Lois’ phone rang again as she left the bullpen, and she answered it while suppressing another dismayed groan. “Lane.”
“Where are you, Lois?” Maggie said.
“Leaving the office.”
“Great. Your car’s on the third level, by the elevators. You can drive me back to my patrol car.”
Lois sighed. “Please tell me you didn’t screw anything up on my car when you broke into it.”
“Oh, no. I’m sure that scratch will come right out, and you can tuck the wires back up under the dash real easy.”
“Maggie!” Lois yelped. “Do you have any idea how much it costs to take that car to the dealer?”
“Relax, your ‘baby’ is fine,” the lieutenant sighed. “You’re just lucky you aren’t paying to get it out of impound, you know that.”
Lois was at the elevators then, and knew from experience she’d get no signal inside. “Yeah, well, that’s why I put up with sarcastic friends like you, Sawyer.”
The elevator doors dinged open, and Lois said, “See you in five,” and closed her phone as she stepped in. When she got down to the garage, Maggie was leaning against the Audi and watching Lois critically. As the reporter fished her keys out of her purse, the lieutenant’s gaze never left her. “If you’re going to say something to me, Sawyer, please just say it.”
Her only answer was a look from those ice-blue cop eyes, so Lois let herself into her own car with an annoyed sigh. Thankfully, she couldn’t find any evidence of the way Maggie had broken in and hotwired it. Sawyer dropped into the passenger seat as soon as Lois unlocked it and started buckling her seatbelt.
Inside the car, the faint scent of soot on Maggie’s uniform got stronger, and Lois rolled her window down a few inches. She wasn’t even aware of what she did next until Maggie said pointedly, “I thought you quit.”
Lois looked at the cigarette in her hand. It was that automatic, after all this time: get in, buckle up, roll window down, light cigarette. She’d already taken a drag without tasting it as she put the car in gear and backed out of the parking spot.
What the hell, she thought, and drew the smoke deep into her lungs. “After this day, Maggie, I deserve one.”
“Really? You were a bit of an ass, but I don’t think you deserve lung cancer for it,” Sawyer said.
Lois simply rolled her eyes and raised her middle finger with an elegant flip of her wrist, and then drove out of the garage.
After a few minutes, Maggie tried again. “So, what happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Well, hell, Lois, the way you’re acting, how on earth would I guess that?” Maggie replied. “The point is, I want to talk about it. Toby’s going nuts worrying about you.”
“Fine! So talk.”
“You’re usually better at controlling your temper than you were today,” Maggie began. “I’m not saying you don’t have a right to be pissed at the guy, just that it’s unlike you to cut into someone in front of cameras. Now, I know Luthor hasn’t done anything since he threatened you, but I also know that you haven’t relaxed in the slightest. So maybe some of that can be blamed on you being on edge continuously for two months.”
“Yeah,” Lois said, navigating Metropolis’ busy streets. “All wound up and no one to shoot.”
“Be damn sure it’s really justifiable homicide before you plug him,” Maggie warned. “I guess I’d just like to think that, if something else was going on, you’d tell me.”
The police driving course. All those hours at the firing range. A few off-the-record whispered conversations. More than a few drinks in out-of-the-way bars, talking about life and love and crime and politics. That wild dash home from the Pulitzers, and a few days later, the two boxes of Silvertip Hollowpoint bullets that Maggie had dropped off at the house. The lieutenant didn’t have to mention any of those things, because they both knew about them. And she didn’t have to say, Don’t you think you owe me the truth? Both of them knew that, too.
What can I say? “Maggie, this isn’t easy.”
Lois sighed. “Look, he wanted to talk to me. Is it my fault he decided to snatch me up out of alley and have that conversation a mile up? If it’s any comfort, I was pretty damn scared, too.”
Maggie nodded. “And did you two get certain things cleared up?”
“What are you talking about?”
The lieutenant sighed and ran her fingers through her short blonde hair. “I’m not used to doing interrogations outside the precinct, Lois. Did you and Superman get everything straightened out between you, or are you going to publicly snap at each other again?”
