Is that a shadow, or a flaw in the paint? Lois stared up at the patterns of the ceiling and wondered, as she had the last half hour. She was wide awake and sober too soon, the last of the alcohol having burned out of her system. Unfortunately, the soothing effect of the nicotine was gone as well.
I should’ve known something was wrong the minute Richard offered to let me smoke, she thought. Her gaze shifted to Richard’s slumbering form, but she found it difficult to be angry with him. Not after the last several hours, anyway. Herself, was a different matter.
Dinner had been wonderful. The restaurant was fantastic, candles in low red glasses on every table, all the wood stained dark with time and use, everywhere the mellow gleam of candlelight and brass and glasses full of delicious wines.
They’d sampled a variety of Middle Eastern fare: hummus with olive oil drizzled atop it, spicy falafel, swordfish kabobs, and delicious meat pies in flaky pastry. Lois had eaten far too many olives, and downed several glasses of delightful wine. The highlight of the evening for her, of course, had been the hookah. Filled with rose-flavored shisha tobacco and filtered through rosewater, it had lifted the simple act of smoking to a sublime ritual of relaxation.
Combining the joys of the thick, cool hookah smoke with an assortment of sweet baklava and a bottle of chilled ice wine had elevated the evening to exceptional heights. Lois looked back on her behavior and winced; now the pattern of Richard’s conversation was easy to define, but then he had seemed innocuously curious. He always circled back to
Was I really that blind? Did I really say all that? Dear God. What kind of moron was I to fall for this, hook line, and sinker?
At least she’d managed to keep the secret of his alter ego. And at least she had made it very clear that, though
More wine, sweet and golden, thick with flavor. More shisha, this time flavored with mint. Thick cups of sweetened coffee, and then it was finally time to leave. Lois felt pleasantly off-kilter, though she wasn’t precisely inebriated. Just the combination of vices had relaxed her to the point of lightheadedness, and Richard helped her to the car. She’d laughed easily, leaning on his arm, and that laughter had been precious to them both.
The restaurant was set back from the street behind a courtyard full of potted plants and trickling fountains. They’d had to cross in front of traffic to get to the parking lot, which was dimly lit. As Richard tried to unlock the passenger side door, Lois had leaned heavily on him, feeling as though the lovely evening had somehow melted her bones. It was also quite a funny feeling, and she couldn’t stop chuckling as she pressed closer to him to hold herself up. Which threw her off-balance and she had slipped just as she was afraid she’d do. But Richard caught her easily.
Now, lying in bed and remembering that moment, Lois still couldn’t be sure that she hadn’t kissed him first. It was like in dreams, where the scene changes abruptly with no transition, and she found herself pressed against the car, kissing him hungrily as if the last taste of the coffee in his mouth was ambrosia. And Richard clearly felt the same about her, his hands running possessively up and down her sides, pinning her against the car door and kissing her hard enough for her lips to feel bruised.
As his passion became tangible, Lois’ mind started to disconnect. Do you really want to do this? the Romantic whispered. With him? With the way you’re feeling about someone else right now? It’s not right, Lois. Didn’t we do this once already, and who felt guilty afterwards?
Shut up, Lois growled back, determined to block the voice out. Shut up, I’m not gonna ruin this… Who cares if it’s right? It’s no more wrong than those damn dreams I’ve been having about him. I don’t care … it feels so nice after so long…
And it was nice to just forget about everything else, Richard nuzzling her neck, feeling warmth suffuse her body. Lois murmured incoherently, tilting her head back and letting him kiss her throat with a low moan. So very nice, drifting in a haze of warm pleasure…
Which suddenly shattered. Richard ran his hands down to her thighs and lifted her, pinning her at a more convenient height. An icy shiver of déjà vu ran through Lois as her eyes opened wide; that was a car door handle poking her in the back instead of the drawer handle of a filing cabinet, but the comparison to the other morning couldn’t be clearer. And recognizing the similarities, admitting to her feelings for both men, she couldn’t go on. Damn you, Kal-El.
“No,” Lois whispered, almost moaning with frustration and resignation. “No, no, no, we can’t. Not like this, not now, no…” She pressed both hands against Richard’s chest as she dropped her head, tormented by memories and promises. “Richard, no, stop.”
