Disclaimer: As always, I don't own these characters. I just play with them for fun.
A/N: As promised, I bring you the sequel to The Year of a Relationship. The basic format is the same (there will be a total of 12 chapters, basic structure is the same, and I hope to preserve the general feel of the original story), but I've decided to title them like newspaper articles, just to mix things up a bit.Enjoy!
SUPERMAN OR FAMILY MAN? Article by Perry White"A-a date? I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't…" Clark said with a forced smile as he tried to extricate himself from the overenthusiastic grasp of his most recent rescue.
"Oh, I know you're a very busy man, of course, but surely even you…eat." The girl flirtatious comment disregarded his protest as she ran her hand seductively down the length of his chest.
It was undignified for Superman to yelp, he had to remind himself severely as he made a desperate grab for her hand before it travelled too far south. Clark wondered how rude it would be for him to make a break for it and fly away from her as fast as humanly – or, rather, Kryptonianly – possible. With a smile that was probably a shade more nervous than the world was accustomed to seeing from the Man of Steel, he said, "I appreciate the offer, Miss, but I really can't stay."
She was not to be deterred, and he was having a hard time extricating himself from the situation. Of course, he had superhuman strength, but she was incredibly tenacious in her desire to hold on to him. Every time he managed to remove one hand from his person, the other had latched on to him somewhere else. He could have sworn that he was the one with superhuman speed, but she was definitely giving him a run for his money.
As he struggled with the young lady's grasping hands, he looked closely at her and realized she looked vaguely familiar. He could swear he'd seen her before. He frowned, trying to place her and then remembered where he'd seen her in the past. This was hardly her first superhero rescue. As a realization struck, Clark groaned inwardly and floated off the ground, slowly but surely making good his escape.
Though he couldn't be sure, he was willing to bet the girl who was so desperate to keep him in her company was one of what Lois jokingly (and perhaps not-so-affectionately) referred to as a "SuperGroupie" – people who were so enamored of Superman that they went out of their way to have an encounter with him. For the most part, SuperGroupies were harmless, if occasionally annoyingly persistent, but a certain percentage of them caused Clark no small amount of concern. He knew of at least three people who consistently – and intentionally – risked their lives with the hope that Superman would swoop in and save them.
When Clark had pointed out to his lovely wife of a little over a year that she could probably have qualified for SuperGroupie status in the past, she'd glowered, then smirked, and finally grinned as she reminded him that she'd never put her life in danger for the sole purpose of having the pleasure of his company. She'd just been doing her job, completely oblivious to the fact she had a superhero following her around every day, enacting the occasional (or, rather, frequent) rescue as the situation required. It was not, she reminded him smugly, her fault if he clearly couldn't get enough of her company.
At the thought of Lois, Clark renewed his efforts to escape the Clinger's clutches, eager to return to the woman who was waiting on him on the other side of town. "Have a good evening, Miss," he said firmly as he finally extricated himself and shot up into the sky.
It was probably undignified, a superhero of his stature so obviously fleeing from one of his ardent admirers, but Clark reassured himself firmly that desperate times called for desperate measures and he could easily have been there all night, trying to get away. Besides, if he never told anyone about his rather unseemly escape, there wouldn't be anyone to mock him for his actions.
Oh, who was he even kidding? Lois would ferret the truth out of him in no time flat, and after she finished laughing herself silly, she'd tease him mercilessly. That was just what Lois did; she considered it not only her right but something of her duty to keep his ego in check, as she put it.
Clark chuckled at the thought as he raced across town, but he hadn't gone far before something else caught his attention and he paused. He was passing over the Daily Planet and saw Perry White on the rooftop, staring up into the sky as if looking for something.
Perry's behavior probably wasn't that strange or remarkable, but it still caught Clark's attention – maybe because Perry White just wasn't usually the type of man to be found standing on rooftops staring up into the sky. As Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet, he was typically to be found having an ulcer in his office or terrorizing his reporters in the bullpen. Sure, he probably had a life outside of the newspaper, but Clark had yet to come across anyone with any actual proof of this fact.
