Sorry it's late, everyone! We had some communication issues and just now got home. But here she is in all her epic glory. Let the fun of Act II begin.
Why the hell am I working on New Year’s Eve? I feel like I’m in a freakin’ time-loop. Wasn’t I just asking myself this last week? She already knew the answer – there was simply too much to be done, and since Perry and Loueen had graciously offered to watch the younger kids during tonight’s party, Lois couldn’t leave the Chief to shoulder the day’s burden alone. And this wasn’t even bringing the fact that he had run Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for her while she’d made herself scarce in Kansas. It was the very least she could do.
Having just dropped in to bring Lois another stack of reports, Laurel had been attempting to stifle her mirth at her boss’ increasing annoyance at the pile that just continued to mount in her ‘In’ tray. At the aggrieved sigh and roll of eyes Lois couldn’t resist, the younger woman had to cough to cover up a bark of laughter. The sour look that was aimed at her didn’t help much either. After a moment in which Laurel tried to get herself under control, Lois couldn’t hide her smirk, giving a snort of amusement of her own before swatting her assistant with a folder. “Get out of here, you little creep. And don’t bring me anything else until after lunch.” When the girl opened her mouth for a comeback, Lois raised an eyebrow warningly and pointed for the door.
Knowing Lois was all talk and no action in her case, Laurel had turned to go out when Kevin Ames knocked on her office door. He held it for Laurel, on her way out with a grin and the signed documents, before coming in himself. “Got a minute?” he asked a trifle hesitantly, having noted the interaction of the women a moment before.
The assistant editor continued frowning at Laurel through the glass before looking up with a haggard smile. “Sure. Laurel’s a full-time and on-going problem. It’ll keep. How can I help you?” Ames was one of the younger reporters, hired two years or so ago, if Lois’ memory served.
He handed her a couple of typed sheets of paper as he sat down. “Do you think we can run this on the front of Metro tomorrow?”
Lois scanned the story quickly before answering. It looked good, certainly good enough to be front page material. She couldn’t remember what was supposed to be on the front of that section today, but that just meant it likely wasn’t as catchy as the article in her hands. “I don’t see why not,” Lois said with a smile. “Let me check a few things and I’ll run it for you.”
“Thanks,” Ames said, brightening up. Lois chuckled as he let himself out of her office; some of the newer staff members were a little intimidated by the star reporter turned administrator. At least this one had something good to report about his boss.
Finishing up a few more things, Lois took a handful of papers and Ames’ article into Perry’s office. “Hey, old man,” she called out affectionately. “I’m not gonna do your whole job for you while you kick back and dream of secretaries half your age.”
“One secretary, and I made an honest woman of her,” Perry groused. “What the hell do you want, Lane?”
“Somehow a fossil like you even managed to knock her up,” Lois shot back. “Now come on already, I need your approval on this so I can go home. The girls are all coming to my place, except for Loueen, and I need to get a five-drink head start to deal with them all.”
“Spare me, Lane, they’re your friends,” Perry muttered, looking through the paperwork. He sighed heavily and stared up at her. “Why d’you need my approval on this, again? You’re assistant editor, Lois, sign it and quit bothering me.”
“Assistant Editor,” Lois said sharply. “Not EIC. When in doubt, I bring it to you. That’s why we pay you the big bucks, Perry. So you can worry about this administrative crap and let me chase stories.”
The older man just stared at her for a long moment. “Lois, you’re gonna have to face it eventually,” he warned. “Fine, I’ll deal with this for now. What’s that other thing you’re holding?”
“Possible Metro page one,” Lois said, handing him the Ames article. “I think it looks good. What’s your opinion?”
Perry looked down at the story, and Lois saw his shoulders tense. Without looking up from the paper, he asked quietly, “When did you decide this?”
That soft tone often presaged the worst bellowing of a Monday Morning Massacre, and Lois knew to tread lightly. “Ames brought it to me a few minutes ago,” she replied. “I haven’t decided anything.”
“Metro’s filled,” Perry said, handing the story back. “And I told Ames two hours ago we would run it mid-section the next day if we ran it at all. He was supposed to have this in by seven to run front page, and he blew the deadline. I already made arrangements to cover his mistake. Guess he thought he was slick, trying to make an end-run around me and get you to put it back on the front.”
