Picking up the story where I left it last night. We should be up to the current storyline very soon now. Will make talking about plots and plans easier that way. Now Barbara and the two of us talk a little more freely and those of you on LJ will have an idea where we come up with this stuff. :)
Several hours later, Richard was still awake, but just barely. He propped himself up on one elbow in bed, looking at Lois’ face in the moonlight. Her eyes seemed a little shadowed as she slept, but that could simply be the fact that she hadn’t been sleeping well this past week. Lightly, Richard stroked her cheek, running his hand possessively over the curves of her shoulder and hip.
She hasn’t been that passionate since … I don’t know if she’s ever been that passionate, he reflected. He was usually the one who began things, though Lois had never been any less than responsive. And of late, they seemed to have settled into a comfortable routine, physical affection given tenderly but with little spontaneity. Part of any long-term relationship, he supposed. But tonight… Now I know why she wanted to go home, Richard thought with a chuckle. Lois has never quit early on a story before. I guess I have to buy Mexican more often, if it has this affect. Considering the slight soreness he felt in every muscle, he reconsidered that. Not too often; I don’t want to exhaust myself into an early grave.
But oh, what a way to die, he thought as he snuggled down beside Lois, sliding one arm around her waist to pull her close. She murmured sleepily and leaned her head back onto his broad chest. Dozing, Richard let his mind drift back over the last few hours.
After they got the twins in bed, he had gone upstairs first, taking off his tie. Lois had followed him into the bedroom and stood in front of him while he unbuttoned his shirt, still smiling that strangely predatory smile. “Are you really all that tired, Richard?” she had asked huskily.
“Not really,” he’d replied, leaning forward to kiss her again. It was just as searching this time, just as hungry, and when he drew back for breath, she had caught the front of his shirt and yanked it open.
One button spanged off the bedside lamp as she pushed him down onto the bed, sliding into his lap with that grace exclusive to women in desire. Lois had been aggressive, almost frightening in her intensity, driven by some unfathomable need. He surrendered control to her then, taken by surprise. Richard didn’t question his good fortune, just gave all that she asked for.
And now of course he had the souvenirs to prove it. Her nails had scored his back, something he hadn’t even felt at the time but which now stung slightly. And there was a darkening bruise on his shoulder where she had clenched her teeth in her ecstasy, stifling a cry that would’ve frightened the twins awake. Kala, especially – she had the sharpest hearing of any child Richard knew, which meant that his romantic encounters with her mother usually took place while the kids were out of the house.
Not tonight, though. He had the feeling Lois wouldn’t have stopped unless the house had been on fire, and perhaps not even then. That had taken him totally by surprise, but then, even after five years, Lois still could surprise him fairly easily.
Richard was under no illusions regarding her, but in spite of college flings with pretty girls who liked pilots, he did have some experience with strong-willed and independent-minded females. He had been fascinated by flight all his life, and had spent high school summers volunteering at a facility that rescued and rehabilitated birds of prey. By the summer before he went into the Air Force, he had been allowed to handle some of the more predictable raptors, though always with the caveat that they were wild animals, inherently dangerous.
Lois reminded him of a particular falcon, an indescribably beautiful creature that was nonetheless a ruthless predator; newshawk was an apt term for the woman he loved. Like the falcon, Lois never faltered in her hunting, never hesitated to swoop in for the kill; and like the falcon, she returned to his glove for reasons of her own, not because she was commanded to. Giving orders to the bird or the woman tended to get results that were only amusing after the stitches came out. Yes, Richard was perfectly aware that he did not own Lois. She might at any time simply fly away and never look back.
Which was why he kept that faint but insistent pressure on her. If Lois married him, Richard would have some assurance that she would stay. He wouldn’t press too hard; you couldn’t cage a hawk, a raptor that could never fly was not a raptor, and liable to turn viciously on the fool who caged it.
