By Ben Pistorius (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: Lois Lane uses her anger over a childhood spent in emotional neglect to fuel her desire to use her special abilities and talents to help other people. A story that takes the Super*man* legend and turns it around a bit.
Author's note: My version of Lois' life before the Daily Planet is a collage of info I've put together from the Comics and the Show.
My thanks to Claire Hess who awaked the passion in me to create anew!
Comments heartily welcomed!
All characters and events are registered to ABC, DC, or My Imagination :)
METROPOLIS IN THE SPRING: ALL things budding fresh and clean, an atmosphere pervading the peoples, buildings and vehicles that carries a thrill as of waking from a long slumber. Piles of snow and piles of salt alike had been washed and swept away, to be replaced by tiny blades of grass struggling up through cracks in the sidewalks.
Spring; known throughout the world as the Season of Love, when couples walk, eat, read, dance, sleep and live hand-in-hand. Eating. Such a romantic activity between two people who burn with that certain indescribable fire that lights their eyes and whispers, softly, through smiles, mes amant.
This story is about two such lovers; partners in many ways: partners in life, in adventure, oh so seldom in crime, and, that partnership that has given each such fame and respect, in journalism. They are romantics, realists, soul- mates, friends, confidants. Together, they have great strength, as well as an equally great secret. A secret forgotten for the time being, given over for knowing looks and laughing smiles. For a sidewalk cafe, a table-umbrella, and some good chow.
"Mmmmmmmmm," Lois purred, swallowing her last morsel of chocolate cheese cake. Clark sat back and laughed lightly at his wife's over-played delight. What a grin, she thinks, watching that cute, farmboy face dimple with smile. Their fingertips had been kissing until Clark leaned back in his chair, and as his laugh gradually quieted, Lois leaned forward and took her husband's hands in her own. Clark smiled quietly for a moment, looking into Lois' wide, dark eyes, and then he, too, leaned forward across the table until they were nearly nose to nose.
"I love you, you know," Clark said warmly.
A smiling, mirthful sigh. "Do you, now? Well, this is certainly news. Yes, quite a scoop." They both laughed, and their lips drew closer, their eyes closing.
And then the tell-tale chin-dart to the side.
"I'm really sorry. There's a big fire over on Broadway- and-fi—"
"It's okay. You know I understand, honey. Just go on."
Broad smile. "Put her there."
"See you back at home." Walked off, loosening shirt; blind alley, a flash of red-and-blue, and a boom.
Five minutes later and a mile away, the flames are under control and seven lives have been saved. Firefighters watch as an eighth life is slowly lowered to the pavement, her young body wrapped in a cape, a favorite stuffed frog doll in the crook of her arm, and her blackened hand clutching at an S-shield.
"Don't worry," a commanding, comforting voice quietly told the little girl, rescued from her bedroom where she'd hid to escape the heat and black, choking smoke. "It's okay, don't cry. Your mom and dad are fine. Look, here they come now." The child's parents run, tears in their eyes, blankets over their shoulders, to their daughter, who cries out, "Mom, dad!" and is taken in their arms. They hold their child close, murmuring words of love and comfort. After some time, they look to their rescuer.
"Oh, thank you. Thank you so much, Super—"
Another movement of the chin. "I'm sorry, there's a stand-off at the First Metropolis Federal Bank. I have to fly."
"Thank you for all your help," the mother said through tears and soot.
"No need to thank me. Just doing everything I can." A wide, shining smile, a gust of wind, and then there were only firefighters, a crowd of onlookers, a huddled family, and a home damaged, but, thanks to one human who isn't quite, not lost.
Before the day was over, a shoot-out would be avoided, a pedestrian would not be struck by an intoxicated driver, a violent mugging would be quelled, and an injured construction worker would be rushed from his work site to the hospital. So many lives touched in half a day, by a person whose life had just begun when a planet full of lives was extinguished in an infant's heart-beat.
But even a Superhero needs downtime, and for this one in particular, that takes place in a picturesque brownstone with a patient and understanding companion. A blur too fast for human eyes to follow ducks and winds and halts outside a brownstone bedroom window. A figure, unseen in the shadows of a moonless night, floats through the window, thinking, "If these walls could talk." With this couple, and with their secret, that thought means so much more than most would believe; or be able to imagine. A spring gust of air through the open window rustled the red cape. Enhanced vision betrayed a body, hardly asleep, wearing very little, sprawled in a luxuriating pose atop the sheets in the dark. Two wide smiles and a sudden flare of electricity came into the room.
"How was your day?"
"Pretty good. Fire, robbery, mayhem. The normal." A throaty noise drifted from the bed as the cape fluttered to the floor. "Really interested in talking shop?"
A quick laugh. "Not really," Clark replied, as Lois let her tights fall to the floor. "C'mere, my Superwoman." Lois floated over and down onto the bed, and the two embraced.
"Why have you stol'n upon us thus? You come not like Caesar's sister: the wife of Antony should have an army for an usher, and the neighs of horses to tell of her approach long ere she did appear; the trees by the way should have borne men; and expectation fainted, longing for what it had not; nay, the dust should have ascended to the roof of heaven, rais'd by your populace troops: but you are come a market-maid to Rome; and have prevented the ostentation of our love, which left unshown is often left unlov'd: we should have met you by sea and land; supplying every stage with an augmented greeting."
— Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Act III, Scene VI.
"GREAT CAESAR'S GHOST!" PERRY EXCLAIMED as he stepped into the newsroom and into sight of both Lois and Clark.
"Perry," Lois said, turning at the sudden outburst, "is something wrong?"
"Well, I don't know, Lois. You're at your desk…" He looked over at Clark. "Clark is at his desk…" He glanced back at Lois, looked at his watch, and his face became very puzzled. A moment passed, and Clark and Lois exchanged confused sideways looks; both their mouths slightly cocked open, with no words. Perry stalked over to Lois, in silence, and peered at the story on her screen.
"Perry?" she said quietly.
"Well, I'll be. I just don't believe it."
"Perry, what is it?" Clark asked, standing from his desk.
"Why, you're both here, on time, and by the looks of things… Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but it looks as though you're both working on the stories that I assigned you." The worry drained from the two reporters. "Now, I know I must be missing something here," Perry said in his gruff voice, starting in quickly before either could make a response. "Must be that Tempus person wasn't insane after all, and he's replaced my Lane and Kent with an alternate pair. See, that's the only way this can make any sense." From honest-appearing apprehension, a smile had slowly crept into the veteran editor's expression, and now it was an all-out grin.
"Very funny, Perry," Lois said. Perry guffawed at that, and Clark laughed too. "Now, if you don't mind," she said, turning her face back to the computer, "this is a newspaper, not an ice cream social, and I've got a story to cover."
"Hah-hah, Lois. Sorry to bother you." Perry winked at Clark, who smiled even wider, and then walked back into his office. Clark came out from behind his desk and walked over to Lois, where he bent down and gave her a quick kiss on the back of the neck.
"Care for some ice cream?" he said in her ear.
"No thanks, hon," she said, the corners of her mouth drawing back in amusement. For the next few minutes, Clark read along as Lois typed. When she had finished, and the smoking keyboard had been given a chance to cool, she pushed her chair out from the desk and Clark stood up, letting out a breath. "What do you think?"
"As usual, Lois, it's a masterpiece."
"Oh, you silver-tongued devil," she replied, swiveling the chair to face her husband. "I bet you say that to all your Flying Huns."
"Ooooooooohhhh," Clark groaned. "Lois, just 'cause you can bend steel bars in your bare hands doesn't give you license to pun with such ferocity."
"Clark!" Perry called from his office. Clark sighed and looked away from Lois toward the office. "We need to talk about that story of yours!"
"Okay, Perry. On my way." He looked down at Lois and said, "I'll be right back, okay?"
"Okay. Perry must be anxious for that in-depth piece on the President's activities during the Tempus take-over."
"And Perry is not a patient man," Clark said, smiling.
"Hurry back," Lois said as Clark walked off. "Okay, Lois," she said when she was all alone. "You'd better get this all polished-off and filed." Ten seconds later, and the first draft was a complete story, all corrections noted and made. Tempus, Lois mused, finally did a good deed; slightly, and totally without his meaning to. In dismantling the mind- infiltrating device, Lois had found some components that she'd installed in her computer, boosting the speed at which it could accept data. That made her computer time, if you'd believe it, even less. Instead of taking a break every fifteen seconds or so, she could type for over a minute without halting. In no time flat, her compilation piece on Tempus, Superwoman and some well-chosen facts from the over- all unbelievable story was finished and transmitted two floors down to be formatted and fit onto the morning edition's cover. A shot of Lois, Clark, Tempus and Superwoman would stretch from edge-to-edge under the Planet's bold slogan. "'SUPERWOMAN IS LOIS LANE,' stated the dethroned Tempus, thus proving his insanity beyond doubt," the headline read.
"Another notch in my belt, as Cat would say." Lois stood, switched off her monitor, and went for a cup of coffee. When she returned to her desk, Jimmy was standing there, and on her desk sat a large bouquet of flowers. "Jimmy?" she asked.
"Y'got me, Lois," he said, putting his palms upward in the air for a moment.
"Well, did you see who delivered it?"
"Nope! I just came in and saw it on your desk." Lois looked across the newsroom and into Perry's office; she could hear Clark's voice and see his face. Oh, you romantic, you, she thought. "Clark's some guy, huh?"
"Yeah, he sure is," Lois said, smiling, looking toward Perry's office. "He truly is."
"Well, I'd better get going," Jimmy said after a moment of silence.
"What's up?" Lois asked, turning her attention to Jimmy's beaming face.
"Perry gave me my second assignment today!"
"No kidding? Jimmy, that's great!"
"Oh, I know. I am so excited. There's no telling what this could lead to!" Lois smiled at his enthusiasm. "Wait till Jessica hears I'm an actual reporter! This should gain me some major points." Lois raised an eyebrow, and Jimmy laughed a little. "See you later," he said starting away.
"See ya, Jimmy," she said, sitting back down and sliding the flowers toward her. "That's my guy," she said, looking over at and through to Clark as she opened the card placed in amongst the radiant blossoms. "Oh, Clark, a poem, you hopeless, hopeless romantic." She laughed and read the artfully-wrought printing within:
"'We met, once upon a time,
Though not in the physical.
The meeting, quite sublime;
The time since, such a droll.
We live in different worlds,
Or so most would say.
But love can clear all hurdles,
Love like the clearest day.
Though you may not know me,
So much for me have you done.
I am yours now, for all to see.
And you, my love, Superwoman.'"
Lois wore an awkward smile, because the meaning of the poem seemed so bizarre. She turned the small card over to see, and read, the signature there. "'Always in love, Odd Trick.'" Lois went agape. Not Clark? she thought to herself, fright seizing her. Not Clark? Is this some kind of joke? She x-rayed the card and flowers for finger prints. Nothing that resembles Clark's. Not that there would be if he had it delivered. Her heart was beating quicker now. Why would Clark write something like this? she asked herself, her mind racing. He wouldn't, would he? Why? Why? My god, what if it wasn't him? That means someone knows I'm… I'm… oh, my god. Someone knows who I am!
"The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack: the round world should have shook lions into civil streets, and citizens to their dens."
— Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, Scene I.
A SMALL SHUTTLE, ENGINES RUMBLING, blasted through an open dome and, escape velocity easily reached, plowed into blackest space. Moments afterward, a flash of Shiva's light and a wave of disintegrated matter rushed after it; after it, and its most precious cargo, a tiny little girl, cradled in mechanical umbilical cords and a flame-red blanket. The baby- child made not a sound as her people, her planet, was claimed by entropy, erased by fire and brimstone. Dramatic descriptive for an unbelievably dramatic event.
Three hours passed, and the vessel cleared the outer reaches of the solar system, now one planet fewer in its count. As the aging red sun faded against the star-studded backdrop, there was an echoing of clicks and thrummings within the tiny life-chamber as a new set of boosters erupted to life, driving the vessel toward light speed. The baby Vanna-El was brought down into suspended animation, the main reason being to keep her safe and secure during the long time of travel. A long time of loneliness in the empty reaches of space, the kiss of her parents still warm upon her brow.
One year passed, and light speed had been achieved. Baby El slept in a cold, cold rest. All traces of Krypton have long since died. An orb rested, containing virtually all knowledge now left of the homeworld, within the nose of the ship. Billions of miles were traversed within a heartbeat aboard ship.
