By Terry Leatherwood <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: September, 2006
Summary: Lois makes the other choice between her children and her husband, and must live with the consequences of her choice. But can these consequences be avoided, or is she doomed to live in pain? An immediate companion piece to "Choices and Consequences: Take One."
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 on assignment for the Secret Service, but I can't go to sleep when I'm at home by myself. I need to know she's there with me.
I love her, deeply and powerfully. I love her more than I love living. I will always love her. But sometimes it's a drag being married to Ultra Woman. When she's not with me, I can usually fade into the background and be almost invisible, but it seems that whenever we're out together some autograph hound or paparazzi or sicko political kook will butt in and try to make trouble for us. Makes me wonder if being a real celebrity would be worth it. Occasionally, I even wish her civilian identity were still a secret.
I guess I'm lucky, though. Since Ultra Woman almost never goes after criminals any more, they don't have any real reason to come after me. She pretty much restricts her activities to helping out at natural and man-made disasters, although she'll drop in on the occasional robbery or mugging or domestic violence scene if she sees it happening. Crime, no matter what color the collar, isn't something she investigates any more.
But she loves making personal appearances for good causes and charitable activities. She helped open up a new women's shelter yesterday morning, and one little five-year-old girl really got to her. After the ribbon-cutting and schmoozing with the local politicos was all done, I found Lois sitting in one of the back rooms with her mask pulled back. She was holding this girl on her lap, telling her about how beautiful the clouds are and how bright the stars are at night when you're flying along at twenty thousand feet. The little girl was smiling and laughing and clapping her hands. Her mother thanked me for letting Ultra Woman spend so much time with her daughter. I thanked her for sharing her daughter with Lois.
Lois needs that kind of contact with kids. It helps her.
When I'm waiting for her to come back, I might read, I might log onto the computer and do some work from home, or I might watch TV, although there's not much else on at three o'clock in the morning besides infomercials blaring about The Most Wonderful Business Opportunity Of Your Life! even in Washington, D.C. If I can find an old movie I might watch it, but old movies don't hold my attention so well when she's not here with me.
Usually she's back in just a few minutes, and she usually 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 gets back she goes straight to the shower without saying a word to me. I get a whiff of her as she passes and it's powerful. Something oily and greasy had been on fire, a cargo ship or an oil field or maybe a hamburger factory. 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 about it and sometimes she doesn't. I start to turn away, but she calls out, "It's okay. 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 and the steam fogs my eyeballs. It doesn't bother her, of course, but it would scald me, so I pick up her costume and hang it up as neatly as I can, 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 drop my boxers 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 South Carolina coast. Someone set off a bomb. The local police chief 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. "Why two days?"
"The metal that was in the fire is still too hot to work with. I can't chill it with my breath without risking further damage. 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 fire.
"Besides — he was — he was there, too. We put the fire out together."
I stop for a moment, then continue washing her shoulders. "Two heroes is better than one."
"Are better. Match plural verb to plural noun."
I grin, trying to lighten the moment. "That's my Lois. Once a writer, always a writer."
She turns around without smiling. "Please hold me."
I step forward and embrace her. The shower rinses the soap from her shoulders and her back, and I'm concerned that I'm about to turn into a giant prune, so I shut off the water and she lays her head on my shoulder.
She isn't crying. She ran out of tears for him a long time ago, but I'm not sure she'll ever 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 with my arms around my wet and naked and sexy wife, 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 are willing 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 still think he blew it big time with her, and that he couldn't have been more wrong if his butt was stapled to his chin, and I was stupid enough to say that to him. Once and only once. I, of course, am the fortunate recipient of his idiocy.
I finish drying and pull my pajamas back on. Lois has put on that long, thick terrycloth 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 Clark Kent, AKA Superman.
And she, of course, is my weakness.
It's been nine years since he's given her anything more than cold stares or unwilling cooperation in some emergency. He probably didn't talk to her tonight except about saving lives or reducing property damage, and I'm sure he wasn't the least bit rude to her, but I'm also pretty sure he didn't smile and suggest sharing a cup of coffee and chatting about the good old days after they had the fire under control.
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, assuming she ever will be ready.
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.
I brush back her wet hair with my hand. "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 very nourishing, I know, but at least it's quick, and she often craves carbs 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 meal. 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 likes raspberry syrup, but we're out and we haven't made it to the store for more yet, so I substitute blueberry. The coffee maker blurps its final blurp and I pour two cups, mine with a little cream and her oversized mug with about half 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 grunts of pleasure.