Richard sighed heavily against her neck, and Lois shuddered at his breath on the sensitive skin. “Why?” he asked. “Why not?”
“We can’t,” Lois whispered back, not daring to look him in the eyes. Her body ached with craving, but her mind was frozen. “Not here.”
Richard let her down gently. “Well, no, not here,” he said with a breathless chuckle, desire making his voice rough. “But later…” He kissed her earlobe, letting his warm breath tickle her.
Shivers ran up and down Lois’ spine and she leaned toward him, then suddenly pulled back. “No,” she said more sternly, clamping down hard on the lightning-quick desire in her veins. In that way at least, he knew her so very well. “Richard … it’s the wrong time.” Lois blushed as she offered that last-ditch excuse. Oh, for God’s sake, Lois! You couldn’t come up with anything better than that?
For a moment, Richard looked confused, then understanding dawned. “Oh,” he said, crestfallen. But he didn’t question her; no man ever would question that particular reason. However, Lois was acutely aware that even six months ago he would’ve known she was lying – only their recent estrangement made the excuse plausible.
He kissed her brow, sliding his arms around her gently. “Another time, then,” he murmured, and Lois was still enough under the sway of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol to cuddle against his chest and let the rest of the world spin as it would.
Lying awake in bed beside him now, the reporter didn’t know exactly what to damn herself for. Part of her wished she’d accepted the affection she craved, having missed it for quite some time. Another part felt that doing so would be a betrayal of Kal-El, who had woken feelings in her heart she could no longer deny regardless of her fears. And still another part felt that making love to Richard now would be a betrayal of Richard as well, since she could no longer make herself believe she loved him the same way.
To make things even worse, Richard chose that moment to roll over in his sleep and slip his arm around her waist with a blissful murmur.
What am I going to do now? Just what the hell am I going to do? How do I get myself into these things? And just how am I going to get myself out of it this time, without destroying everything? Staring up at the ceiling, still unable to decide whether it was a shadow or stain, whether semblance or substance.
As Richard drove the twins to school the next morning, Kala leaned against the window, staring out and upward. She couldn’t see much sky now that they were downtown, only glimpses between Metropolis’ concrete canyons, but those few stretches of blue captivated her interest. Had Lois, still in bed miles behind them, known what Kala was thinking, she would have been wide awake and terrified.
Wonder if I’m gonna ever be up there? Kala mused. Maybe I can fly, like Daddy. That’d be really cool.
Several days after overhearing her Nana’s urgently whispered conversation with Mommy – Have you told Superman about his twins? – Kala had been up at her parents’ job, and talked Uncle Jimmy into walking her down to the break room for some flavored water. They had passed the rows of front-page stories, framed and mounted, which Kala had seen dozens of times before. At six years old, she couldn’t read much past the headlines, and had always dismissed them as sort of boring posters. But that day, with Nana’s electrifying words still floating in her mind, Kala had skidded to a halt in front of one the stories.
I Spent the Night with Superman, she needed no help with that. The biggest word was one every child in Metropolis knew well. But what Kala had never quite noticed before was the byline beneath it. By Lois Lane, she read, and her hazel eyes grew wide. “Uncle Jimmy, my Mommy went to a sleepover at Superman’s house?” she had asked, impressed.
The photographer had chuckled, and explained that the two had spent the evening flying around, which Kala found incredibly exciting. She’d managed not to tell Uncle Jimmy everything she knew, though.
Superman’s my daddy, Kala thought, remembering the incident warmly as she gazed up at the brief flashes of sky. My Mommy was in love with Superman. That’s the most special-est ever. Then another realization hit, and she sat bolt upright in the back seat. That means Mommy kissed Superman! Maybe more than once! Wow! New respect for her mother shone in the little girl’s eyes.
Jason was looking at her like she’d lost her mind, and Kala just glared at him. He doesn’t have a clue. Boys. They’re all so dumb … except Daddy. Both daddies, Richard and Superman. They’re pretty smart. Hey, Superman was in love with my Mommy! That’s so neat.
Such pleasant and intriguing thoughts kept her occupied all the way to her classroom.
