Pure shock froze her, and Lex’s arm around her waist pulled her out of the crowd and back toward the maintenance areas. After those few seconds of utter astonishment, though, Lois’ heart started to race. She’d never expected him to touch her, and his nearness was vile – and terrifying. But the pounding of her heart reminded her that Kal-El could not find out about this. She had agreed to meet Luthor to keep him and the twins safe, and having him show up here would be the end of that. Lois forced herself to breathe deeply, even as she grabbed Luthor’s wrist. “Take your hands off me,” she growled.
“Hush, now,” Lex replied, just as softly, not releasing her. “I’m not kidnapping you, so there’s no point in letting yourself get upset. I just don’t want to be overheard. Imagine the shock and outrage if Clark found out you were down here.”
Ice trailed down her spine and frosted her skin, but she didn’t let that show. “What the hell are you talking about? Clark’s a damn good reporter, but if I can shake Superman, I can keep Smallville off my tail.”
They were in a shadowed alcove now, and Lex halted, taking a slight step back to observe her. To Lois’ horror, he smiled. “You’re good. You’re very good. How many years have you had to lie about this, Lois? If I didn’t know better, I’d almost believe you myself.”
She made herself roll her eyes and sigh. “What cracked-brain maniacal notion has bitten you now, Luthor?”
His smile broadened. “Clark Kent. Kal-El. There’s a certain similarity even to the sound of both names. Did you really think I wouldn’t catch on?”
Lois kept her breathing deep and even, although she wanted very badly to hyperventilate. Or to scream and fling herself at Luthor with teeth and nails, if necessary. Everything was going so well, she thought, just when I thought we’d broken that curse, here it is again. Every time it looks as if he and I will have a happy ending, something comes along and blows it up in my face. But aloud, she simply said, “You’re smoking something, Lex. Clark would laugh himself senseless if I ever suggested it – and Superman, noble as he is, would probably be a little insulted.”
“Lois, Lois, Lois,” Lex sighed, shaking his head. “Come now. I know better, and you know it. Kal-El is the twins’ father. Why on earth would meek and mild Clark Kent marry you and claim them as his own, unless they were?”
“To protect them from assholes like you,” Lois replied swiftly. “People have always had suspicions about Jason and Kala. But with all of us claiming Clark as their father, maybe fewer megalomaniacs will try coming after us.”
Lex nodded. “I see. Clark is so humble and so charitable that he will not only raise another man’s – excuse me, an alien’s bastards, he’s also going to sit mildly at home watching the kids while you cuckold him with said alien? No one is that meek.”
This was the one thing Lois and Clark hadn’t discussed, and they should’ve seen it coming. Ella had known that Superman was the twins’ father, and she hadn’t accepted the polite fiction about Clark – she’d had to learn the secret in order to help them keep it from everyone else. But Lex also knew the truth, and he had come to a sinister conclusion. Lois hated herself for missing that shot at him on the yacht – if only she’d been able to kill him then…
“Besides, your friends at the paper were so kind as to run an ad celebrating your engagement,” Lex said, smirking now. “And this Clark Kent looked very familiar to me, even with those silly glasses and that dreadful suit. I ran that picture through a sophisticated scanning program that can recognize facial features – the next thing in security measures.”
He paused, looking deeply into her eyes and savoring the dawning despair he found there. “And there are so many photographs of Superman in the world, Lois. It was easy to match them. Ninety-nine percent probability. Congratulation, Lois. Your dream finally came true – Superman agreed to marry you.”
She could tell he wasn’t bluffing – he was gloating far too much. But even so, she wouldn’t come right out and agree with him. “What do you want?” Lois hissed through clenched teeth.
“I have the results of that computer scan,” Lex told her softly. “And I have copies of your children’s birth certificates, showing the blank line next to Father. Now, if the story you’re spinning for everyone else is true, a simple blood test would prove that Clark Kent is the twins’ father. But since he’s Superman, he can’t even take a blood test. You can’t get a needle into his veins unless it’s made of kryptonite. So the mere suspicion created by publishing those documents would be enough to ruin your happy little family. The general public would go mad.”
“What makes you think they’d care?” she retorted, flinging the words into his face from inches away. Their low voices and the roar of the trains necessitated a much closer conversational distance than she would’ve liked.
