Author's Note: I ain't dead, and neither is "Rosy-Fingered Dawn." :) Longer fics take more mental work, and I've been heavily involved in a local election. It's been pretty intense the last several weeks, which has eaten up a lot of my time and attention. And I have to say this at least once: no matter your political persuasion, if you're in the US, please vote!
With Election Day around the corner, though, I'll be able to devote more time and mental muscle to writing, so you can expect more from me soon. In the meantime, though, shorter pieces are easier and this one has been bouncing around in my head for a while. I hope you enjoy!
Lois sat back in her office chair and stretched. She'd been hunched over so long her muscles ached, but then, all of her ached anymore – her back, her neck, her head, her eyes, her heart. It was her first week back at the Daily Planet, and it had been brutal. Far worse than she expected. When she'd started on her inbox Monday morning, the sight of more than three hundred unread emails had been so overwhelming that she'd gone and cried in the bathroom for ten minutes. It had taken a day and a half just to sift through them all. It had taken another half-day just to slog through her voicemails.
Perry was used to Lois dealing with life's ups and downs by not dealing. In the past, she'd just thrown herself into her work, and he was usually happy to accommodate. After all, her Pulitzer had been a rebound project after a bad breakup, and her running into battle with the 1st Division had been the result of an epic fight with her mom. So he'd given her first shot at a senator's insider trading scandal, but she turned it down, knowing it was too important of a story and she wasn't in the right frame of mind. Perry tried again with a five-star restaurant's health code violations, with a human interest piece about social workers in high schools, and finally with the opening of a children's Black history museum in Gotham City. Lois just couldn't muster the focus that any of those stories deserved, and she declined them each in turn. Finally, on Wednesday, he'd assigned her to sub for some other writer on the Lifestyle beat who gathered notices about worship services for the weekend editions. That had barely been manageable.
There would be no rebound Pulitzer this time. This time it was different – she found no solace in her work.
Her life was now sharply divided into "before" and "after." The "before" hurt to remember, and the "after" was impossible to comprehend. She tried to live on the painful knife's edge between the two, but sometimes she fell off into one side or the other. Clark's absence was inescapable, though. His scent still lingered on his pillow. His memory wandered with her through her apartment, through the Daily Planet, even through the Metropolis subway.
She swiveled her chair and looked up in surprise. "Diana?"
The brunette's eyes were warm. "Hello."
Lois tried to pull herself together and, rising to her feet, extended her hand. "What brings you to Metropolis?"
A little smile flitted across Diana's face before she shook Lois' hand. "Bruce invited me to his New Year's Eve celebration tomorrow. I decided to come a day early for you."
The grief was still a thick fog in her brain, and Lois' hand fell limply to her side again. She blinked as she tried to process Diana's words. "For me?"
Diana nodded solemnly. "For you. It's almost five o'clock. Are you free for the evening?"
Lois looked back at her desk and sighed in indecision. It was rare for her to go home until closer to seven o'clock before...but it hurt to remember. Focus on the now. The usual churches, temples, and mosques had all gotten back to her, so there wasn't much else for her to do. "Sure."
She geared up for the December streets on autopilot – coat, gloves, purse. Wordlessly, Diana led the way to the elevator, and Lois followed. It was easier than trying to plan ahead – or think ahead at all.
Like the rest of the bullpen, the elevator was mostly empty, and Diana softly asked, "What did you eat for dinner last night?"
"Dinner?" Lois echoed, her brow furrowing as she tried to recall. "I can't remember. I'm not sure that I did."
The Amazon nodded to herself but said nothing more. On the street, a cab was waiting, and Diana held the passenger-side door for Lois. As she waited for Diana to go around to the driver's side, Lois vaguely began to wonder what was really going on. Was this some kind of elaborate plan of Bruce's? But remembering him reminded her of the green-tipped spear and all the fiery chaos of that hate-filled night.
The door opposite her opened, and Diana slid into the seat.
"Where to, miss?" the cabbie asked.
Turning to Lois, she asked, "Do you have a preference?"
