There's Always Something

By Xanabee <>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: September 2003

Summary: Lois and Clark have been married for four years when they discover she's pregnant. While they are trying to come to grips with life-altering changes and cope with the astonishing side effects of a human-kryptonian pregnancy, an unexpected enemy comes out of the woodwork, once again threatening their lives and that of Superman.

Author's notes: This story is a continuation of the 'Lois and Clark' Universe as we know it from the TV series — minus the mystery baby at the end of the last episode of the fourth and last season. It has an A-plot and a B-plot with lots of WAFFy moments but also a bit of suspense thrown in for good measure. To complement the familiar cast I've introduced new characters and also brought back some very minor characters from the show and tried to bring them to life.

The usual disclaimers and acknowledgements are on the last page.

Dear reader, I had fun writing this story and I hope you'll enjoy it too. Feedback is very welcome — I'd really appreciate it if you'd send me your comments.


Chapter One

"Hmmm… it's a sunny day… a perfect Sunday…"

Clark, standing at the bedroom window, turned his head and glanced at Lois, who sat on her side of their bed, putting on socks. She was freshly showered and dressed in a light cotton shirt and casual slacks — and looking absolutely adorable, Clark thought with a smile.

"Honey, how about a quick visit to Smallville today? It's been a while since we've seen my parents."

Lois looked up, frowning slightly. Now, where were those comfortable loafers? And Clark just said something about…

"Go to Smallville? I don't have time to do that, Clark, I'll be too busy. But you can go." Lois grabbed her shoes and headed determinedly for the bedroom door.

"What do you mean you'll be busy?" With a 'whoosh' Clark intercepted her. "We don't have any work to do. Honey, we agreed this was going to be a nice, relaxing day for both of us, remember?"

"I changed my mind — I'm going to do some cleaning," Lois answered, brushing past him.

Clark followed her down the stairs, a bemused expression on his face. "Honey, are you feeling all right? You never do any cleaning, I do the cleaning around here. Lois, look around you, this kitchen is spotless!" Clark waved his arms about. "The whole house is spotless!"

Lois dropped her shoes on the floor and stepped into them. "Clark, calm down, I know you do an excellent job around the house. I just feel it's time I pulled my weight too, so to speak. Anyway, take these cupboards," she pointed to the cupboards situated above the counter. "I don't even know what's in there! I'm going to take everything out and see for myself!"

Lois stood on tiptoe and reached out one hand to open the cupboard door. "I know there's probably only cereal in there and peanut butter and —"

"Lois?" Clark sat down abruptly and stared at his wife, open-mouthed, while Lois babbled on.

"— I know you keep everything in tip top shape but I do feel guilty sometimes, Clark, I never ever do any housework, let alone cooking, well, that's best left to you, I'll admit, but it's time I —"

"Lois! Shut up!" Clark interrupted her babbling rather forcefully.

Lois, surprised, turned around to look at him — no, down at him? Huh?! Ohmigosh!!!

She'd have crashed down on the floor if Clark hadn't moved swiftly, catching her and gently lowering her to a chair. He then sank down on another chair, facing her.

For what seemed like an eternity they stared at each other, speechless.

Lois was the first to speak. "Clark, what was that?"

"Lois, you… sort of… floated!"

Lois glared at him. "I know! But… how? What did you do? Why did you scare me like that?"

"Honey, I didn't do anything, I swear! I'm just as stunned as you are, believe me." Clark jumped up and started to pace around the kitchen. "Lois, this is — this is —"

"— UltraWoman all over again." Lois chimed in. "But Clark, I can't remember us being hit by lightning or a red Kryptonite beam or anything like that!"

"Neither can I. The weather's been fine, I haven't been called away on many emergencies lately and we haven't chased any criminals either. In fact, work has been pretty dull these last couple of weeks. There must be another explanation!"

Clark stopped pacing and sat down again. "My powers haven't been transferred to you, honey, I can still move fast and — " he stared briefly through the wall, " — my vision is perfect. My hearing — " he cocked his head and smiled. " — still very much there. Okay, Lois, stand up, let's see you do it again."

"Just give me one more minute," Lois said, taking a deep breath," my legs are still a bit wobbly."

"Okay, take your time, honey."

But Clark could hardly contain his excitement. He didn't know how it was possible but Lois had levitated. And not only that, she seemed to have developed another personality almost overnight. Clean up the house, indeed! The floating he didn't mind — but a changed personality?

"Okay, I'm ready," Lois's voice cut through his musing. "What do we test first — the floating again, or maybe other superpowers?"

Clark stared at her. Other? She could have other powers too? He jumped up, pulling Lois with him and positioning her in front of the counter. "Try the floating first," he told her, "Just to make sure."

"Okay," Lois tentatively stretched out her right arm and strained to reach the cupboard door. Her feet slowly left the floor as she floated up in the air. She tried to reach the ceiling, but she remained suspended halfway up in the room.

"That's odd… Clark, this is as far as I can go!"

Lois looked down at her husband, who was watching her like a hawk, ready to catch her if she lost her balance again. But this time Lois — vividly remembering her shortlived career as UltraWoman — instinctively knew how to conduct herself and began to float gracefully around the kitchen, laughing delightedly.

Now that she knew that Clark hadn't lost his powers to her, Lois began to enjoy herself. "Wheeee!" she giggled, trying a somersault and almost succeeding in knocking down the lamp hanging above the dining table.

"Lois! Come down here!"

Clark grabbed her feet and lowered her to the floor. Lois grinned at him. Her cheeks were flushed and her beautiful dark eyes were sparkling. Clark had a hard time not hugging her and kissing her soundly, but first things first.

"Honey, you can float all you want later, but let's do the other tests first, okay?"

"Okay," Lois sat down again. She cocked her ears, trying to pick up far away sounds. "I'm not sure… I can hear a lawn mower, but if it's Len Petersen, then that's normal hearing. Yeah, it is, it's got that peculiar putt-putt-putt sound and — Oh! I can hear Bertha singing softly in her kitchen!"

"Yeah, she always does." Clark confirmed their elderly next-door neighbor's Sunday morning behavior.

"Really? Well, that I've never heard before!" Lois said excitedly.

"Umm, Lois, that's not so far away, you know." Clark cocked his head, then told her, "There's a very distinct noise on Baker Street, honey. Try concentrating on that one, okay? Tell me what it is."

Lois did her best, but all she could hear was Bertha Avery's rather breathless version of 'Amazing Grace' and the familiar putt-putt-putt of the lawn mower across the street. She shook her head. "Nope, I don't hear anything as far as on Baker Street. But I hear noises in the other houses I've never noticed before, so my hearing is definitely better. Okay, I'll try my vision now."

Lois stared intently at the wall facing the street. Suddenly she jumped, causing Clark to jump also.


"Clark! I can see through the wall! Not all the way exactly, but I can see the stones — what's in them, I mean, what they're made of!" Lois took a shaky breath and stared at her husband. "I seem to have a little bit of all your superpowers, Clark. What's happening to me? Is it your aura? Is it rubbing off on me? What do you think?"

Clark had already been thinking along the same lines himself so he shrugged and said, "Maybe — but I don't get it. I lived much longer with my mom and dad and they have never, ever experienced anything like this. I'm sure they would've told me if they had."

"I know. But then — you never exchanged bodily fluids with them, now did you?" Lois said baldly.

"Lo-is!" Clark stared at her, open-mouthed.

"Oh, come on, Clark! You know what happens when you kiss me — and we do kiss a lot — and when you make love to me —"

"Okay, okay, Lois, I know what you mean." Agitated, Clark again started pacing around the room.

Lois rolled her eyes. Even after four years of marriage this incredible man — her passionate, uninhibited and very often surprisingly inventive lover — could still blush like an adolescent.

"Come here, Farmboy," she said softly. He went into her arms, burying his face against her neck. "This is rather overwhelming," Lois murmured.

"I'll say," Clark breathed against her skin. "Lois, I don't know what to think — what to do!"

"Well, that goes for me, too, sweetheart. Tell you what — let's have breakfast and then go talk to your mom and dad, okay?"


"Hmmm…" Martha Kent looked thoughtfully at her daughter-in-law while Lois stared at her expectantly. She could practically hear Martha's cool, clever brain working overtime. Suddenly Martha put down her teacup with a decisive thud.

"Lois, have you considered the possibility that you might be pregnant?"


"Close your mouth, honey, and don't look so shocked. Now, have you two talked about this possibility yet?"


Lois's head was reeling. She was glad Clark had left to talk with his dad outside, leaving her to discuss her 'bodily fluids' theory alone with Martha.

"Oh, Martha, you know what Dr Klein said. That's not going to happen, ever. And my father sort of confirmed it, remember?"

"Well, they could be wrong, Lois, think about it. You've been married for over four years now and since you've stopped using protection your body's been steadily absorbing Kryptonian cells. Maybe that's what was needed to prepare your body to conceive. If you are indeed pregnant, then a part human, part Kryptonian child is growing inside you. That could've caused the developing of these powers. And I expect they will grow as the baby grows. Lois, you have to take a pregnancy test as soon as possible!"

Lois looked at Martha with big, suddenly wet eyes. "Oh, Martha, please don't say this to Clark. He's just coming to terms that he'll never have a child of his own. It will break his heart if it's not true!"

"Nonsense." Martha said briskly, "He's stronger than you think. You cannot go about this behind his back, Lois. He has to know."

"I'll go and get a test tomorrow. I can do it without Clark knowing, and then, if it's negative, I don't have to —"

"No, Lois, this is too important. It's very sweet that you want to spare Clark's feelings, but honey, believe me, he'll be very hurt when he finds out afterwards. And he will find out, trust me."

"Martha, we have to look for another explanation. I can't be pregnant!"

"Well, Lois, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that you are." Martha pointed to an empty plate on the table. "Lois, what did you just eat?"

"Huh?" Lois frowned. "I had blueberry muffin… apple pie… tea…"

"Three muffins, Lois, three! And two rather big helpings of apple pie. And all this just one hour after you ate a huge breakfast, right?"


Lois frowned again. Martha was right; she did have a huge breakfast this morning. She'd prepared eggs a la Katie Banks and Clark had made a whole stack of delicious pancakes. Come to think of it, she had been feeling rather hungry these last couple of days and -

Ohmigosh!! Martha was right! She'd been wolfing down food lately and that was so very unlike her usual eating habits! But did this mean that she was pregnant? Shouldn't she be throwing up instead? Feel sick and tired in the morning?

Martha watched the various emotions flitting across her daughter-in-law's expressive face. She forced herself to remain calm and collected while inwardly she felt as if she, too, had boarded an emotional roller coaster. She could collapse later, but right now her son and his wife needed her to keep a cool head.

The more she thought about it the more Martha became convinced that Lois was pregnant; she had more flesh on her bones these days. In fact, Martha noticed, Lois again looked pretty much the way she looked, years ago, when Martha had first met her — she even kept her shiny cap of hair again at shoulder length, cut in an attractive layered style. And she positively glowed — she looked beautiful. No wonder Clark was still head over heels in love with her.

Martha smiled. She had an amazing son and a wonderful daughter-in-law. Even if she was wrong and there would be no baby, she felt incredibly blessed.


"Does it bother you?" Jonathan asked. He'd listened silently while Clark filled him in about the miraculous Sunday morning happenings at the brownstone.

Clark slowly floated down from the roof of the barn where he'd been busy with repairs. He didn't answer immediately but strode to the door, flinging it open and staring towards the house. He could see his mom and Lois sitting at the kitchen table, talking. He curbed the impulse to listen in on their conversation and turned to look his father in the eye.

"Does it bother me? Lois developing superpowers? No, Dad. But I'm worried what it might do to her. You know how fearless she is. I'm afraid she'll become more reckless, take more chances than she already does sometimes. She seems to have a fraction of my powers — what if they don't grow, but stay like this? She won't be invulnerable and they might get her seriously hurt instead of protecting her. And what about Krypronite — will it affect her too? I'm not looking forward to finding that out, Dad!"

"Yes, I can see that this might complicate your lives," Jonathan said slowly. "If it turns out to be a permanent thing, that is. Have you thought about what causes this?"

"You wouldn't believe the theories we've come up with!" Clark smiled wryly. "Fact is, we don't have a clue. What about you, Dad? What do you think?"

"Me?" Jonathan shrugged and looked up at the roof. "You did a fine job, son, thanks. I wasn't looking forward to climbing that ladder today. C'mon, let's join our women. I'm sure your mother's come up with a logical explanation."


"Me?" Clark exclaimed. "I'm not going to the drugstore to buy a pregnancy test, Mom! Have you thought about what will happen? Old blabbermouth Mabel at the counter will tell all your friends — faster than I can fly around the world. And before Lois and I are back in Metropolis, teddy bears and baby bottles will be delivered at your door. Is that what you want? What if it's not true? What if —"

"Honey, calm down. You don't have to get it in Smallville. You can fly to another town where nobody knows us. That's why I suggested you go, instead of Lois and me."

Clark glared at his mother. How could she look and sound so infuriatingly calm? Since he and Jonathan had returned from the barn he felt as if he'd stepped on an ever-faster-moving train. And this had greatly upset Lois too. He could see that she'd been crying.

Clark's head was spinning. His mom had done all the talking while Lois sat quietly, looking at him with suspiciously bright eyes. Clark instinctively knew she didn't dare say anything because she was valiantly holding back tears. Suddenly, he too felt like crying. He didn't, for one minute, believe his mother was right. And he just knew he would fall apart if such a test proved to be negative. He didn't want to go through all that pain and grief again. And what would this do to Lois?

His father's calm voice pierced through his jumbled thoughts. "Clark, why don't you and Lois go sit on the porch and talk this through? There's no hurry. Take all the time you need to discuss your mother's theory. It's not that far-fetched, you know."

Lois turned her glance from her husband to look at Martha. Almost absentmindedly she noticed Martha's firmly clasped hands lying in her lap and with a start Lois realized that Clark's mother was as nervous and feeling as scared as she and Clark were. She moved her head, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. She got up and walked over to where her husband stood, numbly watching her approach. Through her tears she smiled at him and took him by the hand.


Clark sat on the porch with Lois in his arms, staring blindly into the distance, trying to get his emotions under control. He wished he could fly off but he knew he couldn't leave Lois to deal with this alone. As if she could read his mind, Lois stirred and looked up at him.

"Clark, let's go fly for a while, okay? We don't have to talk yet, I just want to feel the wind in my face."

Clark looked down at her upturned face and nodded silently. He glanced around to make sure no one was unexpectedly approaching the farm, then quickly spun into the Suit. He picked Lois up and wrapped his arms and cape protectively around her slender form. Lois, suddenly feeling very drained, sighed and snuggled close to his chest.

Through the kitchen window Jonathan and Martha silently watched their take off. Martha was the first to move. "Oh, God, Jonathan, I hope I'm right! They will be so devastated if this is —"

"Now, now, Martha, you know this is a possibility they have to consider. It will be painful if it doesn't pan out, but they won't blame you for that. Sooner or later, Lois would've thought of it herself, I'm sure. Let's get back to work and we'll hear what decision they've made when they return."


"Hmmm…" Lois murmured drowsily. She was sitting against the trunk of a huge tree, staring through her eyelashes at the dappled light filtering through the green canopy of young leaves above her head. "Spring smells wonderful…" She looked down at her husband, sprawled on the grass with his head in her lap. Tenderly she stroked back the unruly lock on his forehead. "Clark, I'm ready to talk now. Are you?"

Clark opened his eyes and sighed. "Yeah, I guess…"

"Okay, great, 'cause I've come up with something and maybe… no, don't get up yet; this is nice. Do you remember, when we were on Spencer Spencer's island? I was lying on your lap and we told each other how we felt about each other… and then we kissed —"

"— and next thing we knew we were looking down the barrel of a shotgun," Clark remarked drily.

Lois smiled. "Yeah, never a dull moment in the lives of Lois and Clark. And what's happening to us now is the most remarkable thing by far. Clark, I know you can see through things; you've never done it before, but you can see right inside my body, can't you? So, I want you to see for yourself if it's true."

Clark sat up with a start. "Are you sure?"

Lois nodded and stretched out on the grass. "Do you want me to take off my slacks first?" She started to unbutton her waistband but Clark stilled the movement by grasping her fingers.

"No, honey, that's not necessary. You're right, I guess that would be the quickest way to find out. Anyway, I'd probably doubt the outcome of a simple pregnancy test, so… great thinking, Lois. Fortunately my vision is not dangerous to humans; Bernie Klein confirmed this after several tests."

Lois took a deep breath. "Okay, then, no point in avoiding this any longer."

Clark leaned down and tenderly kissed her on the lips. "I love you, Lois."

"And I love you, Clark." Lois smiled up at him, suddenly feeling calm and ready to face whatever Fate had in store for them.


"Look, Dad! This is what our baby looks like! This is a picture of a six weeks old embryo. This looks exactly like… exactly like…"

Once again overcome by emotion, Clark handed the book to Jonathan, who stared, fascinated, at the indicated photograph in Lennart Nilsson's famous 'Journey through the human body,' one of the many human- interest volumes he and Martha had collected over the years.

"Oh, my…" was all Jonathan was able to utter. He looked at his son's dazed face, then at Martha, busy at the stove, and at a glowing Lois, sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying her second helping of tuna salad sandwich. "Oh my…"

Lois grinned at her father-in-law, who was looking as tongue-tied and bewildered as his son. A wave of affection for this big, gentle giant of a man, who'd been Clark's role model during his formative years, washed over her.

"Hi, Grandaddy!" Lois cheekily waved her hand at Jonathan and was rewarded with a look of such pure joy she thought she would burst with happiness. "What would you like to have first? A grandson or a granddaughter?"

Martha laughed delightedly. "Lois, are you saying what I think you're saying? You'd like to have more children?"

The delicious smell of freshly baked strawberry pie filled the house. Martha placed the hot dish she'd just taken out of the oven on the counter to cool off, then sat down next to Lois. They were joined by Jonathan, still holding the book, while Clark stared at Lois with an arrested look on his face.

"Well," Lois said, "If everything goes as well as I feel right now… we'll see, first we have to figure out how to have this baby without giving away our secret. I mean, I can't go to a regular doctor and I can't have the baby in a regular hospital. They'd want to examine the baby and take all kinds of tests and we can't risk that. For all we know, the baby might inherit Clark's Kryptonian invulnerability. We've already eliminated one hurdle. Clark can do scans himself; thanks to his special vision we can monitor the baby's progress ourselves."

Lois now looked directly at Clark. "Honey, I've been thinking — I want to have this baby in our own home, but I'd need a midwife we can trust. My mother's a trained nurse — we have to let her in on the secret. Oh, honey, don't look like that! I think it's time we told my parents. I'm their daughter, this is their first grandchild too, you know, they won't do anything to jeopardize our lives! My father's not only a brilliant surgeon — he's a scientist, too. I really feel that with their help we can pull this off."

"I agree," Martha said before Clark could respond, "Honey, Lois's mother has put her life in order for a good number of years now. She's managed to stay sober all this time and she's accepted the fact that she's better off living apart from Sam than living together with him. And though they still fight a lot Ellen's not bitter anymore about their failed marriage. Most of all, she's learnt to accept Sam for who he is."

Martha turned to Lois and continued, excitedly, "Jonathan and I will help too, Lois, we'll come and stay in Metropolis when the baby is due — that will be around Christmas, right? And you know what — maybe I could take a midwife course and then Ellen and I both can help you deliver the baby. What do you think?"

Lois, chewing on a mouthful of salad, grinned smugly at Martha and bobbed her head enthusiastically.

Suddenly, Jonathan laughed, a happy, carefree sound that shook his large frame. "C'mon son," he said, "let's leave these women alone to hatch out their devious plans. Something tells me that when the time comes, we men will be left to chew our nails behind a closed door."


Chapter Two


Lois turned her head to look at the familiar figure of her former neighbor Star coming out of the elevator and advancing purposefully towards her desk.

"There you are!" Star exclaimed exuberantly, "I haven't seen you for ages! This morning when I woke up, I just knew I had to come and see you… whoa, Lois! You're pregnant!"


But it was too late; Lois noticed several heads in the noisy newsroom being turned her way. Perry White, at that very moment coming out of his office with Jimmy Olsen, abruptly halted and stared at Lois. Oh, great!

"Star! How could you blurt this out like that!"

Her psychic friend grinned unrepentantly from ear to ear. "Oh, I get it! You haven't told them yet. Where's Clark?"

"He's… out, he'll be back in a minute. Star…"

She was interrupted by Jimmy's excited voice. "Lois, is it true? You're having a baby? Does Clark know?"

Lois glared at him. "Of course he knows, Jimmy!"

Perry impatiently brushed Jimmy aside. "Lane! In my office — now!"

"Yes, Chief!"

Relieved to be able to escape, Lois followed Perry into his office and shut the door behind her.

Perry sat down heavily in his chair behind his desk and regarded Lois with a grave expression on his face.



"Okay, Lois, you first."

"Perry, look, I'm sorry. We just found out two weeks ago that I'm pregnant and we're still a bit thrown by it. You know how Clark is — each morning when he wakes up he still asks me, Lois, is it really true or am I dreaming? We were planning to tell you and Jimmy first and now, thanks to Star, the whole newsroom knows already. How could she do this! Oh, I'm so annoyed with her! And Clark — he'll be so disappointed; he was really looking forward to telling you himself. Clark will —"

"Lois, honey, calm down, don't get so excited. That can't be good in your condition," Perry hastily interrupted her tirade. "This is big news! Alice will be thrilled when I tell her. You don't mind me telling her, do you?"

"No, 'course not, Perry. You can tell Alice. Heck, you can tell whomever you want. I'm sure now that the cat's out of the bag, Clark will shout it from the rooftops, too."

"Well, darlin', that's best left to Superman, don't you think?"

Perry roared with laughter while he pointed at the television screen in a corner of his office. Lois turned around to glance uneasily at the screen where Superman could be seen, busily helping out in a huge traffic jam.

Perry grinned and commented, "Ahah! You haven't told the super hero either, now have you? Be sure to tell him a.s.a.p., you hear? He'll be hurt if he finds out from another source."

Perry got up and came round his desk, taking Lois's hands and drawing her up in a big bear hug. "I'm so happy for you, darlin', and for Clark. I thought you two had given up on havin' kids. So how did this happen? No, don't answer that — just tell me this is what you really want, both of you."

Lois smiled mistily up at him. "It is, Perry, we're so happy, although we still have a hard time believing it. I'm eight weeks pregnant now — the baby's due in December, around Christmas."

"Hmm…" Perry released her and went back to sit in his own chair. "I'd like to talk about this with both of you. You'll keep on working until your maternity leave, right? Pretty soon you'll be confined to your desk until then — you do realize that, don't you? In a few months you won't be able to do much legwork, honey. Now, go out there and face that mob waiting for you in the newsroom, then come back in here as soon as Clark's back. We have a lot to discuss."


"Not without Clark, Lois — now git!"


Chapter Three

Lois stood on the lowest of the steps leading up to the front door of the brownstone at Hyperion Avenue. She'd love to be able to just float to the door, but instead she had to restrain herself and take the steps at a normal pace. Ever since she'd discovered she'd been miraculously gifted with a modest form of Clark's superpowers Lois had a hard time concealing them — especially the ability to float. The enhanced vision and hearing didn't get in the way of her normal activities, but the floating — that sure made life much easier.

And she was strong, too; she could easily lift the sofa, but Clark had sternly forbidden her to do things like that. Although he now understood that her nesting urges had to be obeyed; she could 'clean up' the house as much as she wanted and afterwards he'd simply clean up after her.

Lois grinned; fortunately, she didn't feel the urge to cook. She'd make a mess! She'd gotten the groceries for tonight's dinner though and she lifted the bags effortlessly, while forcing herself to take the steps at a normal pace.

"Hello, Lois," Bertha Avery's soft voice penetrated her thoughts and Lois started. Boy! She was glad she hadn't cheated a bit and floated, otherwise she'd have caused poor old Bertha to have a heart attack.

"Hi, Bertha," she said cheerfully, "Are you going out?"

"No, I was waiting for you to come home, Lois. There's something I'd like to discuss with you and Clark. When it's convenient for you, of course." The elderly lady smiled, as if to indicate that there was nothing serious going on.

Lois looked at Bertha Avery curiously. She and Clark had established a solid friendship with their next- door neighbor ever since they'd helped her keep her house after she'd been almost driven away by 'ghosts'. Clark always kept an eye out for her and they both lent her a hand when she needed it. Bertha seldom volunteered to ask, however, so Lois was curious what she wanted to discuss with them this time.

"Tonight's fine, Bertha, how about at eight? Will you come over or do you want us to come to you?"

"If it's not too much trouble, Lois, I'd like to come over. But what about Clark? Will he — oh, there he is already — hello, Clark."

"Hello, Bertha, how are you?" Clark took the steps two at a time, beaming happily at Bertha while relieving Lois of the grocery bags. He'd been the one to tell Bertha their happy news and he'd been delighted when her Sunday morning singing routine had changed from 'Amazing Grace' to 'We're having a baby, my baby and me'.

Bertha smiled at 'that personable young man' as her best friend Julia called him. She really liked Clark Kent and the radiant woman at his side who was his wife. She'd be sorry when — but no, that could wait; she'd talk to them in a few hours.

"I'm fine, Clark; a few pains and aches… oh, nothing to worry about," she assured when she saw Clark's face take on a worried look. "Just old age." Bertha's eyes suddenly twinkled mischievously. "Old age is the price we pay for living a long life, you know."

Lois laughed, "Well worth the price, Bertha!"

"I'd say it's more a reward than a price. You wear your age with grace, Bertha." Clark said gallantly.

Lois rolled her eyes. Why did he have to mention the word 'grace'! Bertha might just remember her former 'amazing' Sunday morning song and start all over again with that one. Lois much preferred Bertha's current favorite tune. She grabbed Clark by his colorful tie and started tugging him inside.

"C'mon Clark, it's getting cold out here. Bertha, we'll see you at eight."

"I've just baked a cake," Bertha called after them as she, too, moved inside her house. "I'll bring it with me."

"Oh, yummy!" Lois poked her head outside again. "And we'll have your favorite tea ready!"


"There she is," Lois got up from the sofa. "I'll let her in, Clark, will you get the tea?"

A cold gust of wind accompanied Bertha when she entered their hallway.

"Good evening, Lois. Brr… I'll be glad when summer finally arrives. It's been an unusually cold spring this year. Thank you, dear."

Bertha handed her coat to Lois, who commented drily, "It would help, Bertha, if you'd still wear a warmer coat. This is a very light jacket, you know!"

Lois motioned for their guest to precede her into the living room, rolling her eyes when she noticed Bertha's short-sleeved cotton summer dress. "Bertha, no wonder you're freezing! You should still wear warm clothes. What's happened to your woollies?"

"Cleaned and already stored away," Bertha replied primly. "It's June, for heaven's sake!"

Clark laughed. He understood Bertha's reluctance to deviate from her age-old routines. Grandma Clark, his mom's mother, had been just as stubborn. Clark especially remembered one visit to that indomitable old lady when he was about ten years old. His mom went to visit his grandma one weekend and she took him with her. It was the end of May and the weather had been unusually cold for that time of the year. It hadn't bothered Clark one bit, not even at that young age, but he remembered his mom complaining to his dad about it. And when they'd arrived at Grandma's house, Mom had been furious with her because the house was 'like a freezer' and Mom made Grandma put on a sweater, threatening her with death and worse if she didn't light a fire that very instant.

"Good evening, Clark. My, it sure is nice and warm in here." Their guest eyed the dancing flames in the fireplace with a pleased smile.

"Good evening, Bertha. Here, I've put this chair close to the fire, specially for you."

"Thank you, Clark." Bertha sat down with a contented sigh and watched as Lois poured tea and Clark cut her cinnamon cake in thick slices.

"Mmm, as always, this looks delicious. Bertha, here you go… Lois, this is for you… bon appetit, ladies!"

Clark took his own plate and smiled at the two women. He'd promised Lois he'd stick around until Bertha had her say. He felt confident that Superman wouldn't be needed so soon. Not before midnight, anyway. After dinner he'd quickly scouted the city, but apart from a few normal emergencies the police could very well handle themselves, Metropolis had appeared peaceful.

After exchanging a few niceties with her hosts Bertha finally decided to take the bull by the horns.

"Lois… Clark… I've decided to sell the house and move to 'Shady Pines'. You know my best friend, Julia? She already lives at 'Shady Pines' so —"

"Oh, Bertha, if it's repairs and getting groceries and things like that, Clark and I —"

"No, Lois, it's not that. You both have been the best neighbors I could've wished for, helping me whenever I needed anything. But it's time I made this move, now that Julia can't come and visit me — she can't climb stairs anymore. It's getting pretty lonely and half of the time I'm visiting Julia at 'Shady Pines', anyway."

Bertha paused and took a sip of her tea.

"It's a good home; Julia's happy there and I'm sure I'll be too. Anyway, I wanted you to know this before I contact a realtor. I thought, with the kind of jobs you have…" she glanced at Clark, then looked away again. "The danger you sometimes find yourself in… so I thought… maybe you'd want to have first choice, so to speak. To get the kind of neighbor you can trust — who'll respect your privacy, and, well…"

Clark looked at Lois in consternation. Had Bertha just implied that she knew… that she'd figured out… but how could that be? Superman was always so careful when leaving and returning to the house! The look on Lois's face told him she was thinking exactly the same thing. He could hear her accelerated heartbeat, even though her voice remained calm when she addressed Bertha again.

"Bertha, we'll be sorry to lose you," Lois said sincerely. "When do you plan to move? How much time do we have —"

"Oh! Take your time — I'm not giving you a deadline. I just thought… the other day, I talked to your mother; she told me Clark's parents are thinking about moving to Metropolis permanently, with your baby coming and all and that they've already started to look for an apartment. So, maybe this house… I'm perfectly willing to wait until they've sold their farm, so…"

Bertha paused and looked expectantly at Lois, then at Clark, who couldn't contain his excitement any more. He jumped up and started pacing the floor.

"Bertha… Lois… this is…" Suddenly Clark stopped and slumped back in his chair, a dejected look on his face. "They won't be able to afford it, Bertha. I'm afraid a small Kansas farm won't be worth as much as a brownstone in Metropolis."

Bertha nodded. "I've thought about that, too, Clark. But I'm sure we can work something out. Your parents could pay me whatever they get for the farm and settle the rest in installments, like a personal loan." She smiled, trying to inject a lighter tone in the conversation. "And I wouldn't charge them interest, either."


While next door Bertha Avery lay snoring softly and peacefully in her bed, Lois and Clark lay wide awake in their darkened bedroom, clasped in each other's arms. They'd exhausted the subject by now, Lois thought ruefully. They'd discussed all pros and cons — she seeing all the pros while Clark kept finding new obstacles. They both agreed on one thing though — this was a once in a lifetime chance. Having Jonathan and Martha living next door was just too good to be true. In her mind Lois was already tearing down the wall between the two houses — well, Clark was, actually. She smiled against his chest.

"What's so funny?" a soft voice above her head whispered.

"Hmmm…" Lois stretched and turned on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Ah… the ceiling… they hadn't even gone up there tonight… hmmm… She felt a sweet, familiar warmth slowly spreading in her lower body.

"You know what's funny, Clark? You and me, worrying ourselves out of our minds instead of sleeping. And me and the baby, we need our regular naps… and lots of cuddles… and lots of kisses…" She began placing tiny kisses on Clark's chest, working her way up to his chin, moving her body provocatively against his. "And I know a surefire way to…"

Lois giggled when Clark suddenly flipped her on her back, covering her with his large frame. He caught her lips in a long, satisfying kiss, then left her mouth to nibble on her earlobe. Her bones turning to water, Lois sighed blissfully. Through half closed eyelids she saw the ceiling slowly descend towards her.


Chapter Four

"Don't be such an idiot, Clark," Ellen Lane snorted impatiently, "Of course your parents will do it! Now, call them and then call Bertha. These things have to be dealt with immediately."

"There's no hurry," Clark spluttered, "Bertha —"

"— could drop dead tomorrow, and where would that leave you?"

"Mother!" Lois exclaimed while Clark stared, open- mouthed, at Ellen.

"C'mon, Clark!" Ellen urged. "Call Bertha. I know your parents won't be able to get a loan from a bank, but you can — if you don't have the required amount in your bank account already." She rolled her eyes when she saw Clark's expression. "Getting a loan or emptying your own savings is not a crime, Superman!"

"I know, Ellen, it's just… with the baby coming…"

"You need money, I know that, but I'll pitch in — Sam too, if necessary. We're family, Clark, and Sam and I have a lot to make up for. The way we treated Lois and Lucy — we weren't exactly model parents and we're determined that if our daughters need us now, in any way, we'll be there for them. Money is the least we can offer."

"Clark, Mother's right, you know. We just cannot let this slip through our fingers. Honey, the more I think about it… here… look at this. Read what I've written."

Lois handed Clark a piece of paper. Clark stared at her for a moment then glanced at the paper in his hand. Lois had made two columns in which she'd listed the advantages of having Martha and Jonathan living next door. The heading above the first column read: 'What it will mean to have Mom and Dad living next door while I'm pregnant' and above the second column Lois had written: 'What it will mean to have Mom and Dad living next door when the baby has arrived'.

It took Clark less than a minute to super-read Lois's list and he smiled when he saw her P.S.: 'For the next ten years or so I won't expect you to shower me with diamonds and pearls. Just a lot of cuddles and kisses.'

Ellen Lane, noticing the softened expression on Clark's face, threw him a militant look and pointed to the telephone. "Now make that call!"


Contrary to what they'd expected, Ellen Lane had taken the news that her daughter was in fact married to the alien known as Superman in her stride. She'd immediately gone into efficient 'nurse mode' as soon as she'd learnt that Lois was pregnant; putting her on a strict, sensible diet when she'd noticed the huge amounts of food her daughter was consuming. When Lois had wailed that she was just so hungry all the time and Clark had loyally declared that he didn't care if she got fat — he would love her anyway — in just a few minutes Ellen had managed to drastically change Lois's menus and even had Clark's fervent promise that he'd personally see to it that Lois didn't behave anymore like a female Bobby Bigmouth.

"You know, Lois," Ellen had simply stated, "If you carry on like that and you gain too much weight, the baby too will grow way too big. It's important that this child is born in a natural way — if you give birth to a giant Kryptonian, you might need a Caesarean and that can only be done in a hospital. And wasn't that one of the things you wanted to avoid at all costs?"

Ellen had also put a stop to Lois's compulsive cleaning sessions. "Stop it!" she'd ordered. "You're driving Clark crazy. Although it must be a Kryptonian thing, because Earth women usually get this urge near the end of their pregnancy. To sort of let us know it's time to spruce up the cradle. Ignore those Kryptonian hormones, Lois, I'm sure they're the cause of all this odd behavior."

So Lois valiantly curbed her ravenous appetite and left most of the cleaning to Clark; and she wisely refrained from confessing the other 'Kryptonian compulsion' to Ellen — the fact that she constantly wanted to… well… visit the ceiling.

And although they continued to lock horns over several issues, Lois was grateful for her mother's support and medical knowledge. Especially when Ellen told her she was delighted with Lois's floating ability, because that might just come in handy at the time of birth.

Ellen also pumped an extremely self-conscious Clark about his powers and special abilities and wanted to see for herself what Lois could or could not do. When she'd learnt about the beneficial and life-saving effect the sun had on Clark, she'd ordered Lois to soak up as much sunlight as she could without getting burned to a toast.

While Ellen vigilantly watched over Lois's health, faithfully coming to the house at least twice a week to check her weight, Sam Lane was closely monitoring his daughter's blood cells and hormone level.

Both Ellen and Sam were acutely aware of the need for secrecy in helping to guard their daughter's private life. They frequently met with Martha and Jonathan Kent, who often came house hunting in Metropolis. And if Ellen had any say in the matter, the Kents would soon reside in Bertha Avery's house.

In fact, just a few days after they'd learnt that Lois was pregnant Clark had received a call from his mom, informing him that she and Jonathan had decided to sell the farm and move to Metropolis. Clark had protested vehemently at first — he just knew his dad would be miserable in the city — but Martha had calmly stated that it was Jonathan's own idea and anyway, they weren't getting any younger.

"You know it as well as I do, Clark, the hard work is beginning to —"

"Mom, I'll help out — I always do!"

"I know, honey, but soon there will be a little person that will demand a lot of your time. And Clark, be honest, with your regular job and your unregular activities, time is not something you have too much of. Our mind is made up, honey, we're moving to Metropolis!"

"But, Mom," Clark had tried again, "I was planning to have lots of family vacations on the farm… show the kids where I played when I was their age… all that space and fresh air… and the corn festival! I don't want them to miss out on that!"

Lois, hearing Clark use the word 'kids', had rolled her eyes.

"You can easily fly them back and forth to the corn festival, honey. Put Lois on now, will you? I have a few things I want to discuss with her."

"What things?" Clark had asked suspiciously.

"Women things, Clark. Trust me, you don't wanna know."

Martha Kent had applied for a midwife course at the nearest hospital in Smallville and had been furious when she'd been denied.

Liz Bennett, one of Smallville's local midwifes and one of Martha's lifelong friends, had pointed out the obvious. "Well, Martha, face it. You're a little too old to start a medical career, you know. They don't have crash courses; you can't learn all you need to know in just a few months."

But Liz had been sympathetic and had pointed Martha to lots of reading material and useful websites on the internet. Martha frequently discussed her findings with Lois and Ellen over the phone and no, Clark had decided, he definitely didn't want to know.

In the end, it was Bertha Avery who'd clinched matters by directly speaking to Jonathan and Martha Kent herself. The Kents had received an offer for their farm from a young relative of Wayne Irig's and Bertha informed them she'd be more than happy to accept the same amount for her brownstone. Of course, Jonathan had protested vehemently; his son would provide the extra money so they could pay Bertha the going market price for her house.

But Bertha would have none of that. When she was invited over to their house to receive the check she told Lois and Clark to put the money into a trust fund for their 'special child', once more giving them the impression that she knew their secret. Lois, feeling as uneasy as Clark about this but better able to hide it, looked Bertha straight in the eye while she told her why they wouldn't dream of keeping the money that was rightfully hers.

"No Bertha, Clark's parents wouldn't feel right about this — it took Clark and me a lot of time to persuade them to accept the extra money from us, you know. And frankly, Clark and I feel that this is strictly a business deal. We'll pay you in full and if you want to save the money for our baby, that's your decision. But you must have relatives of your own, Bertha; young nephews and nieces maybe?" Lois's voice petered out when she saw the sad expression on Bertha's face. All of a sudden, the childless widow looked almost ten years older.

"That's just it, Lois," Bertha sighed. "I don't have any close relatives left. I was an only child and so was my husband. Both my parents died in a boating accident when I was just eighteen. I met Erroll, my husband, a few months later. I don't know what would've happened to me if… anyway, he's been my rock, my anchor, all my life. He knew exactly what I was going through. He'd also lost his parents at a very young age, you see. He was just eight years old when he ended up in an orphanage; he was too old for adoption. And his relatives — they just dropped him there and never looked back."

"Oh, Bertha!" Lois exclaimed. "We know you'd lost your husband years already before we moved here — and that you don't have any kids. But you never told us this before!"

"Kids…" Bertha smiled sadly, "That was the hardest blow to deal with. Especially for Erroll… he wanted children so badly and I couldn't give him any. I even told him to go ahead and divorce me, so he could marry a woman he could have children with."

Stricken, Lois and Clark stared at Bertha as she sat in her favorite chair near their fireplace. She'd come over as soon as Clark had informed her that they'd been able to come up with the remainder of the money needed to pay her a fair price for her house.

As usual, Bertha had taken along a freshly baked chocolate cake; a fancy one this time, decorated with marzipan roses, artfully made by her dear friend Julia who was overjoyed that Bertha would soon join her in 'Shady Pines'. Lois, who'd already eaten a big slice of the delicious cake, instantly lost her appetite for the second helping she craved as she listened to Bertha's sad tale.

Lois glanced at Clark, sure that her tender-hearted husband must be feeling even worse than she did, but Clark surprised her by saying calmly, "Bertha, I'm so sorry, that must have been a very painful time in your life. But I think I know what your husband had to say about that preposterous proposal. The same I'd say to Lois, if she'd ever told me something like that: 'you're not getting rid of me that easily' — am I right?"

"Yes, something like that — after he quit being angry." Bertha smiled, then sat even more upright in her chair. "Clark… Lois… I don't want you to be upset by what I'm telling you; it all happened so long ago. Fact is, we were very happy together, regardless. Erroll and I both worked hard and we made a good living — even traveled a bit. When he died he left me well provided for. Sure, I can leave all my money to charity; we've always contributed to good causes, especially to the orphanage Erroll grew up in. He was determined to make life better and a lot easier for the kids than it had been for him. I've been on the Board of the orphanage for years; I'd just resigned a few months before you two came to live here."

Lois listened to Bertha with a growing respect for the elderly lady. She was also beginning to feel a bit ashamed. She and Clark were always so busy; the times they'd actually spent with Bertha few and far apart. She walked over to Bertha, drawing her up, out of the chair, into a tight embrace.

"Oh, Bertha, I'm so sorry, I know how you must've felt when you knew you couldn't have kids. Clark and I, we've also gone through all that. We thought we'd never have a child of our own… and then this miracle happened…" Lois released Bertha, asking curiously. "Why didn't you adopt a baby then, if you both wanted kids so badly?"

Bertha snorted as she sat down again. "We tried, Lois, believe me — we tried. But they didn't think we'd be suitable and —"

"What?" Lois exclaimed. "Your husband had a good job, didn't he? You were both upstanding citizens. How did that happen?"

"Back then it was even more difficult than it is nowadays, Lois. First, we were too young and years later, when we tried again, they said we were too old. Actually, the child welfare people didn't come right out and say it, but everything they did and said implied that they thought my Erroll wouldn't be able to be a good father figure. I guess because he hadn't been raised in a traditional family environment himself; apparently they felt that my husband, being an orphan himself, wasn't emotionally well equipped to raise a child. I was crushed and Erroll, well, he was devastated. He had so much love to give, you know."

Clark frowned. He didn't want Lois to get too upset talking about something that for them, too, had been a painful experience. But he was too late. Extremely angry, Lois had already jumped up and started to wave her arms about.

"Clark! Did you hear that? Somebody should really do something about this! Nothing's changed, Bertha, trust me. At one time we also considered adoption and we were told our application was denied because I, Lois Lane, made it my sole purpose in life to dangle above the jaws of death! Because I'd been in a few dangerous situations as a reporter, you see, and —"

Lois's tirade abruptly stopped when Clark caught her by the hands, saying rather forcefully, "Stop it! No use working yourself into a rage, Lois, it's all ancient history. Now, sit down and calm down and I'll go make us another pot of fresh tea. You've been dying to have another slice of that cake, so go ahead — I promise I won't tell your mother."

Clark deposited his wife on the couch and marched off into the kitchen, leaving a temporarily speechless Lois looking after his disappearing back.

Suddenly, Bertha laughed. "Oh, Lois, you should see your face! Close your mouth, dear, your husband's right; no use in rehashing old misery. I didn't want to upset you with my story, Lois, I just wanted you to understand why I want you and Clark to have this money. You're the only people — next to Julia — I'd care to have as family. You may not realize it, but you two literally saved my life when you rescued me from those ruthless people who tried to scare us out of our homes in order to build a shopping mall."

Bertha smiled gratefully at Lois. "I've lived in this house all my married life, Lois. And make no mistake — in spite of what I've just told you — it was a very happy life. I would've died if I'd been forced to leave here. Now I am leaving, but out of my own free will. I've made my peace with the past and I can let go of my worldly goods, so to speak. I owe you and Clark a great debt; you made it possible for me to continue to live here."

Lois, still not fully recovered from Clark's forceful and somewhat uncharacteristic performance, exclaimed, "Oh, Bertha, don't tell me that all these years you've felt beholden to us. There's no need for that. We saved this block of houses for a very selfish reason, you know. We wanted to keep on living here too!" Lois put up her hand as Bertha opened her mouth to interrupt her. "And it certainly doesn't justify accepting such an elaborate gift, Bertha. Giving us the opportunity to buy your house has been an incredible gift already."

Clark, at that very moment coming out of the kitchen, agreed with Lois. "You don't have to buy our affection, Bertha, you've already got it — no strings attached. You don't have to give money to our child in order to stay in our lives. You didn't think we'd leave you alone once you've moved, now did you? You'll always be welcome in our home and we'll come and visit you at 'Shady Pines' — with the baby of course. How's that?" Clark asked while he poured hot, freshly brewed Oolong tea in their cups.

Lois finally gave in to sweet temptation and cut herself another slice of cake while she grinned at Bertha. "We'll take the baby for walks in that park across from the home, Bertha. It has a big pond with lots of cute little ducks swimming in it — the baby will love it. Face it, Bertha, you've now become our baby's third grandmother and that will mean spending Christmas and birthdays and maybe even very noisy vacations with the Kent family. Are you sure you don't wanna back out?"

Bertha, secretly overjoyed but hiding it well, smiled and said, "Well, Lois, I'll take you up on your offer for birthday celebrations and maybe even an occasional Christmas dinner, but I'll pass on the vacations. My late husband and I traveled a lot and those are the only vacations I want to remember, dear." Her friendly face took on a determined look as she added, "But I'm afraid you don't have any say in the matter. If I want to set up a trust fund for your children, I can, you know, without your consent. And I will, as soon as this one is born."

Bertha took a tentative sip of her hot tea and smiled benignly at Lois. "Oh, and one more thing — whatever you do, please don't feel obliged to name your child 'Bertha' if it's a girl. In fact, I forbid you to name any of your children 'Bertha'. I hate the name, even though I was named after my grandmother whom I loved dearly. I didn't grow up in the country myself, but I know very well it's a cow's name!"


Martha laughed when Lois told her about Bertha's stipulation. "She's right, you know, we once had a cow named Bertha. Come to think of it, Lois, if it's a girl, I don't want you to name the baby after me, either. I firmly believe that each child deserves to have a unique name. My whole family was indignant because I didn't name Clark after my father or Jonathan's father." Martha smiled lovingly at her son. "Now, does he look like a Herman or an Owen to you?"

Lois laughed. "Not really. But then I'm partial to my Clarkie… why did you pick 'Clark'?" she asked curiously. "I know it's your last name, Martha, but I don't think you've ever told me why you gave him that name?"

Martha grinned. "When we were organizing our wedding, people in Smallville referred to it as the 'Clark — Kent' wedding. I liked the sound of that and told Jonathan that I wanted to name our firstborn son 'Clark'. We waited a long time for him to show up, but it was worth the wait."

Clark lovingly hugged his mother. "I was a very lucky little baby." He winked at Lois. "Who grew up to be the luckiest man on earth."

"I suppose now I have to say that I'm the luckiest woman on earth." Lois smiled at Martha, "I am, you know, thanks to your son."

Unexpectedly Jonathan spoke up. "If we'd had a daughter I would have named her."

"Oh, really?" Lois teased, "You think Martha would've let you?"

Martha nodded. "That was the agreement, Lois. I would name the boys, Jonathan the girls. We wanted a big family."

With a surprised start Martha realized that both she and Jonathan were finally able to talk freely about being childless — the sorrow of not having the big, boisterous family they'd visualized in the early years of their marriage had been gradually lessened since Clark's arrival in their lives and had now all but vanished since Lois's pregnancy had been confirmed.

"Katharine," Jonathan said, haltingly, as if he'd never before been able to verbalize the name. "Katharine, with double 'a'. I always liked the sound of that: Katharine Kent."

"Hmm," Lois said dreamily, smiling softly, "Katharine Kent… I like that. We could call her Katie…"

"You'd really do it, Lois? Clark?" Martha said excitedly, "You'd be willing to name the baby Katharine — if it's a girl?"

"Now, now, Martha," Jonathan hastily protested, "That's not why I told Lois — the kids have to make up their own mind about this. Like we did, remember?"

"Oh," Lois piped in, "I like it, Jonathan, I really do. What do you think, Clark? Katharine — if it's a girl?"

"Couldn't have picked a better name myself, Dad." Clark clapped Jonathan on his back. Jonathan didn't answer, he just grinned from ear to ear.


Chapter Five

Having returned one night from what had been their last farewell visit to the farm, Lois suddenly had an anxiety attack. "Oh God, Clark, I have a bad feeling about this; everything is working out so beautifully, it won't last, it's gonna end, I just know it!"

"Shhhh, baby, shhhh," Clark wrapped his arms around Lois, trying to still the nervous movements of her body. "You're just tired, honey, you'll be your old, cheerful self after a good night's sleep. Let's —"

"No!" Lois turned away from him and sat upright in bed. "I've just reversed to my old, cranky self, okay! Clark, it's like a big, dark cloud is suddenly hanging over me; I'm having an awful d‚j… vu here. It's like — it's like that time, just before our wedding — our first wedding — I knew something bad was going to happen and —"

"Lois, nothing bad is going to happen, I promise you —"

Lois slid out of bed and turned to glare at him. "Clark! That's exactly what you said that time. And look what happened! I received dead roses and a smashed wedding cake and I was abducted by that — that — monster, Lex Luthor! Then you married that — that — clone!" Lois put on her slippers and stomped off towards the bedroom door.

Clark jumped out of bed and hastily followed her. "Honey, please, calm down. This can't be good for the —"

Impatiently Lois warded off his outstretched hands. "I'm going downstairs, Clark. No, don't follow me — you go ahead and sleep," adding sarcastically, "you need your rest — you never know when the outside world might need you."

"No, Lois, I'm not leaving you alone; not when you're as upset as you are right now. Honey, please, talk to me. What's brought this on?"

"I don't know, Clark," Lois responded wearily, "I just know what I feel and that's really, really frightening. And you just disregard my feelings. Telling me not to worry isn't going to simply make it go away!"

A very confused Clark followed Lois down the stairs and into the kitchen where he silently watched while she poured milk into a pan and put it on the stove. She then placed her hands flat on the counter and took a long, shaky breath. With tears sparkling in her eyes she turned to look at Clark, standing dejectedly behind a chair. They stared at each other for a moment, then spoke almost simultaneously.



Clark motioned Lois to go first.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier, Clark, but each time I tell you I feel bad you get this condescending tone in your voice… 'honey,'" she mimicked him, "'everything's fine, I promise you, nothing bad is — '"

"Okay, Lois," Clark said hastily, "You're absolutely right. You were right about what happened at the time of our wedding — what should've been our real wedding. I'm so sorry, honey. You have great intuition and if you feel something bad is coming, then I should listen to you and try to deal with it. Please, let's sit down and talk about it now, okay?"

Lois nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hands. "Okay… I'll make some cocoa first. Want some too, or d'you want tea?"

Subdued, Clark nodded. "Tea's fine, honey, thank you." He didn't dare offer to make it himself, afraid that Lois would again fly off the handle.

Clark sighed. He'd been so happy all day long. Elated, even. Soon, his parents would move to Metropolis, just in time to celebrate the fifth month of Lois's pregnancy in their new home. This morning, when they'd left for Smallville, Lois too had been happy and cheerful.

Clark had expected he'd be sad when he would have to say his final goodbyes to the house, the barn and all the other familiar places on the farm. He'd petted the cows and lovingly touched the trees, but the only time he'd felt nostalgic was when he went to his well-hidden tree house to retrieve the Globe, the most important inheritance from his Kryptonian birth parents.

Sitting cross-legged in his former 'Fortress of Solitude' with the Globe in his hand, Clark had half expected the image of his father Jor-El to appear to talk to him again. It had been years since he'd been up there and he'd felt a bit guilty when he'd looked down at the Globe, lying inactive in his hand.

Clark had wondered why he'd left the object in there for so long. His life with Lois was full and exciting and he'd rarely thought about his birth parents for at least a couple of years. It had seemed a good and safe thing to do at the time — to leave the Globe at the farm instead of keeping it in Metropolis. He'd lost it once; he'd been afraid it might be stolen again and that he didn't think he could bear.

"There's always something…" Clark had whispered, "That's what Lois says and too frequently, I'm afraid. Father, you remember Lois? She's my wife. I brought her here one day, a few months after our marriage — our real marriage. No, don't ask, it's complicated. And that's the gist of it, really. There's always something…"

Clark had smiled down at the uncommunicative Globe. "And right now the 'something' is the nearest thing to heaven — we're having a baby! Lois is now almost five months pregnant. I'm sorry I didn't come over to tell you sooner. That was a bit selfish, I know, but I'm taking you home now, for good. And maybe, someday, you'll talk to me again — to us — to my kids, your grandchildren."

Clark had begun to feel better as he'd glanced around the small space. Yes, it was time to take the Globe home with him and say goodbye to this treasured refuge of his youth. Wayne Irig's nephew, the new owner of the farm, had small children — three boys, Clark remembered his mom telling him. They would love this place, he'd thought with a grin. He'd make sure his dad showed it to them before he left, otherwise they'd never find it. It was too well hidden; he'd made sure of that when he'd built it…

"Clark? Clark!"

"Huh?" With a start Clark was once again in his own kitchen, looking at the steaming mug of tea Lois held in front of his face. "Oh… thanks, honey."

"You're welcome."

Lois sat down with her mug of hot cocoa and looked curiously at him. She took a small sip, then another, before she commented, "You went to a really faraway place just now. Care to share?"

Clark smiled. "Not that far away, actually. I was thinking about the Globe — you know I brought it home with me."

"It must've been hard, Clark," Lois said softly, "to say goodbye to the Fortress too."

"This whole 'saying goodbye thing' — it wasn't as difficult as I'd expected it to be. Up in the Fortress I realized it was a futile ritual. You can't say goodbye to your childhood — it stays with you, no matter how old you get or where you live. You'll always have the good and the bad memories."

Lois nodded. "So… what made you realize that?"

"Well," Clark smiled. "I was talking to my birth father —"

"Clark!" Lois gasped. "You should've told me!"

"Oh, he didn't show up, honey, I did all the talking. My father isn't talking to me — yet. I guess the Globe's a bit miffed because I left it alone for so long." Clark grinned, to let Lois see that it didn't bother him one bit. "So I held a monologue — told my father I've been busy. Getting married and getting used to living together and keeping up with the smartest and most incredibly beautiful woman on earth."

Clark's teasing tone had the desired effect on Lois. She too began to relax and she smiled back at him. "You're biased — very! And don't forget, high maintenance too! But seriously, Clark, it's a good thing to have the Globe where it belongs. In your home — our home. But there were more things of yours in the tree house, honey. I remember a compass and a treasure chest. Did you leave those in there?"

"Yeah — I told Dad to show Wayne Irig where to find the tree house. Wayne will get a kick out of taking his nephew's boys on a treasure hunt. They'll love the tree house; I left those things for them to find. They're part of the package I guess. Besides…" Clark put his mug on the table and moved his chair closer to Lois's. "There's someone in my life now who's infinitely more important to me than any Kryptonian Globe can ever be. I told my birth father that I was becoming a father too and that I hope, someday, he'd talk to my kids — maybe bring my mother too."

Lois giggled. "Let's hope they don't pop out of the closet when we have company in the house. I can just imagine my mother's reaction!"

Clark laughed with her. "She'd probably take them severely to task. After which they will surely be gone — forever!"

In companionable silence they finished their tea and cocoa. Lois sighed softly when Clark gently touched her belly, stroking her navel where he could feel it through the thin material of her nightgown.

"Hello baby," Clark crooned softly, feeling Lois's belly tremble when she suddenly began to giggle. He looked at her with raised eyebrows.


"Oh, Clark, I can read you like a book. It's a girl, isn't it?"

"How do you — what do you mean, you can read me like a book?"

"Please, it's me you're talking to: Lois Lane, remember? Investigative reporter? I may be pregnant and plagued by hordes of conflicting hormones, but I haven't lost my touch yet, buster!"

Clark laughed. "I hear you!" He cocked his head to one side and asked curiously, "Why do you think it's a girl? You've never said anything before."

"Oh, well — you see, Mother told me that the sex of an unborn child can only be determined for sure in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. So I assumed it was still too early to tell. Guess she's underestimated your special vision, huh?"

"Well, yeah, I guess. But that doesn't explain how you — did you use your own enhanced vision, is that it, honey? Is it getting stronger?" Clark asked excitedly.

"Pu-leaze!" Lois screwed up her face. "You know I tried that once and I didn't like what I saw at all! All that blood and weird-looking tissue right under my skin — yuck! I tell you, I could never, ever become a surgeon. To think Daddy once wanted me to — no, Clark, I'll leave the scanning to you. But I can tell by the expression on your face that our baby is a girl."

"What expression, honey?" Clark asked, "I still don't get it."

"Okay, look again at the baby," Lois ordered and Clark obediently focused his vision on her belly.

"There it is again!" Lois giggled. "Honey, ever since we discovered I was pregnant, whenever we talk about a boy you get this typical, proud, I'm-going-to- little-league-games-with-my-son look; and when we talk about a girl you get this sugar-and-spice-and- everything's-nice look on your face. And that's what I just saw — twice! I can't believe I didn't see it sooner. But then, you haven't known for long, have you?"

"No," Clark admitted, "I just found out this morning. I gave you a quick scan when we arrived in Smallville, just to make sure the flying hadn't disturbed the baby. That's when I knew for sure. I was bursting to tell you, Lois, but I didn't want to do so with Mom and Dad around. We'll tell them, later, but I wanted to tell you when we came back here. I wanted it to be our own special moment, in our bed, where she was conceived."

"And then I spoiled it all by throwing a tantrum. I'm sorry, Clark."

"No, honey, you were really upset and I don't care if it's hormones or premonition. If you're feeling bad I want us to discuss it rationally and I promise you, from now on, I'll curb my chauvinistic, Neanderthal reaction to simply try and shush it away. Do you want to talk about it now, about what's bothering you?"

"No, lunkhead! Let's table that till tomorrow. Right now, this is much more important!"

Lois looked down at Clark's hand still lying on her belly. Excitement and awe coursed through her veins. She drew a shaky breath, then looked up at Clark with wonder in her eyes. Her voice trembled when she whispered, "Clark, our baby… is a girl?"

Clark, the sugar-and-spice-look now firmly fixed on his face, gave her the verbal confirmation she craved.

"Yes, Lois, our baby is a girl."


Chapter Six

Lois unsuccessfully tried to hide a huge yawn behind her hand. She was sitting opposite Perry in his office, trying to concentrate on what the Chief was saying.

"Lois! This is the second time you've yawned since you've been in here. Honey, didn't you get any sleep last night? Is it the baby? You havin' a hard time?"

"No Perry, I'm fine, really, and so's the baby. But you're right — Clark and I didn't get much sleep last night. There's still so much to plan and to think of, before his parents can move into the house next door. Oh-oh, here I go again… sorry Chief, and it doesn't help that I can't drink any coffee either. Oh, what I wouldn't do for a dose of caffeine right now!"

"Lois, that won't do at all. Tell you what — " Perry closed the ledger he was holding in his hands and threw it on his desk. "We can do this later. You go home to catch a few hours of sleep and we'll continue this at… lemme see… about three. We'll finish this in time for you to leave again at five. How's that?"

"Perry, if we only need two hours to go over these stock lists, then let's do it now, okay? I can go home after that."

"I need you to be awake," Perry said drily, "I know you still remember a lot of how this works, from that time you briefly sat in for me as Editor-in-Chief, but honey, a lot has been changed in the work process since then and I need you to stay focused. I still think you'd make a great editor; everybody in that newsroom out there respects you — your name as one of the best investigative reporters in the world is firmly established and —"

"Make that the best investigative reporter in the whole universe, Chief," a voice interrupted Perry's speech. Clark walked into the room, pointing apologetically at the half open door behind him. "It wasn't closed so…"

"That's okay, Clark, come in and sit down." Perry ordered.

Clark avoided Lois's eyes as he sat down in a chair close to hers. He'd been super-hearing, Lois realized, listening in on her conversation with Perry. She nudged his knee with her own to let him know she was on to him.

Perry looked sternly at Clark while pointing a finger at Lois.

"Son, I'm sending this girl home to get some sleep. Now, I know that havin' a kid for the first time is a major thing — I still remember how it was with Alice and me. I'm counting on you to take good care of Lois and keeping her up all night is not earning you any points here! Get her out of here and put her in a cab. Make sure she actually leaves the building, y'hear? Lois, you come back here at three. Now, what are you two waiting for? Get up and go!"

"Chief, I'll personally take Lois home and —"

"She's perfectly able to climb in bed all by herself," Perry grinned as Lois again lost the battle against a huge yawn. "'Mr Sandman' will take care of that. I need you here, Clark, I've got a new assignment for you. See you back in my office in — " Perry looked at his watch. " — fifteen minutes. And send Jimmy in here, will you?"

"Will do, Chief," Lois responded automatically.

"Great shades of Elvis! Not you, girl! Clark will tell Jimmy. Haven't you heard what I just said? Go home! And don't you dare oversleep — be here at three, pronto!"

Perry waved them out of his office, chuckling softly as he saw Clark trying to smooth Lois's ruffled feathers while he hastily ushered his wife through the crowded newsroom into the direction of the elevator.


"Lady, we're here… Lady!"

Lois, slumped in the backseat of the cab, shot upright when the cabdriver's impatient voice reached her ears. Geez! Even this little bit of super-hearing she had was making her head spin. She didn't know how Clark managed to stand it. Poor baby, and he'd have to, all of his life, while she'd probably lose the powers again as soon as the baby was born. The super- hearing could go as far as Lois was concerned, but she'd like to hold on to the floating, though, and being really, really strong was cool, too…

"C'mon lady, what's it gonna be? You wanna change directions again? Make up your mind! Haven't got all day, you know!"

"Okay, okay! Hold your horses — how much?" Lois paid the man and scrambled out of the cab. 'This daydreaming has got to stop,' she thought ruefully, 'I'm losing my edge and that won't do; that won't do at all.'

As she looked up at the building where her former apartment was located in, Lois placed one hand under her belly in the universal, instinctive and protective gesture of expectant mothers.

In an impulse she'd told the cabdriver to change directions. She'd suddenly decided she wanted to see Star and talk about this nagging bad feeling she just wasn't able to shake. Star had helped her out a few times in the past — like that time when Lois had thought she'd been abducted by aliens. While in truth it had been the work of a madman — the umpteenth villain with an obsessive desire to rule the world she'd had the misfortune of running into while just doing her job and minding her own business. Well, Clark would dispute that, of course. Clark…

Lois sighed. This was not a time in her life she liked to think about. In fact, she wished she could completely block it from her memory. She could still feel the pain she'd gone through when Clark had broken off with her. He'd tried to be a boy scout because he'd felt that being close to him was endangering her. She'd been heartbroken and it had taken her a long time to forgive him. Partly because she'd also been furious with him.

As Clark Kent he'd asked her to marry him — twice — and he'd jilted her as Superman — twice. That fateful night he'd donned the Suit to deliver her the most painful blow of her life. Apparently, Clark Kent couldn't say 'no' to her, but Superman could. The first time had been when she'd told the Superhero that she was completely in love with him; that she wouldn't consider marrying Lex Luthor if he, Superman, thought there was a future for the two of them…

Lois shivered. Lex Luthor… well, he couldn't be the one casting this feeling of doom over her. He was dead. Clark was sure of that. This time, not a hundred Gretchen Kelly's could piece him together again. He was well and truly gone — crushed to dead when the abandoned subway tunnel, where he'd kept her captive, had collapsed.

For months after he'd rescued Lois and she'd finally regained her memory, Clark had had to constantly reassure her that their formidable enemy couldn't ever hurt her again. She'd had nightmares, really bad ones, and Clark had been so remorseful; blaming himself for letting Luthor ride off with her instead of picking her up in his arms and flying her off to safety.

Lois had been equally remorseful. She'd finally fully realized how dangerous it had been to let Lex Luthor get so close. She would regret that till the end of her days. She'd ignored Clark's warnings and broken his heart when she'd rejected him in favor of Lex Luthor. They'd both acted so stupid at times and sometimes Lois was still amazed that they'd been able to get past all the hurt and confusion. She was sure that would not have been possible with another man.

Oh well, Lois thought as she began to climb the steps; let's see what Star can come up with. One thing was sure, she wasn't going to let Star hypnotise her. She'd done so with Clark one day and he'd promptly told her his name was 'Kal El'! Fortunately, Lois had been present to prevent Star from getting suspicious and to guard Clark against unwittingly giving out any more information of Kryptonian origin.

Good-natured, warm, bubbly Star… Lois and Clark both liked her very much, but if there was one person they definitely didn't want in on the secret, then that person was Star! She was a chaotic blabbermouth, but Lois truly believed that Star's psychic powers were real — she'd even known Lois was pregnant the minute she'd seen her when she'd barged into the newsroom at the Planet. Lois hoped Star would be able to tell her more about the uneasy feelings that even now hung above her head like a dark cloud.

1058 Carter Avenue… Lois walked past the door of her former apartment, briefly wondering who was living there now. At times she'd been so lonely and miserable here; but also very happy once Clark had become part of her life. Lois smiled as she remembered Superman entering and leaving through the window. That hadn't changed; at Hyperion Avenue he still did!

As she reached Star's front door Lois hesitated, then took her cell phone out of her bag, deliberately turning it off. She felt confident that neither Clark, Perry nor Jimmy would be calling her; she was supposed to be fast asleep by now. But her mother could, or Martha, and she didn't want to be disturbed right now.

Lois glanced at her watch. It wasn't even ten yet. Okay, she'd stay half an hour, tops, then she'd need another twenty minutes to get home; she could be in bed and asleep before eleven, catch a few hours of sleep and be back at the Planet by three. Not that she felt sleepy anymore; in fact, she -

Lois started, as the door was suddenly flung wide open and a loud voice shouted at her. "Hey, you! What are you doing, lurkin' outside my door? Omigosh! Lois? What are you doing here!" Star stared at her in amazement. "Come on in, you look like you've seen a ghost! Sorry if I scared you — I didn't know it was you. I just knew someone was standing outside the door. We've had a few break-ins here lately, you see, and in broad daylight, too."

Star whirled around and called out to a woman who was standing behind a chair, peering apprehensively towards the door. "It's okay, Mrs. Bianco, this isn't your husband and it isn't a hold-up either; this is my former neighbor, Lois Lane. She used to live here, before she married that gorgeous Clark Kent. I'll see you next Monday then — take care and don't forget what I told you. 'Bye!"

Star hastily ushered her client out the door, closing it behind Mrs. Bianco's back with a thud before turning to Lois, curls dancing around her face. "This is a nice surprise, Lois! C'mon, sit down and tell me how your dishy husband is doing. I can see for myself that you are okay."

"I'm sorry, I didn't think… I should've called first… Star! You just sent away a client!"

"Oh, don't worry about it, Lois, I was done with her already. In fact, I've had it with Mrs. Bianco for a long time now, only she keeps coming back. She's married to this bully of a husband who beats the hell out of her and she keeps hoping that I can cast a spell or something and suddenly change him into an upstanding guy. Some women never learn! I keep tellin' her she's got two choices — she can stay with him and take her medicine, or she can get the hell out of there."


"Well, Lois, are you here on a friendly visit or do you need my help?"


"Ah, Clark, there you are! C'mon in, son; Lois on her way home?" Perry motioned for Clark to sit down.

"Yes, I put her in a cab, Chief, like you ordered." Clark looked at his watch. "She should be arriving about now."

"That girl was sleepwalkin' on her feet! What were you thinking, letting her come in here this morning? You should've let her sleep in and called me, instead of draggin' her in here!"

"Dragging her in here? Chief! I tried all morning to make Lois stay in bed! If anyone was dragged in here it was me."

Perry's large frame shook as he roared with laughter. "Hahahah! Some things never change! She's a handfull that one and I expect when she's eighty, she'll still be a spitfire!"

Clark laughed, "I expect so, Perry. In fact, I'm counting on it. I wouldn't want her any other way."

"That's good, Clark, that's good. Otherwise your marriage with Lois wouldn't survive."

Perry grinned at Clark, confident that what had happened to Alice and him wouldn't happen to his star reporters. Clark always put Lois first; something he, Perry, had neglected to do when he was married to Alice. Now they were divorced and although they'd managed to get past all the pain and resentment and saw each other on a regular basis, Alice had firmly refused to live with him under the same roof again — not as long as 'The Daily Planet' remained his first priority, anyway.

Perry's grin faded and he frowned as he reopened the ledger on his desk. Well, that's why he'd persuaded Lois to give it a shot — being his assistant editor until her maternity leave. She'd assured him she wanted to keep working and she was confident she'd be able to do so fulltime, despite having a baby in the house.

The Planet had an excellent daycare center and to top it all, Clark's parents were moving in right next- door! Lois wouldn't have to stay home unexpectedly if the baby got sick — Martha Kent would be thrilled to take care of her grandchild.

Perry hoped that this time around, Lois would agree to become his successor as Editor-in-Chief. She already knew the demands of the job from her brief stint some years ago. This time, she'd be better prepared to deal with all the pitfalls and boring details that also came with the job.

