Missing Lois

By VirginiaR. <lc.virginiar@gmail.com>

Rated PG-13

Submitted February 2012

Summary: Lois and Clark consummate their relationship the night before he departs for New Krypton, leaving Lois pregnant, cursed, and alone. H.G. Wells shows up and suggests an alternate solution for her and baby Kent’s survival, which turns her life upside down and changes alt-Clark’s destiny.

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Author’s Note: This story is my idea of what Seasons Five and Six could have looked like if Hollywood had had the guts and imagination to continue this terrific show. Everything from Seasons One through Four happened (or will happen) and should be considered incorporated into my story. I have changed a couple of canon facts, moved an episode or two to their correct timeline spot, and shifted a few dates to work better with the story. I note when/where these changes differ from the show at the beginning of the chapter in which it applies. I apologize in advance for any mistakes I may have made.

Disclaimer: This story starts out with a scene written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner in the Season Three finale episode Big Girls Don’t Fly. For a full disclaimer, please see the end of the story.

Set: This story begins shortly before Clark/Superman/Kal-El leaves with Zara and Ching for New Krypton.

***

Chapter 1 — Bye-Bye Baby, Goodbye

Lois wandered around her apartment, slowly picking up items to add to a box for Clark. Her mind was not focused on the task on hand, but rather filled with thoughts of the past, where their lives were to have been joined. A knock at the door abruptly brought her back to the present. Carrying Clark’s brown v-neck sweater with her, she tried in vain to wipe the dampness from her eyes before opening the door.

“Hi,” Lois said, letting Clark inside.

“Hi.” He enclosed Lois into his arms. This was it; their final goodbye.

Lois pulled away from the hug and attempted to fold the sweater again. Don’t show Clark how much you’ve been crying, she thought to herself. Be strong for him.

She started to babble. “Your sweater. You lent it to me that time we flew to Bangkok for Thai noodles. I thought you might need it.” She placed the sweater into the box. “Who knows what the weather’s going to be like on New Krypton. It might be… a…” She realized she was rambling again. “I don’t know what to do here. I could pack some cookies or… uh… darn some socks… uh… I can’t even write you.”

“I don’t know if I can do this,” murmured Clark.

“You can.” Lois’s sniffles told him she wished it were otherwise.

“What I want to do is take you in my arms and fly away.”

“From what? Yourself? Your destiny?” She wanted the same things he did, but knew it was too late. He had already made his choice. “I will be here waiting for you, Clark.”

The pain in Clark’s eyes stabbed her soul. He had always hated leaving her alone. Unprotected. At all. She had to be the strong one this time.

“And if you can return, you will,” Lois continued with all the strength she could muster.

“You have so much faith in me.”

“Oh. Well, that’s all I have. I think that’s what is keeping me standing here. ‘Cause when I let myself imagine a tomorrow without you I start to shake.” Her lips started to tremble with these words.

“Lois, if there was any way I could take you with me, I would.” He meant that, she could see it in his eyes.

“I know.” Lois caressed his face. “I know.” How was she going to live without seeing those brown eyes every day. How had she ever described them as muddy? Glancing over his shoulder, she saw the little square jeweler’s box she had put on the coffee table. “Oh!” She had almost forgotten. She picked it up and opened it. “I never got a chance to wear my wedding ring.” She took the ring, hanging on a silver chain, out of the box and returned to Clark. “I was hoping you could keep it for me.” She placed the chain around his neck.

She could see that her gift left him speechless. Finally, he found words. “I will keep this as safe as I keep my love for you. Lois, I have loved you from the beginning…”

She smiled; he had said that to her a thousand times. “And I’ll love you ‘til the end,” she told him.

“In my heart, I am your husband.”

“And I’m your wife.”

“Always.”

They stared at each other. What more could be said? All that was left was goodbye and neither wanted to speak those words.

Lois glanced over at the window. “So…” They moved to look up at the night sky. “Which star is yours?”

“I don’t know if you can see it.” He pointed at the brightest star in the sky. “There.”

“I see it. I’ll watch it every night,” she promised, turning to him. He was only inches away and she could not resist any longer. Neither could he. Clark dropped the curtain and they embraced. Slowly, their kisses brought them to the floor.

***

Yet, it was not on the floor, but on the bed that they found themselves as dawn approached. Lois snuggled up against Clark’s bare chest for one last cuddle. She knew that when dawn arrived, he shouldn’t be there. She took a deep breath and said what she had been dreading since the night before.

“Clark.”

“Hmmm.”

“It’s almost dawn.”

“I know.” He ran his fingers through her hair. “I need to go.”

“Clark.” She sat up straighter and placed both hands on his chest. “You need to forget this night.”

“What?!” Clark was clearly stunned. “I can never…”

“Understand me, Clark. This never happened. Do not think about it even for an instant, especially when you miss me the most; when you are at your weakest. You cannot,” Lois’s voice shook with the words, but she knew she had to continue. She had to convince him. “The New Kryptonians can read minds.”

Clark blanched, realizing where she was headed. “I’ll encase my thoughts in steel—”

“No,” Lois interrupted him. “They are much better at reading thoughts than you are at locking yours up, Clark. If you were to think about us…” She indicated the bed. “Here. Even for one moment. All could be lost. You must forget everything that happened last night.”

Clark stepped out of the bed, wearing only her ring on a chain around his neck. Instantly, he spun himself into his clothes. He picked up his glasses from the nightstand and put them on. Leaning down, he kissed her once more. “I’ll hurry back, Wife, now that I know what I’m missing.”

“You don’t know anything!” Lois glared at him and pounded her fists on the bedspread. Then she smiled as she realized he was teasing her. Two could play at that game. Her smile turned demure. “Remember, Husband, we were saving ourselves for our official marriage night.”

“I can’t forget you, Lois.”

“You’d better not!” She socked him in the arm.

He pulled her into another kiss. “Can I remember kissing you?” he whispered.

“Uh-huh,” she murmured, melting as he kissed down her neck. She pushed him away. “Clark!”

He grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, it might be easier to forget if you weren’t so…”

She glanced down to her silky camisole top and grabbed her robe from the end of the bed. “It shouldn’t matter, you can…” She mimicked him pulling down his glasses and x-raying something. “… anyway.”

“I’ll be good,” he said, smiling.

Lois stepped into her robe and slippers and then wrapped her arms around him again. “That’s what I like about you, Clark. I know I can trust you.”

He whispered in her ear, “I’d die… a virgin… before ever breaking that trust, Lois.”

His hot breath tickled down her spine and she needed to take a step back. She took both his hands in hers. She bit her lip as it started shaking again. “Come back to me, Clark.”

Clark placed one last kiss upon her lips. “Always, Lois.” Then he was gone.

***

The days dripped by in Metropolis. The sunny blue skies and chirping birds of summer felt like the gloomiest of winters for Lois.

She knew life was tough for Clark on the New Krypton ship, surrounded by strangers, learning their customs, all the while far from home. Back at the Daily Planet, Lois felt like she was the one on a different planet. She not only had to do her job — top investigative reporter — but in order to keep up Clark’s cover story, she had to do Clark’s job as well. So, during the day she worked on her stories and, at night, she researched and wrote his. She knew Clark could only be gone so long before Perry would start to wonder if he actually had disappeared off the face of the Earth. Even if Clark were deep undercover with Intergang, Perry would still expect him to turn in a story once in a while.

It was difficult writing as Clark. She would put on one of his shirts and smell his essence and try to capture his upbeat, positive spin on humanity. More often than not, Lois would end up crying herself to sleep on her laptop.

At first, Perry hadn’t bought her explanation that Clark was still adjusting to undercover work. Finding stories for her to write as Clark Kent unfortunately became easier as Intergang grew and became bolder with every day. Luckily, Perry gave Clark some slack and she got better at faking his writing style. She hoped that Clark wouldn’t mind so much when he got back.

Lois’s emotions were all over the map. She missed Clark with every fiber of her being, and was completely drained from doing two jobs with no emotional support and no one in whom she could confide. She did speak with Martha at least once a week, but she felt like she was bringing the upbeat woman down every time she did. Everyone at the Daily Planet missed Clark and she was forced to make up imaginary conversations with him to Jimmy and Perry. It took weeks before they stopped asking on a daily basis if she had heard from him. All the while, the world was mourning Superman.

Lois pulled herself out of bed. Another night of tossing and turning, of searching for Clark in her dreams. The circles under her eyes were becoming too dark to hide with concealer, and people were beginning to notice.

Lois squeezed some toothpaste onto her toothbrush with dread. Please, don’t let it happen again. How could cleaning her teeth upset her stomach so much? Please, let her go to work with fresh breath for once. She had changed toothpaste brands three times. She had changed toothbrushes twice. She had cut out acidic foods. She had cut out fried foods. Even cut out pastrami sandwiches and coffee from her diet, but nothing helped. Something about the act of brushing her teeth made her gag every morning and every night. Her body was rebelling against her.

She put the brush in her mouth and started scrubbing. It was okay. She was going to make it today. Yes, today would be the day. Then the world turned sideways and Lois’s head was over the toilet again. Damn. She grimaced, wiping the vestiges of vomit off her face.

She rinsed out her mouth and went to eat her breakfast of yogurt and bananas. It was the only food that didn’t upset her tummy. She had even told Perry that she was eating bananas and yogurt as a way to lose weight before her next wedding to Clark. At least she wasn’t gaining a hundred pounds on her usual chocolate ice cream depression feast. Strangely, she hadn’t been interested in chocolate after the first week Clark left.

Lois ducked past Star’s apartment. She missed her friend, but the woman was just too in tune with the universe. Last time they talked, she asked when Clark had gone off planet. Lois didn’t have the answer for that one.

She got to the Daily Planet with less than a minute to spare before the morning meeting. Perry and Jimmy were heading out on another fishing trip that weekend and she wanted to avoid an extra assignment. Maybe she could get some rest for a change. She had even told Perry that she thought Clark might be able to sneak away for a night. Sitting at the conference table, she thought for a moment about her last night with Clark. Her eyelids were heavy with sleep when something Perry mentioned sent bells off in her head and a chill down her spine.

“Could you repeat that, Perry?” she asked, suddenly fully awake. She realized she was no longer at the conference table, but at her desk. When had the meeting ended? How had she gotten back to her desk?

“I said that the new teenage pregnancy rates came out this morning and it looks like Metropolis went up another three percentage points in the last year. The so-called experts want to put it down as a post-Superman blip, which is just horse hooey if I ever heard it.”

“I agree, Perry. He…” Lois tried not to use the “S” name whenever possible. “He has been gone for months. It doesn’t explain why there would suddenly be a boost in teenage motherhood. Unless they think fear of the future without… without Superman would cause teenagers to suddenly stop using contraception. That’s ridiculous. These so-called experts aren’t suggesting that Superman himself impregnated…” She couldn’t finish that sentence. What in the world was she saying?

“Faster than a speeding bullet, Lois,” Ralph hooted, brandishing both hands as pistols.

Lois stood up and pointed at Ralph. “Take that back. Superman has been gone a few short months and you already are turning him into a joke. He’s not a joke. He has saved your life and countless other lives, over and over, without ever asking for anything in return.”

Ralph held up his hands. “Sorry.”

Jimmy leaned over the partition between the desks and whispered, “I know it feels like forever, Lois. But I don’t think Superman’s been gone months. Clark went undercover about the same time; how long has he been gone?”

Lois glanced down at the date on her agenda. “Thirty-four days.” She sighed. “Three hours.” She counted from the moment he left her apartment that last night. Wait a minute. Thirty-four days? One month? Almost five weeks? “That can’t be right. Has it been that…?” She flipped through her agenda.

“Excellent, Lois, you take the pregnancy thing,” Perry said, continuing on to another topic, but Lois’s mind was stuck on what he had said. Pregnancy? No. No. No. No. No.

“Great shades of Elvis, Lois, you look like you swallowed a June bug. Are you all right?” Perry said, causing the entire room of staffers to look at her. She stared at Perry in consternation.

“What? Huh?”

“Jimmy, help me take Lois into the conference room to lie down.”

“Right, Chief,” Jimmy took Lois’s arm and she stumbled into the conference room with his help.

Perry looked around the bullpen. “Back to work!” He shut the door.

“Lois, you fell asleep at the morning meeting. That isn’t like you. Are you feeling okay? I know I shouldn’t come between a woman and her food, but, honey, you’ve got to eat something more than yogurt and bananas. Clark loves you just the way you are.”

Clark. Clark. Clark. His name echoed in her head. Gone. Gone. Gone.

“Jimmy, get Lois a cup of water.” Perry lowered his voice. “When she snaps out of it, take her home, will you? She’s finally cracked.”

Lois’s head tilted to the side. Why did Perry think she had cracked? And why did she keep hearing Clark’s name echoing through her head?

“Clark. Clark. Clark. Clark.” Lois realized at that moment it wasn’t an echo. She was saying his name over and over.

“See if you can reach him on his beeper,” Perry continued to Jimmy.

“No!” Lois gasped, pulling herself together. She grabbed the cup from Jimmy and swallowed a gulp of water. “It wouldn’t do any good.” She reached into her attaché case and brought out Clark’s beeper. “I’ve got it.” She forced her lips into a smile. “Deep undercover, remember?”

Perry knelt down beside her. “Lois, you said that Clark arranged a night off with you this weekend. That isn’t true, is it?”

Lois shook her head.

“When’s the last time you heard from him?”

“It’s been a while,” she admitted.

Perry patted her on the back. “I’m sure he’s fine. He’s a great reporter and knows what he’s doing. Go home. Take the weekend off. Get some sleep, Lois. I’m sure he’ll call you this weekend.”

She nodded feebly. She could just hear the conversation in her head.

Hi, honey. I’ve arrived on New Krypton with my wife, Zara. It’s pretty barren here. How’s Earth? Miss me?”

Hi, Clark. Guess what? Remember that night I told you to forget. Well, I’m pregnant.”

Faster than a speeding bullet, Lois.”

“Tell me about it,” Lois mumbled, pulling her head off the table. When did she put her head on the table?

Jimmy pulled her to her feet and asked, “Tell you about what?”

Perry called out through the conference room door, “Ralph, you’re up on the teenage pregnancy story.”

Lois shook her head. Those poor teenage mothers.

***

The door to Lois’s apartment swung open and she stumbled over to her couch.

Jimmy set her keys on the table next to the door. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?” He sounded concerned.

“I’ll be all right, Jimmy. Perry’s right, I just need to sleep. Clark would hate for you to miss your fishing trip on my account.”

“Lois, Clark would have me cancel my own birthday if he thought you needed help,” Jimmy reminded her.

“He would, wouldn’t he?” Lois sighed with a smile. “But I wouldn’t, so go on your trip. Have a great time. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call someone for you? Your mother, perhaps?”

“My mother?!” A shiver ran down Lois’s spine. “Heavens, no. I’ll be fine, Jimmy. And thank you.” She shut the door behind him with a shudder. “Mother.”

Lois walked into her bedroom and opened her closet. Sitting in the back of the closet were the bags she had packed for her honeymoon, all those months ago when she was supposed to marry Clark — the first time. She hadn’t touched them.

A part of her kept hope alive that she might need to leave on that honeymoon at a moment’s notice. She took a deep breath and pulled out the largest suitcase, plopping it on the bed. She ran her fingers over the flower print pattern and with a heavy sigh, she opened the suitcase. She pulled the inside zipper on the top flap open and felt inside, removing a rectangular white and blue box. She sat down on the bed and stared at the box.

Lois remembered buying the box and the reason behind it. With all his super human strength, she had wondered if Clark’s little swimmers might have any problem whatsoever busting through the thin skin of a condom. It wasn’t something she and Clark had discussed. She knew he wanted children. And nothing would thrill her more, she realized, to have a part of him growing inside of her. Motherhood was a completely different issue, however, and she detoured away from any thought of it.

As it turned out, on that night in particular, they hadn’t thought to use contraception. Between the clone, and her amnesia, she had completely fallen off her birth control regimen. They hadn’t thought about anything that night except needing to be together. Partly to prove to each other that they actually were husband and wife even without the paperwork, partly to say goodbye.

Okay, she admitted to herself, there had been a little thumbing her nose at Zara and the New Kryptonians on her part. Clark was hers and she was going to have him first. She shuddered. And last. Including, hope beyond hope, all the days in-between.

Well, she sighed, this was the moment. She was a journalist. She needed cold, hard proof that what she already knew in her gut to be true was, in fact, true. Then with the facts in hand, she could figure out what in the world she was going to do. Time to go pee on a stick.

***

Lois sat on her sofa wringing her hands. The proof was in. It was definite. She had to tell someone or she would go insane. If she only knew how long Clark was going to be gone, she could probably hang on for another week, or even another month It was the not knowing that was killing her.

The longer her pregnancy went on without Clark, the more questions would be asked. By Perry. By Jimmy. By her mother. They would want to know where Clark was. Why he wasn’t returning from his deep undercover work when she needed him the most? She could only cover for him so much, before their good opinion of him would start to change. She could hide the truth for another three, maybe four months max. If he were gone longer than a year… She shivered. She couldn’t do this alone. She picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hello?”

“Martha! Hi.” Lois tried to sound cheery.

“Lois. Hi. Is Clark back?”

Lois had sounded too cheery. Mistake. “No, Martha. I’ve got a huge favor to ask.”

“Yes?” Martha sounded concerned.

“Do you think Jonathan could live a weekend without you? I could really use some company,” Lois said.

“Of course, dear. This must be especially hard on you, keeping the home fires burning by yourself.”

“Well, yes. I kind of had a meltdown at work today. Perry sent me home. I haven’t been sleeping well and if I could have someone to talk about it with…”

“Of course. Of course. Get all those feelings off your chest, dear,” Martha agreed with her. “Bottling it all up is sure to make you explode.”

Lois’s heart filled with warmth. No wonder Clark was such a wonderful man. “I’ll buy you a ticket and have it waiting at the airport. You don’t know how much this means to me, Martha.”

“Anything for you and Clark, dear.”

They spoke for a few more minutes before ending the call. Lois called the airline next and ordered the ticket for Martha. It was nice, this feeling that she was no longer alone. She felt almost like everything was going to be okay. Lois would tell Martha her news when she arrived the next day and they would solve her dilemma together.

A knock on the door shook Lois out of her reverie. She looked through the peephole in her door and saw a diminutive man wearing a bowler hat.

Lois opened the door. “H.G. Wells. You’re just the man I need.”

“Good morning, Ms. Lane. May I come in? I have some news for you.”

Lois stepped away from the door. Her prayers had been answered — he would have news of the future. He would be able to tell her how long she would have to wait before Clark would be back.

H.G. Wells sat down on the sofa and glanced at the newspaper in his hand, before closing it again. “I hate to be forward, Ms. Lane, but could I have a cup of tea?”

“Of course, Mr. Wells.” She ran into the kitchen and put the kettle on.

Clark had taught her that a proper cup of tea should never be heated up in the microwave. She searched the cabinet and took down a box of Clark’s favorite tea. Oolong. They had bought it that time Superman had been blinded and stayed at her apartment. How had she never noticed that both Superman and Clark liked the same tea? No matter how long she knew Clark and Superman were the same man, she still was discovering clues that she should have picked up on years ago. Some investigative reporter. What was Tempus’s favorite joke? Oh, yeah. Duh.

Lois called to H.G. Wells from the kitchen. “Please, don’t tell me that Tempus has escaped, Mr. Wells. I don’t think I could take news like that today. Especially with Clark being gone.”

“No. No, Ms. Lane. It isn’t news about Tempus that I bring.” He sounded distressed.

Lois clung to a strand of hope, but felt more and more like it was about to swing her against a brick wall. “Is everything all right?”

“Let’s have that tea first, shall we?”

She made the tea and set it down on the coffee table in the living room.

“Are you not joining me, my dear?”

Lois shook her head.

“Something hot might just be the ticket.” He took a sip and exhaled into a slight sigh. “You don’t have any ginger tea, do you, Ms. Lane?”

Her brow furrowed.

“Never mind. I hear ginger settles an upset stomach.”

Ah. “You know.”

“Yes, my dear. I’m afraid I do.” He set his hand on the newspaper that he had brought with him, but he did not to pick it up.

She could not hold her question in any longer. “When will Clark return, Mr. Wells? I don’t know if I can do this without him. Without knowing. If it had just been me, I could wait forever, but now…”

H.G. Wells glanced down at the newspaper again. “Ms. Lane, the future has changed.”

Lois stood up and started pacing. “It’s those New Kryptonians. I knew there was something untrustworthy about them.”

“No, I’m sorry, Ms. Lane. The future changed because you and Mr. Kent…” He cleared his throat and looked away.

She sat down again. “Mr. Wells, you told me that the future included Superman and our children. This shouldn’t change that.”

“Yes, it shouldn’t. The Utopian future formed by you and Superman certainly included your children. I cannot explain what happened. Unless it was a matter of timing.”

“Timing?”

“Perhaps.” He cleared his throat again. “Your night together was not supposed to happen at that time. Your first time was to happen later. After…”

Lois got a bad taste in her mouth and her lips pursed. “I don’t need a lecture on morals please, Mr. Wells. What’s past is past. I cannot change that.”

“Ah.” He smiled. “But I can.”

“You want me to go back in time and stop that night from ever happening?” She looked at him with disbelief.

“If you don’t, Superman will never return.”

The news hit her like a bucket of ice water. “Never?” Icy rivulets trickled down her spine.

H.G. Wells looked uncomfortable and gazed fleetingly down at that newspaper once more. “Superman, yes.”

Lois noticed his glance and her curiosity was piqued. He was withholding information. “What about Clark?”

When H.G. Wells’s focus went to the newspaper, yet again, Lois snatched it from him. “Ms. Lane, wait!”

Lois opened the paper. The photo on the front page of the Daily Planet was Clark bent over a grave, drenched in rain. He looked like he had lost his best friend. The headline read Lois Lane’s Funeral Held Today. She swallowed as her hands began to shake. Quickly, she scanned the article.

Lois Lane had died due to complications during childbirth. Her body, and that of her child, had disappeared shortly thereafter. Clark Kent had arrived back in town that same day, just in time for the funeral, and claimed not to know anything about Lois’s pregnancy. She could tell from Perry’s article that he didn’t believe Clark’s protestations of innocence. Even the photo of a despondent Clark was taken by Jimmy Olsen.

“No one in Metropolis believes his story. He not only loses you, but all his friends and his job. He returns to Kansas a broken man, Ms. Lane. He takes over his father’s farm and never leaves Smallville again. That is a photo of the death of Superman.”

Tears dripped down her cheek. “He would never forgive himself if something happened to me while he was gone.”

“No, he does not.”

“Is this true? What Perry writes about what happened to us? About what they did?”

Mr. Wells looked away, unable to look her in the eye. She swallowed. It was true. She felt ashamed for the human race, to have done something so wrong… And to a baby… her baby… their baby… to her. Clark would never forgive the people of Earth for this.

“And did his father really…” She looked at Mr. Wells. Not Jonathan as well.

“After he heard about what Bureau 39 did to you, he had a heart attack, yes.”

Lois closed her eyes, her heart breaking; a tear dripped down her cheek. It was her fault. Her death would crush Clark Kent and kill Superman. But if she went back in time and stopped that night… she placed a hand on her stomach. She couldn’t do it. There had to be another way. She needed time to think. Lois pulled herself together and wiped her eyes.

“Are you ready, my dear?” H.G. Wells stood up.

“I think I’ll have that cup of tea, now.”

He wavered, unsure of the proper etiquette. Finally, he went into the kitchen. She heard cabinets opening and closing. Eventually, he returned with another mug of tea.

Lois took a sip. That did make her feel better. “If I go back, can you guarantee me that the future will be as it should be? That Superman will return and we will live happily ever after?” She stared him straight in the eyes.

H.G. Wells swallowed and looked away. “There are no guarantees in life, Ms. Lane. Even with time travel, the outcome is not certain.”

“Then, no, I am not ready. We will have to find another solution.”

“Another solution?” H.G. Wells stammered, sitting back down on the sofa.

“You are asking me to choose certain death of one for the probable death of another. I am sorry, but I cannot make that choice, Mr. Wells.” She took another sip of her tea.

He blanched. Clearly, he had not thought about it in that manner. “You are correct, Ms. Lane. We will find another solution.”

Neither of them spoke as they drank their tea.

“What if you went back and told Clark not to go with the New Kryptonians?” Lois suggested.

“What would you have me say to him? ‘Should you leave, Ms. Lane would surely die, but should you stay, thousands of New Kryptonians will die.’ Do you want him to have to make that choice?”

Lois picked up the newspaper and re-read the article. “Whatever we decide, it must be our decision. We can never let Clark see this story. He can never know.” She set down the paper. “I’d find out what Rapunzel felt like, if he were to ever see it.”

“Do you think that Superman would lock you up and throw away the key, Ms. Lane?” H.G. Wells asked skeptically.

“If he thought it would save my life…” She sighed. “We have roughly eight months. Surely with our resources, we can research another way to have us survive the complications due to…” She could not speak the word. “We need to find out what exactly went wrong — why we don’t survive. If we can find a way to save me… us… we will save Superman in the process.”

“Yes, that is true.” H.G. Wells set down his mug. “Well, Ms. Lane, I’m afraid that kind of research can only be done by me. I will travel into the future and see what I can learn. Thank you for the tea.”

Lois shook his hand. “Anytime, Mr. Wells.” She smiled. “Thank you for giving me back my future. Our future.”

“Do not thank me on that just yet, my dear,” he replied with a slight bow. He let himself out the door and Lois settled down on the sofa to read the rest of the newspaper from the future.

***

Lois spent the rest of the day sleeping off and on. She ordered take-out (stir-fried chicken with ginger) for dinner and was glad when it did not make a repeat visit. By morning, she felt one hundred percent better. She decided to forego teethbrushing in lieu of a stick of strong cinnamon gum. She figured if she had an appointment with death, there was no point in worrying about dental hygiene.

As she stepped out of the shower, the phone rang. It was Martha, informing her that her flight had been delayed an hour due to stormy weather. As a result of H.G. Wells’s visit, Lois had completely forgotten that she had invited Clark’s mother for the weekend. She was sitting on her bed, wondering if she should still tell Martha her news, when her phone rang again.

“Ms. Lane?”

“H.G. Wells!” Lois was relieved. “What news do you have?”

“It’s too complicated to share over the phone. Can we meet somewhere private? I have a visitor with me who should not be seen in Metropolis.” His words were cryptic.

“Is everything all right, Mr. Wells?”

“Just fine, my dear.”

“We could meet at Clark’s apartment. I have the key.”

“Yes, that’s good. As soon as you can come.”

Lois grabbed her purse and ran out the door, straight into Star.

“Lois!”

“Star! I’m sorry, but I’m in a terrible hurry right now.” Lois sputtered. Not now.

“Okay, Lois, we’ll talk later.” Star backed up against the wall, so Lois could pass. “Tell Clark hello from me.”

Lois stopped dead in her tracks. “Clark?”

“Isn’t that who you’re going to meet?” Star tapped and shook her head.

I have a visitor with me who should not be seen in Metropolis. Clark! She hugged her friend. “Bye, Star. You’re the greatest.” Lois almost floated down to the stairs.

“Bye, Lois. We’ll talk about your secret later. I’ll pick up some pickles,” Star called down the stairs. “I don’t know what I was thinking, Lois. Not Clark. Sorry. His twin brother.”

The reporter’s feet hit the ground with a thud. Not Clark. The Clark from the alternate dimension. She waved up at Star. How could her friend see the difference? At least Lois had a heads-up.

Lois arrived at Clark’s apartment with a heavy heart. Could she face the other Clark when she missed her Clark so much? Especially after H.G. Wells told her that she would never see her Clark again. She pulled his key out of her pocket, but the door was already unlocked. Slowly, she pushed the door open.

“Hello?”

“Sorry, Ms. Lane, we left the door open for you,” H.G. Wells called from the living room. “I should warn you that I brought…”

“Where’s Clark?” Lois asked. She walked hesitantly down the steps.

The other Clark stepped into view and he smiled at her. “Hi, Lois.”

Her heart skipped a beat. They really were identical. She grabbed on to the railing to keep herself from rushing into his arms. “Hi…” She swallowed. “Clark.”

“How did you know?” H.G. Wells gasped.

“I’ve got my sources.” Lois smiled. “Anyway, who else would have a key?”

“And we were so careful, too. I knew that it was a mistake bringing you here,” H.G. Wells said to the other Clark. “But after he heard what was to happen, he insisted on helping.”

“It’s okay,” Lois replied. “At least you didn’t bring Superman. That would have caused a riot.”

“I’ve been warned, Lois.” The other Clark grinned, holding up his hands. “I left the blue suit at home. I was allowed to visit only if I promised not to help anyone… except you.”

Lois really couldn’t resist being so close to him any longer. She walked up and hugged him. He was not Clark, she told herself. Not Clark.

“Congratulations,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m so happy for you and your Clark.”

“Thank you.” Lois stepped away from him and sat on the other side of H.G. Wells, away from Not Clark. “What did you learn? Can we stop it?”

“Unfortunately, it’s not at all easy, Ms. Lane. First, it turns out that you were right about taking you back in time, but for different reasons. It would cause a bigger worldwide problem. It’s seems a woman in your condition brought back in time to stop the same condition from happening to herself would cause what is called a time loop, eventually tearing the fabric of time as we know it.”

Lois released a breath she did not know she had been holding. She had already ruled out that answer to their problem. “Okay. Now, what?”

“While I was researching time loops, I may have discovered the reason for the shift in your future.” H.G. Wells paused with a glance at the other Clark. “Which is why I asked this Clark here for his help.”

“We need Superman to fix something?” Lois asked, confused.

“The easiest way I can describe the problem is to say that your love with Clark has been cursed.”

“Well, that explains a lot,” she mumbled.

“Unfortunately, I have to make more inquiries on how to fix it, if indeed I can.”

Lois looked between the two men. H.G. Wells appeared a bit embarrassed and Not Clark seemed uncomfortable. Something was obviously missing from this explanation. She waited and when they did not supply the answer she stated, “What are you not telling me?”

“Your soul and Clark’s soul seem to be tied together through time.”

This surprised Lois. “Me and this Clark?”

“No, sorry, your Clark. You are soul mates. And somewhere along the timeline someone cursed your love. Until we can figure out how to break that curse, one of you is destined to die every time you…” H.G. Wells paused as his cheeks turn red.

She was lost again. “Every time we what?”

The other Clark murmured, “Become intimate.”

“Oh.” She and her Clark had definitely become intimate. “Oh.” Their baby was the living proof. She placed a hand on her tummy. “You said that this Clark could help, how?”

“If you go to this Clark’s dimension the curse may no longer affect you.”

She swallowed. “You want me to leave my dimension? For how long?” Please, don’t say forever.

“Temporarily. Possibly for the term of your lying-in period. This Clark would be there to help should any of the foreseen complications arise.” H.G. Wells looked at Lois with a satisfied smile. “We would need to lift the curse before you could return to this dimension or you would still face dire consequences.”

“Wow.” Lois looked over at Clark. “You would do that for me?”

Clark smiled sheepishly. He looked just like her Clark when he smiled like that. She shook her head. Not Clark.

Lois stood up and started pacing. She stopped and picked up a photo of the two of them — her and her Clark. “What about Clark? My Clark? I mean, what would my Clark think if he returned home and I wasn’t here? That I had disappeared off the face of the Earth while he was gone. I cannot do that to him. I mean, I really cannot do that to him. I’m covering for him at the Planet. If I were to suddenly disappear, it would be like both Lane and Kent vanished into thin air. Which I guess would be okay. People would think we ran off together, until eight months from now, when he reappears with no knowledge of my disappearance. I mean, what would he do?” She turned to the other Clark. “What would you do?” She took a deep breath.

Not Clark mouthed ‘wow’ to H.G. Wells. “You talk a lot.”

She brushed away his concerns with her hand. “Only when I’m nervous. I think verbally.”

“She does bring up a good point. Clark, what would you do if your Lois disappeared?”

“I’ve never met her,” the other Clark replied. “She’s dead.”

“Vanished without a trace, I believe, was the official report,” H. E. Wells corrected.

“But if she weren’t dead and I felt for her what you and your Clark feel for each other, and she disappeared without a trace…” He stared at Lois. “I wouldn’t stop searching the world until I found her again, even if it took eternity.”

“Precisely. This plan is not going to work.” Lois went into Clark’s kitchen and started opening and shutting cabinets. “I might be saved, but Superman would be too busy searching for me to be any good to the world and Clark would still be crushed. The curse wins.” She found some Ding Dongs and tore open the package. “Anyway, how could I temporarily disappear only to suddenly reappear…” She indicated a huge belly. “Or…” She rocked an imaginary baby in her arms. “How exactly would I explain that to him or anyone?”

Lois sat down on the sofa again next to the other Clark, biting into a Ding Dong. She offered him the other cupcake, but he declined. Out of habit, she rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh. Then realizing what she had done, she jumped up and started pacing again. “Not going to work.”

“Ms. Lane, calm yourself, please. Let us think about this rationally.”

“I’m sorry. I know you’re only trying to help, but my emotions have been all over the place recently.” She gestured wildly with her hands, before taking another bite of her Ding Dong. Suddenly, a stillness came over her. “Now I know why.” She pulled one of the dining chairs into the living room and sat down.

“And to think your Clark is going to miss this.” Other Clark raised an eyebrow towards H.G. Wells.

Lois sighed. “Yeah. How am I going to explain to him that I spent my entire…” She was still not ready to say the word out loud. “… with his twin brother?”

“Twin?”

“Brother?” Clark smiled. He seemed to like the description.

“Something a friend of mine said.” She waved her hand dismissively.

“Twin? Hmmm.” H.G. Wells paused in thought. “It might work. Ms. Lane, what if you didn’t vanish into thin air? What if we left someone here to take your place?”

“If you say clone, I’m out of here.”

“Clone?” Clark looked confused.

Lois waved her hand again. “It’s a long story.”

“On Lois and Clark’s wedding day, she was kidnapped by Lex Luthor and replaced by a clone, who Clark then married instead,” H.G. Wells explained.

Okay, maybe not such a long story.

“Now I understand the curse,” Clark replied.

“Stupid frog-eating clones. It’s why Clark and I aren’t married now,” Lois snipped, taking another bite of her cupcake.

“Who is Lex Luthor?” Clark asked and then just as quickly, “You’re not married?”

“Not officially.” She turned to Clark. “You don’t have a Lex Luthor in your dimension? Interesting.”

“No, my dear, I was not thinking about clones,” H.G. Wells finally responded. “I was thinking about an earlier version of you. A pre-conditional you, let’s say.”

“Excuse me?” Her jaw dropped open and she quickly shut it.

“A you from a couple of months ago before the Kryptonians arrived,” H.G. Wells clarified.

“So there wouldn’t be any of these time loop problems?” she asked.

“Exactly. I wouldn’t be replacing you with someone else, it would still be you,” Wells explained. “And when this curse is resolved, we can put you both back where you belong: her in the past and you in the present.”

Lois thought about this solution for a minute. “Well, there is the me who had amnesia. So when you put that me back, I would naturally not remember anything.” Lois leaned back in her chair. “That would be convenient, since I was pretty out of it when I had amnesia.”

“So, the plan is back on?” the other Clark inquired.

“Yes. This just might work. Oh, wait, Mr. Wells. Who is going to teach non-cursed Lois about what’s been going on in my life since the clone incident? I can’t do it, because she’ll think I’m the clone who’s trying to kill her.”

“The clone tried to kill you?”

“Long story.” Lois shook her head.

“After discovering that Clark Kent was Superman, the clone fell in love with him and tried to kill off the competition. In other words, Ms. Lane here.”

“I have that effect on women, too,” Clark said sympathetically.

Lois smiled. She loved the way Clark teased her. The smile slipped off her lips with a clunk. Not Clark. Clark was on New Krypton with Zara. This was not Clark. How was she going to spend eight crazy months with Clark’s twin?

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with this,” Clark said. “It feels like we would be lying to Clark.”

“Do you think I feel comfortable about lying to Clark and putting a replacement in my spot?” she asked him, her voice starting to shake. “Do you think I’m just coming to your dimension for fun? I have to leave him, my job, and my friends without knowing if I may ever be able to return. Clark and I promised to always tell each other the truth. If he were to find out that I deceived him on purpose, no matter the reasons, he might never forgive me. So, if you have any better solutions, this would be the time to bring them up.” A tear crawled down her face. “Clark is my whole world. I don’t do this to save just myself… us. I can’t have that photo Mr. Wells showed me come true. No matter the consequences. I cannot kill Clark’s spirit and I cannot cause the death of Superman. I cannot ever cause him that kind of pain. Ever.”

The other Clark knelt down next to her and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Lois. You are so strong, I forgot how difficult this would be on you. If this works, he will have no choice but to forgive you. I know I would under these circumstances.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, holding on to him.

“You will have to write a journal describing the past few months of your life for the other Lois to read when she arrives here, Ms. Lane,” H.G. Wells suggested. “Also, I would refrain from mentioning your condition. That might complicate things.”

Lois’s cell phone rang and she jumped up, knocking the other Clark down. “Sorry, Clark. I’ve got to go. That’s Martha. Call me tomorrow morning. I just thought of a place to make the old switcheroo.” She opened her phone. “Hello, Martha?” She covered the phone with her hand. “Lock up when you leave.” She ran up the steps to the door. “You’re going to catch a cab to the city? Sorry, I meant to pick you up at the airport.” She ran out the door with a wave of her hand.

“And I thought Lana was intense,” Clark said with a shake of his head.

“I believe it is that intensity that her Clark loves most about her,” explained H.G. Wells.

“I can see why. It’s quite overpowering.” Clark lowered his glasses and watched with his x-ray vision as Lois ran across the street to her car.

***

Lois and Martha strolled down the street. They had just finished lunch at a little café she and Clark had always loved.

She sighed, taking another bite of saltine. She had grabbed a handful of the crackers before leaving the restaurant. The nausea seemed to hit her twice as hard once she acknowledged the reason behind it; plus the smell of fish at the nearby seafood restaurant hadn’t helped.

Lois was ready to enlist Martha’s help with their diversion. She needed someone in this dimension who knew about the baby, someone who could tell Clark if they never returned. As soon as Lois made her decision, a strange feeling crept down her skin. She glanced around, suddenly paranoid. She grabbed Martha’s arm and turned her into the lobby of a skyscraper.

“Lois, where are we going?” Martha asked as they headed through an ‘employees only’ door. Lois pushed the button of a service elevator on the other side.

“I want to show you something,” Lois explained, digging through her purse for a set of keys. They stepped into the elevator and she unlocked a secret compartment under the buttons. She plugged another key into the secret compartment and pushed the button that suddenly appeared. “Lex Luthor showed me this underground bunker he had made out of an old bomb shelter.” The door closed and they started to descend.

“Lois?”

“He wanted me to hide away here as his special guest but I couldn’t.” Lois shivered. “I needed to be up top where the action was. Where the story was. Where Clark was.” She smiled as she thought of how lost he had been with amnesia. “I didn’t acknowledge it then, but I was already falling for him. Clark, that is.”

“Lois?”

The elevator clunked to a stop and they stepped into a slightly dusty concrete hallway.

“The old bomb shelter was lined with lead,” Lois said, walking down the hallway. She stopped at a door and turned the knob. The door opened onto the apartment that Lex had made for her.

Lois stepped inside and Martha hesitantly followed. It looked slightly like Lois’s apartment. “Creepy.”

“He wanted me to have all the comforts of home.” She sat down on the sofa.

Martha stood in the doorway, unsure she wanted to enter any further. “Lois, why are we here?”

“I wanted to tell you something and, out of the blue, I got this feeling like I didn’t want to be overheard.” Lois shivered.

Martha sat down next to Lois on the sofa. “Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m okay.”

“Lois, why do we need to be in a lead-lined room? Only Clark can hear through walls.”

Lois reached into her purse and took out another package of saltines. Tearing the package open with her teeth, she explained, “Kryptonians have the same powers as he does. And I don’t trust them. I have this sinking feeling that they are going to double-cross Clark and I need to tell you something that they can never know. That they would use against him, if they knew.”

Martha raised a skeptical eyebrow at this information and glanced at Lois’s trembling hands. “Aren’t they across the galaxy heading towards New Krypton?”

“Yes.” Lois bit into a cracker. “I know rationally that that is where they are, but still…” She shivered. “I can’t shake this feeling.”

Martha put her hands on top of Lois’s to stop them from shivering. “Sweetie, you’re cold as ice.” She placed a hand to Lois’s forehead; it wasn’t hot. “Are you sure you are all right?”

“Just a little nausea.” Lois beamed. “It’s expected, I think, in the first trimester.”

Martha stared at her for a moment and then blinked. “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes, I’m pregnant.” It felt like a load of bricks had been removed from her chest, speaking those words for the first time. “Five weeks.” She smiled weakly.

Martha swallowed. “That’s still pretty early. Are you sure?”

Lois held up the saltine. “Little blue lines don’t lie.”

Martha hugged her. “Oh, Lois, this is so exciting. Clark will be thrilled.”

Lois’s lips began to quiver. “I can’t tell Clark,” she whispered.

“I know, sweetie, but he’ll be home soon enough. And what exciting news you will have for him.”

“No, Martha, I cannot ever tell him. If the New Kryptonians find out about this, they will think he deceived them. That he wasn’t serious about the wedding with Zara.”

Confusion clouded Martha’s eyes. “But when he comes back, he’ll be back for good. What will it matter to the New Kryptonians then?”

Lois’s hands trembled. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” She stood up and started pacing. “It’s just a feeling I cannot shake. Like when he comes back, he won’t be alone.” She took another bite of her saltine. “And this nausea thing isn’t exactly subtle and it’s getting worse. Someone is going to notice. Either Clark or Perry or Jimmy or one of the New Kryptonians that follow Clark back. They’ll use it against him. I can feel it.”

“Now, Lois, you are sounding a little paranoid,” Martha said.

Tears sprung into Lois’s eyes. “You don’t think I know that? Sound, rational Lois has gone off into lala land. Martha, in my mind I know he won’t — shouldn’t — be back for months, but in my heart, I’m afraid that it might be only days. I don’t want to leave.”

“Leave? Lois, sweetie.” Martha took hold of Lois and brought her back to the sofa. “Why would you have to leave?”

“So the New Kryptonians don’t use me against him.”

“Where would you go?”

Lois took a deep breath. “Martha, I want you to think back to the day you and Jonathan found Clark.”

“What?” Clark’s mother was stunned by this abrupt turn in their conversation.

“Please, Martha, it will be easier to explain this way. Close your eyes and think back to that day.”

Martha raised her eyebrows and shook her head skeptically, but she closed her eyes.

“That afternoon, before you saw Clark’s ship shoot across Shuster’s field, you had a couple visit you in your kitchen. I want you to picture them in mind. The man was handsome with brown hair and glasses and he drank an entire cup of your buttermilk. The woman—”

“Oh, goodness!” Martha’s eyes flew open. “She was you. And Clark. How is that possible?”

“Last year before that crazy man kidnapped you and Jonathan to blackmail Superman, Clark and I met a little man in a bowler hat. His name is H.G. Wells.”

“The writer?” Martha gasped.

“Not only did he write about a time machine, he actually built one. He took Clark and I into the past, because some lunatic from the future was bent on trying to kill Superman as an infant.”

“Poor Clark. Why didn’t he tell us?”

“Well, Clark doesn’t remember the trip. I learned about Superman’s true identity while in Smallville and it wasn’t at the right time or in the right way. So, when H.G. Wells returned us to the present, he returned us at the moment we left, making us to forget the journey. He refreshed my memory this past spring, when that same lunatic kidnapped me and Mr. Wells again, and dropped us into a parallel universe.”

“A what?” Martha was sitting at the edge of her seat.

“A parallel universe. Another dimension, where people’s lives are similar, but different. In that dimension, Lois Lane is dead and Clark Kent never become Superman.”

“Oh, my.”

“Well, he didn’t become Superman until I taught him how,” Lois modestly explained. “And, let me say, Martha, I have never respected you more than when I tried to recreate Clark’s blue suit. I am no seamstress,” she laughed.

Martha joined in the laugher and patted Lois on the leg. “You should have seen some of those early costumes we tested. A green suit with a wing logo. A hot pink suit with orange shorts. Leopard print.”

They laughed for a minute.

“H.G. Wells visited me yesterday, after I spoke with you on the phone. He says the only way to save Clark — Superman — is to disappear. He’s going to hide me in that other dimension. That Clark has volunteered to watch over me and the baby until we can return.” Lois swallowed, putting her hand over the other woman’s. “We will come back, Martha, if we can.”

Martha looked pale. “Why are you telling me this, Lois?”

“I need someone to know. Someone who will look out for Clark. To tell Clark, if we never can return, that we did this to save him,” Lois explained.

“Oh, Lois, I can’t…”

Lois’s lips shook as the tears crept down her cheeks. “Martha, don’t worry. I’ll give you a letter for him, explaining everything. And when we come back, you can burn the letter. No harm, no foul.”

Martha hugged her, her eyes damp with tears.

“There’s more.”

Martha leaned out of the hug to look Lois in the eyes.

“While I’m in the other dimension, we’re going to borrow a non-pregnant me from a few months ago to replace me in the present day.”

Martha looked at her like Lois had grown a second head. “Huh?”

“Well, if I just disappear into thin air, when Clark returns…”

Martha nodded. “He’ll worry himself sick.”

“Right. So, Mr. Wells is going to go back in time and take me from a couple of months ago, before I got pregnant, and bring that me here to replace preggers me, so I can go hide in the other dimension.”

Martha looked cross-eyed for a moment before shaking her head. “That’s confusing.”

“Yes, it is. Tonight, I’m going to write up a journal about the past few months. I need you to give this new me the journal and tell her why she can’t remember any of the last few months. Oh, and I’ll give you a diskette of the stories I’ve written. Both as Lane and as Kent. Kind of catch her up on what’s going on. Answer her questions, but don’t tell her the real reason why. Then Monday morning, if it all works out as planned, she’ll go into the Daily Planet for me and be me until I…” She stopped herself. She was no longer a singular person. “…until we can return.”

“Lois, this seems a bit extreme for only a suspicion…”

“We are talking about the word of a time traveler, Martha.”

“Oh, right.”

“I know I’m asking a lot of you. But I also know you would do anything to keep Clark safe.” Lois took a deep breath. “Even not share this — any of this — with Jonathan.”

This startled Martha. “But I share everything with my husband.”

“Please, not this. I know that is a lot to put on your shoulders. We are speaking in a lead-lined bunker, Martha. I am a little paranoid. But trust me that this is the best way to keep Clark safe. To keep your first grandchild safe.”

Martha looked defeated.

“I’m sorry, Martha. I really am. If there was any way that I could stay, I would. I really wish I had better news.” Lois hugged her almost mother-in-law.

“Dear, you just told me the best news. When we get all this crazy stuff ironed out, I’m going to be a grandmother.” Martha laughed. “I do feel a little young for that title.”

“You think you feel a little unprepared. Wait until my mother finds out. She still thinks she’s too young to be a mother.” Lois rolled her eyes. She stood up. “Do you have any more questions? Or shall we go?”

“We’re not going to talk about this up there?”

“Once we leave this room, it’s like this conversation never happened. You okay with that?” Lois asked her.

“Is this what your life with Clark is always like?”

Lois smiled. “You have no idea.”

***

They left the bunker and did a little shopping, before returning to Lois’s apartment. Lois looked drained, despite the modest activity of the afternoon. She told Martha that she hadn’t been sleeping well and excused herself to take a nap. Sure enough, when Martha went in some fifteen minutes later to check on her, Lois was passed out on her bed. Martha pulled a blanket over the woman and turned off the lights.

Clark’s mother went into the kitchen to make herself some tea. There wasn’t much in the way of food in Lois’s apartment, except bananas and yogurt. In the cabinet over the fridge, Martha found Clark’s stash of junk food. It was a good location for him, being that he was the only one of them who could levitate. She grabbed Lois’s keys and went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for dinner. She stopped by a phone booth to call Jonathan, but he did not answer. She was worried about Lois’s mental health.

Martha had been watching her son’s fiancée since she arrived that morning. Lois was plainly overworked and exhausted. Her hands shook throughout lunch and she could not stop nibbling on crackers. Lois glanced over her shoulder and became more jumpy with every passing car and pedestrian. Something was bothering her, plus she looked sick. When they walked past the fish restaurant on the next corner, Lois had literally turned Kryptonite green and bolted across the street. She looked worse than she had after Clark rescued her from Lex Luthor and ended up in the hospital with amnesia. She even looked worse than she had after being frozen, then resuscitated by Clark when that man had kidnapped them last year. Something was definitely up.

Maybe Martha should have been less surprised when Lois announced her pregnancy. So much had happened to Lois and Clark over the course of their relationship, Martha knew it could be anything. But a baby! That almost seemed too normal for the couple. She had been overjoyed that it was something so ordinary. So human. She was thrilled for Clark, because she knew he had always wanted a large family, having felt so alone all his life.

Yet, the stress of discovering she was pregnant on top of all the strain of the past months had pushed Lois over the edge. She was seeing ghosts where none existed. Her paranoia had become quite acute. The woman was sure that Clark was in danger, even though he was thousands of miles away, trying to stop civil war from developing on New Krypton. Martha shook her head. Poor Lois.

When she returned to the apartment she checked on the still sleeping Lois. In the kitchen, she began to make chicken soup — fresh veggies and chicken broth would do Lois a world of wonders. How long had the woman survived on bananas and yogurt? As the soup cooked, Martha started to straighten up the apartment. She doubted Lois would mind — or even notice in her current state of mind — and Martha could think better with her hands busy.

Lois was so sure that H.G. Wells was going to turn up the next day and take her into this other dimension, if it even existed. What would happen to Lois if these events did not happen as she hoped? Martha wiped down the coffee table and fanned out the magazines there. What would a psychologist think of this fantasy of Lois’s, of being cared for by a Superman in another dimension—a dimension in which that Lois Lane was dead? It was almost too convenient.

Martha wondered what she herself would do if they did exist. It still seemed so surreal. Lois’s explanation of hiding in the other dimension seemed a bit extreme, a bit of an overreaction. Could Clark really be in danger from the New Kryptonians, who had come to him for help? As Martha straightened the pillows and blanket on the sofa, she felt crumbs. Off came the pillows and out came the hand vacuum that Martha found in the closet. An obvious addition to the apartment by Clark. He had inherited her tidiness. She wondered if Lois had noticed when it suddenly appeared, as Clark was smart enough never to give such a gift directly to his girlfriend.

She vacuumed up all the crumbs on top of the sofa and then knelt down to get under the sofa. She found a folded newspaper there and tossed it onto the glass coffee table. When the sofa was back together, Martha needed a break. She made that cup of tea she had wanted before heading to the store, and then sat back down on the sofa. The peace and quiet did her a world of good.

Martha picked up the newspaper to see what was new in the world. As she opened the folded paper, her mug slipped out of her fingers and crashed to the floor. Martha could not stop looking at the photo on the cover of the paper. Clark at Lois’s grave. She heard Lois’s footsteps, bringing her back to the present, and she quickly threw the newspaper back under the sofa.

“What was that?” the woman gasped.

“I’m sorry, Lois, I didn’t mean to wake you.” Feeling guilty, Martha stepped carefully over the broken pieces of ceramic and hot liquid. “I dropped my tea.” She ran to get a towel.

“Everything’s all right?”

Martha leaned against the counter, out of sight of Lois, and took a few deep breaths. “I made dinner,” she said as she returned from the kitchen. “It will be ready in a few minutes.”

Lois chuckled. “You found food in my kitchen?”

“I had to go to the store.” Martha said, as she knelt down next the coffee table and started to blot. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“I never mind a home-cooked meal.” Lois leaned against the wall. “Clark makes the most wonderful spaghetti. I could eat in with him every…” The smile died on her lips.

“I made sure one of his chores was to be my prep cook. Plus, the super speed helped in dicing veggies.”

“I bet.”

Martha took the wet towel toward the kitchen, when Lois held out her hand. “Here, I’ll throw it in the laundry basket.” She handed the towel to Lois. “I hope you don’t mind me disappearing into my room again, but I have a lot to accomplish tonight.”

“Of course. I’ll call you when the soup’s on.”

“This can’t be much fun for you, Martha. Please know, I do appreciate all your help.”

Martha stuck a smile on her face. “My pleasure. I knew when you called yesterday this wasn’t going to be a vacation.” She winked at Lois. “Anyway, you need to get your rest.”

“Thanks Martha,” Lois said, returning to her room.

Martha waited a full minute before returning to the sofa and taking the newspaper out again. She read the whole article. Clark would not return until after Lois had died. It was obvious — to her, at least — that Perry did not believe Clark’s ignorance. She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes. The death of Lois and their child would destroy Clark. She had never seen a man more in love. Martha winced. It would destroy Jonathan too.

Setting down the paper, she glanced over at Lois’s room. Martha could see why Lois had withheld this information from her. This was the real reason she was running away. This was the future from which she was trying to rescue them all.

***

Lois had no idea how to pack for such a trip. The other Lois would need all her possessions at her disposal. She would have nothing but whatever she brought with her. There wasn’t a closet full of clothes she could raid once she got to the other dimension.

She emptied her largest flower print honeymoon suitcase. Basics first. Underwear. Bras. Socks. Nightgown. Toiletries. A spare pair of shoes, flats. Loose fitting clothing. No suits. No jeans. A picture of her and Clark from the Kerth awards. He had looked so handsome that night. A photo of her, Clark, Jimmy and Perry at a football game. They all had looked so happy. Would they ever be that happy again? A photo of her with her parents from last Christmas.

She would have to leave her laptop, which bothered her to no end. She grabbed a few notebooks from her desk, putting all but one back. She could get notebooks in the other dimension. She grabbed a stack of loose photos that Jimmy had taken of her and Clark that she had never gotten around to putting in an album. Soon, she would have all the time in the world.

Lois looked down at the suitcase and was surprised at how empty it was. Normally, she took three to five suitcases with her on a simple vacation. It amazed her how little she needed to pack to leave this life that she loved behind. She went into the closet and brought out another pair of shoes, a couple of sweaters, and a jacket. None of her favorite clothes that the non-cursed Lois might miss. She found her favorite book and a romance novel she had bought and never read.

In the other room, she could hear Martha murmuring on the telephone with Jonathan about their day. Or actually, not really about their day, since Martha didn’t mention to Jonathan that they had looked at baby clothes. They had lunch and did a little shopping. Martha had gravitated towards some baby items in one store and Lois had laughed, chiding her, because she and Clark weren’t yet married. Chagrined, Martha had moved away. But Lois would not be surprised to find a box of baby clothes available at a moment’s notice when she and the baby were able to return. They had then returned to Lois’s apartment.

Lois zipped up her suitcase and as she set it next to her bedroom door, Martha knocked.

“Soup’s on,” she said.

Lois did not know how she would have survived this crazy weekend without Martha. She was definitely the best woman Lois had ever known. No one’s mother-in-law was supposed to be this likeable. She had been lucky. But how could she not love the woman who raised Clark?

When she returned to her room after dinner, Lois took out several sheets of her stationary and sat down to write the most difficult letter of her life. She started by pouring out her heart to Clark, telling him how she wished their destiny could have been different. Then she launched into the apology and explanation portion of the letter. She told him of the curse and their fateful outcome had they stayed in this dimension. Of his probable future, she only mentioned that in the current scenario he would arrive home too late to be of assistance. She then explained her hope in realigning their futures. She apologized for not being able to fix this one problem without him. She ended the letter by telling him how much she missed him, and would always miss him, and some of her favorite memories of the two of them. She kissed the letter and sealed it. She wished she could save him the pain of knowing their destiny, but it did not feel right to lie to Clark at the end, if all else failed. She only hoped that he would never have to read her letter.

Lois pushed the sealed envelope to the far corner of her desk and started to work on her journal. She took the notebook she had saved from packing and started describing all she could remember of the last few months. She started with the insanity of Lex Luthor, the clone, and Wanda Detroit. It was still painful to remember Dr. Max Deter and her bout with amnesia. She had caused Clark so much pain. Lois promised herself she would never knowingly or unknowingly cause him pain again. Then she described her disastrous high school reunion and how mini-Superman had tried to leave her for her own good. Again. Just as they were readying their second wedding plans, Sarah, aka Zara, and Ching arrived. She relived her decision to let Clark leave.

Then Lois arrived at the fateful night. She described their last goodbye using their exact words. She deleted only the eight hours of bliss they had shared. She ended by stating their mutual decision, no matter how tempted they had been, to save themselves until they were married. She reiterated this point on several of the following pages. On how it gave her hope for the future. She definitely did not need this non-pregnant self to activate the curse with any impulsiveness.

She ended the journal entries with a description of her last five weeks. Working two jobs, the lack of support, and endless longing for Clark. She finally mentioned her breakdown at work on Friday and then calling Martha for help.

Lois had just shut the journal when Martha tapped on her door.

“Could you use a break? I’ve got tea and shortbread in the kitchen.”

“Oh yes, that sounds good,” Lois said. “I just finished.” She sighed and picked up the sealed letter. “Burn it as soon as you can,” she whispered. “Don’t forget.”

Martha blanched at what she was given, but only nodded.

Lois hugged her. “Thank you. I wish there was another way.”

Martha swallowed. “Me, too.”

***

Martha offered to make scrambled eggs for Lois the next morning, but the thought of it seemed to make the woman’s anxious stomach rebel. She was cleaning up the dishes from Lois’s bananas and yogurt, when the phone rang. Thinking that Lois was still in the shower, Martha had picked up the extension in the kitchen. Only she had been a moment too late.

“Hello?” Lois’s voice could be heard on the line.

“Ms. Lane?”

“Mr. Wells.” Lois sighed in relief. “I’m ready.”

“Good. Good. I wish we could have found another solution to the curse, Ms. Lane, but in this instance, time is not on our side.”

Curse? Martha mouthed to herself.

“I wanted to talk to you about that, but…” Lois hesitated. “… at the meeting place.”

“You said something yesterday about a change in rendezvous ,” Mr. Wells reminded Lois.

“Oh, right. Are you familiar with the old Lex Towers?” Lois asked, then plowed ahead without waiting for his answer, describing the bunker built underneath. “Do you think you’ll be able to meet us there? It’s more private.”

“I believe so.” Mr. Wells paused. “Us?”

“I told Martha, Clark’s mom, everything,” Lois explained. “She’ll be the… contact… here.”

Martha could tell Lois was still afraid to go into detail. Was her paranoia not just a diversion, then?

“Do you think that wise, Ms. Lane? The more people that know…”

“Martha is trustworthy and we need her,” Lois’s voice was firm. She wasn’t going to budge. “I need her.”

“As she already knows, there isn’t much we can do at this point, short of traveling back in time.” He sounded resigned.

“Precisely,” Lois said. “Ten o’clock, then?”

“All right, Ms. Lane. One hour at the rendezvous point. Good day, Ms. Lane.”

Mr. Wells hung up, before Lois responded, “There’s nothing good about it.” Then Martha heard her hang up the phone, before she herself hung up the extension.

Martha continued with the dishes until Lois came out to the living room with her suitcase a few minutes later. Her hair was still wet and she was dressed simply. Shorts, a tank top, and sneakers. Gone was her suit, makeup, and attaché case. This was not a Lois Lane others would recognize on the street.

“Going undercover?” Martha laughed.

“That bad, huh?” Lois asked, looking at herself in the mirror behind her Kerth Awards.

Martha went over to her. “No, sweetie, just different,” she reassured, touching her arm.

“I discovered I really don’t need all that stuff.” She put her hand against the wall and then up to her ear.

Martha raised a skeptical eyebrow. Was Lois saying that the walls have ears? She hoped this other Clark could handle Lois’s growing paranoia. She nodded for Lois’s benefit and she returned a smile.

Lois looked around the room. “How does one hug an apartment, I wonder?”

Martha watched as Lois walked around her apartment touching every little thing. Her books, her awards, her laptop, her photos of family and friends. She stopped and picked up one of Clark, staring at it as if speaking to it with her mind. Her bottom lip started to tremble and her eyes were damp, when she finally put the photo down.

“Let’s go,” she whispered. “While I still can.”

They took a taxi to the old Lex Towers and quietly stole inside. Neither of them felt the need to speak.

As they stood in the elevator descending towards the bunker, Lois finally broke the silence. “Lex would have hated how lax the security has become in his building. Twice we went through those doors marked ‘Employees Only’ without a peep from the guards.” The elevator stopped and the doors opened. “I’m rambling again.”

“It’s okay, dear.” Martha patted her on the arm as they walked into the passageway. There directly in front of them was Herbert George Wells and his sleigh of a time machine. “Oh, my!”

“Martha, I would like for you to meet H.G. Wells. Mr. Wells, this is Clark’s mother, Martha Kent.”

The two smiled uncomfortably at one another before shaking hands.

Lois set her suitcase onto the sleigh and turned back to Martha. “The journal is a notebook on my dresser. I’ve left a diskette of my stories and the ones I’ve written for Clark in my laptop on my desk.” She took off her purse and handed it to Martha. “This is the last of it. My purse. My keys and Clark’s apartment keys are inside.” She pulled a second set of keys from her pocket. “Here are the bunker keys. This one operates the elevator.”

She took a step back as if suddenly dizzy. “I’ve just thought of something, she will have no idea what these New Kryptonians look like. She should look through the newspaper archives tomorrow when she goes to work to refresh her memory. I believe there is a photo of Superman with Zara and Ching at the Daily Planet. Oh, I hope this works.” She sat down in the passenger seat of the time machine.

H.G. Wells turned to Martha. “I will return in what will seem like a minute or two with Lois’s replacement. I will drop her off so she sees me as little as possible. Are you ready?”

Martha swallowed. “I guess so.”

“No!” Lois jumped off the time machine.

“Lois?” H.G. Wells stammered. “Have you changed your mind?”

“I need to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.” She went through the door of her copycat apartment and disappeared.

Martha took his arm. “Now that I’ve got you alone for a minute — please, tell me about the curse.”

H.G. Wells blanched. “Lois didn’t explain?”

“I overheard on the phone this morning and I saw the newspaper article. Tell me.”

He looked down and lowered his voice. “Lois and Clark have a love that is so good and so pure that it has tied their souls together for eternity. Somewhere, at some time in history, someone has cursed this love, so that one of them dies a horrific death after they first…” He cleared his throat.

“Consummate their relationship?” Martha guessed.

“Consummate. Yes, precisely the right word. Thank you.” H.G. Wells smiled in gratitude. “By taking Lois into the parallel dimension, I am hoping to negate this curse and buy us the time to rid them of it. Once we find the cure. Meanwhile, the other Clark — she did mention the other Clark?”

Martha nodded.

“The other Clark can hopefully keep her safe,” H.G. Wells finished.

“She has been acting strangely since I arrived yesterday. Extremely paranoid. Despite knowing that Clark won’t be back for another eight months, she thinks the New Kryptonians are only days away. This is why she wanted us to meet in this lead-lined bunker,” Martha informed him.

“Days away. Interesting.” H.G. Wells thought about this.

Lois emerged from the apartment. “Sorry.”

“Ms. Lane, tell me about these paranoid feelings you’ve been having lately,” he asked.

Lois looked at Martha, who blushed in embarrassment. “I want to say that it is nothing, but it’s not. Since we met yesterday morning, I’ve had this feeling of dread hanging over me like a black cloud. I realize that Clark’s not due back for months, but I know in my heart that he’s close. But he’s not coming back on his own. The New Kryptonians are coming with him. The world — Earth — is in danger, but most of all, I feel that Clark himself will be double-crossed by the Kryptonians.” She shook her head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Ms. Lane, I believe what you are sensing are new memories.”

Martha’s jaw dropped.

Lois shook her head. “Huh?”

H.G. Wells took her arm and sat her down at the edge of the time machine. “When we met yesterday, you decided to go to the parallel dimension and bring another you from the past to replace you here. When you made that decision, time started to create a new future to compensate.”

“So, I don’t have to leave?” Lois looked at him hopefully.

“No, Ms. Lane. For this new future and these new memories to solidify, you must continue on the path you have decided upon.”

“Oh.” Lois appeared despondent as her chin started to quiver. “Do these horrible feelings of dread mean that something will happen to Clark?”

“Possibly. But Ms. Lane, for it to be a memory, at some point your replacement will have to return to her own time and you to yours.”

Lois wiped her eyes. “These memories mean I will return.” She smiled with hope. “We will survive. It won’t all be for naught.”

“Oh, Lois!” Clark’s mother gasped, hugging her. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, Martha. I’m depending on you. And I miss you already.” Lois stepped back on to the time machine. A minute later Martha was standing by herself in the passageway.

***

Lois waved as Martha blurred from view and was replaced by the alley behind Clark’s apartment.

“Clark, we’re—” H.G. Wells started saying before he was interrupted by a rush of wind announcing Clark’s arrival. He landed next to them, dressed in his Superman suit.

“I thought I might have missed you,” Superman said, taking her suitcase from the time machine. “There was a nine car pile-up on…” He saw the dampness in her eyes as she stared at him. “Never mind.”

“Sorry,” Lois apologized with a shake of her head. “It’s been awhile since I saw Superman.”

“But it was only yesterday that we met at my… your Clark’s apartment…”

She put her hand on his chest.

“Oh, you mean, the suit.” He smiled with a little embarrassment. “I forget sometimes that I’m two people now.” He flew off with her suitcase and less than a minute later, Clark jogged down the alley towards them wearing slacks and a t-shirt. “Shall we?”

Clark opened the door to his apartment. It looked pretty much the same as it had several months earlier, when Lois had told him about Superman. Only a few photographs had been changed. Gone were the pictures of Clark and Lana, which she personally wouldn’t miss. He had replaced them with a photo of Superman, Perry, and Elvis.

“This is going to take some getting used to. Charlton Heston is president and Elvis is alive.”

“Elvis died?” Clark was visible shocked. “Perry must be heartbroken.”

Lois smiled as she borrowed one of this Clark’s favorite lines. “It was a long time ago.”

He walked around the corner towards his bedroom. “You’ll be staying here.”

Lois hesitantly followed. “Where will you…?” but as she made the turn, she saw the spiral staircase to the loft. She had completely forgotten about the loft until that moment. “The loft?”

Clark nodded his confirmation. “I know it’s a bit cozy, but since you will be here only a short time, it would be ridiculous to rent and furnish another apartment for you. This way I can keep a better eye on you. I’m sure that’s what Clark would want.”

Lois didn’t think her Clark would want her this close to his twin — living with him right above her — but she didn’t say so out loud. What lengths would her Clark go to, in order to keep her and the baby safe? She knew him to be a jealous man. But this Clark had obviously gone through a great deal to accommodate her. They could speak about it later.

“Thank you.” She sat on the bed. She ran her fingers over it, thinking of it as her Clark’s bed until she remembered that his bed was in another dimension.

H.G. Wells peered in through the doorway, before he stepped back in embarrassment. He cleared his throat and she realized that he thought it improper to enter her bedroom. Lois took one last glance around the room and followed the men back into the living room.

“We should give you a little time to settle in. We need to go borrow you from the past. Mrs. Kent is waiting.”

“Mrs. Kent? Martha Kent? My mom?” Clark looked excited.

“Clark’s mother. It’s probably best if she doesn’t meet you just yet.”

The other Clark tried to hide his disappointment, but Lois noticed it. Like her Clark, she could read him like a dime store romance. “Of course,” he replied.

“So, Ms. Lane, unless you have anything else to say, this will be goodbye.”

H.G. Wells’s words brought her out of her silence. “Goodbye? Aren’t you coming back?” Lois might have this Clark, but without H.G. Wells, she felt somehow abandoned in this other dimension.

“I will be returning Clark to you, but then I’d like to check on your future. See if it has settled enough for me to visit. I had some trouble locking onto it since yesterday’s conversation.”

“Like my memories.” Lois rolled her eyes.

“Yes. I have to find a way of tracing your souls down and ending the curse.” H.G. Wells contemplated something for a minute. “Tracing the movement of souls? I wonder.”

“Will you be all right, Lois?” Clark asked, almost hovering. She could tell this situation was as unnerving for him as it was for her. “There’s food in the refrigerator.”

“I’ll be fine,” she reassured him. “I’m a big girl.” She shooed them away with her hand. “Now, don’t you have a beautiful damsel in distress to rescue?”

They both stared at her in confusion. This was going to be a long year, she sighed. “Me.”

“Oh, right,” H.G. Wells answered. “Wait, Ms. Lane. I’m afraid there is one more thing you forgot to leave with Mrs. Kent.” He held up her hand with the engagement ring on it.

Lois covered up her hand. “But, surely that Lois will have her own ring.”

“Luthor gave it to the clone when he kidnapped her.”

“Oh.” Lois gazed down at her hand, her lip starting to tremble again. Slowly, she slid the ring off her finger and handed it to H.G. Wells.

Mr. Wells slipped it into his pocket. “Goodbye, my dear. Take care.”

Lois pulled the man in for a hug, which he clearly was not expecting. “Thank you.”

While she was hugging H.G. Wells, she noticed Clark step into the closet and reappear as Superman. That was different.

“I’ll be back soon,” Superman told her with one last smile. A moment later, they were gone.

Lois wiped the dampness from her eyes. She would get the ring back. With a sigh, she started wandering around the apartment. She noticed little things that were the same as her Clark (such as his taste in wine) and the stuff that was completely this Clark (like the lack of junk food). He had real food and real ingredients in the fridge and cabinets. Not a Twinkie, donut, or bottle of Yoo-hoo to be found.

She saved the bedroom for last. He had emptied the dresser and closet for her. Where would he keep his suits? Then she checked out the secret compartment, which her Clark only used for his blue suits; this Clark had also put in his work suits.

The reporter in her knew that a check of the apartment would not be complete without a trip up to Clark’s loft. She tread lightly onto the metal circular steps, knowing full well that they were unnecessary for a man who could fly. She stopped at the top step and surveyed the area from there. Clark had not installed handrails and it was quite nervewracking to view the vertical drop to her new bedroom. He had enough space for a full-sized bed, a dresser, a bookcase, and nightstand with a lamp.

She saw that he had two photos on the dresser, which she had not noticed in the apartment on her previous visit. The first was a couple similar in looks to the Kents, only altered. The parents he lost when he was ten — a long time ago, he had told her — but the pain still there. Had it been Lana’s suggestion that he not display the photo before, or had it been here and she hadn’t noticed it? Maybe it had been up here in the loft.

The second photo appeared to be of her and him. She took a couple of steps closer. It definitely was a photo of them, she realized with a cold chill descending upon her. It was of when they had arrived — her in his arms — to the mayoral debate that past spring.

Lois sat down on his bed to catch her breath. This could not be a good sign. She was not only an engaged woman, but pregnant as well. This arrangement was not going to work if this Clark became obsessed with her.

How much experience with women did he have? He had dated Lana since high school. Had he ever dated anyone else? Probably not. Lana did not seem the type to let him off her rope during college. And then suddenly last spring, she swooped in with a kiss and made him a hero. Great.

What was her Clark always telling her? “Lois, I have loved you from the beginning…” She would need to find something to keep this Clark’s mind off her.

She did not want to think about how strong her willpower would be if he turned on the full Clark Kent charm. She glanced over the side of the loft and released another held breath. At least he could not watch her sleep from his bed. She didn’t think she would be able to get a wink of sleep if that had been the case. This was hard enough on her as it was.

Thankful she was in her sneakers, Lois carefully descended the spiral staircase.

Kicking off her shoes, Lois started unpacking her suitcase. She placed the photos of her friends and family on her new dresser. The one of her and Clark at the Kerth Awards, she placed next to the bed, where the photo of this Clark and Lana used to be. The last item she removed from her suitcase, before sliding it under the bed, was a t-shirt belonging to her Clark. One that still held his scent. She slid it over one of her pillows and lay her head on it, breathing in his essence as she cried herself to sleep.

***

Clark and H.G. Wells walked in silence back to the time machine. Usually Clark hated to walk in the Superman suit — it was so conspicuous. Superman flew; Clark Kent walked. But on this day, his mind was so full of Lois Lane he didn’t even think about what he was wearing.

He could hardly believe it when H.G. Wells arrived on his doorstep the night before last and told him that only he could save Lois from death. Then he had dropped the bomb — Lois Lane was pregnant, or with child as Wells had put it. Wells believed that Lois and Clark’s love had been cursed and he thought if he removed her from her timeline — bringing her to his dimension — it would keep her from dying in childbirth.

Clark had saved himself for his one true love and believed the same of her Clark. He proposed to Lana more because they had dated so long — and she knew and tolerated his secret — than out of desire. He thought he loved Lana until that morning several months ago, when the most beautiful woman he had ever seen called his name and then kissed him, like she had done it a thousand times before. Something about the kiss set his nerve endings to tingle. He had never experienced a feeling like it before or since.

It was the most amazing kiss he had ever experienced, but at the same time, he knew it was wrong. He was engaged to Lana, who just happened to be standing right next to him. Her voice had been like a cold shower to that kiss, which he had stopped anyway. He hadn’t known Lois, and beautiful women didn’t usually kiss him.

Well, they didn’t until he donned the blue suit. Men admired him; women chased him down the street. He hadn’t expected that.

Lois Lane had changed his life from the first moment she walked into it. Yet, he also knew that she did not belong to him. Firstly, because of Lana, then later, when he learned about her Clark.

It was like he was a contestant on one of those game shows his foster mother used to watch incessantly. Let me show you the grand prize — no, sorry, you’ve only won our parting gift. So close! The grand prize was the other Clark’s life: Superman, Lois, and a secret identity with a great job. Not to mention having parents who were still alive, who still loved and adored him. And, if it all worked out, a family of his own. But then again, it wasn’t much of a grand prize if it was cursed.

Clark sat down, but as H.G. Wells reprogrammed the time machine, placed his hand on the man’s arm to pause his actions. “What’s our plan?”

“There is a moment in time when Lois escapes Lex Luthor, sees the clone arguing with Superman, and then runs across the street to flag him down, only she is struck by a car, hits her head and gets amnesia. That is the Lois we want. Oh, and Lex has paralyzed her vocal chords, so she cannot speak. You need to grab her after she is struck by the car, but before she hits her head. She will naturally be thrilled to see you, believing that you are her Clark. Bring her to me, and I will transport her to the future where Mrs. Kent awaits her, then I will return for you.”

“Poor Lois. This actually happened to her?”

Wells nodded. “About ten days after you first met her. Two days after her wedding was supposed to have taken place.”

“I can understand rescuing her at that moment, but must we put her back there later? It seems unjust.”

“If we do not return Lois back to the precise moment we borrow her, it would alter her entire future. It would change the Lois sitting your apartment so that she would no longer exist. Horrible as it is, it is her life, her history. We are changing her future enough already,” H.G. Wells explained. “And yours too, my boy. Let’s just hope we are changing both futures for the better.”

“I am not comfortable with this decision. How can I to continue to be Superman, representing truth and justice, if I’m party to kidnapping?” Clark’s lips pursed together.

“How is it kidnapping if Lois herself suggested the time and place for the removal?” asked Wells.

“It will feel like kidnapping to the Lois we remove.”

“It will feel like a rescue to her, Clark, as it should. No one is in more need of a rescue than that Lois.”

Clark nodded. “I have one last question, Mr. Wells. How are you ever going to convince that Lois to return the worst point and time of her life?”

Wells’s eyes widened, clearing his throat before he answered. “We all make sacrifices for the greater good, don’t we, my boy? Her Clark gave up marrying the woman he loved to stop civil war from breaking out on a planet he had never seen. Lois left everything to come and live with you, just for a chance to save her Superman. And you gave up your comfortable existence to help the woman who showed you the potential within yourself. Perhaps you should have Ms. Lane contemplate the answer to your question over the next few months.”

“It will be Lois’s decision, then. That seems fair.” Clark released the mechanism. “I am ready to assist you.”

Wells released a deep breath and pulled the lever down.

The time machine reanimated itself on a rooftop opposite the Daily Planet building. Clark stepped off the time machine and looked down off the edge of the building. He could see the subway beneath The Planet start to smoke. Lois’s Superman arrived and sucked up the smoke, only to be interrupted by someone looking like Lois in a hot pink suit.

“That isn’t Lois, is it?” the other Clark asked with confusion.

“No, that is Luthor’s clone. The one that Clark married.”

Clark listened to the conversation between the clone and Superman. “How could he even think that was her?”

“By this time, he has serious doubts.”

He then saw a woman in a pale pink silk pantsuit stumble to the corner opposite the newspaper. She called out to her Superman, her mouth moving but nothing came out.

“I can’t hear her and I’m listening for her.”

Wells patted his throat. “Paralyzed vocal chords, remember? Luthor was an evil genius. Thought of everything. Delusional in thinking that doing anything to have the woman he loved was better than not having her at all.” But by this time, Superman buzzed past and the other Clark had leapt to rescue Lois.

Clark reached her after the car hit her but before she bumped her head against the lamppost.

“Clark,” Lois moaned in a barely audible whisper, kissing his neck. “Oh Clark, you did hear me. It’s over. This bad dream is over.” She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and murmured into his ear. “Take me away. Take me far away.”

Clark zoomed above the clouds, where he let her kiss him as only Lois could. She made his nerve endings tingle again. It hadn’t been a fluke. He knew why her Clark would do anything for her. She was a dangerous drug that he would be addicted to if he did not put a stop to it soon. He shifted his hold on her so that she was cradled in his arms, releasing her lips from his.

“Take me home, Clark. I want to change out of this godawful suit Luthor had made for me.” Her entire body shivered.

“Are you cold?” Clark asked, wrapping her in his cape.

She shook her head and leaned against his chest once again.

“I’ll take you home,” he murmured. “You relax.”

“Home,” she whispered, shutting her eyes. “Take me where it’s safe. Where you are.” A minute later she had fallen asleep.

Slowly, he descended from the clouds and landed next to the time machine.

“Clark,” Wells scolded with a shake of his head.

Clark cleared his throat as he set her down in the passenger seat of the time machine. “You warned me that she would be grateful. I should have taken into consideration how grateful.” He cleared his throat again. “She said that the suit she’s wearing was a gift from Luthor, so if she wakes up in the future still wearing the suit, she’ll know something is up. We should take the suit with us into my dimension, until we need to return her… home.” He frowned.

Wells started warming up the time machine. “Clark, stay here. I will be right back. Do not save anyone. Do not let anyone see you, especially this dimension’s Clark. Do not intervene. Remember, this is history.” He moved the lever, and he and Lois disappeared fifteen seconds later.

Clark went to the edge of the building and looked down at the corner where he had rescued Lois. A man ran up to that corner from the same direction Lois had come. The man wore dark glasses and a fedora hat pushed low over his brow. What caught Clark’s attention was that the man was muttering under his breath, “Where did she go? I knew I should have knocked out more than just her

A limo pulled up next to him and he hit the roof of the car before yelling at the driver. He sent the driver in one direction as he went in the opposite one.

That’s Lex Luthor, Clark realized. Anger built up inside of him; he suddenly was tempted to pound the man to the center of the earth and leave him there. Clark took a step back. Wells had told him not to change history more than they already had. But he was sure the other Clark wouldn’t mind, much.

Instead he pushed that anger down and followed the man by jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Lex stopped in an alley; the clone was there, too. Clark hovered above, watching them. She pulled a gun on him. Lex goaded her on, not believing she could do it; Clark hoped she would. This was better than TV. Finally, the gun went off but she had missed Lex, Clark could tell. Clark exhaled in anticipation, causing the bullet to hit Luthor’s arm.

“You shot me!” Lex was shocked. Clark was delighted. Then he heard Wells calling to him. He glanced back in to the alley. Lex had fallen into the garbage; he pulled off his sunglasses and yelled again, “You shot me.” Clark studied the man’s face. He had never seen a man resembling Lex in his dimension. The clone picked up her shopping bags and sashayed out of the alley. Good for her.

Wells called to him again; he had better go. Time to go home to Lois.

***

Martha felt foolish standing alone in the concrete hallway of Lex’s underground bunker. Should she wait in Lois’s creepy copy-cat apartment? She hesitated. Mr. Wells had said it would only take a minute or two. She stood with her back against the passageway wall and before she knew it the air around her appeared thick as jello. POP! The time machine was back. Lois looked to be asleep in the chair next to Mr. Wells. Martha stepped forward.

“Change of plans,” Mr. Wells called to her. “Hop on.”

Martha’s jaw dropped, stepping back. “Excuse me?”

“We need to take Lois back to her apartment.”

“Is she all right?” Martha glanced between Mr. Wells and Lois.

“Please, Mrs. Kent. I will not be transporting you through time, just across town to Lois’s apartment,” Mr. Wells explained, indicating where she should stand.

“Is it safe?” Martha asked, getting on to the time machine and standing behind him.

“I do not usually travel with more than one passenger, but it is perfectly safe.” He turned a couple of knobs and pulled the lever. The air around them again appeared thick and a moment later, the passageway was empty.

They reemerged in the living room of Lois’s apartment. The furniture in the apartment seemed to anticipate their arrival and the time machine was able to fit in the room with ease.

Martha quickly disembarked. “Now, what exactly is going on?”

“Unfortunately, we forgot one little detail in the planning of our caper today. Apparently the outfit she is wearing today was given to her by Lex Luthor. If she wakes up in these clothes, then all is lost because this Lois will know that she couldn’t have just lost her memories from the last several months because she would never have worn this suit again.”

Martha took a closer look at the Lois next to H.G. Wells. Gone were the shorts, tank top and tennis shoes. This Lois was wearing a pale pink silk pantsuit that Martha had never seen before. “Oh, dear. What do you want me to do?”

“Clark suggested disrobing her and removing the clothes to his universe for safekeeping.” H.G. Wells seemed more upset at that suggestion than Martha felt, although the idea was preposterous.

“How exactly are we going to do that without Superman’s help?” she asked him with a raised brow.

Mr. Wells was shocked. “Mrs. Kent! That Clark is not her Superman. It would be…” Words failed him. “Wrong.”

Martha sighed. “I meant, how are we going to carry her into her bedroom without waking her up, without Superman?”

“Oh.” He grinned in embarrassment. And then her words sunk in and his face turned pale. “Oh.” He looked at Lois and then back at Martha. “I haven’t the foggiest idea.”

“Wait.” Martha bolted down the hall. She entered Lois’s bedroom and pulled back the sheets of Lois’s bed. She set Lois’s keys and purse on her dresser. Then she returned to the living room, leaving Lois’s bedroom door open.

H.G. Wells was thinking through the lift with his hands. “You are certainly right, Mrs. Kent. Clark would have been a great assistance to us here.”

Martha surveyed the dilemma again. “You need the pink suit. So, it’s probably best if we remove the jacket before we take her into the bedroom.” She bent over and started unbuttoning. “How asleep is she?”

“Exhausted, I presume. She spent the last day and a half as Lex Luthor’s prisoner. I doubt she slept there. Before that, she and Clark ran around working on the clone president story.”

“Yes, I remember Clark mentioning something about that at the reception.” She leaned Lois slightly forward and gently pulled on the cuff of her jacket. “You do realize that I did not sign up for this.”

H.G. Wells chuckled, holding out his hands should Lois lose her balance. “Neither did I, Mrs. Kent.”

The pink jacket was draped on Mr. Wells’s seat and they again faced the problem of moving Lois.

“Come on. Together, we should be able to lift her to a sitting position.” Martha suggested they each take one of Lois’s arms around their shoulders and then hook their other arm under her knees. “Clark’s the planner in this relationship. Lois is more of a jump-in-with-two-feet-without-checking-the-depth kind of gal.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Mr. Wells said as they lifted Lois and slowly brought her off the time machine. Neither of them mentioned out loud how happy that they were that Lois weighed less than one hundred twenty-five pounds. Steadily they made it to Lois’s room and as gently as they could muster, set her on the bed.

“We did it!” H.G. Wells was thrilled and then noticed where he was standing; he quickly withdrew from the room.

Martha exhaled, resigned to the task of undressing her future daughter-in-law. She closed the bedroom door. This would be a great and funny story someday, if ever there was someone to whom she could tell it. Jonathan and Clark would be in stitches.

A few minutes later, she returned to the living room with the pale pink pantsuit and blouse neatly folded in her arms. She set the white shoes on top.

“Do you have a bag?” Martha asked.

Mr. Wells had been pacing behind the time machine. “A bag?” He seemed confused.

“Here.” Martha handed him the clothes and went into the kitchen. A moment later she returned with a plastic grocery store bag. She took the clothes from him, placed them in the bag, and set it on the passenger seat of the time machine.

H.G. Wells cleared his throat. “Well, Clark is waiting for me.”

“Is he really like my Clark?” she asked, dying of curiosity.

“In many ways, yes. Sadder, perhaps; not as hopeful. Difficult though your Clark’s life may be, he has experienced much more joy and love than the other Clark,” Mr. Wells explained. “I hope…” He shook his head. “I must be off. Thank you again for your assistance, Mrs. Kent. We certainly could not have done it without you. Good luck with the task ahead.”

Martha smiled at him, not wishing to think about what was going to happen when this Lois woke up. “Good luck with yours, Mr. Wells.”

She stood back as H.G. Wells sat down in the time machine and turned some knobs. A few moments later, she was again alone in the living room. A crazy day, she thought to herself. Even if she did tell Jonathan about it, he might not believe her.

With a sigh, Martha went into the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge. She returned to Lois’s guest room and closed the door. Jonathan was expecting her home on the first plane in the morning, but who knew how long Lois would sleep after the last few days she had?

What if Lois did not wake up until morning? Martha would have to warn Jonathan that she would be late and see if she could postpone her trip. What would Martha say to Perry, if she had to call in sick for Lois? What would Lois do when she woke up only to find herself months in the future with Clark thousands upon thousands of miles away? She had better call the airline now. There was no way Lois would be psychologically ready for her to leave tomorrow morning. Jonathan would not like it, but he would have to deal.

Martha took a gulp of water and dragged herself off the bed. As she picked up her purse from the dresser, she knocked the newspaper onto the floor. When she went to retrieve it, she realized that it was the newspaper Mr. Wells had brought to Lois on Friday. She had taken it into her room the night before, while Lois was writing her journal. It was still folded in half and she could not stop herself from checking the headlines.

She took a deep breath, steeling herself for that horrible picture of Clark at Lois’s grave again. She opened the paper and quickly scanned the front section in its entirety, but did not see the photo.

Was this the wrong paper? Martha set the paper down on the bed and scanned the front page again. No, it was definitely dated late February of the following year. The top headline was an exposé by Lois Lane and Clark Kent about some impeached presidential candidate named Doe. Strange, she hadn’t ever heard of him and the election was less than six months away. Then again, all politicians sounded the same to her.

Could it have worked? Did taking Lois into the other dimension really change the future? Save Lois and the baby? What a crazy weekend. Now she felt like she was the one falling off the deep end. Would it end up being a dream?

***

Clark landed next to the time machine. H.G. Wells was looking at him with pursed lips. Clark smiled innocently. “Hi. I’m ready to go home.”

“What did you do?” Wells didn’t believe his naiveté.

“Nothing. I just did some research.” He picked up the bag and sat down. “I found Lex Luthor.”

Wells winced. “I told you not to intervene, Clark. He dies for good when his underground lair collapses.” Wells started turning knobs and flipping switches. “And Lois survives.”

“I didn’t do anything. I just wanted to know what the man looked like. I was curious if I had ever seen him.”

“Had you?”

“No.” Clark glanced inside the plastic bag in his lap. “Any problems?”

“I wish I had brought you with me after all.”

“Mr. Wells, really, I didn’t do anything.” He smiled. “Like stop the bullet that the clone fired at him.”

“Were you tempted to?” Wells asked as he pulled the lever that brought them into the future and over to his dimension. The time machine was once again parked in the alley behind Clark’s apartment.

“To save him? Lex Luthor? The man who kidnapped Lois away from her own wedding and left a clone in her place for Clark? Not in the least.” Clark grinned. “Actually, it felt good to let that bullet hit him.” He sighed, flicking a little dust off his golden S. “I know, ironic, how unlike Superman of me. But you told me not to intervene. And in this one instance, I was happy to oblige.”

Then Wells replied with the strangest statement. “That kiss really affected you. It made you angry at Lex Luthor. Angrier than you had ever been before.”

“No, it didn’t make me angry at Luthor. If anything, it made me more protective of Lois.” Clark was starting to doubt his own words; he could hear the defensive tone in his voice. Why had Lois’s kiss made him angry at Luthor? “I didn’t like how frightened she was when I rescued her. How relieved she was that I found her.”

“That her Superman had found her. That the man she loves rescued her, not you. Remember that, my boy. Or this next year will be quite trying for you.” Wells started turning knobs and flipping switches again. “And you might want to ask Lois about her relationship with Lex Luthor. There is more to the story than I think you know.”

Clark stepped from the time machine, holding the plastic bag, and feeling like a fool. “Should I have wanted to stop that bullet from hitting him in the arm?”

“I don’t know, Clark. Even her own Superman fought the urge to rescue Lex Luthor when he jumped from his penthouse to his death. Then again, Lex Luthor had locked him in a Kryptonite cage when he was marrying Lois Lane so that Superman could hear him exchange vows with his beloved.” H.G. Wells pulled the lever. “Perhaps he was just too drained to help.”

Clark’s jaw dropped open as Wells disappeared. Lois Lane had been engaged to Lex Luthor? They had had a wedding? No wonder Luthor had wanted to ruin Lois’s wedding to Clark.

He realized he was standing in the alley, in the Superman suit, holding a plastic bag. What was he doing? A moment later, he entered his living room through the window. He dropped the bag with Lois’s suit in the secret compartment. He would hang it up later.

Glancing through the bedroom door, he gazed at Lois. She was sound asleep on his bed. He shook his head. No. Her bed. It was not his bed anymore.

Clark checked the clock to see how long he had been gone. Time travel messed with his head. One hour, although it felt like much longer. He should really go make a check of Metropolis. He had made too many trips to the other side recently. He glanced in on Lois again, before flying off to protect his own world.

***

Lois ran into the street. “Not her! Me! I’m Lois Lane. Superman! Here!” She waved her arms, but her voice would not work. A car turned the corner just as Superman took to the skies. “No, don’t leave,” she tried to scream, running into the street. “Help me, Superman!” The car bumped into her and she started to fall. Suddenly, she was in the air, high above the clouds. Superman! He had heard her.

Clark,” Lois moaned in a barely audible whisper, kissing his neck. “Oh, Clark, you did hear me. It’s over. This bad dream is over.” She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and murmured into his ear. “Take me away. Take me far away.”

Lois’s lips sought out his and for a short while they were one. Superman shifted his hold on her so that she was cradled in his arms, releasing her lips from his.

Take me home, Clark. I want to change out of this godawful suit. Luthor had it made for me.” Her entire body shivered.

Are you cold?” Superman asked, wrapping her in his cape. She loved being wrapped in his cape. She shook her head and leaned against his chest once again.

I’ll take you home,” he murmured. “You relax.”

Home,” she whispered, shutting her eyes. “Take me where it’s safe. Where you are.”

Lois smiled. “Clark,” she murmured. He had saved her. How wonderful it was to be in love with a superhero. Clark said he would bring her home and here she was lying in her own bed.

She stretched and felt the coolness of the sheets on her skin. That was strange. Why was she lying in bed in her underwear? She smiled. That naughty Clark. She rolled over and felt the other side of her bed. No Clark. It was cold. He had not lain down next to her.

She sat up. The other side of the bed was still made. Always the gentleman. She pulled the sheets up to her chest. Where was Clark? She couldn’t imagine he would leave her like this, this of all days, unless… She sighed.

Sometimes, Lois wished Clark was just Clark. Wouldn’t fly off with only a moment’s notice, if that. She leaned back down and thought about having her man to herself uninterrupted for three days. To have all his attention on her. That would be nice. Hawaii. Maybe they could still finish their honeymoon. After the week she had just experienced, she could use a couple of weeks in Hawaii, though she’d settle for three uninterrupted days.

With another sigh, she grabbed her robe from the foot of the bed. As she headed to the bathroom for a much-needed shower, she heard a tea kettle whistle.

“Clark! Clark,” she called, sprinting into the kitchen. Only he wasn’t there; his mother was. “Martha?”

“Good evening, sleepyhead. I was beginning to think I would need to call a doctor. Tea?”

Lois shook her head. “I was tired. I was afraid if I fell asleep in that chair Lex had me tied up in, I wouldn’t know where I’d wake up.” She sat down on one of her barstools.

Martha looked at her with a strange expression. “Lois,” she said slowly, as she sat down in the chair next to her. “Lex died months ago.”

“Didn’t you hear, Martha? I’m surprised that Clark didn’t tell you. Lex Luthor was brought back to life after he jumped off Lex Towers. He got arrested some time back, when he killed off his lawyer, murdered his doctor, and kidnapped me. He was the one behind the cloned president who pardoned him. Then he replaced me with a clone—”

Martha put her hand on Lois’s shoulder. “I know that, honey. That’s the Lex that I was talking about.”

Lois grabbed the counter as the room began to spin. “Lex is dead? Really and truly dead? He’s not going to come after me anymore?”

“Yes, he’s really dead this time,” Martha reassured her. “He died when his underground hideout collapsed. He tried to kill Superman.”

“Clark’s okay?”

“Of course, honey. The weapon Lex tried to kill him with was aimed at a support beam during their struggle. Then, I think Clark said that you were knocked to the side as the clone and Lex fought over the weapon. They were both dying by the time the ceiling collapsed. He barely had enough time to escape with you.”

“May I have a drink of water?” Lois gasped, her throat suddenly dry. She had been there? She didn’t remember any of it. Martha handed her a cup and Lois took a big drink of water. “And all this happened months ago?”

“Yes. Don’t you remember?”

Lois’s eyes grew wide as she shook her head.

“None of it?” Martha looked worried.

“The last thing I remember was Superman rescuing me after I escaped from Lex. It feels like that just happened this morning.”

Martha put her hand on Lois’s forehead. “Lois, Clark didn’t find you until some man called the Daily Planet and said he saw you at some bar down at the docks, singing under the name of Wanda Detroit.”

“Wanda Detroit?” Lois laughed. “That didn’t really happen, Martha. Wanda Detroit is a character from a novel I wrote before I knew Clark was…” Her hand went upwards as if taking off like Superman.

“Really? I didn’t know that. Clark said that when he got to the bar and introduced himself, a couple of men tried to beat him up for treating Wanda so badly. That when he finally tracked you down, you sent him away.”

“Oh, no. I wouldn’t. But if I thought he was the Clark from my book…” She took another drink of water. “Martha, I made Clark the villain in my novel because I was so mad at him for always disappearing on me. And if I thought he was that Clark… But I figured it out in the end, right? Wait, you said Lex died where he had hidden us away. Martha, what happened, exactly?”

“Maybe you should read your journal,” Martha said, taking a sip of her tea.

“Journal? I don’t keep a journal.”

“The one your therapist suggested you keep when you regained your memories after the amnesia.”

“I had amnesia? Is that why I thought I was Wanda Detroit?”

Martha nodded.

Lois looked around her apartment; it seemed different. “Martha, how long was I asleep just now?”

Martha looked unsure of what to say. Finally, she said, “After you got hit by the car this morning, you seemed kind of out of it, so I…”

“I was struck by a car?”

“You saw a man you thought looked like Clark on the other side of the street and before I could stop you, you just darted into the street without looking.”

Lois took another sip of water as she thought about what she had just heard. “Why are you here? Where’s Clark?”

Martha suddenly looked tired, sad, and older than Lois had ever seen her. The light went out of her eyes.

Lois held tightly on to her hand. “Where’s Clark?”

Martha swallowed. “New Krypton.”

Lois paled. “Where?”

“Shortly after you got your memory back, while you and Clark were planning your new wedding, Clark was visited by two people. They turned out to be from a colony of Krypton called New Krypton — some rock out there.” Martha waved her hand towards the sky. “They needed Clark’s help to stop a civil war.”

Lois hugged Martha. “And we both know Clark can’t say ‘no’ to someone in need.” Tears streamed down her face. “When is he coming back?”

“As soon as he can come back. It’s been only five weeks.”

