Tonight, you arrested my mind.
When you came to my defense.
With a knife, in the shape of your mouth,
In the form of your body,
With the wrath of a God.
Oh, you stood by me.
And I'll stand by my
~Gavin Degraw, Belief
A gentle hand touched Lois’ wrist, taking her pulse. It was enough to bring her out of her fitful doze, and her hazel eyes looked up to meet dark brown ones. “Good morning, Ms. Lane,” the new nurse said.
“What time is it?” Lois groaned as she sat up slightly. It seemed like she was asking that question a lot lately. She tried to let go of Kal-El’s hand unobtrusively, not wanting anyone to realize that she had been holding his hand – sleeping with her cheek on it – since she arrived.
“One o’clock in the morning,” the nurse told her. She was of Indian descent, and her smile was warm and genuine. “You’re doing well – but I expected that. Anyone strong enough to threaten Gwen with a wheelchair is going to be fine. I’m Tage, by the way. Any change in our star patient?”
Several hours had passed, then, since Lois had come into the room, and solemn silence had reigned, broken only by the steady beep of the heart monitor and the hum of the sunlamps encircling Kal-El’s prone form. It had been almost nine hours since the Man of Steel had plummeted from the sky – and still no change. Lois shook her head mutely, watching as Nurse Tage checked Kal-El’s vitals. She wrote everything down on his chart, then turned kind, wise eyes on Lois again. “Can I get you anything, Ms. Lane?”
“No, I’m fine,” Lois whispered.
“I’ll be back in a few hours,” came the reply. “Press the call button if you notice any change, or if you need me.” She patted Lois’ shoulder and left the room quietly.
Lois lay sideways in the bedside chair now, fingers entangled with his cool ones again as she watched that handsome, still face. She’d never noticed just how rosy with health his skin had been until now, his pallor stark. Never had she seen his expression so blank, even in sleep. With every beep of the monitor with no physical change, a little piece of Lois died, the chance of him waking up seeming less and less likely. He was in there, the monitor proved it, but for how much longer? No one had any knowledge of Kryptonian physiology beyond Kal-El’s own, and he was obviously in no shape to enlighten anyone else. All they could do was wait and hope.
She longed to reach out and touch his face, be closer to him, but it was impossible with the intensity of the lamps’ beams. If it had been summer, the warmth put off by them would have made the room unbearable. As it was, it was almost comfortable. Leaning forward to kiss the back of his hand, Lois laughed a little bitterly. What, Princess Charming, do you think a kiss would bring him back to life? How old are you, twelve? But even as the thought crossed her mind, she was tempted to try it. Anything. Anything to bring him back to her. She’d even willingly walk back into Luthor’s clutches just to see him open those beautiful eyes again. Eyes she was privately terrified would never open again.
Stop it, Lois. Just stop it. You know him, you know he’ll do the impossible. Especially when you were involved somehow. Have faith in him, Lois. You believed instantaneously in a flying man who saved your life all those years ago, a man from another galaxy. And you never stopped believing in him, even when you tried. Believe now, because he needs you now. He needs you.
That brought fresh tears to her eyes. She felt so helpless now, unable to bully, fast-talk, or even force things to work. She couldn’t beg or manipulate anyone to make this stop. She couldn’t make anything do anything – she was powerless. All she could do was be here and hold his hand, watching him sleep in a way that made it seem as if he were already mostly gone from her. As if he were already…
Even now, she could remember another time she had seen him at rest, a faint smile teasing his lips as she had lain there next to him all those years ago. Could remember how enchanted by it she had been, knowing it was because of her but also knowing that it suited her image of him perfectly.
That made her pause. Did he know? Really know? How much she had loved him all along, the fact that she had noticed or been reminded of so many details about him over the years?
Wonderingly, she stared at his still form for a long moment before she spoke aloud suddenly, “You don’t know, do you? Any more than I did about your thoughts on me.” She was silent for a moment after the revelation; thinking about what she was going to do, feeling like a fool. But if it worked…
“I’m not even sure if you can hear me, but they say that sometimes when people are…” Lois stopped herself again, feeling self-conscious for another moment, then pushed on, “I don’t know if you can hear me, Kal-El, but I think you have a right to know now. I’m not sure how much of it you’ve already guessed. Other than all of that schoolgirl fawning I did in front of you at work. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to think back on that? Especially back when I first met you? Both of you?” She had to chuckle, shaking her head.
