By Yvonne Connell ( or

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: November 2003

Summary: A story offering a new explanation for the baby at the end of the series. The tragic but well-meaning interference of a third party forces difficult decisions upon Lois, Clark, and the baby's natural father.


"Oh, no!" exclaimed Clark in mock dismay, as the tower of wooden blocks he'd carefully constructed tumbled yet again to the carpet. Beside him on the floor, his baby son Jon laughed delightedly and clapped his chubby hands together, showing his pleasure at knocking down his Daddy's tower for the umpteenth time.

"You little monster," growled Clark, moving onto his hands and knees and crawling with panther-like stealth towards his son. "I'm going to get you for that!"

Jon giggled, apparently unperturbed by his father's threat, and set off on all fours himself, crawling with the all skill and speed of a veteran. Clark followed, letting himself slowly gain on his son, uttering dire threats all the way while Jon laughed and moved as fast as his little legs and arms would carry him.

At last, Clark seized Jon under the arms with a "Got you!" cry of triumph. Jon squealed with delight and let himself be hoisted into the air, arms and legs flailing wildly.

Clark continued the game of rough and tumble, enjoying every moment of the pre-bedtime antics. This was his favourite time with Jon, when the little boy was often at his most bubbly and adorable. Lois often complained that Clark wound Jon up so far that the chances of getting him quickly settled for the night were close to nil, but Clark couldn't resist. He loved his baby boy and the games they played together.

Above Jon's squeals and giggles, Clark heard the doorbell ring. He stood up and settled Jon on his hip. "Come on, monster, let's see who's at the door."

Jon grinned at his Daddy and reached up for the bright shiny glasses he adored so much. Clark grabbed his hand quickly. "Oh, no, you don't. I need those."

How many times had that happened, Clark asked himself as he crossed to the door. One of these days Jon was going to whip the glasses off his face in public. Oh well, he thought, giving a mental shrug — who was going to associate Clark Kent the father with Superman the superhero anyway? He was convinced that most people thought of Superman as some kind of androgynous being without a private life.

In contrast, he, Clark Kent, had everything a man of his age could wish for. He had Lois, his wonderful, vivacious, intelligent and downright sexy wife, he had a well-paid job which he actually enjoyed, and he had a son.

Jon was the miracle they'd never thought would happen. Having received the devastating news that he and Lois would never be able to conceive a child of their own, Jon had arrived one night, left in their living room by a mysterious stranger they'd never met then nor since.

For many long weeks, they'd tried to find his real parents, secretly hoping they never would but knowing they wouldn't be able to live with themselves if they ever found out that Jon had been snatched from loving parents or abandoned by a now-remorseful mother. However, the search had been fruitless, and they'd then initiated the necessary steps to adopt him as their own.

Now, nine months later, Jon was a fully-fledged member of the Kent family, and Clark simply couldn't imagine life without him.

Clark planted a kiss on the baby hand he'd grabbed. "Okay, monster, leave my glasses alone while I open the door, okay?" He pretended to munch the fingers. "Or I'll eat you for breakfast!"

Jon giggled, and laughing with him, Clark opened the door.

"Hi, what can I do for…" His face froze, the remainder of his genial greeting dead on his lips.

The man staring back at him was his double.

For a moment, he thought this was the Clark Kent he'd met twice before; the Clark of an alternate dimension where there was no Lois and everyone knew that Clark was Superman.

But no, this man couldn't be that Clark, for this man was unkempt and dishevelled. He wore baggy, ill-fitting clothes which clearly hadn't been washed for days, he was unshaven, and he smelt of stale sweat. He also looked distinctly unsteady on his feet, although the finger he pointed at Jon was steady enough.

"Give him back!" he said forcefully. "I want him back!"

Clark instinctively tightened his hold on Jon and stepped back a pace, drawing his son away from this wild stranger. "Who are you?" he asked carefully.

"His father!" answered his doppelganger, dropping the accusatory finger and grabbing hastily at the door frame. Clark sensed the man was near to collapse, but didn't dare help while he was holding Jon. "He was stolen from me and now I want him back," said the stranger in defeated tones, his initial aggression already dissipated. "I want him back," he repeated on a half-sob before crumpling slowly to the floor.

Clark stared in shock at the man at his feet. All the old fears came racing back, and it took a couple of minutes before his numb brain came to its senses and prompted him to do something about the situation.

"Lois!" he yelled.

Sensing his father's anxiety, Jon began to fret and whimper in Clark's arms.


"She's dead."

There were probably other words, but those were the only two he heard. The rest were a blur; words of sympathy and regret were spoken — a comforting hand grasped his shoulder — the room tipped crazily and a cold glass of water was pressed to his lips — Perry's gravely voice rumbled in the background.

She couldn't be dead. He'd come back for her, just like he'd said he would, so she simply couldn't be dead. She was clever; street-wise. It was a mistake — she was lying low somewhere, letting everyone think she was dead. Lois was too smart to get herself killed. Wasn't she?


He wasn't sure if he'd voiced the question aloud until Perry suddenly stopped talking and he realised he'd cut right across the editor's well-meaning efforts to lessen the shock. Finesse and courtesy had deserted him a long time ago, though, and nowadays he just demanded answers; went straight for the cold facts. Life was too short to bother with good manners. Your enemy was probably preparing to stab you in the back while you were busy being polite.

"…hadn't been well for months, Clark…doctors tried everything…stubborn as a mule, you know Lois…insisted she carry the baby to term…"

"Baby?" He pounced on the word. "There was a baby?"

She'd been pregnant. Oh, Lois…his poor, poor Lois. What had happened to her while he'd been gone? Had she really found love with another man? His heart contracted at the thought of her abandoning the love they'd had for each other. He'd thought theirs was a love which would last, which would prevail even after he'd gone.

On the other hand, if she'd been happy for a few months before her death, then he was glad. She'd been so sad when he'd left — leaving her had been the toughest thing he'd ever had to do.

"…can't tell you how sorry I am…wanted that baby so much…already decided to name it Clark…"

Name it after him? Another man's baby? He wondered what the father had thought of that.

Lois, what happened? Didn't you know I'd come back for you? Didn't we tell each other over and over that night — that terrible, agonising night? We'd wait for each other, we'd said as we'd lain together — we'd wait for ever.

But then morning had come, and with the cold dawn had come practical common sense. Of course Lois shouldn't wait. They'd spent one night together, and he hoped she'd never forget that — but she should move on after he was gone. She should remember their love and keep it close to her heart, but she should let herself love again. He'd made her promise that — not to wait forever.

He just hadn't expected forever to be so short.

"Do…do I know him?"

The father. The man Lois had turned to when he had left. He should probably pay his respects; offer his sympathy.

Or perhaps not. Could he bear to meet the man who'd taken his place while he'd been exiled billions of miles away? Probably not.

"Who, Clark?"

"Her partner…the baby's father."


Perhaps he'd made a faux pas somehow. Was it bad manners to ask who her lover had been? He'd been away so long from civilised society, perhaps he'd forgotten what was acceptable.

"I guess I haven't explained this too well, son. She wouldn't tell me at first, but I figured it out anyway…you were the baby's father, Clark."

His world, already so broken and bleak, now shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.


"So if he's not the other Clark, who is he?"

Lois bounced Jon gently up and down on her hip while gazing down at their unconscious visitor. The baby was still a little fractious, and she was reluctant to put him down until he was settled. Meanwhile, Clark had carried the stranger from the front door into the sitting room and had placed him on one of their sofas.

"I have no idea," replied Clark. "All I know is that he thinks Jon is his."

Lois bit her bottom lip anxiously. This was the scenario they'd hoped would never happen — they'd made a huge effort to avoid it by researching for months all the possibilities for Jon's origins. Now it looked like all that research might have been in vain.

She lifted Jon up. "Here," she said, handing the baby to Clark. "Take him."

As she'd expected, Jon went willingly into Clark's arms, and she turned to perch on the side of the sofa beside the unconscious man. "He looks ill," she murmured. She searched for his hand and clasped it lightly, then reached out for Clark's hand in order to compare the two. "His is warmer. Do you think it's kryptonite?"

"Well, there's none around right now. I'd have felt it," Clark pointed out from behind her.

"Maybe he was exposed earlier," she conjectured quietly. As she watched, his eyelids began to flutter. "He's waking up," she said. Automatically, she started to rise, but then some instinct made her stay — something which told her he needed reassurance and comfort when he awoke. Hesitantly at first, but then with more assurance, she reached for his hand again and grasped it firmly. "It's all right," she murmured. "You're safe with us."

His eyes opened and she saw them slowly gain focus and turn towards her. The moment of recognition was crystal clear and completely devastating. "Lois," he whispered, and tears began to form in his eyes. He reached up trembling fingers to her face. "You're alive."

Her heart leapt. He was so similar to Clark, it was as if she was seeing and hearing her own husband weep for her. She took the trembling fingers and eased them gently from her face. "I'm not your Lois," she said as kindly as she could.

She watched the dawning understanding cross his face. He screwed his eyes shut again and tears spilled from under his eyelids. "I know," he whispered.

Lois glanced backwards at Clark, who shrugged his shoulders in a helpless gesture.

Jon, on the other hand, was obviously happier, for he reached up a chubby hand and cheerfully pulled the shiny glasses off his Daddy's face. A super-grab from Clark caught them before they descended to the carpet. "I'd better put him to bed," Clark said. "You'll be okay?"

She nodded. "Bring down some blankets."

Clark nodded, and she turned back to the stranger.

"I hadn't expected…you look so like her," he said, struggling to sit up. She stood up to give him some more room and eyed him as he swung his legs around and sat back against the cushions. He was filthy. Just as well they'd put sturdy covers over their off-white sofas to protect them from Jon's sticky fingers, she thought uncharitably. And not only was he dirty, he had about three days worth of stubbly beard, and his hair was lanky and in need of a good cut. Worst of all, he smelt of stale sweat.

She wasn't accustomed to seeing Clark — or his double — take so little care over his appearance and personal grooming, and she found it more than a little distasteful. However, he was obviously a man in need of help…

"Can I get you anything? A drink, maybe?" she suggested.

He looked up at her. He seemed to hesitate for a second, but then he answered, "Can I have some water?"

"Just water?" she asked. "Are you sure? I could make some tea if you'd prefer."

Clark liked tea when he wasn't feeling well. But it was probably stupid of her to assume this guy liked the same things — she'd made that mistake once before.

His face took on a distant look. "Tea…I missed tea…"

She raised her eyebrows. If he missed drinking tea, where did that mean he'd been, and for how long? Obviously not his own apartment, anyway. "I could do you some Oolong, if you'd like. Clark…my husband…that's his favourite."

His eyes had dropped when she mentioned Clark. "Yes, that would be nice," he muttered. "Thank you."

"I'll just be a few minutes," she said. He was closing his eyes and resting his head back against the sofa as she left him to make the tea.


The battles had raged for months. His marriage to Zara, on which so many hopes had been pinned, had failed to bring peace to New Krypton. Lord Nor had branded him a fake; an impostor who new nothing of Kryptonian laws and customs. War had been declared when the ruling nobles had refused to acknowledge Nor's claim to the throne, and despite Kal-El's many attempts to negotiate a peace, the first shots had been fired and New Krypton had descended into one of the blackest eras of its short history.

At first, he had followed the advice of his military chiefs and remained out of harm's way, safely cosseted in the royal suite of a heavily guarded citadel. But as the reports had come back, and the numbers of lives lost and the scale of devastation became clear, he'd found that he couldn't remain at arms' length from the suffering of the soldiers and their families.

And so he'd gone to the battlefields and seen the blood, seen the hideous injuries and the devastating loss of life. He'd secretly joined the fight himself at times, dressing as a common soldier and fighting alongside his subordinates. He'd held the dying in his arms, and spoken to the wives and children left behind; listened to them grieve for their loved ones.

The crushing weight of responsibility had almost broken him, and nightly he'd raged impotently to Zara in their bedchamber. This wasn't the life he'd wanted, ordering death and destruction on a grand scale. He'd been born to bring peace and stability into people's lives; that was his destiny, and his adult life had been dedicated to the task. He was made to save lives, not take them.

He'd hated himself, and he'd hated everything he knew about New Krypton.

Zara had told him again and again to harden his heart; that his soft Earth ways had no place amongst Kryptonians. He'd rejected her words at first, but as the weeks and months had progressed, and the war had continued to rage unrelentingly, he'd begun to realise that his only chance for survival was to follow her advice. Almost overnight, he'd turned himself into a cold, ruthless commander, driven only by the desire to end the war and find a way to escape from these people and return to his loved ones back on Earth.

He'd kept that ambition strictly to himself, of course. Not just for the sake of the people he was responsible for, but because Nor had spies everywhere. If Nor had gleaned even the tiniest hint that the new ruler — the so-called half-breed impostor — was planning to desert his people, the war would have been lost.

So it was ironic that, in the end, Nor was proved right — Kal-El, it became clear, definitely did not belong on New Krypton.

It had started with a cold. Nothing too remarkable; everyone on New Krypton caught colds now and then and Kal- El wasn't exempt, being a full Kryptonian and thus susceptible to the same illnesses as anyone else. But then there was the cough which wouldn't go away for weeks. Then it was another cold, and then a bout of a flu-like virus which kept him in bed for a couple of days. Soon he was a magnet for just about any bug making the rounds of the community.

His natural strength and resilience helped, of course, but the constant illnesses inevitably took their toll on his health. He became more easily battle-weary, and prone to error during combat. Minor injuries became commonplace, and Zara was constantly patching him up at night and feeding him painkillers.

Through it all, his cold determination kept him going, and he refused to reduce his work load or let anyone, save his closest advisors, know how much of a struggle his life had become.

But one day he collapsed in the middle of a major war council, and the truth was out at last. New Krypton had a weak, ailing leader who stood little chance of surviving the hostile and alien environment he'd been summoned to defend. His body simply hadn't had an opportunity to develop the antibodies it needed to ward off the illnesses which circulated New Krypton. The doctors and scientists did their best, but Kal-El's unique situation was far beyond their knowledge and abilities.

Hasty decisions had been made. Power was transferred to Zara, who immediately issued orders to return Kal-El to his beloved Earth. He'd protested at first, knowing that she would be vulnerable without a husband, but then she'd announced that she was annulling their marriage and taking Ching as her husband instead. He'd been happy for her then, knowing that she'd loved Ching from the start.

And so a poorly, battle-scarred Kal-El had been dumped back on Earth, rejected by his own kind and branded a failure by all except the very few who had known him best.


Clark jogged softly downstairs, cautiously optimistic that Jon was at last settled for the night. As he neared the bottom of the stairs, he heard their visitor coughing, a croaking, chesty cough which didn't sound at all healthy. Entering the living room, he found Lois sitting opposite his double wearing a worried frown.

She looked up as Clark approached. "Did he settle okay?" she asked.

He shrugged. "He's fine." Clark caught their visitor's eye. "Are you okay?"

The man nodded. "Yes," he answered croakily. He coughed once more and then rested silently back on the sofa cushions.

Clark sat down next to Lois, dumping the blankets he'd brought down beside him. "That's a nasty cough you've got there," he remarked.

"It'll clear up in a few days," the stranger answered. "They usually do."

'They usually do?' So this particular Kryptonian was accustomed to suffering colds and coughs. Clark reflected that this was not an answer he would ever have expected from one of his own kind. Illness was virtually unknown to him; the only time he'd been sick himself was on the few occasions when imaginative criminals had tried to kill Superman.

It also occurred to him that Jon could be at risk if this man's illness was contagious. He and Lois had no way of knowing for certain, but they both suspected that their son was at least part-Kryptonian, and that made him susceptible to Kryptonian illnesses. In that case, the sooner they got rid of this guy, the better.

Except he was obviously in a pretty desperate state, and Clark didn't have the heart to turn him out on the street.

And there was a mystery to be solved — where had the man come from, and why was he claiming that Jon was his son?

"Look," he began, "You're obviously tired and feeling pretty rough right now, but that was a serious accusation you threw at me earlier. I think I — we," he added, glancing at Lois, who nodded, "- deserve an explanation."

The stranger shook his head slowly and gave a mirthless laugh. "You want an explanation?" he said harshly. "It's quite simple — you're holding my son and I want him back. Now."

Clark's hackles rose automatically. "First off, we are not 'holding' your son. Second, unless you've got any proof to support what you're saying, I suggest you stop making aggressive demands and leave right now."

"Where I come from, aggression is the only way to get things done," replied the stranger bitterly. "Anything else is just a waste of time." He closed his eyes and leant his head back on the sofa. "Why do you keep your house so warm?" He coughed again, not even bothering to cover his mouth with his hand.

Clark glanced at Lois, who seemed perfectly comfortable in pants and a light cotton sweater. Then he used his powers to look at the man's forehead and palms more closely. "It's not the house that's warm, it's you," he concluded. "You look like you're running a temperature."

The stranger's mouth twisted. "Wouldn't surprise me." He coughed briefly, then continued, "I don't suppose you've got any panadine, either."

Clark frowned. "No, we haven't. What is it? Some kind of medication?"

"Kryptonian aspirin. Zara always kept a supply handy."

Clark stared at Lois in shock. Why would this man know Zara? And was it the same Zara as the woman Clark had been forced to marry on New Krypton? "Zara?" exclaimed Clark to the stranger. "Did you say Zara?"

"Yes. She was…" He shook his head. "Never mind. She's not important." He fell silent, seemingly too tired and poorly to say any more.

Lois put her hand on Clark's shoulder. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" she murmured. Clark nodded and followed her into the kitchen.


Lois waited until Clark had shut the door behind him and joined her at the table. "Clark, he can't stay here. If he's sick, he could infect Jon."

"I know, but what can we do?" replied Clark, throwing his hands up in the air. "We can't turn him out onto the streets."

"Why not?" she answered crisply. "That's where he was up until a couple of hours ago."


"I mean it, Clark," she said firmly. "If Jon gets sick, we haven't got any way of treating him — especially if it's a Kryptonian virus. He's only a baby, Clark! Our baby," she added, mindful of this stranger's earlier claim on their son.

"We don't actually know that Jon is Kryptonian," said Clark.

"No, but are you willing to take that risk?" she replied. "I'm not. Besides, Jon's not the only one at risk here; you're in danger too."

Clark shrugged. "It's probably only the Kryptonian equivalent of a bad cold. And we don't know that it's infectious, anyway."

"You keep coming up with ifs and buts, as if this is some kind of game!" she exclaimed. "We're talking about our son's life here."

"I know! I care about him just as much as you do, honey." Clark sat back in his chair. "Okay, say we send him away — what then? Discretion doesn't exactly seem to be part of his vocabulary, and he looks exactly like me. Assuming he doesn't collapse right here on our front door step, he'll probably wander around Metropolis, babbling about Kryptonians and New Krypton to anyone who'll listen. How long do you think it will be before someone asks him who he is?"

"So what if they do?" she said.

He gave her look as if to say she was missing the obvious. "What if he says he's Superman?"

"And who says he knows anything about Superman? I doubt very much he's Superman in his own world, with an attitude like his," Lois pointed out acerbically.

"But we don't know that for certain, do we?"

Lois shrugged. "Ask him, then."

She endured her husband's tetchy stare for a couple of seconds, then he shoved back his chair and stood up. "Okay, I will."

She waited a few minutes while Clark interrogated their visitor. When he came back, his face looked grim. "He knows," he said, sitting down heavily.

She sighed. "Okay, I admit that complicates things. But if he knows about Superman, he must know how important the secret is."

"Maybe, but I wouldn't want to test that theory." He paused. "Okay, let's say he doesn't mention Superman. That still leaves the fact that people would think he's me, Clark Kent. What if he does something illegal?"

"You just say you're not him — believe me, honey, with that stubble and horrible hair, he doesn't look much like you right now."

Clark screwed up his face in a grimace. "Okay, but I still don't like the idea of letting him go — it's too risky. And he's sick, Lois — since when did we throw sick people out onto the street?"

Well, of course, he was right. Lois put their child's health before anyone else's, but even she didn't have the heart to abandon a sick man on the street. If only there was somewhere else he could go.

"Not only that," Clark continued, "but he's made it clear that he wants to take Jon. If we let him go, there's no telling what he might do. At least if he stays here, we can keep an eye on him."

Lois frowned. "All right, I'll admit you have a point there. But we can't risk Jon's health over this."

"I know." He paused again. "How about I take Jon to stay with Mom and Dad for a few days? Just until we've sorted this mess out."

Lois didn't like the idea of being parted from Jon, even if it was only for a couple of days. She loved her baby boy more than she'd thought was possible. Not only that, but Jon would miss his parents, she was sure — and the thought that he might suffer because of this stranger's interference filled her with more than a little resentment.

Clark was right, though. Jon would be safer in Smallville, and Martha and Jonathan would take good care of their grandchild.

"Do you think they'll have him? It's been a long time since they've looked after a little baby," she said.

"They'll love it, I'm sure," replied Clark with a smile. "I'll fly Jon over first thing tomorrow morning. And tonight we'll take him into our bedroom, just to be sure. Okay?"

She nodded reluctantly. "Okay."

They stood up to rejoin their guest. Just before they opened the door, Lois turned to Clark and put her hand on his chest. "What if he's telling the truth, Clark?" she murmured fearfully. "What if Jon really is his son?"

Clark looked as stricken as she felt herself. "I don't know, honey. I honestly don't know." He drew in a shaky breath. "I do know I couldn't bear to lose Jon. Not now — not ever."

"Me either." She wrapped her arms around his broad chest and hugged him tightly. "We'll figure this out somehow, though."

"Yeah," he agreed softly. "Just like we always do."


He'd refused Perry's offer of a bed for the night. He'd claimed that he was staying with an old friend for a few days until he found a place of his own. The truth was he didn't have anywhere to go. He couldn't face people in his current state of mind. He needed solitude, and so he drifted, napping on park benches during the day and walking the streets by night. It didn't matter where he walked, as long as he kept moving and didn't draw the attention of the police.

He'd lost everything.

Lois was dead, and the child they'd made together was gone.

He'd learned from Perry that Lois had died shortly after their son had been born, the tragic end of a long and extremely difficult pregnancy. Apparently the baby's blood type had disagreed with Lois's, in addition to a whole host of other similar problems. The doctors had tried everything, but in the end, the mother's body had simply been too worn out to fight yet another battle of life and death. No doubt his alien genes had been responsible, he'd concluded silently — another reason to hate himself.

Worse still, without either parents or other living relatives, the hospital authorities had made arrangements to place the child with foster parents. A few nights before the baby had been due to leave the hospital, he'd been snatched from his cot. The police had investigated, but the culprit had never been found.

He was devastated. It seemed that fate had decided to throw everything it possibly could at him, and he began to wonder what use his life was any more.

It was countless days after his talk with Perry, when he'd been queuing for coffee at one of the homeless shelters down by the docks, that he'd been approached by a strange little man in a pin-stripe suit and a bowler hat.

The man had drawn him to one side and told him that his baby son was alive and well, and living with excellent parents who would take good care of him. He had nothing to worry about, the man had said.

Nothing to worry about! Furiously, he'd grabbed the man's lapels and shaken him, demanding to know where these people were who'd stolen his son so ruthlessly. The man had been taken aback by his hostility, but had explained fearfully that his son's new parents weren't child snatchers, but merely a childless couple the man had wanted to help.

"By stealing my son?!" He'd nearly flung the man to the ground, he was so angry.

He'd resolved right then that he was going to get his son back, no matter what it took.


Clark strode purposefully back into the living room. "Okay, whoever you are, it's time you gave us some straight answers. First off, what's your name and how did you get here?"

He'd had enough of this stranger's aggressive demands and shuttered attitude. If Clark was going to give the man a bed for the night, he wanted to know exactly who he was dealing with.

There was no reply from the sofa. Clark would have repeated his question more loudly and insistently, except that when he came around to confront the guy, there was obviously no point. Their visitor was fast asleep.

"Great!" Clark muttered under his breath.

Lois stepped past him and draped the blankets he'd brought downstairs earlier around the man's shoulders.

"What are you doing?" exclaimed Clark, exasperated that she was actually helping their intruder.

"He's sick," she replied. "You don't want him to get worse, do you?"

"No, of course not!" He eyed the man balefully. His head was lolling at an awkward angle and his breathing sounded very chesty and terribly hard work. Clark sighed and began rearranging limbs.

"Okay, so what are you doing?" whispered Lois ironically.

"Like you said, we don't want him to get worse," replied Clark defensively. "Hold his shoulders while I lift his legs up," he instructed.

So together, they made sure the man was lying comfortably on their sofa with plenty of blankets to keep him warm. Then, satisfied that they'd done as much as was reasonable for him, they retired to bed.


He'd forced the truth out of the bowler-hatted man. It hadn't been so very difficult; the man was clearly intimidated and perhaps even fearful for his own safety. That wasn't good — he didn't want people on the planet he still considered his home to be afraid of him — but his need for knowledge was far greater than his need to be temperate and polite.

A crazy tale of parallel universes and time-travelling had unfolded. Apparently, there was another man who looked and sounded exactly like himself, living in a world which was almost the same as his own. This man had a wife and parents, but no children. Medical science had concluded that this man and his wife would never be able to conceive a child together, due to their differing physiologies. They'd been devastated. So Bowler-hat man, upon learning of an apparently orphaned baby in another universe, had decided to make a childless couple happy and at the same time give a parentless child a good home. The perfect solution, he'd thought.

It was a crazy tale, and he didn't believe a word of it at first. Even if he could have believed in the parallel universe theory, how was it that he and Lois had managed to make a baby together if this identical couple could not? Bowler-hat had no answer to that.

So he'd dismissed the man's tale, and simply demanded to be taken to his son. He didn't care about the rest, he'd just wanted to see the child that his beloved Lois had carried for nine months.

His only surviving flesh and blood. Someone he could love — who might even love him.

He'd been desperate, and desperation had made him angry. He'd seen the dawning realisation in the man's eyes; the understanding that a huge error of judgement had been made, but that had merely fuelled his anger. He'd spoken harshly, had shaken the man and bullied him until eventually the man had fumbled hastily in a coat pocket and produced a strange device, which he'd handed over with abject panic in his eyes.

A few button presses later, and he'd been catapulted into a new world.


Lois stood at the top of the stairs in her work clothes, mentally preparing herself to confront their unwelcome visitor. Clark had flown off to Smallville with Jon a few minutes ago, so it was left to her to discover how their visitor had fared overnight.

She closed her eyes briefly. Already, she was missing her baby, and the man downstairs threatened to take him from her permanently. How cruel was that? She took a deep breath, resolving not to let the man see how upset she was: this would be easier if she kept her emotions strictly under control.

At the bottom of the stairs, her eyes darted immediately over to the sofa they'd left him lying on the previous night. She saw a tousled heap of blankets and bare skin; clearly, sometime during the night, he'd shed those filthy clothes of his. She crossed the carpet slowly, a little nervous of what she'd find as she drew closer. Her nose wrinkled as she went; the room smelt musty and carried more than a whiff of stale sweat. They'd probably have to fumigate the sofa after he left, she thought dryly.

To her relief, she discovered that he was still asleep.

Letting out a breath she hadn't realised she was holding, she studied him more closely. He didn't look as if he'd had a restful night, judging by the way his arms and legs were all jumbled up with the blanket. His hair was a mess and his shoulders and chest were mostly uncovered. She noticed to her surprise that his skin was puckered in a couple of places by scars. Apparently he'd been in a fight; perhaps more than one. Right now he was breathing noisily through his open mouth and an unhealthy flush coloured his cheeks.

He ought to be in bed, she thought. Or at the very least, he should be under the blanket instead of lying tangled up in it. She leant forward to see if she could rearrange it without disturbing him.

Her foot kicked something soft, and looking down, she found his pants and shirt in a messy heap on the floor. Deciding the blanket could stay where it was, she picked up his clothes distastefully between finger and thumb, crossed into the kitchen and dumped them unceremoniously in the trash. He could wear something of Clark's when he woke up.

She washed her hands, then set about preparing the minimal breakfast she and Clark usually ate before dashing off to work. They'd decided that she would go to the Daily Planet, leaving Clark at home to deal with the stranger. Since they had a permanent arrangement with Perry to work from home at least once a week, Clark's absence from the newsroom wouldn't be an issue. No-one need know he was baby-sitting their child's possible father instead of Jon himself.

The toast was just popping up out of the toaster when Clark strode through the kitchen door, dressed in jeans and his favourite white t-shirt. "I see he's still asleep," he commented.

"Yes, thank heavens," she replied, collecting the toast and spreading syrup onto it. "I don't think I could have dealt with him this morning. It was bad enough saying goodbye to Jon."

Clark came up behind her and squeezed her shoulders briefly. "I know, honey," he said softly. "Mom and Dad send their love, by the way."

She smiled a quick acknowledgment of their message. "Did you take enough diapers? And his night things — you remembered they're due to be changed tonight, didn't you? And Elephant — you didn't forget Elephant?"

He nodded. "Honey, I remembered everything." He grinned. "Superman was so laden down with baby things, he could have opened his own store."

"And your parents are okay with him?" she added. "It's not too much trouble for them?"

"They're fine. I told you — they're thrilled to have him to themselves for a day or two."

"I just hope they don't spoil him rotten," she said, gulping down the last of her coffee.

Clark shrugged. "I'm sure it won't matter if they do — it's only for a couple of days."

She dumped her empty mug on the draining board and turned back to face him. "I can't understand why you're so calm about this."

He shook his head. "Honey, I'm as upset as you. I'm just trying to stop it from getting to me — we need to be focused to figure this mess out." He came to her and wrapped his arms around her. "This is really tough, I know, but don't forget we don't actually know very much about this guy yet. Let me find out who he is and what his story is before we jump to any conclusions, okay?"

She nodded. "You'll let me know the moment you find out anything important, won't you?"

"Yes, honey."

She kissed him briefly, then gathered up her purse and crossed to the door. "And don't get too close to him — I don't want you catching his flu, or whatever it is he's got."


Clark's laptop clock was well past ten o'clock by the time he heard sounds of movement from the sofa. He glanced over the screen to see their guest sitting up slowly, the blanket falling into his lap to reveal his naked torso. As Lois had done earlier, Clark noticed the scars and wondered when and where they'd happened. The man had mentioned Zara — had he fought with Lord Nor and sustained his injuries then? He was also very thin — a result of his illness, or because of poor nutrition? Lack of sunlight?

Then man coughed briefly, then gazed slowly around the lounge, taking in his surroundings. Clark watched him, waiting for him to notice that he wasn't alone. Otherwise, Clark wasn't in any hurry to initiate a conversation.

His eyes found Clark and immediately his body tensed.

"Morning," said Clark evenly.

"Good morn-" He broke off into a violent coughing fit.

When it showed little sign of abating, Clark stood up and fetched a glass of water and a box of paper hankies from the kitchen. He placed the hankies on the coffee table in front of the man, and held out the glass of water. "Here," he said.

The man accepted the water with a rough "Thanks." Clark stood over him, watching him struggle to take a few sips between coughs. After a couple of minutes, the fit subsided and the man placed the glass on the table, swapping it for a paper hankie with which he wiped his nose and then leant back wearily against the sofa cushions.

"Okay?" asked Clark.

The man nodded, and Clark took a seat opposite him. Again, he waited for the man to speak first.

"Thanks for letting me stay the night," said the man eventually.

Clark shrugged. "We didn't have much choice after you fell asleep on the sofa."

"Oh." He looked around himself vaguely. "Where are my clothes?"

"Lois put them in the trash. You can wear something of mine today."

A brief look of annoyance crossed his face, but he merely answered with a sullen, "Okay."

"Do you want to get washed?" suggested Clark, hoping fervently that the answer would be affirmative; the smell was becoming pretty obnoxious. "The bathroom's upstairs; second on the right."

He nodded, then passed a hand over his face, as if noticing the stubble for the first time. "I don't suppose you've got a spare razor?"

Clark shook his head. "'Fraid not." He refrained from admitting he didn't possess even one razor. This didn't feel like a good time to get into discussions about super powers. "You can use our bedroom to get changed; I'll lay out some clothes while you're getting washed."

The man stood up slowly, letting the blanket fall to the floor. Clark noticed more scars on his body, including one which disfigured the man's right knee quite badly. The man bent stiffly to retrieve the blanket, but Clark stepped quickly forward and scooped it up for him. "Here," he said, handing it to him.

The man took the blanket gratefully and draped it around his shoulders

"What's your name, by the way?" asked Clark. "I need to call you something."

The man stared at him. "Clark Kent, of course. What did you think it was?"

Clark shrugged. "Just didn't want to make any assumptions."

The man's mouth twisted cynically. "You mean I don't behave like Clark Kent. I'm afraid the naive farmer's son and I parted company a long time ago." He coughed harshly and made for the stairs.

Clark let him go without further comment. This taciturn, moody individual was as unlike the previous Clark Kent he'd met as it was possible to get. That man had been pretty much the same as himself, other than his obvious loneliness, but this person didn't even seem to share the same values as Clark did. His gratitude was perfunctory; mostly he seemed to take Clark's hospitality for granted, and he was aggressive and rude — he certainly didn't appear to believe in the common courtesies. Yet he'd just called himself a farmer's son, so he'd presumably had the same upbringing as Clark. Clark sighed; obviously those scars on his body were far more than skin deep.


He'd wanted to live in a house like this. Nothing grand, just a comfortable house with good-sized rooms and enough space for his family to grow up in. It hadn't been an impossible dream — quite a modest one, in fact. He'd marry Lois and they'd have a couple of kids, make a home together and grow old in peace. He'd already made a start on his dream by proposing to Lois. He smiled fondly; the day Lois had agreed to marry him had been one of the happiest in his life.

Then it had all fallen apart. The New Kryptonians had arrived and ripped him away from his dream. He'd been plunged into an alien society, governed by outlandishly feudal laws and near-barbaric rites and customs. It had been like living in the Middle Ages, but with the technology of the future.

Every day he'd grown more disillusioned and bitter. Before he'd arrived on New Krypton, and before he'd met Zara and Ching, he'd imagined that Kryptonians were an advanced race — an enlightened society of people such as his biological mother and father. Who but an enlightened, higher society could produce two such noble, caring people as Jor-El and Lara?

Yet everywhere he'd turned, he'd met bigotry, corruption and greed. The New Kryptonians had less respect for equality than the most backward societies on Earth.

Meanwhile, he'd been coupled with a wife he didn't love, and who didn't love him. It had been clear from the moment he first met them that Zara's true love was her lieutenant, Ching, and he didn't much care in any case. Kryptonian culture and law, however, had demanded that they produce an heir. Nothing could had been less likely — for the first six months they had barely touched each other, let alone shared the same bed.

It had been a far cry from his dream; fighting a war he didn't believe in by day, then coming home at night to a cold, empty relationship and the hard floor he habitually slept on.

Then one day he'd been too sick to sleep on the floor or on one of the many loungers in their bedchamber. Zara had insisted he take the bed, and then had shocked him by joining him under the bedcovers. He'd shunned her immediately, turning away from her — he'd wanted to keep the memory of his one night with Lois pure and unsullied by any contact with another woman.

But she'd murmured soft, soothing words to him; kind, gentle words he'd so desperately needed to hear. He'd been vulnerable, and she'd recognised his despair and responded to it. He'd ended up falling asleep in her arms.

Thereafter, he'd found himself abandoning the hard floor and opting for the soft bed more and more often.

But no more than that. They might have slept in the same bed, but he never let things go any further. Zara had tried, and there had been times, when he was at his lowest ebb, when he'd found her hard to resist. But he'd known in his heart that she was merely doing her duty; anxious to produce the heir that society demanded. And there was no way he would ever share his body with any other woman but Lois.

Lois. She had given him a child, and he hadn't even known it. And now he was standing in that child's bedroom.

He'd noticed the empty crib in the Kents' bedroom while he'd been dressing, and had wondered where the baby was. He hadn't really intended to snoop, but as he'd emerged from their bedroom, he couldn't help noticing the adjacent room, decorated in bright colours and containing a dresser with a baby's changing mat set on top of it. Curious, he'd stepped cautiously across the threshold, not wishing to confront Kent's wife.

Thankfully, the room had been empty, and with more confidence, he'd wandered in, taking in every detail of his son's life with these clones of himself and Lois.

"Just what do you think you're doing in here?!"

He whirled around to find a white-faced Clark Kent staring angrily at him from the door. His hackles rose immediately — what did the man think he'd been doing, for heaven's sake? He shrugged. "I was just looking," he said.

"Well, go look someplace else," replied Kent through gritted teeth. "There's nothing for you here."


Clark stared stonily at the other man as he passed by in the doorway. Once the man was out, he glanced quickly around Jon's room to make sure everything was in place, then shut the door firmly.

To think he'd come up here because he'd thought the guy might need his help! Downstairs, he'd followed the man's progress vaguely, aware of him exiting the bathroom and padding into their bedroom to dress. Then things had gone quiet, and after a while he'd started to worry that the guy had fainted or something. He'd jogged upstairs, only to find him standing in the middle of their son's bedroom.

Obviously he'd been intending to steal Jon from behind their backs.

Clark followed the intruder downstairs, shepherding him closely every step of the way. At the bottom of the stairs, the man turned. "Where is he, anyway?"

The brazen cheek of the man! Clark gritted his teeth, and replied, "Somewhere safe."

"You don't have to hide him from me, you know," the other Clark said. "I'm not a baby snatcher — I wouldn't do that to my own son."

"Well, you'll forgive me if I don't give you the benefit of the doubt," replied Clark coldly. "I'll give you my trust when I see some evidence that you deserve it."

The other Clark shook his head incredulously. "Just what kind of monster do you think I am?"

"The kind that turns up unannounced on someone's doorsteps and demands they hand over their child to a complete stranger," retorted Clark angrily. "A stranger who doesn't even identify himself, let alone offer any explanation as to why he claims to be their child's father." It was Clark's turn to shake his head slowly. "How do you think you'd feel if you were in my shoes?"

The other Clark strode past him into the lounge. "Upset," he said, with his back to Clark. "Angry. Scared."

Well, he'd got that right! But he'd omitted one pretty obvious emotion. "What about suspicious?"

He nodded. "That too." He whirled around, his face creased with anguish. "But how do you think I feel? I just found out my fiancee's dead and a son I didn't even know I had has been snatched away and given to another couple!" He sank down onto a sofa and hung his head dejectedly. "You have no idea how I feel," he said chokingly. "No idea."

Clark watched as his visitor broke into a rough coughing fit. There was no denying the honesty of the man's emotions, he thought. He clearly believed implicitly that Jon was his son, and Clark could only imagine how devastated he must feel if he'd recently lost Lois as well.

His anger dissipating, he decided it was time to find out the whole story about this man. First, though, it looked like another glass of water was needed, and perhaps Clark should also provide some breakfast. The guy obviously needed food.


Two hours later, Clark had acquired the information he needed, but at the same time, he had acquired a huge and daunting problem.

It hadn't been easy to coax the other Clark into telling his story. Clark had needed to use all his skills as an interviewer to persuade the man to talk freely, and even now, Clark was pretty sure there was a lot he hadn't been told. Here and there he'd gained little glimpses into an even bleaker version of events, when the narrative would falter or a look of pain would cross the man's face, but these were never explained. Some things were obviously just too raw and painful to describe freely to an almost total stranger. However, Clark now had the bare facts of the situation, and he had nothing but sympathy for the guy.

This man could so easily have been himself, if things had gone differently with the New Kryptonians. If Nor hadn't decided to come to Earth, but instead staged his battle elsewhere, then Clark might never have returned to Earth. He would have remained with Zara, ruled New Krypton, and been forced to abandon his old life entirely. Gradually, he would have been assimilated into a wholly new and strange culture.

This other Clark had travelled part of the way down the path of assimilation, Clark concluded. Based on Clark's own experience with the New Kryptonians, he thought grimly that much of the other Clark's abrupt and rude manner was probably due to Kryptonian influences. That had been further exacerbated by his terrible experiences during the war. Clark hadn't been told much at all about those; they were clearly the rawest memories of all, and would probably remain private for ever. All he could tell was that this was a damaged, confused person — neither Kryptonian nor human; a misfit in both cultures.

Then to be dumped by his own people and left to discover that the one person who was capable of rescuing him from the brink of despair was dead — Clark was forced to agree with his visitor: it was impossible to fully understand how that might feel.

And then there was the issue of Jon. Clark was furious with the man he was convinced was responsible for this mess: Herbert G Wells. Once again, Wells had poked his nose into someone else's life, thought he could make improvements, and ruined not just one person's happiness, but three — four if you counted Jon himself. Clark would happily wring Wells' neck for creating such heartache and sorrow.

There was no question that the other Clark was telling the truth. No-one could invent a story which involved parallel universes and a dead author who travelled through time. As soon as he'd mentioned an odd-looking man in a bowler hat, all the pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place.

But what was Clark to do? Lois and he loved Jon; they'd brought him up as their own and he was an essential part of their lives. Clark couldn't imagine life without Jon.

He also couldn't imagine this stranger becoming Jon's father. He wasn't stable; he was rough and aggressive, and in need of loving care and attention himself. He wasn't ready to devote the physical and spiritual energy a parent needed to care for a little baby.

What should they do?

Clark was standing in the kitchen making coffee, wrestling with these issues, when a voice yelled "Help, Superman!" and he was forced to set his own problems aside. Someone needed his help, and he had to respond. He gave his visitor a hurried explanation and then sped quickly into the skies.


"Lois, you got that lead for me yet?"

Perry's strident voice jolted her out of her reverie. Realising she'd frozen in place, she sat up straight, hastily clicked a few random buttons on the screen and promptly lost the meagre five lines of story she'd written about fifteen minutes earlier.

Cursing inwardly, she looked up as her boss approached. "Uh, just give me another couple of minutes, Perry," she said. "I'm nearly done."

He raised his eyebrows. "Oh, really? Then I may as well read what you've got right here," he said, swivelling her monitor around.

She grabbed the monitor quickly to stop him shifting it. "No!" When he gave her an enquiring look, she continued hurriedly, "You know what a perfectionist I am."

His expression turned to undisguised scepticism, but thankfully he didn't force the monitor any further around. "I'll give you ten minutes, seeing as it's Alice's birthday today. Ten minutes and no more — you got that?"

She nodded. "Got it."

He strode away, yelling "Jimmy! Where's that picture you promised me half an hour ago?"

Lois sighed and pulled the monitor back to her side of the desk again. She knew Perry wasn't fooled by her act; he was fully aware that she'd hardly written a word all morning. The only reason he was leaving her alone was her track record of pulling stories out of nowhere faster than anyone else on the staff.

Meanwhile, her thoughts kept turning back to their unexpected visitor and his claim on their son. What if he really was Jon's father? Should they hand him back? She couldn't bear the thought.

Yet she felt very sorry for the man, despite all that. His distress had been clear — those tears which had escaped from beneath his tightly shut eyelids were genuine tears of anguish and pain. Clark almost never cried, so it was pretty upsetting to see his double so openly emotional. And when he'd thought she was his Lois, she'd hardly had the heart to correct him. Perhaps it would have been kinder to pretend that she was, at least for a few minutes. Of course, she'd have only made things worse for him when she'd dropped the pretence, and that was why she'd had to be honest with him.

He was sick, too. His cheeks had been flushed with fever and that cough had sounded really painful. She wished they could give him something for it, but Clark always said normal medicine wouldn't work on him.


She jumped. Guiltily, she realised she'd wandered off again. But hang on, that wasn't Perry's voice. She looked up.

"Oh, hi, honey," she said, surprised to find her husband standing in front of her. "What are you doing here?"

"I've just been — " Clark waggled his hand in their private 'flying' gesture, "- so I thought I'd drop by and give you the news so far before going back home."

"Great, but I have a lead story to finish and Perry's on the warpath," she replied. "I've got five minutes or else…"

Clark came around her side of the desk. "Want some help?"

At her nod, he leant over her keyboard, muttering, "Let's see what you've got so far," and then "Ouch!" when he discovered how little she'd written. His hands hovered over the keys. "Do you mind?"

"Go right ahead," she said, understanding that he was about to complete the story at superspeed. He glanced around quickly for unwanted onlookers, and then his fingers turned into a flesh-coloured blur as they flew over the keyboard. A few seconds later, he was waving away a wisp of smoke which had risen up from the overheated keys and leaning back so that she could review his work.

She read it quickly, reflecting ruefully that she really had been struggling over nothing. Normally, she could have written this story in her sleep.

"Well?" he asked.

She shrugged. "It'll do."

"Oh, come on, Lois — you know it's as good as anything you would have written," he said.

"Well, I'd already done the hard part," she pointed out.

He shook his head, smiling indulgently. "Why is everything a contest with you?"

She grinned. "Keeps life interesting."

He grimaced. "Well, our lives are interesting enough already. Want me to update you on our visitor?"

"Okay, but not here."

She sent the completed story to Perry, then stood up and led the way into the conference room.


So they'd hidden the child away someplace else while he was asleep. Well, he supposed he'd have done the same in their shoes, but he wished they hadn't. He'd only managed a glimpse of his son last night, and that tantalising image, already burned into his memory, made him long for more. He wanted to hold his baby, feel the living warmth of his own flesh and blood.

Instead, he had to make do with the things in his son's bedroom. His host had made it clear that he wasn't welcome there, but he hadn't been able to resist the room's pull as soon as he'd been left alone in the house.

He went around the room slowly, picking up items at random and turning them thoughtfully round in his hands. Everything was a precious link to his son. Even the bedclothes — he picked up a soft blanket and held it to his cheek for a moment, breathing in the sweet clean smell of soap and baby powder. It was such a sharp contrast to the stench of battle that he'd lived with for the last year and a half.

He replaced the blanket on his son's crib, and glanced around the room for photos — surely there must be one or two somewhere. Finding none, he wandered next door into the master bedroom. Sure enough, there was a silver-framed photo on the dressing table. He picked it up and sank down onto the bed, gazing at the picture.

It showed Lois cradling his son in her arms, when he was probably only a couple of months old. He was wrapped in a soft pale blue blanket and was gazing up at her with big round eyes. A shock of dark brown hair peeked out from under the blanket, and one of his chubby little baby hands was clutching at her dressing gown. She in turn was looking down at him with a fond smile on her lips.

It was the perfect picture of a mother and her baby in complete harmony with each other.

Tears blurred his eyes as he gazed down at his adorable, beautiful son in the arms of a woman who looked exactly like his dead fianc‚e. This was how it should have been; this was the future he'd dreamt of all those months ago. He traced the images in the photo with his finger, feeling as miserable and desolate as the day he'd learned of the double tragedy which had befallen his future wife and their baby.

<Oh, Lois! I want you back!>

A sob caught in his throat and made him cough painfully. Soon, what little control he had left fled from him, and he was crying freely, the sobs mixing painfully with his coughs. He could never have let go like this back on New Krypton, and he'd been too numb while he'd been aimlessly wandering the streets of his own Metropolis, but now he didn't care. His chest hurt and his throat was raw, but all he wanted was Lois to be alive and for them both to be reunited with their baby.

Clutching the photo to his chest, he curled up on the bed and begged silently for the nightmare to stop and for sanity and peace to return into his life.


Clark eyed his wife anxiously as he finished updating her on everything he'd learned from their visitor. He'd come here to fulfil his promise of keeping her informed of new developments, but he was also hoping that she might have some idea of what to do next. He had his own ideas, but none of them held much promise.

She was tapping the end of a pen against the conference table in a nervous staccato beat while she processed his news. This was not a good sign, he reflected. Her best ideas usually came out in rapid fire, often before he'd even finished talking. This time, she was having to think, and that meant she was probably as stumped as he was.

"So we believe him?" she asked eventually.

Clark sighed. "I don't see how he could be lying. How many people do you know who could make up a story as far- fetched as that?"

Her mouth twisted. "I could think of a few dozen on The National Enquirer."

"Okay, other than tabloid journalists, how many?" he said.

"Ralph on a slow news day," she suggested.

"Lo-is," he admonished.

She pulled a face. "Okay, so he's telling the truth. That doesn't mean we automatically have to hand Jon back to him."

"I never said it did," he protested.

"No, but I could see it written all over your face." She held up a hand to shut him up when he started to object. "I know you love Jon as much as I do, and I know you can't bear the thought of losing him — all that goes without saying. But I also know you, Clark. You always want to do the right thing, and to you, the right thing in this case means reuniting a father with his son."

He couldn't deny that — he felt pretty strongly about it, despite the fact that he was adopted himself. But that was a general rule, not a hard and fast dictum he was bound to follow at all costs. Sure, the man deserved to raise his own son, but in this case, there were other considerations. What was best for Jon? That had to be the most important question they should be trying to answer.

So he shook his head. "No, the right thing in this case is whatever is best for Jon."

She nodded. "You're absolutely right. So, given that Jon's spent almost all of his life with us so far, and we'll continue to give him a loving, supportive environment in which to grow and prosper, why should we even consider changing that?"

"Because…well, because he'll always be adopted," said Clark, finally managing to put his finger on what was bothering him. "And I should know better than most how that feels, honey."

"It hasn't exactly scarred you for life," she said. "In fact, I'd say you're one of the most stable people I know."

Clark shook his head again. "You know how much I've thought about Jor-El and Lara; how often I've pulled out the globe to see and hear them talk to me. I may be stable, but you can't deny that being adopted has made a difference to me."

"So what are you suggesting — that we uproot Jon from his home and send him away with a complete stranger, just so he doesn't have to be adopted?" exclaimed Lois. "If so, you're wrong, you're very, very wrong."

She was upset; understandably so. He stood up and gathered her into his arms. "Hey," he said softly. "You know I wouldn't want that."

He held her quietly for a few moments, leaving aside the talk for a while. Sometimes it was easier just to comfort each other silently, rather than thrash out a problem until it hurt. They often avoided rows this way, and this particular problem had all the makings of a huge argument if they allowed it to get the better of them.

Lois pulled away from him after a few minutes. "I have a suggestion."

He smiled gently. This was how it usually worked; if they let themselves calm down a little, one or other would often find a solution they could agree on. "Shoot," he said.

"Okay, here it is: even if we agreed that Jon should be with his Dad, I don't think either of us believe his Dad is actually capable of looking after him right now. You agree?" she said.

"One hundred percent," he replied. "He needs to pull himself together and start thinking about the practicalities, like where they'd live and how he'd support Jon. He also needs to get fit — I don't think it's even occurred to him that he could infect Jon with that cough of his."

"Exactly." She placed her hand on his chest. "So how about we suggest he goes back to his own universe for a while, then returns when he's sorted himself out?" she said. "Then we all sit down together and discuss what's best for Jon."

Clark wasn't convinced. "Isn't that just postponing a decision we'll have to make anyway, whether or not he goes away for a time?"

"Yes, but at least it gives him space to really think about what he's taking on," she replied, "and then we can have a calm, rational discussion instead of an emotional mud- slinging match."

"And we get time to think about it properly," he added, nodding. "But put yourself in his place — would you be willing to leave without your son?"

"If we can persuade him it's in Jon's best interests, he might," she replied. "I'll leave that to you; you're better at the touchy-feely stuff than I am."

Clark smiled. "Why thank you, oh hard-bitten and hard-as- nails partner."

"My pleasure," she replied. She reached up to kiss him. "Now, isn't it time you flew back home to check our guest hasn't absconded with the silver?"

"Lois, he wouldn't do that!" he protested. "He's basically a good guy — he's just had a raw deal."

She raised her eyebrows. "This from the man who was giving me a hard time for being nice to him last night?"

"Well, you were just as bad, tucking him up in that blanket," he retorted. He gave her a quick kiss. "See you later."

She returned the kiss. "Bye."


Later that day, Lois trod wearily up the stairs to their house. It had been a long day at work, what with the distraction of her worries about their visitor and the upset of knowing Jon was miles away in Smallville.

She walked into the living room to find Clark still sitting at the dining room table working on his laptop. She crossed the room to him and bent over to give him a kiss.

"So how was the rest of your day?" he asked.

She flopped down on the dining chair beside his. "Average, I guess. Spent most of the afternoon on the phone trying to get an interview with the new fire chief. Seems he's too busy meeting politicians to speak to the media. How was yours?"

"Okay — I rescued yet another construction worker on that new shopping mall site. We really should take a look into that, you know. I also started work on the Schreiber research." He pressed a couple of keys on the laptop and shut the lid. "But I haven't spoken to our guest yet."

She realised she hadn't seen him. "Where is he?"

"Sleeping in our bedroom. I found him up there when I got home, and he hasn't been down since."

"Well, maybe the rest will do him some good. He looked like he hadn't slept for days." She paused. "Please tell me he cleaned himself up before lying on our bed," she said, her skin crawling at the idea of that filthy body from last night rolling all over their bedclothes.

Clark smiled. "Don't worry, he took a shower this morning. All he needs is a shave and he'll be as good as new."

Remembering the scars she'd witnessed, both physical and mental, Lois shook her head. "I doubt he'll ever be that. He's been through too much." She glanced at the stairs. "Have you checked on him since you got back?"

"No, I figured he could do with some peace and quiet," replied Clark.

"Okay, why don't you start dinner while I make sure he's okay?" she suggested.

Clark stood up. "Good idea. Tell him dinner will be ready in half an hour."


He crouched behind the door, flinching at each scream, each gun-shot which rang out from within. His men huddled with him, waiting for his signal. Any moment now they would storm the house, engage the enemy and evict them from the building. Meanwhile, mayhem raged within as Nor's men took their cruel pleasure with the occupants. A baby cried out and was abruptly silenced…he didn't dare imagine how. A man yelled his outraged protest but was flung bodily against the wall and pummelled with a rain of fists and kicks. A woman sobbed and screamed hoarsely for mercy…rough male voices laughed and more shots rang out.

He couldn't bear it any longer. He prepared for battle, winding himself up like a tight spring, tightening his grip on his weapon and blanking out the emotions. He barked a one-word order to his men-

A hand touched his shoulder and he whirled around to grab the hand of his enemy and fling them to the ground.

But there was no enemy there. Instead, he found himself staring into the frightened eyes of his fianc‚e.


Lois froze, caught in the wild, fierce stare of their visitor as he held her wrist in a vice-like grip. She'd never been terrified of Clark, but momentarily, this man was managing to scare the living daylights out of her.

She'd come into their bedroom to find him still asleep. He'd been lying on his back, one hand fisting the bedclothes tightly while his head twitched restlessly on the pillows and he mumbled incoherently to himself. It was clearly an uneasy sleep; possibly even a nightmare.

