Shortly before dawn on the morning of Thanksgiving, Lana poured the first cup of coffee of the day and sweetened it to her taste. She’d been awake almost an hour, already showered and dressed and thinking about the day ahead. Her morning followed a certain predictable routine no matter where she was, and it comforted her with a sense of familiarity even when she woke up in
This morning, however, she was at home in Metropolis, and as usual, she was the first one awake. When Richard tumbled out of bed he would find his shaving kit laid out, toothpaste already on his toothbrush, coffee brewed, and breakfast cooking. Small enough luxuries, but he appreciated those little gestures so very much. On the rare occasion that he woke up before Lana, he would show his gratitude extravagantly, bringing her breakfast in bed with a flower on the tray.
Lana smiled to herself; she enjoyed spoiling Richard, even if a few of her friends had raised their feminist eyebrows at the toothpaste thing. When she explained that it was to circumvent his habit of leaving the cap off, they had all laughed. In truth, it was more about having him wake up every morning to the certain knowledge that he was loved and cherished. Richard certainly reminded Lana that he felt the same about her just as frequently.
The penthouse was silent except for the soft padding of Dusty’s paws as the beagle trotted into the kitchen. He yawned, showing an extraordinary length of pink tongue, and then looked up at his mistress hopefully. “You already had your constitutional and your kibble,” she informed him softly, careful not to use the words ‘walk’ or ‘breakfast’, as both would excite the hound all over again. Once, as a puppy, he’d managed to get fed three times in a morning by waking his owners up individually with pitiful whines, and he was still trying to pull off the same trick years later. Lana rumpled his ears before pouring a second cup of coffee and walking out onto the terrace.
She had a spacious apartment, with an office for herself and two spare bedrooms, one of which was presently occupied by her parents, who had flown into Metropolis for Thanksgiving. Out here on the terrace, she had a covered pool and a gorgeous view of the river and the skyline. Setting the second cup of coffee down on the parapet, Lana sipped her own as she watched the sky lighten in the east.
The sun’s first rays gleamed molten on the horizon when Lana’s long hair swirled in a sudden breeze. She smiled, and turned to see a familiar visitor hovering in midair just off the terrace. “Good morning,
“Morning,” he replied, taking a sip of his coffee. Most mornings he dropped by for coffee on his way home; if he had been running late, Lana would’ve poured a third cup into a travel mug for him to take home to Lois. Conversation at this hour was usually light, if they even spoke; these days Clark and Lana shared a lot of comfortable silences.
But something about Clark was off this morning; his shoulders more tense, his voice more clipped, and Lana looked at him for a long moment before asking, “Is everything all right?”
The way Clark sighed heavily told her more than words could. “No, as a matter of fact. I just got in the middle of a gang war down in the capitol. On Thanksgiving, of all days! Both sides had armor-piercing rounds and fully automatic weapons; even the riot police would’ve been in danger. So I handled it.”
Lana nodded. “You do tend to make quite an impression when bullets go bouncing off your chest,” she commented with a small smile. “But that’s nothing new. What’s bothering you, Clark?”
“I didn’t get to give you the punch line,” he replied, his solemn appearance never changing. “The oldest person there, beside me and the police, was nineteen.” At her startled gasp, he continued, “I saw an eleven year old boy arrested for possession of an assault rifle and attempted murder, Lana. And the sickening thing is, just like you said, it’s nothing new. If it’s not kids in gangs in the inner city, it’s kids in the suburbs shooting up schools. When you and I were that age, we would’ve shaken in our shoes if a police officer so much as scolded us. One of those kids tried to bite a cop. What’s the world coming to?”
Anguish soured that rich voice, and Lana caught his arm, looking at him intently. “
“No, but I’ve been doing this for so long, and all I see is more violence, more grief, more callousness,” he replied stormily. His brows furrowed in exasperated aggravation. “It never ends!”
“It never will,” she told him, her tone gentle. “Not in this life. Not in this world. All you can do is help as much as you can, and live your own life with dignity and purpose.”
The troubled expression never wavered. “I was supposed to do something about all this,” Clark muttered, his voice terse. “I’m supposed to be putting a stop to this.”
“How?” Lana countered without fire. “By taking all the gang members and dropping them on an island somewhere? By personally standing in front of every bullet fired in this entire country?
