NOTE: Ok, so on the whole this has wound up being one of the longest fic chapters I've ever written... whew! It was a doozey. Hope you enjoy it. It'll probably be about a week until the next post, at least, because of how much this covered... you might need it to recover, though ;)
The night had come and gone, and Lois hadn't gotten a minute of sleep. She'd really thought she might, after her talk with Lucy, but her mind wouldn't stop racing. She'd wound up watching animal documentaries on the Discovery Channel all night. Every other channel she'd flipped to had been filled with violence and crime. She'd never really realized just how pervasive it was in her culture before now. Not until it became personal. Idly, she wondered what it would be like to go back to reporting on such atrocities. Would she have a renewed passion to bring down the unjust? Or would she always be this sensitive, this ready to collapse at the mention of an unfortunate death or killing?
At least gentle images of pollination and bee communication dances were keeping her mind off of it for the present. Jason was finally sleeping well and she wasn't about to wake him up. Neither of them had been sleeping much in the past few days. Lucy had taken off for work after many insistences by Lois that she'd be fine with Jason for the day. Jason. The poor boy. He couldn't really understand everything that was going on. He was old enough to realize what death meant, but not old enough to comprehend the full meaning of the situation. She hadn't told him about Clark's arrest. How on earth was she supposed to explain that to him? She didn't even understand it herself.
As she watched the little yellow bees dancing across the screen, Lois was growing extremely restless. She reached for the remote and turned the TV off, then quickly stood and began heading towards the kitchen. She'd never been very capable of sitting in one place for very long, and a couple hours of nature shows had proven quite enough for her. Oddly enough, she was beginning to crave toast with honey, though.
But just as Lois reached for the cabinet door, she felt a soft wind against her face. It was blown in from the screen door leading to the apartment balcony. It shouldn't have seemed unusual. After all, it was just the wind. But the way it came gently out of nowhere, the soft sound of boots settling on concrete that she could swear she heard almost made her heart stop. When she turned to glance at the balcony, her heart jolted to again, instantly racing. It was him.
Forgetting what she was doing and any sense of boundary she might have had earlier, Lois rushed towards the balcony, threw open the screen door, and latched on to Superman. His strong arms beside her, the familiar yet alien feel of his suit under her hands felt like having the order of the world restored. For a few moments, she just stood there in his arms, completely unthinking, unable to do anything else.
After a few minutes, or maybe only moments, she began to realize how stiffly he held her, how his arms had stayed only loosely clasped around her. Remembering herself, and recalling how uncomfortable he had been with her at the hospital the last time she saw him, Lois quickly pulled away.
For the first time, she looked him in the face, and was startled at what she saw. His jaw was clenched tightly. When he spoke, his whole manner seemed incredibly tense, "I'm sorry I haven't been to see you."
Her knee-jerk reaction was to scold him for running away at yet another difficult time in her life, but she held her tongue. This was most certainly different, and though she regretted not having him around in the wake of Richard's death, she perfectly understood his reasons for keeping his distance. "It's all right, I understand," she assured him. "I'm just glad you're here now. It's been…" she suddenly found her throat constricting, preventing her from attempting to put into words what she could not have expressed anyway.
Superman's expression softened, though the underlying tenseness in his manner remained. "I can't imagine what you've been going through. You and Jason."
A pang of sympathy shot through her. Neither of them had really ever made it clear what role he was to play in Jason's life. But he had respected Richard, she thought, trusted him to do well by their son. And now they were faced with a whole new situation when they hadn't even begun to figure out their former one. She marvelled at his ability to hold back his own concerns to give her and Jason some space, but now that he was standing here in front of her, she felt an overwhelming desire to ask him to stay forever. But again, she managed to restrain herself. "I don't know how to describe what we've been going through. I don't even understand it."
"You don't have to," he replied gently. Then his eyes drifted away from hers slightly as he continued, "but I think I owe it to you to tell you the facts I know about Richard's murder."
Lois breathed in deeply, her intuition telling her this would be important. After a moment she said, "Maybe you should come in." He nodded silently, then followed her into apartment and to the living room. She stood behind a chair, picking away at a loose thread, a sense of unease emanating from both of them.
"Maybe you should sit down," he suggested.