Lois’s heart hit the bottom of her stomach. In the course of an hour, Lois went from kissing Clark to losing him again. Only five weeks. Was Martha trying to warn her that he could be gone months or longer? She no longer wanted to be in her kitchen. She wanted to crawl back into bed, dreaming of Clark rescuing her from Lex. That Clark felt so real. She stood up.

“He still wants to marry you.”

Lois glanced down at the engagement ring on her finger. “I know. Clark’s love is the one thing I can count on in my life. The one constant I can trust.”

Martha’s expression seemed to falter and Lois realized that there was more she wasn’t sharing.

Lois couldn’t hear any more. She went into the bathroom and took a long hot shower, avoiding the journal with all the answers. She found a large bruise on her thigh and her body was stiff, which corresponded with the car accident story. She got dressed in her fleecy pajamas even though, according to her calculations, it was sometime in the summer.

All Lois wanted to do was crawl back into bed and sleep until Clark came back. She was still exhausted, despite having slept so long she had worried Martha. Had she bumped her head during the car accident that morning, or was it so similar a traumatic event that it reminded her of when she was hit by that car as she chased Superman after escaping from Lex?

Martha knocked on her door and wouldn’t let her go straight back to sleep. She hadn’t eaten all day and as it was dinner time, she needed to eat. Martha had made chicken soup. Just what Lois needed to warm her bones up. She had felt cold since hearing that Clark had left the planet. New Krypton. Just the sound of it made her shiver.

She had taken him a bit for granted. Never again. She would saver every moment… any moment, she had with him if he returned… No! When, when he returned.

They sat in silence over dinner, Lois not wanting to hear more. She had had him in her grasp, so close, too many times and he kept slipping away. Not by will, but by design.

“Do you think Clark and I are cursed, Martha?”

Martha coughed into her napkin. “What makes you think that? I’ve never seen two people more in love.”

“But there is always something. Whether work or disasters or crazy people or my ex-boyfriends.” She shook her head. “It just feels like we’re cursed.”

“I’m sure when Clark gets back, you’ll have a time when you feel blessed.”

“We’re certainly due,” Lois laughed, taking a sip of soup. “By the way, what day is it?”

“Sunday.”

“Ugh. I have to go to work tomorrow. How can I be a reporter, if I don’t know what day it is?”

“Lois, do you want me to call you in sick? I’m sure you could use an extra day to get your sea-legs back. I’ve already called Jonathan to explain I’m staying longer.”

Lois grinned. “Do I have any sick days left? After amnesia…”

“Perry will give you the day, if you need it,” Martha reassured her. She seemed so sure. “We can always tell him about the car.”

“No!” Even Lois was surprised by her vehemence. “I can do this. I’m resilient. That’s why Clark loves me.”

Martha ate a spoonful of soup. “I think Clark loves your stubbornness more.”

Lois laughed. “Oh, yes, I do excel in that. He’d be the first to admit it. Thank you, Martha, for being here. You never did tell me why you were here.”

“You invited me.” Martha smiled. “You’ve been covering full-time for Clark with no one to speak to about it. Perry sent you home early on Friday because you had some sort of meltdown.”

“Obviously, I’m having a meltdown; I am missing months of my life. But to crack up at work enough for Perry…” Lois interrupted herself. “Where is this journal you mentioned?”

Martha looked blank. “Clark only mentioned it in passing. How a therapist mentioned any stress could cause a relapse, recommended you keep one just in case.”

Lois jumped up from the table and was looking around. “That’s ridiculous. Stress wouldn’t cause a relapse of amnesia. Could it? My life is stress.” She moved to her computer. “Password? Oh, please, tell me I haven’t changed… Oh, yes, I’m in…. No…. No…. No. It’s not in my computer.” She closed her laptop.

“Your bedroom, perhaps,” suggested Martha.

Lois ran into her room. She found clothes on the floor. Slacks and a blouse. Had she just come home after the accident, pulled off her clothes, dropped them on the floor and crawled into bed in her underwear? That accident must have rattled her good and well. She picked up the clothes and tossed them on her chair. She would deal with them later. Her purse and keys were on the dresser next to a notebook. She didn’t leave her notes just laying about. She picked up the notebook and turned to the last entry.

Yesterday, at work I was so exhausted I fell asleep during the morning meeting.

“No!”

I found myself an hour later at my desk with no recollection of how I got there.

“Oh, that’s not good,” she said.

Then Perry said something to me about Clark and I just snapped. I started repeating Clark’s name like a broken record.

“Oh, no, no, no.”

Perry got me to admit that I lied to him when I said Clark would be visiting me this weekend for a night off from his deep undercover work with Intergang. And how I hadn’t spoken with Clark in awhile. It was nice not to have to lie to Perry for once. But I may have led him into believing — no matter how inadvertently — that Clark had gone missing.

“Oh, no.”

Perry had Jimmy drive me home. I knew I needed back-up and had no one local I could call. There was only one person I could talk to about my dilemma. Clark’s mom flew out this morning and together we are trying to restore my sanity, so I may face Perry and Jimmy Monday morning as usual.

Lois ran out of her room and found Martha still sitting at the dining room table. “Did I tell you about this?” She held up the journal.

Martha shook her head. “Not in detail. I figured it had to be bad if Perry sent you home.”

“I couldn’t stop saying Clark’s name.”

“You talk about Clark…”

“No. I was just babbling Clark’s name.”

Martha’s jaw hung open. This was certainly news.

“I know!” Lois continued, “I led Perry to think Clark went missing from his assignment. If I don’t go into work tomorrow like I’m one hundred percent, or at least close to it, and let him know that Clark contacted me, Perry is going to send me back to a shrink. And I hate shrinks. Can’t trust them.”

“I can imagine. After what happened with your amnesia doctor—”

“What happened?” Lois grabbed Martha by the shoulders.

“Lois, maybe, you should read the journal. Anything I say is just third hand. A good reporter — as Clark says — always goes to the source.”

Lois smiled. “I taught him that.”

Martha raised a skeptical eyebrow at her.

“Okay. He might have learned that in journalism class first,” Lois conceded. “It’s just past seven-thirty. I’ve got to read through my journal and everything I’ve worked on for the last few months before the morning meeting.”

“And you need to sleep, Lois,” Martha reminded her.

Lois dismissed that idea with a wave of her hand.

“Okay, it’s your decision. I personally wouldn’t want you to fall asleep at the meeting again. You might also want to check out archival copies of the Daily Planet sometime tomorrow to see any photos that might accompany your stories.”

“Good idea, Martha. I can do this. It’s only a couple of months, right? I can fake it. No one needs to know that I lost my memory again.” Lois took a deep breath to steel her nerves.

An hour later, Lois returned to the living room with her purse over her shoulder and her journal grasped to her chest. Martha glanced up from where she was reading on the couch. Lois pulled out her wallet and handed Martha a twenty-dollar bill.

“I just called the local grocery. They’ll be making a delivery in a half-hour. That should cover the tip.” Lois sounded like she had been crying. “I guessed I was out of ice cream and ordered some more. Three gallons enough, you think?”

“Lois?” Martha took her by the wrist and led her to the couch.

“My life sucks,” Lois said as her bottom lips started to shake. “He doesn’t love me. He left me for that Sarah… Zara… person whatever her name is. He said he would come back to me, but he’s marrying her. He’s already married to her.” The tears dripped down her face. “He knows her two weeks before he agrees to run off and marry her and save her civilization. Me, we’re engaged for how long and we still aren’t married.”

“He loves you and he would never do anything to betray that love. You know that,” Martha reassured her.

“Of course he would say that. He’s Clark. He always says and does the right thing. He is Superman. He doesn’t get amnesia and run off with his crazy ex-girlfriend, breaking my heart in the process. No, he’s too good to do any… wait…” She laughed with a shake of her head. “I guess, this time he did run off with his crazy ex-girlfriend and break my heart. No wonder I’m having meltdowns at work. I’m amazed it took five weeks.” Lois wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Serves me right, having treated him so badly. Did I really fall for that Dr. Deter character? Ugh.” She shuddered. “He’ll never come back to me.”

“That was hard on Clark too, sweetie. But he stuck by you. He never gave up on you. You need to have faith in him.”

“What I need is chocolate, chocolate, chocolate ice cream with broken Double Fudge Crunch Bars on top.”

There was a knock at the door.

“That was quick.” Lois glanced through the peep hole. “This will be interesting,” she warned Martha, wiping the dampness from her eyes. “Stay on your toes.” She opened the door.

“Hi, Lois,” Star said in her happy sing-songy voice. “I had a feeling that you needed me.”

Lois looked over at Martha. “No. I’m fine, Star.”

“Oh, sorry,” Star apologized. “Not me.” She brought her hands out from behind her back. She was holding in one hand a quart of chocolate brownie ice cream and in the other a jar of sweet dill pickles.

Martha’s eyes almost popped out of her head.

Lois laughed and let her in. “I’ll take the ice cream, but you can keep the pickles.”

“Win some, lose some. Whoa!” Star grabbed her head. “Lois, what has happened? I’m dizzy just looking at you.”

Lois led her to the table as Martha went to get bowls. “I’ve had a trying day.”

Star shook her head, before focusing on Lois. “I’d say you have. Lois, have you done something different to your hair? You look younger.”

“Thank you,” Lois beamed, touching her hair. “Not that I know of.”

“You look just amazing. Quite a whole year younger.”

Martha dropped a bowl in the kitchen. “Sorry. I seem to be all thumbs.”

“Oh, hi!” Star greeted her, noticing Martha for the first time. “Have we met before?”

“Sorry, Star. This is Martha Kent, Clark’s mom. Martha, this is my neighbor, Star. She’s psychic.”

“You can say that again,” Martha mumbled under her breath.

“Clark’s mother. Oh, that’s where I’ve felt your presence before. Martha? I thought Clark’s mother’s name was Lara?” Star tapped her head.

“He was adopted,” Lois explained.

“Oh, adoption. It always messes with my head.”

Martha scooped out three bowls of ice cream, doubling Lois’s portion and emptying the whole quart.

“Lois, I just have to say it again. You look amazing. What’s your secret?”

Lois was speechless at the additional compliment.

“Time travel,” Martha suggested, digging into her ice cream.

Lois looked shocked.

Star giggled. “Oh, that’s hilarious, Martha. I can see where Clark gets his sense of humor. Time travel, really.”

Martha raised an eyebrow, but didn’t respond. Lois looked quizzically at her.

Star pushed her untouched bowl to Lois. “Still dizzy. It’s like you’re moving so fast your future is still shifting to catch up.”

Martha coughed, taking a sip of water. “Can you really see the future?”

Star gazed at her with her head tilted. “You need to return to Smallville soon. Jonathan will need you.”

“Wow,” gulped Martha.

Star blinked. “Who is Jonathan?”

“My husband.”

“How will he need her?” Lois asked, concerned.

“To help Superman.”

Martha’s spoon stopped outside her mouth and her jaw hung open.

“Lois, I just realized why your future is shifting. Superman will soon be back, earlier than expected. Oh, my,” Star gasped, covering her mouth with her hand.

Lois turned to Martha, her eyes aglow. “Superman is coming home.”

“What’s the matter, Star?” Martha asked.

“I’ve got to go.” Star stood up. “On Friday, I told three people that they were about to die horrible deaths. Now they are going to survive because Superman’s coming home. I’ve got to call them and let them know. This changes everything.”

Lois grabbed Star and gave her a hug. “Star, you are simply the best.”

“Thanks, Lois. You’re always saying the nicest things to me.”

“And you were right. I did need to see you tonight, and not just because of the chocolate brownie ice cream. Thank you.”

“Nice meeting you,” Martha called from the kitchen.

“I’ll leave the pickles,” said Star, passing through the doorway with a wave. “Just in case.”

Lois laughed, shutting the door. She shook her head at Martha, continuing to laugh. Then she danced into the kitchen and hugged Martha. “Clark’s coming home! I found him and lost him and got him back all in one day.”

“She’s amazing.”

“You’re amazing. Time travel, really, Martha.” Lois laughed.

“She bought it. And it was better than saying you lost your memory again.”

“Oh, right. I’ve got homework to do.” She kissed Martha on the cheek, then danced out to the living room, carrying her bowl of ice cream and her journal. “Clark’s coming home. Clark’s coming home. Clark’s coming home.”

There was another knock at the door, but Lois was already back in her bedroom. Martha opened the door. It was the delivery man with a couple of bags filled with ice cream and Double Fudge Crunch Bars. Martha smiled and handed the man the twenty-dollar bill.

***

Chapter 2 — The Twilight Zone

Lois awoke to the murmured sounds of a television. She blinked her eyes. Where was she?

She looked around and realized she was at Clark’s. Then she noticed the spiral staircase to the loft. Her Clark had the same staircase at his place, but for some reason this one looked different, felt different, reminded her that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Not that she had come from Kansas, but Metropolis. But she wasn’t there anymore. Well, not her Metropolis, anyway. Not her Clark’s apartment either. The other Clark’s apartment. Her new life. With a yawn and stretch, she walked out to the living room.

Clark was sitting on his couch watching baseball, munching on carrot sticks. The volume was low, but as soon as he saw her, he turned it off. “Sorry. Did I wake you?”

“No. It’s all right, watch your game.” She shook her head, trying to wipe the strangest feeling out of her head. She sat down at the dining room table trying to remember that dream. Clark was there. Her Superman. She sighed. He had saved her from Lex and the clone. She closed her eyes to see if she could feel Clark’s lips pressed against hers again. This dream was so fresh, so clear.

“Are you sure you are all right?” Clark asked, pulling her out of her daydream. He hadn’t turned the game back on. He sat down next to her, worried.

“I’m fine. I just had the strangest dream. It felt so real. Clark was there,” Lois realized that she was talking to a Clark. “My Clark. Instead of me going all Wanda Detroit crazy, Superman rescued me. And he flew me over the clouds and away from it all.” She sighed. “Far away.”

This Clark had the strangest expression on his face. Somewhere between shocked and dismayed and delighted, like he couldn’t decide how he felt about what she had just told him. What had she just told him? Had she said that out loud?

“I’m so sorry, Clark. I promised myself I wouldn’t moon over my Clark in front of you and we haven’t been together five minutes…” she started apologizing.

“It’s okay,” he said, placing his hand over hers. They both looked down at his hand and he moved it away. “Sorry. We both need time to adjust.”

“It’s just that this dream felt so good. That was a difficult time in my life, as you know. And there was something about this dream. It put me at peace with myself again. In balance.” She sighed again. “It felt so real.”

Clark continued to stare at her, not speaking, and then he looked down. Her heart sank.

“It was real. It wasn’t a dream at all, was it?” Lois leaned back, away from him. “And it wasn’t my Clark.” She put her hand to her mouth. “It was you.”

He nodded. “I didn’t think you would know what happened with the other you. I’m sorry for the confusion, Lois, but the other you needed to feel rescued, safe, to make the transition go smoothly.”

“I know. It was my plan. I just didn’t know I would remember…” Lois’s eyes grew large. “I remember. It didn’t happen to me, but to the other me. And I remember!” She hugged him and then jumped up and did a little dance. “Do you know what this means?”

Clark didn’t answer, probably still in shock from her bouncing ball of emotions.

“I remember! I have the other me’s memories. Whatever happens in my dimension, I’ll know about. I’m not out of the loop. Woo-hoo!” She danced around some more.

“So you’re not mad?” he said softly.

That was just what her Clark would have asked. She patted him on the shoulder. “Not today, my boy, you caught a break.” And she realized it was true. She wasn’t mad at him. She could have been furious, but she wasn’t. She couldn’t come down off this high of having memories of the other Lois’s actions.

Lois had feared that having a substitute her would be like having the clone take over her life again. She hated the idea of Clark having a life with the younger Lois that she didn’t know about. This was going to be better than surveillance. And if these pesky feelings about Clark returning early came true, she would have memories of that as well. Her eyes slipped closed, relishing the thought that if Clark and the younger Lois kissed, it still would be happening to her. Like that kiss above the clouds. Her eyes snapped open and she looked at the other Clark. “Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He grinned as she continued to dance around the room.

***

Lois ate another piece of baguette. She felt bad that Clark had gone through the trouble of making spaghetti from scratch and then she bolted for the bathroom after only a few bites. “I really am sorry, Clark. Why do they call it morning sickness, I wonder? It happens all day long.”

He raised his hand in a typical Clark manner as if to say he had heard enough.

“It really tasted good.”

“Please stop saying the word ‘really,’ Lois. It really isn’t like you,” Clark said with a smile, taking a sip of his red wine.

Lois laughed. “Got you to smile though. See, you’ve forgiven me.”

“Always, Lois.”

Lois tried to keep the smile on her lips, but when he spoke in her Clark’s words and using his voice, it was hard. Really hard. She took a deep breath and changed the subject. “So, any idea on what we should do tomorrow?”

Clark wiped the crumbs from his hands and grabbed a pad of paper from the coffee table. “I’ve been making a list of all the things we need do to while you’re here.”

Lois groaned. “Can’t we play it by ear?”

“I don’t think you should play pregnancy by ear,” he reminded her.

“Score one, Clark. Go on.”

He opened his notebook. “First, we need to get you an obstetrician. I can ask someone at work for a recommendation.”

Lois made a sound like a buzzer. “And what exactly are you going to say? ‘Hey, I’ve got this pregnant woman living in my apartment, so can any of you women recommend a good doctor?’ That might raise a few eyebrows at the Daily Planet, don’t you think, Superman?”

“Oh, right. That would be bad,” Clark concurred. “Agreed, we’ll brainstorm more on that one.”

“Plus, I don’t know if I can go to a regular OB/GYN. We know I can have complications, dire ones. Did Mr. Wells ever tell you what kind of complications they were?”

Clark shook his head.

“Me either. That would have been helpful. Thanks a lot, Mr. Wells,” she called out to the universe. Good going, Lane, she told herself. She should have thought to ask. “What we don’t know is if they are super complications or regular complications. I’ve got a super baby here, so I think I need someone with extra super skills, if you know what I mean.” Lois took a sip of her ginger ale. Clark had gone out and bought her some to settle her stomach, after she made her trip to the bathroom earlier. “Any ideas?”

Clark shook his head again.

“Who’s your doctor?” Lois asked.

“I’m never sick,” Clark reminded her. “I don’t have one.”

“Right,” she replied. “But that’s not quite what I meant. My Clark goes to see Dr. Bernard Klein at S.T.A.R. Labs with any questions he has about his super abilities. Do you see anyone like that?”

“No, Lana never wanted me to talk to anyone about my powers, so I stayed clear of scientists. But I know Dr. Klein. He’s a good man. Brilliant. A little strange, but still brilliant. Reliable. Perry sent him Tempus’s Kryptonite chunk for safekeeping.” Clark actually looked excited by this suggestion. “What kind of questions has your Superman asked him? Does Dr. Klein know about his secret identity?”

“No, that’s still just me and the Kents. Clark goes to him as Superman. Let’s see, there was the time he was affected by Red Kryptonite…”

“Red Kryptonite?” Clark blanched. “There’s more than one kind?”

“Yes, while the Green Kryptonite can kill Superman, the red kind sends his senses reeling. Clark had several different reactions to Red Kryptonite. The first time we dealt with it, it was before I knew he was Superman, and it affected him psychologically. It made him a bit apathetic. He ended up going to see a therapist. And the second time, some women blasted him with a Red Kryptonite laser which transferred his powers to me for a while.” She laughed. “You are looking at the former Ultra Woman.”

“Ultra Woman?” He looked skeptical.

“I know. Me, who has ‘Help, Superman’ as my ringtone. Martha made me a lavender jumpsuit and mask. It was horrible,” she said with glee, before catching herself. “I learned firsthand that it takes more than having your powers and a cape to be a super hero. You have to have a good strong heart, and an iron resolve, because there is still so much you cannot stop. Some people will die no matter how hard you work or quick you fly. It was too much for me. I happily gave Clark back his powers and retired Ultra Woman.”

“Wait a minute. The Red Kryptonite laser transferred his powers to you. As in, he no longer had powers? How did it work?” Clark seemed both frightened and intrigued by this possibility.

“When he saw the laser beam heading towards us, he shielded me — as he usually does, when weapons get aimed our way — only this time, the beam passed through him stealing his powers and transferring them to whomever was on the other side of him. Luckily, it was me. When Dr. Klein fixed the laser we were able to shoot the powers back into Superman, using the process in reverse.”

Clark was making notes on a separate page of his notepad. “What other things has Dr. Klein helped your Superman with?”

“Superman got contaminated with radiation from a nuclear blast and Dr. Klein and S.T.A.R. Labs helped contain him until we could find a cure.”

“How do you cure that?”

“He flew close the sun and used its gravitational pull to extract the radiation fragments from his body,” Lois replied with a shrug.

“Wow. I see I could use someone like Dr. Klein on my side.”

“Let’s see, what other things does Dr. Klein test?” She thought for a minute. “He’s tested his strength, his visual powers, his speed, the effects of Kryptonite — they’re searching for a cure, something to do with how our yellow sun recharges him.”

“What? I didn’t know that. I mean, I always felt better in the sun, but… Wow! Good to know.”

“You know, I bet there are a lot of things I could tell you about my Superman’s powers. Why don’t you add that to our to-do list?” Lois suggested, pointing to his list. “While I’m in town, we’ll make a comparison of all the bad guys you’ve taken down and all the ones we’ve taken down. Let’s see where there are overlaps and where there aren’t. Maybe we can stop some major disaster from happening before it happens. Along with that, you’ll learn all that I know about what my Superman has dealt with concerning his powers. And I’ll feel like I’m putting a dent in repaying your hospitality.”

“Good idea. I wish I had thought of that. And, Lois,” he said with a smile. “My hospitality is my pleasure.”

Lois took another bite of bread and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“That sounded wrong. Even though I’ve had these powers all my life, and they are now out in the open, it certainly is nice to have an expert to talk to about all of this.”

“Watch it, Clark.” Lois pointed at him with a hint of a smile. “Flattery will get you everywhere. What else is on your list?”

Clark looked back down at his notepad. “Back to getting you a doctor. We could talk to our Dr. Klein, but I think you still need a medical doctor.”

“You’re probably right about that. The thought of sitting in stirrups for Dr. Klein…” She shivered. “But maybe we could get him to look at it as a scientific hypothetical. What if you asked him what would happen if you were to settle down with a human woman?”

“Why me?” Clark’s eyes widened. “I’m not the father.”

She found his discomfort hilarious for some reason. “Technically, no. But you are the father’s twin brother.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” he asked with a shake of his head. “We’ve never even met.”

“But that’s what it feels like to me. You are just like my Clark in almost every way, but not my Clark. It’s like you were twins separated at birth. Plus, it helps keep the line clearer in my mind.”

He looked back down at the list. “Ah, the line.”

Lois didn’t know how to respond to that. She stated her feelings as clearly as she could. She knew he was attracted to her as she was attracted to him, but also knew neither of them should or could ever act on those feelings.

“It would be nice having a brother.” He smiled. “Okay, if I’m to think of your Clark as my brother that would make you… his hot girlfriend?”

“Clark.”

“Fine. You are my extremely unattractive sister-in-law.”

Technically not, but Lois didn’t want to correct him. “Family,” she suggested.

His smile grew into a grin. “I’d like that.”

Lois hit herself on the forehead. “Family! My dad’s a medical doctor. An exceptional one, too.”

“Sam Lane?” Clark raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“What’s with the disbelief? He cured Superman last Christmas from a raging viral infection.”

“Superman doesn’t get sick, Lois,” Clark reminded her.

Lois sighed, remembering. “Mine did.”

“Oh.”

She pointed to his notepad. “So, put it on your list to find Sam Lane.”

“Okay.” Clark looked down at the list and jotted it down. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but didn’t. Instead, he looked up and to his left.

“We’ll finish going through this later,” Lois said, taking the list away from him.

“I’ve got to—” he started to say.

“I know.” She patted him on the chest as he got up.

He looked back at her as if he wanted to say something, but stopped himself. He walked into the closet as Clark Kent and stepped out a moment later, dressed as Superman. Lois shook her head. That was going to take some getting used to. At least, he didn’t spin into the suit like her Superman did.

“Lois, I’ll be back…” he started to say.

“When you can be,” she finished. “I know.” She glanced down at the list and realized he was still there. She looked up at him, questioningly.

“I’m glad you’re here, Lois. It’s nice not to be alone in this anymore.”

“I’m sorry you’ve felt alone, Clark. Soon, you’re going to miss that feeling very much.” She shot him an evil grin.

He returned the smile, but his was genuine and kind. “I doubt that.” He stepped out onto the balcony and disappeared.

Lois sighed and then glanced back down at the list in her hand.

1. Obstetrician. Next to that he penciled in ‘Sam Lane’ with a question mark.

2. Pregnancy Research. Books. He added in ‘Dr. Klein.’ At least he had been listening.

3. Hobbies and activities. Lois rolled her eyes. He penciled in ‘bad guy list/problems with powers.’

4. Secret identity. He wanted her to have a secret identity?

5. Money/Job. Next to that he penciled in three question marks. Hello, top investigative reporter. Investigative reporting was not a hobby. And then she realized that if he wanted her to have a secret identity, he wasn’t expecting her to show up at the Daily Planet and ask for her old job back. She sighed again and set down the list. She couldn’t look at it any more.

Lois walked to the window. Looking up into the night sky she found the star Clark had pointed out to her on their last night together. “Clark, I miss you,” she whispered. Tears welled up in her eyes. “I miss you so much. You know I love you, don’t you? Come back to me. Come home.”

Suddenly Superman was there with his arms around her, holding her. She cried onto his shoulder.

“I miss Clark so much.”

“I’m right here,” he whispered, tilting up her chin.

He looked just like her man, only he wasn’t. She stopped herself a moment before they kissed. “My Clark,” she said, stepping out of his arms. “I miss my Clark.”

“I heard you calling my name. Asking me to come home,” Superman explained.

“I’m sorry. I was alone. I was talking to him.” She wiped the dampness from her eyes.

“Lois, this is confusing for me. Clark this and your Clark that. Please, can’t we call him something else while you’re here?”

“His name is Clark Kent, just like yours. What do you want me to call him? Other Clark? You’re the other Clark.”

“Fred?” he suggested. “Jerome?”

She had never liked Clark’s middle name. “Superman?”

He held out his arms to show her he was still in the blue suit. “Taken.”

Lois understood she was confusing him. It was just as confusing to her. She hated to admit it, but she needed this Clark and did not want to alienate him. He knew this dimension and all its quirks; it would be harder to survive here without his help. She also couldn’t have this Clark wrapping his arms around her every time she called out to Clark. She knew there might come a day when she lost the ability to step away. She didn’t want to, but on this one matter she would compromise. “I could call him by your Kryptonian name, Kal-El. It’s not one of my favorite names. The New Kryptonians not being high on my list right now.”

“I know,” Superman whispered, cupping her face in his hand just like her Clark. “Thank you.” Then he stepped out the door to the patio and was gone again.

Lois went to the couch and curled herself up into a ball and cried. He didn’t realize how much of a sacrifice this one change would be for her.

***

Superman flew over Metropolis once more. He felt guilty. He shouldn’t have asked her to give up her Clark’s name; not then, not when she was at such a moment of weakness. She had already given up her home, her dimension, and her fiancé. Asking her to give up calling Clark by his name would be something that would eat at him for a long time. It had bothered him, the confusion over having the same name, but not that much.

It had only taken a few minutes to rescue that couple from a mugging and apprehend the mugger. He had been on his way to do a fly-by over the city when he heard Lois calling to him. Not Superman. Clark. It felt so right. He had dreamed of hearing Lois Lane calling to him, long before this Lois first appeared.

Clark had never told this Lois, but one of his first assignments from Perry upon joining the Daily Planet had been to find Lois Lane, who was then — and still currently — missing in the Congo. He quickly became obsessed with the spunky, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners woman. He read all her articles, spoke with her colleagues and family… and he had continued looking for her despite being forgotten by everyone else. He hadn’t told anyone; especially Lana.

A year ago, Lana had asked the dreaded question: where was their relationship headed? He understood. She was getting older and he still hadn’t proposed. A part of him — a part he didn’t understand —still held out hope he would find Lois Lane. But Lana had been right, he concluded. He could either marry the woman in front of him, or he could pine away for a dead woman he would never ever meet. So, he had proposed. And for a while, it seemed like the right decision.

Until this Lois walked into his life and kissed him. She didn’t know about his secret crush on his dearly departed Lois Lane, nobody did. And he wanted to keep it that way. This Lois couldn’t know that she was everything he had hoped his Lois would be and more. A living, breathing, sweet-smelling… He shook that thought from his mind.

That she was in love with him — well, her Clark in her dimension — didn’t surprise him. The blue tights, yes. The undeniable attraction between them, no. And what H.G. Wells said in passing about Lois and Clark being soul mates — something that had mystified him deep inside suddenly made perfect sense.

It clarified why he was in love with a woman he had never met and would never meet. It also explained why he had jumped at the chance to babysit what was essentially his Lois’s twin sister. He figured it was as close as he would get to know his Lois Lane.

Clark hadn’t known it would feel like torture: to have Lois so close, relying on him, telling him her secrets, laughing at his jokes and yet not desiring him, not wanting him. And this was only the first day.

Nothing was happening in Metropolis. Clark wanted to fly to New York or Gotham City and see if they needed his help there, but he knew would have to face her eventually. He landed on his patio and peered in his bedroom window. The lights were still on. Lois was asleep on his couch, curled up in a ball. His heart ached, because it looked like she had tried to wait up for him. He hadn’t thought about that.

He came inside and picked her up. Slowly, he floated her into their bedroom and set her on the bed. He covered her up with a blanket, then flew up to his loft. He took his pjs with him into the bathroom to get ready for bed.

As he passed her on the way back to his loft, she mumbled. “Clark?”

He hesitated. Was she speaking to him or her Clark? “I’m here, Lois.”

“You just getting in?”

“Everything’s okay, Lois. Go back to sleep.”

“Okay,” she murmured. “Good night, Clark.”

“Good night, Lois.”

She pulled the blanket up to her chest and her breathing deepened. She had gone back to sleep. He flew up to his loft and sat on the edge, looking down at her. Sometimes the torture was worth it.

***

Dear Clark, Lois wrote in a blank notebook she had stolen from Clark’s desk. I know it must seem strange that I am writing you a letter I cannot mail to you, but I needed to talk to you. I miss you. And it confuses this Clark, let’s call him Kal, when I speak your name aloud. I miss you more here than back in our dimension. You seem farther away. Unreachable. Untouchable.

Mr. Wells was right on one factor though. Moving me here seems to have changed history; stopped the curse. At least for the moment. I have memories from the younger me, the one I borrowed from those amnesia days. I’m sorry about leaving her with you. I hope you understand that she’s not a clone, she’s still me. What she does and people say to her, I can feel and remember here in this dimension. Not right away, which is good. That would be just too freaky. But when I sleep, I relive her day in my dreams.

Last night, I dreamed that Star came over with chocolate brownie ice cream to calm down the hysterical younger me because I had just read about you leaving for New Krypton with your new wife, Zara, in the journal I left her about my life since the clone incident. (Can we say run on sentence, Lois!) Star told me that… actually, she told your mother that Jonathan needed her help back in Smallville to help Superman. Superman returns! YEAH! If Superman is allowed to come home, so too is my Clark.

I don’t know why or how, but once I moved to this dimension, you were free to return home. I don’t care what the reasons behind it are; although, for some strange reason, I still don’t trust those New Kryptonians. I still feel like they are going to double-cross you. I worry about you. I know that the younger me will love you and take care of you as I would, but I wish it could be me, directly.

Mr. Wells thinks my paranoia has to do with the younger me’s memories. I lived her life, so I can subconsciously remember something that has not yet happened. It’s confusing, to say the least. But the excuse I gave your mother about why I came over to this dimension still holds true. I think those Kryptonians would use our baby against you somehow. I don’t understand this uncertainty, this fear. But I could not have you learn about becoming a father from someone else using it against you.

Yes, you heard me right, Clark Kent. I am pregnant and you are the father. Remember the night I told you to forget? Well, my body remembers. I’m about five weeks pregnant as I write this letter to you. I only learned about this miracle on Friday and today’s Monday.

Mr. Wells delivered the bad news about the curse Friday night (about how the curse would keep us apart and miserable until one of us died). I couldn’t let that happen. We came up with this solution on Saturday morning and, presto chango, I’ve been in this dimension a whole 24 hours now. I wish I could be back in our dimension, trying not to throw up on Jimmy and Perry, buying baby clothes, calling my parents… what am I saying? I don’t want to tell my mother this news. I still have no idea how to break it to any of you, when we are finally allowed to return.

Kal and I have decided that our relationship is that of in-laws. Although you and I never actually got married, we are pretending that he’s your twin brother and I’m your wife. He’s thrilled about the idea of having a brother. He’s like you in that respect — the more family the better.

You’ll be excited to read that he’s a little overprotective of me. Then again, he’s just getting to know me and understand my limits. He wants me to have a secret identity, though I don’t understand why. I’ve already introduced myself to this dimension, back when Tempus kidnapped and dropped me here, as the formerly-late Lois Lane. It probably has something to do with the baby. He probably doesn’t want me to resume my career as investigative reporter. I bet he thinks it’s too dangerous for the mother of his future nephew/niece. I hope you wouldn’t be so sexist in your beliefs about me and my career as to believe the same. I’ll ask him why the next time I see him. He was already at work by the time I woke up this morning.

It’s strange how much sleep I’ve gotten this weekend. More than in the last six weeks all together. I’ve heard that pregnant women get exhausted more easily from all that energy we burn creating new cells and all, but am I going to turn into Sleeping Beauty here? We’ll see. I wonder if I’m burning more energy creating cells because they’re super cells. Not only is this whole pregnancy thing new for me, but — don’t freak out when I say it like this — I am carrying an alien child. Will this pregnancy last nine months? Will I be able to give birth normally?

Oh, my gosh. I just pictured myself giving birth. Oh, Clark, how am I going to do that? Especially without you? What in the world was I thinking? Oh right, I was thinking about how much you would love a child of your own and what a great dad you’ll be. Okay, I’m better now.

Back to the topic of carrying a half-human, half-Kryptonian child, Kal and I don’t know what to do to solve that dilemma. I’m trying to convince him to go to his Dr. Klein and see if they can run some tests about the possibility of him becoming a father. Then, maybe we could introduce me. I think the idea scares him a little. Lana put such a fear of scientists into him. Of course, it might not have anything to do with that… perhaps like most men, he doesn’t want to think about becoming a dad until he’s actually faced with the extra blue line on the pregnancy test.

I’m going to track down my father — well, technically, the father of this dimension’s Lois Lane — Sam Lane and see if I can somehow convince him to be my OB/GYN. I know that’s not his specialty, but we need someone we can trust implicitly. Kal’s secret identity may have been blown by Tempus, but I don’t want everyone here to know I’m carrying Superman’s baby.

I just figured out why he wants me to have a secret identity. Someone who would get a little less media attention than the Lois Lane who has been dead for three years. I wonder who I should be? It’ll come to me; it usually does. Well, I’m starving, so I’m going to find something to eat that doesn’t upset my stomach. I miss and love you, Clark. More later. LL

***

Lois was still asleep when Clark went to work that morning. She slept through his shower, him cooking his breakfast, and him humming to try to wake her up. He wanted to apologize for the night before, about asking her to give up her Clark’s name. He also wanted to speak to her about the rest of the to-do list. But he couldn’t miss the morning meeting at the Planet.

He sighed. He wished Mr. Olsen would find a better editor to replace Perry. He missed Perry’s Lois Lane stories, Elvis references, and Southern charm. The new interim editor had none of those and wasn’t as lenient towards Clark’s other job. He had even told Clark that he couldn’t cover a story if Superman was involved. It would be like writing about himself. Clark could see his point, but it certainly limited the scope of stories on which he could work.

Clark had finally convinced him to bend the ‘Superman Rule’ as he called it, to allow him to write about the horrible devastation in Fiji after the tsunami that had hit the week before. Superman had gone to help locate people and bodies, but the story wasn’t about Superman; it was about the destruction in Fiji. He could see the benefits of Superman being anonymous.

Around nine, Clark had been at the break area getting more coffee with Jaxon, whom Mr. Olsen had hired to revamp the website, when he heard Lois calling for him. He hadn’t thought he would be able to focus on her voice so clearly from so far away.

Clark? Clark? He set down his drink and started to loosen his tie, when she continued. Oh, it’s nine. He’s at work. Sorry, Clark. Never mind. I was just wondering where you were. Don’t rush home. He chuckled and straightened his tie.

“Something up?” Jaxon asked.

Clark shook his head. “Wrong number.” He continued to chuckle, before picking up his coffee. That Lois sure was funny.

Jaxon looked at him strangely and then wandered back to his desk.

Several hours later, Clark was ironing out the wording of his latest article when in clomped the most un-Lois looking woman he had ever seen. She was wearing sweatpants, a t-shirt, and clogs. She carried a big bag of books. She wore no makeup and her short hair parted in a new way, clipped by her ears with ugly barrettes. But the most noticeable, non-Lois part of this new look, was the pair of John Lennon-style frames resting upon her nose.

She parked herself against the edge of his desk and snapped her bubble gum. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“I thought we could do lunch and discuss some things. You free?” She spoke with a strange accent. He thought it might have been slightly southern, slightly Texan. It certainly wasn’t her born and bred Metropolitan accent.

Clark scanned through her bag that she had slightly raised with her question. A couple of pregnancy books, a romance, and a history book of the past century that had just come out. She had read his to-do list.

“Sure, let me just finish this up and turn it in to Ralph.”

“Ralph?!” He watched as Lois searched the bullpen and caught sight of Ralph — sexist, Neanderthal, moron of a reporter Ralph — sitting behind Perry’s old desk.

“Yes, he’s our new interim editor.”

“Did a plague hit all the news reporters in this dimension, so that he was the best they could find to replace Perry?” she whispered under her breath.

A hint of an agreeing smile graced his lips. “Perry is irreplaceable.”

“Obviously.” She shook her head. “No chance of getting my old job back now, is there?”

“Nope,” he replied.

Clark continued to watch Lois as he typed. She looked around the bullpen at his co-workers, probably checking on who else she knew. How many of his co-workers were the same in both dimensions? Her eyes stopped when she reached Jaxon and she started to cough unexpectedly. Jaxon came up to Clark’s desk and dropped a folder in his inbox.

“Are you okay?” Jaxon asked her.

“Fine,” Lois answered, still coughing, her hand at her mouth. “Swallowed my gum.”

The young man held out his hand to her. “I’m Jaxon.”

“Lucy.” She coughed again. “Sorry, Lucy El.” She held out her hand.

Clark raised an eyebrow at this exchange.

Jaxon hesitantly shook her germy hand. “Lucy L.? Like the letter ‘L’? Like Lucy Lane, Lois Lane’s little sister?”

Who? No. El as in E-L,” she corrected. “Clark and I went to Kansas State together. Go Wildcats!”

Jaxon seemed to accept this answer. “You in town for a visit?”

“For now. Unless Clark here can get me a job in research.” She batted her eyelashes at Clark. He shook his head slightly to shut her up. It didn’t work.

Jaxon looked nervous. “I also dabble in research, Lucy. We’re full up.”

Lois held up her hands. “Sorry, Jaxon, I wouldn’t dare presume I could replace you. I know I could never compete with your mad computer skills. Clark mentioned he doesn’t know how you can squeeze these boxes like lemons and get the lemonade you do.”

How had she known about Jaxon’s computer skills? He must be the computer guru at her Daily Planet as well.

“This true, Kent?” Jaxon seemed pleasantly surprised by the praise.

“Sure is, Jax. You’re a godsend. But Mr. Olsen said I could have anything I wanted to make life easier, so we’re going to see if that includes my own research assistant. To help out during those times when I’ve got to fly off.”

“No offense, Ms. El, but I would more than happy to be your sole researcher, Clark.”

“I know, Jax.” Clark patted him on the shoulder. He was amazed at how some of his co-workers were dying to work with his other personality now, when half of them didn’t know his name at the beginning of the year. “But you are too valuable to the entire team. Especially working the website. Lucy and I go way back. She knows me so well, it’s like she can read my mind.” Clark glared at her and hoped she would guess his thoughts.

“Sorry, Clark. I know I let the cows in the cornfield when I stopped by unannounced. I just had to see it for myself.” She gazed around the newsroom like it was her first visit and sighed. “The Daily Planet.”

“Please, Jax, don’t say anything to anyone. I wouldn’t like the others to think I’m getting special treatment, because of… you know who.”

“Of course. Of course, Clark. My lips are sealed.” Jaxon pressed his lips together and rushed back to his desk.

“What are you doing?” Clark growled under his breath. “Cows in the cornfield? Really, Lucy.”

“At lunch, Clark,” she whispered and then glanced nervously back at Jaxon’s desk. He was on the telephone. “Is he keeping his lips sealed?”

Clark’s brows came together as he listened a moment to Jax’s conversation. Printing out his article, he pointedly did not answer her question. He handed the article to Ralph, before grabbing her elbow and escorting her to the elevators. As they waited, Clark started in on her. “I cannot

“Not here, Clark,” she hissed. Something was amiss, she was spooked. The doors opened and they stepped inside. As soon as the elevator doors closed, Lois collapsed against him.

“Lois!”

“It’s Lucy, now, Clark. Please remember that, especially here. Do you think you can get me that job? Did Jimmy really make you that promise?”

“James Olsen owns this paper, Lucy. We’ll see. What’s wrong?”

She took a deep breath, but before she could answer the elevator stopped. “At lunch, Clark. I’ll tell you at lunch.”

The doors opened and there, waiting to enter, were the two men Clark least wanted to see, Mayor White and Mr. Olsen.

Lois paled. Clark, still holding her elbow, led her out as she casually covered her face.

“Chief. Mr. Olsen.” Clark nodded as they passed.

“Clark! Just the man we wanted to see. Take lunch with us.”

“Thank you, but I’ve already—”

Lois glanced up at their former boss at that moment and Perry noticed her. “Oh, sorry, Clark.” He grinned, tipping an imaginary cap. “Miss.” His eyes widened as his voice dropped. “Lois?”

She made a noise that sounded like an “Eeeppp” and made a swift shake ‘no’ with her head.

“Clark, what’s going on here?” Mr. Olsen asked as they all stood in the middle of the lobby.

Things were rapidly spinning out of control until suddenly Lois took things in hand. “Actually, gentlemen, Clark and I were just on our way to find you. Do you think we could go somewhere private to discuss this over lunch?” She gave a quick apologetic glance to Clark, before turning the full force of those chestnut eyes on Perry and Mr. Olsen.

“Of course, little lady,” Perry stammered, his old newshound curiosity piqued.

“Let’s go to my penthouse. We can order up something,” Mr. Olsen suggested, leading the way.

Lois shook free of Clark’s grip and hooked her arm through his, whispering so low that the others could not hear, “Follow my lead. I know what I’m doing.”

He wanted to believe she did, but he couldn’t see how.

When they arrived at Mr. Olsen’s apartment, which was the entire top floor of Lois Lane’s former apartment building, Clark was still in the dark about her plan.

“You are full of surprises,” Lois said to Mr. Olsen, in awe at the simply decorated, yet stylish and comfortable apartment. “No skyscraper. No private chef. What kind of multi-millionaire are you?”

“Quite forward of you, Ms. Lane. I have what I need. I tried the party lifestyle at first. It didn’t suit me.”

“Lois,” Clark growled under his breath. “He’s my boss.”

“I ordered some sandwiches from the deli,” Perry announced, hanging up the phone. “You still like pastrami, don’t you, Lois?”

Clark watched as the thought of pastrami turned Lois’s face a pale green. Just how was she going to get out of this one? He sat down to enjoy the show.

“Well, actually no, Perry. The truth of the matter is I’m not your missing Lois Lane.”

Clark straightened up; he wasn’t expecting the truth.

“Great Caesar’s ghost!”

“What’s the meaning of this?”

They focused their attention on Lois.

“My name is Lucy El; that’s spelled E-L, for the record. Clark and I went to Kansas State together.”

Great, she was dragging him down this rabbit hole with her. His former boss and his boss’s boss looked at him and he smiled back weakly, but kept silent. He had no idea where she was headed.

“Aren’t you the same woman who showed up in my bullpen a couple of months ago and announced you had just woken up from a coma in a Congo mission?” Perry asked.

“Yes, that was me,” she replied.

Mr. Olsen leaned toward Clark. “I’m lost.”

“One day, Clark and I were discussing your missing reporter, Lois Lane,” Lois said. “He speculated that if someone knew something about her disappearance, the best way to flush out the culprit would be to have Lois suddenly reappear. If she had been killed, then the person would want to verify that this new Lois wasn’t the one he killed. If she was in hiding, which we both doubt, it might make her mad enough to reemerge. And if she had been kidnapped, the kidnapper would wonder who the imposter was. Either way, Clark figured it was the best way to get a new lead on the story.”

Clark had heard about the great Lois Lane in action. Now, he knew what they meant. She was amazing.

Perry laughed, clapping Clark on the back. “You just hate leaving a story unfinished, don’t you, Kent?”

“It was a puzzle, Chief,” Clark said.

“So,” Lois plunged on. “After Clark showed me a photo of Lois, I realized there was more than a passing resemblance between us. I decided to surprise Clark and put his theory into action.”

“I was certainly surprised, Lucy.” Clark chuckled. “Not as surprised as Lana was.”

“How many times do I have to apologize for that, Clark? If I had seen her there, I wouldn’t have kissed you. I know how jealous she gets… got.”

Mr. Olsen raised an eyebrow and exchanged a look with Perry.

“Then Tempus messed up the plan by kidnapping her and dropping her off a building,” explained Clark, joining in.

“And Superman was born,” Mr. Olsen finished.

Clark nodded. “Lucy and I go way back. With my abilities, I couldn’t just let her die. Tempus knew that.”

“I’d like to know how Tempus learned about you in the first place,” Mr. Olsen said.

Lois and Clark exchanged a glance before Clark answered. “He must have seen me fly at some point and done some investigating of his own. Perhaps he figured he could win the mayoral election through fear.”

“He didn’t count on you being such a super guy,” Perry said with a laugh. “Too bad we never could lock him up.”

Lois and Clark caught each other’s gaze again. This time Lois answered, “Someday, somewhere, Superman will catch him.” She smiled. He already had; Tempus was in a maximum-security insane asylum in her dimension. “Well, we thought our Lois Lane theory got lost between Tempus, the election, and Clark’s arrival…”

“Didn’t it?” Clark was stumped. Now, she had lost him.

Lois stood up and started pacing. “Tell me about Jaxon Xavier. When did he start working at the Daily Planet?”

“Jaxon?” Clark and Mr. Olsen asked in unison, both surprised. “Why?”

“Ever hear of Lex Luthor?” she inquired.

Perry and Mr. Olsen both shook their heads at the seeming non sequitur.

Clark felt like his head was about to explode. “No!”

“Jaxon’s full name is Jaxon Xavier Luthor. He’s the illegitimate son of Lex Luthor, but there’s enough of a family resemblance to believe it.”

Perry glanced at Clark. “Who’s Lex Luthor?”

Clark’s hands fisted in anger and he was relieved when Lois replied, “He’s an ostentatious, egoistical, super rich tycoon who is bent on taking over the world by destroying everything in it that is good and pure, piece by piece, especially if it means more money for himself.”

Okay, maybe Lois was a little bit biased.

“Uh-huh.” Perry rolled his eyes at Clark. “You’d think I would have heard of him.”

“Lucy doesn’t like him much,” Clark said.

“It was pretty big news back home when he ruined my wedding,” Lois snapped. “It was payback for Clark and I ruining his wedding with a damning exposé. His bride-to-be didn’t want anything more to do with him after that.”

“Clark?”

“Long ago, before I came to Metropolis, Chief.” Clark shot Lois a warning look. “Then Luthor disappeared. Lucy has been trying to track him down since.”

“Lex pretends he’s a charitable do-gooder, but it’s all a disguise. He’s completely untrustworthy. But all I have on him is rumor and hearsay, no cold hard proof.”

“There’s the rub,” Perry said, falling in line. “Without the facts, you just have conjecture, nothing printable.”

“Tell me about it,” Lois said, sitting down next to Clark. “Jaxon appearing on the scene is the closest Lex has come to making a mistake in years. When did he start working at the paper?”

“Well, I found Jaxon about two months ago at a computer conference,” Mr. Olsen told her. “He has mad skills. Better than mine. I was shocked when he jumped at the chance for a lowly research position at the Planet, but then he suggested a new format for the website that just blew my mind. He could be running companies of his own, but he said he wanted to do some good.”

“So, he convinced you to hire him after the election?” Lois inquired. Clark could see where she was headed now.

“Fairly shortly after, why?”

“Do you think Lex Luthor is behind Jaxon being at Daily Planet?” Clark asked. “Behind Lois Lane’s disappearance?”

“From what you know about Lex Luthor, Clark, don’t you think that it is a possibility?”

“For his sake, he’d better not be,” Clark groused under his breath. Lois set her hand on his arm to calm him down; strangely, it worked.

“So, you figure this Lex Luthor person knows what happened to my Lois?” Perry asked.

Lois looked at Clark and then at Perry, before speaking, “There are three scenarios. One, the fake Lois drew Lex out. Two, Superman coming on the scene drew Lex out. Or three, a combination of both. My guess is that Jaxon was sent here to spy on Clark, aka Superman. Lex is a big fan of Sun Tzu and does research on all his potential enemies before he acts. He probably sees Superman as the perfect foil against his villainy. He will try to test you in a manner of ways. I’m sorry to say it like this, Clark, but it probably saved Lana’s life, her leaving you. He hurts the ones closest to you first.”

Clark paled, taking her hand. “Then you aren’t safe.”

“Not as long as I’m staying on your couch. Thanks for the hospitality and all, but I think the sooner I get a job and a place of my own, the better. I’m sorry, Clark.”

“Not as sorry as I am, Lo…Lucy.” Clark sighed. It was for the best, anyway. “So, Mr. Olsen, do you think you could give Lucy El a job as my research assistant? I want someone I can trust, and who also has the brains to keep an eye on Jaxon.”

“If she wants the job, it’s hers. And she doesn’t have to spy on Jaxon. I’ll have him fired by morning.” Mr. Olsen picked up his cordless phone.

“No!” Lois, Perry, and Clark all said at once.

“No?” Mr. Olsen asked, putting down his phone. “If he’s a spy at my paper…”

“There isn’t any proof that he is a spy,” Perry reminded them. “That’s one big lawsuit for wrongful termination, Jimmy.” He turned to Lois. “Do you think this Jaxon fellow knows what happened to my Lois?”

“When I introduced myself to Jaxon earlier, he automatically asked if El stood for the letter L, like Lane, Lucy Lane. His exact phrasing. He wanted to know if I was Lois’s little sister.”

“That’s circumstantial, sweetie.”

She sighed. “That’s all Lex ever gives me.”

“If Jaxon’s let go, Lex will know we are on to him,” Clark explained to Mr. Olsen. “And we’ll lose our only lead.”

“I guess there is more I need to learn about the newspaper business.”

“If I were still running the Daily Planet, I’d see if this Jaxon character has planted any bugs around Clark’s desk. And check to see if anyone has accessed his computer,” Perry suggested.

Mr. Olsen grinned, rubbing his hand together. “Now that’s something right down my alley.”

“Does your father still work at the NIA?” Lois asked her new boss. Clark’s jaw hung open. She did not understand the word ‘boundary’, did she?

“How…? What? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Mr. Olsen stammered.

Perry laughed. “Jimmy, you just hired yourself the best researcher out there. Luckily, she’s on Superman’s side.”

“She is trustworthy, Clark, isn’t she?” Mr. Olsen looked at Lois suspiciously.

“I’d trust her with my life,” Clark answered.

“Can’t get a better referral than that, can you, Jimmy?”

“Don’t call me Jimmy, White, please. James.” Mr. Olsen looked Lois over one more time. “Next time, Ms. El, remember where your paycheck comes from. I’m not a bad guy.”

She smiled endearingly at him. “I know.”

The doorbell rang and Mr. Olsen went to answer it. Clark pulled her to the side. “Don’t smile at him like that. He’s a highly eligible bachelor. We wouldn’t want him to get the wrong idea.”

“Jealous much, Clark,” she teased him. “I’m taken, remember? Anyway, I tried to make myself look as horrible as possible; are you saying he’d be attracted to this?”

Clark looked at her ridiculous outfit from head to toe. “Some of us can still see the beautiful you.”

“Don’t try to charm me, Clark Kent.” Lois patted him on the chest. “Jimmy’s a sweet puppy, nothing more.”

“Mr. Olsen is now your boss, Lucy.”

“Jimmy is one of our best friends. I always smile at him that way.”

“I just realized I’ve been misspelling the word ‘stubborn’ all this time. It is spelled Y-O-U.” Clark threw up his hands.

Lois laughed.

“We’ll talk about this later,” Clark informed her.

She continued to laugh with a slight salute. “Yes, boss.”

“Hey, you two, lunch,” Perry called from the dining room.

Lois grabbed Clark’s arm. “Thanks for getting me the job.”

“I didn’t; you did. That was some pretty amazing investigative work in there, Ms. El.”

Lois sat down at the table and looked down at the pastrami sandwich Perry had ordered for her. The scent must have hit her nostrils, because seconds later she bolted from the table with her mouth covered.

“Down the hall and to the right,” Clark called to her.

“What in heaven’s name…?” Mr. Olsen asked.

Perry leaned over to Clark with his eyes on where Lois disappeared into the bathroom. “Clark, is there something you failed to mention between you and Lucy?”

Clark pasted an innocent smile on his face. “I have no idea what you mean, Chief.”

“Son, I wasn’t born yesterday and I didn’t become editor because I can yodel.” Perry held up his hands. “But if you’re not ready for any announcements… fine by me.”

Clark looked over at Lois’s pastrami sandwich. “Mr. Olsen, you wouldn’t happen to have any fruit in the kitchen, would you?”

Mr. Olsen waved him on. Clark took the sandwich into the kitchen. While cutting fruit in the kitchen, he overhead Olsen and White discussing him and Lucy.

“Fireworks, White?”

“Oh, definitely. I miss the newsroom, Jimmy. Something’s always happening.”

Clark returned a minute later with a cereal bowl filled with cut fruit. He took a sip of iced tea and a bite of his club sandwich before Lois returned.

“Oh, you didn’t have to do that. Thank you, guys.” She beamed at them.

Mr. Olsen looked at Perry as Perry looked at him. They both turned and looked between Lois and Clark and nodded. Lois was oblivious. He had to do something to cauterize this wound.

“Lucy, are you okay? Don’t tell me you’ve got the stomach flu?” He looked directly at Lois and then cut his eyes toward Perry.

Her face went white. Good; she understood.

“Oh, no, Clark. Have you forgotten? I’m a vegetarian. Just the sight of meat…” She shuddered for good measure.

Perry raised a skeptical eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.

Clark sighed in relief. Lois reached under the table and squeezed his hand. He knew she was just trying to thank him for the warning, but she was acting as if he was her Clark. He let go of her hand, patted it, and placed it back on her leg. Her eyes went wide for a split second before she winced, keeping her gaze focused on the fruit salad in front of her.

“Hey, Jimmy, does the paper still pay for Lois Lane’s apartment here?” Perry asked out of the blue.

“Yeah,” replied Mr. Olsen. “Automatic payments the first of every month, White. Were you thinking we should cancel the arrangement? It’s a draw for me. I don’t mind holding on to her stuff until we find her, especially if it seems we might have a new lead.”

“Excuse me, gentlemen, did I hear you right? The paper pays Lois’s rent? Her apartment downstairs is just as she left it, waiting for her to return?” Lois’s eyes clouded over.

“Sure. It was the least we could do since she disappeared on assignment,” Perry said, taking a bite of his potato salad. “And when Jimmy here took over the paper, I suggested he buy her building, too.”

“Wow.” She smiled, blinking slowly. Clark could see that her eyes were sparkling with tears. “That’s very nice of you, Perry. Mr. Olsen.” Her voice broke as she sniffed.

It appeared to Clark like Lois wanted to reach over and hug her old editor. He took a sip of his iced tea, ready to fly the two of them out of there if she tried. The moment passed and he relaxed.

“I was just thinking it’s a shame about that apartment sitting there and you needing a place to stay,” Perry continued. “It’s been… what… three years.”

Lois seemed too excited by the prospect of what Perry was on the verge of suggesting.

“Oh, Chief. That’s kind of you to suggest, but Lucy can stay with me until she finds something she can afford,” Clark said. “I’d hate to think what Lois would do to you, should she return and find you sublet her apartment with all her stuff in it to a total stranger.”

“Clark!” Lois gasped. “Don’t listen to him, Perry. What were you saying, before he so rudely interrupted?”

“I’ve stayed on your lumpy couch, Clark,” Perry reminded him. “She needs some place better to stay. I know how little a research assistant gets paid and how high rents are in this town.”

“As mayor, you should do something about that,” Clark proposed.

“Hey! I pay a fair wage, White,” Jimmy interjected.

“I’ll take it under advisement, Clark,” Perry retorted with a chuckle. “And this isn’t a discussion about Metropolis’s minimum wage, Jimmy. In the meantime, this little lady needs a nice place to stay, instead of a rathole in Suicide Slum with a half-dozen roommates. Don’t you think she deserves better, Clark?”

The Chief smiled the smile of a matchmaker and Clark knew he was sunk. Perry didn’t buy the vegetarian plea one bit. His old boss was doing this for him. Mayor White thought that he — innocent Clark Kent from this dimension — had knocked up his ‘old friend’ from college, who just happened to look like Lois Lane. Had he known all along about Clark’s crush on Lois? Nothing got past Perry, but he couldn’t tell him the truth.

“Yes, Chief, you’re right. I would never let her stay in a place like that.” Clark sighed as his former boss grinned in triumph.

“Well, Jimmy, what do you think? Should we let Lucy stay at Lois’s until she gets back on her feet?”

If Mr. Olsen was hesitant about the proposition, he hid it well. “I didn’t know Ms. Lane, White. None of us did. If you, as her boss and landlord, think she would be fine with it, I see no drawbacks if Clark here vouches for Lucy. You aren’t a vandal or a thief, Ms. El, are you?” Mr. Olsen asked her, clearly knowing she was not. Clark couldn’t believe it; she had charmed all of them.

“The only time things get broken in my apartment is when Clark visits.” She laughed.

Perry raised his eyebrows toward Clark.

Clark cleared his throat. “Because of the super strength.”

“Oh, right.” Perry nodded.

“Would you like to see the place?” Mr. Olsen volunteered. “I’ve got the key somewhere.”

Lois nodded. “Would I ever.”

They all got up from the table and Clark volunteered to clean up, while Mr. Olsen searched for his master key. Lois helped clear the dishes.

In the kitchen, while they were alone, Clark whispered, “Stay with me. I can protect you.”

She smiled and patted his arm. “No, you can’t, Clark.”

“Excuse me?”

“Even Kal knows that Superman is too important and busy to be any one person’s bodyguard. He would want me to take some of the responsibility on myself. Lois’s apartment is a good option and it’s only temporary.”

It was the first time Lois had referred to her Clark as Kal. It even sounded weird to Clark. He sighed; he hated to admit it but her reasoning was correct.

“Perry,” Clark asked, drying his hands on a dish towel as he returned to the dining room. “Has anyone been in there, since she disappeared?”

“Sure. Sam and I took her fish tank to my house. And then Alice and I returned to clear out her fridge.”

“I bet that didn’t take long,” Lois mumbled.

“Oh, Lois used to throw the most wonderful dinners. She’s a gourmet cook. Had to learn after her mom left.”

Lois dropped to the sofa and stared at the Chief. “Mom left?”

“Oh, yes. She was about eight or ten at the time. Her mom ran off to L.A. with some plastic surgeon and took her little sister, Lucy, with them. It crushed Sam, so Lois said; but I’m sure it crushed her too. Neither she nor Sam has seen them since. That was when he started drinking, although he was on the wagon when Lois disappeared.” Perry shook his head. “Her disappearance ruined him. He quit his practice, started drinking full time, and working on strange experiments in his garage until the bank took his house. She was all he had left. Where was he when you last spoke with him, Clark?”

Clark felt like an animal facing down the barrel of a shotgun. He was never so glad that he was the one with the heat vision; the daggers her eyes shot at him would have been deadly.

“Clark?” Perry repeated.

“The homeless shelter on Fifth, Chief,” he mumbled.

Lois grabbed the arm of the sofa, her eyes filled to the brim with tears. “That’s horrible.”

Clark sat down next to her. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

She brushed off his apologies. “Later.”

He nodded, understanding why she would not want to discuss this revelation here.

Mr. Olsen appeared at that moment, dangling keys from his upraised fingers. “Are we set?”

Lois wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded. After the other two had left the room, Lois socked Clark on the arm. “You should have told me.”

“I was meaning to…”

Perry looked back to them. “Coming?”

“Just have to get my bag,” Lois said cheerfully, grabbing her sack of books.

Clark took a deep breath and slowly released it. He wished he had known about Lois’s apartment being available during his search for her two and a half years ago. He was both excited and apprehensive about what he would find inside. Despite knowing he and the Lois Lane of this dimension were destined for each other, he was afraid that what he was about to learn would change how he felt about her.

***

Day 5

Dear Clark:

Wow! What a day! Where to begin? I guess I should begin at the beginning. I found my father…well, this dimension’s Sam Lane, or what’s left of him. He was still living at the shelter on Fifth. Actually, to be honest, I found him several days ago. But today I got up the nerve to talk to him. He’s a shell of the man you and I know. I’ve got to get him sobered up. The brilliant doctor I know and love and need is still in there, but it’s like someone killed his hope. My secret identity of Lucy El is working so well that he didn’t recognize me. It hurt; physically hurt, Clark. It was as if someone had pulled his soul out. Like Jimmy’s photo of… never mind. I brought him lunch. Pastrami, his favorite. This time, I was able to make it through lunch. It’s hard to breathe through only your mouth when your nose isn’t stopped-up. Well, you wouldn’t know much about stopped-up noses, would you?

I tried to bring Kal — this dimension’s Clark — with me to introduce me to this Sam Lane, but he refused. Do you what excuse he gave? “Sam doesn’t like me.” I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like Clark Kent, either of you. Even those who would swear that you (or Superman) are their dire enemy still like Clark Kent. There is just something inherently decent about you that everyone likes. And if it takes the rest of my life to figure out your secret, so be it. I actually saw what I could only describe as fear in Kal’s eyes when I suggested he come with me to talk to Sam. I wonder if it has to do with… No, I’ll hold my verdict on that until I have more details. I’ve been doing my own private research on that front. Okay, now I’m just confusing you. I just don’t want to write anything without all the facts. You know how I hate to rescind my theories.

I moved into my old apartment last night. Kal wanted to make sure it was spotless before I moved in. He was worried the dust might upset my health. He even did most of the cleaning himself. I was beginning to think he wanted some time alone there before I cluttered up the place with my Lois-ness. It wasn’t even really dirty, just dusty. It was weird being ‘home.’ It didn’t feel like my apartment. The clothes I’m sure would have still fit (for the moment at least — thank you, morning sickness, best diet I’ve ever been on) but Clark boxed them up, along with all her private papers. Like I would have…

What am I saying, of course I would have. I rifled through Kal’s papers. I’m an investigative reporter who has been put on a leash. I hate it.

At least I have my pet project of looking for this dimension’s Lex Luthor. I know it makes your skill crawl thinking of me working on this task, but he doesn’t know I’m Lois Lane. As far as I know, this Lex doesn’t even know who Lois Lane is. I’m just sloppy, sweats-wearing, gum-chewing, glasses-wearing Lucy El, lowly researcher at the D.P. (the Daily Planet) Lex makes my skin crawl too, Clark. But if we can dig up something on him before he actively starts to ruin this world, I’ll feel like I accomplished something other than being an incubator while I’m here.

Remember how I mentioned finding Jaxon working at the D.P.? Well, I started my job in research this morning and my desk is right next to his. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn something being so close to him. Kal told me that Ralph threw a fit when Jimmy (I’ve really got to remember to call him Mr. Olsen) told him he’d hired me for Kal’s research assistant. Kal says Ralph’s an okay editor, but that he’s a much better guy since he got married. I know. I couldn’t believe anyone would marry him either. Did I tell you how he hit on me the day after you ent undercover (i.e. you left on your trip to New Krypton)?

I miss you. I wish you’d come home. I dreamed about my younger self last night. She’s obsessed by what Star told her the other night about you coming home soon. I’m really proud of her… myself. I hit the ground running at the D.P. one day after being pulled three months into the future. There were a few hiccups, like not knowing Jimmy’s girlfriend’s name is Isabelle. I know that, so the younger me should have known it, too. Part of me is worried that that’s the reason they broke up, because L.L. didn’t remember her name. My gosh, does the world always circle around me?

Anyway, this younger me sees you in every brown-haired, bespectacled man she sees. It’s like the first days after you left again. Perry’s thrilled that she’s eating pastrami once more. He really blamed my yogurt and banana diet on my breakdown. If he only knew the truth…

Back to my big day in this dimension. Day one at the D.P. as Lucy El. Nobody likes Ms. El. I think it’s because Kal and I are so chummy — I mean, friendly. And everyone else would kill to work that closely with the man in blue. Poor Kal, I hadn’t realized how hard it is to merge S.M. and C.K. into one public entity. I’m so glad my C.K. is still my secret S.M. or is it the other way around? My S.M. is my secret C.K.? Either way, I’m glad you’re mine.

Come home soon. L.L.

***

Clark knocked on her door again. Where was she? He had told Lois that he would escort her to work.

What had she said? “I’m a big girl, Clark. I don’t need a babysitter.”

Lois opened the door, rubbing her hair with a towel. “Sorry, I overslept.” Grinning, she stepped aside to let him in. She seemed almost bubbly. He hadn’t seen her that happy since she had her first dream about the other dimension. “Kal’s home! He was waiting for me on my front stoop when I got home from the Daily Planet. The younger me thought he was a mirage, but it was really him.” She closed her eyes and sighed.

“Lois, the staff meeting,” Clark reminded her.

Startled back into this reality, Lois ran to the bathroom. She returned a few minutes later, her hair still damp. She grabbed her purse and headed toward the door.

“Are you up for work today, Lois?” he asked.

“Of course.” She glared at him.

He tapped his glasses and her eyes went wide again as she felt her face, then dashed back to her room.

“How do you remember all these things?” She laughed at herself with a shake of her head, double-checking her appearance in the mirror.

“Practice,” he said as they stepped into the hall. “Tell me about Kal. I know you’re dying to. Might as well get it out of your system before we get to work.”

“I will never get Kal out of my system,” she retorted. “Any more than you’ll get her out of yours.”

Clark’s brow furrowed. “Her who?”

Lois smiled knowingly. “You know who.”

He sighed. Oh, that her. “I’ve never met her; she’s dead, remember?”

“If you say so.” Lois grinned.

“If you don’t tell me about Kal now, you won’t get another chance.”

“Right. Kal’s back.” She sighed wistfully. “He missed me as much as I missed him, and he still loves me and still wants to marry me.”

Clark rolled his eyes. “And?”

She pouted. “Just as I suspected, he didn’t come back alone.”

“Brought the new wife?” Clark said without thinking. Lois hit him in the bicep. “Sorry, Lucy, that was uncalled for.”

“Be nice to me, Clark Kent,” she mumbled under her breath as they walked down the street. “I know how to kill you.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“The Kryptonians came back with him. And he was gone again after a minute.” She sighed with a pout. “At least it didn’t take him eight more months to return.” She groaned, taking his arm. “It’s exhausting living two lives. Especially one in disguise.”

“Are you okay?” he asked, concerned.

“Same old same old.”

Clark knew what she would say in response, but he couldn’t avoid the subject much longer. “Did you call any of those doctors in the phone book?”

Lois slowed her gait. “You know I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“You know why.” She kicked a nonexistent rock. Then she glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “Did you speak with Dr. Klein?”

Clark groaned.

“You said you would do anything to help,” she reminded him.

“It’s not exactly the easiest topic for me to bring up, Lo… Lucy.”

She patted his arm. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“No!” Clark shook his head. That would be worse. It was bad enough that Perry thought Lucy El was carrying his love child. He didn’t want her anywhere near S.T.A.R. Labs.

“Will you come with me to the Fifth Street Shelter?” she asked quietly.

Wily woman. There was no way he could face Sam Lane. Not after all the horribly true accusations the man had lobbed at him. “Just let him be, Lucy.”

“She would never forgive you if you do, Clark.”

Direct hit, he winced. Stopping at the doors to the Daily Planet, he said, “She’s dead, Lucy. Give it up.” He continued inside, leaving her under the big metal globe.

“He’s my father and she’s my sister. I’ll never give up. And neither will you.”

Clark stopped just inside the lobby; she knew how to use his super hearing to her advantage. He rubbed his face and sighed, waiting for her to catch up. When she was standing next to him again, he murmured, “I’ll stop by S.T.A.R. Labs after work today, okay?”

“Thank you.” She smiled with a little skip in her gait as if she had won.

“But you need to stop all this sister talk. Jax already half believes you’re Lucy Lane,” he said in the privacy of the elevator.

“My sister!” Lois struck herself in the forehead with the palm of her hand. “Why didn’t I think about that?”

“Lucy!” he warned as the doors opened. “Don’t do anything rash.”

She grinned at him with an innocent expression he didn’t believe. “Who? Me?”

Jaxon ambushed Lois as soon as she sat down at her desk. “What was that about?”

Clark kept an ear on their conversation.

“He accused me of cheating at cards.”

Clark sighed. That woman could lie on a dime.

“You two spend a lot of time together,” Jax continued. “At work and not. Is there something going on there?”

Lie, Lois, lie, he silently urged. And then he realized that if she did lie, she would say they were involved. He glanced over to find her staring at him.

“Jaxon,” she said, turning her back on Clark and lowering her voice. “Jaxon. Jaxon.” She shook her head. “Do you think I would ever speak about my friend Clark here at the office? Especially when he’s standing less than thirty feet away.”

Jaxon gulped. “Oh, right.”

Clark chuckled to himself. Super hearing, score one.

“Anyway,” she continued. “I don’t date.”

“Oh?” Jaxon’s curiosity was piqued.

What was she up to? Clark wondered, his brow furrowing.

“I gave it up for Lent.”

Clark cracked a grin. Lois was too hilarious.

“You did?” Jaxon seemed shocked.

“No.” Wearily, she raised a brow at him. “Jaxon, was there something you needed?”

“I just thought…” He looked nervous. “That we could maybe have lunch sometime, Lo… Lucy.”

Clark couldn’t believe the man had just asked her out. Lois didn’t seem overly surprised. Was there more to the Jaxon Xavier story in her dimension that she didn’t mention?

“I eat lunch. You eat lunch. I’m sure someday we’ll eat lunch together, Jaxon. But not today; I have plans.”

“With Clark?” Jaxon whined under his breath.

“No, not with Clark. With a source.” She grabbed her notepad and headed toward the conference room. “Some of us here still talk to them.”

Both Clark and Jaxon followed her with their eyes. How had she heard Jaxon? He must have spoken louder than Clark thought, but Jaxon had the same startled expression on his face.

As Lois passed Clark’s desk, she whispered, “Stop it. I don’t need you listening in on all of my conversations. You’re acting like a stalker ex-boyfriend and it’s creepy.”

“Sorry.” Clark grabbed his notebook and followed her into the conference room. “How did you hear him say, ‘with Clark’?”

Lois rolled her eyes. “He was standing right next to me.”

“Right.” He tapped his pen to his notepad. “Who are you having lunch with today, if it isn’t me?”

Lois turned and faced him directly. “If you must know, I’m meeting with a doctor.”

He smiled. Then Clark wondered if she would want him to go with her. Before he could ask her, she continued, “Alone.”

“Right.”

***

Ralph entered the conference room. Lois still couldn’t believe he was their editor. Clark suddenly turned his head to the left and looked up as he listened. Strange, she could hear it too. Security alarm. He stood up and Ralph looked at him questioningly.

“Sorry,” Clark apologized, grabbing his stuff. “First National Bank of Metropolis is being robbed.”

Ralph waved him off. After Clark left, he pointed to another reporter. “Barry, go cover the robbery.”

Barry grabbed his stuff and rushed off after Clark. That must be hard on Clark. To always be the first one on the scene and not get the scoop. But on the other hand, nobody would ever try to steal the Daily Planet from James Olsen with Superman’s alter-ego on the payroll; Lois wagered it was a money-making machine.

Ralph continued, staring straight at her, “So, research assistant, what’s Clark working on?”

Lois gulped. He had finished a story about the president’s upcoming visit yesterday. She had no idea if he had another story in the works.

“Nothing. Great. Glad he convinced the higher-ups that you were worth it.” Ralph’s sarcasm struck her across the face. Lois wasn’t going to let her mistake damage Clark’s career.

“Actually, sir.” She threw the ‘sir’ in for good measure. “Clark and I have a source about some employees or former employees at S.T.A.R. Labs doing some dangerous and illegal experiments on the side. Clark said he wanted to go to S.T.A.R. Labs to confirm the story with Dr. Klein.” She and Clark hadn’t had time to compare their lists of names, but she bought him some time and got him an excuse to talk to Dr. Klein. She would get a name off her list, if it took all day. She would even put off talking to Sam Lane for another day.

Ralph looked surprised. “Have Clark check in with me after he talks to Dr. Klein.”

“Will do.” Lois made a note on her pad. She started writing down names of all the former crazies she could think of off the top of her head. She would check the archives after the meeting. She had been reading all of Clark’s stories from the past year until late last night and already had his preliminary list started.

When Clark returned, Lois noticed that he went directly to his desk without even a glance her way. He quickly wrote up his notes about the bank robbery and then he dropped the legal pad on Barry’s desk. Not Clark’s notes, she realized; Superman’s notes. It pained her to see Clark forced to be such a team player. He obviously was resigned to the fact.

Lois gave him a few minutes to unwind and check his messages, then she grabbed her notes and purse and headed to his desk.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” He glanced up to her and smiled for the first time since returning from the robbery.

“You want to talk about it?”

“I’m okay.”

“I’m available if you ever need to talk, Clark. You know that, don’t you?”

He glanced up at her with love, not desire or longing, but love. No, it couldn’t be love, it must be appreciation. “Thanks.”

“We need to talk.”

Clark winced. “I’m sorry about this morning, Lucy,” he started to say before noticing the slight shake of her head. “What’s up?”

“Have you heard back from Mr. Olsen since our lunch the other day?” she asked casually.

“No, why?”

This Clark did not pick up on her clues like her Clark. But then again, her Clark had three years of practice under his belt. “Take me out for coffee.”

He looked at her curiously. “You shouldn’t be drinking coffee.”

Lois shifted her weight, crossed her arms, and stared at him. Clueless. “Then take me out for a fruit smoothie.”

The light bulb turned on in his eyes and he grabbed his jacket. “Did you eat breakfast?”

“No.”

“You can’t be skipping breakfast anymore, Lucy,” he said as they walked to the elevator. “Your blood sugar will get too low and you’ll pass out.”

That sounded familiar. “You skimmed my books.” It wasn’t a question.

Clark smiled with guilt. “This is all new for me, too.”

Lois shook her head. “If I promise to eat three squares a day, will you promise to lay off?”

“Kal will thank me, even if you don’t,” he said as the elevator doors shut.

“Great. Now it’s like having two of you against me. I’ll never win another disagreement,” she groaned.

They argued until they sat down at an outdoors café table to drink their fruit smoothies.

“Mmmmm,” Lois sighed. “That’s good.” Her drink was gone within a minute.

Clark just stared at her and handed over his cup. “Is your appetite back?”

“Not really,” she said, taking his drink happily. “You’re right, though. I’m starving.”

“So, what’s up?”

Lois brought forth her notes. “Work. We never touched base on your current stories, so when you…” She motioned upward with her hand. “… at the meeting this morning, I didn’t have an answer for Ralph about what you were working on.”

“He couldn’t wait until I returned?” Clark shook his head.

“He was gunning for me,” Lois replied.

“Why you? You’re new. He’s usually gunning for me.”

“He doesn’t like the idea of me — that someone else made him hire me — and threw me a curveball to make me look bad,” she told him.

“I’m sorry. Do you want me to talk with him?”

“No, I don’t want you to talk with him. I doubt it would do any good anyway. But I jumped the gun trying to stay on his good side.” Lois took a big sip of his smoothie and explained what she had told Ralph at the meeting.

“You really want me to talk to Dr. Klein, don’t you? I don’t know what the rush is, we know what the outcome of his tests on me will be,” Clark said, indicating her stomach.

“True. But you need to get a rapport started now, in case we need to consult with him later… should complications develop.”

“Okay.” He held up his hands in surrender. “You win. You always win, don’t you?”

She smiled and showed him her notes about the dangerous people she and her Clark had come across in the three years they had been working together. “See if any of the names seem familiar. The ones you’ve put behind bars can be marked with a star. And we’ll cross-reference the rest with S.T.A.R. Labs employee files when we get back to the office.”

“Wow! This is quite a list.” Clark glanced at the list. “What are the plus signs for?”

“The ones I put away before or independently of Kal, who came after me when released or escaped.” She finished off Clark’s smoothie and tossed the cup in a nearby trashcan.

“Do you want another?” he asked.

“Probably shouldn’t push my luck.”

“The quickest way to get results would be to pass this list to Jaxon,” Clark began.

“You are kidding, right?”

He sighed. “Right.” He stood up.

“I wouldn’t give him more than three names at a time. See what he comes up with before we give him more.”

“You’d still give him names off our list?”

“Sure. You promised to give him computer research to do, and as long as we don’t let anyone see the list as a whole or both our lists…”

“True. We could give him three names off the Lois Lane pluses that correspond with my Lois’s stories.”

She grinned. His Lois. “Good idea, Clark.”

“Meanwhile, I’ll try to star as many of the other names as I can. Which will leave us with everyone else.” Lois ignored the red traffic light, only to be pulled back by Clark. “No more jaywalking.”

“Nobody’s coming.” She gestured at the empty intersection.

“It sets a bad example.”

“For whom?” Lois asked, her lips pressed together. “Superman?”

He glanced down at her tummy. “You know who.”

“Oh.” She scowled. “I’m a role model now, huh?”

He nodded. “To someone you’re super…”

She raised an eyebrow at him.

“Ultra Woman. And she doesn’t jaywalk.”

“No, she leaps over intersections in a single bound,” Lois murmured.

“Truth and justice…”

“I penned that phrase, you know.” She shot him grin.

“Regretting it now?” he asked as the crosswalk light changed to green.

“Not yet.”

Five minutes after they had returned to the office, Clark handed back her notebook with the list of names. He had already starred his names. Strangely, there weren’t that many stars. She wondered if it was because Superman had only been around in this dimension for four months or if it was the absence of Lois Lane. Was she a magnet for crazies? Lois thought about her ex-boyfriends and decided she might be. She remembered her Clark even called her a jinx once.

Clark might be fast, but she had already decided on two of the three names she would have Jaxon check out. The Prankster and her old Irish friend, Patrick Sullivan. She would come up with a third eventually, after the latest crisis was resolved.

Most of the bad guys on her list were old Lex Lab employees who went solo after their boss took a nosedive off Lex Towers. In this dimension that event never happened; something stopped Lex Corp from developing here in Metropolis. She wanted to do a search for the name Lex Luthor, Luthor Industries, Luthor or Lex anything, but it was all but impossible to do without Jimmy’s help and without alerting Jaxon. When she got back to her dimension, she would insist that Perry give Jimmy a much-deserved raise. His job wasn’t easy.

By noon she had one firm name to give to Clark: Dr. Alfred Carlton. He was a neuroscientist who had formerly worked for S.T.A.R. Labs, and had been forced to leave under some kind of cloud. He currently held a job as the doctor at the Beckworth School. She pulled Clark into the conference room and told him about Mentamide 5 and the Beckworth School. The story would be perfect for Clark’s style: it dealt with abandoned and orphaned children. Nobody brought someone to action or tears like Clark when he wrote about neglected children. From what she had read of this Clark’s stories, he might have an even stronger edge in that department than her Clark.

“This is great, Lois,” Clark told her. “After lunch, I need—”

“Lucy,” she corrected him.

He blinked. “What?”

“It’s nothing, Clark. What do you need?”

“You said this Beckworth School stuff happened soon after you and Kal started working together, right?”

“Yes, two… two and a half years ago.”

“Why do you think it hasn’t been exposed before now?”

Lois explained to him her missing Lex link-in-the-chain theory. “Many of the names on my list once were funded by Lex Labs. Remove Lex’s funding and those experiments either don’t happen or don’t happen as fast.”

Clark nodded. “I need you to check the Beckworth School’s records for any unexplained or unusual deaths since Dr. Carlton started working there, while I go talk to Dr. Klein.”

“And I’ll also see if I can find out who is funding his research now.” She hesitated a moment and then plowed ahead with her question. “Do you know what you’re going to ask him? Dr. Klein?”

“Probably best to approach him about routine stuff first. Feel him out.” Clark paused, glancing at his watch. “Hey, you want to grab… Wait, when is your doctor’s appointment?”

Lois shifted her gaze to gathering her notes, so she wouldn’t have to look him in the eye as she lied. “One o’clock.”

They headed out of the conference room. “Why don’t I grab us some lunch?”

She turned to face him. What was she going to do with him? He needed a hobby. Something to distract him from following after her like a puppy. “What you need, Clark Kent, is a girlfriend.”

Clark stopped dead in his tracks.

Ralph was passing by when she said this and he started chuckling. “You can say that again.”

“Very funny,” Clark said, not amused.

“You would think with all the guns Tempus put on the streets of Metropolis that you would be too busy to count my calories.”

Clark winced. “I’m sorry. I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”

She nodded.

He grabbed her elbow and led her over to his desk. “I can’t help it, Lucy,” he said, speaking softly. “I worry about you.”

“And I appreciate it, I do.” She placed a hand on his chest. “Which is why I think you need a girlfriend to distract you from me. You worry too much.”

His face fell. “It’s not that easy.”

“I bet women are throwing themselves off bridges to get a date with a charming, handsome guy like you.”

“Exactly.” He plopped himself down in his chair.

“Oh.” Lois had forgotten that everyone else knew he was Superman, too. “Well, just think about it. Maybe a name will jump out at you.”

“There is only one person I’m interested in, Lucy, and she’s unavailable,” he murmured, looking away.

“I know, Clark. I feel it too. Another reason you need a distraction.”

He looked up at her. “I don’t feel comfortable discussing this with you.”

“Tough.” Lois grinned, heading back to her desk. “You don’t have a choice. If you are going to meddle with my life, I’m going to mess with yours.” She grabbed her purse, dropped her notebook inside it, and headed toward the elevator with a wave of her hand.

She could hear him chuckling behind her.

***

Clark was unsure exactly how to approach Dr. Bernard Klein. It wasn’t everyday that he went up to a scientist and asked him to poke and prod him and delve into his deepest physical secrets. He had spent half of his life fearing and avoiding such an occurrence. Lois said that Kal went to his Dr. Klein as Superman, but he couldn’t ask him questions about Dr. Carlton for his article as Superman. He decided to stick with his Clark Kent persona.

He found Dr. Klein in his lab mixing up a turquoise blue liquid in beakers.

“Ah, Clark Kent,” Dr. Klein greeted him with enthusiasm. “What can I do for you? Any more trouble with Kryptonite?”

“No. I had some questions about Alfred Carlton.” Clark had decided to lead with the story first and then go back to the personal stuff later. He pulled out his notebook and asked the scientist about his former colleague. Lois had been spot on. Dr. Carlton had done some experiments that violated the S.T.A.R. Labs policy on human experimentation. He had developed Mentamide 1, 2, and 3 while at S.T.A.R. Labs, but then was let go when he circumvented protocol and started testing Mentamide 3 on human subjects instead of primates. Luckily, no one was hurt.

“He left here roughly four years ago, Clark. Why all the sudden interest?” Dr. Klein swirled the blue liquid around and then smelled it.

“Off the record?”

The doctor nodded.

“I’ve got a source who thinks he might be using Mentamide 5 on children. How dangerous would that be?”

Dr. Klein’s eyes widened. “Extremely. When testing a new drug on humans, children are the last subjects we would ever use. Their bodies and brains are still developing, and introducing a new compound could do damage at a cellular level. As I told you earlier, Mentamide was supposed to be an intelligence-boosting formula, and children’s brains are still learning and developing. It could backfire on him and turn them brain-dead. Don’t quote me on that. Without data, this is all conjecture. I wouldn’t want to jump to any conclusions.” He shook his head and took a sip of the blue liquid.

Clark looked at him with concern.

The doctor chuckled. “Decongestant.”

“Oh.” Clark folded up his notebook and thanked the doctor for his time. He hesitated, not quite sure how to broach the next subject. He liked the man well enough, but his abilities had always been his own private business.

“Was there something else?” Dr. Klein asked, glancing up and noticing that Clark was still there.

Clark looked around the lab room to make sure they were alone and shut the door to the hallway. “I don’t know quite how to ask this…”

Dr. Klein quietly waited for him to find his words and continue.

“I need a doctor.”

The scientist looked at him in dismay. “I don’t know who to recommend, Clark. You aren’t quite like any other human I’ve ever met.”

“Exactly.” Clark nodded. “I’m not human, I’m Kryptonian. I need a doctor with more knowledge than a regular medical doctor.”

“What’s seems to be the problem? Maybe I can help.”

Clark smiled. Obviously, modesty was not in Dr. Klein’s vocabulary. “Well, I’m not in need of a doctor at the moment, per se…” He paused again, trying to find the correct term.

“Should we discuss this in my office?”

“Thank you.”

A half hour later, Clark was on his way back to the Daily Planet with an extra skip in his step. He had the beginning to his story and he had a doctor. Dr. Klein had been humbled and excited that Clark had thought of him to test his physical abilities and limitations. They discussed what tests they would run first and, more importantly to Clark, privacy. Dr. Klein agreed to keep all their conversations and his findings confidential under doctor—patient privilege. He would be working for Clark, not S.T.A.R. Labs or the city of Metropolis.

Clark did not bring up the possibility of him ever becoming a father. That would just be too much, too soon. They did set up an appointment for the following week to start on his tests. And they agreed if they were going to be testing his super abilities, it would be better if he came as Superman. Dr. Klein had him sign some liability paperwork. He listed Lucy El as the person to contact should anything go wrong. She was as close as he could get to next of kin.

He stopped at a phone booth to call her, but only got her voicemail. Strange, he assumed she would be back already from her doctor appointment. Then he remembered something she had said that morning. She hadn’t called any doctors from the phone book. Which doctor was she referring to when she said she had an appointment? He got a cold chill down his back. She wouldn’t. He grimaced. Stubborn, stubborn Lois. He knew that the doctor she had been referring to was his Lois’s father.

Clark wanted nothing more than to fly down to the Fifth Street Shelter and drag her out of there, kicking and screaming if he had to, but he didn’t. If she wanted to chance her and her baby’s survival on some drunkard’s ability to be the doctor he once was, that was her decision.

Lois was right. He had been interfering too much. Let her deal with the consequences of this decision. He knew she was going to drag him down with her. He sighed, resigned.

There was no way Sam Lane was going to believe that Lois was his daughter Lucy. Clark had met Lucy while interviewing everyone in Lois’s family; she was an actress in Hollywood with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair and the opposite of Lois, personality-wise. And Sam Lane would once again blame him. Even if Sam fell for Lois’s story, he still would never forgive Clark, especially when he found out about the baby. Oh no, Clark was doomed. He flagged down a taxi and headed back to the office.

“Clark! Clark!” Lois waved him down outside the Daily Planet, after he sent his cab on its way.

He paused and waited for her to catch up. “How was the doctor?”

“My mistake. My appointment was tomorrow, not today.”

“Great. I can come with you. I am Kal’s substitute, you know.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Clark. If I show up with Superman on my arm, too many questions will be asked. We would become front-page news on every tabloid in the… Well, every tabloid. I’d better go alone.”

“Whatever you say, Lucy.”

She clicked her tongue against her teeth. “You know I lied, don’t you?”

“Yep.”

“Do you know what I did instead?” she asked.

“How is Sam?”

“He’s fine. Actually, he’s going to come and stay with me for a while, so I won’t be alone. Isn’t that great?” She smiled in triumph.

Clark groaned. “Did you tell him that you’re working at the Daily Planet? Did you warn him not to contact you here? Did you tell him why? Did you mention that your only other friend in this dimension is the one man he hates?”

“No. No. No. And no, he doesn’t hate you. I thought we could explain the Lois Lane trap plan thingy to him over dinner tonight. Together.” Lois looked at him hopefully.

“Not we, darling. You. This was all you. You deal with it. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t want to have anything more to do with you. I’m hands off, remember.” He turned and entered the building.

“Clark!” She caught him by the elevators. “You’re mad at me.”

He ignored her.

“I don’t like it when you’re mad at me.”

He got into the elevator. She followed and stood behind him.

“Please, Clark. I need you.”

He smiled. It was nice that she admitted it, but he wasn’t going to cave. Not on this.

“At least tell me how your interview with Dr. Klein went.”

The elevator chimed.

“Too late, Lucy. Another time.” The doors opened. “And Lucy, I need that information on the Beckworth School.” He returned to his desk.

She returned to her desk and sat down with a huff. “I’m sorry, Clark,” she whispered.

He turned away so she wouldn’t see the smile on his lips. He pulled out his notepad and flipped through the phone book. “No, you’re not, Lois,” he mumbled under his breath. “Not one bit.”

He glanced up at her gasp. Lois was staring at him, her eyes wide with shock. It looked almost like she had heard him. He shook away that feeling. There was no way she could have heard him. She was at least six desks away and the bullpen was loud and noisy as usual. He glanced around to see if anyone else could have heard him. Nobody had been close enough. Even Jaxon was at the coffee machine on the other end of the room.

Clark found the number he had been searching for and jotted it down on his notepad. Then he glanced back at Lois. She was still staring at him, almost frozen. When she caught his concerned expression, she shook her head and started typing on her computer. That was strange. Wonder what spooked her?

***

Day 6

Concubines, really! Clark, what am I going to do with you? But you do look regal in those black tights. You can bring a pair of those back home when we… sorry, you finally get rid of Lord Nor. Oh, how I hate him. And what’s up with these Kryptonians? Have they never heard of privacy? Knocking? Tell me again, how these people are civilized? Well, at least we are together. Even if I’m on a leash, Lord Kal-El. It was Ching’s idea to make me your concubine, but you figured that out, didn’t you? Or did you send him to me?

The horrible day I had yesterday seems to pale after dreaming about yours. Kal isn’t speaking to me. I went behind his back and told Sam Lane that I was his daughter, Lucy Lane. I hated lying to Sam, but how else was I going to get him to trust me. I know what you’re thinking, Clark. ‘Lois Lane, how are you ever going to have anyone trust you by being dishonest?’ Well, you’re the expert on that, why don’t you tell me?

Sorry, that was nasty of me. I love and miss you so much. I feel more alone in this world than ever. I need a doctor I can trust. And not just any doctor. I don’t want to worry you, but I don’t know who else to tell. I’d discuss this with Kal, if he were speaking to me… I know you’ll think I’m being paranoid. It’s hard to live this life during the day and the younger me with you at night in my dreams. I wake up more exhausted than rested. Now I’m hearing things. I could have sworn I heard Kal muttering across the noisy bullpen yesterday afternoon. Am I going crazy? And I don’t have you to hold me and tell me everything will be all right, except in my dreams.

Well, time to get up and eat breakfast. Let’s hope it stays down. Kal is worried that I’m not eating enough for two. Sometimes he’s an insufferable mother hen. I’ve decided to get him a girlfriend. Any recommendations? Don’t answer that! I don’t want to know.

Miss you, Clark. Stay safe. Yours always, LL

Lois set down her notebook next to the bed. Six o’clock. Ugh. Morning meeting was at seven o’clock sharp, so she needed to shake her tail feathers. She ran and took a quick shower.

It was Friday, again. Exactly one week since she had found out she was pregnant. She exhaled, pulling a comb through her hair. And what a week it had been. She looked at her stomach. It was still as flat as it had been a week ago, if not more concave. Maybe Clark was right and she needed to eat more. She pulled out the toothbrush he had given her and sighed. She didn’t want to do this.

She missed this Clark. He was the proxy for her Clark. Not seeing this Clark made her miss her Clark more. She quickly brushed her teeth, without toothpaste, and was able to make it out of the bathroom without praying to the porcelain god.

She got dressed in her last clean outfit. Time to either go shopping or do laundry. The money Clark gave her on that first day had been quickly been depleted by books, bananas, yogurt, and secret-identity costume items. She wondered when she would get her first paycheck. How, in the course of one week. had she alienated the one person she needed in this dimension more than any other? She had to figure out a way to get Superman on her good side again.

Lois went into the kitchen and found Sam Lane sitting at the dining room table, drinking coffee. She wondered where the coffee came from; she hadn’t bought any. Had he found it on a shelf from his Lois’s stash? Ugh. Three-year-old coffee. She convinced him at lunch that she was his daughter, Lucy Lane — not too difficult given her obvious similarity to his Lois. Perry had been correct. He hadn’t seen Lucy since the age of seven. She convinced him to move in with her at Lois’s old apartment. He was shocked that it was still intact, just as she and Clark had been.

Actually, Clark wandered around the apartment on that first visit like it had been a shrine to his Lois Lane. Trying not to touch anything, but unable to resist examining everything. He had picked up a picture of Perry on skis and correctly identified it as the ski trip they had taken before she disappeared. He knew more about his Lois than he let on; Perry had mentioned on her previous visit to this dimension that he talked about Lois daily.

She was beginning to suspect that she was a stand-in for his one true love, as well. It would explain his removal of all of the other Lois’s personal items before she moved in. He didn’t want her wearing his Lois’s clothes, going through her papers, looking at her photographs.

Lois touched Sam on the shoulder on her way to the refrigerator. “Good morning, Daddy.”

Their conversation the night before had gone weirdly. At dinner — cheap microwave TV dinners — Lois told Sam that she was working undercover at the Daily Planet with Clark. He hadn’t been happy about that. He did not want her to have anything to do with “that man.”

Maybe Clark was right; he had gotten on Sam Lane’s bad side. She wondered how. Sam told her, to her relief and amazement, that despite appearances, he actually had been sober for four months. He said it was seeing Lois at the debate that had jolted him out of his complacency.

With tears in her eyes, Lois admitted that it wasn’t his Lois that he had seen on the TV that night, but her. Then she watched as the little flicker of hope that she had lit in his eyes died again. She kindled that hope by admitting that there was a man at the Daily Planet who they thought might have information about Lois.

It was a lie, but it was the same lie they had told Perry White and James Olsen. It was the basis of Lucy El being in Metropolis and for her getting the job at the paper. Why should Jaxon have any information on Lois? She figured he was really there to spy on Clark. Lex would consider Superman the only real rival he had. Lex would have no idea that he wasn’t even a blip on Clark’s radar, hiding out wherever he was. But Superman posed a challenge that Lex had never been able to resist.

Lois had told Sam that nobody in Metropolis except Clark knew her real identity, and they wanted to keep it that way. So, he was not allowed to call her at the paper unless it was a dire emergency and even then, not to reveal his identity to whomever answered the phone.

She pulled a vanilla yogurt out of the fridge and as she turned around found a bag of groceries on the counter.

Lois was surprised; she thought Sam was as broke as she was. “Did you go shopping, Daddy?”

“No,” he answered tersely. “It was sitting on the counter when I came in this morning.”

Ah, Clark. He must have known they would need more food and were short on cash. That was where her father had found the coffee. She saw the can sitting on the counter next to the coffee machine. She unpacked some granola, crackers, orange juice, baby carrots, and more yogurt. She poured two glasses of orange juice and put one in front of Sam.

“Does that man have a key to this apartment?” her father asked.

Lois sat down next to him at her breakfast bar. “No, Daddy. He comes in through the window.”

He turned and looked at the six-foot tall windows that lined her living room. “I don’t like this, Lucy. That man is not trustworthy. You shouldn’t let him into this apartment at all.”

