The new room was smaller than the grand ballroom, but much cozier. Kala and Jason cuddled together in the bed, arms protectively around each other, the comforter pulled up to their ears. It had taken them awhile to fall asleep last night, and Kala in particular had woken up several times for no reason apparent to the two men watching the closed-circuit television.
“I’m not sure,” Stanford said, wishing Lex would leave so he could take another gulp of Mylanta. Just knowing about the kryptonite hidden in the vent above the bed made him queasy; this was no way to treat children, half-alien or otherwise. “They were complaining about headaches and blurry vision last night. And they seem not to be sleeping well.”
“Inconclusive,” Lex murmured, watching the pair with a keen aquiline gaze. “It might be affecting them, it might not. The sample’s too small.”
“We didn’t want to risk more,” Stanford replied, thinking, I didn’t want to use more. I really don’t want them hurt – but what can I do? “Prolonged exposure could have unforeseen effects.”
“Hmm.” Lex’s mind was now obviously occupied elsewhere, and Stanford returned to nervously watching the two children and counting the minutes until his boss left the control room.
When Lois thought back on that morning later, she wasn’t even sure what made her wake in the half-instant before it happened. As her eyes opened slowly, still dozy from the fog of the Tylenol PM, Lois heard the keycard in the lock, and then the door opened. She blinked hazily as she slightly tossed her loose locks out of her face, still more than half asleep, and saw the broad-shouldered shadow filling the doorway. He had come back after all, several hours having passed. Unable to help herself, she lay there on her stomach and watched him move forward, heat flaring within her even as she felt a chill of nervousness. Dammit, Kal-El, I hope you know what you’re doing coming back in here… I only have so much self-control.
Last night’s storm of memories and emotions circled back to haunt her, and she couldn’t control the sultry smile that rose to her lips even as she shaded her eyes from the light spilling into the room. Anxious as she was, fully aware of how wrong it would be, a part of her had hoped desperately that he would return to finish what they’d started.
“Lois?” His low, concerned voice sent a spike of shock down her spine as Lois snapped fully awake. Oh my God, you stupid woman. It’s Richard, not Kal-El. Oh, shit. Thank God I didn’t open my big mouth and say… Her mind raced to the previous night, hoping nothing in the room seemed amiss, even as she reflexively clutched the sheets to her chest.
The room was black when Richard stepped inside, having used the keycard the desk clerk had given him. Thankfully the room had been reserved in his name as well, or he would’ve had to wait while the clerk rang Lois. The way she slept, he’d be here ‘til noon waiting for her to answer.
He’d seen Clark in the lobby, nodding off in front of a newspaper and looking as though he hadn’t slept a wink. Richard’s hand on his shoulder started the poor man so badly he almost leaped out of his chair, and hurried to get his own room packed up so they could all leave. Poor devil. He looks as tired and achy as I feel – the Lang couch was not designed for comfort.
And his awakening this morning had been far less than pleasant. Perry had called, seeking Lois, and the editor was less than pleased to learn that Richard had spent the night at Lana’s apartment.
Once in the room he should’ve shared with Lois last night, though, Richard had to pause. Something just seemed … off. She was sitting up hastily, drawing the blankets up around herself and wincing in the bright light coming from the hall. “Richard?”
He didn’t answer right away. Richard’s journalist instincts were on high alert. The covers were tangled, as if Lois had spent a restless night thrashing in her sleep, and her hair was similarly rumpled. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first glance, though… “Hey, honey. It’s almost seven. If you want to start getting dressed, I’ll pack up for you.”
Lois’ voice was still a little rusty with sleep, her eyes still closed against the sunlight. “Yeah … thanks, Richard.” He had reached the bedside by then, and bent to kiss her forehead, noticing the way she stiffened slightly at his touch. Something was definitely up. “I hadn’t realized what time it was. I need a shower before we go,” Lois muttered.
“Give me a minute,” Richard said. “I need to shave – my razor’s in your bag.”
Lois blinked at him and started ask a question, realizing only then that they’d never quite gotten around to packing separately. She wouldn’t have thought yesterday that she would be spending the night with Clark, not Richard…
The thought made her blush, which Richard fortunately didn’t see. He had already gone into the bathroom, annoying stubble making his face itch – this was the last time he went anywhere without a razor. The absolute last.