“Do you have any idea how long it took me to get my mind around that? When I first met you as Clark, I thought, ‘Poor guy. He’s so old-fashioned and nice that he’s going to get eaten alive. He’s going to last about twenty seconds with these cutthroats. What the hell was Perry thinking hiring this guy?’ Especially once you mentioned your mother. Dear God, Kal-El.” Just thinking back on his expression when he had taken her bait, replying utterly deadpan, Actually, she’s silver-haired, she bit back a snicker. “And the best part was realizing later that your mother really was silver-haired. And the fact that somehow, through sheer likability and well-bred manners, Clark Kent managed to survive.”
“And the alleyway, that afternoon when we were mugged?” One eyebrow arched, Lois grinned at the memory. “Very subtle. It took me a little while to figure that one out. I must have reacted the exact way you expected, because I really did think ‘Clark’ was an utter lightweight when you ‘fainted’. You caught that bullet, didn’t you? It didn’t misfire. You saved my life in that alley and never even said a word about it. And then you slipped up about the x-ray vision when you looked at my purse. How I missed that the first time around, I’ll never know. Must have dismissed it as one of those strange Midwestern farm boy things. But you know, despite his complete case of fish-out-of-water, I really liked Clark by then. He was a bit quirky, but… endearingly so. As long as he didn’t get in the way of my headlines. Which hadn’t started yet.” She paused to snort.
“Funnily enough, I felt bad about the way I had just brushed you off the night ‘Superman’ debuted. We’d gotten to be friends by then. I knew I could trust you more than any of the other guys in the office other than Jimmy, who was just a kid at the time. I don’t think I’ve met anyone in my life more sincere than Clark. I remember that the President was going to be in town and I had been more dismissive than I should have been, trying to plan my questions. You know how I am when I’m on a big story, and poor Clark just got left in the dust. Ten million thoughts in my head and no control over my mouth. What made me smile a little about it once I knew the truth was the fact that you didn’t even own a car as Clark; how was he even going to be able to give me a lift to the airport? Then again, if I had taken Clark up on that little transport, I might have had to wait longer to meet the rest of you. Which was like nothing I had ever dreamed of. I don’t think anything in my life was the same after that moment. Then again, how often do you meet a flying man?”
The newsroom was a shambles. Luckily, three presses were functional, so Perry, Richard, and a few loyal staffers managed to scramble together a brief evening issue. Richard typed up his eyewitness account of the confrontation with Luthor, unable to maintain strict journalistic objectivity. This was Lois he was writing about, her determination and her ultimate heroism. He doubted they would have a relationship left after everything that happened, but that didn’t mean he’d stopped loving her. To have seen her in peril, and to have seen her courage pull through against all odds, only increased his admiration for her.
And Superman… He’s Clark, for the love of God. I was buddies with Superman. Oh, my God – I’m Superman’s boss. Richard sat bolt upright, staring blankly across the room as the realization struck him again. This is gonna screw with my head for weeks. And if it’s surreal for me, what must it have been like for Lois? She has to know – it explains the way she’s acted since he came back…
He shook himself slightly. Get your mind on the job, White. Richard quickly reread the article, deciding to let its hero-worshiping tone go uncorrected. If anyone in the history of the world deserves bias, it’s him. He emailed it to the print room, thankful that some of the computers were still working. If they’d all been broken, Perry would’ve had his staff using the few manual typewriters scattered around the office.
That task complete, Richard headed for Perry’s office. The Chief was looking at two mock-ups of a paper, but it wasn’t the evening issue. Richard saw that as he walked in, coming to an abrupt halt at the sight of the forbidding headline ‘Superman Dies’ in huge black letters. “Jesus, Perry,” he said. “It’s a little morbid, don’t you think? I mean, he’s in stable condition by the last report…”
The old newshound looked up at him somberly. Now Richard could see the haunted look in his eyes, the lack of sleep combined with the burden of reporting such news. “Always be prepared.” Perry slid the other cover across his desk. It had the same article, the same photo of Superman catching the Daily Planet globe, but the headline on this issue was ‘Superman Lives’.