“If they wouldn’t care, then you’d just marry him openly,” Lex replied. “You’d probably do something ridiculous such as say your vows in midair. And besides, if you openly admit that you’re the alien’s lover, and that those children are his, every enemy he’s ever made will strike at you and them.”
That struck too close to home, and silenced Lois’ protests. Lex bored in. “Not to mention, if he admits to being a deadbeat dad, it rather tarnishes his image – and yours. So much for objective reporting, hmm? You were sleeping with your subject and you have the half-breed bastards to prove it.”
The point struck home, and Lois couldn’t help the tiniest wince. She had always striven to keep her Superman stories unbiased in spite of her personal feelings, but if it became widely known that she had children by him, every word she’d ever typed would be called into question. Like the editorial she had just turned in…
Luthor continued, “That’s another thing – you think bigots in this country get upset when two people of different races marry? Wait until you see what they think of two people from different galaxies. No one will trust him again, now that’s he’s revealed his intention to breed his dead race back into life with the help of an earthling too smitten to care that he’s an alien.”
“It wasn’t like that,” she hissed.
“No one will believe you,” Lex said, almost gently. “You’re a reporter, you know what rumor and half-truth can do. People will believe the worst; they always do. Furthermore, if you tell the world that their father is Superman now, it’ll be revealed that the hero has been lurking amongst them disguised as Clark Kent. Even those who can tolerate your interspecies union will never trust him for that. Their fearful minds will invent all sorts of reasons for the subterfuge, and the world will never accept him as blindly as it has up until now.”
He was right; Lois felt her throat tighten. She had fought to remain unaffected, but that ploy no longer worked. Despair settled on her, and she bit her lip as she realized that Luthor had her trapped – again. She couldn’t allow the secret to be revealed; any price was worth protecting Kal-El and the twins. “What do you want?” she asked again, her voice almost breaking.
Lex came closer, taking hold of her shoulders and leaning in to whisper into her ear. “I can destroy you, Lois Lane, and everything you love. Your beloved boss would have a heart attack, literally, if he found out the truth, and where would that leave his pretty young wife and the child they’re expecting, hmm? The truth would force Martha Kent into hiding, and your twins would miss their Grandma, wouldn’t they?”
She was striving to hold back tears now, trying to control her breathing so Kal-El wouldn’t hear. But Lex’s cold voice kept on pouring poison into her ear, soft as a lover’s endearments. “And your ex, that hotshot pilot – he and his new wife would be in trouble, too. She knew Clark in high school, and they helped rescue you both. Some – such as his former superiors in the Air Force – would say it’s their duty to share what they know with the government. And I’m sure the government would be very interested in hearing about those kids. What a disgrace to your mother, the General’s widow, that she betrayed her country’s interest to protect a couple of hybrids. Why, your whole family would be embroiled in the scandal – even Lucy and the new baby.”
The mention of her sister – her innocent sister, who didn’t even know the damned secret – broke the spell holding her. Lois put one hand up to his chest and shoved, her hatred of Lex burning hotly. Tears still glittered on her cheeks, but her eyes were hard and bright with fury now. “Tell me what you want, you sadistic sonofabitch,” Lois growled, and the rage had completely drowned the terror and despair. “Tell me and we deal, or I’ll bring it all down around your ears right now. One scream and he’ll be at my side, and if I tell him what you told me he might just lose his temper and vaporize you. No loss for the world.”
“You’re the killer, not him,” Lex said just as flatly.
“After the things you just threatened, it doesn’t matter,” she replied scathingly. “If I scream for him now you’ll die one way or another. Sure, you’d have the satisfaction of ruining me, but the police have a copy of Riley’s film. There were four cameras, and they’ve got a very clear image of you shooting a bound, unarmed man in the face.” She bared her teeth in a savage grin. “So if Kal-El doesn’t fry you, Old Sparky down at Stryker’s Island will. And I guarantee you I’ll be there to cheer.”
He took it calmly, watching her eyes. “So. Mutually assured destruction, that’s what this is. If you call him, I’ll go down – but not without ruining you. And that’s no fun for anyone, now is it?” Lex paused for only the briefest second, just long enough to return her feral smile. “This is what I want: leave me alone. Don’t try to find me; don’t help the police track me down. Stay out of my life and out of my way completely. And don’t set your caped hubby on my trail, either. If anything happens to me, your secret’s out.”
