Quietly, Perry said, “Remember, Lois, you’re just taking the kids to the museum. Don’t get into a car chase, don’t eat anything that’ll make you sick, don’t catch the flu, don’t try to interview any crooks, and if the museum gets robbed again, don’t get taken hostage. You are not gonna miss the Pulitzer tomorrow.”
Lois just rolled her eyes. Times like this, his worry was endearing. “Yes, Mother.”
Perry glared at her, but it was all too clear that his bluster masked a strong affection for this headstrong young woman who was almost a niece to him. “Tell Elinore I said hello while you’re at it, Lane.”
“I will, if I can be heard over the kids telling her how much they miss Nana,” she said.
“See you tomorrow, Lois.”
Sighing, she replied, “Message received. Yes, Perry, I’ll be here. With the dress and all accoutrements.”
On the way to the elevators, adjusting her purse strap and honestly relieved to be getting away, she ran into Clark. Literally. He stepped out from the side door leading to maintenance at the same moment she left the office, moving just a bit too quickly. It was the absolute last thing she needed on top of all the stress since the interview.
“Gosh, sorry, Lois,” he stammered, reaching for her shoulder to steady her.
Lois jerked away, her irritation rising anew. How could he be so careless, especially being who he was? He hadn’t even checked to see if anyone was in sight first! Now that she knew his true identity, the signs seemed obvious, and it infuriated Lois that she had been so blind for so long.
“You really ought to be more careful,” she snapped, releasing the frustration of the past several days on Clark. Why can’t I avoid him for more than an hour at a time? He was gone all the time before, always found some excuse. Even claiming to be locked in the janitor’s closet. What makes it all so different now? “I mean, look where you’re going! It’s not as if you can’t see, Clark! God!”
Clark flinched. He’d always known that Lois used the sharp side of her tongue in self-defense, and this was more proof that something in her life was hurting her, something she couldn’t escape. He only hoped it wasn’t him … either persona. But either way, it wounded him to hear the pain beneath her anger.
“I really am sorry, Lois,” he said more softly, his voice dropping down almost to Superman’s register as he strove to make his sincerity clear.
Just that subtle shift, so slight that no one else would have even noticed… Lois halted, having to pause for breath before turning a terribly hurt and haunted look on him that went through him like a knife. “It’s too bad you couldn’t have said that five years ago,” Lois said tautly, and swept away to the elevators to escape him.
Clark was frozen, watching her. All this time, he had worried about how she felt about Superman – not that her anger wasn’t justified. Now he began to realize that it wasn’t only Superman drawing her ire. He hadn’t thought about her reaction to Clark leaving … he had always thought that Lois had a sisterly fondness for him in that guise, nothing more. And yet, to have one’s partner, one’s friend, sometimes one’s confidant simply leave without a word, postcards or no postcards, certainly justified a little more of Lois’ behavior toward him the last two weeks.
His mind churning, Clark went quietly back to his desk, hoping that no one would notice how dispirited he suddenly was. Perhaps it was best if he got out of the office…
After finally convincing Jason that the thirty-foot-tall robotic Tyrannosaurus would still be there after lunch, Lois and Ella managed to herd the twins down to the museum café. Choosing something for lunch wasn’t as daunting as they had expected; the Metropolis Museum of Natural History carried a wider variety of foods than most. Both kids were disappointed, however, that they couldn’t have astronaut ice cream, and had to settle for dehydrated cinnamon apples.
“Where to next?” Ella asked as she finished her salad.
“Dinosaurs!” Jason said happily after gulping down his mouthful of chicken wrapped in a corn tortilla.
Kala sighed heavily, rolling her eyes in a way familiar to both Lane women. “Boys are so dumb. Mommy, why are boys so weird?”
“Just ‘cause they don’t have any meerkats,” Jason began, but Lois’ arched eyebrow silenced him quickly.
“They have a planetarium,” Ella said quietly.
