By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted September 1999
Summary: Since high school, Lois has been corresponding with a pen-pal. Is his identity really a mystery to her, though? This wonderful story adds some personal insights into Season 1, but with a much better ending!
This story was first posted on Zoomway's message boards (http://www.zoomway.com/boards/Ultimate.cgi) in early September 1999, and I would like to thank very warmly everyone who read it there and gave me feedback, either publicly or privately. You guys made a great beta audience! Even more special thanks, though, to Pam Jernigan who actually *volunteered* to go through this and tell me about typos, glitches, things which wouldn't make sense to Americans and dialogue which was too British to be convincing. Thank you, Pam! You're a star <g>
Oh, a special dedication here for the UK FOLCs, since this story might not have been written had it not been for a certain ScoFF (Scottish FOLC Fest). I had a nine-hour return trip by train to get to the Edinburgh venue, and took with me some reading material, including a book by Terry Prone, 'Racing the Moon.' It was a wonderfully engrossing story, helping to while away the long journey (and also aiding me in forgetting my nervousness at meeting people I'd only chatted to on email or IRC — not that I'd needed to be concerned, we had a great time!). However, there were elements in the book which really challenged me, and as soon as I got home I rushed to the PC and started writing this. So ScoFF has a lot to answer for (thanks, Jac and Jo <g>).
Lois exited the shower, pulling on her robe and combing her fingers through her hair to drag it into something approaching her normal style. It was late, almost midnight, and it had been a long day, yet she didn't feel like going straight to bed. Instead, she padded through to the kitchen and poured some milk and chocolate powder into a mug. Two minutes in the microwave and she had instant hot chocolate.
Seating herself at her small leather-topped desk a few moments later, she opened her mailer software. Selecting a name from her address book, she began to compose a new email.
'Sorry I haven't been in touch for a while — it's been a hell of a week. Big assignment at work, lots of overtime, as well as — would you believe it (!) having to break in a new greenhorn staff member. As if I don't have enough work to do as it is! There I was a week ago, just done a pretty brilliant job on my last assignment, even if I do say so myself, and I ask the boss for a raise. What does he say? — no money in the budget right now. Then next thing he's gone and given a job to this wet-behind-the-ears bumbling idiot who can barely wipe his own nose. *And* I have to work with him - babysit him more like!
'Anyway, we finally got the assignment finished this evening, but of course I had to do most of the tidying up — he disappeared hours earlier. No explanation, no apology. Well, he won't be able to keep that up for very long, or he won't last past probation.
'But never mind … that's all boring work stuff. And getting dangerously close to _verboten_ topics.'
Lois paused in her typing and sat back to read over what she'd written so far. It crossed her mind briefly to wonder whether she'd been too hard on Kent, but then she remembered his deliberate insult when she'd turned down his offer of dinner because of her appointment with Lex Luthor. And he really was pretty naive — had too much of a tendency to believe what he was told, which wouldn't get him very far as a journalist. She also had a suspicion that he found her attractive, which hadn't impressed her very much. She had no intention ever again of getting involved with anyone she worked with, as she had told him when they'd been chained together in that warehouse. She flushed as she remembered her confession then; once safely out of the situation she'd regretted being so open with this man she barely knew, but who seemed to invite confidences.
Pushing the 'hick from Nowheresville' from her thoughts, Lois returned to her email. She was tempted to confide in Scribe about her incredible discovery earlier that day: her encounter with a brightly-clad man who swallowed bombs and who also could fly! It had been an amazing experience, being carried in his arms as he'd flown with her back to the Planet building. The man, whoever he was, had given no hint as to how he'd acquired his amazing powers, but on the other hand, she had been too tongue-tied on the journey to ask many searching questions — any questions at all, in fact. It had been only after he'd deposited her by her desk that she'd remembered to ask who he was; infuriatingly, he had simply replied, "A friend."
Well, she'd christened him 'Superman;' if he objected to the name, then he could just tell her so, and give her another name to call him by. But she was determined to find out more about him. No matter how important the Messenger sabotage story was, this story was even bigger. Superman was the biggest story this decade, no doubt about it, and he was hers.
But she wasn't sure she wanted to tell Scribe about Superman. For one thing, her feelings about the encounter, and the man himself, were pretty confused and she knew only too well that Scribe would detect that and would have something to say about it. He'd been pretty voluble in his criticism of the previous men in her life and the way they'd treated her, after all; he had a tendency to be very protective of her.
Scribe wasn't his real name, of course; she had no idea what his real name was, and that, she knew, was part of the attraction of their correspondence. It had all started more than ten years ago, when she'd been fifteen. Their English teacher had told the class about a project being organised by the Department of Education in conjunction with the US Mail, to encourage young people in the art of correspondence. Schools all over the US were taking part, and a computer program was going to match people up in pairs as penpals. The idea was that the pairs should write to each other using nicknames and PO boxes. No real names or addresses were to be exchanged, and as little personal information as possible should be given about each other. The aim was for students to develop the art of letter-writing, but more importantly, to encourage friendships based on shared interests without the distraction of perceptions based on appearance or other superficial characteristics.
Lois and her classmates had thought the idea sounded like a bit of a joke - writing letters to someone they would never meet and whose name they didn't even know had seemed silly and pointless. But once she'd thought about it for a while, Lois began to see some advantages to the scheme. The thought of getting to know someone who wouldn't know her as Sam Lane's daughter and therefore obviously intelligent and to be scorned or laughed at; who wouldn't know that her mother was an alcoholic and feel pity for her as a result; who wouldn't be able to compare her with her more vivacious, less studious sister; and who wouldn't care whether she was male or female … all of these appealed enormously.
<As long as I don't end up getting paired with some geek, or a bimbo who's only interested in jocks and clothes> Lois had thought as she'd submitted her name for the scheme.
But she hadn't. Instead, she had received through the school's box number a letter from Scribe. He had told her his gender, but nothing else which was in any way close to a physical description. She had no idea where he lived, although over the course of several letters she gained the impression of a small town, as opposed to her Metropolitan home. What she did learn about were his interests in literature, writing, and his insatiable curiosity about the world. Unlike most young men of her acquaintance, while he seemed to enjoy sports, and played in school, it wasn't by any means an all-consuming interest. He'd chosen the name 'Scribe,' he'd told her, because he enjoyed writing; he was at that time considering studying creative writing at college, with a view to a literary career. Or, he'd added, he might become an academic.
She had no idea how old he was, since they'd never exchanged that information; given that he had still been at school when the project had started, he couldn't be that much older than her. On the other hand, she was aware that the scheme had spanned a few age-groups, and since she'd gained the impression that he was more mature in his outlook than most of her contemporaries, she had pegged him at two or three years her senior.
She and Scribe had been rather more punctilious than many of their contemporaries in abiding by the rules of the scheme. Several of Lois's classmates had exchanged names and photographs with their penpals a few months into the scheme, and she'd overheard comments about the photographs, some critical and some envious. One boy had been corresponding with a girl whose letters he had seemed to enjoy very much; he had persuaded her to send him her photo, and she'd turned out to be fat and rather plain. Suddenly the photo was being passed around all the boy's jock friends, who made cruel taunts, and shortly afterwards he ceased the correspondence. Others stopped short of names and photographs but did share other more personal information; in some cases this had also turned out to be a disappointment and the correspondence had petered out.
Lois had therefore been determined not to allow that to happen in her case. She had started very quickly to look forward very much to Scribe's letters: they were always amusing, frequently self-deprecating, and often very informative. Her penpal had very quickly shown himself to be highly intelligent and very knowledgeable; in an early letter she had bemoaned her inability to get to grips with a particular concept in physics. A letter had arrived quickly afterwards which had explained the concept in careful detail, but made interesting by amusing asides and ludicrous examples.
So she had still been corresponding with Scribe long after most of her classmates had given up on their penpals; not that she had told anyone of that, not wanting to invite any enquiries or speculation. She had, when about to become a senior, paid for her own post-office box and asked Scribe to redirect his letters there. He had done something similar shortly afterwards, as he'd been starting college. His letters from college had been even more entertaining, bringing to life the experiences of a new undergraduate getting used to the campus scene, as well as living away from home for the first time. They had helped her to prepare for her own first year at college, the following year, and during those years his letters had provided a source of calm, helpful support and advice.
Before she'd finished college, he had taken off to 'travel the world for a few years,' as he'd told her; she'd been very disappointed, afraid that this would mean an end to the correspondence which had come to mean more to her than she would ever have admitted to anyone. But it seemed Scribe had no wish to lose his penfriend, since he had somehow made complicated arrangements to have her letters forwarded to him wherever he was. She had started to receive postcards from unusual locations, and long letters at irregular intervals.
He had returned to the US a couple of years earlier, she was aware, although they had yet to mention any particular location to each other. He'd had to know she had, at least for a time, lived somewhere in New Troy, since there had been no way of obtaining a post office box number which didn't include the name of her state in the address. She had taken the precaution of getting an out-of-town post office box, though. However, all she knew about Scribe's location was that at one point he had been somewhere in the Mid-West, where he'd attended college, since instead of a post office box he had used a mail forwarding service and had told her that he arranged to have her mail forwarded to her from there. There was no reason to believe that he came from anywhere in that region. As for his time overseas, he had been almost all over the world. She had no idea where he lived now.
Nor had she any idea what he did for a living, and she had never told him her occupation either. Not that she had anything to be ashamed of, nor was she concerned that he would read every newspaper he could get his hands on with a question in his mind: is this article written by my friend? For Lois, it had now gone past the original experiment of finding common ground where neither knew personal information about the other. She had a fear, which she admitted to herself was irrational, that if Scribe ever discovered the real Lois Lane, their friendship would not survive. She didn't want him to see her, talk to her, learn any identifiable information about her other than what she chose to tell him. She firmly clung to the belief that in that way they would continue to be the close friends they always had been.
Since Scribe's return from overseas, they had been corresponding by email, both using free email services which allowed the user to choose a screen-name of their choice. So he was Scribe@coolmail.com, and she was Tornado, using a similar provider. Occasionally Lois experienced a feeling of nostalgia for the hand-written letters of years gone by, but email had the occasional advantage of immediacy, and in any case she had kept all Scribe's letters. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly low, she even dragged them out and re-read them. He had been a very good friend over the years. It would be almost unbelievable to anyone else, she considered now, that her best friend should be a man she'd never met, had no idea what he looked like, and whose name she didn't even know.
Some years ago, just after Lois had finished college and while Scribe was off on his travels, they had flirted with the idea of exchanging names and perhaps photos. But Lois had been reluctant; by then she had acknowledged that, for her, a large part of Scribe's attraction was that she had no idea who he was. She could pass him in the street and never know it. Though she barely admitted it to herself, she had a sneaking fear that if he knew more about her, perhaps what she was really like, he wouldn't want to be her friend any more. So no names, and definitely no photos. She hadn't even told him what she'd been studying at college, or her occupation once she'd become a reporter, in order to preserve the anonymity.
What Scribe himself was like, or what he did for a living, was also a mystery to her. Okay, he had wanted to be a writer; she had wondered a few times whether he'd combined his evident talent with words and his love of travel to write travel books or articles. As for his physical appearance, all she knew was that he wore glasses, that subject having come up in correspondence when she had bemoaned her own deteriorating eyesight, though she had changed to contact lenses some time later — for all she knew, he could have done the same by now. She had no idea whether he was tall or short, dark or fair — even whether he was white, African-American, or some other ethnic origin. She didn't care, as long as he carried on writing to her.
She returned to her letter, turning her attention to a few anecdotes she'd come across over the past few days which she thought Scribe would appreciate. He had a strong sense of the ridiculous, and also enjoyed political gossip, something which in her job she was in a good position to acquire.
Finishing the email half an hour later, she connected to the service provider which she kept solely for this correspondence, and clicked 'send.'
She was kept busy over the next few days, chasing Superman around Metropolis. The man in spandex seemed to be everywhere, but impossible to keep up with. He rescued people from a burning building, saved potential suicides, and prevented a billboard from crashing down on top of a small girl, but in every case was gone before she could grab hold of him for an interview. What made it worse was that on one occasion she was beaten to the exclusive by none other than Clark Kent. That country bumpkin from Kansas actually got to a Superman rescue ahead of her. Not that it did him much good; once she'd conned him into telling her what had happened, she'd convinced him that he needed to go back to the Planet to write it up, and once she'd seen him safely into a cab she had called the story in herself, gaining the by-line.
Stealing Kent's story had given Lois a twinge of guilt, however; having had it done to her years earlier, it was not something she had ever imagined herself doing to a colleague. Even someone as annoying as Kent. But the advent of Superman had seemed to have a strange effect on her. She was behaving as if she would do anything to get a scoop. Kent, of course, had been livid, so annoyed he'd barely been able to speak. She had managed to cover up her guilt with careless sarcasm, telling him to "consider it a life lesson. No charge." Clearly still fuming, he had walked away to his desk.
He'd got his revenge, though, in a truly spectacular fashion. Sending her that map showing the alleged location of Superman's spaceship had been inspired, and she had been completely taken in. Crawling through the Metropolis Sewage and Reclamation Facility in the middle of the night, she hadn't even realised that she'd been hoaxed until she'd found the Godzilla with the crude 'S' drawn on its chest. Too proud to sneak home and change, she had stalked into the newsroom to confront him. Although he and Jimmy had laughed, and he had repeated her own words back to her, she had been taken back to see an expression of respect in his eyes.
Okay, Lois accepted, perhaps her partner wasn't quite the semi-imbecile she had taken him for. That didn't make him any the less annoying, however. But at least things had improved as the day went on. The previous day, Superman had just seemed to disappear, which had been very depressing. How dare he just vanish like that, before she'd managed to get the exclusive interview she was due?
