Spring Comes After Winter
Notice: I don't do WAFFY, warm, fuzzy, or fluffy! This is also much more mature than I normally write so be warned. It's M for a reason.
I will get back to Shadows in Darkness as soon as RL clears up a bit.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. No money is being made from this.
Pheromone My Lovely was written by Deborah Joy Levine, and directed by Bill D'Elia.
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
Anne Bradstreet, 'Meditations Divine and Moral,' 1655
American poet (1612 - 1672)
There is only one way
to console a widow. But remember the risk.
Robert Heinlein. 'The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,' 1973
American Author (1907 – 1988)
"Perry, you can't mean it," Lois Lane complained, loudly enough to be heard through the glass door and wall by the people sitting at the desks closest to the Perry White's office. She was glaring at the older man who simply looked back at her as though she were a particularly interesting bug. She turned her angry gaze on the other man in the room. Clark Kent gave her a wan smile. He wasn't enjoying this any more than she was.
"I do mean it," Perry White, editor in chief of the Daily Planet, told her. "You and Kent have an appointment on Wednesday to interview Miranda Miller on that new cosmetic line of hers, the one the FDA is up in arms about."
"But Perry, cosmetics?" Lois's voice had reached a new level of shriek even Clark hadn't known she had. He winced in pain and she glowered at him. If looks could kill he would have been mortally wounded despite the fact that he was Superman.
"But, sir, what about the Church trial?" Clark asked, trying to deflect Lois's glare. "That starts tomorrow and…"
"And I don't want either of you within a thousand miles of that courtroom," Perry ordered. "If the DA needs more than your depositions, we'll work something out. In the meantime, the both of you are out of here for at least the next week."
"But Perry, we've been following the Church investigation for the past six months," Clark protested again.
"And I have every faith that Gil and Roberta can handle the trial in your absence," Perry told him. "It's the D.A.'s problem now, not yours. And your investigation on Mrs. Church can certainly wait a week. I doubt she's going anywhere with her stepson on trial."
Lois tried one more time. "Perry, you know what happened the last time you sent the two of us off on something like this."
"Yes, I remember very clearly," Perry told them. "I sent you to Niagara Falls to look into a scam and you didn't come back with the story I sent you on. But you did come back pregnant and then he took off for…" He turned to Clark. "Where was it again...?"
"Krypton," Clark murmured under his breath.
"For nearly six years," Perry finished. "You're going to California for the week. Those are your orders and that's final. Oh, and Clark?"
"Yes, sir?" He knew he was defeated.
"I've had word from the D.A.'s office that it might be good if Superman made himself scarce for the next week, too. At least until he's called to testify."
"Yes, sir," Clark agreed with a sigh. Perry handed him a manila envelope with their travel itineraries and waved the pair out of his office.
Lois grabbed the envelope and pulled out the papers inside. Clark already knew what was inside, one of the blessings of x-ray vision. Two plane tickets, reservations at a bed and breakfast in Napa, California, and reservations for a rental car. Lois stared at the plane tickets then turned around and walked back into Perry's office.
"Perry, you know how much Clark hates airplanes," she told him.
Perry looked up from the article he was busying himself with. "Then have Superman fly you there. I really don't care so long as you and Clark are both checked in at the B&B tonight. Good bye, Lois, and shut the door on your way out."
She shut the door hard enough to make the glass shimmer and stalked back to her desk. Clark was already standing by her chair, waiting for her. He noticed that the people in the neighboring desks were making themselves scarce. Lois in 'mad dog' mode was no one to be trifled with on a good day. This was not a good day.
"I think we're stuck," he told her.
"And what about Jason?" Lois asked, referring to her son. "I can't get a sitter for him at such short notice."
"Uh, Lois?" her brother-in-law, Ron Troupe, said tentatively as he walked up to her. There was worry written across his dark face, as though he thought she might actually bite. "I thought… uh, Lucy and I will be glad to take care of him while you and Clark are in California."
Lois glared at him. "How long has Perry been working on this?"
Ron shrugged, turning his palms out to her in a gesture of surrender. He gave Clark a pleading look but the other man just shook his head in sympathy.
"He talked to me just before you got in and I called Lucy to make sure it was okay," Ron explained. "I know the girls won't mind having Jason around."
Ron had married Lois's younger sister Lucy twelve years before, and they had two daughters, one eleven and the other nine. Clark knew that Lois liked her two nieces, although she had always made a show of disliking children. Having her own child seemed to have made her a little more tolerant of them.