Perry was seriously thinking about retiring and moving in with Alice again. They weren't getting any younger and he was steadfastly getting more and more annoyed with 'the Suits upstairs'. Those were getting younger and younger and Perry felt he was losing his appetite for locking horns with management. Lois would be perfect for the job — Perry really couldn't think of anybody else in his own newsroom — or working at any other newspaper — who'd be a better choice.

Clark — now he was something else; he couldn't consider him. Clark wouldn't be able to take off at a moment's notice. Not in the middle of a meeting, anyway, if he — or someone else for that matter — became Editor-in-Chief. That's why Lois had to take the job; he'd already cleared that with 'the Suits'. And they were all for it, of course — they were losing a cranky old guy and getting a beautiful babe in return. Little did they know! She'd eat those young whippersnappers alive.

Perry's only worry was to get Lois to see things his way. And he had to do it without telling her about his plans to retire next year. He didn't want Lois to feel pressured; she'd have to accept the job out of her own free will, otherwise she'd be miserable.

Perry frowned. The hardest part would be to convince Lois to take the job without letting her suspect that he knew why Clark was constantly disappearing. When he'd first figured it out for himself it used to irk Perry that they hadn't confided in him, even as years went by and they must have realized that he was one of the good guys — he wasn't going to blab it to the world that Clark Kent was Superman!

But in the end he'd come to accept their need for secrecy, especially after some of the hair-raising mishaps they'd had to endure. In the background he'd kept an eye out to ensure that nobody else in the newsroom figured it out.

Now, take Jimmy Olsen — a good kid, but Perry wouldn't trust him with a secret like that. He loved Jimmy, but he knew his shortcomings and one of the biggest was his tendency to switch girlfriends every other six months. It was time that young man settled down, but he didn't seem to be able to meet the kind of woman who could hold his interest for longer than a few months.

The latest love in Jimmy's life was a gum-chewing, party-lovin' chick called Jessie or Jennie, who laughed too loud and talked too much — and all nonsense, as far as Perry was concerned. Jimmy was a good guy and he'd helped out Lois and Clark, and even Superman, more than once, but with the kind of women he seemed to prefer these days you couldn't trust him with any secret, let alone an awesome one as this one.

About three years ago Perry had fired Ralph Simms for exactly the same reason: he wasn't the sort of guy you could trust with a secret either. And Ralph had come too close, latching on to Clark Kent, following him around — not because he suspected anything, but to learn as much as he could from a pro. That, Perry had to admit, had been commendable. But Ralph wasn't in Clark Kent's league and never would be. Even if he'd been partnered with someone with the investigative skills of Lane and Kent, Ralph wouldn't have measured up. He was a mediocre reporter at best and always would be.

Perry had fired Ralph after he'd bungled an assignment because he had, for the umpteenth time, been following Clark instead of doing his own job. It had been the last straw. Sometimes, though, Perry wondered if he'd accomplished any good because Ralph was now working at the sleazy tabloid 'The National Whisper' and was still pestering Lois and Clark. But at least he wasn't a permanent fixture in the newsroom anymore; he couldn't jump up and run after Clark when he'd have to leave suddenly. Nowadays, Ralph had to wait until he ran into either Lois or Clark outside the Planet building.

Perry looked at the solid, dependable man sitting across him and a surge of pride welled in his chest. He felt immensely proud that this extraordinary man had chosen his beloved newspaper to work for. He vividly remembered the younger, leaner Clark Kent as he'd sat in this same old chair, asking him for a job, looking nervous as hell.

Now, Perry thanked his lucky stars that he'd been wise enough to hire him and thankful for Lois's sake too — Clark had been her salvation. And now a slightly older version of that young, inexperienced reporter sat looking at him with an expectant smile on his face.

"Okay, Clark, I've got this new assignment for you. I want you to interview that new owner of 'The Sentinel', our biggest competitor. He's a foreigner, comes from Australia, and I'll tell you — since that crook Lesley Luckabee crawled out from underneath a stone down-under and tried to take over this newspaper — and your wife — I'm not keen to see it happen again. 'The Sentinel' is a good, solid newspaper and I'd hate to see it transformed into a sleazy gossip rag like the 'Whisper' — or being used as a decoy for I don't know what other murky dealings."

"Consider it done, Perry. What's this new owner's name?"

"Gareth Keyes." Perry took a sheet of paper out of a file on his desk and handed it to Clark. "Here you go — everything he wants the outside world to know about him is in there. I want you to find the holes in this perfect picture."

Clark laughed, "You really are suspicious of the man, aren't you? Perry, not everyone from Australia is a crook, you know."

"I'm just being cautious, Clark. Look how trusting I was with that Luckabee fellow and it almost cost Lois her life! If Superman hadn't found her in time, no telling what that man would've done to her — him and his accomplice — another one of those crazy sons of Lex Luthor's. I'm not letting my guard down until you give me the green light. And run your findings by Lois, will you, she might spot something you might miss."

"I always do, Chief, I always do. If anyone can poke through a phony fa‡ade, it's my Lois!" Clark said proudly.

"Good. Now stop showing off and get on with it. I've a meeting upstairs in a few minutes and these days I need a lot of time to prepare myself for that!"

Clark laughed. "Well, good luck, Chief!"


Clark was on his way to interview Gareth Keyes, the new owner and Editor-in-Chief of the only other Metropolis-based newspaper that could be considered being in the same league as 'The Daily Planet'.

After he'd left Perry's office he'd super-read the information on Gareth Keyes. Perry was right — there wasn't much in there. He'd then called 'The Sentinel' and been pleasantly surprised when Keyes's secretary told him her boss would be happy to meet with him today, at twelve.

'It's still early,' Clark had thought, 'I can easily check on Lois first and then scan the Sentinel building before the meeting. Like Perry said — you never know what they might be hiding in there.'

He'd shut down his computer and left the Planet building by way of the rooftop and a few minutes later Superman softly touched down in the living room at Hyperion Avenue.

He didn't spin into his work suit for he wanted to take off again immediately. He just wanted to look in on Lois for a brief moment — he didn't want to disturb her. She needed these few hours of sleep.

They hadn't been able to sleep much last night. Lois had been so excited when he'd confirmed that they were expecting a baby girl. She'd alternatively cried and laughed and he'd cried and laughed with her. They'd held each other tight while they'd talked about the future — how different their married life would become once the baby would be part of it.

Clark was still a little worried about Lois — she'd been so emotional last night. First, they'd had this brief and intense fight about his unintentional disregard for her feelings of impending doom. That was one mistake he hoped he'd never make again! Granted, she was also being 'plagued by hormones' as Ellen Lane stated whenever she and Lois got into an argument.

But Clark knew he shouldn't treat Lois's premonition in a cavalier manner. She wasn't hysterical. Passionate, yes; argumentative, yes; stubborn to a fault, yes. But history had proven that if Lois Lane felt anxious, then yes, unfortunately, she was almost always right. So, at the back of his mind Clark knew he hadn't come home just to see Lois sleep — he couldn't bear to have her out of his sight. He had to know, to see for himself, that she was safe and fast asleep in their own bed.


Over her own bowl Star pensively regarded her erstwhile neighbor as she visibly enjoyed a mouthful of chocolate ice cream.

Lois sighed blissfully. "Oh, Star! This is heavenly — my mother's forbidden me to eat too much of this stuff and I tell you, that's one of the hardest things to do! As soon as this baby's born I'm gonna wallow in ice cream and everything that's got chocolate in it… mmm… mmm…"

"Well, girlfriend, enjoy this while you still can and start talkin'. What's up? You haven't come here just to give me a piece of your mind about my spilling the beans the other day, right? Be honest, Lois, you dreaded having to tell that nosey bunch of reporters in that newsroom that you're pregnant. I did you a favor, admit it!"

"A favor? Star! Perry White was really disappointed to hear it like that. And Clark had been looking so forward to telling everybody himself. You spoiled that for him. I didn't come here because of that, but yeah — I am a little angry at you for blurting it out like that."

"Yeah, yeah, I know… Lois, I'm sorry. You know me — things like that just pop out of my mouth." Star rapped on her head with the knuckles of her left hand. "It's this crazy head of mine — can't seem to control it. I'd like to make it up to you, though. I can see something's bothering you — can feel it, too. So, talk to me."

"You're right, Star, there is something bothering me. I feel as if something really terrible is going to happen. Not necessarily to me, you know, at least, I don't think so. It's hard to explain, but I thought maybe you could tell me how to handle it. You feel a lot of those things yourself, right?"

"All my life, Lois, all my life; and it's earning me a living. Not that I recommend it — you wouldn't want to meet some of the people who come through this door. Did you talk to Clark about this?"

Lois sighed. "Yes, I did, but right now, Clark just wants to sit on cloud nine with me and anything that spoils that pretty picture…"

"Hmm, I know what you mean, Lois, men are just not equipped to deal with life's tougher issues. Like this Leroy guy I met the other night? Wants to party all night and sleep all day. He thought he could do all of that here, but I soon set him straight — I send him packing! That wasn't easy, mind you; he's better looking than Denzel and just as smooth and sweet as this ice cream in my bowl. And he's got —"


"Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry… Phew! It's getting hot in here." Star pressed the cold bowl against her flushed cheeks. "Anyway… Lois, if that happens to you — bad feelings, I mean, not Leroy — the only thing you can do is ride it out. Keep your eyes open and your back covered."

"Star! Is that all you can say? I'd already figured that out, you know."

"Well, Lois, I don't see any mean-spirited ghosts floating around your head, you know. I guess you're worried, now that you're pregnant. Ghosts won't bother you, girl, you'd better watch out for those criminals you and Clark are always chasing."

Lois sighed. "I suppose… but we aren't right now, Star, the only interesting case we're working on is about fraud. We aren't chasing any criminals."

"Hah! You don't think fraud's a crime?"

"Yeah, well, I guess you're right. But you see, Clark and I can't afford to let our concentration slip and lately we got a little distracted by this little tyke in there." Lois patted her tummy. "Maybe that's what's bothering me, I don't know. I haven't slept much last night so I'd better go home now and take a nap."

Lois put the now empty bowl down on the table. "Thanks, Star, it helped to talk to you. I'll be extra careful. I'd better call a cab; now where's my bag… my cell phone's in there…"


Superman hovered above the stairs leading to the master bedroom and took a quick peek through the door. Odd… Lois wasn't in bed… maybe in the bathroom, a place she seemed to frequent more often since she'd become pregnant. Nope — she wasn't in the bathroom and not in the kitchen, either. So where was she?

In less than a second Superman had scanned the whole house while trying to pick up Lois's heartbeat with his superhearing. She wasn't home and she wasn't next door either. Where could she be? What had happened to Lois?

Suddenly, Clark felt his blood drain from his body. He sank down on the bed, trying to control the panic that rose in his chest and closed up his throat.

How could he have let her leave in that cab, all alone by herself? He shouldn't have listened to Perry, he should've insisted… had they abducted her? But who?! Oh God, and there's still Kryptonite out there! Please, not that — not my baby!

Clark felt his whole body starting to shake; he grabbed the phone on the nightstand and dialed Lois's cell phone number with fingers that trembled so hard he almost didn't succeed. No answer! Lois, where are you! Her phone was off?! Oh, God!

Clark scrambled on to his feet and flew blindly out the bedroom window, smashing the glass, taking a large piece of curtain cloth with him that slowly whirled onto the ground as the Man of Steel shot into space.


In a corner of her porch Lois and Clark's elderly neighbor stood, transfixed, staring open-mouthed at the Kents' smashed bedroom window. Suddenly galvanized into action, Bertha Avery moved to the fence, her eyes feverishly scanning the surroundings.

No… it didn't look like anybody else had seen or heard what had happened. Most people living in these houses nowadays were young couples with full time jobs who were seldom home during the day.

That had been one of the reasons why Bertha had decided it was time for her to move when her friend Julia couldn't come and visit her anymore. It was too quiet, too lonely here. Now, for the first time, she was grateful for that fact.

Bertha sank onto a rattan chair and let out a long, shaky breath. What could have caused Superman to throw all caution to the wind and leave the house like that? Something must have happened for Clark to behave like that. He was always so careful when he left and returned. It hadn't been his fault that she'd accidentally seen him slip quietly into the house as Superman — at two in the morning — how many years ago? Two… maybe even three…

On that particular hot summer night Bertha hadn't been able to sleep, so she'd wandered out of the dark house and had sat in this very chair, staring up at the stars, thinking of Erroll. That's when she'd seen him. She wasn't unduly surprised at first; she knew Superman was a close friend of Lois and Clark's and that they often worked together on those fascinating cases she read about in 'The Daily Planet'. What had puzzled her, though, was that the Kent house was dark when Superman slipped in and stayed dark.

Wide-awake, Bertha had sat on the porch until the sky began to lighten and she began to feel the cold seep into her bones. After that night she'd begun watching Lois and Clark closely and it didn't take her long to figure out the amazing truth — that Clark Kent and Superman were one and the same person.

From that moment on, Bertha had kept a watchful eye on the other neighbors and she'd been immensely relieved when, not long after her amazing discovery, nosey old Emilia Jamison had sold her house across the street to a young couple named Petersen and had moved to 'Shady Pines'. Bertha didn't relish the thought of seeing that mean old biddy on a daily basis again when she herself would be living there, but — Bertha thought uncharitably — Emilia was pushing ninety, so…

Suddenly, Bertha shot upright in her chair, painfully banging her knee against the heavy wooden table at her left. What was she thinking — why did she let her thoughts stray like that — something awful must've happened for Superman to leave in a panic like that. All that smashed glass… something must've happened to Lois… or the baby…

Bertha jumped up, almost crying out loud when a sharp pain shot through her knee. She hobbled inside the house where she sank down onto her couch and grabbed hold of the phone. Her first impulse was to call Clark's parents, but luckily, common sense prevailed on time. They were too far away — she'd frighten them out of their wits.

Ellen Lane… what was that number again… oh dear, and in a few hours those people of the removal company would be standing on her doorstep…

With trembling fingers Bertha started dialing Ellen Lane's number.


Superman landed almost blindly in the familiar spot near the building of Lois's former apartment — in the dark, deserted alley where he used to change when he visited her in their bachelor days. He swiftly spun out of the Suit and bounded up the steps, then headed straight to Star's apartment. When he reached Star's front door he noticed that his hands were still shaking so he stopped and drew a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves.

He'd been so relieved when he'd finally located Lois's heartbeat that he'd almost dropped out of the sky like a stone. He didn't want her — and Star — to see him like this. He glanced around the hallway, but luckily there was no one else around. He took another deep breath, releasing it slowly, then looked through the door. Yes, there she was, sitting at the table, talking to Star and eating… ice cream?!

Clark felt his anxiety slowly change into anger as he watched Lois place her bowl on the table and take out her cell phone. She'd turned it off deliberately?! His eyes turned red as he stared at his wife and her gaily chattering friend. He was going to wring Lois's neck for this, he thought wrathfully. She'd never before pulled such a heartless, malicious stunt. She hadn't been abducted and murdered by some villain! Well, he could do that — he'd personally kill her for this!

Clark didn't know why he was still standing there in the hallway — why he didn't simply break down the door and storm inside. No — he'd deal with her in their own home; he didn't need any witnesses. He drew another deep breath, raised his fist and forcefully banged on the door.

Lois, startled, dropped her cell phone while Star jumped up, staring wide-eyed at the door.

"Star! Who — who's that?" Lois whispered.

"How should I know?" Star hissed back.

"Maybe it's that woman's husband — the one that was in here earlier — you told her to leave him, remember? Maybe she told him and now he's come to find you!"

The person on the other side of the door banged on it again.

"Lois, you sit tight, I'll be right back!" Star darted into her kitchen, returning almost immediately with a long, vicious-looking carving knife.

"Star! Put that down! What're you doing?" Lois exclaimed. She was beginning to heartily regret her impulsive visit to her psychic friend.

Clark, standing at the other side of the door, rolled his eyes as he saw Star purposely advance towards the door. That crazy Whoopi-Goldberg-Wanna-Be might just succeed in hurting herself — or Lois. And that was his privilege!

"Lois! Star! This is Clark — open the door!"

Relief washed over Lois; she sank down on her chair and stared apprehensively at the door. Good grief! She was busted — big time!

Star dropped the knife and dashed over to remove the chains and turn the locks and Clark almost succeeded in knocking her down when he strode impatiently into the room.

"Lois! Take your things and come with me — now!"

Lois nodded meekly, grabbed her bag and hastily moved towards Clark. Oh-oh, the top buttons of his shirt weren't… his tie hung askew… she could see the Suit… she'd better fix his tie before Star…

But Clark impatiently warded off her outstretched hands, turned on his heels and marched out the door, leaving Lois to run after him.

Behind her back Lois heard Star's shocked voice, full of admiration, exclaim, "Wow!"


Ellen Lane gingerly ducked her head through the window in Lois and Clark's bedroom. There were some shards of glass lodged in the grooves of the cream- colored wood. They looked dangerous and Ellen was careful not to injure herself. She looked in the direction of Bertha Avery's patio and waved at the plump little lady looking anxiously up at her. Bertha was leaning against the fence separating her property from that of Lois and Clark's. Suddenly, Ellen understood how it had been possible for Bertha to have solved the puzzle of seeing Superman 'flying in and out the Kent residence' as she'd explained to Ellen just a short time ago.

Ellen felt eternally grateful to Bertha for not being a greedy busy body; she could easily have called 'The National Whisper' after her initial discovery and made some big bucks with an amazing revelation. Ellen vaguely remembered that reporter — what was her name? Oh, yes, Diana Stride; years ago she'd tried to expose Clark Kent as being Superman.

At that time Ellen hadn't met Clark yet; he'd just been Lois's partner at work and she hadn't paid much attention to the whole media circus around that incident. Ellen wasn't so sure that Lois and Clark would once again have been able to convince the world that Superman was a separate being from Clark Kent.

And now they were having a child; what if someone evil wanted to kidnap that child, to see for himself if the rumors were true? Ellen shuddered. It didn't bear thinking about. It would be a lot easier if they could occasionally enlist the help of the other Clark Kent in the alternate Universe, Ellen thought wistfully, but Lois had assured her that wasn't possible; they couldn't just grab a phone and call him.

Ellen had been appalled when Lois had told her how many close calls there had been in the past. She and Sam had been horrified when they'd heard about Tempus's devious plans to get rid of Superman; of Lois's forced trip to the alternate Universe; of the writer and time traveler H.G. Wells popping in and out of their lives on a regular basis. And the most amazing thing had been the realization that each of them had an alternate self!

Ellen had been sorry to hear that Lois hadn't met the alternate Ellen Lane in that Universe; she often wondered about how that Ellen's life had been and how it was now. The alternate Martha and Jonathan Kent had died young; no telling how hers and Sam's lives had been over there.

And now she and Sam and that little old lady next door were also involved in this great cover up, here, in their own universe. Well, if Ellen had any say in the matter, no one was going to hurt her daughter's family.

Ellen stepped back into the room, letting her eyes roam the floor, looking for tiny slivers of glass she might have overlooked. She'd already cleared away the pieces she'd been able to see clearly but it couldn't hurt to look again. She had nothing better to do anyway. She couldn't call someone to simply replace the broken window; she'd have to wait till Clark came home.

If something awful had happened to Lois he'd have contacted Sam and her by now, wouldn't he? He couldn't take Lois to a hospital — he knew he'd have to take her to Sam. The very fact that he hadn't done so yet kept Ellen's hope alive that nothing could be wrong with Lois and the baby.

Ellen had called Sam as soon as Bertha had told her what she'd seen. She and Sam had agreed they would immediately contact one another as soon as they would hear from Clark. Meanwhile, it was best for Sam to stay in his private laboratory in his apartment in case Lois needed medical attention. Ellen didn't want to think about that — the implications were too awful.

She decided to wait at Bertha's in case Clark brought Lois home. If she went over to Sam's she knew that she and her ex-husband would soon be at each other's throats. Even now her anxiety made Ellen want to strike out — at something or someone, but what good would that do? She could just imagine Superman bringing in Lois while she and Sam were in the middle of a fight.

Giving the room a last, sweeping glance, Ellen picked up the wastebasket with the pieces of glass she'd picked up from the carpet. First, she'd lined the basket with a few pages of today's 'The Daily Planet' while she'd briefly wondered if Lois and Clark had already read their newspaper. She'd then rolled her eyes — who cared?

Ellen carried the wastebasket downstairs and put it in the kitchen then walked onto the patio at the back of the house. Pieces of glass were lying all over the small, neatly kept yard but Ellen decided it was best to leave them just where they were; Clark would have to get rid of those himself.

She left the house and carefully locked the front door. Fortunately, Lois had given her an extra key to the house — in case she'd need her mother if Superman was half way around the world, helping out in an emergency in some foreign country and couldn't be reached.

Well, there was nothing else to do but wait until hopefully, both Lois and Clark would come home. She didn't dare call Lois on her cell phone. What if she'd been kidnapped, Ellen thought fancifully, Lois might've stowed away her phone in a secret place and the ringing would surely give her away. No, Ellen decided, she'd best wait.


Bertha Avery looked around her living room. Fully packed crates were standing neatly at one side. These, and most of the furniture, were being picked up today and delivered to the Salvation Army's warehouse in Hobbs Bay.

Bertha gazed at a few boxes and suitcases standing separate from the rest. These held hers and Erroll's most treasured books and long play albums — the only possessions besides her old but still working record player, her photo albums and clothes and a few other mementos she was taking with her to 'Shady Pines'. She'd have to make sure the people of the moving company didn't accidentally take those too…

Bertha started at the sound of the doorbell — that would be Ellen Lane, returning from the house next door. She sighed as she limped into the hallway; her knee was still sore.

Bertha had called Ellen Lane because she was sure Lois's parents knew about the unique situation in which their daughter had gotten herself into by marrying Superman. Having observed Ellen's frequent visits to her daughter, Bertha had realized that Ellen, as well as her ex-husband, were involved in monitoring Lois's health and that of her unborn baby. She knew Ellen was a trained nurse and that Sam Lane was a surgeon and a renowned, if somewhat controversial, scientist. It was logical that they were the ones helping the young couple out.

Well, at least Ellen hadn't been unduly surprised when Bertha had confessed that she knew about Clark's secret identity. She'd assured Bertha she'd done the right thing by calling her; she would go and check the house next door then come back at Bertha's place to wait and see if either Lois or Clark came back.

Bertha knew that now she would also have to come clean with Lois and Clark. She couldn't pretend anymore that she didn't know their secret. Would Clark be upset? Scared maybe? If so, she hoped she would be able to allay his fears. She hadn't told anyone in over three years; why would she want to start now? His secret was safe with her; she had to convince him about that.

Bertha sighed again then squared her shoulders. She pasted a smile on her face and opened the door wide to let her visitor in. "Come in, Ellen, I was just going to make us some coffee. How do you like yours?"


"Oh, great!" Superman muttered.

"What?" Lois, clasped against his chest and wrapped tightly in his cape couldn't see a thing. But she didn't dare protest against being flown home trussed up as a Thanksgiving turkey. She didn't want to argue with Clark right now; not while they were flying and he was still so upset. She could feel it in every rigid muscle in his body. Lois just wanted this flight to be over. She deserved everything Clark had in store for her, but she wanted to be standing on her own two feet when he'd confront her.

"Oh," Clark said sarcastically, "just your mother, standing on Bertha's doorstep. Oh, look, Bertha's just closed the door behind her back!"

"My mother?" Lois squeeked and, forgetting her resolution to be passive until they got home, tried to struggle out of the red folds. But her head was immediately pushed back against a rock-hard chest while a voice just above her over-sensitive ears grated, "Stay where you are! We'll be home in just two seconds."

Superman quickly scanned the neighborhood then flew through the living room window, landing near the fireplace. He threw open his cape and unceremoniously deposited Lois on the couch.

Lois blinked against the light for a few seconds, then sat upright, peering at the colorful figure looming over her.


"Leave it, Lois, I don't have time for this right now — I have an appointment at 'The Sentinel' and I can't be late for that. Now, go to bed! But you'll have to use one of the guest rooms; the window in our bedroom is broken. I'll fix that when I get back."

Clark glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. "Set the alarm at two thirty; that will give you time to freshen up a bit. I'll be here to take you to the Planet on time — and Lois, you better be here when I come back!"

Lois stared at him, openmouthed. He was going away, just like that? She jumped up. "Clark! You can't go away now, we need to talk! And what do you mean, the window's broken?"

"We'll have plenty of time for all that, Lois, we'll have all night!"

Exasperated, Clark turned to look at the front door where someone was ringing the bell. "There's your mother — guess she knows we're here. Send her packing, Lois! I want you in bed and sleeping in a few minutes."

With a 'whoosh' Superman was gone, leaving a now bristling Lois to stomp to the front door to let her mother in.


"Here," Ellen sat down on one side of the bed and handed Lois a steaming mug. "Milk and honey, guaranteed to get you to sleep."

"Thanks, Mother, " Lois obediently sat up and took a sip of the hot drink. She sighed. "I don't think I had anything to drink all morning, except my morning tea. I know, I know! I need to drink a lot of liquid these days; just one of the many mistakes I made in — how many hours? Is this 'Doomsday's finally come', or what? Poor Clark, he must've been —"

"Lois," Ellen interrupted her, 'Just drink your milk, then try to sleep. You look really worn out. I know it must've been exciting to find out that this little imp inside you is a girl, but staying awake all night is not something you and Clark should do too often. Not when you have to get up early the next morning to go to work — makes you delusional! No wonder you two went a little crazy… Okay, give me that mug; now, lie down."

"Thanks, Mother, I am feeling rather tired…" Yawning luxuriously Lois slid beneath the covers. "Mmmm… this is nice…" and before Ellen had left the darkened room, Lois was fast asleep.

Ellen got up and walked to the window to close the curtains, then softly tiptoed out of the room and down the stairs. In the living room she called Sam then looked for and found a pen and paper. She sat down and wrote a short note to Clark, then left it prominently on the dining table for him to find.

Ellen smiled. She knew that her son-in-law viewed life with Lois as one of the biggest challenges of his extraordinary life — he'd said so many times. She wondered if he had an inkling of what his life would be like if that little baby girl would turn out just like Lois.

Poor man! Ellen grinned, suddenly feeling exhilaratingly alive. Still chuckling, she picked up her bag and walked to the front door. Time to go and set Bertha's mind at ease. She had told Sam she would stay with Bertha and personally take her to her new address as soon as the moving company had left.

The little old lady had looked so forlorn in that half-empty house. When Ellen had asked her why she hadn't asked Clark to help her, Bertha had stated firmly that she hadn't wanted to bother anyone for something 'as trivial as a move'.

"Trivial!" Ellen had exclaimed, "Bertha, this is a major happening, leaving the home where you've lived for over forty years! Oh no, you're not doing this alone; I'm staying with you until the moving company's left and I'll personally drive you to the home. How are your things going to get there?"

"Oh, Ellen, that's very sweet of you, but I'll be fine, really. I'm sure you have more important things to do."

"No, as a matter of fact, I don't. So tell me — how will these suitcases and boxes get to 'Shady Pines'? They won't fit in a cab, Bertha."

"I've arranged for a mini van to pick these up and I've ordered a cab for myself, so you see, everything is —"

"Bertha, the van's okay but cancel the cab; I'll take you to 'Shady Pines' myself and that's final!"


Hazily, Lois wondered what that loud noise was that was attacking her sensitive ears. Oh yes — the alarm… She started to raise one arm to shut it off, but before she could touch it the ringing abruptly stopped. Relieved, Lois sank back under the covers but recollection suddenly flooded into her brain and she shot upright in the bed. Clark would be here to pick her up — she shouldn't be late!

A slight movement near the window drew her attention. Had her mother stayed with her all this time? Someone was drawing the curtains open and bright sunshine streamed into the room. Lois blinked; no, this wasn't her mother, this was…


Slowly he walked towards her and sat down on the bed. He smiled at her and he looked… embarrassed?

"Oh, Clark…" She was in his arms then, held tightly against his chest while he rained kisses on the top of her head. "Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry, I…"

"No, I'm the one who has to apologize, honey, I'm sorry… I didn't think… I went a little crazy when I didn't know where you were, and I…"

"No! Clark, it's…" Lois struggled against his chest; she wanted to sit up and look him in the eye but Clark wouldn't budge yet, so she sighed resignedly and relaxed in his arms, snuggling against him. Apparently he needed to hold her close and who was she to complain? He was being chivalrous, he was being a boy scout again…

Lois smiled through her tears and didn't hear half of what he was muttering above her head. He was apologizing, for heaven's sake, when she was the one who'd… One word got through to her, though, and she asked, curiously, "Your mom? Did you talk to your mom?"

"I went home before I came back here," Clark confessed. He finally relaxed his hold, allowing Lois just enough space to look up at him. "I had an appointment at 'The Sentinel' — I'll tell you all about that later — then I flew to Smallville to talk to Mom and Dad. When I came back I fixed the window in our bedroom and came up here, just in time to hear the alarm go off."

Lois blinked. Oh, yes, the broken window… but that could wait. "Tell me about your talk with your mom and dad."

"Well, Mom did most of the talking — talking to." Clark said wryly.

"Talking to…? Clark! What did you tell her? It was my stupid fault that you went berserk. I know I'm your mom's most favorite person these days, but to scold you for something I… mmph…"

Clark effectively cut off her words by catching her mouth in a long, satisfying kiss. When he released her it was Lois who clung to him, winding her arms tightly around his neck, initiating another sweet and passionate kiss. She sighed against his lips. "Mmmm… I want to make it up to you, Clark. Let me float you up to the ceiling and I'll show you how it feels to die and go to heaven…"

Clark laughed softly. "Is that the best you can offer? You always make me feel like that, honey, you'll have to come up with something much, much better!" He stood up and swung Lois up in his arms, walking purposely to the bathroom where he deposited her on her feet. "You've got exactly ten minutes to freshen up and get dressed, Ms Lane; can't keep the Chief waiting!"

"Okay, but tonight… we've got to talk… really talk about this, Clark. And this mess… it was all my fault, I see that now, really I do, and don't let anybody, not even your mom tell you otherwise. Mother also told me she understood it was all hormones, but I'm not buying that. Then she told me some of the stunts she did when she was carrying me… and… Clark? Are you listening?"

Lois peeped around the bathroom door into the room but it was empty. She cocked her ears, then smiled. She could hear him moving about in the living room. She'd better get dressed or she'd release the wrath of Superman again and that was best left for tonight…

Lois giggled and patted her tummy. "Okay, kiddo, let's get dressed — shouldn't keep your daddy waiting!"


"Lois! What're you doing?" Perry White stared disapprovingly at his temporary assistant editor, who blithely ignored him as she breezed into his office while taking a big bite out of a fat, juicy-looking hamburger.

"Mmmm…" Lois chewed and swallowed, then took a sip out of the paper cup, filled with water and ice cubes, she was holding in her other hand. "Sorry Chief, I missed lunch. I was home asleep, remember?"

Lois sat down and parked her cup on Perry's desk. "And I had to be back here at three, so here I am, right on time. But I really have to eat now, Perry, and my sweet husband knows exactly what the baby and I need right now; lots of protein… mmm-mmm…" Lois closed her eyes while she visibly enjoyed her second bite.

"Lois, I can see that you have to, but don't do it in here, will you? Great shades of Elvis! Since when have you started eatin' so much raw onion? Get out of here and come back when you've finished that. Go on!"

"Okay, I'll be back before you miss me," Lois mumbled as she moved towards the door with her smelly burger and ice water.

Perry grinned and rose from his chair, then followed Lois out of his office, leaving the door wide open in an attempt to get rid of the pungent onion smell.

While Lois took herself off to the coffee corner, Perry marched up to Clark's desk and sat down in Lois's chair beside him. "Okay Clark, what's the deal on this Gareth Keyes guy — when will you have that piece on him ready?"

"Won't be long, Perry. I'm waiting for Jimmy. I asked him to dig up as much information about Keyes as he could find. Ah, here he comes already… thanks, Jimmy."

"You're welcome, CK." Jimmy Olsen held up a large brown envelope. "Chief, here are those pictures Bruce sent over from Malta. I blew up the best ones."

"I've been expecting those. Put 'em on my desk, Jimmy."

"Okay, Chief."

Perry looked pensively after Jimmy Olsen's disappearing back and sighed. Clark looked at Perry closely; the Chief was looking worried. 'Oh no, not him too!' Clark thought; aloud he asked, "Perry, is something wrong? Is it Jimmy?"

"In a way, Clark, in a way. I'll talk to you about it some other time; in fact, there are quite a few things I'd like to discuss with you and Lois. Let's do that tomorrow, after the morning briefing. You don't have some other appointment, do you?"

"Nope, but if it's urgent, Lois and I can stay and talk to you today after five; how's that?"

"No, Clark, get that girl home on time, feed her and put her to sleep — early, y'hear? You better be bright-eyed and sharp tomorrow, both of you. So — you met this Gareth Keyes," Perry deftly changed the subject, "What's he like?"

"Well, Chief, he seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. He paid me — and the Planet — a few compliments; nothing too elaborate though. He wasn't acting as smooth and jovial as Leslie Luckabee. I got the impression he was being himself and not putting on an act."

"That's when you have to watch it," Perry said darkly, "The likable sort. Okay, Clark, I'll wait and see what you've written. I don't have a deadline for this profile today, anyway. And if Jimmy's found anything unusual on this guy, I wanna hear about it."

Perry noticed Lois approaching and stood up. "I see you've finished your late lunch, Lois. Good; come with me, we've got a lot to do — Oh, geez! Cut that out, Lois! You'll have all evening to cuddle your husband. Leave the man to do his job in peace!" But Perry couldn't help grinning as he walked quickly back to his office.

Lois, still trying to atone for her earlier mishaps, stood behind Clark's chair with her arms around his neck and lovingly kissed the top of his head. She reluctantly released her hold on her husband and quickly kissed his cheek. "There's more where that came from, Farmboy!" she whispered, hearing Clark mutter under his breath, "I'm counting on it!" while she walked towards Perry's office.

Lois grinned back at Clark, delighted that she could hear him, even though she was already out of normal hearing range. But she quickly turned off her enhanced hearing, wondering why this bit of super power was suddenly causing her ears to hurt. It wasn't much — not so painful that she wanted to cry out, but her ears were definitely very sensitive. 'I'll tell Daddy about this,' Lois thought, 'My ears didn't hurt when I was UltraWoman, so why now?'

Lois knew there was a big difference in the fraction of the super powers she now had and the super powers she'd had as UltraWoman. At that time, she and Clark had been hit simultaneously by a laser beam, powered by red Kryptonite.

All of Clark's powers had been transferred to her — including his invulnerability — leaving him just like any other human being with normal strength, vision and hearing. He could bleed, he could be hurt, while she'd become the new, invincible super hero.

For a brief period Lois had walked in Clark's shoes and become acutely aware of the enormous responsibilities her fiance had willingly taken upon himself when he'd donned the Suit and became Superman. Lois had experienced, firsthand, the heady exhilaration when a rescue mission had been successfully completed. But also, the overwhelming devastation when, despite doing the best she could, lives were lost.

Together they'd been able to beat the conniving Newtrich sisters — who'd been responsible for the switch — at their own game. Lois had gladly relinquished the powers to Clark and had, as a result, gained new understanding and respect for this extraordinary man who'd claimed her as his soulmate.

'That seems so long ago now,' Lois thought as she sat down in front of Perry's desk. 'We weren't even married yet — just getting to know each other better. Come to think of it, we still are! Poor baby, now that I'm pregnant, he has to cope with a whole new side of me. Like the stunt I pulled this morning. Now that — '

Lois started as Perry's impatient voice grated on her ears. "Lois! I thought you said you've slept, so I expect you to stay focused for a while. Think you can do that?"

"Sorry, Chief," Lois sighed, "I'm not sleepy, it's just… you wouldn't believe all the things you go through when you're pregnant! And not knowing other women who've gone through the same thing doesn't help, either. I'd like to discuss things… you know, with a friend… someone who can tell me what to expect."

"Lois, there are plenty of women working here who've been pregnant — the Planet's daycare center is full of kids!"

"Perry, I'm not going to discuss my physical and mental problems with the girls in the typing room or in research!"

"What mental problems?" Perry asked suspiciously.

"Oh, not that kind of problems, Perry, it's nothing major. It's wanting to cry all the time and pick fights with Clark all the time and that's just not me!"

Perry's eyebrows crawled up while he regarded Lois over the rim of his reading glasses. "Hahahah!" his large frame shook with his merriment. "No, Lois, that's not you at all! You're the most malleable, tractable housewife on this planet — I'm sure your husband agrees with me!"

Reluctantly, Lois grinned. "Well… I guess not… Anyway, I suppose I'll just have to listen to my mother recalling how she's endured her two pregnancies. But that's over thirty years ago, Perry! I'd like to have a woman friend — a real friend, you know."

"Well, then, go find one!"

"Find one? Chief, this is not something you 'find' at the supermarket!"

"You'd be surprised, Lois. People meet at the darndest places. I met Alice in a bookstore. Well, that wasn't so strange — we both like to read. Bottom line is, you gotta be open, Lois, willing to let people into your life. And that's not easy for you and Clark. You're world famous reporters — you have to be extra careful, because you never know if people aren't just sucking up to you while having a hidden agenda at the same time. Like that 'Deathstroke' guy and his wife, remember?"

"Bob and Carol Stanford?" Lois sighed, then added sarcastically, "We thought we'd hit the jackpot — that we'd finally found a couple we both could be friends with. We had dinner together and did other fun things friends do together. Then it turned out they just wanted to get close to us because I could lead them to Grant Gendell; they used us because they wanted to kill him!"

"I know how that feels, honey, that's just how I felt when my lifelong friend, Senator Truman, turned out to be a Nazi. Lois, even if you've known someone all your life, they still can betray you. It's up to you to decide if you wanna take that chance. Now, you and Clark are a couple of loners. If you leave it too long, you won't be able to build any lasting friendships anymore. Because that takes time, honey. Friendship is a commitment, just like your marriage and your job. And right now we gotta get back to work, okay? Here, I need you to check these stock lists. There are some mistakes in there and I want you to spot 'em."

Perry handed the lists to Lois and added, "And Lois, discuss this with your husband, okay? Let him know how you feel about this issue. You might be surprised to learn how he feels. Gotta go now; if you need me, I'm in the conference room with Jimmy and Carl. We'll be busy with that new travel section layout."


"Thanks, Clark," Lois accepted the steaming cup of tea from her husband with one hand and sat down on the couch with a list in the other.

"Let's see — I wrote down all the things we need to discuss. While you were busy in the kitchen I talked to your mom and Daddy was on the answering machine, so I'll have to call him too, but first we'd better talk about that disaster this morning. Oh, and there's Bertha too; we've got to talk to her as soon as possible, Clark, wait till you hear what Mother's told me — then there's friends; I want to talk about that too."

"Friends?" Clark looked puzzled. "You want to watch TV, too?"

Lois rolled her eyes. "No! I mean real life friends — our friends — well, non-existent friends — but that comes last; let me tell you about Bertha first."

"She knows, doesn't she?"

"We already suspected she did and now she's confirmed it to Mother. That's why Mother was here this morning. Bertha called her after she saw you smash the bedroom window. Poor thing; she thought something awful had happened to me. She knew you must've been in a panic to leave the house like that."

"I'm sorry, honey, I —"

"No, Clark, please. I'm the one who messed up. Come, sit down." Lois patted the seat beside her. "No use in wearing out the carpet, honey."

Lois waited until Clark was seated next to her, then clasped his right hand between her own, pressing it against her breast.

"Clark, I should've known you'd check on me. It was unforgivable of me to turn off my phone. Even though Mother says that's not such a bad idea if I'm in hiding and some criminal is looking for me. A ringing cell phone is not something you want to have on you at such a time. I hate to admit it but she's got a point there. I'll have to remember that if I ever… anyway… the point is, I wasn't being stalked by a killer, Clark, I went to Star to talk about my gloomy feelings. I thought she might know how I should deal with those."

Clark looked crestfallen. "You feel you can't talk to me anymore?" he asked in a flat voice.

"No, that's not it. Sweetheart, I can talk to you about anything. I may not always like your reaction, but that's not the point. Clark, you know how I always get on your case for being overprotective? I think that's exactly what I did — I didn't want to talk about my uneasy feelings with you anymore because it upsets you and I don't want you to worry too much about me."

"So you went to talk to Star. You could've told me that, Lois! Why didn't you?"

"It was a snap decision, Clark. Sitting in that cab, I suddenly remembered how Star had known I was pregnant the minute she saw me. She's helped us out a few times so I thought, maybe she could help me figure out why I was suddenly being plagued by such gloomy feelings these last couple of days."

Lois bowed her head and planted a soft kiss on the back of Clark's hand. His fingers tightened around hers; Lois looked up and smiled apologetically at him.

"Switching off my cell phone looked like a good idea at the time. I didn't want Mother to call while I was talking to Star — I wanted to stay there just for a few minutes, anyway. Not that Star was of any help. She told me to be extra careful and to watch my back and I'd already figured that out myself. I was just going to call a cab when you scared the hell out of us when you banged on that door."

"Well, seeing Star hopping around with that knife didn't exactly cheer me up," Clark said drily.

"We were pathetic…"

They grinned as they looked at each other, then suddenly they were laughing so hard they both began to levitate.

"Oh Clark!" Lois gasped as she floated into his arms, "Star was so impressed! She called me this afternoon, to see if we're okay. She thought you were so masterful."

"She doesn't know, does she? She didn't figure it out?" Clark asked anxiously while Lois snuggled into his arms.

"No, I'm sure of it. She wouldn't be able to keep it out of her voice if she had. She told me to hang on to you; she thinks you're the dishiest white man she knows and now that she's seen a whole new, masterful side of you…"

Lois giggled as she recalled Star's excited voice telling her what a great turn-on her husband was. Then she sobered.

"Clark — that bedroom window! We're so lucky only Bertha saw you leave like that. Maybe others heard the glass break, but only Bertha has a clear view of our bedroom window, so I guess we're safe. And when you stormed into Star's apartment, your shirt was practically unbuttoned and I could see the Suit. So, if something like this happens again — you don't know where I am and you can't find me — you've got to keep a clear head, honey. I think that's why your mom was angry with you — if you blow your cover you won't be able to look for me; you'd be hounded."

"That's what Mom said too." Clark admitted, "I was angry with her at first, but while I was flying back from Kansas I began to see that she was right; I'd grossly overreacted."

"Yes, you did. But under the circumstances it's understandable. I'm so sorry, Clark, it's all my fault. Just the other night I'd told you about my bad feelings and then I go missing! You were running on pure adrenaline and that can make a person do and say things they normally wouldn't."

"Even so…" Clark sighed and tightened his arms around Lois. "I've never felt like this before. This…" Clark drew a ragged breath and gently touched her stomach, "this little being in here… Lois, you know I love you more than life itself. I know how devastated I feel when I believe I've lost you — it's happened a few times, remember? But the way I feel about our baby…"

Lois smiled mistily up at him. "I know," she whispered, "I think I feel the same, Clark, it's such a miracle… she's a miracle. She hasn't even been born yet but I can't image life without her anymore. That's awesome and so scary…"


As they lost themselves in the wonder of their impending parenthood, Lois forgot all about her 'other issues' while they slowly floated upstairs.


Chapter Seven

Jimmy Olsen stood under the awning outside the motor shop, waiting for the rain to stop. He glanced impatiently at his watch. He should be going, but he didn't relish riding through this downpour. He should've driven his car tonight instead of taking the motorcycle, but the weather had been fine, even hot, all day long. So he'd chosen to ignore the weather forecasts that had predicted the possibility of rain in the evening.

Jimmy hunched his shoulders and stared morosely at the steadily falling rain. Much good it had done him, coming all the way over here to buy that new anti- theft device the shop was advertising. They'd blithely told him it was sold out already.

'Thanks for nothing,' Jimmy thought. He glanced again at his watch. Geez, he was going to be late! He'd better call Jazzy now, but he'd better make the call in the shop. Several people were also huddled against the wall of the building where he stood, trying to stay dry, and none had much room to move about.

"'Scuse me… 'scuse me…" Jimmy wormed his way out of the throng back into the shop. He whipped his cell phone out of his pocket and punched Jazzy's number. When he heard her voice he took a deep breath and pasted his cute boy-next-door grin on his face as he answered exuberantly.

"Hey, Jazzy! I'm at this motor shop and got caught in the rain. If I leave now I'll get soaking wet. Can we meet a little later? It doesn't look like it's going to stop raining real soon. What? Oh — okay, if that's what you… No, it's okay… I've some pictures to develop tonight anyway. What? Yeah, that's cool — see you tomorrow then."

Jimmy's grin disappeared as he punched the off-button on his cell phone. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stomped to the back of the shop where he halted and stood, glowering through the window at the rain. He'd been looking forward to confronting Jazzy this evening and now he'd have to wait till tomorrow. Gosh, he was so tired of this charade — and he just knew it was a charade.

Jimmy frowned as he thought back to their first meeting. One night he'd been waiting at his favorite Chinese restaurant for some take-out when she'd breezed in: a fast-talking chick with a spiky hairdo dyed jet-black and wearing too much make-up and cheap jewelry. While they'd been waiting in line for their food she'd started to talk to him.

Jimmy had been his usual friendly self, but he hadn't flirted with her or tried to pick her up. She wasn't his type; he liked his girls with a minimum of make- up and wearing normal clothes. Girls wearing dog collars around their necks didn't turn him on one bit. So, as soon as he'd left with his food, he'd forgotten all about her.

After that initial meeting Jazzy had started to pop up everywhere he went and he'd become curious. She obviously wanted to hook up with him, so when she'd asked him for the umpteenth time to meet her at a mega dance party, he'd finally said yes.

It hadn't taken Jimmy long to notice that she was trying to pump him about his work and the daily routine at the Planet. She'd asked a lot of questions about Lois and CK too. He'd carefully given her snippets of harmless information while wavering between the desire to send her on her way or stick it out and find out what it was that she was really after.

Then, one day, Jazzy had shown up, quite unexpectedly, in the newsroom. She'd thrown her arms around his neck and pretty much behaved as if she was the love of his life. Jimmy had played along but he'd cringed inwardly when he'd noticed the facial expressions of his co-workers. When she'd spotted CK, busy at his desk, Jazzy had immediately pounced on him, draping herself over his shoulder while she'd exclaimed how thrilled she was to finally meet the greatest reporter on earth.

Jimmy had avoided eye contact with CK when he'd been summoned by Perry White into his office. The Chief had been outraged. "Jimmy! What're you thinking! Letting that — that creature from the Black Lagoon loose in my newsroom! Lois, go rescue your husband — I've got a bone to pick with Olsen here!"

Jimmy didn't know why he hadn't come clean right there and then. Why he hadn't told Perry the truth; that he suspected Jazzy was trying to pry information out of him and that he wanted to find out why. Maybe because he expected the Chief to put CK and Lois on the case and he badly wanted to do this investigation himself — he, Jimmy, wanted to be the one to expose Jazzy.

But so far he hadn't been able to even find out where she lived. She said she didn't have a permanent address; said she was used to crash at different places, staying a few weeks with this or that friend, moving on when they got tired of her. She'd laughingly told him that her cell phone was her home — if he wanted to talk to her, all he had to do was dial her number. He'd tried to follow her a few times but that hadn't been successful either.

Jimmy hunched his shoulders as he stared through the window at the rain. He knew that in a way he had defied Perry because the Chief had berated him about his 'juvenile behavior' and had gone on and on about his 'appalling taste in women' and how disappointed he was in his ace photographer and researcher.

Jimmy had been offended that Perry hadn't given him the benefit of the doubt. If the Chief had just asked him calmly what was going on, Jimmy would've told him. To make matters worse, when he was still smarting from the verbal lashing he'd gotten from Perry, Lois had breezed past him, saying reproachfully, "Way to go, Jimmy!" So when CK had tried to talk to him mere minutes later he'd told him off — called him a stuffed bore and a henpecked husband.

After that fateful day Jimmy had noticed Lois and CK pulling away from him. Lois's unexpected pregnancy had drawn the couple even closer together and Jimmy felt very much left out; his best friends didn't discuss anything with him these days. When Lois wasn't busy learning the ropes from the Chief she worked with CK on several cases. For a long time now they hadn't bothered to invite him over for pizza or just to hang out with them for a few hours. He suspected they were afraid he'd bring Jazzy along. That hurt, Jimmy acknowledged, but he had to admit that a great deal was his own fault.

It had started years ago when he'd gotten reacquainted with his long lost father. It was then that he'd learnt that his father had led a double life as a secret agent for the National Intelligence Agency. Jack Olsen had briefly left the service when he got married, but after a few years he'd abandoned his wife and small son and had, unknown to them, returned to the NIA.

Then, one day, Jack Olsen had unexpectedly reappeared in his son's life when he'd been investigating Lane and Kent. But he'd ended up working with them and Jimmy on the same case instead. After that, father and son had made their peace with each other and had since then kept in touch. As a result, Jack Olsen had become a valuable source whenever his son needed information about the NIA or civil servants working in Washington or in the military.

In his early twenties, when he'd just found his dad again, his father's life had looked and sounded so exciting. Jimmy had already been aware that his own boyish good looks and outgoing nature very quickly put people at ease; they'd be off guard and inclined to open up to him. That way he'd been able to gather a lot of useful information, which had made him the most valued researcher working at 'The Daily Planet'.

Jimmy had gotten quite a kick out of playing the jovial, exuberant boy next door, feeling very much like a true son of Jack Olsen when he noticed people dismiss his shrewd mind and treat him with careless nonchalance. Over the years he'd cultivated that boyish, happy-go-lucky and seemingly harmless image to a T — and that, apparently, had even fooled his two best friends and the man he respected the most: Perry White.

He shouldn't have done that, Jimmy admitted to himself. With them, at least, he should've been honest; shown them his true nature. So, he'd have to talk to them as soon as possible and show them he'd matured; that he wasn't the perpetual grinning idiot Lois seemed to think he was. He was done with all the subterfuge — he might be Jack Olsen's son but he was no spy material. He didn't want to lead a double life if that meant losing his best friends.

It was time to come clean about Jazzy, too. Jimmy didn't care anymore if Lois and CK would be assigned the job to find out what she was up to. First thing in the morning, Jimmy vowed, he'd talk to Perry. Then, he'd ask Lois and CK if he could come over to their house to talk — really talk.

Having come to this decision, Jimmy felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He even smiled as he glanced at the still steadily falling rain. He'd better be going; it didn't matter anymore if he got wet. Jazzy had broken their date tonight and he could go straight home and start developing those photos…

Jimmy started when someone touched his arm and a vaguely familiar voice asked hesitantly, "James Olsen? Jim, is that really you? Hi!" He turned and looked into the smiling face of Megan Carrington, the pretty redhead who used to work at the Planet and whom he'd dated a few times.

The first date hadn't gone too well, Jimmy recalled; they hadn't been at ease with each other and Jimmy hadn't planned on asking her out again. But newlywed and starry-eyed CK had urged him to give it another shot and had even talked a lot of nonsense about 'soul mates'. Well, their second date hadn't been much better and not long after that Megan had left the Planet. They hadn't seen each other in years.

"Megan!" Jimmy fought back the instinctive urge to grin widely and smiled warmly instead. "This is a nice surprise. How've you been? I haven't seen you since you left the Planet. It's been… how long?"

"About four years now, Jim. You're still working at the Planet, though. I read those terrific articles by Lane and Kent and see those great pictures of yours on those front pages and go, wow! I used to know these guys!"

Jimmy grinned. "Well, I guess at that time you weren't too impressed, otherwise you'd have stayed. You left to become a librarian, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," Megan said proudly, "I work at the library near 'Shady Pines', that retirement home at Stanford Avenue."

"I know where that is. Lois and Clark live not far from there, at Hyperion Avenue. It's the quietest section of Metropolis — ideal for a library, huh?"

Megan laughed. "Well, you wouldn't say so if you'd visit my library! Those senior citizens come in daily and believe me — they're a noisy bunch. To them, the library is a sort of watering hole. They come in there to meet and talk up a storm and are endlessly asking questions. But you wouldn't be interested in all that, Jim. Your life at the Planet is so exciting; I guess mine must sound really dull."

"No! Megan, I don't think that at all! I'm happy for you. You like it and that's great."

Jimmy eyed her appreciatively. Megan was clad in black leather pants and jacket and on her feet she wore shiny black boots. She stood confident and straight, holding her helmet clamped against one hip. Her naturally curly, reddish-gold hair was combed severely away from her face and hung in a thick braid halfway down her shoulders. A few springy curls had escaped and danced around her heart-shaped face. Her dark blue eyes sparkled and when she smiled a cute dimple appeared in her left cheek. To Jimmy, she looked adorable. After Jazzy, Jimmy thought, Megan was a sweet sight for sore eyes!

"I can tell you're wondering — how in the world can she afford to ride a motorcycle on a librarian's pitiful salary, right?"

Jimmy was started out of his reverie. "No! Megan, I was just thinking how very beautiful you look and how great it is that you like riding too. That's my number two hobby — the first being photography, of course."

"I know — riding my bike is my number two hobby too! The first is doing research; that hasn't changed since I left the Planet. And no, I can't afford to own a car and a bike on my salary as a librarian. I have another job that pays really well. I work as researcher for three very successful SciFi writers of the KPC."

"The Keyes Publishing Company? I didn't know they published science fiction."

"Yes, they do. 'My' writers live in New York, all three of 'em. They send me their manuscripts and I do the background research. Also, I correct their text and tell them what story line works or doesn't work — that sort of thing." Megan grinned proudly. "And after two years of producing only very successful novels they've come to value my opinion."

'You must be a SciFi fan, otherwise you wouldn't consider such a job, right?"

"Well, I don't like all the stories they send me," Megan confessed, "Some are pretty good though. So, yes, I guess I'm a fan." She looked away from Jimmy and through the window. "Oh, look, the rain's stopped — I'd better be going; I've some work to do tonight. I came all the way over here to buy that new anti- theft thing, but I was too late."

"You too?" Jimmy grinned. "Guess we'll have to wait till next week when that new shipment arrives. Megan, would you… I mean… I'd really like to see you again — that is, if you… oh! I'm sorry, what am I thinking! You must be married already or at least engaged… you're not? Great! I mean… would you… umm…"

"Okay!" Megan smiled, touched by his sudden bout of shyness. "I'd like to see you again, Jim. I'd like to hear all about what's going on at the Planet these days. How about we meet for coffee, at 'The Java Club'? You don't know the place? I'm not surprised. It's a fairly new coffee shop — a lunchroom, really, not far from the library where I work. Just around the corner of Stanford Avenue, at Rodell Square. Here's my card; give me a call tomorrow, okay? We could meet there for lunch or after work."


Chapter Eight

"Now tell me all about Keyes," Lois demanded the next morning as she strapped herself in her seat belt. Clark put the key into the ignition and waited until she was comfortably seated before he started the Jeep.

"Let's see — he's my age, has a family — two little boys, aged three and five; has cute pics of them on his desk. Oh, and his wife's pregnant — almost 7 months — and they're ecstatic because it's a girl — just what they wished for."

Clark glanced at the slight bulge under Lois's clothes and grinned happily. "I told him we're pregnant too. I almost blurted out that we're expecting a baby girl too, but I don't think —"

"Clark, I meant Keyes the professional, not Keyes the family man." Lois said drily.

"Oh, yeah… sorry." Clark grinned unrepentantly.

Lois laughed. "That's okay, I'm curious about his personal life too. What's his wife like? He has her picture in his office too, I hope!"

"'Course he does! She's pretty… slim… blond and blue-eyed, as far as I could tell from the pictures, anyway… friendly smile… wears casual clothes…"

"Well, you've certainly paid attention to details. What's her name?"

"Glenda… Glenda Wayne. She's an American; they met when she was a student and on vacation in Australia. In fact, he's an American too. He's Gordon Keyes's son."

"Gordon Keyes? You mean — the publisher? So how come Perry thinks he's Australian?"

"His mother is. When Gareth was five his parents got divorced and his mother went back to her family's cattle station in Queensland and took him with her. He grew up in Australia but his parents kept in touch with each other and he spent a lot of time with his dad here in Metropolis too — on vacations and such. That's how he got interested in journalism. He doesn't own the paper as Perry seems to think — it's still his father's."

"What did he do before he became Editor-in-Chief of 'The Sentinel'?"

"He worked as a freelance reporter for a few papers in Australia before his father asked him to manage 'The Sentinel' for him. He didn't want to, initially, but his father couldn't find any suitable candidates. What he really wants is to be an all-round publisher, like his father. But he told his dad he'd give it a shot but that he'd keep on searching for a new Editor. That was off the record information, by the way — he doesn't want his staff to know that he's not going to stay for long."

"So why tell you? You're a reporter!"

"Well, Lois, I guess he trusts me."


"Well… uh… I gave him my word that I wouldn't publish this, Lois. He knows he can trust me; I don't work for 'The National Whisper', that's why! Anyway, it's not an exposure I'm writing, just a profile the Chief's decided to run in this Saturday's business section. Though I'll have to convince Perry the guy isn't out to kidnap you and hand you over to yet another unknown, insane son of Lex Luthor's."

"Bite your tongue!" Lois shivered. "I must admit I understand where Perry's coming from. Newspapermen from Australia aren't that high on my list of favorite people either, I can tell you that. This one sounds like a regular 'Crocodile Dandy', though."

Clark laughed. "No Lois, he's not! And it's 'Dundee' by the way, 'Crocodile Dundee'. He basically wants his kids to grow up in the outback and I can understand why. I've seen a few of those cattle stations in Australia, Lois — they're enormous."

"So his mother's family's rich, too?"

"I guess…"

"Wonder how he will achieve his goal — becoming a publisher in the Australian wilds. Or is he going to just wait until his father dies, then take over the whole kaboosh?"


"Well, did you ask him that? I would've!"

"I bet you would! I just stuck to the business side of the interview," Clark said primly, "Lois, whether the guy realizes his dreams or not — and where — is not my business."

"He made it your business by telling you!"

"No, it was just part of a normal conversation between two people, Lois. We discussed a few personal things after I'd concluded the interview, that's all."

"Hmmm…" Lois glanced at Clark's profile while he concentrated on getting them safely through the busy morning traffic. "You like him, don't you?"

"Well, yes, I guess I do. It's kinda nice, meeting someone who's not on our list of suspects — a normal guy, like I am."

Lois giggled. "Yeah, right!"

"You know what I mean."

Lois sobered. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. That's why I wanted us to talk about friends last night."

Clark grinned. "We got distracted…"

"Clark, who are our friends? Not counting our parents, of course," Lois ticked the names off her fingers. "There's Bertha, Perry and Alice, Jimmy, Star and Bernie Klein — though he's more Superman's friend — and the same goes for William Caldwell. We still see Grant Gendell once in a while, but that's all, Clark! And we only ever have Perry and Alice and Jimmy over to the house. It's pitiful!"

"You forgot Lucy — you two are getting along so much better these days. You're constantly calling each other and sending e-mails."

"Lucy?" Lois sighed wistfully. "I wish she'd come home… I miss her. I wish she lived close by so we could be friends as well as sisters."

"Honey, I wouldn't count on that. Lucy's happy in California. She has a terrific job and it looks like she's finally settling down. I know your mother was furious with her when she moved in with Lucas, but they've been together now for over two years so it looks pretty solid to me. He looks pretty solid to me too. And you did like him, didn't you, when we finally got to meet him?"

"Yeah, I like him — he's the first man Lucy's introduced to us that isn't a complete bum. That's why I don't understand why she won't… Oh no! Now I sound just like my mother!" Lois sighed again. "Mother's driving Lucy crazy by constantly telling her how perfect she thinks 'Lucy Lane Jennings' would sound. It's not our business if Lucy does or doesn't marry this Lucas Jennings."

"Honey, what brought this on? You know we can't let a lot of people come too close. It's always been dangerous and it will be even more so when we have a child."

"I know Clark, believe me, I know. It's just — I sometimes wish I had a girlfriend I could discuss things with… woman things, you know."

"I thought you did that with the Moms!"

"I do… Ad Nauseam. Clark, yesterday I was talking to Perry and suddenly I was telling him things I'd normally not dream about discussing with Perry! I'd like to have a friend of my own age, preferably one who understands how it feels to be pregnant. I don't particularly want a lot of women friends — I'm not the kind of woman who wants to discuss the latest fashion or the latest nail polish color or drool over the latest sex symbol." Lois frowned. "And that's all the girls at the Planet seem to do."

"How do you know? You barely talk to them!"

"What do you think those girls do when they go to the bathroom, Clark? Besides the obvious? Talk! You wouldn't believe some of the inane things they talk about."

Clark laughed. "Oh, I've heard some pretty inane things being discussed in the men's room, too, honey."

"Well," Lois said determinedly, "we'll have to do something about this situation. You like this Gareth Keyes person, right? Grant Gendell sent you two tickets for next Saturday's game — so ask him if he'd like to go to the Bills with you."

"Lois, I can't do that. I always take Jimmy, you know that."

"Did you ask him yet?"

"No, but he expects me to!"

"Okay, bad idea… Well, then, ask Keyes to shoot some hoops with you, or go play golf or tennis."

"As a matter of fact, he already asked me. He likes to play squash."

"There you go!"

"I wasn't planning to, Lois, I told him I'm too busy right now and —"

"Busy with renovating the house next door? You can do that in just a few hours. Are you thinking about 'Deathstroke'? Clark, I know we'd sort of decided — I know how crushed you were when we found out that the guy you thought was a real friend turned out to be a murderer, but you can't —"

"Lois, he deliberately wormed his way into our lives and I let him! When I think what could've happened… Honey, even though you initially didn't want to socialize with him and his wife I sort of pressured you into it. I put you in jeopardy and all because I enjoyed playing basket ball with the guy!"

"I know, sweetheart, I was really beginning to like her, too."

They both fell silent, thinking back to that time when Lois had been trying to get an exclusive interview with the reclusive millionaire Grant Gendell. Bob Stanford and his wife Carol, both scientists and former employees of Gendell, had insinuated themselves into their lives, while their real goal had been to follow Lois to Gendell's hideaway in order to murder the man.

Bob Stanford had suffered a terrible accident while working at one of Gendell's research plants. As a result his body had been transformed into a powerful magnet, drawing every loose object made of steel. A specially made suit, covering his whole body, made it possible for him to lead a normal life.

The Stanfords had sued Gendell Incorporated but the shrewd company lawyers had been able to have the claim dismissed. Understandably, the Stanfords were very bitter about that, but, unfortunately, hadn't been able to get past that. Bob Stanford had vowed revenge and became 'Deathstroke', a notorious assassin who operated all over the world — killing his victims by sending powerful magnetic waves through their bodies which made it look as if they'd died from a heart attack.

Then, one day, 'Deathstroke' had returned to Metropolis for his ultimate revenge: killing Grant Gendell, the man he held responsible for his condition. Unwittingly, Lois had led him to Gendell's hideaway but Superman had been able to stop 'Deathstroke' in time and hand him over to the authorities; although not before he himself had gotten quite a magnetic overdose.

Lost in their own thoughts Lois and Clark reached the Planet's parking lot in silence. Clark parked the Jeep and undid his seat belt while Lois did the same with hers. As Lois prepared to get out of the Jeep Clark put a detaining hand on her knee.

"Honey, I'll think about it, okay? And I do understand what you're saying, really, I do. It's just — there's so much happening to us right now, I'm not sure — soon my parents will move into the house next door so it's going to be a very busy time; I don't think we should —"

"Take a chance, Clark, that's what you tell me whenever I want to back out of something, remember? Go play squash with the guy — get to know him, investigate his past, his family and his wife's family too, if you think that's necessary. I know you don't like the idea, but we owe it to our child; we have to keep her safe. But I want us to have friends of our own age too, honey. I want our child to grow up surrounded by people of different generations. It's time we get to know couples with young children. We want our daughter to have a childhood that's as normal as we can possibly give her, right? So, that will mean having friends over to play with — things like that."

Lois reached out one hand and tenderly caressed Clark's cheek.

"Sweetheart, most of our friends are as old as our parents. A different generation. I know, there's Jimmy — but so far he refuses to grow up. Jimmy's our little brother who comes to the house to pig out on pizza and watch games with you on TV. Nothing wrong with that, I love Jimmy, he's a great guy and smart, too. He's such a wizard on the computer and the best researcher the Planet's ever had — and a very good photographer too. It's a shame he's still so hung up on all these so-called 'fun' things — all he ever talks about is babes and parties! That's fine when you're twenty, but he's almost thirty now."

"I know! That girl he's hanging out with now? Really pathetic. I tried to talk to him about it but all he did was slap me on the back while he said something about me being old and married and tied to your apron strings — so I gave up."

"Perry's worried too, you know, about Jimmy — and other things." Lois looked at her watch. "We'd better go in. I think I know what he wants to talk to us about. I think he wants me to stay on, permanently, as his assistant editor. I've given it a lot of thought, Clark, and maybe, after the baby's born, I could continue as I'm doing now — assist Perry a few hours in the morning and team up with you the rest of the time. I don't want to give up reporting altogether and I don't want you partnered with someone else. That wouldn't work at all! What do you think?"

"Well," said Clark as he closed the door at his side of the Jeep and grabbed Lois's briefcase before she could lift it from the floor behind her seat. "I don't want another partner, either, but why would you want to stay on as editor? You hated it the last time you sat in for Perry."

"Because I bungled it that time — I had to do it all alone, remember? I like working with Perry and he's right, you know, the job has a lot of perks, too. Like having the power to approve or disapprove stories." Lois grinned. "And bossing you around."

Clark laughed while he routinely scanned the surroundings. "I like being bossed around by you, honey." Suddenly he reached out and put a detaining hand on Lois's shoulder. "Wait, Lois — you won't believe what I'm seeing!"

"What? Where?"

"Around the corner, in the alley where I sometimes change — there's Jimmy's latest paramour in what looks like a heated argument with none other than Ralph Simms."


"I'm going to check it out." Clark was already tugging at his tie as he glanced at other Planet employees who were also hurrying to get inside the building. "Stay here, Lois, if Ralph sees you he'll bolt."

Lois rolled her eyes. She hadn't the slightest wish to run into Ralph Simms and 'Jucky' as she'd dubbed Jazzy. Well, she didn't need any confirmation — she was sure Jazzy was working as a mole for Ralph and she wasn't in the least surprised that their former co-worker was capable in planting a spy at 'The Daily Planet'.

While Clark took off to find a spot where he could safely spin into the Suit Lois picked up her briefcase from where he'd dropped it and walked sedately towards the entrance.

'I knew there was something not quite right about her,' Lois thought, 'Who knows what kind of information that girl's wormed out of Jimmy already. Perry will be so angry! We'd better talk to Jimmy before Perry finds out.'

As Lois entered the elevator the uneasy feelings she'd been experiencing on and off the last couple of days again settled into her mind. She briefly thought about the phone conversation she'd had with Star after her disastrous visit to Carter Avenue yesterday. Star had called her late in the afternoon, to gush about Lois's masterful husband but also to try and set Lois's mind at ease.

"When you and Clark were gone, Lois, I went into a trance. Your auras were practically visible around me. Wow! That Clark of yours sure sends out some powerful vibes when he's angry. You're lucky he's also the most controlled person I've ever met, otherwise you and Mrs. Bianco would be comparin' notes right now… What? Come to the point? Well, like I said, Lois, both your auras were sendin' out some pretty powerful vibes, but I couldn't detect any evil hangin' around you. In spite of Clark's anger they were good vibes. I don't think you or Clark, nor that little baby inside of you, are in any danger. Must be somethin' else, Lois, so keep your eyes and ears open!"

Well, that was just what she'd do, Lois decided, except for the ears. She'd call her father and ask him if he had any idea what was causing her ears to hurt so much. She'd have to tell Clark first, though, otherwise he'd think she was still holding back things from him. And last night they'd faithfully promised each other not to do that anymore.

Could it be an ear infection? She didn't really think so — this had to do with the enhanced hearing because her ears hurt only when she turned it on. Lois carefully tried it and swiftly turned it off again. Boy! That hurt!

'That does it! I'll have to tell Clark and Daddy as soon as possible,' Lois thought as she exited the elevator and walked towards the conference room where Perry would be waiting to give his morning briefing to his staff. She stopped in her tracks as she spotted Perry's angry face as he stood near his office, waving his forefinger under Jimmy Olsen's nose. Oh-oh! She'd better go rescue poor Jimmy!

Lois glanced around the newsroom to see if Clark had already returned. Maybe he'd told the Chief about Jazzy's association with Ralph already? No, Clark wouldn't do that; he'd discuss it with her first and then confront Jimmy. Her husband was nowhere to be seen so Lois quickly walked up to Perry and Jimmy, taking the Chief's arm and gently tugging him into his office.

"Chief, you're drawing an audience here! Come on, sit down and calm down. Jimmy, close the door and tell me what this is all about."

