. "That's ridiculous."
Lois bit her lip. In her haste to convince Clark that she was telling the truth about the future, she had unintentionally ambushed him. His pride and ego were getting the worst of it. She moved around to face him. "Clark," she said gently. "I know this isn't easy for you. It isn't easy for me, either." She took his hand. "But I want you to know how much that touched me. That … well, you saved yourself for me."
After a long silence Clark finally met her gaze, his complexion still slightly crimson. "Sometimes we make promises to ourselves," he said softly, "and sometimes they're easy to keep because there's nothing tempting us to break them. But, since you brought up Lana," he continued, his tone becoming edgier, "she's the reason I made a promise not to cross that threshold with anyone until I'd found that one person … the *right* person to share my life with."
Lois drew her hand down his arm. "I understand."
"The night I had planned to break up with Lana, it's like she sensed it coming and became …" he paused, searching for a word.
He smiled faintly. "Yes. Every time I tried to tell her, she …attacked me, she was all over me. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think …"
Lois suppressed a smile. "Teen hormones are dangerous, even if they come from Krypton."
Clark released a loud sigh. "I guess. I mean I thought I was feeling what other guys are supposed to feel, but it's not like I had a standard to compare it by."
Lois shrugged. "You could have asked your dad."
Clark grimaced. "I love my dad, don't get me wrong, but …" Clark shook his head in lieu of finishing the sentence. "Let's just say I was more afraid of what answer I might get rather than actually asking the question."
"Like with Dr. Klein and the compatibility tests?"
Clark nodded. "I guess somewhere in the back of my head I at least wondered if it would be possible for me to father a child, but I never wanted to ask out loud. I didn't want to make the question real."
"Sweetheart," Lois began, then paused. She considered telling him once again that they would be able to have children in the future, but it was a future that Clark was convinced she had invented to placate him. Searching for the right words she found inspiration in a memory of something Clark had said to her … *would* say to her in the future.
"I love you, Clark. That's not conditional. It's not based on whether or not we can make babies together, and," she added, her voice dropping to a whisper as she canceled the space between them, "I love *you*, too, Superman."
Clark's breathing accelerated a notch. "You … you've never said that to me … well you *have* said that to me, but not since you've known the secret."
"I know," she acknowledged softly and removed his glasses. "But if the things that make you different … that make you Superman, are also the things that might mean we can't have children together, then it's important for you to know that it doesn't matter to me, because I loved you long before I knew who you were, what you were, or where you came from."
Clark remained silent as Lois, still clutching his glasses, retreated back to the sofa. "You're stuck with me, Superman," she said and spun the glasses by an earpiece. "Deal with it."
Clark shook his head, but smiled. "I thought you told me you were from the future and that we *can* have children."
"We can," she said with a shrug. "But I loved you long before I found that out."
"Okay," he acknowledged evenly. "But I'm not sure how to take your calling me Superman all of a sudden."
Lois smiled wryly. "Sure you do. It turns you on."
"Now wait a second …"
"Clark," she interrupted, her amusement growing. "I know you resented me saying I loved Superman before I knew the secret, but now that I *do* know the secret, I think you like me being Superman's girlfriend as much as you like me being Clark Kent's fiancee."
Clark suddenly dropped his gaze, his grin widening.
"Okay, okay," he laughed. "I admit that when we're in public and I'm in the costume and you call me Superman, it's … sexy, but I don't even know *why* that is."
Lois nodded sympathetically. "I know. I started feeling it, too, and couldn't figure it out for a long time."
"But you *have* figured it out now?"
"I think so," she said coyly. "Do the spin thing."
Lois merely moved her finger in an insistent stirring motion.
Clark sighed and spun into the costume.
"Now you're talking," she said as she set the glasses aside and rose from the sofa. However, when Clark approached her, she raised her hand signaling him to stop.
Clark shrugged. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. This is the space we usually maintain in public."
Clark folded his arms. "And?"
Lois smiled. "Perfect. The folded arms and the piercing gaze of Superman. Authority personified."
The corners of Clark's lips curled upward ever so slightly. So slight as to be imperceptible to anyone … *almost* anyone.
"And *that* look," Lois said, returning his winsome smile. "That look you save just for me. A look that's so coded in the private things we share that no one can decipher it, or even detect it, because if they could," she added, her voice becoming soft and intimate, "they'd realize that your arms were folded around me, not across your chest, and that I was telling you how much you mean to me, not interviewing you for a great metropolitan newspaper."
Clark swallowed hard and pulled Lois into his arms. "I told you once," he finally said after a long moment, "that you and Clark were lucky to have each other, but it never occurred to me back then that one day I'd be saying that you and Superman were lucky to have each other, but it's true. It's *always* been true."
Lois smiled against his chest. "You sound surprised."
"Astonished. Then again," he added as he pulled back slightly to look at her face. "You never cease to amaze me."
"Really?" she asked, her soft smile blossoming into a coquettish one. "Even though I don't have any special powers or abilities?"
Clark finally laughed. "Oh, you *have* special powers and abilities. Trust me."
"Mm," she purred and grabbed the edge of the famous red cloak. "What happens if I tug your cape?"
"I'll follow you anywhere."
"Perfect, but the sofa will do for now," she said as she continued to pull him forward.
"What did you have in mind?"
"I want to hear the rest of the Lana story."
Clark put on the brakes and groaned. "Lana?"
