By Yvonne Connell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: October 2006
Summary: A distraught Clark reveals more about himself than he intended.
I learned something tonight.
I hadn't gotten home until pretty late and, as usual, I'd forgotten to buy food. Dinner had been a stale piece of bread, some hard cheese, a handful of shrivelled grapes, and a scoop of rocky road ice-cream. I figured the first three covered the main food groups and the ice-cream was my reward for eating the rest.
Anyway, I was watching TV and clipping my toenails when I heard the tap on my window. A very familiar tap. Hastily, I snatched up the nail clippings and stuffed them under the seat cushion along with the nail clippers, ran my fingers through my hair and plumped up the scatter cushions. The room was a mess, now that I saw it through visitor's eyes, but I didn't have time to fix it. I shrugged, thumbed off the TV and went to open the window.
He was hovering just outside, arms hanging loosely by his sides and cape fluttering slightly in the evening breeze. "Hi, Lois." He smiled briefly, the gesture muted and restrained, and quite at odds with the splashy colours of his suit.
"Hi." I returned his smile — not too broad and toothy, not too girly and gushing. Just one mature adult greeting another. Smile, relax, pause.
While I was pausing, I noticed that he seemed on edge — there was a lot of tension in his body language — and I wondered what had brought him to my window. This wasn't purely a social call, that was for sure. Information for one of the stories I was working on, perhaps? Not that he necessarily knew what stories I was working on, but-
"May I come in?"
"Yes!" Heck, how long had I been staring at him? "Sorry, yes." I stepped aside and waved him in. "Of course you can come in."
He floated silently through the window and landed a couple of feet in front of me, his cape swinging listlessly a couple of times before coming to rest. In the dim light of my apartment, he was a dark, uneasy figure, his shoulders hunched and his face bleak. I don't usually have trouble opening a conversation with him, but tonight, his lack of ease was infectious. We stood mutely, facing each other but not really meeting each other's eye, both stuck for words.
Then my roving eye spotted a pair of dirty socks peeking out from under a sofa cushion. "Sorry about the mess," I blurted. "I wasn't expecting you."
He glanced around. "It looks fine."
Either he hadn't noticed the dirty socks or was too polite to mention them. "Clark had to go home suddenly," I said, "so I've been doing two jobs today. I didn't get home until late."
Clark had rushed home to Smallville that morning after hearing that his father had been taken ill. He'd kept insisting that it was probably a false alarm and that he was just going as a precaution and to be there for his mother, but I could tell he was pretty upset because he hadn't even thought to check flight times until I'd reminded him.
Come to think of it, he hadn't called me since, and I'd sort of expected that he would once he'd arrived and gotten a better picture of how long he'd be gone.
Superman nodded. "I know."
"You do?" He'd seen me arrive home late? He'd been watching me? I'd been clipping my toenails and sitting in a very un-ladylike position…
"That Clark had to go home."
"Oh." Relief that Superman hadn't seen me was quickly replaced with the need to know how Clark was. "So you've seen him?"
A shadow passed over his face. "Not since he left, no."
"Oh." Why so bleak? "I wondered if he was okay."
The shadow deepened. "I'm not sure."
"You're not sure? So you have seen him?" Was he here to give me bad news about Clark?
"No, I just meant…" He looked away. "I don't know."
I frowned. "You know why he had to go?"
His terse replies were unsettling. He seemed impatient, or even angry. "Look, is there something I've done wrong?" Maybe I sounded a little petulant, but that was his fault. "I mean, I know I sometimes jump in before testing the water first, but I don't recall doing anything like that lately, not if you don't count the other day with that guy who pushed past me at the deli — but how was I to know he was blind? — so if you're mad at me, I have no idea why."
He frowned. "I'm not mad at you. Why would you think that?"
"Oh. Well, you seem…uptight. Like you're angry with me, but you're too mad to find the words to tell me."
"I'm not angry." He shook his head. "Not in the least. Look, this was a bad idea. You must have things you want to do. I'll leave."
He made for the window, but I reached out quickly and snatched a handful of cape. The material stretched taut between us. "Don't go," I said. "You haven't told me why you came here." Because if he wasn't mad at me, then why was he so subdued and tense?
"It doesn't matter."
He was turned away from me, but I didn't let go. "Yes, it does. Tell me."
He looked down to where my hand was gripping his cape. "I just came," he said, his gaze lifting slowly up to my face, "to see you."