Richard breathed a sigh of relief. Having both covers before him seemed less of an evil omen. “Any word on Lois and the kids?” Perry asked.
His nephew shook his head. “Ella called a couple of hours ago and let me know they were all okay, but nothing since then. Apparently Lois passed out from exhaustion, and the doctors want her overnight for observation.”
Perry chuckled. “That oughta be fun,” he commented. “Lucky for them, she’ll want to stay near Superman. She’s going to get the first interview when he regains consciousness, you just watch.”
Richard smiled. He knew it was more than the story, and he was fairly certain Perry knew as well. His uncle wasn’t in possession of all the facts, though, and was trying to spare Richard’s feelings. “I’m sure she will, Uncle Perry,” he replied. “Lois has never let go of a story. Especially not a Superman exclusive…” Particularly those two exclusives that call me Daddy.
His cell phone chirped, but the number was unlisted. He answered it anyway, and the veneer of weariness dropped from his features when he heard the voice on the other end of the line. “Ella? How is everyone?”
In the suite at S.T.A.R. Labs, Lois’ voice softened the hiss of the oxygen line, filled the quiet between the beeps of the heart monitor. “It wasn’t as if it was my first, tenth, or even twentieth flight in one of those whirring buckets of bolts. I was really only concerned about getting to the airport before the Big Cheese touched down in Air Force One. Nothing that day even began to prepare me for what happened. One minute I’m on my way to nail President Salkind to the tarmac, the next thing I know I’m dangling sixty-five stories over the sidewalk from a seatbelt. I’ve had some pretty crazy things happen to me in my life, before you showed up, but that? Nothing that had happened to me back then could top that. Not even sneaking off-base in Italy during lockdown.”
She was quiet for a long moment, eyes running over his face as it rose to life in her memory, “And then the ‘copter started to tip. I can still hear the screech of the metal. I couldn’t breathe.” Lois closed her eyes for a long minute. “That was it. I knew it. Only twenty-five, just finally making my way through the ‘old boy’ network and beating the glass ceiling, and it was over. I was going to die like this, hanging out of a helicopter like some brainless twit in an action movie. I had about sixty seconds to hate fate. And then the belt broke.” Her voice was choked, reliving the moment.
“One minute was all the difference in the world. Thirty seconds while I was just in free-fall, heart in my eyes, bracing myself for the pavement. I can’t remember what I was thinking. I don’t think I was thinking, actually, too terrified. Stunned that it was over this soon. Just when I was starting to make it, after nine years… Thirty more seconds when I suddenly jolted to a stop. An utterly impossible stop in mid-air. I was so shocked, I jerked my head up and there you were. I just … I…” She had to laugh then, the old awe still in her tone as she shook her head. “After all this time, I’m not even sure I can describe that moment for me. Other than, I had never heard of an angel in spandex before. You just… And then when the ‘copter fell… And you just caught it, like it was just a toy. It just didn’t seem possible, it was so surreal. The world just shifted. And just as I started to get my bearings, had the roof beneath my feet, you turned to me and smiled.” A little smile of her own crept across Lois’ features then, the memory of her stammered questions in light of later events amusing. “You were so careful with your answers, but so polite, as if this was just something you did everyday and you just happened to be in the area, which of course, you had been, Clark.” Another snort of laughter. “A friend. Oh, Kal-El…”
“Somehow I managed to get my head together enough to make it to the airport before Perry could get me checked out by more than one medic. I was in the back of a taxi on my way there when the bulletin about the air trouble the President was having, but that disaster had been averted. And then there you were again, setting down Air Force One when I got out of the cab. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much wonder in my life. You didn’t even stay long enough for Salkind to thank you, but just before you flew away, I managed to get your attention again and when those eyes of yours looked back at me, I just felt my heart seize. Somehow I managed to tell you who I was. And you smiled and waved before you flew off, which I think is all too funny now.”
“What you missed was the amount of reporters that hadn’t heard about the save and went wild to know I’d met you. I guess it was my fault the whole Superman’s Girlfriend thing got started since I seem to remember implying that we knew each other a little better than we did, but you might just have heard that. I seem to remember a cute little snark during our interview that made it seem like you had. Something about me being the first to know if you had a girlfriend.”
