The End of the Matter

By Terry Leatherwood < >

Rated: G

Submitted: April, 2004

Summary: Alternate ending for Tank Wilson's "A Future Reborn." You probably shouldn't read this unless you've read Tank's two trilogies, because it won't make much sense.

Author's Notes:

From A Future Reborn by Tank Wilson:

She unlatched the several locks and swung the door open. She stepped back and with a gesture waved the visitor in. "Come on in, Herb." There was no welcome in her voice, merely weariness. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" She closed the door then moved over and flopped down in one of the easy chairs.

After reading this story, I sent the following email to Tank:

*Hi, Tank:

You don't know me, but I'm one of the lurkers on, and I really like the stories I see there. You're one of the better writers on the site, and I enjoyed reading your "Futures" series of stories, all six of them.

I also read your short story, "Sometimes Love Isn't Enough," and while I can't say I enjoyed it, I think you put your finger on the humanity behind their relationship. It didn't fill me with warm fuzzies, but it did 'feel' real.

At any rate, the ending to "A Future Reborn" was interesting, but it just didn't ring quite true to me. I mean, Clark hasn't seen this woman for half a century and he's believed her dead all this time, and he takes her home with him after five minutes! And Lois just instantly walks away from her life and the people who know her and care for her?

It's a little too pat for me, so I took the liberty of putting in a different ending, one that I think completes the tale. So, if you will forgive my effrontery, this is my new ending, submitted for your approval, of "A Future Reborn." I hope you read it in the spirit in which I wrote it, not one of criticism but of tribute.*

Tank not only graciously gave me feedback on the story, but encouraged me to send it to the Archive. So…here it is.

This is where the different ending would begin.


She unlatched the several locks and swung open the door. She stepped back and waved her visitor in. "Come on in, Mr. Wells." There was no welcome in her voice, merely weariness. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" She moved away from the door, expecting Wells to follow her.

Wells stepped away from the door and suddenly Clark was standing in front of Lois. She could tell instantly that he was — he once had been — her Clark. Her husband.

He was older, much older than he had been the last time she'd seen him. His hair was flecked with gray, even more than hers was, and his face wore the beginnings of wrinkles. He was wearing a conservative gray suit and an overcoat, but no glasses. His face held an odd expression that Lois didn't remember seeing before.

It was a long moment before anyone spoke. Wells cleared his throat and muttered, "Well, I — I find that I am a bit hungry. I think I shall fetch myself a meal. Yes, I'll do just that. I'll return shortly. Good evening."

Lois continued staring at Clark as Wells walked away. Clark finally waved one hand aimlessly. "I'm — I'm glad to see you, Lois. I was glad to find out you're okay."

She nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'll bet."

"You — you didn't know I was coming, did you?"

"No. I didn't."

He fiddled with the buttons on his overcoat. "Lois, I just learned yesterday afternoon that you — what happened to you. I swear to you, I never knew you were alive."

"I know that, Clark." She shook herself and turned towards the kitchen. "Come in, please. Sit down, I'll get us some coffee."

He closed the front door. "Thanks."

She called from the kitchen, "Sugar and cream?"

"Whatever's handy."

After a moment she came back with two steaming mugs. "Here."

He took a sip and smiled at the cup. "It's good. Better than I remembered."

She sat down in the chair opposite Clark. "You look pretty good, just a little worn and ragged around the edges. How old are you now, anyway? Me? I just celebrated my forty- third birthday."

"Happy birthday, Lois."

"Thanks. You didn't answer my question."

He lost his smile. "Herb told me that time doesn't run parallel between — between my dimension and this one."

She nodded. "Very diplomatic. You avoided identifying this dimension as mine, and that's good, especially since it wasn't, isn't, and won't really ever be."

He put his coffee on the table and clasped his hands together. "Lois, Herb told me a lot about what happened to you, but it wasn't a very detailed story."