Lois folded the story, neatly aligning the edges and tightly pressing the crease. That was the Daily Planet’s sign that a story had just been killed. “We’ll toss it on the website,” she said icily. “And I will have words with Ames.”
“That’s my girl,” Perry said warmly, and sat back down at his desk as she stalked out.
Jimmy had made his way over to International to hang out with his old friends, but he kept glancing back toward City. In spite of the fact that his title was Head Photographer, and his services were technically shared between the two departments, everyone knew that Lois considered him her photographer. She was prone to dragging Jimmy back to City if she caught him hanging out on the wrong side of the bullpen too often, and never mind that it was her own husband and brother-in-law that Jimmy was over there to see.
His wariness meant he was the first one to see Lois storm out of the Chief’s office. “Uh-oh,” he whispered. “I think Hurricane Lane just made landfall in the bullpen.”
All three men turned to look as Lois slammed the file folder she was carrying onto a desk to get everyone’s attention. “All right, I’ve had about enough of this,” she snarled, and her voice carried easily all the way to International. “Let’s get this straight right now. Boss or no boss, I’m the City editor, not the Editor in Chief. I run the department, Mr. White runs the paper. I tell you what your stories should be and whether that writing is up to par. He decides if it’s worthy of being printed for the public to consider fact. Perry White is the acting EIC and that’s the way it’s going to stay. His word is law in this place. So don’t come running to me like kids that have had your hands slapped by Dad to smooth it over and get you what you want. Got it?”
Lois turned smartly on her heel and stalked back into her office. Ames watched her go, his jaw hanging open, the pages of his story lying at his feet where Lois had flung them. The rest of the City room followed her departure with embarrassment or admiration, all of them wide-eyed.
“Wow,” Jimmy said quietly.
“Girl’s still got it,” Ron replied, grinning. “Clark? Anything to say?”
“I love my wife,” Clark sighed, and the other two broke into laughter.
Lana reached to ring the doorbell of the Lane-Kent penthouse, but Richard just slid his key into the lock and opened the door. “Avon calling!” he called into the foyer.
His voice brought the howl of two beagles and the patter of running feet. Kristin dashed up to her parents, thrilled to see them after a week’s separation. “Mommy! Daddy!” she yelled, flinging herself into their arms with her typical enthusiasm. Dusty, who’d been staying with the Lane-Kents, jumped all over his owners, squealing with glee. Still chuckling at the welcome, Lana actually had her daughter in her arms before she got a good look at her. “What in the name of…?” she exclaimed, brow furrowing, and then sighed. “Kristin, did you borrow Kala’s lipstick?”
Kristin grinned happily, her lips slicked iridescent black. “She said I could!”
The older girl’s voice drifted down the hall. “Little K was watching me do my makeup, so I said she could use some.” Kala arrived, wearing black jeans and a Mothra t-shirt, but already fully made up. Lana had long ago gotten used to Kala’s fondness for white face powder, dark lipstick, and lots of eyeliner, but tonight her makeup was even more exaggerated than usual. The designer’s practiced glance decided that Kala had to have used liquid liner to draw the spiral extending from the corner of one eye, and her sardonic grin was the same black that Kristin wore. With her pale skin and raven-black hair, Kala should have looked like a caricature of a Goth kid, but somehow it all worked for her.
As Kala hugged and kissed Richard and Lana, leaving faint black smudges on their cheeks, the redhead thought uneasily that Kala looked closer to twenty than sixteen. She filed that thought away for future reference. “She’s too young for lip gloss,” Lana scolded, then added, “but you carry the look well, Kala.”
“Thanks,” the girl replied brightly. “Oh, you gotta see my boots – lemme get them.” Then she was off, leaving Kristin clinging to Lana and beaming delightedly.
The Whites were as at home in the Lane-Kent house as in any of their own properties, and Lana led the way toward the kitchen. As expected, she found the family’s resident chef muttering over something in the stove. Bagel, who had announced their arrival but hadn’t bothered to leave the possibility of scraps, sat next to Jason’s feet, casting pitiful looks up at him.
“Hi,” Jason said, leaving the party snack preparation long enough to hug Richard and Lana. “Did you have a good trip?”
“Very,” Richard said. “How’s everything been around here? Party plans coming along?”
