Chapter 10



Clark's Hell was a hospital filled with his loved ones. The fear didn't lessen over the years; they actually grew worse. Seeing Lois hooked up to an IV was no easier now than it was the first time eighteen years ago when she ran afoul of Smallville's meteor-infected criminals. There had been too many other times.

Someone knocked. Clark scanned through the wall and saw Ollie holding a small posey of cypress and lavender. He opened the door. "Hey."

"Hey," Ollie replied then immediately hauled Clark into a tight hug. "I'm so sorry, man."

Clark nodded, swallowing. "How did you know?"

"Your mom called us. She said you might need some company." He held the bouquet up. "This is from the usual suspects. A.C. wanted to come up but his goddamn council won't move an inch. He said he'll try to sneak away this weekend."

"Who's in the Tower?"

"Victor. Bart's at your place with Conner and Martha. We've got everything covered, don't worry."

Clark nodded, placing the tiny posey in its crystal globe vase on the sidetable. Lois stirred but didn't wake. He laced his fingers through hers and, with his free hand, pinched the bridge of his nose. Common wisdom said it relieved headaches. Maybe it was a human thing. Ollie pulled a chair beside him and squeezed his shoulder briefly but didn't say a thing. Clark appreciated his restraint. They'd been friends long enough, gone through enough together, that the shared silence was comforting.

A long while later, Ollie spoke. "Was it a girl or a boy?"

"A boy," Clark answered. "He was barely the size of my thumb but his hands were perfectly shaped and his f-feet..." He didn't say the baby's skin looked and felt like rock-salt, that the same organ which helped him convert sunlight into nearly limitless energy killed his son. He grew too fast, the skin too slowly; it choked the soft bones of his head and tore the still-forming muscles. "Lois also had something called placenta accreta where the placenta grows into the uterine muscle. They said if the baby had gone to term, it would have gone straight through and--"

He stopped for a breath. Ollie looked up, nodded and Clark found his voice again. "She was in the OR for three hours. When the placenta tore off, it took that muscle with it. Sheer luck alone kept the tear from perforating her womb completely. They called for three units of pRBCs, for towels instead of sponges to soak up the blood. I heard the nurse ask the doctor if they should get the crash cart ready for a Code Blue and I heard the doctor say y-yes and all I could think of w-w-was that I'd lose them both and--"

"You didn't," said Ollie.

"But it was close!" Lois stirred again. Clark lowered his voice. "I've accepted that Lois' life is in danger on a regular basis because of the nature of her work and... well, she's Lois." They shared a quick smile. "But this time, it wasn't because of her job, it was because I'm so damned selfish, I couldn't keep my mouth shut about the stupid IVF experiment."

"Don't talk like that, Kent. It's not your fault," Ollie began gently.

He snorted, looking away. "How can this not be my fault?"

More sharply, Ollie said, "Because your girlfriend is Lois Lane and I don't remember the last time she did anything she didn't want to. Grant her the brains of a gnat and admit she was part of this decision."

"So now it's her fault she's bleeding to death?"

"No! God! It's like talking to a brick wall." He stood, agitated. "No one's at fault here. Not you for wanting a baby or Lois for having a human womb or S.T.A.R. for coming up with an experimental procedure or the weather being unnatural cold thereby causing Lois to catch the flu or any of the other things you're listing in your head, most of which start with your name. You can't tear yourself up about something you can't control."

Clark squeezed his eyes shut as though he could shut Ollie's words out. "You're full of it, Queen."

"Screw you, Kent." Ollie sighed. "Okay, tear yourself up but only for a couple hours while I'm here. After that, you have to be strong for Lois. She's tough but sometimes tough means you crack." Hearing Ollie move towards the bed, Clark opened his eyes. Ollie brushed the back of his fingers against Lois' pale cheek. "You're lucky. She lets herself crack around you."

True, Clark admitted. But he wanted to make it so she never had to.

No matter how hard Martha tugged, Conner refused to come out from under his bed sheets. "I'm sleeping."

"I want your help in the kitchen," said Martha. "I'm going to make macaroons. They're Aunt Lo's favourite."