Shooting one more longing look in the direction of the apartment he shared with his beautiful bride, Clark floated down to where his boss was standing. He wanted to return to Lois, but it wasn't the first time that week he'd seen the older man standing in that exact spot staring up at the sky, and his curiosity was finally getting the best of him. He had to know what Perry was looking for, and since it was entirely possible that the answer was Superman, it was probably a good idea for the man in question to find out why.
Besides, if he went home and told Lois he'd stumbled across a mystery but hadn't investigated further, there's no telling what she would say or do – probably start looking around for the new form of Kryptonite that had so altered her husband's personality. No, as much as he wanted to get home to her, he had to check this out first.
When he'd floated down almost to Perry's eye level, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet tilted his head back and smiled warmly. "Good evening, son. I was hoping you'd stop by."
"You were looking for me?" Clark asked, unable to completely hide his surprise. Of course, Perry and Superman had met before, but while the older man might sic his reporters on the superhero in the pursuit of an exclusive story, he rarely did the dirty work in that regard himself.
Instead of answering, Perry reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Passing it to his companion, he waited until Superman had unfolded it and glanced at the photo it was revealed to be before he spoke. "I was hoping to talk to you about that, son."
At first, Clark still couldn't see why Perry had been seeking him out. The photo didn't seem particularly remarkable – just one of the hundreds that were taken of him every week. In fact, it was so commonplace that it took Clark a few moments to place the occasion; the only thing notable about that particular photo was that the Superman costume he wore was ragged and torn, which was a fairly rare event.
"This was taken last week, right? After that building collapsed in Topeka." It was the only time recently that Clark could remember his suit getting ruined. "But I don't understand…" And then he saw it.
It took a bit of careful inspection, but the Superman costume had been torn in such a way that the wedding band that was normally secreted beneath it was revealed. Clark felt his stomach plummet as he looked up at his boss, his eyes filled with dread for what was to come. It might be easily overlooked by the casual observer, but, once noted, it was clearly a wedding band – a wedding band Superman shouldn't have had anyone on his person.
When he looked up at his boss in mute horror, Perry explained, "That was one of a series of photos that came across my desk late last week. It's a Daily Planet exclusive, as far as I know, and it hasn't been printed," a brief pause interjected the unspoken word 'yet', "but I wanted to ask you about it."
Clark swallowed heavily. "I don't…" he began, but he had no idea how to finish the sentence once it had begun.
Luckily, Perry took the problem out of his hands as he spoke, seemingly off-topic, "You know, journalism's a lot different than it was in my day. When I was your age – or, well, what I imagine your age to be – the profession was…well, we had certain ideas about what was newsworthy and what wasn't. Private lives, for example. The thought of reporting someone's private life…well, it was just unheard of; it never even occurred to us to print a story about it at all, let alone as front page news."
He paused and his expression grew both contemplative and a bit sad as he continued, "Things have changed since then, son. Now, it seems nothing's sacred anymore. Everything's news, even when it isn't newsworthy. That seems to be especially true of private lives. And while I may not agree with the direction the profession's taken over the last thirty years, I don't really get to make those choices. Do you understand, son? I'm only an editor of this little paper, after all; I have people I report to, just like everyone else."
Clark bowed his head. He knew where this was going, of course. Everything about Superman was news; it was something Clark had come to terms with years before and the primary reason why he didn't wear his wedding band on his finger in the first place. Perry was just giving him a friendly warning before he splashed suppositions about Superman's private life across the front page of the Daily Planet. The only thing Clark could do about it now was to prepare himself – and his wife – for the aftermath."That ring you have on a chain around your neck in the photo, son…I can't help but notice that it looks like a wedding band. Now, if you tell me that's yours, I don't really have a choice. I have a duty to print the honest, unbiased news, without letting my judgment get clouded by any personal feelings I may have. I may not like what it means sometimes, but it is my job and I take my job very seriously."
"I understand, Mr. White," Superman replied sadly. He didn't like it, but he did understand, which was why he'd tried to be so careful to hide even the suggestion of the superhero having a private life from the rest of the world. He couldn't even begin to imagine how he was going to tell Lois that life as they knew it was about to change, and he couldn't bear to think of how much danger his stupidity had just put her in.He was still trying to process all the potential ramifications when Perry smiled. "Now…if, on the other hand, you were to tell me…say…that the ring belonged to your parents and it's a keepsake you brought with you from that other planet, well…that's not really news, is it? It's interesting, but it's not newsworthy, not even by the modern definition of the term."