It was a surprise that he had won her at all. That same delicate, patient pressure had finally brought her to him, in spite of her views on office romance. Lois had once been heard to proclaim, “I never miss a deadline, I never let anyone else get to the scene first, and I never sleep with anyone I work with.” That particular line had been quoted to Richard many times during his courtship, along with teasing about him trying to steal Superman’s girlfriend. Lois had told him that it wasn’t like that, but she was so touchy on the topic that he sometimes wondered.
Was it even worth asking, when the answer might not be one he wanted to hear? Superman had returned, and if Lois had been his girlfriend, Richard knew he was no competition for the Man of Steel. Honestly, no man on earth was. But if ever a woman was a match for him… Drifting to sleep, Richard snuggled a little closer to Lois, burying his face in her wavy night-black hair. Whatever else came, this woman was the most exciting, the most intelligent, the most provocative, the most determined he had ever met. The past five years with her had been a constant source of amazement for Richard, and even if she didn’t belong to him like his college groupies had claimed they did, he loved her intensely.
Lois woke first the next morning, almost purring with pleasure as she lay curled in his strong arms, his warm skin against hers, his breath stirring her hair gently. In a moment, she’d roll over and those amazing blue eyes would open, that perfect mouth would curve into a smile just for her, and she could run her fingers through that thick black hair…
She gasped, sitting up suddenly. Richard murmured in his sleep, but he was far too tired to do more than that. Lois looked at him with her mouth hanging open, her eyes huge with mingled horror and guilt. Oh. My. God. I cannot believe I did that … was I thinking of him the whole time? God, no – I came in here meaning to prove to myself that I wanted Richard and only Richard. I couldn’t…
Get real, Lane, you even ripped his shirt open. Hello, who does that remind you of? Geesh!
There was absolutely no way she could face Richard. He probably didn’t even realize how he had been used, intended to exorcise her feelings for another man and ultimately becoming a mere stand-in for him. But Lois was too ashamed of herself for having done it – for having enjoyed it so damn much – to look into his eyes and try to pretend that everything was normal.
Normal? After that? Like he’s not going to notice the difference between the last five years and last night. Right, Lane. Just then, she caught sight of the reddish-brown spots on his side of the sheets and winced again. Dammit. The last time I sank my nails into someone’s back, he was a lot harder to hurt. I really hope that isn’t as bad as it looks.
She had to get out of here. Richard could handle getting the twins to school; Lois got up quietly and slunk into the shower, careful not to wake her fiancé or the kids.
At the office, Lois came through the door tense with guilt and the anticipation of a Perry White tirade. But the editor-in-chief only grinned at her and waved her by. Okay, that was spooky, she thought, tiptoeing into her office. Why on earth isn’t Perry shrieking at me for not working on … Superman…?
And there on her desk was the answer. All of the old files on the Man of Steel had been pulled and neatly stacked, some of her old notes scattered across the desk, and a typed list of potential questions laid atop them. Lois just stared for a moment, and then for the second time that morning she blushed so deeply with guilt that even her ears turned crimson.
Clark. He didn’t really leave his coat, he came back to bail me out. After the way I treated him…
Not that he didn’t deserve it! Have you forgotten the twins?
Still, while I was rutting with Richard to forget him, he was making sure I didn’t get yelled at this morning. Just like old times. Oh, God, he still doesn’t realize I know. Please, please don’t let him try to be my best friend. I just can’t take it. Not like this, not anymore.
Clark, meanwhile, had arrived at his customary early hour. He saw Lois come in, pale and unusually quiet. She didn’t pause to speak to him, or anyone else for that matter, but he saw the look on her face when she walked into her office and knew she saw that he had covered for her.
Was it the right thing to do, in the end? Or did the interview questions in particular come too close to revealing himself? In the old days, when he had interceded between her and Perry, he could expect a grateful hug or at least a thank-you. Now, Lois was in her office, seeming tense as she rifled through her desk drawers. Clark watched her surreptitiously, wishing he could somehow discover what was going on in that raven-haired head. Not even his powers were equal to that task, however.