Swallowing hard against the memory of that awful night, Lois shrugged.
Thankfully, Diana simply looked forward. "The best place for coffee in Metropolis that also serves dinner."
"You got it," he said, pulling into traffic.
Lois didn't trust her voice and stared listlessly out the window. Diana let her ride in peace.
At the restaurant, Diana paid the fare and swept the two of them inside before it occurred to Lois that she should have gone halves on the cab. Before she could speak up, though, Diana was talking to the host, requesting a quiet booth.
Clark had always requested a quiet table whenever they went out to eat, and Lois again recoiled from memories of "before." She numbly followed the Amazon and slid into the booth bench that was offered her. She didn't bother to even pick up the menu placed before her, though. She wasn't hungry. She was chilled and kept her coat on, but she did take her gloves off.
When the host asked for a drink order, she automatically said, "Water." It was easier than trying to choose.
Lois studied the patterns in the faux-wood table. The grain painted on the plastic repeated in a monotonous pattern, and it felt like a decent symbol for her own situation now. Instead of the ebb and flow of life, she had this artificial existence repeating for as far as she could see. "After" was as painful to contemplate as "before."
The silence started to stretch long, but Lois couldn't think about what to say to Diana Prince, the mysterious Amazon in disguise who also had superpowers. When she glanced up, the brunette was studying her closely.
"What?" Lois numbly asked.
In answer, Diana leaned back in her seat a bit. "How is Mrs. Kent?"
"About how you'd expect," Lois said, looking back at the faux-wood. "She went back to work the week after the funeral."
"I think it was easier for her to have something to do, something to keep herself busy. But she's still in a daze. Talking to her on the phone...she rambles." Lois understood though. Just getting up the energy to focus sometimes was hard.
A waitress came to their table then with two glasses of water. "Do you need more time?" she asked.
"I'm ready to order," Diana said. "Are you, Lois?"
Lois shrugged. "I'm not hungry."
"We'll share," Diana said. "Let's start with an order of bread sticks as an appetizer. I'll have lasagna, potato soup, and that berry salad on the side. Oh, and two mochachinos, please. Bring those with the bread."
It all sounded too heavy for Lois, but again, before she could protest, Diana asked, "How often do you and Mrs. Kent talk?"
Time was just an artificial pattern, day-night-day, meaninglessly repeating. "I'm not sure. Maybe once a week. Maybe less."
Diana reached across the table and placed her hand over Lois'. She looked up in surprise at the touch, and Diana was smiling wistfully. "Who else do you keep contact with?"
Lois felt her brow furrow in confusion. This was just too much thinking, too many questions. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Diana leaned back again, letting go of Lois' hand. "What other friends do you spend time with?"
Lois sighed, mentally reviewing the people at work while Diana waited patiently. None of them were what she'd call friends. Perry was almost a father figure. At the end of the day, though, he was still her boss. She'd appreciated him and Jenny coming to Kansas for the funeral, but even then, they weren't people she could spend time with socially. Her shoulders drooping, she said, "No one."
Diana frowned, a hint of worry in her eyes. "No one?"
Lois shook her head. "I didn't really need anybody except...him."
The waitress arrived then with the bread sticks, a couple of smaller plates, and the coffee.
Diana thanked the waitress, took a bread stick, and then nudged the basket closer to Lois.
"I'm not hungry."
"No?" Diana asked, a small smile twitching on her lips. "Smell the aroma. Try one bite."
Lois sighed and then dutifully took a whiff. The scent of coffee mingling with hot, fresh bread did smell good, like Martha's kitchen. It conjured up memories of before, but they weren't as tainted by grief. The Kent farm had always been a refuge for her, even at the funeral. When she took a nibble, her stomach suddenly rumbled, and it was like her brain finally remembered that, yes, she did still like food.
Diana's smile widened in approval as Lois took a second bite. "There's something about bread," she said.
Lois swallowed her bite and picked up her mochachino. The cup felt good as it warmed her hands, and she inhaled deeply. When she took a sip, it was sweeter than her usual cup of coffee, but somehow it was just right. Comfort food. Diana had a knack.