One year passed as the vessel slowed from light speed. From one edge of the galaxy to the other, and baby El slept soundly.
One week out from the Sol system, and Vanna-El is started on the path to awakening; a gradual and slow process.
Six days raced by, and the Oort Clouds are passed, the ship hurtling inward at mind-boggling speeds. The paths of Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, and Saturn were crossed in hours. Jupiter was well within sight, had any been able to see. The baby's eyes started to blink. The ship slowed and navigated through the asteroid belt. Mars came and went and the baby yawned; stretched. The dark side of the moon grew quickly in view, and then was itself passed by.
Eight hours after entering the system, the Kryptonian vessel hit Earth's atmosphere. A ball of fire arched across the globe, falling toward western Europe, bathed in early morning sunlight.
"OH, THANK GOODNESS," LOIS BLURTED, relief flushing her face. Looking closer at the envelope in which the card had been tucked, her hands shaking with fear, she found an address that caused her heart to skip a beat. 'Superwoman, c/o Lois Lane, Daily Planet,' it read. "Care of Lois Lane," Lois said, going limp, feeling drained, clutching her empty hand to her chest, feeling the hand holding the card drop to the desk. "Care of," she whispered. She used the teachings she'd learned throughout the world to calm her heartbeat; to slow her pulse; to stop herself from sweating. "C'mon, Lois, get it together." She took a few very deep breaths, blinked her eyes as wide as they could open, and took a last breath.
"Lois, are you okay?" Jimmy said, coming to her desk.
Lois looked flustered for a second, then got it quickly together and stood up, dropping the card into a desk drawer. "Oh, Jimmy. Jimmy. Yeah.Yeah, I'm fine. Clark just wrote the nicest poem is all." She grabbed some paper and walked over to a recycling-bin, distancing them as well as the conversation from the flowers. "What are you doing?" she asked, dropping the sheets into the blue bin. "I thought you were off to cover a story?"
"Oh, I am, but I forgot my jacket, and it's got my pager in it. A pager, Lois! Wow!" he said, gesturing with his hands, one of which clutched the jacket, and smiling so wide that you couldn't help but laugh a little.
"Oh, yeah. Welcome to the big time!"
"You know it, Lois! Anyway, I should really get going now."
"Okay," Lois said, patting him on the shoulder with a slightly damp palm. "Good luck!"
"Th-thanks, Lois," he said, and he started for the elevators, rubbing his shoulder a little.
Lois, wringing her hands, walked back to the desk, where she paced back and forth for a while. Gotta' calm down, gotta' calm down, she repeated to herself. And, eventually, she did. Perfectly calm once again. She sat down and wheeled her chair to the desk. People were starting to file into the room now; including Ralph, who she was not too hot on getting into a conversation with, so she flipped the monitor back on and busied herself with answering some back e-mail. Oh, please don't come over here, she thought to herself. Please, please, please, please. Talking to Ralph would not be the best idea at the moment. What I need is to talk with Clark. Or Clark's parents. Thank heaven for Clark's parents, she said, not for the first time. They're the parents I've searched all my life for, even if I didn't know it until I'd met them. She looked up from the computer, toward Perry's office, another father she was lucky to have, even if there was one thing she could never discuss with him, and lowered her glasses just a notch. She brought Clark's face into view and held it there. It was as though she was lost at sea and had just beheld land. Lois sighed and cupped her chin in her hands. "Oh, Clark. What did I ever do to deserve you?" Lois smiled, the card, for the moment, forgotten.
"I'll leave you now, like a man of steel."
— Antony, Antony and Cleopatra, Act IV, Scene IV.
"ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR," LOIS counted as she bounced the red rubber kickball against the outside wall of her house; her house, not her home. The four-member Lane family often jumped from house to house, state to state, country to country. Though Lois was always packed up and brought along for each move, it seemed as though a good part of her was left behind each time. Each time Sam passed his elder daughter up for a technical schemata, a part of Lois died. Every time Ellen took one more drink a day, one more drink in front of her quickly-hardening daughter, a piece of Lois, deep down, felt great pain, and then felt nothing. And now, each time this nigh-teenage, black-haired, spunky, tom-boy girl kicks, blocks and deflects the stinging ball back into the house, each return being a little harder, each time she closes her eyes with the felt-impact and counts aloud, her angers and pains march slowly through her mind for an orderly viewing, flaring such rage and loss within her heart, pass on, and fade into nothing: whether they were simply being locked away, deep within, or were leaving her forever, only time would reveal.
"Twelve… thirteen… fourteen… fifteen… sixteen… seventeen!!" Lois said, her voice a shout now, her eyes stinging with tears like her body with red splotches from the ball, and that final count saw the ball kicked with such ferocity, such strength, such an explosion of physical power and anger, sending the ball rocketing off the house with a resounding boom and back, arching over her head, far into the yard, that you would not have believed it was a little girl standing there, under a summer sun, her hands clenched, her chin lowered, tears flowing down a smooth face, and her thin, wiry body wracked by silent sobs. No, you could not believe it, and no living, breathing person would be able to ignore it. Or so you'd like to think. But if that was true, this little girl wouldn't be so old, and she wouldn't be crying on such a beautiful day; and, most importantly, she wouldn't be crying so silently.
"Lois," a voice said, a screen door creaking wide. "Lois, your father is working. Keep it down out here; I mean it," Ellen Lane said. Said with anger? No, because anger would betray a feeling; and where there is feeling, there is possibility of love. This was said very evenly, and very coldly; as though to a disobedient dog. Lois turned at the small lecture and let her eyes sit on her mother's face. Three seconds of silence followed. The droning of insects rose and fell in pitch. The sun fell behind scudding clouds, and the land fell in shade: the flame-red ball went dark, and the sheen left Lois' hair and tears. A mourning dove cooed from a telephone wire. "Did you hurt yourself, Lois," Ellen finally said, having gradually taken in the tears. That most inner chamber of Lois' damaged heart soared a little at the words, at the taste of love and care that her mother would notice; would actually notice. Hope. Hope. "You should stop playing rough-house, then. You know where the bandaids are." A creak as the door came shut and a soundless warmth as the sun came free of the clouds. And a fist closed over that inner hope in Lois' heart, and her bottom lip trembled, and tears burned her eyes, and her fists clenched. And in that moment, stronger than any other time of her life, with all of her hate and fear, Lois wished that she were gone; that Sam and Ellen, 'dad' and 'mom,' were across the globe; across the universe. Lois wished to be free.
The sound of startled dove wings woke up the lazy afternoon sky as Lois was suddenly hovering twelve feet in the air.
There was a muted thump as Lois came falling to Earth again, on her face a more startled expression than you've ever beheld. She sat there, knees in the air, feet and hands on the ground, hair in disorder and over her eyes; eyes wide; jaw dropped: tears, pain, mother fixing a drink in the kitchen, father locked in his study for over a day, rubber kickball resting still in the cool grass, all forgotten in that moment. She had flown. _She_had_flown_.
It had been more than five years since Lois had been so close to Metropolis; since she had felt that city's pull so strongly upon her. Oh, that beautiful city!
"Lois! Your father needs some supplies from town! There's a list outside his room, and I think you have some money left from your allowance. Don't stay in town too long, though."
And these awful parents. And their awful, awful daughter. Lois bit her lip, and, as always, got the list left by her for-one-week-unseen father, scooped up the last of her saved money, which she planned to use for a hotel room in the city that weekend, and biked into the small town for supplies. Two weeks, she thought to herself with each pedal. Two weeks and I'll be eighteen, and then they'll have nothing over me, and I'll be working at the Daily Planet. It was a liberating thought, and she pedaled harder, faster, feeling her calf muscles burn a little, feeling a smile creep across her face, and feeling unbridled hope, untouchable hope blossom within her. Lois' future would soon be Lois' for the first time, and nothing anyone could do could take that away. She had her mind, and she had her looks, and aside even from that, she had her powers. She had these powers that were superhuman, and she had honed them, alone, for over six years, and she could fly. She could fly. To Hollywood, where the stars never faded, to Germany, where she was born, and even to the Arctic, a desolate place and a completely empty land where she could lose everything for a while. But even there she could find her parents; she could find the only things she truly wanted to escape from: She found her father in the land that was so totally oblivious to her existence, and she found her mother in the cold, uncaring landscapes of dunes and valleys. And so she left that place after her first visit and she swore never to return. She wanted to lose herself, not be alone with herself. She'd been alone her whole life; and been controlled her whole life. What Lois wanted was to become lost in the hustle and the bustle of City Life; and she wanted to run her own life, live her own life. And, so much more than that, she wanted to make people know, respect, and look up to the name Lois Lane. She wouldn't be drowned in the city, she would not sink. Lois Lane would strive, and she would climb, struggle, fight, claw and scratch to the surface, and break free.
Just two more weeks, Lois thought, as she cruised downhill toward the art supply store. Just two more weeks and her bonds would be broken.
And unlike Icarus, the sun would not melt her wings.
Lois sat up in bed, stretching her arms and yawning. Sleep was on her breath and in her eyes, and she wore a long number seven flame-red jersey. As she did every night. And as it was every morning. But this was not every morning. Today was Lois' eighteenth birthday. Today Lois was fully her own. Today the bolts would be blown and she would float free.
In actuality, it was a process long in the making, this separation between her and her parents. Never having been close in the first place, the ties had not been too strong. Lois had such strength as to rip even the mightiest to shreds, though. And the gap had grown steadily wider since that day, over six years ago, when she flew into the air with salt-tears on her lips. Wider and wider until the bridge that connected her to her parents was nothing more than a wisp; a whisper; a wraith. The slightest gust of wind would have sent its tatters floating into the abyss. What had held it together, as flimsy as it was, for the amount of time that it had been so weak? What had given it that minuscule bit of stability? Was it Sam, or Ellen? Some small effort on their part to make their elder daughter feel wanted? No. No, of course not. No one would think that. But the truth was itself as unbelievable.
It had been Lois herself, all along, frantically keeping some avenue open to her parents. Just as she was planning, dreaming and waiting with greatest expectation for the day that she could leave forever that corruptive family, that hateful and hurtful family, Lois was all the while wishing beyond logic and emotion that her mother and father would sit up one day, one sunny afternoon, and see how far away their beautiful daughter had drifted from their reaches. Subconsciously, Lois, the child that was forever huddled within her, was begging and hoping that her faceless father would turn from his benches, his work station, his army grants, his constant re-settling, his robots and his cybernetics and his computers and microchips and his damn grid-paper and see how very far away his little girl was, and would stand up and run to her and cry and say he was so, so sorry for not seeing before, and tell her in her ear as he held her tight that he loved her; he loved her so much. And Lois prayed that her mom would be as she was so seldom with Lucy, smiling and laughing, and putting down the glass to take up her baby. Lois longed for her mother to let one single tear stain her face, one single frown to cross her face, or one smile, or one emotion not faked: for her mother to tell her how much she loved her little Lois.
All this went on below her notice or understanding, when all she could see was red hate and anger and the desperate need to escape. And on this, the final day, the day she had looked forward to with such hope, bleak hope, so very many times, the bridge that connected Lois' world and that of her parents was at once the most fragile that it had ever been, and the strongest, the most tangible, than it had been in a very long time. Lois walked from her bathroom into the kitchen that day with only the thought of leaving after her birthday party. And yet that inner child of hers came so close to the surface that it bubbled and broiled and without realizing it, Lois was hoping, as she walked into the sterile kitchen, that her mother and her father would greet her on that day knowing that they could lose the most important person in their lives that morning, and so they would greet their Lois, their daughter, their precious girl with open arms, and with words that had not been spoken in so long she could not remember: "I love you."
Lois, nearly skipping, turned the corner into the kitchen…
The day of her birthday passed, and the night passed, and then it was the next morning, and the bridge had shattered. Lois' eyes were red, and they were puffy, and her face was drawn, and her lips tight-pressed, and her bags were packed silently, the last item folded and slipped in before the zipper was drawn a flame-red blanket with a crest bearing a capital-S; something her mother— something Ellen had given her when she was very young.
Before the sun had cleared the horizon fully, Lois was flying, suitcase in hand, toward the city of Metropolis. Her final, distant thought was of her eighteenth birthday the previous day, and how her parents hadn't even remembered.
"LOIS!" RALPH SAID, MAKING HER jump a little in her chair, lost in a reverie with Clark firmly in her dreamy eyes. "Whoa, didn't mean to startle you, Lois!" he said, putting a hand on her should.