"Oh? Let me summarize it and make sure you have all the pertinent details. I was killed by a renegade Kryptonian, then brought back to life by another renegade Kryptonian after you went home with the other Lois, then I spent five years in prison as a hostage, then I was liberated and Herb — nice touch, by the way, being on a first-name basis with him — brought me here and asked me if I'd like to have a hand in goading this dimension's Clark Kent into becoming Superman. I eased back into my life pretty well, considering it wasn't really my life, and considering I'd been almost engaged to both Lex Luthor and Perry White, or at least the dead woman I was replacing had been. I learned that this world's Lois wasn't a very nice person, in fact she was pretty screwed up, and she went to the Congo not to chase a story but to steal a rare diamond and bring it back to Lex, but she died there, and when I showed up Lex thought I was trying to cheat him and he almost killed me before he died. I also found out that the dead Lois's best friend had been Cat Grant, and she became my real best friend here and one of the very few who knew who I really was and how I'd gotten here, and she died saving my life. Oh, I did help nudge this world's Clark into becoming Superman, but he's younger than me and a little goofy and he's married to Jimmy Olsen's female counterpart who's gained his powers and now works with him as Ultra Woman, and she's grateful for my help to Clark but she's never completely trusted me with her husband. I'm now managing editor of the Planet, I never got married, I have no special friends in my life, practically no friends at all, I'm a slave to my job, and there's no one here I can really get close to. I'm pretty much just marking time and waiting to die. Did you get all of that or should I repeat any particular portion?"

As she ended the diatribe, she banged her coffee cup down onto the table. Her tone had been flat and matter-of-fact at the beginning of her recitation, but her voice had strengthened and hardened as she spoke, and the last part of her babble had been delivered with classic Mad Dog Lane intensity. Clark flinched back and remained silent.

She stared at him for several seconds, then sighed deeply and dropped her gaze. "Just what did you expect to find here, anyway, Clark?"

"I don't know what I expected, Lois. I just came because Herb told me you needed a friend, that you needed my help."

"Oh." She stood and began pacing. "Great. Just great! Herbie thinks I need a friend so he calls in the one person in two dimensions I can't be friends with! He's such a tremendous help in the relationship department! Hey! Why didn't I just think of that before? I could have gotten him to bring you over here years ago! Are you swapping or just sharing yourself? What did you tell her, anyway? Or did you tell her anything at all? Are you just here on a pity visit or are the two of you planning to move here and keep me company in my middle age?"

Clark stood and clenched his fists at his sides. "That's enough!"

She stopped pacing and faced him, her eyes flashing. "Where is she, Clark? Does she even know you're here with me right now?"

"How can you accuse me of something like that?"

"Because I haven't seen you in over ten of my years and how long has it been for you anyway? You never told me how old you are now! How old is she? Maybe she's too old to go flying with you now! Is that it?"

He leaned forward and almost shouted in her face. "She's dead!"

Lois's mouth dropped open and she stumbled backwards. "Wh — what?"

Clark looked into her face. "You didn't know?" She shook her head. "Herb didn't tell you?"

"No! Clark, I — what happened?"

His eyes misted. "Cancer. We thought we had it beaten last year but it came back." He turned away and held his arms across his chest. "She was — she — we had the funeral three weeks ago yesterday."

She barely touched his shoulder. "I'm an idiot. I'm a complete and utter moron. I'm sorry, Clark, I'm so very, very sorry."

He didn't move. He barely breathed. "It's okay. You didn't know."

She stepped in front of him but didn't touch him. "I should have known you wouldn't ever be unfaithful, to her or to me. That was one of the things I loved most about you. And I know she loved that about you too."

"Thank you." He dashed tears from his eyes. "So. What are we supposed to do now?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. What did Wells tell you about me?"

He looked at her and sighed. "Pretty much what you just did, but without the vitriol."

She accepted the blow and nodded. "I deserve that. I'm sorry, Clark. Really. I'm, oh, I guess I'm just frustrated with my life and I lashed out at you. I was wrong." She touched his coat. "You never did tell me how old you are now."

"She stayed around until my eighty-first birthday."