Before Jimmy could open his mouth Perry hissed, "It's that little tramp he's been seein', Lois! There she was, ready to come in when I got out of the cab this morning. I sent her packin', that's what! Jimmy! I told you —"

"I know what you told me, Chief, and I know what you think about me. Now, shut up and listen to what I have to say for a change!"

"Jimmy!" Lois gasped. She stared, wide-eyed, at Jimmy's blazing eyes and thinned lips. She'd never seen him this angry before. She quickly looked at Perry, ready to intervene if he'd go for the jugular.

But the Chief was temporarily struck dumb — he'd never been told off before like that by any of his staff members. He sat down heavily in his chair and stared, open-mouthed, at Jimmy's thunderous face.

"Okay, look — Lois, Chief — I'm sorry, but this is as far as it goes. I came in this morning, ready to tell you that I knew Jazzy was a big fake; I have from the beginning! Ever since she latched on to me I —"

"You know she's working for 'The National Whisper'? With Ralph? Jimmy —"

"Ralph?" Jimmy frowned. "No Lois, I didn't know that. I knew she was trying to pump me for information, but so far I haven't been able to find out why, or for whom. Ralph, huh? So how come you know that, Lois? Why didn't you tell me? Have you been investigating her behind my back?"

Jimmy glared at Lois, who rolled her eyes and said sharply, "Jimmy, stop those accusations! There have been too many of those flying around here already. I have not investigated your yucky girlfriend and —"

"She's not my girlfriend!"

"You could've fooled me," Lois said drily, "Anyway, that's not the point. Clark just saw her in the alley behind the parking lot when we arrived. She was talking to Ralph; it looked like they were having an argument. That's why Clark isn't here yet, he stayed outside to see if he could find out more."

"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry's speech had suddenly returned. "Ralph's always been an idiot and I can see he's improved on that since he's left us. Jimmy! If you knew she was a mole, why didn't you tell us?"

Jimmy had the grace to look shamefaced. "Chief, I'm sorry, that was stupid of me. I wanted to find out myself what she was after. I thought it would be a piece of cake. But she was an expert at hiding her tracks. I wouldn't have let it go on for so long, Chief, but that morning, when she'd come barging in here… I was ready to tell you the truth, but then I got annoyed because you guys just assumed I was stupid enough to get involved with a girl like that and I guess —"

"— you wanted the satisfaction of seeing us with egg on our face," Clark commented humorously as he entered the room. "Good morning, Jimmy… Chief, there's a conference room full of impatient staff members waiting for us."

Perry sighed heavily and hoisted himself out of his chair. "Okay, let's get that over with first. Lois, you take over from me. It's time you chaired some meetings, anyway. Here's the list with assignments. Olsen! Afterwards, I want you back here in my office, — we have a lot to discuss, you're not off the hook yet — I wanna get to the bottom of this!"


"Chief, we're going home. Why don't you call it a day too? You look really worn out." Lois, looking closely at Perry's tired face, was worried. The Chief had been morose ever since his confrontation with Jimmy this morning. He and Jimmy had been closeted in his office until lunchtime and he'd never gotten around to talk to her and Clark.

"Ah… Lois… maybe I'll do so… in a minute. You run along, honey — I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

"What about that talk you wanted to have with Clark and me?"

"Talk? What — oh, yeah, I forgot — sorry Lois, this business with Jimmy… "

"I know Chief, I could wring his neck too. He's acted very foolish, but at least now we can talk to him about it. He said he's going to confront that Jazzy person tonight, otherwise we'd have dragged him home with us. He's coming over tomorrow night and then Clark and I will have a good, long talk with him. Why don't you come home with us tonight, Perry? It will take your mind off Jimmy for a while. I don't want you moping all night about our Master Spy here!" Lois grinned. "Poor Jimmy! He's been avoiding me all afternoon. Clark was annoyed with me because I'd laugh every time I looked at him."

That made Perry grin and he visibly relaxed. "Yeah, I guess it's best to laugh about it. Oh well, let him sweat it out till tomorrow — I was too angry with him today; guess a good night's sleep might help to soften me up a bit."

Perry hoisted himself out of his chair. "Thanks for the invitation, Lois, but I'm having dinner at Alice's. At least I've got a heck of a story to tell her; wonder what she'll make of it. Ah — there's your husband — now run along."

"We can drop you off at Alice's place, Chief. Why don't you come with Clark and me? You can talk to us during the ride."

"Thanks, Lois, but I'm not in the mood right now," Perry said decisively. "See you in the morning, okay? I'll talk to you then."

"Promise me you won't work late, Perry. You're leaving now too, right?"

"Lois! I told you I would! Now go already!"


"What was that all about, honey?" Clark asked as he drove them towards the brownstone. "You acted as if you didn't want to leave."

"Clark, he looked so forlorn — this business with Jimmy has upset Perry more than I thought it would. I wonder why? There was no harm done as far as 'Yucky' was concerned; Jimmy told us he's been on to her from day one and I believe him — Jimmy's not a liar. Okay, he's been an idiot, but we all do foolish things from time to time, even Perry! But he was really thrown by this whole thing and moped around with a scowl on his face all day. Didn't you notice?"

"Yeah, he's taking it hard and it's bothering Jimmy too. He told me he hopes Perry will be able to forgive him — not only for his personality charade, but also because he yelled at him this morning."

"Oh, that — no, Perry won't hold that against him. He may be disappointed and he may let Jimmy sweat for a while, but Perry's not mean-spirited at all."

"I'm sure they'll be able to work things out. Anyway, we'll see what Jimmy has to say when he comes over tomorrow evening. He told me he's going to confront Jazzy tonight and he wants to talk to Ralph, too. Says he knows exactly where to find him."

"In a bar, most probably. Ralph was already a heavy drinker while he worked at the Planet, but now he seems to have a really serious alcohol problem. Remember that day when I was so angry with him? He'd splashed my being pregnant on the front page of that rag he works for — speculating if this was maybe the end of my career as an investigative reporter! I was ready to smoke him out when Carl told me he'd seen him the night before — coming out of a bar. He couldn't even stand on his own two feet — that's how drunk he was."

Clark sighed. "I know, I ran into him at that early morning press conference the Mayor gave the other day."

"I forgot to ask about that. How did that go?"

"Well, the Mayor denied all allegations of shady dealings between City Hall and the constructors of that new housing project. She seemed genuinely upset, so maybe things have been concocted behind her back. If that's the case then I'm sorry for her, 'cause something's definitely wrong with the way that developer's got his permit."

"I was busy with Perry and Carl with that new travel section layout. I'm sorry I couldn't come with you, Clark."

"Well, don't be — as soon as I came in Ralph latched on to me as usual. Lois, if I could get drunk I would've — his breath had so much alcohol on it I was afraid he'd light a fire!"

"If he's drinking that much he could lose this job too. Carl told me he ran into him the other day and he feels sorry for him; he says Ralph is desperately unhappy. Seems he's not really delivering the goods as far as his editor is concerned; he doesn't have that killer instinct Leo Nunk had. I guess that's why he sent Jazzy to work on Jimmy. How that nitwit Ralph could've expected someone like her to infiltrate unnoticed at the Planet is beyond me. She stands out like a sore thumb!"

"Yeah — she looks really weird. When I listened in on them this morning I heard Ralph tell her she shouldn't expect any payment, because she didn't come through. He then stormed away and she was running after him, yelling that he would be sorry if he didn't pay up. It should be interesting to hear what Jimmy finds out about her. That is, if she'll talk to him."

"Well, we'll find out tomorrow. Let's hope the Chief will be in a better mood by then. This wasn't an easy day for him, Clark."

"Honey, you look tired too. I'm glad Bertha couldn't make it tonight. Gives us a chance to relax. After all that's been happening these past couple of days we really need a breather."

"Yeah, there's always something…"

They rode in silence for a few minutes, then Lois suddenly started to chuckle softly.

"What?" Clark asked.

"At least one person is having a lot of fun these days, Clark, although she doesn't quite look at it that way. Bertha's living it up right now. Her friend Julia's throwing her some welcoming parties — a lot of parties! Bertha told me Julia's practically involved everyone living at 'Shady Pines' — that's how happy she is with Bertha moving in. She's also being introduced to all those clubs they seem to have: reading clubs, card clubs, fitness and what have you. Her life sounds more exciting than ours right now!"

Clark laughed. "Don't underestimate those seniors, Lois, they lead very active lives. It will do Bertha a lot of good to be with her friends. I never realized how lonely she must have felt in that big house these last couple of years. I still feel a bit guilty about that."

"Yeah, me too. She's such a dear. And to think that all this time she's known about you, Clark. Mother says Bertha was a bit worried about how we would react, but when I spoke to her today she was very matter of fact about it — told me we shouldn't worry about it."

"That was quite a long conversation you had with her, honey. You were stuck in that conference room for a long time."

"Well, I made several calls. I called Daddy and your mom because I wanted to get those explanations about my disappearing act off my chest right away. They both called me irresponsible and your mom gave me a lecture too, you know. I felt like I was ten years old again! It was a relief to talk to Bertha — at least she didn't scold me. She couldn't stay on the phone too long though — she was being ambushed by Julia and a group of other ladies."

Lois grinned as she recalled her conversation with Bertha.

"Lois, hold on for a minute, dear, someone's at the door — I'll be right back." Her portable phone still glued to her ear Bertha had opened the door to reveal a beaming Julia standing in the corridor with another welcoming committee in tow. Lois had been able to hear Bertha tell the ladies, quite sharply, that she would join them as soon as she would've finished her very private phone call.

With a decisive thud Bertha had closed her door and snorted, "Lois, they mean well, but they're driving me crazy! I'm being treated like the Queen of Sheba! I know how happy Julia is that I've finally moved in, but she's in dire need of a reality check here. I'll have to tolerate this whole circus for about two weeks — that's how long Julia's already arranged entertainment for me and I can't possibly back out of any of these parties — not without stepping on too many toes. Julia would be so embarrassed if I did. I've forbidden her to organize any more activities without consulting me first. Don't laugh, Lois — I haven't even unpacked all my things yet!"

Clark chuckled as he parked the Jeep. "Looks like Bertha has a full calendar for a couple of weeks! We'll ask her over when Mom and Dad are settled in then. At least now you and I can have a nice, relaxing evening together, honey."

"Hmmm… let's hope Superman isn't needed. Maybe now you can show me around the house next door. I haven't had a chance yet to admire your handy-work. That is, if you've already done anything?"

Clark grinned. "Honey, have I got a surprise for you!"


After dinner Clark escorted Lois through a secret entrance into his parents' new home.

The older Kents had firmly rejected Lois's initial idea of tearing down the wall between the two living rooms. After a lot of discussion they had finally agreed on a concealed sliding door between two adjoining guestrooms on the first floor.

Clark had removed the wall separating those rooms and constructed a sturdy, wall-to-wall paneled wooden screen in its stead. Each panel was decorated with several rows of attractively carved knobs. One panel was in fact a sliding door that could be operated by turning one particular knob.

"Look, Lois, I've positioned this knob in such a way that Katharine will be able to use this door all by herself when she's about six." Clark beamed while he pointed at the height he thought their daughter would have at that age.

Lois sent him an indulgent look as she stepped into the adjoining room that used to be Bertha's little library. "Cool!" she said, "I can see why your mom claimed this one as her studio."

Wall-to-wall built-in bookcases, now empty, adorned the walls and through a large window bright sunlight streamed into the room. The light was just perfect, Martha had stated; she was eager to turn this room into a studio where she could work on her sculptures and other artistic projects. Clark had flown his mom and dad over a few times and Bertha had enjoyed showing them around the house.

Clark joined Lois at the window and carefully scanned the surroundings. "This is a much more secluded corner than we have at our house, Lois. Take a look — it's completely private. Superman has much better access leaving and entering through here."

"You're talking about yourself in the third person again, honey," Lois said while she took a deep breath. "Mmmm… after all that rain last night it sure smells fresh outside." She turned away from the window to survey the room. "You did a great paint job, Clark. I like this combination of stark white and glossy dark brown. And will you just look at those bookcases! Bertha must have had these specially made. Or maybe her husband did these himself; she told me he was very handy around the house." Lois eyed the bookcases speculatively. "I hope your mom has room to spare for all those books we still keep in the attic."

"I don't keep any books in the attic, Lois. Those 'books' as you persist in calling them are your cute romance novels. Why don't you finally get rid of 'em? They've been lying in there, gathering dust, for as long as we've been living in this house!"

"I can't do that — I still haven't read most of 'em."

"If you didn't have time these last couple of years, honey, you'll have even less time when there's a baby in the house. Why buy 'em if you're not gonna read 'em?"

"Well, Lucy and I had this subscription — you automatically received four novels each month. That was neat. We didn't have to go to the bookstore to get them ourselves. Lucy practically devoured them. I canceled the subscription when she left, but —"

"I know — you'd already accumulated a few boxes full of this fluff under your bed. I think it's time to let go, honey, I don't think Mom will want those 'books' in here. I've never seen her read one, come to think of it."

"Well, she could be a 'closet reader' like I am! Clark, you're my husband, that's why you've seen them. Believe me, I wouldn't want to get caught walking around with one of those paperbacks in public."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Is this a universal women's thing or just Lois Lane being her own incomprehensible self? Honey, I've super-read those novels — they're not worth the paper they've been printed on."

"And is this a universal men's thing? Mocking us women because we like happy endings? Some of 'em are actually quite good, you know. And don't give me that look — that's exactly the way you look at me when I cry over a movie!"

"Lois, you must've seen 'An Affair To Remember' at least a thousand times. And every time you watch it you cry your eyes out."

"Well — only the one with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in it does it for me. By the way, that old video is pretty worn out — I'd like to have it on DVD now."

Lois rolled her eyes when she saw the pitying look on Clark's face deepen. "Clark, I bet you'll cry each time you'll watch 'Bambi' with the baby! Now who's the bigger softie here, hmm? Tell you what — if your mom doesn't want me to park my books in here, then I'll think about getting rid of 'em, okay? Though I still think it would be throwing away good money. But Cary Grant stays and that's final!"

Clark grinned. "Yes, Ma'am! Now, how about a tour of the rest of the house? Just wait till you've seen the kitchen!" He started to usher Lois out of the room.

"You've done the kitchen too already? Clark! Why didn't you tell me! When did you do all this? Bertha's only been gone one day!"

"Well, I had time today. I went to City Hall this morning after I got a tip from Bobby Bigmouth. He said I should talk to a civil servant named Edward T. Warning who works in the department where those construction permits are allocated. Bobby told me this Warning guy is called 'Butch' Warner on the streets and now he's done a disappearing act. Nobody at City Hall could — or wanted — to tell me where I could find him. So I asked Jimmy to look into it and came here instead."

"That guy's called 'Butch'?" Lois said as they floated down the stairs. "Sounds like a gangster's name to me. Is he one?"

"Don't know — we'll see what Jimmy digs up. As usual, Bobby wasn't very forthcoming; he just dropped the name and refused to tell me why. I'm sure he always knows much more than he's letting on, Lois. I guess he likes to play a waiting game, just to see if we can solve these cases ourselves."

"He just wants to get as much food out of us as possible. Let me guess: you flew to China to get him his favorite chow mein, right?"

"No," Clark grinned. "Alfredo's linguini from Milan as a matter of fact — you wouldn't believe how fast he gobbled that up. Alfredo would've been outraged if he'd seen him!"

"I believe you — Oh Clark!" Lois gasped as she landed on her feet in the kitchen. "Wow! This is… this is…"

"A real professional kitchen!" Clark said proudly, "Most restaurants would be very envious if they saw this range of ovens. Superman picked them up in Italy together with Bobby's lunch. Look…" Clark opened the oven doors so Lois could peer inside. "Mom can easily bake ten pies simultaneously in those. And because that will generate too much heat in a room of this size I removed the wall between the living room and the kitchen too. Like it?"

"Wow!" Lois said again. She drew her hand over the marble counter on top of a row of kitchen cabinets Clark had situated on the exact spot where the dividing wall had been.

"As you can see, they're the same height as the counter," Clark elaborated, "They make for a nice divider between the kitchen and the dining area and give Mom a lot of extra work space."

"You're a wizard! I don't think I tell you this often enough, honey, but it sure is handy to have you around. Wow! To think you did all this in just a few hours. It looks great, Clark, really great."

"Thanks, honey. Of course it also helps that the woman of the house knows exactly what she wants. Mom picked the paint colors herself and as usual Dad agrees with her; he never argues with Mom about things like decorating issues."

Clark's smile disappeared and he frowned as he surveyed the kitchen space. "I hope Dad's okay with all this though — he says he is, Lois, but I still have trouble visualizing Mom as an entrepreneur. No idea how he really feels about it."

"They need to do something, Clark, and this is a start. They're used to hard work — really hard work — and even if it wasn't necessary and their savings were enough to live on — which they're not — your mom and dad would want to have some sort of paying job. I think your mom's solution to their money problems is great. She's a wonderful cook and to have arranged to bake pies for that new cafetaria is just brilliant. She's even wormed a contract out of them already!"

"I believe that was mostly due to your mother's negotiating skills," Clark said drily.

Lois grinned. "My mother can be very persuasive! And don't forget Bertha — she's the one who triggered your mom's super-speedy introduction into the business world. That coffee shop is right around the corner from 'Shady Pines'. The people from the home go for coffee over there and Bertha says the pastries and cakes they're selling are quite tasteless. Not homemade at all."

"So the three of them arranged for the manager to come over here to taste a few samples of my mom's delicious pies — I know all that, Lois; I personally flew Mom over with all those pies last month!"

"And you didn't lose even one!" Lois giggled. "Mother was so impressed! And that tasting session was a huge success. That young, baby-faced manager didn't stand a chance against the 'Terrible Three'. I think he's still recovering, but your mom has a signed deal in her pocket, so he can't back out of it."

"Well, I don't think he'd want to, Lois. My mom's pastry is the best," Clark declared loyally.

"That's right, honey. She's happy with this deal and I'm happy for her — and for us. She'll work at home and the coffee shop people will pick up the pies each morning, so delivery is taken care of. When I talked to your mom this morning she told me that when I go back to work after my maternity leave we won't have to drag the baby with us to the daycare center so early. She and your dad will bring her in at a decent hour and they'll pick her up a few hours before we get home. That will be their quality time with her. Your mom and dad can't wait! They're so eager to become grandparents. This little tyke is in danger of being spoiled rotten, you know."

"I know — we'll have to keep mom and dad firmly in check!" Clark grinned. "Don't worry about it, honey, they raised me and look how well I turned out!"

"They were parents then, Clark, this is different. Grandparents are hopeless. Look at my mother! Even she gets all kootchy-kootchy when we talk about the baby. You should've seen her face when she saw those cute little booties you brought home the other day."

"Well, that's a good thing, right? The Moms are happy — but I still worry about dad, Lois. He's the real 'Farmboy' of this family. He's not cut out for city life and I doubt he'll be happy if all he has to do is help Mom with the groceries."

"He might surprise us yet, Clark. I think he'll look for something where he can work with his hands again. Anyway, in the meantime he's claimed the patios and our teensy weensy little gardens as his territory. He even plans to grow some vegetables. That will keep him busy for a while."

"Which reminds me — I still have to remove that fence between our properties; it will be nice to have one big garden together."

"Mmm, I don't know about 'big' but we'll have room for a swing I think. And maybe you could make a sandbox too, honey. And a little tree house would be so cool!"

Clark beamed; he loved it when Lois talked about the small but significant changes that were gradually taking place in their lives and in their home. He flung his arms around Lois, lifting her up in a tight embrace. Lois looped her arms around his neck as his lips found hers, sighing softly when the kiss ended.

"This is so nice, Clark, just you and me and the baby… you know, I'm glad your mom vetoed my idea to tear up the wall between the two living rooms. She was right; it would've been hard to have a little privacy that way… mmm…" Lois moved provocatively against him while Clark placed hot, wet kisses on her neck and shoulder. "What do you say we introduce your mom's kitchen ceiling to our special brand of lovemaking?"

Clark laughed softly as he began to float them towards the stairs. "We'd better not! We wouldn't be able to look at those pies and not think about it — at least I would! I'd want to ravish you every time we come into this kitchen and that won't do at all."

Lois giggled. "Ravish sounds good — is that what you're going to do right now? Need any help?"

"Well, a little cooperation would be nice, Ms. Lane."

"It's Mrs. Kent to you, Farmboy… Lois Lane Kent… at your service…"


"Mmmm… that was… wow…"

Lois languidly turned her head to look at her husband as he laid on his back on their bed, sprawled in all his naked glory, a sated smile playing around his lips. He looked magnificent, like a Greek God, Lois thought fancifully — Zeus, descended on Earth to ravish Leda…

Lois chuckled softly and Clark turned his head to look at her, his own smile deepening at the sight of her glowing cheeks and tumbled hair. He lazily turned to face her, propping his head under one arm as he raised his upper body. His voice was deep and husky as he asked softly, "What's so funny?"

With one long finger he gently smoothed a wayward drop of sweat traveling slowly from Lois's forehead to her temple. She looked so seductive with that moist, honey colored sheen on her body. She positively glowed in the aftermath of their lovemaking and her skin felt satiny soft to his touch…

Heat surging once again through his body, Clark drew Lois fully into his arms, pinning her against him with one powerful leg.

"Nothing's funny… I'm just… so incredibly happy," Lois sighed voluptuously against his lips, "I love you… and I love how you make love to me… and I wish you'd do it again…"


"Hey little one, is this play time for you, hmm? While mommy wants nothing better than getting into this bed and fall asleep in — about five minutes? That's as long as I'm giving you to kick around in there, okay?" Lois, still tingling from the hot bath she and Clark had just shared, smiled down at her swollen belly while she rhythmically stroked her skin under the comfortably wide, thin cotton T-shirt she was wearing. She grinned as she felt a slight movement at her right. "Was that a foot or a hand, young lady? Are you trying to make a statement here?"

Clark, at that moment coming into the bedroom, smiled at the sight of his wife as she sat on her side of the freshly made bed, petting their unborn child. "That was a foot," he announced, walking towards Lois with his vision focused on her belly. He sat down beside her and draped one arm around her while the hand of his other arm joined Lois's on her belly. He pointed. "Here, there it comes again — definitely a foot! Feel that?"

Lois rolled her eyes. "Yes, Clark, I felt it!" Then she frowned. "What's she doing with the other foot? There's nothing wrong with her other leg, is it?"

"No, nothing wrong. In fact, she's stretching it right now — not far enough for you to feel it, I think. Oh! Here comes that other naughty little foot again — bingo!" Clark laughed delightedly.

Lois smiled; she loved his running commentary. It was a ritual they'd begun as soon as she'd felt the first flutters of movement. "And her arms, honey? What's she doing with her arms?"

"Her arms? She's holding one close to her side and the other one's up; she's got her thumb in her mouth and —"

"She's sucking her thumb? Oh no, Clark! That can't be good! That will ruin her teeth!"

"Honey, relax! She's just practising — she'll have to know how to suckle your breast as soon as she's born, right? I'm sure you'll be very relieved she won't have any teeth yet — look at this as a trial run, okay?"

"Oh… okay. Oops! This one was a real kick! As if she wants to say 'stupid mommy'. She agrees with you, huh? I can already see the two of you ganging up on me in a few years."

Clark grinned. "You bet!" Then he sobered. "I can't wait till we hold her in our arms, Lois. I wish you'd use your enhanced vision and take a look, honey. She's so beautiful… look at her! Such a sweet little head and…"

Lois rolled her eyes. She did look at all those pictures Clark regularly unearthed from various publications, showing the development of a child in the womb of the mother. She found them fascinating — yes — but beautiful? Trust Clark to be enraptured by a not yet fully formed fetus!

Her Farmboy… Lois smiled lovingly at his down bent head while Clark crooned sweet nothings and placed tiny kisses on her belly.

"No, Clark, I'll leave the scanning to you. There are only two of the powers I like having. It's great to be so strong — that really comes in handy once in while. I wish I'd stay this strong after the birth but mother says I shouldn't count on it. Oh well, the floating's by far the greatest — keeps me cool in this heat wave we're having right now. I don't have to drag myself around all the time and this bulge doesn't bother me one bit — yet. Wonder how big it will be when I get to the end of this pregnancy."

"Are you worried, honey? Are you afraid of giving birth? You've never said so, but… I mean, I'm a man… I don't know about this… you're the one who's going to do all the hard work." Clark sighed then placed a lingering kiss on her hand. "I wish I could help you with that, but —"

"You can, sweetheart. Just be there, okay? I can do anything, endure any pain, as long as you're there to hold my hand."

Clark sat up straight and, taking hold of her chin, turned Lois to face him. "I'll be there, honey, that's one promise I'm going to keep," he said earnestly. "No earthquake, no flood, not one disaster will keep me away from the birth of our child. The world will have to do without Superman for a while — coming December he's taking a long vacation."

Lois smiled mistily up at him. "I wouldn't want you to miss out on this. It's going to be the most important experience of our lives; and it might very well be the one and only time, Clark. You never know, so we have to share every moment of this pregnancy. And that includes the actual birth."

"Yeah…" Clark tenderly cupped her cheek in one large hand and dipped his head to place a soft kiss on her lips. "I love you, Lois."

"I love you too," Lois sighed blissfully and snuggled into his arms. "Mmmm, this is nice. It's been such a crazy day and you know what? Five minutes ago I was pooped, but now I'm wide awake and —"

"One hot milk 'n honey coming right up, Ma'am!" Clark tried to disentangle himself but Lois tightened her hold on him.

"In a minute, Clark, I almost forgot to tell you this: you wonder why I don't use my enhanced vision and hearing, right?" Lois let go of him and sat up straight, once again facing Clark, who looked at her questioningly.

"Okay, the vision first." Lois frowned. "I'm a bit surprised myself, you know. By nature I'm a curious person, so you'd think I'd constantly want to see what's going on behind closed doors, but I don't. In a way I'm relieved, because my vision isn't that strong and it's very irregular. Anyway, it makes me see stars and makes my head swim — so I rarely use that. On the other hand, I wish I could use the enhanced hearing, but I can't. It hurts when I do."

"What do you mean — your ears hurt? Let me see… no… no infection… the other one looks fine too, Lois. I'm not a doctor, but both your ears look perfectly fine."

Relieved, Lois sighed. "Thanks, Clark, I didn't think it was an ear infection, not really, because then it would hurt all the time, right? It only hurts when I turn my hearing on. I did so this morning when you'd dashed off to see what Ralph was up to and the pain was really bad. So I'm definitely not going to try that again. It's weird, though — my ears didn't hurt when I was UltraWoman, remember? I could hear everything that was going on in as far as Brazil or something! And I didn't have to turn it on deliberately; it just kicked in, like it happens to you. So why is it different this time?"

Clark looked thoughtful. "Well, at that time you had all my powers, Lois, not just a little bit — and also the invulnerability. This time, you have just a bit of the powers in a very human body. I guess your ears are telling you they're not equipped to stand that many decibels. And maybe it's the same with your eyes. Honey, it's a very wise decision not to use the enhanced hearing and vision. We don't want you deaf and blind at the end of your pregnancy!"

Clark made an exasperated sound. "I can't believe I didn't think about this before. I'm sorry, Lois, it's my fault, I should've —"

Lois stopped him by placing two fingers on his lips. "Clark! It's okay! I should've told you as soon as I was aware of it. I was going to tell you today and also call Daddy. I thought I'd have to go see a doctor, but your explanation is so logical, I can't believe I didn't think of it myself. I'm so relieved!" Lois smiled at his still agitated face and said teasingly, "When did you get so clever, hmm?"

Clark relaxed a bit but still looked concerned. "I should've known, Lois, I'm so sorry."

"Well, we know now, so I'll just have to — oops! There she goes again. Hey sweetie — feeling neglected, huh?" Lois sighed and stood up. "Looks like our little princess here wants some quality time with her parents. You were going to fix me that yucky milk and honey drink, right? Let's go down to the kitchen, I'm not sleepy anymore; it's only ten, so another half hour won't hurt."

Lois stood up and started to float towards the door. Suddenly she landed on her two feet and turned to look anxiously at Clark. "Do you think the floating is all right, Clark?"

"Guess so — as long as you're still able to come down," Clark teased, "Not that I'd mind to come and get you. I'm sure floating is harmless, honey. Astronauts do it and they live to tell." He grinned. "And being as strong as you are right now, without looking like Arnold Swarzenegger, is fine by me too."

"Oh! I hadn't thought about that yet. I bet he can't lift our sofa with just one hand!" Lois said triumphantly.

"He'd better not try doing that — not if he doesn't want a hernia. And I hope you haven't either, Lois, I don't think your muscles would survive that."

"Of course not, silly, why would I? Look for dust?"

Lois got herself airborne again and started floating towards the door. She turned around to look at her husband who chose to follow her on foot.

"You know, Clark, all in all I feel really fortunate. Now, look at these legs." Lois pedalled in the air as she floated slowly backwards down the stairs. "My ankles — not swollen at all. Most women feel bloated and waddle around. Now, do I waddle? Noooo! Do I look bloated? Noooo!"

Clark, standing at the top of the stairs, grinned. He loved this view of a scantily clad Lois, wriggling her toes at him. He wished he could take a picture of her floating like this, but they'd agreed it was prudent not to. If a picture like that fell into the wrong hands… Clark shuddered; it didn't bear thinking about. So he took snapshots of Lois while she posed for him in all the different stages of her pregnancy, but only in normal settings.

"No, honey, you don't waddle… yet. You don't look bloated… yet!" He laughed at the outraged expression on her face.

Lois stuck out her tongue at him then turned around and gracefully landed on her feet at the bottom of the stairs. "Just for that, me and my baby will pig out on ice cream right now and we won't give you one lick."

"That's okay — as long as you drink your milk and honey I won't tell your mother."

"Deal! Hmmm… not much in the ice cream department here," Lois peered into the freezer. "Oh well, I'd better not. I hate to admit it, but my mother's right; I shouldn't gain too much weight." With a regretful sigh Lois closed the door of the freezer.

"I'm proud of you!" Clark gave her a playful slap on her behind. "Now, get out of my way."

"I'm going! I'm going!" Lois floated above the table then sat, cross-legged, down on it. She straightened her back and placed her hands on her knees with the palms turned upwards. She closed her eyes and started to hum.

"Hummm… hummm…"


"I'm meditating! Might just be the trick to put this little imp to sleep; she's really moving around in there, you know. Think she's doing some swimming practice? She might become an Olympic champion, or maybe —"

"Open your eyes, honey, here's your milk." Clark smiled indulgently at his wife. She looked so adorable; a far cry from the smart, no-nonsense businesswoman who'd efficiently sat in for the Chief at this morning's briefing. "I want you in bed and sleeping in ten minutes. It's been one heck of a day!"

Lois grinned at him. "It sure was. Who would've thought! James Bartholomew Olsen, Master Spy for 'The Daily Planet'!"

"It wasn't very nice of you to laugh at him. He was very embarrassed, you know. It took guts for Jimmy to come clean about that." But Clark couldn't help grinning himself; Perry's expression had been priceless!

Lois giggled as she floated off the table onto a chair. "I couldn't help it — it was just too funny! Poor Jimmy, cultivating his cute puppy dog image all these years, only to have it blown up in his face like this."

"Well, Lois, isn't that just what I've been doing? I'm living two lives here too, you know!"

"That's different and you know it. For you, it's a necessity. For Jimmy, it's just foolish! You know, Ralph did him a favor, really. He was in danger of losing his friends here. Be honest, Clark, it's been a long time since we've invited Jimmy over; even before we knew I was pregnant. I can't remember when was the last time, but I know at one point I'd been thinking — Geez! Grow up! And even worse — he was losing his credibility with Perry. Some time ago the Chief confessed to me that he'd like to promote Jimmy — make him head of the research department. Because he really is the best! But Perry didn't dare do it. He was afraid the rest of the staff wouldn't be able to take orders from Jimmy; not while he still behaved like a twenty-year-old. He was sabotaging his own career with this foolishness, Clark! He's lucky I only laughed at him — I should've wrung his neck!"

"Drink your milk, Lois, it's getting cold." Clark sighed. "Still, I feel we failed him — I did, especially. I shouldn't have tolerated it. I should've sat him down and talked some sense into his head. That's what real friends do, right? But we chose to look away and pull away from him instead of giving him a reality check. Even if he didn't like it, at least he'd have known we didn't like his attitude. I guess, deep down, he still feels abandoned by his father. Maybe in this way Jimmy wanted to compensate for the void Jack's leaving must have caused. You, of all people should understand that, honey."

Lois looked pensive. "Maybe you're right… I know how it feels to lose your father and Jimmy was so young at the time. And he was an only child, too. At least Lucy and I had each other and look at all the hangovers we're still battling! You're right, Clark, I shouldn't have laughed at him; I'll apologize to him first thing in the morning. I'm glad he's coming over tomorrow night; we can really talk to him then. And I think it's time we prepared a real dinner, set the table, that kind of thing." Lois giggled in spite of herself. "To celebrate Jimmy's coming out."


"I'm sorry, Clark, I promise I won't laugh when Jimmy's around. I mean it though — a real dinner — no casual pizza eating on the couch. I think he'll like that."

"That's a great idea, honey, we'll treat him as an adult right away. He likes Chinese food — how 'bout that chicken stir fry you like so much?"

"Mmm, yummy! You can let him help and the two of you can have a man-to-man talk while I make myself scarce, how's that? I'll be busy upstairs till you're ready for me to come down."

"Sounds good to me," Clark said. He got up and relieved Lois of the now empty mug. "Time for me to tuck you two ladies in. How's our little princess doing? Still kicking?"

"She's quiet right now. You're asking me? You haven't peeked?"

"Lois, I'm not constantly peeking — I always ask nicely first!"

"Oh! You do not! You've never once asked me if it was okay to look — you just do! But that's okay, sweetheart, I'm so glad you can." Lois floated into Clark's arms and snuggled close to his chest. "Now, carry your wife up to bed, Mr. Kent. You never know what kind of day we'll have tomorrow. This one was a beauty!"

"Yes," Clark agreed as he carried his precious burden up the stairs. "We'd better be prepared!"


Chapter Nine

"Okay, people! We've got a newspaper to put out. Now go out there and do your stuff!"

Perry White stood up and strode to the door while his staff members picked up their papers and also began to leave the conference room. The morning briefing was over, assignments handed out.

"Lois, Clark, in my office. Jimmy! You take care we're not disturbed, okay?"

"Sure, Chief."

Jimmy Olsen watched the threesome enter the Chief's office in trepidation. He was sure they were going to talk about him. He'd come in early, hoping to talk to Perry before the morning briefing but the Chief had been late, joining his staff in the conference room with barely a minute to spare.

Jimmy sighed. Yesterday he'd tried to explain everything to Perry but the Chief had been so mad, Jimmy didn't know if he'd gotten through to him. Oh well, he'd just have to wait and see if he'd be summoned into the Chief's office next. He'd talked with Jazzy last night and he wanted to get those explanations about her and Ralph off his chest as soon as possible.

At least tonight he'd have a chance to talk undisturbed with Lois and CK. He'd been so relieved when the couple had walked in this morning and greeted him with their usual casual nonchalance. Lois hadn't laughed at him as she'd done yesterday — she'd smiled and said, "Hi, Jimbo! The Chief not in yet?" and CK had asked if he'd found something on that 'Butch' Warner guy yet. He'd better get on with it.

Jimmy turned to his PC and went to work while keeping a watchful eye on the Chief's office.


Perry White sat down behind his desk with a decisive air and motioned to his prize reporting team to take a seat. Lois was relieved that the defeated look he'd sported all day yesterday was gone. 'Dinner with Alice must have done him a lot of good,' Lois thought. This was the Chief she knew and loved best — with a twinkle in his eyes and a jaunty spring in his step.

"Lois… Clark…" Perry began, "I wanted to talk to you yesterday and then of course that thing with Olsen happened and we never got around to that. I'd be apologizin' to you but now it seems it was for the best, 'cause it made me change the way I look at some things a bit. I still have to talk to Jimmy, mind you, but I guess that young man's learnt a valuable lesson and will finally get his act together now. I'd appreciate it if you two could help him with that."

"'Course we will, Perry." Lois and Clark said simultaneously.

"Good. Then I'll —"

"Chief," Lois interrupted Perry. "I know what you want to talk to us about. And the answer is yes! I'd love to stay on as your assistant editor after my maternity leave. I'd like to continue working with you for a few hours and team up with Clark for the rest of the time. Pretty much like we've been doing right now. But there's one thing —"

"Lo-is…" Clark touched her knee in an attempt to silence her but Lois was in full babble mode and not to be stopped.

"— I won't work nights, Chief, I don't want to solve distribution problems and things like that when I'm feeding my baby. I suppose —"

"You think that's what I wanna talk to you about? Are you a mind reader?" Perry interrupted Lois as he stared sternly at her over the rim of his reading glasses.

"Honey, give Perry a chance to say what he wants to say, okay?" Clark took one of Lois's hands in a firm grip. "Why are you so nervous? He's not going to fire us, now are you Chief?" Clark teased gently while Lois took a deep breath then slowly released the air again.

"Lois, are you feelin' all right? Do you need to lie down?" Perry asked worriedly.

"No, I'm fine, really," Lois shook her head and sighed. "It's nothing, probably. Sometimes it just looms over me, this dark feeling, like something bad is about to happen. It comes and goes. I just have to learn to control it, Chief, that's all. It's all part of being pregnant, I guess. Mother says it's hormones and maybe she's right."

"These days Lois seems to be able to sense when things aren't exactly right." Clark elaborated.

"Something like that," Lois agreed. "But so far nothing really bad has happened and that's a good thing, right?"

"You feel like someone's walkin' on your grave, honey? Is that how you feel?"

"Oh Perry, please! Don't say that — that's morbid!"

"Well Lois, we all have feelings like that from time to time. Maybe your mother's right and being pregnant has heightened your senses a bit. Tell you what; if you don't feel up to it we can have this conversation some other time; Clark?"

"Fine by me, Chief, if you think it can wait… Lois?"

"No, please, I'm fine, really! We've postponed this twice already!"

Perry peered at her closely for a minute. "Okay then… Lemme see… you'd like to stay on as part- time editor? That's great, Lois, that's a good decision. And I take it Clark here agrees with you?"

"Sure, Perry, I'm fine with it as long as I don't have to work with another partner."

"No, you can't work with someone else, Clark, I know that. But I want you two to think really hard about what comes next. I won't be here forever — in fact, I'm considering retiring next year. I'm hoping Lois here will be ready by then to take over full time."

"Next year? You can't mean that! You're too young to retire! No! You can't do this. We won't let you — Clark, say something!"

But Clark was momentarily speechless, staring at Perry with a blank expression on his face. He felt pole-axed; he hadn't expected this.

"Clark!" Lois pushed against his shoulder and Clark shook his head as if to clear it.

"Uh… Perry… next year… Why so soon? You've never said anything before. You're not sick, are you?"

"Sick?" Lois exclaimed while Perry held up his hands.

"Now, don't go there, kids, it's nothin' like that. I'm not sick. And I'm not gonna wait until I get sick either. I haven't told you this before, but Jerry, my son, has once again gotten himself into trouble. Not here in Metropolis, thank goodness, but it's back to jail for him. Alice is takin' it real hard this time and I want to be there for her. I promised her I'd start arranging my retirement as soon as possible."

Perry sighed heavily before he continued. "Lois, Alice understands that you will need to adjust to the idea and that it will take time until you're ready to take over from me full time. That's why I'm willing to wait until the baby's a few months old."

"Well, that's — Geez! — I mean — " Lois sank back into her chair.

Clark stared in dismay at Perry's face. "Chief, a minute ago you said you knew I couldn't work with another partner. Why do you think I would be able to do so next year?"

"I don't, Clark, that's why I think you two should really think hard about this. If Lois becomes full time Editor-in-Chief and she doesn't assign you a new partner, the other reporters will wonder why. And if you keep flyin' in and out of here at all hours she could be accused of favoritism. And before you know it, there will be another Ralph-type guy following you around."

Clark opened his mouth to respond but Perry again held up his hands before he could say anything.

"Hear me out, son. I want to get this off my chest and I want you two to pay attention. If Lois decides to go back to reporting full time, then I'd have to look for someone else. Ken Latimer at the Foreign Affairs desk is a good candidate and there's Jane Wallis; she took over the Business Section three years ago and things have been running smoothly in that group ever since. And if they're not interested, I'd have to go for an outsider. So you see, there are enough candidates, Lois, if you'd say 'no' and went back to full time reporting. But Lane and Kent, as great a team as they are, can't expect the same lenient treatment from a new Editor-in-Chief; you know that, don't you, darlin'?"

Perry paused a minute to let it all sink in then continued briskly, "I want you two to consider my next proposal so listen carefully. Clark, as soon as the baby's born — or even before that — you might want to leave the Planet's employment and sign a freelance contract with us instead. We'll keep a desk here for you and it will be understood that Clark Kent has no fixed hours in the newsroom anymore; he can basically come and go as he pleases. You will have access to the research department and all other services as usual. By the time I'm gone and Lois here takes over full time it won't be Lois suddenly giving her husband a preferential treatment — it will already be a done deal and no one will question the arrangement anymore. And Lois — before you suggest you'd prefer to share the workload with another editor — darlin', it won't work. Both Ken Latimer and Jane Wallis keep very close tabs on their staff; they won't treat the City Desk employees differently."

Perry paused once again and leaned back in his chair. "Okay, Lois… Clark… I've put my cards on the table. It's up to you now."

"Not all of your cards, Perry," Clark said slowly while he stared steadily at the Chief's passive countenance. "You've left out the Joker… You know, don't you?"

"Yes, son," Perry said gently. "I know… I have for years."

"Oh God!" Lois suddenly found her tongue. She wanted to jump up but Clark detained her, holding one powerful arm stretched in front of her chest.

Perry frowned when he heard the panic in Lois's voice. "Lois, I hope you know I can be trusted with this secret of yours. Since I figured it out I haven't told a soul — not even Alice. I'll take it with me in my grave; you can trust me on that."

Lois opened her mouth to answer but Clark was quicker. "Perry, we trust you, both of us do. And we're very grateful that you've helped me — us — to lead a normal life. But if you've known for years, why didn't you say so earlier? And what made you decide to tell us now?"

"Why didn't I tell you earlier? Lemme see… I'll admit I was a bit peeved at first that you apparently didn't trust me enough to tell me yourself, Clark. But then I realized that with everything that was going on in your life — all those attempts to kill Superman — and on top of that you had your hands full, tryin' to keep Lois here from being murdered too. I began to see — wait a minute! There aren't any bugs in here, right?"

Suddenly alarmed, Perry glanced around his office. Clark pulled down his glasses and swiftly scanned for listening or recording devices that might possibly be hidden in the room.

"No… no bugs in here, Chief. We can talk freely." Clark pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

"Hmmm…" Perry stared at Clark through narrowed eyes. "That's how you look through things, right? So why wear glasses? I've always wanted to know that."

"Well, when I first started to see through things my mom and dad —"

Lois, sufficiently recovered from the shock of hearing Perry admit he'd known all along that Clark and Superman were one and the same person, rolled her eyes. "Clark!" she interrupted her husband impatiently. "Don't get sidetracked here. You can demonstrate your special skills to Perry later; right now we have more important things to consider. Perry? You were saying?"

"Well — ah —"

"You were telling us why you understood we'd kept this a secret, even from you."

"Well, Lois, I realized how dangerous it would be if too many people knew about Clark and I also realized that he obviously wanted to lead a normal life. And that wasn't going to happen if it became common knowledge that he was Superman."

Perry looked away from Lois and back at Clark. "I guess, at first, it was only your own folks who knew, right? Then at some point you had to tell Lois — and her folks, too. Well, I began to see how very dangerous it would be if people started telling each other that Superman was none other than Clark Kent. So, I kept my mouth shut and tried to make things as easy as possible for you here at the Planet."

Perry leaned back in his chair and looked at Lois. "Initially, I was just going to ask you to stay on as full time Editor-in-Chief when I retire, Lois, and let you two figure out for yourselves how to deal with that. I wasn't going to tell you I knew about Clark being Superman. But then this thing with Jimmy happened and it suddenly hit me that I hadn't paid close attention to the kid for quite some time. Probably the same mistake I made with my own sons. Anyway, I didn't see through Jimmy's pathetic disguise so I let him flounder like a fish on a reel. I blame myself for that and last night, when I got home after I'd talked things over with Alice, I thought about it some more and I came to a decision. I was through with all this subterfuge; like making dumb remarks when Superman's on TV just to set your mind at ease, Lois, and I'm sorry if it bothers you, but I really had to get it off my chest now and —"

"— it's like a big weight's been lifted off your shoulders — I know the feeling, Chief." Clark glanced apprehensively at Lois but relaxed when he saw her smile at Perry.

"We know we can trust you, Perry, it wasn't a question of trust." Lois assured Perry earnestly. "Clark has never been able to tell anyone, not even me, you know. I had to figure it out all by myself too. But you see… since childhood it had been drilled into him by his parents never to trust anyone with his secret. They were so afraid he'd be captured and put in a lab to be dissected like a frog…"

Clark instinctively put one arm around Lois and a large, protective hand over her belly. Lois turned to face him and lovingly caressed his cheek. She kept looking at her husband while still addressing Perry.

"And now this incredible thing happened, Chief. We'd pretty much stopped hoping we'd be able to have kids — and now we've got this child's safety to consider. We'll have to guard her against Superman's enemies. And lately it's started to dawn on me that we'll need a strong support group in our lives. People who know about us and will help us to keep our daughter safe."

"I'd never do anything to hurt you or Clark, Lois, you must know that." Perry said gruffly. He stared at Lois while his eyes widened. "What did you just say… a daughter? Great shades of Elvis! You're havin' a girl? Hahahah!" Perry laughed delightedly. "That's great, kids, that's great — wait till I tell Alice! She'll be tickled pink; always wanted a daughter herself. Well, that is — I hope it's okay to tell Alice?"

Lois smiled. "Sure, Perry, you can tell Alice."

"Thanks honey, anything to take her mind off Jerry, you know. Now, is there anything else you'd like to ask? About the job offers maybe?" Once again Perry was his brisk, businesslike self.

"No… no questions yet," Clark said slowly, "We need to discuss this carefully before we tell you what we've decided."

"Take all the time you need; I'm not gone yet." Perry looked at his watch. "It's time I talked to Jimmy too. Send him in, Lois, and take that husband of yours home for lunch. You need some private time to talk things over and I guess you won't get that tonight. Jimmy's coming over, right?"

"Yes, and we can't cancel that — he's feeling too insecure right now." Clark stood up and drew Lois to her feet. "Thanks Chief, we'll take you up on that lunch offer. And I'm sorry, really sorry about Jerry."

"Me too, Perry, I'm so sorry — and thank you — for everything." Lois walked over to where Perry sat. She stooped to kiss him on the cheek. "I love you — we both love you and just so you know, my parents have only just found out. We had to tell them when I discovered I was pregnant, so you don't have to feel too left out." Lois smiled as she lovingly patted her belly. "This little miracle in there… it's as if she's started some sort of chain reaction. She's making us take a good look at ourselves and the people around us and… Oh, oh… something's up, Chief!" Lois turned to look questioningly at the door; Clark had already opened it and a loud voice filtered into Perry's office.

"Look here, Olsen, you can't tell me what I can or cannot do! I have to-talk to the Chief and —"

"If you take another step towards that door, Stanley, I'll personally drag you back to your desk and chain you to it! Is that understood?"

Jimmy Olsen's calm but menacing voice had the desired effect. Stanley Coleman stopped and glared at him then thrust the file he was holding in his hand against Jimmy's chest. "Okay, okay! You don't have to get violent! Just make sure the Chief gets this a.s.a.p!" He turned on his heels and stormed away, leaving several newsroom employees staring at Jimmy with mixed feelings.

Ed Rosen, one of the older staff members, smiled and nodded approvingly. It looked like Olsen was finally getting his act together. Not a day too soon, Ed reflected as he turned his attention once again to the files on his desk.


Lois, munching on a gherkin, pensively looked on while Clark prepared her favorite lunch: tuna salad sandwich with lots of horseradish. Lately she'd developed a craving for pickled fare and mustard and sometimes Clark even had to stop her using these on her breakfast toast too. She licked her fingers. Mmm… she fished another gherkin out of the glass jar on the table and began to nibble on it.

Clark picked up two plates from the counter and put them on the table. "Here you go… what would you like to drink, honey? Some freshly squeezed orange juice?"

"Mmm… would be nice if you put an apple in it, and maybe a carrot too?"

"One apple-orange-carrot drink coming up!" Clark said cheerfully as he grabbed Lois's hand and took a big bite out of her gherkin and effectively stopping her outrageous gasp by planting a quick, hard kiss on her lips.

"You smell like a gherkin, honey — mmmm — and you taste like a gherkin."

"Don't you dare say I look like a gherkin too, Farmboy!"

Clark, busy with the juicer at the counter, chuckled. "No, honey, you don't look like a gherkin — you look simply gorgeous. And I can tell by the look on your face that you've come to some sort of decision."

"Well, I've been thinking… I guess Perry must've really done some hard thinking himself last night. And you know, Clark, this plan of his? It's not bad — not bad at all. We'll have to look for pitfalls, I know, but so far…"

"I agree — it all sounds great. I'd hate to lose you as a partner, though. I mean, once Perry's gone. Sure, we'll be able to work together at home — some — but it won't be the same and by then we'll have the baby to consider too… here's your juice." Clark put the glass on the table and sat down.

"Thanks, honey," Lois sipped her juice then took a big bite out of her sandwich. She chewed and swallowed while looking thoughtfully at Clark's face. He was frowning slightly as he too started eating. "Sweetheart, how do you feel about Perry knowing about you — about us?"

"Well," Clark looked up. "I'm okay with it, I guess. This is Perry, right? I was just thinking — do we have to tell all the people we consider being good friends? There's Jimmy… maybe…"

"Clark, you shouldn't feel obliged to tell anyone. Jimmy — maybe — if you'd really want to. In fact, I was thinking of Bernie Klein. Katharine might need to see a doctor one day — a doctor who understands her special needs. I don't think my father will be of any help on anything Kryptonian. So maybe he could work together with Bernie on your medical files… yours and the baby's. You do trust him, don't you? Bernie, I mean?"

Clark nodded slowly. "Yes, I trust him, Lois. And maybe your father can help with finally finding an antidote against Kryptonite. After all these years Bernie still hasn't been able to figure it out."

"That has crossed my mind once or twice these last few months," Lois admitted. "I do hope Bernie finds it, especially for Katharine's sake. She won't be growing up in Smallville, but in Metropolis, Clark. I know — crime has been considerably less these last couple of years, thanks to Superman, and a lot of criminals have moved their activities to other cities. But I'm not na‹ve — there will always be crime; not so much on the streets, thanks to your regular patrolling, Clark, but very well hidden. Which makes it all the more dangerous, right? I don't want our daughter to get in touch with Kryptonite, ever! And certainly not at an early age. So it might be best if Daddy and Bernie could work together." Lois sighed and took another sip of her juice. "I think we've covered the people we'd want to know about you, Clark. But don't force yourself to do something you're not ready to do yet. Promise?"

"I promise — and I'll always talk it over with you first. This concerns you too, honey, and the baby. But it isn't so scary anymore, you know. Look how well your parents and Bertha are dealing with this. Perry, Jimmy and Bernie Klein… these are people I've known — and come to trust — ever since I came to live in Metropolis. You've talked a lot about friends lately, Lois — I think these are our real friends. I don't think I want Jimmy or Bernie finding out accidentally after all these years; they'd be hurt, like Perry was. He says he got over that, but…"

"Yeah… I still remember how I felt when I'd finally figured it out. I was hurt because I thought you didn't trust me enough to tell me yourself; Perry must have felt very much left out all these years. I'm glad he at least figured out why we've kept silent about it. But you're not planning to tell Jimmy tonight, are you?"

"Definitely not! Jimmy's got a lot to cope with right now; I think he needs time to show that he's mature and reliable. I don't think it would be a good idea to dump this on him, too."

"No, Jimmy's definitely not ready to hear something like this."

"Lois, how do you feel about Perry's job offer? You'll be stuck with a very demanding job, you know. What about those problems that need to be dealt with at all hours? You said you don't want to work nights."

"Oh, I don't, believe me! I'll just have to find myself an assistant; a young eager beaver — someone like Jimmy — to handle all the mundane stuff. That will give me more time to deal with the reporting side of the business. That way I could continue working with you on important cases. What do you think?" Lois looked at Clark expectantly.

"Sounds like a good plan, honey. I've been thinking… if you become Editor-in-Chief, you'll get a big, fat raise, Lois, but what will working on a freelance basis mean to me, financially speaking? As a freelance journalist I won't be on a set wage. Will the Planet pay me only for stories they run? And how much will that be? The thing I'm most worried about is the payment, Lois. Sometimes we're busy for weeks on a case before we crack it. We really need to sort that out before we make a decision."


Chapter Ten

"This was delicious, CK," Jimmy declared as he laid down his chopsticks. "And so easy to prepare! If you'd told me it took only twenty minutes to cook all this I wouldn't have believed you."

"You've seen it with your own eyes, Jimmy; and you helped!" Clark grinned. "Lois, those mutilated onions and bell peppers were Jimmy's contribution."

Lois laughed. "Don't feel bad about that, Jimmy. You should see my kitchen 'artwork'. At least yours was edible. Clark won't let me near the stove — all I'm allowed to do is make tea or cocoa."

"Well, I'm definitely going to try this one out myself. Can I have the recipe, CK?"

"Sure, Jimmy," Clark rose and began to clear the table. "Lois, please take our guest into the living room. I'll take care of the cleaning up and make coffee for Jimmy and myself. What would you like to drink? Tea, hot milk, some fruit juice? No, Jim, you don't have to help, I'll be fine… go talk to Lois… she's dying to hear all about Jazzy and your chance meeting with Megan."

Lois looked puzzled. "Megan?"

Clark grinned. "Let him tell you about Jazzy first, Lois, because when he starts on Megan you won't be able to stop him!"

"Jimmy, you're blushing! Now I'm really curious. Come with me," Lois started to shove Jimmy playfully in the back and towards the living room. "Now, sit down and start talking!"

"Okay, okay!" Jimmy grinned as he flopped down on the couch. "I'll tell you about Jazzy first. I talked to the Chief again today and that went really well. I'm so relieved he's not angry any more. Oh well, at least now I know I'm definitely not spy material. And neither is Jazzy, as I found out last night. She agreed to talk to me because she's mad at Ralph. Her real name is Jessie, by the way, but she prefers Jazzy. She doesn't have a job — looking the way she does nobody wants to hire her. So she basically just hangs around clubs and bars where rock groups perform."

"So where did Ralp find her? He doesn't go to rock bars — or does he?"

"No, I don't think so. She lives with her mother next door to Ralph in the same apartment building. Seems her mom and Ralph have been dating on and off and her mom is always complaining to him about Jazzy. So Ralph offered her a job; told her it would be easy. All she had to do was getting to know me and pump me for information. And now that the whole thing's blown up in his face he blames Jazzy!"

"Ralph's an idiot, Jimmy, always was. Did you talk to him too?"

Jimmy grimaced. "Not yet. I had a date with Megan after I talked to Jazzy. That was more important than cruising the bars looking for Ralph. Lois, you don't mind if I leave at nine, do you? I want to find him before I go pick up Megan. I'm meeting her at the library where she works. Tonight's the night they stay open till ten and I promised her I'll meet her there."

"You can leave any time you want, Jimmy," Lois looked at her watch. "We still have time to talk if you leave at nine. Now, who's Megan?"


"Thanks, Lois… CK… for everything. See you tomorrow!"

With a loud roar Jimmy started his motorcycle and, with a last wave to his friends, standing hand in hand in their doorway, drove away.

"Hmmm…" Lois said pensively. "Maybe we should've told him not to bother trying to find Ralph tonight. He's bound to be too drunk anyway. Jimmy'd better talk to him in daytime — he might just be sober then."

"I told Jimmy he'd best forget about it. But he insists Ralph should know he was on to him from day one and that it would be useless to try this stunt again with someone else. He doesn't want to be accosted by yet another girl; not now he's found Megan again."

"Well, he's got a point there." Lois tried to suppress the tiny shiver traveling down her spine.

"What is it, honey?" Clark asked, concerned.

"Oh… Perry would say someone's walkin' on my grave. Forget it — let's go in and see what's in that file Jimmy brought with him. I'm curious to see what he found out about that 'Butch' Warner guy. It would be great if we could crack this construction fraud case."


Jimmy Olsen sped through the warm summer night, a smile playing around his lips. He was so thankful this whole nightmare was almost over. CK had tried to talk him out of it but he was adamant — he had to talk to Ralph Simms, even if he was dead drunk. He needed this confrontation to be able to close this chapter once and for all. First, he'd stop at the 'Silver Shoe', that country bar he knew Ralph frequented most nights. And if Ralph wasn't there, he'd look for him at his apartment.

Yesterday, Jimmy had felt as if his world had come to an end. He'd been so keyed up when he'd met Megan for lunch and before he knew it he'd poured his heart out to her. Megan had listened in silence as she'd sipped her coffee and nibbled on that soggy piece of pastry 'The Java Club' called apple pie. When he'd finished talking Jimmy had hung his head; he hadn't dared to look her in the eye.

Megan had been silent for quite some time before she'd reached out her hand and laid it over his. "Jim, it's over — I'm quite sure Perry and Lois and Clark will be able to get past this. You haven't committed a federal crime, you know." She'd patted his hand consolingly before she'd withdrawn hers and grinned. "I'd have loved to see the Chief's face when he first saw Jazzy, though!"

Megan had helped him to relax and they had gone on to talk about their jobs and their mutual hobby, motorcycles, and she'd agreed to meet him again after work.

To Jimmy, the rest of the day at the Planet had seemed like an eternity and long before closing time he'd stood in front of the library, waiting for Megan to come out. Together they'd dodged the heavy traffic and raced through the harbor area to the outskirts of the city. They'd parked their motorcycles on top of Hobbs Hill and watched the sunset bathe the skyline of Metropolis in soft orangey colors.

Jimmy had then taken her to his favorite Chinese restaurant, the same one where he'd first met Jazzy. It was during their late night supper that Megan had told him why their first dates, now almost five years ago, hadn't worked out.

"I'm glad you've decided to show your true self to your friends, Jim. Back then you behaved like my little brother, even though you were a year older than me. I didn't like going out with my little brother. You were constantly grinning and telling silly jokes and you couldn't sit still; you were so jumpy and strung up I didn't know what to think of you. I liked you though, that's why I agreed to go out with you a second time. I thought… maybe you'd just been shy and nervous that first time; but the second time was even worse!"

Jimmy still cringed when he thought about his past behavior.

"You can thank your lucky stars Megan didn't simply dismiss you this time," Lois had commented when he'd told her. Lois was right — he'd been given a second chance and he was determined not to blow it this time.

Lois had gone on to tell him how not being completely honest with each other had also kept her and CK longer apart than had been necessary. "We didn't listen to our hearts, Jimmy," Lois had confessed. "We were so afraid to really open up to each other so we wasted a lot of precious time and almost lost each other for good."

Well, Jimmy thought, he was grateful for her advice and he wasn't going to make the same mistake — he was going to be completely open with Megan. She liked him, otherwise she wouldn't go out with him, he was sure of that.

Jimmy slowed down as he approached the street where the 'Silver Shoe' was located. It was a busy night; cars kept coming and going and he watched for an open space to park his bike.

Hey… that man… wasn't that Ralph Simms, staggering off the sidewalk onto the street? Yes, it was Ralph all right and he was trying to cross the street. Oh God! That car was going to hit him!

With a mighty roar Jimmy sped his bike towards Ralph, letting go of the machine when he leapt off the saddle, flinging himself against the hapless man. Ralph was thrown back against a parked vehicle where he lay, dazed and whimpering, while Jimmy's bike raced headlong towards the approaching car. The stricken driver, trying to avoid the collision with the rider-less machine, swerved his car sharply and caught Jimmy fully against one hip, sending him flying through the air.

With a sickening thud Jimmy's body hit the asphalt while a soundless scream tore from his throat.


At Hyperion Avenue a man, startled, lifted his head from the file he was perusing. A woman's soft voice asked, "Superman, what are you hearing?" He didn't answer; he spun into his Suit and shot into the sky.


Lois frowned as she stooped to pick up the sheets of paper her husband had dropped before he'd flown out the window. In the distance she could hear the sound of sirens. A road accident, Lois thought, a pile up maybe. She hoped no one got seriously hurt. Clark was always so upset when lives were lost in car accidents, especially if it was the result of reckless driving.

She neatly stacked the papers and laid them down on the dining table. Before he had to leave so suddenly Clark had been absorbed in reading the file Jimmy had brought over earlier. Lois had been seated behind her laptop, looking up information he called out to her. So far, the first few pages they'd already dealt with hadn't revealed much.

Lois glanced at the clock. Not even nine thirty yet. It could be a while before Clark returned and it was too early to go to bed. She picked up the file and started reading.


Even before he landed beside the unconscious figure Superman knew it was Jimmy Olsen's body laying in an awkward angle against a black Sedan parked not far from the "Silver Shoe" bar. He knew he was still alive; he'd already picked up Jimmy's heartbeat. It was faint, but audible.

The people who'd already flocked to see what had caused those terrible, crashing sounds, automatically made way for the commanding figure clad in the colorful costume, his cape billowing out after him as he touched down on the street where his injured friend lay motionless. The screeching sound of a police car braking to a stop could be heard and not far behind, the ominous sound of an ambulance's siren grew in volume as it neared the place of the accident.

Superman swiftly scanned Jimmy's body for internal injuries. Thank God Jimmy wore a helmet, he thought anxiously, at least his skull had had some sort of protection. Jimmy would probably have a severe concussion but his head seemed okay. What about his spine and neck? Had Jimmy suffered irreparable damage? He wasn't a doctor; he couldn't tell. Frustrated, Superman straightened and motioned to the crowd to step back as two policemen rushed to his side.

"Superman! How bad is it?" The older policeman frowned when he saw the still figure of the young cyclist. "Damn motorcycles," he muttered. "Dangerous contraptions… Okay people! Anyone here see what happened?"

"Yes, Officer, several of us did." A young man, still shaken by what he'd just witnessed, stepped forward and pointed to the driver of the fateful car. The man, his face ashen, was still seated in his car. He stared, wide eyed and clearly in shock, at Superman.

"He couldn't help it. He tried to avoid hitting him, but this man here just leapt off his bike. He saved that man's life by doing so." The young man pointed behind Superman at a dazed figure sitting against the parked car he had been hurled against.

Superman whirled around to look at the figure the man was pointing at. Ralph Simms?! He made an exasperated sound while he quickly scanned his former co-worker's body for possible injuries.

"There's nothing wrong with him," Superman told the younger policeman who was already kneeling down beside Ralph. "A few cuts and bruises, but no broken bones. And so drunk he probably doesn't even know what's happened just now."

Superman turned to clear a path for the ambulance workers rushing to Jimmy's side. When they had him securely strapped on a stretcher he picked it up and flew his friend to the emergency room of Metropolis General Hospital. As soon as he'd registered Jimmy and promised the nurse on duty that he'd notify the patient's family Superman left the hospital.

Once again he landed near the scene of the accident, mere minutes after he'd flown off. This time he approached the police officers and eyewitnesses as Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, jotting down statements, making sure he got the story right.

A young man, wearing a camera around his neck, timidly approached Clark, introducing himself as an amateur photographer who always carried a camera with him. He told Clark he'd been able to take some spectacular shots of Jimmy Olsen's daring rescue of the drunkard. He was a reader and great admirer of 'The Daily Planet' and when he'd learned the identity of the victim he gladly offered his roll of film, free of charge, for exclusive use in tomorrow's edition. Clark assured him that if any pictures were used his name would be mentioned and he'd be paid the usual fee.

When he'd concluded his last eyewitness interview Clark briefly considered calling Lois but decided against it; he'd best tell her in person. He thanked the police officers for salvaging Jimmy's bike, then left as Superman and headed straight to Hyperion Avenue.

He knew this was going to be a long night.


Megan Carrington slowly started to put out the lights. No point in waiting any longer. He obviously wasn't coming — and he hadn't bothered to call. She bit her lip. She'd been so sure this time that he…

'Oh well, you live and learn,' she thought, a little cynically. She shook her head as if to clear it. No, she wasn't going to despair. She'd only seen him three times since their chance meeting at the motor shop; no big deal! So why was she feeling so… bereft?

Megan looked at the cell phone in her hand. Slowly, with a feeling of finality, she turned it off and tucked it into her bag. She'd clutched it as a lifeline this past hour, constantly checking to see if it was still working. She'd even called Eileen, just to make sure.

"Megan!" Her sister had scolded her. "You're all alone in the library at this late hour? Waiting for who to meet you there?" Eileen had gone on about how dangerous it was for a woman to stay all alone at night in a deserted building. Megan knew Eileen was right. They always left together, but tonight she'd told the other girl, Melissa, to go ahead and leave; she'd been so sure that in a few minutes she'd hear the welcome roar of Jimmy's motor.

She'd tried to call him but his cell phone didn't react. Strange that he'd turned it off, she'd thought. She knew he'd visited Lois and Clark Kent and she'd briefly contemplated calling them, but what would she say to them? No, she'd decided, that would be too embarrassing; Jimmy might not even have mentioned her to them!

But — what if something unexpected had happened? Maybe Lane and Kent had suddenly been called away on an assignment and had taken Jimmy with them? Maybe he hadn't had a chance to call or in the excitement of a new adventure he hadn't yet thought about it?

Okay, Megan decided, she'd give him the benefit of the doubt for now; she'd reserve her judgement after she'd seen and spoken to him. If she didn't hear from him tonight she'd call him at the Planet, first thing in the morning.

Feeling a little better now that she'd come to a decision, Megan put on her helmet and, cautiously glancing around the dark, quiet street, quickly walked to where she'd parked her motorcycle. She started the machine and drove away.


A whirling sound alerted Lois that her husband had returned but her welcoming smile vanished when she saw his face. "That bad?" she asked as he walked towards her.

"Lois, it's worse… it's Jimmy… he's had an accident." At her startled gasp Clark held up his hands. "He's alive… unconscious, but alive. Let's hope it's just a few broken bones and nothing more serious." Clark then hurriedly told Lois what he'd seen and heard at the scene of the accident.

"I went back to talk to some eyewitnesses when I'd dropped Jimmy off at the General's ER. I'll write the article as soon as I've called Perry; we have to get this on tomorrow's front page. You try to get hold of Jimmy's parents, Lois. Call the NIA Headquarters in Washington and see if they can locate his father. Jimmy's told me Jack's basically incommunicado right now — seems he's involved in a training program for NIA recruits in a desert somewhere."

"Okay, I'll call his mother first. She lives in California nowadays; she moved there with her new husband last year… Oh no! I wouldn't know how to reach her, Clark! Jimmy will know… Oh God, what am I saying! Her address and phone number must be in his personal file at work so I'd better call the Planet; there should be someone there with access to our personal files, even at this late hour… otherwise Perry will know…" Flustered, Lois started to dial the Daily Planet number. "Might also be in his Rolodex, on his desk… I'll have them check that first… Oh no! Clark!" Lois suddenly exclaimed.

"What?" Clark, already punching in Perry's number, looked at Lois in alarm.

"Megan! We forgot about Megan! Jimmy was going to meet her at that library she works at. It's at Stanford Avenue, not far from 'Shady Pines' where Bertha lives." Lois looked at her watch. "I don't think she'll still be there, but maybe it's best if you go and try to find her. If she's willing you could drop her off at the hospital. I think it will do Jimmy a lot of good if she's there when he wakes up. You go find her, Clark, and I'll call Perry —"

But Clark wasn't listening anymore. He'd already whirled back into the Suit and flown away, once again scattering the sheets of paper Lois had been studying all over the place. This time Lois ignored them and left them to lie just where they fell as she once more grabbed the phone and started making the necessary calls.


Superman quickly scanned the darkened library building. There was no sign of Megan or anyone else for that matter. The street was quiet and deserted, save for one or two solitary figures walking their dogs in the park across from the retirement home. Superman slowly surveyed the neighborhood; too bad Jimmy hadn't told Lois and him where Megan Carrington lived. Well, maybe Jimmy himself didn't know yet.

As he prepared to land near a telephone booth Superman spotted a lone figure on a motorcycle heading towards the harbor area. He remembered Jimmy telling them he'd taken Megan to Hobbs Hill the other night. But surely Megan wouldn't go there, alone, at this late hour?

Superman zipped in and out the phone booth. No… there was no Megan Carrington listed in the directory. She probably used an unlisted prepaid mobile phone like most young people did these days. He and Lois both had one but they'd kept their listed home number anyway. He supposed it was different for teenagers and single people who probably moved around a lot.