She cut up a banana into a bowl and covered it with yogurt and granola. “I trust him, Daddy. He would do anything to find Lois. And he has my best interests at heart. Look, he brought us food.” She pushed the bowl towards him and started preparing another for herself.

“Anything to find your sister? Like run around in tights? Like marry that blonde woman? Like expose you to that Tempus fellow? I don’t see how we are any closer to finding Lois now than we were two years ago, when he promised never to give up searching for her.”

Lois nicked her thumb with the knife. “Clark promised you what? When?”

Sam glanced over at Lois. “You cut your thumb, Sweetie.”

She glanced down at her thumb and stuck in her mouth. “It’s nothing, Daddy. What were you saying about Clark?”

He frowned at her. “Where’s your first-aid kit?”

Back in her dimension, she had one in every room in her apartment. Human jinx. But here? “Try the bathroom.”

Sam returned a minute later with a bandage. He led her to the kitchen sink and washed her thumb, dried it, and covered it with the band-aid. He then kissed her on the forehead. “There, all better.”

Lois wrapped her arms around him and hugged him. “I missed you, Daddy.”

“And I missed you, pumpkin.”

She sat back down at the bar and finished preparing her breakfast.

“I spoke to Mike yesterday, after you went back to work.”

Lois froze. She had forgotten about Uncle Mike. “You didn’t tell him about me, did you? The less people who know, the better.”

“Then why did you come looking for me?” Sam asked, digging into his yogurt.

“When Clark told me that you were at the shelter, I couldn’t leave you there.”

He scowled. “That man.”

“Okay, Daddy. Enough.” Lois put down her spoon and faced Sam. “Clark is good, decent, and hard-working, and he also happens to be the most caring person in Metropolis. What exactly do you have against him?”

“He’s a liar.”

Lois laughed. “Not Clark.”

“He gave up on Lois.”

Lois’s heart sunk down to her knees. That was why Clark did not want to get within a mile of her father. He had promised to never give up looking for her and then a part of him had when he agreed to marry Lana. He had not only broken her father’s heart, but also his own. That was why Clark was always telling her that the love of his life was dead; he felt that by giving up on her, he had killed her. Poor Clark. It must have been agony to have her doppelganger show up as she had, bringing up all those old emotions.

“He brought me here to help him flush out her killer,” she whispered.

“Don’t excuse his behavior, sweetie. You know in your heart that it’s true.” Sam covered her hand with his. “And your sister isn’t dead.”

The phone rang and Lois picked it up.

“Tick-tock,” she heard Clark’s voice on the other end.

“Are you coming to pick me up?”

“No.”

“Chicken.”

Sam looked at her with a curious expression. She covered up the mouthpiece and whispered to her father, “Clark asked what we would like for dinner.”

“Liar, liar,” he said on the other end of the phone. She pressed her lips together.

“I’m not eating with that man, Lucy,” Sam replied. “I’d rather eat at the shelter.”

“See, I told you.” She could hear Clark’s heart breaking.

“This is ridiculous. We’re all on the same side,” she said to both of them.

“Don’t forget your glasses.” Clark hung up.

Lois sighed and hung up the phone. “I’ve got to go.”

“Finish your yogurt.”

She downed her breakfast and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m going to be late for work.”

“Should I eat at the shelter tonight?” he asked.

“You aren’t homeless anymore, Daddy,” Lois said. “Clark respects you too much to come if you don’t want him here.”

“Good.”

Lois rolled her eyes and went to grab her stuff. When she returned, she found her father washing the breakfast dishes. “You never told me what you and Uncle Mike spoke about.”

“I told him that I moved into an apartment. So, he said I could come by and pick up some clothing if I wanted to. And no, I didn’t mention you. I thought it would be a great surprise for him.” He sighed. “Maybe some other time.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Some other time. Definitely. You can tell him that you spoke to me on the phone and that I send my love.” She checked her appearance in the mirror by the door. “Why didn’t you move in with Uncle Mike when you lost the house?”

“He agreed to hold on to my stuff for me until I sobered up. But you know your uncle… no, I guess you don’t. Mike expected me to take some responsibility for myself before he would agree to help me out. He refused to help someone who wouldn’t help himself.”

Lois nodded and bit her tongue in agreement with her uncle. The real Lucy Lane hadn’t seen her Uncle Mike in almost twenty years, she wouldn’t remember what he was like.

“Get going, Lucy. You wouldn’t want to be late.” He practically pushed her out the door.

“Bye, Daddy.” She waved, hurrying down the hall.

Clark was waiting for her at the end of the block with a strawberry smoothie.

“Who’s the liar now?” she asked with a grin, taking the drink from him. “Does this mean you’re talking to me again?”

He contemplated that for a minute. “Perhaps.”

“He’s sober. Four months.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“Thanks for the groceries.” She lowered her voice. “I missed you yesterday.”

“Don’t. Lucy, please,” he asked, looking away. “Any news from Kal?”

She grinned. “Guess who is the new concubine for the leader of the Kryptonians?” She looked at him over the top of her drink.

“Concubine?” He threw his head back and laughed. “Get out of here!”

“I know. Some civilization you’ve got there, Clark.”

“She’s not going to activate the curse, is she?”

“I hope not.” Lois’s eyes widened. “She’d better not. Anyway, he’s technically still married to Zara, but it’s just a political sham marriage.”

“So, why have they come back on Earth?”

“Lord Nor has taken Smallville captive,” she informed him.

“And he is?” Clark asked. It was almost like she was recounting the details of her favorite TV show that he didn’t follow.

“The big bad guy on New Krypton. The one Zara would have had to marry if Kal-El hadn’t returned with her.”

“I’m sorry. Is everyone all right? Kal’s folks?”

“I don’t know. Martha called yesterday morning, but then the phone died. I have been trying to get a hold of her since.” She took the last sip of her smoothie and then dumped the empty cup in a trash can. “I only found out when Ching made me Kal-El’s concubine.”

Clark shook his head.

“Did I mention that I’m on a leash?”

This time, he couldn’t stop himself from laughing.

“I know.” She giggled. “If it wasn’t so horrible, it would be hilarious.”

He stopped laughing. “What’s so horrible?”

“Lord Nor and his men have turned the people of Smallville into slaves. He has them penned up and isn’t feeding them or giving them water. His men are using them as target practice. Kal and I infiltrated the slave community and he built them a well.”

Clark stopped and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Oh, Lucy. I’m so sorry.”

“Nor has threatened to take over Earth, starting with Metropolis. He wants to be a god.”

“I wish you had contacted me.” He looked down, distressed. “I could have taken Kal’s place.”

“That wouldn’t have stopped Lord Nor from wanting to be a god. Kal has everything under control.” She took a deep breath. “When he vanquishes Lord Nor, then we can send the Kryptonians back to New Krypton and Kal and I can go back to our lives. And get married. Then I can worry that she’ll reactivate the curse.”

A shadow passed over Clark’s face. “I just thought of something, Lucy. Tempus was right.”

This time Lois stopped cold. “Excuse me?”

“The Kryptonians did come and try to take over the Earth. He was right. Not about me, but he was right.”

“Well, Tempus was from the future,” Lois explained. “A future where Superman is revered as the Father of wonderful utopia.”

“Nice.” Clark shot her an uncomfortable grin as he looked around. There were still too many people walking the streets with guns; less than during the election, but still more than there ought to be. “Something to look forward to.”

“Sorry, my dimension. I don’t know your dimension’s future. Anyway, Tempus probably knew all about this New Krypton invasion and how Kal stopped it. The guns he sold here wouldn’t have done much good against an army of Kryptonians, would they?”

“True.” They had reached the Daily Planet building. “Good intel, by the way, on the Beckworth School. I turned in my story to Ralph last night. Detective Henderson is coming by today to discuss the details of an arrest warrant. Let’s hope we can stop Dr. Carlton before any more kids are hurt. I’m sorry about Amy Valdez. Did you know her?”

Lois nodded as they stepped into the elevator. “She was a good kid. Reminded me a bit of myself. I had been hoping that in this dimension, her mother wouldn’t have had to give her and her sister up.”

“I don’t think my world is the one with the silver linings.” Before the doors opened, Clark continued, “Stop by my desk after you drop off your stuff and I’ll give you a short list of my current story ideas in case I have to dash. We’ll make it an everyday occurrence, okay?”

“Thanks.” They stepped off the elevator and Lois caught his arm. “Clark, a world with Superman always has hope.”

Clark cupped her jaw in his hand and smiled, then walked to his desk. She released a breath she hadn’t known she was holding and grabbed hold of the railing. Her body ached to its core. He needed to stop touching her like he was her Clark.

***

After the morning meeting, Lois and Clark were sitting at his desk discussing the next name to check out on their lists, when Clark leaned back in his chair. “So, am I bringing chicken for dinner?”

“No.” Lois pouted with a sigh. “You were right.”

Clark’s eyes glowed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t quite catch that.”

She pressed her lips together. “You were right. I was wrong. Happy, now?”

His smile spread a little wider as he laced his fingers behind his head. “Slightly.”

“He doesn’t want you there. We’ll have to make do with my cooking.”

“I hear Lucy El is a gourmet cook.” He winked at her.

“Not in my dimension,” she murmured. “I can burn water.”

“Ouch.”

“I eat a lot of takeout and microwave meals,” she said, standing up and grabbing her notepad.

“Tsk-tsk,” Clark said with a shake of his head. “You should really learn to cook. It’s healthier.”

She glared at him. “I’ll add it to my to-do list. Maybe I can learn by osmosis.” She turned away to return to her desk, when she noticed a blonde woman in a dark suit stepping out of the elevator. She gasped as her face went white and her knees changed to jelly.

“Whoa there, Lucy,” Clark said, catching her. “You okay? You look like you saw a ghost.”

Lois raised her arm and pointed. “Mayson Drake.”

Clark set her down in his chair and returned a moment later with a cup of water.

“She’s dead.” Lois took a sip of water.

He glanced over his shoulder at Mayson standing just outside the elevator staring at them. “No, she’s not.”

“I saw her car blow up. She died right in front of us.”

“Calm down, Lucy,” he whispered. “In this world, she’s still alive.”

Lois took another sip of water and a deep breath. “I’m okay now. It was just a shock. It happened right after our first…” She took a gulp of water and her eyes lit up. Turning to look Clark straight in the eyes, she said, “I just thought of who you should ask out.” She nodded toward Mayson.

“No. Lucy. No.” Clark shook his head. “Remember our conversation yesterday. Mayson’s a big bridge-jumper.”

Lois stuck her index finger into her mouth and lightly bit it. “Really? The Mayson Drake I knew couldn’t care less about Superman.”

“What?!” He glanced between Lois and Mayson, who was coming closer by the second.

“But she was gaga over Clark Kent,” Lois murmured, standing up and hitting him in the chest with her notebook. “Think about it.” She walked back to her desk with a grin.

“No. Absolutely not,” he sputtered.

“Everything all right?” Mayson asked, suddenly next to him.

“Ah, fine.” Clark swallowed. Lucy had completely knocked him off balance. “Hi, Detective Drake.”

“Clark, I’ve told you. You can call me Mayson.” She smiled at him. “Henderson’s knee was bothering him. I hope you don’t mind that I came to discuss the Beckworth School with you instead.”

His voice got caught in his throat. “I don’t mind.”

“Who’s that?” Mayson asked, glancing over toward Lois. “She looked quite sick.”

“That’s… uh… Lucy. Lucy El, my new research associate. An old friend from college.” Clark offered Mayson the seat just vacated by Lois and sat down in the other seat. “You reminded her of someone she used to know.”

“Old friend, huh?”

“Just friends.” Clark couldn’t believe those words came out of his mouth. He wanted to bite his tongue.

Mayson gave him a large smile. “Really?”

Was there some truth to what Lois said? He couldn’t ask Mayson out. He was in love with Lois. Not the Lois who had just left his desk, but the one who had disappeared three years earlier. And Mayson was one of the biggest Superman fans he knew. Wasn’t she?

They had been thrown together a half-dozen times in the six months since she had become Henderson’s partner. She was always friendly with him, but three months ago she started hitting on him in earnest. After he became Superman, but also after he had removed the photo of Lana from his desk. Was Lois right? Did Mayson like Clark Kent better than Superman? Intriguing. He realized he was staring at her when her smile became an ear-to-ear grin.

“Sorry.” He shook his head. “Here’s the information I have on the Beckworth School, and most importantly, Dr. Alfred Carlton.” He pulled the file off the top of a pile on his desk, when he suddenly heard the radio across the room.

We are receiving reports of an airplane that has lost contact with ground control just outside of Cleveland, Ohio.

He stood up and grabbed his tie. “Mayson, I’m sorry. I’ve got to fly.”

She looked concerned. “What’s the matter?”

“Missing airplane outside of Cleveland.”

“Oh.” She looked more disappointed than excited about the prospect of him becoming Superman.

“Can you come by later and we can discuss it in more detail over dinner?” Had he just made dinner plans with Mayson Drake? What was the matter with him? It was Lois. She made him do it. How could she turn his world upside down so quickly? How could he do this to the Beckworth School students? “You can talk to Lucy, too. She knows everything I do.”

“Go!” Mayson shooed him off with a grin. “I’ll see you tonight.”

***

Clark walked Mayson to his front door. He wasn’t quite sure what to do at this point in the evening. “Should I walk you home?”

Placing her hand on his chest, Mayson smiled. “I drove.”

“Oh.”

She leaned towards him and lightly placed a kiss on his lips. “Thank you for dinner.” She kissed him again. It was nice.

“Thanks for giving me the heads-up on the arrest this afternoon.”

“Thanks for the information on Carlton. We like to keep scum like that away from kids.” She opened the door. “See, you don’t need a blue suit to be a hero.” She stepped through the door with a wave.

“Bye.” Clark stood in the door for a moment and watched her leave. She thought he was a hero. Clark Kent. He smiled and shut the door. Then, from a distance, he heard a scream.

Duty called. He stepped into his bedroom and was back a moment later dressed in blue. But he wasn’t only Clark Kent anymore. He flew through the living room window and was gone.

Deep into the night, he returned. He had saved the high school girl from that man in the alley behind the cinema. Stopped the jewelry store robbers before they had gotten any further than breaking the window. Prevented the drug dealers from picking up that shipment at the docks. Saved four people from a grease fire at the diner. Helped that woman who tripped crossing the street from almost getting hit by a car. And caught the drunk who fell off his high-rise balcony. He hated Friday nights. He took off the blue suit and climbed into a hot shower.

After changing into boxers and a t-shirt for bed, he washed his blue suit. With a little zap-zap of heat-vision, it was dry and ready to be put away in the secret compartment. The cape slipped off the hanger and, as he bent down to retrieve it, he found the plastic bag with Lois Lane’s pale pink pantsuit. Should he wash it? He took the soft fabric out of the bag and sniffed.

Suddenly, his mind transported him back into the clouds over the Daily Planet building and Lois was kissing him. These weren’t the soft, gentle kisses of Mayson, but the passionate, nerve ending-exploding kisses of Lois. He dropped the suit and found himself floating above his living room. He exhaled and floated back to the floor. He picked up Lois’s suit and hung it up in his closet. He would think about washing it another day. His mind and heartbeat were racing with thoughts of Lois. It was as if she were part of his bloodstream. He could even hear her calling his name.

Clark! Where are you? I need you. Clark!” She was calling to him and she was crying.

***

Dressed in his black Kryptonian uniform, Clark stepped into the gold cage. “They’ll kill you if I escape.” He stood there stoically as the executioner turned the knob and he faded into gold dots. Lois screamed.

“No, Clark!” She was awake, tears streaming down her face. Clark’s body was being disintegrated. “Clark!” she called. She needed him. “Clark! Where are you? I need you! Clark!”

A gust of wind blew through her apartment and a moment later, Superman was holding her. “I’m here.”

She pulled him closer. “They executed Clark.” She choked back a sob. “They separated his molecules and spread them over several galaxies.” Tears poured out of her eyes, dampening his blue suit. Neither of them noticed. “Hold me,” she whispered.

“I am holding you, Lois.”

She shivered. “I can’t feel you. I’m so cold.”

He held her tighter, running his fingers through her hair.

Lois grabbed his cape and draped it over herself. “He’s gone. Just like that. He’s gone.” She glanced up into Clark’s eyes. This Clark was here. He was warm, caring, and he loved her. He wanted her, she could see it in his eyes. “Clark,” she moaned, pressing her lips to his.

For a moment he allowed the kiss. “No, Lois.” His voice broke.

She pushed him away, but he didn’t move.

“You don’t want me.” He swallowed, choking out the words. “You want him.”

“So?” she murmured, kissing down his neck. He tensed for a moment and then melted.

He took a deep breath. “You’ll regret it in the morning.”

Lois didn’t care about the morning, she just wanted to feel something other than this pain. She started crying again. “Don’t leave me. Stay with me tonight. I don’t want to be alone.”

“Of course,” he said, running his fingers through her hair once more. She placed her head on his “S” and cried herself to sleep. He continued to hold her all night.

***

“What’s going on here?” Sam Lane’s voice crashed through Clark beautiful dream, waking him. He was still in bed with Lois. Her arms were wrapped around him, her head still on his chest.

Clark placed a finger to his lips and he gently moved her head to the pillow. He swung his legs off the bed and covered her with a blanket. He walked out of the room and shut the door.

“What are you doing with my daughter?”

“Lucy had a nightmare and called me,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. He was never going to earn this man’s trust at this rate.

“I can’t talk to you in that getup,” Sam said, waving a hand at the blue suit.

Clark had forgotten he was still dressed as Superman. It was becoming like a second skin to him. He stepped into the front hall closet and returned dressed in slacks, a t-shirt, and glasses. “Better?”

Sam pointed a finger in Clark’s face. “I don’t want you anywhere near her. Leave us alone.”

Clark stood his ground. “I’m sorry, sir. I can’t do that.”

“Why in the blazes not?”

“Because I made a promise to keep her safe,” Clark answered. “And I don’t break my promises.”

Sam scoffed. “To whom did you make this promise?”

Clark hesitated. “How much about her life did Lucy tell you?”

Sam’s face grew red. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Well, that answered that question. “I promised Kal that I would watch over her.”

“Who is Kal?”

“Her husband,” Clark stated.

Sam Lane staggered backwards and sat down. “She’s married? How long?”

“Not long.” Not at all, actually. But he knew that Lois would rather be thought of as a widow than an unwed mother. “She called me last night, because she had a nightmare about Kal being blown up and didn’t want to be alone.”

“Where is this husband of hers? Why isn’t he watching over her?” Sam’s world view was crumbling.

“He’s protecting the innocents caught in a civil war.”

Sam looked up at him from the sofa. “Berkistan?”

Berkistan was nowhere near Smallville, but it was still on Earth. It would do. “Yes.”

“Why does Lucy need looking after?”

“Because I’m pregnant,” Lois answered from behind them.

Sam crossed over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “Sweetie, why didn’t you tell me?”

Lois looked at Clark over her father’s shoulder and mouthed a ‘thank you’ to him. “Well, Daddy. It was a lot of information for one day. I didn’t know how much you could handle.”

“I’m sorry, I should have been there for you. I’ve been selfish.”

“We’re all guilty of being selfish, Daddy,” she sighed with a quivering voice.

“How far along are you?”

“Six weeks.”

“That’s pretty early. Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“Do you have a good doctor?”

Clark went into the kitchen to make coffee. He wanted to leave, but he couldn’t — not with last night unresolved.

“Do you remember me mentioning that everyone is selfish?”

Clark grinned. At least she was being honest for once. He looked through her cabinets and fridge. They really did need more food. He snuck out the front door. Ten minutes later, he returned with a grocery bag full of food.

Lois and her father were still talking in the living room. He put the croissants in the oven to warm. He plucked a couple of bananas off the bunch and diced them up with the fresh berries.

“I still don’t understand, Lucy. Why would Kal want to involve him?”

Clark sighed. He was still the bad guy in this scenario.

“Kal would do anything to keep me safe. Even call in a favor from a stranger,” Lois tried to explain. She sounded tired. It must be hard for her to talk about her Clark after learning he was strewn across the universe.

“Yes, but that’s what I don’t understand, sweetie. What are you to this man? What kind of hold does Kal have over him? Can we trust him?”

“One hundred percent, Daddy. Clark is helping me out for one reason and one reason only: Lois. He would do anything for her. He told me that much after he returned me home after the election. The whole impersonating Lois idea was mine. Not his. I showed up without his knowledge. I broke up his relationship with Lana. I convinced him to use his superpowers for good, and to put on the blue suit as a secret identity. Me. Me. Me.” She sat down next to her father. “I’m the one who ruined Clark’s life, yet he still promised me that if ever I needed anything, anything at all, I was to call on him. He loves Lois that much. So, after Kal left on his assignment and I found out I was pregnant and alone, I called. Clark dropped everything. He got me a job and this apartment. He makes sure I have enough to eat and that I’m taking care of myself.” Lois was in tears. “Kal doesn’t even know I’m pregnant, Daddy. I can’t contact him.”

“Oh, sweetie.”

“So when I had a nightmare last night about Kal dying, I called the one person I trust more than any other to come and hold me and tell me it was just a bad dream. Someone I knew I could depend on to always do the right thing.” She wiped the tears from her eyes. “Last night when it felt like Kal had died, I couldn’t cope. Today, by the light of the day, I know Kal’s still alive. That we will be together again someday.” She glanced over her shoulder to Clark.

A chill shivered down his spine. So her Clark wasn’t dead after all. Everything she had just told Sam was true. He wanted to hold her and comfort her, but knew he couldn’t do that. Not anymore. This Lois belonged to Kal-El. She would always belong to him; she always had. And his Lois was gone, long gone. He gazed out the kitchen window, not able to look at them anymore.

Sam lowered his voice and leaned toward his daughter. “No offense, Lucy, but it sounds like he has a crush on you, not Lois.”

Clark rolled his eyes; he could not catch a break with that man.

“Don’t be silly, Daddy. He knows I love Kal.”

“Don’t you find it a little creepy, Lucy, that he’s in love with someone he’s never met?”

Great. A creepy stalker in blue tights. His standing with Sam Lane was going downhill fast.

“I think it’s romantic.” Lois smiled with a sigh. “He was assigned by the paper to investigate her disappearance. The more he learned about her, the more he wanted to know. Until one day, he realized that our tough-as-nails Lois was the one person in the world that could make him feel whole. So he dedicated his life to finding her. When we find Lois and bring her back home, I just know he’s going to sweep her off her feet. You know what an incurable romantic Lois is. She’s going to love him at first sight.”

Sam shook his head. “You might not want to build up so rosy a future in his mind, Lucy. She might not like him.”

Lois laughed. “Daddy, everybody likes Clark.”

Her father stood firm. “I don’t.”

“Of course you don’t like him. He’s in love with your little girl. No man would be good enough for you. For heaven’s sake, Daddy, he’s Superman! You’re not going to find a better man than that for Lois.”

“What about this Kal fellow? Would I like him?”

“Kal is my Superman. He’s such a good man, he gave up his honeymoon to stop a civil war. But let’s not talk about Kal or I’ll be crying all over the place.” She patted Sam on the leg. “Let’s have breakfast. It smells like Clark has fixed something tasty.” She grabbed hold of Sam’s arm and whispered, “Now, be nice.”

Sam looked at her with a sour expression. “How about this, Lucy. I’ll be nice, if you promise to call me the next time you have a nightmare.”

Lois glanced at Clark and saw him nod. “Agreed.”

They entered the dining room.

“Clark,” Sam said tersely.

“Sir.”

“I’m just going to wash up. Excuse me,” said Sam, leaving the room.

“Sorry, Clark. He promised to be nice.”

“Trust me. He was.” Clark placed a smile on his face. “So, Kal’s back in one piece.”

Lois sighed. “For the moment. He got a reprieve. He has a one-on-one battle with Lord Nor at noon today. Winner takes all.” She sat down.

“I’m sure Kal will be victorious.”

“He’d better be. I don’t think I could go through that again.”

“Neither can I,” Clark whispered.

Lois winced and looked at him leaning against the kitchen counter. “I’m sorry, Clark. Please forgive me.”

He held up his hand. “Just don’t let it happen again.”

“I promise, if you do.”

“I do,” Clark replied.

They stared at each other and then glanced away, awkwardly.

Lois noticed the bananas on the counter behind Clark. “Wow! Clark, are we expecting King Kong?”

“I needed some air.”

“Oooh, croissants. Are they from that boulangerie in Paris you love?” She grabbed one and put it on her plate.

Wrong Clark. He had never brought her croissants before. She didn’t even realize her faux pas. “Yes. I needed lots of air.”

“How was your date with Mayson last night?” she asked as casually as if she were asking about the weather.

He looked down the hall with his x-ray vision. Sam Lane still hadn’t returned. “None of your business.”

“Is that good or bad?” She took a bite of her croissant.

“I’m not going to talk to you about Mayson,” he whispered.

“Are you going to ask her out again?”

Clark dropped into his chair and covered his face with his hands.

Sam returned, and after taking one look at Clark, turned to Lois. “Lucy, sweetie, are you channeling your sister?”

“Huh?”

Clark sat up, pretending that she had not just been torturing him.

“Lois used to drive her boyfriends crazy with her incessant questions. I know the look.”

Clark grinned. “I guess you’re taking your job as investigative researcher too seriously. It needs to be something you can turn on and off.”

Lois glared at him and when Sam turned to fill his coffee mug, she stuck her tongue out at him. Clark smiled.

Sam sat down and filled his plate. “So, sweetie. We need to get you a good OB/GYN.”

She placed her hand over his. “Daddy, I told you I don’t want just any doctor. I want you.”

“I haven’t practiced medicine in years and my specialty was Sports Medicine. I haven’t dealt with many pregnancies in that line of work.”

“Still…” She batted her eyelashes.

“I guess I could speak with your Uncle Mike and see if he held onto my microscopes, stethoscope, blood pressure monitor, and ultrasound machine.”

Lois reached over and hugged him. “Thank you, Daddy.”

“But if we discover any complications, promise me you’ll see an expert.”

Lois and Clark shared a look over the table. “Sure, Daddy. An expert.”

***

Day 9

Dearest Clark, you’re alive! You’re alive. Thank God, you are alive. The last 48 hours of you bouncing between life and death have been sheer torture. Please, promise me that you won’t die on me ever again! I couldn’t take another weekend like this one. I guess you couldn’t either. I’m glad to hear that Lord Nor will no longer pose a threat to Smallville and Earth as a whole. I did a dance around my living room this morning after learning that the Kryptonians were going home and leaving you here with me. About time. I don’t think Earth could survive much longer with all those Kryptonians destroying everything.

Well, now we can concentrate on our wedding, our future. I hope H.G. Wells comes up with a solution to save us from… well… our honeymoon curse. I’m looking forward to officially being Mrs. Clark Kent. Personally, I’m getting sick of Lucy El. It’s getting especially confusing over here, because I told my father that I’m his other daughter, Lucy. He knows about you… kind of. He knows I’m married to a man named Kal-El, who left our honeymoon to help save innocent people from being massacred during a civil war. He thinks you are in Berkistan. And once you, my stand-in, and H.G. Wells fix the curse, I can say goodbye to this dimension for good. And come home.

I still haven’t gained any weight. Actually, my dad weighed me yesterday morning and I’ve lost three pounds. Don’t worry, he says that’s normal with some pregnancies — especially people with sensitive stomachs like me. Anyway, if we can fix this curse, maybe I can return to you right away. I know Kal’s itching to be rid of me. I’m driving him nuts. More on that later. I miss you so much. I just want to be held in your arms and never leave.

I slept most of the weekend. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep Friday night when they disintegrated you. I’ve informed my father of my condition and he has conditionally agreed to be my doctor. Thankfully, he’s been sober since seeing me on TV during the mayoral debate. He thought that his Lois was alive and well, and it shocked him enough to give up booze. One of the reasons he dislikes Kal so much is because he didn’t contact him after Lois Lane showed up at the mayoral debates.

Oh, I didn’t tell you. Kal is totally in love with Lois Lane. HIS Lois — not me. Even though he’s never met her. It seems that Perry assigned Kal to the initial team he sent to the Congo to look for Lois after she disappeared. He searched everywhere for three weeks and found nada. Not that the locals Lois had been speaking to about the gun running story would talk. I had a horrible time getting them to speak with me at first, too. Did I ever tell you that after I found a shipment of guns (supposed to be destroyed by the UN) actually being shipped elsewhere, I tried to smuggle myself into a crate along with the guns, and only ended up getting caught and deported back to Metropolis? But that’s another story.

Anyway, when Kal got back home, he kept up with the story. He read and reread all of her old articles. He interviewed her family, friends, colleagues, and even a few of her old sources. (How he discovered who they were, who knows? I guess he’s quite the investigative reporter. I mean, of course Clark Kent is a terrific investigative reporter — even without Lois Lane. Love you. Think you’re wonderful.)

Perry used to tell him Lois Lane anecdotes like our Perry tells Elvis stories (did I tell you that Elvis used to be president here and is still alive and well?). When the story seemed dead, the previous owner of the paper used Lois Lane’s “death” as extra publicity. Perry, Sam, and Kal were the only holdouts against placing the tombstone in the graveyard. Kal promised Sam at that point that he would never give up looking for Lois. He had fallen in love with me… I mean, with THIS dimension’s Lois. And you know what a promise from a Clark Kent means. It means forever.

Then another year passed and still no new leads. Kal continued to work on the story on his own, but then — and I’m guessing here, because I wouldn’t dare presume to ask Kal — Lana gave him the old relationship ultimatum, so he caved and proposed. In a way, by agreeing to marry Lana, he was giving up on HIS Lois and it shattered him, his hope. Not to mention, it ticked off Sam, who thought that Kal had given his daughter up for dead. Then I showed up, when Tempus kidnapped me, and all those old Lois Lane feelings started blowing around again. Lana gave him the ‘it’s me or Superman’ ultimatum. She really likes things her way, doesn’t she? I don’t think she liked me much or how much Kal listened to me, either.

You know, Clark, it is really hard to write to you about this, because I don’t want you to be jealous of Kal. I want you to know what I know. I don’t want you to think I have any secrets from you. Kal is a sweet man, but when I look at him, I don’t see you anymore; I see your twin brother. You know that, don’t you? I bet I could tell you two apart even if you were standing side-by-side. There’s a slight difference around the eyes and I don’t mean that he wears completely different glasses… well, he does, but that’s beside the point.

So, to make a long story even longer. After I got here, this time, things were awkward at first. I love and miss you and he looks like you. He loves HIS Lois and I’m as close as he’s ever gotten to his Lois. I told you before, he’s become quite the mother hen. He needed something to distract himself from taking care of me. Because he was driving me bonkers. So, I decided that he needed some more experience with women. I could be wrong, but I think Lana was the only woman he’s ever dated.

You’ll never guess who walked into the bullpen on Friday. You’ll never guess, so I’ll tell you: Mayson Drake. It gave me quite a fright. But then I remembered the chemistry between the two of you. And personally, it was quite disturbing how easy it was to convince him to ask her out on a date. Not too surprising how quickly she accepted. If I recall correctly, she made the first move with you, too. Or did she? I’m going crazy, wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t died in that car explosion. Clark, I am being crazy, right? Being jealous of a dead woman. I wasn’t a consolation prize, was I?

Lois reread the words she had written to Clark. It was just awful. She couldn’t give him that letter. No matter how she worded it, it sounded bad. Either it sounded like she liked the other Clark too much or he liked her too much. That wasn’t the feeling she wanted to convey to Clark. Especially not in the letter where she was telling him how thankful she was that he was alive. She still felt terribly guilty about betraying him the other night with this Clark. She was only too thankful that this Clark had stopped her. She could tell he hadn’t wanted to stop, but he had anyway.

She tore out two pages of the notebook. The first page describing the other Clark’s love of his Lois she wadded up and tossed at the trashcan next to the dresser. It bounced off the rim and fell behind the can. The second page, describing her efforts at matchmaking and how they had backfired on her, actually made it into the can. She reread the letter, ending with her description of her father sobering up after seeing her and Clark at the debate. She continued writing the letter from that point.

Kal promised never to stop searching for Lois and then he forgot to contact Sam Lane when she showed up. At least that’s how it looked to Sam. And you know what a promise from Clark Kent means… it means forever.

Marry me, Clark. Marry me, so I can come home to you. I miss you with my whole being. I promise you my heart forever, Clark. Yours always, LL

***

The week passed uneventfully. Clark walked Lois to work. Sam acknowledged Clark’s existence and even called him by name. It was an improvement from ‘that man,’ but Clark felt he was still on probation.

In Clark’s eyes, Lois had started to glow. She still couldn’t hold down much food and he had to cover for her a couple of times when she bolted from the room. But, strangely, everyone at work seemed to take it in stride. As far as they knew that was just another facet of her weird personality.

Clark stepped off the elevator and stood at the railing, holding Lois’s smoothie. He had trouble keeping his eyes away from her recently. He wondered if she seemed to glow from the pregnancy or because she was so happy that she almost floated on air. Kal and the younger Lois were once again planning their wedding in her dreams.

This morning, she hadn’t heard a word he had said; her mind was elsewhere. On Kal. She was even humming. He had never heard Lois hum before. Was that even usual for her? He recognized the tune, but couldn’t place it.

Lois floated by, humming, and took the smoothie from Clark.

“Thanks, Clark. Hiya, Mayson.” She continued to her desk, humming.

Clark turned, noticed Mayson, and smiled. “This is a surprise.”

“I thought I’d take you to lunch as an apology for bolting from dinner the other night.”

His smile grew into a grin at her words. “Duty called. I understand.”

When he had grumbled about it to Lois yesterday morning, she had laughed and laughed.

Turnabout is hard, isn’t it, Clark?”

What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

Oh, gee, her beeper rang and she had to run off without notice, with a lame excuse or without explanation at all? I wonder what that’s like?” She laughed louder. “It’s not like you ever disappear without a moment’s notice when duty calls.” She slugged him in the arm. “And what kind of investigative reporter are you? She’s a detective and she gets called away unexpectedly, shouldn’t you follow her to see if there’s a story there? I guess some investigative reporters need to turn it on when they’re off duty.”

“I’d love lunch,” he said to Mayson.

“I thought Lucy was your assistant. Why are you fetching her drinks?”

“We’re colleagues, friends, and I was out anyway…”

“And I thought you had super hearing,” she teased. “Didn’t you hear me calling for you to hold the elevator?”

Clark gulped. He hadn’t heard her. He had been thinking of Lois and wondering how long before she was going to disappear back to her dimension.

Mayson followed his gaze to Lois. “I see.” She stepped between them, so Clark couldn’t see Lois unless he used his x-ray vision. “Where were you last night? I tried calling.”

Clark blinked, surprised by the question. “California. Forest fire.”

Mayson relaxed. “Oh, I thought…” she cut herself off, glancing over her shoulder at Lois, who was happily typing at her desk.

“Thought what?”

“That maybe you and Lucy had taken in the revival of My Fair Lady with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michelle Kwan.”

He guffawed. “Why would you think that? Do I seem like the musical theater type?”

“Well, Lucy was humming, ‘I’m getting married in the morning’…”

He jerked his head to look at Lois. “Well, she was always quirky like that.” He placed a light kiss on Mayson’s lips. “Shall we go?”

She nodded. Once they were standing in the elevator, she asked, “What was that for?”

“What was what?”

“The kiss.” She raised an eyebrow. No slipping anything past Mayson.

“Oh, that.” Clark smiled weakly. “For telling me the name of the song she was humming. It would have bothered me all day.” He pulled Mayson into his arms. “And this one is for you.” Clark pressed a deeper kiss on her lips. No fireworks, but still nice.

Mayson was in high spirits when the doors of the elevator opened. He needed to forget about Lois, even for an hour. He needed to focus on his life and people who cared for him.

A half-hour later, Clark set down his last French fry and tried once more to get Mayson to reveal where she had gone the other night.

“No, Clark. You’ve got your secrets. I’ve got mine. Now, let’s talk about something else or I’ll think it was just a reporter agreeing to lunch.”

“Sorry.” He truly was. So much for focusing on his private life. “So, tell me about Mayson Drake.”

Clark really tried to concentrate on what she was saying, but he felt a change in the air. Like it was thicker, like time or history was shifting and through this sludge, he could hear Lois’s voice softly echoing, growing fainter, calling to him.

“Lois?” he murmured.

“What?” Mayson asked and time slammed back into focus.

He could hear Lois clearly now. “I’ve got to go,” Clark said, kissing Mayson on the cheek. “Lucy’s in trouble.”

Mayson stood up, reaching for her purse. “I’ll come—” she said before a strong breeze knocked her back into her seat. Clark was gone. “—with you.”

***

Lois glanced up and saw Clark watching her. He looked dejected. She was sorry about that. Here she was on the verge of having all her dreams come true and he was going to lose Lois once again.

Oooh, he had brought her a smoothie. What a sweetheart. He looked too distracted to deliver her drink, so she decided to get it herself. As she stood up, Mayson arrived. And poor Clark was oblivious to her.

“Thanks, Clark,” Lois said. “Hiya, Mayson.” She took the smoothie and continued to hum back to her desk. That should wake Clark up.

“I’m getting married in the morning,” Lois hummed.

It was so nice of Jimmy… James to invite her to the opening night of My Fair Lady. She couldn’t resist what she was sure was going to be a catastrophe. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michelle Kwan? They both sang and danced beautifully. And there was even a melodic British accent emerging from Arnold’s mouth. She felt like she had stepped into The Twilight Zone.

Lois had only agreed to go with Jimmy because he said his date — April Stephens — had canceled at the last minute. Lois would only go under two conditions: first, they were to go as friends, because she didn’t date the boss, and secondly, she was allowed to call him something other than Mr. Olsen. He had tried to renegotiate the first point and lost. For the second condition, she negotiated for ‘Jimmy,’ but they had settled on ‘James.’ No matter where she went or how she dressed, men crawled after her begging her to go out with them. She was beginning to think she was cursed in more ways than one.

She had another reason to be happy besides her upcoming wedding. Jimmy had informed her that there had indeed been a bug in Clark’s phone and on his computer, and one on hers, as well. Her theory of Jaxon being a spy had been proven true. Ten points to the visiting investigative reporter!

Jimmy, whom they thought had been absent from the newsroom, apparently was doing some of his own investigative work on his computer. The bugs had been removed a day after she started work in the newsroom. Currently, Jimmy was checking into Jaxon’s computer and his programs to see what he was up to. Her boss’s boss was still slogging through the mountains of data he had collected from Jaxon’s computer, but nothing concrete had appeared. It still seemed random. Lois had volunteered to help him and Jimmy lit up. She wondered if it was because she had validated his research project or because misery loved company. She didn’t want to even consider the other, probably more obvious, reason.

She glanced back at Clark and Mayson by the elevators. Clark reached over and kissed Mayson, and her heart sunk. He wasn’t her Clark, she reminded herself. Her Clark still loved her and was planning a wedding for this very afternoon. Any minute now. This Clark had no Lois, but he had Mayson.

Her phone rang. “The Daily Planet, Research.”

“Where’s Clark Kent?” The woman demanded.

“Lunch. Can I help you with something?”

“Who are you?”

“Lucy El, Clark Kent’s research assistant,” she replied.

“He has his own research assistant?” the woman asked snidely.

Lois took a deep breath. “How can I help you?”

“Take a message. Tell him that there is a Hurricane in Singapore and she needs his help.”

That was a strange message, but she wrote it down. “Singapore is in the Pacific Ocean and has typhoons, not hurricanes, but I’ll pass on the message. Can I tell him who called?”

The line was dead.

“Hello? Hello?” Lois shrugged and hung up the phone. Odd.

She picked up the phone to call his beeper and happened to glance up at the TV running in the corner of the office. It showed that the weather in Asia was hot and clear, no typhoons. What in the world? She hung up the phone, shook her head, and tossed the note into a box designated for Clark. He got the strangest messages.

He just left with Mayson Drake,” Jaxon was saying at the next desk.

Lois stiffened. Who was Jaxon talking to? What was their interest in Clark and Mayson? She opened her purse and pulled out a compact. Using the mirror she watched him talk on his cell phone. He was talking softly, but she could hear him clearly. This super hearing she had developed sure came in handy.

So?” came the reply on the other end of the phone. It didn’t sound like Lex Luthor.

I told you, Junior, he’s not dating Lucy El. They are just friends. Call Trask and cancel the test.”

Lois felt a chill go down her spine. What test? Did this test have something to do her? Who was Junior? She hadn’t come across a Junior related to Lex. Someone new?

The Neuroscanner stopped working when he appeared. She was looking at his face. He will tell me who that imposter is or I’ll kill everyone he loves.”

I don’t care if she’s messing with your invention. Call the sharpshooter off. It has nothing to do with Lucy.”

Lois felt dizzy. This Junior character was going to try to kill her. Clark could not stop bullets when he was across town. She closed the compact and scanned the newsroom. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Wait, sharpshooters worked from a distance. She needed to put something between her and the windows.

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Kryptonians were telepathic. Maybe he could hear her if she tried hard enough. “Clark! Help! Clark!” she called out with her mind. Nothing. Her hands were twitching in anxiety.

She stood up. Where should she go? Maybe they wouldn’t shoot her if she was too close to Jaxon. She sat back down and rolled her chair closer to him. He pointed to his phone, but she rolled even closer.

“Jaxon, I’m starving. Want to do lunch?”

His jaw dropped and he nodded, holding up a finger.

“Okay. Okay.” She waved. “Some other time then.” She felt strange. She rolled back to her desk. Light headed. Weak. Dizzy, again. Maybe Junior wasn’t hitting her with bullets. She grabbed her smoothie, she needed something cool to drink, but she couldn’t pick it up. It was too heavy. She tried to pick up her phone to dial Clark’s beeper, but her hand wasn’t working.

“Clark,” she whispered. “Clark, help!” She held up her hand and it was transparent.

This wasn’t Junior’s doing. Something was happening to her younger self. She was being erased from time. She had seen it happen once before, when they had visited Clark as a baby.

Lois stood up and called, “Clark!” She couldn’t tell if she was being loud at all. “Clark! Help, Superman!” As the room started to spin, she heard the crashing of glass and something grazed her shoulder. Someone yelled behind her and she collapsed. The world went black, but she could still hear echoing sounds as if through a long tunnel.

I’ve been shot! That idiot Trask missed her and shot me, you bungling birth defect!”

Suddenly, there was a rush of air and she was flying. Was she dead?

“Lois? Lois?” Clark was whispering to her.

“Clark.” She reached up and caressed his face. “You came.” Then she passed out.

***

Sounds returned first. Her whole body tingled, ached. Oh, yeah. The Wedding Destroyer had electrocuted her. Her mouth was dry. Where was Clark?

“Clark?” she whispered.

She felt the floor shift and realized she was lying on a bed, not the church floor. He squeezed her hand.

“I’m right here, Lois.”

“Did you catch her?” Her voice felt rough.

“Who?” He sounded anxious.

“The Wedding Destroyer.”

He made a sound, but Lois didn’t catch its meaning.

“I’m jinxed, aren’t I? My first wedding to Luthor… Did I ever tell you why I didn’t go through with my wedding with Lex?”

“No.”

“I got all the way up to the altar and I realized I loved you. And I couldn’t marry him if I loved you, could I?”

“Um… Lois…”

“Then of course, Henderson and Perry barged through the door with arrest warrants for him and he ended up jumping to his death. Then the whole clone wedding mess. And, now, strike three: electrocuted by the Wedding Destroyer with my own wedding ring. I’m jinxed, I tell you. I’m never going to have a happily-ever-after.”

“Sure you will, Lois. And it will be a beautiful wedding.”

“So, do you still want to marry this jinx?”

Clark paused. “Uh… Lois…”

“Fine. You’re having second thoughts. I can understand that.” She rolled over in bed, putting her back to him. “While you are thinking about that, let me tell you about my bizarre dream. You’ll get a kick out of this.” She felt Clark wipe a tear off her cheek.

“I was in the alternate dimension with the other Clark. He’s a really great guy, but it wasn’t like being with you…”

“Lois.”

“Because he didn’t love me like you do. He did love me, but more like a sister, like family. He’s in love with his Lois and I was a watered-down version, I guess. Same great taste, less filling.”

Clark chuckled.

“Oh, that sounded bad.” Lois laughed softly to herself. “Anyway…”

“Lois,” Clark tried interrupting again.

She turned back over and placed her fingers on his lips. “Hush.” His face was damp. “Did you take a shower?”

“No, Lois.”

“Your face is wet. Is it raining?”

“No, Lois.” He took a deep breath. “I was worried about you. I was afraid…”

“Oh, Clark.” She pulled him down for a hug. “I’m okay. I ache, though, especially my shoulder.” She touched her right shoulder.

“Did something happen to your shoulder?” She could feel him examining her.

“I was electrocuted, remember?”

“So you said. Tell me more about what happened in the dimension with the other Clark.” His voice sounded funny, odd, nervous.

“I was working as a researcher at the Planet. You know, Jimmy’s job.”

“Uh-huh.”

“We really need to have Perry give him a raise.”

“What happened at the Daily Planet, Lois?”

“Oh, right. I set the other Clark up with Mayson.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Mayson Drake.”

“I know who she is, Lois.”

“Of course you do. In my dream, she was a detective, not an Assistant D.A., and she was still alive. Nice as ours, but still didn’t trust me. I tried to keep an open mind, you know, but it brought back those old feelings, seeing them together. Though he’s not you and she’s not her, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t died. Would you have chosen her instead?”

“Lois, don’t you worry about such things. Your Clark loves you.”

“I know you do.” She squeezed his hand.

“Lois, did something happen at the Daily Planet?”

“Oh, right. Jaxon Xavier was there. You remember him.” She shivered. “I still cannot believe we had our most intimate conversation in his virtual reality machine. How you admitted that I’d be your first…”

“Lois!” Clark gasped.

“Sorry. I wonder if the other Clark had waited, too. Or if he and Lana…”

“Lois!” This time his voice squeaked.

“You’re absolutely right, Clark. None of my business.”

“Yes. None of your business,” Clark agreed.

She chuckled, patting his hand. “Now, don’t be jealous, Clark. It was only a dream.”

He cleared his throat. “Tell me more.”

“Well, today… I was there in the other dimension a long time. Several weeks. How long was I passed out?”

“A couple of hours,” he whispered. “I couldn’t wake you.”

“Wow. I must have been tired; dying really wears a girl out. Where was I? Oh, right, after Mayson took Clark to lunch, I overheard Jaxon talking on his cell phone.”

“Overheard him? Was he being careless?”

“No. I think because of the pregnancy I developed super hearing. Some defense mechanism, huh? Didn’t you tell me about some animals that …”

“What?!” He seemed startled.

“Oh, right. I didn’t tell you that part. The reason I’m in the other dimension is because the night before you left with the New Kryptonians, we made love and I got pregnant.” She sighed. “Mmmm. That was the best part of the dream.”

“Lois.”

“Just thinking about our honeymoon, Clark.” She moaned.

Clark cleared his throat. “Ah… Lois.”

“I know. I know. Have to get married to have a honeymoon.” She sighed again. “Let’s get married tonight.”

“Lois! You’re making me a bit uncomfortable here.”

“I know, Clark. I can’t help it if I find you irresistible.”

“You’ve had enough excitement for one day.”

Lois yawned. “Yeah. Electrocution can zap the energy right out of a girl. I wouldn’t want to fall asleep on you.”

“That would be bad.”

“Yes, it would.” She yawned again, shifting farther away from him. “Come and hold me.”

Clark hesitated. “That’s all, Lois. Don’t try anything.” He lay down next to her.

“You make me sound like a tease.”

“Lois,” he whispered in her ear. “What was Jaxon saying on the phone?”

With his warmth against her, Lois relaxed into drowsiness. “Oh, Jaxon was talking to someone called Junior. They were planning some kind of test for Superman and Jaxon was trying to convince him to stop it.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t know. I think Jaxon had a crush on me. Junior was convinced I had something to do with some invention of his that wasn’t working right. I didn’t understand what they were talking about. Anyway, I guess there was a sharpshooter aiming at me…”

Clark stiffened.

“And Jaxon was trying to convince this Junior guy I was the wrong target because Clark, the other Clark, was dating Mayson, not me.”

“Mayson?!” Clark sat up.

“Clark, is everything okay?”

“That’s some dream, Lois. Why don’t you get some rest.”

“Okay, Clark. Promise me you’ll marry me when I wake up.”

“Maybe I’m marrying you right now in your dreams.”

Lois snuggled deeper into the blankets. “Yeah. Marry me in my dreams, first.”

Clark kissed her cheek and then she heard the rush of wind and he was gone.

“Marry me in my dreams, Clark Kent,” she murmured before she fell back asleep.

***

Superman flew up to one of the giant windows overlooking the newsroom at the Daily Planet. A yellow crime scene tape surrounded the research desks of Lucy and Jaxon. Mayson stood there talking with a crime scene tech. A bullet hole had penetrated the big window next to Clark. He swooped in and hovered next to Mayson.

Startled, Mayson glanced over at him with chagrin. “Well, look at who decided to join us.”

“Hi, Mayson.”

“Don’t touch anything, Superman. I wouldn’t want you to contaminate my crime scene.”

Clark closed his eyes and sighed. “Mayson, I need to talk to you.”

“I can’t talk to you right now. I’m working.” She turned away from him.

“Mayson, please. It’s important.”

“Important, huh? So, I should drop everything that I’m working on, because none of this…” She held her arms out to the crime scene. “… is important?”

“Of course this is important, but…”

“Really? Because you don’t treat my work as important, Superman.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You swooped in here, rescued Lucy and took her where exactly? Do you always rescue one victim and leave another bleeding on the floor? How super of you.”

Clark looked confused. “Someone else was shot?”

“Jaxon Xavier. He’s over at Metropolis University Hospital with a nice hole through his shoulder. Not that you care, Superman. Where’s Lucy?”

“Resting. Jaxon was shot? I didn’t know, Mayson.” He had been so completely focused on Lois that he hadn’t even looked around when he flew in and out earlier.

“That doesn’t surprise me. When it comes to Lucy, you have tunnel vision.” She glowered at him.

“Mayson, that’s not fair.”

“Fair? Don’t talk to me about fair. Where have you been? Have you been searching for the shooter? Well?”

He swallowed as he took a breath. “Mayson, I’m here now.”

She waved her hand in the air. “Thanks for coming, Superman. But you can leave now. I’ve got work to do.”

Superman landed next to her, imploring, “I need to talk to you.”

Mayson stared him directly in the eyes. “Get out of my face, Superman. If you want to talk to me send Clark Kent. From him, I’ll accept an apology.”

What was it with people hating the blue suit all of a sudden? Superman stepped back as Mayson went back to surveying the trajectory of the bullet. He looked at the angle of entry the crime scene tech had indicated. He scanned through the window and saw that it ended at a building across the way. Scanning the building, he saw something metallic covered by a tarp on the roof. He looked back at Mayson with pursed lips, before flying out the window he had entered. Superman returned a moment later with a flak jacket, which he handed to her.

She looked down at the bulletproof vest with confusion and then at him.

“Put that on and let me fly you over to the building where the shooter was positioned.” He crossed his arms over his chest as she stared at him. “Please.”

“Superman, I don’t need…”

“For Clark,” he asked quietly.

With reluctance, she put on the vest. “We could just walk.”

Superman cradled her in his arms. “This is quicker,” he said, lowering his voice. “And Clark would like to have some time alone with you tonight.”

A hint of a smile flashed across her mouth. “I don’t know about this,” she said as they lifted into the air. She wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Trust me, Mayson.”

She squeezed her eyes shut tight as they passed through the open window and flew to the building across the way. He landed and set her feet down. Her eyes were still closed and she still held tightly around his neck.

“Mayson?”

She expelled a rough breath and loosened her hold on him. “Sorry.”

“Wait here,” he said and stepped behind a large air conditioning unit, then returned dressed as Clark Kent.

Mayson smiled, holding a hand out to him. “Thank you for changing, Clark.”

Clark took her hand, and as she stepped away toward the edge nearest the Daily Planet building, he tugged her back. “I still need to speak with you, Mayson.” He pulled her to him and kissed her.

“Clark! Everyone’s watching,” she murmured, embarrassed, trying to step out of the kiss.

“Everyone who, Mayson? We’re on top of a building.” He held his hand on her back and deepened the kiss. Her knees failed her and she wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him back.

“Forgive me,” Clark whispered a minute later as he let her go. “I was worried about you.”

“Me?” Mayson coughed, stumbling over to a vent to sit down. “I’m fine.”

“I just wanted to let you know how important you are to me. That I care.”

“Clark, we’ve had two dates,” Mayson reminded him.

“Three.”

“One whole and two half dates,” she corrected him.

“I don’t date much,” he said, crouching next to her. “You mean a lot to me and I worry.”

Her brow furrowed. “That’s the second time you’ve said you worry, Clark. What haven’t you told me?”

“Lucy overheard something. She thinks the gunman shot her because he mistakenly thought she and I were dating.”

Mayson looked confused. “You and Lucy aren’t dating?”

Clark shook his head. “But you and I are.”

“Oh.” Mayson touched his cheek as his words sunk in. She glanced down at the bulletproof vest. “Oh!” Standing up, she looked around at the nearby buildings and stepped closer to him. “Why would anyone want to harm your…” She could not speak the word she wanted and searched for another term. “Friends?”

He wrapped his arms around her, protectively. “To test me.”

“Test?”

“My speed. My hearing. My abilities. I don’t know.”

“Oh. Right.” She looked down. “Superman.”

“It’s no secret, Mayson, that we’re the same person.”

“I know,” she whispered. “But you seem so different in the blue suit. There’s something intimidating about Superman.”

He couldn’t resist the smile that slipped onto his lips as he tugged on the lapel of her navy suit. “I could say the same about you.”

She returned his smile. “Clark is personable. Funny. A good kisser.”

He laughed. “I’ve never been called that before.”

Mayson walked to the edge of the building and took off the tarp covering the rifle. “Why would someone just leave the gun?”

Clark pointed, not wanting to incur her wrath by touching evidence. “See, here, a laser guided telescopic video camera. And here, a remote control.”

“The shooter wasn’t on the building.”

“I should take this to S.T.A.R. Labs and see if they can back-track the location of the signal.”

She gazed back at the Daily Planet building. “How did Lucy overhear the shooter?”

Clark didn’t answer as he bent over the rifle. His head tilted to the side. Tick. Tick. Tick. He quickly scanned the rifle and found a bomb located next to the remote control switch. The analog clock with a digital flip display countdown read four seconds. He grabbed Mayson and zipped back to the Daily Planet.

“What the…” she started to say as the shockwave and explosion hit.

“Sorry,” he whispered, setting her down next to his desk. “I should have noticed that sooner.”

“No. No. That’s quite all right, Superman,” she replied, quite breathless, stepping away from him. “That was soon enough.”

“Will you be okay?” he asked.

She nodded, placing her hand on the butt of the gun at her hip. Her eyes never left his.

“I’ve got some errands to run. Call me when you get off duty and I’ll escort you home.”

She stepped after him as he took off. “Where?”

“I should be home by then.”

“Home?” She looked confused. The blue suit or the explosion had knocked her senseless.

Superman landed next to her. “Clark’s.”

“Oh, right.” She shook her head. “Sorry.”

“Stay safe,” he said, disappearing out the window.

***

Returning to Clinton Street, Clark found that Lois was still sound asleep. He sighed. Most likely still dreaming of her and Kal’s wedding. If he had been in Kal’s shoes, he wouldn’t have waited another day to make Lois his own.

Clark looked her shoulder over again, but still didn’t see any wound. There was a hole in her shirt, so obviously a bullet had hit her. There was even a little blood around the hole, indicating she had been shot. But the only mark on her was something that looked like an old scar. Round like a bullet hole, but well-healed. He shifted her shoulder and saw a duplicate mark on the back of her shoulder. A through-and-through shot.

“Oh, Lois, what is going on with you?” he whispered, kissing her hand. How in the world was he going to explain her lack of a wound to her father? Much less to Mayson.

What was going on with her? Then Clark remembered something she had told him earlier when she thought he was Kal. The super hearing! He placed a hand to her stomach and listened. He could hear the super fast heartbeat of the little Kent. Had she developed some Kryptonian abilities when she got pregnant? The super hearing was a good defensive skill for a new mother. The fast healing — not impenetrable like him, but definitely faster than human — to ward off broken ribs and internal bleeding when this super baby started to kick.

He needed to talk to Dr. Lane. He should have called him first thing upon bringing Lois here, but he couldn’t. Lois had been fading, literally. How could he have explained to the doctor that his daughter was transparent? And then when she had been back to normal, he hadn’t been able to wake her. She was right. Being shot and electrocuted on the same day took a lot out of her mentally. And if she was developing super healing, was it was raising her metabolism? She would need to eat more. Much more.

The phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Where is my… Lucy?” Sam Lane asked. “I heard about the shooting on the news. I need to speak with her… And to you.”

Clark winced. “She’s here. Resting. She’s had quite a day.”

“You should have brought her straight to me or to a hospital.”

“You’re right, I should have.” But he hadn’t. He had his reasons and he didn’t feel like arguing. “She’s fine.”

“She wasn’t shot?” Sam sounded amazed. “But on the TV…”

“News reports have been known to be wrong.” Clark hated to state that fact about his profession. “The bullet passed through her shirt, that’s all.” He swallowed his pride. “I’m sorry I didn’t call.”

“It’s okay, Clark. I wasn’t here. I took the bus to my brother’s to pick up some more supplies. I just heard the news report.” Sam sounded tired and distant, but friendlier than he had the entire previous week.

“Is everything all right, Dr. Lane?” he asked.

“Can you bring her home? I need to speak with you.”

“She’s asleep,” Clark stated. He glanced over at her through the doorway. “Yes, I believe I can fly her home. Can you open the window for me?”

“Of course. See you soon.” Dr. Lane hung up.

As Clark set down the phone he noticed that there were lots of messages on his machine. The first call was an old message from Mayson he had missed earlier that afternoon asking him to call her immediately. She needed the status and whereabouts of her victim and witness, Miss Lucy El. Ooops. No wonder she had been so angry with him.

The second call had been from Mr. Olsen asking after Lucy and asking him to call him at his earliest convenience. He had also asked if Lucy had had a chance to discuss with Clark the information he had passed on to her the night before. No, thought Clark, she hadn’t even mentioned the meeting with Mr. Olsen. He pursed his lips.

Thirdly, editor Ralph had called. He had wanted to know where his ‘star reporter’ was; whether his story would be on his desk in time for the late edition, and to make sure Clark went to Metropolis University Hospital to interview Jaxon for his article. Already on Clark’s to-do list. Not word one about Lucy.

Next, Mayor White had called, also worried about Lucy, and asked him to call him back. My, had Lois become popular within two short weeks! Everyone was worried about her.

Surprisingly, the last call was from Jaxon, himself. He had woken up after surgery. He had seen Clark pick up Lucy earlier and asked how she was. Strangely, he hadn’t wondered why Superman had completely ignored him.

Clark wanted to go first to Jaxon’s hospital room, but he knew that Sam Lane was waiting on him for that special delivery. Not needing to change, as he was still in his blue suit, he carefully covered Lois with a blanket and scooped her up into his arms. She seemed slightly heavier, despite her rail thinness. He wondered if her molecular density had also changed with the baby. It had been a long day already and he felt completely drained. He took off from his living room window and shortly thereafter arrived at Lois’s apartment.

Sam waited for him in the living room. He nodded curtly to Clark as he and Lois passed through. Surprisingly, he didn’t follow Clark into Lois’s room. Clark set Lois on her bed and covered her with blankets.

“Clark,” she moaned and hugged the pillow covered by Kal’s t-shirt. She was having a good dream.

Clark sighed. He would leave her alone. He returned to the living room.

Sam stood near the window, looking at a piece of paper.

“I’ll check in later with you, Dr. Lane. I’ve got to interview a colleague who was also shot. He’s out of surgery.”

“… Um… Clark, before you go,” Sam said, sitting down. “I need to know something.”

“Sure,” Clark said. “Hold on a minute, I’ll go change.”

“It’s okay, Clark. You don’t have to change this time.”

“All right.” Clark hesitated, a bit surprised. Sam Lane hated to talk to Superman.

Sam looked as if his heart had been broken. Miserable. “Who is she?”

“Who is who, Dr. Lane?” Clark was confused. Had Sam found out about Mayson?

“The woman impersonating my daughter.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t seem too surprised by this news, Clark. I was hoping you might be. That I wasn’t the only person she had lied to.” He looked down at the paper again.

“What’s that?” Clark asked, nodding at the paper.

“The results of the initial tests of Lucy’s, or whatever her name is, blood. She’s definitely pregnant, like she said, and she doesn’t have any diseases detrimental to the fetus.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes. Yes, it is. But her blood type is O-, same as my Lois. My Lucy is AB+.”

“Are you sure?” Clark asked, surprised that he would remember that.

“It’s not something a doctor forgets about his children, Clark.”

“Oh.”

“So, can you tell me who she is? Is she my Lois?” Sam asked, hope filling his face.

Clark did not want to tell him the truth. He had hoped that he and Lois could keep this secret between them for her entire visit. But she needed Dr. Lane now more than ever. With her body changing in new and different ways, she would not be able to go to a regular medical doctor. Clark was not sure what to say to the man.

Sam stood up and moved to the dining room table. “The reason I ask, Clark, is because I went through her room after I found out she couldn’t possibly be my daughter Lucy, and I found this.” He held up the photo of Lois and Kal from the Kerth awards. “And this.” He held up another photo Lois had brought of her with her friends at a football game. “And these.” A pile of photos of her and Kal, which he threw across the table to Clark. “I know you said that you never met my daughter Lois. But I was at a loss as to what all this evidence against you meant, until I found this photo.” He held up the photo of Lois with her parents — both Ellen and Sam — from the previous Christmas. He fell into a chair and stared at the picture. “How is this even possible? And who in the world is she, Clark?”

Clark sat down opposite Sam. “I’m sorry, Dr. Lane. We never meant to hurt you.” He gathered up the pile of loose photographs. “The man in these photos is her Kal-El, essentially my twin brother.”

Sam’s jaw hung open. “That’s not you?”

Clark shook his head and pointed to the photo of Lois with her parents that Sam still held. “And the woman in these photos is not your daughter, Lois, but this Sam Lane’s daughter Lois.”

“How is this possible?” Sam was dumbfounded.

“What I’m going to tell you may seem strange and crazy, Dr. Lane, but it’s true. Lois — the woman you know as Lucy El — comes from another world, a parallel dimension, where she is married to that dimension’s Clark Kent. Her Clark, whom I call Kal to lessen the confusion around here, was adopted on Earth by the Kents, just as I was. He met and fell in love with a colleague of his at the Daily Planet, a spunky reporter by the name of Lois Lane. That’s the woman now asleep in your Lois’s bed.”

Sam raised a brow at him, crossed his arms, and looked like Clark had just fed him a lemon. Okay, he didn’t believe him. That was understandable; it was a difficult concept to accept. He hadn’t believed her the first time she told him, either.

At Sam’s silence, Clark continued with his explanation. “Shortly after they got married, a couple of people from the planet of New Krypton, a colony of the planet where Kal and I originated, found Kal and asked him to return to New Krypton to help them stop a war.”

“The civil war you mentioned.”

Clark nodded. “Do you remember Tempus’s threat that we were going to be invaded by aliens?”

Sam nodded, wide-eyed.

“Well, in her dimension it actually happened. Some bad Kryptonians found out that on Kal’s planet they could live like gods, so they came to colonize Earth. They started by enslaving the people of Kal’s hometown of Smallville and using them for target practice. Lois had just found out that she was pregnant with Kal’s child and fled here to hide from those evil men.”

“That doesn’t sound like Lois. She’s not the hiding type; she’s the stand-up-and-fight type.”

“Yes… well, she is, normally.” He had to agree with Sam there. “But she had more to think about than herself this time, Dr. Lane. Kal was still on New Krypton, she had no one to protect her from the invaders and if they were to find out she was Kal’s wife and carrying his child…”

“Oh, I see.” Sam nodded. His eyes had glazed over a bit, though.

Clark exhaled. Good, Sam seemed to buy that version of events. He didn’t want to explain the real reason Lois was here. At least that could remain secret.

“How did she get here?” Sam asked.

“We know a man, an inventor, who built a machine that moves through time and space. Tempus stole this machine and adapted it to travel through dimensions. He then kidnapped Lois and stranded her here last February during the mayoral election.”

“Why?” Sam seemed mesmerized by the story.

“Tempus hates Superman. And this dimension had no Superman. Tempus brought Lois here to turn me into her hero, so he could destroy me and win himself an election.”

“Wait a minute. That Lois is married to Superman?”

Clark was beginning to understand how Kal was able to keep his secret identity secret for so long. A little subterfuge went a long way. People kept forgetting he and Superman were the same person. Take off the glasses, put on a blue suit and a red cape, and suddenly he was treated differently, because people thought of him differently. Even people who knew full well that he was both Superman and Clark Kent kept forgetting.

“She said so, didn’t she? Everything she told you last Saturday was true.” More or less.

“Really?” Sam stammered.

“She loves you. You remind her of her own father. So, again, Dr. Lane, I apologize that Lucy and I lied to you, but I hope you can understand why we can’t go around telling everyone the whole truth.”

“But she’s not Lucy, she’s Lois.”

“Yes, sorry. You’re right. But Lucy El is her secret identity while she’s visiting us,” Clark explained.

“But why does she need a secret identity? If she is a Lois, why didn’t she just pretend again that she’s my Lois?”

“Well, when she was here before, it was a quick visit; she hoped to get home right away. She thought our Lois was dead and borrowed her identity to gain access to me. This time we knew it would be a much longer visit. We have no idea when Kal will return and expel the bad Kryptonians from Earth. If she had returned as Lois, then all those questions about her missing three years would be asked over and over and it would have put a spotlight on someone we wanted to blend in. She needed to be a nobody, so that when she did leave, possibly spur of the moment, not many questions would be asked. Lois Lane attracts attention with her aggressive, no-holds-barred reporting style. Lucy El is just a research assistant.”

“A nobody.”

Clark nodded. “Also, she’s pregnant. If we can’t hide her pregnancy for her entire visit, then people would start asking more questions. Who is the father of Lois Lane’s baby? It would be a whole media mess. And I could not do that to Lois, either from my dimension or hers.”

A half smile appeared on Sam’s face. “No, Lois wouldn’t like that. Not one bit.”

“Exactly. She’s not our Lois Lane. I asked her not to be Lois Lane again, for you and Perry and all of us who haven’t given up on our Lois and want her to come home. I couldn’t pull the rug out from under you a second time, Dr. Lane.”

“Thank you, Clark; I appreciate that,” Sam said with a wipe to his eyes. “I hope I can live up to that trust.”

“Stay sober and uphold your doctor-patient confidentiality, and you will. Nobody outside this apartment knows what I just told you and we need to keep it that way. Okay, Dr. Lane?”

Sam nodded. “Then I think it’s about time you called me Sam, Clark.” He held out his hand.

Clark stood up and shook it. “Thank you, Sam. I hate to fly, but Ralph wants an article about the shooting for the evening edition. And I still have another interview to conduct first.”

“I’ll check on Lucy.”

***

Sam watched as Superman flew out the window. He went to check on this other Lois. The bed looked rumpled but it was empty. He checked the bathroom. It was also empty. Where did she go? He had been responsible for his patient for a whole thirty seconds and he’d already lost her.

His mind rushed over the information that Clark had just shared with him. Lois, but not his Lois. And he just realized something else: she was carrying Superman’s child. What effect would such a fetus have on a human woman? How in the world was he supposed to see this pregnancy through to the end? He really needed a drink.

***

Ten minutes earlier, Lois had rolled over and hugged her pillow. “Clark?” That wasn’t Clark. She blinked her eyes and realized she was back in her apartment, only not her apartment. The other dimension. So, it hadn’t been a nightmare after all.

At least she was Mrs. Clark Kent. Finally. A real beautiful wedding. Clark had promised her she would have one and thanks to Mike, she did. Who was that Mike man anyway? Her guardian angel? Hopefully, Mr. Wells would arrive any minute and tell Clark and her stand-in how to get rid of the curse. Then Wells could fly over here and pick her up for her journey home. Home.

Her super hearing picked up voices in the other room. Clark and her father. They were discussing her.

Yes. Yes, it is. But her blood type is O-, same as my Lois. My Lucy is AB+.”

Are you sure?” Clark asked.

It’s not something a doctor forgets about his children, Clark.”

Oh.”

So, can you tell me who she is? Is she my Lois?” Sam asked.

Lois couldn’t listen to them anymore. As the men moved into her dining room, she snuck down the hall and out the front door. She needed some fresh air. She didn’t need to deal with her substitute father learning the truth about her. She couldn’t be the one to break his heart. Clark could clean up her mess himself; they don’t deserve any better, talking behind her back like that.

She tiptoed down the stairs towards the lobby. As she reached the bottom step a voice from behind stopped her in her tracks.

“Lois? Lois Lane? As I live and breathe, what are you doing here?”

Lois reached up and felt her face. Somewhere along her journeys, she had misplaced her John Lennon glasses. She cleared her throat. “Sorry, you must have me confused with someone else.” She took another step.

“Oh, that’s right. In this dimension, you prefer Lucy El, don’t you?”

She turned around and standing up at the top of the stairs was Star, only not any version of Star she had ever met. Her hair was pulled into a neat knot at the back of her head and she wore a tasteful and not inexpensive fuchsia business suit. “Star?”

The woman walked down the stairs and hooked her elbow with Lois’s. “Dear, you are in no condition to be walking the streets of Metropolis.”

“I’m not?”

“Of course not.” She led her back up the stairs. “So, you can either go back into your apartment or you can come hang out with me.”

“You,” Lois croaked. She wasn’t ready to face Clark and her father.

“Okay, then.” Star walked them back to her door. “Let me just do something first.” She opened the door to her apartment and held her hand up to Lois to wait. “Mrs. Lake, you don’t want to divorce Mr. Lake, now do you?”

“No,” sobbed the blonde woman in Star’s living room. “But he’s cheating on me. I just know it.”

Lois peeked through the crack in the door. A tastefully dressed woman in her mid-forties sat crying on the sofa.

Star placed a hand on the woman’s arm. “Your husband is not cheating on you. But he has started placing bets at an off-track betting arena.”

“What? Why?” Mrs. Lake appeared truly shocked.

“You have a decision to make. Do you truly love you husband or do you love all the gifts he gives you? If you love him, tell him so. Tell him you don’t need gifts to be happy with him and he’ll stop gambling away your fortune. If, on the other hand, you decide you cannot live without the gifts Mr. Lake lavishes on you, you can come back to me. We can bicker with his divorce lawyer for the next three years over every little item in your collection. Either way, you’ll end up with nothing. What you must decide is whether or not you want to be poor with Mr. Lake or without him.”

Mrs. Lake sobs stopped and she grabbed her purse. “Well, I never!” She stomped out of the apartment. Lois hid behind a nearby potted plant. She recognized the woman. It was the same person who, with her husband, had kidnapped her and Superman this past year for their one-of-a-kind collection. Small world.

“Come on in, Lucy,” Star called.

“You seem different, Star. A different kind of psychic than back home.”

“Oh, that’s because I’m not a professional psychic,” Star called from the kitchen. She re-entered the room with a fairly large banana split.

Lois laughed. Some things never changed.

“Eat. Eat. For the first time in your life, you don’t have to worry about counting calories. Enjoy it.”

Lois looked down at the ice cream and wondered if it was a good idea. Her stomach gurgled that it was hungry, and she dug in.

“I’m a divorce attorney.” Star handed her a card. “For later.”

Lois gulped down her bite of ice cream. “I am not getting divorced. I just got married.”

Star sat down next to her. “Yes, you did. Congratulations to you and Clark. If he’s anything like this Clark, you are one lucky lady.”

“You know Clark?” This somehow surprised Lois.

“I will.”

Lois pushed her card back across the table. “I won’t be needing that.”

Star pushed the card back. “Of course not, sweetie. But I do also take referrals.”

Lois picked up the card. Moonbeam Mayhem, Attorney at Law. Divorce.

“Moonbeam?”

“Oh, yes. I meant to correct you earlier. In this dimension, I’m Moonbeam, not Star.”

Lois shook her head. “How is it that you aren’t the same? Everyone else here is essentially the same person, same basic career objectives, more or less, but you’re so different.”

Moonbeam smiled. “I’m essentially the same as the Star you know. But the same life choices, no. What would be the fun in that? What can I say? I like variety.”

Lois laughed. It was good to have a woman she could talk with here.

“You’ve had a busy day so far, Lucy. Let’s see, you were shot, married, and almost faded away from electrocution.”

“Shot?” Lois looked down at herself. “I was shot?”

“The sharpshooter at the Daily Planet. I heard about it on the radio. Plus, you have blood on your shirt.”

Lois jumped up and ran into the bathroom. She saw the hole on the right shoulder of her shirt. She pushed back her shirt and looked at her shoulder. It looked fine to her. Maybe Star… Moonbeam was wrong, this time. Lois pulled her arm completely out of her sleeve and looked closer. She felt a bump she didn’t remember. That was strange. It looked like she had been burned by a cigarette on her shoulder. She would have remembered that, wouldn’t she? The scar looked old and well-healed. She put back on the big flouncy shirt that was Lucy El’s style. Sticking her finger through the hole, she felt for that round scar. It matched the hole in her shirt perfectly.

She felt lightheaded and sat down on the closed toilet seat. What in the world was going on? Had Clark cauterized the wound with his heat vision? Yes, that made sense. She sighed in relief. She wasn’t going crazy after all.

Lois returned to Moonbeam and the banana split, but the ice cream no longer looked appetizing. All those colors and textures swirling together into one gooey mess. She felt sick to her stomach.

“Lucy, you look green.”

“Can I lie down?” Lois didn’t wait for an answer and lay down on Moonbeam’s sofa.

The lawyer brought a damp cloth for her forehead. “The nausea will ease about mid-September.”

“Good to know.” Lois groaned. Only two months left of this torture. If she survived that long.

“Your hard day isn’t over. Clark and Lois still want their honeymoon.”

“I know.” Lois groaned, again. She felt dizzy, nauseous, and lightheaded. She looked at her hand. It seemed to be getting fainter. “Get Clark.”

Moonbeam was standing at her window. “I can’t. He just left. And he won’t be able to help anyway. You’ll just worry him.”

“Clark.” Lois moaned. “Clark.” Her voice grew softer. Her hand became more and more clear.

Moonbeam sat down next to her. “Lucy, I want to tell you a story. Close your eyes and focus on my voice.”

Lois nodded, she could do that. The world around her faded…

***

There was a knock at the door. Moonbeam opened the door to the older balding man on the other side.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Have you seen this woman?” He held up a photo of Lois; he had folded Clark out of the photo.

“Yes,” Moonbeam replied. “She just disappeared.” She pointed to the empty sofa. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “She’ll be back in awhile. A half-hour, maybe less. Would you like to wait? Or should I send her home then?”

The man looked at her like she was nuts. “Yeah. Thanks. That would be great.” He turned to go.

“Dr. Lane, hold on.”

Sam stopped. “How did you know…?”

“Lois isn’t dead.”

“That’s good.”

“Your Lois, I mean. She’s alive. She’s fine, but darkness surrounds her. I don’t understand that. Hmmm.”

Sam’s step faltered. “Pardon?”

“Maybe you should come in.”

“I need a drink,” he muttered.

“Lucy needs you. Why don’t you wait here for her?” She closed the door as he stumbled to the sofa. “Don’t sit there!” Moonbeam warned.

“What? Huh?”

“Lucy is sitting there.”

He looked at the empty sofa and staggered back to the door. “You’re crazy.”

“You don’t really believe that, Dr. Lane. Now, sit over there.” She pointed to an armchair across from the sofa. “And let me make you some tea.”

“Lady, I need something stronger than tea. The day I’ve had…”

“You can call me Moonbeam. I keep forgetting to introduce myself. Your daughter will need you when she returns, Dr. Lane,” she called from the kitchen.

“She’s not my daughter,” he mumbled, running a hand over his damp forehead. He heard the kettle whistle.

“I put the water on when Lucy came in,” Moonbeam explained. “And she wasn’t the daughter to whom I was referring. Honey or sugar?” She smiled.

“You know my Lois?” he gasped.

“I will.”

“Huh?”

Moonbeam closed her eyes and held out her arms from her sides. “Clark will save her. But he’ll need Lucy’s help. And she’ll need your help, Dr. Lane. You daughter will return to you greatly changed, but in essence the same. You have raised a good and strong daughter. She will need you to see the light.” She put down her arms and opened her eyes.

Sam’s jaw hung open, then he snapped it shut. “Thank you.”

She held out a cup. “Tea?”

He took the cup without another word. A few minutes later the cup started rattling in his hands. There, on the sofa where Moonbeam had told him not to sit, Lucy slowly rematerialized.

“Oh, good. Mr. Wells was in time. Lucy returns to us.”

“Clark,” Lois murmured. “Clark, it happened again.”

Sam set down his teacup and knelt beside the sofa. “Lucy?”

“Daddy?” She reached out to him with her transparent hand.

“Where did you go, sweetie?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I just disappeared into a fairy tale.”

“Something almost happened in Lucy’s dimension which would have made it impossible for her to return, thereby erasing her existence,” Moonbeam explained. “All better now.”

Sam turned to her. “Who is Mr. Wells?”

Lois sat up. She was almost back to full color again. “Was he here? Did I miss him?”

“No. Not here, Lucy. Your dimension. He arrived in your dimension in time. I made you some ginger tea. It’s a little strong, but it should settle your stomach.”

“Thank you, Moonbeam.”

“It’s not over yet. I sense you might disappear on us once more before too long. So, drink up.”

Lois’s eyes bulged from their sockets.

“Disappear again?” Sam gasped.

“It isn’t a science, Dr. Lane, changing one’s past lives. Canceling a curse. Sometimes it takes a few tries. But it’s well worth it, don’t you think, Lucy?”

Lois nodded, not wanting to say more on the subject in front of her father.

“Curse? Did you say curse?”

“Lois and Clark’s love was cursed centuries ago. But they’re fixing it now. Everything will be just fine. Wait and see.” Moonbeam smiled and, turning to Lois, set a hand on her arm. “The next two weeks will be hard for you. You’ll want to sleep the whole time. But you can’t live in your dreams. You need to eat to keep your strength up. Clark will need you.”

“Clark needs me? This Clark or my Clark?”

“Both, of course. But I was referring to this Clark. Oh!” Moonbeam clapped her hands. “Let’s not tell him. Oh, yes! Let’s let it be a surprise.” She ran into the kitchen.

The more time Lois spent with Moonbeam, the more she was reminded of Star. Lois turned to Sam. “What is she talking about?”

“I’m not quite sure. But I think she’s referring to something she said earlier. She said that Clark will find my Lois, but he’ll need your help to do so.”

Lois nodded. “Yes, I definitely don’t think we should tell Clark. He has enough on his plate for the moment.” She lowered her voice. “He probably wouldn’t believe us anyway. Star… Moonbeam takes some getting used to.”

Sam nodded.

Moonbeam returned. “Ginger snaps. I bought them a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot. They go great with tea.” She held out the plate.

“Thank you,” they said, each taking a cookie.

Moonbeam sat down. “He’s been so sad all his life. She’ll make him happier than he’s ever known he could be. You’ll forgive him, of course,” she said, turning to Sam.

“Of course,” replied Sam. It was easier just to agree with her.

“Oh, I do love happily-ever-after stories, don’t you?” She sighed.

Lois grinned. “I do.”

Moonbeam handed Lois her card again. “Now, don’t forget to refer me. I live for referrals.”

Lois took the card and her heart sank. Who did she know that was going to need a divorce attorney?

***

Superman landed outside the hospital, between two parked and empty ambulances. He landed as Superman and stepped out as Clark Kent. He went to the information desk, got Jaxon’s room number, and headed upstairs.

Clark took a deep breath outside the room. Don’t get angry, he reminded himself. Stay calm. He knocked on the door and peered inside. “Jaxon?”

Jaxon was sitting in bed, a bandage wrapped around his left shoulder. “Clark! How’s Lucy? Is she okay?” He looked anxious.

Clark stepped into the room. “She’s fine.”

Jaxon sighed in relief. “I was worried. Superman zoomed in, grabbed her, and disappeared. And then nobody heard from either of you. I was afraid she’d…”

“No. She’ll be fine.” Clark thought he should add more, though he didn’t want to. This man was in contact with the shooter and gave him Mayson’s name. But Jaxon didn’t know that Clark knew; he had to keep his cover. “I’m sorry; I didn’t see you.”

“I understand.” Jaxon attempted a smile on his face before it fell. “It’s all my fault.”

Clark’s gaze narrowed. “Excuse me?”

“If I had just gone to lunch with her…”

“What?” That wasn’t what he was expecting.

“I was on the phone when she asked me to lunch. If I had just hung up and gone, she wouldn’t have been shot. Of all the days for her to finally agree…” Jaxon’s face turned to ash.

“Jaxon, Ralph wants me to interview you for the story.”

“I know. He told me.”

“Can you describe everything leading up to you being shot?”

Jaxon’s eyes went wide before darting around the room. “Ah, okay.” Clark could tell he was trying to think what he should say. “I was on the phone with my brother,” he finally admitted.

“Brother?” Clark sat down in the chair next to his bed. So, Junior was Jaxon’s brother. He couldn’t believe Jaxon let that slip. Lex Luthor, Jr.? Oh, dear. Lois wasn’t going to like that.

“Yeah. Lucy was fixing her makeup at her desk and then she rolled her chair over to my desk. She asked if I wanted to eat lunch with her. I held up a finger, telling her to hold on, because I was on the phone. She must have misunderstood, because she went back to her desk, saying ‘maybe some other time.’ Do you really think she meant that?”

Clark shrugged a noncommittal shoulder.

“Hmmm. Then she started to act all weird-like. If she were in my VR, I’d have called it a software glitch, but—”

“VR?”

“Virtual Reality. You should really come over and try it out sometime. It’ll blow your mind.” Jaxon seemed a little loopy and Clark wondered how much pain medication he was on.

Clark remembered Lois saying something about Jaxon kidnapping her and Kal while they were in his VR machine. On how Jaxon was using it for some kind of mind control. “No, thanks. I prefer my mind in one piece.”

“Okay.” Jaxon looked slightly disappointed, but not surprised by Clark’s response. He shook his head. “Lucy is human, right? Not a hologram or a robot or a cyborg or from Krypton or something strange like that, is she?”

Clark raised an eyebrow at that question.

“Not that being from Krypton is strange in the least. Gosh, I’m sorry, Clark.”

“She’s human, Jax,” Clark reassured him.

Jaxon released a breath in relief.

“What do you mean by acting weird?” Clark asked, hoping he was wrong about Jaxon’s analysis.

“Well, her color was off… I mean way off. She was so pale, she was grey. No, she was almost transparent. I mean, she couldn’t have been transparent, right? She doesn’t have the power to be invisible, does she?”

Clark looked at him skeptically. “I doubt it.” It wasn’t in Lois’s nature to be invisible.

“Yeah, that would be weird. So, her color was off and she looked completely out of it, like she was about to pass out. No, wait, before she looked like she was about to pass out, she stood up and started calling your name, like she was looking for you, but her voice kept getting softer and softer. Then she looked like she was going to pass out. I was on my way to help her and bang! That’s when we were shot. The bullet passed right through her like… like she was air… and right into me. I’m not air; I stopped that bullet good.”

“She’s flesh and blood, Jaxon. The bullet hole in her shirt and her shoulder will prove that she isn’t air.”

“She got shot in the shoulder? Just like me.” He shook his head. “You know, when you see something crazy, you begin to wonder if you’re really crazy or if you saw what you think you saw.” Jaxon stopped rambling at Clark’s expression. “Do you think she would say ‘yes’ if I asked her out, again?”

“No,” Clark said automatically.

Jaxon looked crestfallen.

“She doesn’t date.”

“Oh, right. She mentioned that. Do you know why?”

“She has her reasons.”

Jaxon sighed. “There’s just something about her.”

Clark must have unconsciously given him a cold glare, because suddenly Jaxon looked uncomfortable.

“Sorry, Clark. I know Lucy’s your friend and all, but, I mean, there isn’t anything going on between you, right? I mean, you’re dating Mayson Drake, the detective that was in here earlier.” Jaxon whistled. “Now, she’s…”

“Let’s not spread that around, Jaxon,” said Clark, trying to keep a cool head.

“Okay, you don’t want anyone to know. I understand that. Tabloids hounding you night and day. Mum’s the word.” Jaxon locked his mouth with a pretend key. “But, Clark, if you don’t want people to know, I recommend you stop kissing her at work. Everyone in the bullpen was talking about it.”

Clark rubbed his forehead. He didn’t know someone wanted to kill his girlfriend when he had kissed Mayson at work earlier. But Jaxon was right. Clark should have at least remembered he was tabloid fodder. He looked down at his notepad. “Let’s finish up the interview, okay, Jaxon?”

“Sure.”

“Do you have any enemies?” Clark queried.

“Me?” Jaxon gasped.

“Yes, you. Unless you think that Lucy was the main target of the shooter.”

“Of course Lucy,” Jaxon sputtered. “Why would anyone want to shoot me? I was a mistake.”

“Why, indeed?” Clark raised an eyebrow. “For that matter, why would anyone want to shoot Lucy?”

“I don’t know. I hardly know the woman. She works next to me, that’s all.” Jaxon’s heart rate rose. They could both hear the beeps on the machine increasing. “You would know better than me who her enemies are.”

“As far as I know, she has no enemies.”

“Maybe some jealous ex-boyfriend. It could be why she doesn’t date.”

Clark pretended to consider this. “She does have some nasty ex-boyfriends. But I doubt any of them would want to kill her.” None of them knew she existed in this dimension. “Maybe it was just a random shooter. A crazy guy who doesn’t like the editorials at the Daily Planet. Or someone who thinks the sports reporters favor one team over another. Or the restaurant critic was too picky about a review.”

“Maybe someone knew she’s a friend of yours?” Jaxon smirked.

Clark laughed and laughed, so hard he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “You don’t think anyone would be stupid enough to pick on Superman’s friends. Do you, Jaxon?”

Jaxon echoed Clark’s laughter uncertainly.

Clark stopped laughing and leaned forward, staring straight into Jaxon’s eyes. “I mean, if someone were to try to finish the job on Lucy, or go after my friend Mayson, or even you, Jaxon… I mean, we’re friends, aren’t we?”

Jaxon nodded, swallowing hard.

“That would be bad. Very, very bad. Unforgiveable, really. Don’t you think?”

He swallowed, again.

Clark waited, staring at him, swinging his glasses around and around.

“You know, Clark. If I tell you something, off the record, could you promise not to tell Detective Drake? I know she’s your girl and all, but if word got out that what I told you went straight to the police…” Jaxon shook his head. “I shouldn’t even be telling you… My father isn’t a forgiving sort of man and I’m already his least favorite.”

Clark raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

“If you agree not to tell Mayson Drake, I’ll tell you who shot Lucy.”

Clark closed his notebook. “I’m listening.” His glasses still dangled from his fingertips.

***

On his way back to Clinton Street, Clark stopped by the Daily Planet to type up his story and turn it in to Ralph.

It was a bare-bones story. Just the facts. What, where, and to whom it happened, even a little of how it happened. But the why — the why would have to wait. And the who — that, too, would have to wait. He ended the story with the usual ‘police are still actively searching for suspects.’ No ‘Superman flies off with the victim’ or ‘Saves the detective from the bomb.’ Those colorful stories were for another reporter, not Clark Kent.

Clark called his home phone to check for messages. Mayson had called twenty minutes before. She said she was leaving the station in a half-hour with or without him. He called the station and told her he was on his way. Then he called Lois’s apartment. Dr. … Sam answered.

“How is she, Sam?” Dr. Lane’s first name still felt uncomfortable on his lips.

“Better. She’s resting.”

“Still?” Clark asked, worried.

“No, again. We had a difficult afternoon. She disappeared on me and, well, I’m sure you know what that’s like. My heart was in my throat.”

“I’m sorry, Sam.” Clark winced. “I was hoping to save you from that experience.”

“I wish you could save her from that experience,” Dr. Lane replied.

“Unfortunately, it’s beyond my control.”

“Lucy said it has something to do with what’s happening in her dimension.”

“O-kay.” Clark tried to wrap his mind around that information. “We’ll talk more about that later. How do you know she’s better?”

Sam chuckled. “She asked for a roast beef sandwich with Swiss cheese and a chocolate milkshake.”

Clark smiled. Lois was back. “I’ll pick one up on my way over. I’ve promised Detective Drake that I’d bring her to see Lucy tonight. Do you think she’s up for visitors?”

“I think so, but she said she wants to spend tomorrow in bed. No interruptions.”

Clark sighed. Sounds like Lois and Kal finally got their wedding. He hoped H.G. Wells was able to find a cure in time, or this might be the last time he ever saw her. And then he realized that if Wells did find a cure, it might be the last time as well. He still hadn’t had the courage to ask her how she was going to convince her younger self to return to the worst day of her life.

“Sam, I hate to ask this, but do you think you could make yourself scarce for the interview?” Clark inquired hesitantly. “Your presence might raise some extra questions.”

“Sure. I’ve got a date tonight anyway. Well, I’m thinking of it as a date. I’m sure Lucy meant it as a chaperone after the day I’ve had today. I think she’s afraid I might want to take a drink.”

That was the last thing they needed at this juncture. “Do you?”

“Tempting though that sounds, Lois needs me. I’ll resist for her.”

Clark smiled. Good for him. “I have one more request. It’s a strange one. Everyone thinks that Lucy was shot in the shoulder today, so could you tape up her shoulder?”

“Already done,” Dr. Lane told him. “Lucy said how you used your heat vision to cauterize her wounds. Smart thinking. They look like old scars already.”

“I…” Clark realized that this was neither the time nor place to discuss Lois’s new abilities. “Yeah. Great. I’ll talk to you later, Sam. I’ve got to go.” He hung up the phone. Probably best if Lois didn’t know about her ability to heal quickly; she was a bit of a daredevil already.

***

Superman landed in front of the police station, carrying a paper bag. He was running late. He hoped Mayson had waited for him. Scanning the building, he saw her sitting at her desk, impatiently tapping a pen. When he walked in, she glanced up at him and scowled.

Oh, now what? he thought. He crossed to her desk.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he murmured.

“You’re not late, Superman,” she retorted. “Clark is.”

He fought the urge to cringe. That was what pressed her buttons; he forgot to change.

“And I’m not walking out of here wearing a bulletproof vest with Superman as my bodyguard. I’ll be the laughingstock of the whole station.”

“I’ll go change,” he suggested.

“You do that.”

Superman found the men’s room in the hall and was back to her desk as Clark Kent in under a minute. “I picked up some sandwiches. I also told Lucy we’d stop by so you could get her statement.”

“Thanks, Clark.” Mayson grabbed her purse. “Let’s go. I hope you don’t mind if I drive.”

“That would be great.” He lowered his voice. “I don’t like to fly as Clark.”

“I’m okay if I never fly again. I like having both feet on the ground,” she said, stopping in front of the desk sergeant. “I’ll be at Lucy El’s apartment getting her statement and then I’m going home.” She turned to Clark. “She is at home, right, not tucked away in some secret lair?”

“She’s at home,” Clark confirmed. He gave the desk sergeant Lois’s phone number. As they stepped away from the desk, he whispered, “I don’t have a lair, Mayson.”

They walked in silence to her car. As she looked for her car key, Clark remembered Lois telling him about Mayson dying in a car explosion. He set a hand on her shoulder to stop her from unlocking the door. “Mayson, wait.”

“What’s up?”

He lowered his glasses and scanned her car. No bomb. “Nothing. Let’s go.”

Mayson opened the driver’s side door and got inside. “You seem jumpy. Do you really think this psycho is going to come after me just because we ate a few meals together?” She watched with a raised brow as he buckled himself in.

“What? It’s the law.”

A little satisfied smile crept onto her lips.

“Is that all I am? A dining companion?” Clark inquired.

Mayson reached over and patted his hand. “No, Clark. You’re more.”

He took her hand in his and kissed it. “Good.”

She smiled and removed her hand from his to start the car.

Clark leaned back and put his hands behind his head as she pulled the car out from the parking space. “A lair might be nice. A little home away from home. What do you think? A cave? No, too clammy and bat-like.” He shivered. “A tropical island, perhaps? Oh, how about a castle of ice up at the North Pole?”

Mayson laughed.

“Nah. I guess I’ll just stick to my apartment for now.”

Soon, they pulled up to the row of brownstone apartments on Lois’s quiet street.

“This is nice,” Mayson said in the elevator.

“Yes,” Clark agreed, wondering what she was thinking.

He knocked on the door.

“Very nice.”

Can you get it, James?” he heard Lois ask.

“Great,” Clark groaned under his breath.

“What?” Mayson asked as Mr. Olsen opened the door. “Oh. Hello, Mr. Olsen.”

“Is that you, Clark?” Lois called from the other room.

“Yes,” Clark replied.

“Have you seen my glasses? I seem to have misplaced them.” Lois’s voice seemed panicked.

Clark patted his pockets. He pulled her glasses from his inside pocket quickly, pretending to find them on a side table. “Here they are,” he said, going down the hallway to her bedroom.

“What’s he doing here?” Clark asked under his breath, holding out the glasses.

Her arm reached into the hall and took them. “I don’t know,” she hissed. “He just showed up. He said he called you.”

Clark winced. “I didn’t have a chance to call him back.”

“I need to talk to you,” she whispered, coming into the hall. She had put on her glasses and changed into a different shirt. “Privately.”

“Later.” He motioned toward the living room. “Mayson’s here.”

“I know. My father warned me. Later is no good; I plan to be enjoying my honeymoon.” She glanced over at him with a smile.

Clark sighed, the light dimming in his eyes. “Congratulations.”

Lois took hold of his arm. “You’ll have your day. I have it on great authority that happiness is in your future.”

He raised a skeptical eyebrow at that remark, but said nothing.

They walked slowly out to the other room. “Hi, Mayson.” She held out the shirt she had been wearing when she had been shot. Then her eyes lit up. “Do I smell sandwiches? I’m starved.”

Mayson took the shirt and glanced at her hand on to Clark’s arm with pursed lips. He helped Lois to her seat.

“Do you have a clean paper bag?” Mayson asked her.

“Ah…” Lois thought a moment. “Clark, could you?”

Clark took the shirt and the sandwiches into the kitchen. Mr. Olsen tagged along behind him. Clark returned with the shirt in a paper bag, which he handed to Mayson.

His boss followed with a plate of sandwiches. “These are all roast beef. Where is Lucy’s vegetarian sandwich?”

Lois blanched, gazing at the plateful of sandwiches with longing and a sigh.

“What? Oh, don’t tell me that they forgot her Portobello and Swiss sandwich.” Clark covered this error with aplomb.

“Well, at least, you didn’t forget my chocolate shake. Right?” she asked, with a hopeful glance at Clark. “Right?”

“Ooops.” He smiled weakly.

She pointed at him with a fierce look. “Clark Kent….”

Mr. Olsen grabbed her finger. “Lucy, honey, I will order you whatever you want.”

She glanced up at her boss and jerked her finger out of his hands. “Don’t call me ‘honey,’ Jimmy.”

“Sorry.” He blushed. “So, a chocolate shake and a Portobello and Swiss sandwich. Anything else?”

Mayson took Clark aside. “I was wondering how she could afford this place on her salary.” She looked over at Mr. Olsen. “Now I know.”

“What?! No! Mayson, she’s subletting this place,” he whispered to her. “While the owner’s away.”

Lois glanced over to them and glared.

“I don’t think she likes me much,” Mayson whispered back.

Clark sighed. “Let’s get this over with.”

“My sentiments exactly.” Mayson stepped toward Lois and pulled out her notebook. “How are you feeling?”

“Better, thanks to Clark.” She gave him a smile. “If he hadn’t zap-zapped my shoulder right away, I’d be a whole lot worse off.”

“Zap-zapped?” Mayson wondered with a glance at Clark.

“Heat vision,” he murmured.

