FYI, I borrowed a bit of material from my story Changed For Good for this last chapter :)
Only when the echo of his scream died away did I move. I staggered down the marble steps and then started running towards Clark. My own footsteps were the only sounds and they were deafening. And yet even Clark didn't seem to notice it at first. Not until I was standing only a few feet away from him did he lift his head, and for the first time I saw tears running down his face.
My big Joe Wilder, shy Will MacFarlane, commanding Luke Marshall of the burning oil rig— my noble, kind-hearted, majestic Clark Kent—he was crying. Crying like a lost little boy who's just realized how dark and lonely and cruel the world can be.
The look in his eyes, though, was worse than the tears. His eyes pleaded with me and my throat tightened as I realized what they were trying to say to me: Don't leave me, please don't look at me like I'm a monster . . . oh God, Lois, please don't be afraid of me.
Desperate to tell him I wasn't afraid and never would be, I ran to close the distance between us.I caught his head in my hands and Clark buried his face in my stomach, wrapping both arms around my waist. He was shaking and his sobs were hoarse and broken. I ran my hand through his curls, marveling vaguely through my exhaustion at how thick and soft his hair was.
"Shh, shh . . . it's okay, Clark . . ."
He groaned in reply. I started to bend down, pressing my lips against his forehead and cheek before finally getting down on my knees in front of him. The tears still ran down his face; he gasped for breath and I wiped his tears away with my thumb.
"I didn't know what else to do," he choked. "I had to do it."
"I know, I know," I whispered, running my hand over his cheek. "There was nothing else you could do."
Clark swallowed, glanced over his shoulder to look again at Zod. I grabbed his face in both of my hands and turned his head back towards me. I clenched my teeth.
"Listen to me," I whispered. "I refuse to let you feel guilty. Do you hear me? People have died but thousands—thousands, Clark!—are still alive, because of you. I owe you my life and so do countless others. I will not let you eat your heart out over this!"
He lowered his eyes. I still cupped his face in my hands and stroked his cheeks gently with my thumbs until he looked up at me again. He was still indescribably weary and there was a sadness in his eyes that I suspected would stay there for a long time. After all, Clark Kent hated death, hated suffering; this city was going to hurt and suffer for a long time, and the death toll was going to be huge.
Plus, he had just killed someone with his bare hands and sent his last remaining countrymen into the void. After so many years of thinking he was the only one of his kind left . . . now he really was.
Still, when he looked up at me there was a new determination in his expression. I just barely held back a loud sigh of relief. He wasn't going to let this destroy him anymore than he would let the World Engine and the Black Zero destroy this planet.
I sniffed loudly, wiped my face with the back of my hand. Then I quickly grabbed his hands and stood. Clark stared up at me blankly.
"Come on," I whispered, tossing loose strands of hair out of my face. "There's a lot of work to be done. Superman will be needed."
I gave his hands a gentle tug. Clark's jaw flexed and he drew a deep breath; then he got off his knees and stood beside me, still holding my hand, grave and regal and, thank God, no longer so defeated. I tried to smile encouragingly and he actually managed to return it, albeit weakly.
And for once he didn't express any disapproval of the new name. I had a feeling it was going to stick.
Six months later
" 'And for once he didn't express any disapproval of the new name,' " I murmured. " 'I had a feeling it was going to stick.' "
I stared at the words, smiled a little. Funny how prophetic I'd been. No one called Clark "Kal-El" anymore unless your name was Lois Lane. I was starting to think I was the only reporter in the world who even remembered his Kryptonian name.
Ironic, since I was the one who came up with "Superman."
I took a deep breath, typed "The End" in capital letters underneath that final sentence. It was done. I'd written out the whole story from the very day that Perry assigned me to Ellesmere Island, to the last time I saw Clark face-to-face.
It wasn't a small feat, either, considering I'd had to write it all at home almost underneath my mother's nose. Most of the time I didn't dare open the file unless I was sitting on my bed with the door locked. The file contained too many of Clark's secrets and I didn't want her peering over my shoulder.
For now, though, I was safe. Mom was still in the bathroom getting ready for her day, and I'd learned over the past six months of her living with her that her toilette could take her a good forty-five minutes. I clicked "save" and closed the file, fully intending on emailing it to Clark when I got home from work tonight.
Email had been our sole form of communication ever since that one phone call we shared a few weeks after the battle. The last time I'd seen him face-to-face was two months ago, and it was in public, at one of the disaster sites where he was assisting the recovery crews; there'd been no chance to speak privately or to even exchange more than a discreet look or nod. We hadn't dared to do anything more than that. Clark was being watched by the whole world and so was I.
