I was starting to wonder if we'd ever get here. Thank you to everyone who encouraged me along the way, stuck with the story, and shared their valuable feedback. Also, my special thanks again to the beta team of htbthomas and Shado Librarian, a.k.a. dandello. It is their patient feedback that has made this a much better tale that it might otherwise have been.
Chapter 52 – A Day in the Life
Friday, February 9, 2007 4:50PM EDT
Perry focused intently on his PC screen, putting together the layout for the next day's morning edition. Above the fold, the paper would boast the headline, "Superman Delivers Luthor to Prison" and feature a rather unflattering prison mug shot of Lex Luthor. The top story was complemented by another exclusive Superman interview below the fold. Given the public's continuing fascination with the details of Luthor's failed attempt at world domination, Perry was sure that it would be another top seller, both in print and in their web edition.
Just as Perry was beginning a preliminary review of the paper's major sections, he was distracted by Richard's knock on his office door. "Washington and International sections are ready to go," Richard announced. "I assume you're close to running the dummy(15)?"
Perry nodded and muttered, "Never thought I'd be running a Superman interview below the fold…"
"Technically speaking, the Luthor story is still a Superman story and it's a bigger story," Richard noted.
"That and the Superman interview wasn't the best," Perry complained. "Archer and Buchannan did a passable job, but it doesn't have that special touch that Lois' interviews always had. I can't say that I care for the pool coverage. It was so much easier when Lois was covering him."
"That wasn't without its problems, such as the out of control tabloid rumors and the thugs who believed them," Richard replied seriously. "By the way, did Lois and Clark fill you in on some of the details that didn't make it into their story?"
"Which details are you referring to?"
"Well, for one thing, Luthor's none too pleased with his new accommodations," Richard explained. "Must be quite a shock going from the opulent luxury of yachts and mansions to an eighty-four square foot poured concrete Supermax cell. He's also restricted from accessing electronics of any kind – not even a TV or radio… I just can't manage to feel sorry for him, though."
"It's better than he deserves," Perry replied seriously. "Still, I wish I could have seen the look on his face when he realized that the feds had removed some of the cards from the lawyers' hands, at least where Superman is concerned." The old newsman couldn't suppress the smile that came to lips when he remembered Lois' initial briefing on the legal strategy that would prevent Luthor from using slick legal maneuvers to disallow the evidence against him.
"We can thank the Vanderworths and their legal think tank for most of that," Richard commented. "Although, Superman isn't exactly thrilled with how they pulled that off, either."
"Would he rather see that lunatic go free?" Perry asked brusquely. "Recognizing Kryptonian sovereignty and giving him diplomatic immunity was the best way to keep those wild cards out of Luthor's hands."
"I think that Superman would argue that the risk is minimal, with Judge Gregory indicted and the Supreme Court overturning the decision that set Luthor free," Richard pointed out. "His consecutive life sentences were reinstated."
"Only because of the case they were able to build when Superman was legally considered to be a representative of a foreign power," Perry countered. "That allowed them to extradite Luthor's cohorts from that monstrosity well in advance of bringing Luthor back and they all turned state's evidence against their boss rather than risk the death penalty. That also provided the clues they needed to take Gregory down and put the final nails in the coffin of Luthor's legal defense. He can't use outrageous claims of false imprisonment or due process rights violations to get freed on a technicality because what happened out there happened on foreign soil."
"I don't disagree," Richard assured him. "And since Superman went along with it, it's safe to assume that he understands that. But he also kind of sees the diplomatic recognition as being rewarded for his own stupidity – his words, not mine. He's not comfortable with the solution."
"Well, that's tough, because he's going to have to live with it," Perry barked. He looked through his office's inner glass wall into the bullpen, briefly locking his gaze on Clark Kent as the younger man walked in from the stairwell and made his way to Lois' desk. Clark looked back at him with a somber expression before continuing to his destination, while Perry returned his attention to his nephew.