Both twins perked up. “What’s a plan’tarium?” they chorused.
“It’s a room with a special machine like a movie projector, only it projects stars and planets instead of movies,” Ella told them, not noticing how Lois paled. “The roof is round, so they can make it look just like the night sky. Or at least, how the night sky would look without smog.”
Kala and Jason looked at each other for a moment. In spite of their bickering, they did tend to consult each other when making decisions. “Sounds okay,” Jason said with a shrug.
“Anything but dinosaurs,” his sister replied.
It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes. Although any sarcastic expression failed when he glanced over at Lois. “Mommy, are you okay?”
Lois had turned away as this discussion had worn on, counting under her breath. Just a bout of nausea, nothing more, she told herself. God really did have a sadistic sense of humor lately. Dammit, Mom, of all the things… Hearing his voice, and the worry there, she looked over with a smile she hardly felt. “I’m alright, sweetheart. I guess my salad didn’t agree with me very much. Ready to go see the thunder-lizards?”
“Yeah!” he said, all enthusiasm returning instantly. Grinning, he caught her hand and started pulling her out of the restaurant, Lois stumbling along with him, unable to stop herself from laughing.
From behind them, as Ella took Kala’s hand and strolled, the little girl asked curiously, “How can you get sick off of salad?”
“Your Mommy just has a delicate stomach,” Ella said, curious herself.
“She ate two pieces of chicken last night an’ that didn’t make her sick,” Kala replied.
“Chicken is very good for sickly people,” Ella told her. “That’s why you eat chicken soup when you have a cold.”
Kala nodded wisely. “Jason should eat a lot more chicken, then. He’s sick in the head.”
Ella couldn’t help chuckling. “That isn’t nice, Kala. While your brother’s mesmerized by the dinosaurs, do you want to go look at the artifacts they’ve pulled out of Hob’s Bay?”
The little girl thought that over. “Do they have any pirate stuff? Swords an’ doubloons an’ stuff?”
“Maybe,” Ella told her. “We’d have to look to find out.”
“Anything’s better than dinosaurs again,” Kala finally said, and after getting Lois’ attention to point to the sign for the maritime exhibit, they hurried off to explore.
Everywhere Clark turned in the blackout investigation was somehow a dead end. That only intensified his determination to get to the bottom of it, however. The Kents had instilled in him a deep desire to finish anything he began, and that doggedness served him well in his chosen career.
After spending an afternoon in the Public Records department, however, even his eyes were blurring. Some information he couldn’t get, because of the pending court case (and even the names of plaintiff and defendant were sealed at that point, most unusual), but what he had been able to uncover seemed to show that the Vanderworths were very wealthy indeed. They had also sheltered their fortunes by keeping most of their assets in corporations, which were in turn owned by other corporations, and the same names kept cropping up on the boards of those companies. The late Gertrude Vanderworth had replaced her husband as president on most of them, and five individuals whom Clark had painstakingly learned were her doctors and lawyers filled the other chairs. It all looked like the typical financial finagling of the rich, nothing particularly interesting.
However, he’d overflown the estate on his lunch break, and his x-ray vision had clearly showed the structural damage Lois had noted when she visited. It looked strangely familiar somehow, but Clark couldn’t place it. The destruction seemed most like a few explosions he’d seen, though different, less concentrated. It was very puzzling indeed, and strongly suggested a link between whatever had happened in the basement and the EMP.
His run-in with Lois on his way back from the flight had unsettled him badly enough that he had made the trip to the records department mostly to escape, and now he was back in the office again. Clark’s mind felt full of disconnected bits of information, and he knew from experience that prodding at it wouldn’t help much. What he needed was a break from this case, a change in perspective. Sometimes even a brief walk would jog his mind enough.
Thinking along those lines, Clark headed down to the break room, a dingy linoleum-tiled room where the scent of over-boiled coffee had seeped into the very walls. The bulletin board was covered with the usual notices: free kittens, furniture for sale, solicitations for various charities, and a notice about the office blood drive. Clark scanned over them anyway in the hopes that someone would be subletting an apartment in the area, but had no luck.