“The champagne’s already cold, I’m working on hors-d’oeuvres, and we’re having some other stuff catered,” Jason replied. “Pretty much everyone’s going to be here tonight.”
“Sounds great,” Richard said. “How’s things with your mom and dad?”
Lana watched Jason’s face carefully at that casual question, and she didn’t like the way his eyes flicked away just before he answered, “About the same as always.”
Richard had noticed it, too, and he just hugged the boy. “Glad to hear it,” he said. “We’ll let you get back to cooking, Master Chef, and I’ll take my kid and dog out from underfoot. See you later tonight.”
“See you,” Jason said, and gave out one last round of hugs.
Kala had returned with her boots, and Lana’s brows shot up. These were high-heeled black patent leather, and they laced all the way up to the knee. The teenager grinned, waiting for commentary, but Lana managed to confine her opinions to, “Your feet are going to be killing you by the end of the night.”
“Nah, it’s not that bad,” Kala said. “Besides, it’s not like I can go to the club in comfortable shoes.”
“Whoa there,” Richard said. “The club? I thought we were having a party here tonight.”
Lana knew that sheepish expression well, as Kala looked up at Richard with a beseeching smile. “Well, Mom caved and let Jason invite Giselle over. So in the interest of peace, harmony, and a good start to the year, I’m going out.”
“Why do I get the feeling you and Giselle had a minor disagreement?” Richard asked, crossing his arms and looking at his daughter seriously. Lana echoed his pose; if she was any judge, this was about to get interesting.
“If you call me throwing her out of the house ‘minor’,” Kala replied dryly.
“How many times did she bounce before she finally landed?” Richard asked, and Lana elbowed him sharply. Kala was giggling, though, and he continued, “So it was that bad?”
“Yeah, and it’d just be best for everyone if I wasn’t here,” Kala said with a sigh. “Giselle didn’t get to be here for Thanksgiving or Christmas, so I may as well be charitable. Besides, Sebast and I are going to Fuel. The Flying Foxes are playing.”
“You’re going to be the good kid I know you are, right?” Richard asked. Lana smiled a little at that; she might’ve been inclined to worry over Kala being in a club on that night, of all nights, but Richard was playing to the girl’s ego.
“Of course,” Kala replied promptly. “I can take care of myself, and having Sebast around will keep all the boys away. He’s my designated boyfriend stand-in.”
Richard chortled. “I’m gonna make that boy a nametag that says ‘Designated Boyfriend’. I think he’ll enjoy it. You, daughter mine, have a lovely New Year’s Eve.” He hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Make it back in time, and I may save you half a glass of champagne.”
Lana kissed her other cheek. “Take care, sweetheart.”
“Thanks,” Kala replied to them both. “Drive safe. I don’t want my black-lipsticked little kiddle jostled.” She rumpled Kristin’s hair, and the younger girl giggled. “Have fun with Uncle Perry and Aunt Loueen, Little K.”
“I will,” Kristin said, hugging her big sister. With that, Lana and Richard headed back down to the car in thoughtful silence. Neither wanted to say anything, but they’d both caught Jason’s hesitance, as well as Kala’s rather brittle good cheer. One thought flickered across both their minds. I’m glad we decided not to wait any later than tomorrow.
Still steaming from bawling out half the newsroom, Lois wouldn’t have admitted that she also enjoyed the adrenaline roaring through her from the encounter. It was a relief to feel like her old self again, full of fire and determination, some of her ever-present frustration and stress having seeped away in the midst of her diatribe. She couldn’t help the smirk that rose to her lips, savoring it for a moment. Not even Clark leaving earlier could dispel her mood at this point. It was only after she had leaned back in her chair, still soaring on the high, that she realized that this had to be how Perry felt whenever he had finished a particularly motivating Monday Morning Massacre.
Only then did the level of oddity get to her and Lois made herself let it go with a little shake, deciding to channel her triumph into the backlog in her inbox from the holidays. If she worked at it steadily, she would likely be down to the minor priorities by the end of the afternoon.
Thinking back on it, Lois wasn’t sure how long she’d been buried in paperwork, only that she didn’t hear Erik Eastlake until he spoke from the doorway. “Busy?”