Superman took to the sky and quickly looked around for the motorcyclist. Yes, that had to be Megan, heading to the outskirts of the city. What was she thinking! Didn't she realize it was much too dangerous to go to such a deserted place as Hobbs Hill, alone, in the middle of the night? Just something Lois might also do, he thought, and in spite of the worry and fear that was gnawing at his heart he smiled. If Megan had just a little bit of Lois's disposition Jimmy would have his work cut out for him! He decided to follow her until she stopped; no need to frighten her while she was still riding. One road accident tonight was more than enough.


Megan didn't know why she'd suddenly decided to change direction and head towards Hobbs Hill. He wouldn't be there; why would he? 'Maybe he took another girl,' a pesky little voice whispered in her mind.

'No! I'm not going to think that way!' Megan, feeling frustrated and being assaulted by a little green devil, took a deep breath and deliberately slowed down her pace. She hated feeling insecure. Maybe sitting on that hilltop once again might exorcise the enchantment she'd felt last night. They'd sat side by side, not even touching, lazily talking and enjoying the spectacular sunset. Jimmy had treated her with respect, not even trying to kiss her when they'd been up there. And later, at the restaurant, they'd again talked for hours. And he'd sounded so sincere when he'd asked her if he could meet her, again, tonight.

Megan rode up the hill and stopped at the same spot where she and Jimmy had parked their bikes the other night. She was taking off her helmet when she was startled by a sudden gust of wind. Alarmed, she looked up and almost dropped her headgear. Superman! She stood frozen to the ground as the Man of Steel purposely strode to her side.

"Megan? You are Megan Carrington?" he asked, looking sternly at her. Speechless, she nodded. How did he know her name? Why was he here?

"Lois Lane asked me to look for you at the library. I saw you driving towards here so I followed you. Jimmy's had an accident; he's at Met General and Lois thought maybe you'd like to go there… to be there when he wakes up. He was still unconscious when I dropped him off."

Wordlessly, Megan nodded, suddenly feeling very light-headed. Superman seemed to understand for he smiled encouragingly at her as he said, "Come on, I'll fill you in while we're flying. You're not afraid of flying with me, are you? Good… now put on your helmet and get on the bike."

Megan did as she was told. Effortlessly, Superman picked up girl and machine and flew slowly towards the hospital.


Frustrated, Lois slammed down the receiver. Why was that woman not home?! She'd listened twice to a long, cheerful message on the answering machine of Jimmy's mother before leaving a short message and her cell phone number.

Getting through to the NIA hadn't proven to be too difficult. But when she'd finally been connected with the correct department the man at the other side of the line had sounded rather cold and businesslike — but he'd assured her that her message would be delivered to Jack Olsen as soon as possible.

Lois grabbed her bag and headed to the front door. Perry would be arriving shortly. He'd insisted they share a cab — he didn't want her driving the Jeep to the hospital, alone. She'd left a note for Clark on the table; she knew he had to come back for his notes. Perry had already cleared it with the nightshift to postpone the printing of the front page until Clark was ready to submit his report.

As Lois opened the front door a yellow cab screeched to a halt. Lois deliberately slowed down and descended the steps at a normal pace. She couldn't very well float down; the cabbie would most likely take off like a rocket — with an equally stunned Perry White in the backseat; they hadn't told the Chief yet about her special abilities.

As it happened Perry wasn't stunned, he was remorseful. He'd been unnecessary severe with the kid, he told her. It took Lois the whole time of the ride to the hospital to convince Perry that Jimmy's accident wasn't his fault.

When they arrived at the hospital they had to fight their way through a throng of media people waiting for news about the condition of Metropolis's newest hero. Clark Kent hadn't been the only reporter who'd talked to eyewitnesses — the story of Jimmy Olsen's foolhardy but courageous deed was already being broadcasted on radio and television.

Fortunately, Superman was present to effortlessly guide Perry and Lois into the hall and the security people firmly stood their ground. The orders were clear: no one but these two people and Superman were allowed to enter the hospital on behalf of patient J.B. Olsen.

Superman had already delivered Megan Carrington safe and sound at the nurses' station. A friendly nurse named Helen Goldman had taken her under her wings after Superman had announced that he'd brought in Jimmy Olsen's girlfriend. Megan had blushed when she'd heard Superman saying that — what in the world had Jimmy told Lois Lane? When Superman had left she'd called her sister; Eileen had already been in bed and not at all happy with the hurried and rather brief update Megan gave her.

Lois found a slightly bewildered-looking Megan sitting on a bench, her hands clasped tightly around a paper cup, staring down at the dark brown beverage in it as if her life depended on it.

"Hello Megan," Lois said softly, smiling encouragingly when the young woman looked up. Life suddenly seemed to flow back into Megan's body. She jumped up, almost sloshing her coffee over her clothes. "Ms. Lane!" she gasped. "Jimmy… how is he… is he…"

"He's still in the operating room but the doctor's assured me he'll be all right. He's badly bruised and he's got some broken bones; he'll look like a mummy, no doubt, with all the plaster he'll be coated in, but he'll be fine — in time." Lois smiled and sat down beside Megan. "Just think of all the silly things we'll be able to write all over his cast; then it doesn't sound so awful anymore, hmm?"

Megan gave her a weak smile in return and took a deep breath. "Thank you, Ms. Lane, for asking Superman to find me. I — he —"

"He flew you in here, didn't he?"

"Yes, on my bike — it was — it was — " Megan's voice trembled and much to her own horror she started to cry.

Lois drew her into a comforting embrace. "Shhh… it's going to be okay, he's going to be okay… you'll see…" She looked up as Superman came to stand beside her, her own eyes bright with unshed tears.

"Ms. Lane — Nurse Goldman will keep you and Ms. Carrington informed about Jimmy Olsen's condition," Superman said distantly in his most formal voice, while he wanted nothing more than to sit down beside Lois and put his arms around her.

"As soon as the doctor grants permission, Ms. Carrington will be able to see the patient. I'm taking Mr. White to the Daily Planet now. He and your husband have a story to print. They'll come back later to check on you and Ms. Carrington."

"Thank you, Superman," Lois smiled tremulously up at him. "We'll be fine."

Megan stirred and lifted her tearstained face from Lois's shoulder. "Superman… thank you… for bringing me… I forgot to say so earlier… but —"

Superman smiled at her. "That's okay — and don't worry about your bike and your helmet. I've put them in a safe place."

Megan blushed. "Oh! I wasn't worried about that! I — you —"

But Superman had already left; with Perry White in tow he strode purposefully towards the exit, leaving Megan to stare in awe at the fast fading billowing cape.

"He's rather overwhelming, isn't he?" Lois murmured. Self-consciously Megan glanced at her but she couldn't stop a reluctant smile from forming on her lips when she saw Lois's mischievous grin. A watery chuckle escaped her; she sat up straight and, taking a deep breath, started to mop the tears from her cheeks.

"Thanks, Ms. Lane, I —"

"Lois, please."

"Lois… it was such a shock, hearing about the accident and being flown here by Superman. He told me all about it… how it happened… and —"

"Megan! Are you all right?"

The two women turned their heads to look at a very pregnant woman who waddled as fast as she could in their direction.

Megan jumped up. "Eileen?! What are you doing here! I told you I'd be okay!"

A tall, lanky man, following the woman at a more leisurely pace, gestured resignedly. "Megan, I couldn't stop her. You know your sister — not even Superman would be able to keep her away if she thought that one of her chicks needed her."

Before Megan could introduce the newcomers Lois knew that this Eileen had to be Megan's sister. They looked alike, although Eileen's hair was a darker red and her very pale skin had more freckles on it than Lois had ever seen on a person before.

And this tall, thin man had to be her husband for he regarded the freckled balloon with the same adoring look Clark often had on his face when he looked at her. Lois smiled at him. She instantly liked the couple; they obviously cared deeply for Megan, who was now involved in a low voiced argument with her sister.

Lois touched Megan's arm to gain her attention and stuck out her hand at Eileen. "I'm glad you stopped by to check on Megan. Hi, I'm Lois Lane."

Eileen accepted the proffered hand and, giving Lois a firm handshake and a cursory look, answered a bit waspishly. "I know who you are, Ms. Lane; I read newspapers, you know."

Lois, taken aback, stood up from the bench to make way for Eileen. Her husband looked reprovingly at his wife then grinned at Lois.

"Let me apologize for my wife, Ms. Lane. Her bark is worse than her bite, really; you won't believe what I had to listen to when we drove over here. A rocket wouldn't have been fast enough for her, let alone our ten-year-old car! How do you do — I'm Roy Vaughan."

Lois laughed. "Pleased to meet you — but how did you get past security? No one is allowed in this waiting room but us. Although, if what you say about your wife is true, I'm sure —"

Megan's sister triumphantly patted her rounded belly. "This will get you inside a hospital any time of the day — or night!"

"I believe you!" Lois eyed her blown-up form with trepidation. How many months was this woman pregnant? Boy! She hoped she wouldn't look like this when she'd be in the last stages of her pregnancy!

Eileen Vaughan, having satisfied herself that Megan was quite unharmed, grinned when she intercepted Lois's look. "Twins! Two little carrot tops," she said proudly. "And just two more months to go before they're born."

Lois let out a relieved little breath. Twins! Boy, was she glad it was just one baby she was carrying! She glanced at the equally redheaded, freckled-faced husband and couldn't help grinning herself. Carrot tops? A couple of lighthouses more likely!

Eileen grinned back at her. "I see you're pregnant yourself… when's the baby due?"

Megan rolled her eyes as her sister and Lois immediately started an animated discussion about their mutual conditions. She made way for Lois to sit beside Eileen on the bench and joined her brother-in- law to give him a low voiced account of the recent happenings.


In his office Perry White stared admiringly at Clark Kent, who was super-typing his story on his laptop. Harry Wilson, one of the three photographers working fulltime for The Daily Planet, had been hastily summoned and was now busy developing the roll of film Clark had handed to him. He'd been given strict orders not to barge in unannounced in Perry's office — he had to call first as soon as the photos were ready.

"Done!" Clark announced. "Here she comes, Chief!"

"Splendid! I'll go over this and you go check on those pictures. Make a pre-selection, Clark, I don't have to see all of 'em. See you back in the conference room."

As it turned out most of the photos were great. Looking them over carefully, Clark cringed. Poor Jimmy!

"An amateur took these?" Harry Wilson, a dedicated photographer himself, said admiringly. "I'm glad he didn't use one of those cheap, digital cameras but a professional, manually operated one."

Harry had taken the liberty of making a pre-selection himself. Six beauties, but the Chief had said only one would be used, he told Clark, his voice full of regret. But Clark wasn't so sure about that; these photos were too spectacular not to use. He was sure Perry would agree when he saw them.

"Excellent job, Harry," Clark said as he shoved the photos in an envelope and started to walk towards the conference room. "I'm sure the Chief will change his mind when he sees these pictures; three's the minimum I would use, anyway. Let's go see what the others have to say about it."

"An amateur took these?" Mere minutes later Perry echoed the same words as Harry Wilson had while he stared, amazed, at the photos Clark had handed to him. Perry beckoned to the two men of the pre-press department, who'd joined him in the conference room, to take a look. They nodded their agreement while Perry instructed Harry Wilson which photo had to be blown up for the front page; the other two would be used to illustrate Clark's accompanying article.

Satisfied that the men knew exactly how he wanted the pages to look Perry told Harry Wilson to get hold of the amateur photographer first thing in the morning. Being understaffed and with Jimmy Olsen out of circulation for at least a couple of months, The Planet could use a good replacement on a temporary basis. Perry hoped the young man would be interested and available. Well, that was just another thing he'd have to deal with tomorrow.

Perry turned to Clark. "Come on, Kent, let's go. Maybe the doctors will have some news for us by now. Let's hope it's good news."


"Well, well, well… sounds like you people are havin' a good time."

Lois started. Talking about babies with Eileen Vaughan had taken her mind off Jimmy for a while. Poor Jimmy! How could she be so selfish! She looked guiltily at the fierce-looking nurse standing in the open doorway. What had happened to friendly nurse Goldman?

Hastily Lois stood up. "I'm so sorry — we were just —"

The nurse nodded curtly. "The doctor will be here in a minute with news about Mr. Olsen. Who's the fianc‚e?"

"Fianc‚e?" Suddenly Eileen was all ears, looking at her sister with raised eyebrows while Megan turned a fiery red.

Lois took pity on her. "Megan Carrington — his girlfriend," she more or less set the record straight. "I'm sure Jimmy would want to see her; his parents don't live in Metropolis, you see, and they won't be able to get here until tomorrow — maybe not even then."

"Okay. Come with me, Miss Carrington." The nurse briskly turned around and walked out the door. Megan, alarmed, threw Lois a besieging look. Lois grabbed her by the arm and quickly walked with her behind the nurse.

"Ah… Nurse!" Lois called out as she let go of Megan's arm and quickened her pace to overtake the large woman. "I'm coming with her. The doctor can't dump this on a young woman like that. I want to be there when he talks to her."

"Suit yourself," the nurse said with a sidelong glance at Lois. "It's the doctor's decision anyway. Here we are," she opened the door to a tiny room and gestured for Lois and Megan to enter. "The doctor will be with you in a minute… Ah! Here he is already!"


It was a very relieved Lois who joined Megan's sister and brother-in-law a few minutes later. Thank God — Jimmy hadn't suffered irreparable damage. He'd already regained consciousness while being treated in the ER. His neck and spine hadn't been severely injured and he'd reacted quite well to the tests he'd been subjected to. He would live and he would walk. He had a severe concussion and he'd probably suffered a whiplash, but — the doctor had said — he'd been a very lucky man; many of his patients who were victims of road accidents ended up in wheelchairs. Lois shivered. It didn't bear thinking about!

Jimmy, heavily sedated and covered in plaster and bandages, had been put to bed and Megan was off with the doctor to see him. The doctor had nodded approvingly when she'd introduced herself. That young man had constantly asked about 'Megan' and it was time to set his mind at ease; he would greatly benefit from a good night's sleep and he wouldn't get that if he hadn't seen her himself.

The tension that had gripped Lois ever since Clark had come home with the bad news was now slowly disappearing and she felt light-headed with relief. With an effort she forced herself to keep walking and not float towards the room where the Vaughans sat waiting.

Lois didn't even notice the tears streaming down her cheeks; she flung her arms around the rotund Eileen, laughing and crying at the same time. That indomitable lady, used to her own sister throwing herself occasionally in her arms for a good bawl, made soothing noices while patting Lois on the back.

"I guess this means the news is not too bad?" Roy Vaughan enquired carefully. Lois disentangled herself and nodded vigorously while she wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"Thank God!" Eileen said succinctly. If Jimmy Olsen was to be her baby sister's lover she much preferred him in one piece, she told Lois and her husband.

Lois laughed with them; it was good to be able to feel light-hearted again. Although, poor Jimmy, he was going to be very ill for a long time to come. Lois fervently hoped that Megan's visit would prove beneficial. She'd wanted to accompany Megan but she knew the girl and Jimmy needed to be together, alone, for this short time. And the doctor had been adamant from the beginning: only his 'fianc‚e' and next of kin would be allowed to see the patient tonight.

Lois sighed as she looked at her watch. She was beginning to feel really tired. As soon as Megan came back she was going home; tomorrow was going to be a very hectic day and she hoped she'd still be able to catch a few hours of sleep. She briefly considered calling Clark. Although, he and Perry should arrive any minute now; in fact, someone was coming towards the room… maybe it was them.

Expectantly, Lois turned towards the open doorway. A tall, muscular man strode into the room. "Mrs. Kent?" he said as he extended his hand. "I heard what happened and — " He hastily withdrew his hand and took a step backwards as he was unexpectedly confronted with a very angry 'Mad Dog Lane'.

"I know who you are!" Lois exclaimed while she started to wave her arms about. "How dare you come in here uninvited! How did you get past security? Nurse!" Impatiently Lois shoved the perplexed gentleman out the door and beckoned the nurse who'd already stopped in her tracks when she heard the commotion. She turned and walked towards Lois, a fierce frown on her face.

"Miss Lane! This is a hospital, not a schoolyard. Please keep your voice down, otherwise I'll have to ask you to leave immediately. If you want permission to wait here till the young lady is back, you'd better start behaving yourself!"

"Me? Misbehaving?" Lois gasped indignantly, "What about this totally incompetent security service of yours? Those goons out there were supposed to prevent other media people to come in here and pester us!"

Lois whirled around when she heard Perry White's voice exclaim, "Lois! What in the Sam Hill's goin' on here?" as he strode towards her, closely followed by an equally dumbfounded Clark Kent. "Is it Jimmy? What happened?"

"No, Jimmy's fine; I mean — he's going to be okay — eventually. It's this… this intruder here!" Lois jabbed one finger in the direction of the newcomer who stood at a safe distance, watching the little firebrand with a mixture of trepidation and amusement on his face.

"Lois! That's Gareth Keyes!"

"I know who he is, Clark!" Lois said triumphantly, "I recognized him from the picture in your file! I don't know how he weaseled himself in here, looking for a scoop, but —"

"Gareth Keyes?" Perry asked, looking puzzled, "Editor-in-Chief of 'The Sentinel'?"

"Mr. White," Keyes smiled politely while keeping a cautious eye on Lois. "Finally we meet… G'day, Clark, good to see you again."

"Hi, Gareth, I'll be with you in a minute. Honey, calm down! Perry and I will handle this, okay? You go —"

"— in here with me!" Eileen Vaughan, who'd stood gaping in amazement at 'Mad Dog Lane', suddenly came to life and, grabbing Lois's arm, began tugging her back into their waiting room. "You need to control that temper of yours, missy!" she scolded, "Come on, you've done your bit tonight — now let the men take over."

Clark, not sure he wanted to entrust his wife to a woman who looked like she'd just swallowed a whale, asked suspiciously, "And you are…?"

"I'll tell you later — your wife needs to cool off a bit now," Eileen said decisively. She turned her back on Clark and, making tiny shushing sounds, steered a reluctant Lois back into the room, closely followed by the now harassed looking nurse.


"I'm right here, honey." Before Eileen could sit down Clark swiftly sank down beside Lois on the bench and took her in his arms. He'd noticed the traces of tears on her cheeks; it had been an emotional night for her and he didn't like to see her so upset. "We'll go home in a minute, honey, I just want to find out about Jimmy, okay? Perry can take over here — and don't worry about Gareth Keyes. If he's here in search of a scoop the Chief will deal with him."

"Mr. Kent! Mr. Keyes is not here on newspaper business!" The nurse stared disapprovingly down at Lois. "He's been here for hours already — at the maternity ward. His wife's just given birth to their baby and —"

"What?" Clark exclaimed as he jumped up. He heard Lois's horrified gasp as she too scrambled to her feet. "That's not possible! She's not even seven months pregnant yet!"

The nurse, glancing at Lois's tear-filled eyes and clearly pregnant figure, relaxed a bit. "It happens sometimes, Mr. Kent," she said kindly, "Mrs. Keyes went into premature labor and they had to perform a Caesarean. The baby's in an incubator. Mr. Keyes was waiting while his wife was being settled down for the night when he heard about the young man's accident and asked if he could come here to pay his respects. That's when your wife started making a scene."

The nurse sighed. "I suppose it's my fault; I should've told you first, Ms. Lane. I know media people aren't allowed in here. But seein' as Mr. Keyes was not here in his professional capacity it did slip my mind. I thought he was a friend of yours. I'm sorry."

But Lois didn't listen to the apology. Stricken, she clutched at Clark as she stared past him at Gareth Keyes who was now deep in conversation with Perry White in the hallway.

"Clark — that poor man! What he must be going through! And I jumped all over him!"

Lois disentangled herself from Clark's embrace and, taking a deep breath, walked over to where Keyes was standing, with Clark following closely behind her.

"Mr. Keyes," Lois said remorsefully, "I am so sorry I yelled at you like that. The nurse told us what happened… I'm so sorry, please, I —"

"It's all right, Mrs. Kent. You couldn't know." Keyes smiled briefly down at Lois then looked at her husband. "Although it was quite an experience to see your feisty wife in action, Clark. I'm sorry we had to meet again under such circumstances. Mr. White just filled me in on what happened to Jimmy Olsen." He looked at his watch. "I have to go back — my wife…"

"How's your wife, Gareth?" Clark asked anxiously, "And the baby? Is she okay?"

Keyes drew a weary hand over his face. "She's in an incubator… she's having trouble breathing… the doctor says the first few days will be crucial, so… God!" His control crumbled as he finally let his worry and tiredness show in his face. "She's so tiny… it's so scary to see… all those tubes… and there's nothing I can do to help her! They won't even let me hold her."

"Oooh!" Lois groaned while fresh tears spilled from her eyes. "I'm so sorry! Please, tell us what we can do to help… are you alone here?"

Keyes nodded wearily, glancing once again at his watch. "I really have to go now… Clark… Mrs. Kent… Mr. White…" He bowed and started to walk away.

"Mr. Keyes — Gareth — what about your sons? Are they at home?" Lois called out.

"Yes, we have a live-in nanny… they're sound asleep; they don't know yet that their sister's already born."

With a last wave with his left hand Keyes strode through the corridor to the elevator. Lois looked at the lone figure walking rapidly away from the small group of people, then turned a tearstained face to Clark. "Why don't you walk with him to the maternity ward and then come back? It's so sad that he has to cope with this alone."

"Okay — but promise me you won't fly off the handle again, Lois, no matter who walks in here? I'll be right back." Clark hurried away.

"Great Shades of Elvis!" Perry exclaimed, "What a night! Lois, who're these people?" He nodded in the direction of the Vaughans. "Are they Jimmy's relatives?"

"Not yet, Chief," Lois dashed the tears from her cheeks and smiled bravely while she pointed in the direction of Megan, stepping out of the elevator that very moment, accompanied by a tall, thin man in a white coat.

"Ah — there's the doctor," Perry said briskly, "Gotta talk to him about Jimmy's condition and then with that nurse about the medical expenses. Jimmy's not going to pay one cent! Lois, tomorrow we have to ask our legal people if it's possible to sue Ralph and probably 'The National Whisper' too. I'm personally gonna hold them responsible for the accident; Ralph Simms is not getting away with this — not if I have anything to say about it!"


Chapter Eleven

Early next morning people in Metropolis gasped in dismay when they looked at the front page of 'The Daily Planet'. A large picture of a motorcyclist being hurled into the air by a car stared them in the face.

Soon the readers were engrossed in reading Clark Kent's gripping account of the heroic act of his colleague and friend. Two other smaller but equally sensational pictures accompanied the article, clearly showing the cyclist, leaping off his bike in a desperate attempt to save a man's life.

Soon the city was humming with heated discussions about Jimmy Olsen's deed. Some people declared him crazy; why would anyone risk his life so recklessly to save a drunkard trying to cross a street?

Within an hour the telephone lines at the Planet suffered an overload of calls by admiring and concerned citizens enquiring after Jimmy's health. Flowers and get-well cards started to pour in; not only delivered at the City Desk of the Planet but at the hospital as well.

Lois Lane Kent, enjoying a late breakfast in her kitchen, stared at the photos on the front page with mixed feelings. They were really amazing, she thought; Jimmy seemed to leap off the page. She too had gasped when she'd spotted the newspaper on the table where Clark had left it for her to find.

Last night Lois had felt so bone-tired when she got home that she hadn't even protested when Clark had ordered her to sleep in. He'd turned off the alarm and early in the morning had crept out of bed so she'd be able to sleep until she woke up by herself. She'd called Clark at the Planet as soon as she got out of bed, then taken a long, luxurious hot bath. She felt clean and rested and quite hungry when she finally sat down to eat the pancakes Clark had left ready for her to heat up in the microwave oven.

Lois read Clark's article while she ate. He was good, she thought; Clark was really the best when it came to the 'touchy-feely' stuff. She suspected his article and the accompanying pictures would have a great impact on the readers. She wouldn't be at all surprised if this copy of 'The Daily Planet' was already sold out. She glanced at her watch; it was past eleven — high time to join the circus at work. The phone in the living room rang and she floated towards it, picking it up just before the answering machine was activated.

"Lois!" Ellen Lane anxiously exclaimed at the other side of the line. "Are you all right? I called you at work and they told me you hadn't come in yet."

"I'm okay, Mother. Clark let me sleep in because we'd been at the hospital all night. I've just eaten and I'll leave as soon as I've called a cab. I feel quite good, all things considered."

"How's Jimmy? The article just said he was flown to the hospital by Superman; but there's nothing in here about his condition."

"Jimmy's going to be all right. Clark didn't know that when he wrote the article and they couldn't wait; they had to print on time."

Lois gave her mother the short version of what had happened at the hospital. Ellen, working part-time at the Metropolis General Hospital herself, promised Lois she'd drop by at Jimmy's ward to see for herself how he was doing. Today was her day off but she'd go anyway.

Lois also told her mother about the premature birth of the Keyes's baby and asked her if she could also please enquire after the mother and the child. Actually, that had been the first thing Lois had thought of when she'd awoken that morning. Drowsily she'd turned her head to look at Clark's empty side of the bed, recollection of the previous night slowly flooding into her brain while she'd lazily stretched her limbs.

She'd been so relieved when she'd felt the soft stirrings of her own baby inside of her. It had almost felt as if little Katharine had wanted to let her know that she shouldn't worry; she was alive and kicking.

"Thanks sweetie," Lois had whispered, caressing the side where she'd felt the slight kick. "Hang in there, okay? As much as Daddy and I want to hold you in our arms, we're perfectly happy to wait a few more months."


When Lois finally showed up at work, Perry White was in high spirits. He'd been closeted all morning with the legal advisors of The Daily Planet. As soon as he'd arrived he'd called Ralph Simms's Editor-in- Chief and invited him over. He'd given the man no choice — if he knew what was good for him he'd come over immediately, Perry had told him. The puzzled man had been completely bowled over when he learnt the real identity of the man Jimmy Olsen had saved.

After Perry White had told him about Simms's conspiracy with Jazzy and threatened to reveal all in the next edition of 'The Daily Planet' he'd called his own legal staff.

After a few hours of negotiation between their respective lawyers the two editors had signed an agreement wherein The National Whisper agreed to pay all expenses James B. Olsen would have to meet as a result of the accident.

The tabloid at all costs wanted to avoid a nasty lawsuit and publication in 'The Daily Planet' of its involvement in the whole sorry affair. Having already noticed the impact Jimmy's story had on the population of Metropolis, the lawyers of 'The National Whisper' had advised management to cut their losses; they could, in their turn, hold Ralph Simms accountable.

According to Perry, 'The Suits' upstairs were elated and wanted a profile of the young hero by Clark Kent on the front page of tomorrow's edition. They'd already received sympathy calls from many prominent Metropolitans.

Even the Mayor and the Chief Commissioner had called and promised that a medal for outstanding bravery would be awarded to Jimmy Olsen at City Hall as soon as the young man would be able to attend a ceremony in his honor. They'd appreciate it, of course, if this could already be announced prominently in 'The Daily Planet'.

It wasn't as if they didn't feel sorry for Jimmy, Perry told Lois wryly, but the beneficial side effects for City Hall and The Daily Planet proved too good to be true; stockholders celebrated as stock value soared, while newspapers and other journals all over the world picked up the story. Once again the name and fame of 'The Daily Planet' were firmly established among the best.

Lois had laughed and told Perry that Jimmy should receive a hefty raise. Perry had nodded sagely and told her that the long overdue appointment as head of the Research Department was Jimmy's — as a matter of fact, Perry had already informed management he'd put the wheels in motion to make that official as per January of this same year.

On top of his promotion Jimmy would also receive a bonus for seven months outstanding wages, Perry had told Lois with an evil little laugh. And to top it all, he'd personally duped 'The National Whisper' into taking responsibility for Jimmy's accident; while he — Perry — didn't really believe a lawsuit would hold up in court.

"It's just a matter of knowing when to go for the kill, Lois," Perry had said smugly.

Lois was still smiling at the Chief's deviousness when she sat down at her desk and booted up her computer. Clark was out; Lois hoped it wasn't because Superman was needed for an emergency. Her husband had been upset too last night and very emotional when he'd returned to take her home after he'd accompanied Gareth Keyes to the maternity ward.

The premature birth of the Keyes's baby had touched Clark deeply. As soon as they'd come home he'd used his special vision to check on their own unborn child. He'd sighed with relief when he'd seen her moving around with the familiar jerky movements. Lois herself had been fast asleep as soon as her head had touched her pillow but she suspected Clark had lain awake a long time before he'd fallen asleep.

Lois frowned as she stared at the screen of her computer. What an email avalanche! Had every inhabitant of Metropolis sent her a message about Jimmy? She skipped all unknown senders and picked out those she knew. One message came from her sister Lucy in California asking her to please call.

Apparently the news had already been broadcasted nationwide. Hopefully Jimmy's mother also knew about the accident and was on her way to Metropolis. Lois wondered why she hadn't returned her call. 'Maybe Clark talked to her this morning while I was still asleep,' Lois thought and made a mental note to ask him as soon as he came in.

After a short talk with her sister Lois clicked open a message from Gareth Keyes. He thanked her profusely for sending Superman over to his house this morning. It had been just what his two little boys had needed to cheer them up after waking up and finding their mommy gone.

Gareth had been at a loss what to tell them when Superman had shown up and helped him out. He'd even flown with them through the dining room and promised them a real flight one day, outside, if they were good little boys until their mommy came home. Lois smiled. This was just so… Clark! And giving her the credit, too. Undoubtedly because he knew she still felt bad about her treatment of Keyes last night.

While Lois was typing an answer to Gareth's message, asking him to please keep her and Clark informed about his wife and daughter, Clark walked in. His eyes lit up when he saw his wife seated behind her desk, a welcoming smile on her lips.

"Hi honey." Clark stooped to kiss Lois lightly on the lips then looked closely at her face. What he saw apparently set his mind at ease for he smiled and briefly caressed her cheek. Reading his thoughts, Lois said reassuringly, "I feel fine, sweetheart, thanks for letting me sleep in. I just came in thirty minutes ago. You, on the other hand, have been quite busy." With one finger she tapped on her computer screen. "That was sweet of you, dropping in on Gareth. He sent me a 'thank you' message. Those boys must've been thrilled to see Superman."

Clark laughed as he sat down behind his own desk. "You bet! And so was the nanny. At least Gareth had something cheerful to tell his wife when he saw her this morning. Superman went to the hospital too, to check on Jimmy and the baby. The nurse at the maternity ward told me she's quite a little fighter and they're cautiously optimistic about her chances."

"And Jimmy? Did you see Jimmy?"

"Uhuh. Poor guy, he looks like a mummy and he's heavily sedated. He doesn't know yet that he's literally shot himself into fame and fortune. I talked to his doctor and I'm sorry, honey, but no visitors allowed just yet — only Megan and his parents. I talked to his mother last night; you were already fast asleep when she called. And Jack Olsen talked to Perry; I have no idea when they'll get here."

"And Megan? Did you see her this morning, Clark? Her sister and brother-in-law took her home with them last night. They didn't want her to spend the night alone in her own apartment. What about her motorcycle?"

"Superman delivered the machine at her sister's address." Clark lowered his voice. "Lois, I was there very early this morning and I didn't expect that woman to be up already. I was putting the bike in the backyard when she suddenly flung open the back door. If I'd been a trespasser she'd have clobbered the poor man to dead — she was coming at me with a baseball bat! Don't laugh, Lois, that woman is a menace!"

"No, she's not!" Lois wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. Conjuring up a vision of the rotund Eileen running towards Superman with a baseball bat had her in stitches. "She's just a tad overprotective, Clark. In fact, she reminds me of someone I know. Oh! Wait till I tell your mom! Hahahahah!"

"Lois! What in the Sam Hill's got you laughin' like that?" Perry White, a broad grin on his own face, joined his assistant editor and her husband at their desks. Lois, not yet able to say anything, waved her hands in Clark's direction. Her husband rolled his eyes and told the Chief what had happened at the Vaughans' residence.

"Hahahah! A woman to be reckoned with," Perry guffawed.

"That's right, Chief, she's very protective of her own." Lois, recovered from her bout of merriment, sat upright. "Which reminds me — we've got to make sure the press doesn't get hold of Megan. The poor girl would be hounded. The hospital staff won't give any information about her, but she works with other people at that library and they might know about her friendship with Jimmy. I'll call Eileen and check if Megan's gone to work as usual. I'd better warn her not to talk to the press."

"You do that, Lois. It might be best if Megan stays at her sister's until all this excitement about Jimmy's gone. I reckon she'll be safe there — no one will get past that woman!" Perry chuckled then sobered. "Alice just called; she picked up Jimmy's mother at the airport an hour ago and they're together at the hospital now. She's agreed to stay at Alice's a few days and I'm hopin' this will take Alice's mind off Jerry a bit. I talked to Jack Olsen too; he'd like to drop in to see Jimmy, but he can't — Jimmy's life is not threatened so he has to stay on the job right now. Well, that's the NIA for you!"

Perry gestured to Lois to go ahead with her phone- call. "When you've made that call, Lois, I want to see you in my office. We have to reshuffle the work schedules for the Research Department and the photographers too. By the way, Clark, that amateur photographer who took those pictures last night is comin' over at three. Let's hope he's available on such short notice."

"That would be great, Chief."

As Perry walked away Clark turned to a young woman who'd come to stand beside his desk. "Yes, Anna? Can I help you?"

"I've some documents Jimmy was waiting for, Clark. He told me they're for your investigation on that development project. There's a photo too; came over the fax just now." Anna Johnston handed the file she was holding to Clark.

"Thanks, Anna, that's great! I really need this. Have you been working with Jimmy on this?"

The girl nodded. "He said it was important so I thought I'd better give these to you right away."

"Good thinking — thanks again, Anna. If I need more information can I ask you to look it up for me?"

Anna looked unsure. "I guess… but we don't know yet who's going to take over Jimmy's files. We're waiting for the Chief to tell us."


Lois looked at her watch and frowned. Where was Clark? She was ready to go home. This morning Clark had written and submitted his profile on Jimmy for tomorrow's edition and had then poked his head around the door of Perry's office where she and the Chief had been busy drafting new work schedules, saying hastily, "I'm off to talk to a source. See you later." He'd taken off and they hadn't seen or heard from him again.

Lois had already noticed that the file they'd been working on last night was lying on Clark's desk; obviously he'd brought it with him to work this morning. She opened the file and saw the added sheets of paper Anna Johnston had given Clark.

'Well,' Lois thought, 'Even though I know the facts by heart already it won't hurt to look at this information again. And maybe Anna's found some new evidence'. Eagerly, Lois started to read the new information. Soon she was engrossed in reading and jotting down notes.

It had been about four years ago when the authorities had finally decided to demolish and rebuild the crime-ridden areas east of the harbor known as the Lowland Districts.

The License Bureau had been authorized by City Hall to grant subsidies to developing companies, on the condition that they'd reserve at least one third of the ground, allocated to them, for the construction of low-cost housing projects.

Developers had been invited to place their bids and three out of twelve had been chosen to redesign, develop and reconstruct the problem area. Pilot projects had been launched, sponsored by the government and aided by several private funds.

The Superman Foundation and the Caldwell Welfare Foundation were involved in a joint project dedicated to the development of facilities for children in the new neighborhoods.

Superman and his millionaire friend William B. Caldwell had spent many enjoyable hours together with the architects they had chosen to design playgrounds, sports facilities and daycare centers.

Clark Kent had volunteered to help and had written — in his own inimitable, passionate style — several articles that had been featured prominently in 'The Daily Planet'.

Superman had once saved Will Caldwell's life and the grateful business man had become one of his staunchest allies. They had met on that fateful day, one Christmas season, when the evil elf Mxyzptlk had escaped from the fifth dimension and tried to get rid of Superman. Apparently Caldwell had become so fed up with his rich but terribly lonely life that he'd jumped off the balcony of his sky-high office.

Superman had caught Caldwell in time and had been very surprised to have his head bitten off for his trouble. He'd taken pity on the lonely old man and helped him give new meaning to his life by involving him in the rebuilding of an orphanage that had burned down that same day, leaving the children and their caretakers homeless.

During the time Superman had shown him how much good he could do with his wealth Caldwell had established a warm friendship with the Man of Steel.

When the rumors of corruption had first started to circulate Superman and Will Caldwell had carefully reviewed their projects. Clark had been relieved that all the money they'd already spent had indeed been used properly. Jimmy Olsen had done a thorough check on the credentials of the developing company that was being funded by the Superman Foundation and the Caldwell Welfare Foundation.

Fortunately, it came up clean and so did the other company responsible for the renovation of the old, dilapidated warehouses situated east of the harbor. These were being turned into lofts and workshops for artists and small, independent businesses.

When she'd finished reading, Lois closed the file and thoughtfully stared down at it. She recalled Jimmy telling them he was seriously considering renting one of those studios; he wanted to move his photo developing out of his own apartment. That would probably be for the best, now that he'd found Megan, Lois reflected; she hoped that their budding relationship would develop into something really serious. Last night Clark had also said that he thought Megan would be perfect for Jimmy.

Lois again glanced at her watch. Well, no point in waiting any longer; she hadn't been able to discover anything new in these papers so she'd better go home now. Clark had left the Planet building as Superman; the Jeep was still in the parking lot, so she had her own transportation.

Lois was walking towards the elevator when the doors opened and Clark stepped out, a gloomy look on his face. "That bad, huh?" Lois asked when he'd reached her side. She looped her arms around his neck and drew him in a comforting embrace.

"Well, not all of it," Clark answered. He wrapped his arms around Lois and hugged her tightly. He sighed as they both loosened their grip on each other. "Anna Johnston gave me this picture with a few other documents for the file we were looking at last night. Take a look at this, honey."

Lois sank down in her chair and stared at the grainy picture on fax paper while Clark perched on a corner of her desk. "Well? Do you recognize that face?"

"I think so," Lois said slowly, "He looks like that assistant of 'Lucky Leon'. They were both arrested for stealing warheads from the army."

"Uhuh. We caught them, red-handed, in that old abandoned factory where they were trying to sell them to some Intergang leaders."

"And they in turn were planning to sell those weapons to terrorists. What does this mean, Clark? Has he escaped? All those criminals who were involved in that transaction were sentenced rather heavily. But this one — " Lois tapped on the picture with one finger, " — got off lightly, if I remember correctly. And that's because he ratted out on Leon and those Intergang guys big time."

"Exactly. And all this happened only about six years ago. So how come he's out of prison already? Or maybe he didn't go to prison at all! I haven't found that out yet. But the amazing thing is that he's the guy they call 'Butch' Warner! I spoke to Bobby Bigmouth and he confirmed it. But Bobby didn't know — or didn't want to say — if this 'Butch' Warner has a prison record or not. So I went to City Hall and talked to Alan Prentiss. He told me this guy was employed about a year ago under the name of Edward T. Warning. He took his personal file with him when he disappeared a few days ago because they can't find it. And all his personal data has been erased from their computer, too. It looks like this whole thing was carefully set up."

"Alan Prentiss… isn't he the manager of the License Bureau?"

Clark nodded. "Yes, that the department Warning worked for. Prentiss couldn't tell me who exactly had been responsible for hiring this guy. They were seriously understaffed by that time so he didn't question the appointment. The guy in charge of granting licenses died in a car accident and Prentiss was just glad that he immediately got a replacement."

"I bet that poor guy was murdered! Clark, you've cracked the case! So why the gloomy face?"

"I haven't cracked anything yet, Lois, I just know some more facts, that's all. I don't know where this guy Warning took off to —"

"— and how he got out of prison and managed to get himself employed at City Hall. So that's for us to find out! Perry hasn't left yet," Lois held up the file, "so let's run things by him. A convicted criminal working at City Hall for over a year is big news, Clark!"

Lois marched off towards Perry's office with Clark in tow. "Chief! Can we see you for a moment? Clark's found out some interesting facts concerning that construction scandal."

"Anything for tomorrow's edition, Clark?"

"Don't think so, Chief. You'd better wait till we have more information."

"Okay, spit it out — I'm listening."

Perry stared at the picture of 'Butch' Warner, a.k.a Edward T. Warning, while Clark told him what he'd learned so far.

"Hmmm," Perry said thoughtfully, "You're definitely on to something here, Clark. Now, refresh my memory a bit; this has to do with those big bucks being handed out by City Hall along with construction permits, right?"

"That's right, Chief," Lois handed the file with documents to Perry's. "It's all in there."

Perry quickly went over the most relevant information Lois had already highlighted then grabbed the phone. "Okay, I think it's time we had a chat with Bill Henderson. Clark, maybe you could get us some decent food while we wait for him. I have a feeling this is going to be another long night."


Clark spun into the Suit and took off to Italy to pick up their favorite pasta dishes. This case they were working on had seemed harmless enough, he thought glumly; exposing corruption in government departments seldom proved to be dangerous.

But now it looked like it could develop in something more than a simple case of bribery of some civil servants. And Clark didn't like that one bit. He didn't look forward to another stressful evening for Lois. And most importantly, he didn't want Lois to get involved in a dangerous case — not now that she was pregnant!

Clark fretted over the fact that all of a sudden, demons from their past seemed to come out of the woodwork. He didn't like to be reminded of the cunning way he and Lois had been duped by 'Lucky Leon' and his assistant. They had set a trap for Superman and he'd walked right into it. Clark still cringed when he thought about the way he'd stopped a genuine military convoy; how he'd handed over the missiles they had been transporting to a group of bogus soldiers.

Fortunately, they had been able to beat 'Lucky Leon' at his own game. Clark, Lois and Jimmy had sneaked into the old, abandoned factory where the transaction between 'Lucky Leon' and Intergang was being conducted. The three of them had been caught and tied up, but he'd been able to surreptitiously cut them loose so they could escape.

Clark frowned as he recalled how Lois had ran headlong back into the factory after he'd activated one of the missiles which he hadn't been able to de- activate again on time. Superman had ordered everybody to leave the building; but Lois, not being able to find Clark outside, had run right back in to look for him just when Superman was getting ready to dispose of the missile.

At that time she hadn't known yet that Clark and Superman were one and the same person. Throwing all caution to the wind she'd raced back into the factory, calling out for Clark. Superman had scolded her for her reckless behavior and she'd answered simply, "I couldn't leave him in here like that." Lois hadn't realized it fully yet, but even then she had loved Clark enough to put her own life on the line for him.

Clark sighed; Lois's tendency to dive right in whenever she thought it was warranted was one of the things he loved most about her — but now that she was pregnant it scared the hell out of him. Lois frequently called him a worrywart and he supposed she was right. But he couldn't help himself; right now his concern for her and the baby far out-weighted his excitement over this case.

Clark fervently hoped they wouldn't have to confront any of the criminals involved in this case; they were the dangerous kind. Even Bobby Bigmouth had told him to be careful.


Inspector Bill Henderson arrived at the Planet a few minutes after Clark had returned. The seasoned policeman sniffed appreciatively when he walked into the conference room. Lois laughed when she saw him looking hungrily at the assorted dishes she was uncovering and gestured for him to go ahead and tuck right in.

"Help yourself, Bill, there's enough food here to feed an army. We'll fill you in while we're eating. You thought we'd gotten rid of Intergang, right? Well, think again!"

"Lois, honey, we don't know yet if —"

"Hah!" Lois crowed triumphantly while she patted her tummy. "I may be pregnant but I haven't lost my touch. Chief, you tell my doubting husband what I just found out!"

Perry grinned. "It's true, Clark, your wife thinks she's solved another piece of the puzzle. She's convinced that the BCC's the one that's bagged all that subsidy City Hall's been handing out so generously."

"You mean… the Belltower Construction Company? That's one of the companies involved in the renovation of the Lowlands districts." Bill Henderson remarked, "We've already investigated their operation, Lois, and they came out clean."

Lois snorted. "That doesn't prove a thing, Bill. Just shows how smart these people are." She turned to Clark and demanded, "And…? Does it ring a bell?"

Clark stared at Lois's excited face. "I think so," he said slowly, "All this time it's been staring us in the face… Belltower? As in Church?"


"Okay, Clark, out with it; what's bothering you? This is turning into a really big case! So why aren't you excited — is there something you're not telling me?"

"About the case? No, Lois, I've told you everything I know." Clark expertly maneuvered the Jeep out of the Planet parking lot into the busy street. The dashboard clock showed 8:15pm already; high time they got home, Clark thought.

"You're worried about me, aren't you?" Lois waved to Bill Henderson and Perry White standing at the entrance of the Planet building, then turned to look at her husband's profile.

"Clark, if there's something I've learned last night at the hospital it's the need to keep a low profile for the next couple of months. I'm not going to risk our baby's life by getting actively involved in this case. If we are dealing with Intergang then the people we're up against might still have Kryptonite; so I want you to promise me you'll be extra careful too, okay?"

"I will — and yes, I was getting a bit scared. You've been having these gloomy feelings lately and I was thinking… maybe it's connected with this case; maybe there's some serious danger ahead, Lois. And no case is worth jeopardizing our baby's life."

"I know, Clark, and I do realize this could get very nasty. You and Bill can do all the legwork and I'll help with the paperwork, okay? Trust me, no one, not even Bobby Bigmouth, will be able to lure me out of the office. Even if you called I wouldn't come; some idiot could easily tamper with your recorded speeches again, like Tim and Amber Lake once did, remember? They called me and played a tape with your voice on it, asking me to meet you in the alley behind the Planet."

"I remember; they kidnapped you because they wanted to catch Superman, just to add him to their private collection of very weird artifacts."

"They were weird all right; more than weird! Insane! Clark, we'd better check the whereabouts of all our known enemies. See who's behind bars and who's not. Might be useful."

"We'd better make a list and have Anna Johnston look into it. We need someone in Research to help us, Lois, and she's been working with Jimmy on this already."

"Good point. I'll talk to Perry… Clark, isn't that Daddy's car? What's he doing here? And Mother's with him; good, that means they're on speaking terms right now."

"Lo-is," Clark admonished while he parked the Jeep not far from where Sam and Ellen Lane stood. "Don't get them started, okay? What's that thing your father's unloading?"

"I have no idea!" Lois waved to Ellen Lane who'd started to walk towards them, an irritated frown on her face.

"Lois, you're late! I was just going to call you when we saw your car coming. What kept you this time? Really, Lois, you'd think after spending all of last night at the hospital you'd have enough sense to get home on time tonight. Clark, you'd better go help Sam; I told him to wait for you to get that thing out of the car, but does he listen? No! What's the use of having a super-strong son-in-law if —"

"Mother, Clark's there already. Come on, let's go in… what is that thing, anyway?" Lois started to usher Ellen up the steps leading to her front door.

"That's an examining table. I was sure you'd be home by now, that's why —"

"Something came up, Mother," Lois interrupted Ellen while she held open the door for Clark to pass through, followed by an exuberant Sam Lane.

"Hello Princess," Sam Lane stooped to kiss Lois on the cheek. "You look wonderful. How's my little granddaughter doing?"

"Fine, we're both fine, Daddy. Mother tells me that's an examining table; why on earth would I want an examining table?"

"That was your mother's idea and she's right, you'll need this. Clark, take it upstairs, please. Put it in one of your guestrooms. Lois, come along, I'll show you how it works." Sam gestured to Lois and Ellen to follow Clark who was already floating up the stairs with his burden.

"Mother, I don't need to be examined. And certainly not by Daddy!" Lois glared at Ellen. "Clark tells me everything's okay and I believe him. Don't you trust him?"

Ellen rolled her eyes. "That's not what this is for, Lois. It's for you to give birth on."

"Now why would I want to have my baby on that — that — contraption?" Lois stared at the bed her husband had already folded out.

"That's right, Ellen, we'd like our baby to be born in our own bed." Clark came to stand behind Lois and wrapped his arms around her.

"That's not such a good idea, son." Sam said quickly before Ellen could open her mouth. "Your own bed is too low and too wide and it will be too clumsy for Ellen and Martha to help Lois that way. This one is wide enough for Lois to be comfortable on and both Martha and Ellen can easily assist her at both sides. Let's face it — it might take hours before the baby's born. You should be comfortable during the whole process, Lois, but it's also important that your mother and Martha are too. We don't want them to hurt their backs, now do we? This bed can be adjusted to any height. See?" Sam demonstrated by pushing on a little lever at the side.

With mixed feelings Lois watched the bed go up and down. She hadn't yet given much thought to the actual birth process and was now unexpectedly being confronted with the more practical side of her pregnancy.

Ellen, watching the various emotions flitting across her daughter's expressive face, came to stand beside her. "Lois, the birth of a child is a natural thing but it's still not without risk. I don't want to scare you but we have to be prepared for everything. You two do understand that, don't you?"

Lois and Clark nodded solemnly and Ellen continued, "Your father is also building an incubator, just in case the baby's early. And he'll be standing by in case you'll need a Caesarean. Let's just pray it won't be necessary."

"I assure you I can perform that operation, Princess."

"I know, Daddy. How long have you two been busy with all this? Why didn't you tell us?"

"We didn't want to confront you with these worst case scenarios too soon, Lois. This is supposed to be a happy time for Clark and you. But this morning, after I'd seen those prematurely born babies at the maternity ward…" Ellen sighed. "I called your father and he agreed we should have everything in place in this house as soon as possible. You're almost six months pregnant now, Lois; in a month's time the baby might decide to arrive early — we'd better be prepared."

Lois, standing in the protective circle of her husband's arms, stared at her parents. It slowly dawned on her what a huge responsibility both Sam and Ellen had taken upon them when they'd agreed to help her and Clark. She hadn't given much thought to their feelings; she'd simply assumed they would be there for her. Her father was a surgeon, her mother a nurse — what more could a woman, pregnant with a half-alien child, wish for? And right now, in their concerned looks, she could clearly see the love and care both her parents felt for her and her unborn child.

"Thank you." Clark said simply, his voice full of emotion and obviously feeling the same way.

"Oh, Mother…" Lois, finally letting go of all dormant feelings of resentment she still harbored against her parents because of her unhappy childhood, slipped out of Clark's embrace to hug her mother tightly. "I'm so sorry… I didn't realize… of course you're worried. I am being careful, really I am. I'm not doing any legwork these days, I'm tied to my desk and that's fine with me. We were a bit late tonight because we were discussing a case we're working on with Perry. Clark brought some pasta dishes from Italy so I had a healthy meal and —"

"— we also wanted to go to bed on time. Not that we're trying to get rid of you two, but… you know…" Clark grinned.

"That's okay," Sam chuckled, "we just came barging in unannounced so we don't expect to stay and be entertained."

Lois let go of Ellen and floated upwards to kiss her tall father on the cheek. "Thank you too, Daddy, for all your work. Let's hope we won't need your incubator. Did you make this bed yourself?"

"Yes, I did, Princess," Sam looked proudly at his handiwork. "See? It's wider than your average examining table; you'll be able to thrash around to your heart's content and you don't have to be afraid that you'll fall off it."

"Thrash around? I wasn't planning to thrash around; that sounds rather undignified."

"Well, Lois, giving birth is anything but dignified; you'll find out soon enough. Come on Sam, let's go. Our work here is done." Ellen said briskly. "Lois, Clark, I'll see you two tomorrow evening for your Lamaze practice."

"We'll be home on time." Lois assured her mother as they trooped down the stairs. "By the way, what possessed you two to drag that bed over here by yourselves? Daddy, why didn't you call us? Clark could've easily come and pick it up."

"I know, but you know your mother, if she's got something on her mind it has to be done right away. It's not that heavy, Lois, it just looks that way. Clark, do you have time tomorrow to drop by at my lab? I'm just about ready to test the incubator and I thought maybe you'd like to assist me."

"You bet! I'll call you from the Planet as soon as I get there, Sam. Thanks again — for everything — you too, Ellen. I don't know what we'd do without you two." Clark stooped to kiss Ellen on the cheek.

"Oh!" Lois suddenly exclaimed, "Mother, I almost forgot! You said you went to the hospital this morning. Did you get a chance to see Jimmy?"

"I did — what little could be seen of him, anyway." Ellen grinned. "You should see his room, Lois. It's filled with flowers and cards and balloons and teddy bears. It's driving the nurses nuts! I ran into Jimmy's mother and Alice White while they were trying to stop more stuff from being delivered to Jimmy's room. They'll take them directly to other floors instead; a lot of patients don't get visitors and never get flowers or anything so that should cheer up their rooms a bit."

"Jimmy the Hero!" Lois grinned back at Ellen. "How about Gareth's baby? How's she doing?"

"I happen to know Clarice, one of the nurses on duty this morning, and she let me in the ward for just a few minutes. Clarice told me the Keyes baby is doing okay so far. I wasn't allowed inside the room, of course, I watched through the glass partition. There were eight babies in that room, all fighting for their lives. The poor little things are hooked up to all kinds of tubes and it's not a pretty sight, Lois."

"I can imagine! It must be horrible for the parents to see their babies like that."

Ellen sighed. "Mrs Keyes was wheeled in there just before I arrived. She was talking to the baby and trying to touch her through the plastic hood she's covered with. It looks like she'll have to wait quite some time before she can really hold that child in her arms."

"Poor Glenda, what she must be going through! Clark, we have to call Gareth, maybe you can do that while I see these two intruders to the door. Bye Mother, I'll see you tomorrow evening. Daddy, please try not to turn my guestroom into a torture chamber, okay? You don't have too many other scary contraptions lined up in your lab for me, now do you?"

"If you don't want to know, just stay out of that room, Lois. Your mother and I will take care that all the necessary contraptions, as you put it, will be there. You just relax and we'll do all the hard work."

"Hah! Now who's going to do all the hard work when your granddaughter finally decides to show her face? Moi!"

"Well, let's hope you take after your mother. She was a real pain when she was expecting, but she delivered both you and your sister in six hours flat."

"I was 'a pain'? I was pregnant! So sue me. Lois, you go back inside, it's getting a bit chilly out here. Maybe that horrible heat we've had these last couple of weeks has finally gone. Sam, before you drop me off at my apartment I want you to —"

With a smile Lois closed her front door, shutting out the sound of Ellen's voice. She could hear Clark talking on the phone in the living room. She decided not to join him and floated upstairs, coming to a stop beside the bed her father had made for her. She swept one hand over the thin, plastic-covered mattress, then thumped her fist on the surface to test its sturdiness. Her smile widened when she felt a soft kick at her left side.

"Hey sweetie, does that mean you approve of Grandpa's handiwork? Pretty neat, huh?"

Lois gingerly pushed on the lever her father had confidently handled just a short time ago and watched the bed lower almost to the floor. She pushed again and the bed slowly began to rise. Lois giggled as she felt the baby kick again.

"Well, kiddo, it's a good thing I'm able to float; what if one of your grandmas gets excited and accidentally shoots us off into the air? Your Daddy had better be around to catch you because you won't know how to fly yet, you know."

Lois kicked off her shoes and floated up, slowly lowering herself onto the mattress while she wondered, not for the first time, whether their daughter would fully inherit all of Clark's powers or just a fraction. "As for me, I guess they will disappear after you're born and I'm sure gonna miss 'em… oops!" Lois grinned. "Watch it, young lady, that's my dinner you're kicking against!"

When Clark came looking for her a few minutes later he found Lois sitting cross-legged on the bed in a classic Yoga position.

"Honey, are you all right?" Clark asked concernedly, "Does this bother you?"

Lois opened her eyes and smiled at him. "This… birthing bed, you mean? No, it doesn't bother me. On the contrary, it makes me feel — I don't know, cherished, I guess. I hadn't realized that my parents had gotten themselves so involved and thinking so far ahead. Clark, just look at what my mother's done already these past few months — she checks my diet and my weight and she helps us with the Lamaze practice; she volunteered because we can't attend regular sessions with other couples." Lois sighed, "I've taken so much for granted, Clark, and I haven't once said 'thank you' to my mother before."

"She knows you appreciate what she's doing, honey, mothers always do."

"Well, I've heard you say 'thank you' to your parents for even the most teensy weensy little things, Clark."

"That's the way I was raised, honey."

"I know; I wasn't. But I'm an adult now and for years already I've seen how you and your parents treat each other. That's taught me how a family should function and that's what I want, Clark; a loving and secure family life for our child."

"That's what I've always wanted too, Lois, and that's what we'll have." Clark vowed, the look in his eyes warm and adoring as he walked towards his wife.

Lois floated up from the bed and into his arms. "Mmmm," she sighed contentedly as she looped her arms around his neck and kissed him long and deeply. "This is nice… now tell me who kept you so long on the phone… was it Gareth?"

Clark couldn't resist stealing another lingering kiss before mumbling softly against her jaw. "Uhuh… I talked to Gareth… and I talked to my mom… and then to my dad… but right now I don't want to talk anymore… I want to take my wife to bed 'cause right now, I'm in dire need of a little TLC."

While Lois let out that throaty little giggle she knew was a great turn on for her husband, Clark purposely strode into their bedroom and gently lowered her to the floor. They simultaneously began removing each other's clothes while planting small, sweet kisses on newly exposed skin.

Lois murmured, "Is everything okay with your mom and dad? Are they excited to be moving to Metropolis next weekend?"

"Uhuh…" Clark mumbled against her navel, "Hello, my sweet little baby girl… here's your daddy… what do you think will stop your mommy from talking about other people and concentrate on just you and me, hmm?"

Lois's belly trembled under his touch and she giggled, then gasped when he suddenly straightened and swept her up in his arms. As Clark gently laid her on their bed Lois shone up at him, her smile incandescent with love and joy, her arms spread wide in a welcoming embrace.


Chapter Twelve

"Hmmm…" Lois sighed contentedly as she eyed her now empty plate. "Is it just me or do your pancakes get better and better each morning?"

Clark laughed as he stood up to clear the table and rinse out the cutlery and china they'd used for their breakfast before placing them in the dishwasher.

"My pancakes have always been excellent, honey, you've just ignored them before. I'm sure you'll revert right back to dry toast and coffee as soon as our daughter's born."

"You're probably right, Clark, but don't despair; she'll definitely love your cooking so in a few years you can start flipping pancakes to your heart's content."

"I can't wait!" Clark said happily, "We'd better go now, honey — we can't turn up late at the Planet each day. We've got work to do; we've got to try and top this morning's front page article."

"We will, trust me."

Lois glanced at the grainy picture of Edward T. Warning a.k.a 'Butch' Warner on the front page of "The Daily Planet" then grinned cheekily at Clark.

"I can just imagine the look on the Mayor's face when she reads this! Let's hope this will take the brunt off Jimmy's accident; maybe now the press will leave him alone to recuperate in peace. Clark, I'm glad Perry decided to print this. You found out the real identity of the missing civil servant and we scooped the competition."

The phone in the living room rang and they decided to let the answering machine record the call. While they listened to hear who the caller might be, Bill Henderson's voice reached their ears. "Clark, Lois… if you're still at home —"

Clark super-sped to the phone to pick it up and turned to Lois after a short conversation with Henderson. "Honey, I'll drop you off at the Planet and then go straight to —"

"No way!" Lois interrupted him firmly. "I'm coming with you, Clark. I want to hear what Bill has to say. Then you can drop me at the Planet and go chase the bad guys all by yourself."

"Lois! Just last night you promised you'd —"

"— be chained to my desk, I know; but this is the police station, Clark, the safest place in Metropolis!"

"Lois, think about it: if you go straight to the Planet and work first with Perry, you can join me as soon as I come in. And what about that list of criminals we want Anna Johnston to investigate? She'll have to delve really deep into the history of the Belltower Company too. Honey, we'd better get those investigations started a.s.a.p. before the competition wises up and beats us to it."

"Oh… well… okay," Lois said grudgingly as she allowed Clark to usher her out the front door, down the steps, towards the Jeep. As he helped her get into the car Clark looked at Lois with sympathetic eyes.

"It's hard, honey, I know; this is the first decent case we've had in months and you have to lie low. Tell you what: I'll be back as soon as I've spoken to Bill; I'll come to the Planet and brief you first, before I do anything else, okay?"

"Okay." Lois let out a short, frustrated breath as she strapped herself in her seat belt. "It sounded so easy when I said I'd take a back seat and let you do all the legwork," she admitted, "But it's hard, Clark, my gut reaction —"

"— is to dive right in, I know." Clark shot Lois a concerned look before he started the car. "Honey, you're not going back on your word, now are you?"

"No, I'm not, I know that's too dangerous right now. It's just — you know how much I hate standing at the sidelines, Clark. But don't worry, I'll be good — Geez! Watch it, you moron!" Lois yelled at a cyclist who had just flashed by her half-opened window while maneuvering his bicycle swiftly and rather precariously through the busy morning traffic.


"Clark, you almost hit him! This isn't Amsterdam, you know; at least there they know what they're doing!"

"Well, maybe he's a Dutchman, Lois, he seems to know how to ride that bike. Anyway, how come you think those cyclists in Amsterdam never collide with other vehicles? They do, you know."

"You're laughing at me," Lois said sourly, "I can hear it in your voice. You're such a nitpicker, Clark — it's beyond me why you always want to argue about practically everything I say."

Clark bit back a smile. One minute Lois was on top of the world, then glowering at him the next. But he was getting quite used to these sudden mood swings.

What had Sam Lane said last night? Ellen had been 'a pain' when she'd been pregnant with Lois within a few months after their marriage. Clark suspected that Sam's inability to handle that situation had started the rift between him and his volatile wife. Instead of being patient and supportive Sam had buried himself in his work and turned to other women. Lois being a girl while he'd wanted a son hadn't helped either.

Poor Ellen; she'd only been twenty five when she'd realized that the man she loved with all her heart had turned out to be a very reluctant husband and father. Turning to the bottle certainly was no excuse when you had two little children to take care of but Clark understood how unhappiness and desperation had made Ellen fall into that trap.

Clark shot a quick look at Lois's averted profile. Well, he didn't think of his wife as being 'a pain'. He loved everything about her pregnancy and if hormonal surges made 'Mad Dog Lane' surface once in a while it was fine by him.

For a very long time they'd both been desperately unhappy, believing they wouldn't be able to have children. Clark now acknowledged that maybe it had been for the best that Lois hadn't gotten pregnant in the first year of their marriage. Her own unhappy youth with combatant parents hadn't prepared her too well for the unavoidable give-and-take of such a close relationship. Even though she loved Clark and wanted to be with him, at first Lois tended to treat her marriage as a battlefield, instinctively fighting to preserve every inch of 'her' territory.

Thanks to Martha's frequent counseling Lois had slowly come to understand that there were no 'her' and 'his' territories; that they were in this marriage together and had to solve their differences with patience and tolerance. Clark in turn had learned he shouldn't treat Lois's issues too lightly.

As Clark parked the Cherokee in the parking lot at the Planet Lois sat upright and turned a penitent face to him. "I'm sorry I snapped at you, Clark, I didn't mean to."

"I know honey — and it wasn't the cyclist either. You're just frustrated because you're grounded for a while." Clark took the hand Lois had laid on his knee in his own and pressed a lingering kiss on her knuckles.

"I don't think it will be 'for a while', Clark, this is forever. I've just realized that my life will never be the same again, once the baby's arrived. I do want to keep on working, but I also want to be the best mother I can possibly be. That will mean I'll have to spend enough quality time with our daughter to make her feel loved and wanted by me — her mommy. It's not that we won't have enough babysitters around; that's not the point. But I don't want her to look at me as just another babysitter, Clark. You, on the other hand, will be our little girl's hero. You'll be such a great father, you're so good with children, while I'm short tempered and —"

"Lois, you'll be a great mother, trust me. As for me — I'm new at this too, you know. I didn't have any siblings to practice on. At least you've had Lucy."

"Hah! I don't think I was much good to Lucy. What if I'll turn out to be just like my mother? She was always angry and she didn't have any patience with us. I know she loves me and I know she's trying to make up for all that now, but —"

"Honey, your mother didn't have the love and support of her husband. She was taking her frustrations out on you and your sister and that was a bad thing. She knows that now. But you have me and you know I'll be there for you always. We'll help each other."

"I know — just promise me you won't sneak around and kiss the neighbor's wife at our family barbecue." Through her tears Lois smiled at Clark.

"Well, I can't promise you that, honey. Our neighbor's wife happens to be my mom and I rather like kissing her."

"Oh, you!" A watery chuckle escaped Lois's throat. She freed her hand out of Clark's warm clasp and lovingly caressed his cheek. "I love you, Clark, and I know you love me. I'm sorry I'm getting a bit panicky sometimes."

"I don't mind if you snap at me, honey, as long as you tell me what's really bothering you, okay?"

"Okay," Lois sighed and blinked back her tears. "It's just — I couldn't bear it if our daughter would grow up resenting me because I love my job too, Clark. What if she feels neglected? I'm afraid I won't have a clue how to be a perfect mother for her."

"Children don't want 'perfect' parents, Lois, they just want to be loved. And you've got so much love to give. Trust me, she'll be as proud of your achievements as I am. And it's high time we added another notch to our belt, Ms Lane." Clark grinned teasingly at Lois as he slid out of the car. "You might not be able to go cavorting around Metropolis with me for a while but you've got some important research to do. So promise me you'll stay put, okay?"

Lois nodded and allowed Clark to lift her off her seat, pressing a tiny kiss at the corner of his mouth as he gently lowered her to her feet. "And you'll come back here as soon as you've seen Bill?"

"Deal." Clark was already fiddling with his tie. "I'll take off now — see you later, honey."


Lois soon found out why Jimmy had been working closely with Anna Johnston on sensitive cases. Anna was an earnest, levelheaded young woman who was extremely proud to be working for 'The Daily Planet'. The only daughter of a firefighter, Anna was a staunch fan of Superman ever since he'd saved her father's life one day when he'd been trapped in a burning building.

Going about her business in a quiet and unassuming way, Anna seemed to be able to ferret out information even Jimmy wasn't able to unearth. Being part of a large family consisting mainly of civil servants, Anna 'knew people who knew people'. Not only had she been able to provide the photo of 'Butch' Warner, she'd also found out, through a niece working at the DA's office, that he'd never gone to jail. 'Butch' Warner had quietly disappeared, long before his sentence had been delivered, until he'd miraculously reappeared again to pose as a civil servant.

When Lois walked into the newsroom Anna Johnston had already discovered that the Belltower Construction Company, at the time its bid for the renovation of the old warehouses at the docks was approved, had been listed as a holding, operating under the umbrella of a mother company called Chapelle Industries. When Lois saw that name she rolled her eyes.

"Someone with a weird sense of humor is orchestrating this whole sham, Chief. This reeks of Church all right," Lois told Perry when she handed him the list of all known Intergang leaders and their present whereabouts the young researcher had compiled.

"Hmmm," Perry said thoughtfully, "Guess we're dealing with some new players this time, Lois. Bill Church Sr. is dead and buried and young Billy is still in jail; mind you, he's loaded so he could be involved, but that's for us to find out."

"Chief, I know Billy's filthy rich and could probably run things from out of his prison cell, but we shouldn't rule out Mindy Church."

"Mindy Church?" Perry's eyebrows crawled up. "She's not on this list, Lois, and frankly, what I remember of that lil' lady —"

"I know, I know — she looked like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth! But think about it, Perry — who profited the most when both Church men were out of the way? Mindy! I think that little airhead fooled us big time, batting those false eyelashes and talking a lot of nonsense in that awful, breathy voice of hers."

"Hmmm… I'm havin' trouble seein' Mindy Church as a hardened criminal, Lois."

"Chief, we should've seriously looked into Joey Bermuda's accusations at that time. And didn't Billy Church accuse her too when he and his father were arrested? I think we should go talk to both Billy and Joey; I bet they'll be glad to tell their side of the story, even after all these years."

"Well, Lois, maybe you're right — it might be interesting to hear what Billy and Joey have to say about her. Think she's moved back to Metropolis?"

"Don't know, Chief, I'll ask Anna to find out."

Perry grinned when Lois practically ran out of his office in search of Anna Johnston. Give Lane a juicy case to sink her teeth into and she became a veritable bundle of energy. This morning when Lois had walked in she'd looked like a little girl who'd been denied a lollipop. When Perry had asked why the long face she'd confessed that she still had some trouble taking a backseat in all this. Clark had gone alone to the police station to talk to Bill Henderson and Lois had a hard time waiting until he came back. Well, Perry thought, she just had to get used to it; this time Lane couldn't have her cake and eat it too.

Perry chuckled then sobered as he again turned his attention to the list Lois had brought him. He thought of Bill Church, the founder and head of Intergang, who hadn't survived the treachery of his only son and partner in crime. Bill had been dead now — for how long? Was it five years already? Perry wondered what really had happened that sunny day at the museum where Bill Church had organized an auction of his art collection.

Bill Church, at that time returning to business after a long illness, had wanted to turn his crime syndicate into a clean, legal family business. He'd come back with a new outlook on life and a brand new wife, Mindy. She'd been the devoted nurse who'd lovingly stood by him while he'd been treated for heart problems at a private clinic.

As soon as he'd resumed his place as head of the Church estate Bill had announced that he wanted to contribute to charity and this auction had been one of the many activities he'd organized.

Perry knew that Billy Jr. had plotted to get rid of his father. What Perry didn't know was that Billy Jr. had concocted his plan together with his new stepmother.