That was about as much break as Clark could stand with the EMP story seething in his brain. He turned to leave, and saw Ron Troupe walking in. “Hey, Kent, long time no see!” Ron said warmly, shaking his hand firmly. “Man, we missed you! Perry been keeping you chained to your desk or something?”
“No, things have just been a little, you know, hectic,” Clark told him. “How is Lucy?”
“Delightful, as always,” Ron said with a grin. He had married the younger Lane, and in days gone by, he and Lucy and Clark and Lois had often met for dinner after work. It wasn’t quite double-dating, but Clark was startled to realize that he deeply missed Lucy’s sunny charm and Ron’s sincere friendship. I left behind a whole lot more than I thought.
“So, how’s life over there in Metro? Has Mount Lane erupted and rained fire on anyone yet today?” Ron asked wryly.
“Um, Ron, Lois is under a lot of stress right now…”
The handsome black man dropped his voice a little. “Honestly, I think it was that plane crash. Or almost-crash. Did you know, she actually unbuckled her seatbelt to help that girl from Virgin Air, Bobbie-Faye? Our Lo got Bobbie buckled back in, but when the secondary boosters kicked in she was still unbelted. During most of it, Lois was getting slammed around inside the plane, bouncing off the ceiling and stuff.”
Clark’s eyes widened in horror. While he had been catching the plane, he’d assumed Lois was in the relative safety of a seat. To think of her being flung around the cabin while the plane spun and rolled… “No, I didn’t know. She didn’t say anything when she got back, just went right to business.”
He shook his head in amazement. “She’s one tough lady, that Lois. But anyway, I think she might have hit her head a little too hard. Ever since that day, she’s been very short-tempered – more than usual. And she was never this mean before – she doesn’t quite hunt people down to yell at, but you’d better not screw up in front of her. I worry about her sometimes.”
“Me, too,” Clark said quietly. He knew now that Lois’ personality change wasn’t caused by some head injury; it was the result of a heart-injury, of seeing him back so suddenly, both Clark and Superman.
“Could you kind of keep an eye out for her?” Ron asked. “I mean, you two have always been really close. If something was wrong, she wouldn’t tell Lucy – can’t worry the kid sister. And Richard, well, he’s a good guy, but he doesn’t know Lois like you do.”
Clark had to glance away briefly. It hurt to be reminded of how close he and Lois had been, before, but it was a strangely pleasant kind of hurt. They had had an almost magnetic attraction when he was Superman, but as Clark their relationship had been very deep and caring, in spite of its rocky beginnings. He missed both sides of her – the bossy, temperamental, protective Lois that Clark knew, and the wide-eyed romantic that only Superman had seen. “Of course, Ron,” he said. “You know I’ll always watch out for Lois.”
“Good man,” Ron said, smacking his shoulder affectionately. “Look, we’re still in the same house. Drop by for dinner some time; you don’t have to call or anything.”
“Thanks, Ron,” Clark said, smiling. “Oh, hey, speaking of houses – do you know of any apartments for rent nearby? Reasonable?”
“Reasonable? In Metropolis?” Ron chuckled. “Hell, even Lois sold hers.”
Clark winced. One more memory gone – he’d never land on that balcony again and see her turning to look at him with wonder in her eyes. “Wow. Where is she living these days?”
“On the river out in Bakerline,” Ron told him. “Nice place – they have a dock for Richard’s plane and everything. Of course, Lois has been living in terror that the twins will somehow drown themselves. I never thought of her as a hysterically overprotective mom before, but knowing those kids of hers…”
Clark had to smile faintly. “Godzilla always swims away after he’s done stomping Tokyo, doesn’t he? Maybe she’s justified.”
