Lois fought to control her temper, pausing just inside the doors to take several deep breaths. Toby had a point; this was the job, and if Raines was caught up in something newsworthy, Lois would’ve been angling for an interview. It just … irritated her to no end. Among other things.
Shaking her shoulders lightly, as if brushing off all of the questions from the crowd, Lois headed back down the hallway to the elevators. No one challenged her; apparently General Unsworth had given her clearance before he’d left again. That was just as well, since the reporter was in no mood to cope with bureaucratic red tape at the moment.
The two soldiers on duty outside Kal-El’s door nodded to Lois as she went inside. She’d been hoping to find him awake, even though that would mean she missed his return to consciousness. But no such luck. However, Nurse Tage was in the room. She’d folded down the blankets covering him and was checking his wounds, changing the bandages, and examining her patient thoroughly.
The first thing that struck Lois was the sight of his bare chest, the planes of his muscles achingly familiar. That triggered a flashback, to one of the first memories she’d gotten back. Lying cuddled against his side, her hand resting possessively on his chest, his arm around her shoulders. Opening one eye long enough to make sure it was real, and to see the sleepy and very satisfied smile on his lips. For so long Lois had thought that moment was a dream, a fantasy, in spite of its sharp details.
She must have sighed, because Tage looked up and gave her a slight sheepish grin. “He’s healing very quickly, Miss Lane,” she said, and started to cover him again.
“Wait,” Lois said, and the nurse’s eyebrows rose slightly. Lois looked up at the skylight, seeing the dawn streaming in. “Let the sun hit his skin. He can’t get sunburned, and the blanket might be interfering.”
“Good call,” Tage said. “I suppose with the sun coming in, we can turn off these lamps. They’re putting out more heat than I really feel comfortable with.”
Lois nodded agreement, and waited as Tage called Dr. Donner. They briefly consulted, and Lois grinned a bit when Tage replied to one of his questions with, “Miss Lane agrees.” It was nice to be consulted, to have her knowledge valued.
In a few minutes, the sunlamps were moved away, and the brightening daylight poured down on Kal-El’s chest. His heart rhythm was definitely stronger, though he showed no signs of waking. Tage left to bring Dr. Donner the encouraging news, and once she was gone, Lois sat down on the edge of the bed.
“If I’m going to talk about this part,” she murmured softly, looking down at his handsome face, “I want to be close to you, as stupid as it’s going to make me feel to do this.” For a long moment Lois just watched him, and then cautiously placed her palm against his chest. The rhythm of his breathing didn’t change at her touch; it was Lois who inhaled sharply, and then let that breath out with a sigh.
“The memories. As far as I knew when you left, we hadn’t even kissed. I started having dreams…” She trailed off with a chuckle. “Well, maybe you won’t remember this, so I’ll say it even though it’s stupid and romantic and embarrassing. Ever since that interview, I always dreamed about you. About what it might be like, between us, if we… Yeah. That’s supposed to be the guy’s line. ‘I dreamed of you.’ Sounds so corny… or maybe a little bit shallow. Obsessive, too. But it’s true; I did have those kinds of dreams. The reality was far beyond them, though…”
Lois got a little lost in her memories, her hazel eyes looking into the past. He had been the only man she pursued, the only one who completely undid her façade of sophisticated cynicism. The only one to turn her into a blushing, stuttering romantic the way he did at that first interview. And those three momentous days, which had been lost to her for so long…
“I can’t believe I’m discussing this,” Lois said, bringing herself back to the present. “Anyway. Let’s start over again. When everybody at the Planet figured out I had amnesia, Perry sent me to that psychiatrist who said I was hostile. He wound up tentatively diagnosing me with post-traumatic stress disorder. I can’t blame him – I was pretty anxious about losing three whole days, I had the insomnia, and after a while I started showing depression, too. Textbook symptoms. The only thing I lacked was the fear, and I guess that got chalked up to disassociation.
“He figured that something terrible must’ve happened to me during those three days to make me forget, and he wasn’t the only one – Perry had his suspicions, too. What no one would say to me was what they thought could’ve happened to traumatize me that badly. The shrink wanted me to figure it out on my own, without pressuring me into a breakthrough. Perry … Perry must’ve guessed, but I don’t think he could admit to himself.