He had reappeared overnight, though, which made her feel better, although she had still not managed to track him down for an interview. And it had been galling to realise that Clark Kent had managed to acquire *that* exclusive. But she would bounce back; she intended to be the one to get the next Superman story. And the interview.
She opened the door to her apartment, feeling suddenly weary. That was hardly surprising, she admitted; spending the night searching through a sewage plant wasn't exactly a relaxing pastime. She suddenly felt a yearning for a long hot shower and a takeout pizza. Lucy was out that evening, so Lois had the apartment to herself.
Later that evening, she booted up her laptop and downloaded her email. To her delight, there was a message from Scribe among her other email; she had set up automatic forwarding to her private email address from the free email account she used for her correspondence with Scribe. She quickly double-clicked on the message.
Message dated 2 October 1993, 23:48 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'It's a real trial to those of us who are blessed, or possibly cursed, with a high degree of intelligence when we have to deal with those less intelligent than ourselves. And when we are also possessed of low patience thresholds, it gets more difficult still! I sympathise; however, I do find myself feeling kind of sorry for your 'greenhorn' colleague!'
Lois laughed as she read the first paragraph, but then stilled as Scribe's meaning communicated itself to her. He was trying to point out, in his usual gentle manner, that she was being too judgmental, expecting too much of Kent. Well, maybe she was, but he'd never survive in a tough environment like the Planet if he couldn't cope with the pressure. Which included demanding co-workers.
She returned to the email.
'Actually, I started a new job myself a few weeks ago; although it's early days yet, I think it's going to work out well. I also got a new apartment - it was pretty grotty at first but now I've cleaned it up it looks great. You'd love it. It's very spacious, with a lot of light. I'm sitting here on the window seat, with my laptop on my knee, writing this to you — although it's dark now, during the daytime it's a lovely place to sit with the light streaming over my shoulders.'
Dangerous territory, thought Lois. It was a long time since either of them had mentioned, however casually or incidentally, anything remotely approaching a suggestion of meeting up. But he had swiftly backed away from it. She wondered with a pang how she would have responded if he had suggested that she come to visit him.
'But on to other things,' Scribe continued. 'I've just finished reading The Downing Street Years — Margaret Thatcher's memoirs. Have you read it? It's a fascinating book — she's pretty loopy, of course, and her memory of events isn't exactly objective. Not even strictly accurate, in some cases! But as political biographies go, it's entertaining if you take it with a pinch of salt. Unlike An Evil Cradling, which I got sent over from England last month. It's by Brian Keenan — you know, one of the Beirut hostages? The book came out last year, but I didn't get to see it when it first came out. Now that's a disturbing book, but well worth reading …'
Scribe continued in the same vein for a few paragraphs, extolling the virtues of the latest books to have captured his interest. He was an eclectic reader, which was one of the many things which appealed to Lois about him; her own tastes in literature and non-fiction were extremely varied, and she loved swapping recommendations with her penfriend. He had introduced her to many books she wouldn't have dreamed of reading, and in most cases he had been right: she'd enjoyed them.
Then she came to his final paragraph.
'I don't expect you'll see this for a few days: you see, my Tornado, that I'm well used to your work patterns! I know that you work late more often than not, and that you come home too tired to check your mail or to reply to me. But I can be very patient; this is one aspect where you and I differ, I think! I'll look forward to your reply, whenever you get the time.
'Sleep well and be safe,
Not for the first time after receiving one of Scribe's long and affectionate emails, Lois found herself fantasising about meeting this enigmatic man who, paradoxically, she felt she knew better than anyone else in the world. He certainly knew *her* better than anyone else; and if he understood her as well as he did, then surely he wouldn't find her a disappointment? He wouldn't have continued writing to her all these years if he hadn't liked the person he knew from her letters, would he? Was it possible that *he* could be the elusive Mr Right whom she'd decided simply didn't exist?
But he was probably already living with someone, or married, she told herself caustically. After all, if he was in reality as considerate, charming, kind and thoughtful as his letters suggested, then there was no way he'd be single. And anyway, she added cynically, in reality he would probably be a disappointment. It just wasn't credible that one man could really be as perfect as Scribe seemed to be. Which was a very good reason why they should never meet.
Though she was wrong about there being no such thing as a perfect man, Lois corrected herself. Superman seemed about as close to it as anyone could get …
She clicked 'Reply' and wrote:
'Has it ever occurred to you that it might be my hectic social life which prevents me from checking my mail as often as you seem to be able to?
'Your new apartment sounds nice. I hope you have plenty of bookcases …'
When she'd finished, she hit 'send' and, yawning, went to bed. The following morning, impulse led her to check her mail again before leaving for work; if he'd replied to her message, then she could show him that she didn't always leave it for days before checking for fresh email.
There was a message; it downloaded quickly and she scanned it.
Message dated 5 October 1993, 00:56 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'My dear Tornado,
'You wrote: > Has it ever occurred to you that it might be my hectic social life which >prevents me > from checking my mail as often as you seem to be able to?
She grinned in spite of herself, fired off a one-word reply and left for work.
Nothing could have prepared her for the events of that day. Towards the end of the afternoon, several anonymous-looking men in smart suits marched into the newsroom and spread out around it, preventing movement. One man announced that he had a warrant from a Federal Court, and instructed staff to stand back from their desks.
Perry was none too impressed, of course, and tried to order the men out, but the one who seemed to be in charge, a tall, thick-set bruiser in his late forties, told him bluntly to take it up with Washington. It seemed that they had warrants compelling Lois to produce evidence … and requiring Clark Kent to do the same. What could they possibly want with Kent, Lois wondered incredulously. Before she could make any protest, however, she was being seized by one of the men; out of the corner of her eye she noticed two men trying to manhandle Kent away from his desk. He was putting up a fight, but suddenly a gun was produced. Whatever this was, it was serious.
Lois attempted to remind the federal agents of the constitutional protection afforded to journalists, but they didn't seem to be particularly interested, scoffing at her and telling her to take it up with the courts. Damn right she would! She'd sue their butts off!
Then their leader told them what he was looking for. He was trying to find Superman, and he had no intention of leaving until he found him.
The next hour or so seemed like something out of a nightmare to Lois. Perry actually suggested to the two of them that they should take the polygraph test the agents were demanding! Lois couldn't believe that he could capitulate so easily. Then it transpired that the alternative was for the agents to confiscate their computers and all their files, zip drives and so on. Sure, Perry would get on to the Planet's lawyers, and start suing like mad, but by then it would be too late. As Lois protested, Perry laid the options on the line.
"Well, you talk, they walk," he pointed out. "You don't, well, they're going to confiscate the whole shebang."
There was no way Lois was going to allow that; there were files on her computer she had no intention of allowing another living soul to see. The polygraph test began to seem a little more appealing, but suddenly Kent began to get twitchy. Lois frowned; she couldn't understand his problem. The man was so clean he squeaked as he walked! How on earth could he have a problem with a lie-detector test? As Perry pointed out, none of them knew enough about Superman to need to lie.
But Kent was still looking worried. Lois began to get suspicious: was there something he was hiding?
He agreed to the test, though, and they both had to submit to the indignity of being hooked up to the machine and being asked intimate and embarrassing questions. Like whether she had a romantic attachment to Superman! She denied it, but the machine's indicator began to lurch about in complete rejection of her answer. <Oh, Scribe, I'm just so thankful you can't see me now> she thought. <You'd think I've gone completely crazy!>
Much later that night, once all the fuss caused by the discovery that the warrant Trask had produced was fake, and Lois and Kent had been allowed to go home again, Lois sat at her desk staring blankly at the wall. Lucy had gone out, and had warned her sister not to expect her home before at least 4 am; it was the opening night of some new nightclub, apparently.
Unable to make any progress at all on the question of why some nutters would go to all the trouble of getting a phoney warrant in order to find Superman, she booted up her laptop and opened the mail software. Her emotions had been in a highly disturbed state ever since the polygraph test, and Scribe was the one person she felt comfortable about confiding in.
'I had *such* a weird day at work today! I won't go into details — well, even if it didn't break our rules, you just wouldn't believe me! Talk about something out of a movie plot! But it's made me think about something, and I badly need to talk to someone about it.
'Okay, I'm well aware that on several occasions over our long acquaintance you've told me I'm crazy. I know you'll say the same thing now, but our friendship is so long-standing I feel I can tell you anything. Of course, it helps that I can't see your face, or hear your voice, as I tell you … <g>
'Well, it's like this. Have you ever fallen in love with someone you hardly know? And yet, you're convinced that you're just meant for each other. There's something in that other person which calls to you on a deep, subconscious level … Okay, I know that sounds really weird, and probably just like some schoolkid's crush on a pop star. But it's not like that. I've met someone, and as soon as I saw him I just *knew*. The way he looked at me; the way he held me — the way I felt when he spoke to me. The way he smiled straight at me when he said goodbye … We haven't really seen each other since, but I can't get him out of my mind. I really think I might love him, and I haven't the faintest idea what to do about it.
'Yeah, go on, tell me I'm crazy and that I need to wake up and smell the coffee. I've told myself that enough times already. But somehow it just doesn't work. I know he's the right man for me. He's just perfect.
'And he's way, *way* out of my reach!
She sent the message, and once the dialog box told her it had gone it also warned her of incoming mail. She clicked on the message once it had been downloaded, and read it in surprise.
Message dated 5 October 1993, 22:04 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
You asked, > Why??
'I presume that this was in answer to my scepticism about your hectic social life! You know, I wonder whether you realise just how much you've told me about yourself over the years we've been writing to each other. I *know* you don't have a hectic social life. I know you haven't dated seriously in years, not since that creep who used you and dumped you (and if you only knew just how much I wanted to trash all our rules about anonymity right then and come and tell him just what I thought of him for treating you like that … !). I know you work long hours because you love your job and you want to get to the top — and also because the alternative is sitting at home on your own, watching trashy soap operas and crying into your tub of ice cream, or maybe reading one of the many books we recommend to each other.
'If you really did have a 'hectic social life,' my little Tornado, nothing would please me more!
'I'll stop here before I go beyond the boundaries of what's acceptable between us, but believe me when I say that I do worry about you sometimes.
Lois closed the message and stared out the darkened window for a long time afterwards. Scribe was right, of course; she had no social life whatsoever. Lucy had taken to saying the same thing lately, and recently even accused Lois of having 'interviews,' not dates. Oh, she had gone on occasional dates in recent years, but not with anyone she would seriously consider as a partner. Look at the last one, she reflected with a grimace. Mitchell. The hypochondriac. It had been a relief to cross him out of her address-book. After Mitchell, she'd decided to give up on dating for a while; it was just too much effort to be polite to some self-important bore when a good book or decent documentary on TV was so much more appealing.
Involuntarily, it crossed her mind to wonder what an evening spent in Scribe's company would be like. She couldn't imagine being bored: his letters and emails had always amused and fascinated her. He would be stimulating company, she was sure. They would never be at a loss for conversation, and she was sure that he would have the ability to make her laugh in person just as much as through his emails. He would also be a perfect gentleman … his emails were always so courteous. For a moment, she allowed herself to imagine sitting across a table from Scribe in an intimate restaurant, the lighting dimmed, his face highlighted by the flicker of candlelight, his eyes laughing down at her from behind his glasses …
But that wasn't a good idea at all. All the arguments against meeting him in real life still held. He would inevitably be a disappointment. And *he* would be disappointed in her. It would almost certainly destroy what was the most important relationship in Lois's life. She couldn't bear to lose the best friend she had ever had.
No, meeting him would be crazy. It occurred to her suddenly that she had no idea in any case whether he was married, single or living with someone; that surprised her. She felt that it was information which he should have shared with her; after all, she had confided with him the details of her love-life and past relationships, and occasionally referred in letters to her single and solitary state. Yet he rarely referred to female friends. This new apartment of his — did he share it with someone? She wondered whether he considered that side of his life too private to include in letters to her; the thought made her feel excluded.
But, on the other hand, that had been part of their rules. No information which was strictly personal or identifiable. Just because she had talked to him about past boyfriends didn't mean that he had to reciprocate.
No, forget Scribe as a potential date, she told herself firmly. There was Superman … oh, what it would be like to spend an evening in his company! Although she knew very little about him, and they hadn't spoken on the flight back from EPRAD, she somehow was sure that he would be an entertaining and solicitous companion. He was bound to be knowledgeable. He had surely been all over the world; he must have lots of incredible stories about that. And, of course, there was his own story: where did he come from? Was he human or an alien? Just how did his powers work, and what else could he do that she hadn't seen yet? Did he have a girlfriend … ?
Fat chance, Lane! she told herself coldly. If he had been remotely interested, he would have followed up before now. It was a couple of weeks since their first meeting, and there had been no contact at all. Yet he knew where she worked, and she was very sure that he could find out where she lived without difficulty. <No, forget dating Superman. In your dreams, Lane!>
Unbidden, the thought of sharing a dinner date with Clark Kent popped into her mind. What was she thinking about? she told herself crossly. Kent — the hack! The farmboy! Would he know how to make conversation about anything other than wheat or cattle? Of course, it was *corn* in Kansas, or at least in the part of Kansas where he came from, as he'd reminded her on a couple of occasions. Wheat, corn … what was the difference? On the other hand, she reminded herself slowly, he did seem to have travelled quite widely - hadn't he worked for some newspaper in Borneo at some stage? And he seemed well-educated — he had come out with some obscure quotations on a couple of occasions. And he read Mandarin Chinese! But Kent … no. No, not possible. Not in this millennium, she muttered with a grimace.
