Little Girl Lost

By Laura Davies aka Bratling aka BrightFeather <>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: September 2003

Summary: Lois and Clark come to the aid of a desperate little girl and, as they help her with her problems, she helps them solve one of their own.

Disclaimer: I don't own Lois, Clark, Perry, Jimmy, or any of the related DC Comics and WB characters. <g> All other characters not seen in the series are a figment of my chocolate and PEZ high imagination and belong to me. ;) Other bouts of weirdness can be attributed to sleep deprivation. Any resemblance to any other work of fiction is strictly coincidental.

Author's Note: There is a strong content warning on this piece. Some readers may find the subject matter disturbing as it involves child abuse. It also starts with a major WHAM, but just remember, I always write happy endings. I must thank my amazing beta readers, Jenni, Wanda, Avia, Pat, and SQD. <g> Without their encouragement, this would never have seen the light of day. Also many thanks to Barb Pillsbury for technical support and information on the workings of the foster care system. May thanks to my GE, Carol Malo for giving this one last look-see before y'all got it. ;) If you know of a child who is being abused, visit for your local reporting hotline (US only), or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD in North America. In the UK, call Childline at 0800 1111.


*"Monday's child is fair of face.

Tuesday's child is full of grace.

Wednesday's child is full of woe.

Thursday's child has far to go.

Friday's child is loving and giving.

Saturday's child works hard for a living.

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay" *

—Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme


Chapter 1: Monday's Child

October 20, 1998, 9:00 p.m.

Somewhere in the suburbs of Metropolis

Rachel huddled in the corner of her bedroom, praying that Papa Gary wouldn't come looking for her. She could hear loud shouting coming from downstairs followed by crashes that meant he was breaking things again… and she was most likely next on the list. She didn't understand why he hurt her; after all, he was nice to Timmy, her half-brother. Then again, Papa Gary wasn't really her daddy—he had told her so often enough.

"Rachel!" she heard. The child shivered and tried to curl herself into a smaller ball, praying not to be noticed.

A man walked into the room and smiled cruelly when he saw her. "Hello Rachel," he said, the sweetness of his tone belying the sadistic look in his eyes. He slowly pulled his leather belt out of his pants and advanced towards the small child. "You were bad today," he said menacingly, "and because I love you, it means that you have to be punished."

He smacked the belt lightly against his hand before reaching out to pull the five-year old out of the corner. "Your mother left you on my hands when she died, so it's up to me to make sure that you don't turn out bad like her," he said as he threw her towards the bed. He smiled as her head cracked against the wall behind the bed and pulled back the belt.

Rachel closed her eyes, dizzily waiting for the blow to fall and wished that her mother had taken her along to Heaven. She barely remembered her and the happy times before Papa Gary had begun to hurt her. She gritted her teeth against the pain she knew was coming, not daring to cry out—the last time she cried, he had locked her in a dark closet for three days.

He smacked the piece of leather against his palm once more. "You have to learn your place, brat," the soft voice continued as he loomed over the little girl. "You were an accident. Your real father left your mother because he hated you. Rachel, you should have never been born." He pulled back the belt and hit her as hard as he could. It wasn't long before the child lapsed into unconsciousness.

He stared at the girl with contempt and threw her over his shoulder, flinching as the warm, sticky blood from her lacerations rubbed onto his favorite cashmere sweater. He carried her small form downstairs and threw her into his SUV, ignoring the fact that it was October and the child lacked both a coat and shoes to protect her from the freezing temperatures.

Gary drove into a deserted alley on the other side of town from where he lived and dumped the child on a street corner. He stared at the unconscious form for a moment and prodded her with the tip of his cowboy boot. When Rachel didn't move, he kicked her viciously, provoking a slight moan. Satisfied that he hadn't killed her, he got into his SUV and drove away.


October 20, 1998, 10:00 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois snuggled into Clark's warm bulk, twining her legs in his. They had gotten off work early since it was a slow news week, and had spent the evening in a more pleasurable pursuit: trying to make a baby. She knew that the possibility of her being pregnant was slim. After all, they had been trying for well over a year now with no results.

She wanted a baby more than anything, but they had been turned down as candidates for adoption, and the baby that had appeared in their house last year had been returned to his rightful parents. She sighed quietly, wishing that this time their dreams would come true.

Clark rolled over to face her. "Are you okay, sweetheart?" he asked softly, brushing a strand of sweat-soaked hair back from her face.

"I'm okay," she replied, bringing her hand to rest on her stomach. "Do you think?" she asked quietly, her face filled with hope.

"Lois, honey," Clark began, "as much as we want a baby we both know what Dr. Klein and your father said…"

"I know," she said quietly. Lois leaned over and kissed him fiercely. Clark brought his hand up to thread it through her hair and kissed her back, tangling his tongue with hers. They broke off the kiss, breathless. She looked up at him and smiled a bit sadly. "I know there isn't much chance," she said, "but I want your baby, our baby, more than anything." A smile stole over her face as her hand came to rest on his abdomen and began to slide lower. "Besides," she added mischievously, "it sure is fun trying."

Clark chuckled and flipped her over, coming to rest on his side next to her. "Why, Ms. Lane," he teased, "are you trying to seduce me?"

Lois looked at him with an expression of wide-eyed innocence. "Trying, sweetheart?" she questioned. "I thought I already had!"

Clark laughed again and leaned over to kiss her. She licked her lips in anticipation as his mouth hovered over hers, then sighed in pleasure as his tongue brushed past her lips and began a thorough exploration of her mouth.

She moaned softly and ran her fingers over his back and sides, finding several erogenous zones that she had discovered long before.

Clark broke off the kiss and traced her face with one finger. "I love you," he said quietly. He pulled the blankets up over them to block out the chilly air and leaned down to capture her lips with his. They once again began to rediscover each other in the calm October night, trying for the child they wanted so desperately.


October 20, 1998, 11:30 p.m.

An alleyway in uptown Metropolis

Cynthia quickened her pace as she cut through the alleyway on her way back to her upscale apartment building. The movie had gotten out late, and it was long past time that she should be home. She shivered against the chill night air and wished now that she'd taken a cab despite the short distance. At least with Superman residing in Metropolis, she didn't have to worry about getting mugged.

Cynthia looked down at her feet, carefully picking her way through the small puddles of oil-slicked water and other dubious substances. She reached the end of the alley and stepped out on to the slick sidewalk. She frowned slightly as she noticed a small crumpled form lying on the sidewalk a short distance away, and wondered if some poor, homeless person had caught her death in the chilly weather. She walked closer to investigate and gasped when she realized it was a child. Crouching down, she felt for a pulse with a trembling hand and breathed a sigh of relief as she found a faint heartbeat.

Without a second thought, she shrugged off her heavy cranberry-colored wool coat and spread it over the little girl. She pulled her cellphone out of her purse and quickly punched in 911. "My name is Cynthia Kirby and I just found a little girl lying on the sidewalk at the corner of Knowlton Street and Mitchell Avenue. It looks like she's been beaten pretty badly, and she's unconscious." She paused for a moment. "Yes, I'll stay with her. Please, hurry!"

Carefully, Cynthia began to smooth the little girl's tangled hair away from her face, hoping that the ambulance would arrive in time. She longed to cradle the small child in her arms, but realized she might have internal injuries and didn't want to risk hurting her even further. "It'll be all right, little one," she said quietly. "I promise."

The ambulance and the police arrived a few minutes later. As the paramedics wrapped the child in blankets, put an oxygen mask over her face, and loaded her into the vehicle, Cynthia gave her statement to the police. She stopped momentarily to watch the ambulance speed off into the night before she finished telling her story. After promising to come down to the precinct in the morning, Cynthia walked off into the night and headed towards home.


October 20, 1998, 11:40 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Clark heard the sound of a siren and slipped quietly out from underneath Lois. He sighed as he grabbed a fresh Suit and spun into it. He really didn't like leaving her like this, but as quiet as things had been lately, perhaps he could finish quickly and return home. He sped out the window toward the sound of the sirens.

Superman landed beside the police officer. "Excuse me, officer, but is there anything I can help with?" he asked politely.

The policeman turned to face him. "I'm afraid not, Superman. It's just another tragic case—a young woman was coming home from the movie theatre and found a little girl out here," he said, stopping to rub his eyes. "Someone beat her up pretty badly and left her out here to die."

Superman frowned. "Any idea who did this?"

"No, but considering that the girl looks to be only about four or five, it was either a relative, or she's possibly a kidnap victim," he sighed. "They took her to Metropolis General."

"Thank you, officer," Superman said as he took off. He hovered over the crime scene and scanned the area. Finding nothing, he shook his head sadly and flew back to the brownstone. He could check on the child in the morning; there was nothing he could do that night.


October 21, 1998 12:01 am

Metropolis General Hospital

The paramedics quickly wheeled the gurney into the ER, checking to make sure that their precious burden was still breathing. Dr. Steven Kendall rushed over and began to treat the child as soon as they wheeled her into one of the examination rooms. "Tell me everything you know," he demanded gruffly from the paramedics.

"She was found lying in a puddle in an alley. Obviously she's been beaten. Her heartbeat is strong, her respiration is good, but she hasn't regained consciousness yet," the paramedic replied.

"I need x-rays immediately," Dr. Kendall said, turning to the technician. "We'll also be battling hypothermia; heaven knows how long she was out there." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He hated it when small children were brought in like this. "Let's get some thermal wraps in here and get her temp up," he instructed one of the emergency room nurses, "and get an I.V. drip of glucose started. I don't want to put her on any

antibiotics until we can get some history on her."

A little while later, Dr. Kendall smiled in relief. His little Jane Doe had escaped relatively unscathed—she was covered in bruises, but she had only one cracked rib and a concussion. Thank goodness, she hadn't been raped as he'd originally feared. He frowned as he took a closer look at the x-rays and observed several older fractures—one along her skull, now healed.

Dr. Kendall shook his head. Family and Children Services would be getting this case… if she ever woke up. He sighed again before paging the pediatrician on call. The child needed a complete physical exam to find out exactly what had happened to her just in case they caught the SOB responsible for her condition.

Dr. Jennifer Craine hurried into the room. "You rang, Dr. Kendall?"

"I've got a miniature Jane Doe here," he said quietly. "A cracked rib, slight concussion, bruises, numerous cuts and welts, and exposure. Her x-rays show quite a collection of old breaks, and I need you to check her over a little more thoroughly."

Dr. Craine nodded slowly. "Do you expect to find evidence of sexual abuse?" she asked quietly.

"I don't know," he said with a sigh. "I did check for rape, but I want a second opinion to make sure." He ran his hand through what little hair he had left. "But she *was* thrown outside in the cold and left to die after being beaten unconscious. It's more than possible."

"I'll collect evidence just in case," she said quietly. "Which room is she in?"

"Room three," he answered bleakly. "Jennifer, she can't be more than six years old," he muttered, shaking his head.

Jennifer laid her hand on his arm comfortingly. "It's okay, Steve," she said softly. "It's not like she'll ever be going back to the people who hurt her."

Dr. Kendall nodded slowly, agreeing with her. Jennifer released his arm and hurried from the room, intent on her new little patient. After thoroughly examining the child, she rejoined Dr. Kendall.

"Was she?" he asked quietly, hardly able to voice his worst fear.

Wordlessly, Jennifer shook her head, relief on her face.

"Thank goodness," he said softly. "We need to keep her overnight for observation and then I'm going to find out if Beth is on duty so she can see about getting the child placed—at least temporarily, over at Coates Orphanage." He grimaced. "I've heard her talking lately about the foster home shortage, so that's where the little one will end up. Then I can see about getting her admitted. Even if she wakes up, it's too late to send her over to Coates Orphanage in any case."

Jennifer nodded and went back to Exam room three. She stroked the child's hair gently. "It will be okay, little one," she said softly. "I promise."

October 21, 1998 10:00 am Daily Planet

Perry consulted his notes and looked out over his assembled reporters. "Lane, Kent. What do you have for me?" he asked gruffly.

"Not much, Chief," Clark admitted. "We've got the story on the little girl they found at the corner of Knowlton Street and Mitchell Avenue. She's awake, but she refuses to talk to anybody. She either doesn't remember, or she's too terrified to say anything. They're sending her over to Coates Orphanage from Metropolis General today until they can find a family to place her with."

"That'll make a good human interest piece. Does anyone know what her name is, yet?" Perry asked.

"I'm afraid not, Perry," Lois answered. "She isn't talking, so until she tells someone, we've got a five year old Jane Doe on our hands. The police are hoping that the Planet will help find her family because they don't have any reported missing children that match her description."

Perry nodded. "That shouldn't be a problem," he said and motioned to Jimmy. "Jimmy, I want you to get over to Metropolis General and get some pictures of the child for the paper."

"On my way, Chief," Jimmy said, grabbing his camera. He hurried out of the room.

"Okay, that's it everybody. Y'all get out there and find me some news, people!" Perry smacked his fist into his hand and released his staff from the meeting. "Lois, Clark, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure, Chief," Clark answered.

"Are you sure that no one knows anything about this child," he asked softly. "It's not front page, but…" He shook his head. "I've seen a lot in my years working for this paper…" he trailed off.

Clark sighed. "Superman went over to try and talk to her this morning, but she wouldn't say anything." His face clouded over. "She seemed… afraid of him."

"We're going to head over there and see if she's said anything yet," Lois said softly, taking Clark's hand and squeezing it gently. "It doesn't look like the other papers are very interested, so we have the exclusive."

"Well, you two get on it," he said gruffly. "I want the story by deadline."

"Yes, Chief," they chorused and turned to leave.


October 21, 1998, 10:45 am

Metropolis General Hospital

Lois and Clark walked up to the front desk and patiently waited for the nurse to finish her telephone call. She waved, acknowledging that she had noticed them and finished quickly. "How may I help you?" she asked pleasantly.

"I'm Lois Lane and this is my partner, Clark Kent, and we're from the Daily Planet. We're here about the little girl who was brought in last night and we were wondering if we might be able to speak to the child or the hospital social worker." Lois smiled sweetly at the nurse. Years of working with Clark had taught her that she could often get through easier when she was nice to the little people.

The nurse smiled. "Ms. Grey's office is down the right- hand corridor on the second floor. It's the fourth door to your left."

"Thank you, ma'am," Clark said with a charming smile. They set off towards the elevator and soon arrived at the office. Clark knocked on the door.

"Come in," a pleasant voice said.

Lois and Clark walked into the room. "Ms. Grey," Clark began, "I'm Clark Kent and this is Lois Lane. We're from the Daily Planet. We're here to find out about the Jane Doe who was brought in last night, and we wondered if there is any information you could share with us."

"Please, have a seat." Ms. Grey gestured to the chairs in front of her desk. "Normally, we wouldn't release this kind of information on a patient, but since we have yet to identify her and the police have asked for cooperation, I'll tell you everything we know, which really isn't much. The child is around four or five years old with blonde hair and dark blue eyes. She was found by a young woman leaving a movie theatre last night around 11:30."

Ms. Grey wound a strand of short hair around her finger. "She has a cracked rib, a concussion, lacerations, layers of bruises, and a narrow escape from hypothermia. I'm afraid that there's not much more that I can tell you— since she regained consciousness, she's refused to speak."

"What will happen to her from here?" Lois asked softly, her heart aching for this small scrap of mistreated humanity.

Ms. Grey sighed. "There's no help for it," she began quietly. "She has to go to Coates Orphanage for the time being. They usually don't take children her age, but they do have a wing for young children in case of emergency." She ran her hand through her cropped locks. "Right now, there simply aren't enough foster homes to go around in Metropolis, so the Orphanage will do for short-term care until we can find her a foster home placement."

"And if we never find out anything about her?" Clark asked.

"We're running her description and picture through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's database. If she was kidnapped, something will show up. After that, we're going to check school records—at her approximate age, she would at least be in kindergarten, and they've already taken school pictures." She looked at them seriously. "We're going to find out who she is and how she got on that street corner."

"Can we talk to her?" Lois asked hesitantly.

"Follow me." Beth Grey motioned to them and strode from the room. "It's possible that she will talk to you, but there are a few things you need to know," she said glancing at Clark. "The child flinches away from any male who enters the room, including the photographer that your editor sent over… and it's also important if you ask her any questions that they be open-ended ones."

She turned down a hallway and led them into pediatrics. "If we ever catch the person who did this to her, there's a good chance that she'll have to testify so that we can put him away. The only way we can get a conviction to stick is if she wasn't questioned inappropriately."

Beth stopped in front of a door and regarded them seriously. "Mr. Kent, you should probably stay here with me and let your partner question the child. She's more likely to talk to your partner alone than she is to talk to you."

Lois exchanged a look with Clark before entering the room. She looked at the small child curled up in the hospital bed and smiled softly. "Hello, little one," she murmured. The little girl looked up and waved hesitantly, her eyes wide with fear.

"What's your name, sweetie?" Lois asked quietly.

The child shook her head, terror spreading over her features.

"Sweetheart, we just want to know what to call you. Later on today, after the doctor says it's okay, you're going to go live in a place where there are lots of other children to play with. Would you like that?"

"Yes," the little girl whispered.

"What's your name, honey?" Lois asked patiently.

The child reached out her hand and touched a strand of Lois's hair. "Pretty," she said quietly.

"So is yours, sweetie," Lois said, smiling.

The child shook her head vigorously. "Papa Gary cut it off, 'cause I was bad. It's not pretty no more. It looks like Timmy cut it."

Lois smiled and held out her hand. "It will get better," she said softly. "Can you tell me what your name is, little one?"

The little girl looked at her measuringly. There was something about this lady that told her that she didn't need to be afraid to tell what her name was. She didn't really trust her, but the pretty lady reminded her of her mommy… or her teacher. "R-r-r-rachel," she said hesitantly, "Rachel Pierce."

Lois smiled. "Where do you live, Rachel?"

Terror flashed across Rachel's face. She started to shake and curled up into a ball, withdrawing from the conversation.

Lois sighed and gently stroked Rachel's hair back from her face. "It's okay, Rachel," she said quietly. "Things are going to get better, you'll see." She walked slowly out of the room, stopping to glance back at the child, before joining Clark and Ms. Grey.

"What did she say?" Beth asked quietly.

Lois smiled, a trace of sadness on her face. "She told me that her 'Papa Gary' cut her hair off because she was bad, she knows someone named Timmy, and that her name is Rachel Pierce… then she curled up in a ball like she is now and refused to answer me when I asked where she was from."

Beth sighed. "Thank you, Ms. Lane." She pulled a card out of her pocket and handed it over. "I can reach you at the Planet if there are any new developments, right?"

Clark nodded and pulled out a business card of his own. "Please keep in touch, Ms. Grey. We'd like to know how Rachel is doing, if that's possible."

"I can't promise anything, Mr. Kent… that will be up to her social worker, Samantha Parker, but I'll pass the information along." She shook Clark's hand quickly and turned to leave.

Clark put his arm around Lois and began to lead her away from Rachel's room. "Why is it," she said quietly, "that some people have children that they abuse and throw away while some of us are denied them? She's only a little girl, it's not fair!"

Clark stopped, pulled her into an embrace, and kissed her on the forehead. "I know honey," he said softly. "Right now we're a family of two… and that's enough. If we never have a baby, then we'll be fine just like we are."

Lois nodded against his chest before pulling back slightly. She could tell that he had said that as much to reassure himself as to comfort her. With visible effort, she pulled herself together. "Let's go back to the Planet," she said. "We've got a story to write."


Chapter 2: Tuesday's Child

October 21, 1998 1:00 p.m.

235 Rideley Way, Metropolis

Lois and Clark walked up to the entrance of the house, and she knocked on the door. "Coming, I'm coming," came a voice from inside.

A gray-haired elderly woman answered the door, straightening the jacket of her smartly-tailored suit as she peered out at her new visitors. "Yes?" she asked, her faded green eyes twinkling.

"Hello, Ma'am. My name is Clark Kent and this is my partner, Lois Lane. We're from the Daily Planet and we wanted to know if you recognize this child," he said, holding out a photograph of Rachel.

"Oh, my," she put her hand up to her mouth. "That's little Rachel Pierce from across the street. What happened?"

"She was found unconscious on a street corner across town last night," Lois said quietly. "We're working in conjunction with the police to find out what happened, and we were hoping that you might be able to give us some information about her."

"Why don't you come in?" she invited, opening the door wider and ushering them inside. Lois and Clark came inside, and she gestured them toward the couch, shutting the door behind them before taking a seat herself.

"I'm not sure how much I should tell you," she began hesitantly. "My name is Emma Lenski and I've lived in Metropolis my entire life… My husband and I suspected that something was amiss with that sweet child; we could hear the screaming coming from the Russell's place some nights after Mr. Russell got home." Emma sighed nervously and began to toy with the bracelet on her right wrist.

"I called Children and Family Services once. Rachel used to come over for cookies occasionally. I was happy to have her because my grandchildren live so far away." She regarded the couple seriously. "She had big bruises all over her arms—they looked like fingerprints. Social Services told me they'd take care of it, and Rachel stopped coming over soon after." Emma sighed quietly. "I thought that they'd resolved the problem, but…" Her eyes filled with tears. "…I still can't imagine that her stepfather would hurt her—he's such a small man and he seems rather quiet."

"What about the little girl's mother?" Clark asked quietly.

"Mrs. Russell died last year, and Rachel's biological father deserted them before Rachel was born. Mr. Russell's had a procession of nannies to take care of the children since their mother's death," Emma replied. "Perhaps the nanny was the one who hurt Rachel?" she asked, her eyes wide with the hope that her neighbor was innocent. "Mrs. Russell and I were good friends before the car accident that took her life. She used to bring Rachel over to play, and Timmy as well after he came along. He's two now."

"Is there anything else you can tell us? Perhaps where she goes to school?" Lois questioned.

"I've seen her catch the school bus on the corner," Emma offered hesitantly.

"Thank you, Mrs. Lenski," Clark said, holding out his hand for her to shake.

Lois pulled a card out of her purse and handed it to the grandmotherly lady. "If you think of anything else, please give us a call."

Emma took the card from her and smiled sadly as they left. Why hadn't she done more, she wondered. She sighed, shook her head and returned to her morning's activities.

Lois climbed into the jeep and glanced over at Clark. "Did Henderson want us to talk to anyone else?" she asked, starting the car and heading away from the upscale suburban neighborhood.

"No," Clark replied. "He said that Family and Children Services had talked to everyone else and that we'd be getting full transcripts of the interviews for the Planet." He looked at his wife, sadness on his face. "Apparently, any public interest we can drum up for this little girl will help; her stepfather is a high-powered corporate lawyer."

Clark sighed. "I can't help but think that if someone other than my parents had found me, I might have grown up with someone hurting me the way her stepfather has been hurting Rachel."

Lois reached over and grasped his hand. "I know," she said softly. "You were lucky… And now Rachel has a second chance; she's been rescued from her own private hell."

"But how many children aren't so lucky?" Clark asked sadly. "How many more little kids are there in Metropolis who are trapped?" He ran his free hand through his hair. "And not even Superman can save them," he muttered.

Lois stopped the car at the stop sign and turned towards him. "Clark, Superman might not be able to save them, but maybe we can—we'll talk to Perry about doing a sidebar or an editorial or *something*."

Clark nodded slowly. "I hope it's enough," he said quietly.


October 21, 2:00 p.m.

Coates Orphanage, Metropolis

Rachel pulled her hand out of the social worker's grasp, not wanting to be touched, and looked around her with wide eyes. It looked kind of like her school, and that had always been a safe place, but at the same time, she was terrified of being left there.

The social worker dropped to her knees so that her eyes were level with Rachel's. "Rachel," she began, "we're going to do our best to find you a family as quickly as we can, but until then, you'll be safe here, okay?"

Rachel nodded, looked down, and wrapped her arms around herself. She knew better than to hope that anything would get better—she had to take care of herself. She'd been doing it ever since her mother had died; Papa Gary sure didn't.

"Rachel," the social worker said gently, "do you remember my name?"

Rachel nodded again, carefully stepping back from the woman.

"Can you say it?" she asked as she put a finger underneath the girl's chin and tilted her head up.

"Sam," Rachel whispered, pulling away before this new person had a chance to hurt her as well.

"Rachel," Samantha began, "I'm going to tell the people who are going to care for you that you can call me to talk if you need me, okay?"

Rachel nodded, not believing what Samantha said. She pulled her arms more tightly around herself and stared at the ground.

"C'mon, Rachel," Samantha said gently. "Let's get you settled." She stood up and started down the pathway while Rachel followed behind her, climbing the flight of stairs that led to the door. They entered the building and walked down a long hallway and turned into another. It wasn't long before they reached a large, brightly-colored room filled with long rows of beds.

Samantha placed the paper bag full of necessities on the bed, grateful to the church group who had begun to assemble 'possibles bags' for children like Rachel who had nothing in the way of material possessions when they came into foster care.

"Rachel, we're going to your house to talk to your stepfather today. Is there anything that you'd particularly like from home?" Samantha asked.

Rachel stepped back at the mention of her stepfather and hung her head to stare intently at the linoleum-covered floor, studying the patterns that the tiles made. "Are you taking me back?" she whispered.

Samantha dropped to her knees and tipped the child's chin up so she could look her in the eye. "No, I'm not, Rachel. We're going to go talk to a judge today and you're going to stay here until we find you a new family."

Rachel flinched back from her touch and retreated to the opposite side of the bed, out of reach. She stuffed her hands in her pockets and began to scuff her shoe against the floor. "C-c-could I have Aimee, my dolly?" she said almost inaudibly. "My Mommy gave her to me," she finished in a whisper.

"I'll see what I can do, sweetie," Samantha promised. "Now, let me show you where you can put your stuff…" She moved towards a nearby dresser and pulled out a drawer. She normally would leave this kind of thing to the Home's staff, but most of the staff from this part of the Orphanage simply weren't around.

She also didn't want to frighten Rachel by introducing Mr. Stevens to her until she had a place to call her own. With her negative reaction to men, it was as if she expected blows and harsh words from them as a matter of course. Samantha sighed as she helped transfer the child's sparse belongings from the brown paper sack to the drawer. It would be best for Rachel if they set up an appointment with the county's new art therapist as soon as possible.

It was absolutely amazing the successes that were emerging from practitioners in this new field. Anything that could bring little Rachel out of her self-imposed isolation had to be a good thing. And if it led to them being able to get enough evidence to convict the monster that had hurt her, then it would be even better. They had managed to collect some evidence, but until Rachel told them who had hurt her, it was unlikely that they could get a conviction. Lost in thought, Samantha finished the small task and carefully led the girl out of the dormitory and downstairs to meet the director.


October 22, 1998 2:30 p.m.

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Clark read through another stack of research and whistled. "Amazing," he muttered softly. Perry had asked him to do a sidebar that included information on the history of child abuse. Relieved, Clark had agreed, hoping that by giving the public some cold, hard facts on child abuse, coupled with Rachel's story, people might try and help.

Child abuse was not one of the problems that Superman could solve. Clark turned to his keyboard, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and began typing furiously. As impassioned as he was about the subject, he finished the article in record time and sent it to Lois's terminal so that she could look over it.

He stood and quickly made his way over to Lois's desk. "Lois?" he said quietly, not wanting to startle her. He smiled as he noticed her abstracted look. She was immersed in her story and wasn't paying much attention to what was going on around her.

"Hmm?" she replied.

Clark leaned down and planted a soft kiss on the back of her neck. "I just sent you the sidebar. I thought you'd like to see it."

"Thanks," she murmured, still busy typing.

"Almost finished?" he asked, putting his hands on her shoulders and beginning to rub them gently.

"Yeah," she said, typing the last sentence. "Okay, all done." She looked up at him and smiled. "Take a look at it for me?"

"Sure!" he replied, leaning down to kiss her softly before turning his attention to the screen. He scanned through the story quickly. "You're missing a comma here," he said, adding it in.

"Is that all, sweetheart?" she asked. "I was hoping, if our mean boss will allow it, we can go home… and work on that other project of ours."

Clark grinned. "Other project?" he asked, feigning innocence.

Lois reached up, grabbed his tie, and reeled him in for a kiss. "Ohhh, yess… *that* project," he said, leaning in to steal another kiss.

They broke off the kiss and pulled apart reluctantly as they heard someone clear their throat behind them. "What is this?" a gruff voice asked. "Elvis's Honeymoon Hideaway? I want your stories now!"

"On their way, Perry," Lois said, as she LANed the story to him and clicked open the file containing Clark's sidebar. She scanned it quickly, making a few changes, before she sent that one to Perry's computer as well.

Perry smiled at them. "Thanks, kids. Now get on out of here—I don't want to see y'all until tomorrow."

"Yes, Chief," they chorused. In a matter of minutes, they had gathered their stuff and headed towards the elevator. Before the metal doors could close, Clark was pulling her into his arms for another kiss. Lois clasped her arms around his neck as he brought his around her. "So," she asked between sweet kisses, "are we going to have another try at our little 'project' tonight?"

Clark laughed softly and tightened his hold on her. "Superman can have the night off," he whispered. "I've got plans for the night that don't include him."

Lois laughed softly and tugged his head down for another kiss.


November 15, 1998 4:30 p.m.

Coates Orphanage, Metropolis

Rachel stood by the fence, watching the other children play. The dark-haired lady from the hospital was right—it was better here than at home. She smiled as she thought about the beautiful lady. Samantha told her that the lady's name was Ms. Lane when she had taken her to the pretty lady's house week before last.

She wasn't sure why they'd gone there, but she didn't really care much, either. Ms. Lane's house wasn't scary like hers was. Rachel walked shyly along the fence, shaking her head when some of the others motioned for her to join them. They were too loud; they yelled all the time and she still wasn't used to it.

The only yelling at home had been from Papa Gary, and yelling was scary. She shivered; she still had nightmares about waking up to find herself in her bed with her stepfather standing over her. That was one place she never wanted to go back to. She'd rather go back to Ms. Lane's house; she didn't seem like a yelling kind of person. "Rachel?" a voice called out from behind her.

She turned around slowly. "Yes, Mr. Stevens?" she said quietly. She stepped back as he got close to her and flinched when he laid a hand on her shoulder.

He dropped his hand quickly, having forgotten momentarily that touching without invitation was not advised. "Your counselor is here," he said, his voice gentle. "Run along inside to see her, okay?"

"Yessir," she whispered and turned to run inside. Rachel hurried up the steps, entered the building, and headed over to the counselor's office. She knocked on the door timidly and pushed it open.

"Come in, Rachel." A young woman came out from behind the desk and walked over. "Remember me?" she asked softly.

Rachel shrank back, feeling as if she wanted to hide.

"It's okay, Rachel," she soothed. "Can you remember my name?"

Rachel nodded hesitantly. "Ms. Summers," she said in an almost inaudible voice, shrinking back shyly from the counselor.

"That's right," Ms. Summers said with a broad smile. "I thought that you might like to color pictures today," she said, busily moving over to the cabinet and removing the necessary supplies. She laid them on a small table and sat down.

Rachel approached the table, picked up some crayons and paper and sat down. "What do you want a picture of?" she asked quietly.

"How about a picture of your family?" Ms. Summers requested.

Rachel nodded and began to draw.


November 15, 1998, 5:30 p.m.

Daily Planet, Metropolis.

Lois quickly typed the last few words of her latest story into her word processor, saved it, and LANed it to Perry. She sat back in her chair and sighed softly. Clark had been called away on an emergency—an accident on the freeway—and she was bored. There hadn't been any major villains around Metropolis for months, and everything was still pretty quiet.

She had been to see Rachel a few times at Samantha Parker's request. Apparently, the child was still refusing to talk much. Almost all of her responses to questions were whispers. It was as if she were living in constant fear of another beating from everyone she came in contact with. Samantha had even brought her to the brownstone once, but Rachel had simply clung to Lois and refused to talk. Lois sighed and ran a hand through her hair.

At the time, they had been desperate to get information from the little girl. Since Lois was one of the few people she had ever spoken to, they had decided to try it, but she was still mostly withdrawn. Rachel seemed to like the brownstone; it was almost as if she felt safe there.

Lois sighed, shook off the memories, reached for the phone, and began to dial. "Yes, I know it's almost quitting time and you want to get home to your wife. Henderson, I *know*. Look, the faster you talk to me, the faster you can get home. *Okay*." Lois rolled her eyes and began to play with the telephone cord. "Do you have anything for me? It's quiet in Homicide. Uh *huh*. C'mon, you *have* to have *something*. All right," Lois sighed and raked her hair out of her face with her right hand. "Thanks anyway. Drive safe. You have a good night, too. Bye."

Lois hung up the phone, pulled her address book out, and started flipping through it. She smiled as she came across Bobby Bigmouth's number. If anyone would have a lead on a story for her it would be Bobby. She picked up the phone and began to dial.

"Bobby, this is Lois. What do you have for me? Yes, I know news has been slow these past few weeks. C'mon, Bobby, you owe me. What? A rash of infant deaths in the foster care system and in the emergency children's wing of the Coates Orphanage? And the causes of death are all listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?" Lois took a deep breath, shocked by the news. She *knew* a few children in the system. What if… something had happened to them? She frowned before continuing. "Thanks, Bobby! Yes, if this pans out, Peking Duck next time. Okay, bye!" Lois hung up the phone, her eyes shining with excitement. This was the first good lead she'd had in weeks!

She looked at her watch and grimaced. It was too late to get the coroner's reports, so she'd have to wait until the next day.

"Lois, in my office," Perry called out.

"Coming, Chief," she said. Lois grabbed her note pad and a pencil, hurried across the newsroom, and entered Perry's office. "What d'ya need, Perry?" she asked.

"I just wanted to know how you're doing, darlin'," Perry said with a smile. "I also wanted to know if you've managed to find a front page story for me, and if you've got any updates on the Pierce girl."

"I'm okay, Perry. That was Bobby on the phone now. It's too late to know if it's front page, above the fold material, but I've got a definite lead on a story." Lois studied her notepad intently. "And the little girl is okay for now. They have an art therapist seeing her while they gather more evidence against her stepfather."

Perry nodded. "What's the lead about?" he asked.

"Apparently there have been approximately 25 infants and toddlers from the foster care system in the past 3 months die from SIDS," she explained. "Bobby says that the deaths are spread out over the surrounding counties and that same doctor handled the autopsies. He said that the word on the street is that the deaths weren't SIDS and that the doctor was bribed."