As he stretched his neck, running the Norelco over his chin, Richard caught a glimpse of gold in the mirror. He turned, frowning, to see the ring he’d given Lois sitting on the edge of the tub. She always does that, he told himself firmly, ignoring the chill of apprehension at the nape of his neck. She’s lost some weight the last couple months; it’ll slip off in the shower, or when she washes her hands. You always find it lying by the sink, so don’t let your guilty conscience read anything into it this time.
Richard tucked the ring into his pocket, intending to give it back to Lois later, and finished shaving. If only the nagging feeling of wrongness could be as quickly disposed of as stubble…
Lois was waiting outside the door when he opened it, leaning against the wall and seeming lost in thought – and wasn’t that odd, her reluctance to come into the room while he shaved? She even startled slightly when he came out and said her name, her thoughts obviously a million miles away. And she looked … in the nightgown that fell only to mid-thigh, with her wavy hair lying in rumpled waves over her shoulder, Lois looked utterly seductive. Why then was she so distant, so suddenly shy of his touch? Hadn’t they maneuvered around each other’s morning routines in smaller spaces that this, with the twins underfoot as well? Richard chose not to reflect on that as he watched her go to take her turn, either, telling himself they had more important things to worry about than Lois acting a little odd.
While Lois hurried into a quick shower, Richard started picking things up around the room. From the looks of things, she hadn’t bothered to completely unpack last night. Getting ready to leave was fairly simple – all Richard had to do was put away her clothes from yesterday; gather up her hairbrush, keys, Tylenol PM, and put them next to her purse; and then find her boots. That was Lois’ one annoying traveling habit; she tended to kick her shoes off and let them lie wherever they fell, which had been the cause of several near-falls and much cursing on Richard’s part.
Richard knelt beside the bed, fishing one black boot out from underneath, and looking around for its mate. Glancing under the bedside table, he froze…
What the hell are Clark’s glasses doing on the floor? At first the thought was just absurd, but then a suspicion began to form in Richard’s mind, one that explained the strange feeling he’d had since he walked into the room. Rumpled sheets, tousled hair, engagement ring hidden … and the twins’ father’s glasses on the floor beside Lois’ bed.
Picking up the glasses slowly and slipping them into his pocket, Richard muttered aloud, “I’ll give her one chance to explain this. One.”
Downstairs, Clark was giving Lana a slightly confused look. Packing up his own room had only taken a few minutes, and he was on his way to check out when he met Lana in the lobby. She’d been oddly hesitant, distracted and uncomfortable talking to him. What on earth happened to make Lana act this way? Clark wondered.
The elevator dinged behind them, and Lana looked past him, wincing slightly. “Hmm. I think I’ll meet you outside, okay?”
“Sure,” Clark replied bemusedly, heading for the counter to check out. Now he could hear Lois’ heartbeat behind him, and further speculation on the cause of Lana’s distress was cut off by his own discomfort in Richard’s presence.
He couldn’t help seeing Richard walk up to the counter next to him, nor keep from noticing the way Lois avoided his gaze. The air around her seemed entirely too warm, and Clark tugged at his collar as he handed one clerk his credit card and room key.
Richard placed his MasterCard on the counter in front of the other clerk, giving the young woman a brief distracted smile as he asked Lois for the room key. His mind, like Clark’s, was elsewhere until Lois caught both their attention by muttering a curse. “Dammit. I don’t have it – did you see it in the room, Richard?”
“No,” he replied, giving her a look. “Good Lord, Lois, did you lose another one?”
“I’ve only had to pay for about ten of those stupid things,” Lois muttered under her breath, then directed a bright and slightly frazzled smile at the clerk. “I’m sorry, I guess you’ll have to replace the key for room 306.”
“306?” the other clerk said, puzzled. She held up the keycard Clark had handed to her, and continued, “But it’s right … here… Oh.”
Lois glared at her; Richard stared at Clark; the two clerks looked at all three of them with raised eyebrows, and Clark slowly took his own keycard out of his other pocket. “Um…”
“That is the last goddamn straw,” Richard growled. He hadn’t confronted Lois in their room, wanting to wait until they were alone, but this was too much. “Somehow I’m not surprised by her, but I thought better of you, Kent.”