Ever discreetly, Lois swiveled her chair to break his contact, and stood with a flustered smile and nervous laugh. "Oh, don't worry about it, Ralph," she said, a sheaf of paper in her hands. "I was just going to give this report to Perry anyway," she fibbed, walking towards the office.
"Oh, that's— Hey! Nice flowers!" he said, turning to see the basket. Lois remembered in that instant that she'd never closed the drawer in which she'd dropped the card. There was a gust of strong wind, and an instant later, there was a closed drawer, a card with a love poem in Lois' purse, some scattered papers, and Lois a little closer to Perry's office. "Whoa! What was that?"
"What did you say, Ralph?" Lois asked, turning slightly.
"Um, nothing," he replied, confused.
"Okay," Lois said, smiling now, turning to walk happily to the office, relived to have gotten out of a possible conversation with that hack-reporter. You're being too rough on him, that part of her said that Clark had brought to her. He said a few dumb remarks and I've blacklisted him. Gotta' remember to give him a break. Maybe he's not such a—
"Hey, bet I know where these came from," Ralph said, popping some gum into his mouth and inspecting the flowers.
Lois stopped dead in her tracks, a chill running the length of her spine. What? she thought. "What?" she said, turning slowly. He sent them, Lois thought, disgusted and anger rising.
"I said, I bet I know why you got the flowers," he said, looking over at her, his one foot up on her chair. Lois ignored that, and took a few tentative steps back toward her desk; her hands barely held the folder she carried.
"Why?" Lois asked diffidently.
Ralph looked dumbfounded with the question. "Y'mean, you don't know?"
"Know… what?" Lois asked, stopping where she was.
Ralph made a short laugh and chewed his gum. He put his foot back on the floor and walked a little ways toward her. "Lois, you're hot, and I've been following you for a while. Heck, you're a pretty good reporter too!" Lois cringed a little but was too intent to really take notice. "I was looking through your computer file, and today's your tenth anniversary at the Planet!"
Lois staggered a bit, with relief and with… something else… memory…
LOIS SAT IN THAT PLACE that she promised herself she'd never return to, as it held far too many memories and connections to her childhood. It was cold, she was sure. A wind storm kicked up the virgin snow all around; something she could identify with very strongly. The sun reflected off the crystalline wastelands, and she had to close her eyes the sight hurt so much. The moon's surface was much like this, she recalled, having only been there a couple of times. But the moon had been even more brilliant.
Lois sighed, and a tear froze on her cheek. She opened her eyes once more, and looked out on the expanse playing out before and around her. All she saw was whiteness, and all that served to do was remind her of this new catastrophe that she had fled here to escape. So much like before. It was too ironic, she mused, replaying, so much in spite of herself, that afternoon's events.
"Sit down," Perry White had said to her, half occupied by a cluttered desk and a roaring pulse. Perry White! She couldn't believe that she was in the same room with the man, who had been her idol for so long. It hadn't been three days since she'd left her family without a single word, but already it was forgotten; being with this man caused all else to be cast aside. Perry sat down too, shuffled some things around, and finally let his eyes fall upon his visitor. "Now, I understand that you'd like to be a reporter for the Planet, is that right?"
"Yes, sir. Very much so. It's been my dream for quite a while now."
Perry nodded and seemed to look her over. "Aren't you a little young to start in on big city reporting?" he asked.
"Maybe, sir. But I'm strong and I'm ready. I'd really like the chance."
Perry smiled and laughed a little. "Y'know," he said, "I'm not really the editor here."
"I know," Lois said, with a nervous smile. "You're the top investigative reporter for the Planet."
"Hah-hah," he laughed. "I guess I am at that. See, the editor has been pretty sick, and I'm just trying to get by here until he can return." By his expression, and the state of the office, and the rate at which his heart was thumping, it was pretty obvious that this great man was just barely keeping his head above water. At that moment, his desk phone rang, and he picked it up. "What is it?" he barked into the receiver. "I'll deal with it later," he said, annoyed. "Okay, give it to the editing desk; maybe they can do something with it." A pause. "Look, I'm really busy right now." A noise deep in his throat. "Not now. Later. Do what you can without me for the moment." He hung up the phone and organized some papers. "Oh, where is that," he said quietly, to himself.
"Huh?" he said looking up momentarily. "Oh, just looking for… Oh, here it is," he said, opening a drawer and pulling out a folder that must have been an inch-and-a-half thick full of paper. "Know what this is?" he asked her, hefting it in the air. Lois shook her head. "This is all the applications we've received in the past few weeks." Lois' heart sunk a little. "I've looked over your resume, and I've agreed to give you an interview because your dad has given us some interviews before now." Lois felt a lot of pain burst in her temple at that statement, but she tried her hardest not to let it show. "You've worked on school papers, and some small editions across America, in Europe and Canada. You're fluent in a handful of languages, and you're a competent writer: very competent. You just don't have the experience. The papers you've published in have all been small, and the pieces, though good," he emphasized, trying to make his speech lose its bite, "are just not that serious. This is the Daily Planet," he said, pride in his deep voice. "And Metropolis is no small town," he said, standing, apologetic. "I'm sorry, Miss Lane. You're good; I just can't use you." He was leaning forward, his hand outstretched.
Lois stood and shook Perry's hand, the smell of suits, coffee and cologne filling her. "Thank you for your time, Mister White," she said, forcing some strength into her voice, and a very shaky smile onto her lips. She walked out through the humming newsroom, phones ringing, typewriters clicking, people shouting, running about, and Lois could only barely keep her tears in check. She was stunned. It was as though her world were crashing down around her: had crashed down.
She called the elevator, but couldn't wait for it to arrive. She ran to the stairs, and raced to the roof, just getting there as her eyes brimmed over. She flew, as fast as she could, straight north.
And it was over. Her dream was over. The Daily Planet… Perry White had refused her, passed her over. She couldn't believe it. Everything she was was tied up in this. She couldn't accept it.
But she had to. She had to. She had to and it took her days to let it all sink in; days of being blown and buffeted by Arctic winds, powered but not warmed by the cold and pale sun. Tears and memories came to her and flowed within her, and then the flow slowed, and then it died. Four days passed and Lois stood up, shook off the snow, looked numbly around her, and soared skyward.
"If it is the last thing I do," she said, whether she thought it or said it aloud can't be remembered, "I will crash through to the top and I will show every single person who doubted me and stood in my way."
There would be no more tears from Lois for a long time after.
THREE YEARS PASSED, AND LOIS' twenty-first birthday was celebrated with a very few good friends. Lois never stayed in one place very long, and so friendships seemed a foreign idea to her. It was hard for her to let anyone get close, and not many made the effort to know her. One happenstance in particular had hurt and hardened her even further.
Lois had worked at dozens of small papers across the globe in those going on three long years, and had lived in more countries than most geography teachers could name. Along the way, she had learned all she could of life, of people, of the world. Though she may not have realized it, her travels, while appearing to be an escape, were truly a search; a search to find that which would serve to fill the void in herself that was left by her parents' absence. She would pine and scour the world until she found that obscure fact, that out of the way locale, that little-known bit of information, that certain food, that widely forgotten language, that special story, or that unique person that would find Lois' odd-shaped niche and fill it. And once, before she could realize how misplaced her affections were, she thought, she felt she had found that person.
It was a small-city paper in the States, and she'd been working there for two-and-a-half months; nearly her longest stint anywhere, and one of her greatest mistakes. Lois had lost herself in a political-scandal corruption story, perhaps her biggest assignment to date, and there was no way she was going to be thrown from this bucking bronco. In the excitement and thrill of the on-going hunt after a dirty senator, Lois was thrown into the life of another reporter; a steady worker at the paper, and a bit of a veteran, and only a bit. He knew the territory, and he knew the insiders, the talkers, the sources in the field, and he was strong and firm and he paid great attention to Lois as they worked side by side. And Lois, without thinking, fell in love with the man. Did he fall in love with her? Had he ever been honest about that? Only he knew. But Lois had been in love with him, in an unhealthy way, because he had taken her under his wing, though in truth she was too big to fit in his shadow, and he had shown her the local ropes, and he had taken center stage in her life.
And Lois lost the biggest story of her career.
Though she had never gone to bed with the man, she had gone much further than she had with anyone else. Things were too complicated for her to get so serious with anyone. Though she'd be lying if she said she didn't have dreams of marriage. But those dreams were utterly shattered one day, when he had called her at home, right before she was ready to go in to work.
"Hi, Lois, it's me," his deep voice had said when she picked up the phone.
"Hi! I'm just ready to leave. What's up?" Lois asked.
"Listen," he said, in that here's-what-I-want-you-to- do-and-here's-what-you're-going-to-do tone. "Things are quiet at the paper today, and it seems the story is quiet for the moment. How about if we call in sick and have a little picnic?"
Lois wasn't much on hooky, but she just couldn't resist that voice. "Sounds great."
"Good!" he said, not at all surprised by her answer. "Let's meet at noon in the Park, by the statue, okay?"
"Sounds great," she said, smiling.
"Great. I'll see you then, Lois."
"See you then," she said, and the receiver clicked. She hung up and put down her briefcase which she had in her hand. A few moments later, in fact two seconds later, her work clothes were discarded and hung in the closet, her high-heels were set aside, and she was wearing a loose t-shirt and a pair of shorts. She tied on a pair of old sneakers, threw on some sunglasses, and headed out for a quiet morning walk. Everything was quiet and seemed perfect. Her life seemed to make sense for once; for once: She had actual hopes and dreams that seemed on the verge of coming true. When I've cracked this story open, she thought with a wry smile, I'll really have made a name for myself, and then Lois Lane, Ace Reporter, will pay a second visit to the Daily Planet.
It was never to be. Lois waited at the statue all afternoon, and he never met her there. She called him at home, but there was no answer. Confusing, but there had to be a reason. An explanation. But the next day, when Lois ran up against him in the newsroom, he simply brushed it aside and told her to forget about it. Lois tried to forget it, but things were different after that day. Things did not feel the same between the two of them. He paid her less attention, talked to her less often outside of work; even in work they were together less. It seemed her story was creeping along now, with no movement in sight. But only for a couple of days, because it was that two days later, in a special edition paper put out while Lois was at a town meeting, her political story was broken wide by her partner, based on knowledge he gained in a secret interview with a faceless- informant on the day he had asked her to have a picnic with him. He had used her hard work and talent at digging for the facts, intercepted a message meant for her, and run with the ball, sidelining Lois along the way. She saw the edition on the trip back to the paper, and couldn't believe it. It was a mistake; it was impossible. She didn't even get a byline on the piece.
But it was true. She returned to the paper and found it all to be true. It was a story that made waves in DC, and it had nearly been hers. She stayed just long enough to see the man who had stolen it from under her, just long enough for him to ask her if she was going to congratulate him or not, and then she quit. She quit and she left, and she packed her bags and left her apartment and she flew to Switzerland where her best friend, relatively speaking, in all the world lived, the Editor In Chief of a small daily newspaper there. He agreed to give her a job, as he promised her she'd always have if the need arose. There she planned to settle for a while, until she could find some peace again. Her heart had been smashed, and her chance at the Planet.
But all luck was not against her. Some months had passed since her twenty-first birthday, and a gala celebration to commemorate New Year's Day was being thrown in the business district of Bern, and Lois was sent to cover the festivities. She hated social functions, but rumors were flying about a mystery figure who was going to be in attendance that night. The party was being thrown at a large investment bank, one of the largest in the country, and Lois, elegant and beautiful, fit perfectly with the rich and the powerful who graced the vaulted rooms that evening. She flowed among the groups of businessmen, investors, stars and heads of state, picking up bits of chatter and information and gossip. And then, at the head of a marble staircase, she laid eyes upon the mystery man of the hour, and her future was made in that instant; and in the instant that he looked down on high to spot her, apart from the crowds, sparkling red gown, hair in an elegant twist, cheek bones shaded with blush, wide, dazzling eyes, and an air of je ne sais quoi.
"Oh my god," Lois had said under her breath, finding it hard to breathe at all. "Lex Luthor!"