“Oh.” Mayson took another step closer to Lois and away from Clark. “Can you tell me what happened this afternoon, Lucy?”

“Not really. It was kind of a blur,” Lois replied.

“Clark said you overheard something. Tell me about it.”

Lois gazed wide-eyed at Clark. Obviously that information was supposed to be kept between them. Ooops.

“At the desk next to mine, Jaxon was on his mobile phone,” Lois finally admitted.

Mr. Olsen set down Lois’s red telephone receiver. “Jaxon? Jaxon was involved with this? I knew I should have fired him when you first told me about him.”

Mayson turned to Mr. Olsen with interest. “Told you what, exactly?”

Mr. Olsen gulped and looked at Clark.

The detective then turned to him as well. “Have you been holding out on me, Clark?”

He swallowed. “One thing at a time, Mayson. Why don’t you finish with Lucy first?”

Mayson thought about that. “Okay. I’ll come back to you two in a minute.”

After she turned her attention back to Lois, Mr. Olsen mouthed an apology to Clark.

“You were saying, Lucy?”

The telephone rang and Lois looked like she wanted to answer it, but didn’t want to move at the same time. “Clark, could you?”

“Of course.” He walked over and picked up the receiver, despite Mr. Olsen being closer. “Hello?”

“Oh, good. There you are, Clark. How is Lucy?” Mayor White inquired.

“She’s fine, Chief,” Clark replied. “Resting.”

“Trying to,” Lois mumbled, rubbing her temples.

“Glad to hear it. I need to talk to you, Clark. I’ll be right up.”

“No, Perry. This is not a good time. Perry? Perry?” Clark hung up the receiver. “Mayor White’s on his way.”

Lois rolled her eyes. “Great. The whole gang.” She grabbed a blanket off the back of her chair and draped it over herself.

“Mayor White?” Mayson’s gaze slid over each of them curiously. “Okay. Go on, Lucy.”

“I couldn’t hear exactly what Jaxon was saying, but he did say something about a test. It sounded like he wanted whomever he was talking to — Junior, I think he called him — to cancel the test. And he mentioned you, Mayson, and Clark and me and Superman and…” Lois thought for a moment as if trying to remember another name, but then shook her head. “I don’t know, but it really frightened me.” She pulled her knees up to her chest.

Was Lois acting? Or had she really been frightened? Clark wondered.

“I wanted to get away, but I didn’t know where to go, where I’d be safe,” Lois went on. “I wanted Clark… to warn Clark, but I didn’t know how to contact him. I knew he was off with you.” She swallowed.

“Jaxon said you fixed your makeup and asked him out to lunch. That true?”

An awkward chuckle escaped Lois’s lips as she rolled her eyes. “I don’t wear makeup, Mayson. I moved closer to him to see if I could hear his conversation better, but it didn’t work. That’s when I got lightheaded and dizzy. I don’t remember much after that. I think I called out for Superman, but I don’t know.” She gazed up at Clark. “Did you hear me?”

Clark nodded, kneeling down beside her. “Did your blood sugar get low again, Lucy?” He wanted to make sure they used the same cover story.

“Blood sugar?” Mayson asked.

“Sometimes I forget to eat and I get dizzy.”

Mr. Olsen jumped out of his chair. “I’ll get you a banana.” He went into the kitchen.

“You’ve got quite an admirer there,” Mayson commented dryly.

“Tell me about it,” Lois said with a shake of her head. “Any advice on how to repel men?”

“No.” Mayson squeezed her lips together, before taking Clark’s hand with a smile. “I do all right.”

“Oh, no! Mayson, I didn’t mean…” Lois looked at Clark with a ‘forgive me’ glance.

Clark rubbed his free hand down his face. “Can this day get any worse?” he mumbled to himself as someone knocked on the door. He scanned it and saw Perry. He let go of Mayson’s hand and went to answer the door.

“Hi, Chief, what’s…”

“What in the King’s name do you think you’re doing?” Perry pushed a newspaper into Clark’s face. “How could you do this to…?” At that moment, the Mayor realized they were not alone. A big embarrassed grin spread across his mouth. “Hello, everybody.” He lowered his voice and murmured through unmoving lips, “Clark, I thought you said Lucy was resting.”

Clark glanced down at the newspaper. Well, technically, it was a tabloid, the Daily Whisper. His heart sank; this couldn’t be good, Perry never read the tabloids. The headline, Superman’s Main Squeeze, was accompanied by a photo of his rooftop kiss with Mayson. Only the tabloid had edited the photo, so it wasn’t Clark kissing Mayson, but Superman. He couldn’t hold in a growl. Mayson was going to hate this. “Ask and ye shall be answered,” Clark grumbled. He glanced over at her.

“What is it?” Mayson asked, stepping closer.

He hugged the paper to his chest. “Mayor White, have you met my friend, Mayson…”

“Mayson Drake, nice to meet you,” Perry said, holding out his hand.

“Likewise, Mayor White,” she replied, shaking his hand. “Clark can only say nice things about you. I didn’t know you knew who I was, though.”

“Sweetheart, everyone now knows who you are,” Perry said cryptically.

“Clark?” Mayson couldn’t be put off any longer.

He pulled the paper away from his chest and held it out to her. “I’m so sorry, Mayson.”

She turned white and stumbled backwards to the sofa. “What? I didn’t. Wouldn’t… Clark!

Mr. Olsen rushed to her side to look at the paper. “White, you cannot believe these lies this rag… We’ll sue them for slander.”

“Libel,” Mayor White corrected.

“What’s going on?” Lois asked.

Perry stood between her and Mayson. “How is everybody doing, darling?”

Lois looked up at him. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure you’re all right, honey?”

“Oooh. Don’t call her that, White,” Mr. Olsen warned.

“Stop patronizing me, Perry. What’s going on?”

He looked at her as if speaking in code. “Is everybody doing all right?”

“Clark, what in the world is he talking about?” Lois snarled. Her glare would have burned holes in his jacket if she had had heat vision.

Oh, God! Please don’t let her develop heat vision, too, Clark silently begged. He put his arm around Perry and moved him away from Lois. “Everybody’s fine, Chief,” he whispered. “Just fine.”

“Good. Good to hear.”

“Is anybody going to tell me what’s going on?” Lois said, pushing herself to her feet.

Mayson held out the tabloid. “Take it.”

Lois scanned the front page. “Oh, this isn’t good. Not good at all.” Then she opened to the story. “Clark, you’ve got to stop kissing Mayson in public, especially as Superman.”

“I didn’t!” he sputtered.

“Lucy, honey, are you okay?” Perry asked again.

“Stop asking me that. Why wouldn’t I be fine, Perry?”

Mr. Olsen pulled Perry aside. “Apparently, she doesn’t date.”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” murmured Perry.

“This photo is a fake?” she asked Clark.

“Doctored. I wasn’t dressed as Superman when I kissed Mayson.”

“Well, there’s that. But the world couldn’t have expected Superman to remain celibate, could they? For heaven’s sake, you were engaged when you came on the scene,” she said, sitting back down.

“Lucy!” Clark coughed as he flushed.

“The wrong word?” She winced. “Sorry.”

Clark rushed to redirect the conversation. “But this makes Mayson a target. Anybody who wants to have power over Superman will try to do so through her,” he explained.

“Can we get her Secret Service protection, White?” Mr. Olsen asked.

Lois shook her head as if she’d heard this argument before. “You Kent boys,” she muttered under her breath, before raising her voice. “Mayson is a big girl who carries a gun for a living. I bet she can take care of herself. At the end of the day, it’s up to her.”

Mayson looked at Lois in surprise. “Thank you, Lucy. But I think Clark’s right. I wouldn’t want to become a bargaining chip against him.”

Clark took her arm and practically flew her into the kitchen. “What are you saying, Mayson?”

“We’re going to have to categorically deny this story. Claim the cover photo is a fake and put the other photos in doubt.”

“Oh,” he whispered, looking down.

“And,” she wrapped her arms around his neck, “We’re going to have to be a lot more careful.” Then she placed a kiss upon his lips. Happier, he pulled her close.

“Thank you, Mayson,” Clark told her. “For not giving up on me.”

“Let’s hope you’re worth it.” She smiled tenderly, before suggesting with a wink, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “There’s something I have to do first.” He lowered his lips to hers once more.

A knock on the front door interrupted them. Lois’s sandwich and chocolate shake had finally arrived. Clark grabbed a large bottle of water from the fridge and five glasses. They walked back into the living room.

Mr. Olsen shut the door and handed the bag of Lois’s food to her. Clark grabbed the platter with the sandwiches and passed it around as Mayson filled the glasses.

“I should have ordered some beer. Do you have any?” Mr. Olsen asked Lois.

“I’m not allowed to drink,” she announced and then gulped.

“But you could keep it on hand for guests,” her boss put forward.

“I am a recovering alcoholic, James.” She exhaled with a glance at Clark.

“Really?” Perry seemed surprised. “How long?”

“A couple of years,” she said with another sigh.

“Good for you.”

Lois smiled weakly at Clark and he recognized it as fake. No meat, no alcohol. Not that she would be drinking, anyway. She would kill him if she had to continue this persona after the baby was born. If Lucy El became diabetic and had to give up sweets, Lois might end up doing something drastic. Clark decided to bring her some more roast beef and Swiss sandwiches for the weekend.

“Lucy had an idea,” Mr. Olsen said. “If it works, you won’t have to deal with lawyers. You’d be defeating those tabloids at their own game.”

Perry grinned mischievously and took a bite of a sandwich.

Mr. Olsen continued, “But there is a drawback to this plan.”

“What’s that?” Clark asked.

“You both are going to absolutely hate it,” Lois answered. “James was telling me that Clark saved you from a bomb this afternoon, Mayson. Is that right?”

“Well, Super… yes,” Mayson replied. “What about it?”

“If anyone asks, tell them that the photo was taken after he saved you and that you were just thanking him.” Lois pointed at the photos. “You can’t see any weapons in the photo.”

Clark’s heart lightened. “That works under your idea of categorically deny. Sounds good. Women kiss Superman all the time after I save them. It could work. Why would we hate this idea?”

Perry patted his shoulder. “Because, son, that’s only phase one.”

“Do we need a phase two?” Mayson asked.

“If you want to keep seeing each other,” Perry told them.

“Superman gets invited to lots of events, doesn’t he?” Lois asked.

“You know I do.” He didn’t like the direction she was headed.

“Well, we’re going to overload the tabloids and the public with Superman by having you bring a different date to every one of those events.”

Clark groaned, “Lucy, no!”

“Well, not Superman, but Clark Kent. Superman is a symbol and should not date. We’re all in agreement on this?”

“I, for one, won’t kiss him,” Mayson stated, crossing her arms.

Clark looked at Mayson for a moment, before glancing at Lois.

Lois was shaking her head. “The one woman in Metropolis. I’ll never understand it.”

What?” Mayson asked her.

“Nothing.”

Perry grinned like a cat at a saucer of milk. “I knew it.”

“What?” Lois asked him, her voice low and menacing.

“Nothing.”

Clark knew darn well Lois had heard the Chief. Or, at least, he would have known if it hadn’t felt like his world was caving in on him. “This would be torture, pure unadulterated torture. I don’t want to do it,” he said as his entire body and attitude slumped.

“I know a few lawyers I could recommend, Clark.” Mr. Olsen took another bite of his sandwich. “And you could fight The Whisper in open court.”

“Do you know how hard it is to find an honest lawyer in this town?” Clark shivered. “Okay, explain your theory, Lucy.”

Lois took a long sip from her shake. “If Clark Kent is seen with every woman in Metropolis on his arm, no one is going to think twice if he has lunch or even dinner with Mayson every once in a while. Everyone will think they are just friends, because no sane woman could handle their man out on the town with a plethora of other women.”

“Don’t you think that Superman’s image would take a hit from being seen with all those women?” Clark inquired, hopeful this remark would discourage the idea.

“But Superman won’t be seen dating any women. Clark Kent will be. You go to a bunch of events at first and then slowly dwindle them down until you are only attending the ones you want to attend. Hopefully by that time, the tabloids will be sick of photographing staid Clark Kent and have moved on to greener pastures. Then you can go back to your life. As long as you never kiss another woman in public again.”

Clark sighed. “It feels like I’m still bending the truth, but it could work. And if it removes the target from Mayson, I’m willing to give it a try.” He looked at her. “Would you still want to — go out seems like the wrong phrase in this situation — date me under these circumstances?”

Mayson took his hand. “If Clark agrees not to kiss any those women…”

“Trust me, Mayson, there isn’t another single woman in Metropolis I would even consider kissing.” Clark brought her hand up to his lips, but his eyes glanced at Lois.

She took a long sip from her shake and looked away.

“I’m beat. Can you escort me home now, Clark?”

“Did you finish getting your statement from Lucy?” he asked.

Mayson put a hand to her forehead. “I forgot. Let me check my notes.” She found her notepad on the coffee table and reread her notes. “No. I’m not finished. Why were you thinking about firing Jaxon, Mr. Olsen?”

“Great Caesar’s ghost, Jimmy! Did you let that slip?”

Mayson turned to Perry White. “You too, Mr. White? What are all of you hiding?”

“We’ll get to that in a minute, Mayson. But first I need to tell Lucy about my interview with Jaxon.”

“Why would you interview Jaxon?” Lois leaned forward. “And more importantly, is he still in one piece?”

“Of course, Lucy,” Clark informed her with mock hurt at her implication. “I’m against killing people, you know that.”

Lois raised an eyebrow. “Against killing, yes. But if they threaten your friends….”

“Clark?” Mayson turned to him, aghast. “Is this true?”

“She’s exaggerating. I don’t torture people,” Clark stated firmly. “I just talked to Jaxon, that’s all. He wasn’t any more damaged than before I spoke with him.”

“He’s hurt?” Lois asked, surprised.

“He was standing right behind you when you were shot. The bullet passed through you and into him,” Mayson told her.

“Oh.” Lois swallowed, touching her shoulder. “Is he all right?”

“The bullet shattered some bone in his left shoulder, but he’ll heal,” Clark said.

“Why do you need to tell Lucy about your interview with Jaxon tonight?” Mayson asked with a yawn. “Can’t she just read about it in tomorrow’s paper?”

“No. He said some things off the record that I need to tell Lucy.” Clark turned to Perry. “In order to get the information I wanted, I promised him I would not tell Mayson or the police.”

“Oh.” Perry nodded.

Mayson placed her hands on her hips as her eyes narrowed into slits. “Should I wait in the hall?” she inquired, despite everything in her body language to the contrary.

Perry grinned. “You want to do a Jericho Firestorm, don’t you, Clark?”

Clark nodded with a slight tilt of his head.

“What’s a Jericho Firestorm?” Mr. Olsen asked.

Perry took Mayson’s arm and moved her into the dining room. “Shall we move Lucy to the sofa by the door?”

“Jericho Firestorm isn’t a what, it’s a who.” Lois stood up and moved to the other sofa. “He was a sadistic arsonist who plagued the coast just north of the docks with fires for months. What was that, Perry, five years ago?”

The Chief’s jaw dropped. “How in Memphis did you know about Jericho Firestorm, Lucy?”

Clark looked at Lois with wide eyes. Come on, Lois, lie on your toes, he urged with his mind.

“From Clark, of course,” she replied with an innocent smile. “He’s always telling me Lois Lane stories.”

“Oh.” Perry laughed. “For a moment there…” He shook his head. “Lois is quite a character.”

Mayson asked, “Who is Lois Lane?”

“Only the best investigative reporter this city has ever seen,” smirked Lois.

Everyone turned to her in shock.

“Until Clark Kent,” she amended.

Mr. Olsen came and stood next to Mayson. “She disappeared while on assignment in the Congo three years ago. Gun running?”

“That’s right. And yes to your guess too, Lucy. Jericho Firestorm was roughly five years ago.” Perry leaned against Lois’s dining room table. “You see, Lois hunted down and cornered the son of a bitch for an interview, but the sneaky devil would only talk to her off the record. In exchange for information about the location of his next fire, he made her promise she would not tell the police. It was too big of a scoop, so Lois took the deal. Then we invited Detective Henderson to my office and Lois Lane told me everything he said in the interview.”

“So, she broke her promise to Jericho?” Mayson asked, surprised.

“Of course not,” Lois snapped. “Lois Lane does not reveal sources.”

“She’s channeling her again, Clark.” Perry chortled. “Let me explain Jericho Firestorm again, Mayson. We brought Detective Henderson in to listen, while Lois told me what Jericho told her. She didn’t break her word. She did not speak directly to Henderson the entire time. He was not allowed to question her about what she told me. It was as if he overheard it at a restaurant. Henderson then caught Jericho as he was setting his final fire. And because everything Lois learned was off the record, it was not admissible in court. Eventually, Jericho was released on a technicality. Henderson caught him a week later trying to set fire to a tied-up Lois in her old apartment. She moved here after that.”

He watched as Mayson digested the information. “This is crazy, but I’m game.” The detective shook her head and then sat down at the dining table, her notebook ready.

Clark sat down opposite Lois, his back to the others. “Jaxon told me that Junior is his older brother.”

Lois’s eyes went wide. “Oh, wow. This is news. Lex had another son? I knew his first wife died in a car accident. I always assumed that the child didn’t survive either, but if he did…” Her lips tilted downwards. “Lex can’t be that old, can he?”

“Who knows how old he is? He’s a master of deception and lies,” Clark replied. Lex hadn’t looked old enough to have a son their age when he had seen him get shot by the clone in the alley.

“What else did he say?” Lois asked, getting back to Jaxon.

“He said that his father frightens him more than I do.”

“I can believe that.” Lois smiled sweetly at him. “Lex doesn’t have a decent bone in his body, while you’re not frightening in the least.”

“Thanks, Lucy. Damage my ego why don’t you?” Clark removed his glasses and stared at her. “I’ve been told that Superman can be quite intimidating, though.”

“You’re a cruel man, Clark Kent,” she whispered, a slight quaver to her voice.

Lois wasn’t teasing him as she was a moment ago. Something had changed in her expression. She no longer saw him, he realized. She saw Kal — the man she had just married back in her home dimension — sitting right in front of her, close enough to touch. He slipped on his glasses and leaned back. She blinked the tears from her eyes and looked away.

“Lex Junior hates Superman,” he continued as if nothing had happened. “But killing Superman is too difficult a task. It’s not like they can buy Kryptonite at the corner store. So he thought he could get at me through my friends.”

“Why does Junior hate you? I mean, did Jaxon give you a reason besides the obvious?” she asked. Her voice was a little deeper, rougher, but she was back.

“Junior developed a device called a Neuroscanner, which latches onto an individual’s genetic fingerprint and allows a person to watch and listen to what another person says and hears. He can also control that person with migraines, if they don’t do as he says.”

“Ouch. What a horrible invention. But what does that have to do with you?”

“Apparently, Lex Junior is obsessed with their stepmother and used the device on her. For some reason, when Superman showed up, the whole thing went haywire and stopped working properly,” Clark explained. “Jaxon said that the last image Junior saw on the monitors before the circuits were overloaded was Superman’s face.”

Lois’s jaw dropped and her hand covered her mouth.

“You’re not going to be sick, are you?” Clark whispered, leaning closer.

She swallowed, reaching out for him. “I’m fine. Clark, did he say anything else about his stepmother?” She took his hand and squeezed it.

He furrowed his brow and let go of her hand. “That was about it. Anyway, the failure of Lex Junior’s device angered Lex Senior so much that Junior is no longer allowed contact with the stepmother.”

“Sounds like he used it without Daddy’s permission.”

“Could be.” Clark nodded. “So, he decided to take his revenge out on me — or, more accurately, my friends.”

“So, Lex Luthor had nothing to do with the shooting this afternoon?” Lois repeated with a breath of relief. “That makes sense, it’s not his usual M.O.”

“Apparently it was all Junior’s idea. Jaxon wants his brother locked up in an insane asylum. He’s worried he might come after you again. I think our web designer has a little crush on you.”

Lois rolled her eyes. “What does a woman have to do to be left alone in this town? Did he give you anything on how to capture Junior?”

“Jaxon said he hasn’t seen him since he was a little boy. Doesn’t even know what he looks like now,” Clark said, his skepticism evident. “Junior had some kind of birth defect on his face — a skull malformation — so he likes to stay hidden away from people.”

“That would explain why Lex told everyone he was dead. Lex likes to be surrounded by perfect and pretty things. A son with a birth defect would embarrass him and he wouldn’t want to be reminded of him.”

“Jaxon said his brother likes to call and keep tabs on him. He’s been taunting Jaxon, which is how he knew that Junior was trying to shoot you this afternoon.”

“So, did he tell us anything about Junior that would be helpful, besides being insane? We deal with psychos on a weekly basis. That’s nothing new.”

“Jaxon said his brother was raised in Australia and might have moved to Hong Kong or Singapore recently. He doesn’t think Lex Junior is local to Metropolis.”

“Great. Long distance rifles have just gotten a new meaning.” Lois shook her head, paused for a moment, and then shook her head again. “We should talk to Dr. Klein and see whether we have a sample of the genetic fingerprint for the stepmother, if it can be backtracked to the Neuroscanner and thus to Junior.”

“That’s a pretty big ‘if,’ Lucy.” He looked at her doubtfully. “Anyway, the Neuroscanner is broken.”

“Just ask.” Lois took a deep breath. “He might be trying to fix it.” She took another deep breath. “Clark,” she whispered, reaching out to him. “Take me back to my room, please. I’m not feeling well.”

She closed her eyes and by the time she had reopened them, Clark had already whisked her away to her bedroom. He sat down next to her on the bed.

“Did I disappear again?” Lois asked.

Her hand felt lighter in weight and density than it had earlier. “Not yet. But you’re looking a tad pale.”

“Can you get everyone out of here?” she asked. “And ask my father to come home.”

“He said he had a date,” Clark told her.

Lois smiled indulgently at him. “Moonbeam’s a little young for him. Apartment three, ground floor.”

“I want to stay with you,” he told her. What if Lois faded away and never came back? He needed to be here if that scenario occurred.

“You should take Mayson home. She needs you.”

He felt torn. Clark liked Mayson, he really did. But Mayson was no Lois Lane. There was only — okay, technically, there was more than one Lois Lane — but only one soul mate for him. He groaned. And neither of these women were her. No matter how much he loved this Lois, she was now and would always be Kal’s wife.

“Clark, take your girlfriend home.” Lois murmured. “To those people I am nothing but an old college friend to you.”

Clark took off her glasses and set them on the side table. “Lois, you know you are more than that.” He brushed a lock of her hair off her face.

She reached up to his face, to his glasses.

He placed his hand over hers, stopping her from removing them. “You’ll see him tonight in your dreams.”

She dropped her hand and turned away.

“Clark?” Mayson inquired from the doorway.

He turned towards the detective, still torn. Whether she admitted it or not, Mayson needed his protection, but it was Lois that he wanted to protect. Unfortunately, he knew staying with Lois wouldn’t help her, and there was someone else she wanted. “Coming.”

“Is she all right?” Mayson asked as he left the room, shutting the door.

“She suddenly felt tired,” he murmured. “She’s had quite a day.”

“We all have.” Mayson took hold of his hand. “Maybe she shouldn’t be left alone. Do you want to stay?”

He had already made that decision. Knowing what she and her husband would be doing in Lois’s dreams made Clark want to be by himself even less. He cupped Mayson’s jaw in the palm of his hand and kissed her tenderly. “I want to be with you. I’ll check on her in the morning.”

Mayson smiled and leaned against his chest. Right answer.

Clark wrapped his arms around her. It felt good to be able to hold someone like this and he felt guilty for wishing it were Kal’s wife.

“I can stay with Lucy,” Mr. Olsen volunteered.

“It’s okay. I’ve got a doctor friend who has already agreed to stay with her.”

“That’s probably for the best,” agreed Perry.

“Excuse me,” said Clark with a kiss to Mayson’s cheek. “I’ll just check to see if he has a key.” He went out the front door.

***

“Were Clark and Lois close?” Mayson asked Perry, her eyes following Clark out the door.

“Heavens, no, Mayson,” he answered. “He’s never met her. Clark joined the paper a couple of weeks after she went to the Congo. One of the first assignments I gave him was to go and find her.”

James chuckled. “Actually, Lucy is a dead ringer for Lois. Even fooled Perry.”

Perry shook his head at James.

Mayson looked at the sofa where Lucy and Clark had just been sitting and then over her shoulder towards Lucy’s bedroom. She sat back down with a deep breath. “Could you explain that? Why would she…?”

“Clark and Lucy had this plan, where she impersonated Lois to see if it would bring out her killers or captors or whatever. It was a shot in the dark, really,” clarified Perry. “Anyway, it all came to a head during the mayoral debate, when Superman emerged and was revealed by Tempus to be Clark Kent.”

“Oh, yes, I remember,” Mayson said, covering her mouth with her hand. “That’s right, Lois Lane flew into the debate in Superman’s arms. MNN showed the footage for weeks afterwards. That was her? Lucy, I mean.”

The mayor nodded. “Then Lois Lane disappeared again after the election. Nobody knew where or why,” Perry said. “Back to the Congo!” He threw up his arms in disbelief. “Like she would go back there. Well, we know why now. Those of us in this room do, anyways.”

“And what does this have to do with Jaxon and Lex Luthor?”

“Lucy and Clark knew this Lex guy before Clark came to work at the Daily Planet. Some rich SOB exposed by their articles, who then escaped. Apparently Jaxon’s his son. They think he’s spying on Superman, trying to find his weaknesses. Plus, he might know where Lois is.”

Lois Lane, the missing reporter, and Lex Luthor? That’s a stretch, Mayson thought.

“She even told us Lex Luthor ruined her wedding,” James explained. “As payback.”

“Lucy’s married?” Mayson’s face was a maze of confusion.

The men looked at one another as if they hadn’t added that possibility into their model. One shrugged and the other shook his head.

“Well, you should know I met Lex Luthor, three or four years ago, back when I worked for Bill Church of Cost Mart,” Mayson informed them.

“What?” Clark had returned. “You know Lex Luthor?”

“I met him. Once. A very charismatic man. Well-dressed, well-schooled, well-financed,” Mayson told him. “He owned some property in Atlanta that Bill was interested in developing. He wasn’t married back then.”

Clark seemed very interested. “Was he based in Atlanta?”

She shook her head. “He had some holdings there, but we met him in…” She thought for a moment. “I want to say Berkistan, but I can’t be sure. This would have been before the war, of course.”

“Bill Church met Lex Luthor in Berkistan to discuss property for a Cost Mart store in Atlanta?” Clark asked skeptically.

“Bill traveled around the world, because there are Cost Marts around the world. It wasn’t strange to meet business associates in faraway places.”

“Okay.” Clark looked at Perry, who raised his eyebrows. Clearly, neither of them believed her. Terrific.

“That’s good to know, Mayson. A lead. Thank you.” Clark smiled at her in a way that made her knees weak. “The doctor has a key and will be here in a few minutes. Why don’t we go? Let Lucy rest.”

James and Perry nodded. Clark picked up the dishes and leftover food and put them in the kitchen. As James grabbed his jacket, Perry picked up the tabloid and handed it to Clark. Mayson hoped Clark would toss it into the trash, but he tucked it under his arm before shutting the door behind them. James took the elevator up to his penthouse apartment, while Perry accompanied them down the stairs to the main door where a town car was waiting for him.

“Keep in touch, Clark,” the mayor said, shaking his hand. “My door is always open, if you need to talk.”

“Thanks, Chief. I appreciate that,” Clark grinned. Mayson could tell he was about to tell another one of his jokes. “Does that include exclusive interviews with the mayor?” And there it was. Really, Clark needed a better sense of humor.

Mayor White laughed. Maybe it was a newspaper joke. “Set those up with my secretary,” the mayor called to him.

Clark waved as the town car drove off.

Mayson placed a hand on Clark’s arm as he went to open the car door. “Tell me again how you know Lucy.”

“Lucy and I worked together on the newspaper at Kansas State.” Clark didn’t look her in the eye when he said this. He tilted down his glasses and stared at her car for some odd reason. Then he opened the door and got in.

“Not an old girlfriend, then?” Mayson asked, getting behind the wheel.

“No.” He laughed softly, as if amused by a private joke to which she wasn’t privy. “I was dating Lana at the time. She kept a pretty close eye on me.”

Oh, right. Her. The ex-fiancée. “So, Lucy isn’t the girl who got away?”

“No.” Clark took hold of Mayson’s hand. “She’s just an old friend. That’s all.”

Mayson wanted to be crystal clear about this, before getting more involved with this tabloid darling. “The way she looked at you…”

“Lucy has never been interested in me, Mayson,” Clark unequivocally stated, leaning over to kiss her cheek. “There has always been someone else.”

Mayson stared at him for a minute and then started the car.

***

My dearest Clark, my love, my husband. I know today was a long day for you, what with the Wedding Destroyer and our wedding on the hill and time travel and all. I did a little traveling myself today. Apparently, if anything happens to the younger me, it erases me from existence. I disappeared for awhile. Actually, I disappeared at least three times today. Once with the electrocution, once before Mr. Wells arrived, and once when Lady Loisette married Baron Tempos. It certainly gave my father a fright.

Well, he discovered my secret. He knows I’m not his daughter Lucy. Somehow, Kal convinced him that we needed him and trusted him with our secret. I’m exhausted from all this disappearing and reappearing. Once when I disappeared, I didn’t just fade into nothingness. I believe I traveled back in time, back further than the Fox and Lady Loisette, into a time of fairy tales. I have written down the fairy tale to share it with you. I wonder if it was the first time our souls met and were pledged together forever.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived a king and a queen who wanted a child more than anything in the world. Finally, after many years, they were blessed with a daughter. To celebrate this event, they invited everyone in the kingdom to rejoice in the newest member of their family. They also invited the eight good fairies. Each of the good fairies was allowed to give the young princess one gift.

The first fairy granted the princess beauty. The second, the gift of song. The third, intelligence. The fourth, independence. The fifth, the gift of storytelling. The sixth, loyalty. The seventh fairy gave her the gift of adoration.

Before the eighth fairy could give her gift, the party was interrupted by a ninth fairy, whose invitation had been forgotten. She placed a curse on the young princess. Upon reaching her sixteenth birthday, the young princess would fall into a deep sleep from which she could never awaken. Then the ninth fairy disappeared, never to be seen in the kingdom again.

The eighth fairy stepped forward. She could not undo the horrible curse which had been placed on the child. Instead, with all of her wisdom, she changed the curse. Instead of sleeping forever, she granted the gift to love so deeply and so passionately that just one kiss from her true love would awaken the princess from her endless slumber.

True to the fairies’ words, this princess did indeed grow up with intelligence, beauty, song and story, and a fierce independent streak. She was the best friend anyone could wish for, and was loved by every man who met her. But unfortunately for the young princess, she never found that one true love the eighth fairy had promised. Upon reaching her sixteenth birthday, the young princess was bitten by a strange bug and passed into her endless sleep. All of her admirers came to kiss her, but none of the suitors were deemed worthy, for the princess still slept.

Years passed and the princess continued to sleep. Every morning, the queen had her daughter carried into the garden and laid on a bed in the hope that someone would kiss her and wake her from this spell. Soon, the princess’s presence in the garden was taken for granted, like a fine statue.

After nine years, a knight returning from battle caught sight of the beautiful princess asleep in the garden and he sat down next to her. Every afternoon from that day onward, the knight ate his lunch with the sleeping princess and told her a story from his travels or an amusing anecdote from town.

The queen kept watch over the garden and saw how the knight thought of her daughter, where others had not. When a sudden sprinkling of rain arrived, he removed his cloak to keep her dry. When the winds blew dry and harsh, he carried the sleeping princess to a sheltered corner where she would not be disturbed. When another man tried to take liberties with her, the knight drew his sword and protected her honor. He was a noble knight, deserving of her daughter’s love, and the queen hoped in vain that his kiss would wake her daughter from the horrible curse.

One day, war broke out with a faraway kingdom. The whole castle was in such disarray that the sleeping princess lay forgotten in the garden. In the darkness of the evening, the knight stole through the garden on his way to his quarters. He was deeply saddened that he had not been able to visit the fair princess earlier that day due to his preparations for battle the next morning.

When he found her abandoned in the garden, he knelt beside her and declared his love to her. No longer able to resist the beautiful princess, the knight granted himself one gentle farewell kiss. Her arms encircled his neck and deepened the kiss. Overjoyed that she was awake, the knight carried her directly to the chapel, so that they could be married before he had to leave the next morning. Unfortunately, the chapel was deserted and no cleric could be found to officiate their wedding. Kneeling at the altar, the knight and the princess pledged their love to one another.

The next morning the knight left his bride for battle. No one but the princess knew whose kiss had awoken her. The kingdom was overjoyed at the princess’s awakening and once again suitors returned to claim her hand. She refused all offers, hoping without hope as the days passed that her knight would return to her.

As her belly grew swollen with child, the offers faded away and the princess was hidden away from the eyes of the kingdom. The king and queen begged and pleaded with their daughter to reveal the name of the man who had awoken their daughter’s heart. All she would say on the matter was that they would recognize him when he returned to officially claim her hand as his face would be the face of their child. The princess gave birth to a daughter as beautiful and gifted as herself. This time neither a grand banquet nor the good fairies of the kingdom were called.

A year after the birth of the young princess, the knight returned battle-weary and broken, unrecognizable to anyone but the woman who had known him for just one night. She saw in his eyes the eyes of her daughter. In his voice, she heard the voice from a dream which had spoken to her every day for a year. The caress of his hand on her face felt like that of only one man, her true love. On his lips, she could taste love’s first kiss. She knew her true love, her husband, even though no one else did.

The king, the queen, the other knights, the nobility, the squires, and ladies-in-waiting all begged her to reconsider. This dirty, scarred man with a limp, a wrecked back, and a defeated spirit could not possibly be the man who had broken the curse with his kiss. They flung doubt and shame in her face, but nothing changed her mind. She knew her love and she would not consider any other. Slowly, she nursed the knight back to health.

One day as he played in the garden with his two-year-old daughter, he laughed, and the queen recognized the knight who had told stories to the sleeping princess all those years ago. The princess had found a love so strong and passionate it broke any barrier to impede it. The queen, overcome with joy and love, knelt in front of the knight and begged his forgiveness. She thanked him for returning to them her beautiful, intelligent, headstrong, willful, loyal to a fault, songstress storyteller of a daughter, who was beloved by all who knew her. For when one finds true love, one can never be lost again.

Good night, my true love. I go to dance with you in my dreams. LL

***

Lois walked into the Daily Planet sucking on her morning smoothie, oblivious to the stares she received. She hummed in the elevator as she rode up to the newsroom. Floating past Ralph, she beamed him a “Good morning, boss.”

Ralph dropped his coffee cup as she passed by.

She went to her desk and stopped. It was empty. Cleared of everything, including her computer. That was strange. James was sitting at Jaxon’s desk, so she sat down and rolled her chair over to him. “Good morning, James.”

“Lucy! What are you doing here?”

She swiveled her chair around, so she could look at his computer screen. “I had the peculiar feeling that I worked here.” She took a long look at her empty desk. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken Monday off.”

“No. Of course you still work here, Lucy. Just not here here. There.” James pointed across the bullpen to Lois Lane’s desk. “Clark wanted you farther away from the windows.”

Lois sighed. “What a sweetie. Always thinking of me.” She lowered her voice. “I thought I was supposed to be where I could keep an eye on Jaxon.”

He lowered his voice to match hers. “Jaxon is out on sick leave. Fractured shoulder.”

“Oh, right.” She took a long sip from her straw. “Watcha doing?”

“Looking at you, Lucy. You just amaze me.”

“Huh? Why?”

“Lucy, you were shot on Friday — four days ago — and you came in to work this morning floating on air.”

She smiled a smile so large it couldn’t get any larger. “I had a good weekend.”

“Clark said you wouldn’t talk to him… to anyone. That you spent the whole weekend in bed.”

Her huge smile got larger as she sipped her drink. “And?”

James cupped his chin looking at her. “I’ve never seen anyone so happy. You’re glowing.”

“Thanks. What does Clark think about me taking Lois Lane’s desk? It couldn’t have been his idea.”

“How did you… Yes, Ralph said if Clark wanted you to move desks, that was the only one he’d give you.”

“Poor Clark.” She shook her head. “Ralph gives him such a hard time. It’s because he’s jealous. Clark is much better-looking, a much better person, and a much, much, much better reporter.”

“Lucy, are you all right?”

“I’m super.” She smiled mischievously.

“‘Cause you’re acting like you’re drunk,” James said with raised brows.

“I am drunk.” She lowered her voice and leaned closer to him. “On love.”

“Really?” James asked, surprised and — perhaps — a little disappointed. “I thought you didn’t date.”

“I don’t.” Lois sighed and then pulled her chair closer to James. She held a finger to her lips. “Our little secret. You and me. Don’t tell Clark I told you; he thinks it’s best if we keep it quiet.”

“Uh-huh.” Her boss’s boss nodded conspiratorially.

“I’m married.”

James had been leaning so far over to hear her that he toppled right out of his chair.

“Jimmy!”

He jumped up and dusted off his suit. “I thought we agreed on James.”

“Sorry.” She wet her lips. “James.”

“You’re married?” he whispered, swallowing. “Really?”

Lois raised her brows and nodded, taking another sip of her drink.

“I just can’t wrap my head around that, Lucy.” He rubbed his forehead. “To whom?”

“A really super man.” Lois sighed.

“SUPERMAN!” James gasped. Then lowered his voice when Clark looked up and glanced around. They ducked. “You mean Clark?”

Lois giggled. “Ah, no. I said a super man. I didn’t mean that Superman.”

“Oh.” James chuckled. “After last Friday night, I guess that’s a crazy assumption.”

“If I were married to that Superman, I’d…” She thought about how to finish that sentence for a moment. “How about we just don’t go there?”

“Agreed.”

“How’s he doing?”

“He’s acting like he’s lost his girlfriend, his best friend, and his freedom in one fell swoop.”

Lois grimaced. “Poor Clark. Friday was a pretty bad day for him.”

“If it hadn’t been for the hurricane that hit Haiti, I doubt anyone would have even seen Superman this weekend.”

“Well, it’s good that he got out of his apartment. If he hadn’t been seen all weekend, it would have added fuel to the tabloid fire.”

James nodded in agreement.

“So, you didn’t tell me what you’re doing on Jaxon’s computer.”

He turned back to the monitor. “I’m still trying to piece together what he was up to.”

“I’m yours, if you want me.” She smiled and then realized how that sounded as his jaw dropped. “To help. Sift through the data.”

“Right. Of course. I knew that.” He swallowed. “Maybe you should check in with Clark first.”

Lois was staring at Clark. He was talking to a tall auburn-haired woman, whom she could have sworn was Cat Grant if not for the way she was dressed. More stylish than trashy, but not conservative either. “Planning on it,” Lois said, standing up. “Before he does something he’ll regret.”

She focused her hearing on their conversation.

So, then, it’s a date,” Clark was saying to Cat.

“Oh, Clark. What have I done?” Lois groaned.

Cat beamed at him with a seductive tease. “Now I know what it takes to have Clark Kent agree to go out with me.” She laughed. “I’ll be back later to iron out the details.”

Lois slid into the chair next to Clark’s desk moments after Cat left. “Are you out of your mind? We’re trying to polish your image. Not tarnish it.”

“‘Good morning, Clark,’” he said, ignoring her question. “Good morning, Lucy. ‘I had a great weekend.’ I can see that. ‘What did you do?’ I spent the whole weekend waiting for my best friend to return my calls. ‘I’m sorry, Clark.’ “ He looked her straight in the eyes. “You look like you enjoyed your weekend, Lucy. You’re glowing.”

“I

He held up his hand. “Spare me the details. I really don’t want to hear them.”

“Okay.” She bit her bottom lip, then lowered her voice. “If it’s any consolation, we’re great together.”

Clark closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “That’s a detail.”

“I’m sorry, Clark.” She placed a hand on his arm. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I know.” He placed a hand over hers. “Try harder.”

“Yes, sir.” Her laugh trailed off at his serious expression. “So, what’s this about you asking Cat Grant out?”

“Oh, that’s right. You missed yesterday. Mr. Olsen and Ralph decided to help me on my quest to date as many of Metropolis’s finest single ladies as possible by holding a charity raffle.”

“They’re auctioning you off?”

“Oh, it’s worse than that. The twenty-five largest donations automatically earn a date with Clark Kent and the other twenty-five slots will be drawn at random.”

Lois winced. “I’m sorry. What’s the charity?”

“The Orphans of Metropolis.”

“I thought it might be.” She nodded.

“Fifty dates to fifty events I probably wouldn’t have wanted to go to anyway.” He lowered his voice. “I don’t mind doing events as Superman. Accepting a ribbon here, throwing out a first pitch there, giving a speech, hammering in the first peg. I fly in, I do my thing, then I fly out. No one expects Superman to hang out. I still get to have a life. But these things are social parties, society balls, charity events — I’m going to these gatherings as Clark Kent, so I’ve got to go for several hours. Shake hands. Schmooze. Small talk. Listen to all the speeches. Shake more hands. And all with a complete stranger as my date.” He heaved a dejected sigh. “At least it’s for a worthy cause.”

“Two great causes, if it means the tabloids will leave you alone… eventually. Won’t it be worth it?”

He lowered his voice to a hushed whisper. “That better be the outcome or I’m coming to your dimension and outing Kal.”

Lois scowled. “You wouldn’t dare.”

He shot her an evil grin. “Try me.”

“I knew you would hate this idea. I just didn’t know it was the only solution that would come up during our brainstorming meeting. How’s Mayson taking it all?”

“She was stuck at home for the whole weekend, because the tabloid scum parked on her block.”

“What? Frightened of some little reporters?” Lois could help but laugh.

He grimaced. “No. I asked her stay out of sight in case Junior planned another attempt.”

“Oh. Sorry.” She really was. She wanted Clark to be happy. Everyone should be as happy as her. “Is Mayson okay?”

“Well, after the ribbing she’s probably getting at work this morning…”

Lois waved off this concern. “She can handle those boys.”

“I had to leap from rooftop to rooftop Saturday morning just to get home.”

Lois raised a brow. “You spent the night? And you gave me a hard time about my weekend.”

“She went to get some wine and find some papers she had on Lex Luthor, but by the time she got back I had fallen asleep on her couch.”

“Whoa, back up there, papers she had on Lex Luthor?”

“She’s met him. She used to work for Bill Church and—”

“Intergang,” Lois interjected.

“What?!” Clark’s jaw dropped.

“Bill Church is the head of Intergang. But Mayson’s clean. We vetted her in my dimension.”

“Lex Luthor met Bill Church just over three years ago in Berkistan to discuss selling property in Atlanta for a Cost Mart store,” he explained.

“You’re kidding, right? And this didn’t raise any flags for Mayson?”

“She trusts him.” Clark shrugged.

“Amazing. I’d say she was a bad judge of character, but she likes you.”

“Thank you.”

“She doesn’t like Superman, though. And she doesn’t like me, either, so I guess maybe she is a bad judge of character.” Lois reveled in her words.

“Ha-ha, Lucy. For a second there I thought you’d actually paid me a compliment.”

“Back up a minute. Berkistan in ‘93 was peaceful; then they got a whole slew of illegal weapons and civil war broke out.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Right around that time, the UN was in the Congo trading food for weapons. The guns were supposed to be destroyed,” Lois told him, “But most disappeared. I… Lois Lane almost climbed into a crate of illegal guns being shipped out of the Congo.”

“What stopped y… her?” Clark asked.

“Security. They caught her and deported her back to Metropolis. I doubt they’d let me back into the country. I… she never found out where the guns ended up.”

“So, you think the guns that disappeared from the Congo are the ones that fueled the civil war in Berkistan?”

She nodded.

“Wait a minute? What year was Lois lost in the Congo?” His eyes had grown huge.

Lois knew he knew the answer to that question, but she rubbed it in just the same. “The same year that Lois Lane went to the Congo. 1993. Right before you, Clark Kent, started here.” Duh.

“Berkistan!” Clark smacked himself in the forehead. “Why in the world would I look in Berkistan, when she got lost in the Congo? This is it. This is the missing link.”

“And what were Lex Luthor and Bill Church really doing in Berkistan in ‘93?” Lois inquired.

“You don’t think that…”

“Think what?” She looked at him curiously.

“That Lex really had anything to do with Lois’s disappearance?”

Lois frowned. “I hope not.”

Hope flared in Clark’s eyes. “Maybe she’s still alive.”

“It could also have been Bill Church.”

“Has he ever shown any interest in you-know-who?”

“Me? No. Church did try to have one of his flunkies extort Sup… Kal. Threaten to kill me or Jimmy or Perry, should he interfere with Intergang’s expansion plans.” She smiled. “It’s a funny story, really. Since Superman couldn’t show his colors in the Westside, he went undercover as a policeman.” She released a deep breath, thinking about how her husband must have looked in MPD blue. “I do love a man in uniform.” She looked him up and down.

“What?” he asked hesitantly.

“Maybe you should try it, see if it helps with Mayson’s Superman problem.”

“She doesn’t have a problem. She just prefers me,” he retorted.

Lois leaned closer, lowering her voice. “What you’re forgetting here is that he’s a part of you. You are…”

WIN A DATE WITH SUPERMAN’S CLARK KENT! Ralph walked up with the blazing headline. “What do you think, Clark?”

“That sounds awful,” he groaned.

“Great! We’ll run with it.” Ralph actually turned and acknowledged Lois. “Good work ethic. Don’t let them get you down, researcher.” He walked off.

“Can I throw my smoothie at him?” She snarled, holding up her cup. “Researcher, ha!”

“Lucy, your cup is empty. And no. What does my friend Lucy say when life hits me over the head with bad news? Oh yeah life lesson on the house.”

“I do not. I say, suck it up. I told Kal that life lesson thing.” She pouted.

“Really? That’s horrible. What did you do?”

“Me?” Lois batted her eyelashes innocently. “Who says I did anything?”

He raised a brow.

“Okay. I stole a Superman story from him. In my defense, Clark Kent is Superman. I just didn’t know it at the time. So, it really was a life lesson for him.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” he said, turning back to his monitor.

“You still haven’t told me why you asked Cat Grant out.”

“You’re jealous!” He chuckled softly as if he enjoyed that idea.

“Am not. I just don’t trust her.” She lowered her voice. “His whole first year at the paper, she tried and tried and tried to get Kal to date her and he said he never did. It made him more attractive that she wasn’t the kind of girl he liked.”

“I didn’t date her my first year here, either, in case you’re wondering.” Clark pursed his lips. “Of course, it helped that I had a steady, and extremely jealous, girlfriend to fall back on. But that didn’t stop Cat from trying. I’m not her type any more though.”

“Type? She doesn’t have a type, besides male.”

“She’s changed,” he told her.

“Yeah, I noticed the tastefulness. I almost didn’t recognize her.”

Someone walked by with a box of donuts. Lucy jumped up and grabbed a couple. She sat down and Clark looked at her. She sighed and handed one to him.

“Thank you. And I didn’t mean her style. After that asteroid almost hit Earth, she gave up on men, sex, and the whole dating scene for about a year.”

“What?” Lois choked.

He took a bite of his donut. She impatiently waited for him to finish chewing.

“She was celibate for about a year, then decided to give up on men altogether.”

“What?” Lois was confused. Cat Grant? Celibate?

Clark held up the invitation. “This is the event we’re going to together.”

“GLAAD’s Annual Ball. What does this… Oh. Altogether, altogether.”

He nodded.

“Wow! I didn’t see that one coming.”

“It’s nice to see you speechless every once in a while.” He leaned back in his chair and actually beamed at her.

She dismissed his comment with a wave of her hand. “Back to that asteroid thing.” She leaned in. “I know I’m supposed to be doing my homework on the history of this dimension and everything, but it’s too recent for the history books. How did you get rid of the asteroid without Superman?”

“You didn’t read my article for the Daily Planet?” Clark asked, taking another bite of his donut.

“You just wrote that it shattered on its own, spreading its debris outward, not towards Earth.” She kept her voice low. “Is that true?”

“Man, you just have to know everything, don’t you?” He gazed at her with admiration.

She waited patiently.

“Off the record, Ms. Lane? No.” He grinned.

A smile spread across her face. “Put that on our to-do list. I want to hear the whole story. Off the record, of course.”

“Of course.” He picked up another card off his desk. “I’ll tell you the whole story, if you agree to be one of the 1001 dates of Clark Kent. Perry sent over a list of events at City Hall this fall. I’ve got the perfect one, it’s on Halloween.”

“Halloween?” She lowered her gaze, the smile gone from her face. “That’s more than three months away, Clark.”

Clark took her elbow and led her into the conference room. After the door was shut, he turned to her. “What are you telling me, Lois?”

“The curse is broken. I’m free to go. H.G. Wells could be here any day now to take me home. I appreciate all that you’ve done for me, but I don’t have a reason to stay away any longer,” Lois said, looking him in the eyes.

“Oh.” The hope that she had seen in his eyes earlier flickered, dimmed, and then went out completely. “I understand. You want to go home to Kal. If you were my Lois, I’d want you back, too.”

She winced. “Please, Clark, don’t. I still want to help you find Lois, I do. But Kal needs me.”

“He has the younger… Lois, have you any idea how you are going to convince the younger you to give up being married to Kal and go back to the worst day of her life?”

Lois’s jaw dropped. “That’s my life, my time, my husband. We can just take her and drop her back in her old timeslot. No harm, no foul.”

Clark frowned, crossing his arms. “No, you can’t. Because you’re going to need my help to get her back there at that precise moment and I refuse to take her back to that horrific situation unless you can convince her to go willingly. I refuse to do that to you; I’m surprised you would do that to yourself.”

“I don’t need you.” Lois looked directly into his eyes as she stood up straighter and crossed her arms. “I’ll just have my husband take her back.”

But as soon as she said it, she knew her Clark was just as unlikely to send her double back into the past without her consent, either. Did Lois really want her Clark involved in this whole dimensional switch thing, anyway? It was bad enough that they were going to have to explain about making the switch to him, about lying to him. If she could convince this Clark to make the switch, then she could just slip into her dimension like nothing had happened. It was still early in her pregnancy. Her Clark would never need to know everything that had happened when she made her alternate dimension detour. Never need to know how she had kissed this Clark when she thought the New Kryptonians had disintegrated him, how she had begged him to make love to her. She needed this Clark to make the switch.

“You don’t need me? Fine.” He turned to leave, but then stopped and his shoulders drooped along with his voice. “Go back to your perfect life with your perfect man and his perfect family. Go ahead, leave me with yet another Lois Lane mess to clean up.”

“Clark.” She reached for him, but he pulled away. “I don’t belong here. Your Lois is out there, somewhere, waiting for you to rescue her.”

He shook his head in defeat. “It doesn’t really matter, anyway. Mayson likes me.”

“But she hates Superman. Lois is your soul mate.”

“And you’re not?” He turned his gaze on her, filled with yearning.

“I’m Kal’s soul mate,” she whispered, her voice catching in her throat. “His.”

“Really? Just his?” Clark raised a brow. “Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t feel this thing between us.” He gazed at her with a hint of a smile and her heart went flip-flop. Damn his Clark Kent charm.

She was just going to deny it. Lois’s mouth opened and then closed. Come on, Lane, you can lie to this man, she told herself. Her mouth opened again as she pointed to him, but then closed again as she withdrew her finger. Lie to him? Why would it be a lie? she asked herself. Oooh, that man! She glared at him with a mixture of fire and ice in her eyes. She stepped forward and slapped him across the face.

Clark nodded. “Just as I thought.” He turned and left the room.

Lois watched him leave, feeling as if all the joy from her weekend had just been leached from her bones. She wrapped her arms around her tummy and dropped into one of the conference room chairs. She stared into space as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

***

Chapter 3 — One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Author’s Note: I have altered the timeline of the show in this chapter by moving Tempus’s John Doe presidential bid to its correct spot after Ghosts (October/Halloween 1996), and around the time of Stop the Presses (i.e. November 1996).

***

Two months later…

Dr. Klein took the bent piece of metal from Superman. “Okay, that was the strongest metal found on Earth and you crushed it like a tin can. Impressive. We’ll have to find something harder.”

Superman nodded.

“Have you tried to see how far your x-ray and heat vision work?”

“I have a decent range. But I have never measured it.”

“Okay. We’ll try that next week.” Dr. Klein pressed his lips together for a moment. “As your doctor, there was something else I wanted to discuss with you.”

Superman looked at him curiously and waited. And waited. And waited.

“We’ve been working regularly together for two months now, so I feel we can talk openly about this, right?”

Tilting his head, Superman tried to fathom where Dr. Klein’s mind was headed.

Dr. Klein took another glance around the lab and, despite it being just the two of them left in the room, lowered his voice. “One of the lab assistants noticed that you come here on a fairly regular basis, and advised me that you’ve been dating lots of different women. Is this true?”

Superman nodded.

“You are taking precautions. Using protection?”

Superman’s eyes widened. “Against these women? Do I need to?”

Dr. Klein winced. “We’ve established that you are similar to a regular human male. Women are different from men, physically. You understand that, right?”

“I was engaged to be married, Dr. Klein. I do understand the difference between men and women.”

Dr. Klein released a breath of gratitude. “So, you are taking precautions then?”

“Precaution from what? The only thing we’ve discovered that can hurt me is Kryptonite.” Superman was confused.

Dr. Klein wrapped an arm around Superman’s shoulder. “Then you aren’t really dating a lot of women, if you don’t understand how a woman can crush a man like a tin can.”

“No,” Superman said. “I’m attending social events with a lot of different women for charity.”

“Phew.” Dr. Klein chuckled softly to himself. “If I had to go into the dangers of ….” He shook his head.

Superman joined in Dr. Klein’s awkward laughter. “You’d think we were discussing the birds and bees.”

The scientist cringed. He took a deep breath. “I’m not a medical doctor, Superman. Understand that this is a difficult subject for me to discuss specifically with any other man.”

“What subject are we discussing?” Superman asked, intrigued.

“Sex.”

“Oh.” Superman nodded. “Oh.” Definitely the birds and the bees. His eyes went wide. Oh, those kinds of precautions. “Sorry.”

“You understand my discomfort, then. Just tell me your experience in that department and we can move on, okay?”

This time it was Superman who checked for wayward ears. “I don’t have any experience in that department.”

“You don’t?” Dr. Klein seemed a little surprised.

“Not a fact I want spread around, Dr. Klein,” Superman said in his intimidating voice.

“Of course. Doctor-patient confidentiality. One hundred percent,” Dr. Klein reassured him. “You were engaged without experimenting with the test subject first?”

Superman paused, uncomfortable. Sometimes the way Dr. Klein expressed everyday things in scientific terms unnerved him. “My situation is different because I’m different. I’ve waited, so that my first time would be with someone I trust completely.”

“I’m not a therapist, but you were engaged to someone you didn’t trust completely?”

Superman shrugged. “I thought if we actually got married, despite everything different about me, I could trust her. We never made it that far, so I’m glad I waited. Now that I’m Superman, I must be completely one hundred percent sure of someone before I could allow such intimacy.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Dr. Klein replied with a nod.

“Is there enough compatibility between my biology and human women for me to father a child, Dr. Klein?”

The researcher thought about this for a minute. “That’s a good question, Superman. Let’s run some tests next week, when you come in for your appointment. But in the meantime, if you decide to take the plunge with a woman, best cover up.” Then Dr. Klein continued, clearly not wanting him to misunderstand, “Should you decide to become intimate, use protection.”

“Of course.” Superman nodded.

***

Dearest Clark —

I cannot believe it is the first day of autumn already. I am four months pregnant now and beginning to show. Although you’d have to see me naked to tell. No one who does not already know will find out. Lucy El’s style of extremely baggy pants and flouncy shirts should keep my secret safe. Coat and sweater season will be upon us before we know it and the extra layers will make it easier to hide my growing belly. I miss you, terribly, and wish I could be sharing all this with you.

The nausea has finally subsided and I can eat again. Yea! When Dad weighed me yesterday, I had lost thirteen pounds since the first time he weighed me. Who knew that having a baby would be the best diet I’d ever be on?

My father and I snuck into the University Hospital last night and did an ultrasound on their big fancy machine. I felt almost like my old self again… or since my old self is in jail… like I was on the lam. My dad wanted a better look at the baby than he could get with his old sports ultrasound machine. He was worried because the baby’s heart rate was double a normal baby’s at this stage. I reassured him that so is yours. I even made him check Kal’s heart rate for comparison. But Kal agreed with Dad. So, we broke into the ultrasound room at 1:45a.m. Dad was reassured. He could see the heart, arms, legs, and even the baby’s bottom. I only saw a grey blob. He even took a photo. It still looks like a grey blob.

It was extra scary to break into the hospital without Kal’s help. I was afraid that if we got caught in person or on a surveillance camera, it would cause him more problems with the tabloids. So, we will tell him about our trip this afternoon.

Kal and Mayson are still dating, if you can call it that. They meet for lunch at the D.P. or he zips over to her place for dinner. He’s trying to keep a positive attitude, but this week alone she was called away during dinner and he away from lunch. He’s still working his way through the fifty ‘Win a Date with Superman’s Clark Kent’ winners (Ralph chose the title). With at least three events a week, he’s only made it through roughly half of the winners in the past two months. He’ll finish sometime during the holidays. I wish we had more news on Lex Luthor; the more we learn about him, the more I’m convinced that he has Kal’s Lois Lane.

Now, I know I didn’t tell you the detail I’m about to reveal. I didn’t want to worry you. Before you groan “Lo-is” the way you do when you know I’m about to do something you don’t want me to do, please hear me out. I’m telling you now because if I don’t share this with someone I’ll burst.

Kal said that Jaxon told him that the Neuroscanner allowed a person to watch through the eyes of whoever’s genetic fingerprint it was linked to. Jaxon told him that the device went haywire when Superman arrived on the scene. And the last image Junior saw on the monitors was Superman’s. That means whoever was looking at Superman has an identical genetic fingerprint to Lex Luthor’s wife! Right? Who was the person who taught Kal how to be Superman? Who wasn’t in this dimension before and might have caused the circuits to overload due to two people with the same genetic fingerprint causing conflicting visual images and auditory sounds?

Do you see where I am going with this? Of course you do, which is why I love you. Kal is oblivious. He isn’t as tuned in to me as you are. And sometimes, I’m quite thankful for that. But sometimes, it’s so frustrating and infuriating — having to wait for him to catch up to my hopscotch logic — that it makes me miss you even more.

The night he told me about his interview with Jaxon, we were doing a Jericho Firestorm… did I ever tell you that story? Well, if I haven’t, ask Perry; he really tells it best. Anyway, this dimension’s Perry, Jimmy, and Mayson were listening. I couldn’t very well share my hypothesis then, without a lot of explaining and revealing of facts Kal and I want kept secret. Then that weekend, you and I started our honeymoon and I was distracted enough to forget about everything else. Just thinking about it distracts me.

The memories of our honeymoon were almost like actually being there. I mean, I was actually there. You did make love to me. She is me — just a younger me. I simply didn’t remember it until it happened to her. Crazy as I sound, I have a good excuse. I am living in both the present and the past at the same time. She is my past, but she’s living in the present same as me. I could taste your kisses. And feel your caresses. And the floating was very nice, too. Of course, it wasn’t our first time. Actually, it’s kind of funny — you got to make love to me for the first time, twice. Once with me and once with the younger me. Hold on, the baby’s kicking up a storm.

I’m back. Had to use the bathroom. Baby kicks me in the bladder. Maybe Baby’s saying, Mama, the Kryptonian in me doesn’t want to see those pictures in your head of Daddy and you on your honeymoon. I’m just joking. I’m sure our child cannot read minds. I hope!

Anyway, back to telling you about trying to tell Kal about my lightbulb moment. We went on our honeymoon…. And Kal has been trying so hard to be the best boyfriend to Mayson. Then I realized that I couldn’t reveal to him that his Lois is married to Lex. How am I ever going to tell him? It would a) break his heart (bet you would agree with me there) and b) ruin his new relationship with Mayson. I would like to say I have high hopes for Mayson and Kal, but truth be told, I cannot.

Firstly, Kal is destined to love his Lois and if she returns, which I have on great authority she will, it won’t matter well, actually, it will matter to him that she’s married to Lex. It’ll crush him. So when Lois returns, Mayson won’t like it one bit; she’s just like Lana in that regard. Secondly, even though she knows that Kal is SM, there’s still something about SM that Mayson doesn’t like. Personally, I don’t understand her aversion. I love the blue suit and being flown around by you. (Kal rarely is SM around me, so I haven’t seen ‘him’ much.)

Oh, Clark. I just thought about flying around with you and the baby started kicking again. She likes it when I think about you. No, I don’t know for sure the baby is a girl. It’s just a feeling.

Now, what was I writing about before I got distracted? Right, Jaxon. It’s been two months since we were shot by Junior. I mean, Jaxon was shot; the bullet kind of passed right through my shoulder — I was phasing out of existence at that moment (thank you, Wedding Destroyer). I wanted to visit him in the hospital, but Kal was against the idea — said you would be, too — and by the time I was able to sneak away undetected, Jaxon had checked out. He wasn’t staying at his apartment either; his landlady said he went out of town to recover. I got so desperate that I even asked Mayson where he was. She wouldn’t tell me — I don’t think she knew he had left, but she would never tell me that — then the little tattletale told Kal I was looking for Jaxon. And I got a stern talking-to.

I don’t know what it is with men like Kal as soon as a woman gets pregnant he thinks he can treat her like a child and say he’s doing it to protect her. Today no, wait, today’s Sunday, it must have been Friday I heard through the rumor mill that Jaxon returned to Metropolis, mostly recovered, and will be coming back to work tomorrow! I can finally talk to him about his stepmother. And see how accurate my hypothesis is. Then I just have to figure out how to tell Kal and Sam that Lois is married to Lex. Ugh. Just the thought of that gives me the willies. Poor Lois.

I miss you so much. I wish there were a way I could come home. Even when you are able to get the murder charges against me dropped, Kal still won’t return the younger me to the past until I can think of a way to convince her to go willingly. He’s too noble (read: stubborn) in that regard. Reminds me a bit of you. How can I convince the younger me to leave you and go back to Amnesiaville? How can I convince her that the past really is her true place in the timeline? That this blissful future we have together can only happen if she returns? Will she believe that I’m her… only a pregnant her? I remember how I was before I got pregnant: not ready for the responsibility, not ready for motherhood. How will I convince myself that this is really what she/I want?

Take care, Husband. I love how you decorated our new apartment, and cannot wait to share it with you. If only there was a way for me to come home. I miss you so much and my fantasy dreams from our honeymoon are fading and turning into nightmares of me pacing in an eight by eight cell. Keep the younger me safe, Clark. If anything were to happen to her… we’d disappear forever.

Okay, enough talking about the bad stuff in my lives. I’m going to sign off now and think more about you; see if I can get our baby to kick some more. Oh, how I wish I could share this with you. Have you place your hand on my belly and wait for the bump, bump of her kick. She’s quite a strong kicker. Now, if only she’d stop using my bladder as a soccer ball.

Love you always and forever, LL

***

Clark flew over the trees and fields. He hadn’t been to Smallville in over a year. Lana had dragged him down to celebrate Christmas with her family two years earlier. She always said Christmas was for families and she wanted to have him spend it with hers. He couldn’t stand being around her family, and had wanted it to be just the two of them in Metropolis. All that love and joy and happiness, when he had none, hurt too much. He felt like an outsider, never truly welcome.

But it wasn’t Christmas now. It was September. Why was his mind dreaming of Smallville? Of the Kent farm? Of the farmhouse where he had shared love and happiness with his parents? He landed outside the farmhouse and stared at its dusty and neglected shell. He hadn’t been to the house in years and it certainly looked it. Was it still there? Did it still look like this? Was that tree he used to climb and dream of faraway places still just outside his bedroom window? He wanted to go home. He looked in through the window and heard the phone ring. How did this abandoned house still have phone service?

Clark’s eyes flew open. He sat up in bed and picked up the phone.

“Clark?” It was Sam.

He looked at the clock. It was 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning. “What’s wrong?”

“Can you come over?”

Clark was gone before the receiver fell onto the base. Superman blew open Lois’s living room windows. “What’s the matter?”

Sam was still standing at the phone. He looked tired, exhausted really. The man blinked his eyes at Clark and then hung up the phone.

“I got up in the middle of the night. Old men have to do that, you know. On my way back to bed, I thought I’d check on Lucy. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing that since she disappeared two months ago. I just have to check.”

Clark blanched. “Is she gone?” Oh, please, God! Please have him say no.

“No. No, not exactly. Maybe I should just show you.”

They walked down the hall in silence. Sam pushed open the door. Lois’s bed was empty, even her comforter was missing.

“Where—?” Clark sputtered. Sam had said….

Sam pointed up. Lois was sleeping on the ceiling. Blanket draped over her, just like she was asleep in bed.

“It almost gave me a heart attack. I didn’t know what to do,” Sam whispered. “If she woke up there…” He shivered.

Clark smiled. “I’ll get her down.”

“Thanks.”

Superman floated up to the ceiling, scooped Lois into his arms and drifted down to the bed with her. He laid her on her bed, properly on her left side, and tucked the blankets around her. Stepping back, he bumped a paper off her side table. Picking it up, he saw it was an ultrasound photo of the baby.

“Is this…?” He held it up to Sam, who nodded. “Wow. Wait. Where did you get an ultrasound photo?”

Sam held a finger up to his lips and they stepped out of Lois’s room. “She didn’t want to tell you. But we broke into the ultrasound room at the University Hospital this morning.”

“Without me?” Clark was shocked and a bit angered. What if they had been caught?

“She didn’t want to bring you. You’ve sacrificed so much for her already. She thought if something went wrong, she didn’t want you to be implicated.”

Lois was protecting him. Clark exhaled and stared at the photo to distract himself from thinking about what that might mean.

“That’s her head, arms, and bottom. Her legs are tucked up on the other side,” Sam explained.

“It’s a girl?” Clark asked, glancing at the man.

“I have no idea. I’m not that good at identifying body parts on an ultrasound machine. Lucy calls the baby a her.”

Clark’s heart was beating so loud, he wondered if Sam could hear it. It felt like he was looking at his future. Maybe someday, he’d be sharing a moment like this with someone. A child of his own. And this, this was his little… “Niece or nephew,” Clark said the words aloud. “Wow. Family.” That one word tugged at his heart more than it usually did. He handed the photo back to Sam.

“Lucy is very excited. She insisted that we print a photo, so she could show you. So act surprised,” Sam suggested with a wink. He stared at the picture for a moment and then added, “Should I be worried?”

“About what?” Clark asked. Sam had lost him.

“The flying?”

“Oh. That.” Clark had meant to talk to Sam about this for over a month, but he kept getting distracted. He sat down on the sofa. “This isn’t a normal pregnancy.”

Sam followed to the couch opposite. “I’m not an idiot, Clark.”

Clark lowered his voice; he didn’t want to wake Lois. “She has taken on some of my… technically, Kal’s abilities.”

“Such as?”

“Super hearing.”

“Uh-huh,” Sam whispered. “She’d love that. Lois always loved to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.”

“She also has increased healing powers,” Clark explained.

“What do you mean?” This interested Sam.

“I didn’t cauterize her gunshot wound with my heat vision. It had already healed when I first noticed she’d been shot.”

“My Lois has always been one to step towards danger, when others would step away.” Sam shook his head.

“That’s Lucy in a nutshell, which is why I never told her about the super healing.”

“And now, flying.”

“Floating, really. If we don’t tell her that she’s flying in her dreams, she might not try to access that ability.” It was more a hope than a reality, but at least they would be able to delay that knowledge for a while.

Sam nodded. “She takes enough risks already. Do you think she’ll get more of these abilities? Like heat vision? A girl with her anger…” He shivered at the thought.

“I don’t know, Sam. This is all new territory for me too.”

Sam thought for a minute. “Is it possible to get a blood sample?”

“You’ve taken blood from her before, I don’t see why it should be different now.”

“I mean from you. For comparison.”

This surprised Clark. “I’ve never bled. When Dr. Klein tried to draw blood, I busted three needles before he gave up.” He patted his arm. “Impervious is impervious.”

They sat in silence. Clark stared at the photo that Sam had dropped on the coffee table. This little miracle child. Even though it wasn’t his, it easily could have been. Just seeing the proof — even if it was a grainy photo — changed him, pulled him towards Lois again, if not physically, then emotionally. He knew he would protect her and the child as if they were his own. He would die to save them, if necessary. “Do you think she has changed physically?” he asked Sam.

“Obviously. She didn’t used to heal herself from bullets or float, I’m betting.”

“No, I meant permanently.”

“Ah. That’s the big question. Will she retain these new abilities after the baby’s born?” Sam shrugged, shaking his head. “Who knows? She’s the first of her kind. Although, I wouldn’t mind if she became permanently impervious.”

They both grinned.

“Neither would Kal.”

“Could you stay?” Sam inquired. “Sit in her room and make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

“Of course,” Clark answered, amazed at the trust that this man now put in him. A few months ago, Lois’s father was ready to throw him out the window for being in her room. Of course, Clark had been in bed with her at the time. Things had changed; Sam was still scared for her safety, but now in a completely different way. “I can’t stand guard every night or she might try to kill us both.”

“She does like things her way. For tonight, at least. So I can get some sleep.”

Clark nodded and they walked back to the bedrooms. Sam went into the guest room and Clark peered in at Lois, still sleeping soundly in her bed. He set the ultrasound photo back on her bedside table. Sitting down in the chair by her window, he wrapped his cape around himself. He didn’t think he would be able to get back asleep.

So, Lois could float. He wondered how different life would be for Lois and Kal if her new abilities remained. He remembered her telling him about Ultra Woman. How the emotional burden was too much for her, but that was when Kal had lost his powers. She had been alone as a superhero. It was definitely more difficult to be alone. How nice it would be to have someone to fly with; they could do anything, go anywhere. It would be wonderful to have someone with whom to share it all. Someone invulnerable, like him, so he wasn’t always needing to worry. Kal was always the lucky one.

If Lois had acquired his abilities would that mean she would also be susceptible to Kryptonite? She wasn’t from Krypton, so would that glowing green rock have the same effect on her? Not that he would ever test that theory. He remembered the bone-chilling pain he felt at the debate when Tempus produced the Kryptonite. Oh, that hurt the way he imagined a thousand knives stabbing a human would feel. No, he could never do that to her. He could not risk her health or that of the baby’s to test such a theory. She might not have a reaction to Kryptonite, but the baby might. It was part of him… Kal.

Clark’s eyes focused on Lois again. She slept so peacefully. He wondered what she was dreaming about. Was her younger self still on trial for murder?

He had come so close to losing her. Lois had her bag packed — not that there was much she was going to take back with her — her photographs and few personal belongings. Lois claimed to have thought of something to convince her younger self to go back, but Clark didn’t believe her. He figured she was going to wing it, think of something on the spot; that was more her style. Then she waited day after day after day, but H.G. Wells never came for her.

One morning, Lois awoke in tears, saying that her younger self had been jailed for murder. Lois didn’t want to do the switch only to end up in jail; she would wait until Kal cleared her name. She wasn’t sure how he would do that, though, since she had been holding the gun when it went off.

It wasn’t like Lois could return without H.G. Wells and his time machine anyway. Clark had been kind enough to refrain from mentioning that part to her.

Six weeks passed and Lois’s trial began this week. But she was still worried. Kal was worried. Someone had made a hologram of her walking down the street aiming a gun at a witness. Obviously, someone wanted her in jail badly. If she didn’t get out soon, this Lois would be too far along in her pregnancy to return without a ton of questions.

Lois told Clark that she wasn’t going to hide the truth from Kal — she would tell him everything. And her husband would have no qualms taking her back four months pregnant. But explaining it to their parents (although technically Martha already knew) and Perry was a completely different story. The two of them hadn’t even been married four months ago. Although, that was not as important in this day and age.

The longer the younger Lois was in jail, the more likely it was that this Lois would stay here for her entire pregnancy. Clark smiled. Selfishly, he was happy that she was still there. Since getting shot, she had helped him capture three more bad guys from her past. She also worked long hours with Mr. Olsen sifting through the data about local Metropolis utilities, media outlets, scientific laboratories, and real estate collected by Jaxon.

Clark didn’t like how close she had become with his boss. It was causing talk in the office. But a part of her didn’t care; this wasn’t her ‘real’ life. And a part of him was thrilled that the office scuttlebutt no longer linked Superman’s name with hers.

Mayson didn’t like Lois in the least and hated that Clark trusted her implicitly. She despised that he spent his whole day working with Lucy, when she had to sneak around just to have lunch with him. He could no longer mention Lucy’s name without Mayson rolling her eyes. He didn’t know what it was about her that Mayson didn’t like, but he knew the fact that he refused to give up his friendship with Lucy was driving a wedge into his relationship with Mayson. Clark would have to tell Mayson the truth — or some reasonable facsimile of the truth — soon, or risk losing her.

He had offered to take Mayson away for the weekend. But she only agreed to go if they drove. She treated Superman with only common courtesy, like an annoying Siamese twin she had to deal with, and never failed to mention his mistakes. He hadn’t Mirandized that bank robber. He had damaged property when removing hostages from a bank vault. He had dangled a gangster off a building for information.

They were even running out of topics of conversation. As a rule, Mayson didn’t speak of active investigations, so they could not discuss her work. She refused to speak about Bill Church anymore when Clark said that he and Lucy had found links tying him to Intergang. Mayson was sick to death of Lex Luthor and thought he and Lucy were trying to build a case against a perfectly innocent man.

He liked that Mayson liked Clark for Clark. He was tired of seeing the disappointed expressions on his contest winners’ faces when he showed up instead of Superman. Lois had been right, the tabloids were getting bored with him. ‘Clark Kent went out with another nobody. They danced. They ate. They talked.’ Boring. Boring. Boring.

The tabloids had gone back to printing obvious lies. He grinned. Strangely, they all had to do with intimate relations he had never had. ‘I Gave Birth to Superman’s Twins.’ ‘Superman Used Mind Control to Ravish My Body.’ ‘My Weekend at Superman’s Love Cave.’ Like he would have a cave — love or otherwise.

He had ended a few dates early to answer a call for help. The women were thrilled to see Superman, even for a moment, but all the tabloids could write was that ‘Superman Ditches Date to Save Family of Four.’ Not exactly bad press. He even offered to reschedule the dates. They couldn’t even fault him that.

Thanks to Cat Grant, each woman was informed in advance that if he were needed he would leave. None of the women seemed to mind. They had their personal time with their hero, and got their fix. They were also warned that there would be no physical contact (i.e. no kissing). Cat had been a great liaison between him and the dates. She always made sure that if the woman chose a formal event, she had appropriate attire. She wouldn’t let Clark arrive at a classy event with an inappropriately dressed date. She also made sure that each date got a nice photo with Clark.

Lois still regarded Cat suspiciously, as though it was an act and the woman might jump his bones at any moment. But Lois was getting better. He was beginning to wonder if the Cat in Lois’s dimension was way worse than this Cat had ever been.

His eyes started to droop. He tried to stay awake, but it was still early in the morning and he was tired. He had had to ditch a date to help after a natural gas explosion in Baltimore earlier.

Soon, he was flying over Smallville once again.

“Clark!” Lois’s voice pulled him from his dream. Why did he keep thinking of the old Kent house? He blinked his eyes and tried to focus on her.

Lois was glowing again. Her hair was shiny and bright, even if it was getting a tad bit shaggy. She was so happy that, if she knew she could float, she would be hitting the ceiling.

He had meant to sneak out to the couch before she woke, but instead of being angry with him, she actually looked glad… no, excited to see him. She jumped off the bed and ran to him. She grabbed his hand and placed it on her tummy. Bump. Bump. The baby was kicking. The hairs on his arms actually stood up. Wow! He smiled.

“Did you see the photo? Where did I put it?” She ran to her bedside table and brought it to him. “She’s normal. Normal! Legs, arms, head, heart. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. And she’s healthy. Okay, her heart rate is faster than a hummingbird’s, but nobody’s perfect.” She hugged her tummy. “Except mommy’s little one.”

“Do you think it’s right to keep calling the baby a ‘she’? What if you’re wrong? Wouldn’t it give the baby a complex or something?” he teased her.

Lois gasped, clapping her hand over her mouth. “I’m sure I’m right, but only 97% sure. You’re right. What if we have a son? Oh, thank you, Clark. You think of everything.” She ran up and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She gasped again. “Clark, you’re in the blue suit.”

He closed his eyes. Okay, here comes the explosion. What was he doing in her bedroom? Had he been watching her? Spying on her?

“Take me flying.”

“What?” His jaw fell.

“I want to see what the baby thinks of flying. I dreamed I was flying last night. I actually had a dream, a normal everyday dream for once. I’m so sick of pacing inside a jail cell. Anyway, she… Baby kicks more when I’m close to you. I think Baby thinks you’re her daddy.” Her eyes widened. “Is that a bad thing? Am I a bad mom?” She plopped down on the bed, head in her hands, crying.

“Lois?” he asked, sitting down next to her. “You’re the best mother I know. Who else would ask Superman to take her baby flying before it was born?”

Lois looked up through her fingertips. “Really?”

He nodded.

She wiped the tears off her face. “So, you’ll do it? I haven’t gone flying since I’ve gotten here. If you don’t count being saved.”

“You’re right. This is the baby’s heritage and it needs to fly more.” Clark smiled, reassuring her.

Lois grinned, tears completely gone. “Exactly. Where should we go?” She bit her lip as she thought about this.

Clark almost suggested Smallville, but it didn’t feel right to take this Lois to Smallville. She had been to Smallville in her dimension. This Smallville didn’t have the Kents and wasn’t quite as nice of a place, he imagined, without them. “Someplace far.”

“Right, the tabloids. Paris? Oooh. I would love some croissants. Pain au chocolat. Yum.”

He smiled. “Paris it is. It’s kind of chilly out today, so bundle up.” Standing up, he started toward the door. “I’ll let you change.”

“Clark.”

He turned around.

“Thank you.” She beamed at him and his heart did that flip-flop thing it only did for her. “You’re the best uncle ever!”

Clark grinned. Uncle. He liked the sound of that.

***

As they returned to Lois’s building, a couple of bags of croissants in hand, Clark saw something that sent a chill down his spine. He landed on the roof and groaned. They had decided they could land faster on the roof with less chance of being photographed than if they entered through her window.

“Clark, what’s wrong?”

“Mayson’s car is outside.” Did he have a date with Mayson that he had blanked on? It was possible, his schedule was crazy. But if he did, what was she doing here?

“That’s strange. She never comes here. Wait.” She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her belly. “Baby was lulled to sleep over the Atlantic, but now that we’re no longer flying, Baby’s kicking again.”

“Lois, you can’t do that in front of Mayson,” he reminded her. “She’ll get the wrong impression.”

“I know.” She gave him an encouraging smile, dropping his hand. “I just wanted you to know the baby liked flying with you.”

“Bring her over when she’s a teenager and I’ll give her flying lessons,” Clark suggested, opening the roof door for her.

Lois elbowed him. “I thought we weren’t assuming Baby’s gender.”

“Ninety-seven is pretty close to a hundred. And anyway, I trust your judgment.”

“Thank you, Clark. That was fun. We never get to hang out anymore, just as Lois and Clark.”

“Whose idea was it for me to date half of Metropolis?”

“Guilty.” She laughed and then blanched, stumbling against him. “That’s why I had a dream about flying last night, wasn’t it? My brain was shielding me from the truth.”

“What truth?”

“About the trial.”

“I thought the trial hadn’t started yet?” He opened the stairwell door to the fifth floor.

“Her present is my past. I was able to foretell the New Kryptonians, wasn’t I?” Lois reminded him.

He wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “You’re panicking. Nothing’s decided yet.”

“You’re right. There’s still time for Kal to save me.” She patted her pockets, finally finding her keys. Before opening the door, she turned to Clark and lowered her voice. “If Mayson’s here, maybe you should go back to the stairwell and change.”

Clark glanced down at his blue suit. “I always forget. Thanks, Lois.”

“Lucy.”

“I knew that.” He grinned sheepishly. Oops.

She opened the door and held up the bags. “Daddy, I have croissants.” She stopped two steps into her apartment, probably at the realization that she called Lois’s father ‘Daddy’ in front of his girlfriend. “Mayson, what a surprise. To what do we owe this pleasure?”

A second later, Clark was standing behind her. “Subtle,” he whispered too low for the others to hear. “Lucy, you’re blocking the door. Mayson! Good morning. We didn’t have a date, did we?”

Mayson looked between the two of them with a raised brow. “That’s a good question.”

“Us?” Lucy scoffed. “We just went out for croissants. There’s this great boulangerie in Paris—”

“Paris, France?” Mayson’s lips pressed into a snarl.

“Shut up,” Clark hissed at Lois.

“You should really try one. Better yet, let Clark take you to Paris. A mini-holiday.” Lois smiled, holding out the bag. She really was trying, but with every word she was digging him a deeper hole with his glowering girlfriend.

“Did either of you think to take your passports with you?”

The smile vanished from Lois’s face. She turned to Clark. “Why did I encourage you to date her, again?” She didn’t even try to whisper.

Clark rubbed his face. Having spent half the night here, he needed to shave. “Mayson—”

She stood up. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Jones, or whatever your name is. Enjoy your breakfast.” She walked towards the door, pushing past Lois. “Clark. Hall. Now.”

Lois grimaced at him. “Sorry.”

“Clark, I’d like to bend your ear about something when you’re done,” Sam called from the living room as Clark went into the hall.

Mayson closed the door and held up her hand, indicating that she didn’t want him to speak. “Enough, Clark. I’ve had enough. Meet me at Clinton Street in half an hour. And bring the truth with you.” She walked down the hall with a flip of her hand.

Why? Why? Why? Clark rested his head against the door. He had been having such a good morning, too.

He opened the door and Lois was standing in the living room, her shirt raised, having Sam Lane feel the baby kick.

“Have you felt this?” Sam asked, excitement in his eyes. “Oh, sweetie.” He seemed as thrilled as Clark had felt when he first placed his hand on Lois’s tummy that morning.

“She loves to fly, Daddy. So I made Clark take me out. Please, don’t be angry at him. It’s all my fault.”

“Why would he be angry with me?” Clark asked.

“Oh, he asked that I not go flying. He’s worried I might fall and hurt the baby.” Lois shoved a pain au chocolat into her mouth. “You’ve got to try one of these, Clark.”

“I’ll have a plain one, thanks,” he said as she went into the kitchen.

“You have a girlfriend?” Sam asked with a raised brow.

Clark glanced over his shoulder at the door. “Apparently, that is up for debate.”

“Sorry, I forgot. When the phone rang this morning, I just answered it. It was Mayson wondering if you were here.”

“Great, she’s hunting me down now.” Clark wiped a hand down his weary face.

“When I told her that you weren’t here, she asked to speak with Lucy. She introduced herself as Detective Drake. I didn’t know that she was your girlfriend.” Sam actually sounded apologetic. “I told her that Lucy left me a note saying that you had taken her out to get breakfast. ‘Be back soon.’ She took that to mean that she was welcome to wait here for you.”

Clark sat down at the dining room table and buried his face in his hands. “I can’t do this any longer, Lois. I can’t keep lying to her. How can we have a relationship if it’s built on lies?”

Lois set down plates, then brought over the pot of coffee. “Your relationship isn’t built on lies, Clark. Our relationship is built on lies. And because you are trying to protect me, every person we care about in this dimension only knows one clue to our relationship. If they ever got together to compare notes…”

“How does Kal do it? Lying to everyone,” Clark clarified, raising his gaze to her. “I thought Superman was supposed to stand for Truth?”

Lois put her hand over Clark’s. “Before I figured out that Kal was Superman, he would dash away, apparently for no reason, and I didn’t know what to think. I knew that he loved me, but I also knew that was keeping something from me. I couldn’t understand how he could do both those things at the same time. So, I know how Mayson feels. It hurts when the man you love lies to you. She’s a smart woman, an investigator herself, so when she says that you aren’t telling her the truth, understand she might have proof.”

“She said as much just now.”

“It’s still hard for Kal. He hates to lie as much as you do. But he doesn’t want the people he cares about in his life to be targets if the truth came out,” Lois said. It sounded like Kal did everyday what Clark had started doing since Lois became a part of his life. “He ends up using a lot of subterfuge, half-truths, and answering questions with questions. When he can tell the truth, he does. As it is now, my parents don’t even know he’s Superman.”

“Really?” Sam asked, sitting down. “You told me first?”

She shot him a wicked grin. “You’re my test pilot.”

“How am I doing?”

“Well, on the positive side, you’re still sober. On the negative side, you answer the telephone,” she teased. “Dr. Jones.”

“I thought it might be you, Lucy. When she pounded on the door, demanding that I let her in, I knew I had to tell her something. I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone that I’m Lois’s father. So, I told her that I’m Dr. Jones, the doctor friend of Superman’s who looked after you when you had been shot. You invited me to breakfast.” He shrugged.

“Clark, I trust your decision. If you believe that your relationship with Mayson won’t survive this, if it’s important enough to you to risk everything, and if she is trustworthy enough to keep our secret, then tell her the truth. Should you have any doubts, though…” Lois didn’t finish the sentence.

Clark took a deep breath and sighed. “That’s a lot of ifs.”

“As well it should be,” Lois replied, touching her belly. “We’re pretty important.”

He polished off his croissant and downed his coffee. “I’d better be off.” He stood up.

“Clark,” Sam said. “Let’s keep the flying to a minimum, shall we? I don’t know what the atmospheric pressure could do to the fetus.”

“Daddy, the books say I can fly in an airplane through the second trimester. What’s the difference?”

“Wind speed. Weather. Temperature control. But if that’s what the books say, Lucy… Clark, no flying after mid-October. Until then, keep it to a minimum.” Sam turned back to his patient. “How’s that for a compromise?”

Clark nodded, stepping into the front hall closet and emerging as Superman. “Wish me luck.” He blew out her living room windows like a gale force wind.

***

Superman slowed as he approached toward his apartment building, scanning all the nooks and crannies on Clinton Street for photographers. When he considered everything safe and clear, he landed on the secret patio behind his apartment.

Then he scanned his apartment for bugs and cameras. Everyone knew Clark Kent was Superman, so it was possible that someone could find his place and try to listen to his private conversations. He hated to be so paranoid, but anything was possible. Every time Mayson came over, he checked. Journalists, he well knew, were terrible sneaks. Tabloid reporters were even worse, because they had no morals whatsoever. This would be an important conversation and he wanted to make sure it was private.

Clark went into his bedroom and changed out of his blue suit. He threw on some jeans and grabbed a t-shirt; the less Superman—like, the better. He sighed.

Should he tell her? He liked her. He cared about her. Did he love her? They had only been dating a few months. And it had been a rough few months. Clark didn’t feel like she trusted him. Of course, that might be because he had been lying to her about Lucy. From what Lois told him, women didn’t like it when you lied to them, especially about the other women in your life.

He liked that Mayson liked Clark Kent better than Superman. But she didn’t like Superman at all, which was a problem. Lana hadn’t liked the idea of Superman either. Was Mayson just another strong, bossy female who told him what to do? Was he still mourning his relationship with Lana through Mayson? What about Lois… his Lois? What if they found her while he was dating Mayson? How would he feel about that?

Shaking his head, Clark went into the kitchen and took the orange juice out of the fridge. His Lois was a dream, a pipe dream really. Mayson was real and she liked him. Or, at least, she used to like him. She was giving him one last shot. What about Kal’s Lois? He smiled. That was fun this morning, flying with her. If only… a knock on the door distracted him enough to spill his orange juice down his shirt. Great.

“Just a minute.” He cleaned up the mess and ran into the bedroom to grab another shirt. He opened the door, shirtless. “Hi, Mayson. I just spilled some juice on my shirt.”

Mayson stared at his bare chest and swallowed. “You spilled?”

“It happens.” Clark pulled on his shirt and she seemed to catch her breath. “Rarely, but it happens.” He stepped aside to let her in, then shut the door.

Mayson placed her hand on his chest and kissed him. Good sign. She still liked him. “I’ve wondered if it…” She shook her head.

“Would you like something to drink?” he asked, walking down the steps into living room. “I might still have some orange juice left or I could make some coffee.”

“I’ll take some juice without shirt in it,” she said, then her eyes widened in embarrassment. “Thank you.”

“Okay.” He smiled at her faux pas. So she liked what she saw, huh? “One glass of juice, hold the shirt.”

He returned to the living room and set two glasses of juice on the coffee table. “Mayson, I’ve gotten this feeling that you don’t trust me and—”

Mayson held up her hand and started speaking before he had a chance to sit down. “Clark, I’m a detective. It’s my job to know when someone is lying to me. Is Lucy really Lois Lane, the missing reporter?”

He hadn’t expected that. “No! She only impersonated her back in February, during the election.”

She stared at him. “Are you sure?”

Clark nodded, sitting down next to her. “Positive.”

“I ask because Lucy El does not exist and she seems to know a lot about Lois.”

“She’s a good researcher.” He picked up his juice and took a sip.

“Uh-huh.” Mayson obviously did not accept this answer. She picked up her juice. “As I said, Lucy El does not exist. She did not attend Kansas State during the years that you were there, nor the five years afterwards. She has a funky accent that fluctuates between Texan to Southern to sometimes even Memphis to Metropolis.”

His smile stiffened. Lois had warned him that Mayson was a good investigator.

“I checked your résumé,” she continued. “You never worked on an exposé of Lex Luthor, nor have you ever shared a byline with a Lucy El. Before starting at the Daily Planet you did mostly freelance work for various different newspapers around the world. Nothing really investigatory in nature, either. None of the previous editors you worked for had ever heard the name Lucy El. I even contacted your former fiancée…”

Clark closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“… Lana Lang and she does not remember ever meeting anyone by the name of Lucy El or hearing you speak about such a person. She did share an interesting tidbit about Lois Lane though. It seems that the vixen reporter — her words, not mine — showed up at the Planet one afternoon, walked straight up to you and kissed you, as if you were more than old friends. You told her at the time you had no idea who she was.” Mayson paused and took a sip of her juice. “So, Clark, are you still going to continue with this charade? Who is that woman?”

“Lucy El,” he replied. In this dimension, at least, that was the truth.

“That man she called ‘Daddy’ is Dr. Sam Lane, Lois Lane’s father, isn’t that correct?”

“You are,” Clark admitted the truth of that statement.

“But you are trying to tell me that the woman posing as your college buddy is not his daughter.”

“She is not.” Again, technically true.

“She lives in Lois Lane’s old apartment,” Mayson said.

“Yes.”

“Clark! Give me something, here. Why is that man staying at her apartment? Clearly, he lives there.”

Clark thought about how to answer that statement truthfully. “Lucy posed as Lois when she visited earlier this year. That is Lois Lane’s apartment and it’s just a coincidence that she is subletting it. Perry suggested that Mr. Olsen rent it to her when he hired her on, as a favor to me. She feels a connection to Lois because of those reasons. So, when she heard that Dr. Lane had run into hard times, she felt like she owed it to Lois to help him out.”

“Really?” Skepticism dripped from that one word. “She doesn’t seem that selfless.”

These women clearly would never be friends. Nothing he could say would change that fact. But Clark refused to be the wall between which they butted heads. “Lucy also suggested to me that I should ask you out.”

“That was a joke,” Mayson retorted.

He shook his head.

“Why?”

“She thought we might hit it off.” He smiled.

Mayson stared at him, waiting for him to say more.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t explain the circumstances in which Lucy knew he and Mayson would get along. “She vouched for you. That you weren’t another Superman groupie,” he finally said.

“That’s true.” The detective laughed with derision. “How did she know?”

Clark raised a shoulder. “She just reads people well.” Especially people she knew from her dimension. “It’s what makes her a good research assistant.”

Mayson shook her head. “She isn’t from the future, is she?”

For a split second, Clark thought she was serious. “Nope.” He smiled at being able to once again speak the truth. “Not from the future.”

Mayson wasn’t smiling. “Until she arrived here three months ago, Lucy El did not exist. There are no records of a Lucy El having been born anywhere. Gone to school anywhere. Lived anywhere. Ever. She’s never had a bank account or a credit card. It’s like she appeared out of thin air. Yet, you vouch for her like she is exactly who she says she is.”

“I do. I know exactly who she is. I know her past and why she is in Metropolis and roughly when she’ll return home.”

“She’s leaving?” Mayson looked excited at this prospect.

“Someday, sooner than…” He stopped himself. “Later,” he added. “That is her private business. She felt bad, weighing down our relationship with her baggage, so she has agreed to let me share this information with you. Understand that you cannot reveal this to anyone without placing her life and mine — Clark Kent’s life as Superman — in grave danger.”

He watched as Mayson thought about this. “So, her story, her background has to do with Superman? And if I agree never to tell anyone, it would be to protect him?”

“Yes.” He knew this would be a difficult decision for her as she always had treated his Superman persona with thinly veiled contempt. It was crucial for her to understand that he was Superman and Superman was Clark Kent. That they were indeed the same man.

“And by agreeing to protect Superman and Lucy, I am also protecting you, Clark Kent?”

“Exactly,” he told her.

Mayson smiled and set her hand on his knee. “I kind of like the prospect of protecting you for a change. I agree to keep private whatever you tell me.”

“Off the record?”

“Off the record,” she agreed.

Clark exhaled. They had made it past the first hurdle. “What do you want to know?”

“Who is she?”

“Lucy El,” he repeated.

This infuriated Mayson as he knew it would. “Clark! Okay, if she’s Lucy El, where are Mama and Papa El?”

He took a deep breath, amazed that she had unconsciously given him another way to answer truthfully. “Dead.”

“Dead? How convenient. And how exactly did they die?” she asked incredulously.

“Lara and Jor-El died when the planet Krypton exploded roughly thirty years ago.” He had never told anyone from his dimension about his birth parents, not even Lana. Actually, it had been Lois who had told him their names on back in the Daily Planet conference room with Mr. Wells all those months ago.

Mayson looked at him in disbelief. “Are you trying to tell me that Lucy El is Superman’s sister?” She stood up. “No. Not for one minute am I buying that story, Clark.”

“Sister-in-law,” Clark corrected her calmly. It was as close to the truth as he could get.

Mayson froze. “What?”

“Lucy is married to my twin brother, Kal-El.”

“You have a twin brother?”

Clark nodded.

“Identical twin?”

He nodded again.

“Wow.” She sat back down.

Clark gave her a moment to process that information. He returned their empty glasses to the kitchen.

“There are two of him,” he heard her mumble to herself and he smiled. She had sounded more in awe than frightened.

Clark returned to the living room with a couple of bottles of water; he handed one to her. She opened it and took a large gulp.

“Well, that certainly explains a lot,” Mayson said.

He nodded.

“The Kents only had one son though.”

“Kal grew up on New Krypton,” he explained. He didn’t want to continue lying to her, but he really couldn’t tell anyone else about alternate dimensions or explain to his girlfriend how Lois and Clark were married there.

“New Krypton? I thought everyone died when Superman’s home planet was destroyed,” Mayson said.

He had told her a bit of his private history: the spaceship crashing into Shuster’s field, his folks finding him and raising him as their own, losing them just as he started developing his abilities and how difficult that had been for him, and bouncing from foster family to foster family. “New Krypton is a colony of Krypton.”

She blanched. “So there are more of him.” She took another gulp of water.

“Yes, there are more people like me.”

“Lucy isn’t…”

He smiled. He still couldn’t imagine Lois with all of his powers, as Ultra Woman. “No, she’s human.”

Mayson relaxed. “How did she meet Kal if he grew up on New Krypton?”

Unfortunately, Lucy and Kal-El’s backstory would have to be a lie. Kal-El wasn’t from New Krypton and, according to Lois, never even made it to the colony when he left last spring to help Lady Zara. Clark hoped he could fabricate a story on the fly as well as Lois. “He found out about me… about how our parents sent me to Earth as a baby and he came looking for me a couple of years ago. He met Lucy and they fell in love.”

“Are you two similar, personality-wise?” Mayson asked. As a detective she was worried about a rogue Kryptonian loose on her planet. After what Lois told him about how brutal Lord Nor and his men had been in her dimension, it was a fairly justified concern.

