Hi! We love you! Read! Figured that we owed it to you guys not to be long winded this time around. :)
(Figured it would be short and sweet this time!)
Why are you still reading this intro? Go! Go! ;)
The cell phone buzzed for a second, then played the first recorded message. "Lois, it's Richard. I saw the news. We need to talk." There was an abrupt click as he hung up the phone, and Lois pinched the bridge of her nose, wondering if this was what a migraine felt like.
"Miss Lane, this is Jimmy. I think the Chief's really mad at you – he's turning red and yelling something about you and the news? Call me before you come back to the office and I'll let you know if the coast is clear." Even as he whispered, she could hear Perry bellowing in the background.
"Lois, this is your mother. I hope you realize you've just traumatized your twins. They were watching TV, and they saw all of that. Kala's in her room claiming that there's nobody named Kala home right now, and Jason's in tears because he says you said you and Superman were friends and now you're being mean. Call me."
"Hey, Lane, this is Toby. Um, where the heck did you go? I saw you walk down that alley a minute ago, but I lost you after that. I was hoping for a sound bite that won't make you look like a total bitch. C'mon, help me out here?"
"Lois, you'd better start answering this goddamn phone when I call you! Oh, and just so you know, I know Olsen called you. Don't bother calling him to find out if I'm not pissed anymore, if you wait for that you won't come in 'til February. Bring your butt back to the office before you say something else snarky on live television!"
"Toby again. You're not at your car and nobody else has seen you. We all know you keep the phone on for the twins – why aren't you answering? You're starting to scare me, Lane. Call me as soon as you get this." A hang-up call followed that one, and then Perry again.
"Now I'm mad 'til at least June! Why the hell is that broad from the Daily Star calling here to ask where you are? And who gave her your office number? Where are you, anyway?"
"Honey, where are you? Uncle Perry called to ask if I'd heard from you. You left the car parked downtown and no one's seen you since the fire scene. Call and let me know you're all right."
An annoyed sigh and a click as the caller hung up. The next two calls were hang-ups as well.
"Lane, Sawyer. Toby's starting to freak out. Apparently you walked into an alley and disappeared? Please tell me you're just being cussed out – and rightfully so – by your ex. If you were kidnapped out from under all our noses… You'd better be off with Big Blue."
"Lois, where are you? Your fiancé and your boss have both called me. I'm starting to get really worried. Not to mention the twins are still upset. Please just call and say you're okay."
Lois put her head in her hands and sighed heavily. Just great. I managed to scare or piss off everyone I know in one twenty-minute period. Fabulous. And still the phone continued to play her messages, which became more and more shrill.
Superman took to the sky, for the solace and silence of the highest reaches, where the atmosphere was thin and the never-ending roar of humanity was easier to ignore. Superman rose higher and faster, trying to escape the pain of loss and the worse pain of knowing that she did still love him. That last kiss … so much unspoken, but so very clear. And after he'd flown away, he'd heard her voice whispering. What can I possibly do now? I love her, she loves me … but that's not enough.
Clark flew halfway across the globe, stopping in Indonesia to pull an overcrowded bus off the edge of a bridge. That finished, he hovered in the stratosphere, trying to collect his scattered thoughts.
At least we've cleared the air a little bit between us. Maybe we can be civil to each other from now on… Not that it helps the fact that I'm still in love with her, and have no right to be. She is engaged to Richard. Someone I respect and admire. A man who's spent the last three years taking care of her and her twins. No matter what happens, it isn't fair to him.
I need some perspective on this. I need to talk to someone I can trust. I need someone who can decode the feminine mind-set.
I need Ma.
Lois stared at her cell phone as the final message played. "Lane, this is Maggie again. Your boss called me. I'm bringing your car over to the Planet garage to keep you from getting a parking ticket. I don't know why, I ought to let them tow the damn thing. Next time you turn your cell phone off I'm gonna cram it up your nose, you hear me? I ought to write you a citation for disturbing the peace just for the amount of panic you've caused today." She paused, and Lois heard some faint metallic noises followed by a pop. "Damn German cars are a bitch to break into. You better hope I can hotwire this thing or I really will let them tow it."