Lois shrugged. "It was getting interesting. You couldn't breathe, you couldn't think … then what happened?"
"Not much," he replied flatly. "Lana said something that brought her attempt at seduction to a screeching halt."
Lois raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think anything short of a cop tapping on a fogged window with his flashlight could do that. What did she say?"
"She said, 'No one will ever love you as much as I do'."
"That's it?" she asked and sounded a little disappointed. "I don't follow."
Clark took both of Lois' hands and moved his face closer. "Not long ago you told me that you loved me more than you ever had and …"
"More than I ever thought I could love anyone."
Lois kissed his lips lightly. "And I do."
Clark smiled. "I know, and thank you."
Lois returned the smile, but her expression was quizzical. "But what does that have to do with …"
"Lois," he interrupted gently. "You have no idea how much that meant to me. You made me feel special in a *great* way, but Lana made me feel special in a *terrible* way."
Lois finally caught on. "She kind of made it sound as if no one would ever find you as worthy of love as she would."
Clark nodded. "Maybe that's not what she meant, but that's how I took it. I don't know if it was just the natural insecurities that come with being seventeen, or the special insecurities I felt because I was … different, but for that moment, I was afraid … I was afraid she might be right."
"Oh, Clark," she whispered. "Deep down you had to know that wasn't true."
"I guess," he shrugged. "But that wasn't all. After she delivered that line, I had a … bad reaction … I … floated a little."
"It was December, just a couple of months before my eighteenth birthday."
"The age you started flying."
"Right, but it picked a fine time to give me a preview."
"How did Lana react?"
"She didn't," he said. "It was dark and I only levitated a couple of inches, but it did give me the urgent incentive to go ahead with my decision to break off the relationship."
"I guess she was upset."
"Mortified is more the word I'd use," he corrected, most of his good humor returning. "She stormed off and said I'd never get another date for the prom."
"But you got Rachel to go with you."
"Yeah," he smiled. "A sweet girl."
"You know," Lois said as she moved her arms up around Clark's neck. "Your life would probably be less complicated if you'd decided to marry someone like Rachel."
"Probably," he teased, slipping his arms around her waist. "But I didn't want a sweet girl, I wanted *you*."
"Droll, Kent, but I'll let it pass for two reasons. Number one, I never thought of myself as 'sweet', and …"
Clark moved his mouth to her neck. "More like succulent."
"*And*," she repeated insistently, "number two, we *have* to try and make a baby before time runs out."
Clark pulled his head back. "You're serious."
Lois moved her hands slowly down his chest and rested them on his belt buckle. "As a heart attack."
A breath hissed through Clark's teeth. "It might come to that."
Joseph set the bottle on the cable spool and stood with a groan. He began to wish he'd accepted Martha's offer to stay in the farmhouse, but if his missing comrades came back, this would be where they'd expect to find him. At least he'd told Martha the whole truth. He didn't know if she believed him, but the truth was all he had left.
"Joseph!" George shouted as he entered the barn. "Thank heaven you and the baby are safe."
Joseph shrugged and smiled. "Why wouldn't we be?"
"Tempus is here in Smallville. Mr. Kent and my younger counterpart have gone to fetch the sheriff, but I fear Mrs. Kent is missing."
"Listen, my boy," he whispered. "I think we should make for Rocky Cove where we'll be able to see Tempus' approach from a distance and have the advantage. I'm afraid if we stay in this barn, we'll be … what's the expression? Sitting ducks?"
"Ain't it the truth?" a man silhouetted in the doorway commented and then laughed.
"Tempus," Wells said, his expression filled with contempt.
Joseph held the baby closer as the ambient light began to fill in the man's features. He looked at the revolver, and then the man's face. "You're Tempus?"
"It doesn't seem fair, does it?" Tempus asked as he entered the barn. "You don't know me, but I know you're Joseph McKensie Klein," he said thoughtfully. "Though you've dropped the Klein part of your name for this little adventure. Is that because you convinced Herb here to drag your dear old dad into this?"
"It was quite the other way round," Wells corrected. "I felt Dr. Klein would be of help with his knowledge of Kryptonian physiology, but Joseph was against the idea."
"I didn't want my dad put in any kind of danger," Joseph said as he stepped back a pace. "but Mr. Wells left the decision up to my dad, and he …"
"Came a-runnin'," Tempus interrupted.
"Superman is my dad's best friend," Joseph said, his tone becoming defiant. "And my godfather."
"Well, talk about an offer you *really* can't refuse," he laughed. "Not to mention— but I will— Superman is your father-in-law."
"You're the one who tampered with the transmigrator."
Tempus consulted his wristwatch. "Fifty-four seconds to reach realization," he said. "Not bad for a nanny."
"That's why everything is going wrong."
"I hate stating the obvious, but … duh," he replied casually as he removed a small object from his pocket. "This is the retrieval mechanism from the transmigrator. Without this, your father and in-laws will stay trapped in the past and you'll stay trapped in limbo, or Smallville as they seem to prefer calling it."
Joseph stepped back another pace and laid the baby in its makeshift bed. He stood in front of the box and folded his arms. "You're not taking this baby."
Tempus shook his head, his expression as close to admiration as he could muster. "You're very brave," he finally commented, "or incredibly stupid."
"Just looking out for my friend."
"Is that what your cellmates were doing when they went to work for Herb?"
Joseph's expression blanked a moment. "My cell … you mean Rob and Zeb?"