Everything but the tiny little fact that I had his kids, Lois retorted in her mind. “Yes, Mags, we argued and yelled and then made up. Are you happy?”
“Ecstatic. Who said you could call me Mags?”
Now that was more like their normal ribbing. “It’s a free country.”
“Fine … Joanne.”
“Do you want to live to see your squad car again, Sawyer?”
Superman flew past the farm after rescuing some miners from a cave-in, and was unsurprised to see that Ma was out. She and Ben are probably out playing bingo, or fishing, or watching a movie. For all I know, they could be competing in the International Scrabble Championships. He shook his head slightly, still amazed that his mother had a more active social life than he did.
Then another thought occurred to him. Speaking of a social life, I’ve been meaning to have dinner at Ron’s house this week. Lucy will kill me if I put it off. I really need to talk about today … but Lois’ little sister would be an even better source of information, if I can figure out how to word the questions just right.
Now that sounded like a plan… All he had to do now was call them, make sure they would be home, and find some way to fill the hours until dinnertime.
He had just taken his cell phone out of the pocket in his cape when he heard sirens, and lots of them, in
After dropping Maggie off, Lois headed out to her mother’s. All she wanted was to see the twins, to hug them and hold them and forget her confrontation with their father earlier. Her mother had called twice, gotten the new message both times, and hung up without leaving one of her own. Lois hated not calling her, but preferred to wait and talk to her in person. With the twins around to moderate the conversation, of course.
When she pulled up to the house, though, Ella came outside right away. Lois considered that a bad sign and hurried out of the car, trying to smile naturally. “Mom! I figured I’d get the twins early…”
“You’re still too late,” her mother said crisply. “Richard was here twenty minutes ago to pick them up. If you’d answer your phone once in a while people could tell you these things.”
The tone instantly set Lois back twenty years, and she blushed furiously. “Momma…”
The fearless reporter slunk into her childhood home just like that little girl who had tried selective deafness to avoid eating asparagus. Once inside, Ella went right back to her cup of tea, glaring at Lois in utter silence. And wasn’t that another great mom trick, letting you anticipate just how awful a talking-to you were about to get. Lois had done the same with the twins when they misbehaved. Ella sighed heavily, and Lois winced because she knew what was next.
“Lois, I’m disappointed in you.”
“Hush and listen,” Ella said sternly. “You let your mouth run away with you again, only this time it was on live television. Did you ever even think about what you were saying or who was going to hear it?”
Lois bit her lip. It’s not like I blurted out his secret identity or anything. Which I could have done, except I’m too honorable. Another voice added, And still in love with him.
Ella wasn’t finished. “Not to mention, the man saved your life two months ago. Have you shown even a speck of gratitude? I didn’t think so. You’ve been perfectly nasty to him ever since that interview!”
Oh, the things you don’t know, Lois thought, staring at her toes. I’d say this morning counts as very nice indeed. But I can’t give away his secret, not even to Mom.
“I dearly hope that for once in his life he stopped being such a gentleman and told you exactly what he thought of your comments! That was him who snatched you up.”
“Yes, mother, we had the apocalyptic argument we’ve been waiting six years to have,” Lois snapped, lifting her angry hazel eyes to meet Ella’s. “You can stop treating me like a child, I’ve heard about it from him, the police, and my boss today, and after this morning I’ve had enough.”
“If you don’t want to be treated like a child, then stop acting like one,” Ella replied, then swiftly continued, “At least you two finally talked. How did he react to the news, then?”
Lois took a deep breath, glancing away again, and Ella erupted.
“Lois! You had a perfect opportunity to tell the man why you’re so damned angry with him, and you wasted it? How long are you going to wait before you tell him he’s their father?”
“I’m not!” Lois shouted. “Mother, I am not telling him! After this today, we’re at least speaking to each other again, but if I told him that… God only knows what he’ll do. I’ll kill him myself before I let him take the twins!”
