Is it written in the stars?
Are we paying for some crime?
Is that all that we are good for
Just a stretch of mortal time?
Or some God's experiment
In which we have no say
In which we're given paradise
But only for a day…?
~Aida, Written In The Stars
“I don’t buy it,” Maggie Sawyer said flatly.
Officer Smith glared, and slapped the folder down on the table in front of her. Someone should’ve told him the Special Crimes Unit Lieutenant had been awake for almost thirty hours at that point, but no one did. Even cops like a fireworks show. “Look. It’s all there. The ballistics match, the prints match – even the partials off the ligatures match the index prints. The motive was openly stated in Davis’ hearing. You’re denying the obvious, Sawyer.”
One blonde eyebrow raised slowly, Maggie glaring at the younger man silently until he cleared his throat and added, “Lieutenant Sawyer, I mean.”
“If you forgot that I outrank you just now, how can you be certain you didn’t forget something in this investigation?” The question was perfectly polite, but the arctic-blue gaze boring into him was coldly furious. Maggie continued without waiting for an answer, “There’s a whole history here, and Luthor has hoodwinked justice before. I won’t have it happen again, not on my watch. You go back to the Coast Guard boys and double-check everything. Everything, Smith.”
“What about her?” Smith said, his voice suddenly contemptuous.
“I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Maggie replied. “We couldn’t get to her now if we wanted to.”
“And you don’t want to,” Smith accused. “You’re a little too close to the press.”
Silence reigned in the precinct. Sawyer had a stellar record, but also the reputation for not suffering fools gladly. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him, and officers nearby silently counted to ten. They began to exchange nervous glances when Maggie kept her lips sealed for another ten count; that meant she was thoroughly ticked off.
When she finally spoke, her voice came out very smooth, even and controlled. “Smith, if you gather sufficient evidence, I will bring her in for questioning. In the meantime, do your job.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Smith said stiffly.
Maggie waited for him to get several strides away before calling out, “Oh, Officer Smith?” The man turned to look at her, anger still clouding his expression, but he kept himself mostly under control. The lieutenant smiled – almost friendly, that smile, if you didn’t look at the eyes – and said, “Don’t ever question my integrity again, Smith. If she’s guilty, I’ll nail her for it, no matter how long we’ve been friends. But I know her well enough to know she wouldn’t do this.” Not and leave evidence for me to find, she added silently.
Lois was still swamped by memories. “I knew… But I didn’t really know until I pulled the trigger, and you gave me that incredibly affronted look. My God, it was amazing how fast you went from Clark’s anxiety to that peeved glare. It took me a few seconds to get that through my mind. Clark Kent is Superman. My best friend is the man I fell head over heels for. Makes your head hurt if you think about it long enough…”
“And then you were so serious, frowning at me, telling me that Clark would’ve been killed if I was wrong.” Lois laughed then, much as she had years ago in that awful honeymoon suite in Niagara. “Oh, Kal-El, the look on your face when I told you it was a blank! ‘Gotcha!’ Did you really think I would’ve shot Clark? I mean, Clark. Come on…”
Falling silent as she tried to see from his point of view, Lois mused softly, “You know, I don’t think you ever realized how much I cared about Clark. That you could think for a second I’d shoot him… Kal-El. I loved Clark. Just not … like that. The way I picked at you all the time? Ever notice how the only people I teased like that were you, Jimmy, and the Chief? Lombard, jeez, I tore Lombard’s head off once a week. Usually for trying to jerk your chain. But I only ever picked on the people I cared about, you know? Like Perry and his rants. He never yelled at the ones he hated; he pink-slipped them and went on with life. I was never vicious to you, or I never meant to be, just a bit of harassment.”
She paused, rubbing his hand slowly between hers, and then chuckled at the memories that thought provoked. “Except the clothes. Dear God, the clothes were absolutely the worst back then. And the glasses. I know why now, but dear Lord in heaven, those god-awful suits. I tried to help on that front; God knows I tried. And I only once got to see how you’d dress when you weren’t being the hero or the nerd.”
