When Kal-El finally returned from rerouting a storm to end a punishing drought on the Australian coast, the house was dark and Lois was already burrowed under her covers and deeply asleep. Chagrined, he had headed home to his apartment, vowing to make it up to her in the morning. That was why he was letting himself into the Riverside house at six o’clock, carrying the newspapers and some pastries from a great little bakery … in Chicago.
Lois was still sound asleep, and he moved quietly so as not to wake her. It took only a few minutes to start coffee, after all. He didn’t want Lois coming downstairs until he had breakfast ready for her. While the coffeemaker percolated, Kal-El skimmed through several of the newspapers. He saved the best – the Daily Planet, of course – for last; it was the only one he took the time to read thoroughly.
A few minutes later he took a tray of coffee and pastries into the living room, where Lois lay under what seemed like a pile of blankets on the sofa bed. She’d still been unable to rest anywhere else in the house, and Kal-El almost hated to wake her now. But the only thing grumpier than Lois awakened too early was Lois allowed to sleep too late, so he placed the tray down on the end table and sat down on the sofa bed to let the scent of the coffee wake Lois up. Meanwhile, he started reading the Daily Planet, leaving the stack of competitors’ papers beside Lois.
One hand had just ventured out from under the covers toward the coffee, shortly followed by her head as she peered out, when Kal-El opened the A-section and glanced at the editorial. The headline there – Why the World Needs Superman – and the byline – Lois Lane – made him gasp in surprise. Not a very beneficial reaction when you have a mouthful of coffee, and he had to splutter the hot liquid out of his sinuses before he could even begin to read her editorial.
Kal-El scanned Lois’ words, his eyes growing wider and wider. They had long since discussed the infamous editorial that had won her a Pulitzer, and this one was much in the same tone. Hard-hitting, passionate, yet well-reasoned and deeply intelligent, it would have taken his breath away for the quality of the writing alone. Consider the subject matter – a staunch defense of him, and his actions, before and since his return – and that the writer was Lois, and it became one of the most stunning things he’d ever seen in print.
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. Look around you; the crime statistics are only a few pages past this one. And I’m not only speaking of those obvious failures when human nature turns violent. Thousands starve while millions seek medical treatment for obesity. Some cheat on their taxes and complain about the price of luxuries, while others must choose between buying necessary medication and paying rent. Still worse, we burn through this world’s resources at a shocking rate, and in the name of recreation we despoil far more than we could possibly use.
Our imperfect world survived for millennia without a hero standing ready to rescue us from our own foolishness. And if he were not here, we would be better served to carry on the work he was doing than to mourn the loss of him. That is the message I was trying to send with another editorial, titled very similarly to this one. What Superman does for us is, for the most part, no more than what we should be doing for ourselves.
But then, there are some things we simply cannot do. No one else can stop a raging forest fire with a single breath; no one else can steer a hurricane away from a heavily-populated coast. What we should have done in those circumstances – preventing arson or building our cities with an eye toward the weather – was past our ability to rectify. Then, we needed him to step in, to give us another chance. To plan better the next time, we need to have a ‘next time’.
And still, if by some miracle the human race manages to get its collective act together, if we stop pretending problems will go away if we simply ignore them long enough, if all of us, this journalist included, manage to behave with compassion and decency toward each other and the world we live in, we will still need Superman. We need him to be the symbol of everything good in ourselves, all the greatness within us, every shining accomplishment we’re capable of.
Think, for a moment, about the terrible devastation three people from his home world once caused here on earth. Superman himself has the same powers as those three criminals, and he could have been like them. Living on this planet, he could just as easily have become as cruel and tyrannical as the worst human dictators, and then surpassed all of them. Invulnerable, all-powerful, able to vaporize anything with just a glance, the familiar S-shield could have been a source of terror, not joy.
But in spite of being raised by so primitive and flawed (in the eyes of his progenitors) a people as ours, Superman managed to absorb the best of what we are and can be. Every mother who risks her life to protect her child knows the same love he feels for our entire race. Every police officer and all of the fire-rescue personnel in the world, if they are true to their calling, share his sense of duty. Every reporter who risks life and limb to hunt down the truth and drag it into daylight tastes the same sweet victory that he does. Everyone who toils day after day, week after week, year after year, trying to help the least fortunate among us, receiving little support and less praise for their efforts, every one of those is Superman to the people they aid.