“Please, Lois! That’s the overprotective first-time mom speaking. I can’t imagine him…”
“You know nothing about him!” Lois spat. “All you know is ‘Superman,’ the public persona. There’s a lot about him that would shock you.”
“Well, my daughter hasn’t talked about any of her boyfriends since the one in high school with the earring. Except the shrink.”
“You love bringing that up, don’t you, Momma?”
Ella just grinned. “I knew Elliot was doomed when he kept trying to analyze you. You’re not the kind of woman who enjoys having her flaws pointed out.”
“Thank your husband for that.”
“Stop trying to lead me off topic, Lois. What exactly about Superman would shock your poor, sheltered old mother?”
Lois rolled her eyes. “Well, for starters, in spite of his world reputation, those twins weren’t exactly a virgin birth.”
Ella sighed. “Child, there’s nothing you did with him – nothing you’ve done with any man – that I didn’t do before you. I’ll have you know I’m no stranger to mad, passionate love affairs.”
The reporter seemed taken aback. “There was someone before Daddy?”
That brought a torrent of laughter. “Oh, my dear Lois. I’m talking about Sam. Why do you think we stayed together all those years, the way we fought about you? Not that I didn’t think about leaving him a time or two.”
Lois blinked in surprise at that revelation; she’d always assumed her parents stayed together out of a sense of duty. Love had never entered the equation in her mind. Before she could fully process the new information, Ella was forging onward. “So tell me why you think Superman would try to take the twins away from you. I just have a hard time imagining you falling in love with someone that callous.”
Sighing, Lois tried to explain. “It’s not really him, Momma. It’s his father. The computer-controlled hologram recording of his father. That night, when we … his father made him give up his powers to be with me. Made him think he was giving them up forever. He was very clear on what he thought about his son, his almighty Kryptonian heir, choosing his selfish desire for a human over the needs of the whole planet.” This last sentence was punctuated by a sarcastic tone and eyes rolling heavenward.
Ella scowled. “And you think his father would…”
“According to him, it was a mistake,” Lois snapped. The mere mention of Jor-El was enough to make her furious all over again. “What do you think someone with a god complex would tell his son to do about the twins? His bastard heirs sired on a weak, primitive human? The way he thinks of our entire species is creepy enough without adding the fact that his son always does what Daddy says.”
That disturbing thought gave Ella pause. “You loved him, though, and you’re no fool. There must be something about him besides just following orders. Do you really think he’d do something so cruel to you?”
“He wouldn’t see it as cruel,” Lois argued. “He erased my memories for my own good – he said as much today – so what else might he do under his father’s prodding? No, Momma, I don’t trust him as far as they’re concerned. You may as well stop asking, because I’m not going to tell him.”
“If you don’t, eventually I will,” Ella warned. “You can’t keep him in the dark forever.”
Lois raked her hands through her hair. “Fine! When I think I can trust him … when we’ve talked a little bit more … then maybe I’ll tell him. But the twins come first, and I will not let them be taken from me.”
“Oh, that reminds me, Jason broke two more of his cars tonight,” Ella replied, and Lois felt her spine turn to ice. “Seems to me he just doesn’t know his own strength.”
Ella put her hands on her daughter’s shoulders and looked intently into those hazel eyes. “Sweetheart, you’re not going to be able to hide them much longer. What if they get his other powers? What if they start to see right through things? That’ll scare them half to death if they glance at someone and find out what a spleen looks like while it’s still inside. God forbid, what if they can fly?”
Lois blanched, her knees growing weak. She was suddenly faced by a vision of Jason and Kala soaring up into the night sky, waving goodbye to her, following their father out of her life. Her mother had to help her to the couch.
“Yeah, if I radiate any more Ron will have to buy me a wheelbarrow to carry this baby around in,” she joked, taking the flowers he’d brought and kissing his cheek. “C’mon in,
Three beautiful children, with café-au-lait skin and coal black hair, ran up to
Ron stuck his head out of the kitchen. “Well, well, the prodigal returns! I was starting to wonder when you’d take me up on the invitation. Lucy, hon, sit down somewhere,
“I’m pregnant, not sick,” she said tartly. “You’d think by number four he’d be used to it, wouldn’t you?”
