For the authors, it’s the season to thank our betas. One thing we may
have told everyone before: every chapter does contain last-minute additions. Because sometimes the muse likes to strike
we get things back from the beta team. So any mistakes you see are ours, not theirs. Hugs and smooches to
wouldn’t be here without you.
Now, may I present...
Lois growled at her computer screen, raking her hair back. She’d been at this for half an hour, knew where she needed to go, but couldn’t quite untangle the words she needed from the mass of thoughts swirling in her mind. Meanwhile, delighted laughter floated up to her from downstairs; Kal-El and the twins were watching a movie together.
Looking up, she cast a longing glance at the door. She would’ve liked to be with them, but this editorial had to be finished before the meeting tomorrow. Especially since she had to get up early to send that package out in the morning and there would be no extra time to get anything done last minute. Besides, it gave him more bonding time with Jason and Kala, and the three of them were making up for everything they’d lost. Lois found that these days she preferred for the four of them to do things together as a family, but Kal-El needed his Daddy-time, too. Lois chuckled to herself, thinking, I guess I’m still trying to learn how to share them. All three of them.
It still made her head ache to think things like that – Clark’s Daddy-time, doing things together as a family, sharing Kal-El with the twins and vice versa. How the hell did I wind up falling into this? It’s like a fantasy – one I never really knew I wanted or dared to dream. Me, Kal-El, and our kids. A family. It’s almost perfect, except that he doesn’t stay the night … and oh, God, I miss that. She sighed, rubbing her temples as she stared at the laptop. Sleeping alone in the living room once the twins were in bed was slowly becoming its own special torture. And it wasn’t just making love that she missed. The nearness, the warmth, the feeling of being absolutely safe and adored… I can understand why he’s avoiding it – the twins are here, and he still thinks of this as Richard’s house. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be comfortable making love to him here, either. But thinking about that really isn’t getting this damn editorial written.
She glared back down at the screen. The title seemed to glare back: Why the World Needs Superman. The ideas for this editorial had been simmering in the back of her mind since Kal-El had been hospitalized. Lois had stopped pretending she didn’t need him when she was sitting beside his bed, holding his hand, and thinking of how he needed to live to see the twins grow up. She needed him – but even though the title of the editorial had come to her during those lonely hours at his bedside, she couldn’t have written it then. The words that occurred to her while she watched his too-still face would have been as subjective and deeply personal as the Pulitzer-winning editorial had been accused of being.
So Lois had waited, in spite of Perry nudging her more than once to write something about the apocalyptic events she’d been part of. Part of it, hell – I was at the center of it all. The only part I missed was him confronting Luthor on the island. And honestly, I’m kinda glad I didn’t see that. If I had been there, I would’ve either killed Luthor myself or gotten all of us killed by attacking him.
Now that she had some distance from the events and from the aftermath of them – her whole life had changed so quickly – it was time to write this. The three people she loved most in the world laughed again, and the raven-haired reporter grinned, her heart lightening. Oh yes. The world needs him – I need him – they need him most of all. Lois looked back down at the screen and began to type slowly. Having an inkling as to what she was about to do, she gave silent thanks to spell-check with a brighter grin.
A perfect world would not need a Man of Steel. Such a world would have resolved its socioeconomic conflicts and be so enlightened that matters of race and class and religion were cause for polite discourse, not hate crimes. There would be no war, no crime, no injustice, none of the self-destructive tendencies of humankind.
But this world is far from perfect…
Richard headed to Lana’s hotel early in the morning, waving friendly greetings to the models and seamstresses he now knew. He stopped by the front desk, ordered up room service, and sweet-talked them into letting him bring breakfast to palatial suite upstairs. Plucking the rose from the breakfast tray, he placed it between his teeth and knocked on the door. That ought to make her laugh, and he loved to see those green eyes sparkle with merriment…
The doorknob turned, and Richard grinned around the rose. He wanted to strike just the right note, charming and funny but not presumptuous, in case Lana was having second thoughts about last night. When the door swung open, though, it wasn’t Lana standing there. Kay gave him an amused look and called over her shoulder, “Lana, your boy-toy brought you breakfast. With a rose in his teeth, no less.”
