Next chapter. And there are quite a few more to catch you guys up. :)
Clark’s old apartment was now occupied by two bachelors and a pair of poodles; he’d gone by just for nostalgia’s sake, after spending a couple of weeks fixing things up around the farm. His search for a new one was fruitless so far. Everything seemed twice as expensive as it was before he left. So on that Thursday morning, he was carrying both suitcases as he stepped onto the Daily Planet elevator, lost in thought.
They’ve even renovated here. Why can’t anything ever stay the same? It wasn’t all that long a time to be gone, but it seems as though I’ve returned to a completely different Earth. All those newspapers Ma saved for me – I couldn’t read past the first few pages. So much crime, so much war, so much pain. Maybe Lois was right.
That article she wrote – Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman – she has a point. People did depend on me, and they got out of the habit of doing things for themselves. When I left, everything was so much worse because they kept expecting me to step in and save them. Jor-El warned me, but I so loved to help people. Was it Kryptonian vanity, as he said? Or simply the joy of doing what I do best, as Pa told me?
One thing’s for certain – Lois is furious with me. Well, with Superman. She has a right to be angry. I should’ve said goodbye. Maybe she would’ve convinced me not to go, but what would I really have missed? Besides the ruins of a once-great planet and a massive dose of Kryptonite poisoning.
I would’ve wondered, though, and I would’ve come to resent her for stopping me. Better this way, even if she doesn’t remember everything that happened between us. I’m the one whose mission, whose responsibilities, kept us apart, so it’s only fair that I’m the one who has to bear the pain.
But oh, I can’t wait to see her again! I’m sure she’s changed too – always restless, always driving forward, but still always Lois. She’s probably into some new devilry – with Luthor in prison, she would’ve found some other arch-criminal whose cage she can rattle. I’ll have to keep a tight hold on my reactions – she thinks I’m just Clark, and she’ll wonder if her old partner acts any different.
The doors opened, and shy, clumsy Clark bumbled his way across the redecorated bullpen. New flat screen televisions, new desks, but the same old piles of work everywhere – file folders bursting with references, contact lists, notes, and other apocrypha. It had been a long time since he’d put on this particular charade, and he almost overdid it. Banging into one desk, he heard a very familiar voice yelp as an expensive camera dropped from the edge of the filing cabinet.
Clark caught it – people never seemed to wonder how such a klutz could suddenly manifest excellent hand-eye coordination. Jimmy was thrilled to see him; Clark noticed something manic about his greeting. While the younger man – Jimmy could no longer be properly called a boy – rushed off to get something, Clark looked around, trying to find one particular desk.
He didn’t see it. He did, however, see the cake Jimmy had baked for him. A sweet gesture, even if someone had already eaten a slice. Further reminiscing was cut off by Perry’s bellow. “Olsen!”
Jimmy all but leaped into the air. “Um, Clark, I gotta run. But, uh, make yourself at home, you know?”
Then he was hurrying away, popping Rolaids as he did, leaving Clark to trail off, in mid-sentence, “Where can I find … Lois?”
He supposed he’d have to track her down himself. For the moment, he needed to get settled at his new desk and stash his suitcases somewhere. The janitorial closet would do, though the life-sized portrait of Perry was just a tad creepy. As for the desk, it was piled high with the former occupant’s notes and files, and with a sigh, Clark set about organizing them. It was simple, undemanding work, and he was thoroughly lost in it when Perry yelled for him.
“Kent! Did your hearing get worse while you were on leave? Get in here!”
He scurried into the editor’s office, hiding a smile. At least some things never changed. “Uh, Chief, I just wanted to thank you for letting me have my job back,” he said, trying to sound nervous.
“Don’t thank me, thank Norm Palmer for dying,” Perry snapped. “Now, Kent, I need to talk to you. Just because you’ve been on vacation doesn’t mean I expect any less of you. And don’t think just because Olsen baked you a cake that you’re gonna get some kind of special treatment for coming back here. I expect you to work, just like before…”
The lecture rolled onward. There was no stopping Perry once he started, and Clark just let it all wash over him, looking meek and nodding at appropriate intervals. As Perry turned to look out of the magnificent window while continuing his harangue, Clark let his own eyes wander.
There were two offices, one on either side of Perry’s, each separated only by a wall of glass. In one, the desk was angled to face into this office, and the nameplate read “Richard White, International Liaison.” A large framed photo of a seaplane hung on the wall behind it. Some other photos were on the desk, but they were turned away so that they faced the desk’s occupant. A mostly clean office, with little to divert Clark’s mind. He turned the other direction.