Lois nodded gravely, not quite trusting herself to speak. Lex continued, “In return, I’ll leave your little family alone. I’ll pull back the watchers I have following the Kents, the Whites, the Troupes, and even the Langs and the Hubbards. You can stop looking over your shoulder, wondering when I’ll appear. That’s no way to have your twins grow up, now, is it? Besides, I have other interests now, and I’m going to be far too busy to pursue vengeance. So we have a ceasefire, essentially. Will you agree to that, Ms. Lane?”
“Yes,” Lois replied, her tone deadly calm. “But I want one more thing. Forget about Katherine. Let her go; she’ll never bother either of us again. After what you did to Eve Teschmacher – don’t think I didn’t find out about that – I don’t trust you not to hunt Katherine down. Bad enough you left Eve to the polar bears…”
Wrath flashed in his eyes like summer lightning, brief and unpredictable, and then it was gone again, leaving his gaze as impenetrable as a snake’s. “As you wish. Kitty can continue her sad little life without further interference from me. Now, do we have a bargain?”
“Yes.” This time Lois didn’t hesitate or demur. Forgoing vengeance was a small enough price to pay for her family’s safety. Infinitesimal, really.
Lex looked at her and nodded. “Very well,” he said quietly.
Without warning, he lunged at her, pinning her to the rough brick wall behind her. Lois gasped, and Lex’s mouth was on hers, a greedy rapacious kiss that stole her breath and turned her stomach. For one second she was too shocked and too disgusted to fight him, and he wound one hand into the hair at the nape of her neck.
Then Lois returned to her senses, feeling more violated than she had ever imagined possible. She bit down savagely on his lip and shoved, spitting his own blood back into his face. “How dare you!” she snarled.
Luthor tightened his grip on her hair, forcing her head back so she had to meet his eyes. “Consider the bargain sealed,” he told her. “And remember this: I could have asked for so much more. What wouldn’t you give to protect them, Lois?”
The thought was so revolting that Lois had to shove him, hard, and he stumbled away from her. Lex wiped the blood from his lips and laughed. “Goodbye, Lois,” he said, a cruel mocking gleam in his eyes. “You know I’ve never hesitated to lie – but you have no choice but to trust me now. Make the first move, and you’re guaranteed to fail. Still, you’ve bought those you hold dear some peace until I go back on my word. A dozen years? A score? I may just decide to leave you alone for good. Think on that, when revenge grows tempting.”
With those words he stepped out of the little alcove and was gone. Lois didn’t even try to follow him, shaking with rage and fear and nausea. She spat again and scrubbed at her mouth, thinking coldly, If you come back, we’ll be waiting. I may have made a deal with the devil, but if he tries to renege, he’ll learn the meaning of ‘hell hath no fury.’
After leaving the subway, Lois had gone back to the Planet and sat in her parked car for a long time, thinking about the last two hours. Trying to push away the sick and angry feeling in her gut at the secret she was going to have to keep. What other choice did she have? Could she tell Kal-El the truth? That she had bought their freedom with Lex’s? That she had been forced to make the choice he couldn’t have?
You did what you had to do to protect those you love. No one can fault you for that,the General’s Daughter growled at her. Stop being a twit. Luthor’s gone; it’s done. Live your life now. You’ve paid your price. Now let it go. It’s the only thing you can do.
Finally, disgusted with herself, she had rubbed away her tears of misgiving and started the Audi. Her mind racing, she forced herself to lock those dark memories away in her heart as the vehicle roared through the snowy twilight through town and out toward Bakerline. She would be late getting home, later than expected, but would still have enough time to get ready for the New Year’s Eve party. If Kal-El and the twins had made it home by then. After that confrontation, the thought of her family made her ache with longing. If ever she didn’t feel up to being social, it was now. But they couldn’t know; couldn’t suspect…
The moment she opened the door, Lois heard Kala come racing up the hall as always, and she had barely dropped her keys before the little girl leaped at her for a hug. “Mommy! We got to meet our other grandpa and he’s a giant floatin’ head sometimes!”
The barrier she had built around herself in the car, protecting herself from what she had done in the growing darkness, shattered as she held her daughter to her. Startled laughter kept the fear and tension at bay at last. “Yeah, I thought that was kind of weird myself,” Lois said, rumpling the child’s curls as Jason and Clark arrived. Her smile grew brighter as they moved toward her. Funny how she had been so scared of their going up there earlier. Kala having nestled in against her shoulder, Lois kissed her temple and asked, “Did you have fun?”
