It was several hours later when the door to Clark Kent’s apartment opened, spilling both reporters into its warmth. “Well, that was fun,” Lois said with a chuckle, hanging her coat up on the rack beside the door and kicking off her shoes. “Weird, but on the whole, pretty good.”
“Richard was the one who finally made it all work,” Clark added, coming in behind her and hanging his coat beside hers. “What he said to the kids… If I get really, really lucky I might learn how to be that good of a father before the twins graduate college.”
“Oh, stop it,” Lois sighed, elbowing him gently as he came up behind her. Feeling his arms encircle her waist, the dark-haired woman leaned back into his embrace. “You think I was a great mom from day one? Not hardly. I barely knew how to hold them when they were born. And that’s to say nothing about any of the rest of it.”
Lois turned somewhat, smacking his shoulder hard enough to make her palm sting. One eyebrow going up, it was easy to see that this could easily turn into one of those ‘Mad Dog Lane’ moments in the pretty face that stared up at him. “Knock it off, hero. You’re shaping up to be a good father, and you’ll shortly become a great one. Hell, it’s only been a few weeks since you found out for sure that they really are yours. Cut yourself some slack.”
“If you insist,” Clark replied, smiling again. It was hard for him to be serious around Lois now; she brought out his most mischievous impulses and kept his mood light. He leaned down to kiss the top of her head, nuzzling her hair.
His lover practically purred at the attention, rising up on tiptoe to make it easier for him to reach her. “Mmm, that’s nice,” Lois sighed, leaning even further back against him and tossing her dark hair to the side to keep it from being a hindrance. Speaking of adjusting, she was well on her way to becoming too attached to moments like this…
For a few moments they simply stood that way, both aware that the twins would be coming home from Nana’s tomorrow afternoon. They would’ve come home tonight, but Lucy and Ella had promised to take the whole gang out to the zoo tomorrow morning while everyone else in the city went shopping.
One more night together. Once the twins came home, Lois would have to go back to staying at the Riverside house with them. Clark would visit as often as he could, but he still felt uncomfortable there – they hadn’t discussed it yet, but they both knew that this idyllic time together would come to an end. There would be no more lying in bed until noon, making love as often as they physically could – not at the Riverside house, not within range of Kala’s hearing. Tomorrow, their real lives together would begin, starting with the office…
But tonight, their world was these few rooms and each other. Silence reigned as they savored this moment of peace, simply belonging to each other for these last stolen hours. “Kal-El,” Lois whispered finally, her eyes going lidded as she leaned her head against his jaw.
“Lois,” he responded, nuzzling her neck.
“This is our last chance to be alone together for a while.”
“Got any plans to make the most of it?”
“Well…” She couldn’t see his smile turn wicked, so Lois had no warning before he swept her up in his arms.
“Put me down!” Lois shrieked in thunder-struck surprise, thrashing. This is not what I meant! So much for sweet and romantic…“Dammit, Kal-El, you know I hate being picked up!”
“And you can’t do anything about it,” he laughed, swinging them both around in a circle. Lois yelped and clung to him, her eyes wide. She knew very well that he wouldn’t drop her, but she loathed being out of control…
The moment he stopped spinning, though, she proved him wrong about her helplessness. Lois jackknifed out of his hands and hit the ground running, giggling madly as he chased her. “I’ll get you for that!” she yelled ominously.
“Sure you will,” he teased, holding back his speed to make it a fair chase. They needed this moment of silliness after the seriousness of dinner at Ella’s – neither of them had ever been this playful with each other. In fact, Kal-El had never been able to goof around like this, and he couldn’t remember Lois being silly either…
She raced down the hall, trying to stop and slid full-tilt into the bedroom door. Grabbing the frame, chuckling with high spirits, Lois recovered her balance and launched herself into the room, Kal-El hot on her heels.
Lois had actually landed on the bed, almost rolling clear across it. He saw what she meant to do one second too late to keep himself from running smack into the pillow Lois was swinging at his head. His glasses went flying, and Lois laughed the free, lovely laugh he’d heard so rarely.
