And more, more, more. Although I think will be the last for the night. I'll pick up loading them tomorrow after work. I hope someone is reading these.
After six o’ clock, the Planet bullpen was largely deserted. Even Perry had gone home; his cardiologist insisted that he keep to a regular schedule. That left the office to Richard, Lois, Jimmy, Clark, and the twins. The four adults had polished off a second pot of coffee while trying to track the complicated paper trail attached to the Vanderworth estate; the two children were trying to entertain themselves. Coloring books, a deck of Old Maid cards, and even Mommy’s computer games had lost their appeal, and the twins were ominously quiet.
“Holy…” Lois said, catching herself. “That dock I saw? It’s not just a yacht, it’s a freakin’ baby ocean liner. Listen to these specs: 1400 tons, 65 knots maximum speed, 12,000 horsepower, 58 foot beam, and here’s the kicker, 300 feet long.”
“Wow,” the three men said in unison.
“And it’s got a glass bottom,” Lois added.
Just then, they heard a terrifying roar. Or it would have been terrifying, if it had come from a ninety-foot lizard and not a small boy with a trashcan on his head. Kala was chasing Jason with a rolled-up newspaper and yelling, “Die, Godzilla, die!”
“Rrrraaaar!” Jason screamed, and ran into Perry’s glass office door.
Lois had to cover her mouth to stifle her laughter, tears squeezing out of her eyes as her breath hitched and her shoulders shook. The three men just stared as Kala did an impromptu victory dance over her vanquished brother. “Yay, Godzilla’s dead!” she sang, twirling.
“Oww,” Jason groaned, trying to get up. The trashcan was still on his head, and Kala whacked it enthusiastically, provoking an angry yelp.
“Okay, that’s enough, you two,” Richard said sternly, getting up. Lois was still helplessly sniggering as she buried her face in her hands. Richard continued, “I swear, sometimes I wonder if you guys are even from this planet.”
“I’m not,” Jason said quickly, pushing the trashcan off his head.
“You are so!” Kala yelled. “Godzilla’s just a big ugly radioactive lizard!”
“Not as ugly as your big head!” he retorted.
“Not another word!” their mother interrupted. No one had noticed until then how Lois’ amusement suddenly dried up at Richard’s offhand remark. “Kala, Jason, stop fighting. Right now.”
They both sighed melodramatically, but didn’t even try to argue.
“All right, I think the kids are a little hungry,” Richard said, stroking both of their hair while he looked speculatively at Lois. “Jimmy, let’s go ahead and take them out to Pancho’s. It’s a little early for dinner, but they’ve had to think about it long enough.”
All animosities forgotten, the twins were dancing around him and chanting “Burritos” like it was some obscure cult. Jimmy left his notes for Clark and Lois and went with Richard and the kids.
As soon as the elevator doors shut behind them, the room temperature seemed to drop ten degrees. Almost immediately, Lois dropped her eyes back to her work, not sparing Clark a glance.
Oh, boy. She’s still burned that Perry tried to give this story to me; either that, or she’s mad because he hired me back without even telling her. Either way, this is going to be about as much fun as a calculus test. “Um, Lois,” Clark began diffidently.
She didn’t even let him finish the sentence. Without a word, she stood as she snatched up her purse. Just sitting here, just keeping up the charade when they were alone was intolerable. This hadn’t been quite the situation she had expected to find herself in when they had discussed staying late, but how could she have refused to be left alone with Clark without creating more suspicion? As it was, she was having a nightmare of a time simply remaining civil, something some people were starting to notice. Each of the last few days had been a struggle. She was avoiding the office constantly. Even old habits were returning, ones she had stopped before the twins had come.
Flashing him an attempt at a smile, Lois rounded the desks near hers and headed for the center aisle. One hand on the strap of the purse, she wasn’t really watching what she was doing when she called out, “I’ll be back. Just going downstairs for some more coffee.” And no more than two steps later, one heel caught in the carpet slightly, and she lost her grip. Before she could attempt to catch it, the case hit the floor, spilling the contents. Swearing at fate, she snapped out, “Shit. Just great,” as she quickly knelt down.
