Yet the more he reflected on her beautiful hazel eyes gone so cold, her voice so clipped and formal, the angrier he got. The Kents had raised him to suppress anger, to turn the other cheek, to always be the better person and present a mild face to the world. But Lois had been alternately ignoring him and lashing out. This final outburst, in public, was the last straw. He simply couldn’t take any more. Superman halted and turned in the air, scanning for her.
Perfect. Lois was alone, walking down an alley. He dove faster than the human eye could follow, catching her around the waist and soaring up through the clouds. Let’s see you ignore me now, Lois.
By the time she drew breath to scream, they were far out of earshot of anyone below. Lois had to settle for sinking her fingernails deep into the sleeves of his uniform and hissing, “Let me go!”
Kal-El had flown up behind her and wrapped one arm around her as he accelerated. He didn’t want to be facing her at the moment, didn’t want to be reminded of all their romantic flights. “Are you sure you want me to let you go, Lois?”
“Of course I’m sure! Put me down right now!”
“If you insist,” he said, “but it’s a long drop.” He turned his arm a fraction of a degree, not enough to let go but enough to make his point.
The sudden clutch of her hands on his arm told him she realized she was at a disadvantage, for once. But not defeated. “So I remember,” she spat. “Did you really drop me by accident that time, or was it just an excuse to be cute?”
“It really was an accident, Lois,” he retorted. “I’m not anywhere near as manipulative as you think.” He slowed, rising to stand on the air, and adjusted his grip to hold her around the waist, facing him.
Lois stiffened, hating the familiarity of his touch, and braced her hands against his forearms. If you think I’m gonna wrap my arms around your neck like some lovestruck teenager, you’ve got another think coming. “So what do you want? I expect you didn’t bring me up here for nothing. Seems like every time we fly there’s something you want.”
He ignored the implication. “Some answers,” he shot back. “In a venue where you can’t dodge the questions.”
“Answers? From me? Hmm, looks to me like you’re the only one who remembers all the questions!”
“And that’s the first question. What exactly do you remember, Lois?”
Her eyes narrowed with fury, pure spite in her voice. “I remembered everything after you’d left. Everything.”
“Are you sure?”
“I remember everything from using my gun to trick you into admitting who you really are, to hearing your father tell you that yours is a higher destiny,” she spat. “And everything after that, Kal-El. I remember twice that night and once the next morning. I remember you shivering with shock and desire; I remember how dark my hair looked against your thigh. And I remember how quickly it was all over after you got your ass kicked in that diner and found out about the Zod Squad.”
He flinched, blushing furiously; six years ago, her blunt tone and choice of reminders would’ve made him drop the subject right there. But Kal-El had been gone six years, had seen his birth planet fractured and poisoned by radiation. He had returned to his adopted world, the only home he’d ever known, and found it changed almost beyond recognition in his absence. And he had discovered the love of his life engaged to another man, raising some stranger’s children, and generally going on without him. All of that might have been enough to break him, but for the hope that she might still love him. That they might be able to salvage something of their former closeness.
This morning, that unexpected kiss had fueled his hope, made it burn high enough that not even her snide remarks at the scene of the fire could dampen it entirely. Kal-El was beginning to see the pattern: the more Lois felt for him, the more his presence reminded her of their past, the more she tried to drive him away, to deny or degrade everything that had been between them.
But Lois wasn’t giving him time to process all of that. “I also remember you refusing to talk about anything that was happening. You barely said ten words to me that night while I washed the blood off your face. ‘I have to go back, I have to try something,’ that was all. And then when I finally went to bed without you, figuring we’d make our plans in the morning, you snuck out on me. Snuck out the window like a little boy who’d been grounded, and probably walked all the way back to the Fortress! I was so worried I called in every favor Daddy’s friends owed me and had the military looking for you out there!”
“Lois,” he began, but she overran him. That little habit of hers was getting really annoying.
“You couldn’t even be bothered to say goodbye – seems like that’s a habit with you – and you damn sure couldn’t let me try to help you. Never mind that I’ve got military and police contacts, never mind that I could, say, walk up to the three of them with a hunk of kryptonite. No, you’re Superman, you had to do it all by yourself, go back on your knees to your father and tell him he was right and beg him for your powers back. I had no idea what happened or what you were doing until you showed up in Metropolis the next time. When I saw you again I was too glad you were alive to cuss you out like I wanted to!”
“Too bad that didn’t work the second time,” he told her.