"Sounds good. Keep me updated, darlin'." Perry glanced at his watch. "Now you skeddadle on outta here and I'll see you tomorrow."

Lois smiled. "Goodnight, Perry," she said, turning to leave.

"Goodnight, darlin'," he said softly. Perry turned to his desk and started packing his stuff up to leave. It had been a long day, and Alice was waiting for him at home.


November 15, 1998, 10:30 p.m.

Coates Orphanage, Early Childhood Wing, Metropolis

"No, No, NO!" Jared shook his head and groaned as the nightly screaming began. Not Rachel again. It never failed. As soon as he got the little snot-nosed brats down for the night, she'd start screaming. He got up, walked over to the bed where the little girl lay, and began to pat her back.

"NO! G'way! DON'T. Please," Rachel whimpered. "It's too *dark* in the closet!" She thrashed around on the bed, scattering the blankets.

Jared put his hand on her shoulder and shook her gently rather than smacking the living daylights out of her like he wanted to. "Wake up, Rachel—it's just a dream. You're safe now," he said neutrally.

"NOOOOOOOOO," she sat up, took one look at him, and jumped out of bed to run and hide in the corner of the room. Rachel sat in the corner, shivering. She put her arms around her knees and began to rock back and forth, silent tears streaming down her face.

Jared sighed and grabbed one of the rucked up blankets off the bed. They went through this almost nightly, and he knew from experience that she wouldn't leave the corner until after she was sure that he was gone. He walked over and carefully wrapped the blanket around her, knowing that if he left her to freeze, there'd be hell to pay. He was, after all, responsible for the screaming freak.

He backed away quietly, not wanting to make her scream loudly, and left the room. He shoved his hands in his pockets and began to make his way down the hall to check on the other children. "She's disrupting the others," a voice said from behind his shoulder.

Jared jumped, startled, and turned around. "Sheesh. Don't *do* that, Paul. You scared me!" He gave Paul a measuring glance.

As usual, the tall man was immaculately dressed and looked every inch a clean-cut all-American boy. His short blond hair was combed away from his face while his deep brown eyes darted around the hallway, intent upon finding anyone who might be watching. "Sorry." He looked at Jared with an upraised eyebrow. "It *is* true, you know. The child is constantly waking up the other kids, and it isn't fair to them or us. She's withdrawn and doesn't really talk to anybody. The only person she's been known to talk to willingly is that Lane woman. Perhaps the psychiatric ward over at Metropolis General would be a better place for her."

"Maybe," Jared replied. "She's giving *me* a headache." He gestured towards an empty room nearby. "Join me? We've got another order for a kid."

Paul smiled and walked into the room. "Is Doctor King still on the payroll?" he asked.

Jared nodded. "Yeah. We've even got a kid come in today that matches the description of one the buyer wants."

Rachel crept quietly down the hall, looking for the bathroom, and hearing the voices, slipped in the room.

"Did you obtain a new supply of the chemical?" Paul asked.

"Sure did, boss," he replied. "Our pet chemist modified the formula to get rid of the side effects and make sure that the drug's action will be delayed."

Paul reached in his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of cash. "Here's your cut from the last one," he said, handing it over.

Jared pocketed the cash. "Thanks, Boss. I'll get the merchandise ready for transport. Our chemist says that the drug has an eight-hour time delay, so we administer the drug before the foster parents get here to pick the brat up, and it'll look completely natural." He smirked at Paul. "We're just lucky that this foster care crisis is working in our favor; it's much easier to get to the kids now that they're stoppin' in here overnight."

Paul grinned. "We're making a mint off of this," he said gleefully. "And the best part is that no one suspects anything!" He frowned suddenly. "We may have to change counties soon—we're gonna run outta babies and toddlers." Paul turned and noticed Rachel's small form standing in the light from the hallway.

He began to frown. "What'd you hear, kid?" he asked roughly. If she had heard too much, all of them could end up with a long prison term, and it simply wasn't in the plan. He supposed that they were lucky that the kid didn't talk much; if she ever opened her mouth, he'd have to silence her.

"Sumpin," she answered sullenly.

Paul grabbed Rachel by the arm and dragged her over near Jared. "Brat, what did you *hear*?" he asked.

Rachel began to shiver. "You got a drug that you need to sell sumpin," she answered, frightened.

Paul's frown deepened. "Anything else?" he growled.

"Saw you give mister some money," she said softly.

"I think the kid heard more than that, don't you, Jared?" Paul said as a smile began to creep over his face.

"I agree, Boss," Jared answered.

"Grab the kid and hold her," Paul ordered.

Jared grabbed Rachel and held her by her arms, clutching her tightly enough to leave bruises. Paul began to pace in front of her.

"Kid, you've heard too much—you know enough to get me in trouble… and I can't let you talk," he smiled nastily. "You're gonna promise me to never tell anybody this or you'll be sorry you were born."

Paul balled up his fist and hit her twice, once in the stomach and once in the face. Rachel slumped against Jared's grip, dazed.

"You're not gonna tell, are ya, brat?" he asked.

"Nossir," she said quietly, fighting back tears. She had been right all along. She was on her own and had to take care of herself; the grown-ups were all liars… except perhaps, the pretty lady who lived in the safe place.

"Go put her back in her bed, Jared," Paul ordered.

Jared nodded and began to drag her back towards the dormitory. He shoved her back on her bed and leaned down over her. "You'd better not tell," he whispered. "If you do, what your Papa Gary did will look like heaven." He walked off, disappearing into the hallway.

Rachel shivered in her bed. She wanted her Mommy back… or pretty Ms. Lane. One thing was for certain, she wasn't going to stay here anymore. She climbed out of bed silently and grabbed Aimee. Quietly, she made her way over to the window, opened it, and swung out into the tree that grew beside the building. She climbed down the tree quickly and headed off into the night.

Ms. Lane worked for the Daily Planet—she remembered hearing Samantha talking about it. If she could find the Planet, maybe Ms. Lane would keep them from hurting her. The pretty lady did seem to care… and she reminded her of her Mommy. Rachel walked down the dark streets and disappeared into an alley.

She remembered the Planet being fairly close to the orphanage, but she wasn't sure where it was. Rachel shivered as a cold, icy wind cut through her thin pajamas like a knife, and she clutched her doll closer to her. She stepped on a patch of ice and slipped, her bare feet finding little purchase on the slick surface. As her hands hit the pavement, she stifled a cry, knowing that if anyone heard, they wouldn't care. She picked herself up, chose a direction, and started hiking off into the inky darkness.


Chapter 3: Wednesday's Child

November 16, 1998 12:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois smiled sleepily as Clark climbed into bed next to her. "Hey, you," she said softly. She moved over and settled her head comfortably on his chest. "How did it go?" she asked.

"Pretty good," he said, smiling as he leaned down to kiss her. "The fire wasn't serious and everybody got out okay. I gave Mike the interview… It'll be his first from Superman."

"That's nice," she said, reaching over to lace her fingers through his, her mind obviously elsewhere. She played with his fingers absently before speaking. "Sweetheart," she began, "I was wondering… do you think we could try the adoption option again? I know we were refused last year, but it's not like you've had to rescue me much lately." She looked up at Clark hopefully. "It's possible that they'd accept us as candidates."

"I don't know, sweetheart," he answered truthfully. "All we can do is try." Clark leaned down and kissed her softly.

"Yeah," she sighed and snuggled closer to him. "I talked to Bobby today," she began, turning her head to drop a gentle kiss on his chest. "I think we've got a lead on a story—twenty-five babies and toddlers in the system have died in the past few months, and the cause of death for all of them has been listed as SIDS."

"That's insane!" Clark commented, wide-eyed. "That's just *way* too many kids; there has to be something else going on there."

"Tell me about it," Lois said wryly. "The sheer numbers are far too high for it to be coincidence."

"If it's not SIDS, what's *really* happening to all of the kids?" Clark wondered out loud.

"I don't know," Lois said softly.

"We'll get to the bottom of it," Clark promised. "Tomorrow…" he interrupted himself with a huge yawn.

Lois chuckled softly and reached over to turn out the light. "G'night, sweetheart," she said quietly. She settled herself comfortably on Clark's chest and soon joined him in a deep sleep.


November 16, 1998 2:30 am

The Streets of Metropolis

Rachel shivered violently as she walked. She had been wandering for hours, and knew that she was well and truly lost. She didn't know where the Daily Planet was, and she figured that she wasn't any closer to finding it. Sleepily, she rubbed her eyes. Rachel stubbed her toes

against a big crack in the sidewalk and fell, landing face first on the wet, dirty pavement.

Tears began to gather in her eyes. She curled up around Aimee on the filthy asphalt and gave in to the tears that had been threatening for so long. She was freezing and dirty, as well as hungry and tired, and she ached from the numerous bruises and scrapes on her body. She sobbed into the doll's yarn hair, wishing for someone, anyone, to come and put her arms around her. "Mommy," she whispered sadly. She didn't have many memories of her mother; they were all hazy, dream-like. But she did remember how it felt to be held close by someone who loved her, and she yearned for that feeling now.

Rachel scrubbed the tears from her cheeks, further smearing the dirt and blood on her face. She pushed herself up from the ground and shivered again, feeling the bite of the icy wind as it blew through her thin, torn pajamas. Blubbering like a baby never does any good, she thought sadly. Nobody cares; no one ever comes. Maybe it'd be easier to find the Daily Planet in the morning. Maybe pretty Ms. Lane will care.

Rachel sighed. It was too cold to sleep outside; she wanted to find someplace warmer to try and sleep in. She looked up and down the street she was on. Houses. Houses everywhere and none of them were hers. Rachel frowned slightly—all of the houses on this block kind of reminded her of the pretty lady's house. She shivered again as a sharp breeze whipped through her.

Rachel turned, glanced at the house closest to her, and brightened. The door didn't have a lock on it. She'd probably get in trouble when the people who lived there found her, but she decided not to care. She was tired and it looked like a good place to rest. With aching feet, she climbed the flight of stairs that led to the door and slipped inside. Rachel smiled sleepily as the warmth of the house began to seep into her icy skin. She could at least get warm here… and if the peoples were nice, perhaps they'd take her to the Daily Planet to see Ms. Lane again.

Rachel walked over to the corner of the entryway and curled up there. She cradled Aimee in her arms and began to rock the doll to sleep. "You're the only one who loves me, now," she whispered. "You're the only one who's there for me." She began to quietly hum the tune of an almost- forgotten lullaby quietly. "I love you, Aimee," she said, before cuddling the damp, grubby doll. "I love you," she whispered before falling into a deep sleep.


November 16, 1998 5:30 am

348 Hyperion Avenue

Clark woke to a cry for help, looked at the clock, and groaned. 5:30. He could survive on less sleep than most people, but between the hurricane that had hit the Bahamas last week and a few other crimes and disasters, he hadn't been getting nearly enough sleep lately. He slipped out of bed, spun into the Suit, and, making sure that his cell phone was in the pocket of his cape, he flew off to attend to the call for help.


November 16, 1998 6:00 am

Coates Orphanage, Early Childhood Wing, Metropolis

Jared walked into the dormitory and looked around. Most of the children were safely tucked in bed asleep, but one in particular was empty. He examined the room and grimaced when he noticed the open window. The brat had run away. Mr. Stevens, the director, wasn't going to like the fact that one of the children was missing. Jared knew he'd be lucky if he could escape with just a lecture.

He sighed heavily and went down the hall to use the phone. At least this had the potential to solve some problems for him and the Boss. With the weather they'd been having, it was possible that the kid hadn't survived the night. He picked up the phone and began to make the necessary calls.


November 16, 1998, 6:30 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis.

Lois woke to an empty bed and frowned. She hated waking up alone; it was infinitely better to wake up with Clark than without him. She shut off the alarm quickly and began to get ready for work. She hurried through her preparations for the day, intent on getting some work done at the Planet before going to the coroner's office to get the autopsy reports.

Lois hurried downstairs and, deciding to skip breakfast, grabbed her overcoat and threw it on, then snatched up her purse and briefcase. She headed out the door pausing momentarily to scan the vestibule. Lois dropped her briefcase and gasped in surprise when she spotted the ragged, filthy little girl curled up in a corner by the door. She quickly knelt beside the child and gently touched her arm.

"Little one?" she said softly, trying not to startle the baby.

"Mommy," the child answered sleepily. "My froat hurts." She looked up at Lois with glassy eyes.

Lois caught the little girl's chin with one hand and examined the child's face. "Rachel?" she asked quietly.

"Mommy," Rachel sobbed, still half-asleep.

Lois laid her hand on the girl's forehead and frowned. It was obvious that she was feverish. She wasn't sure why the little girl was calling her 'Mommy', but decided she was probably delirious from the fever. Rachel's filthy pajamas were still wet and clung to her skin. Without further thought, she gathered the little girl in her arms and stood, then carried her small burden back into the house.

Unsure what to do next, she grabbed the throw from the back of the couch and wrapped the little girl in it, then sat down heavily on the couch. Lois felt Rachel's forehead again and shivered. Just how was one supposed to treat a feverish five-year-old? She wished that they had bought a thermometer to replace the one that Clark had accidentally stepped on last week, but it hadn't really seemed necessary at the time. She briefly considered calling Clark, but this wasn't that big an emergency, and it would look more than a bit strange for Superman's cape to start ringing in the middle of a rescue.

Lois thought back to her father's lectures, trying to think of something to help. Deciding that a warm bath and dry clothes might be in order, Lois carried Rachel upstairs, laid her on the bed, and went into the bathroom to run tepid water into the tub. Once it was half-full, she turned the water off and went to get Rachel.

She stripped off the child's sodden pajamas and carried her into the bathroom, amazed that a child of five years weighed so little. Lowering her gently into the water, she began to wash off the dirt, grime, and blood, paying special attention to the scrapes and scratches that marred the girl's body. She winced in sympathy as she found the large, black and purple bruise on Rachel's stomach, the hand and finger marks around her arms, and the puffiness around her right eye.

"That feels good, Mommy," Rachel whispered hoarsely. "I wanna go sleep, now."

"In a few minutes, sweetie," Lois answered. She washed Rachel's hair gently before lifting her out of the tub and wrapping her in towels. She carried Rachel into the adjoining master bedroom to retrieve one of Clark's t- shirts, then took her into the guest room and placed her carefully on the bed. Lois slipped the shirt over the child's head and tucked her into bed. "There you go, Rachel. All safe and warm."

"Mommy," the little girl said. "I don't feel good."

"I know you don't, sweetheart," Lois answered, continuing to play along. "You go to sleep, baby. I'll call the doctor, okay?"

"Okay, Mommy," Rachel answered. She rolled over and groped around the bed, searching for something. "Where's Amiee?" she asked, tears threatening.

"I'll go get her," Lois promised, suddenly remembering the doll that the child had been holding. She winced at the thought of putting the filthy, wet toy into bed with the girl, but knew Rachel needed the comfort of a toy to cuddle. Suddenly, remembering the stuffed bear that Clark had won for her at the Smallville Corn Festival, Lois walked over to the closet and, reaching to the back of the shelf, grasped the stuffed animal by one fuzzy leg and pulled it down. As an afterthought, she retrieved the electric blanket as well, and carried both items back into the guest room.

"Here you go, Rachel," Lois said softly as she placed the toy in Rachel's arms, praying that "Clarkie-bear" would be a suitable substitute. Lois tucked the blanket around Rachel, plugged it in, and turned it on its lowest setting.

"Thank you, Mommy," Rachel sighed, turned over and stuck her thumb in her mouth.

Lois gave the blankets one final pat before she headed downstairs. She was thankful that her father had relocated to Metropolis; Rachel needed to be examined, but the thought of enduring an endless wait in the Emergency Room while cradling an exhausted child was wholly unappealing. Besides, Rachel was probably only suffering from a simple fever and a cold. She knew she should call Family and Children services, but the offices didn't open until nine and that was more than an hour from now.

She picked up the phone and began to dial the familiar number. "Daddy? This is Lois. I need your help—I found a patient for you; it's little Rachel Pierce. Yes. I know that I should take her to the hospital, but there are some circumstances. No, it's nothing illegal. Will you come? Thanks, Daddy! I'll see you in a few minutes."

Lois sighed, hung up the phone, dialed another number, and got the machine. "Perry, this is Lois. An emergency's come up, and I won't be able to come in until later on today, if I manage to make in it at all. It has to do with the Pierce child. I'll be at home if you need to reach me." She hung up the phone, went back upstairs, and sat down beside Rachel's bed to watch over her as she slept.


November 16, 1998 7:00 am

836 Centennial Drive Apt 3B

Sam hurriedly stuck some emergency medical supplies into his black doctor's bag and scrounged around for a piece of paper to jot a quick note to Ellen on. It had taken him almost two years before she had finally forgiven him… and agreed to marry him again. The last few years of their first marriage had been hellish, but he had been even more miserable without her.

Baby Gunderson was the closest he had gotten after their divorce to having a serious relationship—and he didn't think that it could even be called a 'relationship' with an android. Baby Gunderson had really been a… science experiment, and science experiments couldn't love you back. Sam was thankful that his Ellen had taken him back; he knew he really didn't deserve her. He snatched a sheet of paper from the blotter on his desk and scribbled a note on it with the pen that lay on his bedside table.

*"Dear Ellen,

Lois called and asked for help. I'll be at their brownstone if you need me. Love you—Sam"*

He placed the note prominently on the bedside table and, picking up his bag, headed for the door. Sam grabbed his heavy overcoat, tugged it on, went outside, and locked the front door behind him.

He walked over to his car, unlocked it, tossed his bag inside, and climbed in. Sam was determined to help his daughter in whatever way she needed him. After all, it was a rare occasion that Lois ever asked for his help. He was aware of the fact that it was his fault; after all, he was the one who had hurt and betrayed her by his behavior. If he hadn't fallen into the infidelity trap, Lois might actually trust him more than she did. He just felt lucky that his princess was willing to give him a second chance— Lucy wasn't able to do that yet.

Sam had been a doctor not so long ago; he had helped heal an awful lot of people. It was long past the time for him to try and heal the fractures in his family; fractures that he had created. He had never meant for it to happen. He had never meant to destroy the family that had been so precious to him. It had crept up on him a little at a time. He had just wanted what was best for them; he wanted to provide the things for his children that his parents had never been able to afford.

Sam started the car and began the short drive over to Lois's house, lost in thought. It hadn't taken long for him to start spending more and more time with his patients and away from home. After that, the women at work began to look better and better. After all, *they* appreciated him and how he saved lives while Ellen criticized him for not being there whenever he came home. His first affair followed. He had felt horribly guilty for it, and had promised himself and his wife while she was asleep that it would never happen again.

Unfortunately, it had only gotten easier. He started showering at work and changing clothes so that she wouldn't notice other women's perfume on him. If she asked why he had showered before he came home, there was always the excuse that one of his patients had bled on him; it wasn't an uncommon occurrence, so Ellen hadn't questioned it.

She had found out eventually, but she hadn't wanted to fully acknowledge it, so she started drinking. He felt partially responsible for her alcoholism, too. By the time he finally came to his senses, he had lost everything that was really important. In the past few years, he had regained some ground, but he wasn't sure if his family would ever manage to entirely forgive him.

He pulled up in front of the brownstone, parked the car, climbed out, and walked up to the door. Sam rang the bell and waited quietly. He smiled when Lois answered the door. "Hi, Princess," he said quietly. "You said you had a patient for me?"

"Thanks for coming, Daddy," Lois said. "Come in." She ushered him inside and shut the door.


November 16, 1998 8:00 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Clark walked into the newsroom, whistling. It had been a busy few hours between the five-car pile-up on the freeway and an electrical fire in a tenement across town. Luckily, he'd been able to get everyone out alive—this time. Some of the accident victims were in critical condition, but their prognosis looked good. He had also managed to get everyone out of the crumbling building before the fire spread too far.

Clark glanced at Lois's desk and frowned. Her computer was off and her coffee mug empty, indicating she hadn't been in yet. It was unusual for his wife *not* to already be at her desk at this time of the morning—she should have been there, looking for information on the SIDS deaths story. After all, it was the best lead they'd had on a potentially big story for over a month.

Mentally, Clark shrugged. Lois must have gotten a late start. It was unusual for her to sleep through the alarm clock, but it wasn't impossible. Besides, the Coroner's Office wouldn't open for at least another hour.

Clark walked over to his desk, sat down, and booted up his computer. The Superman stories were destined for the middle of the paper somewhere—after all, without fatalities, Superman rescues were just part of another normal day in Metropolis. He typed them up quickly and LAN'ed them to Perry's office before logging onto the Planet's network to do some research on SIDS. He figured that it wouldn't hurt to read up on it a little bit and that he could assign Jimmy to do some more in-depth poking around.

"Clark! In my office now!" Perry's voice called.

Clark groaned softly; he had just found what looked to be a reputable source on the subject. "Coming," he said, getting up from his desk and heading over to Perry's office.

He walked in the office and shut the door behind him. "Yes, Chief?"

"Clark, I just got a message from Lois saying that she might not be coming in today because an emergency came up. I was hopin' that you'd know what was goin' on." Looking concerned, Perry stuffed his hands in his pockets.

Clark stiffened, alarmed. "Perry, I don't know; have you tried calling her?" he asked, ready to spin into the Suit and bolt out the door. She hadn't gotten into trouble in quite some time, but with Lois, these things could change at the drop of a hat. For all he knew, she was currently dangling over a vat of hazardous chemicals somewhere or being held at gunpoint. He took some comfort in knowing that she hadn't called for him, but still…

Clark made his decision. "Chief, I'm going to run home and check on her," he said worriedly.

"You do that, son," Perry said, relief evident in his voice. "I'm worried about her, too." Clark nodded sharply, and sprinted towards the elevator.

Perry watched him leave, relieved that Clark would be checking on the woman whom he considered to be a daughter. With Lois, you never knew what kind of trouble she was in. It was true that she'd been being more careful in the last year, but she could have gotten carjacked on the way to work and be in the hospital right now or being held at gunpoint somewhere for all he knew. That girl beat all for finding trouble.

He smiled slightly. Lois had once claimed that she never went looking for trouble, and it wasn't her fault that it tended to find her, but he wasn't sure if he believed that. After all, even with her being more careful, she had been stabbed, shot at, and kidnapped in the past six months alone. The Planet was lucky that their insurance premiums hadn't gone up in the past few years from her medical bills alone! Perry sighed and turned back to Ralph's far-from- perfect copy that lay on his desk. He supposed it would do to keep his mind off of worrying about Lois.


November 16, 1998 8:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Sam packed up the last of his instruments and looked at Lois. "What are you going to do now, princess?" he asked softly.

Lois sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear. "I don't know. Children's Services opens in another hour and I can call them then." She reached down to push Rachel's hair out of her face. "Is she going to be all right, Daddy?" Lois asked.

Sam nodded. "You did the right thing, princess. You managed to counteract the chill she got. The child still has a fever, but a little Children's Motrin(tm) should bring her temperature down quickly." He looked at the little girl and smiled. "She's a pretty little thing under all of those bruises," he murmured. "You said her name was Rachel?"

At Lois's nod, he continued. "She's got different coloring, but she reminds me a little of you at that age." He sighed, leaned over, and kissed Rachel on the forehead.

"How she got here, I don't know," Lois said. "She was supposed to be at Coates Orphanage. I guess we won't know what happened until she tells us, and Rachel's been pretty withdrawn since they found her on the streets last month."

"So this is the little girl that you wrote those articles about?" Sam asked, surprised.

"Yes. They haven't found a foster home placement for her yet, so she's been staying in the Early Childhood wing of Coates Orphanage. They're still gathering evidence on her stepfather, but she won't tell who was hurting her, so we can't know for sure. Rachel is the only witness and she hasn't told anyone." Lois tugged up the blankets and tucked them around the child.

Sam frowned. "It's not fair," he grumbled. "I know I wasn't the best father in the world. Hell, I wish I could take a lot of what I did… or didn't do back, but I never laid a hand on you or Lucy."

"Daddy…" Lois began. Then she simply shook her head and turned back to Rachel, fussing with the blankets.

Sam walked over to his daughter and kissed her on the cheek sadly. He had lost so much—and it was his own fault. "I'll go get the medicine for Rachel," he said quietly. "You need to stay here in case she wakes up since she'll at least recognize you."

"Okay, Daddy," Lois murmured.

Sam looked at his little girl longingly before heading out the door and downstairs. This time he didn't intend to let his daughter down.


November 16, 1998, 8:15 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Clark landed on the back patio to their brownstone and spun back into his street clothes before entering the house, focusing on the comforting sound of Lois's heartbeat.

He frowned; he could hear another heartbeat near hers. Something was wrong. Clark raced up the stairs and followed the sound into the guest room. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the small bundle beneath the blankets. A child slept in the big bed while Lois sat attentively by her side. "Lois?" he said softly, trying not to wake the little girl.

Lois glanced over at Clark and smiled. "Hi," she said quietly. "I found her in our vestibule this morning on my way out," she explained, nodding in Rachel's direction.

"Isn't that Rachel Pierce?" he asked, puzzled. He walked over to Lois and took her hand in his.

"Yeah. I don't know how she ended up here," she said, "but Family and Children Services won't be open until 9, so I got her warm and put her to bed."

Clark squeezed Lois's hand and gently reached over to brush a lock of tangled, but now clean, blonde hair out of Rachel's face. "Is she okay?" he asked softly.

Lois stood and, leaning into Clark, buried her face in his shoulder. "Yes," she said, her voice muffled. She looked into his eyes for a minute, her fear for the child showing in her face. "I called Daddy after I put her to bed," she explained. "He said that she'll be okay, but he went to get some medicine for her."

"Shouldn't we call Coates Orphanage?" he asked. "I bet they've discovered that she's missing by now, and someone will be there."

"I don't think I want to do that." Lois began. "I know we can't just keep her, but she must have run away from there last night, so it can't be that good a place for a little girl. Danielle may have seemed happy, but it's obviously not the right place for Rachel. I just can't imagine the man we met back then having anything to do with hurting her—or even letting it happen. I have her social worker's office number, but Samantha Parker won't be in until 9. It's close to 8:30 now, so I'll call her in half an hour." Lois looked up at Clark, troubled. "You did the research on foster care, Clark. What's going to happen to Rachel?"

"That's the problem," he said with a sigh, bringing his arms around Lois to hold her close. "Rachel is part of the Lost Generation. Unless she gets adopted, which isn't very

likely at her age, she'll end up bouncing from foster home to foster home until her eighteenth birthday. After that, chances are that she'll end up at some minimum wage job for the rest of her life."

"It's not fair," Lois muttered again.

"I know," Clark said, tightening his arms around her. "Honey," he began slowly, "you were thinking about us trying to adopt again. Do you think we could request temporary custody of Rachel? Maybe we could even adopt her eventually," Clark suggested hopefully.

Lois's face lit up. "Samantha *did* say that the Coates Orphanage was only temporary until they found foster parents for her, and I've been a foster parent before," she smiled. "It's possible that they'd let us!"


November 16, 1998, 8:30 am

CVS Pharmacy, Metropolis.

Sam grabbed a bottle of Children's Motrin(tm) off the shelf and walked quickly over to the cash register. He needed to get the medicine into Rachel as soon as he could; her fever was higher than he liked in a child that age. It wasn't high enough to be warrant hospitalization, but he'd rest easier when his patient's temperature dropped into the normal range.

When he returned to Lois's and Clark's brownstone, Rachel's flushed face and glassy, dark blue eyes reminded him of a certain set of brown eyes a long time ago. When Lois was Rachel's age, she had caught a bad case of the chicken pox and gotten a high fever. He had been away from home at a medical conference, and since it had only been chicken pox, Ellen hadn't worried too much. He had checked on Lois when he got home and discovered her rapidly escalating temperature. They had almost been too late to get his baby girl's fever down.

He wouldn't have such a close call with Rachel. She wasn't his granddaughter or anything, but when she had opened her fever-brightened eyes and looked at him, he suddenly visualized Lois or Lucy in her place. His worst nightmare in the past had been arriving too late after one of his girls had been hurt and not being able to save them. He knew it was irrational, but he *was* still a doctor after all. It was his life's work to save lives and make them better.

He poured out the dose in a baby medication spoon and carefully held it to the little girl's lips. "C'mon, sweetheart," he murmured. "This'll make you feel better." After he got the medicine into her, he noticed what was going on around him. His daughter was on her cellphone. Shamelessly, he listened to her end of the conversation.

"Samantha, we found Rachel Pierce and she's with us right now. She must have run away from the orphanage last night. Yes, a doctor has checked her out—my father did it. Is there anywhere she needs to go, or can we leave her in bed? You need her to go to the hospital? Okay, Clark and I can take her there. Samantha, what's going to happen to Rachel? You don't know? Samantha, Clark and I would love to have her stay with us. Is it possible? It is? Oh, so we still have to take her to the hospital so you can have time to get the paperwork together and come and look at our house." Lois looked at her father and smiled, joy on her face.

"How long will it be, Samantha? I know that you said that there's been a shortage of foster parents. *Only* a few days *if* we can get Judge Stephenson's approval? That's great! We'll see you at the hospital in a few minutes. Thanks! Bye." Lois closed the phone and looked at her father, a huge smile on her face.

"Princess, did I hear that right?" he asked. "You and Clark are really going to try and be this little girl's foster parents?"

"Yes, Daddy," Lois said, still smiling. "Clark and I talked about it—if everything works out, we'd like to adopt her."

"Are you sure, princess?" Sam questioned. "I just want the best for you and Clark. You do realize that if a relative comes forward, you could lose this little girl?"

"I know, Daddy," she said patiently. "But at least this way, Rachel will be safe." Lois leaned over the bed and wrapped Rachel in a blanket. She picked the little girl up and started toward the door. "I've got to get Rachel to the hospital for now—that was her social worker that I was talking to." With that, she headed out the door and started down the stairs.

Sam stared after her and shook his head. This poor, homeless little girl could very well break his baby's heart.


Chapter 4: Thursday's Child

November 16, 1998, 9:30 am

Metropolis General Hospital

Samantha Parker, Rachel's social worker, was on her way to meet them at the hospital, and Lois paced anxiously back and forth in front the observation window as Dr. Jennifer Craine, the pediatrician on call, examined the little girl. Lois glanced at her watch again and shook her wrist, confirming that it hadn't stopped. She felt like she'd been waiting hours when in fact only a few minutes had passed. All she wanted to do was take Rachel home and get her settled in.

Clark's alter ego had been called away at the last minute, so he was unable to wait there with her, but he had promised to return as soon as he cleared up the oil rig fire off the coast of Texas. Lois twisted her wedding ring around on her finger, worried about the little girl who lay just inside the next room. From her stories on the Foster Care System, she knew that she and Clark would have to apply for a license to become eligible foster parents, but she had no idea how long the application process might take. Perhaps, due to the emergency nature of the situation, someone could push through their application so that they could take Rachel home with them within the next few days.

Someone tapped her on the shoulder. "Ms. Lane?" Lois turned to see the now familiar face of Samantha Parker.

Samantha tugged down her long sweater and pulled her purse back up on her shoulder. "Has the doctor told you anything yet, Ms. Lane?" she asked briskly, pushing her glasses back up her nose.

"Not yet," Lois said softly, biting her lower lip nervously. "My father said that she'd be okay…" She trailed off, looking worriedly through the observation window. With visible effort, Lois pulled herself together and looked at Samantha. "Samantha, how soon can we take her home? I know you said a few days, but Clark and I would like a definite timeline."

Samantha fiddled with her necklace and glanced around the hallway. "Ms. Lane, where is your husband anyway? I need to know that he's willing to be involved if I'm to recommend that Rachel be placed with you; and I've yet to meet him," she said, a determined look on her face.

"Sam, my husband was called away on a last minute emergency, but he promised to be here as soon as possible." Lois glanced back to where Rachel lay.

"Are you sure, Ms. Lane, that both you and your husband are willing to adjust your lives around this little girl?" Sam asked. "You have no other children, and while our records show that you were a foster parent for a brief period of time, neither of you seem to have had much experience with active five year olds." Samantha gave Lois a searching look. "Rachel is going to need more attention than most children her age because of what she's been through; I just need to make sure that you're aware of what you're getting into before I go before the judge and make a recommendation."

Lois took a deep breath. "Samantha, Clark and I have been trying for some time to conceive a child of our own. Unfortunately, the doctors have assured us that that is very unlikely to happen. You're correct that Clark hasn't yet had an opportunity to bond with Rachel, but I promise you there isn't a man alive more compassionate or caring than my husband. It was Clark's idea that we become foster parents for Rachel, and I assure you, we will do everything in our power to make her feel happy and safe. We are aware that Rachel's traumatic past may cause some difficulties, but Clark and I are both prepared to help her work through these issues and become a well-adjusted little girl. We will accomplish this be providing her with what she needs more than anything in the world. We will love her." Lois crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Samantha before glancing back at the children's ward.

Samantha laid her hand on Lois's arm. "Ms. Lane," she began softly, "I just want to make sure that your home is the right place for Rachel. It's my job to make a recommendation to the judge that I believe will in the best interest of the child. I still have concerns about your career—you seem to place yourself in danger quite a bit, and that worries me," she drew in a deep breath. "If Rachel is, even temporarily, placed with you, I need to make sure that you'll be there for her, and not kidnapped or even killed by the latest criminal to show up in Metropolis."

Lois leaned back against the wall and smiled slightly, trying hard to reign in of her temper. "I understand your concern, Ms. Parker," she said softly. "But you have to see where I'm coming from. I haven't required rescue for six months, and I'll certainly take pains not to place myself in any danger when I have a child at home." She ran a hand through her hair.

"I promise you that Rachel will be safe with us and that we can give her what she needs: a safe, stable, and loving environment." Lois shot a glance back at Rachel's room again. "We want her, Ms. Parker; we *want* her."

Samantha began to smile. "I still need to meet your husband, and see your home, but I'm beginning to think that this might work. We can try a two-week trial period at first, to see if this could be a long-term arrangement while we try to track down some of Rachel's relatives."

She tugged at the hem of her sweater again. "Ms. Lane, are you aware of Rachel's aversion to men? I'm afraid that her abuse at the hands of her stepfather has caused her to be terrified of males. It's as if she expects them to hit her or yell at her. This will make a difficult adjustment period for your husband."

