“Great Caesar’s ghost!” Perry rasped, feeling his heart shudder to a halt in his chest. Lois Lane, actually rising on her toes to kiss Clark Kent? Not a friendly peck on the cheek, either; that looked like an imminent lip-lock he might need a fire extinguisher to break up. For one moment he feared that she had precipitated another heart attack, and then it began to beat again. The shock, however, showed no signs of vanishing so easily.
Lois abruptly came to her senses, only an instant away from passionately kissing Clark. She backed away, leaving Clark looking poleaxed, said something Perry couldn’t decipher, and fled like Cinderella when the clock struck twelve. At the moment, her boss was in no condition to run her down and demand an explanation. He did catch her eye, and saw her flinch; for the first time since he’d known her, Lois looked scared.
And then she was gone.
“Holy—” Jimmy whispered, and Perry elbowed him savagely.
“You didn’t see that,” he growled. Well, at least I know what the hell is wrong between them. How long was that going on? And how did they ever keep me in the dark about it? And what am I going to tell Richard?
After a moment’s reflection, he came to a difficult decision. Nothing. Telling Richard will only hurt everyone I care about. Besides, she didn’t actually kiss him. If she had, I’d have to tell Richard, but as it is … maybe it was just a fluke. I didn’t think that was flavored water she was drinking. Maybe that explains what just almost happened. “Jimmy, don’t ever mention that you saw that, not even to me,” he said quietly, and the boy just nodded, driven speechless by shock – or Perry’s elbow in his ribs a moment ago.
Clark’s mind was whirling as Lois turned and disappeared into the crowd. Kal-El. She called me Kal-El. There’s only one way she could know that name … Lois knows everything. She remembers all of it.
In spite of his turmoil, he managed to get himself off the dance floor. Oh, God, now I know why she’s been treating me this way. Look what I did to her! Lois has a right to be furious.
But why did she start to kiss me … why did she stop? I wonder if… She couldn’t be … even if she does still love me, she’s still engaged to another man. Richard. Perry’s nephew, Richard. Oh, God, Perry saw that!
Clark glanced guiltily over at his boss, and saw him and Jimmy both staring after Lois. He winced again; there went Jimmy’s admiration for him, too. As Superman, he had faced all sorts of dangers, even survived the effects of kryptonite. But at that moment, he couldn’t stand to see the dismay on the faces of his friends. Feeling like a coward as well as a heel, Clark fled the scene.
Lois escaped the hotel ballroom and fled to the second floor, locking herself into the ladies room. Both halves of her heart, the bitter and the sweet, were berating her for what she’d done, and her own guilt scourged her as well. She hated the sobs she was choking back, hated the angry, hurt tears that wouldn’t stop flowing.
What the hell was that! the General’s Daughter demanded. What did you think you were doing? He left you, pregnant and mind-wiped, and here you are trying to smooch him! You lovesick little twit!
You love him, the Romantic insisted. Admit it, you’ve never known a love like that before or since. Richard’s a good man, but you still love Kal-El. And you always will. Why do you keep fighting and hurting yourself and him? You saw his face; he still loves you, too!
How can you ever trust him! came the snarled reply. No, he screwed around with your mind – your mind, dammit – and there’s no forgiveness for that! He didn’t know what he was doing or how long it would last when he erased your memories. I’m pretty sure he meant it to be permanent, which would’ve been a real surprise when you found out you were pregnant! That would’ve driven you crazy for sure!
I’m already crazy; I hear voices in my head, Lois thought, kicking the faux marble trashcan across the room savagely. I just gave up my advantage; he knows I know, how long before he figures out about the twins? And when he does, of course he’ll want them. He’s the last of his kind except for them. Regardless of his father’s disapproval of what we did, I can almost guarantee what that damned hologram would say. And if Jor-El tells him it’s the right course of action, how the hell can I keep them from him if he decides to take them?
Let him try and take them, the General’s Daughter hissed. Over my dead body will anyone get my children from me.
He would never do that to you, Lois, and you know that. How could you even think that? The Romantic sounded horrified at the mere thought.
Yes, well, I never thought he’d steal away more than forty-eight hours of my life, either. Forty-eight important hours, mind you. She hated how weak and repetitive this statement was beginning to sound, despite the truth of it.