Startled, Lois’ hazel eyes rose to see the younger man smiling at her questioningly. She could feel that challenging grin try to curve her lips. And hot on the heels of getting all of the other insanity in her life firmly under control, the fly had decided to circle her web again? Could she have had better luck today? “Hmm? Oh, no, not really. Come in, Erik.”
He closed the door behind him as he did so, sitting down across from her. Although they’d been conversing throughout her trip to Kansas, Erik providing her with more and more unknowing leads, this was the first time they’d seen each other face-to-face since before Christmas. And he thought he was within a breath of winning her support. “So, are you convinced?” Erik asked almost immediately, confirming what she already suspected. “Pretty impressive numbers on L-Tech’s balance sheets, right?”
She had to fight again to maintain her composure, the urge to let that smug smile slip out intense. The poor boy had no idea what this was all about, which was exactly what she wanted until she sprang her trap. Keeping her expression open, she nodded, “Very impressive. Even if the figures are a little confusing. There’ve been so many infusions of capital…”
And, as always, Erik had an explanation ready. “They do aggressively solicit capital investments firms. My dad’s company was one of the ones that contributed a lot. As I understand it from his notes, L-Tech operated at a drastic loss for the first five years, started turning a profit in its sixth year, and has shown a great return on investment in the last couple years.”
Again, Lois nodded, but one word had captured her attention. There was nothing she could do to mask the sudden predatory light that came into her eyes. The implication made her mind spin. “Your father kept notes on L-Tech?” she asked softly, leaning forward.
It took only a moment for her to realize that Erik hadn’t missed that telling gleam in her rapt gaze. It was his turn to grin, mirroring her pose, his own eyes alight. “On all of his major investments, and all the transactions his corporations were involved with,” he replied. “There’s a scrapbook somewhere with pictures from all the company meetings Pop went to.”
The reporter felt her heart begin to beat faster. What were the odds that he might have a photo of the board of directors for Vanderworth Holdings Limited? And would it be too much to hope that Alexander Roth might be pictured? That was one of the more important names she’d noted in her search for more information about L-Tech and Vanderworth Holdings. It didn’t occur frequently – unlike Mercedes Graves, the CEO of L-Tech, who seemed to be on the board of everything except the firm Erik represented, Eagle Capital Investments. Mr. Roth was most notable for his absence from so many illustrious lists, but he was the CEO of something called Prometheus Corp, which ultimately funded L-Tech through a roundabout series of intermediaries. The name of the company had intrigued Lois, as did its incorporation on one of the less-regulatory Caribbean islands.
Lois suspected that Alexander Roth was an alias of Luthor’s. Lex could be a shortened form of Alexander, after all, and the letters of Roth formed part of Luthor. It was the kind of thing Lex would do – a lot of people who held aliases kept the same initials, but that would be too predictable for Luthor. Half-assed anagrams were more his style. And to call his corporation Prometheus? It sounded just like Lex’s kind of superiority complex, as horribly grandiose as that yacht had been.
All evidence aside, Lois had a hunch, and she never ignored journalistic intuition. She smiled at Erik, knowing she had to get her hands on those notes, had to see that scrapbook. If she could connect Luthor to a legitimate identity, she would not only have a bargaining chip against him, she could cast doubt on L-Tech itself and undermine Luthor’s attempts to market Kryptonian technology. It would be such a relief to hand that information over to Kal-El.
Even better, if she had solid evidence against Luthor, anything he said about their deal could be ignored as a last-ditch attempt to get himself out of a trap. Lois had already nudged Clark to take certain precautions with his identity; thanks to the Martian Manhunter’s shape-shifting powers, photographs and videos existed showing Clark Kent and Superman in the same frame, although J’onn had not appreciated Lois’ way of determining which was the imposter.
Finally, finally, she might just have the upper hand in her long, lonely battle against Luthor, and she was ready to risk almost anything to bring down Lex. “I wonder if you’d be willing to let me look at those notes?” she asked Erik, giving him what she hoped was a friendly, harmless smile. It wouldn’t do for him to suspect her of duplicity now…
“You know, I haven’t really gotten around to cleaning out Pop’s study,” Erik said, sounding a trifle embarrassed. “It’s kind of silly, but I can’t bring myself to box up his things. As long as the study’s the way he left it, it’s almost like he’s still there.”