Richard dropped the flower back into its vase. At least Kay seemed a lot more relaxed. “Hi, Kay. I didn’t know you were sharing the suite.”
“It’s got three bedrooms, why waste the space?” she remarked, adding quickly, “Don’t invite yourself to the third.”
“I wouldn’t…” he began to defend himself, but Lana arrived at that moment.
“How sweet of you, darling,” she said, grinning as she leaned across the room service cart to kiss him. Apparently Kay wasn’t the only one who had mellowed out in the last twenty-four hours; that affectionate little kiss spoke volumes about Lana’s mindset after last night.
The redhead seemed much less nervous as she drew back slightly, grinned, and then kissed him again. To his surprise, she seemed to finally trust Richard, for which he was profoundly grateful. It had been painful to him to watch Lana shy away as if she feared him, wondering if maybe she had a reason to be wary of a man’s hands on her. No, she wasn’t hurt like I thought – and I would’ve beaten her ex within an inch of his life if she had been – she was just scared of how much she enjoyed even the most chaste of kisses. I’m glad she feels safe with me now. And I’m very glad she’s comfortable being affectionate now.
Richard kissed her a third time, ignoring Kay’s sigh and eye roll. “Breakfast, my lady? Or ladies, as the case may be?”
“I’m going out,” Kay said, tapping Richard on the shoulder. “Move it, Mr. White. You two behave yourselves while I’m gone, all right?”
“You’re not my mother,” Lana sighed, standing aside so Richard could bring the cart into the room.
Her assistant just laughed. “Don’t make me call your mother. I’ve got all your pertinent phone numbers, remember? Including his.”
Richard folded his arms and gave Lana a very serious look. “You’re giving my number to other women now?”
She sidled close and kissed him again, lingering a moment longer than before, then looked up at him with that laughing smile he’d so wanted to see. “She’s my assistant – she manages my address book.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think she likes me too much,” Richard muttered as they brought the plates through the room to the balcony.
“She thinks you’re devastatingly handsome,” Lana told him, deftly stealing a biscotti from the tray and dipping it into the cappuccino. “And probably not good enough for me.”
“Well, I know that,” Richard teased. “No one’s good enough for you. I’m just lucky enough that you like me anyway.”
“Merely the truth, ma’am.”
Silence reigned as they devoured breakfast, Richard saving the last pastry for Lana. She took the last sip of her cappuccino and sighed. “That was decadent. I could get very used to the way people eat in this country.”
“I could get very used to having breakfast with you, beautiful,” Richard replied, and she smiled at him again. Before she could accuse him of being unrelentingly charming, he changed the subject. “So what’s on your schedule?”
“Practically nothing,” Lana said. “The show’s over and it’s the holidays; I don’t want anyone to have to work for me between now and Christmas when they could be with their families. I’m basically free ‘til then.”
He nodded. “So, since there’s nothing you have to do, what do you want to do?”
Lana’s smile grew tempting. “What every woman wants to do when there’s a new man in her life, Richard.” She paused while his eyebrows shot up, and added with a chuckle, “Go shopping.”
“I should’ve known,” he groaned. “Wait. You’re a designer. Why would you want to go clothes shopping?”
“Christmas shopping,” she corrected. “And I do wear some clothes that aren’t my own. I even wear things that are off the rack – once they’re tailored. But speaking of Christmas shopping…”
Richard followed bemusedly as Lana headed back into the suite, hunting through a large selection of blouses hanging on a garment rack. Finally she pulled one out – the color was deep ruby, with a v-neck and a trace of embroidery around the collar and cuffs. “Well?” she asked, and when he hesitated, she smirked. “Doesn’t it just shout Lois Lane?”
“You’re making clothes for my ex now?” he asked.
“No, this was a test – which means it’s an original. One of a kind.” Lana paused to admire it. “The version that went into production doesn’t have the neckline like this, and there aren’t any in this color, either. But it makes me think of her. Do you think Lois would like it?”
“I’m a guy,” he replied. “I don’t buy clothes for women. It’s like asking a snake to buy shoes – we don’t get it.”
