By CC Aiken <AikFree@aol.com>
Submitted: November 2003
Summary: In this continuation of the author’s story “Through the Window,” Lois and Clark in both universes are struggling to overcome their fears. Will they survive another separation?
I wrote “Through the Window” as a standalone story. (I know. Keep reading, the irony is just up ahead.) I wanted to write something that had a beginning, middle, end, and didn’t turn into anything else. Because somehow, I was never clear on how, “Lois Unbuttoned,” which was a simple short story, grew into three stories before I got the lid back on. So, I approached TTW with a real purpose in mind. One story…the end.
What follows is due solely to the very thoughtful comments of the readers of the L&C fic mbs. All of you who read and commented and made me see that the story really was bigger than what I’d written.
I would specifically cite Tank, Liz, KathyM, Sherry, Jo, and Wendy, whose feedback helped spark the ideas behind this story.
I hope you enjoy. Either way, I want to hear what you think.
Thanks to Jude for her wisdom and sound advice. And to Labrat and Sherry, two BRs who made the story better.
Many thanks to Tricia, my very talented, skilled GE.
“The stick says so. I guess you don’t argue with the stick.”
She held it out to him so he could see the evidence for himself. But he wasn’t looking at it. He was looking at her.
“This is not the end of the world, Lois.”
“Thank you for saying that. Say that again?” She moved away from his outstretched hand, neither able nor ready to sit down.
“This… is… not… the end of the world, Lois.”
“How about of us, then?”
He stood up from the bed and moved behind her. He didn’t force her to turn and look at him, just rested gentle hands on her shoulders. “Don’t even say that. Don’t even. It is not the end of anything. It’s…”
“Clark Kent, don’t you dare say it’s the opposite,” she growled against the tears that wanted to come.
“… the beginning.”
“You said it,” she sighed sadly.
“Lois, we’re going to be a family.”
He did turn her now. Tilting her head up so she would have to see into his eyes.
“Oh, Clark.” She moved away and he didn’t try to bring her back.
“We are. The three of us. And everything is going to be Ok. We should maybe talk about–”
“I don’t want to talk about any of that,” she said hastily.
“–getting married, Lois. Getting married,” he corrected her softly.
Again he held his hand out to her, and again she stepped around it. She couldn’t hold still just yet. Couldn’t be held. By him.
“But we are going to have to have that other conversation sooner or later. You know we do,” he finally said.
“I just… I can’t. Not yet.”
“You don’t want to hurt me.” This time he did make her look at him, pulling her to him and leaning down to catch her eye.
“Not any more than you already are hurt. And now this.”
“What about you, honey? You’re hurt too. And now this.”
He ran soothing hands up and down her arms, massaging her shoulders, imparting more love in those gestures than she’d imagined possible.
“Can we just table it all for tonight, Clark? Can we just…” She closed her eyes and at last allowed herself to lean against him. To sink into him.
“Lois, we’ve been tabling a lot of things for a couple months now. I think now is the time to get this all… out.”
“I’m tired, Clark.” She hated the defeated sound of her voice, hated that he had to hear it, too.
“If we can get this done, have this talk, you might feel better.” His arms had come up and were wrapped tightly around her. It was better this way. She didn’t have to look at him.
“Pouring all that salt in your wounds? That’s going to make me feel better?” she asked his shirt front.
“Seeing for yourself that after we have this talk, I am still going to be here. Still going to be with you. No matter what.”
Again he tried with loving hands to tilt her face up. Again she moved away.
“Ok. You go ahead downstairs. I’ll join you after I… change. Or wash my face. Or…”
“Shimmy down the drainpipe and run screaming into the night?”
“Yes. Can you move from the window? You’re blocking my way.”
“How about we do this thing first? And then we fly?”
He paused, awaiting her response.
“I can’t argue with that, Clark.”
“Lois Lane can’t argue? Are you sure you’re my Lois, not some alternate from another dimension?” he teased quietly.
“That is not even funny.”
“If we can’t laugh at it, Lois… Ok, ok, I’ll go down, start dinner.”
He held up his hands in surrender and at last left her alone.
Lois waited until the door was closed and she heard him descending the stairs before she crept softly back into the bathroom, boxed up the pregnancy test kit and threw it away. Under the glaring lights, it was impossible to avoid her reflection. “What now?” it was asking her.
“Damned if I know,” she answered it under her breath.
For a time she stared at the woman in the mirror. A woman she didn’t know anymore. Eventually, she went down to dinner before she could lose her nerve.
Clark leaned heavily against the stove, stirring the sauce he was making, his mind a thousand miles away. Lois was pregnant. Back from the altworld less than three months and pregnant. In his wildest dreams he could never have imagined the day she would present him with a pregnancy test that was positive, and he would be anything but over the moon.
Seize the day, Kent. Minutes are precious. Now is the only time we have guaranteed to us.
That was how he had justified that night.
If they had just waited.
But it had been incredible. Amazing. The memories of that night were stamped into his mind in fire. But now… now they would never know. There was no way to know. There wasn’t a DNA test in the world that would be able to distinguish him from… the other him. Not that the other him was even remotely available for such a test, if it existed.
He was the dad here. At the end of the day that was the thing to focus on. He was the dad. Lois would be his wife. They would be the family he had always longed for. The rest of it… well, they would just iron the details out tonight. Get it all said. It was past time for that anyway, but if they were going to be ok, better than just ok, there were things that just had to be said.
Clark looked out the back window of the brownstone they shared. They had moved in together after Lois’ miraculous return from the dead. He still slept in the spare bedroom, and he couldn’t categorize their relationship very well. They hadn’t wanted to live apart from each other. So, they were roommates, he guessed. And they were joined by an unspoken fear of Tempus’ return, so they were… seeking solace in one another. Other than his parents, no one else knew what had really happened, so there was a lonely quality to their relationship. Like two against the world. Or a couple of worlds, actually.
Clark was used to the lonely part. It had been with him his whole life. People knew him, but not really. And now Lois was the same. People knew her, but not really. Not the struggle she’d come through. Not the nightmares. While he was very much used to the necessary secrecy, Lois wasn’t. Not for herself. So, things were… complicated. They were fundamentally dependent on each other now, in a way they hadn’t been before. In a way that he wasn’t sure was healthy, especially not for Lois. The reality of their lives in Metropolis, their lives in the aftermath of what they’d weathered, was proving more difficult than either one of them had ever imagined it might.
The morning after Lois’ return, they had woken up in his old bedroom tangled in each other. They had vowed that from that day on, there would be no more wasted time between them. Clark had listened to the sounds of his mom and dad up and about their work as he and Lois lay in the bed for hours, discussing marriage, children, Superman, the future. Their future. When they had finally gone down to breakfast, he’d thought they’d been given a miracle. A fair exchange for the nightmare they’d lived.
But the nightmares hadn’t stopped for Lois.
There were still so many things she didn’t say. And silence, from Lois, was terrible. And he had so many things he was dying to ask. But he hated to spook her. She was so… fragile now. He couldn’t seem to give her enough reassurance, enough of his presence, enough… something to make her feel safe, loved, and well. They hadn’t made love again. That was a mutual agreement. They wouldn’t again, until things were… something that they currently weren’t. Whatever that was.
A month of solitude in Smallville with his parents had been followed by managing Lois’ reentry into Metropolis, into the world. Parts of that had been wonderful. Taking her back to her family. The look on Perry’s face. The smile Jimmy couldn’t wipe off. Superman telling Henderson that Lois Lane was alive and well. Henderson’s uncharacteristic show of emotion.
“You worked so hard for me, sir,” Superman had told the shaken inspector. “I can’t ever express my gratitude.”
“Don’t you dare try,” Henderson had responded grumpily. “It’s my job.”
“I think we both know you went far beyond what duty called for,” Superman had answered.
The silence in Henderson’s office had been a comfortable one. Two men lost in their owns memories of the days past. The meetings they’d had. Their frustration early on, which had eventually turned to fear for the worst, and then a weary resignation with the unspoken knowledge that at some point the search for Lois had turned into the search for Lois’ body.
“Go home to her, Kent,” Henderson had told him after a time. “Tell her hello for me.”
Thinking back on it now, Clark had to smile.
“When did you know for sure?” he’d asked.
“Sooner than you think,” had been the cryptic reply.
The first month back in Metropolis had been a whirlwind. The media interviews, finding a place, getting Lois’ things out of storage. Going back to work. Back to their partnership. They had rarely been alone. He had longed for the quiet days and nights in Smallville, where he and Lois had all the time in the world together. Where they hadn’t talked much, but had stayed glued to each other’s side. Despite their agreement that intimacy could wait, he had slept beside her every night. Her nightmares wouldn’t allow him to go much further. Superman had taken some time off. In Smallville, they had lived inside a bubble. And planned the story of what happened to Lois Lane.
That hadn’t been easy. They didn’t want to leave anything open to questions or investigation. The last thing they wanted was for Henderson to turn his dogged attention from finding her, to finding her kidnappers. How could they ever explain a parallel universe? An unhinged madman with a grudge against Superman and a time window to go with it? They had gone round and round about it. Amnesia, though trite, had been the route they’d taken. Lois couldn’t remember anything. Not one thing from the time he’d left her outside her door after their date, which now seemed a hundred years ago, until she turned up unexpectedly asking for him in Smallville.
So much had happened during that time. And Lois did remember. She just didn’t want to. And didn’t want him to, either. But now, with the baby, they both had to go back. Lay all the ghosts to rest. Then they could be that family he had promised her they would be.
Clark heard her footsteps on the stair. He shot a quick beam of heat vision into the sauce he’d let cool as his mind wandered. He pulled out the plates, set the table, and lit some candles. All before she had the door open.
“Seize the day, Kent,” he told himself, before turning to meet her.
“All I’m saying, Lois, is that as written, we don’t have a leg to stand on. Not a legal one. If the guy wanted to sue, we can’t prove–”
“Clark, I am not listening to another word of this! You are driving me crazy. We have the evidence. We were there, you saw. We’ve got a story.”
She turned on one spiked heel and stomped off toward her desk. He grabbed her by the arm, dragging her as gently as possible back into the conference room.
He lowered his voice. “I know what I saw, Lois. But how are we going to explain that I saw it from the length of a football field?”
That stopped her for a second. But only for a second. “We had binoculars,” she spat.
“Lois, they patted us down when we went in. Don’t tell me you don’t remember that? You nearly took the security guard’s head off.”
“Clark, his hands… lingered! There was definite lingering!”
“Lois.” He held his hands up in surrender, but kept his back against the conference room doors so she wouldn’t bolt. Thank God for invulnerability, he thought once again. How many times in their short, stormy partnership had he said that?
She wasn’t ranting anymore. In fact she’d gone absolutely quiet. This wasn’t better. It just signaled a change of tact.
“You,” she said softly, “were hiding a telescope up your–”
“Well, then I give up,” she muttered, throwing herself back into the chair from which she had sprung. Swinging her long legs back under the table, she went back to their story notes. Like that it was over. For now.
“The Kents always seemed so happy.”
Clark tried to dampen his hearing. He had heard more than enough comments since the switch had been made. Initially, he hadn’t been able to resist listening, wondering how their co-workers were taking the change, how he and Lois were pulling it off. But that had worn off quickly.
“He’s cheated on her, I’m sure of it.”
“Clark Kent?! Never. He’s too dependable for that. Too–”
“… boring if you ask me,” joined a third voice. He didn’t really want to identify its owner.
“What?” Lois was looking at him closely.
“Hm?” He smiled absently at her.
“What are they saying, Clark?” she persisted. “I can tell by your face.”
She was good. They had been left by HG Wells with his cheerful prediction that they would ‘figure things out’ just a few months ago. Already she had an uncanny ability to read his mind. All he’d been able to figure out, in the same time, was that he was hopelessly, stupidly besotted with her and she could barely stand to breathe the same air he did. That whole ‘soul mates’ thing, you-know-from-the-first- instant phenomenon, was evidently a one-way street. This had all been so much easier with Lois.
Clark jerked his thoughts away from that subject like he’d touched a hot stove. Lois Lane, his former wife, or current wife, depending on your philosophical outlook, was back home where she truly belonged. And he was glad for her. He hoped she was faring better than he was with her true love.
“Nothing new, Lois,” he assured her. “And still mostly at my expense, not yours.”
Her face darkened with fury. “Names,” she hissed. “I want names. Who said what? They want to talk about the Kents’ unhappy marriage, they can talk to me.”
“No. No names. Let’s drop it, ok? Back to the argument at hand. Deadline approaches and we’ve got…”
“… nothing,” she acknowledged, tossing him a somewhat apologetic smile.
Progress, he thought. Peace, maybe. For now.
“What do you say we tell Sorenson we’re off to meet a source–” He leaned across the table and lowered his voice. “–and instead we find a quiet place to have din–”
He stopped. Snapped to attention.
Alarms and screams and gunfire.
“Go on,” she told him.
“What?” He’d forgotten she was in the room.
“Go meet our source, Clark,” she said firmly. “I’ll meet you at home with the pizza.”
He threw her a grateful smile on his way out the door, up the stairwell, and into the skies. This might work after all.
Lois Lane let herself into the apartment she shared with her “husband” Clark Kent; balancing a pizza, a bottle of wine, and all the notes for their current story she could carry. She dumped everything on the coffee table, deposited her keys on the kitchen counter, and moved toward her room to change.
The sight of her laundry, folded and placed at the foot of the bed, stopped her for a moment. There were things she could get used to, she admitted to herself. Things maybe not so bad about the whole ‘pretending to be married’ thing. This was definitely one of them. Grateful for her partner’s thoughtfulness, she kicked off her heels and suit and rooted around for her coziest pajamas. He had bought her every bit of clothing that now sat laundered on the bed. Little by little, piece by piece, so subtly and unobtrusively that it had been some time before she’d noticed. When she’d asked him about it, or, ok maybe accused him, he’d only shrugged, said he figured she might need a few things.
And she had. Five years in a prison. And then coming back to find that her life, what she’d left of it, had somehow been taken up and well, if she was honest, she’d have to admit, vastly improved in her absence. She had needed things. The basics. None of her stuff from her former life had survived. Evidently it had been offered to Lucy, her only family member to speak of. But Lucy, being very well off and not that close to her, had asked that it be donated to charity.
This was the kind of stuff a person could use a shrink for. Lois frowned as she did up the buttons on her pajama top. Married, but not really. Back from the dead, only more than a year later than everybody thought she was.
“And my fake husband flies.” She scowled at no one in particular. Wouldn’t want to forget that little nugget of craziness. “Flies and saves the day and…” Well, a lot of things, actually.
Lois moved quickly back to the kitchen, stepping around the stack of pillows and blankets that he used each night to make the sofa into a bed. She’d just go ahead and eat, she told herself. No need to wait on him. Who knew what time he’d turn up? It wasn’t like she needed his company to enjoy her meal. Good pizza was good pizza. In fact after five years of the same thing, day after day, everything tasted really good to her. And Clark wasn’t stingy. He indulged her every craving, flying her to all the corners of the world just for dessert sometimes.
They had been living together for a couple of months. In that time she’d taken up at the Daily Planet pretty much where she’d left off. Actually, better than she had left off. She was a well-respected senior reporter now. She had proven herself. And she was one half of the hottest investigative team in town. Her return, well not her return, but the return of Lois Lane had been widely credited with bringing Perry White out of semi-retirement. With things going so well at work, she’d been able to save some money. At the rate things were going, she’d be in a place of her own in no time. Maybe could even start looking now.
Lois set the table with two plates and two wine glasses. She could just read the classifieds. See if anything interesting was available. She liked this neighborhood. She might be able to find something close by. That way if Clark still wanted someone to fly with… late at night… she wouldn’t be too far away.
Tomorrow, she promised herself, sitting down to put the television on. Tomorrow she would start making inquiries. Then she would get a place of her own. A life all her own. Then he could have his home back. His bed back. His side of the closet back. Clark Kent was a nice guy. A good guy. A guy she trusted, really, if it came right down to it. And she couldn’t say that about many other people she’d known. Over and over he claimed to be glad she was here. Happy to be working with her. Content to share his life with her, inside the Daily Planet and out, in whatever form it took. He would like for there to be more, he’d volunteered on an occasion or two. But there was no rush. Whenever she was ready. But the crux of it was she wasn’t his wife. No matter how many people they pretended to, even if they pretended to each other, she was just… not his wife.
She woke to find Clark bent over her, calling her name, shaking her gently.
“You didn’t eat.” Superman smiled down at her.
“I guess I wasn’t hungry,” she replied groggily, resenting the amusement in his eyes.
“Not hungry?” he repeated incredulously. “Have we met?”
“Funny,” she grumbled. “I’m going to bed.” She stood up from the sofa. “What time is it?”
“Three in the morning,” he said apologetically.
“What took so long?” The surprise and concern in her voice didn’t appear to go as unnoticed as she’d hoped.
“Well, it was… messy,” he said after a time. “Nothing I’d really want to… talk about.”
His friendly, easy manner gone now, he moved swiftly past her. “If you don’t mind, I’ll grab a quick shower, get out of your way.”
“Clark.” She stopped him with just that one word. “What happened?”
His back was still turned to her, but she could clearly see the slump in his shoulders, the fatigue and weariness in his posture.
“I was… too late to stop the worst of it,” he offered at last. “Too late to save… a lot of people. So, I stayed behind a while. Tried to. just be there… for the survivors.”
“Tell me,” she said angrily, “that you didn’t apologize to them, Clark.”
“Lois,” he snapped back. “You don’t know. You weren’t there.”
“I know you’re not God,” she spat. “I know you’re just a man, Clark Kent. Do you know that? Or have you forgotten again?”
She stormed in front of him, her fists clenched. “Get a shower, get undressed.” At his raised eyebrow she sputtered, “You know what I mean! Get comfortable. And we’ll eat. The pizza’s cold, but I trust you can handle that. Deal?”
“Ok, Lane,” he agreed in a quiet voice, calling her by the name he’d used for her off and on since they’d met. From his mouth it sounded like an endearment; honey, sweetheart, love, dear one.
Lois blinked the incongruous thought away. He probably knew that and did it on purpose. Strategic Endearments. They probably taught that to all good- looking guys in their frat houses. Or in the womb. Either way, it didn’t matter, because it didn’t work on her.
Clark stepped past her once more, pausing just long enough to place his hand on her shoulder, to turn her, forcing her to look at him. To look into those eyes that held such pain, defeat, gentleness, and something else she didn’t want to see. “Thanks,” he whispered. He was gone and the water was running before she moved again.
Well, she wouldn’t get her own place. How could she? Maybe he was the strongest being in this universe, but that didn’t mean he was smart. What if she wasn’t there on the nights he returned from rescues gone bad? How badly would he beat himself up without anyone to unload his… stupid ideas on? Stupid. Just plain stupid. He was one man. And granted he could fly and lift things and other stuff that other guys couldn’t. But he was still just a guy. Now, if he was a woman… just one woman with all the same powers… well, then maybe, he could do everything. But not Clark Kent. He was strong and noble and all the predictable things of romance novels and fairy tales. Not real, really.
Except that he was real. Very real. Vulnerable in a way that, well, worried her, if she had to admit it. He was flawed, seriously flawed. He needed her. How much bigger a flaw could one person have? Strongest man in the galaxy and he needed Lois Lane, refugee from the Congo, to help him see straight? This was new and for the most part terrifying, again, if she was being honest. No one had needed her before, not ever. So, she’d stay. A while longer anyway. It was the least she could do, being fair-minded. He had taken her in and bought her a toothbrush. She would stay until he was… smarter about things. Like a live-in teacher. Then, when he had his head on straight, when he saw things the right way, she would go. He just wasn’t ready for that yet.
Lois contemplated her partner above the screen of her computer. She was waiting for confirmation from their source and there wasn’t a lot she could do in the meantime. Clark was on the phone hoping to hurry things along. Where on earth had he gotten that tie? Probably from… that Lois. Oh, he definitely needed her. For that tie alone, if not anything else.
He looked up and caught her staring. Before she could avert her eyes, he motioned to the conference room and mouthed, “We got it.” She hurried to join him, throwing the conference room doors open a split second before he did. He grabbed her around the waist, spinning her into the room.
“We did it.” He smiled down at her. “Your hunch was one hundred percent correct, Lane, and now we’ve got the proof.” He twirled her once more for good measure, and then set her down gently on her feet. “If we get busy we can get this done by deadline. Get your notes; I’ll get mine, meet you back here.”
She couldn’t help but notice the attention of the newsroom was focused on them. So, for good measure, and just for show, of course, she kissed him. A small kiss not directly on the mouth, just a tad bit off center, but close enough to look real. He did his part to make it look real too. Going completely still like that, stopping his incessant babbling for the kiss and a bit longer, pretending not to be breathing, and then crushing her against him until he seemed to remember the doors were still open.
Clark Kent wasn’t so stupid. He could act. Let the gossips figure that one out.
Dinner was a subdued affair. They didn’t even try the safe topics. No small talk about work, articles, investigations, or office gossip. No talk of how they might redecorate the downstairs or when they might get to Smallville again. Clark kept one hand on Lois’ clenched fist throughout the meal. He knew how much courage it had taken her just to come down, to sit across from him. To face him.
“You know I’m still your best friend, right?” He broke the heavy silence unthinkingly. But once he said it, he knew it was the angle he needed to get things started.
Lois met his gaze for only a minute, before dropping them to her plate, which had apparently become quite fascinating. She didn’t answer.
“Because I am. First and foremost, before everything else, Lois. Your friend.”
She nodded her head, pushing her food around the plate with the utmost of concentration.
“So, why don’t we start there? I’m not your… boyfriend, future husband, or… the father of your child. I’m your friend who wants to know how you’re doing.”
“I… can’t Clark,” she whispered to her plate. “Please.”
They had gotten to this place more than a few times before. And each time, at the ‘please’ he had retreated. She broke his heart, this Lois Lane that he hardly knew. He knew if he continued to acquiesce to her pleas, they would never be anything more than co-dependant roommates with a baby. Not the family they needed to be, that they were meant to be.
No more wasted time, he told himself. Not one more minute.
“Are you mad at me, Lois?” he asked flatly.
This shocked her enough to look up. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out.
He raised a challenging eyebrow at her. “Because if you are, just say so. I can take anything but the silence.”
“How could you think I was mad at you?” she asked in quiet wonder.
“How could you not be?” he threw back at her, grimacing at his own tone, but needing to break the shell that she wore so comfortably. “Tempus–”
She flinched, but he pressed on. The man was just a man. Best to say his name and shrink the myth that had grown around him; making him all powerful, all evil, and fully in control of them both.
“Tempus,” he repeated deliberately, “took you because of me. That is the sole reason for all of this, Lois. The bottom line. If you weren’t the woman I love, he would never have looked at you twice.”
“Clark, that’s… that’s… crazy,” she asserted, scowling at him.
“How’s it crazy, Lois, if it’s the truth?” He scraped his chair back abruptly from the table, pulling her up with him. He propelled her forward into the living room and with one hand on her shoulder pushed her down onto the sofa. That she had come so meekly hurt him. He sometimes felt he could steer her anywhere — to work, to home, to her parents, to his parents — and she would just come along and never question.
“Dammit, Lois,” he exploded. “Open your mouth!”
She was on her feet trembling in front of him. “You… shut up!” she railed, her finger jabbing him in the chest. “You… don’t know what you’re talking about! And stop trying to take this on yourself. That is just like you. This is all your fault, right?! And poor Lois is nothing but the victim.”
“You don’t like being the victim, Lois?” he shot back at her. “Then stop acting like it.” He gathered his courage and once more placed his hand on her shoulder, pushing her back down onto the sofa. She didn’t go quite so willingly this time, which thrilled him.
“Clark Kent,” she growled, “lay your hands on me one more time.”
“And what, Lois,” he mocked her. “You’ll be really, really quiet? More a mouse than you already are?”
She bolted out of her seat and leapt at him. He softened his body as her fists rained down on him.
“Don’t hurt yourself, honey,” he told her smugly.
Lois cursed and kicked and punched until she was breathless. Her fists, which had been pummeling his chest, eventually came to rest there. Winded, she leaned against him. He stood completely still, watching the minutes tick off the clock on the mantle. After a time, he raised his arms and wrapped them around her. Her arms came around him in return.
“Ok,” Lois spoke into his shirt front. “You ask and I’ll answer. An interview.”
Clark smiled for the first time in a long, long time. So long he couldn’t remember.
“Have a seat, Ms. Lane,” he replied. “And thank you for accepting my interview request. I promise–” He gently tilted her face up to his. “–you’re in good hands. You won’t regret this.
“Clark?” Lois asked from where she was seated in the chair. Clark looked up from his notebook. She had suggested an interview, and he was going to do his best to make it just that. A question-and-answer session, note-taking included.
“Yeah?” he answered her softly, hoping she wasn’t going to say she’d changed her mind. He didn’t want to force another confrontation. He would if he had to. But he so deeply didn’t want to.
“Kiss me before we get started,” Lois ordered.
“Is this standard practice, Ms. Lane?” he queried with a half-smile. “I mean, I know you gave several interviews on your return to Metropolis. I was even at a few. But if this is how the others got started…”
“Shut up, Kent.” She glared. “Bring that big mouth over here.”