When Lana left the fashion department, she met Richard in the elevator as he was making his way to lunch after a stop-off at the proofreading department. They wound up talking easily, and he decided to walk Lana to the subway terminal. I can definitely see why Clark had a crush on her, he thought.
In the middle of animated conversation, they passed a store displaying a dozen television sets. The live coverage of the fire was on. Drawn in, they watched it raptly, unable to look away from the scene of destruction so narrowly averted.
And then the press mobbed Superman, and Richard saw Lois’ face in the crowd of reporters. His heart leaped into his throat at the thought of her being there, so close to danger, and then he recognized the look on her face.
“Oh, no,” he said, seconds before his fiancée snapped out frostily, “Lois Lane, Daily Planet. Do you believe that your return has caused an increase in high-profile crimes such as this?”
He was watching when Superman’s eyes narrowed briefly, his jaw tightening. “Congratulations on your engagement, Ms. Lane,” and Richard winced. Oh, crap. I really did steal Superman’s girlfriend.
“Oh, dear,” Lana murmured, biting in her lip in sympathy. She felt for everyone at that moment – Superman, who hardly deserved such an underhanded attack; Lois, whose day was only getting worse from the sounds of it; and the kind, wonderful man beside her, who had apparently just had his worst suspicions about his fiancée’s former love life confirmed.
But Richard quickly went from pained to pissed. She has a lot of explaining to do. And I’m not going to be brushed off anymore.
Lana touched his wrist lightly. “She’s had a really awful day, Richard. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be so…”
“Bitchy?” Richard finished.
“I was going to say forceful,” Lana corrected gently.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he replied, and changed the subject. “Got time for a late lunch?”
The redhead hesitated for a minute. He was such a nice guy, and she was feeling a bit peckish … but he was engaged. “I’m sorry, Richard, if I don’t get down there my assistant will faint from anxiety. But it’s a very kind offer.”
Richard smiled and glanced away, wondering what the heck he had been thinking. “All right, then, let’s get you to the subway.”
They walked the rest of the way in comparative silence. When they reached the subway station, Richard stopped and said, “Feel free to drop by the Planet anytime you’ve got news for Agi, though.”
“Oh, I will,” Lana said, smiling up at him. “Take care of yourself.”
“You too,” Richard said. For a long moment they just looked at each other, and then she took a step back and turned away.
He watched her leave, telling himself it was her safety that concerned him. As he headed back to the office, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Lois. She wasn’t answering, but he left a message and abruptly decided to stop somewhere and have a sandwich or something. This issue with Lois has waited for three years, it can wait a little longer.
“I’m going to assume, based on this morning, that on some level you are glad I survived and returned from Krypton.”
Lois clenched her teeth so hard her jaw ached, forcing herself not to slap him. It would only hurt her hand and possibly distract him enough to make him drop her. “That’s completely unfair,” she said, grinding the words out.
“Like everything you’ve been saying to me hasn’t been just as unfair,” he retorted. “Especially since most of the time you never give me a chance to explain. Can you stop yelling long enough for us to actually talk about what happened?”
“Talk about what happened when? Six years ago or two months ago? It’s too late on both, Kal-El. All of that is over and done with.”
“Oh, really?” he asked. “If that’s true, why are you so vicious to me? Lois, can you really look me in the eyes and say you don’t love me at all?”
Any moment now, one of her teeth would shatter from the pressure. “That doesn’t matter anymore – I’m engaged with two children. It’s been a long time.”
“And that’s another thing,” he said. “You say you were so angry at me for leaving, you claim to have been hurt so badly, but barely a month after I’m gone you get pregnant? Care to explain that, Lois?”
She froze at that, the expression in her eyes incredulous even as the nausea in her stomach roiled. For a rash moment, she considered calling him on his own blindness and lack of faith. How could he look at them and not see it? Not see the rich blue of Jason’s eyes and know them for his own? The way both of the twins smiled just like him, only Jason’s was usually shyer, more like Clark’s. And Kala’s hair had the slightly blue tint from his darker shade. If he could see right through her, than why the hell couldn’t he see that?
Holding back the ticking time bomb that rose to her lips, Lois glared at him scornfully. “What did you expect me to do? Pine away for you like a dithering twit? Well, you should be thrilled, in that case. I spent over a month looking for you, practically sleeping by the Associated Press ticker with CNN in the background.”
“And then you just jumped into bed with first man who looked interesting? What? Tell me what was going through your mind, Lois. Had you remembered by then? Were you doing it to get back at me? Or did it just seem like a good idea at the time?”