He deserves to be in their lives, the Romantic argued as if she hadn’t spoken. He is their father, and he’s been alone all his life. Not to mention, they deserve to know him. There’s no one else on Earth who can understand what their childhood is like, especially if they wind up taking after him. You know what I mean.
What about Richard? He’s the one they call Daddy, he’s the one who’s been there with them since they were toddlers. Are you just going to toss him aside and go running back to the man who betrayed you? Richard loves you, you can rely on him, the twins can rely on him. That counts for a lot more than the one night of passion that got you pregnant.
What about Richard? You aren’t in love with him. Look what happened the last time you tried to persuade yourself you were! You never even actually said you’d marry him; he tricked you into that. The Romantic, usually only a persuasive whisper, was getting stronger and stronger in her mind. Lois looked up at the mirror, seeing her tear-stained eyes and the conflict behind them.
So you’re going to send Richard packing like a placeholder when the real thing comes back? You can’t just do that to him; he deserves better. The General’s Daughter goaded her with honor and responsibility.
You’re right, he does deserve better, came the swift reply. He deserves a woman who will love him with her whole heart, not watch the sky at night for someone who’s gone. And he deserves to be more than ‘Superman Light.’ You do realize that he’s just the closest thing you could get to the man you really wanted, right? Hel-lo, he’s even a pilot!
Is that what I’ve really been doing all this time? Lois wondered, unable to simply toss this thought away as much as she wished to. Have I really been waiting for him, making do with a substitute? I mean, the attraction is undeniable, but it was more than that tonight. Am I really still in love with him?
If you have to ask, you already know the answer… the Romantic muttered.
That doesn’t mean you have to go running to him! He screwed you over, remember?
That sounded like another internal argument gearing up, and at the moment, Lois couldn’t handle it. Not on top of the knot of cold horror in the pit of her belly, not after these disloyal thoughts about Richard. “Stop it,” she hissed aloud, glaring at her own reflection in the mirror. “Stop it! Just stop it! I can not deal with this, not now!”
Those hazel eyes, so full of pain and love and loss, mocked her with their resemblance to her daughter’s, to the child that was both hers and his. It was all suddenly too much for Lois. Snatching up the box of tissues from the counter, she flung it at the mirror with all the pent-up frustration, guilt, and conflict bearing down on her.
Thankfully, the glass didn’t break, but the porcelain box-cover did shatter. Lois jumped, startled at the volume of the sound, and could’ve kicked herself for losing that much control. The best thing she could possibly do now was to just get out. And, for once, she wouldn’t call herself a coward for running away…
Clark had just managed to get away from the Pulitzer ceremony when he heard the alarm and the sirens. Third one today, he thought worriedly, dashing through the hotel’s lobby at super-speed. When he emerged, he was in uniform and flying rapidly toward the sounds, glad for a momentary escape from his troubles. What is this, National Bank Robbing Day? Or are all of them connected somehow? With Luthor out of prison, I’d better stay on my toes.
Not far ahead now, he could see a host of squad cars clustered around the National Bank building. Just then, the heavy thudding of automatic gunfire; several of the cruisers were perforated. Looked like the robbers had some kind of chain-gun on the roof, and they were perfectly willing to target cops.
I’ll stay on someone’s toes, anyway, he thought angrily, zooming up to the roof. A couple of Metropolis’ finest were coming out of the stairwell, and fired at the maniac wielding the big gun. Unfortunately, he was wearing a bulletproof vest, and he whirled to aim the weapon at them, squeezing the trigger before he’d even brought it completely around.
The cops had one instant in which to realize their fate, and then suddenly they were spared. Bullets ricocheted off Superman’s chest, puncturing the helicopter the robbers had planned to use for a getaway vehicle. The machine gun’s magazine clicked on empty before the crook even had time to recognize just who stood in front of him.
Superman stepped forward. The cops had wisely gotten behind the door to the roof and had the other robbers covered; now he could deal with this one. All the while an insistent little voice was muttering, This makes no sense. Helicopter, Kevlar vests, chain gun, crane to mount the gun on – their equipment costs more than they could possibly make on this job. It has to be a distraction. But I still can’t ignore it.
The bank robber glared at him, yanking a .45 caliber from its holster. He fired from point-blank range, and watched dumbfounded as the bullet flattened against Superman’s eyeball and bounced off. They both glanced down to see the insignificant little piece of squashed lead land on the rooftop.