It was inevitable that she would come to this point at last. It was like a cavity you know you have to get filled, but you avoid because you know it will cause you pain. Lois sighed, bracing herself for the emotional stress she knew this would put her under. But he needed to know, regardless of what it did to her to revisit these thoughts. “After we left that god-awful hotel room in Niagara, and had that dinner at the Fortress… I remember walking up on that discussion you were having with Jor-El, the one I don’t think you intended for me to hear… No wonder I’m no fan of his. Talk about making a girl feel unworthy, especially in light of what you were being expected to do. It amazed me that you were willing to stand up to him for me. It amazed me even more that you gave up your powers to be with me… Me, of all people. Ticked Jor-El off pretty well, too. He cut me a look that could’ve killed me, while you were exposing yourself to the red sun’s rays. I’ll never forget watching you walk out of that chamber and come up to me… or what happened after…”
Lois’ laugh sounded a bit forced as she placed his hand gently down on the blanket. Dear God, did she have another memory that was more bittersweet than that one? Even now, his words echoed back through her mind and broke her heart. Standing up gingerly, she stretched her back and started to pace. “Actually, for a while, I did forget it. But you know all about that. And I finally know why you did it. It didn’t help me very much, you know. People around the office acted like I’d lost my mind. I’d come in to work exhausted and weepy, utterly not myself and without informing anyone but Perry that I was even still alive before that moment, then after you dropped by I had a fainting spell that left me feeling basically okay, except that I’d lost three days. Three Kryptonian criminals try taking over the planet, I’m smack in the middle of it, and I can’t remember a thing! I can’t even remember coming back to Metropolis or losing track of Clark. I even forgot most of being in Niagara! Even Jimmy thought I’d lost it.”
Slowly walking around the room, feeling cramped muscles in her legs and back begin to loosen, Lois’ dark brow furrowed as she continued to reminisce, “Amazing how losing three days can be like losing a lifetime. It took me a little while to work out how much I’d forgotten. I started seeing a psychiatrist for the amnesia – that helped a lot; he told me I was extremely defensive. I told him my ex was a shrink, too. I saw him write ‘hostile’ in my chart… Well, you remember some of that.” For the first time, Lois considered those two months from his point of view. She turned to look at him, lying so very still.
“Clark was incredibly nervous around me for a while. Almost as tongue-tied as the first few weeks we knew each other. I chalked it up to him thinking I was nuts for seeing the headshrinker. And Superman … it’s funny. I’d always been a little anxious around Superman, a little flighty. After those three missing days, I was much more comfortable around you. It was as if my heart knew what my mind forgot.”
“But all of a sudden, Superman was reserved around me. You never flirted anymore, and that had been a staple of our relationship from the first interview. I just kept wondering what was wrong and if it were somehow my fault. I just wanted to fix whatever had you off-balance,” Lois’ voice was softer than ever, caught up in her own tale as she came back to his bedside. Sliding back into the chair, she found herself watching his face again, considering what he might have felt. “It must have been so hard for you. There I was, smiling and making sly double entendres and asking you if you were okay, and you knew all along what had happened.”
“And then Clark was gone, without a word to me. You disappeared while I was out of town on a story. It was supposed to just be a short leave, and we had to call your mother to find out you were gone indefinitely! You were surprised I was mad at Clark when you came back? Best friends don’t do that, Kal-El. They don’t just walk out of each other’s lives without a goodbye.” Unable to help herself, Lois felt tears prick her eyes, remembering the suddenly emptiness she had felt when Perry had told her. “Clarkwouldn’t have done that. Whether you realized it or not, that hurt me more than Superman abandoning me did. At the time, I had no memory of why the hero’s absence should’ve hurt so much. Other than my silly crush, which is all I thought we had. But Clark … you and I were so close. I don’t think you ever realized how much I cared about you.” She bit her lip, concentrating on the pressure to get herself together. She didn’t need to be breaking down so soon, not with so much to tell. Taking a deep breath, she continued.
“And then, just as I got my mind around Clark being gone, Superman disappears. That should’ve been a big hint to the secret right there. You saved that woman in Paris, and that was it, nothing more heard from you until the Genesis launch six years later. God, Kal-El, the things that went through my mind… And then when Richard told me Clark was in Paris, when you confirmed it… I could’ve missed you by days. By hours. I wonder sometimes how things would be different if we’d met up in Paris while I was chasing your alter ego.”
At that moment, the door opened after a short knock, and Nurse Tage came in with a pitcher of ice water and some cups. Thankfully, Lois had been speaking softly enough that no one could’ve heard her outside. Her throat still hurt from screaming at Luthor, and on the seaplane, and in the hospital, so she had to keep her hoarse voice low in the first place. “Here, Ms. Lane. I should’ve brought you this earlier, but we’ve had to update the general every hour. High-profile patient, you know.”