“Ah, so you’ve noticed Jason’s career plans,” Ron chuckled. “And I see you’re still defending Lois. That woman just doesn’t know … nevermind. Listen, I gotta get some coffee and get back to work, but don’t be a stranger, okay?”
“I won’t,” Clark said, and headed back to his desk. The conversation with Ron hadn’t helped the Vanderworth investigation at all, but at least Clark knew that he was the cause of Lois’ problems, which explained her behavior to him. What he needed now was advice.
In the past, he’d often gone to the Fortress and consulted Jor-El. But he had not been back since his return, and didn’t plan to visit any time soon. Jor-El had been very displeased with his decision six years ago, and he would be even less happy to hear that his son was still obsessing over the same woman who had caused him all those problems.
My father tried to plan for every possibility, but I don’t think he really understood what it meant that I would be raised by humans, raised as a human. No, I don’t need to talk to Jor-El about this; I need Ma. If anyone can help me patch things up with Lois, she can. I’m overdue for our weekly dinner anyway…
In the end, Lois couldn’t escape the planetarium. She sat beside Kala, Ella flanking Jason on the other side, and tried to calm her queasy stomach as the darkened room and the projector created the illusion of stars dancing overhead. It didn’t help her nerves any to realize that both twins were utterly rapt. They had never been both conscious and completely quiet for half an hour before, and when Lois glanced at Kala to see if her daughter was awake, she saw the whole glorious Milky Way reflected in Kala’s wide eyes.
It was even worse after the program ended, when their guide called for questions. Both twins raised their hands immediately, but it was Kala whom the man pointed at. “Can you show us the planet Superman went to?” she asked excitedly.
Lois slid down in her chair, the salad rebelling. To hear it said aloud by her own daughter…
Oh dear God. How did they learn about him already? That question sounded so naïve the moment she thought it. Although she had known full well that the news was out, had been for almost a week, hearing that name on her child’s lips was like a resounding slap. He had been on every medium since his return; none of it his idea, she was sure, but there none the less. How long did she think it would escape their notice, no matter how much she monitored their television viewing? They were in school, for God’s sake.
Kids talk; it’s no different now than it was before, Lois tried to comfort herself, forcibly ignoring the ice in her blood. And there’s nothing they love more than a hero. Someone who can do fantastic things. Someone they think they can look up to. So they know his name and a bit about him. Breathe, Lane. The kids don’t know. They didn’t guess. No one else on the earth knows; how could they possibly?
The docent smiled. “Very good question,” he said. “Krypton is very far away, so it’s hard to see, but I can show you where it with the laser pointer – right there, between this star and this bright one.” The twins watched the circling red dot of the pointer as if fixing the planet’s position in the night sky. The man continued in pleased tones, “You’re the first one to ask, and I’m glad to see you keep up with the news.”
“Mommy is the news,” Jason replied, and the crowd chuckled. Lois slunk even further down in the seat, letting her long wavy hair fall forward over her face. Please don’t let anyone ask their name, or recognize me. That’s all I need, a gossip-page headline in the Star: Lois Lane’s Kids Curious about Krypton – Wonder Why? God help me.
You knew you should’ve avoided the planetarium, Lane, why are you complaining now? How could they not wonder about their Daddy’s home planet?
Shut up, Lois told herself firmly. He’s not their Daddy, they don’t even know him. He doesn’t even know they’re his. And he won’t, either – my kids don’t need a father who would abandon them for six years without even saying goodbye to me.
You can’t abandon what you don’t know exists…
He abandoned me! Lois yelled in the confines of her own mind, momentarily drowning out both the General’s Daughter and the Romantic voices in her mind. Question and answer time was over without the twins having volunteered any more incriminating information, thank God, and the museum was closing soon. Lois and Ella managed to get them into the car with a minimum of fuss, other than the children worrying about Lois’ upset tummy.
Ella kept glancing at Lois with cool interest. Something was definitely up with her eldest, and she meant to get to the bottom of it.