In spite of ourselves, our weaknesses, our greed, our petty squabbles, we took the last survivor of a distant planet to our hearts and made him one of us. And he became what all of us could be if only we followed our better impulses more often, the shining example we need to guide us. As his chronicler, I can guarantee you that the thought of being anything other than who and what he is never occurred to Superman. The mere notion that anyone could suspect him of ever becoming a tyrant would leave him looking shocked and appalled. He shares that with the best examples of humankind as well – neither can imagine ignoring the call for help.
The world needs Superman for every person who is engaged in the same battle he fights, for everyone struggling to ensure that our kind has future. He is a reminder that their work is not in vain, that this imperfect world is not beyond saving, that the greatness of the human spirit truly exists outside the fanciful imaginings of poets. We all need him, not for what he does, but for what he represents and what he is: hope.
At some point as he read the article, she had re-evolved enough to be sitting up and holding her mug in a death-grip, her eyes only slits against the daylight streaming in the windows. Lois slurped coffee beside him, and he turned to stare at her in astonishment. When had she managed to write this without him knowing? They’d been together well-nigh constantly, except for at night, but… One thought made it through the confusion in his mind: If you weren’t already going to marry her, this editorial would be reason enough to propose.
Seeing his dumbfounded expression, Lois opened her eyes a little wider, blinking at him until her famously sharp mind warmed up enough to function. “Wha’ you lookin’ at me like that f’r?” she said fuzzily, then licked her lips and took another swig of coffee. “Did I grow ‘nother head or somethin’?”
“Lois…” Kal-El couldn’t say anything intelligible; everything he wanted to express was jammed together in his chest: amazement, wonder, gratitude, admiration, a whole stew of emotions.
She blinked again, yawned hugely behind her hand, and more awareness returned to those keen hazel eyes. “Oh, this must have something to do with you creeping out on me last night. So much for I’ll be back, huh, hero?”
Instead of replying to that, he simply plucked the coffee mug out of Lois’ hands and set it aside, ignoring her yelp of protest. Kal-El caught her to him and kissed her soundly, letting his mouth on hers say everything he couldn’t find words for. When he finally let her go, Lois gazed up at him wide-eyed and finally fully awake. “Ooookay, what did I do?” she asked cautiously. “Other than yell at you?”
Kal-El grinned and kissed her again, gently, on the corner of her mouth. “Hope,” he whispered to her, and his eyes shone with pride in the honor she’d given him.
Lois arched an eyebrow, her expression growing steadily more dubious. “Kal-El, you’re acting weird even for y…” Understanding dawned, and Lois groaned. Already? Gee, thanks, Chief. “Oh. Yeah. Dammit, I didn’t know Perry was going to run it this soon!”
A fleeting expression of dismay crossed her lovely features, and Kal-El cocked his head slightly. “What is it?” he asked, hugging her close again. “The editorial… Lois, it’s amazing.”
“No, it’s just the truth,” she replied matter-of-factly. And, from the look on her face, that was all there was to it.
“So why the look like someone just found out where you keep your lock picks?”
“Never you mind,” Lois retorted, subtly putting her hand down atop the newspaper. “Now, if you really love me, go make me breakfast.”
Now it was Kal-El’s turn to look dubious. “You don’t eat breakfast.”
“I do today,” Lois said pointedly, raising that eyebrow. “I woke up hungry from having to sleep alone.”
In answer, he pointed to the pastries in the box on the table beside her. Lois looked at the box for a moment, bit her lip, then turned back to him. Well, crap. That didn’t work. I have to figure out a way to get that damn paper from him… Okay, fine, I’ll bring out the big guns. “Okay, here’s the deal. This nightgown’s pretty short and there’s nothing under it, all right? So scram while I get up.”
Kal-El blinked. She wasn’t generally that modest, either … and he noticed just then the way that she was pulling the newspaper closer to her. There’s something else she doesn’t want me to read. “All right. I’m sorry, Lois – I’ll be in the kitchen.” With that, he stood up to go – and took his mug and the Daily Planet with him.
Oh, you sneaky little…! “Hey, I might wanna read that,” Lois said sharply, her exasperation clear.
“You’ve got a whole stack of papers there,” Kal-El replied, smirking while his back was to her. “Let me finish ours first. I read faster, anyway.”
