I thought up this story during my morning walk, and it sort of wouldn't go away until I had written it. It generated a lot of comments on the Message Boards. (I've never had a story generate so much feedback, both pro and con. It truly surprised me.) In it I used the premises of reincarnation from "Soul Mates" and the one regarding the different rates of aging between Lois and Clark from Brutal Youth. In it, I assumed that the age drain Superman endured cost him no more than the equivalent of a few months to a couple of years, human time.
Anyone who knows my writing knows that I never go for the unhappy ending, so I can reassure you on that point, but if either of the other ideas bothers you, don't read the story. It is never my intention to upset anyone.
The familiar characters and settings of this story are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros, December 3rd Productions et al. The story is copyrighted to me.
By Nan Smith
The university campus was, as usual, too dimly lighted in this area, Lori thought. She glanced around at the shadows of evergreen hedges and looming ornamental plants, and firmly suppressed a small tremor that seemed to run down her backbone. New Troy State University kept promising to fix the lighting problems, just as they kept promising to update the outmoded security system, and there was never enough money in the budget, or so it seemed. But she noted that the gym had a new coat of paint after the winter break, and the landscaping around the Administration Building was being redone ... again.
Lori glanced nervously to her right and left as she hurried along. She was beginning to sincerely regret the fact that she had stayed late at the library, but between the fact that her roommate seemed to be addicted to that new singing group that had burst upon the scene over the last three months (Lori wasn't even sure of their name) and the fact that their neighbors seemed to be perpetually bringing in guys and -- well, Lori would rather not imagine what she thought she heard going on through the thin walls of the dorm rooms. In any case, studying was pretty close to impossible, so she had formed the habit of going to the library and staying until it closed.
Only now she wished that she had started back before sunset. There was no longer any trace of its bright colors in the sky, and it looked as if another light had burned out since last night. The distance to the dorm rooms was farther than she cared to walk in the dark that now stretched ahead of her on the path.
In the last four weeks since the start of the new semester, there had been two assaults on female students here on the campus. The two girls had escaped alive, but although one had gotten away with only a couple of bruises, the other had been raped and beaten. The thought was an unwelcome one in her mind. NTSU had tried diligently to downplay the two incidents but Lori had heard about them anyway, because one of the girls was a resident of her own dorm. She had begun taking self defense classes, but she was forced to acknowledge that eight such sessions wasn't likely to turn her into a black belt.
What was that? It sounded like someone moving in the thick shrubbery to her right. She increased her pace, telling herself that her always-active imagination was working overtime. Maybe somebody's dog had strayed onto the grounds; that happened a lot.
A twig cracked, as if under an incautious foot. Lori's pace increased to a trot, and then to a run as the sounds told her that someone was moving parallel to her course on the other side of the hedge. When a dark figure emerged from the vegetation onto the path ahead of her it wasn't even a surprise. She dodged and tried to change direction but he moved with her and she felt powerful arms clamp around her arms and torso.
She struck backwards with an elbow and heard his grunt of pain, then she saw the pale moonlight glint from metal and felt the coldness of a knife blade at her throat.
"Don't do that again, bitch." His voice was surprisingly soft. "I don't like it."
Lori froze. A hand caught the zipper of her jacket and yanked it down. She squirmed involuntarily, and the blade pressed tighter against her skin. "Don't." Again the whisper. "Behave, and I might just let you go ... later." The hand seized the front of her blouse and yanked. She gasped as the buttons gave and the frigid air contacted her skin. This was it, she knew. If she didn't get away, she would be lucky to escape with only a rape and a beating.
A gust of air swirled about her and suddenly he was there; a tall, caped figure in the darkness, who had disarmed her assailant so swiftly that she hadn't been aware of it until it was over. With one hand, he casually held the rapist's wrists behind his back as he turned to her, and his voice was soft and concerned.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes," she stammered, clutching the torn remnants of her blouse with one shaking hand. It was one of the super-heroes, she realized, the new one who had appeared only two years ago. The one in the old Superman uniform, who looked so much like the pictures of his grandfather, or perhaps his great grandfather, the original Superman who had vanished fifty years ago. She could see the brilliant colors of the Suit glow even in the inadequate lighting of the campus. "Thank you, Superman."
"Here." One handed, he reached up to detach his cape. "He tore your clothes."
Glancing down at herself she realized with a shock that he was right. Her jacket was torn, though she didn't remember it happening, and her blouse was a total loss. Gratefully, she accepted the cape and wrapped it around herself.
"I'm going to take you to the Security Office," Superman said, still in that gentle voice. "Are you afraid of flying?"
She shook her head. He slipped an arm around her and an instant later they were lifting into the air so smoothly that she didn't feel it when her feet left the ground. All she could think of was the incredible sensation of freedom and of absolute safety with that powerful arm holding her so securely.
Her assailant wasn't so lucky. Superman was holding him by the back of his pants and he dangled awkwardly, his arms flailing in the air. To Lori's disappointment, the flight was over within a few seconds as they touched down lightly at the Security Building.
"If there are no more questions," Superman told the officer who had taken their statements, "I'm going to escort Ms. Lyons back to her dormitory."