It had not been a pleasant morning for Lois. She’d woken in the wee hours from a dream that left her clammy with sweat. In it, the life she’d worked so hard to build had continued on just as planned. She’d married Richard, they’d lived in this house, and they had come to know each other very well after all and to enjoy each other more with each passing year. Their lovemaking had become more tender than passionate as time went by, and they spent more time together in silence because everything was known between them. But it was a good life, one happier than many women could ever dream of.
So why had she woken up shivering with fear? Lois asked herself that as she crept to the bathroom and rinsed her face, trying to shake herself back into reality – and out of the sudden urge to call
Staring at the dark shadows under her eyes in the pitiless fluorescent light, Lois had to admit that she wanted more. More than happiness, more than comfort, more than stability. She wanted that level of intimacy that was almost painful in its intensity; she wanted awe and wonder and the occasional feeling that her life was out of her control. For a moment the reporter tried to scold herself, thinking, Life is not a fairy tale, you don’t always get magic and princes.
But another voice replied softly, Once upon a time you did – and it’s not too late, if you’re brave enough to try again. Brave enough to call the whirlwind into your own life and let it blow away everything that isn’t bolted down tight. Make the choice, dare to say the things you’ve been thinking, and when it all dies down you’ll see what’s left is what’s strongest. And you already know what that is – the love you can’t deny, can’t excise from your heart.
Still she hesitated. Even if her own heart – and finally her mind – were clear on what she wanted, Lois wasn’t making a decision just for herself. The twins. Which is best for them: the security of the life they’ve always known, or the constant uncertainty of life with their real father?
It hadn’t been the kind of question she could answer that early, so Lois had crawled back into bed and eventually slept. Later that morning, after Richard left with the twins, she decided to make time to investigate the Vanderworth estate a second time, now armed with both the information Clark had passed on and additional tidbits passed on from Karla Smith-Bennett during their phone conversation. She’d stop briefly by the office, of course, but only briefly. She had to at least show up in the morning, but it would be best if she didn’t run into either of the men today…
One of those mornings, again. Maybe the arsonist planned to plead not guilty by reason of insanity if he was ever caught, or maybe he was inspiring copycats.
The same model airplane fuels, but this time the target had been an abandoned warehouse. Virtually no risk to human life, but the same timed ignitions. Of course, the other arson targets didn’t fit an easy pattern, unless maximum mayhem was a pattern…
He changed in the ventilation shaft and headed into the newsroom the back way, as if he’d just come down the secondary stairs from the corrections department above. As
Lois was on her way out, though she couldn’t have been in long at this hour. Even across the crowded room, their eyes met, and for a moment
That feeling returned to him as he met Lois’ gaze, seeing a kind of stricken look on her face. The sight of his beloved drove everything else out of his heart and mind for a moment, and from the unthinking way she took a step toward him, Lois felt as much for him. What are you thinking, Lois? he couldn’t help but wonder.
Then the moment was gone, Lois shaking her head slightly as she turned to leave. What are you thinking?
But he knew the answer to that. Love has its reasons, that reason never knows.
And heard the alarms in one of the main fire stations go off, shortly followed by sirens. I have got to catch this guy, he thought, hurrying out again. Or else he’s going to make me lose my job.
Lois’s heart had stopped beating for a moment, catching
Do you dream about me at night, the same as I do about you, and then lie to yourself in the morning?
Is iteven possible for us to have another chance? Even now?
They would talk soon, set the record straight on everything, but now wasn’t the time. Not with all that was going on at the moment. Soon, she promised herself. For better or worse. Closure or new beginning, it had to be done. But for now, she forced herself to leave, remembering that she probably wouldn’t get out of the office at all if she didn’t do it before Richard got there.
Thankfully, the Vanderworth alarm systems had a few vulnerable points – vulnerable to someone who didn’t mind climbing the property fence and getting in the basement via a cellar window, anyway.
The basement was dark and dusty, forcing Lois to suppress a sneeze. She kept close to the wall, listening intently. Somewhere in the mansion, she could hear the dull roar of a furnace, but there was no other sound. For the moment, she could risk a light. Lois always carried a small electromagnetic flashlight in her purse, the kind that needs no batteries. All she had to do was shake it briskly, and it gave her a strong bluish LED beam.