Even when everything else is going down in flames, I can always count on a moment like this. Superman smiled slowly. I love my job.
Lois leaned against the second-floor balcony, watching warily for a flash of blue and red. The sweet, fragrant smoke filtering through her lungs was beginning to relax her, and she took a last drag off her cigarette. Yet another betrayal of Kala and Jason, this covert smoking. Okay, I’ll go back on the patch tomorrow, no excuses or arguments. But I needed that. What’s one more defeat tonight?, she thought with a sigh, crushing the butt against the wrought-iron handrail.
“Fancy meeting you here, Lois. Loved the article.”
She froze. She knew that voice, knew the cheerful tone overlaid on anger and violence. And it was coming from right behind her. Whirling, Lois started to bring her hands up, ready to claw for his eyes if he…
Luthor struck like a rattlesnake, slamming her back against the balcony. Lois had to grab the rail behind her just to stop herself from going over the edge. Lex pinned her there, smiling that slow, satisfied smile. “Well, well, well. Looks like I’ve finally got the drop – if you’ll pardon the pun – on everyone’s favorite fearless reporter. Just what are you going to do now?”
Dammit! If I’d still had the cigarette I’d stick the lit end in your eye! Bastard probably waited there in the shadows rubbing his hands together until I finished just for that reason. And he’s got me pinned so I can’t knee him – smart son of a bitch. I wish it was it was easier to hide a gun in ladies’ evening wear; I could save us all a lot of trouble… All she said aloud, however, was, “Lex Luthor. You came out of hiding just to see me win a Pulitzer? I’m touched.”
His laugh sounded like it had gotten rusty in prison. “Just checking up on an old friend. Remember all the fun we had in the Arctic? Oh, wait, you had amnesia – you couldn’t remember. My lawyers proved it. Darn.”
“I remember who sat in Perry White’s office and told the Kryptonians how to use me as bait,” she growled. “I remember you giving exact directions to Superman’s home. And I remember Superman beating you yet again.” The look she gave him as she spoke, her left brow raised sardonically and her expression showing just how unimpressed she was by his taunts, was just the same as it had been during their prison interviews. “Why don’t you just give up, Lex? Every time you mess with me or him, you lose.”
Lex chuckled again, leaning in close, his eyes locked on hers. “Maybe I have something special in store for him, a welcome-home present, if you will. As for you…” His voice dropped to a whisper… “Tell Jason and Kala I said hello.”
That broke through her condescending attitude in an instant. Lois’ entire body froze in absolute horror. The last of the vodka seemed to burn out of her veins that instant, and her shock gave Lex a moment in which to step back and shove her hard. She’d been braced for just that move since the moment he pinned her, though, and kept her balance. But Lex managed to vanish before Lois could even begin to think about following him.
How did he…? When…? Dear God, I’ve got to get to the twins before he does…
Perry had been trying for the last quarter hour to find Lois; she and Clark had both disappeared after their near-miss kiss. He was just heading for the lobby again when she came barreling out of the stairwell right past him, without even noticing he was there.
Grabbing Lois’ shoulders, Perry spun her to face him, and saw the look of wide-eyed terror on her face, the paleness of shock. Before he could even begin to ask what the hell she thought she was doing, she gasped out, “Oh God, Perry, Luthor’s here! He threatened me – he knows about the twins! He knew both of them by name, Perry!”
Perry switched gears mentally without wasting a second. He yanked out his cell phone and speed-dialed. “Lieutenant Sawyer, I realize this is pretty irregular, but I need your help,” he said gruffly. “Can you have the boys in blue send a car to the Centennial Hotel and escort Lois Lane home?”
Lois couldn’t hear the reply precisely, but she heard the disbelieving tone. Leaning in, she spoke into the mouthpiece with a voice that was just beginning to tremble, “It’s Luthor, Maggie. He was here at the Pulitzer ceremony; he just cornered me. Please, he threatened my kids. I need to get there and make sure they’re okay, Maggie, please…”
Both reporters heard the reply. “Be there in two – meet me at the front, Lane.”
Lois looked up at Perry. Lots of unanswered questions there, but this definitely took precedence. And despite her bitterly mixed feelings on the topic, she had to warn him, make him aware of the situation. “Perry – warn Clark. And you and Jimmy be careful, too. If the bastard comes to my house after I get there, we won’t have to worry.”