He left his chair and knelt in front of her, curling his arms around her, pulling her towards him. She grabbed the back of his head and brought their lips together. She kissed him until he was dizzy. When they parted he gasped, “Is this a ploy to throw me off the subject at hand, Lois? Because… well, it’s working.”
Lois smiled at him. “No. That’s just in case.” She paused, swallowed hard, and he felt the increase in her heart rate. “In case you don’t want to after this,” she finished plainly.
“I’ve told you, honey, there isn’t anything you could tell me that would change…”
She cut him off. “Let’s put that promise to the test, then.”
“Deal.” He returned to his seat, picked up the notes he had been hastily scribbling when he’d realized she was deadly serious about this being an interview. He knew this was his chance. Their chance. If they could get this right, the future was theirs.
As casually and professionally as possible he asked her the number one question on his list, and in his heart. “Can you tell us apart?”
Lois didn’t pretend to misunderstand him. And she seemed ready for it. “You and the other Clark?” She looked to him for confirmation. At his nod, she answered. “Yes.”
“And what are the differences? And for that matter the similarities?”
“He has your face. Your eyes. He flies. Leaps tall buildings. He’s your double. The first time I saw him he was running into the building late for work. Sound familiar?”
Clark didn’t rise to the bait. “And what, besides his tardiness, was your first impression of him?”
“I felt an overwhelming relief to find a Clark Kent. He was an anchor. He offered a safe place in the form of a man who I knew before, and who I… loved and trusted.”
“And how did he react to seeing you?”
This was desperately important to him, as he well remembered the anvil that had fallen out of nowhere and struck him senseless at his first sight of Lois Lane. He needed to think that was unique to him, and only him, in every world, in every galaxy. He didn’t let any of that bleed into his voice or face, though. Just kept his eyes on the page in front of him.
“That’s easy,” Lois grinned, getting into the swing of things. “He gave me a polite smile and ran right past me.”
“He…? Wait, I thought he offered you help right away. That he took you… home, and that you basically never left until… Wells.”
“Was there a question in there?” She tilted her head at him, the picture of puzzlement. “He did. But that was almost two weeks later.”
“He walked past you every day for almost two weeks?” He couldn’t believe it.
“Ten days,” Lois affirmed.
“How… how long until you… married him?” Clark had tried to keep that casual, but he knew he hadn’t quite brought that off.
“A few months,” she answered with what sounded like apology in her voice.
He consulted his notes for some time.
“Why so fast?” he returned at last.
“Because I had nothing. No possessions, no family, no other friends. And no way to get back, that I knew of. No idea what had really happened or why. Because I was lost, and he was… as close to you as I could get.”
“So, you married him because he was basically me?”
“No. That isn’t fair to him. He was… is… wonderful in his own right. Honest, caring, kind, loving, generous. All the things you are, Clark,” she tagged on quickly, but he shook his head at her. He needed to know all of this, no varnish. “And he’s different from you, too. A bit more direct. A bit less unassuming. In some ways he’s more like me.” She stopped and watched as Clark scribbled some nonsense on his paper. “And he was my friend. My true friend. The one person in the world who really knew who I was.”
“I can certainly appreciate that,” he told her quietly. “So you married him and made a home with him.”
“Something you told me you understood,” she began a bit defensively. “On the night I returned you said…”
“Please.” He held up a hand cutting her off. “Who’s running this interview, here?”
He waited for her nod to continue.
“You made a home with him. You worked with him. You… went to bed with him.”
“Eventually,” she stated, this time with no apology.
“Not before, but on your wedding night?” he asked in a somewhat strangled voice.
“Not for a few months after the wedding, no. He said waiting was ok.”
He studied her for a while. She looked right back at him. The quiet was not uncomfortable. In fact something, some spirit that had haunted their home, which had hovered between them for weeks and weeks, seemed to have lifted.
“How close together was your last… encounter with him to the one… with me?” He had put the notebook down. All pretenses of the “interview” dropped.
“We were together the morning of our first anniversary.” Lois leaned forward, putting her elbows on her knees and keeping her eyes glued to his. “I left and came home to you, by the time difference, I’m guessing, no more than a week later. And you and I didn’t wait.”
“Why didn’t we, Lois?”
“Because I needed you too much.”
“And when you were with him, and when you were with me… there were differences?”
“And those are.?”
“Simple. I loved him. I always will. For who he was to me. For what he gave to me so selflessly, never asking for anything in return. And you… are the man I am in love with.” Lois didn’t make a move toward him, but the space that had been between them seemed to have evaporated. “Whose eyes I can’t stand to read pain in. Whose arms I always want around me. Whose body fits mine. Whose heart is tied to my heart… by a cord that even time and distance couldn’t break.”
He dropped his head into his hands. Blinking against the tears that wanted to come. “I think that will be enough for today, Ms. Lane,” he rasped.
“Not quite,” she contradicted him in a tone he hadn’t heard from her in too long. “Look at me, Farmboy,” Lois ordered.
He took a deep breath and pulled his eyes to hers. “Take me upstairs,” she suggested softly.
She didn’t have to say it twice. Seize the day, Kent, he told himself as he flew her up the stairs, the future is now.
Minutes to spare, the hottest team in town, or rather the revised version of that team, hit ‘send’ on their article, and watched in satisfaction as Sorenson, their somewhat put-upon editor, raced to his desk to receive it.
“I never doubted you two,” he hailed them from his office, mopping the sweat from his glistening brow.
“Dinner?” Clark turned dancing eyes towards her. “Movie? We have to celebrate. This is a big one, Lane.”
“I… no,” Lois began. “Um… I think just home.”
“Yeah?” He looked very hopeful. “We just… head home? Maybe I’ll cook or go pick us up something?”
“No.” She shut him down just as she shut her computer down. “I want to be… alone tonight. A little privacy, for heaven’s sake, what does that cost?”
“Ok,” he agreed easily. “You go. I’ll hang out here, or find something that needs doing, or fixing, saving, you know.” He moved to take her coat down from the rack, holding it out for her.
“You don’t get it.” She glared at him, snatching the coat from his hands.
“Oh, believe me, I get it,” he replied mildly, sitting back down and glancing at his watch.
“What do you get?” she asked him through narrowed eyes.
“Two hours and seventeen minutes,” was his smug reply. And it was smug, there was no other description for it.
“I’m supposed to know what that means, am I?” she tossed over her shoulder, shrugging her coat on and stomping towards the elevator.
“You know what it means.” He didn’t move from his chair, and even had the nerve to smile and give a friendly wave.
She punched the elevator button with enough force to summon it immediately if it knew what was good for it. She wouldn’t take the bait. He so obviously wanted her to, and he would be sorely disappointed. The elevator, though, didn’t seem to realize how grave the stakes were, moving at a speed that matched a snail climbing up hill… under the weight of dozens of other snails… crawling through molasses… dripping in quicksand.
“I’m taking the stairs,” she announced furiously.
“Since you kissed me,” he answered the question she had most definitely not been going to ask.
“Wh…? What?” She whirled around. “What is that supposed to mean?!”
Behind her the elevator doors opened and closed again.
“Your turnaround time, Lane,” he countered pleasantly. “Two hours and 17 minutes since you kissed me until you want to pick a fight. That’s a record, you know. I think we’re improving.”
“That,” she pronounced with supreme dignity, “does not deserve a response.”
He chuckled. He actually chuckled. Like he wanted to be killed, or something.
“Good night then, Mrs. Kent.” He grinned. “See you at home… later.”
With that he moved past her towards the stairwell.
“You… you.” she sputtered.
“Yes?” He paused in mid step. “Need something?”
“Oh, very much so,” she whispered seductively, licking her lips for good measure and taking no small satisfaction in the way his face changed, his posture changed, the very air around him changed.
“Yes?” he asked again, though this time with no where near the confidence he had before.
She moved towards him slowly, placing one arm around his neck, letting her hand play with the hair that just touched his collar. The other she ran up and down his chest. “Answer a question for me, Clark, and we’ll go have dinner,” she fairly purred.
He eyed her warily, but made no effort to resist her advances, though his arms stayed at his sides.
“What…?” he croaked. “What do you want to know?”
The hand that had been stroking his chest clutched his tie and yanked. “Where did you get the tie?” she asked in a voice dripping in venom.
“Where did I…?” His face clouded over, the heat that had been his eyes fading into confusion. “My tie? What?”
“Where did you get it?” she repeated back to him slowly so he could follow. He wasn’t too bright after all.
He slipped it out of her fist and examined it. Then he got that look. Not the ‘there is a cry for help and somebody needs rescuing’ look, but the ‘I wish I could cry for help and somebody would rescue me’ look. “Oh,” he said. “Oh.”
“Is that my answer?” she snapped, turning away from him, pretending to be sorting through the things in her briefcase.
“Lois bought it for me,” he said quietly. “Some time ago.”
She glanced at her watch. “Two hours and twenty-five minutes, Clark. From our kiss to the mention of your wife.”
With that she pushed past him and walked to the stairwell, for real this time.
“You brought her up,” he offered quietly.
“Why are you still wearing the things she bought you? Why are all her things still in boxes in our… your home?” She knew how that sounded. She knew it sounded bitter and jealous, and even insecure. It wasn’t any of those things. She was a reporter. She asked the difficult questions. Knowledge was power, and all that.
“We can’t… erase her, Lane,” he sighed. “We can’t pretend she wasn’t here. What do you want me to do? Go through my wardrobe, go through the house, throw away everything she touched?”
“No way, Clark!” she gasped dramatically. “I mean that would be a sacrilege, right? Desecrating the memory of saint Lois like that? I couldn’t ask that of you.”
“Here’s that fight you wanted,” he told her grimly. “Happy now?”
“How can I be happy?” she flared, appalled to hear the crack in her voice. “I’m living a lie, walking in the footsteps of a woman beyond reproach. I’m in a sham of a marriage.”
“Do you want out?” He stopped her rant with those words.
Behind them Sorenson scurried from the bullpen, apparently trying his best to appear invisible. They had both forgotten him.
Clark barely spared their departing boss a glance.
“This will be all over the newsroom tomorrow,” Lois groaned.
“Maybe that’s how you want it?” he suggested. “Grounds for divorce.”
“You want a divorce?” She made herself say that carelessly. “Time to lay this charade to rest? We file the papers and then this is done, since she used my identity to make it legal.”
“Why does the tie bother you?” he countered somewhat incongruously.
For reasons she would never be able to explain later, the question caught her off guard. She tried and failed to cover the tears that wanted to come. Turning her back to him she at last made it into the stairwell.
“I’m going home,” she choked out. “I don’t want you to come, ok?”
He was behind her, his warm hands on her shoulders, his hard chest against her back.
“Why does the tie bother you?” he breathed into her hair.
“It’s ugly,” she finally sobbed. “She could not have loved you, giving you a tie like that! It’s a sign, Clark. You’re just too sweet to see it. She was trying to make you… ugly! Trying to alienate you from everyone else. Trying to make you into a… a stupid, ugly tie-wearing guy.”
“I don’t want a divorce,” he replied, apparently finding something in that logic he wanted to hear. “Let’s go home.”
“Can we fly?” she asked, cringing at the pleading sound in her voice.
In answer he wrapped his arms around her, turning her towards him and tucking her head into his neck. They floated soundlessly up the stairwell, to the roof and up.
“Let’s take the long way,” she sighed.
“You got it,” he answered.
Clark left her that night. He crawled reluctantly out their bed in the predawn hours to the sounds of a three-alarm fire in Suicide Slum. Tonight he didn’t wake her. A reversal of the habit he had gotten into since they’d moved in together. If he was leaving, no matter the hour, he would kiss her awake, tell her where he was going and when he hoped to return. Sometimes she would get up and wait for him. Sometimes roll over and mutter a groggy ‘good luck.’ For the first few weeks, though, Lois had insisted on coming with him, no matter what the circumstances.
They had gone round and round about that. It wasn’t only heavy silence that had hung over their home. There were plenty of petty arguments, as well. They couldn’t seem to talk about the big things, but the little things they would fall apart over. Where did you leave the keys? Why can’t you remember to hang up your towels? You washed your cape with my whites and everything I own is pink. That sort of stuff. Some of it was a normal part of getting used to sharing a space with someone. But most of it was just creating noise around the real issues, drowning out the unsaid between them.
But Lois’ refusal to let him go anywhere without her hadn’t been a little thing. Clark had humored her, initially. Humored them both, actually, as he was no more eager to be away from her. Superman would take her and drop her off a safe distance away from where the action was. But he was always distracted by the knowledge that she was close by, in potential danger. And after a couple of times, the members of the press had started to notice and speculate. He had made her a target for Tempus already. He wasn’t going to parade her around for the criminal element to see. If Superman couldn’t leave Lois Lane’s side, then he was finished as an effective force for good. They had both realized that. So, a compromise had been forged. He would wake her up from now on. She would always know where he’d gone. And, he vowed, if she needed him, she just had to call. He would drop everything and everyone else. It wasn’t going to happen again, like it did last time.
But tonight, for the first time since their return to Metropolis, he didn’t wake her. Instead he spun quietly into the Suit, feeling somewhat guilty, but hoping, also, that maybe after this evening’s conversation, and what had followed, they were on the road to “normal.” Lois was exhausted, pregnant, and sleeping deeply. So, maybe this would be ok. He opened the window and floated out, closing it carefully from the outside. For just a moment he allowed himself the luxury of looking at her, stretched out in the middle of the bed. The woman he loved desperately, carrying the child who would be theirs, asleep in the bed they had just shared. The thought ‘too good to be true’ flitted through his mind, but he squelched it. It wasn’t too good to be true. It was what was meant to be. They deserved this, both of them. And they had paid for it many times over. The alarms persisted and with a full heart Superman rocketed away.
Tempus came for her while Clark was gone. He had just waited for the bed to get cold. He placed a hand on Lois’ shoulder, waking her, and telling her how delighted he was to see her. The window was activated behind him, casting a blue-white glow about the room. She tried to call for Superman, but her voice failed her.
“You did so well in the other Metropolis, Lois. I thought we might see how many Clark Kents find you irresistible. Call it research. How many Clark Kents can one Lois Lane marry? This inquiring villain wants to know.” He pushed her through, her arms and legs too tangled in the bed clothes for her to run or fight. And she fell and fell and fell into darkness. Completely alone. Again.
Lois surged forward in the bed, sweating and gasping for breath. She fumbled for the lamp. Her nightmares didn’t usually get this far. If she started to thrash, Clark was always there. He always seemed to sense her distress. She suspected he still slept tuned in to her heartbeat. Something he’d confessed to her once in Smallville in her first days back. It soothed him, he’d said, and also alerted him when she needed him. By the time Tempus would activate the window, Clark almost always had her up and in his lap. His voice loud enough for her to know he was there, and she should wake up and see that everything was ok.
“Clark?” she whispered into the empty room, hating the quiver in her voice. “Clark?”
He had gone.
Lois stood on unsteady legs, fighting the urge to yell for Superman at the top of her lungs. It had to have been an emergency. She knew that. No need to panic, he would be back. It must have been big, or else he would have alerted her. Maybe he hadn’t had time. But he would come back. And Tempus wasn’t here. And she was fine. Both she and… the baby were fine. For a few minutes Lois stayed where she was, her mind furiously circling that same mantra— Tempus wasn’t here. Clark was coming back. She was fine. Tempus wasn’t here. Clark was coming back. She was fine. Lois didn’t want to do what she sometimes did on nights Clark had to leave. She didn’t need to do it. She was fine. He’d be back.
She watched the clock steadily for a few minutes, trying to hold herself still. She could read a book, maybe. Or just sit back down and put the television on. Superman might be mentioned.
She could go downstairs and fix something. Tea. Or see if there was a dessert left over since they’d skipped it tonight.
She could do something besides just standing here, chanting uselessly to herself.
Or… that other thing that she did sometimes that Lois knew, in the pit of her stomach, meant she was crazy. Trembling and sick inside, she walked to the bathroom and shut the door behind her. Locked it. Clark wouldn’t try to come in if he knew she was in here, but still. Lois reached behind the towel bar and pulled the permanent marker from where she kept it taped. She drew her shirt off over her head and uncapped the pen.
<Don’t do this,> one part of her pleaded. <You don’t have to.>
<< Take care of yourself, and the baby now too,>> another voice soothed. << It doesn’t hurt anything, and you’ll sleep better.>>
She didn’t hesitate any longer. She needed to hurry. If Clark came back and found her doing this, he would… would… she didn’t know what he would do, but he wouldn’t let it go, that was for sure.
“My name is Lois Lane,” she wrote in clear block letters across her torso. “My blood type is O+. If you find me, please call CLARK KENT at the Daily Planet, Metropolis, New Troy. Or Perry White. Thank you.”
The words ran from just under her breasts down to her navel. If she was dumped somewhere, if she was hurt or bleeding, or unconscious, she would be identified and helped. There had been a Clark and a Perry in the altworld, so she reasoned that would be the case in any parallel universe. She hoped so. Checking that everything she’d written was clearly legible, she added one more line.
“I am pregnant.”
Feeling better, though not meeting the eyes of the woman in the mirror, she carefully returned the marker to its place and pulled her shirt back over her head, tucking it into her pajama bottoms, just to be sure. She went back to bed.
Superman hovered over the brownstone for an eternity trying to process what he’d seen. He had left the fire in the middle of the incident. All citizens had been evacuated and he’d alerted the department chief of other immediate demands. That hadn’t been questioned. And it was perfectly true. He had promised Lois that if she called, he would come.
How exactly he had heard her whispers and accelerated heartbeat, he didn’t know. He had been across town, things had been chaotic. But Clark had just known that she needed him, that she wasn’t asleep. Since she had returned his radar, where she was concerned, was extra sensitive. Superman had stayed only long enough to check there were no bodies in the path of the fire and to yell to the firefighters that he was going.
Then he had flown home and, from hundreds of feet up, sought out Lois. He had halted only because she had. She was standing perfectly still and he couldn’t figure out what the problem was. When she had moved to the bathroom, he’d felt foolish. She was pregnant after all, getting up in the middle of the night was not uncommon. Lois had probably just woken up and wondered where he was.
Clark had flown down lower, headed for the window. He was just making sure that their neighbors on either side were well asleep before entering, when he’d caught a glimpse of what Lois was doing. He paused, arrested at the sight of her, and floated noiselessly over the roof, watching and reading with a lead weight in his heart.
He struggled with himself for what felt like ages. Lois was getting back into bed, and he needed to join her. But then what? A part of him wanted to zip straight to Smallville, wake his mom up and ask her… ask her what? How he could make Lois feel safe? Despite the measures they had taken together on her return, it was so clear he was failing her in a fundamental way. She was scared. She was beyond scared. After tonight, after their talk and their lovemaking, he had assumed that things were… reaching normal. After what he had just seen, though, Clark realized how far away normal really was.
After a time, he landed with a soft thump in the bedroom. He knew she wasn’t really asleep, just pretending to be. “I’m home, honey,” he whispered, moving to the bathroom to shower and change.
Clark lingered under the hot spray trying to get his brain to work. He’d found the marker easily. And the thick layers of tape on it, which indicated this was not a one-time thing. How long had she been doing this? Was this new to Metropolis, or had she been marking herself in Smallville? He had slept next to her nightly and never noticed, so he didn’t think she had been. So was it being back here? Was it on nights that Superman left, or was it nightly, and then she just soaped it off in the morning? The water ran cold and still he made no move to get out. He needed an opening. A plan. A something. This couldn’t be ignored, but she would hate that he had seen. Hate him for seeing into the depths of her fear.
Seize the day, Kent, he reminded himself. Don’t let the time get away from you. Don’t leave this undone. She needs you; good, bad, or ugly.
He spun himself dry and into his sleep shorts. He wouldn’t rehearse this, he decided. He’d just act. Taking the pen, he taped it carefully back into place.
Clark walked towards his side of the bed with a pounding heart. Lois turned to meet him, offering him a sleepy kiss. He kissed her back, long and lovingly, and then raised her shirt up slowly, tracing the words with his fingers.
“Tell me about this, honey,” he whispered. “I want to understand.”
At his first touch she had melted against him. But when he had lifted her shirt, she had gone rigid, pulling at the hem, her skin flushing scarlet. At his question, though, the fight had left her body. Lois rolled away from him, facing the wall. And for a time he thought she wasn’t going to answer.
“I’m not crazy,” she finally pronounced in a low voice that dared him to contradict her.
“No. You’re being… careful,” he answered her. He lowered her shirt, and pulled the covers up around her, moving in to hold her.
“Don’t humor me, Clark,” she said tightly. “I know what it looks like.”
“What is it, then, Lois?” He worked to keep his tone completely neutral, just barely curious. Anything else and he knew she would bolt or simply close down.
“Insurance. Just in case. Last time I was alone, nothing to identify me. I was admitted to a hospital for a few days. I was lucky. This time I’m pregnant. I have to think about the baby, about what I would do. I can’t… marry every Clark Kent in the galaxy.”
“Are you that sure he’s coming back?”
“Yes,” she answered simply.
“Didn’t Wells tell you that he would be dealt with, honey? That there were peacekeepers assigned specifically to tracking him down?”
“He’ll come back, Clark,” she asserted.
“What can I do, Lois? Tell me. I want to help. Should we take you to see someone? Don’t look that way.” She had turned anguished eyes to meet his. “I’m thinking of someone who can help with post-traumatic stress. Someone you could level with.”
“And exactly who would that be? Do you know someone, a specialist, maybe? Someone well-versed in traumas of parallel universe travel? There is… no… one… I can level with.”
“Me, Lois. There’s me.”
He waited for an answer to that. Or just a sign that she’d heard him. Nothing.
“Can I take you back to my parents’ house?” He tried again. “You weren’t doing this in Smallville, were you? Superman can take some time off.”
“I want us to stay here,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “And I want… a gun.”
“A gun,” he repeated flatly.
“Yes, a gun. I want the means to protect myself.”
“Lois, you’re an expert at protecting yourself–” he started.
“That didn’t help me last time. In fact, it worked against me. I was too confident when I approached him. Clark, the open door was right behind me. I could have run! He flashed up that window, and I basically jumped through. I want a gun. I want to be able to… kill him.”
“You know how I feel about guns, honey.”
“I know how the guy who is bulletproof feels about guns, yes. And once upon a time I felt the same way too. But now, in this case… I don’t anymore.”
“Could you really use it, Lois?”
“In a heartbeat,” she answered quickly. Standing from the bed she gathered her robe and the quilt from the chair. “If you can’t handle that, that’s your problem. I intend to be ready, Clark. If I could figure out a way to keep cash on my person at all times, believe me I would do it. Or a credit card, driver’s license. Something to help me get started in whatever world he drops me. I’ve even thought about a money belt.” She stopped all at once.
“And… why not a money belt?” he asked, arrested by the look on her face.
“You… might feel it… think I’m… crazy.”
“Lois–” He reached for her, but she moved away.
“What if he doesn’t take me back to Metropolis? What if I have to start in another country where I don’t speak the language? What would I do then?”
She turned abruptly. “I’m sleeping downstairs.”
“No.” He was between her and the door before she could blink. “I want you next to me. Please, Lois. I should never have gone tonight without waking you. You looked so peaceful, and now with the baby… But I should never have and I won’t anymore. Stay here with me. I’ll hold you. If Tempus comes.”
“You’ll what?” she asked softly in defeat. “Give him a firm lecture? Take him to Henderson and explain who he is? What?”
“What would you have me do, Lois?”
“I know what you’re going to say, Superman, and believe me, I don’t want to hear it. If you don’t want me to sleep downstairs, maybe you should just go back to your room.”
“I thought this was my room now, too. After tonight. Earlier.”
“Not anymore,” she retorted, the spirit back in her voice. “Not if you aren’t going to help me.”
“It doesn’t work that way, you know.” Clark stayed where he was, planted between Lois and the door, hating the trapped look that had come into her eyes. “You don’t invite me in when you feel like it, and then kick me back out when we disagree. We’re together, Lois. We’re having a baby. We’re getting married.”
“I never agreed to marry you.”
That stopped him for a second. He flipped the switch on the wall, bathing the room in bright light. While Clark could see her perfectly in the dark, he knew that to her he was just a shadow in the doorway.
“Say that to my face,” he ordered her plainly. “Look at me and tell me you’re not marrying me. That I’m supposed to live in the guest room according to your mood.”
“I don’t want to fight,” she said.
“We’re fighting, Lois. We’re fighting for us. You want me to agree to kill someone for you. Does that get me a wife? The chance to be a dad? If I say no, am I just your roommate and work partner and occasional lover?”
“I want a gun,” she repeated stubbornly. “And I don’t need your permission. Or your blessing,” she added after a time.
“Stalemate,” he sighed, as they faced off, Lois, holding her robe and the quilt across her chest protectively, he holding his ground by the door. “Come to bed, Lois? Let me hold you?” He reached for her, and this time she came to him immediately. Nothing decided, but that they needed each other.
“Just love me, Clark” she sighed against his chest.
That was something he could do. For both of them.
The following day Lois bought the gun. She showed it to him without apology, and he didn’t offer any further argument. It was done. She kept it in a box, in the drawer of her bedside table. On nights when Superman left, she took it out and kept it in easy reach. When Superman returned, it went back into the box. If she was asleep, he put it there himself.