She'd watched him for a while, unsure whether to wake him or let him rest a little longer. After all, he surely needed as much sleep as he could get, given his poor state of health. At least, she'd noted with some relief, he didn't smell any more — that would help his health as well as her ability to remain in the same room as him for more than five minutes.

She'd frowned as he became even more agitated — this wasn't rest at all. If he kept this up much longer, he'd be more tired than when he went to sleep. Making her decision, she'd leant over the bed and shaken his shoulder firmly, saying his name and ordering him to wake up.

She hadn't been prepared for the hand which suddenly grabbed her wrist and the intense, steely gaze full of aggression and hate.

His grip was very painful; he was crushing her wrist. "You're hurting me," she said quietly, not daring to move another muscle until he let her go.

His gaze moved slowly over her face and, to her relief, she saw recognition soften his eyes. He released her wrist with a mumbled, "Sorry."

She rotated her hand wincingly to make sure it still worked, noting the red weals on her skin which would undoubtedly turn into colourful bruises in time. Her own Clark would no doubt have words to say about that.

"Is it okay?"

She met this Clark's guilty gaze and nodded. "I'll survive. I'm sorry I startled you."

He shook his head on the pillow. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry." He closed his eyes. "I never used to hurt people, but that's all I seem to do these days," he murmured bitterly.

Once more, pain and sadness had clouded his face and she wondered if there was any hope left in the world for this man. He seemed so terribly desolate and broken. Would he even be happy if they let him take Jon back with him? Looking at him now, it seemed impossible to imagine him playing joyously with his son, as Clark did every night with Jon. At best, she could picture him clutching his baby protectively to his chest, while Jon whimpered uncertainly. He, the father, might gain something from the reunion, but she couldn't see Jon getting much out of it.

She cleared her throat. "Um, if you're feeling up to it, Clark's making dinner downstairs. He said it'll be ready in around 30 minutes."

He opened his eyes to look at her. "Thanks. That's kind of you, considering how badly I've behaved."

She shrugged. "Don't thank me, thank Clark."

He pushed himself up on the bed and she drew back to give him some room. That was when she noticed her picture lying on the covers next to his hand. He saw her looking at it and picked it up. "It's a lovely picture," he said, gazing down at it.

She eyed the photo of herself with Jon. "Yes, Jon was only a couple of months old when that was taken. He was already a real cutie, even at that age."

He nodded. "Do you have any more photos of him?" he asked, looking up again.

She hesitated. Of course they did — they had stacks of photos and videos of Jon at every stage of development, from his first smile to the first time he started to crawl. Whether it was a good idea to let this Clark see them was debatable, however. Surely it would just strengthen his resolve to reclaim Jon as his own.

"I'd love to see them," he prompted.

"I…I don't think that would be a good idea, do you?" she replied. "Not until we've cleared a few things up."

His mouth set in a hard line. "They're only photos," he said.

"I know, but I still think it would be better if we kept things neutral for now." She held up a placatory hand when his face blackened even further. "Look, this is hard for all of us. There's no manual for a situation like this and we're all just doing the best we can. Please don't push too hard."

He still looked grim, but he merely sighed and stood up. "I'd better get freshened up for dinner."

She breathed a sigh of relief and turned to leave. "I'll see you downstairs."


Clark stretched over with the wine bottle to their guest's glass. "Wine?" he offered.

"Yes. Thanks," replied the other Clark.

Clark poured the wine, then filled his own glass. "Look, what shall we call you? We can't both be Clark."

Their guest shrugged. "Call me anything you like."

"How about Kal-El?" suggested Lois.

"No," snapped their guest immediately. "Anything but that."

Clark exchanged an uneasy glance with his wife. "Well, how about CK? Some of my friends call me that."

The suggestion appeared to meet with his approval. "All right," he said.

Clark relaxed. "Okay, CK, how are you? You don't seem to be coughing so much as you were earlier."

CK shrugged. "I'm okay, I guess."

"You look better, too," added Lois. "You don't have that unhealthy flush any more. Your temperature's probably back to normal."

"I guess all that sleep must have done me some good," said CK. "I…well, I haven't been sleeping all that well these past few days," he added, dropping his eyes down to his plate.

Clark nodded. "I can imagine. Well, tuck in," he encouraged heartily. "I'm sure you'll feel even better once you've got some food inside you."

CK picked up his fork and began to eat slowly, his head still bowed over his plate. Clark glanced at Lois again — this was going to be a l-o-n-g dinner — sighed and began to eat. At least the food was good even if the company was not.

Conversation during dinner was slow and stilted, and Clark was relieved when he and Lois were finally able to make an escape together into the kitchen on the pretext of clearing dishes and making coffee.

"Jon's going to pick up some great social skills from this guy," muttered Lois under her breath while they were both at the sink.

"Give him a chance, honey," replied Clark. "Meals are very formal affairs on New Krypton, especially within the noble classes. People don't speak much."

"Yes, but he's on Earth now, and here we talk to each other. I don't want Jon growing up into a social misfit," she said pointedly.

"He won't," insisted Clark. "Besides, aren't you jumping the gun a little? We haven't even decided where Jon's going."

"I'm just weighing up pros and cons," she answered darkly. "And right now all I see are cons."

Clark had to agree. As much as he tried to keep an open mind, CK didn't seem to have very much at all going for him as prospective father material. Clark was sure he'd fail any adoption board's tests, whether on grounds of financial stability or on his ability to provide the appropriate nurturing environment for a young child.

"Can I help?"

Clark looked up from scraping the substantial remains of CK's dinner into the trash; his appetite had been surprisingly small for a man of his bulk. He'd claimed he wasn't used to eating large meals any more, but Clark thought his illness probably had something to do with it too. "Thanks, CK, but all of this will go in the dishwasher," he said. "And the coffee's nearly ready."

"Oh, okay." Nevertheless, CK came further into the room. "I…I wanted to apologise to you both," he said. "I've been pretty rude and ungrateful since I arrived, and yet you've been nothing but kind and generous towards me. I…I'm sorry about that — for not thanking you, I mean. And for being so rude."

Clark blinked in surprise; he'd given up waiting for any thanks from CK, so this was a pleasant shock. He straightened up from the trashcan and held out his hand. "Apology accepted," he said evenly.

CK took his hand and gripped it briefly. "Thank you. And Lois?" he said, turning around to Lois, who was still at the sink.

Lois dried her hands quickly and offered her hand to CK. "No hard feelings," she said.

"Thank you," said CK. "So maybe we can talk about the subject we've all been avoiding?"

Clark nodded. "Sure. Help yourself to a coffee and we'll go next door."


Lois settled down next to Clark on the sofa and was grateful when he rested an arm loosely around her waist. She'd told CK 'no hard feelings' in the kitchen, but the truth was, her feelings were completely divided. On the one hand, she felt very sorry for him, but on the other, she still resented his intrusion into their lives. Clark and she had settled down nicely as a comfortable and closely-knit family of three, but now less than a year after Jon had arrived, here was his natural father come to break everything up.

And this conversation they were about to have was one she'd been dreading all day. It just wasn't fair that they should have to discuss whether or not they were going to keep Jon. He was their baby — their only baby! There was no second chance here; if they lost Jon, then they would be childless for the rest of their lives.

CK sat opposite, nursing his mug of coffee thoughtfully. He looked very different to the bedraggled man who'd fallen across their front door the previous night. He was clean, his hair was neat, his clothes were fresh, and he looked much healthier. His stubbly beard prevented him from looking like a carbon copy of Clark, but the differences were far fewer than they had been.

There was still an air of deep melancholy about him, though. He didn't smile, and he was quiet and withdrawn. Clark's clothes hung loosely on him, partly because he was thinner than Clark, but also because his posture was poor — he didn't hold himself well. Clark walked tall and carried himself with ease, whereas CK stooped and seemed tense and uncomfortable.

She wondered if he had any powers, or if he didn't, whether they would return eventually. That grip he'd had on her wrist earlier had certainly felt powerful enough to be at least partly super-powered, so maybe he was recovering. And perhaps, she thought, if he recovered his powers, he'd start to feel better about himself — at any rate, he'd feel fitter and stronger, and good health usually encouraged a positive attitude.

"Did Clark tell you what I told him this morning?" CK asked, interrupting her thoughts.

She nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry about your fianc‚e," she said, unhappy with the emptiness of the words. But what could you say? — nothing would bring his fianc‚e back, and whatever she said wouldn't ease his pain.

"Yes, so am I," he replied with a bitter laugh. He paused, then looked up quickly with regret in his eyes. "Sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"It's okay," she said. "I understand." He'd automatically responded to her trite words with something equally inappropriate, using the banal words to mask his real feelings. She recognised the ploy; she did it a lot herself.

He relaxed a little and took a slow sip of coffee. Then another. Lois noticed that the hand which was holding his mug had started to shake, and as he took another drink, the lip of the mug rattled against his teeth. He lowered the mug to his knees, his hand still shaking, and stared stonily at the floor. His face was strained; he was clearly trying very hard to hold his emotions in check.

"Are you okay?" asked Clark gently.

He nodded jerkily. "Yeah."

"Don't worry," said Lois. "Take your time."

She glanced at Clark. They'd been prepared for acrimony and a heated argument, but not this. She'd even have preferred the former, because at least that way, she could have had her say and told him exactly how she felt. Dealing with CK in this state was going to be a lot harder. This way, she'd have to soft pedal, and that meant they might not actually achieve very much.

"I just need a minute," CK said in a choked voice.

"Sure," said Lois. They waited while he struggled to compose himself. Clark fetched a box of tissues after a couple of minutes and placed it on the table in front of CK.

He looked up with eyes full of unshed tears, ignoring the tissues. "It's just that you look so much like her…sound like her, too. I'm not usually so…so pathetic!" he said, clearly disgusted with his show of weakness. He took a drink of his coffee and settled back in his chair, nursing the coffee between his hands. "So where is he? My son, I mean."

"CK, you know we won't tell you that," said Clark steadily. "You and I already discussed that this morning."

"No, actually, I think we discussed the fact that you think I'm a child-snatcher," replied CK harshly. "Why won't you let me see him? Your wife won't even let me see any photos of him!"

"Well, I imagine she doesn't want to make things even more emotional than they already are," replied Clark. "That about right, honey?"

Lois nodded. "Exactly. As for why we won't let you see him — I would have thought that was obvious to any responsible parent." She hadn't intended to phrase it quite like that, but his manner was raising her hackles again — even when he was upset, he didn't seem able to avoid challenging everything they said.

A look of annoyance crossed his face. "Oh, really?" he said, clearly not believing her. "It's not because you're scared I'll steal him from you, then?"

"No, actually, it's not," she retorted. "We must be crazy, but for some reason we actually trust you." She shook her head. "Frankly, I think we both need our heads examined. But anyway, the real reason Jon's not here is because you're sick — we don't want Jon catching your illness. I take it you wouldn't want that either?" she added.

CK looked suitably surprised. "No." He shook his head. "No, I wouldn't want that at all."


He hadn't thought of that. Yes, since Jon was half- Kryptonian, there was a possibility that he could contract a Kryptonian virus. And with no appropriate medicines available to treat him, that could be dangerous. The bug wasn't much more than a bad cough and a heavy cold to CK, but to a little baby, it could be much worse.

Suddenly, he felt stupid and selfish for not thinking of Jon's welfare. His own experiences on New Krypton should have made him realise the dangers of exposing someone without any natural resistance to infection and illness. And Lois was probably right — a good parent should think of these things.

But he'd learn, wouldn't he? As long as he loved Jon, everything else would be all right.


Lois saw that her words had hit home, and decided to pursue her advantage. "Tell me, have you really thought what it would be like if you took Jon home with you?" she asked. "How are you going to live, for example? Do you even have a job? Looking after a baby isn't exactly cheap, in case you didn't know."

"I know," he said. "But I also know that I'd love him, and that's the most important thing. The rest will take care of itself."

Lois laughed sardonically. "Get real, CK! Love won't buy you diapers or formula, or child-care while you're at work — assuming you get a job, of course. And what are you going to do if he gets sick? You won't be able to take him to a doctor," she said.

"I'll manage," he said doggedly. "I don't suppose you two did everything right, either."

"No, but at least there were two of us to share the burden," chipped in Clark. "And we have an understanding boss who lets us work from home. You may not be so lucky."

"Other single parents manage," he replied. "Look, I know what you're trying to do, and it won't work. I want my son back, and that's that." He coughed briefly; evidence that his health wasn't fully back to normal.

Lois's patience snapped. "He is not some sort of commodity that you can just pass around from place to place! He's a living, breathing human being with feelings just like you and me. You can't demand him back just to fill the empty space left by your dead fianc‚e!"

She regretted the words as soon as they were out — he looked as shocked and hurt as if she'd slapped him hard across the face. But she'd only said what she'd been thinking, and what she was sure was true.

"That is not what I'm doing," he said coldly.

"Well, it sure looks like it from where I'm sitting," she said.

She was sure she was right — he hadn't given Jon's welfare a single thought, that much was clear. He'd just barged over here as soon as he'd found out he had a son and demanded him back as if he was dealing with a stray cat. At best, Jon's purpose was simply to remind CK of Lois.

She felt Clark give her a warning squeeze. "Let's all cool it a little, shall we?" he suggested. "We won't get this settled by yelling at each other. CK, I've been wondering — do you actually have any way of getting back to your own universe? Did that guy give you anything; a device of some sort?"

CK nodded. "Yes, it's in my pants pocket…" His eyes widened. "Which is in the trash! Do you still have it? Have they collected the trash yet?"

Clark leapt up. "No. Hold on, I'll check."

Lois felt the draft as he sped away into the kitchen at superspeed. She looked at CK. "Sorry."

His mouth twisted. "Didn't you notice my pants were too heavy?"

She shrugged. "The smell distracted me."

The kitchen doors flew open and Clark came to a standstill between them. "Found it," he said, holding up a small calculator-sized object. "Here," he said, handing it to CK and sitting down again.

CK checked it briefly. "Thanks. At least I'm not stranded here." He glared silently at Lois.

"Like I said, I'm sorry," she said, biting back any further retort for Clark's benefit.

"So, now that we've found that, I have a suggestion," said Clark. "I assume we all agree that whatever's best for Jon is what's most important."

CK nodded. "Of course."

"And would you accept that you've got a few things to work out before you and Jon can settle down together?" he added.

"Maybe, but that won't be a problem," said CK.

"Maybe not," said Clark. "But here's the suggestion: you go home for a few days and sort out a place to stay and a job. You find out about child care, get a few baby supplies together — Lois can give you a list — get yourself sorted out, get your strength back, and then you come back here and we discuss Jon's future together."

CK laughed bitterly and shook his head. "And in the meantime, you go into hiding with Jon and I never find you again. No, I'm not buying that at all."

Lois snorted. "Told you," she said to Clark. "We're supposed to trust him, but he won't trust us as far as he could throw us."

"Lo-is," said Clark. "You're not helping, honey."

She looked at him incredulously. "I'm not helping? He's the one being unreasonable." She held out her wrist for him to see the bruises beginning to form in a circle. "And look what happens if you catch him unawares," she continued, suppressing any guilt she might feel at exploiting one of CK's most vulnerable moments to make her own point. This was too important to gloss over. "Imagine if my wrist had been Jon's arm or his leg."

Clark sucked in a shocked breath and took hold of her arm gently. "Is it okay — it's not broken, is it?" He flicked his glasses down his nose and stared at her wrist intently for a couple of seconds. "No, you're fine. Can you move it around all right?"

She rotated her wrist a couple of times to demonstrate. "It's fine — just a little stiff."

Clark looked across at CK. "What happened?" he asked sternly.

"It…it was an accident," replied CK. "I was sleeping…I-I didn't know it was her. I thought she was…" He dropped his eyes to the carpet. "It wouldn't happen with Jon," he muttered fiercely.

"How do you know that?" asked Lois. "All I did was shake your shoulder and call your name. What happens if Jon comes near you when you're asleep? — babies don't understand personal space, you know. Will you attack him like you attacked me?"

"No! I wouldn't do that," he protested.


But what if she was right? He had nightmares like the one she'd interrupted every time he feel asleep. In fact, he couldn't remember when he'd last slept peacefully.

What if he fell asleep while holding Jon? Could he actually crush his own child, thinking instead that he was destroying the demons which came to him every time he closed his eyes?

Surely not.

And he could take precautions to avoid it happening, like putting Jon down whenever he felt sleepy, or making sure he never took Jon into bed with him. That would be okay, wouldn't it?

Except that babies weren't always conveniently quiet and content when you were sleepy. Sometimes you had to put their needs before yours; sometimes you had to hold them and comfort them even when you were half-asleep with exhaustion. How would he cope with that?

It would work, he thought fiercely. Somehow, he'd make it work.


Clark watched CK issue denial after denial, and reflected that the more he protested, the clearer it became that he knew that Lois was making important and telling points. Clark himself thought that she'd been a little cruel with him, but there was no denying the truth: CK was still in a very fragile emotional state and, coupled with his natural strength, that made him a dangerous person to tangle with.

"Do you have any of your powers back yet?" he asked CK.

CK frowned. "I don't know — who cares, anyway? I won't be using them any more."

"Superman won't be returning when you go home?" exclaimed Clark in surprise. Being Superman was as natural as breathing to him — he couldn't imagine life without the opportunity to use his powers to do some good around the world.

"How can I be Superman after the things I've seen and done?" said CK bitterly. "I've killed — sent men to their death."

Clark hadn't thought of that, but on reflection, he couldn't disagree with CK. He knew that if he ever killed someone, he'd very likely give up being Superman as well. Killing would mean he'd lost control, and Superman couldn't afford to lose control — not when he dealt with serious challenges to his personal code of ethics on a daily basis. If he were to give in to the strong emotions he occasionally experienced he'd definitely have to walk away from the superhero job.

But CK's case was a little different. War was the exception; killing was a cold fact of war and CK would have been a very fortunate leader indeed if he'd managed to avoid it. Not that war made it right to kill, but it did make it virtually inevitable.

"During a war," Clark pointed out.

"That doesn't make it right," replied CK bluntly. "And don't give me a lecture on the ethics of war; I don't want to hear it. Anyway, I thought we were talking about my son, not about Superman."

"Okay, let's talk about your son," said Lois. "How's Jon going to feel when he finds out you have these amazing powers, but chose not to do anything remotely useful with them? What sort of role model is that?"

"Look, what I choose to do with my powers is none of your damned business, okay?" retorted CK hotly. "I've had enough of your judgemental questions and criticisms — what gave you two the right to claim the moral high ground, anyway?" He folded his arms across his chest emphatically and thrust out his chin. "The bottom line is I'm Jon's father and that means he should be with me. I'm not leaving here without him."

Clark sighed heavily and looked to his wife for inspiration. What were they going to do now?


He'd really had enough of these two. They'd seemed okay at first, and he'd felt bad that he was doing this to them — they obviously loved Jon dearly and would be heartbroken when they lost him. They were good people, and probably good parents, and that was why he'd apologised for his ungrateful and rude behaviour earlier. War had changed him; he knew that, but he remembered enough of his old self to know what decent behaviour was. He'd just forgotten how to practice it.

But then they'd started interrogating him as if he was some kind of criminal. All he'd been trying to do was claim what was rightfully his in the first place.

And they had no right to question him. Jon had been stolen from his crib and delivered straight into the hands of these two, so their moral position was shaky, to say the least. Moreover, they weren't exactly perfect parents themselves — they both had risky jobs, and worse still, Clark had two jobs, one of which could take him away from Jon at any time, day or night.

At least his real father would be there for Jon in the evenings and throughout the night.

Sure, there'd be problems, and he'd struggle a little for the first month or two, but he'd manage somehow. Jon needed his father; he needed to understand where he came from, who his mother was, and why he was such a miracle of life. He wouldn't get that from these two — oh, they'd tell him about his mother and father, no doubt, and how he'd come to be born, but it wouldn't be the same.

No, Jon needed him as much as he needed Jon.


Lois had had enough of CK's stubborn denials and his petulant demands. He was kidding himself if he thought he was capable of looking after Jon in his present state, and, moreover, he knew it. He was enough like Clark for her to see that just as clearly as if he was wearing a neon sign with 'I AM DELUDING MYSELF' written in large capital letters across it.

Well, perhaps it was time to call his bluff.

She turned away from Clark, who was looking at her as though he expected her to pull some amazing stunt to fix this mess — which she was, in fact, about to do — and addressed CK. "Will you excuse us, CK? I need to talk to Clark in private."

He shrugged. "Fine," he replied tersely.

She stood up and made her way to the kitchen with Clark. "Okay," she said as soon as he'd closed the door, "I have a suggestion."

Clark looked relieved. "Fire away, honey. I'm fresh out of ideas."

"Well, he says he won't leave without Jon, so we should let him stay here for a few days instead," she said briskly. "I know," she said when Clark pulled a face. "He's not exactly an ideal house guest, but you know as well as I do that he needs help, and we're probably better placed than anyone else to give him that help."

Clark sighed. "You're right, of course. I could so easily have been him, if things had turned out differently here. I can't claim to understand exactly how he feels, but I probably understand better than anyone else. And I do want to help him."

"So you agree this is a good idea?" she asked.

He nodded. "I'm not sure he'll think it's a good idea, though."

Lois was aware of that. "Once he's calmed down," she said, "he'll realise that we could never just hand Jon over without allowing us some time to get used to the idea, so from that point of view, it's a reasonable suggestion. Also, he can use the time to get better and pull himself together a bit."

Clark nodded. "And then we discuss Jon's future when we've all had longer to think about it, just like we planned originally," he said. "Sounds okay, but what about Jon? We can't leave him with my parents for much longer."

"Well, CK is already much better than he was yesterday," she replied. "When we think he's not contagious any more, we bring Jon back. He's Jon's father, after all — he deserves some time with his son, whatever we decide."

"I guess you're right." Clark sighed. "Maybe I'm being over-protective. CK means well, and I'm sure he wouldn't intentionally hurt Jon."

"No." She hesitated. "In fact, I was going to suggest we even let CK help with Jon — feed him, bathe him, change his diaper, and so on. That way he gets to find out what it's really like to care for a baby."

And hopefully he'll discover it's not as easy as he thinks it is and decide to leave Jon with us, she thought. Jon could be quite a handful when he was in the middle of a temper tantrum.

She'd keep that idea to herself, though. Clark was far too fair-minded to support it, and would only try to even the odds out by helping CK if he knew that was the way she was thinking.

"Well, as long as you or I supervise him to start with, I guess it's a good idea," said Clark. "CK would appreciate it, I'm sure."

She shrugged. "Don't be too optimistic. He'll probably think we're putting him on trial," she pointed out.

"Well, leave it to me to sell him the whole plan," suggested Clark. "I think he'll be sympathetic to the idea that we need time to adjust, if nothing else.

She patted him on the back. "Go for it, partner. I'll be right behind you."

He rolled his eyes. "Why do I always worry when you say that?"

She smiled and pushed him through the door.


Much later that day, Clark lay back against their pillows watching the forever-pleasant sight of his wife slipping out of her dressing gown to join him in bed. It was just a routine thing, but he never tired of seeing her nightgown skim the curves of her body, hinting at the beautiful shape beneath. Even when they were old and grey, he thought, he'd still enjoy the view, because like all the best things in life, her beauty came from within.

She slid under the bedclothes and cuddled up beside him, resting her head on his chest. She seemed a little melancholy, so he stroked her hair and held her quietly for a few moments.

"I miss him, honey," she said at last in a small voice.


"Me too," he murmured. "The house seems too quiet without him."

"Do you think he's okay? I mean, your parents are great with him, I know that, but do you think he misses us?"

This, despite the fact that they'd spoken with his parents barely half an hour ago. "Lois, you know Mom said he's fine," he said gently.

"Yes, but she doesn't know him like I do," she replied. "Sometimes he doesn't make a fuss when he's upset — he doesn't even cry."

"I know," he whispered, kissing her hair. "But Mom's good with babies. I'm sure she's keeping a close eye on him."

"I guess so," she said. "I just hope he doesn't hate us for abandoning him."

He smiled softly; the idea of Jon hating such a loving Mom as Lois was pretty ridiculous. "I don't think he'll throw a right hook at you, if that's what you're worried about," he replied, trying to cheer her up a bit.

She gave a token laugh. "He'll just throw up on me," she replied.

He laughed. "He does that anyway."

She nodded against his chest. "And I'll never complain about that ever again. I'd give anything to have him throw up on me right now," she said wistfully.

"Oh, honey," he murmured, giving her a comforting squeeze. "It won't be for much longer. CK's almost better."

"Yes," she said. "I'm just glad he agreed to my plan."

He nodded in agreement. "I'm not sure what else we could have tried if he hadn't. Not that he's exactly pleased with the arrangement."

"I told you he'd think we were setting him some kind of test," she replied. "At least your stuff about us needing time to adjust went down okay."

"I think that's what finally persuaded him to accept. He's an okay guy, deep down where it counts," Clark replied, realising he really meant that. He could see the good in CK, despite his hostility.

"Well, let's just hope he starts being okay on the surface, too," said Lois. "I'm not trusting him with Jon unless he curbs that temper of his."

"I think he'll be fine once he remembers how to be a human being again."

She nodded and fell quiet for a few minutes. He could tell she was still sad, despite his attempt to cheer her up. He wasn't much happier himself. The evening just hadn't been the same without his usual rough-and-tumble games with Jon. He missed bath-time, as well — splashing in the tub with his son, laughing at his chortling giggles of delight, towelling the wriggly baby dry then bearing him playfully back to his Mom for a last cuddle before bed.

"How about we pay him a visit?" he suggested suddenly. "I could fly us there right now."

She looked up at him, obviously excited by the idea. "It's pretty late," she said. "He'll be asleep — so will your parents."

"We don't have to wake them, or him," he replied. "We can just creep in and take a peek."

"Oh, Clark…" she said, her eyes shining. "I'd love that."

Half an hour later, he wasn't so sure the trip had been such a good idea. He stood in Jon's darkened bedroom in Kansas, holding Lois close to his body as she wept softly into his shoulder. Tears pricked his own eyes as he looked over her head to his son's small form lying in the crib. Jon made quiet snuffling sounds as he slept, reminding Clark of so many nights when he'd rocked his baby to sleep.

"I can't do this," whimpered Lois. "I can't let him go."

Clark soothed her quietly. He was pretty sure he couldn't let Jon go either.


So his powers were returning, it seemed. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop on their bedroom conversation, but his ears had pricked up at the mention of his son's name, and before he'd known it, he'd been listening in.

He hadn't listened for very long, of course — he really didn't want to intrude and he completely respected their privacy. Lord knew, the last thing he wanted was to hear them making love!

But he'd heard enough to realise just how much pain he was causing them, especially Lois. She'd sounded pretty close to tears when she'd told Clark she was missing Jon. Even if she wasn't his Lois, it upset him to hear her sound so distressed. Clark's voice had been strained, too, when he'd comforted his wife.

He hadn't really thought about how tough this was for them — he'd been so caught up in his own needs that he'd completely overlooked their point of view. Oh, he'd understood that they were angry — they'd made that much clear — but he hadn't noticed that they were suffering their own kind of grief while he was making his demands.

Damn H G Wells and his meddling! None of them would have been in this mess if it hadn't been for him. If only he could be made to understand how thoughtless and cruel he'd been.

So this wasn't their fault. They were only reacting like any parents would if a stranger came to their door demanding they hand over their baby.

And he was only acting like any father would — trying to get his son back.

All three of them were caught up in a nightmare created by someone else. Perhaps it was time to stop fighting each other and start working together to fix this mess.

And his conscience kept turning over the things Lois had said. He'd told himself earlier that everything would work out just fine, as long as he loved Jon. Well, his conscience wasn't having any of that.

His illness — he should have realised that he was a danger, without having to be told by Lois and Clark. What sort of a father was he, if he didn't instinctively think of such things; if he didn't put Jon's safety before anything else?

A place to stay and a job — well, that was easily solved. He'd do any sort of work, as long as it earned him enough money to rent a place and feed and clothe Jon. Okay, so when he first returned with Jon, he'd have nowhere, but he felt sure Perry would help him out if necessary.

His nightmares…lashing out at Lois…

He couldn't answer that one. He didn't know himself any longer. He was neither Clark Kent, a mild-mannered farmer's son from Kansas, nor Kal-El, a ruthless military commander from New Krypton. He was a shell. Oh, he breathed, he walked and talked like any normal man, but inside he was nobody, or at least, nobody he recognised.

He turned over in bed and curled up on his side, clutching the bedclothes tightly to his body.



"No! No! Hold your fire!"

Clark lay on his back in bed, listening to CK relive the horrors of war in his sleep. He'd been jolted out of his own sleep by someone muttering, and as he'd come fully awake, had recognised CK's voice. At first he'd wondered what CK was up to; why he was talking to himself, but then he'd realised that CK was actually caught up in the throes of a disturbing nightmare.

Now he lay in the darkness of their bedroom, staring up at the ceiling and listening to CK's strained voice filter up from the living room.

"Take cover!"

Clark had read a little about the psychology of returning war veterans, but now he wished he'd read some more. Was it better to let CK dream, or should Clark go downstairs and wake him up? The latter seemed the kinder option, but what good would it do in the longer term? No doubt this was just one of many such nightmares. Waking CK this time wouldn't stop him dreaming like this again.

"No! The children… No!"

Clark glanced at Lois, but as he'd suspected, CK's voice was too faint to disturb her. She was sleeping soundly, her breathing deep and regular. Probably just as well.

He sighed softly and returned his gaze to the ceiling. He'd have liked to sleep, but instead, he lay awake and listened; mentally staying by CK's side while he fought the emotional torment of war. It wasn't much, but it was the least Clark could do for a soul in so much pain.


The following day, Lois and Clark reluctantly left CK alone in the house while they went to work. He'd seemed subdued and down, and Lois had wondered whether she'd been too harsh with him the previous night. Okay, so he'd hardly cracked a smile since he'd arrived, but at least he'd shown some spirit now and then — even if was when he was being obnoxious by demanding custody of Jon. Now he just seemed to be depressed and withdrawn.

Well, perhaps he needed to face the facts, even if it was painful. A quiet day at home by himself might be just what he needed to work things out. Maybe even grieve for his girlfriend in private; it seemed to Lois that he hadn't had enough time to work through his feelings about her death yet — he'd been too busy chasing after Jon.

And tonight, they'd promised him that if he seemed fit enough, they'd bring Jon home.

Meanwhile, Lois, feeling sorry for CK, had decided to unbend a little and had given him some photos of Jon to look through. Of course, she wouldn't have been completely surprised if he'd tried to find them anyway while they were out, so at least this way she was preventing him from digging around in their personal belongings. Perhaps that was a little uncharitable of her, but although he looked a lot like Clark, he clearly didn't possess the same manners. Fighting a bitter, bloody war was certain to make a man lose at least some of his polished edges.


He'd woken feeling as low and depressed as when he'd fallen asleep. In fact, he probably wouldn't have bothered getting up at all if he'd had his own bedroom, instead of being stuck downstairs on the sofa. As it was, he'd heard them getting ready for work upstairs and had felt obliged to rouse himself before they came down into the lounge.

Conversation had been minimal; thankfully they'd realised pretty quickly that he wasn't in the mood for cheerful morning banter.

His heart had lifted a little, however, when Lois had handed him Jon's photo album. It had been a kind, thoughtful gesture — a sign that they'd decided to trust him a little further. Still, he'd struggled to respond with much more than a brief thank you.

Now as he leafed slowly through the pages, a lump formed in his throat as he acquainted himself with his son's image for the first time. Jon was adorable — the pictures portrayed him as a very happy, contented baby with a sturdy little frame, big brown eyes and soft dark hair. His parents appeared in some of the photos, and they always looked as pleased and proud of their baby boy as any parents he'd ever met.

He had to keep reminding himself that he was looking at his son — *his* son! The child that he and Lois had made together that night. On New Krypton, there had been times when he'd regretted their night of passion, because the memory of it had just made him miss her even more. But now, looking at Jon, he was glad they'd made love.

He just wished she was here to raise Jon with him.

Reaching the final page in the album, he gazed fondly down at the last picture for a few moments. Jon was sitting on the floor in this one, wearing blue dungarees and a pale blue knitted top. He was pointing at the camera and laughing. There was a lot of Lois in that happy face.

He set the album aside and wandered over to the window. Absently, he noticed that it was a beautiful sunny day outside, and that the leafy, open street before him looked very attractive in the bright sunshine. This Metropolis seemed a much gentler, inviting place than the bleak city he'd left a couple of days ago. Of course, he'd been in shock — feeling even worse than he felt now. Maybe that had coloured his impressions.

Staring out at the street, he realised that he'd been cooped up in this house for over a day. Perhaps a walk would help clear his head.


Annie Preston struggled down the front steps of her house with her shopping cart. Every day it seemed to get harder, but she was a firm believer in keeping active for as long as her old bones would permit. Her daily visit to the local shops wasn't strictly necessary, but it got her out of the house and she liked chatting to the shopkeepers, who knew her as well as one of their own family.

Hearing her neighbour's door open and close, she paused in her struggle to catch her breath and to find out who was leaving their house. She thought she'd heard three voices next door the last couple of evenings, and wondered if they had a visitor staying with them. Oh, but the person on the stairs was Mr Kent. That was a stroke of luck — he always helped her with her cart.

"Morning!" she called brightly. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"

Oddly, he looked surprised that she'd addressed him. "Y- yes," he replied briefly, and made his way down the stairs to the street.

Surprised and disappointed that he hadn't offered to help her, she tried to catch his attention again. "How's the baby? I haven't seen him around for a couple of days — he's not sick, I hope?"

Mr Kent turned on the stairs, again looking strangely ill at ease. "No, he's fine. He's with their…his grandparents."

What had he been about to say? Their…? Oh, well, she supposed it was none of her business. She bent to her cart, exaggerating her efforts to heft it just a little. "Giving yourselves a break, eh? That's nice," she said, puffing a bit more than she strictly needed to.

"Yes. Can…can I help you with that?"

At last! She straightened up immediately. "Oh, would you, dear? I'm afraid these steps just seem to get steeper every day."

He came around and lifted the cart easily and placed it on the sidewalk. "There you go."

She made her way slowly down to him. "Thank you, dear. And how's Mrs Kent?"

"She's fine, too," he replied. "Will you manage on your own now?"

"Oh, yes! I'm only going to Beale's," she said, peering at his face. Was that a beard? Goodness me, she didn't think he needed a stubbly beard to cover up that handsome young face of his! "I hope this doesn't mean we'll be seeing you in back-to-front baseball caps and baggy combat pants, Mr Kent!" she remarked with a conspiratorial smile. Mr Kent had a good sense of humour and she was sure he'd take her little joke about his new look in the right way.

But dear me, the poor lad did seem to be out of sorts this morning — he didn't laugh heartily, as she'd expected him to, but instead looked confused. "I'm sorry?" he said worriedly.

"Your beard," she explained. "It certainly gives you a rugged look, Mr Kent."

"Oh!" he said, fingering his chin. "I…I'm trying it out for a few days. Do you think it suits me?"

"It makes you look thinner," she replied — because he certainly did! And not just his face, either, she reflected. Even his clothes seemed to fit him less snugly than usual. She hoped he wasn't following one of those faddy diets which seemed to be popular these days.

"Oh," he replied. "Well, I'd better be on my way, Mrs…" He faltered, clearly struggling to remember her name.

She was a little surprised, since they'd been neighbours for over six months. Still, he looked terribly anxious, and he was obviously not feeling quite himself, so she took pity on him. She touched his arm briefly. "Don't worry, dear — sometimes I forget my own name! It's Preston — Annie Preston. Miss."

"Of course," he said, his face breaking into a relieved smile. "Well, goodbye, Miss Preston. Take care with that shopping cart."

"I will, dear. And you look after yourself, young man. If you don't mind me saying so, you look a little peaky."

"Oh, I'll be fine, Miss Preston."

With a final smile and a nod, she pushed off with the trolley. That poor Mr Kent — she hoped she wasn't witnessing the start of another marital break-up. Sending the baby away surely wasn't a good sign! Yet they seemed to be such a happy little family.


What a pleasant old lady. He'd forgotten how friendly and good-natured people could be. He'd forgotten about neighbours; people who knew you and, if they were good neighbours like that lady obvious was, were interested in you and cared about you.

And although he'd been on edge the whole time they'd been talking, he'd enjoyed the conversation. He'd enjoyed helping her, too — liked the fact she called him 'dear' and was clearly grateful when he'd offered to lift her trolley down for her.

Mind you, his nerves wouldn't stand another meeting like that too soon! He hoped he wouldn't encounter any more friends or acquaintances of his hosts' on his walk.

As he strolled along the street, he was struck by how weird it felt to be walking free in Metropolis, without any sense of purpose or responsibility. This would have been impossible on New Krypton. Every minute of his day had been filled with duty — duty to the council, duty to his army, duty to his wife. He would never been left alone to do as he pleased, for as long as he pleased.

And if he had been able to walk along a street such as this, he would have been watching for snipers, alert to suspect behaviour from the people around him, acutely aware of his weapon nestling in its holster. Even now he felt it; knew that there was someone walking a few paces behind him and slightly to the left, was wary of a man emerging from the shadows of a side street on his right, noted the person sitting in a parked car across the street.

Logically, he knew there was no danger here, but it was impossible to switch off the habits of war. For example, someone was coming up fast behind him now, running at him. His body tensed as he walked, readying himself for swift action, looking for safe places to dive to should he detect a weapon being powered up.

"Taxi!" yelled a man's voice, and then a solid body was delivering a glancing blow to his arm.

He whirled and grabbed the man's shoulders forcefully in a reflex move, ready to engage in combat if he detected the slightest hint of opposition. Instead, a shocked young face stared up at him. "Sorry, buddy!"

Realising he'd over-reacted and was probably scaring the living daylights out of the lad, he released him quickly with a mumbled apology. Moving away swiftly, he heard a lewd expletive shouted at his retreating back. Unbidden, an equally lewd Kryptonian word sprung to mind, but he refrained from using it. The guy was right — he was a complete idiot.

Spotting a park bench in front of a small memorial, he sat down and put his head in his hands. This would never do — he couldn't carry on like this, assuming every person who came into contact with him was trying to kill him. First Lois, and now that guy. He had to find a way of controlling himself, before he did someone real damage. To make matters worse, his powers were starting to come back — he could feel the extra strength in his muscles. It wouldn't be long before he broke someone's arm by grabbing them like he'd grabbed that guy.

He shook his head. When had Clark Kent, a good-natured farmer's son, turned into this efficient killing machine? When had he become violent by reflex, instead of under protest? He used to like himself, but these days, he often despised himself. Where was his identity? And where did he belong?

Not here. Here, he was definitely unwelcome. Who wanted a powerful being who could maim with a careless swipe of his arm, and who wanted to tear a baby away from its parents? He was dangerous; a loose cannon waiting to explode. Besides, he didn't belong here — this wasn't his universe, and right now, he felt that very keenly. He felt disjointed from this world; a piece which didn't quite fit. The fact that the streets were familiar to him just exaggerated that feeling, because they weren't an exact replica of his home city. They were close, but not close enough.

But he didn't belong back home, either. There, he was a man who'd returned when everybody had already written him off. He wasn't needed; the world had moved on without him. And the one person who might have welcomed him back was gone. Was dead.


Lois was dead.

So if he couldn't take Jon back home with him, what was the point? What was he, Clark Kent, for? Did he have a purpose — was his life worth anything?

"You okay, mister?" piped a child-like voice.

He looked up to find a small girl gazing at him with disarmingly wide-eyed curiosity. She was wearing a bright red raincoat and had a cute pixie face. "Not really," he found himself admitting.

"Come along, Susie!" A woman hurried up and grabbed the child's arm. "I told you not to talk to strangers!"

"But he's sick," protested Susie as she was dragged away by her mother.

"Drunk, more like," retorted the mother.

He put his face in his hands again. No, not drunk. Susie was right — he was sick. Sick in his spirit. So sick, he was contemplating…

Well, was he?

No, not while there was a chance he could have Jon. Jon was his lifeline; his reason for living.

He stood up and began walking again.


Clark pulled up the handbrake on the jeep, switched the engine off and smiled across at Lois. "Home at last," he said.

"Yeah, it's been a l-o-n-g day," she agreed wearily.

He leant over and gave her a quick kiss. "You look tired."

She shrugged. "Just not looking forward to another session with Mr Grumpy in there," she said, indicating their house.

He laughed. "At least he's not Mr Sneezy any more. And that," he said, kissing her again, "means we get Jon back. Come on, let's see what Mr Grumpy's been up to while we've been gone."

He exited the jeep and joined Lois on the sidewalk.

"Yoo-Hoo! Mr Kent!"

He turned towards the voice and saw their neighbour, Miss Preston, making her way down her front stairs. "Hi, Miss Preston!" he called. "How are you?"

Clark usually preferred to address his friends and neighbours by their first names, but Miss Preston was a former schoolteacher, and expected a certain formality from those young enough to have been her pupils. Clark was sure he'd receive a severe reprimand and a rap over the knuckles with a ruler if Miss Preston ever thought he'd stepped out of line.

"I hope you don't mind," she began, then finished picking her way down the stairs before continuing. "I made you some of my Minestrone soup. It's very nourishing," she added, thrusting a large plastic container into his hands.

A little bemused, he accepted the gift. "Why, thank you! That's very thoughtful of you," he said.

"Well, we don't want you wasting away, now do we!" she said. "And I'm sure you don't always have the time to cook him a hot dinner, do you, Mrs Kent, what with you being so busy with your work."

Clark glanced at Lois to see how she was taking this. He knew Miss Preston meant well, but he also knew that Lois had already informed their neighbour at least twice that she preferred to be addressed as 'Ms Lane'. As for Lois cooking him hot dinners — well, that was unlikely on several levels!

Lois smiled a somewhat brittle smile and shook her head. "No, you're right — Clark usually cooks dinner in our household. He doesn't often do soup, though. Do you, honey?" she said through gritted teeth.

Clark slung an arm around her shoulders. "Not as often as I'd like."

"Well, you just eat up and forget that silly diet, dear," said Miss Preston, patting his arm in a motherly fashion. "You look fine just the way you are — especially now you've got rid of the beard. I do hope I didn't offend you with my little joke this morning?"

Diet? Beard? What was the woman talking about? What little joke?

"No, not at all!" he replied heartily, without a clue of what he was referring to. He looked at Lois, hoping she had figured out things out.

"I told him to shave it off," said Lois. "It tickled when he kissed me," she added in a confidential whisper.

"Oh!" replied Miss Preston. "Good! I mean, I'm so glad you two aren't falling out or anything. I must say, Mr Kent, I was a little worried this morning when you told me about the baby."

The baby? He hadn't told her anything about Jon.

Then, finally, the penny dropped. CK had been talking to her! Why, and just what he'd told her, Clark hadn't a clue, but he was darned well going to find out. "No, we're fine, aren't we, Lois?" he replied.

"Oh, just fine," she said with a hint of steel in her otherwise cordial voice. She, too, had obviously figured out what had happened. "So if you'll excuse us, Miss Preston, I'd better take this delicious soup inside and heat it up for my starving husband."

Miss Preston smiled. "That's the ticket, dear. As they say, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

"I always thought it was via another part of your anatomy," muttered Lois darkly as they turned and made their way up their own stairs.

Clark stifled a guffaw. "Lois!" he hissed.


Lois sat opposite CK, waiting with mixed feelings for Clark to return with Jon. They'd had dinner before making the final decision to bring him back, but now the time had come and here she was, happy to be getting her baby back but nervous about handing him over to CK for a cuddle.

It wasn't that she didn't trust him with Jon — well, not really, anyway. It was just that this was a big step; a watershed. Perhaps even the beginning of the end.

And things hadn't exactly gone smoothly so far this evening. When they'd entered the house, they'd found CK sprawled on the sofa with his feet up on the coffee table, listening to loud rock music with his eyes closed. A half- eaten sandwich and a bottle of beer had been dumped precariously close to his feet, just waiting to be knocked over with a careless swipe. The picture he'd presented had reminded Lois of an obnoxious child arrogantly making the place his own even though he was merely a visitor in their house. Clark had immediately strode across and silenced the hi-fi, clearly of the same opinion as Lois. Then the two of them had laid into CK with questions.

"What did you tell Miss Preston about Jon?"

"Why didn't you let us know you were thinking of going out?"

"What if she'd already seen me leaving the house this morning? How would you have explained that?"

He'd opened his eyes and given them both a cold stare. Instead of responding to their questions, he'd uttered a flat "Excuse me," then stood up, walked into the kitchen and slammed the door shut.

After a pregnant silence during which Lois had noted absently that at least he'd managed not to knock over the beer bottle, she had looked at Clark, who in turn had winced. "I think we just got told to back off."

"Well, he shouldn't treat our house like he owns it," she'd retorted. "I'm surprised Miss Preston didn't complain about the noise."

Clark had shrugged. "These old walls are pretty thick. I didn't even notice it until we came inside."

"That's only because you didn't expect our house to have been turned into a branch of the Stoke Club," she'd pointed out. "Anyway, you were the one who turned the music off, not me. Why are you suddenly defending him?"

"Because I don't think our behaviour was much better than his. We were treating him more like a naughty teenager than a house guest." Clark had begun fiddling with the hair at the back of his head, a clear sign that he was agitated. "Why does he always bring out the worst in me? I don't mean to get short with him, but I seem to do it anyway."

She'd shrugged. "He has the same effect on me. Maybe we expect too much of him, or maybe he just doesn't behave how we expect him to. He looks like you, but he's not you."

Clark had sighed. "Maybe. Well, we'd better apologise, I guess."

Lois had reluctantly accepted that they'd behaved badly, and so they'd made their apologies. A still-prickly CK had then given them an account of his outing. Of course, once they'd realised how innocuous his intentions had been, they'd been even more apologetic — but the damage had been done. Now she was sitting opposite a stiff-backed CK, and Jon would be here any minute. She grimaced internally — babies had a knack of picking up instantly on any bad feelings between adults. She hoped CK was a good actor.


They had no idea — no idea what he was going through, no idea how close to rock bottom he'd reached today, no idea what war was like, no idea what it was like to have lost yourself on a barren planet somewhere a billion miles away from their cosy little home in downtown Metropolis.

The music had been his way of holding it all together. For a few blissful minutes, he'd let the hard, thumping rhythms and the aggressive lyrics blot out his own feelings. He'd knocked back the beer in a few gulps, then laid back on the cushions and surrendered to the beat, turning up the sound louder and louder until there was nothing left in his head except for the raucous male voices and screaming guitars.

It had been a superbly cleansing experience, until they'd abruptly silenced the noise and forced him back to reality. He'd hardly made sense of the barrage of questions they'd thrown at him; just seen their mouths working and their indignant faces. For a split second, he'd been reminded of council sessions back on New Krypton, where the great and the good would subject him to similar bouts of demanding, petulant questions. He'd felt stifled and angry then, and the same feelings had surfaced now, along with a rawness than stemmed from being wrenched so violently from his cocoon of sound.

They'd apologised, like they always did, but they still didn't really understand what they'd done.

But he had to put all that behind him now, because he was about to hold his baby son for the very first time. He was so excited, his palms were even sweaty — or was that nerves? Yes, he was most definitely nervous — what if Jon didn't like him? What if he was a little clumsy with Jon, and Lois, being ever-protective, whisked him away again?

But no, everything would be fine. He'd cuddle Jon in his arms and start to build that special bond between father and son.


Clark bore his precious cargo gently down to the patio, then strode through the glass doors into the lounge. Lois and CK were sitting exactly where he'd left them, looking just as ill at ease as when he'd departed for Smallville. Had they even spoken one word to each other?

As soon as he stepped through the doors, though, Lois leapt up from her seat and rushed towards him and Jon.

"How's my baby boy?" she exclaimed, enveloping both of them in a hug and kissing Jon's cheek. Jon chuckled happily, clearly delighted to see his Mommy again.

Clark handed Jon to Lois so that he could spin change out of his suit. He'd have to quit doing this in front of Jon fairly soon. It wouldn't do for Jon to learn that Daddy was Superman — not before he also understood how to keep a secret, anyway.

But then, Clark suddenly realised with a stab of regret, maybe that would soon be irrelevant. If they handed Jon over to CK, it wouldn't be their problem any more.

He looked over at CK, who had also risen to his feet and was hovering anxiously by the sofas. CK's eyes were glued to Lois and Jon, who were currently indulging in a giggly reunion. Lois was pretending to tickle his tummy, and Jon was laughing with glee at his Mommy's silly antics. There was a forced quality to Lois's game, Clark thought; she was putting far too much energy into such a simple act of love. With a heavy heart, he transferred his gaze back to Jon's father-in-waiting, and decided that now was as good a time as any.

"Lois, why don't you let CK hold Jon?" he suggested above Lois and Jon's laughter.

Lois turned to CK, her smile frozen on her face. Clark's heart ached for her as her smile faded, then came back full of false bravado. She turned back to Jon and said brightly, "Look who's here, Jon — this is…CK. He's…a friend of Mommy and Daddy's. Would you like to say hello?"

She walked over and angled Jon, still in her arms, towards CK. Jon took one look at CK and turned back to his Mommy, buried his head in her chest, and grabbed onto her blouse with a tight little fist. Lois looked apologetically at CK. "He's probably a little tired. Why don't you try holding him anyway?" She peeled Jon away from her chest and handed him slowly to CK.

Clark recognised the look in CK's eyes — they were wide open and overly bright as he took his son's small body in his hands for the first time. "Hi, Jon," he said huskily, settling the boy on one arm while the other supported his back. "Pleased to meet you."

Clark went to Lois's side and laid his arm on her shoulders, sure she'd appreciate his support at this tense moment. Heck, he needed the support himself!

Jon had gone very quiet in CK's arms. His head twisted away from CK, looking around on both sides for something familiar. Lois moved into his line of sight. "Hey, I'm here," she said softly. "Say hello to CK, Jon."

Jon looked uncertainly from his Mommy to the man holding him. "Hey," said CK, tickling Jon gently behind his ear with a single finger. "What's this? Do you like this, Jon?"

Jon ducked away from CK's finger and strained backwards, looking anxiously at Lois.

"Try tickling his tummy," suggested Clark. "He likes that."

"Jon," called CK in a sing-song voice, trying to retrieve his son's attention. He copied Lois's playful tickling action on Jon's tummy. "Are you ticklish, Jon?" he said brightly, beaming a brittle smile.

Jon whimpered and strained even further away, reaching out with a hand to Lois. CK tried again, but Jon was clearly unhappy and began to whimper louder for his Mommy.

"I don't think this is working," said Lois. "Maybe you should let me take him back."

Clark looked at CK, who was trying in vain to catch Jon's attention and jolly him along. The poor guy wasn't doing anything wrong; Jon simply didn't seem to like being in his arms. "Give it a little longer, honey," suggested Clark. "CK, try walking around with him a bit."

CK complied, jogging Jon up and down in his arms and wandering around the room, pointing out little things here and there to his small charge. Lois glared over at Clark as Jon's wails grew louder. "This is crazy," she muttered.

"Give him a chance," Clark replied quietly.

But she shook her head vehemently. "Just how miserable does our son have to get before you'll listen to reason?" She strode over to CK and Jon. "I'm sorry, he's just tired," she said briskly, taking Jon from him. "I'm sure he'll be better tomorrow."

She bore the now loudly tearful Jon through the lounge towards the stairs, cooing soft comforting words to him all the time. "I'll put him down for the night," she said to Clark on her way past. "Assuming I can get him to stop crying, of course," she added acerbically.


So his son didn't like him. Well, babies were fickle, and as Lois had said, he was probably just tired. Tomorrow would be different.

But where was that special bond he'd expected? Sure, he'd been emotional when he'd taken Jon into his arms — very emotional. Here was a living, breathing little soul — so much more than just a name or a picture in a frame. He was warm and soft and full of life; a miracle of creation.

Yet when his initial wonderment had worn off a little, he'd been left merely with an unhappy baby who obviously didn't want anything to do with him. There had been no bond; no feeling that this child was his.

Was he expecting too much? Perhaps you had to work at your relationship with a baby, the same as you did with a partner. Maybe blood wasn't as strong as he'd thought. And, of course, he didn't have any experience on which to draw; he had no other blood relations in his life.

One thing was certain, though — he wanted to hold Jon again, despite the crying.


Clark eyed CK thoughtfully. They'd both settled down on the sofas after Lois had borne Jon upstairs, but so far they hadn't said much to each other. Clark had been smarting from Lois's pointed reprimand, while CK had probably been wondering what on earth he'd done wrong. Meanwhile, Jon's plaintive wails had filtered down from upstairs, reminding them both that the little boy was still pretty unhappy with the ordeal the adults had put him through.

CK looked disappointed. So would he, Clark thought, if Jon had rejected him as thoroughly as he had CK. It was a little different for Clark, of course, because Jon had been left in their care; there was no question, back then, that he might be taken away from them. So even if Jon had bawled his head off the first few times Clark had held him, it wouldn't have mattered.

But to CK, rejection put his whole future with Jon in jeopardy.

Poor guy. And Lois hadn't helped, clucking around Jon like a mother hen — which was totally understandable, of course! Clark had felt just as anxious.

"He'd been going through a clingy phase lately," offered Clark. "Plus he's tired."

CK nodded. "Yeah, Lois said."

"And I think I read somewhere that babies around his age don't like going to strangers," Clark added.

CK's mouth twisted. "I'd hoped he might not see me as a total stranger. I guess that was too much to expect."

"Well," said Clark, searching for something encouraging to tell CK, "you have to give these things time. I'm sure once he gets to know you he'll be fine."

Clark winced as Jon chose that exact moment to let out a particularly loud wail. Thanks, son — you really know when to pick your moments, don't you? He shrugged helplessly at CK as Lois's soothing murmur following the baby's outburst.

"Do you think it's the beard?" asked CK suddenly. "I mean, I look pretty much like you except for that."

Personally, Clark hoped — and believed — that there was a whole lot more to Jon's affections than the presence of facial hair, but he nodded slowly anyway. "Maybe. And actually, if you're going to leave the house again, it would be better if you were clean-shaven. Especially if you bump into Miss Preston again," he added.

