By Nan Smith
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally claim them, nor am I profiting from their use. Any new characters, scenes, dialogue and the story itself, belong to me.
By Nan Smith
"It hasn't changed much," Lois said.
Clark smiled down at her as she looked around the Daily Planet newsroom. "Not much, no. Shall we go?"
Lois swallowed and Clark realized, with a faint sense of surprise, that she was nervous. He touched her hand and felt it grasp his. He squeezed it lightly. "It'll be fine. I did some checking this morning. You're still officially listed as an employee. They can't fire you for having been kidnapped on business for the Planet."
She nodded, and he could hear her heartbeat speed up slightly. Together, they walked down the ramp that led to the newsroom floor. He was aware of faces turning toward them and the chatter in the room died. Slowly, a new murmur of voices rose in its place.
Clark ignored it. He was used to being stared at, and used to his co-workers watching him covertly, hoping he'd do something "super", although why that might be he had no idea. He made a point of Clark Kent doing nothing at all out of the ordinary when there was anyone watching; especially the members of the media. Only Superman performed super feats, although people hadn't seemed to grasp that concept yet. That was one of many things Lois had told him she intended to drive home. There was no point in the media following Clark Kent around, because there wasn't going to be any kind of story in it, period.
"Well, 'Superman'," a voice said. "Is this your mystery woman?"
The speaker was Ralph, as might have been expected. Clark knew from experience that the man would continue to pry until he got an answer. Ralph had all the sensitivity of your average rhinoceros. It was probably an asset in his job, but Clark found it irritating when he was the target of the inquiry.
"I beg your pardon?" he said, making his voice as blank as possible.
"Your mystery woman! The one in the papers!" Ralph turned a sidelong look at Lois, eyeing her up and down. "Nice," he added. "Showing her the newsroom?"
"Ralph," Clark said, "you may not realize it, but this is Lois Lane. The real Lois Lane. I'd watch my step if I were you."
"What?" Ralph said blankly.
"Come on, Ms. Lane," Clark said, pointedly turning his back on Ralph. "Mr. Friaz and Mr. Olsen are waiting to talk to you."
Lois glanced witheringly at Ralph and raised an eyebrow. "If this is the kind of employee that's been hired here since Perry left," she said, "I can see that the Planet needs a quality check."
With difficulty, Clark restrained a grin as he led the way toward Eduardo's office. It had taken Lois approximately two seconds to accurately size up Ralph. Linda King might be the paper's society editor, but Ralph was definitely the office gossip and scandalmonger. If he made the mistake of messing with Lois once she was re-established in the office, he fully expected to see a murder in the near future -- at least figuratively speaking.
Eduardo Friaz had been a senior reporter when Lois had been a newbie. It was something of a shock to see him in Perry's chair, although Lois had known for days that Eduardo was Perry's replacement since he had become the new Mayor. James Olsen, of whom she had heard but never met in person, was seated casually on Perry's couch, and the two of them got to their feet when Clark opened the door for Lois and let her precede him into the room.
"Mr. Olsen, Mr. Friaz," Clark said formally. "I'd like to present Lois Lane. The real Lois Lane. Finally."
Eduardo had begun to grin. "Is it really you this time, Lois?"
"It sure is." Lois smiled in return. She and Eduardo had been casual acquaintances when she had been in the office before, but they had always gotten along amicably. "I'm back."
James Olsen was waiting quietly for the conversation to finish. The young computer mogul looked even younger than she had expected. She turned to him, holding out a hand. "Hello, Mr. Olsen. Clark told me you'd bought the Planet. I'm awfully glad to meet you."
The young man grinned widely. "I'm glad to meet you, Ms. Lane. Perry called me on Christmas Eve," he added. "He was so excited he could hardly talk straight. He gave me some story about amnesia and the South Pacific, but I didn't understand it all." He looked at Clark. "I take it this is the real Lois Lane this time."
Clark nodded. "Definitely."
"How did you find her -- and what happened?" He looked back at Lois.
