Beginning to End
a.k.a. "Exercises in Awakening Muses"
II. The End
The second time he met her, he was twenty-five and as different from that twelve year old boy as he could get.
He really wished she'd been there to see the change—the metamorphosis that had become his life—but, as she once had told him, wishes lived in a land of ifs and maybes. They were fun to look at, but not worth taking home.
"If you're smart," she'd said, "you'll nod politely at the 'I wishes' and walk arm-and-arm with the 'what ya gots.'"
He never really understood everything she said, but somehow she always made sense. It was the 'what ya gots' that had gotten him his deliverance. His bones had grown strong and dense, becoming so firm that they were (literally) unbreakable. His lungs—once weak and constricted (she had insisted that he learn to swim as a way to cope)—were now so powerful and expansive that he could blow ice. The doctors said he was growing out of 'it' but his parents (who decided he no longer needed doctors) eventually confessed that they thought he was actually growing *into* something else.
He had become a man, and not just any man, but a Man with a capital M who was shouldering a sense of destiny. Like the caterpillar without wings, the boy who couldn't walk had become the man who could fly.
So that's exactly what he did when she called him one night (out of the blue and totally off-schedule) to say that she had quit her job and didn't know why 'so don't ask me about it.'
Not that she would know that part. The years had lengthened between them. When she'd first left him (or his town, rather, if you wanted to get all particular about it), they'd promised to talk every single day. After all, that was what they'd been doing then, and they were children… Why would that have to change?
Inevitably though, change it did, and they did too. The daily calls turned into weekly notes which turned into holiday cards and blue-moon calls (granted it was sometimes hard to find a post office in small off-the-map places like Borneo). No one could really understand how someone unseen and mostly unheard could forever (and ever, Amen) hold the title of Best when it came to friends.
Unseen. Yeah. That was a stipulation—a sticky point that he didn't really like, but allowed even so. She said to never send pictures and vowed to do the same. She claimed to live for the times when she could imagine the carefree days of chewing the hay (no, really—you just put one of the ends in your mouth), and walking barefoot in wet dirt after it rained. She said that when she talked to him, she could see their innocence and didn't want anything to take it away.
So he lived for the calls and the letters and the cards, even though they didn't say much of anything. Because, in the not saying, the fact that they still came said everything.
And he was still in love.
Sure, it was an odd love (or so people tried to tell him). It was all distant and unrequited and underlying, but he knew it was what he thought it was—mostly because he knew what it wasn't.
When—at the age of fourteen and watching her ride off on that pink (butt-ugly, she'd always say) banana-seated bike—he had confessed to his parents about the four letter word that started with 'L' and wasn't 'like.' They had shot one another a crinkly-eyed smile and ruffled his hair. The crush (their word) would pass, they had advised. She had been his first *real* friend, his first sleepover partner, and his first non-relative Christmas gift. She had also been his first kiss (a sudden 'let's test the theory' thing about tongues and teeth that had been all sorts of awkward and wet and… really nice), but they didn't know anything about that.
And after that talk while he and his parents were sitting at the dining room table, he had started to understand that it was called a crush because of the horrible thing it did to your heart. Defiantly, he refused to believe it and he sort of dared the Universe to prove him and all of his innocent true-love-edness wrong. Later, he regretted challenging something so much bigger than he was.
First Love is not the same as True Love, people told him. They were right… mostly. As the calls turned to notes turned to cards (and yadda-yadda, you get the drift), he pulled his heart back a little. He grew strong enough to actually 'enter the population' of high school for the last two years. He met other people and made other friends. He even met a girl who he loved a little, and for a while, he thought that this was it (it wasn't). That *this*, this state of mostly happy and mostly satisfied was life (or something like it).
Strange stories of origins and heredities and meteor showers had turned his life completely upside down for a while, and he'd been a little angry that she wasn't there. But then the anger morphed (there's that theme again) into something like fear, and he was glad he hadn't told her. He was glad that she wasn't there, but even gladder that she had instilled in him the stuff (the 'what ya gots') to deal with what came.