Lois smiled, happy that things seemed to be going her way. She was nervous about Rachel coming to live with them, but she had fallen in love with the little girl at almost first glance—she would be coming home, where she belonged. "Samantha, if anyone can gain Rachel's trust, Clark can. He's the gentlest man I know, and he's a natural with children."

Lois's face took on a wistful appearance as she thought longingly of a child to complete their family. She prayed Rachel could be that child. She couldn't deny the fact that, like most couples, they would have enjoyed cuddling a baby. But, on the bright side, by adopting an older child, they didn't have to change diapers or worry about bottles. In any event, there was still a possibility, however slim, that she and Clark could one day conceive naturally, and if such a miracle did occur, she and Clark could change diapers to their heart's content. Her goal right now was to provide a safe and loving home for Rachel. "I promise you, Samantha, that if you place Rachel Pierce with us, you won't be making a mistake."


November 16, 1998, 9:45 am

Metropolis General Hospital

Children's Ward

Rachel opened her eyes and looked around the cheerful room. Painted clowns and cartoon characters cavorted on the brightly-painted walls and a large, opened toy box sat in the corner, out of the way of the other three beds in the room. The last thing she remembered was opening her eyes as the pretty lady carried her out to a big, silver car.

Dimly, she remembered a man with Ms. Lane, who'd left quickly, tugging at his tie. Rachel turned over in bed, relishing the memories of being held in Ms. Lane's arms. She couldn't remember ever feeling as safe as she had felt there. Her hand came in contact with a warm, fuzzy object and, startled, she looked down. Frowning slightly, she pulled a black and white teddy bear from beneath the covers. She had no recollection of the new toy, and wondered if Ms. Lane had given it to her. She missed Aimee, and hoped she could be reunited with her favorite doll, but the handsome bear was a suitable substitute.

Rachel buried her face in the bear's soft fur and hugged it close to her, then dropped a kiss on its fuzzy snout. With a soft sigh, she settled back into the pillows. Lulled by the warmth of the room and the blankets in which she was cocooned, her eyes began to slide shut.

"Rachel?" She felt a hand stroke her hair. She sleepily cracked open her eyes to see the doctor who had taken care of her before.

"Dr. Jennifer?" she said hesitantly.

"Yes, Rachel," Dr. Craine answered softly. "It's me. Sweetheart, how did you get those bruises?"

Rachel pulled away from the doctor's hands fearfully. "I promised not to tell," she muttered.

Dr. Craine sat on the side of Rachel's bed. "It's okay, honey. The person who hurt you can't get you here. You can tell me how this happened."

Rachel looked at the doctor, hope in her big, dark blue eyes. "He can't get me?"

"No, sweetie. Can you tell me who did this to you?" Dr. Craine asked, reaching out to stroke Rachel's hair gently.

"I don't know his name," Rachel answered hesitantly. "He hit me in my face an' my tummy. And his friend held me so tight that I got his handprints on me.Then his friend told me that if I tattled he'd *really* hurt me." Her lip began to quiver and tears filled her eyes. "He said he'd hurt me badder than Papa Gary did."

"Where was this, Rachel?" Dr. Craine asked softly.

"At the Orp'ange," Rachel answered.

"Thank you, sweetie," Dr. Craine said softly, reaching over to pull the blankets up around Rachel. "Get some sleep, little one."

Rachel looked at the pediatrician, worried. "Dr. Jennifer? What's gonna happen to me?" she asked as a single tear rolled down her face.

"I don't know, sweetheart," Dr. Craine answered honestly. "But I do know that your social worker is going to do her best to make sure you're safe and have somebody to take care of you." She tucked in the blankets tightly around the child.

Rachel buried her face in the teddy bear and sniffed. She doubted that things would get better—they rarely did. It was still up to her to take care of herself. Aimee and the teddy bear were her family, now.


November 16, 1998, 10:00 am

Metropolis General Hospital

Clark strode into the hospital and hurried to the Children's Ward. He was late—minor Superman duties had kept him occupied while Lois had taken Rachel to the hospital and had gotten her admitted. He brightened as he saw Lois and an older woman who he assumed was Rachel's case worker. He walked up to them quietly and held out his hand to the woman.

"You must be Samantha Parker, Rachel's case worker. My name is Clark Kent," he said, introducing himself.

"Mr. Kent," Samantha acknowledged, reaching out to shake his hand. "Your wife has told me that you want to become Rachel Pierce's foster parents?" she said. "Might I ask why, exactly?"

Clark smiled slowly, giving her one of his thousand-mega watt smiles. "Ms. Parker," he began.

"Please," she interrupted, "call me Samantha or Sam."

"Samantha," he continued, "we just want to give Rachel a home where she can be safe." Clark paused for a minute, choosing his words carefully. "I was adopted as a baby," he said slowly, "and Rachel's situation could have very well been my own had circumstances been different." Clark looked at her earnestly. "I—we, just want to help. My wife says that Rachel is a sweet little girl, and Superman has said the same thing."

"But why Rachel?" Samantha asked probingly.

"Because," Lois offered, "Rachel has been living in her own private hell since her mother died."

"Yes, and it's long past time that someone stepped in to rescue her," Clark added. "Judging from the bruises on her face, sending her to Coates Orphanage wasn't the best decision," he said. "And returning her there is unthinkable."

Samantha nodded slowly. "We don't get many like you," she said softly. "Many people become foster parents for the money that the state pays them for keeping the children— not to rescue them from bad situations. Mr. and Mrs. Kent, I still need to visit your home, but I'm sure that we can get you licensed for foster care quickly." She smiled broadly.

"And as soon as we see Judge Stephenson, I think we can get Rachel placed in your home. When would be the best time for me to come by to look at your house?" she asked.

"Perry probably won't mind us leaving work early since news has been slow lately," Lois said quietly. "How does four this afternoon sound?"

"Perfect," Samantha answered. "I need to go talk to Dr. Craine, so I'll see you at four." She picked up her large, canvas purse and walked quickly into Rachel's room.

Clark reached for Lois's hand. "C'mon, honey. I called Perry and told him what was going on; he was worried sick!" He smiled at her, his eyes dancing with mischief. "He'd just about decided that you'd been following a lead and gotten dragged away to Luthor's secret hideout or that Jefferson Cole had broken out of prison again and decided to go after you directly."

Lois chuckled. "And if that happened, you'd be the first one I'd call," she said with a slight smile. "Let's go see if Jimmy has the information on the SIDS death cases so we can get off early." Lois shot one last glance back at Rachel's room before heading toward the door.


November 16, 1998, 11:30 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Lois strode over to Clark's desk, leaned over his shoulder, and peered at his computer screen. "Found anything?" she asked.

"Not much," he said with a sigh. "I found out more about SIDS, but I can find no logical explanation for the sudden rash of infant deaths here in Metropolis."

Lois smiled. "Spill it, buster. I'll tell you what I found out if you tell me what you learned." She perched on the edge of his desk, crossed her legs, and looked at Clark expectantly.

Not able to resist her very tempting presence, he pushed himself up a bit to kiss her briefly. Clark broke off the kiss, reached for his notes, and sighed. "I didn't find out much; SIDS seems to be the catchall phrase for any unexplained infant death." He slid his pencil back and forth between his fingers absently, tapping it on the desk.

"From what I could find, any time an apparently healthy infant dies in its sleep, and the autopsy and the medical background doesn't turn up anything suspicious, the cause of death is listed as SIDS," Clark finished.

"Interesting," Lois said softly, looking at her own pad of notes. "According to the ME's reports, the cause of death was SIDS, but a full autopsy was never performed on any of the children." She sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear. "I guess they were trying to cut costs—they just drew some blood and did an external examination."

She frowned briefly before continuing. "The funny thing is, the same ME autopsied all of the children, and then they were all sent to the paupers' section of the graveyard for internment. None of them seemed to have had relatives, and all of the children had undergone thorough medical checkups, including shots, within 48 hours prior to their deaths."

Clark whistled softly. "That has to be more than a coincidence," he said. "I've got a contact in the Department of Family and Children Services whom I can call to see if we can pull records on the kids."

"But aren't their records sealed?" Lois asked.

"Normally, they would be," Clark admitted, "but with the children all having died, their cases are a matter of public record. I'll talk to Monique about it and see if I can get some specifics on the infants, but in the meantime…" He looked around until he found who he needed. "*Jimmy*," he called.

Jimmy trotted over. "What's up, CK?" he asked.

"Jimmy, I need you to hack into Family and Children's Services computers and see what you can find out about any children who died in the past year where the cause of death has been reported as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome," Clark said.

"I'm on it, CK," Jimmy replied and sped away.

Lois smiled at her husband teasingly. "Monique, huh? Do I need to be jealous?"

Clark grinned, stood up, and slipped his arms around her. "Not unless you want to be jealous of a gray-haired, elderly lady who wants to take me home and fatten me up," he said before leaning down to kiss her.

Just before their lips touched, they were interrupted by Perry's voice. "Lois, Clark. By the King, I don't pay you to stand around entertaining the newsroom! Have y'all made any progress in the SIDS story?"

The amorous couple turned to find that their boss had walked up behind them while they were… occupied. "Working on it, chief," Clark replied, as he turned to face him, his arm still around Lois.

"Don't just work on it," Perry said gruffly. "News has been so slow lately that we need this story. The pressure is building from the suits upstairs, but since all we've had to report lately is the next cold front, we need this story fast. Get to it! If my two best reporters can't find something, nobody can." Perry turned and stalked back into his office.

Clark sighed and released Lois reluctantly. "I'd better make that phone call," he said, reaching over to pick up the phone.

"And I'd better get back to my school board story," Lois said, sliding off the desk. "If we don't get a big story soon," she grumbled, "Perry's gonna have us reporting dog shows." Lois shook her head and headed back over to her desk.

Clark watched her go before he flipped through his rolodex for the correct number. As she had taught him a long time ago, you were only as good as your last story, and their last story was chicken feed compared to the lead they were working on now.


November 16, 2003, 12 noon

Metropolis General Hospital Children's Ward

Rachel lay in bed, cuddling the teddy bear that she had found next to her. Finders, keepers, she thought possessively. She held the bear's nose up to her own and looked at it with her eyes crossed. "You're *mine* now, Mr. Bear," she whispered softly.

She pulled the bear away from her face and sat it on her lap. "You look like a… CJ," she decided, naming her new friend after a little boy who had been nice to her at school. After all, he was the only person who had even tried to talk to her there; the rest of the kids thought she was weird and teased her.

In fact, CJ was the only little boy who had ever been nice to her at all—even her little brother wasn't very nice to her. And the bear looked like a boy to her. She vaguely remembered hearing C.J. mention in "show and tell" that he'd been named after the Daily Planet reporter who was Superman's best friend, but that didn't matter. Superman was a grown-up, too, and not to be trusted. He wouldn't take care of her. Nobody would. She remembered seeing Ms. Lane looking in the window, but she hadn't come in, so there was no hope there.

Rachel frowned and pulled CJ-bear close to her. Briefly, she wished for Aimee, but her baby had been whisked away with the appearance of CJ. It was just one more loss she had suffered in a very long list. She should have never asked for the doll—she had known better than to show it any love when she lived with Papa Gary, anyway. Any toy she had shown love for had been unceremoniously torn limb from limb and then burned in front of her. She had never dared to cuddle Aimee when Papa Gary was watching. The only place that had been safe to hug her toy had been under the blankets of her bed.

Rachel sighed and stroked CJ's soft fur. Her head shot up as someone she recognized entered the room bearing a tray; it was Samantha. Rachel shrank away from her—this was the same person who'd promised that she'd be safe in the orphanage. She wasn't safe. Perhaps she'd never be. Grown-ups were nothing but trouble.

"Rachel?" Sam said softly, placing the loaded tray on the bed table and swinging it around. "I brought your lunch. Sweetie, Dr. Jennifer wants you to stay in bed until tomorrow just to make sure that your fever doesn't come back."

Rachel scooted further back into her pillows, refusing to look at Samantha.

"Rachel?" Sam tried again to get the child's attention.

Stubbornly, Rachel pulled the blankets over her head and refused to talk.

Samantha laid her hand on the bump under the covers that was Rachel's head. "Rachel, sweetie, I know that you don't have any reason to trust me right now, but I promise that things are going to be okay." Samantha stroked the small body beneath the blankets.

"I think I found you a set of foster parents today, honey. I'm going to see their house this afternoon, and then go talk to the judge. Rachel, if everything works out, you'll be out of this hospital and home with your foster family by this time tomorrow."

Rachel peeked out from beneath the blankets. "Who are they?" she whispered.

"The Kents, sweetie. You've met Mrs. Kent—she was going by her professional name at the time, though. She's Ms. Lane," Samantha answered.

"Ms. Lane wants me to come and live with her?" Rachel asked softly, pulling the covers the rest of the way down.

"Yes, she does, Rachel—very much. Her husband wants you there, too."

Mistrust glimmered in Rachel's eyes at the mention of Ms. Lane's husband. She trusted Ms. Lane, but her husband was a different matter entirely. He was a man and a grown-up. She thought that he'd probably hurt her eventually. All men hurt her.

Samantha saw the fear and mistrust in Rachel's eyes and moved to comfort her. "Rachel, I've met Mr. Kent, and I know he wouldn't hurt you, if that's what you're thinking." She paused for a minute. "Do you think you could give living with them a try?" she asked softly.

Rachel nodded hesitantly. If Ms. Lane really wanted her, perhaps she'd make sure that Mr. Kent wouldn't hurt her. And then there was the appeal of a real home. Perhaps it wouldn't be hers, but it was *somebody's* home—and they wanted her to live in it with them.

"Get some sleep, sweetie," Samantha advised. "I've got to go get the paperwork together and then go see the Kents' house. It'll be okay, Rachel. I promise." Samantha stood and left the room, closing the door quietly closed behind her.

Rachel cuddled CJ under her chin, and let herself believe that things just might get better. If the Kents wanted her, maybe they'd want her forever and their home could be her home, too. She'd heard the kids in the orphanage talking about the possibility of adoption, and the concept of having a family pick her to be their little girl was intriguing.

Maybe she would finally have a home with both a mommy and daddy who loved her. Then again, maybe not. She'd seen kids go to foster families, only to come back in a few days or weeks, disappointed. It could happen to her. Maybe the Kents wouldn't want her forever. Rachel rubbed her cheek against the bear and frowned. Perhaps it would be better if she didn't expect too much. Papa Gary had always told her that if she didn't expect anything, then she couldn't be upset when she didn't get her way. Maybe his way was best after all. With that thought in mind, she closed her eyes and began to dream of a future with Ms. Lane as her mommy.


November 16, 1998 4:00 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Samantha took one last look around the house and pointed out one last safety concern. "Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent, frankly, I don't see many problems here. Rachel is a bit too old to be sticking things into electrical sockets, but I'd like you to put the child covers on them just to be sure." She reached into her briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "I just need your signatures on these papers, and I'll be through here."

"Does that mean that we get Rachel tonight?" Lois asked, biting her lip nervously.

"I'm afraid not, Ms. Lane. I still have to get approval from a family court judge, but there shouldn't be any problems there, either. It's usually a long wait on the docket, but due to the fact that this is an emergency situation, the judge will be hearing this case first thing in the morning, and I can't see any reason why she would refuse."

Samantha watched as first Clark, then Lois signed the necessary paperwork for their new foster care license which would allow them to care for a foster child in their home. The papers would let them to take temporary custody of Rachel, while the state would remain being her legal guardian. "Once you take custody of Rachel," Samantha began, "you will receive a monthly stipend for her support, and of course, she has medical insurance through us," Samantha explained.

"Samantha, is there any chance that we could eventually adopt her?" Clark asked quietly.

"Don't go there, Mr. Kent," Samantha warned. "It's in direct violation of the foster care agreement that you just signed, and if you violate that agreement at any time, Rachel can be pulled from your care." Samantha sighed and fiddled with the hem of her sweater. "Let's just go with what we have." She gave them a small smile. "If you still want to adopt her in a month or so and we haven't found any relatives willing to take her, we'll talk about it then, okay?"

She took the papers from them and stuffed them back in her briefcase. "I'll call as soon as I have news, and if it's good, I'll bring Rachel by tomorrow around noon."

"Thank you, Samantha," Lois said quietly. Clark shook Samantha's hand and escorted her towards the door. As the door closed behind her, Clark turned to face his wife.

"Are you okay, honey?" he asked softly. "Your heart is going 260—what's the matter?"

"It's just that now we're actually going to get Rachel, I'm starting to get nervous. What are we going to do about Superman? Until we know that we can keep her permanently, she can't know the secret. How are we going to handle that? And then there's the fact that I've never had a five year old around before and there's bedtimes and play dates and we don't have anything for her bedroom yet." Lois appeared panic-stricken. "And I bet she needs clothes and toys… and then there's the issue of new furniture for her bedroom…"

Clark walked over to her and stopped her babbling the best way he knew how. He kissed her. After several pleasurable moments, he slowly lifted his head and lightly rubbed his hands up and down her arms. "We'll figure it all out, honey," he said softly. "She just needs lots of love right now, and we can provide that. As for Superman, well, we'll just have to be careful—he won't be making many appearances in the house while she's here." He frowned thoughtfully. "You'll have to remind me to use potholders when Rachel's nearby. I might forget otherwise."

Clark wrapped his arms around Lois, holding her close, and smiled as she brought her arms up around him. "At least this time, you won't be trying to do it alone," he said with a grin.

"You're right," she said softly. "We're in this together." Lois tugged his head down to hers and kissed him lingeringly.

"Together," came his soft whisper between kisses as he began to back towards the stairs.


November 17, 1998 11:00 am

Metropolis County Courthouse (AKA Hall of Justice)

Samantha Parker sat quietly on a bench outside the courtroom, waiting for her charge's case to be called. While you couldn't always tell with people's reputations— Lex Luthor was a prime example of that—she felt confident that the Kents' sterling reputation was based solely on the truth. She was sure that placing Rachel with them was a good idea. She'd been a social worker for twenty years and despite her best intentions, had occasionally failed some of her charges. She wasn't going to fail Rachel again. The child deserved better. All the children deserved better than the hand they'd been dealt.

She glanced at her watch, and, noting the time, gathered her things. She walked resolutely into the courtroom. It wasn't more than a minute or two before Rachel's case was called. She presented her paperwork to the judge, who spent no more than a few minutes reviewing her recommendation before signing the order placing Rachel in the Kents' temporary custody. Samantha sighed in relief as the clerk took the papers off to be photocopied. He returned them quickly, and she slid them into her briefcase. Later, she would have them filed at the office. It was just another day in Family Court.

With a polite thank you, Samantha headed out of the courthouse and got into her old, beat-up car. She drove over to the hospital and checked Rachel out, thankful that she had remembered to pick up the child's things from Coates Orphanage early that morning. Quickly she led the girl out to her car and buckled her into the back seat of the vehicle.

"Rachel, are you ready to meet your new foster parents?" she asked quietly.

Rachel nodded shyly and clutched her teddy bear closer to her chest for comfort.

Samantha sighed and walked around the car to climb in behind the wheel. She wished that Rachel would talk more, but knew that it would come in time. She checked the address again and drove over to the Kents' house. Samantha helped Rachel get out of the car and, gathering her few belongings out of the back, the pair headed up the steps of the Kents' brownstone. She took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.


November 17, 1998, 11:45 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois paced back and forth in the living room, straightening a picture here and fluffing a pillow there. Despite their conversation the night before, she was still a nervous wreck. It didn't help that both her parents had called to ask if she was sure about taking Rachel into their home. Her mother had even shared a couple of horror stories of things that foster children sometimes did.

She walked over to her fish tank and fed the fish, then considered watering the plants. It was something that Clark usually did, as he was the only one who seemed to be able to remember the task, but she needed to do *something* to keep from going crazy from sheer nerves. She walked over to the bookcase and pushed a book in place. Finally giving up, she began to pace again. She nearly jumped out of her skin when the doorbell rang. She hurried over to the door and, after looking through the peephole, opened it. She took Rachel's bag from Samantha before holding her hand out to the child. "Hi, Rachel," she said softly. "My husband, Clark, had to work, but you'll get to meet him a little later when we visit the Planet's daycare center to get you enrolled in their after school program."

Rachel looked up at her and smiled tentatively. "Are you really going to be my foster mommy?" she asked in a barely audible voice.

"Yes, I am, sweetheart," Lois replied.

Rachel dropped her bear to throw her arms around Lois's legs. "Thank you," the child whispered.

Lois looked startled for a minute before reaching down to stroke the child's hair. "You're welcome, sweetie," she said softly. "We're very glad to have you here, Rachel."

Samantha cleared her throat. "Ms. Lane, please remember Rachel's sessions with the art therapist twice a week. We'll see if we can't get her to come to the school. You also need to remember to get Rachel enrolled in school by tomorrow at the latest." She held out her hand, which Lois grasped and shook firmly.

"Thank you, Samantha," she said softly. Samantha simply smiled and left, leaving Rachel and Lois together.

Lois looked down at Rachel and smiled. She dropped to her knees, grabbed the freshly-washed Aimee from a nearby chair, and handed it to the little girl. Taking a deep breath, she asked, "So, Rachel—would you like to go shopping for stuff for your new room?"

"I'd like that, Ms. Lane," Rachel whispered as she smiled at the doll in her arms. "Thank you for giving Aimee back."

"You're welcome, sweetie," Lois said, reaching out to brush some of Rachel's hair back. "We're glad you're home."


Chapter 5: Friday's Child

November 21, 1998, 10:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue

Rachel sat on her new bed and surveyed her surroundings. This was, by far, the nicest room she'd ever lived in. It was even prettier than her room in Papa Gary's house. The Kents were being nice to her, but she was sure it wouldn't last. After all, the people at the orphanage had been nice to her, at first. Rachel was sure it was only a matter of time before Mr. Kent hit her like the man at the orphanage and Papa Gary did.

Nothing good could last, she was sure of that. Mr. Kent's behavior was strange—it was as if he were different than Papa Gary. In her experience, however, all men were the same. They yelled, they hit, and they hurt. Mr. Kent was nice to her and to Ms. Lane. It was weird to see him kissing Ms. Lane and her acting as if she *liked* it. She remembered watching Papa Gary kissing her nanny and her nanny saying no.

Rachel sighed and wondered what she should do. She had been left with Mr. Kent for the day while Ms. Lane was at work. She had overheard them talking about how their days off that week didn't coincide, and how it was probably a good thing since she was only on the waiting list for the Planet's daycare center and they hadn't found a good babysitter yet. Since they were alone, perhaps he would start to hit her today, she thought.

Rachel bit her lip and a frown crossed her small face. Papa Gary had always hit her harder and more often when she had done something in particular to annoy him. Perhaps she should do something to set him off—after all, she didn't want to get too comfortable in this nice house. She stood, grabbed CJ and Amiee from the bed behind her, and went downstairs. She set her toys on a chair where they could watch as she pulled a book from the shelf, rifled though it and then tossed it on the floor.

Rachel stared at the book for a moment. "If I did that at Papa Gary's house, he'd hurt me," she whispered. "He'd hurt me for *nothing*." She grabbed another book and hurled it to the floor. "Take *that*, Papa Gary," she muttered, grabbing another book. It didn't take long for the bookcase to get emptied as high as she could reach. She stared at the scattered books, then deliberately trod on the spines of them to walk over to the couch.

She pulled off the cushions and threw them to the floor before she climbed onto the cushion-less sofa. She stood at the back and jumped up and down a few times as hard as she could before putting her foot on the back. Determinedly, she pushed against it before it fell to the floor with a loud crash. She jumped off the fallen furniture and began to turn over as much stuff as her five- year-old frame could handle. She surveyed the mess and pictured Papa Gary's house looking that way. It was good, but not enough.

She moved over to a display case and, opening it, pulled out some awards and hurled them at the books with a grunt of effort. She grabbed a book from the floor and glared at it; this one had to be Papa Gary's favorite because it was the same color. She ran over to the large fish tank and threw it in. Winded, Rachel gathered CJ and Aimee to her and looked at her work, finally satisfied. *This* should do it, she thought desperately. *This* should bring normality to her small world. Mr. Kent was like Papa Gary and the men at the orphanage—he *had* to be. Otherwise, her world was changed, skewed, and strange.


Clark heard the crashes coming from downstairs and sighed. Quickly, he x-rayed the floor to find that Rachel was determinedly destroying the living room. He picked up a book on parenting and read it at superspeed. He should have expected something like this, he thought. She was testing him. He supposed that he should go down there, but he wasn't sure quite what to do.

Rachel hadn't had the best beginning, and she'd been treated pretty badly by every male caregiver she'd ever had, Clark thought. He knew there had to be a fair amount of anger at the terrible treatment she'd received pent up inside her tiny frame — he'd overheard her furiously mumbling about 'Papa Gary'. So now he knew he needed to be really calm about the whole situation and be nice to her despite the fact that she was doing something that she probably knew that she shouldn't. If he weren't as kind and gentle as he knew how to be, it could make her afraid of him, and that was the last thing they needed to happen.

Clark sighed and ran his hand through his hair before walking slowly out of the bedroom and downstairs. Inwardly he grimaced as he caught sight of Rachel—she was sitting on a pile of heaped-up books, holding her favorite toys, and smiling to herself. For one small girl, she'd managed to inflict quite a bit of chaos on the once orderly room. "Rachel," he called softly, catching her attention.

She stood up and crossed her arms defiantly over her chest. "What?" she asked sullenly.

"Rachel Elizabeth K—Pierce," he began, trying not to sound as if he were scolding. "Why did you decide to destroy the living room? I know you've been taught better—so you're going to help me clean it up," he finished.

Rachel's face took on a stubborn look that he knew all too well from Lois. "No," she said, hugging the bear he'd won for Lois at their first Corn Festival and her doll close to her.

Clark sighed and put his hands on his hips; he definitely had his hands full with his two girls. "*Rachel*, if you're not going to help clean up the mess you made, then go to your room, *now*," he ordered gently, pointing toward the stairs.

Rachel glared at him for a moment before turning and stomping up the stairs, slamming the door of her room behind her. Clark sighed and began to pick up the room at normal speed. He missed using his powers around the house, but until Rachel was really theirs, he couldn't risk having her find out.

Clark hoped that this would be the last such test of him, but from what he'd read, he knew that it was likely that there would be more. Rachel was trying to make him lose his temper now, just to prove to herself that her experiences weren't anomalies. Unconsciously, he began to smile as he thought about the little girl.

It had been so easy to love her—he just hoped that she'd love him back as her daddy one day. He hadn't wanted anyone to love him this badly since he had met Lois. Luckily, he'd had experience in this kind of thing. He'd talked to his parents, and they had counseled patience, so that's what he was trying. Hopefully, she'd learn to trust him quickly—and maybe even learn to love him at the same time. She had insinuated herself into his heart faster than he had thought was possible.

In some ways, she was like Lois had been when he first met her. Little Rachel was determined that she could take care of herself—that she didn't need anyone else at all. Clark smiled. He finished replacing the books and their Kerth awards before turning to right the furniture and replace cushions back on it.

Clark winced as he heard noises coming from Rachel's room that meant that she was wrecking it, too. So much for hoping that his would be her last test of him. A small smile crossed his face as he decided to do the unexpected. He climbed the stairs, knocked on her door, entered the room and surveyed the damage. Rachel had pulled all of her new toys out of the toy box and thrown them carelessly around the room. The drawers to the dresser were opened and her clothes were strewn around the space in crumpled heaps.

Somehow, Rachel had managed to pull the mattress from the bed, and the blankets and bedding were heaped in a pile in the middle of the floor where Rachel sat. "Well," Clark said and paused. "I'm not sure I like the new decor, but it's *your* room, so until you decide to change it, it stays this way." Clark almost laughed at the shocked look on the child's face, but managed not to. "I'll be in the living room if you need me, peanut," he said gently before turning to leave.

Just before he opened the door, Rachel spoke. "Mr. Kent?" she asked softly.

Clark turned back towards her and dropped to his knees so that he was at her level. "What is it, Rachel?" he asked softly.

"Why didn't you hit me?" she asked. "Papa Gary would have—so would those men at the Orp'anage."

"Rachel," he began, "you didn't deserve it then, and you don't now. I'm not going to ever hit you, not now, not ever. Sweetie—real men don't beat up little kids because they get mad."

"Really?" she asked in a small voice. "But sometimes grown-ups lie."

"That's true," he answered, "but I won't lie to you, Rachel. Superman's my best friend and *he* doesn't lie to people—I don't either." Clark said, hoping that she'd at least trust Superman. Most people did, after all.

Rachel buried her face in CJ's fur. "Don't like him," she whispered, the sound muffled by the bear's fur.

"Why don't you like him, peanut?" Clark asked.

"He's scary," the child replied. "He's big, an' real, real strong. He could hurt me."

"Rachel, he'd never hurt you—Superman just puts bad people in jail," Clark explained.

"Then he's gonna come and put me in jail and hurt me," she insisted. "I'm bad. Papa Gary and the others hurt me 'cause I'm bad." She jumped up and ran to the corner. Rachel sat down and began to rock back and forth. "I'm bad," she whispered. "I'm a bad girl, just like Mommy. Papa Gary says I'm goin' to hell, 'cause I'm bad." The rocking got fiercer.

Fearing that Rachel would hurt herself and start to bang against the walls, Clark stood, walked over, and tried to pick her up. She shrunk from him and continued to rock. Moving just shy of super speed, Clark gathered Rachel into his arms and walked over to the rocking chair. He set it upright and sat down, ignoring Rachel's struggles. "No!" she cried and struggled, trying to get free.

Clark held her gently and began to rock back and forth, rubbing Rachel's back soothingly, the same way he had seen Lois do it the night before. "It's okay, peanut," he said softly. He wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing, but he had decided to just try and do what came naturally. It hurt to see this little girl in so much pain and not do anything about it.

He knew that she didn't trust him, and he didn't really blame her, but he couldn't just let her hurt either. He wanted to make it better. Clark wished that he could fix it with a slice of pie and some buttermilk, the way his mom had fixed what was wrong in his world when he was little, but he knew better. Rachel was suffering from far worse problems than he had ever faced as a child.

As she finally relaxed against him and began to cry, he was suddenly even more grateful to his parents for taking in a little orphaned space baby. He had been lucky. Of all the couples in the world who could have found him, it had been Martha and Jonathan Kent—people who had raised him with love, not abuse.

Finally, he heard Rachel's slightly muffled voice from where her face was buried in his chest. "You won't hit me?" she asked softly. "No matter how bad I am?"

"Rachel, I won't *ever* hit you—and you're not bad," he replied.

"Never, ever?" she asked softly.

"Never, ever," he affirmed. Clark continued rocking and soon, Rachel relaxed into sleep, the morning's events having worn her out. He stood, laid her on the window seat, and covered her with one of his mother's afghans while he pulled the mattress back on the bed. Quickly, he grabbed the bedding and re-made it before picking Rachel up and tucking her into bed.

"I love you, Rachel," he whispered to the sleeping child. Clark leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, then went and turned off the lights in the bedroom. He left the door cracked slightly behind him as he started downstairs. If she needed him, he would be able to hear her, and perhaps a nap would do her good.


November 21, 1998 1:00 p.m.

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Lois sat at her computer, typing away at her story on the school board scandal. The School Board president had been caught having an affair with one of the students from the local high school—and she wasn't his first indiscretion. This was normally the kind of story that Ralph would love to write about, but after discovering the School Board president's long history of extra-curricular activities with the teenagers, Perry had assigned her and Clark to try and root out the problem.

The man was currently facing ten counts of statutory rape and had resigned from the school board. That, along with other allegations of misconduct and the misappropriation of funds was more than enough to warrant a Lane and Kent investigation. Lois looked across the aisle at Clark's empty desk and sighed. It was rare that their days off didn't fall on the same day anymore and she missed him when he wasn't there.

At the same time, she supposed it was a good thing that one of them could stay home with Rachel that day. She was on the waiting list for the Planet's daycare facilities. While she had been admitted to the after school program, they didn't have anywhere to leave her until she started kindergarten again. They had taken her to the local elementary school and gotten her registered, but it was now the weekend, so someone had to stay with her.

She'd have to come to the Planet with them tomorrow, Lois decided. There wasn't anything else they could do about it—leaving a traumatized child with her mother wasn't an option, and Clark's parents were too far away without some Super help. Lois grabbed a pen off her desk and began to click it nervously.

Rachel had started to come out of her shell—just a little, but she still wasn't comfortable around Clark. Fervently, Lois hoped that Rachel would start to trust him. The little girl needed one man in her life who wouldn't hurt and betray her; Lois didn't want her to enter adolescence and adulthood mistrusting every male she met.

Rachel deserved better. Lois hoped that she'd never meet Rachel's stepfather and the men at Coates who had beaten her. She wouldn't be held responsible for her actions if she did. Lois's stomach tightened in anger as she thought about the men. They had hurt the child she was starting to regard as *hers*.

Lois turned back to her computer, finished typing up her story, and LAN'ed it to Perry. She grimaced as her phone rang—she had been hoping to leave earlier than usual to get home to Rachel. She answered it brusquely. "Lois Lane."

"Hey, Lois, this is Bobby."

"Hey, Bobby," she replied. "What've you got for me?"

"First of all, I wanted to say congratulations on the little girl. Word on the street is that you and Clark want to adopt her. Great of you two to rescue her."

"Bobby, we've had her for four days—are you slowing up in your old age or something?" she said teasingly. "Now, do you have anything more for me on the SIDS death case?"

"But, Lois, you haven't paid me from last time."

Lois sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Bobby, I'll have two pizzas with the works delivered to wherever you want—if this is good."

"Hold the anchovies, and you've got yourself a deal," Bobby answered instantly.

"You've got it. Now spill," she demanded.

"I don't know anything more specific about the SIDS cases, but word is that there have been a lot more under the blanket adoptions lately," Bobby began. "There are lots of babies and toddlers suddenly showing up in the homes of the wealthy who weren't there before, and there's no sign of a reputable agency taking care of said adoptions," he finished. "They're all handled by the same lawyer, and somebody's been pulling strings to get them seen by the same judge."

"Hmm… Maybe the SIDS case and this one are related?" Lois wondered out loud.