"If we need any more information, we can contact her." The man glanced at Lori and smiled, deprecatingly. "I'm sorry about your frightening experience, Ms. Lyons. We're short-staffed tonight."
"It seems to me you're always short-staffed," Lori said, tartly. "If the Administration worried as much about student safety as they do about their image this might not have happened. It's too bad they're going to try to cover this up again instead of doing something about it."
The officer said nothing, although she had the impression he didn't disagree with her remark. She glanced up and was surprised to see Superman looking at her with an expression of admiration, but he didn't comment either. Instead, he only smiled and said, "May I take you back to your dorm, Ms. Lyons?"
She hesitated. Her automatic instinct was to turn down his help. Her independence was important to her. On the other hand, not one of the guys she'd ever dated had been this devastatingly handsome, nor had she ever felt that they genuinely cared about her welfare like this man did. Besides, maybe they would fly.
She made up her mind. "Thank you, Superman. I'd like that."
The flight to her dorm was a more leisurely one, and this time, instead of carrying her with an arm around her waist, he carried her in his arms. Lori watched the dark campus pass below her with fascinated eyes. Her roommate had commented one time that although the male super-heroes were one and all absolutely gorgeous, she thought flying with one would be terrifying. All that empty space between you and the ground, nothing around you ... Lori didn't see that at all. She was flying without the assistance of an aircar or a shuttle. There was nothing around her but very thin air and she knew without the shadow of a doubt that the man holding her would never let her fall. Far too soon the flight was over, and he was setting her carefully on her feet before the drab, slightly shabby building where she currently lived.
"Thank you, Superman," she said, suddenly a little shy. "You probably saved my life tonight."
He smiled, and Lori felt her insides melt. It wasn't fair! No man should be blessed with this much charm and good looks, and then add in that smile ...
"If you don't mind," he said, "I'd like to walk you to your room."
This time she had not the slightest thought of refusing. When she opened the door to her room, her roommate looked up and her jaw dropped. Lori smiled up at her rescuer. "Won't you come in? If you'll give me a minute, you can have your cape back."
"Thank you," he said, pleasantly, and followed her inside.
A short time later, with a baggy sweatshirt pulled on in place of the scarlet cape, Lori bade him goodbye with yet another expression of gratitude, and watched the super-hero stride back down the hall toward the steps. There was an air of stunned silence from the other students who happened to witness his exit, which lasted until the brilliant uniform had vanished down the flight of stairs. Lori closed the door.
"Lori, what on earth happened?" Linda asked, the minute the door was closed. "That was Superman!"
"Yeah, I noticed." Lori turned toward her bed and flopped down on it, with an odd feeling of depression.
"How did you happen to meet him?"
"He saved me from being mugged, and caught the guy into the bargain." Lori looked up at her roommate, her expression changing from one of depression to determination. "And I don't care if the Administration doesn't like it, I'm going to write this up for the school paper, tomorrow! They've ignored student safety around here long enough. If it hadn't been for Superman, I'd be dead right now. Others might not be so lucky."
Superman sat on the roof of the dormitory next to the one where Lori Lyons was now preparing for bed, trying to slow his pounding heart and failing miserably in the attempt. For more than twenty years he had waited, knowing that she was here somewhere, and now, without warning, he had found her. She was a twenty year old Journalism major at NTSU. It figured, he thought, shaking his head. He should have known.
Only, how was he to proceed, now?
Fifty years before he had retired from the super-hero business knowing the world was in good hands with his children and grandchildren, so that he could spend more time with Lois. They had both known that he would outlive her. In the 79 years of their marriage, he had not perceptibly aged at all. Lois had aged more slowly than a normal human, probably because, Dr. Klein had told them, of the effects of his aura on her, but her appearance had slowly changed as time went by, and he had chosen to spend the time with her. They had seen their grandchildren born, and then their great-grandchildren. And then the time he dreaded had come at last. He had lost his beloved wife at the age of 108.
He'd expected to feel her disappear, as she had before when she had gone into the parallel world, and knew that when that happened he literally could not live without her.
But she hadn't. Her presence was still there, somewhere. He'd believed for days that he must be going insane from the loss of Lois, that his mind was playing tricks on him. But the feeling hadn't changed, and slowly he remembered the thing that H.G. Wells had told them on their wedding day.
Their souls were intertwined, always together. Wherever his was, there was hers, two lovers destined to meet and fall in love over and over again throughout time. As long as he was alive, she was there, too. Somewhere.
For more than twenty years he had been waiting and searching for her, and now here she was.
Slowly, he began to smile. He had time to win his Lois again, and someday -- much later -- he would tell her the whole story. It was about time that Clark Kent, supposedly the descendant of the reporter who had once worked for the Daily Planet, and a free lance journalist who traveled the globe, took a job here in Metropolis. And in a few days he would make a point of meeting a certain dark-eyed, dark-haired journalism major named Lori ...
Superman rose silently into the night, headed for the home that he had once shared with Lois. CJ and his wife lived there now, but he knew he would be welcome. He always was. And tomorrow, he would take his resume to the Daily Planet.
Anyone who had looked up at that moment wouldn't have believed the sight that greeted his eyes, for he would have seen Superman doing loop-the-loops across the sky. Life was suddenly full of promise once more.
Clark Kent was coming home.