Then she hit him again. Kal-El got one arm up in time to deflect the blow, trying to get around her to snatch up another pillow. “Gotcha!” Lois yelled, and swung again.
That time, the pillow exploded, spraying feathers everywhere. They both froze, suddenly aware of how ridiculous this looked, feathers drifting gently down like the snow predicted for the weekend. Lois was the first one to break down laughing, falling backwards on the bed and laughing so hard she could barely breathe.
“You owe me a pillow,” Kal-El told her, waving feathers away from his face.
“Nuh-uh,” Lois chuckled. “It was your head that broke it.”
“Wouldn’t have been a problem if you weren’t swinging it at me,” he replied, grabbing her foot. Lois shrieked and thrashed when he did, and he laughed as he tried to keep hold of her.
“Don’t you dare tickle me! I’ll kill you,” she threatened, yanking her foot away and trying to scramble to the other side of the bed. Lying on her back, it wasn’t easy.
She’d forgotten how much faster he was than herself. Kal-El was kneeling on the bed and catching hold of her knees before she could start to move. Grinning mischievously, he pulled her toward him.
They’d both forgotten his strength in the moment of playing around. Just that slight tug brought Lois all the way to him, looking up in amazement with her knees on either side of his hips. The significance of the position wasn’t wasted on either of them.
“Well, I stand corrected,” she managed after a moment of surprised silence. And then that smile, that knowing smile began to curve her lips. “I see you do have plans.”
Lois’ eyes fluttered open at the scent of coffee, and she stretched with a low groan. Even after a full eight hours of sleep, she still felt a bit tired, every muscle whispering to her to simply roll over and go back to sleep … like she’d done every day so far this week. Nope, sorry, gotta go to work, Lois told her protesting body. Even if we did make love three times last night, at some point I have to get used to the extra exercise and start going back to the office. She yawned and sat up, blearily seeking the coffee she could smell…
Clark came into the room carrying coffee just as Lois got out of bed, and she went to him, nestling herself in his arms, snuggling against his chest with an almost feline purr of contentment. Had anything ever felt so good, so safe, as the way he held her? She could only give another happy sigh. “I love you, too,” he chuckled, kissing her rumpled hair as she snagged the mug and took a large gulp. Lois murmured wordlessly in reply, leaning against him and letting him stroke her hair while she sipped the coffee. “And Richard thought you were vicious in the morning,” Clark teased, nuzzling her cheek as he hugged her.
“Never brought me coffee,” she muttered, leaning up to kiss him. The instant before their lips met, she turned away to stifle a yawn.
He laughed and tousled her hair. “The lion tamer doesn’t walk into the cage without a chunk of meat if he knows the lion is hungry – that’s why I bring you coffee first thing in the morning.”
Lois elbowed his chest, glaring at him from narrowed eyes, but the potential fearsomeness of her glower was spoiled by her sly grin and the lock of hair that tumbled into her eyes. Clark kissed her again as he brushed the wave off her forehead, running his hands down her sides possessively once that was done, and then stepped back with sigh. “I’ve got to go, lovely lady,” he said with real regret. “I’ll see you at work – after I finish with my other job.”
“Have fun saving the world, honey,” Lois replied with saccharine sweetness, and then continued in normal tones that showed she really was waking up, “Thanks for the coffee.”
“You’re welcome,” he said with another kiss. “Thank you – for everything. For being the amazing woman you are, and for being mine.”
“Go before you get maudlin, hero,” Lois whispered against his lips. Did he really have no idea of the effect his words had on her? “See you at the office.”
Once he was gone – stealing yet another kiss and a brief caress that made her memories of the last night flare into incandescent life – Lois sauntered to the shower, unable to stop smiling. For the first time she could remember, everything was going right…
As she walked into the bathroom, she caught a glimpse of her own expression, the silly love-struck smile she couldn’t seem to wipe off her face. “Idiot,” she snickered at herself, shaking her head.