Clark hurriedly knelt beside her, and his heart caught in his throat as his glasses fell off and landed practically in her lap. Lois just picked them up and handed them back, not even looking up, snatching up her belongings with her free hand and dumping everything back in her purse willy-nilly.
Taking the glasses, Clark stared at Lois. She hadn’t even tried to look. After all these years of suspecting he was Superman, after some of the crazy stunts she’d pulled…
The hideously over-decorated honeymoon suite in Niagara, Lois looking at him in the mirror, her eyes scheming. “You are Superman. Aren’t you?”
He’d laughed nervously. Less than an hour ago, she’d tried to discover proof of his identity. “Lois, we’ve been through this hallucination of yours before. Don’t you remember what you almost did to yourself, jumping into those rapids? Can’t you see the tragic mistake you almost made?
She smiled thinly. “You’re right, Clark. I did make a tragic mistake. What a fool I was...” Then she opened a drawer in the dressing table and swiveled in her seat, a loaded revolver in her hand. Leveled at Clark’s chest. “I bet my life instead of yours.”
He backed up, eyes widening. She couldn’t be serious … what on earth would he do now? “Lois ... don’t be insane... Lois, you’re crazy!”
She fired. The gunshot echoed across the room.
He remained standing. What else could he do, play dead?
Her voice was full of wonder and quiet triumph. “I knew it. I guess I must really have known it for the longest time...”
Clark stared at her, defiant and resigned, and let his voice deepen to Superman’s register. “You realize, of course, if you’d been wrong... Clark Kent would have been killed.”
She grinned, that exultant smile that he knew and loved so well. “How? With a blank?”
At that moment, he’d felt so foolish. After all that time, the lengths he’d gone to, she had trapped him so easily. He sighed frustratedly.
Lois just looked at him with a soft smile. “Gotcha.”
A moment later, while he was still in shock from her discovery, she’d dropped another bombshell on him by saying she was in love with him. “Then we’d really better talk,” unable to hide the little tremor of joy, relief, and new anxiety in his voice when he said it. And after that the Fortress, his explanation, the loss of his powers, that wondrous night … and waking up from their dream of paradise to find themselves in a hell of conflicting loyalties.
Clark shook himself a little, bringing his mind back to the present. The glasses were replaced. He started helping Lois toss her things back into her purse; she certainly carried a lot more stuff than she did when they’d first met.
Pen, backup pen, Kleenex, recorder, Nicoderm gum, steno pad, cell phone, inhaler for the kids, backup inhaler, change purse, makeup compact, eye drops, wallet, Epi-pen in case one of the kids had an allergic reaction, pack of M&Ms, bottle of Zyban … everything seemed to be there. Then Lois picked up her purse, and both of them saw the last item lying beneath.
A pack of Djarum Lights cigarettes.
Flushing against her will, her eyes briefly flickered up to his. The next instant, having seen his gaze light on them and know them for what they were, Lois snatched up the pack and slipped them back into their former hiding place. All of the things that had happened between then and now, and she was ashamed that he knew she hadn’t completely stopped smoking? What the hell is wrong with you? It’s your lungs and your anxiety. What right does he have to judge? Especially after almost seven years. Sounding both terse and defensive, Lois rose to her feet quickly, now avoiding his eyes. “I’ll be back.” Glancing back only briefly, she was gone up the grey carpet, disappearing quickly on her way to the elevators.
His eyes followed her as she slapped the call button, her shoulders tense. Clark felt like his gaze had been captured as he watched her get into the elevator, the doors transparent to his vision, watched it rise slowly…
Rise? She said she was going downstairs, not up. What could she want up there?
The answer was an instant in coming. Back then, she used to go up there to smoke. I thought she quit, but it looks like she just switched brands and cut down.
The way things have been going, this may be my only chance to catch her alone. Good thing I started wearing the suit again…
And swifter than sight, he vanished from the bullpen. Only a moment later, he was on the roof, watching Lois from the concealing shadows.