Very slowly, Superman raised his head and met the expectant eyes of the Editor-in-Chief of the most widely read newspaper in the world. Was he misunderstanding the course of the conversation? Was Perry actually giving him a way out?
Of course, the problem was that he really couldn't take it. As Clark Kent, he did an awful lot of lying. Every time he disappeared to attend to his duties as Superman, he had to lie to the people closest to him about what he was doing. He justified his actions by telling himself it was for the greater good, and though that did little to appease his guilt, he had come to terms with the necessity of it long ago. Around the same time, however, Clark had realized the importance of never letting Superman walk that thin line.
From the day he'd made his abilities (and his superhero persona) public, he had been incredibly fortunate that the rest of the world accepted him. They looked up to him, respected him, and saw him as their savior. While the world's expectations could, at times, be a bit oppressive, he knew how easy it would be for the pendulum to swing the other way.
The world saw a man with almost god-like powers as a hero, and they admired him. But how easy would it be for the tide to turn? It wouldn't take much, he knew, for that admiration to turn to fear and that fear to morph into distrust.
The people of Earth accepted him because he did everything in his power to help them when they needed it. They trusted him because he'd never given them a reason not to.
Clark Kent occasionally had to lie to protect himself and the people he loved. Superman couldn't be afforded the same privilege. All it would take would be to be caught in one little white lie, an exaggeration of the truth, and the seeds of doubt would be planted in countless minds. It would take time, he knew, but that doubt would slowly grow; they'd listen to the words he said with a jaded and skeptical ear, and they'd look for hints of duplicity in everything he did. And so Superman could not, would not lie, not even to keep his identity a secret, because if he did so and was caught, he would put the people he loved in even more danger in the long run.
He couldn't lie, and he hated to tell the truth. As a superhero, Superman had to make difficult choices every day – choices that often meant the difference in life or death for hundreds of people, if not more. When it came to protecting his private life and the person he loved more than anyone else in the entire world, however, Superman didn't have the first idea what to do. Luckily, Perry seemed to understand his distress, because, once again, he offered an olive branch. With knowing eyes, he suggested, "Would you like to tell me something like that, son? That the ring you wear is a memento of your parents?"
After a slight pause, Superman nodded. "I'd like to, yes sir." It wasn't a lie, but it didn't have to be. Clark knew that Perry was no fool; he was perfectly aware that the ring Superman wore didn't come from Krypton. At the same time, he also knew that Perry would never betray his knowledge to anyone. Superman's secret was still safe.Perry smiled. "That's what I thought. I'll let you get back to your business now, but I appreciate you stopping to talk to me." As he reached out to take the photo out of Superman's hand, he paused and said rather gravely, "You know, it's almost too bad that it's not your ring, son. Alice…that's my wife…I have to admit that she worries about you. You may not remember her, but the two of you met once, a few years ago, and she said then that there was something about you that was rather sad…she said you just seemed lonely. This last week, though…well, it was just nice to think you weren't really alone."
As if embarrassed that he was even broaching a topic that could skirt around any subject of a personal nature, Perry cleared his throat, but it was clear that he wasn't backing down until he said everything he meant to say. Holding Superman's gaze with his own, he said, his voice rife with the undercurrents of a thousand bits of subtext, "I suppose it would have to be an amazing woman, though, wouldn't it, to be able to handle being married to a superhero."
Clark was silent for a moment as he pondered how to respond. Was Perry indicating that he was not only aware of Superman's private life but that he was well aware of the identity of the superhero's alter-ego as well? Or was Clark simply reading too much into a statement that could be taken more or less at face value? Normally, Clark had no problem reading his editor's moods and even piecing together what the older man was thinking, but right now he didn't have a clue – and he didn't dare ask for clarification, either. "It would have to be at that, sir," he finally responded cautiously.
As if reassured of some intangible fact, Perry smiled and stepped back, and his eyes skittered across the Metropolis skyline for a moment. Having gotten the answers he sought – or perhaps simply reassured himself of something he already knew – he seemed determined to put the whole scene behind him. Perry was not the type of man to deal well with personal discussions, and if he was willing to pretend nothing amiss had happened on this particular rooftop on this particular evening, Clark was willing to let him. "Well, again, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, son. I expect you have…things to get back to, and I won't take up any more of your time."