"I know and I'm sure he knows, too," Richard replied. "By the way, I also hear that Luthor had quite the meltdown when prison officials brought him up to date on the legal and diplomatic landscape. He was furious over Superman's diplomatic immunity. Apparently he'd come up with some wild story about the Man of Steel causing gaps in his memory and now he can't pursue that outrageous claim. However, what really set him off is that they're calling that thing out in the asteroid belt 'New Krypton' now. Luthor went on a tirade, insisting that he created it, that it belonged to him and that it should be named after him."
Perry commented seriously, "Well, it's only appropriate to call it 'New Krypton', considering that it's now been recognized as Kryptonian territory… Please tell me that his tantrum was on the record."
"It's now part of the state's body of evidence against him, but we only know about it from off the record comments by a trusted source. We'll need official corroboration before we can print anything about it," Richard informed him. "Lois and Clark are trying to get confirmation from official sources, as is our Washington Bureau. But don't hold your breath. They're running this one by the book and nobody wants to take the risk of giving Luthor anything that could be used as grounds for an appeal."
"Neither do we, but we still need corroboration so we're ready to go to press once the concerns have passed," Perry insisted. "We'll sit on it as long as we have to, but let's get that confirmation."
"We're working on it, but it's clearly a story for another day," Richard replied. "Barring any late-breaking news, I think we're close to done for the day."
"You sound like you're anxious to get out of here," Perry commented knowingly.
"I wouldn't say that," Richard protested. At Perry's pointed look he sighed and admitted, "I've got Kara and Jason for the weekend and I'm picking them up after work tonight."
"You've got both of them again?"
"Jason's still like a son to me, even if Clark's the one tucking him in at night," Richard explained. "And Kara would be heartbroken if I took Jason and left her behind. So…"
Richard's explanation led Perry to recall the changes that recent months had brought to his nephew's life. He scrutinized the younger man for a moment and then told him, "I have to give you credit, Richard. I didn't think you'd be able to make the switch to a platonic friendship with Lois after the breakup. And I especially didn't think that you'd become friends with Kent. But I can't help wondering if that's been holding you back."
"What do you mean, 'holding me back'?" Richard asked cautiously.
"Have you been out on a date since the breakup?"
"I… I really haven't been looking," Richard told him defensively. "Besides, there hasn't been time."
"Bull," Perry countered. "You haven't allowed yourself the time, even when the opportunity's been right under your nose."
"Uncle Perry…" Richard began impatiently.
"I heard Loueen was trying to set you up with her sister, but you declined," Perry interrupted.
"I've never really cared much for blind dates."
"Are you sure that's the reason?" Perry pressed. Before Richard could answer, Perry added, "Richard, it's been four months. Are you sure keeping such a close friendship with your ex isn't getting in the way of moving on?"
"I would have needed time even if I were a continent away," Richard argued. "And, I'm not moving back to London."
"I'm not asking you to," Perry replied. "I am asking you to accept Loueen's suggestion and take her sister out."
"You can't be serious," Richard said in disbelief.
"Richard, it's just a date, not a shotgun wedding," Perry pressed. "Besides, you really need to get back out there and get on with your life. Even if this ends up being a total bust, it's just one night."
"I'm busy with the kids this weekend."
"I wasn't implying that you needed to squeeze it in this weekend," Perry clarified. "Richard, you can't just keep hanging around your ex and her husband like some kind of groupie. You need to jump back in the water sooner or later and this is as good a time as any."
Richard sighed and then said irritably, "I'll think about it, okay?"
"Good. I'll have Loueen make the arrangements," Perry decided.
"Uncle Perry!" Richard protested.
"You're welcome," Perry replied with satisfaction. "Now, please make sure that our people get that corroboration for Luthor's meltdown."
Richard's shoulders sagged in defeat and he said, "You know, you can really be a ruthless bastard sometimes."
"That's what family's for," Perry declared. "Now, that follow up?"
"As I said, we're already working on it, but I'll get an updated status," Richard assured him and he then retreated to his own office.