"What about your parents?" the Amazon asked. "Are they nearby? Sisters? Brothers?"
Lois half-laughed, and even she could hear the bitterness in it. "Martha's a better mother to me than my own mom. Dad...I've had even less contact with him. My sister Lucy was in the middle of a major work project and couldn't come to the funeral, if that paints a picture for you."
"It does." Diana nodded to herself before taking another bite of her bread stick.
Thinking of her family hurt Lois, but not in the same way as thinking about Clark. That pain was a familiar one that had dulled long ago. In some ways, she hadn't really felt it for years. It was still too much to deal with right now.
Diana sipped from her coffee, and looking over the mug, she asked, "What about Bruce?"
Clark on his back, bleeding, the green-tipped spear inches from his throat. Lois was grateful her mouth was full so she had a moment. They'd stood together, there at the end, but Bruce had very nearly killed the man she loved. It was not something she could easily forgive, and she doubted she'd ever forget it.
Swallowing, she said, "We don't talk."
"He feels awful."
Diana sighed with a wry smile. She opened her mouth to say something, but the waitress arrived, this time with dinner. Once they were alone again, Diana split the salad and lasagna between them using the appetizer plates. Lois was again surprised at how good the food tasted. She was halfway through her salad when she thought to ask, "How did you know?"
"Hmm?" Diana said.
"The bread. How did you know?"
Diana hesitated for a moment and then set her fork down. Looking Lois square in the eye, she said, "You are aware I...have suffered losses, too."
Lois slowly nodded.
"That was here, in the world of men. Before...before when I was home, I was raised by my mother Queen Hippolyta and her warriors." Diana's eyes started to mist up, shocking Lois, and the Amazon looked down. "It was like growing up with a thousand aunties, and some of them were huggers just like women here. All were affectionate. Even blows on the training field were a form of rough-and-tumble affection." Clearing her throat, she lifted her gaze again and softly said, "I went from that to World War I."
An era when women's bodies were completely covered up, when physical passions or pleasures were taboo. Lois felt a sudden swell of sympathy. "It must have been a very hard adjustment."
"It was. And it was made harder by..." Diana paused a moment, gathering her composure. "...by losing in battle someone I loved as much as you loved Clark. I found him and lost him in a matter of days."
"I'm so sorry," Lois said.
"So am I." Diana straightened a little, though, and lifted her chin. "But my point in telling you this is to help you understand why I'm kidnapping you tonight."
Lois eyebrows rose in surprise. "Kidnapping?"
Though her eyes were still a little red-rimmed, Diana smiled. "Yes. Dinner is just to help keep your strength up."
"If you're planning on some life-threatening stunt so I'll remember how much I want to live..."
Diana smirked. "Nothing as extreme as that. You want to live, Lois. I know it, and that's not my concern."
"Then what is?"
"That you're alone. Worse, that you're alone when you don't need to be."
Lois frowned and picked at what was left of her salad with her fork. Her eyes ached after so much crying. She was tired of being sad, but she couldn't get up the energy to be angry. "It's only been a month," she murmured. "And Bruce is hardly my type."
Diana laughed, and Lois glanced up. She was shaking her head through her chortles, and it took her a throat-clearing or two to settle down. "I wasn't trying to play match-maker, Lois. I meant only friendship. Believe me, I know what it's like to...to be a one-man woman." Reaching out to place her hand over Lois' again, she said, "There are people who need you. Don't give up on you or them."
Lois sighed again – it sounded like so much work. But she had made it through her first three days back. It was hard, but she'd done it. Baby steps. For the look of the thing, she forced a smile for Diana. "Thank you."
Diana nodded and leaned back again. "Of course."
"What is your day job?" Lois blurted out. She'd been so grief-stricken at the funeral that it had never crossed her mind to ask.
Diana picked up her fork again. "I work for the Louvre. I collect and restore ancient artifacts."
Somehow it was one of the last things she expected and exactly right at the same time. "Tell me all about it," she said.