In response, he curled up into a tighter call. The bed dipped as his grandmother sat on the edge. She rubbed large, firm circles on his back through the sheets the way his mom did when he was little. At the thought of Chloe, Conner tensed even further. It was like he was doomed to save everyone except his family.

"Have I told you how much I enjoy your interest in cooking? You're quite talented. I've never seen anyone pick up bread-making as quickly." When he kept his silence, she persisted, "I'll make the macaroons then and save the first batch for you with a nice, hot mug of hot chocolate, okay, sweetie? I just want you to promise you won't leave without tell me or Bart."

"Bart's here?"


Good. Bart could take care of Grandma and all the rest of that stuff. Conner just couldn't. He couldn't face up to his failures just yet. If he'd learned to fly a lot sooner, maybe he could have brought Dr. Chapel earlier. Or, even earlier than that, if his stupid E-field didn't go bonkers, maybe he'd be farther along in his training and his dad would've been able to trust him with half the Superman shifts, just like they planned.

"You know," said Martha, "it took a long time to convince your dad was that all the world's problems aren't his to fix. Your abilities, as wonderful and varied as they are, still have limits. You have limits. I think because of who you are, you and your dad have a difficult time truly understanding that. I want you to know that to the people who really love you-- me, Aunt Lo, Dad, Mom and all your truly good friends-- these limits matter very little."

He felt her lean over him. Her kiss touched the top of his head.

"You're doing well, sweetie. I'm so very, very proud of you."

Of course, Conner, being who he was, focused on what he wanted to hear, mainly that his abilities, as wonderful and varied as they were, still had limits. Superboy had limits. That just wasn't right. There had to be a way to get rid of those limits or at least extend them as far as they could go. More than ever, he knew Batman could help. Batman didn't have a drop of meta in him but he was still one of the most feared and respected members of the League. He had to train Conner. His dad was going to kill him but... Conner sighed. Might as well go help with the cooking to earn brownie points.

His grandma beamed when he left the room, filling Conner with even guilt about the brownie-point thought. "So, uh, macaroons? Like with chocolate?"

"Aunt Lo prefers the European version so I'm using almond slivers. Can you beat these egg whites until they're stiff, please?" And so, on gentle order after the other, Martha eased his tension. His planned conversation stayed in the back of his mind until the elevator's hum announced Clark's arrival.

"I want better training," Conner blurted out as soon as his dad walked through the front door.

Clark blinked slowly. "Um, okay. With cooking?"

"I want to train with the Bat." Conner rushed into the rest of his explanation before Clark could deny the request. "He trained Dick and Ti-- Robin. He's super hardcore; he totally won't cut me any slack and I think I need that."

"No one needs the Bat like that," said Clark. "Also, he hates my guts. He might transfer that to you."

"Come on, Dad."

"I'm being serious. His xenophobia's common knowledge; who knows what he'll do to someone of mixed-heritage?"

Martha gingerly stepped between the two of them. "Bart's just going to accompany me to the store for a few more vegetables. Conner, don't forget to take the macaroons to rest when they're done."

Both men only nodded in acknowledgement.

"The flying and what I can do with the E-field is like a whole new thing," said Conner, "Jor-el can't do much except tell me to keep working my mind and J'Onn just helps me clamp it down, not use it. I need some sort of hardcore bootcamp thing."

"So I'll ask J'Onn to increase the intensity of your lessons."

But Conner was already shaking his head half-way through his dad's sentence. "Training with them isn't enough. I still can't figure out what to do when my E-field's gone haywire and I can still get hurt. We don't know if that's ever going to go away. I need real fight training."

"Fine, I'll ask Dinah or Dick--"

"No!" Conner threw his hands up in the air. "They're all afraid of you so none of them want to be as tough on me. You know it's true. I feel frickin' useless most days 'cause I have to gauge whether my E-field's controlled enough for deployment or not. I'm totally the master of all things monitor duty and that's just so wrong. I hate watching. I want to do things. That B&E you were at? If my powers were under control, I could've taken care of that. I could've been there and you could've been with Aunt Lo."

"I told you, that's not your problem."

"It is! Whether you like it or not, I'm in the League, Dad. I have as much responsibility as you do."

"No, you don't and you know why? Because you're a child."


"It's not bull." Clark shook him by the shoulders. "You are just a child and more importantly, you're my child. You should be in something safe like restaurant management or video game development or... something that's not the League. I wish I'd never let you join."