Perry watched Richard leave and thought, He needed a little push. Hopefully, once he dives back into the dating game, he can start living again. Who knows, maybe he and what's-her-name will hit it off.
The old newsman returned his attention to his desktop and quickly ran through the preliminary review of the remaining sections of the paper and ordered up the dummy. He then pushed himself back from his desk, walked over to the inner glass wall and stared out over the bullpen. He spotted Clark's head poking over the cubicle wall looking towards Richard's office with a sympathetic look on his face.
Perry concluded that younger man must have been eavesdropping on the conversation with Richard. Kind of a mixed blessing having Superman on the staff, Perry lamented. Yeah, we get the exclusives, but it's kind of hard to have a private conversation around here. After a moment of thought, Perry noted that knowing the Man of Steel was in his bullpen, working for the Planet, hadn't been nearly as awkward as he feared it would be.
The potential conflict of interest was avoided for the most part because Kent still reported up through Foswell, who didn't know the secret. Perry also found a way around pressuring him directly for Superman content. If he needed new Superman photos, he just made sure that Kent was in the bullpen when he yelled at Olsen for them. Likewise, when he needed a new Superman interview, he'd make sure that Kent was in attendance at the morning staff meeting when he demanded it from whoever's turn it was. The hero got the message and he got his Superman content in short order.
Perry reflected that Kent seemed to be more comfortable with things that way and neither man had acknowledged that the Editor-In-Chief knew the astonishing secret. However, Perry was certain that his star reporter had figured it out. He never would have dropped his guard around him otherwise and revealed glimpses of the real Clark Kent. Not the timid office klutz or the regal hero, but a confident yet humble man comfortable in his own skin. He also produced some spectacular front-page stories which appeared to have nothing to do with his superhuman abilities. Perhaps the real win here isn't the Superman exclusives, but Clark Kent's writing, Perry pondered. If he and Lois don't get a Pulitzer for the Luthor stories, it'll be highway robbery.
Richard knew that the request for updates on Luthor's tirade was simply Perry's way of kicking him out of his office, but he still sent off emails requesting status. With that little bit of work completed, he then stared blankly at his screen, dreading what Perry was forcing on him. I don't need their sympathy or their help, he lamented. I'm doing okay, all things considered.
Richard reflected that he'd come a long way in the past four months. It no longer hurt like it had at first, though he still felt a profound sense of loss when he thought of his failed romance. They'd also managed to get through the awkward transition from being affianced to being exes and from being exes to again becoming friends who were comfortable around each other. It hadn't been easy getting there, however.
The first obstacle they had to overcome was the office gossip. Their coworkers had been keenly interested in their crumbling romance once Jason was revealed to be a Kent. There were betting pools on how long they'd last after that revelation and nobody was betting that it would be very long. Not when they had immediately noticed the distance between the previously happy couple, who were no longer coming and going together or sharing casual kisses hello and goodbye.
After returning to the office following Luthor's attack, the gossips had immediately noticed Richard's forlorn expression and Lois' bare ring finger. Bets were paid off and Richard had been confronted by sympathetic looks for weeks afterwards. Most really didn't know what to say to him but some, like Ralph, didn't know enough to keep their opinion on the matter to themselves.
The bullpen had been far slower to pick up on the change between Lois and Clark. Admittedly, the two had made a determined effort to stay under the radar, with no distinguishable change in behavior after Richard stepped aside. They didn't come or go together any more frequently than they had before, which Richard attributed mostly to Superman's duties. There were also no public displays of affection beyond the same cheerful, teasing banter that they'd always had. Richard suspected that they kept such a low profile both out of respect for him and due to Clark Kent's aversion to drawing attention to himself. Whatever the reason, he was grateful for it. Some days would have been impossible to get through otherwise.