It must’ve been all the extra sleep, a desire to get back into the game, or perhaps the early dose of caffeine that had jump-started her brain. Regardless of the cause, Lois walked into the office fifteen minutes earlier than usual.
Thunderous silence greeted her arrival. Everyone took little glances at her when they thought she wasn’t looking their way, busying themselves in their work when she was. Ah, the rumor mill. I wonder how much they think they know, and what kind of lies they’re telling each other.
Lois breezed past with a smile, heading for her office. Only Perry acknowledged her; on his way to his own desk, he paused to say, “Good morning, Lane. Try getting here this early more often, it might make people forget you’ve been gone two weeks.”
“Hello to you, too, Chief,” she told him, raising an eyebrow. “You missed me, admit it.”
“Of course,” he replied grumpily, “but my aim’s improving. Get to work and make up for the time you missed.”
“Yes, Mr. White,” Lois said in a mockingly sweet tone, dropping her purse in her office and booting up her computer. While it warmed up and began the automatic morning tasks – checking email and displaying the current stories in progress – she headed to the break room for some more coffee.
For once, the morning crowd of useless gossips wasn’t there. She was probably just too early for them – why would the slackers bother coming in early when they weren’t going to do any work until at least ten o’clock? Lois smirked as she filled her coffee mug and noticed another benefit; this early, the break room brew hadn’t had a chance to turn into tar. It might actually be drinkable.
“Hi, Ms. Lane,” Jimmy said behind her.
“Hey, Jimmy,” Lois replied, looking over her shoulder to grin at him.
An awkward pause ensued before he managed to ask, “So are you okay? I mean, everyone said you were sick, and you weren’t here Wednesday. A lot of us were worried…”
“I’m fine now,” she said, smirking. “All I needed was a lot of rest, really. I’ve hardly been out of bed the last three days.”
“Yeah, that’s what people were saying,” Jimmy muttered. When Lois turned around to look him with an arched eyebrow, he blushed. “Um … the rumors have been pretty crazy around here.”
“Have they now,” Lois replied, leaning against the counter. “What’s everyone saying, Jimmy?”
The young photographer was afraid to look at her – if she was glaring at him, he’d go to pieces. But he couldn’t bear the silence, either, and finally raised his eyes. Lois’ gaze was inquiring, patient – fond of him if not fond of the news she was asking to hear. That made Jimmy smile awkwardly before answering her. “Well, um, you know Clark called you in. People have been saying – it’s pretty sad, actually, how much they’ll invent – but anyway, they’ve been making comments. About you. And Clark. You know.”
Lois gestured for him to go on. Her good mood couldn’t be broken, even by this; maybe she needed to take vacations more often.
At last, miserably, Jimmy said, “Everyone says you and Clark … well. They’re saying you two are, you know, a thing.”
“A thing?” Lois asked with both brows raised, laughter lurking in her tone. “What kind of a thing?”
“A couple,” he said, and blushed even brighter. “They’re saying he was … with you … when you were sick. Only, you know, they said you weren’t really sick.”
Lois snorted laughter, smirking. How many variations of ‘Lane had a fever – and Kent had the cure’ am I going to see on the company servers from the past two days? Geez. Worse than a bunch of kids – I expect them to all run up to me yelling, ‘Lane and Kent, sitting in a tree…’ To Jimmy, she said blandly, “Oh, you mean they’re all saying I’ve been sleeping with Clark.”
Jimmy almost choked. “Um…”
Lois shrugged and decided to stop teasing her friend. In the same blasé tone, she added, “Well, obviously I had to have slept with him at some point. He is the father of the twins.” With another of those cheerful smiles that seemed so odd coming from her, she took her coffee and headed past him.
His jaw dropped as she sauntered out of the office. Lois had to cover her mouth to stifle her own laughter, thinking, I cannot believe I just did that! Oh well, something for Clark to deal with when he finally gets in.
Back in her office, though, she had to seriously consider the ramifications of what she’d just done. Jimmy’s not a gossip, but anyone could’ve overheard that. And if what he’s saying is true, the rumors are already running wild. Her email was up, and she ran a quick check of the company’s email logs, searching for her own name. Within a few minutes, she’d seen more witty remarks about her supposed illness than she cared to think about – and several lengthy emailed arguments over the possibility of Clark being the twins’ father.