Scribe worried about her … in a way, that was comforting. But it was also a little humiliating, because it suggested that he'd seen through her chatty emails about her successful career and happy life. The anonymous relationship, which she'd been attracted to precisely because of the discretion it offered her to allow her correspondent to see only what she wanted him to see, was suddenly not quite so anonymous. Did he know everything about her — her insecurities, her fear that the reason she couldn't find a decent man was because *she* was unloveable? She hoped not.
She switched off the laptop without replying to Scribe's mail.
"See, that should read 'a spokesperson for the FBI,'" Clark objected, his finger stabbing the page she had given him to read.
She glared at him irritably. "What?"
"Your second paragraph, you have it saying that 'The FBI says it has no existing operations concerning Superman.' The FBI isn't a person, it can't speak," he explained, too pedantically for Lois's liking. Briefly, it crossed her mind that Scribe might well have made a similar criticism; he also had a tendency to prefer correct English to what he'd once referred to as lazy construction.
"Clark, that's why we have editors," she told him, her tone icy. Scribe was welcome to correct her — he'd earned the right over the years, after all. Kent needed to learn his place in the pecking order!
"Morning, Lois," another irritating voice came from behind. It was Cat, who today was wearing a leopard print jacket, another outfit completely unsuited for the newsroom, Lois thought. Cat's voice then dropped to a sensuous purr. "Clark!" Cat kissed his cheek before going to her desk. "Sleep tight? I did," she murmured huskily, with a sensuous smile.
Oh, of course, Lois remembered. Clark had been at Cat's apartment the previous evening, after Perry had warned them not to go home. And when she'd tried to speak to him, there had been some very strange music in the background, and Cat had informed her that Clark was 'busy'. She grimaced, and returned her attention to her work. If Clark was the kind of man who was attracted by someone so … *obvious* as Cat, then she could only be thankful for her good sense in dismissing him as a potential date. Again, she couldn't see Scribe being taken in by someone like Cat; he had far too much sense, and, she suspected, much better taste.
"Nothing happened," Clark stated. But Lois wasn't interested. She glared at him.
"Clark, you can do the horizontal rumba with the entire Met Net cheerleading squad for all *I* care. Just keep your hands off my copy." She snatched the pages from him, and tried to ignore his subsequent male-bonding conversation with Jimmy. Did all men behave like that when they were in groups? Was it some sort of primeval herding instinct? She must ask Scribe some time … perhaps.
The remainder of the day was equally frustrating, their 'lead' on the mysterious federal agents getting them precisely nowhere, and Lois was only too pleased to leave for home a little earlier than usual that day.
She put off checking her email for a long time; she had regretted her previous evening's email to Scribe by the time she'd woken up that morning, and she was almost dreading what kind of scathing response she might get >from him. Especially after last night's email all but telling her he felt sorry for her, she reflected dispiritedly. Face it, Lois, she told herself. You've messed up this relationship the same way you mess up just about every relationship in your life.
Finally, at close to midnight when Lucy had gone to bed, she couldn't resist any longer; something just seemed to draw her to the laptop. There was mail, and she counted the seconds as it downloaded. Disconnecting, she deliberately left Scribe's email until last.
Message dated 6 October 1993, 01:23 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'I'm not really sure how to respond to your last email. You say you've fallen in love with someone you barely know, but that he's perfect in every way?
'My dear friend, I thought you were far too cynical to believe in perfection? Or is that cynicism just a disguise, as I've suspected for a long time now?
'Tornado, there is no such thing as a perfect man — or a perfect woman, for that matter. Everyone has faults, and I think what makes love so special is our ability to love that person despite their faults — sometimes even because of them. For example, I know a woman who is stubborn and opinionated as well as brilliant — and it's those faults which make her human. I have to admit that she's also beautiful, which doesn't hurt ;) But she sure isn't perfect. And although I don't have a snowball's chance in hell with her, I wouldn't want her to be perfect anyway. Perfect sounds boring! <g>
'From what I know of you, though — and you probably won't like this — my guess is that you're projecting your feelings onto this man you barely know, who you say is 'way out of your reach,' because you're scared to allow yourself to have feelings for someone who might be *within* your reach. I'm no psychologist, but I'd guess that you're scared of being hurt again and so you're choosing to focus on someone who can't possibly hurt you, because you'll never have a real relationship with him.
'This can't be good for you, my Tornado. Please, stop this fantasy and come back to the real world.
'Don't shoot the messenger, my friend; if I didn't care about you very much I wouldn't say any of this.
'Write to me soon.
'Your friend, believe me,
Blinking back tears, Lois shut down the laptop and went to bed.
Over an hour later, she still lay sleepless, her thoughts still dwelling on Scribe's email. His words had hurt more than she could have imagined, though part of her recognised that he was right. Her feelings for Superman were a fantasy. There was no way they could be anything else. He would never feel anything for her. Why should he, when someone like him could have any woman he wanted?
But it was Scribe's assertion that she was using this fantasy to escape living in the 'real world' which really hurt, especially on top of his previous message in which he'd told her he knew she didn't date and that he worried about her as a result.
He probably thought of her as a frustrated, dried-up old spinster!
And … there had been something else in that email which had disturbed her. For the first time since he'd been at college, Scribe had mentioned a woman in his life. Okay, not *in* his life, strictly speaking — which meant that maybe he wasn't involved with anyone — but someone he was obviously attracted to.
<I'd love to have a man describe me the way Scribe described that woman> Lois finally admitted to herself.
Lois didn't look at her home email account for a couple of weeks after that, half-afraid of what she might find. She hadn't replied to either of Scribe's emails, unsure of what she could say and unwilling to reveal, however unwittingly, how hurt she'd been by what he'd said. <No, not what he said> she admitted to herself eventually; <the fact that he was right and I hate that he knows that about me>
There was enough going on at work to distract her, anyway, what with getting thrown out of an aeroplane by the madman Trask and being rescued by Superman, getting her first exclusive interview with Superman, and then a very strange investigation involving an invisible man. Perry teamed her up with Clark as partners, which Lois wasn't too pleased about, especially when Clark seemed to assume that, as her partner, he had a duty to understand and sympathise with her about her family and her relationship with her father — as luck would have it, her father turned out to be involved in their second investigation as partners.
As well as all that, Lucy finally moved out of the apartment; although Lois missed the company, she was quite relieved to have her apartment to herself again. Lucy wasn't exactly a restful person to live with, Lois conceded ruefully. And it was nice to know that her wardrobe wasn't being raided continually.
But things weren't all bad, although she was beginning to think that she was definitely cursed when she couldn't even manage to buy a date with Superman at a charity auction. The man himself appeared out of nowhere early the next morning while she was at Clark's apartment, guarding their 'invisible man,' and to her joy he told her she would always be special to him. *She* would always be special to Superman? She was barely able to stammer a reply, especially since the expression in his eyes seemed to say much more than his words.
Even more flattering had been Superman's reaction when he'd later rescued her from the bank vault where she and Alan Morris had been locked by Barnes, the gold thief. Superman had crashed through the wall, and somehow she just *knew* he had instinctively been searching for her. She had, of course, been extremely relieved to see him, but the look in his eyes when he'd seen she was safe and alive had been very gratifying. Even better, he'd swept her into his arms for a warm embrace before scooping her off her feet to carry her out to safety. He *did* care about her!
And her relationship with Clark also seemed to be improving. While waiting for a lead in their invisible man story, he had made her some tea and taken her out onto the balcony of his apartment; they had talked, and she had actually enjoyed the conversation. For once, she'd actually felt an affinity with this farmboy who was now her partner. To her amazement, she had actually found herself resting her head on his shoulder at one point, enjoying the sensation of his solid, strong body next to hers. Some days afterwards, he had backed her up with Perry, at risk to his own career, when she had decided not to write up the boxing fraud scandal implicating her father, and she had appreciated his silent support during a subsequent difficult interview with Sam Lane.
Perhaps having Kent for a partner wasn't such a bad thing after all, Lois reflected one evening in late October as she returned home from work. He seemed to be able to hold his own on the investigation side, and his writing skills, though in need of sharpening up, were sound. He might do, she thought. Just as long as he remembered his place. She didn't even object to his teasing any more, which was strange; she realised suddenly that Clark seemed to be able to get away with remarks she would never accept from other newsroom colleagues. He just seemed to have a certain way with him … and the way those brown eyes of his sparkled when he teased her was just … Just what? she asked herself. Irresistible? <Don't be so stupid, Lane!>
Her laptop stared accusingly at her as she ate her meal later on; although she had used it for drafting articles and making notes for her novel, she hadn't checked her email for a while. Grimacing, she took her empty plate into the kitchen and booted up the computer, connecting to her ISP. It was time she replied to her friend, and in doing so, faced up to what she had been doing to her life.
There were several messages, four of which were from Scribe.
Message dated 7 October 1993, 23:38l >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'I hope you didn't take offence at my last couple of emails. You know I care about you and would never want to hurt you.
'Let me know how you're doing.
Message dated 10 October 1993, 01:32 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'It's been several days now and I haven't heard from you. Oh, sure, I know it could be that you're working late every night and just haven't had time to check your email. But I wish I could believe that!
'Please write and tell me you're okay. And forgive me for intruding too much.
Message dated 15 October 1993, 21:43 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'Okay, it's ten days now. Tornado, I know I went too far with what I said. I have a pretty good idea that I hurt you. I wish I could undo the harm I've done.
'Please, write to me! I care about you, and I don't want to lose your friendship. I also don't want to see you go through your life without finding happiness, though, which is why I was as blunt as I was. But I made a mistake, and I'm sorry.
'Even if you never want to talk to me again, please reply, just to let me know where I stand.
Message dated 21 October 1993; 23:21 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'Not for the first time, I wish I knew where you were! If I did, then at least I could call you, or visit you, to make sure you're all right. I've gone beyond being sorry that it looks like our friendship is over, and have now started worrying that there might be something wrong.
'Please reply, even if it's only to tell me to get lost.
'I miss you.
Lois winced. It had never occurred to her that her lack of communication would cause Scribe this amount of concern. She'd delayed checking her email because she hadn't wanted to see her dearest, and only real, friend expose more of the truth about herself to her gaze. Yes, she knew that what he had said about her was true. But it hurt to know that *he* knew it.
Gritting her teeth, she started a new mail, determined to be as honest with him as he had been with her.
'I'm sorry, I never meant to worry you. I only checked my mail tonight and found your messages. I guess I owe you the truth — I was putting off reading my mail because I didn't want to know what else you'd figured out about me. I was pretty shocked to realise just how well you did understand me — better, even, than I know myself. And it was kind of hard to accept that what you said about me was true.
'Yeah, you were right in what you said about me. But I suppose I didn't want to accept that you knew me that well. After all, one of the best things about this friendship, for me, has always been that you've never met me. I guess I still tend to believe that if you did meet me you might not want to be my friend any more. I do seem to have a talent for scaring people off. (Though maybe that's not entirely true — remember I told you about the new guy at the office? The greenhorn? He's turning out to be pretty okay, I guess, and we're getting on pretty well now. We might even manage to be friends one of these days. I almost like him. Not that I'd tell him that, of course. Can't have him getting cocky!)
'Anyway, I'm okay. Really, I am. And I won't ask your advice on my love-life again, I promise! And I missed you too.
'But I would like to know — *who* is this stubborn, brilliant woman you admire so much? Should I be jealous? J/K! <g>
"Hey, Clark — what's up? You're looking kind of glum." Lois paused by her partner's desk, and he raised his gaze to hers.
"Hi, Lois … oh, nothing, I guess," he replied in a tone which Lois recognised as 'butt out'. Perversely, she decided not to accept the brush-off, and she perched on the edge of Clark's desk.
"Come on — is there a problem? Something up with your parents? Overdrawn at the bank? — you know, if that's it I could probably help out … ?"
He smiled wryly. "Thanks, Lois, but I don't need a loan. And my parents are fine." He leaned back in his seat and regarded her thoughtfully. "I guess you're not going to go away until I give you an answer, huh?"
Clark sighed, a habit Lois was becoming familiar with. Her partner was, for some reason, a major sigher. But he ran his hand through his thick dark hair and studied her through his dark brown eyes. "Okay. Not that there's anything you can do, but I'm just kind of worried about a friend of mine."
"What — what's wrong with him?" Lois asked, concerned.
"Her," he corrected. "As to what's wrong, I don't know. I just haven't heard from her for a while, that's all."
Lois frowned. "Well, why don't you go and see her? Or just give her a call?"
"It's not quite as simple as that," he replied dismissively. "But I might have to do something if I don't hear from her soon."
"A … close friend?" Lois asked, curious in spite of herself.
She was surprised at the expression which crossed Clark's face. "Probably the closest friend I have. I've known her a long time, and she's very special to me."
"Oh." Clark's expression making her feel almost as if she was intruding, Lois stood and began to back away. "Well, I … uh, I hope you manage to touch base with her soon."
Probably someone from Smallville, Lois reflected as she returned to her own desk. <She must be pretty special to make him look like *that* when he thinks about her … why doesn't anyone feel that way about me?>
"You're doing *what*?" Clark's voice had risen several notches in his appalled horror at Lois's bland statement.
"I told you. I'm going under cover at the Metro Club. It's the best way to find out exactly what's happening in Riverview. And anyway," she added, throwing him a challenging glare, "have you come up with a better idea? Even Superman can't find out what's going on!"
Lois turned to Perry, "You can see it's a great opportunity, can't you?"
Perry sighed. "Lois, of course it's a great opportunity. But Clark's right - this could be dangerous. I want you to promise me you won't take any unnecessary risks, okay?"