The toughest days came the week after Thanksgiving – after his former fiancée had secretly eloped with Clark. The newlyweds showed up that Monday like it was any other day and their colleagues were none the wiser. However, Richard had been one of the select few who were aware of the nuptials over Thanksgiving weekend. It only made the situation marginally more bearable by sparing him the looks and comments that he would have otherwise been forced to endure. Fortunately, time had taken the edge off the pain and things had gotten about as normal between them as they could have hoped for by the time the bullpen finally figured out that Lois had become a Kent.
Richard pondered that they probably still wouldn't have figured it out if one of Lois' stories hadn't dovetailed with something Polly Harper was working on a few weeks earlier, resulting in Perry assigning the two women to work together. They were working late one night when Polly finally noticed the simple diamond ring on Lois' left hand. When Lois declined to elaborate on it, Polly sought out the resident expert on all things Lois.
Polly had ambushed Clark the following morning, but had barely gotten two words out of her mouth when she noticed the pictures in the hinged frame that by then had been sitting in the back corner of his desk for nearly seven weeks. One side displayed a new family picture from the farm that included all of the Kents and Hubbards, while the other displayed a very dapper Clark Kent in a gray tuxedo embracing a radiant Lois Lane, dressed in her sister's borrowed wedding dress.
It was only then that Polly finally noticed the wedding band that Clark Kent had worn on his finger ever since the Thanksgiving holiday – a ring that matched the one Lois had been wearing. The observation provided her with the astonishing explanation she sought and sent the rumor mill into overdrive. Their colleagues had been stunned and productivity plummeted as the gossip exploded. Perry had to tongue-lash the bullpen back into action, reminding them of their deadlines and suggesting that they not embarrass themselves by pointing out their lack of observation skills. After all, both the wedding picture and the newlyweds' wedding bands had been on display in the bullpen for nearly two months.
It was shortly after the revelation of the Kents' nuptials that Loueen had first approached him about going out with her recently divorced sister. It had undoubtedly been motivated out of sympathy after the news of his former fiancée's marriage and he couldn't fault Loueen for her intentions. However, he'd been flatly uninterested in the blind date and politely declined. Or rather, he had tried to decline. Every couple of days, Loueen had shared pictures or some trivia about her sister, while casually mentioning that she wasn't seeing anyone.
Loueen had apparently decided to bring in the heavy guns and recruited Perry to her mission. Richard found he wasn't any more enthusiastic about it when it came from Perry than he'd been with Loueen. The only difference was that Perry hadn't been as nice about it and was harder to refuse. In fact, Richard saw no way out of the blind date. He sighed in frustration and thought, Maybe it won't be so bad and it is just one night. It might take a little effort to get my head in the game, however. Well, I don't need to worry about that right now, and I'm not likely to be pestered about it during my weekend in Munchkinland.
Lois pulled out of the Planet's parking garage and turned left on Fifth Avenue, eager to head home after a tiring day. With Luthor's formal extradition and arrest, it had been a busy news day, but she was looking forward to putting their ordeal with the sociopath behind them. However, she knew it would be a while longer before it was formally over. If Luthor chose to aggressively fight the charges, it could delay the start of the trial for as long as a year and drag out the proceedings for months or years beyond that.
She'd also have to face him down in court at some point, given that she was one of the government's witnesses. She had little doubt that the madman would somehow manage to put up a formidable defense, despite losing his claim on the Vanderworth fortune and having most of the nation's top criminal lawyers declare themselves 'uninterested' in the Luthor case. Uninterested, my ass, Lois thought. They're interested all right, but mad as hell at Luthor for murdering his previous lawyer and they aren't about to offer him any help. Guess even mob lawyers have some scruples.
Even if the top defense lawyers had offered Luthor their services, Lois doubted it would make much difference in the end. They had damning forensic and video evidence, some of which was recovered with the yacht from New Krypton. His mistress and all surviving members of his gang had also agreed to testify against him, and with Luthor's own incriminating words on record, his conviction was practically guaranteed. The U.S. attorney's office wasn't about to underestimate their adversary, however, and refused to leave anything to chance. They'd imposed a media blackout on any new Luthor details and made sure to have a public defender present when Luthor was taken into custody, read his rights and during his initial meeting with prosecutors afterwards.