Dammit. The cat’s not only out of the bag, it’s gotten out of the house and had a litter of kittens. These people have nothing better to do all day than wonder what I’m doing? She fumed as she read, but a calmer voice in the back of her head whispered, You’re the most well-known reporter this newspaper has. You’re also one of the bosses. You know people are going to talk about you; that’s why you have access to the email server. Deal with it, Lane.
Well, it seemed as though the General’s Daughter was back. Lois smirked; she’d have to think on her feet to deal with this latest issue, and snap decisions in the heat of the moment were her forte. Another little voice added, Well, you know you could…
Listening to the Romantic – for once – Lois started to grin. Yes, that could work very well indeed…
When Clark finally arrived at the office – after stopping in Missouri to thaw an ice storm threatening to cut power over most of Kansas City – he knew something was going on from the moment he stepped into the bullpen. Everyone turned to look at him with expressions of surprise or awe or simply disbelief. And every reporter watched him avidly as he headed for his department. The only two who were acting normal were Ron and Jimmy, both of whom waved and went on about their business, but Jimmy gave Clark a wide grin that seemed to imply he knew something.
He soon saw the reason for everyone else’s intense interest. Lois was leaning against his desk, her arms crossed, her expression serious but otherwise unreadable. For a moment, Clark hesitated at the door to International. What on earth is she doing? We were going to do this slowly – start dating, get everyone used to seeing us together, break the idea to them a little at a time. If Lois decided to change plans, she could’ve told me…
Wait. This might just be about calling her in. Yeah, I can see that – she looks angry. Maybe she’s about to chew my head off for starting rumors.
She still could’ve warned me…
Clark kept all of that off his face as he approached her, making his expression a questioning one. He remembered to bump his briefcase against several reporters’ desks and tell people good morning, even though he was concentrating on Lois. No one was paying attention to his performance – they were glancing back and forth between him and Lois with the air of spectators at a tennis match. Or a bullfight – they looked like they were waiting to see if he would get gored.
“Hi, Lois,” he said, nudging the glasses up and dropping his briefcase beside the desk. Oh, God, she’s wearing that pinstripe suit too, he thought, forcing himself not to glance down at her long, elegant legs.
“Good morning, Clark,” she replied evenly. Looking up at him wasn’t comfortable this close, so she uncrossed her arms, put both hands on the desk behind her, and eased up so she was sitting on the edge. The skirt rode up a little as she did, and Lois re-crossed her legs at the knee. That put her thigh very close to his hand, and Clark remembered the feel of her stockings under his fingers as if he were touching her now. Focus, you ninny, he told himself.
“What brings you over to, um, the International department?” he asked.
“I think we need to talk about Wednesday.” Lois’ tone was still cool and indecipherable.
“Uh, sure,” Clark replied, thinking, In front of an audience. Thanks. You were the one who loved doing improv in college, not me. Can I have a hint, please?
“Seems there’s a rumor going around,” she said, glancing around as she spoke. Everyone in International had given up all pretense of work to stare at the pair of them, and the reporters in the City room were standing up to get a better view.
“Really? Wow. Well, you know, I just got in. I haven’t had time to hear the latest gossip.” He grinned nervously; standard Clark response to being in Lois’ presence, and it worked for almost any scenario she could be planning. “So, um, what’s this rumor?”
“Everyone seems to think I wasn’t quite as sick as we were saying I was,” Lois replied, characteristically circling around the point. “Rumor is, you and I had other plans.”
“Gosh,” Clark said. “Lois, I’d be really upset if anyone thought I lied to the Chief. I wonder why anybody would think such a thing?”
“Well, you can’t exactly blame them,” Lois replied casually, “considering the fact that they seem to already think you’re the father of the twins.”
