Clark glanced out at the guests crowding the cathedral. General Straker's position as a former member of the joint chiefs and current head of EPRAD guaranteed this was going to be a big wedding. Generals, politicians, business people. But the groom's side of the church was nearly as full. Members of the Star staff, city functionaries, members of the press from around the world, the ambassador of Tazarastan and members of her staff, a few well placed business people.
Lois and Richard were seated with Perry and Mike. He didn't see Jason, but that didn't surprise him. He hadn't really expected that Lois would allow his son to come to the wedding.
He was a little surprised to see other people he recognized from Metropolis -- Bill Henderson and his wife, Mark Wollstone, the Metropolis District Attorney, Maggie Sawyer and Lupe Teresa Leocadio-Escudero, Metropolis Police, people from Star Labs Metropolis.
In Metropolis, Clark had never really made friends. He had acquaintances, and most people liked him, but in Metropolis, Clark Kent was the invisible man, a chameleon. It was something that had served him well as a reporter when he started at the Daily Planet. But when he came back from Krypton, he discovered he couldn't be as invisible as he had been before. He'd forgotten how.
Moving to Chicago, as painful as that move had been, had been a blessing in disguise. Superman didn't frequent Chicago, and Clark Kent discovered he didn't need to be invisible, merely low key. His position covering foreign affairs was sufficient excuse for him to be away from his desk on a moment's notice, so that was no longer a problem, plus the Star didn't have a special relationship with Superman, and neither knew or cared if Clark Kent did. It was hard for him to not help as much as he could as Superman, but scaling back his time in the 'suit' had given him a life.
The wedding procession assembled itself. The trumpet player for Trumpet Voluntary was in position in the organ loft, next to the organist. The processional tune began and the wedding party started down the center aisle. They were preceded by the six officers who would present the saber arch at the end.
A thurible wafting incense into the air was carried by an altar person who seemed nervous at the possibility of setting the cathedral on fire. The cross followed then two candles in tall holders. Father Leone from Metropolis carried the lectionary. Leone was a long time friend of Clark's and was still Superman's spiritual advisor. Following them, looking lost in his own church, was Archbishop John Blackwood Ryan, coadjutor archbishop of Chicago.
The four groomsmen and bridesmaids stepped into the center aisle. The bridesmaids were dressed in pale blue satin with white and lavender flower garlands. Jimmy Olsen of the Planet was with his fiancée Penny, Tom Andrews, a fellow reporter at the Star was paired with Jenna Bradley from EPRAD. Pete Ross, junior senator from Kansas and a friend of Clark's from high school was paired with his wife Lana, and Esther's brother Paul walked with Mercedes Freeman, also of EPRAD.
Cat Grant was resplendent in her gown as matron of honor, carrying herself as sedately as if it were her own wedding, titian hair pulled into a French braid. Bruce Wayne made a fitting partner for her.
Lana's daughter Rebecca was the flower girl spreading white rose petals in the aisle. Cat's son Adam was ring bearer, grimly solemn as he walked up the aisle.
Clark took his mother's arm as they made their way toward the altar. He knew she didn't hold with 'papist frippery and nonsense' as she termed it. But once she realized it was Esther's and his wish, she kept her peace. It was one more thing that kept Clark Kent separate from Superman. Superman was not associated with any religious faith, not even a Kryptonian one.
Following up the rear was the bride, Esther Krystin Straker, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF. A vision in white satin, veil pulled away from her face, cascading down her back. As a widow she walked alone, face uncovered, her own woman giving herself in marriage. Her bouquet was a cascade of white roses and lavender.
I can't believe this is really happening, Clark kept repeating to himself. I can't believe this gorgeous creature is marrying me. He had always fancied the dark haired girls in school. Lois was dark haired with hazel eyes. Esther, on the other hand, was pale blonde with eyes the color of deep water, changing hue with her mood. A princess of the water and air.
"Clarkie!" Cat yelled across the newsroom of the Chicago Star. Clark looked up to see a familiar face weaving her way through the desks toward him.
"Cat? What are you doing here?"
"Checking up on my favorite escort," Cat said with a grin. "Actually, I'm in town on business and I wanted to take you to lunch."
Clark found himself grinning, ignoring the stares and grins of his colleagues. Cat was a good looking woman. "I would love to have lunch with you."
It was a bright April day, a blustery wind coming off the lake. "You didn't come to Chicago just to have lunch with me," Clark said a few minutes later as they walked to a deli he knew a few blocks away from the Star building.
"You're right, I didn't," Cat admitted. "Clark, I'm here because I trust you. I have good reason to believe Morgan Edge is involved in Intergang."
"Morgan Edge as in Galaxy Broadcasting System, that Morgan Edge?" Clark asked. Cat nodded.
"I've been offered a job with GBS, working directly with him," she explained.
"And?" Clark prompted.
"And, if I go ahead, assuming I'm right and can prove it, I'm going to need help on the outside."
"Wow," Clark muttered. "If you're right, and you get found out... It could be dangerous."
"Would that stop you?" she asked.
"No," he admitted, although he couldn't tell her exactly why it wouldn't stop him. Being invulnerable had its advantages. "But you're not an investigative journalist. And you've never had any interest in this sort of thing before. So I have to wonder why you want to do this? Why not let Lois or somebody else at the Planet tackle it?"
"Clark, you know my ex-husband got custody of my son?"
Clark nodded. He knew it was a sore point with her, that Joe Morgan had used Cat's alcoholism against her to take her son away. The court hadn't bothered to look into Joe's criminal background, or his addictions. It was money that spoke loudest and Cat hadn't had any.
"I found out that his lawyer was paid for by Edge and I think he's been working for Intergang in Gotham City."
"And if you can prove a link between Edge and Intergang, you might have enough ammunition to get Adam away from Joe," Clark completed for himself.
Cat nodded. "Will you help me?"
Clark took a deep breath, blowing it out his nose. "Make sure Perry knows what you're thinking about. Maybe he can assign Lois or somebody to the investigation in Metropolis. I'm not exactly close here, you know."
"That's one of the reasons I'm asking you. They're not likely to suspect you."
Clark nodded. He was going to have to consider all the angles on her proposal. It could be incredibly dangerous for her. Intergang was not known for its leniency to people it considered 'annoying.'
Within a week, Cat Grant was on the evening news at WGBS. The station was on the cable and Clark was still in the habit of watching the news from Metropolis before seeing what was happening in the city he was in.
Perry called him a week later, suggesting he collaborate with Lois. She was working a different angle on Intergang and Perry felt there would be synergy between the two investigations. Lois didn't respond to any of his emails or phone calls.
* * *
"You look tired," Clark told Cat six months later. Halloween was a week away. The sky was overcast threatening rain, possibly snow. Passersby ignored him and his companion as they walked the several blocks to McMann's for lunch, but no one tried to bowl him over. Clark still wasn't sure if it was due to a difference in attitude of the people on the street towards strangers, or a difference in him.
Again, Cat had flown in for the day, ostensibly to cover a breaking story for WGBS: the attempted assassination of the prime minister of Tazarastan by dissident exiled students attending the University of Chicago. Cat had handled the interviews with consummate skill. GBS and GNN would be feeding the story to the rest of the world.
"It's been a long six months," Cat told him. "But it's coming together, piece by piece."
"You're being careful?"
"Yup," she said with a grin. Clark wasn't sure he believed her. The information she'd been sending him on Edge and his activities was damning. They needed additional corroboration, additional evidence before they could publish. Intergang was big, dangerous. The case against it needed to be airtight.
Clark wasn't concerned for himself. It was extremely unlikely Edge's people had linked him and Cat together, more unlikely they'd linked him to Superman. Superman didn't do daily patrols of Chicago, wasn't associated with the Star. Besides, Mike had put him on International, granting him more freedom to be out of the office, out of the country, if need be.
Superman had a busy hurricane season. Florida and the Gulf Coast had been hit hard again. He'd done what he could to shore up the levies to keep the flooding to a minimum in an already damaged New Orleans. Finally, all he could do was try to get people out of harm's way, keep the death toll to a minimum.
Clark opened the restaurant door for his companion. McMann's reminded him of the Ace O' Clubs, warm, friendly, well worn. He spotted Esther seated in a booth waiting for them. Her sixteen-month-old son was in a highchair, working on oat rings. He hurried over to them, Cat in tow. Matthew gave them a toothy smile.
"Cat Grant, I'd like you to meet Esther Straker and her son Matthew," Clark said. "Cat and I used to work together in Metropolis."
"Pleased to meet you," Esther said. There was a twinkle in her eye as Cat settled herself into the booth. "I've heard so much about you."
"Some good, I hope," Cat quipped with a smile.
"Of course," Esther said. "You know Clark rarely says bad things about people, unless he's in 'revolutionary mode', and that's usually reserved for people like the President, Dobrozhky, Blair, Kim Jong Il, the current administration's foreign policies..." She laughed.
"Hey, Kim Jong Il is not on that list," Clark complained mildly. "The man just has serious issues."
"Clark, Superman won't visit North Korea without Peking giving him backup," Esther reminded him.
"Discretion is the better part of valor," Clark said. "Kim's threatened to blow up things if Superman shows his face there."
The bartender at the counter turned up the sound on the TV monitor. A mine cave-in in western Russia, hundreds of miners trapped.
Clark stood up, giving Esther a kiss on the cheek. "Sorry, I've got to run. If I'm not back by seven, go to the play without me. I'll try to meet you there."
Esther nodded, a touch of worry coming into her eyes. "I'll see you tonight."