That didn't appear to have helped Luthor much. When the prosecutors shared some of their evidence against him and extended him the 'courtesy' of bringing him up to date on certain diplomatic and political developments, it had provoked some rather incriminating outbursts, in spite of his court-appointed attorney's best efforts to silence him. In fact, Luthor had gone on a tirade over it, claiming ownership of New Krypton in addition to threatening both his traitorous gang and Superman. Looks like Team Vanderworth was dead on the money with that psychological strategy, Lois concluded. Point out his failures and question his intelligence. Then stand back and make sure the camcorder's on.
Despite the incriminating testimony provided by the outburst, the Justice Department was still offering a deal not to pursue the death penalty if Luthor pled guilty to all charges. Lois knew from Clark that opinion at the department was divided on the merits of the deal. While those in charge favored it to quickly end the saga, many others felt that Luthor deserved to pay the ultimate price for his crimes.
Lois was inclined to agree with the latter opinion and would have strongly advocated that position but for Kara and Jason. Though it wasn't happening as frequently, they were still having nightmares. Lois worried that the constant media coverage from a high profile trial would make it virtually impossible to keep the kids from hearing about it on somebody's television or radio. The coverage from his transfer to U.S. custody alone would probably be enough to provoke nightmares. Fortunately, they'd provided Richard with a portable force field generator to protect his place from Kryptonian nightmares and Clark would be checking up on them. Maybe we'll get lucky this time, Lois pondered. Richard never has a problem keeping those two distracted. Hopefully, it'll be a nightmare-free weekend for the Munchkins.
Lois finally arrived at the Riverside house and pulled into the garage. She parked the car and thought, Home sweet home – for a few more weeks at least. She and Clark had been leasing the house from Richard since the breakup, though they'd originally tried to decline his offer to let them stay. Lois had adamantly insisted that they weren't about to force Richard from his own house. Richard persisted, however, and when he argued that they'd be doing him a favor by covering the mortgage, they couldn't refuse. Expensive riverfront property didn't move as quickly as more modest homes, and they didn't want to leave Richard stuck with a big mortgage on top of everything else. They finally agreed to let Richard take over her old penthouse apartment and she and Clark would lease the house from him until it sold.
In hindsight, that had clearly been the right decision. The house had been on the market since the end of October, with nothing but a few lowball offers over the winter. Richard hadn't seen a reasonable offer until the past weekend, though it was still a bit lower that what he was hoping for. It was a fair offer worth consideration, however, and the prospective buyer was planning another walk-through with a home inspector over the weekend. In the meantime, she and Clark would be doing some house-hunting of their own. Clark had spotted a few possibilities in Lafayette that they'd planned on looking through together.
Lois got out of the car and walked into the house through the kitchen, where she was immediately ambushed by Kara and Jason.
"Mommy!" Jason squealed.
"Mom!" Kara greeted her excitedly. "Can we help carry your things for you?"
"You don't have to do that, you know," Lois pointed out. She knelt down and pulled the kids into a tight hug.
"But Daddy said you need to take it easy," Jason reminded her.
Lois sighed and explained, "This is taking it easy. I'm perfectly all right, you two. But if you really want to help… Kara, you can take my laptop and set it on my desk. And Jason, would you like to put my coat in the front closet? On a hanger, this time." A moment later, the children were running off to take care of her things and Lois leaned against the kitchen counter, shaking her head and chuckling at their enthusiasm.
Lois was joined in the kitchen by her mother, Ella. She and Martha had been taking turns watching their grandchildren after school. It was one of the benefits of having let her mother in on the secret before they eloped, along with the new Kryptonian portals under the Riverside house and her parents' home in Alexandria. It put both grandmothers within minutes of the house and her mother had been thrilled with the arrangement. Though Alexandria wasn't far, Ella had often complained that she didn't get to see as much of her grandchildren as she would have liked. She'd already been planning to move to Metropolis after Sam retired, since that's where all of her family was.
