Author's Note: I'm venturing into a new fandom with this story, so please be kind. :) Also, this fic will contain spoilers for Man of Steel; you have been warned.
A quick comment on timing within this fic: In the movie, Martha is picking tomatoes (a warm-weather vegetable) in the backyard and Clark is casually watching football when Zod makes his initial transmission, which puts the timing anywhere from mid-August to late October. Judging by how green the corn on their farm is, I leaned toward the earlier part of that time window. In the final scene, Lombard tries to court Lois with court-side tickets. (Ha!) Basketball is played throughout the winter months, of course, but "March madness" is a very real ailment. ;) That, taken together with the fact that Clark is riding a bike at the beginning of the scene at the Daily Planet, makes me think that Clark got hired on at the Planet in March sometime. So the movie builds in a gap of time between the battle and the Planet that's between 5-8 months long and in this story, I take advantage of that time period. :)
Lois sat cross-legged on her living-room floor with her laptop on her coffee table, finishing up one of the hardest stories she'd ever written. Some other stories had been intellectually hard because she didn't have all the pieces yet that she needed to solve the puzzle. Others were emotionally hard, when she had to write about the horrors of war or when kids were hurt or killed. This time, though, it was hard because she knew far, far too much. It was an odd mental exercise for her, censoring her own writing like this. Some paragraphs had literally gone through a dozen drafts.
At least she had a handle for Clark now that she could use publicly, even if it was more of a description than a name: Superman. In this raw, slippery prose she was telling as much of his story as she could without hurting the man who, the last time she was alone with him, clung to her waist like a frightened child. Even now she smiled sadly at the memory. For all his strength, she had seen far more of death and horror than he had before the last twenty-four hours. In this, she was stronger, and the realization had sparked something profound in her. He - the man who saved the world, the one who could fly, who could tear steel like tin foil - he needed her. It was a responsibility she didn't take lightly, one that surpassed every other obligation and goal she'd had before walking into that space ship in Canada. Clark needed her, and she would be there for him in any way she could.
If she was at all annoyed that he hadn't called (hadn't stopped by in non-alien clothes before skipping town, hadn't flown through her balcony window last night to test if a second kiss really would be downhill or not), she hid it away behind the focus she always felt as deadlines loomed. The downtown was a mess but it was an unwritten rule at the Planet that, unless you were unconscious or dead, you did your job. Perry had ordered everyone to work from home who could, and those who couldn't were ordered to wear sensible shoes, pack a lunch, and bring a full day's worth of water. The home of the Daily Planet had been spared during the battle, and they had a generator back-up to power the web servers and the printing press. They'd missed yesterday's issue of course, but they'd been through fire and brimstone already and there was no rain in the forecast, so even hell or high water weren't good excuses today. Copy was due at 3:45 PM sharp.
Her inbox chimed with a new email, and when she saw there was no subject line, she moved to delete it. (Only misspelled words were a better indication that it was most likely a phishing scam.) As the mouse cursor hovered over the address, though, she paused and read it. And blinked. And read it again. It was a gmail address from a user named OutOfThisWorldHope1980.
Hope. Out-of-this-world hope. It couldn't be. Could it? Mentally she counted back...2013 minus 33 years...1980. Only someone who had been privy to her conversation with him in the FBI's interrogation room could have known that. Which could be several hundred NSA or FBI or whatever agents.
Or it could be him.
"Dammit," she growled as she skimmed over her draft one last time. It wasn't perfect. She did still technically have half an hour before it was due. But with that tantalizing email sitting in her inbox, there was no way she'd be able to focus now.
Screw it. If Perry thought she was slipping, she'd blame head trauma or something. It'd be believable after a day like yesterday.
Lois closed the draft and sent it to him and then eagerly opened the mysterious email.
All it said was, "What's the best way to discreetly contact you?"
Lois grinned, but her reporter's instincts kicked in and she carefully considered her next move. That single sentence was not enough for her to tell if it was Clark or some government thug trying to impersonate him.
"That depends," she wrote back. "If you are who I think you are, answer me this. Who was I visiting when I first offered to tell your story?"
Mere seconds later, a reply came through. "My adoptive father. The first time we met, I was looking for my biological one."
It was him! This time Lois actually squealed before forcing herself to consider his first question. What was the best way for them to communicate? She could hardly put "Superman" on her contact list, and everyone knew that she knew Superman's true identity so "Clark Kent" was also out. Come to think of it, she wouldn't be surprised if the military or the FBI or somebody had a warrant to monitor her phone calls in the hope that he'd try to contact her. Maybe she was just being paranoid, but remembering how defeated he'd looked after killing Zod, she decided to err on the side of caution. He trusted her, and she would protect him.
Phone calls could be traced, even if the two of them didn't accidentally say something too revealing. He could mail a letter to her from anywhere in the world, but for her to reply, she'd need somewhere to send it. An email could be traced to an IP address if the email provider were in the mood to cooperate or was issued a subpoena.
"This is probably it," she finally answered. "If anyone's trying to find you, they'll be proverbially looking over my shoulder until they do. If they're really determined, they'll eavesdrop on my phone, internet accounts, probably even bug my walls and put cameras wherever they think they can get away with it. Discreet will have to happen on your end. *IF* someone is spying on me, they'll try to pinpoint your location using your IP address. Move around and use a public setting, preferably one without security monitors. DON'T email from your cell phone, though, or anything else with a GPS. And delete my emails as soon as you've read them. Just to be safe, of course."
"I'm sorry," he wrote back. "It sounds like you've done this before, though."
"LOL Don't sweat it, OotW Hope. (It's a good username, but it's kind of awkward to abbreviate.) I'm willing to take extraordinary measures to protect my sources."