As he hurried out of the restaurant, heading toward the narrow alley behind the building, he heard Cat ask: "So, where and how did you two meet?"
Clark smiled as launched himself into the air, heading over the pole to Russia. He had a feeling Cat and Esther were going to be friends. He just wondered what the two of them would end up planning for him. That was when he realized he was tuned into Cat's and Esther's heartbeats. He had to concentrate to sense Lois Lane.
Archbishop Blackie Ryan managed to make his way to this assigned place before the altar, not a small feat for the short, stocky priest with thick glasses. He was notorious throughout Chicago for both his brilliance and absentmindedness.
Esther remembered him fondly. He had performed the wedding ceremony for her parents when she was five years old. A Chicago priest performing a wedding in Ireland for two Bostonians living in London. Esther was maid of honor for her very pregnant mother. Blackie had gotten lost crossing the dining room in the hotel they were all staying in.
Now she stood beside her husband-to-be in front of the altar in the cathedral. She marveled that they'd made it this far. He was so gentle, so kind, so sweet. She wondered once again by what grace they'd come together, two wounded spirits seeking comfort. Do angels have to shine so bright? She's here. The one who hurt him. The one who drove him away.
She knew he'd noticed her sitting in the row with Mike O'Hanlon, Sensed that almost imperceptible intake of breath from both Clark and his mother, the almost imperceptible shiver in their auras.
One of the altar servers opened the lectionary to the proper place and the Archbishop adjusted his glasses to read. He seemed surprised to look up and see a filled church. He gave the traditional greeting to the congregation.
From the choir the famed singer Nuala McGrail led the choir and congregation in Love Divine: Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven to earth come down; Fix in us thy humble dwelling; All thy faithful mercies crown!
The Penitential Rite, the Opening Prayer. Father Leone read the Old Testament reading, the responsorial Psalm, the New Testament reading, the Gospel Reading, all familiar parts of Mass. Blackie Ryan gave his familiar trademarked thirteen minute strawberry homily.
She gave Clark's hand a quick squeeze. It was time. I can't believe this is really happening, Esther kept repeating to herself. I can't believe this angelic being is marrying me.
"Esther Krystin and Clark Joseph, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?" Blackie asked. "Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives...? Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?"
She had a long weekend off, finally. The initial investigation into the computer failure of her plane had exonerated her. She would be back flying early next week. In the meantime, she had some time. She had called the Chicago Star looking for Clark Kent and was told he was out. She decided to visit the Star in hopes of catching him.
She hitched Matthew, her thirteen-month old son, higher on her hip as she walked into the newsroom.
"Is Mister Kent around?" she asked the first person she saw as she entered the newsroom. The man pointed vaguely at the desk filled room. She spotted the tall reporter at a desk, not far from the doors. He looked busy, but it was close to lunch time. The man had to eat, didn't he?
He looked up, surprised to see her. "Major Straker. How's the investigation going?"
"Classified, but I was cleared. I thought I'd take you to lunch to celebrate."
"Give me a few minutes to finish this, and we can go."
Lunch was at a new Thai restaurant a few blocks away. This time it was Esther's turn to interview. He had already told her he'd worked at the Daily Planet before coming to Chicago, so she had started her research there, looking up all the articles he'd written, the official bio the Daily Planet kept on its reporters.
She read his work. His style was literate, learned, but he managed to not talk down to the reader as he explained background, personalities, issues. It was like having a conversation with a friend. You didn't have to agree with him, but you always came away with a better understanding of the subject and why it was important.
He was from Smallville, Kansas, a published writer and world traveler who graduated Metropolis University after majoring in journalism. He'd won two Kerth awards, one in partnership with Lois Lane. Then he disappeared for over five years. On his return, he went back to the Daily Planet, only to transfer to the Chicago Star three months later. The Metropolis Star's gossip column had him linked to one of the Daily Planet's society writers, but Esther didn't trust the Metropolis Star.
He was a Pisces. Her mother would appreciate that, but she wondered if her mother would appreciate knowing another crystal aura in need, even though his was stronger and brighter than any she'd seen before despite the foggy markings of pain.
"Okay, Mister Kent, I told you about me last time," Esther said as they waited for their meals. "Now, it's your turn."
"First, it's Clark," he said laughing. He had a nice laugh and she had the feeling he didn't laugh very often. "And it's my job to ask questions. So, what did you want to know, Major?"
They talked. When lunch was finished, they walked, Clark carrying a tired Matthew.
"He doesn't usually take to new people. I think he likes you," Esther observed. "I bet you'd make a good dad." She saw his smile falter.
"I have a son in Metropolis," he said with a sigh. "His name is Jason. He was born when I was out of the country. I didn't even know she was pregnant."
"She doesn't want you around, does she?" she asked, suspecting his answer.
"She got married to someone else, and my presence was a 'complication' she didn't want." There was no bitterness in his voice, only resignation.
"And you are much too understanding to confront her to demand your rights," she said.
He shook his head. "It's complicated."
"It always is," she said watching him. "You're still in love with her."
He shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it."
Suddenly his head came up and a faraway listening look came into his eyes. "I have to go."
He shook his head as he handed Matthew back to her. "It shouldn't take too long. I'll catch up with you." With that he ran off down the sidewalk and disappeared around a corner. That was then she heard the radio that was tuned into a news channel. There was an oil tanker in trouble in the midst of a major storm off the California coast. The radio reported Superman's arrival on the scene as he carefully pulled the double hulled tanker off the sandbar where it had run aground during the storm.
Clark reappeared about twenty minutes later, finding her and Matthew, despite the fact she'd kept walking, heading for her car.
"Sorry about that," he apologized.
"Did you get the story?" she asked. It was the only logical explanation. He'd heard something on somebody's radio and ran to check it out.
He just stared at her a long moment. "Uh, um, yeah," he finally stammered out. "Have you got, um, plans tomorrow night?"
"No," she answered. "Do you?"
"They're doing Uncle Vanya over at the Performing Arts Center. I thought... if you'd like to...?"
"I'd love to. What time should I pick you up?"
"You're picking me up?" He sounded surprised, as though he hadn't thought of it.
He's so cute when he does that. "You don't own a car, Clark." She tried not to smirk.
* * *
She picked him up at seven at his loft apartment in one of the lower rent neighborhoods on the east side.
"Nice place," she commented. It was simple, walls filled with native art and bookcases. Not much else in the way of furniture, a low table, a few chairs, a credenza with a small stereo system. There was a Persian rug on the hardwood floor and Esther suspected it was a genuine antique.
"No big screen TV?" she asked.
"I don't watch much TV."
She took a moment to look at the books on the shelves. Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Aristotle, Dante, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, both in their original languages and translations. History, science, politics, religion, fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, some mysteries, both classic and new. A few techno-thrillers, Tom Clancy mostly.
"My mom would love your collection. How many languages do you read?"
"About twenty or so. I speak a lot more than that, at least well enough to make myself understood."
He shrugged. "I don't know, really. Lots. I have a knack for it. Comes in handy when I'm overseas, or in LA. I don't need translators very often." He gave a faintly puzzled look. "Where's Matthew?"
"I figure Chekhov's a little heavy for a one-year-old," she laughed. "I've got a neighbor who runs a little daycare center and she's really flexible. She volunteered to watch Matthew tonight so I could go on a date." She didn't bother to tell him that her neighbor, Megan, had made it a personal project to get Esther a man. Megan had decided that Esther needed a life now that Steven had been dead over a year. One year, fifteen days, ten hours... I should have been with him on that plane. He wanted me to go with him, to go flying, and I said no. He might not have crashed if I'd gone up with him. I was the better pilot. I might have been able to bring it down. He might still be alive.
"Esther?" Clark asked. He'd noticed her reverie. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she lied. "It's just that I haven't been on a date since... well, Steven."
"We don't have to call this an official date," he offered. "We can just go out, as friends."
* * *
The play was well done. She took him to coffee and dessert at a little club not far from the Performing Arts center.
"Clark, I do have a favor to ask," Esther said.
"I told you the investigation board cleared me for flight duty."
"There's a little snag in the investigation," she continued. "They want to talk to Superman, only the investigators haven't been able to get in touch with him."
"I thought he gave them a report right after it happened," Clark said.
"They want a few more questions answered. Maybe he saw something he forgot to put in his report, something he didn't think was important," she said. "I've been told they've tried the usual channels, the Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Metropolis PD. Apparently he hasn't gotten the message. That or he's ignoring them, and that doesn't sound right."
"Superman hasn't been hanging around Metropolis much these last few months," Clark said. "Used to be the best way to get in touch with him was to be Lois Lane and yell 'Help Superman.' That doesn't seem to be working anymore, at least, not as well."
"But you seem to get most of the exclusives with him still," Esther pointed out. "Could you try to let him know?"
"I'll try." But Esther noticed there was worry in his expression, as though he really didn't want to do it.
Monday, she found out why.
Superman appeared at the base commander's office at eight AM. Esther was in the commander's office when he arrived.
"Superman, I see our message finally got to you," Colonel Graham said seeing the blue and red clad figure. The older man was obviously impressed.
"Sorry about the delay, sir," he said. "I really didn't hear until late last Saturday that the investigators needed more information from me. I would have been here sooner, had I known."
"I understand, Superman," Graham said. "They're on the third floor, office 314."
"Thank you, Colonel, Major Straker," he said, politely nodding in their directions before turning to leave.