“You never bought Lois any clothing?”
“Once, and she looked at me like I was smoking crack,” Richard replied, not mentioning that the garment in question had been lingerie.
Lana rolled her eyes as she hung the blouse back up. “Well, I like it. Although I’ll probably pick something else up for her as well.”
“You’re gonna buy Lois a Christmas present?”
“Yes,” Lana said. “Why not?”
Richard stood there looking at her confusedly. “Maybe because she’s my ex?”
“And I’ll pick something up for the twins, too,” Lana replied. “Oh, goodness, I have to get Clark something… What do you buy a superhero for Christmas, anyway?”
“Lana,” Richard said. “Um, you got his true love’s fiancé out of the picture. That’s gift enough.”
She looked at him disbelievingly for a moment, then shook her head and muttered, “Men. So, are you going to go with me, or do you suffer from that gender-based phobia of shopping?”
“I can think of a dozen things I’d rather do than spend all day in stores,” Richard said. “However, since I’ll be with you, that makes it worthwhile. Just don’t ask my opinion on anything clothing-related.”
Lana hugged him, not hesitating in the slightest when his arms slid around her, and kissed his cheek. Richard found himself surprised by just how demonstrative she was now that she wasn’t holding back, and he nuzzled her hair with a delightfully surprised little chuckle. “Such a sweetheart,” Lana purred, kissing the curve of his jaw. “You’ll even go shopping to be with me, you hopeless romantic you. Tell you what; since you’re going with me today, I’ll go somewhere with you tonight. Somewhere you really want to go.”
“Oh, really?” Richard asked, seeing the gleam of mischief in those lovely sea-green eyes. “And where would that be?”
Lana tilted her face up for another kiss, and whispered against his lips, “Back home to Metropolis.”
Richard had to draw back and blink at her, shocked. He’d purchased his plane tickets one way, not knowing when he would be back, and to be honest, he’d expected it to be weeks before Lana agreed to come home with him. “You’re serious?”
She tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, some of her shyness returning. “So serious I already booked our flight this evening. I don’t have any reason to stay in Milan now; Kay and the girls will pack everything up and ship it back to Gotham. And I know you must be missing the twins.”
For a long moment, Richard was so stunned that he simply stared at her. Then he broke into a broad grin and hugged her tightly. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
Laughing, she let him kiss her one more time before pulling back. “Come on, you. Shopping first.”
Leaving the department store on Thursday afternoon, Jason and Kala were bouncing around with excitement while Clark carried their purchases to the car. He privately considered it a Christmas miracle that Lois had agreed to let him drive her Audi. That car was virtually sacred space – no one else was allowed to profane the driver’s seat. Clark, however, needed a vehicle to take the twins shopping, and given the choice between renting a car and loaning him hers, Lois had handed him the keys.
“D’ya think Mommy will like the perfume we got her?” Kala asked, skipping along beside him. It seemed as though they had smelled everything in the perfume case before all three had agreed.
“I think so,” Clark replied beaming down at her as he opened the trunk. “You picked a really lovely scent, sweetheart.” Kala giggled, grinning back up at him at the compliment.
“An’ the slippers,” Jason said hurriedly, feeling left out. Handing the bag containing his present to his father, he added, “Mommy’s always complainin’ how her feet get cold.”
“I’m sure she’ll stay nice and warm,” Clark told him, taking the bag and ruffling his hair. “And comfy, too. Those memory-foam slippers feel really nice – you were smart to find them.”
Both kids beamed at the praise, but Jason soon wore a scowl of concentration. “Daddy?” he asked with his usual innate curiosity. “How come Santa doesn’t bring presents for grownups?”
Clark put the packages away and closed the trunk, seeing both twins now looking up at him curiously. Quick, think of something. Wait a minute, think of an answer Lois won’t kill you over. “Well,” he said slowly, “Santa brings a different kind of present to grownups.”
“Like what?” Kala asked, utterly innocent.
“Things you can’t wrap,” he replied. “Like faith and hope and the spirit of the season. In my case, I got the best gift ever, and it was early.”
“What was it?” they both asked, eyes shining at the thought of early presents.