Shit. Lois' forehead smacked into her palm again. I don't believe this! A cop is breaking into my car. A lieutenant, at that. Good God.
"This day is shot," Lois muttered aloud. She erased all of the messages and changed her outgoing greeting to say, "This is Lois, I'm alive, I'm fine, you can stop calling. Leave a message of it's important." Then she went to Perry's office and told him, "Chief, I give up. I'm going to go get my sick kids and write this one up from home, okay? I'll come in earlier than usual and might even sit in on a meeting with you to make up for it."
He glared for a moment, but the mention of the twins had a predictable effect. And there was the fact that Lois never asked to leave early. Ever. It had been a helluva day for her. "Fine. But if you're late, you're toast. Email it to me and the proofreading department by nine."
"Yes, oh, benevolent dictator," she snarked tiredly, and left. Perry just watched her go, shaking his head.
Richard gave up staring at his plate. The baked potato was too salty, the steak was too tough, the green beans were too bland … and none of it was the restaurant's fault. I've been sleeping with Superman's ex-girlfriend. Well, up until recently, anyway. Her insomniac hours on the computer pretty much ended our love life. Talk about an intolerable situation.
And that's not to mention Kent. I don't believe Lois for an instant. Something's going on there. From the way people have been talking since he got back, it was always common knowledge that he had a crush on her. God, using the word 'crush' to describe the feelings of a man over the age of nineteen!
But why Kent? Lois likes control. I wonder how much she likes it? Enough to string along some guy too nice to call her a tease?
His conscious stung him. I'm being spiteful because I'm pissed. Lois isn't really like that. No, it's more likely that she's seen through the slightly nerdy exterior as well as I have. And that she saw through it a long time ago. If they were more than friends, that explains all of her recent behavior towards him – and it also explains the first stamp I glimpsed in his passport book. Got to get a better look, but it was France, and the year looked about right.
You know, for a while there I actually thought that Clark and Superman might be the same person. They returned to Metropolis around the same time, they were both probably involved with Lois, they're about the same height and weight and coloring… But I've seen video of Superman in action, and I just spent two weeks with Clark. There's no way – nobody's that good an actor. Besides, if they really were the same person, I think Lois would know. And if she knew, as mad as she's been at both of them, she'd have won the Pulitzer for exposing the secret.
It's a ridiculous image, too. I mean, what does he do with the uniform? Tuck the cape into the back of his pants? Carry it around and change clothes while he flies? Some satellite would've picked that up by now. No, there's no way Clark could be Superman, or vice versa.
In the middle of that train of thought, Richard realized that his steak had gotten cold. He decided to cut his losses, pay for the disappointing meal, and go look up the two people who were always glad to see him.
To hell with work. What's the point of being assistant editor and the editor-in-chief's nephew if you can't blow off the occasional afternoon?
Lois' phone rang again as she left the bullpen, and she answered it while suppressing another dismayed groan. "Lane."
"Where are you, Lois?" Maggie said.
"Leaving the office."
"Great. Your car's on the third level, by the elevators. You can drive me back to my patrol car."
Lois sighed. "Please tell me you didn't screw anything up on my car when you broke into it."
"Oh, no. I'm sure that scratch will come right out, and you can tuck the wires back up under the dash real easy."
"Maggie!" Lois yelped. "Do you have any idea how much it costs to take that car to the dealer?"
"Relax, your 'baby' is fine," the lieutenant sighed. "You're just lucky you aren't paying to get it out of impound, you know that."
Lois was at the elevators then, and knew from experience she'd get no signal inside. "Yeah, well, that's why I put up with sarcastic friends like you, Sawyer."
The elevator doors dinged open, and Lois said, "See you in five," and closed her phone as she stepped in. When she got down to the garage, Maggie was leaning against the Audi and watching Lois critically. As the reporter fished her keys out of her purse, the lieutenant's gaze never left her. "If you're going to say something to me, Sawyer, please just say it."