"Yes, Rob Farintino and Michael Zebranuk," Tempus said as he took a step forward. "Memory coming back now?"
Joseph's expression remained bewildered. "I know their names, but I still don't know who they are or what they did for Mr. Wells."
"He's telling the truth, Tempus," Wells said as he moved to stand next to Joseph. "He doesn't know."
"Herb, I'm disappointed. It's such a romantic episode in Utopian history, the whole chapter is tear-stained."
"What's he talking about?"
"Well," George sighed. "After I had unwittingly freed Tempus from Utopia, I chronically feared for Lois and Clark's safety, and …"
"Guilt, Joey. It was good old-fashioned guilt," Tempus interrupted, never liking the limelight stolen for too long. "Herb, motivated by that guilt, recruited Rob and Zeb to ensure that Lois and Clark could be wed with no interference from me," he continued as he took a seat on the cable spool. "After Lex Luthor, a talented amateur, ruined their first attempt at a wedding, Herb felt I was the only real threat left."
"A good assumption on his part," Joseph said, his defiant tone deepening.
"So," Tempus sighed, "Herb launched your cellmates into action."
"To do what?"
Tempus turned to Wells. "Herb, you'll have to take it from here. I left my insulin in the time machine."
"I'd be delighted," Wells said with a rather proud air. "I instructed Mr. Farintino to find a job that would keep him close to Lois and Clark, but not be too intrusive. Then, when the time was right, I had Mr. Farintino introduce Mr. Zebranuk to Lois, Clark, their friends and family, and to do so using the device that implants false memories."
"False memories of what?"
"Of Michael Zebranuk."
Joseph shrugged. "I'm lost. Why give them false memories of Zeb?"
Wells smiled. "He was introduced to them as 'Mike' and they were told that any time they saw Mike, they would remember him fondly and receive feelings of trust and security from him."
"Well, okay, but I still don't see the significance of …"
Tempus leaned down and picked up a small bucket and tossed it to Joseph. "You'll need that in a minute. It's going to get pretty sickening."
Wells ignored the interruption. "It was imperative that I change the venue of Lois and Clark's wedding to a place Tempus would never suspect, or at the very least a location where Tempus would never be … voluntarily."
"Utopia," Joseph said and finally smiled. "Lois and Clark were married in Utopia."
"Quite right," Wells beamed. "They were taken via time machine, of course, but were given memories of arriving there by more conventional means. Besides," he added, "the marriage license was from their proper era and Michael was an ordained minister … though I admit there was something rather mysterious about him."
"Sorry to cut this short, Herb," Tempus said as he rose and leveled the revolver at them. "But it's time for me to do that villain thing and get rid of you, Joey and Superman junior."
George took a step backward, his eyes on the revolver. "What do you hope to gain by this, Tempus?"
"Gain?" Tempus pretended to ponder a moment. "That's an excellent question, Herb. What *could* I gain by getting rid of an overrated novelist who feels it's his duty to protect Utopia?" he asked, and then turned to face Joseph. "And what would I gain by getting rid of the most decorated freedom fighter in the war against tyranny? A war that helped lay the foundation for Utopia?"
"And last, but by no means least," Tempus added with a facile grin as he glanced at the infant sleeping peacefully. "What could I hope to gain by getting rid of Clark Kent's son, the half-breed of steel who turns the tide in the war and whose daughter will help draft Utopia's constitution?"
Tempus paused and tapped the gun barrel against his chin in mock contemplation and then brightened. "Well, duh," he finally said with a shrug. "I hope to *gain* the *loss* of Utopia."
As Tempus laughed, Joseph scanned the barn quickly for a possible weapon or escape route before focusing again on the gun-wielding maniac. He squared his shoulders. "I think you should know that I've already contacted the authorities."
Tempus' laughter merely intensified. "Really? I hope it wasn't the sheriff," he said wistfully. "You'll find him up the road a piece handcuffed to the wheel of his cool Ford Galaxy, but he was nice enough to lend me his gun."
"No, I didn't call the sheriff."
"I'm afraid if you put in a call to your godfather, he'll have to keep you on hold. Without this," he said as he rolled the retrieval mechanism between his thumb and forefinger a moment before slipping it back into his pocket, "Superman won't be flying to your rescue any time soon."
"I … I called someone just as good."
"Just as good as Superman? The Marine Corps?"
Joseph shook his head. "I called his mom."
Tempus' lips parted, but whether it was to speak or to laugh would remain unknown. Sunlight glinted off of the metal scoop of a shovel as it arced out of the shadows and impacted with his face. The revolver somersaulted twice before hitting the ground, and though Tempus' fall was less acrobatic, it rendered him equally inanimate.
"Thank you, Mrs. Kent!" Joseph said, followed by a gusting sigh of relief. "I didn't think you'd believe my story. It was pretty wild, but …"
"Joseph, dear," Martha interrupted as she leaned the shovel against the wall. "I found my son in a spaceship. I'm probably more inclined than most people to believe a wild story."
Clark left the bed and stretched. He was grateful that if he had to go back in time and convince Lois that they had to make a baby, it was at least a Lois he was married to. Otherwise, he couldn't picture getting too far into the explanation before getting his face slapped. Still, he missed his Lois and feared for the safety of their son.
He shook off the feeling as he heard the bathroom door open. "You got dressed," he said, his tone disappointed as Lois entered the bedroom. "We're just having breakfast in the kitchen, not the Apricot Room at the Metropolis Hilton."