“A pair of twins – the smartest, most beautiful kids on the face of the earth,” Clark replied, sweeping them both into a hug. Kala and Jason both laughed in delight, returning the hug, and when he let them go they scampered into the back seat and buckled in.
When Clark got into the car, however, he didn’t start it up immediately. Turning around in the driver’s seat to look at them, Clark asked in a conspiratorial tone, “Would you two like to help me with my Christmas gift for Mommy?”
“Sure!” they chorused, grinning at each other. This was their first real outing with him and they were enjoying it immensely.
“First I have to ask you something,” he said hesitantly. “And whether you say yes or no, you can’t tell your mommy that I asked, okay?”
The excitement seemed to die down a bit, the twins looked at him dubiously. “Mommy says secrets are bad,” Jason whispered. “’Specially now.”
Clark couldn’t help chuckling, which settled his nerves. “It’s more of a surprise than a secret,” he promised. “But I need to ask if something’s okay with you two. If it isn’t, don’t tell her, because it would upset her. If it is okay, then you have to keep it a secret so she can be surprised on Christmas. All right?”
Kala and Jason conferred silently, staring at each other while they reached a mutual decision based on some deep bond peculiar to twins. Clark had seen them do it several times, and it never failed to raise the hairs at the nape of his neck – his own powers were fantastic, but telepathy wasn’t one of them. Lois insisted the kids weren’t psychic, they just knew each other extremely well. In spite of her casual attitude, Clark still felt a bit unsettled at times like this.
After a long moment, they both turned back to him, and Kala gave a sober nod before she gave a hesitant, “Okay.”
Clark took a deep breath; if this was this hard to ask the twins, he was a fool to even think of asking Lois… “Would it be okay with you two if I married Mommy?”
Both children blinked in surprise, the expressions on their little faces full of utter amazement. Clearly that had not been what they were expecting. Clark had just enough time to feel his hopes fall; it was out of the question, they didn’t want their lives disordered, Mommy had publicly proclaimed that she’d never ever marry…
And then, just as he was about to backpedal a bit, Jason said, “Really?”
“Like, really get married this time?” Kala added only an instant later. Clark began to realize that he had completely misjudged their reaction. “With a wedding an’ flowers an’ all?”
The breathless excitement in both their voices was all the reassurance Clark needed. “Yes. And you two can be in the wedding party.”
“YAY!” both twins yelled, grinning at each other as if this had been their idea.
“I take that as a ‘yes’, then?” Clark asked, laughing.
“Yeah!” Jason replied, bouncing a little in his seat. “When are you gonna get married?”
“Whoa there, son,” Clark said. “I have to ask her first.”
“She’ll say yes,” Kala replied both solemnly and promptly, nodding encouragement. “Mommy’s smart.”
“I still have to ask her,” Clark told them, grinning at Kala’s certainty. “And if I’m going to propose, I have to have a ring for her to wear if she says yes.” Kala and Jason both went wide-eyed, the excitement reaching a new level, and he continued, using what he was starting to think of as his ‘father’ voice. “I want you two to help me pick out the ring. But, if I take you to a jewelry store, you have to be on your absolute best behavior. No running, no arguing, no touching anything unless I say it’s okay.”
“But Daddy…” The twins pouted, imagining a shop full of shiny baubles they couldn’t touch. When Clark continued to look at them sternly, however, they gave in with big sighs. “Yes, sir.”
“All right, then. If you go back on your word, we’re leaving the store, and I’ll have to buy the ring without you. I don’t want to do that, so make sure you behave.”
They both nodded, and only then did Clark start the car and head uptown, to one of the finest jewelry stores in Metropolis. Whatever Jason and Kala had been imagining, the reality of the place stunned them speechless. Their eyes seemed to light on everything, dazzled. The thick carpet and large display cases full of beautiful jewelry displayed on black velvet impressed both twins, and they stuck close to Clark’s side. This was a place for grownups and they were being allowed into this world just once and for a short time. And there was so much to take in.
A salesman quickly came to their side immediately, smiling at the wide-eyed children. “Can I help you, sir?”