Her only answer was a look from those ice-blue cop eyes, so Lois let herself into her own car with an annoyed sigh. Thankfully, she couldn't find any evidence of the way Maggie had broken in and hotwired it. Sawyer dropped into the passenger seat as soon as Lois unlocked it and started buckling her seatbelt.
Inside the car, the faint scent of soot on Maggie's uniform got stronger, and Lois rolled her window down a few inches. She wasn't even aware of what she did next until Maggie said pointedly, "I thought you quit."
Lois looked at the cigarette in her hand. It was that automatic, after all this time: get in, buckle up, roll window down, light cigarette. She'd already taken a drag without tasting it as she put the car in gear and backed out of the parking spot.
What the hell, she thought, and drew the smoke deep into her lungs. "After this day, Maggie, I deserve one."
"Really? You were a bit of an ass, but I don't think you deserve lung cancer for it," Sawyer said.
Lois simply rolled her eyes and raised her middle finger with an elegant flip of her wrist, and then drove out of the garage.
After a few minutes, Maggie tried again. "So, what happened?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, hell, Lois, the way you're acting, how on earth would I guess that?" Maggie replied. "The point is, I want to talk about it. Toby's going nuts worrying about you."
"Fine! So talk."
"You're usually better at controlling your temper than you were today," Maggie began. "I'm not saying you don't have a right to be pissed at the guy, just that it's unlike you to cut into someone in front of cameras. Now, I know Luthor hasn't done anything since he threatened you, but I also know that you haven't relaxed in the slightest. So maybe some of that can be blamed on you being on edge continuously for two months."
"Yeah," Lois said, navigating Metropolis' busy streets. "All wound up and no one to shoot."
"Be damn sure it's really justifiable homicide before you plug him," Maggie warned. "I guess I'd just like to think that, if something else was going on, you'd tell me."
The police driving course. All those hours at the firing range. A few off-the-record whispered conversations. More than a few drinks in out-of-the-way bars, talking about life and love and crime and politics. That wild dash home from the Pulitzers, and a few days later, the two boxes of Silvertip Hollowpoint bullets that Maggie had dropped off at the house. The lieutenant didn't have to mention any of those things, because they both knew about them. And she didn't have to say, Don't you think you owe me the truth? Both of them knew that, too.
What can I say? "Maggie, this isn't easy."
Lois sighed. "Look, he wanted to talk to me. Is it my fault he decided to snatch me up out of alley and have that conversation a mile up? If it's any comfort, I was pretty damn scared, too."
Maggie nodded. "And did you two get certain things cleared up?"
"What are you talking about?"
The lieutenant sighed and ran her fingers through her short blonde hair. "I'm not used to doing interrogations outside the precinct, Lois. Did you and Superman get everything straightened out between you, or are you going to publicly snap at each other again?"
Everything but the tiny little fact that I had his kids, Lois retorted in her mind. "Yes, Mags, we argued and yelled and then made up. Are you happy?"
"Ecstatic. Who said you could call me Mags?"
Now that was more like their normal ribbing. "It's a free country."
"Fine … Joanne."
"Do you want to live to see your squad car again, Sawyer?"
Superman flew past the farm after rescuing some miners from a cave-in, and was unsurprised to see that Ma was out. She and Ben are probably out playing bingo, or fishing, or watching a movie. For all I know, they could be competing in the International Scrabble Championships. He shook his head slightly, still amazed that his mother had a more active social life than he did.
Then another thought occurred to him. Speaking of a social life, I've been meaning to have dinner at Ron's house this week. Lucy will kill me if I put it off. I really need to talk about today … but Lois' little sister would be an even better source of information, if I can figure out how to word the questions just right.
Now that sounded like a plan… All he had to do now was call them, make sure they would be home, and find some way to fill the hours until dinnertime.