“Lois – take care.” Perry confined himself to that remark and a quick squeeze of her shoulder, then she was disappearing for the second time that night, leaving him to think, Now all I have to do is find Clark to warn him…
Lights flashing, siren whooping, the black-and-white screeched up to the front of the hotel only moments after Lois shoved through the doors. Lieutenant Margaret Sawyer herself was driving, and pushed the passenger side door open just in time for the reporter to fling herself inside without losing any momentum. “Drive, for the love of God,” Lois gasped, slamming the door.
Maggie peeled out without a word, tires squealing, and roared off to Bakerline, weaving skillfully in and out of traffic. She glanced at Lois, taking in the too-wide eyes, the rapid breathing, and the death grip on her door. It was a side of Lane she had never seen in all the years the two of them had been acquainted. Luthor really had gotten her where she lived. “Easy, Lois, I already sent two units to your house,” she finally said, her voice trying to soothe.
Lois forced herself to loosen up a little, but the strain still showed. She was very nearly on the verge of panic, and that wasn’t a state Maggie wanted her kids to see her in. And the lieutenant knew her almost as well as Perry did. “You know, Lois, all the times I envisioned you in my cruiser, I always thought I’d have to read you your rights first.”
The black-haired woman turned a cool look on her, and asked with complete nonchalance, “Why, Maggie, what makes you think I’d break the law?”
That startled a bark of laughter from Maggie. “Knowing you for almost a decade, that’s what. Crossing a police barrier without clearance ring a bell? Breaking and entering? Or maybe inciting a riot? Never thought I’d be playing Sawyer’s Chauffeur Service.”
Lois sighed. “You know perfectly well I’ve never been caught in anything illegal.”
“Not yet, Lane,” Maggie told her, grinning. “Just be glad you got an escort at all tonight, okay? Three banks in the greater Metropolis area have been robbed today. The last one was only a few minutes ago. I was on my way, but Superman turned up and gift-wrapped the crooks for us, so my unit wasn’t needed.” She casually whipped into an oncoming lane to pass an ice truck, and continued, “Something’s weird about these robberies. They’re going through an awful lot of trouble for a pretty small take, and they’re fairly obvious about what they’re doing. Almost like they want the cops there.”
But Lois was staring out the window and up at the blue velvet sky, her stomach doing somersaults in spite of herself. Clark … with everything that just happened, he still has his job to do. No wonder he was late leaving for the Pulitzer…
Clark snuck back into the awards ceremony, adjusting his glasses. The robbery was still bothering him, but he couldn’t skip out entirely – he still had to face the music here. Honestly, he’d rather be dealing with a crime spree than with Lois’ revelation at the moment…
And right on cue, here was Perry, grabbing his arm. “Where the hell have you been, Kent?” he barked.
“I, um—” Clark began, but the editor cut him off.
“I sent Lois home with the cops,” Perry said sharply.
“What? Why!” Oh God, what did she do?
Perry didn’t notice the question, scanning the crowd. “We’d better get out as soon as we can find Olsen.”
“Here, Chief!” Jimmy materialized beside them, practically dancing with impatience, cell phone in hand. He’d completely forgotten about the dance floor incident. “My source at the department of records called – you’ll never believe it…”
“It’s Luthor,” Perry said to both of them. Clark stiffened, but Jimmy slumped.
“Well, if you already knew, why’d I have to take a girl with seventeen facial piercings to Chez Chantel?” the photographer complained.
Perry started to speak, then furrowed his brow. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Luthor,” Jimmy said exasperatedly. “Lex Luthor married Gertrude Vanderworth while he was in prison. It was her lawyers and her money that got him out. When she died, she left the whole estate to him. The relatives are fighting it, but it’s clearly her signature on the latest will and Luthor has control of the assets while they debate it in court.”
“Just what we needed,” Perry growled. “Luthor was here. He threatened Lois, threatened the twins. The fact that he knows about the twins is too much for me. I sent her home with Lieutenant Sawyer; they’ve got more cops at her house. The three of us better scram, too.”
Luthor, Clark thought, his gut turning to ice. Every time I turn around, it’s Luthor again. He has to be behind the robberies. I was right, they were a distraction. But Lois’ twins… “Um, Chief, you and Jimmy take the limo,” he said diffidently, his mind racing. “I’ll get a cab; my hotel is the opposite direction.”