“Um, yes,” Clark said, not having to fake his nervousness at all. Was he really going to do this? “I … I need to buy an engagement ring.”
“Daddy and Mommy are getting married,” Kala informed the man with her characteristic toothy grin.
If the salesman wondered why a man with six-year-old twins was just now getting around to marrying their mom, he didn’t mention it. “Right this way, sirs and ma’am,” he said, including the two children to their delight. “We have a fine selection of diamonds…”
Kala started shaking her head almost immediately, tugging on her father’s sleeve until he looked down at her. “Daddy, no… Mommy doesn’t like di’monds,” she whispered urgently. When Clark glanced at Jason, he nodded his agreement and added in the same low voice, “Mommy says they just look like glass.”
The salesman probably hadn’t heard that, so Clark said politely, “Actually, I’d prefer to see gemstone engagement rings, please.”
“Of course, sir.” They were soon standing at one of the counters, Clark whispering to the twins not to touch the pristine glass-fronted case, while the salesclerk took out several trays of rings. “Do you have a particular stone in mind?”
Before Clark could answer, the twins were again giving their expertise. Kala whispered up a reminder, “Daddy Richard got her a blue one…”
“Not sapphire,” Clark said without a pause. He was very glad that the atmosphere of the place seemed to have made the twins quiet – all he needed now was speculative looks from people who wondered just what the heck he was doing romancing someone else’s fiancée. Then again, he was beginning to see that he could never have done this alone, he thought with a smile.
Putting one tray back, the salesman continued smoothly, “We have many fine rubies and emeralds, sir, as well as other stones.” Eliminating sapphires had narrowed the choices slightly, but as Clark looked at the array of rings before him, he was still bewildered by all the options. Round stone or square? A simple, modern setting, or one surrounded by tiny diamonds? Platinum, gold, white gold, or silver? Lifting the island was easier than trying to choose one … and if Lois doesn’t like it, well, that’d be about the worst omen I could imagine…
As he pondered his choices, Kala and Jason were having problems of their own. They had been trying in vain to see over the high counter, wanting to see what Daddy was seeing, and gave it up when they couldn’t see more than the edge of the tray, even while standing on tiptoe. Frustrated, they looked at each other and sighed. If only they could put their hands on the glass…
Since Daddy said they couldn’t, they started looking instead at the rings still inside the display case. Most of those were bigger and in individual boxes instead of trays. Kala wrinkled up her nose at rings so encrusted with diamonds that the metal could barely be seen, and rings with stark modern settings that sported a giant stone. Jason scowled at stones that were pale pink or lime green or even yellow; he liked the richer colors better, and looked further into the case for those deep tones.
Clark, still puzzling over the myriad of choices and no closer to making a decision, gradually became aware of the twins’ whispered conversation just below the counter level. “That one’s pretty,” he heard Jason say, nudging his sister.
“Oooh! I like it!” she whispered back. Her eyes gleamed as they looked closer at it. “Look at the little scrollies!”
Clark took a half step back, peering into the case as well. The ring Jason and Kala were entranced by was a large emerald with a small diamond on each side, in a very unusual white gold setting. “May I see that one?” Clark asked, both little faces turning up to his in surprise.
“The Victorian?” the salesclerk said. “Certainly.” He brought the ring out and placed it in front of Clark, who immediately picked it up and held it where the twins could see it better.
“Wow,” they both whispered in tones of awe.
“It’s so green,” Kala said in a hushed voice, full of wonder.
“And it’s got little sparklies,” Jason added, noticing the six even smaller diamonds around the main stones.
It was a very deep color, for an emerald. Almost the same shade as kryptonite, in fact – Clark chuckled. Why not? Superman only has two weaknesses – that crystal, and Lois Lane. Although she’s more asset than liability, she does make me go weak in the knees with a smile or a look … or a red satin nightgown… “Do you think Mommy will like it?”
“Yeah!” came the chorused reply. Jason nodded with excitement, “Buy it, Daddy!”
“All right, then,” Clark said with a laugh. Their enthusiasm was infectious. He was going to do this. He was going to ask Lois to marry him. Only then did he hand the ring confidently back to the clerk – and see the price tag. WHOA!