After work, Clark called Martha to let her know he was coming, then changed into his Superman uniform and flew high and fast to Smallville. He dropped down into the middle of the cornfield quicker than any human eye could follow, and changed back into his regular clothes.
“Perfect timing,” Ma told him with a smile, handing him a paring knife and some potatoes. “By the time you get those peeled, boiled, and mashed, the roast should be done.”
Clark inhaled deeply, and sighed contentedly. “Smells like rosemary and red wine. Ma, you’re the best cook ever.”
“Well, maybe not ever,” she said with amusement. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that red meat and red wine go well together. Don’t touch that pie on the windowsill, Clark.”
She’d caught him eyeing it, and he smiled. The two of them worked easily together in the kitchen from long practice. Clark had learned to cook fairly young, following the typical Kent family division of labor: everyone eats, so everyone should cook.
It wasn’t long before they were sitting down to a delectable meal, just the two of them, just like old times. Clark had forgotten how much he needed this, as well, the glad silence of two people who know each other better than words can express, and who incidentally have their mouths full of delicious food they’d prepared together. The roast was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the mashed potatoes creamy with just a hint of garlic, and the corn was from their own fields, fresh and flavorful. You just couldn’t get a meal like in the city.
Ma chuckled at him. “Son, you look like you’ve been living on sawdust and just had your first real meal.”
“Some of the hamburgers in Metropolis taste like sawdust,” he replied.
“Hmmph. Feedlot cows full of antibiotics and God knows what else. That beef there is from Henderson. I can drive up the road and see what they’re eating, so I know good old-fashioned grass-fed beef is tastiest.”
Clark sat back in his chair, feeling absolutely content for the first time since his return. Ma brought in the pie, giving him a slice with ice cream on top, and shattered that contentment when she asked, “So what’s been bothering you, son?”
His pleased smile fell as he remembered Lois and all the troubles he had. “Everything,” he sighed, poking at the pie with the tines of his fork.
“Mm-hm. And would everything happen to have dark hair and a tape recorder?”
Clark glanced up suspiciously. “Are you sure you’re not psychic?”
Martha Kent smiled at her only child. “I’m your mother. They tell you mother knows best, but they should tell you mother knows everything. It only stands to reason, Clark. You called me all of a sudden, flew out here in a hurry, and you haven’t mentioned her or work once. So tell me what happened – and eat that pie, don’t play with it.”
“Yes, Ma,” he replied, and ate the first forkful. Flaky crust, crisp apples, and ice cream sweetly melting … how could anyone be upset with something that delicious on their palate? Gradually Clark explained the situation to Martha – Lois’ reactions to the first sight of him, her anger at both personas, and the way she had moved on with her life. “So now I’m working for her, and she hates me,” he concluded. “And she’s completely in love with this guy Richard, and she has his children, but I’m still in love with her.”
“Does she know you love her?” Ma asked gently. “Either of you?”
Clark opened his mouth to say Of course, and stopped. Did she? “I … I don’t know. I mean, I think she knew that Clark … but she never took me seriously. But Superman, she knew, but she … things happened, the Kryptonians, and it hurt her to remember, so I … I made her forget.”
“You made her forget?”
“It was a power I didn’t know I had. I made her forget finding out who I was, and telling me she loved me, and everything that happened … after.”
One silver eyebrow crept up. That was a loaded pause if ever Martha Clark Kent had heard one. She kept her questioning gaze on her son until he looked away, faint roses blooming in his cheeks. “I see,” she said quietly.
Clark glanced back at her. For a moment, he felt like a child again, dreadfully afraid that he’d disappointed his mother. He’d been raised with a higher moral standard, and to have Martha know that… “I intended, you know, to marry her … it wasn’t supposed to be a one-time thing, it was supposed to be forever… I even gave up my powers because Jor-El said that was the only way to be with her…”
Martha folded her napkin decisively. “Clark, you know I’d never want to speak ill of your birth parents. But you have to remember that what you know as Jor-El is just a recording. The man doesn’t know you, not really. He made plans for a baby, one he probably thought would grow up to be just like him. But if you’re like anyone, it’s Jonathan.”