"It's possible, Lois. I don't make the connections, I just provide the information. Now, about my pizza…"

Lois took down the information, hung up, and called Bobby's favorite pizza place. It didn't take long to place her order and get it sent to the address that Bobby had provided for her. Absently, she gathered up her notes and went to find Jimmy. If anyone could find out about these adoptions, it would be him. Adoption records *were* sealed, after all—it would take an excellent hacker to get to them, and Jimmy fit the bill.

She smiled to herself as she saw him exiting the darkroom. "Jimmy," she called.

Jimmy turned and hurried over. "What's up, Lois?" he asked.

"Jimmy, I need you to find out about all recent adoptions of infants by the rich and famous in Metropolis from the past month. I need everything you can get me," she demanded.

"It'll take a while, but I think I can do it," Jimmy replied. "I can probably have it for you by tomorrow."

"Thanks, Jimmy." Lois smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow—I need to get home."

"No problem, Lois; how's Rachel working out?" he asked.

"She's getting better," she said softly. "Now, I have to run and talk to Perry before I go home—Rachel doesn't have a lot of faith in Clark yet, so she needs me to be there."

Jimmy seemed a bit surprised by Lois' remark; after all, CK was the mildest-mannered guy he'd ever met. "Hey, why's that, Lois? CK will make a great Dad!"

"Jimmy, I agree completely. Unfortunately, for Rachel he has one major flaw… he's male."

"Yeah, I see what you mean." Jimmy half-laughed and half grimaced. "You can see where she's coming from, though."

"I know." Lois sighed. "I just hope that Rachel realizes pretty quickly that Clark loves her and that he'd never hurt her."

"It'll be good, Lois. Like every other female on the planet, Rachel won't be able to resist Clark's charm!" This time Jimmy laughed wholeheartedly.

"Yeah!" Lois joined in the laughter and finished picking up her things.

"See you later, then," Jimmy said as he turned to his computer and started entering the search information.

Lois simply waved, headed towards Perry's office, and poked her head inside. "Perry, I'm headed home, okay?"

Perry gestured towards a small pile of papers on his desk. "Sure thing. I've got your story, and it's good stuff. Lois, when are you gonna bring that little girl up here to meet her Uncle Perry?"

"We're bringing her with us tomorrow, but she's afraid of men." Lois gave Perry a warning look. "If you're not careful, you'll scare her off."

"I understand," he said, nodding seriously. "Quiet and gentle will be my watchwords. Just bring her on by— nurture wins over nature every time," he said with a smile. "We'll turn her into a first-rate newswoman—like you."

Lois simply shook her head in amusement. "I'll see you tomorrow, Perry," she said. She walked to the elevator and headed home.


November 22,1998 1:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue

Rachel huddled in the corner as three men loomed over her. She could see light glint off the weapons in their hands, so she flinched away from them. They were going to hurt her again; she knew it. Light flared up, revealing the identities of her attackers. She tried to make herself smaller in the corner, hiding from her stepfather and his new cronies—the men from the orphanage.

Desperately, she stood and tried to run between the men, but one of them caught her by the scruff of her neck and held her up for Papa Gary to see. "Is this the one, Boss?" he asked gruffly. His voice sent shivers down her spine.

"That's the one," he said in his softest voice. Rachel knew that tone all too well—it meant that she was in for a lot of pain. "Rachel, you should have known better than to try and escape," he said in an even gentler tone. "You're such a *bad* little girl that you have to be punished—and we all know what I do with bad little girls to make them behave. You won't end up like your mother—in Hell." He advanced toward her, swinging his favorite leather belt in his hand, the overlarge belt buckle making a smacking sound as it hit his palm.

Rachel burst into tears and sat straight up in bed. "Ms. Lane," she hiccuped in between bouts of crying. She fumbled under the covers and pulled CJ out from underneath them, then slid out of bed and headed towards the Kents' bedroom. She stopped at the door and pushed it open, the moonlight illuminating the room.

Rachel walked over to Ms. Lane's side of the bed and tugged on the blankets. "Ms. Lane?" she said tearfully.

Lois woke up and blinked groggily at the little girl. "Did you have another nightmare, sweetie?" she asked, the end of her sentence almost swallowed up by a yawn.

Rachel nodded and used CJ's fur to wipe away the last of her tears. "Can I sleep with you?" she asked with a quaver in her voice. "You didn't come in when I called," she said with a sniffle.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Lois said apologetically. "Neither of us heard you."

"Can I sleep with you?" Rachel asked again, wanting the comfort of her foster mother's embrace. Before, when she'd had nightmares, Ms. Lane had been there to comfort her and rock her back to sleep with songs that drove them away. Rachel was convinced that Ms. Lane's singing scared the nightmares into leaving her alone for the rest of the night.

"Of course you can, peanut," Lois said quietly, holding up the blankets.

Rachel clambered up on the bed and climbed in between her foster parents. Clark rolled over so that he was facing both of them and propped his head on his hand to watch. As long as Ms. Lane was there, she knew that Mr. Kent wouldn't hurt her. Papa Gary'd never hurt her when her mommy was alive. She threw her arms around Lois and cuddled close to her. "Thank you, Ms. Lane," she whispered.

"You're welcome, peanut," Lois replied, dropping a kiss on the top of the child's head.

"Ms. Lane, why do you and Mr. Kent call me peanut?" she asked sleepily.

"Because we figure that you're about the size of one, sweetie—do you like it?," Lois answered as she rubbed Rachel's back lightly. She began to sing a lullaby softly.

Rachel sighed and moved closer to Lois. "It's okay," she said sleepily, "but I'm bigger'n a peanut." Rachel yawned. Soon, the calming effect of the song and the backrub had its desired effect and she fell asleep.

Clark leaned over and kissed Rachel's cheek. "I hope she learns to trust me like she trusts you," he said wistfully.

"She will, sweetheart," Lois said softly, "she will."

"I hope so," he replied. Clark's head shot up as he heard a call for help. He leaned over and kissed Lois quickly before hopping out of bed. "I'll be back as soon as I can, honey."

"Be careful, Clark," Lois said quietly, hugging Rachel close to her.

Clark spun into the Suit and gave his wife and new daughter a lingering glance before speeding off into the night.


November 22, 1998 10:00 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Rachel sat in a desk chair and swung it back and forth idly. She had been excited about coming to the Planet with Ms. Lane, but there didn't seem to be much to do there aside from the coloring books that her foster mother had insisted on bringing. She was bored.

Lois finished her telephone conversation and swiveled her chair around to face Rachel. "Sweetie, there are some people I'd like you to meet. Would you like to come with me?"

Rachel nodded hesitantly. She wasn't sure about meeting more people, but it was better than boredom. She had a feeling that Ms. Lane's boss wouldn't like it if she started running around the newsroom, and at least meeting Ms. Lane's friends was something to do.

Lois stood up and offered Rachel her hand. Rachel sighed, slid out of the chair and took Lois's hand. She stuck close to Lois's side as they walked across the newsroom floor.

"Jimmy," Lois called as she approached Jimmy's cubicle, Rachel in tow.

Jimmy crawled out from underneath the desk and stood up. "Hey, Lois. What's up?"

Rachel ducked behind Lois, using her as a shield. "Jimmy, what were you doing underneath your desk?" Lois asked.

"I, um, kind of, well, accidentally, hit the button on my power strip and turned off my computer," he began sheepishly. "Then, before I could fix it, I knocked my pencil cup off of my desk and everything rolled underneath it. And then…"

"One of those days, I guess," Lois interrupted as she tried to keep a straight face and failed utterly. "Jimmy, I'd like to introduce you to my foster daughter, Rachel."

Rachel peered out from behind Lois shyly. "Hi," she whispered. Jimmy wasn't anything like Papa Gary or the orphanage men—he was impossible to be afraid of. She looked at him from her position of safety behind Lois and decided that while she didn't have to be afraid of him, trusting him wasn't an option, either.

Jimmy leaned down and offered her his hand. "Hey, Rachel," he said with a large smile. "It's nice to meet you; you can call me 'Uncle Jimmy' if you want to."

Rachel ducked back behind Lois. "Okay," came the almost inaudible response.

"Jimmy, how are you coming on the records I asked for?" Lois asked.

"I'll have them for you before you go home today," he promised.

"Thanks, Jimmy. And if you could get us some background on the adoptive parents, I'd be grateful."

"Sure thing, Lois," he answered before returning to his computer and turning it on.

With Jimmy's attention directed elsewhere, Rachel emerged from behind Lois's back and took her hand again.

"C'mon, peanut," she said softly. "There's somebody else I want you to meet."

Lois led Rachel over to Perry's office, knocked, and entered. Perry looked up as she came in. "Hey, Lois," he said, his usually boisterous voice gentled because of Rachel's presence.

"Hey, Perry. Rachel, I want you to meet Perry, my boss and one of my oldest friends. Perry, this is Rachel, my foster daughter." Lois squeezed Rachel's hand reassuringly.

Rachel tried to duck behind Lois again, but before she could, Perry dropped to his knees and smiled at her. "Hey there, Miss Rachel," he said softly. "Why, aren't you the prettiest little thing I ever did see." Perry smiled again, disarmingly. "And I think the visit of such a pretty little girl to my office calls for ice cream. Do you like ice cream, Miss Rachel?"

"Yessir," she answered softly.

"Perry, it's not even lunch time," Lois objected. "Don't you think it's a bit early to be stuffing her with junk?"

Perry winked conspiratorially at Rachel before he answered. "Lois, it's *never* too early for ice cream, especially when I don't have such pretty young ladies come to visit me very often. Now, you go talk to some sources— Miss Rachel will be okay here with me." He looked down at Rachel and smiled kindly. "Won't you, Rachel?"

Rachel looked up at Lois for reassurance, her desire for ice cream warring with her mistrust of the man. "You'll be right outside?" she asked softly.

Lois nodded. "Of course, sweetie."

"Okay," Rachel said. "I'll be all right."

Lois kissed Rachel on the forehead and leaned down to give her a hug before heading over to her desk. A few minutes later, Lois poked her head in the office. "Rachel, honey," she began apologetically. "I have to go check a source— Perry knows where to reach me if you need me. Is that okay?"

Rachel nodded hesitantly and watched as both of her foster parents left the office with a wave and a blown kiss. She had never felt so… deserted.

"Jimmy," Perry called.

Jimmy hurried into the office, not noticing that Rachel had curled up in one of the big wing chairs. "Yes, Chief?"

Perry pulled some money from his pocket and handed it over. "Jimmy, I want you to head over to the nearest Dairy Queen—there's one two blocks over—and get me a small chocolate- dipped cone for Miss Rachel."

Jimmy glanced around, found Rachel, and smiled at her. "Sure thing, Chief," he said as he pocketed the money and hurried toward the elevator.

"Miss Rachel, I'll tell you what," Perry began. "How about while you're here, I make you a Junior Investigative Reporter for the Daily Planet?" He leaned over and turned on a special CD of Elvis lullabies that he'd gotten Jimmy to burn for the occasion.

Trying to distract him from his question, Rachel listened to the music for a minute and looked at him. "Who's that singing?" she asked innocently and pointed at the CD player.

"Why, that there's Elvis, darlin'," he replied. "I got this here lullaby collection especially for you, and you can take it home with you tonight."

"Who's Elvis?" she asked softly.

"Why Elvis is the greatest singer that ever walked the face of this earth," Perry said enthusiastically. "I'll teach you all about the King. Now, Miss Rachel, would you like to be a Junior Investigative Reporter?"

Rachel considered this offer for a few minutes before replying. "Like Ms. Lane?" she asked.

"Kinda, honey," he said kindly. "Your foster parents are the best darned investigative reporters ever to work for the Daily Planet."

Rachel frowned slightly, thinking about this new development. She wanted to be exactly like Ms. Lane when she grew up, so why shouldn't she start now? "Okay," she agreed softly.

"Good!" Perry exclaimed happily. "Now, investigative reporters, even little ones like you, *investigate*. Sweet pea, do you know what your foster parents' names are?"

Rachel nodded hesitantly. "Lois Lane-Kent and Clark Kent," she answered quietly.

Perry looked at her curiously. "I was wonderin', darlin. Why don't you call them by their first names? I've known those two for years, and I know that they've probably asked you to by now."

Rachel climbed out of the chair and kicked the toe of her mary jane against the floor. "Because then they'll leave me," she whispered. "If I love them, they'll leave me all alone."

Perry got up, walked over, and hugged her gently. She stiffened momentarily, but didn't object. "Sweetling, they won't do that. Lois and Clark aren't the leaving kind."

"Perry," Rachel began quietly, holding in her fear of his close proximity, "does Mr. Kent ever get mad and hit people?"

"Miss Rachel, I've seen Clark get mad, but I've never seen him hit *anyone*." He paused, lost in thought. "I've seen him come close when someone threatened Lois, but I've never known him to hurt anybody if he could help it."

"Not even little kids?" she questioned.

"*Especially* not little kids," Perry replied reassuringly.

Rachel frowned, trying to process this new information. Could it be that she could trust her new foster father? Was it possible that there were some papas who didn't beat up their kids?

"Now sweetling," Perry began, interrupting her train of thought. "You've told me Lois and Clark's first and last names, but what about their middle names?"

"I dunno," she said, looking puzzled.

Perry reached in his pocket and pulled out two one-dollar bills. "I'll tell you what, Miss Rachel. You find out what Lois and Clark's middle names are and these are yours."

Rachel looked at the money longingly. She'd never really had money before, and two whole dollars could buy a lot of candy—or a present for Ms. Lane. "Okay," she agreed.

"I've got only one rule," Perry began. "You can't ask Lois or Clark, okay?"

"Yessir," she said. "Can I ask anyone else?"

"You sure can," he agreed amiably.

Rachel smiled for the first time since he had seen her, then walked out the door of his office. "What a pretty smile," he muttered to himself. "I hope we get to see a lot more of that smile."

Perry turned back to Ralph's story as Rachel wandered the newsroom, asking questions from everyone she met. She quickly became so interested in the search that she was distracted from her fear of strangers.

Rachel asked someone else her important questions and was disappointed when she was told yet again that she didn't know. She had asked five people in the last ten minutes, and it seemed like nobody knew. More determined now than ever, Rachel wandered back in the general direction of Lois's desk to ask someone else. She almost ran into Jimmy, who was carrying an ice cream cone.

"Here ya go, squirt," he said with an engaging smile as he handed her the cone.

Rachel took it from him and began to lick at the ice cream that was starting to drip from under the chocolate. "Uncle Jimmy," she began, using the name he had told her to use. "What are Ms. Lane's and Mr. Kent's full names?"

Jimmy thought for a moment. "Well, Rachel, I'm afraid I don't know. But I'll tell you what. If you come over to my desk, we'll look up their personnel files and see if we can't find out, okay?"

Rachel smiled again, the promised reward beckoning. "Okay," she agreed and followed him to his desk.

Jimmy sat down and lifted her into a spare chair, carefully keeping the ice cream away from his keyboard. He typed for a few minutes and pulled up Lois's file.

Rachel bit the top chocolate swirl off the cone and sucked some more of the melting treat through the chocolate hole. Carefully, she smoothed down the pale green jumper she was wearing and swung her feet under the chair. Perry had given her a lot to think about—at least she wasn't bored anymore.

"Rach, it says here that Lois's middle name is Ellen," he looked down at his new blonde shadow and smiled. "I guess she was named after her mom."

"Okay," she said, biting another piece of chocolate off the ice cream. "What about Mr. Kent?"

"Just a few more minutes, little one," he said, typing a bit more into the computer. Clark's record popped up a short while later. "It says that his middle name is Jerome," Jimmy said.

"Thank you, Uncle Jimmy," Rachel said as she climbed out of the chair and started toward Perry's office. If Mr. Kent's name was "Clark Jerome", and she knew he worked at the Planet, then perhaps her friend CJ was named after him? She pondered this for a few minutes as she walked, eating the chocolate off the outside of her treat. CJ was nice, and he was probably named after Mr. Kent. Maybe it meant that Mr. Kent was nice, too. Maybe it meant that he could be trusted.

Rachel wiped her hand across her mouth, smearing the remnants of chocolate around it. Papa Gary would have hit her for wrecking the living room and her bedroom like she had yesterday. Mr. Kent hadn't done that. And when she'd woken up after her nap and told him that she didn't really like her room all messy, he'd helped her straighten it up. Her stepfather would never have done that. From what Perry had said, Mr. Kent just didn't hit people. She was still shy of him, but maybe he wasn't at all like Papa Gary. Maybe he was… nice. Maybe it wasn't an act. A glimmer of hope began to expand in her heart. Perhaps she had finally found someone to trust.


Perry set down the story and smiled as he watched Rachel question his employees. He had been right—Rachel would make a good investigative reporter someday. He hoped that he'd be able to play this game with her again. If, at five, she could find out something that wasn't generally known, then at twenty, she'd be able to dig up good, solid stories that he could print.

His smile broadened as she went off with Jimmy. Five years old and already learning the value of a good researcher. If he were extremely lucky, and Lois and Clark got to keep her, he'd get a top notch investigative reporter out of her.

Perry leaned back in his chair and hummed along as Elvis started to sing "Big Boots". Life was good. He ran the world's best metropolitan newspaper, Alice was back in his life, Lois and Clark were like his own children, and to top it all off, the child they wanted to adopt, his new grandchild as far as he was concerned, was going to be a good reporter.

Rachel came in, chocolate and ice cream smeared on her face. She was smiling happily as she licked her ice cream cone, having demolished the chocolate coating. "I know the answer," she announced triumphantly.

"Well, Miss Rachel, *that* was fast," Perry said, smiling genially. "What are your foster parents' names?"

"Lois Ellen Lane-Kent and Clark Jerome Kent," she said, smiling.

"Good job, Miss Rachel. Usually, I make my reporters write up their stories, but since you can't write…" He reached in his desk to pull out fat crayons and drawing paper that he had obtained for the purpose. "How about you draw me some pictures of you and Lois and Clark?"

Rachel set her melting ice cream cone on Perry's desk and took the items from him. "Okay," she agreed. Rachel put the paper and crayons on the floor before going back for her ice cream.

"Don't forget your pay," Perry said, handing her the money.

"Thank you, Perry," she said a trifle shyly.

Perry grinned. "You can call me 'Grandpa Perry'," he said.

"Yessir, Grandpa Perry," Rachel responded.

Perry reached over and messed up her hair. "Rachel Pierce, welcome to the Daily Planet."

Rachel smiled, walked over to her paper and crayons, sat down, and began to color, licking her ice cream as she made her new grandpa some pictures. He didn't live with her, so he probably wouldn't hurt her, and it looked like Mr. Kent wouldn't either.


Chapter 6: Saturday's Child

December 10, 1998, 12:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Thunder boomed and lightening flashed across the sky as large hailstones rained down upon Metropolis leaving destruction in their wake. Upstairs at 348 Hyperion Avenue, a little girl cowered under the blankets, frightened by crashing thunder.

She heard the thunder crack, just before a fleeting light streaked outside her window. Rachel squeaked, tumbled out of bed, and ran down the hallway to her foster parents' bedroom. By now, it seemed to be the natural thing to do— their bedroom was safe because the bad men and the scary noises couldn't get her there. The safest place in her world was lying in between her new parents.

It was warm there, safe from the monsters that haunted her dreams. Snuggled between them, she could sleep soundly, knowing that they would protect her from the clutching hands that reached out from under her bed to grab at her ankles and drag her into the dark abyss. After almost a month of living with them, she was convinced that Lois and Clark were invincible. Even Papa Gary's trial hadn't been as scary as it could have been because they had been with her.


Rachel walked into the courtroom, her small hands wrapped tightly around two of Clark Kent's fingers while Lois's hand rested protectively on her shoulder. Since she had identified Papa Gary as her abuser, he had been arrested on felony assault and child abuse charges, and her half- brother had been taken away from him. She had been asked by the nice man in the long robe who sat at the front of the room to identify Papa Gary, and it was scary.

Lois knelt down hugged her tightly, and whispered that everything would be okay. Clark simply squeezed her hand gently and told her that they would be waiting for her when she came back. It was different now, holding her foster father's hand felt almost natural. "Thank you," she whispered and walked through the door that led to the front of the courtroom.

Rachel laboriously climbed the stairs; at five, they were a bit too steep for her to walk up comfortably. She clambered up onto the phonebooks that were stacked on the witness chair, folded her hands in her lap, and crossed her ankles.

The judge looked down at her from his bench and smiled. "Rachel, do you understand the difference between the truth and a lie?"

Rachel nodded. "Yessir. The truth is when something really happened, and a lie is made up, like story books."

The judge nodded at the Assistant DA, who was in charge of prosecuting the case. "You may proceed."

The prosecutor walked up to the witness stand and placed her hands on the rail. "Rachel, when you were put in the state's custody, you were found with cuts and bruises all over you. Can you tell us how they got there?"

"Yes, ma'am," Rachel replied. "Papa Gary did it. He said that I was bad, so he hurted me again."

"Do you see your "'Papa Gary'" in here today, Rachel?"

"Yes, ma'am—he's sitting over there," she pointed toward the defense's table.

"Rachel, do you think that what he did to you was wrong?"

The defense attorney stood up. "Objection, calls for a conclusion on the part of the witness."

"Objection sustained," the judge said.

"How often did this happen, Rachel? Every day? Once a week? A month? A year?"

"I dunno," she said, looking frightened. "When he got mad 'bout something, Papa Gary hitted me."

"Do you remember the first time he hurt you, Rachel?"

Rachel nodded hesitantly. "After Mommy died. We was coming back from the funeral and he said it was my fault that Mommy got dead, so he hitted me."

"Did your stepfather punish you in other ways?" the prosecutor asked.

"Yes ma'am. If he sees me hugging my dollies, he likes to tear 'em up and set 'em on fire," she answered quietly. "He said he wanted to do that to me, once." Rachel shrunk back into her chair, scared of the man sitting a few feet away from her.

"Thank you, Rachel," she turned to face the defense lawyer. "Your witness."

The defense lawyer stood up and walked to the witness stand. "Rachel, is it possible that you did something wrong before your stepfather, Mr. Russell, hit you? Is it possible that he was just punishing you for wrong doing?"

Rachel crossed her arms over her chest. "He was mad," she said flatly. "I never did nothing bad enough for him to beat me up. He said that Mommy was bad and he had to make sure that I didn't turn out like her. Mr. Kent says that grown-ups shouldn't hit little girls and that hurting somethin' littler than you makes you a bully and a coward."

The defense attorney shifted uncomfortably as he noticed the glares coming from the jury box. He wasn't doing his client any good with the child; they must have thought he was picking on a little girl. "Thank you, Rachel. Next witness." The defense lawyer returned to his chair.

Rachel climbed down from the witness box and ran across the floor into Ms. Lane's waiting arms.


Rachel shivered in the darkness, pushed open the door, and rushed over to Ms. Lane's side of the bed; she needed their comfort now just as she had at the trial. "Ms. Lane, I'm scared."

Ms. Lane sat up in bed and snapped on the light. "Did the thunder scare you, peanut?" she asked.

Mr. Kent sat up as well and patted the bed next to him. "You can sleep here if you're still scared," he offered.

"Uh huh," Rachel said as she scrambled up on the bed.. She climbed under the blankets between them and snuggled in. "Thank you, Daddy," she said, already starting to get sleepy again. "I knew you'd keep me safe."

He froze when he heard that name. "Daddy?" he asked, wonder in his voice.

Rachel looked at him, worried. "Is that okay?" she asked anxiously. Mr. Kent had never been anything but nice to her; even when he scolded her for something she did. He wasn't mean like the bad men she'd come in contact with

before. Rachel had come to trust him over the past month. Slowly but surely, he had earned her trust. She wanted a real daddy, and he seemed to want to fill that space.

"It's more than okay, sweetie" Mr. Kent affirmed softly. "We love you." He pulled her into a gentle hug.

Rachel threw her arms around Ms. Lane's neck and planted a wet kiss on her cheek. "I love you, Momma." She released her Momma to throw her arms around her Daddy's neck.

"Thank you, sweetheart," Momma said as she kissed Rachel on the cheek.

Rachel hugged Clark tightly and laid her head on his shoulder, then yawned and snuggled closer. It was safe in Daddy's arms—she knew that now. Her eyes began to drift shut, and the sound of their voices whispering their love soon lulled her to sleep


December 17, 1998, 10:30 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Lois picked up a picture of Rachel and smiled before reaching for the phone. The last month had been rough on all of them, but incredibly rewarding. Only a week ago, Rachel had asked to call them "Momma" and "Daddy". To her, it was nothing short of a miracle that Rachel had so quickly accepted Clark in that role.

Every single time she heard those words from Rachel's mouth, it made her smile—her little girl had come a long way in the past month from the withdrawn child who refused to speak to anyone. Rachel's stepfather was now in jail, serving 8-10 years for his crimes while Timmy, her half- brother, was being placed for adoption. Unfortunately, nothing had been done about the men who had hurt her in the orphanage; Rachel still refused to identify them.

Lois looked at the clock and smiled. It was past time for her to call Samantha to try to make an appointment so they could discuss permanent adoption. She wanted it to be legal. The thought of losing Rachel was unthinkable; she was now an integral part of their lives and they wanted her to officially become "Rachel Kent". Lois picked up the phone, dialed the now familiar number, and grimaced when she got the answering machine. "Samantha, this is Lois Lane. Clark and I need to make an appointment to see you about Rachel and we wanted to know if this afternoon or tomorrow morning would be okay? Call me back."

After hanging up the phone, she looked through the growing file on the SIDS case. It was going nowhere. Five more children had since died in the last month, bringing the death toll up to thirty with crib death listed as the official cause. There had to be a substantial link between the cases. While there were tenuous circumstantial connections, she and Clark had yet to stumble upon a substantial link that would break the whole case wide open.

Lois looked through the file one more time, scanning for missing pieces. Nothing. There were no suspicious chemicals in the children's blood, no signs of struggle, and the only needle marks had been from legitimate vaccinations. She sighed as she set the file aside for Clark to look through after he got back from his alter ego's latest call for help, and pulled out a file on Senator Javenson.

One case might be stymied, but this one certainly wasn't. The senator was almost as dirty as Lex Luthor. He not only had ties to Intergang, but he ran a few of the local gangs. They were just lucky that they had caught it first—another lead story for Lane and Kent.


December 17, 1998, 10:45 am

Erickson Elementary, Mr. Lancaster's kindergarten class

Rachel ran happily across the floor and climbed the ladder leading to the top of the loft. She was going to play house with her new friends soon. This school was much better than her old one—the kids here were nicer to her, and she had even made some friends. Her thick, short, dark blonde ponytails bobbed as she threw her leg over the top rail and scooted over to the pile of dolls.

Rachel selected one out of the pile and cradled her gently as she waited for her friends to join her. The doll wasn't Aimee, but she was all right for playing with during school hours. Aimee and CJ were safely secreted in her backpack— she didn't want to share those treasured toys. She scooted closer to the corner when Bobby's head appeared over the barrier.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I'm waiting for Susie and Jenna," she said softly. "We're gonna play house."

"No, you're not." Bobby said. "This is my fort and me and *my* friends are gonna play war. 'Sides, you don't know how to play house, anyway, 'cause you don't got no parents. My mommy said so." He climbed over the rail and glared at her, his hands planted on his hips.

"I do, too," Rachel retorted. "My momma and daddy love me! An' I heard 'em saying that they wanna 'dopt me and keep me *forever*," she announced triumphantly. "An' that means that I'm specialer than you, 'cause they *picked* me."

"You are not!" he exclaimed.

"Are too. Your mommy just got stuck with you. My momma *wanted* me. An' the loft is mine to play house in." Rachel clutched the doll and stood her ground.

"Is not! And your *real* mommy and daddy didn't want you at all, 'cause they gave you away," Bobby shot back.

"Not so! I'm staying. And there's nuthin' you can do 'bout it." Rachel began to rock the doll in her arms.

Bobby gave her a hard shove, almost pushing her off the loft. Rachel got to her knees, shoved back and the doll fell forgotten to the floor of the loft. He stumbled backwards, landing nearer to the edge than she had.

"Bobby and Rachel, down here *now*," Mr. Lancaster's voice called.

The children climbed down from the loft and stood apart, glaring at each other.

"Bobby Greene and Rachel Pierce, what's gotten into you today?" he demanded.

"Bobby said I don't got no parents," Rachel replied, still scowling. "He started it! My momma and daddy love me and they're gonna adopt me; I heard 'em talking 'bout it. And my name isn't Rachel Pierce no more. It's Rachel Elizabeth Kent. And he pushed me *first*." She stomped her foot on the linoleum-tiled floor.

Mr. Lancaster sighed heavily. "Why me?" he muttered. "Bobby, you need to say that you're sorry to Rachel—that was an ugly thing to say to her and you shouldn't have pushed her in the first place. And Rachel, you need to say the same thing to Bobby," he crossed his arms over his chest and looked at them sternly. "You two know better than to start pushing people—especially not on the loft. One of you could have fallen off and gotten seriously hurt."

"Yessir," Rachel said. "I'm sorry I pushed you, Bobby," she said obediently.

Bobby glared at Rachel and his teacher defiantly. "Well, I ain't sorry. She's a stupid girl who don't got no parents and she deserved it."

Mr. Lancaster shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Bobby. You're going to have to apologize, and both of you know better than to fight." He motioned to the teacher's aide. "Miss Hill, please take Bobby and Rachel to the office for fighting." He walked over to his desk, scribbled a note on a piece of paper and handed it to Miss Hill. "Give this to the principal for me?" he asked.

Miss Hill nodded and stuck the note in the pocket of her skirt before offering her hands to both children. Rachel obediently took her hand, her short blonde ponytails brushing against her ears. She was scared. She'd seen the principal in the hallway, but she'd never been sent to her office. Dr. K. was nice, but she'd heard from some of the big kids that she was mean to kids who'd been sent there.

Bobby crossed his arms over his chest and glared defiantly at the teacher's aide. Miss Hill sighed and put her hand on the child's shoulder to steer him in the right direction. "Bobby," she scolded, "this is the third time this week you've been sent to Dr. Karonovich's office for fighting. It means suspension! Your Mommy isn't going to be happy that she has to come and get you again."

"Don't care," he responded sullenly.

They arrived at the principal's office in silence, and Miss Hill sat them down on the chairs outside. She handed the note to one of the secretaries before leaving the room.

Rachel squirmed uncomfortably in the hard chair and wished that her Momma was there. She knew that she probably shouldn't have pushed Bobby, but he had just made her so mad! Her Momma and Daddy *were* her parents and she loved them.

A few minutes later, her name was called, so she slid slowly out of the chair and walked even more slowly across the room to the principal's office. She entered the office quietly and stood in front of the desk, scuffing the toe of her sneaker against the floor. "Yes, Dr. K?" she whispered.

"Rachel, honey, look at me," Dr. K said, running her hand through her short, dark curls.

Rachel looked up, her big eyes brimming with frightened tears. Dr. K moved around the desk and laid her hand on Rachel's shoulder. "I just need to talk to you, and then we'll call your mommy to come and get you."

"Am I in trouble?" Rachel asked with trepidation, suddenly scared that this new person might hit her. Sure, Dr. K was a woman, but you just could never tell with strange people. Papa Gary had been nice to her once, too.

"A little," the principal admitted. Dr. K walked over to her couch and sat down before motioning to Rachel to join her. She walked over and carefully sat next to the principal.

"Rachel," Dr. K. began. "Do you know why Mr. Lancaster sent you here?"

"Because I pushed Bobby Greene back after he pushed me?" Rachel answered timidly. Her small face took on a determined look. "I let Papa Gary hit me, and I'm not gonna let anyone else do it."

Dr. K. sighed and reached out to hug the little girl. She knew Rachel's history—with all of the publicity, who didn't? But there had never been any indication of behavioral problems at school. "Rachel, that wasn't your fault—isn't that what your foster parents and your therapist have been telling you?"

"Yes'm," Rachel replied softly.

"Rachel Pierce,"

"Kent" Rachel corrected her.

"Kent," Dr. K. said agreeably; she knew better than to argue with the child—this name-situation had come up before, and it was ultimately what the child answered to that mattered. "No more fighting in school, okay? I'm going to call your foster mother to come and take you home for the rest of the day, but I *never* want to see you in here again for fighting."

"Dr. K-karonovich?" Rachel began quietly, "could you call my Daddy instead? I want my Daddy."

The principal's eyebrows raised at this surprising development. For a child who had been so traumatized by men to ask for her foster father was surprising to say the least. "All right, sweetie, I'll call him—but remember what I said about fighting."

"Yes ma'am," Rachel agreed. Dr. K. walked the little girl to the door before returning to her desk, making a phone call to Mr. Kent, and then calling Bobby Greene inside her office.


December 17, 1998, 11:00 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Clark studied the SIDS file again, hoping that they had overlooked something. Another victim had been reported a few hours ago—Rachel's half-brother, Timmy. There *had* to be a connection that would lead to a reason why and how these innocent babies were dying. He read over Timmy's autopsy report, then the boy's medical report before something caught his eye. "Lois," he called before getting up and walking over to her desk, still clutching the ever- growing file in his hand.

"Did you find something, sweetheart?" she asked absently as she typed the rest of a sentence into her story.

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "But I noticed something that we didn't see before. Monique mentioned before that Family and Children Services used a local clinic where one of the physicians had agreed to accept what Medicaid would pay him and waive the rest of his fee. *All* of these children were vaccinated by the *same* doctor, Lois. And what's more, all of these children were vaccinated within 48 hours of their deaths…"

Lois looked at Clark in shock. "What if an undetectable drug was placed in the vials of vaccine? We *could* have a serial baby-killer on our hands," she said quietly.

"But that still doesn't explain how they all ended up seeing the same doctor," he pointed out. "Some of these children lived in different counties."

Lois took the file from Clark and flipped though it. "They all were sent to the same Medical Examiner, too." She looked up at him, her brow furrowed in thought. "Clark, aren't bodies usually just sent to the County Coroner? I mean, with the children living in different counties, shouldn't their bodies have been sent to *different* MEs?"

"What if," Clark began slowly, "the children weren't really dead?"

Lois snapped her fingers. "Resurrection, maybe?"

"It can't be Resurrection," Clark said. "They developed a test for that, and it's not showing up in the children's blood—but it could be a drug with similar, slower-acting effects."

"Why would anyone want to bury children alive? What could they possibly hope to gain?" Lois asked, horrified.

Before either of them could say anything more, Clark's phone rang. "Clark Kent," he said, answering the phone.