Lois had walked into the afternoon editors’ meeting with an air of dread, and not just because Kent was driving her Audi today. No, the sick feeling in her gut was because she loathed meetings – she hated being an administrator, period. She had no problems managing people and running her department, it was just the endless networking and infighting and mounds of bloody paperwork that annoyed her. And everyone knew it.
She was one of only two women in this meeting, the other being the Features editor. Lois was also the youngest person here; had Richard been in the office, that would make a total of three people in the room under the age of forty. In the newspaper world, management was still very much an old-boy’s network.
The amusing thing was, no one turned a hair at Lois’ presence. She was mainly running the single most important department in the paper; without City, they might as well be a magazine. Perry still maintained nominal control of the department as well as being Editor-in-Chief, but everyone knew he was grooming Lois for his job. She would never admit it, and argued vehemently against the idea, claiming to be nothing more than a reporter with lots of seniority and an office.
The other editors knew the truth, and respected it. Most of them had known Lois since she was a hot-tempered teenager working in the mail room, and while she was clearly Perry’s favorite, it was just as clear that he made her life more difficult instead of less so. Like right now…
“And Lois, are you going to hand in that fourth editorial or do I have to pawn it off on someone else?” Perry asked gruffly. “Hell, I thought you’d like doing editorials. You’ve raised bitching at people for their stupidity to a fine art, why are you so reluctant to do it in print?”
In reply, took two typed pages out of the folder she was carrying and dropped them unceremoniously in front of him. Perry started to skim through it, then slowed down and read it thoroughly, his eyebrows rising. The rest of the management staff tried to crane their heads around for a better look. Anything that both impressed and surprised the Chief was interesting to them…
“Well,” Perry said finally, and laid the editorial down carefully. The way he handed the document was another indication of how good he thought it was. Most editorials turned in to him got slapped on the desk or tossed back to their owners. No one in the room had ever seen him align the edges of the paper before, and those further down the table sat forward to get a better look. All they could see, however, was the title: Why the World Needs Superman. That alone drew surprised looks.
“Well?” Lois prompted almost casually, ignoring the stares of her fellow editors.
“I’ll run it,” Perry said. “It’s going to be seen as a reversal, you know that. An attempt – a late attempt – to cash in on his skyrocketing popularity.”
“Oh, great,” she said with clear sarcasm, eyes rolling heavenward. “So it’ll be misconstrued just like the other one was. What else is new? That’s why I didn’t want to do your follow-up. Then again, maybe at least this time they’ll listen to what I’m saying.”
The guy who ran the sports section finally got a glimpse of the headline, and in his shock he spoke out of turn. “Well, first you tell the world we don’t need him, and win a Pulitzer for it…”
“No, I told the world we needed to stop mourning him and start helping ourselves,” Lois snapped, turning on his with eyes afire. “And you know, so far I’ve met one person who didn’t take that article as a great big ‘screw you’ to my supposed ex. That person happened to be a farmer in Kansas, which really looks bad on all of you highly-educated city people. Furthermore, I shouldn’t have won the Pulitzer for that. It was the shock value of the title combined with the byline that got me the prize, and that’s not how I wanted to win.”
“Lois, for the millionth time, no one cares what you won it for,” Perry said in exasperation. “It’s just that you got one.”
“I care,” she replied hotly, the words out of her mouth before she could stop herself. “And because of that I don’t have one. Not anymore.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Lane?” Perry barked gruffly, his brows furrowing.
“I wrote the committee and returned the plaque.” Lois looked him right in the eye, the words spoken calmly and firmly. “Today.”
“You did WHAT?!” Perry bellowed, smacking both palms onto the table.
“I shouldn’t have won for that article,” Lois stated forcefully for the second time. “And I can promise you that I’ll win one again before I drop dead. But not for that editorial, not when it was so widely misunderstood. I should’ve never let you talk me into going up on that stage and accepting the award in the first place.”
“You can’t return a Pulitzer,” Perry snapped.