Esther stared after him. She didn't often use her 'gift' while on duty. It was too distracting. But she'd opened that part of her mind out of curiosity, to see what a Kryptonian aura looked like. She saw a multi-hued aura, a familiar aura, strong, and bright despite the markings of pain. Clark Kent's aura.
"He's younger that I expected," Graham said, breaking her bemused train of thought. "And he certainly doesn't look alien."
"He's Kryptonian," Esther told her superior. Clark Kent is Superman. I've been going out with Superman. Oh, dear God, what is he going to think when he finds out he's not the only extra-terrestrial living on Earth? And not one of us thought to let him know?
Lois reached over to take Richard's hand. He accepted her grasp, but nothing more, no rubbing the back of her hand the way he used to. The way he did when they were first dating, when they were first married. I should never have said yes to him, given him false hope that I would ever love him as I had him. And I did love him and now he's gone.
The bride was tall and slender, blonde, blue eyes, almost inhuman in her beauty. The gown was unbelievable, all satin and Irish lace, obviously custom designed.
Lois had to fight down pangs of jealousy. She'd gotten married wearing a beige suit in a small side chapel by a minister who barely cared what their names were. She and Richard weren't members of his church even though they lived just down the street. It was Richard's promise to start attending services and to bring Jason to Sunday school that got them in at all. And except for a couple police officers, Maggie Sawyer and Bill Henderson among them, and coworkers from the Planet, there where few witnesses. Making the guest list, Lois realized she really had no friends outside of work, and the people at work couldn't really be considered friends. Except for Clark and it was obvious to all observers that he hadn't wanted to be there.
Clark was getting married in a cathedral to a fairy princess. I'd forgotten how handsome he is, despite the glasses. At least he's not slouching as much. I hope she appreciates what she's getting.
The little priest with the crimson trimmed collar continued: "Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, join your right hands, and declare your consent before God and his Church."
Clark and Esther joined right hands as instructed. Their eyes were on one another. No one else mattered. Not the priest, not the attendants, not Lois Lane-White and her foolhardy decision two years before.
"I, Clark Joseph, take you, Esther Krystin for my lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."
"I, Esther Krystin, take you, Clark Joseph, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."
The little priest again, looking out at the audience, apparently surprised to see anyone there. "You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, men must not divide."
"Amen." Lois intoned with the rest of the congregants. Perry's low voice mixed with Richard's higher one on either side of her.
Clark is married now. To a woman named Esther. Why can't I be glad for him?
Superman no longer made Metropolis his home and Clark Kent had moved to Chicago. Cat Grant had quit the Daily Planet and was working for Galaxy Broadcasting System, although the rumor mill made claims that Perry had fired her, supposedly over her alcohol problems or maybe drugs.
Lex Luthor's fate had finally been discovered, or at least the Cuban government finally admitted to finding Luthor. The villain was found with his downed helicopter on a sand bar. There was no word on the fate of Kitty Kowalski. She hadn't been on the island with him. It was reported that he attempted to co-opt the crew of the Cuban cruiser and ended up being killed.
The Cuban government found one of Superman's crystals on Luthor's body and returned it to him in trade for certain, undisclosed, 'favors'.
Lois and Richard settled into married life, not much different than their life before. Jason went to school, got decent grades in academics, not so good in sports but he was improving there. He was starting to outgrow his health issues. Fewer foods were now on his forbidden list and he was growing normally. Richard complained mostly jokingly that Jason was needing a new wardrobe every four months now, he was gaining height so fast.
Then the fighting started, the phone calls from the school that Jason had lost his temper, usually defending Superman. The other kids would blame the superhero for being absent during some minor disaster that local emergency workers could handle. Jason would over react to the criticism of his hero, using his new strength and height to take on all comers.
"Mrs. White," Jason's teacher said. "We cannot tolerate fighting. I know your son is one of Superman's biggest fans, but we cannot allow him to fight, not even to defend the Man of Steel."
"Superman saved his life, you know," Lois told her. "During the Luthor's crystalquake. And he's been missing him."
"We all miss having him around, Mrs. White, but that doesn't excuse Jason's behavior."
"I'll talk to him," Lois promised.
The woman handed Lois a business card. Lois glanced at it: Barbara Lassiter, family psychologist. "You're suggesting Jason needs professional help?"
"I am saying that in my experience, family troubles frequently manifest themselves in the child's behavior. Jason's need to defend Superman isn't something that just popped up out of nowhere. I'm told that your husband is not Jason's biological parent and the man who is moved away from Metropolis?"
"I don't know the circumstances, but you might want to consider contacting your son's real father to bring him in on this problem."
"My husband is Jason's real father, and I will thank you to remember that."
* * *
At work, Lois was following the trail of Intergang. In Superman's absence, gang violence had increased in Metropolis, much of it related to Intergang's attempts to drive out or recruit all competitors. She'd also come across indications that Intergang was trying to break into more legitimate businesses across the country, among them, television and radio.
She took her suspicions to Perry, who nodded and said: "It's a good start, but you really need to talk to Clark Kent, see what he has on them."
"Clark? What has he got to do with this?"
"I happen to know he's working the same subject from a different angle and I think it would be a good use of time and effort if the two of you pooled your resources," Perry stated.
"Perry, the man walked out and moved to Chicago," she reminded her editor.
Perry raised one brindled eyebrow at her. "He didn't 'walk out'. I arranged a transfer for him, and you know why. Now, either get in touch with him about this story or not, I really don't care. But, if I end up with two Intergang investigations on my desk, it'll be the better piece that I run. So don't forget that."
Lois did call Chicago. Clark was out, so she left a message for him to email her. He did, the next day, although she had expressly asked that he get back to her as soon as possible. Twenty-four hours later didn't exactly qualify as 'as soon as possible' in her book.
Clark's email was short and to the point. He was tracking Intergang's relationship with the media and was looking into suspicions that criminal inroads into radio and television were far greater and deeper than originally suspected. He also indicated he had access to someone working in one of the media properties Intergang appeared tied to.
She emailed him back, asking for details, the name of the broadcasting group he suspected, more on his sources. Another twenty-four hours. Isn't the man ever at his desk? This time a flat refusal: 'Lois, I am frankly astonished you would even consider asking the names of the people who are involved in helping me in this investigation. As journalists we have an obligation to protect our sources, even from other journalists. I will be happy to share what information I have with you, but not that.'
She called him again, finally reaching him at his desk.
"Clark, this is Lois, remember me, Daily Planet?"
"Of course I remember you, Lois. But please make this quick. I don't have much time."
"About this Intergang thing. I'll give you my sources if you'll give me yours, okay?" She figured it was a fair deal.
"I'm sorry Lois, but I can't. I promised to keep their names confidential, strictly off the record. If anyone even suspected there were people talking... I can't, I won't. I'm sorry," he said. He sounded odd, no stammer, no stutter, not at all Clark-like.
"Clark, this is me, Lois, you're ex-partner. You can trust me. You know I protect my sources." She was nearly pleading and hated herself for it. Lois Lane didn't beg for anything, especially not from Clark Kent.
"Lois, this has nothing to do with whether or not I trust you," Clark tried to explain. "I've already told you I'm willing to share whatever information I get, assuming you do the same. But I will not divulge my sources. Not to you, not to Perry, not to anyone."
In the background Lois could hear a female voice calling Clark's name.
"Fine, be that way," Lois spat out and hung up. The gall of the man, refusing to give her what she'd asked for. She'd told him he could trust her, he always had before. Maybe he didn't trust her anymore. She hadn't been exactly nice to him before he left, but he should have been professional enough to put that behind him.
She dialed his number again, but got his voice mail this time. She left her cell number for him to call her back. He didn't call.
He emailed her several days later, from Guatemala of all places. "The answer is still no. But I think we need to talk, compare notes." Fine, be that way. She started sending his emails directly into the trash and erased his voice mails without listening to them. Perry had said he'd print the better story. She seriously doubted it would be from a hayseed in Chicago.
Three weeks later, Perry called Lois into his office. "Mike is running the first part of the Intergang story tomorrow. What have you got for me?"
"Give me fifteen minutes to finish it off," Lois promised. She ran back to her desk, opened the file and sat down to finish it. Fifteen minutes later, she sent it off to Perry to look over.
Half an hour later, Perry called her back into his office. He handed her a print out. "Lois, I told you I'd run the piece that was best. That one's the best."
She read the byline -- Clark Kent, Chicago Star.
"I would have liked you two to have shared that byline, pooled your resources," Perry said quietly. "As good as his is, it would have been better with both of you together."
"I did call him. He wouldn't do it, wouldn't share his sources," Lois told him.
"Lois, I think I know who he was protecting," he told her. "And I wouldn't have told you either. I still won't tell you. But the next time I tell you to collaborate with someone, you will do it. So, do you want to call him? Work with him to rewrite these two pieces into one better one, or not?"
She scanned the article Clark wrote. It was a damning exposé of Morgan Edge, Intergang, the use of electronic media to skew public perceptions. Clark had documented Edge's misuse of Galaxy Broadcasting, WGBS and its sister stations, in furthering his criminal goals, laundering money, passing messages, drugs, dirty politics, racketeering.
She handed the piece back to Perry. "Run it. I doubt I can add anything to what he's already got there. He's covered both Metropolis and Chicago. I certainly didn't catch the WGBS connection. I hope his editor nominates him for some awards on this one. Clark deserves it."
Lois walked out of Perry's office and went back to her desk. She sat, putting her head in her hands. Richard spotted her and came over to her. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"Have you read what Clark wrote on Intergang?" she asked.
