Armed with an interview assignment, a reluctant Lois finds herself truly alone with Superman for the first time since he discovered the bittersweet secret they share.
Disclaimer: I don't own Superman, the characters and settings contained here. This is a work of fan fiction written for the sheer, unpaid pleasure of it.
Author's Note: This story begins immediately after the closing scene of Superman Returns. Rated T for language and adult content. 6500 words. Reviews wanted and welcomed!!
Everything Light and Good
For a long time after Superman shot into the darkness, Lois stood in the dew-damp grass, watching the arc he etched across the canvas of night, her heart threatening to shove its way through bone and muscle and flesh to follow him.
She hugged herself as his parting reassurance echoed in her mind. I'm always around. Always around, and always just beyond her reach.
But he was home, and home to stay. She let the realization sink in, good and deep, then put her head into her hands and cried. Tears of joy. Tears of sorrow. Knowing an impressive stockpile of crazy ups and downs awaited her as far into the future as the mind could fathom.
When the hard sobs had stopped, she wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her robe, took a last lingering look in the direction where he had become one with the stars, and headed inside to a sleeping Richard, and to the child born of a love as impervious as Superman himself.
"It's been two months, Lois. We need another interview. Your usual material. Edgy and bold." Perry braced his hands on his desktop in that unyielding pose that declared no room for argument. "Name the day, and I'll make sure he gets the message."
"'He'?" Perching on the chair across from him, she crossed her legs and studied her bitten-to-the-quick fingernails. "He who, Chief?"
When he didn't reply, she glanced up to find him scowling at her. "I chose a hell of a time to give up my cigars," he muttered. "You're a pain in the ass, Lane. I hope my nephew knows what he's fallen in love with."
"Richard appreciates my quirks."
"To each his own." He stabbed a finger in her direction. "I want that interview before someone else gets it."
Rising to her feet, she folded her arms across her breasts and returned his hard stare. "If you're talking about another Superman interview, I'm afraid my answer is no."
One snowy brow crept nearly to his hairline. "No?"
"Not this time, Chief. I'm in the middle of the story on Senator Halward's recent sexual indiscretions. It's juicy, it's ugly, and it's got my full attention."
"I'll reassign it. This is more important."
"Come on, Perry. You know I don't respond well to threats." She squared her shoulders and despite her hammering pulse, managed a tight smile. "I do agree the public is ready for another Superman interview. He's been far too quiet lately. And there are plenty of reporters in this very office who'd love to—"
"He talks to you, Lois. You call, he comes. You ask all the right questions and get answers out of him no other reporter can touch. You have a history with him, for God's sake."
A history that was more hindrance than help to the peaceful life she was struggling to cling to. "I don't even know the guy anymore, Perry. And I'd like to be remembered in the publishing world for something else besides that particular topic."
His eyes narrowed as he straightened. "Since when did you become afraid of Superman?"
"I'm not afraid of him. I just want to write about other events, other people."
"Richard thinks you should take the assignment."
She choked back a laugh. "I truly doubt that."
"Damn it, Lois!" Perry smacked his hands on the desk so abruptly, she startled. "I'll have you know I talked with Richard just this morning. He agrees that you need to barrel through this reticence you've developed regarding Superman. It's affecting your job performance."
Lois blanched, as surprised as she was offended. Why would Richard side with Perry? Why would he lay her out before Superman like some kind of sacrificial offering, and so soon after questioning her sentiments where the Man of Steel was concerned?
"You cried when they showed him on TV tonight, rescuing those four kids from the tenement fire in Chicago," he'd said two nights ago, clobbering her with his unexpected observation as she climbed into bed beside him.
"Tears of joy." Setting her alarm clock with all the concentration needed to analyze DNA, she hadn't missed a beat. "Bless those poor kids."
"Yeah, him too." When she pecked her fiancé on the cheek, turned out her bedside lamp and slowly exhaled into the dark, she'd thought that was the end of it. But then Richard's voice threaded through the heavy quiet.
"Sometimes I watch you when you read an article about him or see him on the news. Your face changes, you know."
'I didn't know." She mouthed a curse into the cover of night and flipped away from him, bunching her pillow beneath her head.
"You still love him?"
Silence. She didn't know what to say. This entire discussion had sideswiped her.
"Why are you doing this, Richard? We've already had this talk. I told you I never loved him."
"So you lied a little," he said gently. "We all do it from time to time. I guess what I need to know is, do you now?"