Conner pulled away. "Too frickin' late, I have and I love it. Every time I help out, I feel like I'm worth something."

"Conner, you're worth more than gold just standing there breathing."

"To you I am. But for me...I feel like I'm worth something more when I help. Like I'm actually making a dent in everything going wrong." He swallowed. "You can't keep me safe forever."

"I can damn well try," Clark bit out. He covered his face with his hands, rubbing circles around his eyes and temples.

Conner slouched away from him and glowered at the floor. Balls.

His dad held out his hand. "Conner, come here."

"No." The response was childish but he was "just a child," wasn't he? He crossed his arms, glaring so hard at the linoleum it was amazing his heat vision didn't kick in. A tepid breeze tousled his hair and the next thing he knew, his dad was squeezing him hard. He'd never get used to the physicality of their affection, his dad and Aunt Lo. They hugged about everything. He refrained from thinking about how hard he hugged back.

"If I'd been around when you were a child, maybe this would be easier," said Clark. "Maybe I'd be able to let you go to develop into the good, conscientious adult I know you're going to be."

"Conscientious. That's a hundred-dollar word." To ease the emotions threatening to turn him into a blubbering idiot, Conner changed the subject. "We have a lot of vegetables. Grandma didn't need to buy more."

"She left to give us a chance to talk. She's smart like that."

After a light, home-cooked meal and a shower, Clark returned to the hospital. He didn't like the idea of Lois waking up alone. She slept soundly until dark. When her breathing pattern changed, Clark knew she'd wake up soon. He heard her toes scratch against the blanket as her eyes fluttered open. "Hey."

"Hey yourself."

"C'mere. You look bad, Smallville," she said, her voice hoarse.

"At least I've showered." He kissed her lightly. "I love you."

"Love you, too. You think you can crawl up in here so I can show you how much?"

"Um, hospital beds aren't made for guys my size. Also, I think you're too drugged up to be much fun."

"Aw, really? I thought drugs were supposed to take sex to a higher level." She poked his chest. "In my incapacitated state, you can finally do those nasty ET things to me. What's this I hear about tentacles?"

If she wasn't so hurt, Clark would find this conversation hilarious. "Tentacles?"

"Research for that damned Wonder Woman exposé piece of crap. Satpal sent me a link. You have sex tentacles. S'why your uniform's so bulgy."

"Bulgy? Oh! Bulgy." Clark blushed.

"Didn't look like a tentacle to me. Maybe I should've looked closer. Having suction cups there could be interesting."

Clark sputtered for a second or two before he caught the mischievous glint in Lois' eyes. "You must be feeling better if you're back to insulting me."

"Somewhat. I'm trying to keep the breakdowns at bay. One a day is my limit; the snot and tears dehydrate me." But despite her words, her chin trembled and she had to bite her lower lip to still it.

Clark lowered the railing so he could rest his head on the pillow beside hers. He took both her hands, kissed the knuckles fiercely then tucked them under his chin. "You don't have to be strong for me right now, sweetheart. Shush, you think I don't know how much I lean on you? You're strong for me when I need to be strong for the world. But, Lois, if I can be strong for the whole world, the least I can do the same for you." He brushed a tear from the corner of her eye.

He held her as she cried. They were soft tears this time, not the gut-tearing ones he'd heard yesterday. She cried again the next day when they went home and she caught sight of the nursery. He kept that door closed and for the rest of the day, plastered himself to Lois' side, reminding her to sleep and buying her ice cream. Peripherally, he knew Ollie and Bart had joined forces with his mom to cover the basic life essentials-- food, bills, mopping-- as well as arrange the baby's memorial. He couldn't. Lois came first right now.

Four days after they left the hospital, Clark found her clearing out the kitchen cupboards, dusting the shelves and throwing every piece of tableware against the wall. She wasn't hurting anything except their bank account so he let her be until she ran out of plates.

"You could've stretched your staples and hurt yourself," he said.

"I think I did. Yet strangely, I feel much better." She rubbed her abdomen then reached around the kitchen's island to twine her fingers around his. "I was just pissed off at the world again. Kick-boxing is out and video games don't take enough of the edge off so I settled for breaking china. I bet I freaked Conner out, huh?"