He had just taken his cell phone out of the pocket in his cape when he heard sirens, and lots of them, in Dallas. As if finding something to do would be a problem…
After dropping Maggie off, Lois headed out to her mother's. All she wanted was to see the twins, to hug them and hold them and forget her confrontation with their father earlier. Her mother had called twice, gotten the new message both times, and hung up without leaving one of her own. Lois hated not calling her, but preferred to wait and talk to her in person. With the twins around to moderate the conversation, of course.
When she pulled up to the house, though, Ella came outside right away. Lois considered that a bad sign and hurried out of the car, trying to smile naturally. "Mom! I figured I'd get the twins early…"
"You're still too late," her mother said crisply. "Richard was here twenty minutes ago to pick them up. If you'd answer your phone once in a while people could tell you these things."
The tone instantly set Lois back twenty years, and she blushed furiously. "Momma…"
"Lois Joanne Lane, I swear you never change. You look just the same way you did when you were twelve and pretended not to hear me call you for dinner." Ella sighed, folding her arms. "Get your butt in the house so we can talk."
The fearless reporter slunk into her childhood home just like that little girl who had tried selective deafness to avoid eating asparagus. Once inside, Ella went right back to her cup of tea, glaring at Lois in utter silence. And wasn't that another great mom trick, letting you anticipate just how awful a talking-to you were about to get. Lois had done the same with the twins when they misbehaved. Ella sighed heavily, and Lois winced because she knew what was next.
"Lois, I'm disappointed in you."
"Hush and listen," Ella said sternly. "You let your mouth run away with you again, only this time it was on live television. Did you ever even think about what you were saying or who was going to hear it?"
Lois bit her lip. It's not like I blurted out his secret identity or anything. Which I could have done, except I'm too honorable. Another voice added, And still in love with him.
Ella wasn't finished. "Not to mention, the man saved your life two months ago. Have you shown even a speck of gratitude? I didn't think so. You've been perfectly nasty to him ever since that interview!"
Oh, the things you don't know, Lois thought, staring at her toes. I'd say this morning counts as very nice indeed. But I can't give away his secret, not even to Mom.
"I dearly hope that for once in his life he stopped being such a gentleman and told you exactly what he thought of your comments! That was him who snatched you up."
"Yes, mother, we had the apocalyptic argument we've been waiting six years to have," Lois snapped, lifting her angry hazel eyes to meet Ella's. "You can stop treating me like a child, I've heard about it from him, the police, and my boss today, and after this morning I've had enough."
"If you don't want to be treated like a child, then stop acting like one," Ella replied, then swiftly continued, "At least you two finally talked. How did he react to the news, then?"
Lois took a deep breath, glancing away again, and Ella erupted.
"Lois! You had a perfect opportunity to tell the man why you're so damned angry with him, and you wasted it? How long are you going to wait before you tell him he's their father?"
"I'm not!" Lois shouted. "Mother, I am not telling him! After this today, we're at least speaking to each other again, but if I told him that… God only knows what he'll do. I'll kill him myself before I let him take the twins!"
"Please, Lois! That's the overprotective first-time mom speaking. I can't imagine him…"
"You know nothing about him!" Lois spat. "All you know is 'Superman,' the public persona. There's a lot about him that would shock you."
"Well, my daughter hasn't talked about any of her boyfriends since the one in high school with the earring. Except the shrink."
"You love bringing that up, don't you, Momma?"
Ella just grinned. "I knew Elliot was doomed when he kept trying to analyze you. You're not the kind of woman who enjoys having her flaws pointed out."
"Thank your husband for that."
"Stop trying to lead me off topic, Lois. What exactly about Superman would shock your poor, sheltered old mother?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Well, for starters, in spite of his world reputation, those twins weren't exactly a virgin birth."
Ella sighed. "Child, there's nothing you did with him – nothing you've done with any man – that I didn't do before you. I'll have you know I'm no stranger to mad, passionate love affairs."
The reporter seemed taken aback. "There was someone before Daddy?"
That brought a torrent of laughter. "Oh, my dear Lois. I'm talking about Sam. Why do you think we stayed together all those years, the way we fought about you? Not that I didn't think about leaving him a time or two."