"Mr. Kent, this is Dr. Karonovich, your foster daughter's principal."

"Is Rachel okay?" The words automatically rushed out of his mouth.

"She's fine, Mr. Kent. We've just had a bit of an altercation here, and I need you to come and pick her up for the rest of the day."

"Rachel's been in a fight? What happened?" Clark asked anxiously.

"Yes, she has, but it's nothing too serious. Nobody got hurt, and your foster daughter is sitting outside my office right now. Mr. Kent, I know that Rachel has been through a lot, but I need you to reinforce at home that fighting is unacceptable."

"I promise that we'll talk to her about it," Clark said, fighting the urge to fly over at superspeed just to make sure his little girl was really all right.

"There's something else you should know," Dr. K. added. "Rachel is insisting that her last name is Kent."

Clark grinned, happy at the sign that Rachel really did want to be his and Lois's little girl. "Well, since Lois and I want to adopt her, I guess that's a good thing," he said with a soft chuckle. "I'll be there to pick her up as fast as I can. Thank you, Dr. Karonovich."

"You're welcome, Mr. Kent. And—good luck on adopting Rachel."

Clark laid the phone back in its cradle and strode over to his wife's desk. "Lois, tell Perry I'll be back?" he asked. "That was Dr. Karonovich—I have to go get Rachel from school." Clark leaned over and kissed her quickly. "She's been in a fight, but they say she's not hurt," he added as he pulled on his overcoat and hurried over to the elevator.


December 11, 1998, 11:35 am

Erickson Elementary, Main Office

Clark walked quickly into the main office and looked around for Rachel. "Daddy!" he heard her voice call to him. He barely had time to turn around when Rachel wrapped her arms around his legs. He leaned down, swung her up, and settled her comfortably on his hip. Rachel buried her face in his shoulder.

"I did something bad today, Daddy," she said, with a catch in her voice.

"What did you do that was bad, peanut?" he asked softly. He'd gotten the bare bones of the story earlier from Dr. K, but he wanted Rachel to tell him what had happened from her own perspective.

"I got into a fight," she admitted quietly. "Bobby said that I didn't have no parents and that you didn't never love me, and then he pushed me, so I pushed him back. I'm sorry."

"Sweetheart, you know better," Clark admonished her gently. "I know that sometimes people say things that hurt, but it doesn't give you an excuse to hurt them back, ok? Next time, go tell a teacher."

"I promise, Daddy." Rachel laid her head on his shoulder and sighed in contentment, knowing now that his gentle admonishment would be the last of her punishment.

"C'mon, sprite, let's go get your stuff and sign you out." Clark walked over to where her filled backpack lay on the floor.

"But Rachel don't got no parents," a little boy sitting nearby insisted.

"You must be Bobby," Clark said as he turned to face the child, unexpectedly wishing he could smack the little boy for teasing Rachel.

"Uh huh," the boy eyed him suspiciously. "Who're you? You aren't Rachel's daddy, 'cause Rachel don't got one."

"I do, too," Rachel said softly. "This is my Daddy—his name's Clark Kent, and he works for the Daily Planet."

"Then how come your name's Pierce, not Kent?" Bobby asked, a trifle curiously.

"That's because my wife and I haven't quite made it legal yet," Clark explained. "But Rachel's my little girl. Isn't that right, sprite?"

Rachel nodded vigorously. "Uh huh. I gots a Daddy and a Momma, and they love me. Told ya!"

Clark leaned over, picked up Rachel's backpack, then smiled at Bobby before heading up to the desk. He signed her out and, with a wave in Bobby's direction, headed out the door towards the Jeep. They had come a long way in the past month—they were a family now—and in his mind nothing would ever change that.


December 11, 1998 11:40 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

"Lois Lane, Daily Planet." Lois grabbed a pad and a pencil in preparation to take notes and settled back in her chair.

"Lois? This is Samantha Parker—I'm just returning your call."

"Hi, Sam," Lois began. "Clark and I want to start the adoption proceedings." Lois blurted, not wanting to waste time on preliminaries.

Sam laughed softly. "I should have guessed—this is your one-month anniversary of getting Rachel, isn't it? Lois, I'd love to start the paperwork right away, but, despite the fact that his last known residence is here in Metropolis, we haven't been able to find her biological father yet. Until he signs away his rights to her, I'm afraid we can't really go forward."

"But, Sam," Lois protested, "he deserted her mother soon after they found out that she was pregnant with Rachel! Doesn't the fact that he *abandoned* her before she was born count for anything?"

"I'm afraid not, Lois," Samantha said. "Unless every effort is made to contact him, any adoption wouldn't be legal. Lois, we have to leave the advertisement seeking his whereabouts in place for six weeks. If he doesn't reply to the ad, then we can terminate his parental rights, and you can start proceedings to adopt Rachel."

Lois sighed and tossed her notepad and pencil on the desk. "Let's say he doesn't answer—how long will it take for Rachel to become officially ours?"

"Six months to a year," Samantha answered matter-of-factly.

"That long?" Lois asked, deflated.

"I'm afraid so," Samantha affirmed gently.

"Thank you, Sam," Lois said quietly. "I'll get everything started today."

"Lois—" Samantha said quickly before Lois hung up, "even if her biological father *does* show up, you can still petition the court for custody. I don't want to give you any false hopes; the chances of getting custody of her are slim in that case, but you *can* always try."

"Thanks, Sam," Lois said, then hung up the phone. She stood up and went to Perry's office. "Perry?" she called.

Perry looked up from the pile of papers in front of him on his desk. "Yes, darlin'?" he asked.

"Perry, I just talked to Rachel's social worker, and she said that we have to advertise for Rachel's biological father." Lois drew in a deep breath before continuing. "I was wondering if we could put one in the Planet?"

"I'll tell you what, darlin', we can do better than that. Your little Rachel is cute as a button, and I wanna help y'all keep her. We'll run an ad in the legal section along with another series on adoption. I'll put Meyerson on it, and I want an article from you and Clark." Perry smiled and reached across his desk for a pen to make some notations.

"The Planet runs ads like the one you need for Rachel all the time, so there's no problem there, and I can get one of the Planet lawyers to start drawing up the adoption papers," he said.

"Thanks, Perry," she said. "I've almost got our next story ready and I'll LAN it to you in a few minutes." Lois turned to leave, intent on finishing their latest story.

"Lois?" Perry said, "How's the SIDS story coming?"

"We're getting closer to breaking it, Perry," she said.

"Just don't let another paper beat us to the punch," he warned, his eyes twinkling.

"I won't, Perry, I won't," Lois said, laughing as she left to go finish her story.


December 18, 1998, 3:30 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois picked up a hairbrush and followed the sound of giggles into Rachel's bedroom. "Daddy, *higher*." Rachel laughed as Clark swung her into the air.

Clark laughed, swung her back down, and hugged her tightly. "Rachel, if I swing you any higher, you'll be flying like Superman," he said.

"Superman?" Rachel glanced around suspiciously. "I don't wanna see *him*."

"You don't have to, sprite," Clark said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Rachel threw her arms around his neck and bussed him on the cheek. "I love you, Daddy."

Clark tugged gently on a lock of Rachel's hair. "I love you too, Rachel."

Lois leaned against the doorjamb, almost unwilling to break up the father-daughter moment. "All right, you two, we need to get ready to go to the airport so we can pick up Grandma and Grandpa Kent," she said.

Rachel became very quiet and buried her face in Clark's shoulder. "Do you think Grandpa and Gramma Kent will like me?" she asked, her voice muffled.

Lois walked over and rubbed Rachel's back gently. "They'll love you, peanut," she said softly.

"An' what about Gramma and Grandpa Lane?" she asked fearfully. Grandparents were something outside her experience and therefore something to be feared.

Clark kissed the crown of her head. "They couldn't help but love you, sprite," he said reassuringly.

"Really?" she whispered.

"Really," Clark said firmly.

Rachel began to wriggle to be put down. If her Momma and Daddy said it was so, than it must be. Even if her new grandparents were mean, Momma and Daddy would protect her.

Clark set her down on the ground and watched as she ran over to the closet to look for clothes. Rachel had changed in the past month. Gone was the thin, unhappy waif with ragged, unkempt hair. Instead, they had a slender little girl with roses in her cheeks and a sparkle in her dark blue eyes. Her shiny, dark-blonde hair curled slightly at the ends, and had grown out considerably from the hacked, chopped, messy cut it had been when she was found two months ago. She was still shy around strangers, had occasional nightmares, and new situations scared her, but he wasn't sure if any of that would ever go away.

He had smiled inwardly when just last week when her therapist had labeled her a 'super-child', one who had made an almost complete recovery from the abuse that she had suffered. They had been able to keep his Superman disappearances under wraps so that Rachel was still unaware of his second job. That was probably for the best, since she still viewed Superman with a large measure of distrust.

"Momma," her small voice called, interrupting his thoughts. "Can you help me get dressed to meet the Grammas and Grandpas?"

"I sure will, sweetie," Lois said moving forward to help the little girl pull a dress, tights, and her mary janes from the closet. Clark smiled fondly at his two girls before leaving to get dressed himself. His parents would be landing at the airport in a little over an hour, and he and Lois needed to pick them up. Lois's parents were coming over afterwards to meet Rachel at the same time. Directly afterwards, there was a family dinner so that Rachel could meet most of her family at once—Lucy couldn't make it.

Lois leaned over to kiss the top of Rachel's head before pulling the dress on over the child's head. She was thankful that Mr. Taylor hadn't yet come forward to claim Rachel. "Mine," her heart sang as she helped buckle the little shoes. "My daughter." No matter what the courts said, Rachel would always be her little girl.


December 18, 1998, 4:45 p.m.

836 Centennial Drive Apt 3B, Metropolis

Sam nervously adjusted his tie and smoothed his hair once more. Although it was just a family dinner, he couldn't help but worry about meeting his new granddaughter for the first time—at least for the first time when she was conscious. Ellen hadn't taken the news of Lois and Clark's intent to adopt her very well, and he was worried how his wife would react to the child.

"Ellen," he called. "Are you ready to go to the kids' place?"

Ellen walked out of the bathroom, fussing with her hair. "I don't see why *my* daughter is insisting upon adopting this waif," she fussed fretfully. "I *want* a grandchild, but I want a baby to spoil *before* I get a five-year-old!" She stopped in front of the mirror to reapply her lipstick.

"Who knows what kind of background this child has come from. I've heard stories, Sam—she could murder them in their beds as they sleep."

Sam chuckled softly. "No, she couldn't," he said. "She's just a little slip of a thing." His face grew serious as he slipped his arm around Ellen's waist. "But if her biological father shows up, she could break their hearts." He took a deep breath before continuing. "I saw the look on Lois's face while I was checking over Rachel. Ellen, she looked just like you did the first time you held *our* little girls. Please—don't give the child a hard time? The potential for heartbreak is already there, and we don't need to add to it."

Ellen sighed. "Okay, Sam. I'm still not sure about this child, but I suppose if she hasn't killed them yet, she's not going to." She glanced at the wall clock. "We'd better get going, or we'll be late." Ellen turned and hurried out of the room. A few seconds later, Sam followed. This should prove to be an interesting evening— and he was beginning to look forward to meeting the child that his little girl loved so much.


December 18, 1998 5:00 p.m.

Metropolis International Airport

Rachel stood in between Lois and Clark as they waited for the elder Kents to come up the escalator that led from the gates. She was a little scared to meet them, but her parents had reassured her that it would be fine. She had spoken to them once on the telephone, but it hadn't been for long. Gramma Kent had sounded nice, but Grandpa Kent's deep voice was more than a little scary.

"Mom, Dad," Clark called as they came in sight. Rachel slipped behind Clark, trusting in her daddy to keep her safe. She had briefly considered using her Momma as a shield, but her Daddy was bigger and easier to hide behind. Rachel peeked out from behind him to look at these strange people who were her Daddy's parents.

"Lois, Clark," Martha called happily. She gave both of them hugs before crouching down to see behind her son. "You must be Rachel," she said softly.

Jonathan followed closely behind his wife, lugging both of their carry-ons. He set them down and gave Lois a hug before he clapped his son on the shoulder. "It's good to see you, son," he said.

Rachel slid out from behind Clark uncertainly. "Well look at you," Jonathan said. "You must be my new granddaughter, Rachel." Jonathan cleared his throat before he reached into his pocket, pulled out a small package, and handed it to her. "Your great-grandma gave me this to give to my little girl someday, so I think this belongs to you."

"Are you sure, Grandpa Kent?" she asked shyly, looking at the present and then up at him through her eyelashes.

"You belong with us, Rachel—you're a Kent, little one."

Rachel nodded and untied the ribbon of the small box and opened it up to find a small, child-sized silver locket. "Thank you, Grandpa Kent," she said, a smile dawning on her face.

Jonathan pulled it out of the box and fastened it around her neck. "There you go, Rachel."

"Dad," Clark began, "I've never seen that before…"

"That's because I had it put away for your first daughter, son," Jonathan said. "Your grandmother got it for her sixth birthday, so I thought it fitting to give it to Rachel now. Think of it as an—early Christmas present."

Clark shook his head and sighed. "You're going to spoil her rotten, aren't you?"

Martha laughed. "Clark, honey, we would *never* do that, now would we, Jonathan?"

"Of course not, Martha. Just because Rachel's our *first* grandchild…"

Martha leaned down and motioned to Rachel. "I've got something for you too, but it's in my bag with the…" Her voice got lower. "Christmas presents."

"Christmas presents?" Rachel's eyes grew wide at the mention of more presents.

"Uh huh. And I thought that you and I could bake cookies, and maybe a pie." Martha smiled as Rachel started to regain more animation with each word.

Rachel looked at these new people in amazement. Maybe grandparents weren't such an awful thing after all. She brought her hand up to finger the new locket that Grandpa Kent had given her. This set, at least, seemed like a lot of fun.


December 18, 1998, 5:30 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue

Clark leaned over and stole a quick kiss from Lois as they watched Rachel get acquainted with both sets of grandparents. "They're spoiling her rotten," Clark observed as Lois leaned back against him.

"I know," she agreed. "I'm a bit surprised—my mother hasn't been all that supportive about this, but she's right in there with a Madam Alexander doll for Rachel."

"Maybe your father convinced her that this was a good idea?" he suggested.

"Or maybe she saw Rachel and fell in love just like we did," Lois said with a slight smile.

Ellen dropped a kiss on Rachel's head before coming over to where they were standing. "Lois," she began softly, "I know I don't say this often, but I owe you an apology. That granddaughter of mine is *adorable*, and I'm sorry I doubted you."

"Thank you, Mother," Lois said, her eyes resting on Rachel.

"We think she's pretty cute," Clark said with a grin. He kissed Lois again before releasing her and going over to swing Rachel up in the air.

Lois smiled at Rachel's squeal of glee as she watched the two of them play. "He's just a big kid," she grumbled half-heartedly.

Martha caught the remark from her place on the couch and came over to stand with the other two women. "They always are, Lois," she said with a smile. "Jonathan was that way with Clark, sometimes—I think that's where he gets his love of… heights from."

Ellen laughed slightly. "Your father played with you and Lucy that way when you were Rachel's age. It was before everything fell apart," she paused for a moment before continuing. "Cherish these days, Lois; they don't last long."

Before Lois could answer, the doorbell rang, so she walked over to answer it. She opened the door to reveal a tall man with dark blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. "Lois Lane-Kent?" he asked.

"Yes?" she said.

"My name is Christopher Taylor, and I've come for my daughter, Rachel."

Lois slumped against the doorway. This was her worst nightmare come true—how could he expect her to hand over her baby girl? "Mr. Taylor," she began. "How do we know that you're Rachel's father? You could be anybody, and you can't expect us to just hand her over to you—the state still has custody of her and until they say differently, Rachel will stay with us," she said firmly. Lois was determined not to let this man take her little girl without a fight.

"I thought you'd see it that way," he said, reaching into the inside pocket of his overcoat and pulling out a sheaf of papers. "Here's the results of the paternity test that prove she's mine, and my lawyer wants to meet with you tomorrow to discuss custody arrangements." He handed her the papers and cast a wistful glance toward Rachel and Clark, who were still playing. "I'm going to take my little girl home with me, Mrs. Kent—home where she belongs." With that, he handed Lois the papers and left.

"Clark?" Lois called softly.

Clark set Rachel down on the ground. "Why don't you go play with your Grandpas, sprite? They're looking a bit neglected over there at your tea party." Privately, Clark thought that the sight of his and Lois's fathers sitting on small chairs drinking pretend tea with stuffed animals was probably one of the funniest sights he'd seen in a long time, but they didn't seem to mind.

"Okay, Daddy," Rachel said and trotted over to pour out more 'tea'.

Clark hurried over to Lois. "What's the matter, honey? And who was that at the door?"

"Rachel's biological father," Lois answered softly. "He gave me these," she held out the papers. Clark took them and scanned through the packet quickly.

"According to this," Clark said quietly, "He *is* her biological father. There's also a note here that says that he wants a meeting tomorrow at ten."

"Sam warned us that this could happen," Lois said with a sigh. "She told me yesterday that the court had assigned a guardian ad litem to Rachel in case of this, so we'll have to call her lawyer as well as ours." She walked over to the desk and grabbed her briefcase from the chair. Lois rummaged around in it for a few minutes before she found her notepad.

Clark came over and stopped her with a touch. "Honey, we can call the lawyers tomorrow—let's just have some fun with our family tonight, okay?"

"But, Clark," Lois said, her eyes beginning to gather moisture. "We could lose her…"

Clark pulled her, unresisting, into his arms. "We're not going to," he said firmly. "Rachel is our little girl in every way that matters—we'll fight this, I promise."

"But Samantha said that if this happened, there wasn't much chance of us getting to keep her," Lois said softly.

"But there *is* a chance," he insisted. "We still have hope, and we still have each other—it's enough." Clark leaned down and kissed her gently, then insistently, hoping to calm her down. His tongue swept past her lips and she sighed into his mouth. Before it could go any further, Clark felt a little hand tugging at his pant leg. "Daddy, I'm hungry," Rachel said.

"Rachel Interruptus," Lois muttered, hiding a smile.

Clark reached down and swung Rachel up into his arms. "Well, let's see what we can do about that," he said with a smile. Lois watched the two of them go into the kitchen to check on dinner and the worries caused by Mr. Taylor's visit crashed down on her. It seemed as if her worst nightmare was coming true.


December 23, 1998, 9:45 am

Metropolis County Courthouse (aka Hall of Justice)

Lois and Clark sat quietly behind the table on one side of the courtroom as Mr. Taylor's lawyer made his case. The meeting last week hadn't gone very well, and Mr. Taylor had used some influence to push the case through an already cluttered court docket.

"Your honor, my client is fiscally and emotionally able to provide for his daughter. He has a stable job at Norton Engineering—he's one of their top electrical engineers— and he can provide a loving home for Rachel. All he's asking is to be able to take his daughter home."

Judge Stephenson regarded the file in front of her for a moment. "Mr. Taylor, I see from this that what you say is true, but I *would* like to hear from both the other side and from Rachel herself—after all, my five year old niece has her own opinion and I'm sure that Rachel does, too. Mr. and Mrs. Kent, I'd like to hear what you have to say."

Clark reached for Lois's hand and clasped it firmly. "Your honor, we've talked to our lawyer, and we'd like to speak. We are well able to provide for Rachel—and she's happy where she is, with us," Clark said.

"We know that she was placed in our home as a foster child," Lois added, "but we'd like to adopt her." She flashed a look at Mr. Taylor before continuing. "Frankly, I'd like to know where he was when Rachel's stepfather was abusing her—why did he choose to acknowledge her now, after so much time?"

"I'd also like to know that," the judge admitted. "Mr. Taylor, why did it take so long for you to decide to take care of Rachel? Her story was in the papers due to the way she was taken into the state's custody."

"Your honor, I was out of town when Rachel was found," he said. "My break-up with Micheala, Rachel's mother, wasn't pretty and we just kind of agreed to leave each other alone afterwards; she wouldn't even take child support. Leaving Rachel's mother was the stupidest mistake I've ever made—I just want to make up for that now by taking care of my little girl."

"Wanting to make amends is admirable, Mr. Taylor, but I need to talk to Rachel before I make any decisions here. Ms. Hunter, as little Rachel's advocate, I need to know if she has anything she'd like to say before I render a verdict?"

Rachel, who had been trying to be quiet as the grown-ups spoke, tugged on Constance Hunter's sleeve to get her attention. Constance leaned down and Rachel whispered something in her ear. "Rachel says that she'd like to talk to everybody at once, your honor," Ms. Hunter replied, "but there are some things that I need to say on her behalf. The Kents can provide Rachel with a stable, two-parent home, and they have extended family who are willing to support them."

"Thank you, Ms. Hunter. I'll take that into consideration. Rachel—can you come and sit up here next to me?" Judge Stephenson motioned to the chair next to her.

Rachel walked to the chair and climbed up into it. This was easy after telling that other judge what Papa Gary did. "Hello, your honor," she said.

"Rachel, do you know why you're here?" the judge asked.

"Uh huh," she began. "That man," she pointed at Mr. Taylor, "wants to take me with him, and the Kents want me to stay home."

"And where is home, Rachel?"

"348 Hy-hy-hyperion Avenue," Rachel replied. "I know my phone number, too," she said proudly.

Judge Stephenson smiled. "Rachel, where do you want to live?" she asked.

"At home," Rachel replied promptly, "with Momma and Daddy."

"Rachel, why do you want to stay there?" the judge asked.

"Because," Rachel answered softly, "Momma and Daddy love me."

"Rachel, and what about Mr. Taylor? He's your real father, biologically speaking."

"He's a stranger," Rachel said stubbornly, "and Momma told me that I shouldn't talk to no strange people."

Judge Stephenson laughed. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent, you are to be commended. When Rachel's case first came before me, the state had a very frightened and traumatized little girl on our hands. You have given her the love and support to turn her into a happy, well-adjusted child." She paused to flip through a sheaf of papers.

"According to these notes, Rachel has flourished under your care—most of these recommend that she be left with you. However, it has always been the policy of the family court to keep biological families together when possible. It is often also the judge's prerogative to look past this when necessary. In this case, there are no reports of abuse on her biological father's part, and Mr. Taylor is both willing and able to care for Rachel. There is absolutely no reason to keep father and daughter apart. Rachel, you want to stay with the Kents but sometimes what you desire is not what is best for you—you may want ice cream, but a steady diet of it would soon make you sick.

"So, I must find that the best interest of the child is to place Rachel in her biological father's care. He is hereby granted full custody. Mr. and Mrs. Kent, you are to be commended for being excellent foster parents for Rachel, and this court hopes that you will be willing to open your home to another foster child in the future. However, any contact you have with Rachel will be up to her biological father. Next case, please."

At the judge's last words, Rachel flew across the courtroom and threw herself at Lois and Clark, sobbing. "I don't want to go away," she cried, tears running down her face. "I want to stay with you!"

Lois dropped to her knees, took Rachel in her arms, and stood up, holding her tightly. "We want you to stay, too, sweetheart," she said, fighting back tears. Rachel locked her arms around Lois's neck and held on for dear life.

Clark came over and put his arms around both of them. "We love you, sprite," he said, his voice husky with pent-up emotion. "We want you to stay with us forever," he said softly. "But we can't disobey the judge."

Rachel loosened her tight grasp on Lois and reached for Clark grabbing hold of the lapels of his suit. Clark reached for her before she fell and hugged her tightly. "Don't make me go, Daddy. Please don't make me go!" she begged.

"Sprite, I wish there was something I could do." He smoothed her hair away from her face and kissed her on the forehead.

Samantha Parker came over with Mr. Taylor, Rachel's small suitcase in hand. "It's time to go, Rachel," she said softly.

Rachel's grip tightened around Clark's neck. "Nooooo," she cried. "NOOOOOO! Daddy, no!" She hid her face in his neck and sobbed.

Samantha gently detached Rachel's arms from around Clark, and Mr. Taylor stepped forward to take her. He held her firmly against him, trying to keep his hold as she reached out for Lois and Clark. "Thank you for taking care of my little girl," he said quietly before he turned to leave. Samantha shot them an apologetic look before turning to follow him.

"They took my baby," Lois said with a soft sob before she turned around to bury her face in Clark's chest.

As Mr. Taylor walked away, Rachel stretched out her arms toward them. "Daddy, don't let them take me," she cried. "Daddy, DADDY!" she screamed as Mr. Taylor's steps took her further from the parents she loved. "DADDY, MOMMA! NOOOOOOOOO! DAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDYYYYY!"

"I love you, Rachel," Clark whispered as a single tear that he had been unable to repress rolled down his cheek. It was a long time before he could no longer hear his daughter screaming for him to come.


Chapter 7: Sunday's Child

December 23, 1998 12:00 p.m.

Office of Family and Children Services, Metropolis

Samantha sat at her desk, staring off into space. Usually, she loved her job, but that night, she hated it. Rachel had still been screaming for Lois and Clark when Mr. Taylor buckled her in the car that morning. Sam wasn't sure how she could deal with it—they had just ripped Rachel out of the only place that she could truly call home. She wanted a drink. Forget just one—a whole bottle would be better.

Sam sighed and rubbed her temples tiredly. It had been years since she had done that—she'd given up drinking after she'd almost died of alcohol poisoning back in college. It was days like this that made her question why she'd ever wanted to be a social worker in the first place, and she'd been one for the better part of thirty years.

"Samantha?" Sam turned around and saw her supervisor, Adam, standing behind her. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"I guess, so, Adam," she said quietly. "It's just the Pierce girl—Judge Stephenson gave her biological father full custody against my recommendation that she remain with the Kents."

"You know it happens, Samantha," he reminded her gently. "We're supposed to reunite families."

"I know," she sighed, "but I'm just not sure it's the right thing to do in Rachel's case. Adam, you know as well as I do that she still doesn't like strangers. Hell, she only ever seems to really open up around the Kents." Samantha frowned slightly. "Rachel has trust issues, and she trusts the Kents. I very much doubt that she'll trust Mr. Taylor the way she trusts Mr. Kent; especially after how he snatched her from the Kents without even giving them a chance to say goodbye."

"Kids are adaptable," Adam pointed out. "She'll be okay."

"I'm not so sure," she said softly. "Rachel has had to adapt to far too much; surely there is a limit! She loves the Kents and, as I said in my report, removing her from their home could cause irreparable damage."

"Trust the system, Samantha," he said quietly. "Isn't that what you taught me? You did the best you could for that little girl; at least she has a future now."

"I know," Samantha said with a heavy sigh. "I just hope that it was enough."


December 23, 1998, 12:30 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois sat in the window seat and stared out, unseeing, into the street outside. Rachel was gone just as surely as if she'd been snatched from a street corner by a stranger. It was almost as bad as if she'd been kidnapped—she could be anywhere by now, and Mr. Taylor hadn't even responded to their attorney's request for arrangements allowing the Kents to see or talk to Rachel. Lois was worried; living with a strange man would be terrifying for her baby. Desperately, she wished that Perry hadn't given them time off to spend with Rachel at Christmas—if she'd been at work, at least she'd have *something* to keep herself from going mad.

Christmas. That was something else that they hadn't talked about yet. She'd never enjoyed the holiday, but she'd actually been looking forward to this one. Brightly- wrapped packages were hidden in the attic, ready for Santa Claus to deliver them to a certain little girl on Christmas Eve. Neither her nor Clark's parents knew yet that Mr. Taylor had gained custody of Rachel; both sets of parents were out doing some last-minute Christmas shopping for their granddaughter because their requests to be in the courtroom had been denied. It just wasn't fair! Why did Rachel's biological father have to come back now to steal her? Tears began to trickle down Lois's cheeks—she wanted her baby back.

Lois wiped away her most recent bout of tears, slipped off of the window seat, and trudged slowly to the stairs. Rachel's bedroom beckoned like a siren call, but Lois remained conflicted. Part of her wanted to go to her daughter's room, but at the same time, she knew that visiting it would be painful. Lois started up the stairs, her feet dragging more with every step. She walked into Rachel's room and looked around, trying not to cry.

On one wall was a faded, crayoned-on drawing that they hadn't quite managed to remove. A sad smile crossed Lois's face as she remembered Rachel's fear of punishment when her artwork had been discovered. She remembered the surprise on the child's face when she received a gentle rebuke and an admonishment to use paper the next time. Rachel had tried to help them clean it off, but faint traces of the drawing still remained.

She crossed the room and sat on Rachel's bed. Remnants of the bright little girl who had lived there were everywhere—tiny clothes still hung in the closet and lay in drawers. Abandoned playthings lay scattered across the floor while brightly-colored hair ribbons were heaped on a corner of the dresser.

Lois ran her hand across the bedspread and frowned as she found a lump under the blankets. She turned them back carefully to discover Aimee lying underneath. "What are you doing here?" she said softly, running a finger along the doll's embroidered face. "Rachel must have forgotten you." Lois picked up the doll, hugged it, and wished it were her daughter. "Oh, Rachel…" she whispered.


Clark flew slowly through the skies of Metropolis, heading home after rescuing a family from a house fire. His heart ached as he thought about the little girl he had placed in her mother's arms such a short time ago—she'd reminded him of Rachel. Every tow-headed child he saw brought a painful memory of the one who had just been taken from them.

It even hurt to see the Salvation Army Santa Clauses standing on corners ringing their bells; they were reminders that what was supposed to be their first Christmas with their little girl would now be spent without her. For the first time in his life, Clark hated Christmas. What good was a holiday that celebrated hope and joy when the child who had brought them so much of it had been taken from them?

He still had Lois. With her, he knew that he could withstand anything, even losing the little girl they both loved. Clark sped up; he needed to be at home. He entered the house, spun into his street clothes, x-rayed the house quickly and joined Lois in Rachel's now uninhabited room. Silently, he sat down on the bed beside her and pulled her into his arms. They clung to one another desperately, as if by embracing each other, they could stop their world from crumbling around them.

"How could they *do* this to us?" Lois whispered as silent tears began to run down her face. "They *stole* our baby girl."

"No, sweetheart, it's how could *he* do this to us," Clark said gruffly, a slow anger beginning to burn in his gut. "He *abandoned* her before she was born, and now he thinks he can just waltz back into her life and *take* her from the people she loves—and who love her." He pulled back slightly and looked at her. "At least we helped her; if she hadn't been with us, she'd still be hurting from what happened to her," he pointed out gently. "We'll always be part of her life because of that."

Lois choked back a sob. "It's not enough," she said. "I want my little girl, and it's still my fault that she's gone. I saw her; I'm the one who found her on our doorstep," she reminded him. "I love her," she whispered, "but if we hadn't tried to adopt her, we'd still have her."

"Then it's my fault, too, because I was the one who suggested that we try to adopt her," he said softly, fighting back tears. "It's my fault that we can't have babies to start with—all my fault."

Lois sighed and buried her face in his shoulder. "Sweetheart, we talked about this, remember? No guilt—you can't help what Dr. Klein told us."

Numbly, Clark nodded against her silky hair. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became at Mr. Taylor. Every instinct he had demanded that he fly over, snatch his little girl, and take her home; but Superman couldn't kidnap a child, and neither could Clark Kent. "I just feel so damned… helpless."

"Join the club," Lois replied humorlessly. "They stole Rachel from us and left us without her. I never realized that it would hurt so much." She buried her face in his shoulder and held on to him tightly. "I just—want to make the pain go away."

"So do I," he said hoarsely.

Lois pulled back and looked at him, her face red and blotchy from the tears she had shed while more of them lurked, unshed, in her expressive brown eyes. "Make love to me, Clark," she said softly, desperate to lose the pain of Rachel's theft, even for a few short hours. It was her fault—if she hadn't pushed to adopt so soon, they'd at least have Rachel for Christmas. She needed the solace that only he could offer; reassurance that he still loved her and didn't blame her for the loss of their daughter.

Clark brought his hand up to caress her face. He needed her. How he needed her! As Superman, over the years, he had consoled parents whose children he had been unable to save, but until now he had not known the depth of their pain. He understood the raw pain and aching sense of loss that cut like a knife; the raging anger at the kismet that had stolen their precious daughter from them.

He knew the urge to curse God and fate for sending *that* man to take their baby away. And he needed it to go away. He needed to know that Lois loved him, that she didn't resent him for their inability to have little ones and for his powerlessness in stopping the court from taking Rachel. He was *Superman*, dammit. He *should* be able to stop their family from being ripped apart.

Clark leaned in and kissed Lois gently, then demandingly, craving the knowledge that she still cared.

Lois opened her mouth and sent her tongue out to touch his as he began to explore her slick flesh. "Clark, bedroom," she gasped in between kisses. There wasn't much rational thought left in her head, but she knew that they couldn't make love in their daughter's deserted bedroom.

Without relinquishing his claim on her mouth, Clark stood and picked her up before heading toward their room. He began to layer kisses on her face, her cheeks, her forehead, and then finally back to her lips, assaulting her senses with the energy he had used to fuel his anger. He needed this. He needed her. He set her down slowly by their bed, his hand tracing the neckline of her suit. He slipped her jacket off her shoulders and, without bothering to look, tossed it into the semi-darkness beyond the bed. He ran his hands up and down her arms, feeling the silkiness of her skin.

Clark tugged the hem of her sleeveless shirt from her slacks and slid his hands underneath it to explore her soft skin. He sighed as he felt her loosen his tie, pull it off, and fling it into the nether regions of the room. Leaning down, he captured her lips with his, reveling in the familiar sensation.

Lois began to unbutton his shirt, and growled in frustration when her hands came in contact with spandex instead of skin. She yanked at his shirt, trying to get it out of the way so that she could get to the suit's back zipper. She loved the way her husband looked in the suit, but right now she wanted him *out* of it. Lois pulled the shirt off his shoulders, momentarily trapping his hands in it; she traced the collar of the suit before sliding her hands underneath the cape to find the zipper. Grasping the tab, she pulled it down, softly following the line of skin as it was bared beneath her fingers.

Clark freed his hands and began to push her shirt up, tracing the line between the bottom of her bra and her skin. He reached around and opened the button that held her blouse closed, then determinedly began to remove it. She stopped what she was doing to allow him better access, then she unhooked her bra and let the straps slip down her shoulders. Lois pulled the top of Clark's suit down, reaching for the straps that secured the cape. She yanked them open and the cape slipped from Clark's shoulders, still hanging on by the waistband of his pants. It was rare that he tucked the cape in—usually he put it with the boots, but at that moment, the trivia of where the cape was hidden was the furthest thing from her mind.