"What, lie? Only little white ones."
"Oh, you mean the other thing?" She rolled back toward him and finding his cool hand in the dark, laced her fingers through his. "Richard, I love you. You, okay? Here you are, torturing me, and yet I still love you."
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice hollow, disembodied.
He didn't believe her.
It was the last thing she thought before she drifted into a fitful sleep.
So why would he now want to push her to confront the man whose mere appearance on the news 'changed her face'?
Because he doesn't know your heart.
And he didn't know other things, either. Like the fact that Superman wasn't the past, but the present, every single minute of every day. Every heartbeat that passed through the little body of the son she'd created with the Man of Steel.
Richard didn't know that. He didn't know her heart, and she was wearing his ring. The sunlight slipping through the blinds glinted on the generous solitaire and stirred her from her ruminations. When she looked up, Perry was on the phone. She could get out while the going was good.
"I've got a meeting with Halward's secretary at three," she mouthed to him, backing toward his office door. "Can I go now?"
The editor's scowl deepened and he clamped a hand over the receiver long enough to bark, "This isn't over."
"It's going to have to be," she said, swinging open the door. "Sorry, but I'm just not your girl on this one."
The late August night hung rich with the first scents of autumn, but Lois hardly noted the tinge of sweetness in the air as she stepped onto the rooftop of The Daily Planet. Her senses were too boiled by frustration.
Damn you, Perry White.
It was Jason's bedtime. She wanted to be home, reading him a story. Lounging on the sofa after a long, draining day at work. Maybe soaking in a hot tub with bubbles and a glass of Chardonnay. Instead she was stuck on the roof of a high-rise in the middle of Metropolis, a ball of nerves and consternation.
Whatever happened to the girl who'd do anything for a story?
"Shut up," she muttered to her voice of reason. Those days were over. The world had changed, and so had she.
There were other publications she could work for. Hell, there were magazines and news shows that would love to have her onboard. She didn't have to put up with Perry's special brand of bullying.
But somehow, here she stood for the umpteenth time, waiting with bated breath to meet Superman.
Defeat curved her shoulders as she smoothed a weary hand over her ponytail. She didn't want to see him, yet it was all she wanted in the world. She hadn't wanted this assignment, yet watching it go to any other reporter would have been agony. Everything had gone stark black and white in her life since he'd returned, no shades of gray. And after the unsettling exchange with Richard the other night, the fragile emotional balance she'd achieved regarding Superman had dissolved with a series of intense dreams, from which she'd awakened trembling and achingly alive in places that marked her an unfaithful woman, if only in mind. Sometimes she cried for no reason, too, if the evening was especially star-spangled and the breeze just silky enough to remind her of midnight flights in the arms of an angel without wings.
And Richard said her face changed every time Superman flashed across the news.
Her heels made agitated, rhythmic clicks on the concrete as she strolled the parameter of the rooftop, her arms folded tightly over her heart. There was no sign of him yet, no telltale snap of a cape as he swept in and landed like a magnificent crimson and cobalt bird. No soft footfall, no softer greeting. How are you tonight, Miss Lane?
A shiver went through her as the cool wind teased the wisps of hair escaped from her ponytail. This particular rooftop had been their meeting place more than once, the launching pad of unrequited desires, a place of sweet fantasies. With every step she took across its concrete expanse, though, it was icy reality that thrashed her.
She still loved him.
Maybe she'd gotten skilled at setting the thought of him aside when moments with Richard called for it—but then the ghost of Superman always found her again, his sensitive, noble features playing across her mind's eye like a runaway film reel. The world worshipped him, too, but Lois alone loved him best, whether she wanted it or not. And she didn't know what the hell to do about it.
"Good evening, Miss Lane," said a low voice behind her.
Right on time.
Bracing herself, she turned to find him balanced on the high brick wall surrounding the rooftop. He really was a knight in shining tights, she thought as she watched him float down from the wall. And he was here for her. To talk to her. To give her his invaluable time. Try as she might to deny it, just standing alone with him here above a world that so clamored for him made her feel…significant. Others would kill for this scenario.
And there was always the undeniable fact that she was the only woman to have lain with him, skin to naked skin, the only woman to have known the touch and thrust and shudder of him…and to have conceived his child.
Even if she didn't remember a single, gorgeous moment of it.
The panic squeezing her chest tightened as he drew closer.