"Looks like those two are going to give you plenty of help around here," Ella commented.
"If they don't drive me to the loony bin first," Lois muttered.
"You really can't blame them for being so excited about the baby," Ella pointed out.
"Well, I'm not due until the end of September, so they're going to have to be patient," Lois countered. Her unexpected pregnancy had just been the latest in a series of surprising changes in her life over the past several months. Looks like I did it all, Lois pondered sarcastically. Broke an engagement with one man, married another, adopted his daughter, let him adopt his own son. And, oh yeah, got knocked up again, too.
She hadn't yet gotten used to the idea that she was pregnant again, given that she'd just realized her condition the previous evening. Though she'd been experiencing symptoms of morning sickness for the past few weeks, she had attributed the nausea to stress over Luthor's pending transfer to U.S. custody. She hadn't realized that there was more to it than that until Jason's innocent question, asking what the fluttering sound from her tummy was. Clark and Ella had both heard the question, and Lois had immediately realized the truth after spotting Clark's tender expression.
Clark had patiently explained to both kids that the fluttering noise they heard was the heartbeat from their new baby brother or sister growing inside Mommy's tummy. Jason had promptly asked how it got there and Lois had been unable to contain her laughter at Clark's baffled expression as he struggled with an age appropriate answer. Ella was also amused, but came to his rescue, simply telling her grandchildren, "That's just the way it works."
They made a trip to the Fortress that evening and Jor-El had also been keenly interested when informed of the pregnancy. Lois hadn't appreciated his comment about her 'finally listening to reason' by having more children, but she was grateful for the Kryptonian prenatal care. Jor-El had detected and corrected the same genetic flaw in the baby that had given Jason his allergies and all indications were that she would deliver a perfectly healthy baby in another seven and half months.
Lois' ruminations were interrupted by the children running back into the kitchen and she called them over to her. "Listen to me, you two," she said authoritatively. "Richard's going to be over here any minute to pick you guys up for the weekend and I don't want you telling him that I'm going to have a baby. Understand?"
"More secrets?" Kara complained.
"Why can't we tell him?" Jason asked in confusion.
"It's not something he should hear from you," Lois explained. "I need to be the one to tell him, but I can't do that yet. If I do, it might make it harder for him to do something that Uncle Perry wants him to do, because he'll be thinking about the baby."
"What's he gotta do?" Jason wondered.
"Perry just wants him to meet someone," Lois said simply. "Trust me on this, okay? Promise me you won't say anything to Richard yet."
"Okay, Mommy," Jason replied.
Kara rolled her eyes and asked, "Why does everything have to be a secret?"
"Kara," Lois began sternly.
"All right, I promise," Kara told her reluctantly. "But why do we have to keep secrets from Uncle Richard? He's family."
"You'll understand when you're older," Lois declared. "Now get your things ready so we don't have to hunt for everything after Richard gets here."
"We're already ready," Kara protested. "Grandma helped us pack."
"Then go get your suitcases and set them in the front hall," Lois instructed. "And no superspeed in the house."
After the children trudged out of the room, Ella softly asked her daughter, "Who's this person Richard's supposed to meet?"
"Perry's administrative assistant has a sister who's a currently available divorced single mother. I've met her before, years ago. She's a nice lady. Attractive, too."
"A blind date," Ella summarized. After a brief pause, she asked somberly, "How's Richard feel about that?"
Lois sighed and muttered, "I hear he's not very excited about it, but I haven't dared broach the subject. His love life isn't one of those things that we can comfortably discuss. Not yet. Not after… everything."
"Of course," Ella agreed. "Well, I think I need to head home. Your father's taking me out to some formal Pentagon dinner tonight and I need to get ready."
"My husband's taking me out tonight, too – to this nice little restaurant in San Francisco called The Stinking Rose," Lois replied.
"The Stinking Rose?" Ella echoed with a chuckle.