My heart skipped a beat. We'd never really advanced past friendship, but this…this seemed like an invitation for more…and oh, how I would welcome more — but his eyes. They were so bleak. Desperately, painfully bleak. "Well…well, here I am," I said, grasping clumsily at words to cover my shock. "All of me, right here."
"Yes, you are."
The agony in his expression was unnerving. "Hey, any time." I fluttered my hands vaguely. "I'm pretty good at being me."
He smiled weakly. "Yes, you are."
I remembered I was still holding his cape, and suddenly felt stupid, not to mention presumptuous, hanging on to it. As if I could prevent him from leaving. I let go.
He didn't move.
Was he waiting for me to take the lead? Me, leading Superman?
"Superman, are you…" I faltered, because he was, despite his highly public profile, a very private man. I didn't have the right to intrude. On the other hand, he had chosen to come here, and those eyes… "You seem…are you okay?"
He said it too quickly, and we both knew it wasn't true.
We stood silently facing each other again, one of us hurting so badly he couldn't admit it, and the other not knowing what to do about it. What a pair.
But those eyes…pleading with me. Willing me to lead him.
"What can I do?" I asked, my voice sounding hushed in the stillness between us. "What do you need?"
He eyes closed briefly, shutting the pain away inside himself.
"Just…be you. You're good at that."
Be me. But which part of me did he need? Lois Lane, the award- winning reporter? Lois Lane, the incisive investigator? Lois Lane, the expert wordsmith who could write three column inches faster than anyone else in the newsroom?
Or Lois Lane, the woman who jumped in with both feet without testing the water first?
Instinct suggested the last. Before I could have second thoughts, I closed the distance between us and slid my arms around him, underneath his cape. He felt warm and solid and strong — just as I'd expected — but as I rested my head against his chest and he wrapped his arms tightly around me, he seemed oddly vulnerable. He'd responded so quickly. Just how long had he been waiting — or longing? — for such simple human contact?
"What is it?" I murmured. "What's wrong?"
"I can't tell you." His voice was unsteady. "But I needed to see you. Everyone's so…they're caught up in their own grief back there. I couldn't…there was no-one to talk to."
"I'm here. You can talk to me."
"I know." He gripped me tighter. "I just needed a few minutes…just for me. Then I'll be okay."
"Take as long as you need."
I soothed my hands up and down his back, my thoughts racing. What had happened? What could bring Superman to this — overcome by wayward emotions he clearly didn't know how to handle and seeking comfort from me? This wasn't the first time I'd seen him upset, but never to this degree.
He was fighting himself, too — trying desperately hard to be Superman despite his unruly feelings. His body was stiff against me, only a faint tremor in his arms giving him away. If he'd simply walked in without a word and hugged me like this, I'd have never have known how badly upset he was.
He needed to let go and for once be as weak and frail as the rest of us. Perhaps that was why he was here.
"It was so sudden." His voice was a bare whisper, meant for his ears only. "I saw him just last week and he was fine."
"Who? Who was fine?" I didn't want to intrude, but he obviously wanted to talk and what else was I to say?
He shook his head. "I can't say." He began to disengage from me. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't do this to you. It's not fair. I'll go."
I pulled him back. "No, stay. You're in no shape to go anywhere." I looked up into his face. "What happened? I mean, you don't have to tell me any details…"
"It was a heart attack." His gaze slid away into the distance, back into the grief he'd fled from. "They said he'd probably been living on borrowed time for months, maybe even years, but what difference does that make? It shouldn't have happened."
"Was he someone close?"
Anxiety crossed his face.
"It's okay." I tightened my arms around him for reassurance. "I won't tell anyone."
He nodded. "I know." A shuddery breath escaped from his lips. "Yes, he was someone close. He was… He taught me. About life."
Superman had a mentor? I'd always assumed, if I'd given it any thought at all, that he'd arrived as a complete package. No tuition necessary.
"Then he must have meant a great deal to you. I'm sorry you've lost him." My words sounded stiff and formal. Not adequate to his needs at all.
"Me, too. I can't believe he's gone."
"It was unexpected? He hadn't been ill?"
He shook his head. "No, Dad's always been-"
And then he was pulling away, moving quickly, hastily. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come-"
"No, it's okay, stay-" I grabbed at his arm but the smooth material of his suit slipped through my fingers. Dad? He had a father? One who was only recently deceased? "Don't leave-"
"They need me."
He was already at the window and I ran, ran as fast as the wind and latched onto his cape — found his hand and gripped it tightly between both of mine. "Stay."