“Of course, the next morning Clark was so solicitous over me, I should have known something was up. Especially after he handed my ball cap back. Somehow he had managed to be Johnny-on-the-spot. Wonder why,” she commented ruefully, squeezing his hand. “You wouldn’t let me out of your sight for more than a few minutes at a time. You and Jimmy both. Me, I was fine, but you two… You were just so adorable about it. So much so, I was about to shake you both. And let’s not even go into the damn argument over as to whether your ‘first appearance’ was a hoax or not. Looking back on it now, the whole ‘on-wires-Peter-Pan’ debate, I don’t know how on earth you kept a straight face. And Lord knows I gave you both barrels for it. I don’t know how you thought you were going to convince with the ‘done with mirrors’ thing. You can’t catch and hold someone with mirrors, no matter what you do.”
“And then, in Perry’s office at the Massacre, the reason you had hovered became clear. Not that I had a clue it was you at the time, but don’t think I didn’t smirk over that later. That little note card was nearly enough to stop my heart. Of course, the Chief was having a field-day. My God, he was absolutely over the moon. And the first time we see this ‘Caped Wonder’, where is he? On our roof. Do you remember how much that man grinned that day? Loueen made comments more than once that she half expected him to start giving out cigars. Then again, with that little note in hand, my mind was a million miles away. Other than Perry’s little smartass ‘girlfriend’ comment, and he knew full-well about the rumor that had started, nothing completely penetrated the fog in my brain after that.”
“And then, sly devil that you are, you had to throw me even further off the scent by having Clark remind me for a dinner date I had forgotten about. Actually, I’m not even a hundred percent sure that you had brought it up before that moment. It was incredibly cute, but I remember getting your number on that one.” Even now, she could see the look on his face when she tossed off the ‘and if I’m not a good girl, let’s let Jimmy take the pictures’ comment over her shoulder as she walked away. She’d been so proud of herself for zinging him on that at the time, not even knowing that his pained look was two-fold. “It also seems that I made a hero blush, which was probably the reason I got paid back for it that night. I doubt you even remember that…”
She was quiet for a moment, her mood mellowing as she came to this part in her tale. If there was any memory that had so many emotions tangled up in it, it was this. At the time, it had been exciting and awkward and funny. But now, knowing where they went from here and how often she had thought back on it, it was so much more to her. “I didn’t know if you’d really come. Part of me wondered if it was a little prank Bill Freizon and Gil planted to make me look like an idiot. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But a part of me… You said it awhile back and it’s true. I’m a cynic; sometimes I think I was born one. A sucker born every minute and all. But the night you showed up… I’d always had a fairly open mind, having been a rebel since the womb, but…”
Lois stopped then, groping for the words. Even now, all these years later, she knew she still sounded like the enamored twit she saw herself as then. She looked away for a moment, out into the darkness of the room beyond them. “It… it was like the world had suddenly opened up wider than I had ever seen it before. It all felt new. So many things felt possible then. I wanted to believe in you, something Perry would have been amused to know. Amused, hell – he would’ve been thrilled. Lois the Disparager acting like the wide-eyed teen she never was. That would have been a gas for the boys at work.”
“And my traitor emotions were up to things I didn’t even want to acknowledge. Standing up there on the roof of my apartment in a damn evening gown, on pins and needles, with a bucket of ice and champagne on my patio table, trying to act casual. God, who was I kidding?” She rolled her eyes, sighing disgustedly at her younger self. “In an evening gown. Like I was just going to hang around the house and do my nails or something. Exactly how credible did I think I was being?” Shaking her head, she went on. “But then, just as I was getting ready to give it all up as lost and drink the champagne anyway, talking bravado to myself to feel better, there you were. Again.”