After a few minutes of fidgeting, Lois’ frustration seemed to come to a head. Snatching up her purse, she headed for the elevators, walking right past Clark’s desk without even glancing his way. He frowned as he watched her ascend. Smoking again? I wonder if I should… No. Leave her alone. She always hated me nudging her about the cigarettes, in either guise. I suppose if it’s just one or two a day it can’t be too bad, especially since she’s not smoking around the twins.
Whatever’s upsetting her now, I’ll know about it soon enough anyway. Lois has never been one to suffer in silence when she could share the misery with everyone unfortunate enough to aggravate her.
This high, the breeze over Metropolis was almost clean. It was certainly refreshing coupled with the view of the skyline. Lois started to shake a cigarette out of the pack, then put it back. Six years ago she wouldn’t have been able to resist the siren call of nicotine, but she’d quit for the twins. Mostly quit. There were some times when she really, really needed a smoke, but this morning it would only serve to remind her of times gone by.
Lois strolled to the parapet and looked down sixty-five stories at the traffic swarming like ants. The height didn’t bother her, not anymore; back before the giant globe had been put up, when there was still a helipad up here, she’d fallen most of that distance…
And that brought to mind memories she’d rather not think about. Lois leaned into the breeze, letting it comb through her hair and blow the cobwebs from her mind. Almost thirty minutes later, she finally felt as though she could face life again. And as she was walking back to the stairwell, a thought occurred to her. I really don’t want Richard to know the interview happened last night. I’ve been up here almost as long as I was then; if I go downstairs and type it up, everyone will assume it happened this morning. Perfect.
No one bothered her when she went back downstairs, a determined look in her eyes and a tape recorder in her hand. Lois closeted herself in her office, typing up the interview, tweaking a few things to make it less obviously a personal confrontation. She was so focused that she didn’t even see Richard come in, exchanging typically friendly greetings with everyone he met, and head for her office.
Lois heard the door open, but didn’t glance up. Whoever it was would soon realize she was busy … and then Richard came up behind her and bent down to kiss the back of her neck.
Every nerve seemed to wake simultaneously, a shiver running down her spine; that was one particularly sensitive area, as another man years before had been delighted to discover…
Kal-El, for that was the name she had begun to call him, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her shoulder, then the back of her neck. Still sleepy from the night before until that moment, Lois woke with a shiver and a soft moan as the touch of his lips seemed to burn itself into her memory, arching her back against him…
Lois let the shiver become a shudder, and shook her head to get those memories out of it. “Richard,” she hissed, shoulders tensing, “don’t ever do that at the office again.”
“Whoa, sorry,” he murmured, but she heard that faint pride in his voice and could have smacked him. As it was, she swiveled around and turned her hazel glare on him until he looked away. Even his expression, part wonder, part surprise, and part overwhelming satisfaction, was too familiar.
Stop thinking about the past, Lois told herself sternly. “You’re forgiven, flyboy,” she said to Richard, smiling.
He returned the grin and bent to kiss her, almost chastely this time. As if to remind herself exactly who she was kissing, Lois touched his shoulder lightly as their lips met. An instant later, Richard flinched away, looking chagrined.
“Are you okay?” Lois asked, worried.
Richard actually blushed a little. “You mean you don’t remember?” At her blank look, he continued, “Let’s just say I might need a tetanus shot.”
Of course, she remembered then, and her own face colored guiltily. “Richard, I…”
“I’m not complaining,” he said quickly. “You’re welcome to have your wicked way with me anytime, Miss Lane.”
“Shut up, White,” she muttered, playing along, guilt gnawing at her. “Quit teasing and get out of here before I have to ravish you in a closet.”
Backing toward the door, he said playfully, “I’m trying to decide if that would be a bad thing or not.”
Lois shot him another cool glance before turning back to her work. Time to ice this down. “Considering that the only closet on this floor has a life-sized portrait of your uncle on the wall, I’d say it’s a very bad thing.”
“When you put it that way…” The next thing Lois heard was the door closing behind him.
Richard headed back to his own office with an extra spring in his step, and Clark watched him go by with a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but he’d seen Lois jump and wondered what had startled her. Now he wished he didn’t have super-hearing.