"Chief — you can't mean you're going to let her do it?" Clark exclaimed in disbelief. He swung around to stare at Lois briefly before returning his gaze to their editor. "Come on, Chief, telling Lois not to take any risks is like waving a red rag in front of a bull. Of *course* she'll take risks!"
Perry smiled slightly. "Well, Kent, it's always been my policy to stand behind my reporters and their methods one thousand percent. Why, if you opened up that window, said you could fly, I'd back you up. I'd miss you, but I'd back you up."
Lois smiled, enjoying her victory; she turned to Clark with a silent 'I told you so' expression, and noticed a very strange expression on his face. It was almost as if he'd been caught out in something. She frowned at him, but he very quickly rearranged his features into a bland stare.
Perry waved them out of his office. "Lois, you remember what I said. And Kent, you know, if you can't stand the heat …"
"It's too dangerous," Clark stated bluntly as they returned to their desks.
"Not for me," Lois insisted firmly, refusing to be deterred by her partner's over-zealous caution. She was well capable of looking after herself — had Kent even bothered to read her work? If he had, he'd see that she'd been doing these kind of investigations while he was still a wet-behind-the-ears Kansas hack. Not that he still *wasn't* a wet-behind-the-ears Kansas hack, but that was beside the point.
He was still beside her. "Lois, those guys aren't just club owners, they're gangsters."
She swung around to face him, speaking with bare patience. "Look, it's very simple. The Metro gang controls Riverview. Riverview's on fire. I'm going to find out why."
With dogged determination, Clark continued. "You should've discussed this with me before you took it on."
"Why would I do that, Clark?" she asked with a limpid stare in his direction.
"Because we're a team," he replied stubbornly.
She gave him a triumphant grin. "But sometimes players have to wait on the bench while other players carry the ball." <Scribe, you'd be proud of me. You've sure managed to give me an education in sports metaphors over the years — and I *hate* sports!>
"You're in over your head," he pronounced flatly.
Echoing Perry's words, Lois answered, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the story. Besides," she added, "I am first and foremost a professional and I certainly wouldn't do anything to compromise
my personal safety or the integrity of my work."
She had cause to regret that statement a moment later when Jimmy brought over the outfit which she would wear for her undercover role at the Metro Club: a chicken costume. But even Clark's and Jimmy's amused expressions weren't as humiliating as learning to cope with being groped in the performance of her waitressing duties at the Club later, and she certainly felt ridiculous preparing to go onstage in the chicken outfit. But it was for the story, she kept reminding herself. All in the interests of the scoop. And it was already turning out to have been a great move, she reflected as she touched up her makeup: earlier that afternoon she had managed to get into a meeting of the Metro Gang, and had gained a great insight into a power struggle between Johnny Taylor and his sister Toni.
Just then she glanced out through the curtains to the bar area, and nearly collapsed in horror. A man leaned against the bar, dressed roughly and with an old woollen cap on his head. He wore heavy glasses and an untidy goatee beard and moustache, and his dark hair, under the cap, looked dirty and unkempt. But she would know that build anywhere. She grabbed Kent and pulled him back behind the curtains, demanding to know what he was doing there.
They argued for a few minutes, Clark insisting that he'd come to back her up and Lois insisting that she needed no backup. He noticed the feathers of her costume poking out through the gap in her robe and made a smart remark, which didn't please her at all and made her answer him sarcastically when he asked how she'd managed to get her information about the Metros. He compounded his offences totally by addressing her as 'sweet cheeks,' presumably copied from one of the stage hands, as he left.
<And to think I thought Kent might actually turn out to be a friend!> Lois thought furiously as she danced onto the stage. He was still at the bar as her number progressed, though he appeared to be deep in conversation with the bartender and later, Toni Taylor herself. But all thoughts about his interference fled her mind a few moments later as four metallic-clad figures burst in. The strange laser-like objects they were holding belched flames, and seconds later the club was on fire.
In the confusion Lois could barely see what had happened, but somehow everyone was outside and the flames had been extinguished. She went back inside and found Clark staring at some letters which had been etched on the wall. Was it her imagination, or had he somehow managed to rescue Toni Taylor from behind a wall of flames? Her anger forgotten, she settled into investigative-journalist mode, discussing the meaning of the word 'Toasters' etched into the wall.
That night, she fell into bed too exhausted to check her email; the following day was even more hectic. Apart from having to help, in her undercover role as waitress/dancer, in cleaning up the Metro Club, she had to get into the Planet in time to supply Clark with up-to-date information for her story,. He further aroused her ire at that point by conspicuously eating a chicken drumstick in front of her, even having the audacity to offer her one. Her annoyance with him increased further when she realised that he must have told Perry about the chicken suit. Some loyal partner he was!
Lois connected to her ISP's mail server, but her lip trembled as the dialog box flashed up to declare 'No new mail.' Even Scribe had deserted her!
As if it hadn't been bad enough that Clark had muscled in on her story by getting himself an undercover position as barman, he had then proceeded to blow her cover in the most appalling, disloyal manner possible, by telling Toni Taylor that she was the spy who had printed the Metros' secrets in the Planet. On being ordered to throw her out, Clark had then tossed her over his shoulder, and humiliated her totally by dropping her in a dumpster. Not just any dumpster, but one containing smelly, rotting vegetables.
When she'd later gone around to his apartment to challenge him about his behaviour, he had been part-way through a pathetic justification on the basis of her being in danger when Toni Taylor had arrived. Clark's reaction had suggested that it was a prearranged meeting. He had accused her of being jealous — as if she would be jealous of Kent's interest in another woman! If he was fool enough to want to sleep with a gangster, that was his business.
The problem was that when she'd got home and had changed into her old robe and sat eating ice-cream, she had realised that she *was* jealous. But that was crazy: if she had romantic feelings for anyone, it was Superman. Not Clark — especially not after his behaviour earlier. What was wrong with her? Was she so desperate for someone to love her that she was even viewing men who were clearly not worth her notice as potential romantic partners? <Oh, Scribe, I don't even want to *think* about what you'd make of that!>
Even the arrival of Lex Luthor, who sympathised with her and assured her of his discretion, didn't make her feel any better, though she told herself that it should; after all, Luthor was a very wealthy, powerful and good-looking man who clearly found her attractive. But she just couldn't respond to Lex in that way.
And now Scribe, who had always been so prompt in his replies to her, hadn't written to her since she'd replied to his last message.
Feeling alone and abandoned, she pulled on some warm clothing and slipped out of her apartment and over to Clark's place. He might be stupid enough to get involved with a crime boss, but as his partner the least she could do was to get him proof that Toni Taylor couldn't be trusted.
"Another great story, you two," Perry pronounced as he raised his head from the copy Lois had handed him. "See, Kent, all the risks, all the danger, it was worth it all."
Clark shrugged, then looked away as Lois glared at him.
Turning back to Perry, she added, "We should be popular with the police department too — not only did we stop the Toasters, but my investigation also unmasked Toni Taylor as leader of the Metro Gang. And Clark personally handed her over to the cops." She shot Clark another glance, curious to see his reaction to that comment.
His expression didn't change, but he observed softly as they left the editor's office, "She wasn't all bad."
"No one's all bad, Clark. Or all good. Except Superman. Which reminds me," she added scornfully, "you sure showed your bad side over the past couple of days. To think I was even beginning to imagine that we could be friends … I don't know what I was thinking of."
<No-one's all good … except Superman> she reflected. <Even Scribe would have to admit that … but if I told him it was Superman I'm in love with, he'd think I've completely flipped>
She began to walk off towards her desk, but caught sight of the expression on her partner's face. He looked stunned, as if he'd learned something about himself and realised he didn't like it very much.
He walked swiftly to her side, catching her arm lightly. "Lois, I know it looked bad. But I promise you, I was only trying to look out for you — "
"You have a funny way of showing it, Kent," she retorted. "And anyway, you're not my father, or my husband, and even if you were it still wouldn't give you the right to take control of my actions. So back off, lose some of your darned cockiness and learn some better journalistic ethics. *Then* I might be prepared to work undercover with you again."
Leaving him standing in the middle of the newsroom, she stalked off.
Message dated 26 October 1993, 20:48 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'Thanks for getting back to me — yeah, I was worried. And I was afraid I'd gone too far with what I said. You know, after more than ten years your friendship means far too much to me to lose it overnight. I always knew that, but somehow over the past couple of weeks, wondering whether I'd ever hear from you again, I really realised how much you mean to me. You are very precious to me, my Tornado.
'You seem surprised that I understand you so well, but you have to realise that it's one of the consequences of this sort of friendship. I've never seen you, never spoken to you, so my impressions of you have been formed through what you say in your letters — and a little bit of reading between the lines too, I guess. You probably don't even realise just how much you've told me about yourself over the years, and if you think about it, you probably know a whole lot about me too. It's a bit like losing one of your senses — the others become more acute in compensation.
'But what the heck do you mean by saying you're afraid that if you meet me I might not want to be your friend??? You'll make me pretty angry if you ever repeat that accusation, you know. What the heck could I find out about you that would change my feelings for you? I already know that you're intelligent, witty, stubborn, a very warm and caring person, but also scared to let your feelings show. I'm pretty sure you have to be attractive, otherwise you wouldn't have men wanting to date you — not that superficial appearances matter, in any case. And you are a true and loyal friend. And I love you for that.
'You know, I've gone along with the rules of this relationship all these years, but you're the one who's insisted on keeping them. I'd have travelled to meet you any time you wanted when you were in college in New Troy, but you preferred to keep things the way they are. Well, if that's how you want it, my little Tornado, then that's fine. But please, don't start predicting my likely reaction if we were to meet, okay?
'You asked about my 'stubborn, brilliant' colleague — should you be jealous? I don't know. Probably not, since she barely knows I exist most of the time (she's a bit like you, crazily in love with a guy who's something of a public figure around here and who she *knows* she can't have). But my chances just dipped through the floor over the last couple of days — she thinks I behaved unprofessionally in relation to something we were working on and now I'm worth less than the dirt on the floor. And I guess she's right, too, but she won't listen to my attempts at apologising. Oh well, what can I do?!
'Maybe you should just marry me, Tornado — then we could comfort each other in our unrequited love instead. Do I need to tell you I'm joking? Probably not. <g>
'I'm glad you're getting on better with your greenhorn colleague. Be nice to him — you were a beginner once, too, you know!
'And … you're welcome to talk to me about anything you want. Any time. I've been told I'm a good listener, and you know you can't get any more discreet than me!
'Thanks for writing. I don't have time to write a lot right now, but it's good to hear from you. I'm sorry about your colleague — I really can't understand why she doesn't appreciate you. She should realise how lucky she is to have you working with her, and grab hold of you!
'As for my 'greenhorn,' well, maybe I spoke too soon. He behaved like he had no respect for me at all this week. Do all guys have this attitude towards women — that we're either the 'little woman' to be patted on the head and told to stay out of trouble, or that we're only there to provide eye candy for them? I may try to get him moved. I'll keep you posted.
'Thanks for what you said — I appreciate it. I'll even try to believe it, too!
'Bye for now,
'Tornado '(just as well you told me you were joking — I might have held you to that proposal!)'
Message dated 14 November 1993, 00:53 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'Thanks for your last couple of messages. Sorry I'm a little slower in replying than usual — I took on some volunteer work on top of my job a while ago, and it's starting to take up a lot of my time, more than I ever expected. Sleep's a luxury these days!
'I enjoyed the books you recommended — there's another I came across recently I think you'd like. When I get organised I'll email you an electronic voucher from Valkyrie for it.
'No, things with the woman I work with — let's call her Mary for the sake of argument — haven't improved that much. Okay, I suppose the fact that she's stopped looking at me like I'm a piece of dirt the dog dragged in is an improvement, but while a few weeks ago I thought we were moving towards a tentative friendship, that's all gone. I guess she wasn't meant for me after all. Maybe I should marry you after all. <g>
'How's the greenhorn? You mentioned you were getting on a little better with him now. I'm glad you forgave him for whatever it was he did. I didn't tell you, but your email made me feel very small indeed — I think I told you I'd had a fight with Mary over something she accused me of doing? Well, when I read your email I could see that I was just as guilty of treating her disrespectfully as your greenhorn was with you. It made me pretty ashamed of myself. The trouble with Mary is that, as far as I can work out, she's had a couple of bad experiences in her past — like you, I guess, though a little different — and it's made her very reluctant to trust anyone. She looked like she was beginning to trust me, then like an idiot I went and blew it.
'You know, I almost wish we could swap — your greenhorn could work with my Mary, and I'll work with you. But I guess that would be in breach of the rules … Pity!
'I'm going to be away for a few days — I'll have my laptop with me, but I might not be able to send any email. Talk to you soon,
'That's a coincidence — I got into work today and discovered my boss was sending us away on assignment. Shouldn't take too long — my considered view is that there's nothing at all worth looking into. But the greenhorn is convinced there is …
'Never mind. Hey, you were pretty quick with that Valkyrie voucher — and thank you! That's a really sweet thought, and I wish I'd thought of it first as a means of giving you a gift. But I can do something about that right now, and I know exactly what I'll send you — a copy of Nancy Friday's Women's Sexual Fantasies. Will you read it? <g>
'You mentioned your job again … you know, I have this image of you as an academic. I can just picture you standing in front of a class, glaring at your students over the top of your bifocals, wearing an old tweed jacket and with your thinning hair brushed over the crown of your head to hide the bald patch. What do you think, huh? But I don't actually want to know whether I'm right or wrong, though, my friend.