CK fingered his beard. "I don't suppose you've got a razor, have you? I mean, you probably wouldn't need one."

"I think we've got a spare upstairs, actually. Lois and I got our lines crossed last Christmas and both bought razors for her Dad," replied Clark. "We decided to keep one in case I…well, I guess you've come across kryptonite?"

CK nodded.

"Well," continued Clark, "it's not that likely, but if I ever lose my powers for more than a few hours, I'll need a razor." He shrugged. "It was Lois's idea."

"Can I borrow it?" asked CK.

"Sure!" Clark fetched the razor at superspeed and handed it, still in its box, to his visitor. "I think it's got batteries, but we've got some spares somewhere if you need them."

"Thanks." CK opened the box and checked the razor still worked. "Um…No time like the present, I guess. Excuse me."

Clark nodded, and sat back to wait while CK went upstairs to the bathroom. A few minutes later, he came back down again, still sporting his beard. He handed Clark the shaver a little sheepishly. "Do you think the guarantee covers damage by superpowers?" he asked. "Sorry."

Clark eyed the distorted metal blade ruefully. "I doubt it." He glanced up at CK. "But if you've got your powers back, why didn't you just laser off the beard?"

CK looked even more sheepish. "I didn't dare. I'm a little out of practice and I didn't want to cause any more damage." He gave Clark a self-conscious, side-long glance. "Um…"

Clark raised his eyebrows as CK's meaning became clear. "You want me…?" He'd never shaved another man! This was kind of…awkward.

"If you don't mind," said CK.

"Ah…well, I guess not," replied Clark. "Um…we'll make it a coaching session, okay? So that next time you can do it yourself."

CK nodded rapidly. "Yes, good idea."

Ten minutes later, the two men were eying each other in the bathroom mirror. Without CK's beard, they certainly looked very similar, but Clark could spot the differences quite easily. CK's face was thinner than his own and his features were somehow harder; more tense, perhaps.

"Think you can do it yourself next time?" asked Clark.

"You'll soon know if I mess up," replied CK. "Your bathroom may never be the same again."

Clark laughed. "Remind me to tell you about the time I accidentally remodelled our kitchen. Scorch marks were the least of our problems."


"No! No! Hold your fire!"

This time, Clark recognised the voice immediately. He rolled over in bed, away from Lois, and propped himself up on one elbow. Aiming his gaze at the floor, he peered through the layers of carpet and flooring to the living room below. CK was lying on his back, his head twitching fitfully from side to side while he muttered a jumble of commands and pleas for help. A thin film of sweat covered his forehead and his hair was a tousled mess. His bedclothes were falling off him onto the floor.

Again, Clark wondered what to do. Perhaps a few calming words would soothe him and help him sleep more easily. Doing nothing for the second night running wasn't an option.

Sighing, he slipped quietly out of bed and padded downstairs.

In the living room, he stopped and watched the man on the sofa for a few moments. It felt a lot like he was intruding. This was a private thing, this torment of CK's — he never spoke of it, nor anything else to do with his war experiences.

But Clark had come down here to help, so he closed the distance between himself and CK. Gently and slowly, he picked up the bedclothes and laid them over CK, murmuring, "It's okay, you're safe," a few times. To his surprise, it seemed to have the desired effect on CK. Gradually, he stopped mumbling in his sleep and eventually turned over onto his side, snuggling into the blankets.

Clark breathed a silent sigh of relief and made his way quietly upstairs again. He was glad his intervention had worked, but he wasn't sure he wanted to do this every night. He didn't really want to become CK's nursemaid.


The following morning, Lois invited CK to feed Jon his breakfast. This time, Jon seemed more bemused than afraid of this strange man who looked sort of like his Daddy. Lois caught his gaze straying between the two men, as if trying to work out what on earth was going on here. She felt a little guilty about confusing him and wished she could explain the situation. Still, at least he was taking his food well — barring CK's inexpert attempts to pop the spoon into a wayward mouth. Jon ended up with more than his usual quantity of food smeared around his face, and she had to laugh when he actually managed to wipe some of it off and splat it onto CK's own face.

"I think he's trying to tell you something," she said to CK.

"What — that this stuff looks better on me than it does on him?" replied CK ruefully.

"No — that your technique needs improvement," chipped in Clark. "Here," he added, handing CK a cloth. "You two better clean yourselves up. We've got to be out of here in five minutes."

Lois left CK to sort Jon out while she and Clark finished getting themselves ready for work. When she came back to the kitchen with Clark, CK had already extracted Jon from his high chair and was holding him comfortably in his arms.

"Thanks," she said, holding out her hands to take him from CK.

CK held fast onto Jon and gave a lop-sided shrug. "Why don't you leave him here with me?"

Lois stared at him, not prepared for such a radical suggestion. A hundred replies sprang to mind immediately, top of which was 'because I think you'll kidnap him'. She couldn't tell him that, though. "I…You don't know where all his things are," she said hastily.

"And the day-care people are already expecting him," added Clark.

"So?" replied CK, his tone irreproachably reasonable. "Phone them. And I'm sure I can find his things — I can always phone you at work if I can't."

"But you don't know his schedule — what he eats and when…when he takes his nap," she continued. This was crazy — what did he know about child-care? One breakfast and he thinks he's an expert. He's probably never even changed a diaper.

She looked at Clark anxiously. She was starting to feel uneasy — CK was holding their baby, seemed unwilling to part with him, and there was no way to fix the situation without frightening Jon. They'd carelessly let CK take control and now they were paying the price.

"I'm sure he'll let me know when he's hungry, and besides, you can tell me his schedule — it won't take more than a couple of minutes." He captured Jon's little hand, which had been wandering around CK's eyes — looking for Clark's glasses, Lois suddenly realised with a flash of understanding. Was Jon becoming confused between the two men, or just figuring out all their differences?

Well, whatever — she wasn't letting CK out of her sight with her baby boy. Not while he could run at a moment's notice. "We haven't got time for this," she said hurriedly. "We'll discuss it tonight," she added, reaching for Jon again.

CK withdrew a little from her, making her even more nervous. "Please," he implored, abruptly letting his real feelings emerge from behind the calm facade. "I can't bear another day on my own in this place. Let me do something useful."

His despair was very obvious, and she could understand how he wouldn't want to be left alone with only his painful thoughts and memories to dwell upon. Solitary grief for long, lonely hours was neither safe nor healthy.

But that wasn't a good enough reason to leave Jon in his care. In fact, it was a good reason not to leave Jon with him! She glanced at Clark again, willing him to do something inspirational about the situation. He, however, looked as clueless as she herself felt.

"If it's the dimension-hopping device you're worried about," said CK suddenly, "you can take it with you. I just want to spend some time with my son. Please, Lois. And Clark."

His pleading eyes turned on each of them in turn. Jon, meanwhile, seemed thankfully oblivious to the tension between the adults and was calmly sucking his thumb while CK played absently with his other hand.

"I guess we're only a phone call away, honey," said Clark after a beat. She stared at him — had he taken leave of his senses? The guy was incompetent, unstable, and prone to lashing out when he was cornered. They might as well leave Jon with an escaped inmate from a lunatic asylum!

"Give us a minute," Clark told CK, and pulled her quickly into the living room.

"Are you crazy?!" she hissed at him as soon as they were alone. "We can't leave Jon with him!"

"I think we can. Lois, you can see what he's going through — he's so desperate to spend time with Jon, he's pushing us harder than he knows is reasonable," whispered Clark. He shook his head vehemently. "He's not about to hurt his own son."

"Maybe not deliberately!" she retorted. "What happened to everything we discussed before? I thought we agreed he wasn't safe to be left alone with Jon."

"I know, but this is only for a few hours — and I can fly us home at lunchtime to check up on him," Clark replied. "And trust me, I'll know immediately if Jon so much as hiccoughs," he added. He closed his eyes briefly. "His heartbeat is with me everywhere I go," he confessed huskily, revealing an intensity and depth to his relationship with Jon she'd never previously suspected.

"Clark!" she exclaimed softly, temporarily forgetting their disagreement. She lifted a hand to his cheek. If they had to give Jon away…

"I know," he replied with a lop-sided smile. "I'd just have to find a way to cope, I guess."

He looked as torn up inside as she felt herself. Up until this moment, she realised she hadn't really appreciated how badly this was affecting him. She slid her arms around his body and rested her cheek on his chest. "Why is this happening to us?" she murmured. "What did we do in our past lives that was so bad?"

"I don't know, honey. But I do understand how a father feels about his son," he said. "That's why I think we should give CK a chance."

Trust Clark to put himself in CK's position and want to help the guy overcome his troubles. That was part of why she loved him, she supposed. But if he was taking CK's side in this, it was up to her to be the voice of reason on behalf of both of them. The trouble was, she agreed with Clark for the most part. Yes, he was Superman, and yes, he could fly home at a moment's notice. Logically, she could see how Jon wouldn't be in any danger whatsoever.

Emotionally, though, she felt very shaky about entrusting CK with Jon's care for a whole day. There were plenty of ways to hurt a baby which didn't involve physical harm — and poor Jon had only just arrived home from Smallville. He needed a little stability in his life; he was used to the day-care people and Lois knew they took good care of him.

She lifted her head from Clark's chest. "I can't do it, Clark," she whispered, looking up into his face. "I'm sorry — I know you want to help CK, but I just can't trust him that far yet. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day…" She felt a tear run down the side of her face.

"Lois," he murmured, drawing her back into his body. "I'm sorry too — sorry for this whole mess and how much it's upsetting you. It's okay — we'll tell CK it's too soon and we need a little longer before we can let him take Jon for a whole day."

"But he's holding Jon and he won't give him back," she protested feebly.

"He's not a monster, honey," said Clark gently. "Come on, let's go tell him."

"You don't have to," said CK from behind her. She turned, and found him holding out Jon to her. "Here."

A wave of relief washed over her as she took Jon into her arms and hugged him tightly. All of a sudden, her fears seemed silly and irrational, and she looked at CK guiltily. "You…you heard?"

His face was tight. "Enough to know I was doing more harm than good. I'm sorry if I frightened you."

She gave him an apologetic look. "I was probably being irrational…you'll find that being a parent does that to you. I used to be a pretty sane individual before Jon came along." She kissed Jon's head fondly.

"Honey, we really must get going," urged Clark. "Perry will be having kittens by the time we get to work."

She nodded, giving CK a final glance of contrition before hurrying to the door with Clark.


The door slammed shut and he was alone again. It was odd how quickly he'd gotten used to having company and how much he missed it when it was taken away from him again. He didn't even get on particularly well with Lois and Clark; the atmosphere was constantly strained and conversation awkward. If he'd been back on New Krypton, he would have welcomed the chance to escape and indulge in a little selfish solitude.

But their personalities — and Jon's — filled the house, and when they were gone, it seemed empty and cold. So, instead, he was alone with his thoughts and memories, because that was all he had these days. He had no future; he couldn't make plans or preparations, because until he knew whether his life was to include Jon or not, there was no point in looking ahead.

He found himself at the living room window, looking out onto the world like a caged animal. This was where he'd ended up yesterday. Was today to be an exact repeat of that? How appropriate, if it was — he had no future, therefore he was condemned to re-live the same day over and over again.

But he couldn't bear the thought of another day like yesterday. Contemplating the futility of his own existence had edged him dangerously close to a place he didn't want to return to — at least, not while he was able to spend any time at all with his son.

Jon. He'd been much calmer today, and feeding him his breakfast had been so…well, so wonderfully normal. For a while, he'd been able to pretend they were a real family. It had seemed natural, after they'd got on so well together, to suggest that Jon remain at home with his father. What could be more reasonable, after all, than to offer to relieve Lois and Clark the burden of ferrying Jon to and from the day-care centre? Instead of strangers, he'd be with his Dad for the day.

He snorted. Who was he kidding? He was the stranger here, and everyone — including Jon — knew it. He'd been tolerated, because he was offering food and the baby had been hungry.

He turned away from the window. He had to get out of here. Anywhere would do, as long as it wasn't filled with the presence of his absent son.


Lois kicked the front door shut, her hands full of Jon, his diaper bag, and both hers and Clark's work cases. Superman had been called away just as they'd been getting ready to leave the Planet, so she'd been left to get herself and Jon home in the jeep. Clark would arrive later, whenever he could get away. She sighed — just where was that third hand when you needed it most? She fumbled the interior door open somehow and entered the living room, steeling herself for another verbal sparring match with their house guest.

To her relief, he wasn't there. Maybe he was out walking somewhere. She dumped the bags on the floor and crossed to the kitchen. Clark would fix dinner for the adults when he came home, but in the meantime, she could feed Jon.

A wonderful, tantalising smell wafted towards her as she opened the kitchen door. Entering, she found CK bent over the counter, chopping salad vegetables. From the warmth in the room, she could tell that the oven was on, and judging by the array of dirty pots and pans around the sink, whatever was in the oven had been made from scratch by CK himself.

Impressed, she stepped further into the kitchen with Jon. CK looked up as she entered. "Hi. I hope you don't mind — I wasn't sure what you and Clark had planned for dinner so I just used what I could find."

She shook her head. "Not at all — it smells great. What is it?"

"Lasagne." He shrugged. "It was about the only thing I could still remember how to make which fit the ingredients available. I hope you both like it."

"You bet! Um…Clark might be a little late. He had to go help at a freeway pile-up."

"Well, it's not ready yet anyway — I only thought of doing this half an hour ago." He turned back to the chopping board to continue preparing his salad.

She watched him for a few moments, wondering why something didn't look right about the way he was working. It took her a few seconds, but then she had it. "I thought you had your powers back," she said.

He glanced at her in surprise. "Yeah, I do. So what?"

"I just wondered…" She let her gaze drift over the chopping board and the knife in his hand, but when she looked at his face, it was clear that he viewed her unspoken comment as an unwelcome intrusion. "Nothing," she finished, letting the subject drop. Obviously she'd touched a nerve, though quite why he should be so touchy about the casual use of his powers, she wasn't sure.

"I'll feed Jon while you're finishing that," she said, retreating to safer matters. "Come on, trouble," she said to Jon. "Let's get you into your chair."

She swung Jon down from her hip and lowered him into the high chair. Immediately, Jon started to bang his tray excitedly with his hands, clearly very happy that he was about to be fed. Suddenly CK was beside her. "How about I strap him in while you fix his dinner?"

She straightened up, mildly irritated by his offer to help with a task which would take around two seconds to complete. His eagerness to help with Jon was already starting to get on her nerves, and they'd only been in the same room as each other for about ten minutes. "Sure," she replied, forcing herself to be pleasant. "Whatever."

Ten minutes later, CK was offering to feed Jon his dinner as she carried it over to the high chair. She looked pointedly across the room. "I thought you had a salad to finish."

He stiffened. "I guess I do." He went back to his chopping board, and she settled down next to Jon with his dinner. Okay, so he wanted to get involved with Jon's care, but didn't she also have a right to spend time with her baby?

When she dropped a spot of food on the floor, there he was again, quickly mopping it up for her. This was becoming annoying. She gave him a quick smile that was probably more of a grimace than an expression of thanks. He nodded warily and retreated.

Jon was almost finished when CK drew up a chair and sat opposite her. "Look, I know this is difficult for both of us," he said. "But can't we find a way to make this work so we're not jumping at each other's throats all the time?"

She shrugged. "I don't know what you mean."

He leant forward. "I mean you and I fighting over who gets to feed Jon — for example. I thought we agreed I was going to help."

"Sure," she replied. "I thought we did, too."

He frowned. "So what's the problem?"

She popped another mouthful into Jon. "No problem."

"But…" He expelled air with a frustrated sigh.

She laid Jon's spoon down and gave CK a look. "Don't crowd me, CK. I'm doing my best to be nice and give you time with Jon, but I can't do that if you're constantly butting in and trying to take over all the time."

His expression hardened. "I'm not trying to take over," he protested.

"Yes, you are. You wanted him for the whole day today, remember?" At least he had the grace to look guilty over that one, she noted. She continued, "And now I feel like I can't move without you rushing in and offering to help."

CK looked like he was about to object to that, too, but anything he'd been about to say was forestalled by Jon, who gave a frustrated cry for attention. "Sorry, sweetie," she said, picking up the spoon again and shovelling the last couple of mouthfuls into him.

She turned back to CK, who was gazing fondly at Jon. "I will let you help, I promise — believe me, I plan to make you help plenty! Just…wait to be asked, okay?"

She knew he wouldn't like being told to wait, and sure enough, he shook his head bitterly. "Everything always has to be on your terms, doesn't it?" he muttered. She considered responding to that, but then he sighed heavily. "Okay, I'll be good. I won't help unless you ask me to — and I am sorry about this morning. I never intended to frighten you."

"Okay, apology accepted." So his feelings were hurt, but that was tough. If she hadn't put him straight on the kind of deal they had, they really would have been at each other's throats. She glanced at her watch. "How much longer until that lasagne of yours is ready?"

"About half an hour."

"Well, hopefully Clark will be back by then. In the meantime, how about you and I open a bottle of wine and take Jon next door? You can tell me what you did today."

He gave her a troubled look.

"What?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Might be a short conversation, that's all."

Somehow, she suspected he wasn't being totally honest with her. Clark did exactly the same thing; gave her a hint of trouble, and then pretended everything was fine. It was probably a guy thing — they couldn't come straight out with a cry for help, they needed you to pick up on some tiny clue and then read their minds to figure out the rest.

Well, she was an expert at winkling out the truth from Clark, so CK should be a walkover.


On his umpteenth flight back from the hospital to the freeway accident, Clark hovered a moment over the scene of devastation below him. He'd seen too many of these pile- ups. He could now rate them on a scale of one to ten, according to the body count and the severity of injuries sustained by drivers and their passengers. Number of vehicles involved was a factor, but it wasn't the most important one — it all depended on the weather, how fast the traffic had been moving, and how many people had bothered to buckle up.

This one rated an eleven, he thought wearily. So many of the cars were tightly concertinaed into each other, it was almost impossible to tell them apart in some places. In the centre of the pile-up, a truck had jack-knifed, broken through the crash barriers and plummeted off the edge of the road to the river beneath. No-one, including Superman, had found the driver yet. Clark suspected they might have to look in several places.

He was tired. Bone-achingly tired…well, he was sure the ache was just his imagination, but he knew his weariness was genuine. Usually, he was able to deal with one of these accidents pretty easily, but the stress from worrying about their future with Jon was definitely getting to him.

He sighed and swooped down to commence the search for dead bodies.


"Oh, no!" cried out CK in mock dismay, as Jon knocked over his carefully constructed tower of wooden blocks. "That's the third time, buddy. One more strike and you're out."

As he began all over again, Lois remarked from the sofa, "I thought it was three strikes and you're out."

CK shrugged. "Well, he can't count yet, so I'm cutting him some slack."

She laughed. It was good to see him display some humour at last. He was a much more attractive person when he lightened up a little — more like Clark.

He'd been tentative at first. She'd set Jon down on the carpet and given him a few toys to play with, and for a time she and CK had watched him from the sofas whilst sipping the wine she'd opened. Then CK had slid off onto the floor with a quick glance at Lois.

"Do you mind?" he'd asked.

"No," she'd replied, waving her wine glass generously. "Go ahead."

So he'd joined Jon on the carpet and gently engaged the baby in little games with his toys. At first it had been simple games of give and take, but gradually he'd become more boisterous, and now he was nearing the top of his fourth tower of building blocks, setting each block carefully on top of the last while keeping a playfully wary gaze on Jon.

Suddenly Jon giggled and lunged forward with an arm to swipe the tower away, scattering blocks all over the carpet. CK laughed. "He's certainly got a strong right hook," he observed.

"Yes. Clark and I were wondering when he might start showing signs of 'super' strength," said Lois. "Although Clark didn't develop any powers until he was around five, according to his Mom. What about you?"

He shrugged. "About the same." His smile faded, and after an awkward moment of stillness, he turned away from her and began collecting up the scattered blocks. Again, Lois was left with the sense that he resented his powers. She didn't know why, but she was determined to get to the bottom of it sooner or later. If, and it was a very big 'if' as far as she was concerned, they ended up handing Jon over to CK, she wanted to know that Jon was going to grow up with a man who was at ease with his unique gifts. Jon would probably develop the same powers as CK, after all, and she would hate for him to be taught that they were a curse. He needed lots of positive encouragement, just the same as Clark had received from his parents.

"I'm not Clark," CK said abruptly, his back still turned to her. "Don't confuse me with him."

Lois reflected that she was never likely to do that, since CK was so entirely different to her husband. Wondering exactly what he had meant by the remark, she prompted him to explain himself.

"These…powers — special abilities…call them what you like…they're not part of who I am any more," he said. "I left all that behind when I went to fight a war on New Krypton." He abandoned the pile of blocks and leant his back up against the base of the sofa. "There wasn't any place for the person I'd been on Earth. Instead, I became Kal-El, leader of the New Kryptonian war machine," he said harshly.

"And Kal-El didn't have powers," she said, nodding her understanding. CK associated his powers with an earlier version of himself; a more innocent person who had cherished ideals of humanity and generosity of spirit.

"Oh, he had powers," replied CK bitterly. "The power to kill, the power to send men and women to their deaths, to orphan children…plenty of powers."

"But at least you were fighting for a good cause," she suggested.

He snorted. "Maybe. I got so I wasn't sure any more, towards the end. All we seemed to do was plan more campaigns, more strategies — there was never any sense that we were trying to resolve anything."

"You must have hated it," she said.

"Yeah. It was almost a relief when I was too sick to attend war council meetings." He closed his eyes. "Anyway, that's why the powers aren't part of me any more. I only use them to shave because I have to. Otherwise they belong to the guy who saved people's lives and…and had a fantastic girlfriend named Lois Lane."

His voice caught on her name. Lois felt strange, knowing that this prickly, sad man before her had been her twin's boyfriend. He was so unlike Clark, despite the physical resemblance, that she couldn't imagine herself ever falling for him the same way she'd fallen for Clark. Perhaps, of course, the other Lois had been quite different to herself. "Tell me about her, CK," she said softly. "What was she like?"

A wave of pain crossed his face and he bowed his head, hiding his expression from her. Her heart went out to him — his sorrow never seemed to be far from the surface. She imagined it continually returning to him, often when he least expected it. "Was she like me?" she asked, wanting to encourage him to talk. "Cranky, knows her own mind, doesn't suffer fools? Tell me, CK."

"Wonderful," he replied huskily, his head still bowed. "She was wonderful. And brilliant. Funny…full of life." His made a sound half-way between a laugh and a sob. "Obstinate, of course."

"Not at all like me, then," she joked, but he didn't seem to hear her.

"We got engaged just before I had to leave," he continued in a low voice. "We'd planned to get married in a couple of months, although she'd joked that we should just elope and get it over and done with. Her Mom, you see, had already gone into wedding overdrive and was booking doves and hand-bell ringers by the truck-load. She and her Mom didn't exactly see eye to eye on a lot of things. I told her I'd marry her anywhere, any place, any time, but then she decided she'd go through with the wedding after all — do it her own way, just to show her Mom." He looked up, his face streaked with tears. "Obstinate, you see?"

She found herself acutely affected by his distress; a lump was forming in her throat and the hand holding her wine glass was trembling. Perhaps it was because she could so easily imagine Clark in this state if she ever…disappeared — he'd already shown her a glimpse of the pain he'd suffer when he'd merely dreamt about losing her.

But it wouldn't do any good if both she and CK fell apart over this. The best thing she could do for him was to hang on to her composure and keep him talking. She nodded. "But there's nothing wrong in wanting to plan your wedding your own way," she said encouragingly.

"No. Nothing at all." He drew in a shaky breath. "I really loved her, you know."

"I can see that, CK," she said gently. "And it's good you're starting to talk about her. You should do it more often, instead of bottling everything up inside." She sipped her wine. "Tell me how you first met."

And so, haltingly, he told her a largely familiar story of first meetings, of work assignments which threw them together on a regular basis, of the first date, of arguments and reconciliations, and many more dates after that.

"Did she know you were Superman?" she asked, very curious about this particular issue. She glanced over at Jon, who was sitting quietly amidst his toys, apparently testing out how edible each of them were by stuffing them into his mouth. Well, that was okay; there was nothing there that would present a choking hazard. She looked back at CK.

"Not at first," he replied. "She was the one who gave me the idea for Superman, but I didn't tell her at the start. I was scared I'd lose her if she knew I was…different. But then it got harder not to tell her than to keep it a secret."

Lois raised her eyebrows; this was interesting. Apparently CK had told his Lois a lot sooner than Clark had managed to tell her. "How did she take it?"

"Better than I'd hoped. Much better." His face crumpled and he bowed his head again. "Can we talk about something else now?" he said roughly.

"Okay," she said. Deciding to give him a few moments to rein in his emotions, she laid down her wine glass and collected up Jon to sit him in her lap. She'd have to put him to bed soon, but she was really hoping Clark would make it back before then; he needed to spend some time with his baby son just as much as she did. In the meantime, it felt good to hold Jon's warm little body close to hers — at least, while he was so content and well-behaved, she reflected ruefully.

She was disappointed that CK had wanted to change the subject just when things were getting interesting, but understood that he'd clearly had enough for the present. Maybe she could bring him back to their previous topic of conversation. "Let's go back to your powers," she suggested. "Tell me, are you saying you don't think you're a good enough person to use them?"

He shook his head. "No, not exactly."

"That's what it sounds like to me — and it's a pretty dumb reason, if you ask me," she told him.

His head shot up, his expression angry and defensive. "Just leave it, okay?" he replied brusquely. "You don't know what I've been through — what I've become."

Her hackles rose immediately. "No, I won't just leave it, CK," she replied vehemently. "I can't. One of these days, this child is going to develop the same powers that you have, and if you think I'm going to let him grow up in a home where his abilities are ignored, or worse still, suppressed, then you may as well go home right now! You'd be his role model, as his father, so you better start acting like one real soon."


Clark paused with his hand on the door handle of the living room. He'd landed a couple of streets away, spun back into his own clothes and finished the journey home on foot as himself. As far as the neighbours were concerned, Clark Kent was returning home late from work.

He sighed. It sounded like Lois and CK were arguing yet again. He wasn't up to this tonight; the freeway pile-up had left him weary and a bit down, and what he really needed was some time with Jon followed by a quiet dinner with his wife. He did not feel like acting as adjudicator in another fight between Lois and their house guest.

He took a deep breath and pushed the door open. "Hi, guys," he said pleasantly. "Sorry I'm so late."

He was a little surprised to find CK sitting on the carpet while Lois was on the sofa with Jon, but less surprised to detect the distinctly icy atmosphere between the two. He crossed to Lois and bent to kiss her on the cheek. "Hi, honey. Everything okay?" He ruffled a hand absently over Jon's head.

"Yes, fine," she replied without conviction.

"I'll check on dinner," announced CK abruptly, unfolding himself from the floor and heading for the kitchen without even a glance at Clark.

Clark watched his departing back, then raised an eyebrow at Lois. "Dinner?"

"Yeah, he made it — lasagne and salad. It smells really good, actually," she replied.

"Well, that's kind of him — to cook us dinner, I mean," he said, sinking down onto the sofa beside her.

"I suppose so."

He plucked Jon from her lap and held him up before him. "Hiya, buddy!" he said, planting a noisy kiss on the baby's tummy. Jon giggled with delight, so he repeated the trick and elicited another burst of bubbly giggles. At least one member of the family was happy…Clark plunked Jon down in his lap and gave him his keys to play with.

"I heard you and CK talking," he murmured to Lois. "Without the benefit of superhearing," he added.

She grimaced. "He's wallowing, Clark. He's more interested in his own personal hang-ups than being a father to Jon."

"Give him time, honey. He's got a lot of adjusting to do," he suggested.

"Maybe so, but he did ask to be Jon's father," she replied. "He's got to realise there's more to being a father than just genetics."

"I'm sure he does," he replied.

"Well, he'd better start proving to me real soon that he does. Right now, I'm no nearer to being convinced that he'd give Jon a good home than I was when we first met him." She sighed. "Anyway, enough of him. How are you? How was the pile-up?"

"Pretty bad," he admitted. "There were a lot of fatalities."

"But you managed to rescue some people?"

He shrugged. "Yeah."

She reached up and swept a gentle hand through his hair. "You sound tired," she commented, her eyebrows knitting together in a small frown.

He gave her a weak smile. "Nothing a good night's sleep won't cure."

She leant over and pressed her lips to his, drawing him into a long, slow kiss. He responded in kind, savouring every nano-second of the intimate moment. They'd been neglecting each other, he realised. CK and his problems had drawn their attention away from their marriage, making them forget to take time out for moments like this.

"Shame we can't take this further," she murmured, her mouth still tantalisingly close to his lips.

"Mmmm," he replied, slanting his mouth over hers again. "How about we ask CK to baby-sit for a couple of hours?"

"A couple of hours?" she repeated. "I thought you said you were tired."

"I'm not suggesting the bedroom equivalent of the Olympic games," he said. "Just some long, slow loving."

"Oh, if only…" she replied dreamily. "Unfortunately, my acute sense of smell is telling me that someone needs their diaper changing, and we have a grumpy house-guest waiting to serve us his carefully-prepared dinner."

Clark chuckled softly. "You say the most romantic things, honey. Okay, whose turn is it?"

"CK's?" she suggested with a wink.

"Lo-is," he protested. "The guy's already slaving over a hot stove for us."

She shrugged. "If he wants to be a parent, then multi- tasking comes with the territory. Come on, you," she said to Jon, picking him up. "Let's see what Uncle CK is doing in the kitchen."

Clark sighed and let himself sink wearily back into the sofa cushions for a few moments. What he wouldn't give for an early night with Lois. Even if they just snuggled up together in bed for a while and didn't do anything more adventurous than kiss each other, he'd be happy. He really felt tired tonight.


"That was really good, CK!" exclaimed Lois, placing her fork on the empty plate.

He nodded his thanks. Dinner had been a surprising success, and he was feeling better than he had all day. For once, all three of them had managed to conduct a civil conversation, mostly by carefully skirting around any topics they didn't see eye to eye on. That had left plenty to talk about, and he'd been grateful to be part of a normal dinner-table discussion for the first time since leaving for New Krypton.

He also appreciated how much time they were allowing him with Jon. After dinner, he was going to bathe Jon and put him to bed, and he'd already been shown how to change his diaper and had his daily schedule explained in detail. He really felt as if he was starting to develop a bond with his son.

If only he didn't have to spend all day on his own again. Today had dragged terribly. He'd tried reading some of Lois and Clark's extensive library of books, but found he couldn't concentrate for more than a few pages at a time. He'd watched TV for a while, but the paucity of day-time TV had soon driven him away. He'd dozed off a couple of times, but had awoken sweating and breathless each time, jerked out of the nightmare of war by images so vivid he'd smelt the blood and tasted the fear.

He desperately needed something to do; something to save him from himself.


Lois awoke to the unpleasant and upsetting sound of someone retching in their bathroom. CK, she supposed. Odd — she'd thought he was recovered from his illness. Perhaps he wasn't used to Earth food yet; maybe he should have cooked something more simple than lasagne.

She wondered whether she should go check on him, but decided on balance that he'd probably prefer it if she left him alone.

Or maybe she should send Clark. She rolled over to rouse him, but found his side of the bed empty. Great — he was out on Superman duty.

Well, she was sure CK wouldn't welcome her at his side while he was ill, and he probably just had an upset stomach, so she'd leave it. If Clark came back before she was asleep again, she'd mention it to him.

She'd just managed to drift down into that cosy half- conscious world of almost-sleep when she felt the bed dip on Clark's side. Pulling herself back up to wakefulness, she murmured, "Honey, do you mind checking on CK? He sounded pretty sick in the bathroom a few minutes ago."

There was a moment of stillness from the other side of the bed, then Clark replied huskily, "That wasn't CK, it was me."

Her heart did a loud thump. He was sick? Suddenly in full worry mode, she quickly switched on the bedside light and turned back to him. He looked awful; there was almost no colour in his cheeks and a thin film of sweat covered his forehead — even his hair was tousled and damp. "Oh, Clark," she exclaimed softly. "Why didn't you wake me?"

He grimaced. "There wasn't time."

She bit her lip while she digested that piece of information. Given his lack of experience with illness, she supposed he probably hadn't recognised the warning signs until it was almost too late. "How do you feel now?" she asked, gently brushing his damp hair away from his forehead and then resting her hand there to check his temperature. He felt warm and clammy, but she wasn't sure if he was running a temperature or not.

"Pretty rough, actually," he replied miserably. "My stomach's churning and my head hurts."

She fought down the urge to panic, but it was difficult — he wasn't usually this forthcoming when he was ill, so if he was actually admitting he felt horrible, then he really must be sick. "When did this start? You didn't mention anything earlier."

"I thought it would pass," he said. "And I didn't feel so bad then."

"So it started before we went to bed?" she asked, a little annoyed with him for not telling her. When would he ever learn to share these things with her?

"Yeah. I felt queasy sometime after we had coffee, to be honest. But nothing like this," he said, rolling restlessly onto his side. "I can't even seem to lie still for very long."

He really sounded wretched, she thought, stroking his arm and shoulder soothingly. "Is there anything I can get you? A glass of water, maybe?"

He shook his head slowly. "No, but thanks," he murmured, closing his eyes. "I just want to get some sleep."

"Okay," she said. "You do that."

This was CK's fault. There was no other way Clark could have fallen sick, if kryptonite wasn't involved. CK had passed his illness on to Clark, just as she'd feared he might. A memory flashed past of Clark lying in a coma because of a Kryptonian virus — please don't let this be so bad, she thought, offering up a quick prayer to the fates. Not that there was any reason to think that it would be, she told herself, since CK obviously wasn't at death's door. But it puzzled her that Clark was nauseous; CK had been coughing a lot and had been running a temperature when he first arrived but he hadn't mentioned any other symptoms. Of course, he hadn't eaten much tonight, and Clark had told her he'd hardly eaten any breakfast, so maybe he had been sick and was now being careful with how much he ate. She'd have to ask him tomorrow.

She turned off the light and settled down uneasily beside Clark. After a few moments she sought his hand under the bedclothes and clasped it gently; who was comforting who, she wasn't sure.


Clark didn't fall asleep quickly. They both lay awake in the darkness; she sensing his misery and discomfort and he presumably feeling wretched. Some time after they'd first spoken — she wasn't sure how long — he was up again, and then after that, twice more. Each time she went with him and did her best to help him, but there was really very little she could do other than clean up afterwards and supply him with water and a toothbrush to freshen up with.

After their third visit to the bathroom, he was trembling and his skin was cold and clammy. He didn't even bother to rise up from the floor and perch on the side of the bath like he had previously. She crouched down beside him and squeezed his shoulders. "Honey?" she prompted. "Are you ready to go back to bed?"

He nodded wearily, and together they stood slowly up. "My legs are shaking," he murmured with a note of dejected surprise. Clearly he didn't think Superman should be so weak and wobbly.

"Your body just got overloaded, that's all," she soothed. "You'll feel better once you're lying down."

As she walked with him back to their bedroom, steadying him with a hand on his back, she thought she heard someone talking downstairs. "Clark, did you hear that?" she said.

"It's CK," he replied. "He does it every night."

"Does what?"

"Talks in his sleep. I think he's reliving the fighting on New Krypton," he said.

She hadn't realised. The poor guy must have been even more deeply scarred by the fighting on New Krypton that he'd admitted to either of them. No wonder he was so edgy.

He'd kept very quiet about New Krypton. This evening, when he'd spoken so bitterly of the war, had been the first time he'd said anything at all about it to Lois. He seemed to prefer talking about his Lois to her.

But Clark required her attention right now. She walked him around to his side of the bed, and when he was curled up under the covers, she perched on the edge.

"This sucks," he muttered.

She almost smiled, it was such an un-Clark-like thing to say. "Do you want me to call Dr Klein? I'm sure we could come up with a plausible Superman story for him."

"No, I'm sure it'll pass eventually," he answered. "I mean, CK's all right, isn't he?" he added after a pause.

"I guess so, but just remember you don't have anything to prove here, okay? Just because he managed without medical help doesn't mean you have to," she pointed out.

"But it'll be simpler if I do," he said. "I'll be fine, Lois. Let's just try to get some sleep."

She bent down and kissed his cheek. "Okay."

But what about Jon? If Clark was sick, was it only a matter of time before Jon fell ill, too? A stab of fear knifed through her. A small baby could become seriously ill from a thing like this. Should they get Jon checked over? Should they send him away again?

No. It was too late for that — Jon had been in contact with Clark too much for it to be worthwhile isolating him now. They'd just have to hope Clark hadn't passed it on.


Morning dawned eventually and Clark awoke slowly, reluctantly letting go of the comfort of sleep. As he surfaced, memories of his miserable night returned to him, and with that came an awareness of the lassitude and queasiness still with him. He felt exhausted, despite having turned in relatively early the previous night.

But today was a work day, so he dragged himself slowly out of bed and through his usual morning routine. Lois was ahead of him, presumably already downstairs and eating breakfast with CK and Jon. No matter — he'd probably skip breakfast today anyway.

Finally, he was dressed in his suit and tie. Any hope of feeling better after getting ready for work was dashed; he felt weak, wobbly and about as strong as a limp piece of celery. It was really pretty disturbing to feel so washed- out and sick — they weren't sensations he was at all familiar with. He decided the best way to deal with it was to ignore it as far as possible. Mind over matter.

Downstairs, he walked into the kitchen to find Lois leaning up against the counter drinking coffee and eating toast. CK was sitting at the table feeding Jon his breakfast.

"Morning," he said, announcing himself quietly.

"Clark!" exclaimed Lois, pushing herself off the counter and coming towards him. "I thought you'd be asleep for hours. How do you feel?"

He shrugged. "Okay, I guess." He crossed to the table and sat down opposite Jon and CK. "Hiya, sport," he said to Jon with a wan smile and then added a nod to CK.

Lois had followed him to the table. She looked down at him, studying him with concern in her eyes. Then she felt his forehead. "You don't look okay," she pronounced. "You look terrible."

"Gee, thanks, honey," he murmured.

She sat down beside him. "No, really, Clark — I honestly don't think you should go to work today. You hardly had any sleep last night and you're still very pale."

He had to admit, the prospect of staying at home for the day was pretty attractive. But he was practising mind over matter, wasn't he? And he'd probably feel worse if he gave in to this thing instead of ignoring it. "I'll be okay, honey. I probably look worse than I feel."

"Maybe, but even if you feel a tenth as bad as you look, you're still not well. I can see it in your eyes. Give yourself a break," she said, "and take the day off. You'll feel better sooner if you do."

He shook his head. "Perry's counting on me to finish that homeless story for him today, and there's a mountain of work to get through on the Schreiber investigation. If I don't finish it today-"

"Clark, it can wait," interrupted his wife calmly with a hand on his arm. "Perry didn't get to be editor-in-chief without learning how to cope with the unexpected. I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you to stay home if he saw you right now." She patted his arm. "Why don't you try to eat a little breakfast and then go back to bed for a while?"

He screwed up his face. "I'll pass on breakfast, thanks."

"But you'll stay at home?"

He didn't answer immediately, and then CK spoke up. "I'd listen to Lois if I were you," he said. "You won't feel like working, believe me."

Clark eyed his double. "You fought a war while you were sick."

"Only because I had to! Plus I was medicated up to my eyeballs most of the time and even then I collapsed." CK pointed Jon's spoon at Lois. "Listen to your wife and stay home."

Clark sighed. He possessed neither the energy or the will to resist the two of them, and a day at home was becoming more and more attractive. "Okay," he said. "I guess I can always do some work on the laptop."

"You'll do no such thing!" Lois replied briskly. "You'll rest and get as much sleep as you can. And are you sure about breakfast? Maybe some plain toast might help settle things down."

"I wouldn't advise it," said CK. "I couldn't keep anything down for the first couple of days." He shrugged apologetically. "I'm really sorry I've passed this thing on to you, Clark. It's not much fun."

Clark grimaced, not at all happy with the prospect of being ill for longer than a day or so — he'd always recovered quickly and easily from the injuries and very infrequent illnesses he'd suffered in the past. "So when does the cough start?"

CK shrugged. "I don't recall. Just drink a lot and rest as much as you can. You won't feel like doing much else." He turned back to Jon for a moment, then paused and looked up at Lois. "Of course, you'll want to send Jon away, won't you?"

Clark's already-queasy stomach lurched and for a moment he wondered if he should make a nimble exit to the bathroom. He hadn't thought of the renewed risk to Jon at all! Maybe CK could fly him to Smallville — or perhaps they should take him to Dr Klein for-

"It's not the same this time," replied Lois. "Clark's already had so much contact with Jon, it won't make any difference if-"

"But you can't be sure, can you?" interrupted CK, obviously warming to his subject. "Maybe I should take him home with me for a few days until Clark recovers."

Clark groaned inwardly and rested his head on his hands with his eyes closed. He really didn't feel up to a battle with CK this morning. Couldn't the guy ever give it a rest? "No," he said flatly. "You are not going anywhere with Jon."

"But it's the perfect solution-"

"No means no, CK," warned Clark. "Just leave it, okay?"

There was a long silence, during which Clark realised he'd spoken more loudly and harshly than he'd intended. Then he felt Lois squeeze his shoulders. "I'll take Jon to the crŠche at the Planet," she murmured in his ear. "Don't worry about it, honey."

He nodded, happy to leave Lois in command of the situation. As she'd pointed out, it was too late to isolate Jon from Clark's illness, but at least at the crŠche he'd receive good care and Clark wouldn't have to look after a demanding baby while he was fighting off this thing.

"And you," she said, raising her voice and presumably addressing CK, "can look after Clark and make sure he rests." He felt her stroke the side of his face. "You'll be all right here, won't you? I'd stay, but Perry really will go crazy if neither of us turns up for work."

He nodded again. "I'll be fine."


CK eyed his companion over the top of the book he was attempting to read. Clark had rested upstairs all morning, but at around lunchtime he'd appeared in the living room, saying he was feeling a little better and wanting to catch up on the news. They'd switched on the TV, and afterwards, Clark had remained, flicking through the channels until he found some football to watch.

That had been around an hour ago, and now Clark appeared to be dozing where he sat, oblivious of the rowdy game going on in front of him.

Personally, CK found his book more interesting than the game, which was merely an annoying background noise. If Clark wasn't watching either…he stood up and turned the TV off.

Clark stirred immediately, rubbing his eyes and stretching wearily. "What time is it?" he asked hazily.

"Around two. Do you want me to get you anything?" replied CK. "A drink, maybe?"

"No, it's okay — I'll get it myself." He pushed himself slowly to his feet. "Do you want anything?"

"No, I'm fine," he replied, assessing his companion's appearance critically. Clark was still pale and moved with the slow care of someone who felt weak and distinctly fragile. Had CK himself looked so bad when he'd been ill? He'd been too busy running a war council to notice such things.

But Clark definitely looked like he should be in bed, CK reflected, and wondered if he should say something. On the other hand, he completely understood Clark's desire to remain downstairs. Retiring to bed meant you were conceding defeat and admitting you were actually ill.

Toughing it out had been the only way to survive on New Krypton. He hadn't been able to afford the luxury of a day in bed, or even a day away from his duties. The pressure had been constant; his people had expected a strong leader, and even away from the public eye, his aides and royal attendants had been so divided in their loyalties that he had been forced to maintain a forceful and tough outer shell. Weakness would have invited division and dissent.

It had been an enormous strain to maintain a persona which was so different from his naturally mild personality, and on top of that, deal with constant ill-health. Looking back now, it was perhaps as well that he'd been sent back to Earth when he had been, because he probably wouldn't have lasted much longer without suffering some kind of nervous breakdown.

He returned to his book for a few paragraphs, but was rudely interrupted by a crash from the kitchen. Imagining that Clark had passed out, he leapt up and rushed in to help.

Clark hadn't fainted, but he did look rather odd. He was clutching onto the kitchen counter, and the bottom half of his body was clad in the Superman suit. One boot was missing, and his top half was sporting a very twisted t- shirt, revealing a generous swathe of bare midriff between shirt and suit. The red cape was at his feet, along with the red briefs.

"Oops," he grimaced, his eyes indicating the missing boot, which was planted firmly in the middle of the oven door.

"Just what are you doing?" asked CK.

"Someone needs me," explained Clark. "Can you give me a hand?"

CK shook his head. "You are not going anywhere right now. You look like you can barely stand."

"The spin just made me a little dizzy, that's all," muttered Clark. He pushed unsteadily away from the counter and crossed to the oven. Grasping the boot, he yanked it out of the door, then hopped on one leg while trying to pull the boot on the other. When he nearly over-balanced, CK rushed forward and grabbed him.

"Don't be crazy, Clark," he urged. "Let the emergency services deal with it."

Clark's mouth set in a firm line. "They called for Superman."

"Yeah, well right now, you're not Superman, you're Clark Kent with the stomach flu," CK retorted.

Clark answered that by using CK's support to don the boot. Straightening up, he pulled the t-shirt up over his head and began shouldering himself into the rest of his Superman suit. "I'll be fine. So unless you're thinking of taking my place, I'm going before someone loses their life."

CK recoiled — take his place? Never! He was never going to wear that suit again — he had no right. How could he pretend to be the upholder of truth and justice when he had men's blood on his hands?

Clark had finished dressing and was steadying himself with a hand on the kitchen counter again. CK couldn't believe he was preparing to fly to the rescue in his current state.

And his conscience was prodding him — no, yelling at him that he could fix this. He had the same abilities as Clark; even had the necessary job experience. He was uniquely placed to take Clark's place.

But he couldn't. He was a killer.

Yet his mind was already racing ahead, remembering how to fly, how to navigate through the city from high above the streets, how to tackle emergency situations, how to deal with panicky citizens.

He looked at Clark and saw a sick man who should be resting in bed, not a powerful being capable of reality-defying rescues.

His head swam and his heart thudded in his chest. He couldn't do this. He simply could not do this.

So why did he find himself saying, "Okay."

"What?" replied Clark thickly, clearly not understanding him. If anything, he looked even worse than he had a couple of minutes ago. All the colour had drained from his face and he was clinging on to the counter as if it were the only thing holding him upright. Clearly, rushing to get changed into the suit had used up his remaining reserves of strength.

"I'll do it — take your place." At Clark's look of surprise, he ploughed forward before he could change his mind. "The suits are in the secret cabinet, right?" Clark nodded slowly, and at superspeed, CK found a suit, donned it and sped back into the kitchen. "Tell me where I'm going."

When Clark hesitated, he urged, "Hurry up! We've already wasted precious time."

Clark straightened up. "The Gandell Building, corner of Fifth and Ninth. There's a fire and someone's trapped on the top floor."

CK took off, barely missing the patio doors on his way out as he rediscovered his flying technique. His heart was in his mouth; he knew he could do this, but it had been so long…


Airborne, and flying swiftly over the city, he felt fear settle in the pit of his stomach and constrict his chest. What did he think he was doing? This was exactly how he'd felt before going into combat, except this time the enemy was the fire raging downtown.

He couldn't do this. Why was he even trying?

During the war, he'd forced himself to be numb; to ignore the fear and fight on in spite of it. He'd needed a lot of practice to perfect the technique, but once learnt, he was a model of cold, bitter panache.

But the fear never went away.

Why was he making himself go through this — returning to combat duty when his blood ran cold at the thought of another moment spent under fire?


Aghast, he suddenly realised he didn't even know if he was invulnerable or not. What if he flew into the fire and was flayed alive by the flames?

Spotting a flat roof nearby, he landed clumsily, almost tripping over in his haste to stop. He was panting; gasping for breath.

"Help, Superman!"

Panicked, he clapped his hands over his ears and screwed his eyes shut. He couldn't do this!

"Superman!" The voice sounded completely fraught with terror.

"I can't do this," he gasped, willing the voice to stop.

"Superman, help!"

It was no use — he had to make the voice stop. Groaning in desperation, he launched himself back up into the air.

He arrived swiftly at the Gandell Building and didn't hesitate before throwing himself blindly through the flames and into the top floor penthouse where the cries for help were coming from. It was an act of desperation. He was sure that he'd falter if he stopped to think about what he was doing. Working in a frenzy of panic he darted his gaze around the smoke-filled room until he found a cowering figure in one corner. He grabbed and flew straight out of the window again, barely hearing the shout of pain from his passenger.


"My…my arm," whimpered the man, breaking through CK's panicked, numb mind. He'd been flying on autopilot, not caring where he went so long as it was away from danger. He didn't even know whether the fire had hurt him or not.

"What?" he said, dredging up a response from somewhere beyond the fear overwhelming his brain.

"I think it's broken," said the man, breaking into a harsh cough.

CK glanced down and realised to his chagrin that he was gripping the man by his injured arm. "I'm sorry, but I can't transfer my hold when we're flying," he said stiffly, not wanting to risk dropping him. Theoretically he knew he could catch him again, but he simply didn't possess the confidence he used to take for granted. "We're nearly there," he added to placate the man, although in truth he'd lost his bearings and couldn't remember where the hospital was.

The man was still coughing — presumably from smoke inhalation, CK thought. "Met General…was back there," he said roughly.

"Oh. I…I…" He couldn't think of a suitable response, and so simply turned quickly around and headed down to the hospital. Hurriedly, he found the ER and handed the man over.

"Will…will his arm be okay?" he asked the doctor who took charge.

The doctor looked askance at him. "I won't know until I examine him. Why do you ask, Superman?"

"I…" But he couldn't tell the doctor that he may have made it worse, or perhaps even caused the break in the first place. "It seemed to be hurting him rather badly," he replied.

"Broken arms usually do," said the doctor. "Don't worry, Superman — we'll take good care of him."

He nodded jerkily and rushed away before he could make things any worse.


Home from work at last, Lois entered the living room with Jon, once more struggling with bag, baby things, door keys and baby. Why was it she was always the one who ended up juggling umpteen bits and pieces at the end of a tiring day at work?

Her annoyance faded when she spotted her poorly husband. How could she grumble when Clark was sick? He was lying huddled under CK's blankets on the sofa, his eyes closed and presumably dozing, judging by his lack of reaction when she entered the room.

Still with Jon in her arms, she bent down to kiss Clark's cheek briefly. His eyelids fluttered immediately and he began to stir. He still looked pale, she thought, and there were unhealthy flushes of red on his cheeks.

He opened his eyes and saw her. "Hi, honey," he said in a rough voice, pushing himself slowly up to sit propped up against the arm rest of the sofa. "I didn't hear you come in."

"You were dozing," she said. "How are you?"

He shrugged, his face non-committal. "Let's just say I've been better."

She felt his forehead. "I wish there was something we could do about your temperature," she said with a frown. "Are you sure aspirin won't work?"

"Honey, I have absolutely no idea," he replied tetchily. "Your guess is as good as mine." He bent forward and, to her dismay, started coughing painfully.

She bit her lip, feeling completely helpless and disliking it intensely. There didn't appear to be anything she could do to make him feel better, except offer sympathy — and even that didn't seem to be particularly welcome any more. Clark hardly ever showed his temper, of course, so one minor outburst was neither here nor there. It just made her feel bad because she knew it meant he was completely fed-up and miserable.

When he stopped coughing, he rested his head back with his eyes closed. "How's Jon?" he croaked.

"Oh, he's fine!" she exclaimed, glad to find something cheerful to share with him. "Do you want to say hello?"

He shook his head. "I'd only cough all over him."

So even Jon couldn't lift his spirits. Disappointed, she hefted Jon in her arms — he was getting heavy! — and turned towards the kitchen. "I'll give him his dinner, then. Where's CK?" she added, remembering that he'd probably want to hover around like a mother hen or something equally irritating.

"Isn't he back yet?" Clark said. "He left ages ago."

Suppressing the urge to cheer, she asked, "Where did he go?"

"To a fire. He took my place as Superman."

Now that surprised her. After their conversation the previous evening, she'd thought he was dead against ever becoming Superman again. "Maybe he got called away on another job," she suggested.



High up on the roof of the tallest building in Metropolis, a figure sat huddled against the side of an air- conditioning unit. Under the red cape, his legs were drawn up against his chest and his head was bowed, resting on his knees.

CK lifted his head slowly and took in a long, shuddering breath. He had to stop doing this. Sooner or later, he had to stop thinking himself into a deeper and deeper depression and pull himself together. It would be no good moping over his own misfortune when he became a full-time Dad.

This bout had started when he'd left the hospital and begun to think about how badly he'd handled the rescue. He'd hurt that man — the very person he'd supposed to have been saving. Obviously, when he'd become Kal-El, he'd lost the ability to be Superman along with everything else that made up the person who'd been Clark Kent, the farmer's son from Kansas.

Never again, he'd sworn to himself — never again would he don the superhero's suit. He should have stuck to that, instead of giving in to the knee-jerk reaction to take Clark's place. Just because he had the same physical attributes as Clark, that didn't make him Superman.

And he hadn't been prepared for the paralysing fear which had gripped him as soon as he'd set out on his way to the rescue. In the old days, he'd been confident and sure- footed; certain of his own ability to get the job done. This time, the fear had made him uncertain and clumsy — which was why he'd hurt that man.

So this would be the first and last time he'd take Clark's place. Metropolis could look after itself for a while.

He gazed over at the nearest clock-tower. Was it really that late? He must have been here for hours. Lois and Clark would be wondering where he was.

No doubt Clark would expect some kind of account of his rescue. He'd be disappointed, CK decided. There was no way he was going to tell Clark how badly he'd handled things. He'd simply tell Clark the incident had been dealt with.

Lois would want to know why he'd donned the suit after he'd told her he never intended to ever again. Well, he could lie and tell her that he'd decided she was right — he should become Superman again for Jon's sake. Or he could tell the truth, and say…what? He'd done it to stop Clark hurting himself?

Yes, that was it. Clark had been about to do something stupid and he'd simply put a stop to it.


Lois could have kicked herself for suggesting Clark eat something. It was just that he'd reluctantly admitted to feeling light-headed when he'd got up to visit the bathroom, and she was sure that was due to a lack of food and sunlight. She'd wanted to get a little nutrition into him and he'd agreed, believing his stomach had settled enough to tolerate some thin soup and a slice of bread. Now he was paying the consequences.

"Okay?" she asked when he finally raised his head.

"Yeah," he replied. "I'm sorry about this — it's not exactly a picnic for you, is it?"