“You never heard about this part, Kal-El. In either guise. When my amnesia went on for so long, pretty much everyone involved in the case looked at the facts and drew a conclusion. I’d been kidnapped by three men, all of whom it turned out had just been in prison. Sure, they had Ursa with them. But she was one of them, and I was the outsider, the captive. I was also yours, and they all hated you. It’s very logical.”
Her voice dropped again. “No one would say it to me, but they thought I’d been raped. Possibly by all three of them. I couldn’t remember anything – I could only remember arriving in Niagara. The rest was gone. Zod was questioned in prison, and he denied it. Loudly – Jor-El wasn’t the only one who thought of us humans as lesser creatures. Non, well, he just looked confused at them. But Luthor, that son of a bitch… Luthor never denied raping me. Never confirmed it, either, just smiled and insisted he have a lawyer present for all questioning. Bastard. I should’ve put a bullet into him at the damn trial…”
Lois forced herself off of that train of thought. “Anyway, I found all that out later. I’d started getting flashes of memory back, little things. Almost falling while Non was carrying me, that was one of them. Trying to come to Perry’s defense and nearly breaking my hand on Ursa’s jaw. I knew all three of them on sight, knew their names, recognized their voices – I just couldn’t remember how I knew.
“I didn’t let being in therapy stop me from chasing the story when you left, though. And I never told the shrink about the other memories that were coming back, the ones I thought we just silly little fantasies. Daydreams. I’d heard enough from Elliot the last time he and I broke up, when he read that headline of Perry’s. I didn’t need another lecture on why women fantasize about Superman, or what flying symbolizes according to Freud. So I hid that, too, even though those daydreams were so real. Flying over a snowy landscape; watching you pour champagne; kissing your hand. Even the gunshot, but I couldn’t remember when or why. No details in any of it, no context. Just the images.
“It got worse once I found out I was pregnant. Then the headshrinkers, the one back in Metropolis and the guy I was seeing in France, decided to tell me about their suspicions. From the first, I didn’t believe them. Even though the idea that I’d been raped made a lot of sense, I knew it hadn’t happened. I was going crazy, trying to figure out how I’d ended up pregnant when… Well, this is embarrassing, too, but I hadn’t been sleeping with anyone since I met you. There was one more time with Elliot, right after the interview. After that … there was no one else.
“Well, luckily, the doctors soon decided I wasn’t far enough along for the twins to have been conceived during the missing three days. I wasn’t even showing yet; blood tests revealed the pregnancy. Just so you know – this might be useful to you at some point – the gestation for Kryptonian-human hybrid twins is about eleven months. Give or take. Anyway, I started spinning the cover story about the one-weekend stand then, to explain how I’d gotten pregnant. I was lying to my therapist and wracking my own brain all the time, trying to remember. I knew I had to protect my child – didn’t find out they were twins until later – I knew this pregnancy was special. That feeling kept me from doing anything drastic, even though I hated being pregnant, hated the idea of becoming a mother.
“It never even entered my head that you were the father.” Lois paused, her eyes going unfocused. “As far as I knew, we were just flirty friends. I wanted more, but I didn’t know you did. And the flashes of memory I was getting just seemed like fantasies. Until that one time I woke up, remembering how you woke me up that morning in the Fortress…” Lois’ voice trailed off, shivering at the memory.
“I had never dreamed that before. It was so clear – every sense perfect. That started to give me the idea that something might have happened between us. It was just too surreal.” Lois’ expression clouded over, her eyes gone dark. “That was the worst time. Doctors trying to push me for information, my belly starting to show, random little flashes of memory coming back. Including a few things about Clark. You bringing me that bouquet in Niagara. Bloody pansies… And flashing my legs at you, which was a little racier than I usually was with Clark. Holding the gun on you, now that was weird as hell. I thought I was going crazy.”
Looking around guiltily, Lois gave in to her desire to get closer than she currently was. She needed his nearness painfully at this point in the tale, a constant reminder that he was next to her. Carefully, she maneuvered her way into the bed until she could lay back beside him, holding his hand. “Kal-El… It was driving me up a wall, all the things I knew without knowing why or how. I spent a lot of time crying in the bathroom at the Quotidienne. Which was also just wonderful – I heard enough whispers in Paris about how Superman had only been gone a couple months, and his girlfriend was pregnant with someone else’s kid. I couldn’t go home – Metropolis would’ve crucified me in print for that. People still speculate about just what happened back then. I couldn’t face that, not knowing myself what had happened, so I was stuck in Paris.”