She sighed, glaring up at the night sky, then turned her back on Metropolis’ skyline and took out the pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Lois held the cigarette in her lips while she tried to get the lighter to work, but as soon as the flame popped up, Superman sent a puff of his breath across it.
Eyes narrowed, Lois tried again, and again Superman blew out the flame, a little more forcefully. She whirled around, seeming taken aback to see him.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, floating off the parapet toward her.
Although she had seen him consistently for the last several hours, she felt that full-body freeze she had on the plane. Why was it that his sheer presence threw her for a loop, even more so when he was in the suit? The instinctive feeling of awe, of the history between them rose in her, the very thing that led Perry to his orders. And, against her will, she felt her heart tug at her as she felt her gaze lock with his again…
Only to tear them away a moment later. What was she doing? What, she could forget the last half dozen years that quickly for a pair of blue eyes, a perfect face? And what about the way he had left her? And the twins? What about them? Suddenly, Lois’ anger was nearly palpable. “You didn’t startle me, anymore than earlier,” she said rather coldly. The edge of sarcasm in her tone was clear. “I just wasn’t expecting you.”
For once in his life, he was completely at a loss. Superman always pretended perfect confidence, always made it seem that he knew everything, could do everything, but behind that movie-star smile anxiety and doubt often lurked. He worried, sometimes excessively, if he was doing the right things, if he was helping people or just providing them with a handsome primary-colored crutch, and Lois’ article had given those thoughts more power to gnaw into his mind. But in spite of that, he could generally still act like he knew what he was doing and everything would be okay. That was why people still trusted and adored him; inside every adult is the child they once were, and those children had not yet learned that this particular adult was as fallible as themselves.
Not now. Lois knew him better; Lois’ faith in him had never been blind. In the time between his first rescue and his departure for Krypton, they had had many talks about the world, his responsibilities, and his image. She had helped him to understand people, playing devil’s advocate, pointing out different viewpoints. Lois knew, as no other human being did, how his deep commitment to aiding his adopted planet spurred him on and sometimes tormented him. But that meant that she could not be mollified by some simple explanation; unlike the rest of the world, Lois was not going to settle for rejoicing that he was back. She clearly felt betrayed by his abrupt disappearance, and he would have to answer for that.
In the face of her cold anger, Superman drew himself back a bit. Let’s start with the public, then we can get to the personal, he thought. “I know that people have been asking a lot of questions about me,” he said, trying to keep his voice level and calm. “I think it’s only fair that I answer … those people.” And you – I answer to you first and foremost for everything I’ve ever done. You’re my chronicler, my critic, my best fan, and best friend. You’re also the only woman I’ve ever really loved, and if I ever lost you I think my heart would just die in my chest.
Those eyes he had learned to read so well only widened and the look was absolutely incredulous. When she spoke, it was clear by the disbelief in her voice that that had not been what she had been expecting. “So, you’re … here for an interview?”
Wait, you have an opportunity to explain yourself, and you’re not even going to use it? her romantic nature wondered. The General’s Daughter, however, merely snapped, Un-frikkin-believable. Lois didn’t give him a chance to respond, snatching up her recorder out of her open purse and flicking it on. Even the way she held it out was abrupt and angry, and her voice dripped sarcasm as she said, “Well, you’re back, and everyone seems pretty happy about it.” The set of that delicate jaw was clear.
“Not everyone,” Superman replied sternly, trying to keep this from turning into a confrontation. “I read the article, Lois.”
“So did a lot of people,” she shot back. “Friday night they’re giving me a Pulitzer for it.”
“Why did you write it?” he asked, and now there was a hint of pain in his voice. Of all the people to write such an article, Lois, the one he loved best…
Lois had built a wall between herself and him, every brick made of anger and mortared with betrayal. Behind it were her pain, loss, and loneliness, but as hard as she tried to hold those feelings back, they seeped out a little. “How could you leave us like that? You didn’t even bother to say goodbye!”
An awkward question, especially given what he had found. “Saying goodbye … would’ve been too hard.”
That flipped Lois back into outrage. “What’s hard about it? ‘Goodbye!’ ‘See ya!’ People do it all the time, even you. How hard can it be? I mean, this is just me. It’s not as if there was anything between us to make that difficult or anything.” She could feel acid in her throat as she spoke.