So that’s why she wanted to hurry home last night. She sees me, and immediately she wants him. No matter how you look at it, that can’t be good. The thought of Richard and Lois, together… Clark had only felt this miserable when he was suffering from kryptonite radiation.
Struggling to reason with his feelings, Clark reminded himself that Lois hadn’t exactly been a virgin when they’d met. She had led the first dance between them, that night in the Fortress, her greater experience making her the teacher. Although by the end of the night, he proved a very quick student indeed…
The lovers she’d had before him didn’t matter, though. For one, he never had to see or think about them. For another, Clark couldn’t have expected her to remain chastely waiting for her soul mate to appear. His own celibacy had been as much a matter of necessity as choice. He did not trust his great strength in such a situation, had even been nervous after the loss of his powers…
Lois’ warm smile spoke of mysteries his to discover. She caught his hands and pulled him close, erasing his hesitancy with a kiss that stole his breath. “You won’t hurt me,” she murmured, and her confidence in him was perfect, her skin so smooth and warm…
Clark pulled his mind back to work with an effort, but his thoughts of Lois could not be entirely banished. The thought of Richard bothered him in a way those long-ago lovers of hers did not; Richard was here, under his gaze every day, and scenes like the one he’d just witnessed could not be too uncommon. Clark would be reminded all too often that Richard knew Lois better than he did: the taste of her lips; her soft, breathy gasps and murmurs; even the indescribable wonder of her hazel eyes, widening at the penultimate moment. This could very quickly become intolerable…
Lois typed in the very last line, let the spellchecker run, and then swiveled her chair around to look out the window while her article printed. The sky was unusually clear for Metropolis, just a few skinny white clouds far away, and her mind began to drift backward in time again.
It seemed unreal that this was happening, after so long imagining. But this was no dream. He was here, truly here in her arms, not even a breath from her. The feel of his skin pressed to hers, with no barriers, so warm, her fingers tracing the lines of muscle across his back, the softness of that dark hair against her cheek. The feel of his quick breath ruffling the hair at her temple. No dream, real. As real as the words he had spoken to his father. And he was hers.
Although still cautious, it seemed he had understood that she trusted him after she had whispered it to him. There was only the vaguest chill in the air as he gently ran the back of his hand over her cheek, causing her to shiver in reaction. As she looked up at him with darkened eyes, that blue that had held her ever since they had first locked eyes, was full of emotions she had never expected to see. “I won’t break, I promise. You won’t hurt me, Kal-El.”
Little did either one of them know it, but at that moment they were thinking of exactly the same thing, the same moment, the same breathless kiss and what came after it. He remembered kissing the hollow of her throat, even as she remembered curling her leg over his hip while he did so. And after that…
Lois felt eyes on her in the present, drawing her out of her intense reverie in spite herself, and turned to look out into the bullpen. She caught Clark’s eyes, and blue and hazel were both haunted. For a moment, each believed the other could read their recent thoughts, and it was almost as if there were no secrets between them at all…
“Lane! Kent!” Perry’s bellow cut through the fog of memories past, and both reporters hurried to his office, unable to look each other in the eyes. The editor-in-chief was in one of his impatient moods, and started barking before they even sat down in his office.
“Lois, are you going to work on the Superman story or not…” Perry trailed off as she tossed several typed sheets onto his desk. He read, grinning wider and wider, and finally slapped the interview onto his desk with unmistakable glee. “Wonderful! I knew you could do it, Lois, even when no one else could! Remarkable!”
“Thanks, Chief,” she said quietly, eyes lowered, trying to keep from glancing at Clark. Even the air was stifling and she could feel the heat in her cheeks, all too aware that he was only a foot away. If he happened to read the look on her face correctly … that was trouble she didn’t want.
“Got your dress picked out for the Pulitzer?” Perry asked, and Lois only nodded. At this moment, the last thing on her mind was that. Frowning at her a little, he turned to Kent. “What about the blackout, Kent? You got anything on that?”