She shrugged. "In sickness and in health — wasn't that the deal? You've done the same for me; now it's my turn. Here," she said, setting his bowl down temporarily on the carpet. "Lie down while I get you some water." She helped him shuffle back down on the sofa and pulled the blankets up around his shoulders.

In the kitchen, Jon was wailing loudly in his high chair. Her conscience stabbed at her — she'd had to abandon him when Clark had called for her. Now he'd worked himself into an all-out temper tantrum. No doubt his diaper needed changing, and he was only half-way through his dinner.

Hurriedly, she cleaned out Clark's bowl, trying her best to calm Jon down at the same time by calling out to him in a cheerful, sing-song voice. What had she told Clark earlier about multi-tasking?

"Hey, little guy, what's up?"

She whirled around to find CK gathering Jon into his arms. For once, she couldn't be more happy to see him. "Sort him out while I deal with Clark, would you?" she said, turning back to find a clean glass for Clark's water. "He needs changing and feeding."

"Sure, we can do that, can't we, Jon?" he said to the baby, who was actually beginning to quieten down in his arms. "Come on, let's go upstairs and give your Mom a break."

Relieved that Jon was taken care of, she filled the glass and returned to Clark's side in the living room.


"Here's your water."

He opened his eyes and found Lois leaning over him, holding out a glass of water. Accepting it from her, he took a few careful sips and then handed it back. "Thanks."

She pressed it back into his hand. "Try to drink some more, honey," she said, kneeling down on the carpet beside him. "Water won't do you any harm, and you need to keep up your fluids."

He shook his head. "Maybe later." His insides were still churning, and he really didn't want to risk another upset.

She ran her hand through his hair for a few moments, clearly in two minds on whether to press him further or not. He hoped it would be the latter; he really didn't feel up to an argument with Lois. "Okay," she said to his relief, "I'll leave it here for you." She laid the glass on the nearby coffee table.

"How's Jon?" he asked. He'd heard the baby crying in the kitchen, and the noise had reawakened his fears: was Jon coming down with this flu thing after all?

"He's fine, sweetheart. He was just annoyed that I'd left him alone," she replied. She kissed his cheek. "Stop worrying about him. CK's looking after him."

Clark gave a wan smile. "Aren't those two sentences mutually exclusive? Or have you changed your mind about CK's child-care abilities?"

She pulled a face, silently telling him off for making fun of her. "He's okay, I guess — in an emergency," she said.

Emergency — he suddenly realised CK must have returned at last. This illness must be slowing down his thinking. "Did he say how things went at the fire?" he asked.

Lois shook her head. "No, not yet."

"He was pretty determined to go, you know," he remarked. "There was no way he was going to let me, and he was pretty fast at deciding to take my place."

"Well, I'm glad he did," she replied, "because you're in no shape to go racing around the skies."

He heard the mild admonishment in her voice: in her opinion, he shouldn't even have considered it. Usually, he'd object, but this time, he had to admit that she was right. He'd felt better at lunchtime, but all that well- being had disappeared during the afternoon. Now he felt worse than he had since last night. He didn't understand why, and if he was honest with himself, he was just a little bit worried.

No sense in worrying Lois, though. He was probably over- reacting anyway.

"What?" she said.

He frowned. "What do you mean, 'what'?"

"You've got that look that says 'something's bothering me but I don't think I'll tell Lois'," she said.

So much for not worrying Lois. And when he tried to rearrange his features to look less concerned, she merely exclaimed softly, "Ah-ha!" She pointed an accusing finger at him and fixed him with a stern gaze. "Now you're really looking guilty."

He smiled, because he knew she was just trying to cheer him up with a little gentle ribbing. "I guess nothing escapes you, does it?"

"No," she replied, also smiling. "So give — what's on your mind?"

He drew a breath to answer, but it caught somewhere in his chest and sent him into a paroxysm of coughing. Boy, did it hurt. And the more he coughed, the worse it seemed to get.

At last it passed. He let his head fall back on the cushions, worn out and light-headed. "That's on my mind," he croaked sardonically. "I thought I was getting better around lunchtime, but now I just seem to be worse than ever."

She stroked his cheek with the back of her fingers, soothing him despite the swimming sensation in his head. Simply having her beside him helped an awful lot. There might not be any medicine he could take for this, but sometimes Lois was the best medicine there was.

"That happens when you're sick," she said. "You have ups and downs, bad days and good days." She reached over and hugged him. "Hang on in there, Clark. You *will* get better."

He nodded against her shoulder. "I know. I'm just not used to anything lasting this long. You probably think I'm being a big baby."

"No, just inexperienced." She released him and settled back on her heels. "Maybe you should go to bed and try to get some sleep. There's too many distractions down here."

Which was precisely why he'd stayed downstairs. He'd felt cut-off from everything upstairs. But yet again, she was right. He was tired, and suddenly the prospect of snuggling down in a proper bed was very attractive.

"Okay," he agreed.


Another evening; another awkward encounter with Lois. As usual, they sat as far apart from each other as possible and tried to make a stilted conversation last longer than was comfortable for either of them. It always seemed to be extremes with him and Lois — either they were fighting or they had nothing to say to each other.

He'd come downstairs from putting Jon to bed to find her on the floor tidying away toys. Clark had gone from the sofa; he assumed he'd retired to bed for the night.

His offer to help with the toys had been brushed aside; she was nearly finished, she'd said. He'd asked after Clark; as well as can be expected, he'd been told. Could he get her a coffee or something? No thanks.

He'd eased down onto an armchair and eyed the TV remote on the coffee table. At least it would break the icy atmosphere and he wouldn't have to think up any more small talk. Did she mind if he watched TV? No, go right ahead.

He'd flipped through a few channels but not found anything worth settling with. After a few minutes, he'd turned the sound down and simply gazed at the silent images. It looked like a re-run of an old seventies sitcom. Not that doctors working on a mobile army surgical unit seemed very funny to him in his current mood.

"You don't know how much it meant to me to walk around the city yesterday and do normal things like talk to your neighbour and dodge the traffic on the streets," he said suddenly.

He'd no idea why he'd needed to say that. Maybe it was the sense that she was angry with him — he wanted to explain himself; tell her that there were good reasons for the things he did.

She glanced side-long at him. "Oh? Why's that?"

She didn't sound like she cared much what answer he gave. Well, he was still going to tell her. "On New Krypton, people didn't talk to each other…not really talk, like friends who've known each other for years. People didn't go for a walk just for the hell of it. There was no freedom. You had to have a purpose to everything you did."

"Whereas your walk yesterday was completely pointless?" she suggested sardonically.

He ignored her implied jibe. "Yes. Completely and utterly pointless," he replied firmly, "except for one thing. I rediscovered what it means to be a member of the human race. I'd lost that on New Krypton."

"That's great, CK," she said in a monotone.

He sighed heavily. He'd thought she, of all people, would understand what that meant to him. He'd bared his soul to her and all she could offer was a meaningless platitude.

It puzzled him as to why she was so closed-off to him. Yesterday, she'd been encouraging him to talk; to tell her his feelings and explain how he'd felt about his Lois. What had made her change?


How long did she give it before phoning Dr Klein? She supposed that as long as Clark was walking and talking, and at least drinking water, there was no reason to think he wouldn't recover in a couple of days. CK was the living proof that this wasn't a life-threatening illness.

"Lois, have I done something wrong? Should I have let you put Jon to bed?"

"Huh?" she said, drawn out of her thoughts by his mention of her son's name. "No, that was fine."

But his temperature bothered her. And his chest — it really hurt when he coughed. She wished there was something he could take for that.

The news came on the silent TV and suddenly there it was — the fire at the Gandell building. She grabbed the remote and turned up the sound.

"Fire-fighters were left fighting the flames alone today when Superman swooped by — and then promptly flew off again having rescued only one person. Onlookers said the superhero was obviously in a super-hurry to leave the scene."

Lois watched as the footage showed a small, red-caped figure fly headlong into the upper floor of the building and then emerge almost as quickly, gripping his passenger.

"Harry Zemlinsky, the survivor lucky enough to have caught Superman's attention, was shaken by the experience."

Mr Zemlinsky was shown sitting up in a hospital bed with his arm and shoulder heavily bandaged. "I mean, don't get me wrong here — the big guy saved my life. I just wish he hadn't held on so tight to my arm." He flexed his bandaged shoulder a little and winced. "The doc says it's gonna be just fine, though. Hey, Superman — if you're watching, I sure hope you found your way home again."

Lois glanced at CK, who was watching the TV with a tense, guilt-filled expression. He looked exactly like Clark did when he was blaming himself for something.

"Mr Zemlinsky told this reporter that Superman almost missed the hospital in his haste to leave. Let's hope Metropolis's superhero isn't getting slapdash in his efforts to save as many people as he can."

The reporter handed back to the news anchor, who moved onto a new item. Turning down the sound again, Lois looked at CK. "So what happened?"

He turned guilty eyes on her. "Nothing. I just misjudged my grip a little."

"And forgot where the hospital is?" she asked sceptically.

"It's been a while since I've had to locate places from the sky." He shrugged. "It takes practice."

"You didn't even go back to check for any more survivors, or help the fire-fighters," she observed.

"Look, I saved the guy, okay?" he said defensively. "Isn't that enough?"

Clark would never have said that, she reflected, even if he'd been feeling guilty about something. If ever she needed a reminder that CK wasn't Clark, this was it. Her husband wouldn't be so belligerent about something as important as saving lives, and he certainly wouldn't think twice about going back to finish the job.

CK's defensiveness spoke volumes, though. He'd had a serious problem at that fire, she was sure of it, but he was determined not to admit it.

Changing her tactics, she nodded in agreement. "You're right. You did a good thing, CK. He might be dead now if it hadn't been for you."

She stopped there, and watched him hunch himself forward on his elbows. He stared at the carpet between his feet and fiddled with the back of his hair with his fingers. The resemblance to Clark's body language was uncanny. He even had the twitching muscle in his jaw line.

"I only went so I could stop Clark from going," he muttered. "I never intended to take his place."

"But isn't that exactly what you did?" she asked. "You put on the suit and flew out of here as Superman."

"I wasn't Superman," he mumbled "I was just me in a suit."

"Just like Clark is only himself in a suit," she pointed out.

He snorted, clearly disagreeing with her. She waited for him to elaborate, but he just kept fiddling with his hair and staring at the carpet.

"CK, what really happened?" she asked softly. "You didn't just forget where the hospital was, did you?"

She waited patiently, knowing that silence was her best weapon if she wanted him to talk. A few years ago, she wouldn't have waited; would have filled the silence was more questions, but she'd learned from Clark that people sometimes spoke more freely if you just shut up and let them talk.

It took CK a while, but eventually his head came up and he faced her with a bleak expression. "I freaked out, okay? I went into this major flashback thing and I couldn't handle it." He looked down at the carpet again. "I told you I can't ever be Superman again."


A couple of unremarkable days passed after that — unremarkable, that was, except for the fact that Clark, the man who never got sick, still remained poorly enough to warrant staying at home.

"But he's hoping to be back in a couple of days. Bye."

Lois replaced the receiver, having fielded yet another of Clark's telephone calls at work. She never realised he took so many calls — even when she was covering for Superman, it didn't seem like this many. She supposed it meant he was a popular guy.

She gazed over at his empty chair and sighed. The day he got sick, she'd told callers he'd be back at work the next day, but now she was just giving the vaguer 'a couple of days'. It just seemed to linger on and on, this kryptonian bug CK had given him.

He'd wanted to come to work today, just like he had every day since he'd got sick. He'd insisted this morning that he was okay as long as he didn't eat anything. She'd almost been convinced; with his work clothes on and wearing that brilliant, confident smile, it was easy to believe him. But then he'd been caught unawares by a long, painful coughing fit that bent him double and left him ashen-faced and dizzy. She'd sent him back to bed with strict instructions to rest and call on CK if he needed anything.


He was as good as new — physically, at least. Mentally…well, he seemed to have pushed the rescue incident to the back of his mind. Certainly, he hadn't mentioned it since the day it had happened, and she'd been too preoccupied with Clark to pursue it with him. Fortunately, there hadn't been any more major incidents since then, so he hadn't been required to follow through on his promise — or was that a threat? — never to don the suit again.

She hadn't extracted much else out of him that day on what went wrong. After his confession that he'd 'freaked out', he'd clammed up again and brushed aside any more questions she'd asked. She did know that his sleep was still disturbed — Clark had told her as much — so she could only assume that whatever troubled him at night had some bearing on his behaviour at the rescue.

Meanwhile, he was doing a great job of looking after Jon while she looked after Clark. She was actually quite grateful that he was around, she realised. She'd even capitulated and allowed him to keep Jon during the day.

She couldn't help wondering what he did all day long, though. Clark had told her that he frequently went out during the day for an hour or so, leaving Clark to keep an eye on Jon. Where did he go?


The yellow tractor turned another neat corner at the end of the field and began making its way across the brown earth, ploughing another furrow parallel to the last. A pleasing ridge pattern was emerging, adding to the other neat patterns in neighbouring fields. Together, they made up a patchwork quilt of browns and greens — marking the land with the evidence of mankind's ever-increasing need for food.

He'd never really thought of his parent's farm in those terms before, but now, looking down on a replica of it from his vantage point in the sky, he realised that this was important. A farm produced food; a basic necessity for life. Wasn't that so much more important than fighting for supremacy over a barren piece of rock?

The first time he'd come here, he'd been nervous. How would he feel when he saw them? What if they weren't like his parents? Worse still, what if they saw him? He'd hovered very high in the sky, staying above the clouds and using his x-ray vision to find them.

He'd only intended to stay a couple of minutes, but he'd been unable to drag himself away. They'd looked just like his own parents, only older — which was understandable, since his own parents had been almost twenty years younger when they'd died. They'd looked warm and good-natured, just like he remembered his own parents. They'd worked hard, just like his parents.

The farm had seemed much as he remembered it, too. The buildings were a little more weathered, and there were other small differences, but basically, he'd found himself looking at a copy of his boyhood home.

Curiosity had brought him here that first time, but since then, he'd come here out of a growing sense of longing. He wanted to be there — walk into the barn and smell the hay, watch the cows being milked in the milking shed, wander around the fields and up the small rise behind the farm. Most of all, he wanted to walk up the steps to the farmhouse, through the door and into the kitchen. There would be the smell of fresh-baked bread, one of his Mom's half-finished sewing projects laid out on the table, and a glass of buttermilk waiting for him on the side-board.

He'd thought that he'd long since overcome the loss of his parents, but as soon as Clark had happened to mention Smallville and the farm, he'd wanted to come here and reconnect with them somehow.

Of course, these people weren't his parents. He couldn't actually talk to them.

On the other hand, it looked like they were heading off into town together, now that the ploughing was finished. Was it safe to drop down briefly and take a quick look around while they were away? Technically, he'd be trespassing, but it wasn't as if he was a thief or anything.


Jonathan resisted the temptation to glance behind him as Martha drove them into town. Once again, he'd had this feeling of being watched. It had started when he'd been out in the tractor, and persisted as he'd cleaned up and prepared to leave. He wasn't a superstitious person, and he certainly didn't believe in ghosts, but lately it seemed like he couldn't do anything much without feeling as if someone was following every move he made.

Maybe he needed a break from the farm. Things had been pretty busy lately, what with having his grandson to stay as well as all the usual farm work. He loved being with Jon, but it had seemed much harder work than when Clark had been a baby.

"Oh, darn!" exclaimed Martha. "I forgot Maisie's art book — you know, the one on twentieth century surrealism?"

Jonathan chortled. "Sure, I know the one. Read it from cover to cover just yesterday."

"We'll have to go back for it. I promised I'd give it back to her today." Martha pulled over, turned the truck around and headed back towards the farm.

Jonathan sighed; he'd been looking forward to a cinnamon roll at their favourite bakery, but if Martha took as long as he expected she would to find the dratted book, they wouldn't have time.

"Never mind, honey," said Martha. "Your waistline could do with missing a few cinnamon rolls anyway."

"I never mentioned anything about a cinnamon roll," he grumbled.

"Jonathan, how long have we been married?" replied Martha, laughing. "I can spot that longing in your eyes way before you've even thought of it yourself."

They arrived back at the farm, and Jonathan followed his wife into the house. "Do you know where you-"

"Clark? Is that you?"

There was something off about Martha's tone of voice. He stopped at her side and followed her gaze to a tall figure standing in the darkest corner of the kitchen. It looked about the same height and build as his son, but if it was Clark, then he wasn't behaving normally. All of a sudden, Jonathan's feelings of being watched came back to him.

"Who are you?" he asked sharply. "Clark, if that's you, come out where we can see you properly."

Where was his old shotgun? And were there any shells nearby — not that he'd actually want to fire the thing.

"Jonathan, don't be silly — of course it's Clark," said Martha, taking a step forward towards the figure. "Honey, is everything all right? You're worrying us a little."

The figure moved forward, and Jonathan tensed, ready to do whatever he needed to do to defend Martha and himself. As it emerged from the shadows, though, he relaxed.

"You had us scared there for a moment, son," he said. "What were you thinking, skulking in the shadows like that?"

"Jonathan," said Martha with a hard edge to her voice. "This isn't our son."


He'd been a fool. He never should have come here — all he'd succeeded in doing was to commit trespass and frighten them to death. They were standing close together, his…Clark's Dad's arm wrapped protectively around his wife's shoulders. Both wore pale, tense expressions, and it was clear from her tone of voice that Clark's Mom was not at all happy to discover him in their home.

Of course — Clark must have told them that he wanted to take Jon away with him. They'd resent him for that.

"No, I'm not Clark," he replied. Okay, so they knew who he was, but just how much did they know? He wondered if Clark had told them about Lois, for example. And did they know he was from a parallel universe? "How…how much has Clark told you about me?"

"Well, he said you turned up on their doorstep a few days ago demanding that they hand over their son to you," replied Clark's Mom.

"And that you'd just returned from New Krypton," added Clark's Dad.

He nodded. "That's right. I…" He faltered, not sure what to say or do next. And while he searched for a solution, it hit him then just how similar they sounded to his own parents. Not only did they look like his Mom and Dad, but everything else about them was the same, too. His stomach clenched. He was standing in front of carbon copies of the two most important people in his childhood — living and breathing copies.

He'd dreamt of this. After his parents had died, he'd had lots of dreams where he'd discover them alive. The scenarios had varied, but the story had always been the same: their deaths had been a huge mistake, the result of a big mix-up. He'd just had to find them, and then everything had been all right again.

Of course, when he'd woken up, the disappointment had been devastatingly bitter.

But now he was awake, and here they were. He could reach out and touch them, they were so close.

It was still false, he told himself sharply — they weren't his parents, they were someone else's parents. "I…I'd better go," he said thickly. "I'm sorry I alarmed you." He made his way towards the front door, easing awkwardly past them then turning his back on them to open the door.

He had his hand on the handle when Clark's Mom suddenly asked, "Why did you come here?"

He paused. "I…I'm not sure," he replied without turning around to face them. "But it was a mistake." He opened the door.

"Why?" she asked. "Why was it a mistake?"

"Because…because I don't belong here," he said in a rush.

He heard quick footsteps behind him, and then a hand touched his shoulder. "Why don't you stay a while?" she said kindly. "Let me fix you a drink."

He swallowed. "You don't want me here."

"Of course we do, son," said Clark's Dad robustly. "Come back inside and have a cup of coffee with us."

He turned and marvelled again at their kind, weathered faces. "You look so much like my parents…I mean, how they would have looked if they hadn't…they passed away…maybe Clark already told you…" He faltered, realising that his stumbling explanations weren't making much sense. Why was he telling them these things anyway? They couldn't be interested in his life story.

"Come on in, Clark," said his Mom, putting a hand under his elbow. "You can tell us everything over a cup of coffee."

He allowed himself to be led back to the kitchen table, wondering what on earth he'd done to deserve such kind treatment.


Martha busied around the kitchen, making a second pot of coffee for their visitor. They'd already finished the first pot, and fed him two slices of blueberry pie, while he'd related a potted version of his life story over the last couple of years. It seemed that once they'd managed to start him talking, he couldn't stop. Not that she minded — she'd phoned Maisie to cancel their meeting, and the shopping could wait.

There was no doubt that CK — he'd explained his temporary name change during the first pot of coffee — had endured a hard life, and despite the fact that he was intent on taking their grandson away from them, Martha still felt very sorry for him. That was why she'd invited him to stay a while. He'd obviously come to the farm looking for something; a few memories perhaps, or the touch of something familiar, to help him make sense of his turbulent life. She wanted to try and help him. There was no point in bearing a grudge against him, after all, and anything she could do to help him sort his feelings out would probably also help Lois and Clark. A calm, rational CK was going to be easier to deal with than a frantic, emotional CK.

And she was learning things, too — like the fact that Clark was sick. She was a little upset that neither Lois or Clark had told her and Jonathan about that. It sometimes seemed as if they were the last to hear about things these days. Oh, she understood that Clark naturally turned to Lois first for comfort, but even after nearly two years of Clark's marriage, she still missed the frequent chats they used to have with him when he came out to visit.

"If it's not too much to ask," CK asked, interrupting her thoughts, "would you mind if I took a look at my…at Clark's old room?"

She swivelled around. "Of course you can. Jonathan, why don't you take him upstairs while I finish up here?"

She was sure Clark wouldn't mind, as long as he didn't go alone. And while he and Jonathan were upstairs, she had an idea of what she might do in the meantime.


Jonathan leant against the door-frame while CK stood uncertainly in the middle of Clark's bedroom. He wasn't sure what this young man was searching for by coming up here. The room was filled with Clark's personality, and as such surely wasn't much of a reminder of CK's youth.

CK moved at last, going towards Clark's bed. "Do you mind?" he asked Jonathan, indicating that he wanted to sit.

"Sure," replied Jonathan.

He sat on the edge and gazed slowly around the room. "It…it looks different," he said.

Jonathan nodded. "Well, Clark still has a lot of his own things here. He keeps promising to clear them out, but…" Jonathan shrugged ruefully. "To tell the truth, we kind of like having his stuff here, so we don't make a big thing of it."

CK smiled weakly. "I understand." He glanced around the room again. "You must think I'm some kind of monster, wanting to take your son's child away from him."

Jonathan regarded the young man before him, sitting so ill- at-ease with himself and the world he found himself in. Never did a person look less monstrous, he reflected. Especially when that person was the spitting image of his own son.

"Martha and I were appalled when Clark first told us," he said evenly. "But no, I don't think you're a monster."

"It's just that he's all I've got left in the world," the young man continued. "He and I could make a fresh start together."

Oh, the optimism of youth! Well, it was good that he had hopes, of course, but a person needed to consider the practicalities as well. "That's a tough assignment you're setting yourself, son," Jonathan observed. "Bringing up a child single-handed while holding down one job is hard enough, but with a second job on top of that, you're going to be pretty busy."

"Second job?"

"Well, Superman, of course," Jonathan elaborated, surprised he had to explain himself.

He was even more surprised when CK's expression hardened. "That won't be a problem."

"I'm glad you think so, son, but you have to remember-"

"I mean, I don't do that any more."

Jonathan stared.


Clark was sure he could hear bells ringing. Why he should hear bells when he was flying over the Sahara, he wasn't entirely certain. Still, they were very insistent, so he guessed he should pay them some attention.

They sounded like telephone bells. Telephone bells in the Sahara?

But no, he wasn't in the Sahara any longer, he was lying on the sofa in the living room. The phone was ringing. He should answer it.

He pushed himself up, twisted around and grabbed the receiver. "'Lo?" he croaked, subsiding back down into the cushions with the phone pressed to his ear.

"Clark, is that you?"

Ah. His mother. "Hi, Mom," he said. "Yes, it's me."

"How are you, honey?"

"I'm…" Hang on — had he told his parents he was ill? He didn't think so. He didn't think Lois would have told them either. It wasn't like he was at death's door — it just felt like he was. "I'm sorry, I guess you don't know — CK gave me his 'flu."

"Actually, I do know," she replied. "CK told me himself."

"CK?!" He jerked upright, prompting his head to start throbbing. Ignoring the discomfort, he continued, "When? Is he there now?"

"Yes, honey. We found him in the kitchen when we came back for Maisie's book."

"Came back for…" he struggled for a moment to understand the relevance of his mother's friend's book, but gave it up as a lost cause and focused on the first part of her sentence instead. "You mean he broke in?"

"Well, not exactly. You know we don't lock up the house when we go out. But honey, I called to find out how you are, not talk about CK."

"I'm okay, Mom. I mean, I'm not okay, but I know I will be, if you see what I mean," he said, seeking to reassure her.

"Your voice sounds terrible — are you taking anything for that?"

"Lois bought me some cough drops. Otherwise, there's not much I can take," he pointed out.

"Honey and lemon," said his mother promptly. "Add plenty of honey so the lemon doesn't hurt your throat. The honey will give you energy and the lemon will give you extra vitamin C."

"Okay, I'll give it a try. Thanks, Mom." He sank back down onto the sofa cushions, hoping to ease the throbbing in his head. "So what's CK doing there?"

"Right now? Your father's showing him your bedroom — he asked to see it," she replied calmly, although to Clark it seemed that she should be a lot more agitated. It wasn't as if she was accustomed to discovering her son's double lurking in the kitchen. Yet, unperturbed, she continued, "How long have you been off work, honey? And how's Lois coping?"

He sighed. "You'd have to ask her. Although, actually, I think it's been a help having CK around to look after Jon. How long have I been sick? I'm not sure — a few days, I think." He returned to more important matters. "Why is he looking at my bedroom?"

"I think he's trying to reconnect with his childhood, dear," she said. "So that wasn't you at the Gandell Building fire the other day, then?"

"No, that was CK. What do you mean, reconnect with his childhood?"

"CK took your place as Superman? That was brave of him."

Clark pulled the receiver from his ear and frowned at it for a second. "Mom, are we having the same conversation here?"

"Of course we are, dear. You're telling me about your illness and I'm telling you about CK."

He chuckled. "You wouldn't be trying to cheer me up, now would you?"

"Sounds like I just succeeded. You sounded a bit low when you answered the phone."

Trust his Mom to notice. "I'm just tired, Mom. I'll be fine in a few days."

"Well, you look after yourself — and remember we're only a phone call away if you or Lois needs anything."

"Okay — and thanks."

"Now, do you want me to tell you some more about CK?" she continued briskly.

He agreed, and listened while she explained more fully how they'd found him and what they'd done so far with him. "I'm surprised he went to that rescue, Clark," she finished. "He doesn't seem like he's fit to rescue himself, let alone other people."

"He didn't cope very well with it — as you may have gathered from the news coverage," said Clark.

"Yes, that all makes sense now," she replied. She went on to tell him that they'd been a little puzzled by his behaviour, but had assumed he'd had good reasons. "Well, your father and I will do what we can to help him while he's here. I don't suppose we can do much, but we'll do our best."

"You don't feel angry at him for wanting to take Jon from us?" Clark asked.

"No. I'd like to give that Mr Wells a piece of my mind for getting us all into this mess, but not CK himself. He's as much a victim as we are," she replied.

"Yeah. I feel the same," he said, surprised at how much he meant it. He cleared his throat and coughed a bit; as usual, talking had aggravated his chest.

"Okay, honey, you sound like you need to rest. Is Jon all right?"

"Yeah, he's napping. CK brings him down here so I can keep an eye on him while he's out."

"Good, then I'll let you two get some rest. Take care, and remember to try that honey and lemon."

"I will, Mom. Thanks for calling."


Martha had just started making soup when Jonathan and CK returned from Clark's bedroom. She glanced over at CK as they walked into the kitchen. "So did you find what you were looking for?"

He hesitated. "I wasn't looking for anything specific. I just…" He shrugged helplessly. "I'm not sure what I expected to find."

"Was Clark's room anything like yours?" she asked.

"Kind of. It was the same shape, but the layout was different."

She nodded. "So it wasn't as familiar as you'd hoped."

He blinked, clearly surprised by her observation. "You know, that's right. How did you know that was what I was thinking when I didn't even know it myself?"

She smiled. "I think you did, really. You just weren't admitting it to yourself." She turned back to the onions she'd been chopping. "You'll stay for lunch, I assume?"

"I…that's kind of you, but I should really go back to Metropolis," he said. "I'm supposed to be looking after Jon and Clark."

"Oh, they're fine," she replied. "I just spoke to Clark on the phone." She pulled out another chopping board, added a knife, and placed some carrots on the board. "There you go. Peel and chop into cubes."

"Martha!" exclaimed Jonathan. "He's our visitor."

"Nonsense," she replied. "He's family." She looked at a stunned CK, laying a casual hand over his. "We may not be your parents, but I figure we're close enough. What do you think?"

"I think…I think you're amazing," he murmured.

She laughed. "No, honey, just a Mom. Jonathan, why don't you go feed the chickens while we fix lunch?"

"I already…" began her husband.

"I think you'll find you didn't," she interrupted, turning and fixing him with a look.

He raised his eyebrows. "You know, I think you're right. I'll go do that right now."

She smiled gratefully at him, then turned back to CK. "I've got leeks lining up here when you've finished those carrots."


Jonathan paused outside the kitchen door. So Martha had decided CK needed a 'Mom' talk. Well, that was fine; Jonathan didn't mind being shooed away if his absence would help sort this young man out. But did Martha realise that CK had rejected Superman?

In a way, it was none of their business — what CK chose to do or not do with his powers was his own affair. But Jonathan got the feeling that CK had come here for help and advice. No doubt Lois and Clark had tried to help him, but now that Clark was ill, perhaps CK felt awkward troubling them with his own problems when they had enough of their own. And Jonathan wanted to know that their grandson was going to be in sound, steady hands if Lois and Clark decided to place Jon in CK's care.

Well, if Martha was going to talk to CK, she needed to know his full state of mind.

He stuck his head around the kitchen door. "Uh, Martha, can you show me where you put that new bag of chicken feed?"

She swung around wearing a frown. "It's-"

"I looked there," he replied. "I need you to show me. Now."

She murmured something to CK, who chuckled. But at least she then came to the door. He drew her outside a few paces. "I just thought you ought to know what I found out upstairs," he murmured.

"Ah," she said. "I wondered why you suddenly needed directions to some non-existent chicken feed."

He explained CK's situation. "He wouldn't talk to me about it, but you have a knack for these things, Martha."

She smiled and reached up to kiss him on the cheek. "You're a good man, Jonathan. Now go talk to the cows or whatever it is you do when I send you away."

He laughed. "I'll tell Gertrude you're asking after her."


CK finished the carrots and began on the leeks. He still hadn't a clue why he was here, but it felt really good to be working at a simple task in these old, familiar surroundings. It reminded him of his childhood, when he and his Mom would make gingerbread and cookies together. He'd probably stood on this very spot back then, cutting out the shapes and placing them carefully on baking sheets.

And Clark's Mom and Dad had surpassed his hopes. They were generous, welcoming people, and he'd immediately felt comfortable around them. Clark's Dad was a solid, reassuring presence — up in Clark's bedroom, CK had been very tempted to blurt out all his mixed-up feelings about his powers and Superman. He'd only held back because he hadn't wanted to burden a near-stranger with his problems.

Clark's Mom was…well, she was simply wonderful. Warm and friendly, and pretty astute. She already seemed to be picking things up about him that he didn't even know himself. He smiled inwardly; he wasn't fooled by her ploy to shoo her husband out of the kitchen. She wanted to talk to CK alone. That was okay — he even found himself looking forward to the chance to talk with her.


Martha started frying the onions. "By the way, CK, I should thank you for taking Clark's place the other day," she remarked, deciding to waste no time in getting to the important stuff.

"It wasn't much," he replied. "I just rescued one guy."

"Who probably wouldn't be alive today if you hadn't," she pointed out, leaving the stove to fetch the bacon stock she'd made the previous day.

He didn't respond immediately, but continued steadily chopping the leeks into neat slices. She gave him a few moments to answer, and then prompted, "Don't you agree?" She poured the stock onto the onions and stirred it around.

He shrugged. "Who's to say? Maybe the fire-fighters would have reached him in time anyway."

"And maybe they wouldn't have," she countered. "The point is, you turned an unknown into a certainty. You saved a life, CK. Don't try to belittle that."

She saw him glance her way. "You think that's what I'm doing?"

"I think you're trying to deny you did something good and worthwhile that day."

"I only carried him away from danger," he said. "I didn't even do that very well."

Which was what Clark had also said, and she'd seen with her own eyes how hasty and clumsy he'd been. "Well, I expect you're out of practice," she suggested.

He shook his head. "That's what I told Lois, but the truth is, I…"

When he didn't continue, she looked up from the soup she was stirring. "Yes?"

He shrugged. "Actually, I don't know why we're even discussing this. I expect Clark told you I don't intend to do it again. Ever." He pointed at the leeks with his knife. "These are done. Is there anything else to chop?"

"No, but you can get the lentils down from that cupboard for me," she said, pointing, "and measure out two cupfuls. CK, is the reason you don't want to be Superman anything to do with what happened to you that day at the fire?"

"No. I made that decision a long time ago."

"When, exactly?"

"The first time I sent a soldier to his death," he replied harshly. "That was the end of Superman."

"During the war on New Krypton?" she asked.

"Yes. And don't say war makes it different, because it doesn't."

She considered disagreeing with that, but decided to leave it to one side for the moment. "So you think a man should pay for his actions during a war for the rest of his life? Every soldier, in every war, should live with a guilty conscience for ever afterwards — even if they were merely doing their duty?"

"No. But Superman can't kill people one day, then turn around and claim to be a symbol of everything good and true the next."

Again, she was tempted to pull him up on that. He'd first said he'd only sent men to their death on New Krypton, but just then he'd claimed Superman had actually killed people. She suspected he was exaggerating merely to strengthen his case against himself, but again decided this conversation was complicated enough without picking holes in every little thing he said. She did want to establish one thing, though. "Was Superman there on New Krypton?" she asked.

"Again, no. But I was there, and I have to be Superman."

"So you have to be as perfect as Superman."

"Yes. Or at least as close as I can be."

Martha sighed. CK was making the same mistakes as Clark used to make. He thought he had to live an irreproachable life, when in fact, neither Superman nor CK could be perfect. Both made decisions which were too complex to be seen in black and white.

What was more, she didn't actually believe that CK was ducking out of being Superman because the hero's morals had been compromised. That was the official excuse, but it seemed to her that a more likely explanation was that CK simply didn't like himself any more. He didn't seem to think he had any worth at all, except as a potential father to Jon.

But how could she make him see that he had more value than he believed?

"CK, do you remember what it was like in your world when you first became Superman?" she asked. "How did people react?"

He shrugged. "I guess they were pretty amazed to see a flying man."

She took the lentils he'd measured out and poured them into the soup, stirring everything around for a few moments while she thought. "Do you think that made them happy or sad?"

He looked at her cynically. "Happy, mostly. Look, I know what you're trying-"

"Just bear with me," she interrupted. "What about when you started saving people? Do you think they were happy or sad then?"

His mouth twisted. "There were a few people who seemed to think I should have left them alone."

"But in general?"

He sighed heavily. "Happy," he said reluctantly.

"And how do you think they felt when you had to leave? Happy or sad?"

He glared at her. "Sad."

"So what conclusion do you think we should draw from this?"

He pushed his chopping board full of carrots and leeks across the counter towards her, giving her another cynical glare. "That's a very simplistic way of looking at things."

"Is it? CK, what I'm hearing is that you were a very positive influence in people's lives. How about your friends and work colleagues? Were they happy to lose you when you left?"

"No." He stared off into space for a few moments, clearly remembering that time with a lot of sadness. "No, I think we can safely say they weren't happy. Neither was I, come to that," he added distantly.

His melancholy voice reminded her that he'd left his Lois behind then; that those farewells had been the last time he'd seen her alive. She hadn't wanted to bring back those unhappy memories for him. "CK, I'm sorry-"

"You got anything else for me to do?"

He met her gaze, his eyes begging her not to probe deeper. She nodded slowly. "Can of tomatoes, second shelf. Can opener's in the third drawer down."

She waited while he opened the can and brought it to her at the stove. Emptying it into the pan, she continued, "So we've established that you were well-liked, and that you brightened a lot of people's lives as Superman. Seems to me that you've got a lot to be proud of-"

"But don't you see-"

"Let me finish, CK," she said firmly. "You have a lot to be proud of, and you have a lot to offer your world when you return. You're a good man, CK — if you'll give yourself half a chance."


"Honey, I know you don't like yourself much right now. You've done things you're not proud of. But don't you see — you can't live the rest of your life hating yourself. You're a young man, with too many years ahead of you to spend all of them growing sour and bitter. It will destroy you, and worse still, it'll destroy your children."

"I don't intend to dump all of this on Jon," he said. "I don't want him to grow up with all the problems I had."

She shook her head. "Children have a way of knowing these things, CK. Trust me, if you're unhappy, they'll know it." She picked up the vegetables and carefully added them to the soup. "You need to find a way to start liking yourself again. One way to do that is by being a good friend to the people you care about. Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about them."

She glanced at him to find out how he was taking her little speech. He was leaning up against the counter, his arms crossed defensively. Yet, she thought she detected a glimmer of understanding in his eyes. And at least he was listening.

She continued. "Another way is to help people. They don't know what you did on New Krypton — all they'll know is a good man came back to lighten their load a little. Now, whether you do that by writing for the Planet, or by using your powers, or any other way, is up to you. But don't let your past destroy your future."

"Jon is my future," he murmured.

"He may be part of your future, but you have to find a life beyond him." She laughed. "He won't thank you for making him the only thing that matters in your entire life. Think how claustrophobic that would feel to a youngster."

He didn't answer immediately, but after a moment, he murmured, "But I want him to know how much I love him."

The catch in his voice made her pause in stirring the soup and look over at him. She recognised the emotion on his face, heard the honesty in his words — as a fellow parent, she knew the signs. "You really do, don't you, CK?" she exclaimed softly. "Love Jon, I mean."

He nodded. "These past few days, we've spent a lot of time together. He's my son…how could I not love him?"

"Oh, CK…" She turned back to the soup quickly, upset by the depth of feeling in his words. She knew Clark felt the exact same way about Jon! This was hard enough already, but seeing CK show the same love for Jon as her son made it ten times harder. How were they ever going to resolve this mess?

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you," he said.

"No, no, I'm not upset," she said quickly, forcing a bright smile. She picked up the pan lid and placed it on the pan. "I think we can leave this to simmer for a while. Why don't we sit down?" She indicated the chairs around the kitchen table.

The brief pause allowed her to regain her composure. Once they were seated, she continued, "CK, I'm sure you, Lois and Clark will make the right decision about Jon, and whatever you decide, Jonathan and I will support all three of you as much as we can."

She'd find in incredibly tough, of course, if they decided Jon had to go with CK, but somehow she'd find the strength. With Jonathan's help.

CK nodded. "Thank you. I know how hard this has to be for you."

"But, CK, promise me you'll think about what we've discussed. However things turns out, you, personally, have a lot to offer the world, if only you'll let yourself. I'm not talking about your special gifts, CK — I'm talking about you, Clark Kent." She reached over the table and took his hand in hers. "I'm sure if your own mother were here today, she'd say the same thing, wouldn't she?"

"Yeah. Dad too, probably." He sucked in a sharp breath. "I didn't think I still missed them, you know."

She smiled softly. "Some wounds take a lot longer than others to heal."

"Yes." He closed his eyes briefly, the pain flitting across his sensitive features. Then he cleared his throat roughly and looked up. "So, do you think your husband has found that chicken feed yet?"

She laughed. "I doubt it. I guess you knew I sent him on a wild goose chase."

"Let's just say I had my suspicions. The puzzled look when you told him to feed the chickens gave it away." He raised his eyebrows in enquiry. "Do you even have chickens?"

"Oh, yes, we certainly do. Just not very hungry chickens."

"Chickens are fed," said a hearty voice from behind them. "Is dinner ready?"

Martha looked at CK across the table, saw him trying to stop his face from splitting into a huge grin, and burst out laughing. "Oh, Jonathan!" she chortled. "I'm sorry, we'll explain, I promise."

"Just so long as everyone's happy," said a bewildered Jonathan.


A day later, and with much caution, Clark discovered he was well enough to eat some plain bread and butter without suffering any ill effects. Rejoicing at this long-awaited upturn in his health, he spent the morning planning his get-fit strategy in between watching daytime TV and playing computer games on his laptop. Okay, so he still had a bit of a cough and he was a little run-down, but he reckoned he could be back at work the next day — so long as he could get past Lois!

It was during one of the worst daytime hospital dramas he'd ever seen in his life that his mind started wandering over to the question of fertility and reproduction. In the drama, a mixed race couple were starting IVF, and it got him wondering — not for the first time — exactly how Jon came to be conceived.

Jon was CK's son. CK was pure Kryptonian, just as Clark was himself, and he'd conceived Jon with an Earthwoman who was as close to a copy of Lois as it was possible to get. Yet Dr Klein had stated categorically that Kryptonians could not reproduce with humans. Sam Lane had backed him up.

Something didn't add up.

Assuming that it was unlikely for two eminent scientists to make the same mistake, that meant that the difference had to be elsewhere. Now, both scientists had stated that conception was impossible with any human, not just Lois, so that probably ruled out any differences between the two Loises as the answer to the conundrum.

Which left Clark and CK. Clark had supplied samples to both scientists, and their conclusions had been based on their tests using those samples. Clark was just one person out of a whole gene-pool of Kryptonians. What if he wasn't actually a typical male? Maybe CK represented your typical Kryptonian male — perhaps there was some small, but important difference between Clark and CK.

So what if CK supplied a sample? Would Dr Klein and Sam reach the same conclusion?

Clark frowned. On the one hand, here was a possible way forward to solve his and Lois's conception problems. On the other hand, if they did solve the problem, CK would probably think it strengthened his case for taking Jon home with him. Clark could already imagine CK's barely- contained excitement when they told him. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course — you didn't just replace one child with another! And any decision they made had to be based on whatever was best for Jon himself, not on the emotional needs of his adult carers. Clark wasn't entirely sure if CK understood that as well as he ought, yet.

He was pondering that when he noticed that the hospital drama had been interrupted by a news bulletin. "We're receiving reports that an American Airlines flight from London has run into difficulties while attempting to land at Metropolis airport," said the announcer. "Emergency crews are on alert, and all other arriving aircraft have been placed in a holding pattern while air traffic control attempt to bring the flight down safely. Alan Jones is on the scene. Alan, what can you tell us?"

The picture cut to a man bracing himself against heavy wind and virtually horizontal rain. He was standing on the edge of the airfield, wearing a raincoat and holding a microphone. "Well, John, we've just been told that the emergency services have been put on their highest alert status," he said, raising his voice against the buffeting wind. "Apparently the aircraft's landing gear is jammed, despite repeated attempts by the flight crew to free it. And as you can see, these are hardly ideal emergency landing conditions."

"Can't they re-route to another airport?" asked the announcer in the studio.

"Not at this late stage, John. Their fuel is too low."

Clark stood up slowly and glanced over at Jon, who was sound asleep in the portable cot CK had set up for him. There were hundreds of lives in that airplane, and he knew with a horrible certainty that most of them would be lost when the aircraft finally came down. He could prevent that from happening. Okay, he wasn't at one hundred percent fitness, but he couldn't stand idle and watch hundreds of people die just because he was a little under par.

But Jon…Jon would be alone. His baby son was so precious to him, he couldn't bear even the faintest chance that something could happen to him. He looked so peaceful in the cot, his little chest rising and falling as he slept.

Those people, though. Clark turned back to the TV, where some aviation expert was being interviewed about landing gear technology. He could save them all — the passengers, the crew, and the emergency workers who'd be putting their lives on the line. He'd only be gone five or ten minutes at most. Surely nothing could happen to Jon in that time?

He took another look at his son, who was still slumbering peacefully. Those people were minutes away from disaster. There wasn't time to hesitate — he had to make a decision right now. And he couldn't afford to wait until CK came back from wherever he was.


"Hey, Lois! Look at this!"

Lois looked up at Jimmy's excited voice. A small crowd had gathered around the bank of TVs at the back of the newsroom. Rising from her desk, she crossed to join them.

The screens showed a shaky image of an airplane. Closer inspection revealed the reason for everyone's interest — the landing gear was only half-down, and a small red dot was flying just below the aircraft. Apparently Superman was carrying the aircraft on his back as he lowered it safely to the ground.

Every muscle in Lois's body tensed. Was she watching Clark or CK? The image was too small to tell.

She prayed it was CK, because she really didn't think Clark was well enough to pull this off. And if it was her husband, she'd box him around the ears tonight for doing something so dumb!

The aircraft suddenly dipped, almost disappearing from the screen until the camera caught up with it. Everyone gasped. "Must be the storm that's making it hard for him," said Jimmy breathlessly.

Was it? Lois wasn't so sure.

Clark, if that's you, she thought, I'm going to kill you. If you don't kill yourself first.


As CK neared Hyperion Avenue, his ears picked up the sound of his son crying. Nothing unusual there, he told himself, but as he drew closer, and Jon's crying grew louder, he began to worry. He'd already begun to recognise his son's different moods, and this didn't sound like just a crabby demand for attention, it sounded like genuine distress.

Quickly, he scanned the house and found Jon lying wailing in his cot in the living room, with a dirty diaper and no sign of Clark anywhere. Frowning, he swooped down into the house and gathered the infant into his arms. "Hey, little guy, where's Clark?" he crooned.

Jon stopped crying and looked at him with a red, tear- stained face.

CK smiled. "That's better-"

The little face before him crumpled and began crying even harder.

CK sighed. "Okay, let's get you changed," he said. "Then we'll find Clark."

He turned to walk upstairs, but just as he did so, the TV caught his eye. It was showing an aircraft in mid-flight. Just beneath the plane was the tiny image of Clark, who was apparently helping it land safely. The announcer was saying, "…and Superman appears to have regained control once more. Let's hope there are no-"

The aircraft dipped sharply out of shot.

CK tensed. Clark was clearly in trouble. And he shouldn't really have been doing this, CK reflected. He was in better health today, but CK wasn't sure he had the stamina yet to keep going long enough to bring the plane down. Still, he was there, and a lot of people were relying on him.

Come on, Clark, urged CK silently. You can do it.

He jiggled Jon in his arms, trying to keep the baby happy while his gaze remained glued to the TV.

The plane dipped again.

CK sucked in a breath. Either the weather conditions were making it extremely hard for Clark to control the plane, or his strength really was failing him. CK aimed his enhanced vision at Clark's face and expanded the image. The result was pretty indistinct, but he had his answer.


Lois gripped the back of a nearby chair nervously while she watched the TV screens. She'd watched Superman fly one or two planes down to safety before, and he'd never made it look as difficult as this. It was possible, she supposed, that she was watching an out-of-practice CK, but some sixth sense was telling her that it was Clark.

The crazy idiot. What did he think he was doing? He should be resting at home, building up his strength instead of expending it all on this.

But what else could she expect of him, she reminded herself. Clark was a pathological helper. If he saw someone in trouble, he'd always try as best he could to help them — even at the expense of his own well-being.

Perhaps the person she should be angry with was CK, for leaving Clark alone.


She whirled around. That had been Clark's voice! Suddenly, a whirlwind sped through the newsroom, sending papers flying everywhere — and her arms was abruptly full of Jon.

"He needs changing," said a voice on the wind.

Stunned, she looked quickly around, but she couldn't see either Clark or CK. At least no-one appeared to have noticed that she'd suddenly acquired a baby out of thin air. They were all watching the TV monitors.

When she looked down, Jon seemed remarkably unperturbed for someone who'd just been unceremoniously dumped by a whirlwind. Maybe super-flight agreed with him, she reflected a little hysterically. "Hi, sweetie," she said. "I don't suppose you can tell me what the heck is going on, can you?"


Clark had realised almost immediately that he'd made an error of judgement. The plane was a lot heavier and much more unwieldy to control than he'd expected. Worse still, he kept losing power completely and dropping several hundred feet — no doubt terrifying the passengers and maybe even causing accidents within the aircraft cabins.

Now he was flying on pure will-power alone. He'd gritted his teeth and told himself he had to keep going, no matter what happened. He barely even knew where he was in relation to the ground any more. He'd just keep descending slowly, and when the ground came up to meet him, he'd know he had to slow even further and let the aircraft gently settle onto its belly.

It did occur to him that he would then be trapped between the ground and the aircraft, but he was sure his invulnerability would protect him from being crushed.

If only the ground would stop blurring before his eyes and he could keep the darkness at the edges of his vision from closing in.

And then it seemed as if his prayers had been answered. The aircraft suddenly became a lot lighter — almost as if it was flying itself. Relieved, he brought it down the rest of the way and settled it onto the runway. It didn't even squash him — the landing gear must have held it part- way off the tarmac.

Exhausted, he slumped face down on the runway and tried to regain his breath. The darkness he'd been fighting threatened to engulf him, but he didn't care any more — all the people were safe, and that was all that mattered.



CK gazed anxiously over at the prone figure on the tarmac, the red cape spread wide in an incongruous splash of colour. CK was still holding the aircraft up to prevent it from squashing Clark, so couldn't let go to rouse him. Already, he could hear the emergency trucks approaching, and he wanted to get both himself and Clark away from the scene before they arrived. He was pretty sure he hadn't been seen by the TV cameras tracking the aircraft, and it was better if things stayed that way. Two men in Superman suits would be pretty difficult to explain to the media. That was why he'd landed the aircraft in the most remote part of the airfield.


Clark's head came up at last and gazed around foggily.

"Over here, Clark!" called CK again. The head turned slowly towards him and he saw Clark squint in his general direction. "Get up, Clark. We have to get out of here!"

He waited while Clark hauled himself slowly to his feet and stumbled towards him. Once Clark was clear of the plane, CK lowered it gently to the ground and grabbed onto Clark. "Come on!"

Without waiting for an answer, he launched into the sky, pulling Clark with him.


A loud cheer went around the newsroom when the aircraft landed safely. Lois turned immediately and rushed back to her desk with Jon still in her arms. Changing him would just have to wait a little bit longer. She needed to know what was going on with CK and Clark.

Picking up the phone, she dialled home. The phone rang and rang, until eventually the answer phone cut it and Clark's voice told the caller to please leave a message after the tone. "Clark or CK, where the heck are you? Call me as soon as you get this message," she snapped.

She replaced the phone. Jon, who'd been quiet up until now, had started to whimper and struggle in her arms. She lifted him up and kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry, sweetie," she murmured. Quelling her rising anger, she picked up the spare diaper which had miraculously appeared at the same time as Jon, and took her baby into the washroom to change him as best she could without the benefit of the appropriate creams and wipes.

Then she was going to find both CK and Clark and give them both a piece of her mind.


CK added a third spoonful of sugar to Clark's coffee, stirred it vigorously and carried it through to the living room. Clark was still lying full-length on the sofa where he'd left him, his eyes closed. His cape lay pooled around him in a crumpled mess.

"Here's your coffee," said CK, and waited while Clark sat up slowly and reached out to accept the mug.

"Thanks," he murmured, sipping the hot coffee and immediately pulling a face at the sickliness of it.

"Drink it," ordered CK. "You need the energy."

Clark eyed CK balefully. "Since when did you become my mother?"

"Since you started pulling crazy stunts like an overgrown kid," answered CK.

"What was I supposed to do?" retorted Clark. "Let those people die?"

"Well, you could have let the emergency services deal with it," said CK.

Clark shook his head. "You know as well as I do that lives would have been lost."

"You don't know that for certain." CK shrugged. "But don't tell me — tell Lois. You do realise she's going to kill you when she gets home?"

"Yeah." Clark sighed. "But we'll work it out." He sipped some more coffee and pulled another face. "Just how much sugar did you put in this, anyway?"

"Probably not enough — you were nearly out cold at the airfield." CK studied Clark — his face had regained most of its colour but he still looked pretty ragged. "How are you feeling now?"

"I'm fine." He looked around. "Where's Jon?"

CK grimaced. "I was wondering how long it would take you to remember him. I gave him to Lois at the Planet before I came to rescue you." He ran his hand through his hair in exasperation. "What the heck were you thinking, Clark? You left him alone!"

Clark at least had the grace to hang his head. "I was only going to be gone a few minutes."

"A few minutes is all it takes," retorted CK. "He was crying when I found him."

That earned him a guilty glance. "I…I guess I wasn't thinking straight."

"Too right, you weren't!" said CK. "You put my son at risk, Clark."

Clark's head snapped up. "He's not your son."

CK stared. He couldn't believe he was hearing this, after everything they'd gone through the past few days. "Excuse me?! I think you'll find that he is my son."

"That's not what I meant," said Clark. He paused, then closed his eyes wearily. "Actually, I'm not sure what I meant. I'm sorry, CK," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "That was uncalled for."


If only his head would stop pounding, he might be able to think clearly. As it was, the words had just slipped out before he'd had a chance to consider them. CK had every right to be angry, especially when he'd just saved Clark from disaster.

But Clark was annoyed with CK for assuming he had any right to tell Clark how to take care of Jon. The guy had only been around for less than two weeks! Clark and Lois had been practising their child-care skills for nearly a year.

"Too right!" said CK hotly. "Jon is my-"

"Look," interrupted Clark wearily. "Can we just forget it, CK? I'm really not in the mood for an argument we've already had about ten times." He pushed himself stiffly off the sofa. "I'd better call Lois. She probably saw the whole thing at the Planet."

He crossed to the phone and dialled Lois's direct number.

She answered after just one ring. "Lois Lane."

He winced — she already sounded angry. "Hi, honey, it's me," he said. "I guess you'd like an explanation."

"Too darned right I would," she hissed. "What the heck did you think you were doing? I assume that was you nearly dropping that airplane."

Did she have to be so indiscreet? "Please tell me you're not surrounded by a crowd of people," he said heavily.

"They're all still watching the TV," she replied grumpily. "But since you mention it — hang on while I transfer you to the conference room."

He waited a couple of seconds, and then she came back on the line. "So what's the answer — was it you or CK?"

"It was me," replied Clark. "But what would you have me do? Let all those people die?"

"You should have let CK handle it," she retorted.

"How could I do that?" he said. "He wasn't even here."

"Wasn't there? Oh, this just gets better and better!" she exclaimed. "So you left our baby alone in the house while you went to a rescue you knew you were too ill to deal with. Is that about right?"

"Lois, I made a judgement call, okay?" said Clark, his anger rising. "Jon was perfectly safe."

"What if you'd been hurt?" she snapped. "What if something went wrong — something you couldn't foresee? How safe would Jon have been then?"