So, in the midst of the painfully forever-fusing bones, and the lonely secret-keeping nights, and the scary curtain-burning-irises days, he concentrated a little harder, heard strange noises a little less, and flew.
Yep—back to that again. He flew.
Two days after she dropped the 'I quit my job' bombshell, he gathered his strength, his courage, and his wits and flew… And landed on the rooftop of her apartment building in Metropolis, New Troy.
He knew the address (there were cards, remember) and as he moved down the stairs (which he now handled with ease) toward the door marked seventeen-oh-five, he asked himself why, having known this address for so long, he had never been there before.
He knew the answer, of course, and he knew that the question was borne of nervousness which was borne of the fear of rejection, but that didn't stop more questions from bubbling up from their dormant sleep in the land of sub-consciousness. Questions like, would that remnant of love he was basing his life and soul upon disappear when it was finally exposed to light? And, would she be mad at him for just showing up like this and violating the terms of their agreement? Would she simply throw him out? Would she simply invite him in?
And, would she even recognize him? Would he even recognize her? Granted, she was semi-famous (in her own city, at least). She was a reporter for a newspaper (if you considered the tabloid called Inquisitor to *be* a newspaper) but how many newspaper reporters were ever known by anything other than their words and name?
All of his thoughts were stymied when the door to the apartment opened to his knock (he hadn't even noticed the many turning tumblers of locks on the door) and immediately, his two most pressing questions were answered. The one about love? Stronger. The one about recognition? Undoubtedly.
There was no doubt that this was her. This was Lois—his Lois of thirteen years, three months, eight days, and twenty-one… no, twenty-two, minutes ago. She was… frowning at him.
"Hi, Lois," he started, realizing that he was a strange man in front an unsuspecting woman's door. "I'm…"
"Clark," she interrupted breathlessly. "I know."
He was immediately thrown back to their Day One, and not just because of dialogue or circumstance. It was all new and young and fresh… and he suddenly had another question. Something he'd always wondered but never asked: "How did you even know that I existed?"
That seemed to break the spell and he wanted to kick his traitorous self for speaking when he hadn't expected to, but she laughed and smiled widely, transporting them both through time once again. "I was the new kid in school. There were rumors. I had to see for myself."
Succint, to the point, and obvious. He had never before been so grateful that some things didn't change.
"You got *big*," she announced, staring him up and down with a mixture of amusement and something else he couldn't quite name.
"So did you," he replied (lamely, even to his own ears). And finally, she pushed the door all the way open and rushed into his arms.
They stood there, all feelings and memories and breathings, and he didn't *really* know her, but he knew that this was it.
"Is this okay?" he asked, not wanting to crowd, but not wanting to cease. "I mean, me just showing up like this…"
And she pulled back—but not completely away—and said, "It's perfect."
And then they were talking without saying anything, and laughing, and reminiscing. This was them as friends—as *best* friends—as if they'd never been apart, and he couldn't help but want to ask if it were more (because it was more for him—something he just *knew* in a place that was beyond knowing). He didn't ask, though, because somehow, over the two hours that they spent talking, he'd gained control of his subconscious (or vice versa) and he couldn't even breach the topic with an imaginary ten-foot pole.
He'd travelled the world—visited the places she had lived (and asked for help finding a bathroom) and more—and learned hundreds of languages (some of which had never been written down), but whenever his mind formed words about love and relationships, they came out wrong. Like, for example, this: "It's really neat that you have an aquarium in your apartment."
True to the form of the Lois he once knew, the Lois he now saw took it all in stride, commenting on the pros and cons of freshwater versus saltwater tanks and undoubtedly remembering that his allergies as a child had meant he couldn't have any pets in the house.
They talked some more, pretending that they were those kids again, and for the first time in his life, he experienced light-headedness after drinking a glass of wine (although it was more about the company than the libation itself). He tried to ask about the job thing, but she danced—either like a prize-fighter or a ballerina, she danced—and redirected so well that he wouldn't remember what he'd asked until they were well onto another topic.