Dusty was an understatement. Every surface was cloaked in pale powder, giving the room an unsettling shrouded appearance. And it wasn’t all the normal dust of neglect – quite a lot of it appeared to be from cracking and shifting concrete, since the floor and walls were buckled. The extent of the damage was incredible – apparently there had once been some kind of train set down here, but now it was in ruins. The powerful light showed toppled buildings, derailed trains, flattened mountains, and everywhere the figures of miniature plastic people lay knocked over and broken.
Lois felt a premonitory chill run down her spine. Whatever caused this destruction, I really hope Luthor hasn’t figured out how to scale it up. She couldn’t, however, immediately divine the source of the EMP. A great many wires lay tangled in a heap under and around the jumbled remains of the train set, but they could have all been part of the set itself.
Suddenly, a glint from under one of the piles of debris caught Lois’ eye. She had to pick her way across to it carefully, stepping over miniature bridges and roads and trees, but finally the reporter knelt in the dust and examined her find.
A tiny chip of glass… no, crystal, no bigger than a grain of rice. Lois sighed disgustedly; it could be part of some kind of timing device for explosives, or a piece chipped out of someone’s watch face. Why can’t life be more like a novel? Why can’t I find a nice big clue, like a book entitled “How to Cause a Massive EMP with Easily-Traceable Materials”? Yeah, open to the page that would tell me how he did it, with his fingerprints on the cover.
Oh well. This might mean something, it might not. Either way, I’m taking no chances. Lois took an envelope out of her purse and sealed the fragment inside. Then she set off to continue her exploration, carefully avoiding the windows so she wouldn’t be caught on the exterior security cameras. She wasn’t worried about the interior; the specs of the alarm system hadn’t mentioned indoor monitoring.
After dropping the twins off, Richard stopped for coffee. He hated that stuff Perry brewed at the office, it looked and smelled like tar – and tasted worse. He preferred to get his cup of steaming black wakefulness from a corner doughnut shop, at which newsmen from several papers liked to congregate.
As Richard was paying for his coffee, he overheard a wisp of conversation from somewhere in the back of the dingy, dough-scented room. He could only make out a couple of words, but they electrified him: “Lane … drunk … Pulitzers…”
The International Editor drifted toward the voice, pretending to be preoccupied with the selection of doughnuts in the large glass case. The speaker was a heavyset reporter Richard had seen here often, but whose name he didn’t know. He gestured with a powdered, jelly-filled doughnut, then took a bite, spraying powdered sugar all over the table. “I’m tellin’ ya, she was drunk off her ass.”
The man across from him at the small table leaned back in distaste. “You obviously don’t know
“Nah, she ain’t,” the large man replied. “Dunno who she thinks she is anyway…”
“She’s the next editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet, Harry,” his companion replied sharply. “And she knows it perfectly well.
The other man harrumphed, and sipped his coffee noisily. Richard acted as though he was fascinated by the crullers. “Yeah, right,” Harry said. “I’m not scared of her. What’s she gonna do, break my arm?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” the other replied. “Don’t underestimate her. She looks pretty and sweet and vapid right up until she scoops your story and steals your sources. And don’t forget her boyfriend.”
Richard kept his face turned away, but he soon realized they weren’t talking about him. Harry sprayed more crumbs as he laughed. “Yeah? That guy in International, the pilot? So what, Dan?”
“No, the other flyboy,” Dan replied, dusting off his sleeve and glaring at his companion. “The caped one. He wouldn’t take kindly to you disparaging his lady love.”
Another shower of crumbs. “Hah! Superman? Please. It’s been six years and she wrote a bitchy article about him. That’s the first time PMS has won anybody a Pulitzer.”
“Tone it down, Harry. I’m serious.”
The heavyset man seemed not to hear, and Richard began to suspect there was more than creamer in his coffee by his slightly slurred words. “Besides, he’s got a lot more to worry ‘bout than me. How thrilled you think he’s gonna be when he finds out she almost kissed
“Yup,” Harry replied, relishing his moment of glory. “
That effectively ruined Richard’s day.
Oh, Uncle Perry’s in for it now… He stormed out, seething, and headed right back to the office to confront Lois, Perry, and Clark … whichever of them were around.