'Yeah, life's going pretty okay at the moment. The greenhorn's getting better — he was a real 'jobsworth' at first. You heard that expression? I picked it up from a friend who spent a semester in England — it means someone who observes the rules at the expense of everything else, even common sense. But he's learning to do what needs to be done to finish the job — I was pretty proud of him the other day, *not* that I'll tell you what he did!'
Lois paused there, smiling at the memory of Clark Kent taking advantage of a privileged interview situation to grab potentially incriminating evidence >from an unsuspecting subject. It had been totally unexpected, and she had loved it. She had to admit — not that she would have said it to him — that Clark was becoming a great person to work with. Their styles seemed to complement each other in so many ways. She finished her email and quickly threw a few items in a suitcase; Clark had said he'd give her an hour to get ready then he'd be around with a cab to take them to the airport.
Message dated 18 November 1993, 21.01 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'Rushing again. I told you I was going away for a while, and I'm back now but still busy with this volunteer work I mentioned to you.
'Re your suggestion the other week about my likely career … thanks for the best laugh I'd had all week. Though I'd like to know just what I've done to give you that unflattering an impression of me! Thinning hair, indeed! And bifocals — just how old do you think I am? Just for that, I won't even begin to give you any clues as to what I really do … As for you, I bet you're a really tough lawyer. Or a cop. Yes, I can just see you, standing out on the highway, handing out speeding tickets to hapless drivers … !
'Hey, you thought you'd shock me by sending me Nancy Friday, did you? What makes you think I haven't already read it? Okay, I haven't, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I promise to tell you exactly what I think of it, too! The only thing is … well, there is one thing I've never told you about myself, and that is … I'm kind of inexperienced in that department, if you know what I mean. Not for any sort of moral reason, just that I could never really see the point of doing it with someone I knew I wasn't in love with or had no wish to spend my life with.
'Why the heck did I tell you that?! It's not something I tend to bring up in conversation, as you can imagine, and it surprised the heck out of me … but then, we've been friends for so long that I feel *I* can tell *you* anything! But don't worry, I'm not looking for any sort of similar confession >from you about the extent of your, um … experience … unless you want to, that is … ;)
'Anyway, changing the subject rapidly from that embarrassing topic … thanks for your last email. Yeah, I guess things are a little better now with Mary. She seems to respect me as a colleague now, if nothing else, and we actually managed to have fun together one evening recently when we were away on business. She can be surprisingly good company when she relaxes. I still have a snowball's chance in hell … but I'll settle for being her friend. If she'll let me, of course …
'Ever *your* friend,
'Just got back in — I've been in the office all day after that assignment I told you about. Seems I was wrong — it was a really weird set-up, but we got to the bottom of it. At least, I did; my partner was sick for some of the time, and almost got himself killed too, the fool. But I guess one good thing did come out of it — I think we're friends now. At least, I hope so. He's pretty okay. For a greenhorn, that is.
'Traffic cop, huh? Just watch it — it could be me giving you a ticket one day!
'Are you serious — *you've* never had … um, been with … wow! Sorry, I don't mean to suggest that there's anything weird about being a … you-know-what at your age. I'm just amazed that you haven't had women falling all over you since high school. Unless, as well as wearing glasses, your hair really has all fallen out and you have none of your own teeth left … <g>
Lois paused and contemplated Scribe's last email for a few moments. She had been shocked to discover that her friend was so inexperienced; on the other hand, just because he'd never slept with a woman didn't have to mean he hadn't had relationships. He really seemed to be hung up on this Mary he worked with, she reflected, and was surprised to feel a pang of jealousy.
<Don't be crazy!> she told herself. As if she didn't have enough to worry about with her feelings for Superman, and now the strange way she had started to feel about Clark. When she'd arrived back at the Kent farm just in time to see Trask aiming his gun at Clark's back, she had been shocked at the depth of her fear for him; she had hugged him afterwards as if she never wanted to let him go. So what did she feel for Clark — and how could she reconcile that with her feelings for Superman?
Tempted to lay it all before Scribe in her email, she hesitated. He had a tendency to see rather too much, and she wasn't entirely sure that she wanted to know what he would have to say about the confused state of her emotions. He'd probably suggest that it was another consequence of never having really felt confident of her father's love, she thought with a grimace. He knew her *too* well, and she really didn't want to be told the truth about her motivations right at this moment.
No, the less said about Clark, and Superman, the better — not that there was anything to say about Superman at the moment. She hadn't seen him for a while. And if she did tell Scribe about her feelings for Superman, what on earth would he think? She didn't want to tell him anything which would give away her identity as Lois Lane; despite his reassurances on that score, she still wasn't ready to risk the friendship by telling him everything about her. And without his knowing that she was already known as having some sort of relationship with Superman, even as a journalist who'd had a couple of exclusives, there was no way she could tell him without making herself seem like some sort of crazy groupie. He'd already thought she was crazy when she'd told him about her feelings for the man who was 'out of her reach,' she remembered. No, he wouldn't understand about Superman. Not unless she told him everything, which she wasn't prepared to do. And even if she did tell him everything, she had a sneaking suspicion that he would still think she was crazy.
She finished the email and sat back in her chair, deep in thought. <Darn, it's hot> she realised a few minutes later: it was after 11 pm and it was *November*, but she was breaking out into a sweat. Come to think of it, she mused, it had seemed very hot when they'd arrived back from Smallville that morning. Probably global warming, she thought dismissively, and went to bed.
Four weeks later, Lois was even more confused about her feelings, and even less inclined to say anything to Scribe about it. First there had been the heatwave, and Superman and then Clark had left town. Okay, Superman hadn't had any choice: he'd been drummed out of town by prejudice and paranoia. But there hadn't been any reason at all why Clark should have gone. Superman hadn't said goodbye, but Clark had; he'd kissed her very sweetly before walking out of her life.
That kiss had been a shock. Okay, Lois had kissed Clark before, but this was different. It had been sweet, a brief touch of his lips to hers, a very small amount of pressure with no attempt at all at passion. Yet it had moved her deeply. And the following day she had been unable to work out who she missed more: Clark or Superman.
Clark had come back, though, not long after Superman had reappeared in response to Lois's TV appeal. But she'd had no intention of allowing him to see how much she had been disturbed by his desertion. Instead, she had joked with him, warning him not to get too complacent. He could be replaced, she'd told him. She had already started to look.
Their friendship had seemed to deepen after that. But then something had happened which made her even more confused than she already was about the state of her feelings for Clark and Superman: the Planet employees had been sprayed with a pheromone compound which caused them to fall in love — or lust — and act in a totally uninhibited manner, Lois had focused her attentions on Clark; it had been pretty embarrassing really, and ever since she had been doing her best to forget it. But afterwards they had discovered that the pheromone was only able to heighten an attraction which already existed. Which seemed to suggest that she was actually attracted to Clark. But … what about her feelings for Superman? And why was it that Clark hadn't been similarly affected? Did that mean he wasn't at all attracted to her? That thought was, for some reason, profoundly depressing.
But there had been one highlight to that incident. Lois had run into Superman at the airport, after he had been exposed to a high-level solution of the formula. Under the influence of the pheromone, he had swept Lois into his arms and kissed her passionately. She had responded enthusiastically, forgetting all thoughts of any attraction to Clark — why would she think of him when Superman's kisses were so devastating? It was a shame that he'd only done it because he was under the influence of the pheromone.
After that, though, even more confusing for Lois's emotional state were the days, or rather nights, she spent at the Lexor Hotel with Clark, posing as honeymooners. It was all for an investigation, of course, but she was surprised at how well they adjusted to spending long hours in each other's company. Sure, Clark was now a good friend, but he was surprisingly easy to be with. He still teased her mercilessly, but she actually enjoyed his teasing now. But while they were at the hotel, he had kissed her; all in the interests of maintaining their cover, she'd realised subsequently, but that kiss, and the feel of his body on hers as he'd pinned her to the queen-sized bed … She would never have guessed Clark Kent's kisses could have such a devastating effect on her.
It was strange, she reflected on her first evening home after that investigation ended. A couple of months ago, if she'd had to name her very best friend, there would have been no contest. Scribe, the man who had been her friend since she was fifteen. But now … Clark was running him pretty close to that title. She had even called Clark from the hotel when she'd gone back for a night on her own. And they'd had no trouble finding things to talk about; in fact, she had been reluctant to end the call at the end.
She logged into her ISP and downloaded her email.
Message dated 16 December 1993, 00:23 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'Hi there, Tornado,
'I was just thinking about you last night when I got your message. Seems like you've been busy lately, though you've really mastered the art of telling me about your job *without* telling me! I still haven't a clue what you do for a living, despite my teasing about you being a traffic cop, and since you never told me what you studied at college I can't even figure it out. Guess all I can do is take my petty revenge by not telling you what I do either!'
Lois grinned in amusement; she quite enjoyed her creative descriptions of her working life. She managed to tell Scribe quite a lot, in vague terms, about some of her activities without providing him with any specific information. Of course, there were some things she would never tell him, such as the dance of the seven veils she'd done under the influence of the pheromone, which still made her cringe with embarrassment whenever she thought about it. Or Clark's kiss on the bed in the honeymoon suite which, although he had only intended it to create a diversion, had caused stirrings in her which had left her shaken.
She scanned the rest of his email, which was filled with the usual caustic asides on current political issues, references to books he'd read recently or films he'd seen and which he was interested in her opinion on, and amusing anecdotes from his own life.
The final paragraph caught her attention:
'I note you haven't mentioned your greenhorn friend for a while. Does that mean he's no longer working with you, or that maybe you're liking him a bit too much these days? <g> You know, I'd be really pleased to hear you were dating again.'
Trust Scribe, Lois thought ruefully. He would notice! She replied to that suggestion stating that she had no intention of dating the greenhorn.
<I'm mixed up enough as it is!> she told herself.
'No new mail,' the dialog box proclaimed baldly. Lois grimaced; it had been a couple of days since she'd heard from Scribe and she was getting more than a little concerned. The asteroid was still headed towards Earth, and Superman was missing.
"Scribe, where are you?" she muttered as she composed another email.
'I'm getting worried now. You haven't replied to my last couple of messages, and it's looking like the worst is going to happen. It's 24 hours to impact now, and unless Superman suddenly appears or the government comes up with some magical solution we're all going to die!
'I really, really need to talk to you. Please mail me!
She really was worried. And full of regrets, for the first time in their long friendship. According to EPRAD, there was no likelihood that human life would survive the impact with the asteroid, and there were so many things Lois wanted to do in the short time it seemed any of them had left to live. Her friendship with Scribe had so much unfinished business. She *needed* to contact him, before it was too late. He meant so much to her, more than she had ever told him or let him suspect.
As if Scribe's disappearance wasn't enough, Lois was also coping with Clark's attack of amnesia. He had fallen and hit his head, and the following day had been found wandering around, having forgotten everything about himself. She wanted to help him, but there was so much going on: she needed to write up her reports on the asteroid, and she was also worried about Superman. He had never returned from that trip into space to try to break up the asteroid; while he had succeeded in chipping away some of it, he hadn't been seen or heard of since.
And on top of all that, Lex Luthor — who, as far as Lois was concerned, was just a casual friend — had suddenly asked her to come to live with him in an underground bunker which, he said, would withstand the asteroid's impact and the subsequent destruction above ground. He had actually had constructed an exact replica of her apartment in the bunker. She was flattered at his offer, but had refused. Lois was still bemused at Luthor's inexplicable act in creating that perfect facsimile of her apartment, right down to the flowers on her table, and she was beginning to wonder whether he was entirely sane. Perhaps she would ask Scribe what he thought. If she ever heard from him again. If she was able to 'talk' to him again before the world ended.
She growled. If by some chance disaster was averted, she was going to get Scribe onto IRC!
Message dated 7 January 1994, 22:45 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'I'm really sorry I didn't reply to your last few emails, especially in the circumstances with the asteroid about to hit. The thing is, I've been pretty sick for several days — I was actually really out of it. My parents were with me for part of the time, and I didn't even know them. Pretty scary, huh? I only started getting back to normal yesterday. And by then all the excitement was just about over! I guess if Superman hadn't reappeared just in time I'd probably have died without knowing anything about what was going on, or why.
'Anyway, I'm very sorry I caused you to worry. I know you were trying to get hold of me before the 'big bang'. Were you okay? What were you doing before it was due to impact? I hope you were with friends or family — at least, the people who mean most to you. I'd hate to think that you were alone, instead of with someone who cares about you.
<I was alone … > Lois reflected, then corrected herself. She *had* been with the people who meant most to her: Perry, at the Planet, and briefly with Clark, even though he had still been suffering from amnesia at the time. Despite his barely being aware of who she was, she'd still had a sense that he knew she was someone special in his life. She hadn't been able to get to her parents or her sister, though, but her relationship with her family was increasingly distant.
She finished reading the letter, then clicked 'reply.'
'Scribe, my dear friend,
'I'm *so* pleased to hear from you! I was really worried — and I was pretty upset in the middle of all that asteroid stuff that I couldn't get hold of you. I realised I didn't want to die without saying goodbye to you properly. You've been a part of my life for so long, and you are very special to me. I remember that you told me recently that I was precious to you; I was really touched by that, though I didn't get around to telling you at the time. Thank you.
'Scribe, I'd been going to suggest that we meet — or at least, try to meet, before the asteroid hit. You know I wouldn't have done that under normal circumstances, and now Superman's saved the day I'd still rather we didn't. But I wanted you to know that I did think about it. I didn't want to die without saying goodbye to you properly, and I wanted to do that face to face — just to see you once before we lost everything.'
She paused. Why not meet him? What was there to lose? Surely she trusted him not to make superficial judgements, but to treat her with the same affection and respect he had always afforded her in his letters.