Clark quickly forced himself to concentrate. “Um, it all started at the Vanderworth estate, which is tied up in probate right now. The widow Vanderworth had at least three different wills, and now they’re all sealed documents being used as evidence. Something happened there; there’s structural damage to the basement, but everyone is being very close-mouthed. I’ve got Jimmy working on a source at the Clerk of Records who might be able to cut through the red tape and tell us who owns it while the relatives fight about the will.”
“Jimmy?” Perry said, then he quickly crossed to the door, flung it open, and roared, “Olsen!”
Jimmy hurried in, carrying a stack of photographs behind his back.
“What’s this about you working the blackout when I assigned you to Superman photos? When did you become Kent’s flunky?”
Paling until his freckles stood out, Jimmy just said, “Mr. Kent’s not the person to, um, court this source, Mr. White. She’s closer to my age.”
“Works in the Records department, and we know she filed the documents,” Jimmy said. “Dinner and drinks at Chez Chantel in exchange for copies of the wills being probated. It’s sort of a bet she has with someone else that works there.” Glancing at Clark, he added, “Mr. Kent’s paying for it, though.”
“And renting your suit,” Clark muttered.
Chez Chantel? Just mentioning the restaurant’s name caught her attention. Realizing what they were discussing, a memory not quite so distracting came to her mind. Lois was hard put not to smile slightly as she continued to avert her gaze, staring at the wall, thinking, This from the man who took me and my eight-hundred-dollar evening gown out for burgers. Riiiiight. Think you took the clueless nerd act a little far that time.
“Well, that’s lovely,” Perry said. “And pictures of Superman? You got any of those? Better than that blur you were showing me Monday.”
“I do have these,” Jimmy said modestly, laying the eight-by-tens on Perry’s desk. Clark and Lois both bent forward to look.
The photos showed Superman flying with a dark-haired woman, pretty in a brittle way. In the best one, the upturned faces of the crowd were clear in the foreground, and the woman’s car was visible resting in Centennial Square in the background.
Perry just grinned at Jimmy. Clark winced; the woman (“Call me Katherine,” she’d said breathlessly) had insisted she was hurt and begged to be taken to the hospital. But once there, she was strangely cured and fishing for a date. It wasn’t the first time a woman had tried to ensnare him, although her screams were genuine when she discovered the brakes wouldn’t work.
And Lois sneered. “When was this? I don’t recall hearing about this rescue.”
“That was last night, Miss Lane,” Jimmy said. “The lady’s brakes were out and she almost drove into one of those sidewalk cafés before Superman came and saved her.”
“Oh, really?” Lois said drolly. A second glance didn’t improve her opinion. “Some lady. From what I heard on the wire this morning, the Metropolis Museum was robbed around the same time Superman was saving this hooker. Fine use of his precious time there.”
“Never noticed your eyes were so green, Lane,” Perry said gruffly, making Lois whip her head around and glare at him.
Ignoring Jimmy and Clark chuckling, Lois spat vindictively, “I had better things to do last night, Perry, as your nephew well knows.” And had the satisfaction of seeing Clark wince and look pale. But I am so not mentioning anything else that happened last night.
“Lois, can it,” Perry said warningly.
She rolled her eyes at him. Well, then, stay out of it, old man. “Anyway, it may be of interest to Superman to know that the only thing stolen in the museum robbery was a meteorite. From Addis Ababa.”
Clark had to stifle a gasp of surprise, which Lois sadistically enjoyed. “You mean someone’s stolen what might be kryptonite?” he said faintly.
“Who wants to bet it’s Luthor?” Jimmy said.
Clark sat forward suddenly. “Lex Luthor’s in prison … isn’t he?”
Lois turned that glare on him next. “What’s wrong, Kent, they don’t have newspapers in Peru? Or was it Tibet? Some country with no telephones, anyway.”
“Lois,” Perry said incredulously. “Something you want to get off your mind?”
“No, Chief,” she replied sweetly, knowing that she had gotten her point across as Clark looked away.