"I should let you know right upfront that this is going to be short and sweet, Superman. I didn't want to do this interview." Her words were too sharp and breathless, and the instant softening of his smile made her feel utterly exposed.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, resting his hands on his hips. "I've been looking forward to seeing you."
"You see me all the time."
"Don't deny it." She'd felt his watchful, unobtrusive presence around her home so often in the last few weeks, it had become a bittersweet part of every day. He guarded her and Jason, and for that she was beyond grateful.
Right now, however, she needed protection against his devastating appeal. His mere appearance had turned her legs to gelatin. In a desperate grab at composure, she turned away, strolling over to the wall that overlooked the black bulk of a city park below.
And felt him behind her, close, never close enough.
"How are you?" he asked gently.
Lois shrugged, her gaze fixed on the dark mass of trees across the street. "We're all doing well. Richard, Jason and me. Healthy and happy. I couldn't ask for more." She turned to look at him. "You?"
"Fine," he said, but the pleasure had fled his features. It struck a vicious chord of guilt within her. This could have been a nice interview, damn it. Instead, she was dragging along all her noisy, clanking emotional luggage to meet him, when what she wanted was to slide into his arms and hug him tight, soak in the preternatural heat of his body, listen to the reassuring thud of his heart beneath her ear. And tell him that despite her roiling emotions where he was concerned, she thanked the heavens every day he had come back to offer order to a planet gone mad.
"Been keeping busy, I'm sure," she said, forcing cheer into her voice.
"Yes." He didn't move, just stood there, watching her with those blue, discerning eyes that could see through almost anything. She was, at the moment, pure mush. No challenge there for his x-ray vision.
"Let's begin, shall we?" Straightening her spine, she withdrew a small recorder from her purse and clicked it on, all business now. "The world has some catching up to do with you after a few weeks."
"I'm ready to answer any questions you have, Lois. Old or new."
"Wonderful." Fumbling in her purse, she produced a notebook and flipped to the list of cursory interview questions she'd brought along in case her traitorous brain shut down, just like it was doing now. "So…you've been all over the world lately?"
"Yes. Mostly in the Middle East." His tone was somber. "I can only do so much there, unfortunately."
"It must make you miss the piddly crimes of Metropolis."
"It makes me miss this country, its freedom and hopefulness." He strolled to the nearby wall and looked out at the city. "Despite 9/11, we haven't lost our spirit or pride."
He added nothing more, but his unspoken sentiments hung in the air.
I should have been there on that awful day.
She struggled to find words to appease his regret. "Superman, it's…"
"It's what?" He stared at the shimmering skyline, his hands curling into fists on the balustrade. "I could have saved every one of those people. Instead, they—"
"Don't." She drifted toward him, everything soft in her drawn by the force of his pain. "You needed to address your own life after a long time of serving others. Every man has to make that journey to find himself. Every man has that right."
"I'm not every man."
There was no arguing that. She stopped and heaved a sigh. His granite expression as he turned his head to scan the traffic below said no further discussion on the topic was welcome.
"Have you…found a place to live?" A frivolous question, but meant to diffuse the heaviness in the air. When he glanced at her, she added sheepishly, "Or do you, you know, catnap on the clouds?"
He faced her fully, the wind fingering though his dark hair. "I don't really have a place at the moment."
"Do you want one?"
"But you don't have plans to settle down anytime soon."
Vague humor softened his mouth. "I didn't say that."
"So you think about it? Settling down?" God, why couldn't she let it go?
Electricity instantly galvanized the air. Clasping his hands behind his back, he moved toward her with a measured intent that sent the blood rushing to her cheeks. "You mean settle down, as in buy a house?"
"Sure, right." Lois took a few steps back and bumped into the wall behind her. "Or whatever else that entails."
"You want to know if I'm looking for marriage, family, a home."
"It's a standard question."
"Your most standard, I'd have to say. You like the personal details, don't you, Miss Lane?"
"Strictly for the dreamers out there who drool over every publication with your picture on it." The retort felt thick on her tongue, her pulse jittery. Despite the miles of distance between them, he still could unravel her with that slow, subtle smile, the one that said he knew exactly what was going on in her mind.
Right now she was thinking he was more magnificent than any creature she'd ever known, and that she was a horrible person for wanting him as much as the most desperate dreamer, while across the city, Richard waited for her. Richard trusted her. Richard loved her.
