After the Storm
Copyright: January 4, 2007
Country of first publication, United States of America.Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"What have I gotten myself into?" Clark Joseph Kent asked aloud as he sat down on one of the chairs in the newsroom conference room. The baby, Esperanza Ester Kent, a refugee from another time-line, started to wail and he held her to his shoulder, making sure to support her head. "What have I done?"
"What you always do," Lois answered, noting how natural he seemed with a baby in his arms. "What you're best at. Rescuing people. And I can't think of anyone who needed rescuing more than this little one."
"I can't do this by myself," he protested. It was finally sinking in as to what was happening. What Lois had planned for him.
"You won't have to," she assured him. "We'll all be here to help."
"I don't know if I can do this."
"Clark, I promise you, we'll make this work," Lois said. "And besides, despite the fact that I would like nothing more than to knock your block off for lying to me, erasing my memory, and running off for six years, I'm in love with you. All of you."
"And I've loved you since the first time I saw you. Will it help if I promise never to do those things again?"
"It won't hurt."
Perry knocked on the door then opened it. He walked in, followed by Polly who was carrying a large bag from the nearby Costmart. Jimmy was behind her, carrying a box with a picture of a baby carrier/car-seat on it.
Clark tried to reach for his wallet once more even though he knew all he had were two credit cards and about ten dollars in cash.
"Don't worry about, Clark," Polly told him once again. "Consider this the baby shower we couldn't throw you and your wife." Polly peered at the younger man. He looked lost, overwhelmed, sitting there with a newborn in his arms.
The Daily Planet newsroom staff had found out less than an hour before that during Clark's five plus year absence from the Planet, he'd gotten married to a foreign national and then discovered he couldn't bring her into the U.S. Now his wife was dead, murdered with the rest of her village with the only survivor being their newborn daughter who'd been rescued from certain death by Superman himself.
The newsroom of course didn't know - could never know - the real story. That Clark had not been in South America at all, but had spent five plus years in space, traveling to and from the dead world of Krypton. That the child was not his, exactly, but was from an alternate time-line where their Clark Kent was the high lord of the House of El and the baby, that Clark's biological child by the daughter of a vicious warlord, was a pawn in dangerous political game. She promised to be a serious liability if left alive, only neither set of Clark Kent/Lois Lane had been willing to make that choice, opting instead to send the child into an alternate time-line for safety. This time-line, this reality.
"Thanks," Clark murmured.
Lois started opening the packages, starting with the baby bottles and formula. She handed a filled bottle to Polly. "Could you warm that up, please?"
"Be back in a jiff," Polly promised, heading over to the women's lounge.
Lois took the baby from Clark and started dressing her in the diapers and new clothes Polly had bought. The pink fuzzy jammies were huge on baby, but Lois knew from experience that the clothes would be just right in less than a month.
She handed the dressed baby back to her 'father'. Clark took the child again, her tiny hands waving around impotently, fingers splayed like wrinkled little starfish.
A strobe flash went off and both Clark and Lois looked up to see Jimmy with his camera. He grinned at them. "Hey, I am the official baby photographer around here, you know."
"Clark," Perry said. "Do you even have a place to live yet? Your bags are still in the storage room."
Clark shook his head. "There's nothing available, with the crystalquake and all, unless I want to commute two hours each way, and even then, who can afford it right now? Rents in the greater metro have more than doubled in the past week."
"Let me call Alice, let her know we're going to have company," Perry said, heading toward the door.
"You don't have to do that, sir. I'll figure out something," Clark protested.
"You haven't got anything yet and we both know it'll be at least a month, if not more, for the housing situation to sort itself out," Perry pointed out. "Besides, Alice would have my hide if she found out I had a homeless new dad with a baby working here."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Clark said softly. He'd looked overwhelmed before, but now he looked exhausted as well.
"Son, when's the last time you slept?"
"I honestly don't remember."
Perry shook his head. "Let me call Alice, then I'll get you both out of here."
"What about the story?"
"Lois can handle it."