She wipes the last of the syrup from her lips and leans back. "Thank you, my darling. That hit a couple of spots."
"Any time. I'll pick up some more raspberry syrup today."
She smiles softly and easily. "You don't have to. The blueberry was wonderful."
"But I know what flavor you like best, and my wife deserves whatever she desires. Your wish is my command, my lady."
She shifts closer. "I know." She puts her arms around my neck and kisses me gently, with blueberry flavoring. "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 there are no national or local emergencies of which I am aware, the President is at his West Coast home, and the Secret Service is fully staffed at the moment. They don't need the Deputy Director looking over their shoulders and making them nervous for no reason. I don't have to go in unless I think I need to."
"Do you think you need to go in?"
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. Instead, she lets out a long sigh and looks me straight in the eye. "You have never demanded from me, or required of me, or even strongly hinted to me that you wanted me to tell you exactly what happened between Clark and me. You have to be curious, though."
I nod. "Well, yeah, I am. Just like every talk show host on any network is."
Her stare gets tighter and she doesn't move a muscle except to ask, "Do you want the whole story now?"
I can feel my eyebrows doing the Macarena on my forehead. "Uh. Yes. That is, if you want to tell me about it."
She kisses me gently on the cheek. "I don't want to talk about it, but you certainly deserve to know everything there is to know 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. As the President often advises you press types, 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.
"You remember 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. "That's when he told you he was Superman?"
I think my eyes touch my cheeks before they sink back into their sockets. "No?"
Lois smiles for a second and puts two fingers 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.
"It took me a little while to deal with it, but 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, even though I didn't always treat him very well. He always came through, of course, and when his powers were transferred to me and I became Ultra Woman for 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's let it grow out long again, and it frames her face beautifully when she's flying. She's still a knockout, even at her age. "You okay?" She nods once. "You need a break?"
She turns and kisses my hand. "No. I want to tell you. I want you to know it all.
"I understood, after being Ultra Woman, how much the responsibility of being a superhero ate at him, how much of a burden it really was. 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 cheeks. "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 finally won him over. He finally agreed that my being invulnerable would relieve him of a lot of worry over my safety and actually help him in his super-work. That's when we went public as Superman and his companion Ultra Woman. We presented ourselves as a couple, but not a married couple. I didn't think anybody ever connected them to Clark Kent and Lois Lane." She pinches her eyes shut for a moment. "I was wrong."
"Is that when you started talking again about having kids?"
She relaxes a little and nods. "That child we'd found on our balcony that night after our first anniversary had gone 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 Kent as a role model helped a lot. She was thrilled, too. I'm sure she and Jonathan thought they'd never have grandchildren. I had to cut way back on my Ultra Woman activities while I was carrying them. Who ever heard of a pregnant superhero foiling a bank robbery?"
I giggle at the mental picture. "It would have been a first, I'm sure."
She smiles back for a moment. "Probably." Her smile fades. "We had a boy and a girl, Jonathan Samuel and Laura Ellen. They were beautiful and smart 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 make me sad 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 very close to putting the costume away forever.
"And Clark was wonderful. He played with them, he helped feed them, bathe them, dress them, take them to the doctor and to the dentist and to school. He never stopped being Superman, of course, but he also stepped into being Daddy and he reveled it. It took me a while to realize that he'd almost given up on being a father before they came along. Those kids were a large part of his life, so much so that he was happy that Ultra Woman was mostly inactive and that I was more Mommy than superhero. I think, in some ways, he loved those kids more than he loved me. And his parents spoiled them horribly, of course." She sighs. "They loved those kids, and the kids loved them.
"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 dirty bomb, one with Kryptonite wrapped all around it. It wasn't the blast that was so bad, even though it pretty much destroyed the farmhouse, it was all the green glowing shrapnel bouncing around the rooms and cutting through the walls and hitting everybody that was the biggest problem. Our only break was that they didn't know Kryptonite wouldn't affect me.
"I was the only one who wasn't injured, so I grabbed Jonathan and Martha and carried them to the nearest emergency room. I dropped them off and flew back as quickly as I could.
"Clark had both Jon and Laura outside by then. I x-rayed all three of them and what I saw terrified me. All three of them had Kryptonite fragments lodged all throughout their bodies. I ran into the house and brought out all the first-aid equipment I could find, tweezers, bandages, tape, a razor blade, even a snakebite kit.
"I decided that Clark was in the most danger. Besides the fragments in his chest and arms, he had a little piece, a tiny splinter, lodged inside his skull. He wanted me to help the kids first, but I made him lie down on a hay bale and started pulling pieces of Kryptonite out of him. He was too weak to stop me.