“Thanks,” Lois said. Her throat was dry, and she quickly poured herself a glass and sat down to drink. For a while, she drank silently, and Tage checked up on Superman again before leaving.
For a moment, they both just lay there in the stillness, Lois bracing herself for the most difficult part of the tale and the part he’d wanted to hear most. The only question was how to tell it.
All over the city, people were trying to get back into their normal rhythms. For some, however, that meant taking advantage of the unsettled state of affairs. The press had pounced on the story, and every paper, from the smallest weekly local to the two biggest dailies, was trying to get the scoop on Superman.
Of course, some reporters had better connections than others. Toby Raines dialed a very familiar number, and couldn’t help smiling at the gruff voice that answered, “Sawyer.”
“Maggie, it’s me,” the Daily Star reporter said. “Listen, you got any inside info on Superman? The bullpen’s going nuts over here.”
An aggravated sigh whistled into the phone. “For the love of… Toby. No. We are not having this conversation. Again.”
“C’mon, Mags, help me out here,” Toby coaxed. She leaned back in her chair and stared out the shattered window. She could just see the Daily Planet building from here … well, she would’ve seen it if the globe had still been on the roof. It didn’t matter; she knew exactly where it was. And what they were doing, damn them. “Word on the street is the Planet has an eyewitness account. And that Olsen kid was in Centennial Park when Superman landed. I know you know something. You’re not giving me an unfair advantage; you’re just leveling the playing field…”
“Forget it,” Sawyer replied sharply. Toby just grinned; so she did have something. “Listen, I know it’s your job. I know you’re the voice of the people; I know this is the first amendment; I know people have a right to know. But I’ve already been razzed about my connection to the press once today–”
“That little twit Smith got his knickers in a twist again over that nonsense at the firing range last week?” Toby interjected, but Maggie kept right on speaking.
“–and he’s got a point, Toby. No. This is my job.”
“Keeping people in the dark?”
“Protecting people. Especially Superman.”
Silence on the line. No arguing with that statement. Toby watched the handful of staffers who had made it back into the building after the earthquakes. They were all doing exactly what she was doing: trying to wring information out of their sources. The only problem was, when it came to Superman, it didn’t matter how well-connected you were. The Planet had the advantage every single time. They had the connection no one else did. Speaking of whom… “Hey, Mags. Heard anything about Lois and the twins?”
“Dammit, Toby, you are not running a front-page story about the woman right after her kids got snatched!”
“Whoa there, Lieutenant,” Toby retorted. “Remember, I was helping her! I’m asking for me, not the paper.”
Another silence. “Promise me you’ll leave the kids out of it, Toby.”
“As long as I can,” Toby said. “If everyone else jumps on it, I’ll have to do damage control.”
“Oh, like you did damage control over that press conference where she bit his head off?” Maggie asked. “The Planet’s story of the day was the fire; yours was the woman scorned.”
“Yes, well, I had to,” Toby hissed. “I’m not in management like she is; I still have to take orders. Notice I never said anything about him kidnapping her for a little heart-to-heart, though, did I?”
“Yeah, gotta give you that,” Maggie replied. “You only stab our friends in the back once per day.”
“I let the exclusive slide, Mags! That’s like … that’d be like Lois telling the truth that time Superman helped land Air Force One! ‘We’ve been out a couple of times’ my foot, she’d just met him.”
“Fine,” Maggie said at last. “The kids are okay – a little quiet, but okay. Lois, last time I saw her, was pretty banged up… Actually, she looked like hell, but she was back to her old self.”
That was enough to make Toby sit up. “Her old self? Pre- or post-engagement to the flyboy?”
“Circa the early Superman stories,” Maggie said, and Toby could hear her smile.
“Holy… Well, that’s good news, anyway. I was starting to worry about Stepford Lane. Not that I don’t like what’s-his-name…”
“Yeah, him. Bloody nepotism in the newsroom. He’s a decent guy, but… I’ll have to see if I can run Lois down and yank her chain a bit, just for old times’ sake.”
“You won’t reach her, she’s in S.T.A.R. with him – oh, shit…”
“Thanks, hon,” Toby said silkily.