"Yes," he admitted. "It's very good. But I think Perry's right. It would have been even better if the two of you had worked together."
The television monitor on the column a short distance from her desk showed Superman in the midst of a rescue, a flood somewhere in Southeast Asia, getting people out of harm's way.
"Richard, I can't go there," Lois said, watching the screen. "Don't ask me to."
* * *
That night, when Lois and Richard made love, it was her ex-partner's name she murmured in the height of passion, not her husband's.
Nuala (pronounced noola according to Mike O'Hanlon) Anne McGrail stepped forward. The choir robes she wore didn't hide her height, or her raven black hair. It certainly did nothing to detract from her clear, strong voice as she sang the next hymn as a solo, Lord of the Dance: I danced in the morning when the world was begun, And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun, And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth, At Bethlehem I had my birth. The song went on.
Alice had bought all of McGrail's CDs and although Perry had given many of her books and CDs away, he had kept the Nuala McGrail ones. He was actually fond of Nuala Anne Goes to Church, although religious music was never his favorite. Perry wondered at how the Strakers managed to snag an internationally renowned singer as soloist and leaned close to Mike to ask.
O'Hanlon grinned. "Didn't you know the fellow helping the Archbishop is Nuala Anne's brother-in-law? And Esther's mom, Elizabeth Kathryn, isn't she a woman of influence in certain parts? Remember that series of murders around Dublin in '83?"
"Vaguely," Perry admitted. "Something about a famous sword and maybe IRA involvement."
"Weren't the bride's mom and dad the ones that cracked the case, with a little help from the Archbishop up there?" O'Hanlon asked him. "Didn't even they clear the 'lads' on that one? They're among the dark ones, Perry. But they're family, and don't they scare me to death sometimes? Especially our boy there."
"Dark ones?" Perry murmured the question. Sometimes O'Hanlon was determinedly Irish, despite hailing from Evanston.
"Fey, sighted, descended of the Old Ones."
O'Hanlon chuckled softly. "Definitely."
Perry just shook his head. What did I get Clark into?
The solo ended and Nuala took her place back with the choir. The audience had to restrain itself to keep from applauding. She smiled, then apparently whispered something to the Archbishop, who looked at her in surprise before turning his attention back to the bride and groom. He took the pillow with the rings from the ring bearer, then had trouble untying the ribbons. It was obvious both Esther and Clark had started laughing as they helped him free the rings.
"Lord, bless these rings which we bless," here the Archbishop made the sign of the cross, "in your name. Grant that those who wear them may always have a deep faith in each other. May they do your will and always live together in peace, good will, and love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Clark managed to stop laughing long enough to place the band on Esther's finger saying: "Esther Krystin, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
Esther's smile was broad and radiant as she placed a wider band on Clark's finger: "Clark Joseph, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
The little Archbishop looked out over the congregation and smiled. At least this time he didn't look surprised. "The Lord be with you."
"And with your spirit," the congregation intoned.
Perry felt Lois begin to collect herself as if to leave. "There's another forty-five minutes, my dear," he whispered to her. She sat back, staring at him.
"Let us pray," the little Archbishop instructed.
"If you people are not ready in two minutes, I'm leaving without you," Perry announced, yelling into the newsroom from the elevator lobby. He was heartened to see both Lois and Richard scrambling towards him, Lois grabbing her purse as she ran. Lois was up for another award this year, this time for her in depth analysis of the failure of government services in the long term wake of the 'crystalquake' in 2006, only a few days after Superman's return. She wasn't the only journalist the Daily Planet had that had made the final cut, but this would be Lois's second Pulitzer, assuming she won.
Perry was glad, however, that her selection as a finalist was in a different category than Clark Kent's. Having them running against one another would be the makings of a catastrophe even Superman couldn't handle. He hadn't warned them that Clark would actually be at the award ceremony and dinner this evening.
The drive to the ceremony was uneventful, for which Perry silently thanked God. Both Lois and Richard appeared to be on their best behavior. It was quite a change from the past two and a half months where their bickering was threatening to have one of them sent to Tokyo. Perry hadn't bothered to ask what had started the problem, this time. It had been their choice to marry. What was the line? Marry in haste, repent in leisure? Although a four year engagement hardly qualified as haste, or maybe it did in Lois's case.
They found the table with their names without difficulty. A waiter took their drink order. Perry's doctor had warned him to stay away from alcohol, so he ordered iced tea. Lois chose a white wine while Richard ordered a vodka martini. Eduardo, the other Planet reporter up for honors, stuck with coffee. Clark arrived at the same time as the drinks.
"Hello Perry, Lois, Richard... Eduardo, isn't it?" Clark greeted them. They nodded back politely, although Perry noticed Richard's hastily covered frown. Clark picked a name card off the table and handed it to Perry.
"Apparently somebody on the seating committee has a nasty sense of humor," Perry said, reading the card. It had Clark's name on it, with the Daily Planet listed as his paper. Clark looked uncomfortable, standing by the chair next to Perry.
"Oh, sit down, son. I don't bite and if they do... well, they'd better not," Perry said, waving at Clark to sit. The young man did so.
"And for you, sir?" the waiter asked.
"Perrier and lime," Clark ordered. The waiter left.
"So, how long will you be in town?" Richard asked. Perry noted his nephew's attempt to be polite to Clark and assumed Clark did as well.
Clark shrugged. "I'm catching the red-eye to Chicago. Saturday I'm off to Tazarastan for however long. Probably six months, since the One-Twenty-Seventh air group is supposed to come home then." He glanced at Perry. "I got confirmation about an hour ago. Mike can't decide to be happy or upset about it."
Lois perked up at that. "I thought they weren't allowing western journalists into the country. How the hell did you manage it?"
Clark chuckled. "It helps that I've been covering the mediation process for the past year or so, and that Superman put in a good word for me."
"Yes, I've seen your byline on the Superman exclusives," Lois said. She sounded annoyed.
"I'm not the only one he talks to," Clark reminded her. "It's not my fault you told him you didn't want to talk to him."
Lois actually paled a little. "He told you that?"
"Not in so many words, but yes," he said.
The waiter arrived with Clark's drink and refills of ice tea and coffee. Lois ordered another glass of wine. Richard shook his head at a second martini.
"Won't it make it hard on your girl friend, you being gone so long?" Richard asked. Lois was glowering.
Clark gave Perry a questioning look.
"You know how bad the grapevine is around a newsroom," Perry told him.
Clark chuckled again. "I know that. Actually, being over there'll make it easier. My, uh, girl friend just got promoted to CAG for the One-Twenty-Seventh." He checked his watch. "She's most likely getting prepped for her morning mission briefing right now."
Lois and Richard just stared at him. Perry tried to keep the grin off his face. Maybe I should have warned them. Naaa.
Their meals arrived. Perry and Eduardo filled Clark in on the comings and goings at the Daily Planet. Clark told them what was going on at the Chicago Star.
"How's Cat fitting in?" Eduardo asked. She'd moved to Chicago, to the Star, ten days after Clark's Intergang exposé hit the newsstands.
"Like she's lived there all her life," Clark told them.
"Does your girl friend know about you and Cat?" Lois wondered aloud. Perry glared at her but she didn't seem to notice.
"Oh, I'm sure Cat's told her everything," Clark said. "Assuming there was anything to tell. Which there never was."
"The Daily Star didn't think so," Lois told him.
"And you believe everything you read in the Daily Star?" Clark asked her. She glared at him, taking a vicious bite of her boneless chicken.
Perry hushed them. The awards ceremony was about to begin.
He was familiar with all the entrants. All were worthy of being on their respective short lists. Lois was up against a writer in LA who had done a series on race relations in the City of Angels in the dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Her other competition was from Dallas, the effects of Homeland Security regulations on the economy of Mex-America.
Dan Reisman of the LA Times won the medal and the check. Lois sat back, face carefully composed.
Eduardo lost out to a writer in Seattle.
Clark's competition was even stiffer. A multiple award winner from the London Times and one from the Tokyo English Gazette. The Times article dealt with the changing face of Europe with the addition of the former USSR into the economic and racial mix. The Gazette series concerned the impact on the world economy, especially in the Far East, with the growth of China as a manufacturing powerhouse.
It was Clark's name that was called. His expression at hearing his name said it all. He honestly hadn't expected to win tonight. He made his way from the table, up to the small stage to accept.
"Uh, wow. I have to admit, simply being on the same short list as my esteemed colleagues from the London Times and the Tokyo English Gazette is an honor unto itself. But to be the one chosen for a series my editor wasn't even sure he wanted to publish is both humbling and astonishing. The story of Tazarastan isn't finished by any means. I can only hope that my work has made it easier for people to see how far that part of the world has come, and how much farther it has to go before it can become an equal member of the world community. Thank you."
Clark still looked shell-shocked when he came back to the table. Eduardo clapped him on the back as he sat down.
Richard reached across the table to shake his hand. "Congratulations."
"Thanks, Richard," Clark murmured. Then his head came up in the way Perry recognized, as if he were listening for something only he could hear. "I have to go," he said, getting to his feet.
"Forget to feed your fish?" Lois's expression was dark and uncharacteristically bitter.
Clark gave her a puzzled look and shrugged. "I'll call you later, Perry," he said, and disappeared out the door.
"He hasn't changed," Lois complained.
"Why would you expect him to?" Perry asked. She didn't give him an answer.