The twosome had seized the opportunity and hired an explosives expert to blow up the museum where the event was held. Fortunately, Lois and Clark, who had been present at the auction together with Perry, had spotted and deactivated the bomb just in time.

Both father and son Church had been arrested and convicted, not only for trying to destroy the artwork in order to claim millions from their insurance company, but also for attempted murder of the people present in the museum at the time the bomb was set to explode.

Too late Billy Jr. had discovered he'd been doublecrossed by his devious stepmother. The jail sentences of both father and son had been severe; the presiding judge had been present in the museum and he hadn't appreciated being almost blown to smithereens.

Abandoned by his new wife, who'd not once visited him in his cell, the embittered Bill Sr. had died of a massive heart attack shortly after his arrest. Bill Jr. was still engaged in a fierce legal war against his stepmother in an attempt to regain complete control of the Church estate. Fortunately for Billy his father had, before he'd met and married Mindy, already signed over a large part of his assets to his son.

Mindy Church, on the other hand, had access to all of her late husband's bank accounts and was also the sole owner of the chain of profitable Costmart stores she'd received as a wedding present.

With Billy in jail and safely out of the way Mindy had also seized complete control of her husband's crime syndicate, Intergang. She'd swiftly expanded her power by ruthlessly eliminating competitors and Intergang leaders who were unwilling to work with and for her.

Mindy Church had left Metropolis not long after Joey Bermuda had tried to implicate her in murder attempts not only on Lois and Clark but also on Superman. Bermuda, an ingenious and ruthless killer, had been hired by Mindy to get rid of the meddlesome threesome.

When that didn't work out Mindy had cleverly turned the tables on her hired assassin and when Bermuda was arrested all evidence had pointed solely at him. Naturally, he'd tried to convince the authorities that Mrs. Church had been the mastermind behind the conspiracy.

However, during the interrogation by the police the petite blonde with the childlike voice had skillfully acted out her role as the bewildered, grieving widow; drowning in tears she'd declared that she wanted nothing more than to atone for her husband's crimes and to become Metropolis' newest philanthropist.

The police hadn't been able to link her to Joey Bermuda despite his repeated accusations. After Bermuda had been convicted and thrown into jail Mindy Church had gradually retreated from public life and shortly after her husband's funeral she'd left Metropolis for good.

"Anna's trying to find out where she is now," Lois told Clark when he returned to the Planet after his visit to the police station. "Clark, maybe you can find out where the head office of this Chapelle Industries is. Anna's already checked with the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce and came up blank. Perry's waiting for us; he wants to know what Bill Henderson had to say."

"Okay," Clark grabbed his laptop. "But I can't stay long, Lois, the Mayor's about to hold a press conference. I'll cover that first, then go to your dad's place. I think I'll talk to him straight away about working with Dr. Klein; no use putting this off any longer."

"Well," Lois glanced at his face as she opened the door and preceded Clark into Perry's office. "You don't have to involve Bernie yet if you're not ready, Clark; there's still time."

"You heard what your parents said last night, Lois, what if the baby comes early? We'd better be prepared."

"Hey!" Perry interrupted, "I take it this invasion doesn't mean I have to listen to your personal problems, now do I? You two better get down to business! Clark? You've got something to tell me?"

"Sorry," Clark said apologetically as he and Lois took their seats in front of Perry's desk. He held up his laptop. "I'm going to try and find the whereabouts of the Chapelle Industries and maybe Mindy's too. Bill Henderson's found some interesting clues already, Chief; he didn't go home last night but worked until he struck dirt."

"As long as the Planet gets the exclusive; you did remind him of that, I hope?"

"Bill knows, Chief, he's grateful that we filled him in last night. He's already investigated all the John Doe cases that turned up after "Butch" Warner disappeared. There were two bodies that suited the description and he personally went to check these out at the morgue. That didn't pan out so we can safely say that if Warner is dead his body didn't turn up in Metropolis yet. So he's probably still alive."

"Hmmm… wonder if he'll survive this morning's edition of 'The Daily Planet' though. Now that his real identity is known I expect he's lost his usefulness for whoever's behind all this. What else did Bill have for us?"

"Well Chief, there's another civil servant gone missing. His name's Colin Beddington. He's part of the Mayor's staff and he's —"

"— in charge of the whole Lowlands development project!" Lois said excitedly, "Clark, you talked to that guy — just after the embezzlement was known. I remember the picture we ran with that article; he was standing right next to the Mayor when she gave that first press conference. You told me he acted as shocked as the Mayor was at that time. Let me guess — he gave Warning that job at the License bureau, right?"

Clark nodded. "That's another thing Bill confirmed. Seems Beddington went on a weekend mountain trip right after that press conference and hasn't returned yet. Should be interesting to see how the Mayor will explain his absence."

"What about his family?" Perry remarked. "Does he have a wife, kids maybe?"

"According to Bill, both Beddington and Warning lived like bachelors — at least here in Metropolis. Beddington's been on the Mayor's staff for about a year now, Chief, so it looks like he might have been planted there on purpose. And he in turn got Warning the key position at the License Bureau."

"They must have killed that poor man who held that job before him." Lois said with conviction. "These are extremely dangerous people. How many more rotten eggs are there at City Hall? I'm not so sure these two are the only ones."

"More than you'd think, Lois. The Mayor better have some good explanaton when all this becomes public — or she can kiss a re-election goodbye. This press conference should prove to be interesting. Care to come with me, honey? If that's all right with you, Chief."

"Fine by me." Perry looked at Lois over the rim of his reading glasses, his expression unreadable.

"Well — I, umm — " Taken by surprise Lois looked from Clark to Perry, then again at her husband who was now busy super-typing on his laptop and jotting down notes.

"Really? Are you sure?"

Clark merely nodded, his eyes on his screen.

"Umm…" Lois, caught between reporter mode and common sense, bit on her lower lip. The baby stirred and Lois started when she felt the soft fluttering. She blinked and sat upright, sighing regretfully.

"No… you go, Clark. I still have a lot to do here. I'll start writing the article and you can finish it when you come back."

"Okay," Clark said easily while waving his hands to disperse the thin smoke coming out of the keyboard as a result of his supertyping. Perry looked at him admiringly. Clark really knew how to handle Lois these days, he reflected, and Lois didn't seem to realize she'd been cleverly manipulated.

Clark handed the notes to Lois. "Ask Anna to check out these three Chapelle Industries, honey. One's registered in Switzerland, the second in Aruba and the third in St. Cyr. I'm sure you'll also find them on that print-out Anna's already made. I can't find Mindy Church, though; she seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth."

"She probably uses another name." Lois frowned thoughtfully. "Clark, maybe you can find her marriage license in there. That might have her maiden name listed."

"Good point, Lois, here we go… got it!" Clark sucked in his breath. "Lois… Chief… you won't believe this!"

"What?" Lois and Perry exclaimed simultaneously.

"It says here that William A. Church got married to a woman named Melinda… Melinda Priest!"

In shocked silence Lois stared at her husband.

"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry reached for his phone. "Lois, you were right — that woman's got a weird sense of humor. I'll call Henderson and have him put out an APB."

"No… no, Chief, I don't think that's necessary." Lois held up the piece of paper in her hand.

Clark, reading her mind, smiled wryly. "Chief, I think we'll find Mrs. Church on a tiny Caribbean island named St. Cyr."

Perry withdrew his hand from the phone. "How would you know?"

"Chief, look at the pattern. Church, Priest, Belltower, Chapelle…"

"Hmmm… I see what you mean. Well, fly over there and check it out, Clark."

"No!" Lois exclaimed, "No, Clark, you can't! That woman tried to kill you with a virus! What if she still has some of it in a vial or something and you get infected again? The baby might catch it too!"

Clark looked alarmed while Perry, clearly puzzled, asked, "Virus? What virus?"

Clark jumped up and started to pace. "Chief, I'm not sure in which prison he's being held, but could you arrange for me to meet with Joey Bermuda as soon as possible? He's the one Mindy hired to make that virus. I better talk to him. God! We were so stupid to have ignored his accusations that time!"

"We didn't know, honey, we were just so glad you'd survived. Run along now — you can't afford to miss the Mayor's press conference." Lois said briskly. "I'll explain everything to Perry. Don't shut off your cell phone — we'll call you as soon as we've spoken to the D.A. Maybe you'll be able to go talk to Joey Bermuda even today."

"Forget about the D.A. — I'm calling the governor." Perry grabbed the phone. "And stay away from St. Cyr, Clark — that's an order!"


Chapter Thirteen

"Diamonds are a girl's best friend…"

A soft, breathy voice reached his ears. The young man, lying on a lounger near the swimming pool, frowned. Every day of the three weeks he'd been here, he'd had to listen to this song at — he lifted his arm and glanced at the expensive Rolex on his wrist — exactly the same time.

The lady was a creature of habit if nothing else. At exactly eleven am, she'd open the latticed doors of her bedroom and step outside onto the balcony, clad in a flimsy robe. She'd look down and chortle in that deceptive sugary voice and he'd jump up, bowing like a modern-day Romeo, before looking up to say something complimentary in return.

The young man looked again at his watch then laid back and closed his eyes. He had another half hour to enjoy the sun before he'd be expected to do her bidding. Well, who was he to complain? He could tolerate this isolated life for a while longer — as long as she kept showering him with expensive gifts and designer clothes.

She was loaded and he was determined to take a large piece of the cake with him when he'd leave. And, he admitted to himself, there were other perks as well. She was far more beautiful than the other older women he'd allowed to pick him up before — usually for just one night.

"Good morning, honey bunny!"

Feeling rebellious, he decided to change the rules so instead of jumping up immediately he lazily reached for his sunglasses and smiled, his teeth flashing white in his deeply tanned face. He stretched his arms high above his head before slowly putting on his sunglasses. Then he finally stood up and bowed with a flourish.

"Good morning, dear lady, you look ravishing… as always."

The woman stared down at him through narrowed eyelids. Hmm, she'd better lose this one — and fast. He was beginning to get bored and that was dangerous. She should never have picked up an American boy; that had been a mistake. Ultimately, Americans always turned out to be too cheeky. And she sure didn't need a nosey Texan snooping around.

She watched him as he sauntered to the edge of the pool, bending down his oil-slicked body to pick up the white terrycloth robe he'd left there. She sighed as she briefly recalled his predecessor. Ah… Pierre from Guadeloupe! So very French! Too bad his ego had also become a little too inflated. What had possessed Pierre to expect her to make their association permanent? And now this American boy also began to act too self confident.

The woman puckered her lips as she surveyed her surroundings while absently stroking the purple petals of the bougainvillea that threatened to smother the crescent-shaped balcony in an abundance of flowers. The white painted villa — aptly named 'Ma Retraite' — was built against the western side of a mountain, overlooking the sea.

When viewed from the water the scenery was spectacular. Brightly colored tropical plants adorned the terraced grounds leading from the villa to the fine, white sand of the heavily secured, private beach. To her right she could see the yacht, sparkling brilliantly white in the hot, tropical sunlight, moored to the marina and surrounded by softly undulating smaller motorboats.

As Mindy Church she'd left Metropolis six years ago, not long after her plans to dispose of Superman and the reporters Lane and Kent had fallen through. She'd left her affairs in the hands of a capable and loyal Intergang member, a high placed civil servant named Ian Beddington, who'd helped her to get her friend Eddy, also known as 'Butch' Warner, out of the clutches of the Justice Department.

She and 'Butch' were kindred spirits and went a long way. They'd met in New York where they'd lived on the streets after they'd both ran away from their — in their opinion — boring middle class families. They had quickly become friends and watched out for each other. It had been because of 'Butch' that she had moved to Metropolis; thanks to him she'd met Bill Church and gotten rich. She'd repaid him by bailing him out when he got himself into trouble, working for 'Lucky' Leon.

Ian Beddington, one of her Intergang members, was a master of forgery who'd provided 'Butch' with a new, respectable identity as Edward T. Warning. It had cost Mindy a bundle but she'd looked at it as a necessary investment. Sure, she'd had to shell out big bucks to get people in her corner, but buying loyalty hadn't been so difficult after her husband's death and with his son in jail and thus conveniently out of the way.

Mindy had booked a long, luxurious cruise, planning to return to Metropolis after a few months when all the excitement of the attempted murder of Lois Lane by Joey Bermuda had died down. No word had leaked to the press about the murder attempt on Superman though. Mindy knew the authorities probably wanted to keep that one under wraps — provided they knew about it. And Superman obviously had his own reasons not to blab it to the world that the Man of Steel could be taken out by a piece of green rock. And she, Mindy, had had no intention to go public with that either; it had been time to lay low for a while.

It was during the cruise that she'd met the owner of the Miami-based cruise line, a charming St. Cyrian in his early sixties named Yves Lachapelle. After she'd learned that he was a widower without a permanent girlfriend she'd made her move.

One night when he'd enjoyed a quiet moment alone on deck she'd walked up to him and brazenly presented herself as a 'church' where he could visit the 'chapel'. He'd looked scandalized and Mindy had instantly dissolved into tears, playing the role of the new, bereft widow to the hilt. Monsieur Lachapelle, ever the gentleman, had instantly forgotten the coarse introduction and had tried to console her by taking her into the bar to have a calming drink.

It didn't take Mindy long to make Lachapelle fall head over heels in love with her and before the cruise ended she'd very subtly pressured him into proposing marriage. Mindy had declared that she viewed a wedding at sea, with the Captain performing the ceremony, as the most romantic happening in her life.

Lachapelle had protested, saying he'd like to introduce her as his fianc‚e to his family and friends before getting married. But Mindy had been determined not to give his two grown sons and their wives a chance to try and undermine their union. She'd persisted and finally been able to persuade Lachapelle to have the civil ceremony at sea; they could have a church wedding later on with his family in Florida.

Killing her new husband had been so easy. Bill Church and Yves Lachapelle had both been putty in her hands and Mindy still marveled how besotted with her these two hardened businessmen had become in such a short time. And she knew she'd be able to pull the same trick again if she would be so inclined.

But right now, she needed to lie low for a while. She was engaged in nasty legal battles — not only with Bill Church Jr. but also with Lachapelle's sons who had taken an instant dislike to the woman their father had married so suddenly. When he'd died in a boating accident, almost immediately after the church wedding, Marc and Michel Lachappelle had started a lawsuit in an attempt to regain their inheritance.

Yves Lachapelle had been a St. Cyrian and under St. Cyrian law the spouse who outlived the other automatically inherited all possessions registered in the deceased name. Mindy, not wanting to be saddled with the enormous responsibility of running a legitimate shipping line based in Miami, had made a grand gesture. She'd signed over the whole business to his enraged sons and kept what was left — his money, his numerous other possessions and the very profitable Chapelle Industries.

Mindy had delighted in traveling all over the world to view the various villas and penthouses she'd inherited and she'd instantly fallen in love with St. Cyr and the beautiful, secluded villa at 'Ma Retraite'. It had become her main sanctuary; the place from where she ruled and expanded her businesses. In addition to numerous cars and a small fleet of boats she also owned an airstrip and three small, ultra modern airplanes she frequently used to go island hopping.

One of the first things she did when she took up residence at 'Ma Retraite' was to replace all staff at the house and those who tended the grounds; she hadn't wanted to deal with spies who were loyal to the sons of her late husband. She'd also replaced the crews taking care of the planes and the boats by Intergang members and had soon set up a profitable business by smuggling drugs to the mainland.

A soft, thudding sound shook Mindy out of her reverie. She caught a glimpse of the blond Adonis just before he closed the wooden gate leading from the pool area to the house. He would now take a shower, get dressed, and join her for breakfast. She had to get rid of him, she mused. Just like Pierre before him he was becoming greedy. She sighed regretfully. It was fun while it lasted but she'd better do it as soon as possible, before he could cause serious trouble.

Another sound, growing in volume, caught her attention and Mindy looked up into the sky. The brilliant, tropical sunlight was already blinding at this early hour and she groped for her sunglasses. The plane was right on time — in a few minutes she would enjoy a leisurely, late breakfast while skimming the American newspapers and journals the pilot always brought back from his trips to Miami.

Mindy frowned, wondering how far the investigation into the construction fraud in Metropolis had progressed. Would there be another account in today's 'The Daily Planet'? She had pulled out her people as soon as the scam was discovered. She couldn't afford any loose ends; nothing should point to her and her present whereabouts.

Mindy turned and left the balcony, closing the doors on the heat. Dressing quickly she reached the dining room even before her young companion. The butler had already arranged the newspapers on a low table near the buffet and two maids were busy laying the table.

"Good morning, chicas!" Mindy said brightly and was greeted cheerfully by the two young Venezuelan women she'd smuggled into St. Cyr. They were part of the brand new staff she'd employed to wait on her day and night.

"Good morning, Bertram!"

The butler bowed and answered in an unmistakenly cultured, British voice. "Good morning, Madam; I trust you've slept well?"

"I did, Bertram, thank you. Can I have 'The Daily Planet'?"

"Certainly, Madam."

The butler rummaged through the pile and ripped the plastic covering from the newspaper before handing it to her. Mindy's back stiffened when she saw the face of 'Butch' Warner staring up at her from the front page. Cold rage settled into the pit of her stomach when she saw the byline on top of the accompanying article: Lane and Kent!

"Isolina, that looks delicious!" a velvety male voice said just behind her back. The maid giggled and Mindy turned swiftly, catching the meaningful glances between the young girl and the Texan. Oh yes, he had to go — and so had Isolina!

Mindy glanced at the other maid, Carmen, who kept herself busy dicing a papaya, acting as if she hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. But by the way she held herself Mindy could see she knew what was going on.

'Three people to replace!' Mindy thought as she fought to control her fury. 'As if I have nothing better to do!'

"You may go now, girls," she said coldly. The maids scurried away and Mindy threw down the newspaper then jumped up and picked up a plate and started to fill it with chunks of pineapple, papaya and small, sweet bananas. Impatiently she warded off the Texan's hands as he tried to pull her close.

"I don't have time for this right now! Take your food and go eat it out of this room," she commanded, "I have some urgent business to attend to."

Subdued, the young man hastily filled a plate and left the room. Behind him the butler closed the door with a decisive thud. He, too, had witnessed the bold glances between the gigolo and the young maid.

"I take it Madam wants this problem dealt with as soon as possible?"

"Yes, Bertram, I want to get rid of all three of 'em. Tell Alan I want to see him immediately."

"Very good, Madam." The butler left the room in search of the pilot who'd just arrived from Miami.

With hands that shook slightly Mindy poured herself a cup of coffee. She sat down and began to eat. She didn't look at the front page of the newspaper again; she was too angry right now. She decided to read the article after she'd talked to the pilot.

She didn't have to wait very long. Before she'd finished her breakfast Bertram escorted the pilot into the room. Obviously the butler had already informed him; after a brief greeting and confirmation that business in Miami had gone well the pilot suggested that in order to get rid of the gigolo and the two maids he would follow the same procedure as before; he'd drop them off in Miami and send them on their way.

But Mindy didn't like to be double-crossed or spurned; to his detriment Joey Bermuda had also found that out six years ago.

"No, that won't do this time." said Mindy, "These three have all seen 'Butch' when he was here, remember?" She pointed at the picture on the front page of 'The Daily Planet'. The pilot whistled through his teeth.

"Exactly!" Mindy threw up her hands. "You can't just drop them off in Miami, Alan; this news might go nationwide in a few days. They're bound to read about it or see something on television — you know what you have to do, don't you?"

The pilot nodded. "I'll get a plane prepared. Just let me know when they're ready to leave. Are they taking any luggage?"

"Hmmm," Mindy drummed her fingers on the table. "No… no luggage. Tell you what; take the Texan first. Tell him you're taking him to Miami on a shopping spree. You've done it before so he won't put up a fight." She smiled maliciously. "Let Juan handle the girls; he speaks their language. And I'll need new girls to replace these two. Tell Juan to take care of that too."

Mindy picked up the paper and pointed at 'Butch' Warner's face. "I can't afford any loose ends, Alan, so he's next… and take out Beddington too; I'm sure they're hot on his heels by now. Now go!"

When the pilot and the butler had left Mindy finally gave way to her rage. She paced up and down the room while reading the article in 'The Daily Planet'. When she came to the end Mindy threw down the paper. She went to stand at the window and looked out over the peaceful, colorful terrace with cold hatred shining out of her eyes.

"You're next, Lane and Kent — that's a promise!"


Chapter Fourteen

"What made you think I'd want to talk to you, Mr. Kent?"

Joey Bermuda stared belligerently at the reporter facing him across the wide table that separated them. A guard stood near the door, outside hearing distance, his hand never far from the weapon touching his right thigh.

"I understand I'm not on your list of favorite people, Mr. Bermuda," Clark said earnestly, "But thanks for meeting me anyway — I appreciate it."

"I was told I have no choice — order from the governor," Joey said sarcastically. "But that doesn't mean I have to give you any information, Mr. Kent. What would you want from me, anyway? You want me to apologize because I tried to blow up your fianc‚e? Get over it — that was years ago! Anyway, I was just doing my job."

"If you'd just hear me out —"

"Hear you out? Man, you people are unbelievable! You helped to put me in here — you and Lois Lane; it's your fault that my family's left me. You two got married, right? Have any kids?"

"Not yet," Clark said carefully, not wanting to lie but not wanting to tell this killer either that Lois was carrying their first child.

"My daughter Cheryl Marie was six when I was sent to prison," Joey said bitterly. "The apple of my eye. She's eleven now and heaven knows where! My wife divorced me and moved away without a forwarding address. Mr. Kent, I haven't seen my daughter from the day I was arrested. Do you know what that feels like?"

'You should've thought of that sooner,' Clark wanted to tell Bermuda, but he knew he shouldn't antagonize the man. Otherwise he'd leave as empty handed as he'd arrived. And that wasn't an option.

"I'm sorry, " Clark said sincerely. "That must be tough."

"Tough doesn't begin to describe it."

Bermuda scowled. But the short interchange seemed to have a calming effect on him and he finally sat down on the wooden chair at his side of the table. Clark followed his lead and also took his seat.

"Mr. Bermuda, six years ago you told the police that Mrs. Mindy Church had hired you to kill Lois Lane and myself. At that time nobody believed you — my wife and I didn't either. The idea was so far fetched…"

"I know," Bermuda said drily, "Mrs. Church was a master in playing the dumbest bimbo in the world."

"Mr. Bermuda…" Clark fished a folded copy of the front page of 'The Daily Planet' out of his pocket and laid it on the table.

Bermuda nodded. "I read the article, Mr. Kent, and yes, I know that face. I've seen that guy in the underground bunker Mrs. Church used as an office. Of course, when the police confronted her with it she acted ignorant — said she'd never seen the place before, that it was her husband's hideout. And that wasn't even a lie, of course." Bermuda laughed, a short frustrated bark.

"Mr. Bermuda, we know that, somehow, Mrs. Church is linked to this fraud case we're currently investigating. I'm willing to talk to the police and help you to get them to reopen your case. You've been sentenced not only for attempted murder on Lois Lane but also for masterminding the whole scheme. It might mean spending considerably less time in prison if I help you to prove that Mrs. Church had indeed been your client."

"And what would you want from me in return, Mr. Kent?"

"Mrs. Church didn't want only Lois Lane and myself out of the way — you also tried to kill Superman for her, didn't you?"

"What does it matter? It didn't work! He's still around."

"Yes, he's still around… But I'm curious to know how the virus was injected in his system, Mr. Bermuda, and where you got the… germs."

Bermuda stared thoughtfully at the large, powerful man facing him across the table. Clark Kent exuded quiet strength and integrity and the brown eyes behind the horn-rimmed glasses looked earnestly back at him. Bermuda grudgingly admitted to himself that he didn't dislike Mr. Kent. He took a deep breath and made a decision.

"Okay, what the heck — it's worth a try. I'll tell you how it was, Mr. Kent. Aren't you going to take notes? Oh, a tape recorder… no, I don't mind, you can switch it on. I hope you have plenty of tape 'cause it's a long story…"


Across town, in a small motorboat moored at the harbor, a man was busy stuffing his belongings into a large canvas bag while he frequently glanced out the windows in the direction of the pier. He'd been told he would be picked up this evening and he wanted to be ready and standing by.

The phone-call from St. Cyr had been brief and to the point but that didn't matter. He was sick of lying low and now that his picture was splashed all over the newspapers he didn't even dare show his face outside for fear of being recognized. He hadn't been worried though — he knew Mindy would come through for him. He expected she'd let him stay for a while on her island estate until she'd have a new assignment for him.

The man looked again through the window and saw a tall figure, carrying a small business case, striding purposely towards the boat. Relieved, 'Butch' Warner unlocked the door and started to put out the lights while the visitor quietly slipped inside.

"Hey Alan, am I glad to see you! Man! I was going nuts, cooped up in here. I'm ready to roll!" 'Butch' picked up the bag and slung it over his shoulder, turning around to look at the silent figure whose face was barely visible in the dark.

"What the — aaachhh!!"

'Butch' grabbed his chest, horrified disbelief in his eyes as he felt his own warm, sticky blood trickle through his fingers. The visitor watched dispassionately as 'Butch' Warner slowly sank down at his feet. He was dead even before his body hit the wooden floor.

Alan Cornell quickly walked past the still figure and swung the case he was holding in one hand on the table. He took off the silencer on his gun and stored both pieces into the case. He put the case and the canvas bag near the door and went through Warner's pockets in search of telltale items and documents.

Working swiftly and silently he soon had the interior of the boat and the body liberally covered with gasoline. When he reached the door he filled an empty bottle with gasoline and stuffed a piece of cloth into it. He opened the door and stepped outside. He then lit the soaked piece of cotton protruding out of the bottle and flung it into the boat.

Before the raging fire was noticed Alan Cornell was on his way to the small business airport where his plane was waiting for him.


Lois sighed deeply as she closed the front door behind her mother's retreating back and laid her forehead against the wood. She felt drained and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed with her husband's arms around her. But Clark wasn't home yet. Perry had been able to persuade the governor to issue a special pass for Clark to visit Joey Bermuda in prison that same evening, outside the regular visiting hours.

Lois knew it was imperative that Clark himself talked to Bermuda but that didn't mean she had to like it. The man was a cold-blooded killer and a very resourceful one, too. They didn't call him the 'Handy Man' for nothing. Lois didn't like her sensitive husband to have a one-on-one conversation with such a man but in this case it was unavoidable.

It had been a busy day for Clark. After he'd covered the Mayor's chaotic press conference he'd returned to the Planet to give Lois his notes and had left immediately again for Sam Lane's laboratory. As soon as the written permission for his visit to the prison had arrived he'd come back to pick it up. Lois had driven herself home where she'd fixed and eaten a simple meal while waiting for her mother to arrive.

Predictably, at first Ellen Lane had been irritated to hear that Clark wouldn't be present to help Lois with her Lamaze practice. Some things never change, Lois had thought, but instead of getting angry, as she'd done in the past, she'd calmly explained why Clark was absent.

Ellen was so used to scolding her family members that it was hard for her to change that habit. But Lois had finally accepted that this was the way her mother vented concern. And Lois found that she could deal with it much better these days.

Lucy had been very surprised when Lois had emailed her that she and their mother were communicating rather well these days. Ellen's constant harping had been one of the reasons Lucy had moved so far away and also why she didn't visit Metropolis too often.

<I'll have to come over and see for myself!> Lucy had written in her message.

Lois had been delighted. <We'd love to have you, Lucy! And please bring that gorgeous man of yours along.>

<I don't think that will be a problem. He's been pestering me to come to Metropolis ever since he saw that email of yours telling me you miss me. That was below the belt, Sis!>

<I know — but it's true, Lucy, I miss you. You wouldn't believe how sappy I've become since I became pregnant. It's disgusting!>

<LOL! I have to see that for myself. I guess I can stand Mother's nagging about Lucas and me getting married for a few days.>

<Hey! She's right, you know, I support her nagging. Can't have a man like Lucas Jennings slip through your fingers, Lucy. Remember how you used to get on my case? I'm just returning the favor.>

Lois smiled as she walked into the living room. Her family was slowly becoming just that — a family. Even though their split seemed to be definite, Lois had accepted it and was glad that her parents were finally able to interact as friends. They were still arguing a lot but their bickering wasn't bitter anymore and sometimes even good-natured. Lois was sure Lucy would also notice the difference when she came visiting.

The phone rang and Lois swiftly picked it up. It was Perry, curious to hear what Clark had learned from Joey Bermuda.

"He's not home yet, Perry. Yeah, he's late — but maybe some other emergency came up, you know. I'll tell him you called. Oh, Bill is there with you? Okay, I'll tell Clark — If you don't hear from us tonight then that means he's really late and he'll talk to you tomorrow, okay? G'night, Perry."

Unsure what to do next, Lois went into the kitchen and absentmindedly inspected the contents of the fridge. A small tub of her favorite ice cream was in there. Even though Ellen Lane scolded him for keeping chocolate and ice cream in the house, Clark always took care to have some ready for Lois just in case temptation became unbearable.

No, she wasn't going to give in, Lois decided and closed the door of the fridge with a decisive thud. She wasn't going to indulge her sweet tooth; not while her gentle husband was going through an ordeal and she wasn't there to support him. Clark hadn't said anything to her but she knew he hadn't looked forward to confronting 'The Handy Man'.

Tears stung Lois's eyes when she turned around and noticed a large jar of pickled gherkins on the dining table. Clark was always so thoughtful; always making sure she never had to want for anything.

The baby stirred and Lois smiled through her tears. "Sorry sweetie, he's not home yet. You miss him too, huh? Tell you what: we'll take a nice, hot soak in the tub and then we'll curl up in bed with a good book and wait for Daddy, okay? He'll need a lot of cuddles when he gets home."

Talking softly to her unborn child Lois floated upstairs into the bathroom. She opened the faucets to fill the bathtub and threw a few drops of scented oil in the water.

While she waited for the tub to fill Lois took off the soft, terrycloth sweatshirt and matching pants she'd donned for the Lamaze practice with her mother. She backed up a few paces so she could see herself fully in the long, narrow mirror Clark had glued against the inside of the door.

For a moment Lois stared with a critical eye at her naked form. She knew she was good-looking but still she wondered what it was about her that made Clark think she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

They had been married a year already when Lois had once voiced her doubts, standing just like this in front of the mirror. Clark had wrapped his arms around her from behind and had stared at their joint image with so much love and hungry passion in his eyes she'd blushed a fiery red.

Clark hadn't answered her verbally and the memory of his wild, uninhibited lovemaking that night still had the power to make Lois blush.

"I know I'm not the most beautiful woman in the world, sweetie, but I'm so thankful that in your father's eyes I am the most desirable creature on Earth." Lois said ruefully as she eyed her protruding belly. She turned away from the mirror and floated slowly above the bathtub.

"When you're older, Katie-girl, I'll tell you all about a beautiful little princess named Snow White… and the talking mirror… 'Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?' That's how your daddy will see you — for him you'll be the fairest of them all. He thinks so already, you know, even though you're still baldheaded and — aahhh…"

Lois sighed blissfully and slowly sank down into the hot, scented water. "This is heavenly… your Grandma Ellen put me through some pretty grueling exercises."

The baby kicked and Lois chuckled. "I guess you were bounced around a bit in there too, hm? You know, I wish you could be here already so we could float in the water together. That would be nice…"

Lois let her body go limp and closed her eyes. Suddenly she could see herself, in the bathtub, with a little naked baby girl sitting on her stomach. She could almost feel the velvety skin under the small armpits where she held the child to prevent it from toppling into the water.

The baby had big brown eyes that flashed with merriment while she was being bounced up and down into the water. She was laughing and shrieking as she tried to grab her mother's hair and unconsciously Lois moved her head, trying to keep just out of reach of the pudgy little hands.

With a start Lois's eyes flew open and the image of the child slowly faded away. Surprised, she glanced at her belly; this was the first time since she'd learned she was pregnant that she had a vision of what her child would probably look like. It had been so vivid; even now she could see the cute dimples in the rosy cheeks and the downy, almost black hair on the perfect little head.

A great wave of tenderness and joy washed over Lois. "Oh, baby, I wish your daddy was here right now. I wish you were here already, too. But you're not ready yet, are you? Take your time — we don't want to use your Grandaddy Sam's incubator, ever. Maybe we can use it to warm up all your little clothes… It will be winter when you'll be born, you know, so it might come in handy. Then again, why would we do that, hmm? Your daddy's heat vision will do just fine."

Lois rose and floated out of the water. For a few minutes she hung suspended in the air while the excess water flowed from her body into the tub. She grabbed a bath towel, dried herself and put on one of her favorite big, comfortable sleep-shirts. Before her mother had arrived she'd already showered and removed her make up so she just had to brush and floss her teeth before climbing into bed.

She tried to read but her thoughts kept returning to Clark and after a few minutes she lay down the book. She put out the light and moved around until she found a comfortable position, then slowly drifted into sleep.


For a long time Superman sat motionless on a huge iceberg while staring with unseeing eyes at the horizon. Learning that the little spaceship that had brought him safely to Earth had been instrumental in a diabolical plot to kill him had shocked him to the core.

After he'd left the prison he'd felt so devastated and confused; he hadn't wanted to go straight home. He'd flown to the North Pole instead, where his anguished bellows had shattered the icebergs around him in myriad pieces.

Wearily Superman turned his head and surveyed his surroundings. He shuddered as he recalled how ill he'd been that Christmas Eve — the first Christmas he and Lois had celebrated as an engaged couple. How thankful they had been that their parents had been around to help them through that ordeal. Sam Lane had saved his life, aided by yet another deadly memento from his birthplace — a piece of Kryptonite, the glowing green rock that had reached Earth alongside his spaceship.

And now this unscrupulous man had just told him that he'd been hired by Mindy Church to concoct a deadly virus out of the DNA of germs that had somehow survived all these years in his spaceship. They had festered and grown, patiently waiting for a chance to pounce on the one being on Earth they could destroy — the Kryptonian that got away.

A gloating Joey Bermuda, not knowing that he was facing his erstwhile victim, had told him in detail how he and Mindy Church had managed to lure the Man of Steel onto the ledge of a high building. Unsuspecting, Superman had inhaled the deadly fumes the 'Handy Man' had wafted in his direction.

He was proud of his handiwork, Bermuda had told the stunned reporter, and he'd been so sure that it would work. He'd been greatly surprised when he'd learned that Superman was still around — as strong and invulnerable as before.

Clark cringed as he thought about how close he and Zara and Ching had come to losing their lives when they'd been near the spaceship. He thanked his lucky stars that they hadn't opened it; they had merely touched the exterior.

He also recalled the day he and Lois had sneaked into the warehouse of Bureau 39 where he'd seen the spaceship for the first time. Now, he was grateful that they'd been caught before he'd had a chance to open the ship. Clark knew that if he'd gotten a chance he would have peeked inside the ship. Well, he hadn't and he was still alive — married to Lois and soon to be a father.

Clark took a deep breath and shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind of the dark images that had tormented him since he'd left the prison. He'd felt contaminated after he'd had to shake Bermuda's hand and thank him for his help. He'd needed this cleansing ritual — a cooling off at the coldest place on Earth.

Now it was time to go home — to Lois, his sanctuary in this crazy world they lived in. With a last look at his peaceful, white surroundings Superman shot into the sky.


"Perry, I have to hand it to you — you've got one hell of a researcher here." Inspector Bill Henderson put down the last stack of papers he'd been perusing on Perry's desk and looked admiringly at the Editor- in-Chief of 'The Daily Planet'.

"You said it, Bill," Perry said proudly. "And make that 'researchers' you hear — or have you forgotten James Olsen's sleuthing already?"

"No, I haven't, but this girl's just as good." Henderson held up the notebook he'd filled with data. "Do you know how long it would've taken me to get this information through the usual channels? Thanks for doing this with me in your own time, Perry."

He glanced through the open door of Perry's office into the now almost deserted newsroom. "And sharing a pizza with me instead of enjoying a homemade dinner at Alice's. I'm grateful for your help; I owe you one."

"Glad to help, Bill, glad to help — as long as 'The Daily Planet' gets the exclusives."

"You've got it, Perry. Now, with this list of all the Churches' real estate we may be able to figure out where that 'Butch' Warner is hiding. If he's still in Metropolis, that is."

"Or still alive, Bill — since this morning his anonymity's gone and his bosses might not like that. Same goes for that Beddington guy. When 'The Daily Planet' hits the streets tomorrow with his picture and exposure on the front page, he'd better run for his life too. Not that I'm goin' to lose any sleep over that, mind you, those thugs deserve what's comin' to them. Lois believes they killed that man whose job 'Butch' Warner took over and I'm inclined to believe her. You'd better look into that particular car accident again, Bill. That poor man's family deserves to know the truth."

"Most likely they tampered with the brakes. It's over a year ago so I guess that car won't be available anymore. But I'll give it a shot, Perry. Lane's got good instincts; she's almost always right."

"Always a step ahead of us, even of Clark. She says something and he follows her lead. They're a great team. This paper will be in good hands when I retire next year."

"You? Retiring? You don't mean that, Perry, why would you wanna do that? You're not even sixty yet! Are you sick?"

Perry rolled his eyes. "Great Shades of Elvis! Why does everybody ask me that? No, Bill, I'm not sick. What's wrong with early retirement?"

"Boredom, for one! Don't tell me you've found another hobby that's more interesting than… than all this!"

"Well, Bill, sometimes a man's gotta choose between his work and his family. It's time for me to —"

"Atone for your 'sins'? For not being the greatest husband and father in the world? C'mon Perry, isn't it a little late for that? Your boys are grown men; they sure won't want a guilt-ridden father knocking on their door. Believe me — atonement is vastly overrated. My old man tried it on me and it didn't work. It just served to open up old wounds."

"Well, maybe you're right as far as my sons are concerned. But there's Alice too, you know, and I'm sure —"

"— that being around her all day and all night will make you both happy? Forget it, Perry — you'll drive her nuts within a week. It won't take you long to realize you've made a big mistake and when that happens, there will be no way back."

"Bill," Perry sighed deeply. "I hear what you're saying — but for Alice's sake I gotta give it a shot."

"You'll shoot yourself in the foot — and most probably kill off any good feelings between you and Alice in the process too. You two are getting along quite fine these days so why would you want to risk that? Have you made this official yet?"

"No — Lois will take over after the baby's born."

"You still have time to reconsider then. How about Lois — will she be very upset if you decide to stay on?"

"No, I don't think so, Bill, she and Clark are not too happy with it either." Perry looked at his watch. "Talkin' about Clark — I don't think he'll contact us here at the Planet anymore. It's late — we better get goin'." Perry hoisted himself out of his chair.

Henderson also checked his watch. "I still don't understand why Clark had to go and talk to Bermuda. There's something you're not telling me, Perry."

"Well," Perry said evasively, "If he's learned anything useful I'll fill you in, Bill. Meanwhile, let's go home. I guess tomorrow will be as hectic as today."

"Yeah, there's always something," Henderson agreed. "And we've got some crooks to catch." He tapped a long, bony finger on the stack of papers Anna Johnston had compiled earlier that day. "According to these papers Church owns one mountain hideaway — but there was no one there when my men searched it. In fact, no one's been up there for years; the place is completely deserted. So I guess Beddington's mountain trip was just a smoke screen. As far as we know he might be on a boat or something… a boat… what am I saying… a boat!! Perry! That new, private marina at the harbor the Mayor opened just last month — there are about twenty brand new boats already moored over there! I'd better go take a look right away!"

Henderson practically ran out of the office. "See ya, Perry!"

"Hey! Where do you think you're going! Not without me you don't! Wait for me — I'm comin' with you!"


Before the boat exploded Superman had already noticed the telltale orange hue that marked a fire in an otherwise darkened area of the city. In the harbor, he realized as he focused his vision and zeroed in on the spot.

The boat exploded the same instant Superman blew a great blast of ice cold breath over it in an attempt to extinguish the flames that had already spread to the two boats moored at either side of the burning craft. As Superman looked down he noticed tiny figures running out of other boats, shouting and pointing at him and at pieces of blackened debris the explosion had scattered in all directions.

Two men, barefooted and clad in night attire, made way for him as he landed on the pier, calling out to him and waving their arms. More people reached the spot at the same time a black car swung onto the pier; a window was rolled down and a long arm smacked a siren on the roof. The menacing sound alerted the shocked bystanders of the car that tried to reach the scene of the accident as fast as it could.

Superman turned his head to look at the tall, lanky man who jumped out of the car, waving his badge in the air.

"Come on people, back off — let us do our job. There might be people hurt and needing our help. Superman! Has anybody here called the police yet?"

"I don't think so, Inspector."

Superman briefly glanced at Perry White, who'd climbed out of the passenger side of Henderson's car. What was the Chief doing here?

"I was passing over this area when I saw the fire, Inspector. I'm just sorry I didn't get here sooner to put out the flames before the boat exploded. A gas leak, most probably."

"Probably." Henderson stared intently around him. "Was there anybody in this boat? Superman, could you please check the water for… uh… bodies, maybe?"

Superman rose and slowly flew over the water, pinpointing floating objects until the horrified bystanders saw him swoop down. The Man of Steel became a blur as he assembled what was left of 'Butch' Warner. He carried the badly charred body parts over to the side of the marina where Henderson had already parked his car sideways in order to prevent the crowd from wandering all over the place.

"Call the police!" Henderson called out to Perry as he jogged to where Superman hunched down to examine the gruesome findings.

"If I hadn't doused the flames when I did, maybe he would never have been found," Superman told the policeman. "Look, Inspector, this wasn't an accident!"

Henderson stared for a moment at the mangled torso Superman pointed at and nodded slowly. "Yep. No accident. That's a bullet hole all right. This man's been shot at close range — very close range. I'll bet you a month's salary that this is 'Butch' Warner — what's left of him, anyway."

"Will be hard to prove, Bill — not if he's been burned to a crisp." Perry remarked. He'd called 911 while he'd followed Henderson and he now stood with his back turned to the policeman and Superman while he waved to the spectators to back off.

"His dental records will probably solve that then. Perry, try to get these people to leave, will ya?"

"Come on people! This is not a pretty sight! Back off — now!" Perry White's voice boomed over the marina while he punched another number on his cell phone. He and Clark were already on the scene so he didn't need to call a reporter. But some exclusive photographs wouldn't hurt. He could already hear the sound of sirens in the distance so Perry yelled once again. "The police is comin' so make way for them. There's nothin' you people can do to help — so go home!"

Perry looked menacingly at the small but ever growing crowd facing him, then barked into the phone he'd glued to his ear. "Hello? David, this is Perry White. Get your butt and camera over here a.s.a.p. I'm at that new marina on the west pier — there was an explosion and a fire. You've got ten minutes to get here! Now move!"


Lois slowly woke to the sound of running water. She smiled and turned her face in the direction of the bathroom. The shower… that meant Clark was home… Sleepily she peered at the lighted face of the alarm clock. 3:00 a.m.?!

With a start Lois opened her eyes wide and shot upright. What had happened? Did Clark arrive earlier to find her asleep maybe? Surely it was too late for him to have arrived just now from that prison; maybe he'd had to leave again on an emergency… Her heart racing, Lois slowly sank back into the pillows.

The water abruptly stopped running and a few minutes later her husband stepped quietly into the room, dressed in his sleep-shorts. She smiled at him but he didn't look at her. Instead of climbing into bed he walked past it to the window where he stood, hands in his pockets, staring into the darkness outside.

Lois bit her lip as she watched the forlorn figure outlined by the soft darkness. Poor Clark — she'd known that this trip would be hard on him. She slowly sat up and floated out of bed. He was so lost in thought that he started when he felt a soft hand touch his shoulder.

"Clark…" Lois slowly turned him around and put her arms around his middle. She laid her head on his chest and hugged him tightly. "It's okay, sweetheart, it's okay; we're right here, safe and sound…"

Lois kept murmuring soft reassurances until she felt his taut muscles relax and his arms slowly steal around her. A great sigh shuddered through Clark as he lowered his cheek on top of Lois's head. For a long time they stood in silence, their heartbeats and breathing the only sounds they could hear in the darkened room.

Finally, Lois stirred and looked up at her husband. "Come to bed, Clark, you don't have to tell me anything right now — we'll talk in the morning, okay?"

Clark nodded and allowed Lois to take him by the hand and slowly float him into the bed. He wrapped his arms around her while she squirmed her back against his chest until they both lay comfortably and snugly, one large hand covering her belly, his cheek against her hair. Clark instantly fell into a deep and dreamless sleep while Lois stayed awake for a long time, silently keeping watch over her exhausted husband.

It was still early in the morning, when the first hesitant sunrays tried to penetrate the drapes at the window, that Clark began to talk. Their faces close together, Lois's hand tenderly caressing his cheek, he told her everything he'd learned from Joey Bermuda and his flight to the North Pole.

Lois listened in silence, concentrating hard to make sense out of the outpour of jumbled sentences. When he fell silent she kissed the tears from his cheeks while he turned his head, blindly seeking her lips, kissing her deeply. Clark's hands touched her body with suddenly urgent movements and Lois melted against him, offering solace in an explosion of frenzied lovemaking that washed away the last traces of despair from his soul.


Lois stared thoughtfully at her husband's back while she munched on a stick of celery. Clark was busy at the stove, preparing omelets for their late breakfast. He still wasn't his own, cheerful self; he'd been subdued ever since they'd woken up and gone through the usual morning rituals.

While he was taking a shower Lois had called Perry and told him they'd be late coming in. The Chief had been very understanding, telling her to take their time. Perry was just glad to know he'd come away from the prison unscathed; Clark needed his rest after the stressful events of the previous day.

Perry had told Lois that it had been a great stroke of luck that Superman had arrived just in time at the marina to put out the fire. Henderson was pushing hard to get the body ID-ed as soon as possible and would come by to fill them in later.

"And Lois," Perry had said smugly, "don't forget to look at the front page now, honey, you're in for a surprise!"

But neither Lois nor Clark had bothered with the paper yet. Lois was still worried about Clark while Clark himself was too preoccupied with his own thoughts.

Lois waited until Clark had placed the food on the table and sat down before taking the bull by the horns. "Clark, there's something you're not telling me. Is it about Joey Bermuda or that explosion last night at the marina?"

"Explosion — you know about that already?"

"Perry told me what happened when I called to tell him we're coming in late. He and Bill were happy to have you on the spot. They think it's Warner's body you've found over there."

"Yeah… could be. I'm sorry, Lois, I was going to tell you about that, it's just that —"

"— last night it wasn't that important, I understand. No need to apologize, honey, it's just that I can see something's still troubling you. I don't care how scary it is, I want to hear it. Out with it, Clark — no need to bottle it up."

Clark sighed and laid down his knife and fork. "Well, it's about Bermuda really. After he was sent to jail five years ago his wife divorced him and then disappeared with their six-year-old daughter. She's eleven now. He's very bitter about that — told me he's determined to find her. He wants his daughter back, Lois. He hasn't said so but I'm afraid he'll kill his ex-wife when he finds her and I'll be responsible!"

"You?" Lois spluttered, her mouth full of delicious, fluffy omelet. "What do you mean, you'll be responsible?"

"Well, I promised him that if he told me all about Mindy Church and the virus I'd make a statement to the police confirming his story. That she had indeed hired him to kill us. He might get out of prison sooner, Lois, and the first thing he'll do is go after his ex-wife."

"Well, we can't have that so we'll have to find her before he gets out, now won't we? I'll put Anna on it as soon as we're at the Planet."

"Provided we find her, Lois — then what? Simply tell her to move?"

"She'll have to move, yes; but she won't be able to do that on her own. Frankly, I don't think she'll be able to live in the States anymore."

"And then what — move to another country? That takes money, Lois! And something tells me she won't have too much of that."

"Well Clark — we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Don't be so negative! Maybe it won't be easy to trace her, but if Anna can find her, so will Joey. She knows she's safe as long as Joey's in jail, but then again, if she moves around a lot she won't know if and when he's released." Lois pointed her fork at Clark's plate. "Now, eat! And don't worry about it — we'll think of something."

Clark obediently picked up his knife and fork and started to eat. He was beginning to feel better already and suddenly felt quite hungry. Lois was right; they still had time to at least try and find his ex-wife before Bermuda got out of prison. It didn't matter where she was right now, Superman could easily fly over there. And then Clark Kent could talk to her…

Lois smiled as she saw Clark attacking his breakfast with gusto. Good, he was finally losing that dejected air; he'd been given something constructive to chew on.

In companionable silence they finished their meals and when Clark got up to clear the table Lois pointed to their copy of 'The Daily Planet', still wrapped in plastic.

"Ready to look at the front page now, honey, and read Perry's article? Let's see if the Chief hasn't lost his touch yet."

"Okay. I wonder why he and Bill were at the marina together. It looked like they knew something was going to happen over there."

"He sounded smug when I talked to him just now… wow!" Lois lifted the page for Clark to look at. "Pictures by David Callan… he even called a photographer!"

"And he shooed the crowd away until the police arrived, too! You should've seen him last night, Lois, he was all fired up."

"And he wants to retire?" Lois and Clark said, almost simultaneously.

They grinned at each other; then Lois said softly, "Welcome back, partner."

Clark drew her into a tight embrace. "Thank you," he murmured into her hair.

"You're welcome, sweetheart," Lois raised her face and tenderly kissed his lips. "You know, it's not such a bad thing that we've found out about Mindy Church. At least now we know that she's an enemy — and a dangerous one at that. We also know the danger Bermuda's ex-wife and daughter are in — and the best part is that we know all about that virus too."

"And that's a good thing? Why?"

"Think about it, Clark. At least now we know your spaceship is full of crawlies that are extremely dangerous to you. But not to humans, right?"

"I guess… that's what Bermuda said. He handled them and he's still alive."

"Right — you were the only one who got sick, Clark. I didn't, even though I kissed you. So, I think you should go to STAR Labs and ask Dr. Klein to get that spaceship as soon as possible; he should be able to find out where it's being kept these days. Then he and my father can start working on those germs to try and —"

"— find a vaccine that works!"

Lois smiled at Clark's suddenly animated face. "You know, Clark, this might work. Bernie's already tried everything he could to find an antidote to Kryptonite but so far nothing has worked. He even tried it with powdered Kryptonite once, remember?"

Clark pulled a face. "Don't remind me! He made me drink some of it mixed with water. I thought my insides would explode."

"Who knows how many different bacteria and germs and viruses are inside that ship, Clark! And making vaccines out of those would pretty much be doing it the same way as making vaccines for humans, right?"

Clark, suddenly feeling very relieved and hopeful, swung Lois up into the air, enveloping her in a big bear hug. Lois laughed delightedly, hugging him tightly in return. After a moment she pushed against his chest to look at him with a serous look in her eyes. "There's still one hurdle you'll have to take first, Clark, you know that, don't you?"

Clark nodded. "I know — I'll have to tell Bernie our secret. But I don't find that so scary anymore, Lois. He's been Superman's doctor for years now and I know he wants only what's good for him. I know I can trust him."

"I think Bernie and Daddy will enjoy working together on that vaccine project. And maybe it's best to keep the ship over at Daddy's private lab in his apartment."

"That's not such a bad idea — that's where he made that bed for you and the incubator. He didn't want to involve his assistants; he wanted to work on those in private."

"Exactly. You never know when one of 'em might get too nosey. The same goes for STAR Labs — there's too many people working over there."

"And if the ship is at your father's place then Superman will be able to visit STAR Labs just like before — without being afraid of catching something. Lois, we'll both have to stay away from your father's apartment."

"I know — and before that ship arrives you'll have to move the incubator and all of the other stuff Daddy might need for the birth over to our house, Clark."

"Good point — and Sam and Bernie both know they'll have to sterilize themselves before they come into contact with us after they've handled those germs."

"We'll have to be extra careful… Clark, last night you said you were so afraid for the baby's sake — how do you feel about that now?"

"I'm not so scared anymore, Lois. The thought of all those Kryptonian germs out there, ready to pounce on our child someday, really freaked me out."

Clark sighed and again drew Lois into a tight embrace. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Lois," he said, his voice sounding muffled through her hair, "You've saved my life — and my sanity — so many times…"

"Ditto here, remember?"

For a long moment they stood with their arms wrapped around each other. Lois was the first to stir. She lifted her head and gently kissed his lips before disentangling herself. "Let's go, partner — we've got a lot to do."

"I'm ready to face the world again," Clark said with a determined look on his face.

Lois smiled and handed him the copy of 'The Daily Planet'. "Here, you read Perry's article aloud and I'll listen and get my stuff ready. We'd better know it by heart before we get to the Planet or he'll have our hide."

Clark grinned. "He really loved being a reporter again last night, Lois. I'm sure he'll expect a lot of praise!"

"We'll bury him in compliments… Now, where did I put that 'get well card' I bought for Jimmy? Ah, there it is…"


Chapter Fifteen

"Superman again!"

Mindy Church — on St. Cyr known as Madame Lachapelle — threw down her copy of 'The Daily Planet' on the dining table and glowered at Alan Cornell. She knew it wasn't his fault that the super hero had been flying over the harbor area at the same time he'd set fire to the boat with 'Butch' Warner's body in it, but she was furious at him anyway.

"Alan, I told you — no loose ends! You know that flying freak lives in Metropolis! Why didn't you take Eddy away from there before you torched the boat? You could've gotten rid of him away from Metropolis. Now they have a corpse they can identify!"

Mindy stopped pacing to pick up the front page of 'The Daily Planet' and wave it in Cornell's direction. "It says here that thanks to Superman the body hasn't been burned completely and that they already know the man was shot and the boat deliberately set on fire. It's just a matter of time before they'll know that this is Eddy!"

"I'm sorry," Cornell looked agitated while he raked a hand through his hair. "I just wanted to get rid of him before I picked up Beddington. It was easier to take care of them separately. But you don't have to worry about Beddington turning up unexpectedly; I dropped him in a swamp in Louisiana. There're more alligators in there than water, so I'm sure that by now —"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah — spare me the gruesome details! Costanza in Metropolis informed me that the police went to look for Beddington in the mountains, so I guess it's a good thing he was waiting for you in Miami instead of in that cabin. Okay Alan — you can go now. Tell Bertram I want to see him right away!"

As Alan Cornell hastily left the room Mindy's eyes once again flew over the article. The front page of 'The Daily Planet' not only featured a picture of Beddington and an account of his disappearance but also several pictures of the burned boat.

Perry White, Editor-in-Chief of 'The Daily Planet' and author of the offending article, boldly suggested that the charred body found amidst the debris had to be either Warner or Beddington.

Mindy knew that it was just a matter of time before 'Butch' would be identified. His fingerprints were on record in the police database from the time he and 'Lucky' Leon had been arrested. It didn't matter anymore that he'd taken his personal file with him when he fled — somehow, she was sure, those nosey reporters of 'The Daily Planet' had already found out his real identity.

Briefly Mindy wondered who had tipped them off. Well, maybe Bertram could find that out; maybe there was a mole in the operation in Metropolis. And now even Perry White was involving himself in this case… Mindy reached a decision at the same time the butler entered the dining room.

"Read this!" Mindy thrust the front page in the butler's hands. "Bertram, get in touch with Mike Costanza at City Hall and tell him to destroy every little piece of evidence that could lead those bloodhounds to Lachapelle Industries and to this island."

"I'll see to it straight away, Madam," Bertram looked at the pictures with raised eyebrows while he quickly read the article. "This is very unfortunate — but I am confident they have not discovered yet that Madam is involved."

"But they're getting closer, Bertram! I guess they suspect that rat Billy Church to be responsible for the construction fraud; it was in his mountain cabin the police went looking for Beddington. I'm sure they must know that Billy's doing all kinds of business from out of his prison cell — and with money that's rightfully mine!"

"I'm certain it will not be possible to link Madam to these two men," Bertram said reassuringly.

"Well, I want to keep it that way, Bertram." Mindy stopped her restless pacing and sat down. "And this time I want to get rid of that alien and his reporter friends Lane and Kent — for good."

The butler stood, patiently waiting for instructions that were sure to come.

"You know, Bertram, your phony British accent and butler disguise might come in handy — just the perfect way for me to stay right on top of things in Metropolis."

Bertram looked slightly dismayed. "Madam wants to move to Metropolis?"

"Not me — you are! Tell Costanza to send me a list of all the hot-shots in Metropolis that have a butler — or are looking for one."


"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry White exclaimed, "That man's psychotic! They should lock him up in a madhouse, not in jail. And throw the key away!"

"He's extremely dangerous," Lois agreed. She looked at Clark and smiled reassuringly at him. "It's scary to know that these people really exist. They kill other people for money."

Clark had just brought the Chief up to date on his conversation with Joey Bermuda while Lois had been the one who'd told Perry all about that frightening Christmas Eve when Superman had almost died.

For a long time Perry just stared at his prize reporting team before he straightened in his chair and pointed a finger at Lois and Clark. "I still got a couple of questions. So — who told Mindy Church where she could get that spaceship? How did she know there were viruses and bacteria in there? I'll admit she's a dangerous woman but something tells me she's no scientist. Clark? Did you ask Bermuda this?"

"He said he doesn't know where she got the spaceship from — it was already in Mindy's bunker when he first saw it. He just scraped some dust out of the interior of the ship and took it to his workplace in a jar."

Lois looked thoughtful. "Perry, you have a point there. We should definitely try to find out where that ship was stored at that time and what kind of people had access to it. You're right — someone must have figured out the possibility of making deadly viruses out of the other Kryptonian living things that traveled with baby Superman in his spaceship. And that someone must've told Mindy."

"So someone else knows about this? I don't find that very reassuring!"

"Clark, honey, relax. Whoever that person is, he — or she — also knows it didn't work! Nobody knows how ill you were. And Bermuda's convinced it didn't work — so at least he won't try something like that again. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find out who helped Mindy; it's best to know all our enemies."

"Clark, do you know where that spaceship is right now?"

"Not yet, Chief. I was going to ask Dr. Klein at STAR Labs to find it for us."

"So — what are you waiting for? Get to it! Lois, put Anna on Mrs. Bermuda's trail right away and tell her to keep her mouth shut about it. Better yet — send her in; I'll tell her myself."

"Okay Chief… 'bye honey," Lois briefly caressed her husband's chest before she walked to the door and opened it. "Be careful."

Clark smiled at her. "I will… Chief, I'll be gone for a while so —"

"Where do you think you're going?" a lazy voice interrupted and Lois stepped aside as Inspector Bill Henderson entered Perry White's office. "Good morning, Perry… Lois, Clark; I'd appreciate it if the two of you'd stay to listen to what I have to say."

"Bill, come in, come in! Glad to see you here so soon. Lois, close that door and sit down; you too, Clark. Okay, Bill, shoot!"

Henderson grinned as he sat down. "I'll start with some news you can print, Perry. That body — or what's left of it — is indeed 'Butch' Warner."

"Well, that was quick! I thought it would take much longer to put a name to that corpse."

"It usually is, Perry, it usually is. Last night I lifted Warner's fingerprint from our database and personally took it to the morgue. The coroner's a personal friend of mine so… anyway, it's Warner."

"Another exclusive, Chief," Lois grinned, "we're on a roll here!"

"I'm afraid that's the only printable news I have for you people — at least for now. What I'm going to tell you now is for your ears only."

"No problem, Bill, we wouldn't want to compromise your investigation and tip off those thugs. We're dealing with extremely dangerous people here. Did you manage to find Beddington?"

"No, and I doubt we'll find him anywhere near Metropolis, Perry. Anyway, I went to see the commissioner and the Mayor after that disastrous press conference of hers and I managed to persuade them to plant a mole at City Hall. Jenny Hudson — the best undercover detective I've ever worked with. She's your average petite, blue-eyed blonde — she's forty but looks about thirty — Jenny basically looks and sounds as sweet as her name.

"An ideal undercover agent," Lois remarked drily, "Let me guess — people tend to lower their guards around her because she looks like a Barbie doll, right?"

"Especially men," Henderson nodded, "After Beddington disappeared the Mayor temporarily appointed Beddington's assistant, Michael Costanza, to take over his job. And I made sure Costanza had no choice but to accept Jenny Hudson as his personal assistant. And she's already struck dirt — take a look at this."

Henderson took a folded piece of paper out of the left pocket of his jacket and handed it to Lois. "It's a list of telephone numbers Costanza called the last couple of days. See that number Jenny's marked in red? He's called that out of town number twice — all the others are Metropolis phone numbers."

"Hmmm," Lois thrust the copy of Costanza's phone-bill into Clark's hand. "It's a number on St. Cyr, right, Bill?"



Dr. Bernard Klein tried in vain to prevent the papers on his desk from being scattered in all directions when Superman suddenly zipped into his office.

"Can't you just walk in for a change? Look at what you've done! I just had these documents all sorted out — now I'll have to start all over again."

"Sorry," Superman grinned unrepentantly. He gathered the papers at super-speed and placed them in a neat pile on Dr. Klein's desk. "There you go, Bernie."

Dr. Klein looked exasperated. "That doesn't cut it, Superman! Linda gave me one hour to deal with this file. Now I'll have to start all over again. You'd better have a good excuse for barging in like this! Do you know how much paperwork I have to deal with since I became head of this department? Do you know how many times I've begged the Chief Administrator to give this job to some really ambitious guy instead? And do you —"

"I know, I know!" Superman hastily interrupted Dr. Klein's whining; he'd heard the same lament more times than he cared to remember. "He still thinks you're the right man for the job, Bernie, and so do I. I'll tell Linda it's all my fault; but I need to speak with you — it's really very urgent."

"Oh, all right, go on then — you tell her! But please, Superman, if you have to twirl around like a Dervish, don't do it in here!"

The harassed scientist managed just in time to hold the papers on his desk together by hastily slapping both hands on the pile as Superman zipped out of the office in search of his secretary. Dr. Klein rolled his eyes. "He's just like Lois Lane — they never listen!" He hastily shoved the documents in a drawer and before he'd closed it shut Superman was back already.

"Linda says it's okay — we can take all the time we want and she'll see to it that we're not disturbed."

"What did you promise her this time?" Klein said sourly, "Chocolate from Switzerland? Take-out from China?"

Superman grinned. "Both and then some! That lady drives a hard bargain, Bernie."

"Tell me about it — and I mean that literally, Superman! I'm listening — what's so urgent that it couldn't wait? And please sit down — you'll give me a headache if you keep on walking around like that."

Superman stopped his pacing to stand in front of Dr. Klein's desk with his arms folded across his chest. Now that the moment had arrived Clark felt very nervous. He knew and agreed with Lois that Bernie had to be let in on their secret — but wanting to do something and actually doing it was entirely another matter. And Bernie was in a rather foul mood right now… For one agonizing second Clark considered backing out of it then decided to plunge right in.

"Bernie, do you remember I told you how ill I'd been? About five years ago?"

"Ill? You?" Dr. Klein frowned. "Oh! I remember — you told me you'd caught some kind of flu. I was angry with you because by the time you'd told me, whatever had made you sick had already disappeared from your system. Superman, if you'd come to me straight away —"

"Yes, I know — that was stupid of me. But it was Christmas time and — anyway, it can't be helped now. But I know now what it was that made me ill, Bernie, it was a Kryptonian virus. And because I hadn't been exposed to it from the time I was a baby, it almost killed me."

"A Kryptonian virus?" Dr. Klein was instantly alert. "Was it left behind by those Kryptonians who caused so much havoc the last time they were here?"

"No, they came from New Krypton, remember? This virus I'm talking about came from my birth planet Krypton."

"That's not possible, Superman. That planet exploded, it doesn't exist anymore."

"I know that, Bernie, this virus traveled with me to Earth — in my spaceship."


"That pretty much wraps it up, Perry. Detective Hudson will keep close tabs on this guy Costanza at City Hall. He's bound to get some instructions from Mindy Church and hopefully he'll slip up and we'll soon have proof that Intergang is still active in Metroplois — and under her leadership."

Inspector Bill Henderson rose and looked down at Perry White with narrowed eyes. "Clark couldn't wait to get out of here — does that have anything to do with his visit to that prison last night?"

"What? No — Clark's out on a new assignment and it's got nothin' to do with this investigation. You know why he went to that prison — he wanted to talk to Joey Bermuda about the murder attempts on him and Lois."

"He didn't have to go there personally to hear from Bermuda that Mindy Church was involved, Perry. We know that already. Or does Clark still have doubts about that?"

"No, he's convinced about that too. Look here, Bill, if Clark doesn't want to talk to you about it I certainly won't. Leave it." Perry also stood up, indicating that the interview was over.

But Henderson wasn't a policeman for nothing. "Hmmm… so it's a personal thing… must've something to do with Superman then."

Perry rolled his eyes. "Great shades of Elvis! Let it go, Bill! It doesn't concern you. We're not keeping anything from you — you've gotta trust me on that. Now, go play detective on your own turf; if something new comes up I'll give you a call."

"Okay, Perry," Henderson shrugged and ambled towards the door but he couldn't resist adding, "I'll let it go… for now. See ya!"


"Sure — I can get hold of that spaceship, Superman. That's one of the few advantages of being in a managerial position — I can pull some strings. I'll call right away." Excited, Dr. Klein reached for the phone on his desk but Superman stopped him by swiftly placing a hand on the machine.

"No, Bernie, not yet — you can do that later. There's something else I have to tell you — or rather, show you." Superman removed his hand from the phone and smiled apologetically at Dr. Klein, still seated behind his desk. "I hope you won't be too angry or too disappointed, Bernie. I… uh… oh, well — let's get it over with."

Superman stepped back a few paces and, after a last, beseeching look at Dr. Klein, started to spin until he became a mere blur. It took less than a minute before Clark Kent, nervously fingering his tie, stood in front of the startled scientist who just stared at him, speechless.

After an eternity that in fact lasted only a few seconds Clark decided he couldn't stand the tension any longer. "Well? Say something, Bernie! Anything! You can throw something at me, I don't mind, but please… say something!"

Dr. Klein suddenly came to life. "Throw something at you?" He glared at Clark. "It won't hurt you one bit, now would it? Mr. Kent! I —"

"Clark, please."

"Mr. Kent! I'm sorry, I'm not comfortable talking to you like this. Will you please change back into Superman? Him I can throw things at!"

"But 'him' is me! I mean — you know what I mean! Superman… Clark Kent… they are one and the same person. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, Bernie."

"That's all very well, Mr. Kent, but I'd rather talk to Superman, so please, do that twirl thing again and bring him back in here, okay?"

"I don't twirl!" Clark said, affronted.

"Do you mind?!"

"Okay! Okay!" Clark rolled his eyes, then spun back into the Suit, only to have Dr. Klein immediately pounce on the Man of Steel as soon as he'd emerged out of the colorful spin.

"Ahah! There you are! Superman! How could you! All these years you've let me believe — now I understand why Ms. Lane comes barreling in here every time there's something up with you! I should've known! Agh! The two of you are unbelievable!"

"Bernie — I'd like to explain —"

"Don't you 'Bernie' me, Superman! So tell me — why did you suddenly decide to let me in on your big secret, hmm? Does Ms. Lane know about this?"

"Of course she knows about this! We're married, for Pete's sake!"

"That's not what I meant and you know it! Does she know what you're doing here?"

"Actually, it was Lois who —"

"Ahah! So Ms. Lane had to tell you to come clean with me? If it was up to you, you'd have kept me in the dark forever, right?"

Superman sighed deeply; Bernie obviously was on a roll. He decided to wait until the good doctor ran out of steam and would be ready and able to listen to him.


"Really? His last name is DeAngelo?" Anna Johnston looked at Lois with raised eyebrows.

Lois laughed. "Yep, that's his real name — doesn't quite fit his chosen profession, now does it?" She handed Anna a small stack of family pictures of Joey Bermuda with his wife and child in happier days. "See why he was dubbed 'Bermuda'? He always wore those hideous shirts with exotic flowers and birds painted on them."

Anna grinned as she flipped through the pictures. "The kind of shirts men wear when they go on vacation — you should see my dad and my brothers when they go on a simple fishing trip, Lois. Not a pretty sight!"

Lois laughed with her but sobered as she looked at one particular photo, showing a smiling woman holding a cute little girl on her lap, with Joey Bermuda looming over them, a possessive grin on his tanned face.

"Poor woman — it must've been quite a shock for her to discover that her husband's highly successful repair shop was in fact a cleverly disguised weapon arsenal. They don't call him the 'Handy Man' for nothing, Anna. It's hard to believe, but that man could transform any ordinary kitchen appliance into a bomb. We have to find his ex-wife — the sooner the better."

"Oh, I'll find her — you can be sure about that," Anna said as she shoved the pictures in an envelope, a determined look on her face. "I'm totally committed to this search, Lois, and I won't stop till we find her and her little girl. I'll make a file and let you know as soon as I have more information."

"Okay. Thanks, Anna."

Anna nodded and headed towards her own desk. Being told that Joey Bermuda had tried to kill her hero Superman had been all the incentive she had needed. The Chief telling her to keep quiet about this case had been superfluous — she wasn't a blabbermouth. Anna hoped she had been able to convince both Lois and the Chief that if someone could find Sandy and Cheryl Marie DeAngelo, that someone was Anna Johnston.