Lois smiled. "True, but if I spill hot coffee, I'd rather not have it hit bare skin."
He approached her slowly and put his hands on her slender shoulders. "I would *never* let coffee hit your beautiful skin." He kissed her neck. "I don't like to brag, but I *am* faster than a speeding bullet."
"Not always," she said drawing a hand through his hair and then slowly bringing it past his ear, a finger lifting his earlobe slightly. "Thank goodness."
"Mm, do we *really* need breakfast?"
"Maybe *we* don't, but *I* do," Lois said and laughed. "I'm starving."
"Okay." Clark winked. There was a gust of air. He vanished for a split second and reappeared wearing a gray t-shirt and blue jeans.
Lois appraised him a moment. "Nice. I hope you noticed I'm wearing burgundy."
Clark frowned. "It looks brown."
"Men," Lois sighed as they headed for the kitchen. "*Kryptonian* men."
Lois stroked Clark's chest as his breathing began to settle into a relaxed pattern. She was with a version of Clark from nearly two years ago. Where was the Clark from her era? How much longer were they going to be separated from each other and their child?
Clark, his eyes closed, reached up and instinctively touched her cheek. The tips of his long fingers wrapped around the back of her head and he tugged her to his chest. "You know," he finally said, his demeanor languid and satisfied. "I went through a phase as a kid where I thought Clark wasn't a very cool name, but after hearing you say my name over and over when we made love, I feel sorry for any guy who isn't named Clark."
Lois laughed softly against his chest. "For what it's worth, I always thought Clark was a pretty cool name, but I suspect," she said as she raised her face to greet his slowly opening eyes, "it's the guy who made the name cool, not the other way around."
"Mm." Clark pulled her into a kiss, but the smile he couldn't shake prevented the kiss from lasting very long. "I still can't believe this."
"Well," Lois smiled. "I have to admit if you suddenly said you were from the future and that we *had* to make a baby, I not only wouldn't believe you, but I'd probably give you the prize for the worst come-on line I'd ever heard."
"Would you slap me before or after you gave me the prize?"
Clark laughed. "Actually, though, I wasn't referring to your story about being from the future. I meant I can't believe we made love."
Lois propped herself up on an elbow. "Are you saying I could have gotten you into bed saying anything at all?"
Lois smacked his chest playfully. "That's so … Earth man of you."
"Honey, I've loved you so long that you could have told me to wear a chicken suit and sing Yankee Doodle and I think the only thing I'd have asked is if you wanted it with full orchestration, or a cappella."
Lois collapsed against his chest laughing. "I'll keep that in mind for next time."
Clark pulled a frying pan out of the cabinet and set it on the burner as Lois diced onions and tomatoes at the table. He smiled. "This is nice," he said as he took a carton of eggs from the refrigerator. "This is how my mom and dad cook."
"Well … more or less. I mean it's usually my mom at the frying pan."
Lois smiled. "Nice try, but I remember your dad's spicy fried chicken."
"Honey, you made my point for me," he said as he cracked eggs into a bowl. "That's why my mom is usually the one at the frying pan."
Lois brought the chopped vegetables to the counter. "I'm going to tell your dad you said that."
"Might as well," Clark commented with a shrug. "You and my dad are kindred spirits when it comes to cooking."
Lois laughed as she picked up a dish cloth. "I'll take that as a compliment," she said, and kissed him.
"It is," he said softly. "If I compare anyone to my dad, believe me, it's a compliment."
"I do," she smiled. "And you're right, this *is* nice. I never imagined myself married, much less enjoying it."
Clark poured the contents of the bowl into the pan. "That's not your fault, honey. You said your parents made it hard for you to believe a marriage could work."
"True," she nodded as she began to wipe down the table. "But it was also the … intimacy thing. In the relationships I had, I saw that element as being mandatory, but I never enjoyed it. It was … well …"
Lois shrugged. "I knew what men expected, so I got pretty good at faking that part of it, but then the inevitable would happen sooner or later," she said, her tone more philosophical than regretful. "They'd find a better actress and move on. It made me wonder if some men went to their graves thinking they were God's gift to women, but without actually pleasing a single one."
Clark found the turn in conversation fascinating. Though he and Lois were always very open and honest with each other, their lovemaking was like oxygen. It was there, abundant and sustaining, but like oxygen, not often discussed.
Clark turned from the stove and leaned against the cabinet. "But, honey, if you didn't enjoy it, why didn't you just tell them?"
Lois laughed softly. "I'm guessing you were never in a bar and overheard a guy mutter 'must be a lesbian' when you turned down his lame pick-up line."
Clark scratched the back of his head. "You got me there."
Lois sighed. "It's just that there is no method delicate enough for critiquing a man's bedroom performance without him becoming completely defensive and turning the whole thing around and blaming the woman for her lack of satisfaction." She paused a moment and shrugged. "Not that I blame them since I've been known to take constructive criticism badly myself." She glanced up at his silence. "No comment?"
"Uh … coffee's ready."
Lois smiled. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be a … what does Jimmy call it?"
"A buzz-kill," Clark replied as he poured the coffee. "And you're *not*, Lois. I really wanted to hear what you had to say," he said and handed her a cup.
"Thank you," she said, but averted her gaze. "But I'm afraid I might have spooked you a little. I mean you didn't ask *the* question after we made love."