“Lucy says we are, except that he has a fondness for junk food,” Clark answered with slight chuckle, taking a sip of his water. That factoid always made him smile.

Mayson laughed. “That must have been strange, meeting your double.”

Clark sighed. “Actually, I haven’t met him yet.”

Her face fell. “But you said…”

“He was looking for me. Then he met Lucy and… well, love is a good distraction.” He smiled fondly at her. “She’s the one who found me, last February. She posed as Lois to get close to me and earn my trust.”

“So, you’ve never met this twin brother?” She asked him slowly. “You believe this whole crazy story on the word of Lucy El?” Mayson was looking at him with pity. Not a good sign. “I’m so glad you told me this. Lucy is obviously some kind of con artist.”

Laughter bubbled out of Clark’s mouth. He had not expected this rationale. “Ah. No, Mayson. She’s the real deal. I trust her completely.”

Mayson sighed. “Oh, Clark, you are so good and so trusting, you believe everyone else is, too. You lost your parents at an early age and just broke up with your fiancée. You were alone and this beautiful woman shows up and dazzles you with a story about a long-lost brother. Of course you wanted to believe her. You were an easy mark.”

Great, Kent, fly yourself out of this mess. “Mayson, she knew things about me that only Lana knew and some things that I never told anyone. She knew about Krypton and how I got here as a baby.”

“As I recall, Tempus knew these things too.”

“She has photos of her and Kal,” Clark told her.

“Photos can be faked, Clark. You and I both know that,” Mayson replied rationally.

“Fifty of them? They weren’t fakes.” He pointed at his eyes.

“So, she hired a lookalike. I saw a Superman double at a birthday party recently and even I couldn’t tell the difference until he opened his mouth.”

Clark’s jaw dropped. She actually didn’t believe him. He hadn’t expected that. “You really don’t like Lucy, do you?”

“Never have. There are times when she looks at you…” Mayson shook her head.

“And sees Kal,” he explained.

Mayson leaned back and crossed her arms. “Okay. Where is this husband of hers, anyway?”

“New Krypton. Civil war was breaking out and he went back to see if he could stop it.” Well, Kal had gone there originally when Lois came over to his dimension.

“How noble of him. Convenient too that he isn’t around for you to meet in person.” Mayson shook her head. “You still can’t suppose that she would lie to you.”

“And you can’t believe that she’s telling the truth.”

“Have you given her any money?” Mayson asked.

“Just five hundred, when she first got here, to buy necessities.”

“What? Did someone steal her wallet, too?” His girlfriend sounded angry as her voice rose. “And you got her a job — because you vouched for her — and an apartment, also because you vouched for her. Everyone trusts a person that Superman trusts.”

It was the first time Mayson had ever referred to him as Superman and she did it as she tried not to call him an idiot. Clark took off his glasses and ran a hand over his eyes. “Mayson, have some confidence in me. She asked for nothing but my protection,” he said softly, juxtaposing her anger

Mayson took his hand. “From Lex Luthor?”

“She had some dealings with him in the past that went badly, true. But no, not him in particular, just protection in general. And I am happy to oblige — she’s family.”

“No, Clark. She’s a con artist.” She pulled out her cell phone. “Let me call someone I know in Fraud.”

Clark took the phone out of her hand. “No.”

“Excuse me?”

“You promised not to tell another person about this.”

“Yes, but that was before I knew Lucy’s a swindler,” she replied.

“Mayson,” he said, standing up and walking over to his wine rack. He floated up and set her cell phone in the uppermost slot. He floated back down and stood in front of her with his arms crossed. “You would rather believe that I was duped than accept that Lucy’s identity is who I know her to be.”

“Give me back my phone, Clark.”

“No. I will give you back your phone when I know you believe me.”

Mayson pressed her lips together. “Okay. I accept as true that you would believe anything she told you because she looks like Lois Lane, the woman you’ve spent three years searching for.”

“What?” Was there a billboard on his forehead that he couldn’t see?

“You said yourself that she’s not Lois. Yet there’s a part of you that thinks of her as that proverbial damsel in distress. You’re always rushing off to help her.”

“Because she is my sister-in-law,” he ground out. He was running out of ideas.

Mayson stood up and patted him on the arm. “You keep telling yourself that, Clark.”

“Mayson, I’m dating you. I care for you,” he said, pulling her into his arms for a hug. “I’m torturing myself in a social hell to keep us out of the tabloids.”

“And yet you are in love with the ghost of Lois Lane.”

He froze for a moment and then stepped back. “Is that what you think of me?”

“I’m not blind, Clark. I see how you look at Lucy.”

“And how is that, Mayson?” he inquired wryly.

“Like you are distracted by love.”

Clark hated it when people threw his words back in his face.

“There could only be two explanations,” Mayson continued. “Lucy is the Lois Lane you fell in love with after years of searching for her — even Lana verified this much — but she doesn’t know you love her, which means you have been lying to me all morning. Or she’s someone who looks like Lois and you’re looking through her at something or someone else. You readily admit that she is not your missing Lois, so you must not be able to accept that Lois is dead and that you couldn’t save her.”

Clark sat down on the sofa and removed his glasses again. He threw them against the wall, shattering them. “No, I couldn’t save her. Just as I couldn’t save my parents from that car accident. Or my birth parents from their early death. This beautiful, talented woman with wits and guts and boldness and the determination to get the story, any story she set her heart on. No, I couldn’t save her. How can I have these abilities and still be unable to save someone as wonderful as her?” He buried his face in his hands.

Mayson sat down next to him and hugged him. “Oh, Clark. I’m so sorry.” She kissed his cheek. He didn’t react. She held him tighter, yet he could hardly feel her. He felt numb. She kissed his cheek, again and again.

Clark turned and pressed a kiss against her lips. This time the kiss was more than pleasant. It was hot and passionate and fiery. Mayson felt it too. She pulled back for a moment and looked him directly in the eyes. He didn’t know what she saw there, but she climbed into his lap and kissed him as he had kissed her. He pulled the hair clip holding her hair away from her face and tossed it to the ground. She tugged his t-shirt up and pulled it over his head. They were floating in mid-air, tangled in an embrace.

“Clark,” she moaned and then slipped down his chest. He caught her and set her down on the floor.

“Were we—” she asked, glancing up.

“Sorry,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head. He floated over to the wine rack, retrieved her phone and returned it to her. “I shouldn’t have lost control. I almost dropped you.”

Mayson tossed the phone onto the coffee table and wrapped her arms around him again. She kissed him, but he didn’t respond. “Clark, I liked that you lost a little control. It’s human.” She took his hand and tugged it toward his bedroom.

“No, Mayson.” He glanced away. “I can’t.”

She kissed his cheek. “Why not? Live a little,” she whispered, kissing over to his ear.

He stumbled backwards to the couch and Mayson landed on top of him. “Tempting though it might be, Mayson. I can’t…” He shut his eyes as she continued to nibble on his earlobe. “Lose control.”

Mayson smiled as she kissed down his neck. His resolve was weakening.

“I know that you like me, Clark Kent,” she whispered. “I’m your here and now. Flesh and blood.” She trailed his fingers down her chest. Her skin was soft and slightly damp from perspiration.

“Feel my hot breath.” She blew into his ear. Nice and warm. Tingling.

“Hear my heartbeat.” She pulled his head against her chest. Her heart was certainly racing.

“Taste my…” She pressed another passionate kiss to his lips. “Let yourself go.”

They were floating upwards again. He wanted her more than he had wanted anyone since… since the night that Kal had been disintegrated and Lois had kissed him. Oh, Lois! What was he doing? Letting himself live, a voice inside his head told him. But an icy chill had already started dripping down his spine. He pulled Mayson closer. “Live.”

Her phone rang at that moment and they plopped back down on the sofa.

“If that’s Henderson, I’m going to kill him,” Mayson announced, rolling off Clark and reaching for her phone. “This better be good,” she growled to Henderson. “Yes, you are interrupting something, so be fast about it.”

Clark ran to his bathroom and took a thirty-second ice-cold shower. He took another fifteen seconds to dry off, dress, and was back on the couch just as she had left him another twenty seconds later.

“Sean McCarthy, really.” Mayson glanced over her shoulder at Clark. He waved. She waved back. “I thought he went underground after killing that DEA agent.”

When she turned her back away from him again, he released his breath. He had never lost control like that before. Not even with Lana. Lois had tempted him physically on several occasions and he wondered if she had awakened something carnal inside him. He rubbed his face and realized his glasses were missing. Then, he remembered what he had done to them. He saw the debris on the wall behind his TV. What was wrong with him?

“Okay. I’ll be right there,” Mayson said, closing her phone. “Clark?”

“Right here,” he said, standing up.

“I was afraid you left.”

He smiled, moving closer to kiss her. “I couldn’t leave.”

“I’ve got to meet Henderson. My uncle has a cabin in the woods. Do you think you might want to go next weekend? Just the two of us. No interruptions. No cell phone coverage.” Mayson smiled, resting her hand on his bare chest. She looked him straight in the eyes and exhaled. “I’d even let you fly us there.”

That kiss had done something to her as well. For the first time, Clark could see Mayson looking at all of him and liking what she saw. That realization made him feel good. “Deal.” He grinned. “So, we’re good?”

“I’m good. You, we need to work on a little.” She reached up to his bare face. “You look different without your glasses.”

“I’m sorry about losing my temper.” He kissed her. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me today.”

“Truth. It’s a drug. It can cause anger and joy but it’s also a powerful aphrodisiac.” Mayson embraced him again with a passion their previous two months of kisses had lacked. “Feel free to use it on me anytime.” One more slow, lingering kiss, then she pulled herself away and up the steps. “I’ve got to go.”

He jogged up to the door. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

“No, Clark. We’ve had enough trouble with tabloids. I wouldn’t want them to catch you with your shirt off.” She ran her fingers down his chest. “But feel free to forget all your shirts at home next weekend.”

Clark kissed her goodbye and shut the door after her. He jogged back down the steps into his living room. Something skittered across the floor. It was her hair clip. He picked it up and ran out to the street. Mayson was just getting into her car.

“Mayson!” he called, waving her hair clip. She didn’t hear him.

Tick! Tick! Tick!

“No!” Clark was at her car door in half a second. “Mayson!”

She stared at him with concern as he ripped off the door to her car. He was pulling her out when the bomb blasted them into the building across the street.

***

Lois set down her pen. What was that? Unknowingly, she mimicked the way Clark looked up and to the right as she listened.

No! Mayson!” That was Clark’s voice. Something was wrong.

“Oh, no,” she gasped, running out to the living room. Then she heard the explosion. Her knees gave out and she grabbed the wall. Not again. Poor Clark.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?” Lois’s father asked. He was reading the newspaper on the sofa.

“Something’s happened to Mayson,” she said, grabbing her purse. “I’ve got to go.”

“I didn’t hear the phone ring.”

Lois pulled on her ugly loafers. “I’ll explain later.”

“I thought Mayson didn’t like you. Maybe you shouldn’t interfere.”

“No, Daddy, I heard an explosion. I’ve got to go to Clark. He’ll need me.”

“I’ll come with you,” he said, getting up.

“No, you wait, in case he comes here. Don’t let him leave.” She swallowed. “Clar… Kal disappeared into himself when Mayson died. And this Clark, he isn’t as strong, emotionally, and…” She exhaled, hating to admit this next thought aloud as if that made it more true. “Mayson means more to him.”

“Mayson died?” Sam hugged her.

“In my dimension. Hopefully, Clark wasn’t too late this time,” she said, stepping out of the hug and opening the door.

“Lois, take a cab.”

She snorted. “No, I thought I’d fly.”

He looked stunned as if he believed her. “Cab!” he called.

Lois waved her hand as she jogged down the hall. In the elevator, she ran into James Olsen. She pressed the first floor button three times.

“In a rush somewhere?” he inquired.

“Can you drive me to Clinton Street, James?”

“Sure. Running late for lunch with Clark?”

Lois placed a fake smile on her lips. “Something like that.”

When they arrived at the parking structure, he turned to her with a grin. “Which car should we take?”

“The fastest one.”

“All right, then.” James pushed a security alarm button on his keychain and she heard a cherry-red Ferrari beep in the corner of the garage.

She glanced at him surprised. “I always pictured you as a Mustang kind of guy.”

“I was.” He grinned with a shrug. “Before the millions.”

“Can I borrow your phone?” she asked, buckling herself in.

“Sure.” He passed it to her.

Lois dialed Clark’s number. She hoped that she was wrong about the bomb, but the machine picked up. “I’m on my way, Clark. Don’t do anything rash. If you get this message, please, wait for me.”

“Something wrong?” James asked.

“I hope not.” She dialed another number. “Come on, Mayson, pick up… great, voicemail.” She hung up and dialed a third number. “Detective Henderson? Hi, this is Lucy El, Clark Kent’s assistant at the Daily Planet. Have you heard from Detective Drake? I was trying to reach Clark and I know he was with Mayson this morning… yes, I’ll hold.” She took a deep breath, automatically placing a hand on her rounded stomach as she did so. “Please. Please, be there. I want to be wrong.”

James stepped on the gas and sped down the street.

“What do you mean, she hasn’t shown up yet? Was she on the way there? I see. Well, I was on the phone with Clark five minutes ago when I heard an explosion. Now I can’t reach him. Can you meet me at his apartment? Oh. It’s 344 Clinton Street. Thanks.”

“Lucy, where are your glasses?” James asked out of the blue as she handed back his phone.

Lois patted her face. Crap. She dug through her purse and pulled out her emergency pair. “Thanks. I was wondering why the world was so blurry.”

James turned onto Clinton Street and saw smoke. “What the….”

“Oh, no,” Lois gasped. “It did happen.” The police had just arrived. “Hurry, James, before they cordon off the street.”

James pulled the Ferrari off to the side of the road and she jumped out. He followed her as she ran down the street.

“Clark? Clark?” Lois stopped next to Mayson’s still burning car. That wasn’t like Superman to leave a car on fire. The driver-side door had been pulled off and tossed in the road. She looked around and saw a dent in the brick entry in the apartment building across the street. “Clark?” she called again. James caught up with her as she turned and ran towards his apartment.

He surveyed the damage with a shake of his head. “I wish I had a camera.”

Clark’s front door was ajar. Not good. Clark never left his apartment unlocked. She went inside. “Clark? Mayson?” she called but heard no response. Even worse. She found Clark’s t-shirt on the floor next to the sofa. Strange. As she walked to his bedroom, she stepped on a piece of glass. It had come from his glasses. She glanced around and found his broken frames near the TV. She picked them up. In his bedroom, she found his blue suit and red cape lying on the bed and his boots next to the bed. That wasn’t like Clark, at all. He was always so careful with his suit.

Lois returned to the living room, wondering how his confession to Mayson had gone over. Had she left on good terms? Had they broken up? It didn’t matter, her brain told her. He would still blame himself, either way.

“There you are,” James said, entering the apartment. “One of the neighbors witnessed the entire thing. She was watering the plants on her balcony at the time. A blonde lady walked to her car. A minute later a — and I’m quoting here — ‘shirtless David in jeans’ ran after her, calling her name. Then he ripped off her car door like a strongman and pulled her out of the car when it exploded; they were knocked into the building across the street. She didn’t see what happened after that because the smoke was too thick. When it cleared, they were gone.”

Lois fell onto the sofa and took a couple of deep breaths. “He got her out before the car exploded. That’s good.” She looked down at his broken glasses in her hand.

“Are those Clark’s?”

Lois nodded.

James looked around. “What happened here?”

Before she could answer, there was a knock on the door and Detective Henderson walked in. Lois slipped Clark’s glasses into her purse. “I’d like to know the same thing. Mr. Olsen.” He nodded at James. “Lucy El, I presume?”

Lois wiped her eyes and held out her hand. “Detective Henderson.”

He pulled out his notebook. “Tell me what you know.”

“Clark brought croissants to my place this morning for breakfast. Mayson showed up, looking for him. They agreed to meet at his apartment. She wanted to talk to him about something, I don’t know what.” She glanced at James and he looked away. They both knew what. “It was about nine-thirty when he left my place.”

“You were on the phone with him when you heard the explosion?” Henderson asked. “What time was that?”

“I don’t know.” Lois shook her head. “We were talking, when suddenly he dropped the phone. I guess he didn’t hang up properly, because I heard the explosion. I tried calling back, but the line was busy.” She walked to Clark’s cordless phone, which was clearly hung up and pressed the off button for good measure.

“Why are you touching evidence?” snapped Detective Henderson.

“I’m not,” Lois countered, setting down the receiver. “This isn’t the crime scene.”

“Well, don’t touch anything else.”

James and Lois exchanged another glance. He had seen her pocket Clark’s glasses. He had also heard her leaving a message for Clark.

“You said that you spoke to Mayson,” she asked casually. “When was that?”

Henderson smiled at some inside joke. “About eleven. She wasn’t at all happy about it, either.”

“You called her into the office on a Sunday, why?”

“Sean McCar… Never you mind, Ms. El.”

Sean McCarthy. Of course! “I was just curious to know what could tempt her away from her meeting with Clark.”

Henderson chuckled, picking up Clark’s shirt from the floor. “Meeting? So, her and Kent, huh? And she said that was just tabloid fodder.”

Lois walked up to Henderson, lowered her glasses, and stared him directly in the eyes. “Let’s not go spreading rumors that might get someone killed, shall we, Detective Henderson? We might already be too late.”

He swallowed, nodded, and dropped the shirt. “Has anyone ever told you that your eyes are exactly like Lois Lane’s?”

She rolled her eyes. “All the time.” Pushing her glasses up on her nose, she turned to James. “They must be at the University Hospital. Let’s go.”

“I’ll meet you there,” Detective Henderson said.

Lois stumbled on the stairs outside Clark’s apartment. James grabbed her arm to steady her. “Are you okay, Lucy?”

She nodded and lowered her voice. “He left his Superman suit at home. That isn’t like him.”

“Oh, right, the shirtless David.”

“Michelangelo’s David isn’t wearing a shirt either, James. He’s nude.”

They snuck past the police who were cordoning off the street. Barry Balson, the Daily Planet’s Superman reporter, grabbed her arm as they reached James’s car. “Lucy! What happened? I heard about it on my police scanner.”

Lois turned to James and then back to Barry. “Mr. Olsen has this one, Barry.”

Barry looked at Mr. Olsen and stepped away from Lucy. “Sorry, Mr. Olsen, I didn’t see you there. I didn’t know you wanted to be a reporter.” He smiled politely at his boss.

James looked at Lucy with shock. She nodded her head towards Barry.

“Stay here,” James added to Barry. “See if you can find out anything about the bomb in Mayson’s car.”

“On it, sir.”

They got into the car and drove away before Barry could ask any more questions.

“I’m not a reporter, Lucy,” he said over the roar of the wind.

“You’d make a good one, James, if you gave it a shot.” She smiled encouragingly at him. “Look how you got that neighbor to tell you what happened. Plus, you found out Detective Henderson’s side of the story as well. Not bad for a beginner. Anyway, you couldn’t be worse than Ralph.”

“I’m more of a behind the scenes guy,” he replied.

She vaguely remembered something he said when they arrived at the scene. “Then we should get you a camera.”

At the hospital, James dropped Lois off at the emergency entrance as he went to park the car. She went directly to the desk, “Is Mayson Drake here?”

“We cannot give out information on patients, Miss. Are you family?” the woman behind the desk droned.

“She was the woman in the explosion?” Lois tried again.

The woman shook her head.

“She would have been carried in by a tall, handsome, brown-haired man without a shirt. I’m actually looking for him. Is he still here?”

The woman brightened to almost-human. “Oh, the GQ model.” She glanced around with a hopeful grin. “I don’t know. I don’t see him.”

Lois stepped away from the counter. Poor Clark. Shirtless for one day and that day lives in infamy. It was a busy day at the hospital. Screaming babies with drippy noses. Fathers with the last of the season’s BBQ burns. A couple of possible gang members standing guard in the corner. She wished she had x-ray vision.

Maybe if she concentrated enough she could hear him. She closed her eyes. Suddenly, all the voices were amplified. Slowly, she listened to each one, tuning out the rejects.

“Did you see that new Paulie Shore movie?” Rejected.

“Mommy, is Daddy going to be okay?” Rejected.

“Clamp, we’ve got bleeding here.” Hold to reevaluate.

“Donde esta el baño?” Rejected.

“And then I said to him. If you think you’re Superman why don’t you take a flying leap…” Rejected.

“Who let Tarzan in?” Hold.

Tarzan?

“He brought in the victim. He snarled when I asked him to wait outside. He won’t leave her. You want to get him to move, be my guest. He’s made of cement.”

Bingo!

Lois opened her eyes. Where did that voice come from? Surgery? She lowered her glasses like she had seen Clark do a thousand times and concentrated on the double doors leading out the emergency waiting room. Suddenly, she could see past the doors, but only because someone pushed a gurney though them. There he was, standing at an operating room door, down the hall. She stepped back and bumped into James.

“I found Clark.” She nodded toward the double doors. “Mayson is being prepped for surgery.”

“How bad is it?”

Lois shook her head. “I’m going in to get Clark. Cover me.”

“What?” he sputtered.

Lois pushed through the double doors. When a nurse called out to her, James stepped between them.

“Excuse me, miss. My name is James Olsen and I own the Daily Planet. I was wondering who would I speak with about donating money to the University Hospital?”

This made the nurse pause. “You want to give us money?”

“Yes, you see I have a friend inside…” he continued as he watched Lois give him the thumbs up sign.

Lois shut the double doors and walked over to Clark. She put a hand on his arm. “Clark?”

He growled at her and then noticed who was speaking to him. “Lois! Mayson…” His eyes closed as his head dropped; he could not finish his sentence.

“I know, Clark.” She hugged him and took hold of his hand.

“They’re prepping her for surgery,” he murmured.

“How bad is it?”

Clark swallowed. “She got the brunt of the explosion. I got her out of the car, but she was still between me and the bomb when it went off. If I had just a fraction of a second more—” He buried his face in his hands. “If I had just walked her to her car. Or told her not to leave. Or just smashed her phone when it rang. Anything…”

“It’s not your fault, Clark. She’s alive — that’s more of a chance than the other Mayson got.”

“Alive? She has a collapsed lung, a fractured femur, three broken ribs, glass and brick fragments embedded in her face and chest. Plus countless burns.” His voice started to shake. “And there was blood, so much blood.”

Lois looked at him. His chiseled chest was red from blood. It had dripped down and turned the top of his jeans fuchsia pink. He had streaks of blood across his face and into his hair. She tugged on his arm, trying to move him to a row of seats opposite the operating room. At first, he held his ground, but then relented.

“Clark, we need to get you home and washed up and into clean clothes. Then you can come back and wait for Mayson to come out of surgery. If Henderson finds you like this, he’s going to bag and tag you as evidence.”

He looked at Lois, but his eyes didn’t see her. He looked down at his chest and jeans and then back at her. “I can’t leave her. They wouldn’t even let me into the operating room. What if I need to—”

“I’ll stay, Clark,” Lois soothed. “She’ll be in surgery for a while. Go home, clean up, and then come back.”

Clark looked at Lois and this time he saw her. “Thank you, Lois. If you get a chance, not that she would speak to you, tell her that I’m sorry.”

Lois held on to his hand. “Clark, you didn’t do anything wrong. This is the bomber’s fault, not yours. You aren’t to blame.”

“It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I failed again. Like everyone I care about is taken from me. I am the angel of death. First my parents, then Lois, and now sweet, sweet Mayson.”

“Really? Sweet?” Lois questioned his choice of words. “I would have gone with pigheaded.”

Clark raised a brow.

“Okay. You’re right, it isn’t important.”

“I was thinking more of the pot calling the kettle black,” he responded.

“I deserved that.” Lois smiled. She hoped for a smile in return, but his eyes and face looked dead. Defeated.

Clark stared at the door of the operating room for a while. Lois could not tell if he was watching the doctors at work or if he was just thinking. Suddenly, his eyes hardened and she saw anger and determination, where before she had only seen worry and guilt.

He stood up. “I’m going to clean up and change. There’s something I need to do.”

Lois held on to his hand. “No, Clark. Get washed up and come back here. Come. Back. Here.”

“There’s someone I need to talk to,” he said as he started walking towards the doors. “Someone needs to answer for what has been done.”

“No, Clark. I won’t let you go. Don’t!” She held on to his hand. He was dragging her with him. “This isn’t justice. This is vengeance. Mayson wouldn’t like this.”

James passed through the double doors and saw them, Clark covered in blood and marching toward him like a bull and Lois holding tightly to his arm, trying to pull him back.

“Stop him!” she yelled.

“Are you nuts?” James answered, throwing a hand up at him. “He’s Superman!”

Clark picked Lois up with one hand and set her down in front of James. “Keep an eye on her for me, Mr. Olsen. She promised to stay here. There’s a worm I need to squish.” He scowled, his eyes focused and hard.

“A worm?” James gulped.

“Clark, no!” Lois called to him. “He doesn’t have anything to do with this. This doesn’t have to do with Junior!” But he was gone like the wind, not having heard a word. She collapsed on the floor, in tears. “No, Clark. Don’t go after Jaxon.”

***

An hour passed. The nurses came by and took Lois and James to the official OR waiting room. The chairs were slightly more comfortable and there were a couple of coffee tables with magazines. There were also pay telephones and vending machines.

Lois called Sam and told him what was happening. He hadn’t heard from Clark either. Henderson and several other detectives arrived and stood in the other corner of the waiting room. They kept looking at Lois and James with suspicion.

She could hear them whispering to each other, wondering at their presence in the waiting room. Were they personal friends of Mayson’s or were they there because of another patient? She was impressed that Henderson held his tongue, but he did glance at her from time to time. He came up to her after the second hour.

“Lucy, where’s Clark?” he whispered.

“I sent him home to get cleaned up.” She was wondering where Clark had gone off to as well. She hoped it was just a run-of-the-mill emergency. But she doubted it.

“He was covered in Mayson’s blood,” James added.

Lucy elbowed him to shut up.

Henderson winced as that image passed through his mind. “That was evidence.”

“I made a judgment call. Nobody, especially them…” She nodded to the other detectives in the room and lowered her voice. “…wanted to see Superman covered in Mayson’s blood.”

The detective’s jaw dropped as she linked Superman’s name to Clark’s. Then he nodded. “Okay.”

“Plus, Superman would never have let you touch him, let alone swab him,” she murmured. “Especially today.”

Henderson sat down next to her. “How long have they been dating?”

“What in blue blazes does that information have to do with this investigation?”

“Perry!” Lucy jumped up and hugged him. He reacted awkwardly to this outpouring of emotion until he realized she did it to whisper in his ear. “He’s gone after Jaxon.”

The mayor pulled back to look her in the eye. “What in the King’s name would he do that for?”

She hugged him again. “He wouldn’t listen to reason. He thinks that the bomb had to do with Junior going after his friends.”

“Does it?” Perry asked.

“No.” She pulled out of the hug and sat down. “Sean McCarthy planted the bomb under Mayson’s car.”

“How do you know that?” Henderson demanded. Lucy had forgotten he was still there.

She pointed at herself. “World’s best investigative…” She paused. Ooops. “… Researcher. Why do you think Clark Kent wanted me to work for him?”

Perry chuckled. “I miss the newsroom. Too many stuffed shirts at City Hall. Too PC.” He turned to James, who was staring at a blank notepad. “Don’t quote me on that.”

“Lucy wants me to write the article about the explosion.”

Lois pointed at the pad. “Just write what you know, what you saw. We’ll clean it up later.”

Perry looked at her with curiosity.

She shrugged. “He needs a hobby besides spending money. Anyway, he can’t be worse than Ralph.”

Perry threw up his hands. “I’m not commenting on that.” But he flashed her a smile.

By the third hour, Mayson was finally out of surgery and in recovery. Her vital signs looked good and it was likely that she would survive.

Lois pulled Perry over to the coffee vending machine. “I’m getting worried about Clark. He should be back by now.”

“Do you think you could find him?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I think he went to Jaxon’s, but if he went somewhere after there…” She shrugged. “I’m worried what he might do. He wasn’t in his right state of mind.”

“What do you mean, honey?” Perry asked, linking arms with her and handing her a bottle of water. “You need to keep hydrated.”

Lois smiled. “Thank you.” She thought about how she should answer his question as she took a sip of water. “His apartment wasn’t clean. He left clothing flung about, and this.” She opened her purse and showed him Clark’s glasses.

He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you think you might be jumping to conclusions, Lucy? You don’t have any proof.”

“Good thing that this is completely off the record then,” she reminded him.

“Oh, right. Force of habit. Perhaps I should go to Jaxon’s and—”

“Mayor White, that is an impossible solution and you know it,” Lois told him.

“But you’re… and I’m…” he stumbled badly over his excuse.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “You never saw Jurassic Park, did you?”

“What’s that?” he looked at her curiously.

“A movie. About dinosaurs that came to life. Blockbuster film,” Lois tried to explain and he just kept shaking his head. And then she remembered she was in another dimension where Arnold Schwarzenegger sang. “Wow! It doesn’t exist. Good to know. My mistake.”

Perry glanced at her with a raised brow.

Luckily, at that moment James brought over his notepad of scribbles. “We can’t publish this in the Daily Planet. This is horrible.”

Perry took it out of his hand and looked it over. He glanced at Lois and nodded. She smiled weakly. “We’ll clean it up. Between you, me, and Perry, we can make it work. It’s just a rough draft.”

“One of us should go to Clark’s apartment and see if he’s there,” Perry suggested. “I just can’t imagine where that boy could be.”

“He was pretty messed up,” Lois whispered. “He wouldn’t be there, if he could be here. I’m worried about him. I know everyone likes to think he’s this super human man, but to me…” She sighed. “… he’s a fragile boy whose girl just got hurt.”

“You love him, don’t you?” Perry asked out of the blue.

“Of course. Clark is like family to me.”

“Then why, honey, did you—” he started.

James coughed and shook his head. “Not now, White.”

“Oh, right. Another time then.”

Lois glanced at the mayor in confusion, but then shook it off. “Perry, what condition would you be in if you got covered in your wife’s blood?”

Perry blanched and swallowed uncomfortably. Then he raised an eyebrow at this comparison. “Mayson is his Alice? I don’t think so, honey.”

“Maybe not, but for now she’s the closest he’s got.”

“But—” Perry started, but then stopped when he saw James shake his head. “Well, I’d be in shock, mostly.”

“Okay, you’re in shock and you can fly anywhere super fast and have super strength and you feel guilty for not being one fraction of a second faster. Would you be sitting and waiting at the hospital, twiddling your thumbs?”

Perry’s eyes grew wider. “Hell, no! I’d be out looking for the devil that did this. You don’t think that Kent would…” He shook his head. “Oh God, no, Lucy.”

Lois nodded. “He might and that’s what worries me.” She took another sip of water. “I need to go find him. See if I can stop him.”

“Sweetheart, do you think you can?”

Lois closed her eyes and pictured flying above Metropolis on the day Superman had rescued her from Lex Luthor. And then the look in Clark’s eyes, the night her Clark had been disintegrated. She felt the baby kick for the first time in hours. She placed a gentle hand on her tummy and smiled. “There might be a way.”

As she went to pick up her things, a nurse came into the waiting room. “Clark? Clark? Mayson is asking to speak with Clark.”

Lois grimaced. She had hoped Clark would be back before this point. She didn’t want to give Mayson his message. And she knew that Mayson did not want to see her. She stepped forward anyway. “Clark asked me to give Mayson a message from him, if he did not return in time.”

“I’ll come with you,” Henderson said.

“No, Detective. I’m sorry, this is a private message for Mayson.”

James squeezed her hand and she took a deep breath. Nodding, Lois followed the nurse to the mostly dark recovery room. She noticed that they were alone. No other patients shared this space, only a nurse at a desk across the room.

Lois took a deep breath and walked up to Mayson’s bed. She was precisely how Clark described her. She had a cast on her left leg. Her hands were bandaged, probably from burns. She had a tube coming out of her chest from the punctured lung. She also had numerous smaller bandages from the glass and brick debris. She was still hooked up to machines that beeped and told everyone she was still alive. Medicines and fluids were dripping into her arms via an IV. She looked horrible, even for Mayson, but at least she was alive. Her eyes were shut, resting. Lois took a seat in the chair next to the bed.

Mayson’s eyes opened. Her face fell when she saw Lois instead of Clark. “Why you here?” Her voice was hoarse from the air tube.

“I’m sorry, Mayson. I know I’m the last person you want to see right now—”

“True. Clark? He okay?”

Lois had heard of denial, but Mayson took the cake.

“Here?” Mayson added, moving her hand slightly toward her chest.

All right. Maybe Mayson was all there.

“Not really,” Lois told her. “He left as they were prepping you for surgery. I tried to stop him, but he kind of plowed right through me. He said that he had to find a worm that needed squishing. I told him that you wouldn’t like that, but he didn’t seem to care.”

Mayson closed her eyes for a moment. “He blames himself.”

“Yes.” Lois was surprised at the depth of Mayson’s knowledge about Clark’s history. “He called himself the angel of death.”

A tear wound its way down Mayson’s face. “He’s in pain. He’s lost so much.”

Lois nodded. “Don’t be surprised if he tries to break up with you for your own good. To protect you. Don’t let him, of course.” She didn’t know how much Clark had told Mayson about herself; but when he had said he was going to tell Mayson the truth Lois had assumed it was the cover story they had concocted for themselves about Kal and Clark being twins. “Kal tried to do this to me, several times. He called himself a jinx. But I fought for him and he couldn’t keep away. That’s what you need to do. He needs you.”

“You like him,” Mayson said more than asked.

“Of course. Clark’s a good man; just like his brother, only more fragile.”

“He told you about telling me?”

Lois shook her head. “He was planning on it, when he left this morning to meet you.”

“Liar.”

“Excuse me?” Lois didn’t understand.

“Leave Clark alone,” Mayson groaned.

“I can’t do that, Mayson. I need him.”

“Not your daddy?”

Lois had no idea to what Mayson was referring. And they she remembered she had called Sam ‘Daddy’ in front of Mayson. “Oh, that man from this morning.” Lois chuckled. “He’s not really my dad. He’s an old friend of Clark’s. He likes it when I call him Daddy, it reminds him of his two lost girls.”

“Lost girls?”

“Lois, of course. The most famous lost person in Metropolis. And Lucy, his other daughter, who ran away from home ten years ago.”

“You Lucy?” Mayson asked her.

“His Lucy? No.” She shook her head. “Just the same name. That’s all.”

“Why? Me and Clark?”

Lois thought about this question. “Why did I set up you and Clark? I was being selfish, I guess. I could see that it was hurting Clark, me talking about Kal all the time. I thought it might do him some good, to see that someone liked him for himself without the suit. And, lo and behold, you walked through the door. Oh, and he likes you; more than I ever imagined. He talks about you all the time. ‘Today’s the day I’m meeting Mayson for lunch. Have an excuse ready to tell Ralph, so he doesn’t interrupt.’” Lois laughed. “You give him hope. Someone with whom he can share his troubles. A Superman without hope could be a very dangerous person, indeed. He needs to care for someone and have someone care for him.”

“You set me up for Superman?” Mayson asked, dismayed.

“Did I set you up with Superman? No, Mayson. I thought you understood, Clark Kent is the man, Superman is just the job description.” She thought about how she phrased that. “Or something like that.” Her Clark had explained it better.

“Ah. I see.” Mayson closed her eyes.

Lois thought that Mayson had fallen back asleep and she moved to get up.

“Where’s Clark?” Mayson whispered, opening her eyes.

“I don’t know, and that frightens me. I’m going to go look for him. He needs to see that you’re okay. That you survived.” Lois tried to smile reassuringly. “He’ll be so happy. I know he cares for you a great deal.”

“Did Clark give message?” Mayson whispered.

“Oh, right. The message he gave me to give to you. He’s sorry.”

“Sorry?” Mayson mumbled, closing her eyes and turning her head away. “Ow.”

“Oh, right, the whiplash. I’ll let you rest. Henderson wanted to come in and say hi, too.” Lois waved and walked out of the room.

Lois thought that the conversation went pretty well, especially since Mayson still hated her. Oh, Clark. She shook her head. Mayson was disappointed that she hadn’t gotten a more romantic message? Maybe Lois should have fudged more on his behalf, but she wasn’t sure what sentiment to give. How much did Clark really care for that woman? Clark would simply have to convince Mayson that she’d messed up the message instead. It wouldn’t matter much in the big picture as Lucy was already in Mayson’s doghouse. Oh, wait, convince Clark to lie to his girlfriend? She rolled her eyes at herself. Like that would ever happen.

She went back into the waiting room to tell Henderson that Mayson was ready to see him. Although, technically, Lois wasn’t sure this was true.

Perry and James were conferring over his notepad. The Chief was back. “You can’t include the reference to David, Olsen.”

“But it’s great imagery, White.”

“Hi, boys,” Lois said. “I’m off to find Clark.”

James stood up. “I’ll drive you.”

“Can you stay here in case Clark shows up?”

He looked disappointed with this task, but nodded. She’d have more freedom to get the job done alone. Lois set her hand on his shoulder. “Thanks.”

Lois took a cab to the Clinton Street apartment first. She still had her key. The street was cordoned off but she was able to sneak around the main crime scene. Henderson had officially taped off Clark’s apartment.

That man better not try to implicate Clark in the bombing of Mayson’s car, Lois thought. She pulled out her key, which she had never returned to Clark when she had moved out. Nudging aside the tape, she easily entered. She tried not to touch anything. Clark had obviously been there. She saw a bloody footprint leading from the patio into the bedroom. She hoped Henderson didn’t notice it as well. The blue suit was missing from the bed. She sighed. Would he ever take it off again, after this?

Next she checked the bathroom. She was sure he took a shower; how could he not? Lois wasn’t sure exactly what she was seeking, but she found it in the shower: a fist-sized hole in the shower wall. She rubbed her face with her hands. How could she have let him come home alone? She should have stayed with him.

Lois locked his apartment door and returned to the main street a block away. If Jaxon got hurt, she would blame herself. Not that Jaxon was an innocent bystander, but he didn’t deserve Superman’s wrath. She felt a chill down her spine. She had known since her first visit that this Clark wasn’t as grounded and secure as her Clark. He didn’t have the self-confidence, the coolness of head, and the optimism that her Clark had learned from his parents. He had learned that life was uncertain, that loved ones leave you quickly and that he needed to take care of himself. He was more of a loner than her Clark. He couldn’t control his anger or his emotions as well as her Clark either.

Lois flagged down a cab and gave Jaxon’s address to the driver. As the cab pulled up down the street from his brownstone, she saw Jaxon jog out the front door and jump into a waiting car. She wondered how he could look so happy. If Superman hadn’t pummeled him, there had to be a good reason. She told the cabbie to follow the convertible. She had a feeling he wasn’t heading out to lunch or a movie.

Jaxon’s car pulled up outside a warehouse.

Lois stopped her cab two warehouses away and hid behind the dumpster on the other side of his car. Jaxon was talking on his cell phone. He seemed annoyed by something and hung up on whomever he had been talking to. She watched him get out of his car and type in the security password and enter the building.

Usually she wouldn’t be able to see someone type in their password, but his was so obvious. Lois almost couldn’t believe it was so easy. Six, two, four, eight, five. She wondered if it was a date — June 24, 1985 — or if he just made a cross pattern. He didn’t even cover up the keypad as any normal, security-conscious person would. Jaxon’s overconfidence in himself was setting off alarm bells in her head.

Lois waited a minute and then listened at the door. She heard nothing except the hum of computers, so she typed in the code. The door unlocked and she went inside.

Lois entered a semi-dark room filled with large mainframe computers. Clearly, this was the back room to Jaxon’s VR — Virtual Reality — computer. She had a bad feeling that Clark had agreed to something unwise. She had warned him not to underestimate Jaxon. That on the outside he was your everyday super nerd, but inside his VR, he’d have the advantage, be the superhero (or super villain in this case) and Clark would just be average Clark.

She followed the ramped concrete floor upwards into a well-lit video arcade. It was empty of customers at the moment. Every whir and beep and computer-generated sound effect made her flinch and duck. Glancing around the room, she searched for another exit or another room. There were a couple of doors at the back near the unmanned Arcade Manager’s booth marked “Employees Only” and “Security.”

The “Security” room had a password-protected keypad; the “Employees Only” room did not. As Lois knelt down next to that door, she heard Jaxon on the telephone again. She recognized his voice, but could not hear him clearly.

Why couldn’t she hear him? She had super hearing. Was the room lead-lined? No wait, that was only for Superman’s vision gizmo thingy, wasn’t it? Would she be able to hear if Jaxon had soundproofed the room? Strange. Unless someone had planned ahead and knew that Superman would come seeking the VR machine or its creator at some time. Okay, now she was sounding paranoid in her own head. Not good.

As Lois straightened up, her lower back began to hurt. Terrific. She rubbed her back. All the sitting in uncomfortable chairs was finally catching up to her. Then the baby kindly kicked her. She had missed lunch and Baby was not happy. She would need to eat something soon or the baby…

Kick!

Oh, Baby had read her mind. One swift kick to the bladder, too. So much for stealthy undercover work.

“Not now, little one,” Lois whispered with a pat to her tummy. She wished she had remembered to go while at Clark’s apartment. She noticed another room in the corner of the arcade room. Perhaps it was a restroom. Quietly, she pushed the door open and found not a restroom, but the hub of the VR machine. And there, strapped into Jaxon’s contraption, was Superman.

Other than being plugged into the machine, he seemed fine. Not tense. Not fighting. Just walking.

Lois’s heart ached seeing him there. She rubbed her face. How in the world was she going to get him unplugged from that machine, especially without James’s help?

Okay. First things first. Mommy needed a potty break.

After Lois returned from the unisex restroom located in the back of the room, she checked out the rest of the VR room. It was fairly similar to the room she and her Clark had visited back in her own world. Two console rings for visitors and, behind a glass panel, Jaxon’s main control console.

Her stomach growled and the baby kicked again. How was she ever going to concentrate with these distractions? Lois looked in her purse. Maybe she had a hidden Double Fudge Crunch Bar. No such luck. But someone had added a package of peanut butter crackers. She could almost kiss Clark for remembering her blood sugar.

Swinging her purse onto her back, Lois sat on the ring surrounding Clark as she nibbled on her cracker and thought about how she was going to get him out of this mess.

***

Clark felt like a fool. He had been walking around inside Jaxon’s VR contraption for what felt like the better part of three hours. At least it had given him time to cool off.

Superman had arrived at Jaxon’s apartment within five minutes of stepping out of his shower. He hadn’t knocked on the door; he had come in through Jaxon’s open window. He picked the worm up by the scruff of his neck and demanded that he tell him where he could get hold of Junior.

Understandably, Jaxon had been terrified. “I didn’t do anything,” he whined.

“Someone told his big nasty brother that Mayson Drake was a friend of mine. Today, her car blew up.”

Jaxon turned white as a sheet. “It wasn’t me. I swear. Father had Junior locked up for his clumsiness — for shooting me by mistake and wasting… his time.”

“Maybe you should give me your father’s address and I’ll just double-check that you aren’t lying to me.”

Jaxon swallowed. “You know, Clark, you might as well kill me, because that’s what my father will do if he discovers I gave out his private address.”

Clark drew back his fist to punch him when Jason gasped, “You’re really going to kill me, Superman?”

The Man of Steel dropped him on the ground and Jaxon scrambled away like the cockroach that he was.

“You know, you’re just a big bully. Just like all those jocks I had to deal with at school. If you had just asked, maybe I would have told you what you wanted to know.” Jaxon held up his hand. “Don’t try asking now. I won’t tell you anything; how do I know you won’t come back and pound me later?”

“I give you my word,” Superman told him. Even to him it seemed like a weak deal.

“What if I say something you don’t like? No, I won’t tell you a thing, unless…” He looked up at Superman hopefully.

“Unless what?”

“Unless you agree to even the playing field.”

Superman had raised an eyebrow. “How?”

And that’s how he got stuck in Jaxon’s VR machine.

Superman had agreed to talk to Jaxon in the VR; what he forgot to do was secure a promise to let him out after their discussion. As if that — Clark scoffed at himself — would guarantee that Jaxon still let him go.

The worm told Clark that they could speak as equals in the VR, but he had lied. Clark was a regular human in the VR, wearing not his blue suit, but a regular business suit. Jaxon, on the other hand, had made himself into a big burly blond dude with an “X” tattooed on his chest. A man who had been programmed — surprise, surprise — to have Superman’s powers.

Jaxon had even placed a scantily-clad woman, representing Lucy, to watch their “discussion” from a Daily Planet window. The blond “X-Man” first picked him up by the scruff of the neck as he had done to Jaxon, and then thrown — not dropped — Clark to the ground. He laughed at Clark and informed him that he could never again leave the VR world.

Then Jaxon’s character said the one thing that crushed Clark. They really had nothing to do with Mayson’s car bomb — she must have ticked off somebody on her own. He’d laughed and laughed as he flew up to Lucy’s window, where that big Neanderthal Jaxon kissed her. Then he pulled out a pen to sign an autograph for her and disappeared. Not just into the room, but literally. He had left Clark in the machine alone and unable to leave.

Clark had gone into the Daily Planet where the virtual Ralph fired him, while a virtual Perry and Mr. Olsen looked on and laughed maniacally. No matter where Clark went in this virtual Metropolis, he could never go home. He kept walking in circles, seeing the same twenty people, including four sets of twins.

He even tried to stop somewhere for lunch, just to break up the monotony, but found that virtual Clark had lost his wallet.

So, this was to be his fate, walking in circles around Metropolis with no money, home, or friends. And no ability to fly away from it all.

Clark dropped onto a bench to ponder how he had gotten himself into this predicament. Lois would be wondering where he was. Had Mayson survived surgery? He would never know.

He had failed to be a hero that morning and had only made a bigger botch of things that afternoon. If Jaxon was telling the truth, Junior had nothing to do with the bomb in Mayson’s car. Clark arrogantly thought she had been targeted because of him, but that was closed-minded of him. Of course she would be a target because of him, but she also held a job which came with its own set of dangers. He wondered who was really behind the bomb.

It was at that point that a group of elderly people showed up and started giving him nasty looks. Guess he wasn’t allowed to sit too long in Jaxon’s world. Wonderful. Back to wandering in circles.

After about his twenty-seventh circle, something changed. He could smell something. Peanut butter. He didn’t think much about it at first, but wherever he went, the smell was still there. He realized it might not be coming from inside the virtual world at all. In the real world, he had super senses; was he picking up something outside this virtual hell?

Clark stopped walking, closed his eyes and tried to listen. He could hear a heartbeat. He was not alone. Probably it was Jaxon back to gloat on his new prize possession. He took a deep breath and released it. Okay, definitely peanut butter; it was overpowering all other scents. Maybe it was really close by. He held out his hands as far as he could reach.

Whoa there, Clark!”

Clark froze as he gasped, “Lois!” Of course, the peanut butter crackers he had put in her purse before their jaunt to Paris that morning.

The big question was whether, when he spoke, she could hear him. “Lois, can you hear me?” he asked.

A VR passerby looked at him talking to himself as if he were nuts; Clark ignored him.

He waited what seemed like forever, but probably closer to a minute. No answer. He could not control his speech. Great. How was he going to let her know that he knew she was there. Clark held out his hands again.

Clark? I don’t know if you can hear me. Hopefully, your super hearing can penetrate those headphones. I am going to touch you. Gently, now.” She paused. “No, wait!”

Clark froze, again.

If I touch you and you can’t hear me or know that I’m coming you could swing your arm and bye-bye Lois. So, if you can hear me make your right hand into a fist.”

Good thinking, Lois. He made a fist.

Oh, Clark!” Lois hugged him. He had never felt anything so wonderful. He closed his eyes and pictured her hugging him, otherwise his vision was telling him he was hugging thin air.

Not so tight, Clark!”

He opened his arms, but she continued to hold him.

I was so worried. More on that later. Right fist will mean ‘yes.’ Left fist ‘ no.’ Do you understand?”

Clark made a right fist ‘yes.’

Great! Try speaking out loud to me.”

He tried speaking again, slowly. “Lois, can you hear me?”

Another VR passerby looked at him as if he were nuts. Actually, it was the same man as before.

I didn’t hear anything. Did you speak?”

‘Yes,’ replied Clark’s right fist.

Darn. Okay, I’ll do the majority of the talking. Gee, I hope that doesn’t put a crimp in our relationship, changing it so drastically like that.”

Clark laughed. Oh, how he had missed her.

First of all, where are you in the game? On the street?”

Right fist ‘yes.’

Get off the street! If you’re hit by a car in VR world, VR Clark could die, which would kill a normal human. I don’t know what it would do to you and I don’t want to find out. Are you on the sidewalk now?”

Right fist ‘yes.’ He had been standing on the sidewalk the entire time, but he couldn’t explain that to her.

Lois embraced him again. He breathed in and out. The peanut butter scent was almost gone now, so he could smell her. He closed his eyes. She stepped out of the hug, but kept one hand resting on his chest, so he’d know she was still there.

Ground rules. I don’t know if Jaxon explained them to you when he tricked you in there, so I’m going to go over them again.”

Right fist ‘yes.’

I can’t take off your helmet to get you out of the game. It could kill you. If you die in VR land, it could kill your real body, so don’t do that. To get out of the game, you need an exit pass. When Kal and I were stuck in the VR world, Jaxon’s ‘LL’ watch was his exit pass out of the game. Did you notice him wearing a watch?”

Left fist ‘no.’

Okay. Don’t worry. It could still be the exit pass. Maybe you didn’t notice it.”

Clark raised both hands with a shrug.

Okay. You don’t know. Some real world facts you should know. I followed Jaxon into the building, but he’s talking on the phone in another room; it was lead-lined or soundproofed or something, so I couldn’t hear anything. So, if I disappear suddenly or go quiet, take that as a clue that we are no longer alone. Plus, if you talk to me in the VR world, better call me Lucy.”

Good to know. Right fist ‘yes.’

I know you’re feeling helpless in there and that’s not a feeling you’re used to. Just know that I’ve been there before. Both trapped in the VR and dealing with a blind Superman. Did I ever tell you that story?”

Left fist ‘no.’ He wished that she would just stop yammering and try to get him out of this contraption.

It’s a doozy, especially since it resulted in Kal standing Mayson up… Oh, Mayson! Clark, you’re probably worried sick.”

Right fist ‘yes.’ Yes, Lois, how was Mayson?

She’s out of surgery. She survived, thanks to you. But she’s angry as hell you weren’t there and left me as your messenger.”

Clark winced. He really screwed up big time. He took Lois’s hand off his chest and kissed it.

You’re welcome,” she replied. “She does love you, Clark. Let me give you a free piece of advice about women.”

Left fist ‘no.’ If only he could speak to her with more words than in ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ he could remind her that Jaxon was around somewhere. They needed to hurry.

Lois ignored him. “Sometimes the best way to say ‘I love you’ is just to be there for her, especially if you have to wait a long time to see her… and she knows you had to wait. Especially if you would rather be out stepping on worms.”

Clark sighed. Now she tells him. He shook his head. She had been trying to tell him that earlier, only he hadn’t been in the mood to listen. He kissed her hand again.

You’re welcome,” Lois replied. “Oh, by the way, the real bomber is Sean McCarthy, the same guy as before, which you would have known if you had taken the time to listen to me.

Clark closed his eyes and remembered Mayson on the phone with Henderson that morning.

Sean McCarthy, really.” Mayson glanced over her shoulder at Clark. He waved. She waved back. “I thought he went underground after killing that DEA agent.”

He hadn’t been listening, because he had lost control with her and that scared him.

Also, remember the date 6-24-85,” Lois continued. “It’s Jaxon’s security keypad code to the building.”

Good to know.

Lois froze. “What was that?”

Clark listened, but could not hear anything.

Someone is coming,” she whispered, pressing her body flat against his. “If you get a chance, ask him about his stepmother. A name would be good.”

Clark wrinkled his brow. Why did she want to know that? Oh, yeah, the trace back to Junior. Was that why she wanted to talk to Jaxon since the shooting? He had a chance to kiss her cheek before she was gone.

He continued walking down the street, but he wasn’t paying attention to the VR game. He could hear a door opening somewhere.

Well, hello there Clark. How are you enjoying your walk?” Jaxon chuckled.

Clark stopped and growled.

I was just talking to dear old Dad. Oh, what’s the fun of this? I’m talking to an empty shell, you can’t hear me or respond.” Jaxon tapped on his helmet. “Maybe I should tell you face to face. Father said not to underestimate you, but what can you do to me in my world? Nothing.” He laughed again.

Clark realized that, in the VR world, he was standing in the middle of an intersection and a semi-truck was heading straight for him. He jumped to the curb, barely making it. Ow, his shoulder hurt. He didn’t like that feeling. He would have to be more careful. If he killed himself in the game, Lois would be denied the chance to tell him she told him so. Smiling, he picked himself up and dusted himself off. He would hate to disappoint her.

He started walking again and then, suddenly, he was standing in an office. Jaxon was playing with his world. Clark took a deep breath. Okay, a watch with the letters LL on it. He would have to either be quick or sneaky. He didn’t have super speed in this world, so he would have to trick Jaxon.

The VR door opened and Jaxon walked in, wearing a stylish business suit. “Hello, there, Mr. Kent. I understand you are looking for a new job. Have a seat. What makes you think you are qualified to work for Jaxon, Inc.?” Jaxon sat down on the other side of his desk and chuckled. “Just having some fun with you, Clark. How are you liking your new world? Enjoying yourself?”

“Immensely,” Clark responded with sarcasm. “It’s almost like a vacation. No work to do. No one to save. How relaxing.”

“You forgot no one to talk to. No food to eat. No bed to sleep in.” Jaxon grinned.

Clark scowled.

“Glad you are having a good time.” Jaxon leaned back in his chair. “Let’s see, where should I start? I bet you’re wondering about your girlfriend, Mayson.”

Clark glared at him.

“I know you must be worried. I thought I’d check out the news after your little confession earlier about the car bomb. It seems that Superman was too late. Mayson died on the operating table.”

Clark blanched and stumbled back into a chair. Had Lois lied to him? No. She wouldn’t lie to him about that. She had to be telling the truth, especially the part about Mayson being mad at him. He would believe Lois over Jaxon any day.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. The whole world is going to miss you, Superman. After Mayson’s death, Superman’s disappearance will seem natural for a man in mourning, don’t you think? I mean, you couldn’t even save your own girlfriend, how will anyone be able to trust you again?”

Clark put his head in his hands. He had to get control of himself. This might be the only chance he had to escape. But Jaxon was playing on his every fear.

“So, had you done the big bouncy, bouncy with Mayson?”

Clark looked up with a glare. He wished he had his heat vision.

“What? None of my business? Later, then.” Jaxon kicked his feet up on the desk. “You see, I’m the only person you have to talk to. So, maybe someday, we’ll be the best of buddies and you will tell me all the juicy details about you and Mayson.”

Clark growled.

“And Lucy.”

“Lucy?” That startled him.

“There has to be a history there, Clark. I mean, I’ve looked for hers.” Jaxon shook his head. “Yeah, she’s in your protective custody, isn’t she? Because outside of three months ago, she didn’t exist.”

They really should have done a better job on her back story.

“She’s none of your business.”

“Of course, she is, Clark. You see, you’re missing and Lucy will need someone to comfort her.” He smirked. “Who better than the man who tried to save her from the shooter?”

“Save her? You were behind her.”

“Mrs. Pollcheck, my landlady, said she’s been looking for me,” Jaxon gloated. “Guess she wanted to thank me.”

Clark shook his head. Jaxon would think that, wouldn’t he?

“That’s two strikes against you, Superman. You couldn’t save Lucy from being shot, and now, you couldn’t save Mayson. Even Lana dumped you. You really are a bad boyfriend.”

Clark’s hand was forming a fist. He truly wanted to punch him.

Suddenly, a voice whispered in his ear, it was Lois. He could feel her, pressed against his back. “Remember, Clark. He has all the power in there. I know he must be taunting you. I can see the two of you on the monitor. It doesn’t matter what he says, what matters is the exit pass.”

As usual, Lois was right. He took a deep breath and relaxed his hand. Find the exit pass and keep him talking.

“So, are you going to tell me about your father?”

“My father? Did you hear that?”

Ooops. “Hear what?” Clark glanced around as if Jaxon was referring to a sound in the VR.

“Why do you want to know about my father?” Jaxon was suspicious.

“Just curious about the kind of man who scares you more than Superman.”

“My father doesn’t scare me,” Jaxon stammered. “He’s an important man. Powerful. Rich. Super smart. Bet you’re wishing about now that was one of your super powers.”

Sounded like Lex Luthor. “What a great dad, Jaxon,” Clark added with sarcasm. “I bet he’s really proud of you.”

“He sure is,” Jaxon said with a little more enthusiasm than necessary. He was lying. Lex wasn’t happy. Wonder why?

“Then how did Junior become his favorite son?” Clark asked.

“Junior’s not his favorite,” Jaxon snapped.

“You said, when I interviewed you back in the hospital, that Junior was Dad’s favorite.”

“Well, not anymore.” Jaxon leaned back.

“My mistake. This…” Clark spread out his hands. “…is quite an accomplishment. I’m sure he is proud.”

“I caught Superman where all others have failed.”

“Ah.” Clark nodded. “Other people have been trying to capture me? I never realized that. They must not have been doing a good job. Or maybe no one else was trying. Perhaps I really am easy to catch. I should work on that,” he mocked Jaxon.

Jaxon started fiddling with his sleeve, his lips pressed tightly together. Was Clark hitting a nerve? He should move the topic back somewhere safe, so Jaxon wouldn’t leave before he found the exit pass.

Clark leaned back in his chair. “Dad must have been really upset with Junior, hitting on your mom like that?”

“Lola’s not my mom,” Jaxon said, jumping to his feet. Ooops. Found another nerve. “She’s just some lounge singer he found in a Berkistan hotel. Junior likes her because she’s hot. She’s not smart like Lucy.”

Bingo. “Strange that someone as smart as your father would be tricked into marrying a dumb lounge singer?” That didn’t sound like Lex Luthor.

“She’s really hot. Legs that never end. Big brown eyes. Some men are fools for that sort of thing. Not like you and me, Clark. We like women who challenge us intellectually.” Jaxon thought he was smarter than his father when it came to women. Interesting.

Clark grinned. “I don’t know. I’m a sucker for a nice pair of legs, myself.”

“Riiiiight,” Jaxon drawled.

“I’ve got to have more self-control than most men. It wouldn’t be good for the image.”

Jaxon laughed. Clark actually got him to laugh. Maybe he had made a connection.

“See, Jaxon. I’m not that bad of a guy. Just trying to make my way in the world, just like everyone else. How about you let me out?”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d have me locked up in ten seconds flat.”

“For what, showing me your VR game? I don’t have any evidence that you kidnapped me, just my word,” Clark said, knowing that his word actually meant something. “But the longer you keep me here, the more evidence builds up.”

Jaxon beamed, patting his jacket pocket. “That is, if anyone finds you before you get killed or die of boredom.”

Clark leaned forward. “I could put a good word in with Lucy for you.”

“You could. But you won’t. She’s a porcelain doll that you have placed high on a shelf so no one else can play with her. There’s something there between you two; I don’t know what. But you wouldn’t chance her liking me.”

“True. If she didn’t fall for Superman’s strength or Mr. Olsen’s wealth, what makes you think she’d have anything to do with you?”

“Olsen’s been trying to tap that?” This seemed to annoy Jaxon.

Clark was happy that Lois couldn’t hear this conversation or she’d be tempted to put on the VR headset and punch Jaxon’s lights out. “Lucy turned him down flat. But they’ve become quite close over the last couple of months.” Sorry, Mr. Olsen.

“What?!” Jaxon put his elbows on the desk and started to wring his hands. Clark could not see a watch. If it wasn’t the watch, what else would be the exit pass?

“He’s been helping her do computer research.” Clark smiled. “We’ve been short a researcher and he’s jumped in to help.”

“Do you mean, if I hadn’t been shot, I could be her best buddy now?” Jealousy and doubt entered Jaxon’s expression.

Lois breathed down his neck and made him shiver. “Where’s the watch?”

Clark shrugged. Luckily, it answered both of their questions.

Maybe I should go into the VR and talk to him?” Lois whispered. “He’d tell me.”

Clark closed his left fist.

Do you want to be stuck in there forever?”

He opened his left fist and closed it again.

“Well, I can’t let Olsen to take Lucy away from me,” Jaxon mumbled.

“He can’t take away something that doesn’t want to go with him. She told him ‘no’.”

“Yeah, Olsen’s a decent guy. He wouldn’t do that.” Jaxon smirked. “Me, not so much.”

Clark leaned forward, his fist clenching again.

What is he saying to you, Clark? You look furious.”

“I wonder if she likes computer games?” Jaxon continued.

“Oh, you’d bring me a friend. How nice of you.” Clark leaned back, again in control. “Unfortunately, Lucy prefers the real world.”

Okay. If it isn’t the watch, what other item would he use as his exit pass? It would have to be something he had on him the last time you met with him.”

“I bet you do too, Clark, but here you are.”

Did he pretend to be some big blond gorilla? For some reason, he thought I’d prefer him that way. Yuck.”

Clark closed his right hand. “But if you brought her here, I’d learn to adapt.” He smiled as if in anticipation. “I’ve learned she doesn’t like the brute force type. Maybe she’d prefer me as Clark Kent, average guy.”

“Your girlfriend has been dead an hour, Clark. An hour! Forgive me if I don’t take dating advice from you.” Jaxon chuckled with a shake of his head. “And to think you almost killed me because of her. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?”

Clark looked down, honestly chagrined. He had forgotten about Mayson. He was a lousy boyfriend. One discussion about Lois and poof, there went Mayson from his brain. “You’re right,” Clark admitted. “She deserves better. What made me think I could have a normal life?”

Clark! You’re going to pieces again. I can see it in your eyes. He’s trying to drive the will to survive out of you. Don’t let him get to you. I know you’re vulnerable right now, but don’t give up. I need you. Mayson needs you. Please, Clark, hold on.”

“Wow, Clark. That’s quite a confession.” Jaxon gloated, patting his jacket breast pocket. “Well, I’d better be going now.”

It’s the pen, Clark!”

Clark looked up and saw Jaxon standing at the desk with a pen in his hand.

“Can I write her a note goodbye?” The reporter held out his hand for the pen.

“Well, why not?” Jaxon almost handed Clark the pen from his pocket, but then put it back. “That one’s special. Dad gave it to me when I graduated from MIT.”

He pulled out a yellow legal pad and an ordinary ball point pen.

You’ve got to get that pen, Clark. It’s either you or him.”

Clark pretended to scribble for a moment and tossed the pen into the trash. “It didn’t work.” He leaned over and tried to grab the pen from Jaxon’s hand. “It’s not every day that a man writes the woman he loves a note goodbye.”

Jaxon seized Clark’s wrist and twisted it.

“Ow. Ow. Ow.”

“How does it feel to have a broken wrist, Clark? Ever have one of those before? I doubt it.”

Clark reached over with his left hand and clicked the pen. As both of them were holding on to it, they both came out of the VR game at the same time.

***

Lois pushed the helmet off Superman’s head and helped him with his gloves.

“My wrist,” he mumbled.

“Let’s get you into the sunlight,” she suggested.

Jaxon walked into the VR room from his office. “Lucy! How did you…”

“I’m good, huh?” She grinned, pulling off Superman’s other glove and unhooked his VR belt.

“You lied to me?” Jaxon’s face fell, staring at Superman. “You weren’t really going to tell her goodbye.”

Superman gave one last glance at Jaxon and scooped Lois into his arms and went out the door.

“You’re just going to leave him there?” she asked, once they were airborne. “Aren’t you going to take him to the police?”

“There’s only my word against his that I was ever held against my will. Not really a story I want out in the press anyway.”

“What am I, chopped liver?”

“I don’t want you involved in this, Lois. We’ve worked too hard to keep you out of the spotlight. I just want to forget this ever happened.”

Lois hugged him. “Are you okay?”

“My wrist feels better. It feels good to breathe fresh air again. Thank you, Lois.”

“It looked like he was messing with your mind.”

He swallowed. “I’ll survive.”

“Clark, do you need some time before you go to see Mayson?” Lois asked quietly. “Once you tell her what happened, she’ll understand.”

“No. Best if I do it now,” he said.

“I ask, because you’re heading away from the hospital.”

“You and the baby need more than peanut butter crackers. I’m taking you home,” he told her.

“I can eat at the hospital, Clark. If you want… company.”

“No, thank you, Lois. I’ll go alone.”

“Clark, I don’t think you should be alone right now,” she whispered.

He pushed open the doors of her large living room window and set her down inside. “I’ll always be alone, Lois.” She hoped never to see the expression on his face on her Clark’s face. He was drawn and exhausted, like he didn’t have a friend in the world and didn’t deserve one.

Sam came rushing into the room and Superman turned to him. “Don’t let her leave before she’s eaten.” Then he turned and took off through the window again.

She ran to the window. “Clark, no!” But he was gone.

Lois embraced Sam. “Clark’s broken, Daddy. His spirit has been crushed. And I can’t help him.”

Sam led her to the sofa, where she burst into tears. She tried to speak, but could not form the words.

“Give yourself a minute, sweetie.”

Lois took a couple of deep breaths. “I’ve got to go after him.”

“What have you eaten recently?” Sam asked.

“Don’t listen to him, Daddy. He’s trying to stop me from helping him. He’s going to break Mayson’s heart. I can’t let him do that.”

“Isn’t that his decision?” Sam asked. “Isn’t it his life?”

“But he’s doing it for all the wrong reasons. He blames himself for not being one second faster.” She wiped her nose with her knuckles. “He blames himself for her accident.”

“It’s his life, Lucy. He doesn’t need you to live it for him.”

“But he’s making the wrong choice,” Lois tried to explain. “It’s going to make him miserable. It’s already making him miserable.”

“That it might. But only he has the right to make those decisions, not you,” Sam reminded her.

“But I’m his… his…” she sobbed. She wasn’t anything to him, technically. That realization made her cry harder.

“Lois. You’re Kal’s wife. You get to make life’s choices with him,” Sam said, heading into the kitchen and returning with a box of tissues. “Clark alone gets to make his own mistakes. It’s how he will learn to make better decisions, the next time around.”

“But he thinks there’s never going to be a next time, Daddy.” Lois blew her nose.

“We both know he’ll get another chance.”

“When I see Clark in pain, it’s as if my Clark is in pain. When he’s in pain, I need to do everything I can to stop it.”

Sam hugged her. “You will be such a good mother, sweetie. You have such a capacity to love. One of the hardest lessons to learn as a parent is when you can help and when you need to stand back and let them fight their own battles.”

Lois looked at him for a minute before answering. “Daddy, Clark isn’t a child. He’s a grown man.”

“Then how about you start treating him like one?” Sam patted her knee and went into the kitchen. A minute later he returned with half a roast beef with Swiss sandwich and a glass of juice. “I went out and bought it for you after you called. I knew today would be a hard one for you.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” She took a sip of juice. “I wish there was something I could do to stop the train wreck from happening before me.”

“We can’t all be superheroes, sweetie.”

“If anyone needed a superhero right about now it would be Clark,” she said, adding, “To save him from himself.”

***

Sam insisted on accompanying Lois to the hospital and would not be persuaded otherwise. She found the waiting room to be deserted of most of its earlier inhabitants. Strangely, James and Perry were still there, discussing James’s notepad.

“Is Clark still in with Mayson?” Lois asked, walking up to them.

“Lucy!” James jumped to his feet and then noticed Sam standing behind her. He glanced between them. Perry just stood there with his jaw hanging open.

“Sorry, James. This is my doctor, Dr. Sam Lane. Sam, this is the owner of the Daily Planet and our apartment building, Mr. James Olsen.”

The men nodded at one another and shook hands.

“And this is…”

“Perry, or I guess I should call you Mayor White now. Congratulations,” Sam said with his hand extended.

“Thanks, Sam,” Perry said, shaking his hand. “It’s been a long time. What in the King’s name are you doing here?”

“We were worried about Clark,” Lois explained. “He seemed a bit down, when he dropped me off at home to get something to eat.”

Perry and James exchanged a full conversation in a glance. Perry finally broke the silence. “Clark’s already left, honey. James and I were just about to leave.”

“What? Already?” Lois fell into a chair and then turned to Sam. “We couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes behind him.”

“More like a half-hour, Lucy,” Sam corrected.

“I guess Mayson didn’t want him around,” said James.

“Mayson kicked him out? But she loves him.” She glanced between the men for a better explanation. “He needs her.”

“Apparently, he needed her more than she needed him.”

“No!” Lois shook her head. “That can’t be right. I expected him to break up with her for her own good. I warned her that it might—” Her eyes went wide with horror. “Oh, my God, what did I do?” Her head dropped into her hands. “I did this. I came down here to stop him from making a tragic error of judgment and it was already too late. She countered with a preemptive break-up. Oh, Clark, forgive me. Forgive me.”

Perry leaned over to James and Sam and asked out of the corner of his mouth, “Any idea what she just said?”

They shook their heads.

“Did he say where he was going? I’ve got to apologize.” Lois stood up.

“Away,” replied Perry.

“What do you mean ‘away’?” Lois stammered, tears filling her eye lashes. “Don’t be nice to me, Perry. Tell me the truth, even if it hurts.”

The mayor wrapped his arm about her shoulders. “Honey, Clark needs some time alone right now. That old hound dog is checking in down at Heartbreak Hotel.”

“It’s all my fault.”

“Don’t you be a-worrying. Clark will come back to you.” Perry walked them out of earshot of the others. “Lucy, honey. Did you know he confuses you with Lois?”

“Who, Clark? Yeah.” She rolled her eyes. “I noticed that, too. I keep having to correct him.”

“That doesn’t worry you?” he asked.

Lois sighed. “Not really. He’s in love with her. I remind him of her. I’m used to it now. It’s one of two major reasons we never would have made it as a couple.”

“Wait a gosh darn minute here, Lucy,” Perry said, stopping. “You knew he was in love with Lois, yet you didn’t want him to break up with Mayson?”

“Right.”

“Want to explain that one to this old-timer?”

Lois linked her arm with his. “Mayson was his right now hope. Lois is his future hope. How can Superman be a symbol of hope if he doesn’t have any himself? Plus, you don’t break up with a woman on the same day she barely survives a bomb blast. Even if it is for her own good.”

“I’ll have to agree with you there, Lucy. But how did you know he was going to break up with her?”

“I wish I could call it psychic intuition.” Lois shook her head. “Because that is what superheroes do. They try to distance themselves from those they love if danger comes knocking at their door. Clark didn’t want Mayson getting hurt because he’s Superman. So, he was going to break up with her.”

“Sounds like you have some experience in that department, honey,” said Perry with a slight nudge of his elbow. “He ever try that on you?”

“Of course—” Lois had forgotten where she was and to whom she was speaking. “Not. Of course not, Perry! Clark and I never dated. How could you ever think that?” She gave him a glare. “We’re just friends. Always have been. Nothing more.”

“O-kay.” Perry nodded. “So, what was that other major reason you two never would have made it as a couple?”

“Why don’t you ask Clark that question the next time you see him?” Lois answered. She had stuck her foot in her mouth enough for one day.

“Did you say that Lois’s dad was your doctor? Is that wise?”

Lois looked at him with confusion. “Dr. Sam Lane is the best doctor I know; how would it be unwise?”

“Okay.” Perry decided to switch gears. “What does Clark think about that?”

“Obviously, we’re not privy to each other’s private decisions anymore,” Lois snapped.

“Okay. Okay.” Perry held up his hands. They had circled back to James and Sam by this point.

James asked in a soft voice, “Where did he go after he left to take his shower this morning?”

Lucy looked down at her clunky, ugly clogs. “I’m sorry. He asked that I not tell anyone.”

“How did you find him?”

Lois made a pattern on the carpet with the point of her shoe. “No one knows Clark Kent better than me,” she answered. “Better than he knows himself.”

“Lucy, Clark said that he’d call you when he can,” James told her.

“What is that supposed to mean? ‘When he can’?” She threw up her hands and shook her head.

“He’s taking a week of vacation.”

“What?” She dropped back into a chair. She reached out and took Sam’s hand. The warmth helped, but it wasn’t the comfort she sought. “But he’s my best friend. He can’t just leave without word.” She turned to Sam. “Can he?”

“Looks like he finally cut those apron strings.”

“But he needs me.” She looked at the three men for confirmation. “And I need him. What am I supposed to do for a whole week without Clark?”

“You’ll survive,” Lois’s father said with a hint of a smile.

“I’d better survive or I will kill him when he gets back.” She stood up and stomped out of the waiting room.

Perry turned to Sam Lane. “Are you sure that isn’t your daughter?”

Sam cracked a smile. “She does have Lois’s fire, doesn’t she?”

***

Clark sat at the edge of the tallest building in Metropolis. The sun was beginning to set — pink, orange, and blue danced across the sky — but he could not enjoy it. He felt empty inside. Wrapping his cape around himself, he wondered where he should go. He didn’t want to go back to his apartment. There were too many fresh memories of Mayson there. He knew that Lucy would hold him and comfort him, after she berated him for not listening to her.

But he deserved to feel rotten. It was because he hadn’t been fast enough that Mayson ended up in the hospital. Because he was blinded by remorse and self-centeredness, he had gone after the wrong man. Because he lost control of his temper, Jaxon had been able to guilt-trip him into his virtual reality game. And because he had been in the VR game, he hadn’t been there when Mayson got out of surgery, making her feel that he cared less for her than he did for vengeance. It was his fault that Mayson no longer wanted him around. Personally, Clark didn’t blame her.

Mayson said that she loved him and that she knew he cared for her, but that she needed someone who would put her first, before everything else in his life — including Superman — and she didn’t think that he could ever do that. She had thought for a few minutes that morning that maybe she could teach him to do that, but he had proved to her without a shadow of a doubt that he could not. So, it was for the best if they did not continue their relationship, or deepen it, as they had discussed that morning, because then someone was truly going to get hurt and she was afraid it might be her.

Clark hadn’t tried to persuade her that he could change or to give him another chance. Jaxon had been right about one thing: he was a horrible boyfriend. He simply kissed her and told her again that he was sorry and that he wished things could be different. Then he left.

He had wanted to fly, fly, fly far away. His chest ached in a way it hadn’t ever ached before. And he wanted to catch Sean McCarthy and present him to Mayson with a giant red bow. The corner of his mouth hinted upwards. He still wanted to do that.

Perry and Mr. Olsen were witness to his heartache. He tried to act like nothing was wrong, but he could never pull a fast one on the Chief. He thought back over their conversation.

“You look like someone just punched you in the gut, Clark. Mayson not forgive you for disappearing on her?

Clark nodded. “She told me that she needed some space from me for a while.”

“How long are you in the doghouse?”

He blew out a breath. “I believe her exact words were ‘as long as Superman still flies’.”

“Ouch,” Mr. Olsen said with a sympathetic wince. “Harsh.”

“What a day,” Clark said, wiping the hair off his brow. “What I need is a vacation, a one week vacation to recover from this one day.”

“Take it. You deserve it,” Mr. Olsen told him. “Go and lie on the beach somewhere. Let the police earn their paychecks this week.”

Perry double finger pointed at Mr. Olsen and warned, “Don’t you knock my boys in blue, Jimmy. They work plenty hard.”

Clark smacked himself in the head. “I can’t go. I can’t leave Lois—” He stopped short upon realizing his blunder. “I mean, Lucy. She’d kill me and I don’t mean figuratively.”

“I was going to propose that you take her with you—” Perry began.

“That’s a bad idea,” Mr. Olsen cut in.

Perry glared at him. “But then I thought some time alone might do our boy some good. Clear his head. Set his priorities in order.”

“We can keep an eye on her for you,” Mr. Olsen grinned.

“Of course we will. She’ll be fine. Make her miss you for a while.”

“She misses Clark Kent enough as it is,” Clark replied, thinking of Kal. She always called him her Kal patch. As long as he was around, she felt that her husband wasn’t so far away.

“Well, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

He shook his head. “Don’t I know it.”

Mr. Olsen patted him on the back as if he understood that Clark had been speaking of her fondness of someone else. Had Lois told him about Kal? That seemed unlikely.

“I’d better bolt. If I’m still here when Lucy shows up, she’ll start to fuss over me again and I’ll never escape. Thank you, Perry. Mr. Olsen.” He shook their hands and then left.

Superman had flown around the city for a while, stopped a mugging, rescued a kitten from a tree, and helped someone with car trouble, before he ended up sitting on top of the Daily Planet building, wondering where his life had gone so wrong and where he could go to forget about Metropolis for awhile.

Clark knew where he wanted to go — he’d been dreaming about it for weeks — but it was still Sunday. Tomorrow. He would go tomorrow. Anyway, he wanted to have another discussion with Dr. Klein. He had figured out a solution to the blood sample problem. All that walking around in the VR world had given him plenty of time to think. He knew that Lois wouldn’t like it, so best not to tell her about it until afterwards. And there was still the problem of Sean McCarthy. He couldn’t let him walk around free while Mayson was in the hospital. Bobby Bigmouth was the perfect place to start.

***

Later, after following the good lead that Bobby had given him, Superman caught Dr. Klein just before nine the next morning in the parking lot of S.T.A.R. Labs. Dr. Klein loved his idea on a scientific level and hated it on a personal level.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Dr. Klein asked.

“No, I don’t want to do this,” Superman replied. “But I want to get the answer to the question we discussed last week.”

“Oh, really? Have there been developments on that front?” Dr. Klein was interested.

Superman thought back to what he had lost with Mayson. “Let’s just say I was tempted to lose control in a way I’ve never done before. I’d like some answers, should it ever…” He paused, knowing full well temptation was no longer an option for him. “… come up again.”

“Oh. Answers. Do you expect anything will… come up in the near future?”

Superman shook his head. “But I understand your tin can reference better this week than I did last week.”

“Tin cans? Oh.” Dr. Klein patted him on the back. “Women have all the super powers when it comes to crushing a man’s heart. I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

“Well, let’s run some tests then. So you have an answer, should it… arise another time.”

After they ran a battery of tests, Dr. Klein asked, “Are you sure, Superman? We could figure out the answer without blood.”

“I want it to be a thorough exam. How much blood will you need to run tests?”

“If we get a couple of syringes full then we never have to do this again. I could keep the extra blood in the vault with the Kryptonite. Personally, I feel quite uncomfortable about your proposed method.”

“Line up the syringes in front of me and I’ll draw the blood myself,” Superman suggested.

“I saw the news reports, Superman. Will you be able to?”

Superman hesitated. “Will you assist me if I can’t?”

Dr. Klein nodded.

Clark changed out of his blue suit and into his workout clothes. He pulled off his tank top so that Dr. Klein could hook up the heart rate, respiratory, and blood pressure monitors. Then Dr. Klein attached sensors to his temples and four areas of his chest and back. Dr. Klein set a medium-sized metal box on the lab table and lined up five syringes in front of it.

“Again, Clark. We do not have to do this. If something were to happen…”

Clark shook his head. “No. This is important.” He stared for a moment at the closed box. “If something unexpected were to happen…” He cleared his throat. “Tell Lucy that I’m sorry.”

“Lucy?”

“My research assistant,” Clark explained.

“Oh.”

‘Sorry’ hadn’t been enough of a message for Mayson. If he died, Lois would need more of a message. “And that I love her.”

“Oh!” Dr. Klein raised a brow. “Was she the one—”

“No!” Clark shook his head. “Our relationship is complicated. I love Lucy… like a sister.” A sister-in-law. A sister-in-law he wished was his wife.

“I see.” Dr. Klein nodded.

“If something were to happen to me—” He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “Help her, if she comes to you.” He looked him directly in the eye. “Please.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Dr. Klein asked again.

Clark stared at the box. Kal had apparently been exposed to Kryptonite on more than a couple of occasions, including once last Christmas when Lois’s father had used it to cure him of a raging virus. He had been shot with a Kryptonite bullet, kissed with lipstick infused with Kryptonite, sprayed with a Kryptonite gas, jumped through a Kryptonite force field and — thanks to Tempus — surrounded by Kryptonite as a baby. Clark had gotten the inspiration for drawing blood from Lois’s story about a man attempting to graft his head onto Kal’s body. That crazy doctor had used Kryptonite to weaken Kal enough for surgery. If Kryptonite could weaken Kal enough for surgery, it should easily weaken Clark enough to draw blood. He took a deep breath.

“I’m ready, Dr. Klein. Open the box.”

The brightness of the green rock hurt Clark’s eyes. He looked away and felt the tightness in his chest and the weakness in his knees. He gripped the edge of the lab table. “How long, doctor?”

“Only fifteen seconds.”

Clark grimaced. Not enough time. The knives had started to pierce his body, he was sweating in a way he had only ever done with Kryptonite before. He tried to keep himself upright. He tried deep, calming breaths, but his throat was so sore. It hurt to breath. “Time.”

“Thirty seconds.”

Not enough time. One of the knives stabbed him through the gut, making him double over. He pulled himself upright again. He focused on Dr. Klein. He couldn’t wait any longer. “Try the first needle.” Clark lay out his arm and Dr. Klein tried to draw blood. The needle pricked his skin and felt like sword stabbing him in the gut, but then the needle broke.

“We need more time, Clark. I’m sorry.” Dr. Klein set the broken needle next to the others. He then grabbed a stool for Clark to sit on. “I really think you should lie down.”

“Thank you,” he said, trying to control the shaking. “I’ll be fine.” He felt better sitting down. Well, not better, but less likely to pass out.

Finally, after two minutes they were able to get a needle into Clark’s arm and keep it there long enough to draw blood. Two vials of rich maroon good stuff. Clark had never felt so weak, had never felt such dizziness. Dr. Klein put a cotton ball over the needle and pulled it out. He then taped down the cotton ball with a band-aid.

Clark reached over with his free arm and closed the box. He felt better instantly. The ringing in his ears stopped and his eyes no longer hurt. But he felt weak and exhausted like never before. Then again, he hadn’t slept. Dr. Klein unhooked the sensors from his body and then Clark fell to the floor. He pulled himself back up to the stool and sat down. The room seemed quieter than usual and he realized it was because he couldn’t hear the scientists in the other labs.

Then he heard something strange. It sounded like the soft cracking of glass. He looked over at the two vials of blood that had been drawn and he realized that the first vial was cracking. “Dr. Klein, do you have any metal vials?” he asked.

“Sure. Why?” asked the scientist.

At that moment the first vial popped, as if it had been holding pressurized gas that had been overfilled. It was enough of a pop to spray blood and glass fragments all over the table. Dr. Klein grabbed the second vial and quickly poured the contents into a larger metal vial, then capped it. Meanwhile, Clark blew his freezing breath over the spilled blood. He then was able to pick up the entirety of the blood at once.

“Do you have a micro strainer?” Clark asked.

Dr. Klein found one, handing it to him.

Clark reached for his glasses only to remember that he no longer had glasses. That was a problem — he couldn’t be Clark Kent without his glasses. What happened to his spare pair? Oh, yeah, Lana sat on them back in January. He’d been too busy to replace them.

He focused on the blood-icicle. Nothing happened. Not good. Clark took a deep breath and tried again. Nothing. Come on, body, you can do this, he told himself. He closed his eyes and thought of the hottest substance he could think of: lava. Opening his eyes, he focused again on the blood. A spark. A drip. Yes! It was working. Slowly, Clark melted the blood again and strained out the glass.

The second metal vial was capped. Clark found a heat-proof plate and poured onto it the glass fragments from the broken first vial, the second glass vial and the broken needles, and the needle that had worked. Using his heat vision to melt the metal and glass, he burned up whatever remnants of blood had been there.

“Did I get it all?” Clark asked, looking around the lab table.

“I believe so,” said Dr. Klein, picking up the two metal vials of blood and the box of Kryptonite. “I’ll just return these to the vault.”

“And I’ll see you next week,” said Clark, picking up his shirt. “I’m heading out on vacation.”

“Sounds nice.” The scientist smiled.

Clark stumbled after him. “Maybe I should take a few minutes to rest.”

“Lie down in my office, Clark. I wouldn’t want you flying in that condition. Plus, there is one more test we need to conduct.”

“Test? What kind of test?” Clark asked.

Dr. Klein raised his full arms. “Go lie down, Clark. We’ll discuss this when I return.”

When Clark opened his eyes, two hours had passed. He stretched and the band-aid with cotton ball burst off his arm. Catching it in mid-air, Clark smiled and pocketed it. Just enough blood for Lois’s dad to make a comparison. He quickly changed back into the blue suit and entered Dr. Klein’s lab.

“Superman! You’re finally awake. Sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“That’s all right, Dr. Klein. I had a long night and didn’t get any sleep. Thank you for the loan of your couch.”

“Anytime,” the researcher said.

“You mentioned something about one last test for me, before I left?” Superman asked.

“Yes. Yes.” Klein put an arm around Superman and walked him back into the hall. “I have it set up for you at that room down at the end of the hall.”

“Okay.” Superman waited for further instructions.

“It’s pretty self-explanatory.” Dr. Klein nodded, clapping him on the back.

“What is?” Superman asked. “What will I find in that room?”

“Magazines. And a cup.”

“And what kind of test is that, exactly?” Superman was confused again.

Dr. Klein pressed his lips together. “We’re miscommunicating again, aren’t we?”

Superman just looked blankly at him.

Dr. Klein lowered his voice. “I need to test your swimmers.”

“My… oh. Those swimmers.” He nodded, glancing between the room and Dr. Klein.

“Are you up for this?”

No, not really. Superman swallowed uncomfortably. “Of course.” And he walked down the hall. What wouldn’t he do for Lois Lane?

***

It was early afternoon by the time Clark finished at S.T.A.R. Labs. So much for an early start on his vacation. He only had one more stop before heading on his way. He flew past the Daily Planet and saw Lois working at her desk. Good girl. He thought she might have glanced up when he flew past, but he was just a blur outside. He blew open the windows of her apartment, scaring Sam, who was cutting carrot sticks in the kitchen.

“Clark Kent! You’re going to be the death of me one of these days,” Sam yelled, carrying the knife with him as he entered the living room. “I could have cut my thumb off. Next time, call first before you decide to blow in. Most civilized people knock.”

Superman stood there with his arms crossed. “I apologize. You are completely correct. I didn’t see you in the kitchen window when I flew past; I’ll remember my manners next time.”

“Thank you.” Sam stood there for half a minute staring at him. “What do you want? Lucy’s at work.”

“I know. I came to see you.”

“Me?” Sam’s expression softened, then became excited. “Do you have news on Lois?”

Superman shook his head. “But I do have something else you requested.” He held out the cotton ball.

Sam dropped the knife on the coffee table, took the cotton ball and examined it. “What the…? Clark, this has blood on it.”

“Yes.”

“Do I want to know whose blood it is?” Sam inquired warily.

“Mine.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “But you are… how? Are you okay? Should I call Lucy?”

“I’m okay. Please, don’t tell Lucy. It would only make her more anxious.”

“More? The woman is on pregnancy hormones overdrive. It took the three of us to calm her after you ditched her at the hospital yesterday.” Sam retrieved a plastic sandwich bag to hold the cotton ball.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I care about Lucy a great deal, which is why I told her to stay home. I couldn’t be around her after Mayson…” He took a deep breath. “I take it that you’ve heard.”

Sam nodded, sitting down on the sofa. “You left word with the head gossips of the Daily Planet.”

Clark huffed in annoyance, lifting up his cape and sitting down on the couch opposite Sam.

“Lucy thought you were going to break up with Mayson. That’s why she insisted on us going over there. She wanted to stop you.”

“I was going to break up with her, which is why it hurts so much that she rejected me first.”

“Run that by me again?” Sam asked.

“I can’t handle the responsibility of loving someone as fragile as a human woman. Mayson drove me crazy in ways I had never felt before; I almost lost total control with her.

“Clark,” Sam said, leaning forward. “That’s how women are supposed to make men feel; why do you think we keep chasing after them? That feeling, that adrenaline rush, it’s like a drug. We keep wanting more and more.”

“I am not most men. I am not someone who should ever lose control.”

Sam shook his head with a sad smile. “You’re missing out on some of life’s most wonderful feelings.”

“Sam, when Mayson got hurt, I could no longer control my anger. My rage took over and I almost hurt an innocent man. And the guilt I feel over not being able to keep her from harm… I never want to feel this way again, it’s like someone stabbed my heart. It hurts — physically hurts — right here.” He tapped the center of his chest. “These are not wonderful emotions. I can’t allow myself to ever get close to another woman again; I’m not strong enough to handle the consequences. I care too much for her to continue to date her, because if she or any other woman I cared about ever got hurt, really hurt, because of me…” He took a deep breath, unable to finish that thought.

“Clark, when Ellen — Lois’s mom — and I were first dating, our car got rear-ended, just bumped really, but Ellen hit her head against her door. When I saw the blood, my vision went red. I got out of the car and punched the fellow in the nose for hurting the woman I loved. Physiologically, our bodies are made to protect the women we love and any possible offspring that they might be carrying. Some say that’s why our blood is red: like a bullfighter’s cape, it attracts our attention to what’s important.”

Superman thought about this for a moment. “So, you’re saying that what I felt with Mayson was normal?”

“Perfectly normal,” Sam told him.

“But I’m not normal. I’m not most men. I am someone who should never lose control in any way, shape, or fashion.” Superman looked down, then over at Sam. “If I punched a man in the nose for hurting Lois, I could quite easily kill him.”

“You meant Mayson?” Sam asked.

“Right. Of course. Mayson.” Superman stood up and moved closer to the window. “I’ve never even met my Lois.”

Your Lois? Your Lois?” Sam stood up, picked up the knife, and charged him. Superman easily stepped out of his way.

“Anyway, there is the blood sample to compare to Lucy’s. I’ll be on my way now, Sam. See you in a week.” Superman shot him an embarrassed grin, dived out the living room window, and flew out of sight.

“Stay away from my daughter!” Sam yelled, shaking his fist. “You tights-wearing freak!”

***

Superman, a small valise in hand, landed in a group of trees just outside of Smallville. Clark emerged from the woods and started to hike into town. People were already bundled up for the fall. The corn had been picked and the autumn winds had started to blow. He took a deep breath. Nothing like fresh county air. It was nice to be home.

He walked into the Smallville County Bank. His parents, the Kents, had paid the mortgage on the farm every month like clockwork. Ownership must have returned to the bank after they died. The bank manager would know who bought it after the inevitable foreclosure, and who the current owners were. He stopped at the first desk.

A chunky, curly-haired woman glanced up, then jumped to her feet. “Clark? Clark Kent?” She held out her hand. “I don’t know if you remember me. Mitzi Gannor. Well, Mitzi Cummings then. I was a sophomore when you were a senior. Probably not. Wow! What are you doing in town?”

So much for subtle. The bank had gone quiet and everyone was staring at him. He shook her hand. “Just visiting. Is Mr. Robertson still manager of the bank?”

“Oh, gosh, no, Clark. He retired some years back and took Mrs. Robertson to Florida.”

“Oh.” So much for easy.

“Mr. Wilkenson is bank manager, now.”

As Mitzi spoke these words, a plump, balding, grey-haired man walked out of the glass-enclosed office. He held out his hand. “Clark Kent! What an honor it is to have you back in Smallville. Josh Wilkenson. I knew your parents well.”

Clark shook his hand. “You did?”

“Sure did. I’m the one who helped Martha and Jonathan refinance their last loan. Would you like to come into my office?”

“That would be great.” He turned to Mitzi. “Thank you.”

“Oh, no. Thank you. Scott, my son, is going to be thrilled that you’re back in town.” She held up a photo of her son dressed as Superman.

Clark laughed. “Tell him I’m just visiting. And not to fly off any roofs.”

“Oh, no. He won’t do that again.” She nodded seriously.

He stared at her for a moment and then followed Mr. Wilkenson into his office.

Clark left the office a few minutes later. Mr. Wilkenson referred him to the Kent’s family attorney. Clark hadn’t known that his parents had a lawyer or had even drawn up wills. But then again, they were very meticulous people; it only made sense that they had wills. He waved at Mitzi and headed back to Main Street.

Word had spread that Clark Kent was back in town. People were coming to gawk at him from store windows. He guessed that the old saying was true: one really couldn’t go home again. He glanced down at the address in his hand and turned into a nondescript entrance that led to the upstairs office of Richard Colborgh, Esquire. He knocked on the glass door and heard a bit of shuffling inside.

A lanky, casually dressed man came to the door. “Clark Kent, at last,” he said, ushering him into the room. The office itself was also nondescript, a stereotypical lawyer’s office with a wood desk and bookshelves of law books. “I was wondering if I would need to have some young whippersnapper from the city hunt you down before I retired. But now you’re here.” He smiled.

“Mr. Colborgh, I presume,” Clark asked, shaking his hand.

“Sorry, yes. Everyone knows who you are. People must forget to introduce themselves all the time.”

Clark nodded. “Mr. Wilkenson from the bank said that you might know who the current owner is of my parents’ farm.”

“Of course. Of course. The lands were sold off after your folks passed. Sad. Sad day.” Mr. Colborgh shook his head as he sat down at his desk. “The Irigs bought everything with the exception of the house and the five acres surrounding it.”

Clark leaned forward. “Excuse me?”

“The house and the surrounding acres were put into trust with the money from the life insurance policies the Kents purchased nine years earlier.” Mr. Colborgh reached into a cabinet behind him and removed a file.

“My parents had life insurance policies?” This surprised Clark. They had never told him. Nobody had told him.

“Small ones. With the money earned from the sale of the lands and those policies, the trustee was able to pay off the bank and purchase the house and the surrounding acres free and clear. The remaining funds were used to pay the taxes on the land these past twenty years.” He opened the file.

“Wow.” His parents were more forward-thinking than he had ever known. “Who was the beneficiary of the trust?”

Mr. Colborgh looked at him with shock. “Why, you are, of course.” He placed his finger on a paper in the file and adjusted his reading glasses. “‘All proceeds of the estate will be held in the Kent Family Trust until Clark Kent reaches the age of eighteen, at which time, the property and funds in said Trust will pass to him.’ Been waiting quite a long time for you to come and sign all the necessary paperwork, my boy.”

“Me? My parents left me the house?” Clark fell against the back of his seat. “I never knew. No one ever told me. I thought they left me with nothing.” He looked up at the lawyer, who seemed to be getting a nasty look on his face.

“Those foster care social workers! I told them about the trust. They were supposed to tell you.” The man came slowly around the desk and patted him on the arm. “I’m sorry, Clark. I thought you were informed about your parents’ will. But when you left town after graduation, I figured you weren’t interested in settling down in Smallville. I continued to oversee the trust in case you ever changed your mind.” He smiled. “And here you are. Glad you came now, Clark. Don’t know if I could have held off retirement any longer. The wife, you know.”

“The house is mine? I have a home?” He was still in shock. His parents had thought about him, provided for his future. He had thought that they couldn’t afford to make such plans, poor farmers that they were. And the life insurance policies had been purchased nine years before their deaths, right after they found him. His heart swelled with love. So deep was he in his thoughts, he almost forgot to listen to the lawyer.

“I go out and check on the place from time to time. Abandoned houses are popular with the teenage rock-throwing crowd. I’ve had to replace a few windows over the years. But other than that, the house is pretty much the same as when you moved out. The furniture is still there, although it could use some cleaning.”

Clark smiled. “I can handle that. Any chance I can get the phone and power turned on this week?”

“Already on, my boy,” Mr. Colborgh said, returning to his side of the desk. “Had to turn it on back in the spring, when you came out of the closet, so to speak. Needed to add an alarm system. Hope you don’t mind.” He looked in the file and flipped a few pages. He took a piece of note paper and jotted down some information. “We’ve had a few more gawkers in town since your big news hit the papers. Even some idiot who wanted to buy the old house and turn it into a museum. Your folks wouldn’t have liked that.” He passed the note paper to Clark. “Here’s the phone number — unlisted, of course. Oh, wait.” He pulled the paper back and wrote another number on it. “And the pass code for the alarm. I used your mother’s birth date; feel free to change it to something a little more private. The alarm password, should the alarm company call, is Lana Lang. Figured nobody would think you’d use that name after you two broke up in the spring.”