“Shut your mouth, White,” Lois spat. “You don’t know the first thing about…”
Richard whirled back on her, his patience evaporated. “No, this is about the fifth thing. One, the bed was wrecked. Two, you’re wearing the sexy nightgown, and you looked rumpled. Three, the ring I gave you was hidden in the bathroom. Four, his glasses on the floor! C’mon, Lois – entertain me. How’re you gonna defend that? Try a new excuse – I’m tired of the ones you’ve been using for months now.”
His vehemence had shocked everyone into silence; even Lois was open-mouthed at the conclusions he’d drawn. Only now did she remember pulling Clark’s glasses off last night in the depths of her ‘dream’. And in spite of how bad this all looked, in spite of how difficult explaining herself was going to be, she couldn’t stop a traitorous thought from running through her mind. If I’m going to be damned for it, I really wish I’d actually done it.
“You stop entertaining the staff and pay for the goddamn room,” Lois growled back finally, her fury barely checked, and continued only in her mind, You wanna paint me as a Scarlet Woman, we can do it outside.
As if Clark had heard her thought, he finally shook himself free of his horrified surprise and spoke. “Lois, go wait in the car. Richard, we’ll discuss this outside.”
Richard turned back to him, ready with a scathing retort, and the words died on his lips. Clark had unconsciously drawn himself up to his full height, and some deep instinct spoke in Richard’s mind. He’s bigger than you … dunno why you never noticed that before, but he’s taller, broader through the shoulders, and that’s muscle under the secondhand suit. He could pound you like a tent stake, so maybe you ought to shut up and think for a second here…
“No,” Lois replied sharply. “I’m not gonna let him stand there and talk about me like that. Or you, for that matter.”
Another uncomfortable realization for Richard. This wasn’t the woman he’d known and loved, lain down beside and worked with, for the past several years. Sleeping Beauty was wide awake – and furious.
“Lois, wait for us in the car,” Clark restated gently. For the first time that morning, his eyes met Lois’, and in spite of the circumstances, a spark leapt between them. “I’ll handle this – we don’t need to waste time bickering. Just go wait in the car, honey
Defiance in her eyes and the set of her jaw, but against his calm insistence she finally let out a sighing breath and rolled her eyes in defeat. Still growling under her breath, Lois turned and left, sending one more venomous glance Richard’s way as she did so.
Outside the hotel, Lana had realized that she didn’t know what type of car Lois and Clark had rented. So she waited just outside the doors, hoping to just sort of fall in with the trio when they walked out and follow them to the car, not meeting anyone’s gaze. Even Clark suspected something now…
The automatic doors slid open, and Lois stormed out of them, radiating frustrated fury. She knows was the first thought on Lana’s mind, but the reporter didn’t even glance her way, heading out into the parking lot.
If it’s not that, then what has her so angry? Lana followed, having to hurry to keep up. “Um, Lois?” she began tentatively.
Lois’ head whipped around so fast her dark hair flew out as if it were in some kind of shampoo commercial. A faintly puzzled look crossed her face, and she said distractedly, “Oh. Lana. Hi.” She slowed down a little as she spoke, but kept heading out toward the far end of the parking lot.
So she doesn’t know, Lana thought, biting her lip. “Is everything all right?” she asked.
A blunt “No” was her only answer, and she was forced to quicken her stride again. Guilt gnawed at Lana; she hated to think about kissing Richard, hated to be jealous of his ring that Lois wore – though not at the moment – and before her conscience could tear her heart in half, she had to say something.
Lana reached for Lois’ wrist and thought better of it at the last second. “Lois…” she began, and her courage faltered.
The reporter cocked her head, staring curiously at the redhead. “Yes?” Her voice was clipped and impatient, her mind clearly elsewhere.
“Listen, I don’t feel right about this…” Lana trailed off again before taking a deep breath and forcing herself to meet Lois’ sharp hazel stare. “I wanted to apologize to you… I didn’t mean to, it was sort of an accident, but … IkissedRichardlastnight. And I’m really sorry about it.” The actual words came out in a rush, and Lana winced, waiting for Lois’ reaction.
Silence. Lois stared. After a moment she blinked. “You kissed Richard.”
“Yes.” Lana closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable explosion. Lois would probably slap her… No, this was Lois. She’d probably punch her.
“That’s all? You just kissed him?”