“Oh, give me a break,” she huffed with exasperation. Getting up, she scooped up her mug from the coffee table, chasing down the last several gulps of the brew as she stalked past him. Thank God the heater was on or she’d be freezing her butt off. “Fine, now you’re being childish. And I’m getting more coffee.” Maybe I got lucky and no one had a chance to get it in print yet…
Kal-El chuckled as she breezed past him, remarking casually, “You’re right, that nightgown is quite short. I appreciate the view, though.” Then, ignoring her glare, he returned his attention to the newspaper, not bothering to unfold it as he skimmed through for mentions of himself or of Lois.
Only a few seconds later, he nearly choked on his coffee again. Lois barely had time to turn in his direction worriedly before he arrived at her side, staring in shock. “You gave back the Pulitzer?!”
No such luck. Making herself shrug nonchalantly, Lois poured herself another cup from the pot. “I wasn’t meant to have it for that article. It wasn’t even the article that won it; it was the sensation surrounding it. No point in keeping it. So I gave it back.” Even now, she wondered that she had done it herself. The fact that she had been able to let it go without much grief was even more testament to it having been the right thing to do.
“Lois, it’s the Pulitzer,” Kal-El said, those blue eyes still wide with shock. “The Pulitzer. The award you wanted your whole life. The highest honor any reporter can ever receive. I don’t even have one… And you gave it back?”
“‘I don’t even have one?!’ What, just because you’re Superman you think you’re supposed to have a Pulitzer Prize?” Lois snapped, whipping around to glare at him with crossed arms, her coffee mug forgotten on the kitchen counter behind her. She was clearly still very touchy on this subject, and just as clearly Kal-El hadn’t known about Perry yelling at her for the same thing. “Yes, I freakin’ gave it back! The article was hugely misunderstood by ninety-nine percent of the people who read it! They gave me an award for what they thought was me telling you where to shove it! I should’ve never accepted the bloody thing, and now I can’t in good conscience keep it, either. When I win the next one, we’ll put the damn thing on the mantel and you can tell everyone you knocked up a Pulitzer Prize winner. There, are you happy?!”
For a long moment, Kal-El just stared at her. Then he dropped the newspaper, grabbed her shoulders, and kissed her resoundingly. That took Lois completely by surprise for the second time that morning, and she just blinked up at him as he hugged her. “You are amazing,” Kal-El whispered as he kissed her again. “I can’t believe… You wanted this ever since you were a kid, but your integrity is stronger than wanting to prove yourself once and for all. Lois, you never cease to amaze me – do you even realize just how much you mean to me?”
“You are seriously freaking me out right now, Kal-El,” Lois deadpanned, still glaring slightly, her expression showing exactly where Kala had gotten her trademark pout. “What the hell is going through your alien brain?”
He just grinned. “How did I get so lucky as to find a woman this beautiful, this smart, this driven, and this ethical?”
“I guess you just happened to be under the right helicopter at the right time,” Lois replied, smirking. “Got any plans for the morning, handsome?”
“Spending time with the loveliest reporter on earth,” Kal-El said warmly. “We do have to get the twins back around noon, and if you have a spare key I’ll just bring Richard’s car so he can stop having fits. Other than that, I need to call Ma sometime today.”
“Good,” Lois said, and kissed him gently. “That means you can spend the whole morning with me.”
Monday morning, the hottest story at the Daily Planet was Lois returning the Pulitzer. Everyone stared at her as she walked in, their expressions ranging from disbelief to horror to amazement. The raven-haired reporter just gritted her teeth, rolled her eyes, and stalked past all of them to her office. Perry grinned at her through the thick glass that separated their offices, and Lois sighed heavily as she surveyed the stack of paperwork on her desk. I am not an administrator. I am not an administrator. I ought to be out chasing stories, not calling the bloody IT department about this glitch in the email server … admittedly, they’re used to Perry cursing them out and only pay attention when a woman snarls at them…
The other newsworthy event was Richard’s return to work. No one else had really known where he was the previous week, and when questioned all he did was grin irritatingly. That resulted in Lois having to field questions about his whereabouts as well, which did nothing for her mood.