As they finished their dinner, Diana told her about the sculptures that she'd just finished cleaning and preparing for display. They had been unearthed at Pompeii decades before, but the collection had been housed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum for most of that time. Unlike the fine marbles of the villas, these had been small figurines, several household deities from a craftsman's home, and hadn't been considered valuable. Diana smiled wistfully. "The best one was a depiction of Athena, and my mother had one just like it."
It was mind-boggling for Lois to hear Diana say that. Once again she wondered just how old the Amazon was, but this time she was polite enough to keep her questions to herself.
"Did you want dessert?" Diana asked.
"No, I'm stuffed," Lois truthfully answered. She hadn't eaten this much at once since...before.
Diana waved the waitress over and pulled out her credit card.
"How much do I owe you for dinner?" Lois asked.
She just smiled and shook her head. "It's my treat this time." When Lois opened her mouth to protest, Diana said, "I have some long-term investments that give me handsome dividends."
Considering Diana had been in the world of men for more than a century, Lois huffed in wry amusement, thinking, I'll bet they do.
Her hands were warm enough that Lois didn't bother putting her gloves back on, instead stashing them in her purse.
On the street, Diana hailed another cab, and once they were settled into the back seat, she said, "The Waterlily on Wanamaker."
Lois looked at her, feeling befuddled. She had no idea where they were going, but Diana just smiled and shook her head. "How well do you know Alfred?"
"Not well, just that he's the butler. The highly-trusted butler."
Diana nodded with a little smirk. "I know you and Bruce don't talk, but I think you would enjoy getting to know Alfred, when you feel up to conversation again."
"What makes you say that?" Lois asked.
"Because you're fond of Martha Kent."
Lois wasn't sure what to make of that and sat back in her seat. They were already close to Wanamaker Street, so a few minutes of silence brought them to the doors of the Waterlily. As Lois took in the store front, she realized why she didn't recognize it. It was the kind of spa she'd never be rich enough to frequent. The little beautician's shop two blocks over from her apartment was more than enough when she felt in the mood for a manicure.
But Diana was already breezing through the front door, and Lois hurried to catch up.
A hostess nodded deferentially in greeting. "Miss Prince, welcome."
"Thank you," Diana said, shrugging out of her coat and handing it to her.
"And you must be Miss Lane," she said, turning to Lois. "May I take your coat?"
Lois looked to Diana in confusion. "I don't understand."
But the hostess answered, "You're both scheduled for a massage and facial this evening."
"I can't," Lois said, feeling something like panic inexplicably welling up in her. "I can't accept this, Diana."
"May Lois and I speak privately?" Diana asked the hostess, and of course she nodded because apparently the superhero was as rich as Bruce Wayne.
The hostess led them to an empty massage room, and Diana shut the door after her.
"You've been very kind," Lois said, "but I there's no way I can repay..."
"You already did."
Lois paused and sighed, the fog of grief muddling her own thoughts. "I don't understand."
"A hundred years ago, I was you, Lois. Except I didn't have the luxury of a body to bury. Without that way to honor him, I didn't have a way to grieve."
Lois lifted her head, trying to think about how much harder it would have been if Clark had simply been gone.
Tears shone in Diana's eyes. "I...shut down. For a very long time. I worked my way back up to functioning. I even made a life for myself. Eventually I could smile, laugh, go for days or even a week or two without thinking of him, but there was always a part of me that carried that grief like a hidden wound. Until I borrowed your grief. I mourned my own dead with you, Lois. It probably wasn't fair to you, but it felt so...healing to see and be a part of your loss, even from the periphery. And so all this is an attempt to repay an impossible debt."
Lois' shoulders drooped. "You don't owe me anything, Diana. I'm sorry you...I'm sorry anyone would feel what I've felt these last few weeks. But you don't have to spend a ton of money on me."
"What you have given me is a priceless gift. I want to give you something priceless in return."
Lois snorted. "This is pretty pricey for priceless."