Cat stood and let the intercession prayers wash over her. Lord, hear our prayer. She had no doubt at all that miracles happened. And angels didn't always have wings. One at least wore a red cape and boots, and another, the one who seemed to be her guardian angel, wore horn-rimmed glasses and stammered when he got upset. And of course there was Esther and Blackie.
Adam was fidgeting. It was a long day for him, and he'd been trying to act so grown-up so as not to disappoint Unca' Clark and Aunty Essie. He was one of her miracles. Not that he had been born, although children were always miracles, but that he was with her, here.
The little Archbishop again: "Almighty and eternal God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth: Mercifully accept the prayers of your people and strengthen us to do your will; through Christ our Lord. Amen"
Another hymn as Esther carried a covered container of communion wafers to the altar. Clark walked beside her, carrying a stoppered decanter of red wine and a flask of water. The Archbishop accepted the offerings, placing them on the altar.
"Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life."
Cat joined in the response: "Blessed be God for ever." She'd been raised Roman Catholic but had fallen away even before her disastrous marriage. During the wait for Superman to save the world from the Nightfall asteroid, she'd even gone so far as to proposition a priest so she wouldn't have to be alone when the end came. Forgive me Father for I have sinned. That was a night that young man would long remember, she was sure. He'd run away from her as though she was a succubus after his immortal soul.
The priest mixed the water and wine, spoke his quiet piece. "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink."
Again the response: "Blessed be God forever."
"Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts."
Archbishop Blackie handed the water to Priest George who had a towel folded over his left arm. The little Archbishop washed his hands, wiping his hands on the linen. "Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin."
Blackie knows how to put on a good show, Cat thought to herself, trying to keep from grinning. He wasn't nearly as lost as he sometimes seemed. Of course, general consensus was that his life force emanated from the cathedral, that he wouldn't last more than a week anywhere west of Evanston. East of Chicago didn't seem to be as much of a problem. He'd been present at the election of the new pope, assisting Cardinal Cronin while in Rome, had visited DC more than once. He'd even been to Metropolis at least once that he would admit to.
He continued. "Lord, hear our prayers and accept the gifts we offer for Esther Krystin and Clark Joseph. Today you have made them one in the sacrament of marriage. May the mystery of Christ's unselfish love, which we celebrate in this Eucharist, increase their love for you and for each other. We ask this through Christ our Lord."
The response from the congregation: "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church."
"The Lord be with you."
"And also with you."
"Lift up your hearts."
"We lift them up to the Lord."
"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God."
"It is right to give him thanks and praise."
"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. You created man in love to share your divine life. We see his high destiny in the love of husband and wife, which bears the imprint of your own divine love. Love is man's origin, love is his constant calling, love is his fulfillment in heaven. The love of man and woman is made holy in the sacrament of marriage, and becomes the mirror of your everlasting love. Through Christ the choirs of angels and all the saints praise and worship your glory. May our voices blend with theirs as we join in their unending hymn."
One of the choir tenors stood up as cantor to sing: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest."
Yes, Blackie knew how to put on a show. And he was doing it for her two favorite angels. Lois, eat your heart out.
"I think I have a problem," Cat Grant told Clark Kent over the phone. "Joe knows I'm up to something." She was calling him from a payphone not too far from the WGBS studios. She didn't want any long distance calls to Chicago to show up in her company phone records, and she wasn't sure if someone had access to her cell phone call records. She knew there were ways to get that information.
"What does he know?" Clark asked. He sounded only a little worried.
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "But he's in Metropolis and he caught me in my office this morning, making threats, saying he was going to kill the snitch. That he knew I knew there was a snitch. I don't know if he was drunk or high. But he scared me to death."
"Did he happen to put a name on whoever he thinks this snitch is?" Clark asked.
"No, just that he knew who it was."
"Do you want to pull out?"
She sighed. As scared as she was, she knew she had promised to get enough information on Edge and his cronies to bring them down. "Not yet," she told him. "I think they've got something big coming up. There've been a lot of little comments about Superman."
"What sort of comments?"
"Like he wasn't going to be able to stop them, and they've got a way top stop him. Things like that. I'm wondering if they have kryptonite," she said, watching the people moving past her on the sidewalk.
"Look, there's no percentage in being a dead hero. If you think going back will be too dangerous, run, get out. If I have to, I can get somebody over there to get you out," Clark said. She could hear the concern in his voice and it gave her a warm feeling. She'd made a good choice coming to him with her idea, as hair-brained as it seemed at the time. Edge really had been, really was, up to no good, using his media properties to provide a base for Intergang.
"Tell you what," she said. "I'll go back tonight, see what I can get out of the computer files. I'll call you as soon as I get done, okay?"
"Okay," Clark conceded, but she could tell he wasn't really convinced.
"Talk at ya' later," she said and rang off. She leaned against the side of the open phone booth, breathing deeply to calm her nerves. One more trip in to see if she could find out what they were planning against Superman, one more disk to over-night to Clark. Maybe I should have asked him to ask Superman to keep an eye on me? No, Superman's a busy guy and I'm just not that important. But this story is.
* * *
She stopped and had a cup of coffee and a sandwich at the deli down the street from the WBGS studios. The executive offices closed down at five but no one would question her being there late. I hope. She was frequently on the upper floors after hours, taking care of last minute things for Morgan Edge. Metropolis wasn't the only city he had businesses in and he liked a hands-on approach in all his enterprises -- especially the shadier ones.
A shadow fell over her table and she looked up to see a tall, well-built man with black hair standing over her. He was wearing aviator sunglasses, a biker jacket and worn jeans. Worn leather biker boots and a black t-shirt completed the ensemble.
"Miss Grant?" the man said. The voice sounded impossibly familiar. Deep, authoritative.
"My friends call me Cat," she said, inviting him to sit with a wave of her hand. "Do I know you?"
He smiled, a thousand watt smile. "We've met. At the Daily Planet."
Cat flushed at the memory of throwing herself at every adult male in the Planet newsroom. She'd even thrown herself at Superman when he'd come in to talk to Perry White about something Lois was working on. "I can show you a super time," she'd told him. He'd just given her a concerned look, like she'd lost her mind and he was wondering how soon her keepers would show up.
"A mutual friend asked me to help out, in case there was a problem," he added. "He figures it might be better if there was someone 'super' around."
"Would that friend live in the Windy City?" Superman? In aviator shades and a biker jacket? Who'd believe it?
Remembering her manners: "Would you like some coffee? Something to eat?"
She waved to the water: "Another coffee over here please?" She turned back to her 'guest.' "So, what do your friends call you?"
He chuckled. "You can call me Kal. Kal Ellis."
His coffee arrived and she watched as he doctored it for himself. Three sugars, about half the little pitcher of half-and-half. "My friend out west must have introduced you to coffee. That's how he likes it, although for the life of me, I can't figure out how he doesn't gain weight with the way he eats."
Another chuckle. "He gets more exercise than you probably think."
I'm having coffee in a deli with Superman. "So, how many other people know you hang out in coffee shops, wearing jeans and sunglasses in your off time?"
This time he actually laughed. "Our mutual friend out west, a few others. Not many."
"So, do you often go out like...?" She gestured to his outfit, lifting one eyebrow in a question.
"It's hard to have a quiet lunch in the other outfit," he said. "Primary colors are a little... attention getting." He watched her for a long moment, expression growing more solemn, although she couldn't see his eyes behind the sunglasses. "Our mutual friend briefed me on what was happening, about the threats to you, and to me."
She checked her watch. A little after five. Across the street she could see other members of the administrative staff leaving the building, waving and nodding good byes to one another as they headed for the subway, the bus stop, the parking garage down the street.
"A few minutes more," she said. "I haven't seen Joe or Morgan leave the building, but I know there's another way out besides the obvious exits."
Kal lowered his glasses to peer over the frames. Cat had forgotten how blue his eyes were. "There's a sub-basement that goes under the street a ways. I can't make out details. It's lead-lined. Must be new. I don't remember it from the sweeps of the city I did right after the crystalquake."
"Doesn't New Troy have rules about using lead in new construction and remodels?" Cat asked.
"I doubt the building inspectors have seen that sub-basement," Kal reminded her.
* * *
Getting in had been as easy as she had expected. Cat introduced her companion to the building security guard manning the entrance to the executive suits as her new boy friend, Kal. From her own computer she managed to access much of the data she had promised Clark, but some of it needed to come from Edge's on computer. She hadn't been able to access the information through the network.
"Blast," she murmured to herself when she realized the precautions Edge had put into place.
"Problem?" Kal asked. He looked relaxed, sitting in a chair beside her desk facing the door to her office, ostensibly reading one of the film magazines she kept on the table beside the door. He looked relaxed, but she knew he was keeping an eye on the hallway outside, the elevator shaft just down the corridor, the security people on their patrols.
"Morgan forgot to give me the network passkey for the stuff he wanted me to work on for him," she said. They were both assuming her office was bugged, that there were listeners.
Suddenly, Kal stiffened.
He shook his head, but she knew he was covering up something. "Are you about done? This place gives me the creeps." She stifled a smile at his statement. Even in civvies he was an impressive guy, obviously able to handle himself. But there was a definite whine in his voice.
"Half-an-hour maybe," she said. "Once I'm done with the stuff I promised to finish for my boss. I'll have to go next door for that, though."
"It can't wait for tomorrow?"
"The boss leaves for Gotham tomorrow morning. I should have had this all done this afternoon, except my idiot ex barged in there, got me too upset to work."
Kal nodded, but he obviously wasn't happy. He kept looking at the wall between the two offices. Cat handed him the SD card she'd just finished filling and he dropped it into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then she went to the door that adjoined her office with Edge's, opened it with her key, and stepped inside. She felt a breeze blow past her.