She stayed busy all the way up to the Monday Morning Massacre, and when Perry opened the meeting for questions so many were about Lois and the Pulitzer that he had to bellow for silence and deliver a three-minute diatribe on what exactly constitutes news – and information about a fellow reporter, printed the previous day, was not news. Clark couldn’t even offer her moral support; he had been dealing with muttered whispers and a couple of outright questions since he’d arrived, all of which came down to other reporters speculating on the nature of Lois’ relationship with Superman. He wasn’t sure which disturbed him more – the people who gave him pitying looks, imagining that he was about to lose Lois to the hero, or the ones who smirked at him for having the chutzpah to hook up with Superman’s girlfriend. That nickname seemed destined to follow Lois around forever.
The usual rush out of the Monday Morning Massacre happened to throw Richard, Ron, Lois, Clark, and Jimmy together as they tried to avoid getting trampled by reporters who couldn’t stand being harangued by Perry. For the moment, Lois ducked over toward International, smirking a bit at the interns who hadn’t quite yet figured out that they weren’t going to be fired in the next five minutes.
It just happened to be time for the morning mail run, and a blonde paused long enough to hand Lois her mail. “Morning, Helen,” Lois said, then did a double take. “Morning? You’re night shift!”
“Covering for first shift’s supervisor,” the woman replied with a wry grin, adding as she turned to leave, “That was one hell of an editorial, by the way.”
“Thanks,” Lois replied, and then the crowd had thinned enough for the group to head for their own departments.
“Wait a sec,” Richard said. “Lois, how the hell do you get your mail hand-delivered? Everyone else has to pick it up from the inbound basket.”
“When I started working here, I was in the mailroom,” Lois said airily, and headed for her desk. Richard just shook his head slightly as he returned to his office and the pile of work Perry had saved just for him.
At last, the bullpen seemed to have settled down, and Lois actually managed to get a few things done. Better yet, she snagged a tentative lead on a story to track down. Someone downtown was soliciting donations – sizeable donations, from what she’d heard – for the city’s homeless shelter, but no one at the shelter had reported receiving such funds. Nothing like the holidays for a little fraud, Lois thought cynically. ‘Homeless Shelter’s Santa Was Really the Grinch,’ or something like that.
It was close to lunch; she could just grab a hot dog or something and go stalk the story…
The bullpen was suddenly far quieter than it should have been, and Lois looked up warily. Everyone was looking over at International, where a very familiar redhead had just arrived. Lois cocked her head, wondering what Lana was up to as the other woman walked straight to Richard’s office as if she owned the place.
He had stopped in the middle of what he was doing, getting up to open his office door with a huge smile. Lois grinned slightly, knowing that he would try to steal a kiss the moment Lana walked through the door he was holding so considerately. But to her surprise – and Richard’s, from the look on his face – Lana stopped and handed him a white bag. That looked a lot like… Lucky bastard, he’s getting lunch catered! Lois scowled, telling herself she might as well give up on the hot dog stand. Hadn’t Clark told her about a great seafood place in Seattle…?
To her surprise, though, Lana turned and made her way back through International, ignoring the questioning glances of the reporters. She went slightly out of her way to pass Clark’s desk and tap him on the shoulder; Lois ground her teeth with frustration when she couldn’t see across the room well enough to read what they were saying. Lana continued out of International and through the bullpen toward Lois’ own office, smiling warmly at her.
Lois leaned back in her desk chair with a smirk. Lana had barely opened the door to her office when the reporter said with amusement, “Presenting a united front, are we?”
The redhead’s smile became a grin. “Well, I don’t want to disappoint any of your employees,” she replied easily. “We’d better not let them start betting on a catfight that won’t happen.”
“Aha. So you brought lunch to win me over? Best way to a non-rival’s heart is through her stomach?”
“So Clark tells me,” Lana replied. “It’s not General Tso’s, but I did pick up a Hunan-style entree you might like. They’re calling it Hot and Spicy Peppery Chicken, and since you have to sign a release to order it, you should love it. I’m told you eat things that make grown men weep and beg for ice cream.”
“That’s because they’re wusses,” Lois said casually as she got up. “Lunch sounds evil; lead me to it.”
“You’re welcome,” Lana chuckled, heading back through City as if completely unaware of everyone watching them. “Oh, and the last time I checked, the surest route to a non-rival’s heart is watching bad monster movies with her kids and her ex.”
“I warned you,” Lois told her. “Didn’t I warn you? Wait until Christmas Day. Richard thinks it’s cute to go watch a gory, bloody horror film on Christmas Day. The more severed heads, the better.”