"It's a kind of weird story," Clark said. "You probably know I'd been looking mainly in Africa for her, but I had an acquaintance of mine -- a world traveler who insisted I not identify him, because of his profession -- looking for her. He called me on Sunday and told me he'd found her. I went to get her. It took a couple of days to get everything straightened out, but we arrived back in Metropolis on Tuesday night."
"So that solves the mystery of your whereabouts for those days that the tabloids have all been speculating about," Eduardo said.
Clark nodded. "That's right. I found her in the South Pacific."
"How did you get there?" Olsen asked.
Lois shrugged. "I'm not really sure," she said. "The last thing I remember of the Congo was being in a warehouse."
"Yes. I'd been tipped off that someone wanted to give me information on the gunrunning operation, but it turned out to be a trap. This guy -- he called himself Tempus -- grabbed me. I tried to get away -- and that's the last thing I remember until Clark showed up to find me. I was in the South Pacific. As far as I could tell, I'd been dropped there out of thin air."
"Tempus!" Olsen said. "He was there?"
Lois nodded. "I think he may have been involved with the gunrunners and thought I was getting too close. Why?"
"He was the man running against Perry for Mayor," Eduardo said. "He's still loose, too."
"No wonder he wanted to be Mayor," Clark said. "In a position like that he'd have had a practically free hand smuggling guns into Metropolis. Anyhow, when I brought Lois back to Metropolis, she remembered everything that had happened up until she went into the warehouse -- but nothing in between."
"That's quite a story," Olsen said. "Do you think you feel well enough to go back to work here?"
"Yes," Lois said. "I'm told that the missing memories could return in time, but not to try to force it. Anyway, I'm fine, otherwise."
Olsen nodded. "Well, you're still officially an employee at the Planet, and I see no reason for that to change. Friaz?"
"It sounds good to me, Mr. Olsen," Eduardo said. "Ms. Lane was one of our best reporters. I'd love to have her back on the staff." He smiled. "She certainly looks healthy enough. I'll swear you haven't changed a bit, Lois -- except for the tan."
"The tropical sun will do that," Lois said.
"One thing, though," Clark said. "Since it's been almost five years, it might not be a bad idea if she partnered with someone -- just until she's back up to speed, of course. That shouldn't be long."
Lois didn't say anything. She and Clark had talked this over, and she'd had to agree that he was right. She had nearly five years to catch up on. Besides, working with Clark didn't seem like such a bad deal. At least, as a partner, he wasn't likely to slow her down, and they'd already had some experience working together in the last few days.
"Are you volunteering, Clark?" Eduardo asked.
"Sure. Lois and I have gotten to be friends," he said. "Anything I can do to help her is all right by me. From everything I've been told, she'll have me running to keep up with her before long."
Eduardo chuckled. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
"All right," James Olsen said. "I guess it's settled then. We'll take you off of the missing list and put you back on active status. You may as well go to work today." He grinned. "Friaz, you'd better get the payroll department busy on her back pay. That's going to be a headache for certain, but I suspect Ms. Lane is going to need some money as soon as possible."
"I talked to my bank," Lois said. "The State of New Troy seized my account because it hadn't been active since I disappeared. They said it would take six weeks to process the paperwork before my money could be returned, so it would be nice if I could get an advance on my back pay as soon as possible."
"Sounds reasonable to me," Olsen said. "See to it, Friaz." He glanced at his watch. "Well, I have a meeting in forty-five minutes, so I'd better go." He extended a hand to Lois. "I'm glad to see you back alive and well, Lois. I'll be expecting to see some of your work in the Planet soon."
"I think the first order of the day," Eduardo said, as soon as the door had closed behind the owner, "is to get you a desk and a computer, Lois. You'd probably better put it over by yours, Clark, since you're going to be working together for a while. And then I'll want a small piece about your return. You don't have to go into all the gory details, but it would be nice to notify Metropolis that you're back."
"As if anyone will notice," Lois said.