In her memory, that moment was so crystal-clear. Her heart had just stuttered for an instant when he had called out his greeting, startling her so badly she had literally jumped to her feet, barely able to make a response in kind. Until then, she hadn’t been aware of just how nervous she had been. But when he had offered to come back later, her panic had known no bounds. “I felt just like an idiotic sheltered sixteen-year-old on her first date, not able to function at all. We both know that that isn’t the case at all and I’ve never felt out-of-sorts with a man before in my life, but you…” She had to put her head in her hands, shaking her head for what seemed like the millionth time. “That entire interview was a disaster. I can’t even remember having a coherent thought in my head for longer than ten seconds. This was it, the interview of my life. A sure-fire Pulitzer and I was so tongue-tied and flustered that it all came out was… God, I was such a dope. I mean, at least I got a little bit of useful information in there someplace, in between my stumbling and your teasing. Some of the questions were deliberate, meant to surprise an answer out of you, but none of it came out the way I meant it.” Lois paused then to look over at him, remembering that night. “And from the moment we sat down at that table, I just… I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I was just overwhelmed … and more than a little intrigued. Oh, intrigued, hell. Who am I kidding? I was so attracted to you I couldn’t stand it, but I’d always told myself that I never got involved in my stories, never got mixed up emotionally with anything except the job itself. And then, feeling myself start to slip but trying to fight it off with serious questions, you offered to take me flying.”
She closed her eyes then, sighing out a deep breath, then smiled. “You know it started then, don’t you? When we first took off, I was terrified. I trusted you, I don’t know why, but I trusted you immediately. Even though you had told me no more than ten minutes before that you were from another planet, it never even crossed my mind to be afraid in the slightest. Somehow I knew that I could trust you. But then, once I figured out what to do, I can’t even describe for you the way that flight felt. Even after all these years. It was… God, this sounds so stupid, but it felt like what I thought falling in love must feel like. It was amazing and I couldn’t believe I was sharing it with you. And then, like every idiot taking chances, I pressed my luck while trying to hold your hand and went too far. Only to fall again, metaphorically instead of literally, the moment I was caught.”
Lana and Martha made it through the crowd around Centennial Park and to Lana’s hotel, which fortunately wasn’t far. Her room was largely intact, except for the windows, and safe to stay in that night. All Martha wanted was an explanation – a complete explanation. So Lana set up the in-room coffeemaker and began telling the story from the twins’ kidnapping all the way to that moment on the plane, when Clark – Superman – flew away to deal with the island.
“That was when everything started to make sense,” Lana said, hours after she’d begun. It was now later than both women were accustomed to being awake, but neither could sleep. “Seeing them together at that moment, that’s when Richard and I both realized who he was. We would’ve never guessed if we didn’t know Clark well.”
Martha sipped her coffee, wincing a little because it had grown cold and bitter during the tale. Her mind was a whirl. She’d known Lana Lang since the tall, poised redhead before her was just a leggy girl. If anyone outside of family could be trusted with the secret, it was Lana. But every mother’s instinct to protect her child rebelled against this. Will he come to harm from her knowing? And what about this Richard White she’s trying so hard not to speak of with affection?
Lana couldn’t imagine what was going through Martha’s mind, the older woman’s eyes purposefully shuttered. What would it be like, to guard a secret like this for so long – alone? She shivered at the thought of such loneliness. And when Clark had been gone for so long, his mother must’ve been heartbroken… “Mrs. Kent, I’m his friend. All I want is to protect him and the children.”
A sudden flare of emotion in Martha’s expression. “You mean Lois Lane’s children? Are they…?”
It wasn’t her place to tell this, but it had to be told, and she was the one in the right time and place and circumstance to tell it. “Yes, they’re Clark’s,” Lana said. “I’m pretty sure he knows it for a fact, now. If not, she’ll tell him when he wakes up. Lois has been by his side from the beginning.”
Martha smiled crookedly. When, not if. That was Lana – stubborn optimist. She’d stuck with Donald a lot longer than she really needed to, hoping things would take a turn for the better. Unlike her marriage, Clark’s recovery isn’t a lost cause, Martha told herself. Her hope is better placed. “Well. Things are going to get very interesting in the near future, then.”
Lana nodded, thinking of Richard and Lois. “I wish we could get in to see Clark,” she said quietly. “I just… I’ve been praying for him.”
“Me, too,” Martha replied, placing a hand over Lana’s. “You said Lois Lane was with him?”