That might have been a good idea, depending on what he was going to say. But the fact that he had suggested it made her so nervous she didn't want to move, didn't want to wait another second to hear what he had clearly come here to say. There was clearly something the matter with him and in her frazzled, exhausted state she couldn't stand another movement or moment of delay. "Just tell me," she insisted flatly.
He remained standing on the other side of the room from her, his hands noticeably clenched as he spoke. "Lex Luthor was responsible for Richard's death."
A feeling like a lock clicking open thudded against her heart. For the first time in the last few days, something made sense. When he said it, she knew it was absolutely true. "Oh my God," she whispered. "How did you find out?"
Here he hesitated slightly before replying, "He told me." Sensing she needed more explanation, he began again, taking a few pacing steps as he explained. "There was a fire at an orphanage at the time. Luthor had staged it to draw me away from Richard while he had him killed. He was there at the orphanage to gloat… he knew I couldn't get there in time."
The deep remorse in his voice and eyes that met her for a fleeting second spoke all the words necessary on that point. And while the reporter in Lois was suddenly itching to know why he hadn't told the police about any of this yet, something else was strangely more pressing on her mind, though she wasn't sure why. "What about Clark?" she asked. At that, he faltered, stopped pacing, and looked at her, though he remained silent. "All the evidence against him," she began to ramble, "it just- it's not that I want to believe it, but how can we be sure? I mean, do you know who Luthor got to pull the trigger? What if it was him?"
He stepped forward, closer to her, cutting off the rest of the itching questions she might have otherwise let flow out. "It wasn't," he said tersely.
The look on his face told her she should believe him implicitly. And what reason did she have not to? But still, the reporter inside her would not be satisfied until she had a complete, rational explanation for all that the police had presented about Clark. And she got the distinct sense that he was hiding something. He wasn't as visibly distressed as he was over just telling her about Luthor. Besides, since he had revealed that bit of information, he had only seemed to grow more tense, not less so. There was something else. "How do you know? How can you be positive?" she asked him, staring him directly in the eye.
He flinched, then breathed some kind of response, something about him and Clark, but she wasn't quite sure what he'd said. Which was odd, because she was sure it had been loud enough. But her brain suddenly seemed frozen. He was staring at her so emphatically, waiting for a response, and she didn't know what she was even supposed to respond to. "Sorry, what did you say?" she asked, part of her whispering that she knew perfectly well what he'd said, which seemed absolutely ridiculous as she couldn't recall it at all.
Superman breathed in deeply, closing his eyes for a moment. Then he let the air out slowly, as if releasing something much more heavy along with it. This time when he said it, it was said with firm resolution: "I'm Clark Kent."
Lois would later have absolutely no recollection of how she felt or how she reacted in that moment. Whether her heart sped up or came to a screeching halt, if she was more stunned or angry, if she exploded in exclamations of doubt or denial. She remembered none of it. She wasn't sure she'd even experienced any of it in the first place. It was literally as if all her senses left her. The next thing she knew, she was coming out of what she struggling to open her eyes as a gentle, concerned voice whispered, "Lois… Lois?" and cold water running gently into her mouth and down her throat.
Finally, her senses were regained as she opened her eyes to see Superman crouching over her as she lay on the couch. She saw him, and when she did, she sawhim- in the nervous concern in his eyes, she saw Clark Kent for the very first time. And it scared the hell out of her.
Lois jolted upright, and immediately regretted it. Black spots appeared before her eyes, and only his lightning-fast reflexes kept her from falling back and hitting her head on the table. He held her up gently for a moment before letting her go, convinced she wasn't going to pass out again. "Careful," he urged.
She said nothing, only stared at him as though he… well, as though he had just told her that the love of her life was, in fact, Clark Kent. From the look of things, he had no idea what to say next. But she, on the other hand, suddenly had a million questions running through her mind like a stock market ticker. There was hardly a way to know where to begin, so she went with the most obvious thing first. "Why are you just telling me this? Why are you telling me this now?!" It came out with more vehemence than she'd intended, but she really didn't care.
"Lois, I'm so sorry, believe me," he stammered a little, just like Clark always did, and it only made things worse. She felt a strange urge to scream as loudly as she could into his all-hearing ears, but stopped herself. He looked terribly apologetic and pained, and she realized this must have been hard for him as well. "Believe me, I never thought it would happen this way. And I wish I could stay and explain so many things, but I don't have much time."