While it bothered him that the gun seemed to give her the reassurance that living with him couldn’t, he didn’t bring it up again. Periodically he checked the marker for signs it had been used. It stayed taped in place. It seemed a shallow victory, but he counted it just the same.
He and Lois went about their lives at the Planet and in Metropolis. No more talk of killing Tempus and no more talk of getting married. They didn’t tell anyone about the baby, not yet. Each repeatedly sought to assure the other that things would be fine. Clark stayed in the bedroom that was now theirs. And for the most part, all was well. Or as well as could be expected.
“Morning,” he greeted her.
“Hmph,” she answered, shuffling past him to the coffee maker.
He held up the pot she was looking for. “Pour you a cup?”
“What do you think?” she yawned.
“I think that you are definitely not a morning person,” he responded easily, pouring her coffee and wrapping her hands around the mug before letting go.
“You’re just now noticing?” she asked, seeming somewhat mollified by the caffeine offering.
“Just now remarking is all.” He came to sit across from her.
Slowly, ever so slowly, her eyes fully opened and focused.
“You’re Superman.” She frowned.
“You’re just now noticing?” he mimicked.
“Funny. Really, really funny. I like a superhero with a sense of humor.” She took a long sip from the mug. “Where to?” she asked after a time.
“Ribbon cutting,” he shrugged.
She didn’t reply, just quirked the corners of her mouth into an almost smile.
“I know,” he exhaled. “But it’s for a good cause.”
“It’s your business,” she shrugged.
“It won’t take long. When I get back, since it’s our day off, maybe we could… hang out?”
“As opposed to what we usually do?” She was actually smiling at him now. The coffee had evidently performed its daily miracle.
He’d put it on to brew the instant her deep breathing had changed to a more shallow pattern, signifying for him that she’d be awake and growling soon. She’d kill him if she knew, no doubt would consider it an intrusion on her privacy, but after just a few months he thought of it more along the lines of justifiable eavesdropping in self-defense.
“Yeah,” he said, watching her come awake with a warm feeling. “We’ll hang out… intentionally.”
“Intentional hanging-out?” She seemed to consider it. “Does this mean we’re going steady?”
“It’s not nice to get a guy’s hopes up like that,” he grinned.
“Then go cut your ribbon,” she groused. “I’ll be here. Hey.” She stopped him as he walked to the terrace. “How do you cut the ribbon? Heat vision? Do you… blow it apart? What?”
“You want to come and see?” he challenged her.
She looked down at her robe and pajamas, and ran a hand over her hair. Taking measure, he knew, of the slept-on shape of it.
“Um. No, go ahead. A little mystery is good in a relationship.”
“Is that what we have, Lane?” he asked quietly. “A relationship?”
Her mouth worked but nothing came out.
“Too early in the morning?” he offered her a way out.
“I’m not her, Clark,” she said, so faintly into her coffee cup even he almost didn’t hear it. “And I know I look just like her. And maybe I act just like her. But I’m not her. I’m just… me.”
“Oh, Lois,” he breathed, moving back towards her.
“Go cut your ribbon!” She blanched, bolting from her chair.
“Wait!” He froze where he was, putting as much appeal as he dared in his voice.
She slowly sat back down, nervously dabbing at the coffee she’d spilled with the sleeve of her robe.
“You can’t just… start something like that, Lane, and then send me off to… to… The ribbon can wait!” he finished in frustration. “This can’t.”
“It can. It really can,” she answered with equal energy. “I don’t mind.”
“I know who you are,” he cut her off. “I know exactly who you are, Lois Lane. And who you aren’t. There isn’t any doubt, any confusion, any blurring of the lines on my part.”
“Ok.” She nodded vigorously. “Good to know.”
“No.” He moved again, and again she popped up like a yo-yo on a string. He halted. Held up his hands to stay her, to signal his retreat. “Can we talk about this?” he pleaded. “When I get back? Say that you’ll be here. That we’ll… tackle this.”
“I’ll be here,” she parroted. “We’ll tackle this.”
“Lane,” he eyed her suspiciously. “I mean it.”
“Superman doesn’t lie,” she agreed wearily.
“With the lights out, in the pitch black, blindfolded, I swear to you, I would know the difference. There are differences, Lane, and I knew them in an instant. At some point you’re just going to have to trust me on that.”
“Superman doesn’t lie,” she repeated, this time with a bit less sadness in her voice.
“When I get back, ok?” he asked again, just to be sure.
“Ok,” she said.
“I’m coming over there to kiss you goodbye,” he warned her. “Don’t run. I’m faster.”
“I haven’t brushed my teeth,” she stammered.
“Let’s live dangerously.” He grinned, moving towards her at something just a tad under superspeed.
“Doing ok?” Clark greeted her as she exited the ladies’ room for the countless time that morning.
“I’m alive,” she replied. “That’s… progress.”
“Why don’t you go home?” he asked again, knowing full well he sounded like a broken record. “We don’t have anything too big going on and you feel lousy. I could take you?”
“I know we aren’t getting anything done,” she agreed. “I’m on my knees in the bathroom every ten minutes, and you’re hovering by the door.”
“I hover because I care,” he teased gently, pulling her into his arms. “Maybe it’s time we told Perry? Let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.”
“I’m not ready, Clark.” She burrowed her face into his neck, breathing deeply.
“Not ready because you’re not ready,” he replied in a low voice. “Or not ready because you don’t… want this?”
“That’s a loaded question for the middle of the workplace.”
“Sorry.” He squeezed her once before letting her go. “Forget it.”
“No.” Lois looked at him steadily. “You have a right to ask, Clark.”
“I always ask, Lois. I do all of the asking,” he returned with more heat than he intended. “How else would I know anything? You’re like a vault; everything is locked up so tight.”
“For protection,” she protested a bit loudly, drawing the eyes of some of those around them. Those who weren’t yet used to this particular aspect of the Lane-Kent team. It was common knowledge that since Lois’ return, they’d moved in together. The more time that passed though, without word of an engagement or an elopement, the more the speculation as to the exact nature of their relationship grew. Tense stand-offs like these, more frequent now than even in their first year as partners, only further fueled the gossip engine.
“Whose protection?” he hissed, pulling her towards the conference room. “Yours or mine, Lois?”
He shut the doors behind them and jerked the blinds closed. If it was going to be a fight, and it looked like it was, he was ready.
He turned in time to see Lois sinking into one of the chairs, all the weariness and strain showing clearly in her face, now that the doors were closed and they were away from prying eyes.
He was pushing her again, he realized. It was strange how fast his concern for her could change form into something else entirely. Something unkind. Something unlike him.
“Forget it, honey,” Clark apologized, feeling ashamed. The anger left as quickly as it had come. It always did. He moved to sit next to her. “You’re right. This is too big for work, and too much when you feel so bad.”
“Do you want the baby?” she asked, not looking up, concentrating on straightening the very straight lines of her dress.
“Yes,” he responded without hesitation.
“Even though we don’t know,” she persisted, still not looking at him.
“Even though we don’t know,” he replied firmly and a bit testily, he knew. He couldn’t seem to help himself lately. “I love you, Lois. Do me a favor. Get that through your head.”
“I love you, too,” she answered. “I want the baby… our baby.”
Clark hadn’t expected that. He’d expected either silence or shouting. Lately there wasn’t much in between for them. Except for at night, under the cover of darkness, under the covers of their bed. Only then were they able to share their true feeling for each other. Clark leaned towards her, turning her face up to his. Their eyes met and held for a long time.
“You know everything is going to be ok, right?” he questioned her gently.
“I’m trying to believe that,” she vowed. “I’ll go home. I’ll take the Jeep. You stay and appease Perry. We’ll tell him… later, ok? I just want a shower and some sleep, that’s all.”
“How about I check on you this afternoon? Around lunch? If you want something, you’ll call?”
She put her arms around him and leaned against him for a time.
A moment of peace at last. An eye in the storm that always seemed in the offing. Clark let himself relax into her arms. He reminded himself to seize the moment, to savor it. They just needed to find a way to stretch these moments out. To make them less rare.
“Lois,” he whispered into her hair, “I really love you. I really want our baby. I just don’t know how to convince you. I feel so… helpless.”
“Tonight, Clark,” Lois answered timidly. “Maybe we could… talk nursery decorations?”
His smiled. “Let’s do that. Like a… normal family.”
She raised her head and gave him a small smile in return. Only then did he realize how much time had passed since he’d last seen that smile.
“That’s us. Your typical, normal family. In no way interesting.”
“Oh, but we’re vastly interesting to ourselves,” he argued, and then: “It’s really going to be ok, Lois.”
For the first time in quite a while, he truly believed it.
When she got home from work, Tempus was waiting in the living room. Just like he had been the last time. Different living room, same evil monster. She almost walked right past him. She was hanging her coat and scowling at the bills when the voice of her nightmares spoke.
Only this time it wasn’t a dream. It was all too real.
“Tell me, Lois,” he greeted her cordially, “do you think what they say is true? That those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it?”
She froze for just a fraction of a second. One infinitesimal moment out of time. And then every system in her body sprang to full alert.
Lois bolted towards the stairs, towards the bedroom, towards the gun that she desperately hoped was still loaded. She couldn’t remember. But maybe just the sight of it would stop him long enough for.
“SUPERMAN!!!” she screamed at the top of her lungs with a desperation she could almost taste.
She made it to their room without any trouble.
<Shut the door, shut the door,> her inner voice coached coolly, well trained over the years by countless encounters with various bad guys.
Only this bad guy was unlike any other. He wasn’t hunting her because of what she’d written, what she was writing, or what she might one day write. He was hunting her solely because of who she was. And he was the one she had known she would face again one day. The one whose return she’d been steeling herself for since the first time.
The one she knew, in a hard, cold corner of her heart, she wouldn’t win against.
Lois slammed the door closed, throwing the lock with maddeningly clumsy fingers.
“SUPERMAN!!!” she yelled again, more ragged and louder still. He should be here by now.
Outside the house she could hear the traffic on the street. For a moment she contemplated jumping from the second story, flagging down a passing car. But the baby… and if she was injured, couldn’t run, then what?
The gun was right where it was supposed to be. Where Clark had left it last night after he’d returned from yet another robbery in Suicide Slum. She checked for bullets. Aimed for the door. And slowly backed into the corner of the room. She’d just wait here, stand her ground. He’d have to break the door down if he wanted her. And she’d take his head off. She would. Self-defense. She tried but failed to keep her muscles from trembling.
“I’ve got a gun,” she called loudly.
“Twentieth Century? American made?” he called conversationally from the other side.
“Come and see,” she snarled.
“Lois Lane with a gun. Dear God how I love irony. It’s too good, considering you’re basically the new Eve of Utopia. The mother of the most peaceful time in the history of the planet, and you’ve got a gun. I couldn’t have written it better myself, Lois.”
The door opened. He had a simple device, a key of some sort, a universal pass.
He held it up. “Discovered this in my travels. A real gem, darlin’. You’d like it. Comes in handy in all kinds of ways. Does Clark know?” He looked concerned. “About the gun?”
Tempus leaned against the doorframe casually.
Lois raised the gun, pointed it at his forehead.
“Where is he?” she growled. “What have you done to him?” He would have come the instant he’d heard her. If he had to fly off in the middle of a room full of witnesses, he would have done it without a second thought. He’d told her so, night after night, to get her to go back to sleep.
“If I have to spin into the Suit in front of every person I’ve ever known, I’ll do it gladly. Forget the secret, Lois.” She could almost hear his warm voice now. “You are what really matters. I can live without anything else.”
“Would you believe it’s just good timing?” Tempus grinned. “Happy accident? No? Ok, there’s a tragedy unfolding in one of those third-world countries he’s so fond of. He’ll save hundreds today, but not the one that’s most important to him.” He moved into the room. “Now, I’m flattered, really. I can tell by the way you’re looking at me that you think I might be responsible. It’s just luck, or wait, maybe I just knew… from the history books, that today was the day, and the time was… now. Fate’s a bitch, isn’t it?”
“You seem awfully pleased with yourself, considering you’re about to die,” Lois told him.
“I’m working on a theory, Lois. And it’s just a theory. I’ve just now thought of it, so don’t grade me. If the mother of Utopia — Superman’s wife — kills, can she still be the mother of Utopia? Can she still be Superman’s wife? He would still be worshipped and adored, but she might be cast out of Eden. With the rest of us bloodthirsty mortals.”
He smiled widely at her.
“I have no idea what you’re babbling about.” Lois answered unsteadily, though there was an uncomfortable sort of resonance to his words.
“Don’t tell me Herb didn’t fill you in? Utopia? Superman and Lois Lane revered for all time? Your children and their children ushering in an age of… well, blah, blah, blah, you get the picture.” Tempus laughed. “You should see your face, darlin’. Have I hit a nerve? According to very public records, Utopia’s first offspring are due in the not-too-distant future.” He lowered his voice and continued in a confidential tone. “But just which Superman got to plant Eden’s first seed? It’s just the two of us, Lois. You can tell me.”
“Shut up,” she whispered. “Just shut up. And back up.”
“You too, darlin’,” he drawled. The window opened in the very spot it had in all of her nightmares. She darted away, towards him. He met her halfway across the room, tossing them both on the bed, bouncing them off the mattress and through. The gun clattered to the floor. The window closed.
She was gone.
Superman cut the ribbon with scissors and a wide smile. A smile not just for the cameras. Things were definitely looking up. He’d stay just long enough to shake some hands and kiss some babies, and then he’d go, he decided. Maybe pick up something for breakfast. She loved pastries from Athens, and he could just dart by and see what was fresh.
Superman eyed all the assembled dignitaries with less than his usual patience.
<I’ve got a life of my own, now> he thought inwardly, with some satisfaction. < A life that’s all mine, with a woman who is…> He came up short. Was it unfair to Lois, his former wife, to think of this life as his own? Did he really feel that the year he’d spent with her wasn’t his? That it was simply borrowed? Borrowed from the other Clark Kent? He couldn’t deny that sometimes he wondered if he’d ever really been married to Lois. Or if he’d just been the proxy, the stand-in for a man who couldn’t be there in the flesh, but who had always been there, nonetheless.
<That isn’t fair> he berated himself. Not fair to what he and Lois had built together. Not fair to her memory. She had changed his life. The proof of that was all around him. He was standing here in red boots and a cape cutting a ribbon for a good cause, and no one, no one was looking at him with anything other than appreciation or admiration. Some even looked a bit awed.
Could he have even imagined such a thing before Lois Lane landed in his universe? No. Not in his wildest dreams. He might have imagined an assembled crowd like this one, but they’d have torches and pitchforks, they’d be pointing and shouting. Running him out of town.
Superman nodded politely as the last speaker praised him for all he had done for the city. Then he stepped forward and made his excuses. Something important he needed to do.
Breakfast with Lane. He couldn’t think of anything more important than that. He’d kissed her before he left. A habit they were slowly working themselves into. A habit he wanted to keep firmly in place.
When she had first agreed to step into Lois’ shoes and continue the charade of the Lane-Kent partnership in every way, he’d been surprised. He had expected to be divorced before HG Wells blinked out of their living room.
But instead, Lane had been all business. Marching off to the bathroom and only returning when her hair, which had been down past her waist, was as short as the departed Lois’.
“In for a penny.” she’d pronounced. And then proceeded to tell him just how exactly things were going to work. She would take the bed. He the sofa. She would ride in to work with him, or, ok fly, and even hold his hand in the elevator if that was how he and his wife had done it. She would eat lunch with him and speak as nicely to him as she could manage when there were witnesses. And she needed a ring, and not her ring. Her own ring. And she would pick it. And then, she finally finished, after an acceptable amount of time they would discuss a separation, an amicable one, she assured him, nothing that might affect their work relationship.
He had signed on gladly. It had been so much more than he’d expected.
And now, it looked like they were getting somewhere. If he could make her understand that she was who he saw when he looked at her, that she was who he… had this crazy, dizzying, miserable… love for, then maybe she would admit to… liking him?
For the thousandth time he wondered how Lois was doing back in her world with her Clark. He hoped she had made the transition smoothly. That he had welcomed her back with open arms. That she was happy. Like he intended to be.
Lane stayed where she was, sipping her coffee and trying to still the rapid pounding of her heart. She had finally voiced what she’d wanted to since their first day alone together as “husband and wife.” She had told him she wasn’t Lois. Not that Lois. And Clark had known just exactly what she meant. He hadn’t forced her into an uncomfortable explanation of her feelings. He’d just turned with his heart in his face, and said the exact thing she needed to hear. ‘I know who you are.’
“Good that one of us does,” she sighed into her mug.
She should really get up and get dressed. He’d be back soon, and she didn’t want him to find her here, still rumpled and wearing her robe. If they were going to approach the conversation that had been coming for some time, she at least needed to have brushed her hair. And maybe she’d just arm herself with the slightest bit of make-up. Not that it mattered. He had seen it all during the time they’d had together. If she was made-up or passed out cold, he never seemed to notice any difference. The look in his eyes when he spoke to her, when he watched her — and she knew he did — never changed. That was both disconcerting and wonderfully… comforting. Nice, even. And that was all. She wasn’t ready to admit to anything else just now. Not that there was anything else. But if there were anything else, she just wasn’t ready to say so… exactly.
Lane was coaxing her lazy form to get up and moving yet again, when the time window opened in her kitchen.
“HG,” she growled, hopping to her feet, “if you’re here to predict the outcome of today’s conversation…” Her voice trailed off. The man in front of her wasn’t Wells. She didn’t know who he was, but he seemed pleased to find her, and he was holding… her.
“You ever heard the phrase ‘walk a mile in my shoes,’ Lois?” he greeted her. “I’m guessing that you, more than most, know exactly what that’s like.”
He dropped her mirror image to the floor and moved towards her.
“Tempus,” Lane breathed. “You’re Tempus.”
“Nice to meet you,” he acknowledged.
“What…? And who…?” Her gaze moved to the unconscious woman on her kitchen floor.
“I thought you two knew each other?” He seemed genuinely concerned. “I hope I haven’t committed an embarrassing faux pas. This is the ex-wife, isn’t it?”
“Lois!” Lane called, moving towards the prone woman. “What have you done to her? What kind of sick.?”
She didn’t get any further. He grabbed her and the window reopened. “Want to take a little trip?” he asked politely. “Just for fun? See how the shoe feels on the other foot? I thought it might be interesting. And lately, well, I’ve been a tad bored.”
Lois got to her feet in time to see the window shimmer and start to flicker. Through bleary eyes she could clearly make out two forms within it, and the time device still clutched in Tempus’ fist. She had nothing to lose. So, she did what Lois Lanes do. She dove, not letting herself consider for a moment the consequences of being caught half in and half out of a dimension window. If her upper body would land in one world and the rest of her the other. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was the rapidly closing window and the hard outline of the device that controlled it.
The other Lois Lane was struggling in Tempus’ grip. Lois itched to get her hands on him. If she could pull him out, even if the window closed on them both here — wherever here was — that would do. Because she would have stopped him, stopped the nightmare.
“Help me!” she roared to her twin who was watching her through horrified eyes.
She lunged with all the strength she had, sending a wordless prayer into the heavens for her baby. She made contact with something. It was hard to see in the swirl and clash of lights and sounds, but she reached something just as the window closed and she crashed to the floor. Whatever it was, though, it wasn’t enough. Everything stopped and she was alone. She didn’t even get any parting words this time.
Lois stayed where she was, gasping for air, determinedly holding herself together.
“Do not panic,” she told herself in what was supposed to be a calming voice. She didn’t like the sound of it, so she tried again. “Do not panic.” Better.
She had a fleeting vision of Clark. Of his coming home and finding her gone again. Lois squelched the image as soon as it was born. It was too hard, too impossible. He’d never survive this. He’d kill himself with blame, with worry, with the loss of her and the baby. She wouldn’t think about him just now.
She remembered well how ill the time-dimension travel had made her on her first trip… out of the world, so she didn’t hurry. Didn’t try to open her eyes, access her surroundings, or move, until she felt the floor she was sitting on stop swaying.
In a way, it was oddly comforting that the worst had happened. No more waiting around for it. No more dreading the inevitable encounter with Tempus. She had faced him and hadn’t crumpled. She hadn’t exactly emerged victorious, but she was ok, in one piece, the baby too. And she’d done this before. Only the first time she’d had to learn what had happened to her the hard way. This time she knew. Knowing made all the difference.
Lois took a serious of deep breaths. This was it. Whatever or wherever or whenever it was, time to get a look. Time to see the hand she’d been dealt. She opened her eyes, proud that she had talked herself into it so quickly. And to her almost joyous, utter relief, Lois knew exactly where she was. She was home again, so to speak.
Tempus, no doubt in hopes of further torturing two tortured couples, hadn’t cast her into the wilderness of an entirely new universe. He’d… returned her.
“Probably his idea of irony,” she muttered ruefully.
On wobbly legs, Lois moved into the living room. It hadn’t changed, but then it hadn’t been that long since she’d left it. Not nearly as long as it felt. She lowered herself into the nearest chair. She’d wait until the dizziness passed, she reasoned, and then she’d call Clark at work. Tell him… guess what?
Just then she heard the sonic boom. No need to call. He was coming. Her husband was home.
“Hey,” he breezed in, spun, and kept walking, placing a take-out bag of some sort on the table. “Didn’t I say that would be quick?” He looked very pleased with himself, Lois noted. And he moved with more confidence than she remembered. Maybe it was that he’d had more time in the Suit. Or maybe it was because he’d found Lane. His Lois. Someone to love him as much as he did her.
“You got dressed,” he remarked as he moved to kiss her. Lois turned her head slightly, let those familiar lips land just a bit off target.
“Clark,” she started. “Sit down, ok?”
He sank onto the sofa and reached a hand out to her. “No fighting, ok? Let’s just see if we can do this without… well, let’s just see if we can do this.” His voice was all soft appeal.
Is that how things were for him now? Did that Lois fight with him? Was she that mean? <And you shut up,> she told her inner voice, who was on the verge, she knew, of speaking up and saying something cliche‚ about the pot and the kettle. <Clark and I are entirely different. I am not unkind. And we only fight when he’s… wrong.>
Lois’ inner voice wisely retreated.
She moved just a bit unsteadily to the sofa, pretending not to see his outstretched hand, putting some space between them. After a pause she moved one of the throw pillows between them. Another one. Small little wall of cushions. No real reason.
Clark was watching her with amusement in his face. But wisely, she recognized, was waiting for her to start.
“You don’t know it’s me, do you, Clark?” she finally broke the silence.
His small smile froze, and then his face started to change. Nothing else. He held completely still. If she had x-ray vision, Lois imagined she could see the furious turning of wheels inside his head.
“Tell me,” he said, after what felt like an eternity, “that Lane put you up to this. That she found or made her own time device and is proving an awful point.”
“Once you said something very similar to me. You thought that Lana Lang had sent me to teach you a lesson.”
He leaned towards her, dismantling her protective wall in one easy swipe. He placed his hands alongside her face, pulling her towards him, meeting her half way. For a frantic, insane moment she thought he was going to kiss her. Instead he just studied her intently with deep brown eyes that betrayed no thoughts.
“Lois Lane,” he murmured. “You’re back.”
“Yes,” she answered sadly, dreading what would come next. He didn’t let her down.
“Oh god, Lane,” he swore under his breath. “Lane!” he yelled, leaping to his feet. He moved through the apartment at a blur, repeatedly calling her name.
Lois held her breath, trying not to imagine her own Clark doing the very same thing at this moment.
She waited until he was done. It wasn’t long. She didn’t look at his face when he came back to sit next to her.
“Tell me,” he finally said in rigidly controlled voice.
“We’ve been switched, I think” she replied, letting out her breath. “From what I could gather, from what Tempus said.” She paused on Clark’s uttered expletive, dark and menacing. “I’m here and she’s…”
“With your Clark?” He sounded very calm now. It had to be the shock. But then again, they had both done this before.
“Well.” He dropped his head back onto the sofa. “I sure didn’t see that coming.”
“We can talk about that divorce now, if you’d like.”
He smiled ruefully at her. “Before I’ve had my breakfast? I don’t think so, Loes.”
She hadn’t heard that nickname in what felt like a long time. A whole other lifetime ago.
He stood up from the sofa and moved towards the kitchen. “Can I offer you something? Tea?” He was the picture of the polite host, not the least bit ruffled by his unexpected company. As if he had simply drained himself of any anger or worry. As if he was numb.
“Do you still have the–”
“Yeah,” he answered. “You got me into the habit. I’ll get it. You rest. I remember you said that last time the trip left you sick for days.”
He disappeared around the corner.
Lois kicked her shoes off and propped her feet on the coffee table. “It wasn’t as bad this time,” she called to him. “Tempus told me that the first time, it was always the hardest, or something like that. And turns out he was right.”
“Good,” he called back pleasantly, as if they were discussing the local commute in heavy traffic.
“And the similarities of morning sickness and dimension-hopping are uncanny,” she muttered to herself.
There was a loud clatter from the kitchen. Lois clamped her hand over her mouth. Never, she berated herself, never, ever mutter out loud in the presence of a Kryptonian.
Clark’s head peeked around the corner at her. “I… dropped the pot,” he stated. “How… pregnant… are you?”