Anna didn't have to worry because Lois truly believed she could pull if off. 'And Jimmy — Jimmy would've found them too,' Lois reflected sadly as she turned her head and looked in the direction of Jimmy Olsen's empty workspace. 'I miss you, Jimmy, and I know Clark misses you too.' Lois glanced at her watch. Clark… he was probably still at STAR Labs.

After Clark had left Lois had immediately started to brief Anna on the Bermuda case. That had temporarily taken her mind off Superman and his difficult mission. But now that Anna had also left Lois found it hard to concentrate on her other tasks. Well, it was useless to mope around, wondering how Clark was faring — she'd better get busy.

She would deal with her email messages first, Lois decided, then she'd call Megan. It was time she and Clark went to visit Jimmy at the hospital. Oh, and she'd better call Gareth Keyes too and ask him if it was okay if she visited his wife at the hospital…

Lois booted up her computer at the same time Bill Henderson exited Perry White's office and started to walk purposely towards her desk, closely followed by the Chief. The phone on Lois's desk rang and she waved at Henderson as she picked up the receiver. "Lois Lane! Hello Mother. You're… where?"

Henderson hesitated for a moment as he considered waiting until Lois had finished her call but Perry firmly steered him past her desk towards the elevator.

"Bill, quit tryin' to pester Lois and Clark. I've got a newspaper to run here and you've got a major investigation on your hands. Let's get back to work, okay?"


"Superman! I've just thought of something!" In the middle of his tirade Dr. Klein suddenly slapped his right hand against his forehead.

"That spaceship of yours — maybe they cleaned it out already, maybe even sterilized it. Anyway, that's just what should be done, Superman. If we get rid of those germs and viruses, there's no need to make any vaccines. After that illness you're probably immune to them already. I'm surprised Dr. Lane didn't think about that right away."

"Sam doesn't know about the spaceship yet, Bernie, I wanted to talk about this to you first."

"So why the long face? You don't think that would be the best solution — to just sterilize that spaceship?"

"Well — maybe," Superman looked doubtful. "But don't you think that such a vaccine might help against Kryptonite too? Bernie, nothing you've come up with so far has been effective. We could at least try it — if not for me, then maybe for the baby's sake."

"Baby? What baby?"

"Bernie! You know Lois and I are expecting a child!"

"Oh, that baby! Superman, that's a human baby — Kryptonite won't hurt him!"

"She… it's a she… and what do you mean, Kryptonite won't hurt her? She's half Kryptonian!"

"Superman, please — you know you can't have children with an Earth woman! Mind you, I'm not saying Ms. Lane is cheating on you — obviously she's gotten herself artificially inseminated and I think that was a splendid idea! I know how much you wanted to be able to have children — I just didn't know you wanted to have them with Ms. Lane!"

"Bernie, this is my baby and I assure you she was conceived in the natural way. I'm sorry, but you were wrong when you concluded from those tests you took that I wouldn't be able to make babies. It took us a few years, I know, but —"

"Superman, I took numerous tests with your DNA and crossed it with numerous DNA samples of female Earth women — they just didn't match! So how come it was possible with Ms. Lane? Is she Kryptonian too? Have you been keeping that a secret from me too?"

"Bernie, Lois isn't Kryptonian and I'm sure she'll be happy to prove it to you. You can examine her DNA if you want to. I don't know how Lois suddenly got pregnant! I mean — I know 'how', obviously, but not 'why'. We've bounced some theories off each other and our parents of course, but so far we haven't been able to figure it out. Maybe you and Dr. Lane could —"

"I take it Dr. Lane is also taking care of monitoring the development of the baby?"

"No… no, he isn't. I am. With my special vision." Superman said proudly.

"You? You don't know anything about babies!"

"I know enough to know that my baby is healthy and developing just as she should, Bernie. This is the only way we could think of doing that. Lois can't go to a regular doctor or to a hospital so she's going to have the baby at home. Her mother is a trained nurse and her father —"

"Yes, yes, I understand all that, Superman. It would be disastrous if word got out that you and Ms. Lane are married and having a child. You wouldn't be safe anymore. What I don't understand is why you felt you couldn't trust me to know all this sooner! Now you're telling me, only because you need that spaceship and frankly, I'm —"

"No, Bernie, not just because of the spaceship. Lois and I have been talking about this ever since we found out that she's pregnant. We've always kept this secret from everyone, even from Lois's parents. Even from Perry White. Only, he says he's known for years already."

"Well, he's a newspaperman — what do you expect! I hadn't a clue — I'm not used to seeing and talking to Clark Kent — and now I know why. It's always just you and Lois Lane! I've often thought you two acted like a married couple, Superman, but obviously I was too stupid not to see —"

"Not stupid, Bernie, just blind. People see what they want to see, you know that. Lois only found out after working with me rather closely for more than two years. So you shouldn't feel bad about it."

"She found out — all by herself? You didn't tell her? Hah! I bet she was furious!"

"She was angry, yes, and hurt. But she forgave me, eventually. I hope you will too, Bernie. You're one of the very few and trusted friends we have — Lois and I need you, and so does our baby."

For a long moment Bernard Klein stared closely at Superman, at last noticing the nervous movements of Superman's hands, the tense line of his lips and the pleading look in the dark eyes that stared beseechingly back at him.

Unexpectedly, an overwhelming feeling of compassion for the gentle giant standing so anxiously before him tore at Klein's heart. This was the most powerful man on Earth, begging him for his friendship and loyalty. More than most people Dr. Klein was aware how hated and hunted by the villains of the world Superman was — he'd provided him sanctuary at STAR Labs more than once.

As he stared at Superman Bernard Klein began to understand how carefully and painstakingly the lonely alien had managed to carve a niche for himself in a hostile world. He was even gradually letting people in and by doing so he was taking grave risks for his own safety and that of his loved ones. It had to be an alarming prospect to entrust such a tremendous secret to another living soul.

Suddenly, Dr. Klein felt deeply ashamed of his crabby reaction at seeing and hearing about Superman's dual identity. He straightened in his chair and coughed a few times, trying to get rid of the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat.

"Superman, there's nothing to forgive. I do realize how hard it must be for you to decide whom you can trust — you never know, do you? I've been betrayed quite a few times myself — by people I thought I could trust completely. But for you it's a matter of life and death. You wouldn't have a life if this became public knowledge."

"That threat will always hang over my head," Superman admitted, "Bernie, you don't know how grateful I am. —"

"No, I'm the one who's grateful." Bernard Klein stood up and walked over to where Superman was standing. "I'm honored that you'd consider me worthy of your friendship and trust, Superman. I'm sorry I tore at you like that and called you names. It was peevish and childish, to say the least."

"Don't worry about it, Bernie, I understand. Shock will do that to you." Superman grabbed Dr. Klein's hand and shook it warmly.

"Bernie, does this mean that you're also ready to accept that I'm really Clark Kent?"


"You know, Clark, it's not such a bad idea after all," Lois said pensively as she watched her husband get ready to join her in bed.

"What is, honey?"

"Letting Bernie make a scan of the baby. That is, if he's sure that machine he's designed especially to scan your body will not harm me or the baby… I guess we'll just have to trust him on that."

"Only if you're really sure you want to do this, honey."

The mattress dipped as Clark climbed into bed. He reached out his arm to turn out the light, then turned on his side, propping his head on one hand to face Lois.

"You said you're perfectly happy to wait and be surprised on the day the baby decides to come out and greet us, Lois. Did you change your mind?"

"No, I don't mind waiting. I'm prepared to do that, Clark. It's just — I know our parents would be thrilled to see at least one ultrasound and now Lucy's suddenly asking for one. She sent me an email today. And Megan… she told me how well Jimmy is doing and would I please take a scan with me when I go to the hospital to see Jimmy and —"

"Honey, calm down! You don't have to do this if you don't want to. I don't care about what other people want, Lois, not even my mom and dad. If you're not comfortable with it then don't do it. We'll just keep telling everyone that we think this is too private to share with other people."

Lois sighed. "That won't work for Lucy — she'll be hurt. I think I'll take Bernie up on his offer — as long as I don't have to take off all my clothes."

"I don't think that will be necessary, honey, I don't have to strip. The only thing I take off is my cape."

"I've never seen that particular machine. What's it like?"

"First, I lie down on a bed not unlike that 'birthing' bed your father made for you. Then Bernie puts a cover over it — some sort of tube made of special glass. I can look through it and watch everything Bernie's doing. He then uses this swerving arm, which is some sort of scanning device, and zooms in at the particular spot he wants to scan. The whole process takes about half an hour, tops, before the scan is good and ready."

"So… if we go there we'll walk out of STAR Labs with something like an ultrasound scan of the baby in about… an hour?"

"I think so… Lois, are you sure about this? Bernie understands that you need time to think this over. There's no rush. You don't have to do it tomorrow already."

"Yes, I think I do, Clark. We're going to see Jimmy tomorrow evening and Megan will be there. Most probably Eileen Vaughan will pop in too. Or Alice. Let's call Bernie first thing in the morning and tell him — Oh no! All that paperwork you told me he was trying to deal with! Clark, do you think he'll even have time for us tomorrow?"

"I'm sure he will — and Linda won't mind too much either. Which reminds me… I'll have to zip to Switzerland for some of her favorite chocolate — and maybe get lunch for her and Bernie in Milan or Paris… Aaaagh!" A huge yawn shuddered through Clark's powerful body. He flipped onto his back, stretching out his arms and legs. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

Lois inched closer and planted a soft kiss on his chin, then rested her cheek on his chest. Clark's arms stole around her as she snuggled against him.

"God, Lois," he breathed above her head, "I'm so tired…"

"I know, sweetheart, you've been on such an emotional roller coaster these last few days. Go to sleep now, we'll talk in the morning… I love you."

"Love you too…"


Chapter Sixteen

With a dejected look on his face Jimmy Olsen was half lying, half sitting against freshly fluffed pillows while he stared out the window of his hospital room. His left leg, encased in plaster from his toes up to his hip, was sticking out in front of him. His right hand lay idle on his lap. He held his left arm, also encased in plaster from his elbow to his wrist, against his chest while his fingers absentmindedly plucked at the thin cotton of the hospital shirt he was wearing.

This morning the doctor had told him that he'd have to stay about ten more days in the hospital. But in his present condition he couldn't go home. Superman had promised him that as soon as he was released he would personally come and pick him up to deliver him to Alice White's apartment.

The Chief's ex-wife had visited him every day since his mom had left for California and she'd offered to take care of him while he recuperated. Jimmy wasn't too happy about that but he knew he couldn't stay on at the hospital until he could walk properly again. He also knew he wouldn't be able to make it on his own either — not as long as the plaster on his leg was way up here. Jimmy scowled at the offending leg. He was just beginning to realize how awkward and limiting it would be if he couldn't bend his knee.

"Hey Jimmy! Why the sour face? Megan told me you're being released soon so you should be hopping up and down for joy! Don't you wanna go home?"

Jimmy started as Lois's teasing voice cut through his reverie. He turned his head towards the cheerful sound and watched as Lois walked towards him, a blinding smile on her face, her shiny cap of hair swirling just above her shoulders. If he didn't know better Jimmy could've sworn Lois didn't walk but floated into the room. He looked at her closely. The white shirt and light grey pants suit she was wearing hugged her burgeoning breasts and accented her perfectly round bulge.

In the first few months of her pregnancy Lois had been a bit self-conscious about her changing figure and had constantly tried to wrap her jackets around her middle. Apparently she'd now abandoned all attempts to disguise the fact that she was pregnant. Jimmy hadn't seen Lois for a while and the beautiful and vibrant picture she made took his breath away.

Lois reached down to plant a kiss on Jimmy's cheek then peered closely at his face. She grinned and patted his left cheek. "The cat's got your tongue, huh? You've lost weight, Jimmy — you've finally lost that baby fat. You're looking good, kiddo. I bet all the nurses are glad to take care of such a fit young man for a change! So why are you looking so glum? I know, I know — Alice White can't hold a candle to these pretty girls and…"

Jimmy smiled weakly as he listened to Lois in vivacious, full babble mode. He didn't try to interrupt her and just waited until she'd run out of steam.

"Honey, you'll give the poor guy a headache," an amused voice remarked. Jimmy lifted his eyes from Lois's animated face to see Clark entering at a leisurely pace. He grinned at Jimmy while he deftly grabbed two empty chairs and carried them over to the left side of the bed. "Sit," Clark ordered and much to Jimmy's surprise Lois didn't bristle but did as she was told and even said 'thank you'.

Man! This pregnancy had sure mellowed 'Mad Dog Lane'! Jimmy wondered if the effect would be lasting. Clark seemed to read his mind for he winked at him and said, "Jimmy, don't let her good mood fool you — she's still giving me headaches, you know!"

"Oh, you!" Lois playfully slapped Clark on his chest then subtly changed the gesture into a caress. "Jimmy, don't you listen to him — here sits a very happily married man and don't let him tell you otherwise. Now, where's Megan? I talked to her on the phone yesterday and she said she'd be here too. Things were pretty hectic at the Planet these last few days — did you see those headlines?"

"Uh — yeah," Jimmy wasn't sure which one of Lois's questions he should answer first.

Lois looked closely at Jimmy and then at Clark; she rolled her eyes and stood up. "Okay Jimmy, I can see that what you really want is to have a man-to-man talk with Clark. Go ahead — I was planning to visit Glenda Keyes too, so I'm off to the maternity ward. See ya later!"

Two pairs of admiring eyes watched as Lois nearly skipped out of the room and when Clark finally turned his head to look again at Jimmy, a big, happy grin threatened to split his face in two. Jimmy couldn't help but grin back at him. He was beginning to feel a little better. His best friend was here and now he could talk — really talk — to CK.

"Well, Jimmy, Alice White told us that the doctor is very satisfied with the progress you're making. Alice says you're cranky and that seems to be a good sign. We're all very glad that your injuries weren't more serious, Jimmy. And those bones will heal, you know."

"I know, CK, it's just… the doctor told me that this cast — " Jimmy knocked on the plaster covering his upper leg, " — has to stay put for at least six whole weeks! Well, not this one, this one is temporary. The doctor said I'll get a proper one before I leave here. That's why I can't go to my own place when I'm discharged, CK. I won't be able to climb the stairs to begin with."

"You won't be able to do a lot of other things, too, Jimmy. Bottom line is, you won't be able to care for yourself."

"I know! That's why the Chief's wife… CK, I can't stay with her! I can't let her… do things for me! It's too embarrassing."

"It seems to me you don't have a choice, Jimmy. Unless you want to stay with your mom? Superman will be happy to fly you to California if that's what you want."

"Really? He'd do that?"

"Of course he'd do it, Jimmy."

"Well, uh… no… I don't think that's such a great idea, CK. My mom's got a fulltime job; and I'd have to deal with my stepdad too, you know. He's a good guy, I suppose, but I don't really know him. And I wouldn't see Megan or you guys for a long time. No, my mom's not an option."

"Hmmm… I have an idea, Jimmy. Lois's mother is a nurse — she's visited you a few times, right? We could ask her to help you in the morning and before you go to bed. You know, help you wash, put on your clothes, that sort of thing. Just for a few days. You'll be amazed how quickly you'll be able to adjust and learn to do things with just one free arm."

Jimmy looked doubtful. "Well, maybe… but you can't ask Mrs. Lane to do that, CK, she's got her own life, her own job!"

"She works part time, Jimmy, and she's said more than once that she wished she could do something for you. Don't worry about it, okay? Ellen Lane and Alice White get along fine and I'm sure Alice will understand. And the Chief says that if you really don't want to stay with Alice then there's another option. He'll hire a private nurse to take care of you in your own apartment. She wouldn't live with you but she could come over maybe twice a day. How's that?"

Stunned, Jimmy stared, openmouthed, at Clark. Suddenly his head started to throb and he flopped back against the pillows. He groaned and briefly closed his eyes before he opened them again to fix Clark with an anxious and slightly reproachful look.

"Oh man! CK, please don't joke about this. A private nurse — are you kidding? D'you know how much something like that will cost? I don't even know how I'm gonna pay for my stay here at the hospital. All those doctor's bills… and I'm sure there'll be more expenses and —"

"Jimmy! What are you talking about! All your expenses will be taken care off. Didn't Perry tell you?"

"No — the Chief's been here twice and all he said was, 'Don't you worry 'bout a thing, son, you just concentrate on getting better.' CK — do you mean to say Perry's paying for all this? I can't let him do that! That's crazy — the accident wasn't his fault!"

"Jimmy, believe me, money won't be a problem."

"Yes, CK, it will. It will be a big problem — huge! That night I had dinner at your house, just before I almost got myself killed — remember I told you I'd taken a lease on one of those new studios they're building near the harbor?"

"I remember — they're part of the Lowlands renovation project. You told us you wanted to start your own photo studio."

"Yes — and I had to come up with a hefty down payment, with a no refund clause in the contract. Practically all my savings are invested in that studio, CK!"

'And now most probably in Mindy Church's bank account,' Clark thought involuntarily. He frowned as he stared at Jimmy for a moment then made a decision.

"I shouldn't be the one to tell you this, Jimmy, so don't tell the Chief I did 'cause I'm sure he'll want to tell you himself. You don't have to pay for any of these medical expenses — they're all being charged to 'The National Whisper'. You know how crafty Perry can be? Well, he called Ralph's editor and threatened him with a lawsuit. Don't ask me how he pulled it off, but they signed an agreement and the Whisper will pick up the whole tab!"

Speechless, Jimmy just stared. Clark nodded solemnly and touched two fingers against his temple. "It's true, Jimmy — scout's honor."

Slowly, Jimmy's disbelief was being replaced by relief. Suddenly he felt faint and quite lightheaded. He pressed his lips closely together to stop their trembling, but he couldn't prevent the tears that suddenly coursed down his cheeks. Blindly, Jimmy extended his uninjured arm and felt Clark grab his hand in a reassuring clasp.

"It's okay, buddy, it's okay. I'm sorry you didn't know. No wonder you looked so depressed when Lois and I came in. Here…" Clark took a handkerchief out of his pocket and pressed it into Jimmy's hand. "Go ahead, it's practically clean," he teased, "I haven't blown my nose in it more than twice."

Jimmy gave a watery chuckle and vigorously scrubbed his cheeks. "Thanks, CK, for telling me. I was going nuts, just lying here and trying to think how I was going to solve this. I'm so glad I can talk to you about this. I couldn't with Megan, you know."

"I know, Jimmy, that won't do. You two had just found each other again when you had that accident. From now on, you just concentrate on getting better and building a solid relationship with Megan. You still feel good about her?"

"Oh yes — she's great, CK. She comes over at least once a day to see me. I just hope… I don't know… d'you think she does it only because she feels she has to, CK? I mean, she told me how Superman came to find her and brought her here that first night and that she stayed here with Lois until the doctor let her see me. I just hope — I mean —"

"Jimmy, believe me, Megan's not the kind of girl to lead you on. I don't know her that well but she strikes me as being pretty straightforward and Lois thinks so too. So don't start having doubts, okay, just tell her how you feel about her. Megan already knows you won't be an invalid for the rest of your life. I'm sure she'll be honest with you."

Jimmy sighed. "I know, CK, it's just — I don't know —"



"Tell me about it! It's very scary to open up completely to somebody and I've got news for you, buddy — that feeling never really goes away. Sometimes I still find it hard to tell Lois certain things — you know, the kind that maybe will make her think less of me?"

"Really? Even after all these years?"

"Even after all these years, Jimmy. Making a relationship a success is hard work, especially in the first years, you know. You don't want to do or say things that will probably disappoint your partner, right? So you end up keeping things from each other and of course that always backfires. You end up fessing up anyway and then she's mad because you've kept them from her in the first place. Happened to me more times than I care to remember. It's hard, Jimmy, but the best thing to do is to be as open with each other as possible. Lois and I are slowly getting there — I think we've now pretty much reached a stage where we're being totally honest with each other. Trust is the most important thing in a relationship, Jimmy."

Jimmy sighed. "Well, you two make it seem so easy, CK."

"It isn't — but it's worth it, Jimmy. I can't imagine my life without Lois in it. We still have big fights now and then, but that's okay." Clark grinned happily. "We love making up! And look at the reward that's brought us, Jimmy." Clark lifted Lois's briefcase from the chair where she'd left it and placed it on his lap. He opened it and took an envelope out of it. "Lois had an ultrasound today. Look, Jimmy — this is our baby. Isn't she beautiful?"

While Jimmy stared at the print out Clark thought back to what had happened a few hours ago at STAR Labs. Actually, it had all started very early in the morning when he'd received a phone call from an excited Dr. Klein.

"Mr. Kent! Please ask Superman to come over here as soon as possible. I have something very important to discuss with him!"

"Go, Clark!" Lois had told him, "I'll drive myself to work. Maybe he's got news about your spaceship already."

Superman had supersped to STAR Labs where Dr. Klein had been waiting impatiently for him. No, he'd told Superman, he didn't know anything yet about the spaceship; he'd asked his secretary to find out where it was stored and how soon it could be released into his custody. Bernie had assured him that the very efficient Linda would be able to make all the necessary arrangements in just a few days.

"Come with me to the lab in the east wing, Superman, I have something to show you."

"The east wing? I've never been there before. What's over there?"

"A lab where students experiment with making all kinds of new medical devices, Superman. It's used mostly by graduate students — biomedical engineers in the making. One of the projects they're usually assigned to make is an ultrasound device. They're really not that hard to make, you know. All you need is a piezoelectric crystal — that's the main ingredient for making a rough machine to be able to reflect the sound waves. Very rough, I'll admit, but it works. Several of those ultrasound devices are stored right there in the lab. Some are pretty good, actually."

While talking, Dr. Klein had quickly walked to the east wing where he'd stopped and opened a door with a key he took out of one of the pockets of his white coat.

"I'm glad you could come so quickly, Superman, because I need you to transport one of those to my own lab. It's not big or heavy, mind you, but I'd like you to move it very gently — I don't want it to break. I can't ask one of my assistants because I don't want to tell them what I intend to do with it. It's too early for people to be here and that's just what we need, Superman. Come in."

Dr. Klein had thumped on a switch near the door, flooding the room with the harsh, cold light of neon tubes that were fixed on the ceiling. Superman had followed the doctor as he'd purposely walked towards a machine standing on a table in the middle of the room.

"Look, Superman, this is the device Ben Sutherland showed me just a few days ago. Ben's one of my assistants; he supervises students who come here to experiment. He told me he's currently working with a biomedical engineering first year PhD female student. Ben says she's quite brilliant. Her name's Alyssa — or something like that — I forgot. She works together with another student; Rachel — yes, I'm positive Ben said 'Rachel'. He told me those two are sort of known as being 'joined at the hip'. Clumsy, too. It's hard to believe, Superman, but Ben told me these two young women started a fire when soldering their power supply for their circuits class and —"

"Bernie! I'm sure Ben's got two budding geniuses to work with here, but could you please stick to the subject?"

Superman rolled his eyes and reflected that if these two students were as clumsy and absent-minded as Dr. Klein himself sometimes was, then they probably were indeed just as brilliant.

"What? Oh, yes — I digress. Sorry, Superman… anyway, those two young women made this device and last night I suddenly remembered Ben telling me it's superior to the other experimental ultrasound devices he's ever tested. I've decided to use this scanner on Ms. Lane, so last night I got out of bed and came back here to write the image processing program in LabView. That's the signal processing program that produces the image — I don't have that on my computer at home."

While listening attentively, Superman had effortlessly lifted the machine Dr. Klein had pointed out to him while the doctor picked up some other device from the table.

"See this, Superman? These students have also fashioned a scanner and image-processing tool to convert the scan into a traditional ultrasound image. I can use the scanner on Ms. Lane and print out the image for her to show to family and friends — something they would recognize; something that wouldn't seem out of the ordinary."

As they'd left the room and started to walk quickly back to Dr. Klein's own lab Superman had asked curiously, "Bernie, I thought you were going to use your own special Superman scanning machine. How come you've changed your mind?"

"Well, I had second thoughts about that, Superman. There's a baby involved, you know. Although we don't use traditional x-rays to scan your body and I'm quite sure it won't harm the baby, I think it's best to use a traditional ultrasound device. Besides, those visuals I make of parts of your body are quite different from ultrasound images."

"That makes sense, I guess. Normal x-rays are harmful to unborn babies, right? Bernie, you've always assured me that my being able to see through human bodies is quite harmless. I've been scanning the baby since Lois was about six weeks pregnant. Are you sure my vision is harmless to unborn babies? I'm starting to feel a bit worried here, you know."

"Don't be, Superman — your vision radiates a certain type of light of an unknown wavelength — maybe even a variable wavelength. I haven't been able yet to analyze it completely, but they aren't x-rays as we know them. They're completely harmless — until you decide to use 'em to set things on fire, of course… Okay, here we are — let's set things up and I'll show you how this works. I guess Ms. Lane would feel more comfortable if her husband does the scanning instead of me."

Clark smiled as he remembered the look on Lois's face when Dr. Klein had started to explain the workings of the device to her. Lois wasn't interested in techno- babble but before she'd opened her mouth to say so Clark had deftly stopped Bernie by saying that he'd already explained all that to his wife.

When Clark had finally arrived in the newsroom and told Lois what had happened at STAR Labs they'd both been barely able to contain their impatience until Dr. Klein called a few hours later to tell them he was ready to see them.

Lois had always maintained that she didn't mind waiting until it was born to see her baby. But now that she was offered the opportunity, she'd been so eager that Clark had had to caution her to walk and not fly into the building once he'd parked their Jeep next to Bernie's car in the STAR Labs parking lot. And when she'd reached his office, Lois had almost run down the good doctor when she'd rushed past him into the room.

But Dr. Klein had remained unperturbed. "I'm glad you could come over so soon, Ms. Lane," he'd said brightly, "Mr. Kent — you know how this works so I'll leave you to it then. Call me when you're done. I'll be waiting right here in the next room."

"Dr. Klein, wait! Where are you going?" Lois had asked. "I don't understand… I thought you were going to do the scanning? Why would Clark be doing it?"

"Well, I thought you'd prefer to have some privacy, Ms. Lane. I —"

"No, I'd like you to do it — please! I only have to move my shirt to expose my stomach, right? A regular doctor would've seen it too, so if you don't mind looking at my bulge? I'd really like for Clark and me to do this just like any other normal couple. You know, he holding my hand, the doctor at the machine… I know Clark's seen the baby hundreds of times, he's always peeking at her, you know, but I…"

Dr. Klein had stared at Lois while she'd babbled on; he'd never had the privilege before of seeing Lois Lane in a sentimental mood. While Clark had smilingly tried to stop the words flowing from Lois's mouth, Dr. Klein had sufficiently recovered and shown the expectant parents exactly why he was such a highly esteemed member of the scientist community of Metropolis.

All at once Klein had become brisk and businesslike, telling Lois to lie down and Clark to take his place at her side. He'd positioned the monitor at such an angle so Lois and Clark would be able to see the image on the screen and he'd merely raised his eyebrows when Lois had floated herself gracefully on the bed…


Jimmy's voice brought Clark back to his present surroundings. "Sorry Jimmy — what did you say?"

Jimmy thrust the print out back at Clark with an apologetic grin. "CK, are you sure this is a baby? I'm afraid I don't see much in this… this… you call this a picture?"

"Hi, Clark… hi, Jim!"

Clark stood up as Megan Carrington, smiling brightly, walked in. She made a pretty picture in the dark blue jeans she wore with a long-sleeved cotton blouse in a lighter shade of blue.

Clark stood up and smiled warmly at Megan. "Hello Megan — it's good to see you again. While you say hello to Jimmy I'll try to find my wife — she went to visit Mrs. Keyes at the maternity ward and I'm afraid that if I don't go and drag Lois away from there we won't see her again. She's had an ultrasound today and now she's totally into babies."

Megan laughed. "I know and so's Eileen! My dear sister says she's had it and is all ready for the twins to come out now. Is that the scan of your baby, Clark? Can I see it?"

"Sure… and maybe you can show Jimmy what to look for while I'll try to find Lois."

"Hey!" Jimmy protested, "It looks weird, CK! I've never seen one of those scans before, you know."

"Well, I have," Megan confirmed, "It's really very simple, Jim."

Clark smiled as he left the room and headed towards the elevator. Megan always referred to Jimmy as 'Jim'. Clark supposed that might make Jimmy feel mature and help him not to relapse into his former juvenile, 'kid brother' behavior when he was around Megan. Clark hoped the young couple would be able to build a stable relationship. He liked Megan and Lois did too.

While he waited for the elevator to arrive Clark was still smiling. After all the anxiety and emotional turmoil of the last few days he was now feeling almost lightheaded with happiness. He still marveled at how elated he'd felt when he and Lois had gazed at the ultrasound image of their baby on that screen. That had surprised him — after all, he could see his unborn daughter so much clearer with his own special vision. But sharing this experience together with Lois had been such a special moment. She'd grasped his hand tightly and gasped, "Oh Clark… look, our baby! Can you see her? Ooh, wow…" Lois had alternately cried and laughed and Clark had cried and laughed with her.

When Dr. Klein had finally handed a print out to a radiant Lois, she'd hugged and kissed him and said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you so much!"

Visibly moved, the kindhearted doctor had smiled warmly down at her. "You're welcome, Ms. Lane — it was my pleasure, believe me."

"Oh please! When are you going to stop calling us Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent? It's Lois and Clark, Bernie, and we won't answer to anything else from now on. Right, Clark?"

"Right!" Clark had agreed and Lois had added teasingly, "Only true friends of Superman have that privilege, Bernie."

"It's a privilege to be considered one of them, Ms… uh… Lois," Bernie had said earnestly.

They'd said their goodbyes and as soon as Lois had been seated in the Jeep she'd taken the ultrasound out of her briefcase to gaze reverently at the fuzzy image of their baby.


The elevator announced its arrival and Clark blinked, once again becoming aware of his surroundings. The doors opened and he stepped aside to make way for the people coming out of the elevator.

"Hi honey! Have you been waiting here specially for me?" Lois stepped out and smiled at her husband.

"I was coming to look for you," Clark said as he took her arm and steered her protectively through the busy corridor in the direction of Jimmy's room. "How's Glenda Keyes doing — and the baby?"

"So far so good — the baby's getting stronger every day. The doctors are careful of course and don't say much but Glenda's convinced her daughter will be all right. She says she doesn't care how long the baby has to stay in the hospital — as long as she gets to take her home one day."

"Did you see her? The baby, I mean."

"No — I didn't want to ask Glenda to take me over there, she was already in bed, you know. Gareth had just left with their sons when I got there. It was already past their bedtime and he had to take them home. So Glenda and I had some time alone before Gareth returned. She's nice — I like her; it was nice talking to her. The baby's name is Charlotte, did you know that? Glenda says no way is she going to allow anybody to call her 'Charly' — as if she's going to be able to prevent that!"

They grinned at each other and Clark said, "Just as we can count on it that our Katharine will be called Katie or Kathy."

"Well, as long as it's not Kath — that would remind me too much of Cat Grant."

Clark laughed and shook his head. "Lois, don't tell me you're still jealous of Cat Grant!"

"I'm not jealous — I never was jealous of Cat Grant," Lois said primly and tossed her head. Clark chuckled as he followed her into Jimmy's room where Megan sat, close to the bed, on the chair Clark had vacated earlier. The artificial light of the lamp hanging above Megan's head created a golden halo around her curly red hair and her deep blue eyes sparkled with merriment. She jumped up to greet Lois and pointed laughingly at the ultrasound Jimmy was still staring at.

"Lois, Jim says he must be more concussed than he thought — he's just not able to see a baby in your ultrasound."

"Sorry guys, but this looks more like E.T.'s baby to me."

"Jimmy — how dare you! My beautiful baby doesn't look like E.T." Lois retrieved her ultrasound image and lovingly smoothed her finger over the surface. "Bad Uncle Jimmy! And he's supposed to be an eagle-eyed photographer," Lois crooned at the print out.

Jimmy rolled his eyes. "That's not a photo, Lois! CK, does she behave like this all the time? Man! Is this the same Lois Lane who chases bad guys for a living? Oh, I almost forgot — I've seen those headlines, CK, but you've gotta tell me everything about this case. How come the Chief wrote that article about the burning boat? And how come…"


Chapter Seventeen

"Good grief, Kent," Inspector Bill Henderson stared at Clark in amazement. "Is that the real reason you went to see Bermuda? To hear him say he'd been conned by Mrs. Church that time? I don't buy that — we know that now already! Why would you want that crook to confirm it?"

Clark stared back at Henderson, thinking vaguely that he'd never seen Bill so annoyed. Why was it so important for him to know why he'd visited Bermuda? "You're just frustrated because we can't pin anything on Mindy Church yet, Bill. Why would I hold anything about this case back from you? That makes no sense!"

"I told you already — I don't buy that, Kent. There must be another reason, one you're not telling me. Either you tell me now or I'll find out myself. I can't work with you on this case if you're keeping things from me!" Abruptly, Henderson rose from his chair. "Wanna know what I think? I think it's got something to do with Superman."

Startled, Clark also stood up. "Superman? Why would you think that?"

"I'll tell him myself, " Bill said sourly, "You tell the Big Guy I wanna talk to him — here, in my office, as soon as possible. Think you could do that? Now get out of here so I can get back to work. And give that list to Perry White — maybe that clever little researcher of his can figure out what it means. We're working on it at this end too but so far we haven't a clue what it means."

Clark walked to the door, hesitating before opening it. "Bill, I'm sorry, but —"

"Yeah, yeah, you're sorry — but you're not telling. Save it, Kent." Henderson sat down with an air of finality. He started to shuffle the papers lying on his desk, indicating that as far as he was concerned the discussion was closed.

"Why do you think Superman will tell you anything?" Clark asked curiously.

"Superman doesn't lie, Kent. He'll tell me the truth."

"I didn't lie to you!" Clark said hotly.

"But you didn't tell the truth either, now did you?"

"You're being paranoid — Superman's not obliged to tell you anything he doesn't want you to know! Bill, even if my seeing Bermuda has anything to do with Superman, it wasn't a crime!"

"Oh, I know that. I also know that you're covering something up — or someone."

Henderson looked up and regarded Clark with a malicious little smile.

"Kent, you know I'm a law abiding policeman, right?"

"Bill, it's not that I don't trust you —"

"But what you probably don't know," Henderson continued, "is that I've repeatedly turned down promotion opportunities because I don't want to deal with just paperwork. I wanna be where the action is, as corny as that may sound. I like being a policeman — I like being a detective — I like solving puzzles. And I will solve this one, Kent, make no mistake about it."


"Lois, he was really angry; he kept calling me 'Kent'!" Frustrated, Clark paced the floor of the conference room where he and Lois had retreated as soon as he'd come back to the Planet.

"Well," Lois said calmly, "Then tell him, Clark. Tell him the truth."

Astonished, Clark whirled around to face her. "Lois! I thought that we'd agreed I wouldn't tell any more people about Superman. Not right now, anyway. Why would I tell Bill?"

"I don't mean the secret, Clark — just the truth about the virus and what happened to Superman that time. You know very well Bill isn't going to rush out to buy a virus from the bad guys to infect you — he knows he'll have to keep this to himself."

Clark sighed deeply. "Maybe you're right. Superman could ask him not to put anything about that on record. It's too dangerous."

"I'm sure he'll understand. And I think it's best that Superman tells him — not Clark Kent"

Clark's face brightened a bit. He finally stopped his restless pacing and came to sit down beside Lois. "Superman could tell him he'd made Clark Kent swear to never tell anyone."

"That's right, honey."

Lois hid a little smile. When Clark was upset he always talked about himself in the third person. After a couple of frustrating years of trying to make him quit doing that she'd finally given up. At least now she knew something was bothering him whenever he started to talk separately about 'Clark Kent' and 'Superman.'

"You go take care of it right now — no need to put it off, Clark, but before you leave you'll have to give me that piece of paper you're clutching like some lifeline… is that the list Bill was talking about when he called?"

"Yeah… that's the list he used to lure me into his office — to give me the third degree." A reluctant grin formed on Clark's lips when he saw the amused twinkle in Lois's eyes.

Lois smiled. "He's a devious man… now, let's see what's on this list." She smoothed the piece of paper while Clark looked on and said apologetically, "Sorry, honey, I creased it a bit. Bill says Jenny Hudson was able to intercept this. She told Bill she's sure Mike Costanza faxed it to St. Cyr."

"This Mike Costanza's probably a very dangerous man. I hope Jenny Hudson doesn't blow her cover."

"Bill says she can handle it — she's had tougher assignments than being a PA to Mindy Church's henchman."

"Let's hope Detective Hudson knows what she's doing then. You know, Clark, this Costanza guy might be dangerous but he's not very clever. Why in the world is he calling Mindy on his phone at work and faxes information to her at a machine at work? Does he want to be caught? Is he really that stupid?"

"Good point, Lois. He could just as easily do these things at home. Who knows — it might be his way to smoke out anyone who intercepts these messages. It might be a trap. Wonder if Bill or Jenny have thought about that?"

"Probably… but I'll warn Bill anyway. Now, let's take a look at this list — all these names — who are these people? There's a Martin Hopkins… Lester Lamarr; him I know… Peter T. Somers… and there's your friend, William B. Caldwell… Gordon Keyes, Gareth's father… John Cross… Grant Gendell…"

"Lois, this is a list of Metropolis' richest men! Honey, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That Mindy's looking for her next target? She's a 'Black Widow', Clark. I'll bet she's planning to marry one of these guys, kill him, get richer, marry the next one, kill him, get richer still, marry the next —"

"Okay, Lois, you've made your point. But most of these men are already married. So what does that mean? She'll kill their wives first?"

Lois snorted. "I wouldn't be surprised. Now, take your friend Will Caldwell — he's a bachelor. Gareth's father isn't married either, but Grant Gendell is. Maybe she'll only pick out the bachelors on this list, I don't know. I think we'll have to look for something that connects these guys. So far, the only thing they have in common is their wealth."

"I don't like this, Lois, I don't like this one bit."

"Me neither. Know what — you go talk to Bill before he starts hatching out any more weird theories about your visit to Joey Bermuda and I'll go over this list with Perry and Anna."

"Okay — but we'll have to warn them — the people on this list, I mean. At least the ones we know personally, like Will Caldwell and Grant Gendell; and I'm sure Gareth would want to know if his father's in any danger."

"We'll have to warn all of them — as soon as we find out what Mindy really wants from them."

Clark stood up and leaned over to plant a quick kiss on Lois's lips. "I'm off to see Bill Henderson… again! See you later, honey."

"Clark, wait! I'm not so sure about the marriage theory anymore. Take a look — there are women on this list, too. See? Lucinda Blythe, fashion designer, in her fifties, unmarried… Susan Rodgers, owner of those health clubs, also in her fifties, but she's married… and here's Adrienne Brown Langley, owner of a chain of motels; I know for a fact she's married, too."

Clark, who'd already reached the door, stood still and frowned. "I guess we can kiss our marriage theory goodbye then. So far, the only thing these people have in common is that they're filthy rich."

"But that's too obvious, Clark, there must be another reason why they're on this list!"

"Well, let's try and find that out then."


"My, my, my… !" Mindy Church looked at the list Mike Costanza had faxed to her with raised eyebrows, "So… these people in Metropolis all have a butler on their payroll, hmm?"

"According to Costanza — yes, they do."

"Well, Bertram, one of these men or women will become your new employer. Tell Costanza to check which of these people socialize with Lane and Kent. And he'll have to scratch out foreigners, especially British people. They might spot your phony accent a mile away and we can't take that risk. It's good, but probably not that good. But I'm pretty sure the average American family won't have a clue that their new butler Bertram Bates from London is really Billy Bob Travis from Nowheresville."

"I have always been exceptionally good with accents, Madam," Bertram said, looking smug.

Mindy threw him a warning glance. "Don't let it go to your head, Bertram. That's when you start making mistakes. Don't underestimate those reporters — you'll probably get only one chance to get rid of them and you can't afford to blow it."

"Not to worry, Madam, I never make mistakes."

"Lane and Kent are formidable opponents and don't you forget that, Bertram. Killing Superman might not be so easy either. You never know when you might meet him, so you'll have to keep that chunk of Kryptonite on you at all times."

"I will, Madam."

"Good. Let's go over the plan one more time. As soon as Costanza lets us know which of these people are chummy with Lane and Kent you leave for Metropolis and get rid of their butler. These people are always throwing parties and they'll need a new butler. Getting you hired… that's the tricky part, Bertram. I haven't lived in Metropolis that long to know where people get their butlers from."

"Madam, I'm sure there's a special agency one might call if one wanted to hire a butler," Bertram answered, trying to sound as British as possible. It wouldn't do to have the Boss lady think that he wouldn't be able to pull this scam.

"Ask Costanza to find that out too, Bertram."

"Right away, Madam."

"Good. You can go now, Bertram. Tell Cornell to get the plane ready. I have a meeting with my lawyers in Miami this afternoon. Those pesky Lachapelles and their lawyers want to have a face-to-face confrontation with me and I can't back out of it."

The butler bowed respectfully and quietly left the room. While he went in search of the pilot he thought about his new assignment in Metropolis. Getting rid of a butler was easy and he was confident he'd be able to dispose of Lane and Kent in no time too. Three unsuspecting targets — a piece of cake, as far as Bertram was concerned. However, killing Superman — now that was a challenge he was looking forward to!

Bertram took a small, lead-lined box from his pocket and opened it. He carefully extracted the glowing green rock from the box and stared at it for a long moment. Kryptonite… hard to believe that this small piece of space rubble could kill the Man of Steel. And he would be the one to do it!

Suddenly, Bertram felt quite excited about going to Metropolis.


"So… Joey Bermuda tried to kill you with a virus. So why did you send Clark Kent to find out how and why he did it, Superman? Why didn't you go talk to Bermuda yourself?"

"I didn't want him to suspect that I'd almost died. I didn't want him to think that maybe it might actually work if he tried it again someday."

"I see… do you think Mindy Church still has some of that concoction?"

"I hope not, Inspector, but I'm not willing to find that out. I wouldn't be able to fly back if I got sick on St. Cyr and I don't know if the people there would provide sanctuary or turn me over to Mrs. Church — er — Lachapelle."

"Hmmm — I see…"

"Perry White and Lois Lane have also advised me to stay away from St. Cyr, Inspector. They've filled me in on this case and believe me, after that burning boat incident the other night, I want nothing more than to go and take a look over there, but —"

Henderson stared thoughtfully at Superman. The super hero looked formidable and aloof as he stood with his arms folded across his chest, his back turned to the light streaming through the open window in Henderson's office.

The Inspector had never personally witnessed the effect Kryptonite had on Superman. He still found it hard to believe that something as innocent looking as a glowing green rock could kill this powerful being. But he'd heard the stories — from the super hero himself and from Lois Lane and Clark Kent. He'd even seen a piece of the rock at STAR Labs and been lectured by Dr. Bernard Klein on the danger it posed to Superman.

"Okay, I understand why you asked Clark Kent not to tell anyone why and how the 'Handy Man' and Mindy Church tried to kill you, Superman. I know you're not obliged to tell the police everything that's going on in your life, but don't you think it's a good thing that I also know about this? I was planning to ask you to check out Mindy Church's estate on St. Cyr for me."

Superman opened his mouth to answer but Henderson continued, "But I agree with Perry White and Lois Lane — you should stay away from that island, Superman. It's too risky. Too bad I can't ask the St. Cyr authorities for information on Mrs. Church either. If I'd get in touch with corrupt civil servants they could tip her off. So I'll have to come up with another plan."

"Why not send one of your undercover agents?"

"No — too many people would have to know about that, Superman. That's an out-of-the-country assignment and I'd have to clear that with the bosses. As much as I hate the thought, I can't rule out that Intergang might also have infiltrated into this department. I can't afford anyone tipping off Mindy Church and I can't afford to pay for a return ticket to St. Cyr out of my own pocket either."

Superman looked thoughtful. "Inspector, I have an idea. Give me some time to explore that and if it pans out I'll come back to inform you."

"Well, tell me what you have in mind, Superman, and I'll —"

But Henderson was talking to an empty room. Superman had already flown out the window.


Lois was angry and hurt when he told her what he'd done. In hindsight Clark realized she was right; he should have discussed it with her first. Instead of returning to the Planet when he'd left Henderson, he'd flown straight to the Sentinel building. He'd changed into his work clothes and entered the lobby as Clark Kent, asking to see Editor-in-Chief Gareth Keyes.

"Clark, you know I'm happy that you and Gareth are such good friends now. But when it comes to work, I'm your partner! Any decision we make, especially on this case, we make together!"

Now it was Lois who was pacing up and down the floor of the conference room.

"If we feel that we need to involve other people we have to discuss it with each other and Perry first. We've always worked that way, Clark; I really don't understand why you couldn't come back here first. How are you going to explain this to Perry?"

That hadn't been easy. When Clark told the Chief that he'd involved Gareth Keyes in the case Perry had been furious. He didn't care whether Keyes had sworn not to use any of the information in his newspaper — the man was a competitor!

It had taken Clark at least an hour to convince Perry that what Gareth had agreed to do was the only option they had of getting on St. Cyr and close to Mindy Church.

Just a few days ago Gareth had told Clark that he and his father had grown much closer since the premature birth of his daughter. One night, when he'd been particularly worried about the baby's chance of survival, Gareth had finally been able to tell his father that he wasn't happy being Editor-in-Chief of 'The Sentinel'.

After some lengthy discussions his father had agreed to let Gareth convert the daily newspaper into a weekly journal. Instead of chasing headlines and reporting local news, the stories he'd publish would deal with the follow up of news items worthy of further exploration, Gareth had told Clark. He'd jokingly offered Clark a job as a columnist and had been surprised and delighted when Clark said that one day he might just take him up on that offer.

Clark had then told Gareth about his own tentative plans to become a freelance reporter and how he was already trying to adjust to the idea that, in the near future, he wouldn't write exclusively for "The Daily Planet'. Suddenly, stepping out of the safe and secure fulltime contract with 'The Daily Planet' hadn't seemed so scary to Clark anymore.

The two men had immediately and enthusiastically begun to explore the possibilities their career changes would open up to them. Gareth had told Clark that he was almost ready to launch an extensive worldwide publicity campaign to promote the journal and that's what Clark had been thinking about when he went to see Gareth after he'd spoken to Bill Henderson.

Gareth had been fascinated and appalled when Clark told him about Mindy Church. He'd agreed to include a special feature on rich and famous Americans living in luxury on Caribbean islands in the first issue of his new weekly magazine. A reporter from his New York office would travel the islands with a photographer and one of their first destinations would be St. Cyr.

"Perry, Gareth knows that Mindy Church can't be included in this feature. He knows we can't afford to have her bolt at this point. So he'll personally fly to St. Cyr to prepare the way for his reporting team, talk to the authorities and learn as much as he can about the island and its people; and hopefully about Mindy too. St. Cyr relies heavily on the tourist trade and I'm sure they'll welcome this kind of free publicity."

"Well, okay — if you think this Keyes fellow can be trusted. " Perry had finally, grudgingly, agreed with the plan.

"Clark, you can't ask him to do that," Lois had objected, "Gareth can't leave his wife at a time like this. He'd be gone for days!"

"No, Lois, just one day. Superman will fly him to San Palito, one of those small islands south of St. Cyr. He'll take the first early morning flight to St. Cyr and at midnight he'll take the last flight back to San Palito where Superman will pick him up and fly him back to Metropolis. On St. Cyr he'll have a guide to show him the island and he's going to arrange to have lunch and dinner with prominent St. Cyrians; like the Minister of Tourism and Trade."

"Well, you two have thought about everything, haven't you?" Lois had said waspishly.

Clark had looked unhappy and Perry had just stared at them over the rim of his reading glasses, knowing that Clark wouldn't be spending a peaceful evening alone with Lois at home.

"I'm sorry, Lois… Perry… I wasn't thinking straight. I was just so glad to have thought about this possibility. And Gareth and I were suddenly bouncing off ideas…" At that point Clark had refrained, wisely but belatedly, to say anything else when Lois's angry expression had suddenly changed into a hurt puppy dog look.

Eventually, between an uncomfortable dinner and getting ready for bed, Lois had decided to forgive him. Lying on his back, his arms wrapped around his sleeping wife, Clark had thought about the amazing changes that had already happened in their lives since Lois got pregnant. And how he and Gareth had become fast friends in just a couple of weeks.

Encouraged by Lois, Clark had finally called Gareth and asked him to shoot some hoops with him. After that first vigorous workout he and the tall, sandy- haired Australian met as often as they could to play squash or basketball while having heated discussions on politics, sports and journalism.

On one subject the two men agreed completely with each other — their families were the most important factors in their lives. Both were deeply in love with their respective wives and Gareth completely understood how happy Clark was with his impending fatherhood.

As much as he loved his Glenda, Gareth had confessed, he just couldn't imagine his life without his children in it. Including baby Charlotte, still fighting for her fragile life in an incubator at the hospital. Gareth had told Clark how helpless he felt whenever he went to look in on his newborn daughter.

"The worst thing is not being able to hold her. I go crazy sometimes, thinking about her lying in that glass box, with nobody around to hold her close and talk to her. I remember when the boys were born how great it felt to hold those small bodies against my chest, to feel their tiny fingers grip my finger… to comfort them when they cried. I can't do that for Charlotte and the doctors expect she'll have to stay at the hospital for at least three months before we can take her home."

Frustrated, Gareth had broken off a dry twig from a thorny shrub growing on the border of the park near the track where he and Clark had run a good number of laps before they'd flopped down on the grass, panting and sweating and feeling thoroughly rejuvenated.

Gareth had poked into the ground with the twig until Clark had commented drily, "You won't get to China that way, buddy… C'mon, let's run another few miles. You need to get rid of all that pent-up frustration before you go home to have breakfast with your family."

Whenever Clark went jogging with Gareth early in the morning he took care to be back at the house in time to kiss Lois awake. She'd invariably ask, "Honey, you didn't forget the water bottle, did you?" and Clark would assure her he knew how important it was to look as tired and as sweaty as Gareth. He always made sure he was standing behind his friend when he splashed water under his armpits and on his head and chest.

Lois had been very happy to see her husband so animated. "They get on like a house on fire," she'd told Martha the day Clark brought his new friend home to meet his mom and dad. "This is just what he needed, Martha. It's amazing — I haven't seen Clark so carefree in a very long time."

"Boys need boys to play with, honey," Martha had pointed at her husband, "Look at Jonathan — he looks ten years younger, playing with those two little boys. That's just how he was when Clark was about their age."

When Clark had told Gareth he and Lois were helping his parents to settle down in the house next-door Gareth had offered to help. That, of course, hadn't been necessary but Clark had insisted that Gareth bring his sons over one Sunday after they'd visited their mommy at the hospital.

It had taken Jonathan less than a minute to succeed in charming those two little boys. He'd squatted down and smiled at the five year old staring wide-eyed at him while he clutched his father's hand.

"Hi there! I'm Jonathan. What's your name?"


"Nice to meet you, Eric. And who's the little munchkin over there… is he the cookie monster?"

"Nooo! He's my little brother," Eric had giggled while his three-year-old brother had stated indignantly, "I'm Simon! I'm not a cookie monster."

"Well, Simon, that's too bad, because we have lots and lots of yummy cookies waiting for us on the table in the porch. And there's an extra helping for cookie monsters too! You boys want to come and take a look?"

Lois had grinned at her mother-in-law while they'd watched the boys eagerly follow Jonathan through the back door, their father and Clark in tow.

"Martha, this is only your first week in Metropolis and you've already managed to have more visitors over at your house than Clark and I have seen in ours in the past four years. I've heard that my mother and Bertha Avery pop in constantly and you've already had Alice White over for coffee too. How do you country people do that?"


Chapter Eighteen

Softly, Superman landed in a deserted alley in a seedy neighborhood in Radisson City. He quickly spun out of the Suit and a minute later Clark Kent walked out, tugging at his tie. He didn't stop to take in his surroundings but headed purposely to the dilapidated buildings on his right, ignoring the people who were also hurrying down the busy street.

Clark passed a variety of small shops situated at street level of the tall buildings and stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading to apartments situated above a grocery store. He paused, checking to make sure he'd gotten the right number. Yes, this was the address Anna Johnston had written down in her neat handwriting: 444 Saffron Street.

If Anna's informants were right then this was where Joey Bermuda's ex-wife, Sandy DeAngelo, lived with her eleven-year-old daughter Cheryl Marie. Only, they didn't go by the DeAngelo name anymore. Nor did they stay put for very long. It was clear that Sandy DeAngelo feared for her life and that of her child. She'd constantly been on the move and it had taken them weeks to track her down.

Anna had tried to find her under her maiden name and when that didn't pan out, under her mother's maiden name. Anna's spies had scoured Metropolis, searching for clues. At one point Lois had even involved Bobby Bigmouth, but he hadn't been able to come up with anything substantial. The woman had managed pretty well to cover her tracks. But then again, not well enough.

Perry White himself had provided the winning clue. He'd suggested they use a map and draw an ever- growing circle around Metropolis and look for her in every hardware store in every town and village they pinpointed on that map. Before she'd married Joey DeAngelo, Sandy Halliday had worked in a hardware shop. In fact, it was there that they had first met.

The Chief had also involved Inspector Bill Henderson in the search. After all, Bill knew why Clark had visited Bermuda in jail and had access to more efficient and larger search facilities in the police department.

Anna had, together with the police researcher Bill Henderson had assigned to help with the search, systematically eliminated town after town, store after store, until they'd struck dirt: Sandy DeAngelo worked at a hardware store in Radisson City, about two hundred miles south of Metropolis, under the name of Sally Hayes.

Clark frowned as he regarded the shabby entrance of the building where Sandy and her daughter lived — a far cry from the luxurious townhouse they'd shared with Joey.

Clark knew what time it was but still he glanced at his watch, just to make sure. This was the time Sandy usually arrived home from her first job as saleslady at the hardware store. She'd have two hours to hurriedly cook and eat dinner and spend some quality time with her daughter, before she'd have to leave for her second job as member of a cleaning crew in a large downtown office complex.

There she was, right on time.

"Mrs. DeAngelo?" Clark stepped forward just as Sandy hurriedly reached the stairs leading to her apartment.

"Oh God…" A frightened whimper escaped Sandy's throat as she stared into the first familiar face she'd seen in years.


It took a few more trips to Radisson City before Clark was able to convince Sandy DeAngelo that she would be better off to leave the United States and build a new life for herself and her daughter in a foreign country.

Gareth Keyes had contacted his mother and arranged for Sandy to work at his family's cattle station in Queensland. Superman himself had flown Sandy and Cheryl Marie to Australia to meet Gareth's mother Felicity, who'd warmly welcomed the clearly nervous woman and her timid child and given them a tour of the property.

Cheryl Marie had been enchanted by the variety of animals she'd been introduced to and when Sandy had seen her little girl come back from a visit to the stables, excited and starry eyed, she'd turned to Felicity.

With tears in her eyes Sandy had thanked Gareth's mother for the chance she was offering her and her daughter to start a new, stable life — free of fear and worry.


On the same morning that Sandy and Cheryl Marie DeAngelo left Radisson City for good, Mindy Lachapelle, rose-tinted sunglasses on her nose, walked out onto the terrace of her villa in St. Cyr where an impeccably dressed Bertram Bates stood with his business case in his right hand, a lightweight coat meticulously folded over his left arm.

Bates looked every inch a butler and Mindy's mouth curled into a satisfactory smile. She glanced at his chest and nodded approvingly. The small sliver of green Kryptonite, set in the gold tie-pin Bertram was wearing, glinted as he waited for his last instructions.

"Don't ever take off that pin, Bertram. If my sources are right, even the tiniest piece of Kryptonite will weaken Superman. After that, the big chunk will finish him off. If you need to contact me then do so through Costanza — don't call or write directly from Metropolis, except in an emergency. After the job's done you'll wait in Miami for Alan to pick you up. Understood?"

"Perfectly, Madam," Bertram, who'd heard these instructions more times than he cared to remember, curbed his impatience and stood impassively, waiting for the boss lady to give him permission to leave.

"Good luck."

The glaring sunlight shot golden sparks off her blond hair as Mindy abruptly turned and walked towards the open doors of her poolside office. She didn't look back to see Bertram leave; her mind was already focusing on another problem that needed her immediate attention.

Lately the sons of her late husband were really closing in on her. It was clear that they weren't going to be satisfied until they'd reclaimed all of their late father's possessions. Well, they could think again — no matter how many lawsuits they filed against her, Mindy thought angrily, she wasn't going to budge.

"Ready when you are, Bates." Alan Cornell picked up the suitcase Bertram had placed on the terrace and quickly walked away. Bates threw a last, lingering look at the house, then followed the pilot to the runway where the small airplane was waiting to take him to Miami.


Chapter Nineteen

"Here we are and there's Bertha, already waiting for us at the entrance. Lois, it looks as if she's leaving on a trip around the world — or holding court — are these the ladies of the infamous 'welcome committee'?"

"I think so… and under command of the unflappable Julia, of course. Hello, Bertha!"

Lois waved at a smiling Bertha Avery, who waited patiently until Clark had jumped out of the Jeep and walked over to where she stood, while her friend Julia Prentiss excitedly rushed forward to greet Lois.

Clark flashed his most charming smile at the small group of elderly ladies, who beamed at him. "Good morning, ladies… Good morning, Bertha… nice to see you again… hop in!"

"Hello Clark. So nice of you to pick me up. But I could've easily taken a cab, you know. My! It isn't easy getting into this vehicle, now is it? Lois, don't you dare laugh at me. When are you going to get rid of this thing? You'll soon need a family car, you know."

"Bertha, how dare you call my beloved Jeep a 'thing'! And how do you know Clark's been pestering me about this? Have you two been talking behind my back?"

Clark laughed as he hopped in and closed the door. "Lois, I haven't talked about cars with Bertha. Though I'm happy to hear she's on my side."

"Bye, girls! See you later!" Bertha waved to her friends standing on the sidewalk of the 'Shady Pines' residence then turned to address the back of Lois's head. "Your mother happened to mention it to me, Lois, and —"

"My mother? I should've known! She's never liked any of my Jeeps. Ever since she helped you move, you and my mother have formed some sort of 'let's get on Lois's case' society — don't deny it, Bertha! Did Martha join already?"

"Well, dear, since Clark's parents moved in Ellen and I have been helping them to settle in — that's all. Believe me, we haven't had time to discuss your affairs," Bertha lied cheerfully.

"Hah! Am I supposed to believe that? Poor Jonathan — being saddled with the 'TTT' these past few weeks. It's a wonder he hasn't absconded yet."

"The 'TTT'?" Bertha looked puzzled. "What's that?"

"'The Terrible Three" — you, my mother and Martha."


"It's all right, Clark," Bertha laughed heartily, "I rather like it. Wait till I tell Julia!"

"Well, Bertha," Clark jumped in before Lois could pursue the topic, "are you completely adjusted yet at the home? You were used to so much space — don't you feel a bit cramped in there?"

"No, Clark, the apartments aren't that small. I have everything I need."

"Mother told me she wouldn't mind living in 'Shady Pines' herself one day; She says your apartment has as much space as hers. Still, it must be weird, coming over as a visitor, Bertha, you've lived in that house for over forty years."

"No, Lois, it's not." Bertha said firmly. "This past winter's been very lonely for me. I was alone too often. I saw Julia about two times a week and now it doesn't matter if the weather is terrible or not — we don't have to go outside to meet. Julia and I often sit outside on my balcony at night. The view from the seventh floor's so pretty, Lois, all those twinkling lights — I can see for miles! Julia's quite envious, you know. She's on the second floor and can't see that far."

Lois grinned. "She's quite a character, isn't she? And it looks like you've made lots of new friends since you've been living at 'Shady Pines', Bertha."

"That's right, Lois. They're noisy and sometimes quite irritatingly nosey but I wouldn't trade them for a big, empty house. Your parents are welcome to it, Clark."

Clark laughed as he deftly swung the Jeep onto Hyperion Avenue. "And they're very happy with it, Bertha. We're here, ladies, and it looks like the party's in full swing already. We won't be able to park near the house, Lois, look at all those cars! How many people did my mom invite to come over?"

"Lots… what good would it be to have only four people at a 'pie and cake tasting session', Clark?"

"Is that what my mom calls it? Honey, my parents don't know that many people in Metropolis; they haven't been living here that long yet!"

"Who says you have to know people first before inviting them over, Clark?"

While Clark threw Lois an astonished look Bertha chimed in, "That's true, Clark, they've also invited Julia, you know. She's so sorry, but she has another engagement and she couldn't worm herself out of that one. That's the trouble with Julia — she doesn't know how to say 'no' to people. You should see her social calendar, Lois! I get tired just looking at it. That's one thing we keep fighting about, you know, she wants me to join all those committees and I just —"

Clark rolled his eyes and decided to tune out Bertha's babbling and concentrate on finding a parking space instead.

"Okay… this is not such a bad spot. For a minute there I was afraid we'd have to walk back a whole block. Bertha, wait a sec — I'll get you out of there." Clark lifted Bertha out of the back seat of the Jeep and gently lowered her down.

"My! Being so strong sure comes in handy. Thank you, Clark — I don't think I'd be able to climb out by myself. I'm definitely on your side in regard to —"

"— getting rid of the Jeep — yeah, yeah!" Lois rolled her eyes and effortlessly slid out of her seat by lifting herself upwards just an inch or two. She'd become quite adept at using her floating ability in public. It made getting in and out of cars and climbing stairs so much easier, she'd argued when Clark had caught her out on it. Even though she was pregnant and proud of it, no way was Lois Lane going to waddle!

Clark, noticing the determined glint in Lois's eyes, had reluctantly dropped the subject — only to drive Lois crazy with his constantly whispered, 'be careful, honey, there are people watching' warnings.

Clark gallantly offered Bertha his arm while Lois float-walked in front of them. Gay laughter greeted the threesome when they entered Martha and Jonathan Kent's new home through the front door that was unlocked and left slightly ajar.

"What the…!" Clark's exasperated exclamation was lost in happy 'hi, come in, good to see you' exclamations, so he had to wait impatiently until he'd said his hello's before he could corner Jonathan to hiss reprovingly at him, "Dad! What do you think you're doing, leaving the front door open like that!"

"Son, relax," Jonathan grinned when he saw Clark's outrageous facial expression. "It's Sunday, the house is full of people — what could possibly happen? It's easier than constantly having to answer the bell. Don't worry, we'll close it as soon as everybody's arrived."

"I've already closed it. Dad — this is Metropolis, not rural Kansas!"

But Jonathan's attention was already being claimed by a sturdy little boy tugging at his pants. "Uncle Jo- than," three-year-old Simon Keyes lisped as he stared adoringly up at the large figure towering over him.

"Hey squirt!" Jonathan swung the boy up into his arms and walked with him towards the porch. Through the open doors Clark saw five-year-old Eric Keyes sitting on Roy Vaughan's lap, watching the two Vaughan girls with fascinated eyes while they shot arrows at a dart board.

Clark's lips curled into an indulgent smile. When children were around his dad was lost to him. Jonathan was tickling Simon and the little boy shrieked with laughter, kicking his legs while he tried to wriggle out of the powerful arms holding him securely against uncle 'Jo-than's' chest.

Clark spotted Perry White and Sam Lane, standing in the garden, talking to Jimmy Olsen, who sat on a lounger with his encased leg stretched out in front of him, his crutch within easy reach. Fortunately, the cumbersome cast he'd worn from toe to thigh had been replaced by plaster on just his lower leg.

As soon as he'd been able to bend his knee Jimmy had moved from Alice White's apartment to his own. He was grateful for all the help he'd gotten from the Chief's wife and Ellen Lane, but he'd been overjoyed when he'd finally been able to go home again — and to work.

The unusually hot summer had gradually receded into a comfortably warm autumn with beautiful, sunny days well into October. When they'd left the house this morning to pick up Bertha, Lois had commented how lucky Martha and Jonathan were. With a house full of people it was a stroke of luck that they were able to use the patio and the garden too, especially with four boisterous children around. According to the weather forecasts this third Sunday in October could very well turn out to be one of the warmest days this fall and temperatures were expected to rise high in the seventies.

Martha and Jonathan Kent had very quickly started to make friends in Metropolis and were seldom alone, though Clark expected that their busy schedule would gradually lessen as soon as his parents had established their own daily routine. He and Lois had an open invitation to join the older Kents for dinner whenever they wished. But Martha and Jonathan knew that Lois and Clark also needed time to be together and their son was grateful that his parents respected their need for privacy.

Lois and Clark had planned a cosy, intimate dinner for two to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary on the 6th of October, but had ended up having dinner with their respective parents instead. As it turned out they'd truly enjoyed themselves. The elder Kents' cheerful behavior was rubbing off on Ellen and Sam Lane and they'd all enjoyed lively discussions about Sam's and Dr. Klein's research of Clark's spaceship and Martha's promising pie-baking business.

Today, Martha was holding a 'tasting session'. She'd been experimenting with new recipes and wanted to try these out on family and friends before offering them for sale at 'The Java Club'. The manager of the lunchroom was very pleased with the favorable response his staff received and the increased number of people who came in to sample Martha Kent's delicious homemade pies. Especially the raisin and cinnamon apple pie was a big hit with the seniors living at 'Shady Pines'.

Encouraged by Ellen Lane, Martha was already considering branching out. She felt confident that she could supply at least one other coffee shop with the same number of pies she baked for 'The Java Club'. Martha and Ellen were busy making plans to check out the quality of pies and cakes at various lunch rooms and Bertha Avery had happily volunteered to go along on these 'tasting sessions'.

Ellen had asked Lois to make a checklist for them and Lois, ever the perfectionist, had come up with a neat questionnaire printed on colored cards: yellow for Ellen, blue for Martha and pink for Bertha. Clark had rolled his eyes when he'd seen the cards and tried to persuade his mother not to overdo things so soon while Jonathan, busy with reshaping their joint patios and gardens, wisely refrained from commenting on his wife's activities.

Clark glanced around to see where Lois had disappeared to and saw her standing with Bertha in the living room area, talking to his mom. Martha Kent stood behind the row of low kitchen cabinets that separated the living room and the kitchen space and was pointing out cakes and pies to Lois and the other female guests. Alice White and Ellen Lane were busy making coffee and tea while Megan Carrington came out of the kitchen area carrying a tray with cheerfully colored glasses.

"For the kids — homemade lemonade. Want some?" she asked when she saw Clark's face. He laughed. "No, it's okay, Megan, I'll wait for the coffee. Nice to see your brother-in-law here too with his daughters. Where's your sister? Is she here, too?

"No, she was glad she could have a few hours for herself. The babies are due any minute now, you know, and it's not easy for her. The girls are rather demanding so Roy's spending more time with them away from the house on the weekends. Besides, Eileen's been on a very strict diet these last few months and all these yummy pies would just drive her crazy. Roy's not going to stay long — he just brought the girls and I'm going to take them home later. Hey! Watch it, Amber! You almost made me spill this lemonade!" Megan scowled at her thin, redheaded and freckle-faced niece who'd come running towards her.

"But you're taking so long, Megan!" seven-year-old Amber Vaughan jumped up and down impatiently, "I'm thirsty!"

"Yeah, me too!" her nine-year-old sister Robin made a choking sound, dramatically rolling her eyes, acting as if she was dying from thirst.

"Okay, okay, hold your horses! Sorry Clark, duty calls." Megan grinned at Clark and started walking towards the porch with the lemonade. "Amber! Don't run around like that, you'll knock down something or someone if you don't watch it!"

Clark grinned at Roy Vaughan, who walked up to him saying apologetically, "Sorry Clark, my girls are a handful. Your mother told me it's all right to leave them here. But I don't know, it's kind of busy in here and they're —"

"— great kids!" Clark said firmly, "We're happy to have them. Megan told me she's taking them home so go on, go and enjoy a quiet day with your wife. You won't have a moment's peace after the twins are born."

Roy laughed, "I can't wait! We've always wanted a big family and after Amber turned five we thought, this is it, apparently it's not meant to be. And then, when we least expected it, Eileen got pregnant again."

"I know what you mean. Lois and I had given up hope of ever having a child of our own. Don't tell her I said so but I'm envious. I wish we were expecting twins."

Clark opened the door and Roy stepped outside. "Bye Clark. Next time we see each other again I'll be the daddy of four!"

"Lucky you — say hello for us to Eileen."

"Will do. And good luck to you with that noisy bunch in there."

Clark laughed. "I'm getting quite used to it. Since my parents moved into the house our quiet home life has been fairly turned upside down. I was worried how Lois might take it but so far she's taken it all in her stride."

"Your parents are the best, Clark," Roy said warmly, "My girls are nuts about them. They don't have any grandparents, you know, and that's something kids also need in their life, I guess."

"They're great with kids — and with grown ups," Clark grinned, "These days Lois and I have to make an appointment when we want to see them!"

Clark had just closed the front door behind Roy Vaughan's back and stepped into the living room when the doorbell rang again. He peeked through the door with his special vision and his face lit up when he saw the couple standing on the other side of the door.