Lois sighed loudly and flopped into her desk chair. Clark watched her pick up the framed photograph she still kept on her desk. Lois, her fiancé and her son, all smiling at the camera. Only the man in the picture, Richard White, had been murdered six months ago. The biological father of the boy in the photograph was standing patiently beside her desk, waiting for her to grab her purse and jacket.
"Okay, Ron," Lois said, biting her lower lip. "I'll call Jason's school and tell them you'll be picking him up this week."
"Sure, Lois," Ron said with a worried smile. "Jason'll be fine. You and Clark have fun on your trip, okay? Oh, and here's the research Perry ordered on Miranda Miller." He placed the thick file on her desk and headed back to his own desk and assignments.
She pulled out her cell phone and called her son's school, letting them know that Jason White's uncle would be picking him up after school. Her five year-old was still registered under his 'stepfather's' name.
"You haven't changed his name with the school yet," Clark observed.
"I'm still not sure if it should be Jason Lane or Jason Kent," she replied. "Besides, Richard was his daddy for over five years."
"I know," Clark told her. "I shouldn't have mentioned it… I don't want to go on this trip any more than you do, you know. But the D.A. is worried that Church's 'associates' might want to 'influence' the prosecution witnesses. I guess Perry agrees it would be better if we were scarce, and Superman along with us."
Lois got up from her chair and slipped on her suit jacket. "We'd better get packed if we're to make our flight."
Clark nodded. "Let me grab my briefcase and laptop and we can get going." He started toward his own desk when Lois laid her hand on his arm.
"It's too soon," she said. "You know that, don't you?"
"I know Lois," he replied, even though the touch of her hand sent thrills through his being. "I know it's still too soon for either of us. Richard was my friend too. I just wish there'd been a way I could have saved him."
"You almost didn't make it out yourself, remember?" she reminded him, keeping her hand on his arm.
"I'm not likely to forget," he told her. "I still have the scars."
He gave her a shy smile. "Not physically so much, but mentally."
"We'd better get a move on if we're going to make our flight."
A few desks away, one of the researchers leaned over Jimmy Olsen's shoulder. "What's up with them? A week on the company in Napa Valley and you'd think they're being sent to the gulag."
"They've been pretty wrapped up in the Church story, and they both want to follow it to the end. Plus they've got a bit of a history," Jimmy told her.
"You're new here," Jimmy observed. "Lois and Clark were partners some time back. Broke a lot stories together, won awards. Perry sent them off on an assignment together, kinda' like this one. Things got a little out of hand, I guess. She ended up pregnant and he disappeared for nearly six years."
"You're joking, right? Jason's his kid?" she asked, surprised.
"Yeah, only he didn't know it until he came back. Then Clark and Richard, he was Lois's fiancé, got put together on an assignment. The investigation went bad. Real bad. Richard was killed. Clark's lucky he lived. They've had some tough times. I don't think this trip is going to make it any easier for them. I just hope Perry knows what he's doing."
"I can't believe you're going along with this," Lois complained. She and Clark had boarded a commercial jet at Berkowitz International and were now in route to California. To Lois's surprise, Perry had opted to put them in first class, a fact she was sure Clark was grateful for. His 6'4" frame wasn't about to fit into a standard airline seat. Even the first class seat seemed a little cramped for him
"There were watchers at the airport," Clark told her. "Somebody wanted to make sure we got on this plane. And I didn't think simply being spotted checking into a B&B was going to satisfy them."
"Who do you think it was?" Lois asked.
Clark shrugged. "Church's people, the D.A.'s people, you name 'em, they probably want us out of town."
"But the plane's okay?"
"I don't think we have to worry on that score."
Lois sat back in her seat. "You know, I can't believe Perry's doing it to us again."
"I suspect it's his way of making the best of a bad situation," Clark told her. "You know the paper was receiving threats over what we uncovered."
"Since when does Lois Lane or Clark Kent run from threats?" she asked him.
"Well, Lois Lane has a tendency to run towards threats," he reminded her with a grin. "Clark Kent thinks discretion may be the better part of valor."
"Yeah, right," Lois commented with a snort. "Who was it again that got stabbed and shot by Lex Luthor?"
The airplane bucked in sudden turbulence and Clark clutched the arms of his seat, concern written across his face. One of the stewardesses noticed and stopped by their seats. "Is everything all right Mister Kent?" she asked.
"I don't like turbulence," he explained.
"Turbulence?" the stewardess asked. Lois understood her confusion. The plane's motion had hardly been noticeable to anyone else.
"You know, hot air rises, disturbs the normal air flow creating gusts and eddies… turbulence. I don't like it," Clark explained.
"Clark, relax," Lois ordered. "Aren't you the one who keeps saying that statistically, flying is the safest way to travel?"
He glowered at her. "You know, there is something profoundly unnatural about putting yourself into flying metal can to get around."