An expected pang of commiseration struck Lois then, remembering how she and Lucy had wept when they cleaned out Ella’s room at the Troupe house. It had been something silly that had gotten both girls weeping, a paperback novel with a bookmark halfway through, and the realization that Ella would never turn that page had broken with dreadful force on the two women. Lois’ voice was low with feeling when she replied, “Believe me, I understand.”
Erik leaned a little closer, empathy inviting confidences. “And I have to admit, I don’t want Pop’s notes taken out of the house,” he murmured. “I know you’d take care of them, but, well… His things are all I have left of him…”
“It’s all right.” Lois’ tone was still gentle with remembered pain, laying one hand flat on the table between them while giving him a compassionate smile. “I know I’d feel exactly the same way if they were my mother’s papers. If it’s alright with you, I could always come by some day and have a look…” Due to the subject matter, she felt more than a little guilty for thinking it, but her mind was already awhirl with half-formed ideas of how to gain access to those notes, including breaking and entering. Erik lived somewhere in New Troy, as she recalled…
With no warning, Lois felt his hand cover hers, the touch light. “Or you could come by this evening for dinner…”
Great, the reporter in her thought, eagerly leaping at the chance for more information. An instant later, his tone of voice registered; it was as warm and caressing as his hand on hers. Instantly, she froze as her eyes widened in disbelief and, in the breathless moment in with she tried to understand what had just happened, for the first time in a long time she heard her various separate selves arguing.
He’s handsome, not even you can deny that, the voice of her loneliness spoke up. And not even Kal-El pays me this much attention these days.
The rebuttal came a bare half-second later, resounding from every corner of Lois’ soul. No. Never. I’m married. Besides, I love Kal-El, not this pretty rich boy. Playing Mrs. Robinson isn’t worth losing the love of my life, no matter what Erik can offer me.
But the information he had… It hurt her in a very deep place to have it this close, only to have it snatched away so soon. Lois needed another lead, a way to keep her family safe. She needed those notes in a way she’d never craved cigarettes.
A much younger-sounding General’s Daughter muttered, To catch Luthor? Hell yeah, I can play the flirt. Follow him home, flatter his ego, get what I need and make some excuse to get the hell out. No harm, no foul.
What about Kal-El? That was the eternal Romantic, wringing her hands as usual.
What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, came the callous reply. And if he does know, he’ll understand why I had to make Erik think I was interested. This is Luthor we’re talking about, the means to maybe lock him up for good.
No, came a firmer voice, and Lois was unsurprised to hear her mother’s tone echoing in her own skull. I am the assistant editor of the city’s largest newspaper, not to mention wife of a superhero and mother of two teenagers. I can’t afford to let even the hint of something like this tarnish my reputation. Kal-El might even believe the inevitable rumors – that’s what his problem has been. He sees Erik flirting, sees me hanging on every word, and he thinks I’m thinking of straying. He has no idea I’m just seeking information … and that’s all Erik has that I want.
Unfortunately, I have to let it go. The thought was agonizing, but Lois drew herself up with fresh resolve, taking her hand out from under Erik’s gently but firmly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Eastlake, but I can’t do that,” Lois said, and her tone was utterly professional, not showing the slightest hint of the turmoil she felt she was drowning in. “I’m hosting a New Year’s Eve party tonight, and my friends and family expect me to be there.”
Erik almost flinched, but covered it with a weak laugh. “I should’ve known,” he said self-deprecatingly. He rose to leave, giving her another tight, awkward smile, and Lois saw the blush beginning to rise from under his collar. “Enjoy your party, Ms. Lane. We’ll make arrangements some other time.”
“Some other time,” Lois echoed a little hollowly, feeling as though she’d walked to the very edge of a cliff and then stepped back, just as the precipice began to crumble away under her feet. She’d known that feeling before…
Briefly, during the first year of her marriage to Kal-El, Lois had run into some difficulty accepting his absences. Same problem she had now, actually, only back in those days he had been the only publicly-known superhero, and he’d still managed to be at home more often than he was now. The problem then had been missing certain critical events like Jason’s piano recital. They’d fought, and Lois had gone to Ella with her troubles.
Her mother’s advice had shocked her – Ella had said either work through it, accepting Kal-El’s mission, or divorce him. The notion had been so outlandish that Lois had been startled into accepting Kal-El’s apology. Things had run more or less smoothly for them, but she’d harbored a tiny kernel of resentment, feeling put upon that she had to adapt, she had to accept his absences.