Lois blinked in surprise at that revelation; she'd always assumed her parents stayed together out of a sense of duty. Love had never entered the equation in her mind. Before she could fully process the new information, Ella was forging onward. "So tell me why you think Superman would try to take the twins away from you. I just have a hard time imagining you falling in love with someone that callous."
Sighing, Lois tried to explain. "It's not really him, Momma. It's his father. The computer-controlled hologram recording of his father. That night, when we … his father made him give up his powers to be with me. Made him think he was giving them up forever. He was very clear on what he thought about his son, his almighty Kryptonian heir, choosing his selfish desire for a human over the needs of the whole planet." This last sentence was punctuated by a sarcastic tone and eyes rolling heavenward.
Ella scowled. "And you think his father would…"
"According to him, it was a mistake," Lois snapped. The mere mention of Jor-El was enough to make her furious all over again. "What do you think someone with a god complex would tell his son to do about the twins? His bastard heirs sired on a weak, primitive human? The way he thinks of our entire species is creepy enough without adding the fact that his son always does what Daddy says."
That disturbing thought gave Ella pause. "You loved him, though, and you're no fool. There must be something about him besides just following orders. Do you really think he'd do something so cruel to you?"
"He wouldn't see it as cruel," Lois argued. "He erased my memories for my own good – he said as much today – so what else might he do under his father's prodding? No, Momma, I don't trust him as far as they're concerned. You may as well stop asking, because I'm not going to tell him."
"If you don't, eventually I will," Ella warned. "You can't keep him in the dark forever."
Lois raked her hands through her hair. "Fine! When I think I can trust him … when we've talked a little bit more … then maybe I'll tell him. But the twins come first, and I will not let them be taken from me."
"Oh, that reminds me, Jason broke two more of his cars tonight," Ella replied, and Lois felt her spine turn to ice. "Seems to me he just doesn't know his own strength."
Ella put her hands on her daughter's shoulders and looked intently into those hazel eyes. "Sweetheart, you're not going to be able to hide them much longer. What if they get his other powers? What if they start to see right through things? That'll scare them half to death if they glance at someone and find out what a spleen looks like while it's still inside. God forbid, what if they can fly?"
Lois blanched, her knees growing weak. She was suddenly faced by a vision of Jason and Kala soaring up into the night sky, waving goodbye to her, following their father out of her life. Her mother had to help her to the couch.
Clark couldn't quite conceal his look of shock when Lucy Troupe opened the door. "Lucy! Wow, you look … radiant."
"Yeah, if I radiate any more Ron will have to buy me a wheelbarrow to carry this baby around in," she joked, taking the flowers he'd brought and kissing his cheek. "C'mon in, Clark. Mind the munchkins, they get underfoot."
Three beautiful children, with café-au-lait skin and coal black hair, ran up to Clark. Little Sam and Nora were old enough to remember him and each demanded a hug; Joanna hung back shyly. She had been born a year or so after Lois' twins and had somehow inherited her mother's merry blue eyes.
Ron stuck his head out of the kitchen. "Well, well, the prodigal returns! I was starting to wonder when you'd take me up on the invitation. Lucy, hon, sit down somewhere, Clark can make himself at home."
"I'm pregnant, not sick," she said tartly. "You'd think by number four he'd be used to it, wouldn't you?"
Clark couldn't help wincing a little at that offhand comment. What kind of a father would I have been?
"Listen, woman, if you keep insisting on staying on your feet all day long, you're gonna regret it," Ron warned. "Even Lois figured out what bed rest was when she was pregnant."
Lucy just laughed. "Ron, she went into labor in a meeting! That's why she had to go on bed rest. Besides, she was a lot bigger than I am."
Oh, this was just too painful already. "Well, Lucy, she was carrying twins," Clark said.
"Yeah, two kids and a swing set for them to play on, from the look of her," Lucy teased. "Hey, Clark, you want to see the only surviving preggers picture of the Fearless Reporter?"
Ron checked on the chicken he was baking and added, "Lucy, she ever finds out you have that, she's gonna kill you. And then I'm gonna have to raise these wild children all by myself."