"Richard didn't like flying commercial, either. Didn't trust the guys up front."
"He had a point," Clark said. "By the way, Ron gave you some research on this Miranda woman we're supposed to be interviewing tomorrow?"
Lois nodded and pulled the file out of her briefcase. She handed it to him and he opened it, skimming the documents that the Daily Planet research department had collected for them.
"I really wish Perry had let us know about this before hand," Clark commented. "Doctor Miller worked for STAR Labs until she left under a cloud. I could probably have gotten something from Doctor Faulkner on her."
"Ph.D. in biochemistry and neurobiology from M.I.T. Her research area was pheromones."
"Chemicals produced by living organisms that transmit messages to other members of the same species," Lois quoted, taking the sheet he handed to her. "There are people who claim that human sexual pheromones can act as an aphrodisiac, but so far no controlled study has been able to verify it."
"Well, it is known that women living together tend to synch up their cycles, and there is some evidence that pheromones may play a part in sexual arousal," Clark said. "But I suspect it has more to do with mate selection than anything else. There's some evidence that humans may be able to use scent to determine genetic relatedness to choose a mate that is genetically dissimilar."
"Oh, is that why… six years ago?" Lois asked with a sly grin.
"Well, you must admit, you can't get much more dissimilar than we are." He grinned back.
"So, how do you explain all those cousins who have kids together?"
"I didn't say the evidence was strong, or that there weren't over-riding factors."
"After we land, maybe you can call Doctor Faulkner and have her arrange an introduction for us to the local STAR Labs admin," Lois suggested. "Anything in there on why the FDA is interested in her?"
"It's their contention that she's been adulterating her cosmetics with modified human sexual pheromones."
"To turn them into aphrodisiacs?"
"Maybe there's more here than we initially thought?" Lois suggested.
"Could well be."
The plane landed in Oakland in the early evening. The rental car, a new Toyota, was waiting as promised.
"If it wasn't that I know Perry's going to check up on us, I'd suggest we head into San Francisco for dinner, spend the night and head to Napa in the morning," Lois said as Clark unlocked the car for her.
"Napa's just a little more than an hour from here," Clark told her. "But we should get something to eat first. Oakland's not that far."
Lois had fond memories of nights working late on stories when he brought dinner into the bullpen for the two of them. It was always exquisitely authentic – Chinese, Thai, or Indian in bamboo steam baskets, Italian, Greek, French, German all in takeout boxes printed in the appropriate language. Before he'd disappeared, she had tried to find out where in Metropolis he was going for takeout. It wasn't until she realized that Clark was also Superman that she figured out where he'd been going – China, Thailand, India, Italy, Greece, France, Germany.
"Don't you know any quaint little hole-in-the-wall restaurants around here?" she asked with a grin.
Clark shook his head. "I haven't spent a lot of time in this area since Luthor pulled his stunt of trying to dump half the state into the Pacific Ocean with a nuke. But I'm sure we'll find something."
"We could…" She made a swoosh motion with her hand.
"Are you sure you want to? I mean…?"
They hadn't gone flying for fun since… since the night on the roof of the Daily Planet, before Luthor created his monstrous island that came too close to destroying all of Metropolis. 'Richard's a good man… and you've been gone a long time.' How harsh those words sounded now even though she hadn't called Richard her fiancé, not to Superman at least. But she'd repeatedly pushed it in Clark's face, the fact that she was engaged to the assistant editor of the Daily Planet. 'He flies and he likes horror movies.'
She was ashamed to admit that she simply hadn't paid her former work partner enough attention to realize the truth that had been staring her in the face ever since they met. He had loved her. She had ignored the pain in his eyes when she saw him watching her and Richard together. Despite the tension, Perry had assigned Clark and Richard to work together and they even became friends. But now Richard was dead and she wasn't sure what she felt about Clark. He was the father of her son and he was also Superman and so belonged to the world. She thought that she had loved Superman but now she wasn't sure if she ever really had. She wasn't sure if she hadn't been in love with the idea of loving a god.
But he was the father of her child and there were advantages to hanging out with a man who can fly.
"Why not?" she asked. "I haven't gone flying for fun since before Richard died. We're on a working holiday. Perry's footing the bill, so let's enjoy it a little."
His expression was still troubled.
"It's okay Clark. Going flying doesn't mean we're going to join the mile-high club," she told him.
"What is it, Clark?"
He shook his head. It was one of his annoying habits, shutting her out.
"Where would you like to go?" he asked.
"There's a vegetarian restaurant at Union Square that's very good."
"Very well, Miss Lane," he said, holding his arm out to her. "Let's go to dinner in San Francisco."