Lois let her hand fall away from her treacherous mouth, leaned her head back, and contemplated the ceiling.
She heard him move towards her, felt the dip in the seat next to her. One gentle hand came to cover her tightly clenched ones in her lap.
He didn’t speak, and she knew he wouldn’t. They knew each other. Got along so well and always had. With none of the disappointments or blow-ups or hurts that seemed to characterize her relationship with her own Clark, and evidently his with Lane. This Clark she could always say anything to. Her own Clark? He swore that she could, but she sometimes didn’t dare risk it. Not that she didn’t trust him. Just that she couldn’t hurt him, not for anything. And she couldn’t fathom losing him. But most of all she couldn’t risk having him come to his senses, and make for the nearest exit at supersonic speeds.
They sat like that for sometime. Lois relaxed her clenched fists, turned her palm over and he slid his hand into hers.
“I’m sorry, Lois,” he said in a low voice. And she knew that by her silence, she had given him all the answer he needed. He could read her like she was made of glass. Absolutely see-thru.
The tears, which she hadn’t allowed herself to shed over the baby and the baffling question of its parentage, and everything else, came quickly. This was a major difference as well. From the very first day, this Clark saw all her vulnerability, all her weaknesses. Part of that was due to the circumstances of their meeting. He’d been home for her when she was lost. But part of it was something else entirely. She didn’t feel the need to hold up in front of him. To show that she was strong so he wouldn’t worry or blame himself for her fragile state. In so many ways it was much simpler with this Clark.
Maybe Tempus had gotten it right the first time? Maybe she belonged here with him.
A sob rose in her throat. She didn’t stifle it. He pulled her towards him, rocking and whispering soothing words in her ear.
“I… don’t know,” she finally choked out. “The father.”
“Ok,” Clark said. “Ok, Lois. It’s ok.”
“It isn’t, and it never will be,” she sobbed. “How can it be? We’ll never know. There is no way to know. And Clark, my Clark, will wonder for the rest of his life whose baby we’re raising, and he’ll never say so.”
“Assuming you get back, Lois,” Clark told her gently. “Assuming a lot, actually. That HG is awake and paying attention. That Tempus can be… stopped for good. And that you… want to go back?”
“I was just thinking that! How did you know?” she demanded, horrified.
“Because I know you. Let’s not start pretending with each other now.” He leaned her back onto the sofa, picked up a piece of her discarded pillow wall, which had crumpled in record time, and placed it under her head. “And because I’ve been known to have the same thought from time to time, Loes. This is so much… easier,” he added with a sigh, giving her the uneasy feeling that he’d become psychic in her absence.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Lois stated firmly.
“No kidding? Can’t imagine why not. Look, I’m getting you some tea. Hungry? No… ok. Just tea. And then we regroup and get a handle on things.”
With that he moved into the kitchen. Lois closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the water running, the mugs clicking on the counter top, the jingle of the spoon stirring in the cups. They had fallen back in right where they had left off. At the end of a long day she would come home, flop down and kick off her shoes, and he, the one who naturally had more energy, would bound into the kitchen, calling out to her what he was making, comparing notes on their current article. All very friendly and comfortable. And simple. So simple. So much easier than the uneasy home she shared with her Clark. A home full of fear, and unspoken things, and desperate longing on both sides for a way around the obstacles that always seemed between them. She loved her Clark absolutely. And had no doubt of his love for her. It had been proved to her over and over. And yet, at times they were miles apart. And in pain, both of them.
“Tea, Lois,” said Clark breaking into her disquieting thoughts. “Tea, and then we—,” he bent and rapped the coffee table, emphasizing each word, “–get down to business. Cards on the table.” A standing joke between them.
“You left more knuckle prints on that, you know?” she said irritably, getting up and taking the steaming mug.
“That’s not your problem anymore, is it?” he answered flippantly.
Lane spilled into the room. The window closed. She heard a long series of muttered curses accompanied by the sounds of footsteps all around her. At some point the door slammed, causing her ears to ring. That was her last thought before she slipped into oblivion.
Some time later, she had no idea how long, she was able to open her eyes. She searched the room groggily from the heap she was on the floor. Seeing a sofa near by, she slowly, painfully crawled towards it. The nausea and dizziness almost stopped her. Sweating and gritting her teeth, she gratefully sank into the cushions, pulling a throw over herself to fight the chill.
Where was she? What had happened? Through bleary eyes, she spotted a picture over the mantle. It was of her and Clark. Weird. She didn’t remember having that taken. Didn’t remember that suit she was wearing. In fact, she didn’t think she would wear that rag on a dare. But there they were, smiling down at her miserable, huddled form. The happily married couple. She should have never left the Congo. Seriously. Things were a bit routine there, not really varying day in and day out. But they made sense.
Lois closed her eyes. Maybe a fast nap, and then everything would sort of… be cleared up. The ringing in her ears was making it impossible for her to concentrate. This was a comfy sofa. Nice place, really. She and Clark should maybe look into getting something bigger. No… no. That was the crazy side of her talking, she frowned. That would imply that they were staying together… and she only just liked him… the littlest bit.
She opened one eye, looked back at the picture to better see Clark’s friendly smile. He had his hand around her waist and was holding a… newspaper… it looked like. She was holding up the other side, beaming into the lens. When had they? Their first article, maybe? No, only the two of them had even known that was their first article. And that headline… she squinted. ‘Lois Lane Returns — Amnesia Victim.’ Well, that was patently untrue. She had never had amnesia in her life! Actually, sometimes the thought of it was appealing. Just forget everything… start over. A whole new life. A whole new world. Everything new to discover… why was that thought unsettling?
Lois sat up, waves of nausea rolled over her. Very gingerly she returned to the cushions. The window. Tempus. The other Lois. They’d been switched. She was here. And Lois was there. On that thought, she fainted but good.
The horrible ringing was back again. Splitting her ears and throbbing through her temples. It would stop and start, stop and start. Finally it stopped for good. Blissful silence. Then, inexplicably, a clear, friendly voice entered the room. Not nearly as loud, but no less confusing.
“Lois, if you can hear me, you don’t need to get up. Just wanted to let you know I’m coming home. It took a little longer since I was… called away for a time. Everything’s fine. Turned out well, actually. Anyway, I told Perry I would write it up before I left, and I’ve just now finished. Need anything?” There was a pause.
“A time window,” Lane muttered to the disembodied voice from her nest on the sofa. “The means for elaborate revenge.” She thought some more. “Something with chocolate…” She was instantly reminded of how queasy she was. “…for later.”
“Ok, well, I can always go and pick something up later if you want. I’m heading out now and,” the voice continued in a confidential tone, “I’m leaving by way of the roof, so basically, I’m home already.”
Well, finally. How long had she been lying here too woozy to stand, and much too tired to think? Far too long by her own internal clock. And now things were going to happen. This world’s Clark Kent would come home and they would work up a plan, and…
This world’s Clark… coming home. to his Lois, or rather assuming that he was. How exactly was she going to tell him that he had, indeed, come home to a Lois?
“I am forever swept along in that woman’s wake,” she groaned.
How does that conversation get started? “Hello there, I’m Lois Lane, just not your Lois Lane, nice to meet you.”
Or maybe… maybe he would notice the difference? She had her own Clark’s word on it. Of course there were differences between her and the other Lois. Of course he could tell the differences immediately. Yes, even if he had one eye tied behind his back, he would know her from the woman who had been his wife. At some point, he’d said, she was just going to have to believe it. It wasn’t like there was a way to prove it. And he knew that trust was not a small, trifling matter for this particular Lois Lane. But eventually, if they were ever going to move beyond the whole my-former-wife-is-your-exact-double roadblock, she was just going to have to make that leap.
All that stuff about fate and destiny HG Wells had spouted in his pep talk before leaving them together, had always struck her as wishful thinking. Sure it would make things easier if everything just magically worked out because it was so written. If everyone had a someone out there assigned just to them, and no matter how much they messed it up, they still ended up ‘happily ever after.’ But then, what was the point of trying at all? Why make the effort, if what was going to happen was going to happen with or without your help?
The voice on the phone, though, presented an interesting chance. She wasn’t unwell enough not to recognize that. Winging his way home now was a golden opportunity, one which she had never imagined would avail itself to her. An opportunity she’d be crazy to pass up. A chance to answer the unanswerable question. And to put the thesis of their relationship, ok, not relationship, but… acquaintance-ship, yes, she liked that word… a chance to put the thesis of hers and Clark’s acquaintanceship to the test. Clark Kent was coming home to Lois. And was he ever going to get her.
She would play the role of the receptive and loving partner he was expecting. And if her Clark’s assertion, that he could tell her from the Lois he’d married right away, was true, then this Clark ought to know that she was not that same Lois as his Lois.
On hearing the familiar sonic boom announcing the test subject’s arrival, Lois gathered her imaginary blanket of serenity around her. Totally new age and flaky, she knew, but if the guy you had an acquaintanceship with could monitor your heart rate, and then had the gall to ask if something was worrying you, before you yourself, had even decided, you had to learn this trick. Deep, slow breaths. Calming, quiet thoughts. Visit your favorite safe place in your mind’s eye. Not the beach. Too cliche… Not a country meadow. Too buggy. No. Lois closed her eyes, cleared her mind, and imagined herself hitting the ‘send’ button on a brilliant article. Over and over and over again. ‘Send’ she chanted inwardly on each breath in and out. ‘Send.’
The key turned in the lock. Clark entered. Showtime.
As if he had to call. She disliked him already. How dishonest was that? Why not just say ‘Honey, I can see you through the sofa with my x-ray vision, and I’m home.’
“Here, honey.” Oh, she hoped Lois called him honey. “Er… Clark.”
<Send, send, send.>
He was smiling down at her with a big, sloppy grin. No doubt he thought that was charming, just like… him. Man, this could get confusing.
She turned her own mega-watt smile on him. Two could play the ‘aren’t I good- looking?’ game. < Send, sennnndddd..>
He frowned at her.
“You look terrible, honey,” he said in a sweetly sympathetic voice. “You ok?”
“What? I look terrible! You don’t think I’m pretty?!” She had bolted from her reclining position, which had proven to be a bad idea.
She collapsed back onto the sofa. The dizziness back in full force. This was a very stupid Clark Kent, obviously. She was every bit as good looking as that Lois Lane. More so. That other chick was way too skinny. That wasn’t healthy.
She almost smiled at the confusion in his voice. Almost.
“I just meant you left because you weren’t feeling well. And you do look a little…”
<That’s right. Find that next word realllyyy carefully.>
Pale? Hard to argue with pale. And she definitely didn’t have her new dimension sea-legs, yet. That was for sure.
“I am feeling a bit off,” she supplied sweetly. “Do you think you could… carry me to bed? Lie beside me for a while? Rub my back?” She had tried to put a little sex appeal into that request, but the nausea and wooziness might have dampened its effect.
She opened her eyes to find him kneeling beside her.
“I’d love that,” he whispered softly.
Oh, his voice. That has sounded almost… nice. Maybe she would like this Clark Kent. Maybe she would like him better. Maybe if HG Wells ever pulled himself away from his tea table and turned up to ask if there had been any mix-ups, she would deny it. How could they prove it?
He lifted her like she was a feather. She knew they were both super-powered, so it wasn’t the same as a regular guy hoisting her, but she did allow herself to feel all feminine and girly just for a moment. Big strong man. Ok, enough!
Clark carried her up to the bed and laid her down gently. He picked up a soft quilt from the trunk and covered her in it.
“I hope you won’t have morning sickness for long,” he said soothingly.
<Morning wha…t? Send! Send! Send!!!!>
“Lois, are you ok? Scared, maybe? About the baby… or other things?”
<Send, dammit. Send, send, send it all to hell!>
“Um. What? Um. No. Um. I need a drink of water.”
He was back before she pronounced the last consonant. Glass of water, two ice cubes and a straw. No, she wasn’t going to like this Clark Kent any better. He was just as irritating.
As she took her first sip, his hand moved lovingly to her stomach.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” she gurgled, spraying him with water. The nausea assaulted her from all sides, and she struggled up from the pillows.
“Bathroom, Clark,” she croaked.
He had her hanging over the bowl in the nick of time. Superpowers must save on cleaning bills, she mused in one corner of her mind, as the rest of her concentrated on losing what was left in her stomach.
Clark was holding her from behind, one hand wrapped around her middle, supporting her, the other holding back her hair. She did like him, she decided right there. What was not to like?
“Better?” he asked gently when the wracking heaves subsided.
“I think so.” she replied shakily. “Thank you, Clark.” She hated it, but even she could hear the tears in her own voice. Oh dear God, Lois Lane was in another world and she was pregnant and this sweet man might never get the chance to be a dad. It was so unfair. So horribly unfair.
“Can I take you back to bed?”
“Yes,” she closed her eyes, and let herself go completely limp. He tucked her in. She was suddenly so tired. Overwhelmed and tired. This was real, this was happening.
“I should tell you…” she stammered, as his hand came once more to lovingly stroke her stomach.
“Hold that thought, honey. Get some rest. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
The tears that she couldn’t hold back squeezed out from under her tightly closed lids and down her cheeks. He wiped every one. She cried all the harder for that gesture. For all of them. And now for the baby who was caught up in the middle of this twisted nightmare. Eventually, she gave out and slept.
At some point he came to bed. She was dimly aware of him moving around the room, turning off the lamps, brushing his teeth. She should wake up, she firmly ordered herself, wake up and tell him. He couldn’t just come and lie beside her and maybe try to… oh no. No!
Lane lifted her head. Could see that he was in a pair of boxers and nothing else. Oh, this was bad. This needed to be stopped. He didn’t know. He didn’t have that sense of the different Loises the way her Clark did. Test subject fails test, she thought with dismay. Hearts everywhere are broken. No, that wasn’t fair. He hadn’t really failed, he just had never met her. That was probably it. The reason her Clark was so clear on how to tell her from his wife… former wife… was that he knew them both. This man coming to bed had never met her before, he hadn’t stood a chance.
“Clark,” she tried to choke out.
He turned from where he had been setting the alarm. Glided over to her. “Did I wake you? You know you’ve been asleep for eight hours? How are you feeling?”
That warm hand was back on her stomach again. Lane gathered her breath, gathered her thoughts. “Clark,” she tried again, and was pleased that her voice sounded a little stronger. That she felt a little stronger. Must be sleeping off the effects of the dimension-travel.
Before she could plan the right way to open the conversation that was going to ruin his life, he had slipped under the covers, pulled her over towards him, and tucked her into the side of his body.
All the air escaped her lungs, and the thoughts she had so carefully gathered, and had just been picking through for choiceness, shattered to the recesses of her mind.
She placed her hand on his chest, pushing him away, and turned her face towards him. She looked up just in time to see the expression on his face dissolve from quiet contentment to… alarm.
He was out of the bed before she could register his movement. Didn’t they know how disconcerting that was to a person?
“Who?” he spat in a tightly controlled voice. “Who or what are you?”
Her Clark was right. Had been right all along. Operation Test Subject a smashing success. All this world’s Clark had needed to do was to really touch her, get one really good look at her, and he had known. She would tell her Clark, she decided. If she ever got the chance to, she would say, “You were right, and I was wr-… not exactly right to doubt you.” Something like that.
For now, there was the matter of the man in the boxers towering over her.
“I’m Lois Lane,” she tried to say as soothingly as one would say ‘nice kitty, kitty’ to the escaped tiger that was standing between you and the door. “Tempus–”
If she had struck him with lightening, she doubted he would have moved any faster. Inexplicably, he lunged for the bedside table drawer. He pulled it open, sending the contents scattering.
The box was still there.
Had she had a chance to get to it, even? Clark picked it up with trembling fingers and opened it. Empty.
She had tried. Lois had tried.
“He’s got her,” Clark said. “He took her.”
He sat back down heavily on the bed. His mind as empty as the box in his hand. The woman in the bed laid a hand on his back. He flinched away angrily.
“What did you think you were trying to pull?” he hurled at her, leaping to his feet. “How much time have I wasted because I thought she was here and safe!” He couldn’t rein it in. It scared him how good it felt to yell at the woman in front of him, despite the fact that she wore that beloved face.
“Get out of our bed,” he lunged for her, lifting her up by the arms and setting her on her feet none too gently.
She didn’t bat an eye. Just watched him with sadness in her face. He turned away quickly, not wanting to look at her, not wanting to see anything that might be sympathy or its relation. God knew he was sick of that look. After Lois had disappeared, people had looked at him like that, and nothing else, for months.
He headed for the stairs. Her voice stopped him.
“You know one day doesn’t make a difference, don’t you, Clark?” There was no challenge in her voice. That he could have handled. He wanted a fight, a screaming match. “That time… is… meaningless.”
He found himself sitting at the top of the stairs. His legs had stopped working. It had happened again. Again. Time was meaningless. Life was meaningless. If he had known the instant he had come home this afternoon, what would he have done differently? What could he have done? He couldn’t do this again. He just couldn’t. Why had he left the country today? Why hadn’t he come home with her? Why had he thought he could still be Superman and be everything that Lois needed at the same time?
The first time, it had been the not knowing that almost killed him. This time, he would know, and there wouldn’t be one thing he could do about it. The knowing would kill him
She had come up behind him. She sat beside him, this time not touching him. “She’s safe, Clark. Tempus thought a switch would be… interesting.”
After a time he said, “A switch. So, where is…?”
“Back where she was before. Back with…”
“Him?” Relief flooded him. At least she was back on familiar ground, with someone who knew her, who she could count on. Someone who… loved her. He swallowed hard.
“Yes. And if they are working on it from their side, then you and I have to do the same from here.”
“Listen… I can’t call you Lois. What can I.?”
“Call me Lane, I got used to that a while back.”
“Lane,” he said flatly. “Maybe you’ve never been on this side of things before, but I have. There is nothing that can be done. Nothing.”
“So, do you give up, Clark? That’s it. Kiss Lois and your baby goodbye, hope to see them again before the kid’s in college?”
He brought his hands to cover his face, tried to block out the mental image she had given him. His child growing up with that other guy. He had gotten to be Lois’ first husband and now this. He’d be the dad. Maybe this meant something. Maybe the other guy really was the dad and the universes were just setting things to rights. Maybe Lois would be… glad.
“We don’t know if I’m the father,” he ground out. He didn’t know why he’d said that. Of all the issues facing them, that wasn’t nearly the most urgent. “It might be him.”
“So,” Lois said at last. “Things are not… ideal with you and Lane?”
“Well,” he searched for the right answer to that. “I wouldn’t say ideal, but lately some progress has been made.” He thought it over some more. “Though I wouldn’t swear to it.”
“I guess she’s with Clark now. I guess they’re…”
“Having tea and discussing the awkwardness of having your partner’s counterpart pop in and out on you?” he supplied bitterly, toasting her with his own mug.
“He’ll probably tell her about the baby,” Lois stated, watching him closely.
“In that case, I hope he really is as invulnerable as I am,” he finally answered.
“Is it that bad, Clark?”
“Is it for you?” he tossed back.
“I asked first,” she grouched.
“While the relationship stuff is interesting, Loes, and I’m not changing the subject, you and I haven’t really addressed the overriding issue, you know? The one that trumps all others,” Clark stated.
“Which is?” Lois asked.
“We have no control over this. We have no idea if another year or ten years will pass before our man HG decides to take a look. There are the appropriate number of Loises and Clarks in each universe. How’s he going to know the pairing is…”
“Off, yes. Thanks.” He grinned at her. “Still writing my copy.”
“Is it off, Clark?” she asked him quietly. “Or maybe it’s been… put back the way it should be. I mean, are you… happy… happier with her?”
He turned anguished eyes to meet hers. “Loes, are you not happy? Does he… is he… an idiot?”
She smiled at that. “No, he’s not. But, things are… hard. Complicated. Not like this.”
“You know why, don’t you?” He smiled knowingly at her, back on even keel.
“Tell me, oh wise one.”
“Because you really love him.”
“Clark, I loved you, too. I would never want you to think I didn’t. That the time I spent here wasn’t…”
“Lois,” he waited quietly until her stammering stopped. “You know what I mean. You love me and I love you. That was true from the very beginning. But you weren’t in love with me, were you? I never made you angry. Never made you cry. Never made you… much of anything.”
“Do not say that. Of course you did. You made me a home. You made me a place in the universe. Those are not small things.”
“And you were grateful,” he supplied simply.
“Is that what you think our marriage was about? Gratitude?” she gasped. “Have you been telling yourself this the whole time?”
“Lois, it isn’t like it’s a bad thing. I don’t regret a day of it. Does… he hold it against you? I mean, you’re pregnant, and there is some doubt as to… um… the father. Which means, well, you and he have…”
“He doesn’t hold it against me, Clark,” she wailed. “He doesn’t.”
“And that drives you crazy doesn’t it?” He studied her eyes closely over the rim of her mug. “How could he not?”
“Exactly. How could he not? How can he be so sweet, so understanding, so. so… endlessly patient and understanding?”
“He loves you.”
“We’ve gotten off track,” she grumbled after a time. “We were on HG Wells.”
“So, we’re changing the subject then?”
“If you know what’s good for you,” she glowered at him.
“Ok,” he agreed. “Does that work on him?” At her withering glare, he laughed. “Right, Mr. Wells. With one Lois Lane and one Clark Kent in each universe, how is he to know things are…” He paused significantly.
“…off.” Lois supplied.
He smiled like she was his prize student. “And even if he does, that doesn’t get us any closer to Tempus, who he swore would be dealt with effectively. This could be a regular thing, you know. The first of many visits. I’ll start asking as I walk into the room, ‘Is that you, Lois?’ And you’ll have to sing out… dammit.”
“I’ll have to sing out… what?”
But he wasn’t listening. His body had tightened in alertness. He was already far away.
“Loes,” he commanded when he had come out of the spin, “lock the doors, and don’t answer anything. I’ll be back as soon as I…”
“Clark, the man has a time window. Locking the doors isn’t exactly…”
“Just do it.” Superman gave her a hard stare. “Please,” he added a bit belatedly.
“Just go. I’ll be here.”
He was already in the air. “Hey,” he called to her over his shoulder. “Are you ok? Should I not go? What if…?” His voice trailed away. For just an instant Superman’s stern expression faltered. “What if Lane comes back while I’m gone?”
“Clark–” she started.
“I know, I know. Forget that,” he ordered, once more the composed superhero. He cleared his throat roughly. “You’re ok, though, right? You’ll be here when I get back?”
“Yes.” She nodded. “I’ll be right here. Go do your thing. Don’t worry.”
He was gone in an explosion of colors.
“I’m sorry,” Lane said quietly from where she was still crouched next to him on the stairway. “About everything, Clark. About you and Lois and the baby. And that I tried to fool you when you came home.”
“What was that about?” he asked evenly after a pause, still avoiding her seeking gaze
“I wanted to see if what… my Clark said was true. That he could tell the difference. That there is a difference.”
He did look at her then. “So, did I pass?” he asked curiously, with no rancor. “Are you satisfied?”
“Completely,” she asserted. “And I’m sorry to put everybody through all the time and trouble just to put this one nagging little doubt to rest.”
“I can’t say that I blame you,” he answered, moving at last from their perch on the stairs.
He offered her a hand up, studying her closely.
“I see the difference,” he whispered finally.
“So do I,” she smiled sadly.
“Well, we’ve cleared that up, and believe me, I can see how that would nag at you. I’ve had the same thought from time to time.”
“Clark Kent,” she declared, “I’ve decided I like you.”
“Well.” He smiled. “So we’ll start there.”
“Do you want me to… tell you about it, about Tempus and the switch, and Lois?” she asked somewhat hesitantly.
“Did you see her?” he rasped, his hand dropped away from hers and the sudden, naked emotion in his voice tore at her.
“I did. We were in the same place for a brief time. You would have been proud.”
“Was she very… afraid?” he stammered quickly. “She’s had nightmares about Tempus ever since she got back. I know this was her… absolute worst fear.” He paused, as if slightly winded.
“If she was afraid,” Lane told him firmly, “there was no sign of it. She made him work for it. She was… great.”
“Then she’s ok,” he croaked. “If she stood up to him, if she’s back with her… your Clark, then whatever else happens, or doesn’t, Lois is ok. She’ll be ok.”
“She’s ok, Clark.” Lane echoed, putting a hesitant hand on his arm.
He surprised her. She had touched him half expecting him to pull away, to be annoyed by the intrusion of a perfect stranger. Instead, he gathered her into his embrace. His body was shaking, and she could feel his tears falling into her hair, though he made no sound. Lane slowly lifted her arms and wrapped them as far around him as she could, clinging tightly. It might come as a surprise to some people, but this was something she could do. Her own Clark never really let go in front of her, so she never did in front of him. But fear was something she understood all too well. And loneliness. Despair. This Clark Kent was in the throes of some familiar enemies. Of the two of them left standing here, he had definitely lost more. And more than once. If he needed a friend, she could be that. Starting now.
“We’ll figure this out,” she said soothingly, over and over, running her hands up and down his bare back. “You and I will figure this out.”
“Do you mind if I hold you a while longer?” he asked thickly. “I know you’re not her, but…”
“Hang on to me, Clark,” she responded. “As long as you need.”