That night, and the following morning, she spent in dance, drink, eat and song with one of the richest and most powerful men the world had ever seen, and perhaps ever would. It was intoxicating, even without the three-hundred-a-bottle wine. Being with this man was an amazing experience. They mingled while the party lasted, talking business and shop, the night ending with Lex announcing his intention to transfer a portion of his fortunes to this bank. There was such an applause at that. Lex was the center of attention that night, and Lois was never far from his arm. This was a dream come true, and perhaps the most unlikely of dreams as well. When the party had come to its gradual end, Lois left in an elegant black limo with Lex Luthor, who drove her, eventually, to a private helicopter of his, waiting for his arrival. They talked all along, stopping on the way for a lavish breakfast in a small community's folksy eatery. For the first time in too many years to count, Lex agreed to an on-the-record interview, with none other than Lois Lane. She was on a high; such an incredible high. She was bubbling, and each time she laughed with nervousness and excitement, Lex would smile and laugh himself. It was obvious that he was delighted with her, but it was difficult for her to see it; to believe it. She asked him a number of hastily put together and yet insightful and meaningful questions, and he answered them, sometimes evasively, sometimes surprisingly openly, and sometimes while leaning very close to her.
The night and day were a dream, and passed like a river flowing in the darkness. Before she knew it, pad and pencil in hand, Lois was helped aboard a sleek helicopter by Lex's strong hands, and then he took his place beside her. When they took off and were cruising over the beautiful landscapes, Lex glanced at Lois and a very surprised expression came onto his face.
"What is it?" Lois asked, her hand hovering near her heart; she took on a self-conscious look.
"You know, Lois, most people I take on my helicopter have a strong tendency toward getting nervous; sometimes even ill," he said, smiling, holding his cigar in his hand.
"Oh," she said, laughing a little.
"I'm impressed," Lex said. She waved it off shyly, looking down. "No, no. I mean it. I am impressed. And I am not easily impressed, Lois." Lois couldn't bring herself to look him in the eyes without blushing. Lex smiled, put the cigar back in his mouth, and looked out the window at the landscape rushing by. "How much do you think it would cost to buy that?" Lex said, gesturing out the window. Lois looked slowly up at the thousands of miles that his index finger was taking in. She laughed a little. He looked back at her, a bit of a confused look on his face, as though he were serious about the question. Lois, unsure, stopped laughing and was about to apologize. Lex winked and grinned. They laughed.
Half an hour later, the 'copter set down, and Lex helped Lois out onto the snow-strewn pavement. Lex held her hands in his, the chopper's blades sending air cascading over the two. They spent a moment without talking. Lois lowered her chin to look at the ground, at the snow flying furiously about, and then brought her eyes up to Lex. "Thank you," she began to say, but Lex stopped her in mid sentence, his finger hovering near her parted lips.
"Thank you, Lois," he said, not yelling, but somehow making his words stand out clearly above the chopper's noise. She blinked her eyes, he smiled, and he kissed her cheek. Lex stepped aboard the helicopter, Lois walked clear, and he closed his door. She watched him, and he her, as the pilot brought them airborne and skyward, and then they were gone, and she was alone on the quiet landing-pad. In stead of waiting for the taxi, she took off into the air herself, her heart on the verge of bursting, her future bright, her interview-notes in-hand, andher fist ready to smash all barriers and destroy all those who had hurt her along the way.
Though it was a hard and painful decision to make, even her friend agreed that it would be a waste to publish such a ground-breaking story in such a small-time paper. There was a parting of the ways, with wishes of good luck, and Lois took her story, her secrets, her knowledge and her future back to America; to Metropolis; to the desk of Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet. But on the way there, she happened upon a dreadful scene, a scene upon which she could not turn her back. She'd been ruled in her past by people stronger than her, and now there was a chance for her to use her own powers to help a lot of people.
An experimental high-altitude plane was having its first large-scale test, manned, for the first time, by a hand full of scientists, reporters and passengers. The turn-out to watch its take-off and record-breaking flight was huge; people were watching outside the fences on the field, at home on the TV, and listening on the radio. And the thousands of people who were focusing in on this momentous occasion saw, heard and were witness to a grave disaster. Engines failed as the plane climbed high into the atmosphere, and it plummeted earthward at a frightening speed. It began to twist and turn as it fell, and it was soon a spinning mass of metallic coffin. People on the ground screamed and cried at the sight. And then all went silent as the ship slowed, calmed, and steadied itself, and then, against all laws of nature, floated down to a gentle landing on the tarmac. Stunned onlookers watched as a single figure darted from beneath the plane, looked around, and flew sharply into the air, disappearing from sight.
There were a number of minor injuries aboard the plane, but no fatalities. Some grainy pictures had been taken of the mystery rescuer. All that could be made out was that it was a human, and a woman; she was wearing a dress, and had long, flowing hair. It was immediately on all the front pages.
Lois was frightened as she took her belongings and rented a dirty apartment in a dark side of the city. She was all over the papers. All over the papers. What if she were recognized? What would that mean? What would happen to her then? Already opinion pieces were flowing into the media, and a lot of people were not too happy about this marvel that had appeared on the scene. Many felt it was a hoax of some kind. Of those who believed, and those who entertained the notion that it could be true, many were spouting doomsday stories; they were afraid, or, at best, uncertain. And even though many also felt this could be a very good omen, she found herself focusing on the others. She knew that the smart thing to do would be to lie low for a while, to play it save, to err on the side of caution.
But she couldn't. She just couldn't. She had the story of a life-time, and if she didn't break it now, her chance would be over. Her life would be back in the dumps again. Full of nervous energy, Lois took a walk among the empty, dirty streets of the city. An hour passed, and she ran across a pile of garbage splayed on the sidewalk. Stepping over it, she saw an ad for contact lenses. It showed a woman in before and after shots. The left-hand shot had her wearing thick- rimmed spectacles, the right-hand shot without, wearing contacts now. "Want to stop blending in, and start shining through? Throw away your old glasses for a new pair of Contact Lenses."
Lois stood there staring down at that ad, and she had found her answer.
"Lois, I don't believe this," Perry said, putting her piece on Lex Luthor down on his now-organized desk. Someone walked in the door, flashing a piece on the new mystery woman; Lois checked her glasses. "Not now!" Perry said to the man, who cringed, turned, and closed the door behind him. "Lex Luthor hasn't given an interview in two decades." He stood up suddenly, and Lois rose, unsure, to her feet. "Plenty has changed since we talked, two years ago. Then, I was still on the beat, writing stories for the Planet. You were just starting out, and you lacked the experience. Now, I'm behind a desk, and I'm editing this paper. And you, Lois," he said, putting out his hand again, taking Lois', that same smell invading her, "you now have exactly what it takes in the Big Time. I'm starting you off small, 'cause Metropolis is like no other place on Earth, but you have got a job here at the Daily Planet." Lois smiled so wide her muscles hurt from under-use. "Welcome aboard, Lois," Perry said in his deep voice.
"Thank you, Mister White," she said, shaking his hand and smiling, pushing up her glasses with her other hand. "You won't regret this."
"I know I won't." With a crooked smile and cough, he discreetly massaged his hand. "Michael!" Perry shouted at the door, and, within two seconds, a young man in his teens rushed through the door.
"Don't call me that, Michael." Perry said.
"Yes, sir, Chi— uh, Mister White." He smiled at Lois.
"Michael, take this piece to editing and have it on the front page in the next edition."
"But what about this, this, super-woman story?"
"Until any of that is backed up by strong, hard facts, it takes a back burner to real news. Now go!" he ordered.
"Yes, sir, Chief!" the dark-haired boy said, taking the story and racing out of the room.
"A good boy, but he doesn't have the patience for this sort of thing," Perry said, sitting down again. "I give him a year before he's out of here." He shook his head. "Well," he said, looking back at Lois. "You gonna' be here to start on your first assignment tomorrow?"
"Yes, sir, Mister White," she said, smiling.
"Ha-ha!" he laughed. "I love enthusiasm! I'll see you tomorrow then. We'll have a desk set up for you."
"Thank you," Lois said, backing up. "Thank you very much."
"N-NO, I DIDN'T REALIZE THAT." Lois stood a bit limply, the file dangling at her side. "It really must have slipped my mind."
"Well, there you go!" Ralph said, throwing his hands in the air and smiling while chewing gum. "Congrats! Hope you enjoy it. Never can tell how many more you'll have!" he said, walking off.
"Th-thanks, Ralph," Lois said, being quite a bit more sarcastic than sincere. "Wow," Lois said quietly after a moment. "Ten years."
"What's that?" a woman said, overhearing her as she walked by.
"Oooohhhh…nothing," she said. "Nothing."
"Oh," the woman said, shrugging and walking off.
"Woop!" Lois called, as hands closed down on her shoulders. "Ah, Clark, you startled me!"
Clark laughed, turning her around to face him. "I snuck up on you, you mean, Lois? Woo, that must be a first!"
"Don't think about gloating, Mister," she said sternly, grinning.
"Wouldn't think of it, m'dear." He glanced down and saw what she was holding. "What's that you've got there?"
"What? Oh!" Raising the folder with both hands, she blew away an errant lock of hair that had fallen over her eyes. "Just an excuse."
"What?" Clark asked.
"Never mind." Lois turned back to her desk. "How did things with Perry go, Clark?"
"Fine. I think I'm falling behind a little. Sure wish I had that, ahem, speed of yours."
"Sorry, bucko, that's trademarked."
Clark laughed, and Lois began to sit down when he noticed the bouquet. "Hey, what are these?" he asked.
"Th-these?" she asked innocently, as though she hadn't seen them until that moment. Luckily for her, she was spared any further stuttering explanations, as just then Perry strided from his office and into the newsroom, people parting like the waves before Moses.
"Lois!" he said, walking up to her with a smile on his face.
"What is it, Perry?" she asked, straightening her knees and standing full up.
"Lois," he said, stopping opposite her across the desk, "I wanted to congratulate you—"
Oh, Lois thought, he remembered. He actually remembered. I don't believe it! I didn't even remember my anniversary, but Perry did.
Perry. From the beginning of their relationship, he had been the ultimate embodiment of Fatherhood. Their first meeting seemed to sum up her entire life's history with Sam: She was actually able to get his attention, but she did not live up to his expectations, and was swept aside. Their second meeting, however, was the embodiment of all of Lois' dreams: She returned, and this time she was everything the man wanted, and he welcomed her with great warmth into his life. She actually impressed him. Like she did Lex, all those years ago. It was her true dream. And it had only gotten better since then. Perry became like a father; he could sense the pain and loss within her, and so took her into his heart, in a way. Through all the trials in her life, Perry had been there; when she had made the difficult decision to create a costume and become Superwoman, though he never knew, Perry was there to give her strength and foundation. And when Clark came along … Oh, poor Clark. She loved him when she had gotten to know him, and there was nothing she feared more than love. Unless it was love on an equal footing. Since Clark had appeared on the scene, straight from the cornfields of Smallville of all places, she had been in a couple of relationships, and each time, her heart was commanded, not earned; it was the only way she knew. And each time, each time there ate at the back of her mind her love for Clark Kent, the one who, on their first meeting, had parried her sarcasm with admirable skill. She respected him, and yet he was not as talented as she; not as old as she; not as experienced as she. And that was a love that she could not understand or embrace, for it was a true love.
But when she had been able to embrace it, slowly, Perry had been there, in the background, supplying her with the strength that she needed to go on. Perry had welcomed her aboard when she brought the Lex interview, and he had patted her on the back when she had forever made her name when she brought in the first ever interview with Superwoman; and another interview, one that had claimed for her a Pulitzer Prize, when she interviewed Superwoman after she discovered, having agreed to be studied by STAR Labs, that she was in fact not human, but an alien.
That had made Lois quake like nothing before, and she returned to her parents, now divorced, to demand from them the truth. They hadn't even known that their daughter was Superwoman, not until the truth of her origins had come out. After much bickering, they finally told her; told her how they had been living in West Germany, working secretly, when, as they were out snowmobiling, a ball of flame zoomed down from the heavens and impacted in the sparse winter ground- cover of snow. Being scientists, they were quick to examine the site. And it was there that they found the tiny ship, and its tiny cargo, the last of the Kryptonian race, wrapped in a blanket. And if that weren't enough, Lois learned that it was out of scientific curiosity, and not love, that she was taken into their lives; a birth certificate forged, a life invented.
Lois had told Lucy parts of the truth; Lucy, whom she'd returned to see often over the years, while avoiding Sam and Ellen. Because, though on many levels Lois was jealous of her sister, she still loved her. She told Lucy of where she came, that she was not from Earth, and what she had become: Superwoman, a lone defender of truth, and justice, and the American way. It was so hard to swallow. For everyone. For everyone. And most of all for Lois, who had to swallow this all without letting it affect her life as Lois; her true life.