"Ah," Clark nodded. "The 'was it good for you' question."
"That would be the one."
"I figured I'd ask after the honeymoon," he teased. "Besides, if you were acting, you belong in Hollywood, not Metropolis."
Lois reached across the table and took his hand. "I wasn't acting, Clark, but the best part is, you *knew* I wasn't. I don't know how, but you did."
Clark looked at her thoughtfully. "Yes, I knew," he answered simply.
Lois' gaze became intense. "You feel what I feel … don't you?"
Clark, his expression almost meditative in its contentment, smiled. "I told you, making you happy makes *me* happy."
Lois' mouth gaped open momentarily. "Yes, I know … but I … I thought that was just a sweet sentiment, not something to be taken *literally*."
Clark laughed. "Honey, relax. I *do* feel what you feel sometimes when your emotions are really strong, but I also misread them sometimes. Like the first time you hugged me."
"The Messenger shuttle story."
Clark nodded. "I could feel your elevated heart rate, joy, excitement … basically everything I was feeling, but for a different reason."
Lois sighed. "I was excited about breaking the story."
"And I was excited to have Lois Lane wrapped around my neck," he said as he moved around the table and pulled her to him. "Her beautiful body pressed against me." He kissed her. "Her soft hair on my cheek." He deepened the kiss. "The scent of her perfume …"
Lois pulled out of the kiss breathlessly. "Clark, your omelets are burning!"
"Definitely," he said against her mouth as they sprawled across the kitchen table.
"Martha, thank God," Jonathan whispered as he hurried into the barn, young Clark asleep against his shoulder and Herbert close behind them. "We went by Tommy's office, but Maisie said they haven't been able to raise him on the radio and …" "Oh, my," Herbert interrupted, noticing Tempus unconscious on the floor. "What happened?"
"Is Tommy the sheriff?" Joseph asked absently as he examined several articles retrieved from Tempus' pockets.
Jonathan nodded. "Yes. Tommy Harris."
"I think these are his handcuff keys," Joseph said and handed them to Jonathan.
"Oh, yes, quite, and his revolver," George added as he brushed bits of straw from the weapon.
"Let me take Clark, honey," Martha offered. "That man handcuffed Tommy to his patrol car. He's probably a little ways up Whitcomb Road."
Jonathan, bewildered, handed Clark to Martha and took the revolver from George. "What in the world happened here?"
"I'll explain when you get home, honey. It's Rachel's birthday and you'll have to unlock Tommy so he can pick up the balloons and ice cream."
Jonathan shook his head at the incongruity of it all. He gave the odd guests in his barn one last look and departed.
Herbert wiped a handkerchief across his forehead. "That was a near thing."
"Indeed it was," George agreed as he placed the retrieval mechanism back into the transmigrator.
"I hope none of you will take this the wrong way," Martha said. "But I'd like you all to be gone before Jonathan gets back. I know my husband and I don't seem like the typical farm couple, but for the most part, we are."
Martha moved to the door, but turned back. "And even though I don't know where our son came from," she said softly as she stroked the sleeping boy's hair. "I want him to have as normal a life as we can provide for him. He might grow up to do amazing things one day, but before that he'll learn to plant corn, drive a tractor and go fishing with his dad, because that's who the Kents are and he's … Clark Kent."
The three men exchanged glances a moment after she left. "An extraordinary woman," George observed reverently.
Herbert smiled. "I think she and Jonathan are extraordinary in how ordinary they are. They instilled in Clark basic decent values, which in turn built a strong foundation for Superman."
"I don't mean to interrupt," Joseph said, "but could you retrieve my dad now?"
"Of course," George nodded. "I'll lock onto Dr. Klein straight away."
Herbert raised an eyebrow. "Your father is Dr. Klein?"
Joseph sighed. "Yes. George thought Dad might be of some help, but didn't want anyone else to know. Though," he added with a cautious tone, "that man … Tempus, he knew, too."
Herbert ran a finger beneath his mustache. "Of course, my boy. He uses history as a weapon and time as ammunition."
"It's been hard calling him 'Dr. Klein' and not letting him know I'm his son." Joseph frowned. "He thinks I'm a thief and a saboteur."
Herbert put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry. Your father won't remember a thing about this adventure."
"You're going to use that … memory eraser thing on him?"
"It won't be necessary," George said without glancing up from the transmigrator. "If Lois and Clark are successful, they'll merely set time back to rights. There'll be no need to tamper with their memories given the fact that what they've been experiencing has been taking place in duplicate time lines. When the last of those vanish in favor of their one true time line, the memory of those other time lines will likewise vanish."
"What about me?"
Herbert smiled. "You, like us, are not part of Lois and Clark's current era. Your father, on the other hand, is. So," Herbert shrugged, "he will have no memory of this adventure either."
"Speaking of my father …"
"Got him," George commented as he pressed in a final sequence.
Klein appeared and shook his head as if to clear it. Before he could speak, Joseph rushed towards him. "Da … Dr. Klein," he said and embraced the bewildered doctor.
Klein patted the young man's back. "I'm fine, Joey," he said as he pulled back. "I see you're still a young man. Does that mean Lois and Clark haven't …" He stopped in mid-sentence and glanced down at Tempus. "Am I going to be sorry you brought me back?"
George laughed softly. "Not at all, Dr. Klein. However, Mrs. Kent would prefer that we vacate the premises, so perhaps we should make our way to Rocky Cove."