What happened then was a blur. The room beyond exploded in a white hot ball of fire. Then she found herself in the air, high above the burning building in the blue clad arms of Superman. "What happened?"
"A bomb, set to go off when the adjoining door was opened," Superman explained.
"Someone really wants me dead?"
"You, or someone else with a key to that door," he said. "Janitor, security, even one of his other assistants, possibly even Edge himself."
"You didn't put out the fire," she pointed out.
"I have what you needed," he said, shifting his hold on her to free up one hand. He held up a computer hard-drive in his now free hand and handed it to her. "I doubt they'll realize it's missing."
"How do I explain that I'm still alive?" she asked as he landed in the alley behind the Daily Planet. He set her gently on her feet.
"I'll take care of that," he said. "If anyone asks, you and Kal decided to leave only a minute or so before it happened."
The he disappeared into the air faster than she could see.
Lois Lane, how could you possibly have given that up for Richard?
Jimmy glanced over to Penny, standing with the bridesmaids. She returned his glance, grinned at him. He hadn't realized how long a full-blown Roman Catholic wedding with all the bells and smells would be. Oh, he'd been warned it would be long, a lot longer than running off to the Justice of the Peace, or Vegas, but still... He wondered at how CK and Esther were holding up. Neither of them were people who craved the limelight. From all reports, CK was still more than content to be an investigative journalist, even though Jimmy was sure an offer for promotion to an editor's post had already come his way. Esther seemed content doing what she was doing, being an Air Force officer, mother and now wife to a journalist.
Archbishop Blackie started reciting the Lord's Prayer and the congregation started reciting along with him. It wasn't quite the translation that Jimmy had learned from his grandmother, but close enough. At least it wasn't in Latin. Clark had jokingly threatened to ask Blackie to do the mass in Latin. Esther had managed to talk him out of that, at least.
"For yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory Forever and ever, Amen"
The little Archbishop turned to the bride and groom and they joined hands. Even standing on the step above them, the Archbishop was much shorter than Clark. He was almost invisible behind the bride and groom.
"My dear friends, let us turn to the Lord and pray that he will bless with his grace Esther Krystin now married in Christ to Clark Joseph and that through the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, he will unite in love the couple he has joined in this holy bond."
A moment of silent prayer. Then the little Archbishop raised his hands for the blessing.
"Father, by your power you have made everything out of nothing. In the beginning you created the universe and made mankind in your own likeness. You gave man the constant help of woman so that man and woman should no longer be two, but one flesh, and you teach us that what you have united may never be divided.
"Look with love upon this woman, your daughter, now joined to her husband in marriage. She asks your blessing. Give her the grace of love and peace. May she always follow the example of the holy women whose praises are sung in the scriptures. May her husband put his trust in her and recognize that she is his equal and the heir with him to the life of grace. May he always honor her and love her as Christ loves his bride, the Church. Father, keep them always true to your commandments. Keep them faithful in marriage and let them be living examples of Christian life.
"Give them the strength which comes from the gospel so that they may be witnesses of Christ to others. Bless them with children and help them to be good parents. May they live to see their children's children. And, after a happy old age, grant them fullness of life with the saints in the kingdom of heaven.
"We ask this through Christ our Lord."
Maybe he could talk Penny into eloping.
Clark had moved to Chicago. Then exactly four months later, Cat Grant took a job with Galaxy Broadcasting, working with Morgan Edge himself. Rumor had it, at least the rumors that didn't start out 'About time Perry got rid of that lush, did you hear...?' had it that Edge himself had made the offer for her to join his team. Cat was extraordinarily photogenic.
Jimmy knew there was more to her leaving than the rumor mill suggested. He'd seen Cat with Perry in his office late, only a few days before she left. Jimmy had been working late as well, sorting through his proofs, trying to organize his mess. Cat and Perry had a long discussion. Jimmy couldn't hear what was being said, but he could read their expressions.
Perry was worried, like he usually was before Lois or any other reporter went out on a dangerous undercover assignment. Cat's expression was exactly the same as Lois's used to be when trying to talk Perry into letting her go on an undercover assignment that promised to run too many risks. There was no shouting, no outraged tears. Only concern from Perry and earnestness from Cat.
Then Cat simply didn't come into work the next Monday. Instead, she was on the WGBS news as a reporter. She'd toned down her wardrobe for the camera. Worsted suits in blue and gray, silk shirts and scarves instead of her usually garish, skin-tight outfits that left little to the imagination.
Lois was furious that Clark had left without saying good bye to her. Jimmy didn't bother to tell her that Clark had said good bye to his friends, and she was no longer considered among them.
Lois had grabbed onto the rumors about Clark and Cat, the nasty little comments about Clark's old habit of disappearing without rhyme or reason, Cat's alleged problem with alcohol. Lois had never been one to feed off the rumor mill, but Clark and Cat had gotten under her skin, especially the day the photo of Cat and Clark together showed up in the society column of the Daily Star with speculation that Clark Kent was Cat Grant's newest boy toy.
When Clark left, Jimmy had hoped Lois would calm down, stop sniping at her co-workers. When Cat left, Lois got a little better, but seeing Cat on the monitors five days a week... it took Lois a long time to get over that. But finally, things settled into place. Perry hired new people to fill the vacancies Clark and Cat had left. But Jimmy started to notice odd things. Perry would take calls and shut his office blinds for privacy. It was something he only did when he had something big on the fire, something he didn't want people to know about just yet.
Life went on.
* * *
"Olsen!" Perry yelled from his office. They were both working late. The flu was going around the office and a number of reporters were down with it, leaving the rest to pick up the slack. Perry had even allowed Jimmy to write a few simple pieces for the third page.
Jimmy jumped at the sound of his name. "Yes, Chief?"
"WGBS is on fire," Perry told him. "Get down there, NOW!"
Jimmy grabbed his camera and some extra SD cards and ran to cover the story.
The Galaxy Communications Building was about a mile east of the Daily Planet. Traffic was tied up, probably from the emergency vehicles trying to get to the building. Jimmy stayed on foot -- it was faster than trying to find a cab in this mess. When he finally got there the fire was already out, although the upper three stories of the skyscraper were scorched, windows shattered. One upper corner looked like it was completely gone. He snapped off a dozen pictures.
He spotted something, someone, that hadn't been seen on the ground in Metropolis in over a year: Superman talking to the fire chief and police officers. He clicked his telephoto lens into place and focused on the hero. Through the camera he saw Superman looking back at him, and for a moment, Jimmy thought he saw a smile flicker across the Man of Steel's face. His expression went impassive once more and Jimmy pressed the shutter button. He got several more shots of Superman before the superhero took off into the sky. Perry is going to be so happy.
Jimmy hurried back to the Daily Planet, to his desk to down load the photos onto his hard drive for cropping.
The blinds to Perry's office were down, but Jimmy could see the shadow of a second person on the blinds. Perry opened his office door and looked out, spotting the young photographer.
"Olsen," Perry called. "In here please."
Jimmy all but ran to the office door. Something was definitely up. Perry never, ever, said 'please' to a staffer. He stepped inside and Perry shut the door behind him, making sure it was closed. Standing by Perry's desk was a woman wearing a gray suit that was covered in what looked like ash. Her hair was disheveled and also streaked with ash. She turned to look at him.
Cat Grant. In Perry's office.
"Jimmy, you used to be pretty good with computers," she said, pulling a hard-drive out of her purse. "Do you think you can access the data on this?"
"Where'd it come from?" Jimmy asked, taking the device from her hand.
"Never mind that," Perry told him. "Can you do it?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Maybe, but I know somebody who definitely can." Jimmy picked up the phone on Perry's desk and tapped in an extension. "Penny, Jimmy. Are you free for a while? Perry's got a hard drive that needs some help getting data off it."
Penny was in Perry's office within ten minutes. She and Jimmy had dated a few times, had hit it off. It was too early to tell yet, but Penny said she liked him and it was looking promising.
It took Penny about forty-five minutes to access the data on the hard drive. "Now, what are we looking for?"
"Anything incriminating," Cat said. Two hours later, Penny and Jimmy handed the woman an encrypted CD with the damning documents on them.
"Thanks, Jim," Cat said as she started to leave. "You kids be good to each other, okay?"
* * *
Clark's series on the depredations of Intergang ran in the Chicago Star and the Daily Planet. It was picked up the next day in every major newspaper in the country. Within a week it was around the world.
Lois's reaction surprised Jimmy, though. She didn't seem angry that Clark had gotten the story out first, just resigned, almost as though she'd known it was going to happen. Jimmy knew Perry had given a copy of the incriminating files to her. He didn't know whether she even looked at them.
Cat Grant was not on WGBS evening news that following Monday. If Perry knew where she was, he wasn't saying.
* * *
Jimmy checked his pocket for his wallet and passport as he stepped off the plane in Berlin at Berlin-Brandenburg International. He wasn't sure why Perry sent him along with Walter Smith to cover the Tazarastan peace conference, except that Superman was one of the key mediators between the warring parties. Smith was International; working under Richard White, Jimmy was just a photographer.
The press was being housed at the Mercure Hotel Berlin, not far from the Swissôtel, where the meetings were being held. The hotels were only a short train ride from the airport and the E.U. customs agents at the airport had been polite and efficient. It was Jimmy's first time in the European city, but Smith had been here many times before and had promised Jimmy a tour of the town during their off hours.