"Are you going to answer the question?" she demanded, heat crawling up her neck to burn her ears.
Superman stopped a mere foot away from her. "I think you know the answer." He gazed intently at her, his smile fading. "I came so close to having it one time, didn't I?"
"Yes," she said. "You did."
"Maybe it only comes around once."
"But not for you." His blue eyes searched hers, all humor gone. "You have a beautiful family, Lois."
She swallowed. "Richard loves me. I'm so lucky."
"And Jason," he said, his voice gone husky. "Your amazing boy."
"Your amazing boy. He's more like you every day."
They stood in silence, gazes locked, until somewhere below, a siren wailed its mournful alert and shattered the spell. Superman glanced over the wall beside her to check the rescue vehicle's location.
"Do you need to go?" she asked, pressing a hand to her stumbling heart.
"No. It's pulling into the hospital down the street. Let's continue."
But she'd already slipped the notebook and voice recorder back into her purse. Something about this night was too personal to document, and judging by the incredible tension strung between them, it could only get thicker with sentiments that were meant for no one to replay but them.
All she had to do now was tell him goodbye and walk away.
When he looked at her expectantly, she sauntered to the center of the observation deck, searching her muddled mind for a safer topic of discussion. "What do you really think happened to Lex Luthor?"
He followed her, playing the old game, his cape a fluid crimson sea behind him. "The authorities believe his helicopter went down off the coast of Nova Scotia."
"But you believe differently, don't you."
"No evidence exists that he survived, but I can feel him. I don't know how else to describe it."
She pivoted to face him. "So you'll be ready for him if he reappears?"
"When he reappears, yes. I'll be ready."
Lois studied the grim line of his sensitive, expressive mouth. She didn't think he truly had the capacity to hate, but if he did, Luthor would be the sole, well-deserving recipient, and it had more to do with the threat he presented Jason than with any attempt he'd made on Superman's life.
"I know you watch over Jason," she said softly. "And me. Thank you for that."
Superman stopped in front of her, his silence saying everything prudence would not allow. God, the way he looked at her…it dissolved every ounce of armor around her heart. He'd always said so much more with his eyes—eyes that watched over the world, eyes that could locate a fire in a Mexico City ghetto, and at the same time, spot the desperate flight of a Congolese mother trying to whisk her children from rebel marauders. Eyes that took in the whole magnificent, frightening planet with reverence for all its inhabitants.
And now Lois was their focus, the improbable recipient of the tenderness darkening those blue eyes to some impossible midnight shade. He looked at her the way he always had, with the sad, sweet knowing that he wanted what he couldn't have. It hurt more than a million unforeseen goodbyes.
Fighting the sudden, un-heroic urge to weep, she tried to continue. "Tell me what a regular day entails for you. Is it different than before you left on your journey?"
"Everything's different than before I left on my journey," he said, moving closer.
"Different good, or different bad? Do you…" She trailed off and shook her head. "You know, I have no idea what to call you anymore. I know I'm the one who stuck you with it, but Superman seems so…"
"Impersonal," he finished. "It is, after everything that's passed between us."
She nodded. "I've never known what to call you, frankly. It's ridiculous, considering that we've had—that we were…you know."
"That we made a child together."
The assertion was more than honest, it was naked. He stood so close now her nose nearly touched the 'S' insignia on his chest. Breathing in the clean, familiar scent of him, Lois squeezed her eyes closed. She didn't even know the name of the man who'd fathered her child. The realization, so indicative of their star-crossed relationship, clobbered her with its clarity. They weren't meant to be together. They would never be together. How many times did the universe have to beat her over the head until she got it?
She stepped back, smoothed her windblown ponytail and forced herself to breathe, though it wasn't easy. The physical awareness between them was potent enough to draw visible heat waves in the air. "So," she went on in a more determined voice, "One day when Jason asks me your name, your true name, what will I tell him?"
Pain darted across his features. "My parents called me Kal-El," he said.
Kal-El. It floated between them, plucked at some lost place in her memory. Maybe she'd known it once. Maybe she'd uttered it. Laughed it. Whispered it against his ear. Moaned it beneath his hungry mouth.
Her cheeks warmed and she cracked her knuckles, pacing a restless line before him. "And what name do you prefer to be known by, now that you're back?"
"Is this an interview question, or a Lois question?" When she slanted him a frown, he said, "You called me Kal-El. Before."
She swallowed. "So I did know your name."