“Goddammit, Toby Marie Raines, you tricked me! I swear, if you…”
But Toby was already replacing the receiver gently. “Hey, boys,” she called out to the other reporters. “One of you find me some other way we figured out that Superman’s in S.T.A.R. Labs, would ya? I’ve got a story to chase.”
Her phone was already ringing again, and Toby picked it up as she swept her tape recorder into her purse. “Maggie, you know Lois would’ve done the exact same thing…”
“End-of-conversation-itis,” Cat Grant chuckled. “This is me, Toby. And what exactly are you doing that our favorite fearless Planet editor would’ve done? Besides turn up at Metropolis General soaking wet and raving like a madwoman.”
“None of your business, Cat,” Toby shot back. “I’ve got to run.”
“I’ll be on camera before you go to print, Raines. Dish, and I’ll credit you.”
“Get your own sources, Grant,” Toby told her.
“C’mon, gal reporters have to stick together,” Cat wheedled.
“You’re not a reporter, you’re a news anchor,” Toby hissed at her, grinning at the old argument. “Heavy, dull, and sinkin’ to the bottom.”
“Ouch, Raines. Almost sounds like you know how much of an anachronism print media is these days. Then again, I don’t mind sinking considering what floats around here…”
“Say what you want, Lane and I have scooped you so much you may as well change your last name to Litter,” Toby replied. “If it wasn’t for the illiteracy rates in the inner city, you wouldn’t have a job.”
“Fine, Raines. Then I won’t share info with you. I know where Lois and the kids are.”
Toby had been about to hang up, but she paused and sat on the edge of her desk. “How’d you get that?”
“By sinking to the bottom of the story, Raines,” Cat told her. “A source’s son works in Metropolis General. Did you know hospitals have electricians on staff? He heard your lieutenant say they were taking Superman to S.T.A.R. Labs. Lois, the twins, and her mom went along for the ride. I’ll bet Maggie’s too principled to give you the lead, isn’t she?”
“Thanks, Cat, I owe you,” Toby said. “I guess you heard Lois is fine, then?”
“Cussing like a sailor and picking fights with hospital orderlies,” Cat said. “Looks like we have our old competition back. But what do you have for me? Share and share alike, remember?”
“Nothing you didn’t already know, but you saved me from having to hear another lecture from Maggie. See you at S.T.A.R.,” Toby replied, and hung up. To rest of the newsroom she said, “Nevermind, got it covered. Mank, come with me,” and headed out.
The electrician wasn’t the only person at Metropolis General who had overheard the news about Superman, nor was he the only one who passed that information on. Within a few hours, word began to circulate around the city. Not just among journalists; people began turning up at the front entrance to S.T.A.R. Labs, the institution’s public face. While police tried to keep them moving along, the citizens of Metropolis milled in the street. Waiting. Hoping. Praying. The news media, meanwhile, covered the crowd forming out front, and kept their own vigil.
The hours wore on and the sky above lightened. Lois’ eyelids felt heavy, and weariness seemed to pulse through her bloodstream. At least now she’d gotten through the rollercoaster their relationship had been – from flirtatious friends to lovers to exes, and back again to friends with no memory of the rest on her part, in less than three days. Lois pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to stave off the headache that always came after tears. She’d shed a few of those so far, but not nearly as many as she would by the time the full story was told.
“I really do hope you can hear me,” Lois said rustily. She took a sip of water and continued, “I’m going to feel like the world’s biggest fool if I pour out my heart to you, tell you everything I’ve been afraid to say all this time, and you don’t remember a word of it.” She laughed in bittersweet amusement. “Kind of like old times, hmm? You told me everything back then, and for a long time I couldn’t remember a bit of it. And when I did…”
On the verge of that melancholy memory, standing on the balcony and looking skyward with tears streaming down her face and the twins kicking lustily in her womb, Lois was given a reprieve from having to relive it all by a polite knock at the door. She looked up sharply, her fingers tightening on his, bracing herself for another interruption, this time maybe even Donner coming to return her to her own room. But somehow, she didn’t think so. “Who is it?” she called out, her voice still strained.
The door burst open in answer, the twins scrambling toward her, crying her name in almost a panic. Ella was right behind them, muttering, “Kala! Jason! Behave! This is a hospital!”