“Listen, woman, if you keep insisting on staying on your feet all day long, you’re gonna regret it,” Ron warned. “Even Lois figured out what bed rest was when she was pregnant.”
Lucy just laughed. “Ron, she went into labor in a meeting! That’s why she had to go on bed rest. Besides, she was a lot bigger than I am.”
Oh, this was just too painful already. “Well, Lucy, she was carrying twins,”
“Yeah, two kids and a swing set for them to play on, from the look of her,” Lucy teased. “Hey,
Ron checked on the chicken he was baking and added, “Lucy, she ever finds out you have that, she’s gonna kill you. And then I’m gonna have to raise these wild children all by myself.”
Lucy rolled her eyes as she led
A sledgehammer to the heart couldn’t have hurt that badly. Lois was still very delicate, but her pregnant belly was very prominent. And the look on her face was so lost and lonely, the camera having captured her looking out a window.
“I know. She’s gi-normous. And let me tell you, pregnancy usually makes women happy and joyful, like me. Lois went the other way – her mood swings, brrr!” The pretty blonde shuddered dramatically.
He didn’t get much time to feel sorry for himself, though. Little Sam wanted to show him a homework assignment he’d gotten an A+ on that day, and Nora wanted to tell him about her upcoming birthday party. Even Joanna was curious about him now, and while Ron and Lucy put the finishing touches on dinner the three kids surrounded him with questions and laughter. The photo of a pregnant Lois was gone from the surface of his mind shortly after Lucy put it back in its hiding place, but the image would remain in his subconscious for quite a while.
Richard didn’t get up when he heard the key in the lock. He was watching the Discovery Channel with the kids, but his mind wasn’t on the emperor penguins that fascinated the twins. He’d had several hours in which to stew about Lois and everything that was going – or had long ago gone – wrong in their relationship. It was beginning to feel as though something huge had shifted, deep below the surface, and a widening gulf was slowly opening between them.
Once when he was thirteen or so, his parents had lived in a house with a huge oak tree right outside his bedroom window. Richard had loved that tree. When he climbed it he felt like he owned the world, looking down on the roof of the house and seeing the tiny little oak saplings growing in between the shingles. He had never made the connection between the gnarled roots that reached up under the house’s foundation and the crack in the plaster wall of his bedroom.
Richard’s parents had spent a couple of years plastering over that crack, sanding and repainting, but it always came back again. He liked to lie in bed and pretend it was a map of some unknown river, and he was flying over it, seeking strange tribes or lost cities. Once he had dreamed that it was a door into another world, one with fearsome monsters to fight and beautiful damsel in distress to save, and that the crack would somehow widen enough for him to slip through.
It never got to that point, although it did widen. After a long, wet spring, he had noticed that the crack in the wall was wider than his thumb. His parents noticed it too, and a lot of serious men in coveralls had come to look at it and the oak tree and the outside of the house. And then one day Richard had come home from school and the tree had been cut down. He was furious, even though his parents explained that the massive tree was lifting the back of the house and might one day cause his bedroom walls to crumble, perhaps even while he was in bed.
The original hairline crack in the wall had actually spread to about three inches wide before his parents finally had the tree cut down, although no one could tell because of the constant repairs. And that was how Richard felt about his engagement to Lois at the moment. They were drifting apart so slowly, covering over the obvious gaps in their relationship, and all the while that outside force kept widening the emptiness between them.
It would be easy to say that it was Superman’s fault, but Richard knew the blame really lay with himself and Lois. Too much had been left unspoken, and he had not asked as much as Lois had not told. Only now, with Superman and Clark
I fell in love with Sleeping Beauty, he thought, as Lois walked into the house and set her purse on the table, the twins rushing to her. And now she’s waking up.