"I knew more than that. I knew you."
"Yes." The night breeze undulated the folds of his cape as he closed the space between them as quickly as she created it. "And I knew you. And sometimes, Lois—when you look at me just right, I feel I still know you in every possible way."
"But you're wrong," she said hoarsely. "That night we shared was a forever ago, and Jason is the only thing that makes our past actions anything less than foolish." Anger surged anew in her chest, pushed up frustrated words she'd long harbored. "And thanks to your utter devotion to duty, Superman, he's the only proof I have that that night even existed. You wiped out everything from my mind, then left without a goodbye…and returned five years later from some kind of twisted time warp, where nothing had changed for you—"
"You know, try as I might, I can't get any of those memories back. They were mine! You had no right."
"I had no choice."
A terse, regretful answer. She didn't want his regret. She wanted to hate him, but he wouldn't even let her do that, standing there so beautiful and strong with his penchant for truth.
It was too much.
"Damn you, Superman, Kal-El, whoever you are. Damn you, damn you. I can't do this again. I won't." She shouldered her purse and started toward the glass doors leading to the elevator. When she reached them, she stopped, her heart hammering a wild rhythm of grief and something else…something hot and shaky. Behind her, his presence seemed to swell, a mountain of solitude.
"Don't go." He spoke from the spot where she'd left him. He hadn't chased her, hadn't tried to keep her with more than the simple, quiet entreaty. He wouldn't. Maybe a part of him still loved her, but humanity was a most seductive mistress. Lois knew—had always known—she didn't stand a chance against his call to duty.
She was a fool, still a fool. Always a fool when it came to this man. No, this god. She'd worshipped him like he was one, and now she was paying the price.
Eyes closed in weariness, she sighed and turned to rest her back against the door, the chill of the glass soaking through her sweater. When she lifted her lashes, he was watching her across the observation deck, his features darkly solemn. Waiting for her to do something, to say something, to pick up the pieces of her wrecked dignity.
Lois couldn't stand knowing she'd made a fool of herself in front of him. She'd done it regularly in other situations—anything to get a story—but that didn't make it bearable now.
"Look," she began in a shaken voice, clutching her purse strap against her side, "I didn't come up here to drag out the past, and us through the mud with it. As I'm sure you can tell, this woman-scorned thing isn't working for me, but neither is the lovesick fool in me who upstages my common sense every time we cross paths. We have to come to some kind of peace here. I have a job to do, and so do you—"
"And we have a son," he said.
Lois had to swallow before she could respond. "True. So if only for Jason's sake, this…tension between us has to be resolved, Superman."
"Kal-El." He started toward her and stopped. "If you don't mind."
She didn't mind. For God's sake, she couldn't even think. He was coming toward her again, and his intent was clear. He would touch her. And when he did, she would fall to pieces.
Pacing himself, he approached as though she were a wild, spooked creature, until he finally reached her and gazed down into her eyes, so towering in stature she had to tilt her head back to look at him. His broad shoulders blocked the city, the star-studded night beyond it—and the life she had so painstakingly pieced together in his absence, the life that no longer fit her.
She dragged in a breath, swayed, felt his warm fingers encircle her wrist to steady her.
"Kal-El," he prompted softly.
"Kal-El." The name sounded odd on her tongue, and yet strangely familiar. A personal endearment. The embodiment of each intimate detail they'd shared before this moment.
"Again," he murmured. "Please."
Lois licked her lips. "Kal-El."
His eyelids slid closed and he lowered his head to blindly search for her mouth, a gesture so innocent and yet so explosively erotic, she grasped his hard biceps to keep from wobbling to the ground.
And when she felt the brush of his breath on her lips, she whispered, "No."
He stilled and opened his eyes. Instantly Lois wanted to yank him back to her and devour his mouth, decency be damned.
Instead, she managed, "We have to fix this, Superman…Kal-El. This isn't the way."
"What do you propose?" he asked, that blue gaze sliding down to watch his own fingers as they surrounded her forearm and measured the slim circumference of her bones. He could crush her so easily with that hand. And just as easily with a caress as with brutal force, because his softness was deadlier than his iron strength. It unraveled everything inside her. No matter what kind of drivel she spouted at him about making peace and coming to terms with the present, he could still crush her to dust, and she would dissolve into the late summer night, tiny particles of broken heart floating on the wind.
"I can't think when you're touching me," she told him in desperation.