She cut him off instead, no longer willing to offer him an opportunity to explain. Get the damn interview, then you can go back to ignoring him. “So, where’d you go?”
She seemed a bit startled, then suspicious. No, wait, he had told her… “But you told me it exploded.”
“It did, but scientists thought they’d found it, and I hoped…”
Lois interrupted again, “What did you find there?”
Superman was finally annoyed. He’d had tough interviews with her before, but this on top of all the shocks he’d had in returning, on top of the cold, distant way she had treated Clark, was too much. His tone was nearly as snappish as hers when he replied, “A graveyard. Full of kryptonite, at that.”
Blinking in surprise, Lois couldn’t entirely rein in her sympathy. Oh God, that’s why he went. And why he went so quickly. To have been faced with that… What that must have been like, to have gained hope that he might not be the last of his race, only to discover himself an orphan again…
Before she could even consider comforting him, a fuming voice abruptly interrupted those thoughts. He didn’t have to go. What was he thinking, after all of this time? And that doesn’t even begin to explain why the hell he couldn’t have the decency to give you a by-your-leave, especially if there was a chance that he’d never see you again. That’s what he’s trying to tell you, isn’t it? He planned to disappear forever onto a home world he doesn’t even remember, leaving you behind with nothing better to do than stand around wondering. Never mind that he stopped being the last of his kind eight months after he took off. But, then again, why not? Near as you’re supposed to remember, you were only his press agent, you know? A few stories, a little tension, and a little flirtation. Nothing more than that.
“Lois … if I had known, I would never have left. I shouldn’t have gone at all…”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Lois said sharply. She had to get this under control again, and quickly. “Well, so tell me what you’ve been doing since you’ve been back. When did you get in? Why the new suit? Have you meet anyone? Were you waiting for something showy to save or were we just lucky you showed up when that plane fell?”
She sounded just like Perry, except for that last. Superman realized that he was quickly losing the chance to explain to her, not to win her back but to even win back the possibility of ever having civil conversation with her. He reached for the one thing that had always helped before, the one thing she had never been able to resist.
Holding out his hand, he said softly, “Lois, come with me.”
She turned slightly at that, the expression that flickered across his face more than she could bear. Despite her barrage, it was impossible to miss the affection in his eyes. And that was something she just couldn’t take. Not when she had seen it before and much more intensely. Despite her own painful betrayal, and loyalty to the twins, she felt herself weakening.
The first time, that moment of incredulity, startling her into saying, “You mean I could fly?”
He had chuckled. “Well, I’ll handle the flying if it’s all right with you.” He had taken her hand before she could talk herself out of it, putting an arm around her shoulders. The gentlest push, and they left the ground, moving slowly off the edge of her roof.
It was unlike anything else she had ever known, his grip on her so light, and the canyons of Metropolis’ streets yawning below her. She felt frighteningly unsupported, clutching him desperately, hiding her eyes.
Superman had been amused, but he had only chuckled softly and made her turn her head to look. All that space below her, seeming to pull greedily at her, wanting her to fall so far. Fear like nothing she’d ever known had overwhelmed her then, leaving her shivering.
But she didn’t fall, and a few minutes later, the fear subsided, leaving her brimming with wonder. It was almost as if she really was flying on her own, his touch was so light, his strength so great that he could support her with one hand. Soon she was laughing with delight, arms spread wide, the entire city soaring by beneath her.
And then she did fall, and he caught her, and she was staring into those blue eyes from inches away. That was the moment she lost her heart, and Lois remembered thinking later that this was precisely how falling in love should be: terrifying, exhilarating, and wondrous.
For that instant, Lois’ anger was lost as she fought off that traitorous memory. “No,” she whispered then, shaking her dark head, those amazing eyes haunted. She had replayed that memory over and over, wounded by it and fate on many long nights after he was gone. And even now the pain was still fresh when she remembered all of her silly fantasies following that night. Going with him was the most foolish thing she could do. “No. What purpose would it serve?”