For a moment, his eyes widened – she’d actually said that, no matter how couched in qualifiers. So much for breaking it to them gently… Before he could react with anything other than mute astonishment, Lois grinned wickedly and grabbed his tie. “Damn good thing it’s true, huh?” she said huskily, and pulled him down to her for a kiss.
We can’t do this at the office, what does she think she’s… The voice of reason died away as his mouth met hers, and Clark hesitated only for the briefest of seconds. “We were already busted,” Lois whispered against his lips, and he let himself get lost in the kiss. One hand came up behind her to cup the back of her neck tenderly, and the other rested on her knee to balance him. That last little gesture quickly became one of triumphant possession, his hand sliding up her leg a few inches, fingertips just barely under the hem of the skirt. Any man who tried that without Lois specifically wanting his hand there would’ve gotten bones broken, and everyone knew it.
As Clark and Lois deepened the kiss, forgetting about their audience, the assembled reporters broke into wild cheering and wolf whistles.
Jimmy and Ron had watched the entire spectacle from the doorway between their two departments. Ron had wasted no time telling Jimmy what he’d seen at the Lane family Thanksgiving dinner the previous evening, and Jimmy had sworn not to tell anyone – well, until he cornered Lois to ask her if it was true, anyway.
The moment Lois went over to International and camped out on Clark’s desk, Ron and Jimmy had known she was planning something. As soon as Clark arrived and saw her perched there, the two friends had gotten together to watch the show.
“You think she’s ticked because everyone knows?” Jimmy had whispered while Clark approached Lois hesitantly.
“Maybe,” Ron muttered. “Can’t tell. She doesn’t look mad, but if she blames him for calling her in and blowing the big secret…”
“Ouch,” Jimmy replied. “Man, I hope not.”
“Me too,” Ron said. “They were all kinds of lovey-dovey at dinner yesterday. Being good parents, too. I don’t want to see them fight out here in public…”
They had hushed while Lois and Clark spoke, and when she grabbed his tie, Jimmy winced. She’d used that move before to yank a taller man closer to her and slap his face – most of the time it had been Lombard. Lois even joked that she had to drag him down to her height, or she’d get tennis elbow from reaching up to smack him around so often. In the old days, he’d even deserved it, as often as he’d tried something untoward with the women around the office.
But Lois had no intention of slapping Clark. Instead, she kissed him, and kissed him thoroughly. Now Jimmy understood what Ron meant about ‘seeing is believing’ – those two had kissed before, often enough that they came together easily and naturally. Clark, probably the clumsiest person in the office, even looked graceful for a moment as he bent and kissed her.
Jimmy felt one second of stinging jealousy – how many times had he and Clark both been laughed at, the two guys who both had such obvious crushes on Lois and neither of whom had a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting her? Now here was Clark, who had obviously won her heart as well as fathered her twins. And he was kissing her in front of the whole office…
“Look at the Chief!” Ron hissed, elbowing Jimmy. They both turned to look into the Editor in Chief’s office, seeing Perry standing beside his desk watching Lane and Kent. For a moment, his expression was unreadable. Then, much to the surprise of the two men watching him, he broke into a broad grin.
The instant of jealousy melted. Lois had never thought of Jimmy as anything other than a little brother, and he’d known it for years. At least now she was with someone who really cared about her, who knew her the way only the old crew knew each other, and who loved her for all of her crazy quirks. Even Perry was happy for them. The photographer grinned as he watched the pair, and then his eyebrows shot up.
Clark was a notorious klutz, but did he actually have to brace one hand on Lois’ crossed knees to kiss her? Jimmy doubted it. And when that hand slid up her thigh ever so slightly, in full view of forty-some-odd gossip-hungry reporters, Jimmy knew it had to be deliberate. She’s mine, that gesture said, Lois is mine, now and forever, the twins are mine, and don’t any of you forget it. Seeing his old friend, usually so shy and mild-mannered, being possessive for even a moment filled the photographer’s heart with pride. He was the first to whistle and applaud, but soon the office rang with cheering.