“Be careful, Kent,” Perry told him.
“I will,” he replied. I just hope I’m not needed where I’m heading.
She bailed out of Maggie’s cruiser before it had even come to a complete halt, running up the front steps past two startled officers. Even Richard, standing in the foyer with a third cop, couldn’t slow her down. Lois took the stairs two at a time, hair flying, her calf muscles screaming about the high heels, and barreled into the twins’ room. Only then could she finally stop, nearly tripping.
They were both in their beds, sitting up and blinking dozily at her. “Mommy? Kala said sleepily.
Lois let out the breath she hadn’t known she was holding, ignoring the sob that came to her lips. They were both here, they were both safe, she’d gotten home in time. Wordlessly, she crossed to Kala’s bed and swept her into a tight hug, reaching out for Jason as well. He slipped out from under the covers and padded to her, putting his arms around her neck and Kala’s shoulders. Home safe, Lois thought, and all the quarrelling voices in her heart and mind were silenced in a sigh of relief. For what seemed the millionth time tonight, she was fighting back tears as she covered them both in kisses. Only these tears were grateful ones. My babies are home safe. Thank God.
Maggie, Richard, and the young cop he had been talking to came to the doorway, glancing in. The lieutenant felt a sympathetic twinge, thinking of her own Jamie, and gave them their moment of peace. Richard’s heart ached as well, but for different reasons. Lois and the twins were so clearly a family – one single unit – and in their tight embrace there was no room for him. You’re being ridiculous, he told himself. She’s just scared; you knew all along that the twins were fine, but she had to see it to believe it.
The rookie eventually cleared his throat, and Lois’ head snapped up, her eyes wild. Almost immediately her look softened; but in that instant Maggie saw Luthor’s fate if he dared approach those children. I hope we get to you before she does, she thought. Hard to press charges on a corpse.
Lois kissed Jason’s forehead and Kala’s cheek before pulling away slowly. “Mommy has to talk to the other grown-ups for a minute, sweethearts. I’ll be right back.”
Jason yawned hugely. “’Kay. You look really pretty, Mommy.”
She chuckled then, ruffling his hair affectionately. “That’s very sweet, hon, but probably not true. Mommy’s exhausted.” One more kiss for each of them, another hug to reassure herself once again, and she went outside to talk to Richard and the police.
And oh, did Richard look like he was bursting with questions. But Maggie jumped in ahead of him. “You gonna press charges on Luthor?”
Lois sighed, raking her fingers through her now fallen hairstyle. “What good would it do? I’ve got nothing concrete. No witnesses, no real evidence, just my word against his. And he’s got better lawyers. As we’ve proven before.”
Maggie nodded, keeping her face calm but seething inside. For her, this was the worst part of police work; knowing someone was going to do something, and unable to stop him until he did. “We’ll keep a unit at the house tonight, and the rest of the week. Beyond that…”
“Beyond that, remember whose daughter I am and just what I’m capable of in his case,” Lois replied matter-of-factly, and the icy wrath that flashed in her eyes startled Richard and the younger cop. “Luthor won’t find me or the kids defenseless. That I can promise you, Maggie.”
Sawyer punched her shoulder lightly. “Leave me enough to prosecute, will ya? It’s bad enough the corrections system dreads you; don’t give us a reason to worry.”
Lois grinned at her. “Tell the corrections boy to keep the bad guys safely behind bars when I come to interview them, and I won’t have to put my spike heel into anyone else.”
“Only thing stopped you from nailing his foot to the floor was the sole of his shoe,” Maggie remembered fondly. “Be good, Lane.”
“Or good at it,” Lois retorted, provoking a chuckle.
Watching this exchange, Richard saw the shadows under Lois’ eyes, the tension in every muscle. She was trying to play ‘Relieved Mother’ for Sawyer’s sake, but underneath it, she was strained to the breaking point. Much as I want to call her on the tubal ligation – and a couple of other things, too – Lois needs a break. If I push her too hard, she’s liable to try to hunt down Luthor and either commit murder or get herself killed.