Clark threw open the door and was immediately cautioned by the woman to keep silent. She held two fingers against her lips and urgently beckoned Clark to step outside. He grinned widely and nodded, grasping the man's hand in a welcoming grasp before hugging the woman and kissing her soundly on the cheeks.

Clark cautiously peered into the kitchen area where some of the women were still busy preparing the coffee table and saw Lois deep in conversation with Alice White. He motioned to the couple to follow him to where Lois was standing. He walked up to her and gently touched her shoulder.

"Honey, look who —"


Clark winced as Lois let out a piercing yell. She pushed him aside and rushed at the broadly grinning couple.



The two sisters fell into each others' arms, laughing and crying at the same time, while their mother looked on, a big smile on her face.

Martha grinned at Ellen. "Looks like your anniversary present for Lois is a big success, Ellen!"

"I knew it would be! I'm just sorry Lucy couldn't make it earlier. It would've been nice if she'd been able to join us on their wedding anniversary, but — hello, Lucas, thanks for bringing Lucy home. Where's Sam? Sam! Someone go tell him — oh, there you are!"

Ellen's voice was immediately drowned out by Sam Lane's joyful exclamations and the comments of other guests who came to see why Lois had been shrieking like a banshee.

"Great shades of Elvis! Clark, your wife almost gave me a heart attack! I thought she'd gone into labor already." Perry White took one look at the happy congregation in the living room and again fled into the garden, shooing the four children in front of him. "C'mon kids — looks like we'll be waitin' a long time before those pies fly into our mouths. Anyone game for pizza?"


"No way Jose! No pizza today!" Martha, who'd followed Perry and the children onto the patio, playfully punched Perry's shoulder. She grinned at Megan who was sitting on a corner of Jimmy's lounger. "Megan, could you give us a hand, please? Kids, take your seats — pies coming up right now!"


"Hahahah!" Perry roared with laughter, "knew this would do the trick! Sorry kids, seems like pizza's out. Got your pencils and cards ready? We've got some serious tasting and grading to do!"


"Auntie Lois?"

"Yes, sweetie?"

Lois smiled down at the upturned face of Simon Keyes. The little boy extended his arms and Lois automatically lifted him up onto her lap. She was sitting in Jonathan's comfortable armchair, her feet resting on a stool that had been placed there by a solicitous Lucy.

Lois didn't need to be fussed over, but Lucy didn't know that. To her sister, Lois looked enormous. After they'd finished hugging and kissing each other, Lucy's first words had been, "Sis, you look so… big!!"

Now, a concerned Lucy watched the little boy wriggle into a comfortable position on Lois's lap. Simon wrapped his small arms around Lois's belly and laid his cheek against her navel; he sighed contentedly, closed his eyes and was instantly out like a lamp, leaving Lucy to stare open-mouthed at her sister.

"Relax, Luce, this isn't going to hurt me — or your little niece in there," Lois grinned, "His mommy's just had a baby and he was probably used to sitting on her lap like this."

"All this lemonade and pie's worn him out," Ellen Lane commented and Bertha Avery nodded, saying regretfully, "I know how that feels… I'm rather tired myself. Time to go… could someone call a cab for me? I'd hate to tear one of you away from all this just to drive me home."

"Nonsense, Bertha!" Martha said briskly, "Clark picked you up and he'll be happy to take you home."

"I'll take Bertha home," Alice White interrupted Martha, "It's high time I left too. C'mon, Bertha, let's go say our goodbyes."

"I'd better go wrap up some pie for Bertha to take home to Julia," Martha hurried into the kitchen, "And some for Roy and Eileen Vaughan, too."

Within an hour Perry, Jimmy, Megan and her nieces had also left in a flurry of goodbyes, leaving the older Lanes and Kents alone with their children and the two little boys.

Lois glanced towards the porch where Jonathan, Clark and Lucas Jennings — Lucy's 'live in boyfriend' as Ellen Lane frequently called him — were seated and talking animatedly. Eric Keyes was watching Martha busily wrapping up pieces of pie for the boys to take home, his little brother still fast asleep on Lois's lap.

Lois swung down her feet and stood up, effortlessly lifting Simon up in her arms. 'Luce, wanna come with me to drop these two little tykes off? No need to bother the men for that. It will give you a chance to drive the Jeep."

Lucy grinned, "How can a girl resist such an offer! Okay by me, Sis, but hand over that child first — geez! He's heavy! Mother? How come you don't say anything to Lois about this? You know she shouldn't lift heavy things!"

"He's not that heavy, Lucy, you're just not used to carrying children," Lois interrupted before Ellen could respond; they'd have to be careful around Lucy — her sister didn't know anything about Lois's super- pregnancy.

"It's all right, Simon, Auntie Lois is right here! No need to cry, little man, you're going home now, to Mommy and Daddy, okay?"

In a few minutes Lois and Lucy were on their way, the two tired and sleepy-eyed little boys curled against each other on the back seat. Clark and Lucas had offered to make the trip but Lois had been adamant. She needed some fresh air and the ride back home would give her and Lucy some time alone together.

While Lucy followed her directions Lois told her sister about Clark's and Gareth's instant friendship — how Gareth had helped to relocate the wife and child of a hired killer to Australia, where they'd been readily accepted by his mother's family. After years of constantly being on the move Sandy DeAngelo was now finally settling down and building a safe home for herself and her daughter in a country Joey Bermuda hopefully would never think of looking for them.

When Clark Kent had met her in Radisson City, Cheryl Marie DeAngelo had been a thin, nervous child. To explain their constant moving and change of names her mother had told her that her father had been killed by gangsters and that those bad people were also looking for them.

Gareth's mother kept her son informed about Sandy's situation and Gareth had been pleased to be able to report that little Cheryl Marie had taken to the outback like a fish to the water. Within a few weeks she'd blossomed into a noisy pre-teen, his mother had laughingly told him over the phone, eagerly participating in all the chores and activities going on in the little community they lived in.

Lois also told Lucy about baby Charlotte, who'd just come home after a three-month stay in the hospital. Gareth Keyes had dropped the boys off at the Kents' this morning, leaving his wife Glenda some precious time to bond with her baby daughter without the two demanding little boys around. Gareth had then left to spend the day with his father, who'd just recently had to cope with a crisis of his own.

"A few weeks ago his butler vanished, Lucy. As if in thin air! I met him when I went with Clark and Gareth to meet his father. He'd told Gareth he'd love to meet us, so we went to one of those big, social gatherings of Gordon's. He loves throwing parties. Anyway, this butler, John Kincaid, worked for Gordon Keyes for more than twenty years. Gareth was very upset too; he was attached to the man, knew him from when he came to visit his father on vacations and such. Clark's been looking for him, together with Bill Henderson. But so far he hasn't been found."

"Maybe he was murdered, Lois."

"Well, his body hasn't turned up yet. It's a very strange case, Lucy. And with baby Charlotte's christening coming up… Gordon wanted to throw a big party at his mansion, as a gift for his son and his family and now it's not sure if the party will be held at all. Anyway, that's why Gareth went to see his father today, to talk about that. He asked us to bring the boys to their grandfather's house and that's where we're going now. Incidentally, he's just got another butler — a temporary one; Gordon's still hoping that John Kincaid will miraculously reappear — safe and sound."

"Hmmm… not going to happen, Lois. Maybe he's had an accident. I mean, who'd want to murder or kidnap a butler — they don't have money, now do they? Oh! I know! It was a crime of passion!" Lucy laughed gleefully.

"Lucy! You wouldn't say that if you'd met Kincaid. He lived like a monk."

Lucy snorted. "Is that what Gareth and his father think? Trust me, Lois, no man lives like a monk. Are you sure there isn't a maid missing also?"

"Luce, you're hopeless!" But Lois had to grin in spite of herself. "No maid's gone missing; Bill Henderson's already investigated that angle. Okay, Luce, see that light coming up? Make a left turn there… Now, where was I — oh yes, the butler thing… anyway, Gordon's got a replacement. A real gentleman's gentleman — he comes from London."

"I guess we'll see him then? I've never met a butler before; should be interesting."

"His name is Bertram."

From the back seat a child's voice reached their ears. Lois and Lucy glanced at each other in consternation then Lucy whispered under her breath, "Little ears, Lois, little ears!"

"Oh geez — Luce! What did we say — we didn't say anything too disturbing, now did we?" Lois turned around to look at Eric, who stared solemnly back at her. "That's right, Eric," she said brightly, "His name's Bertram and I'm sure he's a very nice man."

"He talks funny," Eric elaborated.

"That's because he's from England. That's a big island, far from here. D'you know where it is, Eric?"

"Lois, I've passed the light… now where do I go from here? Omigosh! Look at these houses — I mean, mansions!"

Lois peered outside. "We're almost there… That's it, Lucy, it's this driveway."

"Grampa lives here," Eric said helpfully.

Lois turned to grin at him. "That's right, Eric — and your daddy's here too. Okay, Lucy, you stay in the car. I'll deliver the boys and then we can —"

"Hah!" Lucy snorted, "No way, Sis! I've never been in a mansion before and I've never met a butler before; I'm coming with you!"


Chapter Twenty

Needles… it felt as if a thousand vicious little needles were suddenly, all at the same time, being stuck into her breast. Lois gasped, abruptly standing still, causing Lucy to collide against her back while the two little boys ran past the butler, calling out joyfully for their father and grandfather.

"Sis! What's the matter?" Lucy dropped the plastic container with Martha's wrapped up pieces of pie on the marble floor of the monumental hall and caught her sister around her middle.

Lois staggered, shaking her head as if she'd just received a blow. Through a red haze she saw the butler's concerned face as he rushed to her other side to help Lucy hold her up.

The needles abruptly moved, now assaulting her left arm. Lois cried out, shaking her arm free from the butler's solicitous grasp, staggering towards Gareth Keyes who was just stepping into the hall. He was holding Simon in the crook of his left arm while Eric was clinging to his other hand.

Gareth's welcoming smile disappeared and he hastily put Simon down, rushing forward. "Bates! A glass of water for Mrs. Kent, and fast!"

The butler hurried away, almost knocking down Simon, who promptly began to wail.

"Not now, Simon! Eric, take your brother into the library and tell grandpa that Aunt Lois is sick."

Eric began tugging at his reluctant and now screaming little brother while Lucy and Gareth gently lowered Lois on one of the ornamental chairs near the wide staircase.

But Lois miraculously and instantly felt better as soon as the butler had disappeared. She took a deep breath and looked up into two concerned faces. "Phew! For a minute there I thought I was going to faint… I feel better now."

Lois started to get up but Lucy held her down. "No, don't get up yet, Lois, wait — here comes the butler — thank you, Sir."

Lucy, unconsciously shielding her sister by standing between Lois and the butler, took the glass of water from Bates and thrust it towards Lois, who accepted it with a hand that shook slightly. She took another deep, calming breath and obediently started to sip the water.

A voice called out, "What's going on here? Gareth, why's the boy crying like that? Mrs. Kent! My God! What happened?"

Lucy turned around to see Gordon Keyes hastily entering the hallway, while a housekeeper tried to prevent his two grandsons from following. She took one look at the little group near the stairs and determinedly scooped up Simon and grabbed Eric by the hand. "Come on, boys, let's leave the grownups alone. Come and say hello to the little kittens."

Lucy stepped aside to tell Gareth and his father what had just happened and the butler bent over Lois to take the empty glass from her suddenly nerveless fingers. The needles were back with a vengeance, assaulting her face, causing Lois to cry out in agony as vicious little green sparks stuck at her eyes.

Panicking, Lois jumped up, again crying out as the needles shifted downwards, over her face to her breast. Alarmed, a frightened Lucy knocked Bates out of the way, grabbing at her sister.

"Take me home, Lucy!" Lois gasped, "Take me home, now!"

Green… green little sparks… needles… hurt… green little sparks…

With a gasp, Lois shot upright in bed, clasping her hands against her rapidly beating heart, looking wildly around her. She sighed raggedly as her brain registered the familiar surroundings and her eyes came to rest on the comforting bulk of her husband, fast asleep beside her. His even breathing had a calming effect and Lois sighed in relief as she glanced at the alarm clock.

1:30 am!

She'd been asleep and dreaming, reliving her traumatic experiences earlier at Gordon Keyes's mansion. Only, it wasn't a dream — it had been real, very real!

Green little sparks… suddenly Lois could clearly remember seeing a little green ornament, pinned to the butler's tie, flashing before her eyes.

Kryptonite — she was sure of it — it had to be Kryptonite!

Careful not to disturb Clark, Lois crept out of bed and floated towards the door and down the stairs into the kitchen. While busy preparing a cup of hot cocoa, she tried reconstructing the happenings of the previous afternoon.

She remembered calling out to Lucy to take her home; had vehemently protested when a stricken Gareth had suggested calling an ambulance. He'd insisted taking her home himself and she'd relented.

Lucy had driven the Jeep and by breaking all the speed limits had reached Hyperion Avenue even before Gareth had; fortunately there had been no police car pursuing Lucy when she came to a screeching halt and stormed up the stairs leading to the Kents' townhouse, yelling for her father.

By the time Lois had arrived the effects of the Kryptonite had disappeared; her heartbeat and pulse rate were normal again and her color had returned. She had tried to explain how and what she'd felt and she'd gone willingly with her parents and Clark to her own house next door, leaving Martha and Jonathan to help Lucas Jennings to deal with a distraught Lucy.

Poor Lucy, Lois thought while she poured hot milk on the cocoa powder in her mug; her first day in Metropolis in more than two years and she had to see her pregnant sister collapse before her eyes.

Lois had protested when Lucy and Lucas had told them they could only stay one day. Now, sitting in the dark kitchen, sipping her hot cocoa, Lois was relieved that Lucy and Lucas were leaving so soon.

Perry had kindly let her have the day off so she could have more time with her sister, but right now, Lois didn't know how in the world she would manage to act normal, as if everything was okay, until she and Clark would see the couple off at the airport for their 6:00 pm flight.

Physically, at least, she did feel okay. Fortunately, the Kryptonite tie-pin hadn't been pointed at her belly so the baby hadn't been disturbed. She'd been sleeping peacefully when Clark had scanned her, just to make sure.

Lois sighed and put down the now empty mug. So this was what getting exposed to Kryptonite felt like. Although Clark had never talked about feeling needles being stuck into his body; she supposed it felt different because she was, after all, human.

Her heart heavy, Lois forced herself to think clearly. Before she talked to Clark about this, she wanted to be very sure that the theory that was roughly taking shape in her mind was correct.

Poor Clark — he would be so devastated when he'd learn that befriending Gareth Keyes had also put the man and his family in grave danger. Would this mean the end of that friendship? What had Martha said? 'Boys need boys to play with, Lois.'

Lois knew she wouldn't blame Gareth if he severed all ties with the Kents once he knew the truth — that any association with Lois Lane and Clark Kent meant putting yourself and your loved ones at risk. Gareth had a wife and three young children to think of and protect and by now Lois was convinced that Gareth's father was harboring a ruthless killer. She was pretty sure that this new butler had cunningly taken the place of the loyal John Kincaid who, in all probability, had been murdered.

From the day they'd met, Clark and Gareth had hit it off famously. Clark had been reluctant to pursue a potential friendship but she, Lois, had encouraged him to when she'd seen how much both men enjoyed each other's company. She was certain that if Clark lost this friend he would never again let another person into their lives.

And what would that mean for Katharine? Would she have to grow up, a lonely little girl, only surrounded by adults? No little friends to take home to play with or have sleepovers with? Lois moaned softly as hot tears spilled from her eyes. Angrily, she wiped the moisture from her cheeks; she had no time to wallow.

Lois stood up and retrieved her laptop from the living room, together with a bulky file marked 'M.C.'. She placed the laptop on the breakfast table in the kitchen, booted up the PC and opened the file. Soon she was engrossed in reading and processing the information she was looking for.

The screen of the computer didn't provide too much light but Lois decided to work in the dark. She didn't want to disturb Clark — he needed his sleep. She suspected they both would have many sleepless nights in the days to come.


At the top of the stairs Clark hesitated for a moment; Lois clearly wanted to do whatever she was doing, alone. He'd waited almost an hour before he'd decided to come down and see what was keeping her in the kitchen so long. Should he return to bed and pretend he didn't know she'd crept downstairs to do — what? He suspected it had something to do with the mysterious needle attacks she'd been talking about. But why keep it from him? No, he didn't want to put on an act — if something was wrong he wanted to know what that was.

Clark took a deep breath and floated down the stairs. He didn't want to frighten Lois so he softly called out her name as he neared the kitchen. Lois looked up into Clark's troubled face as he stood in the doorway, looking at her with anxious eyes. Lois smiled bravely and pointed at the chair beside her.

"Can I put on the light first, honey? It's a bit dark in here." Clark touched the switch near the door and Lois blinked for a moment against the light.

"What? Oh — sure. I didn't want to wake you up when I came down here so…"

Clark sat down beside her and stared at the computer screen. "What's this — the Mindy Church file? Honey, can't this wait? You need your sleep — you had a very tiring day and there's Lucy, tomorrow — I mean — later today."

"I know — that's why I have to do this now — I mean, 'we' have to do this now — but first…" Lois took Clark's face between her hands. She tenderly kissed his lips and looped her arms around his neck. "But first… I want to hold you and tell you how much I love you…"

Clark hugged her close. "I love you too, honey, so very, very much…"

Their lips met and for a long moment the only sounds in the kitchen were the humming of the laptop and Lois's soft moan as she lost herself in Clark's tender kiss. But when he deepened the kiss and his caresses became more intimate she gently disentangled herself, smiling regretfully into his questioning eyes. She knew they had to keep their heads clear to be able to deal with whatever lay ahead; people's lives were at stake and they couldn't afford to lose more time. They had a killer to catch.


At the same time, in the spacious kitchen of the gracious mansion annex office space where publisher Gordon Keyes lived with a few permanent staff members, Bertram Bates sat at the kitchen table. He'd just prepared a huge omelet with bacon and cheese and taken six slices of rye bread out of the bread bin.

Appreciatively he sniffed the appetizing fragrance of freshly brewed coffee that had also alerted the housekeeper. He'd shooed her away, promising to clean up after he was done, and had then sat down to enjoy his meal. Whenever he was faced with problems and a sleepless night he'd get up and prepare a meal; he found that this ritual helped him to get things into perspective and right now he needed to think — and think hard.

Bates was not only wide-awake but also furious. Why hadn't he been told that Lois Lane was pregnant? That blundering idiot Costanza! He should've informed the boss lady something as important as this. Bertram was sure this fact had not been published in 'The Daily Planet', the newspaper they received and read daily on the island estate. He was sure Madame Lachapelle didn't know; otherwise she'd have told him.

Killing a woman, even one as beautiful as Lois Lane, was regrettable but not something Bates would lose any sleep over. But killing children was another matter entirely — and that, to Bates, included unborn babies. That was something he was not prepared to do. Tomorrow, he decided, he'd call the boss lady and tell her he'd take care of Clark Kent and Superman as soon as possible; but if she wanted Lois Lane eliminated before she had given birth, then Alan Cornell would have to do it.

While Bates chewed and swallowed he thought about Cornell. He, Bates, didn't value human life that much, but when he had to do away with someone, he preferred to do it swiftly — and cleanly. Cornell — now, he was something else!

Cornell was the kind of man who didn't hesitate to dump a victim, still alive and kicking, in a Louisiana swamp infested by alligators. Even someone like Beddington, whom they'd known personally.

That's why the boss lady preferred Cornell to do away with the people who worked for her and didn't deliver the goods as expected. She'd once told Bates that Cornell was the kind of man who would murder his own mother if someone paid him well enough.

Bates shuddered. On second thought, he'd better not tell the boss lady he wasn't prepared to kill Lois Lane — yet. She might get miffed and send Cornell to take care of it — and of him! The best thing to do was to go after Clark Kent and Superman first — and take things slowly. Then, by the time it would be Lane's turn, her kid would've been born already.

Feeling better now that he'd made a decision, Bates finished his meal and went back to bed.


"Judas Priest, Clark! You'd better have a darn good reason to wake me up at this hour!" Bleary eyed, Perry White hoisted himself up in bed and peered at the illuminated face of his alarm clock. "Son, do you know what time it is? What? Oh… uhuh… uhuh… okay, just give me ten."

But before Perry even had time to finish getting dressed a 'whoosh' alerted him to the arrival of Superman. Over the phone Clark had told him he'd pick him up — no need to call a cab.

How long had it been since he'd flown with Superman? It had been years ago, but Perry still recalled all the details as if it had happened yesterday. He'd forgotten the date but not the facts. A bomb had been placed under his office chair and only after he'd sat down on it had he known that it would explode if he got up.

Superman had taken one look at the timer and seen that there was no time to deactivate the bomb. He'd picked up the chair, with Perry still sitting on it, and had flown out the window. Superman had then chucked Perry out of the chair and thrown it high up in the sky where it had exploded; he'd then zipped down again to catch Perry before he'd hit the concrete.

'Hope he doesn't do something like that again,' Perry thought ruefully, recalling how playful Superman sometimes had been in the early days. These days the super hero appeared on the scene whenever he was needed but he didn't linger longer than was necessary to talk to the press or the authorities.

Well, Superman was a married man now and Perry supposed that having a real family to come home to made all the difference; besides, Lois had told him that all those past brushes with death had also made Superman wary of staying too long among crowds.

"You never know when another nut will be there, pointing some green or red Kryptonite at him, Perry. As long as that stuff's out there, Clark will have to be very careful."

Superman's mere presence at disaster scenes still generated crowds; not only in Metropolis, but everywhere in the world where he made an appearance. And right now, Superman was hovering outside Perry's bedroom window, ready to take him to an urgent meeting with Lois and Clark at this unholy hour.

Perry hastily buttoned down his shirt, drew a pullover over his head and went to open the window.


"Are you sure, Lois? Are you absolutely sure?"

"Yes, Perry, I am. Look at this list — we've never been able to figure out why Costanza made a list of the richest people in Metropolis. We've considered the 'I'll marry another rich man then kill him' angle and we've also investigated the people who work for them and they all came out clean. We just never considered that a switch would be made. All these people have a live-in butler on their payroll, Perry. I'm convinced Mindy wanted to choose a household where Clark and I are likely to visit regularly and who better to replace than a butler? I just know that man's been planted there, Perry, to kill Clark and me — and Superman too."

"Think about it, Chief," Clark added grimly, "Mindy Church had three enemies here in Metropolis and Joey Bermuda failed to kill them for her. She must've been furious when she read in 'The Daily Planet' that her construction fraud was being investigated and exposed by none other than Lane and Kent. And Superman put out that fire at the marina, remember? Just in time for the police to be able to identify 'Butch' Warner — and find out that he was murdered before the boat was torched."

"Yes, she must've been hopping mad," Perry said slowly, "I guess you're right — I'm not so sure about you two, but she's definitely after Superman. That would account for the Kryptonite in the tie-pin. Darlin', are you sure you don't have any side effects from that?"

"No, I'm fine, really. It was just a little piece of Kryptonite. But I'm sure he must have a big chunk stored away, ready to use on Superman. That's why Clark and I can't go near the man, Perry — if a small sliver like that can make me feel as if I'm being attacked by killer bees I shudder to think what a big rock will do."

"You two should definitely stay out of the way. Clark, sit down — you're making me nervous, walkin' around like that. Okay, kids, this is what I think we should do…"


Gareth Keyes parked his car on Hyperion Avenue, hopped out and hurried towards his friends' townhouse. It was almost 5:00 a.m. When he'd picked up the phone about half an hour ago he'd expected to hear Clark tell him that he wouldn't be able to go running this morning — that Lois was having another mysterious anxiety attack. But it hadn't been Clark on the phone — it had been Lois's voice asking him if he'd please come over as soon as possible.

Careful not to disturb his sleeping wife, Gareth had donned his sweat suit and running shoes. Before leaving the bedroom he hadn't been able to resist walking over to the bassinet at Glenda's side to take a peek at their baby daughter. Charlotte was sleeping as peacefully as her mother and Gareth had smiled lovingly down at his little miracle baby. When they'd finally brought Charlotte home Glenda had insisted keeping the bassinet in their own bedroom; she wasn't prepared yet to leave the baby alone in the nursery, even if it was only across the hall.

As he now hurried up the steps leading to the entrance of the Kents' townhouse, Gareth thought about the ordeal he and Glenda had been through and how thankful they had been when they'd finally been able to take their baby home with them. He hoped that Lois and Clark wouldn't have to go through that kind of agony. But Lois seemed to be all right again; her voice had been clear and calm when she'd called. Maybe now they would tell him what kind of attack Lois had suffered at his father's house.


"No, Bill, you can't wait!" Lois protested, "You've got to arrest him now!"

"Lois is right, Bill!" Clark jumped up and started pacing around the kitchen again.

"My father might be in danger!" Gareth stared at Bill Henderson in consternation. "That killer is living in his house! Inspector, you've got to —"

"Give the man a chance to explain," Perry said calmly, "Clark, sit down — it's time for a recap anyway and I'll do it. Let's see…" He pointed at Gareth and continued, "Lois went with her sister to your father's house to drop off your boys, right? First thing she sees when the butler opens the door is his tie-pin. Instead of staying calm she gives a rather over the top performance of having some kind of seizure. Not your finest moment, darlin', but we'll let it pass this time; you bein' pregnant and all."

"I'm sorry — I didn't think," Lois said in a small voice. She didn't like the explanation Perry had come up with earlier but what else could they've told Gareth and Bill?

Lois looked at the men with woeful eyes. "I just panicked when I saw that Kryptonite…"

" And it says a lot for your credibility that we're willing to believe you, darlin'. If you say it's Kryptonite and Clark and Superman take your word for it, we do too. Right, fellers?"

"Right," Gareth echoed; at first he'd been furious — why hadn't Lois told him that she had just been putting on an act? She could have told him when he was taking her home! Oh? She had wanted to talk to Clark first — and to Superman?! Big deal! She'd scared the hell out of him and his father, not to mention her sister and his two little boys. And why had they waited so long to call him, anyway? If Lois was right, then a killer was living under his father's roof!

Lois, not often used to playing the penitent party, had clung to Clark and hidden her face against his chest, biting her tongue whenever she'd felt the need to protest against Gareth's reproachful allegations. She knew they couldn't tell him the truth — and even though she knew where he was coming from, hearing Gareth call her irresponsible had still hurt — a lot. Clark had rocked her and held her tightly, whispering remorsefully how very sorry he was.

Gareth had raved and ranted for a while but, having had to deal with a sometimes irrational and highly emotional pregnant wife himself, he'd finally calmed down. Perry's presence had greatly helped too and he had been able to persuade Gareth not to storm away to go rescue his father on his own but to wait for Bill Henderson. When Bill had arrived Gareth had still been tense and upset but had calmed down enough to think and talk rationally again.

The Inspector, looking his usual phlegmatic self, was leaning against the counter with his hands in his pockets. Only the excited glint in his eyes betrayed his elation — could this really be the break they'd all been looking and hoping for? Would they finally be able to catch the 'Black Widow' before she completely got out of control? Now all he needed was to persuade these four, headstrong people to go about it his way.

After he'd been briefed by Perry White, Bill had taken one look at Lois's tearstained face and declined calling her the moron he thought she had been by not calling him sooner. He hoped it wasn't because she had been contemplating to go after Bates herself. If that was the case he suspected it had taken Clark hours to talk some sense into his wife and persuade her to call in the cavalry instead.

He'd have to talk to Kent about that — on second thought, he'd better not. Lane would always be headstrong and, on occasion, harebrained and reckless; but he admired her courage and had learnt to rely on her unfailing instincts. If Lois Lane declared that the butler's tie-pin contained Kryptonite then he, Bill Henderson, readily believed her. He nodded curtly when Perry White looked to him for confirmation.

"That's settled then," Perry continued, "Lois, you told us you discussed this with Clark first and then with Superman. Clark called me and Superman picked me up, then left to do… well, whatever he's doing right now — who knows. Anyway, Superman promised to stay away from Bates and told us he'd rely on us to take care of the man and the Kryptonite. And that's what we're going to do and we need to do it calmly and rationally."

Perry looked pointedly at Gareth. "And that goes for you too, young man — you especially. Think you can forget for a moment that your father's involved and act as the professional reporter that you are? Good — now, let's listen to what Bill has to say and I don't want any interruptions from the three of you. Time is essential here and we've got to come up with a strategy before people see us troopin' out of here and get suspicious."

"Superman scanned the whole area, Perry," Lois said, "He said our house is not being watched from the other houses around here."

"Still, it's best not to alert people to this meeting. Bill… you were saying?"

"Thanks, Perry, I'll try to make it brief. Lois, Clark — you two stay out of the way. Don't go near Bates. This time, Lois was surrounded by other people and she made such a racket he didn't get a chance to kidnap her; that's what he's probably done with your father's butler, Gareth."

Bill picked up his notepad from the counter where he'd laid it and glanced at the notes he'd jotted down earlier.

"Okay — here's what I think. Gordon Keyes was targeted because one of Mindy Church's spies — probably Mike Costanza — informed her that Lane and Kent were friends with the Keyes family. On top of that, people have seen Superman flying around with the two little boys at their grandfather's estate; right?"

"Judas Priest! And who better to replace than a butler, if you want to get close to such a family! I'm sorry, Keyes — I think you'd better be prepared for the worst. I don't think we'll find your father's butler alive."

Now it was Perry's turn to get agitated. He knew Bill would be able to arrest the unsuspecting Bates, but the bogus butler was a henchman and thus expendable. Mindy Church would just lay low for a while and then hatch out another one of her sick schemes. Perry doubted that Lois and Clark would stay lucky and not get hurt. Their luck would surely run out one day and he couldn't bear to see that happen.

"Bill, we can't bungle this — we've gotta catch that man but most importantly, Mindy Church too! How in the world are you going to do that? That's not gonna happen if she stays put on that darned island!"

"Well, Perry, these days she's been spotted frequently in Miami and I've found out where she's staying when she's in town. She's got a condo at Miami Beach — used to be her late husband's. I have a friend — Phil Madden — who works for the Miami Vice Squad; he's been helping me with this investigation. He told me they were already keeping an eye on her pilot. His name's Alan Cornell and they suspect he's smuggling drugs into Florida. Phil thinks this Cornell is either doing that for Mrs. Lachapelle or he's moonlighting. Phil's welcome to him — it's Mindy Church I'm after."

"Bill, you're sure this Phil Madden can be trusted?"

"I'd stake my reputation and even my job on his integrity, Clark. He was my partner on the streets for more than ten years before he moved on and became a member of the 'think tank' at narcotics in Miami. Don't worry, Phil knows how to conduct an investigation in secret. He's also found out why Mindy's been flying in and out of Miami so often these days. Lachapelle's sons won't accept that their father died a natural dead."

"Poor man — I hope his sons will be able to prove that he was murdered."

"Well, Lois, the official explanation is that he drowned during a boating accident — and it was none other than Alan Cornell whose motorboat collided with Lachapelle's small sailing boat. Cornell testified that he hadn't been able to save the man. But Lachapelle's sons didn't buy that and immediately started a lawsuit against their father's widow. They hired some big shot lawyers and even some detectives to try and prove that their father had been murdered. The case has been dragging for years but now it looks like Mindy's grown tired of the whole thing and is now getting rid of some of her lawyers and interviewing others to take their place."

"Bill, it doesn't sound like the Lachapelles will be able to pin their father's murder on Mindy: maybe on Alan Cornell, but not on her! And you can't arrest her in Miami anyway — you'd have to do it here. How in the world will we get her to come to Metropolis?"

Clark, frustrated, jumped up from his chair and walked over to the counter. "Bill, move over — I'm going to make us some breakfast. I have to do something, otherwise I'll go mad!"

"That's a great idea, son, I'm beginning to feel quite hungry myself. And some fresh coffee wouldn't hurt either. Lois?"

"Right, Chief — fresh coffee coming up." Lois joined Clark at the counter while Henderson walked over to where the other two men were seated and straddled the chair Lois had just vacated.

"Okay — this is what we'll do. Gareth, call your father and get him over at your house without making him or the butler suspicious. Tell your father and your wife what's going on and keep them, and your children, at home until I tell you it's safe to come out. Think you can do that? Good. Perry, you go about your business as usual at the Planet. Lois and Clark will stay here — her sister is coming over to have lunch here… that will give me time to arrange the paperwork and go arrest Bates and Costanza simultaneously. Costanza's been lying low these last couple of weeks, so I was planning to get detective Jenny Hudson out of there anyway. Last time I talked to her she told me she was bored stiff."

"Okay, Bill — you arrest Costanza and Bates — then what?"

"That's the tricky part, Lois. We'll have to come up with a rock solid reason — something that will get Mindy Church over here a.s.a.p. Maybe telling her that Bates has already managed to kill you and Clark and Superman — all in one big swoop. Don't you think she'll want to see that for herself ?"

"Hmm," Perry looked thoughtful. "A trap, eh? Mindy might just be distrustful enough of her hired hands to want to check things out herself. She could fly in at that small airstrip near the marina and nobody would be the wiser… the marina… the marina! Bill! I bet that pilot of hers flew in that night 'Butch' Warner was killed on that boat! Judas Priest, he must've done it — and maybe even watched us and Superman clean up the mess afterwards!"

"If that's true, then why would Mindy risk coming over herself? She'll just send her pilot to check if Bates has really done the job!" Clark began setting the table, slapping the plates down much harder than was necessary.

"Son, breaking those dishes won't help none," Perry tried to calm him down, "And don't you dare drop those pancakes — I'm not that hungry that I'm prepared to eat 'em off your floor."

"Sorry, Chief, it's just so frustrating! We're running around in circles here. I wish Superman could go pick her up and fly her over here… but she's likely to have more Kryptonite so that's not an option."

"And it wouldn't hold up in court," Bill said drily, "Even Superman isn't allowed to make a citizen's arrest in another country, Clark."

"Vanity," Lois said suddenly. Excited, she unceremoniously dumped the coffeepot on the table and turned to face the men.

"Vanity? What do you mean?" Perry was already enjoying his pancakes.

"Perry, murderers aren't only ruthless, most of them are very vain, too! Clark and I have sometimes been captured by criminals who just couldn't resist telling us, in detail, what they had already done and what they were planning to do to us! Instead of doing the job, they lose precious time because they want to flaunt how clever they are in front of their victims. We have to come up with something that Mindy Church will not be able to resist — and I think I know what will do the trick!"


Chapter Twenty One

Clark Kent looked down at his sleeping wife with tenderness and concern in his eyes. It had been almost 8:00 a.m. when the men had left and Lois had finally given in to exhaustion. He'd carried her upstairs and even before he'd reached the bedroom Lois had been fast asleep. Clark didn't want to wake her up, but Lucy and Lucas were coming over soon and he knew Lois would want to mentally prepare herself for another third degree. They hadn't had a chance to discuss what they were going to tell the couple and Clark wanted Lois to be fully awake and lucid when Lucy arrived.

After he'd tucked Lois in Clark had taken a quick shower and returned to the kitchen to clean up. He'd called Sam Lane first and then his parents to fill them in about their early morning meeting with the three men. Martha and Jonathan had been appalled to learn that Lois had been exposed to Kryptonite; they'd agreed with Clark that the best thing for Lois to do was not to tell her sister about the Kryptonite.

"Clark, unless you let Lucy in on the secret, Lois can't tell her it was all an act," Martha had stated, "She had to lie to Gareth and Bill Henderson, but in Lucy's case, all Lois has to do is tell the truth — she honestly didn't know what was happening to her at that house."

"That's right, son," Jonathan had added, his concern for Lois and the baby clearly audible in his voice, "She doesn't have to tell them that she's solved the puzzle in the middle of the night."

"Yes, you did solve it," Clark whispered admiringly as he gently cupped Lois's shoulder, "Honey, time to get up… Lucy and Lucas will be here soon."

Lois stirred as she was slowly being coaxed out of the deep and dreamless sleep by tenderly whispered endearments. She blinked a few times, then smiled sleepily and stretched out her arms invitingly. Clark gathered her up into his arms and cradled her close. He kissed the top of her head and sighed softly, "I'm so sorry, honey, all of this… it's all my fault."

Lois tightened her arms around him; she'd known that Clark would have a hard time dealing with what had happened to her at Gordon's house; she'd known that he'd also feel guilty and remorseful because they couldn't tell Gareth and Bill the truth and that, as a result, she had been on the receiving end of Gareth's anger and Bill's incomprehension.

"Don't be sorry, sweetheart, it's not your fault. Don't worry about it, I can take it. I just hope Gareth will be able to forgive me… in time. We'll talk about it later but first we'll have to deal with Lucy and Lucas. God! This will be the longest afternoon of my life! I'd better go take a shower… how much time do I have?"

"About thirty minutes. I thought I'd zip over to China while you get ready and get us a variety of dishes; eating those should keep us busy for a while."

Clark scooped Lois up in his arms and walked towards the bathroom while she pressed tiny kisses on his cheek and the corner of his smiling lips.

"Mmm — that sounds heavenly," Lois smiled up at her husband as he reluctantly put her down. "Now go, I'm ravenous! This morning Perry single-handedly wolfed down all of your pancakes, remember? Gareth and I were too keyed up to eat and Bill was too excited. D'you know if he's arrested those two guys already? Did he call yet?"

"No — he said it would take a while; he wants to do this completely by the book. He doesn't want some sleazy lawyer getting them off on a technicality."

"No, that would be bad. Clark, this is so exciting — we're about to catch those criminals and Mindy, too!"

"If she takes the bait, honey, I'm not so sure —"

"She will, trust me. Now, stop ogling me and go already!"

"I'm going, I'm going! Geez!"

Clark grinned, relieved to see Lois looking so healthy and energetic again after just a few hours of sleep. He'd been so worried — had constantly looked in on her while she slept, afraid that any lingering effects of her exposure to Kryptonite would surface again. To Clark, Lois had never looked more beautiful than at this moment, standing naked before him with raised arms, while she tied up her hair into a ponytail with a wide rubber band.

Clark took one last, lingering look before he reluctantly let Lois shoo him out of the bathroom. He spun into the Suit and before Lois had showered and finished getting dressed he was back. When she came down, Clark had a small plate ready for her with her favorite tidbits to tide her over until they would sit down to enjoy the rest of the sumptuous meal with Lucy and Lucas.


As it turned out Ellen Lane had unconsciously helped to smooth things for Lois by pointing out to Lucy the numerous physical and mental disasters that could befall a pregnant woman — from morning sickness to swollen ankles, from premature birth to post natal depression.

Lucy and Lucas had enjoyed a late dinner with her parents at her mother's apartment and ended up spending the night. After Sam Lane had left, Lucy, Lucas and Ellen had sat for hours talking about the pleasant day at the Kents' and Lois's unfortunate and mysterious 'anxiety attack'. Ellen, who didn't know yet that Lois had been exposed to Kryptonite, contributed her daughter's 'episode' to a sudden realization on Lois's part that her care-free and active professional life was about to end.

"Mother! Do you mean to say it's my fault?" Lucy had wailed, "Do I remind her of what she's about to lose? She told me she'd keep on working!"

"Lucy, don't be ridiculous! This has nothing to do with you. Lois has had 'episodes' on and off since she got pregnant — I'm convinced it's all hormones. She told me that sometimes she feels as if horrible things are about to happen. She even went to see a psychic one day."

"A… psychic?! And you let her? Mother!"

Ellen had rolled her eyes. "Don't be absurd, Lucy, she doesn't need my permission! Anyway, it's a friend of hers, named Star — she's harmless."

"A fraud more likely," Lucy had muttered darkly, "And here I was, thinking Clark would take good care of Lois once they got married."

"He is taking very good care of Lois," Ellen had defended her son-in-law firmly, "He didn't know and he didn't like it when Lois went to see Star. But you know your sister, Lucy, she's headstrong and very impulsive. She's calmed down a lot since her pregnancy, but she still gets herself into scrapes sometimes."

So it was a very solicitous Lucy who came to lunch — fussing over her sister and scolding her for holding back on her. "Sis, you never let on that all's not as well as you made me believe. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Lucy, you live so far away — you'd just worry your head off and what good would that do? Relax — I'm fine. Come and say hello to your niece; she's kicking… now, put your hand over here… feel that?"

Delighted, Lucy promptly forgot her issues and while she 'ooh-ed' and 'aah-ed', Clark grinned at Lucas Jennings. "That's our cue to take off, Lucas! Come and help me set the table. You like Chinese food, right?"

"Yeah — we both do." Lucas, looking a bit dejected, followed Clark into the kitchen. Something in his voice made Clark take a close look at his face.

"Okay, buddy, what's up? I'm sorry that… uh… thing with Lois ruined your visit. What can I say, except that I'm very sorry? Lois didn't mean —"

"I know, I know! Clark, I don't blame Lois; I know she didn't throw a fit on purpose. You guys have always been so supportive of my relationship with Lucy and I had hoped that, when we were here, you know…" Lucas sighed resignedly and took a small case out of his pocket. He flipped it open and Clark stared at the beautiful engagement ring and then at Lucas's unhappy face.

"You wanted to ask Lucy to marry you? Here, in Metropolis? That's great! So why didn't you?"

Lucas closed the case and shoved it back into his pocket. "We'd planned to stay in a nice hotel and have a romantic dinner together. Then I'd have asked her. We've been living together for two years now and I was hoping that if she saw how happy you and her sister are… but last night Lucy was so upset; we had dinner with her parents instead and ended up spending the night at her mother's — although, the way Lucy always talks about her mother, I never thought that would ever happen!"

Frustrated, Lucas combed through his hair with one hand. "Oh well, Ellen and Lucy just couldn't stop talking about Lois. And this morning Lucy said she wasn't ever going to get pregnant. And I do want to marry her, Clark, and I do want to have a family. Now I don't know what to do!"

"Go ahead and ask her." Clark said decisively, "Lois was very skittish too, you know, and whenever I talked about having kids she just freaked out. Did Lucy ever tell you that Lois said 'no' when I asked her to marry me? No? Well, let me tell you, it wasn't easy sailing at first…"


"Well, well, well," Inspector Bill Henderson said lazily while he regarded Bertram Bates with amused eyes, "Billy Bob Travis, stand up comedian, best known for his faultless impersonations, even won a 'most promising new talent' award some twenty years ago."

Bates, seated across the Inspector and Detective Jenny Hudson in the interrogation room, stared back impassively at Henderson. Nothing in his demeanor betrayed that he was still reeling with shock at being arrested mere minutes after he'd called Madame Lachapelle in St. Cyr to assure her that all was well — that Lois Lane had even made an appearance the previous afternoon. He hadn't mentioned that the Lane woman was pregnant and obviously having a hard time because of it — if the boss lady didn't know then he, Bates, wasn't going to enlighten her.

Henderson pointed at a file lying on the table in front of him and continued, "It's amazing what a simple fingerprint can conjure up, Billy Bob. Where was I… oh yes, your career… as much as you tried, you didn't make it into the movies. They already had Jim Carrey and even I agree, one of him is more than enough. That's when you decided to go moonlighting as a burglar and got yourself arrested. You did your time, then resumed your career as a comedian on luxury cruise ships. I bet that's where Mindy Church met you — on the same boat where she met and married her late husband, Yves Lachapelle. Am I right?"

If Bates was surprised at hearing Mindy's name he didn't show it and Henderson grinned, nodding admiringly, "You've really got that butler thing down pat, Billy Bob! No wonder you were able to fool a shrewd businessman like Gordon Keyes. That's why you're perfect for the role I have in mind for you. By the way, did you know we've also arrested Mike Costanza? Poor guy — Detective Hudson here tells me he used to be a nice family man and a good civil servant."

"But then he got swayed by big bucks and decided to join Mindy Church's construction racket," Jenny Hudson added, "And now he's singing like a canary — told us all about Eddy 'Butch' Warner and Ian Beddington. You killed those two guys, didn't you?"

"Me?!" Hearing two murders being pinned on him instantly jolted Bates out of his role as Bertram the butler. "I had nothing to do with that!"

"I know," Henderson continued imperturbably, "That was Alan Cornell's handiwork, wasn't it? But since he's not here I can make it stick — unless you cooperate with me. It's Mindy Church I'm after — you deliver her to me and I'll offer you a very sweet deal."

"Inspector, there's still that butler he's murdered." Jenny Hudson helpfully offered.

"That wasn't me, either." Bates glowered at Detective Hudson. What was up with this woman! She kept trying to pin murders on him. He decided to ignore her and deliberately turned to face Bill Henderson, addressing him directly.

"Inspector, Alan Cornell helped me to abduct the butler and took the man with him. I don't know what he did with him and frankly, I don't care. But if you know Cornell as well as you say you do, you sure won't find that butler alive."

"That's what I was afraid of." Henderson carefully hid his anger at the callous and matter of fact way Bates confirmed what he'd been afraid to hear — that there was little chance that they would find John Kincaid alive.

Henderson forced himself to remain calm and just shrugged indifferently as he continued, "Yes — we know all about Mindy Church's drugs trafficking pilot Alan Cornell. Did you know that the DEA in Miami has been following his comings and goings for quite some time? They're welcome to him — it's Madame Lachapelle I'm after. The trouble is, we can't touch her as long as she stays on that blasted island. And that's where you come in, Billy Bob — you're going to lure her into Metropolis for me."

"Depends on the deal, Inspector."

"Oh, you'll take it, all right!" Henderson snarled. Suddenly moving as quickly as a cobra going in for the kill, Bill lurched across the table, hauling Bates up by the collar of his shirt. "It's not negotiable, Billy Bob — but if it's not to your liking, just say so and I'll slap those three murders on you before you've had a chance to cry 'Mindy'!"


"Kent! In my office — now!"

"Coming, Chief! Take care, Jimmy, talk to you soon." Clark jumped up from the chair next to Jimmy's desk where he'd parked himself just a minute ago.

Lois and Clark had finished their leisurely lunch with Lucy and Lucas and were getting ready to take their guests to the airport when Perry had called. An emergency at the Planet, Clark had explained and excused himself. He'd stayed long enough to hear Ellen Lane confirm over the phone that she'd be delighted to accompany Lois to the airport. She promised Clark they would take a cab — no need to join the heavy traffic to and from the airport by driving themselves.

Clark had hugged and kissed Lucy goodbye and, while clasping Lucas's hand, had told the other man, "Do it!" Making Lois raise her eyebrows and stare speculatively at Lucas's suddenly embarrassed face. And when Clark had kissed her lingeringly and whispered into her ear, 'Later, honey, I'll tell you all about it later," Lois had known he wasn't referring solely to the emergency meeting he was about to have at the Planet.

When he'd entered the newsroom Clark had seen Perry sitting behind his desk, talking on the phone, with the door of his office left wide open. Jimmy had called out to him as soon as he'd stepped out of the elevator so Clark had stopped by his desk; he'd barely made himself comfortable when Perry barked his impatient command.

The Chief looked grim when he gestured to Clark to sit down. "Well, Clark — Gareth and Bill are on their way — Ah! There's Bill already… Jimmy! We'll be in the conference room. Send Mr. Keyes in as soon as he gets here and see to it that we're not disturbed, y'hear?"

"Sure, Chief." Jimmy Olsen shook his head and grinned. Even though he'd now been promoted to Head of the Research Department with three people working for him and thus in a managerial position himself, Perry pretty much treated him just like before — barking unexpected commands at him and sending him off on all kind of errands; Jimmy, however, was quickly learning to delegate some of these tasks to his own staff.

Jimmy looked pensively at the now firmly closed door of the conference room. Whatever was going on had to be pretty big. The Chief had acted like a cat on a hot tin roof all day. Oh well, the Chief and CK would fill him in later. He wasn't of any use to them anyway — not as long as he still had this cursed cast around his leg.

Jimmy sighed resignedly and went back to work, meanwhile keeping a watchful eye out for anyone who would dare walk towards the conference room.


"Clark, you're sure you can reach Superman on time?"

"Bill, he'll be there. Just tell me what time he has to be in that cabin. "

"I can't let someone else impersonate him, Clark, that won't work. We do need the genuine article, so to speak. He can't just get up and fly off in the middle of all this because there's an earthquake somewhere. Does he understand that?"

"Yes, he does, Bill. He wants those criminals caught just as badly as we do."

"And you've warned him that Mindy Church might have more Kryptonite and bring that along? Travis said he's pretty sure the tie-pin and the chunk we found on him are all she had, but you never know."

Clark stuffed his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders. "Superman knows, Bill, and he's willing to take that risk."

"Just checking, Clark, just checking."

Perry glanced at Clark and back at Bill Henderson. He and the Inspector were seated while Clark and Gareth Keyes, both too nervous to sit down, paced up and down in the conference room.

Clark took a deep breath and said slowly, "If Mindy Church brings along Kryptonite, Superman will let you know when the pain gets unbearable. He'll recite a message so you'll know when you'll have to intervene. As soon as he starts chanting 'Take me to my Fortress of Solitude' you'll have to stop the show, Bill."

"I know — don't worry, Clark, Superman will survive."

Henderson fixed Gareth with a compelling look, "We can't afford to bungle this, Keyes, so not a word to your father or anyone else about this. Let's catch Mindy Church and that Cornell guy first; then you'll be able to tell your father what exactly did happen to his butler. I'll personally wring it out of that thug, I promise you that."

Gareth nodded. "Don't worry, Inspector. I'm well aware of the gravity of the situation. Clark?"


"I'm sorry Lois isn't here; please tell her I'm very sorry I ripped into her like that. I think I know now what she was trying to do — she wanted to get that tie-pin off that guy, didn't she? But her sister was constantly pushing him away, so she didn't get a chance. I was way out of line, getting angry like that. It's no excuse, I know, but it was such a shock, hearing that my father's new butler was a murderer. And John — he wasn't just my father's butler, you know, he was part of our family. I've known him since I was six… anyway, I hope Lois will be able to forgive me. And you too, Clark."

"There's nothing to forgive, Gareth — Lois understands why you freaked out and so do I. Don't worry about it, you've got enough on your plate already. It won't be easy when you'll have to tell your father what happened to John Kincaid."

"He's right, you know," Bill Henderson stood up and extended his hand towards Gareth. "This will be very rough on your family. Thank you for your cooperation — I appreciate your willingness to keep quiet about all this until we've caught all those criminals. I assure you that I — and my team — will do everything in our power to make 'Operation Mindy' succeed."

"Thanks, Inspector; and don't worry — I know how to keep my mouth shut. I won't tell my father or my wife about this until you give me the green light." Gareth shook Henderson's hand then looked at Perry White. "Sir — thank you for not shutting me out. When this is all over I'm sure my father will want to talk to you — to all of you. I feel a lot better, now that I know what's going to happen. I'll be praying that nothing goes wrong with this operation."

"We'll all be prayin', son, we'll all be prayin'," Perry said gruffly while he too stood up. "Now, you go home to your family. Bill will stay in touch with me and as soon as I've heard from him I'll call you. So keep your phone close to your ear at all times."

"Yessir." Gareth shook Perry's hand and followed Henderson to the door of the conference room with Clark in tow.

"Clark!" Perry called after him, "Tell Superman we'll be rootin' for him. Give Lois my love and send her off to bed early, y'hear?"

"Will do, Chief — see you tomorrow."


Chapter Twenty Two

Excited, Mindy Lachapelle slammed down the phone. She jumped up and ran onto the sun-drenched terrace, staring into the direction of the airstrip. Her mind was going over the phone conversation she'd just had with Bertram Bates.

She hadn't expected him to accomplish the difficult task of killing Lois Lane and Clark Kent — and capturing Superman — so soon! Frankly, she'd thought it would've taken ages and she had even taken into account that he might fail on all three points. Well, it sure looked like Bates was worth every one of the one million dollars he'd demanded for this job! She doubted that Alan Cornell would've been as successful. Sure, he was the more ruthless of the two men, but Bates was the careful one.

Mindy still blessed the night she'd caught Billy Bob Travis — officially the ship's comedian — sneaking into one of the luxurious huts on board of the cruise ship. That day Mindy had just found out that Yves Lachapelle was a very rich widower and she hadn't been able to sleep; her brain had been too busy trying to figure out how to get acquainted with the debonair millionaire. She had walked up and down the deserted deck in the middle of the night, trying to come up with a foolproof plan.

When Billy Bob Travis had crept out of the hut with his loot he'd looked into the barrel of a gun, held by the small, impeccably manicured hand of a beautiful, buxom blonde with a malicious smile around her pouty lips and a breathy, sugary voice. He didn't have a choice but to team up with her, but it had worked out so well for both of them that he had stayed on in her employ as her multi talented butler, Bertram Bates.

Together with one of her Intergang members Alan Cornell, Bertram Bates had helped her to replace the original staff at the Lachapelle estate on St. Cyr. In the years that followed Mindy had come to value Bertram's assistance and sometimes his advice. So when he'd phoned her and excitedly told her he'd already killed Lane and Kent and was holding Superman prisoner, an elated Mindy had readily believed him.

When she'd asked him how he'd managed to lure all three of her arch enemies into the hills to that abandoned log cabin of her late husband Bill Church, Bates had grinned gleefully and said, "Don't ask — it's quite a story. I'll tell you all about it when you're here. You just have to come — trust me, this is a spectacle you don't wanna miss!"

Mindy took a deep breath and made a decision. Superman powerless and at her mercy! Bertram was right — this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. She walked back into the house and picked up the phone. Alan would need time to get the plane ready and do whatever was needed to fly her to Metropolis. Drat it! The line was busy.

Impatiently Mindy stared in the direction of the hangar. She needed the pilot for this mission and without Bates around to do her bidding she would have to go and find Cornell herself. But she didn't look forward to walking all the way down to the airstrip in this scorching heat.

She glanced at the expensive watch on her wrist — there was still time. It would take them about four hours to fly into Metropolis and another hour and a half by car to reach the cabin where Bertram would be waiting.

Mindy went into the breakfast room and poured herself a glass of water. The house was quiet — it was siesta time and all creatures, except the lady of the house, were resting. Thirstily, she gulped down the water then ran up the stairs towards her bedroom and flopped down on her bed.

But she couldn't stay put — the excitement and anticipation of what was to come was almost making her jump out of her skin. Mindy decided to take a long, vigorous swim; but first, she'd better call Alan to get the plane ready. She quickly changed into a skimpy, colorful bikini then picked up the phone and dialed Cornell's number.


Meanwhile, Henderson and his team were busy setting the stage in the mountain cabin. Bill had let all the players rehearse their roles over and over again until he'd finally been satisfied they all knew exactly what was expected of them.

When Superman arrived at the cabin he'd handed a small package to Inspector Henderson. It contained a piece of green rock, locked in the lead covered box the police had found on Bates when he had been arrested. Bill Henderson had immediately taken the chunk of Kryptonite and the tie-pin to Dr. Bernard Klein at STAR Labs for safe keeping.

Dr. Klein had been more than happy to participate in 'Operation Mindy' and for hours he'd been busy, mixing special powders into green paint until he'd finally succeeded in reproducing the typical, eerie glow of real Kryptonite. From STAR Lab's huge stone collection he'd then selected a piece of ordinary stone in exactly the same shape of Mindy's piece and coated it with the paint.

It had taken a few layers of paint before Dr. Klein had been satisfied. He'd laid both stones on his desk and taken a few photographs with a digital camera. He'd uploaded the photos into his computer and when Superman came to STAR Labs to pick up the bogus Kryptonite, Klein had proudly pointed at his computer screen.

"This is the real Kryptonite, Superman, and this is the rock I painted. I assure you, they look exactly alike."

Superman had not been able to suppress a little shudder as he'd stared at the screen. Both images glowed menacingly at him. "I'll take your word for it, Bernie. Are you sure you put the harmless piece in the box?"

"Of course! Go ahead, open it. You'd better find out right now, instead of in that cabin."

Superman had held his breath and gingerly opened the lead covered box. When he'd felt nothing he'd opened it fully, staring down at the first green rock he'd encountered that didn't render him instantly helpless. He'd let out a relieved sigh and swiftly closed the box, looking at Bernie with an apologetic smile on his face.

"I'm sorry, but Kryptonite gives me the creeps, Bernie. This rock looks very real — if this doesn't fool Mindy Church, I don't know what will. Thanks for helping us, Bernie."

"That's okay, Superman, it was my pleasure. Now be on your way and be careful. Inspector Henderson told me all about those criminals — you're dealing with very dangerous people and it's high time they were put away."


Mindy Church narrowed her eyes as she peered through the tinted window of the hired car Alan Cornell was driving. The dirt road to the log cabin wasn't too bad but there were no ordinary street lights and the car was almost totally shrouded in darkness. "Alan, I see a light — it's dim, but it's there! We're almost there."

"I still think this is a very bad idea," Cornell said sourly as he stared suspiciously towards the dimly lit cabin. He'd tried his best to talk Mindy out of coming here but she'd been determined.

What was Billy Bob thinking! It was much too dangerous. That fool just wanted to show off because he'd managed to capture Superman. Big deal! If it had been him, Cornell thought angrily, he would've just finished the alien off and kept his cape as a souvenir. But some people just needed to be validated once in a while. And that, to Cornell, was exactly what Billy Bob was seeking right now.

And as for Mindy — why in the world did she need to see the alien die before her eyes? Billy Bob had called and told Mindy he'd already killed the Lane woman and her husband and that he needed him, Cornell, to dispose of the bodies and help him erase all evidence that could lead to him. Cornell didn't mind coming to Metropolis to help out, but taking Mindy along was another matter entirely. What if someone recognized her?

Mindy had been deaf and blind to his arguments. By the time she'd thought about Billy Bob's proposal and called him, Cornell, to get the plane ready, she had already made up her mind. But she was the boss, so when she'd held her ground he'd given up trying to talk her out of it.

Billy Bob had also told Mindy that it had all been so very easy — much to his own surprise. He'd abducted the woman first and then used her to lure her husband and Superman into the mountains. And that unexpected success had gone to Billy Bob's head, Cornell thought impatiently.

When they'd landed at the small airstrip near the marina a hired car Billy Bob had arranged for them under a false name had been waiting for them.

Mindy, a brunette wig on her head and wearing an oversized sweater and baggy pants and sneakers on her feet, had walked confidently to the counter where a bored looking, gum chewing man had handed her the keys and the necessary papers.

Soon they had been driving out of Hobbs Bay towards the hills. They didn't notice the numerous eyes stealthily watching them drive away. The car rental employee had grabbed a walkie-talkie from under the counter and softly spoken a few words: "Targets arrived and on their way." He'd then quickly shut off the device and left the small office to join the other policemen who'd suddenly surfaced out of nowhere and stormed up the metal stairs leading into Cornell's plane.


"Oh, my! If that isn't Superman himself!"

Mindy's excited, familiar voice grated on his ears. Superman lifted his head, looking into the direction of the sound. He let his head fall back on the floor and groaned. He knew he would have to call upon every little bit of acting talent he possessed to give a convincing performance of a dying super hero.

Long before the car had arrived at the cabin Superman had spotted Mindy's approach and so Henderson, acting like a seasoned film director, had been able to put all members of his team, including Bertram Bates, on time on their marked positions.

A policeman with a slight resemblance to Clark Kent and wearing a business suit over his bullet proof vest, lay on the floor next to Jenny Hudson. Detective Hudson was also wearing a business suit over her bullet proof vest, her blond curls covered by a dark wig to make her look like Lois Lane. Both police officers lay in a corner with their faces down, their backs turned to the rest of the room.

The only light in the cabin was that of a large flashlight Bertram Bates was holding in his hand. He had strict orders not to shine the powerful beam at the two disguised police officers, but to keep it pointed solely at Superman.

When Mindy Church and Alan Cornell walked in Bates was hovering over Superman, holding the 'Kryptonite' in one hand and the flashlight in the other. Mindy ran over to his side and grabbed the flashlight, pointing the beam at Superman's face while snickering gleefully.

Cornell had stopped, momentarily stunned by the sight of the Man of Steel, sprawled in the middle of the floor in his entire, colorful splendor. He'd read about the alien and watched him on television, but this was the first time Cornell saw him in the flesh. It sure was a spectacle to see, he acknowledged, and suddenly he understood why Mindy had risked coming to Metropolis.

Never taking his eyes off Superman, Cornell slowly walked up to Bates. He nodded towards the two still figures in the corner and asked, "Those two are Lane and Kent?"

"Yes — stone cold and ready to be buried."

"Good. So why isn't he dead yet? You've been here with him for hours!"

"Oh, but I'm glad he's still alive!" Mindy trilled, "Superman, remember me?"

Superman groaned and thrashed around some more. He gasped as he tried to focus his eyes on Mindy. "Who… who are… you?"

Mindy removed the dark wig on her head and tauntingly took a bow. "Superman, don't act dumb now — I'm Mindy Church! I've tried to kill you already, years ago, but that didn't work — Joey Bermuda turned out to be an amateur. But I've got real pros working for me now and this time you won't escape!"

"Why… why are you… doing this… to me…" Superman groaned while he tried to reach out a trembling hand towards Mindy.

"Why? I'll tell you why! You and Lane and Kent destroyed Intergang once — but we're back and I'll be darned if I'll let you do it again. With you and those two nosey reporters out of the way I can do big business here in Metropolis."

"Well, I'm not going to sit here and wait till he's dead. Let's get this over with." Alan Cornell took out his gun, screwed a silencer on and pointed it at Superman.

Suddenly, Bertram Bates saw the opening he'd been hoping for; he needed Cornell to confess to the other murders; otherwise the police might very well pin those on him.

"Hey! This is my call, Alan! I don't want you to bungle this job just like you bungled killing 'Butch' Warner. That burning boat was splashed all over the newspapers, remember? Makes me wonder about Ian Beddington too — is he really dead? Did you stay to see those alligators finish him off in that swamp you said you dumped him in? And that butler — he was alive when I handed him over to you. What did you do to him?"

Cornell whipped around to face Bates. "What's gotten into you?" he shouted angrily, "Of course they're dead! I've personally killed 'em and since you're too much of a wimp to do the alien in, I'll kill him for you too!"

Enraged, Cornell pointed his gun at Superman's chest and pulled the trigger. Superman groaned and moved his body around in such a way that the bullet didn't bounce off his chest in the direction of the two police officers lying on the floor, but right back at Cornell. The bullet missed his leg by an inch and Cornell cursed profusely.

"Boys! Stop your fighting! Alan, put away that gun — that's not the way to kill Superman! Kryptonite is the only thing that will do it. He's still invulnerable on the outside so I guess it's working on his insides first. I wish I had a bigger piece — this one's obviously too weak. Alan is right, Bertram, we can't afford to wait here for hours and hours until this weirdo is finally dead."

Mindy took the 'Kryptonite' from Bates and started to walk slowly around Superman's twitching body, prodding him with her sneakers, laughing maliciously when he groaned loudly when she unexpectedly pointed the rock closely at his chest.

"Poor Superman! It's time we put you out of your misery, like Lane and Kent over there. Don't you worry — I know where we can get more Kryptonite. At STAR Labs!"

At once Mindy became businesslike, giving orders in a curt, commanding voice. "Bertram, take the car and get all the Kryptonite you can find at STAR Labs and bring it back here. You're the expert burglar so I'm sure you'll have no trouble getting past their security system. I'll stay here with Superman. Alan, get rid of those two bodies in that corner over there and come back later to pick up Bertram and me. Now move it, you two!"

"I don't think so," a soft voice reached their ears. Startled, Cornell pointed his gun in the direction of the sound while Mindy gasped when she saw 'Lois Lane' and 'Clark Kent' sit up, apparently as much alive as she was.

Before Cornell could fire his gun, Superman was up from the floor and in less than a minute the stunned Mindy and Cornell were neatly cuffed, looking dazedly at Bill Henderson, who'd calmly walked in, a small tape recorder in his hand.

"I don't really need this, you know," Henderson elaborated, pointing at the device. 'Not with so many live witnesses around. It's just a hobby of mine." He raised his voice, calling out to his crew. "Boys 'n girls, come out and put up some lights! Take these clowns away, but don't let them out of your sight. Detective Hudson, please read 'em their rights."

"With pleasure, Inspector." Jenny Hudson took off the dark wig and grinned at her partner, who stood beside her, slapping the dirt off his pants.

Superman handed over Mindy and Cornell to the two detectives and turned to Bill Henderson.

"Inspector, can I go now?"

"Sure, Superman, thanks for your help. You… —"

Superman didn't stay to hear the rest and shot into the air.

Henderson shook his head and smiled ruefully. " …did fine!"


Chapter Twenty Three

"Well, people, that was quite a show!"

With a pleased smile on his lips Perry White turned to look at Gareth Keyes and Bill Henderson as they followed him into the Daily Planet conference room. The three men had just returned from an early morning press conference at City Hall. The Mayor, aided by the Commissioner, had visibly enjoyed answering the barrage of questions from the assembled members of the press.

"I've never seen such a packed room before," Gareth commented as he sat down next to Bill. "The Mayor and the Commissioner looked as pleased as punch."

"Hah! No wonder! They got a lot of credit for nabbing Mindy Church, while Bill here did all the work."

"No, Perry, 'we' did all the work. You, Gareth, Lois and Clark: you've all played a part in my 'Operation Mindy' team. And so did Superman and Dr. Klein and Detective Hudson."

"Superman was incredible." Gareth's voice was full of awe. "Bill, disguising a film camera in that cabin was a stroke of genius! It sure blew my mind — you could hear a penny drop when that film was shown at the press conference."

"That piece of film will be shown all over the world, Bill; I bet it's on TV right now. Great shades of Elvis! Seein' Superman lyin' on that cabin floor, groaning in pain while that witch was pointing that rock at him — it gave me goosebumps, even though I knew that stone wasn't the real thing."

"I know what you mean, Perry. I'd seen that footage a few times before, but even I was holding my breath," Bill admitted. "On that big screen it looked impressive."

"On TV it looks impressive too, Bill." A soft, feminine voice wafted into the room.

The three men turned their heads in the direction of the sound to see a smiling Lois enter the conference room, closely followed by Clark who carefully shut the door behind them.

"Ah — Lois, Clark — there you are! Too bad you couldn't attend the press conference, kids, it was quite a show."

"We know — it's already on TV, Chief." Clark grinned. "The streets are practically deserted — people are glued to their TV sets."

"Well, I'm glad I wasn't there," Lois said firmly, "I saw those reporters practically crushing each other dead, trying to get as close to the stage as possible. And that stampede to get out of the door when it was all over! I hope no one got hurt."

"I don't think so," Gareth grinned, "We're all in one piece, as you can see. You two missed a great show, Lois."

"My doctor's appointment was more important, Gareth. And Clark wants to be there, whenever I need a check- up."

"And so he should! I trust everything's all right with you and the baby?"

"Couldn't be better — Lois is healthy and the baby's developing just as she should," Clark beamed at his friend, "And your little girl, Gareth? How's she doing?"

"Hey! Cut that out, guys!" Perry's booming voice prevented Gareth from answering; he fixed the two men with a piercing look. "You can talk about your babies as much as you like, but don't do it in here, okay?"

"Okay," Clark and Gareth echoed, both grinning unrepentantly.

Lois rolled her eyes. "Chief, they're hopeless. They give new meaning to the phrase 'doting fathers'. Just ignore them."

"Darlin', I don't need to hear about your check-up and neither does Bill — right, Inspector?"

"Right." Bill grinned. "Spare me the details, Lane. Let's get back to the subject, okay, guys?"

"We'll be good," Gareth laughed, "No more baby talk. Seriously, Clark — I'm sorry you missed the conference; it was so exciting. When the film was over, Superman flew in with Dr. Klein and you should've seen those reporters — they went crazy when the good doctor waved that piece of green rock in front of Superman, demonstrating that Kryptonite doesn't affect him anymore. I was nearly blinded by all those flashbulbs going off."

"Let's hope Klein's performance will convince other criminals that he's really developed a vaccine that makes Superman immune to Kryptonite," Bill Henderson said slowly, "We owe it to the Man of Steel to try and get rid of that mineral. Who knows how many pieces are still out there. Only Klein, and the five of us, know the truth: exposure to Kryptonite is extremely dangerous to Superman and could even kill him. Klein told me he's still trying to find an antidote."

"This is a secret we'll have to guard with our lives." Perry said gruffly.

"I know!" Gareth said fervently, "The world owes so much to Superman. He tries to help, whenever and wherever he can to keep us safe, so we must do our best to keep him safe, too. With him around, maybe we'll be able to build a better world for our children."

"There you go again, son — talkin' about children again." But Perry was smiling as he looked at Lois, who smiled mistily back at him. She sat close beside Clark, his right arm draped around her shoulders, his left hand clasped between her own.

Clark, moved by the declarations of his friends, briefly buried his face in Lois's hair. At the sound of Perry's voice he lifted his head and turned to face the Chief.

"Lois, darlin', it was you who'd suggested that Superman and Dr. Klein put up this little charade; that was a great idea. Now all we can do is hope that Dr. Klein's request to the public will be successful."

"What request?" Lois asked.