"No-one can foresee every eventuality," he pointed out forcefully. "You can't plan your whole life around the faint chance that you might fall under a bus tomorrow."

"Maybe not, but you can reduce risks," she retorted. "I can't believe you did this, Clark."

"And I can't believe you're being so unreasonable," he replied.

"Me, unreasonable?!" she exclaimed. "You're the one who…" She broke off with a heavy sigh. "Oh, forget it! We'll talk about it tonight. How are you, anyway?"

"I'm fine," he said, although his head was just about splitting. "How's Jon?"

"He's okay, no thanks to you. I take it that was CK who brought him to me?"


"At least one of you has got some sense. And did he help you land the plane?"

"Yeah, he did that, too." Yup, CK was the hero and he was the failure, he thought sardonically. At least as far as Lois was concerned.

"Well, fine. I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that I was able to get Jon into the crŠche here for the rest of the day, so you'll be spared the onerous duty of caring for your own son for a few hours."

"Lois, don't be like that," he said. "You know that's not fair."

"Isn't it? I'm not so sure." She paused, then sighed again. "Clark, you scared me. I was really worried when I saw you struggling."

Which was probably at the root of her anger towards him, he surmised. In that respect, she was much like himself — they both tended to yell at the other for putting themselves in danger. "I know. I scared myself, I think," he admitted.

"Well, then… Get some rest. You sound tired."

"I'm okay," he insisted automatically, although he knew it probably didn't sound very convincing. "I'll see you later, yeah?"

"Yes. I'll try to get away on time — I think we need to talk this through some more, don't you?"


They bid each other farewell, and Clark replaced the receiver.

"I guess she wasn't too happy with you," said CK from behind him.

Clark turned around. "No, she wasn't." He made his back to the sofa and sank down into its soft cushions. "On the other hand, you're a hero." He eased his head back and closed his eyes. "Man, I could do with some of that Kryptonian aspirin of yours," he said with a groan.


"The size of Metropolis."

"Can't help you with the aspirin," answered CK, "but food and drink should help, if you can face it."

"Drink, yes, food, no."

"Okay, then get ready for another sweet hot drink."

Clark groaned again. "Gee, thanks." This was obviously his punishment for doing the best he could under impossible circumstances. Sometimes, being a husband, a father and a superhero all at the same time just didn't work!


CK took his time making the second cup of coffee. He was still upset about Jon — his heart had nearly broken when he'd discovered the poor, defenceless infant crying all alone in the house. How Clark, of all people, could have abandoned him like that, he really didn't understand.

Although that wasn't quite true, if he was to be honest with himself. As Clark had told Lois, it had been a tough judgement call. Faced with a similar situation, CK wasn't entirely sure how he himself would have reacted. And if he were to be totally honest, he had to admit that Clark had considerably more experience in looking after a baby than CK. Maybe a few minutes alone wasn't such a big deal under normal circumstances. Clark's mistake had probably been in mis-judging his own ability to deal with the emergency, rather than in leaving Jon alone.

He wouldn't have cut Clark so much slack a few days ago, he reflected. Then, he would have viewed Jon's safety as paramount, and would have wanted Clark to leave those people's lives in the hands of the emergency services. Now, though, since talking to Clark's parents and thinking hard about a few things, he could actually place himself in Superman's shoes and see things from his perspective.

But he still struggled with the morals of it all.

He carried the coffee through to Clark and sank down on a nearby seat. "Clark, can I ask you something?"

Clark gave him a sideways look. "Yeah…" he said warily. "So long as it doesn't involve airplanes or childcare."

CK smiled briefly. "What gives you the right to be Superman?"

"CK, I thought we agreed to drop-"

"I'm not talking about what happened today," said CK quickly, realising that Clark thought he was questioning his decision to rescue the airplane. "I mean in general. Why do you think you have a right to assume the role of vigilante-cum-emergency worker?"

Clark frowned. "I'm not sure I've ever thought of it like that. I mean, do I need a right just to help people any way I can?"

"Well, you set yourself up as a defender of justice," said CK. "You see someone being attacked, you single out the attacker and deliver him to the police. What gives you the right to do that?"

"I'm just doing what any good citizen would do," objected Clark. "The only difference is that I can do it more safely and with a higher degree of success because of my strength."

"Oh, come on, Clark! You're not telling me you've never been faced with difficult moral dilemmas. You've been doing this too long never to have come across a situation where you've had to judge who's right and who's wrong."

Clark sipped his coffee and fell quiet for a few moments. "Okay, you're right. But what's the choice we're looking at here? Either I make use of my strength to help people, knowing that sometimes I'll get things wrong, or I do nothing at all. That's the safe option, of course. But if I do nothing at all, no-one gets rescued." He took another sip of coffee. "Which would you pick?"

"I…I'm not the one who has to make the choice," CK stumbled out, caught out by the question and trying his best to evade it.

"Then why ask the question?" countered Clark. "Seems to me you are the one making the choice, CK."

"I'm just trying to make sense out of all this," he replied. "My life's not as easy as yours — I don't have a wife, a good job, a nice house, and parents to back me up. I have to figure it all out on my own."

"You think this is easy?" said Clark with a sardonic laugh. "I've worked hard to get to this point in my life, and I'm still working at it. But going back to your question, you have to realise that none of us is perfect. I've done things I'm not proud of, but I still do what I do because I want to help — it's nothing more complicated than that." He drank some more coffee. "Okay, you've had your question — do I get to ask one?"

CK eyed him, wondering which difficult question he'd pick next. For a guy with a splitting headache, he was holding his own in this conversation pretty well. Not only that, but he made compelling arguments it was difficult to ignore. Just like his parents, he thought ruefully.

"Okay," said CK as warily as Clark had responded earlier.

Clark seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing, adding to CK's apprehension. While he was hesitating, he pinched the bridge of his nose and screwed his eyes up. Clearly the headache was still bothering him. "All right, here it is," he said finally. "How far would you be prepared to go to help us have a child of our own?"

CK blinked in surprise. Of all the questions Clark might have asked, this was the least expected of them all. And quite where Clark was heading with this, CK didn't like to consider. "I…well, I'm not sure," he replied. "How far were you thinking?"

"You see, I've been trying to figure out why you were able to conceive a child with your Lois, and I…can't."

Ck saw Clark snatch a quick sideways glance at him and then look away again. And suddenly CK understood — Clark felt that he was to blame for their inability to have kids together. Because he wasn't human, no doubt.

"Well, I agree, I've wondered the same thing," said CK. "But what makes you think you're the problem?" Then, in case he'd misread Clark, he added, "That is, I'm assuming that's what you think."

Clark nodded. "There's no reason for me to think Lois is," he replied. "Plus, two doctors have independently told us that humans and Kryptonians can't reproduce. That was based on the tests they did on me, not Lois."

CK had to admit that made sense. But that led him to all sorts of wild thoughts as to where Clark might be going with this. Tests…embarrassing tests, sperm donation, artificial insemination…they all loomed scarily in front of him. "So…you think you and I are different somehow?"


"And…you'd like to figure out what that difference might be?" he asked, feeling his way carefully around the issue.


Deep breath… "How?"

Clark met his eyes at last. "Tests."

"Tests." He could already picture the embarrassing scene…

"Yeah, tests."

"Well, yes, I could do that…I guess. Erm…have you talked this over with Lois?"

"Not yet. I only thought of it today. So…you'd be prepared to help us?" Clark asked, his anxious expression belying the casualness of his question.

Seeing the look on Clark's face, CK decided it was time to stop being embarrassed and get very adult about this. If Lois and Clark did decide to give up Jon, the least he could do was to help them have a child of their own. Even if they kept Jon — his heart contracted at the painful thought — he should help. After all, kids were usually better off with a sibling or two to grow up with. He'd be doing his own child a favour if he helped them conceive.

He nodded. "Sure, Clark," he said firmly. "I'd like to help. I guess we'll have a few details to figure out, but I'll do everything I can for you."

Clark let out a long breath. "Thanks, CK, I really appreciate this. But don't say anything to Lois until I've talked to her, okay?"

CK smiled. "I'll keep quiet."

Clark leant back and closed his eyes. "And now my head really is killing me. I think I'll try and doze a while before Lois comes home to give me a hard time."


She stomped up the stairs to the house, once more laden down with more than she could comfortably carry. Why was it, with three able-bodied adults currently living in the house, that she always ended up being the one left — literally — holding the baby?

She was about to put everything down to find her house-keys when the door swung open. "Hi, honey," said her husband. "Want a hand?"

She gave him a look. If he thought he was going to win a place in her good books just by being nice to her, he had another think coming. "Here," she snapped, holding out her briefcase. "You can take that. I'll keep Jon."

His face told her that the significance of her answer hadn't been lost on him: she was holding onto Jon because she, at least, didn't abandon him. Well, good. He deserved to feel guilty.

She followed him indoors, where CK was hovering diffidently near the sofas. She walked up to him. "Would you mind taking Jon into the kitchen and feeding him his dinner?" she asked. "Clark and I need to talk."

"Sure," said CK, clearly relieved to be excused from the firing-line.

"And I've got things to say to you, too," she told him as she handed over Jon. "So don't start thinking you're exempt from this."

He raised an eyebrow, but refrained from commenting. She waited until he'd disappeared into the kitchen, then rounded on Clark. "So how are you feeling?"

He didn't answer immediately. Maybe her question had tripped him up — he certainly looked a bit surprised. Well, that was good, too. She was feeling pretty vindictive towards him right now!

His face lost its surprise and took on a resigned expression. "Lois, can't we find a better way to do this?" he replied, stepping closer to her. "I really don't want to argue with you," he added softly.

"I only asked how you were feeling, Clark," she retorted. "It's not a trick question."

He let out a breath. "It kind of felt like one," he murmured. "But since you ask, I'm okay. I had a really bad headache most of the afternoon, but it seems to have gone now."

"You look tired." Because he did — his eyes were dull and his stance sagged.

He shrugged. "Nothing a good night's sleep won't cure."

"Good," she replied. "Then since we've established that you're in reasonable health, I can tell you just how crazy and downright stupid a thing you did today!" she exploded, finally letting her emotions loose. "Clark, what on Earth were you thinking?! You left our baby alone!"

To her annoyance, he closed the distance between them and deliberately enclosed her in a hug.

"Don't!" she snapped. She brought her arms up and forced him to free her.

He stepped back immediately and they stared silently at each other for a beat. "I told you," he said eventually in a soft voice. "I don't want to argue with you. Yes, I left Jon alone, but do you seriously think I took that decision lightly? Of course you don't, Lois. You already know I love Jon so much I carry his heartbeat with me wherever I go. If anything happened to him, I think I'd probably curl up and die."

His voice was so quiet, she had to listen hard to pick up every word. They were heartfelt words, she gave him that much — but she was still incredibly mad at him. "I don't deny you love him," she replied impatiently. "I just want to know why you thought it was acceptable to leave him alone."

"I didn't think it was acceptable," he continued in his soft voice. "But I also didn't think it was acceptable to let those people die. Now, we can argue about whether or not they would have died, but the real point is this — there was no right decision to be made. I did the best I could, Lois."

"I don't deny that, either," she said. "You always do your best. But you're making it sound like there were only two choices to be made. There weren't, Clark — you had other options. At the very least, you could have phoned me to let me know Jon would be alone. Or you could have done what CK did, and drop him off at the Planet first."

He brought a hand up and worried the hair at the back of his head. She recognised the gesture as one of his signs of frustration — often she found it endearing, but not tonight. "Okay, you're right," he said, his voice rising. "But the fact is, I didn't think of those options at the time. I just saw a problem and solved it the best way I could." He paused and took a deep breath before continuing more quietly. "Honey, I'm not going to apologise for what I did. Superman isn't perfect — I'm not perfect. Aren't you the one always telling me that?"

"Yes, but…" She interrupted herself. The desire to scream with frustration was really quite strong. In fact…


She swung away from him, walked a few paces away, clenching her fists by her sides in frustration, then turned on him again. "I just think you showed astonishingly poor judgement today. It's not like you, Clark."

"Well, maybe it's time for a revision of what 'like me' really means," he said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "I mean, before I was off work for a week with the flu, would you have said that was 'like me'?"

"No, but that's completely different to this!" she said. "This-"

Although, come to think of it, he really did look tired, she realised. And this was his first day up and about after his illness. She sighed — maybe he wasn't himself because, well, he just wasn't himself today.

Shaking her head slowly, she continued, "This is crazy. Here we are, yelling at each other when we should be helping each other."

He nodded. "Yeah," he murmured.

She crossed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him. "Maybe this thing with Jon is making us crazier than we realise," she suggested.

His arms came around her to complete the circle. "I think you're right. When we said CK could stay here, I don't think we knew how difficult it would be."

"Every time I look at him, I'm reminded that we might lose Jon," she said, nodding her agreement.

He sighed heavily, resting his head on her shoulder. "Me too."

She wrapped her arms a bit tighter around him, grateful for his solid, warm presence. It was comforting to feel the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, and inhale his unique scent. "What are we going to do, Clark?" she said in a small voice.

"I don't know."


In the kitchen, CK eased the door into the living room quietly shut again so as not to disturb Lois and Clark. He'd opened it a fraction to see if the dust had settled yet and to give them some exciting news — and caught them clinging unhappily to each other. He'd heard their last few words, too.

His bubble of excitement burst, he slumped back against the door and sighed deeply. They didn't deserve this, they really didn't. They were good people, and Jon was the proof — he was a happy, well-adjusted, good-natured baby boy who'd even managed to get the hang of two identical men in his life who both wanted to be his Daddy.

Since those first awkward days, CK had marvelled at how well he and Jon had gotten along. They laughed and played together just like a father and his baby son ought, and CK could even get Jon to settle down during a crying fit. As for bathing, feeding and changing him — well, CK enjoyed every minute of it.

Well, almost every minute, he amended ruefully. Jon could be quite a handful when he put his mind to it.

A bubbly little chortle from somewhere near the floor made him look down. Jon was on his feet again, holding onto the chair seat with chubby hands. CK fell to his knees a couple of feet away from him and held his arms out. "Come on, Jon," he urged eagerly. "Come to Da-"

He stopped himself just in time. He couldn't bear to refer to Clark as 'Daddy', but equally, he knew it wasn't fair on Jon to assume the title himself — not until they'd agreed who was going to keep him. Sometimes it was hard to stick to the rules, though. "Come to me, Jon. You know you can do it."

Jon reached out one hand towards him, then the other.

"Yes, Jon, that's it," he said.

This was his exciting news. He and Jon had been playing this particular game for a little while now, and tonight, just a minute ago, Jon had at last teetered precariously into his arms. He'd felt a huge rush of joy and pride at witnessing his son's first steps.

Then he'd had a pang of guilt, and hurried to the door to tell Lois and Clark. Knowing they'd hate to miss this momentous event, he'd quickly decided to pretend Jon was just on the brink of walking, not that he'd taken his first steps. Jon wouldn't tell, after all. But finding them in such an intimate hug, he hadn't the heart to break them up.

Jon took one unsteady step, wobbled for a moment, then plopped down onto his well-padded behind. Oh, well, thought CK, Rome wasn't built in a day.

And neither was a person's future. He'd been starting to make his own small, tentative steps towards a better life, but progress was slow. While he no longer felt disjointed from the world around him, he still felt that he was living a temporary life here in this parallel universe. He couldn't really begin to start over until he returned home.

His visits with Clark's parents had helped, though. He was beginning to feel more grounded; more certain of his own identity. They'd reminded him of a few important things too — the most important being that there was more to life than simply existing. Even being a parent wasn't enough. And you'd probably be a better parent if you had interests other than just your children.

Today, for example, had been a good day for him. Okay, he'd been appalled at Clark's abandonment of Jon, but otherwise, he'd discovered that he was actually pretty pleased with himself for landing that plane. It was a real sense of achievement to know he'd probably rescued a couple of hundred people. He hadn't even experienced the jitters like he had during that fire — he'd been so focused on getting the job done that it seemed that he'd forgotten to be nervous.

Yes, he had a long road ahead of him, but, like Jon, he'd made the first shaky steps — and they were always the hardest.


Lois slid under the sheets beside a somnolent Clark, turned the bedside light out and curled up for sleep. She felt almost as weary as he clearly was. Too many emotions crammed into one, short day — that was the cause. No sooner had she finished worrying herself sick about him than she'd been ready to wring his neck. Then she'd swung back to worry, and finished up with depression about Jon. Oh, and topped off with a minor yell at CK after she'd put Jon to bed.

"So how did you plan to explain a flying Clark Kent to the world's media after today's little stunt?" she'd demanded.

"What?" He'd given her a look of bafflement. "Lois, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Well, I'm assuming you went as yourself," she'd explained. "Since you were so sure the other day that you'd never wear the suit again."

"Of course I wore the suit!" he'd said. "You must have seen me at the Planet when I dropped off Jon."

"All I saw at the Planet was the paper you sent flying everywhere," she'd retorted. "You're not telling me you changed your mind already?"

He'd been so adamant about not wearing the suit, she couldn't believe he'd rescinded so easily. Yet he looked sincere.

"I haven't changed my mind," he replied, then hesitated. "Well, not really…" He took a breath. "Anyway, I just wore the suit because I thought it would be simpler if anyone saw me. I could be Superman's cousin, or something."

She'd nearly choked. "Superman's cousin? You have to be kidding."

"No, as a matter of fact. Look, I did what I thought was best and if you remember, it actually turned out pretty well," he said. "So I don't know why you think you have any right to yell at me."

"Because…because I feel like yelling at you!"

He'd laughed then. Actually laughed. "Sometimes you are so like Lois, it's uncanny."

Then he'd obviously realised what he'd just said, and quickly sobered up. "I mean, like she used to be."

And that had been the end of her yelling session with CK. Funny how, with both Clark and CK, she'd ended up feeling in the wrong, when she'd started out knowing she was right. This was not the Lois Lane of old, she reflected ruefully.

Clark stirred beside her, reaching out an arm to draw her closer to him. She snuggled up willingly. "I thought you were asleep."

"No, just dozing," he said. He slipped a finger under her chin and she let him tip her face up to drop a brief, delicate kiss on her lips. "Are we okay? It feels like we spent too much of today sniping at each other."

She reached up and kissed the side of his face. "Yes, we're okay. We just have to remind ourselves of the fact from time to time."

He turned to face her and kissed her again, lingering somewhat longer on her lips this time. She closed her eyes and let the kiss melt away her cares. There was nothing quite like a slow kiss from her husband to do that for her.

"That's what I thought," he murmured. "What do you say we start right now?"

From the sultry look in his eyes, his intention was clear. Already a warm glow was spreading through her body. They hadn't made love since he'd fallen ill. But…

"Are you sure?" she said. "I thought you were tired."

"Not that tired," he said with a soft smile. "But if you are…?"

She returned his smile. "Not that tired."


Afterwards, they lay sleepily together, having made slow and very gentle love. Lois lay with her head resting on Clark's broad chest, listening to his steady breathing and thinking how lucky they were to still love each other so much. Other couples might have struggled harder with the news that they couldn't have children together, but not she and Clark. Jon made a huge difference, of course, but even without him, she believed they would have survived.

Whether they would survive if they now lost him, only time would tell. Tiny cracks were already starting to appear in their relationship, but so long as they could always talk things through like today, she thought they'd be okay.

"I spoke to CK today," said Clark suddenly.

Dreamily, she reflected on the merits of pointing out that he probably did a lot of speaking to CK today. No, she decided, she couldn't be bothered. "What about?"

"About helping us have kids of our own."

"What?!" Dreamy no longer, she craned her neck to look up at him. "You did what?"

"Well, see, I was wondering why he could have a child with his Lois, and I can't. So I developed this theory…"

Lois listened with a mixture of surprise and interest to Clark's retelling of his conversation with CK. He'd certainly made a logical argument, but his ideas on what they should do next…

"Tests?" she repeated. "And just how are you going to explain all this to Dr Klein?"

"I hadn't exactly worked that part out yet."

"I just bet you haven't!" She paused, taking a deep breath. "Okay, it's already late, and both of us need our sleep tonight, but tomorrow you and I and CK are going to sit down and discuss this. Okay?"

"Okay," he replied.

She'd sat up while he'd been telling her his theories, but now he reached for her. She let herself be drawn back down into his embrace, not at all sure she was actually going to manage to sleep tonight. Her mind was already churning through different scenarios with CK and Dr Klein, and she didn't much like the answer which kept popping up. Still, as she'd just told Clark, they at least needed to try for sleep.

"Does this mean you think I did the right thing?" he murmured.

"You trying to score points, Kent?" she said sleepily.

"Just hoping to draw even after this afternoon."

"Hah! So you do admit you were in the wrong," she said.

He paused. "Goodnight, Lois."

She smiled. "Goodnight, Clark."


CK wandered, yawning and stretching, into the kitchen. His sleep had been disrupted more than usual last night. He could only recall snatches now that he was up and about, but he remembered enough to know that yesterday's airplane rescue had triggered a lot of old memories.

Some of the memories were good, and some were bad. In most of the good ones, he'd been back in his own world, sometimes even working as Superman. In the bad ones, he'd been Kal-El on New Krypton. And one extremely jumbled image had him dressed as Superman, working as Kal-El, with Lois by his side.

An analyst would probably have a field day with him, he thought ruefully.

But despite his lack of sleep, he was more optimistic about his future than he had been for days. Especially when he set his gaze on his baby son, who was sitting contentedly in his high-chair, being spoon-fed his breakfast by Lois.

"Morning," he said to both.

Lois glanced around at him. "Morning. You're sounding very chipper today," she said, turning back to Jon.

"Yeah, well, maybe I finally got out of bed the right side." He collected a mug and poured himself some coffee. "Want some?" he said, holding up the pot.

"Ah, sure," she said. "Thanks."

He poured another mug and joined her at the table. "So how's Clark this morning?"

"He's fine…look, CK, I realised I never thanked you for yesterday," she said. "I was so busy yelling at you both…" She shrugged. "Anyway, thank you. Clark could have been in serious trouble if you hadn't helped him."

He was surprised — he really hadn't expected any thanks for his efforts. Lois and he hadn't exactly enjoyed a trouble- free relationship since he'd arrived, as evidenced by her verbal assault on him last night. Perhaps Clark's improved health was making her relax a little. "No problem," he said. "I mean, I couldn't leave those people to die, once I saw what was happening."

"Maybe not." She fed Jon a couple more spoonfuls of breakfast, then turned to him. "So how did it feel? I mean, after that fire at the Gandell Building, you seemed pretty upset. This time I get the sense you're okay with it."

He studied his coffee for a moment, trying to order his thoughts. Yes, he did feel better this time around — he'd done something worthwhile, and he'd done it right. No bungling the job this time around. That felt good. But he'd only gone to Clark's aid because he hadn't felt he had a choice. The airplane had reached the point of no return in its landing sequence, and if Clark had dropped it just before CK had moved in, the consequences would have been disastrous.

Would he have donned the suit if the choice had been less clear-cut? He didn't know. He still had a lingering sense that this was not his place — that he had neither the moral right nor the strength of conviction to take on the role of a universal rescue-worker. If he were to be brutally honest with himself, he wasn't entirely sure he even had the confidence. Sure, he'd been fine yesterday, but the memory of the numbing fear he'd experienced at the fire didn't easily fade.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked," said Lois, interrupting his train of thought.

He looked up. "No, it's okay. Yes, you're right — I am okay with it." Then, when he realised that didn't properly express his feelings, he added, "It felt pretty good, actually."

She raised her eyebrows. "That's great, CK — though I hear a 'but' coming…?"

"I don't know," he said. "I've been thinking about this a lot lately, but all I seem to get is more questions, and no answers."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, I used to think the reason I didn't want to be Superman ever again was because New Krypton had changed me so much. I wasn't the na‹ve farmer's son who invented a guy in a flashy costume and rushed around helping everyone any more. I was the guy who led men into battle and ruled over a very undemocratic society."

He paused, taking a gulp of coffee and organising his thoughts at the same time. He was going to be very honest with Lois, and he hoped she wouldn't mind. Previous talks with her — those where she wasn't biting his head off — had suggested that when she was in the right mood, she was willing to listen and help him sort out his feelings. He hoped this was one of those times.

He continued. "Then I discovered…well, I discovered that I'd lost my nerve," he said firmly, determined not to shy away from the truth. "Even if I'd wanted to be Superman, I couldn't. So then I started asking myself if the first reason had been a lie — the real reason I didn't want to be Superman was because I was just too scared. Maybe I was just a coward."

He looked at her then, anxious for some reassurance that she was following him and understanding his problem. She'd finished feeding Jon and was cleaning up at the sink, but she turned back to him when he stopped talking.

Waving her dish-mop around as she spoke, she said, "I don't think you're a coward, CK. If you ask me, there are lots of reasons why you're struggling with the Superman thing." She stopped waving the mop and pointed it at him, saying, "In my experience, nothing is ever black and white."

He nodded. "That's what Clark's Mom said." He laughed self-consciously. "She thinks I need to learn how to like myself again."

Lois smiled. "That sounds like Martha. So how are you doing with that?"

He shrugged. "Well, I guess I don't actually hate myself any more," he said.

"Okay, that's a start." She left the sink and sat down beside him. "CK, Clark told me last night about the conversation you and he had about some tests."

Oh, yes. He'd forgotten about that, what with Lois yelling at everyone and then Jon's first steps. "Yes, he wants Dr Klein to repeat Clark's tests on me — see if there's a difference between us."

"And are you okay with that?" she asked.

"Well, I guess so. Seems the least I can do after everything you've done for me."

To his surprise, she laid a hand on his arm and smiled warmly at him. "You know, when you first arrived here, I never thought I'd hear you say something like that. You've changed so much, CK."

"For…for the better, I hope," he said awkwardly, touched by the gentleness of her tone as well as the kindness of her words. Maybe they really had reached a turning point in their rocky relationship.

"Definitely. Even Jon seems to approve of you."

He glanced over at his son, who was merrily banging a ring of plastic keys on his high-chair table. This was praise indeed, he reflected, for Lois to tell him he was doing okay with Jon. She'd never have admitted that a few days ago. "He's a great kid," he said.

"Yes, he is. And thanks for agreeing to take the tests — though we need to discuss exactly how we're going to organise that with Dr Klein. I thought we'd do that tonight." She paused. "Look, I have a big favour to ask you, and I'm sorry if it feels like I'm springing this on you, but I need it sorted before Clark comes down."

Surprised by the abrupt shift in conversation, he nodded slowly. "Go on."

"I said Clark's fine earlier, and he is — for a guy who's just recovered from the flu. Of course, he would never admit he's anything less than one hundred percent, but you saw what happened yesterday. I don't want a repeat of that, CK."

She was amazing — in a moment, she'd gone from a relaxed, sympathetic listener to a determined wife who was clearly on a mission. He was even a little flattered that she was involving him in this plan of hers, whatever it was. And he had to agree with her about Clark. "Have you spoken to him? Or is that where I come in — do you want me to talk to him?"

She shook her head. "No. What I want is for him to take the day off." She met his gaze steadily. "I need you to be Superman for the day, CK."


She hoped she hadn't been too obvious. In truth, she'd wanted to ask him as soon as he'd appeared for breakfast, but she'd needed to chat with him first to gauge his mood. If he'd felt as awful as he'd clearly done the first time he'd taken Clark's place as Superman, she wouldn't have bothered asking him.

This wasn't purely out of self-interest. Sure, it mattered to her a lot that Clark take the day off, but she did care about CK, too. It wouldn't have been fair to put him under more pressure if he was already depressed. And there were other ways for her to ensure Clark didn't go out as Superman today — simply asking him straight out being at the top of the list.

But this way, if she'd judged both men correctly, she was doing both of them a favour. CK, because he seemed to be in need of a not-so-gentle push to make him decide whether or not he was going to be Superman, and Clark, because he was being given a reason to take the day off which she knew would appeal to him — he was helping CK.

She searched CK's face. She'd seen the initial shock in his eyes when she'd asked him; now she could see him struggling to make a choice. "It's only one day," she said. "We'll take Jon to the crŠche so you won't have to worry about him if anything happens."

His gaze dropped. "It's a lot to ask, Lois," he said.

"I know, and I don't really have the right, but I'm asking anyway. Will you do it?"

Her hand, still resting lightly on his forearm, was covered by his own hand. Immediately she sensed a subtle change in the atmosphere between them. His clasp was warm and gentle, and somehow the gesture felt just a little too intimate. Especially when they were sitting so close together. "You're so persuasive," he murmured. "I don't know how you do it."

"CK…" She felt awkward, trapped under his hand. She didn't want to make a big drama out of it, but she didn't feel comfortable. He appeared to be confusing her with someone else — his own Lois, she supposed. She slid her hand out slowly and placed it on her lap, then met his eyes briefly.

"I'm sorry," he said hastily. "I didn't mean…I mean, I thought you were…well, not really, but-"

"CK, it's okay," she said.

"No, it's not, I…you…" He paused, breathing heavily. She waited, knowing exactly what was on his mind and wishing there was a way to reassure him more definitely. "You look so like her!" he blurted out finally.

"I know," she said calmly. "And it's okay — really."

She watched him struggle with more confused feelings. "She was a big help, you know — after I told her about Superman. Never complained when I rushed off in the middle of something, always there when I came back…" He flicked his gaze up at her. "I guess you know all about that."

"Yeah." Every now and then, she'd have to put Clark back together again after a difficult rescue. Not very often, thankfully, but often enough to know how much he needed her. It sounded like CK's Lois understood that, too.

"And you've been so helpful…you really seem to care…" He pushed out a sharp breath. "I'm sorry, I guess I got a little confused."

"It happens," she said, nodding. "Believe me, I've been there."

"You have?" he said.

She waved a hand dismissively. "Long story. Take too long to explain."

He looked at her curiously for a second, but she made it clear she wasn't going to elaborate. Things were complicated enough without explaining about other alternative universes and other Clarks.

"Anyway," he said after a pause, "I think Lois basically approved of Superman, and I think if she were here now…" He drew in a deep breath. "I'll do it."

"Oh, CK!" She was absolutely delighted, but she made herself study his expression for any hint of uncertainty. "You're sure about this?"

He nodded. "Yes. Tell Clark he's grounded for the day."

Impulsively, she leaned across and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you, CK," she said. "I really appreciate this, and I do understand how much it means to you."

"Well," he said, standing up. "I guess I'd better get changed, but first, I see a little guy who needs to get ready for the day care centre."


Later, in the early evening of the same day, Clark sat on a sofa cuddling his sleeping baby boy. Jon had gone into a crying fit when Lois had tried to feed him the last few mouthfuls of his dinner, and when she'd failed to calm him, Clark had taken charge. Working on the theory that the little boy was over-tired and probably more in need of sleep than food, he'd lifted Jon out of his high-chair and carried him around the house, murmuring soothing words and gently bobbing him up and down in his arms. It hadn't been easy, but eventually Jon had stopped sobbing against his Daddy's shoulder and had gradually fallen asleep. Now he was slumbering peacefully, a warm bundle of gently snuffling child on Clark's chest.

There was something incredibly therapeutic about holding a sleeping baby in your arms, Clark reflected. He'd felt a little frazzled himself after a busy day at work, what with the mountain of outstanding correspondence which had been awaiting him, and the constant stream of well-wishers welcoming him back after his long absence. The phone hadn't stopped ringing all day. It was nice, therefore, just to lie back and let his baby son soothe away the hassles of the day.

It was just as well he hadn't needed to cope with his usual Superman duties as well as everything else. Not that he'd found it particularly easy to tune himself out of emergency calls. The first time he'd heard a call for help, he'd already started tugging at his tie and formulating a believable excuse when Lois had noticed what he was up to and called out to him across the newsroom. Even then he hadn't been able to relax until he was sure that CK was dealing with the situation — he wished they'd arranged some kind of verbal signal that he could have picked up with his enhanced hearing. The other times were almost as bad — he'd had to listen in to check that CK was there and coping before he could switch off. All in all, taking a day off from Superman had been quite a lot more stressful than he'd expected.

And he'd been very surprised when Lois had told him that CK wanted to take his place for the day. He'd thought that CK had vowed never to don the suit again, but when he'd said this to Lois, she'd pointed out that CK had already gone against his word once. Not only that, she'd said, but he was apparently starting to reconsider his attitude — helped by the talks he'd had with Clark's parents, and a lot of self-evaluation over the past few days. What he now needed was the chance to test himself for a day, she'd said.

Clark had taken one look at Lois's wide-eyed innocence, and asked, "Was this your idea or his?" He knew only too well how Lois worked!

She'd squirmed reluctantly for a moment, then admitted that she'd suggested it, but that CK was definitely in agreement. Clark would be doing him a big favour, she'd said.

"So this wouldn't have anything at all to do with what happened yesterday, would it?" he'd asked suspiciously. "Nothing at all to do with you wanting me to take the day off?"

"Not a thing," she'd said.

He'd laughed then. "Sweetheart, you are so obvious! I know what you're up to."

She'd started to protest her innocence, but he'd silenced her with a hug. "It's okay — I know this is important to you, and as it happens, I agree with you. CK could probably use the practice, and, well, yeah, I guess I could do with a break." He'd given her a kiss. "Are we taking Jon to the day care centre?"

She'd explained the arrangements, and then he'd sought out CK to check he was okay with the set-up. He'd found him pulling on a t-shirt over a Superman suit. Thus reassured that CK was all set, he'd delivered a brief lecture on what to do if anything went wrong — ie, call for Clark — and had left for work with Lois and Jon.

Clark sighed, and reached up to stroke his son's soft downy hair. Today seemed like a turning point in Jon's future. CK was no longer the aggressive, moody individual who had collapsed on their doorstep so many days ago. Then, Clark wouldn't have dreamt of handing Jon over to him. Now, though, CK was turning into the kind of man Clark could respect. He still bore the mental and physical scars of his time on New Krypton, but he was clearly doing everything in his power to overcome those scars and rebuild himself. This evening, if Clark were to search his conscience, he wasn't at all sure that he'd be able to come up with very many arguments against letting CK take Jon.

Except that Clark loved his son so very, very much. He was the miracle Clark had never dared hoped would happen, and now, nearly a year later, Jon was the most precious thing in his life. Alongside Lois, of course. How could he possibly live without his baby son? A lump formed in his throat from just thinking about it.


Lois led CK into the living room, having finished clearing away dinner. She'd guessed, from the lack of wails from Jon, that he'd probably fallen asleep, and sure enough, there he was, snuggled up peacefully on Clark's shoulder.

Clark looked up as she approached. He'd taken his glasses off, which usually made him even more attractive than normal, but at that moment made him appear rather exposed and vulnerable. Her heart flipped in sympathy for him. His eyes were suspiciously bright, and she noticed that he was cradling Jon's head very protectively in one large hand.

"What's wrong, honey?" she murmured, speaking quietly so as not to wake Jon. "Jon's okay, isn't he?"

She saw Clark force a smile. "He's fine."

Relieved that Clark hadn't found something wrong with their son, she held out her hands to him. "Shall I take him upstairs?"

Clark shook his head and stood up carefully with his precious cargo. "No, I'll do it."

He moved over to the stairs, and after a moment's hesitation, she followed him. At the foot of the stairs, she caught up with him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Clark," she said softly. "What's upsetting you?"

He turned and gave her an unsteady smile. "Oh, just life in general."

He sounded as sad as she'd often felt lately. Usually, he was the strong one comforting her, but tonight he was clearly the one in need of some TLC. She slid her arms around both husband and baby. "Hey," she murmured. "It's going to be all right, okay? We're going to find a way to make it right."

He nuzzled into her hair. "I know. We'll do whatever's best for Jon, right?"

"Yeah." She rubbed his back and dropped a kiss on Jon's head, cherishing the two most important people in her life. Both of them were miracles in their own right, and she was incredibly lucky to be the woman who got to share in the miracle. She just wished they could stay this way forever.

"I'm just not sure that whatever's best for Jon will be best for us," Clark said, his voice cracking with emotion.

She held him a bit tighter, unable to respond with any degree of conviction. He'd just voiced the very same fears she'd been harbouring.


CK had retreated back into the kitchen when it became apparent that husband and wife needed some time alone. He hated intruding on these private moments, even if it did seem that they'd forgotten he was there. Now he was perched on a stool, flipping through the newspaper and checking every so often with his vision to find out if it was safe to go back into the lounge.

He saw Lois wander back to a sofa and slump down on it dejectedly, while Clark went upstairs with Jon. God, how he hated what he was doing to these two!

He was hoping they could have that talk about Dr Klein's tests this evening. At least that was something he could do for them in return for all the pain he was causing. And if they found that they could conceive, then that might help with the decision about Jon. Otherwise, he got the sense that they were just going to find it too hard to hand Jon over. And even though he was Jon's biological father, and thus had the law on his side, this case was never going to be heard in a court of law. The judge and jury were Lois and Clark, and CK, as an unemployed single father recently bereaved, didn't quite measure up to their ideal of a good parent.

Not that he held that against them any more. No, he was past that stage. He knew that they would try to do their best for Jon. Unfortunately, he also knew that they couldn't possibly be totally objective in their decision. They loved his son too much for that.

Sighing, he pushed open the door of the kitchen and approached Lois. She was holding her head in her hands and staring morosely at the carpet. Quietly, he took a seat nearby, still feeling horribly like an intruder. He cleared his throat. "Is…is everything okay?" he asked.

"Hmmm?" She looked up. "Oh, yes, everything's fine," she said wearily.

"Good." Everything was very obviously not fine, but he didn't want to push.

"So," she said, leaning back in her chair and apparently trying to put aside her feelings. "How did today go? You sounded pretty okay with those rescues you were telling us about over dinner."

Again, he was impressed with this Lois, who in so many ways resembled his own Lois. Even though personal matters were weighing heavily on her mind, she was thoughtful enough to ask after him. His Lois probably wouldn't have been so kind when he'd first met her, but by the time they'd become engaged, she'd mellowed a lot. He wondered if this Lois had undergone a similar change. He nodded. "Yes. I was a little nervous the first time, but that soon went — I was too busy to be nervous. And after that…well, things just seemed to click into place."

"CK, that's great," she said, breaking into a smile. "I'm really pleased for you."

"Of course, nothing I did today was like that fire. I mean, I wasn't in much danger of getting hurt," he pointed out. "I'm not sure how well I'd do in a similar circumstance."

"I suspect you'd do just fine, CK. You've changed a lot in the last few days — all of it for the better."

"Thank you," he said. "That means a lot, coming from you."

She shrugged. "You just needed time."

"I guess so. That, plus a few good listeners, like Clark and his parents." He smiled. "Even your next door neighbour, Miss Preston, helped — even though I doubt she realised it at the time."

Lois nodded. "She's a spry old lady — a little old- fashioned in her views, but I like her a lot."

"And you, Lois…" She seemed so tired and listless, he felt a sudden surge of protectiveness towards her. On impulse, he moved across to sit beside her. "You've been just great. I don't know who else could have dealt with all this as well as you have. Clark's a very lucky man."

And even now, after all this time, he found himself looking at this Lois and seeing his own Lois. The same beauty was there, the same strength of character and the same razor- sharp intelligence. There were minor differences — this Lois did her hair differently, for example — but perhaps this was exactly how his Lois would have looked eighteen months after he'd left her. And this Lois had that essential vibrancy which had first drawn him to his love…

"Yes, I am," said a very firm male voice, startling CK from his thoughts. He looked up to find Clark standing over them with more than a hint of the territorial male about his demeanour. Belatedly, CK realised his hand had been drifting towards Lois's on the sofa, and withdrew without a word.


He hadn't liked the way CK had been looking at Lois. There had been something in his eyes — something beyond friendliness. And his body language had jarred, too. Clark didn't consider himself a jealous man, but when someone who looked almost exactly like him got that close to his wife, he felt it was time to draw the line.

He was aware of Lois frowning up at him, but he held his attention firmly on CK, who started to rise, saying, "Do you want to sit here, Clark?"

He began to answer, but then suddenly the pettiness of his attitude struck him. What was he thinking? CK wasn't about to make advances on Lois, and even if he did, Lois would rebuff him pretty sharply — more sharply than Clark himself.

He shook his head. "No," he replied, moving over to another chair. "Keep your seat, CK."


Lois watched Clark sink wearily into his chair, relieved that he'd quickly stopped behaving like a jealous husband. For a moment there, she'd wondered what on earth had come over him as he'd loomed over them with his disapproving gaze. Clark wasn't like that.

Maybe he was just tired. The strain of the situation was eating away at all of them, after all.

"I…I thought maybe we could talk about those tests, Clark," said CK. "You know — how we're going to handle Dr Klein and the whole dual identity thing."

Clark passed a hand through his hair. "Yeah, sure," he said. "Lois, you got any ideas?"

"Me?" she said. "Well, yes, as it happens…"


A strong gust of wind lifted Dr Klein's papers up off his desk, causing him to dive forward with his arms outstretched to try and rescue as many of them as he could. Thus sprawled awkwardly over his desk, he craned his head up to deliver his indignation to person he was sure was the cause of the disruption.

"Don't you think it's about time you stopped doing that, Superman?"

The blue-suited man stood in the doorway, his red cape still billowing out behind him. "S-sorry, Dr Klein."

'S-sorry?' Since when did Superman stutter?

Then he remembered. The guy was here to re-start the reproduction tests Dr Klein had abandoned nearly two years ago. Klein supposed Superman had a right to be a little nervous — any man would be.

Klein had been more than a little surprised when Superman had contacted him the other day to request the tests. He'd thought he'd made his findings quite clear the first time around, and he was completely confident that he'd been correct. There was simply no chance that Superman could father a child with an Earthwoman. However, Superman had been very persistent, and, as usual, Klein had found him impossible to refuse. Who could turn down Superman, especially when he gave you that refusal-is-not-an-option look?

Superman hadn't even offered a reason for his request, other than to say that he had cause to believe the results might be different this time. Dr Klein had been dying to ask why this might be so, but Superman had made it clear that was a closed subject.

So here they were again, ready to go through the embarrassing procedure once more. Klein really hoped Superman was right about this, because he wasn't looking forward to delivering the bad news he'd had to hand out the last time. Superman hadn't shown a flicker of emotion when Klein had told him he'd never be able to have children, but his retreat into stiff formality had made it clear to Dr Klein that he'd been very upset. As the last survivor of his race, other than those awful New Kryptonians, Klein supposed that the news was particularly distressing.

Dr Klein straightened as Superman walked slowly into the lab.

"Can I sort those for you, Dr Klein?" he asked, indicating the papers strewn across the desk.

Dr Klein glanced down at them and shook his head. "No, it's okay, Superman. Who knows, they might make more sense this way round."

A corner of Superman's mouth lifted. "So, where do you want me?"

"Well, I've got the same room as last time set up for you, but first I thought we'd run through a quick physical exam."

"A physical?"

If Dr Klein didn't know better, he would have thought Superman actually looked panicked at the prospect of a physical examination. "Yes, you know — temperature, blood pressure, heart rate…the usual stuff."

"Oh." The superhero's shoulders relaxed. "Nothing more than that?"

"No. What did you think I meant?"

"I thought…" Superman looked embarrassed. "Never mind. Let's get started, shall we?"

Dr Klein spent several moments trying to guess what on earth Superman had been expecting. It wasn't until after he'd said, "If you'll just come over here," indicating his examination table, that the penny dropped. For a second he contemplated reassuring Superman that he really didn't need to conduct any intimate examinations at this stage, but then decided that it was a lot less embarrassing for both of them if he just kept quiet.


CK followed Dr Klein over to the other end of the lab where an examination table was set up. Boy, he sure hoped he wasn't showing just how embarrassed he felt right now! He'd really thought for a moment there that Dr Klein had been planning on conducting a far more intimate examination than Clark had ever warned him to expect. In fact, Clark hadn't mentioned an exam at all.

Which meant that CK had no idea what the protocol was here. Did he lie down on the table, or perch on the side?

He settled for perching decisively on the side, figuring that as long as he didn't hesitate, anything would look convincing.

While he submitted to the various measurements, he observed Dr Klein with interest. Funny that his own universe lacked a Dr Klein — or if it there was one, CK certainly wasn't aware of him. He'd check that out when he went home. A guy like this could be useful if Jon ever got sick. And whereas Clark had warned him to expect a degree of eccentricity, CK thought that Dr Klein actually seemed pretty efficient. Maybe his eccentricity only showed when he was under pressure.

Eventually the time came for CK to find the room Dr Klein had set aside. He accepted the plastic container the doctor handed him and walked down the corridor to a blank, sterile meeting room. Inside, he found a whiteboard, an overhead projector, and a single picture of daffodils hanging on the wall.

Oh, boy…


Later, CK sat on the same rooftop he'd taken refuge on after the rescue at the fire. He pulled the cape around him and rested his head on his knees.

Unexpectedly, his emotions were a bit churned up and he needed a few moments to sort things out. Was he upset? He wasn't sure. He felt that something was wrong, but he wasn't sure what, exactly.

Perhaps, on the whole, it had been a mistake to recall his and Lois's last night together when he'd been at Star Labs. The thing was, he'd never had to 'perform' on demand before, so he'd decided a little fantasy might help things along. He'd been right about that, but the memories he'd triggered had been pretty powerful. In that room, he'd needed a few moments to collect himself before he'd been able to emerge and stride purposefully back to Dr Klein's lab. He'd hurried away after only a couple of words with the doctor and made straight for this rooftop.

He drew in a shaky breath and decided that yes, he was upset.

"I'm sorry, Lois," he whispered.

Using her memory for such a mundane, clinical exercise hadn't been right. From now on, he'd keep those memories safe — keep them pure and very special.

It had been an impossible night. How do you spend your last night with your fiancee, knowing you might never see them again? Things had been awkward at first. They'd reverted to the type of stilted conversation strangers have; superficially friendly and jovial, but without any real meaning.

Then something had shattered inside him and all his emotions had come flooding out unchecked. He'd held her fiercely and buried his face in her hair, the desolate words tumbling out of his mouth. She'd started crying and he'd tried to soothe her, but her sorrow was infectious and he'd ended up just wordlessly stroking and kissing her. Soon they'd melted down to the carpet, and then their love for each other had simply overwhelmed them. The only sliver of conscious thought had been just before they'd made love. Should they do this, he'd asked. Yes, she'd replied without hesitation.

And he'd never regretted that choice. The memory of that night had held him together on more than one occasion during the dark days of life on New Krypton.

At least there was a strange synergy at work here, he reminded himself. After all, he'd been recalling the night he and Lois had made Jon together, in order that Clark and his Lois might be able to conceive a child. That made it less mundane — a lot less mundane.

He was helping them another way, too. They'd agreed that he'd be Superman on alternate days. On his days off, he got to keep Jon at home. All in all, it was a pretty good deal and he was looking forward to it a lot. He'd already decided he'd take Jon out to Smallville on one of his days to visit Clark's parents and thank them for everything they'd done to help him.

It seemed that Lois and Clark were beginning to see him as possible parental material after all.


"And let me tell you, people, we are not going to let that gossip rag down the road beat us to the finishing line on this one. I want you to pull out all the stops, you hear me?"

Lois glanced surreptitiously at her watch while Perry continued his rallying cry to his journalistic troops. Three fifty-five. Only five minutes before Clark was due at Star Labs to receive Dr Klein's results, and they were both trapped in the conference room listening to a pep-talk with the rest of the city desk team.

"Lois, you got someplace else to go that's more important than this?"

She snapped her attention back to Perry. "No, but Clark has," she replied. Heck, why not tell the truth for once, she decided recklessly. "Your doctor's appointment," she said, turning to Clark. "Didn't you say you needed to leave around now?"

Clark's eyes widened slightly, and she knew he was surprised she hadn't invented an excuse. Well, everyone was entitled to the occasional dental and medical check-up, weren't they? And these days they tended to avoid those as excuses because it was too difficult to ensure they didn't send Clark to the doctor or dentist twice or more in the same day.

"Thanks, Lois," Clark replied. "Perry, I'm sorry, but do you mind…?"

Perry waved impatiently at Clark. "Go!"

Lois caught Clark's hand and squeezed it briefly before he hurried out of the room. They'd talked until the early hours last night, turning over each and every possible outcome of the test. Clark had played his usual calm, reassuring role, but she knew that deep down, he was as strung out as she was. There was just so much at stake.


Clark strode into Dr Klein's lab with vastly more aplomb than his churning insides were allowing him to feel. He thought he knew what the outcome of the tests would be, but there was always that nagging doubt. What if the other Lois's conception had been a complete fluke — a cruel trick of nature? And even if he was right about the outcome, the next steps they might have to take were just as nerve- wracking.

"That's better, Superman," said Dr Klein as Clark approached his desk.

"What's better?" asked Clark.

"You," said Klein. "No flying," he added, as if that explained everything.

"Oh!" responded Clark. "Yes, that's right — no flying." Presumably Klein was continuing a conversation CK had started last week — either that, or Dr Klein was off on another of his flights of fancy. Either way, Clark thought it was safer to stop the conversation from getting any more obscure, so he crossed his arms and planted his feet firmly in a clear Superman-has-nothing-further-to-say-on-the- subject gesture.

Klein looked at him oddly for a moment, then turned to a folder on his desk. "I expect you want to know the results."

"Yes, that-"

"I have to tell you, I'm pretty amazed," continued Klein with enthusiasm. "I mean, it's not totally unheard of, but to come across such a pronounced example is very rare. A first, even. Of course, you're also a first, so maybe it's not so-"

"Dr Klein?" said Clark. "Can you just tell me what you found?"

"Oh. Right. Well, as you suspected yourself, there's been a profound change in…well, let's just say there's been a change." Klein took a deep breath and drew himself up straight. "It would appear that you can indeed reproduce with an Earthwoman."

Clark let out a long breath he hadn't realise he'd been holding. "Thank you. Thank you…I mean, I thought…but…well, thank you."

"Oh, no problem, no problem," said Klein. "I didn't do much — you did everything, in fact…"

Clark nodded briefly, embarrassed that he was actually totally misleading Dr Klein into thinking some dramatic physical change had taken place when all he'd done was swap places with someone else. He moved quickly onto the next part of their plan. "I…I guess you should really repeat the test, to be positive," he said. "That's the correct procedure, isn't it?"

Dr Klein looked surprised. "Yes, I suppose it is. Especially in such an unusual case as this."

"Well, no time like the present," said Clark. "That is, if it's okay with you…"

"Uh, sure," replied Klein. "Um, let me see…I think I have a suitable receptacle…" He got up and hunted around his workbench for a moment before producing a clear plastic beaker with a lid. "Here. I think the usual room's free."

Clark grabbed the container without another word and hurried down the corridor. With any luck, he wouldn't have to do this again after today!


"So…were the daffodils still there?"

At the sound of CK's voice, Clark looked up from preparing Jon's dinner. "Huh?" He re-ran CK's question through his head, processed it, and finally figured out why CK was talking about flowers. "Oh, the daffodils…yeah, they were still there." Yup, the most embarrassing room in Star Labs was also the most unappealing.

"I don't know about you, but I don't exactly find them…inspiring."

Clark grimaced. "Me either." He reached down and gently placed his hands over Jon's ears. "Personally, I'd find anything more erotic than a picture of limp daffodils."

"Yes, why do they have to be limp?"

Clark released Jon's ears and shrugged. "Someone at Star Labs must have a warped sense of humour."

"You mean someone other that Klein knows what goes on in there?" said CK, clearly aghast at the idea.

"Who knows? And at least you don't have to deal with any of them after this is over," added Clark with feeling. "I have to look those people in the eye — and I have to do it as Superman!"

CK nodded. "This is true. Anyway, did Klein give you any clue about why I can…you know, and you…"

"Can't? No, I didn't give him much of a chance to explain. Besides, I didn't really want to get into a detailed medical discussion with him about it…you saw what he's like."

Clark had a lot of respect for Dr Klein, but his relationship with the man wasn't exactly easy-going. He just wasn't the kind of doctor you confided in. Klein himself admitted he lacked bedside manner, and Clark had to agree. Any time he had to discuss something remotely personal with the man, he felt awkward and embarrassed. The trouble was, Klein obviously felt the same way, so they tended to stumble through medical conversations using a lot of metaphors and indirect references. Clark wished they could talk directly about such things, but it just wasn't going to happen unless Klein underwent some kind of personality transplant.

"I thought he was okay, actually," said CK, to Clark's surprise. "A little absent-minded, maybe, but I think if you gave him a chance, he'd be fine."

"Fine?" Clark snorted. "We're talking about the man who gets tongue-tied discussing contraception." Clark well remembered Dr Klein's stumbling references to 'relations' and 'extreme caution.' The thought of Dr Klein using words like 'intercourse' and 'condom' was laughable.

"Well, no doubt you were as tongue-tied as he was." CK shrugged. "I still think he'd be fine. And you're going to have to get medical and pretty frank with him if you want to solve this thing — unless you want to involve someone else."

"No thanks! It's bad enough that he has to know."

"There you are, then. And you'd better get used to the idea of a physical exam, too — I've been reading up on this and that's usually the next step towards diagnosis."

Clark regarded CK across the room. "CK, I thought you wanted to help?"

"I do."

"Then please stop giving me reasons why I should take to the skies and fly about ten million miles away from Star Labs and Dr Klein's examination room!"

CK grinned. "I just want you to be prepared."

Clark glared. "I think I preferred you when you were grumpy and bad-tempered."


Dr Klein was perplexed. Either he was making an incredibly stupid mistake, or there was something very unusual happening with Superman. He'd checked and rechecked all his tests and calculations, so he was pretty sure it wasn't the former. That left the latter, which was admittedly very intriguing but also worrying. Having had the pleasure of giving Superman good news just a few days ago, he was now in the awkward position of having to rescind his good news. Superman's latest tests indicated that he could no longer conceive a child with an Earthwoman.

Something funny was happening, and Dr Klein wanted to get to the bottom of it. Scientifically, that wasn't a problem — on the contrary, it was quite exciting. Dr Klein enjoyed solving medical mysteries. On a personal level, however, he was in trouble. He'd need to ask for many more tests from Superman if he was to solve the enigma for him, and he wasn't looking forward to telling him that at all.

"Dr Klein?"

He looked up. "Oh, hello, Superman. Um…have a seat," he said, indicating the stool beside his own. Then he stood up and pushed the door shut. This was definitely a conversation they needed to have in private.

"So, what news do you have for me?" asked Superman, perching on the stool.