Perry maneuvered the black Acura out of the Daily Planet parking garage, over to Clinton, then to Ordway Drive towards Park Ridge. Baby Esperanza was safely ensconced in her car seat in the back. Clark was in the front passenger seat, head resting on the door frame. He was so quiet Perry wondered if he had fallen asleep, but no, his eyes were open, watching the traffic.
"What was the name of the village?" Perry asked.
"The village you ended up at? What was its name?"
"Santa Clarita," Clark said. "Not too far from the border between Colombia and Peru, up in the hills. Not a bad place, except for the drug lords and the warring factions."
"What was she like, the girl you married?"
"Young. She was the daughter of one of the local militia leaders. I wandered in, stupid American, and she decided I was her best way out," Clark explained. "I figured she was my best way to stay alive. A marriage of convenience. At least we liked each other."
"So what did you do, aside from boinking the jefe's daughter?"
Clark looked momentarily confused then his expression cleared. "A little of this, a little of that. Bookkeeping, clerical stuff. The jefe's son-in-law didn't have to worry about manual labor, at least."
"Then she got pregnant and that's when you started trying to get her into the States?" Perry speculated aloud.
"Pretty much," Clark agreed.
"Interesting," Perry commented mostly to himself. The boy's gotten better at lying, at least.
Richard White looked around the newsroom. Perry's domain, but his when Perry was out. That was one of the roles of assistant editor, although he was giving it up as soon as he had plane tickets for Paris.
"She's decided," he'd told his uncle. "Is that post in Paris still open?" Perry had nodded 'yes.'
Lois was at her desk, no doubt working on the article that she and Clark and Superman had been working on, about Homeland Security's impact on families with cross border ties. I guess that describes Clark right now. The poor guy looked completely shell shocked when Perry took him away.
Richard searched out one particular person in the crowded room. The noise levels had returned to relative normal after Superman's unexpected appearance, walking in with a newborn baby in his arm. Clark Kent's baby. Funny, but Kent just didn't seem to be the type to marry some exotic beauty then run away when she got pregnant. He was honest, wholesome, honorable, a real boy scout. It must have been a hell of a shock to walk into work to find Lois telling him his wife was dead and he was a daddy.
He finally found the person he was looking for: Penelope Landris, the new girl, rather woman, in research. She came from well respected Metropolis family, had attended college in Paris, and spoke French fluently. Her first journalism job had been with a small broadsheet in Paris.
It had also been Penny who made sure Richard was okay when Lois and Clark disappeared for three days without a trace.
"Penny," Richard called to her. She stopped what she was doing, dropping off papers at various desks and trotted over to him.
"Yes, Mister White?"
"Mister White's my uncle, remember?" Richard said with a grin. "The Daily Planet has a couple openings in Paris. Mister White wanted me to ask you if you were interested in moving to France for a while to work for us there."
He studied her face as she considered what he'd asked. "Who will I be working under?" she finally asked.
"Me," he said. He noted her glance over at Lois still seated at her desk, reviewing her notes, typing her story.
"Happened pretty fast, didn't it?" she asked, concern in her eyes.
"Not really," Richard said. "I always had a suspicion that if Jason's real father showed up one day, out of the blue, he'd still be in the running for her."
"Does she know what you're planning?"
He shrugged. Will she care? "I'm planning to tell her as soon as we both get home."
Lois finished the first section of Clark's write-up on immigration problems that Norm Parker had started investigating. It had become Clark's story when Parker died and Clark was rehired, taking over both Parker's desk and his assignments. Now, with Clark supposedly personally involved in the issue, it was Lois and Clark's story.
Funny, she could tell when Norm's writing left off and Clark's began, could see Clark's edits, his change in point of view on the subject. He had obviously not been working on it very long otherwise it would have been a seamless whole. Her job in taking it over was to make it a seamless whole, using Clark's voice, one she knew almost as well as her own, even after him being away from more than five years.
She sent the article over to Perry's printer and also to Perry's in-folder. That finished, she picked up her coat and purse, turned off her computer and started to head home. Jason! Where is Jason? When she was in the alternate time-line, she wanted nothing more than to get back home to her son. But when she got back to her home dimension, her worry about Clark and the baby had pushed her own son to the back of her mind. What sort of mother am I that I can put someone else's child before my own?