That first night Lane had a nightmare. Clark found himself seated on the bed beside her before he could think about how awkward it might be for both of them.
He had insisted she take his and Lois’ room. He didn’t want to sleep in it, he’d assured her. He’d be just as comfortable in the guest room. It had been on the tip of his tongue to call it the nursery, until he realized it might never be that.
Clark had shut down that thought immediately. It was too soon to be thinking that way. Things were different now. He knew where Lois was. And Lois knew that he knew. They were still just as separated as they had been the first time. But if they had overcome it once, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility they might do so again. He just didn’t know how.
He hadn’t been sleeping when Lane called out. He’d been letting the television’s endless stream of images lull him into a sort of numbness. He was upstairs before she could cry again, grateful for the distraction.
“Lane,” he whispered soothingly. He was surprised by how calm he sounded, how confident. But then, he had a great deal of experience waking Lois from her nightmares.
“Lane,” he cleared his throat against the sudden thickness that had come. “Wake up. It’s… Clark.” Well, that wouldn’t necessarily help her, would it? He tried again. “You’re safe.” That much was true. She was safe. In an entirely different universe, but with no immediate threats in the offing. That kind of safe.
Lane opened her eyes and looked at him for a full minute.
“You’re a nice guy,” she finally offered shakily.
“If I have to hear that from one more beautiful woman…” he teased her softly.
Lane sat up and fumbled for the bedside lamp. He found it for her, introducing the light into the room. The small yellow pool it cast around them was even more intimate than the darkness.
“We’re a pair, aren’t we?” she smiled weakly.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. “You’ve been sleeping pretty much since you got here.”
“Better, I think,” she replied after a time. “Hungry, actually. Do you… cook?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “He and I are… alike that way. And I’d be glad to fix you something. Keep me busy. I’m… trying not to lose my mind downstairs.”
“I take it you’re not sleeping,” she commented dryly.
“One of us had to stand guard.” He shrugged. “Against the nightmares.”
“My turn then,” she agreed.
“So, you’ll come downstairs?” He was up and putting a polite distance between them.
“I dreamed about Tempus,” she spoke to his back. “I dreamed he was… here.”
“Lane,” he turned back to her tentatively. “Could you… describe him to me? Physically, I mean. I always wanted to ask Lois. It just seemed like it made sense, you know. If she was so afraid he was coming back, and I didn’t even know what he looked like, I might have walked right past him.” His voice trailed off on that thought. “Maybe he was in the lobby today, or on the sidewalk, or maybe he delivered the mail… Would it bother you?” he continued in a rush. “Could we sketch him?”
She was up and out of the bed in a flash. “That’s brilliant,” she exclaimed. “Let’s do it now, he’s fresh in my mind and… I can tell you about how tall and… and…” She was darting around the room. “And have you seen my slippers?” she asked. “I was wearing them when I came.” She stopped suddenly, standing up fully, her faced flushed.
“I was wearing my slippers when I time traveled,” she pronounced gravely. “I, Lois Lane, jumped universes in my pajamas. That has to make me some kind of… pioneer.”
She turned disbelieving eyes to his.
“Just imagine, Lane, what you might have done fully dressed,” he answered her.
“I swear I am going to like you,” Lane declared. “Now, if you’ll use that trusty x-ray vision and find my slippers, I’ll describe Tempus to you.”
“Bossy, just like every Lois Lane I ever met,” he told her. To humor her he made a show of lowering his glasses, studying the bedroom floor, underneath the bed, under the covers. “Negative on the slippers thus far,” he informed her seriously. “You’re sure they made it to the parallel universe? Didn’t fall off in…” He stopped cold. Swallowed hard. Looked again.
“What?” Lane was beside him, her rifling of the covers ceased. “What is it?”
“The gun,” he choked out. “It’s… under the dresser. It’s loaded and the safety is off.”
“That’s what was missing from the box,” Lane stated. “That’s what you meant by ‘she tried.’”
“I don’t remember saying that out loud,” he sighed. “Her prints are on it. Only hers.”
Lane moved to retrieve it. “I’ll put it back in the box, Clark,” she said soothingly. And then almost to herself, “Though I can’t imagine what good that does you. I just… can’t think of anything else I might do to make you feel… less than completely suicidal or homicidal or… something.”
She sat back down on the bed and watched him. “You aren’t moving,” she offered after a time.
“Sorry, ok.” Clark breathed deeply in and out a few times, just to show that he could. “Come downstairs. I’ll fix us some, well, breakfast now, and we’ll do that sketch.”
“I’m with you,” Lane replied.
Lois prowled the apartment aimlessly. She flipped on the all-news radio station to learn that Superman had arrived on the scene and things, though improved, might take a while to settle down. She had promised Clark not to leave. That had been easy. She couldn’t think of one place she wanted to go. It just felt… strange to be here again. And strange too, to just do nothing on a day when everything had changed.
She toured the bedroom, pretending not to be noticing the other Lois’ belongings. After a while, after a certain amount of boredom had set in, she stopped acting like she wasn’t snooping, and got down to some serious searching. You could learn a lot about a person from their dresser drawers, from their closet.
Lois had the uncomfortable thought that Lane could very well be doing the very thing she was at this moment. Prying. Trying to uncover deep truths, to read in her lingerie drawer the inner workings of her mind and heart.
From the set-up it was clear Lane and Clark didn’t share the bedroom. She hadn’t come right out and asked him that. And he hadn’t volunteered anything. And she was surprised to find so many of her things here and there, tucked around the apartment.
In the bottom of Clark’s closet she found boxes full of her belongings. Clothing and photographs, story notes, odd and ends. All bearing witness that Lois Lane had lived here. That she had married here. Maybe even… started a family here.
Lois was removing tissue paper from a silver frame before she realized what she was uncovering. Her wedding picture, their wedding picture as it had appeared in the Planet, ‘Lane and Kent Cement Partnership.’
She dropped it back into the box hurriedly; backing away from it like it was some kind of rabid animal. As if it might leap out and devour her. Or at the very least, force her to look at it again.
Not content to just have it back in the box, Lois moved quickly out of the bedroom, away from the picture, away from the past. She was shaking in a way that she hadn’t before, even when she’d found Tempus in her home.
Delayed shock, maybe. Or dimension-travel after effects. How well she remembered those. The sweaty palms, pounding heart, blinding terror. Almost paralyzing, really. Very much like her fear of Tempus.
Lois lowered herself into the kitchen chair. She remembered something about how you should put your head between your knees at moments like this. How that could help she couldn’t imagine. Or wait… maybe she should breathe into a paper bag? Is that what got the crippling elephant of fear off one’s chest? She laid her head on her knees and closed her eyes tightly, wrapping her arms around her legs. Afraid. So afraid. And not of Tempus. Not of Tempus at all… but something so much worse. Of how she had hurt Clark.
She knew from the glance at her wedding photograph. Though it had been quick, it had been enough… to see the joy in this Clark’s face and the contentment in her own. She had been happy here. She had.
How could she have done such a thing to the man she loved?
Lois rocked back and forth slowly, letting herself remember the life she had built here. The bed she had slept in. The man she had slept with. She remembered how she had spent her year away from Clark. And that she’d never, ever asked him how he’d spent his.
She hadn’t wanted to know, and he had offered very little details to her. No doubt aware that fell into the category of subjects she didn’t want to discuss. But she had gotten his perspective from other sources. From Perry, his parents, Jimmy, who had been a real friend to him. Even Lucy, who swore they had adopted each other as siblings while she was away. Clark had mentioned once that he had looked for her daily. He had said it in an off-hand way, but it had stabbed her to the core.
He had looked for her each day. Her absence was so complete from him, but he had tried over and over without ever getting a clue, a lead, anything worth hoping for. And she had… married.
That was really the bottom line. She had managed to rebuild her life. And Clark had, as well. Only his rebuilding hadn’t included a wife, or even a girlfriend. It had been an exercise in living without her, making his life purposeful without her. She had… married. And now, there was a baby. The only way to possibly hurt him more.
This was why she had so much trouble talking to her Clark about any of this, about the reality of the months she spent here. Because she had been reasonably happy after a time. Though she had grieved his loss, and the loss of everything she’d ever known, she had still managed to make a life for herself. A life in which she was featured as a smiling bride on the front page of the Daily Planet.
It hadn’t been only her fear of Tempus that had paralyzed her. It had been the fear that, despite everything that had happened to her, the deepest scars of the ordeal were on Clark. And that she had put them there. So she held herself back from him. Kept a part of herself locked into a hard, cold ball that wouldn’t dissolve for anything, that couldn’t relax into his love. Couldn’t accept the offerings of his loyalty, his graceful acceptance of what she’d done, and his utter forgiveness, so complete it would never occur to him to be asked for it. She had hurt him so deeply. She was hurting him still. And she didn’t know how to live with that.
The guilt had been suffocating her. Suffocating them. So ever present, like the very air they breathed, that she hadn’t even realized it was there. She had to get home. She had to. She couldn’t imagine a life apart from him now, not after the time they’d spent together.
And so much time had already been wasted.
The radio told her that Superman seemed to have completed his work and things were much improved.
Lois moved to uncoil herself from where she was huddled tightly. As she did, a square black object caught her eye. It was wedged under the refrigerator. It was unmistakable. It was the device that controlled the window. It was broken into pieces.
“So that’s him,” Clark commented quietly, holding up their completed sketch of Tempus.
“That’s him exactly,” Lane responded with a hard light in her eyes. “I wish I’d known what he looked like, Clark, before. Maybe I wouldn’t have just stood there and gawked at him when he appeared in my kitchen. It was early…” Her voice trailed away, “I hadn’t finished my coffee.”
“He’s dangerous, Lane,” Clark soothed her. “You might have gotten hurt if you’d tried anything other than cooperating.”
“Lois sure didn’t care about that,” Lane sighed. “She was up and grabbing at him even as the window closed. She wanted me to help, and I just… stood there. Useless.”
“You aren’t useless to me,” he said softly. “If you weren’t here right now, I wouldn’t know any of this. I can’t imagine what I would be doing.”
For a time they both gazed at Tempus’ face, committing him to memory, registering the cold look in his eyes offset by the cavalier, almost friendly smile that seemed to leap off the page.
“You know, he doesn’t look so scary,” Lane said at last. “Like if you saw him on the street… Did you, Clark? Is he familiar at all?”
“Well, if you saw him on the street, if I saw him, there wouldn’t be one thing about him that would make me cross to the other side, to watch my back. He looks… harmless.”
“That’s the worst thing about monsters like Tempus,” Clark said. “They don’t look the part. If they did, we’d all know to be on our guard.”
“Does this do us any good, you think?” Lane moved from the kitchen table, opening and closing various cabinets and drawers. Clark recognized that she wasn’t really looking for anything in particular. She was just moving. Which meant, if his Lois Lane experience counted for anything here, that she was about to cut to the heart of the matter. He waited.
“We have a face for the name,” she finally said. “But it isn’t like he… lives here. You know? Maybe this little artistic exercise made us feel like we were doing something, but where, if anywhere, do we go from here?”
She was looking out the window into the garden, the sky was lightening and the long night was over. But for the two inhabitants of the brownstone it was still very, very dark.
“I almost resent the sunrise,” she said, reading his mind.
“You’re the one who said we should work on this from our side. Like they will from theirs. Maybe the four of us working together.” He wasn’t sure he believed it would do any good, but he needed to dispel the bleakness that covered the room.
“Do you think they’ll work on it, Clark?” She didn’t move from her spot. Didn’t turn to look at him. “Do you think they’ll want to?”
He didn’t answer for a long, long time. He got up and refilled their coffee cups, stopping to offer her a brief squeeze on the shoulder before returning to his chair.
She finally turned. He thought she might be searching for anger in his gaze. Or for signs of the broken man he’d been when he’d first realized the switch had been made.
“How are you holding up?” she blurted. “I mean… I know how you’re holding up, but what’s it been like for you, on this side? And now with… the baby?”
“How do you think he’ll react to the baby?” he answered her questions with his own. “Will he… want her to stay?”
“He keeps her things boxed away like old treasures,” she said sadly. “He says he can’t just throw them out. He… misses her, I know. Seems their style of working and… other things was a bit less… combative.”
“How are things with the two of you?” he asked.
“That about sums up things here, too. But it’s not all bad, Lane. We’ve been… more intimate with each other in ways I could never imagine before.” He looked away, aware of the blush that was creeping up his neck. “And that’s not how it sounds.”
“Go on,” she prompted, pulling the chair back out and resting her elbows on the table. “Because I think I know what you mean.”
“We have this common tie. This bond. I don’t know if it’s a good one, but it comes from being separated before and being afraid that this very thing might happen. And from knowing things about each other that no one else in this universe does. She knows me. Every last bit of me. And… she loves me. We just can’t seem to… get it together.”
“You’re not happy.” It wasn’t a question, and it hit so close to the mark he felt it was a betrayal of Lois.
“No,” he said. “No,” he said again, a bit more firmly. “We’re not happy. Not really. Lois is… scared and I’m… confused.”
“You know something strange?” She waited until he looked at her. “I mean stranger than all of this other stuff? I think of the four of us, my Clark is the happiest. It doesn’t make sense. He falls in love with this woman from nowhere. He marries her. She leaves him and is replaced by a… grumpier, harder version of her, and he still seems… serene. I don’t get that!”
“I get it,” he smiled.
“Enlighten me, Clark Kent. If I can’t take advantage of your Clark Kentness to get some answers then this visit is a waste of my time!” she glowered at him.
“He loves you,” he said simply. “You’re his Lois.”
“Is it that simple, really?” she asked caustically. “Because from where I sit it feels anything but simple.”
“It is and it isn’t.”
“I hate answers like that,” she groaned.
“He loves you. I love her. She loves me. And you…?”
“Watch it,” she warned. “I do not… love… him. I… like him… a small amount.”
He laughed so hard tears came into his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he finally faltered. “But this is just like time travel, like going back and asking my Lois what she thinks of the Farmboy she’s been forced to work with.” He wiped his eyes and chuckled softly. “I like him a ‘small amount,’ he repeated under his breath.”
“I’m so glad I could amuse you,” she said with no venom.
“So, I’m thinking we’ll change the subject now,” he declared wisely. “About today. Lois went home sick yesterday afternoon. I could call Perry, tell him she still feels bad and that I’m staying home with her. That buys us some time.”
“Time for what?”
“Time to… um… hm.”
“Exactly,” she agreed. “Let’s go to work. I’ll be so good at being this Lois Lane no one will know. Believe me I’ve had the practice. And this will keep us from climbing the walls. And maybe… you could fly us in? I mean, I’ve gotten kind of used to that, and other than coffee, it’s the best eye-opener.”
“We could find you something to wear,” he said, warming to the idea despite his misgivings.
“Do you mind? If I use her things? That I’ll be seen as her?”
“No,” he said, though he did mind a little. He’d just have to get over it. “I don’t, Lane.”
“I was thinking we could put Tempus’ picture in the paper? Say he’s a missing source with valuable information. It’s true,” she defended herself at his raised eyebrows. “Just in case he’s still here…”
“That hardly seems likely,” he answered, “though I guess it couldn’t hurt.”
“Hang on.” Lane sat back with a thump in her chair, her demeanor changing completely. “Hang on… I’m remembering… something.” She sat like a stone for some time, staring right through him at something he couldn’t see. “Just the idea that he might still be here? That seems. somehow… I… I remember.”
He wanted to leap across the table and pull it out of her. Grab her by the shoulders and shake it loose, whatever it was. There was a glimmering lift inside him, a growing sense of hope that he did his very best to squash. Because it didn’t make any sense that it would be there.
<Calm down. It could be anything. It’s probably nothing.>
“He left by the door,” she said finally, a note of wonder in her voice.
<It is nothing. He left by the door. So?>
“Ok,” he answered her evenly.
“No, Clark!” She was up on her feet again and dashing into the living room. “I was here!” She pointed to the floor in front of the fireplace. “And he walked all around the room, over and over. I don’t know how long. I was kind of out of it. But he was walking.” Lane started circling. “And cursing… looking for something!” She snapped her fingers at him. “And he left this way.” She moved to the foyer. “Slammed the door so hard it hurt my head.”
She was beaming at him. Her look so eerily familiar it was hard to watch it. Lois’ ‘eureka’ face. Who had seen that more than he had? Despite his skepticism, he felt his excitement growing. When she got in this mode, Lois, his Lois, and evidently Lane as well, almost never missed the mark.
“He’s still here,” he supplied, knowing that was exactly what she wanted him to say. No prevaricating. No ‘maybes’ or ‘possiblys’. Nothing less than certainty. “Something went wrong,” he added for good measure, because his Lois would expect no less of him.
“He’s still here,” Lane echoed with complete conviction. “Maybe Lois… broke the window when she tried to jump in and grab him.”
“That’s not necessarily good news, Lane,” he sat down quickly on the sofa. “If the window’s broken, even if we catch Tempus, then what?”
“I don’t know,” she answered in a small voice, her very posture melting from elation to defeat. “I really don’t.”
“Well, let’s find Tempus,” he offered, an exchange for having deflated her so thoroughly. “Let’s find him and see what he has to say.”
It was her ticket home. Broken into tiny pieces, but her ticket nevertheless. So much better than no ticket at all.
Lois picked it up as slowly and gently as possible. As if it was… a newborn baby. The thought gave her pause, but only for a minute.
This was what she had made contact with in her desperate leap into the window. Tempus must have already set the time and place, because even without it, the window had stayed activated. It had still closed.
With great care she laid her treasure on the kitchen table.
“Superman!” she screamed, because she couldn’t stand being alone with it for one more minute.
She imagined that in the instant before the sounding of the sonic boom, there had been a subtle shifting in the wind currents, predicting his arrival. Maybe it was only her imagination, after all she wasn’t the one with the super senses. However, imagined or not, it was completely appropriate. A sign. The winds were shifting. The currents, it would seem, were about to blow their way at last.
He hit the terrace with such force, Lois covered the exposed time device with her body, as if it were a patient on an operating table she didn’t want infected. She almost shushed him. So fragile was her patient, she didn’t want it disturbed.
“What?” His face was a tight mask of concern. And fear, also. He wasn’t hiding that as well as he thought he was. And he was obviously more affected by the day’s events than he’d allowed himself to show in front of her. No doubt out of a misguided notion that she needed protecting. As different as he was from her Clark, they weren’t called counterparts for nothing.
“I won,” Lois answered in a soft tone that didn’t hide the triumph in it. “Tempus,” she marveled at how easily she said the name, “didn’t get away clean.”
His eyes bore into hers. “For God’s sake, Lois,” he said in anguished tones. “What gives?”
With a flourish she stood up straight from the table. “It fell from the window. I… helped it out, I think. I won,” she repeated, a note of wonder in her voice.
Clark approached it reverently. “You saved the day,” he spoke in awe, studying the minute circuitry with great care.
“Well, maybe.” Lois beamed. “Let’s not get too excited.” She hopped from one foot to the other, simply because she needed the exercise.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Cause you’re not excited.”
“There is the matter of having it repaired. I’m not sure the shops in Metropolis could handle it, but maybe…”
“Star Labs!” They spoke simultaneously.
“Dr. Klein,” Clark whooped. “Get your shoes, Loes. We’ll fly. Wait. I’ll call Bernie, first. Sometimes it’s easier if I go at certain hours. He’s always there and doesn’t mind, and this way we avoid awkward questions of any nature.”
“Clark,” she halted him. “You’re babbling.”
He had the phone in hand. “Curious. Where might I have learned that?”
“I’m going to change.” She grinned. “I’m still wearing what I was throwing up in this morning at work.”
“There’s a colorful snapshot of the alternate universe I didn’t need,” he called as she headed to the bedroom.
“Yes, hello. This is Superman for Doctor Klein… Thank you… no, that’s ok, I can hold. No really, I can hold. No, I insist! I’m holding… don’t interrupt him… an emergency? Well… I’d rather just tell him, thank you… No, thank you, no, but I haven’t done anything… ok, you’re welcome. No problem… Does he get this, Lois, when he calls?” he yelled to her.
She rounded the corner dressed in an old sweatshirt and faded jeans, which were much more snug than she remembered, carrying one of her former favorite pair of sneakers.
“Why is my stuff still here?” she asked him pointedly.
“Um… what?” he replied distantly.
“My stuff. My shoes, my clothes, old story notes… why?”
“Can we maybe talk about this later?” he asked impatiently.
“We will talk about it,” she said. “We did me. It’s your turn.”
“I don’t think I’m getting Dr. Klein on the phone anytime soon,” he remarked evenly. “I can hear all this commotion, sounds like things at Star Labs are… chaotic.”
“We could just go later, after dark. If you know Dr. Klein will be there,” Lois offered.
“Can you wait?” he asked regretfully. “I should have said it was an emergency. Should have pulled rank.”
“A couple of hours, Clark,” she whispered his name, just in case anyone on the extension had a bionic ear. Not out of the realm of possibility at Star Labs.
He hung up reluctantly.
“Maybe I’ll change, too,” he offered weakly.
“Maybe you’ll slink off and avoid the subject, you mean,” she answered dryly.
“Were you always this mean?” he teased. “I’d forgotten that.”
“Here is where we stand right now.” She moved towards him, steering him towards the sofa, and in a move reminiscent of the one her Clark had used on her, pushed him down to sit. “I’m pregnant. Reentry into my own life is proving difficult. My Clark is trying to help, but how can he when I don’t know what kind of help I need?”
Lois moved to stand in front of him. “Now you,” she challenged.
He put his boots up on the coffee table and studied them closely for some time. He just needed a minute to organize his thoughts. This wasn’t the easiest topic in the world.
“Hey,” she barked. “No organizing your thoughts. Just spit it out, mister.”
“Cut that out!” he laughed. “No fair mind reading.”
He stood up to pace, hoping that would help the words flow. A habit he had learned from her. “Here it goes,” he began, taking a deep breath. “I thought I was something of an expert on Lois Lanes, you know. I mean, I had this huge advantage. Not only did I love that woman on sight, Lois. Um.” He turned back to her uncertainly, “We can talk about this, can’t we?”
“We can talk about this, Clark,” she said firmly, seating herself in the spot he’d vacated. “Go on.”
He hesitated a fraction, studying her.
“You’re sure?” he finally asked in a tone that made her raise her eyes to meet his.
She smiled at him. “I’m sure.”
He blew out a relieved breath. “I miss you, you know.”
“Me too,” she agreed.
“Ok, our subject: Lois Lane. I thought I did pretty well my first year with my first Lois.” He looked to her for confirmation, and she nodded encouragement. “Right. So, when HG leaves me with my Lois, I’m thinking, ok. I can do this. No problem.”
“No problem?” Lois asked him incredulously. “Did we meet the same Lane from the Congo?
“Point to you.” He nodded. “But she’d been in a prison for five years, Loes. You can’t come away from that and not have a little… attitude.” He smiled at the look on her face. “Some might say you, yourself, aren’t immune to the attitude thing, you know?” At her arched brow, he continued. “Ok, ok. And her life had been lived in her absence, and there was no one to miss her.”
“What happened to her parents?” Lois asked with sudden interest. “They weren’t here when I came, remember?
“And we were a bit relieved.” He nodded. “Not wanting to play the part of the resurrected daughter for grieving parents.
“Right. It was bad enough with Perry.”
“She lost them early,” he supplied. “Like me.”
“Does she have a Lucy?” Lois was sitting upright now, conveying more with her expression than she knew. “I know we couldn’t find her, but she had to have a Lucy, even a really silly one like mine. Without a Lucy how do you play ‘name your most horrifying childhood memory’?”
“There’s a Lucy. She’s a physician in London. World renowned.”
“No kidding!” The look of horror on her face didn’t escape him.
What would Lois have done if her Lucy was more successful that she was?
“And she’s a bit… removed from Lois’ life.”
“Ok, no family then. No one but you. Sounds very similar to how I was when I came.”
“Exactly! So why is this so much harder? I’ve done this before. I can love Loises.”
His eyes met her shining ones. “Don’t you dare laugh,” he threatened.
“I can love Loises,” she sang sweetly.
“Can’t I?” he asked pointedly, completely changing the tone of the conversation.
“You can, Clark.” Lois sighed. “And you will. It’s just that seeing where she’s coming from, and what she walked in to, I’m amazed she’s still here.”
“She has no place else to go,” he stated. “Sometimes I think that’s the only reason she’s still here. You know I absolutely dread pay day now? Like any Friday she’ll announce that she has just enough money saved to go off and get a place of her own. I’m always waiting for that. But then a day will pass, or two, and I’ll think, well maybe she’s here for another week, at least.”
“She would find a place,” Lois countered. “If she really wanted to, Clark. She wouldn’t still be living here, and wouldn’t still be playing the part of your wife, if she didn’t, on some level that she maybe hasn’t explored yet, feel… something for you.”
“You know what I think, Loes.” He turned his back on her and pretended to study the darkening sky from the window. “I think I’m the guy who helps the girl when she most needs him. But I’m not the guy who keeps the girl.”
The room fell into heavy silence.
“I would have stayed with you if she hadn’t come,” Lois spoke at last.
Clark didn’t turn around, but he could see her watching his reflection closely in the window. “No, you wouldn’t have, sweetheart. You had a life and a home and a family and… him. And we made the best of a bad situation. If HG had come even before my Lois, you would have gone.”