Klein knelt next to Tempus. "What about this guy? He's got quite a goose egg on his forehead."
"Mrs. Kent hit him with a shovel when he threatened to kill us."
Klein nodded. "That would do it."
Herbert took a loop of baling twine from a shelf. "Perhaps we should restrain him."
Joseph took the twine. "Good idea. I wouldn't want him to regain consciousness when we leave. He could go after the Kents."
George smiled. "I have a feeling that when Mr. Kent frees Sheriff Harris, he'll come here to pick up Tempus before he stops for balloons and ice cream."
Klein, who had been tying Tempus' ankles, glanced at Joseph, who was tying Tempus' wrists. "Was George's comment supposed to make sense?"
Joseph shrugged. "About as much sense as anything else has so far."
"Good point," he said with a sigh. "Forget I asked."
Lois broke from the kiss breathlessly. "Clark, we'll be late for work. We're not exactly on a honeymoon."
"We can call in sick," he whispered against her neck. "I mean we gave Perry that great exclusive on Anonymous. We deserve a reward."
Lois smiled coquettishly. "What did you have in mind?"
"The lyrics to Yankee Doodle."
Lois began to laugh, but as she did, Clark began to fade away.
"How's your omelet, honey?"
Clark began to laugh, but as he did, Lois began to fade away.
Lois was stretched out in the bed next to Clark. Her arm was draped over his waist as she rested her head on his chest, but despite the cozy positioning, Lois' expression was melancholy. "He doesn't think we'll be able to have kids."
"Honey," Clark began softly, "I have not, for one second, doubted in us. We live the impossible." He gently pushed back a strand of her hair. "A child is something brought about by love, isn't it?"
Lois nodded against his chest. Clark's strength sometimes functioned as a life force all its own that Lois was able to draw from during dark moments like this one.
"Then that above all else, has got to be possible for us."
Moved by her husband's faith, Lois stretched up to kiss him, only to stop when she recognized that look on his face. "What? What are you hearing?"
Clark looked confused. "I'm not sure."
"Well, what does it sound like?"
"I can't actually … believe what it sounds like," he replied, and slipped out of bed.
Lois followed Clark out of bed, her expression of curiosity matching his. They descended the stairs of the townhouse and entered the den.
"Whoa!" Joseph leaped away from Tempus' body. "The twine pulled right through his wrists like they weren't even there!"
An instant later, Tempus vanished.
"I know the feeling," Klein said, his expression blank as the loop of twine in his hands fell to the ground without being released. An instant later he also vanished.
"Steady on, Joseph," Herbert soothed. "I think time is finally being repaired."
They were suddenly enveloped in darkness.
Lois thought she saw something on the desk in the den for a moment, but then the whole room began to waver. The background changed suddenly and Clark was a lot younger. Images and memories began to overlap each other rapidly …
"Lois Lane, meet Clark Kent."
"Kent is a hack from Smallville. I couldn't make that name up."
"Lois is, well, she's complicated, domineering, uncompromising, pigheaded … brilliant."
"Don't fall for me, farmboy. I don't have time for it."
"I guess, when you're in love with somebody, it doesn't matter how smart you are or how many rules you set for yourself, you're still vulnerable."
"We're only human."
"I hear you've been looking for me."
"All my life."
"Hey, Lois, what have we got goin' on tomorrow?"
"Now there you're using that word again, Clark. There is *you*. There is *I*. There is no *we*."
"Lois, I want you to go out with me."
"Clark, if you're going to run away from this, tell me now."
"I'm not gonna run, Lois. I'm ready to take the next step, if you are."
"If the Earth opened up at my feet, I wouldn't move until I'd said this: Lois, will you marry me?"
"Who's asking? Clark or Superman?"
"That's what you and I together are all about — taking a chance."
"The truth is what you tell me and what I tell you, because that's the kind of relationship we have."
"I mean, I've had girlfriends. I've dated, but that thing, the intimacy threshold … the *big* threshold … I've never really crossed it."
"So, what you're saying is you're a vir … vir … vuh … a very patient man."
"Marry me, Lois. Let's not plan. Let's not wait … Just marry me."
"Lois, I have loved you from the moment I saw you. I love your humor, your passion and the way you just dive right in, even when you shouldn't. Because you refuse to just watch the world. You demand that it be a better place and, because of you, it is. And, today, I want to give you as much of the world as I can. So, I give you my heart, my soul, our future."
"Clark, you're my best friend. Until I met you, I never had a best friend. And falling in love with you has been so easy, I don't know why I fought it so long. You have such gentle grace and such quiet strength and mostly such incredible kindness. I've never known anyone with as pure a heart, and, so, today, I give you my love, and my honor and our life together."
"A moment we've been destined for."
"That was …"
"I mean …"
"Exactly. The only thing I'd like more would be …"
"So, we didn't use precautions? I mean, I know I didn't."
"Me neither. I … I wasn't thinking."
"Lois, I want you to hear me. Okay? *Really* hear me. Every time … *every* time we make love, we *make* love. That's the strongest life force there is, and whether or not that results in another little person, for me it *is* creation."
"You fill me with life." …
"Son?" Jonathan called from the stairway as he, Martha and Lois' parents descended. "Everything all right?"
"Everyone okay?" Sam asked.
Martha unfolded her glasses and put them on. "We saw the lights."