“That’s funny, I think I just did,” Lois retorted, knowing that it had been five hours since she had sent the award off via FedEx. “It’s my editorial and my award, I’ll do whatever I damn well please with it!” As badly as she had wanted a Pulitzer, it amazed her even now just how easy it was to let it go. It had been a hard decision to make, something she had been thinking about for a couple of months now, but it was the right one. She knew it was.
Perry’s face had gone red with fury and shock. He’d never wanted to strangle Lois quite so much, not even the time when she’d only been working for him for six months and spiked the company Christmas party punch bowl – with 151-proof rum. He drew in an enraged breath to lambaste her – and stopped, considering. The article was widely misinterpreted. Now, what exactly is she losing here? Everybody knows she won the thing. By giving it back, she gets another dose of notoriety, and if she explained her reasons for doing so well enough, she also gets a boost to her reputation for integrity. It might not be all bad … especially when the editorial in front of me is at least as good as the one that won the prize.
He sat back down, wondering exactly when he had stood up to yell at Lois, and regarded his favorite reporter keenly. The rest of the editors, used to their bickering, waited for the next volley of profanity-laced incrimination to fly. To their surprise, Perry finally said in a normal tone, “All right, Lane, we’ll roll with it. I hope I’ve taught you how to handle writing a letter like that so you sound noble and high-minded instead of pissed off. Anyway, next – Williams, have you done anything about our circulation numbers or are you still dithering?”
While the next target of Perry’s attention stuttered an explanation, Lois just smirked and got back to making notes. Not notes on the meeting of course; Lois was planning the rest of her Christmas shopping. She still had to find something for Martha…
And since Richard and Lana were going to be back tomorrow – which Richard himself might not know yet, given the way Lana had been chuckling when she called Lois with their flight information – she would also have to add the cheerleader to her Christmas shopping list. And figure out what to buy Richard now that he was her ex. The gift I bought him two months is definitely not one that Lana or Clark would appreciate, she thought with a snicker. Back to the drawing board.
In the end, Lois, Clark, and the twins all wound up waking up early Saturday morning to meet Richard and Lana’s flight. “This is freakin’ surreal,” Lois muttered as she stood on the international flights concourse, holding Jason’s hand tightly.
Clark had picked Kala up to stop her from jumping up and down to see over people’s heads. “A little,” he admitted, then added in a lower voice, “There they are…”
A moment later, Lois saw why Clark’s voice had trailed off. Not only where Richard and Lana holding hands, they were looking more at each other than at the crowd around them. The pair were drifting down the concourse in a haze of obviously brand-new love. “Quick, fetch me some insulin,” Lois whispered. “I think I’m going to go into sugar-shock. Jeez.”
“Lois,” Clark scolded, but then Kala cocked her head. Only she and her father could hear Richard laugh at that distance, and the little girl leaped out of Clark’s arms with startling speed.
“I see them! I see them!”
Jason tore away from Lois, almost yanking her off her feet, and both twins yelled, “Daddy!” Luckily, Richard had passed the security checkpoint, and he dropped to his knees before the kids could bowl him over.
“We’re gonna have to work on that,” Clark muttered as he and Lois headed toward them.
“Starting right now,” Lois growled unhappily. I did not raise a pair of heathens. This is going to stop right now. She stalked up to Jason and Kala, glaring down at them with her arms folded until they looked up.
“Uh-oh,” Jason whispered, eyes wide when he saw his Mommy’s expression.
“Uh-oh,” Lois echoed, one eyebrow raised. “Kala, Jason. What do we not do in crowded places? Especially without saying a word to Mommy?”
Both twins looked up at her contritely. “We don’ go runnin’,” Kala answered softly.
“Because we could get hurt,” Jason added, shamefaced.
“That’s right,” Lois said, taking a deep breath. “We ask permission before we let go of Mommy’s hand – or jump out of Daddy’s arms like a freakin’ squirrel monkey – and go tearing across the airport. You’ve been forgetting that a lot lately. It scares Mommy when you do that and you know I don’t like that.”
“I’m sorry,” both twins chorused, and Kala added, “We were excited…”
Richard was still on his knees, looking down and biting his lip slightly. The twins had done the same thing back when he and Lois were first dating, and she’d hated to see them dive-bomb him back then, too. Only now that he knew who their father was did he understand just why Lois’ most dreaded nightmare had always been the twins running away from her. Or flying away, he thought.