Dr Klein sat down. "Well, I'm not sure. You see, I've come up with some unexpected results, and I'm not sure what to make of them."

He picked up a glass beaker and swirled around the contents, studying the pattern the liquid made against the side of the glass. How did you tell the most powerful man on Earth that he wasn't actually capable of-

"Dr Klein, I think I may be able to help."

His thoughts thus interrupted, he replaced the beaker on the bench. "Oh? You've found out something new about your physiology?" he asked hopefully.

"Not exactly." Superman coughed, rather nervously to Dr Klein's ears. "I'm assuming this latest batch of results came back the same as the very first test you did on me?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Dr Klein, relieved that he didn't have to explain this himself. "How did you know?"

"Well, I'm afraid I haven't been completely honest with you."


Clark watched Dr Klein's face for a moment, observing him absorb the minor bombshell that he'd been misled by none other than Superman himself. Yup, Klein looked surprised — and possibly a little annoyed.

Meanwhile, Clark was suffering very mixed emotions about the situation. His theory had been confirmed: there was indeed a difference between him and CK. That in turn confirmed another theory: it was his fault that he and Lois couldn't conceive. And the fault didn't just lie in the fact that he was an alien, either. There was actually something wrong with him.

But on the positive side, he told himself, that meant there was a chance he could be 'fixed'. Then he and Lois would be able to have kids of their own. That was way, way up there on the positive side of things.

He just hoped that being 'fixed' wouldn't entail anything too unpleasant.

Dr Klein crossed his arms and fixed Clark with a cool stare. "Explain."

Clark took a long, deep breath, stood up, crossed to the door and opened it. "You can come in now," he said to the pair waiting outside.


Dr Klein rose slowly off his stool in total confusion as the two people walked in. The woman was pushing a stroller before her with a sleeping baby sprawled floppily in the seat. "Lois! And Clark! What are you doing here?"

"We have something to tell you," said Lois.

"Can't it wait?" said Dr Klein. "I'm right in the middle of a private consultation with Superman. A confidential consultation," he added pointedly.

"It's all right," said Superman. To Dr Klein's total astonishment, Superman walked up to Lois, and wrapped an arm around her. "You can say anything you like in front of Lois." Superman then exchanged a fond smile with Lois. "You see, she's my wife."

"What?!" Dr Klein glanced over at Clark, who appeared to be totally unperturbed by Superman's outrageous claim. In fact, he was nodding.

Klein did some fast thinking and came up with a range of possibilities, all of which were either extremely far- fetched or very colourful. Some — quite a few, when he thought some more — fitted both categories.

He cleared his throat. "OK, I consider myself a pretty broad-minded individual, but this…well, is it some sort of Kryptonian custom, perhaps? Is the m‚nage a trois the norm on Krypton?"

His suggestion met with stunned silence.

"Um, perhaps not, then," he muttered, dropping his gaze to the floor in embarrassment.

"Dr Klein," said Clark, stepping forward a pace. "Let me explain."

Dr Klein regarded Clark, the one person he'd thought would never come to him with weird or wacky ideas, and decided that here, at least, was a source of reliable, sensible information.

"You see, I'm not Clark," said Clark. "He is," he added, pointing at Superman.

Klein sagged back down onto his stool in defeat. Clearly, this was a bad dream. Soon, he'd wake up and everything would be back to normal. Absently, he pinched himself.

"Ow!" he exclaimed.

"What did you do that for?" asked not-Clark.

"Do people pinch themselves in the middle of dreams?" asked Dr Klein. "And if they do, do you think they feel it? No, don't answer that — you're obviously part of the dream, so I can't trust you."

Lois came forward next. "Allow me," she said, pulling up the second stool close to Dr Klein and settling down onto it.

Klein eyed her balefully. "Don't tell me — you're really my mother," he said.

She shook her head. "Dr Klein, we'll take this one easy step at a time, okay?"

"Sure. I'm a senior scientist at one of the country's foremost research institutions — why shouldn't I cope with step-by-step lessons on multiple identities?" he said.

"All right." She twisted around on the stool, indicating not-Clark. "Now, forget him for a moment. We'll come back to that."

Dr Klein nodded. "Consider him gone from my mind. Does this mean the past five years of life are also gone?"

"Don't be silly. Now, this guy," she said, indicating Superman, "is, in fact, Clark Kent. The suit is only a disguise."

"That's what I meant earlier, Dr Klein," piped up Superman from behind Lois. "I haven't been exactly honest with you. I'm sorry about that."

"You're Clark Kent?" said Klein. "In disguise?"

"Yes. Perhaps this will help." Superman came forward and held out his left hand. "See?"

Dr Klein studied the hand. "A wedding ring? I never noticed that before!"

"I don't usually keep it on when I'm disguised as Superman. Dr Klein, you have to understand that this is a very big deal, me telling you who I really am. There's only three other people in the world who know this — Lois, and my parents."

"Your parents?"

"Yes, Martha and Jonathan Kent," said Superman. "And that's why you have to keep this a secret. If word got out that I'm Superman, they'd be in a lot of danger. Lois, too."

Dr Klein nodded slowly. "Yes, I can see that they would become targets."

"Good, so you're okay with the concept that he's Clark Kent as well as Superman?" said Lois.

"I…well, I guess so. But he doesn't look anything like Clark Kent!" he exclaimed. "He can't be Clark!"

Lois turned to Superman. "Honey, I think you'd better show him."

And then Superman turned into a blue and red whirling dervish before Klein's very eyes. As he watched, the colours changed to browns and greys, and then suddenly the dervish stopped turning and Clark Kent was standing before him in his city suit and tie. And glasses.

"How…? But…"

"Now do you agree he looks like Clark?" asked Lois. She stood up and wrapped a fond arm around the new Clark Kent's shoulders. "He looks good enough to eat, if you ask me," she added.

The new Clark Kent laughed. "Honey, don't embarrass him."

Well, they certainly behaved like a married couple. And this certainly explained why Lois often accompanied Superman on his visits to Star Labs; she was supporting her husband.

Dr Klein sighed and decided that today was just going to be one of those days when the world turned upside down. Permanently. "So, if you're Clark Kent, who's he?" he said, indicating the other Clark Kent.

Lois released her husband and came back to her stool. "Okay, this is the hard part. I'm sure you're familiar with the theory of parallel universes?"

He nodded. "Of course. There have been some fascinating papers written on the subject. In fact, the latest theory is that there are multiple universes, all co-existing in one time-continuum-"


Once more, just when he was warming up to a subject, Lois cut him off. It was kind of frustrating, really. People ought to show more interest in science, he thought.

"Well, they're right," she continued. "CK here is from another universe."


CK decided that was his cue to enter the fray again. He stepped forward. "I know that sounds crazy, but it really is true. Believe me, I was as surprised and sceptical as you when I first found out, but now that I'm here…well, it's kind of difficult to deny it."

"Actually, I'm not sceptical, I'm fascinated," replied Dr Klein. "How did you get here?"

"With the aid of a…a special device I was given." CK thought that bringing H G Wells into the mix at this point in the conversation was probably not a good idea. Things were already complicated enough!

"How does it work? Can I see it? Do you have it here?" asked Klein, his enthusiasm clearly overcoming any remaining bewilderment.

"I have no idea how it works — sorry. I don't have it here, either, but I'll bring it in if you like," CK replied.

"Yes, please do!" said Klein. "And perhaps I could visit your universe?"

"I-I'm not sure that would be a good idea," said CK, baulking at the idea of this particular scientist roaming free in the wrong universe. Who knew what chaos he might cause! "Besides, it's not really my place to let anyone else use it, since it's not mine."

"Oh," replied a deflated Klein.

"Dr Klein, can we get back to the point?" said Lois. "Nice though it is to be discussing your next vacation."

"I thought alternative universes *was* the point," said Klein huffily.

"No, actually, it's about me and Clark wanting a child of our own," she said.

"But you have Jon," said Dr Klein, glancing at the sleeping baby in the stroller. Then he frowned. "But if you have Jon, and Clark is Superman, why did my tests show that…" He stopped himself short and glanced at CK before turning to Lois. "That, well, you know."

"It's okay, Dr Klein, you can say anything you like in front of CK," said Lois. "He knows as much about all this as the rest of us."

CK nodded. "You see, the thing is…Jon is actually my son."

"Although Clark and I didn't know that until CK showed up," added Lois.

Dr Klein held up a hand like a 'stop' sign. "Let me get this straight. Lois, you are married to Superman, who is really Clark. That Clark," he said, pointing at Clark, who nodded encouragingly. "You," he said, pointing at CK, "are Clark from another universe. Um…do you have the same powers as him?"

"Sure," said CK, spinning into the Superman suit.

Dr Klein ran a hand over his bald pate. "Okay. So far, so good. Now, Jon is your son, yes?"

"That's right," replied CK.

Dr Klein coughed awkwardly. "If you don't mind me asking, who's Jon's mother? His biological mother, I mean." He looked at Lois.

"Oh, not me!" exclaimed Lois. "No, that was the Lois Lane from CK's universe."

Klein transferred his gaze back to CK. "Another Lois Lane?" he said with a touch of incredulity. "Isn't one enough?"

"Hey!" said Lois.

"Not to me," said CK. "She was my fiancee. She…she passed away some time ago."

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that," said Klein, with enough sadness in his voice that CK believed he really meant it. "You must have been heartbroken. I…I mean, I can tell how much Clark loves Lois here; I'm assuming you felt the same about your Lois?"

"Yes," replied CK. He was surprised and rather unprepared for Dr Klein's sympathy. He hadn't expected that the normally gauche scientist would be so straightforward and direct about the death of a loved one. "I did."

"But why is Jon here with Lois and Clark? Did you hand him over to them for adoption?"

CK pursed his lips. "Not exactly. It's a long story that I'd rather not go into here," he said. "You just need to know that he's mine, and that Lois and Clark would like to have kids of their own."

"I see," replied Dr Klein, although he was clearly perturbed by CK's answer.

The real Clark came to the rescue. "What happened wasn't anyone's fault — at least, no-one here," he said. "So there are no hard feelings between the three of us."

Dr Klein nodded. "Thanks, Clark. So, is someone going to explain what's been going on with these tests?"

"Okay, that sounds like my cue," said Clark.


Clark was pleasantly surprised to discover how right it felt to be telling Dr Klein all these things. He'd never been completely comfortable with hiding the facts from the person who was the nearest to a personal physician as was possible for Superman, and over the years, the guilt had become worse. Now, it felt like a huge load had been lifted from his shoulders.

And, as he finished explaining how CK had taken his place for the first batch of Dr Klein's tests, he really hoped that the doctor would understand the reasons for this final deception. It had been Lois's suggestion, made on the basis that if CK's tests came back negative, there wouldn't be much point in taking things any further and there would be no need to reveal Clark's secret. As it happened, Clark was pleased to be sharing the secret at last, but that didn't stop it from being a risky piece of information for anyone to hold. Least of all a person like Dr Klein, who wasn't exactly street-wise.

"Well, I can't pretend I don't feel a little used," said Dr Klein when Clark had finished, "but I can see you had good reasons for what you did."

"Yes. I don't deny part of it was to protect me and my loved ones, but it was also to protect you, Dr Klein. People who know who I am are at risk from any criminal who wants to get to me through them. You understand that, don't you?" said Clark, anxious to impress on the doctor just how important it was to keep the secret to himself.

"Yes." Dr Klein sighed. "So, we have a puzzle to solve, I guess. What makes you different to CK?"

"Exactly," replied Clark. "I'm hoping you can find the answer." Lois had come to stand beside him, and he automatically looped an arm around her waist. "We're hoping you can find the answer," he amended, smiling down at her.

"Well, there are several different causes of male infertility," began Dr Klein. "I guess we start with the most common and work our way along until we find the right answer."


Lois felt Clark's arm tighten around her waist at Dr Klein's mention of male infertility. Obviously he didn't much like the idea that he could have a problem in that particular area. Typical male, she thought; he felt threatened because his virility had been called into question. She'd put him right on that later! Although, she was pretty surprised herself, come to that. In every other way, Clark appeared to be in perfect physical condition — had been all his life.

Well, except for CK's flu, which didn't count because it was a Kryptonian illness, and except when someone came at Clark with kryptonite. That had certainly happened quite a few times over the years.

She patted his shoulder for reassurance. "Are you sure that's the most likely cause?" she asked Dr Klein. "I mean, we are talking about Superman."

"True, but we have another Superman over here who…doesn't have Clark's problem," pointed out Klein.

"But maybe the difference could be…I don't know…chemical, or something. One molecule that's different between the two universes, or a gene — something like that," she suggested. She was fully aware that she was fishing around in a specialisation of which she was totally ignorant, but she was also a great believer in common-sense. Just because she didn't know anything at all about reproductive biology didn't stop her having an opinion.

"That's always a possibility, but we may as well rule out the easy stuff first," said Klein. "It could take months to trace a difference as tiny as that. Besides, I have good reasons for starting with infertility," he added.

"Which are?" asked Lois.

Dr Klein's gaze flickered between herself and Clark, then over to CK, and finally back to Lois again. "I don't think I can tell you without discussing it with Clark first. Patient confidentially, you understand."

"Oh." Nonplussed, she glanced up at Clark. "But I'm his wife. We don't have any secrets between us, do we honey?"

"No," said Clark. "But…" He turned slowly to CK.

CK grimaced. "I can see I'm in the way here," he observed dryly. "It's okay," he continued when Lois began to apologise. "I'll take Jon back to the house and put him to bed. You can always fly over if you need me."

"Thanks, CK," said Clark.

Lois sent him a grateful smile. "Yes, thanks. We'll be back as soon we can."

She and Clark gave the still-sleeping Jon a goodnight kiss and then they waited until CK had changed back into his street clothes and pushed the stroller through the door. As soon as he was gone, Lois turned back to Dr Klein. "Okay, what's the big mystery?"


Much later that night, Lois lay sprawled over Clark's chest, her own thudding heart almost but not quite drowning out the sound of his heart racing in the aftermath of their lovemaking.


They hadn't made love with that kind of intensity for a while. Lately, they'd settled into a pattern of gentle, sensual loving — becoming an old married couple, Clark had joked once — but that…that had been something else! Noisy, too. She hoped CK was sound asleep downstairs.


The sound of Clark's voice rumbling in his chest made her lift her head up to look at him. He was gazing at her with a very satisfied smile on his face. "Hey, you," she replied. She grinned. "I think I awakened a beast."

Because he'd been reluctant at first. His mind had clearly been elsewhere as she'd kissed and caressed him, his return kisses half-hearted and lacking in heat. She'd been well aware of his thoughts, of course, because he'd had little else on his mind since they'd left Dr Klein. She'd hoped that she could distract him with a little lovemaking.

Not so.

So she'd given up and tried talking instead. They'd gone over everything Dr Klein had told them. Apparently, he'd explained apologetically, the quality of Clark's samples was really pretty poor. Clark would never be able to conceive a child with any woman unless things improved. Clark had taken the news calmly, but Lois could tell that he'd been shocked — the tell-tale muscle in his jaw had started jumping as he'd listened to Dr Klein. Of course, he'd put a brave face on it and pointed out that at least they now knew what had to be fixed. She'd agreed, but that had been the start of his preoccupation which had lasted all through the evening until they'd come to bed.

She could have shaken Dr Klein in frustration once he began to explain why he hadn't told them any of this before. Why was it that even respected scientists like Dr Klein preferred to deliver semi-speculative answers as if they were facts rather than admit to any lingering doubt? Male ego again, she reflected with resignation.

At the time of the first test a couple of years ago, Dr Klein had assumed that what he'd been seeing through the microscope was normal for a Kryptonian. With nothing else to compare it to, he'd concluded that Kryptonian reproductive biology differed significantly from humans — the sample might look infertile from a human point of view, but obviously for Kryptonians it would work perfectly well.

Klein had then admitted with a reddening face that a small part of him really hadn't wanted to tell Superman, of all people, that his samples weren't up to scratch. It had been easier to fall back on the incompatibility theory.

Lois had wondered briefly about her father's conclusions, and had decided with a tinge of bitterness that he would have been even more likely to shy away from such awkwardness.

It hadn't been until Klein had seen Superman's second sample — actually CK's — that he'd begun to suspect his mistake. Here was a sample in excellent condition, very similar to a normal human male's, and undoubtedly good enough to facilitate fertilisation. He'd been delighted to tell Superman the good news. He'd had no idea how such a dramatic change had taken place, but had assumed that Superman must have undergone some sort of Kryptonian transformation.

Then had come the third batch of tests, and the reversion back to infertility. Well, now that Dr Klein knew that he'd been testing two different people, everything was clear. Clark was infertile, while CK was not.

Dr Klein had then run through the various causes of male infertility with them. Or rather, he'd stumbled to a verbal standstill, then printed out a list from his computer and shoved it under their noses to read.

With sinking hearts, they'd read through a catalogue of blockages and obstructions, tumours and hormonal imbalances, finishing off with excessive stress and environmental toxins such as pesticides, radiation, and heavy metals.

Clark had laughed nervously. "Not much to work with, then."

Lois had reassured him that this was good news; that there was lots of chances for Dr Klein to find the answer, but she could see his initial optimism wavering as the size of the problem became apparent. Still, Dr Klein had done his best to be positive, pointing out that the most common cause was also the simplest to diagnose and the easiest to put right. Lois had refrained from stating the obvious — minor surgery was necessary, which in the case of an invulnerable man, wasn't exactly simple. Clark's long face had said it all for her.

However, there had been one piece of good news. Clark's latest test was actually better than his first one two years ago. Perhaps whatever was wrong with him was getting better all on its own.

Dr Klein had sent them home then, saying there was lots for everyone to think about and that he'd be in touch in a couple of days with a proposed plan of action.

Lois had been left with a brooding Clark for the rest of the evening and a considerably churned-up set of inner thoughts and feelings herself.

In bed, after they'd talked through the problem from every conceivable angle, Clark had lightened up a bit. He'd even regained some of his earlier optimism, and apologised for being such bad company.

"Well, you were kind of moody," she'd said, "but I forgive you. It's not like you didn't have a good excuse."

"Maybe so, but I should have remembered that this affects you just as much as it affects me," he'd replied.

"Yes. Talking of affecting…" She'd reached over and started nipping playfully at his earlobe, while letting her hand roam freely over his chest.

His hand had captured hers. "Not tonight, okay?" he'd said softly. "I'm really not in the mood."

"Oh, but we can soon change that," she'd murmured, moving closer to attack his chest with her lips.

She'd thought she'd won him over when he fell quiet for a few moments, but then his hands had gently lifted her head away from him. "Honey, if you're doing what I think you're trying to do, then I'd rather you didn't. Yes, I'll admit my ego's taken a major hit tonight, but I'm not that fragile. I don't need remedial treatment."

She'd nearly slapped him then. "Clark, if you think I'm doing this purely for your benefit, then I don't know where you've been during this marriage the past couple of years. Obviously not in the same place I've been!"

His eyes had widened in shock. "I…you know that's not true! We're about as close as two people can ever get in a marriage."

"Just not close enough for you to understand that I need you as much as you need me," she'd observed bitterly.

"Lois, of course I understand that! I live and breathe for you — you know that," he'd said.

"Well, show me, Clark," she'd urged. "Show me how much you live and breathe for me." To her confusion, her eyes had filled with tears and one solitary tear had begun making its way down her cheek. She'd had no idea why she was suddenly crying.

"Lois…" He'd rolled her over onto her back and captured her lips in a gentle, tender kiss that had made her cry even more freely. He was such a wonderful person, he didn't deserve all this bad luck! "Shhh…" he'd murmured, persisting with his kisses, distracting her from her tears, and finally lighting the blue touch-paper of her passion. Tumbling, hungry kisses had followed. They'd rolled freely around the bed, clinging to each other, devouring each other. The rest had passed in a searingly intense haze of desire.

Now, in the aftermath of that passion, he raised his eyebrows at her 'beast' comment. "Who, me? You weren't exactly decorum personified either."

Her grin broadened. "No, I wasn't, was I? I'm rather proud of that."

"You were a tornado," he said, stroking her hair. "Thanks for reminding me why I married you," he added.

"I thought you were after my mind, not my body," she said, pouting.

"Nope, I married the whole package," he replied. "Even the burnt toast."

"Hey!" She swiped his arm playfully. "I guess I got a pretty good deal, too," she relented, snuggling up into his broad chest. "And I've been thinking, by the way."

"You were thinking while I was doing all those wonderful things to you?" he said. "I'm not sure I find that very flattering."

"Well, okay, maybe not exactly thinking," she said with a sly smile. "Maybe you just inspired me."

"That sounds better. How did I inspire you?"

"All right, this might sound a little 'out there', but hear me out first, okay?" she began. "You know that long list of infertility causes Dr Klein gave us?"

He grimaced. "Honey, can't we leave that for tonight? We just made the most incredible love and I'd rather fall asleep thinking about that than Dr Klein and his lists."

"Don't worry, this is good news. Radiation was on that list, right?" She waited for his nod. "And what do we know that gives out harmful radiation — harmful to you, that is?"

"Kryptonite, I guess." He frowned. "So…you're thinking that kryptonite radiation is the cause of my problem?"

"Yes!" she replied. "It all fits, Clark. You've been exposed to it on and off for years, and a few times for pretty long periods, too."

"What about CK?" he objected.

"Maybe he hasn't had so much exposure as you. And think about it — when was the last time you were exposed?"

He thought about that for a second. "Must be over a year ago, I think. There doesn't seem to have been so many wackos getting hold of the stuff lately."

"Exactly. And what did Dr Klein say? Your last sample was better than the first one." She pushed herself up to face him squarely. "You're recovering, Clark! All you have to do is keep away from the stuff and you'll be as good as new."

He laughed — the first laugh she'd heard from him in ages. "Lois, you're a genius. I'll talk to CK tomorrow and find out whether he's had as much exposure as me." He kissed her. "Did I ever tell you why I married you?"

"Hmmm…for my body, wasn't it?"

"Nah. Definitely the mind." He winked. "And maybe the burnt toast."


CK was itching to know what Dr Klein had told Clark and Lois after he'd left with Jon. Not because he wanted to pry, but he was just darned curious to know why Dr Klein was so sure infertility was the cause of their problem. Clark was invulnerable and therefore presumably also as perfect physically as it was possible to be. CK was the same, now that his powers had kicked back in. So if Clark could develop some sort of abnormality, CK wanted to know how, because the same thing could happen to him.

He just hoped that he was a good enough friend to Lois and Clark these days that they'd let him into their confidence.

Not that things were looking good on that front, so far. Here they all were, sitting around after dinner watching Jon play on the carpet with his toys. Nothing had been mentioned so far. He supposed there hadn't been much opportunity this morning, when everyone had been in early- morning rush mode. And they'd talked amiably about politics and sport over this evening's meal, so that hadn't been a good time, either.

Maybe he'd just have to ask them straight up. If they didn't want to answer, they didn't have to.

"CK, Lois and I were talking last night, and she has this theory," said Clark, breaking CK's train of thought.

"Oh? What about?" he replied.

"Well, she thinks kryptonite might be the cause of my…well, my problem." Clark shifted uncomfortably and looked at Lois. "I guess I have to tell him, don't I?"

Lois shrugged. "It's your call, honey."

He sighed. "This isn't going to work unless there's no secrets between us." He shoved his glasses up his nose and leant forward on his knees. "The truth is Dr Klein thinks I have a fertility problem. He says there are any number of causes, from physiological to external causes like stress, but whatever it is, right now I wouldn't be able to father a child with any woman, whether from Krypton or Earth."

CK watched Clark state the very personal facts with disarming honesty, but even he could tell that Clark was more upset than he was letting on. The poor guy had to be pretty confused, considering he was used to thinking of himself as a completely and utterly healthy individual. Lois had snaked an arm around his waist while he'd been talking, so she was obviously aware of his feelings, too.

At least CK had his answer to yesterday's mystery, and it was definitely good news that Lois and Clark now had an explanation of their inability to have kids. But it was a surprising answer; certainly not what he'd been expecting. Like Lois, he'd imagined something far more obscure and difficult to explain; a small chemical difference, perhaps. Poor Clark — doubtless he'd now have to subject himself to a whole barrage of tests.

CK met Clark's steady gaze. "I'm sorry, Clark. I don't suppose you were expecting news like that when we started out on this thing."

Clark shrugged. "At least we have something to work with."

CK nodded. "You mentioned kryptonite," he prompted.

"Radiation causes infertility, and Clark's had a lot of exposure over the years," said Lois. "So we wanted to ask you how often you've been exposed."

"Oh! I see," he exclaimed, relieved to be contributing something constructive rather than just offering a sympathetic ear. "Well, a couple of times, I guess. The first time was the worst, when Mr Irig found this weird rock and brought it indoors to show me. Man, I'd never felt anything like it when he walked through that door — I actually passed out, the pain was so bad.

"Then there was Luthor's cage, but Lois got me out of that pretty quickly…" He paused, straining to remember what happened after that time.

"So you weren't stuck in there overnight?" asked Clark.

"Oh, no!" he said. "You mean you were?"

Clark nodded grimly.

CK winced. "Ouch. That must have been painful."

Clark glanced at Lois. "Yeah, it was pretty bad."

CK saw the couple exchange another supportive glance with each other. It dawned on him then that their experience must have been a lot, lot worse than his own. While his had been bad enough, it had at least been the turning point in his relationship with Lois. After the debacle of Lois's engagement to Luthor, he'd finally decided enough was enough and told her the truth about Superman. Things had been rocky for a while, but they'd worked it out together eventually. Lois and Clark, however, looked like they'd been through hell and back over the affair.

He pressed on, though, recalling a couple of other brief incidents, ending with the crazy guy who'd wanted to steal Superman's body and make it his own. What was his name again?

"Spenser Spenser," supplied Clark. "He was nuts! But is that all? What about the virus?"

"What virus?" asked CK. "Other than all those colds and coughs I caught on New Krypton?"

Clark raised his eyebrows towards Lois. "No virus," he commented in surprise.

CK demanded to know what on earth they were talking about, and received in return a hair-raising story of organised crime and just about the worst build up to Christmas he could imagine. Boy, he was glad that his universe didn't have the equivalent of Intergang — at least, not as far as he knew!

"So," said Lois. "Tell me, CK, what's the longest you think you've ever been exposed to kryptonite?"

He thought back over the years. "Couple of hours, maybe — in Luthor's cage. And that was a while back."

"Whereas you, honey," said Lois to Clark, "have had several long exposures. And it sounds like CK's never actually had the stuff inside him."

CK gasped. "Hold on there!" he said. "You mean you actually swallowed kryptonite?"

"Not deliberately," said Clark dryly. "And I've been shot at. Twice — with kryptonite bullets."

CK shook his head in amazement. "Man, and I thought I'd had a tough life! It sounds like you're lucky to be alive, Clark!"

Clark smiled ruefully. "I guess maybe I am. There always seems to have been some wacko out there with a lump or two of the stuff."

"In fact, my theory is right," said Lois in triumph. "CK's hardly had any exposure to kryptonite compared with you, honey. It's got to be the cause."

Clark straightened up and gave her a broad grin. "Did I ever tell you why I married you?"

Lois laughed. "Because I'm a genius?"

"Nope, because you're practically always right," he said with a wink.

CK joined in the laughter. "You made a big mistake there, my friend," he told Clark. "She'll never let you forget you admitted that."

"Too right!" said Lois. "He didn't need to include the 'practically' — oh, look, Clark!" She broke off and pointed over at Jon.

All eyes turned to Jon, who had pulled himself up onto his feet while hanging on to the edge of the coffee table. The little boy looked like he was concentrating hard, and there was a determined glint in his expression as he let go with one hand.

CK suppressed the urge to fall to his knees and encourage his son forward — this was Lois and Clark's moment. He just hoped Jon wouldn't look like too much of an expert!

It was Clark who scrambled to the floor and knelt a few paces in front of Jon. "Come on, Jon," he encouraged eagerly, his arms outstretched towards the baby. "Come to Daddy."

The word 'Daddy' tugged briefly at CK's heart. He totally sympathised with Clark for saying it, especially in the heat of the moment, but he really wished Clark would drop the term. After all, CK was Jon's Daddy, too — yet he wasn't allowed to refer to himself as such.

Everyone in the room held their breath as Jon let go of the table and tottered fairly sturdily across the carpet to Clark. A few paces later, he reached Clark and let out a happy giggle of triumph. They all clapped and cheered, and Clark swept him up into his arms and hugged him joyfully. "Oh, Jon, you're so clever!"

CK smiled fondly, recognising Clark's fatherly pride only too well. He was glad Lois and Clark had experienced this moment with Jon, even if it was slightly under false pretences. Just as well Jon couldn't talk yet, he thought ruefully.


The following day, Lois and Clark rushed over to Star Labs at lunchtime to discuss Lois's theory with Dr Klein. He hadn't been planning on seeing them for another day or so, but rallied around quickly and listened attentively while Lois told him everything they'd found out so far.

"Well?" said Lois when she'd finished. "What do you think?"

Dr Klein frowned. "It's certainly a good theory, and considering that Clark is invulnerable and in excellent physical condition, kryptonite radiation is about the one thing we know which does definitely affect him."

Lois whirled around to Clark. "See?" she said in triumph. "I'm right."

"Uh, I didn't say that, Lois," objected Dr Klein. "I said it was a good theory. Unfortunately, it's a theory we can't really prove — not without putting Clark at further risk."

"Which we are not going to do!" said Lois vehemently. "But it doesn't matter if we can prove it or not, does it? We just need to figure out the cure. If it doesn't work, we just think of something else to try."

"Lois, I don't think you can cure radiation," said Clark. "You just have to wait for the body to recover naturally. Isn't that right, Dr Klein?"

Klein nodded. "And assuming radiation is the cause, then we do have evidence that your body is already starting to repair itself. All you have to do is keep away from kryptonite and you'll probably recover completely in time."

"How much time?" asked Lois, knowing that Dr Klein had a talent for leaving out important details.

"How long? Well, let's see…" Dr Klein paced backwards and forwards while he gave the question some thought. "A year to eighteen months should do it, going on your progress so far."

Just as she'd suspected. Lois looked at Clark. "What do you think the chances are that no-one will come at you with kryptonite in that time?"

Clark grimaced. "Zero. I've been lucky so far this past year, but I'm sure there's still some of it out there. It's only a matter of time before it turns up, honey."

Lois sighed. "Yeah, I know." She looked at Dr Klein hopefully. "Isn't there anything we can do to speed the healing process up?"

"Well, not unless there's a way of speeding up Superman's metabolic rate," he replied. "And I'm not aware of anything which would do that. How about asking CK to take Clark's place as Superman for the next year or so? That would keep Clark safe from kryptonite, wouldn't it?"

Lois almost laughed, the idea was so ridiculous. "No way!" She heard Clark say it with her. "Don't you have any other ideas?"

Dr Klein shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry, but I don't see what else we can do other than let nature take it's course. Always assuming that we're right, and it is radiation that's causing your infertility, Clark."

"Well, is there anything else we can do in the meantime, in case it's not?" Clark asked. "I mean, I don't want to wait a year and then find out that it was a waste of time. Not that I don't agree with Lois that it's a good theory."

Lois slipped her arm loosely around her husband's waist. He really was coping with this very well, but it didn't hurt to give him a little extra support now and then. She knew he appreciated it, even if he didn't give away any outward signs that he needed it.

Meanwhile, Dr Klein was giving a stumbling, euphemism- ridden explanation of a few simple measures they could take. As he rambled on, she found herself becoming a bit impatient with him and wished he was less tongue-tied — this was difficult enough without a doctor who couldn't use direct and straightforward language to discuss these things.

Finally, she snapped. "I guess we should stop using condoms when we have sex, then?" she asked, cutting right across the doctor's ramble.

Both men stared at her as if she was crazy. Or rather, Clark looked as confused as heck and Dr Klein turned a predictable shade of pink. "Uh, what are you…we don't…" said Clark.

"Dr Klein?" she prompted. "What's your opinion on that?"

"I…I should have thought it was obvious," he said evasively.

"What's obvious?" she said.

"Well, that you should…that you shouldn't…"

"Shouldn't what?" she prompted again.


She silenced Clark with a glare. "Dr Klein? What shouldn't we do?"

"Lois, you know this!" protested Dr Klein. "This is crazy."

"Is it?" she said. "I just want to hear my husband's doctor give him some advice in plain, simple language we can all understand." She crossed her arms in front of herself and looked expectantly at him. "Well?"

Dr Klein squared his shoulders and appeared — at last — to understand what was required of him. He cleared his throat. "Yes, Lois, you're quite right — you shouldn't use condoms during sex while you're trying to conceive. I should have thought that much was obvious, but apparently I need to tell you this in order to pass some ridiculous test you've set me. Satisfied?"

"Yes. Thank you. Now, what else is there?" she said crisply. "Do you need to examine Clark physically?"

After that, Dr Klein was all business, confirming that he would indeed need to examine Clark in order to eliminate the most common physiological causes. He even described what would happen during the exam, reassuring Clark that it was a simple and straightforward procedure. He finished by repeating his other recommendations in succinct, direct terms, and then Clark made an appointment for his exam.

As they walked back to the jeep, Lois felt Clark slip his hand around hers. "Thanks for telling him, Lois. I've never felt comfortable discussing anything intimate with him, but I think you fixed him for good today."

"Well, he was getting on my nerves," she replied. "All that mumbo-jumbo about relations and extra pillows — he could have been talking about inviting your parents over for the weekend, for all the sense he was making."

Clark laughed. "Actually, talking of Mom and Dad, I was thinking — how would you like to spend a couple of days away from all this? I'm sure they'd love to see us. I thought maybe this weekend?"

Lois immediately thought it was a great idea to go away for the weekend. Things had been pretty intense since the day CK had arrived, and they were all tired. A couple of days away from paternity issues and infertility testing would be very welcome. She had her doubts whether they'd actually do much escaping if they were in the company of Clark's parents, but on the other hand, Jonathan and Martha were ready-made baby-sitters and they generally knew when to ease off on the probing questions. She and Clark could probably grab a few relaxed hours alone, too — that would be a real treat.

What of CK, though? Her instinct was to leave him behind, because he was part of the hassle they were trying to escape, but would Clark agree to that?

"Honey," she said, "I think it's a great idea. I'm sure CK would appreciate the time alone, too."

"You think?" said Clark. "I assumed we'd take him with us."

"Oh, please, let's not," she said. "I know he's been a lot easier to live with these past few days, but he's still the main cause of all this mess. Having him around is just going to keep me on edge the whole time we're away."

They reached the jeep, and Lois opened it with her remote. Clark went around to the passenger side while she got in at the driver's side. It wasn't until they were both seated inside and buckling up their seatbelts that Clark spoke up again. "You'd really prefer to leave him behind?"

She looked over at him. "Yes. It'll just be awkward if he's there — we won't be able to go out as a threesome because he looks exactly like you, and when we're at home we'll have to 'entertain' him. You and he will have to take turns at visiting the town." She shook her head. "Clark, it just won't be a break at all if we take CK."

He frowned. "I guess you're right. I just didn't want him to feel isolated."

"I think he'll welcome the freedom."

"Well, okay, if you're sure," he said.

"We'll tell him tonight," she said. "And you can phone your folks."

He nodded. "And who knows? Maybe they'll come up with an answer to the kryptonite problem."

"As long as we don't spend all weekend talking about it," she said.

"I'm sure we'll find some time for other activities," he replied with a wink.

Smiling, she laid a hand on his thigh and leant over to kiss him. "You bet," she murmured in his ear. "After all, we owe it to Dr Klein to practice his pillow talk."

"Mmmm…and the relations."

She slid her hand up his thigh a little further. "Definitely the relations."


CK was ready to go home. He wanted to return to his own world and start living life properly. Here, in this parallel universe, he was a misfit; a person with no fixed abode. He didn't really even have an identity here. On his Superman days, he was impersonating Clark, and on his Dad-days — as he'd dubbed his days at home with Jon — he wasn't even supposed to exist at all.

No, it was time to pick up the pieces of his old pre- Krypton life and establish a proper identity and a real position in the world. He'd re-apply for a job at the Planet and find a place to live. There should be some savings still left in his account, so even if he didn't get a job immediately, he could afford to rent for a few months. His personal stuff was hopefully safe in Perry's loft, so he shouldn't have to spend too much on clothes and so on. He even wanted to be Superman again. He'd probably start quietly, without a fuss — just the odd rescue here and there. Nothing spectacular. And if he had Jon with him — oh, God, how he hoped that he would! — he'd make sure his Superman work remained reasonably low-key. Jon would be his first priority, every time.

Martha's advice to not let Jon become the reason for his very existence came floating back to him. Well, it was good advice, but he thought he was ready to find the right balance. He had goals for himself in mind as well as goals for himself and Jon together.


He gazed down at his baby boy, sleeping peacefully in his arms after lunch. He yearned to take Jon home with him. Sometimes he wanted it so much his throat closed up and his heart thudded in his chest. This boy, so beautiful in sleep and so delightful when awake, was his own flesh and blood. When Jon laughed, so did CK. When Jon cried, the sound pierced CK's heart. And he carried his son's heartbeat with him wherever he went.

If he had to leave Jon behind, it would be like leaving part of his soul behind. He'd be incomplete without Jon.

He drew in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and rested his head back on the sofa cushions. There was little sense in working himself into a lather over the situation. It wasn't as if there was anything he could do about it right this minute.

And things were working out pretty well for Lois and Clark having a child of their own. If they could crack the kryptonite problem soon enough, there was every chance they could conceive within just a few months. Surely once they knew they could have a child of their own, giving up Jon would be easier for them. Not easy — he understood only too clearly that you couldn't just replace one child with another — but easier.

He sighed deeply and stood up carefully with Jon. Time to put him down in his crib for a nap.

Upstairs, he leant against the side of Jon's crib looking down at him. He would do everything in his power to provide well for Jon, but there was one thing he knew he could never provide. A mother.

Recently he'd prodded, very tentatively, the tender, bruised place that held his memories of Lois. He'd asked himself, ever so gently, if he could he ever have feelings for another woman.


He'd recoiled immediately from the thought; his stomach had knotted up and he'd almost felt physically sick. Lois was irreplaceable and he simply couldn't conceive of loving anyone else. They'd nearly been married — how could he possibly just switch off the part of him that had wanted to spend the rest of his life with her?

So was it right to bring Jon up without a mother? He knew there were plenty of men who did just that, and did it very successfully, but if there was a choice, he believed that a child was always better off with a Mom and a Dad.

By that logic, Jon would be better served by remaining here with Lois and Clark.

For a moment, he tried picturing himself handing Jon over to Lois then using Wells' device to travel back to his own universe. Alone. He tried picturing himself at home. Alone. He imagined himself coming home after work. Alone. Eating dinner. Alone.

His life would be a desolate, arid existence without his baby boy.

Reluctantly, he left Jon's crib and after a moment's hesitation, entered Lois and Clark's bedroom. There on the dresser, where he'd first seen it, was the picture of Lois cradling a much younger Jon in her arms. He picked it up and studied it again.

Lois looked wonderful in the picture, as if she'd just been given the best present in her entire life. This woman deserved a child of her own.

But as he gazed down at her, a memory stirred. That terrible day in Perry's office when his world had shattered. Perry's distant voice coming to him from down a very long tunnel, talking about a difficult pregnancy and an even worse birth. Telling him the worst news he could possibly imagine — death due to childbirth. The unspoken news, too, which was worse still — his alien genes had been the cause of her death.

CK slumped down onto the bed. How could he have forgotten this? He lived with Lois's death every day of his life, yet he'd not once remembered that she'd died because she'd been carrying his child. The implications for Lois and Clark were devastating.


"…and so we thought you might enjoy having the place to yourself for the weekend."

Clark paused and looked hopefully across the table at CK. He didn't, Clark thought, look particularly upset by the news that they were intending to take off for Smallville without him. Rather, he looked preoccupied with something else. His eyes were glazed over as if he hadn't heard a word Clark had said to him.

"CK?" Lois prompted. "Did you hear what Clark said?"

He blinked and focused on her. "Sorry. You said you're going to Smallville for the weekend?"

"Yes, with Jon," said Clark. "You'll be here on your own. Is that okay?"

"Sure," he replied, although it seemed to Clark that he still hadn't properly registered what they were telling him. Something was weighing heavily on CK's mind — that much was clear. Clark wondered what it could be. Was he having second thoughts about Superman again? He'd seemed pretty comfortable during the last few days when he'd been taking Clark's place, although Clark was aware that he hadn't really had to cope with anything particularly demanding. Maybe he was worried that he couldn't deal with a major incident. Or had something happened with Jon today that was bothering him?

"CK, is everything okay?" asked Clark. "You seem…well, a little preoccupied."

"Do I? Sorry, I didn't mean to be rude. So, you'll be taking Jon, I guess?"

Hadn't Clark just told him that? "Yes, we're taking Jon," he repeated patiently. "You'll have the house to yourself."

CK nodded. "Actually…" He hesitated for a second. "I think I'll take the opportunity to go back home for a couple of days."

Clark nearly gasped. Of all the things he might have expected CK to say, that had never occurred to him! "Why?" he said. "I mean, not that you shouldn't — I think it's great that you're thinking about it, actually — but why now?"

He didn't add that he'd thought CK had made up his mind not to leave without Jon! Clark's hopes soared momentarily — did this mean he was thinking of leaving Jon here for good? But no, he'd implied that he'd be back after a couple of days. Clark shoved his hopes back into a box and mentally knocked a few nails into the lid. Of course CK hadn't given up his ambition to take Jon home; neither would Clark if he were in CK's position.

"Well, I thought maybe I could start getting things ready for when I go home for good. I could look for a place to live, sort out my finances — that kind of thing," replied CK.

Clark nodded. "Sounds like a great idea, CK."

Okay, so it was more likely he was hoping to prepare things for when he took Jon home. Well, that was sensible. Clark would do the same, and he found that he was genuinely glad that CK was planning ahead. It meant that CK was at last thinking realistically about his future instead of dwelling on the past. And Jon would have a more stable home if…

Clark shoved that thought back in its box, too. He wasn't ready to think in such definite terms of losing Jon to CK.

"Thanks," said CK. "There's one other thing…"

He seemed about to continue, but then hesitated. Slowly, his troubled gaze slid away from theirs to focus on some distant point on the floor.

After waiting fruitlessly for CK to continue, Clark shared a look of concern with Lois — whatever was eating away at him was obviously pretty major. Clark also had the feeling that it affected them as much as CK. Lois clearly felt the same, her hand moving across the table to rest over his. He clasped her hand and squeezed gently.

She nodded slightly and turned to CK. "What is it, CK?"

He raised troubled eyes to her. "Lois, this affects you — but also you, Clark," he added, including Clark in his gaze. "I think in our enthusiasm to help you guys have a child of your own, we let ourselves forget something pretty important. Lois," he said, his voice dropping to a soft murmur. "Do you remember how my Lois died? The circumstances…?"


It was as if someone had just thrown a bucket of freezing water all over her. Yes, she instantly remembered it with cold clarity — the other Lois had died because she'd insisted on carrying CK's half-alien baby to term, despite a complicated and increasingly dangerous pregnancy. The implication was obvious.

Clark's hand tightened immediately on her own and she turned to him quickly. "Honey, it might not be the same for us!"

But she could see the tension in his face, and knew that he was already blaming himself all over again for being alien. She felt awful, too, because this meant that all their hopes had been dashed in an instant. Just when they'd thought they were beginning to find a way to have kids together, fate threw another obstacle in their path.

She whirled around to CK. "It needn't be the same for us!" she insisted. "Tell him, CK!"

"I-I don't know," he stammered. "I only know what Perry told me."

"Maybe he was wrong! Maybe he misunderstood what the hospital told him. He's not a doctor…Clark, it could have been anything," she said desperately, swinging back to her husband. "You know better than to believe an uncorroborated story."

"It all adds up, Lois," he said tightly. "Face it, honey — we're just not meant to have kids. It's unnatural, two different species having children together."

"No, Clark!" she said. "Don't you dare say that. Don't you *ever* dare say that," she said fiercely. "He's wrong, isn't he, CK?"

"I-I'm not sure. But that's why I have to go back," he said. "I'm going to visit the hospital and ask them what really happened."

"You see, honey? He'll go to the hospital and they'll tell him it was something else, won't they CK?" She looked at Clark's taut features and gripped his hand tightly with both of hers. "Clark…don't give up so easily," she pleaded.

He closed his eyes and dropped his head. "Lois, I'm sorry I make things so hard for you," he murmured.

"Honey, you don't!" she protested softly. She glanced helplessly at CK over the table. "Tell him, CK."

But CK seemed unable to reassure them. "I…I hope it's not true. And I promise you I'll do everything in my power to find out the truth. You guys deserve the best, that's for sure."

"Thanks, CK," she replied automatically, although her heart wasn't really in it. He wasn't helping at all by just sitting there and promising to do his best — Clark needed reassurance and CK just wasn't supplying it. "Can you give us a minute, CK?" she said.

"Oh. Sure," he replied with a note of surprise in his voice.

She waited until he'd left them alone, then put her arm over Clark's bowed shoulders. "Hey," she said softly. "This isn't like you. You usually roll with the punches. I'm the one who has to be told to pick herself up and start fighting again."

He sighed heavily. "I know," he said, raising his gaze to her face. "I guess I'm obsessing, aren't I?"

She reached up and stroked the side of his face. "Just a little. But I also think you're a little depressed, and that's upsetting your sense of balance about these things."

"It isn't fair, Lois," he said huskily. "We nearly had it all figured out, and now this. Why us? Why is it always us?"

"Lots of couples have problems like this," she said. "We're no different to them, really."

"But we are, Lois," he insisted. "Because of me. I'm different."

"Clark, don't say it like that. Yes, you're different, but I married you for those differences. I love your differences," she told him.

"But you wouldn't be in danger of dying from carrying my child if I wasn't different," he said. His hand closed over hers on the side of his face. "And meanwhile CK is off home to make things ready for when he takes our son away." He paused. "Call…call that a lot depressed," he murmured with a catch in his voice.

Wordlessly, she drew him into her arms. She held him tightly — fiercely, almost — trying to give him the extra strength he needed. She supposed that negative thoughts like these were pretty unfamiliar territory for Clark; he didn't usually let things get on top of him so badly. He was probably right, she thought — he was suffering from a fairly deep bout of depression.

The trouble was, she wasn't really up to talking him out of it.

Just as well they were going to Smallville this weekend. Clark's spirits almost always improved when he was on the farm, and his parents would help both of them.


"Hey!" Clark glared at Jon, who was sitting on the carpet opposite him with a broad grin on his face. "You did that on purpose!"

Jon grinned wider, leant over the nearly-defunct tower of bricks and waved a determined little arm through the remains, scattering bricks everywhere. Then he looked up at his Daddy with a cheeky, upturned face and giggled.

"This child has a great future ahead of him as a demolition man," Clark said dryly to his father.

Jonathan laughed. "Son, you were just as destructive at his age." He turned his attention back to the small wooden trolley on his lap. One of the wheels had lost its rubber tread, and he was fitting a new one. He tugged it into place and spun the wheel. "Good as new," he said with satisfaction.

Leaning down from his chair, he placed the trolley on the carpet. "There you go, Jon. Show Grandpa how good you are at walking."

"Dad, I don't think he's old enough for that," said Clark, as Jon crawled energetically across the carpet towards the trolley.

Jonathan cocked at eyebrow at his son. "We'll see."

They watched Jon reach the trolley and begin to push it experimentally with one hand. When it moved, he grinned and looked up at Jonathan. "That's it, Jon," encouraged Jonathan. He reached down, grasped the handlebar and pushed it back and forth a few times. "See, Jon? Now you try."

Jon reached up towards the handle, but didn't seem to comprehend that he needed to stand up to reach it. Clark hoisted him to his feet and helped him grasp the handle, but every time Clark withdrew his support, Jon folded back down onto his bottom.

"I don't think he's interested," said Clark, giving up and letting Jon play with the trolley in his own way.

Jonathan shrugged. "He'll figure it out soon enough. He's a smart kid."

Clark nodded. "Yeah." Clark fell quiet, gazing thoughtfully at his son.

Jonathan watched him, observing his preoccupied expression and the tense muscle jumping along his jaw. So far, Jonathan had kept his peace and not probed into his son's troubles, despite the clear signs that he was quite deeply depressed about something. Clark would ask for help if he needed it, Jonathan had reasoned. But seeing Clark's long face and lacklustre eyes as he watched his baby play made Jonathan decide to offer the chance for Clark to talk after all.

"Clark, I know you and Lois came here for a break," he said tentatively, "but if you want to talk about whatever's bothering you, you know I'm a pretty good listener."

Clark looked up and smiled weakly. "I know, Dad." He sighed and pushed a hand through his hair wearily. "The thing is, I'm not sure where I'd start."

Jonathan nodded, recognising his difficulty. "Starting's usually the hardest part. Why don't you just jump in somewhere and I'll catch you up?"

Clark watched Jon quietly for a few more moments before replying. "There's a chance Lois and I will be able to have kids of our own," he said softly, his eyes still on Jon.

"That's good news, isn't it?" said Jonathan, understanding from Clark's lack of enthusiasm that the issue wasn't that straightforward.

"Yes. But there's an even better chance that Lois would die giving birth to a child of mine." Clark reached out and stroked Jon's head fondly. "Just like this little guy's biological mother."

Jonathan's gaze darted to Jon, remembering at once the sad circumstances of his birth. "But you don't know for sure?" he said hopefully.

"No, that's why CK has gone back — to ask the hospital where she died." Clark sighed heavily again. "I know this is going to sound stupid and insecure, Dad, but it just seems like I'm the cause of all our problems right now. I'm the one stopping us from having kids, and even if we did manage to conceive, I'm the reason Lois could die."

"Son, we always knew that things would be different for you," pointed out Jonathan.

"I know, and I thought I'd gotten over that. I mean, I'm in my mid-thirties — if I haven't come to terms with being different by now… But this just seems to have brought it all back." He looked up at Jonathan. "Just for this one thing, I wish I was normal. I really, really wish it, Dad."

Jonathan pursed his lips, hearing the quiet despair in his son's voice and wishing there was something he could do to help. The thing was, he totally understood Clark's desperation, having experienced the same feelings himself. There was nothing that could cause the same aching sense of loss and impotency as not being able to have kids.

"But look at what you'd lose, Clark," he said, falling back on the tried and tested formula. "You're special-"

"I don't want to be special, Dad!" Clark interrupted. "You and Mom always bring that one up — so does Lois, even — but this time I just want to be normal. I don't want tests and theories and more tests. I don't want Dr Klein giving me and Lois advice on our sex life and handing out lists of infertility treatments. I don't want CK telling me my wife might die if she has my child. I don't even want to be told I'm special, amazing as that might seem," he added, a heavy note of irony creeping into his voice. "I just want to be normal!"

Clark was almost shouting by the time he finished his outburst and Jonathan glanced at the doorway to the lounge, half-expecting either Lois or Martha to appear wanting to know what was up. When they didn't come, he turned his attention back to his son, who was pinching the bridge of his nose in a pained gesture. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I didn't mean to yell at you."

Jonathan brushed off his apology. Clark had obviously needed to yell about it to someone, and Jonathan was more than happy to be that someone. It had been a long time since Clark had become so upset about his special circumstances, and Jonathan thought it just as well that he'd let go of his bottled-up feelings. He also decided that a longer talk was in order. "Let's take a walk," he said, standing up. "Your mother can take Jon for a while."


Coming back to his own world after a second longish absence was a strange and unnerving experience for CK. Confusingly, he'd felt totally like an outsider. Everyone else moved purposefully about their daily business, while he'd watched uselessly, like a spare part, from the sidelines. He hadn't expected that. When he'd arrived back from New Krypton, he'd been on the point of total collapse, both mentally and physically. This time, though, he'd been in a much more positive frame of mind, so to still feel alienated in his home world came as something of a shock. He'd wondered whether he was ever going to feel like he belonged anywhere ever again.

But soon he'd become too busy to think about such things. Chasing down an apartment to rent took up a lot of his time, as did re-activating his frozen bank accounts and reclaiming his possessions from Perry's basement.

In between all that, he'd made phone call after phone call to the hospital to try and trace anyone who had dealt with Lois.

And now here he was. He sank uneasily onto a sludge-brown plastic chair in the hospital waiting room and gazed around the room. It was a depressing place, with battered walls and dog-eared health notices stuck up with yellowing sellotape. Everyone around him looked lifeless and dull, as if they'd already written themselves off as hopeless cases.

So this was where Lois had spent her last days. He'd seen cheerier morgues. He could only hope that the in-patient rooms were brighter. The thought of her giving birth in surroundings like this was horribly depressing. The thought of her dying here left him even sadder — and outraged that she'd had to die so sordidly.

He'd wanted to come here to find out the truth about her death, but now that he was actually here, he wasn't sure he'd made the right decision. Better to imagine her passing away peacefully in the care of warm, kind-hearted professionals than to face the stark reality of this place.

"Mr Kent?"

He looked up to find a slim, competent-looking thirty- something woman looking down at him through large, red- rimmed spectacles.

"Yes," he replied, standing up automatically.

"I'm Dr Fielding," she announced, offering her hand.

He shook it. "Thanks for agreeing to see me, Dr Fielding."

"Uh, huh," she murmured noncommittally. "If you'll follow me?"

He nodded and walked the short distance with her to her office. This was better — she'd disguised the scuffed dirty-cream walls with a few cheery pot plants and a couple of Monet prints. The fake-beech furniture was fairly new and fresh-looking and sunlight streamed in through the window.

"Take a seat," she said, settling into her own chair behind the desk and indicating a chair opposite.

CK sat. "So what can you tell me about Lois, Dr Fielding?" he asked.

"Well, as you know, I was the doctor assigned to her case," she said, looking down at some notes on her desk. "I'm afraid Lois was a fairly sick woman when she came under my care, Mr Kent."

CK nodded. "I understand she'd had a tough time throughout the pregnancy."


Clark ambled slowly alongside his father, feeling more than a little foolish for having lost his cool in such an immature outburst. He hadn't yelled at his Dad for not being normal since he'd been a kid. He'd even included Lois in his rant, and that was totally unfair. She was the one being let down in all of this, not him. She was the one who couldn't have children because of him.

"Did I ever tell you why we couldn't have kids?" said his father suddenly.

