Zen and Reconciliation

Nefertiri's Handmaiden

Disclaimer - I don't own Superman. If I did, I'd have played Lois Lane in "Superman Returns." Hold me, Brandon Routh.

Summary: Richard doesn't know it, but Lois has been having panic attacks.

Note: The first chapter in a muti-parted story following Lois and Superman's return to something like what they were before.

Note the Second: Thanks to JJ the elusive for kicking me back into gear to harness my muse and actually upload something.

-S-

Part I: Confessions of a Self-Centered Ace Reporter

Chapter 1: Hurricane Lane

-S-

Richard doesn't know it, but Lois has been having panic attacks. She's been having them since she realized Superman was gone.

They start with nightmares. Horrible, horrible nightmares where she is hanging from that helicopter again, or on an elevator at the Eiffel Tower, or one of the other hundred scenarios where he's saved her. Nightmares where she is screaming for him. Screaming, screaming, screaming… and he never comes.

By the time she takes Richard to her bed for the first time, only a few weeks after Superman disappears, the nightmares have dissipated. They are replaced with waking up in a cold sweat, terrified for reasons she can't explain. She flees the bed to the bathroom at times like these, where she sits on the toilet seat and waits for the feeling to pass. Richard rarely wakes during these episodes. When he does, he buys the 'I had to go' excuse easily.

She has them at work once in a while, a sudden pressure on her chest so strong she can't breathe for a few seconds. She rushes to the bathroom on these occasions. For a while no one thinks anything of it because she is pregnant. But even after Jason is born and the pregnancy hormones wear off Richard does not notice.

Though she is mostly relieved Richard doesn't know, she can't help but resent him a little bit for it. He should notice. He should know that something is wrong.

Superman would have known.

It is unfair to compare them, she knows. Richard will never be Superman but he is, deep down, a truly good man. He's not a hero. He's not a god. But he is a truly good man. For that, she really does love him.

--

The panic attacks do not ease after Superman returns. She does not know why. They should stop now that he is around again. Still, every few weeks, the panic sets in so deep she can't breathe. She wonders if maybe it has to do with Jason's parentage and the how the future is now so uncertain. She does her best to ignore them.

Still, Richard does not notice.

--

She has one at work. It is a Thursday. The newsroom is as loud and busy as ever and no one notices how Lois's breathing starts to hitch, her heart starts to pound, and her face goes pale. She can feel the room expanding indefinitely, like the laws of the universe have ceased to exist.

She rises to her feet, wobbles slightly. She barely remembers to grab her purse - she knows she'll need to it fix her make-up after the panic passes. Taking a deep breath, she starts the journey to the ladies' room. It feels so far away. She forces herself to maintain control. She will not show this weakness to the world. Not Lois Lane.

She does not notice Clark notice her rise. She does not notice Clark notice her heartbeat speeding or her uneven breath. She does not notice that Clark alone notices that something is wrong.

He stands and follows her toward the restroom.

--

She sits on the floor in the stall farthest from the door. In the calm quiet she can take deep breaths and make the panic dissipate. Soon, she will return to her desk soon as though nothing had happened and continue with her day. Richard will not even notice her absence. No one will notice. She will be Lois Lane, as invincible as ever.

Then there is an knock on the ladies' room door. A second passes and she says nothing. Then, awkwardly, "Lois?"

Oh. My. God. Is that… Clark?

She does not answer. Maybe he will go away.

She shouldn't hope for such a thing. It is Clark. "Lois, are you alright?" Again, she doesn't answer. Then, to her supreme shock, Clark opens the restroom door and comes right in. She sees his Cole Haan Oxfords from under the white stall door.

Seriously?

He must spot her shoes because he heads straight towards her. He stands next to her stall and asks, "Lois? Are you sick? Do you need a glass of water? Should I call Richard?"

Her heartbeat starts to speed again and her breath quickens. No one can see her like this. No one. No one. "Go away."

Then Clark does something quite out of character. He stands up to her. "No."

"Clark-"

More insistently, "No. I'm not going to just leave you here when you're not all right."

She's almost hysterical at this point. "Clark, I'm fine."

"No. No, you're not. Tell me what's wrong so I can help you."

Somehow, she gets to her feet, fully intending to tell him off and throw him out of the restroom. Her legs feel wobbly underneath her and it's tough to balance on her three-inch designer heels. She struggles with the catch on the door for a second, which is stupid because it's just one where she needs to pull back. She pulled the door open and there's Clark, standing there and looking worried. He knows something is wrong.

She falls into his arms and starts sobbing. At first Clark tenses. This is clearly not what he expected to happen - Hell, it's not what she expected to happen. Then he wraps his arms around her and holds her as she cries. He seems a little uncomfortable but he rubs her back soothingly and, to her surprise, he makes her feel much better.

After a little while her tears dissolve into hiccups. She pulls away once she has control again. She can't make herself meet his eyes, instead choosing to hurry over to the mirror to splash a little water on her face and start to shakily re-apply mascara.

He watches her silently for a moment. Then, hesitantly, he speaks. His voice sounds different than usual. "Lois, you need to tell me what's wrong."

He's so sincere and so concerned that she can't brush him off again. She turns away from the mirror, eyes half made-up and nose still red. When she turns to face him, she's shocked to see him looking right into her eyes, something he rarely does. She is struck by how intense he looks. No one has ever looked at her that way.

Well... maybe one other.

She cannot lie to him. Not when he's looking at her like that. "I don't know."

He raises an eyebrow. It doesn't seem like a challenge to her statement, though, merely a thoughtful gesture to let her know he's not done yet. "How long has this been going on?"

"Since-" she hesitates and then takes a deep breath and continues. "Since Superman left. Five years ago."

The rush of emotions across his face is so varied and swift she can't catch them all. She thinks for a second she sees… guilt? Then he is intense again.

"You've been crying in the bathroom by yourself periodically over the last five years?" It should make her feel stupid to hear him say it like that but it doesn't. He's just stating a fact for confirmation. He doesn't say it like he's judging her. But then, Clark's never been anything less than completely good to her, has he? She nods. "And Richard?" Clark asks, and this time there is a little edge in his voice.

"He doesn't know. He never knew. He can't know," she says. She doesn't feel ashamed. Not now. Not with Clark looking at her like that, so honestly.

This time, the rush of emotion is more clear to her. It is a surge of anger and disgust. Then, once again, it is gone. He nods like he gets it, which he probably does, the way he knows her. He takes a step closer. Gently, he places one big, warm, comforting hand against her cheek. He looks deep into her eyes. "The next time you need me, I'll be here. I'm always here, Lois."

She blinks back fresh tears, but these ones are for a different reason than the panic - whatever reason that is. These tears are because he's so sweet. She leans in, kisses him lightly on the cheek. When she pulls back, she's surprised to see that he's not blushing. He's just looking at her in this intense way, a hint of a smile on his face. Who is this new Clark in front of her?

Then he pulls away. "Take however long you need. I'll cover for you, okay?"

She nods. "Thank you, Clark."

He just smiles and exits the ladies' room.

Six minutes later she reenters the bullpen, face fresh and makeup touched up. On her desk sit a fresh cup of coffee and a cinnamon raisin bagel liberally spread with cream cheese. She looks over at Clark's desk. He's not looking back, not giving anything away.

For the life of her, she can't figure out why she's not ashamed that he's seen her in such a state.