Lois tried to sit up then, only then realizing how she must’ve looked resting her elbows on his bed, his hand entwined in hers. But the twins didn’t care; their only concession to Ella’s strict admonition so far had been to keep their voices down, whispering fervently as they hurried across the expanse of the room, “Mommy!”
Jason slowed down as he neared Superman’s bedside, and his sister did the same. “We were scared,” Jason said as they came to stop beside Lois’ chair, very softly, eyeing all the creepy hospital equipment around Superman.
“You weren’t there when we woke up,” Kala added, then clambered into her mother’s lap for a hug. Jason followed her example, making Lois suddenly thankful that the twins were a little small for their age as she shifted in the chair to allow for the three of them.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Lois murmured, pressing her lips to their hair, arms curling around them protectively. “I didn’t want to leave Superman all by himself. At least you two had your Nana with you. After all he’s been through, it didn’t seem fair to do that.”
Both twins turned to look somberly at him. “He’s still sleepin’?” Kala asked, looking up at her mother, her brow furrowed.
“He’s got to rest, baby,” Lois told her gently. “What happened took a lot out of him. We need to use the lamps because that’s how he gets his strength: from sunlight. You know, like the solar lights we have along the dock? They soak up the sun during the day so they can burn all night?” Both twins nodded, with a better understanding than she suspected. “Only he’s never really needed to do this. But he used up all the strength he had to save us,” she said softly, her worry bleeding into her expression for a moment. “Once his strength is back, he’ll wake up.” Lois made her voice sound certain.
“He’s gonna get better, right?” Jason asked worriedly, perhaps hearing some trace of doubt in her tone. “I want him to.” He and his sister both searched Superman’s face, their frowns of concentration identical. “I like him,” Jason whispered.
“Me, too,” Kala added softly, her eyes never leaving Superman’s face. “He’s nice to us.”
“It’s going to be okay, you guys. He’s been through worse. Your Daddy’s going to be just fine,” Lois soothed, holding them tighter to her even as she heard her mother’s startled gasp from beside her chair. Looking up to Ella, she smiled reassuringly, “They know, Momma. The secret’s out. Luthor told them who their father was.”
“Nuh-uh,” Jason replied, shaking his head. “Kala knew before that.”
“’Cuz girls are smarter,” she said haughtily. Amazed, both Lois and Ella exchanged looks before Lois caught her chin and turned Kala to face her, a questioning look in her eyes. The raven-haired little girl merely blinked and said, “I heard you and Nana talking.”
Ella sucked in her breath. The only time she and Lois had discussed that with the children anywhere nearby was that day they’d gone to the planetarium, right before the Pulitzer ceremony… “Honey, you heard us then and you didn’t say anything to anyone for three months?”
“She told me,” Jason piped up importantly.
“Yesterday,” Kala shot back. “I mean, day-before-yesterday.”
“Yeah, well, I–” Jason never finished his sentence, because Kala shot him an evil glare. He quickly changed gears and said instead, “I woulda known too if I could hear everything. Too bad I got stuck with bein’ strong.”
“Boys,” Kala hissed contemptuously.
Lois and Ella just stared at the children and then at each other. They both knew Kala liked to be a know-it-all. That she had kept a secret of this magnitude for this long was nothing short of a miracle. My God, if she had decided to end any of the schoolyard arguments over whose Dad was the best… But she didn’t. Even if I did confirm it without knowing. And she didn’t tell anyone. Lois looked down into hazel eyes that were the mirror of her own, shaking her head slightly, the affection and wonder there clear from her tone. Unable to help herself, she gave a small smile of disbelief. “Kala, how…?”
Kala beamed up at her and shrugged, trying to look innocent and succeeding only in looking toothy. Lois chuckled, thinking, I guess keeping secrets runs in this family.
Ella cleared her throat. “Lois … it’s getting late. Well, it’s getting early. I just spoke to Richard a few minutes ago, and he said the news of where Superman is being kept has already been leaked to the press. There’s going to be a media circus around here before long.”
Lois bit her lip on a curse, and the twins, sensing boring grown-up talk, slithered down out of her lap and peered over the edge of the hospital bed. “What are we going to do?” the raven-haired woman fretted to her mother. “The last thing we need is for…”
“We need to get them out of here,” Ella said. Jason was watching Superman’s face intently, while Kala slipped her small hand into his. Their grandmother continued, “The sooner the better. It’s not safe for them, especially since they know. Richard can meet me outside with them, but it has to be soon or we won’t be able to sneak them past the reporters.”
