By Terry Leatherwood <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: September, 2006
Summary: Lois must make a choice between her children and her husband, and must live with the consequences of her choice. But are the consequences unalterable, or is someone more sinister working in the shadows?
I open my eyes as she slips out of bed. She always tries not to wake me, but she can't help it. Even in the deepest of sleep, I feel her leave and I wake up. And I always stay up and wait for her to come back. I can sleep alone when I'm away from home, like when I'm on a book-signing tour or speaking out of town, but I can't go to sleep by myself when I'm at home. I need to know she's there with me.
I love her so much. I love her more than I love breathing. I will always love her. Even so, sometimes the media attention she generates in public is disconcerting. I don't go out much alone, because some kook from some rag will almost always ask me what it's like to be married to Ultra Woman. Sometimes I wish I had powers like hers, so I could throw those morons over to the next continent. But when we're together, they usually respect her privacy. Some kind of residual professional courtesy, I suppose. Or maybe they're afraid of what she might do if they irritate her enough.
Sometimes, while I wait for her to come back, I read, sometimes I log onto the computer and surf the Web, and sometimes I watch TV, although there's not much else on at three or four o'clock in the morning besides infomercials blaring about The Most Wonderful Business Opportunity Of Your Life! in Philadelphia, PA. Old movies don't hold my attention when she's not here with me.
Usually she's back in just a few minutes, and usually she puts her hands on her hips and gives me a mock frown before she puts her arms around my neck and offers to "tuck me into bed" again. We have some really nice early mornings.
This morning, though, she's gone for nearly two hours, and when she flies through the window she goes straight to the shower without saying a word to me. I get a whiff of her as she passes me. Something oily and greasy had been on fire, either a cargo ship or an oil field or maybe a pipeline. I give her a couple of minutes to get the worst of it off, then I knock on the door.
"Lois? Are you okay? You need to talk?"
She doesn't answer. I wait. Sometimes she wants to talk and sometimes she doesn't, and I don't ever know which it is. I start to turn away, but she calls out, "Come on in."
I open the bathroom door and step in. She's still under the water, so I open the stall door a crack. Her head is under the stream of hot water. It doesn't bother her, of course, but it would certainly scald sensitive little old me, so I pick up her costume and hang it up, despite knowing it will have to be washed enthusiastically before she wears it again. Then I wait.
After a moment, she reaches out and swings the faucet handle towards the cool side. I let the worst of the heat dissipate, then I pull off my PJs and step in the shower with her, holding a big fluffy sponge, and start on her back.
She lifts her head and shifts position but doesn't look at me. "Lois? You want to tell me what happened?"
She sighs and closes her eyes. "It was a gasoline refinery down on the Louisiana Gulf coast. Someone set off a bomb. The manager thinks it was industrial sabotage and not a terrorist act. I hope he's right. Nobody died, thank God, but several people were hurt and the plant is pretty much out of commission for at least a couple of weeks. I told the manager I'd be back in two days to help with the cleanup."
I add some more body wash to the sponge. "Two days?"
"The metal that was in the fire is still too hot to work with. I couldn't chill it with my breath or it would've just shattered. The metal framework for all those storage tanks and the scaffolding around them needs to cool naturally or it'll collapse and cause more problems. We don't want to lose the tanks that weren't breached in the explosion or the fire.
"Besides — he was — he was there, too. He helped me put out the fire."
I stop for a moment, then continue on her shoulders. "Two heroes is better than one."
"'Two' are better. Match plural verb to plural noun."
I grin, trying to lighten the moment. "Grammatically correct and beautiful, as always."
Instead of laughing, she turns to face me. "Please hold me."
I step forward and embrace her. We stand there like that for a long time. The shower rinses the soap from her shoulders and her back, and I'm concerned that I'm going to shrivel up into a prune, so I reach out and shut off the water and hold her as close to me as I can.
She isn't crying. She ran out of tears for him a long time ago, but I'm not sure she's run out of tears for herself. I try to understand, I try to support her as best I can, but I never know if it's enough. I always feel like it's not, but she never says so, and in fact she says she couldn't carry on as Ultra Woman if it wasn't for me.
I'm not so sure that's true, but I'm also not going to argue with her about it. And right now, standing in the shower holding a very wet and sexy and naked wife in my arms, I'm not thinking about arguing with her about anything.
She gives me a final hug and slides away to towel herself dry. I'm a little disappointed, sure, but I also know that seeing him always knocks her for a loop. They try to avoid each other as much as possible, but both of them try to put the welfare of others above their personal feelings. It's one of the reasons I love her so much.