To Clark's pleasant surprise, the restaurant Lois had chosen had an open table. The food was as good as she had told him it would be, although California cuisine had frequently left him cold.
The conversation was low key and relatively innocuous. They had both chosen not to discuss the assignment they were on, or Perry's real motives for shipping them across the country.
"Jimmy and that new girl from research looked real cozy as we were leaving," Lois commented over her dessert, a whiskey-chocolate tiramisu.
"She asked him why we were acting like we'd just been condemned to the gulag," he told her with a chuckle.
"And his answer?" she asked. Over the past six months she had gotten used to working with 'Superman' as her partner, surreptitiously using his unique abilities to get a leg up on the competition. It wasn't something he could really complain about – he'd used his abilities more often than he cared to admit to get the story that no one else could.
"That we were upset being taken off a story we'd been following for six months and that we had a 'history'," he told her, using air quotes. "She sounded surprised when Jimmy told her. I gather she's about the only one in the building who didn't know."
"She must be very new. I thought most of the city knew," she remarked.
"Most of the city knows you may have had something going with Superman before he left," he observed quietly.
"Well, we've pretty well put the kibosh on that one," she remarked. "That exclusive interview with Linda King? 'It would be imprudent for me to have a relationship of that nature with anyone.' I can't believe she actually asked Superman about his sex life. The woman has no concept of decency."
"She's not as bad as some. Plus it is imprudent for him to get involved like that," Clark said. He wondered where she was going with this conversation. Or why he had brought up the subject of her relationship with his alter ego in the first place. They both knew painfully well that Superman belonged to the world, that he couldn't have any real relationships with individuals outside of 'business.' Superman didn't go to ball games or movies or hang out in bars or coffee shops with his friends. Clark could and did.
But Clark wasn't sure if 'Clark' was able to have a meaningful relationship, either. He and Lois had been orbiting one another ever since Richard's death, neither one of them willing or able to move on to the next step, whatever that was. She couldn't really cut him out of her life. He was Jason's father and even a Sunday father was better than none for a boy who had lost the only 'daddy' he had known. Plus Perry had partnered them again even though he knew how difficult it was for them.
"It's too soon," she said. "You know that, don't you?"
He was the Man of Steel, but he was terrified she would never decide that enough time had passed. That she would never be his again, assuming she ever was, really. He had known even then, even when he had revealed himself to her so long ago that she was in love with the illusion that was Superman, not with the reality that was Clark.
"I love you," she told him on the roof of the Daily Planet.
He hadn't told her the real reason he walked back to his Arctic fortress to try to get his powers back after having given them up to be with her. He'd seen the sorrow, the disappointment in her eyes while they lay in the bed in the cheap motel watching the news. Watching the reports of the disasters that Superman wasn't attending to – a killer tsunami in the Philippines, a jumbo jet running off the runway in Moscow, bursting into flames as it went while the pilot screamed that he had no controls, that he couldn't stop it.
Superman wasn't there. He was dead, killed so Clark Kent could have a life that didn't involve running off at a moment's notice to solve some else's problems. He watched her watching him, grief, disappointment, regret, pity, playing across her finely sculpted face, her eyes dark as she watched him. And as much as she said she loved him, he knew she was lying to herself as well as to him. She didn't love Clark, not really. She hadn't protested when he told her he had to go back, that he had to try to bring Superman back to life. She hadn't asked him not to go.
"Clark," she said, intruding on his thoughts. "Is something wrong? You looked like you were a thousand miles away."
"Just thinking about Alaska," he admitted. "That broken down motel we ended up at."
"It was pretty bad, wasn't it? I was afraid Perry was going to shoot us both when we finally got back and didn't turn in the story he sent us out to get."
"The one I turned in on the pipeline was a better story, anyway," Clark said. "Even if there was a story at Niagara Falls we weren't going to get it. We weren't very convincing as gullible kids."
"You were more convincing that I was," Lois said with a chuckle. "But I knew going in it wasn't going to work. Even the bellman didn't believe we were newlyweds. I sometimes wonder how many on those kids actually made it work."
"I hope as least some of them made it," Clark said. "You weren't giving very good odds."
"Statistically, it's gotten a little better, but not by much."
"You're a cynic," Clark observed.
"I prefer to think of myself as a realist."
The white apronned waiter placed the leather folder with the bill on the table. Clark glanced at the total and pulled out his personal credit card. "I don't want to have to explain how we managed to pay for a dinner in San Francisco at the time when we should have been just arriving at the restaurant," he explained to her questioning look.
"You don't think the accountants will accept us hitching a ride on the Superman Express?"
"No, I don't think so."