And suddenly, it was beyond time for sleep, and the night had turned into a dusky gray, but they were both exhausted and thrilled and delirious (he may not need as *much* sleep as everyone else, but he still needed it). She stood, and then he stood, and after eyeing the couch and doubting its acceptable function as a bed, he'd suggested a campout—to which she'd readily agreed.
He'd been expecting a tent (okay, maybe not) or a sleeping bag, so when she pushed him onto her bed and flopped down on the other side, he gingerly laid on his back and remained on top of the covers.
She was asleep and heavily breathing within seconds, but abruptly, he was wide awake.
Later that day, when she woke up and they had breakfast for lunch, she announced that they were going out for a walk. She wanted to show him 'her city,' she said. And though he felt funny wearing the scarf she tossed around his neck, he let it stay there, because it smelled like her.
They walked down the Avenue of Tomorrow, ate a probably not-so-good-for-you Big Belly Burger, peered at the vintage posters on the side of the Metro Palace Theater, and felt uncomfortable and underdressed in the lobby of the Grande Hotel. When they walked down Fifth and started to pass the iconic building with the spinning globe, Clark heard her breath catch and instantly understood why she had quit her job.
In those stories—those 'New Adventures' of their youth—the Lois and Clark that she'd painted had meaning and purpose in everything that they did. They uncovered the truth behind the force of the light sabers, they defeated the red-bulbous-nosed trolls, and they always *always* put the bad guys away.
*That* was the Lois she wanted to be.
He also remembered some of the not-so action-oriented parts of the stories that she would tell… the part about the white-horsed knight and the prince (what, a girl can't be a knight?), or the part about the brave dragon-slayer and his trusted seer (equal opportunity protagonists and all). In every story, Lois and Clark were two sides of the same coin, two peas of the same pod… two halves of the same soul.
And that was the Clark *he* wanted to be.
But, focusing on the present reality and not the untimed fantasy, he squeezed her hand then (their hands had been clasped since she'd dragged him away from the theater) and she smiled gratefully at him before leading him toward the large and impressive Centennial Park.
They used to walk hand-in-hand or elbow-in-elbow all the time when they were kids. Back then, it was usually because Lois was providing him support (his balance had always been a little shaky then) but now, he felt like the roles had changed. He reveled in being able to give her some support right back.
As they walked past the grassy fields and concrete fountains, she slowly began to explain what had happened at The Inquisitor. His blood boiled when she told him about the French expatriate who had stolen her notes with false smiles and an even falser (in his opinion, even though he hadn't met the guy) accent. He'd wanted to strangle this 'Claude' with his bare hands and couldn't understand how she resisted—which was exactly what he told her.
"Oh believe me," she replied, "I was halfway to 'safety off the nine' when I realized he was doing me a favor."
Instantly, he was two I's: Incensed and Incredulous. "A favor?"
She squeezed his hand and he remembered to relax. "A favor?" he repeated calmer… but not much.
"Yeah," she said, carefully. Thoughtfully. "I was… telling stories." She looked at him and he could tell that she was asking—without asking—if he got it.
It was the difference between growing up and staying young. The difference between living in the fantasies of children and living out their dreams instead. The difference between being a name at a tabloid paper like The Inquisitor and *making* a name at a real-as-it-gets newspaper outfit like The Planet.
It made his heart droop a little because it was also the difference between recapturing the time when they had (or *he* had, at least) been happiest and letting it go.
Their walking path took them by a news cart and she pulled him over to it.
"See?" she said, pointing to the front pages of the two papers in question—side-by-side but obviously not even close to equal. "That was me." She laid a hand on the snazzy Showcard Gothic scripted headline about Chupacabra sightings in New Mexico. "And I may not be there yet," she moved her hand to its gilded neighbor, "but I will be."
"Good for you."