“Of course that’s all,” Lana replied, affronted. “I’m not… Look, I didn’t intend to do that when I brought him to my apartment, Lois – I just didn’t trust him by himself. I didn’t think… I didn’t mean to, I just … kissed him.”
Fleeting emotions crossed Lois’ face: disbelief, irritation, possessiveness, and then a cynical kind of acceptance. “Fine. Good for you.” With that, the shorter woman turned on her heel and stalked over to a burgundy PT Cruiser.
Lana’s green eyes widened. That was all? She’d expected a much more violent outburst, based on Lois’ reaction to seeing her talking to Richard that day in the Planet offices. “Something else is going on,” Lana muttered, and wondering what it was, she followed the other woman to the car.
After paying for the rooms in stony silence, Richard and Clark went outside. Richard, actually, would’ve continued their confrontation in the lobby, but Clark caught his elbow and gently but irresistibly propelled him out the door. Yet more confirmation of the fact that Clark was far stronger than he looked. That kept Richard silent in spite of his seething resentment and suspicion. She let him call her honey? And she actually obeyed him?!
Once outside – and neither of them saw Lois and Lana sitting in the car at the far side of the parking lot – Clark turned to face Richard and spoke in a low, serious tone. “Look, I know you and I have some … issues to work out, but the priority now is the twins. Luthor would want us to be divided; we’re less effective that way. Once Jason and Kala are safe, you and I can … arm-wrestle in a bar or something, but ‘til then we have to be on the same team.”
No one else could’ve pulled that off, but Richard did sincerely like and respect Clark. It also helped to know that the man was honest as the day was long. And utterly incapable of lying… “Fine,” Richard replied, banking the simmering fires of jealousy and guilt for now. “For me to be a team player, though, you have to answer one question.”
Clark sighed. “Okay, go ahead.”
“Have you been sleeping with Lois?”
Though he had been expecting something of the sort from the moment he realized he’d handed the clerk the wrong keycard, Clark was still shocked by the bluntness of Richard’s tone. And by the implication that this was some sort of affair, not the accidental collision of dream and reality that last night had been. “What? No! Richard, I can’t believe you’d think that of me or Lois!” His denial was made even more fervent by his longing for Lois, by the desire both physical and emotional that he had denied since his return.
The sincerity of Clark’s reply, the vehemence of his moral outrage, made Richard feel even guiltier for having kissed Lana last night. And stung by that awareness of his own duplicity, he added vindictively, “Have you ever slept with her?”
Clark’s eyes widened, and before he could consider his response he blurted out, “You said one question.” Oh, no. That was almost as good as saying yes … sometimes I really wish I could lie… “Um, Richard, I didn’t mean… I mean, I wasn’t trying to say…”
Richard held up one hand to block any further explanation. “I get it, Kent. Enough. That’s all I needed to hear. Just … enough. You’re right, we can deal with all of this later. Let’s just get to the car.”
“The car, Kent. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Let’s just get on with it, okay? The kids need us. All of us.”
Reluctantly, feeling the weight of everything left unsaid, Clark led him to the PT Cruiser.
Lana sat down gingerly behind Lois in the driver’s seat, and the dark-haired woman could see her concerned gaze in the rearview mirror. “So, what did you guys find?” she asked, effectively forestalling any more discussion of Lana’s transgressions. Lois found it hard to believe anyone could be so upset over a simple kiss.
Pausing to organize her thoughts, Lana delivered the bad news. “We didn’t find a thing. There’s some evidence Luthor has used one of the islands up there at some point, but not recently. Only a few buildings big enough to hide a person, and we checked those – the locks are rusted shut.”
“What about underground?” Lois asked.
“Richard thought of that,” Lana replied. “But the water table is so high, and the area so marshy, that it would be very hard to build anything below ground. Still, there are no signs of recent human activity on any of the islands we searched.”
Lois swore under her breath. “He misled us again, the conniving bastard,” she growled. “When I get my hands on Luthor, he’s a dead man.”
Lana opened her mouth to say something comforting, and then saw Lois’ hazel eyes in the mirror. She was absolutely serious – this woman was utterly frank about her intention to commit cold-blooded murder. No one could say she wasn’t provoked, but Lana still felt a chill down her back.