Clark looked at the paper in his hand and reached over to shake Mr. Colborgh’s hand again. “Thank you, Mr. Colborgh. You don’t know how much this means to me, to have a place of my own.”

“Technically, it’s still owned by the trust, but I’ll start filing the proper paperwork and if you come back—” He thought for a moment. “— Wednesday, I’ll have it ready for you to sign.”

“I’ll be here.” Clark pressed his lips together with satisfaction. “You have gone above and beyond the call of duty, Mr. Colborgh. Thank you. If I can ever assist you with anything, anything at all, please, feel free to contact me.”

Mr. Colborgh seemed a little taken aback by this offer. “It’s nothing, Clark. Just doing my job. Your parents deserved no less.”

Clark picked up his bag and headed for the door.

“Clark?”

He turned back to see the old man holding up a set of keys. “You might need these.”

“Thank you, Mr. Colborgh. See you Wednesday.” Clark grinned and pocketed the keys. He wanted nothing more than to jump into the air and fly straight to his home. Home — he liked the sound of that. But first he needed to stop by the store and pick up some groceries and cleaning supplies. Plus, it was probably best if he wasn’t seen flying around town.

As he stepped back onto Main Street, he happened to glance across the street at Smallville Optical. Another smile came to his lips. Things were definitely starting to look up. He jogged across the street and was easily able to procure a same-day appointment with the optometrist. As he waited for the doctor, he wandered around the store looking at the different frames. Maybe it was time for a change. He wondered what Lois would think when he returned home with a new look. He grinned. She would hate it.

***

“Where is he?”

Lois looked up from her computer screen as Jaxon barreled down on her. “Where’s who?”

Jaxon glared at her. “You know who. Your big bully of a boyfriend, that’s whom!”

The bullpen quieted down as all eyes focused on them.

“If you had done your job as researcher, you’d know I don’t have a boyfriend, Jaxon. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t be talking to you about him.” She turned back to her computer screen.

“Where is he, Lucy?” he growled.

“I don’t know, Jaxon. Have you checked Virtual World? He seemed to have enjoyed visiting there so very much.” Her sarcasm was not lost on him.

“He ruined my computer.”

“Serves you right for kidnapping him,” she said, not glancing away from her screen.

“He heat-blasted my sprinkler system.”

Her eyes moved up from her screen to meet his as her voice lowered to a snarl. “Do you have any proof of that accusation?”

“I know it was him.”

“Ah.” She focused back on her screen. “I didn’t realize were psychic, Jaxon.” Then she looked directly at him. “Do you know what I’m thinking?”

He took a step back. “I don’t have to be psychic to know what you’re thinking.”

“Good.”

“Have you seen this?” he said, tossing a photo of Sean McCarthy tied up with red computer cord.

A smile slipped onto her mouth. Good going, Clark. “So.” She tossed the photo back across her desk.

“That’s the exact same type of cord that was stolen from my computer lab last night.”

“Shall I contact Detective Henderson for you? I bet he’d love to know a connection that ties you to Sean McCarthy and Mayson Drake’s car bombing.” She picked up her phone. “Or should I just buzz Barry with your hypothesis?”

“I had nothing to do with Mayson’s car bombing.”

Lucy glanced at the photo. “Now you do.”

Jaxon leaned over at her. “He ruined millions of dollars worth of computer equipment.”

She set down the telephone receiver. “I’m sure you were insured, Jaxon. And, again, do you have any proof that anyone in particular was involved? Was anyone caught breaking in on your security tape?”

“You know there wasn’t.”

She looked up at him. “So, I guess it’s just your word against his.”

“Who else could it have been?” he accused.

James walked by her desk at that moment and gave Jaxon a nasty look. “Is he bothering you, Lucy?”

She smiled at her boss. “Actually, he is, Mr. Olsen. I’m finding it hard to concentrate.”

“Jaxon.”

Jaxon held up his hands. “I’m going. I’m going.” He stomped back to his desk.

Lucy’s smile grew larger. “Thank you.”

“What was that all about?” James asked.

She handed him the photo Jaxon had left on her desk.

“Who’s that?”

“Sean McCarthy.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The man who planted the bomb under Mayson’s car.” She lowered her voice. “Barry heard that he was found tied up with a big red bow in Henderson’s office this morning. Attached was a card reading To: Metro PD, From: A Friend. Obviously, someone on the police force took a picture.”

“Do we have a vigilante in our midst?” James asked, taking a closer look at the photo.

“Apparently. Good thing Clark’s away on vacation.”

“Good thing.” He grinned. “What was Jaxon so sour about?”

“Oh, it seems that someone broke into his computer lab and stole some red computer cord.”

James looked at her. “Like this cord?”

“Uh-huh.”

“And he thought it might have had something to do with you?”

Lois smiled demurely. “He thought I might know something about it.”

“And do you?” James raised a brow. “Does this have something to do with what you couldn’t tell me yesterday?”

“I know as much as he does, James. Just speculation and guesswork. No cold hard facts.” She winked.

James stared at her for a moment, trying to read between the lines. “Have you heard from Clark?”

“Not yet.” She turned back to her computer screen. “Have you ever heard of a company called L.I., Ltd.?”

“No.” He pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. “Should I have?”

“Well, I keep coming across it. It was where Dr. Carlton, the Johnson brothers, and a couple of others we’ve come across recently got their funding. It seems to be based out of Singapore.”

“A shell corporation?”

“I don’t know,” Lois said. “It’s got fingers in a lot of pies. Oil, gas, military contracts, computer software, drug companies, media outlets — including MNN — the space program, and even scientific laboratories. It has lots of money and it’s throwing it around.” She leaned closer to James. “This is a guess — a big guess — but it feels a lot like Lex Luthor. These are the types of companies he’d be interested in.”

“Really?”

“If I gave you a list of companies from my L.I., Ltd. list, could you cross-reference them with the data you collected?” she asked, batting her eyelashes at him.

Olsen grinned. “You don’t have to look at me like that to get my help.”

“Thank you.” She pulled a folder out of her pile and tossed it to him.

“All these?” he gasped. “Okay. Now I understand the eyelash-batting.”

Lois was already concentrating on her screen once more. “I have no idea what you’re referring to.”

James stood up and she stopped him with a slight touch to his arm.

“That was a good story about Mayson’s bombing you wrote for the evening edition.”

“Now you’re just being nice,” he said, but his eyes lit up at her praise.

“I still think you need to get a hobby. Have you thought any more about photography?”

“Only if you promise to model for me sometime,” James said, giving her that same puppy dog look Jimmy always gave her whenever he wanted something. How could she resist?

“I see no problem with you taking pictures of your friends.” She smiled, turning away. “As long as you don’t run them in your paper.”

“That’s a promise.” He laughed, then held up the folder. “I’ll let you know what I find out.”

***

Clark walked up to the front porch with the last bag of groceries and waved goodbye to Mitzi and Scott. He had bumped into them at the grocery store and she not only offered him a lift home, but dinner later in the week. Maybe it was possible to come home again after all.

He unlocked the door and typed his mother’s birth date in the security pad. He was glad he had not broken in the night before, as he had been tempted to. That would have been a rude awakening. He carried the bags into the kitchen and put the perishables into the fridge. Although it hadn’t been used in twenty years, the fridge was clean and still worked — for now. He’d have to replace it soon. There was a lot of dust in the house, although he wasn’t sure it was twenty years worth. He suspected that Mr. Colborgh had hired someone to clean the house several times since Clark had moved out.

Clark moved from room to room, picking up photos and other odds and ends that reminded him of his parents. There was a basket next to his mom’s chair in the living room, with her knitting still in it. He picked up the yarn and gently blew off the dust. It was a small pair of blue, yellow, and red mittens. He swallowed. She must have been working on them for him. She had always made him a new set of mittens for Christmas every year.

He went into his father’s office/shop. His father had kept a photo of Clark and himself on the desk. Clark sat down in the chair. That had been from their flyfishing trip that last summer. That had been a great trip — he couldn’t help the smile that appeared as he thought of him and his dad on the river. His dad had been so proud of the fish Clark had caught. He still missed his parents every day.

This trip down memory lane was going to be harder on him than he thought.

Clark got up from the desk and went up to the bedrooms. He had been forced to leave everything but a suitcase of clothes and a photo behind when he went into foster care. His room looked almost the same as when he had left it. His baseball mitt still sat on his bookshelf with his old battered copy of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. He smiled. Maybe he should ask to have it autographed next time Wells was in town. Should the man ever come back.

The idea of Lois leaving and going back to Kal with the baby made Clark’s chest tighten. He wondered how Lois was holding up, but he didn’t really feel like talking with her on the phone. He had an attraction to Lois which he could fight a lot easier if he didn’t talk to her or see her. When he heard her voice, he was drawn to her like a magnet. He sat down on his old bed and sent up a cloud of dust.

Clark had been wondering earlier, while speaking to Sam, if it was possible for a man to have hormonal changes when someone close to him was pregnant. Not with just any baby, but his baby. Not that Lois was pregnant with his baby, technically, but genetically he and Kal were a match. It was a crazy theory, he knew, but he’d love to have a scientific explanation for his odd behavior. If his hormones had changed, it could explain why it was difficult for him to stay away.

He had spent the night with Lois — well, in her room — and then she had shared the baby’s kick with him. He smiled; that was truly amazing. He had carried her in his arms to Paris and back. They had spent close personal time together and it had been wonderful. Friends wonderful, not romantic wonderful. He considered if that was why he had been so emotional, later, when he spoke to Mayson. Of course, it might have something to do with that whole Man - Woman biological conundrum that Sam suggested. But it felt as if Lois were becoming his own version of Red Kryptonite.

From what Lois had told him, Red Kryptonite affected Superman’s emotions, intensified them. That was one of the reasons he had agreed so readily to Mr. Olsen’s suggestion of the vacation. He wanted to know if space and time away from Lois would clear his head, lessen the draw. What he didn’t know was whether or not he’d be able to stay away for an entire week. By the time he returned to Metropolis, it would almost be October.

Clark jumped off his old bed and ran downstairs so fast that he left a cloud of dust in his wake. In his father’s office he found a calendar. Drat. The dates were all from 1976.

“Let’s see,” he murmured, picking up a pencil. “If I adjusted the calendar to show that Saturday was the autumn equinox—” He finished filling in the dates. Yep. Lois’s birthday was on Wednesday. And he’d miss it if he stayed in Smallville.

He had to stay in Smallville to meet with Mr. Colborgh on Wednesday. This was one of those times when his super abilities would allow him to do everything he wanted to do. He smiled, truly happy for the first time all day.

Leaning back in his father’s chair, he laced his fingers behind his head. Now, what would be the perfect gift for the woman who had everything — in another dimension?

***

The next morning at breakfast, Sam was still in a grouchy mood. He banged around pots and pans in an attempt to make scrambled eggs.

Lois sat down at the breakfast bar. “Something on your mind, Daddy?”

“Have you ever heard something that confirmed what you already knew was true — inevitable really — but to hear the words spoken…” He slammed a drawer and caught his finger. He stuck it in his mouth.

Lois remembered the day that her Clark had admitted he was Superman and the day she found out she was pregnant. “Yes.”

“Really? I thought that it was only me.” Sam pulled the eggs out of the fridge.

“What did you hear?” Lois’s interest was piqued.

Sam shook his head as if it was inconsequential. “Something that Clark said.”

Lois jumped up. “You’ve spoken with Clark?”

He winced. “He stopped by, yesterday afternoon, while you were at work.”

“And you didn’t tell me, Daddy?” She reached over and slugged him in the arm, before sitting back down. “How is he?”

“Confused. And extremely naïve about love.” He rubbed his arm.

This stunned her. “He talked to you about Mayson?”

“What? This surprises you?” Sam said sourly. “Clark and I have become close over the past few months. I’m like a mentor with life experience.”

“You?”

He shrugged off her skepticism. “I have some experience with women.”

“Lois’s mom left you when she was — what, nine? — and you have yet to remarry.” Lois then thought about her father and his multitudes of sins and raised her hands. “Actually, strike that. You are a good man and a great dad. I’m sure you will find love again.”

“Thank you, sweetie. I appreciate a load of horse dung like that at any time,” Sam replied. “I’m an okay man and a horrible father, the damage for which I am trying to restore with you. I’m too old for love.”

Lois decided to let that information hang. “So, what did Clark say to set your teeth on edge?”

“He called my daughter ‘his Lois.’ Like she belonged to him.”

“Ah.” Lois nodded.

“What’s this understanding ‘ah’ sound? You’ve heard him say this before?” he demanded.

“It’s a good sign.” Maybe Clark hadn’t given up on the concept of love. She smiled with some hope. “And yes, once in a blue moon, it slips out when he least expects it.” She reached out to comfort Sam. “It’s nothing personal… or even actually possessive. It’s his way to differentiate between us in his mind. Between me and her.”

Sam sat down next to Lois. “I haven’t gotten her back yet and already I’m afraid that I’m losing her to a man who walks around in tights.”

Lois laughed. Sam’s distaste for Clark’s choice in clothing and ties had always been contentious. “That’s just the father in you worried about his little girl. Think about this logically.”

“Logically?”

“What is Lois like? Anything like me?” Lois inquired.

He nodded his head while rolling his eyes. “Headstrong. Determined. Independent. Stubborn. Pushy.”

Lois pinched her lips together. “Let’s not go overboard with the love, here.”

“Sorry.” He smiled, eyes twinkling. “Oh! I forgot arrogant.”

“Does that sound like someone who will fall in love at first sight with a good, kind-hearted man, like Clark Kent?”

“Are you saying that you didn’t fall in love at first sight with Kal?” Sam asked hopefully.

“God, no! I fought it tooth and nail. I didn’t realize how I felt about him until I was walking down the aisle to marry someone else. Then I was bound and determined to force Kal into making the first move.”

“Did he?”

“Eventually. An inch a month. I didn’t know about his secret identity, so there was the whole confusion about him lying to me all the time. What I’m trying to say is that Lois is a fighter, like me. She won’t fall for Clark overnight, if for no other reason than everyone will be rooting for him.” She patted Sam on the back. “You’ve got plenty of time.”

He took a deep breath and released it. “Thanks, sweetie. That’s a load off my mind.”

Lois took a sip of her orange juice. “Did Clark mention when he would call?” She was starting to go through withdrawal. Her trial back home wasn’t going well. That slimy District Attorney actually called Superman to the stand and then treated him as a hostile witness. She bet that Clark forgot she was on trial for murder back in her dimension and she needed her Kal-patch.

Sam shook his head.

Lois sighed. She’d just have to wait and see.

***

About mid-morning, long after the morning meeting, Lois sat at her desk, staring off into space. Actually, she was staring at Clark’s desk, wondering where he was and if he was okay. Jaxon was still giving her surly looks from across the bullpen. So much for his crush, but at least she knew that Clark wasn’t stuck in the virtual world again.

Her eyelids began to droop and suddenly she was flying through the air with Clark. Her Clark. He took her above the clouds, as he had done on the first day he admitted who he was and he kissed her with his cape wrapped around her to keep her warm.

Wake up, Lois! You’re beginning to drool.

Lois jumped awake and glanced around, wiping her mouth. Had anyone noticed her dozing? Anyone other than Clark? She smiled. She’d know his voice anywhere. There sitting on her desk was a pain au chocolat that hadn’t been there before. And a bouquet of flowers. Taking a bite of the pastry, she then looked at the card. The note was written in his handwriting.

Sorry. Needed some air to clear my head.

How about dinner tomorrow night? Your choice.

C.K.

Lois lifted up the flowers and took a whiff. He hadn’t forgotten.

***

“All right,” said Mr. Colborgh, handing Clark another set of papers. “These are the last ones, then the assets in the trust will be yours.”

Had he been human, Clark would have been reading these legal papers and signing his name for two hours. Speed reading cut that down to a fraction, and if he hadn’t been impervious, he’d surely have a hand cramp from the repeated signing of his name.

Mr. Colborgh opened his bottom desk drawer and removed a small box. “One last thing.”

Clark signed his name one last time and handed the papers back to him, curious.

“Sherriff Fenster gave these to me to hold for you.” Mr. Colborgh hesitated and then pushed the box across the table to Clark.

Clark opened the box. Inside were his mom’s engagement ring and parents’ wedding rings. He closed the box. “They should have been buried with these.”

“I’m sorry, Clark, but your parents were cremated per the instructions in their wills.”

“Oh? But I went to their funeral.”

Mr. Colborgh swallowed. “They were too badly burned Clark. The coffins were just for show at the funeral. We buried them in urns. I’m sorry.”

Clark nodded and pocketed the box. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“How’s the house coming along?” Mr. Colborgh asked, purposely changing the subject.

“Slowly. I got all the dust out yesterday.” Clark chuckled. “For a second, I thought I caused a tornado. Every time I think I’m used to being back at the old house, I come across something of my mom’s or dad’s and it’s like I’m ten again, waiting for them to return from the market.” He stood up and held out his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Colborgh. I appreciate all your help and discretion.”

“My pleasure, son. It’s a great pleasure to have you back in Smallville. I know your parents would be proud of you.”

Clark smiled and for a split second he pictured his parents standing next to Mr. Colborgh, gazing at him with pride. He nodded and left the office. He was glad he’d made that date with Lois. He could use some laughter.

***

At Clark’s knock, Sam opened the door to apartment 501. Clark smiled, hoping that he had forgiven him for the other day when the man had come after him with a knife.

“Finally,” groaned Sam in relief.

Uh-oh. Clark came inside. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know. She won’t talk to me. She was fine last night, talking about the flowers you sent. Then this morning, she wouldn’t get out of bed. Said there wasn’t a point, that her life was over. And you didn’t let us know how to contact you.”

Clark was at her bedroom door an instant later. He knocked, but there was no answer. Lois was sitting in bed, her head lying against bent knees, and tissues covering the comforter. She glanced up when he entered, her eyes red and puffy. “Clark! I’m guilty.”

“Guilty? Of what?” he asked, sitting down on the bed next to her.

She wrapped her arms around him. “Of murder, you idiot.”

“Oh. The trial.”

“Yes, the trial. I can never go home, Clark. They want to execute me.” She started to cry again.

“Kal will never let that happen and you know it.”

She gasped between sobs. “Oh, I know it all right.” She sniffled. “He broke me out of jail. ‘Mad Dog Lane’ is on the lam. He risked everything he believes in for me. The D.A. suspects that Superman helped me escape. Everything is all wrong.”

“Mad Dog?” Clark pressed his lips together so that he wouldn’t laugh. “You?” He couldn’t hold the laughter in any longer.

“Yes, me!” She threw a pillow at him.

He threw it back. “Out of bed, sourpuss.”

She buried herself under the covers. “What’s the point?”

“We are going out to dinner. To celebrate your freedom, Mad Dog,” Clark said, throwing off the covers. “Anything you want.”

She crawled over the bed away from him. “No!”

“Go take a shower. No more moping and self-pity for you.”

“No!” Lois hid herself on the other side of the bed. “My life’s over.”

“What do you want to eat? Anywhere in the world.”

“Anywhere?” Her eyes peered over the edge of the bed. “Anything I want?”

“Yep.” Clark leaned across the bed towards her. “Do you feel like dressing up?” he coaxed.

“No!” She ducked back down on the other side of the bed.

He crossed his arms and waited.

“I want a cheeseburger with the works. And a chocolate milkshake made with real ice cream,” she finally admitted.

“Sounds like you’ll get indigestion, but if that’s what you want, so be it. Any diner in particular?”

Lois’s eyes peered over the edge of the bed again. “There’s a great little hamburger joint I know in Philadelphia.”

“Philadelphia?” He thought for a minute. “I think it’s raining in Philly right now. Are you sure?”

She nodded.

“You go and shower, while I go change into something less formal.”

Lois seemed to notice his suit for the first time. “You look nice, Clark. Any special occasion?”

He aimed a pillow at her. “I always dress up when Mad Dog breaks out of prison,” he laughed and stepped out of the room.

A pillow followed him out into the hall.

“How did you do that?” Sam asked bewildered. “In two minutes, she went from night to day.”

Clark pointed at Sam. “I blame you.”

“What did I do?”

Clark went to the desk and lifted up Lois’s page-a-day calendar.

Sam blanched as his eyes went wide. “I forgot.”

Clark set down the calendar. “She wants to go out for hamburgers. I have to go change.”

“She doesn’t want to go someplace nice?” Sam was surprised.

“When you’ve been stuck playing a vegetarian for months…” Clark shrugged. Well, a public vegetarian. He and Sam ensured that she got plenty of protein at home.

“Right.” Sam nodded. “Thanks, Clark. You always know what to say to her. Sorry about the other day. I overreacted.”

Clark laughed. “Good thing I have super speed. Just one thing, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Please, don’t call me ‘tights-wearing-freak’ anymore.” Clark grimaced.

“I probably shouldn’t.” Sam grinned. “It might catch on.”

Clark groaned. “I hope not.” He stepped over to the windows and popped them open. A minute later, he was back in jeans and a t-shirt.

***

Clark shook his head as he watched Lois polish off her hamburger. They were at a hamburger stand on the beach in Key West, watching the sun set.

“I am eating for two,” she mumbled between bites.

“It looks like you’re eating for four. I’m sorry about Philadelphia.”

“You were right. I didn’t feel up to a lightning strike tonight. My life sucks enough as it is.” She wiped her mouth with a napkin. “And this is a much nicer view.” She looked out over the ocean and exhaled. Turning back to Clark, she noticed his eyes on her.

“You have a pretty good life, Lois.”

She held up her hand. “No. Tonight, I’m just plain Lucy. No history. No future. Just me.”

“All right.” He smiled, taking a sip of his iced tea.

Lois liked this smile. It was one that was distinctly this Clark. It didn’t remind her of her husband. She spooned a chunk of ice cream from her shake into her mouth. The more time she spent in this dimension, the less the two Clarks seemed like the same man. “So, where did you go on your vacation?”

He held up his hand and smiled. “Tonight, I’m just plain Clark. No history. No future. Just me.”

“Ha-ha. Seriously, where did you go?” She took another spoonful of ice cream into her mouth. She wasn’t going to let him go without telling her.

His smile turned mysterious. “I had some things to work out for myself.”

“I know,” she whispered, guilt tugging at her heart. “I’m sorry about Mayson, Clark.” She truly was. It seemed like this breakup hurt him more than the one with Lana. Of course, at that time Clark had become infatuated with her, cushioning the blow somewhat.

“Me, too,” he admitted.

“No. I mean, I’m sorry I stuck my big fat nose into your relationship. It’s my fault she broke up with you.” She took another sip of her shake. “Well, she’s an idiot, but it’s still my fault.”

He raised a brow. “She’s not an idiot, Lucy. And it’s not your fault, it’s mine. Jaxon’s right. I’m a horrible boyfriend.”

A growl emerged from deep within her. “Is that what that slug was up to in the VR?” She took hold of Clark’s hand. “Don’t listen to him, Clark. If you are anything like Kal — and I know that you are — you’ll be the best boyfriend in the world. You are romantic, kind, generous, patient…” She shot him a silly grin. “And you don’t mind a little insanity in your friends.”

“Speaking of Kal,” Clark said, setting down his drink and reaching into his pocket. “I know he’d want you to have this.” He set down a little box on the table and slid it over to her.

Lois gasped. It was a little black ring box. Her heart was racing. What did Clark think he was doing?

“I don’t want you to think of it as a gift from me,” he said. “Just think of me as Kal’s messenger.”

Hesitantly, she opened the box. Inside was a simple gold band. A wedding ring. The heaviness in her chest that began when she gave up her wedding ring suddenly felt twice as burdensome.

“I figured if you are going to be Lucy El, wife of Kal,” Clark continued. “— at least you should have a ring to wear on your finger.”

Lois picked it up and saw that something was written inside. She shifted it in her fingers in the dim light until she could read it. My Love Encircles You. She took a deep breath as a chill went down her spine and looked him in the eye. “Whose ring is this, Clark?”

He looked away. “My mother’s.”

Holy crap! She put it back in the box. “I can’t wear this, Clark. This belongs to your future wife.” She slid the box back across the table to him.

Clark picked up the box and set it down in front of her. “Lois, you are as close as I will get to a wife.” He stood up and started toward the beach.

Lois grabbed his hand to stop him. “No, I’m not.”

Clark continued toward the beach and she followed, still holding his hand. It felt good to hold his hand. It reminded her of when she and her husband had been best friends, before their relationship had blossomed into more.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for me, Lois.” He sighed. “I’m not strong like Kal. Mayson getting hurt made me go crazy in a way I could not handle. Insane, really. If I felt this way when someone I just liked… just cared about was injured, imagine if it had been someone I actually loved? My Lois?” His eyes betrayed his unspoken ‘you.’ “Innocent people could die.” He pulled her hand up to his chest as he looked out to the ocean, but her eyes didn’t leave his face. “Even if I found my Lois, and she turned out to be better than you, we still will never be together. I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t chance someone going after her to get at me.”

This speech sounds familiar, thought Lois. He’s breaking up with his Lois for her own good before he even knows she’s still out there, still alive. A part of him doesn’t believe he’ll ever find her. That he deserves to be loved.

Clark took the ring box out of her hand and slid the ring onto her finger. “This ring is from Kal. Not from me, Lucy. Please, think of it that way.”

“Clark, don’t give up on finding Lois,” she pleaded. “I know we’re getting closer.”

“Stop. Just stop. My Lois is gone. Perry, Sam, and I have been spinning our wheels here for years. We’ll never escape.” He flung his hand out to the ocean. “She is lost to the universe. She and I weren’t meant to be. Just accept it. It’s better this way.”

Lois grabbed his shoulders and made him face her. “Tell you what. If it makes you feel better, I’ll wear your ring.” She held her hand up for him to see. “But I’m only holding onto it for you. I’m your safe deposit box. I will give it back to you when I return home or when we find her, whichever comes first. Deal?”

Clark wrapped his arms around her. “Thank you, Lucy. You give me hope.”

Lois hooked her arms around him. Hope. She would be there for Clark, believe in him, be his rock, hold him when Mother Nature spit at him, be his Lois until they found his soul mate to replace her. “There’s no way she could be better than me, you know that, right?” she teased. “Perfect for you maybe but not better than me.”

He laughed, letting her go so he could look her in the eyes. “How could anyone improve on perfection?”

“Exactly.” She grinned, taking hold of his hand once more. They took a few steps in silence, before Lois continued, “Hey, did you ever get that slug to tell you more about his stepmother?”

“Oh, right. She’s some lounge singer Luthor met at the Berkistan Hotel.” Clark shook his head. “Lulu, Lorna, Luna, something like that?”

Lois stumbled, but he caught her. “Lola?”

“Yes, that was it. Lola, the lounge singer. Doesn’t really sound like Lex Luthor’s type, does it?” He laughed. “I guess they all can’t be as wonderful as you.”

It was time. That was the confirmation she had needed to tell him what she knew. She had to tell Clark that his Lois was married to Lex Luthor. Her gut churned at the thought of being the bearer of bad news. It would kill the little bit of hope he was building inside of her. No! Despite all that, she needed to tell him the truth. He deserved to know what he was up against.

Lois took a deep breath and opened her mouth to say something, but Clark continued, “So, where do you want to go for cake?”

“Cake?” That was a detour in the conversation that knocked all other thoughts out of her head.

“What’s a birthday without cake?” he asked.

She groaned. “It’s a day I don’t get another year older.” Then she laughed. “Or another pound heavier.”

“You’re skin and bones as it is.” He grinned. “I’ll sing.”

Lois pointed a finger at him. “Don’t. You. Dare!”

“Happy, Happy Birthday…” Clark started, but she let go of his hand and ran down the beach, covering her ears and screaming.

***

Cat Grant sat down on the edge of Clark’s desk. “How was your vacation, Clark? We missed you around here.”

Clark leaned back. “Relaxing. What’s up?”

“New invitations for the man in blue.”

His shoulders sagged. Oh, yeah. Mayson was gone, but the ritual remained. “How many dates do I have left?”

“A few,” Cat said kindly. “You’ll be done in early December.”

“Ah, a Christmas miracle.” Clark hoped more than believed in the validity of that statement. “What have you got?”

Cat flipped through the pile of invitations. Clark pulled one out of the crowd.

“I didn’t know if you would want to go to that one. Personally, I thought it might freak you out. You want me to call one of your winners?”

“No,” he said, a smile slipping onto his lips. “I’ll handle this one. I already have someone in mind.”

“Really?” Cat raised a brow with curiosity. “Anyone I know?”

“They can take the girl out of gossip…”

She shrugged. “Once a reporter, always a reporter.”

“Off the record?”

Cat nodded with anticipation, leaning forward.

“She’s out of this world.” He slipped the invitation into his pocket and smiled secretively.

“And?”

“That’s all I’m saying to any reporter about a woman I invite on a date. Maybe we won’t even show up.” He returned his focus to the pile of invitations. He sorted them quickly into two piles. “These I’ll attend; these politely reject. Thank you, Cat.”

She continued to stand next to his desk. “If I find out who she is, will you give me the scoop?”

“You’ll always be my first ‘no comment’,” he told her politely. There’s no way in hell he’d tell her.

Cat groaned. “What’s the point of having a celebrity working at the paper if he treats me like all the other celebrities out there?” She grabbed the invites and stomped off. “Thanks again, Clark.”

“If I’m ever in the mood for an exclusive, you know you’ve got it,” he called after her. Never gonna happen.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” she replied with a wave of her hand.

Clark rolled his chair over to Lois’s desk. “I’m heading out to S.T.A.R. Labs for my weekly meeting, if you need me.”

Lois glanced up and smiled. “Can I come?”

No! “You don’t have security clearance.” Clark lowered his voice. “And since you don’t exist, you’re not likely to earn it either.” Thank God!

“I just wanted to meet your Dr. Klein to see how different he is from the man I know.” She tapped her computer screen. “James said he’d drop by with the information he’d compiled on L.I., Ltd.”

“Do you really think it might have something to do with…” Clark glanced across the room at Jaxon plugging away at his computer. “… you-know-who?”

Lois followed his glance and lowered her voice to a hush. “It’s very possible. Everything Lex ever touched had Lex or Luthor in the name. Lex Tower, LexCorp, LNN, LexComm, Luthor Technologies, and, of course, Lex Labs. L.I. sounds like an easy abbreviation of Lex or Luthor, something. It’s that something that I’m stuck on. Industries, International, Income, we’ve tried every possible word starting with ‘I’ that I can come up with, and nada. I think we’re down to Intergang.” Their gazes locked. “It couldn’t be that, could it?”

“Luthor didn’t have a connection to Intergang that you know of?” Clark whispered, moving closer.

“No, Kal and I didn’t trip over Intergang until months after Lex died — the first time — and LexCorp had been dissolved. But if he were the original leader of Intergang before Bill Church took over…” Lois leaned back in her chair and mouthed the word, ‘Wow.’ Suddenly, she closed her eyes and set her hand on her tummy.

Clark touched her arm. “Are you all right?”

She smiled with a nod, standing up. “Too much soccer. Excuse me.”

“Is it getting worse?” he asked, concerned.

“It’s normal, Clark. Perfectly normal.” She winked. “Probably just a UTI. Bring me some cranberry juice when you come back, will you?” she asked, heading toward the restroom.

Did Lois just say what he thought she said? What was he supposed to do with that information? He chose to ignore it. “My pleasure, Mrs. El,” Clark nonetheless replied, as he rolled back to his desk and took his jacket from the back of his chair.

Less than five minutes later, he was dressed in the blue suit and walking into S.T.A.R. Labs.

***

Lois switched off the light on her desk and stood up with a stretch. Clark had left for S.T.A.R. Labs that morning and never returned. She was worried. She had a sixth sense when it came to Clark (either of them) and his safety, and something was definitely wrong.

She had tried Dr. Klein’s office at one o’clock and again at three, but there was no answer. The main security desk didn’t have Superman signing out. Not that that meant anything; her Superman often didn’t sign in and out of S.T.A.R. Labs either. She had tried Clark’s home number and got his machine as well. She had scanned the wire service, MNN, and even the radio, but no major disasters had occurred. Clark had simply disappeared. She turned on her light again and picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Dr. Klein?” Lois inquired.

“Yes?”

“Hello, Dr. Klein, this is Lucy El over at the Daily Planet,” she told him.

“Lucy! Hi. Wow! Is everything all right?” Dr. Klein seemed to know who she was. Lois decided to pocket that information for now, although she wondered at the enthusiasm of the scientist’s greeting.

“Is Superman still there? He never returned from his appointment with you and that was…” Her voice trailed away. Of course, Clark wasn’t still there.

“No. I’m sorry, Lucy. Clark left some hours ago.”

“Was he okay? I mean, I understand if you can’t tell me that because of doctor-patient confidentiality.” Oh, God, why had she reminded him of that?

“You know about that?” Dr. Klein seemed surprised.

“Well, yes,” Lois admitted. Maybe if she told Dr. Klein about how close a friendship she and Clark had, she’d be able to get more information out of him. “I’m the one who suggested he needed someone whom he could contact in that capacity. Naturally Clark thought of you. I was just worried when he didn’t return, like he usually does. He’s been unhappy lately, since his breakup with his girlfriend.”

“Has he? Oh right, he mentioned that. Tin cans,” Dr. Klein replied, making about as much sense as her Dr. Klein did at times.

Tin cans? Lois shook her head, trying to concentrate on their conversation.

The scientist went on, “Well, yes, he did seem a little down, more disappointed, when he left today. Physically he was fine, though.”

“Dr. Klein, physically Superman is always fine. What would he be disappointed about? Did a test not go well?” Lois’s heart ached. Poor Clark. He still wasn’t over Mayson.

“No. All our tests today went well, exceeded expectations, actually. It was a private matter, I can’t really speak about it, even with you, Lucy,” Dr. Klein said.

Lois’s mind jumped all over the place. What sort of private matter would Dr. Klein not feel comfortable discussing with her that would make Clark disappointed? Lois gasped. That couldn’t be it. Dr. Klein hadn’t run the fertility tests on Clark, had he? Clark hadn’t said word one about that to her. That wouldn’t have made him depressed though; he already knew he could father children. Hello, she was the living proof. “Dr. Klein, did you give Clark test results today?”

“I really cannot discuss this with you, Lucy. I’m sorry. I wish you luck in finding him.”

“I understand, Dr. Klein. I wouldn’t want you to breach doctor-patient confidentiality either. I’ll try Clark at home again. Goodbye.” She hung up the line, then dialed Clark at home, reaching his machine again.

Lois pulled on her coat, then sat back down. She opened her purse and pulled out her wallet. Inside, behind her press pass, which sadly was starting to gather dust in this dimension, she had tucked a little orange square of paper. Clark’s emergency number. The number of his hideout, where he said he might be contacted if he couldn’t be reached elsewhere. Where he had gone during vacation. He said that it was a private number, where he would only be able to be reached sometimes. She looked at the number and recognized the area code. Kansas.

Lois picked up the phone and dialed. So, that’s where he had gone on vacation: Smallville. Clark Kent, it didn’t matter which one, always went to the same place when he was torn up about something. Home. But the phone rang off the hook; there wasn’t even a machine. He wasn’t there. She hung up and turned off her light. What could be bothering him? Why hadn’t he contacted her? That wasn’t like him.

It was raining on the walk back to her apartment and Lois wished there was a cab to hail, but they were all taken. She was drenched by the time she got home. She unlocked the door and called out, but no one answered. That was strange; where was everyone? She shut the door and her father padded out of his room, rubbing his eyes. He looked like he was just waking up from a nap.

“Hi, Princess.”

“Hi, Daddy. Have you seen, Clark?” She peeled off her wet coat and shook it, before hanging it up in the closet. “He went to an appointment this morning and never returned.”

Sam glanced at her and looked away. All right, he was definitely hiding something. “He stopped by this afternoon. We talked for a while and then he mentioned wanting to see Perry.”

“Perry?” She hadn’t tried Mayor White, mainly because he was the mayor. And secondly, she hadn’t wanted to worry him. She realized that Perry was as close to a buddy as this Clark Kent had. She picked up her address book next to her telephone and searched for Perry’s new private number. She dialed and Alice picked up.

“Alice. Hi, this is Lucy El, Clark Kent’s… oh, he’s mentioned me. Yes, I’m fine, thank you. I hate to worry Perry, but… I seem to have misplaced Clark. Is he there? Thank you. Tell Perry hello from me. Thanks.” She hung up.

“They sent him home in the town car?” Why couldn’t he go home on his own? She shook her head. It wasn’t like Clark could get drunk. “I’m going to change into some dry clothes and dry my hair, Daddy. We have any frozen dinners left?”

“One or two. Although you should really be eating fresh food,” he reminded her.

“I agree. Shall we order takeout instead?”

He shook his head. “I miss Lois’s home-cooked meals.”

“I’m sorry, Sam. I grew up with my mom…”

“No explanation necessary.” He held up a hand. “I’ve tasted Ellen’s cooking.”

When Lois had finished changing her clothes, there was a knock on the door. Sam let Clark inside.

“She here?” she heard him ask.

“Hi, Clark,” she said, rushing out to the living room. He looked haggard — like he had been drinking — only alcohol didn’t affect Superman. Had he been exposed to Kryptonite? “I was getting worried. You never came back—”

He held up a bottle of cranberry juice and set it on the coffee table. “I just realized I forgot. Good night.”

Lois caught him at the door. “Clark, wait.”

He turned and looked at her with such sadness in his eyes, her heart ached. This was depression, not Kryptonite.

Lois opened her arms and Clark stepped into them. He wrapped his arms around her and for the first time in her life, she heard him softly cry. “Clark?” Damn that Dr. Klein; this was more than disappointment — this was bereavement.

Clark sniffed. “I’m okay. Sorry.”

“No, you’re not.” Lois took him by the hand and led him to the sofa. She glanced over at Sam, but saw that he had already left the room. She knelt down next to her friend. “What’s wrong?”

“No, Lois. You take the sofa. You should sit down.” He started to stand, but she held him down.

“Stop it, Clark. I’m fine,” Lois said, moving next to him on the sofa anyway.

He touched her hair. “You’re wet.”

She smiled. Even when his life was in shambles, she came first with Clark. “So are you. It’s raining.”

“Hold still.” Clark looked at her and she realized he was about to use heat vision on her.

“Not below the neck, Clark,” she warned him.

“Trust me.”

Lois closed her eyes and soon was very warm. Her hair was no longer dripping. She opened her eyes and saw a tear making its way down his cheek. She wiped it away. “Clark, what’s wrong?”

He reached out and touched her tummy. The baby gave a little kick for the first time in hours and a hint of a smile appeared on his lips for just a moment. “Can I make a strange request?”

“Sure, Clark, anything.” He was really starting to worry her.

“May I listen to your tummy?”

That was a strange request. “O-kay,” Lois replied with a raised brow. “You mean physically?” She pointed to the hem of her shirt.

Clark hesitated. “Never mind,” he murmured, trying to stand again.

Lois grabbed his hand and reassured him, “Of course, Clark. You’re family.” She folded up her shirt and he laid his ear gently upon the bare skin of her tummy.

Clark closed his eyes and soon was breathing deeply in sleep. Whatever had been bothering him had weighed him down so much he was exhausted. She scooted his head off her lap and set it on a pillow, then went to find him a blanket. She couldn’t believe he was asleep. It was hardly six o’clock in the evening.

She leaned against Sam’s bedroom door frame. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Dr. Klein gave him the test results today. You know the fertility tests that you asked him to get taken.”

“Obviously, he’s fertile.” She pointed at her stomach.

“That only proves that Kal can have children. Clark is another person entirely.”

Lois’s jaw dropped. “No!”

Sam nodded.

Lois closed her eyes as the tears leaked out, her heart aching for him. “Poor Clark. That’s so unfair. There has to be a mistake.”

Sam shook his head. “He brought me a copy of the data to double-check, sweetie. His swimmers were not moving.”

An instant later, Lois was back at the sofa, her arms surrounding Clark. “I’m so sorry, Clark. You would have made the best father anyone could ever want.”

***

After dinner, Lois came out of the bathroom to find the sofa empty, the blanket folded on it, and Clark gone.

“He went home,” Sam explained at her puzzled expression. “He’ll be all right. It was just a bit of a shock.”

“He didn’t want to talk about it?” With me? She sat down on the sofa where Clark had been sleeping; it was still slightly warm. It hurt that Clark kept this information from her. She hated that he felt the need to shield her from his own heartache. That idiot had to know he wore his heart on his sleeve. She knew when he was happy and when he was sad. She knew what to say to make the pain… well, maybe in this case she didn’t. How would her husband feel if he had been told he couldn’t father children? Lois pressed her palms into her eyes with anguish. Like he had been exposed to Kryptonite.

“Some things can’t be cured with talk, only time,” Sam told her. “You can give him that.”

“I wish I could give him more. Don’t take this personally, but I hate this dimension. The Kents are dead; Perry isn’t running the Planet, Ralph is; Charlton Heston is president — trust me, that’s just weird; Jimmy is Clark’s boss instead of his buddy; Lex Luthor is alive and well and married to—” She swallowed the rest of what she was going to say. She couldn’t tell Sam, not like this. “Lois is missing. And now, this. It’s not fair.”

Sam sat down next to her. “Life isn’t always fair, sweetie.” He was quiet a minute. “You know Lex Luthor?”

“Do you remember I told you that I was walking down the aisle to marry someone else when I realized that I was in love with… with Kal?” Even after all these months, it was still hard to think of her Clark as “Kal”.

Lois’s father nodded, his face growing pale.

“Lex Luthor.”

He clutched her arm. “Didn’t you know he’s a monster?”

Sam was acting strangely, blanching at Lex’s name. “I realized it later,” Lois answered guardedly.

He swallowed. “What did he do when you rejected him so publicly?”

Lois felt like she was having this conversation in a fogbank. Her brain couldn’t concentrate on it clearly. She paused before replying, “Well, he really didn’t get that opportunity, because our wedding was interrupted by the police. Lex jumped off his penthouse balcony minutes later.”

“He died?” Sam was surprised. “He committed suicide? That doesn’t sound like him.”

“Yeah, well… he was brought back to life by one of his Frankenstein doctors.”

Sam gulped and grew more pale. He was almost white. “Please, tell me it wasn’t…”

Lois stood up and backed away from him. The fog in her mind was starting to lift. “Sam, how do you know about Lex? I’ve never mentioned him.” Her mind flashed on a memory from her own life. The boxers with super strength. It was one of the first stories she and Clark had worked together. “The cyborgs. Lex was funding your research.”

“They weren’t cyborgs, sweetie.”

Lois held up her hand. “Don’t try to justify it.” She took a couple more steps back.

“It started out as prosthetics for amputees. Honorable work, but then he wanted more and more. He wanted me to create some super solider. When I rejected him, he told me what a beautiful daughter I had… not ‘have.’ Had. He used the past tense.”

“The crazy experiments Perry mentioned you doing in your garage…”

He nodded.

“They started before Lois went to the Congo?”

Sam nodded again. “Then she disappeared. I know it was because of me, because I had turned him down. I put everything I had into trying to give him what he wanted, so he’d give me back my girl.” He buried his face in his hands. “But it wasn’t enough. I was too late… I knew she’d never come back to me.”

“Sam, you mentioned once that you knew she was still alive. I thought at the time it was just wishful thinking. Do you have hard proof?”

“A couple of months after she disappeared Lois sent me a postcard from some South Pacific island, saying she had met someone. A whirlwind romance. They were eloping and she’d contact me as soon as they were settled.” He gulped. “She joked that she wouldn’t even have to change her initials.”

“You never heard from her again?”

He shook his head.

“And you never showed that postcard to anyone? To Clark?” Lois’s words were harsh, but the man didn’t deserve to be treated nicely.

“Are you kidding? Clark was the only one still looking for her.”

“Sam, with his abilities, he could have found her two years ago.” Lois threw up her hands in disgust. “He’s been looking for her in the wrong place for over two years.”

“I didn’t know he was Superman two years ago! Nobody did.” He buried his face in his hands once more. “You think I haven’t kicked myself a thousand times? It’s my fault that she’s gone.”

“That’s why you started drinking again. The postcard.” She nodded, the fog completely clear. Everything made sense. “She’s married to him, you know.”

Sam looked up, his face now almost green. “You escaped your monster; my girl did not. Who knows what he’s done to her in the last three years? I just want my baby back safe and sound.” He started to cry.

She was appalled at his actions, but a part of her couldn’t stand to see her father cry, even if he wasn’t actually her father. She resisted her urge to comfort him; he deserved to feel the way he did. “We have to tell Clark.”

“No!” He jumped up and started pacing. “We can never tell Clark — he would kill me. Especially after the way I treated him when he got engaged to that blonde woman. I blamed him for giving up. You didn’t hear him the other day, telling me that if someone hurt his Lois and he punched them, he could kill them.” He tapped the side of his head. “You think I didn’t see him killing me, if I told him? No! Absolutely not.”

“He won’t kill you, Sam. Not as long as he loves Lois.” She hated to, but she reassured him.

“You think he won’t stop loving her as soon as he finds out that she’s married to that monster?” He was still pacing.

“Love doesn’t work that way, Sam. You can’t turn it on and off. If it’s there, it’s there.”

“Trust me, Lucy, he would no longer believe anything I say or do and he would kill me for keeping this secret from him. He would no longer allow me to be your doctor and he’d dump me back on the streets where I belong. Without him, we will never be able to rescue her. And without me, what would happen to you when you reach nine months? You can’t go to a regular doctor. Not now.”

“Can we trust you?” she asked, her hands on her hips. “How do we know you won’t violate that trust, turn me over to Lex, just to get Lois back?”

“I swear to you on my life, I would never give that man anything, even to get Lois back,” Sam pleaded with her. “I love you like my own child.”

“I wish I could believe you, Sam. But you lied to us.” She took a step closer to him and looked directly into his eyes. “You’re right, though, to swear on your life. Clark and I have formed a bond. He will protect me and this baby as if we were his own, with all of his abilities if need be.”

Sam swallowed and nodded. “I know.”

“I just want you to know exactly who you’re dealing with and what you can expect if you lie to us again.”

“I won’t. I swear.”

Lois placed a hand over her growing stomach and looked out the window. “But you’re right. We can’t tell Clark about Lois yet. It would crush him. He’s had enough disappointment recently. We’ll have to concentrate our efforts on finding Lex. Once we find Lex, then we’ll tell Clark.”

***

The next several weeks were hard on Lois. She watched Clark going through the motions of his life: coming to work, saving people when necessary, and going on lots of unnecessary dates. But when Clark smiled, the light never reached his eyes. Her heart ached for him, but she also knew there was nothing she could say or do to ease that pain. She had been afraid that he would start avoiding her, the personification of his pain, but the opposite happened. He wanted to spend more and more time with her and for that she was grateful. That she could be there for him, as he was there for her.

Lois watched him working at his desk. He glanced up and caught her gaze. He pressed his lips together as if debating something and then rolled his chair over to her desk.

“Have lunch with me today. There’s this new sandwich shop that I hear has great pastrami sandwiches.” He was spoiling her rotten. Her radar went up. What did he want?

“I’m a vegetarian, Clark. Just the smell of pastrami… ugh.” She fake-shivered.

Clark looked concerned. “Really? Still?”

Lois laughed with a shake of her head. “No seafood, though, please.”

He glanced across the room at their friendly neighborhood hacker/kidnapper extraordinaire and lowered his voice. “Any news about Lex Luthor?”

She touched his arm. “I’m sorry, Clark, he’s disappeared. He won’t be found until he wants to be found.” Lois reached up and cradled his face. Clark was such a good man, she wished she could find him his true love, he deserved some happiness. Then she remembered he wasn’t Kal and dropped her hand.

Clark’s brow furrowed as he gazed at her and she hoped he hadn’t read too much into that gesture.

“Are you getting enough sleep, Lucy? The circles under your eyes are getting darker. Anything wrong with Kal and you?”

Lois shook her head. “Someone let a ghost loose in our apartment. She’s been taking over my body and trying to steal Kal.” She yawned with a shrug. “It’s not exactly sleep-inducing. What is it with Charlton Heston running basically unopposed for re-election? Even in my dreams, President Garner’s toughest opponent is some unknown character who calls himself John Doe.” She shuddered. “What I could really use is a night off from reality.”

Clark grinned; this time the light did reach his eyes. Something was definitely up with him. “That’s what I wanted to speak to you about.”

***

Lois took another look at herself in the mirror. She felt ridiculous. She had hated the costume back when it was necessary to be Metropolis’s superhero, but to wear it to a party? A deep lavender body suit with a pink belt and yellow stripes up the thigh. Lavender boots, mask, cuffs, and a turquoise cape. One could not be modest in this outfit. The belt hit her belly in just the right spot, hiding her burgeoning baby bulge.

Clark had promised no one would know it was her. And that there would be dancing. She could be herself, not Lucy El, for one evening. No glasses, no pretense, no vegetarianism, just Superman and Ultra Woman out for a night on the town. Fun. What she did to put a smile on that man’s face. She walked into the living room, where Superman waited.

“Wow!”

Lois blushed. His compliment felt pretty good, especially when she felt more like an evolutionary cousin to a hippo. “It’s too tight, Clark. People are going to notice my belly.”

“Nonsense. I had the tailor make the top a couple inches longer than in the original suit, so you can raise your arms without your stomach showing. Plus, it isn’t so fitted around the waist and the belt hides anything you don’t want anyone to know about. They’d have to look at you under a microscope to notice your extra passenger.” Clark’s smile melted any of her lingering doubts. “No one will know it’s you,” he repeated. “I promise.”

Hadn’t she made the same promise to him once? “What is the theme of this party again?”

“Come as your favorite superhero.”

“So, where’s your costume, Clark?” She walked up to him and tried to peek under the neckline of the blue suit. “Are you wearing your Wonder Woman costume under there somewhere?”

Superman swatted her hand away and gasped. “Did Kal tell you about us, Ultra Woman? That was supposed to be a secret.”

“What?” She glared at him with such intensity he could almost feel heat vision coming out of her eyes.

“Just a joke. Just a joke.” He laughed, holding up his hands. “Never even met her, I promise!”

“Ha-ha.” Lois was not amused. “So, where is it? You aren’t going like that, are you?”

Clark smiled and pulled out a full, fake mustache that matched his hair color perfectly.

Lois laughed. “That’s some costume, Superman.”

He stepped up to the mirror by the front door and pressed it to his face. He looked like a completely different person. “What do you think?”

“Subtle, but effective.”

Clark took her arm and walked up to the window. “Shall we fly?”

“Won’t that be a little bit of a dead giveaway?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. She wondered how much of her facial expressions the mask covered up.

“I can land us a block away or we can take a cab if you prefer.” He grimaced. “I promised Sam, no flying after mid-October and it’s Halloween. We’ll take a cab.”

“I prefer flying,” Lois pouted. “Sam’s not the boss of me and he’s not here to stop us.”

“He’s your doctor,” Clark reminded her. “We’ll take a cab.”

She winced. She still hadn’t completely forgiven Sam Lane for getting his daughter kidnapped and seduced by Lex Luthor. One day maybe, but not today.

“Do you have space in the suit for cab fare?” she asked, running her fingers down his chest.

“Cab drivers usually let me ride for free,” he admitted sheepishly.

“Not tonight, they won’t. There will be hundreds, if not thousands of Supermans roaming around Metropolis tonight, especially at this party.” She turned back to her room. “I’ll grab my purse.”

“No, don’t, Lois. How are you going to wear a purse and a cape? It doesn’t work.” He stepped into the closet and came back out, looking exactly the same.

“Just had to get money out of my wallet.” He tucked a twenty into his belt and another into his boot. He slipped a third into her boot. “Just in case I have to duck out early.”

She’d have to ask her Clark someday where he kept his wallet in that tight blue suit. Maybe they could just play a game of hide-and-seek. “Where will you keep the coins?”

“I’ll just round up.” He took hold of her elbow as they went out her front door. “Let’s go, Ultra Woman.”

They arrived to a sea of blue and red with hints of yellow at the hotel ballroom. Almost every man had come as Superman. There were also quite a few female equivalents, Superwoman, who had a red mini-skirt instead of shorts. There was also a sea of Wonder Women, more than a couple of Spidermans, Green Lanterns, several Flashes, even a Catwoman or two, but only one Ultra Woman. Lois was surprised she didn’t see any Batman impersonators.

“Who are you supposed to be?” inquired the doorman who took their invitation.

“I am Ultra Woman,” replied Lois with hands on her hips.

“Ultra hot,” the man replied with a head bob.

“That’s my date you’re talking about,” Clark growled.

“Superman,” Lois said, setting a hand on his shoulder. “He’s just paying me a compliment. Right?”

The man nodded. “Just nice to see something other than Superman. That’s all I meant. No offense.”

“None taken,” Lois replied for Clark and dragged him inside. “Calm yourself, Superman.”

He pulled her close to make sure she could hear him, unnecessary with her super hearing. “Just make sure you leave with the correct Superman.”

She whispered back, “I’m only interested in men who can fly.”

He laughed.

They saw Mayor White out on the dance floor with a Catwoman, whom Lois could have sworn was Cat Grant. Perry, of course, was dressed as Elvis. She nodded in his direction and Clark laughed again. She was glad they came. It was a silly theme. Everyone was in costume and with so many Superman wannabes, Clark actually didn’t stand out for once. He could just have fun and dance. Be himself in a crowd. As the party was hosted by the Mayor, the music included a lot of swing, big band, and Elvis.

Clark dragged her on to the dance floor for Elvis’s “Hard Headed Woman”. He pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “There are a lot of Elvis songs that describe you perfectly.”

“Who, me or Ultra Woman?” She grinned.

Unlike her Clark who ballroom-danced like a prince, this Clark could swing and jitterbug with the best of them. After a few songs, Lois was thrilled when the slow song “The Wonder of You” came up on rotation.

As they danced cheek to cheek, Lois closed her eyes and thought of her Superman and dancing with him after the Cost Mart charity ball. He always said that dancing wasn’t really dancing if you had your feet on the ground.

“Shall we get a drink?” Clark asked and it felt like her feet slammed to the ground. Had they been floating? Or had she just been imagining it?

Lois nodded and they walked to the bar. Clark ordered her a cranberry juice and tasted it to make sure it hadn’t been spiked.

“My hero,” she whispered. She knew he heard her, because a smile appeared on his face. “This is fun. I’m glad we came.”

“Me too,” he answered, sipping his soda.

“Is it odd, being surrounded by so many impersonators?”

“It’s nice to be me and still blend in with the crowd for a change.” He led her over to the buffet tables. “Plus, it’s highly complimentary. Food?”

She shook her head. She wasn’t hungry, for once. “Let’s just finish these drinks and head back to the dance floor. This will probably be my last dance for a while.”

He led her back to the floor for “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby”. When he pulled her close, during one of the spins, she could hear him singing along with the words.

And when it came to winning blue ribbons

I bet you taught the other kids how

I can see the judges’ eyes when they handed you the prize

You had the cutest bow

You must’ve been a beautiful baby

Cause baby, look at you now!

Clark sure knew how to charm the socks off her.

An hour later, they were sitting at a table finishing their dinner, when Baby reminded her that she hadn’t been to the restroom in a while. She leaned close to Clark. “I’ve got to go use the facilities. Can you clean this up and I’ll meet you back at the dance floor?” He nodded.

The Ultra Woman costume was not one for getting into and out of quickly when one was in a hurry. As she stepped out of the stall, finally zipped up and ready to wash up, she found Cat Grant standing in front of her.

“Excuse me,” Lois stepped to the side to get around her. Cat followed her to the sinks.

“You’re Clark Kent’s date, are you not?” Cat asked.

“I’m here with Superman,” Lois corrected, hoping that the woman didn’t recognize her.

“The real one?”

Lois shook her hands, spraying water all over her interrogator. “Are you trying to interview me in the ladies room, Miss?” She stepped around Cat to get over to the paper towels. Even she had only stooped that low on a rare occasion. Another woman was spritzing herself with perfume; no wonder it stank in the bathroom. Her pregnancy nose was so sensitive to smells, she was tempted to tell the Superwoman to just throw the bottle in the trash. It wasn’t worth the price she paid.

“What’s your costume supposed to be?” Cat asked, stepping between them and still trying to pry information out of her.

“Ultra Woman.”

“Never heard of her.”

Lois smiled. “I’m new.” She easily stepped around her. “Excuse me, my date is waiting.”

When Lois finally got back to the dance floor, it was a sea of red and blue. Everywhere she turned, she saw Supermen and not once was it the correct one. It was fairly dark on the dance floor, despite the strobe light, and several Supermen had mustaches, but Lois couldn’t find the real one.

She turned and bumped into the feather on the headdress of some Indian Princess — was that supposed to be Tiger Lily from Peter Pan or Sacajawea? — and she sneezed. Pushing through the throng of dancers, she got turned around and around, and she started to feel dizzy. Just as Lois was thinking about returning to the table where she had left Clark, the crowd of dancers suddenly parted, enabling her to breathe again. Thank God! One more minute and she’d clear the floor herself. That’s when she saw her Superman across the dance floor. She smiled and sashayed over to him.

“Hi,” Lois said to him. “You want to dance?”

Superman nodded and they started dancing to Elvis’s “Suspicious Minds”. Lois realized about halfway through the song that she was dancing with the wrong Superman. This Superman didn’t dance with any style or grace or at all. She looked around for Clark, but still couldn’t find him. If she could only rise above this crowd and look around. The song finally ended and Lois waved goodbye to this imposter and went to find her date. As she turned away, the man grabbed her arm and pulled her close.

“No. Thank you. I’m here with someone.” She gently tried to pull free, but the man would not let go.

“Yeah, lady. Me,” the man answered gruffly. She could look clearly into his face now and although he was the correct height and had similar hair color, this man did not look anything like Clark Kent. He held tightly onto her waist.

She felt ridiculous calling for help from Superman, when surrounded by a roomful of superheroes. Who knew who might answer her call? Sometimes, a woman had to be her own superhero.

“I said ‘no!’” Lois slammed the heel of her boot into his foot, balled her fist, and punched him in the jaw. The man stumbled across the dance floor and landed at the feet of Elvis… Mayor White. That was a nice punch, she thought. That felt good. It had been a while since she’d had a chance to stretch those muscles. A round of applause followed her as she walked off the dance floor.

Perry looked down at the man and then over at her. He signaled a few security guards to remove the man from the floor and then he headed her way. Oh, drat. He must have recognized her.

“Excuse me, Miss,” Elvis Perry said. “Was that man bothering you?”

Lois nodded. “I’m sorry about disrupting your party, but some men just don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” Actually, punching that man’s lights out felt good. She actually felt like herself instead of some bland replica of herself. She laughed from the giddiness of this feeling.

“That’s some right hook you have.”

Lois shrugged a shoulder dismissively. “Have you seen Superman?”

Elvis Perry chuckled and gestured toward the crowd.

“They all look alike. Will the real Superman please come forward?” she called out to the crowd and then waited, but he still didn’t appear.

Elvis Perry laughed. “Who are you supposed to be?”

“I’m Ultra Woman,” Lois answered with a slight nod. It felt strange introducing herself to Perry, just as it had when she was Ultra Woman the first time. “What’s your name? Elvis?”

He bowed. “Would you like to dance? I must warn you I tend to dip low and often.”

Lois laughed and nodded her acceptance. He led her back to the dance floor for “The Way You Look Tonight”. It was nice not to feel lost anymore. As he spun her around the floor for a second dance to “I Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” a rush of wind blew through the room. Perry dipped low and, suddenly, Lois was looking up into the face of Superman, the real one.

“My I cut in?” Clark asked and Lois’s heart lurched. There just wasn’t anyone in the world quite as handsome as Clark Kent.

“Ultra Woman?” Perry inquired, tilting her upright. “Is this the man who brought you or another imposter?”

“I don’t know,” she replied as Perry spun her around. “Does he fly? I only date men who fly.”

Elvis Perry chuckled. Clark looked askance at her, arms crossed. Oops, she had blown his cover. Perry bowed with a kiss to her hand. “Enchanted to meet you.”

“What a charmer.” She smiled at the mayor with a wink. “Better not let Priscilla see you; I hear she gets nasty jealous.”

Elvis Perry laughed and then glanced around the room to see if Alice had indeed seen him dancing with Ultra Woman. He spotted her and waved. A moment later Superman was holding Lois in his arms.

“You disappeared on me,” she said, teasingly.

“Sorry. There was a mugging a couple blocks away and then a hold-up at a diner. I thought I’d be back sooner. Everything all right?”

“Now that you’re here.” She rested her cheek against his with a sigh. “Elvis had to rescue me from a drunk.” No need to supply details.

Clark stepped out of the dance and scanned the room, instantly on alert. “Where is he?”

She pulled him back in. “I told you. Elvis made him leave the building. I’m fine.”

The song switched to “Don’t Be Cruel” and Lois smiled as he spun her around. Nothing compared to dancing with Clark.

“Cat’s on the prowl,” she warned him.

“Huh?” Clark murmured, distracted.

“She cornered me in the restroom. She figured out that I was with the real Superman. What did you say to her?” Lois asked when the music brought them back together.

Superman shrugged innocently and didn’t answer. The music slowed and “She’s Not You” started. Clark looked her in the eye for a moment and held her close. They were both slow dancing with people who weren’t there.

Lois closed her eyes. In her arms, this Clark felt just like her Clark. He smelled just like him. He held her just like her Clark. She didn’t want to let him go. When they danced like this, her Clark felt so near. It was so easy to pretend she was with the man of her dreams.

The music changed to a faster tune, Clark tried to step out of their embrace, but she held him close, not wanting to break this feeling. He went with it, but spun her around in time with the music. She was thankful he didn’t question her actions.

The music switched again to “Don’t”, the song in which Elvis sang that he didn’t want her to tell him ‘Don’t.’ Clark pulled back and looked her in the eyes. “Drink?”

She nodded, unable to speak. They left the dance floor.

They sat down at a table in silence, sipping their drinks. Clark finally broke the peace, “Who knew Elvis was such a romantic?”

Lois couldn’t answer. She still felt under the spell of the night. She knew she should say something. She should leave, go home, get away from Clark. But instead, she looked at him with all the emotions pulsing through her veins.

He swallowed. “How about some air?”

Standing up, she took his hand. He led her out of the ballroom to a small terrace. As she stepped closer to him Lois closed her eyes and Clark wrapped an arm around her waist. A moment later they were on the roof.

The cooler air felt good against her hot skin, but it didn’t clear this feeling from her mind.

“Lois,” he whispered, his lips next to her ear.

She shook her head. “Lois isn’t here tonight,” she murmured, feeling naughty. “Just Superman and Ultra Woman.”

“I don’t think—” he started to say, before she placed her fingers over his lips.

“Don’t think.” She began to sway to the music they could both still hear. She wrapped her arms around his neck. He closed his eyes. Slowly, he started dancing with her, his resistance melting.

“I’m not him,” he said, trying one last time to fight destiny.

“Yes, you are.”

As they swayed to the music, she whispered, “Surrender.” She placed her lips to his, but he turned away. Tears blinded her as she pushed him aside. The pain of his rejection swallowed her. These feelings for him were overpowering her; she could no longer control them or deny them. Opening the door to the stairwell, she disappeared.

***

Clark stood on the roof, the air around him suddenly cold. He had done the right thing, but it felt so wrong. He could hear her sobs as she ran down the stairs. He couldn’t leave things like this. Flying down, he intercepted her at the bottom of the stairwell. She was breathing hard from running and crying. She beat her fists against his chest as he embraced her. She set her head against his shoulder and cried.

The music changed again and Clark looked at Lois. “It’s now or never,” Elvis sang, and Clark had to agree with him. He tilted her chin up and closed his eyes, kissing her like everything inside him told him he should. Fireworks exploded in his nerve endings.

This is what a kiss should feel like, he thought. Two people becoming one. She pulled him towards her, closer, deeper. She wanted this as much as he did, he realized. His heart began to sing a tune he had never heard before. The tune of desire, of passion, of love. He wanted more of her, all of her. There was no going back. For this one moment, she was his. Forever, he would be hers.

She pulled away after a minute and grinned. Happy, with no regrets. Never in his life had anyone looked at him with such affection, such longing. She wanted him. Him! Grabbing his hand, she took him back to the dance floor. He followed her lead. There was no Lois or Clark, no Lucy or Kal, just Ultra Woman and Superman. Woman and man. Her and him. Here and now. Wherever she went, he’d follow willingly.

They started swaying to the music again. He could live with that one last kiss, he thought, until Elvis starting singing “Burning Love”. He forgot they were surrounded by people and that she was another man’s wife. All the unpleasant stuff just faded away. One glance from her, the yearning in her eyes finally matching his, and their lips were locked together again.

He thought that the first kiss had been a fluke. No kiss could be as wonderful or tantalizing as that kiss. That was until the second kiss and the third and the fourth. There would be no end. All her kisses drove him to distraction, wild with desire. He felt like he had the first time he discovered he could fly. Free. Like a rocket headed for the moon. This woman was his rocket fuel.

Clark had no idea how long they had been kissing when he realized they were no longer standing on the ground, but floating in the air above the heads of the other dancers. He looked at her and she at him, then she laughed. A full throated laugh. It perplexed him, until he heard the lyrics Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.

She took hold of his hands and floated in the air, spinning them around, dancing on air. It was only at that moment that he realized he wasn’t controlling them, she was. Her pleasure was making them float. Her! Sam was going to kill him. Death would be worth it after this. He pulled her into his arms and lowered them towards the floor, her head resting on his shoulder.

“Superman!” she gasped. “It’s Miranda! We’ve got to stop her.”

Superman had no idea who or what Ultra Woman was talking about, he could only stare at her. He didn’t want to stop anyone else tonight. He didn’t want to break this spell. He just wanted to kiss her again and again.

Looking at his face, Lois gave a decisive nod. “Got it. It’s already too late for you. I’ll stop her!” Ultra Woman stepped away from him, only to realize they were still in mid-air and starting to gather attention from the other people on the dance floor. She let go of Superman’s hand and flew past one of Perry’s undercover police officers and stole his handcuffs. Then she landed in front of Miranda, who was dressed as Superwoman.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Ultra Woman asked her.

“Just giving out free samples of my new perfume.” Miranda held up her perfume bottle, but Ultra Woman snatched it away from her before she could be spritzed.

Revenge? I’ve already tried it, thanks. It’s not for me.” Ultra Woman tossed the bottle to Superman who was hovering behind her, wondering what she was doing. He sniffed the perfume and made a face. Ugh, it smelled like cat urine.

“Actually, I call it Animal Magnetism, but I like Revenge better. Mind if I steal the name?” Miranda asked as Ultra Woman handcuffed her.

Without responding Ultra Woman flew the woman back to Perry’s security team, who stood there with their jaws agape.

“I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest. This is Miranda. No last name. She sprayed her love potion made with pheromones around the ballroom tonight. Thankfully, Superman and I were immune.”

“Thankfully,” the undercover policeman said with a sarcastic grin.

Superman handed them the bottle without speaking. Love potion? Pheromones? It explained the cat urine smell. He himself was doubtful about their immunity though.

Ultra Woman turned back to him with a smile and murmured, “Let’s split.”

Superman nodded, still unable to speak. Were these emotions he felt real, or just a result of being drugged? Lois took off into the air and hovered above the police officers until he joined her. She held out her hand, which he willingly took and they zipped out of the ballroom to whoops and cheers. He was never going to hear the end of this; so much for the months of dates he had endured. At least she was in disguise. She stopped in mid-air above the city and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Lois, if we’re under the influence of a love potion…”

“Not Lois, Ultra Woman,” she whispered into his ear.

“Ultra Woman, please, if we are under a spell…”

“Who cares?” she whispered, kissing him once more. “Anyway, small doses of Revenge didn’t seem to affect Kal, but maybe Animal Magnetism does.”

He’d have to agree with her there. But if pheromones weren’t interfering with his judgment, what was? “I’m taking you home.”

“Stay with me tonight,” she murmured, kissing down his neck. She definitely wasn’t immune to the pheromones, and he was beginning to doubt his own willpower as her nibbling on his neck brought out feelings he had never dreamed existed inside him.

Tentatively, Superman pried her arms from around his neck and took her hand. “Come on.”

Less than a minute later they were standing in her living room. Sam was waiting for them, his arms crossed. Just what I need, Clark thought. Sam raised an eyebrow at them both flying into the room.

“Go to bed, Ultra Woman,” Superman said, turning her towards her bedroom and patting her on the bottom. She turned around and leaned her entire body onto him, kissing him so thoroughly that he felt it down to his toes.

She giggled and then, out of the sight of Sam, crooked her finger for him to follow her. He waved with a smile.

Sighing, Clark turned to Sam. “We got dosed with a pheromone perfume at the party. I needed to get her out of there.”

Sam just shook his head. “That’s actually not why I’m waiting for you. Although I distinctly warned you about no flying after mid-October.”

Clark groaned. He felt like he was about to get the wrath of bringing a teenage daughter home two hours late.

“I wanted to return this to you,” Sam continued, holding up the plastic bag with the cotton ball in it.

Clark wasn’t expecting that. “Did you get the information you needed?” he asked, taking the bag.

“No.” Sam shook his head. “Lucy no longer bleeds. I pricked her finger the other day for a sample and it healed before any blood escaped. We’ll have to wait and see if her powers remain, diminish, or grow stronger after the baby’s born.”

Clark exhaled and leaned against the sofa. “Thanks.”

“I wanted you to know that the sample was somewhere safe,” Sam said with a nod, turning towards his bedroom. “Good night.”

“What? No riot act?” Clark was surprised.

Sam paused. “You are both adults. You’ll regret your actions tomorrow and that will be punishment enough. And, as she reminds me daily, I’m not her father.”

“Is everything all right, Sam?” Clark asked. Sam seemed more terse, but strangely not because of him for a change.

“Lucy’s mad at me. I told her about something that happened before Lois disappeared and, of course, she sided with my daughter. She’ll forgive me eventually, I’m sure.” Sam waved good night and went down the hall.

Clark went into the kitchen and set the bag in the sink. He used his heat vision to melt both the plastic bag and cotton ball, blowing out the leftover flame.

He should go home, Clark told himself. He sighed, leaning against the counter. He didn’t know if it was the effects of the pheromone perfume or something else, but his apartment was the last place he wanted to be at this moment. Especially if he knew Lois was waiting for him, wanting him, in the next room. He buried his face in his hands. ‘Go home,’ his inner voice warned. ‘She’s someone else’s wife.’ He closed his eyes and relived that kiss on the dance floor. When he opened his eyes, he was standing at her bedroom door. He opened it and went inside.

***

Lois rubbed her temples again. Her head was throbbing and it had nothing to do with the pheromone perfume she had been dosed with the night before. Everyone in the newsroom wanted to know about Ultra Woman, everything about Ultra Woman. It was like the day had Superman arrived, all over again.

She and Clark had come so far in their friendship over the past four months, only to end up right where they had started. The sexual tension had returned. Terrific. Lois closed her eyes, trying to block out the noise in the conference room and beyond. Memories of dancing with Clark the previous night slipped back into the forefront of her mind.

Her body moving with his.

His body moving with hers.

The deep breathing.

The sweat.

The moaning.

The pleasure.

Skin against skin.

Again and again and again.

The kisses that had started at her mouth and… she released a slow, steady breath.

Lois knew she would never be able to listen to Elvis again without thinking of Clark, without craving this Clark’s touch. Ever.

Cat had slid into the seat next to her as she sat down for the morning meeting. “Did Clark say anything to you about Ultra Woman?”

“No,” Lois repeated for the hundredth time. “If you want to know about her, ask him.”

“Wonder where he is this morning?” Cat purred, looking around for him.

“India. Train derailment,” Lois replied shortly.

“Yeah, right.”

Lois rolled her eyes, picked up the TV remote in the center of the table and turned on MNN.

Superman arrived on the scene about six a.m. EST, shortly after the derailment and has been working nonstop to help save as many of the passengers, many of whom were buried in mud, as can be saved.

She clicked off the TV.

Ralph finally arrived at the meeting. “Okay. People. This Ultra Woman person is our only story. Is she from Krypton? If not, where did she come from? Is she here to stay? What is her relationship with Superman? Details, people. I want the details. Where did they go after the mayor’s party? What is her secret identity? He had one, so we can assume she does too. Who’s talking to Clark?”

“Clark told me when I gave him the invitation that were he ever to talk about his date, I would get the exclusive,” Cat announced.

“Good, Cat, you tackle Clark when he gets back from India.”

“Gladly,” she purred.

Lois rolled her eyes. Lucky Clark.

“Lucy, what are you working on?”

“Clark called me at the crack of dawn this morning, before he left for India, told me about Miranda and asked me to follow the money. Find out who was financing her,” she replied. That seemed like as good a place to work as any.

“Obviously, he has all the answers we need for our top story on Ultra Woman. Let’s hope someone else doesn’t beat us to the scoop because our ace reporter doesn’t want to talk about his private life.”

Lois bit her tongue so the words she wanted to scream at him didn’t emerge. Slime.

“Photos! People, did any of you actually remember to bring a camera with you to the mayor’s party?”

Silence.

“Great! Biggest news since Superman and we don’t even have a photo. Mr. Olsen!” Ralph gasped, taking a couple of steps back. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Lois glanced up and saw James enter the room. He threw five photographs on the table. “I took some pictures, Ralph. Hope they help.”

She grabbed the closest one to her and examined it. Ultra Woman was flying Miranda to the security team. Ultra Woman didn’t look half bad in the photo. She passed it to Cat. Someone passed her another photo. Ultra Woman and Superman were holding hands and hovering in mid-air above the police and Miranda. She glanced over at James. “Great shot.” She smiled as her stomach fell. He returned her smile.

Another photo eventually got passed her way. In this one, Ultra Woman was dancing with Elvis Perry. She laughed and shook her head. Another photo showed her and Superman — the right one — dancing. Ultra Woman and Superman were looking at one another with intense expressions, but luckily no lip action. When the last photo circled around to her, she wanted to tear it to pieces. It showed her slugging the jerk who wouldn’t let her leave the dance floor. Her punch wasn’t that hard… not Super Strength hard, but this photo showed definite air beneath his heels. Super. She pressed her lips together and raised an eyebrow at James with a shake of her head.

“What! Not one photo of Superman kissing Ultra Woman! That’s the story, people.”

“This isn’t the Daily Whisper, Ralph. Superman’s love life is a sidebar at best,” corrected Mr. Olsen. “Celebrity gossip is not front page news at the Daily Planet.” Yea, Jimmy!

After the meeting, James stopped by her desk. “You didn’t like the photos, did you?” he asked.

“James, they were amazing! What I didn’t like was you going back on your promise of not publishing photos that you took of your friends, like Clark, in your paper.”

He dropped an envelope on her desk. “I hope this eases your anger at me. These were the ones I didn’t give to Ralph.” It was a thick envelope. He had written: For Clark, Private across the front.

“James? You in the habit of following Clark about on his dates?” she asked quietly. “That could be hazardous to your health.”

“Oh, I wasn’t photographing him, per se. Actually, I didn’t even recognize Clark until they started flying about the dance floor. He was wearing this full mustache. I was photographing her.” James slid into the seat next to Lois with a sigh. “Ultra Woman is amazing, Lucy. You should have seen her. Beautiful, full of joy, laughter, and spunk. From the moment I first saw her until she left, I couldn’t stop taking photos of her.”

“May I?” she asked, indicating the envelope of photos. James nodded.

“I know she won’t have anything to do with me, because she’s obviously head over heels in love with Superman. But I’ll be happy to admire her from afar.” He sighed dreamily.

“Sounds like you got a good dose of Revenge… er… Animal Magnetism, yourself.”

“Excuse me?” James was confused.

Lois looked quickly through the photos and pulled out one from near the bottom with Ultra Woman confronting Miranda. “From what Clark told me on the phone this morning, this blonde Superwoman, Miranda, sprayed the party guests with a pheromone perfume called Animal Magnetism that made people lose their inhibitions and fall in love.”

James looked excited. “So Ultra Woman might not be in love with Superman after all, but just under Animal Magnetism’s spell. I might have a chance?”

Lois patted him on the arm. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up, James. It doesn’t create feelings that weren’t there to begin with, it just loosens people’s natural mental barriers to those feelings, according to Ultra Woman. Evidently she’s met up with this Miranda person before.” She stopped at a photo of Ultra Woman and Superman in a tight passionate embrace. She covered her face. Had they really made out like that in public? She gulped. “It looks like she and Superman have some pretty powerful feelings there,” she said, more to herself than James.

“Yeah. I was surprised Clark would act like that in public,” he replied. “He’s going to have tabloid reporters hounding him around again.”

“Maybe he thought no one would recognize him because of the mustache,” she surmised. “You, Clark, Cat, Perry, everyone got to go to the party of the year and I stayed home handing out candy to the three kids from our building.” She lowered her voice. “I guess that’s what us old married folks do.”

James laughed. “Maybe you and your husband can go together next year.”

Lois looked down at the ring Clark had given her, twisting it around on her finger. Her husband. “I doubt it.” She was going to keep Clark and Kal far apart. If her Clark ever saw these photos, Revenge or no, she’d be dead meat and so would this Clark.

“I’m sure Perry will make it an annual party after the success of this year.”

“Kal’s not much of a dancer.”

“Oh.” James seemed curious. “His name is Cal? Is that short for Calvin?”

Lois smiled. “No, K-A-L.”

“Kal-El? He’s not from around here, is he?”

She shook her head. “Nope. Far, far away.” She glanced at James; he was staring at her hands, her ring and the way she was twisting it around her finger. She stilled her hands. “So, James, you never told me, how you dressed for the party. What superhero did you go as?”

“I was Clark Kent,” he murmured, glancing away.

“Oh. You went as Superman, too.” She nodded.

“No. Clark Kent. I wore a suit and glasses, wore my hair pulled forward over my forehead like him. Any reporter as good as he is counts as a hero in my book.”

Lois’s jaw dropped. “Do you mind if I tell him about your costume?” she whispered, leaning forward. “Because that’s quite a compliment. He’d be honored that you think that way. Between you and me, James, I think you intimidate him a little bit.”

I intimidate him?” James scoffed.

“Well, you do own the Daily Planet; you’re so young and have accomplished so much. Plus, what you say here goes. You’re his boss’s boss. Good job, knocking Ralph down a peg this morning by the way.”

“You should really treat him with more respect, Lucy. He is your boss, too.”

Lois rolled her eyes. “Yes, he’s my boss, I’ll grant you that. But I only respect people who’ve earned it. Ralph hasn’t earned it.”

“Do you think you could do a better job?” he asked, out of the blue.

Lois thought about her dream from the other night. It had been her second day as editor of her Daily Planet. “Yes. Yes, in fact, I do.”

She nodded with certainty, then she remembered how annoyed her Clark had been with her for dismissing his story. He had stopped talking to her. She missed him so much, and then last night at the party… the baby kicked her and she set her hand on her stomach.

“But I don’t want it,” Lois told James. “All that stress, long hours. Ugh. I don’t sleep enough as it is.” She smiled wearily at him. “It’s hard on any marriage. Plus, I’d miss my friends. My friends who go to super parties and don’t invite me. I really should get new friends.”

James laughed. “I’ll invite you to the next shindig I go to. I promise.”

“No, please, don’t. I was only joking. I’m really not shindig material.” She really couldn’t wear an evening gown and be unstylish, baggy Lucy at the same time. “And if that’s what happens at just your run-of-the-mill costume party, I think I’m safer at home.” She shivered for added effect. “Who knows what I would have done if I had been exposed to that perfume?” She thought of that kiss on the stairwell; that wasn’t because of any pheromone perfume. That had been her, Lois, with all her wits intact. “I get lonely sometimes and miss him so much… Kal’s a jealous man, James. Very jealous.” She glanced down at the pile of photographic proof of her cheating. “Best if I stay home.”

James nodded and wandered off.

Alone for the first time since she arrived at work, Lois’s mind returned to the night before. To Clark kissing her. To her kissing him. What had gotten into her? She knew it was wrong. Everything inside her told her it was wrong, but then why had it felt so right? Like they were two souls joining into one? As if they were made to fit together. And they had fit together so well.

No! She fit with her Clark… Not this Clark. It was wrong. Very wrong. Yet, she was drawn to him. Craved him. Longed to be with him again. To kiss him again. To have him touch her again. She hadn’t had that in so long. Memories of her dimension were wonderful, but they were just that: memories.

She’d felt the powerful pull this Clark had on her, back when she had met him that first time and kissed him that first time. He wasn’t hers then either. Only this time, she was the one who wasn’t available. No, she hadn’t been available then either. Neither of them had been. Neither of them were available now. His Lois was still out there, waiting for him to rescue her. What had she done? Her head began to throb again.

Where in the hell was H.G. Wells and why hadn’t he come to take her home after the murder trial? This was all his fault.

***

Clark didn’t arrive at the Planet until mid-afternoon. He snuck in and slipped into the chair next to Lois’s desk, wearing the mustache from the night before. She glanced up and suddenly he was there, and she gasped.

Lois reached out and touched his fake mustache with a smile, remembering how kissing him with it felt so different — ticklish at first, but not bad. But then her hand fell as she gazed into his eyes, the pain she saw there stabbing at her. Clark must know, as she did, that it never should have happened and it never could happen again, no matter how much they wanted it to.

“So, how bad is it?” he whispered, after clearing his throat.

“Very. Cat’s going to pounce on you as soon as she sees that you’re back.”

“Great.” Sarcasm dripped from that one word.

“Ultra Woman is the top story. No one was able to find out anything, so far as I can tell. They’re banking on the exclusive you promised Cat,” she said, pulling open her purse and passing him the package of photos. “James took some pictures last night. These are your personal set. We should burn them as soon as possible.”

Clark opened the envelope, glanced at a photo and then closed it again. “Whoa!” He blanched.

“Bad, huh?”

“I’ll look at these later,” he said, tucking them into his pocket.

“Recommended.”

“I can come over about eight and we can look at them together,” he suggested with the hint of a teasing smile.

“Ha-ha. Very funny. Not without a chaperone, big boy.” She looked at him over the top of her glasses. “Not alone, anyway.”

“I can’t stop thinking about… her… Ultra Woman.” He sighed. “She took my breath away.”

She lowered her voice to barely above a whisper. “Stop. Stop it, now. I am married to Kal. I always will be.” She looked into his eyes with the yearning she still felt from the night before. “Ultra Woman will never return.”

“I’ll miss her,” he whispered, looking deep into her eyes. “I already do.”

Lois melted under his gaze. “She misses you, too, Clark.” Then she pressed her lips together and turned away. “Which is why she can never return.”

***

Just to get everyone off his back, Clark gave Cat an exclusive interview about Ultra Woman an hour later. Cat had started off with the basics: Ultra Woman’s secret identity, where she had grown up. He smiled and jokingly said that if he told her, it wouldn’t be a secret any more. She asked if he had x-rayed under her mask and recognized her. He told her the truth, that he had never even thought about doing that.

He had to come up with a backstory for her of some kind. Apparently, she was also from Krypton. Her parents had also sent her to Earth as a baby, same as his.

He didn’t want his dimension to learn about New Krypton; if it ever got out that he was keeping its existence a secret, it would validate all of Tempus’s claims about him. He didn’t need that.

Cat then moved on to some personal questions regarding their relationship. He said Miranda’s perfume had obviously affected them and made them lose control like the others at the party. Ultra Woman had decided that they needed to take a break from each other for a while and see how they felt without the influence of the love potion.

At her prodding, he began with the cover story — that he agreed it was a smart move to take a break from their relationship. All new relationships need time at the beginning. Blah. Blah. Blah.

From across the room, he heard Lois’s laugh ring out and it caused a stabbing pain in his heart to know that she would never be his. The pain on his face caused Cat to reach out for his arm.

“She’s my destiny,” he whispered. “I had her for one brief moment and now she’s gone.” Then he blinked his eyes, realized to whom he was speaking and begged her not to quote him. Pleaded with her.

Cat just smiled like the Cheshire cat who had gotten a bowl of cream. He told her that he was still suffering under the effects of the perfume and wasn’t in total control of his feelings for Ultra Woman, but that he would be better tomorrow.

“Of course,” she told him, not believing a word of it.

He worried for about thirty seconds about what Lois would think when she read whatever Cat decided to write, if she hadn’t been listening to the interview already. Then Clark remembered that she already knew everything he had told Cat. She knew that he loved her and would do anything for her. She knew that he was suffering because he couldn’t have her. But they both knew it wasn’t meant it to be. And once again, he had to deal with that reality, alone. Kal had the perfect life and his own life sucked.

After Cat left to type up her story, his mind drifted to a conversation he and Lois had had while walking to work the other morning.

“Clark.” She paused to take a sip of her smoothie.

“Hmmm.” He hadn’t really been paying attention. This was when she liked to tell him about what was happening in the other dimension. He usually only listened with half an ear to her incessant ramblings about Kal, just happy to hear her voice.

“Which is real? This life here with you or that life in my dreams with the other you? You know, the man you call Kal?” She looked at him with wide eyes over her straw.

He shook his head. “Excuse me?” Had she just referred to Kal as the ‘other’ him? Had Lois been teasing him?

“That dream life, I know in my mind it is supposed to be my real life, but…” She hesitated, not wanting to voice what she was feeling.

“But what?”

“But this life, here with you. This life feels real.”

“They are both real, Lois. Are you feeling all right?” He placed a hand to her forehead.

“I’m feeling fine, Clark. It’s just sometimes, I get a little confused. It’s as if I have amnesia and you are just treating me as a friend until I get my memory straight. But every night in my dreams, I remember a little more about what our life was like before the accident.”

“What accident?” he asked, trying to understand.

“Exactly! Was there an accident that wiped away my memories?” She looked at him expectantly, like her life depended on his answer.

He thought about what she was saying. She did sound a little spacey that morning. “You say that I’m ‘just treating you as a friend’ as opposed to what? Are we not friends?”

“Yes, of course we’re friends. Best friends.” She smiled. “You are the only person I can trust in this wacky world.” She took hold of his arm.

“Then?” Where was she going with this?

“Oh. It’s nothing. I’m probably being crazy.”

“That, I’ll agree with.” He grinned.

She socked him in the arm, but then was quiet for a full block. Lois was never quiet. “Well, as opposed to more than friends.”

He smiled at her. “We are more than just friends, Lois, if that’s what you’re wondering. You’re the only person in Metropolis I would lie for.”

“Would you lie to me, Clark?”

“I hope not, Lois.” Had he lied to her? Not that he could recall.

“Are you the man of my dreams?” she asked, looking at him expectantly. His heart skipped a beat, doing that flip-flop that only she could make it do. She was certainly muddled. She must not have gotten enough sleep.

“I would like nothing more than to be the man of your dreams, Lois, but—” That’s when he heard the alarm bells — an apartment building was on fire. They needed his help. He hadn’t even needed to explain.

“Go! Go!” She urged him.

“We’ll talk more about this later,” he told her, leaving a kiss on her cheek.

But with their crazy lives, they hadn’t gotten back to her strange confusion of that morning.

Was that why she had wanted to kiss him up on the roof? Because, for some reason, she was confusing him and Kal? She wasn’t bewildered anymore, it seemed. She had told him straight out that they could no longer be alone together. He had gone from the only man she could trust in Metropolis to persona non grata. Or… Clark swiveled around in his chair to look at her and swallowed. Was it that she could no longer trust herself with him?

Clark pondered this for a minute. Or two. Or five. Then he tried to shake the thought from his head. She was married to Kal, not him. His life as Superman would be over if it ever got out that he was even fantasizing about another man’s wife. With a sigh, he turned back to his computer to type up his story on the Indian train derailment.

***

Clark sat up in bed. He had been tossing and turning all night, thinking about Ultra Woman. A week had passed since the party and he still could not get her out of his mind. She coursed through his veins like superheated blood. He clicked on the light next to his bed and buried his face in his hands. He glanced up at his loft and then forced himself to lie back in bed.

“Go to sleep,” he told himself. “She will never be yours.” He repeated this mantra every night, but for some reason, this night it didn’t work. When he closed his eyes, he could feel her lips brushing against his. An instant later, he was up in his loft.

He shifted a few boxes out of the way. One of these days, he was going to have to put his Lois’s belongings in storage. Clark liked having them close. He flipped open one of the boxes, pulled out a sweater, and held it up to his nose. He could still smell a hint of her perfume. Perfume.

He set the sweater back in the box and opened the middle drawer of his extra dresser. He pulled out the envelope of photos that he had put away a week ago, knowing that if he looked at them, he wouldn’t be able to stay away from her. It was too soon and they were both still too vulnerable. He didn’t want to think about Ultra Woman. At work, it was near impossible to avoid the topic. Everyone still wanted to know about her… about them.

Ralph asked him daily if he had heard from Ultra Woman. When was she going to return? Clark could only shrug. His public heartache had been tabloid fodder since Cat’s exclusive had hit the papers after Halloween. The headline read “Metropolis Falls in Love with Ultra Woman” — a play on Miranda’s love-potion story. Cat’s sidebar headline had been”Ultra Woman Breaks Clark Kent’s Heart.” The word ‘destiny’ had indeed come up in the article; she also mentioned the possibility of him still being affected by the potion, but blew it off as speculation. Perry would have edited it out. But Ralph was no Perry.

He could no longer spend any time with Lois, alone or otherwise, as all women in his life were under public scrutiny. When he tried to walk with her to work one morning, the slimy tabloid reporter, Leo Nunk, had followed them. Apparently, Lois knew Nunk from the other dimension, so it took some convincing and super speed not to let Nunk provoke her into punching him. Lois was becoming more wild with this forced separation. She was having as hard a time battling her private feelings for him as he was. He had always been her “Kal patch,” and for a week they could have only a few guarded conversations at work. She wouldn’t speak to him on the telephone for more than a couple of minutes. She said it felt more illicit — even if they were talking about mundane things — to speak to him that way. He could tell that she was going through Clark withdrawal.

Clark flew with the pictures to his dining room table and pulled them out of the envelope. Mr. Olsen obviously had it bad, poor fellow. Clark shook his head. He didn’t know what it was about Lois, but she collected suitors like some men collected baseball hats.

In a photo of them eating, she was laughing. He couldn’t remember what he had said. Clark closed his eyes. He could see Ultra Woman laughing, then she picked up a napkin and wiped his mouth. Oh, right. He had gotten mustard on his fake mustache. That was endearing. He opened his eyes.

Wait a second. When had they gotten sprayed with the perfume? He didn’t remember seeing Miranda during the first half of the evening. He picked up the photos and quickly scanned them. There! While they had been dancing, after he returned from the diner, there was a blonde Superwoman that could have been Miranda. But that would mean… he swallowed.

That would mean that Lois had tried to kiss him, up on the roof, before she had been spritzed by Miranda. He set down the photos; that couldn’t be right. Perhaps she had gotten an earlier dose as well. Yes. He couldn’t believe she would want to kiss him without help. No, it was the perfume that drove her to accept his advances. And since then, she was having difficulties rebuilding that wall between them. If he believed otherwise, he would go crazy.

What was he thinking? He was already going crazy. Up at three a.m., looking at photos of a woman he could not have. He picked up the pile of photos. He should have moved them to Smallville at his first opportunity, so temptation wouldn’t be so close. As he shoved the photographs back into the envelope, a couple fell to the floor.

There was one — not of Ultra Woman, but of Lucy. She was sitting at her desk, staring off into space. He wondered who she was thinking about? Kal, of course; who else? He took all the photos and looked at each one to see if there were any other Lucy photos. There were a total of three. Mr. Olsen must have added them by mistake. The other two photos of Lucy were taken when she was out of the office. She was at a restaurant. Mr. Olsen must have taken her to dinner. A part of Clark didn’t like the idea that there were aspects of Lois’s life he didn’t know about. She was smiling in one and in the other she was looking off, over James’s shoulder.

Clark went back to the photograph of her at work. He pulled that one out of the pack. He would keep that one here.

Flying back to the loft, he returned the photos to the middle drawer. When he dropped in the envelope, he pulled out the Ultra Woman mask. He closed his eyes and held it up to his face. It smelled like she had spent all night dancing, yet the material was cool and soft, just like Lois’s skin. His eyes flashed open and he dropped the mask back in the drawer. Yep, the Ultra Woman suit would be going to Smallville, too.

Clark dove off the loft and stopped just before hitting his bed. He fluffed his pillow, turned off the light, and lay down on his belly to sleep. He tossed and turned and tossed some more. There was no way he could sleep with Lois pulsing through his veins. He hadn’t been to Smallville in a few weeks and he should get that stuff out of his apartment. The sooner, the better.

Three minutes later he was showered, dressed in the blue suit, and lifting off with the first set of boxes from his loft. Maybe he’d even set up a Lois Lane Memorial room for his Lois with all of her stuff. He would have to get a second security system, because if anyone broke into his Smallville house and saw that room… Clark shook his head. He didn’t know what would happen, but he imagined it would be something similar to Lana Lang’s worst nightmares for him.

He was long gone when his home phone rang and rang. His machine picked up.

Clark! Clark? Where are you? I had another nightmare. John Doe is Tempus!”

Shortly before five o’clock, Superman returned from delivering and unpacking the last set of boxes. The alarm was set and the Ultra Woman photographs and suit were locked away in a safe his parents had installed when he was young. They had never used it, but they had wanted it just in case.

It felt good to have all that stuff out of his apartment, out of his easy reach. He went to the kitchen for some orange juice and found that photograph of Lucy staring off into space, her glasses hanging from her fingertips, and a hint of a smile on her lips, still sitting on his table. Mr. Olsen was much too good of a photographer, catching her unaware like that. In this photo, she looked more like Lois than she did like Lucy. Clark really should remind her about not taking off her glasses at work.

A blinking red light caught his attention. Someone called while he was out? He could think of only one person, but he pressed the play button anyway. Her anxious tone made the hairs on his arms stand on end.

Clark stumbled backwards and sat down on his couch. Tempus! A man he hadn’t even known had tried to ruin Clark’s life and kill him for his own fame and glory. Clark hated him down to a cellular level.

John Doe? John Doe? John Doe! The third party candidate in the presidential elections in her dimension. It might as well have been a bad dream with all the help he could offer from this dimension. If Clark went to her, all he could do was comfort her, listen to her fears. But there was not a single thing either of them could actually do about it. They were here and Tempus was in her dimension. That was a matter for Kal to take care of.

A large part of him struggled with the need to fly to Lois’s apartment, but Clark held it at bay. He could not trust himself alone with her; she was too much of a temptation, especially vulnerable as she was… as he was. If they kissed again, Clark doubted either of them could stop. Once was a mistake, twice… twice was a decision. He swallowed, but he could not just ignore her message. It made him feel like a cad, but he would call.

“Hello?” Lois sounded groggy with sleep.

“Hi, Lois.”

“Clark! Oh, Clark. Why didn’t you—”

“You know why, Lois,” he interrupted. “Are you feeling any better?”

“No. Clark! Tempus has brainwashed everyone in my dimension into thinking that he’s a darn nice guy,” she said, panic in her voice.

“In twenty-four hours? How?”

“Less than that. I know two things: Tempus is evil and John Doe is ‘a darn nice guy’,” Lois told him.

“Wow. Even you? What are you and Kal doing to stop him?” He sighed to himself, knowing this was another fruitless conversation which helped her vent.

“We’re still trying to work out how he’s doing it. But he’s gone from nothing in the polls to beating Garner in less than six hours. I don’t know how we’ll figure this out in time. Election day is tomorrow.”

“Today, actually,” he corrected. “Ralph wants me covering the Madsen defeat. His words, not mine.” He glanced at the clock. “I’d better be going.”

“What about Tempus?”

“What about him, Lois? We’re here. He’s there. If you have any ideas on how we can help Kal without letting Tempus know you’re here and pregnant with Superman’s child, I’m willing to listen.” He paused, and sensed her growing anger as she ground her teeth and her pulse quickened. “I’ll check in with you later, Lois.”

“Okay. I’m sorry I bothered you,” she whispered.

Clark inwardly groaned. “Lois. Don’t think that way. You know you’re not a bother. I’ll always listen to your worries. I’m just trying to set realistic, achievable goals here.”