Lois glanced at him, glad that he wasn’t undermining her lecture, and met Lana’s eyes as well. The redhead was clearly torn between wanting to fuss over the twins herself, and not wanting to interfere. Lois sighed. “I know, you two,” she said to Jason and Kala. “But the rules are there to keep you safe, all right? Behave.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they both replied, brightening now that the scolding was over. Kala immediately turned and flung her arms around Richard’s neck. “We missed you! Didja eat lotsa pizza?”
Chuckling, Lana ruffled Jason’s hair. “That’s a very handsome watch you have there,” she remarked.
“It’s Daddy Richard’s,” Jason told her. “So he had to come home.”
“I wouldn’t have kept him from you, sweetheart,” Lana said gently, and Jason hugged her.
The next few minutes were a riot of greetings as each twin noticed the other getting more attention. The four adults, too, had to exchange affectionate welcomes. Lois hugged Richard and, under the guise of kissing his cheek, whispered, “What did you do, drug her? I’ve never seen Lana so calm…”
“Don’t ask,” he muttered back, then raised his voice to a more normal level. “Just one problem, you guys. How the heck are you gonna fit all of us in one car?”
“We brought Lucy’s van,” Clark said. “That gives room for everyone and luggage.”
“I just brought clothes and my shaving kit,” Richard said with a grin. “Everything’s in one bag. Lana, on the other hand…”
“Oh, I don’t have luggage,” Lana said. “Just the carryon.”
“Wait, you had like six bags in Milan,” Richard said, turning to look at her incredulously.
“Airport baggage handling is notoriously unreliable,” Lana told him. “I’m having everything sent FedEx.” Lois and Richard looked at each other in disbelief before staring at her. Even Clark was giving her a perplexed look. “What?”
“Lana, do you have any idea how much that costs?” Richard asked.
“No,” she replied honestly. “But it’s worth it to have something traceable that’s guaranteed to arrive where it’s supposed to… Why are you all staring at me?”
The three reporters rolled their eyes and sighed in unison, and the men each picked up a twin. “C’mon, let’s get out of here,” Lois said as Richard settled Jason on his shoulders and Clark tucked Kala into the crook of his arm. “We have to run back by Mom’s with the van and meet Ron and Lucy and the kids.” She turned and grinned like a cat about to pounce on an unsuspecting songbird. “You know what today is, right, Richard?”
He looked at her blankly, and then groaned. “Oh, God. It’s tree-buying weekend. Saints preserve us.”
The twins began to look a little dubious, also aware of this ritual, but Clark and Lana were both mystified. “What’s wrong with buying a Christmas tree?” Lana asked Richard softly.
Lois was having to explain it all to Clark as well, her voice filled with good cheer. “It’s the Lane family tradition that we all go around the Christmas tree farms on the first weekend in December and buy our trees together.”
Knowing Clark could hear him, Richard slid his arm around Lana’s shoulders and whispered, “Yes, and by the third or fourth tree lot, everybody wants to kill Lois because she can’t settle for less than the perfect tree. If it snows, we’re gonna risk frostbite tramping around listening to her kvetch about how that one’s too small, that one’s too lopsided, the other one’s too spindly…”
“Sounds like fun,” Clark told Lois.
The raven-haired reporter was leading the group as they reached the garage, and she paused to crack her knuckles. The grin she turned on the others was full of savage joy. It was that look she always got before going gangbusters on a story. “Let’s go find that tree.”
Richard groaned in despair even as Clark started to look worried. “Woman, couldn’t you wait ‘til I’ve had a drink? Or six?”
Lois just shot him a narrow-eyed glare filled with all the things she wouldn’t say in front of the kids. Jason and Kala, however, just laughed at Daddy being silly, and Lana was smiling at him indulgently.
“You’ll learn,” Richard warned prophetically as they exited the airport. “You’ll all learn.”
A/N: Those of you that were hoping to see them editorial in its entirety, keep your eyes peeled. Keep in mind that a certain caped man has no idea what the love of his life has been up to. ;)