Clark tugged his arms free of the bright blue spandex and gathered Lois close to him, exulting in the feel of bare flesh on bare flesh. No matter how many times they made love, it never ceased to be a revelation and a miracle to him. Every time, he felt a sense of connection and belonging that he had never found before Lois. It was as if not just their bodies, but their souls joined together. He tilted his head and kissed her. Sensation was what mattered now—their love and passion temporarily driving away their pain.

Lois brought her arms up around him, stroking his back softly. She traced the waistband of his slacks, carefully trailing her index finger in between the cape and his skin. She ran her hands around to his front, busying herself with his belt and fly. She unzipped his pants slowly, then reached around to free the rest of his cape. It fell to the floor, forming a large, crimson pool on their carpet; then Lois pushed his slacks off his slim hips to join the cape.

Clark kicked off his shoes and leaned in to kiss her again, their lips melded seamlessly together, tongues entangled, mimicking the lovemaking that would follow. He broke the kiss slowly, sucking her lower lip into his mouth and nibbling on it gently. "Lois," he breathed softly as she began to remove his electric-blue tights and red briefs. He reached around her to find the button of her skirt. Slowly, he unbuttoned it and eased down the zipper, sending her skirt to mingle with the other clothes strewn around the room.

Clark hurriedly finished divesting himself of his tights before he lifted Lois into his arms, carried her over to the bed, and laid her on it. She tugged him gently down, kissing him, and probing his mouth with her tongue. He leaned in to kiss her, peppering kisses all over her face, slowly making his way to her mouth. He kissed the corners before capturing her lips with a kiss so full of passion and longing that it drove any remaining rational thought from their minds.

Lois began to caress him teasingly, mapping out each sensitive spot on his torso with her fingertips. Slowly, she made her way down his body, moving her hands over his thighs and back up. "Loisss," he moaned softly. She laughed seductively before moving her hands back down his body. Her light kisses followed her fingers' trail; she smiled each time she kissed what she knew was a particularly sensitive spot. Clark began to caress her in return; the pain of Rachel's absence temporarily receded, replaced by an aching need, longing, desire and passion. There were only two people who mattered in her world at that moment—herself and Clark.

Their lovemaking was frantic as they strove to drive away the pain of Rachel's loss from their hearts, minds, and souls. They clung to each other, desperately trying to forget, to lose themselves in a maelstrom of emotion and sensation. Later, they lay together, spent, the real world coming back to them at long last; a world full of pain, sorrow, and loss.

Lois buried her face in his chest and wept for the daughter that she might never see again, for the child who had been lost to them. Clark held her and ran his hand up and down her bare back soothingly, attempting to offer his wife what comfort he could while his own heart was broken and incomplete. He whispered comforting nonsense in her ear, knowing that nothing could ease their anguish, aside from Rachel's return. He levitated them once more, pulled down the bedclothes, and floated them underneath before wrapping the blankets around them. As long as they had each other, they could go on—two people could still be a family.


December 23, 1998 3:00 p.m.

258 Deerwater Drive, North Metropolis

Rachel huddled in a corner, holding CJ, and glared at her captor. "Daddy!" she cried softly.

"What is it, sweetheart?" Mr. Taylor asked gently as he knelt down and reached for her hand.

Rachel swatted his hand away. "You're *not* my Daddy," she said. "You took me away from my Daddy," she said, her breath catching in a sob. "I wanna go home! I want my Momma and Daddy."

He sighed softly. "Rachel, honey—you're my little girl and I want you to be happy here; this is your home, now." He looked at her pleadingly. "Sweetheart, I want to introduce you to a very nice lady who's going to be your new Mommy."

"I don't want no new Mommy," she said holding her teddy bear as a shield. "I got a Mommy—and she's at home," Rachel insisted.

Mr. Taylor shook his head and sighed again. "Rachel, the Kents are nice people, but they're not your parents. Your name, now that I've found you, is Rachel Elizabeth Taylor, and you're my little girl."

"They are *so*! My name is Rachel Elizabeth *Kent*." She scrambled to her feet and glared at him, angry tears streaming down her face. "Kent, Kent, Kent!"

"Rachel," he began patiently, "your last name is Taylor. I *am* your daddy, and I'm introducing you to my fiancee tonight." He stood and looked at her, wishing for the kind of relationship that she seemingly had with Mr. Kent.

"Kentkentkentkentkentkentkentkentkentkentkent!" Rachel screamed, stomping her feet angrily.

"I'm sorry, Rachel," he said tiredly, turning to leave the room. Chris Taylor walked into the living room, slumped down on the couch, reached for the phone, and dialed a familiar number. "Jessica?" he said quietly when someone picked up.

"What is it, Chris?" a feminine voice answered.

"Are you still coming over tonight? I'd like you to meet my daughter."

"Of course," she answered with a soft laugh. "Is that her in the background?"

"Yeah," he said with a sigh. "She's not too happy about being here; she keeps screaming for her foster parents and she won't let me near her."

"Give her time, Chris," Jessica said. "Just give her some time. I'll be there at six."

"Thanks, Jessica. I love you."

"I love you, too."

Chris Taylor hung up the phone, rested his head in his hands, and wondered what he'd gotten himself into. When he'd heard what had happened to Rachel, he'd *had* to go get her. It was the right thing to do—rescue his until- now ignored little girl from a bad situation. He hadn't even known that Michaela, Rachel's mother, had died until he'd read Rachel's whole sorry tale in the Daily Planet. Up until then, he had assumed that everything was okay.

He wished he hadn't left Michaela, that Rachel had been with him the whole time. Leaving her and their daughter was the worst mistake he'd ever made. By taking care of Rachel now, he would make amends for the past. The Kents had undone a lot of the damage that Gary Russell had caused, but now it was up to him to gain his little girl's trust. Everything would work out perfectly, he knew it.


Rachel buried her face in CJ's soft fur and sobbed. Her throat ached and her face and nose were sore from hours of crying and screaming for her parents. That judge lady was mean for making her go with the strange man who called himself "Daddy". She didn't understand why he wanted to take her from home and from her Momma and Daddy. She didn't want to stay in this strange house; she wanted to go home.

Rachel wiped her tears on the soft toy and frowned. Daddy had been nice about her making a mess but maybe the Fakedaddy would send her home if she wrecked his stupid house. A sob caught in her throat as she thought of what he might do to her for wrecking his house, but she didn't care—going home to her real parents was the only thing that mattered.

Resolutely, she tucked CJ under one arm and marched into the biggest bedroom. She set him carefully on the bed before she started opening drawers and emptying them on the floor into a large pile; then she pulled the drawers out of the dresser, dumped them on top of the heap of clothing, and gave them a hard kick for good measure. That finished, she picked up the stuff on top of the dresser and threw it on the rapidly growing mound.

Rachel stood back and surveyed her work. It was a good start, but she hadn't gone far enough. She ran over to the bedside table and gave it the same treatment, then threw the lamp on the floor, smiling at the satisfying crash it made. She picked up CJ and laid him on the bedside table before pulling the bedclothes off the bed and dragging them into the closet.

Rachel tossed everything she could reach from the closet out into the room, then jumped up to grab the bar in the closet and swung on it, bouncing up and down until it broke in half. The clothes slid to the floor, so she threw them and the hangers out into the room before returning to push the mattress from the bed with a resounding thump. She climbed on top of it and jumped up and down with unholy glee for a few minutes before walking over to the windows to yank on the curtains until they came off the wall. The adjoining bathroom was next. Rachel cleared out everything she could reach, hurling it into the bedroom before grabbing the end of the toilet paper roll and unrolling it as far as it would stretch.

Rachel looked around and smiled. She hadn't ever made a mess this big at Mommy and Daddy's house—the Fakedaddy would be mad, and then he would send her home. She frowned again, her small face furrowed in thought. Perhaps this wasn't a big enough mess. Perhaps she should mess up other rooms and break more stuff so that he'd let her go home. She reached for CJ as tears began to roll down her cheeks. "Momma, Daddy—come and get me," she whispered miserably, cuddling the toy close.

She left the decimated room and wandered back into the bedroom that the Fakedaddy said was hers. Rachel looked around the bland room and burst into a fresh torrent of tears. She ran over to a corner and hid there, sobbing yet again into CJ's fuzzy body. "Daddy, Momma," she whimpered before falling into an exhausted sleep to dream of the parents she missed so desperately.

Downstairs, Chris sat, comfortably ensconced in his easy chair, oblivious to the drama occurring upstairs. He readjusted his headphones and tapped a beat out on his chair. His daughter was home where she belonged, and he now had a chance to fix his past mistakes.


December 23, 1998, 3:30 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois and Clark sat on the couch, clinging together, as Jonathan and Martha, laden with Christmas presents used their key to enter the townhouse. Martha dropped her bags next to the door and hurried over as she caught sight of the expressions on her children's faces. "Lois, Clark— what's wrong?" she asked softly. "Where's Rachel?"

"Gone," Lois replied, sorrow heavy in her voice.

"The judge gave her biological father custody," Clark said hollowly. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this." He rested his cheek on Lois's hair, drawing strength from her presence. "I want my little girl back," he said softly, his voice filled with pain.

Martha put her arms around the couple. "Oh, honey," she said softly, kissing the top of Clark's hair. "I wish there was something we could do."

"But there isn't, Mom!" Clark shrugged out of Martha's embrace, let go of Lois, and started pacing. "I'm *Superman*, dammit, and I couldn't stop it. I *should* have been able to do *something*." He smacked his fist into his hand angrily. "What good are my powers if I can't keep our family together?" He clenched his fists and paced a little faster.

Lois rose to join him. "Clark," she began quietly, "stop." She grabbed him, pulled him into her arms, and tucked her head under his chin. "You *can't* save everyone, sweetheart; you know that! You can't stop every bad thing from happening, either."

"My head knows—but it still hurts like hell. I should be able to protect Rachel; I should be able to protect you." Clark hugged her tightly, finding a measure of solace in her arms.

Jonathan walked over and laid his hand on Clark's shoulder. "We knew this was a possibility before you left for the Courthouse, son. We loved Rachel, too, but we always knew that this could happen."

"I know, Dad," he said with a sigh. "But I *still* should have been able to stop it! I should have been able to stop them from taking our baby."

"Clark," Lois said quietly, drawing his attention towards her. She reached up and caressed his cheek. "Wherever she is, Rachel is safe; we have to at least find comfort in that. We did all we could—you did all you could. Sweetheart, no matter what name you're wearing, Superman *or* Clark Kent, whatever you can do *is* enough."

Clark kissed her softly, then leaned his forehead against hers. "I hope so," he said.

"I know so," Lois affirmed.

Clark slowly relaxed against her, letting his anger and guilt drain away. "We could appeal," he said quietly. "Sue for custody ourselves, maybe, and hope we get a different judge."

Lois buried her face in his chest and drew in a deep breath. "Clark," she said quietly, "remember what Samantha said—we don't have much of a chance of getting Rachel back unless her biological father signs away his parental rights."

"I know," he said with a sigh, his arms tightening around her.

Martha came over and placed her hand on her son's shoulder. "Honey, aren't Lois's parents coming over for dinner tonight?"

Clark looked at her, defeat in his eyes. "Yeah, they are, Mom," he admitted softly.

"I'll go start dinner," she said gently. "You two just rest for a bit and I'll take care of it."

"Thanks, Mom," Clark said, sighing again. Arm in arm, the younger couple walked back over to the couch and sat down, settling into each other's embrace.

"Martha, I'll help you," Jonathan said quickly. He got up and followed her into the kitchen.

Lois freed one hand and stroked Clark's shoulder. "It'll be okay," she said softly, holding back her tears to be strong for him. "I promise."

Clark began to rub his hand up and down her back soothingly, and it wasn't long before, exhausted by the day's emotions, they drifted off to sleep.


December 23, 1998, 5:00 p.m.

258 Deerwater Drive, North Metropolis

Chris led Jessica up the stairs toward the room he had designated as Rachel's. It had gotten quiet a few hours ago, but he had just assumed that Rachel was coloring in one of the coloring books he'd picked up the day before. Frankly, he was thankful that she wasn't screaming and crying for the Kents anymore—the noise grated on his nerves. "I put her in here," he said quietly, not wanting to set off another screaming fit. He peeked inside and frowned when he didn't see her.

Chris walked cautiously into the room and looked around. Finally, he spotted her in the corner, her long blonde lashes lying against her flushed, tearstained cheeks. He walked over to the corner and picked her up, frowning slightly as she flinched away from him, even in sleep. "This is Rachel," he said softly, trying not to wake her.

Jessica reached out to stroke the girl's hair. "She's beautiful, Chris. Want me to help you put her to bed? From what you've told me, she's had a long day, and the extra sleep won't hurt her."

"Thank you," he said, relieved. "I'm not exactly sure how to do this," he admitted as he carried Rachel over to the bed.

"You'll learn—we'll learn," she said reassuringly.

Chris laid Rachel gently on the bed, and kissed her on the cheek, unsure of what to do next. "Did her foster parents send any night clothes?" Jessica asked as she leaned over and unbuckled the child's mary janes.

"I'll… go look," he said. Chris walked over to the still-packed suitcase, rummaged around inside it, and pulled out a nightgown. Jessica unbuttoned the back of Rachel's dress and carefully undressed her before taking the proffered nightgown and putting it on the little girl. Chris laid Rachel down and tucked the blankets around her, making sure to tuck the teddy bear that she had refused to be separated from next to her.

Rachel stirred and groped for the bear. Her seeking hand found it and she buried her face in the bear's soft fur. Chris leaned over and kissed his daughter on the cheek. "I wish she weren't scared of me," he said quietly.

Jessica laughed. "Chris, she'll probably be scared of me, once she wakes up and finds me here—you're not alone in this."

"I know," he said with a half smile. "But this is still kind of scary; I mean, I've never been a father before, and my daughter's been through a lot. What if I screw up?"

Jessica shushed him. "Let's talk about this outside," she whispered. "I don't want to wake Rachel up." Chris took her hand, and they exited the room, leaving the door cracked open behind them. Hand in hand, they walked into Chris's bedroom, where they could talk privately.

Chris gasped in shock as he viewed the wreckage of what *had been* his bedroom. Devastation greeted him; the room was in need of serious clean-up; it looked as if they'd have to stay in the spare room that night. "Rachel must have done this," he said, still shocked.

Jessica looked around the room and smiled tightly. "Your cleaning service *is* coming tomorrow, isn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said with a sigh.

Jessica fiddled with her engagement ring. "So we let them take care of this, and talk to Rachel tomorrow—about respecting other people's property."

Chris grimaced. He should have expected something like this—Rachel obviously wasn't pleased with the change and was making her unhappiness known. "I guess she's hoping that if she misbehaves enough, we'll send her back to the Kents."

"Would that be such a bad thing?" Jessica asked. "Chris, I love you, you know that—but I'm not sure if I can handle being Rachel's mother. I'll try for your sake, but I'm just not sure that I'm ready for this."

Chris pulled Jessica into his arms and held her tightly. He didn't want to lose her, but at the same time, he had a responsibility to his little girl. He had failed to protect her before, and he couldn't fail this time. "Truthfully, I'm not sure I'm ready for this either," he began slowly, "but Rachel *is* my daughter, and it's my job to make sure she's taken care of."

Jessica kissed him on the cheek. "I know—I'm just, well, scared," she sighed. "I guess we can at least be scared together."

"Yeah," he said with a shaky smile. "I ordered pizza for dinner 'cause I thought that Rachel'd eat it. It's in the oven staying warm."

"I'm not hungry for… pizza," she said in a sultry voice. She pulled his head down to kiss him. "I missed you," she murmured against his lips. She broke off the kiss, grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the spare room. "We can eat… later," Jessica said.

"I missed you, too," he said as he followed her willingly. It had been a long month, and he'd been away from her for most of it. He knew it would be a long time before they slept.


December 24, 1998 1:00 am

258 Deerwater Drive, North Metropolis

Rachel opened her eyes to find herself in a strange place. Frightened at the unfamiliar surroundings, she looked around furtively. She frowned when she remembered where she was. The Fakedaddy hadn't even said anything about the bedroom she had destroyed. It was time for more drastic measures. She shoved back the blankets, climbed out of bed, and headed for the hall bathroom.

Rachel set CJ on the counter and began to look around. Her eyes lit on a diamond ring and a set of matching earrings sitting on the back of the toilet tank. She picked them up to examine them. They were pretty. A small smile crossed her face as she dropped the jewelry into the potty. She briefly thought about flushing it, but decided that the Fakedaddy might wake up if she did.

Rachel scanned the counter by the sink and spied a round, pink plastic container. She picked it up, shook it, and opened it when it rattled. It was full of little pills, each encased in a separate compartment attached to the case. Curious, she turned it over to find slots in the back. Rachel pushed on one of the compartments and smiled as a pill came out. She dropped it in the potty and pressed on another compartment, emptying the container into the toilet. Rachel dropped the plastic case on the floor, and watched in fascination as the pills dissolved, then reached for the toothbrush that was in a cup by the sink. Rachel used it to stir up her concoction, then grabbed the other one to make patterns in the slightly cloudy water in the potty.

Rachel put the toothbrushes back where she had found them, opened the cupboards, and began to pull out items. "Take that, Fakedaddy!" she whispered fiercely as she pulled out a bottle of red cough medicine and emptied it in the toilet. She grabbed a pink razor and dropped it in as well before reaching for the can of shaving creme. She made patterns with it in the toilet bowl before she pressed the handle, flushing the mess down. Rachel contemplated the toilet for a minute and began to smile; she could dispose of lots of stuff that way! She grabbed the end of the toilet paper, stuck it in the toilet, flushed again, and watched in fascination as the rest of the roll flushed away. She opened the green and white box that she'd pulled out earlier and contemplated the plastic-wrapped items inside it.

Rachel picked one up and examined it closely. There seemed to be a way to pull the plastic coating off of it. She yanked the loose plastic and unwrapped the thing; she'd never seen anything quite like it. She dropped the plastic in the potty and fingered the white cotton pellet. The strange item had a long green string on one end of its rounded, cylindrical shape. Rachel grasped the string and dangled it for a moment before dropping it, too, into the toilet. She watched in fascination as it began to expand, and then grabbed the box. One by one, she opened the packaging and dumped the white things into the potty.

Rachel reached for the toothpaste and emptied the tube into the toilet, then reached for the soap. She reached for more ammunition and played with the new items a little before chucking them in. She tossed the soap into the potty and flushed it. The water swirled around in the toilet bowl, sending the white things into a spiral. With a glug, they went down the drain. Then something began to happen. Rachel jumped back as the bowl began to fill with water and overflow. She grabbed CJ off the counter and watched as a large puddle began to spread outwards from the base of the potty, then left the room as the water continued to flow. *That* would show the Fakedaddy—and the Fakemommy, too.

She hated both of them. That stupid lady judge had taken her from her Momma and Daddy. It was *her* fault that she was in this strange place! If it weren't for the judge- lady and Fakedaddy, she'd be at home right now. It was probably the Fakemommy's fault as well! Rachel walked back to her room and yawned, beginning to feel sleepy after her exploits. Rachel knelt by her bed. "Please, God—make the Fakedaddy send me home soon." She crawled up into the bed, pulled the covers up and cuddled CJ under her chin. She hadn't found Aimee in her suitcase, but her doll would be safe at home with Momma and Daddy. She wished she were at home—just like Aimee. If she were home, she'd be sleeping in between Momma and Daddy if she woke up in the middle of the night. Rachel sighed and rubbed her face on CJ's fur. She closed her eyes, thought of the Kents, and soon drifted off to sleep.


December 24, 1998, 1:45 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois laid her head on Clark's shoulder and brushed her sweaty hair away from her face. She cuddled up close to him and closed her eyes as her heartbeat began to calm from their last bout of lovemaking. She sighed as Clark began to rub her back comfortingly. The pain of losing their daughter was still there, but it had been partially replaced with a fierce determination to bring Rachel home.

Lois had called Constance Hunter, who was Rachel's court appointed guardian ad litem, and their own lawyer soon after they'd talked to Clark's parents, and they had a specially-arranged appointment for the next day. Unfortunately, it would be at least two weeks until their appeal could be heard in the higher court, so until then, they'd have to sit tight.

Lois kissed Clark's chest and sighed. "At least my parents reacted well," she said.

Clark stroked her hair. "I know," he said. "I was expecting some 'I told you so's' from your father." He stopped talking as a large lump rose in his throat again. He closed his eyes, struggling for control. "I'd even put up with your parents at full hue and cry just to have Rachel back," he choked out.

Lois reached up and brushed back a lock of Clark's hair. "It's okay, sweetheart," she said, reassuringly. "We're *going* to get our little girl back."

"I hope so," he said bleakly. "It's just—"

"I know," she kissed him again, softly. Clark slid his hand into her hair and began to caress her back gently. They had spent the evening comforting each other, trying to convince themselves that their daughter would be home and that everything would be all right.

Lois snuggled into his embrace, seeking the comfort and security that both of them always found in one another's arms. The ground had been snatched out from beneath their feet and the only certainty left in their world was found together.


December 24, 1998 10:00 am

258 Deerwater Drive, North Metropolis

Chris woke to the crash and clatter of pans coming from the kitchen. He rolled over and cuddled up to the warm figure that lay beside him. His eyes started to slide shut—it was rare that Jessica could stay to sleep in when they spent the night together because their days off rarely coincided. Chris kissed her as she rolled closer to him, muttering something in her sleep. His eyes started to drift shut as he savored the feeling of her in his arms.

Abruptly, he sat up and his eyes flew open. If Jessica was in bed with him, there was only one other person who could be making noise downstairs—Rachel. Hell. He'd forgotten to put child safety locks on the kitchen cabinets and there were poisonous chemicals in the ground-level cabinets. Chris hurriedly slid out of bed and grabbed for the boxers and the robe he'd left in a crumpled heap next to the bed. He yanked both articles of clothing on, rushed downstairs, and into the kitchen.

He was greeted by the sight of Rachel's blonde head popping out of the bottom cabinet as she threw another pan out on to the pile with a loud clatter. "Rachel Taylor!" he began, "what do you think you're doing?"

Rachel glared up at him, her mouth turning down into a scowl. "I'm *not* Rachel Taylor; I'm Rachel *Kent*, and I'm wrecking this stupid kitchen," she said shoving more pots out of the cabinet. She stood up and headed over to the stove to turn it on, accidentally shoving over a pile of oven mitts on to the burner.

Chris stepped over the pile of cookware and grabbed for Rachel. At first she flinched back from him, then kicked him in the leg as hard as she could. "No! Get away from me! I won't let you or anyone else hit me! That's what bad people do! You're a bad man and I hate you!"

Chris picked her up anyway and slung her over his hip. "Why, sweetie?" he asked softly.

"Lemme go," Rachel cried, panicking at what her experience taught her was likely coming next, and struggling against his hold on her. "Put me *down*!" she yelled. "I'm *not* your sweetie!"

Chris sighed before complying. "Rachel, you *are* going to tell me why you're doing this—first my bedroom, and now the kitchen. *Why* are you destroying your new home?"

Rachel scowled at him angrily. "This *isn't* home. I hate this house and I *hate* you, I *hate* you, I HATE YOU!" she kicked him in the shin and escaped to the other side of the room.

Chris winced and leaned down to rub his leg. "Rachel—I'm your Daddy, and this *is* your home." He walked over, picked up her small, struggling body, and headed towards the stairs. "Rachel *Taylor*, *you* are going to spend some time in your room until I can think up an appropriate punishment for you. Young lady, this destruction *will* stop."

"I'm not Rachel Taylor! I'll never be Rachel Taylor! I'm Rachel Kent and I want my real parents! You're *not* my daddy," Rachel cried. "You're the *Fakedaddy*, and I *hate* you!" She pounded her tiny fists against his back as he carried her upstairs and dumped her in her room.

"This is the worst Christmas Eve ever," he muttered glumly as he watched her tantrum.

"It's the worst for me, too. Even Papa Gary didn't take me away from my real parents!" Rachel yelled at him. "I want my DADDY!" she cried.

Chris shut the door behind himself and sighed as he heard her screaming for Clark Kent and pounding her fists against the door. He hoped that she'd settle down soon—he wasn't sure how many more tantrums and how much more destruction he could take. He slumped back against the wall and grimaced. He was only trying to do right by his little girl, but so far all he'd managed to do was to make her miserable. He knew enough from prior conversations with Rachel's therapist that destruction was not only her way of testing him, but her way of saying that she wanted to live with the Kents.

He started as he heard a shriek coming from the hallway bathroom. Chris hurried over to find out what was the matter and found Jessica standing in a large puddle of water holding an empty box of tampons and an empty container that had once held birth control pills. "Jess, what's the matter?" he asked.

"Rachel must've done it," Jessica said, her voice tightly controlled. "Chris, I left my engagement ring and the matching earrings in here last night; now they're gone! And I found these with a clogged toilet—Rachel must've flushed my jewelry, my birth control pills and who knows what else before she clogged the toilet with a whole box of tampons!" Jessica threw the empty containers into the trash. "At least, I hope she flushed the pills. I guess I wasn't thinking last night, and I forgot about putting them in an out of reach place. Is she okay, physically, I mean?"

She looked relieved at Chris' mumbled response of 'I think so', and continued, "and will your Homeowners' Insurance cover the damage and losses? I want my engagement ring and my earrings back, and we'll never find them now—even crawling through the Metropolis Sewer Reclamation plant wouldn't do any good."

"I'll call the plumber." Angry as Chris was, he couldn't help grinning when he picked up one of the little "balloons" that were floating about in the water. Clearly his daughter had gotten inventive with his leftover condoms. He wasn't even sure where she had found them; he'd forgotten that he still had some, but obviously they made pretty good flotation devices.

"If you can get one," Jessica said in exasperation. "It's Christmas Eve, for heaven's sake! Chris, her tantrums are only going to get worse; can we *really* deal with a special needs child?" Tears welled up in Jessica's eyes. "It's not surprising that she'd have behavior problems, and I know it's not her fault, but I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. How much longer is it going to take for Rachel to accept us?"

Chris sighed. "Kids are supposed to be adaptable; they *can* adjust to situations like this. But I guess it's a lot different than bringing home a puppy or a kitten—a couple days of crying and messes and then things are fine. I think this is going to take a very long time, and all of us are going to be miserable in the process."

Jessica picked up a soggy wad of toilet paper and dropped it into the trashcan. "Yes, but *how* long, Chris? You said that she was a cheerful, well-adjusted child at the Kents' place. She must be *really* unhappy to behave like this. How much longer before we see the *real* Rachel?" she asked, holding back tears of frustration.

Chris started to answer, but got distracted by the silence that settled over the house. "Jess, can we talk about this after we mop up the water?" he asked. "I'll be right back after I check on Rachel."

Jessica nodded and pushed her hair back from her face in irritation as she reached behind the door to get the mop. "Hurry up," she said.

Chris tiptoed down the hall and peeked into Rachel's room. He sighed in relief as he saw her, sprawled out on the rug. He walked quietly into the room and brushed her hair back from her tearstained face. " I miss you, Momma," Rachel murmured sleepily. "Daddy, come get me."

His heart ached as he heard that precious name, knowing it was meant for another man. He closed his eyes tightly before leaning down to brush a kiss against her forehead. Chris picked her up gently and carried her over to the bed, tucking her in. He looked down at his daughter's flushed face and sighed. He had long ago forfeited his right to hear her call him 'daddy', and it was time he faced that fact.

Rachel wasn't happy with him, and she might never be. She was happy at the Kents' and she loved them. Kids might be resilient, but his baby *would* really hate him if he tried to keep her away from them.

If he gave her back and signed his consent for the Kents to adopt her, maybe they'd let him stay in her life. In this case, perhaps letting someone else be her father was his only chance for a real relationship with her.

Chris brushed a strand of hair out of her face and leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. "I love you, Rachel," he whispered. "But I think that this is the only way for you to be happy again. Forgive me, baby girl; I love you too much to go on with this. I hope you understand when you get older."

"Daddy, I love you," Rachel sighed, rolling over. "Momma, can I sleep with you tonight?"

Chris stood up and pulled the blankets around Rachel, tucking her in one last time. He walked out of the room and shut the door quietly behind him, then hurried to help Jessica clean up the mess. "She's asleep," he said briefly. "She's probably exhausted from wrecking the house."

Jessica leaned back against the counter and ran her hand up and down the handle of the mop. "Chris, I love you; you know that. But I just don't see how we're going to deal with Rachel. I heard what she screamed at you and I bet she has the same feelings about me."

Chris leaned in and kissed her gently. "I'm giving her back to the Kents," he said quietly. "*They* are her parents, and I don't think that Rachel will *ever* accept me in that role. Giving her back is probably the kindest thing I can do to show her that I really *do* love her. It's time I faced the fact that I lost the chance to be her daddy when I left Michaela."

Jessica reached out and grabbed his hand. "Are you sure, Chris? It's true that I don't think I'm ready to instantly become the mother of a disturbed five-year-old, but I know what she means to you. I'm willing to *try*."

"I know you are," he said as he brought his free hand up to cup her cheek. Jessica leaned into his touch and closed her eyes. "But I want my baby girl to be happy—and she isn't happy here."

Jessica nodded and turned her head to place a soft kiss in his palm. "Do you want to call the lawyer, or shall I?" she asked.

"I will… and I'll call Rachel's lawyer."

"I'm sorry, Chris. I know how much you wanted to take care of Rachel."

Chris kissed Jessica on the forehead. "I think I still do." Jessica let go of the mop and hugged him tightly. He relaxed into her embrace. He knew he was doing the best he could for his daughter; he just wished it didn't hurt so much.


December 24, 1998 11:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois leaned back against Clark and flipped through the file yet again. She missed Rachel desperately, and looking at the SIDS case was a way to keep her from losing her mind. She laid her head against Clark's shoulder and scanned the page for what seemed to be the millionth time without understanding it. "Find anything?" she asked.

"Nope," he answered absently, apparently still reading through his half of the file, superspeed not withstanding.

Lois dropped the file on the table and grimaced. "I just can't concentrate on this," she said quietly. "I've reread the same paragraph at least half a dozen times, and it still doesn't make sense."

Clark gently began to massage her shoulders. "I can't concentrate, either," he admitted. "I miss Rachel," he said with a sigh. He leaned down and kissed Lois on the back of her neck.

"I miss her, too," Lois whispered. "I know I've said this before, but I just want my baby back. Perry is going to shelve this investigation soon if we don't get results, but it doesn't even matter to me right now—I just want to hold our daughter again."

Clark gathered Lois close to him and hugged her. "Lois, honey, I know that this hurts, but we can't do anything about it. I wish that they hadn't sent Rachel to live with strangers, but this is something that even Superman can't fix. Honey, we can't do anything about Rachel right now, but maybe by solving this epidemic of crib deaths, we can prevent some other parent—a lot of other parents—from feeling this miserable."

"Sweetheart, I *know*," Lois said, leaning into him as if to draw strength from his powerful frame. "Clark—" She began twisting so she could look up at him. "What are we going to do now?"

"We go on as a family of two," he said softly. "And someday, if we're very lucky—" He brought his hand to rest on her flat stomach. "We'll have a baby of our own that the courts won't take away from us."

"And if we don't?" she asked, fighting back tears.

"Then we stay a smaller family than we'd like—but we'll be all right," he answered, but for one of the first times in his life, he didn't know if he believed that. He wasn't sure if he'd ever stop missing the little girl who'd come to mean so much to him… Much like when he'd first met Lois, Rachel had grabbed his heart from minute one, and it hurt like hell to have her taken from them—he didn't think he'd ever really get over losing her.

Clark ran his fingers through Lois's hair in an attempt to comfort her. It was too late to cancel their Christmas plans, but as soon as they could, he'd take Lois to an island somewhere. Perhaps they could mend their hearts. He knew how she felt; he felt the same way. It wasn't quite as bad as when he had lost Lois to Luthor; it was a different kind of pain, but it was a close second.

Clark leaned down and kissed her. Their lips clung together, reassuring each other without words that they would still be okay in the days to come. When the phone rang, they reluctantly released each other, and Lois reached for it. "Kent residence," she said.

"Mrs. Kent?" a feminine voice said. "This is Constance Hunter—Rachel's guardian ad litem."

"Is Rachel okay?" she asked anxiously, worried that something terrible had happened to her little girl.

"Yes, she's all right… mostly," she answered vaguely, "but she misses you and your husband."

"What is this about, then?" Lois suppressed her wish to slam the phone back down, suddenly angry that Constance had added to her heartbreak. Before, she'd been able to console herself with the belief that Rachel was safe and happy. Now she'd lost even that small comfort.

"Mrs. Kent—Ms. Lane, Mr. Taylor contacted me to say that he's made a terrible mistake. Rachel is miserable; I'm guessing that you and your husband are miserable. He thinks that he should have never interfered, and he wants to apologize. His lawyer is drawing up the adoption papers, and he's going to sign over his parental rights on the condition that you and Mr. Kent adopt her. Rachel loves you and is happy with you. Mr. Taylor is resigned to her being your daughter if you want her."

"She's ours?" Lois questioned incredulously. "You mean that we can bring her home, this time for good? When?"

Clark's face broke into a grin. He was overjoyed at the prospect of having Rachel home where she belonged. He'd heard the entire conversation; as soon as he'd realized who was on the other end of the line, he'd been unable to resist listening in. Joy welled up in him and laughter warred with tears. His baby girl was coming home!

"Yes, Ms. Lane. I've scheduled an emergency meeting with Mr. Taylor's lawyer and your lawyer for 12:30 today, and I should have the papers prepared by tonight. I can be there at six with the paperwork ready for your and Mr. Kent's signatures, if that's okay."

"Thank you so much, Ms. Hunter; you don't know how much this means to us," Lois said gratefully. "We'll see you at six. Once the papers are signed, how soon can we file them? Not until the day after tomorrow?" A small shadow momentarily crossed Lois' face, but she gamely continued. "Okay, I guess we can wait 'til then, now that we know Rachel's coming home for sure."

With that, she hung up the phone and flung herself into Clark's arms. She was half-laughing and half-crying as he swung her around joyfully and kissed her. Rachel was coming home the day after tomorrow, and all was again right in the world.