His mouth tugged into a smile both tender and repentant before he let her wrist slip from his fingers. Pivoting, he folded his arms across his chest and strolled a few feet away from her. "Ever since you told me about Jason, I've been trying to figure out how to keep my distance from you, how to watch him grow from afar. It's so painful," he added low. "I didn't know it would be this hard."
"Neither did I." She released a ragged breath. "But you have to understand—Richard doesn't know about…about any of this. And if he found out, he wouldn't—I mean, it's hard enough on him suspecting you and I have a past."
"He's asked you about it, then."
It's kind of hard to miss, she thought ruefully. "We've had a brief conversation about my friendship with you once or twice."
A huff of laughter escaped him as he reached the nearest wall and braced his palms against the concrete balustrade. "Our friendship. Is that what you called it?"
"I didn't call it anything. For God's sake—he accused me of still loving you!"
"And what did you say?" he asked, his back still turned.
He finally looked over his shoulder at her, and for a moment the pain and yearning between them was so thick, Lois thought she would suffocate. Then she shook her head. "If he asked me again—and no doubt he will—I would lie again. Because what guy in his right mind would want to follow in Superman's footsteps? I don't think Richard couldn't live with the truth. And I wouldn't ask him to."
His lips parted as though he would respond, but then he merely faced forward again, his profile limned by the city's pale night.
"What would you have me do differently, after everything we've been through?" She walked slowly to where he stood, her pulse leaping strange pirouettes. "After all the times we started and stopped, started and stopped…my God, you erased my memory to keep me at an emotional distance! You left the earth, and me to my own devices, with no explanation. And when you came back, you thought it would be easy to resume your life and duties without the past intervening. But feelings don't go away, Kal-El. It would make everything more convenient if they did, but they don't."
He was silent, but she could tell by the tension in his big body that every word rang through him.
"And you weren't counting on Jason," she added painfully. "No matter how we try to keep our distance from each other, our son will always be the tie that binds us."
"I'll never regret it," he said fiercely.
His hands gripped the balustrade, his head bowed under a weight Lois would never fully understand. The weight of the world, she thought. The weight of her heart, and of their son's.
When she couldn't stand his anguish another second, she looked up at the giant bronze Daily Planet sculpture rotating against the indigo sky. Beyond the city's glow, the heavens were a deep, velvet eternity. "Tell me something, Superman. Do you ever just fly for the sheer joy of it?"
It took him a moment to answer. "All the time," he said at last, casting the stars a reverent glance. "It's like breathing to me. And I liked taking you with me."
The low admittance lifted her stomach, inexplicable excitement on a roller coaster ride to nowhere. "I liked it, too. No…I loved it. I loved sharing the heavens with you."
"We probably shouldn't do it again."
"I know." Blinking away the sudden blur of tears, Lois retrieved the voice recorder and set it on the wall as a reminder of their reason for being there. "Five years is a long time. Were you…up there…the whole time?"
"Not all of it," he said. "It was a fool's journey. Like I told you before, I found nothing. The exposure to kryptonite drained my strength. When I reached Earth again, I was out of commission for a long, long time."
She adjusted the recorder, envisioning him sleeping in the sun while that powerful body renewed its strength from the solar warmth. And felt the tiniest stirring of the reporter inside her, the one who had endless questions for this man she loved.
"Where did you go to recuperate when you came home to Earth? Where is home to you, Superman?" A painful question to pose, because she knew, without remembering, that on a night silken with romance, she had stood in his home, in his most intimate space. She had slept in his bed, in his arms. She had known all his secrets once upon a time.
Reaching out, he turned off the recorder and ducked his head to meet her eyes. "I used to have a home. I took you there, Lois. I showed you everything—you knew everything."
The tears finally won the battle and welled on her lashes, choked any cursory reply she would have made. And when the silence stretched out between them, he gently removed the purse from her shoulder, laid it aside, and cupped her face in his hands. "The memory of that night, of you, keeps me alive."
"But I can't share that memory with you. It's like it never happened for me," she whispered.
"Jason happened." His thumbs stroked the soft skin of her cheeks, his eyes reading her features, back and forth, as though the key to the universe was written on her face.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she said, "Does this place still exist?"
"It's a shell, but yes. It still stands. I tried to live there again, but it's not the same. And despite what the world sees of me, I'm not the same."