Swept up in the general delight, Ron and Jimmy even hugged each other, laughing when a couple of guys from Accounting came to the door to find out what all the fuss was about. No one in City or International was even pretending to work anymore – they were all laughing, clapping, whistling, and calling out encouragement, some of it ribald. In the midst of all that, Lois broke the kiss and rested her head on Clark’s chest, blushing furiously and laughing. Jimmy couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her smile like that, not to mention laugh.
Clark hugged her, kissing the top of her head, and Lois buried her face in his chest for a moment, still looking a little embarrassed when she finally looked up. When the noise level had died down slightly, Perry walked into International, glaring at all of the reporters who were slacking off to watch the show. That paternal grin Jimmy and Ron had seen was replaced by a glower, and when he was within a few feet of the couple Perry barked, “Lane! Kent! Are you two done entertaining everyone, or do I have to get a fire extinguisher?”
Lois groaned and rolled her eyes, looking like a teenager whose father had just caught her necking. “When did you get here, old man?” she complained.
Clark just adjusted his glasses and said, “Good morning, Mr. White.”
“It looks like it has been,” Perry said archly to him before returning his attention to Lois. “Lane, I’m not paying you to be a desk ornament! Get back to your own department so someone – it won’t be you, the way things are going – can get some work done around here!”
Jimmy and Ron started snickering, but the Chief wasn’t finished. He raised his voice to the bellow they all knew and loathed. “The rest of you, this is a newspaper, not a circus! Get to work!” They all leaped to obey, except for Lois, who sat defiantly on Clark’s desk glaring at Perry. And Clark, who couldn’t sit down and start working until Lois got off of his blotter.
Richard chose that moment to walk in the doors. A wave of silence spread among the watching reporters, most of whom hurried to their desks without looking at him. Even Jimmy felt his breath catch; as happy as he was for Clark, he liked Richard too. Just because he wasn’t the right one for Lois didn’t mean he had to have that fact flung into his face…
Ron was grinning, though, and Jimmy took that as a good sign. Richard greeted them both as he walked by, sounding preoccupied; he was carrying a sheaf of computer printouts that he studied intently. “Morning, Uncle Perry,” he said as he walked by the Chief.
“You’re late,” Perry replied, but Richard didn’t respond. He was already on his way to his office, greeting his staff with a distracted wave. They all watched him, puzzled; surely he saw his one-time fiancée sitting on Kent’s desk?
As he drew level with them, Richard said casually, “Good morning, Lois. Good morning, Clark.”
“Morning, Richard,” they replied in unison, not looking ruffled in the slightest.
Now the unusually-quiet reporters looked shocked, everyone pausing to watch Richard. Had he really just walked past the pair without even noticing? What on earth was he so absorbed in, anyway? Even Perry was giving his nephew a speculative look.
At the door of his own office, Richard paused and looked around. For the first time, he seemed to see everyone staring at him, and his gaze went to Lois, still sitting on Clark’s desk. Jimmy held his breath.
Then Richard turned back to the other reporters and laughed. “You didn’t think I didn’t know, did you?” he asked incredulously. “Hell, don’t you all remember who made arrangements for them both to get personal leave at the same time? And covered her department while she was out?”
“Yeah, rub it in, Richard,” Lois called sarcastically. She had turned around to look over her shoulder at him, twisted awkwardly and bracing a hand atop Clark’s computer monitor. “We’ve all heard about it.”
Richard leaned against the door to his office. “Don’t worry, I didn’t fire anybody, and I didn’t clean that disgusting pit you call a coffeemaker, either.” Grinning, he added, “Now I know why you’d never marry me – your coffee would’ve killed me in the first year.”
“Can’t marry anyone who won’t drink newsmen’s brew,” Lois replied, utterly deadpan. “You guessed it in one.”
Richard just chuckled. “Hope you like drinking tar, Clark,” he tossed off, and closed his office door behind him.
The m-word had been mentioned in Lois’ presence, and predictably, she scurried off of Clark’s desk and over to her own department with a muttered apology. Jimmy and Ron looked at each other one last time; against all odds, everything had turned out right. Richard was happy, Lois and Clark were happy, and there were no more secrets floating around the office – for the moment.
