XIII
Lois Lane

I don't want to be alone anymore.

Not alone alone: I am surrounded by people. I mean alone, inside myself. I don't want to be the only person there.

Nobody ever really found out quite what I did on "Ash Tuesday" — yeah, it was a Tuesday. That almost surprised me. Somewhere I stopped keeping track of days of the week and I didn't even notice, but for most people that day was normal.

A lot of them used up their last normal day then, thanks to Lex.

After Metropolis pulled itself together, we had a memorial in Centennial Park. I was asked to speak: nobody knew what I had done, but my name was on a thousand lips anyway. I declined. How could I speak for the people who died that night? I didn't even know if they knew they were dead.

I went, though, to see Kara say her piece — and to see the General.

He gave me the strangest look, filled with the cold aloofness with which he had handled his fatherhood. My father was like a stone. When I was younger, I beat my fists till they were bloody on the rock around his heart, but it never cracked. Now, when he looked at me, I thought I saw a chink — and through that chink, maybe pride. Maybe not.

It's just the way he is.

He put his hand on my shoulder, and I understood that he loved me.

Clark went as well, bespectacled and dressed in funeral attire. Nobody asked him — Superman — to speak. I don't think it hurt him. At least, it didn't hurt him as much as the looks his rescuees gave him now.

Fear. Blame.

Why were people casting about for a scapegoat? We all knew who had engineered this. We all know whose hands the blood was on.

Lex had supporters, even now. Yes, fewer, and yes, ostracised — but they were out there.

"Humanity," said Clark to me, "is capable of such great and such disgusting things."

"Where is the great?" I said, absent-mindedly. He just looked at me.

And I looked at him.

"Maybe 'humanity' isn't the right word," I said. He smiled.

And so did I.

It's not true, what they tell you about how many muscles it takes to smile and to frown. It's not true, but damn it felt good to smile then.

Maybe it was time for me to throw caution to the wind, with the ashes of all the people we couldn't save. Maybe it was time for me to start chipping away at the rock around my own heart. The way Clark glanced at me, the softness of his eyes behind their lenses, reminded me how much I used to want to fight.

But hell if I was going to wear anything like that when I took up my shield again.

"It's a ... change," he said in awkward explanation, and shifted his weight. I raised a sceptical eyebrow.

"It's very colourful," I said, eventually.

We were stood on the rooftop of the Daily Planet, with the freshness of early evening pressed against our skin. I was wearing heels for the first time in months, and Clark was wearing the suit which would soon be synonymous with the word 'justice'.

"It's," he paused, looking over the skyline, "bright, so people can see me coming."

I folded my arms. Clark wanted so badly to earn back the people's trust.

Besides, it was kind of ... sexy. Not that I'd say.

Even now, I wouldn't say. I had kept these feelings inside for so long that it frightened me how much power there was in them. I had kept them, hidden, until they were so large I had to wonder — like a ship in a wine bottle — how to get them out without breaking something.

But the way Clark looked at me — the way Kal-El had been — I thought I was going to burn up from wondering, what if?

He was braver than me.

He faced down Perry White, who attributed that nagging familiarity to the fact that he met Clark in his teens, and asked about calling in an old favour.

Perry asked me to babysit him — although I didn't put it like that when I told Clark.

And I wasn't sure how to respond, when he asked me out: how could he? After everything we'd done, we'd had to do, how could he comprehend doing something so mundane as dating?

But he took me out, took me to a quiet restaurant, and talked to me all night.

We talked about ordinary things: we complained that the coffee machine in the staff room was always on the fritz; we discussed his mother's latest political manoeuvrings; we tried to work out what the situation between Kara, Chloe and poor Jimmy was. He talked to me, and made me laugh, and bicker, and burn where my heart was. I wondered how I ever lived without any part of this.

And somehow we ended up on my sofa, my feet in his lap, watching some old film but not really paying attention.

"You know," he said, eventually, "when you're thinking really hard, you get this sort of frown on your face, and press your lips together."

I looked at him and raised an eyebrow, "Before you say it, Perry gives me fifteen cents a word for editorials. My thoughts are worth a lot more than a penny."

He grinned, "Oh," he said, "is that why they're always so overwri—"

I raised my finger threateningly, "You don't want to finish that sentence," I said.

He smiled at me, and then gently took my hand and kissed my outstretched finger. And it felt like time had shifted gears.

"What were you thinking about?" he said.

I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times, and then cleared my throat. "How easy this is," I said, after a moment, and then narrowed my eyes, "too easy."

"Lois," he said, and looked intensely at me, "I'm still here. You haven't lost anybody," and I knew what he was getting at.

"We're at war," I said, and he knew what I was getting at.

"We are," he said, "and we always will be," always screaming on behalf of those without voices, fighting not just people but ideas, shadow boxing in the dark, I knew. "We'll always be at war," he said, "but that doesn't mean things always have to be difficult."

He brushed his fingers lightly over my hair, tucking the strays behind my ear and studying my face. "Lois," he said, "one thing I learned ... just because you're a hero doesn't mean you can't be happy. It doesn't mean you can't have friends, or date, or —" he paused, and his lips twitched here, "well, you know."

He nodded, almost as if to himself, and then looked me in the eye again, "You taught me that."

"I'm not a hero," I said seriously.

He just grinned. "You look like one," he said.

Chloe resolved herself to get into med school. I just shook my head. We never did have that talk about her powers — I think somewhere between the fifth and the sixth time I risked my own life, I realised I was in no position to tell anybody else what to do with theirs.

And, you know, there's a funny thing about the end of the world: afterwards, the Earth keeps spinning. The ashes settled. The people mourned. And we all found a new kind of normalcy, a routine.

But everything was different.

The desolation which followed our almost Pyrrhic victory passed, and dawn broke across my soul. When I looked at the sky now, it shone, burning with the sunlight which gave Clark and Kara their strength.

And I realised Clark was right. We would always fight — but each new day was an opportunity to take new ground, to make things just a little better. Every opportunity for action was an opportunity to take the action which would make somebody a little less beaten down, a little happier, a little stronger.

I got my hope back.

And —

"I love you," I found myself whispering into the wind one night, as the Daily Planet globe creaked and turned behind me.

I wasn't sure where Clark was, patrolling, saving somebody else's life — but where ever it was, whatever he was doing, I think he heard me and felt stronger. I think he heard me, and I think he whispered it back.

And I think —

I think I'm not alone.

Fin.