Chapter Twenty-Nine: Playing With Fire
The next few days were a whirlwind for everyone involved. Richard found himself both relieved and disappointed that he couldn’t figure out Lois’ password, but then a fresh spate of violence in the Middle East happened to coincide with possible nuclear testing in
That included Clark, of course, who found himself working too hard at both jobs to spare even a moment to question Lois further. At least there were no more fires, for the moment. He missed seeing the twins, though – Richard had come in fuming one day after going to get the twins and finding out that Lois’ mother had picked them up. Apparently their long afternoons wandering the International department were over.
Lois wasn’t idle, either. Things with Richard were tense and prickly, but after working so hard all day, both reporters were more than glad to leave each other be. Perry was watching her more closely than ever, as if forgetting one’s car once was a sign of imminent senility, and Lois could barely steal time to run down leads on Luthor. At least she managed to learn the specifications of the Vanderworths’ security system.
Lana had her fashion show to organize, and as the actual opening drew nearer, all of the talented, creative people she worked with began to behave in the stereotypical manner of artists confronted by absolute deadlines: they panicked. She spent more time than she would have believed possible soothing egos and damping down tempers, and more time than she would have liked to admit wishing Richard was around.
Of course, none of the hectic events stopped anyone’s mental wheels from spinning.
The long, frustrating days were getting to Lois. Her temper was starting to fray, and she knew that before long, she’d say something she would regret. Luckily, she had a cure for that.
Letting Richard know that she was going out for lunch and he’d have to fend for himself, she headed to the garage. For once he hadn’t questioned her, and Lois was profoundly grateful. Her sarcasm wasn’t needed at the moment, not at all. Things with Richard were barely hanging on as it was…
But do you really want them to hang on? Lois bit her lip as that voice whispered in her ear as she got into the Audi; her conflicting thoughts had been mercifully quiet of late. It was just the one whisper, though, so perhaps she’d be spared the endless rounds of arguing with herself.
Driving through the city was hardly stress relief, and when she reached her destination the raven-haired reporter was wound as tightly as she’d ever been. But she still managed to show her ID and speak politely to the desk sergeant. Lois was a frequent enough visitor that he let her through with no difficulties.
She left the bustling precinct above and headed downstairs, into cool dim corridors. Her heels echoed off the cement walls; the firing range was a place most civilians never saw, and no effort at decoration had been wasted on it. Functional space, nothing more.
There were forms to sign, ear plugs and protective glasses to borrow, but at last Lois was standing in a narrow booth looking down a long aisle. Overhead, a cable with a clip on it ran between two pulleys. Lois fastened the paper outline to the clip, and ran the cable out to fifty feet. Pretty close, but I need the warm up, she thought, removing the Ladysmith from her purse and unloading the deadly hollowpoint bullets.
As she replaced them with softnose lead ones, another set of footsteps came up the corridor behind her. Flats, hard-soled, a distinctive sharply-striking stride… “All you cops walk like you’re British Royal Guards,” Lois muttered, clicking the loaded cylinder back into place.
“Better than mincing around like reporters in stiletto heels,” Maggie Sawyer replied. A series of metallic clicks came from the booth next to Lois as the lieutenant loaded her service revolver with target ammunition. “So, you wanna see how it’s done?”
Lois grinned to hear that competitive edge in her friend’s voice. “Please, Sawyer. My Dad had me plinking cans with a .22 while you were still playing cops ‘n’ robbers with toy guns.”
Her answer was two shots from Sawyer’s .45, to which she replied with a pair of shots to her own target. Ah, rest and relaxation the
At least, it was while their guns did the talking. As both women stopped to hang up fresh target outlines, Lois noted that her shooting was a trifle better than Maggie’s. However, they were both on the mark every time. It was then, while Lois finally felt the tension melting out of her shoulders, that Sawyer asked casually, “You’ve been wound pretty tight since he came back, haven’t you?”
No use asking which he she meant. They both ran the new targets out to a hundred feet while Lois answered, “Maggie, you’re misconstruing things. If I’m wound tight, it’s because Luthor’s running around.”