"Would you prefer that I don't contact you? We're talking about the paparazzi on steroids. (Hm. Suggestions?)"
"Or government-authorized peeping toms. But like I said, you're worth it. You're the biggest story of my life. (How 'bout I just call you WOot? Same letters, just mixed up.)"
"I don't know how much more information I can give you. I'd love nothing more than for yesterday's events to be the end of the story. (That has to be the oddest thing I've ever been called, but it's generic enough. Call me Woot.)"
Lois smirked at that even as her curiosity grew. What other nicknames had he been called? It was one of a hundred questions that, even like this, she'd never be able to ask. "Well, WOot, there are two answers to that. Firstly, your story began long before I met you, and you'd be fooling yourself to think it ended yesterday. Secondly, that's not what I meant." She paused, ridiculously nervous about writing the next part. It was so...sophomoric to confess her undying love for him in an email, especially when they barely knew each other. But there was something compelling about him that went far beyond his superpowers (and his chiseled abs underneath that skin-tight suit, she admitted in the back of her mind). He cared. There was compassion and gentleness that guided his strength. Even when he chose to take a life, it cost him more than she could fathom. He'd plucked her from the sky - twice - but she was the one who caught and held him beside Zod's corpse. He was vulnerable. He deserved to know that she was, too. "Your particular story has become highly personal. The kind that keeps me up nights."
"Lois, the whole world-almost-ending thing happened just yesterday. You've only had one night of lost sleep."
She cocked her head, trying to figure out what he meant by that, and then re-read their previous conversation. Did he think his story was personal to her in a bad way? As in, she was freaking out? Or was he just flirting and trying to coax something more direct out of her? She hoped it was the latter. "It's daydreams about you that are keeping me up, Woot, not nightmares. And they began a while ago."
She waited for him to write back until seconds dragged into minutes. Maybe he had to go? It worried her that maybe the government or whoever was already on to him, had scanned her email, and was closing in on him.
A reply finally popped up in her inbox. "It's become very personal for me, too, but you're talking about living under a microscope for who knows how long. That's a lot to ask of anybody, and it could impact your friends and family, too. I can't bring myself to isolate you like that."
She felt a lump in her throat when she realized that she didn't have anyone close enough to her to even worry about. She'd already isolated herself, chasing the next big story. The people at the Planet were pretty much her entire social sphere. After a couple of false starts at trying to explain that, she finally settled for, "You. Are. Worth. It."
His reply was almost immediate. "I will find a way to convince them that they won't find me if I don't want to be found. Just...it might take a while."
"Worth. It," she answered.
"Thank you. I should probably go, but I'll email you when I can. And for the record? It's not looking downhill yet, Lois. Bye."
She touched the word "Bye" and ruefully smiled even as her heart warmed. It'd be a miracle if she didn't end up with full-fledged clinical paranoia after all this, but "worth it" didn't even begin to describe how she felt. She sent a copy of the email to her printer and then deleted it from first her inbox and then her trash.
A peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and bottled water would have to be good enough for dinner because there were thousands of stories still to be told in the city this afternoon and evening, and Lois had a job to do. But on her way out the door, she grabbed the page off her printer, folded it, and slipped it into her back pocket. Clark, Superman, Kal, Woot, her mystery man - she'd carry him with her tonight.
Lois dragged herself back through her front door almost eight hours later. She'd pushed herself physically before for stories and had been in some pretty dicey situations. The flak-jacket had actually saved her life a couple of times. Tonight hit home, though, literally. At least three people in her apartment building were missing and feared dead.
Exhausted, she set her laptop on the kitchen table and started it booting. As an afterthought, she grabbed a diet cola and a cup of yogurt out of the fridge and brought them to the table. She'd at least organize her thoughts before hitting the sack, and there was an email she wanted to send, too.
Two hours later, she had a working draft and could call it a night in good conscience. With a weary smile, she reached for her camera and downloaded the images to her laptop, flipping through them until she found the one she wanted. In the background, rescue workers with heavy equipment were digging through the rubble. In the foreground and just to the left, a grandfather and grandson were together holding up a large piece of posterboard in the corner of a barrier made of yellow police tape. The sign simply said, "Thank you!" but the boy was wearing a white shirt with a very peculiar S drawn on the front in red marker.
She opened a new email, attached the picture, and typed, "Thought you might appreciate this. Sweet dreams." As she wrote those last two words, though, she realized that he probably wouldn't sleep well. The moment was etched into her memory - Clark snapping the neck of one of his own people, falling to his knees, roaring in a cry of rage and loss and despair, and then holding her, clinging to her. Lois could only imagine how that moment might haunt Clark. Deleting "sweet dreams," she instead wrote, "You deserve our thanks as much as these other heroes do." And then she clicked "Send."
Standing and stretching, she tossed her spoon in the sink and took an ibuprofen for the muscles that were already sore. As she swallowed it down, her laptop chimed with an email alert and she choked. Coughing and thumping her chest, she hurried over to open it.
It was from Clark. "Do you think I should come help? I could, a lot, but it could also end badly. As in, with handcuffs. Everyone knows I contributed to the carnage, and I don't want to do more harm than good."
She replied, "That's up to you. You might sleep better if you do, though. Your call."
"Good point," he answered. "I'll think about it. And I just realized it's 2 AM where you are. Get some sleep!"
"Will do," she wrote. "G'night, Woot." Then she printed the email and deleted it.
When she crawled into bed, it was with a lighter heart than she'd expected. She just might have another story to write about Superman tomorrow. It was silly, but she folded up the printed pages into an origami heart and slept with them under her pillow. To assuage her ego, she promised herself to burn them in the morning.