Her eyes filled with tears. She wanted to deny it. Wanted to deny that she would have thrown away what they had together so easily. Having the other Lois come had left her no choice and at the same time had taken a difficult decision out of her hands. “You can’t know what you mean to me,” she whispered brokenly.
“I made you cry,” he said, turning with a start. “I never did that before.”
“Did I hurt you so much, Clark?” Lois fairly pleaded. “Did I make you think you were worth so little? I can’t stand that thought. I can’t. Should I have… stayed?”
“No, Loes. No. I have missed you. Missed this. Having someone to tell it all to, no matter how stupid it sounds. Having a friend. But Lois, my Lois…”
“Finish that sentence for me, Clark,” she demanded.
“… has my heart in her fist.”
“Oh, thank God!” she exclaimed, moving across the room and throwing herself into his arms.
“You’re getting me wet,” he complained, though he tightened his grip on her.
“You’re in love with her,” Lois grinned.
“Completely,” he affirmed. “And these last few months have taught me that what I felt for you, sweetheart–” He set her down gently and looked into her eyes. “–while it was great…” He seemed to be asking permission to go on. She nodded quickly. “It wasn’t anything like the exquisite torture of Lois Lane the Second.”
Their laughter drove away the gloom that had settled over them. They held onto each other in the fading light.
After a time Lois ventured, “And the baby?”
“Not an easy one,” he admitted softly. “If this baby is ours, then he or she was made in love. That will always be true. And if we can’t fix this… if Bernie can’t fix the device… or if the fates are against it… or whatever.” He swallowed hard. “If you and I can’t put things back, then I want to be the dad, Lois. I would love to be the dad, Lois.”
“But if I can get back, Clark, then this baby belongs to him.”
“This baby,” Clark moved his hand to cover her stomach, spreading his fingers out to span the width of her, “belongs to you. And you belong with him.”
“You see why I married you?” she asked him.
“I told you at the time you wouldn’t be sorry.” He grinned.
“Are you nervous?” Clark asked Lane quietly as they entered the elevator from the lobby.
“Not as nervous as you are,” she answered matter-of-factly. “Remember, I’ve done this before. I do it everyday. Same charade, different universe.”
“You must hate this!” he blurted. “I hadn’t really thought of it from your point of view. You are never really… you… are you?”
“Can I tell you something?” she turned towards him. “Something I haven’t said out loud to anyone before?”
“Please,” he prompted. “I think it’s safe to say that I can be trusted.”
“I don’t think I even know me anymore.” She let out a nervous breath. “It feels good to just say that. I mean, I spent five years locked away with very few people to talk to, none of whom spoke my language. And it turns out? That was the easy part.”
“Damn,” Clark answered in hushed tones. “Oh… sorry. I mean… that’s awful, Lane.”
“Your first response was the right one,” she smiled. “So, I come home.”
She stopped abruptly as the elevator doors opened to accept new passengers. He moved her gently beside him, making room for the others. He didn’t know if she would recognize the familiar faces or not, and wanted to be next to her, ready to run interference if she needed it.
She didn’t. “Ralph,” she pronounced disdainfully. “Jimmy,” she greeted cheerfully.
There really was a parallel universe.
Of course there was, he knew that. Lois had told him so, and he believed her completely. And had from her first words about it when she’d arrived in Smallville.
“I was taken by a man with a time window.”
He had never once questioned if she was hallucinating, or suffering brain damage, or some kind of psychosis due to kidnapping, injury, or unspeakable trauma. He hadn’t thought she was crazy, in short. Clark had accepted everything Lois had thrown at him, right down to the identical husband. He really had.
But seeing Lane so casually and easily respond to Ralph and Jimmy in just the right way… well, maybe seeing was believing. She was Lois Lane. No doubt about it. Not just that she shared her body and her face. But she obviously shared her world… the people and the places in it.
For just a moment Clark let himself remember what he had spent months suppressing. His dreams of Lois in the altworld. His ability to be with her as she slept, or didn’t, with his counterpart. The way in which he was able to see her and feel her with the other Clark. Because he could dwell inside the mind of his counterpart, if only in the unconscious state.
Did it work that way for Lane and Lois? Did it work for all counterparts? Or was it just Kryptonians? Maybe he had always dreamed the dreams of other Clarks who weren’t him. How would he have known the difference?
And what was the difference? Who was he really? Was he just one of a corporate Clark Kent? One member of a family of Kryptonians trying to make a life in his own universe in his own way? And if that was the case… how was he different? Was he?
Lane wasn’t the only one with an identity crisis here. She was just brave enough to say so.
And who was Lois Lane to him? To all of him? Was there one assigned to every Clark Kent in every universe? Did it matter ultimately, who went with whom? Maybe it really didn’t matter who the father of Lois’ baby was. Maybe they all were.
Clark passed a shaky hand over his forehead. A gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by Lane.
Her look of concern did little to comfort him. It… scared him.
<She knows me,> he thought frantically. <She met me yesterday, but she knows how to read me already. What am I supposed to do? If Lois doesn’t come back… do I marry her? What if… those dreams start again?>
He started breathing rapidly. Suddenly the elevator seemed far too small. He wanted to punch a hole in it and fly away.
“You guys go ahead,” he heard Lane say to a curious Ralph and Jimmy. “Clark and I have some… unfinished business.” She said it with just enough menace that the men fled quickly, no questions, no teasing about being late. Just gratitude, he was certain, that it was him in trouble and not them.
The elevator doors closed on the bullpen.
“Sit down,” she ordered him softly. “Take deep breaths, Clark. Those are too shallow. They make me dizzy just listening.”
Her hand was on the top of his head. He had obeyed her without thinking about it.
“This is going to be ok,” she said with great confidence. “You are going to be ok.”
How many times had he said that to Lois? How many times in this very elevator had he held her and told her, as hushed and as quickly as he could, knowing that at any moment they’d be interrupted, that it was all going to ok?
He’d been wrong hadn’t he? Because she was gone. And he was going to work with her… replacement. And that was about as far from ok as they could get.
“Do you want to go home sick?” she offered kindly. “Maybe this is too soon.”
“We don’t know when it is,” he ground out. “Do we? We don’t know if this is the first day of one hundred or one thousand or of forever.”
“We know that Tempus is here,” she snapped, apparently abandoning soothing and calm as the way to go.
She rooted around for the sketch of Tempus, pulling it from her briefcase. No… from Lois’ briefcase. It looked so completely right on her. She looked so completely like Lois when she searched through her bag that way. Quick, energetic, angry motions. A spring tightly wound, frustrated with the slightest hold-up. She was Lois. She was so Lois it frightened him.
Hadn’t Lois told him that when she had found the altworld’s Clark Kent she had almost cried with relief? He could see that now, how that Clark would have been so… him. And lost as she was, it wouldn’t have been scary, but a comfort. Familiar in all the ways that she knew. A harbor in a fog of confusion.
And hadn’t he asked Lane, just last night, if he could hold her for a while? Devastated as he was by Lois’ taking, he had needed to feel Lane in his arms. And she had felt… familiar. In a way that had comforted him.
He understood fully, heart and mind, how Lois would have felt with the other Clark. How once she had gone home with him, she hadn’t wanted to leave. It made a horrible, perfect kind of sense.
“We’ll… take the sketch to Perry,” he spoke firmly, or at least he tried. “We’ll tell him we need this guy found. We need to hear from anyone who might have seen him… And we’ll… wait.”
She was crouched down in front of him now, eyeing him closely.
“Are you finished freaking out?” she asked bluntly.
“For today,” he smiled ruefully.
“I’ve had more practice at this, you know. This is still just your first universe, and you’ve never met counterparts of any kind, until just now. I’ve met Lois. And I know Clark and now… you. So, I’m a little ahead of the game.”
He couldn’t help but laugh. “But it’s not my first universe. You’re forgetting Krypton. And you’re just trying to make me feel better for falling apart.”
“You want to tell me what set this off?”
“Later,” he breathed, meaning never. “After we’ve had that talk with Perry. After we get through today. After we’ve gotten our feet wet, so to speak.”
She held her hand out to him to help him rise. He took it like it was a life preserver and he didn’t know how to swim.
He didn’t yet. But he’d learn. Best to just get day one underway.
“You never answered the original question, you know?” Lois murmured as she and Superman walked through the halls of Star Labs.
“The original question being?” Superman inclined his head politely to the white-coated technicians who were pretending not to be watching him.
“Why do you still have all my things?” she questioned in a low voice.
“You sound like Lane,” he sighed deeply. “What was I supposed to do, Lois, throw them out?” Superman raised a hand in greeting to one of Dr. Klein’s assistants. He couldn’t keep them all straight.
“Yes,” she answered simply, moving to examine the selection of outdated and mind-boggling magazines in the small waiting area, which was so obviously an afterthought.
“Oh,” Superman said, moving a polite distance away from her.
“I can see that’s a new idea,” she remarked from behind the magazine she wasn’t reading.
“It felt… disloyal,” he admitted softly from where he stood.
“You could never be disloyal to me. The only thing I would consider a betrayal is if you didn’t let yourself be happy.”
“Spoken like the pot to the kettle,” he hissed quietly, again nodding a greeting, this time to the after hours security guard.
“Dr. Klein can see you now,” one of the lab techs informed Superman diffidently.
“Thank you,” he returned evenly. And then, “Ms. Lane,” he turned and looked directly at her for the first time since they’d entered the building, injecting the right amount of formality into his tone, “If you want that story, you can come along.” His back to passers-by, he gave her a wink.
“Thank you, Superman,” she replied cordially. And then muttered, “Do you do this a lot? Does Lane come along to Star Labs and… get the scoop?”
Oh, believe me,” he replied fervently. “She insists on it.”
“The more I hear about her, the more I like her.” Lois grinned.
“Superman!” Dr. Klein hailed him from behind a sea of beakers and vials. “Glad you didn’t mind waiting.”
“No problem, Bernie,” Clark said, the formality leaving his voice and his posture as soon as the door was closed behind them.
Since Bernard Klein had never met the Kent half of the Lane-Kent team, Clark never felt the need to do the Superman thing in front of him, instead genuinely appreciating the somewhat quirky friendship that had grown between them. Bernard Klein was in an exclusive club. He was one of a small handful of people who knew Superman, and was neither flustered nor cowed by him. In his case, it was more a matter of… fascination.
“Please,” Bernie pleaded as he scraped his chair back from his desk. “Tell me you’re here for more tests. We’ve done strength, stamina, exposure to extreme temperatures…”
Dr. Klein took a moment to consult the index card he kept handy for just such an occasion. Clark took the same moment to note the rising of Lois’ eyebrows.
“Yes,” Bernie continued. “That’s it thus far. Now, I’ve been thinking…oxygen deprivation.” He pronounced this with a gleeful smile, all but rubbing his hands together. “How long can you really, really hold your breath, Superman? I know you’ve estimated twenty minutes or so. But how far do you think we can… stretch that?”
“What!” Lois exploded incredulously.
“Oh,” Bernie spared her a glance for the first time. Clark noticed the moment the significance of her presence registered on him. “Hello, Ms. Lane,” he said politely if somewhat gloomily. “Nice to see you again.”
There was no mistaking the acute disappointment in his voice. If Lois was present, it could only be for a story. There wouldn’t be any defying the laws of nature or physics today.
“So, this is for a story, I take it.” He smiled gamely, touching Clark with his quick recovery. “Well, any way I can help?”
“It is quite a story, Bernie.” Clark laid a consoling hand on the man’s shoulder. “But not one you’ll ever see printed. You and I… we still have a deal, right?”
“Superman.” Dr. Klein was all business. “I’m your doctor. Whatever you tell me, or show me,” he added somewhat hopefully, “never leaves this room.”
“In that case you might want to sit down,” Superman informed him.
“I have to sit for this?” He looked to Lois for confirmation, his eyes gone wide. “Oh… goody!” he couldn’t seem to help adding.
The first week passed with no progress in the search for Tempus. Though his sketch ran prominently in each morning addition, there had yet to be any calls. Despite that, Clark was glad he and Lane had decided to continue working, to continue the pretense that everything was normal. After a shaky start Clark found it comforting to stay in a routine.
He had done so the first time Lois had disappeared. Even though he hadn’t written anything for months, he had gone and sat, day after day, at his desk for some period of time. Waiting, he guessed, for her to step off the elevator. Clinging to the space she had filled with such life. And trying to keep hold of his only ties to her — her desk, her computer, and her coat, which had hung on the back of her chair for months. Lois had left it at work the night she was taken, and no one had dared move it. He hadn’t let them.
For now, he spent his nights looking for Tempus, and his days like he always had.
And there was comfort, too, in doing the routine things with Lane. The only other person who knew what was really going on, and who was proving brilliant at being this world’s Lois Lane, reporter. She was so good at it, she raised absolutely no suspicions. Strange how an indispensable person, an unforgettable person, an unmistakable person could be… replaced. If not for him, if not for his knowing where she’d come from, Lane could be this world’s Lois Lane.
It bothered him, if he was honest. And it galled him, though it wasn’t fair. Day after day he found himself looking to Perry, to Jimmy, at his most fanciful even to Ralph, for a sign, a spark, a glimmer of… doubt, of suspicion, of… something. It was never there.
So much like his life as Superman. He spent his days, barring the occasional midday disaster, working among this staff of people. He knew them and they knew him. And yet, he lived an entire life none of them had any idea about. Now Lane was doing the same thing.
Maybe you never really, really knew a person? Or maybe you really did just see what was in front of you, took it at face value, and went about your own more consuming business? Or maybe, after plenty of practice, Lane was just that good.
She was the very picture of confidence, of competence. And what she didn’t know, she faked. And when he could, he helped. All in all, the whole living with a different woman and pretending she’s the same one and working closely with her thing? Pretty darn easy. A little too easy, if he let himself admit. Really, it shouldn’t be so easy.
The angry tapping of high heels on the hard floor called Clark from the same uncomfortable thoughts he’d had for days now. Idly curious, and not altogether focused on the work before him, he looked up in time to see the woman he hoped was his future mother-in-law, fresh out of the “spa” or whatever Ellen was calling rehab these days. And she was bearing down on “Lois.”
How badly had he just tempted the fates, he wondered in the part of his brain that was still working. All the ruminating on how easy this was. It was almost like he had conjured her himself.
Clark moved to intercept her, cursing his forgetfulness. Lois’ parents and Lucy — they were so obviously huge factors in the game they were playing. So why hadn’t he, before this very moment, even considered them?
He spotted Lane at the exact moment Ellen did. She was moving with Jimmy from the conference room, completely engrossed in conversation. Her head bent over a photo Jimmy was showing her.
“Lois!” Clark and Ellen called simultaneously.
<And here’s where it all goes to hell,> Clark thought bitterly. <Stupid, Kent. Stupid.>
Lane, on hearing her name, sent Clark an inquiring look, one eyebrow raised quizzically. A frown clouded her face as she took in the expression he wasn’t even trying to conceal. Then, she glanced in the direction his eyes were pointing towards.
Clark felt everything slow down. Ellen bearing down on Lois, the look of a stern lecture in her very walk. Lane without a clue as to what was about to hit her. And Jimmy, right in the way, as always. He moved to stop whatever was going to happen from happening, with the wistful thought that sometimes even being Superman wasn’t enough.
“Mom!” he heard Lane’s startled cry. “Mom!”
She was across the bullpen and holding Ellen before he had figured out his strategy.
“Oh, Mom. Mom,” Lane was repeating, “What are you doing here?”
Ellen, for her part, was doing a valiant job covering her surprise at a reception she’d never had from her daughter, ever. She took a moment to set her handbag and scowl back where they’d been.
“I’ve been sitting and waiting in that infernal deli that you love so much for the past two hours,” she grumbled, struggling to remain disapproving under the beam of Lane’s rapt and joyous attention. “We were meeting for lunch, or have you forgotten you have a mother?”
“I have a mother!” Lane exclaimed, absolutely missing the bitterness in the older woman’s voice. “Oh, Clark!” She called him loudly, though it was unnecessary. He was right behind her, trying to formulate a graceful exit for all players involved. “This is my mom,” she announced tremulously through tear-filled eyes. And then once more she threw herself into Ellen’s stiff embrace.
“Is this a joke?” Ellen sniffed.
Clark plastered on the most convincing smile he could manage. “I think that Lois,” he emphasized the name a bit loudly, “is just really glad to have you back. Now that you’re home… from… the spa,” he finished weakly.
He placed a hand on Lane’s shoulder and squeezed, trying to convey, in just the right amount of pressure from his five fingers: you’re not Lois, this is not your mom, she has never been greeted so happily before… ever, everybody’s watching, you’re making a scene, she’s a bitter pill of a woman.
“Right,” Lois piped up after a bit, evidently being fluent in the hidden language of squeezed shoulders. “Of course you and Clark know each other.” She laughed nervously and edged closer to him, relaxing against him as he wound his arm around her waist. “I mean, he’s the man I’m going to marry… um… someday. So, of course you know each other.”
At this Ellen’s mouth opened and tried to work, but thankfully it didn’t.
“And he’s right,” Lane rushed on. “I’m just really… really… happy to see you… Mom.” She had tried, but her face and her voice crumpled on the last word.
It occurred to Clark, only then, what he was watching. Lane with Lois’ mom. Only Lane was seeing her own mom, obviously for the first time in a long while. Suddenly, no matter how foolish it was, no matter how they might pay for it later, he wanted this for her. If fate was going to be so unkind to them all, maybe they could make some good wherever they were able.
“Ellen,” he spoke up. “Since Lois and I ended up working unexpectedly through lunch, how about dinner? You could come over. I’ll cook?”
Lane tossed him a grateful smile, nodding vigorously.
Ellen wasn’t so easy. “Tonight is my Girl’s Night Out,” she rejoined. “You remember Lois. It’s the same night every week. The girls and I play some cards, have a few… um… nonalcoholic beverages, and discuss alimony.”
“I’m your girl,” Lane offered quietly. “Aren’t I?”
Ellen was taken aback, but only for so long. “I had two hours to give you today, so don’t pretend you’re the one who’s disappointed. I am the disappointed one. Always, Lois.”
“Please,” Clark tried again, not because he wanted to, but because he couldn’t stand the heartache in Lane’s face, the fast, frantic thumping of her heart. He pulled her closer still, trying to impart some comfort. Trying not to shake Ellen Lane’s comfortable look of martyrdom from her face.
“Ok,” Lane said. “I… I’m sorry about today. I didn’t know, Mom. I… forgot, I guess.”
“Fine. Well. I’m going on now. I have a salon appointment I can’t be late for.” Ellen patted Lane awkwardly on the arm.
“Will you call me again?” Lane tried one more time. “Next week, maybe?”
“If you think you might free yourself from work long enough to see me, then yes,” Ellen inclined her head regally. “Clark.” She included him in her gaze. “Goodbye.”
Clark had Lane in the stairwell before Ellen made it onto the elevator. He hustled her along, her feet not quite touching the ground, at a speed only slightly above the average human. She gave way immediately.
“It’s ok,” he murmured against her hair, pulling his glasses down and checking for witnesses. He floated her silently up the stairwell and out onto the roof. “Let it out, Lane. It’s ok.”
She clung to him, trembling and sobbing, a storm of words expelled on her every exhale. He followed it all as best he could. A mom who was Ellen Lane, but thankfully nothing like the one she’d just met. Taken from her, along with her dad, in an accident when she seventeen. A lonely life with a sister who couldn’t wait to get away, who had left as soon as she was able.
Clark held her close, rocking her and whispering his complete understanding of her sentiments. He had a mom exactly like she’d described. He’d take her to meet her if she’d like. He couldn’t imagine how it would be to lose her, especially so young.
Lane’s sobs grew less frequent and less violent. His murmurs turned to small kisses, just on the top of her head, her forehead, her cheeks where the tears still fell. He understood loneliness. Nobody understood it like he did. And he understood her pain. He wanted to take it from her. To be as strong for her as she’d been for him this last week. He wanted to help her. And he loved the feel of her, in his arms, under his lips, against his body.
Lane had gone still. Her cries had stopped. Her breathing had changed from deep shuddering breaths to something shallower. “Clark?” she questioned with a note of caution in her voice. But he was gone. Lost. His mouth found hers. His hands went to her hair, to her body, inside her jacket. He was starving for her. Starving and unaware that anything or anyone else existed.
Lane’s arms came up around his neck, hesitantly at first, but then she arched against him, touching every aching part of his body with an answering part of her own.
For what had to be the first time in his young life, Clark would think later, Jimmy was late.
A noisily cleared throat sounded behind them. Clark and Lane leapt apart immediately.
“Whoa, hey, sorry,” Jimmy greeted cheerfully. “The Chief thought you came this way. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Um… you just… surprised us, Jim,” Clark answered, moving further from Lane and into the bracing wind that had sprung up at some point. “Need something?” he added as an afterthought.
“Just that source you’ve been looking for? That Tempus guy? Somebody called in, recognized the sketch. Chief thought you’d want to know.”
Clark let out a long, shuddering breath. “We’ll be right down.”
Lane echoed, “Thanks, Jimmy.”
“Can I just say something?” Jimmy began, a broad smile lighting up his features. “You two don’t have to be so embarrassed. I mean, you guys live together, so it’s no secret that you–”
“Ok, Jim,” Clark overrode him quickly.
“No, really, CK. It’s actually kind of nice. To catch you like that. Especially after the last few months, everyone was sort of wondering if there was something… not right?” Jimmy’s voice trailed off uncertainly. “But from what I just saw…”
“Ok, Jim!” Clark tried again, this time using Superman’s voice. It did the trick. He’d never figured out why exactly, but in this case he was entirely grateful that it did.
“Right,” Jimmy said. “Ok. Meet you downstairs. After you’ve finished… talking.”
Lane ducked her head and moved towards the stairs.
“Lane,” he spoke in a low voice.
She stopped but she didn’t turn.
“I’ll meet you in a little while. I’m just going to…”
“Go ahead,” she answered kindly. “I would if I could, too.”
The door clanged shut behind her and Superman took off into the skies.
Two flat tires, a stranded cat in a tree, and one downed power line were the sum of Superman’s activities that afternoon in Metropolis. Clark went about his patrol with only one conscious thought.
He didn’t want to. Didn’t need to. He wasn’t ready.
Why had he kissed her like that? Whatever had possessed him? And he had truly felt possessed. He had known she wasn’t Lois, but for that instant it hadn’t mattered. If there had been some confusion or even some forgetfulness on his part when he was trying to comfort her, or if the kiss had been like a muscle memory, an automatic response to Lois Lane in pain… if it had been any of those things, he would feel better. But he had known who he was kissing, had known exactly who she was, and who she wasn’t. And he had kissed her anyway.
Was this how it had been for Lois when she had first been with his counterpart? This strange echo of familiar feelings, so much the same, and yet so different? Or, worse than that, is that how it was for Lois and that Clark now? Reunited, were the two of them finding themselves growing ever more intimate? Like he was finding himself with Lane?
Was he testing that idea? Trying to see how far things would go between the two of them, just to better understand how things had progressed with Lois and the other Clark? Like some horrible, twisted experiment?
<If I hold her and she feels like Lois, if I kiss her and she kisses like Lois, then… is she Lois enough for me? Maybe it’s just Lois Lane who I need, who I love. Maybe it could be any Lois Lane?>
Superman stopped in mid-flight, shaking his head to clear it. He knew that his thinking wasn’t right. That he didn’t truly believe that he and Lois were interchangeable, one just the same as another. But he was allowing himself to voice what he’d been most afraid of since that first morning in the elevator with Lane. His deepest fear. About himself and about his Lois. That there wasn’t something fundamental to them that held them together. That they weren’t individuals in love in their own unique way. That they were just two cosmic pawns with the right names.
<Stop thinking> he ordered himself again. <Just stop. Maybe those questions don’t have answers. Maybe those questions should never be asked.>
But he was asking, he knew. Try as he might not to, he was finally asking what he’d only recently realized he needed to know. And he was getting the answers, like it or not.
When he stepped off the elevator, Lane was at Lois’ desk engaged in a lively conversation on the phone. He hadn’t wanted to come back, but if the Tempus sighting was real, there was work to do. And he owed her an explanation, even if it was just to tell her that he didn’t really have one. He pulled a chair up beside her desk and waited.
She pointed rapidly at the notes she was scribbling in her notebook. He risked leaning in closer to read over her shoulder. ‘Tempus seen twice. Get surveillance tapes?’
“We’ve got him,” she mouthed, a huge smile lighting up her face.
Their hunch had been right. Tempus was in Metropolis, perhaps trapped in their dimension. Once they found him, and Superman wasn’t going to sleep again until he did, then maybe they could shake some answers from him. If he’d lost or broken the window device as they suspected, he still might know enough about how it worked. Still might have enough knowledge, which if imparted to Bernard Klein, might get them somewhere. Or, at the very least, if HG Wells and his peacekeepers tracked Tempus here, then maybe the portal to the alternate Metropolis could be opened for them.
<Don’t get too far ahead of yourself> he cautioned himself. <Just get Tempus first.>
Lane had hung up the phone and was studying him quietly.
“Ready?” she questioned, barely banking the excitement in her eyes.