“Yeah!” Jason said as he hugged her as well, hanging onto her waist like a monkey. He raised his chin on her hip to look up at her as he continued, “I got to learn all about hollow-grams an’ makin’ pictures with light. Jor-El is really really smart.”
Her sense of humor starting to return, Lois quirked a grin down at her little boy. “Oh, really?”
“But he kinda talks funny,” Kala added against her mother’s shoulder. She picked her hair up to give her father a speculative look and then continued, “Daddy does too, up there. Is that how Creeptonians talk to each other?”
How could she dwell on dread at a moment like this? Still hugging both kids, Lois finally arched an eyebrow and looked over at Clark. The lure was just too irresistible. “Wait, how who talk to each other?” she asked in false misunderstanding, making Clark roll his eyes.
“Creeptonians,” Kala replied importantly, sitting up in her mother’s arms to explain. “Daddy says me and Jason are Creeptonians just like him. Are we gonna talk funny when we get bigger?”
Before Lois could say anything else, Clark interrupted. “Kryptonians, sweetheart. From Krypton. And eventually you’ll learn Kryptonese so you can talk to Jor-El a little easier.”
“Oh,” Kala said gravely, and hugged her mother again before changing the topic slightly. “I like Daddy’s Fortress. It’s pretty, like an ice palace.”
Another smirk aimed at Kal-El, the day’s poison draining away more moment by moment. “Me, too.”
“And we got to see the roar – the oror – Daddy, what’s it called?” Jason said.
“Aurora Borealis,” Clark supplied, smiling faintly.
Lois looked at them with honest surprise. Well, that was a great extra bonus for the munchkins. “Really? Wow, that’s lucky,” she said, slipping Kala down to the floor as they started out of the foyer and into the living room. Immediately the twins grabbed her hands to walk on either side. “I never got to see the Northern Lights from the Fortress.”
“You’ve been to the Fortress, too, Mommy?” Jason asked, impressed. “Wow.”
Lois’ eyes sparkled with mirth. “Only twice, baby. And the first time I went up was a very special occasion. You know, Daddy doesn’t take just anyone up there. But,” – she grinned over her shoulder at Kal-El, who was following behind – “Mommy still never got a light show.”
“I’ll make sure you get the chance,” Clark told her. The twins finally released Lois to run to the bag of supplies for the party on the couch, and she went into Clark’s arms gladly, hugging him tight. She pressed her face against his shoulder to hide the release of tension she felt at being safely home.
And then Clark himself nearly undid her relief. “You’re late,” he murmured against her hair. “And whoever made you angry at work, I hope you didn’t strangle them. You were mad enough to.”
“I didn’t,” Lois whispered, biting back the sudden wave of terror and regret that washed over her. “We worked something out. Glad to be home, though.”
“Glad you’re here,” he replied, pulling back slightly.
Lois couldn’t quite hide the haunted look in her eyes, and to cover it she kissed him hungrily. Clark, though surprised by the intensity, held her close and thoroughly enjoyed it. When she finally pulled away – after making him very grateful for his lungs of steel – she looked up at him and whispered, “You know I love you more than anything else, right?”
His handsome face took on a quizzical expression. “What brought that on?”
It took Lois a moment to think of something plausible, but she smiled and shrugged. “New Year’s resolution to tell you more often.”
Clark just grinned. “Wait ‘til see what I’ve resolved to do more often. Early spring, right?”
The twins, bored by Mommy and Daddy making kissy-faces, were nosing around the decorations for the party later that night. “Mommy! When do we get to throw the confetti?” Kala called.
Lois laughed and rubbed her nose against Clark’s. “Second week of April, you pushy sonofagun. And I’ll hold you to that resolution, now that our little lady of super-eavesdropping has music to distract her.”
In the living room, Jason had picked up a noisemaker and blown into it, making his sister yelp. In seconds, the twins were embroiled in one of their perennial squabbles, Kala chasing Jason while he blew the noisemaker in between taunts. Lois just glanced toward them, leaning against Clark with his arms still around her waist. This is why you did it, Lois. Why you would have done anything he had asked. Because anything was worth it for this,
she thought gratefully as Clark kissed her hair. P.S.
Before anyone says anything, 'Kryptonese' is a personal choice. I know that DC decided to refer to it as 'Kryptonian', but I prefer the latter. Thanks in advance! Aaaaaand.... (Laurel, don't kill me! We'll edit it later if you want to make those changes!)
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