"I sent him to buy more tableware around the time you started fastballing the mugs. He'll probably detour for take-out brunch, too. He might be too shell-shocked to cook."

"That kid's Good People."

"He certainly is."

"Do you think our next kid's going to end up half as awesome?"

Five minutes or five hours may have passed before Clark found his voice again. "Next kid?"

"Yeah. The doctor said it would take at least two months to recover completely from the surgery but I don't know if that includes child-bearing."

"No!" Clark burst out. He shouted so rarely even Lois looked taken aback. "You're not getting pregnant again."

"Smallville, I know you think grief is talking but I know that you know the best way for me to resolve any type of emotion is to do something about it and--"

"No. Just... no. Lois, do you know how close you came to dying?" He didn't wait for her to answer

"But I lived, Clark. I'm here. I'm whole and healthy and I want another child."

"Then we'll adopt."

"I want your baby, Smallville. If I have to carve your swimmers out myself, I'm going to have your baby."

Clark stared, at a complete loss for words.

"A little too graphic?" said Lois.

"This isn't the time to be flippant."

Letting out a sigh, she pressed against him and, when he failed to return her embrace, she positioned his arms around her waist. "One more time, Clark. We agreed three tries."


"It's my body."

"It's my sperm."

"Now who's being flip?"

"Damn it, Lois!" He rarely cursed. Those types of words tasted bitter. However, some situations called for expletives. "If you want a half-kryptonian baby, let's find a surrogate."

"Like who? Diana? That'll go swimmingly with the tabloids."

"I don't care about the tabloids."

"I do."

"More than you care about your life? This isn't the fantastical world you've made up where you're the one with superpowers. You're not in competition with Diana. She doesn't even know who you are."

Lois crossed her arms. "Of course not. You never talk about me in the Watchtower."

He didn't know when this conversation jerked into a sharp turn towards crazy but there they were. "I'm not supposed to talk about you at work. That's why we have secret identities."

"Don't patronise me!" Lois yelped. "I'm recovering from a D&E not a lobotomy."

"Maybe when you start making Earth sense--"

"Oooh, you just don't get it!"

"Then explain it to me! Why are you stuck on having a mixed baby? Why do you have to carry it? Why do you have to be the one who gets hurt?" With each question, Clark leaned harder against the kitchen island. It was either crack the countertop or shake Lois silly.

"For the same reason you have to dress up in skintight primary colours and rescue the world every thirty seconds and if you even think about your supposed invulnerability to everything, I'm going to find something green and glowy to bludgeon you with."

The countertop creaked. Clark ground his teeth, taking several deep breaths. "Sit down. You're stressing yourself out." He thought he managed those two sentences in a normal tone.

"I'm only doing it because I want to get better sooner," said Lois. She gingerly made her way to the sofa. Halfway there, Clark couldn't help but follow beside her. She put an arm around his waist. "Are we done fighting now?"

"Yeah. But let the record show that I still disagree."

"Duly noted, Smallville. I'm going to need those painkillers now. Yelling requires abdominal muscles. Who knew?"

"Oh, Lois." Clark framed her face with his hands.

"Oh, Smallville." She nuzzled his palms, nipped at his thumb then kissed it better.

"What would I do without you?"

"Probably live a bland, stress-free life among the cows and the cornfields."


"I know. You can thank me with kinky sex later. Maybe in a week when my vajayjay doesn't feel like I douched with rusty razors." She curled into his side. Wrapping both arms around her, Clark pressed rested his cheek against her hair. "I never wanted to be a journalist at first, remember?"

He nodded.

"I don't know when precisely I figured out I really, truly wanted to have a baby," she said. "I adore Conner, the little twerp, but I know in my gut that we're meant to have a child together. I know we'll be awesome at it. I really want this, Clark, as much as I want a shelf of Pulitzers and you."

Exhaling, Clark said, "When have I ever been able to keep you from doing anything? Just one last try. If a doctor independent of S.T.A.R. Labs thinks your life is at risk from carrying the child, please remember without you, my mom wouldn't have a daughter, City would fall apart in two minutes, and Conner and I would be utterly destroyed."

"Likewise." She kissed his neck.