“Go,” he answered.
“A pawn shop and a hotel. Our call was from the pawn shop. Guy said he recognized his picture, and couldn’t forget the flashy, gold mystery object he pawned last week. So, from there I called the banks. Nothing. He hasn’t deposited anything.
“That would be too easy,” Clark said. “We could just go and wait there.”
“Right, so I tried the hotels. He has to stay somewhere. Pawn-shop guy said the pawned item was pricey, wouldn’t tell me how much he gave him for it, but I figure if Tempus is here, if he has the means, that means.”
“The Lexor,” he filled-in, ready to leap from his chair.
She stopped him with one hand on his shoulder. “The Lexor says he checked out a couple of days ago. Said it was a short and… interesting stay, but until I asked them to look at the sketch in the paper, no one had realized it was the same guy.”
He let himself drop back into his seat.
“But he’s here, Clark,” she said softly. “He’s here… in Metropolis.”
“You were right, Lane.” He reached for her hand before he could think better of it, and squeezed tightly. “You were right all along.”
He saw her glance at their joined hands, and drew away from her. “Can I… talk to you?” he ventured. “In the conference room?”
She looked pointedly at her notes. “Doesn’t Superman have some looking to do?” she asked in a low voice.
“Definitely. But this first, ok, Lane?”
“We don’t have to, Clark,” she began.
“Yes, we really do, especially if we’re getting closer to… a resolution,” he answered firmly. “Come on.”
Lane made a point of walking well away from him. No brushed shoulders, no shared space. She entered the conference room and walked to the far side.
“Do me a favor,” she started. “Don’t apologize.”
“But I’m Clark Kent,” he protested with a weak smile. “That’s what I do.”
“Not to me and not for that,” Lane answered a bit heatedly, reminding him quite vividly of Lois.
“I kissed you,” he groaned, seating himself in the closest chair he could find.
“You’re good at it,” she said. “Anybody ever tell you that?”
“I… no… yes… maybe.” He leaned his elbows on his knees, buried his face in his hands. “I don’t know what it means, Lane,” he finally stated.
“Does it have to mean something?” She was standing in front of him now, obviously not as afraid of close proximity as he was. “Do you want to kiss me now?” she asked, almost as if she was reading his mind.
“I… don’t know,” he replied honestly. “I just know I don’t feel so… comfortable with you standing right there.”
“Does the sight of my shoes… turn you on?” she snapped.
He forced himself to look up, to look at her. “Lane.” he began.
“Kiss me again, Clark,” she demanded.
“No!” He was up and out of his chair in a blur.
“Why not?” she addressed him coolly. “You… liked it, right? It was just like having Lois back, wasn’t it?”
“Did I just confirm your worst fear for you?” he moaned. “That there is no real difference? That one Lois Lane is as good as another?”
“Whose worst fear is that, Clark?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Yours or mine?”
He sat back down. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted.
“Then you have to kiss me again,” she said softly. “So you can decide.”
“I want to kiss you again.” The words left his mouth of their own volition. “I want to kiss you, Lane, and a whole lot more.”
“You’re good with your hands, too,” she told him. “You were doing some… interesting things before our friend Jimmy arrived.”
“Don’t you know, Clark, that there are some things that can’t be talked through? That sometimes you just have to… seize the day?”
The blinds in the conference room were wide open. The door, though closed, was unlocked. But that didn’t matter. She had given him an invitation he couldn’t turn down. He wouldn’t turn down. Because he didn’t want to.
Clark advanced on her, noting her sudden nervousness, her hammering heartbeat. She wasn’t nearly as calm as she appeared to be. His eyes roved over her full lips, then lingered appreciatively on her soft curves. He took in everything he hadn’t allowed himself to notice. He let himself acknowledge and enjoy the sweet scent of her. He gathered her to him, slowly this time. This wouldn’t be rushed. He pulled her against him and lowered his head to hers, letting his eyes hold her wide-eyed gaze until the last possible moment.
“I know it’s you, Lane,” he growled, before he kissed her with everything he had.
Clark heard the door open and close quickly, and still he kept kissing her. He heard the soft chuckles from their colleagues and was aware that they were putting on quite a show. Still, he didn’t move to let her go, though he remembered to keep his hands in bounds this time. Threading them through her hair, along her jaw line, massaging her shoulders. Perry, at some point, stormed out and demanded to know what kind of garden party his staffers thought they were attending. He was directed to look their way. The chief’s quick explosive guffaw was followed by his orders that everyone get back to work and try to ignore ‘Elvis’ and ‘Priscilla.’
He heard it all and he never stopped kissing her. He heard it all. He heard every bit of it.
At last he lifted his head from her, though he didn’t let her go. Instead he rested his forehead on hers, a smile lighting his face. “How did you know?” he breathed.
“A leap of faith,” she whispered back triumphantly. “I… believed.”
He hugged her tightly, spinning her around in a joyous circle. “You don’t know how glad I am,” he laughed. “How glad, Lane, that…”
“The earth didn’t move?” she supplied gamely.
“It didn’t,” he confirmed. “And… for you?” He almost hated to ask.
“I don’t want to bruise your ego,” she began sweetly. “I mean, nice kissing. The technique is all there…”
“You don’t have to be gentle,” he teased, leaning up against the conference room table. “Go on.”
“Your lips are good. Your grip is nice, tight but not suffocating,” Lane ticked each item off on her fingers. “Tongue, yes.” She beamed at his furious blush. “Your ears are red,” she remarked somewhat off subject. “Smoldering sensuality, check.”
“Lane,” he choked. “I said you don’t have to be gentle, but I’ve changed my mind.”
“You’re not… him,” she finished. It was said very quietly, but the conviction and the revelation in her voice were no less present.
“And you’re not… her,” he answered in the same tone.
“Seems this little experiment paid off,” Lane sighed, moving into his open arms. “Do me a favor?”
“Anything,” he breathed into her hair.
“Go find Tempus. Let’s get me home.”
“Feeling any better?” Superman hovered anxiously over her.
“Do you mean… am I ready to leave the bathroom?” she asked from where she had fallen asleep at some point in the early morning hours.
“I’d settle for a ‘yes’ to that, Lois,” he confessed.
“I think so.” She concentrated for a minute, running a mental inventory and deciding, at last, that moving from the floor of the bathroom was probably a worthwhile and fairly risk-free undertaking.
“Ok,” she sighed, not opening her eyes again until he had settled her in the bed.
“You know it’s a good sign, right?” he said soothingly as he tucked the blankets around her. “You’re still really sick, so you’re still really pregnant. Universe hoping hasn’t adversely affected this little guy… girl… person.”
“And they say pregnant women shouldn’t ride roller coasters.” She smiled weakly.
“They never met Lois Lane, did they?” he countered. “You are better. Thank God, Loes. You know it starts the same time every day and lasts for hours?”
“Believe it or not, yes, I had noticed that.”
“And you’re getting sarcastic!” he exclaimed in a delighted voice. “That means you’ll be hungry soon.”
She opened her mouth to deny it before realizing, to her utter chagrin, that it was true.
“Just pasta,” she said with dignity. “No sauce.”
“You’re taking years off my life,” he complained gently. “Having to see you like this. Are you really better?”
“For today.” Lois yawned. “Maybe a nap before the pasta.”
“I’d feel better if you’d eat something first. Get something on your stomach, then rest.”
“Ok, Dad,” she grumbled.
“Did you hear from Sorenson while I was out?” he called from the kitchen.
“Not yet,” she answered. “He’s probably working up his nerve to call.”
“Anxious, no doubt, to know if his two best reporters are ever coming back to work.” He returned, presenting the bowl of pasta with a flourish.
“What are you telling him?” she asked, as he disappeared into the bathroom. The shower was on and off before she’d eaten the first noodle.
“The truth. You’re sick and I’m taking care of you,” Clark answered. All signs of Superman gone, jeans and a Daily Planet staffer sweatshirt completing the transformation.
“How much longer, do you think?” she dared to ask, knowing it hadn’t been that long since the last time.
“I haven’t been to see Bernie in a couple of days,” he sighed, coming to join her on the bed. “I think I’m making him nervous. Hovering.”
“That makes two of us, then,” she muttered, fully aware that he would hear her.
“I know.” He grinned. “I can’t help it, Lois. You are so calm. And I’m the nervous wreck. What’s wrong with this picture?”
“I’m so queasy I don’t have the energy for anything but calm.”
“If he can’t fix it–”
“Don’t!” she cut him off quickly, appalled to hear the simmering panic that lay underneath that one word.
“You’ve been holding out on me,” he said softly, moving a warm hand to her knee. “You aren’t as ok as you say you are. Why are you lying to me?”
He leaned in closely, fixing her with Superman’s stare.
“I just don’t want to think about it not working,” she said flatly. “I just don’t. I wrestled it from Tempus’ hands. That means something. It’s here for a reason. We are not all stuck like this. I refuse to believe we could be. It’s just… taking some time. This can’t be rushed. But it’s going to work. It has to work, Clark.”
“If it doesn’t,” he rejoined quietly, “no, hear me out, sweetheart. If it doesn’t, we’ll wait for Wells to turn up. We won’t give up. And you realize that without the time device, Tempus is as trapped as we are. Probably in your Metropolis. Lane and your Clark could have him now. She could be drop-kicking any pertinent information out of him. There are… other avenues…if this one doesn’t pan out.”
“What has Bernie told you?” she asked in a deadly serious voice. “What are you holding back from me?”
He didn’t meet her eyes, and made as if to stand, but she covered the hand that was on her leg and held it there. Not that he couldn’t have gotten away. Not that she was any physical match for him. But that he wouldn’t. If she made her wishes known, he would honor them. Even if he didn’t want to.
“Loes,” he began. The bleakness in his voice hit her like a punch between the eyes.
“It doesn’t work,” she gasped, not trying to hide the tears. “It’s broken beyond repair. He doesn’t understand the technology. It had a self-destruct button so that when touched by the wrong hands.”
“Lois!” he shouted, gripping her shoulders tightly. “It’s dangerous. That’s what I was going to say. Dangerous.”
“Is that all?” All of her energy drained, she returned her attention to the pasta she’d abandoned.
“Is that all?” he repeated angrily. “We can’t know where we might land. When we might land. If we might land. We won’t know. You and I will be the ultimate test subjects. Like the chimps that were launched into space in the first rockets.”
“You babble as well as I do,” she commented.
He halted. Smiled wryly at her. “Another reason why this thing between us could never work out.” He held up their joined hands.
“So, it’s too dangerous?” she asked softly. “So… we’re not going? You’re going to leave Lane… where she is?”
“The baby,” he began lamely.
“Is safely tucked inside of me,” she answered, holding his gaze with her own.
“Ok,” he whispered. “We make a deal. We go together like we planned. And if… something goes wrong… no one blames anyone. We just… pick up and move on from wherever it is we’ve moved on to.”
“You and me together,” she vowed softly. “The chimps launched in rockets.”
He lay down beside her, not letting go of her hand, and closed his eyes.
“I’m more likely to survive it, if something goes wrong, Lois. Of the two of us, I would… bounce better. I don’t know if I could live with myself if…”
“This is my choice,” she returned quietly. “I’m going with or without you. That’s what you need to remember. What you need to tell yourself… even if the worst happens.”
“It’s such a gamble,” Clark sighed. “You’re sure?”
“Yes,” Lois answered firmly.
“I think it’s the waiting,” Clark said after a time. It’s making me a little crazy. Do you know how many lost kittens Superman has found homes for in the last few weeks?”
“I’ve got a job for you, something to keep you busy, if you’d like.”
“Please.” He opened his eyes and looked at her, one pillow over. “Whatever it is, you ask and I’ll do it.”
“It’s time for you to throw out my things,” she said. “Get rid of them. Donate what’s good and toss the rest. But do it, Clark. Make room for Lane.”
“I have made room for Lane!” He sat up quickly, eager to defend himself. “In my heart.”
“Not in your heart, Romeo.” She rolled her eyes at him impatiently. “In your closet. In your house. She can’t feel at home here with all of my stuff around! I don’t live here anymore, Clark. She does. Make it look that way.”
“And it’s that easy?” he asked in disbelief. “I just… clear your boxes out… and Lane’s in and everything is… good?”
“Trust me.” She grinned. “It’s the nicest thing you could do for her. And for yourself. She just might… love you for it.”
“Ok.” He held his hands up surrender. “First thing tomorrow, I’ll…”
“No time like the present,” she ordered.
“But, you might still need some stuff, Loes. I mean, I know we are one hundred percent convinced that Bernie is going to come through for us, but we still don’t know how much longer. You’ll need… clothes and…”
She smiled at his struggle. Wondering if Superman would find the strength to mention her unmentionables.
The phone rang, saving him from further reply. His face lit up.
“Sorenson saves the day,” he crowed, springing from the bed and trotting to the phone with light steps.
“He just put off the inevitable,” she called after him.
It was some minutes before he walked back in. A changed man. She looked at his face, and she knew.
“That was Doctor Klein,” she told him.
“He wants you to get in touch with Superman.”
He nodded again, and cleared his throat roughly.
“The window’s working,” they said in unison.
Clark and Lane had come to dread their days off.
It wasn’t as if they could tell Perry why they were refusing to take them. They didn’t have any stories in the works. In fact they hadn’t really written anything since Lane had come. They were hiding their lack of productivity under the guise of seeking an invaluable source, without whom all their efforts would come to naught.
All their efforts in this area had come to naught, though.
After Tempus had checked out of the Lexor, Superman had hit the skies and Lane and Kent had hit the street. Dozens of reported sightings had proven fruitless. For days they had heard from one witness after another, all certain they had seen him and knew exactly where he could be found. And each night they had returned home exhausted from the chase. Hopes dashed for another day.
Now they weren’t even getting false reports. The trail has grown cold, and it was almost as if Tempus had just… disappeared.
Clark wasn’t even going out as Superman anymore, to x-ray the city after dark. An undertaking that had threatened to crush him with the sad weight of its familiarity. Just like he had looked for Lois, night after night. Flying over the same places over and over again, looking and looking, seeing countless things, people, activities, even crimes. But never what he wanted to see, what he needed to see. After a few weeks of nightly searching, the lack of sleep had caught up with him. He was leaving as Superman only when called now.
But worse than the non-productive lead following, and the useless fly-overs, was doing nothing. Their days off had turned into an exercise in keeping each other’s spirits up. Some days they were better at it than others.
“What will we do if we don’t ever find him? Do you ever think about that, Clark?” Lane set aside the book she’d been dozing over, and as always, asked the question that needed asking.
“All the time,” he admitted sadly. “I just didn’t want you to know I did.” He sat up from where he’d been nearly asleep on the sofa.
“Me too,” she smiled. “Since day one, but I didn’t want you to worry.” She moved to sit next to him, giving his knee a friendly squeeze.
“What’s your best guess?” he asked, taking for granted she’d know just what he meant. He put his arm around her and squeezed back.
“I don’t know. He had the time device all along? He just… didn’t use it in the house? It can only be activated at certain times? Or in certain places? He had to wait while it recharged?”
“All good, and totally unknowable. Great science-fiction, though.”
“If none of this works out, we’ll just pool our resources and write a novel, ok?” She leaned against him, tucking her feet underneath her. “What would we call it?”
“I’m too tired to play right now,” he said wearily, resting his head on the top of hers. “That mudslide was a killer.”
“A very creative excuse, Superman,” she acknowledged. “What’s your best guess, then?” she asked after a while.
“He… lost it, like we said originally. So he was trapped here for a time, but he was taken by Wells’ peacekeepers.”
“Yours is worse than mine,” she gasped. “You think Wells or someone else was here? They took Tempus, locked him up somewhere, and didn’t come and check on us? To see if any damage was done?”
“It would explain how he’s vanished so completely. And it isn’t like he’d tell them what he’d done. He’d just enjoy it all the more, the idea that even though he was being punished, so were we.”
“Would these time-space peacekeepers, travelers, whatever be so stupid, Clark? I can’t buy that.”
“They let their technology fall into Tempus’ hands, didn’t they? Didn’t HG himself tell you he voluntarily told Tempus all about who he was and what he could do? They aren’t stupid, Lane, as much as naive, I think.”
“You hide some dark thoughts behind that pretty face of yours,” Lane sighed, closing her eyes. “Let’s just watch television.”
“You asked,” he replied apologetically.
“I know, but I wasn’t really asking asking. I wanted the patented Clark Kent ‘let’s just buck up and keep trying and the sun will come out tomorrow.’”
“Is that how you see me?” He grinned, nudging her off the remote control.
“No football,” she admonished. “And that’s how everybody sees you, Clark, not just me.”
“What’s the first thing you would do, if you found yourself home right now?” he asked softly after a pause.
“Not this again,” she groaned quietly. “Don’t you get tired of this?”
“Come on, Lane,” he prodded. “There’s nothing good on.”
“Well… I guess I would tell Clark, my Clark, hello and that I’m back and that… I… sort of missed him. That I got a little perspective on things and…”
“Boring!” he interrupted her.
“Well, why do you keep asking me, then?” she rounded on him. “Why, if you’re just going to make fun of me?”
“I’m just waiting to hear the red hot part where you confess, you know, that you like him a ‘small amount,’” he growled.
“We can’t all have the ultimate reunion sex fantasy like you do, Clark. The first thing you’ll do is grab her and throw her down and reintroduce her to wonders of loving from Superman.”
“I was a virgin for thirty years, Lane!” he defended himself. “Thirty years! It’s not possible to go that long before… before… well… you know… and not think about it sometimes… what? Stop it! I’m not kidding, Lane. Get up! There will be no falling down laughing at Superman’s expense.” He lunged for her, picking her up high overhead. “I’m kicking you out, woman. I don’t need this.” He marched across the room and threw the back door open with one hand, making as if to toss her into the garden.
“I’ll tell your mom,” she finally gasped out, tears pouring down her face. “And your dad. And… and Lois! That’s the first thing I’m going to do. I’m going to tell her how you treated me!”
He put her down reluctantly. “That was completely uncalled for,” he muttered darkly.
“Nice work,” she smiled at him gently. “We’ve staved off depression for another afternoon?”
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“So we don’t torture ourselves with questions we can’t answer anymore, ok?” She held her hand out to him. He shook it firmly.
“No wallowing,” he vowed. “But Lane, I have a suggestion for that reunion with your Clark?”
“Ok,” she moaned. “Just tell me because I know it’s killing you not to. What?”
“Seize the day.” He caught her eyes and held them. “Don’t waste any more time. You know me, and you know him. Clark Kent,” he finished softly, “is a good risk.”
“My heart–” she began and faltered.
“I know.” He pulled her close. “Your heart doesn’t open up for just anyone. But it did for me. And for him, too, even if you don’t want to admit it. Just let yourself… trust that, ok? Because when I’m having my ultimate reunion sex fantasy with Lois,” he chided, “I want to know that you’re happy.”
“Do you think,” she sighed heavily, “that he could… ever… love me… the way you do her?”
“How could he not?” he answered, quiet conviction in his words.
“Just for that, you can go watch football,” she smiled.
“I can’t guarantee where you’ll land. Are you sure… I can’t… come along?” It was impossible to miss the note of wistfulness in Dr. Klein’s inquiry.
“I need you here, Bernie. I put a letter on your desk this morning. If I don’t come back, if something goes… wrong, I want you to keep it. Someone may contact you, and I want them to have the story.”
“Someone?” Dr Klein asked.
“HG Wells,” Superman replied.
“Oh… well… oh,” Dr Klein stammered. “Who else, really? Fairly obvious when you think about it… HG Wells… not just a writer… or a dead one at that… hmmmm.”
“Bernie,” Superman said somewhat forcefully. “I don’t want you in the room when we activate this, ok?” He knew this was going to be the hardest part. And it was unfair after all of the scientist’s hard work that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the show. Who would enjoy it more? But he didn’t want to blink into a parallel universe as Superman. He didn’t want them to arrive any more conspicuously than they already would. Who knew where they would land? Or when? And if… they didn’t make it one piece, he didn’t want someone somewhere sometime finding a… dead… superhero. Tempus, if he ever got wind of it, would like that all too much.
Besides, Superman wasn’t going to get Lane. He was.
“I don’t know if it’s dangerous,” he asserted. “Or how close or far you’d need to be, not to be pulled in yourself. And I need to know that you are here and ok. That someone on this side has the real story and is waiting for me. And hopefully I’ll be back really soon.”
He hadn’t meant that to sound maudlin, but Bernie got a little choked up.
“I wish I could tell you that it will work just how it was meant to. That you’ll pass through to the hour and place you need to be… I tried as best I could.”
“I can’t thank you enough for that. When I get back, we’ll do the oxygen deprivation experiment, ok?”
“You’re just… saying that,” Bernie sniffed loudly. “To cheer me up.”
“Please,” Lois spoke for the first time. “Can we just do this now?”
He recognized that it wasn’t so much impatience as it was fear that made her ask. Lois wanted to get it over with. To know, as soon as possible, one way or another, what their fate was to be. At least they were going together. Whatever else happened, they would have each other. There was a lot of comfort in that thought.
“Bernie?” Superman asked softly.
“Yes, ok, just this button and that one. Same way when you return. I’ve programmed that in. I’ll go… be in the next room. I’ll wait, how long? Ten minutes? Then I’ll come back and just check that… well, I’ll come back.”
“Thank you.” This was from Lois who pulled the startled doctor into a warm hug. Clark watched his change of hue with amusement.
“Ok,” squeaked a pink-cheeked Dr. Klein. With some shuffling of feet and a few lovelorn, mournful looks at the time device, he left the room.
Superman spun quietly.
“Yes,” she stated. “Ready for… whatever.” He noticed she was trembling a little, but then so was he.
He picked up the time device.
“Let me,” she insisted in a firm voice. “Just for once, I want to do the driving.”
The window appeared.
“I hate that thing,” Lois finally said in a small voice.
“After today you’ll think of it completely differently. Today it takes you home. Today, you make it take you home.”
He lifted her gently inside. “I’m going to hold you like this, ok? We don’t know how we’ll land, and I want you wrapped around me.”
“Clark, I love you,” she said.
“I love you, always,” he answered warmly, kissing her once, hard on the lips. “Let’s get you home.”
With hands that only shook slightly, Lois pushed the final button.
The window swallowed them up.
And for all of Dr. Klein’s worry, when it opened again, it landed them right on the mark.
“What’s the score?” Lane asked somewhat sleepily.
“Um… I don’t know,” confessed Clark from where he was floating in front of the TV.
“You know… it’s just annoying when you do that,” she remarked. “Why can’t you just sit, like everybody else?”
“Somebody’s jealous,” he sang off-key. “Somebody has a flying fixation, anti-gravity envy.”
“You shut up or I’m coming over there,” she threatened from where she lay sprawled on the sofa.
“Sure you will,” he smiled, “but only to beg me to take you flying, again.”
The air around them started to change. Clark’s head came up like a dog hearing a whistle. It was the slightest fizzle, or a friction, something invisible brushing up against something invisible. There was a current. A buzz.
“What?” Lane was sitting up now, alerted by his body language more than anything else.
“Something’s coming,” he whispered, mostly to himself. “Something’s different.” He landed on the floor just as the light display began. Dazzling and brilliant and in the middle of the living room two blurry forms right in the middle of it.
Lane recognized it before he did. After all, she’d seen it before, he never had.
“The window!” she cried, just as two people fell into the room.
It took Clark just an extra moment to realize what he was seeing. Who he was seeing.
“Lois!” he shouted, diving to catch her. He came up with her in his arms, but she wasn’t alone. She was being cradled in the firm, protective grasp of… Him.
Without thinking he demanded, “Take your hands off of her.” Not exactly how he’d planned on saying hello. And certainly not a greeting that did him, or the understanding he had reached with Lane during the previous weeks, credit.
His counterpart was eyeing him coolly, making no real move to obey his command.
“You ok, sweetheart?” he asked softly, throwing Clark a somewhat challenging stare. Clark went stiff at the endearment, at the familiarity of it, and all that went with it.
“Clark?” Lois asked. “Are you here? Did we make it?”
Only then did his counterpart let her go, so that Clark could pull her freely into his arms. Clark knew exactly which Clark she meant. Who she was asking for. He knew it instinctively, and his heart sang with the knowledge.
“Right here, honey,” he barely managed, wrapping her into his embrace. “You made it. You’re home.”
She’d had a real choice this time. With the time device on their side of the window, they could have stayed where they were easily. But she had come. He had come. They were setting things right.
“Lane!” he heard his own voice call, though it didn’t belong to him.
Clark was dimly aware that his counterpart had moved towards Lane with a look on his face that had to be identical to own. Relief. Love. Knowing. For just an instant his and Lane’s shocked eyes met over the shoulders of their loved ones. “Seize the day,” he mouthed to her silently, gratified to see her teary-eyed nod of agreement before he turned to give them their privacy, to better look at the woman in his own arms.
His one glimpse of them had been enough. Enough to see the strange mirror-like reflection of the man holding the woman, so much like them. And yet, so different. For one perfect moment it all made sense. The universes, the grand schemes, the divine plan. For one crystal clear moment, Clark felt he was granted a vision far sharper than even his own eyes could see. Of his future with Lois. Of Lane’s future with… Him. The way things were meant to be.