“Lois, please,” he said. There was something more than anger in her feelings to him, and though the pain in her eyes wounded him as bullets never could, he reached for it, his own voice full of longing and loss. “Fly with me.”
She struggled then, a part of her yearning for this more than she had for anything in her life. It was only the space of a couple of feet, an instant’s walk, and she’d be in his arms. Even as the other side scorned her for these hopeless naïve thoughts. This was the real world. He knew what he was doing. His memory of their first flight was probably even better than hers, damn him. All of his memories, for that matter. He’d never forgotten any of them, had he?
That was enough to strengthen her resolve. Her delicate jaw set then, feeling the burn return to her blood even as she fought back tears. “I can’t,” Lois said firmly. She couldn’t do this, not now. He didn’t know, didn’t even suspect why. And, in a way, it made it all the worse. “It’s been a long time since that night; too long. I have two children now, and a fiancé. I’m Perry White’s assistant. I have responsibilities; I can’t just go off gallivanting around at all hours like I used to.”
For a moment, just a moment, he’d almost had her. Superman had seen her take one step toward him, then abruptly turn away, venom in her voice. Her body language was as clear as a slammed door. “Lois,” he began again, moving toward her.
Still not facing him, Lois said in a matter-of-fact tone, “No. Richard’s a good man, and you’ve been gone a long time.” A traitorous voice in her mind whispered, Yeah, he’s a good man, but are you in love with him? Or is he just comfortable and good with the kids?
Shut up, her anger snarled. At least Richard’s reliable, and I do love him. I do.
Who are you trying to convince?
Suddenly, she felt sick to her stomach. This had to end soon; this was getting too hard. As much trying to escape that final thought as end this, she turned her head to look at him, straight into those blue eyes she knew so well and not at all. It was a struggle to keep her voice as calm as it was as she murmured, “A very long time. And I’ve moved on. We’ve moved on. Besides, let’s not make this more than it was. Why should you have felt beholden to me, or the rest of us for that matter?” With a shrug, she turned away, wanting to run as she moved to pick up her purse. “Besides, you’re back now. If you still want the Planet to exclusively cover the stories, I’ll see if I can work it out for one of our best to represent you. I’m not a beat reporter anymore.” With that, she switched off the recorder and put it away.
Speechless, Superman watched her walk to the stairwell that led down to the top floor. She was opening the door before he realized that she really meant to simply leave without another word, and he found his voice again. Regretfully, he murmured, “Goodnight, Lois.”
She hesitated for just a second, her hand on the open door, as that soft voice seemed to lacerate her heart. Not trusting herself to reply, Lois went into the dark little stairwell and shut the heavy door behind her.
No one was supposed to have access to the roof except the maintenance crew, but Lois had long ago finagled a key to the door below from one of them. She had been going up there, to smoke and to think, for a long time. Most of the staff wouldn’t even have known where the roof-access stairwell was, much less that both doors were lead-lined.
But Lois did, and knowing that he couldn’t see her, she slammed herself back against the door, biting her lip to stifle a sob. Why did he have to be so handsome, so kind, so attractive on so many levels? Why did this have to be so goddamned hard? She slid down to the ground, arms wrapped around herself tightly to try and hold in the pain that was gnawing at her.
Outside, all Superman saw was her walking away, apparently unconcerned. He sighed, and flew slowly back to the air shaft where he had left Clark’s clothes, moving as if he carried the weight of the entire building on his shoulders.
Lois only allowed herself a few minutes in which to break down, then attempted to repair the damage as best she could with only a tissue and a compact mirror. When she thought she was at least presentable, she headed down.
Richard and Jimmy and the kids were already back, distributing the food across two desks. Jason looked up at her curiously, but Kala seemed confused. And there in the middle of them, his face rather paler than normal, was Clark, not so much eating a veggie burrito as staring it to death.
At the sight of him, she flinched slightly, the sharp edge of incredible hurt cutting her again. Oh, this was too much. It was a shot to the gut to see him again this quickly, even if Lois knew that it was the only thing he could do. Couldn’t he have just pulled one of his famous disappearing acts? That would have been at least merciful; now I have to sit here and pretend like nothing at all happened. Dammit, go away! This is the last thing I can handle right now. Go the hell back to Krypton, for all I care.