It's also one of the reasons I still respect him, but I'm not stupid enough to say that out loud around Lois. I respect him, but I still think he's dead wrong to feel the way he does about her. And, of course, he listens intently to every word I say.
I finish drying and pull my pajamas back on. Lois has put on that long, thick flannel robe I got her for her last birthday. She's standing in the doorway to the kitchen, staring at nothing. I put my hands on her shoulders and kiss the nape of her neck. Her damp hair tickles my nose. "I love you. Let me help."
She turns to face me, and I see the unshed tears in her eyes. "I — I don't — why does he do this to me! Why do I let him?"
I draw her close and put her head on my shoulder. It feels a little funny, comforting the strongest woman in the world, but everyone has at least one weakness.
His weakness is Kryptonite.
Her weakness is Superman.
It's been more than a dozen years since they've exchanged anything more than cold stares or unwilling cooperation in some emergency, like tonight. He probably didn't talk to her except about saving lives or reducing the property damage, but I'm also pretty sure he didn't smile and suggest sharing a cup of coffee after the rescue either.
It's old news now, the bad feelings between Superman and Ultra Woman, but even I don't know the whole story. A couple of times, Lois has been on the verge of telling me, but then she'll clam up about it. I don't pressure her. I know she'll tell me when she's ready to.
I can feel her relax in my arms. Usually, by this time, she's ready to go back to bed and get what little sleep she can, but not tonight. Something's different. She's just standing there, letting me hold her. I wonder if she's finally ready to let it out.
"You want some coffee, Lois?"
She leans back and smiles softly. "That would be nice. Thank you."
I load up the coffee maker and drop some frozen waffles in the toaster. It's not exactly gourmet cuisine, I know, but at least it's quick, and she usually craves carbohydrates after exerting that much energy, especially at night. Superman recharges with sunlight, and Ultra Woman needs it too, but she can give herself a little boost with a carbohydrate-heavy snack. She didn't ask for it, but I think she needs it.
The waffles pop up and I butter them, a plate for each of us. Lois prefers blueberry syrup, but we're out and we haven't made it to the store for more yet, so I substitute raspberry. The coffee maker blurps its final blurp and I pour two cups, mine with a little cream and her oversized mug with lots of creamer and sugar.
She's sitting on the couch when I bring the tray into the living room. She smiles and takes a plate of waffles and her mug. We eat a five A.M. breakfast in companionable silence, broken only by Lois's muffled moans of enjoyment.
She wipes the last of the syrup from her lips and leans back. "Thank you, darling. That hit a couple of spots."
"Any time. I'll pick up some more blueberry syrup today."
She smiles softly and easily. "You don't have to. The raspberry was wonderful."
"But my wife deserves whatever she desires, and I know what your favorite flavor is. Your wish is my command, my lady."
She shifts closer. "I know." She puts her arms around my neck and kisses me gently. The raspberry tastes great. "And I love you so very much."
I touch her face. "I love you, too."
She looks directly into my eyes. "What time do you have to be at work today?"
I tilt my head to one side. "It's Saturday and all my projects are up to date. My agent is busy counting her commissions from my latest book. My studio editor doesn't need me to sit in my office playing chess on my work computer all day. I don't have to go in unless I really think I need to."
"Do you think you need to?"
I touch her nose. "Not if you think I need to be here."
I expect her to laugh or kiss me or say something sexy. She doesn't. "You have never demanded or required or even hinted that you wanted me to tell you exactly what happened when — that night. Do you want to know the whole story?"
I can feel my eyebrows doing the Macarena on my forehead. "Uh. Yes. That is, if you want to tell me."
She kisses me gently on the cheek. "I don't want to talk about it, but you certainly deserve to know everything about your wife."
"I love you. You love me. That's all I need to know."
She smiles and a tear tracks down her cheek. "I know. That's why I want you to know it all."
I nod. "Okay. I'll try to hold my questions until the end."
She shakes her head and sighs. "I hope you still feel that way in a few minutes.
"I told you about my first wedding, the one to Lex. I didn't actually get married, I stopped the ceremony at the altar. Clark had told me he loved me, but after that he took it back and said he'd have said anything to keep me from marrying Lex. It took over a year, but we finally started dating seriously and he asked me to marry him."
I lift one finger. "Wait. That's when he told you he was Superman?"
"No?" I think my eyes touch my cheeks before they sink back into their sockets.