“She was with him when he was shot,” Lana said quietly. “Martha, she’s the one who saved him that time. Lois kept him from drowning, and she pulled the bullet out. He left us to take the island up – an island made of kryptonite – and we brought her back to the city. It just happened that we got her to the hospital around the same time he arrived, and one of the cops took her back to see him.”
“No one knows that you and I know him as well as we do,” Martha mused, “but the woman who got herself engaged to another man is by his side now. In a military facility. God does have a sense of humor.”
“She’ll take care of him,” Lana said. “You didn’t see her when he was hurt. Lois won’t let anything else happen to him. She’d do permanent damage to anyone who tried to harm him. That I can promise you.”
Martha swirled the coffee idly. Then she looked up, piercing blue eyes meeting Lana’s green. “Tell me about her,” she said. “I’ve heard a great deal about Lois from Clark, but he’s biased. What do you think?”
Lana leaned back and sighed. “She’d never fit in around Smallville,” she said frankly. “Lois … Lois is complicated.”
“Oh? And women from your old hometown are simple, Ms. Internationally-Known Designer – who learned embroidery from me?”
“That’s not what I said,” Lana replied with a little smile. “Lois isn’t that easy to describe. She’s… She’s very strong. Physically, for her size, she’s strong, but emotionally she’s Atlas. Beautiful. And stubborn. She’ll fight for what she wants, and she fights like a man – very direct, take-no-prisoners.”
“Oh dear,” Martha said quietly.
“Lois’ father was an Army general,” Lana continued. “She’s moved around a lot, lived in several cities. Several countries, actually. Very modern, very cosmopolitan. Not too concerned with tradition – not religious, either. She’s a good person, Martha, but an ethical one instead of a moral one. Lois will always stand by the people she cares about, and she cares about Clark. A lot. And your son loves her very much.”
“He told me she had a fiancé.”
Lana glanced down at her own coffee then, and Martha didn’t miss the gesture. “Ah, yes – Clark was gone for more than six years. Besides, I don’t think Lois and Richard will be together very much longer…”
Martha knew perfectly well that there was nothing she could do for Clark now. But this conversation was at least keeping her from going out of her head with fruitless worrying, so she pursued the point. “Mm-hmm. Richard White. Anything you’d like to tell me about that, Lana Elizabeth Lang?”
With Lana’s pale skin, her blush was even more evident. “Um… no, actually. He’s a good man, but Lois isn’t in love with him. Not anymore. They fought like cats and dogs pretty much the entire time we were trying to find the twins.” It was an exaggeration, and Lana knew it, but that one apocalyptic argument outside IHOP made it mostly true. “Anyway, the only reason Richard and Lois haven’t officially broken up is that they were too busy trying to rescue Jason and Kala. He knows, too – I don’t think he’d feel right about marrying Lois even if things weren’t so rocky, because he knows who the kids’ real father is.”
Martha gave her a look, but Lana had learned to deal with maternal chiding during her divorce and just met her gaze levelly. After a moment, the redhead added, “Speaking of the twins, you haven’t asked about your grandchildren.”
Sipping the coffee again, Martha sighed. “Yes, well, I’m still getting used to the idea. Clark has suspected for a while that they might be his. So have I – the timing seemed too coincidental. But to actually hear it confirmed is kind of… It’s big news. It’ll take a while to process the idea.”
“They’re adorable. Bright, outgoing, well-behaved – mostly.” Lana chuckled. “Around your son, they get a bit excitable. I think they’ve known for a while, although they must’ve figured it out themselves. Richard and Lois dote on them, but not too much; they’re not spoiled or anything. Good kids.”
Martha saw the wistful look on Lana’s face, and sympathized. She had once felt that same expression on her own features every time she saw a woman with a child. And then God had seen fit to trust her with raising a hero… Martha smiled at the thought, and the smile turned unexpectedly into a yawn.
Lana was trying to stifle a yawn of her own, and the two women chuckled at each other. “I suppose we should try to get some sleep,” Martha ventured.
“We’re not going to be able to rest very well, but it’s worth a try,” Lana replied. “I’ll have to get hold of Richard tomorrow and see if he can get us to S.T.A.R. Labs. I don’t even know where it is.”