On the muddiest Sunday in March, Gabriel Lane-Kent was laid to rest in his tiny white urn at Smallville's only cemetery, Gethsemane Gardens. His plaque lay beside his Grandpa Jonathan's, its delicately carved white stone dwarfed by the larger, rough-hewn granite. A row away was his Auntie Chloe's memorial stone.

Conner returned here after the funeral party moved to the farm. He couldn't stand the contrast of milling guests and awkward silence with his dad's distracted solemnity and his aunt's forced smiles. At least half of Smallville had showed up bearing casseroles. Granda flew in from the north. Since Lex Luthor was kicked out of office, he lived as Gabe Sullivan again but Smallville had held too many painful memories for him to move back. Grampa Sam attended, lost and uncomfortable with the emotional outpouring. Most of the Daily Planet staff was here as well although only Lois' City team stayed for both the funeral and the following reception. It was a given that the Originals would come but Conner hadn't expected Ollie to bring his whole family-- Roy and his daughter, Lian; Connor, whose name caused a great deal of confusion until someone came up with the brilliant idea of referring to them as Big Con and Little Conn; and Cissie. It was weird pretending he barely knew them, especially Cissie, who had kicked his ass so many times, he knew the tread-marks of her boots by feel.

It was all too weird and so Conner left to walk aimlessly only to end up here, at the cemetery, staring up the knoll at his baby brother's headstone. He couldn't face that again. Instead, he took the wimpy way out and stopped at the plaque bearing the carving "Chloe Anne Sullivan. May 5, 1987 - May 21, 2022." Under her name was a quote by Nellie Bly: "I said I could and I would. And I did."

Realising he came empty handed, Conner zipped to a local florist and dropped off a ten for a handful of tulips. He placed them in the stone's build-in vase, tulips only slightly ruffled by his speed. Then he didn't have anywhere to sit on so he zipped away again, this time to the barn to fetch a tarp.

"Hi, Mom. Sorry, I haven't visited. Things have been interesting in the Chinese curse way." He rarely talked when he visited his mom. When she'd been alive, they did nothing but talk. Observers had often commented on how mother and son chattered over each other, neither one pausing for the other yet both able to comprehend the conversation. Talking to her without her input just seemed wrong so Conner usually sat and let his thoughts cycle through his mind where he could imagine his mom voice.

All that food at Grandma's house and you're out here, two-bit? Are you sure you're my boy? He pictured her grinning up at him.

I'm not really hungry right now, Conner would have replied.

Funerals will do that to some people. Me, I stress eat.

Conner almost smiled. He reached out to trace her name again. I miss you so much. Dad and Aunt Lo are great but they're not you. I miss you. His breath caught somewhere behind his sternum and the next thing he knew, he was bawling. He hadn't cried like this during his mom's funeral. The closest he'd gotten was a weekend under his covers a month after his move to Metropolis and even then, he'd only teared up. Where the hell was this sobbing coming from?

Delayed reaction grief, Chloe's voice told him. You got that from your dad although I don't think even he waited two years before bawling. That must be an awful lot of grief in you.

I miss you. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you. I just... is there a word bigger than miss?

To yearn. To pine.

All of that then. It's like the day you left, everything normal went away, too.

You don't like normal.

But I don't like sad either!

So you're sad being with your dad and aunt?

No! I just... I just don't want anyone else to die. And I want you here.

A warm kicked up and he could almost feel her arms around his shoulders. I'll always be with you. All around you.

He gulped that warm air in and a calmness steadied his breathing. Hey, Mom?

Yes, two-bit?

My baby brother's going there. Could you take care of him for us? I know you'll love him; you took me in, right?

The warmth settled over all Conner, like someone wrapped him in a fleece blanket and a hug. The tulips ruffled. One petal shivered and fell on the plaque, covering the last sentence on Chloe's epitaph. It now read "I said I would and I could" with a yellow-white heart as a period. Just like that, a thorny ball sorrow he hadn't even known was still under his ribs went away.

"Thanks, Mom. Love you."

I love you, too, two-bit.

In the hospital where I did my maternity rotation, a butterfly on the door signified to the staff that the woman inside the room suffered a miscarriage or delivered a stillborn child, hence the butterfly on the illustration for the fist hospital scene.

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