“That’s part of it,” the lieutenant replied, placing two bullet holes close together and smiling at her work. “But most of it predates that. You’re surly and you throw away a lot of ammo down here lately. Now, terrorists and reluctant sources you can handle, but relationships are apparently something of a challenge. You wanna talk about it?”
Lois answered by drilling two shots through nearly the exact same space in the paper outline’s chest. “Sawyer, your cop instincts are wrong. I’m not tense over anything dealing with him.”
Maggie sighed, and stepped back out of the booth. While Lois was still looking straight ahead at the target, she reached around at hit the runback button on Lois’ side. That made her target suddenly race toward them with a loud whirring of cables.
It startled Lois, and her finger tightened on the trigger, sending a wild shot somewhere up at the roof. That brought an immediate blush to her cheeks, thinking, Idiot! It’s just a freakin’ piece of paper!
Still, her body had been tensed for an attack for the last two months, and she reacted the way she’d long planned to. No input from her conscious mind was necessary to aim for the middle of the onrushing target and fire twice, pause, and follow up with a shot toward the head area of the outline.
As the paper target came to rest in front of them, both women looked appraisingly at it. Two holes in the center of the chest, and one through the forehead.
“Yeah, Lois, you’re not tense at all,” Maggie said coolly, and the reporter grumbled under her breath, vowing to show her.
Neither of them noticed the young officer at the other end of the range who had been watching them. His name was Smith, and he knew Lois only by reputation as a hotheaded, nosy journalist. He’d heard the rumors; her idea of self-defense was more like pre-emptive offense; she did unto others before they could do unto her. The wild shot had surprised him, and he looked to see where it had gone.
Of course, he immediately wished he hadn’t. A happy family portrait, with Lois, Richard, and the twins. Though it looked like an older shot – a reprint, maybe – it still wounded him. Even if they might be, even if they are, what gives me the right to hope?
He walked back to his desk in a mournful mood. The role of home wrecker didn’t suit him; even though Lois and Richard were having problems, even though he knew now that she still loved him, he couldn’t silence the low voice in the back of his mind that said, Breaking up an established relationship is just plain wrong. No matter how much you love Lois, no matter how much better you think you are for her, if you actually succeed in breaking them up, you’ll feel the taint of having done it for the rest of your life with her.
I have got to start thinking about something else. That was just too difficult a topic, even if he was obscurely pleased by the way Lois had reacted to seeing Lana the other evening.
And there was a good distraction. Jason’s drawing of
What if he really is my son? Is that why we get along so well?
But what if he isn’t, and all of this is just wishful thinking? What if I’m just trying to convince myself that my fondness for him is some kind of sign, when really it just means that I desperately want his mother to come back to me?
And where does all of this leave the man he calls Daddy?
Feeling a headache start,
The heck with this, it’s past lunchtime. Ma always says I get moody when I don’t eat enough. I’m running out for a sandwich.
Lois was positively light-hearted as she headed back to the office. Wiping the floor with Sawyer helped a lot – Lois’ aim had improved dramatically when she began envisioning Luthor’s face on the silhouette target, though she wouldn’t share that little fact with the lieutenant. And both women’s natural competitiveness had forestalled any further discussion of Lois’ ex. She was practically whistling as she headed back to the office, taking the elevator up from the basement garage.
A sizeable crowd squeezed into the elevator cab with her on the first floor, and Lois flattened herself against the back wall, momentarily disappearing behind several tall men. The majority of people got off on the twenty-second and twenty-third floors, though; as she expected, they were all one group. No one else would be coming back from lunch this late…
As the last of the crowd left, though, Lois’ train of thought came to a screeching halt. The one person she’d least expected was now the only one left in the cab with her.
He turned, and surprise lit both their eyes as the doors clicked shut.
A moment, in which that last little secret rose up in Lois’ throat and she nearly choked herself with the effort of keeping it down. Not like this … not yet. Wait, see if you can figure out how he’ll react – he broke your trust once before, and broke it badly. And it was nearly as important to you then as this is now. You can’t give in to your feelings for him again, not when you’re still not sure. Not when the twins are at stake.