The International reporter and the City photographer high-fived each other solemnly, and both went back to work.
Lois and Clark met briefly in the break room after lunch. He took one look at the sour expression on her face and smiled sympathetically. “Did Perry weigh you down with work, too? He’s given me six assignments to finish by next Friday.”
“Yeah, we’re supposed to be rested and ready to work our asses off,” Lois growled, clearly having heard the same lecture from the Chief. “Only he’s got me on three stories and four editorials. Not only that, he’s dragging me to two of those stupid business meetings. I swear, if this is the kind of welcome back I get, I’ll never take a vacation again.”
Clark chuckled and touched her cheek lightly, fingertips sliding down to her jaw to tilt her face up for a brief kiss. “We can do it, and he knows that. Besides, you’ve gotten enough sleep over the past few days that you can afford to stay up writing editorials, right?”
She made an irritated little noise at him and narrowed her eyes, but her lips were curved up in a smile. “Yeah, fine. But you’d better be coming by the house to help me look after the twins if you expect me to get any work done from home.”
“Of course,” he replied. “I can’t stay the night… Wouldn’t be a good idea with Kala’s hearing, anyway.”
Lois grinned saucily. “You know, she’s going to hear us eventually. I don’t intend to be celibate until she moves out.”
He returned the knowing smile. “Then I guess when you find a new place, we’d better soundproof the rooms.”
She was about to make a sarcastic reply when Jimmy suddenly appeared beside them. Throwing an arm around each of their shoulders, the photographer hugged his two favorite reporters. “I love you guys!” he exclaimed, beaming, then disappeared out of the break room.
“What the…?” Clark said, giving his friend a bemused look.
“He’s happy for us,” Lois said, smiling fondly. “I think we just met the President of the Lane-Kent Fan Club. Give him some credit, he waited this long before doing it.”
“Still…” Clark shrugged. “I’m just glad the office reaction was positive. Thank you so much for warning me what you were about to do, by the way.”
“You’re welcome,” Lois replied with no irony. “As for me, I’m glad Jimmy’s timing has gotten a little less accurate. Back in the old days, he was always showing up to ruin the moment, not celebrate it.”
They smiled at each other, both remembering a California desert, a rental car out of gas, a tirade from Lois, and Superman looking at her with love and relief shining in his eyes. They’d swayed toward each other – and Jimmy showed up, complaining about how he’d been left in the desert. Lois had wanted to kill him for that…
“C’mon, let’s get back to work before…” Clark began, but he stopped in mid-sentence and looked toward the door.
Before Lois could ask him what was going on, she heard the thump of running feet. Jason came tearing through the office and into the break room, launching himself at his mother the moment he saw her. “Mommeee!” he called complainingly, “Kala’s bein’ a pirate again!”
“Oh God,” Lois groaned. “I’ll kill Lucy. She knows you guys aren’t supposed to watch any of those movies.”
“Lois, what on earth?” Clark asked, but the answer to his question was close behind her brother.
“Avast, ye scurvy dog!” Kala crowed merrily when she caught sight of Jason in the break room doorway, hugging their mother. “I’ll make ye walk the plank!”
“Mommy, make her stop!” Jason whined.
Kala looked around the break room, grinning manically at Clark, and then caught sight of an empty paper towel roll someone had left on the counter. Snatching it up, she waved it at Jason like a cutlass and yelled, “Arr, miserable cur!”
“Kala Josephine!” Lois called. “Your brother is not a dog, and he doesn’t have scurvy, either. Knock it off. Now.”
Half the office was watching this latest installment of drama brought to them by the Lanes, and Kala was aware of her audience. Looking up at her mother mournfully, Kala flung her head back and cried in tones of deepest pathos, “But why’s the rum gone?”
Clark couldn’t help snickering, and most of the listening reporters burst into laughter. Lois just pressed her hands to her temples. “Kala, I’m serious. Stop it this instant. You are not, and never will be, a pirate.” Hugging her son, she muttered, “I should’ve never let her dress up as a pirate for Halloween…”
“But Mommy, you said I could be anything I wanted to when I grow up,” Kala said in wounded tones. “If I wanted somethin’ bad enough and worked hard enough, you said I could do anything.”