“Then tone it down, will you? If it’s the wrong time of the month or something…”
“Leave it, Perry,” she shot back. “Being your assistant, I don’t want to know I’d be like without Midol and Stolichnaya. And you also have to thank Jason and Kala for being so fond of you. If not for that, you probably wouldn’t survive.”
Meanwhile, Jimmy was filling Clark in. “Luthor blamed everything after his escape on the Kryptonian villains.”
“But he killed that transit cop,” Clark said. “And California, the missiles… Superman put him in prison for a reason.”
“Yeah, but Luthor’s appeals lawyers blamed everything on that guy Otis. He’s the one who led the transit cop onto the tracks, he’s the one who reprogrammed the missiles, supposedly he’s the one who did everything. And he was conveniently dead by that time the appeal went in. The state called Superman as a witness, but he wasn’t here, and the lawyers got Lex released because there was no ‘proof’ Lex had done anything. How bad do you think that pisses Superman off?”
“A lot,” Clark replied. Luthor’s free. I’m going to have to look out for him as well. Wonderful.
“Yeah, Lois tried to fight it, but they didn’t even call her as a witness – she got knocked in the head fighting with the Kryptonians and went to see a couple of doctors. Lex’s people subpoenaed her medical records and showed that she was being treated for amnesia shortly after those events, and that threw her whole testimony into doubt.”
“Which pisses off Lois Lane a lot, too,” she put in quickly. Even now, it infuriated her to no end. “Anyway, Perry, someone should check into Luthor. With Superman back, you know he isn’t going to just slink off into retirement.”
“You’re not gonna be the one who does,” Perry warned. “You’ve got history with Luthor, and he’d love to kill you almost as much as Superman.”
Jimmy snickered. “Um, Chief, you might wanna reword that. It sounds like you’re saying Superman would want to kill her too.”
Clark and Lois avoided each other’s eyes, Lois’ back stiffening, but Perry just chuckled. “Which reminds me, we’re all going to the Pulitzer on Friday night.”
Hazel eyes went wide at that statement, going from her editor to her former partner and back. Oh, no. No, no way. He can’t do this to me. Not now. You’ve got to be kidding me! “What?” Lois said aloud, attempting to sound more blasé than she actually felt. “Chief … I don’t even know if I want to accept the thing. After all, the article I wrote is titled ‘Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,’ and every paper in the country is headlining ‘Welcome Back.’ Cat Grant even said it the other night – ‘Superman is back in all our lives, and we sure needed him.’ I mean, Perry…”
“Lois, Pulitzers are like Oscars,” the editor-in-chief replied. “After the open bar at the acceptance party, no one’s going to remember what you won it for. All that’s important is that you got one.”
“You’re going, Lane, if I have to bribe your kids with candy to get you there.”
“Guess I’d better rent a tux,” Jimmy muttered.
“Um, Mr. White,” Clark began. “I really don’t think…”
“Good, don’t,” Perry said. “No arguments. Show support for Lois; I’ve got my best team back, and I want to present a united front to those scandal-mongers at the Star.”
Helplessly, he looked at her. Could he really stand to see Lois accept a Pulitzer – the award she’d hungered for since high school – for an article about how she no longer needed him? Especially when the evidence was all around them that she’d taken her own advice and moved on. Her gaze only skittered away.
Perry leaned forward, glaring at them both. “You do not have a choice, people. You’re both staying here Friday until it’s time to leave for the ceremony, too, so you can’t conveniently get stuck in traffic, Kent.” Lois couldn’t help giving Clark a snarky look at that; now that she knew why he kept missing so many important events that Superman just happened to arrive for. Perry continued, looking at both of them now, “And don’t try calling in sick. I’ll drag you both out of the city hospital in wheelchairs and tow you behind the taxi to the Pulitzer if I have to.”
Neither Clark nor Lois could defy him after that; when Perry’s mind was set he was a bulldog, and no one in recorded history had pried him off of something he was truly determined to have. In another bit of synchronicity, the same thought flashed through both reporters’ minds at the same instant: Just how on earth am I going to survive this?