It was a new voice, and as it seemed to be commenting on their conversation, he turned around, noting that she did the same. The man, a stocky white-haired gentleman with a serious expression and no-nonsense attitude brushed past them and handed money to the news cart clerk who took it with a nod and began pulling papers (one from each stack) into a pile.
The man knew her name—he said it aloud in a question form that wasn't really a question—and she'd nodded, confused and maybe a bit concerned. The man's attention had then turned to him, and Clark felt like he was being interrogated (although silently… and maybe not really interrogated even, since he had nothing to compare the experience to…).
She'd spoken up then, drawing his attention, saying, "This is Clark, my… Clark," and although half of his mind was wondering why she felt the need to introduce him to someone she obviously didn't know, the other half of him was overjoyed with being introduced as her *anything* even though he had no idea what (if anything) she'd meant by it.
But the stranger's eyes were still on him and, feeling them, he turned back to now find himself even less comfortable in the gaze then he had been before.
"Good for you," the man said again, and Clark took another moment to wonder—this time, about whether the 'good for you' was just a repetition of the earlier one, of if it was about something else entirely. And if it was… was that 'else entirely' directed at him? About him?
He must have been wondering for a while because when she tugged his hand again, the gray-haired stranger was walking away, and Clark vaguely remembered the stranger saying something about calling when ready. He noticed that she had a small business card in her hand—white and non-descript with no logo and no company on it, only a name and a number—and he was curious as she frowned at it and slipped it into her pocket.
He asked who that was and she shrugged, glancing up at him with wide dancing eyes. "I have no idea, but he said I'd know when I needed him."
As they continued walking, he couldn't help but wonder about that name on the card. The name of the man that wanted something from her whenever she was ready…
Who was this mysterious Peregrine White?
The next morning, he woke up to find her sitting on her side of the bed, sipping from a glass of juice and staring at him.
It shouldn't have been disconcerting for him, after all, he was (admittedly) in love with her and her stare on the night he'd arrived was one of admiration (he'd finally been able to name it), but it wasn't entirely a pleasant experience. The reason being: the night before.
It had been late and he had been so full off of food and emotion and their spirits had been running so high that when she had asked, he had given. See, somewhere between the Metro ride between downtown and uptown and the picnic dinner they'd had in Outlook Park (it wasn't as big as Centennial but it was closer to her apartment), he'd decided that he loved her. For real, for real. Like, singing songs about people in trees, loved her.
It was fast, and it was unlikely (separation breeds unfamiliarity breeds implausibility and all that jazz), but he was sure. He wasn't so sure about the reciprocity of the thing, though, so he didn't go tilting at windmills or swinging on lamp posts, but he felt like he was damn near close to it.
She had been telling him about how she had been starting to feel like her world was crumbling down—her lack of intimate relationships (he didn't smile at that confession… but he'd wanted to), her lack of meaningful work, and her lack of something she just couldn't name—when he'd showed up at her door. She'd told him that she would have never thought to ask him to come, that she'd felt so stifled that she had been planning to take a trip to somewhere strange (she mentioned the Congo) just to get away, when suddenly—unexpectedly—there he was.
She'd told him that he helped her feel grounded, and all he think about was Day One again—the image of a broken, bruised, and lost little boy whose best friend helped him feel free.
But the thing—the *thing* that defined this strange waking up to uncomfortable staring moment—didn't happen until they were back at her apartment, watching, but not watching, a movie they'd both seen before and idly (sleepily) chatting about whatever random thing popped into their heads. He had been sitting upright on the couch with his feet propped on the coffee table, and she had put a pillow in his lap before lying down on it. He was all caught up in the domesticity and nostalgia of it all, so when she had asked him to tell her a story so she could fall asleep, he couldn't resist.
Sure, it was a role reversal (he'd been the reader, remember), but the whole trip had seemed to be following that theme, so he'd decided to go along with it. He'd started telling a story about a distant red star, about an unknown inhabited planet, and about said planet's demise. It was a tale of a baby boy, sent out on airstreams like a prayer, to experience (and most importantly to *live*, to *survive*) in a new world.