“What am I to you then?” Lois snapped.

“My sister-in-law.” He hated to put it so bluntly, but it was true.

She didn’t say anything for a moment. “I know. It’s just that it doesn’t feel that way.”

“We shouldn’t talk about this,” he murmured, his heart breaking with every word.

“The more we don’t talk about it, the larger it becomes.”

“I love you. I want you. I would be there, right now, holding you, kissing you, making love to you if you weren’t married to Kal. In love with Kal,” he retorted. “There, did that make things better?”

“No,” she whispered. Great, he had made her cry.

“I’m sorry, Lois. Please forgive me. This is hard on me too. We’ll get through this. Something will snap you back to reality, return you to your old self,” Clark said with optimism he neither felt nor believed. “We just have to find out what it is.”

“What about you?”

He sighed. “I know my fate. I’ve always known it.”

“Oh, Clark…” Sympathy infused her tone. He couldn’t listen any more.

“Goodbye, Lois.”

***

Clark was glad for one thing: it was a busy news week. Charlton Heston won the reelection in a landslide. An earthquake in California and a Midwest snowstorm kept Superman out of Metropolis for three days. Life was easier for him if he kept busy; being Superman kept his mind off Lois. And it kept him physically away from her as well.

He spent his nights in Smallville, enjoying the silence the old farmhouse afforded him, yet surrounded by his Lois’s things. Clark had cleared out his old bedroom, donating anything he could to charity, but keeping a few old mementoes. He hung up her clothes in the closet and placed her photos around the room. It almost felt like she was alive… like she could walk into the room at any moment.

Clark lingered over each item, thinking about how Lois would have looked in each piece of clothing. He knew it wasn’t the healthy thing to do, but it was better to be in love with a dead woman than tempt the living into infidelity again, right?

He sent his stories to Ralph over the wire service. Every time he checked in with his editor, Ralph was only interested in one story: Ultra Woman. And Clark was forced to admit once more that he hadn’t heard from her.

While he was away, Clark called Lois every morning and evening. She accused him of avoiding her and he couldn’t deny it. She missed him. It didn’t help that her dreams were filled with Tempus taking over her dimension. But at least the stress of Tempus distracted her from thinking about him. When he returned from California, Lois was almost back to her regular self, except for the dark circles growing under her eyes. She no longer looked at him with yearning from across the newsroom, for which he was eternally grateful.

It had been two weeks since the costume party, and Clark was finally able to get a full night’s sleep in his own apartment. He still longed for Lois with his entire body and soul, but he knew how to live with unrequited love. It was quiet in Metropolis and Clark happily went to bed early. He still had plenty of sleep to catch up on.

***

Clark flew through the air. Someone was calling his name. Clearing the clouds, he could finally see her. Chained to a rock in the middle of the sea like Andromeda, a blindfold around her eyes, stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her long, deep brown hair blew in the wind. He could see her, but he could not reach her. The winds kept pushing him back.

Her voice called out to him. “Clark Kent. Please, save me. Hear me, Clark. Find me. Help me, Clark. Without you, I am dead.”

The closer he came to the rock, the farther away it got, the softer her voice.

Suddenly, a bright light flashed from the heavens, striking her with a bolt of lightning.

“No!” Clark yelled, sitting up in bed. It was just a dream, a nightmare. Yet he was breathless and his hands shook. He covered his face with his hands.

He had had this dream before, but never had the woman been so near that he could see her face. It was Lois. Only it wasn’t Lois. Lois didn’t talk to him like that. It felt wrong. It was her, but not her all at once. She was in danger and he couldn’t save her — that part of the dream was always the same. This time she had been hit by a lightning strike. That was new, different, more horrifying. Each time he had this dream, she called out to him to save her and he never could reach her in time.

Clark climbed out of bed and walked into his kitchen for a glass of water. He was leaning against his kitchen counter when he saw an angel descend from the heavens onto his patio. An angel dressed only in the top half of pajamas.

“Lois!” he gasped, rushing to her. “What are you doing here?”

“Clark,” she could hardly speak his name as she entered his apartment. Her face was damp with tears and she collapsed against him. “He’s gone. He’s gone.”

Clark picked her up and carried her back to his bed. Covering up her shivering body with extra blankets, he held her. Knowing she could only be speaking of Kal, but also knowing that she was too distraught to be questioned further. When she finally stopped sobbing, he asked, “Where has he gone, Lois?”

“He’s lost in time,” she murmured, turning around and resting her head against his bare chest. “Tempus tricked him into a time window and then it exploded.” She started to cry again.

Clark felt her pain, but he could not sit there any longer with her so close, her hands holding him and her tears dripping down his bare chest. He felt naked in just his pajama shorts. “Excuse me, Lois.” He slipped out from under her.

“Clark!” She reached out to him.

He swallowed and stepped into his closet. He returned a moment later, dressed in sweatpants and t-shirt. Then he sat down next to her. She grabbed hold of him again and pulled her towards her, burying her head in his chest once more. He resisted one more minute and then wrapped his arms around her once again.

When she was able, the whole story poured out. Lois explained about all the new reforms Tempus was enacting while turning himself into America’s first dictator. She told him about how Andrus, the peacekeeper from the future, had asked Superman for his help in returning Tempus to the future for trial. How Tempus had tricked Superman and sent the time window spinning out of control. “I reached out for him, but Tempus held me back. I couldn’t reach Clark and the window just sped away from me into oblivion. Then Andrus disintegrated and disappeared, like he no longer existed. Superman is gone and now our future is gone, too. I don’t see how I’m ever going to get him back.”

Lois looked up at him, her expression stormy. “How dare you sit there and look like him and not do anything to help. This is all your fault. If only you had helped earlier.” She balled up her fist and punched him in the jaw. Then she collapsed against his chest, crying once more.

Clark sighed and rubbed his jaw. He looked down at her fist and x-rayed it, finding nothing broken. She was lucky. That was some punch. Not that it hurt, but he had certainly felt it, straight down to his heart. At least, she wasn’t trying to kiss him, like she had the last time Kal died. He swallowed, trying to block those thoughts from his mind. He had no more resistance left. One kiss and he would be gone forever.

Eventually Lois fell asleep, nestled in his arms. Clark held her, his heart suddenly empty, feeling like a hollow shell of the man he had been before she had come to him that night. He knew she was distraught and did not mean any of the things she had accused him of. He needed to prove to her that he was a man she could believe in, who wouldn’t let her down, ever again. Clark had no idea how he could ever prove that he was worthy of her.

She was still asleep when Clark left for work that morning. He called Sam and let him know where she was, having come to him in the middle of the night with another nightmare about Kal. He left out a pair of sweatpants for her to wear home, if she so desired.

Clark sat at work, going through the motions, not really feeling up to writing about anything that day. It was hard to work when he had left his heart at home. He kept looking at her desk, hoping beyond hope that she had pulled herself together enough to come in to work, but he knew he was just setting himself up for disappointment. He’d be lucky if Lucy ever showed up again. Without Kal, Lois would lose hope. Without hope, what reason would Lois find to care about what happened to her or what anyone thought about her?

He had to find a way to give Lois hope, if only for the sake of the baby, and in doing so he would prove that he was worthy of her. Worthy of being Superman. For that’s what he was: her Superman. She may have created him in Kal’s image, but it took Lois to make him Super. Compared to Kal’s Superman, Clark was just a pale reflection. Especially since he knew he would someday be on his own again.

As he sat as his desk, enduring yet another lecture from Ralph, he saw a strange little man in a bowler hat come out of the elevator. His spirits lifted. H.G. Wells. Clark stood up from his desk, walked away from Ralph and up to Wells.

“Clark,” H.G. Wells said. “Lois needs you.”

Clark nodded. She sure did. “I just need to stop by my apartment and then we can go.” The two men entered the elevator together.

***

Superman landed on the patio to his apartment. He zipped inside. Lois was sitting at his dining room table. It looked like she had just gotten out of bed.

“Clark!” She jumped up and ran into his arms. “Kal’s still alive. H.G. Wells is looking for him, right now. He may still be alive.”

“I know,” he said, setting her down and stepping away from her. She was still only wearing a pajama top. “H.G. Wells is here.”

“Here?”

“For me. He asked me to go to your dimension and help stop Tempus, while he is searching for… your Clark. Excuse me.” He went into the bedroom, took a valise from the closet and started filling it with clothing.

Lois stood in the doorway, watching him. “Thank you, Clark.”

Clark nodded as he went into the bathroom and returned moments later, brushing past her as he tried to go through the doorway. She smelled so nice and was wearing so little. “Please, Lois. Don’t do this to me. Not now.”

She took two steps back, enabling him to pass.

He went to his desk drawer and removed two photos he kept there. One was the photo of Lois that Mr. Olsen had taken and the other was the ultrasound photo — to remind him for whom he was fighting. He slipped these into the valise as well. Then he turned back to her. “Do you need a lift home?”

“Home?” she asked. He could see the hope filling her eyes.

“Lois Lane’s apartment, here, in this dimension. That home,” he corrected himself.

“Oh.” She looked down at her pajamas and bare feet. “Yes, I guess I do.” She walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his neck.

He stood there for a moment and just stared at her, before wrapping his arms around her. “I’m doing this for you, you know.”

“I know, Clark.”

“I would do anything for you, Lois,” he whispered, closing his eyes and placing his cheek next to hers. “Anything.”

Her voice quivered as she spoke. “Clark, I may be better at faking it than you are, but—”

Clark cut her off with a kiss, lifting her into his arms. They were high above the city, before he came up for air.

“You shouldn’t do that, Clark,” Lois whispered, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’m a sucker for men who fly.”

Clark smiled weakly.

A moment later, they landed in the living room of her apartment. He set her down and Lois leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Take care. I can’t afford to lose another Clark.”

“I know,” he whispered, kissing her forehead at the hairline. “I’ll come back to you, Lois.” A moment later he was gone.

***

Chapter 4 — The Rescue of Mrs. Luthor

Author’s Note: I have altered the timeline of the show in this chapter by moving Tempus’s John Doe presidential bid to its correct spot between the Ghosts (October/Halloween 1996) and around the time of Stop the Presses (November 1996).

***

Sam was sitting at the breakfast bar, drinking coffee, when Lucy walked in dressed for work.

“Good morning, Daddy,” she hummed, kissing his cheek.

He stared at her as she grabbed a muffin off his plate and took a bite. Lucy hadn’t called him Daddy since she learned of his involvement with Lex Luthor, and she certainly would never have kissed his cheek. She didn’t look right. Too chipper.

“I’m starving this morning. The baby must be growing like a weed. Did Clark call? Do you know if he’s picking me up today?” she asked him.

“Lucy, Clark’s not here. He went to rescue your dimension from Tempus. Remember?” Sam tried to explain. But her eyes looked more drugged than puffy from crying. “Lucy, did you take any medicine? That wouldn’t be good for the baby.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Daddy. Of course I haven’t taken any medication.” She took another bite of the muffin. “That’s right. Clark is looking for Kal. Kal’s my husband.” Then she put her finger up to her lips. “Secret.” This announcement did not seem to bother her in the slightest. Something was definitely wrong.

“Why don’t you stay home today, sweetie? You look like you could use the rest,” he encouraged.

“My, you are talking in riddles today, Daddy. I missed work yesterday and the day before and Ralph is a yeller. I don’t want to be yelled at, so I’d better be on time today. With Clark out of town, someone has to go to work to cover for him.” She lowered her voice. “Do you think anyone else has figured out he’s really Superman?”

Sam took her arm and sat her down. “Sweetie, everyone knows he’s Superman.”

“Oh, I wonder why I thought it was such a big secret? Huh.” She shrugged and took another bite of muffin. “Gosh, this is dry. Do we have any juice?”

Sam pointed at the fridge.

She jumped off her stool and went to get herself juice. “Maybe that’s not the secret. That feels like the secret. Hmmm. Juice!” She poured them each a glass.

“Thank you, sweetie.”

“I know what the secret is!” she squealed, causing him to spill his juice. “No one is supposed to know Clark is Kal, the father of my baby!” She threw up her hands in disbelief. “I cannot believe I forgot that was the secret.”

“Clark is the father of your baby?” Sam gasped. He had told Sam that Kal was the father.

“Told you. Secret.” She put her finger to her lips again.

Sam shook his head. She was obviously in shock. “Kal is Clark’s brother, Lucy. His twin brother. They are not the same person.”

“They aren’t the same person?” She looked at him like he had grown an extra arm out his head. “No? Get out of here. I mean, I knew he had a split personality going on with Clark Kent and Superman and everything, but he’s actually two people pretending to be one person with multiple personalities? This is front page material, Daddy. Thanks for the scoop.”

“No, sweetie. Clark is Superman. But so is Kal. No, that did not come out right. How am I going to explain this to you?” Sam put his head in his hands. Why did he have to explain this to her? His head was beginning to throb.

“There are two Supermans?…. Supermannequins? Supermen? Supermen! Wow! Daddy, this is a bigger scoop than I thought possible. I better get to the Daily Planet right away and type this up or Lois Lane isn’t the best investigative reporter this dimension has ever seen.” She stopped and grinned. “And of course I am.” She went to flip up her hair with her hand, but she only flipped air. “Daddy, when I did I cut my hair? I used to have such beautiful hair. Where did it go?”

“You got a haircut. You thought you were looking a little shaggy.” Sam’s mind raced. He was going to need backup. The only backup he had was in another dimension. “Crap.”

Lucy gasped. “Daddy. Your language! Baby on board.” She pointed to her belly.

“Sorry, sweetie.” He took hold of her arms and sat her down at the couch. “I need your help. Can you tell Daddy who else knows about Kal? Wait, Moonbeam!” He ran to the red telephone and dialed. It rang off the hook, no answer. Some psychic. He returned to where Lucy was sitting on the couch. “Does anyone else in this dimension know about Kal?” He nodded encouragingly.

Lucy thought for a minute. “Mayson. Clark told Mayson. Of course, she didn’t believe him. I mean, who would believe such a story. Hell, I don’t. Oh! Maybe I should. I mean, Mayson blew up right after he told her. Is it possible that you can blow up if you don’t believe everything Clark tells you?” She put her hand to her lips. “Wow! Superman is all powerful.”

Mayson was not a viable option. They hated each other. “Anyone else, sweetie. Did you tell anyone else about Kal? Perry, perhaps? I know what good friends you are with the mayor.” He nodded encouragingly at her.

“Did you know that before he became the mayor, he was my boss. True story,” she said, pointing at him. “He’s also half Elvis. Another true story. But no, I didn’t tell Perry about Kal. I should. Kal is such a great guy. I should tell everyone.” Tears started streaming down her face. “Why didn’t I tell Perry? He’s like my best friend, next to Clark, Kal, and Jimmy and you. I shouldn’t forget about you. I really need some women friends.”

“Jimmy? Jimmy who, sweetie? Did you tell Jimmy about Kal?”

Lucy smiled a giant smile. “Yeah, I did. Kal is so great I had to tell someone. Did I tell you that on the honeymoon, he—” She giggled, covering her mouth.

“I don’t need to hear about your honeymoon, sweetie. Tell me more about Jimmy.”

“You know Jimmy, Daddy.” She pushed him on the arm and he stumbled across the room. “My boss James Olsen, publisher of the Daily Planet.” She pointed up to the ceiling. “He has the penthouse apartment here. That Jimmy. Only he likes to be called James for some reason. He knows all about Kal. Well, he knows that Kal exists. Does that count?”

Sam stood up, rubbing his arm. Was she starting to develop super strength, too? That would be a bad combination if she were suffering from delusions and able to fly, as well.

“Lucy.” He snapped his fingers in front of her eyes. “Lois.” That seemed to get her attention. “Lois, sweetie.”

“Sam. What’s going on? Any news from Clark? And don’t call me ‘sweetie.’ You haven’t earned it.”

Okay, Sam thought, calling her Lois was the key to her sanity. “Lois, I’m going upstairs to talk to James Olsen, publisher of the Daily Planet. Do you think you could wait here for me? I’ll be right back.” He used big hand gestures.

Lois looked him up and down. “Why are you treating me like a child, Sam?”

“Because you are delusional, Lois,” he said bluntly. “Sorry, that came out rather harsh.” But he could already see her anger growing.

“Delusional? I’m delusional?”

“Lois, think about Clark.”

Lois shrugged. “What about him?”

“What do you think about him?” Sam asked.

“I think he’s a great guy, but he’s no Superman.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “Oh, that man. Those blue tights. Yummy!”

Oh, great. Delusional was back. “Lois, stay here. Wait for me, right here. Okay?” Sam ran out the door to the elevator and pushed the call button repeatedly until it arrived. “Penthouse.” He pushed the top floor button. When the doors opened he ran to the one door on this floor and started banging. “James Olsen? Mr. James Olsen?”

“Who’s asking?” A voice from an intercom asked.

“It’s Sam Lane, Lucy’s doctor. I need help and Clark is out of town. She’s gone into shock and I can’t control her.”

James Olsen opened his door. “What’s wrong with Lucy?”

“Kal, her husband, disappeared the day before yesterday. Clark went to find him, but the shock of losing Kal has sent Lucy over the edge. Yesterday, she was comatose; today, she’s delusional. Help me, please,” Sam begged.

“You’re a doctor, can’t you give her a sedative?” James suggested, grabbing his coat.

“No, I can’t.” Sam could think of two reasons a sedative would be a bad idea. One, the baby. Two, he didn’t think it would work with her current metabolism. “Please, hurry. I’ve left her alone in the apartment.” Then he fully realized that he had left her alone in the apartment. “Oh, crap! Meet me there!” Sam ran back to the elevator; luckily it was still there.

James was right behind him. “How did Kal disappear, again?”

Sam could never think on his feet like Lois could, but he certainly couldn’t tell this man the truth. “He has a top-secret job, hush hush. They informed her the day before yesterday about his disappearance.”

“Ralph went ballistic. He was talking to Clark and Clark just stood up and walked out of the newsroom. And then he didn’t come back. No word or anything. I’m glad to hear there was a good reason behind it. I’ve been trying to reach him since yesterday morning.”

The elevator arrived on the fifth floor and Sam and James rushed to 501, but the door was ajar. They walked inside but didn’t see her. Sam ran to her bedroom, then the bathroom; both rooms were empty.

“I left her on the sofa. If she gets out like that, all could be lost. Clark is going to kill me. Tear me limb from limb if anything happens to her.” Sam fell onto the sofa. “She’s got top-secret information up there.” He tapped his head. Not to mention the top-secret baby growing inside her belly.

“You know, I believe you, Dr. Lane. Where do you think she might have gone?” James asked.

Sam remembered her flying into the apartment on Halloween. “Anywhere. Clark is going to kill me. Wait! She was dressed for work. Maybe the Daily Planet. She said that since Clark was out of town, she had to cover for him at the paper.”

James shook his head. “She is delusional, if she thinks she could cover for Clark.” He fished into his pocket and pulled out his car keys. “I’ll drive down to the Planet and see if I can find her.”

***

Lois walked into the bullpen just in time for the morning meeting. She slipped into the conference room as the next to last person was closing the door.

“Okay, people. Has anyone found out where Clark disappeared to? He walked off the job the day before yesterday, and no one has seen him or Superman since. Anyone? Anyone?”

Everyone just shook their head.

“Lucy!” Ralph yelled, noticing her as she sat down. “Thanks for joining us. You know Clark better than anyone. Where is he?”

Lois started to cry. “He’s gone. Clark is gone. He went out the window and it just got smaller and smaller and smaller until it disappeared. I’ll never see him again!” The tears were streaming down her face.

“Something happened to Superman? This is front page stuff!” Ralph squealed with delight.

“What happened again, Lucy?” Cat asked, putting her arm around her. “You aren’t making sense.”

“I love him so much and I never got to tell him… he’s gone.” Her eyes focused and became cold. “Tempus did this! It’s all his fault,” she growled. “Oh, Clark!” She buried her head in her arms on the table.

“What? Tempus is back? This is huge! Oh, I can see the headlines now: Superman Defeated By Tempus!” Ralph spread his hands wide as if picturing the headline.

Lois’s head snapped up. “What?!” She glowered at Ralph. “What did you say? Kal is gone and all you can think about is your lousy headline?” Surprising everyone in the room, she dove across the table without touching it and tackled Ralph.

James Olsen opened the conference room door. “Lucy, NO!” He ran over to her and pulled her off her boss.

“You are so fired, Lucy! Get your stuff and leave this instant,” Ralph screeched with a cough. “Good riddance.”

Lois tried to pull herself out of James’s grasp, but the baby chose that moment to kick her. She grabbed her stomach and stumbled backward, knocking them both over.

“Give her a break, Ralph! Her husband disappeared and Clark went to find him,” James scolded, pulling himself and then Lucy off the floor. “She’s in shock from the grief. She wasn’t even supposed to be at work today.”

Ralph coughed. “You mean Superman’s not really gone? Tempus wasn’t involved?” He seemed disappointed.

James rolled his eyes, murmuring, “Lucy’s right. You really are an idiot.”

“Lucy’s married?” Jaxon gasped from the back of the room.

“Someone actually married her?” Cat scoffed, shaking her head in disbelief.

James put one of her arms around his neck and Barry Balson took her other arm and helped drag Lois out of the conference room. James sat her down in Clark’s chair.

“Barry, can you get her some water?”

“Right on it, boss.” Barry ran off.

“Lucy? Lucy, are you all right?” James asked, kneeling down in front of her so he could look her in the eye.

Lois glanced up, noticing him for the first time. “Has anyone heard from Clark? Is he back? Is there any news?”

James shook his head. “Lucy, if anyone can find Kal, Clark will.”

She nodded. “He promised me he would. And Superman doesn’t make promises he can’t keep.” She leaned her head upon his shoulder and wept.

***

Meanwhile in Lois’s home dimension…

Clark sat on Lois and Kal’s… Clark’s sofa. He had done it. He had captured Tempus, stopped him from blowing this dimension to smithereens, yet he still felt empty. Lois and Kal were typing up their story at the Daily Planet at that very moment. H.G. Wells was returning Tempus to the future.

Clark felt horrible. He had no willpower against Lois at all, even this stand-in Lois. He had almost kissed her and she had almost kissed him back. She looked and acted a bit different than the Lois hiding out in his dimension. He guessed he had just gotten used to her ‘Lucy’ look. Seeing her stylish and — well, he hadn’t noticed the little bit of weight she gained until seeing her compared to this unpregnant Lois — anyway, she reminded him again of the woman who had made him into Superman. Not the woman who made a super man. He buried his face in his hands.

He had lost any resistance he ever mustered against her that one night in October.

It was obvious, looking at the photos in this room and hearing how this Lois talked about her husband, how happy they were and how much they loved each other. And here he was, trying to steal this man’s true wife and child for himself.

Clark knew the Lois he left back in his dimension would have to go home one day, so that this stand-in Lois could be returned to the correct spot in this dimension’s timeline. He didn’t need H.G. Wells to remind him that if the stand-in didn’t return, the Lois in his dimension would cease to exist. It had been pure folly on his part to allow himself to fall for her — all over again — in the first place.

Martha Kent came downstairs and waved him into the kitchen. “Jonathan is lying down. He didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“I haven’t slept in weeks,” Clark sympathized.

She reached over and hugged him. “How is Lois?”

“Ecstatic now that she found Clark—”

“Not that Lois, Clark,” she said, going to the fridge and pulling out a bottle of juice. “The Lois I sent to you this summer.”

Clark had completely forgotten that Kal’s mother knew about Lois’s trip.

“A mess.” He smiled weakly at his vague description.

“I bet.”

“She talks about Kal… her Clark all the time. She really misses him. Oh, wait!” He zipped out to his overnight bag and returned with the photographs. He took one last look at them and then handed them to Martha. “Here. She’d want you to have them.”

Martha gasped with delight. “Is this the baby?”

He nodded and pointed out the head, arms, and bottom. “This was at four months. The legs are tucked in on the other side. She’s quite a little soccer player.”

“Kicking already?” Martha was glowing. “Do you know for sure that it’s a girl?”

“Just a feeling on Lois’s part.” He shrugged. “She won’t let me…” He touched his glasses.

“No, probably not in the baby’s best interest. We can wait.”

“And, yes, it kicks Lois all the time.” He nodded with a smile as he thought of the baby he considered his own. “And healthy. Lois tracked down Sam Lane and he’s been her doctor. He’s been keeping a good eye on her. Making sure she eats, sleeps, and behaves.”

Martha laughed. “I can’t believe she’d tolerate a leash.”

“She’s getting used to it now. Keeping the morning sickness under wraps was no fun.” He explained about Lois’s secret identity as Lucy El, wife of Kal-El, and flipped to the other photo.

“I’ve never seen her look so…” Martha searched for the right word. “Frumpy.”

Clark laughed. “Well, she chose Lucy’s baggy style to cover up the pregnancy and for comfort. We’ll see how well it worked; she only just started to show in the last few weeks. I… we didn’t need extra questions buzzing around the newsroom.”

“Of course.” Martha nodded. “I wish I could share these with Clark.”

“No!” Clark said a tad too forcefully. “It’s too late.”

She looked at him with a raised brow and sat down at the table.

“She’s six months pregnant,” he tried to explain. “The baby’s getting bigger by the day. I know Clark would take her back in any condition, but how would she explain that to everyone else? With everything the Lois stand-in has been through in the last five months, no one’s going to believe that she’s been hiding a baby too. Plus, this Lois obviously isn’t pregnant, not six months pregnant.” Clark stopped himself from rambling any more. He sat down next to Martha and tried not to drop his head into his hands in exasperation.

She took his hand in hers and patted it. “What makes you think you can try to pull a fast one on me, Clark Kent?”

His jaw hung open. His mom used to say that to him. His chin started to quiver, “Mom… Martha…” He swallowed. “I’m not holding Lois hostage.”

“I’m glad to hear it. But…” She looked at him expectantly.

“But I need her,” he whispered, lowering his head. “My life is empty without her.”

“Oh, Clark, I’m sorry to hear that,” Martha said and she truly did look sorry. “But she’s not your wife.”

“I know. I tell myself that every day.”

“Oh, dear.” Martha shook her head. “You’ve fallen in love with Lois.”

Clark looked at her. How had she known? He really must check his forehead for that tattoo.

“Sweetie, it’s written all over your face. I knew from the first moment that Clark — our Clark — started talking about her that he was in love with her. I see it with you, too. She has had quite an effect on you two.”

Clark smiled sheepishly. “She calls us her Kent boys.”

Martha laughed. “Oh, I would have loved for Clark to have had a sibling. But Jonathan and I were just happy when one baby fell out of the sky.” She sighed. “Clark, can I trust you to do the right thing?”

He nodded. “She wanted to come home after the honeymoon, but then the stand-in Lois got arrested.”

Her brow furrowed. “How did you know about that?”

“Lois knows everything that happens in this dimension, because she has all of the stand-in’s memories.”

Martha’s jaw dropped.

“Well, not all of her memories, just the ones the stand-in has experienced so far,” Clark clarified. “Every night when she sleeps she relives this Lois’s day — her memories — in her dreams. The stand-in is her, only a couple of months younger. As long as we plan on putting this Lois back in her correct spot in the timeline of this dimension, the true Lois will continue to have these memories and…” He hesitated. “She’ll continue to exist.”

“So, you do know she has to come back?”

He nodded. “We also are going to need this Lois’s consent to get her to go back to the worst day of her life. I refuse to do it by force.”

She patted his hand. “You’re a good man, Clark. You’ll find someone of your own.”

“Lois is determined to find my missing Lois.” Clark looked down, not hopeful.

“Who better to find Lois than herself?” Martha said with a hint of laughter. “She’s a stubborn woman, Clark. When she gets it stuck in her head that she’ll do something…”

“It usually gets done,” he agreed.

“I have something for her,” Martha told him. She went out to the other room and returned with a plastic bag.

Clark glanced inside. It was a framed copy of Lois and Clark’s wedding photo. “She will love this.” The fragments of his broken heart floated around in his chest, making it difficult to breathe. Lois was married. He had slept with a married woman. He was the lowest form of scum in the universe. “Thank you,” he ground out. He heard someone at the front door and stood up, pushing the photographs across the table. “Please, don’t say anything to Clark about this, Mom… Martha.”

“They’re back?” She put the pictures in her pocket.

Clark nodded.

Martha jumped to her feet and rushed into the living room. “Jonathan, they’re back!” she called upstairs to her husband.

Clark followed her and put the bag that Martha had given him into his valise.

“You can call me Mom if you want to, Clark,” Martha told him with a wink. “I wouldn’t mind having you for a second son.”

Clark hugged her. “Thanks, Mom.” He let go as Jonathan jogged down the stairs.

Jonathan stood next to his wife, murmuring, “What was that all about?”

The door opened and in walked Lois and Kal. It was a strange feeling for Clark to see someone else who was also obviously himself. Kal ran inside and hugged his parents. Clark stood off to the side, not wanting to intrude on this family moment.

Kal then turned to him and stretched out his hand. “You must be Clark.”

“As must you.” Clark nodded and shook his brother’s hand.

“Thank you for being here to protect my family while I was gone,” Kal said, each word twisting in Clark’s chest.

Unable to stop himself, Clark glanced over at Lois and smiled. “My pleasure. You have a wonderful family.”

“Well, my boy,” H.G. Wells said, coming inside. “I think it’s time to get you back where you belong.”

***

Clark turned to Wells as they sat down in the time machine. “Mr. Wells, I’m having some difficulty with Lois and I could use your advice.”

Wells glanced at him with confusion. “You said that you still hadn’t found your Lois.”

Clark sighed. “Not my Lois. That Clark’s wife, Lois.”

Wells flipped a few switches and turned a knob and seemed to be listening with only half an ear. “What kind of difficulty?”

“She’s keeps confusing me with Kal… that Clark. There has always been the attraction between us, but lately it’s gotten out of control. My willpower is at nil. I know she has to come back here after the baby is born—”

Wells gasped and turned his full attention to him. “What are you talking about, Clark? What baby?”

Clark looked at him for a moment. “Didn’t you come and see me this summer? Or was it another you… an older you?”

The time machine wavered and then they popped back out in Clark’s dimension behind the Daily Planet.

Wells stared at him. “I came to visit you this past summer?”

“You brought Lois to me, to watch over. His Lois,” Clark explained.

“That Lois?” asked Wells, still confused.

“No. That Lois is one we borrowed from the past to stand-in for his true Lois, who had to leave that dimension, because of the curse.”

Wells gulped. “They activated the curse early?”

Clark nodded. “Before he left for New Krypton.”

“Let’s go somewhere more private, where you can tell me everything,” Wells said, starting to flip switches and levers.

A half-hour later they were sitting at Clark’s kitchen table in Smallville and drinking tea.

“Let me get this straight. That Clark’s Lois Lane is starting to forget that her dimension is real, where she truly belongs?” Wells inquired. “Even though she still has the stand-in Lois’s memories as dreams.”

Clark nodded. “It was just that one time. She said it feels like she’s remembering something that happened to her… to us in the past.”

“She has been in this dimension for five months? When did you start noticing these lapses in her memory? Perhaps her judgment as well?”

Clark swallowed, glancing away. “Around Halloween.”

“Halloween!” Wells gasped. “Clark, that was weeks ago. When were you planning on returning her home?”

“We were going to return her as soon as you had broken the curse, but then the stand-in Lois got arrested and we decided to wait until she got cleared. That took longer than we expected,” he explained, taking a sip of his tea.

“Clark, we need to return her to her dimension as soon as possible.”

Clark thought for a moment. “Well, the baby’s due sometime in February…”

“No, Clark. I mean, today,” Wells interrupted.

“No! Absolutely not.” Clark stood up, looking thunderous. “She’s six months pregnant, Mr. Wells. Is travel between dimensions even safe for the baby?”

“She is suffering from a version of time-travel sickness, I believe. I can’t understand why the other me did not warn you about it. I’ve had it once or twice. You become delusional; your real life and memories blend into one big jumble in here.” He tapped his head. “You forget about when you belong and believe you are when you are supposed to be. It’s time’s way of making things right. We need to take her back to her dimension, her timeline, to reset her mind before she loses it completely.”

Clark, feeling crushed, dropped back into his chair. She was going away. Today. No, he wouldn’t let her go. “Mr. Wells, how can she return to her dimension six months pregnant? I know Lois’s and Kal’s… Clark’s life isn’t normal, but no one is going to accept that she’s been pregnant all these months or that the child is Clark’s if she suddenly becomes pregnant overnight.”

Wells thought about that for a minute. “Perhaps a short visit will be enough. But I recommend she sees Clark… her Clark, to refresh her memory completely. To remind her to whom she is really married.”

“To forget about me, you mean,” Clark mumbled, staring into his mug.

“She’s not your wife, my boy,” Wells reminded him.

“I know she’s not my wife!” Clark growled. “Why does everybody think I don’t know this? That this one fact doesn’t torture me on a daily basis?”

Wells raised a brow. “Everyone?”

“Martha. She knows everything. Well… enough. Sam, my Lois’s father, knows as well. Well, some of it. I’m not as good at keeping secrets as her Clark.” Clark rubbed his forehead with the palms of his hands, a pained expression wrecking the contours of his face. “I guess we’d better get this over with. I’ll take you to her.”

“We need to find your Lois, Clark. It will help you let this Lois go.”

“She’s gone, Mr. Wells.” He shook his head. “My life didn’t seem empty until I met Lois, then I realized just how full it could be.”

Clark called Sam to warn him that they were going to fly a time machine into the living room. Sam informed him that Lucy had gone out and hadn’t returned. Clark glanced at his watch; it was after six. Where would she go? Work? Something was wrong. Clark walked Wells to his time machine, out in the old barn.

“Something’s wrong back in Metropolis. Lois went out and she’s not back yet. You wait at her apartment with Sam. I’ll go look for her and then meet you back there.”

Wells nodded his agreement as Superman disappeared into the grey November sky. They arrived at Lois Lane’s apartment at about the same time. Sam was sitting on the sofa. He appeared dazed and exhausted. He looked up as Clark entered through the living room window.

“Clark! Thank God, you returned,” Sam said, rising to his feet. “Lucy is delusional. She doesn’t know the sun from the moon. She escaped me yesterday and went to work and ended up attacking Ralph because he said something about Superman she didn’t like. Luckily, James pulled her off and brought her back home. I went to the bathroom after lunch today and when I returned, she was gone. I don’t know where she went. James has been looking for her. I even called Perry. I’m at my wit’s end.”

“Oh, dear. Oh, dear,” exclaimed Mr. Wells. “It looks like she has a serious case of Time-Sickness. Or, more correctly, Interdimensional Time Sickness.”

Sam noticed the huge machine in the middle of his living room and the small man behind its controls. “You know, Clark, when you told me about the two dimensions and everything, I didn’t expect this.”

“I know it’s a lot to take in, Sam. I’ll find Lois, don’t worry.” In a blink of an eye, Superman was gone.

Sam looked at Mr. Wells. “Tell me more about this Interdimensional Time Sickness.”

***

Earlier that day

Lois flew to S.T.A.R. Labs, landing just down the street. She straightened her dress and walked into the reception area. “I’d like to speak with Dr. Bernard Klein, please.”

The receptionist looked her over. “Do you have an appointment?”

An appointment? No, that would have been the thing to do, wouldn’t it? It wasn’t like her to make a blunder like that. “No. Could you tell him that Lucy El would like to see him, if it’s possible?”

The receptionist took a few calls and then waved Lois back from the waiting area. “Ms. El. Dr. Klein will be out in a moment to see you.”

Lois sat down and straightened out her dress, more of a shirt and skirt actually. It wasn’t the most becoming thing. Actually, it looked more like a clown costume than a dress, but Lucy El was not known for style. She couldn’t wait to shed this persona forever and get back to her nice, conservative suits.

Dr. Klein walked out to the waiting room and saw her sitting there, eyes closed and a hint of a smile on her face. “Ms. El?”

“Dr. Klein!” Lois jumped to her feet. She needed to talk to him about… her mind suddenly went blank. Why had she come here? A nervous grin appeared on her face. Kal? No, Kal was still lost. Clark was looking for him. The baby kicked and she gently caressed her tummy. The baby? No, that’s a secret. Lois! Yes, she had come about Lois. She needed to talk to Dr. Klein about Lois before Clark returned. “Wow! You look exactly the same.”

“The same as what, Ms. El?” Dr. Klein gave her a curious look.

“The same as the other you.” She gave him a friendly smile and then frowned. Why had she just said that? He would have no idea what she was talking about. This was a bad idea. She shouldn’t have come. “Can I discuss something with you in private?”

“I’m sorry, you need a security clearance to get past reception,” he explained.

“I do have one! Just not here. I’ve never been here to this S.T.A.R. Labs.” Lois glanced around the lobby and returned to staring at him in awe. “I can’t believe how much you look just like the Dr. Klein back home at my S.T.A.R. Labs.” She shook her head. Stop rambling. “Here, I don’t exist, so I can’t get clearance. I shouldn’t have said that.” She covered her mouth. This was not going to work. “I shouldn’t have come. I’m sorry, I should go. Clark is going to flip when he finds out.”

“Are you all right, Ms. El?” Dr. Klein asked, lowering his voice. He looked concerned; he took her arm, moving her to the farthest corner of the waiting room. He had always been so nice.

“You can call me Lois… No! That’s not right. Lucy! Yes! Yes, call me Lucy. That’s my name.” She nodded.

“You don’t seem all right, Lucy. Maybe I should call Clark and tell him you’re here.”

She blanched, reaching out for the wall. “You can’t call Clark. He isn’t home. He’s looking for Kal. My husband is lost in time. Clark’s brother, his twin.” She continued nodding and then her eyes went wide as she slid down the wall. “Ooops. That was the secret, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone.” She looked at him with panic in her eyes as she watched his jaw drop. “Don’t tell Clark I told you. Please. I should go home. He’ll want me to be at home.”

The scientist knelt down beside her, whispering, “He said that if anything were to happen to him, you might come to see me. Is that why you’re here, Lucy? Did something happen to Clark?”

“No.” Lois shook her head, wrapping her arm around her stomach. “I am only to contact you about the baby in an emergency. This isn’t an emergency. I’m fine.” She shook her head and then corrected herself, “We’re fine.”

Dr. Klein’s eyes went wider. Then he swallowed and held out his hand to help her up. “Maybe you should come with me to my office, Lucy.”

“We’re fine.” Lois was adamant, but took his hand anyway. “Healthy. It’s not due for three months. I’m here so you can help me find…” Her mind went blank again. “Me.”

“You’re lost?” He gazed at her with a confused expression. He really did think she was lost.

“Yes, but not me, me. Lois, me. Clark’s true love.” She nodded. Yes, that sounded right. “He’s lost her. Well, not lost, lost because he hasn’t found her yet. She disappeared before he could find her. And we need your help to locate her. I’m not crazy, Dr. Klein. My mind just isn’t working today. Or yesterday. Please help me.”

“Okay.” Dr. Klein continued to walk with her past the reception area. They stopped outside of security. “We’re going to go through security now, Lucy. Can you hand them your purse?”

Lois tilted her head and looked at the guards. She wasn’t bulletproof like Clark. “Where are we going, Dr. Klein?”

“To my office, so we can talk privately,” he explained, nodding to security. “And call Clark.”

“They can have my purse. There isn’t anything in it, except a couple of dollars and my press pass.” She lowered her voice and held out her purse. “I don’t have identification, because I don’t exist here.” And Clark’s private emergency number. She grabbed the purse back, clutching it to her chest. “No, they can’t have that. They can look, but they must give it right back to me.”

“They’ll give it right back,” Dr. Klein assured her.

They walked through security to the elevators.

In the elevator, Lois turned to Dr. Klein in earnest. “Did Clark tell you about the neurotransmitter? No. That’s not right. The Neuroscanner? Yes, that’s it. Did Clark tell you about that? I told him to tell you, so we could find her.”

Dr. Klein shook his head. “He never mentioned this Lois person or the Neuroscanner, Lucy.”

Lois felt hopeless, her brain a mishmash of information. She took a deep breath and started explaining slowly. “Clark doesn’t know that the Neuroscanner will find her; he thinks it will find someone else. That’s why I came when he’s not in town. If he finds out she’s his wife, his heart will break. Clark is so fragile.”

“What is a Neuroscanner, Lucy?” One part of her rambling caught the scientist’s attention.

Lois closed her eyes to concentrate. “The bad man who shot me invented something that would allow him to see and hear what a specific person hears and sees.” She took a deep breath. So far, so good.

“You were shot?” he gasped.

Lois waved off his question. “I’m a fast healer. Sssshhh.” Neuroscanner. Come on, Lois, concentrate. “He used the Neuroscanner to capture her genetic fingerprint. If you had her genetic fingerprint too, would you be able to trace it back to his Neuroscanner?” She opened her eyes and grinned. She could do this, she just had to really concentrate. She looked at Dr. Klein hopefully. “So, Superman can find the bad man.”

“He took her genetic fingerprint. Hmmm.”

She could see his creative juices working. Yes!

“Do you have a sample of her genetic fingerprint?” he asked.

Lois held out her finger in answer.

Dr. Klein looked at her with pity as the elevator doors opened.

Standing on the other side of the doors was Professor Jefferson Cole, the man who framed her for murder back in her home dimension. She turned her finger over and pointed to Jefferson Cole, backing away. “Bad. Bad. Man.” She looked at Dr. Klein, whose sympathy intensified. “Help!” She grabbed her head. “Help, Superman, help,” she whispered. Her voice stopped working. “He’s going to kill me. Help! Superman, help.” She curled up into a ball in the corner of the elevator and started to cry.

***

Superman landed on his patio. He took a quick scan of the apartment. No Lois. He was about to take off, when he noticed the light flashing on the answering machine. He zipped inside and pressed the button.

Hi Clark, it’s Mr.Skip.

Clark. It’s Mr. Olsen again Skip.

Clark, Ralph’s furious. Please contact Skip.

He would worry about his professional life later.

Lucy, it’s Sam. If you are there, please Skip.

Clark, it’s Dr. Klein.” Clark was about to press skip, but then paused. Why would Dr. Klein be calling him? “Lucy’s here. She said that you were out of town, but she’s delusiona; so I’m hoping she’s wrong about that. Professor Cole has restrained her; he thinks that she’s a risk. When you get back, please contact me immediately.”

Superman had left at the mention of Lucy’s name. Before the message finished playing, he had already reached S.T.A.R. Labs.

The doors to reception were locked. He flew above the building and scanned it. He could faintly hear Lois; she sounded scared. “No. No. No. Superman, help!”

Superman crashed through an office window on the floor above Dr. Klein’s office. He sped down the hall and found Lucy tied up in a padded room. She was cowering in the corner in a straitjacket as Professor Jefferson Cole approached her with a hypodermic needle. Two security guards stood behind Cole with their guns drawn. Dr. Klein was standing between them, trying to stop Cole.

“That lady is crazy, Klein. She thinks I’m a killer. Move! She needs a sedative.”

“I’m warning you, Cole, don’t touch her! Don’t try to sedate her. She’s not who you… Superman! Thank goodness!”

Superman knocked the guards’ heads together. As he picked up Cole by his neck, he growled. “What are you doing to her?”

Professor Cole squeaked and dropped the needle.

“I warned you not to touch her, Cole,” Dr. Klein said as he rushed to Lucy’s side.

Superman threw Jefferson Cole against the padded wall, where he slid down unconscious.

“Are you all right?” Dr. Klein asked, untying the straitjacket.

“Help. Superman. Help. Superman.” Lois rocked back and forth, repeating herself softly.

Superman knelt down next to her and gently caressed her face. “Lucy, are you all right?”

She blinked her eyes and then focused them on him. “Clark? If you’re back, I haven’t lost you. You aren’t gone forever.” She looked up at him with a heart full of love.

Dr. Klein took the straitjacket off Lois and threw it across the room.

When her hands were free, she reached up to Clark’s face. “I knew if I called for you, you’d hear me from the other dimension. You’re my—”

He silenced her with a soft kiss. He knew it was wrong, but she was a rambling fool. He didn’t need Klein knowing she was Ultra Woman or about the other dimension. Who knew what else she had already told him? Superman picked her up and cradled her in his arms. She pulled him closer.

“Ah, not now, Lucy,” he murmured with a glance at Dr. Klein, who was trying to look anywhere else but at them.

“He knows about us, Kal. I told him everything. He’s so nice.” Lois glanced over Superman’s shoulder at Dr. Klein and smiled. “I just wanted to talk to Dr. Klein. But then Professor Cole was there. He tied me up and tried to kill me. I knew he would. He’s the one who framed me for murder.”

Superman kissed her forehead. “Mr. Wells is waiting for you, Lucy. He’s going to take you home to Kal,” he murmured, resting his head against hers. “He knows how to cure you.”

“Home? To Clark? What about you?” Lois looked at him, tears welling up in her eyes. “I can’t leave you alone. What about the baby? Clark doesn’t know.”

“Kal loves you, Lucy. He’d take you blind and broken. You will make him so happy.” He kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay. I’ll survive.”

“Clark loves me.” She sighed, resting her head against his shoulder.

Superman turned to his doctor. “I’m sorry, Dr. Klein. I didn’t know how sick she was or I never would have left her alone. Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “Don’t read too much into this. She’s mistaking me for someone else.”

Dr. Klein shrugged. “Every family has skeletons.”

Jefferson Cole twitched and Superman glared at him. “If that man gets hold of Kryptonite, he will try to kill us all. Lucy isn’t crazy; she can see into a man’s soul. If she says a man is bad, believe her.”

“Then I’m glad she thinks I’m nice,” Dr. Klein exhaled with relief.

“Me, too.” Superman nodded and then took off, Lucy still cradled in his arms.

***

H.G. Wells switched off the time machine and turned to Lois. “All right, Lois. How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know what you and Clark were so worried about. I’m fine.” She turned her head and gasped. “We’re in Smallville. What are we doing here?”

“We came to see Martha Kent,” he told her.

“But Mr. Wells, Martha Kent is dead,” she whispered, leaning towards him.

“Not Clark’s mother, Lois. Your Clark’s… Kal’s mom. You remember Martha Kent, don’t you?”

Lois closed her eyes as images flashed through her mind. “Right.” She nodded. “Clark’s mom. I like her.”

“Good. Good.”

They stepped out of the time machine and walked to the front door. She stopped his hand before he could knock. “Am I really home?”

He nodded and knocked on the door.

***

Martha heard a knock on her front door. Her brow furrowed. She set down her knitting and opened the door. On the other side of the door she found H.G. Wells, just as she had seen him the previous day, and Lois, wearing sweatpants and one of Clark’s old t-shirts, looking spacey and slightly mental.

“Mr. Wells? Lois!” Martha grabbed her in a huge hug. “Come in, come in. Jonathan’s not back from town. What are you doing here?” She showed them into the living room, then glanced outside to make sure they hadn’t been seen.

Lois looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time.

Martha watched her carefully, before leaning towards Mr. Wells. “Is she all right?”

“A bit of Interdimensional Time Sickness, I’m afraid. I needed to get her back to her dimension for a while. She’s been forgetting Lois Lane’s life and how to be her.”

Martha’s eyes widened. “Clark didn’t say anything…”

“He knew something was wrong, but he didn’t realize how far gone she was until he got back. Luckily, I was still there to catch it. Easily fixed.” He smiled comfortingly.

Martha smiled at Mr. Wells. “Easily fixed?”

“Oh, yes. I would love a cup of tea, Mrs. Kent.”

Martha led him into the kitchen, leaving Lois alone in the living room.

“Will Lois be all right? She looks a bit lost.”

“She just needs a little time to remember who she really is. Refresh her memory of the people and places in her life,” Mr. Wells informed her.

Martha put the kettle on the stove. “Mr. Wells, she’s only been here once, no twice. We usually come to Metropolis. The places that Lois is familiar with — her apartment, Clark’s apartment, the Daily Planet — are no longer available to her; those are the people who can’t see her like this.”

“I’m hoping that a few minutes with you will set her right again,” Wells said. “It’s scarier to witness than to cure.”

“Hoping?”

“I’ve never dealt with someone who has Interdimensional Time Sickness before. Actually, this is the first recorded case,” he explained.

“Ah.”

Lois came into the kitchen holding a framed picture. Martha swallowed. Which one was it?

“Martha. This is your son, Clark. I like him,” she said, holding up the picture. “Mr. Wells. Can I see this Clark?”

Martha released her breath.

Mr. Wells patted her hand. “We’ll see, Lois.”

Lois looked around the kitchen, setting down the photo on the counter. “I like it here. It feels like home. Like Clark.” She burped. “Sorry, I have a little heartburn from the baby.” She placed her hand on her tummy. “Do you have any chicken? I’d like some roast chicken.”

“Ah, sure, Lois. I believe we have some leftover roast chicken in the fridge.” Martha retrieved the chicken and set it on the counter.

Lois immediately reached over and grabbed a drumstick.

“Lois!” Martha gasped, then tried to cover her shock. “Would you like a plate?”

Lois stepped back. “That was wrong, wasn’t it?”

“No. Of course not, dear. I just thought you might want to wash up first.”

“Oh,” Lois replied. “Right.” She went to the kitchen sink.

Martha watched her and shook her head at Mr. Wells. “Spacey,” she whispered under her breath.

Lois sniffled. “I’m trying the best I can, Martha. I’ve got all this information in my head that has blended together, so it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t remember who belongs to which dimension, much less where I belong.”

Martha handed her a towel and led her to the kitchen table. “Would you like me to heat it up?” she asked, putting some chicken on a plate.

“Cold is fine. Thank you, Martha.”

The tea kettle whistled and Martha poured a cup of tea for Mr. Wells. “Would you like some tea, Lois?”

“No. Do you have any juice? I usually drink juice now, or smoothies. I love smoothies.” She sighed. “They remind me of Clark. I’m off coffee and alcohol, of course. And Lucy is a vegetarian. Ugh.” She took a bite of chicken. “You don’t know how much you crave meat until you can’t have it any more. Oh, applesauce. Do you have applesauce? Oooh, and some corn chips. That sounds good.”

Martha laughed, setting Mr. Wells’ tea on the table. “I know that I have corn chips, somewhere.”

Lois leaned over to Mr. Wells to explain. “Clark loves his junk food, but not Clark; he prefers carrot sticks and fruit.”

Martha put some cranberry juice on the table for Lois. “I can see why you’re so confused, dear. It must be confounding living with two different Clarks.”

“I’m not living with Clark. I’m living in Lois Lane’s old apartment with Sam Lane, my doctor.”

“Oh.” Martha found the corn chips and set them on the table.

Lois took a handful and put it on her plate. “Clark is too much like my Clark. The baby loves junk food, too. I’ve gained five pounds in the last two weeks alone.” She munched on some chips, then took a sip of juice. “I’m eating as fast as I can. No need to kick me,” she said to her belly. “Want to feel? She’s quite a kicker.”

“Excuse me,” Mr. Wells said, taking his tea into the living room.

Martha cautiously stepped forward to Lois, who lifted up her shirt. She had a nice tummy starting to develop. Martha saw a quiver on her stomach as the baby kicked. “Did you see that?”

Lois nodded.

Martha held out her hand and then snapped it away fast. “Ow. Does the baby have a hammer in there?”

“That’s your Grandma, Baby, play nice.” Lois laughed and dropped her shirt with a shake of her head.

“That didn’t hurt? That kick?” Martha inquired.

Lois shook her head, taking a bite of chicken. “Tickled a little.”

Martha sat down next to her and gazed at her.

“So, Martha. What’s new with you? Taking any new classes?”

Martha smiled. “I’ve taken up knitting again. I’ve got a good set of booties almost finished. And I am taking a course in infant first aid. Although, adult first aid should be next,” she said, rubbing her still aching hand.

“Somebody is going to think you’re going to be a grandmother soon,” Lois replied with a knowing expression.

“Well…” Martha laughed. “I can get away with it now that you and Clark are married.”

Lois sighed. “It was such a beautiful wedding. Clark looked so handsome in his tux.”

Martha’s jaw dropped for a moment. “Oh, that’s right, you have the other Lois’s memories. I’m not surprised you’re all confused. Two Clarks, a secret identity, a hidden pregnancy, two dimensions, and the memories of two lives.”

“Don’t forget the three Loises.”

“Three?”

“Me, younger Lois, and Clark’s Lois.”

“Which Clark would that be?” Martha asked, not knowing how mixed up Lois still was. Perhaps Mr. Wells was right. She simply needed some time in her own world. Amazing.

“It is kind of confusing, isn’t it?” Lois thought for a minute. “There’s me, the stand-in Lois and the missing Lois. Although, between you and me, I’ve found her.”

“I knew if anyone could, it would be you.” Martha chuckled in admiration. “Clark must be thrilled. Where was she? Siberia?”

Lois took a sip of her juice. “Well, I know what happened to her, sort of, but not where she is exactly.”

“So, what happened to her?” Martha was interested. Lois and Clark’s lives were more fascinating than a soap opera. “Lois — the other Lois — said she disappeared in the Congo, during a gunrunning story.”

Lois nodded. “Clark isn’t going to like it.”

Martha waited.

“I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I think she ended up climbing into a crate of illegal guns that was then shipped to Berkistan. Somehow she ended up as a lounge singer at the Berkistan Hotel there, where she met Lex Luthor.”

“No! Not him.”

Lois nodded. “According to her father, they eloped about two-and-a-half, three years ago.”

“Poor Clark. No wonder no one could find her.”

“That Clark is fated to be unlucky in love. We have to still find out where the unhappy couple is living. When we do, I’ll tell Superman so he can go rescue her.”

“Are you sure she’ll want to be rescued?” Martha asked warily.

“Of course. She’s married to Lex Luthor, so I’m sure she’s being mistreated. As soon as she learned the truth about him, I bet she started trying to escape. At least, I hope so. I know that Lois Lane is destined to be blind when it comes to love, but hopefully not galactically stupid as well.”

“You were not stupid, Lois. Naïve, perhaps, until you found Clark.”

Lois sighed with longing. “Clark. I miss him so much.”

“It doesn’t sound like you are confused any more, Lois. You know who are.”

“Well, it’s certainly not Ultra Woman anymore. Never again!” She groaned, covering her eyes with her hand.

“Okay.” Martha was confused by this statement. Obviously, there was more to that story she wasn’t going to hear.

“It’s hard to be around Clark, when I miss my Clark so much. That’s why I need to see my Clark before I go back.” She nodded.

Martha grabbed her hand. “Don’t go back, Lois. Stay here with Jonathan and me. We’ll hide you until the baby is born.”

Lois looked at her skeptically. “Like that wouldn’t go badly when Clark finds out. And he would find out. It’s bad enough that I’m lying to him, hiding in another dimension. I can’t involve you more than I already have, Martha. I have no doctor here. No emergency medical care if I need it. Plus, that Clark needs me.”

“Lois, your Clark needs you,” Martha reminded her.

“And as long as my stand-in is here, he’ll have me. Clark needs me. Without me, he’ll have no one, because he won’t have me to help him find his Lois. I need to do that for him before I come back. He’s not as strong — emotionally — as your son and he doesn’t have Clark’s confidence. His personal life is in a complete shambles… Okay, half of that is because I become a rambling blabbermouth when I become delusional. But that’s beside the point.” She waved that issue out of the air. “It’s because he lost his parents at such a young age; he never learned to be a whole person, parts of him are missing.”

“You will come back, won’t you, Lois? If Clark lost you and the baby—” Martha bit her lip.

“Martha, barring any unforeseen complications, we’ll come back as soon as I’m able. We’ll figure out a way to convince the other Lois to go back to her timeline and I’ll take her place. Clark and Lois will adopt a nice little foundling child, or something. I don’t know, really, how it will work out. But it will. Somehow.” She leaned forward towards Martha. “There are a few quirks I might need to work through after the baby is born.”

“Quirks?”

Lois glanced over her shoulder to see if Mr. Wells could see her. He could not. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

“Jonathan has just said goodbye to Joe at Smallville Feed and Seed and is now on his way back. We’ll have to leave soon.”

“How did…?” Martha sputtered.

Lois pointed to her ear.

Martha’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?”

Lois nodded. The she picked up Martha’s carving knife and poked her finger. Nothing happened. She set down the knife.

“You’re…”

Lois lowered her voice. “No, not indestructible like Clark, just super fast healing.” She held her finger up to Martha. There was a small, but healed, cut on her finger where she had stabbed herself. “Sam thinks it’s to help against broken ribs from the super kicker here.” She caressed her belly. “And then there’s this.” She stood up, took a deep breath, and levitated a foot off the floor, then set herself down.

“Quirks indeed, Lois. Anything else?”

“I don’t think so. The flying and super hearing are defensive traits to help protect the baby. I cannot imagine they will remain after the baby’s born; Sam’s not so sure. Once a person’s genetic makeup has been altered…” She raised her hands and shrugged. “Personally, I’ll miss them when they’re gone. Oh, to be a reporter with these skills.” She sighed with envy. “Lucky Clark. Sam said that Clark thinks that my Clark would want me only to keep the super healing. Do those Kent boys think I’m danger-prone or something?” She winked at Clark’s mom.

Martha laughed. Her Kent boys. She liked the sound of that. “Surely not you, Lois?”

Lois suddenly stood up. “We’ve got to go. Jonathan’s almost home. Mr. Wells,” she called to him.

“Stay and have dinner, Lois,” Martha insisted. “Jonathan would love to see you.”

Lois shook her head. “No. Clark would kill me if I gave his father a heart attack. Besides I’m dressed for an insane asylum.” She kissed Martha on the cheek. “Thanks for lunch and my sanity break. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Martha hugged her.

Mr. Wells peeked his head into the kitchen.

“Jonathan is almost home, we had better go. Thanks again, Martha.”

“Anytime, Lois.” She hugged her daughter-in-law again. “Take care of my grandchild.”

“I will.” Lois smiled.

Mr. Wells passed Martha his teacup. “Thank you for the tea, Mrs. Kent.”

“Don’t be a stranger,” she said, walking them out to the front door. “Bring her by any time, Mr. Wells. Weekly would be fine with me.” She waved as they walked down the steps to that crazy invention sitting in her yard. A minute and one more wave later, they were gone.

Martha shut the door and exhaled. She went to the bookcase and picked up a photo of her boys. Clark would have been angry if Lois had noticed this photo. Luckily, Lois had been sufficiently out of it not to. Then again, it was Clark’s fault he hadn’t come clean with her.

She set down the photo and returned to the kitchen, moving Lois’s plate and glass to the sink, as well as Mr. Wells’s teacup. Pulling a bottle of red wine out of the pantry, Martha poured herself a glass to steady her shaking nerves. Five minutes later, she was still sitting at the table with a half-drunk glass of wine when Jonathan walked in through the kitchen door.

“Martha?”

“Jonathan, how about a chicken sandwich?” She picked up her carving knife to slice off some chicken, stopped before touching the chicken and took the knife to the full sink.

He pulled out a couple of plates and the bread. “Was Clark here?” he asked.

“No. Why?”

“Corn chips. Neither of us eat them. Or did—” He pointed over his shoulder out the kitchen door.

“Oh, no! He wasn’t here either.” She seized the bag and clipped it shut. “Jack said something about stopping by for dinner.”

“Is everything all right, Martha?” Jonathan asked, picking up the photo of their son Lois had left on the counter.

“Just fine, Jonathan. It’s been a long couple of days,” she confessed.

He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her cheek. “We got our boy back. It’s a good day.” They both looked at the framed photo in his hand.

She nodded with a smile. “A good day,” she agreed.

***

Later in Metropolis…

Superman flew through his townhouse window and landed in his living room. He spun out of his blue suit and into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt.

Lois skipped down the stairs and kissed him on the cheek. “Hard day?” she asked as he plopped down on the sofa.

“Tiring. Dropped Mom off at the farmhouse and Dad at the Topeka airport to pick up his truck. There were wild fires in Australia all along the west coast. I was there all day.” He inhaled and winced. “I smell like I’ve been smoked.”

“Go take yourself a long, hot shower,” Lois said from over his shoulder as she ran her fingers down her husband’s chest.

“Yeah?” He smiled mischievously and pulled her over the back of the couch and into his lap with a kiss. “And then?”

“Down, big boy,” she replied, extricating herself off his lap and straightening her suit. “I have my monthly Women in Journalism dinner tonight.”

“Awww.” Clark pouted, then smiled at her reassuringly. “It’s okay, Lois. I’ll have some leftovers and pass out early.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, grabbing her briefcase. “I can skip it.”

“I’m beat. Go have fun.”

Lois placed a long kiss on his lips. “Throw your towels in the hamper; I’m going to do a load when I return. I love you.”

“I love you.” He watched her leave with a wave.

Clark’s eyes blinked a few times and then shut. A minute later, he rubbed them open. Pulling himself off the couch, he bounded up the stairs to the shower. The hot shower felt good. His eyes blinked a few more times as he dried himself off. He threw the towels into the hamper and spun himself into his pajama shorts and a fresh t-shirt. Five minutes after Lois left, Clark dropped himself into bed and was fast asleep.

He awoke awhile later to find Lois lying next to him in one of his old t-shirts, kissing his neck.

“Oh,” Clark said, a large smile spread across his face. “Decided to come back, did you?”

“Always,” his wife whispered, covering his mouth with hers. “I love you.”

He licked his lips. “Mmmm. You taste good.”

“Strawberries.” She bit into one.

“Who has strawberries this time of year?”

“I picked these up in Florida.” Lois took another strawberry and nibbled it. “Want one?”

“Fly down there often, do you?” He grinned, sitting up. There was something different about his wife tonight. He didn’t know if it had to do with him being lost in time. She seemed extra beautiful. She placed a strawberry in his mouth.

“When I can,” she whispered, lifting herself up and resting on his lap. She fed him another strawberry.

“You look different,” Clark said, brushing a lock of hair away from her cheek. “Glowing, yet sad.”

“I miss you.” Lois set down the bowl of strawberries and kissed him deeply. It was a passionate kiss, full of longing and unfulfilled promises. Her breathing got faster as did her heartbeat. Much faster. It was almost…

“Lois?” He took hold of her shoulders. “Someone else is here. I hear another heart beat.” He concentrated on the heart beat, it was super fast.

A smile graced her mouth, red from strawberry juice. “That’s because we aren’t alone, anymore, Daddy.” She lifted up her shirt and showed him her stomach. There was a noticeable little pregnancy bump.

His eyes widened and he placed his hand on her tummy. A little kick responded to his touch, sending shockwaves through his nervous system and causing the hairs on his arms to stick up.

“Lois! When? How?”

She grinned at his surprised expression. “You know how,” his wife whispered, kissing him again. She tasted like strawberries. “As for when… you remember our first time together?”

“Of course I remember our honeymoon.” He kissed her.

Lois shook her head, but intensified the kiss. “Before our honeymoon,” she whispered. “I know I told you to forget, but I didn’t think you actually would.”

“Oh, you mean our first, first time.” Clark’s smile deepened to a grin. “I thought you had forgotten.”

She shifted her position and kissed him again. He cleared his throat. She felt too good.

“I can never forget, Clark. I have this little reminder with me all the time.” Lois slid down his body until she was lying on top of him, her mouth on his.

“All this time? And you never said a word?” he murmured, getting distracted by her kisses.

“I couldn’t say a word, Clark,” she whispered, still kissing him. “Because I’m only a dream.”

Clark wrapped his arms around her. “If you’re only a dream, don’t wake me up.”

A while later, his naked wife lay resting in his arms. Clark was almost back asleep. He was happier than he could ever remember. “Have you thought of any names?” he asked his dream bride.

“I thought we could name her Lara after your birth mom.”

He smiled his approval. “I’d like that. What if it’s a boy?”

“I’ve got a feeling it’s a girl.”

“You want me to do a little buzz-buzz to find out?”

Lois slapped him on the chest. “Clark Kent, you are not going to x-ray our unborn child.”

“Simmer down, Mama, it was only a suggestion.” He chuckled. “What about Jordan?”

“Nah. Samuel. Jonathan. Perry or James. As long as we don’t name it Junior.”

Clark turned to face her and noticed a slight circular scar on her right shoulder. As he touched it, she wrapped her arms about his neck and kissed him intensely, distracting him from that thought.

“I’ve got to go, Clark,” she said softly between kisses. “You need your sleep.”

“No, don’t go, Lois. I don’t want this dream to end.”

“Neither do I,” she whispered, giving him another kiss. “Hand me a shirt, will you?”

Clark reached over the side of the bed and picked up a t-shirt from the floor. It was the blue one he’d been wearing when he came to bed. Lois smiled and slipped it over her head. She crawled over him to the floor, pausing for one more kiss.

He clung to her arm as her feet hit the floor. “I don’t want you to go.”

“That’s good to hear,” she said, looking pleased at his words.

“Either of you,” he whispered as his hand snuck under her shirt to her belly. The baby kicked again. It sent shockwaves through his nervous system. He leaned over and kissed her tummy. “I love you, little baby. Treat Mama well.”

“We’ll miss you too, Clark,” Lois said, starting to levitate. She floated over him with one last kiss. “Now get some sleep, my love. Sleep.”

His eyes drifted shut. Was she just flying? Clark’s eyes flashed open, but she was gone. “Lois?” he called out to her. “Lois?” He flew through the house using super speed. He was alone. Maybe she had been a dream, after all.

He could still taste the strawberries on his lips, but the bowl was gone from the bedside table. Sitting back down on the bed, he sighed, both disappointed and content. What a perfect dream.

Clark hadn’t thought about that first, first night together since Zara and the other New Kryptonians had left. When he had suggested to Lois that he wanted to stay the night, she told him that they would be married soon enough and they had waited that long. He had agreed. What were a few more days after waiting so long? He closed his eyes and lay down, remembering again their first hello and last goodbye before he left for New Krypton.

***

Lois flew down and landed in the co-pilot seat of the time machine.

“How was your walk around Metropolis?” H.G. Wells asked, starting to flip switches and turn knobs. “You didn’t run into anyone who recognized you, did you?”

She took the last strawberry from her bowl and shook her head with a smile. “I’m ready to return, Mr. Wells. I won’t forget who I am anymore.” She bit into the strawberry.

“I’ve been thinking about that. I had better leave a time—” He paused and stared at her for a moment. “Lois, weren’t you wearing a green shirt earlier?”

Glancing down at Clark’s dusty blue shirt, Lois smiled at him innocently. “Was I?”

“Lois?”

She batted her eyelashes, but didn’t answer.

“He didn’t see you, did he? We can’t have him believing that the stand-in might be a clone. If anything were to happen to her…”

“My younger self was out and Clark was asleep. He is my husband. You really didn’t expect me to stay away, did you?” she retorted. “Shall we go?”

He pressed his lips together as if he couldn’t believe her gumption and pulled the lever, causing the time machine to disappear. They reappeared in Lois Lane’s living room in the other dimension.

Sam ran out of his bedroom. “Lucy! You’re back.” He pulled her from the time machine with a hug.

“Sam.” She hugged him back.

The doctor turned to H.G. Wells. “She is back, right?”

Wells nodded. “Easy to cure, if you have the right equipment, and patience.” He patted his time machine. “Now, there were some things in the past I wanted to check out. See if I can find where your daughter disappeared off to.”

Sam glanced at Lois, then away.

“It’s okay, Mr. Wells. We know how she disappeared or, shall I say, with whom.” Lois patted Sam on the arm. “We’ll find Clark’s missing Lois. I’ve been working on it.”

“You found her? I knew it wasn’t impossible,” Mr. Wells said with enthusiasm and then his brow furrowed. “With whom?”

“Lois Lane is now Lola Luthor.”

“Oh, no. That’s not good.”

“Clark will manage. If he won her too easily, the prize would not be as valuable.”

“Ah… well.” Wells nodded. “I do need to speak with Clark about—” He glanced at Lois. “Never mind, I’ll find him.”

Sam looked at Lois and announced, “He was pretty broken up when you left.”

“Poor Clark.” Her heart ached. She truly was fond of Clark. She knew how much her mental breakdown had affected him. Both of them. “When you find him, tell him I’d like to see him. I need to apologize. I’ve really ruined his life this time.”

Superman flew in through the window. “You didn’t ruin my life, Lois.”

“Clark!” She ran to him and gave him a sisterly hug. “I’m so sorry.”

Superman swallowed and stepped away from her, looking at her carefully. “Lois?”

“I owe you something,” Lois said, then slapped him across the face. She had told him not to try to kiss her stand-in again when she first arrived in this dimension. He had broken that pledge. “Don’t let it happen again. This is your last warning.”

Sam’s and H.G. Wells’s mouths dropped open.

“I deserved that one,” Superman chuckled, rubbing his cheek. “You need to be careful, Lois. You’re really developing some strength in that right arm of yours.” He turned to the others. “She’s back.”

Lois dropped onto the sofa. “Oh, Clark. Your job. Dr. Klein. I really made a mess of things, didn’t I?”

“You do know how to keep life interesting.”

Mr. Wells stepped forward. “Clark, if I may have a moment of your time. There is something I do wish to speak to you about…” He glanced over at Lois. “… privately.”

Clark gazed at Lois — not exactly with longing, yet not quite without it either — and then nodded, stepping onto the time machine. “Let’s get out of here. She needs her rest. Good night, Lois. I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Me, too.” She stared at him. “Good night, Clark.” She turned to H.G. Wells. “Thank you.”

“You’re … um… welcome, Lois.” He nodded and stepped onto the time machine. With a nod to Sam, Mr. Wells turned some knobs and pulled the lever, making them disappear.

Sam came over and sat next to her. “Are you all right, Lucy?”

“Yeah,” Lois said, staring at the spot where the time machine had just been and taking a deep breath. “The attraction is still there. He’s still just like my Clark.” She turned to Sam. “I just have my self-control back in check. Keep an eye on me though, will you, Sam? Don’t let me fall off the wagon.”

He nodded.

She glanced around. “What time is it?”

“Ten-ish.”

“It’s a little late to call James.” She stood up and stretched with a yawn. “I really should get some sleep. I’ve got some apologies to issue tomorrow. Ugh.”

“Lois never liked apologizing either.” Sam chuckled. “Somehow it was like admitting defeat.”

Lois pressed her lips together. “I’m learning.” She walked down the hall to her bedroom.

***

Meanwhile, back in Lois’s home dimension

Clark could feel Lois kissing him; it felt good. Oh, so nice.

“Come on. Wake up, sleepyhead.”

Clark pried his eyes open; the morning sun was way too bright. Lois kissed him again. He wrapped his arms around her and rolled over, pinning her down. “I don’t want to wake up,” he murmured. “Let’s stay in bed.”

She laughed. “You really must have been tired.”

“I had the best dream.” He grinned, lying down next to her. “It was about you.”

“About me, huh?” She smiled, kissing him. “I can see why you wouldn’t want to get up, then. But some of us have to work.” She tried to slide over him to get off the bed. He grabbed her thigh as she sat on top of him. “Clark!”

He ignored her quizzical look and lifted up her pajama top, examining her flat tummy with his fingers.

“If you tell me you can see those four Double Fudge Crunch bars I had over the weekend…”

Clark dropped her shirt and looked her directly in the eyes. “You’re so beautiful, Lois.” He pulled her down for another kiss.

“Wow. That must have been some dream, Clark. You’re usually such a morning person.”

“I dreamed about our first time together,” he murmured as she slid to the floor.

“Mmmm. Our honeymoon.” Lois leaned over to kiss him again. “I can see why you want to stay in bed.” She tried to stand up when he took her hand.

“You remember that last night before I left for New Krypton, don’t you, Wife?”

“Of course, I do, Husband. I remember us promising to save ourselves for each other on our wedding day. And I’m glad we waited.” She kissed him and stood up.

“What?! Waited? Why?” He sat up, stunned, as he watched her walk away.

“Because otherwise, one of us would have died from the curse.” She blew him a kiss and entered the bathroom.

The curse! He gulped, falling back against his pillow. He had forgotten all about the curse.

But they hadn’t waited. They had made love that night. Hadn’t they? That couldn’t have all been some wild, wonderful dream, like the passionate dream he had with the pregnant Lois last night. Had she been real? Some kind of angel? She did fly, after all. But the woman who just entered the bathroom was definitely his Lois. Definitely his Lois. No frogs this time. And if she was Lois, then who was the woman he made love with the night before? The pregnant woman who knew about their first, first time?

***

Dearest Clark —

I know I should start out this letter with an apology for seducing you. But strangely enough, I’m not sorry. Not sorry in the least. (Picture me with a huge grin here). It was so nice to have a little Clark break. I’ve missed you so much. I thought having the stand-in Lois’s memories would be enough, but it isn’t. Even though she is me… I’m still not in control and you know how much I like to be in control.

I’m sorry I haven’t written in my Clark book in a while. I had a little breakdown here, which is why I was allowed to visit my dimension. H.G. Wells called it ‘Interdimensional Time Sickness.’ It’s where I confused both my dimensions, not knowing what was real. It was pretty scary having no control like that and having people look at me like I was delusional, because I was delusional. Anyway, I had a nice chat with your mom and it set my mind straight. She’s such a trouper. Her heart is breaking by what I’m doing to you. I’m sorry about that.

Please, don’t be angry with me for not returning to you just yet. That is something I want to do more than ever, especially after tonight. But I can’t return for good yet. I’ve already screwed up my secret identity’s life here, I don’t need to do the same there by showing up six months pregnant. What would people think if your perfectly slim and beautiful wife suddenly started showing up in maternity clothes? I’m afraid they might think the baby grew so fast due to super help. We don’t need people to think I cheated on you with Superman. Is that even possible to cheat on my husband with my husband? Our lives will be complicated soon enough without all that drama. So I’m waiting until the baby is born. We can raise a foundling child, can’t we?

Besides, there’s something I need to do here first, other than have our baby. I owe Kal that much. He has put his whole life on the line for me… us. If I don’t help him find his Lois, I’ll always feel like I ruined his life completely and then abandoned him. I can’t do that to him again. Now that I’ve got my brains back in order I’ll start working full time on that. Especially since I’ll have a lot of spare time on my hands. I kind of flew into a rage at work and attacked Ralph, our resident idiot-in-chief, and got fired. Well, he shouldn’t have said what he said about Superman. You know me, Superman’s staunchest supporter. Still am.

Well, the yawns are taking over. Time to hit the sheets. I love you more than ever. You don’t know how happy I was to see the joy on your face when you felt our baby kick. I don’t know what I have been so worried about. You’ll be the best daddy ever.

Stay safe, dearest Clark, and I’ll do the same. LL

***

Lois took a deep breath and then knocked.

The intercom buzzed. “Lucy?”

“James?” She looked around, not knowing where to speak. “I’m sorry.”

The door opened. He was standing there, garment bag slung over his arm. “Lucy, you’re back. How is Kal? Clark said you were able to visit him for twelve hours.”

“I wish it had been twelve hours.” Lois couldn’t stop herself from smiling at the mention of her husband. “He’s wonderful. Thank you.”

“More than super?” He laughed.

“He’ll always be super. In a different way than Clark though. I came to apologize and to say thanks for your help in my hours of need, but it looks like I caught you at a bad time.” She stepped back as he came out of his apartment.

“Walk with me.” He shut his door and locked it. “Software developers’ conference in Tokyo.”

“Oh. I didn’t know you still had a finger in that pie.”

“I have fingers in many pies.” He thought about that statement and shook his head. “That didn’t sound quite right.”

She laughed.

“You feeling better?” James asked, pushing the elevator button.

“Yes, much. Thank you. Now you can see why Clark’s my babysitter.” She bubbled with laughter, still a little high from her hour of passion with her husband. “Something happens to Kal and I turn into an H-Bomb.”

“We were all worried about you,” James said, stepping into the elevator.

Lois followed. “We?”

“All your friends at the Daily Planet.”

“Oh. I don’t think I have many of those. Not after what happened with Ralph.”

“You’d be surprised. I agree that could have been handled better.” James threw her a disappointed expression. “As it is, I’ve had to give Ralph a plum job at our Gotham City bureau, so he wouldn’t sue. City desk. He said he could use a break from superheroes for a while.”

Lois guffawed. “So you sent him to Gotham City?” She patted his arm. “James, you are a riot. Superman will seem like a kitten compared—” She stopped laughing at his bewildered expression. “Perhaps I’m mistaken. Never mind.” Another chuckle escaped.

“Is there something I should know about Gotham City, oh wise sage?”

“Let’s just say, I’m glad you chose to live in Metropolis, James. Gotham City is a dark and dangerous town.”

“You’re not going to tell me?” He looked hurt.

“Nope.” She laughed again. She had to clutch her side, it was beginning to ache from all this laughter. She took several deep breaths to calm herself, as they left the elevator and walked out to the street. “Let’s just wait and see. Something may happen there. Or maybe not. This world is funny that way.”

“Want to ride with me to the airport?” James held open the door to the hired car.

She shrugged. Why not? It wasn’t like she had much else to do anymore.

He sat down next to her and closed the door. “You know too much, Lucy. Are you psychic? Or did you work for the NIA?”

“I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I had, now would I?” Lois raised a brow.

James shook his head. “You are so mysterious. But I like you. You don’t kowtow to my money and you’re not afraid of my power as your boss.”

“My former boss, you mean. I was fired, remember?” she said with a nudge.

He nodded. “I’m having a hard time filling Ralph’s shoes. Clark said his plate is already overflowing.”

“He’d make a great editor.”

“But he already has two jobs.”

She had to agree.

“And you said no. But after last week, probably not a good idea.”

“Probably not.” She smiled. Had his offer been a genuine one?

“Barry Balson wants to stay on the Superman beat. I can’t blame him with Clark supplying him half his notes. It’s a sweet deal.”

“Clark never misses the little details that turn a nothing story into a great story. I’ll miss working with him.” She already missed their morning walks.

“You don’t have to.” He interrupted her thoughts.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m rehiring you. I’m hoping it won’t be the worst decision I make as a newspaper man.”

“No. I mean. Yes, thank you. I’ll take it. Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your hair in about three months, tops.”

The smile fell off his face as he looked at her. “You’re leaving?” This prospect seemed to sadden him. “Clark will miss you.” He paused in thought. “Forget Clark. I’ll miss you. Don’t even think of leaving us.”

“You are sweet, James. But my husband will be back from his assignment then. And it will be time for me to go back to him,” she explained. “I need him.”

“Of course. Right. I understand completely.”

Lois looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Now, if we could just find Lex Luthor. I still think he’s the key to finding out where Lois is. And if we were to find Lois… Whoa! You won’t even notice I’m gone because the Daily Planet will seem like a different planet.”

James smiled. “I heard she’s quite a force of nature, but I’d still notice.”

“Thank you, James. You’ve always been more than kind to me.”

He cleared his throat. “Kal’s a lucky man.”

“Don’t make me find you someone too, James. My plate is full with Clark.”

He laughed. “I’m sure he appreciates all your hard work.”

Lois raised a brow. For some reason, she thought he was being sarcastic. “So, who did you find to be editor? It’s not a position to leave vacant.”

“Cat will be acting editor.”

“Cat?” Lois gasped. Now, there’s a worse decision than rehiring me, she thought. “Cat Grant? Have you lost your mind?”

“You’d be the first to know.” James chuckled. “Cat’s a good reporter. And it’s only until the end of the year. Back when Perry won the election, I hired the Associate Editor from our London bureau to take over for him. It’s taking this guy months to organize his life to relocate here. Apparently, he just became a father again last month and his wife finally gave her permission to move them.”

Lois’s jaw dropped. “You mean Ralph was just acting editor this whole time?”

“Of course! It was only supposed to be for a month, which led to six months. Ugh. Good riddance.”

She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You just moved up five IQ points in my book.”

“Thanks, I think. Shall I have my driver drop you off at the Planet?”

Lois looked down at her clothes. “How about he drops me off back at my apartment? The Daily Planet can live without me for a few more hours. And I have one more apology I have to make.” She laughed. “I am never going to go crazy again. It’s too much work.”

“Okay.” He chuckled in agreement. “Off the record, are those rumors true that S.T.A.R. Labs held you against your will and Superman barged in breaking heads to rescue you?”

“We’ll make you a news reporter yet, James,” Lois told him, wondering where he had gotten his information. “On the record, no one’s head was broken except mine.”

James opened the car door and stepped out. Leaning back in, he said, “Be forewarned, you might be questioned by Balson, officially, when you get in the office.”

“I don’t envy him trying that in front of Clark.”

“Me either.” James laughed. “See you in a week.”

Lois waved goodbye to him and shut the door. She sat back in the town car and contemplated her next dilemma. Where would she get a blood sample for Dr. Klein to develop a Neuroscanner tracking device when she was no longer able to bleed?

***

Clark sat at his desk, typing up the details to a string of robberies on the Westside. Superman had been too distracted this month to deal with it. Cat Grant, now the acting editor, suggested that if he wrote the story about the robberies it would clue in the robbers that Superman was on the case. He thought it an interesting tactic for deterring crime.

The newsroom staff had been quite chipper with the news that Ralph was moving to the Gotham City bureau; Clark wasn’t the only reporter happy with Cat’s fresh approach. He sent the article to the printer and glanced at Lucy’s desk. It made his heart ache to see it so empty.

His phone rang. “Clark Kent speaking.”

“Finally, I reached you. Clark Kent, please help me. I’m alive. You don’t—” a woman’s voice said before the phone disconnected.

A chill shivered down his spine.

“Hello? Hello?” But the caller was gone. She had sounded just like Lois, only not. He had gotten a couple of calls like it over the years, but this voice always gave him shivers. It reminded him of his nightmare about the woman chained to the rock.

Clark called down to the switchboard and then to the telephone company. There were too many calls placed to the Daily Planet to know which call it was or where it had originated. He told the phone company to send him a list of all phone calls that the Daily Planet had received in the past two hours. Such a list was not possible. They could give him a list of outgoing calls with a court order. Never mind. Useless. He slammed down the phone, hard enough to break it. Great. With a sigh, he unplugged the phone and threw it away. He walked into the supply closet and got himself a new phone.

That voice. “I’m alive.” Why would a caller say that?

He plugged in his new phone and was about to call Lois when she walked out of the elevator.

Cat stepped out of the editor’s office at that moment and started clapping. Suddenly, the whole bullpen staff exploded in applause. Lois paused at the top of the ramp and looked at Clark with a perplexed expression. Then he saw the light bulb come on in her eyes. She curtsied and blew kisses to the crowd, which made them disperse.

“What was that all about?” Clark asked as she approached his desk. “I thought you got fired.”

“Ralph. Obviously, I wasn’t alone in thinking he was a cretin. James rehired me on the condition that I don’t make it his worst decision ever.” She pushed her glasses up her nose.

Clark smiled. “It’s good to see you back here. I never worked with a partner before, but as soon as you were gone, I—” His face fell. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“I missed you too,” she whispered, taking off her jacket and sitting down at her desk.

“Don’t. Please,” he murmured under his breath, not looking at her.

“That’s not what I meant.”

He looked over at her and she smiled a smile of friendship. He returned the smile. With a sigh, he refocused on his computer. Right, he had already completed his article. What was he working on? He could not concentrate. He still wanted her. How was he going to survive the next three months, let alone the rest of his life?

Clark’s phone rang again. Hesitating a moment, he picked it up. “Clark Kent.”

“Hi, Clark. It’s Dr. Klein.”

Clark swallowed, glancing over at Lois. She was watching him. Listening.

“Clark?” the scientist prompted.

“I’m here, Dr. Klein,” Clark replied.

“I just wanted to apologize again on behalf of S.T.A.R. Labs for that incident the other day.”

Clark cleared his throat and turned his back on Lois. “You aren’t the one who should be apologizing, Dr. Klein.”

“Well, I received Lucy’s kind note of apology a few minutes ago. I wanted you to know that S.T.A.R. Labs and I are still interested in working with you if you are still interested in working with us… with me.” He paused, but Clark didn’t say anything, only turned back around to look at Lois. She was avoiding his gaze, but he could tell she was still listening.

“Eavesdropper,” Clark hissed.

“Excuse me?” asked Dr. Klein with hope.

“Yes, I am still interested in working with you, Dr. Klein,” he finally said.

He heard the scientist exhale with relief.

“I would like to discuss this further with you, in private,” Clark continued.

“Of course. Of course, Clark. If you and Lucy would like—”

“NO!” Clark thundered. “She’s not a part of this agreement.” He turned and stared at her. He spoke slowly and deliberately. “If she even sets one foot in S.T.A.R. Labs again, heads will roll.”

Lois smiled sweetly at him as if she hadn’t heard a word he said.

He heard Dr. Klein gulp. “Whatever you say, Clark. I just thought in light of her circumstances…”

Clark growled.

“Okay. We’ll discuss it later. Are you interested in meeting here or elsewhere?”

Clark made arrangements with Dr. Klein and then hung up. He stood up and walked to her desk. “Are we perfectly clear?” he said to her.

“Crystal.” She looked up at him. “Can we talk privately?”

“We have nothing to say to each other,” he said, taking his coat. “Alone.”

“No. You have nothing to say to me. I have plenty I wish to discuss with you.”

“Tough.” He started to leave.

“Clark.” She said his name with such pain, it made him pause his step. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“So am I.” He continued walking.

Lois did not even know why he was so angry.

It did not bother him that Perry knew about the baby and thought it was his. Perry was a hopeless romantic and only wished happiness for Clark. He knew that Sam would not hurt Lois, because she was essentially his daughter. But S.T.A.R. Labs knowing about her condition was unacceptable.

When he had broken into S.T.A.R. Labs and seen her tied up, with Jefferson Cole trying to give her a shot, it brought to light all the fears that Lana had had for him…. And reminded him of that article in Mr. Well’s future newspaper, the one announcing Lois Lane’s funeral and what had happened to her.

If they wanted to test Superman’s abilities, see how he differed from humans, so be it. But Lois was different. She wasn’t just some alien raised on Earth, who could defend herself. She had been impregnated by him — basically him — and that was far more interesting to scientists. How was her body changing, adapting? What would the baby be like? She was the lab rat they were really interested in. They wouldn’t really care about her or the baby. And for that reason, seeing her at S.T.A.R. Labs had terrified him far more than anything in his entire life.

***

Superman landed at Riverside Park. The waters were choppy and grey on that cold November day. He paced back and forth along the path next to the river trying to regain control over his emotions. Another reason he would never let himself get close to another woman again. Once was enough.

Dr. Klein, bundled up against the cold, arrived along the path. “Superman, I—”

Superman held up a finger and then scanned the doctor’s body for microphones or bugs. He was clean. Then he turned to the river and blew. Soon, there was a thick crust of ice covering a section of the river.

Dr. Klein paused, looking at the ice with dread.

“We’ll talk out there,” said Superman, lifting Dr. Klein up and setting him down in the middle of the frozen section of the river.

“Superman, I can see that your trust in me has been shattered. What can I do to rectify that?” Dr. Klein said, his gaze darting between Superman and the waves lapping at the edges of the ice.

“Tell me everything you know.”

“But I don’t know anything…” Dr. Klein stammered.

Superman glared at him.

Dr. Klein amended his statement. “You want me to tell you everything that Lucy told me?”

He nodded, his arms crossed.

“All right. She was a little incoherent. She made several conflicting statements. What I was able to discern was that she is married to your twin brother, Kal, and is roughly six months pregnant with his child.”

Superman grimaced. Lois had told Klein everything.

“She then said that you were Kal and the baby was yours,” Dr. Klein went on. “But that Kal was lost in time.”

He looked at the scientist but said nothing, just waited.

“Lucy said something about dimensions, about the other me at the other S.T.A.R. Labs, and how she didn’t really exist.” Dr. Klein raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh, and that there was a woman named Lois who was your true love and that some ‘bad man’ — her words — had shot her. Lucy her, not Lois. And she kept confusing herself with this Lois woman.”

Superman nodded his understanding of the distinction. “Did she mention why she came to see you?” This was the question that had been gnawing at him since he found her at S.T.A.R. Labs.

Dr. Klein swallowed. “Something about a Neuroscanner.”

He chuckled quietly to himself with a shake of his head. He hadn’t expected that, but it was typical of Lois and her one-track mind. She would — and did — risk everything to follow one minor lead.

Dr. Klein eyed him nervously. “I haven’t told anyone about the baby or about your brother. I figured that fell under the auspices of doctor-patient confidentiality.”

Superman looked at his doctor and believed he was telling the truth. “Thank you, Dr. Klein. It is the kind of information that would endanger her life if it ever fell into the wrong hands. And there are those, even at S.T.A.R. Labs, who would look at her as a guinea pig instead of a human being.”

Dr. Klein pursed his lips, but then said what was on his mind. “I figured she might be human after she did nothing to defend herself against Cole.”

“She was having a bad day. Usually she’s a fighter; but, yes, she’s from Earth.” Superman sighed, shaking his head in amusement. “Once you get to know her, you can’t help but love her.”

“So, the baby is yours?” Dr. Klein inquired, his curiosity piqued.

“I’ve been told it to be impossible.”

Dr. Klein blanched, bringing his finger to his mouth in thought. Suddenly he started to pace. “I’ve been thinking about that, Superman, now that I know that your genetics are compatible to humans. I may have made a mistake on your last sample that you gave me. If you were to donate another fluid sample…”

Superman stared at him with his arms crossed. “It’s my brother’s child. There’s no point in retesting me, Dr. Klein, as I plan on never becoming intimate with anyone again.”

Dr. Klein stopped pacing, glancing nervously at the water’s edge. “Oh.”

Superman turned and looked at the Metropolis skyline at the shore. “When I told you about the smashed tin can of my last relationship, it turns out I was mistaken. That pain was a mere indentation, compared with how I feel now.”

“Perhaps if you were to speak to a licensed therapist—”

Superman growled.

“Perhaps not.” Dr. Klein watched as a chunk of ice broke off and floated down the river. He swallowed, moving closer to the man in blue. “Clark, do you think we might move back to the shore now?”

“Professor Cole wasn’t too badly injured, was he?” Superman asked quietly. “Is he planning on pressing charges against me?”

Dr. Klein looked at him in shock. “Of course not. He did take the matter up with the board of directors at S.T.A.R. Labs, but they voted against him.”

Superman turned and stared at him. “What matter would that be?”

Dr. Klein cleared his throat, looking again at the choppy water. “Do you think we could move to the shore first, Clark?”

“That bad?”

The doctor did not look him in the eye.

“I do not kill, Dr. Klein. When I discovered my abilities, I believed that I must be here for a reason and that reason was to help people, not to hurt them. I made a promise to myself that I would never take a human life. And I don’t break my promises.”

“That’s good to know, Superman,” Dr. Klein said, his voice wavering, as he watched another chunk of ice break off and float away.

“The matter that Jefferson Cole brought before the S.T.A.R. Labs board of directors, Dr. Klein?”

The ice creaked and the doctor moved even closer to Superman. “Oh. Oh. He wanted the Kryptonite sample to be available to all S.T.A.R. Labs scientists to be tested for other scientific uses… Oh, that’s a big piece of ice, Clark.”

Superman looked up at the sky, his red cape blowing in the breeze. “Warmer day than I expected, Dr. Klein. You were saying?”

“Or a weapon to be used against you, just in case… for Earth’s protection.”

“Ah. To protect Earth. How noble. And the board of directors voted against him by what margin?”

The ice groaned and Dr. Klein grabbed Superman’s elbow. “They agreed that Tempus’s sample belonged to you and you alone. Eight to three. Please, don’t ask me for their names, Superman. If something were to happen to those three, it might change the votes of the other eight members.”

“I completely agree with you, Dr. Klein. I am merely curious why those three fear me.” Superman lifted the doctor off the ice and swiftly carried him back to the path at Riverfront Park.

“Oh, thank you, Superman.” Dr. Klein sighed in relief, before his knees wobbled and sat down on a nearby bench. He took several deep breaths and then looked up at Superman. “After your warning about Cole, I moved the Kryptonite and your blood work to my personal vault at the lab, fearing he might take such action.”

“I’m glad that you take our partnership so seriously.”

“I do. This partnership is an opportunity of a lifetime. I do worry about Lucy’s health. Has she sought medical attention?”

“She is under the care of a trusted physician,” Superman replied cautiously.

“I’m glad to hear it. Should any complications arise, I would be more than willing to lend my expertise to the problem. Not that there should be any problems.” He gulped and placed a smile on his face.

“God forbid,” Superman murmured, gazing out over the river. A large chunk of ice broke off from the ice bridge and bobbed up and down in the water for a moment before floating away.

***

Clark returned to the bullpen feeling much better about Lois’s safety. Dr. Klein had been the good man that she said he was, someone they could trust. He smiled. He still didn’t want Lois to go anywhere near S.T.A.R. Labs and told Dr. Klein as much. Dr. Klein was but one of the scientists working there. He didn’t need her running into any other people from her past.

He sat down at his desk and glanced around. Where was she? Her coat was gone. He looked over at his desk. No note. He went to her desk and shifted the papers to see if he could find a clue of her whereabouts.

Barry came by. “I think Cat sent her home,” he answered Clark’s unasked question.

Clark barged into his acting editor’s office. Cat glanced up from her desk.

“Yes, Clark?”

“You sent Lucy home?” he growled.

She raised a brow. “Down, boy.”

“How could you send her home? She said that Mr. Olsen rehired her.”

“He did. She looked a little pale and was practically falling asleep at her desk. I figured she wasn’t fully recovered from her illness, so I sent—”

A gust of wind blew through her office, sending all the loose papers into the air.

“— her home,” Cat finished to herself. She shook her head and returned to the copy in front of her.

***

Clark knocked on Lois’s door. Sam opened it and let him in without a word.

“Where is she?” he asked.

“In bed.”

Clark headed down the hall. “Is she okay?” He tried to relax his hands out of fists. “She’s not disappearing again, is she?”

Sam shook his head. “She was having some belly pains. I recommended a couple of days of bed rest.”

Clark raised his hand to knock on her door.

“Come in, Clark,” she called.

He was at her side in an instant. “Lois?” She did look a little drawn, pale.

“What are you doing here, silly?” Her smile was an attempt at reassuring him, he was sure. “I’m okay, just a little tired. I just overdid it a bit these last few days.”

“I was worried,” he whispered, leaning his head against her arm. She caressed his jaw with her hand. “What’s this about pains?”

“Perfectly normal,” Sam answered from the doorway. “She just did too much lately, as she said.”

“Do you want me to scan your belly to see if everything’s all right with the baby?” He gazed at her with concern, taking her hand.

“What is it with you Kent boys and x-raying unborn children?” She tsk-tsked.

Clark sat up and stared at her.

Lois continued, “I hear her heartbeat, Clark. She sounds fine.”

He glanced over his shoulder at Sam, who nodded and removed himself.

“Don’t upset her,” he called to Clark. “Doctor’s orders.”

Clark swallowed. How could he talk to her about Kal, accuse her of visiting him without upsetting her?

“How did your meeting with Dr. Klein go?” she asked, filling the silence.

“We worked through some of my anger about the other day.”

“Why were you angry with Dr. Klein?” Lois questioned, looking up at him with worry in her eyes.

Clark took a deep breath. Don’t get upset, he told himself. Don’t blame her. “Do you know how I felt seeing you tied up, guns pointed at you, with them trying to inject you with who knows what?”

“Clark,” she murmured, pulling his head to rest on her chest as she held him.

He could hear the baby’s heartbeat more clearly. It relaxed him. “I feel like a fool for abandoning you for selfish reasons last week. I feel like the worst protector in the whole entire world. I feel like a heel for not listening to you about the Neuroscanner. I should have known you wouldn’t let it lie.”

“I’m sorry, Clark.”

“Stop apologizing, Lois. Please. If I had told you about my worries in the first place, this might never have happened. Let’s lay blame where it belongs: it’s my fault.”

“I am pretty stubborn,” she admitted. “I need to work on that.”

He could hear a slight chuckle vibrate through her chest. It felt so nice to be this close to her again. Right. Natural. Calming. “Sam says it’s biological, this need to protect you.”

“What do you think?” Lois asked, running her fingers through his hair.

A quiet laugh escaped his lips. “It would be nice to have these uncontrollable desires explained away by science, instead of blaming fate all the time. Although I don’t know if I appreciate being lumped in with lions and wolves and other wild animals.” He hesitated before softly speaking the next words to her. “One squeeze and I could have easily killed Cole. I know this because I was tempted. I’ve never been tempted to kill anyone before.”