Lois smiles briefly and puts her finger on my lips. "Wait, okay? I'd figured it out a few days before and I was waiting for him to tell me. He didn't. He asked me to marry him in the rain one night, and I asked him who was proposing, Clark or Superman. Even then he almost denied it.
"I refused to let it bother me. I even used my knowledge of who he really was to take dangerous chances and I relied on him to save me. He always came through, of course, and when his powers were shifted to me and I became Ultra Woman the first time he guided me and gave me good advice. He even comforted me when I — I had to choose who to help and who to leave to their own devices."
She pauses. I touch her hair. She keeps it short for convenience, but I don't mind. She's still a knockout, even in her late fifties. "You okay?" She nods once. "You need a break?"
She turns and kisses my hand. "No, I'm okay, really. I want to tell you.
"I understood after that how much the responsibility of being a superhero ate at him. I tried to comfort him and support him and help him understand that he couldn't save everyone."
Her tears start again, silently dampening her chin. "Lois, you don't have to —"
"Yes! Yes, I do. You need to know the rest. I want you to know."
She takes a deep breath and wipes her face with her napkin. "After three years of marriage, Dr. Klein discovered a way to copy Superman's powers to me permanently. Clark wasn't too happy about it at first, but I thought I won him over. He finally agreed that my being invulnerable would relieve him of a lot of worry. That's when we went public as Superman and his companion Ultra Woman. I didn't think anybody connected them to Clark Kent and Lois Lane." She shudders. "I was wrong, I was so wrong."
"Is that when you started talking about having kids?"
She nods. "That child we found on our balcony that night went back to his real parents. We only had him for a few weeks, but it still almost killed me to give him up. I wanted a baby so badly I could taste it.
"I was so happy when I found out I was pregnant with twins. I'd always been afraid of being a mother, but having Martha as a role model helped a lot. She was thrilled, too. I'm sure she and Jonathan thought they'd never have grandkids. I had to cut back on my Ultra Woman activities. Who ever heard of a pregnant superhero foiling a bank robbery?"
I smile. "Wouldn't have helped with the secret identity thing."
She smiles back for a moment. "Probably not." Her smile fades. "We had a boy and a girl, Jonathan Samuel and Laura Ellen. They were beautiful and brilliant and they were a mother's dream. I almost never had to correct them, and when they did misbehave, all I really had to do was look unhappy and they'd cry and hug me and promise never to hurt me again. What with my job and my being a wife and mother, Ultra Woman kind of faded into the background. Once or twice I came close to putting the costume away forever.
"Clark was wonderful. He helped feed them, bathe them, dress them, take them to the doctor and the dentist and to day care, and then to school when they were old enough. He never stopped being Superman, of course, but he also stepped into being Daddy and loved it. It took me a while to realize that he'd almost given up on being a father some day. Those kids were a large part of his life, so much so that he was happy that Ultra Woman was inactive and that I was more Mommy than superhero. I think, in some ways, he loved those kids more than he loved me.
"The twins were nine the night — the night it happened. Some maniac sneaked up on the Kent's farmhouse after midnight when we were all staying there and tossed in a Kryptonite bomb. It wasn't the blast that was so bad, even though the house was pretty much destroyed, it was all the green glowing shrapnel bouncing around the rooms and cutting through the walls and hitting everybody. I guess they didn't know it wouldn't affect me.
"I grabbed Jonathan and Martha and carried them to the nearest emergency room, then I flew back as quickly as I could.
"Clark had brought Jon out and put him on a hay bale. As I landed, he yelled at me to start pulling the Kryptonite fragments out of Jon's body as best I could. He went back in to get Laura, and I went to work on Jon.
"I finally got the last one out, wadded them up into a ball, and threw them all into orbit around Earth. I looked up and Clark was staggering out with Laura. 'Same thing with her,' he said. I went to work and dug more green K out of my daughter. Both kids opened their eyes about the time I landed from tossing her green K into space with her brother's.
"I looked at Clark and said something flip, something like, 'All in a day's work.' He smiled at me and he — he said, 'You did great, Lois. Keep it up, okay? I'll always love you.' Then he passed out and fell over.
"I hadn't even considered his wounds. He hadn't told me he'd been hurt at all. He didn't want me to stop working on the kids. I think I could have saved him, but our children would have died. He kept me from having to make that choice. He sacrificed himself so they'd have a chance to live.
"Laura sat down on the ground and started crying, but Jon went absolutely nuts, yelling and screaming at me to help Dad. I picked up Clark and put him on the hay bale and started digging Kryptonite out of him."