Lucy rolled her eyes as she led Clark into the living room and took the back off of a picture of Ron's parents. "Can you blame me for wanting to keep the only picture of my sister where she looks like the Goodyear blimp? She was always prettier and smarter, I had to make do with cute and popular. It's nice to see her looking like something other than a Playboy model." Then she handed Clark the photo that had been concealed behind the other one.
A sledgehammer to the heart couldn't have hurt that badly. Lois was still very delicate, but her pregnant belly was very prominent. And the look on her face was so lost and lonely, the camera having captured her looking out a window. Clark sighed. "Gosh, Lucy," he said quietly.
"I know. She's gi-normous. And let me tell you, pregnancy usually makes women happy and joyful, like me. Lois went the other way – her mood swings, brrr!" The pretty blonde shuddered dramatically.
Clark felt distinctly nauseous. The last thing I want to think about is Lois with some other man, Lois carrying another man's children. It's not as if this guy was even important to her. And as much as I'd like to be angry at her, I can't help but feel sorry for her. Just look at how sad she looks in this picture.
He didn't get much time to feel sorry for himself, though. Little Sam wanted to show him a homework assignment he'd gotten an A+ on that day, and Nora wanted to tell him about her upcoming birthday party. Even Joanna was curious about him now, and while Ron and Lucy put the finishing touches on dinner the three kids surrounded him with questions and laughter. The photo of a pregnant Lois was gone from the surface of his mind shortly after Lucy put it back in its hiding place, but the image would remain in his subconscious for quite a while.
Richard didn't get up when he heard the key in the lock. He was watching the Discovery Channel with the kids, but his mind wasn't on the emperor penguins that fascinated the twins. He'd had several hours in which to stew about Lois and everything that was going – or had long ago gone – wrong in their relationship. It was beginning to feel as though something huge had shifted, deep below the surface, and a widening gulf was slowly opening between them.
Once when he was thirteen or so, his parents had lived in a house with a huge oak tree right outside his bedroom window. Richard had loved that tree. When he climbed it he felt like he owned the world, looking down on the roof of the house and seeing the tiny little oak saplings growing in between the shingles. He had never made the connection between the gnarled roots that reached up under the house's foundation and the crack in the plaster wall of his bedroom.
Richard's parents had spent a couple of years plastering over that crack, sanding and repainting, but it always came back again. He liked to lie in bed and pretend it was a map of some unknown river, and he was flying over it, seeking strange tribes or lost cities. Once he had dreamed that it was a door into another world, one with fearsome monsters to fight and beautiful damsel in distress to save, and that the crack would somehow widen enough for him to slip through.
It never got to that point, although it did widen. After a long, wet spring, he had noticed that the crack in the wall was wider than his thumb. His parents noticed it too, and a lot of serious men in coveralls had come to look at it and the oak tree and the outside of the house. And then one day Richard had come home from school and the tree had been cut down. He was furious, even though his parents explained that the massive tree was lifting the back of the house and might one day cause his bedroom walls to crumble, perhaps even while he was in bed.
The original hairline crack in the wall had actually spread to about three inches wide before his parents finally had the tree cut down, although no one could tell because of the constant repairs. And that was how Richard felt about his engagement to Lois at the moment. They were drifting apart so slowly, covering over the obvious gaps in their relationship, and all the while that outside force kept widening the emptiness between them.
It would be easy to say that it was Superman's fault, but Richard knew the blame really lay with himself and Lois. Too much had been left unspoken, and he had not asked as much as Lois had not told. Only now, with Superman and Clark Kent both back in her life, were certain things coming to light. It seemed he was thinking more frequently, Do I really know Lois at all? At first he'd assumed she was turning into someone new, but the longer he thought about it, the more he realized Lois was simply changing back into the woman he had never met, the one who had flown with Superman.
I fell in love with Sleeping Beauty, he thought, as Lois walked into the house and set her purse on the table, the twins rushing to her. And now she's waking up.