"You might be surprised," Eduardo said. "After that, I'll leave the two of you to work out the rest." He paused, as an idea seemed to occur to him. "I don't suppose Lois's reappearance could possibly have anything to do with your new representative, Clark? It's been all over the news this last week that you told the press to go through your spokesperson if they want any statements from you."
"Actually, it does," Lois said. "They were breaking their agreement to leave him alone when he was in his civilian mode, so I volunteered to run interference."
"Good idea," Eduardo said. "From what I hear, they don't like it a bit. Sounds like you're doing a good job -- not that I'm surprised." He grinned at Clark. "I always thought you were too soft on the media. Maybe now you'll get some peace and quiet occasionally."
"Yeah, maybe," Clark said. "Lois doesn't take any nonsense from them, that's for sure."
"I'd better warn you, that also applies to the sleazeball that we ran into when we got to the newsroom," Lois said. "Just because he works for the Planet doesn't mean he can harass Clark, or make the kind of insinuations he did when we met."
Eduardo's eyebrows went up. "Sleaze -- oh, Ralph." He shrugged. "If he steps over the line, you have my blanket permission to cut off his leg. Go on, now. We have work to do today."
"All right," Clark said. He looked at his new partner in sheer admiration. "Are you ready?"
Lois nodded decisively. "I just wanted Eduardo to know where we stand. Okay." He saw her swallow and lift her chin. "Let's go."
Wow. And this had all happened in the space of a few days. There was a wide grin trying to make its way to the surface but Clark squelched it firmly. Lois was still a little nervous, but she was definitely back, he thought. Metropolis wasn't going to know what had hit it. He opened the door and let the small tornado that had invaded his life so suddenly exit ahead of him.
Heads turned as they entered the newsroom again, but suddenly the gaping observers were turning back to their interrupted business and Clark realized that Eduardo had followed them out.
"I'd like your attention, please," he said. He waited for a moment and continued. "I'd like to welcome someone back to the Daily Planet. It seems that the rumors of her death were -- like many rumors -- completely false. To those of you who have joined the staff since 1993, you may have heard of Lois Lane. Thanks to Clark, Lois has been found alive and well, and is rejoining the Planet as of today. Welcome back, Lois." He held out a hand and shook hers. "We're glad to have you back." He glanced around the room. "All right. That's all."
A low murmur arose as Eduardo went back into his office. Clark turned to Lois. "That desk is free," he said, nodding to one of the larger examples in the newsroom that was uncharacteristically free of papers and debris. A computer shrouded in plastic was its only ornament except for an empty mug that someone had deposited on one corner. "Karyn Walford transferred to the Paris office last week, so it's all yours if you want it."
Lois looked it over and nodded. "It'll do. Could you help me move it over near yours?"
The other people in the room were watching them avidly, no doubt thinking that they were about to see Clark Kent perform a super feat. Clark nodded. "Sure. Just a minute while I make a small change."
Conference Room 2 was empty. Clark stepped through the door, changed quickly into his Superman suit and re-emerged a split second later. Aware that every eye in the room was on him, he walked casually to the desk, removed the mug, hefted the piece of furniture lightly in one hand and transported it to a spot at right angles to his own. He set it down and glanced inquiringly at her. "Is this all right?"
"That's fine," she said.
"Great." He whisked into the conference room at super speed, changed into his civilian attire and walked casually out again at normal speed, absently straightening his tie. Lois caught his eye and flicked him a wink.
Ignoring the intense scrutiny of the other occupants of the room, he strolled to where she stood by her new desk. "Is there anything else I can help you with, Lois?"
"I don't think so -- unless you want to help me get my supplies together." Lois glanced around at the watching people. "Didn't your mothers ever tell you it's rude to stare?"
There was a rustle and a few gasps, and suddenly the occupants of the room were to all appearances paying close attention to their various jobs. Without another look, Lois strode confidently toward the storeroom, Clark trailing behind.
Yep, he thought happily, a new era had begun in the newsroom all right, as well as the rest of the world. Mad Dog Lane was back, and Superman had the partner he needed at last. Things were going to be very different from now on.
It was going to be great.