Clark blinked. After all these years, that comparison could still touch him, a tiny wound of grief that his father hadn’t seen the man he grew up to be, and what an honor it was to hear that he was so much Jonathan’s son.
Martha wasn’t finished, though. “So Lois found out who you are, and you two were in love, and all of this happened while the Kryptonians were trashing the White House? And after you got your powers back and defeated them, you erased Lois’ memories of everything?”
It sounded so … irresponsible when she said it like that. “Yes.”
Martha looked at her son for a long moment. Circumstances meant that he knew even less about women than most men, the majority of whom were clueless about the feminine mind. “Clark … you may have erased the memories, but I doubt you erased the feelings. And then you left her without saying goodbye. The goodbye is more important than the fact that you left.”
“I couldn’t … I wouldn’t have been able to leave, if I’d spoken to her one more time. And if she’d kept me from going, I think I would’ve resented that eventually.”
“Oh, Clark,” Martha sighed. “My boy. Life is harder for you, isn’t it, in spite of all the things you can do?”
“It isn’t easy for me, being who I am, keeping secrets,” he replied sadly. “Trying to balance my mission against my heart.”
“I could smack that Jor-El for telling you that you couldn’t have both,” Martha said a trifle sharply. “He was married, wasn’t he? He had a wife, a partner, a lover – how dare he tell you different?”
“He wanted me to be a savior…”
“But you’re a man first,” Martha argued. “And my son. I want you to be happy, I want you to be able to have a life, not just a cause.”
Clark just sighed. “But is it possible for me to have both?”
“I don’t see why not,” Martha replied. “It’s going to take a very special woman, though, and she’ll have to know the whole truth. Speaking of which, are you sure this Lois is the right one? Maybe that’s why things are so difficult with her, maybe it isn’t meant to be.”
His incredulous look was all the answer she really needed. “Ma – she’s the only one.”
She couldn’t help but smile. Oh, you poor boy – you’ve fallen hard for her, haven’t you? “Well then, are you absolutely sure she’s happy with this other man?”
“She seems to be,” Clark began, then thought about it. Love you instead of I love you, too, the way she’d snapped at Richard about the phone, a few other little things. “I’m not sure – I think she was more in love with me. But I can’t just go steal her back – that isn’t fair to Richard.”
“No woman in these times would let you steal her without her consent,” Martha told him. “But no, you can’t just go wooing someone else’s love. First you have to let her get over being angry at you. Both of you.”
“How do I convince her to forgive me?”
“You can’t,” Martha said. “She will or she won’t, in her own time. And if you try begging for forgiveness, you’ll just make her angrier.”
“I have to be around her every day – Perry’s making me go to the Pulitzer with her tomorrow. She won a Pulitzer for an article about how much she doesn’t need me!”
“Which only proves she loves you,” Martha replied wisely.
Clark looked at his mother for a moment, astonished. “I will never understand women.”
“You and every other male on the planet,” Martha said. “Don’t worry, we don’t understand you men either. We just pretend we do.”
“So what can I do?”
“Be her friend,” Martha said. “Be kind to her. And resist the temptation to yell at her when she acts nasty to you.”
“I’d never yell at Lois,” Clark said, affronted.
“That’ll change,” Martha said wryly, and ate the last piece of her pie, effectively ending the serious part of their discussion.
“I see you got your interview. So, have you told him?”
Lois froze in the act of pouring a glass of water. The twins were in the other room, their good behavior guaranteed (for fifteen minutes at least) by brand-new coloring books. Ella was standing behind Lois in the kitchen, arms crossed, and asking a question that made her daughter’s queasiness return threefold. Of course Mom doesn’t know, but still, God… “Yeah, I told him exactly what I thought of him.”