She puts her hands together in front of her mouth and sobs. I reach out and embrace her. "It's okay, Lois, you don't have to go on."
She gathers herself and pats me on the chest. "Yes, I do. I've never told anyone this whole story, and you need to know everything. I need — I need to tell someone. I need to tell you."
She takes a deep breath and continues. "I worked as fast as I could and got out all the splinters and fragments I could find. I took all of the pieces up into orbit, fused them all together in one ball, and tossed it into the sun. There was an unexpected solar flare the next day, and astronomers never did figure out what caused it.
"When I got back to the farm, the kids were frantic. Clark wasn't moving, wasn't breathing, so I took him up into the stratosphere and flew east until I found sunlight. I stayed up in the air for over fifty straight hours, flying east and soaking him in sunlight, waiting for him to move or breathe or open his eyes or say something to me.
"But he never did."
She stands up and heads for the kitchen. "I need some more coffee. You want a refill?"
"No thanks, I'm good."
She pours another mug and drowns it in sugar and creamer. I glance at the window and see the first filtering rays of dawn.
Lois comes back and sits next to me. She leans against my chest and sighs again. "There's not much more."
I kiss the top of her head. "Whenever you're ready."
She nods and smiles for a moment. "I took him to Star Labs, hoping that Bernie Klein could help. When I got there, he asked me where the kids were and I panicked. I'd left them in the Kent's front yard. Jonathan hadn't been hurt badly, mostly just shaken up, so when he was released from the hospital later that day, he picked up the kids and took them to a motel in Smallville to wait for us — for me to come back.
"When I finally found them, Laura grabbed me and cried and wouldn't say anything. Jon was furious. He punched me and kicked me and screamed at me and demanded to see his father. I tried to tell him his dad was at Star Labs and that they were trying to help him, but he wouldn't listen. He accused me of killing his father instead of saving him."
She stands and crosses her arms. I can tell this is the hardest part of the story. "I was exhausted. I stayed with Jonathan and the kids the rest of that day and that night. The next morning I went back to Star Labs. Bernie told me as gently as he could, but he said — he said Clark — was dead. No respiration, no brain activity, and his body was starting to show the effects of death, like cellular breakdown and —"
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "I'd missed a tiny sliver in the side of his head. It had penetrated his skull and lodged in his brain. I hadn't seen it because the skin had closed behind it, but it was enough to — he couldn't handle having even a small sliver of Kryptonite that close to his brain and it — it killed him." She turns and paces beside the couch.
The story they'd given the papers at the time was that Superman had lost his own life saving the lives of others. I've always wondered what really happened to him. Now I know. The knowledge is not as stimulating as I imagined it would be.
I reach out and touch her elbow. "I think I know the rest."
She nods and looks at me through her tears. "I'm going to tell you anyway, just to make sure you do know.
"Bernie asked me if he could use Clark as an organ and tissue donor. I was in shock and wasn't thinking clearly. I agreed. Then I did the hardest thing I've ever done. I flew back to Smallville and told his parents and our children that — that Clark was gone.
"Jon went berserk. He accused me of killing his father, of deliberately not helping him, of letting him die. He was almost crazy. If he'd had his powers by then, he'd have tried to fight me, and I think he would have tried to kill me.
"Laura just cried and cried. Instead of coming to me for comfort, though, she went to her grandfather. She wouldn't let me get near her. I've never been able to scale the wall she put between us that day. She's never said it to me directly, but I know she blames me for her father's death. We're polite to each other, but I can't get past the coldness around her heart.
"It was the beginning of the end for Martha. The shock of losing Clark was too much for her. She died of a stroke about four months later. We — we buried her next to Clark in the Smallville Municipal Cemetery.
"By that time, both kids were living at the farm with their grandfather. They refused to come home with me. I tried to see them as often as I could, but neither of them would let me get close again, especially Jon. I went to his twelfth birthday party and he told me the gift he really wanted was for me to leave him alone. Forever."
I touch her hand and she grabs me. I can tell the hurt hasn't faded. How could it?
She takes a deep breath and continues. "Jonathan still lives on the farm with Laura. She does most of the maintenance and heavy work, and he still does whatever he can. They still raise crops every year, and the farm pays for itself. I visit as often as my schedule allows, but I'm never comfortable there. Jonathan has always tried to make me feel welcome, and he's never made me feel responsible for what happened to Clark.