"Think 'garlic', and lots of it. It's actually quite good," Lois explained. "Oh, before you go… don't forget that Kara's birthday party is next weekend."
"We wouldn't dream of missing it. Your father and I will both be here," Ella assured her. "Well, I'd better say goodbye to the kids before I go. Wish Richard good luck on his date for me."
Saturday, February 10, 2007 10:00AM CDT
Clark adjusted the heat under the pan on the stove in his mother's house while continuing to stir the concoction within it. He reflected that it was still his mother's house, even though she hadn't lived there since marrying Ben Hubbard three months earlier. Though he'd initially found her plans unsettling, he had made his peace with it rather quickly, much to his surprise.
For the moment at least, everything seemed right in the world. He had even been able to enjoy an evening out with Lois with only a couple of short interruptions required to attend to Superman's duties. Afterwards, Lois had insisted that they spend the night in Smallville, safely out of range of their children's hearing. Clark pondered that it still felt a bit naughty being intimate in his mother's house, despite the fact that they were now married. However, it wasn't nearly as disconcerting as it had been immediately after they eloped.
He turned off the burner, removed the pan from the stove, and poured it into a couple of mugs through a strainer before topping off the beverages with whipped cream and grated chocolate. He set both mugs on a bed tray along with the rest of the carefully prepared breakfast and proceeded to carry the tray up to the guest room where they had spent the night. He knew from the change in her heartbeat that Lois was beginning to stir, though she wasn't fully awake yet.
Clark entered the room and shouted out melodiously, "Good morning, Sunshine!"
"Huh? What time is it?" Lois mumbled, without bothering to look up.
"Just a little after eleven, Metropolis time," Clark informed her. "That gives us almost two hours before we meet with the realtor. C'mon, honey, wake up. I've brought you your breakfast."
Lois peeked out from under the covers and eyed the tray. "Breakfast in bed?" she asked suspiciously.
"Yep," Clark answered cheerfully. "We've got a cinnamon raisin bagel with a honey hazelnut spread, orange juice, and since your morning coffee has way too much caffeine for the baby, we've got spicy Aztec hot chocolate."
"You did remember that chocolate's got caffeine and theobromine in it, didn't you?" Lois pointed out sleepily. She threw the pillows against the headboard and crawled up in a seated position against the repositioned pillows.
"I made the chocolate from cacao seeds that I processed at the Fortress while you were sleeping. There's only trace amounts of caffeine and theobromine left in it," Clark assured her. He set the tray over her lap and sat on the edge of the bed. "Go ahead, try it."
Lois picked up one of the mugs and brought it to her lips. Her eyes shot wide open a moment later. "Wow," she commented. "That's… wow. What kind of chocolate did you say this was?"
"Spicy Aztec hot chocolate," Clark told her. He retrieved the second mug from the tray and added, "There's more than just cocoa and milk in there. There's also cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, vanilla, chili peppers and a dash of jalapeño."
"It's good," Lois replied simply. She then took another sip of the beverage before starting on her bagel.
As Clark watched his wife eat, he reflected on all the obstacles they had overcome for the two of them to finally reunite as a family – a family that was still growing. He had never been happier.
Lois noticed his tender expression and did a double-take. "What?" she demanded to know.
"Huh? Oh, just… thinking," Clark answered. "I never thought I'd have a life like this. And I can still hardly believe that we're going to have a baby."
"It's not the first time, Clark," Lois corrected mirthfully. "This one's number three, remember? Well, second one I'll be giving birth to…"
"I know, and not a day goes by that I don't thank my lucky stars for the other two," Clark told her. "But this is the first time I'll be around from the beginning. I'll be here with you throughout the pregnancy. I'll get to see our child born and I'll be there for those early milestones: The first steps, first words…"
"First temper tantrum?" Lois suggested.
Clark chuckled and said, "Yeah, that too." He tone turned serious as he added, "I missed that the last time."
Lois' expression softened and she told him compassionately, "Clark, nobody's blaming you for doing what had to be done. Everything worked out in the end and you're here this time."