Clark thought back quickly, but realised he'd never enquired. It hadn't seemed appropriate to ask, even if he'd wondered about the cause from time to time. "No. It seemed like an ungrateful question to ask, I guess."

"It was me," said his father, catching Clark off-guard with his bluntness.

Clark nodded a little awkwardly, not used to discussing such personal matters with his father. A quick glance reassured him that his Dad wasn't at all uncomfortable about discussing the subject, even if he was himself. "Did they find out why?" he asked, interested despite his own embarrassment.

"Not fully. Oh, we had plenty of tests done, but in those days people didn't know as much about infertility as they do now," replied his father. "There's probably a simple operation nowadays for whatever caused it."

"So you just had to accept there was a problem that couldn't be fixed."

His father laughed dryly. "Oh, we didn't accept anything! We tried everything, from old wives' tales to trendy hippy- style cures. Your mother acquired a huge library of books on the subject." Jonathan smiled fondly. "She was never one to quit easily."

Clark nodded. "She'd want to learn everything there was to know about it."

"Yes. And everyone had advice for us — that was the worst part. Wherever we went, people wanted to talk to us about it." Jonathan chuckled. "Or worse still, tried everything they could *not* to talk about it."

"I bet that was the worst of all," agreed Clark.

His father shook his head. "No, actually, the worst part was knowing it was all my fault. That was tough, Clark. Your Mom deserved to have kids and I knew she'd be a wonderful mother, and there I was, an inadequate husband who couldn't give her those kids."

Clark gazed in consternation at his Dad. "Surely you never really thought that?"

"Believe me, Clark, I did. Those were pretty low times for me — I even considered offering your mother a divorce."

"You're kidding!" Clark exclaimed in horror.

His Dad shrugged. "I was young. And probably too wrapped up in my own depression to see sense. Luckily your mother had enough sense for both of us and I was never given the chance to wreck our marriage over it."

Jonathan stopped walking and placed his hands either side of Clark to draw him around face to face. "The point is, son — I know what you're going through. I know how hard it is for you."

Clark stared deep into his father's eyes, seeing there the love and concern for his son's well-being. A lump formed in his throat and he had to drop his gaze to the ground. "It is hard, Dad," he said. "It's tearing me apart inside. And I sort of hate myself for that — I mean, Lois is as much affected by all this as I am. I ought to be supporting her, instead of wallowing in my own feelings."

"I'm sure you give Lois plenty of support, son — just as she helps you. You two are talking about this, aren't you?"

Clark grimaced. "All the time. We don't talk about much else, in fact."

Jonathan sighed. "Sounds familiar. But try not to make it the only thing that matters in your lives. I know that's hard, but you'll only make yourselves miserable if you do."

The lump in Clark's throat grew larger. "I am pretty…"

"I know. You have to stop blaming yourself, Clark." He felt his father's hands tighten on his upper arms; felt how much his Dad wanted to convince and reassure him. "If there's one thing I learnt all those years ago, it was that it didn't matter why we couldn't have kids. What mattered was that we shared the problem and dealt with it together, as equal partners."


His Dad turned and started walking again. Clark fell in beside him, and together they ambled along without talking for a while. Clark was grateful for the chance to pull himself together and reflect on his father's advice. There was no doubt it was sound. He couldn't help thinking his and Lois's situation was far more complicated than his father's, but he resolved to do his best to follow that advice. Wallowing in self-pity certainly wasn't doing him any good.

"So how are the tests going so far?" asked his Dad after a few minutes.

Clark shrugged. "We haven't really gotten started yet. I guess the good news is that Dr Klein says I'm already improving from the very first tests he did." Clark went on to explain the kryptonite theory. "So if we could just find a way to speed up the healing process, we'd have a good chance of having a kid."

He sighed heavily. "If that's even worth trying, of course. There's no way I'd want Lois to be in any danger."

His Dad nodded his understanding. "Speed you up, huh?" He chuckled. "You're already pretty fast, son."

Clark smiled wryly. "I guess so. Not fast enough for this, though."

"I remember when you thought you were too fast," added his Dad. "Didn't you accidentally drill a hole in the road?"

"Yeah, Perry's son and the red krypton…" Clark stopped suddenly. A memory had just hit him like a bolt from the blue.

Red kryptonite! It sent his powers into overdrive — surely that meant his whole body had been on fast-forward. And if that was the case, maybe it would speed up his healing abilities, too!

"Dad, you're a genius!" he exclaimed, clapping a hand on his father's shoulder.

Jonathan looked nonplussed. "I am?"

"Yes…" Clark took a few moments to explain his new theory. "Come on, we have to tell Lois!" he said, turning around quickly to hurry back to the farmhouse.


CK pushed the door of his new apartment open and stepped inside. Packing cases still littered the lounge, and to one side, a solitary two-seater sofa sat forlornly — the only piece of furniture he'd managed to pick up so far. Still, it wasn't a bad place, he thought, surveying the room slowly. Nice and roomy, with a good-sized bathroom, a nice kitchen and, of course, a second bedroom.

His eyes settled on the door to that room. He'd make it really bright and cheerful in there — lots of sunny colours and cheery fabrics. Plenty of storage, too. That was one thing he'd learnt from Lois and Clark — you could never have enough storage when you had kids.

He picked his way through the packing cases and sat on the sofa, setting the package he'd been carrying on his lap. Pulling away the wrapping, he gazed down at the brightly- coloured box with a smile. Okay, so it had been an impulse buy, but after his visit to the hospital, he'd needed something to cheer himself up with. Feeling like a kid at Christmas time, he opened the box and lifted out his prize possession.

The toy truck was exactly right, he decided. Not too big, not too small. It had interesting knobs and levers to push and pull, and best of all, a siren and lights that flashed when you pushed it along the carpet. Jon would love it.

He placed it on the floor and settled back on the sofa. Yes, he was jumping the gun, but he'd promised himself he wouldn't go mad and buy any more baby things just yet. The truck was just his lucky charm. It would be here waiting for his son if his dream ever came true and Clark and Lois decided to give CK custody. And he felt really good about buying something for his very own little boy.

Gazing at the packing cases again, his thoughts wandered back to his meeting with Dr Fielding at the hospital. He'd been lucky she'd been willing to tell him so much about Lois, really.

"Have you heard of a condition called preeclampsia, Mr Kent?" she'd asked, looking up from her notes.

"Um…sort of," he'd replied. "It affects pregnant women, doesn't it?"

"Yes. It affects around one in twenty women here in the US, and is characterised by high blood pressure and a range of associated symptoms. Lois developed the condition fairly early during her second trimester." Dr Fielding sighed heavily. "We're usually pretty effective at managing the condition, Mr Kent — a combination of bed rest and medication controls the blood pressure, and often the mother delivers normally. I'm afraid this wasn't the case with Lois."

Clark digested the information. He'd heard of women being sent to bed during their pregnancy, but hadn't known why. High blood pressure — okay, that made sense, but now he needed to know what could cause that. And why hadn't the usual treatment worked for Lois?

"I'm guessing that bed rest didn't go down too well with Lois," he said.

Dr Fielding nodded with a regretful smile. "But she was pretty good. She clearly wanted to give that baby every chance she could."

"So what went wrong?" he asked.

"Who knows? We did everything we possibly could, but we just couldn't control her condition. It happens, Mr Kent — rarely, but it does happen." Dr Fielding gave him another look of regret and looked down at her notes again.

He watched her shuffle the papers around for a few moments. Something didn't ring true. She'd been open with him at the start of their meeting, but now she seemed to have clammed up. Why?

The silence between them stretched out further.

"What aren't you telling me?" he blurted out suddenly.

She looked up slowly. "I'm not sure what you mean, Mr Kent. I've told you why Lois died."

"But there's something else, isn't there?" he insisted. "Something contentious that you don't want to admit to."

This was it, he was sure. This was the real reason she'd died, and it would be because he was an alien. He leaned forward and looked straight at her. "Please tell me, Dr Fielding," he implored. "You've no idea how important this is."

She frowned. "I've already told you more than I should. You're not even a relative."

"I nearly married her!" he exclaimed impatiently. "Isn't that close enough?"

She glanced down at her notes again and drummed her fingers on the desk thoughtfully. "Mr Kent, may I ask you something personal?"

"Anything you like," he replied, prepared to tell her just about anything she wanted to know if it would persuade her to tell him more about Lois.

"Were you the father of Lois's baby?"

"Of course I am!" he said. "I thought you already knew that."

She reached over the desk and placed a hand on his arm. "You didn't actually mention it," she said softly. "I'm sorry — this must be very upsetting for you."

"I'm fine," he replied gruffly. He hadn't realised he'd been showing his feelings so obviously. He took a deep breath. "But thank you for asking."

She gave his arm a quick squeeze and continued. "Usually, in serious cases like Lois's, we'd deliver the baby early. That way we reduce the risk to Mom and the baby has a reasonable chance of survival, even though it's premature. Lois refused to let us do that. She must have really wanted that baby, Mr Kent. She didn't want us to do anything to endanger its life, even if it meant risking her own."

"Oh." Lois must have been so scared. All on her own, sick, and knowing that her doctors had never dealt with a case like hers before. She'd had to make decisions and face a situation no-one should have to cope with alone. A large lump formed in his throat and tears pricked the back of his eyes. He screwed them up and tried to stem the threatened flow by pinching the bridge of his nose. "Sorry," he said roughly, as tears escaped around his fingers despite his efforts.

"It's okay," said Dr Fielding. "Of course, we argued with her. We did everything in our powers to persuade her to change her mind, but in the end we were forced to accept her choice. We were only permitted to intervene if the baby's health looked to be at risk. Mr Kent, I have to tell you, she was a very brave young woman."

He fought with his runaway emotions, telling himself to get a grip. It wasn't as if he'd learnt anything he didn't already know. Perry had told him before that Lois had ignored medical advice and carried Jon to term. It just hadn't seemed so real as it did now, sitting in the very hospital where she'd died.

The ultimate sacrifice.

He'd always thought it an overly-dramatic phrase, but it fit Lois's choice exactly. She'd given her life so that his son could have the very best start in life.

How he wished he'd been with her, had known her exact thoughts. He'd have talked her out of it.

"So," he said, but the word turned into a half-sob and he had to begin again. "So what caused the preeclampsia?"

"Well, there are a number-"

"Could it have been because of who I am?" he blurted, opening his eyes to look at her. "You…you do know…?"

She nodded. "Yes. I wasn't going to mention it, since you hadn't…you have a right to be treated just like anyone else, after all." She smiled suddenly. "We missed you, Superman. It's good to have you back."

"Th-thanks," he said, still a little uncomfortable with being reminded of his other persona. "So could Lois's condition have been caused by me?"

Dr Fielding frowned, then looked down to study her notes for a while, drumming her fingers again on the desk. Clark tried to read the notes upside-down, but they were written in an illegible scrawl, and the few words he could make out looked highly technical and totally incomprehensible.

"That's an easy solution to fall back on," she said finally. "Blame the unfamiliar, because that way no-one can argue with you. But in Lois's case, I don't think we can do that. The fact is, we don't actually have a good understanding of the causes of preeclampsia. We do know, however, that five per cent of pregnant women will suffer from it. Forget unknown factors like the lineage of the father — those five per cent will develop the condition irrespective of anything else. Now, obviously it's possible that your genes were a contributing factor, but it's equally possible that Lois would have gotten sick anyway. She even mentioned to me that her mother also developed the condition when she was carrying her sister, so it looks like there was a predisposition towards preeclampsia in the family."

Dr Fielding drew a breath and looked Clark in the eye. "The bottom line is this, Mr Kent — you can't blame yourself for your fiancee's death."

He dropped his eyes from her perceptive gaze. So the real reason for his enquiries was finally out in the open. He'd hoped to avoid this, had meant to be more subtle in his questioning, but his emotions had let him down. He swallowed hard, determined not to embarrass himself any more by breaking down again. Instead, he made himself sift through the information she'd just given him. It seemed to make sense, but there was still a nagging doubt in his mind. "But I could have been a factor?" he said, finally.

"There's a million things which could have been a factor, Mr Kent. Don't beat yourself up over a maybe." She laid her hand on his arm again. "Look, you're obviously very upset about all this — understandably so. If you like, I can arrange for you to talk to someone — nothing dramatic, just a person who's a good listener and who can help you deal with your loss. What do you think?"

He shook his head. "Thanks, but no. I…I think I've pretty much gotten over…well, as much as I ever will, I guess. It was just coming here today and talking to you — it brought everything back. I…I'll be fine."

"Well, if you change your mind, just call my secretary and she'll give you the names of a couple of good people. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"No." He stood up, suddenly anxious to be away from the place. "Thank you, Dr Fielding. You've been very kind," he said, holding out his hand to her.

She clasped it firmly. "My pleasure, Mr Kent. I hope things turn out okay for you."

"Thank you. And thank you for taking care of Lois."


Martha watched with a sinking heart as her daughter-in-law beat the sponge-cake mixture to within an inch of its life. Poor mixture. She seriously doubted the cake would rise at all after Lois was finished with it.

"Clark is such a natural father," said Lois, pounding the spoon around the mixing bowl. "He's always been good with kids, but when Jon came along, he really…well, blossomed, I guess. Can men blossom? It doesn't sound like a very guy thing to do. Anyway, you know what I mean — something just seemed to switch on inside him."

Martha nodded her agreement. "Lois, I think you've mixed that enough," she said. "If you beat it any longer, we'll end up with cookies, not sponge-cake."

"I thought you had to beat cakes?" said Lois, pausing in her abuse of the mixture.

Martha shook her head. "Rich fruit cakes, maybe, but not light and airy sponge cakes." She laughed at Lois's crestfallen expression. "Oh, don't worry! Let's just get it into the oven and see what happens."

She took the bowl from Lois and poured the hapless mixture into the sponge tin.

"I knew this was a mistake," said Lois. "Even under close supervision, I'm a culinary Dan Quayle."

Laughing, Martha placed the tin into the oven and set the timer. "That poor man just didn't seem to be able to say anything right, did he?"

"No," replied Lois. "Anyway, getting back to Clark — it just doesn't seem fair that he's awakened all these wonderful fathering instincts and now it looks like he won't get to use them. I'm worried about him, Martha. I've never seen him so depressed."

Martha frowned. Of course, she'd noticed how low-spirited her son was, despite his attempts to cover it up. And Lois had already explained Clark's fertility problems and the possible risks to her own health if they ever managed to overcome those problems, so she understood why Clark was depressed. But surely they still had Jon?

"Honey, it sounds like you've already decided to hand over Jon," she observed with concern. "I thought that wasn't settled yet."

Lois sighed heavily. "No, it's not, Martha. But as each day passes, I see fewer and fewer reasons why we should legitimately keep him. I mean, legally and maybe even morally, custody belongs with the biological father. The reason we didn't immediately hand Jon over — apart from the obvious one that we've been his parents for the past nine months — was that his father didn't seem to be a fit parent." She sighed again. "But even that doesn't seem to be true any more. I wanted CK to make mistakes with Jon, but even I have to admit he's been pretty good these past few weeks. Clark's made more errors of judgement than he has."

Martha looked over at her only grandson, who had somehow managed to get himself tangled up in the handle of the trolley Jonathan had given him and was crawling around trailing the thing behind him. "But you're his parents," she protested weakly. It was going to break her heart if she had to say goodbye forever to the adorable bundle of fun on the floor in front of her.

"I know," said Lois sadly. "But so is CK."

Martha was about to answer when the door burst open and Clark rushed eagerly up to his wife, followed more sedately by a rather bemused-looking Jonathan. "Honey, Dad's had a brilliant idea!"

"He has?" said Lois, then looked beyond Clark to Jonathan. "You have?"

Jonathan shrugged. "Apparently so, but you'd better get Clark to explain it."

Jon suddenly let out a wail of protest, and when Martha looked down, it was clear that being tangled up in a wooden trolley had just lost all of its appeal. He was on his hands and knees, sobbing his little heart out with frustration at the stupid thing that wouldn't let go of him. She bent down and scooped him up into her arms. "There, there, sweetie," she cooed. "Let's listen to your Daddy explain why your Grandpa is brilliant."

She gave her husband a bright smile and turned to Clark. "This, I have to hear," she said wryly.


CK stood at the door to his new apartment, giving it one last look. He'd spent the rest of the day after coming back from the hospital unpacking crates and generally making the place look as welcoming and as homey as he could. There was fresh paint on the walls, Jon's room was ready, complete with crib and changing table, and he'd cleaned all the carpets and every single surface to near- clinical standards of cleanliness. He still didn't have much furniture, so the main room looked pretty empty, but at least it looked fresh.

He'd even found time to make enquiries at the Planet about a job. The new editor hadn't been able to make him any promises, but he'd mentioned a possible position on the sports desk. From the sound of it, it was a pretty junior position, but since Clark didn't know much about sports reporting, that was probably a good thing. Obviously, he'd have preferred a job on the city desk, but any job was better than no job at all. Also, once he'd got a foot inside the door, he'd stand a better chance of transferring back to his old beat.

So it was time to return to Lois and Clark's universe and tell them what he'd learned at the hospital. He looked down at the small device in his hand. This was his least favourite part — universe-hopping, he'd discovered, made him feel queasy. He sighed and pressed the relevant buttons.


Clark laid back on Dr Klein's examination table and rested his head gingerly on the pillow. He knew he ought to relax — that he was in good hands — but he couldn't help feeling nervous. He was about to subject himself to a close encounter with a variant of the mineral which had brought him an awful lot of pain and nearly killed him on more than one occasion. Was he crazy, or what?

"Comfortable?" asked Dr Klein.

"Yes." Edgy, but comfortable.

"Relax, Clark. This won't hurt a bit, I promise you."

Clark nodded. "I know. Red kryptonite's a breeze, huh?"

Because once he'd returned to Metropolis with Lois and Jon, they'd rushed over to Star Labs to tell Dr Klein about the red kryptonite theory. Surely, Clark had explained, if the mineral caused his powers to go into overdrive, then it must cause his whole metabolism to speed up. If he was exposed to red kryptonite, therefore, he would recover more quickly from the green kryptonite radiation and subsequently regain his normal fertility. Dr Klein had agreed that it was an interesting theory and definitely worth putting to the test — under strictly-controlled conditions, of course.

So here Clark was, subjecting himself to a close encounter with something he'd usually go to great pains to avoid. A breeze? Who was he kidding?!

"Exactly. Now, I'm just going to put these monitors on you, just to be safe." Dr Klein slipped a couple of chest monitors under Clark's open-necked shirt. He glanced at the screen to the side of the examination table which was now displaying Clark's vital signs and nodded. "Okay, that looks fine. Ready?"

"As I'll ever be, I guess."

"Here we go."

Clark tensed and held his breath as the doctor lifted the lid of the box containing the red kryptonite.

But as promised, he felt nothing.

"Still okay?" asked Dr Klein.


"All right, I'll leave you to relax for half an hour. I'll be keeping an eye on your readings from my office, so there's no need to worry. If anything goes wrong, I'll see immediately," said Klein. "Although I'm sure it won't," he added hastily.


As Dr Klein left, Clark reflected that the good doctor's bedside manner seemed to be improving a little. At least he tried to offer reassurance! If only Clark could be as sure that everything would be okay. This might not be green kryptonite, but his experience with the red variety hadn't exactly been a picnic either.

He closed his eyes and willed himself to forget his surroundings and think calming thoughts.

Lois hadn't been as enthusiastic as either Clark or Dr Klein, of course. She'd pointed out the risks — as if Clark wasn't already acutely aware of them! — and said she didn't want a husband who was apathetic or not in control of his powers, or worse still, both together at the same time.

Clark had insisted that the effects would only be temporary, if they even manifested themselves at all. Dr Klein was planning on fairly controlled and minimal exposures, after all. And at least this time they'd understand what was happening to him. A day or so's inconvenience was worth the chance of having a child, he'd told her. Privately, he'd been as concerned as she, but he truly did believe the small risk was worth the reward.

Well, in theory. Lying here with that rock just feet away from him wasn't doing much for his nerves. His heart was thumping in his chest.

Hang on, maybe it was supposed to do that. Maybe that meant it was working. He reached over his body and felt for the pulse in his wrist. Yes, racing along as if he'd just lifted a spaceship into orbit. No wonder it felt warm in here.

So Lois had agreed — grudgingly. They'd even agreed that this was worth trying, whether or not CK came back with good news from the other universe. The sooner they got started on Clark's 'cure', the sooner they could have kids — if it was good news. If it was bad news, then no harm would have been done — they'd have simply restored Clark back to normal health. Lois had added a proviso — if Clark's health looked to be at risk at any point, the tests were to stop immediately. There wasn't any sense in making him ill over this. What use would he be as a Dad if he was sick?

She had a point.

He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at the rock. Just as well he didn't have a phobia about being treated like a lab rat…hold on, he did, didn't he?

He laughed. Who cared? Lab rat, space rat — it was all the same to him. Chill, Kent, he thought with amusement.

Chill. Hmmm.

Cue the music, cue DJ Kent, king of the Kryptonian krap…rappers.

'Well I was walkin' along, doin' ma' thing, when a red rock hit me, right on the head. I said to the rock, hey give me a break, 'cos Lois ain't here and ya know she can't bake.'

Nope, that didn't sound right. Try again, DJ Kent…

'Well, I was walkin' along, doin' ma' thing…'


Lois hurried into Dr Klein's lab, conscious that she was already late. She and Clark had arranged that she'd pick him up at six pm, but a last-minute phone call had delayed her at the Planet, and now it was six fifteen.

"Sorry I'm late," she told Dr Klein. "How did it go?"

"Oh, fine," said Dr Klein. "We finished up about twenty minutes ago, and Clark's been resting next door ever since. I think he'll be glad to see you."

She nodded. Dr Klein had warned Clark that he'd be required to rest quietly for a short period after exposure, but she knew that Clark wouldn't enjoy just lying around doing nothing. "I'll go rescue him," she said with a grin.

She entered the side room where Clark was lying flat out on an examination table with his eyes closed. Smiling, she tip-toed up to him, leant over and pressed her lips to his.

She felt him smile against her lips. "Mmmm, Dr Klein, I didn't think you cared," he murmured.

She chuckled. "Be careful — maybe I *am* Dr Klein."

"Nope, only my wife laughs like that." He opened his eyes and gazed up at her. "Does this mean I'm free to go at last?"

"Yes, you're a free man."

She stepped back to let him sit up and swing his legs down to the ground. Beaming at her, he stood up, but then faltered and gripped the side of the table tightly.

Her heart did a small thud. "Everything okay?"

He smiled again. "Sure! Just sat up too quickly. I'm fine." He stood up. "Come on, let's get out of here before Dr Klein mistakes me for one of his lab rats."

He laughed briefly at his own joke, and she looked askance at him — that subject wasn't usually a laughing matter with Clark. He merely shrugged and walked to the door. She followed him back out into the lab, watching him closely for any further signs of dizziness. He seemed fine, but this was unknown territory for all of them, and despite her confidence in Dr Klein's abilities, she couldn't help worrying a little.

"So, I'll see you in a couple of days time for the tests?" said Clark to Dr Klein, who was sitting at his workbench typing notes into a computer.

"Yes, that should be about right," replied Klein.

"Okay." He swayed almost imperceptibly and steadied himself with a couple of fingers on Dr Klein's workbench. "Oops."

"Clark?" She hurried to his side and placed a supporting arm around his back. "What's wrong?"

He shook his head. "Just a little dizzy, that's all. I'm fine, really."

"Why don't you sit down for a minute?" She indicated the stool next to Dr Klein's, pushing him down onto it with little difficulty. "Dr Klein?" She looked anxiously at the doctor.

"Oh, don't worry — I half-expected this." Dr Klein slid off his stool and picked up Clark's wrist. After a pause, he continued, "We've bumped up your metabolic rate so high, it's not surprising you're a little light-headed. It's putting an extra strain on your power supply, so to speak."

"You never mentioned this before!" exclaimed Lois.

"Well, I wasn't sure," said Klein. "This is new for me, too, you know."

"You're not exactly inspiring confidence, Dr Klein!" she said.

"Hey, give the doc a break, Lois," said Clark from his stool. "He's only doing his best, aren't you, Bernie?"

'Bernie'??? Since when did Clark start calling Dr Klein by his first name? Suspicious now, she reached down and turned Clark's face towards hers. He gave her a big sloppy grin. "Hi."

Oh, boy. "Clark, are you all right?"

"Never better, sweetness. I'm cool — real cool. I'm the king of cool." His grin broadened. "The Klyp…Kryk…Kryptonian king of cool. The Klyp…Kryp…thing king of Kent cool. The kickin' Klyp…Kryt…"


He stopped abruptly and raised he eyebrows enquiringly at her. "Yes, oh, light of my life?"

"Are you drunk?" she asked incredulously.

"Kryptonians don't get drunk," he said very seriously, then brightened immediately. "Hey, that reminds me — I wrote a rap song. D'ya wanna hear it?"

"Not right now, honey." She looked at Dr Klein accusingly. "Okay, so how long am I stuck with a drunken Superman who can't control his powers?"

"It'll pass in a couple of hours, I'm sure," said Klein blithely. "I guess this is just a variation on the apathetic state he's suffered from before. At least he's happy," he added, as Clark began drumming rhythmically on the bench, using his forefingers as drumsticks and swaying to his own beat.

Lois sighed. "I'm not sure if that makes him any safer, though."

And as if he'd heard her, Clark suddenly lost his balance on the stool. "Whoops," he said merrily, as both Lois and Dr Klein grabbed him and propped him upright again.

"Just go home and rest, Clark," said Dr Klein. "And remember what we said — absolutely no use of superpowers tomorrow. We don't want to risk you drilling a hole in the ground like last time!" He laughed, but at her withering glare he quickly sobered. "Just take things nice and easy and you'll be fine."

"See, honey?" said Clark. "I told you I'm okay."

She eyed his upturned, dopey face and thought in addition to looking a little like the village idiot, he also looked paler than usual. "Let's just get you home," she said in resignation, seeing that it was pointless to argue with him. "Dr Klein, do you mind walking with us to the car? In case Clark gets dizzy again."

"Of course!"


Lois drew up outside the house, put the car into park and switched the engine off. So far, so good. The worst her tipsy husband had done so far was mist up the window with his breath and then draw pictures of Superman's shield with his finger. Jon, meanwhile, was sleeping peacefully in his baby seat at the back.

"Clark," she said, tugging at his shoulder to draw his attention away from his finger art.

He swung around and beamed at her. "Yes, oh, light of my life? Centre of my world, focus of my entire being, the light to which I fly-"

"Stay here while I take Jon inside, okay?" she told him firmly. She didn't want him weaving drunkenly up the steps, or even worse, deciding to fly up, or worse still, falling over his feet and crashing back down again. "I'll be back in a minute to help you up the steps."

"Okay," he replied brightly, and promptly opened his door.

"No!" she said, leaning over him and pulling it shut again. "Stay here. I'll only be a minute."

"Okay." Abruptly, he put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her towards him. "Have I told you I love you today?"

"I'm sure you have, sweetheart," she said, extricating herself from his embrace. "Now sit tight and I'll be back soon."

"But did I kiss you when I said it? That's important, you know. Just because we're married we shouldn't stop kissing." He lunged towards her clumsily, pouting his lips ready for a kiss. She caught him before he collapsed on top of her and propped him back on his seat. "You didn't kiss me," he said in a crestfallen voice.

Oh, for heaven's sake! She gave him a quick peck on the lips. "There. Now stay until I come back."

She bolted from the car before he could make another move on her, raced around to collect Jon and hurried up the steps. To her utter dismay, he was waiting for her at the top. The only way he could have reached there before her was by using his superspeed.

"Hi," he said. "Are we going inside now?"

She glanced up and down the street, anxiously checking for onlookers. "Clark, you can't do that!" she hissed. "People will see you."

"No, they won't, 'cos I'm not wearing the suit." He grinned triumphantly at his impeccable logic and then stroked Jon's little cheek. "I think your Mom's mad at me," he confided to his son's sleeping form.

"And you might have smashed the door down in your current state," she hissed. She turned her attention to the door, but just as she was about to put her key in the lock, the door opened.

"Can I help?" asked Superman.


CK had only been back for around an hour. He'd wandered restlessly around the house for a while before selecting a book and settling down to read until Lois and Clark returned home. His attention had kept drifting — he was too alert to their imminent arrival to concentrate — so when his enhanced hearing had picked up familiar voices outside, he'd immediately focused on the conversation. Clark had sounded a bit odd — odder by the minute, in fact — and when Lois had admonished him twice in quick succession, he'd decided that maybe he could help by pouring calming oil on their troubled waters. Of course, two Clarks couldn't be seen on the street together, so the suit had been the obvious choice.

"Yes," replied Lois immediately, hardly batting an eyelid at his sudden appearance. "See if you can get Mr Uninhibited here to step inside his own house without making a scene."

She stomped past carrying Jon, leaving him with a rather loose-limbed Clark leaning up against the wall. Clark raised a hand and pointed vaguely at CK. "Hey, you're wearing a suit just like mine! Did your Mom make yours too?"

CK craned his head forward and peered at him. "Clark? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. D'ya wanna hear a rap song?" As Clark spoke, his body slid slowly sideways, and CK had to catch him before he crumpled to the ground. "Whoops!" he said merrily. "The wall moved."

"No, you did, Clark," said CK, holding onto him firmly to keep him upright. "Come on, let's get you inside."

CK wrapped a firm arm around Clark's back and under his arm and marched him through the door, flicking it shut behind him with his foot. Once inside, he frog-marched a fairly willing Clark over to a sofa and sat him down. "Clark, are you drunk?!" he asked, hardly believing he was even asking his level-headed double such a question.

Clark shook his head vigorously, then stopped suddenly. "Whoa," he said, looking incredibly dazed. "Who turned on the special effects?"

Well, it might be an impossibility in CK's experience, but it certainly appeared that Clark was indeed drunk. "I think maybe you should lie down," he said, standing up to give Clark room to lie flat. Without waiting for his permission, he picked up Clark's feet, swivelled him around and laid his legs full-length on the sofa. Clark didn't seem to mind a bit, and simply let his top half flop down onto the cushions.

CK stared down at him, unsure of what to do next.

"Be gentle with me, Superman," said Clark with a sloppy grin.

While he was thinking of a suitable riposte to that, CK was relieved to hear Lois returning to the living room. "Thanks, CK," she said. "That's the best place for him right now."

"What happened?" he asked immediately, and listened with surprise and interest to Lois's tale of bright ideas, red kryptonite, and the results of the first test. They'd certainly been busy while he'd been at home! He was impressed with their inventiveness — using red kryptonite to speed up Clark's metabolic rate was a stroke of inspiration, even if it did seem to have some undesirable side-effects. Together with his news from home, the future was looking pretty bright for Lois and Clark.

"So Dr Klein thinks it's working, but now I'm stuck with this," said Lois, indicating her husband. "For who knows how long."

"Um…" said Clark from the sofa.

They both turned to him. To CK's horror, two narrow red beams of light went from Clark's eyes all the way up to the ceiling. There was a blackened patch on the ceiling, plus two small holes. CK dove over to Clark and placed his hand over Clark's eyes. He could feel the heat from the beams warming his palm.

"Clark!" exclaimed Lois. "What are you doing?"

"Sorry," mumbled Clark. "Wrong setting."

"Close your eyes," instructed CK. He felt the heat recede. "Now open them again." He waited, but his palm remained cool. "Do you have them open?" he asked, keeping his hand over Clark's eyes for safety's sake.

"Yeah, but I can't see anything," said Clark.

CK took his hand away cautiously, but the beams thankfully didn't reappear.

"Hi, Superman," said Clark. "You're still wearing my suit."

"Clark, listen to me," said Lois, perching on the sofa beside him. "This is really important. Are you listening?"

"With both ears…hey, did you know that next door are having an argument? Maybe I should go and straighten them out." He started to rise, but Lois pressed him down into the sofa with a hand on his chest.

"No, honey, but that's what I'm talking about," she said. "You have to stop using your powers. It's really important, Clark."

Clark frowned. "But I thought you liked my powers. Do you like Superman's powers?"

"I think they're just great, but yours are a little out of control right now, honey. You could hurt someone with them," said Lois.


"Yes, really."

Lois glanced up at CK, apparently looking for inspiration. He shrugged at her, not really sure what she was expecting from him. Then he had an idea. "You could hurt Lois, Clark," he said gravely. "You wouldn't want that, would you?"

Clark shook his head.

"So you'll make sure you don't use your powers at all, won't you?" CK added.

Clark nodded. "Yes, Superman."

Lois sighed. "Okay, honey, that's good. Why don't you see if you can sleep a little? That's probably what's best for you."

Clark nodded. "Okay, Lois." He shut his eyes immediately. "I'm sleeping now."

CK grinned and shared an amused glance with Lois. Clark was really pretty funny when he was like this. CK just hoped the effects would wear off before too long — Clark wouldn't remain quiet on the sofa for more than a few hours.

Lois gestured at CK to move away from the sofa, and together they tip-toed into the kitchen.


Thankfully by the next morning, Clark had recovered and was completely sober. Moreover, to Lois's mild irritation, he didn't have even the slightest hint of a hangover.

"Trust you not to suffer like the rest of us," she grumbled darkly. "I suppose you remember everything, too. None of that scary blank space where a few hours of your life once existed."

"Um…well, actually…" said Clark, propping himself up in bed and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Things are a little hazy. Did CK really tie me up?"

Lois paused in her hunt for her favourite bra and looked up. "Not exactly. He just tucked you in very tightly after you'd floated up to the ceiling for the fourth time in your sleep."

"You could have just left me up there," he said.

"You were banging your head against the ceiling," she said acerbically. "It was a great rhythm, but we weren't sure the house could stand it."


She turned back to her search. She knew it was in here somewhere…

"Lois, why are we getting up so early?"

Ah, there it was! She grabbed the bra and turned around to find him holding the alarm clock and staring at it blearily. "Because while you were in cloud cuckoo land yesterday, CK said he'd tell us both this morning what he found out about Lois. He wouldn't tell me last night — said he'd prefer to tell us together. Something tells me it won't be just a five minute conversation, so I got us up a bit earlier."

"And does he know we're getting up *this* early?" he said, pointing at the face of the clock.

"Yes," she said crisply. "So shake a leg, honey! Only don't do it at superspeed."

He grimaced. "Thanks for the reminder."


CK sipped his coffee and regarded Lois and Clark over the brim of his cup. He'd related his conversation with Dr Fielding, and now they were sitting quietly — maybe a little too quietly. Perhaps he hadn't been unbiased enough in his account of Dr Fielding's findings. After all, despite her insistence, he himself couldn't help wondering if his special circumstances had been a factor in causing Lois's problems. There were no precedents — no-one knew what happened when a human and an alien made a baby together. So maybe he'd let his doubts show. He'd tried not to, for Lois and Clark's sake, but maybe he hadn't succeeded.

It probably didn't help that Clark seemed a little edgy this morning. A couple of times, he'd stopped just short of touching Lois, frozen momentarily and then withdrawn. Lois hadn't noticed his hesitation the first time, but the second time she'd placed gentle hands over his, murmuring, "It's okay." CK had been puzzled until he'd realised that Clark was worried he'd lose control of his powers and hurt her. It hadn't occurred to CK before then that Clark's exposure to red kryptonite would affect his home life as well as his Superman duties. He hadn't gone anywhere near Jon, presumably for the same reasons. CK found he had a new admiration for Clark, for putting himself through such an uncomfortable experience. He had to be finding this a lot more difficult than he was letting on.

"Well, I think it's great news," said Lois suddenly. "Seems to me there's nothing left to stop us having kids of our own. Thanks, CK."

CK let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding on to. "Well, I'm just glad I found out what really happened to her," he said. "It's kind of put my mind at rest. I mean, the place itself wasn't exactly luxurious, but the staff were great. I think she would have been well cared for."

Lois smiled warmly. "That's good, CK. I'm pleased for you."

"What about you, Clark?" he asked, wanting to draw Clark into the conversation. So far, Clark didn't look as though he shared his wife's enthusiasm and was remaining quiet.

Clark studied his coffee mug for a moment before replying. "I don't know. I guess we have to listen to the medical experts, but still…I wish there was some way of knowing for sure."

"But there isn't, honey," said Lois. "You just have to accept that."

"I know, but…"

Lois put a hand over his. "Remember when you asked me to tell you when I thought you were obsessing…?"

He frowned. "Actually, no."

"Well, you should have," she said. "And you're doing it now. Relax, honey, there's a million and one things that can go wrong during pregnancy, and none of them have anything to do with who the father is."

A corner of Clark's mouth turned upwards in a half-smile. "And this is supposed to make me feel better?"

"No, it's putting you on notice that you've got a lot of reading to do between now and whenever we get pregnant," she said. "I expect you to be my expert."

Clark's half-smile turned into a full smile. "You mean I can't delegate the research to Jimmy?"

"Absolutely no, you cannot! Not unless you want Jimmy to be the one at my Lamaze classes," she added darkly.

CK laughed. "Clark, you better start hitting the book stores. Something tells me she's not kidding."

Clark met his gaze across the table. "And something tells me that you've done us a big favour. Thanks, CK — going back can't have been easy for you."

He shrugged. "Well, like I said, I did it for my own peace of mind as much as for you two. But I'm glad if I've been of some help."

"Definitely," said Lois. "And thanks for offering to be Superman for the day."

He'd mentioned it earlier. Clearly, Clark couldn't safely do rescue work until the effects of the red kryptonite had worn off, so CK had thought it the obvious solution. In fact, he actually found himself looking forward to the day and the chance to help out wherever he could. Jon would go to the day care centre for the day.


"Clark, we have to talk."

Clark could have sworn he'd just heard Lois say something to him, but it was the middle of the night and he was asleep, so he couldn't have, could he?

"Clark, wake up."

Now it seemed that she was shaking his shoulder…nah, couldn't be. He grunted in agreement with himself and turned over.


This was becoming irritating. "'m sleep," he grumbled.

"Well, wake up. We have to talk."

"'morrow," he mumbled, although he now knew he was losing the battle. He should have kept quiet, because then she wouldn't have known he'd heard her. The bed was so warm and cosy, and he was so comfortable under the blankets. The last thing he wanted right now was to-

"If you don't wake up right now, this body will be strictly off limits to you for the next two weeks."

He opened his eyes. "You're bluffing." He was pretty sure she was bluffing, although with Lois, you could never quite tell.

"You'd better believe it, buster."

He pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Okay, I'm awake."

Beside him, Lois chuckled softly through the darkness. "You are such a pushover."

"Hey, I take it very seriously when my wife starts threatening to withdraw conjugal rights," he said. "So what is it you want to discuss? The price of gas these days? Darwin's theory of evolution? The state of Israel? Perry's Elvis obsession?"

He heard the sheets rustle as she sat up beside him. Then she slid a hand across his chest and kissed him. "No, none of those. We need to talk about tomorrow. And Jon."

He frowned. Okay, so tomorrow he was due to get the results of his first test after the red kryptonite exposure, but why did they have to talk about that now? Surely they'd discuss the results *after* Dr Klein delivered them, not before. And what was there to say about Jon that couldn't wait?

"Honey, there's nothing to discuss," he objected.

"Yes, there is," she said. "We've rushed into this thing without talking about it at all."

"We've done nothing *but* talk about it!" he said, now irritated that she'd woken him up for this, of all things. To him, it seemed like they hardly ever talked about anything else, except when they were discussing work. And actually, he was getting a bit tired of it all. Perry's Elvis obsession paled into insignificance compared to their fertility obsession.

"We've talked about how to solve a problem," she said. "But we haven't said anything about what we're going to do with the answer. I also think it's about time we decided about Jon."

He leant his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes. The last thing he wanted to do was to make that particular decision. It hurt too much. "Why do we have to talk about this now?" he said.

He felt her hand brush softly down the side of his face, felt her soothe away the muscle jumping along his jaw-line. "Because I won't sleep until we do," she said. "And I don't think we can put this off any longer. CK isn't going to leave until we make a decision, honey."

He understood what she was saying; he felt the same. CK was a likable guy and an easy house-guest, but he'd overstayed his welcome — Clark wanted the house back to just himself and Lois.

And Jon.

He loved his baby son, but he just couldn't bear to dwell on anything to do with his custody. Especially right now, in the middle of the night. He felt Lois turn towards him and he automatically gathered her into his arms. "I can't do this, Lois," he murmured huskily. "I'm not ready yet."

"I know," she said. "Neither am I, but I still think we have to decide. The longer we wait, the harder it is for everyone."

He couldn't answer her; couldn't form any words that he could trust himself to speak without stumbling. And the ache in his chest that always accompanied any thoughts of Jon's future was back. Deep down, he knew why that ache was there, but he wasn't ready to acknowledge it yet.

"It's tearing me apart, Clark," she said in a tiny, lost voice. "I've tried to be strong for everyone, hold it all together, especially for you and Jon, but I'm tired. I need to know, one way or the other."

"Lois," he whispered, tightening his arms around her. He felt her pain as his own, the ache in his chest increasing ten-fold. "I don't know what to say," he said, feeling helpless in the face of a problem that he didn't want to solve.

"I know." She sighed. "Because you already know what we're going to decide, just like I do."

A tear slid down his cheek, but he hardly noticed. "Yeah."

They were going to hand Jon over to CK. He'd known it for some time now, but he'd buried it deep inside, covering it over with layer after layer of self-pity about his own inability to give Lois a child. He'd driven himself into solving that problem instead of confronting their original, and much harder, problem. It was cowardly of him, really.

But now Lois was forcing him to face the truth, and it hurt just as much as he'd expected it to hurt. She stirred in his arms and looked up at him in the darkness. "You're crying," she said with a touch of surprise in her voice.

He reached out and lightly wiped her cheek with his thumb. "So are you."

Her face crumpled at his words and she buried her head in his shoulder. Biting his bottom lip to hold back his own tears, he held her while her small frame shook with quiet sobs. She needed him to be strong, so he'd hold himself together for her, just like she'd done so many times for him and Jon.

But for almost the first time in his adult life, he couldn't do it. He'd been suppressing these emotions for too long, and they just wouldn't stay buried any longer. Very soon his own tears were flowing unchecked down his cheeks, and he was weeping freely, for his son, for his sorrowful wife, and for himself.


CK turned onto his back and stared bleakly up at the ceiling. When he'd first heard soft crying from upstairs, he'd thought it was Jon. He'd waited, expecting to hear either Lois or Clark get up and attend to him. If they hadn't gone to him, he'd have gone upstairs himself to see what was wrong.

But as he'd listened, he'd realised that the crying was coming from Lois and Clark's bedroom. He'd been alarmed, and wondered what could have upset Lois so badly. Unconsciously, he must have listened more carefully, because he then discovered much to his surprise that Clark, too, was crying.

Frightened, he'd quickly scanned Jon's crib. To his relief, the baby was sleeping peacefully and his heartbeat was normal.

So what was upsetting them? For Clark to be crying, it must be something totally devastating.

He had a horrible suspicion he knew what it was.


Eventually, Clark's tears passed and so did Lois's. He felt drained, and for a while, they sat silently clinging onto each other, waiting for the sorrow to ease and knowing that it never would.

"So when…when shall we tell him?" he asked.

"As soon as possible," she said immediately. "I couldn't bear to wait, now that we've decided."

"But not at breakfast," he said. "It's too rushed."

"After you've seen Dr Klein, then. That's at ten, isn't it?"

"Yes. We'll tell Perry we're both working from home all day."

"He won't like that," she said.

"He'll have to lump it," Clark said bluntly. "This is more important."


Belatedly, he remembered her other point. "What did you mean when you said we need to decide what we'll do with tomorrow's answer?" he asked softly.

She sighed heavily. "If it's good news, do we really want to try for a baby? Is that what we want?"

"I thought that's what you wanted," he said. "You even told me to read all the books."

"I know, but that was just kidding around the breakfast table with CK," she replied. "Clark…a baby's not going to replace Jon."

"I know."

"I'm not sure CK knows. Look at all the trouble he's gone to in order to help us," she said. "I think he believes we'll be so happy to have our own baby, we won't mind losing Jon."

"I'm sure he's not that na‹ve," said Clark. "Besides, this has nothing to do with him. It's our choice whether we have a child or not."

"True. So…*do* we want to have a child?"

He sank his face into her hair. "Lois, nothing would make me happier than to have a child with you," he said, pouring all his heart into the words. "I love you. But if you're not ready, or even if you're never ready, I'll still be incredibly happy — because I've got you." He took a deep breath. "The one thing I couldn't bear would be losing you."

He hoped he'd sounded sincere, because he certainly meant every single word. He'd be thrilled if they could have a child together, but keeping Lois was more important than anything else. He'd lost sight of that fact recently, he realised. His obsession with being different, with being the cause of all their problems, had swamped all else in its path.

Lois was his whole life.

"Then do you mind if we wait a while?" she said very softly. "I'm not sure I could cope with being pregnant so soon after losing Jon."

"Of course we can wait," he said. "If we have a child together at all, I want it to be because we love each other and we're ready to start a family, not because we're trying to replace another person. We need to give ourselves time to be sure about that."

"That's what I thought. And what about your treatment? If we find out tomorrow that the test worked, do you want to continue?" She shifted in his arms and looked up at him. "It's your choice, honey. I'll support you whichever you decide."

"Well, it's not as if I'm actually sick," he said. "And I wasn't exactly easy to live with when I was high on red kryptonite."

"No, but don't let that influence you." She smiled weakly. "I've coped with a lot worse than a drunken husband."

"True. But if we're not going to try for a baby right away, then I think I may as well postpone any treatment until it's needed."

She stroked his cheek. "Clark, are you sure? I know how much this meant to you."

He sighed. "I won't deny that. But to be honest, I didn't much enjoy the treatment either. I hated exposing myself to that stuff, and I really hated waking up the next day and not remembering a thing I'd done."

She kissed him. "Believe me, it wasn't that bad. I don't think you're capable of doing anything really obnoxious."

He slid down under the covers, taking her with him. "Maybe not, but I'm sure this is the right decision." He kissed her hair. "Try to get some sleep, honey," he said softly. "You're going to need it."

He held her close, stroking her hair and murmuring soothing noises to her until he was sure she was asleep. Then he lay in the darkness for a long time, listening to the twin heartbeats of his wife and his son.


CK wasn't sure what to expect the next morning when he entered the kitchen to fetch breakfast. After the sounds he'd heard the previous night, he half-expected to find either Lois or Clark still tearful, or at the very least looking rather bedraggled and harried. He knew they were due to get the results of Clark's test today from Dr Klein, and that was going to make them even more jumpy, he imagined. He steeled himself, ready to help out in any way he could.

To his surprise, he found Lois crisply dressed in casual clothes and competently feeding Jon his breakfast. Clark was at the counter pouring coffee, similarly dressed.

"Hi, CK!" he said brightly. "Want some coffee?"

"Um…yes, thanks," he said. "Not going to work today?" he asked, indicating Clark's jeans.

"No, we're working from home. We're seeing Dr Klein at ten anyway, so we thought we may as well spend the rest of the day here," Clark replied, coming over to the table. "Honey, here's your coffee," he said to Lois, placing a mug near her.

"Thanks," she said, swivelling to pick it up while still keeping one eye on Jon. Unfortunately, she misjudged the distance and knocked the mug flying, sending hot coffee spilling all over the table and herself. "Oh, no!" she cried, leaping up to avoid the worst of the spillage.

CK grabbed a cloth from the sink and thrust it into her hands. "Here," he said.

She began blotting at the coffee on her trousers. Clark, meantime, was mopping up the coffee that had spilled over the table and onto the floor.

"CK, you'd better finish feeding Jon," said Lois, still dabbing frantically at her clothes. "This is going to take a while."

"Sure," he said, moving over to pick up Jon's spoon and helping of baby food. Jon was distracted, of course, and was more interested in watching Lois and Clark deal with the mess than in co-operating with the food being shovelled into his mouth. CK continually had to weave around in mid- air with the spoon, following Jon's face, until he spotted an opportunity and popped the food in.

Lois stopped dabbing and looked down at herself. "These are ruined!" she exclaimed with a slight catch in her voice. "I only bought them last week."

"Hey, hey," said Clark, straightening up from the floor and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "We can buy you another pair."

Lois shoved him away angrily. "They were in a sale!" she said. "There won't *be* another pair."

"Then we'll buy you something even nicer," Clark said, trying to comfort her again.

"These were nice enough!" she said, the catch in her voice becoming even more pronounced. "You don't understand! They can't *be* replaced."

If CK thought that Lois was over-reacting to the loss of a pair of casual trousers, Clark's response was even more bizarre. He pulled her firmly into the protective cradle of his arms and laid her head on his shoulder. "Honey," he murmured. "It's only a pair of trousers."

"But I wanted…I needed…" Against his shoulder, her voice was muffled, but she was still clearly upset. "You don't understand! I loved those trousers!"

"Hey," murmured Clark, stroking her hair. "I'm sorry."

CK could only think that they were both on edge because of the impending appointment with Dr Klein. Nothing else could explain why they were suddenly so clingy over a pair of trousers.

Lois took a shuddering breath, pulled away from Clark and crossed to the door without looking back. "I'll get changed," she said dully.

CK looked at Clark when she'd gone. "Is she okay?" he asked.

Clark sighed. "Yeah. We…we didn't get much sleep last night," he said.

CK nodded. "I guess this is a pretty important day for both of you."

Clark frowned. "Important day…? Oh, the appointment. Yes, I guess we're both a little nervous." He smiled tightly. "Big day, huh?"


CK turned his attention back to Jon, who still wasn't in a very co-operative mood. It seemed like the whole family was out of sorts today.


Lois peeled off the sodden trousers and held them up to inspect the damage. The dark coffee stains stood out in stark relief against pale stone-coloured linen. They were ruined.

She slumped down onto the edge of the bed, clutching the trousers. They were new on today. She'd chosen them especially, in an effort to make herself feel better about the day. She knew she'd looked good in them; had enjoyed wearing them because they were comfortable as well as stylish.

What a pointless effort. There was no way she was going to feel good about today, new trousers or not.

Fresh tears sprung into her eyes and she dashed them away angrily with the back of her hand. There was no point in crying over this. They'd made their decision and it was the correct one. It was best for Jon.

So why did she feel so lousy?

Uttering an angry noise of frustration at herself, she stood up and proceeded to get dressed again. This time she chose jeans for practicality — style could go take a hike today.

Making her way downstairs, she became aware of Jon crying loudly in the kitchen. From the sound of him, he had worked himself into a full-blown temper tantrum over something. She paused on the stairs and put her face in her hands, willing herself to be strong. Normally, she'd go in there, gather him up into her arms and comfort him, just like any other Mom. Today was different, though. Today, she had to begin learning how to hold back and let CK take over. CK was Jon's main parent from now on.

In the kitchen, CK was bouncing Jon up and down in his arms and talking to him loudly over Jon's wails, while Clark was doing his best to ignore the commotion and clear up the breakfast things. Lois walked straight past CK and joined Clark at the sink. "Anything I can do?" she asked.

He smiled briefly at her. "You could try rescuing CK," he said. "I don't think he's having much luck with Jon."

"I'm sure he'll be fine," she said brightly. She saw that Clark had just about finished up. "Okay, I'll be next door on the computer if you need me. There's just time to finish my expenses claim before we leave for Star Labs."

She left him and walked resolutely past CK and the tearful Jon again, ignoring Clark's concerned, "Lois?", and headed for the dining room table. The laptop was already set up. She flipped up the lid and switched it on, then fetched her briefcase from the other side of the room.

Sitting down at the table, she fished out her expenses folder from the briefcase and opened the relevant form on the computer. Jon's cries still percolated through from the kitchen. All her instincts screamed at her to get up and comfort him, but she told herself that Clark was there if CK couldn't calm him down.

Now, where had she got to last time she'd tried completing this infernal spreadsheet? She found her place and began filling in the remaining blanks.

Jon's wails penetrated through her head like a knife through her heart. This was no big deal, she insisted to herself. It wasn't the first time she'd had to rely on someone else to deal with Jon.

"Lois, he wants you, I'm sure of it."

She looked up to find Clark standing in the doorway holding their sobbing son.

She snatched her gaze back down to the screen. "I'm…I'm busy."

At least, she would be if her hand wouldn't keep shaking on the dratted mouse.

"Lois, look."

She glanced up. Jon was reaching out to her with a chubby arm, his face red and wet with tears. "He doesn't need me, he needs his Dad…CK," she said, almost choking on every word as she uttered it.

"Oh, Lois." Clark brought Jon further into the room. "Don't do this to yourself."

"CK can…" She tore her eyes away from Clark and Jon and gripped the mouse more tightly. "I have to learn how to do this," she said determinedly.

But it was no use. She was out of her chair and lifting her baby son into her arms in a flash, feeling him cling on to her immediately, burying his head into her shoulder and crying accusatory tears at his Mom for ignoring him. She rubbed his back while he cried and hiccupped against her. "I'm sorry, baby," she whispered. "That was mean of me."

Jon quieted down fairly quickly once he realised he was exactly where he wanted to be. One of his hands gripped tightly onto her top, as if to make sure he couldn't be separated from her. She rocked him gently from side to side. "What was all that about, huh?" she asked him softly. "Didn't you like your breakfast?"

She glanced up to question Clark, but her eye was caught by CK, who was standing behind Clark in the doorway. His hands were stuffed in his pockets and he was watching her and Jon with an unreadable expression in his eyes.


CK was sitting on the carpet, playing with Jon. They'd done the build-a-tower-and-knock-it-down game — several times — and now they were matching different shaped blocks with the right holes. Jon was doing okay, thought CK. He was a bright kid.

He checked his watch again. Five to eleven — Lois and Clark were due back any time now. He hoped it would be good news. After the strain of this morning, they all needed a break.

"That's right, Jon," he said encouragingly, watching him fumble the cross-shaped block into the correct slot. When he saw that Jon was about to give up and try somewhere else, he stretched out and helped swivel the block around so that it fit, and together they pushed it through the hole. Jon gave him a brief grin before reaching enthusiastically for the next block.

This was fun, and they were getting along just fine together. CK couldn't help remembering Jon's tantrum at breakfast, though. CK had tried everything he'd learnt over the past few weeks to calm Jon down, but the baby had been inconsolable. It had been like the first time they'd met all over again — Jon just hadn't seem to like CK at all.