“Um, hi, Lois,” he said quietly, glancing at her. Something was on his mind, she knew that much, but she couldn’t tell what.
“Hello, Kal-El,” she replied as if her mind wasn’t a whirl, keeping her tone unruffled, and saw him flinch slightly.
“Wow. I keep forgetting how much it surprises me when you do that,” he told her, his voice slightly reproachful. His mind was full of questions with no good way to ask them, and it didn’t help that she caught him off guard like that.
Lois couldn’t resist a smile at him. He really was thrown off by it, almost the same way his mere presence continued to throw her for a loop. She supposed it was only fair. Then, trying to keep him off-balance, she asked almost too lightly, “So did you take any stunning models out to lunch today? That never seemed a habit of yours before. Going for a different image, now,
He did a double-take, and laughed at her a little, his nervous
“Me, jealous? Of the cheerleader?” It was his turn to surprise her and that he did. It was so very straight to the heart of the problem, yet so incredibly unlike him to call her on it. It was all she had not to blush at being caught. Unsure what else to do, Lois looked up at the ceiling grillwork and tried to laugh. “What on earth are you talking about,
Lois sniffed, crossing her arms as she made herself look at him. I have every reason in the world to be jealous. You loved her once and she’s free to have you now. Even if it means that she can only date half a person. Even if it means living a lie. Which I don’t have the luxury of doing. “What makes you think I’m threatened by her?”
“For one thing, the way you won’t use her name,”
Speaking of deadly looks, she glared a killer of one at him then, crossing her arms and jerking her eyes from his. “Don’t flatter yourself, hero,” Lois said, trying to be cold and kicking herself for having been so obvious. It just wasn’t in her nature to give her feelings away like that, regardless of the thousand other reasons not to let this man know how much she still loved him. When had she started to get so lousy at this? She just kept breaking cover and showing her face for the stupidest reasons…
Again she had to remind herself that he couldn’t read thoughts. Mentally, she just resumed kicking herself. You idiot. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked frostily.
“You were really jealous of Lana, and you have no right to be. I mean, she’s a nice girl and all, but it was just two old friends going out to dinner. It’s not like I’d cheat on you…”
Hazel eyes flew wide as they met his, and Lois’s expression went from sarcasm to shock to panic. And then to something else.
“Kal-El,” she began, but couldn’t finish the sentence. He left me, but he never cheated on me. Oh, dear God.
Into that moment, where they might have spoken, might have resolved some of their tensions and questions, the ding of the elevator doors intruded.
Both reporters turned wide-eyed, and saw Jimmy Olsen. Coming from the darkroom on the fifty-eighth floor, he seemed just as surprised to see them.
“Wow, hi, guys,” the photographer said brightly. “Hey, you’ve got to see these latest photos. Here’s my Pulitzer, right here…” Still talking excitedly, he boarded the elevator and started rifling through the stack of pictures he carried, riding up to the Planet’s floors with them.
Lois and Clark could only look at each other briefly, sharing a moment of mingled relief and dismay. True, they were avoiding a confrontation … but also prolonging the tension. And as usual, the agent of chaos that kept them apart was James B. Olsen. Some things never change.
Ella had both twins when the phone rang, and she sighed at seeing Richard’s number. Lois had warned her that he was nosing around the Secret Which Must Not Be Revealed, and it infuriated her daughter that he’d been taking the twins to work without telling her. I’m not exactly pleased about it either, she thought, heading into the living room to answer the ringing phone. “Lane residence,” was all she said, however.
“Hi, Ella,” Richard said. Was that a note of contrition in his voice? Ella’s arched eyebrow showed exactly where her daughter had gotten the expression from. “Listen, I wanted to ask you a favor.”
Ella leaned her shoulder against the wall, keeping her eyes on the other room where the twins were busy coloring. There was a hint of used-car-salesman wheedle in Richard’s voice now; these children constantly forgot that she knew all their tricks, had tried to play them herself years ago. And had had about as much success fooling her own mother. “Mm-hmm. And what favor would that be?”