"Lois, don't…" He turned anguished eyes towards me. "I can't explain."
"It's okay. You don't have to." I squeezed his hand. "Just stay and talk a while longer. I think you need to."
"I'm not sure what I need," he said, staring desolately out the window. "Everything's mixed up."
I tugged on his hand. "Come and sit down. Give yourself a few more minutes before you head back. You'll be more use to them" — whoever ?them' were — "if you're better composed."
Were ?them' the other members of his family? That didn't make sense, because he was the last of his kind. He'd told me so. But if he had a father, he could have other relations, couldn't he?
Superman had a family!
He hadn't moved since I'd caught his hand. "How about some coffee? I've already got some made and it's pretty fresh. I've even got milk without lumps in it."
My weak attempt at humour fell on deaf ears. He just stood staring at the window, wrapped up in his own thoughts. Coffee was, for him, an irrelevance, lumps or no lumps.
I wanted him to stay. Were my motives purely unselfish? Probably not — I was bursting with curiosity about his family — but I genuinely did want to help him. He'd rescued me so many times and I owed him. I opened my mouth to repeat the offer. "Superman-"
His head turned. "Do you have sugar? I can't drink coffee without sugar."
"Yes! Yes, I have sugar. Lots of it. Have a seat and I'll bring you some. How much do you take? One spoon? Two? Clark has three, but he also has the dentist's bills to prove it — he's always going — so I'd stick to fewer if I were you, although I guess your teeth are as invulnerable as the rest of you…"
I suddenly heard myself rattling on about nothing and shut up. He didn't need to know about Clark's teeth.
"Three's fine," he said.
"Okay." I glanced around the room. "Sit anywhere. I'll be right back."
I watched him walk across the room, his cape lifting slightly at the hem as he moved. He chose a sofa and perched on the edge of it, shoulders hunched forward and hands hanging loosely over his thighs. Hoping that he wouldn't suddenly change his mind and flee through the window, I went to fetch the coffee.
Clean mugs, pour coffee, get milk from-
"You have a new coffee-maker."
I nearly jumped out of my skin. He'd followed me to the kitchen and I hadn't heard him. "Y-yes, the old one blew up. Apparently you're not supposed to run them without filling them up with water first." I shrugged. "How was I to know?"
The corner of his mouth quirked upwards. "Commonsense? Reading the manual?"
I rolled my eyes and reached for the milk. "Who reads manuals?"
"Oh. Well, you would. Of course you would. Just like Clark, in fact. He'd read every piece of paper that comes with an appliance, including the packing slip." I frowned as I poured milk into the mugs. "How do you know my coffee-maker is new, anyway?"
"This isn't the first time I've been in your kitchen, Lois," he pointed out.
"True." I handed him a mug. "But you're very observant — you can't have been in here more than…well, not very often."
"I notice things." His eyes clouded over and he turned away abruptly. "Anyway," he continued in a strained voice, "you said you had sugar?"
He'd remembered something, perhaps. About his father? "Yes, let me get it." I reached up into a cupboard, lifted down the scrunched-up bag and pushed it towards him. "Here."
"In the drawer." I indicated the drawer right in front of him.
I watched while he spooned sugar into his coffee and stirred slowly, brooding on the memory. "It was something he once said," he said eventually. "That I notice the things that other people miss."
"Oh. Well, he was right, wasn't he?" I was filling the air with random words again. Anything to keep the conversation alive. "You noticed my coffee-maker."
"Yes," he said, still stirring the coffee. "But not where you keep your sugar."
He was doing it, too — keeping the conversation going without really saying anything. "Well, I never showed you that before," I said.
"True. Or where you keep your spoons."
"Although, I guess you could have x-rayed the kitchen to find them."
"That would have been rude." He let out a shuddering breath. "Something else I learned…"
He nodded, then took a quick sip of coffee.
"Wise man," I said. "Who knows what people might be hiding in their cupboards?" Bottles of whisky, in the case of my mother. "You wouldn't want to embarrass yourself."
"He'd chew my ear if he suspected I'd been misusing my abilities." He took a hasty gulp of coffee in an obvious attempt to hide his feelings. "I'm sorry. I thought I'd be stronger than this."
"It's okay. He obviously meant a great deal to you." I reached across and touched his forearm. "You've had a shock. A huge shock."
"But I always knew it would happen — that he'd die before me."
"Doesn't make it any easier when it actually happens." I squeezed his arm. "Besides, you and he were very close. You don't just shrug these things off, not when it's a family member."