Ellen, still drowsy, smoothed back her mussed hair. "Lois?"
Clark stepped out of the den. Though smiling, he seemed nervous. "Yes, everyone, everything is absolutely fine," he assured them. He took a deep breath. "Mom and Dad," he said to his parents. "And Mom and Dad," he said to the Lanes. "We have something … to tell you."
Behind him, Lois came into the room. Only her head was visible over Clark's shoulders. She stepped out from behind him and stood at his side. She was carrying an overnight case. "It's time," she smiled.
Jonathan beamed. "I'll go start the car!"
Ellen took off her robe and draped it over Lois' shoulders. "It's chilly out, sweetie."
"I'm fine, Mom," Lois protested.
"Ellen is right," Martha said and took the overnight case. "Spring might be right around the corner, but the past few nights have been pretty chilly."
"Okay, okay," Lois laughed. "I surrender."
Sam pulled out a cell phone. "I'm calling Maryanne. She'll meet you at the hospital."
"Daddy, it's after midnight."
Sam merely waved a hand. "Maryanne is the best in her field and that's what I want for my little girl."
Lois groaned. "I don't feel so 'little' at the moment." She turned to Clark. "Can't you reason with him?"
"Sorry, honey," he said with a shrug. "I want the best for you, too."
Night and day began deposing each other every second through the loft window in the barn.
"This is unsettling in its familiarity," George commented.
"Indeed it …" Herbert squinted. "Joseph … you're aging."
Klein hurried down the corridor clutching a bouquet of flowers. He recognized Jimmy Olsen and smiled. "Am I on time?"
Jimmy stretched and yawned. "We've been sitting here two hours. No baby yet."
"Well," Klein said as he took a seat, "labor can take hours sometimes."
Jimmy nodded sleepily. "You found a florist open at this hour?"
Klein shrugged. "I got them at Forgive Me Florist on 8th Avenue. The name probably explains why it's open at this hour."
Jimmy smiled. "I could use some coffee. Want some?"
"Yes, thank you."
Jimmy stretched again and headed up the corridor slowly.
Klein saw two older couples sitting a few seats down. He figured they were the Kents and the Lanes, but he didn't want to intrude. He began to wonder if he should be here at all. He wasn't related to Lois and Clark and wasn't a coworker, yet he had become close to Lois over the years due to her friendship with Superman. Where *was* Superman? He glanced at his watch. It was 2:45 AM.
The sky abruptly stopped strobing. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
"I can't see my hand in front of my face," Herbert said. "Is everyone still here?"
"I am," George said.
"Me, too," Joseph added.
Suddenly a beam of light illuminated their faces. George squinted against the light. "Who's there?"
A tall lanky man passed in front of Dr. Klein carrying a teddy bear and sat down next to him. He glanced over at Klein and smiled. "Wife having a baby?"
"No, just here for a friend who's having a baby."
The man nodded. "Me too. This is for Lois and Clark's kid."
Klein smiled. "I'm here for the Kents' baby, too," he said and extended his hand. "I'm Bernard Klein."
The man clasped his hand. "Bobby Bigmouth."
"Bobby Big … Mouth?"
Bobby laughed. "Just a nick. I don't like to brag, but I've given Lois and Clark info on some of their most important stories."
"Hey, Jimbo," Bobby said and moved down a seat.
Jimmy handed a cup of coffee to Dr. Klein. "I can go back up and get you a cup, Bobby."
"No thanks, Jim, I gotta get movin'," he said and glanced at his watch. "It's almost three. I've got places to go and people to see." He handed the teddy bear to Jimmy. "Let 'em know I was here."
"Sure thing, Bobby."
"Thanks, kid," he said, patted Jimmy's arm and then headed up the corridor.
Joseph put up a hand shielding his eyes from the light. "You're Tommy?"
"That's my dad," the sheriff said and stepped forward. "But he might find it funny that someone would mistake my voice for his. I'm Rachel Harris."
"The balloon and ice cream girl," Herbert commented off- handedly.
Rachel instantly shifted the flashlight to his face. "Have you boys been drinking?"
Herbert squared his shoulders indignantly. "Certainly not."
"So you're in the Kents' barn at three in the morning for no particular reason?" she asked.
George suddenly became anxious. "Three in the morning? What day is this?"
Rachel smiled. "You haven't been drinking, but you don't know what day it is?"
"We've been … traveling a lot," Joseph offered. "I'm afraid we lost track of time."
"It's March 11th …" she said, but noted the continued look of anticipation. "1998 … in case you've also lost track of the …"
Rachel was interrupted by a cooing sound. She swiftly moved the flashlight in the direction of the sound. "What's in that box?"
Herbert swallowed. "What box?"
The cooing continued, but was accompanied by a rustling sound.
Rachel drew her revolver. "I want you to raise your hands and step backward."
The men wordlessly complied. After they were several paces behind the box, she approached it cautiously and swept it with her light. There were only Christmas ornaments inside. She shook her head and sighed. "These hours must not agree with me. I could have sworn I'd seen a baby."
"A baby?" Joseph asked with pretended innocence.
Rachel shrugged and holstered her revolver. "Maybe babies are on my mind. The Kents wanted me to keep an eye on their farm while they were in Metropolis. Their daughter-in-law is having a baby," she said, a touch of regret in her voice.
"Understandable," George said sympathetically.
"I guess the only question left, then, is why you're in this barn?"