Lois's eyes widened. "Clark, that means — you two were together for almost fifty years!" She took his arm and guided him to the couch, then sat down beside him. "You don't look a day over fifty, maybe less! This must be — oh, I'm being stupid again! This is as big a shock to you as it is to me."

Clark leaned back and looked at the ceiling. "You aren't stupid, Lois, and it is a big shock. I'm not certain what Herb wants us to do, assuming he wants us to do anything."

Lois didn't answer. Clark closed his eyes and relaxed against the cushions. Neither of them spoke for almost two minutes, then Lois almost whispered, "Clark?"

He answered without moving. "Yes?"

"Did she ever get rid of that ghastly red hair?"

Clark sat up, shocked. "What! How did you know about that?"

Lois giggled. "Wells took me to see you before he dropped me off here. In this world, I mean. I saw the two of you going to work together one day. I told Perry he should convince her to change her hair color. That shade of red just didn't work."

Clark's eyes widened. "I remember that day! He came in one morning right behind us and acted really strange. He suggested that Lois consider a different hair color, but she refused to change it, ever. We both thought Perry was behaving oddly, and he acted funny for a few days after that, but — wow! You mean, he knew about you? You told him?"

"I didn't go looking for him! He walked by and recognized me. You know, the glasses may have worked for you but mine didn't fool Perry for a minute."

He sat up and smiled. "That was a really good summer. We won another Kerth together that year for a story on child porn, the people publishing the photos went to jail for a long time, and Superman didn't help out a bit. We did it all by ourselves."

Lois smirked. "You're still referring to yourself as two people, Clark. Don't you think it's time to reintegrate the disparate portions of your psyche?"

He gave her another odd look, but with a ghost of a smile. "I think you've been watching too much daytime TV in the break room."

She smiled back, more gently this time. "I don't have much else to occupy my time." She reached out and captured his hand. "And that's not an accusation, so don't take it like one. You did exactly what you should have done. You went on and built yourself a new life. And I don't resent her — Lois. She had to have been a very special woman for you to love her. When I thought I was dying — permanently, that is — I gave her my blessing to go with you and try to help you, so I suppose this is ultimately my fault." She rubbed her thumbs over the backs of his hands. "I'm glad you two were happy together for so long."

He grasped her fingers lightly. "Thank you, Lois. That means a great deal to me."

They smiled at each other warmly. Suddenly, Lois raised her eyebrows. "Oh. I just had a thought. Did you — whoa, this is an odd question to ask your husband, but — Clark, did you — do you have any children?"

He smiled. "Yes. We have two. A boy, Jonathan Samuel. He's almost forty now, and he's pretty much taken over as Superman, since I'm not as agile as I used to be. He's married, but doesn't have any children, at least not yet. His wife is a marine biologist, studying deep-water sharks. She's published several books on the subject.

"And we have a daughter, Laura Ellen. We call her Ellie. She's twenty-six, married, and has two children of her own. She's a novelist and a historian. Her husband is the Metropolis Fire Chief and he's thinking of running for governor in a few years. I think he should, and so does Ellie. She's just as super as her brother is, too. "They'd be proud to know you, Lois."

She smiled at the Kansas accent leaking into his speech. Then she had another thought and leaned back from him. "Do they — do they know the whole story of their mother?"

Clark licked his lips. "No. Lois didn't — she didn't want to burden them with the knowledge that their father swapped one Lois Lane for another."

"That isn't what you did, but I do see the difficulties you'd have trying to clarify the differences." She released his hands and dropped her gaze. "So, then, if we were to suddenly show up together, you'd have a tough time explaining me to them, not to mention what you'd say to the general public."

His face clouded. "Yes. I suppose I would." He leaned back also. "So, are we saying that we need to leave this — whatever 'this' is — right here, and not go forward?"

Lois shook her head. "No. We both need to move forward, Clark, but we need to do it separately. I don't know what Wells intended, but we've each built our lives apart from the other. I don't see how we can put them back together at this late date." She stood and smoothed her shirt. "I'm — I'm sorry if this is a disappointment to you."