Lois sighed. “My therapist taught me this trick for dealing with repressed memories. It has to do with moving your eyes side to side while trying to think about the thing you’ve forgotten. I was using that, on my own, to try and get at enough memories to finally make some kind of sense. One night I was in the tub, soaking, trying not to look at my belly, and I started doing the eye movements. I was half-mad from frustration and pregnancy hormones… God, I was a terror then, my mood swings had half of the Quotidienne staff fleeing in terror. And I’d just been on another crying jag. Anything that might stop it would help, even if it brought on a nervous breakdown.
“I decided to focus in on the memories of Clark, since that was the most realistic and the least threatening. I remembered you coming into my office after everything was over; I remembered feeling tears on my face. That was strange enough, me crying at work. Then the pain, the emotional agony. And then seeing you take the glasses off… I realized then who you were. All of who you were.
“The shock – Clark and Superman, the same person. It made so damn much sense, and the déjà vu, feeling exactly the same way as the moment when I’d first found out, knocked me into total recall. I felt that kiss in my office all over again, and then my mind warped back to that first reveal in the hotel room. I heard the gunshot, and saw you straightening up, staring at me. I sat up in shock and awe, experiencing that moment all over again right there in the bathtub.
“The water got cold while I relived those three days. Every moment, complete sensory recall, Kal-El. The flight to the Fortress, the taste of the champagne, the spike of terror when the hologram of your father turned that savage glare on me. And after … oh, God, after. That night was like nothing in my experience, like nothing I’d ever dreamed of having. Every idiotic romantic fantasy I’d mocked myself for having came true; the unstoppable Mad Dog Lane had fallen in love and couldn’t deny it any longer.
“And then the next day, the diner, attacking that greasy trucker who beat you up. Seeing the news. The way you refused to talk to me in the hotel room that night, lying in bed with my back to you and trying not to cry. I felt so guilty, Kal-El. I felt like Jor-El was right, I’d ruined you. And you wouldn’t even let me help.”
Her voice caught on a sob, remembering. He had even shied away from her touch then, refusing what comfort she could give, closing himself off from her. The years had given Lois the perspective to realize that Kal-El had been ashamed of himself, and felt undeserving of comfort. Undeserving of her. He just hadn’t realized how badly he’d hurt her then.
Lois turned to snuggle up against his side, her hand on his bare chest, feeling the slow rhythm of his heart. Déjà vu of the sweetest kind. Her tears came freely as she whispered, “Then you were gone the next morning, no note, nothing. You had no powers, it was freezing, we were in the middle of nowhere… I thought I’d lost you. I thought you were going to die out there in the snow. Kal-El, after all we’d had, I didn’t want it to end like that…
“And seeing you again, with your powers, fighting Zod and his little gang. I was so grateful, so glad to see you alive, and scared to death all at the same time. They had your powers, and there were three of them… In the Fortress again, that bitch Ursa hanging onto my throat, thinking it was all over. Thinking they were going to kill me anyway as soon as they got done humiliating you. Nothing in my life hurt so much as watching you kneel in front of that sick bastard Zod – and knowing it was all my fault.”
Lois mastered herself, rubbing her eyes. “All of that came back to me, as real and immediate as if it were happening again. I got the wonder, the love, the pain, and the terror. And then the astonishment when you trounced Zod. I loved that moment, Kal-El. Seeing you triumphant again, God, my heart just leaped. I was so delighted I had to knock Ursa out just to express my happiness.” Lois chuckled for a moment, but it quickly turned to sniffling again.
“Of course, it couldn’t last. Outside the Fortress, and on my balcony. We tried to be so reasonable. I couldn’t fight to stay with you, I couldn’t argue with the conclusion you’d come to, because I believed Jor-El, too. I believed it was my selfishness that almost doomed the whole world. And then the memories brought me right back to my office, to you telling me you liked worrying about me, and me breaking down like a fool. And the last thing I remembered was you telling me ‘One day you’ll…’ One day I’d meet someone. Oh, Kal-El, I could never meet anyone who’d replace you.”
Hugging him impulsively, Lois bit her lip. In a husky whisper, she told him, “I really did have a nervous breakdown when I remembered it all. I cried like a hysterical little girl, cried for everything I’d lost – lost twice over, since I’d lost the memories, too. Cried for your child who would never know you. I didn’t think you’d come back; I’d heard about Krypton by then. I thought you would find your own people, and I’d be left behind. Forever.”