She looked around and saw Richard standing near the elevators taking with Penny Landris. Clark was right. This Penny is the counterpart to Richard's wife in that other place. They look right together.
"Richard, are you picking Jason up, or am I?" she called to him.
"You can, if you want. I signed him up for that new aftercare at his school. They'll watch him till about six," he told her. "I know I should have talked to you about it before I signed him up, but I wasn't able to get a hold of you. None of us were."
"It's been a really bizarre last couple of days," she told him.
"Well, why don't you tell me about it over dinner? I'll grab some Indian on my way home," he said.
She gave him a grateful smile. "Sounds good. I'll meet you there." She watched Penny smile at Richard and head back into the newsroom to do her work. I wonder how long she's been here. Oh God, how do I tell Richard that Clark's back in my life? How do I begin to explain it?
Alice White hadn't changed, really. Oh, she was thinner, with more silver tracing metallic lines through her hair, but she hadn't really changed, Clark thought as she opened the front door and pulled him into a hug, despite the baby carrier in his hand.
"I'm so sorry, Clark," she said letting him go. "It must be a horrible shock for you."
"Yeah, I certainly wasn't expecting..." He ran his free hand through his hair. "Uh, yeah," he ended up mumbling. He followed her through the door into the house. Perry was behind him with the baby things. Clark would go out later and get his bags out of the trunk of the car.
He still wasn't sure how he felt about the invitation to stay with Perry and his wife, how he was going to handle his 'other job' while under the intense scrutiny of the editor-in-chief of one of the most influential newspapers on the east coast, if not the country.
"Um, I want to thank you for letting me, I mean us, stay till I find someplace to live. I..."
"Don't mention it, hon'," Alice assured him, taking the baby carrier from him and leading him into the living room. "The Planet is family, and family helps each other, warts and all."
"It's about family," the other Clark had said. "You can love them, you can hate them, be ashamed of them, despise them. When family calls, you help. Despite the wrongs they've done, you care."
Alice peered into the carrier, at the small life wrapped in baby blankets. She picked the child up. "She is so adorable... Look at all that hair..."
The cab dropped Lois and Jason off in front of the house at 312 Riverside Drive. The house she'd left three days ago to go to work, the same house that her counter-part lived in with four kids and Clark Kent.
She opened the door with her key and walked in. Jason ran past her to the kitchen.
"Daddy, Mommy's back! She picked me up at aftercare just like you promised!"
"I told you she wouldn't be gone too long," Richard told him. "Now, go get cleaned up for dinner, and we'll have Mommy tell us all about her adventure with Mister Clark and Superman, and then I have something to talk to you and Mommy about."
She could hear Jason's little elephant feet pounding on the stairs as he ran up to wash his hands and face. She walked into the dining room and found the table set, most of dinner in serving bowls ready to go. She entered the kitchen beyond and saw Richard, a glass of wine in his hand.
"Starting without me?" she asked, trying to keep her voice light. To answer, he pulled a second wine glass from the cabinet and filled it for her. She took a sip. "Not bad for 'two-buck-Chuck,'" she said.
He took a sip of his wine. "Perry and I were really worried about you." He looked up and saw her annoyed expression. "We were worried about Clark, too, but I figure he's a big boy. He can take care of himself."
"And I can't?" she asked.
"That's not what I meant and you know it," he explained. "For Clark to disappear is just 'Clark.' It's not like you to take off for days without telling anyone where, or what."
"I called Perry before we left that I was with Superman and Clark and that we might be gone for more than a day."
"But three days without contact? On an INS story?" he asked. "And where was Superman? His arrival at the Planet this afternoon was the first sighting of him in three days. Perry and I were watching for him, any sign of him, so we'd have an idea where you and Clark had gone off to. So, where was he?"
"The Arctic, for one. Then other places, places without cell phone coverage," Lois said.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Richard said.
She shook her head. "It's complicated."