"I know, and I don't intend to take any of this for granted," he told her somberly.
"What's on your mind, Clark?" Lois asked gently.
Clark paused a moment and then stated pensively, "Until recently, I'd lived a very solitary life. I was always alone and acutely aware of how different I was – even before I learned of my heritage. Some of the taglines after Superman appeared on the scene just reinforced that: 'The Last Son of Krypton', or 'Strange Visitor from Another Planet', for instance.
"I never felt more alone than when I first got back from Krypton, even though I had Kara with me. It seemed like the world had moved on without me. Or rather, everyone I loved had moved on without me. My mom. You. But everything is different now. I'm not alone anymore and I've become a part of something truly wonderful."
"Would that something wonderful have anything to do with a couple of special little munchkins that can't wait to help their dad save the world?" Lois asked mirthfully.
Clark chuckled and said, "That's certainly part of it. But we also have a special group of friends and family who have formed ranks behind us. They've got our backs. And to think I was a little freaked out over all of them learning the family secret last fall."
"Just a little?" Lois teased.
"Okay, a lot," Clark admitted. "But my point is that it's turned out to be a wonderful blessing."
"It's a lot of little things. Ben will never replace my dad, but in him I now have a step-father whose sage advice is a good complement to my mother's. Ben's daughter was already a close friend, as were Ron and Lucy. But in them I now have a step-sister and a brother and sister-in-law who've become like true siblings. It's so surreal hanging out with them and casually discussing my alter ego."
"Tell me about it," Lois muttered.
"Considering where I came from, that means the world to me," Clark continued. "I now have this wonderful close family relationship with all of these people who know me for who I truly am and don't care about where I came from or what I can do. The same thing goes for your parents…"
"Well, maybe with my mother," Lois muttered. "Did you forget that my dad accused you of ruining my life last fall?"
"Well, I really can't fault him for that," Clark countered. "It was the first time we'd had a chance to talk since he learned the truth and you'd just recently split up with Richard. He was rightfully concerned… You have noticed how cordial he's been since I made an honest woman out of you, haven't you?"
"Don't count on it lasting," Lois warned him. "I'm sure he'll be back to his ornery old self in no time."
"Whether he's cordial or ornery, he's still family, still protective, and still supportive," Clark insisted. "That's kind of the point. Even those who aren't related are like part of the family now and dedicated guardians of the secret. What's really weird about all this is that it feels like this is the way things were meant to be. It feels like everyone was always meant to be family. I was just blind to that undeniable fact for all those years and it's taken this long to open my eyes and be reunited with the family of my heart."
"I think I know what you mean," Lois answered quietly. "Deep down, I always knew you'd come back and that we belonged together. That this was meant to be."
Clark smiled and looked intently into his wife's eyes as added sincerely, "Lois, I think that I'm the luckiest man in the universe. Not just because I escaped Krypton's destruction or because of the superpowers. I'm lucky because of the extraordinary children we have. I'm lucky because I have the support of such an extraordinary group of people who I now call family. And I'm especially lucky because I have the unique privilege of being married to the most extraordinary one of them all."
Lois grabbed the collar of Clark's flannel shirt and pulled him down into a searing kiss. When they broke from the kiss a moment later, she smiled up and him and said seductively, "Well, if you really want to get lucky, maybe you'd better get rid of this tray so we can continue this part of the family reunion unencumbered."
As Clark set the tray aside, he again reflected on his fortune. He'd overcome virtually impossible odds, barely escaping a dying world and then finding the other half of his soul in another galaxy. She was ever present in his mind, his heart and his soul. Whether it's luck or fate, this simply feels right, he concluded. This is where I was meant to be. He then allowed the rest of the universe to disappear from his senses for a short time, as he lost himself in the cocoon of his wife's embrace.
– The End –
(15) A "dummy" in newspaper printing is a test layout of the paper, including all advertisements and editorial content. (See .com/Q/What_is_a_dummy_in_newspaper_printing).