And then there was that business conference. Lois had flown all the way to Japan, leaving Kal-El home with the kids, for a seminar on the news world and how technology was affecting their business. It had been very insightful, covering topics Lois would never otherwise have considered relevant to the newspaper business, but the biggest surprise of that week had been stepping out of her hotel room at seven in the morning to see Richard across the hall.
That conference had happened while Lana was pregnant, and the Whites weren’t keeping very much in contact with the Lane-Kents at the time. Lois hadn’t known Richard was attending, he hadn’t even guessed she would be there, and neither of them had expected to wind up on the same floor of the convention hotel. But there he stood, looking clean-cut and handsome in a new suit, while Lois stood frozen in her bathrobe, keenly aware that she wore only a slip beneath it.
In those days the separation between Lois and Richard had still been new enough to hurt them both; while they loved their spouses, they had often found being around each other difficult as they tried to adapt to the new status quo. It was hard for Richard to treat Lois as a friend when he’d shared her bed for three years, and it was just as hard for Lois to react to him as anything other than her recent lover. They worked on it, but without seeing or speaking to Richard in several months thanks to Lana’s paranoid jealousy, Lois had been struck by his appearance more keenly than even the first time she’d met him. Not surprising, really; now she knew him, and he knew her, knew that place on the back of her neck that made her shiver with the lightest kiss, just as she knew how to run the very tips of her nails up his side…
The temptation had certainly been there during that week, and there was one night when the pair of them hung around the hotel bar way too late, drinking and swapping stories with reporters from all over the world. Richard had walked Lois back to her room, both of them a little drunker than they should have been and laughing companionably over some of the remarks that had been made through the evening, and for one instant at her door they’d stopped laughing when Lois lost her footing and Richard caught her. Both had looked into the other’s eyes and thought the exact same thing: leaning for one last kiss, and if it was more than a kiss, well, who could begrudge them one last time? Richard had leaned toward her, and Lois had lifted her lips toward his…
It hadn’t happened; a door had slammed somewhere on another floor, jarring them both into instant sobriety, and they’d laughed it off. And been grateful for the interruption – that had been far too close to making a mistake they would both regret. It was a momentary impulse, brought on by too much alcohol and reminiscing, and the near-miss had left Lois even more resolute in her marriage. She had been just as determined to keep Richard’s friendship, and he must have felt the same, because that moment in the hall was the last real temptation between them. There had been plenty of silliness since, and Richard had even kissed her once – lifted her off the ground, swung her around, and planted a big kiss on her when she won the second Pulitzer, but Clark understood – but they’d never even gotten close to dangerous territory.
That one moment, where the pair of them had stood on the edge of adultery and looked down, down, down into the abyss … it felt familiar now. The difference was, Lois and Richard had managed to rebuild their relationship, becoming better friends than they’d ever been as lovers, and still keeping the spark of attraction that gave all of their conversations such vivacity. Lana’s trust in Lois had been rebuilt to the point where Lois was present in the delivery room at Kristin’s birth, and the four adults had become so close that their three children considered themselves to simply have four parents. It was the best possible outcome, but it couldn’t have happened without Lois and Richard coming to the brink, and stepping back.
Lois didn’t think she and Eastlake were going to become better friends for this. The younger man had been distinctly discomfited, as if she’d wounded his pride by turning him down. And Lois herself felt sullied by his suggestion; she’d immediately returned to using his surname, not wanting even a hint of familiarity. The whole thing left her feeling vaguely sick.
Kal-El has seen this, she thought, and her stomach roiled. No wonder he was so solicitous, no wonder he had been so brusque to Eastlake. Even when Lois had been telling herself she was just chasing a story, he had known that something like this could happen.
If Clark had still been at the office, Lois might have gone to him and wrapped herself up in his arms, wordlessly seeking comfort and trying to give assurance that she would never… But since he wasn’t here, Lois would have to make sure he knew once she got home.
With that thought in mind, she rose and headed for Perry’s office. The silver dress won’t do for tonight, she thought. I should get my hair done, too. I need something new, something stunning – I want to remind Kal-El and myself how lucky we are to have each other.