Then Lois had walked in, and for a moment, Jon had been distracted from his crying fit, his eyes following her as she crossed the room. When it became clear she wasn't going to pay him any attention, though, he'd resumed at twice the volume. Even Clark hadn't managed to quieten him down.

CK was never going to forget the miraculous change in Jon when Lois finally gathered him into her arms. He'd pressed his little body tightly into hers and all of a sudden his screams had turned into shuddering sobs, and then soon there was just the odd sniffle while she rubbed his back and murmured soothing nonsense to him.

Was it a fluke? Had Jon just run out of steam by the time Lois took over? Or was it that Jon had wanted his Mom, and no-one else at that point would do?

And if so, what if Lois hadn't been there?

Well, of course Jon would eventually have cried himself out, but the incident was a sharp reminder to CK of the kind of challenges he'd be faced with if he was granted custody of Jon.

He heard keys turning in the lock on the front door, and moments later, Lois and Clark were walking in, shedding coats and shoes and generally settling themselves in. CK left them to it, and remained on the floor with Jon. Soon, though, they were seated on the sofas sipping coffee.

"CK, could you join us?" asked Clark. "We need to talk."

"Sure," he said, boosting himself up from the carpet and joining them on the sofas. "So how did it go?"

Lois pulled a face. "Well, you know Dr Klein — never one to give a straight answer to a simple question. I bet he even talks that scientific mumbo-jumbo in his sleep."

"But eventually we got him to tell us," said Clark.

"And…?" prompted CK.

Lois laid a hand on her husband's knee and smiled briefly at him. "It looks like it worked."

"That's great!" said CK jubilantly. "I'm really happy for you guys."

Clark smiled weakly. "Yeah. There's some way to go yet, but basically the exposure worked exactly as we'd hoped. Dr Klein thinks I'd need five or six more sessions and then I'd be back to normal."

"Would they need to be as intense as last time?" asked CK. "I mean, I guess getting drunk on kryptonite isn't so bad, but I'm assuming you'd rather not go though that every time."

Clark grimaced. "Unfortunately, I'd probably have to — and there's no telling if I'd get drunk next time, or something entirely different. Red kryptonite seems to be less consistent in its effects than the green stuff."

If CK didn't know better, he'd have thought they weren't very enthusiastic about the good news. They didn't seem to be as happy as he'd expected them to be; in fact, both of them looked distinctly unhappy as they took sips of coffee from their mugs.

"So it's all systems go, I guess," he said, trying to be upbeat despite the lack of enthusiasm from the other side of the coffee table. "When's your next session, Clark?"

Clark hesitated, then glanced at Lois briefly. CK saw Lois squeeze Clark's knee encouragingly and nod slightly. Clark looked back at CK and drew in a deep breath. "We've decided not to go ahead. For now, anyway."

"W…what?! I thought you were all set to give this a try!" he exclaimed, totally shocked by the news. They'd seemed so anxious to go ahead just a few days ago, and CK couldn't imagine what could have prompted them to change their minds so suddenly. Did this explain the crying last night?

"I guess we were," said Clark. "But we've discussed it, and we don't think we're ready to try for kids of our own yet. We…we kind of rushed into it without thinking about the longer term, I guess," he explained in a voice husky with emotion.

"But…" CK still didn't understand. What was there to worry about longer term? "You're not still worried about Lois carrying your child, are you?"

Clark sighed. "Well, there is that, but it's not the main reason. We…we made a decision last night." He looked at Lois. "A very hard decision."

The stress the two of them were under was painfully clear to CK. Clark's face was taut with ill-disguised anxiety, and Lois had hardly said a word since they'd sat down. CK desperately wanted to help them, reassure them somehow, but he was pretty certain that nothing he could say would make things any easier for them. This was a problem which wouldn't be fixed with a few simple words.

Clark was still looking at Lois, as if waiting for her permission to continue. She nodded fractionally. "Go on," she murmured very quietly.

Clark turned back to CK. "CK, both you and I know what it means to be adopted — especially in our special circumstances. However much you love and respect your parents, you still wish you could have known your biological parents. They're part of who you are. If only you'd known them, you feel you'd know yourself that much better."

CK nodded his agreement. He'd struggled with his own identity as a child, despite his parents' wonderful support. All those weird powers that had kept manifesting themselves had made him question constantly what and who he was. Knowing he was adopted had just added to the struggle.

He also understood at once what Clark was really talking about. He was preparing to tell CK what they'd decided to do about Jon. This was clearly the hard decision they'd reached.

From the sound of it, Clark was preparing him for bad news — he could hear a 'but' coming after that short speech about adoption. It was understandable, he told himself, trying to keep a lid on his disappointment. They'd brought Jon up as their own for nearly a year, so how could anyone reasonably expect them to let go of him? It was simply too much to ask of such loving parents.

But why had they been crying last night? He supposed that if they were going to keep Jon, then presumably they'd been crying over their decision not to have a child of their own. After all, if they had Jon, then there was less reason to put themselves through the stress of Clark's kryptonite treatments and Lois's pregnancy. It didn't seem like a crying matter, although he guessed it had been a difficult choice, given their earlier enthusiasm for the idea.

"You and I never had that chance," Clark continued. "But Jon does." He drew in a slow breath. "Which is why we've decided to let you take him. He'll be with his real father, which is where he belongs."

CK couldn't believe he'd heard correctly. They were giving him custody? After all these weeks of struggle and uncertainty, when he was sure he'd made more mistakes with Jon than he'd ever thought possible? After he'd been so rude and ungrateful to Lois and Clark during the early days?

His heart swelled with joy. He was going to be taking Jon home with him! His son, the child he'd grown to love and cherish over the past few weeks, would be living with him — for ever.

"I…I don't know what to say," he replied, stumbling over the words. "I'm so happy!" He looked over at Jon, who was still sitting on the floor playing quietly with his toys. CK thought he'd never looked so adorable as at that moment, and he had a sudden urge to scoop his son up and give him a big, fatherly hug.

But he was acutely aware of Lois and Clark, who had to be in all kinds of hell over their agonising decision. He reran Clark's last sentence in his head, and heard Clark's voice crack with emotion. He turned his gaze back to them. Sure enough, Lois looked near to tears, and Clark was trying valiantly to raise a smile to hide his true feelings. "Thank you," CK said quietly. "I'm honoured that you trust me with him, and I can only imagine what this has cost both of you personally."

"But we know we've made the right choice," said Lois, standing up and holding her arms out to him. "Come here, CK."

He stood up and hesitantly put his arms around her, feeling her hug him tightly. "You'll make a wonderful father, CK," she said. "Jon is very lucky to have you."

He swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat. "And he was very lucky to have you, Lois. You're the best mother he could have had."

She nodded against his chest. "I did my best for him."

He held her close for a moment or two longer, deeply touched by her generosity and lack of selfishness — she had to be feeling terrible about this, yet she was still making the effort to show him that he had her full support.

Then CK sensed Clark stand up behind Lois, and released her to take Clark's offered hand. "You've come a very long way in a short time, CK," Clark said. "Jon's going to be proud of you when he grows up, I'm sure."

"And I'll make sure he never forgets you two," replied CK. "In fact, maybe we can arrange some sort of visiting schedule."

Clark hesitated, and CK realised too late that such an arrangement might actually be very stressful; perhaps more than any of them could endure. But before he could retract the suggestion, Clark nodded. "We'd appreciate that, if it's possible between the two universes."

"Well, I've still got the device, so I'm sure we can figure something out."



Lois sat cross-legged on the carpet in Jon's bedroom, surrounded by toys, clothes, baby equipment and packing cases. Jon himself was being pushed around Centennial Park with Clark and a lightly-disguised CK — two Clark Kents couldn't be seen together, after all. Jon, of course, was totally oblivious that his mother was packing up his life in boxes ready for his move to another universe.

Clark hadn't wanted to leave her alone, but she'd insisted, pushing him firmly out the door with a reassuring smile to show just how well she was coping.

Ha! Oh, yes, she was coping — just about as well as when she'd had to send her fianc‚ to another planet. Which was worse? Sending your son to a parallel universe, or sending your fiance to a distant planet? And why did these things keep happening to her? Was it some fatal character flaw? Something she'd done in a previous life?

She picked up a pair of Jon's newest dungarees. She'd figured there was no point in sending him away with his older stuff — he'd grow out of it too soon. So only the recent stuff was going with him to CK's.

Of course, maybe CK would want to buy him all new clothes and toys. He might not want a constant reminder of Jon's old life with his temporary parents.

Well, tough. Things would be strange enough for Jon without taking away all his familiar toys and clothes as well. Besides, CK would need a few things to tide him over until his first pay check came in.

She added four more pairs of dungarees, a fistful of socks and an armful of t-shirts and sweaters. Then, for good measure, she squeezed in most of his pyjamas and his sun- hat. And his mittens. And the cute little scarf Martha had knitted for him.

Then she snatched the scarf out again. Perhaps Martha would like it as a keepsake.

Tears filled her eyes and blurred her vision as she gazed down at the scarf. Oh, yes, she was coping all right…


A pre-occupied Clark pushed Jon's stroller through the azalea garden in Centennial Park, hardly aware of the brilliant colours lining both sides of the paths. Beside him, a lightly-disguised CK was describing his new apartment, but Clark was only peripherally aware of what CK was saying.

Mostly, he was thinking that he and Lois hadn't done stuff like this often enough. A simple stroll in the park with the family — so easy to take for granted when you could do it any time you wanted — was a great time to reflect on the joy of just being together. They should have done this more often. He wished he had a hundred memories like this one to draw upon when Jon was gone.

He still couldn't believe Jon was leaving. He'd become so used to being a father, to having a bubbly, adorable baby in their lives, that he couldn't imagine life without Jon. What would they do when they'd normally be bathing him, or playing with him after dinner, or putting him to bed?

They'd have each other, he told himself. He and Lois would just have to relearn how to enjoy each other's company to the full, like in the old days before Jon. They'd snuggle up together on the sofa with a bottle of wine and watch TV or catch up on their reading. They could go out more, too. Perhaps they could join a club or something.

But a club wouldn't replace Jon.

"That's one heck of a sigh," remarked CK.

"What?" Clark wasn't aware he'd made any sound at all. "I'm sorry, CK. You were saying you have a balcony?"

"No, I said I wished it had a balcony," replied CK. "I guess you've got weightier things on your mind than my new apartment's shortcomings, huh?"

"I'm sor-"

"Don't be," interrupted CK. "I know how hard this is for you and Lois. Do you think she's okay by herself, by the way?"

Clark sighed. "No, but she obviously wanted to be alone, so I'm trying to give her the space she needs. Believe me, I'm this close to checking up on her." Clark demonstrated with his thumb and forefinger.

"She'd call if she really needed you."

"Yeah, I guess." Clark stopped walking and turned to CK. "Look, I don't think I'm very good company right now. It's not that I don't think we've made the right decision to send Jon away with you, it's just…"

"You need some time alone, just like Lois." CK nodded. "I understand. Do you want me to take Jon for a while?"

"No, I think I'd like to keep him with me." Clark hesitated, knowing he was pushing CK away rather abruptly, probably when he least needed it. "Perhaps you could do a…" He waved his hand in a flying motion. "Patrol?"


CK began walking away immediately, and Clark felt a pang of guilt. "CK, I really do appreciate how well you've handled this," he said.

CK turned and gave a wan smile. "I just wish this didn't have to be so hard on you two."

"We'll be okay," said Clark.

"Yeah. Well, I'll see you later, okay?" said CK, backing away from Clark.


Clark watched CK turn and begin to jog down the path, picking up speed until he was running as fast as any normal man could. CK was upset, clearly. Clark followed him regretfully until he disappeared out of sight, then turned back to Jon's stroller with a heavy heart. "Come on, Jon, let's you and I find a quiet spot somewhere."


CK ran as fast he dared. He needed to escape from the claustrophobic atmosphere that surrounded Lois and Clark these days.

The wind on his face felt good, blowing away the guilt and regret that dogged him whenever he was in their company. Instead, he turned his thoughts forcibly to happier things. Jon was coming home with him. Very soon, and for good. What could be more incredible, more wonderful, or more fulfilling? He must surely be the happiest man in Metropolis.

He was positive it was best for Jon, too. He'd be back where he belonged, in his own universe, with his real father. Jon would grow up knowing his Dad and never having to wonder who he really was.

It was definitely best for Jon.


He came upon a secluded area in the park, quickly span into the suit and shot upwards into the air. Once aloft, he headed straight out to sea, where he executed an exuberant series of loops and rolls. The sky was his playground, a huge, empty space where he could express his freedom and his individuality. No more hiding himself away in Lois and Clark's house, and no more living in the past with the nightmare of New Krypton. He could be himself at last — journalist, part-time emergency worker, and Jon's father.

Finally, he slowed and let himself drift on his back, allowing the sea breezes to carry him wherever they liked. The sun's rays soaked deep into body, filling him with a tremendous charge of energy and strength. Yes, he was the luckiest man in Metropolis.

So why was there still a nagging voice at the back of his head?


"Jon, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. Besides Lois, of course. You see, ever since I was a teenager, my dream was to be normal. All I wanted was to be a regular guy, with a regular job, a wife, a family, and a home.

"Not very ambitious, huh? I guess not.

"But those seemed like the important things in life. Especially my life, which was so crazy at times that being normal looked like a total impossibility. Not that I didn't have ambitions — I didn't want to be just any reporter, for example. Only the Daily Planet would do for me.

"So I got the job at the Planet, met and married the most wonderful woman in the world, and settled down in a nice old townhouse with lots of character and a real homey feel to it. I was really happy, because my dream was actually coming true.

"But when you came along, you completed my dream. I couldn't believe it at first; kept waiting for someone to claim you back as their own. But as the weeks and months rolled by, I let myself believe the dream. I let you become part of me, the same way that Lois is. Nowadays I spend every waking moment carrying both your heartbeats with me.

"Now, though, your natural father is here. I'm really happy for you, Jon, because you're going to get to know him in a way that I could never have known my own father. That's important. You're going to understand yourself so much better because of it.

"You won't have a Mom, but then neither do lots of kids. They grow up just fine, and so will you. And who knows? Maybe your Dad will meet someone he likes one day. I know he's not ready for that right now, but in time the pain he's feeling will ease and maybe he'll be able to let someone else into his heart.

"So, Jon, the dream was great while it lasted. Thank you for giving me that. And thank you for being such a wonderful little person and bringing so much light and happiness into our lives. I know Lois feels the same way, but she'll have her own way of telling you, and…well, she always hates it when I edit her copy.

"Just don't forget us, okay? We'll always remember you.

"I love you so much."


It was funny how the most significant days in your life are often so filled with organisation and preparation that you hardly have time to notice you're in the middle of a momentous occasion. So it was on the day of Jon's departure. Lois spent most of the morning busily rushing around the house packing the hundred and one items she seemed to have forgotten to include earlier in the week, while Clark completed the final details of their cover story for Jon's departure.

Their biggest problem had been the paperwork. It was easy enough to tell friends and family that Jon's natural father had reappeared to claim his son, but the authorities needed identity papers, a birth certificate, and so on. Lois and Clark were also fairly new adoptive parents, and thus still under the occasional scrutiny of Social Services, so it was particularly important that they put together a convincing batch of evidence.

Bobby Bigmouth had proved invaluable. Neither of them had been at all comfortable with the production of fake paperwork, but there had seemed no alternative and at least they had the comfort of knowing that in essence, the forgeries were there to support the truth, and not a lie.

So Clark had a final rendezvous with Bobby to keep, and then he was to fly over to Smallville to fetch his parents. He'd invited them a couple of days ago, and they'd eagerly accepted, pleased to be included in Jon's final goodbyes.

Visiting arrangements for Lois and Clark had already been agreed. Fortunately, they already knew that the universe- hopping device allowed more than one person to travel simultaneously, so CK would come back at a pre-arranged date and time, then would take Lois and Clark over to the other universe. Again, the arrangement was less than ideal, but they couldn't exactly make phone calls across the universes to arrange visits. At least this way, they had a date in their diaries to look forward to.

That was, of course, if Wells let CK retain the device. CK hadn't been thinking too clearly at the time he'd demanded it from Wells, so he wasn't sure if the one in his possession was the only device in existence, or whether Wells had a duplicate. However, since Wells hadn't been anywhere in evidence the last time CK had returned, all felt that there was a good chance that there was a second device.

Eventually, of course, all the preparations came to an end and the big moment arrived. No-one could quite believe they'd got there at last, and everything started to pass in a dreamlike haze, yet at the same time, it all seemed so incredibly real.

Clark sat with CK and his parents in the living room. CK had already taken all of Lois's packed boxes over to his new apartment, so now all that remained was to take Jon himself. Lois was currently upstairs with him, changing his diaper, although Clark suspected that she was really using that as an excuse to steal a few last moments alone with him.

Conversation was stilted. Clark's Mom, bless her, had led most of it, showing great interest in CK's new apartment and his new job on the sports desk — there had been a letter from the Planet confirming his appointment waiting for him when he'd taken all the packages across. But even that train of conversation could only last so long, and now they were all finding it difficult to say anything much at all to each other.

Clark himself felt ill. He kept telling himself that this was the right decision for Jon and that they wouldn't regret it at all in the long term. But his stomach was churning and his shoulders ached with unaccustomed tension. Not since he'd taken the decision to freeze Lois all those years ago had he faced such an agonising situation.

He heard Lois's footfalls on the staircase and slowly stood with the others as she came into the room, clutching Jon to her bosom. She'd been crying, that much was clear. Further tears didn't look that far away, either, but she was doing her best to retain her composure. Clark's heart twisted as he watched her.

She went to his Dad first, allowing herself and Jon be enveloped by his all-embracing hug. "Bye, Jon," was all he managed to murmur in a husky voice.

Next came Clark's Mom, who took Jon from Lois with a quiet, "May I?" and then hugged him tight and kissed him softly. "We're all going to miss you so much," she said to him. "But you're going to have a wonderful life with your new Daddy."

Finally, Lois brought Jon to Clark. He gathered the warm bundle of life into his arms, and reaching deep down into his heart and soul, managed to pull out a smile for his baby son. Jon grinned back and reached out for Clark's glasses, just like on so many other occasions. This time Clark didn't stop him, but let him pull them slowly off his nose. Jon examined the awkward shape in his hand, turning it over in mid-air. He looked back at Clark to make sure he wasn't about to be told off, and when Clark simply shrugged, he twirled them around once more then handed them delicately and carefully to Lois.

"Thank you, Jon," said Lois in an awed, shaky voice. "He did that so deliberately. Almost as if he knows he won't get another chance."

Clark couldn't believe it either. "I…I guess he has a right to see me properly," he said shakily. "Don't you, sport?"

Jon regarded him a moment longer, during which Clark felt as if he were being scrutinised very closely. He hoped he wasn't found wanting; hoped Jon wasn't feeling betrayed by his old Dad. But then Jon squirmed restlessly in his arms, and Clark told himself that these were fanciful ideas, that a baby as young as Jon couldn't possibly understand what was happening. No doubt he'd just had enough of all this hugging and kissing. Nevertheless, Clark kissed his soft hair, breathing in his baby scent for the very last time.

Then he walked over to CK and handed Jon across, taking care that the precious bundle of life was totally secure in CK's arms.

CK cuddled Jon tenderly, murmuring, "Oh, Jon," in a husky voice. He turned away from Clark and walked away a couple of steps, and while he was composing himself, Clark went back to Lois and slipped his arm over her shoulders.

Clark felt Lois wrap her free arm around his waist, and turned towards her briefly. He couldn't trust himself to speak; didn't even try to raise a smile. The thing was, his emotions were completely mixed up. He was genuinely happy for CK, and CK's emotional reaction to receiving Jon had just reinforced the feeling that they'd made the right decision. On the other hand, he was utterly torn up over losing the child he and Lois had thought was their own, and knowing that Lois was just as upset as he was made that feeling even more acute.

He was a wreck. All he could do was cling to Lois, as she clung to him, waiting with dread for the final moment of truth to arrive.

CK turned back to them with moisture in his eyes. "Today is the most incredible day of my whole life," he said. "Today I get to take my son home — the son I never even knew I had until a few weeks ago. That means so much to me, I can't put it into words. I…I just feel like I'm a whole person again.

"And I promise I'll take good care of Jon," he added. "I'll do everything I can to be as good a parent to him as you two were."

"If…if you need anything — anything at all, just come over and ask us," offered Clark. "We're rather you asked than struggled on alone."

CK nodded. "Thank you." He turned his gaze to Clark's parents. "Thank you, also, for being such great grandparents." His mouth twitched in the hint of a smile. "And thank you for not throwing out a stranger when he so rudely invaded your farmhouse."

"We're just glad we could help, son," said Clark's Dad.

"And we're proud of you, CK," said Clark's Mom. "You're a good man."

"I…I hope I can live up to that," CK said. He transferred Jon onto one arm and reached into his pocket with the other hand. Pulling out the universe-hopping device, he said, "I guess it's time. I just hope I can work this with one hand."

He bowed his head and fiddled with the buttons with his thumb.

Clark felt Lois begin to tremble and grip his waist more tightly, and, worried that her legs might give way, he steadied her more firmly against his body. Not that he felt that much better himself — there was now a tight band of pain clamping down right across his shoulders and his stomach was doing its best to leap into his mouth.

CK seemed to be taking forever to program the device. Clark wished he'd just sort it and get the awful moment of departure over with.

Then CK looked up abruptly, his face stricken. "I can't do this," he said.

Clark swallowed — of all the times to get stuck with the technology! — and stepped forward with Lois. "Maybe I can help," he suggested. They'd used a similar device before, after all.

"No," said CK. "I mean I can't take Jon. Here." He quickly lifted Jon up and thrust him towards Lois.

Lois must have been as confused as Clark, because she didn't automatically take Jon from CK, and there was an awful moment when Jon hung suspended between the two adults.

Clark stared at CK, who was white-faced but determined. What on earth was going through his mind?

"Please," said CK. "Take him."

Jon began fretting, and that was Lois's trigger. She reached out and gathered Jon into her body, holding him close until he settled down again. "What are you doing, CK?" she asked in a trembling voice.

"What I should have done a long time ago," he said. "You're his real parents. I'm just…biology."

"You're much more than that!" objected Clark.

"Maybe," replied CK. "But when I look at you, I see two of the most loving, caring parents he could ever wish to have. When I look at Jon, I see a happy, well-balanced baby who's thrived on the love and warmth this family gives him. He even has two wonderful grandparents to spoil him rotten when his Mom and Dad aren't looking. Why should I take him away from all that?"

"Because you're his father," said Clark. "I thought we agreed that he needed to know you."

"He will," said CK. "I'll visit him, and he can visit me any time he wants. But he belongs with you. There's so much more for him here than there is with me."

"CK, are you sure?" said Lois. "Please don't change your mind for the wrong reasons."

CK shook his head. "This isn't a last minute attack of nerves. I'm just letting myself finally admit what's been clear since the outset. Jon is very happy here and is part of a stable family. Who knows, in a few years, he might even have a little brother or sister to play with. I can't offer him that.

"I know you think this is sudden, and I guess it is. But I want the best for my son, and that means leaving him with the best parents I know."

"CK, I don't know what to say," said Clark. "I know how much Jon means to you."

"Just promise me you'll explain all this to him when he's old enough to understand," CK said. "I'd hate for him to believe I abandoned him."

"Oh, we will!" Clark exclaimed, although he still couldn't really believe what CK was doing. "But are you absolutely sure you want to do this?"

CK nodded. "Positive. I can feel it…right here." He laid his hand over his heart. "I know I'm doing the right thing for Jon."

"But what about you, CK?" asked Lois. "Is it right for you?"

Which was exactly Clark's concern. CK would be going back alone, to an apartment he'd prepared especially for his son's homecoming. Clark knew that CK was a much stronger individual than when he'd arrived fresh from New Krypton, but that kind of loneliness would test the strongest of personalities.

CK was clearly painfully aware of that, too. He hesitated before answering, and when he did speak, there was a catch in his voice. "It will be."

Clark waited for him to say more, but soon realised he was unable to, for fear of breaking down in front of them. It was a horrible moment. Clark wanted to help him, but couldn't see how; it was like an invisible barrier had come between them. Breaking through the barrier would probably destroy CK's tenuous grip on his control.

The moment stretched into seconds.

"Okay." CK drew in a deep, shaky breath. "I…I'll bring the boxes back in a few days, okay? I don't think I could bear…"

"Sure," said Clark quickly, seizing this small opportunity to help. "Take as long as you like."

"All right. I won't draw this out any longer…" He stepped towards Lois and cradled his son's head gently in his hands, bowing to kiss him. "I love you," he murmured.

Then he quickly pulled out the travelling device and pressed a couple of buttons. "I'll come back on that date we arranged, okay?"

"Sure," chorused Clark with Lois.

And finally, with a brief smile and a faint "Bye," he was gone.

No-one spoke in the room for a few moments. Too many emotions had been packed into a few short minutes. Clark himself felt numb with shock — he could hardly process what had just happened. He'd been about to lose his only son, and now CK was gone and Jon was cradled in his wife's arms.

It was Lois who broke the spell. First one sob, and then another, and then a third, shook her. Clark moved quickly to comfort her, wrapping his arms around both baby and wife, but soon, she was sobbing uncontrollably into his shoulder.

He wasn't sure how long they stood together like that. At some point, his Mom took Jon away because he was getting squashed and rather fractious as a result, but Clark was only vaguely aware of these things. All he knew was that there were tears stinging his own eyes as Lois cried against him, and he had no idea whether he was crying because he was happy or sad.


CK stood trembling in the middle of his apartment, hardly aware of the usual nauseating effects of the transition between universes. He'd done the right thing, that was for sure, but right now…

He took one unsteady step forward, then another.

Then in a sudden burst of anguish, he sped to the nearest window, barely allowing himself time to wrench it open before launching himself upwards, higher and higher into the sky. When he broke through into the stratosphere, he turned and began to speed around the Earth, flying faster and faster until he could feel the heat on his skin.

He flew for hours, criss-crossing the planet in every direction, trying to obliterate all thought and feeling from his body. The only way to do that was to push himself harder and harder, going to the very edge of his abilities and beyond. He held his breath until he was barely conscious, flying further away from the Earth towards the Moon, then plummeted back into the atmosphere to take dizzying gulps of air. When that didn't work, he did it again, flying even further towards the limits of his endurance, until he hardly had the strength left to remain aloft.

Finally exhausted, he flew shakily home. The window through which he'd escaped now seemed an impossibly small target, but somehow he managed to thread himself through it and stumble to a standstill. Then, on legs like rubber, he made it to his bedroom and fell onto his bed, pulling the cover half over himself as he curled up to sleep.


Lois leant over the rails of Jon's crib, gazing fondly down on her sleeping baby. He looked so innocent and peaceful. How lucky he was not to be aware of the emotional tussle which had taken place over his future.

"Welcome back, Jon," she whispered.

Clark stirred beside her, drawing in a slow, deep breath. "We are *so* lucky," he murmured.

"Yeah." She reached down and stroked Jon's baby-soft hair. "We should tell him everything, when he's old enough. I want him to know what a wonderful father he has."

"Me too." He slid an arm across her back. "Let's just hope he doesn't think we're crazy when we start talking about alternative universes."

Lois chuckled. "No more crazy than when we tell him about the flying."

"I guess." Clark sighed. "Do you think CK will be okay?"

Lois straightened and wrapped herself around him. "If he's anything like you, which I suspect he is, then he will be. Like your father says, he's strong where it counts."

"I hope so."



The voice was a soft whisper at the edge of CK's consciousness.


There it was again.

"Who is it?" he mumbled.

"Clark, open your eyes."

A touch like gossamer silk fluttered down the side of his face. The gesture seemed familiar.

"Clark, open your eyes."

"I'm asleep," he protested.

"Open your eyes, you great lunkhead, before I bop you one on the nose!"

He frowned. That sounded an awful lot like…but it couldn't be. She was…

"I'm counting, Clark — Five, four, three, two-"

He opened his eyes.

She was leaning over him in the darkness, a soft, indulgent smile gracing her familiar features. "About time," she said. "I've been calling you for ages."

She was just as he remembered her. The smiling, intelligent eyes, the cute nose, the soft lips and the short dark hair cut into a soft bob. She was even wearing her favourite sweater. "Lois," he murmured in wonderment. "How…?"

He reached out hesitantly to touch her face, but to his dismay, his hand passed straight through her.

She grimaced. "Sorry about that. I'm a little new at this."

So she wasn't real. Yet she seemed real. "Are…are you a ghost?" Which was a crazy question to ask, since he didn't even believe in ghosts. There wasn't anything else he could imagine, though, to explain her presence.

"No idea. Does it matter?" she said, still smiling down at him. "What's important is that I'm here. With you." She closed the distance between them as she spoke, and to his surprise, he felt the soft press of an incredibly delicate and weightless kiss against his lips. He responded tentatively, loath to destroy the magical moment by reacting too eagerly. His reward was a beautifully gentle, tender kiss as sensual as any he could recall.

"Oh, honey," he whispered, his voice catching on the words. "If you only knew how much I've missed you."

"Me, too," she replied, brushing again over his mouth with the merest hint of soft lips. "But we have to talk, Clark. I don't have a lot of time."

She straightened up, and he protested softly, reaching for her again, only to be frustrated by his inability to touch her. "I don't want you to go," he murmured.

"I know, but I have to," she said, and he felt the gossamer-light flutter of movement down his cheek as she reached out to stroke his face. He didn't understand why she could touch him when he couldn't touch her, but he was grateful for any contact, however fleeting. "But first, we should talk about Jon."

He stared up at her in surprise. "You…you know about him?"

She chuckled. "Of course I know about him, silly — I gave birth to him. Believe me, I'm not going to forget that particular experience in a hurry." She cocked her head on one side. "I hear you've left him in that other place with another Lois and Clark."

"Oh, Lois, I'm sorry! If I'd known you'd-"

"It's okay," she said calmly. "I think you made exactly the right choice. It's the best place for him, right now. In fact, that's why I'm here — to tell you just that."

"You…you don't mind that our son is being raised by strangers?" He reached up and traced the contours of her face with his hand, filling in the missing sensations of touch with his imagination. If he concentrated hard enough, he could even believe he was really touching her.

She shook her head slightly. "They're not strangers, they're you and me in another world. He'll have the best parents we could ever hope for, Clark. And you'll make a great father for him to visit. I'm sure he'll be proud of you."

Tears stung the backs of his eyes. "I wish you'd come back," he said huskily. "We'd have made pretty good parents ourselves."

"Shhhh." A gentle, feather-like wisp of air brushed his hair back from his forehead. "I can't, sweetest. It's not possible. That's the other reason I'm here."

"To tell me I can't have you back?" That seemed awfully cruel to CK; he didn't need the reminder!

"No, to help you. I can feel your loneliness, Clark — it hurts so much it almost has physical presence." He nodded at her in agreement. Even now, with the joy of being reunited with Lois still fresh in his thoughts, there was a dull ache in his soul that blunted all of his emotions. "And I know all about your little escapade today to try and rid yourself of the pain," she added, shaking her head slowly. "It didn't work, did it?"

A tear escaped from his eyes and rolled down his face to the pillow. "No," he confessed miserably. "What do I do, Lois? How do I stop myself from going insane?"

"Clark, you, of all people, won't let that happen. You're too strong to let this overwhelm you — just look at what you've come through so far. I know it doesn't feel this way right now, but as time goes by, you'll find that you can deal with it. Not by shutting yourself away, or putting up barriers against the world, but by engaging yourself with people." She smiled. "You're good at that.

And as he looked up into her eyes, he remembered how things used to be. Yes, he'd enjoyed meeting people and listening to their stories, getting to know them and understand their hopes and their fears. He'd enjoyed it even more when Lois had been at his side; their shared interest in people was what had made them such a good reporting team. But that seemed like a very long time ago; so much had happened since those early, happy days. "I used to be, maybe," he replied. "I'm out of practice."

"You'll learn," she said. "I'll help you."

"Help me? How?"

She grinned. "By keeping an eye on you. I won't be here every night, but I intend to drop by now and then."

His heart leapt. "You mean I'll be seeing you again?!"

"Yes, but only until you don't need me any more."

"I'll always need you, Lois."

"No, you won't. One day you'll find that you're ready to let go." She dipped down towards him and kissed his forehead. "But for now, let's just get you through the next few days." She sat up and fixed him with a firm gaze. "Your first task is to invite someone over for dinner. Doesn't matter who, although Perry would be a good choice. Think you can do that?"

She was giving him homework? This was weird. "I…I'll try."

"Okay. And don't forget I'll be checking up on you, so you better have good news to report. We ghosts can get mighty cranky, you know."

"I thought you said you weren't a ghost."

She shrugged and grinned mischievously. "I lied."

At that moment, she looked and sounded so much like the Lois he had fallen in love with, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. If only she were real…

"Lois, can I hold you? I mean, I know I can't really, but maybe if you just lie down beside me, we can try…?"

Even before he'd finished speaking, she was moving to lie face to face with him. "You mean like this?" she murmured.

He reached out an arm to wrap around the shape of her body. He couldn't feel her, but the illusion of closeness was as much as he'd dared hope for. "I still love you," he whispered.

"I know. Close your eyes, Clark."

He did as he was bid, and once more felt her soft lips press delicately against his own; felt her hand caress his shoulder. He even felt her breath on his face. "Sleep well, honey," she murmured.

And with that, her presence slowly melted away from him until he was once more alone in the darkened room.

Except that he wasn't alone any more. Lois was with him, and would stay with him for as long as he needed her.

He turned onto his stomach, half-covering the place where she'd lain, and drifted into a peaceful, contented sleep.



Lois ducked down in front of the mirror in the living room and fiddled with her hair for the umpteenth time. "Do I look all right?"

Clark regarded her from behind, running his gaze up and down her body before coming to rest very pointedly on her posterior. "Looks fine from where I am, honey."

She looked at him via the mirror, noticed where he was looking, and jabbed her elbow backwards to dig him in the ribs. "Hey, you! Behave. You're setting your son a bad example."

Clark had reeled playfully from her blow, partly to save Lois from earning a nasty bruise where her elbow collided with his rock-hard and invulnerable body, but now he straightened and placed his hands on her shoulders. "On the contrary, I'm showing him how a husband properly appreciates his wife." He kissed her cheek. "You look great, honey," he murmured. "Besides, I don't think CK will be that interested in your appearance — no offence. Jon's the star of this show."

As if on cue, Clark felt a pair of small hands clutch at his leg. He looked down. "Hey sport, do you want up?"

Jon's answer was to reach upwards with his arms towards his Daddy. Clark bent down and scooped him off the floor. "Here's our star," he announced, looking back at the mirror to address Lois.

She smiled. "And what a handsome star he is. Better looking than his father, I'd say."

Clark raised his eyebrows. "Really? I have competition, do I?" He looked at Jon. "You and I may have to have words about this later, my son," he said sternly.

Lois laughed. "I'm afraid it's too late — I'm already smitten."

"Written off for a younger man already," said Clark with a theatrical sigh. "And I'm not even forty." He checked his watch. "CK should be here by now. Wonder what's keeping him?"

"Nerves?" suggested Lois. "If he's feeling anything like me, he's got a whole butterfly farm in free flight roaming around his stomach."

"Yeah." Clark was feeling it, too. This first visit was a little scary — there was so much they didn't know. Would CK have changed? Had they changed without realising it — would they even still like CK and vice versa? Perhaps CK would ask for Jon back — he might have had a change of heart after three months on his own. Anything was possible. "It'll be fine," he said, reassuring himself as much as Lois.

The doorbell rang.

Clark took a deep breath. "That'll be him." He glanced at Lois. "Ready?"

"As I'll ever be," she said.

They all crossed to the front door, and Lois opened it.

A small, dapper man wearing a pin-stripe suit and a bowler hat stood before them. As they stared at him, he doffed his hat. "Good afternoon, Lois. And Clark. Oh, and Master Kent! Goodness me, he's grown a lot since I last saw him."

His initial shock wearing off, Clark's temper flared up rapidly. "Just what do you think you're playing at, Wells?" he growled. "You've got a lot of nerve, showing your face in this house. Either that, or you're just plain stupid."

Wells blanched. "Oh, dear. Things are worse than I expected. If I-"

"Things?!" exploded Clark. "Do you have any idea — any idea at all — of the misery you've caused? Of the heartache and pain we've all suffered because of you? You talk about 'things' as if we're all part of a big game to you, but I've got news-"

"Clark, not here." Lois's hand touched his forearm in a warning gesture. "Let's go inside."

Clark stared angrily at Wells, breathing heavily. This man, who stood there so calmly as if he were out on a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park, was single-handedly responsible for so much anguish, Clark felt like yelling at him until he was hoarse. If he didn't believe in non- violence, he could also quite cheerfully strangle the guy.

"Clark, you're upsetting Jon."

He dragged his eyes away from Wells to his son, who was just beginning to make little sounds of distress. The last thing he wanted to do was to frighten Jon, so he stepped back to let Wells pass through and tried to put a lid on his temper. "Come in," he said tersely.

Once in the living room, Clark handed Jon to Lois before rounding on the time-traveller again. "Okay, Wells, what's this all about? What misery have you come to inflict on my family this time?"

Wells hung his head. "Actually, I came to apologise."


CK checked himself in the mirror one last time. Yeah, he looked okay, he supposed. And Jon wasn't going to care what he looked like, anyway. So long as he was reasonably presentable for Lois and Clark, that would be enough.

He glanced around the room. He was hoping to bring them all back here for a short visit, so it was important that the remnants of last night's dinner party were cleared away and that the place looked clean. He spotted a dirty coffee cup hiding behind the ficus and disposed of it at superspeed.

Okay. The dinner party had been Lois's latest assignment, and, knowing she was likely to drop by tonight or tomorrow night, he'd finally had to stop procrastinating and arrange it all at the last minute. The night before his first visit with Jon hadn't exactly been his preferred choice of date, but it had been the only Saturday evening available.

To his relief, the event had gone pretty well and he was looking forward to telling Lois all about it. He could even boast that he'd entertained two women in his own age- bracket — and that hadn't even been part of the deal. Okay, so one was married and the other was rumoured to be a lesbian, but it was a start, wasn't it?

Satisfied the apartment looked suitably tidy, he pulled out the device and pressed the necessary buttons. Funny how Wells still hadn't turned up to reclaim it…


Clark stared at Wells. "Apologise?" He scoffed. "Just like that? You cause a total disaster for everyone concerned, with repercussions that are going to affect all of us for the rest of our lives, and all you can say is sorry?"

"It's all I can do," replied Wells. "But if I may suggest—"

"Oh, no, you don't!" said Clark. "No suggestions, no ideas to fix time, no hopping between universes, no nothing, okay? We've had enough, haven't we, Lois?"

"Yes, we have," said Lois. "And if I didn't want to avoid scaring Jon, I'd tell you exactly what I thought of you, Mr H G Wells!" She drew in a slow, calming breath. "As it is, can we all please cool it? Jon's suffered enough…"

But her voice trailed off as she stared open-mouthed at a far corner of the room. Clark whirled to follow her gaze, to find a swirling haze of colours which slowly coalesced into the shape of CK.

CK stood swaying for a few moments, apparently not quite in touch with his surroundings. Then he seemed to come to his senses and gazed around the room. Inevitably, his gaze settled on Wells.

"You!" he spat. "What are you doing here?"

Clark rushed across the room and placed a hand on CK's chest just as he began to lunge forward towards Wells. "He's come to apologise," said Clark dryly. As CK's eyes flared in renewed anger, Clark nodded. "I know. But Jon's here, so please don't say or do anything to frighten him. Okay?"

CK drew his furious gaze away from Wells to focus on Clark. "Did you arrange this?"

"No, this was all his own bright idea," said Clark heavily. "Come on, let's all sit down and try to get through this as calmly as we can."

Once they were all settled, Clark turned to Wells. "All right, Mr Wells, the floor is yours."

Wells stared down at the hat in his hands for a few moments before replying. "When I first embarked upon this great journey through time and universes, I was a young man. Young men, as you know, are full of enthusiasm and lofty ideals, and I was no different. I travelled far into the future expecting to find advanced civilisations where men had left behind their struggle for power and domination in favour of intellectual and spiritual advancement.

"Imagine my disillusionment when I found a society where the thirst for knowledge had died; where men and women lived out their days as empty vessels, merely concerned with the superficial. I tried to change them, to rouse them somehow, but it was too late. They were too content as they were. And so I left, now a frustrated and embittered bitter young man who was crushed by his own inability to change that which he did not like or condone.

"I should have heeded that lesson. I should have learned then that when travelling it is wiser to merely observe than to attempt to change things to suit one's own ideals. But the temptation is strong, and I am weak.

"I've seen many sad and cruel events during my travels, and oftentimes I've managed to reign in my desire to intervene. However, the sight of a newborn baby orphaned by a double stroke of cruel fate finally broke my resolve. Particularly since that child was the offspring of parents for whom I held tremendous respect."

CK sat forward in his chair. "But he wasn't an orphan. I was still alive on New Krypton — you should have known that. And you could have travelled forward in time to find out if I'd return or not."

Wells nodded. "Perhaps so. But you forget that you were gone far longer than you had anticipated — had announced at your departure. Also, I am bound to Earth. I have no knowledge of events on other planets. I grant that I could have searched for you further forward in time, but the search would have been akin to locating a needle in a haystack. Where, or rather when, would I have looked for you? When would I know I had searched enough? After you'd been gone so long, why should I even assume you'd return at all? Time is a very complicated business, you know.

"So complicated, indeed, that even I knew that it would be unwise to attempt to change the events leading up to the poor child's circumstances. However, a simple transfer between universes seemed less harmful, particularly since the child had no ties to his own universe. I truly believed I was solving two desperately unhappy situations — an newborn orphan and a childless couple.

"I now know that I was extremely foolish and na‹ve to think that one could mend things so easily. One simply cannot tamper with human life so carelessly, no matter how good the intention.

"And so I have come here to offer all of you my sincerest apologies. I cannot right my wrong; to attempt any further meddling would be reckless, if not criminal. I can merely tell you that I have made the strongest resolution possible never again to intervene in the affairs of time."

Clark's mouth twisted cynically. "Until you're tempted again. You're a chronic do-gooder, Wells."

"Yes, that much is true. Which is why I've brought you this." He rummaged in his pocket and produced a large golden key. "This is the key to my time machine. Without this, it won't operate."

He leant across and handed it to CK. "The day has come when I should end my travels. I'm not getting any younger, and I've visited enough worlds to supply me with wonderful memories for the rest of my life."

CK took the key hesitantly, studying it curiously for a few seconds before looking back at Wells. "I can't believe you're doing this," he said quietly.

Wells rummaged in his other pocket and produced a facsimile of CK's universe-hopping device. This he handed to Clark. "Now you may visit each other freely, and as Jon grows up, he'll be able to visit his father whenever he chooses."

Clark accepted the device and looked across at CK, momentarily speechless with surprise. He'd expected a fairly lame, if sincere, apology from Wells, but never had he anticipated this level of contrition and sacrifice. CK seemed equally at a loss for words.

"But where will you go?" Clark asked eventually, turning back to Wells.

Wells smiled. "Oh, I've found a beautiful spot in the Swiss Alps. It's a modest house, but it will suit my needs perfectly. I've already transferred my library there, together with all the treasures I've collected on my travels. I shall be very happy there, I assure you."

"But how will you get there?" asked CK.

"Ah." Wells fiddled with his hat. "I rather hoped…I know it's a great deal to ask, after all that I've done, but…you see, the fact is, I've never actually flown with Superman, and I've always wondered how the sensation would compare to time travel…"

Clark's mouth curled cynically. Wells might be contrite, but he still wasn't above taking advantage of Clark's and CK's unique abilities. Clark also reflected that Wells would be forever stuck in the same universe, and in the same time-frame, as himself. He hoped Wells didn't expect social visits!

"Are you absolutely sure you want to stay in this time period?" questioned Lois. Clark had to suppress a smile — trust Lois to come right out with it. "Surely there must be other time periods which have more to offer than this one. We're materialistic and greedy, and we're pretty useless at solving world poverty and hunger — on the other hand, we've got a real talent for war."

"Alas, you're right. But in fact you'd be surprised at how well this compares to other time periods. Of course, my second choice would have been…ah, but I mustn't tell you," he said, correcting himself quickly. "I must keep such things to myself — which is why my cottage in the Alps is so perfect. I can enjoy the peaceful solitude whilst walking through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world."

Clark stood up. "Well, if you're sure. And I guess you know where these are," he indicated CK's key and his own device, "if you ever change your mind."

Wells nodded. "Indeed. So am I to be granted a flight with Superman? Which of you shall it be?"

Clark looked at CK. "How about we both go?"



CK stood on top of the Eiger, gazing out across the incredible landscape of snow-capped peaks. Up here, the sun shone brightly on the snow, making every contour stand out in stark relief and causing the mountains to sparkle with a brilliance which was almost blinding. The wind buffeted his face and caused his cape to billow out behind him, but he enjoyed the sharp, refreshingly cold air on his skin. It cleared his head and helped him focus.

This was one of those rare but magical moments, when life itself seemed to pause and give you time to reflect. He and Clark had come here after dropping off Wells, agreeing their destination almost telepathically as they flew in tandem across the sky. Now they stood shoulder to shoulder, drinking in the awe-inspiring scenery.

"Wells was right about one thing, at least," mused CK.

"Yeah?" said Clark.

"This really is beautiful."

"Yes. Makes you realise how lucky we are."

"Yeah," breathed CK.

By mutual agreement, they fell silent again, simply enjoying the majestic views without need for conversation. CK reflected that perhaps Wells's decision to retire here wasn't so crazy after all. It was a good place to settle after a lifetime of adventure and excitement.

"So how are you, CK?" asked Clark, breaking the spell.

CK heard the unspoken question — how was he coping? "I'm fine. I'm hoping to move back onto the city desk soon, in fact. Seems there's a vacancy opening up, and meanwhile the sports editor wants someone who actually knows something about sport on his team." He flashed a quick smile at Clark. "I managed to bluff it out for a while, but I got found out."

Clark grinned. "I guess it does help if you know your slam dunks from your triple plays."

"Yeah. And the apartment's really convenient for work, too. Both jobs, that is."

"So the lack of a balcony wasn't a problem after all, I guess."

CK shook his head. "No, I just leave a window open and fly straight through it at superspeed."

"Sounds good." Clark paused. "No regrets, then?"

Again, CK heard the unspoken query. "Nope. Everything's just fine."

"That's great." Clark fell silent again as he digested CK's answer. Then he turned to face CK. "We were pretty worried about you that day when you left, you know. I'm glad things have worked out."

CK sighed. He hadn't really planned on baring his soul to Clark, but it was clear that Clark wanted to know if he was all right or not. He supposed he owed the guy at least that much. "Look, I know what you're asking. And yes, I'll admit things weren't easy to begin with. Those first few days were some of the hardest in my life. But I'm getting there, Clark. The job is going well, Superman is back, and I'm even starting to get a social life. Yes, I miss Jon, but I know he's happy where he is, so I can cope."

"Great. Any time you want to visit, just let us know." Clark smiled. "At least, I know you can't phone, but maybe you could drop by with a note or something — just to give us a few days' notice."


For a second, CK considered confiding in Clark about Lois's visits. No-one else knew, and frankly no-one else would understand like Clark would. "Clark, do you believe in ghosts?"


"You know, people who've died and then come back to…"

"Haunt you?" Clark stared out across the mountains. "I don't know. I've seen more than my share of weird things, so I wouldn't automatically rule anything out these days. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason."

Clark glanced briefly at CK. "Have you seen something?"

CK hesitated. He didn't want Clark to think he was crazy, after all. He caught Clark's gaze and held it, finding only genuine interest and perhaps even a certain knowledge in those steady brown eyes.

He nodded. "Yeah. Quite a few times, actually."

Clark turned his gaze back to the scenery. "Love is such an incredibly powerful force. I'm happy for you, CK."

He knew. More than that, he understood and accepted it as normal; a blessing, even. CK relaxed. He was pleased he'd shared his experiences with Clark — it was good to have a friend who didn't judge, but just listened, absorbed and understood.

With more confidence, he replied, "Me too. She helps me so much…" In fact, he was sure he wouldn't have survived the last three months without her. She always seemed to be there when he needed her, comforting him or encouraging him — sometimes just listening while he offloaded his feelings onto her. Quite simply, she sustained him.

He cleared his throat. "Shall we go back? Lois will be waiting for us."

"Yeah. And you need to say hi to Jon."

The two men took off together, flying side by side with their capes billowing out behind them. They'd started their relationship as antagonists, neither trusting the other or being able to exchange more than surface pleasantries. Then, their conversations had been terse and brittle, with little more than the minimum of information passing between them.

Now, their relationship was so close that they still didn't need to say much to each other, but the understanding and knowledge which passed between them during just a few short sentences would fill several copies of the Daily Planet.

CK twisted his head to look across at Clark. His friend grinned back, winked playfully and swooped headlong into a spectacular nosedive, daring CK to join him. Without hesitation, CK followed him enthusiastically, enjoying the quick rush of adrenaline and the chance to play air-tag with the person he considered his closest friend — in any universe.


Later, Lois sat on an easy chair in CK's apartment, sipping Oolong tea while watching her husband and CK make fools of themselves on the carpet with Jon. It seemed to her that Jon had his two fathers completely wrapped around his little finger — no sooner had one tired of playing a game with him, than he had the other engaged in some daft horseplay. He was giggling constantly, a very happy little boy who was later going to be a very tired and no doubt fractious little boy. Lois had dark misgivings about bedtime, but it was a small price to pay for all this fun and laughter.

The visit had gone well. Once Clark and CK had returned from Switzerland, they'd all sat down at the table to enjoy one of Clark's wonderful Sunday lunches. Jon had sat on CK's knee, causing his father much difficulty in eating his dinner while dealing with a wriggly baby, but CK hadn't seemed to mind at all.

Lois had been pleased to see CK looking so relaxed and happy. Somehow, he'd managed to pull himself together despite the loneliness of his situation and was emerging as a self-assured, highly pleasant individual. He wasn't Clark — he was still edgier and less confident, but he had a lot in common with her husband. All her misgivings about the visit had melted away, and she'd allowed herself to begin enjoying the afternoon.

After dinner, Lois had sent CK out to the park with Jon while she and Clark cleared away the plates. On his return, they'd all travelled across to CK's universe to visit his new apartment.

Now the day was growing long, and it would soon be time to give a worn-out little boy his evening meal and put him to bed. Lois was about to interject something to that effect when CK hoisted himself to his feet and scooped Jon into his arms.

"Okay, little guy, I think it's time for you and me to say goodbye." He kissed Jon's forehead and then wrinkled his nose briefly. "Lois, do you want me to change him before you leave?"

She rose to her feet shaking her head. "No, it's okay. Clark can do it when we get back."

"Me?" said Clark, also rising to his feet. "Why me — I cooked dinner."

"Yeah, so it's your fault he needs changing," she replied with a grin.

"Is that the new rule?" said Clark. "I don't recall agreeing to this."

"You didn't. I just made it up."

Clark looked at CK. "Back me up here."

CK shook his head. "Sorry, pal. My speciality is journalism, not marriage contracts. You're on your own."

Clark turned back to Lois. "We'll take this up later," he said. "I believe I have one or two bargaining points in my favour — unless of course you don't like home-made chocolate mousse any more…?"

Lois groaned. "Torturer," she accused. Then she turned to CK. "Thanks, CK. It's been a fun day."

"Yes, and I've had a good time too." He hugged Jon tight and kissed his cheek. "Don't give your Mom and Dad too hard a time tonight, okay?" he murmured. "And I'll see you soon."

He handed Jon over to her and stepped back, his expression sad. "This is the hard part, I guess," he said.

"But at least you know you'll be seeing him again in a few weeks," said Clark, and Lois nodded in agreement. They'd arranged the next visit already, and agreed that CK would have him all day Saturday and overnight into Sunday. And Lois was beginning to realise the advantages of a second Dad — she and Clark already had a few ideas about a romantic night in a nice hotel somewhere. Paris had even been mentioned.

CK smiled. "Yes. I'll look forward to it." He regarded Jon, who was already beginning to doze in Lois's arms. "You'd better get him home," he observed. "Thanks for coming."

Lois agreed, and moved close to Clark while he programmed the travel device. "Take care of yourself, CK," she said, as the room began to swirl and fade away from her.


CK stood at the kitchen sink, slowly washing up the mugs and plates from tea-time. The day had been a success, he mused. Even Wells's interruption had turned out for the good, and CK himself felt a strong sense of closure now that he'd met the man again and helped get him started on a new chapter in his life, safely away from the temptations which had caused CK and the others so much pain.

In fact, CK realised that he himself had embarked on the next chapter in his life. The final piece of the equation had been his visits with Jon, and now he felt that they were well on the way to becoming a normal part of his everyday life.

So he had a good job, a nice place to live, a fledgling social life, and even, in a pretty non-conventional sense, a family. Okay, so his partner was a ghost and his son lived in another universe, but lots of people weren't even that fortunate.

All in all, life was pretty good — not bad for a battle- scarred veteran who'd been close to breakdown just a few months ago.

He finished the washing and walked into his bedroom.

"So when do I get to meet Jon?"

He froze. She was lounging on the bed, smiling up at him with raised eyebrows.

"Um…I'm not sure if that would be a good idea," he said carefully. "Babies don't really understand about ghosts."

Her face darkened, and for a moment, he wondered just how much fury a ghost could unleash on him. He wasn't afraid, except that this was Lois…

She burst out laughing suddenly, her face radiant with amusement. "Your face…oh, boy, that was so much fun! I should try that more often."

"Lois…" he growled.

"Oh, shut up and come here," she said. "Tell me all about the visit."

He gave her his best stern Superman look, but he couldn't hold it for long — this was Lois, after all. He joined her on the bed and rolled over onto his back, taking her with him so that she was lying on top of him. "You're evil, you know that?" he said.

She grinned slyly down at him. "I'm a ghost. What more can I say?"

He threw back his head and laughed. "Lois, you-"

But his words were silenced by her lips, pressing delicately against his own. He sighed happily and let her explore him thoroughly, content as he'd never been since leaving her for New Krypton so long ago.

At last, the world in which he'd grown up had welcomed him back, and he truly was home.