Diana smiled indulgently. "I simply want to help you learn the easy way what took me longer than it should have to understand."
"And what's that?"
Diana placed her hands on Lois' shoulders and gently squeezed them. "The importance of human contact."
Lois looked down, the rush of emotion making her eyes ache with swelling tears. Memories of before, of cuddling with Clark in front of Netflix, of holding hands on the subway, of his warm presence next to her in bed, swirled through her mind. A sob slipped out before she could stop it.
Diana steered her to the low massage table and sat on it next to her. Like the day Clark died, Diana hugged her without comment for as long as she cried. When Lois finally regained her composure a little, she straightened and Diana let her go. But she stayed sitting next to Lois. "Steve was one of the last casualties of World War I. It was so hard, being alone, away from everyone I loved. When I couldn't stand London any longer, I wandered the Continent. One night in a Belgian town, I stumbled across an orphanage."
Lois had never heard Diana speak of her past so directly, and she tilted her head, a wisp of curiosity stirring in her for the first time in weeks.
"Many of them were war orphans," Diana continued. "Some even were infants, crying in the night. When I knocked on the orphanage door and asked in tears if I could hold one..." A smile twitched on her lips even though her eyes were still sad. "I was afraid the nuns would think I'd lost my mind. I found out later they assumed I was a bereaved mother. They invited me in, handed me a fussing baby, and pointed me toward a rocking chair."
In her grief-worn state, Lois had a hard time wrapping her mind around the mental image Diana was describing. Come to think of it, though, Clark had always enjoyed visiting the children's ward of the hospital. It wasn't just the superpowers and hair color that made him and Diana alike.
Diana smiled, her gaze distant as she remembered. "There were no babies in my homeland, so they had to teach me the right way to hold him."
"No babies?" Lois repeated in surprise.
"I was the only child on the island. We are very long-lived," she added.
Lois smirked at what she suspected was a profound understatement.
"I'd never been trained in the proper technique," Diana continued, "but even...someone like me cannot be unmoved when holding a baby. There is a deep magic in it."
Lois chuckled softly. It was both amusing and perfect to hear Diana talk about babies in mythic terms.
Lois paused and sat up straighter in surprise. "I guess I did."
Diana hugged her one more time. "I'm glad. Tonight is already doing you good. As orphanages have become fewer and farther between – thankfully – I've had to get creative. Massage is one of the few socially-acceptable ways left for me to ask a random stranger for that human connection. This is my favorite spa in Metropolis, and I've added you to my account. Use it whenever you like."
Lois was stunned. "I...thank you, but I can't..."
"And why not?" Diana crossed her arms and looked at her expectantly.
In the face of a determined Amazon of unknown age and powers, Lois decided discretion was the better part of valor. Besides, she was feeling better than she had since returning to Metropolis. Chuckling again, she said, "Alright, fine, I can. That doesn't mean I will, but...thank you."
Diana rose to her feet, looking pleased with herself. "I suppose that will have to do for now. And all things considered, I'll forgive you for laughing at me."
"Good thing, too," Lois said as she also stood, "since you could tie me into a pretzel if you were really upset with me."
Diana smiled. "Now why would I do that to my sister? After all, in the world of men, the pen is mightier than the sword."
At the compliment, something warm stirred in Lois' heart for the first time since she put on Clark's ring. Diana saw her as an Amazon, her equal though with a different weapon. Her sister. A lump swelled in her throat. Lois reached out to squeeze Diana's shoulder in gratitude. "Thank you."
Diana nodded in acknowledgment, her eyes shining. She stepped toward the door and paused with her hand on the knob. Looking back at Lois, she asked, "Ready?"
Not really, no, Lois thought. But she had a friend now – a sister, a hero like Clark – who had her back and who understood what Lois was going through better than she did herself. It made the looming future a tiny bit less overwhelming, even though it was still painful to look ahead. There would be many hard days to wade through, but she wouldn't be so alone. Nodding with all the conviction she could muster, she deliberately took a step off the knife's edge of "now" and into "after." Joining Diana at the door, she said, "Ready."