Again she bristled. That he’d think that of her so easily tore something inside her. How could he know so much but so little? Unable to help it, she was feeling the sting of his words deeper than he’d ever know. Struggling to keep the gut-shot feeling off her face, she struck out blindly. “What did it matter to you? You ended it, you disappeared. You told me that ‘Someday, you’ll…’ I believe the end of that was supposed to be ‘find someone,’ wasn’t it? You cloaked it all as if it never existed. And you have the gall to stand there painting me as a fallen woman? What right do you have to judge me? What the hell did you care? You made your big mistake and you cleaned it up. End of story. ‘Thanks for the fling; the sex was great.’” Unaware of it, the fire in her eyes was being outshined by the spark of hurt glowing like a live coal. “Regardless of what you think me capable of, Richard isn’t that kind of man. Check your facts, Mr. Kent.”
“We’re not talking about Richard here, Lois,” he reminded her. “I know he isn’t the twins’ father, so you don’t have to try to lie to me. He didn’t even meet you until you came back to Metropolis from Paris. Yes, he and I talked about you. He loves you, Lois, but the he doesn’t know you. And the longer this goes on, the more he realizes just how much he missed about you.”
Before Lois could reply to that, he continued, “It wasn’t a fling, Lois. It mattered a lot to me, in fact. More than it seems to have mattered to you. I hate to remind you, but you were the first. And the only. Once I looked into your eyes on that flight after the interview, well, there’s never really been another woman who could compare.”
Now she couldn’t hold back her emotions. He had hit her too many times where she lived, had punched her directly in the weak spot of her fears. How could he have known her so well and not at all? It took all she had in her not to attempt to struggle free of him, heedless of the fall. “Do you think that makes it any better, Kal-El? Is that supposed to be some kind of comfort? Do you think that would have made any difference then, when I was near a nervous breakdown wondering what had happened to you? When I was chain-smoking at a computer all night while I tried to piece together your trail? And when I remembered, do you think that didn’t feel like lemon in the wound? Didn’t make me feel like a fool?”
She looked away from him forcefully now. It was too much of everything. Too much hurt, too much anger, too much time passed. “And you’re right. I knew Kala and Jason’s father about as well as I know the man before me. Is that what you wanted to hear? I never realized that until this moment. Thank you for making me aware of that.”
He flinched at that. “You knew me once, Lois. You knew better than anyone else on earth. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes back then. The biggest one was not talking to you about anything I was going to do before I did it. You’re right, I screwed up royally. And then the way you were that morning at work – I’ve never been able to stand seeing you hurt. I only wanted to make things better, Lois. It was fine for my heart to break, for me to bear the loss alone, but I didn’t want you to have to remember all of that. I know taking the memories was a mistake now, but back then it seemed like the best way to spare you pain. Remember, that was the first time I ever told anyone about my past, the first serious relationship I ever had, the first time I ever defied Jor-El, the first time I ever failed the world in my mission, and the first time I broke up with a woman I loved, all in the same two days! Can you blame me for not thinking straight?”
Her brows rose at that, her hair whipping at suddenness of her head turning. Lois could only look at him in amazement, unable to believe what she was hearing. He was talking as if he had been a teenage boy caught by his father in the backseat with a girl after the senior prom. Had he even stopped to consider what his choices would do to her? That she had felt for him more than any other man she had ever met? Did he really just think that that had just been a typical situation of her to be placed in? Not to mention, and she was damned if she would, the little surprises she had had growing inside her when he left. Unable to help herself, she could only utter a bitter, broken laugh. “Take me back. Back to Metropolis. This was a mistake; it was all one big mistake.”
“No, you’re misunderstanding me,” Kal-El said urgently. “Loving you was never a mistake. The decisions I made – including going back to Krypton – were what ruined everything. Lois, Jor-El was wrong. He told me I had to choose between you and all humanity, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. He was trying to make me into some kind of intellectual robot, free of all attachments, when even he had a loving marriage. He wanted me to be some kind of superhuman savior, but that’s not what I am.”
What she would have given to have heard those words while she carried the twins, how it hurt now to hear them and know better in spite of the thrill that ran through her as he admitted it. Even now, knowing it was no more in reach than a dead echo, it felt like sunshine pouring through her just to hear it. She knew better, even as a voice deep inside her argued loudly to the opposite. He had made his choice before, only to change it again. The man she had loved … did love … had never belonged to her. Never would, despite what he was saying now. It didn’t matter, though. They had had their chance then, only to have it fall apart.