The emails, however, seemed safe enough, and soon I started to depend on them. It was the first time in years that I'd had a confidante, and he confessed he felt the same way. We wrote about anything and everything: the battle, our childhoods, how he was coping with the devastation of that battle, how I'd taken in my mother until the skyscraper that held her penthouse was rebuilt. The gridirons were just starting to rise over the big blank spot where the Freeman Tower once stood. Mom and I both watched them creep higher and higher like we were waiting for a pot of water to start boiling.
Still, things were better between me and my mom. I'd forgotten she had headed to the subway station for shelter; when she saw me standing there holding Clark's hand, there was a look of awe and respect I'd never seen in her pale, dust-covered face before. And when she noticed the way Clark looked at me—like he totally depended on me—that awe and respect turned into surprise and delight. I think she was envisioning half-human half-Kryptonian grandbabies by the time we emerged from the station.
But thank God, she gave up on me having a steady romance with Superman without much of a struggle. For several weeks she expected him to fly by my window every night. But when Clark (apparently) stayed with the recovery crews and I (apparently) kept my distance from him, she decided I had no business with troublemaking aliens and started looking elsewhere for a prospective husband for me. It didn't irritate me nearly as much now . . . maybe because I had to laugh to myself and wonder what she'd do if she knew I really was head-over-heels in love with Superman.
Clark Kent kept a low profile; Superman was almost always in the news. It was just last week that he destroyed a drone the government had sent into orbit to watch him. The drone's crash in an uninhabited Nevada desert made the evening news, and even though the military hotly denied that it was anything other than an accident, I knew better. I had an email that evening from Clark that simply read:
Uncle Sam a little peeved with Superman today. Superman unrepentant.
And of course I'd laughed out loud, because Clark would only use that name in a humorous context, and also because I found it amusing that Clark, who was usually so respectful and deferential to the American government, was completely unremorseful about smashing one of those drones.
Smiling a little at the memory of that particular email and wondering what kind of response I'd get from him tonight after I sent him the file, I closed my laptop and slammed my feet into my work shoes. As I grabbed my purse from the back of a kitchen chair I heard my phone inside, alerting me about new emails. I rummaged through my unorganized purse and found the phone, glanced at the screen.
My inbox was full: forwarded articles from Perry, email newsletters for literary magazines I'd subscribed to four or five years ago, some chain mail my mother passed to me. I deleted the chain mail just like I deleted every piece of chain mail I'd ever gotten in my whole life, scrolled
down . . . and there was something from Clark.
I smothered a gasp of surprise and selected it, glancing warily at the bathroom door. The hair dryer was roaring at this point; Mom wouldn't be out anytime soon. I took a deep breath and turned to the email again. I found only four sentences.
Expect to see me today. Can't say what time and I don't want to tell you where. I want to surprise you—but not enough to startle you completely and give ourselves away. I can't wait to see you.
I clenched the back of the chair in front of me and swallowed. I'm going to see Clark. After all this time . . . I'm going to see him.
It didn't even cross my mind that maybe he was coming back to Metropolis for some reason in full Kryptonian regalia and he knew I would be there, reporting. Somehow I knew Clark wouldn't set me up like that. He knew how much I'd wanted to see him face-to-face, privately, since the night of the battle when he carried me back to my flat . . . when he set me down on the rickety fire escape, kissed me, and swore he'd be back, that he wouldn't forget about me.
I drew a shuddering breath and slung my purse over my shoulder. I put my mouth to the bathroom door. "Mom! I'm heading out, I'll see you after work."
"Have a good day," she shouted over the roar of the hair dryer. I hurried out, moving so fast I caught the flared hem of my slacks in the door.
Metropolis hummed all around me, reviving and rebuilding and no longer fighting for sheer survival, the way it had done for at least two months after the battle. It still looked war-torn. Missing skyscrapers still left gaping holes in both the sky and the ground, where only naked foundations remained. Still, the clean-up had progressed remarkably fast. City officials credited Superman for that. Some of the smaller businesses were reopening, too, and the streets that had buckled under the weight of the gravity beam had been repaved. People didn't look quite so grave anymore. It was as if they were finally allowing themselves to hope for a better, brighter future.