The moment was erased by Tempus.
Clark could never explain it later, and neither could his counterpart, though they would try. How he had snuck up on them both so completely.
“Well, now,” drawled a voice with some amusement. “This little scene just warms my heart. Everybody back with their own? I mean, you’re sure, aren’t you? Wouldn’t want there to be any embarrassing mix-ups.”
A shocked silence met his words. Clark felt a sickeningly familiar surge of pain. He went down to one knee, pushing Lois towards the door. “Go,” he told her through gritted teeth. He didn’t know where he was ordering her to go, just away, out the door, towards safety. He was finally meeting the monster who had cut such a hole into their lives, and he didn’t want Lois to see… any of what might follow.
Lois, though, knew exactly what his show of weakness meant. “No.” She stayed planted where she was. “He’s got kryptonite.”
“Now that’s what I love about Lois Lane,” Tempus offered cheerfully. “And I think I have the opinion of the majority on this, don’t I? She is so beautiful, so full of… spunk. But does she listen? Nooooo. But then that wouldn’t be very Lois of her.”
“What’s kryptonite?” snapped Lane from where she was standing, her arms around her own pale-faced, doubled-over Clark .
“What’s kryptonite?” Tempus turned to her with delight. “You don’t know? Is it possible that each Lois Lane gets galactically more stu–”
“Tempus,” both men spoke as one, cutting him off. “You’ve got one minute to…”
“…clear out,” Clark rasped.
“…save your own skin,” his double finished grimly.
“Do I?” Tempus smiled. “A whole minute you say. Then I’ll get to the point.” He moved his coat aside drawing a large gun and training it on Lane’s head. “This is a gun,” he explained slowly. “In exchange for the time device, I won’t kill anyone. Simple enough for you?”
Tempus looked to Lois. “You know, I thought you two would never arrive. I went over this place inside and out for days, before I finally decided the device had to be with you. Nicely played, Lois.”
Through the haze of pain, Clark looked up to see Lane’s eyes, full of tears and staring hard at him.
“He was here,” she said to him, her tone full of anguished regret.
“We… missed… him,” he apologized to her from between clenched teeth.
“Oh, but you couldn’t help that,” Tempus interjected. “I hate to spoil the surprise, but even in Utopia, the privacy protection industry thrives. Generations of super Kents with x-ray vision — not that they aren’t all irritatingly ethical — have spawned some necessary… devices. They come in handy… should you have anything to hide, or any interesting hobbies, that sort of thing.”
“So, you’ve been here this whole time?” Lane demanded
“Ever heard the saying–” Tempus began.
“Oh, just shoot me!” Lois exploded, ignoring the hand Clark put up to stop her. “Before I have to listen to anymore of your trite and over-cliched dialogue.”
“‘—Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?’” Tempus continued, as though he hadn’t heard her. I’ve been right next door. Enjoying your neighbor’s hospitality. A sweet woman. Confused. Somewhat… tied up.”
He turned his gun from Lane to Lois now. “And I’ve been waiting, darlin’” he supplied with menace, “for the window. Trapped in this godforsaken place, just watching and waiting… and now, here we all are,” he finished triumphantly. “Almost as if it was… fated.”
Despite the agony coursing through his body, Clark threw himself at Tempus, bringing them both down in a heap.
“This ends right here,” he ground out, willing himself to find the strength to lift his arms, to grab the weapon. He could feel the burn of the kryptonite through his clothes, to his skin, to the bone. “It’s in his pockets,” he managed, pouring all of his energy into just staying on top of him.
Lois was already there. Already pulling at Tempus’ coat. Through barely opened eyes Clark could see the intense concentration on her face, and the worry, probably only visible to him.
“It’s ok, Lois,” he moaned softly. “See if you can find it. The safe… upstairs… it’s lead-lined.”
His counterpart had moved too, stumbling across the room towards them. “Get back, Loes,” he ordered. “The gun… you’ll get hurt.” He tried to pull her away, but she wasn’t moving.
“If this wasn’t so sickening,” Tempus grunted, easily tugging the gun from Clark’s weakened grasp, “it would almost be sweet.”
Lois had found a number of green glowing pellets in Tempus’ coat pockets. With quick and steady hands, she gathered them. “That’s all of it!” she exclaimed, leaping to carry the poison upstairs.
“Won’t do a lot of good,” Tempus panted, pulling himself slowly from under the barely moving Clark, pushing his twin aside with a grunt of effort. “Look at them,” he directed. “Harmless as puppies.” He backed up hurriedly as Clark’s hand found his ankle. “And now have a look at that kryptonite, Lois. Oddly shaped, isn’t it? Kind of like…?”
“…bullets,” Lois finished, the first note of genuine fear sounding in her voice.
“Wouldn’t try to take on two Supermen without them,” Tempus supplied in a cold tone, a deadly tone, all false friendliness bleeding away with each word. “That would make me the stupid one.”
He leveled the gun at Clark’s head. “The time device,” he pronounced. “Now.”
“No,” Clark groaned. “No… whatever happens… this is over.” He made a final, desperate lunge. The other Clark was right with him. Lois dropped the bullets and charged.
Shots rang out. Once, twice, several times. An eerie, slow-motion ballet of cries, curses, and tangled bodies was followed by a deafening silence, a stillness.
“Everybody… ok?” Clark whispered into the quiet, at last. “Lois?”
His voice broke the spell. Everything fell into focus.
Tempus was down, blood rapidly pumping from his body, spreading a stain across the carpet. “Well, who could have predicted this?” he sputtered, before losing consciousness altogether.
Lois grabbed the bullets and wrenched the gun from Tempus’ hand, disappearing upstairs.
By the time she returned, Clark was sitting up next to Tempus, feeling for a pulse.
“He’s gone,” he croaked, falling back to the floor.
“Good riddance.” His twin grimaced, moving painfully. “I’ve never… ever… felt anything like that.”
“Who…? How…? He had the gun, he aimed, the shots.” That’s all Lois managed.
“Me, that’s how,” stated Lane defiantly from the corner where she stood, far from the fray. “Your gun, Lois. You guys were keeping him busy, and I knew where it was.”
“You… killed him,” Clark said numbly.
“It was him or you,” she returned heatedly. “Him or the two of you, or all of us, for all we knew. I’m not apologizing to the corpse, not even if you ask nicely.”
Clark watched as his mirror image pulled himself from the floor, weaving shakily towards Lane. “You did the right thing,” he stated emphatically. “What I would have done–”
She cut him off abruptly. “Don’t pretend you would have,” she ordered him quietly. “Not you and not your boy scout counterpart here. And even you.” She nodded to Lois. “You might have thought you would, but you didn’t go for your gun, Lois. You could have, but you went to help Clark. You aren’t a killer.”
“I wouldn’t take money on that,” Lois answered evenly from where she was sitting on the floor, her arms around Clark.
“I know you, you know,” Lane replied. “Who would know you better? You wouldn’t have. So it had to be me, something I’m completely ok with, by the way, and besides… he got me first.” With that, she slid slowly, gracefully to the floor, a ribbon of deep red marking her descendent down the wall.
Her words and the sight of her blood seemed to take much too long to register. For an unreal moment, no one moved.
Finally Clark leapt to his feet and moved as close to superspeed as he was able towards Lane. He tripped on his counterpart, who was already there, pulling her gently away from where she was reclining to reveal the pool of blood beneath her.
“Where, Lane?” both men cried in anguish. But she was limp in her own Clark’s agitated embrace.
“Don’t move her,” Clark shouted, trying to stop him from standing with his burden. “Don’t… we don’t know if it’s near the heart… or…” he had his glasses down, was attempting to find the bullet wound, but his x- ray vision failed him.
“Why can’t I see?” he was asked almost simultaneously.
“The kryptonite. It comes back, it all comes back.” Clark knelt next to Lane, pushing the other Clark’s hands away, gently pulling her sweater aside, looking for an entry hole, an exit hole, some clue as to how bad it was.
Lois moved to the phone. “Can either one of you fly?” she demanded, picking it up to call 911.
Clark watched with a vague feeling of distorted reality as his twin stepped carefully from Lane and spun, somewhat unsteadily, into a very determined, although very frightened, Superman.
“Can you?” she asked again, her finger poised over the buttons.
“Enough,” he stated, levitating slightly.
“But until we know where she was hit, we really shouldn’t move her. We might jog the bullet.” Clark’s voice trailed away as he caught the look in his counterpart’s eyes.
“Is Metropolis General in the same place here?” the man in the cape asked.
“Look, Clark,” Clark began again, a bit more forcefully. “I know you’re scared, but we need to do this right, for Lane.”
“Is it, Loes?”
“You aren’t taking her,” Clark barked. “You want to hurt her worse than she already is?”
Superman sprang at him, grabbing fistfuls of Clark’s shirt and shaking him. “Shut up!” he yelled furiously. “Just shut up!”
“I’m calling,” Lois stated. “You two go fight in the other room. Lane doesn’t need this.”
Her words did the trick.
“Sorry,” both Clarks muttered to Lois, immediately letting go of each other. Superman moved back to Lane and wrapped his cape around her, encouraging her, “Hang on, help is coming.”
“They’re on their way.” Lois said finally. “We should get some things straight. She’s Lois Lane. Clark, you’re Clark Kent. And Superman… you’re… well… Superman. I’m her… visiting sister?”
“Maybe if we all had nametags, Loes?” came the voice from the floor.
“They can’t find Superman here,” Clark said quietly.
“I’m not leaving,” his double swore just as quietly.
“If Superman’s here, why didn’t he just fly her to the hospital?” Clark asked. “They’re going to wonder. We can’t exactly say that his x-ray vision in on the blink, or that his flying is somewhat shaky, or that there is kryptonite in the bullet..”
His stopped. “Wait, if he got her with a kryptonite bullet, we should be able to feel it.”
“I don’t,” Superman put in quickly.
“Must have passed through,” Clark concluded. “Into the wall, maybe, or even outside.” He studied the wall behind Lane. They all did.
“Here it is,” his twin said at last, pointing to a small hole. “It went through the wall. I’m taking her. We can’t wait. The blood.” His voice breaking he held up his hands, showing evidence of Lane’s rapidly seeping wound.
“Go,” Clark said. “We’re right behind you.” He was talking to empty air. Superman and Lois Lane were already gone.
He moved to take his black trench coat from the closet. The one he used to fly in before the suit, long ago. He opened the front door and held his arms out to Lois. “Ready?”
She threw herself into his arms. “Are you ok to fly?”
“We’ll move just a little slower, but we’ll get there,” he vowed, pulling her close into his the protective shelter of his body, as they took to the sky. “Honey…” he began wearily.
“I know,” she sighed against his chest. “Later… when this is taken care of.”
They landed just a few minutes behind the first couple, entering the emergency room hand in hand at a run.
Superman was pacing in the corridor. “They wouldn’t let me go in with her,” he called to them as soon as he saw them.
“That’s standard practice,” Lois said soothingly, moving to put her arms around him.
“And I can’t see inside, can you?” He turned anguished eyes to Clark, who immediately berated himself for being so arrested by the sight of Lois holding Superman.
He turned and lowered his glasses. “A little. Looks like they’re examining the wound. She’s conscious!” he exclaimed upon further examination.
A nurse came from the room, his gown covered in blood. Superman sat down quickly. “I can’t stand this,” he whispered. “I’m useless, Loes.”
Lois sat next to him, taking his hand in hers. “I’ll go in. I’m her family. Her sister. They’ll have to let me see her.”
Just then a young doctor peered around the corner. “We need blood,” she called out. Spotting Lois, she stopped. “Do you know her blood type?” she queried.
I… no,” Lois answered.
“You are identical twins, aren’t you?” She put a hand out to the waiting nurse. “What’s your blood type?”
“O positive,” Lois supplied with some hesitation.
“O positive,” the doctor repeated to the nurse, sending him scurrying.
“You want to see her?” the doctor asked Lois. “Come on.” She jerked her head towards the room, leaving Superman and Clark Kent to wait and worry.
“Is she going to be ok?” Superman jumped up and called after their retreating backs. All he got was a wave.
The quiet sat between them like a physical thing.
Superman stood where the doctor and Lois had left him. Clark slowly took the chair next to one he’d vacated. His worry for Lane and his need to be near Lois warred with his desire to put as much distance between himself and the man in front of him as possible.
“I have no idea how he got in the house like that,” Clark finally offered into the tense silence, hoping to distract his counterpart or at the least relieve his own nerves. “He was so close, and I didn’t hear him.”
“We were kind of distracted, I guess,” Superman gave back, just when Clark had decided he wasn’t going to talk. “I had my arms around her for the first time in so long, and I didn’t really know anything else.” He studied the floor in front of him, his posture one of pure defeat. “I came so far… to lose her,” he finished to himself.
“When I kiss Lois,” Clark spoke somewhat hesitantly, “I can’t hear someone walking into the room. It’s weird, after being able to hear everything for so long, to suddenly go so… deaf.” His voice turned wistful. “Her first night back… well, my parents were… close by… and… it’s like they didn’t exist, nothing else did.” His voice trailed off and he fought to keep the blush from his face.
“I know precisely what you mean,” Superman responded quickly, meeting Clark’s eyes for the first time. At Clark’s uncertain look he hastened to add, “It’s a phenomenon unique to my Lois… for me.”
“Ok,” Clark said, unable to hide his relief.
“Do you and I need to talk?” Superman asked him bluntly, turning to face him. “No time like the present. You need to… slug out a few issues with me… Clark?”
“Just one,” he replied after a time. “Thank you.”
“Thank you?” His double had been staring him down through the superhero’s carefully bland mask. It dissolved into something more like confusion.
“For caring for Lois. You didn’t know her, but you took her in without a lot of questions. And you were there for her… when I couldn’t be. So, thank you.”
“She changed my life.” Superman told him simply, moving to take the chair next to him. “This woman comes out of nowhere. She needs me. She accepts me for who I am. Helps me figure out how to do… this.” He gestured to the cape and the boots with one swoop of his hand. “And shows me I can be happy. Be… normal. I never had that.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Clark concurred.
“So, when I met Lane, I was completely ready. Ready to be hers. Ready to share everything, knowing it was possible to be who I was and still be… loved. Have a life, a family.” Superman stopped abruptly. He ran a hand over his face and sighed. “Not that she is the slightest bit ready for any of that, by the way.”
“Give that some time,” Clark stated with a knowing grin.
“I hope we have that time,” he replied.
“She came to me because of you.” His double turned to him, facing him fully, giving them both the chance to study one another up close. “That’s the thing I always wanted to tell you. The thing I thought of night after night when I first learned who she was, where she came from. Because I couldn’t imagine the hell you must have been living without her.”
The two men looked away from each other then, not wanting or needing the intrusion of eye contact. Superman stood up and paced to the opposite end of the hallway and back again. After a time he continued. “Because of you, she found me and trusted me and this whole thing got started. You did that. I can’t… say thank you enough for that.”
“You’re welcome,” Clark said after a time.
“Back at you.”
“The baby–” Clark began after a pause.
“Yours,” Superman returned easily.
“That’s just what I was going to say.” Clark smiled. “Mine. No matter what.”
“It seems we are like-minded men.”
“I won’t forget what you did for her,” Clark said softly. “I’ll always be grateful.”
“I’ll always be grateful I had the chance.” The superhero held a tentative hand out, and seemed surprised to find himself drawn into a fast, back-slapping hug.
Though he wasn’t nearly as surprised as the man rounding the corner, who in coming to investigate the shooting of Lois Lane hadn’t expected to see Clark Kent apparently consoling… Superman.
“Well,” a dry voice interjected. “I came to ask what sort of trouble you and Lane had gotten yourselves into now. A call placed to 911 but no one’s home. One neighbor reports gun shots, and the other neighbor is tied to her bed. And you know there’s a dead body in your house, right? So, I figure I’d find you here, maybe find out who’s out to get you this week, but I see that I’m… interrupting… something.”
“Ah,” Clark turned quickly with a smile. “Inspector… Bill, this must look a little… odd.”
Superman had been trying to read between the lines and had come up empty.
“I flew Lois in from the shooting,” he offered, though he couldn’t imagine why he should have to explain what he felt was fairly obvious. Superman was a well-known friend of Lois and Clark. “The body belongs to the guy who put a bullet in her. It was self-defense,” he added with some menace.
“This is a neat trick, Kent,” answered Henderson, looking intently at Superman. “Is it mirrors or what?”
“What?” Superman gasped. “Did you just call me…? What?”
He looked to Clark for help, only to find him seated once again, a slow smile spreading across his face.
“Superman doesn’t know you, Bill,” Clark finally spoke up. “He’s from… outside this Metropolis.”
“I see,” said Henderson, clearly not seeing. “So–” he offered his hand to the caped hero. “–nice meeting you. Bill Henderson.”
Superman shook his hand warily. “You called me Kent.”
“He knows,” Clark volunteered. “Has for some time.”
“I thought I did. Thought I had this business figured out,” agreed Henderson ruefully, “until I came down the hall and found you. both. Now I’m wondering if maybe it’s time to retire.”
“So, you’ve told other people?” Superman turned to Clark, the excitement in his voice hard to disguise. “And that’s been… ok?”
“It’s nice, actually,” Clark conceded with a smile. “And I didn’t actually tell him.”
“Not in so many words,” Henderson put in, studying Superman with an interested eye. “He’s a little taller than you, maybe. Or younger.”
“Watch it.” Clark grinned. And then, “It’s quite a story, Bill–”
“When you say ‘not in so many words’,” Superman interrupted.
“I gave myself away,” Clark answered. “When we were searching for Lois.”
“Otherwise, Superman,” Henderson said, “You’re probably better off not telling too many people.”
“Just the ones you’re completely sure of,” Clark added.
“And even then,” Henderson cautioned, “only when necessary.”
“Ok, ok,” Superman held his hands up in surrender. “No lectures from the more experienced. I get it.”
“So, do I get this story, Kent?” Henderson turned towards Clark. “Is this our new Superman? Or your back-up? Or is he just… visiting?”
“I’m leaving as soon as my Lois can travel,” Superman filled in for himself.
Henderson’s eyebrows met his hairline.
“Have a seat, Inspector,” Clark offered with a warm smile. “Since you’re here about the shooting, you deserve to know who was shot.”
“I need a chair,” he rasped. “Are you saying there are… two… Lois Lanes?
What felt like an eternity later, but was really less than an hour, Lois came from Lane’s room.
“She wants to see you,” she told Superman with a smile. “They’re moving her upstairs. She’s ok. In some pain. She’s asking for you.”
He was gone on that last word, moving down the hallway and up the stairs, a blur of blue and red.
Superman greeted her quietly when her eyes opened. “You were sleeping pretty soundly.”
“The drugs,” she slurred. “Pretty good stuff.”
“Are you hurting?” He came and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, taking her good hand in his.
“Flying,” she responded with a small smile.
“When you’re better,” he vowed, “we’ll do that for real.”
“Thanks for getting me here, Clark,” she whispered. “I know with the… krypta… krypto…”
“Kryptonite,” he supplied.
“Yeah, I know it was hard.”
“It wasn’t, Lane. I could have carried you around the world if I needed to.” He moved his cape out of the way and very carefully lowered himself beside her. “Can I… put my arm around you, can you snuggle in here?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “That’s good. This is nice.”
There was such gentleness, such trust in her voice he nearly melted. Then he was struck with a horrible thought.
“Lane,” he stammered. “Do you know who this is?”
“Superman, I’m guessing,” she replied dryly. “The only guy in a cape that I know.”
“Right,” he breathed. But then, “Which Superman?”
She was quiet for so long he thought she had gone back to sleep.
“It’s time we told them,” she finally answered from behind closed eyes.
“Yes, your Lois and my Clark. Time we told them that… the switch was the best thing that ever happened to us. That we’re madly in love. That we married in Vegas. That the sex is… out of this world.”
“Lane,” he scolded.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” she continued. “Maybe they’ll leave together. Have their own quiet life in that other place.”
“You’re mean,” he laughed, watching her face break into a smile. “So damned mean.”
“With my eyes closed, bullet wound in my shoulder, awash in all these nifty drugs,” she stated softly, “I know exactly who you are, and who you… aren’t.”
“I’ve missed you.” His voice hitched just a bit as he buried his face into her hair. “I’ve missed that crabby woman I share a home with, share a… life with.”
“If you pushed me,” she countered, “I might say the same thing. Missed that annoyingly cheerful roommate of mine. And… his kisses.”
“You’re high on painkillers now, Lane,” he answered, “but I don’t care. I’m taking that as permission to kiss you now. And I might not stop.”
“Superman doesn’t lie,” she sighed against his lips.
Back in the finally vacant hallway, Lois turned towards Clark. Their eyes met and held, communicating all they hadn’t yet had the chance to.
“Alone at last,” he greeted her softly.
“Hey.” She sighed heavily, moving towards his outstretched arms, drawn in by his smile. “Don’t I know you?”
“You’re sure you’re her identical twin?” trumpeted a no-nonsense voice.
Lois paused in mid-stride and rolled her eyes at Clark, “Of course I’m her twin,” she retorted over her shoulder. “You’ve seen us. What’s the problem?”
“Lois,” Clark placed a comforting arm around her. “I’m sure it’s just customary, forms to fill out or something.”
“Actually, no.” The doctor, whose badge identified her as Freeman, had her head tilted to one side and was eyeing them pointedly. “Your blood types don’t match. In fact, they aren’t even compatible. You said that you’re O positive. She’s O negative. If the lab hadn’t checked it, by order of routine, things might have gone badly for your sister.”
“How is she now?” Clark asked with alarm.
“Ok, as it stands. The bullet went clean through. We’re giving her the blood now. The correct blood.” She threw Lois a mildly accusing look. “And would like her to stay a few days, at the least. When she woke up, she seemed a bit… resistant to that idea.”
Lois turned into Clark’s embrace, letting out the breath she’d been holding.
“That sounds very encouraging.” Clark smiled. “Thank you, Dr. Freeman,” he pronounced firmly.
“Ms. Lane?” Dr. Freeman persisted, not taking the hint. Clark felt Lois stiffen in his arms. “I’d like to examine you both a little further. If you’re identical twins with different blood types, this is unprecedented. The stuff of major medical journals. If I had the chance to look at you both a bit more closely, a few tests–”
“No.” Clark cut her off quickly. “No tests. My… wife… is pregnant and feeling unwell, and tonight has been… difficult. She just… misspoke. With the stress it was an easy mistake to make.”
He pulled Lois along with him, sidestepping the doctor rather adroitly. “We’ll just head up to see… my sister-in-law. Thanks, again,” he offered over his shoulder as they moved down the hall and towards the elevator.
“Our blood types didn’t match,” Lois repeated somewhat shakily.
He leaned in, whispered softly. “Honey, you’re counterparts, not twins. It was an honest mistake. Don’t blame yourself–”
“No,” she cut him off, then hesitated. “Don’t you see? If mine and hers don’t match, then maybe yours and… his don’t either. We could do… a test? See who… the father..?”
They were standing just outside the elevator.
“I don’t need a test,” Clark answered.
“Don’t need…?” her eyes demanded answers from his, answers she seemed too afraid to come right out and ask for.
“The baby is mine,” he breathed, just as the doors slid open.
“But… if you had doubts?” Lois stammered softly.
“No doubt in my mind,” he rejoined, pulling her to the side to allow the passengers inside to exit.
“You called me your… wife… back there,” Lois said very carefully, watching the last rider walk out.
“You are, aren’t you, Lois?” he answered easily, bending down to catch her gaze again. “In every way but the legal one.”
“Yes,” she vowed, as they entered. “I am. And we’ll fix that soon.”
The doors closed behind them. He didn’t know which one of them moved first.
Lois had her arms around his neck like a vise, her mouth seeking his. He felt weak with her touch. With her presence. He devoured her hungrily for several minutes, running his hands all over her familiar, wonderful body. Breathing her in. Soaking her in, as Lois pressed as closely into him as she could manage. Both of them blindly seeking confirmation that the other was really there. They were both home, Tempus was gone, and the nightmare was truly, finally over. The words ‘safe’, ‘mine,’ and ‘here’ sang in his thoughts, a repeated chorus of pure joy. When Clark’s hand reached the swell that was her belly, he halted. He lifted his head from hers.
“You’re growing,” he said in an awed whisper. “Feel that.”
Lois didn’t answer, but swallowed hard as tears filled her eyes. She turned within his arms and found and pushed the button to hold the doors closed.
Taking a step back from him, she raised the hem of her shirt. His eyes followed in rapt attention. The shyness she was feeling showed on her face as she offered him the sight of her burgeoning belly.
His mind was called back to another night not that long ago. When he had lifted the hem of her shirt and found the cry for help she had written in her own hand on her body. The same woman stood before him now, but underneath the despair and fear were gone. They’d been erased and replaced by… life.
“Oh, Lois,” he choked out. “Thank you, honey.”
He fell to his knees, kissing her abdomen tenderly as he breathed into her skin, “Hey, in there. Everything is ok now. Daddy’s here.”
Only the repeated shouts of those waiting to use the elevator brought them out of the moment. Rising up and taking her hand, Clark pushed the appropriate button, opening the doors and beaming at all the disgruntled would-be riders.
He plowed a path through them for Lois. For his family.