“I’m sure it’ll be common knowledge by tomorrow,” Martha mused.
“It’s a top-secret military facility,” Lana told her.
The older woman just laughed tiredly. “This is Superman we’re talking about, Lana. Word about him has a way of getting around.”
Nurse Tage came back into the room while Lois was reminiscing over that romantic flight, and the reporter quickly wiped the dreamy look off her face. “No change,” she said sadly.
The Indian woman smiled at her anyway and handed her a covered tray. “You haven’t had anything to eat, so here’s an early breakfast. As for him, Doctor Donner doesn’t expect to see a change until sometime after sunrise, if there is one today. His vital signs are stable; his pulse is steady, and he’s breathing on his own. Those are good signs for now, Ms. Lane.” She continued to look over the machinery surrounding the hero, writing down notes. Lois took the lid off her tray, releasing the aroma of oatmeal, toast, and bacon – even the hospital coffee smelled delicious at that point. Tage continued, “The EEG does show brain activity; that’s an even better sign. This may not even be a coma as we understand the term, Ms. Lane. It might be a trance state peculiar to his people, something to accelerate healing.”
Lois nodded, grateful for the optimism. Tage opened Superman’s eyes gently, checking the contraction of his pupils with a pen light, then added, “I’m done for now – someone will be back for the tray. Keep talking to him. He may be able to hear you, even if he doesn’t remember it later. Your voice will give him somewhere to come back to.”
“Thank you,” Lois said, smiling back as the nurse left. Having not eaten since breakfast at IHOP yesterday morning, she set about devouring her breakfast. The little container of orange juice next to her coffee made her chuckle, though.
“Freaking orange juice,” Lois sighed when she’d finished the food. “You know, I can’t even stand the smell of it now? Even before Christmas rolled around that last year, I must have had something like three colds in a row. Started right after my birthday and just never let up, remember? I got lucky right before the Christmas party and then by the time New Years’ rolled around, I was sick again. Although I really think I caught a bug in Paris while I was there on that…” She stopped then, her voice winding down to nothing. It seemed like she had found her way to the next part of her story without even meaning to. Setting the tray on a bedside table, she sat back in the chair again, trying to think where to pick her narrative back up. “I guess I should start the story up again around the holidays that year. We’d been working together for quite some time then, Perry throwing us at the same stories. I never wanted a partner; I liked working alone. I guess Perry thought I needed someone to keep me out of trouble once in a while.”
For a long moment, she just watched his face. Lois took his hand again, holding it between both of hers and briefly kissing his knuckles. “Kal-El… What was it, about a year between our first meeting and that trip to Niagara? Around that. I started to have my suspicions during all those stories we did together. I was spending so much time with Clark, but I kept seeing Superman as well. Weird that he always showed up where I was … and when Clark was locked in the bathroom, or had gotten lost, or had stepped out for a moment. You’d mastered both guises – there was nothing about your mannerisms that suggested Clark Kent could possibly be Superman. And those glasses – do you even know they make your eyes look gray? I noticed the resemblance, but half a dozen tall, blue-eyed, black-haired men had publicly claimed to be Superman by then. You put a stop to it, but it made me a little more curious.”
“It didn’t help that we’d gotten closer by that time. Clark was my best friend – we’d gone on a couple of dates, but I kept you at a distance. I… I knew how you felt about me.” Lois chuckled softly. “God, I feel like such a bitch saying this, but you might not remember it, right? Anyway. I was used to guys falling in love with me. Clark made it obvious, and there was something really sweet about it, though. Not like Lombard – equally obvious, but in his case it wasn’t love. Come to think of it, most of them were probably more lust than love. Clark, though… You know why I never let things between us get past a certain point? Not because you weren’t good enough for me – I know some of the jerks around the office thought that was why.”
Strange, how this could be so hard to say. Lois looked down at his hand, his skin so warm against hers. “A guy like Clark… I would’ve hurt you. I would’ve used you – I did use you, a little bit. You remember those trips we went on, chasing down political scandals or busting up financial scams? Always a suite at the hotel, you wanted to be close enough to keep an eye on me, and I thought I’d be protecting you if anything happened. You’d take the couch and I’d have the bedroom to myself. I would’ve never agreed to that with any of the other guys, but I trusted you.”