Clark was waiting in the lobby of the Mercure for them. With him stood a tall blonde woman with blue eyes. She gave Clark a kiss on the lips. He murmured something to her. She smiled as Jimmy wove his way through the lobby toward them.
"CK! Great to see you!" Jimmy pulled the big man into a hug. He pulled back, a huge grin on his face. "Man, it's great to see you. You're looking good." Clark did look good, more relaxed, calmer, happier. Jimmy finally remembered his manners, holding his hand out to the woman. "Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet."
"Esther Straker," she said. She turned to Clark. "See you tonight," she told him and kissed him again. Jimmy felt a pang of jealousy as she strode away. He and Penny were friends, working on moving to the next step.
"Way to go, CK," Jimmy said. Clark ducked his head and Jimmy thought the tall man was actually blushing.
"Oh, her?" Clark chuckled. "That was Major Straker. She's my... she's my fiancée."
Jimmy almost laughed at the bemused expression on his friend's face. Way to go, CK.
The little Archbishop peered benignly at the congregation through his thick glasses, looking for all the world like an aging cherub with curly brown hair streaked with silver paint. "The peace of the Lord be always with you," he announced.
"And also with you," came the response.
"Let us all offer each other a sign of peace..."
Martha pulled Ben into a hug, giving him a quick peck on the cheek as she disengaged to reach across the back of the pew to shake hands with Clark's current boss and his wife, then Perry White. Martha recalled that Perry's wife had died nearly a year before. Perry took her hand, and then leaned forward to hug her.
"You have no idea how happy I am for him, for the both of them," he murmured to her. "They're good people."
"Thank you, Mister White."
He pulled back and shook Ben's hand. Martha reached out to Lois and her husband. The young man was polite, giving the Peace as custom dictated. The woman's response was perfunctory, as though she wanted to be somewhere else. Esther and Clark and the rest of the wedding party came down the aisle to give the Peace as well. Martha watched her son's delight at seeing Perry there, the careful shuttering of his expression when he was required to come into contact with Lois Lane-White.
"Congratulations," she heard the younger Mister White say.
Finally, everyone went back to their places for the next part. Archbishop Ryan made his way back to the altar, broke the large wafer.
"Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: grant us peace." The congregation sang along with the Archbishop and the choir.
Clark and Esther both knelt before the altar. Martha and Ben knelt on the padded kneeler that flipped down from the pew in front of them. Her knees hurt a little, but Ben grabbed her hand and gave it a tiny squeeze. The usher came to the end of their pew, indicating it was their turn to go up to the rail. Martha had been worried about going up, taking communion in a cathedral, but as Esther pointed out, if there was only one right way to God, why were there so many places to find Him?
Martha had always considered herself Protestant, even though religion hadn't been a major part of her life, even as a child. When Clark was a child, the family attended Sunday service more for Clark than for herself or Jonathan. A child should have some sort of religious upbringing they had told themselves and since the only church within fifty miles of the farm was Assembly of God, that's where they went. That's where Clark got baptized.
For Clark, on the other hand, Sunday school brought with it more questions than answers. The God they talked about in class didn't match the one the preacher orated about, nor the one he read about. Finally, she and Jonathan had let the subject of Sunday School drop, allowing him to sit with the adults during service until he was old enough to insist he didn't want to sit through Reverend Wallace's sermons any longer and was old enough to stay at home by himself. They managed to get him into church on the holidays, but after Jonathan died, she doubted Clark would ever darken the door of a church again.
As she stood to go back to her seat, Martha looked over at her son kneeling beside his bride. His head was bowed, his eyes hidden behind a shock of black hair that had fallen over his glasses. She had the urge to go to him, brush the thick hair out of his face as she used to do when he was a boy.
My baby is married.
"Mom, you will not believe what's happened," Clark said over the phone. He sounded like a teenager.
"Well, don't leave me in suspense, honey," Martha instructed. Ben was sitting at the table across from her sipping his coffee, a bemused smile on his face.
"I've met someone."
"A girl, I hope."
"Mom!" he protested.
She laughed. "Tell me about her."
"Her name is Esther, and she's beautiful, intelligent, strong," he told her. "She's a good person."
"Complicated?" Martha asked, remembering how he had described Lois Lane so many years before. Before he left and then returned to Earth. Before she broke his heart. Before she ordered him out of her life, out their son's life.
"Of course she's complicated. She's a widow with a little boy and, well yeah, she's complicated."
"How did you meet her, son?" Ben asked on the extension.
"Remember that air force plane Superman rescued at the air show last month?" he asked.
Martha did remember the incident. It was one of the few rescues he'd done in the past six months or so that hadn't involved a natural disaster.
"The pilot was a woman, and we've been gone out a couple times," he said. "I know it's early and you're going to tell me not to rush things... but I think you'd like her."
"I'm sure I would," Martha said. "But Clark, be careful..."
Clark chuckled. "Considering my last relationship turned into a federal disaster, yeah, I'm being careful."
* * *
Clark had been staring at the coffee in his cup, not speaking, just sitting at the kitchen table in Martha and Ben's kitchen in their cabin in Montana. Ben had gone to town for supplies, so she and her son were alone.
"So what happened? You told me you were going to meet her parents," she said, trying to get his attention. He looked over at her, eyes dark with confusion.
"I did. They flew in from Metropolis for some meetings, we had dinner with them. They seem like nice people..."
"But?" she prompted.
"But, then Esther's mom told me she knew I was Kryptonian the first moment she met me and Esther knew I was Kryptonian the second time she met me as Superman. They said it was something about my aura. That it's unique, whatever that means."
"Is it so bad that they know? I mean, wasn't that one of the problems you had with Lois? That you were afraid to share your secret with her?" Martha asked.
He nodded, finally sipping his coffee. He grimaced and stared at the cup a moment. Steam started to curl up from the cup. "It just hurts a little to think she's been laughing at me behind my back all this time."
"Clark, I'm sure she hasn't been laughing at you."
"Then why didn't she tell me earlier?"
"Maybe for the same reason you didn't tell her? Maybe she was as afraid of your reaction as you were afraid of hers?" She studied his face a long moment. He looked thoughtful. "Clark, there's something else, isn't there?"
He nodded. "I'm not the only alien on Earth," he said. "I'm the only Kryptonian, but Esther's people are from off-planet too, originally. She's fourth-generation Danaen-American. And there are other extra-terrestrials living here, too. They just forgot to tell Superman." He gave her a bemused look, as if he couldn't quite decide whether to burst into laughter or tears. "It's seriously weird to be on the receiving end of 'Uh, honey, I've been meaning to tell you, but I'm an alien from outer space.'"
He looked disconcerted when Martha laughed. "Oh, honey, why did any of us assume you were the only one? The universe is a big place."
"And there are more things in heaven and earth... I just needed a little time to get my head around this..." He finally smiled, chuckling. "The funniest part is, sort of, I was getting my courage up to tell her about Superman, and they beat me to it."
"So, what are you going to do now?"
He took a deep breath, expression thoughtful, and reached into his jeans pocket. He pulled out a small velvet covered jewelry box and flipped open the top. An engagement ring.
"Oh, Clark, it's beautiful," she said. It was a beautiful ring, elegant, understated. A simple platinum band, a pear-shaped blue-white diamond. "I'm afraid to ask how much it set you back."
"Most of the advance I got for the book on Intergang that I have to have to my publisher in six months."
* * *
Martha looked around Clark's apartment. She hadn't seen his place in Chicago before. She hadn't seen his last place in Metropolis at all, and the one he had before he left for Krypton she'd only visited once, the last Christmas before he left.
He hadn't moved into one of the better neighborhoods in Chicago, but it was a nice building. The other tenants were young up and coming professionals looking for an inexpensive place to live near downtown.
It was a simple loft apartment in a converted warehouse. The off-white walls were covered with native art he'd collected in his travels and the wooden bookcases were filled to over-flowing. He didn't have much else in the way of furniture, a low table, a few leather chairs, an oak credenza with a small stereo system and a pile of CDs beside it. She recognized the rug on the hardwood floor as the one he'd brought back on one of his first overseas trips. From a village somewhere in Pakistan as she recalled. He'd tried to talk her into using the rug at the farm but she had refused. It was much too nice to have work boots tromping on it.
She settled into one of the chairs to wait. He'd left a short time before to get his fiancée and her son so she could meet them.
Clark had called her from the conference he was attending in Berlin to tell her that Esther had said yes, had accepted the ring. When he finally got back to Chicago after the end of the conference, he arrange for Martha to fly to Chicago for Mother's Day.
She heard a key turn in the door lock and looked up to see Clark come in, followed by a tall woman with pale blonde hair pulled into an elegant twist, and a small, dark-haired boy who peered at her shyly.
"Mom," Clark said, closing the door behind them. "I'd like you to meet Major Esther Straker and her son Matthew. Esther, my mother, Martha Kent."
"How do you do, Missus Kent?"
Martha stood as Esther came closer. She took the younger woman's hands into her own. Her hands were cool, fingers long, nails trimmed short with clear polish. Hands that weren't afraid of work.
Martha decided she might like the woman who was taking her son away. Maybe.
To Richard's surprise, Lois joined him and Perry at the altar rail for communion. He knew that technically none of them should have gone up to the rail. They weren't Roman Catholic, but somehow he suspected the Archbishop wasn't going to call them on that.
He couldn't remember the last time Lois had even gone to church aside from their wedding. Richard took Jason to church on Sunday. Jason didn't especially like it, but he was resigned to it. Lois spent her Sunday mornings in the office even though it was technically her day off.