Ah, now this was an office he could get used to. Binders and notebooks stuffed to bursting, half a dozen Post-It notes littering the desk and computer monitor, articles tacked up on the wall beside the chair. Yet there was a certain organization to the seeming chaos, a sense that whoever worked there could put their hands on a desired item in seconds. It reminded Clark of…
Lois Lane, Assistant Editor. His keen vision read the words, but his brain refused to absorb them. Lois? His Lois, assistant editor of the paper? He would be working not with but for the notoriously temperamental Lois Lane. Lois, who utterly refused to stop or at least slow down when pursuing a story. Lois, who had once sweet-talked a locksmith into opening Luthor’s Porsche for her.
Shocked, Clark scanned her desk. She had turned it slightly away from Perry’s office, as if she trusted the Chief to watch her back. In addition to the usual detritus of her working style, he noted a couple of packs of nicotine patches. Thank God, she’s finally quitting! And some more framed photos. He looked closer, wondering if her sister had had another child, and got instead the shock of his life.
Lois Lane, with her arms around two children, maternal pride very obvious in her smile. And beside her, his hand on the boy’s shoulder, was a strange man. No, the face looked a little familiar…
Almost unwillingly, Clark looked back into the other office, where the picture of the seaplane hung. Its pilot stood on one of the pontoons, grinning. The same proprietary smile, the same tousled hair, the same laughing eyes.
He didn’t even think, interrupting Perry’s diatribe with a disbelieving, “Lois got married!”
Perry glanced at him, curiously. “Not yet. You have been gone a long time, haven’t you? She’s engaged, to my nephew, Richard. Good kid, takes after my side of the family. At least with her twins there’ll finally be one Lane that listens to a White!”
Clark gaped at him. Lois. Assistant editor. Engaged. With twins.
Perry just grinned and smacked his desk for emphasis. “Progress, Kent! You gotta keep ahead of things or get left behind. Now, I want you to get out there and wrap up that story Palmer was working on. You’ve got all his notes…”
The editor was herding him toward the door, and Clark went, still dazed. Twins. He had told her she would meet someone some day, but still – if those pictures were recent, she’d had these kids about a year after he left. She didn’t wait. She didn’t wait for me at all.
And on the heels of that thought: She’s really furious.
Just as Perry was shooing him out the door, a dark blue blur flashed across the office in a clatter of high heels. “Lane!” the editor bellowed, and Clark’s heart leaped. “Where the hell are you going?”
“Pierson’s afraid of heights,” she called back, snatching up her tape recorder and notepad. “He just told me. I’m covering the space plane.”
“What? Lois, you can’t…” She was already gone, never having noticed Clark.
He, however, had noticed her. Oh, God, she’s just as beautiful as ever. Why did I ever leave her? What made me think I could live without her?
Idiot. If the world knows you love her, you might as well paint a giant bull’s-eye over her heart. It’s bad enough as it was – Jor-El was right about that. Besides, what kind of life is that for her? “Sorry, honey, I can’t have dinner on our anniversary, there’s an earthquake in India.” We were both too much in love to let me do my duty, and too moral to shirk without feeling guilty.
But oh, that woman! Those eyes, that voice, that willpower, that temper – from the moment I met her, there was never another woman for me.
Part of him wanted to flee back to Smallville, where at least he wouldn’t be constantly confronted by the woman he’d loved and lost. Then he remembered his last day there before coming to Metropolis. The first visitors to the pioneer center had been a very wealthy couple whose donations had made the construction possible. They occupied the first cabin before the facility was even complete, and on that day, after the construction crew had gone home, Ma had dropped by with one of her delicious apple pies. Clark had gone, too, for politeness’ sake, but he had seen the shape of the future in the husband’s casual question: “Where do we plug in the butter churn?”
A few of Jonathan’s sayings about folks with more money than sense had flitted through his mind as he looked at the man’s manicured hands, his perfect uncalloused fingers. Ma would help them out, of course, even lead them to appreciate this lifestyle, but for himself, if he was going to deal with big-city attitudes, he might as well do it in the city itself.
No, I really can’t go home. I’d be underfoot and irritable with Ben. This is the closest thing to home I have left, and I have to face Lois. Maybe I can talk to her, find out why she chose this man, why she gave up on Superman. I owe her an apology, and maybe I can try to explain as Clark why I didn’t say goodbye.
I can’t just leave. Not again.
He might’ve stood there just outside Perry’s office all afternoon, but Jimmy saw him. “Hey, Clark,” the younger man said. “You look like you could use a drink.”
I don’t plan to fly anytime soon, and a drink sounds pretty good right now. I mean, twins… “Sure, Jimmy. You have someplace in mind?”
“The Ace o’ Clubs. You’ll like it – the bartender’s a friend of mine.”