She glanced at the clock, though she had no idea what good knowing the time would do her. "Why? You can't just tell me this and then fly off without an explanation." That was putting it lightly.
"I have to get back," he explained, "to the jail. The morning exercise time ends soon. They'll notice I'm gone then, if they haven't already."
The mention of Clark's, of his imprisonment sobered her considerably. She suddenly remembered the whole of the circumstances they were under, not just the great shock that was overtaking her at the moment. "Oh," she said softly, gravely.
"I need to get back, but I can't stay there any longer," he began. That made absolutely no sense to her, but a motion of his hand stopped her from voicing her questions. He continued, solemnly, "Last night- early this morning I found out that Lex Luthor tried to kill my mother, and did kill two friends she was with." That hit close to home for Lois, and calmed her considerably. The distress in his voice grew, though he tried to hold it under control, and she felt a very odd sense of déjà vu. "She's in a hospital in Kansas City. I flew there, just to look and see…" he trailed off, stood, and cleared his throat. "She's in a medically induced coma," he continued, beginning to walk slowly with his hands behind his back, striving for that confident Superman stride of his but faltering. "I can't really go see her yet. I can't protect her. And I know this is Luthor's doing and that if I give him any more chances, he's just going to kill her. And he'll try to get to you… and to Jason."
Lois felt herself paling. She wasn't quite sure if it was the suggestion of harm coming to Jason or the sudden realization that her son's patronage was must more complicated than she'd thought that was draining the blood from her face. Regardless, she felt an instant surge of protectiveness towards Jason. "I won't let that happen," she said flatly.
"I know," he replied, "I know you'll do everything in your power and I know how strong you are. But Lois, listen to me," at that, he walked back towards her and sat down on the opposite end of the couch, staring her levelly in the eye. "This time it's different." A beat, then: "He knows."
For some reason, she needed no explanation of what he meant. She realized all of a sudden that there was only one reason Luthor would have gone after Clark's mother in the first place. "Oh my God," she exclaimed quietly. "How did he find out?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure. But when he drew me away from Richard, he called me by my name. He planned everything. The murder, the set-up, my mother… And he's not going to stop this time. Not even to save himself. This time it's personal. He's not after money or power or fame, he's after me. And everyone close to me." Seemingly itching to take action, he stood again. "Which is why I can't stay in prison any more. And I can't just escape, either- that wouldn't solve anything. Then I really would be guilty of something they could charge me with." A sickening feeling formed in Lois's stomach before he even said what she knew he was working up to. "I have to tell them who I am."
It took her less than a second to stand up, without wavering at all, and say, "Absolutely not." She shook her head. "That's insane. After all this time, you're just going to give up your anonymity? You've worked so hard to keep everyone- everyone from knowing. That had to be for good reasons."
"Lois, please, I've thought about all of this. It's all I've done all night," he stated more than pleaded, as though he'd prepared himself for this. "This wasn't an easy decision to reach, but it's what has to be done. I need to get out. Coming clean about everything that happened is the only way to be released, and the only way the police and I can start tracking down Luthor and the others responsible for all of this."
But she was a step ahead of him. "If you do that, then everyone will know, not just Luthor. How safe do you think your mother and everyone you care about will be then?" From the slight change in his expression, she figured she'd hit upon something. "Can't you see that's exactly what Luthor wants you to do? To just throw away your life, your privacy, and to put huge targets on the back of anybody close to you? If you do that, he wins. Even if you find him, even if he gets put in jail for the rest of his life, he'll have won. You'll never be free from crazy people threatening your mother or Jason or me. This isn't just about Luthor."
A silence hung in the air. She saw his expression change slightly as he clearly considered her point. When he spoke again, his tone alone indicated his acknowledgement that she was right. "I don't know what else I can do."
"Can't you get out on bail?" Lois asked. Surely, it seemed like the most logical solution. But she felt incredibly odd speaking about this subject to Superman. Partly because the notion of Superman in jail was ludicrous, but largely because it meant acknowledging who he really was. And that seemed the most impossible thing of all.
He shook his head. "My arraignment is later this afternoon… but my attorney doesn't think I have much chance of getting out. Not for this kind of crime."