Lois watched her children a moment, the respectful way they moved around Kal-El’s bed. She knew the ways of reporters on a hot story and it really didn’t come much hotter than this. They would be out and in force for this one, respectful or not. And she would know. The twins didn’t need to be at the center of a press mob, didn’t need flashbulbs going off and microphones thrust into their faces. She’d been trying to hide them from that their entire lives…
“You’re right, Momma,” Lois said softly, and pressed the call button. “Call Richard. I need to talk to General Unsworth and see what we can do about keeping the press under control. They’ll be on this like vultures.”
Ella could only smile sadly and rumple her daughter’s hair.
Nurse Tage arrived within a few seconds of the call. Her gaze went first to her patient, but there was no discernable change. “Yes, Ms. Lane?”
“I need to speak with a commanding officer,” Lois told her. “The media has gotten wind of where Superman is, and my children should get out of here before the press swamps us.” She looked down at herself, and chuckled dryly. “I’d also like to get my clothes back, if I can. Or some clothes. This hospital gown isn’t very comfortable.”
“We can manage that,” Tage said confidently. She left the room, and Lois stood up, wincing a little. The chair was making her back stiff…
For a moment, her attention was off the twins. Jason and Kala stood beside their father’s bed, watching him seriously. Jason’s mind was still spinning with all the recent revelations, and now he was also worried about Superman. Why hadn’t he woken up yet? He’d been asleep for a long time…
Kala scowled. She had grown accustomed to the notion of Superman as Daddy, so worry was stronger in her. It felt like forever since Superman had taken them both up into the sky. He’d been strong and awake then, and now he stayed asleep. It scared Mommy … and that scared Kala. She tried to distract herself by looking at Mommy. “Are we goin’ home?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” Lois told her.
“Can Superman come home with us?”
Lois had to stifle a chuckle. “No, Kala, he has to stay here until he’s better. I’m sure he’ll come visit us when he gets out of the hospital.”
“Promise?” Jason asked.
“Of course he will,” Lois replied. Nurse Tage returning with her clothes saved Lois from having to promise on the uncertain future, or explain to the twins that she would be staying with Superman while they went home. She wasn’t looking forward to that. Thanking Tage, Lois went into the bathroom to change.
Both twins looked up at the nurse curiously as she tucked the blankets around Superman and adjusted his oxygen line. They had to step back to let her work, and Jason noticed Superman’s suit neatly folded on a chair in the corner. He wandered over to touch it, reverently running his fingers over the S-shield. Kala stayed by her father, moving only as much as Tage needed her to.
While Lois got dressed, General Unsworth knocked at the door. Ella went outside to speak with him, and a few minutes later Lois came out of the bathroom to see Kala looking at the wall with a curious scowl. Her questions were forestalled by Ella coming back in and telling her, “Joffrey says the media is already here. I’m going to call Richard back – he said he could get here anytime – and Joffrey’s going to get his men and the police to distract the reporters. We’ll go out the front.”
“Momma?” Lois said questioningly.
“They’ve had police out front for crowd control for an hour,” Ella said. “Once they start cordoning off the garage we came in, all the reporters will head over there. We can get down the front steps relatively unbothered.”
“They won’t all leave,” Lois said direly. “I know I wouldn’t have – I’d have someone on both exits from the moment I realized he was here.”
“No, but most of them will. And the ones that are left will have to deal with civilians and cops. Nurse Tage, may I use the phone at the nurses’ station again?”
“Certainly, Mrs. Lane,” Tage said. They left together, Lois hanging back a moment.
“Kala, Jason,” she called softly, her heart contracting at the sight of them. She went to get Jason, who scampered back to Superman’s bedside and hopped up long enough to kiss his father’s brow.
Not to be outdone, Kala scrambled onto the bed and hugged him, whispering in his ear, “Get better, Daddy,” and kissing his cheek. Only then would they follow Lois out into the hallway.
Another impromptu shrine of flowers, cards, and letters had grown up on the sidewalk across from the front doors of S.T.A.R. Labs, twice the size of the one at Centennial Park. It was just dawn, but the street was filled with people, many of them carrying hand-lettered signs.