Softly now, she whispered, looking up at him, “The world may need a savior, from time to time, but I don’t. I loved you, Kal-El, more than anyone else I had ever laid eyes on. But that was six years ago. There’s nothing that we can change, not where we are or the people we’ve become. You don’t even know me anymore, if you ever did. You could never have me over your duty. You can’t even know for sure what you felt for me was love. Let me go; it’s the only thing we can do. Save both of us the heartache.”
He sighed; some things could not be argued about. At what point did a suitor become a stalker? How could he pursue her when she finally told him, calmly and sincerely, to leave her alone? “If it’s really what you want, Lois, I will. But I’ll always love you, and I’ll always wish things had been different. And I’ll never forget what you did for me – keeping my secret in spite of everything I did to you.”
The grief and sorrow in his eyes nearly killed her. Once again, the feeling of déjà vu was strong enough to send her reeling. Don’t ever forget, a ghost of her own voice whispered, chilling her as she fought tears. It was her this time, her being the voice of reason, where it had been him the last. Yet it felt as if something was dying inside her, something impossible to close off. Rash words leapt to the tip of her tongue – I still love you, and I love our children, too – but she choked them back.
Even if he loves me, he clearly can’t even imagine the possibility of the twins being his. There’s no telling how he’d react to that news, but one thing’s for certain: whether he considers them a mistake or the newest heirs to dead Krypton’s legacy, he’ll want to take them from me. Jor-El would demand no less, whether he would admit it or not. Kala’s hearing is sharper than it should be, and Jason breaks a lot of toys that are supposed to be indestructible. If those are powers coming in, it’s yet another reason for him to raise them himself. And I don’t care how good his logic is, no one will take the twins from me.
For a moment neither of them could meet each other’s eyes, and then he spoke again. “But if you ever need me… Lois, if you ever change your mind, if you want to see if maybe we could make this work again… I’m always around. I always will be. No matter what happens, if you need me, just call me. I’ll be there.”
Now, in spite of her struggle to hide it, the tears came silently without her permission. The venom drained from the wound, the anguish running through her entire body was clear. Only then, in that instant, was it clear to him just how much she had been bottling up. She looked so small and fragile now, nothing like the tornado that had ascended with him. Her voice was broken and almost tender when she replied, “There’s no point, regardless of how anyone feels, Kal-El. We know how it ends. At least, we both do now.” Lois looked up at him then, those unique hazel eyes glimmering, and doing so was an almost Herculean effort. “You’re theirs now. The whole world. What’s the point in selfish jealousy when you have to contend with that, especially when I have so much waiting for me at home? Be good to them, Kal-El, because they trust you again. Just know that they’ll never love you the same way I did.”
Lois, tell him, dammit! What’s wrong with you? The two of you could make it right this time. He loves you and you love him! No more of this ‘I hate him’ crap; it’s the biggest damn lie you’ve ever told yourself. You love him, here, now, this minute. Say it, tell him the truth. All of it! The Romantic flew into a rage then, knowing that the moment had come and their chance was slipping away. Just tell him!
No! The General’s Daughter was louder. Do you really want to go through all of that again? To think you can have him only to lose him? He loves you, he wants to be with you – none of that’s new. Sooner or later, the world and the mission will win. He can’t be who he is and not let that happen. Can you stand to have your heart broken all over again?
Lois already knew the answer to that. Just this moment, the closure they’d never really gotten six years ago, was killing her. To have him again, to have the bliss of waking beside him, to nuzzle up to him in the hazy predawn hours and know he was hers, and then to lose it all once again – that would destroy her.
She saw the way he flinched when she mentioned what she had waiting at home, saw the keen agony in his eyes. And given the way this entire evening had gone, she really should’ve expected his next words. “Just … don’t ever forget, Lois,” he said sadly.
No words existed to really reply to that, but Lois tried to find them, anyway. After a moment, she simply leaned toward him as he bent his head to hers. In the instant before their lips met, Lois whispered, “No more amnesia, not this time,” even as a sad voice in her mind murmured, Wouldn’t it be better to forget it all and start again?
He whispered, “Never again,” and kissed her softly. For those few seconds while they were in each other’s arms again, their feelings for each other were even more plain than they had been during that blaze of passion earlier. This was the love they had both found unexpectedly, had cherished and had mourned. It should have been a kiss goodbye, but it didn’t feel quite so final. More like the healing of old wounds.