"Thank you, Mr. White," Clark responded in turn, referring to more than simply the gracious goodnight. He didn't know how much Perry truly knew – or suspected – about Superman's private life, but he also supposed it didn't really matter. As tactfully as possible, Perry had let him know that his secret was safe – at least for the moment and only so far as the Daily Planet was concerned. Perhaps together, the Kents could work on concocting some sort of plausible alibi, should the matter ever come up again, but at least for tonight, they were safe. They had time, they had warning, and tonight, they had further proof that, in Perry White, they possessed an invaluable friend, as well.
On that happy thought, Superman raced back home, unwilling to be deterred another moment. He would have to tell Lois about the strange conversation he'd had atop the Daily Planet, of course, but that could wait for tomorrow. For tonight – as, indeed, it was for most nights – the only thing that mattered was being with her.
When he finally flew through the wide balcony windows that had been the apartment's primary appeal when he and Lois had found it together, not one year before, he was disappointed to see that all the lights were out. Lois, it seemed was already in bed. Clark landed as quietly as possible and prepared to change into his pajamas so he could join her when he heard her speak.
"Hey there, handsome. I was wondering what time you'd be getting home tonight." Lois stepped out of the shadows surrounding the bedroom door and walked towards him. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she gave him a long, welcoming kiss before leaning away from him, her nose wrinkled in distaste. "I hate to tell you this, honey, but you smell like you bathed in cheap perfume. I take it a very ardent admirer swooned gracefully into your arms this evening in the hopes you'd whisk her off somewhere romantic and make all her dreams come true?"
The grin on her face was infectious, and Clark found himself unable to keep from returning it, though he'd meant to keep a straight face as he replied, "Sorry, Lois, but no. I only know of one woman who could be accused of swooning into my arms, and, as luck would have it, I ended up marrying her."
Lois's outraged gasp was met by a friendly punch on his shoulder as she cried, "Ha! You only wish I'd swooned over you, Mister! I'll have you know, I'm above that sort of thing!" Then she paused, as he knew she would, and seemed to consider the matter for a moment. It was true that she could never have been said to have fainted gracefully into his arms, overcome by a fit of the vapors at the mere pleasure of being in his proximity, but it could also be said that there were the occasional moments when what she'd done had been close.
"I never swooned over you," she said with a sniff of disapproval. "I may have…tripped once or twice when you were lucky enough to be there to catch me, but I never swooned.""I stand corrected," he said gravely, though it was hard to hold back the laugh he so desperately wanted to let loose. How was it that he still found her so adorable, after all the years they'd known each other? Shouldn't he have built up some sort of immunity to her by now? But, no, she was still as irresistible to him now as she was the day they'd met; even then, while he'd found her rude, bossy, and annoying, there had also been something oddly captivating about her, something that had drawn him to her, even before he'd understood why he couldn't seem to stay away.
Lois chuckled softly, and he had no doubt that she was well aware of what he was thinking. "Good. Just don't forget it," she said with mock sternness as she gave him another quick kiss. Then, stepping out of his arms, she turned towards the bedroom. "Now, come on. It's late; we should get to bed."
As she stepped away from him, the lights of the city filtered through the doors behind him and illuminated her figure. She was wearing her favorite pair of old pajamas – long flannel pants with a matching shirt, both emblazoned with small insignias woven into the fabric. "The Superman pajamas again?" he asked in mock exasperation. The first time he'd caught sight of this particular set of pajamas had been before he and Lois had begun dating, and, at the time, his reaction to seeing her in them had fueled her conviction that he harbored a secret jealousy towards the Man of Steel. Though she had come to realize her error in subsequent years, of course, the memory was still something of a joke between the two of them.
She had almost reached the bedroom door when he looked over her shoulder at him. "I'll get out of my Superman costume if you get out of yours," she told him with a flirtatious smile.
Clark laughed and prepared to speed past her, ready to make his way into the bedroom and out of his costume before her foot could complete its next step. "With an offer like that, Mrs. Kent, how could I refuse?"