December 24, 1998, 5:30 p.m.

258 Deerwater Drive, North Metropolis

Rachel sat in front of the television and watched the news as she colored in her coloring book. The Fakedaddy had insisted upon her staying within sight ever since she'd woken up, so there wasn't much else she could do. She looked up at the TV and watched as Superman rescued some children from an apartment fire and then flew down to talk to the TV news lady.

Rachel frowned as she studied the figure in tights; there was something about Superman that looked awful familiar. She studied the man's face with concentration. Superman looked like Daddy—exactly like Daddy. It was possible that he wasn't Daddy, so she thought she'd better do what Grandpa Perry had told her to do… investigate.

If Daddy really was Superman, she'd find out and it meant that Superman couldn't be scary anymore, because she was his little girl and he loved her. "Daddy," Rachel whispered, reaching out to touch the television. "Please, come and get me?" she murmured plaintively. If Daddy really was Superman, he'd be able to hear her.

"Rachel," she heard Fakedaddy call. "C'mere."

Rachel sighed, got up, and walked towards him obediently, stopping at what she felt was a safe distance. "Rachel," he said quietly. "I need you to gather up your crayons and your other toys. I made a mistake, and I hope that when you're a little older, you'll be able to forgive me. I'm sorry I took you away from the Kents, sweetie. They'd like you to come back. Do you want to go home to their house— for good?"

"Home?" Rachel asked incredulously. "I get to go home to Momma and Daddy?"

"Yes, you do, Rachel," he said sadly. "I just want you to be happy."

"Thank you, Mister!" she said happily, running over to pick up her crayons and stuff them in the box, before he changed his mind.

Chris watched her pick up the toys and sighed. It hurt to give her to the Kents, but he was sure that it was the best decision for all concerned. Rachel would be happy there, and wasn't that what was most important? Chris sighed as Rachel finished picking up the last of her toys and grabbed her teddy bear. He took the toys from her, put them in a brown paper bag, and held out his hand to her. "Let's go, Rachel," he said quietly, grabbing their coats.

Rachel ignored his hand and ran to the door, clutching CJ tightly. She opened the door with difficulty and skipped out to the car. "C'mon, Mister," she called happily. "Let's go home!"

Chris smiled reluctantly at the child's enthusiasm as he strapped her into the car and put the paper bag inside. It was the first time he'd seen her beaming happily since the night of the party at the Kents. He'd already packed her suitcase and put it in the car, so there wasn't much left to do besides take her home. He climbed in the car, buckled his seatbelt, and headed over to the Kents.

It seemed as if no time had passed in the thirty minute drive from his house as he stood in front of their door, Rachel in tow. He rang the doorbell and waited. A lump formed in his throat as the door opened, revealing a shocked but ecstatic Lois and Clark. Rachel shook off his hand and hurled herself at her parents. "Momma, Daddy!" she called. Clark detached her gently and picked her up, shock on his face. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. "Daddy," she said with a sigh, "I *missed* you and Momma."

Clark hugged her tightly. "We missed you too, sprite," he said softly. "More than you can ever know."

"Can I sleep with you and Momma tonight?" she asked.

"Not tonight, peanut—Santa will be coming and he'll be watching to make sure that you're in your own bed," Lois answered, surprise warring with joy on her face.

Rachel sighed, closed her eyes, and laid her head on Clark's shoulder. "Then can I sleep with you *tomorrow* night?" she pleaded.

"Of course you can, sprite," Clark answered before turning to Chris, swiftly wiping a suspiciously tearlike snowflake from his eyes. "Thank you, Mr. Taylor… for giving us our little girl back."

"You're welcome, Mr. Kent," he said as he reached into his coat pocket for the papers. "I thought you'd like to have a copy of these—I've signed away my paternal rights on the condition that you and Ms. Lane adopt Rachel; here are the adoption papers. I convinced Ms. Hunter to let me deliver Rachel along with them; it's almost Christmas, after all." He handed the papers to Lois. "I hope you guys have a good Christmas."

"We will now, Mr. Taylor. You've made sure of that. You've given us the best gift we could ever have." Lois watched as he turned and walked away, then dropped a kiss in Rachel's hair and shut the door. "Are you hungry, peanut?" she asked quietly.

"Uh huh," Rachel answered.

Clark settled Rachel on his hip and reached for Lois's hand. "Let's go get some supper, say hello to Grandma and Grandpa Kent, set out some cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and get you ready for bed. Does that sound good, sprite?"

Rachel wriggled excitedly. "Is Santa really coming?" she asked.

"Of course he is, peanut," Lois said with a laugh. "It's Christmas tomorrow, isn't it?"

"Uh huh," Rachel answered. "Good thing I'm back home so Santa knows where to find me. I love you."

"We love you, too, kiddo," Clark said as he kissed her on the cheek. Rachel buried her face in his shoulder and sighed happily as he carried her toward the kitchen. A few hours later, Lois and Clark stood in the doorway to Rachel's room and watched their daughter sleep. They had gone through her nightly routine of stories, songs, and added the Christmas traditions from Clark's childhood.

"Our baby is *home*," Lois whispered.

Clark leaned down and captured her lips in a sweet kiss. "I know," he said, his face lit up with joy. "And now that our sprite is asleep, it's time for Santa Claus to come," he whispered. "I'll be right back."

Clark sped up into the attic and got the presents down. It wasn't long before he had them arranged around the Christmas tree with other gifts, and had the stockings filled with goodies and small toys. Lois wrapped her arms around him from behind and kissed his back softly, right between his shoulder blades. "All finished?" she asked.

"Almost," he said, smiling. "Santa's snack just needs to be eaten."

Lois picked up the cookies and handed one to him. "Good thing these are chocolate chocolate-chip," she said with a smile.

They ate Santa's snack in silence; then headed upstairs. Their baby was home where she belonged, they had the papers that said she was to legally be their child, and Christmas was only a few hours away. Lois's parents were coming to celebrate with them, and Clark's parents were upstairs in their room. The elder Kents insisted upon adding their own touches to Rachel's Christmas haul, and they wanted to do it by themselves, so they were waiting for "Santa" to finish. Clark hugged Lois to him and kissed her. Their family was complete and it was going to be a wonderful Christmas after all.


Chapter 8 — Epilogue: Clouds of Glory

December 25, 1998, 6:30 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Rachel's eyes flew open and she climbed out of bed hurriedly. It was Christmas! She ran to her parents' room and took a flying leap on to the bed. "Momma, Daddy, wake up. I wanna see if Santa came!"

Clark opened his eyes and regarded his daughter with amusement. It hadn't been so long ago that they'd thought that this day would never come. "Sprite, just let me and your mom get up, and then we can go downstairs, okay?"

Rachel grinned and jumped off the bed. "Okay, Daddy," she said happily. She ran into the guest bedroom next door, climbed up on the bed, and started to bounce. "Gramma and Grandpa," she called, "it's *Christmas*!"

Jonathan smiled and pretended to be asleep for a few more minutes before he reached up, grabbed Rachel and began to tickle her. "Christmas, you say?" he deadpanned. "What's so special about Christmas?" he said, grinning.

Rachel squirmed and shrieked with laughter. "Graaaand-pa," she said between giggles, "I wanna see if Santa came!"

Jonathan released her and reached for his bathrobe. "In that case, we should probably get up. Isn't that right, Martha?"

Rachel scooted over to Martha, who had been watching the tableau with amusement, and sat down in her lap. Martha hugged her tightly. "We're sure glad you're back home, sweetie," she said.

Rachel wiggled out of the embrace and slid onto the floor. "I am, too. Let's *go*, Gramma and Grandpa!" she demanded imperiously.

Martha chuckled, got up, pulled on her robe, and reached for her granddaughter's hand. Rachel grabbed both Martha and Jonathan's hands then tugged them out the door. They met Lois and Clark in the hallway and headed downstairs. Rachel raced for the nearest pile of presents and began to look through them for her name. Her eyes lit up as she spotted a small pink bicycle. She ran her hand over its shiny paint and fingered the big, gold bow that adorned the handlebars. "Did Santa bring this for me?" she asked, her voice filled with awe.

Clark reached down and tugged a strand of her hair gently. "Of course he did, sprite," he said with a smile.

Rachel grinned, climbed on the bike, and began to ride it around the presents. "Not in the house, young lady," Lois said

"Okay, Momma," Rachel said agreeably. "Can we go outside to ride it later, Daddy?" she smiled sweetly.

"We'll see, sprite," he answered. "It's getting really cold outside, and we don't want you to get sick."

Rachel thought about that for a few moments because she didn't like being sick either—though it would probably be different with her Momma and Daddy than it had been with Papa Gary. She climbed off the bicycle, and looked at her parents. She was home, Santa had come, and it was Christmas. What more could a girl want?

Rachel reached for a present that had her name on it and opened it. It was a paint set that she had asked Santa for, but it wasn't really what she wanted anymore. She wanted her Momma and Daddy to adopt her; then the Fakedaddy would never take her away again.


December 25, 1998, 3:00 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois leaned back against Clark and smiled as his arms automatically came up around her to hold her close. He cradled her against him as they stood back and watched their family and friends gather together in the living room. Rachel was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, contentedly playing with her new toys. Lois smiled as she watched Jimmy walk over, crouch down, and start playing with her daughter.

"Rachel," Perry called.

Rachel immediately got up and hurried over to where he and Alice were sitting on the couch. "Yes, Grandpa Perry?" she asked, smiling sweetly.

"I've got a Christmas present for you, kiddo," he said, pulling a flat package out and handing it to her.

Rachel took the present from him and bussed him on the cheek. "Thank you, Grandpa Perry," she said joyfully before ripping off the wrapping paper. She examined the gift carefully and her face lit up. "Is this a *real* invesgative reporter note pad?" she asked.

"It sure is, kiddo," he answered with a smile.

"Cool," she squealed and ran over to Lois to show it off. "Momma, look at what Grandpa Perry got me!" she crowed. Clark reached down and picked Rachel up, holding both of them close as Lois inspected the present.

"It's just like mine, peanut," Lois said with a smile.

"I love you, Momma, and Daddy," Rachel said, as she threw her arms around their necks. Lois turned around and slid one arm around Clark and the other arm around Rachel.

"We love you, too, sprite," Clark whispered. He leaned down and kissed Lois softly. They stood like that for a few moments, simply holding each other, as their extended family watched.

Sam hugged Ellen tightly. His little girl would be okay. He had been worried about her when he'd found out about Rachel's father showing up, but it looked like his fears would be unfounded. Tempting smells wafted in from the kitchen, and their first Christmas together as a family— all of them— would be happy after all.


January 1, 1999, 10:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Rachel cradled Aimee and rocked her back and forth as she watched Superman prop up a bridge on television. Her daddy had left a few minutes before, saying that he needed to get some more milk. She frowned, remembering the two gallons that she'd seen in the fridge earlier that day. She looked at the superhero closely and decided that she was right. Her Daddy *was* Superman.

Rachel rested her head on her hands and frowned. She had to find out for sure and the only way to do that would be to ask. And then there was Momma. She was tireder than she used to be and kept falling asleep. She pushed Momma's hair away from her face. "Don't go 'way, Momma," she whispered softly. Rachel tucked Aimee under her arm, got up, and stood next to the couch where Lois was napping. She leaned over, kissed her momma and tried to pull the heavy afghan over her. She had heard of people getting sick and dying from getting cold, and she didn't want her Momma to die and leave her… just like her other Mommy had. Rachel walked over and stuck her head through the kitchen door. "Grandpa Kent," she called softly.

He crouched down in front of her. "What is it, munchkin?" he asked.

"I can't quite cover Momma up," she said, frowning. "The blanket's too heavy."

Together, they walked over to the couch and Jonathan helped her tug the afghan into place before leaning down to plant a kiss on the top of her head. "There you go, kiddo. Want to help me make my famous chicken while your Grandma and Daddy are out?"

Rachel grimaced and leaned over to place a wet kiss on Lois's cheek before answering. "You're not gonna make it *too* spicy, Grandpa, are you?"

Jonathan laughed and leaned down to hug his granddaughter. "Not too spicy, munchkin, I promise."

Rachel hesitated, and glanced at Lois before she looked up at him with a touch of fear in her eyes. "Grandpa, will you still love me if I just wanna stay with Momma?"

Jonathan slowly kneeled and put his hands on her shoulders. "Rachel, you *are* my granddaughter, and there is *nothing* in this world that could make me, your mom, your dad, or your grandma stop loving you, and the same goes for your mom's parents, too." He kissed her gently on the forehead. "Got that, sweetheart?"

Rachel scuffed her foot on the floor and looked back at her Momma. "Okay, Grandpa," she answered softly before climbing onto the couch next to Lois.

Jonathan stood, and stopped to kiss Rachel's cheek before heading back towards the kitchen. Rachel watched him go, and snuggled up to her Momma. "Get better, Momma," she whispered. She threw her arm over Lois and cuddled close. This was where she belonged; the only person missing from the picture was her Daddy, and as soon as he got back from pretending to be Superman, she'd find out the truth.

Rachel sat up as she heard a soft whoosh and a thump coming from the patio. It had to be her Daddy. A few minutes later, he came in, carrying a gallon of milk. "Daddy!" She got right to the point. "You're Superman, aren't you?"

"Sprite, why would you think that?" he asked with astonishment.

"I saw you on TV dressed like Superman. Daddy, you *are* Superman, aren't you?" she repeated.

Clark set the gallon of milk on the floor and crossed the room to swing her into his arms. He settled the child on his hip and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Yes, sweetheart, I am; your mom and I wanted to wait until you were older before we told you."

"Why, Daddy?" she asked softly. "Why do you dress up in a Halloween costume and pretend to be somebody else?"

Clark looked down at his little girl and smiled. "Rachel, you know better than anybody that there are people out there who aren't very nice," he began.

"Uh huh," she agreed quietly.

"A long time ago, a little while after you were born, I decided that I wanted to stay in Metropolis, but I didn't know how, because sooner or later, people would notice that I was different and I'd have to leave to protect your Grandma and Grandpa," he explained.

"Mommy's smart," Rachel said slowly. "Did *she* give you the idea?"

"She sure did, sprite," he affirmed.

"So you're Superman to keep the bad people from hurting Gramma and Grandpa Kent and Momma and me?" Rachel asked.

"That's part of it," he answered. "And it's very important that we keep this a secret, ok?"

Rachel nodded solemnly. "Daddy, I have a secret, too, and it's not a good one. *They* said that if I told, they'd hurt me worser than Papa Gary did, but *you* won't let 'em, will you, Daddy?"

Clark's arms tightened slightly around his precious burden. "You're safe here, sprite, I promise."

Rachel took a deep breath. "The night I ran away, I heard Mister Jared and a blond man talking about needing a drug so that they could get something and sell something. Daddy, I heard them say something about *babies* before they found me and hit me."

"Rachel, are you *sure*?" he asked.

"Yes!" she exclaimed.

Clark hugged her again and kissed her on the cheek. "Sprite, you did the *right* thing by telling me, and we won't let those men get near you."

Rachel laid her head on Clark's shoulder and sighed in contentment. "I love you, Daddy," she said.

"I love you too, baby girl," he said softly. Clark sat on the edge of the couch and settled Rachel in his lap as he stroked Lois's hair back from her cheek. Rachel watched in silence for a few minutes.

"Will Momma be okay?" she asked.

"Of course she will, Rachel—she's just tired lately."

"Okay," she said as she began to squirm out of his embrace.

Clark put her down and watched as she headed towards the kitchen. "I'm gonna help Grandpa make chicken," she called quietly.

He smiled as his little girl left the room. They hadn't wanted to let Rachel know the secret for a long time yet, but it was probably for the best; she wasn't afraid of his alter-ego anymore. Clark leaned down, kissed Lois softly, and smiled as she moved closer to him in her sleep. Every day with his wife and little girl was a precious gift to him; and one he never wanted to do without.


January 3, 1999, 10:00 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Lois sat at her desk and read through the latest information on the SIDS death case. It looked like the children hadn't died after all. From the bank records that Jimmy had acquired, the coroner, Dr. Amelia Samuels, must have been bribed to declare the children dead. The doctors' group must have been bribed as well—their bank accounts were fat with large cash deposits of unknown origins. "*Jimmy*," she called.

"Yes, Lois?" His head popped out from behind his computer. "Where are Clark and Rachel?" he asked.

"Clark's downstairs in the Daycare Center, checking on her," Lois replied. "Do you have those employment records from Coates Orphanage yet?"

Jimmy handed over a stack of files. "Here ya go, Lois," he said with a smile. "I even managed to find pictures of most of 'em."

"Thanks, Jimmy," she said, smiling. "As soon as we figure out which of the employees threatened Rachel, I'm going to need you to run a background check for criminal records— juvenile, too."

"Sure thing, Lois; lucky for you I figured out how to hack into those records a long time ago!" Jimmy winked and headed back towards his desk, whistling.

Lois sorted through the files and immediately set aside the female employees. She pulled out the files of the only two men that were named "Jared" and then three more files of tall, blond men. All she had to do was to get Rachel to identify which of the men she'd overheard. Lois spread the five pictures in front of her and examined them minutely. Before she could finish, the elevator dinged, and Clark walked out, carrying Rachel with him.

Rachel squirmed in his arms. "Momma!" she called. Clark smiled and put her down. She ran to Lois's desk and threw herself at Lois.

Lois laughed and helped Rachel climb into her lap. "I missed you, Momma," she said, giving Lois a big hug. The pictures on the desk caught her attention. She pointed to a picture of a nondescript man with sandy brown hair and gray eyes. "That's Mister Jared," she said softly. "He and *that* man…" She pointed towards another picture. "…hurt me." Rachel looked up at Lois. "Mister Jared called *him* 'Boss', and said that they'd have to move on soon."

Lois hugged her daughter tightly. "They're not going to hurt you again, peanut," she promised.

"You and Daddy won't let 'em," Rachel proclaimed. She slid off of Lois's lap. "I'm gonna go visit Grandpa Perry," she said cheerfully and ran toward Perry's office.

"No running, young lady," Clark called.

Rachel stopped for a few minutes and then smiled mischievously at him before skipping the rest of the way. Clark sighed and shook his head. At least she wasn't likely to fall and hurt herself skipping as badly as she could running in the crowded newsroom, he thought.

Lois picked up the pictures. "Rachel identified Jared Harrison and Paul Winslette," she said as she read their files. "Strange… both men went through college on scholarship from Cost Mart—so did the doctor who immunized the children, and the ME that did the autopsies."

Clark looked at Lois. "Intergang," they said together.

"It looks like Mindy Church decided to call in some favors," Clark observed.

"It's possible," Lois said slowly, "but they were all well paid for their part in it."

"*Jimmy*," he called.

"Yes, CK?" Jimmy hurried over to join them.

"Jimmy, I need you to look into the bank accounts of these two men." Hurriedly, he scribbled names on a piece of paper and handed it over.

"We also need you to see if either of them has a criminal record," Lois added.

"Sure thing," he said as he took the piece of paper and headed to his computer.

"According to what Jimmy already got for us, both men came to Metropolis six months ago; Paul moved in from Nashville and Jared from Boulder." Lois said, examining the files.

"I wonder if there were mysterious SIDS deaths in those cities?" Clark mused out loud.

Lois smiled and pulled up the Boulder Daily Camera and the Nashville City Paper to see if anything had been reported in those cities. "The papers don't have anything," she said. "I guess either this is the first time, or nobody has looked into it before."

Clark reached for her phone and began to dial. "I'm going to check with Henderson and see if any drugs that can simulate death have gone missing recently."

Lois stood, leaned forward, and kissed him softly. "Good idea; I'd better go rescue Perry from our daughter," she smiled mischievously. "I'm betting that Rachel is going to try and convince him to play 'horsie' again like she did last week." She walked over to Perry's office and disappeared inside.

"Metropolis Police Department, how may I be of assistance?" a female voice intoned.

"I'd like to speak with Inspector Henderson, please," Clark said in reply.

"Just a moment, please."

A few minutes later, Henderson came to the phone. "Henderson here."

"Henderson, this is Clark Kent. I need to know if there have been any robberies of pharmaceutical companies lately, especially ones with experimental drugs that can simulate death."

"Nice to hear from you, too, Kent," Henderson said with a chuckle. "Now… why is it that you need this information?"

"Look, Bill. We've got eyewitness testimony that points towards all of the recent SIDS deaths in the foster care system being part of a black-market baby ring, and some sort of drug is involved. I promise that if this pans out, you'll get everything we've got before it goes to print. Are you interested?"

"Okay, Kent, I'll hold you to that. Let me check."

Clark heard papers rustling as Henderson looked through stacks of open cases. "This is more the purvey of petty theft, but yes, we have. A couple of pharmaceutical companies have been working on a variant of phenotripticol to make it time-delayed and to make it knock the person out, and large quantities of it have gone missing over the past few months. They've tried to hush it up, and we've been unable to find any leads. Our best guess is that it was sold on the black market, but whoever did it didn't leave any evidence."

"Thanks, Henderson; Lois and I will let you know if we find anything." With that, Clark hung up the phone and stared at his notepad thoughtfully. They needed to find out more about the drug, but it looked like the puzzle was finally coming together.


January 9, 1999, 6:30 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois woke to the sound of the alarm and groaned as she rolled over to shut it off. She sighed and pulled the covers up as she started to snuggle into Clark's warm back. She sat up suddenly, slid out of bed, and ran towards the bathroom as a wave of nausea hit her. Lois made it to the toilet barely in time before she lost what she'd eaten for supper the night before.

She'd been feeling under the weather for the past few days, and even thrown up the day before, so the fact that she was now worshipping the great porcelain goddess wasn't too big a surprise. Lois laid her head against the cool surface and sighed as another bout of nausea hit her. She heaved into the toilet again and wished that the stomach flu had better timing—why couldn't it have hit earlier when the news was slow and Clark's parents had been there to take care of Rachel?

Lois sighed as she felt hands brush her hair back and hold it away from her face. "Honey, are you okay?" Clark asked.

"I just feel lousy," she croaked.

Clark leaned over and gathered her into his arms. "I'll call Perry and tell him that you're not coming in," he said softly.

"What about Rachel?" she whispered as she leaned back against him.

"I'll take her with me, drop her off at daycare, and we'll come home early so that I can take care of you," he replied.

Lois grimaced and moved closer to him. She hated missing work but, at the moment, she just couldn't bring herself to care. Clark leaned down, picked her up, and headed for their bedroom, cradling her in his arms. She leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed. "I hate being sick," she muttered.

Clark laid her down on their bed and kissed her softly on the forehead. "I know you do, honey," he said quietly as he pulled the blankets up around her and moved the trash can next to the bed. "Get some rest, honey, and I'll call in a little while to check on you."

Lois nodded her assent and let her eyes drift shut. The nausea had temporarily abated, but she felt… drained. She studied the backs of her eyelids as she heard Clark get ready for work and the soft sounds of voices as they drifted down the hall from Rachel's room. She cuddled down beneath the blankets and drifted off into a light sleep.

Dimly she heard Clark getting dressed and his voice talking to Rachel's higher one. A short time later, she heard the door shut before she slid into a heavier slumber. A few minutes later the phone rang and Lois groaned as she reached for it. "Hello?" she rasped.

"Lois, honey, is that you?" a familiar voice asked. "I thought you'd be at work by now—I was just calling to ask if you and Rachel want to come to lunch with me tomorrow. I didn't want to interrupt you at work, so I was just going to leave a message. Lois, why are you still at home?"

"I'm sick, Mother," Lois said with a sigh.

"Stay in bed—I'm coming over. I can't believe that Clark would just leave you home alone, so it's up to me to rectify the matter," Ellen said.

"Mo-ther," Lois said in exasperation, "you *don't* need to come over. Clark *had* to go to work, and I'll be *fine*."

"Stay in bed," she reiterated. "I'll be there in a few minutes. Lois, it's me or I'll send your father over to give you a check up. I *was* a nurse, and a damn good one and I'm *going* to come over, sit with you, and make sure that my baby is okay, is that clear?"

"Yes, Mother," Lois replied with a sigh. "You know where we keep the spare key." She listened as her mother hung up on her and pulled the blankets up around her. As much as she hated being sick there were a few things she hated more— such as having her parents insist on "taking care of her". While it was true that they'd started rebuilding their relationship, things tended to revert to the past when either of them found out that she had come down with something. She was stuck, now. Her mom would be over in a few minutes, asking nosy questions and trying to force her to drink liquids that she didn't want.

Lois grabbed Clark's pillow, pulled it close, and buried her nose in it, inhaling his scent. "Help, Superman, save me," she muttered, her mouth twisting into a wry smile. She yawned tiredly and resumed her interrupted nap.


January 9, 1999, 8:30 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Clark flipped through his notes again as he waited for Perry to get to him in the story meeting. He absently slid his pencil back and forth between his fingers, his thoughts more focused upon a certain brunette reporter than on his current surroundings. He'd taken care of her a few other times when she'd come down with something, but he'd never seen her with nausea that intense.

He knew it wasn't really anything to worry about—after all Steve from secretarial and Clara from travel had both come down with the same illness a few days before. Clark doodled absently on his notepad and smiled as a picture of Lois and Rachel began to appear.

"Earth to Kent," he heard Perry say.

Clark looked up, shaking himself out of his reverie. "Sorry Chief; what was it you just asked me?"

Perry sighed. "Kent, you need to get your head out of the clouds and pay attention in my story meeting. Now, how is the SIDS death investigation coming?"

"We've got some good leads and we're close to figuring out where the kids are being sent. So far we've traced the money trail to Happy Families' Adoption Agency—they seem to be the front for the baby brokers that the kids are being sent to, and they're owned by Cost Mart," Clark replied.

"Good—anything else?" Perry asked.

"The one common thread between everything seems to be connections to Cost Mart, so we've got an interview with Mindy Church on Tuesday," Clark said. "Henderson's done some work at his end; he got a warrant to search the doctor's group where the missing children were treated. He found some vials of the phenotripticol variant and some syringes with traces of the drug that hadn't been disposed of yet at the clinic where the children were immunized. Both the empty vials and the syringes had fingerprints from one of the doctors and both Jared Harrison and Paul Winslette. Henderson's holding off on making the final arrests until after we interview Mrs. Church and the Planet has the exclusive."

Perry grinned. "Good! Just what I like to hear—my reporters one up on the competition. Now all the rest of y'all need to go out and find me some big stories like Clark here did." The room was still as they absorbed what Perry had said. "Well?" he demanded. "What are you all waiting for? Go out and find me some front-page material!" The reporters got up and hurried out of the room and streamed towards the door of the newsroom. Clark stood, gathered up his things, and started to follow his coworkers before Perry stopped him on the way out the door.

"Clark?" Perry said quietly.

"Yes, Chief?" he answered.

"How's Lois, son?" Perry asked. "And what in Elvis's name is phenotripticol?"

"It's probably just the flu—you know that she's been feeling under the weather for a while now," he said, running his hand through his hair. "And phenotripticol is a pretty nasty drug that makes the victim appear to be dead while they're completely aware of their surroundings. The stuff that these kidnappers have been using is time delayed to activate when the kids go to sleep so that it looks like SIDS."

"That sounds like some awful stuff! You take care of Lois for me, son, ok? And if you've written up that story on the college arson investigation, I'll let you off early."

"It'll be on your desk in an hour," Clark promised.

Perry clapped him on the back. "Good! Now, go write me a story—and wrap up that SIDS thing."

"You got it, Chief," Clark said, smiling. He hurried back to his desk and began to type furiously. The sooner he finished, the sooner he could go home and take care of his wife.


January 9, 1999, 9:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Ellen pulled the spare key out from under the doormat, unlocked the townhouse door and hurried inside. She went upstairs and stood in the doorway of her daughter's bedroom, looking at the sleeping figure in the bed. She walked across the room and smoothed the tumbled dark hair back from Lois's forehead. "You should have called and told me you were ill," she whispered. "Somebody has to take care of you if you're this sick; and obviously Clark isn't doing it."

Ellen sighed and pulled the blankets up around Lois. "If Clark *really* loved you, he'd be here taking care of you so that I wouldn't have had to cancel my tea with the ladies at the club. At least that *man* had the grace to take Rachel with him so that she didn't catch whatever disease you brought home."

Lois lay with her eyes shut, pretending to be asleep as she listened to her mother's words. Somehow, she wasn't surprised to hear her mother's opinion of how Clark should be spending his time. She opened her eyes slowly and looked at her mother.

Ellen sat gingerly down on the bed next to her. "How are you feeling, Lois?" she asked.

Lois sighed. "Better—for now. The nausea comes and goes; right now I'm just tired."

Ellen reached over and felt Lois's forehead. "Any other symptoms? Dizziness? Fever?"

"No, Mother. I've been tired all the time, nauseous on and off, and throwing up occasionally. I'm sure I'll be fine in a few days," Lois replied.

Ellen looked at Lois measuringly for a few minutes. "Lois, honey, is it possible that you could be—I mean, have you and Clark been using… protection?"

"Mo—*ther*!" she exclaimed, starting to turn red.

"Lois, your symptoms are much more consistent with early pregnancy than with the flu. If you and Clark forgot to use protection even once, then you could be—"

"Mother! No, Clark and I haven't been using… precautions because we've been told that Clark can't father children, so it's just not likely that I'm actually going to have a baby," Lois explained.

"You *are* going to stay in bed while I run to the store for one of those at-home pregnancy test kits, Lois. And if it's positive, I'm calling your doctor so that we can take care of this grandchild of mine properly. I'll be back in a few minutes—is that clear?" Ellen patted Lois on the hand, stood and tucked the blankets more securely around her daughter.

"Yes, Mother," Lois said with a groan and watched as Ellen left the room. "Just what I need," she muttered, "my *Mother* asking about my sex life."

"I heard that!" Ellen's voice floated in from the hallway.

Lois groaned again and buried her face in her pillow. If what her mother suspected were true, then Rachel would soon have a baby brother or sister—she just wished that her mom had come up with another way to voice her suspicions. She sighed and cuddled up under the blankets.

The last thing she had expected at her age was a lecture on safe sex; it wasn't like she was a teenager anymore, she'd been married for over two years, and she hadn't exactly been a virgin on her wedding night. "Help, Superman," she whispered again as she thought of her mother's imminent return. Lois sighed, reached for a magazine from the stack next to the bed, and started to read.


January 9, 1999, 10:00 am

Daily Planet Daycare, Metropolis

Clark walked through the front door, stood at the front desk, and cleared his throat. "Cheryl?" he said softly.

Cheryl looked up from the stack of papers she was studying. "Hey, Mr. Kent," she said with a smile. "Sorry I didn't notice you come in; I was looking at our checklists because the state inspector is coming in on Monday and I wanted to make sure that we've cleaned everything again."

"That's okay, Cheryl—I just need to pick up Rachel," he grinned. "My wife and I have been putting in some long hours lately and Perry told me I could go home and take care of her because she's not feeling well."

"Tell Ms. Lane that we hope that she feels better soon—you can go back and get Rachel. She scraped her knee and her hands earlier, but she's been good today," Cheryl said.

"Thanks, Cheryl," Clark said. He waved, headed towards the four and five year old room, and knocked on the door. A young, blonde woman opened it to let him in.

"Hey, Mr. Kent," she said with a smile. "Rachel's outside, playing; let me go get her." She walked through the room, grabbed her coat, and let herself out into a fenced play area. "*Rachel*!" she called.

Rachel ran up to the woman, her eyes sparkling. "Miss Megan, you called for me?" she asked, brushing snow off her mittens.

"Rachel, sweetie, your dad's here. Let's go get your stuff, ok?" Megan said.

"Okay," the child agreed cheerfully and followed her inside. "Daddy!" she called happily, running up to him and wrapping her arms around his legs.

Clark swung her into his arms and hugged her gently. "Hey, sprite—what's this I hear about a scraped knee and scraped hands?"

Rachel pulled off her mittens to show him the red marks. "I wasn't wearing my mittens, and I tripped and fell on the trike track," she explained. "Daddy, will you kiss it and make it better?"

Gravely, Clark kissed the marks lightly. "Better?" he asked, a smile playing around his lips.

"Uh huh. Kiss my knee, too?" she asked.

"Which one, Rachel?" he asked.

Rachel reached down, pulled the leg of her jeans up and pointed. "That one," she said, indicating her left knee. Clark bent down and kissed that, too.

"Sprite, why aren't you wearing your warm clothes?" he asked. "It's *freezing* outside, and you should be wearing more sweaters and your snowpants."

"Da-ddy," she groaned, "s'not *that* cold!"

Clark carried her over to the coat rack and began helping her into the clothes stacked in her bin. Rachel sighed and helped put them on. A few minutes later, Clark grabbed her backpack; they walked out to the Jeep, and headed for home.


January 9, 1999, 10:30 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois walked out of the bathroom, holding the stick in front of her. "Mother," she said softly, "you were right; but I want to tell Clark myself."

Ellen stared at Lois for a few minutes. "Honestly, Lois!" she said reprovingly. "Why does it matter who tells Clark that you're pregnant, or who tells your father, too, for that matter? And Rachel deserves to know that she's getting a sibling!"

"Mother, I *will* tell everyone, but *I* want to be the one to do it. Until I do, please, just don't tell anyone?" Lois implored.

Ellen threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. "All right," she said. "You always *did* have to do things your own way."

Lois walked over to the closet and began to rummage around inside, looking for clothes.

"Lois, *what* are you doing?" Ellen asked.

"I'm getting dressed, Mother," Lois said rolling her eyes. "I'm not sick, but since I now have the day off, I thought I'd run some errands. I still have to set up an appointment with Rachel's social worker for her home visit before the adoption can be finalized."

"Lois, you *should* be taking it easy and staying in bed. You haven't even seen your doctor yet for heaven's sake!"

"Mo-ther! I'm pregnant, not *dead*. The last time I checked, women have been getting pregnant for thousands of years, and because I'm having a baby is *not* a reason for my entire life to grind to a halt." Lois said as she yanked on a long sleeved shirt and one of Clark's sweaters. She slid into a pair of jeans and fastened them before reaching for socks and shoes.

"At least wait until you tell Clark where you're going, Lois. You know as well as I do that trouble just seems to follow you. You've been lucky since you got Rachel, and you haven't given me cause to up my medication lately, but you know as well as I do that things can change at the drop of a hat." Ellen fastened a stern glance on her daughter, placed her hands on her hips, and moved to block the doorway.