Just then, the two women noticed the men leaving the hotel. They stopped, and not for a friendly chat. Lana’s brow furrowed, and she asked aloud, “What’s that all about?”
Lois’ eyes narrowed. “Richard’s damn guilty conscience.” She started rolling her window down, prepared to lean out and yell something to get their attention, but just then Richard held up his hand in a gesture that was undeniably stop. Clark seemed unsure of himself as he walked toward the car, glancing at Richard worriedly. Lois sighed then, shaking her head. “Oh, for the love of God. What have you gone and done now, Mr. Morality?” Lana heard her murmur to herself.
No answers were forthcoming as the two men got into the car, their silence awkward. Clark met Lana’s surprised look with a guilty expression quite foreign to his features, and Richard didn’t even look Lois in the eyes as he sat down in the passenger seat beside her. “All right, everyone,” he said, his voice tightly controlled. “Priorities. Let’s go get some breakfast, trade information, and figure out where to go from there. Sound good?”
“Um, sure,” Clark replied.
“Fine by me,” Lana added.
That left Lois. She didn’t look at Richard, either. “There’s an IHOP up the road. Let’s go.”
The drive, though short, was nearly unbearable. The front seat seethed with tension; the back was rife with guilt and questions. Once they actually arrived at the restaurant, a smiling waitress told the sullen group, “My name is April, and you all need to cheer up.” She actually managed to startle a chuckle out of them before seating them in a booth.
Lois felt a little nauseous and excused herself before April could take their drink order. Clark spoke first. “Let’s have an endless pot of coffee, and to balance that out, a glass of orange juice apiece – sound good?”
Richard shook his head sharply, mouth twisting up in a wry grin. “No way. Lois hates orange juice. She can’t even look at the stuff.”
Perplexed, Clark said, “But she used to drink it freshly squeezed – even bought a juicer for her office.”
“Not anymore,” and now the smugness in Richard’s tone was undeniable. “She drank so much orange juice when she was pregnant, she loathes it now.”
Lana shot him a dirty look and kicked his ankle under the table. They chose the coffee instead and started browsing the menu. When Lois didn’t show up to order, Richard sighed heavily. “I’m gonna go find her,” he muttered. “Send the search dogs if I’m not back by the time the food gets here.”
“Ah, Richard, don’t you think I’d better go after her?” Lana asked too politely. “She is in the ladies’ room.”
He met her sea-green gaze for a moment, seeing the accusation there, and replied, “I’m just going to knock on the door, not invade the sanctity of the women’s restroom. I got over wondering if you had fountains and carpet in there back in sixth grade.” With that he left the table.
“Interesting,” Lana said aloud, turning to look at Clark. “Well?”
“Well, what?” He tried to look innocent, suddenly nervous, staring intently at his coffee.
“Well, what happened last night?”
At that question, coming unexpectedly from Lana, Clark dropped the whole packet of sugar into the mug unopened. “Darn!”
“What are you talking about, Lana?”
“Something happened,” she replied. Lana couldn’t keep the guilty, pained look off her face, but she also couldn’t stop herself from inquiring further. “Something happened to all of us last night – we weren’t this edgy yesterday. Lois is acting … absolutely bizarre, and…”
“That’s normal for Lois,” Clark assured her. Then he realized what he’d said, and added, “Well, not bizarre, but you know she doesn’t conform to expectations.”
“You’ve got that right,” Lana sighed, stirring cream into her coffee. “I’d expected her to sock me one when I told her I kissed her fiancé.”
Clark turned to gape at her as Lana calmly sipped from the mug. “You what?”
“Kissed Richard. By accident.”
“How do you accidentally kiss someone?” Clark was so caught up in indignation that he wasn’t even aware of the double standard until Lana turned her sharp gaze on him.
“Why don’t you tell me, Clark? And while you’re at it, you can explain why she calls you Mr. Morality – and why you’re more upset over me kissing Richard than she was. All she said was, ‘Good for you’. That’s why I’m asking you what happened last night.”
Lois was not in the ladies’ room. Richard had knocked, but gotten no answer, and started to panic. This couldn’t have been Luthor’s plan, could it? To kidnap Lois right out from under their noses? Had his goons been stalking them ever since they’d arrived, just waiting for a chance to catch Lois alone?