No. He was her closest friend — one of her closest friends, now that Clark had come to mean so much to her. It had taken her a long time to realise it, but Scribe's friendship, his very presence in her life, was essential to her happiness. And she didn't want to risk that friendship by changing the terms on which it existed. In the same way as she wouldn't risk her friendship with Clark by allowing herself to think of him as any more than a friend.
Message dated 22 February 1994, 23:56 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'You know, your boss sounds like a man I'd like. You don't say exactly what he did to protect you and your partner, but he seems to take his responsibilities towards his staff seriously. I admire that. My boss is a bit like that as well, you know. I think they'd get along, if mine didn't bore yours senseless with his endless store of anecdotes.
'I've had a really weird few days. Did I ever tell you I'm adopted? Probably not; well, actually, I was a foundling, and my adoptive parents took me in. We never knew who my real parents were, and I figured I'd never know. Well, it's all kind of complicated, but a couple of days ago I found out where I really come from, and who my parents were. They're both dead - they died not long after they sent me away. They knew they were going to die, but they wanted to know I was safe before they did.
'It's a very strange feeling, Tornado. I've always wanted to know who I really was, but I never thought I'd get to find out. My mom and dad have always been great about it, and if they could have helped me find out they would have. But this happened totally unexpectedly, out of the blue. And now it feels so weird. For the first time in my life I know who I really am; and yet it's not me. I have this completely new identity, but all I want to be is the person I always have been — my folks' son. I have very little affinity to the person I now know I really am. Is that wrong? Am I being disloyal to my real parents?'
The remainder of the email talked about other topics, but Lois scanned it quickly. She was very surprised by this new information about Scribe, but it was also unusual for him to show so much emotion in his emails to her. He seemed, for a change, to be very unsure of himself, which was also new. Even when he'd confessed to his lack of sexual experience he'd been good-humoured about it rather than diffident.
She called up a reply window and after the preliminaries, wrote:
'I think what you're feeling is pretty normal, Scribe. Most adopted children want to learn about their real roots — I've read a lot of research on the subject. But finding out where they really come from isn't always the answer; a lot of the time it can be a disappointment to them.
'It doesn't sound as if you were disappointed in what you found out, but it has left you confused and I'm not surprised. Adopted or not, for almost thirty years (*how* old are you?) you've thought of yourself as one person. Now you have a different identity, and maybe explanations for things about yourself you wondered about — I don't know, physical appearance, genetic traits? And you feel you should have some sort of loyalty or love for your birth parents. But how can you? You never knew them! Since you were a baby, you've only known the people who brought you up. And I *know* you love them. That's always been obvious from your letters.
'It's not disloyal to want to carry on being who you've always been, and you shouldn't feel that finding out who you really are was a mistake. At least you know one very important thing, and that's that your parents didn't abandon you. They gave you away to ensure that you would be safe. That shows they loved you, I think. And if your adoptive parents have been as supportive as you say, then you don't have to worry that they'll be jealous or hurt simply because you now know where you came from. Your feelings for them haven't changed, won't change. And nor will theirs for you.
'Be yourself, Scribe. My guess is you've been around long enough by now to know who that is.'
Lois couldn't imagine anything more bizarre than the situation she found herself in a couple of months later. She had strong feelings for three men in her life; yet she was dating a man who was none of those three, and whom she sometimes felt she hardly knew. How this had happened she wasn't entirely sure, other than that Lex Luthor had kept asking her out, and she had been flattered by his interest — and not a little intrigued — so she'd said yes, and now, after several weeks, they were an established item. She had enjoyed dating him — who wouldn't enjoy being flown to Paris in a private jet for dinner, having a private box at the opera, being sent beautiful bouquets of expensive flowers … it was very flattering, and she suspected she'd felt just a little bit swept off her feet by it all.
Did she love Lex? No. She was well aware that she didn't. She wasn't sure that she altogether trusted him either. But everything else was just such a mess. She loved Superman, but it was perfectly plain that he wasn't interested in her; wasn't likely to be. Clark was … well, not exactly the brother she'd told him he was when he'd lost his memory after the asteroid struck. But she wasn't willing to take a chance with Clark. It was far too risky, even though she was pretty confident that he was attracted to her. They worked together: did she want her love-life to be the subject of newsroom gossip? Could she take the risk that Clark would discuss her with his colleagues in the men's room, that their sex-life would become the subject of informed gossip? Or that he would use the privileged position which being her boyfriend would give him to take advantage of her in some way?
No. Once bitten, twice shy. Clark might not seem to be much like Claude, but you never can tell, she mused. It was a chance she was better off not taking.
So where did that leave her? Her oldest and best friend, Scribe. How did she feel about him? She … was very fond of him. No, she … cared about him. She loved him, she admitted finally. But was she simply transferring those feelings onto her mental image of him? The picture of Scribe which she had built up in her mind over the years? Which might, of course, she reminded herself callously, have nothing to do with reality. And she had, over the years, ruthlessly suppressed any desire to know anything more specific about him, purely because she was afraid that the reality would not live up to that image. She had imagined, for example, that he was a writer or an academic. What if he turned out to be a sleazy divorce lawyer … or, no, a jock? She hated sports players. Or a real estate agent? Or a manual worker?
<Lois, you're being a snob> she told herself. <None of that matters one bit. It's what a man's character is like that counts, not what he does for a living. You *know* Scribe. It doesn't matter who he really turns out to be> But realistically she had to accept that the occupation of the man in her life did matter, to her. It wasn't just a question of being her intellectual equal; Scribe was that and more. It was also a question of compatibilities and respect for each other's work, since her career was such an important part of her life. She could respect Clark in that way. With a qualm, she recognised that she wasn't entirely sure she respected Lex in that way, despite his well-publicised philanthropy.
'Guess what! I've been proposed to!! I've been seeing this guy for a while - I never thought it was serious, he was just fun to be with. I mean, he's charming, cultured, good company and all that, but I thought he just saw me as an amusing companion. I never dreamed … but there it is! I could be the wife of the wealthiest man I know — isn't that just amazing? Not that I care about his money, really, I don't. Money means nothing to me, as long as I earn enough to live on.
'Anyway, I have to think about his proposal. I really wasn't expecting it at all, so it's come as a bolt from the blue. What do you think I should do?
'Yours in delirium,
Message dated 1 May 1994, 23:31 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'If you have to ask me what you should do, then I think you know your answer. You tell me this guy is "charming and cultured" but you don't say you love him. That tells me one heck of a lot.
Lois closed down her email program and stared unseeingly out of her window for a long moment. Scribe seemed singularly unimpressed by her proposal of marriage, completely disregarding the excited tone of her email to him. She grimaced as she remembered that Clark had been even less impressed; in fact, Clark had reacted as if she was about to get into bed with the devil himself. Of course, Clark was probably just jealous, she reminded herself with a scowl. He had no right to allow his own feelings to get in the way of her happiness. If she believed that she would be happy with Lex, then he should be happy for her, right?
Clark and Scribe would probably have a lot in common, Lois mused dryly. It was probably just as well she had never agreed to meet Scribe; if he and Clark had ever got together, between them they'd have made her life a misery.
Message dated 6 May 1994, 00:56 >From Scribe@coolmail.com
'I'm sorry for the tone of my last email to you. I don't blame you for not replying since; you probably think that as your friend I should have been happier for you, or at least been sympathetic to your confusion.
'The thing is, my own life is in pretty much of a mess right now, and I kind of let that affect the way I replied to you. It's a weird coincidence, but Mary — the woman I told you about? — has been seeing this guy I really don't like. I don't trust him one bit, and I suspect his motives where she's concerned. She just thinks I'm jealous, though, and I guess I am, but I also think he's a fake. But she's probably going to accept this guy's proposal, and she's already gone to work for him, so I don't see her any more.
'Things happened with my job as well — the company I worked for had a major setback and it looks as if it's gone out of business. Okay, I'm pretty confident I can get another job, but I just feel as if all the stability has gone out of my life. And I have to admit, the possibility of you getting married as well has added to that.
'Tornado, I've often told you your friendship is really special to me. Well, it's more than that. It's been an anchor and support for me so many times over the years when I've been at a loss as to what to do, where to turn … you're the only person I've told, other than my parents, about finding out about my real parents. You are so very precious to me, and I find I can't face losing you.
'I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that I love you, Tornado. I have for years, you know — this isn't something new. Why else do you think I wanted to meet you when you were at college? I've gone along with your rules and restrictions over the years, always hoping that some day you'd change your mind and I'd get to meet you and then we'd see whether we could have a closer relationship. And you must have known how I felt … you had to know. I know you're afraid of my reaction if we meet, but I really don't see how it could be a problem. What would it matter to me what you look like, or what your job or your life is like? I know what's inside your heart and your soul. Even if you sold yourself on street corners, my feelings for you wouldn't change. They're just not based on external or superficial considerations.
'This isn't a last-ditch attempt to persuade you to ditch this guy and marry me. I could understand it if you don't even believe what I say in this email about my feelings for you, especially as you've put up with me crying on your shoulder, metaphorically speaking, all this last year about Mary. I don't understand that myself. I *do* love you — I've loved you for close to ten years. But I was beginning to despair of ever getting to meet you, and I was sure that any day now you'd meet someone you could get serious about — you told me before that you were in love with someone who was out of your reach. Mary was there … and somehow I developed strong feelings for her too. It confuses the hell out of me.
'This guy who's proposed to you — you mention that he's wealthy. Is he the one you were in love with but who was out of your reach? *Do* you love him? If you love him, then, my Tornado, I wish you happy. But I have to tell you that I won't be writing to you any more once you're married to him. I'm sorry, really I am, and I'll be devastated to lose this friendship. It means so much to me. But I can't carry on like this knowing you're married to someone else. It would hurt too much. You have to understand that.
'Oh, I'm not pleading with you to give me a chance, don't think that. I suppose if you'd wanted to do that you'd have done it years ago. But my love for you makes me want to see you happy, and something didn't seem right to me about your email. If you don't love this guy, DON'T MARRY HIM! You don't *have* to marry anyone. You're a successful career woman who shouldn't need a man to feel fulfilled. But if you need a man in your life, at least choose someone you could love, my dear friend. What ever happened to your greenhorn? I used to suspect you felt more for him than you were letting on. Much as I've wanted you for myself for a very long time, I could be happy for you if I believed you were with someone you love.
Lois stared at the screen in shock. Scribe loved her? Had loved her for years? But … why had he never said anything? <Stupid!> she told herself in return. Of course he'd never said anything; how could he when she'd always been so adamant about the 'rules;' no meetings, no exchange of any personal information which could identify them.
He loved her … and for some time now she had been experiencing these strange feelings for him. But did that mean she loved him? Her best friend, the man who had been her strength and support for so long? Maybe … but could she trust her feelings? Could she trust *him* with her love?
But this was *Scribe* — she'd known him for nearly twelve years! If she couldn't trust him, who the heck could she trust? In all the years she had known him, he'd never let her down. Nor had he ever hurt her, except by telling her the truth and she'd known then that he was right anyway. She knew him better than anyone else in her life; and he certainly knew her, probably better than she knew herself. He had seemed over the years to be a remarkably perceptive individual. So, if he knew her so well, and understood her, he was hardly likely to expect her to be anything other than what she was? He, more than anyone in her life so far, would love her for herself. Not because of what she could do for him, or because he was obliged to because she was his daughter, or because she was attractive and he wanted to get her into bed … but because he *knew* her, and he still loved her.
And this confession was so unusual for Scribe, the man who over the years had actually given her very little insight into his own feelings. Oh, she had usually been able to tell when his life was going well, and when he was in need of a little boost, an amusing anecdote to make him smile. But he'd never mentioned his personal hopes or fears, and only once — when he'd told her about finding his real parents — had he let her have a glimpse into his heart. The man who had frequently given her advice and comfort when things went bad had rarely demanded the same from her. Yet now he had poured his heart out to her.
But there was another problem, which was that despite what he'd said about his feelings for her, he was also hung up on Mary. Did she really want to take a chance on someone who was going to be thinking about another woman half the time? She'd seen her mother go through that all her married life, and it was something Lois had promised herself that she would never allow to happen to her. Her father's affairs had wrecked her mother's life and turned her into an alcoholic. No, Lois had no intention of getting involved with anyone who was likely to two-time her.
But … she didn't want to lose Scribe.
She re-read his email slowly, tears pricking at the corner of her eyes as the raw emotion behind Scribe's remarks leapt out at her. It struck her suddenly that the circumstances he described were oddly like her own, or perhaps Clark's, in that the Planet had been destroyed, so that everyone was out of a job. She had, before reading Scribe's email, almost made up her mind to accept Lex's proposal, and Clark, who she saw as a very close friend, was angry with her because of it. She hadn't seen him for several days, not since Perry's retirement party which had been particularly awful. He had sulked for most of the evening, and had refused to travel in Lex's car with her afterwards.
But … what was she saying? That Scribe could be Clark? No — that was a ridiculous idea! Okay, there did seem to be similarities in their current situations, but that was just coincidence. It had to be. She'd known Scribe for so long, she knew him so well … if by some amazing coincidence he had come into her life in some way, wouldn't she have realised who he was? Of course she would! There was no way that Scribe could have been working beside her for the past nine or ten months and at the same time have been emailing her regularly — she would have noticed something!
No, crazy notion. Absolutely not, couldn't be. It was just a weird coincidence. After all, there were over 260 million people in the USA, and God only know how many of them were men of about Scribe's age. The odds had to be many times higher than winning the lottery that he could actually be someone she knew.
But still … his email had also raised a very disturbing question, one which she had known she had to face herself anyway. He asked whether she loved the man who'd asked her to marry him, and the answer was easy. No. She didn't love Lex Luthor.