Richard and Jason had stopped going in to the Planet to join her for lunch, choosing to go flying instead. Jason loved going up in the plane. After only two years of marriage, Richard and Lois were further apart than they had been before their wedding.
The little Archbishop had come to the top of the altar steps again, peering out at everyone though his thick glasses. Then he settled on Clark and his new wife who had come to stand before him once again. He smiled broadly at them, as if overjoyed and a little surprised that they were there.
"May almighty God, with his Word of blessing, unite your hearts in the never-ending bond of pure love. May your children bring you happiness, and may your generous love for them be returned to you, many times over.
"May the peace of Christ live always in your hearts and in your home. May you have true friends to stand by you, both in joy and in sorrow. May you be ready and willing to help and comfort all who come to you in need. And may the blessings promised to the compassionate be yours in abundance.
"May you find happiness and satisfaction in your work. May daily problems never cause you undue anxiety, nor the desire for earthly possessions dominate your lives. But may your hearts' first desire be always the good things waiting for you in the life of heaven.
"May the Lord bless you with many happy years together, so that you may enjoy the rewards of a good life. And after you have served him loyally in his kingdom on earth, may he welcome you to his eternal kingdom in heaven.
"And may almighty God bless you all, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
He looked out at the congregation again. "May I present Mister and Missus Clark Joseph Kent!"
Clark leaned over to kiss his bride. She reached up and pulled him closer into a deep, sensuous kiss. Applause broke out as the pair came up for air and Clark held out his right arm for Esther.
Earlier Richard had noticed six uniformed air force officers in mess dress, white gloves and sabers standing with the wedding party. Now they moved away from the party, arranging themselves on either side of the aisle, sabers held upright at their right shoulders. A command from the last man on the left: "Present Sabers." The officers moved their sabers to in front of their faces, hilts at their chins.
"Arch sabers." Right arms were extended, wrists rotated so the cutting edge of the saber was up, away from the couple. The bride and groom walked under the arch, stopping just beyond the last officer.
"Present Sabers... Order Sabers... Carry sabers." Richard found himself smiling. At least they didn't swat Clark on the behind to welcome him into the military like they would have a woman.
The recessional music began: The Finale to Handel's Water Music. The wedding party followed the Clark and Esther down the aisle.
Richard looked over at Lois. Her face was blank, frozen, but he thought he saw tears brightening her eyes.
How the hell are we going to get through the reception? How the hell do we ask Clark Kent to ask Superman to help us again?
Richard checked the business card in his hand against the brass nameplate on the office door. Barbara Lassiter, family psychology. He opened the door, and ushered Jason in.
The reception area was comfortable, functional, all beige and brown. A young woman sat at a desk behind an interior window. She looked up incuriously as he stepped closer, taking the clipboard she held out to him.
"Fill out both pages, please."
He sat down on the sofa next to Jason to fill out the paperwork.
"Isn't Mom supposed to meet us here?" Jason asked.
"She's supposed to, but you know how she gets when she's on a story," Richard told him. They both knew Lois wasn't likely to show up for this initial meeting with the psychologist. The only reason Lois had even given Richard the woman's business card was that the councilor at Jason's school had insisted Jason go see her.
"I guess Mom also forgot to tell Uncle Clark he needed be here," Jason said matter-of-factly. He was just seven, but sometimes he seemed far older than Richard.
"You're probably right," Richard admitted. "Your mom isn't real happy that Clark beat her out on a couple big stories. But it still wouldn't be easy for him to be here. He's overseas somewhere."
"Jimmy told me Clark has a girl friend, Esther something. She's a pilot."
"I've heard the same thing," Richard said. He finished filling out the form and handed it back to the receptionist. After a few minutes the inner door opened and a short, gray woman smiled at them.
"Mister White and Jason I presume?" Doctor Lassiter asked. "I don't see Missus White."
"She had to work late tonight," Richard told her. He assumed he wasn't lying, that Lois really was on a story and not just avoiding her responsibilities, avoiding facing the truth. The truth that things were falling apart. The truth that they had made a mistake.
He gently pushed Jason ahead of him as they headed into her office.
* * *
"Lois, you promised Jason and me that you'd come to see Doctor Lassiter with us," Richard began. "You've promised us that every week for the past three weeks."
"You know I'm working on a big story and it's taking a while to put together," Lois told him. She brushed her hair back from her face. "I will go when I have time."
"Jason needs you there with him. We need you there," Richard insisted. "Jason isn't the only one with a problem here. I never see you anymore. Jason never sees you. We're supposed to be making a life together! Isn't that why we got married?" Richard found himself shouting at her.
Her cell phone chimed and she opened it, listened to the voice on the other end. "I'll be right there," she said, then folded up her phone. "I've got to meet a source. Don't wait up for me."
"Lois," he said as she grabbed her coat from where she'd thrown it on the sofa. "If Jason and I weren't here when you came home, would you even notice?"
She stopped and stared back at him. "We'll talk about this in the morning." She ran out the door.
"No we won't," Richard said to himself.
* * *
Jason had woken up screaming. Richard ran into the boy's room to find him huddled in the corner, hands over his ears. Richard didn't wonder where his wife was. She had headed off to work early, or maybe she hadn't come home at all. He wasn't sure which.
"Jason, what's wrong? Tell me what's wrong." Richard asked, crouching in front of the boy.
"Make it stop," Jason moaned. "It's so loud, make it stop."
"Jason, listen to my voice, concentrate on my voice," Richard urged, keeping his voice soft. "Concentrate on my voice," he repeated.
After a several moments, Jason pulled his hands away from his ears, eyes wide with worry. "What happened, Dad?"
"I don't know. Why don't you tell me?"
"Everything got really loud, like it was really close and I could hear things really far away, too," Jason explained. "And I couldn't stop it." Jason looked up at the man he'd always thought was his father. "Do you think that's how Superman hears?"
"I don't know," Richard admitted. "Maybe we can ask him, sometime."
"But Superman doesn't live here anymore," Jason reminded him. Jason put his hands over his ears again. "It hurts..."
Richard hurried to the master bedroom and grabbed his cell phone. He hoped he'd hadn't deleted the one number he was looking for, equally importantly, he hoped the number he had still worked.
Thankfully, the number was still in his phone.
"Kent here," the voice on the phone said after about three rings. Thank God.
"Clark, it's Richard White," Richard announced. Don't hang up! "I need to get hold of Superman." He said it in a rush, trying to get the words out before Clark hung up on him.
"Why? What's wrong?" Clark asked.
"Jason," he said. "A few minutes ago he started to hear things, like he has super-hearing. I don't know how to help him."
"I don't know," Richard admitted. "Can you get a message to him?"
Almost as if in answer, there was a tapping on glass. Superman was hovering outside the locked window. Richard opened the lock and threw open the window. Superman floated into the room, settling silently to the floor. He knelt on the floor beside Jason, his crimson cape flowing onto the floor. Superman pulled Jason's hands away from his ears.
"Jason, can you hear your dad's heartbeat? Find your dad's heartbeat..."
Jason nodded, eyes wide as he watched Superman's face.
"Concentrate on his heartbeat; block everything else out but that sound..."
Richard watched Jason relax, relief evident in his face.
The other man stood up, one effortless, graceful motion, and helped Jason to his feet. "Now all you need to do is practice. Blocking the sounds, picking out the important ones. Your dad's heartbeat will be your anchor."
"Is that how you do it?" Richard asked softly. "There's a heartbeat you listen for? That you use as an anchor?"
Superman looked at him and Richard felt the inhumanly blue eyes watching, studying him. When he started speaking, Richard had to strain to hear.
"When I first came to Metropolis, it was so loud, so confusing. I thought I was going to lose my mind. Then I found a heartbeat that I could use as a beacon, as an anchor. That was my compass until the day I left Metropolis to find Krypton. That was the sound I listened for when I came back."
Richard found himself afraid to ask the next question. "Do you still listen for it?"
"No," he said very quietly. "She got married and I was a complication she didn't need. Definitely one she didn't want around."
The silence between them was heavy, pregnant. Richard half expected Superman to vanish out the window.
"Before you go, what's the next thing I should expect?"
Superman gazed at Jason and Richard mentally kicked himself for not seeing it earlier. They had the same eyes. Oh, the resemblance to Clark Kent was there in the face, the body language, but there was no doubt in Richard's mind who Jason's real biological father was. Did Clark know he wasn't Jason's father?
"Vision will probably be next, telescopic, microscopic, x-ray," Superman said. "Heat vision shouldn't show up for a few years, sometime around puberty, I should guess. You'll want to get him glasses with flint glass lenses. It'll help remind him to focus on the visible light frequencies."
"Is that why...?" Jason started then he stopped as Superman raised an eyebrow. They have a secret.
"Your strength was coming in over a year ago," Superman said. "What about speed?"
"I'm getting pretty fast," Jason admitted. "But I make sure I don't go too fast."
"Good," Superman said. "Remember, humans fear what's too different, what they don't understand. Fear can make them dangerous. You're very fortunate to have your Mom and Dad. They understand quite a lot."
"I know," Jason said, matching Superman's solemnity. "Thank you, father."
Superman bent down and kissed Jason on the top of his head. "Good bye, son. Remember, you are never alone."
Then he was gone. The only sign of his having been there at all was the open window and Jason's tears.
What are we going to do? We're raising Superman's son! And Lois didn't say anything.
All I Have To Give, P3
The Works of Deborah Rorabaugh
The Library Entrance