She was glad he didn't speak precisely about the crime. That circumstance had suddenly become exponentially more painful to consider than it had been last night. Still, he probably had a point about being released on bail. "Not even with your mother's state? You couldn't get out to see her?" he shook his head again. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. "What if I tell them to?" He gave her a questioning look, so she elaborated. "A lot of their case is dependent on me." At this, she noticed him visibly wince, but tried to ignore the deeper issue there for the moment. "If I tell the DA and the judge that I think you should be released on bail, that I don't think you're guilty, that I'll testify for you if need be, it might make it difficult for them to prove enough to keep you in jail for now."
A look of gratitude passed over his face, but was quickly replaced by one of concern. "But Lois, even if that would work, I don't have any way to pay for the kind of bail bond I'd need. Most of my savings was spent taking care of my mother while I was gone."
"I'll pay for it," she responded immediately.
He gave her a skeptical look. "Lois, you don't have to do that..."
"So you're the only one allowed to do the rescuing?" she challenged.
"It's not that," he insisted, though she got the distinct feeling that had to be part of it. She held her tongue, but a distinct sense of urgency was hanging over the conversation, and she wasn't going to hold back much longer. She stared at him expectantly. "It wouldn't look good, for one thing," he explained. "You paying my bail after I've been arrested for killing your fiancé?"
"I don't give a damn how it looks," she insisted.
"How would you pay for it?" he inquired, sounding to her as though he wanted this to work, but was in fact worried about being a burden on her. Which she wasn't going to hear at this stage.
"I have some money saved," she insisted. "And then there's money from Richard's life insurance…"
At that, he held a hand up to cut her off. "No," he said flatly. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you use that money on me. It's just," he stammered again, and she saw eerily the traces of Clark in him even now as he stood before her as Superman. She wished he would stop that. As long as she stayed focus on this task, she felt she could push all her racing thoughts about Clark to the back of her mind. Thankfully, he spoke more firmly when he continued, "That money should be used to help you take care of Jason. That's what it's intended for."
"And who's going to help Jason when Lex Luthor is after him and his father is in prison."
As soon as the words were out, she wished she could have them back. She had barely acknowledged his relationship to Jason, had largely been avoiding it for the last few weeks. And now, well now she didn't know what to think of his relationship to either of them. But she certainly didn't mean to burst out with such an accusatory remark. Though he was always good at hiding his emotions (better than she'd ever imagined, apparently) there was no mistaking the look of deep pain and regret that settled on his face. Lois wanted to apologize, but it was so tense she felt saying anything at all would only make it worse. So she shut up.
It took him a few moments to regain his speech. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I know it's my fault that-"
"Hey," she cut him off quickly, holding a hand up. "There are a lot of things we both need to talk about. Clearly." That, they would probably both agree, was probably the understatement of all time. "But now's not the time. Look, you have to get back there before they find out you're gone. And you have to trust me to help you get out of there." Their eyes met squarely, and she could see that he did have confidence in her. "And as soon as you're out, we'll go to Kansas. We'll go see your mother and we'll start finding the people behind all of this. Including Luthor. We can bring him to justice," she stated the last part firmly, her nails slightly digging into her palms unwittingly. She didn't quite realize just how much anger was bubbling inside of her until now. But it was true, she wasn't just broken hearted over Richard's death- she was furious.
And she could have sworn she saw in his eyes a glimmer, just a hint of that same anger. But most of all, she saw his characteristic determination returning. He stood up just a little taller, spoke a little louder. "All right," he agreed with a nod. "Do your best to get me out this afternoon. But Lois, if you can't, I'm going to have no choice but to tell them."
As far as she was concerned, that was not going to happen. "You can count on me," she insisted, with a small smile. "Now, go. You need to get back." He hesitated a moment, as though he wanted to find the right thing to say. As if there was any possible right thing to say after the conversation they'd just had and everything he'd suddenly dumped on her.
But he thought better of it, and just gave a nod. "Thank you," he said. He waited a beat, then disappeared in that familiar blue blur.
The second he was gone, Lois dropped back onto the couch and exhaled. Clark Kent. That thought just kept going through her mind. There was no value attached to it, no assessment, no coherent response to that revelation. She thought, Clark Kent and couldn't get past that thought. She didn't notice that her hands were trembling.