"No. I just…people need me to be strong for them, yet here I am, running away…"
"You're not running away. You're here because you need time, too. You need someone to be strong for you."
His chest heaved as he raised his eyes to mine. "Lois… Be that person? I need your strength."
"Oh, Superman." I put down my mug and slid my arms around him. "I'm here. I'm right here."
I could feel the emotion coursing through him. There was no stiffness or formality this time; his barriers had come tumbling down and I was holding the real man — the person underneath the splashy colours and confident smile. He was more vulnerable than I'd imagined. More tender-hearted.
He remained in my arms for a long time. At first, he was shaky and possibly even weeping a little, at least internally, and I had to struggle not to weep with him. His distress was infectious and soon became mine. Tears blurred my eyes and I forgot all my curiosity about his earlier slip-up.
Gradually, though, he steadied himself. I sensed calm within him, and with it, a slow return to formality. He stood straighter and his body felt strong and steady against mine.
I lifted my head from his chest and gazed up at him. "Are you okay?"
His features had lost their raw, anguished appearance and now seemed merely sad and full of melancholy. "Yes. Thank you."
We'd spoken quietly, in keeping with the intimate circle of our embrace. I'd never felt this close to him before, never felt that I understood him as well as I now did. He was just a man — a man with extraordinary abilities, to be sure, but also a man with vulnerabilities and insecurities just like the rest of us. He needed friends and family and…and love.
I gazed up at him, seeing the man behind the abilities for the first time. He was…his eyes…
"Lois." His voice was husky.
His lips formed a small circle as he said my name and I felt his breath fan my face. Within, I felt something give way, as if tresses had given way on a restraint of some sort. Then slowly, ever so slowly, drawn upwards by an invisible force, I reached for him — for those lips that had spoken my name so softly.
His lips touched mine with gossamer delicacy, our first kiss so tentative I barely knew whether our lips were in contact or not. From that, his lips became a warm cushion against which to press my own, working gently with him to express feelings both tender and sensual. He was never passionate, and neither was I, yet more emotion was conveyed in our quiet and simple kiss than in a hundred steamy embraces.
He broke away first, his sad eyes tinged with aching regret. "I'm sorry, Lois. I wish this could happen, but it can't…"
"Because…there are complications." He pulled away from me.
Rejected. It hurt. It hurt a lot.
But he'd been recently bereaved. He wasn't himself. He'd come back once he'd recovered, wouldn't he?
It still hurt. "You know, it's funny how these things often seem to happen all together," I said, just to let him know I wasn't falling apart inside because he'd rejected me. "First, Clark's father gets sick, and then your fa…he…passes away. I hope Clark's Dad is okay, don't you? I really liked him the couple of times we've met."
He gasped as if in pain. Anguish filled his eyes again. "God, Lois…"
"I'm sorry," I said, instantly regretting my words. "I didn't mean to bring it all back."
"No, you don't understand. I…I've been so stupid. I forgot you knew…" He reached out and grasped my shoulders. "Lois, I'm so sorry. I hope you'll forgive me-"
"Forgive you? I don't understand."
"I have to go, but please know how much you've done for me tonight. I just wish things could have been different between us."
I panicked a little. I'd driven him away and he might not come back. "They still can be." I sounded more desperate than I'd intended.
"Not with so many secrets in the way." He released me and hurried to the window. Stepping up onto the sill, he paused for a moment. "For what it's worth," he said, turning sorrowful eyes towards me. "He really liked you, too."
And then he was gone.
I'd followed him into the lounge, but now I stopped and stood staring out into the night. A light breeze from the open window fanned my face and I wondered distantly if the flutter of his cape had caused the air to move against me. His melancholy still hung heavy in the room, and his last words echoed in my head.
"…he really liked you, too."
I tracked back to other snippets of conversation.
"I forgot you knew…"
"…First, Clark's father gets sick, and then your father passes away…"
The snippets came together and slotted into place, revealing a new reality which was so dazzlingly clear, it blinded. No wonder he'd seemed so real, so human and vulnerable. In a daze, I stepped forward to the window. The night was dark and cool, and somewhere out there, a freshly bereaved man was making his way home to give his family succour and strength.
I placed my hand on the cool glass of the window. "Clark?"
The breeze snatched his name from my lips and carried it out into the night, and those tears, which I'd kept deep inside me while I'd held him and given him my strength, began to flow freely down my cheeks.