Lois sighed and rested her cheek on his chest, letting him kiss her hair. “I’m sorry … for how nasty I’ve been to you… I guess I blew that part of the promise, huh?”
“Shh, Lois,” he told her, drifting gently down through the clouds. “You were hurt. I understand.”
She pulled away a little, looking down to avoid meeting his eyes. There below them was the Daily Planet globe, and Lois was a little relieved to see that reminder of her sane life – her real life, she told herself firmly. He saw it too, and said quietly, “I think I’m going to take the rest of the day off.”
“Go ahead,” she replied more casually than she felt. Even if the war in her heart might not show on Lois’ face, there were no words to accurately describe her feelings at the moment. “I need to write up the fire … and some other stuff…”
Superman just nodded and set her down. They looked at each other another long moment, each seeing something beautiful once theirs and now unattainable, and then he stepped away. “Goodbye, Lois.”
“Goodbye,” she whispered, and watched him rise up into the heavens again. In her mind, she again heard her own voice echo back over the years as he disappeared from her sight. Well, there he goes, kid. Up, up, and away.
Lois drifted into her office like her own wandering ghost, speaking to no one and seeming not to see them, either. She sat down in front of her computer and stared at it for a few moments, then leaned forward and pressed the heels of her hands against her brow. So many thoughts crowded in her mind, so many emotions threatening to burst her heart, all she could really think was, Now I understand how he felt all those years ago. I hate being the voice of reason.
“I love you,” she whispered brokenly, the words she’d never dared to say out loud, knowing that he wouldn’t hear her unless he tried. Knowing right then that he was trying to think of anything but her. “Oh, dear God help me, I’m still in love with you.”
And just as the first tears began to spill, her office door banged open.
“Dammit, Lois, where the hell have you … been…” Perry stopped in mid-sentence as she looked up at him, her face so wounded and vulnerable. Everything he’d meant to say – to yell, really – vanished at that shattered look. “My God, Lois, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
A short, sardonic laugh. “No,” Lois said, dashing the tears from her eyes with impatient gestures. “What do you want, Perry?”
He just stared at her. “Tell me what happened first.”
Not in a million years. “I went to the fire scene. I … I guess it bothered me more than I thought…”
“I guess so,” he replied, “considering that you snapped at Superman in front of a TV camera and then mysteriously disappeared somewhere between that little press conference and your car. Which, by the way, is still parked on a sidewalk downtown, being roped off as a potential crime scene. Do you have any idea how many people are looking for you right now?”
“Huh? But Chief, why?”
A little annoyance crept back into his voice. “You vanish into thin air – that girl from the Star, Raines, said she saw you walk into an alley and never come out. Your car’s sitting there, you aren’t answering your phone, nobody knows where you are, and we all know Luthor’s out there somewhere. And then you turn up here!”
It dawned on her then, and she spoke before thinking. “Oh, shit, he brought me back here! I didn’t even think about the car…” My Audi is still illegally parked downtown, and the cops are treating it as a crime scene since I vanished… Why the hell didn’t I remember to go back to the car?
“He?” Perry asked. “Superman, I presume?”
Lois closed her eyes. “Yes, Chief, he decided we needed to talk after the little incident there.”
“Good. And since he didn’t drop you down a ravine, I assume you two are going to be civil to each other from now on?”
Lois shot him an evil look. “Yes, Perry, you’re going to get your bloody exclusives back! Now excuse me, I have a car to fetch.” And a heart to glue back together… and a brain to find before I do something else stupid…
“Don’t worry about it,” the editor told her gruffly. “I called Sawyer as soon as I saw you. She’s bringing the car here. But if I were you, I’d turn on your cell phone and check your messages. That news feed was live.”
“Oh, God,” she groaned.
“Yeah, don’t turn on your TV tonight. I’m sure they’ll show it again,” he said. “Too bad Richard’s probably already seen it, wherever the hell he is.”
Lois winced. “Perry…”
“Have you even told him yet?”
“Told him what?”
Perry crossed his arms and glared at her. “About you and Superman.”
“Stuff it, Lane. The whole damn city just got a live definition of Woman Scorned. Have you even told my nephew – your fiancé – about your ex?”
Lois sighed disgustedly. “I think he suspects.”
“Good. He’d be a damn fool not to, and I’d hate to think he was a disgrace to the White name.” On that note, Perry left her alone.
Bracing herself, Lois powered up her phone. You have … twenty … three … new messages, the pleasant recorded voice told her, and Lois groaned. First message…