"The head wound was the worst one. I had to open up his skull to get that fragment out, and it took a long time to get it. I was so focused I didn't realize that the kids had stopped moaning.
"Clark passed out before I finished. I was glad he couldn't feel me digging around in his brain for that last splinter. I wadded up the pieces and tossed them into orbit to get them away from my family. Then I moved Clark a safe distance away from them and started working on Laura and Jon.
"I cleaned out all the green K I could find from both of them and tossed it into orbit with the rest. Neither of the kids was breathing by the time I finished. They didn't — they never — " She beats her fists against her chest and cries out, "Ahh! My children! My babies!"
She melts. She dissolves into tears and sobs and I can't even hold her upright. She tips over on the couch and I kneel on the floor beside her and put my arms around her. No wonder she's never told me the whole story before. I don't understand how she's kept all that pain and grief inside for so many years without going insane.
It seems to take forever for her crying to ease off. I just keep holding her and stroking her hair and saying that I love her and that it'll be all right. I don't know that, of course, but I keep saying it anyway.
She finally calms down enough to put her arms around me and squeeze me without killing me. Even though she's holding back, I still have trouble breathing. It's a lot like being attacked by the biggest and most beautiful anaconda in the world.
She finally loosens her grip and I start paying back my oxygen debt. She looks at me and realizes what she's almost done. "Oh, no! Darling, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you, I'm so sorry!"
Before she starts crying again, I say, "No, Lois, I'm not hurt. I'm okay, honest! I'm way more concerned about you."
"Me?" She sniffs a couple of times and wipes her eyes with the heel of her hand. "Oh. Yeah." She sits up and gently takes my hands. "I — I'm almost through. You ready for the rest of it?"
I've got my breath back now, so I move up on the couch beside her. "If you're ready to tell me, then yes, I'm ready."
She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. "We took the kids — or, I did, Clark hadn't recovered enough to fly — I took them to Star Labs and begged Bernie Klein to help. He tried, oh how he tried, but there was just too much damage, too much exposure to too much Kryptonite. They never — never woke up again.
"Clark blamed me — still blames me — for their deaths. He thought that if I'd worked on the kids first, they'd have lived. I told him I saved him because I loved him. He refused to hear me. I tried to tell him it destroyed me to lose them. I'd made a choice between my husband and my children! What woman could do that and not have her heart cut to shreds?
"How I wished he'd known some way to kill me! I tried to tell him I'd live with the consequences of my choice for the rest of my life, but he wouldn't listen to me. He's never listened to me. He hates me with all his strength. He believes I killed his children." She sits back and closes her eyes. "We divorced less than three months later. I didn't have the strength to fight for him, so I just let him go. I couldn't — I still can't believe how much he hates me.
"We buried the twins in Smallville, not far from the Kent's farm. Martha's injuries from the bomb were more serious than Jonathan's, but the loss of her grandchildren followed by our divorce just wrecked her. She never recovered completely. She had a stroke and died about five months after Clark and I split up.
"Jonathan still lives on the farm. He's alone now, but he says he's not really lonely, since he has his wife and grandchildren so close to him all the time. I go visit him now and again, and we almost always go to the cemetery together. Sometimes we talk to the twins, sometimes we talk to Martha, sometimes we laugh about the good times, and sometimes we just sit there together and remember. We even have a signal worked out so that I don't show up when Clark's at the farm.
"I don't know for sure, but I don't think Clark's ever visited their graves. Jonathan told me he won't even talk to him about them.
"Clark found the guy who threw the bomb and the man who set it up. He — I still don't know what happened to them, but no court ever tried them."
She shakes her head once. "After the divorce, Clark and I both gave up on having secret identities. It was too hard to keep our lives private and too painful to keep explaining why Superman and Ultra Woman were no longer seen together, so we officially went public. We never said exactly why we divorced, just that it was a personal and private matter, and we never publicly released the reason the kids died. The tabloids had a field day with it all."
I remember reading about it. I wished at the time I could do something to help her.
She wipes her nose. "I think he blames me for not having a civilian identity to hide in anymore, too. He can't be around people as just plain old normal Clark, and he hates it. The only place he can take off the suit and be himself is the farm in Smallville, and because the kids — he doesn't spend much time there."
I nod. "I knew it was something big, Lois, but I never knew it was that terrible."
She closes her eyes and pulls her knees up into her chest. "Into each life a little rain must fall."