But Perry had been there, like the sun, feeding her and giving her the strength to go on. Like the sun. Like a father. And he's remembered, Lois said to herself, delighted beyond measure. I can't believe he remembered.
"I wanted to congratulate you on another first-class story, Lois! Good job!" Perry boomed, smiling.
Lois' expression froze. Again. She'd done it again. Again, she chastised herself bitterly. This was a compliment, and yet she had set her sights far, far too high, and now that compliment had sent her crashing down. He didn't remember, she told herself. Of course he didn't remember. I didn't even remember. How would I expect him too? Of course he didn't … Of course h-he didn't … She didn't have the strength to push on in that argument. She never had the strength. She tried to salvage the moment, tried to turn her hope from her previous wish, but it was too late. She was deflated inside.
"Th-thanks, Perry," she said, half-laughing, laughing with no life behind the sound. "Thanks."
"Sure thing, sweetheart," he said, from his throat. "You deserve every word!" He turned and walked up the ramp to the elevators. Clark was grinning from ear to ear, as though he'd just witnessed the largest honor being bestowed upon his wife, a wife he was so proud of. She looked to him, and it seemed sometimes that the only thing that kept him out of her shadow was that beaming smile. But he was good. He had yet to win a major award, but that never got him down. There was such a goodness about his, down at the foundation of him. His parents had been rather old when they'd had him, but that didn't put distance between them. Martha and Jonathan, as Lois had learned first-hand, were an ideal set of parents. She cried sometimes just thinking about them. She cried because of the unbridgeable distance between herself and her parents, the final wedge driven when Lois was forced to rip the truth of her 'birth' from them. She hadn't talked with them for years.
But not so with Martha and Jon. Not so. Lois flew to Kansas often to have heart-to-hearts with the Kents. Lois and Clark both had frequent visits with them. It had taken a number of conversations between the newlywed couple before Clark could convince Lois that his parents were the perfect people to divulge her secret to. But he had told her, with no uncertainty, that in the end it was her secret, it was her life, and it was her decision alone. He would be there to help if she needed it, but he would not try to force her into doing something which she did not feel comfortable with. It was hard for her not to laugh at something like that; a statement that, to her, sounded cliche and so sickeningly- romantic. It didn't seem real. But it was, Clark was, and she had struggled to allow herself that truest of love. She had to remind herself sometimes, less and less recently, that her attraction to people like Lex, whom she'd had to defeat with her own hands, one of the most difficult actions she'd ever forced herself to take, was not healthy. Less and less recently, she said thankfully, looking at her handsome husband's glowing face. And looking closer at his expression, she detected something of a knowing look there in his big, brown eyes. Lois slitted her eyes and peered closely.
"Ahem," Clark coughed, looking down and fooling with his garish tie. She could make him fidget with just the barest of her intense looks. That pleased her. She laughed, and Clark looked up at her through a lock of his hair. "Well," he smiled. "Since you're done with your newest treasure," she smiled back, "would you mind helping out a poor hack from sticksville on a story that's been dredged to suit his meager talents?"
Lois rolled her eyes and wore an over-acted expression of exasperation. "Well, okay, but don't let it happen often," she said, leading Clark toward his desk.
"Thanks, Lois," Clark said, chuckling. "You are so generous with your time."
"You think I'm doing this for nothing?" she asked, turning and directing Clark into his chair. "And I'm not thinking of money here, farmboy," she said into his ear, rather sensualy.
"You want me to wash your car for you, Miss Lane?" he asked innocently.
"Oh, I think that might do," she replied as Clark started to bring up his story. "Though it's preeeeeeetty hot outside," she started, letting her hands slide down from his broad shoulders, "and I hate to see a nice, clean t-shirt get all dirty. You might just have to do it without one," she said, a little bit of regret in her voice. She began massaging his chest, and Clark mistyped.
"Well, anything for Metropolis' top investigative reporter," Clark replied, his voice catching a little. Lois smiled, but her mind wandered back a decade when she'd said something of the kind to Perry, before he became editor.
She sighed. And then her chin jumped up and to the side. "Uh-oh," she said.
"What?" Clark said, twisting in his seat. He saw her looking off into space. "Oh, no," he said. Lois wondered why he sounded so regretful when he didn't even know yet what she heard. "W-what is it?" he asked, as though trying to cover something up.
"There's been a large pile-up on the highway outside of town. I really should go and lend a helping hand. I'm sorry," she said, standing.
"So am I," with more regret than she'd ever heard from him when she had to leave to do the Super-thing. It surprised her. Was he finally getting tired of all her ducking out constantly? That thought seemed to lead her back to her crash with Perry, and her mood really turned black. But Clark could read that; he'd become expert over the years. "Lois, I didn't mean that," he assured her. "It's just that … oh, I can't tell you. Just go." Lois paused and looked at him uncertainly. "Go," he said, taking her hands and smiling right into her soul. "I love you," he mouthed.
"I love you," Lois said, turning and, making sure no one was watching, became a blur of speed that exited through a window. Just then, Perry burst from the elevator with Jimmy, Ralph, looking very chastised, and a troupe of other Planet employees dressed up in party gear and wheeling a cake shaped like a newspaper, with the headlines, "LOIS LANE: TEN YEARS OF THE BEST" in icing letters. Ten candles burned around it. The cheers and laughing died when they found Lois absent.
"Clark!" Perry barked from the balcony. "Where in the name of Graceland is Lois?! You were supposed to keep her here!"
Clark sighed, shrugged, and slid open his top desk drawer, where he limply withdrew a party hat. "Sorry, Perry. She had to go save the world."
The destruction was rather terrifying, but it didn't affect Lois too badly. She had seen many things since becoming Superwoman, and, unlike Clark, who had come along with her for many a ride, she had been able to erect an emotional barrier to protect her. She was good at distancing herself from pain, given time.
But that didn't mean she didn't care. She cared very much. Nothing within her would ever allow her to sit still when people were in danger. And many were in danger here, in a pile-up that encompassed a dozen and more vehicles. Emergency personnel were already showing up on the scene when Superwoman flew down from the skies and set down on the pavement.
"Looks bad," a policewoman said, coming up beside her. "Thank goodness you're here. A lot of people are gonna' make it out of here alive that might not have. The jaws of life won't even be here for fifteen minutes. It's hung-up at another scene and budget cuts haven't allowed us a second pair."
"Well, at least here, you won't need them. Let's get to work, Officer."
"After you," she said, running behind Superwoman's flowing cape to the scene of mayhem, cars and trucks upturned, shredded, atop one another, skewered over the guardrail, bits and pieces strewn all over the four lanes. Superwoman stopped at the first car she came to, which was upright, and did a quick scan of the two people inside.
"They're okay," she told the police officers who were gathered around her. She could hear an ambulance screaming up the road a couple miles away. A second and a third were not too far behind that one. A helicopter was five minutes away. "They've got some whiplash, but nothing serious. Be calm," she told them. "I'm going to take the doors off and these officers are going to take care of you. Can you hear me?"
"Y-yes, Superwoman," the driver said shakily.
"Everything will be okay. Just don't move." They understood. Quickly but carefully, Superwoman had both doors pried open. "Onto the next," she said under her breath. A small entourage followed behind, which dwindled as a couple people were dispatched at each car Superwoman allowed them access to. She didn't find any serious injuries until after the ambulance had arrived, and even those were not life- threatening.
Many vehicles were lodged together, and it was such a delicate and slow process to de-weld them, as it were. It was a crucial game of pick up sticks. Superwoman now had seven cars out of harm's way and their passengers deposited for emergency workers to handle their injuries. An inspector was already there, separate from the melee, pocket-recorder in hand, speaking aloud, "Bridge still unfrozen, with a small coating of black ice on the outside, outgoing lane. From the points of impact and traces of skid marks, it's apparent many of the vehicles were traveling well in excess of the safe- weather speed limit. One vehicle, perhaps multiple, hits the ice badly and spins out, into another lane; further study will reveal exact pattern and the domino that started it going." Superwoman stopped listening and concentrated on her work.
"Speeding," she said under her breath. "At least the people were lucky," she said quietly, setting down a pickup truck whose driver escaped without even a broken bone. She returned to the slowly-thinning central-pile, where four cars still remained. By now the highway had been blocked, and the area was covered by firetrucks, ambulances, police cruisers and a helicopter. News trucks were just pulling up at the perimeter, and they were wheeling out their cameras. Many were focused on her as she lifted a bus, slid it creaking from the pile, and set it down ten meters away. She quickly scanned its interior "Everyone looks okay in here," she said to a nurse standing by. "Some broken bones, but nothing too serious."
"Thank you, Superwoman," the nurse replied, rushing through the forced-door with two doctors right behind.
Superwoman returned to the heap, three vehicles remaining now. She found two of the cars hopelessly smashed together, nose-to-nose. She would have to yank pretty hard to get them apart, and one of the drivers didn't seem to be breathing. She hovered above them at their point of impact, and very carefully, avoiding any flammable sections, began to cut them in two again with her heat vision. The cameras watched her every move. As she worked, head lowered, brow furrowed, a little voice called inside her, as it had been doing since she pulled the jammed doorsoff the first car, Watch this, mom and dad. Watch this world. This is Lois Lane inside this suit, and I have beat you. I have done what you never even thought I could do. I am saving lives with my bare hands, and it doesn't matter worth dirt what you think of me. This is for every time you hurt me, World, she said, the sparks dying, and she quickly brought the one car a number of yards away. And this is for every single time you turned your back on me, she said, prying the car's roof up and off, tossing it aside. And this, she said, ripping away the windshield and throwing it clear, into the field surrounding the highway, is for every time you betrayed me. She tore away the doors and focused on the driver. "We've got a code red here!" she called, and paramedics raced her way. "No heart beat; he's not breathing!" She scanned him and found multiple bone fractures, contusions, broken ribs, and a brain hemorrhage. "He's hemorrhaging!" she said as the medics set down their equipment.
"Then we need to release some pressure on his brain," one of them said, starting to examine the man. "We can't do that here, and this guy doesn't have much time."
"I know," Superwoman said. "I have to do it here."
"Are you sure you can?" the second medic asked, shocked.
"I've studied the procedure in-depth," she answered, not paying too close attention to them. "I've got to get him lying down flat." There was a flash of wind and there was a stretcher on the ground beside the car. The two medics exchanged worried, unsure glances. Lois lifted the body like a baby, careful of the head, and laid it down on the stretcher. With a nudge from her foot, she sent the car scudding some yards away, away from her. "You'll have to work on his heart. Hurry, there's no time to waste." The medics hurried into action, the one pumping his chest, the other bagging him. Superwoman had pulled off miracles in the past, and they weren't going to start doubting her now. Although she had a reputation for getting rough with criminals, she was also known for saving lives, often at the risk of her own. She leaned close to the man's head, using her x-ray vision to focus in on the blood clot within his skull. "This is for you, world," she said without really thinking, under her breath, as a tightly controlled beam of red heat, needle- thin, escaped one eye and burrowed into the man's flesh, through bone, and into the chamber within. She cut it off after the heat had dissipated enough blood to get the man out of critical, and to allow blood and oxygen to reach his brain safely. "Here," she said, standing up, "bandage this. No heart-beat still. We'll have to use the paddles."
"Already there, Superwoman," one of the medics said, as she ripped open the man's shirt, was handed the paddles, her assistant having prepared them, and she called, "Clear!" The man's body shook with the charge.
"Nothing," Superwoman said, standing above them.
"Again," the medic said. "Clear!" Another shaking.
"A weak pulse!" Superwoman said. "Good job. I have to rush this man to the hospital." She quickly and delicately wrapped him in multiple splints and neck- and back-braces, and bandaged his wounds. "I'll be right back," she said to them.
"Just go. Hurry." She nodded, lifted the body, and flew skyward, back toward the city. That voice inside her looked down on the scene as she flew away, clenched its teeth, and gloated. You see! You see what you rejected! Harsh, perhaps, but it was how she felt, deep down. All she really wanted was to be loved, be accepted, to feel needed. Each time she stopped a robbery or saved a life, she wanted to scream it out, declare it. She wanted to pound it home. She had been praised and given awards, but she continued to pound against a wall, rage against a wall, that was mostly of her own making. Many did accept her, and many did love her, and many did need her, but she could not accept that, or even see it, until she loved herself: until that child buried deep inside Lois Lane stopped shaking with tears.