“Remember how, when we’d had a really rough day, pounding pavement for sixteen hours or poring through public records until our eyes watered? I used to find some reason to go walking through the front room of the suite in just a long slip… You were always so scandalized, and I was always so blasé.” The memory of those times, strolling past him casually and snickering to herself when he dropped whatever he was reading, his voice rising shrilly as he scolded her. “I really was that relaxed about it, by the way. But sometimes, I’d do it just to jerk your chain, just to hear you tell me I should be more careful, anybody might walk in. Knowing I could shake you out of your tree like that always made me feel better about having had an awful day. It’s … it’s vain of me, but knowing I had that kind of affect on you made the most frustrating days end well, at least.”
“Yeah, I knew how Clark felt about me. Superman was something else. I never knew how he really felt. You were always so solicitous, always so delighted to see me, but there was that little bit of reserve. We’d almost kissed back in California – I could’ve strangled Jimmy with my bare hands for walking up just then! Once or twice since, you and I had locked eyes, and I thought we were about to kiss, but you always held back. God, I felt so stupid when I figured it out! As Superman, you were treating me the way I treated Clark. Only with more affection and less sarcasm. And I think you never deliberately teased me the way I’d bait Clark.”
A faint blush rose to Lois’ cheeks as she remembered the Christmas party. She’d begun to suspect by then, but it was just the faintest glimmer in the back of her mind, easily dismissed by the patent absurdity of the notion. “Christmas … that last Christmas before you left. I was starting to wonder by then, but it just seemed so impossible. And that night, I guess I made a bit of a fool of myself. Never drink at the company party, Lane. God.” Lois shook her head, picturing the dress she’d worn and the attention it had drawn. “Every man there was trying to get me to stand under the mistletoe. Everyone but Perry, Jimmy, and Clark. That was why I was so affectionate with you when I left; you were a complete gentleman, and I wanted everyone to know I appreciated it. That’s why I hugged you and kissed your cheek, and you didn’t have to drag me under some parasitic bit of greenery to get it, either. I bet you were laughing at me when you saw me on the balcony later, ‘just flying by’. I was just as delighted to see you then as Clark was to get that kiss at the party. No wonder I started to figure you out.”
There was a long pause while Lois gathered her thoughts again. “By the time Perry sent us out to Niagara, I was almost certain. That fiasco with the fruit cart – I think I know how you did that, now. It only put me off for a little while, though. Especially when you saved that little boy at the falls. Kal-El, you couldn’t have hid it from me forever. You were smiling even when I was trying to confront you in Perry’s office – you wanted me to know. You’d never tell me yourself, but you wanted me to be smart enough to figure it out. Although I think I surprised the heck out of you with the way I finally busted you.”
Another soft laugh. “That whole episode was staged, you realize? I was waiting for you to open the door so I could stroll out of the shower in just a towel. Clark had always completely lost his head whenever I flashed some leg. If your reaction was genuine, not part of your naïve farm-boy disguise, showing that much skin would keep you off-balance for what I wanted to do. It was so cute, watching you try to scold me about my fixation with Superman, when you couldn’t make your eyes behave. You tried valiantly, but these legs are my secret weapon against men.” This time the laugh was less stifled, Lois shaking her head slightly. “Everyone has one best feature, and that’s mine. Guaranteed to make any male I’m investigating focus more on them than on what I’m asking. It worked on you…”
But that brought her to the final proof. Superman and Clark Kent were the same person, a person she soon learned was called Kal-El. Over the last six years, Lois had come to terms with the revelation, learned to think of the man she’d known briefly in the Fortress as the real person. Clark and Superman were both facets of his personality, but neither was truly the man she’d fallen in love with. Clark’s kindness and honesty – and yes, his naiveté – were part of the real Kal-El, but the clumsiness and absolute social awkwardness were the disguise. And Superman’s courage and integrity were real, but his confidence wasn’t always as unshakable as he made it seem. Kal-El was the source from which both public personas were drawn. Kal-El was Lois’ lover, the twins’ father…
“I think we both remember what happened after that,” Lois said quietly then, her voice heavy with meaning.