Elinore’s eyes narrowed as she saw her oldest flinch. Her answer was delivered without turning around, too, another indicator. “That isn’t what I meant, Lois, and we both know it. Did you tell him?” she repeated with emphasis.
Lois finally turned around, hazel eyes wide. “Tell him what?”
Ella looked pointedly at the door to the living room, where Kala had burst out laughing.
A thin trickle of icy sweat ran down Lois’ spine. “Yeah, he knows I have kids and he knows I’m engaged. I made it very clear it’s over.”
Ella sighed heavily, fighting down the urge to spank her daughter for what seemed deliberate misunderstanding. “Darling, Lois, dear: did you tell him whose children you had?”
Lois went very, very pale, but she braced herself against the counter and replied, “Why would I tell him about an affair I had in France? That would be kinda rude.”
Her mother just closed her eyes for a moment, and Lois had a horrible moment of feeling like a little girl again, caught in a lie. Then Elinore simply walked over, grabbed her wrist, and hauled her into the guest bedroom on the other side of the house.
“Mom!” Lois cried, pulling back.
“Hush, the twins’ll be fine for five minutes,” Ella said, closing the door. “Now you listen to me, young lady. I looked into your eyes the morning you were born, and I’ve known you ever since, loved you every moment. You can’t lie to me. Your father, your sister, your boss, the rest of the world, but you can’t lie to your mother.” She dropped her voice to a whisper and asked sharply, “Did you tell Superman about his twins?”
Lois’ mouth dropped open in shock, and if not for her mother’s tight grip on her arm, she would’ve fallen. To hear it spoken aloud, when not even she had ever done so … and by her mother, the only family member whom she wanted to impress… “Momma … I …” really don’t know what you’re talking about, was on her lips, but died there. There was no point. She’d only make herself look like more of a fool.
Ella relented, stroking Lois’ hair as she guided her to sit down on the bed. “Hush, baby. I understand. I knew how much you loved him the first time you called home to tell me about the interview. I’m your mother. I know you had boyfriends, lovers, before him, but you never lost your heart until he came along. And he’s the only one I could imagine you having been careless with.”
“Lois Lane, you were not a lily-white virgin before those twins were conceived,” Ella scolded. “But you never managed to get yourself in trouble until them. And once you knew what had happened, you never even tried to … do anything … about it. That tells me their father was a lot more important to you than some one-night stand in Paris.”
There was no immediate reply. Her daughter just sat there as if under impossible weight, leaning with her head down, the long fall of her dark hair hiding any expression. It was amazing how quickly Lois broke now that she couldn’t run. Her arms creeping up around her own shoulders, needing the comfort. Ella didn’t need to see her eyes to know that they were closed, Lois’ breath having begun to shudder just faintly. It seemed an eternity before her child whispered in a painfully defeated tone, “Have you known all this time? Have you, Momma?”
I’ve been fairly certain since I talked you into coming back to Metropolis, Ella thought, but lying to one’s children was a parent’s luxury, especially when it spared them pain or shame. “I had an idea,” she said calmly, cradling Lois’ head on her shoulder. “But I didn’t really know until he came back, and I saw how you felt. Especially today at the planetarium.”
Remembering that moment, Lois lifted her head, her haunted eyes full of pain when they met Ella’s. The expression on her mother’s face wasn’t the disappointment and disapproval that Lois had feared; her face was full of love and acceptance, as it had always been. The tears that had threatened since Elinore first spoke his name now spilled over, and Lois managed to choke between sobs, “God, Momma … what am I gonna do? What the hell am I gonna do now?”
Ella hushed her, and held her, stroking Lois’ hair and humming to her. No one else ever got to see this child of hers break down; Sam had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in making her tougher than any man. Only her mother knew about this vulnerability … her mother, and one visitor from the stars. And Ella was fairly certain he’d never seen Lois this lost and wounded. Burying her face in her mother’s neck, Lois continued, “… I’m engaged to Richard, and he doesn’t know … he’s back now … the twins don’t even know … oh, God, the twins … I have to see him every day…”
A revelation dawned on Ella then. “You’re still in love with him,” she blurted out.