For long moments, Lois just lay beside him, cuddled close while the sun bathed Kal-El’s body. If anything, her life had gotten more unbearable once she discovered the truth. Not knowing had driven her crazy with frustration, but knowing what she’d lost – exactly what she’d lost – had been worse. Lois didn’t tell him that, however. When she spoke again, her voice was still low, but she’d finished with tears for the moment.
“All I could do was pick up the pieces and try to keep moving along. I never wanted to be a mother; I was terrified of the prospect. But they were your children. What else could I do? I couldn’t give them up, no matter how scared I was. They were all I had left of you… Not to mention, it wouldn’t be fair to adopt the super-babies out to some poor unsuspecting couple.
“I was six months pregnant before I told anyone back home. Calling Mom was the hardest. Bless her, she immediately wanted to come to Paris to be with me. Well, no – she wanted me to come home, and I wouldn’t do it. The next best thing was for her to come to France. And Lucy was ready to come right along with her, too. If it hadn’t been for Little Sam and Nora, I think my baby sister would’ve been here the whole time.
“Lucy had some choice words for me, though, about slipping up and getting myself pregnant so soon after you’d left. We only argued about it once; she called me out about cheating on you, in very unflattering terms, and she asked me rather abruptly what I was going to say to you when you came back. That was enough to break me down crying, which Lucy had never done to me before. She never said another word about it…
“By the end of my term, I was huge. Lucy and Mom had both come to Paris, and Perry was calling practically every day to make sure I was all right. Jimmy was always in the background, too. I must’ve drunk my weight in orange juice, trying to balance out the Belgian chocolate I craved… Speaking of cravings, I’ll have you know I quit smoking – cold turkey – the moment I found out I was expecting. Good God, that was awful. Morning sickness and nicotine withdrawal do not cancel each other out. That’s two things I can never completely enjoy again, courtesy of you: cigarettes and orange juice. I always feel guilty about the one, and the other makes me nauseous just thinking about it. I craved something in the juice while I was pregnant, but since then … bleah.”
Lois shivered a little, just thinking of it. Ella had pressed it on her, wanting her to take her vitamins and drink juice and God knows what else she had managed to swallow down. Especially when the doctors had deemed that the twins were underweight. Only now she understood that they hadn’t been. Just two months behind an ordinary human child’s development. “I refused to go to Lamaze classes,” she continued, “because I had Mom and Lucy. So when I went into false labor in a board meeting at the Quotidienne, I panicked. The doctors put me on bed rest, which I loathed. Two weeks of nothing but going out of my mind with boredom and anxiety. Mom and Lucy kept trying to get me excited about it; they wanted to buy baby clothes and talk about my ultrasound, which I refused to even hear the results of. Mom knew that the twins were a boy and a girl; I didn’t want to know. Serious ostrich-syndrome; if I kept my head in the sand long enough, maybe the problem would go away by itself and I wouldn’t have to deal with it.
“I kept thinking like that right up until I went into labor. If I’d panicked at false labor, I was hysterical when I realized it was the real thing. Not only was it painful – by the time I got to the hospital it was too late for an epidural – but I had no idea what the twins would look like, if they’d be born with powers … or even if I’d survive giving birth to them. And no one else knew what I was going through. I kept it all a secret, but I left enough hints in my will for Mom to figure it out if something happened to me. I think I stayed just calm enough for neither of them to realize that was actually happening.” The tears had come again, her thoughts of that day so extreme. She could see the moment so clearly; the first time she had seen their children.
Picking up his hand, Lois kissed the back of his knuckles, imagining for a moment that she felt some slight response, some minute tension in his fingers that hadn’t been there before. After a few moments, she decided it was just that: imagination. Her voice was thick with emotion when she murmured, “Everything changed once they were born, Kal-El. My God, they were beautiful. Well,” she paused to laugh, “They were once they got them cleaned up. Jason was first; Kala came only a minute and half after him. Before I knew it, he was in my arms, peering up at me with those big blue eyes so much like yours. Except for the one cry to prove he was breathing, he was absolutely quiet, watching me intently, looking around curiously. I fell in love at first sight. Even harder than I fell for you. Still didn’t know a damn thing about being a mom, but right then I knew I’d kill or die for him, that he was mine in a way nothing else had even been, and that was enough.”