But none of this left her lips as she strolled up to the gathering, only the swish of her skirt giving her away. Except for him, of course. She was sure he had known the minute she had entered the elevator, hearing the ding the moment the doors had closed. Clamping down on all emotion, focusing all of herself solidly on Richard, she walked up to them silently. Running a hand affectionately over Jason’s hair as she came up behind him, she peered over his shoulder. The little boy looked up, grinning. In a voice that was eerily cheerful, she leaned forward to look through the feast, commenting, “Smells good. Good choices tonight, love.” In truth, she had never felt less like eating in her life.
“Thanks, hon,” Richard said with a smile, and Lois was perversely gratified to see Clark flinch a little. She called upon everything she’d learned in high-school drama classes, and sat down between the twins, teasing and joking with them. It took every ounce of Lois’ will to pull off that performance, and even so, she felt it was a little flat. The kids seemed to notice, Kala more than Jason, but Richard and Jimmy were oblivious.
And Clark? He barely touched his food, answered when spoken to, but seemed very deep in thought. Which he was, his mind spinning fruitlessly around the same topic. She won’t even give me a chance to apologize. How on earth can I explain things to her? Why won’t she even give me the benefit of the doubt? Just then, Richard said something that made the twins giggle in unison, and the happy domestic picture seared through Clark’s heart like his own heat vision. And why am I even trying? She’s happy, she doesn’t need me, why am I even thinking of intruding on the life she’s built? Why can’t I just let go? I’ve lost her.
Of course he knew the answer already. Because I’m still in love with her. Even if I can’t have her, I need to try and make things right between us. I owe her an explanation. I owe her, and Ma and Pa raised me to pay my debts.
That sounds so… It’s true, though. I wonder if people would find it funny that an alien with superpowers was given his moral instruction by a couple of Kansas farmers?
As the twins split the last chicken tortilla, Richard and Lois started cleaning up. Clark started to help, but Richard insisted the dinner was their treat. He caught Lois by the trashcan and whispered, “Clark doesn’t look so good, does he?”
“Maybe something disagreed with him,” she murmured back, glancing at Clark over her shoulder. Good.
Everyone was moving a little more slowly with a full meal inside them, the twins yawning, when Lois paused by the desk and sighed heavily. “You know, my mind is fried,” she began.
“The last seven years or so,” Jimmy whispered.
“Shut up, Olsen,” Lois said affectionately. “Anyway. We have all this information, and none of it is making sense. I was trying to clear my head up there, and I’m just too tired and too stuffed with data to do it yet. How about we all go home and sleep on it?” She was looking at Richard, and glanced pointedly at Clark.
Jimmy raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t argue. “Sounds like a good idea,” Richard said tentatively, and watched her curiously.
The four adults managed to shepherd the sleepy twins downstairs, the silent tension between Lois and Clark unnoticed by the others, and Jimmy caught a cab to his apartment. Clark turned to go back in, having left his coat, and Lois sighed with relief.
It was only a few blocks to the garage where Lois and Richard kept their cars, so they walked, each carrying one of the twins. After they got them both buckled into the back of Richard’s car, Lois started to slide into the passenger seat, but Richard caught her hand. She looked up at him questioningly.
“Hey,” he said softly. “I didn’t want to call you on it in front of Jimmy and Clark, but Clark said you went up to the roof. I know you used to, when you were smoking, so I have to ask…”
She had an instant to realize how Clark had betrayed himself with that remark, and to be annoyed that Richard had appointed himself her personal stop-smoking watchdog. And then Lois smiled with deceptive sweetness, leaned forward, and kissed Richard deeply.
Surprised, he ran his hand into her hair, forgetting everything else for a moment as he always did when she was in his arms. The kiss lasted long enough that the twins would have been making retching noises if they were awake, long enough for the hair at the nape of Richard’s neck to prickle.
Lois drew back with a wicked gleam in her eye and purred, “You tell me. Does it taste like I’ve been smoking?”
He grinned and got in the car.