As the police left, Richard wordlessly wrapped his arms around Lois, holding her. For a moment, she stiffened under his touch, then relaxed with a heavy sigh. The evening had been altogether too much, leaving her desperate for comfort. Her forehead dropped to his chest as her arms crept up around his waist. They stood like that for a long moment, each silent with their own thoughts loud around them, and Lois looked up. “I need to be with them tonight, Richard,” she said quietly.
“I know,” he replied. “We need to talk, later… but tonight, just try to get some sleep, hmm?”
“Thanks,” she sighed.
The young cop kept glancing curiously back at the house as they left. Maggie watched him from the corner of her eye and finally stopped him near his patrol car. “What’s on your mind, Davis?”
He didn’t bother to ask how the lieutenant knew something was bothering him. “Ms. Lane. She just … I read all her stories, you know, and she doesn’t seem the type to…”
“She’s a mother,” Maggie told him, a trifle sharply. “Any mother in her right mind would die to protect her children – or kill. Lois is a tough cookie, and she wants you to think she doesn’t give a damn about anything except the next story, but she’s a lioness about those kids. God help Luthor if he does try anything.”
Davis nodded, perhaps remembering that Sawyer was a mother, too.
Above them all, hidden in the shadows of the tall pine trees surrounding the Lane-White house, a pair of deep blue eyes tracked them with a worried frown. Superman saw Maggie leave after giving a few parting instructions to the cops that would remain, saw Richard and Lois push the twins’ beds together while Kala and Jason looked on bemusedly. He looked away, scanning the property for anything amiss, while Lois slipped out of the Pulitzer ceremony dress, and glanced back to catch her curling up in the slip she’d worn underneath it. Her arm was around both twins, and they went back to sleep quickly.
Lois, for all that she looked and acted exhausted, didn’t follow their example. She lay awake in the near-dark for a while with the dim reach of the nightlight illuminating her clouded expression, once looking up and seemingly right into his eyes. Superman flinched, then felt like a fool; he could clearly see her through the roof and ceiling, but she certainly couldn’t see him. Still, that glance … the look in her eyes … he was relieved when Lois finally drifted off to sleep.
Richard was downstairs, pacing through the darkened house. The officers outside were covering the road in both directions. Everything looked safe, but Superman still floated there, keeping watch through the night. You can never be too careful where Luthor’s concerned…
Unfortunately, the silence and inactivity let his thoughts come crowding back. Alone in darkness, memories haunted him. So many little things about Lois that he loved; the way she’d shove her hair back behind her ears when it got in her way; the way she had watched his very movements over the rim of a champagne glass; that swift walk, all determination and sharply striking heels; her scowl of concentration, her dazzling, mischievous take-my-picture grin, and the slower, sweeter smile he’d known in those brief days, the one with lowered eyelids that was so often followed by a tender kiss, one hand sliding through his hair.
I can’t believe I’m thinking about this when her family is right there for me to see. Look, you fool, this is what you would destroy by coming back into her life: her fiancé, their children, their home, their life together. Why am I even torturing myself with this?
Because it could’ve been me down there, those kids could’ve been mine, I could’ve been the one to wake up beside her every morning, I could’ve been the one who gets swatted when I try to get her to open her eyes, I could’ve been the one laughing at the way she grumbles and whimpers until she gets her caffeine fix … if only I hadn’t left.
Lois felt utterly wretched the next morning other than waking to see her children there with her; too much vodka, extreme stress, leaving her makeup on all night long, and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed were not a good combination when a somewhat early morning was added to the mix. She would have been even more irritable had she known just who had hovered over her house until dawn. But she levered herself out of bed, groaning, because the twins were up and eager to make the most of a Saturday. “Mommy, why are you so unhappy?” Jason asked cheerfully.
“I’m not unhappy, I’m just out-of-sorts and grumpy,” Lois said, and yawned. “C’mon, you two, time to get moving.”
The morning routine was comforting in spite of its complexity; Lois supervised the brushing of teeth, choosing of outfits, and swallowing of pills that preceded breakfast, somehow managing to get herself showered and presentable in the process. Richard was still asleep, and from the look of the covers, he’d tossed and turned late into the night. Lois didn’t wake him, heading downstairs quietly.
Saturday mornings, the twins got to choose their own breakfast, no matter how weird it might seem to their parents. Kala was already making one of her infamous pumpkin-butter-and-pickle wraps, something Lois always felt must have been horrifying to the corn tortilla. And Jason was eating organic oatmeal with slices of jicama on top, a vegetable Lois had never heard of until her then-four-year-old son snatched one up without warning and started eating it in the grocery store.