"Something that wasn't in your script, Lois," Bill grinned at her, "Klein thought that if people could be persuaded to send him every piece of green rock they find or already have in their possession, then that might take a lot of Kryptonite out of circulation. He explained that he's busy preparing an exhibit about Superman and until that is ready, the Kryptonite will be kept in the rock collection at STAR Labs. If people want their Kryptonite back after the exhibition they'll get one of his bogus green rocks instead."

"Did you miss that part, Lois?" Garteh asked, "I thought you said you watched it all on TV?"

"I just caught some bits and pieces," Lois answered, "I didn't see the whole show. I had a doctor's appointment, remember?"

In reality Lois had taken a long, hot bath and had only switched on the TV set when she'd sat down to eat her breakfast. She'd decided to stay at home while Clark had been at the press conference as Superman. To explain her and Clark's absence she'd asked Perry to tell the others that she had a doctor's appointment.

"Bill, could we have a copy of that film? I'd like to watch the uncut version, not just some bits and pieces in reruns on TV."

"Sure Lois — ask Jimmy. I gave him a copy."

"Where's Jimmy? He wasn't at his desk when we walked in."

"He's selecting pictures for tonight's special edition, Clark. He and David both covered the conference. Jimmy worked near the stage and David took pictures from the back of the room."

"I had two photographers on the job too, Perry," Gareth looked at his watch and stood up. "I'd better go — I've got a report to write."

"So do I — I've got an early deadline for this evening's special edition." Perry glanced at the clock against the wall of the conference room. "Let's go, people, there's work to do. Gareth, when will your evening paper finally become a weekly magazine? I want this daily off the streets a.s.a.p."

Gareth laughed, then sobered. "I'm not sure — first I'll have to help my father to deal with what's happened to John. But I'm working on it."

"I take it your first issue won't feature a travel story on St. Cyr," Bill remarked drily, "I'm glad we could talk you out of that harebrained idea of yours. Remember? You and Clark wanted to ask Superman to fly you to that island to snoop around; to try and find out more about Mindy Church."

"Yeah, that was a bad idea," Clark admitted. "I'm glad you didn't go, Gareth. At least now you don't have to think that you're to blame for John Kincaid's death. In a way, we're to blame for what happened; your father's butler was killed because Mindy wanted to get rid of Lois and me and Superman. I can't tell you how sorry we are."

"Clark, I don't blame any of you — it's not your fault! Lois was dead set against my going to St. Cyr too, remember? Thank God she noticed that Kryptonite tie-pin on Bertram Bates."

"Billy Bob Travis — that's his real name — Billy Bob Travis."

"I know, Bill, it's just — he's worked for my father under that other name; I guess he'll always be 'Bertram Bates' to me. I still break out in a cold sweat when I think about what that man could've done if he'd lived with us longer — he might've hurt my father and my wife and my kids, too." Gareth shuddered, "I'm very grateful to you, Lois, for realizing that it was Kryptonite in that tie-pin."

"I agree with Gareth here," Bill looked at Lois with a glint of admiration in his eyes. "I have to hand it to you, Lois, you were the first to suspect that Mindy Church could be involved in that construction fraud. And you also figured out how to trap her into coming to Metropolis. Too bad you're a reporter — sure you don't want to join my team? You'd make a fine detective."

"The best!" Clark said proudly while Perry loudly protested, "Hey! Lois is not interested in your job offer, Henderson. She's a detective already; that's what investigative reporters do, you know — they investigate!"


Chapter Twenty Four

"Lois, this is getting out of control — we've got to do something to stop this!"

Dismayed, Clark stared at the notice from the post office, begging him to please tell Superman to pick up his stuff a.s.a.p. They were running out of space again and fan mail and presents for the superhero were still pouring in from all over the world.

"That's what happens when you give an Oscar-winning performance, sweetheart," Lois said teasingly. "And not only that — you wrote about it so vividly, telling the public how thrashing about on that filthy cabin floor ruined Superman's suit."

"It wasn't ruined, Lois, it just got very dirty. Anyway, that doesn't mean they have to send me thousands and thousands of yards of colored Spandex! Our closets are overflowing with the stuff and so are my mom's."

"And the storage rooms at the post office are also full, apparently." Lois grinned and patted Clark's chest consolingly. "You now have enough material to last you a lifetime, Flyboy. Tell you what — we'll call Perry and ask him to put an ad on tomorrow's front page: a final and urgent plea from Superman to his admirers to please stop sending more Spandex."

Clark sighed. "It won't work, Lois. Superman's already repeatedly said so on television, remember?"

"Well…" Lois said pensively. "You could try taking a more drastic approach. I bet the postal services will be happy to help. Maybe they could inform the public that any package containing Spandex, addressed to Superman, will be rejected and promptly returned. How's that?"

Clark looked doubtful. "Is that legal? Could post offices really refuse to deliver mail?"

Lois shrugged. "I don't know… but I'm sure the Mayor and the Governor will be happy to help you out, Clark. They're so grateful to us for having solved that construction racket by catching Mindy Church and all those corrupt civil servants who were helping her."

"I guess… but I don't think I'd want to hurt Superman's fans, honey, specially the kids. We'll have to come up with something else. I mean, refusing to accept their gifts — they'd never understand."

"You're right — imagine having your Spandex returned. How disappointing!" Lois chuckled. "But I still think City Hall should help out — they owe you, Clark. We'll think of something, but let's do that tomorrow, okay? I'm so glad we could go home at a decent time today. This is our first free evening since the story about Mindy's arrest hit the news — and that was two weeks ago already."

"I know, honey, and we'll make the most of it — the Spandex problem can wait."

Clark tossed the mail on the coffee table and walked towards Lois. He wrapped his arms around her and beamed as he looked down at the bulge that prevented their bodies to touch more intimately.

"She's really grown, hasn't she? Only six more weeks to go, honey."

"Only six more weeks?!" Lois rolled her eyes. "Six whole weeks and maybe more, Clark! First babies are often late, you know. I don't want her to be born too soon, like Charlotte Keyes, but frankly, I'm more than ready for her to come out."

"I know — I can't wait either! And talking about Gareth's baby — I'm really looking forward to her Christening this Sunday. His mother's flying to LA tomorrow and Glenda's parents will join her at the airport. They're traveling together on the same flight to Metropolis. Did you know that Glenda has two older sisters and a younger brother? They're coming too and taking their kids along."

"I know — her sisters both have two and her brother has three kids already. Quite a tribe, huh? And before you ask how I know — your mom told me. She's rather chummy with Glenda these days."

Clark grinned. "I know! Glenda comes from a big family herself, but here in Metropolis she has only Gareth and his father to support her. That's why she enjoys talking to my mom sometimes. You don't mind that, do you, honey?"

"No, of course not! I know your parents will always put you and me first. Anyway, your mom and dad are thrilled that they were invited too."

"It's going to be a big shindig, Lois. That's why it's held at Gordon's mansion — he's got enough space in that house to put up an army. By the way, Gareth's hired a clown to entertain the kids. It's that girl who performs at hospitals for sick children."

"The one who likes to include Superman in her act whenever you're there too? That's great! Her acts are really funny — the kids will love her. You never told me she could be hired for parties?"

"That's how she makes a living, Lois, I thought you knew. She performs for free at hospitals and sometimes at the orphanage. Gareth and Glenda met her when little Charlotte had to stay for so long in the hospital."

Clark bowed his head and kissed the tip of Lois's nose. "Geez! Here I am, holding the two most beautiful girls in the world in my arms, and what am I doing? Talking about clowns! While I should be doing this… and this… and this…"

Lois chuckled softly, winding her arms around his neck, while Clark placed tender little kisses on her face, working his way from her temple to her jaw. Just when he'd reached the corner of her lips Clark lifted his head, listening intently. He sighed as he reluctantly let go of Lois and stepped back to spin into the Suit.

"Gotta go, honey… sounds like there's an explosion at the harbor."

With a 'whoosh' Clark was gone and Lois sighed resignedly. She'd change into something comfortable, she decided, then make some calls until Clark came back. At least they didn't have to worry about dinner — Martha had called them earlier at the Planet to tell them she'd left a casserole in the oven.

As Lois slowly floated upstairs she thought about the indomitable Martha and Jonathan Kent and their surprisingly smooth transition into busy city life. Martha's pie-baking business was flourishing and Jonathan had just recently landed a paying job where he would be able to use his farming skills.

After his father had expressed his desire to get involved in volunteer work — preferably with children — Clark had introduced Jonathan to millionaire William B. Caldwell, benefactor of the city's orphanage and a loyal friend of Superman.

Will Caldwell told Jonathan he'd been contemplating setting up a new educational project for 'his kids'. He wanted to create a small scale farm on a piece of land on the outskirts of Metropolis, where orphans, who were interested in country life, could get acquainted with and learn to take care of small animals. He also wanted to give them the opportunity to learn simple farming skills.

During their meeting the businessman had liked Jonathan's suggestions so much he'd offered him the job of managing the plant and Jonathan was now busy discussing the layout of the grounds with the construction company that was going to build and set up the farm.

One of the perks of his new job included the use of a company car and Lois smiled as she recalled the delighted grin on Jonathan's face when he'd showed his brand new pickup to his family.

It's amazing, Lois thought, how energetic and resilient Clark's parents were. On top of their busy schedules they had even made time to take Eric and Simon Keyes under their wings when their homesick nanny had suddenly quit and gone back to her family in Australia — just when their parents and grandfather were busy taking care of the settlement of the affairs of their murdered butler and friend.

Martha and Jonathan had immediately offered to take care of the boys until Glenda Keyes had found a new nanny. Eric and Simon had been ecstatic — staying over at Uncle 'Jo-than' and Auntie Martha's was quite an adventure. Auntie Martha's cookies were delicious and Uncle 'Jo-than' knew so many fascinating stories and their daddy had come over every day to check upon them.

A few days later, when Jonathan was out with the boys, their mommy had unexpectedly turned up on Martha's doorstep. When the boys had come back they'd found their mother waiting for them in Auntie Martha's kitchen, their baby sister nowhere in sight. Daddy was taking care of the baby today, their mommy told them, so she could visit them and tell them how much she loved them and missed them.

The boys had clung to their mommy and happily returned home with her — promising Martha and Jonathan they would soon come back for a visit.

After they'd finally been permitted to take their baby daughter home, Glenda Keyes had been so focused on her fragile little girl that she'd unintentionally neglected the boys. She'd only fully realized that, she'd confessed tearfully to Martha, when Gareth had returned home the previous evening and casually told her that the boys hadn't even asked after her. They'd apparently grown used to the image of their mother — too busy taking care of their little sister to be bothered by them.

"You know, Lois," Martha had said later that evening when Clark and Lois had come over for dinner, "Glenda fell into one of those classic parent traps — getting too involved and obsessed with one child. Those mothers don't realize that their other kids need them just as much as the problem child — usually a handicapped kid."

"But that's not the case here," Clark had interrupted his mother, "The baby's still a bit tiny, Gareth says, but otherwise perfectly healthy. The doctors are very pleased with her progress."

"Fortunately there's nothing wrong with that child, Clark, and it was high time Glenda got a reality check. Gareth told me he was getting worried about her, so I told him to tell her that the boys had all but forgotten her."

"That was cruel, Mom!" Clark had protested.

"It worked," Martha had said calmly, "And of course it's not true — the boys were constantly talking about their mommy. Simon woke up in the middle of the night, calling for her."

Lois had followed Jonathan's lead and wisely refrained from getting involved in the argument that had followed between her tenderhearted husband and his no-nonsense mother.

Before they'd returned to their own home, mother and son had made their peace, but not before Clark had added, "Please don't ever say something mean like that to Lois, Mom!"

Martha had winked at Lois before having the last say, "With Lois we'll nip it in the bud, honey, we won't let her flounder like that."

No, Lois thought, Clark's mom wouldn't let her flounder and neither would her own mother. She briefly wondered if Martha and Ellen wouldn't be too overbearing; she suspected she'd have to take care not to let 'the two moms' as Clark had dubbed them to completely take over their daughter's upbringing.

Having their parents living so close by would undoubtedly cause some conflicts from time to time, Lois acknowledged, but even so she much preferred her present, close-knit family situation compared to that of Glenda's.

And, Lois thought, it would be perfect if Lucy would come back to live in Metropolis, now that she had finally agreed to marry Lucas. Lois smiled as she recalled the frantic email messages she'd received from her sister, the day after Lucy and Lucas had left Metropolis after their surprise visit.

<Sis! You won't believe what Lucas did. He asked me to marry him!>

<Lucy, that's great! You did say yes, didn't you?>

<Of course not!>

<What do you mean, of course not? You love Lucas, you told me so!>

<Everything was going so well, Lois. Why did he have to spoil it by bringing up marriage?>

<Don't tell me you're still not sure — not after two years of living together with him! Get another zip code if you don't want a future with the man, Lucy.>

<Lois, I can't get married. I know nothing about being a wife!>

<Hello! Earth to Lucy Lane! Here's a newsflash for you — you've been a 'wife' for the last two years — or haven't you noticed? Lucas sure has!>

<Well, if you put it like that, Lois. But he proposed in the plane and everybody around us heard him. They even applauded! I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to say and then Lucas was disappointed because I refused to say anything. And before we got home we both were angry and now he's walking around with this injured look on his face, Lois, and I don't know what to do!>

Lois had rolled her eyes and grabbed the phone. She'd come straight to the point as soon as Lucy got on the line.

"What's bothering you, Lucy? Because Lucas proposed on the plane? Not romantic enough for you, huh?"

"Well, that would've been nice — and probably a lot more private!"

"If romance is what you want, Lucy, then do it yourself."

"Me? Do what?"

"Don't act dense with me, Lucy. Think about it — if you propose to Lucas you can choose the setting and make it as romantic as you like. He'll love you all the more for it, trust me. Clark was over the moon when I —"

"You!? Lois, come on, you didn't propose to Clark. Stop making fun of me, okay, this is a serious problem and you —"

"— did propose to Clark, Lucy, really, I did! In Centennial Park, at the fountain. I even went down on my knees. You can check with Clark if you don't believe me. Do you want me to put him on the line? Lucy? Luce… are you still there?"

"I'm — geez — Lois! You never — you didn't — I mean, gosh! Really?"

"Yep! While you were in that plane, did Lucas show you a ring?"

"Yes… it took my breath away, Lois, it's beautiful."

"That means he's been walking around with that ring in his pocket for some time now, trying to summon up enough courage to ask you."

"You think?"

"How do you think it got into his pocket, Lucy? Geez! Do you know where that ring is now?"

"Yes, he keeps it in one of his drawers in the bedroom. Between his socks!"

Lois grinned as she recalled the peeved tone in Lucy's voice. She lifted her head, listening. Good, Clark was back. She wrinkled her nose as a pungent, smoke-filled scent wafted into the room when Clark zipped past her into the bathroom, calling out to her, "Sorry honey — I'll take a shower as soon as I've put the suit into the washing machine."

"Okay, take your time. I'm going downstairs to turn the oven on and we'll eat when you're ready."

"Oh, great! I'm starving!"

"Me too… see you downstairs… 'Pom-pom-pah-pom… pom-pom-pah-pom'…"

Clark, freshly showered, grinned when he came into the kitchen a few minutes later. "'Pom-pom-pah-pom', Lois? You're humming the wedding march again? Let me guess — you talked to Lucy when I was gone, right?"

"I didn't get a chance to make any calls, Flyboy, you weren't gone that long." Lois grinned back at Clark while she finished setting the table. "Was it bad — the explosion? I didn't feel like turning on the TV, so I don't know what happened."

"I'm not sure what caused the explosion; the firemen were still busy when I left. Anna Johnston's dad was in charge and he says it's a gas leak, most probably. It happened in that new section east of the harbor, not far from Jimmy's new photo studio. Nobody lives there yet so no one got hurt — but three of those buildings have been damaged pretty badly."

"Hmm… those houses were built by Mindy Church's Belltower Construction Company, right? Didn't the Mayor say the City's going to give that project a major inspection?"

"They've already started. I hope for Jimmy's sake that his block passes the inspections; all his savings are invested in that studio."

The oven went 'ping' and Clark deftly removed the casserole and placed it on the table.

"Mmm… this moussaka looks good, honey. It's one of my favorites dishes. We'll call Mom and tell her she's welcome to leave casseroles in our oven any time. By the way, were you planning to call Lucy?"

"No, not really. I was just thinking about her, that's all. Don't worry, I won't pester her again about moving to Metropolis."

"She has to make up her own mind about that, Lois. Lucas told me he's all for it, so maybe he'll be able to persuade Lucy. Especially now that they're considering setting up their own advertising agency — might be easier here than in California."

"Could be — anyway, Lucy refuses to discuss it with me."

"I can't deal with so many major decisions at once, Lois," Lucy had protested when she'd called Lois to tell her that she and Lucas had chosen the 25th of March as their wedding date. When Lois had asked why they didn't get married sooner, Lucy had snorted and said, "No offense, Sis, but if we got married while you're still pregnant, it would be just like you to go into labor during the ceremony. Are you sure my niece will arrive around Christmas? You'll be able to bring her along by the time I get married, right?"

Lois had tried to persuade Lucy to get married in Metropolis but her sister had been adamant; her mother was welcome to attend the wedding, but no way was she, Lucy, going to allow Ellen to arrange it for her. Lois, remembering Ellen going overboard while planning her wedding, had agreed that maybe Lucy was right.

To Lois's surprise, her mother had just shrugged when she'd been told that Lucy and Lucas were planning to hold a small, intimate ceremony with only their closest family members and friends present. Ellen was so relieved that Lucy had finally decided to marry Lucas that she didn't care where and how her youngest daughter got married — she was just happy that Lucy was finally going to tie the knot.

"It's nice of Lucy to postpone the marriage until March — it will be fun to take the baby to California. Mother says three months is old enough for babies to travel on a plane. And the best part is, we'll be flying with you. The hard part will be choosing a wedding present. Lucy says she doesn't have a list — that's so annoying! How are we supposed to know what they want or need?"

"You could maybe ask Lucas? Anyway, we have lots of time to figure that out, Lois. Right now we have to come up with something for Gareth's baby. What kind of presents do people give for a Christening?"

"I have no idea! Mmmm… your mom's casserole's simply delicious, Clark. What did you say it was called?"

"Moussaka — it's Greek."

"How come you never cook anything like this? Ask her the recipe!"

"Moussaka's very easy to prepare, Lois. Why don't you ask Mom to show you how it's done?" Clark said teasingly and chuckled when Lois took the bait.

"Oh please — not that again; Lane women don't cook, Clark, you know that. I'll leave the cooking to you and your mom, thank you very much. Oh well — maybe your mom will know what kind of present is appropriate for a Christening… I'll ask her… Mmmm… this is so delicious… there's eggplant in there, I never eat eggplant, but this is… Clark, why are you looking at me like that? C'mon — I look like a balloon! How can you still look at me as if I'm a fairy tale princess? You're hopeless!"

"I know!" Clark grinned happily, "And as soon as you've eaten your moussaka I'm taking you upstairs. I'm going to make love to you until you beg for mercy — how's that?"

"Promises… promises…"


Chapter Twenty Five

"To Lois Lane!"

"Lois Lane!"

A radiant Lois acknowledged the tribute by touching her glass, filled with apple juice, against her husband's. Laughter and cheers were heard and champagne glasses rose to salute 'Metropolis's most astute investigative reporter' as Gareth Keyes had just called her.

Today, Gareth and his father Gordon were combining two important events in their lives into one Sunday afternoon celebration, starting with a festive commemoration service to honor the life and work of their murdered butler and family friend, John Kincaid.

Visibly moved, Gordon Keyes had told the assembled guests that, while his family mourned the death of their dear friend in private, they also felt the need to celebrate his life — and what better occasion to do so than at the Christening of his granddaughter.

John Kincaid, Gordon told them, had been looking eagerly towards this day — the elderly butler had been so happy to be part of the lives of the children of the young boy he had watched growing up into the fine young man he'd become; John Kincaid had been as proud of Gareth as he, Gordon, was of his only son.

Gareth had not been able to hide his emotion at his father's poignant request for a moment of silence in honor of the deceased and Lois, glancing concernedly at her sensitive husband, had grabbed Clark's hand and squeezed it tightly when she'd noticed a telltale sheen in his eyes.

Fortunately, Gordon Keyes had instantly lightened the mood by telling a few humorous anecdotes from Gareth's visits to Metropolis in his youth; how the soft-spoken, dignified John Kincaid and the wild, uninhibited Australian boy had been able to build a deep and lasting friendship, in spite of the differences in age and culture.

The guests had laughed at the 'uncivilised shenanigans' of 'young Master Gareth' as Kincaid had labeled them, making Lois whisper to her husband, "Told you he was a Crocodile Dandy!"

"'Dundee', Lois, 'Dundee'!" Clark had grinned as he and Lois had joined the others in a heartfelt applause.

The Christening of tiny Charlotte Keyes that followed was a joyful occasion. After all she'd gone through already, the baby wasn't fazed by the few drops of water that were sprinkled on her downy head. She merely blinked a few times, then yawned and went right back to sleep.

Gareth, holding his peacefully sleeping baby daughter, was relaxed and happy again when he asked the guests to join him in a toast.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for being here today, to celebrate the Christening of our daughter. For a long time our joy at her birth was overshadowed by the fear of losing her. She's had to fight for her life and she's made it!"

Gareth tenderly kissed Charlotte's forehead, then handed her over to her mother. Glenda Keyes too looked happy and relaxed. She stood between her husband and his father and smiled indulgently when Gareth jokingly asked their guests to give him another few minutes before they'd be allowed to mingle.

"When Glenda and I moved to Metropolis about a year ago we'd mainly done so to do my father a favor; we'd stay for a few years and then return to Australia. But we rather like living in Metropolis and so we've decided to stay — permanently. Sorry, Mum." Gareth looked apologetically at his mother and waited until the surprised gasps and whispers had died down before he continued.

"Important things have happened to us this year and the most important was, of course, the birth of our daughter. The second was the renewal and strengthening of our relationship with my father, and the third, the start of a friendship I hope will last for the rest of our lives: with Lois and Clark Kent — and Clark's parents, who have lovingly taken care of our two little boys when we were in mourning for John. Martha, Jonathan — there are not enough words to express our heartfelt gratitude, so I'll keep it short: thank you."

"Yes, thank you." Glenda echoed softly and smiled warmly at Martha and Jonathan who stood next to Lois and Clark. Martha's hands were resting on Eric's shoulders as he leant against her, watching his father with fascinated eyes, while Jonathan was holding Simon on folded arms, thus allowing the little boy to watch the proceedings from a vintage point — facing his parents with his back resting comfortably against Uncle Jo-than's chest.

"I feel privileged to have joined Lois and Clark and Perry White in investigating and bringing to justice three very dangerous criminals," Gareth continued, "and I assure you, it's really true: Lois Lane is Metropolis's most astute investigative reporter. Every clue in this baffling and very dangerous case has been spotted and correctly interpreted by Lois long before we, the men involved, even knew there was a clue staring us in the face."

Soft laughter rose and Gareth raised his glass, smiling admiringly at Lois.

"To Lois Lane!"

"Lois Lane!"

"To my wife," Clark said softly, the look in his eyes so full of love and pride it made Lois blush.

Alice White, who intercepted that look, sighed wistfully. She looked away from the happy couple to stare at her ex-husband, who was now deep in conversation with Gordon Keyes.

"Penny for your thoughts." A soft voice behind her startled Alice out of her reverie. She turned and smiled at Lois. "Lois! Where's that handsome husband of yours? He looked like he was planning to stay glued to your side all afternoon."

Lois grinned. "I unglued myself. Alice, have you talked to Perry yet?"

"No, I was planning to do so later." Alice sighed as she glanced again at Perry. "Lois, it's harder than I thought. He'll be so upset!"

"Oh, Alice — the longer you put this off, the more upset Perry will be. This is the ideal time to do it, you know. Perry won't be able to maintain that he's tired of it all and fed up with journalism; he's been actively involved in the Mindy Church case and even written some really great pieces about it. So you can come right out and tell him that you don't want him to quit his job yet. Just a few days ago I told him again that Clark and I will be really unhappy if he left so soon… that we still need him on the job."

"What did he say?"

"Get over it!" Lois grinned, then sobered again. "But you see, he thinks that you are still hurting too much, Alice, because of Jerry. Perry believes you need him to take care of you constantly."

"I know… and that was true for a while. When we heard that Jerry was once again in prison for embezzlement I was crushed. But Perry was there for me, even though he was working and he helped me to deal with it."

"It was hard on both of you." Lois briefly laid a comforting hand on Alice's shoulder.

"It was and still is. But you see, Lois — I've finally realized that we can't help Jerry; he has to help himself. You'd think that after having been in prison twice already he would've learnt his lesson. As difficult as it is, I've had to accept that it's not my fault, and it's not Perry's fault either, that Jerry turned out the way he did. His brother Harry is doing fine and he's had the same upbringing. Jerry's just too attached to money. He's never satisfied with what he has — it always has to be more. I'm afraid that will never change."

"And now it's up to you to convince Perry not to quit. Alice, please talk to him tonight. It will probably save you another sleepless night."

"Probably." Alice smiled, feeling a little better now that she'd talked to Lois. She'd already poured out her heart to Martha Kent a few days after Mindy Church had been arrested. She'd confessed to Martha that she'd never really liked the idea of Perry going into early retirement. At the time he'd announced it to her, she'd been hurting too much to think clearly about what it would mean to him — and to her.

Martha, always the practical one, had pointed at an editorial of Perry's in that morning's edition of 'The Daily Planet' and said, "Alice, this piece of Perry's about the Mindy Church case is proof enough that he's still an exceptionally fine journalist; people have been praising him for his part in this operation and Lois told me that the Daily Planet managers have begged him to stay on. Tell you what — let me get my scissors; I'll cut this out for you and if he gets all pigheaded about it, Alice, then you just wave this under his nose."

The cut-out editorial was safely tucked away in her handbag just in case she'd need it and Alice knew she shouldn't postpone this any longer. She took a deep breath before saying, determinedly, "You're right, Lois, I'll talk to Perry tonight. Now, let's go raid that buffet before the others discover those delicious crab cakes I've already spotted. If I'm right, then this food has been catered by 'Louisiana Nights', that fabulous new restaurant at the marina — their Cajun-style crab cakes are to die for!"

Lois grinned and looked around for her husband. She spotted Clark deep in conversation with Gareth's mother Felicity. Undoubtedly he was pumping her for information about Sandy and Cheryl Marie DeAngelo's new life in Australia. Clark still felt deeply responsible for their welfare — especially now that Joey Bermuda most probably would get out of prison earlier.

After he'd heard that Mindy Church had been arrested, Joey Bermuda had immediately filed a request to have his case reviewed and he'd even sent Clark a 'thank you — I owe you one' note.

Clark had not been pleased, but Lois had pointed out to him that they, at least, wouldn't have to be afraid that Bermuda would be a threat to them, or their child, in the future. As long as he didn't find out that Clark had played a crucial role in the disappearance of his ex-wife and daughter, they would be safe from Joey. And, Lois had said, Bermuda would have no reason to look for his family in the Australian outback.

Lois hoped that Gareth's mother would be able to set Clark's mind further at ease. She saw Clark fling back his head, laughing animatedly at something Felicity said to him. Relieved, Lois turned to Alice and took her arm.

"Lead the way to the crab cakes, Alice, I'm starving!"


Chapter Twenty Six

"Lois, Clark — in my office, please."

"Coming, Chief!"

Clark looked up from his computer screen at his wife. His eyebrows shot up when he noticed the apprehensive expression on her face. "What's up, Lois?"

"The Alice thing — that's what." Lois whispered as she got up and started to walk towards Perry's office. Clark quickly followed, asking softly, "How do you know that?"

"She promised me yesterday she'd talk to him," Lois mumbled before she walked in, saying in a normal tone, "Here we are, Chief. We missed you at the morning briefing, so I handled that on my own. You were supposed to meet with the research staff, but we didn't know when you'd be in so I couldn't reschedule. Then there's Carl — he says he needs —"

"Lois, right now I'm not interested in what Carl needs. Sit down — you too, Clark."

"Chief, I —"

"Lois, I'm sure you know what I want to discuss with you. Alice told me she'd talked this over with you and Clark's mother already. I s'pose you've been informed too, Clark?"

"Umm — not really," Clark said carefully, looking questioningly at Lois.

"Chief, I did talk to Alice yesterday about — you know — but I'd completely forgotten it by the time Clark and I left the party. I was too tired, I just wanted to go home and to bed."

"Hmph — then I guess it's up to me to tell you what's going on, Clark. Last night Alice told me she doesn't want me to retire so soon. And if I did, she wouldn't come and live with me again."

"Chief, I'm so sorry," Clark said sincerely.

"Don't be, Clark. Alice gave me an ultimatum: she wants us to get married again, and she'll even move in with me right away, if I promise not to give up my job."

"Really?" Lois laughed delightedly, "That's great! What did you say?"

"I told her I'd think about it."

"Chief! You didn't!" Lois gaped at Perry who stared back at her impassively. "But — you've always said you wanted to retire because of Alice! Are you telling me you jilted her? Perry! This is… this is…"

"Not what you expected, darlin'? Can't a man take his time before he makes a major decision like that?"

Suddenly, Clark laughed. "Chief, stop making fun of my wife. How much time did you need to think it over — about two minutes?"

"Something like that, son," Perry grinned back at Clark, "That's how long it took me to find my tongue again."

"You — speechless, Perry?" Clark teased, "That's a first!"

"Oh! You… ! For a minute here I really thought…" Lois looked reproachfully at Perry, "That was mean, scaring me like that. But I'll forgive you. I'm so happy you two are getting back together again — it's about time! Does that mean you're staying, Chief?" Lois looked at Perry eagerly, "Can I go back to fulltime reporting after the baby's born?"

"Well, Lois, I was kinda hoping you'd want to stay on as my assistant — part time, that is. I'd like to have some more spare time to spend with Alice — not only when she needs me, but to do some of the fun things we missed out on before. Of course, when you and Clark are workin' on a major case you'll be free to do your own thing… what do you say?"

"Yes — of course I say yes! Perry, I think it's a splendid idea! And Clark doesn't have to quit and become a freelancer yet, right?"

"Right — unless you'd prefer to do it anyway, son? On the same conditions I told you before, of course. Have you thought about it?"

"I've given it a lot of thought, Perry," Clark admitted, "I'm not so sure about the financial consequences yet, but one of the advantages would definitely be that I'd be working at home more often; Lois wants me to start writing down my Superman stories; she believes that books about Superman will really sell — maybe she's right, I don't know. But right now, I don't have time for all that."

"Gareth's asked him to write in depth articles for his new magazine, Chief."

"Hmph! I just knew that guy would stay in competition with us. I had a hunch that sooner or later he'd come around and ask you to work for him. Well, that's fine with me, son, I don't mind if you write for him, as long as it's about stuff a daily newspaper wouldn't print anyway."

Clark laughed. "I can see you've already thought hard about this too, Chief. Don't worry — I'm fully aware of what I can or cannot write for 'The Sentinel'. If it would make you feel better I'll even run the articles by you first — how's that?"

"No, that's all right, Clark, I'm sure that won't be necessary."

"Chief, do you mean to say that Clark can start writing for Gareth right away? He doesn't have to quit first?"

"Well, Lois, if Clark finds time to do it, I'll say more power to him."

"I don't think I'll have time to take on another job on a regular basis right now, Lois. Not if I keep on working fulltime for the Planet. My Superman duties can be very demanding, you know that, and I want to spend a lot of time with you and the baby too; I don't want to work all the time."

"Well, kids, this is somethin' you'll have to work out for yourselves. Clark, you're more than welcome to keep workin' fulltime at the Planet. Now that I'm stayin' on for a few more years there's no pressure and no reason for you to go freelancing right away."

"That's a relief, Chief — I know I'll have to someday and the idea is growing on me, but… we'll see."

"Yes, we can shelf that one for now." Lois said happily, "Oh, this is so wonderful! Everything's working out so beautifully, Chief. You're staying and you and Alice are getting married and so are Lucy and Lucas; we nabbed Mindy Church and scored some pretty great headlines; oh, and I'm not having those awful, gloomy feelings anymore, so I think that means no more disasters are about to happen, right? Let's see… what else is great…"

"How about havin' a baby? Doesn't that rank as 'great'?"

"No Chief — that's greater than great — that's… so life altering, I can't find just one word to describe my feelings about it."

Lois turned to Clark and lovingly touched his cheek. "It's the greatest and most important thing that's happened in our lives so far, Perry. Katharine's birth will be the highlight of this year for us."

Clark smiled and took Lois's hand in his own. He bowed his head and lingeringly pressed his lips in her palm, then closed her fingers over his kiss. Still holding Lois's hand in his own he looked at Perry.

"Chief, for me, one of the greatest things that happened this year is finding out that you know I'm Superman. I can't tell you what a relief it's been to be able to act normal around you. Especially when Jimmy had that accident and then again, during this whole Mindy case. It's made life so much easier, not having to lie around you anymore."

"That's so true, Chief — and the same goes for Dr. Klein. Right now, that man's working himself ragged trying to find an antidote or vaccine for Clark and the baby — and so is my father. Now that they've got Clark's spaceship over at Daddy's private lab in his apartment, Bernie's practically moved in with him — that's how dedicated they both are."

"Lois's parents and Bernie Klein are so supportive — I wish I'd told them sooner, Chief. And I wish I'd told you, instead of you finding out by yourself. I feel like I've wasted a lot of precious time, being afraid of the consequences."

"Well, Clark, there's a time and a place for everything — sounds corny, but it's true. These things can't be rushed, son. You weren't ready for it before. You needed time to set up a 'terra firma' with Lois first — before you could afford to branch out, so to speak. You've still got some loose ends in this respect, Clark, but take your time and wait for that all important 'right time'."

"What loose ends? Chief, what are you talking about?"

"Lois, darlin', sometimes you can be so dense!"

"Honey, I think Perry means letting Bill Henderson and Gareth Keyes in on our secret. Chief, I've also realized that it would be so much better if they knew. They're not out to hurt Superman in any way; I'm sure they can be trusted with the secret."

"Well," Lois said slowly, frowning thoughtfully, "I don't mind if you'd tell Bill; he's a bachelor, so he won't be tempted to tell his wife. Besides, he's a policeman, he knows how to keep his mouth shut. As for Gareth — don't you think it's best to wait until we know Glenda a little better? Your mom likes her and she doesn't strike me as a blabbermouth, but even so —"

"Lois, I wouldn't dream of telling anyone — not even Gareth or Bill for that matter — if you're not one hundred percent behind it."

"I know, Clark, I know you'll discuss it with me first."

"That's what I meant with 'the right time', Lois. And I agree with you, darlin', it's not the right time to tell Gareth — or Jimmy — or my Alice, for that matter. There's too much going on in their own lives right now. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record here, but I'll say it again — wait for the right time!"

Clark grinned. "And you haven't quoted 'The King' even once, Perry!"

"Ah… well, Clark, at this point I guess Elvis would say: go home and concentrate on the 'Love me tender' part of your lives. I mean that — it's been a very crazy couple of weeks and I want you two to take the rest of the week off. Go buy a crib — paint the baby's room — buy baby bottles — but stay out of my newsroom for a while."

"Well, that's — we could use some extra free time, Chief, but — are you sure?"

"Lois, I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."

"Thanks, Chief, that's great! How's this — we'll stay until lunch and then —"

"No way!" Clark jumped up, "C'mon, honey, let's go. We're taking you up on your offer, Perry, starting right now! You know where to reach us if anything major comes up; our cell phones are on at all times."

Perry laughed. "That's the spirit, son! Get that work-a-holic wife of yours away from here a.s.a.p. But I'm not through yet, so sit down for another minute, will ya?"

Perry waited until Clark was seated again then continued, "Lois, I wasn't at the morning briefing 'cause I went straight to 'the Suits' upstairs. I told them I'd stay on as Editor-in-Chief on a few conditions: I'll be workin' less hours for the same salary and you and Clark both get a hefty raise; on account of the Mindy case."

"Chief! You didn't!"

"Lois, what did I just tell you about timing? 'The Daily Planet' is selling like crazy; we've almost doubled the circulation these last few weeks. I thought 'the Suits' would need some time to think things over, but the paperwork is already being taken care of. Right now, money's pouring in, kids. See? It's all about timing."

"And yours is just perfect, Chief! You'll have to teach me how to do that. A raise — Clark, did you hear that? We're getting a raise! Oh, this day is getting more perfect by the minute!"

"I agree with my wife, Chief. This is great news. Thank you."

"Yes, thanks Perry — I'll make sure everything's okay before I leave. If you need help then you'd better ask Anna Johnston instead of that new girl, Tammy Barrow. Tammy's a bit ditzy, but Anna's really —"

"Lo-is! Perry's perfectly capable of arranging his workload himself. 'Bye Chief!"

"'Bye Clark — see you next Monday. Lois, get out of here."

Clark lauged and started to usher Lois out of the room. "Honey, this calls for a celebration! Let's have lunch at that new restaurant at the marina; I really liked that food we ate at Gordon's yesterday."

"Could we do that some other time? Let's eat at home and then we can tell our folks right away that we're having the rest of the week off."

"Okay, if that's what you want — how about dinner at the 'Louisiana Nights' then? To celebrate getting a raise?"

"Tonight already? I don't know, Clark, yesterday we had that party at Gordon's… don't you wanna stay home tonight? We can go tomorrow maybe."

"Okay — if that's what you want."

"You said that already! Do you really want to eat out today?"

"No, Lois, it's fine by me — we can do that some other time."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure — are you done tidying your desk? Good — now put on your coat… here, let me help you… Honey, before we go home I'd like to stop at that new baby furniture store on Baker Street. I saw this cute little rocking horse in their showroom and I'd like —"

"— to buy that? We'd better put that on the list of baby presents; then somebody can give it to us."

"But what if it's sold out by the time they want to buy it? I don't think they have too much of the same stuff in there, Lois, it's a very tiny store."

"Well, if you're really set on it — but you'll have to help me with that list, Clark! People are constantly asking me what I'd like to have for the baby, and frankly, I need some ideas; there's nothing on that list yet. It doesn't help if you keep buying all that stuff yourself, you know."

Perry, standing in the doorway of his office, laughed softly before he shut the door and walked towards his desk again. He threw a contented look at the King's youthful, smiling face staring back at him from the wall.

"Some things never change, eh, Elvis? I'm sure by now you'll have noticed somethin' about those two — they always argue! But unlike you and Priscilla and me and Alice — they've always managed to make up in time. Oh well — I guess this is my 'right time', too. Alice is givin' me another chance and you know what — I'm darned if I'm gonna waste more time! Where's that phone? Hope she's home right now… C'mon dumplin' — pick up the phone — we've got a chapel to book!"


Epilogue — Miracle on Hyperion Avenue

"Lois? What's the matter — can't you sleep?" Clark stared groggily through the darkness at the vague outline of his wife as she sat on a chair near their bed with her hands supporting her swollen belly.

"I'm sorry, Clark, I didn't want to wake you yet. But I think it's time…"

Instantly Clark was wide awake and out of the bed. He knelt beside the chair, looking up at Lois with concerned eyes. "You mean — you're in labor? Now?"

Lois smiled and nodded. "Looks like our special Christmas present is arriving a bit earlier than we expected."

"Okay, Lois, stay calm — I'll call our parents right away."

"No — don't do that yet, Clark. I'd like for us to stay together for a while longer — just you and me. I've been timing the contractions and they're about thirty minutes apart. I was just getting ready to call you when you woke up."

"I can't believe I just slept through it while you were in pain and got out of bed. I'm so sorry, honey — how long have you been up?"

"Not long," Lois said vaguely, "I wanted to be really sure before I woke you up. It could've been a false alarm, you know. Mother says it sometimes happens; you're in pain and get contractions, but then it's not the real thing after all. You needed your sleep, Clark, you've been so busy these last few couple of days, helping out those poor people on those islands after that hurricane practically destroyed all of their homes."

Lois lovingly smoothed back an unruly lock of hair on Clark's forehead. "And you finally got to take a look at Mindy Church's hideaway on St. Cyr, too," she said teasingly.

Relieved to see Lois so calm and in good spirits Clark relaxed a bit and smiled back at her. "And it was still standing. Most of the damage was done at the other coastline. Those islanders were very confused. They're not used to hurricanes that come as late as in December… honey… do you want to talk about Mindy Church right now?"

"Well, it might take my mind off things, you know; you were gone for three days, Clark, and when you came back this morning you were too tired to talk too much. But you did say you went to this 'Ma Retraite' place of Mindy's on St. Cyr and I'd like to know what that was like; I'm curious!"

"I was curious too when I got there," Clark admitted, "It was weird, walking around in that beautiful house where so many ugly plans have been made. I met Marc Lachapelle over there — he's the oldest son of Mindy's late husband."

"I remember — he's the one who sent a check to the Superman Foundation when he'd read in 'The Daily Planet' how Superman helped to catch Mindy. That was a huge amount of money, Clark. He also sent Perry a very nice letter, thanking all of us on behalf of himself and his brother. He seems nice."

"He is — he and his brother were very attached to their father. Are you sure you wanna talk about this? Our child is about to be born, Lois. That's… huge!"

Lois sighed, "She's huge, all right. It feels that way, at least. Go on; tell me more about your meeting with Marc Lachapelle. I bet he was thrilled to meet and talk to Superman in person."

"I guess…" Clark, still on his knees, looked conflicted. He carefully placed one hand over Lois's belly. "Honey, you don't look it, but are you in pain? Are you comfortable in that chair? Why don't we —"

"Honey, relax. No, I'm not in pain right now. I feel all sorts of things going on in my body but it's not painful right now." Lois glanced at her watch. "I told you, the contractions are about thirty minutes apart, so I guess it will take a few hours before she's born."

"I guess…"

Clark turned his head to look at the lighted display of the alarm clock.

"It's almost two thirty… it's December the fifteenth… Lois, this is going to be Katharine's birthday! She… you…"

Clark, suddenly overcome by a myriad of emotions, buried his face against Lois's neck.

"See? That's why I've wanted to talk about mundane things, sweetheart," Lois said teasingly, "I can't have you falling apart just yet."

Clark sighed softly against her skin. "Mundane? You think Mindy Church is mundane?"

"Well…" The intonation in Lois's voice made Clark lift his head and smile at her.

"Okay, maybe you're right; maybe we'd better talk about other stuff for a while."

Lois nodded. "It helps you not to freak out, you know. When I realized what was happening I started to feel a bit panicky. So I forced myself to think about other things — like Perry and Alice's wedding; how beautiful that had been and it helped me to relax."

"Lois, you should've called me!"

"Why? So we could panic together? At least I'm calm now and I can help you relax. So, go on, tell me more about St. Cyr."

"Well, if you insist… this I think you'll like, Lois — on St. Cyr, Mindy's marriage to Yves Lachapelle has been declared illegal. Marc Lachapelle says that's possible under St. Cyrian laws. That's strange because she hasn't been convicted yet; the case against her is still being built. But Marc told me the marriage has been annulled and all Lachapelle properties and businesses have already been signed over to him and his brother."

"He probably pulled some strings — good for him! Does Mindy know already? She could be completely broke right now. Wonder how she's going to pay those hotshot lawyers of hers."

"Well, that's her problem. Marc's convinced they've seized all bank accounts, but knowing Mindy… she might very well have some hidden resources."

"Have you told Bill Henderson yet? He needs to know, Clark."

"I know — I just haven't had a chance to… Lois? What's the matter?"

Suddenly, Lois had gasped and floated out of the chair. Pain lanced through her, sudden and quick as lightning. Moaning, she flung back her head, then started to puff, rocking back and forth in the air. Clark scrambled to his feet and in an instant he was floating beside her. "Here, honey, hold my hand — grab on to it."

Clark started to puff along with Lois until the pain subsided and she let go of his hand and floated into his arms. Clark carefully wrapped his arms around her and Lois sighed, flopping her head onto his shoulder, smiling tremulously up at him.

"Whoa! That was — boy, that really hurt! Mother's Lamaze practice comes in handy though — it does help if you know what to do."

"Lois, honey —"

"It's okay, Clark, it hurts — it hurts a lot. But that's all in the game, isn't it? Hmmm… this is nice, floating around like this… you know, being weightless really helps. Now, tell me — what exactly was Marc Lachapelle doing on St. Cyr? Is he planning to move into that mansion himself?"

Clark sighed; he didn't want to talk about St. Cyr and Mindy Church anymore but he didn't want to upset Lois so he answered obediently.

"I don't know, honey, he told me he's there to sort out Mindy's business deals, together with the local police. I talked to the St. Cyrian commissioner and he told me the police is handing over all relevant files to our own commissioner here in Metropolis. He's as anxious as Marc to see that Mindy is convicted. She didn't exactly endear herself to the St. Cyrians when she fired all local staff members at the house and replaced them by outsiders."

"Well, that was a smart move on Mindy's part. Those people were probably very attached to the Lachapelle family… but you know what — I don't want to talk about Mindy anymore… You'd better call our parents now and I was thinking… I'd like to have Perry and Bernie here too, if that's all right with you."

"I don't mind, Lois, but you've never said so before — are you sure?"

"I'm sure, Clark, I think it's important to have the people who know about you — about us — here with us, when our daughter is born."

"What about Bertha — do you want her to come over, too?"

"No — I don't think so. I thought about it, but — no. She'd have to hang around with those four men for God knows how long, Clark. We'll call her as soon as the baby's born."

"Okay… d'you want to sit in the chair again while I make those calls?"

"No, I need to go to the bathroom first — and then we'd better go down and wait for the parents; I'm thirsty… are you thirsty too? Maybe you could make some pancakes for the men. I bet they'll get hungry, just sitting around waiting… Perry likes your pancakes and I bet Bernie will too… Clark, do you realize this is the last time you and I will be together — just the two of us?"


"Tell Sam I'll be ready in fifteen minutes… thanks, Jonathan."

Perry White dropped the phone in its cradle and turned to look at Alice who was sleeping peacefully. Not for the first time he wondered how on earth she always managed to sleep through the sound of a ringing phone and the conversation that invariably followed.

In the old days, during their first marriage, he'd shamelessly taken advantage of his wife's ability to sleep like the proverbial rose. He'd leave the house in the middle of the night when duty called, too often not even bothering to leave her a note. He'd just assume she'd understand why he had to leave — he was a newspaperman and that meant being on call twenty-four hours, day and night.

Perry contemplated leaving a note on Alice's nightstand but then decided against it. They had promised each other that this time around they would do things right — and that meant he'd have to discuss this with her first. He hoped she wouldn't be too disappointed that she wasn't included in the invitation; he hoped she'd understand, otherwise he didn't think he'd be able to go.

"Alice? Alice, honey — wake up!"

"Huh…? Perry… whassamatter? You're not sick, are you?" Suddenly wide-awake, Alice shot upright.

"No, no, no, I'm not sick," Perry said hastily, "I got a call from Jonathan Kent. Lois is about to give birth and Jonathan asked if I'd like to come over to the house and wait with him and Sam Lane until the baby's born. It's a guy thing, you see — drink coffee, talk some, maybe play some chess — Sam is going to pick me up in ten minutes — that is, if it's all right with you?"

"Of course it's okay. So that means Lois is going through with it? She's having the baby at home?" Alice slid out of bed while Perry started to dress.

"Looks like. You don't have to get up, honey, you can go back to sleep now."

"I will, as soon as you're gone. Perry, that girl has some very strange ideas. I mean — giving birth at home while you can do that so much safer at a hospital! I was really surprised when I first heard about this. And Martha and Ellen both support her and even agreed to help her. I mean — even if your mother is a nurse and your father's a doctor…" Alice shook her head in wonderment. "Oh well, that's Lois Lane for you. I wonder what Clark really thinks about this?"

"Well, dumplin', as far as I know he's okay with it. Ah — there's Sam — gotta go now. I'll call you as soon as the baby's born."

Perry hastily kissed Alice's cheek and practically ran out of the bedroom. He didn't like to lie to Alice or tell half-truths; but he couldn't very well tell her the real reason why Lois wasn't going to check in at a hospital either.

For a moment Alice contemplated following her husband, even if only to say a quick hello to Sam Lane before he left. But then she shrugged and got into bed again. She knew that to Perry, Lois was the daughter he never had and Alice didn't begrudge him this special bond with Lois.

Alice sighed as she thought about Janice, their own daughter-in-law. She didn't know her very well and Perry hadn't even met her yet. Their oldest son Harry had met his wife when he was already living and working in Canada. Janice had been pregnant when they had eloped and since then Harry had never once visited his hometown Metropolis.

'Maybe when the kids are older,' Alice thought longingly. She visited them at least once a year but one or two weeks were too short to really bond with any of them. She hoped that next spring Perry would want to come with her. It was high time he and his son got connected again and for him to finally meet his two grandchildren. So far, he'd only seen them in the snapshots their mother occasionally send to Alice. And Alice was always amazed to see how quickly they changed and how fast they were growing up.

'That's another thing we'll have to change,' Alice thought, 'Those two boys should grow up knowing both sets of grandparents. I'm darned if I'll just sit back and let this situation go on. I don't want to feel jealous of Martha and Jonathan anymore, because they're so close to their son. I want that too, and for Perry. I know we'll have to work real hard at it and it's starting right now!'

Alice slid out of bed again and padded over to the calendar hanging on one of the bedroom walls. She looked for and found a pen then ripped off the page that said December 14.

For a moment, Alice stared at the date she'd just uncovered: December 15. Then, with a flourish, she wrote: Call travel agency and book two roundtrips to Vancouver. Date: ?

Thinking hard, Alice tapped the pen against her chin. Okay, she'd talk that one over with Perry first, she decided. But it had to be next spring — definitely early next spring.


"You're doing fine, Lois, just fine. Just one more time, then it will be all over."

"Honey, you're almost there — oh my! I can see her little head already!"

Through a haze of pain Ellen's brisk and Martha's excited voices reached Lois's brain. Close to her ear she heard Clark murmuring reassuring words.

"Honey, I'm right here. Hold on to me. C'mon — one more time: push!"

"Push, Lois, push — now!" Ellen urged, followed by a chorus of mother and son: "Push, Lois, push!"

Suddenly irritated, Lois snapped, "I hear you already! I'll push all right, okay! Aaaaargh!!"

"That's it, Lois, push! And here she comes!" Ellen deftly caught her slippery granddaughter as Martha looked on, wide-eyed and for a moment, speechless.

As soon as air reached the baby's lungs she let out an angry wail and soon she was crying lustily. Ellen walked around the bed and lay the squirming infant on Lois's breast.

"Oh sweetie, don't cry, here's your mommy!" Lois crooned; all pain was instantly forgotten and she laughed through her tears as she closed her arms protectively around her daughter. "Let me look at you… oh Clark! Look at her! She's so beautiful!" The baby moved jerkily against her mother's warm flesh, her angry cries gradually changing into soft whimpers.

"She's beautiful," Clark confirmed in an awed voice. Even though he'd closely followed her development the wonder of this moment brought tears to his eyes. Carefully he reached out and cupped his daughter's back in his large hand. The baby squirmed against his palm, whimpering softly and Clark's hand trembled as he finally let go of the iron self control he'd had to exercise while Lois went through the long, painful labor process.

"My baby…" Clark's voice cracked and a sob tore through his throat; suddenly blinded by tears he turned his face towards Lois and touched his forehead against hers.

"It's okay, sweetheart, I'm crying too, you know." Through her own tears Lois smiled down at her daughter. "It's such a miracle — she's a miracle. And she's ours, Clark!"

"Lois," her mother's calm voice penetrated her jumbled thoughts, "Give her to me — I have to clean her up now and we have to cut the cord. Clark, would you like to do that?"

Ellen's matter of fact voice had the desired effect. Lois, suddenly feeling very tired, reluctantly released the baby. Clark drew a deep breath before lifting his head to nod wordlessly at Ellen, who swiftly took control, issuing low-voiced orders while gently shushing her now once again screaming granddaughter.

Martha, a happy smile on her tearstained face, had already positioned herself near the scale, her notebook in her hand. She'd already jotted down the date and time of birth: December 15, 6:59 am — and when Ellen gently laid the baby on the scale Martha cried out triumphantly: "Seven pounds and three ounces!"

While Ellen expertly busied herself with the baby, Martha ran towards her son, who enveloped his mother in a tight embrace. "Oh Clark, I'm so happy! Congratulations — you've got a beautiful little girl! Now, go clean up first and then go downstairs, honey, we have to attend to Lois now. Come on, go on — I'm sure those men are climbing the walls by now."

"I guess…" Clark reluctantly let go of Martha, then swiftly went into the bathroom to change. But before he went downstairs he couldn't resist walking back into the room. He pressed a lingering kiss on Lois's forehead and asked softly, "You okay, honey?"

Lois smiled wanly up at him. "Uhuh… you heard your mom… go on; when you come back I'll be all cleaned up and settled in our own bed."

"I'll come and get you when we're ready in here, honey," Martha said, "Now go! Before the cavalry storms in here to see what's going on."

"Okay, okay, I'm going!" Clark threw a longing look at his daughter who was still loudly protesting Ellen's ministrations and reluctantly left the room, only to be surprised by four faces looking anxiously up at him from the bottom of the stairs.

"Well?" Sam Lane demanded, "We can hear her crying so we know she's arrived. What took you so long! How's Lois? Is she all right?"

"Lois is okay and the baby's okay. I'm not so sure about me, though. I'm a wreck!" Clark grinned happily while he floated down the stairs, straight into his father's arms.

"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry boomed while he clapped Clark on his shoulder. "You sure took your time comin' down here, son, but we'll forgive you! Sam! Jonathan! Congratulations! You're grandfathers now too, hahahah! Bernie, where's that fresh pot of coffee you said you'd just made? I bet Clark could use some. And let's go heat up that stack of pancakes — I'm starvin'!"


The next couple of days Clark had his hands full, trying to keep his home from being stampeded by well meaning and not so well meaning Metropolitans who, for a short time, clogged Hyperion Avenue, trying to get a glimpse of their star reporter and her newborn baby. A few die-hards continued to do so, even after seeing the stunningly beautiful, first pictures of the radiant new mother and her baby daughter, shot by a proud Jimmy Olsen and prominently displayed in 'The Daily Planet', two days after the birth.

Flowers for Lois and presents for the baby started pouring in and Lois had been touched when she read the kind, mostly handwritten good wishes on the congratulatory cards that came with the gifts.

"Clark — these come from perfect strangers!" Lois had commented, "You'd think we're celebrities or something."

Amazed, Lois had cautiously peeked through the curtains at the street where photographers and reporters stood, waiting for their big break, surrounded by other curious on-lookers.

One afternoon, even Superman had to come to the rescue when he spotted Ellen Lane and Bertha Avery trying to chase a tabloid reporter and his photographer off the steps leading up to his front door.

Clark had rolled his eyes when he saw his mother-in- law viciously slapping the reporter around the ears with a copy of 'The Daily Planet' while Bertha feebly tried to push the photographer off the steps. The two women had just visited Lois and the baby and were headed to Martha's for coffee and cake when the two men had boldly tried to storm past them into the house.

Lois grinned widely when Clark told her what had happened.

"I had to pluck those guys off the steps, Lois, they wouldn't budge — in fact, they were just laughing at Ellen and Bertha — and I was afraid they'd roll down the steps, all four of 'em. Don't laugh, Lois, they could've seriously injured themselves!"

"I know, I know!" Lois laughed unrepentantly, "It's a good thing you came home just in time to prevent that. Who would've thought — sweet little Bertha has homicidal tendencies! My mother — yes — but Bertha? Hahahah! Clark, you have to admit that's — hahahah! Those guys were lucky Martha didn't see them — she'd have slapped a pie in their faces! Hahahah! Oh God, I shouldn't laugh like this — I'll wake the baby! And it hurts!" Lois flopped on her back on the bed, trying valiantly to stifle her giggles.

Clark wisely refrained from saying 'I told you so' and peered solicitously into the crib instead. Tenderly he gazed down at his sleeping daughter. Carefully he extended one long finger and softly stroked the dark patch of hair on her perfectly formed little head.

Lois's laughter finally subsided and she turned onto her side to look at Clark. She smiled as she saw the familiar, rapt expression on her husband's face as he intently studied their baby's small, heartshaped face, her rosebud mouth and tiny ears. She knew that unconsciously he was looking for a likeness — any likeness that might point to Katharine's Kryptonian origin.

As soon as the baby was born Martha had joyously declared that Katharine was the spitting image of her father, but that had been immediately contradicted by Ellen. Katharine, she'd said firmly, was the exact image of Lois as a baby — and she had pictures to prove it, too! The two grandmothers agreed to disagree and happily continued their dispute.

So far, the only outward mark that couldn't be traced to either Sam's or Ellen's origin was a dark brown, egg-shaped birthmark on the baby's left arm, just above her wrist.

Lois herself didn't care who the baby looked like — to her, Katharine was the most beautiful child she'd ever seen — their perfect little angel. A constant source of wonder to her parents whether she was awake or sleeping peacefully.

They invariably grinned at each other whenever she yawned luxuriously or squinted at them and their smiles softened when she'd contentedly fall asleep in Lois's arms after being fed.

And when at night they lay cuddled close to each other before falling asleep, they still gazed wonderingly at their precious little bundle in the crib beside their bed.

"We'll have to move her to the nursery one day," Lois murmured and Clark looked up, smiling ruefully. "I know… but she's still so tiny, Lois, she's only one week old."

"There's no rush." Lois knew it would be hard for Clark to get used to leaving their daughter in another room, regardless of her age. "Her room's still stuffed anyway. You know what — mother told me to take a nap but I'm not sleepy — in fact, I don't feel tired at all."

Lois slid out of bed, stepped into her slippers and shrugged into her comfy flannel housecoat. She stretched out her arm and slowly floated a few inches upwards. She sighed regretfully.

"Look Clark — this is as far I can go up now. See — my powers are almost gone now. That's why mother says we'll have to try and get pregnant again as soon possible; before all the Kryptonian hormones are completely gone."

"Lo-is!" Clark looked scandalized. "Don't tell me you've discussing this with your mother!"

Lois rolled her eyes. "Never mind that! Do you want another baby or not?"

"Honey, you know I'd love to have more babies! But do you want another one so soon? You had such a hard time and —"

"You mean — the birth? Piece of cake!" Lois said airily, "I'd like to have more babies too, Clark, maybe we could have three, like Glenda and Gareth have."

"Three, Lois? Are you sure? Glenda's a stay-at-home- mom, you know!"

"Well, Eileen Vaughan has four kids and she's a working mom too."

"She works at home, Lois. She lives right on top of her own shop, remember?"

"And we have your parents living right next door! So what's your point?"

"Lois, let's not argue about the number of kids we're going to have okay? Why are you out of bed, anyway? You're supposed to take a nap."

"I told you, I'm not tired at all. I'm going to start sorting out those presents in Katie's room. Mother's already put some empty boxes in there. We can start filling those and then you can take them to the orphanage and the hospitals. Mother's put the presents we got from our friends in the guestroom — so we can't accidentally give one of those away. Oh — I almost forgot — look what Bertha brought today!"

Lois pointed towards an envelope on her nightstand. Clark picked it up and his eyes widened while he whistled softly through his teeth when he saw the amount written on the check. "Lois! This is… this is…"

"Enormous! I know! That's the money Bertha was paid for her house — remember she told us she wanted to give it to the baby? This is a symbolic check only — the money's already in a bank account in Katie's name. Bertha had one stipulation though — Katie will have access to the money when she turns twenty five."

"Very sensible of Bertha, but — I'm not sure, Lois, it's —"

"We can't give it back, Clark, it's not our money, it's Katie's! Just think — she could have her own foundation some day. She'll be able to do a lot of good with all that money, Clark, maybe she'll donate it to the Superman Foundation; but that's for her to decide. Don't worry about it."

Lois grinned as she floated towards the door, "I bet we'll get used to having a rich daughter before she turns twenty-five!"

"I guess…" Clark still looked doubtful but willingly followed Lois to the nursery. He picked up a box and Lois immediately started to fill it with toys, occasionally stopping to closely inspect one particular object that caught her fancy.

"There are some pretty cute things in here, Clark. Look at this teddy bear, isn't he a dear? He looks a little like my own Clarkie Bear… and there's a tricycle too! You can definitely take that one to the orphanage, honey — we're not going to babysit a tricycle for three years."

"Yes, these are great toys, but," Clark said, looking smug, "I've got the best present of all!"

"What's that, sweetheart?" Lois asked teasingly; she already knew the answer. One day, Gareth Keyes had been carrying Charlotte in a brand-new Snugli, cooing at his three-months-old daughter while the baby chortled and waved her little hands in front of her father's face. Lois's throat had closed up when she'd seen the expression on Clark's face as he'd watched his friend walk around and play with his baby.

Ever since she'd caught him looking at Charlotte with a look of such intense longing on his face, Lois had decided she'd get Clark his own Snugli right away — they didn't have to wait until their own daughter was old enough. So when Lois had seen a particularly colorful baby carrier in bright red, blue and yellow, she'd dragged Martha into the store and bought it on the spot.

Clark had been as happy as a little boy when she'd come home after her shopping spree with Martha and handed him a large package. His delighted grin had threatened to split his face when he'd uncovered a 'face the parent' Snugli.

Clark had clasped the baby carrier against his chest and alternately hugged and kissed his mother and his wife, crying out delightedly, "Thank you, thank you, thank you — I love it! Just what I've always wanted! And in Superman's colors too! Dad, look!"

Excited, Clark had turned to Jonathan who'd stood, watching his son's exuberance with raised eyebrows. He was used to Lois's frequent babbling outbursts but for Clark this was quite a novelty.

Lois and Martha had dissolved in amused chuckles as Clark had proceeded to demonstrate how to use the baby carrier to his Dad and again when he'd been reluctant to take it off.

"Clark, honey," Martha had grinned, "you can't walk around all day with that thing strapped to your chest. C'mon — take it off now. Lois, you better hide it until the baby's old enough to be put in that thing."

Sure enough, Clark now again confirmed happily that the Snugli was his most favorite present of all. "I can't wait until Katie's old enough, Lois… but why are we doing this so slowly? Honey, I can gather up those toys in a second and deliver them in the next."

"I know, Clark, but we don't have to give away everything. Tell you what — you can take those really big toys like that tricycle and that huge, scary panda to the orphanage right away. That will give me time to sort through the smaller toys."

"Okay." Clark spun into the Suit, gathered the toys at superspeed and zipped away.

"Now we're talking!" Lois surveyed the nursery with a satisfied eye. Determinedly she started to inspect then toss various toys into the empty boxes. When Clark came back he picked up the full boxes and zipped away again.

Suddenly, Lois felt very tired; she sighed as she mumbled to herself, "If mother saw me like this there's no telling what she'd say or do. I'd better go take that nap now…"

At that very moment Clark zipped back into the nursery and Lois smiled at him. "Hi honey — I think I'm done here for now. I'll go take that nap now — wanna join me?"

Solicitously, Clark lifted Lois up in his arms. "You look tired, honey. I'll kiss you to sleep, how's that?"

"Mmmm… sounds wonderful…" Lois sighed and closed her eyes, only to open then wide when Clark suddenly stopped in his tracks, just inside their bedroom.

"Clark? Wha — ? Ooh!"

Clark hastily put Lois down but when he wanted to walk past her she held him back.

"No, Clark, wait…" Los whispered as she stared, fascinated, at Clark's Kryptonian Globe that was hovering above the crib, shooting softly colored rays of light into the air.

Lois held her breath; she could feel Clark's accelerated heartbeat slamming against her back, his body poised to take off at a moment's notice.

"Shhhh… it won't hurt her, Clark, I'm sure — Omigosh!"

Clark too gasped as suddenly the rays came together beside the crib and a misty figure materialized — a young woman, dressed in a flowing white robe, her strawberry blond hair framing her sad, but smiling face in soft waves as she looked down at the baby.

"Mother…?" Clark's voice broke and his body jerked against Lois's back when the ethereal figure gracefully extended an arm; the folds of her sleeve moved and even through his tears Clark could clearly make out the tell-tale birthmark on her wrist.

"Clark! Look! Her arm…" Lois too had spotted the slightly larger but unmistakably identical birthmark on the woman's arm.

The image of Clark's birthmother didn't take any notice of her son and his wife. For a few seconds she held her arm poised above the crib while her lips moved soundlessly. She removed her arm and, smiling softly, touched both her hands to her lips, once again dissolving into soft rays of light that slowly disappeared into the Globe.

While Lois and Clark watched with fascinated eyes, the Globe undulated a few times above the crib, then slowly floated back onto the exact spot on the shelf in the bookcase where Clark had placed it so many months ago.

A great sigh shuddered through Clark's large frame. Suddenly galvanized into action he swiftly lifted Lois into his arms and zipped towards the crib. Lois slid down and carefully lifted their sleeping daughter into her arms while Clark retrieved the Globe from the shelf.

"Look, Clark, she's all right — our precious little Katie's all right." And when Katharine stirred, Lois softly cooed while she gently rocked the baby. "Shhhh — it's all right, sweetie, Mommy's here — and Daddy's here, too. Shhhh — go back to sleep, you have nothing to fear, little one, your Kryptonian grandmother is watching over you too, you know."

Lois turned a tearstained face to Clark, who was still stunned and speechless, staring alternately at his wife and child and the now inanimate Globe in his hand.

"It's true, you know," Lois said tremulously, "Your mother — she's watching over her. I can truly feel it, honey."

Clark shook his head in an attempt to clear the jumbled thoughts that raced through his mind. His mother — his birthmother Lara — had come to say hello to her grandchild! Or was it goodbye? Maybe she would appear again someday or maybe this visit had been some sort of closure for her. They would just have to wait and see if either Lara or Jor-El, his birth father, would ever have a reason to materialize again.

"I can feel it too, honey," Clark said huskily. Gently he lifted his daughter's arm and pressed a kiss on the birthmark on her wrist. "Welcome to the House of El, Katharine Lara Kent."

"Katharine Lara Kent…" Lois smiled and nodded her approval while fresh tears coursed down her cheeks. "This is your father, Kal-El, born on the planet Krypton…"

"— son of Jor-El and Lara; raised on the planet Earth as Clark Kent by Jonathan and Martha Kent," Clark added solemnly, "And this is your mother, Lois Lane, born on the planet Earth."

Lois bowed her head and kissed her daughter's forehead. "Welcome to our world, Katharine Lara Kent."

For a long time Lois and Clark stood with their arms wrapped around each other and their child until the insistent peal of the doorbell penetrated their thoughts.

Reluctantly Clark released Lois, who sighed softly and moved towards the crib. Gently she laid the baby down. "Wonder who that can be, Clark? Are we expecting visitors?"

"That will probably be my dad — I promised him we'd buy our Christmas trees today, remember?"

"I remember… Clark, will you also buy a little tree for Katie? I want her to have her very own Christmas tree."

"Okay honey — all right, all right! Dad, hold your horses! I'm coming already!"

Lois chuckled as Clark zipped out of the room. She took a last peek at the baby then slid between the covers. Drowsily she turned her head towards the crib, speaking softly.

"I'd better get some shut eye while I can, sweetie; in an hour you'll be hollering for your next feeding. Did I tell you your Auntie Lucy and Uncle Lucas are coming over for Christmas and New Year's Eve? They're your real aunt and uncle, but you've got a lot of other uncles and aunties too, you know — and kids to play with. There's Charlotte… and Auntie Eileen's twin boys, Duncan and Dennis… they're about your age. Then there's Eric and Simon, Charlotte's brothers; they're a few years older but that's good; they can watch over you and their sister, right? Though I'm sure at one point you girls will not like that at all!"

Lois grinned then yawned contentedly and closed her eyes. But before she fell asleep she managed to direct a last, cautionary speech at her daughter.

"Yep! This is a very busy household you were born into, Katie-girl; you better get used to it — and fast! There's always something happening!"



The familiar characters and settings as shown in the TV series 'Lois and Clark, The New Adventures of Superman' do not belong to me. I've borrowed them just for fun and do not profit from them.

There is no Caribbean island named St. Cyr — I made that up. The names of the new characters I've introduced in this story have been picked at random too. So if you happen to know someone with the same name as one of the villains, I assure you that is just a coincidence!


I'm very grateful to my friend and BR Tricia, who guided me through this whole writing process. Without her enthusiastic support and encouragement I'd never have been able to finish this — let alone contemplate starting on a sequel! <g> Thank you so much, Tricia, for all your hard work.

Thanks also to Skylark, who BR-ed for me too and helped with typical American phrases.

A very special thank you and kudos go to Alicia who, while writing and posting her own LCfanfic 'Medical Miracles' on the mbs, took the time to collaborate with me on the medical issues in my story.

My special thanks go to all the FoLCs who read this story in installments on the mbs and took the time to give much needed feedback and support. Your comments have been very helpful and inspiring!

And last but not least: GE Sarah who helped with the much needed, final editing. Thanks, Sarah, it's been great working with you!