“Could you watch Jason and Kala overnight? Or at least, until pretty late.”
The eyebrow climbed a little higher. “On a school night, Richard?”
“Well…” His voice trailed off, and Ella smiled knowingly. Here comes the semi-truthful plea, dripping with sincerity. My own parents must be looking down and laughing themselves hysterical. “You know Lois and I haven’t been, well, getting along,” Richard said, and the embarrassment was real. “I was hoping, maybe if we took a night off … went out somewhere for dinner … we could maybe patch things up a little.”
My daughter is very close to slapping you senseless, and you want to take her on a date? You’re either very sure of your charm or not half as smart as I thought you were. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Richard? She is not very pleased with you at the moment.”
“I know,” he replied. “But I have to try. I love her … Mom.”
Unfortunately, he also knew the one thing that could soften Ella’s heart against all reason. “Fine, I’ll keep them … son. Go ahead and play with fire, but if she gets upset with you, don’t come crying to me.”
Richard actually chuckled at that. “Don’t worry. I’m taking her to the Kasbah. No way can she be temperamental in the face of a pomegranate martini .”
“Don’t be so certain,” Ella warned. “Richard, I’m not joking. You’re treading awfully close to the edge with her right now.”
“I’ll watch myself,” he promised. “Remember, I’ve met
“All right,” Ella replied, stamping down on the last of her misgivings. She hung up after a few more pleasantries exchanged, and headed into the living room to give the twins the news.
But by the scowl on Kala’s face, she’d already heard the news, and thoroughly disapproved.
Richard hung up the phone and sighed. She’s right. I really ought to just drop this while I still can. No matter how carefully I plan this evening, Lois has proven time and again that I don’t know her well enough to one hundred percent predict how she’ll act.
He leaned his forehead into his palms, trying to rub away the incipient headache. Work had been an absolute beast lately, and living with Lois was no picnic at the moment either. It would’ve been nice just to let go, relax, stop worrying… But he’d bitten off a huge hunk of this mystery, and to stop chewing was to choke.
I’m a reporter, I can’t let something like this go… I know she’s lying. Furthermore, I know that the father of the twins is one of two men I admire, and whichever of them it really is – and I think I know – he deserves to know that he even is a father.
Hell, I’ve been a Superman fan for years. I’ve even got the tie with the S-symbols on it, but I don’t dare wear it around Lois. There are times – usually when we’re fighting – that I wonder if half the reason I’m attracted to her is that she’s the ultimate Superman collectible. ‘Yeah, I have his autograph, the starter jacket, the tie, the ‘I circle back for Superman’ sticker on my plane, and I’ve even got his girlfriend, too!’ Although I was in denial for years about the fact that she really was his girlfriend. It didn’t help that she kept saying it was nothing like that, the media gossips just made a mountain out of a molehill…
Maybe Lana’s right. Maybe she had a right to keep that secret from me. I mean, things between us would’ve been a lot different if she had said stuff like, ‘My last boyfriend flew me to
But this – the twins’ father – can’t be kept a secret. I know if one of my college flings had secretly had my child, I’d be mad as hell to find out I was a father and never knew my own kid. If it’s him, well, I can see why we can’t exactly announce it to the world, but maybe that’s a secret Lois and I can share, one that will bring us closer. It’s not as if Superman can really be a father or a husband, not with his life.
Of course, if what I suspect is true, then it isn’t the caped wonder I have to worry about. My problems are a lot closer to home, and I have this feeling like something’s going on behind my back.
Richard sighed again, and picked up the phone to make dinner reservations. No, I can’t drop this. Maybe I’ll get to the bottom of all of it tonight.
Jason ignored Kala’s grumbling. Privately, he sometimes thought that some of the things she claimed to hear were imagined. At least the conversations of kids in other schoolrooms had to be made up; nobody could hear that, nobody except Superman.
That was who he’d drawn and was now coloring. Finding the exact right shade of blue for his uniform had been hard, but the rest of the drawing had gone pretty well, and Jason was happy with it. Maybe Nana would put this one up on the fridge; he didn’t want to bring it home. Daddy had been pretty unhappy every time anyone mentioned Superman lately. That made everybody else unhappy, and Jason wished the grownups could act more, well, grown-up. They were supposed to be in control of things, not arguing like two kids with one toy.