"Well, as my friend told you," George began carefully. "We've been traveling. However, when a storm began to brew, we decided to take shelter rather than risk traveling through the bad weather."
Joseph nodded. "We weren't familiar with these roads, or whether they might flood during a bad storm."
"All right," Rachel relented. "I can buy that, but the storm has moved on and I think you gentlemen should too."
"Certainly," Herbert agreed. "We're a bit behind schedule as it is."
The four departed the barn. Rachel stood in the field making certain the three men kept moving. When they were out of sight, she returned to her patrol car. She adjusted her rearview mirror. She could have sworn she'd seen a flash of light in the direction she'd last seen the strangers. She rubbed her eyes. "That's it. I'm off the graveyard shift."
Clark came bursting through the door looking like a man who'd awakened from a fever, but who was still slightly delirious. His eyes were glazed and he seemed out of breath. Both sets of parents rose to their feet and Klein and Jimmy hurried over.
"Is the baby here?"
"Boy or girl?"
"Is Lois all right?"
"It was so amazing," Clark finally said. "The baby's perfect. Lois is perfect. She could do that whole rice field thing the next day, she really could."
Martha laughed and hugged her son. "Honey, you're babbling."
"I guess so, but … Mom, I mean … he's *so* perfect. He's beautiful and he can cry and everything."
Ellen laughed. "You'll regret the crying part real soon, but it's always wonderful to hear it the first time."
"It is," Clark said and vented a long breath.
A woman exited behind Clark and pulled off a surgical cap. As she started to move past, Clark grabbed her arm. "This is Dr. McKensie. She delivered the baby."
Sam extended his hand. "Thanks for coming, Maryanne."
"Happy to," she said and took his hand. "It's nice to see you again, Sam," she said. "And you, too, Ellen. It's been too long."
"These are my parents, Jonathan and Martha."
"And Jimmy Olsen, he works with me and Lois at the Planet … where's Perry?"
"I called his home, but there was no answer," he said with a shrug. "But you know he's been rekindling things with Alice and they might have partied a little too intense for their age group."
Jimmy was met by unsympathetic stares.
"Not that they're *old*!" Jimmy corrected belatedly.
Clark patted his shoulder. "Maybe you need more coffee, Jimmy."
"Probably, C.K.," Jimmy agreed and backed away hastily.
"And this is Dr. Klein from STAR Labs."
Dr. McKensie extended her hand. "*Bernard* Klein?"
"Well … yes," he replied taking her hand, startled that she knew his first name.
"I'm such a fan of the papers you've had published on domic acid," she said, taking his arm and ushering him away as if they were pairing off at a party.
He nodded. "The neurotoxin found in some marine algae."
"Exactly, I was fascinated by your theories of possible beneficial pharmaceutical use."
Klein smiled. "It was nothing, really."
"Don't be so modest," she said in a gently scolding tone. "Have you ever thought about doing research on the neurotoxin found in micrurus diastema?"
Klein froze in mid-stride. "That's a type of coral sn … snake, isn't it?"
"Yes!" she beamed. "The type found often in Belize, but there are many many more."
"Too many," he muttered under his breath as they continued their stroll.
From an alcove, three sets of eyes watched them pass by.
"It's nice to see my mom and dad on the day they met," Joseph said as he stepped into the corridor and watched then walk away. "But now that the time flow ripple has been repaired, and Lois and Clark's son has been born, I'd really like to get back to my wife and kids."
George nodded. "I understand, Joseph, but we have one last passenger … ah, here he comes," he said as Bobby Bigmouth approached them. "Ready to return home, Mr. Farintino?"
"I've decided I don't wanna go back."
"But … "
"I'm not saying I'm gonna cause a problem, or anything like that. If I *have* to go back, I will, but," he sighed, "I made some really stupid mistakes and bad choices in my other life. Being sent back here was like a second chance and I've done *good* here, Mr. Wells."
The elder and younger Wells exchanged glances. Herbert reached into his pocket and removed his watch and opened it. "We're running out of time, Mr. Farintino. Are you sure you want to stay?"
"More than anything."
"Very well, but I'm afraid you won't remember a thing about us, the adventure, or your former life," he said, and shut the watch cover.
Bobby shook his head.
Herbert put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right, young man?"
"Yeah, I … I just had a weird dizzy spell."
George shrugged. "Perhaps that's why you're in hospital."
Bobby took a deep breath and let it out. "Nah, more like I haven't eaten enough today," he said with a smile. "I'm here because my friends just had their first baby." He faltered a moment. "But it's like I was going to meet somebody, but I can't remember now. Oh, well," he said, recovering his good humor quickly. "I guess I can personally deliver that teddy bear after all."
The three men watched him trot away. Joseph smiled. "The memory gizmo is in your pocket watch."
"Astute, Joseph. Shall we go now?"
He laughed. "We shall."
"He's so beautiful. He looks just like you," Lois said as she gently placed the baby in his bassinette. "I think I might like a few more of these."
Clark laughed softly as he put his arm around her shoulders. "If you hadn't resisted my obvious charms for so long, this could have been our third child by now."
Lois poked him in the ribs gently. "I didn't resist all *that* long. Besides," she added, "the time spent getting to know you, becoming your friend, then falling in love with you was important," she said, her voice catching slightly as she reached up to stroke his cheek. "I wouldn't change a thing."
Clark's eyes became soft and dark as he brought his mouth close to hers. "Me either."