It was well into the afternoon before Lois was able to return to the Planet. On the way, she had stopped to rush off a first draft for a piece about the accident at home. And she had stopped to think. She thought back on her childhood, she thought about Lucy. She thought about that first meeting with Perry. About first meeting Clark. She thought of all the struggles Clark had endured to be where he was, teamed with the Great Lois Lane at one of the most well-known and respected papers on the planet. He had grown up on football and straight-As in Smallville, Kansas, working on a farm with his parents and helping out at the old folks home in his spare time. He had a paper route, and dated girls at the drive-in and the dairy freeze. He'd gone to his Senior Prom, and then went on to major in Journalism at a small mid- western college. He'd always loved to write, and had worked on the high school paper as well as the Smallville Gazette. His English teachers loved him. Everyone loved him, and Lois could see why.
He had shone rather brightly at college, as well, not at all surprising his parents but making them proud all the same. Lois could never get used to the looks of pride and love in their faces whenever Clark came to visit them. And, even more strange for her, the looks of pride and love that they gave to her.
After graduating top of his class, Clark had returned home, reporting for the Gazette, part-time teaching at the high school and coaching sports. He still helped his parents out on the farm, as well. But it was no secret that, while he was happy there, there was something in him that wanted more; that yearned for more. He felt he wanted to see some of the world, to expand his horizon, and he knew where he wanted his journey to end: Metropolis. More precisely, the Daily Planet. That was his passion. To report the Big Stories and make the Big Scoops. The dream may have been romanticized and naive, but it was real, and Clark had the talent and he had the drive. And, most importantly of all perhaps, he had the patience; he had incredible patience. He worked for a couple of years in Smallville, saved up a good bit of money, and then moved to Australia, where he lived and worked in Sydney for two years, writing for a few papers before he found one that seemed made for him. Unfortunately, the paper ran into financial troubles and had to close down.
Though saddened to lose the family he had made there, Clark felt it was time to move on. He had learned and experienced much there. It had been a bit frightening, but still he loved it.
He moved home, but only temporarily, on his way to Paris, where he freelanced for another two years, building for himself a bit of a reputation, reporting on anything and everything that came his way. Nothing very big, but very diverse, and he quickly adapted to city life, and eventually truly came to love it.
And then, with four years of experience under his belt, he felt he was ready, and he came to Metropolis. Clark came to the Planet, to Perry White's desk, with his resume, a briefcase and his smile. And he was turned down. There was just nothing for him.
A little down after that experience, much like Lois, he went to his dirty apartment, and then walked around the city, wandering and taking in the sights. He hoped to catch a glimpse of the famous Superwoman, someone he'd been slightly infatuated with for years now. Captivated by. He'd met Perry White and Lois Lane when he was turned down, two people whom he considered the most important role models in his life beside his mom and dad.
Quite by accident, on his aimless wanderings, he'd run across the story he had heard Lois refuse for more important matters. The closing and demolition of an old, historic playhouse. Clark had slipped inside to find an actress, one he knew of from his love of the theater, reciting lines from a play on stage. He watched, and he listened, and he drank it all in, and he went home that night full of feelings and emotion, and he wrote a story about that playhouse. And the next day, he returned to Perry's office, and that story, and Clark's determination, landed him his first major position. And his dream, like Lois', had been fulfilled.
Well, Lois, in truth, had other dreams that she wished realized nearly as much as being employed by the Daily Planet. And one of those dreams, one she often didn't realize she was dreaming, was to gain that acceptance and recognition that her parents never gave her. Lois was never sure whether or not, had she been raised in a loving and caring environment, she would have become Superwoman, and more importantly to her, would she have striven so hard to become the reporter that she was? So much of what she was she was because of the drive that sent her across the globe, and the drive to be better, to live up, to reach expectations and impossible goals. For that matter, what if she had been born on this planet? What if she never had these powers? Could she ever have become what she is today on her own? How much of her success was due to her own talents? How much of her success belonged to other people, other forces?
How long would she doubt herself like this?
Lois sat in the dark of her and Clark's house, lost in thought. In thought that brought her back to that morning, to the Planet, and to her disappointment when Perry hadn't remembered that it was her anniversary at the paper. Something like that made her question herself even more. What does something like that say about her real talents? When the father-figure who compliments her so often forgets such a large event like this? How real were those praises?
Down, down the spiral takes her, doubting and questioning everything in her life, including Clark's love for her.
"NO!!" she called out, jerking to a stand. "No," she stated firmly. She refused to go there. She refused to question Clark. That was something she would not allow herself to do. "No," she said, a firm whisper. She took a deep breath, taking in the emptiness and the darkness all around her. "What is that?" she said, and she took another sniff. "Flowers?" she said, perplexed. She walked to the front door and opened it wide. There, on the door stoop, was a basket of flowers and a small card.
"WHOA!" CLARK EXCLAIMED AS LOIS set him down in their bedroom, the shades drawn and the window closed. "Yikes," Clark said, breathless, as he gained his footing and straightened his shirt. "I don't think I'll ever get used to that," he said, smiling at Lois, who didn't smile back. She had returned to the Planet that afternoon, though her stay had only lasted for a fraction of a heart-beat: the time it took her to zip in, unseen, nab Clark, and zip back out. "What is it?" Clark asked when he saw his wife's expression.
"This," Lois said, taking up the basket of flowers. "And this," she said, holding up the flowers she'd received at the Planet. "And," she said, her voice breaking a little, "this," she said, leading Clark around the bed, pointing to a third flower arrangement tucked between the bed and the wall. "Clark," she said, turning to him with fear in her eyes, "these were all left by the same person, with the same card, and this one," she said, indicating the third basket, "Clark, this one was left in the house!"
"Oh, Lois, no. No!" Clark said, clenching his teeth and slapping his own forehead. "Lois, no, it wasn't. I'm so sorry."
"What?" Lois said, taking him by the forearms. "What do you mean?"
"Lois, I found those yesterday evening, on the front steps, when you were out dealing with the fire. I brought it in here and just, well, I forgot about it when you got home, and we … well … I just forgot!"
Relief washed over Lois. She had been so afraid. "Oh, thank god," she said, stumbling to the bed and dropping down to sit on its edge. "I was so scared, Clark."
"Oh, Lois, I am so terribly sorry," he said, sitting beside her and putting his strong, loving arms around her, hugging her close.
"I-I thought that … I thought … "
"I know. I know. I am so sorry." They held each other in silence for a number of minutes.
Lois sighed finally and stood up, pacing a little. "This still makes me a little nervous, though," Lois said.
Clark rose and stood by her. "What do you mean?"
"These flowers. All of them for Superwoman, and—"
"That's normal, Lois. Remember when I got your powers back when and became Ultraman? We were flooded with flowers. Besides, Superwoman gets a steady flow of mail every day."
"I know, but these were all from the same person! The poem's the same on each; and it creeps me out. Three flowers from the same person! Three love poems. And just in two days, Clark. And two of those arrangements to our home. Our home, Clark." She was wringing her hands. "It just makes me nervous. I mean, it's like a stalker or something."
"Lois, calm down. Please. It's just some flowers from some admi—"
"No, Clark!" she said, turning on him, still feeling very guilty for having doubted Clark's love for her. "No. If it was just me, I wouldn't mind. But if someone has a fixation for me, for Superwoman, that means people who are close to me could be in trouble if he did something crazy. Clark, you could be hurt. You know I'd never be able to live with myself if that happened."
"I know, Lois. I know," he said, taking her in his arms. Lois took a few deep breaths there. "But we still don't have any real proof that this is a stalker. Just some baskets of flowers. I don't think we should overreact to this," he said, trying to comfort her.
"I-I know," she said, turning away from him. "And maybe thinking the guy had actually been in the house has scared me into being paranoid. But I'm still upset about this." Lois sighed and looked at the curtained-window. Clark came up and put his hands on her shoulders. "And what if it is an obsessed fan?"
"Okay," Clark said softly. "These are professional flower arrangements by the look of them, right?"
"Right," Lois said, turning likewise professional, calming herself at the center.
"—that we should check on flower shops in Metropolis and see which ones sell these particular arrangements—"
"—and which ones have sold these arrangements in the past two days," Clark finished, and they looked at each other.
"Thank you," she said to him, softly.
"What for? You think I'm doing this for free?" he asked, taken aback. "I'm in it for the story!"
Lois laughed, and so did Clark. "What about this?" she asked, kissing his throat. Clark raised his chin up as she kissed him again.
"Mmmmmmmm. Okay, forget the story."
She laughed in mid kiss. "After," she said, kissing him on the chin, "we," she said, kissing his lips, "find where these come from."
"Well," he said, dashing downstairs for the phone book, "what are we waiting for??"
Lois laughed. "I love you, Clark Kent," she whispered quietly.
"Okay," Clark said, holding a list, "we've got fifteen shops in the Greater Metropolis Area that were actually open the past two days."
"Right," Lois said, having found them all in a matter of seconds in the directory.
"Ready to start making calls?" Clark asked.
"Yep," Lois answered, picking up the phone. Clark started to slide the list with the numbers over to her, but she declined, tapping her forehead. Clark smiled and took the list back. Lois dialed a number too quickly for him to see. "Hi!" she said into the receiver. "Is this A Rose By Any Other Name?— Good! This is Lois Lane of the Daily Planet, and— Yes, yes, that Lois Lane. Yes. Well, I'm doing a piece on local businesses, and— yes, we are considering you for it.— Yes. First, I have some questions for you about your stock …"
Forty-five minutes later, Clark had faxed Lois' story- draft to the Planet for cleaning up, and Lois had come across the store that had sold the selections; sort of. It had taken a while for each call, as she had to finagle her way into each store's records in a way that wouldn't raise much suspicion. And finally, she had found it; the seventh name on the list.
"Got it," Lois had said, slamming down the phone.
"Great! What's the plan, Chief?"
"Hah-hah," Lois laughed, mimicking Perry. "Well, there's something odd with the story. I think we should head down there and check it out first hand."
"Odd?" Clark asked, putting on his jacket as they got ready to leave.
"Very," Lois replied, getting her keys. "What say we drive, for the heck of it?"
"Good plan," Clark said, smiling.
Twelve minutes or so later, Lois was pulling her Jeep into a parking lot. "This is it," Lois said, switching the Jeep off and pocketing the keys. "Shall we get to the bottom of this?" she asked, looking over at Clark.
"Let's do," he answered, and they got out and walked to the store, where Clark, as usual, held the door for Lois and then followed her in.
"Hello, can I help you?" a clerk asked, walking over to greet them.
"Hi; I think you can," Lois said, shaking the man's hand. "I'm Lois Lane, I think we talked on the phone just a few minutes ago."
"Oh! Oh, Lois Lane! Of course, now I recognize you. Of course. Welcome! Welcome! And you must be Clark Kent," he said, shaking Clark's hand.
"Yes, sir," Clark said, smiling.
"I'm Reginald," the man said, also smiling, delighted to have these reporters in his establishment.
"Hello, Reginald," Lois said. "Perhaps you could tell me again what happened with those three … those … three … "
"Is something the matter, Miss Lane?" Reginald asked, as Lois' attention was drawn over the man's shoulder, and she gazed at the back wall of the store. Only Clark knew that she must in fact be looking through the wall.
"Oh, nothing. I'm sorry. Could you please tell Clark what you told me on the phone?"
"Yes, of course," he said, his eyebrows lowered. "Certainly. You see, Mister Kent," he said, talking to Clark as Lois looked around, "yesterday morning, when I came in to open up the shop, as always, I started with a quick inventory of our stock, as I wasn't here two days ago. When I was done, I found three bouquets were unaccounted for. I talked to my two employees who were on duty two days ago, and they said that the three arrangements had not been sold, and were still there, as far as they knew, when they closed up for the night."
"And were there any signs of a burglary?" Clark asked.
"No, none at all. The cash registers weren't even tampered with or opened. Nothing was touched aside from the missing flowers. In fact," he added, taking on a puzzled stance, "some money had been left out on the counter the night before and it was untouched."
"That is strange," Clark said, making a note in his pocketbook.
"Do you think one of the employees could have done it?" Lois asked, done with her Super-investigation of the premises.
"Well, I mean, I suppose, but—"
"How many keys are there for the store, sir?" Lois asked him.