He’d opened the door long enough to look for her boots, seeing the room empty. And then, his heart beating painfully fast, he headed back to the table to alert the others. That was when he glimpsed Lois’ dark hair and her long black coat through the window. But what was she doing … outside…?
A plume of smoke answered his question. The first threads of panic turned instead to anger, and the mystery of last night roared back into the forefront of his mind. Richard stormed out the front door and up to Lois just as she took the cigarette from her lips again and exhaled.
Richard snatched the cigarette out of Lois’ hand and threw it as hard as he could. “What the hell are you doing?” he snapped, grabbing for Lois’ elbow.
She yanked her arm out of his hand, snarling back as she glared holes in him, “Get your hands off me! Who the hell do you think you are?! Did it occur to you I might need a smoke with everything that’s going on?”
“Your fiancé, last I checked,” Richard replied hotly. “And you might very well need one after last night, for all I know. No one ever explained to me how his glasses wound up on the floor of your room!”
Her jaw dropped, hazel eyes suddenly bright with immediate wrath. “How dare you!” she snapped. “You’re jumping at shadows because you feel guilty!”
“What the hell…”
“I know you kissed Lana!” Lois spat, leaning up to fire the words directly into his face. “You always do this when you screw up! You can’t just admit to what you did, you have to make me seem just as fallen from grace!”
“This has nothing to do with that,” Richard argued back. “Yeah, I kissed Lana – she must’ve told you. Damn Midwestern morals… But it sure looks like you did a whole helluva lot more than just kiss Clark, and not by accident, either! How did he get your room key, Lois?”
“I gave it to him, you moron!” Lois was now walking a fine line between the truth and a lie, and though she wasn’t entirely innocent, she did have the fact of the Tylenol PM and thinking last night was a dream on her side. “If you really must know, he was checking out a couple more places. He insisted that I get some rest, and I agreed only if he came in and made a report!”
“And how does that explain his glasses on the floor?” This time Richard managed to grab her arm, and drag her bodily away from the window, out of line of sight of the restaurant patrons.
Richard, just drop this, damn you! I don’t want to be having this fight with you! Not now. Why can’t you see that? “He carries a spare pair – they probably fell out of his jacket pocket,” Lois said stubbornly. She’d resisted him pulling her until she realized why, then took a few steps on her own and shook her arm free of his hand again.
“Why do I suddenly smell a lie?” Richard asked rhetorically. “There’s no way his glasses could’ve gotten up underneath the table of they just fell out of his pocket, Lois.”
“Fine,” she blazed, angry enough to give him the truth – or most of it. “If you really must know, I took some Tylenol PM to help me sleep. When he came in, I wasn’t even awake – I thought I was dreaming. I didn’t even know who he was. So I kissed him. There you go.” Lois had raised her hands to shoulder height in explaining last night, and now she let them fall to her sides abruptly in defeat. It was only after looking away briefly that she continued. “Happy now? You were right, I’m no better than you. You ‘accidentally’ smooched the cheerleader; I gave Kent the shock of his life. We’re even.”
“Nothing like the shock he’s gonna get when he finally finds out those kids are his,” Richard retorted.
“What?!” Lois’ head whipped back toward him as she stared with absolute horror. How in the hell had he figured that out, unless he knew that Clark and Superman were…
“Oh, come off it, Lois! That wasn’t the first time you ever kissed him!” Richard couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with his hands; afraid to touch her, and not wanting to ball them into fists, either. Either sign of aggression would likely be met by the infamous Lane elbow being introduced to his chin at speed. “Paris, six years and nine months ago. About a month after Niagara, just a few weeks after Superman disappeared without a word. You were in Paris searching for the hero; Clark was there starting his trip around the world.”
“Wha… what? Clark was in Paris?” She didn’t add When? Lois blinked as her mind momentarily switched gears; this was news to her until this moment. No. Oh God, no… Tell me that I didn’t miss him back then by just a day, a few hours…
And she was unaware of how damning her suddenly stunned expression seemed as she came to this realization.
“Stop playing games,” Richard demanded. “When the hero broke your heart, your best friend was there to help you mend it. It all makes sense – no one saw you with him in the city, so you couldn’t have been together long. Just long enough for the twins. And then he was gone, too, and he’d left you worse off than Superman did. No wonder you were so furious at him when he showed back up here – no wonder he’s so scared of you, when he could probably pick you up one-handed.”