Her fingers crept up to cover his. "You've moved on, and so have I. Don't ask me how," she added with a choked laugh. "But I did it because I had to, and I'm okay."
"I want you to be happy," he said softly.
"I manage it sometimes, despite losing you. And now I know that even if my life reverted back to the way it was before you left, I'd still never have...I'd never have what I truly want. And Jason—" She drew a shuddering breath, closing her eyes rather than read the sadness in his expression another second. "One day I'll tell him the truth, and maybe like me, he won't understand why the world got between him and what was rightfully his. You."
The warm, lingering press of his lips against her forehead was his only reply. And oh, to be touched by him again, even in this chaste way...she could only stand there and breathe him in, revel in the unbearable tenderness of him, and know it was as forbidden as anything lovers could do. For a long time they stood like that, leaning into each other, tearing aside what fragile healing had taken place in the weeks since his return, yet unable to stop the rending.
When he eased back, Lois opened her eyes, her face upturned while he ran his thumbs beneath her tear-spiked lashes. Then, as though he couldn't help himself, he bent to brush a soft kiss on her left cheek, then the right, a bid for comfort, a bid for more.
All she had to do was turn her mouth into his.
Suddenly there was no right or wrong. There was only the two of them and the stars, and when she shifted just slightly and their mouths brushed…caught…clung…everything broken in Lois's world dispersed and rematerialized into whole joy.
The tenderness of the moment lasted only as long as the first startling realization that they had done the unthinkable. Then Superman's fingers slid beneath her ponytail, dislodged it, and sank into the fall of her hair, cradling her head as he opened his mouth over hers.
And five unrequited years exploded.
He set fire to her senses, his desperation even more potent than her own as he drew back just long enough to search her face for permission to proceed, and finding it, reclaimed her lips, this time with ravenous intent. His mouth devoured hers, hard and tender, soft and searching, then settling to tease, taste and nuzzle, until she thought she would die from the pleasure of it. A worldly kiss it was, born of sheer desire too long denied. His every muscle vibrated with it. She was the only woman he'd ever kissed, and he knew how to touch her, how to seduce her, as though he'd been born for that alone.
In response her fingers slid up his arms to dig into the hard muscles of his shoulders, clinging as though she would hold him forever in that moment of suspended existence, her shivering body straining closer to the galvanized heat of him, reaching for the impossible.
In the whole wide universe, nothing was more stunning than his kiss. Lois would remember it later, the sheer beauty of it, the taste of his lips and the graze of his tongue, the surge of electricity that lit her every nerve as their ardor mounted and he ran avid, hungry hands down her spine to mold her against him. She would remember, and it would lift her to lofty places where the body couldn't follow.
She wasn't immediately aware when her feet left the ground and the rooftop fell away, the force of his passion lifting them up, up, until she tore her lips from his, saw the street far below them and threw herself against him, terrified. Electrified. Alive. He tightened the arm he'd curled around her waist, speaking soft reassurances against her temple, his cheek resting on her hair, his body a shield of warmth and safety as they floated in blissful nothingness.
She could have stayed there forever, gently spinning on air with him in the dance they'd begun years ago. But the inevitable time came to return to Earth or be swept away on mindless passion, and Superman, the man of steel and righteousness, chose the road closer to those damnedable heavens from whence he'd come.
"Lois," he murmured against her ear. One word, filled with every regret and desire they shared. One word to wake them.
She couldn't meet his eyes. Burying her face in the crook of his neck, she whispered, "We're doomed to this."
He didn't argue. It only took a moment to descend, then he was setting her gingerly on the observation deck and his warm hands slid from her wrists, leaving phantom heat behind. When he backed away, the cool night seeped through the thin fabric of her blouse, but it was the renewed knowledge that no place existed for them in this life that made Lois shiver to her bones.
She hugged herself and glanced up to find him balanced on the nearest wall, poised to soar, the sharp planes of his face hidden in shadow as he watched her.
"I'm so sorry," she said, numb.
"I can't see you anymore. I can't fly with you, or think about you, or have you in my life."
"I know," he replied, the wind nearly snatching away the quiet response.
"I'll miss you." An unexpected sob surged in her chest and broke free. "I have for such a long time already. I miss you every day. You must know that."
Turning toward the world that had reclaimed him, he lifted his face to the sky and stood frozen for an instant, haloed by the city's glow, a being of everything light and good in the universe. Then, without looking at her, he said, "I love you, Lois."
And just like that, he was gone.