"Three, Miss Lane: One that I own, one copy that my assistant-manager has, and one for the cleaning staff," Reginald answered. "The cleaners are supplied by an agency."
"And you don't think that any of your staff would have taken the flowers?" Clark asked him in his utterly unique Clark manner.
"No, Mister Kent, I don't think any of them would; and I don't even see why they would. There isn't much money in it, and I think it would get them in more trouble than it's worth to steal them for a girlfriend or a boyfriend or some such."
"Okay," Clark said. "What about the cleaning staff?"
Reginald thought for a moment. "I'm not sure. There are two regulars who clean up, and there's a third man who helps out occasionally. Don't know much about the third one, though he did seem rather … odd the few times I've met him. But the regulars are nice enough fellows. Hardly the sort of people who would take an interest in flowers, though, I'd say."
"Hmmm," Clark said, in thought. "Do you have the address for the cleaning agency that you employ?"
"Yes, certainly. I'd be happy to give it to you … if you thought it would do any good."
"Never know," Lois said. "What's back there?" she asked, pointing to a door in the back wall, behind the counter.
"Oh, that? That's just a storage room."
"Mind if we take a look back there?" she asked, just as a pair of customers walked in the door.
"Oh, no, of course not," he said, turning as the bells on the door rang. "Help yourself; it's not locked. You don't mind if I attend to these folks?"
"No, go right ahead," Clark said, smiling, and he and Lois walked to the storage room. When the door was shut behind them, and they were alone, Clark asked, "What did you see back here?"
Lois walked in amongst the clutter to a few ceiling- high rows of lockers, before one of which she stopped. "This," she said, and she opened the unlocked door. The small cubby was plastered with photos and stories, mostly photos, of Superwoman. It was like a shrine. They exchanged glances laced with worry. "I think we've found our man," she said.
Clark looked closer in the locker and saw a name tag sitting there, with the name of a cleaning agency in small print at the base. Lois saw it too. "Recognize the name?" he asked when he saw her reaction to it.
"Yeah," she said, in a whisper. "This is just too hard to believe."
"What?" Clark asked.
"This is the name he signed the cards with. I just can't believe that he used his real name."
"Odd Trick," Clark read. "What an … odd name."
"Very," Lois said in a whisper. "Let's get to the bottom of this as fast as we can. This creeps me out even more."
"Okay," Clark said, shutting the locker door. "Let's go talk to someone at the Squeaky Clean agency."
They said a quick good-bye to Reginald, promising to get back to him when they knew more, and then left, driving once more across town. This drive took about twenty minutes, and it was rather silent. At one point, Lois jerked her head just a little, and Clark wasn't sure if she had heard something, but put it aside so that she could find the truth behind these stolen flowers, or if it was just a tick of some kind. He sighed, and Lois pressed the gas down a little harder.
When they pulled off the street and into the lot, it was getting late in the afternoon, and the agency was close to closing time. Lois and Clark hurried in the door and asked the receptionist if they could talk to a representative. It was a small company, and there were three people there who could help them. The one who ushered them into his office was a Mister Alexander Yostremski.
"Please, call me Alex," he said with a grin, shaking their hands. "Lois Lane and Clark Kent, if I'm not mistaken."
"And you're not," Lois said as she took a seat.
"What brings you by, Miss Lane?" he asked, sitting behind his desk. "Can I get either of you anything?"
"No, no thank you," Clark said, and Lois shook her head.
"Okay. What can I do for you? Interested in our services, by any chance?"
"I'm afraid not," Lois said in a very business-like tone. "We're interested in anything you can tell us about an employee of yours: a Mister Odd Trick."
"Oh," Alex said, turning in his chair to face his computer. "Well, of course. Let me check. May I ask what this is about?"
"Well, Alex," Clark said carefully, "it appears he may have been involved in a small … robbery."
Alex looked up from his typing. "A robbery?" he asked. "Are you sure? I assure you that we make use of every precaution when hiring for our company. Every precaution. If this is true, I am certain that we will make every restitution that—"
"Don't worry, Sir," Lois said. "We're not interested in tarnishing your reputation at all. We're just interested in getting to this man and finding out the truth."
"I understand," Alex said, going back to the computer. Both Lois and Clark could read in his expression all that was running through his mind when he called up the employee files: He wanted to do good PR by helping the reporters out, but he felt very uncertain about divulging information regarding someone working for the company, the information derived from which could land Clean in a none-too-clean spotlight. He worried that if he didn't help the Planet voluntarily, they might force their way in with fireworks and alarums. He worried that if he helped them, he might land in hot water with his bosses. Alex sighed, his decision made for him, as he chose the seemingly lesser evil and called up the file on Trick, Odd. "I'm printing the man's file out," he said, a slightly nervous smile on his face. "What was this robbery all about, if you don't mind my asking?"
"It was really something very small," Clark said. "Some items were taken from a store he sometimes helps to clean. Some things we found there led us to believe that he took them."
"And we'd rather not involve the police," Lois said.
Alex sat up a little, some worry leaving him. "Oh, if you're sure. I'm positive we can work this out on our own. As I said, if this individual did take the … items, the company would be happy to make restitution to the shop owner."
"That's very generous of you, Sir," Clark said.
"That's what we're all about, Mister Kent," he said, smiling, feeling the situation in hand. "Ah, here we go," he said, picking up a couple sheets of paper from a printer behind the desk.
"May I have those?" Lois asked.
"C-certainly, Miss Lane," he said. Quite uncertainly, he handed the papers across to Lois, who took a quick glance at them.
"Thank you, Alex," she said, abruptly standing. Clark followed suit. "We'll be in touch when we know more."
"Oh," a startled Alexander said, getting to his feet. "Please do. We'd like to help in any way possible." Lois turned and headed for the door, while Clark stayed long enough to smile, nod and say, "Thank you for your time."
"Th-thank you …Mister Kent," he said, the last bit quietly, after Clark had shut the door.
"We have him," Lois said as she started the Jeep.
Clark sighed. "I hope our ideas about this guy are wrong."
Lois didn't say anything for a minute. "So do I."
"YOU SURE ABOUT THIS, LOIS?" Clark asked as she jimmied the lock.
"Yes, Clark," she said, then grunted as she popped the door open, "I am." Lois opened the door just wide enough to let her slip in, and then Clark, after peering into the darkness, came in too, shutting the door behind him.
"And you're sure no one's here?"
"Clark," she began.
"Uh, never mind," he interrupted when she gave him That Look. "I'm sure you're sure."
"Sure," Clark said, laughing with the buzz and tension of the chase. "Want me to turn some lights on?"
"No, no." Lois looked around the barely furnished, barely furnished room. "That would only draw attention. I can see fine."
"Okay." Clark looked around in the darkened, musty room. "Do you hear something?" Clark asked Lois as she was looking in the kitchen.
"Yeah," Lois said, checking in the cupboards. "It's the neighbor. They're listening to a rock radio station."
"Oh," he said. "I'm gonna' check the bedroom."
"Okay," Lois said, looking in the only other room left aside from the bedro= om.
"Uh-oh," Clark said from the bedroom. Lois was there in an instant.
"What is—" She stopped the second she came in the door. "Oh … my …"
All the walls of the room were covered with photographs, articles, and drawings of Superwoman. There were paintings, obviously done by Mister Trick. There was a grimy art desk in the corner, and an aisle too, and just a mattress beside those. It was a painful reminder of the incident very early on in Lois' partnership with Clark: A scientist, out of work, labeled as insane, living out his days away from his family until that final day when he was murdered.
But this was the first time Lois had ever seen anything like this, and it made her shiver: this room truly was a shrine. Even the ceiling, she saw now, was covered with the pieces.
"This is … I can't think of a word for it. It's scary," Lois said quietly, looking around.
"Yes it is," Clark said in a whisper. They surveyed the room in silence. There were four other baskets of flowers clustered on the floor, each with the same card; the same poem. Two of the baskets matched each other, as did the other two. None were from Reginald's shop, and it seemed these were taken from two different stores as well. There were unmailed letters piled up around the room. All were addressed to Superwoman, in care of Lois Lane. They looked at each other. "Don't read them," he said.
She nodded. "I think you're probably right." They looked around for a few more minutes.
"What should we do, Lois?"
"I … I don't know. Should we call the police?"
"I don't know either. All we have him on is shop- lifting, after all. He hasn't done anything toward you that could be considered a felony."
"I know," Lois said through her teeth. "I'm just having trouble being in here."
"Okay. Let's go into the living room." They did. "Should we try to talk to him? Find out who he is? If we think he's dangerous, then we can go to the police. Maybe he's unbalanced."
"Did you see that room in there, Clark?" she asked. "I think we can safely assume that he's unbalanced."
"Maybe so," he agreed. "But should we find out for sure?"
"I think that decision's been made for us," she said quietly, lifting her chin. Clark looked in the same direction. "I think he's coming." Lois didn't move, and so, neither did Clark. Except to walk over and stand next to her. It was a few seconds before Clark could hear anything, and then there was the sound of a mumbling voice, and the tapping of shoes on cheap carpeting, and then the thumping of feet on wood, and then the voice became clearer, and then, finally, Clark could see the outline of a man crossing before the yellowed-curtains of the apartment. Then there was the clinking of keys, and a bewildered grunt as the man found the door to be already unlocked. Clark tensed up, and Lois nudged her shoulder in front of him.
"H-hello?" the gruff, dirty voice said as the gruff, dirty, small man shouldered the door slowly open, the creaking filling the dark room. "Is anyone in here?" He waited in the doorway for a minute, listening, then came in and shut the door, locking it. "I g-guess not. Yuh-you forgot t-to lock the door wh-wh-when you l-left today. I-I t-tuh- told you about that. Yuh-yes I did." After that, his steadily corrupting conversation with himself totally degenerated to a series of grumbling coughs and wheezes. He walked from the hall into the living room and dropped a large bag on the floor; it made a rustling thump as it hit. "Yuh-yeah. You'll n-need some, some light I think," he said, and flipped on a switch. A low watt bulb flickered a half dozen times before it caught. "Ah!" he called, seeing Lois and Clark for the first time. "Ah! Wh-what are you d-doing in muh-muh-my house!" he managed, backing up.
"Do you know who I am?" Lois asked, her voice stone- cold and as firm.
"Of course I d-don't kn-know what yuh-your name is!"
"I'm Lois Lane, Mister Trick. Lois Lane of the Daily Planet."
The disheveled man looked stunned, and he slowly let his arms drop to his side. His eyes were wide. "Yuh-you're Lois Lane?" Lois nodded. "Uh-of the Daily Planet?"
"Uh-ooooh," he said, taking a couple of shambling steps forward. "Yuh-you must have got muh-my packages, then! Muh-my packages fuh-for Superwoman!"
"Yes, we got them," Lois said, her voice very strong.
"Oooohhh," the man said, a grumbling, demented joy coming to him. He began to hobble forward, toward the two, with his hands raised and slightly clenched.
"STOP," Lois demanded, "right there."
The man halted, confused. "Wuh-what … ?" he asked.
"Why did you send the packages, Mister Trick?" Lois asked with some force, her right arm raised, palm out.
The man thought about that for a moment. "M-Miss Lane, muh-my name isn't really T-Trick, you kn-know."
"It isn't?" Lois asked, keeping her wits about her and Clark just behind he= r.
"N-no," he said, smiling like a little child. "No, muh- my real name is, is Danny," he said, raising his voice with the name.
"I see, Danny. And why did you—"
"I ch-changed my name," he continued, interrupting, "because people used to t-tell me I was stuh-stupid. Said I couldn't ruh-read or write or nothin'." Danny started forward again, and Lois got ready to defend them, but Clark took hold of her shoulder.
"No, Lois," he whispered in her ear. "He's not going to hurt us. Look," he said, and they watched Danny hobble over to a small, crude bookshelf that they hadn't seen earlier. It held a single book.
"Everybody called me stuh-stupid, so I found this book, and I read it." He came over, smiling, and handed it to Lois.
She didn't read the title. "Danny, why did you send the flowers to Superwoman?"