She had been so motionless during his soft speech, and his hands had been playing with the strands of her silken hair, and her breathing had been so even, that he assumed (and maybe hoped) that she'd gone to sleep. Even so, already having started, he couldn't stop. He'd continued to weave the tale around the strangeness this little boy had felt as he adapted to his new place, but he was careful not to say certain things. He careful to omit certain characters, but some things still came out, albeit in different forms. For example, there was the part about the talking bird—yellow breasted with a singsong voice—which helped to lead the little boy away from dark and danger.
And when he finished the story with a scene of the boy and bird parting ways, he released a breath—happy to finally have told her the truth (in jilted fanciful form), but even happier that she hadn't been conscious to hear it.
But then she had stirred and sat up, looking at him with deep and clear and intelligent eyes, and had said, "That's one helluva story."
He had waited on (figurative) pens and needles to see what would come next, but she hadn't screamed, hadn't raged, hadn't fainted… hadn't said anything but suggested they call it a night and head to bed. He tried to divine if he were happy or sad, disappointed or relieved, to be still be bound to the secret, but could only come up with the answer 'inconclusive.'
And so, for yet another night, he had laid on top of the covers and listened as her breathing indicated her state of consciousness while he was still awake… only this time, he eventually fell asleep.
…Only to wake up to her sitting on her side of the bed, sipping from a glass of juice and staring at him.
He swallowed once. Twice, because the way she was looking and *looking* made him uncomfortable for a whole cornucopia of reasons. The mental and emotional ones were bad enough, but the *physical* ones… those had him realizing how on-top-of-the-covers he really was.
He let out a slight yelp to cover the sudden jack-knife move he made to bring his knees closer to his chest (which was to cover something else, you understand), and immediately her expression changed from being all studious and puzzle-fitting to being concerned. He was about to feel relieved about that change when she reached for his legs, obviously reverting back into her role as masseuse in response to his apparent leg cramp.
And that was bad in a really good way. "No!" he shouted causing them both to grimace and her to retreat. "Sorry."
And then she was all head tilty and narrow-eyed and he couldn't think of any way to fix a situation (with a capital 'S') that had already been exacerbated beyond belief. He cleared his throat, and subtly (he hoped) shifted a stray pillow to a friendly position.
She laughed right then, and he was full-on mortified until he felt her fingers slip into through his hair. So he looked up. And saw it. Saw *everything*.
Everything that he felt, hoped, and dreamed was being reflected back to him in her eyes.
She must have seen it too, because she blinked, retrieved her hand (which she stared at in shock after pulling it back), and moved to get up.
And suddenly he remembered that last day (fittingly) of summer, thirteen years, three months, ten days, and forty-five… no forty-six minutes ago, and realized with startlingly certainty that he couldn't (not one more time *ever*) watch her walk away.
The last and final time he met her, he was twenty-eight and sweating inside of a stuffy black suit, having a hard time swallowing around the constricting knot of a brand new tie.
His hair, which had been earlier combed and parted, was a tousled mess, and his legs, which were strong and sturdy, were shaking in a way they hadn't since he was a child. The nerves didn't make sense. The anxiety didn't make sense. He was a man (capital 'M') who wore a symbol on his chest and who could move mountains, but this… *this* was something else entirely.
He finally calmed when she made it to his side, the fingers of her hand intertwining with his.
"Hey there," she whispered, and he couldn't help but be taken back to that Day. The one were they first met.
She started to turn away but there was something else he needed to say. "I'm the love of your life," he told her. Firmly. Pompously.
It had the desired affect. She smiled—her attention once-again all his. "Really?" she challenged, with flashing eyes, preparing to take him to battle as only she could. "And what… Why would you think that?"
He smiled back. Confident and sure. "Because everybody should have one."
This was the last time he would see Lois Lane.
Because from that moment on her last name would be Kent.
…But if you think about it, it's really kind of The Beginning.