“But you didn’t. That’s what makes you different from the wild animals, Clark. You can stop yourself before something bad happens.”

“If he had hurt one hair on your head—” His fist clenched.

“Thank God he didn’t. My hair is sacred. One broken hair and it throws off the whole style.”

Clark laughed. Lois always knew just what to say.

“Alrighty then. Visiting time is over, you two. Lucy needs her rest.” Sam was back. Clark wondered how long he had been standing in the doorway watching them.

He sat up and placed a hand on her belly. “Take care, you two.”

Lois covered his hand with hers for a brief moment, then moved it away.

Clark wondered if she felt the electricity of that touch as he had. He kissed her forehead, wanting to kiss her lips but stopping himself, and then he dragged himself from her room. As he walked back down the hall, he could have sworn he heard her quietly singing “Love Me Tender”. Cringing at her choice of songs, he wondered if she knew she was torturing him. He spun into the blue suit and was gone.

***

Sam shut the window after him and walked back to Lois’s room. He could still hear her singing. Glancing through the open doorway, he saw her gently stroking her belly.

Lucy looked up at him. “The books say that they can hear your voice at this stage. So, I’ve decided to start singing to her.”

“May I recommend you wait until Clark leaves next time? He thought you were singing to him. He may be resigned to you returning to Kal; it doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.”

She winced. “Oops. That probably wasn’t the best choice in songs. Next time he’s here, I’ll start with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Sam nodded. “Good idea.”

“Sam, you know that Thanksgiving is next week.”

He smiled. “I noticed it on the calendar, thanks.”

“Well, I’m no gourmet chef and you’re no gourmet chef, and Clark will probably be flying around putting out deep-fried turkey fires. He doesn’t have any family, your family is who knows where and, well, my family is in another dimension. So, I thought we could do something non-traditional for Thanksgiving.”

“Pizza and beer and a football game or three?” Sam looked hopeful.

“No beer.”

“Right.” Sam leaned against the doorframe with a sigh.

“I was thinking about all of us volunteering at the Fifth Street Shelter, if that’s all right with you.”

His smile spread wider. “I’d like that. Very much. That’s just what Lois would want to do.”

“Really?” Somehow, this surprised her.

“Yeah. Right after her mother and sister left, we weren’t really in the mood to be thankful, so she suggested we go somewhere to reeducate ourselves. That was the first year we volunteered at a homeless shelter for Thanksgiving. It kind of became our tradition. It’s where she learned to make pumpkin pies.”

“That’s a skill I don’t have and could use.”

“I’ll give them a call and see about volunteering.” He took a step into the room and kissed her forehead. “Go back to singing. He’s gone and I like hearing your voice. It’s almost like Lois is back again.”

He left the room. A few minutes later he heard her start humming.

***

Superman sat on the edge of Lois’s roof, listening to her conversation with Sam below. She wasn’t trying to step on his heart; she was singing to the baby. That was good. He could sit there all afternoon and listen to her beautiful voice. He shook his head; he never knew Lois could sing so well. He wondered whether his Lois did, too.

He looked up at the sky. It looked like it was going to start raining at any moment and he had to get back to work. As he stood up, she started singing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”. He smiled. Her singing was something he could easily get used to.

***

Meanwhile, back in Lois’s home dimension…

Jonathan and Clark sat in the living room at the Kent house in Smallville, having gorged themselves on turkey, stuffing, and pie. Lois was on the telephone in the hall and Martha had fallen asleep in her chair, knitting needles in her hands. Jonathan stared at his son, who was staring at his mom.

“Half-time,” Jonathan announced, standing up with a stretch. “How about you help me out in the barn, Clark?”

“Sure, Dad.” Clark pulled his gaze away from his mom and put on his coat. “When did Mom start knitting again?”

“This fall, no, it was in August. Don’t be surprised if you get a new scarf for Christmas. You might warn Lois.”

Clark smiled fondly. “I remember all those mittens she used to make me. It didn’t feel like Christmas until I found the mittens from Mom.”

They walked into the barn and Clark looked around. “What did you need help with, Dad?”

“You. What do you have on your mind, son?” Jonathan asked.

Clark looked away. “Nothing.”

“Oh, it’s definitely something. You didn’t notice any of Mid-West’s touchdowns. That isn’t like you. You and Lois seem good. Is something wrong in Metropolis?”

“No. Everything’s fine.” He picked up a rock and started tossing it in the air. “I had a strange dream recently and I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Dream, huh? That seems more like your mother’s field of expertise.”

“No, Dad. I’d rather I talk to you. It’s not the kind of dream I want to discuss with Mom.”

The light bulb came on in Jonathan’s eyes. “Oh. I thought we covered those in middle school.” He winked at Clark.

“It wasn’t really that kind of dream, Dad.” Then he smiled. “Much.”

Jonathan held up his hand. “Skip the details. What bothers you about it?”

Clark was quiet for a minute as he thought. “Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that you start looking for answers in real life?”

“I had a dream once, where I thought I hadn’t plowed the west field and forgot to buy seed, and I got up the next morning and was halfway dressed when your mother woke up and reminded me that it was only February and the ground was rock solid. That what you mean?”

“Kind of.” Clark caught the rock and looked down at it. “I dreamed that Lois was six months pregnant. I could hear the baby’s heartbeat. I felt the baby kick. Lois even fed me strawberries. She knew things that…” He shook his head. “Then she said she had to go.”

Jonathan sat down on a hay bale. “I didn’t know you and Lois were trying, Clark.”

“We aren’t. We’re still newlyweds. We haven’t even walked down that road. But this dream…” He sighed, starting to toss the rock once more. “It was perfect. It felt so real. I even searched for her, when I awoke, but it was like she was never there.”

“It was a dream, Clark,” Jonathan reminded him.

“Everything points to it being a dream. She even told me in the dream that it was a dream.”

“Unusual.”

“Exactly. And when I woke up the next morning my blue shirt was missing.”

Jonathan laughed. “What does that have to do with the price of corn?”

“It’s the shirt I was wearing when I went to bed. It’s the shirt I gave to the dream Lois to wear before she left and…” He swallowed. “And I found the green shirt she had been wearing folded up in my laundry basket a few days later.”

Jonathan’s jaw dropped. “She left her shirt?”

Clark looked away. “Technically, it was my shirt. One I hadn’t seen since before I left for New Krypton.”

“Oh.” Jonathan chuckled. “It’s definitely real then.” He laid the sarcasm on thick.

Clark pursed his lips. “Lois and I made love the night before I left with the Kryptonians. The dream Lois said that was when she got pregnant.”

“Oh.”

“I figured it out in the morning. If it were real, the baby would be due mid-February. Lois would be about six months pregnant now.” He caught the rock in his hand and crushed it into gravel.

“Ah.” Jonathan nodded. “You want the dream to be real.”

“You don’t understand, Dad,” Clark said as he started pacing. “When I felt the baby kick, I could feel it in all of my nerve endings. I haven’t felt anything like that except when Lois and I first kissed. We made a connection. A bond. I’m missing out on seeing the baby develop and grow. And that Lois…” He sighed. “She was so beautiful, glowing. Sexy.” He grinned. “And she could fly.”

“That’s some dream, Clark. I can see why you don’t want to let it go. Have you discussed it with your wife?”

Clark’s eyes grew wide as he shook his head.

“Lois doesn’t fly, does she?”

“Not since her Ultra Woman days.” He paused in thought. “She doesn’t remember our first time.”

He must have heard Clark correctly. “Excuse me?”

“I would swear on my future children that Lois and I made love before I left for New Krypton, but my wife says our first time was on our honeymoon.”

“I wouldn’t swear on that, Clark,” Jonathan suggested. Not with their luck, at least.

“You’re right. I meant it as a figure of speech.”

Jonathan rubbed his hands together, wishing that he hadn’t forgotten his gloves. “Could that have also been a dream, Clark?”

His son shook his head. “A man doesn’t forget his first time, Dad.”

Jonathan stopped rubbing his hands and looked at his son. He couldn’t have heard that right and asked him to clarify. “You mean your first time with Lois?”

Clark shook his head.

“That was your first, first time?” Jonathan swallowed. He had been sure that Clark and Lana… or in college or while traveling… but then again, Clark was special.

His son nodded.

“Oh.” Jonathan thought for a moment, then blanched. “Lois is Lois, right?”

“I’m positive that it’s her. She has the scar on her ankle bone that she broke from before we met.”

“You checked?”

“With our history?” Clark shrugged.

“Of course.”

“I had to make sure, but I knew it was her before I checked. You can see why this is driving me nuts. I love my wife, but I feel like I have another wife floating around in the ether somewhere with our unborn child.” He slammed one fist into the palm of his other hand. It clapped like thunder. “Oh, sorry.” He grabbed his head. “I’m so afraid it was only a dream. That I’ll never see them again.”

Jonathan walked up to his son and put an arm around his shoulder. “This dream really affected you.”

Clark nodded, unable to speak.

“Your mother would probably say that the dream Lois was your unconscious desires to have children reaching out and punching you in the nose.”

Clark couldn’t help but smile.

“Perhaps it’s time to have that talk with Lois, son.”

He sighed. “I don’t think she’s ready for that, Dad. We’re still getting used to each other as a married couple.”

“All right. But then you need to keep telling yourself that it was just a dream.”

“I know.” Clark nodded. “Thanks, Dad. It’s great to finally get that off my chest.” He hugged him.

“Anytime, son.” Jonathan paused, trying to figure out exactly how to word what he wanted to say.

“Was there something else, Dad?” Clark asked, concerned.

“It’s time to tell Lois, Clark. She’s known that you’re Superman for eighteen months now. And it’s been almost three years since you brought him here.”

Clark winced. “Yeah. I know, Dad. It’s complicated.”

“How is it complicated? Just tell her. The longer you wait…”

“The timing has to be right. Trust me, I know Lois and she’s going to flip if she finds out that Jack knew first, especially after it took me so long before I told her. If I reveal I’ve been hiding him from her, what with the trial and Tempus and everything, our life is just settling down again. I want to have some peace for a while.”

Jonathan raised a brow at his son and pressed his lips together. “The time will never be right, son. Just do it. This is the last time we’re removing photos before she visits, Clark. You’re lucky he went out of town this weekend or he would have been here for Thanksgiving. He’s family now. We’re proud of him, like we’re proud of you. No more hiding him from her.”

“Okay.” Clark nodded and then asked sheepishly, “Is Jack angry at me?”

“No.” Jonathan chortled as he nudged his son’s shoulder. “You know the kid thinks the world of you. But your mother and I have had enough. You know what she thinks of secrets within the family.”

“Yes, Dad.” Clark rolled his eyes with a wobble of his head.

“I caught her drinking wine by herself in the afternoon, Clark. That isn’t like her.”

Clark’s brow furrowed. “Mom?”

“It surprised me, too. So, this is it.” Jonathan crossed his hands and then separated them. “No more, Clark.”

“Okay, Dad. I’ll tell Lois.”

“Thank you. We’d better head back before the womenfolk start to wonder about us.”

Clark laughed. “And the half-time show should be about over by now. Go Mid-West U!”

Lois stood at the front door of the house when they returned from the barn. “I was wondering what happened to you two.”

Clark waved and jogged up the stairs to her. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. “I love you, Wife.”

“That’s good to hear.” She smiled. “I love you, too, Husband.”

Jonathan passed them in the doorway with a grin.

Clark pulled her outside and shut the door, kissing her again. “Want to go somewhere?”

“Clark! Your parents.”

He kissed her again, so passionately and deeply that they started to float.

“I mean,” she coughed to clear her throat. “Yes, of course, I do.”

Clark started kissing her again and a moment later, they were gone.

Jonathan lowered the curtains on his living room window and smiled. He’d done good.

***

Back in the other dimension…

Clark held his hands together and gave Kal’s wife puppy dog eyes.

“A sucker is born every moment,” Lois sighed with a shake of her head.

“Perry had to stay in town last minute to thwart a union strike at the utility department. Alice has already left to visit the boys. He was practically begging and Perry doesn’t beg. We have to go, Lois. He doesn’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone.”

“I’ve been on my feet all day, Clark, at the shelter. I’m tired.”

“I’ll carry you everywhere.” He picked her up and grinned. “He promised me the exclusive.”

Lois laughed. “Okay. Fine. But Lucy doesn’t have anything nice to wear to dinner at the Mayor’s house.” She looked at him and swallowed. He was too close. She looked across the room at Sam, who was watching them closely and mouthed the word, ‘help.’

“I’ll help you find something, sweetie.” Sam stepped forward. “I’m looking forward to having a nice hot meal that wasn’t heated up in a microwave.” Clark still hadn’t set her down. “I’ll take her, Clark.”

“Oh, sorry.” Clark cleared his throat and set her down.

“Thanks, Clark.” She and Sam walked down the hall to her room.

“I’ll just swing home and change,” Clark called from the living room and then with a swoosh, he was gone.

“Thank you, Sam.” Lois put a hand to her chest and took a deep breath. “It’s hard when he holds me that close. I miss Kal so much and Clark…” She took another deep breath.

“I know, sweetie. Are you all right? Can you handle tonight?” He suddenly looked concerned.

“I’m fine, Sam. Just tired. Don’t be surprised if I fall asleep on a couch somewhere.” She yawned.

“Do you really need my help finding something to wear?” he asked, fear in his eyes.

Lois smiled. “A woman always says that about her closet.” She went into her room and shut the door.

After getting undressed, she hopped into the shower. A comforting, yet steamy, shower would wash away the weariness from her bones. She looked down at her stomach; it was really getting big. She leaned a hand against the wall. She hoped it wasn’t twins. She took a deep breath.

“Relax, Lois. If you were having twins, you would hear the second heartbeat. Sam only saw one baby on the ultrasound. Don’t stress yourself out. Just two and a half months to go,” Lois told herself. How exactly had she been able to wear that Ultra Woman suit at the end of last month?

She gasped. Had that only been a month ago? It felt like eternity. She closed her eyes and Elvis started to sing in her head.

Lord almighty,

I feel my temperature rising,

mmm, it’s burning straight into my soul…

Your kisses lift me higher,

Like the sweet song of a choir,

You light my morning sky,

With burning love…

It’s a hunk, a hunk of burning love

Hearing a sound in her room, Lois turned off the shower and wrapped herself in a towel. “Hello?”

On her bed was a beautiful dress, not at all in Lucy’s style: maroon, empire waist, sleeveless. She pressed her lips together. This was Lois’s style. Maroon was the color her Clark had wanted her to wear on their first date. Oh, this wasn’t good. Where in the world would he find such a dress on Thanksgiving Day of all days?

“Clark,” she muttered and went to dry off.

Lois,” she heard him respond. He must be nearby. Out in the living room, probably.

“If you come into my bedroom while I’m in the shower again, I will literally punch you to the moon. Are we clear?”

Crystal.” He chuckled.

“Good.”

I liked your singing.”

He heard that? Perfect, just what she needed. “Stop whispering in my ear, Clark.”

Yes, ma’am.”

She didn’t hear anything for a few minutes and continued to dry off.

That was our song, wasn’t it? ‘Burning Love’?”

Lois swallowed and sat down on her bed, a tear dripping down her cheek. “Clark, don’t. I love my husband.”

I know. Sorry.”

“You need to move on. We’re going back to him, Clark. So stop. Just stop. You’re only torturing yourself.” And me, she added silently.

And you?”

He knew her too well.

Sometimes, like tonight, Lois was happy that telepathic communication never worked between them. Listening to him whisper to her was bad enough, she didn’t need him inside her head as well. She went into the bathroom to blow dry her hair, cutting off any further murmurings from his voice.

Lois came out to the living room a few minutes later, wearing the maroon dress. It was a little tight over her bust. She hadn’t noticed them growing larger, but they must have. Luckily, the cut of this dress hung loosely around her waist, hiding most of the rest of her curves.

“Can you zip me up?” she asked.

Clark just stood there, staring at her. This wasn’t a good idea. Finally, he blinked and stepped forward. He ran his finger up her back as he zipped. She could feel his warm breath on her neck.

She turned around, stepping away from him. What was wrong with him?

“Shall I carry you?” he volunteered, holding out his hands.

“You lay one finger on me and I’ll slap you to kingdom come.”

Clark stepped back. “I deserve that.”

“Actually, you deserve the slap.” Lois glared at him.

“Did I miss something?” Sam asked, stepping between them.

“You’re starting to act like a stalker. A creepy ex-boyfriend. Just stop it.”

“A creepy stalker? Lois, that’s a little strong, don’t you think?” Clark asked, his eyes full of pain. “And who was just singing our song?”

“In the privacy of my own room. It’s none of your business.”

“Then don’t call me creepy.”

“Did you fly up to Canada and just happen to buy me a dress that fits perfectly? Or did you coincidentally happen to have this one hanging in your closet?” Her gaze turned fierce.

“What is she talking about?” Sam looked at him.

“It’s just a dress,” Clark murmured.

“Whose dress is this, Clark?”

He looked away.

“It’s her dress, isn’t it?”

Clark still wouldn’t look at her.

“I’m not her. I’m Kal’s wife.”

“It’s a dress, Lois. And I knew it would fit you. That’s all,” he murmured.

“Is it? I need to know if you ever liked me for me or if I’m just some sick substitute for your fantasy, Clark.”

Clark glowered at her. “That’s rich coming from you, Lois.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ve changed my whole life for you and then you go risk everything by going to Kal, telling him about the baby.”

“He’s my husband. I miss him. He was asleep and thought I was just a dream.”

“A nightmare is more like it,” he snapped.

Lois slapped him across the face. “Don’t, Clark. I love him. I needed to know he was real, not just a dream. I needed to know if he even remembered me.”

“He lives with you. He’s married to you. Of course he remembers you. He has the perfect life.”

“You mean instead of having a dress-up facsimile of his love,” she retorted.

Clark stared her directly in the eyes. “You don’t think that this kills me? Listening to you talk about him, hearing the love in your voice when you speak of him.” He swallowed. “Knowing I’ll never have what he has, because she’s dead,” he murmured, looking away.

“And I’m alive, so you think you can… Clark?”

He had blanched and grabbed her shoulders. “Say that, again.”

“What?”

“Say ‘Finally, I reached you. Clark Kent, please, help me. I’m alive.’”

He had gone crazy. “What are you—”

“Say it,” he urged. “In your normal voice.”

Sam came closer. Clark closed his eyes.

“Finally, I reached you. Clark Kent, please, help me. I’m alive.”

His eyes flashed open and he turned to Sam. “Lois is alive.”

These men. Lois threw up her hands. “Standing right here.”

“Our Lois,” Clark corrected. “She called me the other day. That was all she was able to say before we got disconnected.”

“She called you? Why would she call you?” Sam asked.

“Well, you don’t have a phone. Perry no longer works at the Daily Planet, so that leaves…” Clark thought for a moment. “I have no idea why she would call me.”

“Maybe she knows you’re Superman,” Lois suggested.

Clark looked crestfallen. “Yes, that’s probably it.”

Oh, why had she said that? “This is good news, Clark. She’s alive.”

“Let’s go! Let’s tell Perry. He’ll be thrilled,” Sam said, shuffling them to the door.

“I need to cover up,” Lois said, running to her room. She grabbed her tummy and took a deep breath. No running. She opened her drawers and pulled out her large black cardigan sweater. Then she grabbed her John Lennon glasses off the dresser. And her coat.

“Why did you cover up?” Clark asked in the cab. “You looked so—”

“Big as a house,” she finished for him. “It’s cold out, you know.”

“Striking.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “Some women look better with child. I didn’t think you could look any better, but you proved me wrong, once again.”

“That’s my job, you know. Proving Clark Kent wrong.”

“Yes. I figured that out on my own. Thanks.”

She laughed.

“I’m still in shock. I can’t believe she called me. I had no idea it was her until I heard you say, ‘I’m alive’.”

“I’m happy for you,” Lois whispered. She was. This was why she had come back, but somehow knowing that his Lois was alive and well and trying to reach him, cut her like a knife.

“We can’t tell Perry,” Sam announced.

“Why not?” asked Lois.

“How did Clark recognize her voice?”

“Because I said… oh.” She looked at Clark.

Clark pressed his lips together. “It’s still good news, except that we have no idea where she is.”

Sam’s grin threatened to split his face. “Exceptional news. My girl is still alive!”

***

Perry raised his glass of wine. “I’m thankful I have friends who would come over at a moment’s notice on Thanksgiving Day to keep an old man company.”

“You’re not old,” Lucy corrected.

“Hear! Hear!” Sam agreed.

They all laughed.

Perry turned to her. “Lucy?”

She looked across the table at Clark. “I’m thankful for small miracles. And for friends who would change their entire lives to help me out.” She smiled and raised her glass of sparkling apple juice.

Clark gazed back at her. “You’re welcome,” he whispered.

“No matter how crazy I drive them.”

They laughed again.

“Clark?”

He sighed. “I’m thankful to have a family once more.”

Perry raised an eyebrow at him.

“No matter how crazy they drive me.”

They all laughed.

“Sam?”

“I’m thankful that my daughter’s alive!” Sam cheered, raising his glass of sparkling apple juice.

“Sam,” Lois and Clark groaned in dismay.

“Great Caesar’s ghost! You found her?” Perry leaned forward.

“No,” Clark answered with a glare at Sam. “I received a phone call from someone who sounded like her, but it got disconnected.”

“What did she say?”

“‘Finally, I reached you. Clark Kent, please help me. I’m alive’,” replied Clark.

“Not that I want to rain on your parade, Sam. But that could have been anyone, Clark.”

“It sounded like Lois,” Clark clarified with a shrug.

“How in the King’s name do you know what Lois Lane sounds like? You’ve never even met the woman.”

Clark looked at Lois and smiled. “I’ve got all her old interview tapes. I’ve listened to her voice for hours… when I was researching what might have happened to her.”

Perry nodded, accepting that explanation. “Good job, son. But without concrete proof, we still don’t have a story.”

Lois smiled. You could take Perry White out of the newsroom, but you couldn’t take the newsroom out of Perry White.

“Well, this is definitely something to celebrate,” Perry said, standing up. “I’m stuffed. Let’s move out to the living room. We’ll have pie later. I’ve got a new Elvis CD I’ve been wanting to play.”

“No!” gasped Lois and Clark in unison.

She looked at Clark and turned back to the dining room. “My sweater.”

***

Perry put an arm around Clark’s shoulders and walked him into the living room.

“Are you saying you don’t like Elvis, Clark?” Perry asked with a glance back at Lois. “You haven’t had a problem with his music before.”

Clark cleared his throat. “I haven’t been able to listen to it since…” he started saying, then looked away.

“Oh. Since my little Halloween bash?” Perry nodded. “I understand completely. Don’t need to remind you of your ‘destiny’.” He grinned.

Clark rubbed his hand down his face.

“What’s her problem with Elvis?” Perry asked with an inquisitive glance at Lois.

“Nothing. She loves Elvis’s music. Was singing him earlier tonight in fact. She just knows my situation.”

“Oh.”

Lucy entered the room and stood at one of the bookcases examining Perry’s books. Sam sat down on the couch, leaned back, and unbuttoned his top button.

“I’ve got another CD you might like, honey,” Perry said, calling to Lois and taking a CD from his rack. “Ella Fitzgerald.”

Lucy smiled at him. As soon as the music started, she started to sway.

“She certainly is a beautiful woman, Clark,” Perry said in a low voice.

Clark nodded.

“I’ve seen plenty of women who go to seed in this condition, but not Lucy. She just keeps getting more lovely,” Perry gushed.

“Maybe you need to switch to coffee, Perry,” Clark said.

“I’m not drunk, my boy. I know what I’m saying.”

“Yes, sir. I agree,” Clark replied. “I told her so earlier.”

Lucy was still swaying to the music. Unexpectedly, they could hear her singing along.

The way you sing off key

The way you haunt my dreams

No, no, they can’t take that away from me…

Clark’s turned around and stared at her. He couldn’t look away. It didn’t feel like she was singing to Kal or the baby, the music was just flowing through her. That voice, the sway of her hips, the hint of rose petal scent. He was tempted to fly over there and take her in his arms, sway with her to the music. Kiss those lips. He closed his eyes in pain. She was Kal’s. She could never be his. The fates would not allow it.

“It’s obvious you’re smitten with the girl, Clark. Why don’t you do the right thing by her?”

“No. I can’t,” Clark said, turning to face Perry.

“You love her, Clark. She might not be able to fly, my boy, but she’d make you happy.”

“Oh, I know she would.” A hint of a pained smile graced his lips. Love wouldn’t be love without the misery. “It’s not in the cards for us, sir.”

“Why’s that, Clark? She loves you.”

“Yes, I’m sure she does in a way.”

“And there’s your baby…”

Clark grimaced. “Ah… there’s the rub, Chief.”

“What do you mean?” Perry asked, his expression a bit more intense.

Clark poured a drink off Perry’s bar and swallowed it in one gulp. “I can’t have children.”

“Oh.” Perry looked over Clark’s shoulder at Lucy. “Oh! Surely that doesn’t matter, son. You were adopted yourself, if I recall correctly.”

“I don’t think she knows it, but she’s singing to me right now. You’re a smart man, Mayor White, what do you think that means?”

We may never, never meet again

on the bumpy road to love

Still I will always, always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife

The way we danced ‘til three

The way you changed my life

No. No, they can’t take that away from me…

Lois’s soft lilting voice carried over to the gentlemen in their silence.

Perry listened to her sing and thought for moment. “Because she’s already married to someone else.”

“Bingo, Chief.”

“Oh, Clark, I’m sorry. She sure has a beautiful voice, though. It’s like Lola Dane lives again,” Perry told him fondly.

“What?” Clark sputtered. “What did you say?”

“Lola Dane. Didn’t I tell you about Lola? Lois went undercover once as a lounge singer by the name of Lola Dane at the West End Club.” Perry whistled. “She brought the house down. I almost lost my star reporter to show business.”

But Clark wasn’t listening. His brain had come to a full stop at the name ‘Lola Dane.’ He turned completely away from Lois. He could no longer look at her. He had thought Lois’s hopscotch logic of tying his Lois to Lex Luthor was just a decoy; a means to an end for her secret identity.

“Clark, stop.” Perry had put his hand on Clark’s arm.

“Huh?” Clark refocused his attention on his former boss.

“That’s expensive Scotch there, son, and you just downed four glasses in a span of two minutes.”

“What?” He looked down at his hands. Sure enough, he had been pouring drinks from the decanter. “Sorry. Alcohol doesn’t affect me.”

“Then stop drinking my good stuff like it was sugar water,” Perry snapped and then winced. “That’s not what—”

Clark stepped away from Perry’s bar and rubbed his hand down his face.

“Something’s bothering you, son. What is it?”

Clark watched Lois sit down on the sofa next to Sam. She had stopped singing. “Jaxon told me that his stepmother was a lounge singer his father met at the Berkistan Hotel, by the name of Lola.”

“That’s only a coincidence, Clark. Lois disappeared in the Congo.”

“We think she might have followed the illegal gun story from the Congo to Berkistan by hiding inside one of the crates of guns.”

“That sounds like Lois. The bigger the risk, the bigger the payoff, the bigger the story. But that doesn’t mean that—”

“Jaxon said his brother was bowled over by this sexy stepmother because she had legs that never ended and the biggest set of brown eyes he’d ever seen.”

“Well, Clark, that does sound like Lois, but—”

“I wondered why Luthor would marry some lounge singer. It didn’t make sense,” Clark said, still staring at Lois. “He might play with a woman like that, but not marry her. He likes women who are forthright and can stand on their own, ones that stimulate him intellectually as well as physically.

“Now, Clark, don’t go tying all these coincidences together or you’re going to end up thinking—”

“That another woman I love is married.” He glanced at Perry and then back over at Lois. She looked up at his gaze.

“Yeah, son, that.” Perry gave him a condolence pat on the back. They were quiet a couple of minutes before he continued. “You ever hear back from that Ultra Woman babe?”

Lucy rolled her eyes and set her head on Sam’s shoulder.

Clark turned his back to her. “No. I don’t think I’ll ever see her again.”

“That’s too bad, Clark. There was definite fire there.”

He sighed. “Explosives is more like it, Perry. Probably for the best, anyway. Those that first burn brightest, fade fastest.”

Perry laughed. “Nonsense. Alice and I are just as strong as the day we married. Stronger.”

“I’m happy for you, Perry. Ultra Woman and I were destined for one another, just not in this dimension.”

Perry shook his head at that statement. “You just need to focus your attentions on the right lady. You’ve got too many women on your mind.”

“I’m cursed when it comes to women, Perry. Maybe it’s best if I stop trying altogether.”

“Yeah. Maybe a break is just what you need,” Perry agreed. “You ready for some pie?”

Clark shook his head. “I’ve got to go, Perry. I hear a siren.”

“Okay, Clark. Go, get your mind off things.” Perry shook his hand.

***

Lois’s head popped up as Clark left the room and she walked over to Perry. “Where’s Clark off to?”

“He heard an alarm.”

Lois listened for a moment. “No, he didn’t.”

Perry raised a brow at this pronouncement. “Do you have Ultra Woman’s hearing, Lucy?”

She gestured to herself. “Do you think this body would look that good in a pair of tights?”

“Well, uh…”

“Rhetorical, Perry. Clark gets a certain look on his face when he’s super hearing and he didn’t get that look. What were you two talking about? He seemed to be downing your liquor pretty quickly.”

“Lois Lane.”

“Ah.” She nodded. “We’ve got to find her, Perry. He needs someone like her in his life.”

“I agree with you completely,” Perry replied. “But I don’t know if that’s in the cards anymore, honey.”

“Of course it is.” She smiled. “Since he can’t have me, he should at least have the next best thing.”

Perry raised an eyebrow at her. “Next best thing?” He shook his head. “He thinks he can’t have Lois, Lucy, because—”

The doors opened and James walked in. “You’re going to love me!”

Sam, Lucy, and Perry gathered around to see what he meant.

“Maybe I should wait until Kent is here. Yes, definitely, Clark should hear this.” He looked around. “Where is he anyway?”

“Emergency,” Perry explained. “And you better not make us wait after an announcement like that.”

“Okay. So there I was, sitting in the lounge of my hotel in Tokyo, and I strike up a conversation with this older gent. Turns out he was interested in media companies and software, same as me. He says that he’s interested in taking my newspaper off my hands whenever I feel like selling.”

“Et tu, Brute?” muttered Perry.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Lois said.

“I told him that with Clark Kent on my staff, I’d own the Daily Planet until I was old and grey.”

“Good for you, Jimmy,” Perry said, patting him on the back.

“Don’t call me Jimmy, White.”

“Well, it was at that point the woman in the next chair leaned forward. She said, and I quote, ‘You own the Daily Planet? Do you know Perry? Do you know Clark Kent?’ I realized that was the first time I had mentioned which newspaper I owned and I wondered how this man knew me from Jack the Ripper.”

“This woman knew me?” Perry asked, curious.

“It gets better. He turns to her and says, ‘Don’t worry your pretty head about such things, dear.’”

“Ugh,” Lois grimaced.

“She looked like she was going to argue when she suddenly grabbed her head and leaned back, like someone had pinched her spine. And he said, quietly, ‘If you want to stay out of the suite, dear, you need to learn to mind your tongue.’”

“What did this woman look like?” Lois inquired with a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“I’ll get to that.” James waved off her question. “I told them that of course I knew Perry and Clark; I count them among my best friends. Hope you don’t mind, White?”

“Thanks, Jim… Olsen.”

“Clark would be honored that you consider him your friend,” Lois replied for him. “Go on.”

“She was still grabbing her head as if she had a massive headache, but she tells me, ‘I find Clark Kent’s writing some of the best journalism I’ve read since Lois Lane disappeared.’” He nodded.

“She didn’t!” Sam exclaimed.

“That’s when she fell to her knees from the pain in her head and this man snapped his fingers. His associate came up and he told him, ‘Lola is feeling under the weather, Asabi, take her back to our suite.’ “

“No!” Perry and Lois gasped. Even though Lois could feel this confirmation coming.

“What?” Sam asked, looking between them.

“This Asabi guy takes her away, and I thought she was screaming in pain, but then I realized she’s saying to him, ‘No. No. No. I was so close. I can stand the pain, let me go back.’ Or something to that effect.”

“Tell me you got photos,” Lois said, grabbing his wrist.

“I’ll get to that.” James shook off her hand.

“James!” Perry exclaimed.

“Of course, it struck me as curious that such a beautiful woman would want to speak with me about the inner workings of the Daily Planet.”

Lois rolled her eyes. “Because, of course, beautiful women have no head for news.”

“I walked into that one, didn’t I?” James gazed at her apologetically. “Then I told this man that I would never consider talking such serious business with a man whose name I didn’t know. He stood up and handed me his business card and told me that he hoped I would put it to good use.” James reached into his breast pocket and then checked his pants pockets before finding the card in the inside pocket of his jacket and flung it on the coffee table.

Perry picked it up. “Lex Luthor, owner and CEO, L.I., Ltd., Singapore.”

“Lex Luthor?” Sam gulped.

“Singapore?” Lois asked.

“I couldn’t leave it like that. But I wasn’t sure what to do. Then I thought, ‘What would CK do?’ “

“Probably find their suite and scan it with his x-ray vision, break down the door, and fly off with the woman in his arms,” mumbled Lois. She raised her voice and said, “You should have called him, James.”

“Oh, yeah. I didn’t think of that. Anyway, I did find out what suite they were staying in and engaged in a little round-the-clock surveillance, but nothing came of it. Luckily, I was in Tokyo, so I found this great little miniature camera store… White, you should have seen the kind of surveillance—”

“Olsen!” shouted Perry. “On with it.”

“Right. Right. Then at one of the cocktail parties towards the end of the conference, this…” James pulled out the photos and set them on the coffee table.

Lois grabbed the top photo. It was Lex Luthor all right. “He’s bald!”

They all turned toward her.

“He had hair when I knew him,” Lois explained weakly.

“And the woman who wanted to speak with me, Jaxon’s stepmother? Her pain had Neuroscanner all over it. The migraines when she spoke out of turn. It looks like Junior got it working again.” He grabbed a photo from near the bottom of the pile. She stood alone near a pillar wearing a sleeveless pale pink gown. Her hair, straight and long, just reached the curve of her back. She seemed to be staring off in space. “That’s her.” He whistled. “She’s a beaut, just like Jaxon said.”

Sam grabbed the photo out of his hand. “Lois! That’s my daughter.”

James’s jaw dropped. “Oh, sorry, Dr. Lane.”

“Great Caesar’s ghost!” Perry crowed. “She is alive! She’s alive!”

“The Neuroscanner works?” Lois asked quietly with a glance at Sam, but he was too busy staring at the photo of his Lois. She looked at her hands and then rubbed her arms in a hug. Her genetic makeup had changed enough that she was no longer affecting Junior’s signal.

James coughed. “Uh, Dr. Lane… Sam.” He swallowed and handed him another photo of Lois and Lex. In this one they were walking, her hand in the crook of his arm, but she looked odd, off.

“Why does she look funny?” Sam asked, studying the photo.

“Because she’s blind,” said James, dropping that bombshell as carefully as possible.

Sam’s head dropped into his hands.

“What?” demanded Perry. “That can’t be right. My star reporter? Blind?” He leaned back in his seat on the couch.

“I don’t think anyone else noticed, but I have a blind cousin and recognized the signs. Just as you said, Lucy, he checked out above board on everything. If I hadn’t known what a sadist he was or hadn’t known about the Neuroscanner or hadn’t witnessed for myself what he did to her that day at the hotel, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

“Sometimes, I just hate to be right. I can’t believe he blinded her.” She looked away, a tear trailing down her cheek. “I didn’t expect that kind of brutality.” She reached over and hugged Sam.

“Now, now. Lucy, we don’t have any proof that he blinded her. It could have been an accident. Something in the water…” Perry searched for another excuse. “Damn. I can’t be unbiased in this case. This is Lois we’re talking about here. I’m so sorry, Sam, but I want Superman to go after him with a submachine gun.”

A hint of a smile appeared on Lois’s lips. “Superman doesn’t hurt people, Perry. You know that. And he certainly wouldn’t use a gun,” she whispered and then she cleared her throat. “I want us all to be perfectly clear on one thing. No one is to tell Clark about Lois. Not. One. Word.” She turned to James. “About Lex Luthor go ahead, crow to your heart’s content. I’m beginning to think our best investigative journalist is being wasted in the boardroom.”

James blushed. “Thanks, Lucy.”

“Good work, son.” Perry patted James on the shoulder once more. “I’m going to have to agree with Lucy here. Let’s just keep this news about Lois amongst us.”

Sam stood up. “Not tell Clark? That’s crazy! How is he going to rescue her if he doesn’t know she’s there?”

Perry paused. “Trust me, Sam. He already knows.” He glanced at Lois and shook his head.

Sam sat back down, but he didn’t look happy about it. “And he didn’t tell me?” he grumbled.

“If Clark finds out that Lex blinded Lois… or hurt her in any way…” Lois shook her head. “Who knows what he would do, Sam? It wouldn’t be in her best interest if Clark flew off half-cocked to Singapore without planning first and without a way to disable the Neuroscanner. Those are details we need to work out before we can tell Clark.”

“So,” James said, clapping and rubbing his hands together. “What’s our next step?”

Everyone was quiet for a minute, thinking.

“Well, the first step would be to get Clark to Singapore,” Sam stated the obvious.

“I’ll set up an interview with Lex Luthor,” Lois murmured. She wasn’t looking forward to being that close to the Luthor camp, even via telephone.

“Lex Luthor doesn’t do interviews, Lucy. I asked,” James informed them. “Apparently, he’s a very private man.”

“He’ll grant this interview.” Lois nodded, certain in her assessment of her ex-fiancé.

“How in the Sam Hill are you going to do accomplish that? I thought he hated you,” Perry asked.

“Lex Luthor thinks he’s the smartest man in the universe. Superman is goodness personified. Lex Luthor is the opposite. He has a huge ego; the challenge of pulling a fast one on Superman will be too big a temptation for him to resist.”

“Let’s hope that Clark is up for the challenge,” Perry murmured.

“He’ll be up to it. I guarantee it,” said Sam, burying his face in his hands once more. “Oh, my girl. My poor little girl.”

***

Once again, Clark sat on the top of the Daily Planet building wondering where and how everything in his life had gone wrong. He didn’t want to be here moping. He hated mopers. But this year, he felt he had become one. First, meeting Kal’s Lois and realizing the wonder that was true love… knowing he wasn’t completely crazy to have fallen in love with a woman he had never met before. Because being with Kal’s Lois told him he had been right, not crazy, about how he felt for his Lois.

Then he had moped over his break-up with Lana. Okay, he thought, a hint of a smile brushing his lips, he hadn’t really moped about that. Still it had hurt when she dumped him.

Then there was his coming out of the closet as Superman. Mope, mope and more mope. Ugh!

Then Lois had returned to him and he once again realized that his love for Lois wasn’t a fluke. He truly and honestly loved her. But Kal’s Lois had been even less available to him. Pregnant. Mope. Mope. And double mope.

But she needed him. Needed him. Not like everyone else in this world who would take any old superhero they could lay their hands on. (Again he admitted, yes, he was the only one who could rescue them). Lois Lane had specifically needed him: Clark Kent. Her protector. Her friend. But Clark still wasn’t allowed to have her, to love her in the way he wanted. She belonged to Kal. He was just her Kal-Patch. Mope.

Mayson. Clark sighed. He hadn’t been in love with her, but he had certainly cared for her. Maybe that could have grown into love. He hadn’t been able to protect her and she had rejected him. The pain of that rejection had sent him into a tailspin. Mope.

Learning that Kal had bested him again. Kal could father a child. But not Clark, of course. Kal could have a family, surround himself with love. Not him. Triple mope.

Then there was the night of the Halloween party. Clark closed his eyes and a smile slipped onto his face. Lois. His. For one night. Remember the way she looked at you? Not Kal; him. The way her lips pressed against his lips. Her hands exploring his body, pulling him to her. Her breath had tickled his ears. Her tongue had tasted — Fine, he admitted, expelling a breath. It wasn’t real. They both had been under the influence of that pheromone perfume, in addition to the beginnings of Interdimensional Time Sickness for her…

Shut up! his mind shouted. A part of her loves you. You! Not Kal. It was your name she moaned, not Kal’s. Yours! Clark shook his head. Only his name was also Kal’s name. He buried his face in his hands. Mope. Mope. Mopity. Mope. Mope. Kal’s Lois would never ever truly be his.

And now this. His soul mate, his one real chance at happiness, was married to another man. And not just any other man. His Lois was married to Lex Luthor. He thought back to that snake of a man, who had stolen Kal’s Lois away from her wedding to Kal, who had silenced her screams for help with a needle to the throat, who had chased her down the streets of Metropolis, who had created a murderous psycho clone, and who had lied to her when she was confused about who she was. That was the man who had legal rights with the woman Clark loved. That man could kiss her, touch her, wipe away her tears. He could hold her, comfort her, and sleep with her and…

Clark blasted off the building into the sky, over the clouds. No! His mind shouted. No! He wasn’t going to go there with his thoughts. He wasn’t going to imagine her loving that monster. Only it was too late. As soon as the words formed, so did the pictures in his mind. He raced around and around and around the world, trying to distance himself from these thoughts.

When he finally stopped, Clark wasn’t quite sure where he was. China? No, too dark. It was daytime in Asia. Ethiopia? No, too cold. Utah? Perhaps. He sat down on the edge of what could have been an old abandoned quarry. It reminded him of his life. Bleak. Devoid of color. Empty of life. He wrapped his red cape around himself. No more moping.

Okay. So, his Lois wasn’t technically his to have. It wasn’t like Clark really thought they would have had a chance anyway, did he? He had already decided that he couldn’t afford any more smashed tin cans in his life. He sighed. Tin cans, humph. Melted pools of tin was more like it. Being with Superman endangered women. What if he lost control? If someone hurt the woman he loved again…

Finally, I reached you. Clark Kent, please help me. I’m alive.”

Someone had already hurt the woman he loved. His Lois had called him and asked him to help her. Was it some elaborate trap set up by Luthor? Clark shook his head. No, he couldn’t think that. He wouldn’t believe that Lois willingly set him up. Not after being tortured by Junior’s Neuroscanner. How long had they used that infernal device on her? What had they forced her to do? Clark winced, not wanting to dwell on the possibilities rushing around in his mind. Thank God it was broken and could no longer hurt her.

Lex Luthor had hurt his own wife. Clark growled. Lex Luthor allowed his son to spy on and torture his own wife. Clark’s eyes focused on a lone tree across the rocky yard of the quarry. Suddenly, it burst into flames. Clark jumped off his perch on the edge of the quarry and as he floated down the rock wall, he punched it and punched it and punched it, until a mountain of rubble piled up to almost the top of the cliff and dust clouded the air.

Kal’s Lois had known about Lola — about his Lois being married to Luthor. She had known and kept it from him. His one glance at her before leaving Perry’s house told him that. Why hadn’t she told him? Had she ever planned on telling him? His mouth thinned in anger.

Lois knew it would hurt him — she knew the information would torture him. He hung his head. Lois knew him better than he knew himself. She was protecting him. She was waiting to tell him until they had found his Lois.

Clark stood on top of his pile of gravel, the crisp November wind lapping at his cape. Lex Luthor needed to pay for what he had done to Lois. But his Lois didn’t need vengeance, she needed help, to be rescued. She needed a hero, not a zero. Not a moper, but a man of action. He stood up taller, shoulders back, head held high. Superman could be that man for Lois.

***

Lois sat at her desk, staring at her telephone. The sun had set outside hours earlier in Metropolis; most of the newsroom staff, including Clark, had posted their stories and gone home for the night. Yet, Lois sat here still. This was the third night this week she had tried to get hold of Lex Luthor and she was hoping that the third time was a charm. Singapore, being literally on the other side of the world, was just getting to work as they were heading home.

She stood up and started to walk around the newsroom. Spending all this time sitting down was giving her the worst backaches. It felt like this baby was getting bigger by the minute and no amount of heavy clothing was doing the job of covering her ever-burgeoning tummy. Plus, all these extra layers were hot — it felt like a sauna in the newsroom. She pulled off one of the bulky sweaters and took a deep breath. She put her hands against her back and arched, hoping to stretch that kink down her spine.

FLASH! Lois turned to find James standing by her desk with a camera. Great. Just when she looked her most pregnant. She waved at him and tried not to waddle as she returned to her desk.

“I brought you some dinner,” James said, holding up a bag. “When I called your apartment, Sam said you were staying late to try again. Hope you’re in the mood for Italian.”

“Love it. I’m starving,” she replied with a smile. They went into the conference room and spread out their take-out containers.

“Cranberry juice for the lady,” he said, handing her a bottle. “Have you told Clark yet?”

“What can I say to him? ‘We found Lex Luthor, hiding in plain sight in Singapore, but the jerk won’t come to the phone’?” She swirled her pasta around her fork and took a ravenous bite. “You are a godsend, James. Thank you.”

He beamed under her praise and passed her a pile of napkins.

“I couldn’t possibly look any worse.” She chuckled, tucking a napkin into her top-most sweater.

“Well, you could remove about half those layers. Don’t tell me that you’re cold in the newsroom or you’ll make me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge,” he said.

“Personal body image issues,” she clarified. “Oh, what the hell, since it’s just the two of us.” She glanced out to the newsroom to make sure they were alone and then removed layer upon layer until it was just her maternity pants and a thin turtleneck. She stretched up to the ceiling and sat back down. “Much better.” Digging into her pasta, she gazed over at James. His jaw had dropped to the floor.

He pointed at her. “Lucy. You’re… you’re…”

Oh, crap. He wasn’t in on the whole baby secret. “Not one word to anyone,” she told him and threw another sweater back on.

He stood up and started pacing. “It all makes sense. That’s why White wanted Clark to… and you don’t drink… and sent back that salad with the blue cheese… why Clark is so overprotective of you… why you said Sam’s your doctor… and you’re leaving us in about two months… and I’m the biggest idiot in the entire world.”

She smiled, swallowing the temptation to mention a few lunkheads she knew personally. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like an idiot. I just didn’t want a lot of questions. Reporters are the world’s biggest gossips.”

“It’s Kal’s, right?”

Lois raised a brow at him and continued eating, refusing to dignify his remark.

“Sorry, stupid question. When are you due?”

“Mid-February.”

“Boy or a girl?”

“Hope so.” She grinned. “Sit down. Eat your dinner. All this pacing is making me dizzy.”

James dropped into his seat and wiped his face with his hand. “Wow, this is big.”

“And only getting bigger.”

“That’s not what I meant.” He chuckled at her joke anyway. “Here I thought you were cold and kept cranking up the thermostat.”

“Oh, please, turn it down. I’m drinking a gallon of water a day as it is.” Lois fanned herself with a pile of napkins.

James jumped back up and ran out of the conference room. Lois watched him go. He was back two minutes later.

“There, I lowered it back to seventy. Sorry.”

“Thank you. That was sweet.”

He stood back up and started pacing again.

“Is something wrong, James?” she asked.

“I feel like I should be doing something productive. Here you are…” He indicated her with his hand again. “Creating life. Wow!”

“Calm down.” She was amused at how in shock he really was. “I’ve been doing it for a while now.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Sit down. Eat your dinner. Treat me normally.” She spun around another forkful of pasta.

“Right.” He sat down. She could still hear his feet tapping under the table. “Do you have a nursery yet?”

Lois shook her head. “I’ll be heading back home soon after the baby’s born. We’ll get that stuff then.”

He just stared at her. “Straight from the hospital?”

She swallowed. “We’re going to try for a home birth.” No super complications needed for the hospital workers to witness. No publicity. No one to know. No chance of unwanted visitors.

“Really?” He looked uncomfortable with that idea.

“Women have been doing this for thousands of years, James. How hard can it be?” She shrugged. “A little pain, lots of heavy breathing and discomfort, and boom, a baby.”

He shook his head. “Wow! You’re in total denial.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You’ve been so busy finding Lois, fixing Clark’s love life, and capturing Lex Luthor, you’re totally ignored the fact that you’ll have someone to take care of soon. Like two months.”

“There’s plenty of time to get that stuff later.” Lois waved off his concerns. “Eat!”

“Lucy.” He looked her straight in the eye. “It is later now.”

Her fork stopped halfway to her mouth. “What do you mean, James?”

“What are you going to do if the baby comes early? Preemies happen all the time, nowadays. I was a preemie. Six weeks early is not unheard of. Now is the time to prepare.”

Lois dropped her fork and started hyperventilating. “Early? But it can’t come early. Nine months. I know the exact date. That’s when it has to happen. Not early.”

“Head between your knees, Lucy. Head between your knees.”

“Are you nuts? I don’t even know what my knees look like anymore,” she exclaimed.

They looked at one another and burst into laughter.

“Oh, Lucy. I’m going to miss you,” James said, brushing away a tear of laughter. “You know how to keep life real. You always surprise me.”

Lois wiped her mouth and glanced at the clock. “Finally. Today is the day. Keep your fingers crossed for me.” She stood up and walked out to her desk.

James pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed a number. “White. Olsen here. I just found out about Lucy… yes, just now… it’s due in February and she is completely unprepared. We seriously need to throw this woman a shower… yes, us. Who else is there? Exactly. Superman…. Clark and Lucy have been pretty tight lipped about the whole thing. Lois? She’s trying again right now. I’ll keep you posted.” He hung up his phone and exited the conference room. He walked up to her and rubbed her shoulders. “Any luck?”

“I’m on hold.” She yawned. “Again.”

James sat down in the seat next to her. “Let me take some photos of you like this for Kal.”

Lois smiled at him and pointed to the phone, then covered up the mouthpiece and murmured, “Sounds good. We’ll discuss it later.”

James grinned and leaned back.

“Hello? Nigel? Nigel St. John?” She glanced at James, only to be blinded by a flash. She blinked her eyes, trying to clear the stars from her vision. She grabbed his camera and moved it to the corner of her desk. “You don’t know me, but I’m sure my name is familiar. My name is Lucy, Lucy El. I’m Clark Kent’s personal research assistant. I would like to speak with…” She took a deep breath and reached over for James’s hand. “Lex Luthor about his son Junior shooting me in the shoulder this past summer.”

James squeezed her hand. “Are you crazy?” he whispered. “You’re supposed to be making an interview appointment for Clark, not adding your name to an assignation list. He is going to kill you.”

“Yes, I’ll hold.” She shook her head. “Luthor isn’t going to kill me. I’m just trying to get his attention.”

“Who cares about Luthor? Clark’s going to kill you,” he retorted.

“Who am I going to kill, Mr. Olsen?” Clark’s voice floated down as he descended into the newsroom from the upper windows.

Lois held up a finger to James and grabbed Superman’s blue suit, pulling him closer.

James indicated Lucy with a jerk of his head.

“Mrs. El. I’m sorry that you are under the misguided notion that my son, Lex, Jr., had anything to do with your unfortunate accident this past summer,” a male voice said into her ear.

It was Lex Luthor all right. Suddenly, the image of him calling to her from his town car appeared in her head, ‘It’s Kent. The man you love and thought you couldn’t have.

Lois started to shiver uncontrollably. “Good morning, Lex.”

Superman held out his hand for the phone. She switched the phone to her other ear and took his outstretched hand in hers.

“I didn’t know we were on a first name basis, Lucy,” Lex teased.

She was so cold, her teeth began to chatter. She stood up and leaned her head against Superman’s chest. “I know you so well, it’s like we’re meeting again after a long hiatus.”

“You have me at a complete disadvantage.”

Superman wrapped his cape around her. He was so warm, Lois finally started to melt.

“That would be a first, Lex, I am sure. My boss, Clark Kent, would like to meet with you in Singapore.”

“Clark Kent?” She could actually hear Lex smiling. “The star reporter at the Daily Planet? My wife is quite a fan of his work.”

“Well, then, Lex, we should really make it a dinner meeting, so he can meet her. He does adore his fans. And Jaxon says Lola has such a beautiful singing voice.”

Superman covered up the mouthpiece on the phone. “What are you doing?”

Lois pulled the receiver away from him.

“It sounds like quite an evening. Will you be joining us?” Lex inquired.

Superman pressed his lips together and shook his head.

“Alas, no. I have a terrible fear of flying. I think it might stem from my vertigo.”

James gave her a thumbs up.

“That’s too bad. Jaxon has told me all about you, too,” Lex informed her. “Horrible about that civil war in Berkistan, good people disappear there all the time. It seems to bother you quite a bit.”

“Yes, they do, and it does,” she agreed with a smile. Her husband was safe and sound in another dimension. “But let’s not talk about that. We should make this meeting before Christmas, don’t you think? So we can all have a fresh start for the New Year.”

“Shall I pass you to my executive assistant, Mrs. Cox, to firm up the details?”

Lois scowled. “I’m afraid I might get lost in the transfer. Why don’t you just have her hand you the appointment book. I know she’s standing right there.”

Superman and James exchanged a glance.

“Stop taunting him,” Superman whispered. James nodded in agreement.

“Okay. How about the evening of December 19th?” Lex suggested.

She glanced at Superman and he nodded.

“Oooh, sorry. He has an engagement that night. Can we make it the 20th? Clark loves to explore every country he visits.”

“Stop,” Superman mouthed.

“Lola and I have a Christmas party we’re throwing that night; Mr. Kent is more than welcome to join us,” Lex told her. “I’m sure I could make time for him during the weekend for that interview.”

“Sounds great,” she replied. “Shall I have him contact the L.I., Ltd. headquarters that afternoon for the details?”

“No. I’ll have the details messengered over to the Daily Planet today… or in your case, tomorrow.”

“I look forward to receiving them. Thank you for your time, Mr. Luthor.”

“It’s been informative, Ms. El,” responded Lex before disconnecting.

As Lois hung up the phone Superman pulled her into a hug. “You are amazing, Lucy. How in the world did you ever find him?”

Lois took a deep breath, breathing in his aura. “I didn’t. James here did.”

Superman turned to him. “Mr. Olsen?” He held out his hand. “Thank you.”

James glanced at Lois, who nodded her head. “No, Clark, thank you.” He shook his hand. “You are a good example to look up to.”

“James here is being modest. He copied your investigative skills while in Japan last week. He has been telling everyone what a great reporter you are for months now, Clark, including Lex Luthor himself.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that kind of support,” replied Clark. He almost seemed uncomfortable under this praise.

Lois glared at James, who looked a bit uncomfortable as well.

Her boss’s boss cleared his throat. “Why don’t you call me, James, Clark?”

Superman grin split his face in two. “Thank you, sir… eh, James. I will.” He picked Lois up and cradled her in his arms. “You are the craziest woman in the world. I’m going to have to hire a bodyguard for you. Goading criminal masterminds like that. You should have told me you were calling him.”

“Merry Christmas, Clark,” she said with a smile. He really shouldn’t hold her like this. “Now, set me down.”

He set her down and took a step away. She was suddenly cold again, but it was easier to breathe.

“I’m sending you to Martha’s that weekend,” he announced.

“No! Clark, you need me,” Lois retorted, stomping her foot. “If you send me to Martha’s, you’ll be on your own. Anyway, how will you get me there?”

“I have my secrets, too, Lucy,” Superman said with a raised brow.

“Who’s Martha?” James piped in. They had forgotten about him.

“Lucy’s mother-in-law,” Superman explained. “She’ll be safe there.”

“But what if you need me? You won’t be able to contact me there,” Lois said.

“Superman works alone, Lucy. You know that.”

“No, he doesn’t. Without James’s help we wouldn’t know where Lex was.” Lois grabbed James’s elbow. “And you can’t say that my help has been insignificant, can you?”

“Of course I’d still be in limbo if you — both of you — hadn’t helped. But Lucy, surely you understand that I need to have a clear head, no distractions.” Superman cleared his throat. “This is Lex Luthor we’re talking about here.”

“I’m a distraction?” she inquired innocently.

Superman glanced at her with a look that she instantly recognized as ‘you’re kidding me, right?’ “When I’m worried about your safety, that’s a distraction,” he said. “And with you throwing it in Luthor’s face that you know more about him than he does about you, you practically invited him to come after you.”

Lois glanced at James and he nodded in agreement. “I can take care of myself.”

“It’s not just about you anymore, Lucy,” James reminded her.

Superman looked at him and then back at Lois. “You told him?” At her nod, he shook his head. “Have you completely forgotten how to keep a secret?”

“He’s trustworthy, Clark.” Lois set a reassuring hand on Superman’s arm.

“That may be, but I’m beginning to wonder if you are.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She glared at him. “It’s my life we’re talking about here.”

“I’m trying to protect Kal’s child as well as you. And if any of his enemies were to find out, you both would be in grave danger. Why do you think I offered my protection in the first place?” he scolded.

“I won’t tell anyone, Clark. I promise,” James said, defending Lois’s decision to tell him. “You can trust me. I can even look after her while you’re gone.”

“I appreciate the offer, Mr. Olsen… James, really I do. But Lucy here has a habit of getting into super big trouble that she needs super protection to get out of. At least if she’s at Martha’s I’ll know she won’t get into trouble.”

“Sam isn’t going to want me flying,” she reminded him.

“Sam might make an exception in this case.” He beamed at her. Damn, they both knew Sam would. “James, can you drive Lucy home? I should go back on patrol.”

James nodded.

“We’re going to talk about this again before you leave, Superman,” she said as he floated into the air. “This isn’t my last word on the subject.”

Superman grinned. “I never expected it to be.” And he flew off.

“Wow. He’s got you pegged,” James said, heading back into the conference room.

“Hardy har har,” Lois replied, unamused.

James put on his coat and cleared away their dinner as Lois put on her many layers again. She still felt chilled from her conversation with Lex. She ought to feel hot, talking to someone in hell. Oh right, this Lex wasn’t in hell. He’s in Singapore.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” James inquired quietly in the elevator down to the lobby.

Lois looked at him curiously.

“Is there some reason Clark thinks an old woman would be better protection for you than me?”

She laughed. “Martha may be a tough woman, James, but I don’t think that’s what he meant. Her place is remote, hidden, nearly impossible to find. It’s me out and about in Metropolis that scares him.”

James breathed a sigh of relief with a slight chuckle. He took another glance at her and said, “I thought you told me and Perry that Lex Luthor knew who you were. Didn’t you tell us that he ruined your wedding with Kal?”

Lois didn’t say anything as she ruminated over this question. She didn’t open her mouth again until they were in his car. “James, I know you have gone out on a limb for me, more than a couple of times. Can you just trust me when I tell you that he might not know Lucy El, but he knows me like the back of his hand?”

“Is he one of Kal’s enemies that Clark was talking about?”

She nodded and then looked away.

“I can see why Clark was so angry at you for taunting Lex.”

“Lex wouldn’t have come to the phone, unless I had something on him personally. That’s how he works, so that’s how he expects others to treat him. If I hadn’t stood up to him, acted like he didn’t scare me, he wouldn’t have taken me seriously.” She rubbed her arms with her hands. “I can’t say it didn’t terrify me to hear his voice, especially when I never thought I’d hear it again.”

“You have nerves of steel,” he said, starting the car.

“Really, it felt more like Jello.” She pointed in front of them. “Home, James.”

He laughed and drove her home.

***

Lois called Dr. Klein at S.T.A.R. Labs the next afternoon while Clark was attending a press conference at the Science Museum. She was surprised to find him at his desk.

“Lucy?” He swallowed nervously. “Everything all right with—” He coughed. “Clark?”

“Clark’s fine, Dr. Klein.”

“And you?” the scientist asked hesitantly.

“I’m well, too. I’m calling in regards to the information I gave you when we met that one time.”

Lois heard the phone drop out of his hand. “Information?” His voice cracked. “What information would that be?”

“About the Neuroscanner.”

“Oh, that information.” Dr. Klein sighed in relief.

“I was wondering if you’ve made any progress with the hair sample I gave you in tracking the genetic fingerprint back to the Neuroscanner.” Lois had finally remembered that when her Clark gave a DNA sample to match it against that boy with super powers, they hadn’t used blood, but a sample of hair.

“Well, no. I haven’t made much progress with that,” answered Dr. Klein. “Is there some urgency that I don’t know about?”

“If possible, we need a working prototype by the morning of the eighteenth at the latest.”

He gulped. “That soon?”

“Without it, Superman won’t be able to go through with his rescue mission.”

With the Neuroscanner still operational, this dimension’s Lois would end up being an unwitting mole in Superman’s camp and anyone else with whom she came in contact. Junior and Lex would still be able to see and hear through her senses. This dimension’s Lois would also be at Lex’s and Junior’s mercy as they would be able to subject her to migraine pain whenever they pleased. Neither condition would be desirable to Clark or Lois… either of them.

“Do you have proof that it is operational?” Dr. Klein inquired.

“Eyewitness account.”

“Wow! Okay, I’ll see what I can do, Ms. El. But I make no guarantees.”

“Do your best, Dr. Klein. Her life is in your hands,” Lois told him.

He lowered his voice. “Do you still believe that she’s his true love?”

“There’s always that possibility, Dr. Klein.”

He gulped. “I’ll get right on it, Lucy.”

“Thank you, Dr. Klein,” Lois said, hanging up. She looked down at her to-do list and checked off N.S. Next on her list: cross-reference L.I., Ltd. and Lex Luthor with Singapore, and see if she could find an address.

Someone walked up behind her. Lois could hear him breathing down her neck. Glancing up, she saw it was Jaxon and she scooted her chair away. He was definitely too close for comfort.

“Thanks. Thanks a lot, Lucy. Because of you my father has revoked funding for my Virtual Reality computer.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Jaxon,” she said. “Now you won’t be able to kidnap any more people. Are they going to revoke your license to be a bad guy as well?” Sarcasm dripped off her words.

Jaxon glared at her and stomped off.

Lois glanced down at her list and checked off Jaxon’s name. She knew after mentioning his name to Lex the day before, it would only a matter of time before he heard from his dear old dad. She looked at him pouting at his desk and added a question mark next to her check mark. Clark wasn’t going to appreciate her rebuff to Jaxon, but the little twerp seemed harmless without his super computer.

***

The weeks passed and Lois made no progress convincing Clark to let her stay in this dimension while he was in Singapore. Sam compromised only so far as insisting that the time machine (who knew that H.G. Wells had left one with Clark?) would be brought to her as opposed to her being to flown to it.

Lois sat at her dining room table eating breakfast when the phone rang. Sam answered it.

“We’ll see you soon,” he said and hung up. Sitting next to Lois, he relayed the message. “Clark’s on his way.”

“Really, Sam. I’ll be just fine here in Metropolis. I won’t leave the apartment, I promise. Who knows what all this interdimensional travel is doing to the baby?”

Sam looked at her over his coffee mug. “Are you actually worried about the baby’s safety or do you hate being sent away like some poor defenseless woman?”

He knew her too well. “Both,” she grumbled.

Her substitute father put his hand over hers. “Know that this isn’t about you.”

“I know.” She pouted. “It’s about your Lois.”

Sam nodded. “That’s why we need to tell Clark she’s blind as well.”

“We can’t, Sam.” Lois had debated this point in her mind long and hard. “You didn’t see him at the hospital when Mayson got hurt, Sam. He was out of control. He rushed off to attack Jaxon and ended up making stupid mistakes, like getting himself trapped in the Virtual Reality computer. If Clark finds out that Lex blinded your daughter… who knows what mistakes he might make in anger. It’s better, better for Lois, if he doesn’t know upfront.”

“I’m going to have to disagree with you about this one point.” Sam shook his head. “But I don’t want him to make mistakes either, Lucy, which is why you need to go to the other dimension.”

“But I have put so much work into this story, I want to be here for the outcome. I want to be here in case he needs me.”

Sam sighed. “It’s so hard to let our children grow up, Lucy. Let them stand on their own two feet, take those first few steps on their own.”

She pressed her lips together. “You think I’m mothering Clark again.”

“By giving Clark the crutch of you being here, you’re telling him you don’t believe he can do this without you. He needs to be one hundred percent confident. This is my daughter we’re talking about here.”

Lois’s heart ached. She didn’t want to undermine Clark’s fragile confidence — he needed to know that she was safe, that he had protected her — but Sam was right. If Clark was worried about her safety, and the baby’s, he would be distracted. She sighed. “Fine. I’ll go. No complaints.”

A moment later the time machine appeared in her living room. Superman stepped off the machine and then spun into his Clark clothes. Lois put a hand to her mouth. That was her Clark’s move.

Clark caught her expression and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, but it really is more convenient.”

Lois let herself breathe. “It’s okay. I just didn’t know —” She swallowed. “I’ll go get my things.”

Clark watched her leave the room and then sidled up to Sam. “She’s not going to fight me?” he asked, surprised.

“She saw that you were right. If you were worried about their safety, it would be a distraction.”

Clark glanced at him skeptically. “She’s never admitted that I’m right before. You must have misheard her.”

“No. He heard me correctly,” Lois said, reentering the room with snow boots on her feet, her heavy coat on and a small suitcase in hand. “It might never happen again, so savor the moment.”

He grinned. “Believe me, I am.”

She put her stuff down on the passenger seat and touched the edge of the sled. As she did so, several lights came on and she snatched her hand to her chest.

A male voice spoke from the machine. “Lois Lane: DNA authorized and approved.”

“What the—” she gasped.

“Lois Lane: Voice Fingerprint authorized.”

“It’s been programmed only to work with you, me, and Mr. Wells. Safety precaution, in case someone else stumbled across it,” Clark explained. Then he showed her how to reprogram the machine to return to his dimension.

“So, I turn this knob here. Set the date and time here?” she repeated.

“No! Don’t touch the date and time knob or you’ll travel through time. This knob controls interdimensional travel. If you don’t touch the time/date knob, it will remain in sync,” he explained.

Lois nodded. She hoped she would remember that two days hence.

“I wrote down the instructions on this piece of paper,” he said with a reassuring smile, handing her the paper. “I don’t want you to get lost.”

She took a deep breath and smiled at him. “Neither do I. It was so nice of Mr. Wells to leave his spare machine with us.”

“He was worried that you might come down with time sickness again before the baby is born and he might not be around to catch it.”

“I could live without that,” Lois murmured, staring at him.

“We all could,” Sam agreed.

“Ready?” Clark asked.

“No, not quite.” Lois stood up and hugged Clark. He smelled so good when he was this close. How easy it would be to fall under his spell again. She shook her head. That spinning costume change had really messed with her head. She kissed his cheek. “I’ll miss you, Clark. You can do this.” Stepping back, she took a deep breath while still staring into his eyes. Maybe it was best that she was spending a couple of days back in her dimension.

Clark moved a fraction of an inch closer to her, when Sam cleared his throat. Lois blinked and climbed back onto the time machine.

“Under your seat is an invisibility tarp. Use it to hide the machine while you’re not using it.” Clark’s voice seemed a bit rougher than normal.

Lois nodded.

“Let’s go over the ground rules one last time.”

She sighed. “No visiting Kal. No contacting Kal. No leaving the Kent farm for any reason whatsoever.”

“No coming back early,” he reminded her.

She saluted him. “Yes, sir. Martha knows I’m coming, right?”

Clark’s eyes went wide as saucers.

“Clark.” She groaned with a shake of her head. “We’ve got to stop dropping by unannounced. One of these days, she won’t be at home.”

“You’re her grandbaby’s mama,” said Sam. “You’ll be welcome.”

Lois smiled at Sam. “Oh, wait,” she said, digging through her pockets. “I almost forgot.” She pulled out a small envelope and handed it to Clark. “An early Christmas present.”

Clark glanced at the envelope and started to open it, when she put her hand over his. “Wait until I’m gone.”

He raised an eyebrow and pressed his lips together in distrust. “Am I going like it?”

“Oh, yes. You’ll love it.” She grinned mischievously, putting her hand on the lever. “You just might not be happy about it.”

Lois waved to Sam, who waved back. Then with one last long glance at Clark, she pulled the lever and faded from view.

***

Clark rubbed his hand down his face. “How could she ever think she wouldn’t be a distraction?”

“Maybe a few days in the other dimension will clear her mind,” said Sam.

“Right,” Clark reluctantly agreed. He looked down at the note in his hand and decided to look at it later. He slipped it into his pocket. “But will a few days without her around clear mine?”

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Sam asked, heading into the kitchen.

Clark looked out the window. He really should be heading to work, morning meeting and all, although he and James had already informed Cat of his weekend assignment. “Sure.”

He wasn’t in a hurry to meet Lex Luthor face to face. Luthor had kidnapped the woman of his dreams. He glanced back to where the time machine had disappeared. Both of them. He wondered if he would be able to hold his anger in check. It was just one aspect of his personality where he failed to meet the original Superman’s standards.

Clark followed Sam into the kitchen and took a mug of steaming coffee from him.

“I really appreciate you looking for my daughter, Clark. Don’t be surprised, though—” Sam was interrupted by the telephone ringing. He set down his coffee and answered it. “Hello?”

“Is Lucy there?” Clark recognized Dr. Klein’s voice straight away.

“No. Can I take a message?” answered Sam.

Clark held out his hand for the receiver.

“Or would you like to speak with Clark Kent?”

“Oh, yes. I should speak directly to him,” replied Dr. Klein.

Sam passed Clark the phone.

“Could you please tell me why you are contacting Lucy, at home, when I specifically told you not to contact her?” Clark said acidly.

Sam looked at him with a raised brow.

Dr. Klein cleared his throat. “Lucy gave me this number and asked me to contact her here at this time as she would be unavailable for a few days.”

Grimacing, Clark closed his eyes. “May I ask what this is regarding?”

“I have the prototype she asked for. She said that you would need it for your trip.”

He had no idea what Dr. Klein was speaking about. Then he remembered the envelope she handed him. “Hold on, Dr. Klein.” Clark put the phone on his shoulder and took the note out of his pocket.

Clark:

I had Dr. Klein work up something to help you track Lex Jr.’s Neuroscanner. Hope it helps on your mission. Don’t be angry with him. I didn’t go to S.T.A.R. Labs. Everything was handled via messenger.

Love, Lucy

Clark ran his fingers over that last line of the note and then passed it to Sam. He put the phone back to his ear. “Is it operational, Dr. Klein?”

“It only has a range of a couple of miles. I can guarantee you that the Neuroscanner is not operational in Metropolis,” the scientist informed him.

“I didn’t think it would be, Dr. Klein.”

“Unfortunately, since I haven’t been able to pick up any readings, I cannot guarantee that the tracker works one hundred percent. Or it could be that the Neuroscanner is turned off or broken, again. I’ll explain exactly how the tracker works when you come pick it up,” said Dr. Klein.

“Thank you, Dr. Klein. I’ll be there straight away to pick it up.” Clark hung up the phone and glanced at Sam.

Sam handed the note back to Clark, fear in his eyes. “The Neuroscanner? Is it what caused the pain in her head?”

Clark looked at him, confused. How did Sam known about the Neuroscanner? Sam had not been privy to that initial conversation where Clark described what Jaxon had told him about Junior’s device.

“James said that Luthor’s wife grabbed her head and fell to her knees in pain, after she spoke out of turn during their conversation,” Sam clarified.

Ah, Lois knew that the Neuroscanner was working again. The little minx realized that it would have to be destroyed before he could rescue Lex Luthor’s wife.

Clark nodded to Sam. “Sam, could please you stay the weekend at my apartment? I didn’t like the way Luthor spoke to Lucy and I don’t want you in danger if he decides to try anything.” He tossed him his keys and then spun into his blue suit. He stepped towards the window.

“Thank you, Clark,” Sam said falteringly. He pressed his lips together as if he were trying hard not to say something.

“Was there something else?” Clark asked.

“Could you tell my girl that her daddy says ‘rainbows after thunderstorms’? She’ll know what it means.” Sam’s chin trembled as he spoke. “And, Clark, don’t let love blind you as her love once blinded her.”

“I won’t,” he said, wondering at Sam’s strange advice. He nodded once more and blew through the windows to S.T.A.R. Labs.

***

Meanwhile, over in Lois’s home dimension…

Lois was in the Kents’ barn. How in the world was she going to hide the time machine from Jonathan all weekend? Had Clark actually said ‘an invisibility tarp’? Lois shook her head in disbelief. Even with one of those, couldn’t Jonathan still bump into it? This was why she liked being in charge of the planning. He hadn’t even contacted Martha. Oh, Clark. She hated to be an unannounced visitor, let alone one that had to stay hidden all weekend long.

Lois took a good long listen to see if Jonathan was nearby, but only heard the animals and the blowing of wind. Oh joy, Kansas in December. She missed Metropolis already.

She put her suitcase down on the ground. Bending down was already becoming a problem with her ever-expanding tummy. How was she going to reach that tarp? She squatted down and reached out her hand, holding on to the edge of the sleigh.

“Lois Lane: DNA authorized and approved,” that same male voice announced, causing her to stumble backwards and land on her bottom. So much for stealth mode. She wondered if there was a volume button. Taking her gloves from her pockets, she put them on and then proceeded to pull herself to her feet, grabbing the tarp from under the driver’s seat in the process.

Luckily, the tarp was lightweight and easily covered the time machine with one good flick of her wrists. Wow, it completely disappeared. Thank you, future inventor. She wondered if Alan Morris had played a hand or if someone worked off his ideas.

Lois picked up her suitcase and went to the barn door. She knew the general direction from the barn to the house and concentrated in that direction. Martha, she could hear, was in the kitchen. Putting something together on the stove for lunch it sounded like. She concentrated harder, hoping to hear Jonathan. There, he was listening to the radio and what was that other sound? It almost sounded like spooling of thread. Was he sewing?

Ow.” She heard Jonathan yelp, then the sucking of his finger.

Are you all right?” Martha called to him.

Huh?” he called back, lowering the volume of the radio.

I said, are you all right?” Martha repeated.

I’m fine, honey. Just cut my finger on this darn fly.” Ah, he was tying flyfishing flies in his office. Then he turned the volume back up on his radio. That radio would be great cover.

Lois opened the barn door and pushed herself through the several inches of snow to the kitchen door. She tapped softly on the window. She must have tapped too quietly, because Martha didn’t even glance her way. She tapped again. This time, Martha tilted her head and looked at the door as if she was hearing things. Lois waved at her and Martha dropped her spoon on the floor.

Clark’s mother let her in and just stared at her. “Lois?” she whispered, looking carefully at her. “What are you doing here?”

Lois set down her suitcase and shook off the snow that had accumulated on her in the two minutes it took to walk from the barn. Then she took off her heavy coat, hanging it on a hook by the door. “Can I stay for the weekend? Clark’s worried about our safety,” she said, setting her hand on her tummy.

“Of course. Stay forever, if you like,” Martha answered, looking out the door for someone else. “Where’s Mr. Wells?”

Lois shrugged. “He left his spare time machine with us, just in case I went delusional again.” She grinned. “I haven’t.”

“Glad to hear it,” Martha said, wrapping her arms as well as she could around her. “My, how you’ve grown in less than a month.”

“Tell me about it.” Lois pulled out a seat and sat down. “Just two more months.” She sighed.

Martha sat down next to her. “What’s this about Clark being worried about your safety? Is there something wrong in his dimension? Did some crazy psycho figure out who you are?”

Lois shook her head. “We found Lois. She’s married to Lex Luthor, like I suspected, and living in Singapore of all places. I mouthed off to Lex Luthor on the phone, when I was setting up an interview for Clark, and so now Clark is worried that Lex will send some goons after me while he’s off rescuing her.”

“You spoke to that dimension’s Lex Luthor. Are you nuts?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Lois shook her head. “I did it as my secret identity,” she said in her Southern Lucy voice.

Martha looked at her like she was still crazy. “So Clark sent you to us? I’m going to have to tell Jonathan, Lois. I cannot keep you for the weekend and sneak around my husband’s back. It’s too much; I just can’t.”

Lois put her hand on her mother-in-law’s. “I know, Martha. But maybe we could break it to him later. Maybe not mention the baby and see if he notices I’m a different Lois than the one Clark has back in Metropolis.”

Martha looked at her head to toe. “He’ll notice.”

“I’ve got a bulky sweater in my suitcase.”

Martha raised an eyebrow. “Sweetie, did you ever own a bulky sweater before moving to the other dimension?”

Lois thought for a minute. “Yes! I may not have worn it often… or at all. But the snow is falling by the shovelfuls out there. It wouldn’t be unthinkable for me to wear a sweater here.”

Martha shrugged. “You can try it, but we’re telling him the truth, if he notices. And we’ll have to tell him anyway. He’s sure to mention your visit when we head out to Metropolis next week for Christmas.”

Lois tapped her fingers on the table. “The less people here who know the better. We’ll think of something. If you think he can keep it from Clark, because if he gets suspicious of the stand-in—” She shivered. “The stand-in is my past. If something happens to her, I’m history.”

“I know the drill, honey. I still wish we didn’t have to lie to Clark.”

“Me too, Martha. You don’t know how much I miss sharing this pregnancy with Clark, knowing he won’t be there for her birth.”

“Still convinced it’s a girl?” Martha asked with a smile.

“I hope I’m right or I’ll have given our first son a total complex.”

Martha laughed. “I’m sure he or she will be fine. Heaven knows that before the sexual revolution, people of both genders were all referred to by the pronoun ‘he’ and all us women turned out all right.”

“Yes, but women have always been more adaptable to gender roles.” Lois winked.

“That’s true,” Martha agreed, taking a sip of her tea. “Oh, how rude of me. Would you like something hot to drink?”

“Cocoa would be great. Or maybe some herbal tea.”

Martha got up and took the box of cocoa out of the cupboard. It only had one packet left. “Oh, dear. We’re almost out.” She glanced out the window. “That snow is really coming down. We’re going to have to make a run to the market before we get snowed in.”

“Snowed in? Does that happen often?”

“Several times every winter. Luckily, we’re farmers so we have lots of cold storage,” Martha said, pulling out a pot and filling it with a mug full of milk.

“At least if we’re snowed in this weekend, I’ll be guaranteed no other unexpected visitors will show up.” Lois exhaled in relief.

“Except Clark.”

“What?” Lois gasped.

“Oh, that’s not what I meant,” Martha explained. “I meant he’d be able to get through the storm. We’re not expecting him though.” She smiled with reassurance.

Lois released the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Good. I really don’t need the extra stress. I’ll be so worried about Clark enough this weekend… other Clark. I don’t trust Lex Luthor.”

“I don’t imagine you would.” Martha stirred the cocoa. “While this is heating, why don’t I take you up to Clark’s old room? You can stay in there.”

Lois hadn’t had a chance to snoop through his room the last time she and Clark were in town. She had been so worried about Bad Brain Johnson. “I’d like that.”

As they were going up the stairs, Lois intentionally masked her footsteps by making herself extra light as she stepped at the same time as Martha. If she could go the whole weekend without telling Jonathan that she was there, it would be easier on her. Maybe not easier on Martha though.

She set her suitcase down on Clark’s old footlocker at the end of his bed. The whole room was filled with his essence — childhood photos, old football flags, books. She sat down on the bed and just breathed it all in. Lois looked at Martha. “When I get back for good, I have this strange feeling I’m going to stick to him like a leech.”

Martha laughed. “Good luck with that, Mrs. Superman.”

“Oh, right.” Lois rolled her eyes at that. “Maybe we’ll just need a second honeymoon.”

Martha didn’t say anything, but glanced at Lois’s tummy with a skeptical expression. “We’d better get back to that cocoa before it bubbles over.”

“Can I have a minute, Martha?” Lois asked, running her fingers over the bedspread.

“Of course, honey. Take as much time as you like.” Martha nodded, leaving the room. Lois shut the door and then hugged his pillow. Clean. She set it down and looked around the room. She opened the dresser drawers, but all those clothes were clean and didn’t smell like him either. She opened the closet and found hanging from a hook an old red and blue scarf that Martha had obviously knitted for him. She held it up to her nose and breathed in. Clark. She wrapped it around her neck and opened the door.

“Martha!” Jonathan called, coming out of the office.

Lois closed the bedroom door all but a crack and listened.

“Martha! The weather service said we’re likely to get over a foot of snow with this storm. We’d better head to the market and pick up supplies while we still can.”

“I was thinking the same thing, Jonathan. I’m making up a list now.”

“I’m going to go out to the barn and check on the animals and feed.” He was quiet for a minute. “Martha, did you get a new coat and snow boots?”

Lois gasped. Jonathan was more observant than she had given him credit for.

“They’re Lois’s,” said Martha and left it that. Lois could hear her pouring the cocoa into a mug.

“Okay,” he replied hesitantly, and then she heard the door open and shut.

Lois wanted to skip down the stairs and hug Martha, but the extra weight had been throwing her off balance recently. She went into the kitchen. “You are marvelous.”

“Thank you.” Martha smiled and handed her the mug of cocoa. “What did I do?”

“Jonathan and the boots,” Lois said.

Martha shrugged. “He’ll ask about them again eventually. Anything in particular you are craving at the moment? I’m making a list.”

Lois took a sip of the cocoa. “Clark.” She sighed with a weak smile. “He’s the only thing I crave.”

Martha nodded. “I noticed the scarf.”

“Do you think he’d mind if I borrowed it?” Lois rubbed the soft wool against her cheek.

“He hasn’t worn it in years. I doubt he’d notice it missing.”

Lois grinned. “Mine!”

“Do you want to come into town with us?” Martha offered.

Lois shook her head. “I’m not here, remember. Too many questions. Also, I told Clark I wouldn’t leave the farm.” She rolled her eyes.

“He worries about you.”

Lois nodded. “He’s gone into this super protective mode. I’m not allowed to fly. I can’t go anywhere in Metropolis unless someone from his approved list goes with me. I’m not allowed to taunt super villains anymore.” She laughed. “All right. That last one I made up. He and Sam are debating if it’s biological, you know like wild animals protecting the pregnant members of the herd.”

Martha raised a brow. “He cares about you, too.”

“There’s that, as well. He is a Clark. And Clark and Lois are destined to be together, we can’t help it.” She took a sip of her cocoa.

Martha was staring intently at her as if expecting her to say something else.

Lois continued quickly, “But we do. He’s not my Clark. He knows that and I know that. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been trying so hard to find his Lois. Maybe with her around, he’ll stop looking so moony-eyed at me.” She sighed, because it was really hard for her to resist him when he looked at her like that.

“So, what’s he going to do with two of you around?”

Lois chuckled. “I hadn’t thought about that.” Her chuckle turned into a hearty laugh. “We’re going to drive him batty.”

“I have no doubt in my mind about that. Tell him he’s welcome to come and talk to us, should he need to.”

“I’ll do that.” Lois turned her head off to the right. “Jonathan’s on his way back to the house. I’m going back upstairs. We’ll wait for my big revelation after you get back from town, if you don’t mind.”

“Did you think of anything in particular you wanted me to pick up?” Martha asked.

Lois pushed herself to her feet. “I don’t know. More cocoa?”

“I’ll call you from the store. Maybe you’ll have thought of something by then. Perhaps something that’s not available in the other dimension,” Martha suggested.

Lois shook her head and shrugged as she left the kitchen. She floated herself up the stairs, so as not to make any noise. Much easier on her back than climbing them. Jonathan came in to the kitchen just as Lois reached the base of the stairs.

“Ready?” he asked Martha.

“Let me just throw on my coat and snow boots.”

“What about the ones that Lois gave you?” he asked. Ah, so he thought they were hand-me-downs.

“Wrong size,” Martha replied.

“Oh.”

Lois knew where Clark got his ability to tell people the truth without them realizing he was speaking in half-truths. She shut Clark’s bedroom door and lay down on the bed.

Sleep had been avoiding her lately. She was worried about Clark and his trip to Singapore. And watching her Clark get all rosy-eyed about Christmas again in her dreams just made her ache for him more. The other Clark was more like her; Christmas was more of a holiday to avoid than to participate in. They had bonded recently over not putting up a tree, not stringing lights, not drinking eggnog, and not buying Christmas gifts. She turned onto her left side and closed her eyes.

Lois had no idea how long she had been asleep when the phone rang. It hadn’t felt long, just a moment really, but long enough to leave her feeling groggy. She opened the door to Clark’s room and wandered down the hall to his folks’ room. She could hear the telephone ringing louder there.

With a yawn and a stretch, Lois picked up the telephone and murmured, “Martha, check and see if you can get me a box of Double Fudge Crunch Bars, could you?”

“Lois?” her husband’s voice gasped.

Gulp! Why was Clark calling? Right, he was always calling his parents.

“Lois?” He sounded desperate.

She hung up the phone and flew down the stairs, literally. Holding her stomach, she ran into the kitchen, jumped into her boots and pulled on her coat and gloves. How much time did she have? Two minutes from the instant she had hung up the phone, tops; realistically, probably seconds.

Lois opened the kitchen door and the wind and snow blew straight into her face. She pushed against it to get outside and then pulled the door shut behind her. She tried to fly to the barn, but the wind kept blowing her back to the house. She would just have to struggle through the snow. Bending her head down and wrapping Clark’s scarf over the bottom half of her face, she trudged on. Just as she arrived at the barn, she saw Clark’s familiar blue and red blur zip through the wall of white snow to his parents’ front door. She sighed in relief and entered the barn.

The barn looked the same as it always had. Where had she left the time machine? She felt around with her hands. How she wished she had x-ray vision. Uh oh. Clark had x-ray vision and if he scanned the barn… she wondered if x-ray vision could penetrate the invisibility tarp. She guessed it would. She was going to have to fly off. Should she go back to the other dimension? Or should she travel through time? Where were those instructions that Clark had given her?

Lois dug through her pockets, eventually finding the paper. She took another step forward and bumped into the time machine. Yea! She reached down and pulled up the edge of the tarp, sneaking underneath. She wondered if the time machine would work with the tarp still on top. She turned a knob. Nothing. Great, she leaned her head against the console. Why wasn’t it working?

A male voice spoke from the machine. “Lois Lane: DNA authorized and approved.”

“Crap.”

“Lois Lane: Voice Fingerprint authorized.”

She swallowed and moved her butt into the driver’s seat and unzipped her coat. At least the machine was turned on and warming up. She looked down at Clark’s instructions, but she could hardly read them under the tarp. She adjusted the time/date knob, hoping that if she moved just a couple of hours into the future, he would be gone. She would be able to return in relative safety to the Kents, without incurring the other Clark’s wrath for returning early.

“Lois?”

Clark was outside the barn now.

“Lois!”

She sighed, wishing she could run out to him. “Please, Clark,” she murmured. “Know that I love you, but I can’t see you right now.” Lois pulled the lever as the barn door opened. The time machine dropped her through time Jello again and she was gone.

***

Five minutes earlier, Clark had been leaning back in his chair at the Planet. His story was filed and he had a couple of hours to Christmas shop. He still needed to find just the right thing for Lois. He glanced over, and smiled at the sight of her, nose pressed to her computer screen. That other Clark was right: he was the luckiest man alive.

Lois turned to him and smiled. “Clark, what time are your folks getting in next Tuesday?”

He searched his mind, but it was a blank. All he could think of was her smile. He shrugged. “I can’t remember.”

“Could you give them a call and find out? I’m trying to schedule an interview with the mayor.”

“Okay.” Maybe he could get her to take off early this evening as well. He could make dinner reservations at his favorite restaurant, Chez Kent. Clark dialed the phone, but didn’t take his eyes off his wife. It was ringing off the hook. Where were his parents? He glanced at the television to see if that storm hit earlier than they were expecting.

“Martha, check and see if you can get me a box of Double Fudge Crunch Bars, could you?” a familiar voice said into his ear.

“Lois?” he asked. It couldn’t be Lois. He was looking at Lois. She was still at her desk. But he would recognize his wife’s voice anywhere. And who else would want a box of Double Fudge Crunch Bars, Lois’s favorite chocolate vice? Whoever it was was still on the line. He heard her swallow.

“Lois?” he asked again. He was getting déjà vu. Why was there a Lois Lane at his folk’s house? She hung up. Someone was definitely there. He stood up and loosened his tie.

“What’s up?” Lois asked, stopping him.

“I’m worried about my folks. They didn’t answer their phone, so I’m going to check it out, what with the storm and all.” He kissed her cheek. He hated to lie to her, although it technically wasn’t a lie. But he couldn’t tell her that she was also in Kansas.

Lois glanced up at him. “I hope they’re all right.”

Clark nodded and rushed straight into the storeroom. He threw open the window and jumped through it even as he spun into his blue suit.

It took him longer than usual to get to his folks’ house. The headwind was really strong. He didn’t see his dad’s truck as he slowed himself down to land on their front porch. He opened the front door. It wasn’t locked; that wasn’t like them. “Hello?” he called.

Silence. He scanned the house with his x-ray vision. No one was there. Had he been hearing things? No, he’d recognize Lois’s voice anywhere; plus she said ‘Martha’ and the chocolate bars. He closed his eyes and smelled. Cocoa.

Clark wandered into the kitchen. Sure enough, there was a half-drunk cup of cocoa still sitting on the kitchen table. He picked it up and examined it. No lipstick. Hmmm. The Lois he knew wore lipstick and so did his mom. He lifted the lid of the pot on the stove. Chicken noodle soup from scratch. Yum. He looked around for the spoon to stir it, when he kicked something with his red boot. His mom’s big wooden spoon. He picked it up and dropped it in the sink, wondering why she had left it on the floor.

Examining the kitchen more carefully, he found a little unmelted snow by the kitchen door.

Suddenly he heard a male voice speaking from the direction of the barn. “Lois Lane: DNA authorized and approved.”

What was that?

Crap,” Lois grumbled. Yep, he grinned, she was definitely there.

The male voice, which he recognized as a mechanical recording, spoke again. “Lois Lane: Voice Fingerprint authorized.”

Clark opened the door and pushed his way outside. Raising himself into the air, he saw the footprints from the house to the barn clearly. Deeper than he would expect for someone his wife’s size, unless… he flew over to the barn. “Lois?” he called again.

Why was this Lois hiding from him? He x-rayed the barn and saw her sitting on the driver’s seat of a time machine. But she looked strange, distorted, like he was looking at her through an old pane of glass.

“Lois!” He didn’t want her to disappear on him again. Glancing up at his voice, her coat shifted and he saw her rounded belly. A cold shiver passed down his spine. The heavier footprints. She was real. The pregnant Lois. She hadn’t been a dream. He wasn’t crazy. She was real. He opened the barn door, but she wasn’t there. The time machine wasn’t there either. Had it disappeared already?

Out of the blue, he heard her sigh. Then she whispered, “Please, Clark, know that I love you, but I can’t see you right now.” He turned on his x-ray vision just in time to see her and the time machine disappear.

“No!” he shouted, reaching for her, but knowing he was already too late. He dropped to his knees. “No, Lois, don’t go.” His chest constricted. It reminded him of the time Tempus had kidnapped her and taken her to that other dimension. She was pregnant with his child, she loved him, but she ran away just the same. She was gone. And there was no way for him to find her.

Why did this pregnant Lois keep doing this to him? Why couldn’t she see him? Was she a Lois from the future? If so, why did she keep visiting him in the past? Had something happened to him in the future, making it necessary for her to come to the past to visit him? But if she was pregnant in the future, why had she told him that the child had been conceived the night before he left for New Krypton? Had he spent that night with a Lois from the future, not his current Lois? He shook his head. That was the craziest of ideas. And what in the world was she doing visiting his folks? Where were his folks?

The phone started ringing in the house. With a sigh, he returned to the house and picked up the phone. “Hello?” he said, feeling like all the joy had been drained out of him.

“Clark?” It was his mom.

“Mom?”

“What are you doing there?” she asked.

“Why are you calling your own house? Isn’t Dad with you?” He scanned the house again as he spoke. “Who did you expect to pick up? My wife, perchance?”

She gasped. “Clark, your father dropped me off at the market before heading to Joe’s Feed. We’re in town getting supplies before the big storm. I’m calling home because—” She took a deep breath, lowering her voice. “I just called you and Lois said you headed out to the farm. I was worried. What’s up?”

That story made sense. He shook his head. Why would he think that she was going behind his back? Because the pregnant Lois said, ‘Martha’ when he called.

“Clark?”

His head was spinning from it all. It couldn’t be real. His mom wouldn’t lie to him, would she? “I called the farm to double-check your flight reservations for next week and Lois answered the phone saying she wanted a box of Double Fudge Crunch Bars. I thought that was a little odd since my wife was sitting next to me at the time. I thought I’d fly here and check it out.”

Martha laughed. “That sounds just like Lois. A box of Double Fudge Crunch Bars. I should have known.”

“So, it was real? Somewhere out there in the ether is a pregnant Lois Lane?” He couldn’t believe it. His mom knew about his mystery Lois.

“This really isn’t a telephone conversation, is it, Clark?” she reminded him.

“No. It isn’t,” he agreed.

“Can we talk about this face to face, next week, when we’re in Metropolis?” she asked hopefully.

“Why? Are you expecting company?” he growled.

She sighed. “No, Clark, I wasn’t expecting company. I just thought your wife would want you back before dark. If you want to wait at the house, that is fine by me.”

“Can I help you in town?” He didn’t really want to hang around the house at this moment. It felt too empty with Lois gone.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Clark.” She was right, of course. Everyone would want to know what he was doing in town with his parents heading out to Metropolis the next week.

“You’re probably right, Mom.”

“Your father and I will be home in about an hour, if the roads aren’t too bad.”

“Okay,” he said, sitting down at the table, his head in his hands.

“Oh, Clark, are you sure you’re okay? You sound like you’re in pain.”

“I am, Mom. I feel like someone just yanked out my heart and stomped on it,” he murmured.

“Clark, I’m so sorry. I love you,” she told him.

“I know, Mom. I love you too. See you soon.” He hung up the phone.

***

Martha hung up the phone and dug through her purse. She pulled out her emergency phone card, dialing the Daily Planet. “Hi, Lois, it’s Martha. I tried Clark’s line, but it went straight to voicemail. Is he there?”

“Isn’t he there with you?” asked Lois, concerned. “He just left for the farm.”

“Oh, I’m in town at the market. The snow is really coming down, I thought I’d call and let him know where we were in case he gets worried and tries to call. I know how he can get when we get bad weather.”

“The big worry wart.” Lois laughed.

“I’ll just call the house and tell him where we are. Let him know, if he heads back to Metropolis before I can reach him, will you?”

“Will do, Martha. Oh, while I still have you on the phone, when is your flight next Tuesday?”

Martha relayed the details of their Christmas Eve flight and hung up. She sighed. She should never have told Lois to answer the phone; that was very short-sighted of both of them. She went back inside and pulled a box of Double Fudge Crunch Bars off the shelf, adding them to her basket.

What in the world was she going to say to Clark? And where in the world did Lois disappear to? Or more precisely, when in which world?

***

Lois looked around the barn. It seemed the same, only no Clark standing at the doorway. She climbed out of the sleigh and looked around. Where was the invisibility tarp? It seemed to remain when the time machine moved. She walked around the sleigh and kicked the floor of the barn, but she didn’t catch her foot on anything. She hoped it hadn’t gotten lost in time. Clark would just kill her if she lost it. H.G. Wells too, probably.

Her heart ached at seeing her husband so close; she hated running away like that. Lois hoped that he hadn’t seen her, but she feared that he had. Anyway, she knew he had heard her. She zipped up her coat and was amazed that she no longer heard the roar of the wind. She had set the time machine two hours forward, and it seemed like the storm was already over.

She opened the door to the barn and noticed that it was dark, yet not. The sky was dark like night dark, but the moonlight off the snow made it seem bright as day. It was so clear she could see the stars. Where had all the clouds gone? Oh, no. She had set the time for more than two hours. The snow had fallen in large drifts — was it possible that more than two feet of snow had fallen in just one afternoon? She sighed. She hoped that Martha wasn’t too worried about her.

Lois stepped back inside the barn and looked around. Yes, she was still in the Kent barn, in her dimension, not the alternate dimension. There was the hay and she could still hear the animals. That was weird. She went to open the barn door again, when she heard voices. She hoped they weren’t heading to the barn, because without the invisibility tarp she was sunk.

“Lois! Lois! Don’t run away from me.” It was Clark.

She gasped. He knew she was in the barn. Had he heard the time machine return?

“Tell me what that letter means,” he urged.

Letter? What letter?

“Clark, please. You were never supposed to see that. I wish you had let me burn it.”

What was Lois doing there? Had he broug