“Want some?” Jason asked politely, offering her a spoonful.
Lois shivered. “No, honey, but thank you. I’ll stick to toast.”
“Boooring,” Kala groaned, rolling her eyes, and making her brother giggle. After a minute, she asked apropos of nothing, “Mommy, who’s Lex Luthor?”
Lois almost dropped the bread. Damn, her ears are sharp, she thought, and sighed. “Lex Luthor is a very bad man,” she began tentatively. “Back before you two were born, he did some things that would’ve hurt a lot of people, if Superman hadn’t stopped him and put him in jail.”
Unbeknownst to her, Richard had come downstairs. Hearing Superman’s name, he stopped in the hallway, listening.
“How come you’re scared of him?” Kala asked, making her mother wince again.
“Well…” How am I going to answer that without telling more than I want to? “Lex Luthor is really mad at Superman for putting him in jail, even though he deserves to be there. And Mommy used to be good friends with Superman, so he’s mad at me too.”
“Cool!” Jason cried, his blue eyes gleaming with excitement. “You know Superman?”
“How come you never talked about him, either? Like Mr. Kent?” Kala said shrewdly.
Good question, Richard thought. Someone inherited her Mom’s interrogation skills.
“Let me ask you something,” Lois replied. “How would you guys feel if Ashlyn moved away, and never told you she was leaving, never said goodbye?”
“Sad,” Jason replied, but Kala scowled at that thought and retorted, “Mad!”
“A little of both, probably,” Lois told them. “I was upset and angry at him for not telling anyone where he was going, or when he would come back. So I never talked about him.”
“But he’s back now, an’ you wrote a story about him going to Krypton and everything, so you guys are friends again?” Jason asked hopefully, envisioning an eternity of bragging rights.
“Not … quite,” Lois said, trying not to bite her lip. How could they know just how loaded their questions really were? “Things are complicated when you’re a grownup. Eat your oatmeal, Jason, before it gets cold.”
“I’m never growing up,” Jason said, and Kala rolled her eyes.
That seemed to be the end of the discussion, so Richard wandered into the kitchen, acting as if he hadn’t heard a thing. The twins pounced on him and he hugged them both while Lois munched toast and looked on. He didn’t like the narrow, speculative look in her eyes, wondering if she suspected that he’d been eavesdropping, but her next sentence seemed completely out of the blue.
“Richard, do we still have that hideous vase your cousin gave us? The one I keep threatening to drop-kick out a window?”
“That vase with the purple flowers on it?” he replied, startled. “Hmm. I think it’s in a closet somewhere. Why?”
“I’ve got a worthy end for it,” she said simply. I had hoped that this could be avoided for a while yet, but maybe now… “Could you fill it with water and put it at the end of the dock for me, please? I want to show the twins something.”
“Is it a surprise?” Jason asked curiously.
“No, sweetheart, this is serious. Kala, that sandwich isn’t going to eat itself – and no one else in this house will eat it, either.”
“I like pumpkin butter with pickles,” her daughter muttered.
By the time Richard came back inside, still mystified, the kids were done eating, and they were in the living room with Lois. What he heard and saw as he walked in froze his heart for an instant.
“Sometimes bad people do bad things,” Lois was saying. “Sometimes they hurt people. It’s not something to be scared of every day, but it is something to be prepared for, just in case. Like sometimes people will steal things. No one comes to this house every night trying to get in and take our TV, but we lock the doors every night anyway. Just in case. Right?”
The twins nodded solemnly. Lois continued, “Lex Luthor is mad at me because I used to be Superman’s friend. He’s a bad man; he might try to hurt me. So if that happens – just in case – I need to be ready. I need to be able to protect myself. That’s what this is for.” Her heart grieving for the loss of her children’s innocence, Lois unlocked the black case and removed her stainless steel S&W Ladysmith .357 Magnum revolver.
The twins’ eyes went wide. “Wow,” they whispered. “Mommy has a gun.”
“Exactly, and it’s not a toy,” Lois said. “The toy guns you see at the store have red plastic on the end; they can’t really hurt anyone. This gun is real, and it could hurt someone very bad. If you ever can’t tell if a gun is real or a toy, treat it like it’s real – don’t touch it.”