"Laura and I have never connected again, even before you and I married. She doesn't actively dislike you, I don't think, but she's not happy with her mother being married to a man who isn't her father. I don't think she'll ever use her powers the way her father did, to help people and try to ease the pain and suffering of others. I can't influence her there, but maybe her grandfather can. I know he's trying to help us all, but I'm afraid it's more than he can handle at his age.
"Jon still thinks I killed his father, or at least that I let him die. I don't even know his home address any more. He won't listen to me, he won't take my calls or my messages, he won't read my letters, he won't let me tell him that he and his sister are alive because their father sacrificed himself for them, so I've stopped trying to force it. We can work together at an emergency, like last night, but he refuses to say anything to me he doesn't have to say. He never addresses me as his mother, only as Ultra Woman. He won't even call me by my civilian name." She wipes a tear from her cheek. "He makes a pretty fair Superman, but he's not Clark and he won't forgive me for taking his father away from him.
"My son hates me and my daughter doesn't trust me. I sacrificed my husband to save my children and I still lost them. Not much of a resume for a mother, is it?"
I have no answer for that. She clenches her fists and takes an angry step to one side. "I caught the guy who threw the bomb. I wanted to kill him, to shred him, to tear him into small pieces, to rip his heart out like he ripped out mine, but I knew Clark wouldn't approve.
"He's still in prison. So is the guy who set up the attack. I attended their last parole hearing. Neither of them wants to get out. They're afraid of what Jon might do to them." She clenches her fist. "Or what I might do."
She stops and looks at the wall. I know she's looking inside the wall, to a compartment where she stores pictures of herself and Clark and the kids before that night. She thinks I don't know about it, but I do, and I've never resented them. They're her past, and for the first time she's letting me into her personal private agony.
Then she whispers something that completely baffles me. "At least Utopia is still viable."
I don't think she meant to say that aloud, so I keep quiet. After a long moment, she looks back to me. "You know the rest. Bernie and his team, without telling me, cloned Clark's body using tissue samples from his body. He overcame the life span and mental capacity problems and the cellular instability issues and succeeded in growing an adult clone of Clark Kent, physically identical but without any superpowers. He didn't even let me know about it for three years. I think he was afraid I'd clobber him."
I stand and gather the breakfast dishes. "He was. He didn't know how you'd react."
She shakes her head and smiles thinly. "I remember that I didn't take the news very well when I did finally find out. I almost tossed both of you into the middle of the Pacific."
I quickly rinse the dishes in the sink and stop in the kitchen door. "I'm glad you didn't. I would've missed all my favorite movies."
She stands and smiles at me, an easy smile this time. "I'm glad too. And I'm glad we could build a past for you that would fool anyone, including Ultra Woman. And," she says as she picks me up in her arms, "I'm glad you're not a perfect replica of Clark. You are K. J. Clarkson, award-winning novelist and very busy and very well-paid screenwriter, and I love you for who you are, not for the person you look a little bit like."
I scrunch down in her arms and talk in a little whiny voice. "Aw, do I have to go to bed now, Ultra Woman?"
She tosses me over her shoulder, feet in front and head in back, like I weigh nothing. "Yep. Time you got some sleep, young man."
As she carries me to the bedroom, I reach down and pat her on the rear end. "Aw, do I have to go to sleep right away?"
She gently puts me down on the bed and kisses me warmly. "No. Not right away."
Later, as we lie entwined in each other's arms, she raises her head and looks at me. "Guess what?"
I shrug. "You know what a lousy guesser I am."
Her eyes are shaded and she looks a little sad. "I can hear a fire alarm on the west side of the city. Sounds like a big one."
"Then you need to go."
She tucks her head in the hollow of my neck and shoulder. "I don't want to leave you."
I stroke her hair and kiss her forehead. "Those folks need help, the kind of help only Ultra Woman can provide. You go. I'll be here when you get back. I promise."
She kisses my hand and my lips, then she stands and spins into costume. She's had to let the costume out a little in the last couple of years, but even at her age she still looks fantastic. She gives me one last look, full of longing and regret for what she's lost, and happiness for what she now has, and once again Ultra Woman slips out the window to help the people who need it the most.
I stand and get dressed. I need to call Bernie and ask him where my next shipment of tree frogs is. Even though I don't have to eat them, I still like them. Those little things are great with a little honey mustard or raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
As I pick up the phone, I remember a conversation I had with him not long ago. Something about time travel and changing the past and how little choices can have huge consequences.
Maybe it's time I made my own choice.