Lois rolled her eyes. "Fine," she snapped. "Clark should be home soon and I'll wait for him to get here before I take off. Will that suffice?"

"You always *were* stubborn," Ellen said with a resigned sigh. "I *am* staying until he gets home to keep you out of trouble; is that *clear*?"

"Yes, Mother," Lois said with a grimace.

Ellen turned, walked out the door, and headed downstairs. "Maybe Clark can make her behave—goodness knows that *I've* never been able to make her do *anything*," she muttered.

"I heard that!" Lois called as she followed Ellen downstairs. Fervently, she hoped that Clark could hurry home before she managed to strangle her mother. She just wasn't sure how she had managed to deal with her own dysfunctional family before Clark had come into her life. Actually, she did—she avoided them. It was only after she and Clark had come together that her family started trying to repair itself, and they were beginning to succeed.

Lois laid her hand over her abdomen. "Hello, little one," she whispered. "You don't know how happy I am that you're coming to us—you are our miracle, and we love you. Baby, we even have an older sister waiting for you, and I know that she'll love you as much as I do." She closed her eyes and smiled at the mental picture of the four of them together. Their dreams of a family of their own were finally coming to pass, and she just couldn't see how life could get any better.


January 9, 1999, 11:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Clark juggled two bags of groceries while he struggled with his keys to open the door as Rachel caught up and grabbed onto his coat. "Daddy," she began, "is Momma okay? She's been sick for a long time and I don't want her to go away."

Clark put the grocery bags down, turned and picked Rachel up. "She's not going anywhere and neither am I," he promised. "Sprite, your Momma just has the flu and she'll be better soon, ok?" He hugged his daughter tightly, then set her down and opened the door. He picked up the groceries and headed inside, ushering Rachel in front of him.

"Are you sure?" Rachel asked, struggling out of her coat as Clark began to head for the kitchen.

Lois looked up from the magazine she was reading and glanced over at her daughter. "Is he sure about what, sweetheart?" she asked softly.

Rachel ran across the room and threw herself at Lois. "Momma, you've been sick for *days*, and I don't want you to leave like my Mommy did, and Casey's Mommy got sick and went away *forever*. Momma, I don't want you to go away!"

Lois wrapped her arms around Rachel and hugged her tightly, then freed one hand to run it though her little girl's hair. "Rachel, I'm not going anywhere and your Daddy isn't either. We love you, peanut, and we're *not* going to abandon you."

"Really truly?" Rachel asked.

"Really truly," Lois affirmed. "And in a few months, it will be official—you're *our* little girl, peanut, and you *always* will be."

Rachel cuddled up against Lois. "You're the best, Momma," she said softly.

"You are, too, peanut," Lois said, hugging her back. "Your Gramma Lane is upstairs waiting for you—I think she's got something that she wants to show you."

Rachel smiled and slid off the couch. "Cool!" she said happily. She ran upstairs and out of sight before Clark re-entered the room.

"Honey," he began, walking over to sit with her and pull her close, "thanks for taking care of that—Rachel doesn't always believe me still."

"You're welcome, sweetheart," Lois said quietly. "Clark—I don't have the flu."

"Is it something worse?" Clark asked urgently.

Lois grinned. "Oh, I wouldn't say that it's *worse* precisely—in fact, it's something that we've both prayed for and wanted for a long time. My mother suggested it and we got one of those home test kits…" She reached for his hand. "Sweetheart, the doctor hasn't confirmed it yet, and my appointment isn't until next week, but we're going to have a baby."

Joy lit up Clark's face. "Really?" he asked incredulously. Wordlessly, Lois nodded. He leaned over and kissed her enthusiastically before he laid a gentle hand on her abdomen. "Hello, kiddo," he whispered. "I'm your Daddy, and your Mommy and I want you very much." Clark kissed Lois's stomach through her clothes. "I can't wait to meet you," he said.

"Honey, what a marvelous gift you have given me," he said, wonder on his face. "My entire life, I've *never* met anyone who's related to me by blood, and now we've created a new little person that's both you and me." He smiled and squeezed her hand. "I love you, Lois, and I love our new family." Clark pulled her close to him and held her tightly. "Now we are truly complete," he whispered. "We have a beautiful little girl, a new baby on the way, and because of *you*, I finally feel like I *belong* here."

Lois wrapped her arms around him and turned her head up for a kiss. Clark complied with her unspoken request. He kissed her, softly at first, then demandingly as it escalated. After a few moments of exploring each other's mouths, they broke the kiss off lingeringly. "You've always belonged here, Clark—you belong here with *me*." Lois's eyes darkened in remembered pain as recollections of the New Kryptonians flashed through her memory. "You'll always belong here, sweetheart." She leaned back against him and they fell into a companionable silence for a few minutes.

"Clark," Lois began, "I want to wait until we're *sure* to tell Rachel; I don't want to disappoint her if it's a false alarm, and the appointment with my doctor isn't until right after Rachel's home visit Monday morning."

"So it's right after we get her to school?" he asked.

Lois nodded. "Yeah, so we should know for sure in a few days; I was lucky that Dr. Allred had an opening so soon."

Rachel came running down the stairs. "Momma, Daddy," she said excitedly, "Gramma wants me to go shopping with her next Saturday. Can I go?"

"Sure, sprite," Clark said with a smile.

"Gramma says that it's time us girls went out together to celebrate my 'doption, so we're gonna go out to eat at a fancy restaurant, even though the judge-lady hasn't made it final yet," Rachel offered with a grin before she climbed up between them. Clark leaned over and kissed Lois, sandwiching Rachel in between them.

"Yuck," Rachel said, wrinkling her nose. "You're *kissing*."

"Yuck?" Lois inquired.

"Yes!" she said. "Long time ago, my friend CJ said that kissing is icky, and I think he's *right*."

Lois started tickling Rachel. "You'll appreciate it someday," she informed her laughing daughter.

"Nuh-uh!" Rachel insisted in between peals of laughter.

Clark watched his girls' antics with a smile. A conversation he'd had with his father years before drifted through his head. It had taken him six years, but he'd finally gotten everything he'd told his dad that he had dreamed of. He had a good job, a wife, and now a couple of kids. He rescued Rachel from Lois and hugged her before leaning in for another kiss. "Thank you, honey," he whispered. "You've given me everything I've ever wanted."

Lois smiled and laced her fingers through his. Rachel wiggled out of Clark's encircling arm and cuddled down between both of them. "Momma and Daddy, this is the best time ever," she proclaimed. "The only thing that could make it better is if Daddy reads me a story," she said with a charming smile.

"Your wish is my command, milady—we're going to spend all day today together, and *you* are going to be on your best behavior when the people from Social Services come on Monday, is that clear?" Clark planted a kiss on the crown of his daughter's head.

"Yes, Daddy," Rachel said obediently. "I guess that means that we need to clean my room up today." She sighed, climbed reluctantly off the couch and held out her hand. "Come and help me, please, Daddy?" she asked.

Clark hugged Lois and surreptitiously caressed her stomach before standing up and taking Rachel's hand. "Of course I will, sprite," he said and they walked toward the stairs.

Lois watched them go, smiling before she picked up a baby furniture catalogue off the coffee table and started to thumb through it. There was a *lot* to do before the baby came, and not much time to get it done in.


January 11, 1999, 7:00 am

346 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Clark hurried to answer the door and let Samantha and her boss, Adam, in. "Come on in," he said cordially before taking their coats and hanging them up.

"Where's Rachel?" Sam asked.

"She's in the kitchen with Lois, eating breakfast," he said with a smile.

"Mr. Kent," Adam began, "Sam and I have talked about it, and she'll interview Rachel while I take a look at the child's room. Considering what Rachel's been through, we thought it best if she was interviewed in regards to her situation here by a woman, and I'm afraid that neither you nor your wife can be in the room with us. We'd like to get started as soon as possible."

Clark nodded. "I'll go get Rachel," he said quietly. Clark walked into the kitchen just as Rachel was finishing her breakfast. "Sprite, Samantha and her supervisor are here. Remember what we talked about?" he asked.

"Yes, Daddy," Rachel said, looking up at him. "I'm to do what they ask and not to use any of the bad words that Papa Gary liked to use, and to be nice to Ms. Samantha and Mister Adam."

Clark chucked. "That's my girl," he said encouragingly. Lois dried her hands on a dishtowel and joined them at the table.

"Peanut, let's get the ketchup off your face and then we'll go in to talk to them," she said, holding out a damp washcloth. Rachel submitted to having her face cleaned and grabbed her parents' hands as they walked toward the door that separated the kitchen from the living room.

As they approached the social workers, Rachel hung back shyly, putting her parents between herself and them. Samantha crouched down and held out her hand. "Rachel," she called softly. "It's okay—Adam and I just want to talk to you to make sure that you're happy here."

Rachel slid out from behind Lois and flung herself at Clark. She clung to his legs, refusing to let go. "Daddy, don't let them take me away," she pleaded.

Clark gently disengaged her grip from his pants and scooped her up. He hugged her close as her arms found their way around his neck and grasped him in a strangle hold. "Sprite, they're just here for an interview," he said soothingly.

Rachel looked at Lois for confirmation. "Baby, it's all right," Lois said, caressing Rachel's hair. "We'll be right here if you need us—all you have to do is to show Samantha and Adam your room and talk to them for a little bit, okay?"

"Daddy?" Rachel said, her eyes wide with fear.

Clark kissed her on the cheek. "We'll be waiting down here if you get scared—and I can be upstairs really fast if you need me, okay?"

Rachel nodded slowly and released her death-grip on Clark's neck. She allowed him to put her down and slowly approached Sam and Adam. "My room is this way," she said anxiously, leading them upstairs.

Clark lowered his glasses and watched Rachel show the social worker around her room and begin to answer their questions hesitantly. After a few moments of watching Samantha and Adam take notes on their clipboards, he re- focused his attention back to Lois. "She's doing fine," he said quietly.

"Good," Lois answered. "I can't help but wonder what if something goes wrong? What if they take her from us again?"

"It *won't* happen, honey," Clark said forcefully. "Rachel *is* happy here, and that's what this visit is supposed to be about."

"I hope so," Lois said with a sigh. Together, they crossed the room and sat down on the couch to wait. A few minutes later, Rachel bounded downstairs while Samantha and Adam followed at a more sedate pace.

Adam checked his notes one last time. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent, based on our observations and what Rachel has told us, we're recommending that the adoption go through. You still have at least five months to change your minds if you like, but Rachel is yours barring that and the paperwork."

"We're *not* changing our minds," Clark said firmly.

"Thank you," Lois said as Rachel ran over and scrambled up into her lap. Rachel threw her arms around Lois's neck and hung on lest they try and take her away. Clark stood and saw them out, thanking them for their time. "Rachel, sweetheart, it's time to leave for school," Lois said softly.

Rachel buried her face in Lois's shirt. "I wanna stay with you and Daddy, Momma," she said.

"I know you do, baby, but we'll come and get you as soon as school gets out, I promise." Lois stroked Rachel's hair gently. "I know you how much you like school, peanut," she said.

Rachel climbed reluctantly off Lois's lap and walked over to the coat tree to get her coat and her book bag. Clark grabbed her snowpants and helped her into them before handing her mittens and putting her hat on her head. "Daddy!" she protested.

"Rachel, I *don't* want you to get cold," he said, as he helped her put her coat on and zipped it up.

Lois grabbed her own coat and her briefcase and waited as Clark gathered his stuff. "Everybody ready?" she asked. At their nods, the family left, locking the doors behind them.


January 12, 1999, 10:00 am

Daily Planet, Metropolis

Lois flipped through her notes one last time. The only thing missing was an interview from Mindy Church, and they were planning on interviewing her in an hour or so. She smiled and laid her hand over her stomach as she thought about the previous day's appointment. Dr. Allred's office was to call with the results of her test as soon as it came in, and she hoped that it would return a positive result.

Family. Children. Five years ago, those words would have scared her silly. Now she was married, had a daughter, and their second child was hopefully on the way. It wasn't flawless; Rachel still had problems, and Clark was about as far from perfect as you could get, but it had become what she wanted. She already had a successful career; now she had a family to go with it. After all, Kerth Awards were cold bedfellows and no substitute for Clark and their children in her life. The phone rang and startled Lois out of her reverie.

"Lois Lane," she answered.

"This is Dr. Allred's office. We've got the results of your test. Ms. Lane, congratulations, the test came back positive."

"Thank you!" Lois said joyfully, interrupting the secretary.

"Ms. Lane, you need to schedule an appointment as soon as possible for a sonogram and get a prescription for prenatal vitamins—you've put that off long enough."

"I'll try and be by this week," Lois promised before ending the call. A huge smile spread over her face as she thought about breaking more good news to Clark. A baby! They'd have to talk to Perry about her work. It would also probably be a good idea to let Dr. Klein in on the secret; after all, this *was* a half-Kryptonian child that she was carrying.

Lois glanced at the clock and, noticing the time, stood and began to gather her things. "Clark," she called.

Clark looked up from his story and ran his hand through his hair absently. "Yeah?" he asked, glancing at his watch. Without another word, Clark grabbed his coat and hurried over to her side. Wordlessly, they walked over to the elevator.

"Sweetheart," Lois said quietly as the doors began to close. "That was the doctor on the phone and the test results are back; they're positive."

A brilliant smile spread over his face as he leaned in to kiss her soundly. Clark wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly before capturing her lips for another kiss. "I take it you're happy, then?" Lois said breathlessly between kisses.

Clark leaned his forehead against hers. "You have to ask?" he said, his brown eyes twinkling. Before Lois could answer, the door slid open and deposited them in the parking garage. Hand in hand, they walked to the Jeep, climbed in, and headed to the Cost Mart Corporate offices.

Lois glanced over at Clark. "So do you want a boy or a girl?" she asked. "I mean, I don't want you to be disappointed, and we already have a daughter, so I'm thinking that you probably want a boy so that he can follow in your footsteps and be Superman Jr. I mean, after all, that's what my father wanted, and most guys want little boys to carry on the family name or something like that."

"As long as our baby is healthy, that's what matters," Clark said quietly. "If we have a little girl, I just hope that she's as beautiful as you and Rachel are. And if it's a boy, that's good, too."

"Clark—shouldn't we tell Dr. Klein that he was wrong and let him in on the secret? I mean, we're pioneers in this area—I can't say that this pregnancy will be entirely… normal."

Clark nodded slowly. "We'll have to tell him just in case," he said quietly. "I can't say I like having him know who I really am, but we don't know what my genetics will do to you or to the baby."

Lois pulled into the Cost Mart parking lot and into a space. They got out of the car and began to walk towards the entrance. Lois straightened her coat and began to fidget with her wedding ring. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself as the realization finally hit—they were having a *baby*. In a few months, they'd have a little person that they'd be completely responsible for. Lois smiled as Clark reached out and took her hand in his. He kissed it softly. "It'll be all right, Lois," he said. "I promise."

A few minutes later, they entered Mindy Church's office. "Mrs. Church," Clark said, nodding to the blonde who sat at the desk in front of them, filing her nails.

"Lois, Clark!" Mindy exclaimed, giving them a vacuous expression. "I hear that you two snuggle bunnies are having an itty bitty baby of your own to go with that *adorable* little girl that you're adopting." She cooed, batting her big blue eyes at Clark and smiled vapidly before taking a quick glance at the pile of papers on her desk. "Tell me the due date and I'll send over a little gift for the widdle one and for your new daughter as well!" Mindy's mouth tightened almost imperceptibly as she began to slide the nail file in between her fingers.

Lois and Clark exchanged a glance, but before either could say anything, Mindy continued. "My hunky and I never managed to have a baby bunny of our own, due to his unfortunate incarceration, so I am so happy for you!"

"Mrs. Church, we just found out ourselves—*how* did you find out so quickly?" Lois asked, slightly annoyed.

"Well, my secretary's brother plays tennis with your doctor and she told me the happy news this morning," Mindy said, smiling. There was a glint of slyness in Mindy's eyes that Lois had never liked.

"We'll just have to have a talk to him about patient *confidentiality*," Lois muttered, growing more aggravated by the minute. "Mrs. Church, we wanted to know if you recognized any of the names on this list," she said, more loudly, as she handed over a list of parties involved in the baby ring.

Mindy glanced over the list, intelligence briefly flashing in her eyes. "I'm afraid not."

"Each person on that list is involved in a black-market baby ring," Clark explained, taking the list back. "And they also received Cost Mart scholarships to put them through school—we wanted to know if you know anything about that."

"My incarcerated husband was still running the company then," Mindy said with a winning smile. "I'll tell my business manager to contact you if you wish, but I think it was just part of my pooky's efforts to help the less fortunate, you know, his *charity* work."

"Mrs. Church—are you aware that Happily Families' Adoption is *also* owned by Cost Mart Industries?" Lois asked.

"It *is*?" Mindy clapped her hands together. "I shall have to take the children there some new toys—they're just poor little orphans, you know."

"Thank you, Mrs. Church, for your time," Clark said as the couple stood up.

"Oh, you're very welcome," Mindy replied. She watched them walk towards the door. "Don't forget to let me know when that widdle baby of yours is due," she called as they left. A sly smile crossed her face as she picked up the phone and began to dial.

"Albright, cut ties with the adoption scam—we don't want it connected to Intergang, " she said. "They already know about Happy Families', so don't bother with that, just make sure that Harrison and Winslette take the fall."

Mindy hung up the phone. The blonde bimbo act had completely disappeared and she grinned deviously. "Lois and Clark, you've just cost me a lot of money—again. Next time… You made a mistake having… children."


January 12, 1999, 5:30 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois and Clark sat on the couch, watching Rachel play. Dinner was in the oven, the bad guys had been arrested with Superman looking on, and there was only one more thing that needed to be done—tell Rachel the good news.

"Sprite, we've got something to tell you," Clark called.

Rachel came over and smiled. "Yes, Daddy?" she said.

Lois held out her arms. "Come on up here with us, peanut," she said quietly.

Rachel clambered up on to the couch and settled down in between her parents. "Sweetie, your Daddy and I have some good news—you're going to have a little brother or a little sister."

Rachel glanced at her parents and then smiled. "Are we gonna adopt a baby like you're adopting me?"

Lois caressed Rachel's hair. "No, baby. Sweetheart, remember when your first Mommy had your half-brother?"

Rachel nodded hesitantly. "Uh-huh," she answered.

Lois reached out to grasp Rachel hand and then placed it on her stomach. "Peanut, your daddy and I made a baby because we love each other, and that baby is growing inside me."

Rachel nodded calmly. "Ok," she said. "Can I go play now?"

"Of course you can," Clark answered, flummoxed by her calm acceptance of the good news.

Rachel slid off the couch and went back to her play corner, carefully staring at the floor. As soon as her parents stopped looking, she glanced back at them. They'd give her back for sure, now. Papa Gary'd always emphasized the difference between *blood* children and *step* children. Why should it be any different with the Kents? Sure, it'd been different every other way, but why would they want her after they had a kid of their own? She was extra now; they didn't need her anymore.

At least the bad men at the orphanage had been taken to jail where they couldn't hurt her for tattling. Rachel picked up Aimee and CJ, hugged them to her and sighed. She was on her own again, but at least this time, she had *two* children to take care of. Her bear and her doll were her family, and they were all she needed. Rachel began to sing something softly that her momma had taught her a few months ago as she rocked the toys back and forth.

She looked up to see Lois standing over her. Lois crouched down and kissed her on the cheek. "What are you doing, peanut?" she asked.

"I'm putting CJ and Aimee to bed, Momma," Rachel answered softly. "It's their bedtime." She looked up at Lois and smiled, avoiding eye contact and carefully hiding away her pain and the knowledge that they no longer would want her.

"It's dinnertime, baby," Lois said, as she stood and held out her hand.

Rachel laid her toys down on a chair carefully and took Lois's hand. "Okay, Momma," she said as she walked into the kitchen, still looking at the floor.


January 16, 1999, 1:00 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Rachel sat at her table, carefully writing her name on her homework. Her teacher had asked them to draw pictures of their family, and she had finally gotten it right. Momma, Daddy, a baby were standing in front of their house while she stood behind the gates of the orphanage. She studied her drawing critically before making the smiles on her parents' faces bigger and adding some tears to her own face. Perfect. That's the way it would be—dumb old Rachel back at that scary orphanage after the baby showed up because she *still* wasn't wanted.

Rachel began to put away her crayons as Clark flew in the window. He strode over and picked her up, tossing her into the air in a maneuver that had never failed to make her squeal and giggle—until now. "What's the matter, sprite?" he asked.

"Nothing," she muttered, burying her face in his spandex- clad shoulder.

Clark dropped a kiss into her hair. "Yes there is, kiddo, or you would have laughed like you usually do when I toss you." He looked around and caught sight of her picture. He picked it up, walked over to the couch, and settled her in his lap. "Rachel, can you tell me about your picture?" he asked.

"Nuh uh," she answered, her face still buried in his chest.

"C'mon, sprite," he said, gently stroking her hair. "*Please* tell me about the picture you drew? I'd really like to know."

Hesitantly, she turned to look at the drawing. "That's you and Momma and the new baby," Rachel whispered, pointing towards the trio. "And that's me back in the orf'nage, 'cause after the baby comes, you won't want me no more."

Clark put a finger under her chin and tipped her face up to look at him. "Oh, sprite, now why would you think that?" he asked.

"Papa Gary said that blood meant everything, and that if I were his *real* little girl—by blood, then he wouldn't never hit me. He always treated Timmy nice 'cause Timmy was his *blood* son," she explained, looking away. A single tear trickled down her face as she stonily tried to repress the feelings of not being wanted.

"Rachel," Clark said suddenly, "did I ever tell you that *I'm* adopted, too?"

Rachel looked up at him, surprise on her face. "You are, Daddy?" she asked, incredulous.

"Uh huh," Clark answered, nodding. "My first set of parents sent me away because their planet was getting ready to blow up. Your Grandma and Grandpa Kent found me when I was a baby in a spaceship in a field and took me home with them. Your Grandma says that when she saw me, she knew that I belonged to her because she loved me."

"Just like that?" Rachel asked.

"Just like that, sprite. You see, I know something that means more than blood—love. And the first time your Momma and I saw you, we wanted to keep you forever." Clark hugged her gently. "And as soon as the paperwork goes through, you'll belong to us legally because we love you and we want you. Sprite, you belong to *us*."

"Really?" she asked, still skeptical.

"Really," he confirmed. He stood up and settled her on his hip before heading into the kitchen. "Now," he whispered, "let's see what your Momma's burning for dinner that we have to eat."

Rachel tugged the top of his cape, so he inclined his ear towards her. "Momma's just making something that you froze last week," she whispered.

"Maybe it'll be edible, then," he said conspiratorially.

"Maybe," the child agreed as they headed into the kitchen, leaving the now slightly-crumpled drawing on the couch behind them.


May 25, 1999, 5:00 p.m.

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois rifled through the mail and smiled joyfully when she found the envelope. She opened it quickly, noting that the court date was June 6—adoption day. It was also right before Rachel's birthday, so perhaps they could find something special for her to signify her change of name. Luckily, her mother had taken Rachel out shopping for more toys to put in the baby's room, so she and Clark were alone.

Lois levered herself off the couch and waddled into the kitchen to find Clark. At seven months pregnant, she felt huge. "Clark," she said.

Clark flipped the burner to low and turned to face her. A large smile spread over his face at her entrance. Her pregnancy had progressed normally, and the whole family had been happy to hear that not only was the baby healthy, but it was to be a boy. "Yes, honey?" he said. Lois held out the papers. He took them and read through at superspeed. "So it's two days before Rachel's birthday?"

"June sixth," Lois confirmed, nodding. "I thought that we should do something special for her adoption—I know her birthday is two days afterward, but since we're just planning a family party…"

Clark thought for a minute. "I saw some little silver ID bracelets when I was stopping that train in Germany last week. We could get one of those or something like it and get her new name put on it."

"Sounds good," Lois said, stretching to relieve the tension in her back.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked, concerned.

"I'm fine," Lois said with a wry smile. "My back just hurts a little and *your* son has been playing soccer with my bladder all day."

Clark walked over and pulled her into an embrace before he massaged her back muscles, sending short bursts of heat vision along her spine. Lois moaned quietly. "That feels so *good*," she said with a sigh. He leaned down and kissed her softly.

"Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?" he asked.

"Clark, I feel like Shamu," she protested.

"You're *beautiful*," he insisted. "You're carrying *our* child, and soon he'll be here with us. But we still haven't decided what his name is; we can't go around calling him 'hey you' forever."

"Rachel was easier," Lois grumbled, "she *came* with a name." She thought for a few minutes. "We could let Rachel give him a first name… within reason."

Clark smiled. "After that conversation we had about the baby a few months ago, that might be a good idea. I think she *still* worries that we won't want her after he's born." He picked her up carried her into the living room, and deposited her on the couch. "I love you," he whispered before he kissed her and headed back toward the kitchen to stir dinner.

Lois smiled and laid her hand on her abdomen. The baby quieted, then pushed against her hand a few times before resuming doing somersaults. She yawned and reached for the afghan at the foot of the couch, glad that her pregnancy leave would be starting in the next month or so. Even tied to her desk, work was becoming exhausting. She let her eyes drift shut, knowing that either Clark or her stomach would wake her for dinner.


June 6, 1999, 1:00 p.m.

Metropolis City Courthouse (AKA Hall of Justice)

Family Court

Rachel sat in between her parents, swinging her feet, clad in their lacy socks and shiny mary janes, as the judge read through the papers of the people in front of them. Finally, their names were called. She skipped up to the table, scrambled into a chair, and waited for the judge to read through their papers.

She grinned as her parents sat down on either side of her and looked expectantly up at the judge. The judge looked over his glasses at the trio. "Rachel Pierce, I have documents here in front of me that say that the Kents wish to adopt you."

"Yessir," she said cheerfully.

The judge cracked a smile. "Rachel, there is one thing on here that hasn't been addressed—do you want the Kents to be your parents?"

"Yessir!" she crowed happily. "I want them to be my Momma and Daddy *forever*."

"Rachel Kent," he began, affixing his signature to the papers. "You are now, officially, the child of Lois Ellen Lane-Kent and Clark Jerome Kent—and it looks like you'll be a big sister pretty soon, too."

"Yup," Rachel said proudly, looking at Lois. "My baby brother's gonna be born next month and *I* get to name him."

The judge laughed. "Enjoy your new family," he said with a smile before the next case was called.

They stood and walked to the back of the courtroom where Rachel's grandparents were waiting. As soon as they got there, Clark dropped to his knees, pulled a small box out of his pocket, and opened it. "We've got an early birthday present for you, sprite," he said quietly.

Lois pulled a small bracelet out of the box and fastened it around Rachel's wrist. Rachel looked down at the bracelet and ran her finger along the engraved name. "Rachel Elizabeth Kent," she read softly.

"That's your name, sweetheart," Ellen said.

"I know, Gramma Lane," Rachel replied with a huge smile.

Jonathan laid his hand on her head. "I told you that you were one of us Kents," he said softly.

Rachel hugged Lois and Clark before moving on to her grandparents. Martha reached into her bag and pulled out a doll's dress. "I thought that Aimee should have something special to wear for your birthday party," she said quietly.

"Thank you, Gramma Kent," Rachel said before giving her a huge hug.

Sam came hurrying in the door, looking harried. "Am I too late?" he asked.

Rachel put her hands on her hips and frowned. "You missed my 'doption," she scolded.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," he said apologetically. "There was a small fire in my lab that I had to put out, and then I was all sooty so I had to change clothes."

Rachel looked interested—she'd been to her grandpa's lab and he'd barely stopped her from combining chemicals that would have caused a large explosion. "Did anything blow up?" she asked eagerly.

"I'm afraid not, angel," he began. "We just spilled a chemical on a burner that should never have been near the fire."

Rachel stuck her lower lip out in a pout. "Not fair," she said.

Sam laughed and messed up her hair. "Princess, are you *sure* that we've only just adopted this one? I remember loving explosions when I was just a little older than she is." He reached in his pocket, pulled out a dollar, and handed it to Rachel. "That's for candy," he whispered, leaning down close to her.

"Ok," she agreed. "Momma, I know what I think I wanna name my brother—I like Matt and Jamie."

Lois reached for Rachel's hand and led everyone out of the courtroom. "Matt or Jamie?" she asked.

"Uh huh, but I wanna call him Jamie."

"How about we name him Matthew James and call him Jamie?" Clark suggested.

"Okay," Rachel said with a smile.

"Now," Jonathan began, "I think that it's time that all new members of the Lane-Kent clan got ice cream, what do you think?"

"Yes!" Rachel exclaimed. Clark swung her up on his shoulders and carried her out to the car. Together, the family left to celebrate the newest addition to their clan.


July 20, 1999, 10:00 am

348 Hyperion Avenue, Metropolis

Lois pulled on some loose clothes from her closet and padded downstairs to the kitchen. Rachel was sitting at the table happily making her way through pancakes and scrambled eggs when she came in. "Hi, Momma!" she said through a mouthful of eggs.

"Hi, sweetie," Lois said, as she sat down heavily at the table. She leaned her head against her hand and pushed away the glass of juice that Clark set down in front of her.

"No thanks, Clark," she said quietly. "I'm not hungry." Lois sucked in a breath and squeezed her eyes shut.

"Braxton-Hicks?" Clark asked leaning over to massage her lower back gently. Lois nodded and let go of the breath she was holding.

"What's Brakston-Hicks?" Rachel asked curiously.

"Remember how we talked about how babies are made?" Clark asked as Lois tried to relax.

Rachel nodded. "Uh huh."

"Remember how a mommy has to go through 'contractions' so that the baby can come?" he asked.

Rachel thought for a minute. "Yeah," she agreed.

"Well," Clark began, "Braxton-Hicks are special contractions that get the mommy's body ready to deliver the baby."

Rachel leaned over and patted Lois's stomach. "Be good, Jamie," she whispered. "You're hurting Momma."

Lois chuckled, then sucked in another breath. "Honey, that last one wasn't more than five minutes ago," Clark said worriedly. "I think this is for real—we're taking you to the hospital." He picked up Rachel, took her over to the sink, washed off the remnants of breakfast, and turned off the stove on the way back.

On the way to the door, he grabbed Lois's suitcase and ushered both of his girls to the car. It wasn't long before they had arrived at Metropolis General Hospital and had gotten Lois admitted. After six hours of labor, Lois gave birth to a healthy baby boy who was, to all outward appearances, completely human.


July 20, 1999 8:30 p.m.

Metropolis General Hospital, Labor and Delivery

Lois leaned back in her bed and smiled as Clark and Rachel came in, the nurse wheeling a plastic bassinet behind them. "Hi, Momma—are you okay?" Rachel asked, concerned.

"I'm fine, peanut," Lois said, holding out her arm.

Rachel climbed up on the bed and gave her a careful hug. "Good—can I hold Jamie?"

Clark picked the baby up out of the bassinet and kissed him gently before exchanging a look with Lois. "If you sit very still on your Daddy's lap, I guess it's okay," Lois said.

Clark sat on the bed next to her. "Are you sure, Lois?" he asked.

Lois nodded. "They'll be okay with such a 'super' dad holding both of them," she said quietly.

Rachel climbed into Clark's lap and held out her arms. "Please, Daddy?" she said pleadingly.

Clark nodded hesitantly and settled Jamie into her arms. "You have to support his head, sprite," he said as he put his arms under hers for added support.

Rachel looked down at her baby brother and smiled. "Hello, Jamie. I'm your big sister, Rachel." She leaned down and gave him a kiss on the forehead. "I'm gonna teach you everything—and I'm gonna make sure to keep the bad people away," she promised. "They'll never hurt you like they did me—I love you, Jamie," she said softly.

Clark freed one arm to wrap around Lois. "Welcome to the world, Matthew James Kent," he whispered as the sun set, bathing the occupants of the room in brilliant orange and red light.


(For now <eg>)

End Notes:

Child abuse has been a problem for centuries, but has only been recognized since the 1960's. In fact, in the past, due to laws such as the Disobedient Child Act, it was legal for parents to have a child executed for not obeying them. The first child ever to have been rescued was Mary Ellen Wilson in 1874. However, there were no laws protecting children at the time, so the ASPCA (Yes, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.) stepped in, and had her declared an animal so that they could remove her from the situation. From there, the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed. It was the first of many organizations worldwide whose mission was to protect children from maltreatment.

We only ever hear about the most severe cases—the cases in which the child dies. Many of the children who are rescued from their abusive situations end up as the "Lost Generation"; they disappear into the foster care system. Sometimes, their situation improves, but not always— sometimes, it gets worse. Rachel was lucky—not all abused children are.

Every day in the United States alone, more than three children die as a result of child abuse. In 1998, it's estimated that more than 1,400 died as a direct result of being maltreated by a parent or caregiver. One third of these children were under the age of six. In fact, more infants and young children die from being abused than from *any* other cause of death. Some of these children die while in *state* custody.

Every year, more than three million cases of child abuse are reported in the United States. These cases range from neglect, to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. In many cases, the abuser in the family picks one child to abuse. And these are only the *reported* cases. Every ten seconds, a case of child abuse is reported, but it's estimated that for every reported case, there are three more that are *not* called in. Of these cases, about one third of them are false reports, but the other two thirds are real.

It's also estimated that one out of every three children is the victim of abuse—that's one-third of the children around you. The effects of long-term abuse can also be severe. Survivors can become suicidal, withdrawn, and many have a host of problems associated with the severity, the duration, and type of abuse. Ten percent of maltreated children continue the 'cycle of abuse' and become abusers themselves. Even 10% is too many. How can we let this continue?

The statistics are sobering, the reality is stark, but we *can* do something about it. We can help *end* the abuse. If you know of a child who is being abused, visit for your local reporting hotline (US only), or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD in North America. In the UK, call Childline at 0800 1111.

The subtitle of Chapter 8 comes from William Wordsworth's poem, "Intimations of Immortality".

Statistics come from .

The rest of the information comes from "Child Abuse and Neglect" taught by Dr. Monica McCoy, Chair of Psychology, Converse College, Spartanburg, SC, USA.

Remember, together we *can* make a difference.

/me steps off her soapbox.

(c) 2003 Laura Davies All Rights Reserved