“He’s welcome to,” came the swift reply as they crossed into International. “I’ll be home watching Miracle on 34th Street.”
Both of them were still laughing when Richard and Clark saw them walk in, the entire International department seething with jealousy as the scent of delicious spicy Chinese food permeated the office. Lunch therefore became a convivial affair, with much banter and affectionate teasing amongst the four of them. Even Perry quit glancing speculatively over into his nephew’s office after a while.
When the meal was nearly demolished, Richard looked at Lana with an adoring smile and asked, “So, how come I’m suddenly so lucky that I have a gorgeous woman bringing me lunch at work?”
Lana rested her chin on her palm as she regarded him. “Well, darling, I didn’t want any gossip about us to get out of hand. And most importantly, I wanted to make the point that all four of us get along perfectly well. If you haven’t exaggerated the rumor mill around here, we needed a show of unity.”
“Very true,” Richard said, glancing around his office. “Half of them probably think we hate each other or something…”
He never got to finish the thought. Perry came barging in, bellowing, “Lunch break’s over! Someone’s holding hostages at the embassy!”
“On it,” Lois and Clark both said in unison. He looked at her oddly and added, “Lois, it’s foreign soil…”
“Bull, it’s in Metropolis, it’s City’s story,” she snapped back. Holiday fraud could wait for something this hot. But Clark was already getting up to head for the door, and Lois had to act fast if she wanted to outrun a man with super-speed. Perry saw the look in her eyes and barked, “You’re not a beat reporter anymore, Lane!”
Lois shot out of her chair and kicked it into Clark’s path, yelling, “Like hell I’m not!” to Perry. There was no way Clark Kent wouldn’t trip over the desk chair, and Lana winced as he stumbled. But that gave Lois the head start to run out the main doors, grabbing the doorjamb as she almost slipped on the carpet trying to make the turn for the elevators.
“Bill, get after her!” Perry barked, throwing open the door to City. “Head Lane off before she goes haring off after this story!”
“No way,” Bill protested. “She’s been doing desk-work for four days, Mr. White – she’ll tear my head off for getting in her way!”
Perry growled at the man’s cowardice, but shook his head in defeat. Many of the older reporters snickered as Clark tried to disentangle himself from the desk chair, and tripped over it again. They had all seen Lane and Kent competitive over stories, and to them this was actually a sign of normality returning.
Clark recovered from the interference, managing not to damage the chair Lois had tripped him with, and made it to the doors just as one of the elevators opened outside them. The two reporters inside the elevator saw Lois heading their way and knew her well enough to dodge aside. She could hear Clark behind her, so instead of slowing down on the slick tile, Lois sped up. Laughing delightedly, she skidded into the elevator cab and slapped the button for the lobby before Clark even had a chance to beat her.
“Don’t forget to pick up the twins, honey! I love you!” Lois called, waving merrily as the doors shut. Clark had to stop short to keep from running into them, and he scowled, watching through the metal as Lois descended. She was still laughing, those hazel eyes bright with mischief, and only he could hear her add, “Better luck next time, hero. I’m still the star reporter around here.”
“We’ll see about that,” Clark muttered under his breath, heading for the stairs. But instead of going down to the lobby, he headed up to the roof to change suits. You might be the first reporter on the scene, but you still can’t beat me there.
Back in the office, Lana, Richard, and Perry stood in the doorway after watching the spectacle. Perry sighed nostalgically and muttered, “Some things never change.”
“No wonder he’s in love with her,” Lana mused, thinking that only Lois would ever have the ambition and the guts to kick a desk chair under Superman’s feet. How could Clark not absolutely adore the one woman on earth who saw him as a man, not just a hero?
Richard, on the other hand, had a far more practical concern. “Well, that’s them out of the office for an hour or so. What are we gonna do with their lunch? Everything in the break room fridge gets stolen… Then again, if any normal human tries to eat this stuff, it’ll probably melt their brain. I’ve seen Lois eat a habanero pepper by itself for a bet…” As Lana turned to stare at him in purest horror at that last thought, Richard lifted the carton speculatively and glanced underneath. “If it sits here any longer, it may eat the desk. Uncle Perry, I’m dropping this in the fridge – if anyone leaves early because their mouth caught fire, we’ve caught our lunch bandit.”