And immediately regretted it. Lois pulled away, flinging her hair out of her eyes defiantly. “I am not,” she snapped, that old-time General’s Daughter tone, the I-don’t-need-anyone attitude that had kept her sane throughout her adolescence. “I’m not even certain if I was in the first place; I shouldn’t even be able to remember it, after what he did.”
Ella stifled a sigh of defeat. Life would be so much easier for her oldest if Lois would just let down her guard more than once in a blue moon. The love and heartbreak was plain on her face, but she denied it so strongly that she would eventually convince herself it had never been. “What do you mean, after what he did?”
And then Lois had to explain, the loss of his powers, the threat to the world, and their breaking up, at first mutual. Then when it tore at her too much, he’d erased her memories and disappeared. During her pregnancy, she’d begun to remember, and by the time she delivered the twins, she’d known everything again. Lois sighed, scrubbed at her eyes, and finished, “So that’s how I became a tabloid headline, Mom: ‘Fearless Reporter Gives Birth to Superman’s Half-Alien Babies.’ You could probably get on Jerry Springer with the ‘I’m an alien’s grandma’ angle.”
“I’d say they act like perfectly normal humans, but they’re half yours, Lois,” Ella said, completely deadpan.
“Mother!” Lois snapped, coming out of her bitter melancholy mood at last. For a moment they just stared at each other, then both Lane women burst out laughing. And if that hilarity had a touch of hysteria in it, neither would ever admit to it.
In the living room, Kala paused in coloring The Little Mermaid, looking toward the hallway with a frown. “What?” Jason asked her, and she just shook her head worriedly.
Much later, after Richard got home, the twins very solicitously told Daddy that Mommy had been sick most of the day. Beyond a questioning glance, he wouldn’t have questioned it, until Jason said in a whisper he thought Lois couldn’t hear, “Mommy’s been sick a lot lately. D’ya think she’s gonna have another baby?”
That had turned Lois’ skin so pale, no one argued with her decision to skip dinner, take a hot bath, and sit out on the dock in the cool air. She could hear, faintly, her mother and her fiancé talking to the twins; Ella firmly shot down the notion of Lois being pregnant, to Richard’s disappointment.
The sun set spectacularly, as if to make up for the rest of the day, and Lois began to feel a little relaxation. It was nice to have one person who knew the secret, someone she could talk to, and she felt guilty for not having told Ella earlier. But there was only one thing that could really settle Lois’ nerves just now.
Glancing guiltily at the house, Lois’ hand went to the pocket of her robe. She really did need to be as calm as possible for tomorrow – that was going to be a trial. I resisted temptation on the roof earlier this week, she thought, don’t I deserve to indulge now?
The deep craving said yes, her wounded heart said yes, and even her tired mind relented. Lois shook a cigarette out of the pack and slipped it between her lips. A moment’s hesitation when she lit it, then she shook her head and did it anyway. This one small defeat was something she could deal with.
And the first drag tasted so damn good. Lois held the smoke in her lungs for a long moment, feeling the nicotine percolate through her brain, soothing the tension and worry. Then she tilted her head back to blow a stream of smoke into the air, and saw him.
Overhead, flying back into the city, almost obscured by the darkness, but there was nothing else in the sky that could be shaped like a man in a cape. The sweet clove was suddenly bitter on Lois’ lips, and she coughed in surprise.
A moment later, she surrendered, watching his leisurely flight. He didn’t seem to have glanced down at her, for which she was grateful, and soon he was a dwindling dot in the distance. Lois took another deep breath of scented smoke, and closed her eyes, wondering, Just what am I going to do about all of this? The bloody lung cancer he kept warning me about would be easier.