“And then Kala. As soon as they got her out, she wailed like a fire engine. Screamed the whole time they cleaned her off, but as soon as they got her wrapped up she quit just long enough for them to hand her to me, too. I had just gotten slightly used to the one looking up at me and then there was another. And then I felt it again. I loved her from the first look, your black hair and back then, your blue eyes. I had one twin in each arm, and Kala started to hitch like she was going to start howling again, but then she decided to nap first.” Smiling fondly, the pain of grief lost in the delight of remembering how quickly she’d grown to love the twins, Lois began to tell him about their childhood.
“Hmm,” Dr. Donner said, his eyes going distant. He rubbed at his silver-streaked beard as he often did when deep in thought, and Tage waited patiently. They were standing by the nurses’ station, looking over their most illustrious patient’s chart.
“It won’t be easy to convince General Unsworth,” the doctor said at last. “But I think you’re right. We’re seeing a steady increase in his EEG waves since dawn. Opening the skylight might do the trick.”
“That glass is designed to keep out UV rays,” Tage observed. “I think the general will agree to open it if you ask him. There’s nothing he wants more than to see Superman healed, right?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Donner agreed. “He’s been willing to pull out all the stops on this case, reassigning personnel, the works. He even ordered the surveillance equipment turned off when Ms. Lane woke up and went into the room.”
“That’s … kind of him,” Tage said.
The doctor chuckled. “She’s a reporter and Sam Lane’s daughter. If we’d left a bug or a camera in that room, she’d find it. General Unsworth doesn’t want her disturbed.” Donner shrugged and tucked the files under his arm. “I’ll go ask him about opening the skylight. He’ll want to station soldiers on the roof and make this a no-fly zone first, so it might take a while, but I’m pretty certain we can do this. Thank you, Tage.”
“You’re welcome, Dr. Donner,” Tage replied. “It was Ms. Lane who gave me the idea. When she mentioned that the blanket might be blocking the sun’s rays, I thought of the glass, too.”
Lois’ reminiscence was cut off several hours later by a knock at the door. She scrambled upright to again sit on the side of his bed, smoothed her blouse, and called, “Come in,” expecting Tage or Dr. Donner.
Much to her surprise, Lieutenant Sawyer walked in, followed by a uniformed soldier who took up a stance at the door. Maggie didn’t say anything at first; her eyes went to Superman, and Lois saw the exhaustion and worry etched there. “Is he any better?” Sawyer asked.
“A little,” Lois replied quietly. “We just don’t know too much.” Something was off, she could sense it. Maggie confirmed that impression by walking around the room slowly before speaking again.
“Lois … we need you to give a statement about what happened on the yacht.” Her voice was unusually low, and she didn’t meet Lois’ eyes when she spoke.
The black-haired woman frowned a little; Sawyer was tense and standoffish, like she had never been around Lois. Well, not since the beginning of their friendship, when the cop hadn’t known if she could trust the reporter. “Maggie, I’d be more than willing to tell you what happened,” Lois said.
Sawyer shook her head slightly. “I can’t take your statement here, Lois. I can’t take it at all… Anyway, I need you to come to the precinct.”
“What? Maggie…” Lois let the sentence trail off, aware of their company. The anonymous soldier might appear to be gazing off into the middle distance, but he was certainly listening to every word.
Maggie was even less inclined to elaborate. Her gaze flicked from the soldier, to Lois, to Superman, and back to Lois. “It’s important, Lois, trust me. I just… Come down to the precinct.”
Even if Lois hadn’t been a reporter, with finely-honed journalistic instincts to tell her when someone was hiding something, she would’ve known Maggie was holding out. Being less than forthright wasn’t in the lieutenant’s nature, and she was clearly uncomfortable with whatever she was concealing. Lois’ nerves were frayed to the breaking point by everything she’d endured, Kal-El’s condition, and her own recent examination of the most tumultuous period of her life. One of her closest friends keeping a secret from her – and keeping it badly – was more than she could take.
“Goddammit, Maggie, I will not take one step from here until you tell me what the hell is going on,” she hissed furiously, rising from Kal-El’s bedside and stalking toward Maggie. “I have dealt with enough bullshit the past few days; I don’t need any more from you! My kids have been kidnapped, I’ve almost been killed, and he’s in a coma. Don’t you realize I just can’t anymore? I’ve had enough! And I will not leave him, do you hear me? I won’t!”
Strong hands grabbed hers, and eyes as blue as arctic ice bored into her own, finally silencing Lois’ tirade. Meeting that look, Lois finally realized what was wrong with Sawyer: she was terrified.