Lois gave Clark an arch look. “See, all that crap in the parenting books you’re supposed to tell your kids? This is what it gets you. My son wants to be a radioactive lizard, and my daughter wants to be a Johnny Depp role.”
He laughed, rumpling Kala’s hair. “Sweetheart, you don’t want to be a pirate,” he said gently.
“Yes I do!” Kala shot back.
“Kala, you can’t be a pirate,” Lois growled. “One, there aren’t any more pirates like the ones in movies, because there aren’t any more sailing ships. Two, pirates are bad – they steal stuff and hurt people. And that’d look bad on your father and me, right? Considering who Daddy is? Three, you’re not a boy. All the pirate captains were boys.”
Kala’s face fell. “There’s no girl pirates?”
“No captains,” Lois said, “and we Lane women don’t take orders well.”
Richard had gone to get the twins on his lunch break, and had followed them into the office, grinning indulgently. Lois saw him then, and looked up with a scowl. “Get ready to give Ron bereavement leave – I’m killing my sister. She knows not to let Kala see any of those pirate movies.”
“It wasn’t Lucy, it was Ella,” Richard informed her. “It was on TV and she didn’t scroll fast enough to hide it.”
Jason had decided it was safe to deal with his sister again, and was now mocking her. “You’re never gonna be a pirate,” he hissed. “A pie-rat, that’s as close as you’ll ever get. You’re already a rat, now you just need the pie!”
“Meanie,” Kala snarled at him. “You’re never gonna be a lizard, either. Who’d wanna be a dumb ol’ lizard, anyway? They’re ugly and smelly and stupid.”
“Gazeera’s not stupid!”
All three adults became aware of the escalating argument at that moment, and quickly moved to break it up before the twins could really cause a scene. Clark picked up Kala, Lois picked up Jason, and Richard stepped in between them. “Kids, if you two can behave like civilized children for five minutes instead of the wild hoydens you’ve been impersonating,” Richard said, “I need to talk to you. Clark, Lois, you too. Oh, and I need Perry in on this also.”
Lois raised an eyebrow at him. “Uh-huh. You need all of us there, do you? What’re you plotting, Richard White?” she asked dubiously.
“You’ll see,” Richard told her. “Meet me in the conference room. I’ll get my uncle.”
Five minutes later, they were all assembled in the conference room, Perry grumbling, “I hope you don’t think you’re doing this in secret, boy. Everyone saw us walk back here – you might as well have had this clandestine little meeting in my glass-walled office.”
“Uncle Perry, everything I’ve said to you in your office has gotten leaked to the rumor mill,” Richard said. “Maybe the place is bugged. I’d prefer to keep this under wraps for a while, that’s why I wanted to talk here.”
“And just what’s so important?” Perry asked.
Richard took a deep breath. “I need some personal leave,” he said.
Perry looked at him, then at Lois and Clark. “Okay, fine. Lane can cover your department…”
“International basically runs itself now,” Richard interrupted. “I’ve got Clark and Ron and a handful of others who’ll do their job even if the assistant editor’s office is empty. The rest might need some encouragement, but it’s not the bubbling cauldron of trouble that City is.”
“Gee, that was a huge compliment there. Thanks, Richard,” Lois muttered.
“Only you could run it as well as you do,” Richard told her.
Her expression was not amused as she stared at him . “Yeah, right. Shut up while you’re ahead, White.”
“How much leave are we talking here?” Perry asked him.
“I don’t know,” Richard replied. “As long as it takes.”
“As long as what takes?” Like any old reporter, Perry wasn’t going to let go until he got a real answer.
Lois was already grinning, where he had been going now painfully obvious to her, but she let Richard speak. “I’m going to Milan,” he said. “And I’m bringing Lana Lang back with me, even if I have to camp under her window and sing bad Italian love songs until she sees me just to shut me up.”