The flicker she saw go over his face was all too reminiscent of an embarrassed six-year-old. Clark suddenly fell silent, and Lana leaned back, crossing her arms. “All right then. When did you stop talking to your wife about things like this?”
“Lois has so much on her mind…” Lana just gave him a raised-eyebrow look, and he sighed. “Lana, I don’t want to burden her with all of this.”
“But you don’t mind burdening me,” she stated flatly.
“Well, when you put it like that…”
“Clark, I have no problem taking five or ten minutes out of my day to talk to you,” Lana said lightly. “You are my oldest friend, and there’s very little in my life of equal importance. I find it hard to believe that Lois, loving you as much as she does, wouldn’t have time for you, too. It isn’t a burden, you silly man. It’s what spouses are supposed to do for each other.”
He smiled at that, butit didn’t last for long. “It’s not that easy, Lana. You and Richard, you got your rough times out of the way early, and it’s been clear sailing ever since. Lois and I, well, with my job and my mission and her job and the kids…”
“That only proves you need each other even more,” Lana pointed out. “And I beg to differ on the ‘clear sailing’ thing. Richard and I do disagree.”
“Yes, but you don’t hold a grudge for weeks, or pretend everything’s okay when it’s not.”
To his surprise, Lana laughed. “Are you kidding? I am a champion grudge-holder,
“I never said you were,” Clark replied , then added, “and somehow you managed to make me say something uncomplimentary again. Lana, I love Lois. You know that. But…”
“Does she?” Lana interrupted.
“No, I was going to say…”
Before he could finish the statement, the redhead cut him off again. “You were going to say that loving her has never been easy, or words to that effect. And yes, I know. She’s not an easy person to be around,
The mere thought that it could be a possibility seemed to startle him. For a moment, he just look at her. “I hope so,” Clark finally said slowly. “I tell her a dozen times a day. And I bring her coffee when she’s half-asleep and surly, which is practically risking my life.” He smiled a little, trying for levity, but Lana was having none of it.
“How is she to know you love her if you don’t confide in her like you used to? Clark, Lois does like to be needed. You can lean on her, you know. You might think she’s got too much on her plate right now, but I think it would do you both good if you shared some of this with her. Didn’t you used to always ask her for advice back before you two got involved?”
“So just because you married her, all of a sudden her support isn’t valid?
“You’re right,” he sighed, “as usual. Lana, what would I do without you?”
“Make your own coffee,” she chided kindly. “And one more thing.”
“When you do get home, go look in on Jason and Kala. There are a lot of children in the world who are going down the wrong road in life, but the twins aren’t among them. When it seems like you aren’t doing enough to save the world, remember your twins. You can’t save everyone, but you’re an inspiration to so many, and you have children who we all know will follow in your footsteps.”
“That’s a whole other issue,” he warned with a heartfelt sigh. “Don’t get me started about how Father is so eager to get Jason into a uniform.”
“It doesn’t matter whether they grow up to be members of the League or not,” Lana told him with a shrug. “What matters is that your efforts helped shape them, and they will help shape the world after you. It will never be perfect, but they and millions of other people you inspired will keep trying to make it better. Will you try to remember that?”
The smile he gave her then spoke clearly of his gratitude. “Thank you, Lana,” he said humbly. “You’d make a great therapist, you know that?”
“You’re welcome,” was Lana’s ready reply. “And if I was a therapist, I’d charge you for this. Now shoo.” With a laugh, she teasingly waved a hand at him. “You’re not the only man whose coffee I make.”
They both laughed now, Clark’s easy smile having returned. “Touché,” he replied, and drained the last of his coffee before handing the mug back to her. The next instant, he was gone, and Lana went inside to the task of waking the household and getting them ready for the big dinner later today.
This was just starting to get ridiculous. It was bad enough to be up here on a holiday, but the fact that everyone else left about an hour and a half ago and damn Truman was taking a million and a half years to do a final polish on a 2,000-word story was seriously making her mood linger right around DEFCON. The fact that he was one of the oldies just made it all the more irritating. “Alright, let me make this clear. I am leaving in twenty minutes, Gil, whether or not we have a front page,” Lois shouted across the bullpen. “It doesn’t have to be deathless prose, just pull your head out of your ass and finishing writing the article! It’s Thanksgiving, half the people reading tomorrow will be stoned on turkey leftovers anyway.” She turned on her heel and stalked into her office, annoyed at working on the holiday but glad she’d gotten her baking done last night.