"Oh," he said, hobbling back to the bag he'd dropped and picking it up. With it in hand, he walked into his room, Lois and Clark following, and Danny removed a basket of fresh flowers to put it beside the others. "I luh-love Superwoman, y'see," he said, his voice very simple. "'Cause Superwoman, she huh-helps people wh-who are hurt and cuh-called names and stuff. I seen her on tee-vee once, i-in a bar, a-and she was givin' a speech about how a-anyone could do whatever they wanted to if thuh-they really wanted to." He walked over to the wall and touched a newspaper clipping of Superwoman standing on a podium. "Puh-people called me stuh-stupid there and they, they kicked me out, but I'd heard Superwoman. I heard wuh-what she'd said. That's when I found me this book, and I read it. I didn't really understan' it, buh-but I w- wanted to, so I k-kept reading it." He smiled to himself. "I luh-love to p-paint," he said, rather to himself. "I wuh-was in a accident when I was a kid," he said, looking down at the flowers. "That's wuh-why I'm suh-slow. And I saw my bro- brother get killed. He wuh-was always lookin' after me, so when he was g-gone, th-they put me in the hospital." He lowered his head even farther. "Wuh-when I got out, n-no one wuh-would hire, hire m-me." There was a long moment of silence, and the radio seemed louder now, clearer, and it was clear that Danny was reliving a terrible life in his damaged, simple mind. "Suh-Superwoman," Danny said, his voice rasping, "told muh-me that I c-could do anything I wuh-wanted to, and I wuh-wanted to b-be smart, so I found the book. A-and I wuh- wanted to be something, so I g-got a job. C-cleaning things. Suh-someone even asked me to go out," he said, smiling so innocently. "Even though she d-didn't g-go out with me, a-and she laughed w-when I asked her about it." He paused, and Lois suddenly felt very badly for this poor, abused man. "E- everyone c-called me Stuh-Stupid Danny, a-and Dumb Danny, so I d-didn't want that to be me." Danny pointed at the book that Lois held, forgotten, in her hands. "I w-wanted to b-be in love, so I picked a n-name out of that buh-book. The name of th-the p-perfect husband." Lois finally held the book up to her eyes, and Clark looked at it too, over her shoulders.
"Oscar Wilde's Comedies," Clark read softly.
"H-he's really smuh-smart, and he said the name I took w-was the p-perfect husband." Danny turned and looked for a moment at his pictures. Lois, taking the opportunity, read the book. After finding the passage, she clapped it shut and sighed.
"The odd trick? Is that the husband, Lord Darlington?"
"It would be rather a perfect name for the modern husband."
Danny turned around again, and there were tears in his eyes. "I luh-love Superwoman," he said. "I nuh-never met her or nothin', buh-but she helped me wh-when no one else w- would. I-I'm not stuh-stupid, y'know," he said, his chin lowered. "I'm n-not," he said, crying.
"Of course you're not," Lois said, walking over to him, no longer mad, or afraid. She took the book and put it in the man's hands. "I know you're not. And Superwoman knows it too," she said, which brought the man's face up.
"Sh-she kn-knows me?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, smiling, a tear in her eye. "And she cares." Clark came up behind her and smiled warmly at Danny. The radio seemed loudest now, at least to Lois, and she heard a song playing:
"Mother, am I still your son? You know I've waited so long to hear you say so."
The song went on, but she didn't listen further. The words made her cry; this poor man before her made her cry. "Danny," she said to him, and the man looked up at her. "I think I'd better go now, okay? But we're going to send some people out here to look at the building. People who will clean it up and make it a better place to live."
"R-really?" he asked, like a little boy.
"Really. But, Danny, listen to me." He stopped swaying as he'd started to, and listened. "What you did, taking those flowers?" He nodded. "That was wrong," she said, softly and yet sternly. "Those flowers were not yours, and you cannot take things that don't belong to you."
Danny looked confused. "B-but I d-did pay for thuh flowers," he said, his brow furrowed.
"What do you mean?" Clark asked in a warm, concerned voice.
"I-I suh-saved up muh-money enough to buh-buy Superwoman some flowers, but I was only in the stores when they were closed. So I luh-left the muh-money by the machine on the desk. I'd never t-take anything what didn't belong to me," he said. "Honest I wouldn't."
Lois looked at Clark, who was watching Danny with concern. "The money by the register," she said to him quietly. "We believe you, Danny," she said, turning back. He smiled shyly. "We will be back soon, okay Danny?"
"O-okay," Danny said. Little did he know, as Lois and Clark walked out of his door, that Superwoman herself would appear in a few days, with the clean-up crew, and she would tell him that she was proud of all he had accomplished, all that he had overcome, and that he didn't need to send flowers anymore, or use that other name; because Danny was not stupid, Danny was special. And she would also tell him how he had inspired her to do something that even she had been afraid to do. Danny wouldn't ask, that day, and Superwoman couldn't tell him, but he didn't seem to need to know exactly what. It was something beyond measure for him to know that he had somehow affected her. And Superwoman would tell him how wonderful his paintings were, and she would give him an address that he should go with some of his paintings to. It was the address of a special art gallery, for people much like Danny, a place where people knew he wasn't stupid. And there the people would recognize his idiot savant talents, and would display his works, and would sell some, and Danny would make many friends there. In fact, he would soon be the subject of a piece in the Daily Planet, a public-awareness story, with a byline of Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
The same Lois and Clark who drove away from Danny's apartment building now, in silence, the city rushing past outside.
"How are you?" Clark finally asked.
"I … I'm not sure," she replied after a pause. "I've never been through anything like that. I can't describe how I feel."
"I know," Clark said. "I think I feel the same way." There was an almost uneasy silence. "I think … I feel like going to the Planet and writing about what we've just …"
"I know," Lois said, truly understanding. "I do too, but there's something I need to do first." Clark was ready to ask what that was, when he looked over at her and read her expression. It wasn't something she could talk about. He closed his just-opened mouth and raised his hand to stroke her hair. She smiled a little and leaned her head into his touch. "I'm going to drop you off at the Planet, okay?"
"Okay," Clark said, watching her face. "Lois," he said after a space. "Are you okay?"
Lois slowed the car to a stop at a red light and looked over at her husband. She took his hand and looked into his eyes. "I've asked myself that question many times." Clark got a pained look in his face and squeezed her hand. "I think I'm as okay as ever," she said, looking up to check on the light. It was still red, and she looked back to Clark's caring face. "Maybe," she said, unsure, not wanting to commit herself. "Maybe I'm … a little better." She had looked down at their intermingled hands, and looked back into Clark's brown eyes after saying that. There was question in her eyes. "I don't know, Clark. I … I don't know."
"Lois," Clark said after a few seconds. "There is one thing I do know, and that is that you are just about the bravest person I know." His voice was strong, but it was so soft and quiet. It held Lois, and it cradled her. She gazed into the depths of her husband's eyes. "Even before the incident that gave me your powers for a little while, I'd often wondered to myself … if, if I could handle the responsibilities you have no choice but to carry." He clenched his jaw. "I've already told you this, but when I was … given your powers, I gained such an overwhelming respect for you, and what you go through every day. I learned then what it meant to be Superwoman." He swallowed once and stroked Lois' cheek. "I've thought about it so often ever since. The cries you hear, and those you can't … answer. Lois," he said, his voice becoming more insistent, his eyes more penetrating, "I know that I could never in a million years do what you do. Never. There aren't very many who could. There aren't many who are that strong; as strong as you are. And," he said, after a second's pause, "there aren't many men as lucky as—"
Suddenly, the car just behind them started honking, and kept honking. Lois looked up, startled, to see that the light had gone green, and she got ready to put the Jeep into gear and go when the Jeep died. She grunted and went about restarting it and the car behind kept honking. "Hey!" she shouted, looking back. "Could you shut up for a second?! I'm going as fast as I can!!" She faced the wheel and turned the keys till the engine turned over. "Well, not really as fast as I can, 'cause that is pretty fast, but as fast as most people would be able to …" Lois rambled under her breath as she got the Jeep going and moving forward. "Geeze," she said, as the car behind them squealed-out and sped to the left. "JERK!" she shouted. Clark was laughing. "What is so funny??" she asked, breathlessly.
"You, Lois," he said, laughing. "You handle everything that comes along with such flare and panache! Such tranquil ease," he giggled.
"Go ahead and laugh," she said, actually smiling; though it was hard with the way she was feeling. "I'll tranquilize you in a hurry." Clark's laugh slowly trailed off until there was quiet again. It was five more minutes before the globe over the arched doorway came into view.
"You'll be okay?" Clark asked, unbuckling his seatbelt.
"Yeah, you know me. I can—"
"—take care of myself. Yeah, I do know," he smiled. "Lois," he said, looking into her eyes. "I love you."
Lois took his hand. "I know." She took a deep breath. "I love you, Clark Kent." The feeling was too deep for a smile.
Clark leaned in and kissed her passionately, then stepped from the car. "I'll see you at home?"
"Yeah. At home." Lois smiled.
"Okay, but you have to be at work tomorrow," he said as he prepared to close the door.
"Why?" she began to ask, but was cut-off.
"Bye!" Clark said, waving and shutting his door. Lois waved with just the tips of her fingers, a little confused, then drove away.
"Alack, sir, no; her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love: we cannot call her winds and waters, sighs and tears; they are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report: this cannot be cunning in her; if it be, she makes a shower of rain as well as Jove."
— Enobarbus, Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene II.
THE JEEP PARKED OUTSIDE HER brownstone, Lois had been sitting by the phone, building up her confidence, when she heard a call for help. Thankful for the distraction, she spun into her outfit and flew through the open window.
Four 'situations' later, Lois left Metropolis, left the state, the country, the continent, and set down in that land of snow and barren wastelands. There was there silence but for harsh winds, and emptiness but for drifting flakes and one flame-red, billowing cape. Superwoman— Lois stood sentinel there in the rapidly growing darkness. For some time she stood there without moving,without speaking, hardly breathing. She was centered and she was elsewhere. This was just the shell of Lois, standing in the white melee. The true Lois was scattered across the globe, in Switzerland, in Germany, in the Daily Planet, in hospitals, in a run-down apartment building, in the hearts of millions, in magazines, on television, on the internet, in imagination, in hopes and in dreams, in the future and in the past, in the tapestry of events that is the Earth, and, Lois prayed, in the thoughts of one divorced couple, living apart, with two daughters and many things left unsaid.
It was completely black before Lois floated into the sky, gently, her cape whipping about in the gale, and then flew toward Metropolis. The North Star blinked into sight.
Three rings, Lois thought, her palms sweating, her breaths uneven, the phone pressed to her ear. Six rings, she said, taking a very deep breath and closing her eyes. Then there was a click and a voice.
Lois' eyes sprang open. "Hi, Ellen, it's me," she said, already cringing at her words. Say mom, say mom, she enunciated to herself.
There was a pause on the other end. "Hi, Lois," Ellen finally said. "Is something wrong?"
Lois paused this time, thinking of all the things that had happened since she'd last talked with Ellen; all the times her safety had been threatened, all the stories she'd covered, all the tragedies and the breakthroughs and a million other things. Her marriage to Clark. Things this woman knew about through the media and sporadic letters only. "No," she said quietly. "Nothing's wrong." Lois listened to silence on the other end and then she sighed. "This is not going like I planned," she said, half-garbled, under her breath.
"What?" Ellen asked. "What did you s—"
"Nothing, Elle …" She let it drift off, unfinished. Lois battled with herself for a few seconds as nothing was said. She pushed herself up a very, very steep hill, just trying to force herself to say what she knew she had to say.
"Lois, are you sure—"
"Are you doing anything?" Lois blurted. She could hear Ellen, flustered, trying to recover from the sudden question.
"I don't know what you mean," she answered. "Not really. Lois, what exactly—"
"I'm coming over," Lois said, standing up.
"Wha-what do you mean, you're—"
"I'll be over in a few minutes," she said, not letting Ellen finish. "And I'm bringing dad. Lucy's with you now, isn't she?"
"Wha-what? Y-yes, Lucy's he— What do you mean you're bringing your father over he—"
"Okay. We all need to talk. I'll be there soon."
"Lois, what are y—"
"I love you," Lois said, about to hang up the phone. "Mom."
"Now, for the love of Love and her soft hours, let's not confound the time with conference harsh: There's not a minute of our lives should stretch without some pleasure now: —what sport to-night?"
— Antony, Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene I.
THE NEXT DAY, AS PROMISED, Lois showed up at the Daily Planet, thoughts of a night's difficult discussion with her parents burning in her mind. Simply a taste of things to come. She looked around the empty newsroom and her shoulders drooped with confusion.
The next minute, her thoughts were suddenly washed away by confetti and frosting.
A day late, Lois was given her surprise tenth anniversary party. One more dream, one more unlikely dream, come true.