"Honey, that's not a little rain! That's a whole lifetime worth of typhoons and hurricanes and tornadoes and hailstorms all at once!"
She grins a little, a sad, wistful little grin. "I know. Some days are better than others. Like today. I think this will end up as a good day."
"Because you told me?"
She looks deep in my eyes. "Because I finally decided to trust you with everything. No one else besides Clark and Jonathan and me knows the whole story, and now you know. And I'm glad I told you."
"I am too." I kiss her on the nose. "Want me to tell you my deepest, darkest secret now?"
One side of her mouth curls up. "Maybe another time. Do you mind?"
"Not if you don't."
"Thank you. Will you put your arms around me?"
I do it, of course. We sit like that for a long moment, then I ask, very hesitantly, "Would you — like for me to — to visit Jon and Laura with you some time?"
She's startled, and she pauses, then she smiles. "Yes. Yes, I'd like that a lot."
"Good. You pick the time and I'll clear my schedule. In fact, if you want, we could go later today, fly out there Ultra Woman express."
Her eyes are shiny. "I think that's a good idea. Jonathan will enjoy meeting you." She smiles a little more and puts her hand on my chest. "You would have loved them. And they would have loved you."
I try to be flippant. "Well, you know I'm not much of a people person. If they'd had the chance to meet me, we probably wouldn't have gotten married."
She freezes and loses her smile. Her face pales. "No. Probably not."
I can't believe I just said something that idiotic. I drop my chin on my chest and whisper, "I'm sorry, Lois. Please forget I said that. I'm so stupid."
"No!" She lifts my chin with her fingers. "No, you're not. You're the most wonderful husband in the world and I'm so thankful we found each other. Again." She kissed me quickly. "I know what you meant. It just came out wrong. I'm not mad or hurt, honest."
"Thank you." I kiss her hands. "I'm sorry, Lois, I'm so sorry you've been through so much pain in your life. I wish I could make it all better for you."
She looks into my eyes. "I know you do. I almost wish you could, too."
I hold her gaze. "You know Bernie Klein is head of the National Science and Research Council, right?" She nods. "Maybe I should ask him if there was something he could do. Or — maybe something he could let me do."
"You're serious?" She smiles wonderingly. "You'd go back and change the past? Even knowing it would almost certainly split us apart? That we'd never fall in love with each other and get married?"
I nod. "I would if I could give you the wonderful life you deserve. I love you too much not to give up everything for you, not if it would make you happy."
"But you don't have to. I'm happy now. These last three years with you have taught me how to live again. You've taught me how to laugh again." She smiles softly at me. "And now that I have you, a man who loves me deeply and unreservedly even with all my emotional baggage, I wouldn't go back for all the Pulitzers in the entire universe."
I cup her face in my hand. "Thank you. I'm sorry I'm not like —"
"No!" She grabs me by the lapels on my pajama top and pulls me close. There are unshed tears in her eyes again. "Don't you ever apologize for being who you are! And don't ever think I wish you were anyone else but you because I don't and I never will!" She kisses me fiercely and I have trouble breathing, but this time I don't mind so much.
She finally lets me go. I wipe the tears from her chin and cheeks with one finger. "I love you, Lois. I'm so glad I'm your husband."
She smiles softly. "And I love you too. I'm so glad to be your wife, Daniel."
I smile back and tweak her nose. "How many times do I have to tell you? Call me Dan, okay?"
She smiles wider and her eyes twinkle. "Okay, Dan." She embraces me again. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
She kisses me, deeply and passionately. "Then show me how much you love me."
I can't possibly disappoint Ultra Woman.
Later, as we lie entwined in each other's arms, she raises her head and looks at me. "Guess what?"
I touch her face. "You know what a terrible guesser I am."
Her eyes are shaded and she looks a little sad. "I can hear a fire alarm just south of the Capitol. Sounds like a big one."
"Then you need to go."
She kisses my hand and my lips, then she stands and spins into costume. She's had to let the suit 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 boot up the computer and send a message to my buddy in the FBI, asking if he can send me all the details of a particular firebomb attack on a particular farmhouse in Smallville, Kansas, specifically the identities of the perpetrators. I write that he can find the date by moving a few months back from Martha Kent's death.
It's getting on towards mid-morning, so I decide to get dressed. I pick up the phone to call Bernie Klein to ask him if time travel is actually possible, does he know where a time machine might be, and when do I leave to change the past? And under NO circumstances can he tell Lois about the conversation.
I'd give up anything I have, or ever will have, to make her happy. I've always told her that. I've always meant it.
Now's my chance to prove it.