Ironically, Lois finally had use for her father’s teachings, and the lessons she needed most were the ones she’d always hoped the twins would never have to learn. “The only way to be safe is to always treat every gun like it’s loaded, all the time – even if you just unloaded it yourself. You two are never, ever to touch Mommy’s gun unless I’m there and I tell you to, okay? Never, ever. Someday I might need to have it nearby, and it might be loaded. If you see it outside its case, you must never touch it. Someone could get hurt.”
Their eyes were still wide and wondering, but the twins met her gaze and nodded. The seriousness of the matter had impressed them into silence.
Lois went through all the steps patiently, showing the twins how the gun worked. She reminded them constantly never to point it at anything, never to touch it anywhere near the trigger, never to handle it without her supervision. Richard watched all this, amazed and a little angry. Another thing I didn’t know – she never even told me that there was a damn gun in the house. And don’t I get a say in whether or not the kids get Junior-freakin’-NRA memberships at six?
But that wasn’t all. “All right, you two, I know you want to see what it does. C’mon outside.” She met Richard’s eyes on the way by, and her cool gaze brooked no argument. It was clear she regarded this as extremely important. He followed them, curious in spite of his disapproval.
Lois stopped in the yard. The vase was white with huge purple pansies on it, the kind of eyesore that, like fruitcakes and novelty sweaters, exists solely to be given to relatives on holidays. It looked very small on the end of their dock, and even Richard wondered if she could hit it. He also was glad that his plane was presently being serviced and docked far from home.
“Stand behind me, and cover your ears,” Lois said. Kala and Jason obeyed, but leaned out around their Mom with sparkling eyes.
Lois took a deep breath as she unlocked the trigger guard, pushed the cylinder out, and loaded six Gold-Tip hollow-point bullets. She let the breath out slowly as she squared her stance and braced her right wrist with her left hand. Another breath as she lifted and aimed the gun, lining the sights up on the center of the vase.
The distance was pretty much the limit of her range with this gun; with a little .22 she could almost drive nails, but the Ladysmith was built for stopping power, not target shooting. So Lois gave herself an extra incentive to hit her target. Imagine that flower there is Lex Luthor’s right eye…
Even Richard flinched; the thunder of gunfire was amplified by the river, a deliberate choice on Lois’ part. The ugly vase leaped into the air and disintegrated, shards flying, the water inside it splashing everywhere. Both twins stumbled back, momentarily frightened.
Lois hated to scare them, but she had been scared the same way, even younger. It was the swiftest way to teach a child the respect guns deserved, and to ensure that they never handled them. The curiosity of a young child for something so sleek and metallic could be deadly, if not curtailed. Waiting until Kala and Jason were both looking at her, she blew imaginary smoke from the barrel and pushed the cylinder out to remove the spent cartridge.
Richard watched speechlessly, thinking, Where the hell did this come from? Did I ever really know this woman at all? And on the heels of that thought, I don’t want to argue in front of the kids, but we really need to talk.
Dawn had found Clark heartsore and gritty-eyed; though he didn’t actually need sleep, he found it a welcome respite at times. Even if he had not kept watch on Lois’ house through the night, though, he would’ve found no rest. His thoughts chased each other endlessly even as he flew over Metropolis in the morning light.
I don’t know what to think. She acts like she wants to strangle me – and she’d be justified – and then tries to kiss me. It’s almost as if she’s as confused as I am. But one thing is perfectly clear: she wants me to leave.
Question is, did she mean her life, the paper, the city, or the planet? I can see her being mad enough to want me to fly back to Krypton, radiation or no radiation. But there are six billion other people who do need me and want me around, so even if that’s what she meant, and it does seem rather an attractive option at the moment, I can’t run away for another half-dozen years. And I’m not leaving Metropolis. If there’s anything on this planet I love as much as Lois, it’s that city, crazy as it often seems.
But I don’t see how I can keep working at the Daily Planet. She’s my boss, for God’s sake. Not to mention, Perry saw us almost kiss. I’ll be surprised if I still have a job Monday morning. That’d be the most original pink slip ever handed out – terminated for trying to kiss your immediate boss, who happens to be engaged to your ultimate supervisor’s nephew, who also works in the same office. Could I possibly screw things up worse?