I raced into the bull-pen a little breathless; I'd half-jogged all the way to work. Steve and Jenny greeted me cheerfully; Perry, who was going over the day's schedule with all his staff, gave me a firm, professional nod as I passed him on my way to my cubicle. I glanced around discreetly. There was no sign of Clark or anyone who remotely resembled him. Mentally, I rolled my eyes at myself.
Of course he's not here, Lane . . . you really think he's going to show up here in the bull-pen?
I got to work, deciding it wasn't worth my while to think about Clark Kent all day. I still had a job to do and people to boss around. I was typing furiously at a new political piece when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Steve approaching.
Oh good Lord, I thought.
"Come on, Lois . . . when are you gonna throw me a bone?" Steve crooned, a mischievous light in his eyes. "Courtside seats for the game on Saturday? What do you say?"
I raised my eyebrows, finished typing the sentence I was working on. "I say you should go back to trolling the intern pool. You might have better luck there."
Talking and working on two things at the same time had a tendency to get me in trouble. As I spoke Jenny had come up behind me for a stack of drafts Perry had requested earlier, and which he'd sent her to fetch for him. As soon as I mentioned the interns I handed the drafts over my shoulder to Jenny—and the awkward silence that followed made me want to kick myself.
"Sorry," I whispered with a sheepish glance at Jenny, an intern, who'd all of a sudden received the full force of Steve's attention. She blushed, shook her head laughingly at Steve's offer of the tickets.
"Lombard! Lane!" Perry suddenly boomed. The three of us all jerked our heads up, but there wasn't any irritation or scolding in Perry's tone or look as he approached my desk. A tall young man was following him . . . only, the guy was walking backwards, gazing around the bull-pen like he'd never been in such a wonderful place in his life.
"I want you to meet our new stringer and show him the ropes," Perry said, leaning his elbow against the top of my cubicle. "This is Clark Kent."
As soon as he heard his name the young stranger glanced over his shoulder at us. My breath caught in my throat. He was tall but slightly-slouched, dressed in an unassuming but neat ensemble of blue jeans and dark flannel shirt. And he wore glasses. Large, thick-rimmed, dorky glasses.
Clark turned all the way around now and I dropped my gaze to my keyboard. My fingers were shaking over the keys. I could hear Steve introducing himself, friendly and completely oblivious. They don't recognize him. Oh thank God . . .
"Nice to meet you," I heard Clark say. His voice was quiet and deep but friendly . . . nothing like the stern, authoritative voice Steve and Jenny and everyone else here in this room heard six months ago. I took a deep breath and glanced up again. Clark's deep blue eyes fastened on me, cool and unknowing.
I don't know, maybe it was his complete calm that gave me an extra dose of courage. Maybe it was the fact that in that nerdy disguise he looked oddly boyish, like the picture of Luke Marshall I still had hidden in my bedroom. Maybe it was the realization that now there were no barriers between us. He was here in Metropolis; if he was working for the newspaper he was here to stay. With me. He'd come back, just like he promised.
I stood up, smoothly and with a completely straight face.
"Hi," I said, extending my hand. "Lois Lane. Welcome to the Planet."
Suddenly Clark's mask crumbled. He lowered his eyes for a moment, then lifted them again with a quiet, thankful look.
"Glad to be here, Lois," he said.
I smiled. I couldn't help it and neither could Clark. He gave me a grin so deep and wide, it lit up the whole room. It was as if he was telling me, silently, There's no stopping us now, Lois.
No, there's no stopping us, not after all we've been through and all the great and wonderful things we're going to go through together. My dad was right. Sometimes we are just called to stand behind the real heroes. And that role is more than good enough for me.
THE END! What a delightfully fun story this one was to write. It's given me a fantastic learning experience in writing in first person POV, plus the opportunity to explore one of my favorite heroines of all time. Thanks so much to everyone who's read and reviewed Steel Magnolia!
This will be the end of my fanfiction writing for a while...or at least, the end of writing fanfiction on my own. I'm starting work on a new World War II novel, which I'm really excited about, and I need to give it the majority of my time and brain power. HOWEVER, I am co-authoring Sister of Krypton with TehMarishal, so I'll still be in the Superman fanfiction realm! And of course I will be on top of any and all news regarding Dawn of Justice ;)
A special shout-out goes to ClarksGirl (for your constant encouragement and delightful PM's!), East Coast Captain (for all the fun information on Kryptonian history), and GravityHasNoLimit (for everything, basically...you are my Super-buddy forever and always). And thanks again to everyone else for the reviews; I appreciated each and every one!