The weather was cold and damp, and most people huddled inside their jackets and coats. Several people had brought thermoses of coffee, and the hot beverage was being shared around equally. The attitude of the crowd was somber and reverent, and they all moved along for a little distance when the police asked them to.
Reporters were another story. The media was hot on the trail of a story, and representatives of the fourth estate paced tensely, eyeing the doors. Some young buck from the tabloids looked at his fellows, and his brow wrinkled. “Hey, who’s here from the Planet? Biggest story in town and they didn’t send anybody?”
“Twit,” Toby Raines growled as she walked by, keeping her collar turned up so that none of the police officers would recognize her. “This’s Superman. Of course they have someone.”
Another reporter added, “Rumor is Lane’s inside with him.” Neither of them heard Raines swear under her breath – not even that was an exclusive anymore.
On the other side of the street, Martha Kent and Lana Lang stood in the lee of a bus shelter, sipping coffee and listening to the crowd murmur about Superman’s bravery. In spite of having dozens – hundreds – of people around them, they both felt acutely alone in their knowledge. Only they were keeping vigil for more than a hero.
“Oh, no,” Lois muttered, staring out the mirrored-glass front doors. The crowd outside was bigger than she would’ve thought – but fortunately, there weren’t many reporters in it. She was waiting for Richard’s car, the twins each holding one of her hands. Ella and General Unsworth were surveying the crowd as well, the general looking distinctly displeased.
“You’re staying, Ms. Lane?” he asked, turning to look at her.
“Yes,” Lois said, and the twins turned to look at her. She tried to smile brightly at them as she said, “I’ll walk you to the car, sweethearts, but Mommy has to stay with Superman and make sure he’s okay. All right?” The mere thought of them not being nearby where she could see them tore at her, but it had to be done. The sooner they were away from here, the better. She didn’t want the military to get a hint of their heritage, and their fondness for Superman could only be explained as gratitude for so long. “As soon as he wakes up, I’ll come home. It won’t be long.”
“But Mommy…” Kala started to whimper. “We miss you. I don’t wanna go home without you!” Jason simply tightened his hand in hers, those blue eyes troubled.
Lois stroked Kala’s hair and squeezed Jason’s hand reassuringly. “Baby, I’ll be home soon. You two need to go with Nana and Daddy and get your rest, okay? I don’t want you getting sick too.”
Mommy-logic was mostly infallible, but the twins tried for outright denial. “We won’t,” they said in unison, giving her their saddest looks.
“C’mon, Jason, Kala,” Ella said gently. “Don’t make this any harder on Mommy. Daddy and Uncle Perry and I will be there, and it will just be until Superman wakes up.” The pouting scowls she received told her that twins would accept it, but they didn’t have to like it.
A few moments passed in silence before Lois saw Richard’s Saab nose its way along the crowded street and come to a halt directly opposite the doors. It almost seemed accidental, as if he was merely pausing in traffic and the cops simply hadn’t chased him away yet. The soldiers in uniform standing at parade-rest on the steps didn’t appear to notice Richard, either. Finally, Lois thought. Taking a deep breath, she squeezed the twins’ hands. “Okay, let’s go.”
Ella saw the look in Lois’ eyes, and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Joffrey, I’ll see you later, when all of this has died down. Thank you so much for all you’ve done.”
He shook her hand gravely and replied, “It’s a pleasure, Elinore. Be safe.”
Jason craned his head back to look up at the general in his dress uniform, and said quietly, “Bye.”
“Take care, son,” Joffrey said. Then he nodded to the two soldiers standing by the doors, and they opened them for the Lanes.
“I’ll be right back,” Lois said to General Unsworth, and then headed out, bracing herself.
At first it seemed all right. The crowd looked at her, but no one recognized her right away, and the steps had been kept clear for the exit. Richard had gotten out and opened the doors, and for one moment Lois was looking up, startled by the size of the crowd and trying to catch Richard’s gaze. An enterprising photographer could’ve gotten a clear shot of her then, but only one was in place to do it.
The Daily Star’s photographer Mankiewicz recognized Lois Lane immediately. He was only around the front of the building because Toby Raines was hiding from Lieutenant Sawyer, who was one of the officers cordoning off the rear entrance to the facility. Mank started to raise his camera, framing that shot in his mind…
…and Toby grabbed his arm. “Not the kids,” she hissed.
“But Toby, the shot,” he began, and she shook her head sharply.