The little boy deliberately thought of something else, though, because those ideas made him sad. As he added the finishing touches to Superman’s hair – careful to draw the special little curl – he hesitated, black crayon hovering over Superman’s face. Someone else might’ve thought he was contemplating drawing a mustache on the hero’s face, as a naughty kid might.
Jason was thinking of something far different, though. Just two little circles. Well, and a change of clothes. Put a pair of glasses and a gray suit on, and you magically had Clark
His shortness of breath had kept him from blurting out the obvious to everyone around him, and Jason figured that was a good thing. Superman had to have a reason why he wanted people to think he was Clark
Glancing at Kala, he grinned. Jason was often mistaken for the good twin, but he could be just as devious as his sister. He just wasn’t as brazen about it. And he was sure she didn’t know that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person. Hah, she thought she knew something special… Girls. She probably just knew something dumb like what his cape was really made out of. Jason felt like the only person in the world who shared Superman’s secret…
Except Mommy. Mommy had to know. She knew practically everything anyway, except how to play piano. Besides, she’d told them why she was mad at Superman, but never told anybody why she was mad at Mr. Clark. It had to be because she knew they were really the same person.
Yup, he and Mommy were the only people in the whole world to know Superman’s secret… Jason glanced at Kala again, and starting humming smugly as he finished his picture, leaving off the glasses. No way did he want to give his stuck-up minute-younger sister a hint.
Lois hadn’t seen Richard leave work, and that was fine with her. Tired, having lost the benefit of her target-shooting session, all she really wanted to do was go home and unwind.
So when she got to her car and found Richard leaning against it with a bouquet of hyacinths and a hopeful smile, Lois at first simply halted in shock. He smiled at her, that old charming smile that had worn away her defenses years ago, and proffered the flowers. “Any way I can talk you into going on a date with me,
The sudden wash of memories was almost painful. Have I really been thinking about just giving up on this man and the life we’ve built? Richard loves me. Sure, we have problems, but he’s been there, every day and every night. He’s been there for me, and he’s been there for the twins. He’s the only father they know…
Her expression softened, and she came toward him, taking the flowers. “That’s sweet of you to offer, but we do have children to take care of,” she replied, tilting her face up for a peck on the cheek.
Richard wasn’t content with that; he caught her lips for a quick kiss that still spoke of the attraction between them, and then lightly placed another kiss at the corner of her eye. It was his trademark move, his secret way of saying I love you and no other, and it nearly broke Lois’ heart again. “Nah, beautiful, your mom is watching them. She said it’s okay for them to stay late. I want to take you out somewhere, Lois. We haven’t been spending enough time together lately, and I miss you.”
She had to close her eyes. If you’re going to try to make this work … if there’s any chance left for you and the twins to have a normal life … you’d better take the peace offering. “Sometimes you’re too nice, Richard,” Lois whispered, but her sharper side couldn’t resist adding, “when you’re not being a nosy jerk.”
Instead of yelling, he hugged her. “I’m a reporter,” he breathed against her hair. “It’s what we do.”
Luckily he couldn’t see her blush. She had been just as persistent, just as exasperating, in trying to prove that
“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” Richard teased, and she couldn’t help smiling at him as they got into the car. She was driving, of course; the Audi had rarely known anyone else’s hands on the wheel since she’d bought it. With the recent exception of a certain lieutenant with car stealing skills…
The drive was made pleasant by the odor of the flowers, and as Richard called out turns, Lois admired them. She wondered if Richard knew that they symbolized apology … probably the florist had told him so.
At last, they arrived at a pleasant little restaurant set back from the street behind a courtyard. Lois liked the look and scent of it; mouth-watering aromas of spices and something else, something sweet, reached the street.
As Richard followed her in the door, into the warm embrace of flavored smoke and
And if we just have a wonderful dinner that reminds us why we’re together, that’s fine, too. I have almost all the evidence I need to make my point.