He raised one eyebrow. "Actually, no, it isn't. I agree with you. I thought you were dead for over half a century, Lois, and you haven't seen me for over a decade of your time. We're both different people than we used to be. We've both grown and aged separately, and I frankly don't think I could handle a younger woman now."

Her eyes bulged at his last statement, but she broke into laughter when she saw his impish grin. She reached out for his hands and tugged him up from the couch. "Oh, Clark! Can we be friends? I mean, real friends and just friends?"

He kissed her knuckles. "I'd like that, Lois. There are times I could use a good friend."

"I could use one any time."

They were distracted by a knock on the door. Lois scowled. "I don't need X-ray vision to know who that is."

She was right. Wells stood in the doorway, his hat in his hands and an expectant look on his face. "Good evening, Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent. Are we ready to go?"

Clark stepped forward. "I'm ready, Herb."

Wells looked shocked. "But — is Ms. Lane not accompanying us?"

Lois shook her head. "No, Mr. Wells, I'm not. I'm staying right here."

"But — I — you're not — I'm sorry, I don't understand!"

Clark took Wells by the elbow and guided him towards the building entrance. "I'll fill you in on the way back home, Herb. Will you wait for me?"

Wells stood in the hallway, a bit forlorn.

"Herb, I meant for you to wait for me outside."

"Oh. Oh! Yes, of course. My apologies. Ms. Lane, I bid you good evening."

"Goodbye, Mr. Wells." Wells shut the outside door behind him. Lois leaned against the inside of the door jamb. "I kinda hope I don't see that little meddler again."

Clark leaned on the outside of the same door jamb. "Maybe you will, maybe you won't. We wouldn't have met again if he wasn't such a fixer." He crossed his arms. "Do you mind if I drop in occasionally? Just as a friend, of course."

She smiled. "No, I don't mind. In fact, you have a standing invitation to visit me at any time. And the invitation extends to your son and daughter, too. I'd like to meet them, assuming they have the time and the inclination."

"We'll make the time. Thanks, Lois."

She held up one finger. "Just one condition, Clark. This is non-negotiable." He waited. "Tell them the truth. They have a right to know how much their mother went through to be their mom."

He hesitated for a long moment, then nodded. "You're right. I'll tell them the whole story. Now that I know the whole story, that is."

"I'm glad."

He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Me, too. This life isn't what you signed up for, I know, but I'm glad to know you've landed on your feet." He gestured towards the door. "Herb's waiting for me. I need to go."

She smiled and shooed him away with her hands. "So go! And be sure to come back and visit."

"I will. Good-bye for now, Lois."

She captured his face and gently kissed his lips. "Until next time, friend."

He smiled and turned away. Lois noticed how stiffly he walked, and for the first time she saw that he favored his left hand. She wondered idly if it was some kind of Kryptonian arthritis or an old injury, or even a new one. After all, he'd said he was pretty much retired from being Superman.

She closed and locked the door. Seeing Clark again had been nice. Painful, especially at first, but good for her. It was something of a release, actually. Maybe they could actually be friends. She could use some. She'd become the workaholic that the old Perry White had been in her original dimension. She lived alone and personally isolated from people, much as Perry had, except she didn't connect with the younger reporters like he could.

But that could change. It might be too late for her to be Clark's wife, but she could be his friend. And she could be something more to the people who were already in her life. It wasn't too late for her to open up and let some people in.

She felt as if a boulder had been lifted from her shoulders, one she hadn't even known she was carrying. She thought about how good Clark still looked, and she realized she was smiling at a personal memory, and that she hadn't done that in — she didn't remember how long it had been. That made it too long. She resolved to stop being a — she didn't know if she'd been acting like an abandoned wife, a widow, a jilted lover, or what, but no more. She was free. And if she and Clark did decide to get back together, that would be good, but she wouldn't let her solo status rule her personal life any more.

She sat down on the bed and called the night editor's office. "Geoffrey? This is Lois Lane. No, nothing's wrong, not that I know of. How's the news business tonight? Good. Sounds like we'll have smooth sailing tomorrow. Say, Geoffrey — what are you and your wife doing for breakfast in the morning?"