Then why was she contemplating marrying him??
Lois sighed. The answer was simple, but almost humiliating to admit. She was considering accepting Lex's proposal because he was there. He had asked her. She was flattered by his obvious admiration. She didn't love him, and so she wouldn't be hurt when the inevitable happened and he became disappointed in her. He had offered her stability at a time when her life was disintegrating around her, and her friends seemed to be deserting her …
<Hold on a minute … >
*Why* were her friends deserting her? Because … none of them approved of her relationship with Lex.
And it was a simple question. Who meant more to her? Lex? Or Perry, Jimmy … and Clark?
Stupid question. Very simple answer.
So why the heck was she even thinking about marrying Lex?
So, okay. Supposing she told Lex she couldn't marry him. What next? She would be alone again.
She glanced down at her screen again. What had Scribe said? "You don't *have* to marry anyone. You're a successful career woman who shouldn't need a man to feel fulfilled. But if you need a man in your life, at least choose someone you could love … "
He was right. She wouldn't be alone if she chose not to marry Lex; being realistic, she was more likely to be alone if she *did* marry him. Her relationship with him was losing her just about every friend she had - including Scribe.
But if she wanted a man in her life … choose someone she could love …
<I could love Clark … I could love Scribe … I love Superman …>
Forget Superman, she told herself bluntly. He was far beyond her reach, and always had been. For all she knew, he might not even be interested in women, or relationships — it might just not be a Kryptonian thing. Or he could have a wife and kids on Krypton already. No, Superman would never do. She suspected that he had subtly been trying to tell her that for some time; and anyway, apart from when he'd been under the influence of the pheromone compound, he'd never done anything to encourage her.
And Scribe … was it too late to salvage anything with him? She desperately hoped that he wouldn't follow through with his threat to end their friendship. Though it wasn't fair to call it a threat, she admitted. He'd made his feelings clear, and she could respect that. She couldn't bear to hurt her friend any more than she clearly had already done. What if she gave him hope that she might return his feelings, and then they met, and she didn't like him after all? Or they found out that there was some reason they just wouldn't suit, or they lived at opposite ends of the country and neither wanted to move … But if she loved Scribe, none of that would matter, would it? They would work together to make sure that their relationship worked out.
But what about Clark? She missed him; missed seeing him at work every day, having him bring her coffee and doughnuts; missed his gentle teasing, his late-night phone calls, his weird ties … heck, she even missed him editing her copy. And the sound of that soft, husky voice of his as he stood behind her, leaning over her shoulder, pointing out something on her screen … it had the power to make the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Clark was, quite simply, an extremely sexy man, a knowledge which she had been suppressing for longer than she should have.
And his kisses were devastating. And being held in his arms felt like …
It felt like coming home.
He was her strength, her support, as Scribe had always been. She ran to him when she was in trouble, or in need of comfort; *physical* comfort, which Scribe could not provide. She looked to him to back her up when she knew she was in difficulties at work, and he had always come through for her. He had saved her life a couple of times already, and life without him was swiftly becoming insupportable. Clark was, quite simply, necessary to her existence.
And Scribe had known that … just how did he know her so well? He was incredibly perceptive, or maybe she just gave away far more than she realised. Maybe he gave away more than she realised as well; she needed to read his letters again in the light of this new information about him.
But first, there was Clark to deal with …
<I'm sorry, Scribe …> For what? For choosing Clark? But she hadn't, had she?
Fighting back the tears which now threatened to overwhelm her, she wrote:
'To say your letter gave me a shock is putting it mildly. I had no idea how you felt about me … really, none at all. I never even suspected — I mean, recently you've even been encouraging me to date more. I guess that's why I started seeing Lex'
She deleted the last word <still keeping secrets, Lois?> and continued.
' … that's why I started seeing the man who's asked me to marry him. But you're right. You made me face up to that. I don't love him, and I can't marry him.
'You know, I feel so *relieved* now that I've made that decision! I've no idea why it was so hard; it should have been easy, but it wasn't, and I've been so confused, and mixed up and depressed … Now that I've decided not to see him again, I feel so much happier. I even … well, I won't say any more about that for now.
'But I have been neglecting my friends, and I need to do something about that. Starting right now, Scribe — *please* don't desert me! I understand how you feel, and I need time to get used to that. I'm … just still stunned, and I don't know how I feel about it. Other than confused … see, you were right about the 'greenhorn' — though he's not really such a greenhorn now.
'I need time to think, Scribe. I have so much to consider, to sort out. But I promise you this — I *will* talk to you before I decide anything. And something else, too. I think it's time I grew up. All these rules I've insisted on over these years — they're all so unnecessary. They always were. I've always *known* I could trust you, and yet I insulted you by not letting us interact as adults, honestly, without barriers and artificial smokescreens. Okay, for a long time it was fun. But it isn't necessary, and I can see that I've probably been hurting you by insisting on it.
'So let's meet. Soon. I don't know where you are — you could be anywhere in the country, for all I know. I'm in Metropolis — you knew I was at college somewhere in New Troy, right? Well, I stayed right here. I won't tell you any more for now, just in case all this stuff has made you decide *you* don't want to know who I am any more.
'Let's talk, soon, yes?
'I love you. I've always loved you. You're my best friend. And … I just don't know whether I'm in love with you. There's someone else I need to talk to first — will you wait for me?
Clark sat on the window-seat in his bedroom, the evening sunlight washing over his shoulders as he read Tornado's latest email. He smiled wryly as he took in this new information: so she wasn't going to marry her "cultured, charming," wealthy man after all? He'd known she wasn't in love with him. How well he knew his Tornado; he wondered whether she had any idea just how much a part of her he had felt over the years they had been corresponding. He had felt for so long that she was simply part of his soul.
And she was finally beginning to trust him; she was prepared to meet him at last. And even more intriguing: she lived in Metropolis. His heart had almost skipped a beat when he'd taken in that information. He could have passed her on the subway at any time, not knowing who she was. He might have said 'hi' to her in the street, a familiar face he saw every day.
But she was now gravitating towards the greenhorn, whatever she said about wanting him to wait for her. He had saved her from the wealthy suitor, only to send her into the arms of her colleague. That guy would probably never know just how much he owed to an unnamed penfriend called Scribe, Clark mused a little bitterly. Not that he ever planned on calling in the favour …
He called up a reply window.
'Of course I won't desert you. I will always be there for you, for as long as you want me'
<That is, until you decide to marry someone else> Clark reflected sadly. Because she would, he knew. Her greenhorn, perhaps. Not him. Maybe it was just as well he had never managed to persuade her to meet up with him. He couldn't have helped but tell her about his 'differences;' he'd wanted to tell her for years, and it had always been so hard to hold back the words. He knew that his letters and emails had told her less about himself as a result. He sighed. Despite his protests to her, the anonymity had in fact suited him at times. And now he wouldn't take her up on her offer to meet. How could he, when she had chosen someone else?
He turned his attention back to the screen, trying to think how best to reply to her. His fingers had just touched the keyboard again when he heard a knock at the outer door.
He swore. He really wasn't in the mood for guests.
X-raying through the walls, he identified Lois at the door. He was completely at a loss to work out what his ex-partner could want, and for a moment he was tempted not to answer, to let her think he wasn't in.
But her knock came again, and he sighed. He was a masochist when it came to this kind of torture. His feelings for Tornado aside, he loved Lois Lane. And if she wanted him — and her face bore a taut, anxious expression — he would be there for her.
Grabbing his glasses and sliding them onto his nose, he hurried to the door.
Lois looked relieved when he opened it. "Clark! I was afraid … when you didn't answer, I thought you weren't here."
"I was in the bedroom," he replied briefly.
Her eyes swept over him. He was the same Clark; the same tall, handsome, muscled man she'd last seen a few days ago. His voice was the same husky, chocolate tones which gave her shivery sensations. His eyes were still dark enough, large enough, to drown in, though the expression in them at the moment wasn't exactly warm.
"What can I do for you, Lois?" he asked curtly.
Not quite the reception she had been hoping for, she mused, but she forced herself not to get disappointed. Clark was probably hurting; she had rejected his friendship, very possibly his love, for Lex Luthor, a man she knew he disliked intensely. She had also turned her back on the Planet and all their friends and colleagues there. It was no wonder he wasn't pleased with her.
She reached out tentatively with her hand, touching his arm. "Clark … I need to talk. I need my best friend."
His eyes softened for a moment, then he gestured towards the couch. "Make yourself at home. I'll make some coffee."
She followed him to the kitchen instead, following his movements with her gaze as he filled the coffee-maker, took cups down from a cupboard, placed milk and sugar on the table.
Sitting across the table from her a few moments later, he gave her a direct look. "So shoot. What's up?"
<Clark, you're not making this easy for me!> "I … um, I wanted to tell you I'm not going to marry Lex Luthor," she said at last.
She saw a brief flash of emotion in Clark's eyes before he covered it up, assuming a blank expression. "I see."
Tempted to get up and leave before she completely humiliated herself, Lois forced herself to stay. This was what Scribe had been trying to get her to see all along, she knew that now. Her feelings for Clark were far deeper than she had ever allowed herself to admit, and her only chance of acting on them lay in telling him the truth.
She took a deep breath. "Clark, I need to know … how do you feel about me?"
His jaw tensed, and he got to his feet abruptly. "I see what this is, Lois. You've decided Luthor isn't what you want — too murky for you, perhaps? What am I — insurance?" His voice was harsh, the implication cruel.
Lois gasped and ran for the door, but Clark's voice, softer, as if in pain, halted her flight. "Lois — Lois, God, I'm sorry. I'm sorry!"
She swung back towards him; he was raking his hands through his hair, just staring at her as if he didn't know what else to say. And he probably didn't, she thought. She knew Clark well enough to understand that his words had simply been instinctive lashing out. He hadn't meant them, and if she didn't already know he'd do anything to unsay them, the expression on his face told her loud and clear.
If either of them was going to say anything, it would have to be her. And it was right that it should be, Lois knew. She had kept Clark at a distance for so long, when he would have been willing to be so much more to her than her friend. It had been she who had told him, so long ago, not to fall for her because she didn't have time for it. She had to take the first step.
<But what about Scribe?> a tiny voice, deep inside her, objected.
<What *about* Scribe?> she retorted, then immediately felt guilty. Scribe had been there for her, a part of her life, for so much longer than she'd known Clark. And Scribe loved her. And she had asked him to wait for her; she was being so unfair to him.
The truth was, she wanted Clark *and* Scribe. And Superman too, though that was like wishing for the moon.
<You have to choose, Lois. And choose now — you can't mess Clark around any more either>
She took a deep breath. She had already made her choice; had made it when she'd got into her Jeep to drive over to Clark's apartment. With a pang of regret and sorrow, she pushed Scribe to the back of her mind. <I'm sorry, Scribe … I love you too, but I love Clark as well> "Clark, I've been doing a lot of thinking … about my feelings for you, and your feelings for me …"
Too nervous to face him as she spoke, she turned her back and started to wander about his spacious living-room. She paused in front of his well-stocked bookshelves, as much as a delaying tactic as searching for inspiration. <Say something, Clark! Help me out here!>
As she began to speak again, she noticed a book on his shelf, one she would never have imagined Clark reading. Pulling out Nancy Friday's 'Women's Sexual Fantasies,' she turned to Clark and asked him, "How come you have this?"
Clearly he saw the question as a non-sequitur, for he blinked for a moment. Then he flushed when he saw which book she was holding. "Oh, that," he muttered. "It was a present," he added more firmly. "From a very old and very close friend."
Lois's breath caught in her throat as she suddenly felt time appear to move in slow motion. She swung back to Clark's bookshelves, suddenly noticing lots of other old friends there … Austen, Dickens, O. Henry, 'An Evil Cradling,' 'The Time Machine' … it could be a coincidence, but now she was very sure it wasn't.
The suspicion which, earlier in her apartment, she had dismissed as completely crazy, returned to her. Now, she knew it was true. And, though she knew she might have been upset, perhaps even disappointed, if she'd discovered the truth when Clark first came to work at the Planet, now she felt deliriously happy at the prospect of meeting her penfriend at long last. Scribe was … just what she wanted.
She turned slowly back to Clark. "This friend … she wouldn't be a penfriend by any chance?"
He frowned, clearly genuinely surprised. "Um … yes, as it happens."
"And … you don't know her real name, and she doesn't know yours?"
He nodded, his eyes beginning to widen in incredulity.
"Scribe?" Lois asked, almost fearfully, hoping she wasn't wrong.
"Tornado?" he replied in a whisper.
She nodded. His returning nod was slower, showing that he was still having difficulty taking in the information.
"*You're* my Tornado?" he asked hoarsely.
"Yeah. Oh, it all makes sense now — I *thought* when you told me about Mary marrying her boyfriend and your company going out of business that it all seemed such a weird coincidence that it was happening at the same time as the Planet was destroyed! But … I thought it was far too unlikely," she said hesitantly. "Um … Mary is me, right?"
Clark nodded again; it was the one thing they both seemed to be able to do with any degree of confidence at the moment. "It never even occurred to me that Tornado could be you … oh, it seems crazy now, when I think of all the things you told me, and they were things I *knew* about too … Yeah, you are Mary." He raked his hands through his hair again. "I was just … just replying to your email when you came over."
"What were you going to say?" Lois whispered, wanting desperately to know.
"I don't really know. That I didn't want to desert you, that I'd always be your friend — though I wasn't even sure that was true. I thought I'd sent you running straight to your greenhorn, which meant I'd stopped you marrying the wealthy guy just to let someone else have you … I'd have stopped writing to you anyway once you'd married someone else, but I wasn't going to tell you that then."