Just as she had settled back into her desk chair and started on her sixth game of Cubis 2, she heard a tap on the glass door. Glancing up, the assistant editor saw that she wouldn’t be able to just sit down and stew comfortably until it was time to leave, however. Most of the investors had been through in a two week period, assured of what their money was financing and gone, but Erik Eastlake now carried more shares than anyone in the company beyond Perry, his brother Theo, and an older gentleman from Bangkok. The kid was fascinated with the paper, he claimed, and wanted to understand exactly how the newspaper game was played, which was cute in a way. Just not at 3:00 pm on a holiday. Knowing that she had to play nice, Lois suppressed a sigh and forced herself to smile cheerfully. “Well, what a surprise.”
“May I come in?”
No, I want to go the hell home. I should have been there an hour ago and I’m pretty sure everyone at home is wondering what the hell is going on, every cell in her body screamed. But she just nodded pleasantly and replied, “Of course, Mr. Eastlake. What can I help you with?”
There was a flash of a handsome smile when he entered. “Please, it’s Erik,” he said affably, sitting as she offered the chair in front of her desk. “I’m sorry to intrude, but it occurred to me to wonder how the paper gets published on holidays. I came by to see how it’s done.”
Lois’ smile was a bit frayed;
As always, he seemed honestly interested in what she had to say. “Really? I never realized. Fascinating,” he said, before looking at her thoughtfully. “And the Editor in Chief customarily takes holidays off?”
Lois brought her narrowed eyes up to meet his questioning ones. He had been doing well with her so far, but now he was skirting dangerously close to making the single most infuriating assumption of all, the one everybody seemed to make these days: that Perry was little more than a figurehead, and Lois ran the paper. Biting back a curt correction to his supposition, she managed to maintain her calm and genial mask. “Actually, since we’re running with a reduced staff, Mr. White entrusted me to keep them in line for a day,” she replied smoothly, a distinct chill on the words. “The Chief, of course, expects his employees to maintain his standards even when he’s not here.”
Seeming to realize he had stepped wrong, the man nodded quickly. “Of course. I understand that he has a young son, doesn’t he?”
The cards were in his hands. How he played this was now up to him. “Yes, he does. Bryan is eight.” Lois kept her tone even, watching his reaction carefully.
“Perfectly reasonable,” Eastlake said with a smile. Smart man. You and I have been getting along just fine until that little slip. Just keep thinking that way, leave the Chief alone, and we’ll be fine. “And of course you have things well in hand for when he returns tomorrow.”
That earned him a smile of acknowledgement from the dark-haired woman. And of course that’s his way of apologizing for the slip. “He expects no less of me,” Lois said, adding to herself, and no more, thank God.
“I’m sure Mr. White is grateful to have an assistant like you looking after his interests,” Eastlake replied swiftly, and Lois just watched him, wondering what she had on and off for a little while. Was all of this flattery just an attempt to butter up the Planet’s heir apparent?
Any further conversation was interrupted by Gil throwing open the office door. “It’s done, Lane” he said, looking more than a little harassed when Lois smirked at him, “and emailed. Hit the word count exactly on the head.”
“Hallelujah,” Lois said with a sigh, getting out of her chair. Once on her feet, she turned to the younger man with an apologetic smile. “Well, Mr. Eastlake, we’re going to finish the front page and go home. It should only be a few more minutes…” She let the sentence dangle, not wanting to dismiss him, but unwilling to invite him to watch her block out the front page.
God bless the man, he caught the drift. “Thank you, but I’ll head home myself,” he said, rising and offering his hand. “Always a pleasure to speak with you.”
“The same,” Lois replied, shaking his hand briskly. Usually she smiled at him, perhaps even flirtatiously, but she resented the comments about Perry.
As Gil fell in step with her on her way out of the office, he made an odd little scoffing noise. Give me a break; don’t you start. I’ve had enough out of you today, she thought with more than a little annoyance. “What? Sorry, Gil, what did you say?” Lois asked, looking at him a little too innocently.
“Nothing,” he replied, then added under his breath, “who does he think he’s kidding, anyway?”
For once, Lois left it alone. She had the feeling she wouldn’t like exploring that little comment, anyway.
On to part two