Lois couldn’t decide whether to be relieved or horrified. It just keeps spiraling out like a nightmare. He’s so close to the truth, and so very far away. This is 98% fiction he’s spinning, but the answer he got from it…
“They have to be his – you’re not the kind to get yourself knocked up by some one-weekend stand and then have the kids. You’d only go through with the pregnancy and raising the children if their father meant more to you than that. I know the story’s a lie. There’s never been a Garen at the Quotidienne, Lois. And as for the four guys who do work there who say they slept with you, they’re all lying. I figured that out the year I met you.”
Fear for Kal-El’s secret and shock at Richard’s conclusion had Lois reeling, the world seeming to spin crazily around her. She couldn’t bear that nauseous, unbalanced feeling, and so locked on to the one thing that steadied her, the one emotion she could always cope with: anger and outrage at Richard’s prying, the implications of his investigation. It didn’t help that his remark reminded her of all the whispers at the Quotidienne when her pregnancy began to show, all the cold looks and snide comments about Superman’s girlfriend getting pregnant the day he disappeared… It was little wonder she’d eventually gone back to the Daily Planet, unable in the end to escape the rumors.
Richard’s face went numb, and his ears rang from the force of the slap. “How dare you meddle in my past, you sonofabitch! I’ve told you more than once it was none of your business!” Lois yelled, arm cocked back to strike him again, eyes wild. “I’ve heard enough whispers about being a whore enough in the last six years, I don’t need to hear it aloud from you, Richard White! And I sure as hell don’t need to be reminded of all that bullshit now, with the twins missing! You bastard!”
In spite of the hectic rage in her voice, in spite of the furious speed with which she’d lashed out, Richard didn’t miss seeing the tears welling up in her eyes. There was no saving what he’d said so far, no way to take it back and apologize, try to state it in a way that didn’t wound Lois to depth of her soul. Too late for that now, and Richard pushed on instead of backing down. “Lois, he needs to know,” he insisted, as if she’d merely confirmed his suspicions by trying so vehemently to deny them. “He deserves to know they’re his, especially since he’s helping us find them.”
Lois was still too hurt, too scared, and too furious to hear reason, however. “They’re my kids, it’s my life, and my decision! Why can’t you ever just stay the hell out of it?! Why can’t any of you just stay out!”
“You’re right!” Richard shot back. “You’re absolutely right! There’s never been a single goddamn thing between us that’s ours – you never ever pretended to make it our family! It was you and your kids – and me, the stand-in for both men who left you! Hell, the worst part is, you probably never even realized you were doing it.” His voice lost some steam, realizing dawning cold and bitter. “You were never gonna marry me – those kids were never gonna be Whites. I was never more than a walk-on in your life. I don’t even know you, do I?”
“Richard, at some point I would’ve…” Lois faltered. She couldn’t reply to his question, either; the answer was self-evident.
“You would’ve done it because it was comfortable,” he said quietly. “You would’ve done it if your mother and Perry hinted at it long enough. You would’ve done it when the twins started asking why Mommy and Daddy weren’t married. If it was just up to you, we would’ve gone on the way we were forever.” Richard sighed. “Or until the man you really love walked back into your life. I’ve just been a placeholder…”
“Richard, you don’t understand,” Lois pleaded, her eyes full of agony. “I didn’t want it to be like this…”
“Neither did I,” he replied sadly. “I just … maybe we shouldn’t be together.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” and Lois’ voice was even softer than his.
For a long moment they merely looked at each other, a man and a woman who had shared life’s trials and joys for three years; who had raised two children from toddlers to kindergarten; who had worked, loved, laughed, and argued their way along the journey together for so long that they were both, in spite of making their living with words, mute at this parting of ways.
Then Richard sighed and said, “Let’s go find the twins.” He lowered his gaze and turned to walk inside.
As he stepped into the doorway, Lois hung back for a moment and watched him thoughtfully. And there’s something different about him now, too. Something beyond me and the twins and this mess we’ve found ourselves in. But has he even acknowledged it? Softly, she mused aloud seven words, making Richard spin around so fast that he never felt the door swing back and smack his shoulder.
“You’re in love with Lana, aren’t you?”
ETA: Here's a couple of them, Kat.