Before she could say anything, he continued in a different tone. "All this time, I've been telling you how well I know you — boasting about it! — and yet I've been working beside you every day for almost a year, calling myself your best friend, and I never once realised! If I'd known you as well as I thought I did …"
Finally able to force her legs to move, Lois crossed to Clark's side, placing her hand on his arm again. "Clark, you can't say that! How were you to know that, out of the millions of women my age, you were corresponding with *me*?" She turned her gaze to meet his eyes, which were staring down at her with a mixture of emotions: doubt, incredulity, regret, joy, amazement.
"Lois." His voice was husky, needy. His arms enfolded her, and she leaned into him with a deep sigh. They held each other for a long moment.
Then she leaned back, gazing up at him while he held her loosely. "I was horrible to you," Lois said, near to tears.
His arms released her and his hands came up to caress her face. "You weren't."
"I was. I always knew I was right to say we shouldn't meet, you wouldn't like me if we did," she insisted.
But he was shaking his head in rough denial of her statement. "Lois, I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. And if you think about that, that means I fell in love with *both* the woman I saw and spent my time with, and the woman I came to know through her letters. If you need proof that I really do love you, that my feelings for you aren't superficial, then you couldn't get any more proof than that. And you know I'm not using you to get to a story or anything like that — heck, I'm unemployed at the moment, and I wouldn't work at LNN for any money."
"That makes two of us," Lois said unexpectedly.
"Two of us unemployed. Clark, you don't imagine I'm going to go on working for Lex after I've told him I can't marry him, do you? Umm …" She smiled up at him suddenly. "What a way to start a relationship — both of us out of a job!"
He grinned. "We'll get other jobs. Or, better still, we'll find out what really happened to the Planet and get it running again."
Lois leaned her head against his shoulder. "We will." She jerked back suddenly. "Clark, in your emails for months you've been pushing me towards *you*!"
He smiled ruefully. "You know, I've only just realised that. I really hadn't a clue." He paused and smiled, a radiantly warm beam which told Lois again just how much she loved this man. "When I read your email earlier I was starting to hate the 'greenhorn,' but it never occurred to me … Hey, you think it could have been subconscious, somehow?"
She punched his upper arm. "And at the same time you had me sympathising with you over 'Mary's' treatment of you — and all the time that was me!"
He regarded her thoughtfully. "Lois — you're not disappointed?" His voice was hesitant.
Lois's jaw dropped. "Clark — how can you say that? I'm … oh, I don't know how to express what I'm feeling. I've been falling in love with Scribe for longer than I even realised, and then this last year, getting to know you - my feelings were a complete mess. I couldn't be happier to find that you're Scribe. Really!" She reached up and caressed his face lightly. "I've been assuming here that we're going to get together. But … is that what you want, too?"
His anxious expression became a broad beam of delight. "Lois … I have never wanted anything more in all my life."
His grin turned quickly to a more intense expression as his eyes darkened and his hands gripped her shoulders, pulling her closer. His head dipped towards hers.
"Lois, I'm going to kiss you, you know that?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"You got any problems with that, my little Tornado?"
"None at all — except that you're taking too long about it."
He chuckled softly as his lips met hers. She opened her mouth under his, wrapping her arms about him as she slowly became dizzy with the sensations he was creating in her. Her Scribe … and all along he was the man she had been working with, falling in love with. There had been no need to make a choice after all.
"I knew you had to be just small enough to come up to my shoulder," he told her huskily after some time, holding her close to him. "I always called you 'little' — it was an endearment, but that's exactly how I pictured you. As the perfect height for me." He smiled, and his lips descended again.
A long while later, he led her to the sofa and she lay back in his arms, enjoying the sensation of his broad chest beneath her slender frame, his powerful thighs supporting her. "You know, all those times you asked me to marry you, and I thought you were joking!" she teased him.
He grimaced. "I was, sort of. There was a part of me underneath which just wanted you to say yes." His fingertips traced her jawline.
She brought her hand up to cover his. "I was so stupid, insisting on keeping those secrets for so long. I should have agreed to meet you years ago." She twisted so that she was gazing directly at him. "No more secrets, not any more."
To her surprise, Clark seemed to flinch momentarily. Then he grimaced and said, "It was such a weird experience, Lois. I was so confused — I was in love with two women at the same time, and I couldn't understand why, or figure out which one I loved more, or what I was going to do about it. I can tell you, it's one heck of a relief to know I wasn't going crazy after all!"
"You think that's bad?" Lois demanded. "I was in love with *three* men, and even now I know you and Scribe are the same person, there still could be two! But it doesn't matter," she added quickly, remembering Clark's jealousy on the subject. "I've given up the Superman fantasy — "
To her shock, Clark pushed her aside and leaped to his feet. She stared at him in dismay: was he still that sensitive about Superman? What was going on?
"Lois …" His voice was hesitant, his expression taut. "There *is* another secret. And I'm not sure you're going to like it …"
"What secret?" she demanded, jumping to her feet as well.
He inhaled deeply. "It's about Superman. And how I've been holding out on you."
"Holding out … ? I don't understand, Clark!" She was completely bemused by her partner's behaviour.
"I know you don't," he replied quietly. "Let me explain … Lois, you've never seen Superman and me together, have you?"
She shook her head, still unable to fathom where this was leading.
"And … you've rarely seen Superman other than when he's doing something … Super, right?"
"So …" Clark continued. "Has it never occurred to you to wonder what Superman does the rest of the time?"
Lois frowned. "Well, yes. But …" She trailed off, realising that she was beginning to see where Clark was going with this.
"Lois, 'Superman' is a disguise. There's someone under that disguise, sure, but he isn't who he appears to be."
"It's you, Clark, isn't it?" she said slowly as the answer became clear. She studied the man who stood in front of her, her partner, best friend - twice over, her long-time correspondent, her boyfriend perhaps … and now, also, the Super-hero she had long sighed over. No wonder she had been in love with both of them — all three of them. She had loved every facet of this man, before realising they were the same person. The Super-hero who had swept her off her feet, the teasing partner who was so protective of her, and the thoughtful, articulate, intelligent and insightful correspondent. They all came together in the tall, handsome man who stood before her.
"Yes," he admitted. With a smooth gesture, he removed his glasses and swept back his hair. Lois gasped: the transformation was incredible. He no longer looked anything like Clark.
"Where … are the Suits?" she asked inconsequentially.
He gestured with his hand. "Over here — in the secret compartment."
"Secret compartment, yeah, naturally there's a secret compartment. Why didn't I think of that?" she muttered dizzily.
He showed her the Suits hanging neatly in a row. "Are you angry, Lois?"
"Angry?" She considered the possibility for a moment. "No, I'm not angry. Maybe a little embarrassed, when I remember the things I said to you - Superman — at times, and the way I used to compare Clark unfavourably to Superman. But …" She paused, then gazed up at Clark thoughtfully. "If I can get over the embarrassment of having worked *beside* Scribe for nearly a year and never once suspecting, then I can recover from discovering you're Superman."
He watched her as she spoke, and as her words sank in, his entire posture seemed to change. He drew himself up, so that he stood taller. His chin tilted, so that his expression seemed prouder. And he folded his arms in front of him.
Superman. Even without the Suit, the stance was unmistakable. He smiled down at her.
"You know," she said conversationally, "I've had a heck of a lot of fantasies about you over the last year." She grinned as a blush crept up his face, from throat to cheek.
"Um … what kind of fantasies, exactly?" he asked hesitantly.
"Oh … you know. Usually including you, and a little bit of Super-powers, and your cape, and not a lot else," she replied, enjoying teasing him.
"Ummm … well, I guess we could do something about that. Some time," he said evasively.
Lois hugged him. "There's no hurry, Clark. I've waited all these years for you — I can be patient a little longer if you want." At his surprised expression, she added softly, "Hey, I do remember your letters, you know."
"The one where I told you I'm … ?"
"Yep. That one." She reached up and planted a kiss on his jaw. "I was surprised, you know, but I also thought it was very touching. That a man could wait — you know, these days, when most people just want to jump in as soon as possible. You were waiting until you were sure it was right, and I really admire you for that." She paused, then added wistfully, "I wish I had waited."
Clark's arms tightened around her. "Lois, honey, I wouldn't change one thing about you. And at least you can help me … show me … That is," he continued swiftly, another flush stealing across his face, "I mean, I don't want to assume anything …"
"Relax, Clark," Lois said softly. "Of course I want us to make love. Whenever we're ready for it, which I assume is not tonight. But — um, don't expect too much from me, either. *You* know better than anyone how disastrous my previous relationships have been."
"So we'll learn together," he promised softly. "Come and sit down, hmm?"
Some time later, after an enjoyable interlude of kissing and touching each other, Lois leaned back to study Clark's expression. "Since you're Superman - you knew Lex wasn't what he appeared to be, didn't you?"
Clark nodded. "Problem was, I had no proof. Just circumstantial evidence, and one or two very rare moments when he almost admitted involvement in something to me. Superman couldn't prove anything, so how could Clark give you any proof?"
Lois grimaced. "I know you couldn't. I should have taken your word for it all the same. I *knew* you, Clark. I should have known that no matter how jealous you were, you wouldn't have made something up just to convince me to break it off." She nudged him with her elbow. "You were jealous, weren't you?"
"You think?" He grinned at her, teasing. "Yeah, I was jealous," he added softly. "So jealous I didn't think I could cope. And I knew he was no good for you, but I had no way of convincing you."
"It was you who convinced me not to marry Lex anyway," Lois reminded him softly. "Because of what you said in your email."
Clark reached to stroke her face. "Because I told you I love you?"
She smiled wryly at him. "I don't know — yes, that was part of it, but I wasn't sure whether I could take the risk … You also said that I should at least be with someone I loved, if I needed to be with someone at all. And you were right. You made me confront the reasons I'd been with Lex at all."
"And they were?" he prompted.
"Because he was there, he seemed safe, he represented security … and, Clark, because I knew I didn't love him! I know, that sounds crazy, but you see, if I didn't love him then he could never hurt me."
"I can't promise I'll never hurt you," Clark whispered, as if making a vow. "But I do promise that I'd hurt myself rather than cause you pain."
"No." Lois laid her finger across his lips. "I realised something else, Clark — that it really is about time I grew up. I can't go on trying to avoid hurt for ever. Life hurts sometimes, and you have to take that hurt, and rise above it, and survive it, and learn from it. I can do that — you don't have to promise me anything, Clark."
He wrapped his arms tightly around her again and sat deep in thought for a few moments. Then he rested his chin on the top of her head and asked. "Why did you come here tonight, Lois?"
She twisted in his arms to give him a surprised look. "To see you — because I wanted to talk to you … about us!"
"After you'd read 'Scribe's' email? Did 'Scribe' really make you realise what you felt for me?"
Lois's mouth turned down at the corners. "Clark, your email had me totally mixed up. I already knew I loved Scribe. Trouble was, I loved Clark too. And there was Superman, though I was trying to ignore him — though it's kind of difficult to ignore someone as conspicuous as you are in that Suit." She sighed. "I know in my reply I asked you — Scribe — to wait for me. But then I came around here and tried to persuade you — Clark — into telling me you loved me. I know it sounds bad, and all I can do is try to convince you that I wasn't planning on two-timing you. I guess," she sighed again, "I guess I'd already made my choice between Clark and Scribe when I came over here."
"Me?" He looked amazed. "Lois, I feel … I don't know, sort of immensely privileged. But what made you decide on a guy you'd known less than a year over someone you'd known for twelve years?"
Lois considered. "I suppose it was because I *knew* you, Clark. And I'm pretty sure that over this last year you've seen me at my worst as well as my best, and at my pretty ordinary as well. And despite all that, you still wanted me. Scribe … yeah, he knows me *inside;* well, what I choose to tell him. And I haven't always told him the worst about me."
"I can vouch for that, Lois," Clark murmured in an undertone, earning himself a completely painless dig in the ribs.
"So I guess I still had some doubts that Scribe would still love me once he got to know the real me," she finished.
"Lois, I loved you years ago. Nothing ever changed that," Clark assured her, his tone serious. "And okay, things got a bit confused when I fell for my new partner at work, and I couldn't figure out just what heck was going on with me, but I always loved my Tornado. And finding out that *you're* Tornado has made me happier than I could ever imagine — you were the woman of my dreams on paper and email, and also in living, breathing life. I couldn't ask for a better outcome from all this."
A lump in her throat was threatening to choke her. Lois forced it back and reached up to kiss Clark, Scribe, Superman — the man she loved.
Much later, Clark logged into his mail server again; he smiled as he saw the origin of the message which had downloaded.
Message dated 9 May 1994, 01:21 >From Tornado@Maxiserf.com
'I'm in love! And I'm so deliriously happy — for the first time in my life I really believe someone loves me for myself, and I love him so very, very much.
'You were right, my oldest and dearest friend. My greenhorn is a very special man, and it took you to show me that. I love him very much, and I thank you for everything you did for me.
'I don't know yet whether we'll be getting married — apart from anything else, he hasn't asked me yet. But anyway, I think I need some time first to get used to this change in our relationship, all the unexpected and wonderful things I learned about him tonight. He is much, much more than I ever thought he was. He is everything and everyone I've ever dreamed of, all in one gorgeous package. (Nice wrapping too <g>)
'So please forgive me if I don't email you very often in future, my dear, wonderful Scribe. I'm going to be spending most of my time getting to know my greenhorn, and my oldest friend, and my hero, *in person* instead.
'Your friend and your love,
Clark smiled softly and closed down his mail software. Yes, spending time with his little Tornado in person would be *much* more interesting.