“Not the kids, Mank. Leave them out of it. We’re not the Inquirer.” A second later, it was too late; Lois dropped her gaze, letting her hair obscure her face.
The twins, of course, were amazed by the crowd. They’d hesitated only a moment as they started down the steps, but with Mommy and Nana beside them they had the courage to look all around them curiously. Jason spotted a flash of red hair across the street, and elbowed his sister. Both children grinned to see Miss Lana, especially when she raised her hand in a slight wave. Kala and Jason both copied the gesture, wondering who the older lady beside Lana was, and why she was watching them so intently.
They made it to the car without incident, Richard hugging the twins as he helped them into the back seat. There had been a few flashbulbs going off as they descended, mostly from camera phones in the crowd, but the reporters were only just beginning to realize what was going on. More cameras captured Ella getting into the front seat, and Lois kissing both twins and hugging Richard quickly. She ignored the swarming press long enough to kiss his cheek and whisper into his ear, “I’m staying – get out as fast as you can. They’ll mob the car if you don’t.”
“I know,” he whispered back. “Is he…?”
“Stable, but still asleep,” she said. “Lana?”
“Somewhere out there,” Richard said. “With… with Clark’s mom.”
Lois took a startled step backward. Clark’s mother? The silver-haired little old lady from Kansas? How on earth…? But Lois quickly gathered her wits; as far as she knew, she had to maintain the fiction. “Any news on Clark?”
Richard blinked at her for a second. This wasn’t the place or time to explain, reporters shouldering their way through the crowd toward them. “Not yet. I’m sure he’ll turn up. Go, before they swamp you.”
Lois nodded, and by the time Richard got back to the driver’s side she had already turned her back. Now her fellow reporters had found her, and flashbulbs popped constantly, microphones thrust in her direction. Uniformed soldiers on the steps kept the press far enough away that Lois was able to walk back up to the doors freely, but everyone was firing questions at her.
“Lois Lane, any news on Superman?”
“Miss Lane, is Superman awake yet?”
“When is he expected to recover?”
“This way, Miss Lane!” a photographer called, but Lois kept her head stubbornly down. Lana’s coat and her own long hair obscured her enough that the photos they were taking would barely be printable.
“Miss Lane, are you still in love with him?” someone yelled, and Lois’ back stiffened, but she kept walking. Only a few more steps.
“Is he still in love with you?” someone else called, and Lois was glad that her expression was hidden. She marched stoically to the doors, never turning toward any of them.
“Lois! Hey, Lois!” Toby and Mank were near the top of the steps, and the Daily Star reporter knew she had to try for a decent shot of Lois to make up for passing on the photo of the twins. Hating herself for it, she whistled piercingly, and then yelled, “Lois Joanne Lane!”
Almost at the doors, Lois froze, and she started to turn. But she recognized the voice, and instead of whipping around for a perfect shot, she merely called back, “I’m not turning around, Raines! Get over it!”
Toby bit her lip and called back, “You’d have done it to me!” as Lois disappeared inside. She could just barely see Lois turn and glare furiously at her through the crack in the closing door.
Martha let out a sigh, and Lana turned to smile at her. “Well, that’s Jason and Kala,” she said quietly. “And the black-haired woman in my coat was Lois. The other woman with them was Lois’ mother, Elinore Lane.”
The older woman’s eyes were distant and thoughtful. Her grandchildren… her son’s lover. She’d never seen Lois in person before today, and never seen the twins at all. Amazing, how much of Clark she could see in both children, even at this distance. That amazingly black hair on the little girl, so like Clark’s. And the boy’s quick smile, his expression so sunny even in the midst of all of this strangeness. They’re definitely his. I don’t need Clark to confirm it, there’s no way they could be anyone else’s. They even move like him…
It was almost like seeing Clark as a little boy again, bringing back a flood of memories. She had worried over him so much when he was little, always terrified that someone from the government would find out about him and take him from her. Apparently Lois had the same fear. Martha read it in the way she’d kissed the twins as they got into the car, the way she’d tried to hide them coming down the steps. Her love for them, and her maternal protectiveness, was very clear. Though Martha couldn’t completely relax until she saw her son healthy and whole again, seeing his children eased her heart.
“And Jason does have Clark’s blue eyes,” Lana murmured. That finally brought a smile to Martha’s lips.